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    Archive for the ‘sodium’ 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.

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    Big Food’s “Wholesome” Deception

    Defined as “conducive to bodily health; healthful; salubrious,” the word ‘wholesome’ counts “nourishing” and “nutritious” among its synonyms. It appears Big Food is blissfully ignorant to these facts, at least based on the horrific “kids’ food” concoctions they have branded as “wholesome”. Behold the worst offenders:

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    Small Sizes, Big Numbers

    Some nutritional horror figures don’t exactly come as a surprise.  No one is particularly shocked when told that an order of Burger King’s large fries packs in 580 calories, or that a large Wendy’s chocolate frosty shake clocks in at 890 calories and contains almost as much added sugar as three cans of Coke.

    It’s not just the large sizes that come with jaw-dropping nutritional values.  In fast food world, “just go with a small” advice goes out the (drive-thru) window. Below, my three picks for “yes, really, those numbers are for the SMALL size!”

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    Grilled Chicken = Healthier? Not in Fast Food World!

    Take a look at this one-page document housed in the United States Department of Agriculture’s “Healthy Restaurant Eating” page, titled “Making Better Choices at Fast Food Restaurants” and co-sponsored by the American Heart Association, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and the Clinton Foundation.

    It echoes much of the advice doled out in those all-too-familiar two-minute segments on morning news shows where viewers are assuaged that they CAN “eat right at fast food restaurants,” and America lets out a huge sigh of relief.

    I particularly want to focus on one “healthy” tip in that document that I have read and heard for years and continue to come across (and one that, when I first started my nutrition studies, I thought seemed reasonable): “choose chicken”.
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    American Heart Association – Selling Out Health to the Highest Bidder

    When it comes to heart health, there are specific nutrients to encourage (monounsaturated fats, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber — both soluble and insoluble) and limit (sodium, added sugar, trans fats, oils high in omega-6 fatty acids [corn, cottonseed, soybean], and refined grains).

    It has also been well established in the scientific literature that certain phytonutrients — naturally occurring substances in plant foods that confer their own health benefits —  offer cardiovascular protection.  Some examples include quercetin (in apple skins, red onion, and broccoli), ellagic acid (in strawberries and grapes), and lignans (in flax seed, sesame seeds, and barley).

    Alas, most of the products in your local supermarket that feature the American Heart Association’s stamp of approval (officially known as the “heart-check mark”), don’t prioritize heart-healthy nutrients and compounds.  In fact, they condone foods high in nutrients that are damaging to our cardiovascular health.

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    “Men’s Health” Stamp of Approval: First It Was Chocolate Milk, Now It’s Fast Food Burgers with Trans Fats

    How much stock would you put in a nutrition expert who suggested you drink chocolate milk and eat fast food burgers?  What if I told you this expert was nationally renowned as a trusted source of nutrition information, often appearing on television and radio as someone worth listening to?  Sadly, this is not just a hypothetical situation.

    Last week, I was flabbergasted when I came across a hyperbolic article by Men’s Health editor-in-chief David Zinczenko’s that painted chocolate milk as one of the absolute best things you can drink for your health, weight, and muscle mass.  This past weekend, I had another “you have GOT to be joking!” moment, thanks to a question tweeted to me by @matchmia.  The question: “what do you think of Hardee’s new turkey burger endorsed by Men’s Health?”.  Wait — what!?!

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    Chili’s? Try Salty’s!

    When it comes to nutritional advice on eating out, the spotlight usually shines brightly — and, many times, solely — on calories.  I don’t necessarily object to that; after all, it is certainly possible to consume three quarters (or a hundred percent, for that matter) of one’s caloric needs in a single restaurant meal these days.

    In some parts of the country, some chain restaurants are legally required to display calorie counts alongside menu items.  In states and cities where this legal requirement is not in play, some of these restaurants voluntarily point out their lower-calorie options (usually grouping a variety of dishes under something akin to a “500 Calories or Less” heading).  While that provides quantitative nutritional information, it is but one tiny piece in that large jigsaw puzzle known as health.

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    “Restrict Sodium” Advice: A Boost to Big Food, Half the Puzzle for Consumers

    spamLesssodiumThis past Monday, the nutrition and public health world had its equivalent of the Oscar nominations.  After what seemed like endless waiting, dietitians, public health  experts, and food policy watchdogs tuned in — at least on the web — to the live announcement of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines (published every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services).  The post-event tweeting, blogging, dissecting, and analyzing is far from over.

    Like the Oscars, the Dietary Guidelines are a combination of well-deserved recognition (this year, my two standouts were “make half of your plate fruits and vegetables” and “drink water instead of sugary drinks”) and good old politics (as Marion Nestle points out, “eat less” recommendations are about nutrients rather than actual foods).

    One of the “hot topics” of the new Dietary Guidelines?  Sodium.  More specifically, sodium reduction.  This comes in the heels of Walmart’s announcement to reduce sodium and added sugars in their product line (these excellent articles by public health lawyer Michele Simon and BNet food industry blogger Melanie Warner echo my thoughts on that matter).

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    Burger King’s New Breakfast…. Is More Of The Same

    bk-new-breakfast-menu-items-590Hyperbolic press releases, pricey media campaigns, and plenty of advertising fanfare accompanied the recent unveiling of Burger King’s new breakfast menu.  Higher-ups were quick to point out that the addition of these items to the Burger King breakfast lineup  were the company’s “largest menu expansion ever”.  Like, OMG!

    According to Mike Kapitt, the chain’s chief marketing officer for North America, this menu was designed to “compete to be America’s wake-up call”, and he had no doubt the “quality, variety, and value” on the menu would make Burger King the “breakfast destination”.

    If these new items are America’s wake-up call, then the U.S. of A should smash its alarm clock against the wall and keep snoozing.  Let’s dissect the nutritional bombs unveiled by Burger King, from least to most explosive:

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    You Ask, I Answer: Protein Bar Guidelines

    zero impact barWhat things should I look for in a protein bar?  I use them when I’m on the go at times when I know I will need something, but don’t want to do fast food.

    — Tammy Edwards
    (Via Facebook)

    Wonderful questions.  When it comes to protein bars, I am “on the fence”.  Allow me to explain.

    On the one hand, I don’t think they are terrible and should be shunned.  Sure, there are some horrific protein bars out there (and, in a little bit, I will give you specific parameters to help you choose the better ones), but a smart choice can make for a great snack or meal replacement in a pinch.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Quinoa Vegetable Ginger-Curry Burgers

    quinoa11And so we come to the last vegan burger recipe.

    This is by far the most time-intensive, as it requires you to use cooked quinoa, and then refrigerate the burgers for a few hours before cooking them. Actual prep time, though, is not long at all.

    Of course, you could very well plan ahead slightly and, next time you cook quinoa at home, make an extra batch to have handy for this recipe.

    YIELDS: 4 patties

    1 cup quinoa, cooked (about 1/2 cup uncooked)
    2 Tablespoons olive oil
    1/2 cup baby portabella mushrooms, chopped
    1/2 cup shredded carrots
    1/2 cup red peppers, chopped
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 cup baby spinach leaves, loosely packed
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    Pepper, to taste
    1/2 tsp curry powder
    1/8 tsp ground ginger
    3 Tablespoons scallions, chopped
    1 teaspoon tamari
    3/4 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Once hot, add the baby portabella mushrooms and shredded carrots. Cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes. Add the red peppers and cook, stirring frequently for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until golden brown. Add the spinach leaves and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

    Allow vegetables to cool for five minutes.

    In a food processor, process the cooked vegetables and spices for 20 to 30 seconds.

    Empty the contents of the food processor into a large bowl. Add the quinoa, tamari, scallions and breadcrumbs; mix together with your hands until you achieve a dough-like solid mass.

    Refrigerate the “burger dough” for two hours.

    After the two hours have passed, take out burger dough from refrigerator.  Form “burger dough” into four individual patties and cook to your liking (either pan-fry for a few minutes on each side or bake on a lighty oiled baking sheet at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 7  minutes on each side).

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per patty):

    248 calories
    1 gram saturated fat
    250 milligrams sodium
    3.5 grams fiber
    5 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Folate, niacin, thiamin, monounsaturated fatty acids

    Good source of: Magnesium, manganese, vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C

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    KFC’s Double Down Is Sooo Two Months Ago!

    friendlys-grilled-cheese-burger-345Nutritionists across the country couldn’t help but groan earlier this year when KFC announced the launch of its “who needs sandwich bread when you’ve got fried chicken” Double Down sandwich.

    A few days ago, I tweeted about the latest fast-food concoction to knock the Double Down off its Nutrition Hall of Shame throne, and I thought it was also worthy of posting on the blog.  Behold Friendly’s Grilled Cheese Burger Melt!

    What appears to be the result of a middle school dare “amounts to three sandwiches morphed into one: First, there’s a Friendly’s Big Beef burger, but instead of a bun, there are two (count ’em, two!) grilled cheese sandwiches.” Slash Food reports.

    Not surprisingly, this amounts to 1,500 calories and 2,030 milligrams of sodium (84.5% of a day’s worth).

    You know something is wrong when your latest burger makes the Big Mac look like something out of an E-z Bake Oven.

    Thank you to Jon Slaughter for forwarding the Slash Food link.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: “No Flour? No Problem!” Pancakes

    oats-280wThis recipe was created out of true laziness one morning when I craved pancakes and quickly realized I had no flour of any kind in my kitchen.

    Oh, yes, I could have walked all of three minutes to the store around the block to buy some, but… then you wouldn’t be reading this.  It was all part of the plan!

    Some quick FYIs before we get to the deets:

    1. While sturdy, these pancakes have a more delicate texture than conventional ones.

    2. Some of the ingredients (i.e.: xanthan gum, unsweetened shredded coconut) are only available at health food stores (or Whole Foods).  They are not expensive, though, and all you need is one short trip to buy them all.

    3. The inclusion of whey or hemp protein (as optional ingredients) is for individuals looking for a more substantial meal, as is the inclusion of extra nuts and seeds.  I like to have these pancakes for brunch, so I like making them in a way that keeps me satisfied for several hours.

    4. A large majority of the saturated fats in this recipe come from coconut products, which are significantly less damaging than other saturated fats.  You are welcome to use other plant oils if you would like, though coconut oil is my favorite for this recipe.

    5. For optimal flavors, these pancakes should be generously topped with blueberries, strawberries, and banana slices.

    Yields: 2 large pancakes

    INGREDIENTS:

    2 Tablespoons ground flax
    5 Tablespoons water OR milk of choice (ie: dairy, almond, soy, etc.)
    1 cup quick-cooking oats
    1.5 teaspoons double-acting baking powder (if aluminum-free, even better)
    1 teaspoon xanthan gum (can buy this at any health food store)
    1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
    1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    2 scoops protein powder of choice (optional; if including, I highly recommend unsweetened, but flavored, whey or hemp)
    1/4 cup chopped nuts of choice OR 1/4 cup seeds (i.e.: chia, hemp) (optional)
    2 Tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
    1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
    2 teaspoons coconut oil

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    In a small bowl combine the ground flax and liquid.  Allow to rest for five minutes.

    In large bowl, combine oats, baking powder, xanthan gum, vanilla, cinnamon, protein powder, nuts/seeds, and shredded coconut.

    Add applesauce and coconut oil to ground flax mixture.  Stir briefly.

    Add contents of small bowl to large bowl.  Fold wet ingredients into dry ones.

    On stovetop, heat griddle at medium heat until surface is hot.

    Add 1 Tablespoon of coconut oil or vegan butter or conventional butter.  Use paper towel or spatula to spread evenly on surface.

    Pour batter onto griddle and form two pancakes.

    Cook pancakes until top surface begins to bubble.  Flip, cook for another 2 or 3 minutes.

    Serve.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per pancake, made with whey protein, chopped pecans, and using water for flax mixture):

    512 calories
    7.5 grams saturated fat
    360 milligrams sodium
    8 grams fiber
    24 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Alpha-Linolenic omega-3 fatty acids, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, thiamin

    Good Source of: Folate, vitamin B6, vitamin C, zinc

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Spiced Lentil & Quinoa Bowl with Avocado Dressing

    lentejas_-lensculirnarisI consider this a perfect year-round dish.

    In the cold winter months, the warm lentils and quinoa, along with the spices, make for a comforting dish.

    Once summer hits, I love this as a cold salad!

    This is also one of those meals that keeps you full for a very long time, as it combines heart-healthy fats, soluble fiber, and protein.

    Don’t be let the long steps fool you; this is a very simple recipe.  The lentils and dressing can both be prepared while the quinoa cooks.

    By the way, if you don’t have a food processor (or don’t feel like taking it out, using it, and cleaning it), you can always replace the dressing with some fresh avocado slices.  Even if you don’t have avocados handy, the lentil and quinoa combination in itself is delicious!

    YIELDS: 4 servings (1 cup quinoa + 1 cup lentils + 2 TBSP dressing)

    INGREDIENTS (Quinoa):

    2 cups quinoa
    4 cups water
    Pinch of salt

    INGREDIENTS (Spiced Lentils):

    2 TBSP olive oil
    1 cup onions, chopped
    1/2 cup carrots, shredded
    1/2 cup red pepper, diced
    1/4 cup green pepper, diced
    1 cup mushrooms, chopped
    2 T garlic, minced
    1/2 t cumin
    1/4 t cinnamon
    1/2 t curry powder
    1/3 t salt
    1/4 t paprika
    1/8 t black pepper
    1 cup dried lentils, rinsed (any color; if you can find sprouted dried lentils, even better!)
    3 cups water
    1 Tablespoon lemon juice

    INGREDIENTS (Avocado Dressing):

    1 large avocado, pitted
    2 t lime juice
    1 garlic clove
    2 t ginger
    1/4 t salt
    1/4 c water

    INSTRUCTIONS (Quinoa):

    In a small pot, combine quinoa, water, and a pinch of salt.

    Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to simmer until all water evaporates.

    Fluff quinoa with fork.

    INSTRUCTIONS (Spiced Lentils):

    In a large pot, heat olive oil.  Once sufficiently hot, add onions, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, and garlic.

    Stir frequently over the course of 2 minutes over medium-high heat.

    Add spices.  Stir frequently for 2 more minutes.

    Add lentils and water, stir and bring to a boil.

    Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes, stirring two or three times.

    Turn off stovetop, uncover, add lemon juice, and stir one more time.

    INSTRUCTIONS (Avocado dressing):

    Combine all ingredients in food processor and process until evenly combined.

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

    538 calories
    2.5 grams saturated fat
    450 milligrams sodium
    15 grams fiber
    18 grams protein

    Excellent Source of: Folate, manganese, monounsaturated fats, niacin, potassium, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K

    Good Source of: Iron, phosphorus, vitamin E, zinc

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    There’s More to Osteoporosis than Calcium

    osteoporosis-illustratedThe majority of news articles on osteoporosis never fail to mention that calcium is a key nutrient in slowing down bone density loss.

    While that is an established fact, there are other nutrients and behaviors that are just as important in risk-reduction and management of osteoporosis.

    Here’s a handy cheat sheet:

    • Phosphorus: High intakes inhibit calcium absorption and bone metabolism.  Ironically, dairy products are quite high in phosphorus.  Yet another reason why calcium intake should come from a variety of foods (i.e.: leafy green vegetables, chickpeas, almonds), including dairy (if so desired).
    • Smoking: negatively affects bone metabolism and decreases bone density levels.
    • Sodium: Excessive amounts (not at all uncommon in the “Standard American Diet”) increase calcium losses in urine.
    • Vitamin D: Facilitates calcium absorption.  Note: current guidelines (400 International Units of Vitamin D per day) are too low.  Supplement 1,000 – 2,000 International Units every day.
    • Vitamin K: Helps bind calcium to the bone matrix.
    • Weight-bearing exercise.

    There are also preliminary studies which show that zinc, manganese, and even vitamin A may play important roles as well.

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