Nutrition Fact: The way diet affects our health depends on our genetic make-up

Most of you probably already suspected this after knowing a friend or family member who can eat the same thing as you but it seems to affect them differently.  Well there’s many reasons for this– the amount and type of exercise they do, their food environment, overall diet, and also their genes! So how important are your genes in determining your overall health? Well we know there are certain genetic relationships to various disease outcomes, but with new research, we now also can tell if your genes can impact how you absorb certain nutrients or foods which can impact overall wellness over time.

Although this link between food and health is well known and documented, now that we have tools and data to interpret our genetic differences, it gives us a new dimension at looking at that link- one on a truly personalized nutritional level. This is exactly what nutrigenomics aims to study.



What is Nutritigenomics?

  1. The study of how foods affect the expression of genetic information in an individual
  2. And how an individual’s genetic makeup metabolizes and responds to nutrients and bioactives

This just means that based on our different genetic make-up, food affects each of us differently and the degree to which diet influences the balance between healthy and disease states depends partially on an individual’s genetic makeup.

Nutritionists have recognized for years that individuals differ in their response to nutrient intakes. However, because we were not able to easily identify these differences for every individual before, the RDAs (recommended daily allowances) of common nutrients and other dietary intake advice were all based on population data that incorporates a certain margin of error to account for those variations in individuals genes. However, today with advances in science and the sequencing of the human genome, we now have the ability to do better– to make dietary recommendations and plans based on your OWN genes.

How does it work?

  1. Order a genetic test that uses saliva samples from a reputable lab. Most labs work directly with licensed professionals so you’ll usually order the tests through a licensed professional.
  2. The lab tests your saliva for at least 45 genetic markers currently known to affect aspects of your health including weight management and body composition, nutrient metabolism, eating habits, cardiometabolic health, food intolerances, and physical activity.
  3. The lab usually provides a detailed report to your healthcare provider within 2 weeks who then will help explain and interpret your individualized results to you

Why is this important? 

This information is powerful because it can help you make more accurate dietary choices for your own optimal health.  Let me give you an example of what I mean. So let’s say you have a certain genetic mutation in the FUT2 gene.  This means you may not absorb vitamin B12 as efficiently as those without that mutation. Since vitamin B12 is essential for many processes such as normal brain function and reproductive health, knowing you have this mutation in the FUT2 gene would mean you need to consume vitamin B12 in a different format that your body can more efficiently absorb. Making this small change through food or specific dietary supplements could in turn help reduce your risk for certain disease states related to deficient or inadequate vitamin B12 intake.  Research has shown that lower vitamin B12 levels is linked to increased risk of chronic conditions such as CVD and poor fertility.  This is just one example of how knowing what your genes are and making small changes to your diet can impact your long term health and wellness.  Today we can test for over 45 different gene mutations that may impact the way you absorb or don’t absorb certain nutrients needed for various functions in our body.


The breakthroughs in this field are pretty exciting and is already helping people work towards their wellness goals in a more precise fashion than ever before.  As the science and our data related to nutrient/gene interactions increases, the results that nutrigenomics can provide will become even more powerful and I’m super excited to see this.

As the genetic testing companies continue to grow as a business, I highly recommend ordering tests through licensed professionals who can help to properly interpret and create a plan of action related to your nutritional needs based on your results.  Doing the test through licensed professionals will also ensure you get your test done at a lab who is a leader in the field of nutrigenomics research.  Currently, my practice, Crave Health, is partnering with the biotech company Nutrigenomix for our tests but we are always on the look out for other partners who can provide accurate and affordable pricing on this new emerging science. If you’re interested in learning how to eat according to your genes, please get in touch with me or another licensed professional!

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Nutrition Fact: Nutrition Labels Can be Misleading

Last time when I wrote about the difference between serving sizes and portion sizes here, I had a few people ask me about other things they should be aware about when reading nutrition labels so I thought I’d share some of the tricky things you should be aware about when reading nutrition labels so you’re best informed about what you’re buying and eating next time you’re at the grocery store.  

Soure: FoodNetwork Blog

Photo Credit: FoodNetwork Blog

Top 3 Tricks to Watch Out for When Reading Nutrition Labels:

  1. Serving size deception.  As I mentioned on my last blog post, often times food companies use a serving size that is often much less than the portion you may actually eat so while it looks like the calories and fat are fairly low, it reflects just a small serving.  For example, a serving of tortilla chips is only about 12 chips.  However, when you’re eating out of a big bag, you may easily eat twice that or more and thus end up with double the calories and fat.  Some labels are much more deceiving than others when it comes to the serving size they use. But either way it’s a good idea to first glance at the serving size so you know what amount all of the information reflects and to make more accurate calculations according to your typical portion size.  In addition, it’s also important to know that the USDA allows food companies to use a reasonable estimate for calorie and nutrition info with an allowable margin of error of 20%!  So you could potentially be eating as much as 20% more calories, fat, etc. than the listed amount per serving as well.
  2. The ingredient list. I think reading the ingredients is one of the most informative parts about a nutrition label, but unfortunately most people often don’t take the time to read this part because they don’t know what to look for.  The three main things to keep in mind when reading ingredients are:
    • The ingredients are generally listed in order of highest to lowest amount used.  For example, if the first ingredient is “Enriched Whole Wheat” and the second ingredient is “Whole Wheat” this is actually not a 100% whole wheat bread.  Unfortunately, because it does contains some whole grains, they are allowed to put the health claim “Whole wheat” or “made from Whole Grains” on it so many people may think they’re getting a really healthy whole grain bread, when they’re getting one that is more portion refined flour than whole wheat flour. I recently saw a misleading packaging for baby food where the cover and the photo makes the food seem more like it’s a serving of vegetables like peas, when in reality the first ingredient listed was apple puree. This is why it’s important to read the ingredient list and know that the first ingredient is the one in highest concentration.
    • Sometimes certain ingredients are disguised in the lis so it’s important to know what certain ingredients mean.  For example, any ingredient that contains the word “partially hydrogenated” actually means it’s a trans fat, even if the label doesn’t list any trans fat.  Also, the term “yeast extract” is sometimes a substitute for the additive MSG.  There’s also several other scientific chemicals used in processed foods that may not sound that bad but are linked to negative health effects when consumed  in large amounts like sodium nitrate, BHA, BHT, benzoates, sulfates, and sorbates that you should try to avoid if you see them in the ingredient list.
    • Again, health claims on a product don’t always properly reflect what’s actually in the food so the only way to truly know is to read the ingredients.  For example, “organic” or “natural” doesn’t mean a food is healthy.  It can still be high in sugar, fat and other ingredients.  Just remember that if you can’t pronounce half the ingredients or have never heard of them think about whether or not you want to buy those kinds of foods.
  3. Misunderstanding labels like zero and free. Generally when a food says sugar free, it doesn’t mean it’s calorie or fat free.  In fact, to compensate for not using sugar, the food companies sometimes use more of other ingredients like carbohydrates or fat or sugar substitutes so sugar free doesn’t always mean healthier. Same goes for fat free and even reduced fat.  “Reduced” just means it has 25% less fat then the regular version but if the regular version is very high in fat, the reduced fat while a better choice, can still be high in fat. Similarly, labeling laws let food companies claim “zero” of a nutrient if it has less than 0.5 g per serving.  For example, a food can say zero trans fat but still contain 0.4 g of trans fat per serving. While that is a small amount that you could argue is almost zero, as we talked about before, you may easily eat more than 1 serving at a time, and over a week for example you could eat much more which can actually add up to a significant amount of trans fats that you didn’t even know you were eating.  The only way to truly know if a food is trans fat free is to read the ingredients and avoid items that have anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Here’s a handy list from the American Heart Association of what certain labels actually mean:

Screen Shot 2013-05-26 at 2.19.30 PM

Source: American Heart Association

My Recommendations:

Next time you’re grocery shopping, make sure to examine the labels before adding foods to your cart and remember these tips to help make the healthiest choices.

  1. Always pay attention to the serving size so you have a true understanding of how many calories, fat, sugar you’re actually consuming.
  2. Read the ingredients and don’t get caught up on the health claims like “fat free”, “reduced fat or sodium”, “zero trans fat”, “lowers cholesterol”, “whole grains” etc.
  3. Know which ingredients you should try to avoid in foods but overall just know that the more ingredients a product has, the more processed it is so if you can’t pronounce half the ingredients or have never heard of them before, think twice before buying it since it’s probably not that healthy.


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Nutrition Fact: Portion Sizes and Serving Sizes are NOT the Same

One of the culprits to our current obesity epidemic is the larger portion sizes that our food now comes in.  We’re all guilty of falling for the “supersize me” deals where getting a bigger size is only a small incremental amount more so we just upgrade thinking it’s a good deal right?  While economically it may be a good deal in the short run, we’re paying for it exponentially more later on with our health.  That’s why it’s so critical to understand the difference between a portion size and a serving size so you can make informed choices about what you eat.

What’s the difference between a portion and a serving?

While some people may use these terms interchangeably, they’re actually very different so it’s important to distinguish between them so you can make more informed choices.

  • Portion- an amount of a specific food you choose to eat for dinner, snack, or other eating occasion.  Generally, this is the “size” you order at a restaurant or the amount of food they bring out to you.
  • Serving- a unit of measure used to describe the amount of food recommended from each food group.  This is the size which nutrition information is also provided on nutrition labels.

In an ideal world, our portion sizes should be equal to our serving sizes but unfortunately that’s not the case so it’s our job to know how to make choices accordingly.  For example, when reading nutrition labels they can sometimes seem misleading because you may think that the serving size is the entire package, but it may only be half the package so if you eat the entire amount, you’re actually consuming twice the calories listed. For example, this Lean pockets includes 2 pizza sandwiches in the package but the serving size is just 1 so the nutrition facts are calculated  only for 1 sandwich so if you were to eat the entire portion (2 sandwiches) you’d be eating twice the serving size and thus twice the calories listed on the label. This is why it’s so important to know how to distinguish between a portion and a serving.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 3.49.07 PM

How much have portion sizes really changed? 

Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase in the portion sizes of today– resulting in quite a significant increase in our caloric intake.   Take a look at a sample of foods that have about doubled the amount of calories we consume just because of the increased portion size.

Screen Shot 2013-05-18 at 8.25.41 PM

Image credit: University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension

My Recommendations:

Knowing the difference between a portion and servings can help you maintain a healthy weight and prevent overeating.  Here’s a few tips to help keep your portions under control:

  • Read labels carefully! Remember that potions are not the same as a serving and that labels are based on serving sizes so make sure you double check the serving size when you make your choice about portions to eat.
  • Since today’s portions are often more than we need, consider boxing up half your meal for later prior to eating to prevent overeating.
  • If you order larger sizes to save money, try sharing it to eat a more reasonable portion.
  • Think about just ordering a small or half portion  if you can’t share or don’t want to take leftovers home.
  • Eat slowly– it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to send signals to your brain that you’re full so if you slow down when you eat your body will tell you how much you should be eating.

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Nutrition Fact: Agave Nectar Isn’t as Healthy as You Think

You’ve probably heard a lot of hype about agave as a substitute to sugar as a natural sweetener for quite awhile now.  While it is a great alternative for sugar and definitely has some qualities that set it apart from other sweeteners, it doesn’t mean it’s necessarily healthier than sugar or even other sweeteners.  So before you start using agave instead of sugar in all of your cooking/baking, let’s explore a bit more about it.

What is Agave?

Agave nectar is sweetener that is commercially produced from the agave plant.  The agave species is originally from Mexico and South America and most agave nectar is made from the agave blue species, which is the same plant that tequila comes from.  Agave has been around for ages and was originally used by Aztecs for medicinal purposes. Today, it’s produced from a liquid juice extracted from the plant that is them commercially filtered and concentrated to a syrupy liquid that we know as agave nectar.  It’s a bit sweeter than honey and also thinner in consistency.


How Agave Compares to Other Sweeteners?

1.    Sweetness.  Agave nectar primarily consists of glucose and fructose, and depending on brand and how it was produced, ranges anywhere from 50-90% fructose and 20-8% glucose.  Because of its higher fructose content, agave nectar is 1.4-1.6 times sweeter than sugar or honey.

2.    Calories. Compared to sugar, the calories you consume from agave is very similar.  Agave has about 60 calories per tablespoon while sugar has 40 calories per tablespoon, but because it’s sweeter you need less agave so generally the calories consumed is slightly lower or the same when using agave to replace sugar.

3.    Glycemic index. The glycemic index is a way to measure the effect a food has on blood sugar levels.  Traditionally, white sugar and any refined carbohydrates have a high-glycemic index because it’s quickly absorbed in our blood causing a quick rise and then fall.  Foods that have a lower glycemic index are slowly used by our body and keep our blood sugar levels steadier.  Agave nectar compared to sugar has a lower glycemic index (under 55).

4.    Health Effects. While agave does contain small amounts of calcium, potassium, and magnesium compared to other sweeteners, the amount is so small that it doesn’t matter much nutritionally.  Calories wise agave is very comparable to sugar and other natural sweeteners so the main beneficial health effect is its lower glycemic index compared to other sugars which prevents drastic spikes in blood sugar levels.  However, because agave nectar is often higher in fructose compared to sugar or even high fructose corn syrup, too much agave may actually be more harmful to our health.  Several studies have found that consuming fructose may be less healthy than consuming similar amounts of glucose because participants that consumed more fructose gained more visceral fat, were more insulin-resistant, and were at higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.  That being said, the research did not use agave nectar but just compared pure  fructose and glucose so more research is still needed using agave nectar to really understand whether its high fructose composition causes similar results as current research suggests.  The only other benefit of agave over other sweeteners is that some studies have found agave nectar to have anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties.

How to Use It?

  • When substituting agave nectar for white sugar, use 2/3 cup of agave for every 1 cup of sugar and reduce other liquids by ¼ to 1/3 cupagavesppon
  • When substituting agave nectar for brown sugar use the same ratio as above but only reduce liquids by ¼ cup since brown sugar has higher moisture content than white sugar
  • When replacing agave nectar for honey use 75% the amount.
  • Since agave nectar browns more quickly, consider reducing oven temperature by 25°F and increasing cooking time slightly.

My Recommendations

Agave nectar  is still a sweetener and too much sugar in any form is unhealthy.  So even if you substitute agave for sugar, it’s important to keep your sugar or agave intake low.  The American diet in general tends to consume more sugar or sweetener than we need anyway so while agave is a natural sweetener with some health benefits over sugar and other sweeteners, the key is moderation and variety since there’s still not enough research to determine whether its high fructose content poses negative health effects that could outweigh its other benefits.  My recommendations when it comes to consuming agave are:

  • The best way to fulfill your “sweet tooth” is always through more natural sugars found in fruit.  Fruits have more fiber and more nutrients even though they’re sweet so this is always the best way to consume your sugars.
  • When you do use agave nectar in your diet, it works well for sweetening drinks because it dissolves easily in liquid.
  • Agave nectar also works well in sauces and marinades so consider making the substitute occasionally for sauces and marinades.
  • Moderation is still key.  Don’t feel like you need to completely give up sugar and switch to agave, it may be healthier to consume both in moderation throughout your diet.agave2

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Nutrition Fact: Not All Cooking Oils are Created Equal

oil-usedWith so many types of oils out there, it’s hard to know when to use what oil.  And the reality is that not all fats are created equal so a single oil often won’t cut it.  While a tablespoon of any kind of oil is roughly about 120 calories, the composition and smoke point differs which affects how healthy an oil is.  Different oils are more appropriate for different cooking methods so we need a variety of oil in our kitchen depending on type of cooking.

What is Fat?

Before we explore what makes a fat healthier than others, it’s important to distinguish the different types of fats. You’ve probably heard the term “good fats” and “bad fats” used quite often.  This has to do with the composition of the fat and how it affects our health.  Generally speaking, “good fats” are those that are more liquid at room temperature known as unsaturated fats and “bad fats” are those that are more solid like saturated fats or have been chemically processed through hydrogenation like trans fats.  There are of course some exceptions to this label so I thought I’d explain a bit more detail about each of the types of fats.

  1. Saturated fats- These fats are solid at room temperature and generally speaking, are not heart healthy because they increase our LDL cholesterol. These should be kept limited in our diet at less than 7% of our daily fat calories. Best way to keep saturated fat low in our diet is to limit red meat and whole fat dairy products.  The only exceptions to saturated fats being unhealthy is coconut oil and oils that contain a large amount of stearic acid.   Studies show that coconut oil because of its high lauric acid content and other nutrients, has has some  cardiovascular benefits despite it’s high saturated fat content.  Similarly,  stearic acid which is commonly found in cocoa and shea butters is also not as unhealthy as we thought.
  2. Trans fats- These fats are commercially made and chemically processed to have a longer shelf-life and cheaper price.  Unfortunately, research shows that these oils both lower good cholesterol and increase bad cholesterol.
  3. Monounsaturated fats- These fats are liquid at room temperature and are generally very heart healthy since they help increase our good cholesterol.  Avocados, nuts, and olives are high in monounsaturated fats.
  4. Polyunsaturated fats- these fats are also liquid at room temperature and are generally heart healthy.  Both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats.  When your ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids are ideal, it promotes heart health.  However, most people probably in the U.S.  get more than enough omega-6 fatty acids so our ratio is skewed more towards omega-6 which is not a heart healthy ration.  So, when it comes to polyunsaturated fats, focus on getting more omega-3’s in your diet for optimal heart health.  They’re found in fish, walnuts, and flaxseeds.

Smoke Point of Oil

Depending on the oil and how it’s been processed, it will have a different smoke point.  This refers to the heat level up to which the oil starts to smoke resulting in the production of toxic fumes and free radicals.  This makes a once healthy oil a not so healthy oil.  That’s why it’s important to vary your oil based on the type of cooking method to avoid heating an oil above it’s smoking point.  Follow these guidelines for when to use what type of oils to ensure you don’t heat an oil above it’s smoke point.

High Smoke Point– Best used when searing, browning or if deep frying

Type of Oil Smoke Point
Almond 430 F
Avocado 520 F
Hazelnut 430 F
Palm 446 F
Sunflower (High-oleic) 450 F
Light olive 468 F
Safflower 509 F
Ghee (clarified butter) 482 F 

Medium-High Smoke Point – Best used for oven cooking, baking, or stir-frying

Type of Oil Smoke Point
Canola 400 F
Grapeseed 400 F
Extra virgin olive 374 F
Peanut 440 F
Butter 400 F

Medium Smoke Point- light-sautéing, low-heat oven baking , sauces  

Type of Oil Smoke Point
Coconut 350 F
Corn 320 F
Hemp 330 F
Sesame 350 F
Walnut 320 F
Margarine 320 F

No-heat Oils- Salads, dips

Type of Oil Smoke Point
Flaxseed n/a
Wheat Germ n/a

Fat Composition of Oil

The fat composition of oils plays a role in how healthy an oil is because it helps determine effects on heart health.  As I mentioned above, the different types of oil have different effects. In general, those fats with lower saturated fat compared to unsaturated fats are more heart healthy because saturated fats raise our LDL-Cholesterol levels (“bad cholesterol”).  However, there are some exceptions to this rule like coconut oil which actually has cardiovascular benefits despite it’s high saturated fat content as well at stearic acid found in cocoa butter.  Also, monounsaturated fats are heart-healthy because they help increase HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol) as well as polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.  Below is a chart showing the composition of various oils to help make better decisions of what oil to use based on fat composition.  (ˆClick on the chart for a larger version) 

Not listed here is trans fat which are partially or fully hydrogenated oils mainly found in shortenings and commercially used products and cooking. These oils are the most unhealthy because they both increase LDL and decrease HDL. These oils should definitely be avoided whenever possible.  Just look read the ingredients on food labels and avoid eating anything with “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” in front of any oils used.

Fat Composition in different Cooking Oils

My Recommendations

A few tips/recommendations to keep in mind about what oil to use and when:

  • The type of cooking method should be a major factor in the oil you choose to use because a once healthy oil, if heated too high loses it’s health benefits and actually becomes worst for you because of free radicals created.  If you heat an oil up and see it smoking, discard the oil and start over.   
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil is a great oil for most cooking uses so I personally  mainly use this for most of my cooking and have canola oil on hand for oven and higher temperature cooking.  For salads I try to use flaxseed oil for the added omega-3 fatty acids it provides.
  • Obviously, regardless of what oil you use, fat contains 9 calories per gram so the key is moderation.  Use spray oils or buy your own sprayer and fill it with your favorite oil to keep the amount of oil we consume low.
  • Avoid refined trans fats like hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils when possible.
  • For a more detailed chart of what oils to use and when, I like this chart that incorporates smoke point and fat composition to create a road map of all the different oil options out there and when to use them.  However, if it’s too complicated, stick to a combination of mostly EVOO and Canola in terms of cooking at home.  oliveoil

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Nutrition Fact: Eating Yogurt is Good for your Health

With so many brands and types of yogurt out in the market, it’s hard to know what yogurt to choose for optimal nutrition.  Some are super healthy breakfast or snack foods to consume, while others are high in sugar and artificial sweeteners and actually not very healthy at all. With all the confusion out there, I thought I’d share some tips on what makes a yogurt healthy and how to choose the right one.

Greek Yogurt vs. Regular Yogurt? 


Photo Credit: Biafore

Yogurt is basically a form of curdled milk. Regular yogurt is made by fermenting milk with live bacteria and can be made with differing fat levels.  Greek yogurt takes an additional step of straining the yogurt so that the liquid whey is removed resulting in a yogurt that is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt.  “Greek-style” yogurt is regular yogurt that has been made by adding thickening agents to achieve a thicker and creamier texture but is not strained like traditional Greek Yogurt.  Because Greek and regular yogurt are prepared differently, the nutrition content also varies.  Check out the nutrition content for a 6 oz. serving for various types of yogurt.

Plain Non-Fat Greek Yogurt 2% Plain Greek Yogurt Plain Non-Fat Regular Yogurt Plain 2% Regular Yogurt Non-fat Plain “Greek-Style” yogurt”
Calories 100 130 90 108 60
Total Fat (g) 0 3.5 0 3 0
Carbohydrates (g) 7 7 14 12 10
Protein (g) 18 17 8.3 7 6
Calcium (mg) 200 200 350 300



Health Benefits of Yogurt:

  1. Good for your digestion. Most yogurts contain “good” bacteria known as probiotics which are live cultures that live in the intestine and actually help drive out “bad” bacteria and aid with digestion.
  2. High in Vitamins and nutrients.  Yogurt is a great source of calcium and also Vitamin D.  In addition, just one serving is high in potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, iodine, zinc, and vitamins B5 (pantothenic acid) and B12.
  3. May help prevent high blood pressure. Because yogurt is high in potassium, it helps flush out some of the sodium which may help lower blood pressure according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 
  4. Can be an excellent source of protein. Greek yogurt if processed properly is high in protein which will help with satiety and curbing hunger throughout the day.  Be sure to read the label and choose one that contains at least 12g of protein if you’re looking to increase protein intake and maintain or build lean body muscle.

How to Choose the Right Kind?

The most important part about choosing the right yogurt is reading the labels and knowing what to look for.  Here’s some tips for what to look for to help you make the best choice.


Photo Credit: The Stroke Survivors blog

  1. Sugar Content. Today many flavored yogurts are full of added sugars and other additives.  Some contain as much as 28g of sugar in one 6 oz. serving!  That’s roughly as much sugar as there is in a 8 oz. cola. Sugar causes a spike in our blood sugar levels and any excess sugar gets converted and stored as fat so you definitely want to minimize the amount of sugar in the yogurt you choose.  I would choose something between 7-15g of sugar so plain yogurt or honey flavored are the ways to go to minimize the sugar content.  Often times the fruit flavored yogurts don’t use real fruit and just add to the sugar content with little to no added nutrition.
  2. Calories and Fat. Choose non-fat or low-fat yogurts to maximize nutrition content without the added calories and fat. Choosing the lower fat version will save you between 30-50 calories per serving and about 3-7 g of fat.
  3. Vitamin D.  Many of us consume yogurt as one of our 3 recommended servings of dairy.  However, not all yogurts are fortified with Vitamin D.  Vitamin D is important because it helps aid in calcium absorption as well as a number of other health benefits I wrote about earlier here. When choosing regular yogurts, look for ones that are fortified with Vitamin D.  Unfortunately, very few Greek yogurts are fortified with Vitamin D today so if you go with Greek yogurt it will be harder to find one with Vitamin D so make sure you’re getting Vitamin D from other sources. 
  4. Probiotics.  While all yogurts contain some bacteria through the fermentation process, today several types contain live cultures called probiotics that help aid digestion by adding to the healthy bacteria in your stomach.  When possible, it might be helpful to choose yogurts that contain probiotics to aid with digestion.
  5. Protein Content.  The reason Greek yogurt is so healthy is because of the high protein content.  Generally traditional Greek yogurt contains at least double or up to triple the protein content.  Having a higher protein content helps with satiety and prevents overeating so could help with weight loss.

My Recommendations 

If you choose the right yogurt, it can be an extremely healthy part of your diet– providing a rich source of calcium, a lean protein, and nutrients and vitamins that support good health.  However, with so many brands and types to choose from, the most important things to remember are:

  • Don’t forget to read the nutrition labels and follow the guidelines for sugar content and protein content in particular.  Some yogurts contain as much sugar as a can of coke or soda so be sure to check that when choosing your yogurt.  
  • If you’re looking for “greek” yogurt for its higher protein content, make sure to actually look at the label and read the amount of protein.  Often times the front of the label or the yogurt may be called “greek-style” yogurt which just means it’s thicker and creamier by the use of thickening agents but it actually doesn’t have any additional protein.  Look for 12g or more per serving for a true “greek” yogurt.
  • Choose plain or honey flavored yogurt over fruit flavored yogurt to lower sugar content.  Try adding fresh or frozen fruit or honey instead to make it a bit sweeter!
  • While yogurt tastes great plain or with fruits and granola, you can also use non-fat yogurt or greek yogurt as a substitutes for cream in many dishes as a healthy alternative.  I’ve used it to make healthy creamy pastas, in smoothies, as a replacement for mayo, to make ranch dip, and more!

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To Juice or Not to Juice?

Juicing has been a popular health craze in recent days.  And like any other health trend or fad diet, juicing too has its benefits but also has its flaws.  Like most things in life, it’s all about moderation and what makes the most sense for your personal diet and lifestyle so let’s explore some of the benefits and cons of juicing.

What is Juicing?


Juicing is a method that extracts liquid nutrition from fruits and vegetables, leaving the pulp (fibrous part) behind.  This is different from blending which emulsifies and mashes up the ingredients to a thick liquid.

Benefits of Juicing: 



1. Juicing can help increase your fruit and vegetable intake.   Half of all Americans don’t even eat two servings of fruits and vegetables a day, while the recommended serving is at least 5 cups per day.  For those that don’t get close to the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables per day, juicing can be a great way to add lots of fruits and vegetables to your diet fairly quickly and efficiently.  Plus, people who find it hard to eat lots of fruits and vegetables either because of taste of time might have a much easier time consuming the optimal amount through juicing– so if that’s you juicing can be very beneficial to you.

2.    Juicing can help add a wider variety of fruits and veggies in your diet. Juicing vegetables with fruits disguises the taste and is a great way to incorporate new fruits and vegetables in your diet.  One glass of juice could incorporate vitamins and minerals from an entire stalk of kale, a whole cucumber, parsley, several carrots, an apple and more as an example.  And it’s easy to sneak in things like spinach, celery, and herbs without noticing it.

3.    Juicing can help prevent food waste.  Fresh produce is the one food that gets wasted most in many households and juicing is a way to use those fruits and vegetables up efficiently just before they start to go bad.

Cons of Juicing: 

1. Not equal to whole fruits and veggies.   There is no sound scientific evidence that juicing is healthier than eating whole fruits and vegetables, and in fact it is probably not as healthy as eating the equivalent in whole fruits and vegetables.  This is because while juice does contain most of the vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, it does lack the fiber found in them.  The reason fiber is healthy is that it helps lower cholesterol, it helps keep you fuller longer which prevents overeating, and it prevents as dramatic of a spike in blood sugar that often occurs from juices that contain a concentrated amount of natural sugars.  Additionally, some juices are much higher than you think in sugars so can add unwanted calories so be sure to read the labels when you buy juices or if you make them do a combination of fruits and vegetables to minimize the sugar content and try pairing your juice with foods higher in fiber to prevent the spike in blood sugar levels.   

2. Risk of foodborne illness. Because juices contain a high amount of natural sugars, they can quickly develop harmful bacteria so its best to wash produce thoroughly prior to juicing and to drink immediately instead of storing.  And if you buy fresh juices, try to look for ones that have been pasteurized. Also, if juicing at home, be sure to wash your juicer with hot soapy water after each use. 

3. Needs to be consumed immediately– While juicing is a great way to get your antioxidants and vitamins for the day, it’s important to note that light and air destroys much of the antioxidants and enzymes that make juicing beneficial.  Thus, ideally, juices should be consumed immediately and not stored for later in order to reap maximum benefits from juicing.    

4. Juicing is Expensive.  Aside from needing to spend a few hundred dollars on buying a good juicer, the amount of fresh produce you need to make just one glass can add up quickly since juicing only extracts the liquid out of fruits and vegetables a lot of produce is required to make just one serving.  While this is a great way to pack in a lot of fruits and vegetables, it also gets expensive needing to use that much fresh produce just to get your servings of fruits and vegetables in.     

My Recommendations

Juicing can be a way to incorporate a lot of nutrients in your diet, particularly for those that don’t eat enough whole fruits and vegetables today.  If you do eat enough whole fruits and vegetables, there is no additional health benefit derived from juicing so you don’t need to go and buy a juicer just to be healthy.  But, if you enjoy juicing and don’t consume enough fruits and vegetables other ways, juicing can help you incorporate more nutrition into your diet.   If you do decide to juice, the main things to keep in mind about juicing is that:

  • Juices should not be mistaken for a meal (unless cleared by a doctor).  While juices provide a high amount of nutrients and minerals, it is not a meal replacement and should not be consumed as a meal but as a supplement to your healthy diet. While people on a juice diet do lose weight, the extreme lack of calories and macronutrients missing are detrimental in the long run and many often gain back the weight and more when they stop the diet.   
  • Juices should be consumed immediately to prevent loss of nutrition and risk of bacterial contamination.
  • Because the fiber is lost in the juicing process, it’s important to still consume some of your servings of fruits and vegetables through whole fruits and vegetables if you do decide to juice so you don’t lose out on the benefits of fiber. 

I personally like blending over juicing as it keeps more of the fiber intact and is still a way to pack extra servings of fruis and vegetables in my diet quickly.  However, blending usually requires adding some milk, juice, and/or yogurt so if you prefer the pure juice, juicing makes more sense for you, especially if done in moderation and within the guidelines I mentioned above.


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Nutrition Fact: Eating Fish Can Be Healthy and Sustainable!

Baked Salmon

Photo Credit: Minnesota Dept. of Health

Did you know the average American eats less than half the recommended 8 ounces/week?  Before I started studying nutrition, I must admit that I ate very little to no fish as well.  However, after just my first nutrition class several years ago, I quickly learned how essential this food is to your health and slowly trained myself to eat more fish.  And now after living in Seattle for almost 5 years, I totally love fish—well most of them at least!  Definitely helps that you can find very fresh fish here. 🙂 So I thought I’d share why fish is so important to our health and what inspired me to start eating more fish.

What are the Health Benefits of Fish? 

  1. Promotes Heart Health.  Studies show that just two servings of fish a week can reduce your risk of dying from a heart attack by 30%!  This is mainly because of the omega-3 fatty acids it contains which I wrote about in more detail earlier here. Omega-3 fatty acids from fish contain both eicosopentaenoic acid (EPA) and docoshexaenoic acid (DHA) which has been shown to decrease triglyceride levels, blood pressure, and the growth of atherosclerotic plaque, as well as increase HDL (good cholesterol)—all of which are protective against heart disease.
  2. May Reduce Cancer Risk.  Early research suggests that EPA may inhibit growth of certain cancers
  3. Great source of nutrition. Fish is a filling lean protein that is high in vitamins and minerals such as Vitamin D, Calcium, and Magnesium.

What about Contaminants? 

While fish is the BEST source of EPA and DHA in the diet which is what makes fish an essential part of a healthy diet, it’s also a major source of mercury and other potentially toxic environmental contaminants.  However, in moderation and with increased knowledge, eating the right amounts and kinds of fish actually can minimize your risk of potential contaminants while receiving the beneficial nutrients they contain.  Here’s what you need to know:

  • Mercury –  Today, most fish contain trace amounts of mercury, but a handful have especially high levels which should be avoided, especially for pregnant women and young children.  To avoid fish high in mercury, avoid consuming these fish regularly or at all: tilefish, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, and shark.  The basic rule of thumb is the larger the fish, the longer they’ve lived in the ocean and the more plankton-eating fish containing trace amounts of mercury they’ve consumed leading to higher the levels of mercury.   Commonly eaten fish such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, Pollock, and catfish are all low in mercury. 
  • PCBs- Certain rivers and lakes are exposed to this synthetic chemical carcinogen used in many industrial and commercial operations and thus contaminate our fish supply.  Look for statewide coastal advisories on PCBs to know whether or not certain fish may contain higher amounts.  The good news is that proper cooking methods can reduce your exposure.  Since most of the PCBs get stuck on the skin and excess fat, try these tips to reduce PCB’s in your seafood:
  1. Grilling or broiling is better than frying since it allows fat to drain away which is often were the most PCB’s are found. 
  2. Before cooking, remove the skin and fat from the fish      

What are Recommendations for Fish Consumption?

Serving amount Frequency
American Heart Association 3.5 ounces 2 times/week
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 3 ounces At least 2 times/week
For Pregnant women and young children Up to 12 ounces Per week (low mercury fish) 

How to Eat Fish Sustainably?


Photo Credit: Enric Sala, NatGeo

The other day I went to a great talk by National Geographic Explore in Residence, Dr. Enric Sala.  I had heard some of what he talked about before in terms of over fishing but he really helped explain how real the problem of overfishing is and the detrimental effects it’s having on our ocean habitats and the entire food systems and ecosystems.  He’s doing a lot of policy and advocacy work to improve the sustainability of how we fish but in the meantime, they’ve compiled a great interactive chart that lays out what we as consumers can do to eat fish that are sustainably caught and reduce demand for fish that are endangered or very unsustainably fished.  It also includes information on mercury levels and other toxins.  You can view it here.

My Recommendations:

To keep your exposure to mercury and other toxins low, promote the health of our oceans and marine environments, and still receive the health benefits fish offer, here are the best fish to consume at least 8 ounces a week:

  • Wild Alaskan Salmon
  • US Farmed Catfish 
  • Farmed or wild Bass
  • US or Central America Farmed Tilapia
  • US Farmed Rainbow Trout
  • Atlantic Herring
  • Pacific Sardines
  • Pacific Sole
  • US Mahi Mahi
  • US Pacific Cod
  • US Albacore or Yellowfin Tuna (but high in mercury so eat less than twice a week)
  • Alaskan Black Cod (but high in mercury so eat less than twice a week)


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Nutrition Fact: Spicing up your Foods with Tumeric is Good for your Health!

Photo Credit:

I just finished reading Dr. Raj Patel’s book “The Healthy Indian Diet” which talks about the health benefits of the traditional Indian diet and explains what things have changed in the last few decades that have caused the sub-continent to experience such high rates of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  If you don’t know much about chronic diseases or are interested in understanding how the Indian diet has shifted to more Western habits, it’s a great read.  My favorite part of the book are the recipes included in the back so I encourage you to check it out!

One of the things I found most interesting about the book was the section about the health benefits of the spices used in south Asian cooking.  While some of the health benefits of spices have little scientific research supporting their health claims to date, turmeric is one spice that actually has some science to back it up and is actually a staple in any south Asian dish so I thought I’d share why it’s good for you.

What is Tumeric?

The Tumeric spice comes from a plant of the giner family which is native to South Asia.  This uniquely South Asian spice is used in cooking for its deep yellow-orange color and medicinal qualities.  In Hindi Tumeric is called haldi and in Bengali we call it halud. The active ingredient in turmeric is called curcumin and has an earthy, slightly bitter, peppery flavor with a mustardy smell.

What are the Health Benefits?

1. May help prevent cancer. Initial animal studies done at UCLA have shown that curcumin seems to suppress the action of NF-kappa B which promotes cancer cells to live forever and grow and thus reduced tumor size in mice.  Additionally, studies from the Anderson Cancer Center has found that purified curcumin may be helpful in treating certain cancer patients if given concurrently with chemotherapy and radiotherapy because of it’s anti-inflammatory abilities and lack of side effects.  The research is still very limited showing it can help prevent cancer but it definitely has anti-inflammatory qualities that are always good for you!   

2. May help prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. The evidence supporting this health benefit is extremely weak right now.  Most of it is based on observational studies looking at the low Alzheimer’s rates in India compared to other parts of the world.  However, scientists are beginning o see Alzheimer’s disease as an inflammatory disease and since regular use of NSAID’s like aspirin are shown to be associated with lower Alzheimer’s rates, curcumin may also help lower Alzheimer’s by reducing inflammation in a similar way, particularly the oxidation of beta-amyloid, a protein intimately linked to Alzheimer’s disease.  Again, the scientific evidence here is still very limited but again the anti-inflammatory characteristics are clear and coupled with observational studies of lower rates in India, may mean that it could help in the prevention of Alzheimer’s.  

3. May improve cholesterol levels. A small study in 10 healthy adults using 500 mg of curcumin found that HDL-cholesterol (good cholesterol) increased by 30% and total cholesterol decreased by 10%.  While larger studies and further research is very much needed, this study is a promising one showing that turmeric consumption might help improve cholesterol levels in humans.

4. Helps prevent or reduce inflammation.  The evidence looking at the anti-inflammatory characteristics of curcumin are pretty strong which is why more research is needed to determine whether those qualities and in what amount in fact help reduce cancer risk and even heart disease which is caused by inflammation in humans.     

How to Eat it?

  1. Black pepper improves absorption of curcumin so make sure to use black pepper when you use turmeric.
  2. Add it to sautéed veggies.  ½ teaspoon complemented with some cumin and black pepper would work.
  3. Add a teaspoon when cooking quinoa or rice for some added color and flavor.
  4. Add to soups or stews.
  5. Add to any curry dish, it is a main ingredient for curry powder anyway. 🙂
  6. Toss with roasted cauliflower or sweet potatoes.
  7. East more South Asian food 🙂

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Nutrition Fact: Eating Breakfast is Good for Your Health

Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day for both adults and especially kids. After no food for 8-12 hours of sleep (or how ever long you sleep), your brain needs food to re- charge.

Source: The Daily Green

I’m sure you’ve heard breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  In fact, surveys show that 90% of Americans know that breakfast is important, yet only 15-49% of Americans actually eat breakfast.  I think part of the reason is that even though we know it’s food for us, we don’t really fully understand why and how important it really is. I will admit, I’m not a super big breakfast person and before I started studying nutrition I was okay skipping breakfast most days because I never felt particularly hungry right when I woke up.  But after really learning why it’s so important,  I never skip breakfast anymore and I hope this post will help explain why and inspire you to start eating breakfast everyday too.

Why is Breakfast So Important? 

The reason eating breakfast is so important is because even though you’re sleeping your body still uses energy.  Obviously you don’t require as much energy while asleep as when you’re physically active, but our organs never stop working so do use up energy!  After waking up in the morning, your body actually uses up all of its energy stores stored in your liver and you need breakfast to help replenish your reserve and maintain normal everyday functions.  Our bodies only have enough room to store about 10 hours of energy, so after dinner and rest, by the time you wake up your stores in the liver will be all depleted. Now you may say, well I’ve been skipping breakfast for years and my body had energy and you never noticed a problem.  Well that’s because our bodies are really good at trying to keep us alive.  So when it runs out of glycogen (our main energy source, particularly for our brains), our body then starts to breakdown our lean body mass (or muscles) in order to obtain more energy until you finally eat lunch or a snack.  The reason this is bad is that just by skipping breakfast, you’re losing muscle, and muscle is important for maintaining our metabolic rate.

3 Reasons to Stop Skipping Breakfast: 

1. Eating breakfast helps you lose or maintain a healthy weight.  First, it helps prevent loss of lean body mass keeping or improving your metabolism.  And second,  studies show that people who eat breakfast daily eat fewer calories throughout the day since it helps to curb appetite and prevents binge eating.

3. Eating breakfast helps you think clearer.  Particularly for kids, studies show that kids who ate breakfast performed better on standardized tests and have faster memory recall.

4. Eating breakfast helps you acquire important nutrients and vitamins from food that would be harder to achieve throughout the day if you missed a meal.

What are the Essentials of a Healthy Breakfast? 

  • Whole grains. This provides fiber and other important nutrients, as well as energy for your brain.  Examples include whole-grain breads, bagels, hot or cold whole-grain cereals, crackers, or tortillas.
  • Low-fat protein. Protein coupled with your carbs help provide additional satiety so you stay full longer.  Examples include peanut butter, lean meat, poultry or fish, greek yogurt, or hard-boiled or scrambled eggs.
  • Low-fat dairy. Dairy provides some protein and also important nutrients like Calcium and Vitamin D.  Examples include skim milk, low-fat yogurts and low-fat cheeses, such as cottage and natural cheeses.
  • Fruits and vegetables. These provide tons of vitamins and minerals are are low in calories.  Also, many fruits and veggies are high in antioxidants.  Examples include fresh or frozen fruits and vegetable like blueberries and strawberries, 100 percent juice beverages without added sugar, or fruit and vegetable smoothies.

Still Need Some Quick and Easy Breakfast Ideas? 

For those days you’re in a hurry and just need to grab and go here’s a few ideas you can try:

  • Breakfast Bars that are high in fiber and protein with a piece of fruit
  • Piece of fruit (banana or apple), string cheese, and handful of nuts
  • Whole grain bagel with light cream cheese and a banana (add hard boiled egg for additional protein)
  • String cheese, fruit, and whole wheat crackers
When you have at least 10-15 minutes or more to prepare and eat breakfast here’s a few ideas: 
  • Greek non-fat yogurt with whole grain cereal or granola and frozen berries
  • Breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs or egg whites and vegetables in whole wheat tortilla
  • Instant whole grain oatmeal with greek yogurt and fresh fruit
  • Breakfast smoothie: greek yogurt or skim milk, banana, and/or frozen berries
  • Fiber-rich bran flakes or cereal with 1 cup skim milk and berries or a piece of fruit
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich or toast on whole wheat, non-fat milk, and fruit

Now that you know the importance of eating breakfast and what are examples of healthy breakfast options, make a goal to eat breakfast everyday!  If you need to, start slow at first!

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