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Archive for April, 2007

Numbers Game: The Fast and the Fattening

The average adult in the United States eats _______ hamburgers and _______ regular orders of fries a week from a fast-food restaurant.

a) 2, 1
b) 3, 4
c) 2, 2
d) 3, 2

Leave your guess in the “comments” section below and be sure to come back on Thursday for the answer!

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All-Star of the Day: Sweet Potatoes

The potato’s more exotic counterpart has taken a backseat for a while, but after knowing its secrets, I’m sure you’ll agree it deserves the spotlight.

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, two antioxidants that help prevent cells from damage that often leads to cancers and other mutations. Vitamin C also has anti-inflammatory properties, making it particularly helpful in decreasing risks of arthritis and cardiovascular disease.

Vitamin A is particularly helpful in maintaining our respiratory system in order. The latest research indicates that the cells lining the lungs of people with low intakes of vitamin A lose the ability to battle disease-causing microorganisms.

Smokers – pay special attention! A chemical in cigarettes known as benzapyrene has been linked to vitamin A deficiency, thus leaving lungs and bronchii especially vulnerable. Although everyone needs vitamin A, smokers in particular need to monitor their intake.

A medium sweet potato only packs 100 calories, but provides 438% of our vitamin A and 37% of our vitamin C needs and, when eaten with its skin, 5 grams of fiber (15% of the recommended daily amount). And, by contributing 18% of the daily potassium we need and practically no sodium, it is definitely a vegetable to have in your “anti-hypertension” arsenal.

To clarify some confusion, the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are (incorrectly) interchanged. Many grocery stores refer to sweet potatoes as yams. A real yam looks has a rough exterior and, insider, is white and very starchy.

Baked sweet potatoes with a little olive oil and salt (or cinnamon if you want to bring out its sweetness) are quick, delicious snacks.

For a sinless treat, cut a sweet potato into thin wedges, drizzle with olive oil, flavor with salt and pepper, toss on a cookie sheet and heat in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

Prepare to taste just how sweet healthy eating can get!

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Beating the Salad Blues

With temperatures rising, it’s only a matter of time before refreshing salads become lunch and dinner staples. In order to make one a nutritious and delicious — rather than torturous — part of your day, allow me to share some pointers:

* Know your leaves: A salad made with iceberg lettuce, which is basically crunchy water, will lack taste and nutrients. Instead, experiment with baby greens, mesclun mixes, and spinach as salad bases. If you like iceberg’s texture, mix it with more nutritious greens.

* Make it filling with fiber: Add chickpeas, kidney beans, sliced almonds, pumpkin seeds, and/or a tablespoon of flaxseed to up your salad’s fiber content.

* Call on Roy G. Biv: Foods’ vitamin and mineral contents vary by color (ie: yellow and orange are great for Vitamin A and C, while green ones are good course of Vitamin E). So, a spinach/broccoli/green pepper/pea salad doesn’t offer as much nutrition as as a spinach/cauliflower/red pepper/carrot one.

* Give it a protein boost: A salad with nothing but vegetables and fat-free dressing is a diet pitfall, since the lack of protein and fiber won’t satiate you. Be sure to add at least one main source of lean protein (ie: grilled chicken breast, tuna fish, egg, tofu, tempeh, nuts, or beans).

* Say yes to (healthy) fats: In order to absorb all those nutrients, you will need fat. Best ways? Add some sliced avocado, replace fat-free dressing with an olive-oil based one, or use healthy add-ons like sunflower seeds, almonds, and beans.

* Sweeten it up: Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors. Strawberries, mangos, pears, apples, and orange slices can turn a “blah” salad into a gourmet treat.

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You Ask, I Answer: Flaxseed

I bought a package of linseed just yesterday, thinking I might add it to my morning cereal. I hadn’t read your entry then, however, and purchased whole seeds rather than ground ones. If the shell is undigestible will I be getting any benefits from eating this other than the fibre they provide? It sounds like all the good stuff’s locked away behind that tough shell.
– Anonymous

In order to get flaxseed’s nutritional benefits, we need to break its shell. If not ground, flaxseed will simply pass through our digestive system completely undetected. What a shame!

However, all is not lost. If you have a coffee grinder, you can use it to turn your whole flaxseeds into ground flaxseed meal.

Once grounded, flaxseed spoils quickly, so be sure to eat it right away (and store the rest in the refrigerator).

If this is your first time consuming this wonderful food, start off slowly. Too much too soon can make an unexperienced body feel bloated.

With that out of the way, enjoy! I’m sure you will make flaxseed a staple in your kitchen.

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Simply Said: Cholesterol (Part 2)

Part One introduced the main concept; now let’s talk figures. If you have your last bloodwork results handy, pull them out before continuing.

When it comes to total cholesterol, you ideally want a number below 200. If you are between the 200 and 240 mark, you are in the “caution” zone. Anything above 240 is cause for concern.

When it comes to HDL (the “good cholesterol” that takes extra cholesterol lingering around in places where it shouldn’t be back to the liver for processing), you want as high a number as possible. Anything below 40 is low (and indicates a higher risk of developing heart disease), whereas a number between 40 and 60 is OK. For maximum heart-healthy benefits, though, you want a number above 60.

Onto the “bad cholesterol” (LDL). You definitely want this low, since high numbers up the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Less than 100? Perfection! Between 100 and 130? You’re still in safe territory. If you are between 130 and 160, consider yourself warned. If between 160 and 190, you are just a few numbers away from real trouble. If your LDL is above 190, this is a threat to your cardiovascular health that needs to be addressed.

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Numbers Game: Answer

So there you are at a great party, enjoying the people and drinks. Four cans of beer later (without nibbling on anything the whole night) you have downed 450 calories.

You could have eaten a McDonald’s double cheeseburger and saved yourself 10 calories!

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All-Star of the Day: Tea

Nutrition isn’t just about food. Beverages, such as tea, can play an important role in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Not only does tea — whether green, white, black, or red (also known as oolong) — have as much as 1000 (yes, one thousand) percent more antioxidants than many fruits and vegetables, it also gives our bodies a huge detoxifying boost.

White tea is the least processed, since its leaves only undergo air-drying. Green tea leaves are steamed and dried, while black and red tea ones undergo a fermentation process. Although a few healthy compounds are lost during processing, all teas are nutritional champs in their purest form (i.e.: brewed as opposed to a Snapple drink, which is basically sugar and water with a little tea thrown in).

All teas have high amounts of natural plants antioxidants known as polyphenols and cachetins, which look for cell-damaging free radicals and prevent them from doing further damage, thereby helping decrease our risk of cancers and blood clots.

There’s more! Numerous studies have shown that having 2 cups of tea a day can help lower total and bad cholesterol and slow the growth of tumors.

A little Nutrition 101: bad cholesterol (LDL) is especially dangerous when it oxidizes as a result of exposure to free radicals and becomes particularly sticky (not a good quality in something that deposits in our arteries). Luckily, antioxidants, as their name suggest, prevent oxidizing and make it harder for bad cholesterol to reside in our arteries as hard plaque.

Tea also has antioxidants known as flavonoids, which, research suggests, may help prevent blood clots.

A 2004 study by the UCLA Department of Urology found that green tea extract in particular slowed down the multiplication of bladder cancer cells.

Great news for women — a December 2005 study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden concluded that two cups of tea a day decreased a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 46 percent.

Bagged teas have the highest amount of antioxidants, and to ensure these compounds end up in your, dunk the bag several times while the tea steeps for at least 3 minutes.

Don’t think you have to drink tea by itself to get benefits. One common myth perpetrated by tea purists is that the addition of milk cancels out much of its health benefits, which is entirely
untrue.

Tea does bind with iron, so it’s recommended you consume tea between meals rather than with them to make sure you are fully absorbing the iron in your food. If you insist on tea to accompany your meals, I recommend adding some lemon to it, since vitamin C aids with iron absorption.

It is worth noting that these wonderful health properties do NOT apply to herbal teas, which are not made from the same leaves as the above-mentioned teas.

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You Ask, I Answer: Juicing (Part 2)

Hey, you punched holes in the healthiest thing I do: juicing!
— Greg Mason, California

Although I wanted to take away the “eighth world wonder” mystique that often surrounds juicing, I want to clarify that there is a place for it in a healthy diet for healthy individuals.

My concern stemmed from the fact that a good number of people I have spoken with have told me they get their recommended two daily servings of fruit by juicing — rather than eating — them.

As I mentioned, this is worrisome because juicing doesn’t provide us with fiber (which the average adult in the United States doesn’t get enough of).

That being said, I don’t have a problem with fresh fruit juices if they accompany high-fiber foods (i.e.: a peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread, a salad with legumes and a variety of vegetables, air-popped popcorn, pumpkin seeds, or even two tablespoons of ground flaxseed stirred into the juice) and are not used in place of fresh fruit.

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Simply Said: Cholesterol (Part 1)

Welcome to yet another new section of the Small Bites blog. “Simply Said” will help you understand confusing or overwhelming nutrition topics.

We begin with cholesterol. Our livers and cells produce about 80% of our body’s cholesterol, a precursor to hormones like estrogen and testosterone and necessary for producing vitamin D out of the sunlight that hits our skin. That being said, cholesterol is not essential (meaning it is not necessary to get additional amounts from our diet).

There are four types of cholesterol, but the two you want to think about are low density (LDL) and high density (HDL). The four variations combined make up what is known as your total cholesterol.

LDL is the bad (or “lame”) cholesterol. What’s so bad about it? Well, the higher your LDL cholesterol, the higher your risk of strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots.

Why is this? LDL cholesterol ends up being deposited on the walls of our arteries, where it turns into hard plaque and restricts bloodflow.

HDL is the good (or “healthy”) cholesterol that helps prevent plaque deposits by taking them to the liver for processing and removal when it spots them.

If your body were a town, LDL would be the litterbugs and HDL would be the sanitation workers.

Now, it is true that genes play a somewhat significant role in this. Some people — no matter how healthy they eat — have high levels of LDL, while others can go through life eating junk and still boast high HDL numbers.

Although the drug companies would love for all us to be on statins (cholesterol-lowering medication), the majority of us are in that middle area where our cholesterol profiles can be modified by diet.

Let’s get this straight once and for all. It is not cholesterol in foods that raises our bad cholesterol, but saturated fat, found only in animal products (except those that are non-fat). So, when a package of bread boasts a “cholesterol-free” label on it, you can reply back, “well, duh!” and dismiss it as semi-dishonest marketing rather than groundbreaking nutritional information.

So how do you lower cholesterol? Physical activity is a must, but when it comes to food, your best weapon is soluble fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oatmeal), which bundles up and flushes out excess cholesterol.

(Note: physical activity does not have to mean a busy gym or loud spinning class. Simply increasing the distance you walk every day is enough to have an effect on your cholesterol levels).

Back to the nutrition factor. Going low-fat is NOT the answer to lowering your cholesterol. Rather, you want to go smart-fat. Monounsaturated fats (found in olive oil, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, avocados, and flaxseed) are helpful at maintaining our good cholesterol levels (a low-fat diet can actually lower it). Remember, the goal isn’t just to lower bad cholesterol, but to increase the good one, too.

Tomorrow we’ll finish up this segment with some numbers to help you make sense of your next blood lab results.

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You Ask, I Answer: Juicing

Is it healthier to have fruits as fresh juices or eat them as they come?
– Mark

Many fitness buffs swear by juicing. I’m sure you’ve seen at least one late night infomercial where an 80-year-old with bundles of energy pitches a “revolutionary product” in which you insert an orange and an apple and just seconds later, voila, you have fresh juice!

These same people want you to believe that juicing is the absolute best way to get your nutrients. They’re wrong.

Although juicing will provide you with all the antioxidants (cancer-fighting compounds) in fruits, it lacks something very important – cholesterol-lowing and digestive-system-cleaning fiber.

(For clarification purposes, I am referring to juice you make by inserting a whole fruit into a juicer, not pre-packaged ‘juice drinks’ that are nutritional black holes).

Fruits hold a large portion of their fiber on their skins or peels, which you can not get in juice. Similarly, the fiber in an orange is found in the white strands that contain each individual orange segment. You certainly won’t be getting that in liquid form.

Additionally, if you are looking to maintain or lose weight, you are much better off eating an actual piece of fresh fruit than drinking its juice. Not only will the fiber in the whole fruit help make you feel full, you will also consume less calories.

For instance, 1 cup of apple slices provides 57 calories. A cup of apple juice? 120. The cup of apple slices would also give you 3 grams of fiber, whereas the juice has none.

If you are given the choice between regular or diet soda and fresh fruit juice, the latter is of course the best option. However, it falls short of being the nutritional powerhouse that is a whole fruit with all its components.

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All-Star of the Day: Avocados

It ain’t easy being an avocado. Despite being full of nutrition and health benefits,many people think all they do is make them fat. Allow me to set the record straight.

Let’s start with some very basic nutritional info for this fruit. Half an avocado provides 160 calories, 14.7 grams of fat, 6.7 grams of fiber, and 487.4 milligrams of potassium.

To put it into perspective, that’s a banana’s worth of potassium and as much fiber as two slices of whole grain bread.

Many people get hung up on the fat (when eating a 2,000 calorie diet, the recommendation is that your total fat intake not surpass the 65 gram mark).

As you will soon read in issue 4 of Small Bites, though, all fat is not created equal.

The fat in avocados is a tremendously healthy one known as monounsaturated fat – the same one that largely makes up olive oil.

Avocados even beat olive oil when it comes to their proportion of a specific monounsaturated fat known as oleic acid.

Oleic acid (sometimes referred to as “omega-9”) has been shown to lower total and bad cholesterol while simultaneously increasing good cholesterol. Even better, it is a great defense against the development of atherosclerosis (the collection of fatty deposits in our artery walls that restrict bloodflow).

Remember that there are three components that help us feel satiated: fat, fiber, and protein. Avocados are high in fiber and fat, so just half of one (160 calories) included in a meal will satisfy your hunger for quite a while.

Take something like pretzels — which have no fat, almost no fiber, and very little protein. You could eat 500 calories’ worth and still feel like gnoshing on something.

Please do not fall prey to the notion that “eating fat makes me fat”. It is entirely untrue. Excess calories lead to weight gain. Because there are 9 calories per gram of fat (as opposed to 4 calories per gram of protein or carbohydrate), it is a more concentrated source of calories, but, for example, if you eat copious amounts of rice (a fat-free food), you will most certainly gain weight.

A study published in the March 2005 issue of Annals of Oncology, a European medical cancer research journal, provided some promising results – oleic acid (abundant in avocados) drastically cut down the levels of a gene that appears to be responsible for the onset of breast cancer.

There’s more! I recently mentioned that fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) can not be properly absorbed by the body unless we accompany them with some kind of fat (hence their name).

Avocados not only already have vitamins A, E, and K, they are also a tremendous tool to help us absorb nutrients from other foods.

In fact, a team of researchers at Ohio State decided to study this, and the astonishing results were published in the March 2005 issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

When it came to eating a salad with high amounts of alpha and beta carotene (compounds found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables which our body converts into Vitamin A), people who included avocados in this salad absorbed 8.3 more times alpha carotene and 13.6 times more beta carotene than those who skipped the fat!

Avocados are also high in lutein, a fat-soluble pigment which helps keep eyes, hearts, and – in men’s case – prostates healthy. Our body does not make lutein, so it is imperative we get it from our diet.

Avocados, much like bananas, ripen very quickly. If you are planning to prepare a meal with the avocado you buy today, be sure lightly press your thumb against it to test for its softness. Otherwise, go for one that is a little hard and allow it to ripen in your kitchen – at room temperature – for a few days.

Even kitchen-phobes have no excuse for not enjoying this delicious fruit – all you need is a cutting board and knife.

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Numbers Game: Beer Belly

So there you are at a great party, enjoying the people and drinks. Four cans of beer later (without nibbling on anything the whole night) you have downed _____________ calories.

Leave a guess in the “comments” section and be sure to check back on Sunday for the answer.

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Quick Tricks: Cutting 100 Calories

Welcome to the first installment of a new section aimed at providing you with quick, painless ways to achieve your healthy eating goals.

A few ways to remove approximately 100 calories from your day:

  • Snack on 2 ounces of grapes (39 calories) rather than 1 ounce of raisins (85 calories).
  • Enjoy a salad with 1 medium-size 2 ounce fresh tomato (11 calories) instead of 1 ounce of sundried tomatoes (83 calories).
  • Instead of 7 regular Tostitos chips (140 calories), have 10 baked Tostitos chips (55 calories). Even better, enjoy them with 2 tablespoons of salsa (9 calories) rather than the same amount of cheese dip (60 calories).
  • At a Thai restaurant, go for a summer roll (89 calories) instead of a spring roll (200 calories).
  • You can’t go wrong with a can of tuna. But packed in water (191 calories) is better than oil (339 calories).
  • Make your grilled cheese sandwich on a George Foreman grill and save yourself a tablespoon of butter (102 calories).
  • Forego a typical 1 ounce serving of croutons in your salad (122 calories).
  • In the mood for ice cream? Get a scoop in a cup (0 calories, of course) rather than a chocolate-dipped waffle cone (160 calories).
  • When dining out, ask for your salad dressing (200 calories) on the side. Then, dip your fork into the salad dressing before each bite. You’ll very likely have half of it left over after finishing your salad.
  • If you’re indulging on dessert, ask for a brownie (290 calories) without a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top (140 calories).
  • At Starbucks, pass on whipped cream for your grande drink (100 calories).
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Numbers Game: Answer

The average adult in the United States takes in 35 % of his/her recommended daily calcium intake.

No wonder 10 million Americans are living with osteoporosis (progressive bone loss that greatly increases the risk of fractures) and 18 million are currently at risk of developing it.

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All-Star of the Day: Flaxseed

I can’t think of a simpler and better way to get more nutrition in your diet than by adding flaxseed to your meals.

Even the pickiest of eaters approve of their non-intrusive flavor and consistency.

Since flaxseed’s highly healthful contents are protected by a thick shell, the best way to eat — and easiest way to buy — it is as a milled or ground product.

Whereas the outer shell passes undigested through our body, the center is much more easily absorbed — and offers some powerhouse nutrients.

Two tablespoons of flaxseed provide 4 grams (20 percent) of fiber and almost 150% of the omega-3 fatty acids we need in just 95 calories!

You might have heard a lot about omega-3 fatty acids (they have replaced whole grains as the new “hot topic” in nutrition).

Let’s do a little “Omega 101,” shall we?

Omega-3′s are wonderful essential fatty acids (yes, ‘wonderful’ and ‘fatty’ can be in the same sentence!).

Why? It has amazing anti-inflammation properties (and thus a strong defense against asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and migraine headaches) and helps prevent the formation of blood clots (thereby decreasing our risk of heart attacks and strokes).

The newest research on omega-3′s has also shown a link between their consumption and the slowing down of bone loss, especially among pre-menopausal women.

Although omega-3′ are often linked with fatty fish like salmon, flaxseed have lots of alpha linoleic acid, the precursor to eicosapentaenoic acid (the omega-3 found in fatty fish).

Omega-3′s are essential, meaning the body can not produce them on its own (unlike cholesterol, which we make on a daily basis and thus do not need to get from our food).

However, the average adult in the United States is consuming 1.6 grams of Omega-3 fats a day — falling way short of the recommended minimum of 2.85 grams a day set forth by the American Heart Association.

That is not all flaxseed has to offer, though. High in the mineral magnesium, it is a good nutritional tool to combat asthma symptoms and keep blood pressure stable.

Flaxseed is also high in special plant compounds named lignans.

Women should pay special attention, since lignans contain phytoestrogens, an estrogen-like hormone that, in several studies, has been shown to decrease the formation of cell mutations related to the onset of breast cancer. One specific phytoestrogen in flaxseed known as SDG successfully ceased the formation of mammary tumors in rats.

In fact, a study published in the February 2004 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that just one ounce of ground flaxseed every day over a 4-month period raises breast cancer protective hormones.

No matter what your sex, the insoluble (digestive-system-cleaning) and soluble (bad-cholesterol-flushing) fiber in flaxseed is worth raving about.

Remember, though, they are “all-star”, so they also offer a special type of soluble fiber called mucilage which functions as a natural laxative.

Here is the easiest part: all you need to do is buy ground flaxseed meal (sold at many commercial supermarkets and health food stores).

Even if you are unable to boil water without screwing up, you can add flaxseed to your diet. Sprinkle it on cereal, oatmeal, soups or salads, blend it into smoothies, or mix it with yogurt.

Be sure to store flaxseed in the refrigerator once opened, though, since it spoils quickly and loses its nutritional properties if left out at room temperature once opened.

Flax all, folks!

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