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    Archive for the ‘cholesterol’ Category

    In The News: Nutrition Professor Eats Twinkies, Loses Weight.

    1283457996610Earlier this month, the media feasted on the following news bit:

    “Mark Haub, 40, associate professor in Kansas State University”s Department of Human Nutrition, began a 30-day junk food marathon on Aug. 25. He is living on a diet of high-calorie, high-fat foods, such as snack cakes, powdered doughnuts and sticky buns, to show that foods commonly regarded as junk can actually help people lose weight.”

    Continue Reading »

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    Numbers Game: What Twenty Extra Pounds Really Mean

    use-scale-weigh-yourself-200X200A gain of twenty pounds (of fat, not muscle) over one’s ideal body weight results, on average, in a _____ percent increase of triglycerides and an average decrease of HDL cholesterol of _____ percent.

    a) 5/13
    b) 15/15
    c) 30/8
    d) 12/23

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Tuesday for the answer.

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    Who Said It?: Reveal

    dr-oz-0304-lg-85334211Interviewer: Is all seafood good for you?

    Our subject’s answer: “Nope. Some of the crustaceans have cholesterol — shrimp, crab, lobster.”

    This is what Dr. Oz told Esquire magazine last year.  Granted, the rest of his nutrition-related answers (except for one other, which I discuss below) are accurate.  However, I am extremely surprised that someone who considers himself a nutrition expert is not up to date on dietary cholesterol research.

    When it comes to issues of heart disease, dietary cholesterol is waaay down on the list of troublemakers.  Trans fats, excessive omega-6 intake, insufficient omega-3 intake, high intakes of sugar, and certain saturated fats (mainly those in the meat and milk of corn and grain-fed cattle) are of much more concern.

    Shrimp, crab, and lobster are not “unhealthy” because they contain cholesterol.  Besides, wild salmon contains cholesterol, so why is Dr. Oz singling out crustaceans?

    In an attempt to avoid cholesterol in crustaceans, many people instead opt for red meat which offers lower levels of cholesterol but significantly higher levels of problematic saturated fatty acids (and not a single milligram of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids).

    Another one of Dr. Oz’s misguided tips — he recommends eating “wheat crust” pizza.  This is one of the most aggravating tips, because… well, it isn’t a tip at all!  White flour is made from wheat; ergo, it is wheat crust.  “Wheat” does not mean whole grain.  The real tip is to aim for “100% whole wheat” crust.

    The whole “wheat bread is healthier than white bread” idea needs to be squashed immediately.  Too many times, breads simply labeled as “wheat” are made from white flour with caramel color or molasses thrown in to give it a healthy-looking brown tint.

    It is statements like these (along with others I have pointed out on the blog) that truly make me wonder why Dr. Oz is viewed as a “nutrition” guru.  The two tips mentioned in this post are basic Nutrition 101 information.

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    Who Said it?

    QuestionMark-300x2991Interviewer: Is all seafood good for you?

    Our subject’s answer: “Nope. Some of the crustaceans have cholesterol — shrimp, crab, lobster.”

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Sunday for the reveal — and to find out why I take issue with the above answer.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Coffee and Cholesterol

    espresso_vivaceYou recently blogged about the health benefits of coffee.  My sister, though, pointed out that coffee is bad for cholesterol, especially since it raises LDL cholesterol levels.

    Is that true?

    — Vanessa (Last name withheld)
    (City withheld), NV

    Yes and no.

    Filtered coffee is not a concern.

    Espresso-based drinks are slightly different since two particular compounds (cafestol and kahweol) are not filtered out.  These compounds — oils found on the surfaces of coffee beans — do indeed raise LDL cholesterol.

    This is only a concern for people already living with certain conditions (ie: hypercholesteremia) or who consume very high amounts of unfiltered coffee.

    Still, two shots of espresso a day are nowhere near as damaging for heart health as a diet low in omega-3 fatty acids and soluble fiber, or a sedentary lifestyle that also includes smoking.

    Besides, an unsweetened cappuccino after dinner is a better choice than a filtered coffee spiked with six pumps of syrup and topped with mountains of whipped cream.

    I don’t see any reason to fear coffee.  If anything, all the research I have seen points to it contributing a good amount of health benefits (from lowering blood pressure to decreasing diabetes risk).

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    NutMealFlaxSeedStudies on flaxseed intake have shown that two tablespoons of ground flax a day for three months can lower LDL cholesterol by anywhere from 9 to 18 percent.

    Added bonus?  The lignans (specific plant compounds) in ground flax are highly anti-inflammatory.  Remember, inflammation at the cellular level is believed to be one of the chief causes behind a litany of degenerative diseases.

    Flaxseed offers a particular lignan known as SDG (secoisolariciresinol diglycoside, to be exact), which helps lower the levels of oxidative stress in blood vessels.  In laymen’s terms: SDG is a powerful tool against the development of atherosclerosis.

    Recent — and very promising! — studies appear to show that SDG also helps maintain steady blood glucose levels.

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    Numbers Game: Two Tablespoons A Day Keep Cholesterol at Bay

    flax_seed_mealStudies on flaxseed intake have shown that two tablespoons of ground flax a day for three months can lower LDL cholesterol by anywhere from ____ to ____ percent.

    a) 9 – 18
    b) 6 – 11
    c) 13 – 24
    d) 4 – 8

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday for the answer.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Dark Chicken Meat

    20090106seared_chickenWhy is dark chicken meat less nutritious than chicken breast?

    — Stefania Pereyra
    (Location Withheld)

    It isn’t, really.

    Yes, dark chicken meat is slightly higher in saturated fat and cholesterol than chicken breast.  However, dark meat still provides a wide range of vitamins and minerals (some of them in higher quantities than you would get in chicken breast).

    As I always like to remind readers of this blog, though, dietary cholesterol does not have as much of an impact on blood cholesterol as trans fats and saturated fats from red meat and dairy.

    A commercial muffin may be cholesterol-free, but if it is loaded with trans fats (as most of them are), it is much worse for your cardiovascular health than a roasted chicken thigh.

    Frankly, I wish people would care more about what the chicken they are eating was fed and how it was treated at the farm it came from than whether or not there’s an extra two grams of fat in the thigh.

    If those were the top priorities though, though, 99% of chicken consumers would think twice about ordering sliced chicken breast over their Caesar salads.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cholesterol Requirements?

    78e8ae3c-ed73-4b28-8afe-12bf334bed21_2I’ve been tracking my food consumption using LiveStrong.com, and for the most part, I noticed that I don’t come anywhere near their recommended cholesterol intake (182 mg/day, based on my height and weight).

    My cholesterol is already genetically high. So is there any reason I need to be hitting that, or any other, recommended marker for cholesterol?

    — Jennifer DiSanto
    Philadelphia, PA

    I can’t, for the life of me, understand why you would be given a “recommended cholesterol intake”.  There isn’t one!

    There is a set limit of 300 milligrams per day, but that is not a “mark to hit”.  Besides, not everyone is cholesterol-sensitive.  When it comes to blood cholesterol levels, trans fats, saturated fats from dairy and red meat, and excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are the main things to watch for.

    Cholesterol (found exclusively in animal and animal-derived foods) is not an essential nutrient; our bodies manufacture it.

    Vegan diets, for instance, don’t offer a single milligram of cholesterol.

    By the way — let me be perfectly clear: the absence of cholesterol does not automatically make a food “heart-healthy”.  Skittles and French fries cooked in corn oil are “cholesterol-free”, but that one tidbit of nutrition information is not enough to make a qualified judgment on their nutritional value.

    Anyone who mentions a “recommended intake of cholesterol” needs to take a nutrition 101 class.  Stat.

    Is it possible you misread their recommendation and they are actually asking you to consume no more than 182 milligrams per day?  That would make a lot more sense to me.

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    Intern On A Mission!

    190154-1Over the past few months, University of Nebraska Lincoln freshman Laura Smith has been of tremendous help to me as the first-ever Small Bites intern.

    A few weeks ago, I asked her to visit one or two vitamin stores in her city, assume the role of a regular customer, and ask sales representatives at these stores what they would recommend for her now that “she is under doctor’s orders” to eat more fiber and improve her cholesterol levels (FYI: she isn’t really, I just concocted that).

    Here is what Laura was told at a store called Complete Nutrition (in her words):

    I was told to take a multivitamin, as this will help improve nutrients and my cholesterol level.  I was also told to take Tone, a product that “attacks stubborn fat by shrinking fat cells while maintaining existing lean muscle”.  According to the salesperson, Tone has been clinically tested to support fat loss while maintaining normal cholesterol levels and promoting healthy heart functions. The key ingredients are CLA, Omega 3 fatty acids, and GLA.  I was also told to make sure to take protein.

    Sigh.  Wow.  Deep sigh.  Okay.

    If someone were to ask my recommendations to follow these “doctor’s orders”, I would say:

    • Increase soluble fiber intake by consuming oatmeal/oat-based cereals/oat bran, beans (especially kidney beans), nuts, psyllium husks (adding one tablespoon to a smoothie), fruits, and vegetables.
    • Lower intake of full-fat dairy and red meat
    • Prioritize foods with healthier fats (ie: add 1 Tablespoon ground flax to cereal, soup, or smoothie; replace cheese in sandwich with avocado, etc.)

    Let’s analyze Complete Nutrition’s advice:

    1. “Take a multivitamin”: Completely irrelevant within the scope of cholesterol management.
    2. “Take Tone”: I love the notion of products attacking “stubborn fat”, as if there were some type of special fat that simply did not respond to food.  While the presence of omega-3s in this product is helpful, this customer would be better off eating food that offers omega-3 fatty acids and fiber simultaneously (i.e.: walnuts, ground flax).  They would save money, too!
    3. “Make sure you get protein”.  Also irrelevant from a cholesterol management standpoint.  As I have said many times on Small Bites, no one in the United States needs to worry about not consuming enough protein.  The average adult — without even trying — consumes approximately two and a half times their daily requirement.

    Here is what Laura was told at GNC:

    They told me to take fish oil, either a triple strength variety once a day, or a normal strength three times a day. They also told me to take a fiber supplement, either in a chewable or pill form.

    While not ideal (my rule is “food first, then supplements”) this at least focuses on the right nutrients — healthier fats and fiber.  I understand, though, that GNC has products to sell and can’t be expected to suggest skipping their products and heading to the grocery store instead.

    And, truth be told, I often recommend omega-3 supplementation to people who do not consume sufficient amounts of fish or sea vegetables each week to cover their needs.  In my book, omega-3 and vitamin D supplementation are two things almost everyone should be doing.

    It’s more the fiber supplement advice that I find comical.  Most fiber supplements add 4 to 6 grams of fiber to your day, the same amount you can get from an apple or a medium banana or a half cup of lentils.

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    In The News: Camel Meat — The Latest Health Fad?

    07._Camel_Profile,_near_Silverton,_NSW,_07.07.2007Reuters recently featured the newest healthy option on Dubai restaurant menus — camel meat.

    “For 20 UAE dirhams ($5.45), the Local House restaurant offers a quarter pound camel burger”, which assistant manager Ali Ahmad Esmail claims are fat-free and cholesterol-free.

    Hmmmm… really?

    A 1993 study conducted at Saudi Arabia’s King Saud University by the College of Agriculture (and published in Meat Science in 1995) concluded that “in proximate composition, camel meat is generally similar to beef.”

    Specifically, camel meat samples were found to contain anywhere from 4.1 to 10.6 percent fat.

    Cholesterol, by definition, is present in foods of animal origin and absent in plant-derived foods.  It is impossible for any animal flesh to be cholesterol-free.

    More strangely, these fat-free and “health conscious” claims are silly when you consider that these camel burgers are “loaded with cheese”, “smothered in burger sauce”, and served with fries!

    Conclusion: mere hype.

    Thank you to Robert Jackson for forwarding the Reuters article.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Plant Stanols

    006347A few days ago I was reading a pamphlet on heart-healthy eating, which recommended eating 2 grams of plant stanols every day.

    What are they? What foods are they in?

    I’ve never heard of them before or seen them on a food label, so how do I know how many grams I’m eating?

    — Mike Appenbrink
    New York, NY

    Plant stanols are naturally-occurring compounds in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

    Stanols are closely linked to sterols; they both fall under the “phytosterol” umbrella (phytosterols have a similar molecular structure to cholesterol, and compete with it for absorption).

    Phytosterols have been clinically shown to lower LDL (unhealthy) cholesterol while keeping HDL (healthy) cholesterol levels steady, thereby improving our LDL:HDL ratio. Here’s the catch — in order to get those health benefits, you need to consume two grams of them a day. They are present in hundreds of plant-based foods, but in miniscule amounts.  You would need to eat an excessive amount of calories to consume two grams.

    Cue companies like Finland’s Raisio Group, which formulated Benecol, a proprietary (ka-ching!) blend of stanols that can now be found in handful of processed products — from margarines and corn chips to orange juice and cereal.

    So, yes, long-term daily intake of two grams of stanols can help reduce LDL cholesterol by an average of fifteen percent, but I don’t consider stanol/sterol-fortified margarines and milks a necessity in a heart-healthy diet.

    There are many other things you can do to improve blood lipid profiles: consume at least 25 grams of fiber a day, prioritize monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, limit added sugars and refined flours, and avoid trans fats.

    Whole foods may contain negligible amounts of sterols, but they contain many heart-healthy phytonutrients.

    Something tells me the educational materials you read were written or sponsored by one of the big stanol companies. My advice? Eat real food — there are plenty of benefits to be reaped.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Barley

    whole_barleyCan you tell me about the health benefits of barley?

    I just added some to my kale stew and really liked it, but I don’t know anything about it.

    — Susy (last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

    Barley is a wonderful grain!

    You should know that there are two different varieties — hulled barley and pearled barley.

    Pearled barley is the most commonly consumed type.  While it is still nutritious, it is slightly more processed than hulled barley in that it loses its bran layer.

    Consequently, pearled barley cooks faster.

    If you can find hulled barley, I recommend you purchase that.

    However, even pearled barley is far superior to refined grains like white rice, couscous, or pastas made from white flours.

    After all, one cup of it (cooked) provides:

    • 6 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • 10% of a day’s worth of niacin, vitamin B6, and zinc
    • 20% of a day’s worth of manganese and selenium

    Meanwhile, one cup of cooked hulled barley adds up to:

    • 8 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein
    • Higher amounts of niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and selenium

    One of the advantages of barley is that a significant percentage of its fibers are beta-glucans.

    Beta-glucans are a specific type of soluble fiber — also found in oatmeal, seaweed, and mushrooms — responsible for lowering LDL cholesterol (the higher your LDL cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease).

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    You Ask, I Answer: Nuts & Cholesterol

    nuts1240705690Are there any nuts that help lower cholesterol, or are they all bad?

    They are high in fat, right?

    — Greg (Last name withheld)
    Los Angeles, CA

    When it comes to lowering cholesterol with food, there are three particular nutrients to keep in mind:

    • Soluble fiber
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Monounsaturated fats

    The above nutrients are ones you want to consume more of.  Ideally, you don’t want to simply add them to what you are already eating, but rather eat them in place of less-healthy foods (i.e.: refined carbohydrates, foods made with corn and cottonseed oil, etc.).

    In regards to your question: nuts are an absolutely wonderful food that I encourage everyone to have a serving of every single day.

    Almonds and Brazil nuts are the nuts with highest amounts of soluble fiber per ounce.  Walnuts, meanwhile, have more omega-3 fatty acids (in the form of Alpha-Linolenic Acid) than any other nut.  The monounsaturated fat category is dominated by peanuts.

    This is not to say other nuts are inferior; others have certain phytonutrients and compounds that have been shown to help lower cholesterol levels.

    While we’re discussing these three nutrients, check out this list of best sources (which includes some foods not mentioned above):

    • Soluble fiber: barley, figs, kidney beans, oat bran, oatmeal, pears, psyllium husk
    • Omega-3 fatty acids: chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, halibut, sea vegetables, scallops, walnuts, wild-caught salmon
    • Monounsaturated fatty acids: almonds, avocado, macadamia nuts, peanuts olive oil

    Great news about soluble fiber — every gram of soluble fiber (when consumed in a consistent, daily basis) is linked to a 1 or 2 point reduction in total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

    Above all, please undo the “fat is bad” mantra that has pervaded the American dietary landscape for the past two decades.  Omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats not only lower total and LDL cholesterol, they also increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Side Effects from Fish Oil Capsules?

    sealogix_oil2Are you aware of any side effects resulting from ingesting fish oil capsules?

    Specifically, a relative of mine is very sensitive to many compounds (a number of prescription drugs in particular). Her (highly regarded) general practitioner advised her to start fish oil supplementation, possibly in connection with high cholesterol.

    Since taking the supplements, she has experienced itchiness, has developed some sores (similar to psoriasis) and says that she has experienced cuts more frequently with higher than normal bleeding from the cuts.

    Have there been any studies conducted that point to such possible side effects?

    — Bill M.
    Via the blog

    This is actually a two-part question.

    Before I go any further though, let me make something very clear.  Clearly, your relative’s body is sending her a message — “these supplements do not agree with me.”  She needs to listen to that above everything else.

    Side effects to fish oil supplementation have indeed been reported and are mentioned in the literature.

    The itchiness and sores could very well be the result of a fish oil allergy or, if she is taking these supplements in capsule form, possibly an allergy to an ingredient in the capsule shell.

    If it is the latter, than switching to a liquid supplement would resolve that issue.

    What worries me most, however, is the excessive bleeding.

    Although omega-3 fatty acids have anti-clotting, blood thinning properties (which are a good thing!), I suspect such a dramatic effect may be the result of the fish oil working in conjunction with something else.

    Does she take a daily aspirin?  Similarly, is she currently on Coumadin, blood pressure medications, or any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs?

    If the answer to any of those is ‘yes’, she needs to tell her general practitioner immediately and stop taking fish oil supplements.

    In the meantime, while this gets sorted out, she can take the following nutrition-related steps to help lower her cholesterol:

    • Increase her intake of soluble fibers (oatmeal, beans, legumes, fruits, and vegetables)
    • Make an effort to make most of her fats monounsaturated (by consuming avocado, olive oil, peanuts, and sesame seeds)
    • In the event that she is allergic to fish oil, consume omega-3 fatty acids from other sources (ground flaxseed, walnuts)

    Even if she eventually gets the green light to resume fish oil supplementation, the above-mentioned steps are absolutely worth keeping in mind.

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