If you have a nutrition question you would like considered for the next Q&A roundup, send it my way!
1. I just discovered chia seeds and have some questions. Is it better to eat them moistened, or are they okay to eat dry? Should they be refrigerated? And, can you eat too many of them?
— Bettina Elias Siegel
Chia seeds are nutrition all-stars, and I’m glad they made the leap from kitschy decoration to bona-fide healthful ingredient! They are an excellent source of ALA Omega-3s (the same type in hemp, flax, and walnuts) and also offer a nice amount of various minerals — including potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Since chia seeds are hydrophilic, they plump up when soaked in liquid.
One of my favorite breakfasts in the summertime is “chia pudding”. Simply soak chia seeds in liquid for 15 to 20 minutes using a ratio of 1 cup of liquid for every 3 – 4 Tablespoons of chia seeds (I like to whisk together almond milk, vanilla bean powder, cinnamon, hemp protein, and a touch of agave or coconut nectar) and top with fresh fruit.
You can also eat chia seeds dry — they have a unique crunch to them.
Since they contain omega-3 fatty acids (which are fairly vulnerable), I recommend storing chia seeds in the refrigerator.
A single tablespoon of these small seeds contains 4 grams of fiber. So, while 3 or 4 tablespoons are fine to eat in one meal if your body is used to a high-fiber diet, your digestive system could be in for a not-so-nice surprise if you eat a large amount at once.
2. I keep hearing about Juice Plus. What are your thoughts on it?
— Louise Rhomer
Described as “the next best thing to eating fruits and vegetables”, “JuicePlus+” is a multi-level marketing program that sells concentrated powders consisting of 17 fruits, vegetables, and grains (including broccoli, oat bran, kale, and orange).
Their marketing tactics are what you’d expect: “most Americans don’t get the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, so we made it easy for you!”. Since those who sell JuicePlus+ stand to make profit, you will of course hear hyperbolic testimonials.
While a product like this isn’t necessarily harmful, it’s also unnecessary. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, go for the real thing. You’ll get more nutrition and, while you’re at it, enjoy unique flavors (savoring is a large part of eating, after all).
While five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables may sound like a lot, one serving isn’t very big. Consider, for example, that 9 or 10 baby carrots comprise “one serving” of vegetables. Sauteed spinach? A mere half-cup is all you need to count for one serving.
3. I have no blender/juicer/etc. I would really like to have one, but am in college (read: poor). Any suggestions?
Although the Vitamix is, rightfully so, heralded as the best blender on the market, it comes with a hefty price tag. A more affordable alternative is the Tribest BPA-free Personal Blender (it retails for $60 on Amazon). While it is a single-serve appliance, it is rather powerful and great for making smoothies (even ones with dark leafy greens)! A lot of my frequent flyer clients love its portability, too.
4. Do you have any recommendations for healthful snack bars that do not include tree nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc.)?
– Jacquette Timmons
Finding a healthful, whole-food based snack bar is a bit of a challenge, and even more so if you are looking for one that is nut-free. However, you do have some choices.
Before I list any brands, I want to first recommend that you make your own. This recipe for cocoa-tahini-brown rice “squares” is not only quick and easy, but essentially makes a dozen “bars”.
In terms of brands that are nut-free and whole-food based, here are some that come to mind:
- Go Raw live granola bar
- Two Degrees chocolate banana bar
- Create your own whole-food nut-free bar at YouBars.com
5. What do you think of gomasio? Wondering about its benefits/drawbacks!
Gomasio — a mix of toasted sesame seeds and salt — is a great way to season foods. Eden Foods sells a variety of gomasios, including one with seaweed and another with garlic.
I like to make my own at home. In a shaker, throw in a variety of seeds (i.e.: hemp, chia, poppy, sesame, and ground flax), a pinch of salt and the spice(s) of your choice (try garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, etc.). Use this to add flavor to soups, salads, pilafs, stir-fries, and more.
Be sure to keep the shaker in the fridge to keep all those healthful fatty acids in tip-top shape.
6. What are your thoughts on “food combining rules”?
According to food combining rules — first spotted in medical literature in the late 1800s — certain foods should not be consumed during the same meal, so as to not put too much of a burden on the digestive system. You will often hear, for instance, that fruit should be eaten by itself, or that certain starches and certain proteins should not be eaten together.
My take? It simply doesn’t make a whole lot of physiological sense. Our gastrointestinal system is well-equipped to digest different sorts of food simultaneously.
Remember that many foods are a combination of different nutrients. Beans, vegetables, and grains all contain carbohydrates and protein. So, separating ‘starches’ and ‘proteins’ would mean that you could never eat broccoli, chickpeas, sweet potatoes, or quinoa!
I don’t discount that certain foods can be hard for some people to digest, but that is a highly individualized issue.
Per food combining rules, a black bean and sweet potato chili would be a “no-no”, while a can of soda would pass with flying colors. Sounds odd to me…
7. What are your thoughts on Shakeology?
Sigh. I’m increasingly being asked about this, which makes me think its popularity is taking off. From the Shakeology website:
“This patent-pending daily nutritional shake helps your body gently eliminate toxins more efficiently while allowing for better absorption of the essential nutrients you need. A proprietary blend of digestive enzymes and prebiotics helps your body progressively eliminate the toxins that build up over time from eating today’s highly processed foods.
At the same time, whole-food ingredients deliver the essential amino acids, vitamins, and minerals your body needs to curb cravings, allowing your body to shed stored fat while the more than 20 different antioxidants and phytonutrients help reduce free radical damage that can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and stroke.”
As I explained in the last Q&A regarding “Body By Vi” shakes (see question #7), any time a company pitches their own bar, shake, or snack as one that will have you building muscle, toning up, and getting lean, your “BS Detector” should ping like crazy. You can make a perfectly healthful shake at home using whole fruits and nut/seed butters.
There is nothing particularly unique or groundbreaking about these shakes. You’re looking at whey protein, Stevia, cocoa powder, various gums, added vitamins and minerals, and fancy-sounding things like a “superfruit blend” (AKA: an easy way to charge $10 more than we should).
The weight-loss claims are silly because this is nothing more than the tried-and-true “Special K” trick. You replace one meal a day with a 150-calorie shake. Considering that most meals are, on average, at least 400 or 500 calories, this is simple caloric reduction.
The popularity of these products is a sad testament to the fact that many people think the key to health lies in expensive shakes and miraculous promises. “Eat real food” may not sound glamorous, but it works.
8. Can you comment on this Yahoo piece about the potential health risks of going vegetarian?
Ah, yes. Articles like these seem to make the rounds every so often.
This article in particular is rather weak. It ctes a number of studies that point to the possible “drawbacks” of being vegetarian, but completely misses the larger point — there is a lot of variance among “vegetarian diets”.
A vegetarian diet can be whole-food based and rich in legumes, nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, and sea vegetables. Or, it can consist of processed soy burgers, Reese’s peanut butter cups, potato chips, sugary yogurts, and minimal vegetables. From a research standpoint, this is problematic.
This article also trots out the same tired “caveat”:
“If you’re going to become a vegan or vegetarian, you’ll need to spend more time planning your nutritional choices to help ensure a balanced intake of vitamins and other nutrients.”
I always find this puzzling, given that the average American (and ‘average’ means ‘omnivorous’) does not meet daily fiber needs and does not get the required daily amounts of certain nutrients (calcium, magnesium, and potassium come to mind right now).
Regardless of your dietary habits, if you aren’t eating a generous amount of whole, minimally processed foods, you can expect drawbacks and possible problems.