Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food. ~Hippocrates

Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Label-Reading 101


Having been a label reader for decades, it never occurred to me that there would be so many people who never do it. In my clinical work at the hospital, I educate people on diets they need to follow, and label reading is always a component. I am surprised at how many people are being introduced to the concept for the first time.

There are a few important things to know, right off the bat:

  • All nutrition information is not on the label. The important ones, as they relate to dietary restrictions, are listed.
  • Don’t assume the counts listed are for the whole package. The amounts of nutrients in the food item are stated per portion. You need to also look at how many servings are in that package, measure against how many portions you are consuming, and do the math to get the actual count.
  • There is a nutrient panel, and an ingredients section.

At some point in most people’s lives they will be told they need to restrict a certain element or ingredient. Being prepared will make the transition less difficult. Let’s now delve into the world of label reading.

THE NUTRITION FACT PANEL:

First you will find the serving size and the number of servings in the container. This is where the math is important when calculating how much of nutrient you are getting. If the container holds 2 servings and you eat the whole container, you need to double the numbers in the nutrition listing.

The next fact is the calories (again, per serving), and how many of the calories are from fat.

The next section addresses fat/cholesterol, sodium, carbs, protein and several vitamins and minerals. The information is stated in grams (g)) or milligrams (mg) and as a % of the recommended daily value. Assuming about 3 meals per day, the total of all you consume for that meal would ideally not exceed  one third of your daily value, particularly in calories, fats and sodium. Let me dissect the subsections for more useful information.

Fats are all not created equal! Healthy fats include mono saturated (like olive oil), polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats. These are the most likely to be in liquid form at room temperature (many oils). Unhealthy fats are saturated, with trans fats being the most unhealthy.  These are usually solid at room temperature (think of butter, lard, shortenings). Healthy fats raise HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood and lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Conversely, saturated fats do the opposite, clogging the arteries with fatty deposits that can lead to the blockage of blood flow. Blockages put one at significant risk for heart attacks and strokes. Make it a point to avoid any foods with trans fats, also listed in the ingredients as partially hydrogenated oils. Cholesterol is a type of fat that our bodies also produce. Currently, there is conflicting thought about the ingestion of cholesterol causing high cholesterol in the blood. Some now believe that the saturated fat causes our bodies to produce more cholesterol.

Sodium (the main carrier is table salt) is everywhere! Sodium is an electrolyte, important for the regulation of many bodily functions, but Americans consume unhealthy amounts of it. Long used as a preservative, it is used in canning, processed meats (hot dogs, cold cuts, etc.) baked goods, pizza, restaurants, prepared supermarket foods and more. Even if you never lift a salt shaker, chances are you are still getting too much sodium. It is hard to avoid unless you prepare all your food at home, from fresh ingredients. Too much sodium raises blood pressure, putting a strain on the arteries and other body functions. It leads to heart disease, stroke, congestive heart failure, breathing difficulties, edema (swelling and water retention). The recommended daily amount in an otherwise healthy individual is no more than 2,200 mg per day, but less is better. For those already afflicted with maladies affected by sodium, 1,800mg or fewer is the recommendation.

Carbohydrates, which include fiber and sugar are listed in the next sub section. Counting carbs is especially important for the diabetic. We will not cover this here as the subject is far too complex for this post. There are 2 basic kinds of carbs: simple and complex. Simple sugars (many of the ingredients listed with an “ose” at the end) absorb quickly into the bloodstream, causing spikes in blood glucose levels. This in turn floods the bloodstream with insulin, beginning an erratic spike and lowering of blood glucose levels, which is taxing on the body in a variety of ways. In contrast, complex carbohydrates (found in fiber and whole grains, not refined) absorb more gradually, lessening the rapid spiking and falling of blood glucose levels. This longer acting reaction supplies steadier energy and less fat storage. (Unused energy from carbs is stored as fat.) So look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. More is better. Stick with whole grains vs. refined – explained further in the next section.

Protein, vitamins and minerals are listed next. This is more informational, and less of an issue when watching certain potentially harmful elements.

The last section is the ingredient list. The ingredients are listed in order of quantity, from most to least. Study the list for partially hydrogenated oils (and reject foods with this ingredient), extra sugars (look for the suffix “ose”), additives that are unhealthy preservatives, etc. (again, this is another whole topic). If you have allergies, study this section carefully to learn if the contaminant is present. You need to learn all the names by which your allergen goes, to ensure you don’t ingest it. Many packages now state if the product is made in a facility that makes other products with the more common allergens like tree nuts, peanuts, milk, etc. Look for whole grains in your breads. If the listing says, “wheat flour”, it is not whole. It needs to say whole wheat. Corn, quinoa and oats are whole grains.

Well that about wraps up Label-Reading 10. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. Just post to comments.

 

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Cholesterol Confusion


Nutrition science seems fickle when experts keep revising their recommendations based on new research. Compounding consumer confusion is the vast misinformation swirling around the Internet. So what, do you wonder, should you do?

First, let’s clarify the difference between serum (blood) cholesterol and dietary cholesterol. Serum cholesterol is most affected by the consumption of saturated fat, primarily from animal sources (meats and high fat dairy). An egg contains only 2 grams of saturated fat, as compared to 15 grams in a 6 oz. piece of tenderloin beef. Saturated fat produces cholesterol in your body.

Eggs pack a lot of nutrition in an inexpensive package. The protein quality is excellent. A large egg has only 72 calories, and 185 milligrams of cholesterol. It has essential nutrients like choline and lutein, which are good for the brain and eyes respectively. Eggs are a good source of vitamins B12 and D, important for the nervous system, bone health, and more. Best of all, eggs are among the most economical, versatile and easy-to-prepare foods.

The current guidelines allow one egg per day, most days of the week (I recommend up to 5 days per week). On other days, have oatmeal or other whole grain cold cereals with fat free milk, fruit and whole grain breads for breakfast. Skip breakfast meats, butter and cheese, which are high in saturated fats. Count the milligrams in your daily intake of cholesterol from all sources. Limit it to 300 milligrams per day; 200 if already diagnosed with heart disease.

Make the most eggs’ nutritious properties by adding vegetables to your dishes. Served with whole grain bread, a vegetable omelet is very satisfying and will keep you full for many hours.

Diet Drinks Increase Risk of Diabetes


This is not good news for those who choose diet soft drinks over regular, believing it will reduce their risk of diabetes. It sounds entirely impossible but the research is solid. The study was large, done by reputable researchers and conclusive. They were able to determine the metabolic mechanisms and behaviors that cause the increased risk. The study was done on women only, so we can only conclude this is true for women, however, subsequent studies are likely to reveal the same for men and for children.

Read the article here:

http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/articles/diabetes-news/14244-higher-risk-of-diabetes-with-diet-drinks

The best advice, as for with most foods, is to stick with the natural. Juices, while also loaded with sugar, are more natural than soft drinks. Water is even better. No calories and the best thirst quencher there is. Perhaps our bodies simply work better when we treat them with Mother Nature’s original foods.

Foods of Different Cultures and Weight


I have a great excuse for the long hiatus. I was traveling. For nearly three weeks, I ate in England, South Africa and Israel. Very different cuisines, I can assure you. To be honest, I won’t even count England because I ate Italian food in London while in transit to the other two  countries. I had already made up my mind that I didn’t care to eat traditional English food such as kidney pies and blood pudding. Too much carnivorous fare for my taste, and not necessarily the body parts I would choose.

In South Africa, at a resort in a game preserve, I found the food not to be too unfamiliar. There were just a few new flavors, but nothing exotic. I was surprised to find chicken livers with onions (secretly, a favorite), but I first had this food at my Jewish grandmother’s house. The most exotic I would say, was the venison stew. Nicely flavored and tender. I waited until after tasting it to ask what kind of meat it was, lest the answer influence my perception. “Oh, it’s wildebeest,” I was told. All I could think of was those stampeding animals who killed Mufasa in the Lion King. It was actually quite good. They served a lot of meat, in spite of the fact that vegetables and fruit grow in abundance in those parts. I guess it is their perception that Americans want their meat – and they accommodate.

Israeli food is really not a specific cuisine; rather a mix of the many cultures that inhabit the land and those of the people who came to live in Israel from around the world. You will find Moroccan, Mediterranean, Turkish, Eastern European, Spanish and Indian influence. For sure, fruits and vegetables are dominant in most meals. Produce is abundant and cheaper than in the US.

As a nutritionist, I am always looking at the composition of healthy to unhealthy weight in the population, and the foods that are commonly eaten, the lifestyle, etc. I was struck that obesity was prevalent in the bush of South Africa until I visited the supermarket and saw an entire aisle with chips and other junk foods. Also, prepared foods were fatty, greasy meats and white floured grains and bread. There was plenty of soda, and kids were seen carrying bottles of Coke and sipping other very sweet drinks.

In contrast, there was much less obesity in Israel, in spite of large portions of foods at mealtimes. Because the meals consist of so much more vegetable than meat, caloric intake is lower. In the cities, many people walk and use bicycles; another healthy lifestyle habit contributing to healthier weights.

We should take a lesson. I will be. This weekend I am entertaining friends. The menu will be vegetarian. Tonight I had a vegetarian meal. I am committed to making at least 2 nights per week “meat-free” in my home. Prepared with a variety of spices and herbs, vegetables are actually delicious! Check out my recipes. I will be adding more vegetable inspired dishes.

Breakfast: the Most Important Meal of the Day


This can’t be more true and I’ve addressed this in other entries about weight loss and maintenance.

Because the body is basically an energy burner, like a coal stove, the burn stops when the energy source (fire) stops. Never mind how much coal (i.e.-fat) is sitting in the stove. Get the picture?

Breakfast comes (duh!) from two words, cleverly put together. “Break” the “fast.” The “fast” part is when the fire goes out, while you are sleeping. To kickstart that fire (your metabolism) again, you need to add fuel in the form of a healthy breakfast. The key word is “healthy.” Not a slice of white bread with jelly. A good, solid breakfast ideally has something from at least 3 food groups. A protein, a fat and a whole grain carb will keep  you satisfied until lunchtime. Use portion control as well. Learn what a portion looks like. (I’ll review this in a subsequent post.) Add a mid-morning serving of fruit so you arrive at lunchtime hungry, but not starving. After a healthy lunch, have a id afternoon snack so you are not famished at dinnertime. A healthy afternoon snack would be a palm-sized handful of walnuts, almonds, peanuts, cashews pr pistachios (or any other nuts), or a plain yogurt with some fresh fruit added for sweetness. Stay away from flavored yogurts which are high in sugar. Some brands are now featuring lower sugar content. Look for 10 or fewer grams of sugar per serving.

The extra bonus of eating a healthy breakfast is that yo continue to burn calories at a higher rate throughout the entire day! Skip breakfast and your body remains sluggish, stubbornly holding onto that unneeded mass.

If you are not great in the morning, prepare your breakfast the night before. Some ideas:

  • A whole wheat muffin spread with peanut or almond butter, topped with whole fruit spread, not jelly.
  • Prepare quick-cooking steel cut oats, put in the fridge and reheat in the morning (watch it warm up in the microwave so it doesn’t overflow the bowl). Better still cook the real kind – enough for a week, and reheat with a splash of water each morning. Add raisins or craisins and a tablespoon or two of nuts for a very filling and healthy breakfast.
  • Cheese and crackers. Watch portions.
  • Trail mix. Make your own with low sugar cereal, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, raisins, cashews or other nuts. Also good for a snack on the run.
  • Low fat cottage cheese, fruit and a slice of whole grain bread.

Hydrate with water, skin milk, coffee or tea or a 4-6 oz. portion of fruit juice.

A few other tips to make your meal nutrient dense (packed with goodness, not junk!)

  • Make your grains whole.
  • Read the bread labels and look for whole in the ingredient list.
  • Use fresh or frozen vegetables and fruits. Canned are loaded with sodium and/or sugar.
  • Make your dairy low fat
  • Watch portion size
  • Read labels
  • Have moderate portions of healthy fats. These are easily recognized by being liquid at room temperature
  • Strive for fresh over processed. Always a better choice.

Energy Bar or Candy?


The public has been duped into believing energy bars are healthier than candy bars. Conscientious mothers pack them in their kids’ lunch boxes, believing they are providing a healthy snack. Some of these bars do offer protein and fiber, which candy may not, but they pack a wallop of sugar in a small treat. Fruit or a small treat with peanut butter or cheese would be as nutritious, satisfy longer and contain a lot less sugar.

You be the judge. Listed below is the sugar content in grams, of a portion of some candy and health bars. Interestingly, the 4 highest in sugar are health bars and the lowest two are candy!

10 grams: A package of Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Squares
11 grams: Reeses Peanut Butter Cup
13 grams: Lemon Zest Luna Bar
13 grams: Iced Oatmeal Raisin Luna Bar
14 grams: Twizzlers Cherry Pull ‘n Peel
18 grams: Chocolate Craze Balance Bar
18 grams: Hershey Take 5 Bar
18 grams: Yogurt Honey Peanut Balance Bar
19 grams: Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar with Almonds
20 grams: Almond Joy
22 grams: Peanut Butter M&Ms (24 pieces, 1 pkg)
24 grams: Apricot Cliff Bar
24 grams: Carrot Cake Lara Bar
24 grams: Large package of Jelly Beans
24 grams: Key Lime Pie Lara Bar
25 grams: Spiced Pumpkin Pie Cliff Bar 25 gms
29 grams: Met RX Big 100 Meal Replacement Bar Crispy Apple Pie
31 grams: Met RX Peanut Butter Caramel Crunch Bar

While we need glucose (which is found in candy and REAL food like fruit) for proper brain and muscle function, an excess of energy (sugar) over what is expended, results in the storage of fat around and in the internal organs, and clogs the blood vessels.

Quick and Healthy Chili


Healthy Chili

Healthy Chili

I don’t often use canned goods and packaged spices, but if you find good ones, there is no reason not to when you are in a hurry. This recipe doesn’t take long to prepare, but you want to plan to be around the house to stir frequently so the beans don’t burn to the bottom of the pot. The healthy beans and tomatoes make this a powerhouse of good nutrition.

This recipe makes 6-7 quarts, enough for a couple of family dinners and some for the freezer. I package it in portion sized containers for fast defrosting and eating.

Ingredients:

  • 2   28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes (choose one without added sugar and salt)
  • 3  15.5 oz. cans of beans, drained and rinsed of the starch. Use any small beans such as navy, pinto, black, etc. I like to mix mine so I get the benefits of the nutrients in the different beans.
  • 1  15 oz. can of corn (no added sugar or salt). This will be added toward the end of the cooking cycle.
  • 2  packages of chili seasoning mix (more if you like it very hot. Two packages gives it a little kick). Note: look for a brand that has no preservatives or other chemicals. The ingredient list should have just spices. I use Sauce Supreme, which I find in the job lot store.
  • 2  lbs. of ground turkey or white meat chicken
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 very large or 2 medium sweet onions, chopped
  • Olive or canola oil for browning onions and chopped poultry

Directions:

Brown the onions in a small amount of oil, in a large, heavy stock pot. Put aside. Brown the chopped turkey/chicken in oil (because there is little fat, it will stick to the pan. If  you want to eliminate the oil, or use less, use a non-stick pan).

Add the crushed tomatoes, rinsed beans, water and chili seasoning. Simmer on a medium to low temperature. You want it to bubble slightly, but not burn on the bottom. Stir every 10 minutes, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot so the beans (which are heavy and settle) won’t burn. Cook for 2 hours to soften the beans and meld the flavors. Add the corn in the final 10-15 minutes. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate. Leftovers may be frozen.

Bon appétit!

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