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    Archive for the ‘potassium’ Category

    Q & A Roundup

    I thought it would be fun and informative to feature some of the more interesting questions I have received via email and social media over the past few weeks. Here they are — with my answers, of course — for your perusal.

    Continue Reading »

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    Numbers Game: The Potassium Problem

    High-Potassium-FoodsAccording to data from NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), the average American consumes _____ percent of the recommended daily amount of potassium.

    a) 72%
    b) 64%
    c) 49%
    d) 23%

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section; come back on Friday to find out why this is problematic and how to ensure you’re not missing the mark.

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    You Ask, I Answer: More to Bananas than Potassium?

    BananasI don’t hear a lot about bananas, except that they are a good way to get potassium and B vitamins.

    You often write about phytonutrients and antioxidants in fruits.  Do bananas have any?

    Also, why do some diets forbid you from eating bananas the first few weeks?

    — Sandra Talenda
    (Location withheld)

    Let’s get the frustrating things out of the way first.

    I will never, ever, ever understand diet plans that treat bananas (or any other nutritious, whole foods) as if they were radioactive waste.

    A standard medium banana is not only a very good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, it also only delivers 105 calories.

    FYI: When it comes to potassium, potatoes and avocados surpass bananas.

    Anyone who recommends banana avoidance in the name of health needs to take a nutrition class.  Stat.

    As far as phytonutrients are concerned, all plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and spices) contain them.  That’s one significant reason why a diet heavy on plant-based foods is optimal for health!

    Keep in mind that we are still in the process of identifying phytonutrients; the nutrition nerd in me can’t help but feel excited when researchers uncover a new one.

    Bananas provide high amounts of the following phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants:

    • Glutathione: a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect against cellular oxidation and damage
    • Phenolic compounds: a Cornell University study concluded that certain fruits — including bananas — contain phenolic compounds that protect neural cells from oxidative damage, thereby helping slash the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
    • Delphinidin: a naturally-occurring pigment that helps lower cancer risk — particularly of the prostate — by causing tumor cells to undergo apoptosis (“cell suicide”)
    • Rutin: a flavonoid also found in asparagus that is associated with blood pressure reduction
    • Naringin: also found in grapefruits, this flavonoids reduces LDL cholesterol oxidation, thereby lowering atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease risk

    For what it’s worth, the riper a banana, the higher its phytonutrient, antioxidant, and flavonoid content.

    If you don’t like the texture of a very ripe banana, I suggest peeling, slicing, freezing, and incorporating it into a smoothie.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Perfect Pasta Sauce

    51vnSOGsI6L._SL500_AA280_Your typical tomato sauce recipe calls for plenty of chopping — and time! Many sauce purists, in fact, claim the only way to achieve deliciousness is by simmering tomato sauce for hours on the stovetop, allowing flavors to blend and fully integrate.

    While all that is true, it is not the only way to make an out-of-this-world pasta sauce.

    This recipe is super quick, but provides a sauce that truly tastes as if you had labored over it for hours.  I knew this was a must-share recipe when a friend of mine — who consider herself a “sauce connoisseur” — proclaimed this one of her top-three all-time favorite sauces and demanded the recipe.

    YIELDS: 1/2 cup (2 servings)

    INGREDIENTS:

    12 grape tomatoes
    1 medium garlic clove
    1/3 cup roasted or raw red peppers
    2 Tablespoons sundried tomatoes (packed in olive oil)
    1 Tablespoon white onion, chopped
    1/3 teaspoon dried oregano
    1/3 teaspoon dried basil
    1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
    1/8 teaspoon sea salt
    Pinch of pepper
    1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
    1 Tablespoon lemon juice

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor and blend/process until well-mixed.

    NUTRITION FACTS (per quarter-cup serving)

    100 calories
    1 gram saturated fat
    170 milligrams sodium

    Excellent Source of: vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E

    Good Source of: folate, niacin, potassium, thiamin

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    You Ask, I Answer: Mesquite Powder

    mesquite-powderMy local health food store now carries mesquite powder.

    Is that the same as mesquite barbeque stuff, like the flavoring in potato chips?

    What about it makes it healthy enough to be at a health food store?

    — John Amers
    New York, NY

    Many people are unaware that mesquite trees contain an array of edible components.

    The mesquite you refer to (the one used for barbecuing as well as for barbeque-flavored snacks) comes from mesquite tree wood that is processed into chips and then smoked.

    The mesquite powder sold in health food stores, however, is the end result of grinding up mesquite tree pods and seeds.

    I find that mesquite powder has a delicious caramel-like flavor.  As with maca, I love to add a heaping tablespoon (or two!) to any shake I make with cacao (the flavors complement each other wonderfully).

    I know some people also like to add it to pancake batter (it has some thickening properties and can replace a small quantity of flour) and yogurt.

    Mesquite powder is a very good source of soluble fiber, manganese, potassium, and zinc.

    While it is certainly not inexpensive, a small bag lasts me two to three months.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cucumbers

    cucumber_marketmore76_organicI always hear that cucumbers help with weight-loss because they are mostly water and low in calories, but I never see them referred to as being very nutritious.

    Are they high in any nutrients?

    — Diana Wegfield
    (Location withheld)

    Cucumbers provide a generous amount of manganese, potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin K.  To get the highest amount of manganese and potassium, be sure to leave the skin on.

    Compared to other vegetables, their phytochemical and antioxidant content is low.

    That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy cucumbers.  I don’t believe that every single morsel you put in your mouth has to be chock-full of nutrients.

    If, for example, adding sliced cucumbers to a salad helps you eat more dark leafy green vegetables, you’re reaping benefits!

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    You Ask, I Answer: Sea Vegetables

    DulseIn the past, you have written that seaweed is a good source of omega-3 for vegans, but what are the benefits for those of us who already eat fish?

    Is there any reason to eat sea vegetables if you already get omega-3s from animal sources?

    — Tom Emilio
    (Location withheld)

    Absolutely!  Their EPA content (one of the two omega 3 fatty acids found exclusively in fish and seaweed) is only one of their many benefits.

    All sea vegetables are great low-calorie sources of iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin K.

    Another bonus?  Sea vegetables have their own share of unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower risk for heart disease and many different cancers.  This is why I often say that oceans have a very worthy produce section!

    Many people erroneously assume all seaweed is slimy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    You can purchase sheets of thin, crunchy nori (wonderful mixed into salads or used to wrap vegetables and avocado), dried chewy dulse (pictured, right), or hijiki (which, when cooked, has a consistency similar to that of rice).

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    You Ask, I Answer: Salt Substitutes

    alsosalt_2089_9549707Thank you so much for all the information you share with us on your blog.  I have learned so much over the past few months.

    Last month, after my doctor said my blood pressure was higher than it should be, I followed your advice and kept a record of how much sodium I was eating [on a daily basis].  I definitely need to cut down.

    What do you think of salt substitutes?  One of my nieces mentioned I need to be careful since they can cause kidney problems.  Is that true?

    — Melody (Last name withheld)
    Tucson, AZ

    No, it is not true.

    Let’s start from the beginning, though.

    Most salt substitutes are made from potassium chloride, which taints them with an unpleasant aftertaste.

    I have tried various different brands, and the only one that truly does a good job of replicating the flavor of salt is AlsoSalt.

    Salt replacers can not only help lower sodium intake, but also increase potassium consumption.

    Remember — increasing potassium intake is just as important as lowering sodium consumption to manage — and prevent — hypertension.  Unfortunately, the average American consumers more sodium and less potassium than recommended on a daily basis.

    There are two concerns with salt substitutes, though.

    Anyone diagnosed with kidney or liver disorders (or who is on any sort of medication for those conditions and/or cardiac ones) can NOT consume salt substitutes since the potassium content can have life-threatening consequences.

    While healthy individuals can consume these products safely, I still recommend training the palate to get used to flavors other than salt.  Otherwise, you will simply continue to crave foods high in sodium.

    I would recommend, for example, replacing half of the salt in a recipe with a salt substitute and then using spices to make up for that other fifty percent.

    Spices are a wonderful way to add flavor — as well as health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants — to any meal.  Experiment with ground ginger, cumin, curry powder, thyme, rosemary, oregano, paprika, and other delicious varieties.

    To clarify your niece’s concerns — salt substitutes do not cause kidney problems.  As stated above, though, they will certainly worsen any existing renal conditions.

    I have to say, though, that I doubt the salt shaker is the main culprit of your high sodium consumption.

    One of the most effective ways to keep your intake in check is to limit processed foods in your diet and choose whole, minimally processed — or, even better, unprocessed — foods whenever possible.

    Keep in mind, too, that while these salt substitutes are high in potassium, you should try to get as much potassium as possible from whole foods.  That way, you will also get fiber, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and many other nutrients (i.e.: magnesium and calcium) that help maintain blood pressure within healthy ranges.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Adzuki Beans

    imageI’ve been vegetarian for almost four years, but moved to New York City last Fall.  I’ve suddenly come across new foods I had never heard of before.

    One of my favorite restaurants here serves a dish with adzuki beans.

    They taste great, but I know nothing about them.  I hadn’t heard of them before until I saw them on this menu.

    Are they nutritionally equivalent to all other beans?

    — Claire Klein
    New York, NY

    Despite their Chinese origins, adzuki beans are super popular in Japan, where they are most commonly made into red bean paste after having generous amounts of sugar added on!

    That’s right — if you’ve ever had red bean ice cream at a Japanese restaurant or a red bean bun at a Chinese restaurant, you’ve tasted adzuki beans.

    The healthiest way to eat them, of course, is “as is”.  I personally love to add them to a side dish of brown basmati or brown jasmine rice.

    Not only do adzuki beans deliver high amounts of folate, potassium, magnesium and zinc — they are also a wonderful source of lean protein.

    Another bonus?  Their fiber content is mainly made up of soluble fiber — the kind of fiber that helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and helps us feel fuller faster.

    Their bright red color holds another powerful secret — polyphenols!  Clinical studies have shown that adzuki’s polyphenols have powerful antioxidant properties and that adzuki beans offer more polyphenols than kidney beans, and soybeans!

    Most conventional supermarkets do not carry adzuki beans.  However, if you have any health food stores or Asian food markets in your area, you will surely find them.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    891318One cup of cooked Swiss chard contains as much potassium as two medium bananas.

    FYI: The United States Department of Agriculture classifies medium bananas as those measuring anywhere from 7 to 8 inches.

    Score another point for dark, leafy green vegetables.

    Remember — they already get kudos for being good sources of calcium and vitamin K — two crucial nutrients for bone health.

    While most people equate potassium with bananas (and that’s not too off-the-mark; bananas are a good source of that mineral), other foods provide higher amounts.

    A medium banana contains approximately 420 milligrams of potassium (roughly ten percent of the daily requirement).  One cup of cooked Swiss chard, meanwhile, contributes 961 milligrams (slightly over a quarter of a day’s worth!).

    Take a look at these other potassium-rich foods that are often forgotten:

    • Spinach (1 cup, cooked): 835 milligrams
    • Lentils (1 cup, cooked): 731 milligrams
    • Edamame (1 cup): 676 milligrams
    • Nutritional yeast (3 Tablespoons): 640 milligrams
    • Baked potato (medium, with skin): 610 milligrams
    • Halibut (3 ounces, cooked): 490 milligrams

    A good list to keep in mind, particularly since the majority of adults in the United States do not meet daily potassium requirements.

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    Numbers Game: Potassium-Packed!

    Red_chardOne cup of cooked Swiss chard contains as much potassium as ______ medium banana(s)

    FYI: The United States Department of Agriculture classifies medium bananas as those measuring anywhere from 7 to 8 inches.

    a) .75
    b) 1.5
    c) 2
    d) 2.5

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Thursday to learn the answer — as well as more Swiss chard nutritional facts!

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    Quick & Healthy Recipes: Lentil Paté

    Red Lentils 002Due to their stellar nutrition profile, hearty texture, and unique flavor, I am a die-hard fan of lentils.

    Though they are often prominent in soups and casseroles, they also go well as a dip for crudité or heart whole grain crackers.

    This lentil paté is especially wonderful served warm in the winter months.

    YIELDS: 8 servings

    INGREDIENTS:

    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1/2 cup white or yellow onion, chopped
    2 medium garlic cloves, diced
    1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
    1/3 cup red pepper, chopped
    1 cup dry lentils, rinsed (I think red lentils look nicer for dips, but feel free to use brown)
    1 1/2 cups water
    1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    1/2 teaspoon paprika
    3/4 teaspoon cumin
    Pepper, to taste
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    Heat olive oil in pot over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, carrot, and red pepper.

    Cook the vegetables until soft, stirring frequently.

    Add lentils and water.  Bring contents to a boil.

    Lower heat to a low simmer and cook until no more water remains in pot.

    Add salt and spices.  Stir until well-combined and cook, still over simmer, for two minutes.

    Pour contents into food processor, add lemon juice, and puree until smooth.

    Feel free to add more spices after pureeing, if you deem it necessary.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

    123 calories
    0.8 grams saturated fat
    150 milligrams sodium
    8 grams fiber
    6 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: B vitamins, copper, magnesium, manganese, monounsaturated fats, pantothenic acid, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C

    Good Source of: Iron, phosphorus, zinc

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    You Ask, I Answer: Seaweed

    895835I consider myself an adventurous eater, but other than a few sushi rolls when I go to a Japanese restaurant, I don’t eat much seaweed.

    Whenever I am at Whole Foods, I see a pretty good-size chunk of one aisle devoted to different kinds of dried seaweed.

    What are some ways I can eat them?  Do they offer any real nutrition  benefits or are they healthy just because they are low in calories?

    — Joanna MacKay
    New York, NY

    Seaweed — which is literally available in thousands of varieties — offers an array of flavors, textures, and health benefits.

    All varieties are good sources of B vitamins, calcium, copper, iodine, magnesium, manganese, potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, and zinc.

    Most varieties also provide substantial amounts of lignans — the compounds found in flaxseed that are linked to decreased cancer risk AND lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels!

    Nori is the most commonly consumed seaweed, as it is the one used in sushi rolls.  However, many people also like to add a few slivers of nori to salads and soups.

    You can even buy sheets of nori and make home-made vegetable rolls.

    For example, roll up mesclun greens, sliced avocado, sliced mango, and julienned (that’s chef-speak for “thinly sliced”) red peppers in a nori sheet, cut the long roll into round bite-size chunks, drizzle a bit of dressing on top (this peanut-cilantro one complements the flavors fabulously), and you have yourself a fun — and nutritious — lunch!

    In Japan, toasted nori snacks are immensely popular (almost as much as potato chips are in the United States).

    Kombu is a type of seaweed mainly used for stocks, while kelp is often added to soups (like miso) or used in granule form to add fishy flavors to vegetarian items that aim to mimic seafood.

    Arame is used in many savory dishes, including stews and grain-based side dishes, while hijiki is often steamed and consumed as a side dish of its own (one restaurant I frequently establish serves up hijiki as part of a platter alongside brown rice, chickpeas, and stir-fried tofu).

    Dulse is mainly available as granules to add fishy flavors to food, although whole dried dulse can be eaten right out of the bag as a snack or used as a salad topper.

    FYI: most seaweed salads at Japanese restaurants use a combination of seaweeds.  The downside?  They contain a substantial amount of added sugars and oils.  If you want to start your meal with it, keep that in mind and make light entree selections.

    The biggest mistake I come across when it comes to the nutritional aspects of seaweed is the completely erroneous claim that they are a good source of vitamin B12.

    They are NOT.  Seaweed contains B12 analogues — compounds that mimic the vitamin.

    Vegetarians and vegans need to be very mindful of B12 analogues; they attach to B12 receptors in the body, and prevent real B12 in the diet from being absorbed properly!

    Also, since seaweed is very high in iodine, anyone with thyroid issues should first consult with a Registered Dietitian before adding it to their diet on a consistent basis.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Yerba Maté

    yerbacupIn response to your recent tea post, what are your thoughts on yerba maté?

    I lived in Cordoba, Argentina for a year and brought a daily maté habit back with me.

    My coworkers find it highly entertaining (one christened my maté/bombilla setup “the tea bong” and tried to light it) and I probably consume between 1 – 2 liters a day of maté.

    I don’t drink coffee, occasionally drink unsweetened or mildly sweetened black, green, white or rooibos tea but cannot live without my maté.

    I always drink it with no sugar — just like the gauchos!

    — Nicole B.
    Via Facebook

    For those of you unfamiliar with yerba maté, it is a loose-leaf herb that is consumed as a beverage in Argentina as well as parts of Uruguay, Paraguay, and Bolivia.

    It is usually consumed by steeping the loose leaves in a gourd (made of metal, which also contains a metal straw) with hot water (though some people prefer to use cold) and then, optionally, sprinkling some sugar on top.

    While maté is a dietary staple for millions of people in South America, it is relatively new to the United States.  Consequently, I am horrified at the extreme ways in which it is talked about.

    On the one hand, you have the opportunists who advertise maté as some sort of miracle beverage that will not only help you lose weight and prevent all sorts of cancers, but also slow down aging and practically make all your dreams come true.

    As you may have guessed, most of that advertising is pure hype.

    Then there are some overly cautious individuals in the nutrition field who, perhaps because of fear of the unknown, caution against drinking maté, citing it increases cancer risk, raises  blood pressure, and can have fatal consequences.

    The truth, as always, is somewhere in the middle.

    It is true that consistently high intakes of maté can increase certain cancers (particularly oral and esophageal).  However, that is not the result of something intrinsic in mate leaves, but rather because of the very high temperatures at which maté is usually consumed.

    The blood pressure concerns particularly confuse me because all caffeinated beverages temporarily raise blood pressure after consumption (and, if anything, research has demonstrated that compounds in caffeine help reduce risk of high blood pressure!).  Besides, a two-tablespoon serving of loose maté leaves contain less caffeine than a 16-ounce Starbucks latte.

    An added bonus?  Apart from containing exclusive health-promoting compounds similar to those in green tea, maté is also a great source of potassium — two tablespoons of leaves provide even more of the mineral than an orange or banana.

    There have been reports of some individuals developing fatal liver disorders from drinking maté, but statistically you are talking about 0.001% of maté drinkers; by no means a norm or even a “small but significant minority”.

    As far as I’m concerned, maté is much like tea — a beverage that is by no means a magic bullet, but offers a fair amount health benefits.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Electrolytes & Exercise

    gatorade-20-oz-line-up1I was working out the day before yesterday in the gym.  Ran for about 30 minutes, did my ab sets, cooled down, stretched, put on my fuzzy, went outside and woke up on the ground with people around me.

    I just got real dizzy and went down.  I felt better within about 30 minutes.  I got a nice ambulance ride over to the clinic, where they decided that the problem is I don’t replace my electrolytes.

    I don’t like Gatorade and I prefer plain water, so that is what I drink.  I’m well hydrated, so it’s not simply a matter of not drinking enough.

    I went to the store to track down some stuff to put in my water that will add electrolytes without the sugar and calories.  They all are basically some sodium and a tiny bit of potassium.  Is this right?  Have I got the right stuff?  It just seems like such a small thing.  I have a really good diet and it seems like I should be getting enough of this stuff from what I eat.

    Just for background, I swim four times a week, work out in the gym about 3 times a week.  I drink water all day, and I always have some with me both at the pool and in the gym.

    I’ve lost about 20 pounds since I got here in August.  I don’t have any way to measure my body fat, but I’m still soft and girly, not boney, so I can assure you I’m not in any danger of starving to death.

    Do you have a preferred electrolyte supplement?  Is this something I should even be concerned with?

    — Quinn (last name withheld)
    Baghdad, Iraq

    Since the doctors who treated you specifically mentioned an electrolyte imbalance, I am going to guess you experienced mild hyponatremia.

    Hyponatremia is a condition where the body’s sodium concentration levels are diluted as a result of drinking too much water.

    Although hyponatremia is usually only seen in endurance athletes engaged in long bouts of intense exercise (ie: triathlon competitions), it can also happen in other situations.

    The fact that you “drink water all day” is a bit of a red flag, and here is why:

    Since you exercise often, and live in a part of the world that gets extremely high temperatures (although mainly from May to October), you sweat more than a more sedentary individual who lives in a cooler climate.

    Remember : sweat is mainly a combination of water and two electrolytes — sodium and chloride.

    One of the causes behind hyponatremia is when high amounts of sweat are only replaced with water, and not sufficient sodium.

    In fact, research has shown that a mere two percent of overhydration can result in this condition.

    Also worth keeping in mind — some individuals’ sweat contains higher concentrations of sodium, which can also increase hyponatremia risk.

    The issue here isn’t to increase salt or potassium, but simply to be mindful of excessive fluid intake — both before and during exercise!  By the way, sports drinks contain minimal amounts of sodium that will do absolutely nothing to help prevent this condition.

    Since you mentioned twenty-pound weight loss, I would also recommend keeping track of what you eat for three days and then determine how many average calories, milligrams of sodium, and milligrams of potassium you are getting.

    It may very well be that apart from overhydrating, your diet is not meeting some of these requirements.

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