Nutrition Fact: Proper Hydration is Important to Overall Health

The Importance of Good Hydration

We all lose water throughout the day just from breathing, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. Did you know that as little as a 2% reduction in hydration begins to impair every physiological function in our bodies? So in order for the body to function optimally, this water needs to be replaced by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water.

Source: Body,health,fitness Blog

 

Why is water important? 

Water plays a crucial role in every physiological function in the body. It helps flush toxins out of vital organs and carries nutrients from food to cells for energy. Water also regulates hormones, body temperature, and the digestive process (preventing constipation). Joints, skin, and internal organs also all depend on water to function properly.  Also, proper hydration is important to maintain proper weight. A study from researchers from Virginia Tech found that drinking 16 oz. of water before meals three times a day over 12 weeks led to an increased average weight loss by about 5 lbs., compared to those who did not increase water intake before meals.  So having enough water could help you control your appetite and your intake helping to maintain proper weight or lose weight.

How do I know if I’m properly hydrated?  

One way to tell if you’re properly hydrated is your urine should be clear and relatively odor-free. Dark yellow or cloudy urine is often a sign of dehydration. Another sign of dehydration is thirst. If you’re only drinking water when you’re thirsty, you’re probably not drinking enough water. And if you’re really dehydrated, you could experience other signs such as: dry mouth, headaches, muscle cramps, fatigue, inability to concentrate, dizziness and nausea.  Also, many times, dehydration often can feel like hunger, so next time you feel hungry and you’ve already eaten, try drinking water to get yourself properly hydrated again.

How Much Water Should I Drink?   

How much water you need to drink per day depends on several factors, including exercise, the environment, injury or illness, and pregnancy or breast feeding. In addition, food contributes roughly 20 percent to overall hydration needs. Although specific recommendations vary among organizations, it is generally accepted that if an adult consumes two liters — or a little more than eight cups — of water daily in addition to a normal diet, this satisfies hydration needs.

Instances where more water may need to be consumed include before, during, and after exercise, exercising in hot weather, if you are ill or injured, or during pregnancy or breast feeding. Sports drinks that contain sodium and potassium (electrolytes) are generally only necessary when exercising vigorously for an hour or longer, otherwise water is always the best source for hydrations.  Beware of the high caloric count in sports drinks. Even drinks that claim to have 10 calories per serving often have two to three servings per bottle so the calories can add up if you were drinking enough.

While caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and soda do count towards hydration, water is still the best choice because it is stimulant and calorie free.

Tips to Increase Daily Water Intake

  • Carry a large water bottle and drink from it throughout the day.
  • Drink a full glass of water with each meal or snack.
  • Drink a full glass of water whenever taking medication.
  • Drink water before, during and after exercise.
  • Add a slice of lemon, lime or a handful of raspberries to water to add a little flavor.
  • Instead of soda, try sparkling water with some berries or a hint of fruit juice for flavor.
  • When drinking alcohol, alternate every alcoholic beverage with a glass of sparkling water.
  • When drinking juice, fill half of the glass with juice and top it off with water.
  • While water is the best source of hydration, your body does get some water intake through other beverages and foods.  Here’s a great diagram that shows one potential recommendation of how to balance beverage intake to optimize health benefits of certain beverages and mitigate the excess calories of others.

    Source: The Drinking Water Research Foundation

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Featured Food: Red Chili Peppers

I LOVE eating spicy food so am obviously really excited to see that there is some research showing consuming red chili peppers may actually have more health benefits than I thought! I always knew red peppers were high in vitamins and minerals because of its bright red color, but research is now also showing other health benefits from red chili peppers derived from its high concentration of a substance known as capsaicin found in the pepper family of vegetables.

Source: LimonChili Blog

Did you know?

Chili peppers have been planted as a crop for the last 6,000 years.   They were first discovered in Central and South America and slowly introduced to other parts of the world like Europe, India, China and other parts of Asia.  The active compounds of chili peppers that provide the spicy pungent flavors are called capasaicinoids. When chili peppers are consumed, capsaicinoids bind with pain receptors in the mouth and throat that are responsible for sensing heat. These receptors are then activated and send messages to the brain that the person has consumed something hot and the brain responds to the burning sensation by raising the heart rate, increasing perspiration and release of endorphins.  Hence– the pungent and spicy reaction you feel when consuming them.

Nutrition Facts

Chili Peppers, especially red ones are high in vitamins and minerals.  They are a good source of Dietary Fiber, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper.  Additionally, they are a very good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Potassium and Manganese.

What is most interesting is that one small chilli pepper provides more than 100% of your daily needs of Vitamin C!  Do you still need more reasons to like spicy foods?  Well in case you do, I have a few more additional health benefits to share.

Health Benefits 

Immunity. The bright red color of red chili peppers indicates its high content of beta-carotene or pro-vitamin A. Vitamin A is essential for healthy epithelial tissues including the mucous membranes that line the nasal passages, lungs, intestinal tract and urinary tract and serve as the body’s first line of defense against invading pathogens.  Moreover, red chili peppers are an excellent source of Vitamin C which is not only an antioxidant, but has been shown to stimulate while blood cell production which helps to fight infections.

Heart Health.  Some studies have shown that capsaicinoids from chilies can lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol.  A team of researchers from Hong Kong found that capsaicin and a close chemical relative boost heart health in two ways. First, they lower cholesterol levels by reducing accumulation of cholesterol in the body and increasing its breakdown and excretion in the feces. Second, they block action of a gene that makes arteries contract, restricting the flow of blood to the heart and other organs. The blocking action allows more blood to flow through blood vessels.  While the evidence supporting heart health seems promising, these studies have mostly been conducted via animal studies so we need more research testing the effect in humans before we know for sure how beneficial capsaicinoids can be in humans and whether or not supplements and actual red peppers pose any difference in effectiveness.  So for now, I would avoid taking capsaicin supplements, but if you eat the real thing you could hope to see some positive effects when it comes to your heart health.

Weight loss. While red chili should not be used as a weight loss supplement, there is some evidence that capsaicin can either help reduce hunger and/or increase energy expenditure.  There’s a few caveats to these findings.  First, studies that found that red pepper increased energy expenditure, used an amount that was not acceptable for the average American. (10g/meal).  Second, other studies looking at appetite and hunger actually found that the effect of curbing appetite was much stronger in individuals who were not used to eating spicy foods.  So for those of us that can eat enough red pepper to help increase energy expenditure, we probably would not also get the benefit of reducing appetite and vice versa.   In addition, the research shows that using capsaicin supplements you lose the effect because part of the effect is caused from the heat and spiciness reactions from eating chili peppers which is lost through supplement use.  So, while this is no miracle diet food or supplement for weight loss, for some of us eating red chilies we might have some additional benefit related to weight loss, whether it’s through reduced appetite or through increased energy expenditure.

Pain Relief. Capaisin used topically has been shown to be an effective treatment for cluster headaches and osteoarthritis pain.  Additionally, it has been shown be an effective treatment for pain management for diabetic neuropathy.   The main side effect reported with topical capsaicin cream is a burning sensation at the area of application.

How to eat it

Spice up your food and enjoy red chili peppers either raw, dried, or sprinkled on top of your favorite foods.  You could use dried cayenne pepper spice, red crushed pepper, chili powder, or paprika.  Remember, Crushed/Ground red pepper and cayenne pepper spice have the most antioxidants, and then chili powder and paprika.

  • In South Asian and Asian cooking, you can just toss whole chili peppers or dried chili peppers into your dish while cooking to release the flavors while cooking.
  • When using dried cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper, try adding it to any sauteed vegetable dish, on top of pastas, sauces, pizzas, or in curries.
  • I also love adding cayenne or ground red pepper to any greens with a hint of fresh lemon.
  • Cayenne pepper also tastes great mixed in chocolate– add it to a dark chocolate ganache, hot chocolate, etc.

Last weekend I made truffles and filled it with chocolate ganache with a hint of cayenne pepper 🙂

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Featured Food: Quinoa

Quinoa is a grain that originates from the Andean region of Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Columbia and has been cultivated for the last 5,000 years by the Incas.  Even before I travelled to Bolivia I always loved this grain, but after trying it there and seeing it grown in the Andes where very little other vegetation grew because of poor soil, I had an increased fascination with this grain.  Not only is it high in fiber, protein, and vitamins and minerals like iron and calcium, but it’s so versatile and can be eaten so many ways.

Quinoa growing in Andes region of Bolivia

Health Benefits

Quinoa has been known to be called a “superfood” mostly because of its high protein content (18%) and its balanced set of essential amino acids making it a complete protein source.  Additionally, it is a good source of fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, copper, and iron.  And for those that are gluten intolerant, quinoa is also gluten-free!

Here’s the nutrition facts:

Source: Quinoa Corporation

Are there any nutritional differences between regular and red quinoa?

  Regular (per ¼ c uncooked quinoa) Red (per ¼ c uncooked quinoa)
Protein

6 g per

6 g

Fiber

3 g

5 g

Iron

20% DV

10% DV

Fat

2.5 g

2 g

Source: Livestrong

As you can see, they are both highly nutritious and differ slightly in fiber content and iron, with red quinoa being the better choice for fiber but regular quinoa being the better choice for iron.  I personally use both interchangeably in order to maximize benefits from both.

How to Eat It: 

Quinoa can be used in salads, soups, baked goods, pilafs, casseroles, cereals, pastas and can be served for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  Can you say versatile or what?

Basic preparation:

  1. Rinse several times and soak quinoa for about 5- 15 minutes
  2. Boil 2 cups of water (can use vegetable or chicken stock instead if using for more savory dishes)
  3. Add 1 cup washed quinoa to boiling water, cover and simmer, about 15 minutes until water is fully absorbed

Here’s a few recipes that I like:

  1. Curried Quinoa Pilaf (I usually add chickpeas and red and yellow bell peppers for added protein and color)
  2. Black Bean Quinoa Salad (I added avocado when I made it) and Caprese Quinoa Salad 
  3. Breakfast Quinoa
  4. Quinoa Cakes (Haven’t made these yet, but had quinoa cakes in Bolivia and was in love so will need to try making it myself!)
  5. Quinoa Kitchuri (My cousin’s awesome recipe…and follow her blog for more amazing recipes while you’re at it!)

Quinoa Cakes in Bolivia!

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Nutrition Fact: Not All Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids are Equal

You’ve all heard that omega-3 fatty acids are good for you but you may not know why and the best ways to get it so let me try to clarify a few things first.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are a class of polyunsaturated fatty acids and α-linolenic acid is one form that is essential for metabolism but not synthesized by the body so needs to be received from diet.
  • α-linolenic acid (ALA) is converted to long-chain forms of omega-3’s, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the body.
    • The conversion from ALA to EPA is only 5-10%
    • The conversion from ALA to DHA is only 0.1-1.0%.
    • EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids can be directly consumed in the diet from fish and small amounts from chicken.

What are health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids?

  • The omega-3 ALA has not been shown to show the same beneficial health benefits as EPA and DHA.
  • EPA and DHA have been found to be beneficial for infant growth, neural and retinal development, heart disease protection, and some evidence of reducing risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA have been shown to decrease triglyceride levels, decrease growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and slightly lower high blood pressure.

What are sources of omega-3 fatty acids?

  • ALA is commonly found in chloroplast of green leafy veggies, flaxseeds, chia, and walnuts.  But remember, the conversion to EPA and DHA is fairly inefficient from these sources.
  • EPA and DHA is best consumed from cold water oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and herring but is found in small amounts in most other seafoods too.

Source: Cornerstone Wellness and Rebuild Blog

Official Recommendations

Organizations Official Recommendations
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2 servings of fish per week, preferable from fatty fish  (500 mg/day EPA and DHA)
National Cholesterol Education Program Fish is recommended as a food item for people to choose more often as protein
World Health Organization Regular fish consumption (1-2 servings/week; each serving should provide 200-500 mg EPA and DHA)

* 8 ounces of cooked fatty fish per week is equivalent to 500 mg/day of EPA and DHA

 Other Useful Tips to Know

  • Farmed salmon actually has more EPA and DHA than wild salmon but both are excellent sources of omega-3’s.
  • White albacore tuna has twice as much EPA and DHA as light tuna.
  • Omega-3 from foods is always better than from supplements.  One of the reasons is that often times supplements actually just contain ALA which does not have the true health benefits you want which come from EPA and DHA.  Additionally, if you get fish oil supplements, it’s difficult to determine what fish they use and also the level of mercury in the fish, especially if they extract it from the fish skin.  So unless your doctor recommended increased intake of omega-3, you can get plenty from a healthy diet.
    • If you do take supplements, the FDA recommends that consumers not exceed more than a total of 3 grams per day of EPA and DHA, with no more than 2 grams per day from dietary supplements.  (unless otherwise recommended by your doctor)
  • While Flaxseeds don’t convert to EPA and DHA as efficiently as from fish, it’s a great food that can be added easily in your diet.  Make sure you use ground flaxseed and not whole.  Ground flaxseed is also preferable to flaxseed oil because in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, the seeds contain fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals.  Try to add about 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to cold and hot cereals, oatmeal, batters, yogurts, salads, milkshakes, or smoothies.  I personally add it to cereals and milkshakes to to make them more nutritious.
  • Walnuts are also good sources so try adding it to your yogurt in the mornings or blend in your milkshakes or smoothies.  Because walnuts are a soft nut, they blend really well into milkshakes and not only do they add omega-3’s, but also adds a little bit more protein.
  • Canola and soybean oil both are good sources of omega-3 so try cooking with those oils from time to time and use flaxseed or walnut oil in salad dressings.
  • If you want to find out the EPA content of various types of seafood check out the USDA website and search their database. When looking at the full nutrient profile, you can find the amount of EPA by looking at the amount listed under 20:5 (the scientific abbreviation for EPA).

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Nutrition Fact: 1 out of every 3 Children in the U.S. are Overweight or Obese.

Announcing Smash Your Food™ ..now in the Apple App Store! 

It’s so sad to think that today in the U.S., more than one third of all children and adolescents are overweight or obese.  Not only is childhood obesity linked to obesity as an adult, it also is linked to lower school performance during childhood.  I know it’s easy to think that obesity is a problem caused by one’s inability to control their eating; but particularly when it comes to kids, it’s hard to blame this problem on children alone.  Instead, multiple causes including the unhealthy food environment we live in today, growing portion sizes, and the lack of nutrition education of parents and kids when it comes to knowing what is in our food are to blame.

This is why I am so excited to announce the launch of Smash Your Food, an award-winning, educational game for the ipad that teaches kids to learn about the nutritional aspects of foods that contribute to excessive calories consumption and educates kids on how to  make better food choices at home and on-the-go.  I met the founders of Food’N’Me who came up with the idea of Smash Your Foods late last year and loved the concept and wanted to help out.  So , for the last few months, I’ve had the privilege to have been working on this project on the weekends to help the nutrition team with nutrition analysis and research prior to the game’s launch.  We’re also working on complementary e-books that will be released soon.

While the ipad game is catered for kids, it is also eye opening for adults.  For example, did you know that a fast food milkshake has three times as much sugar as a can of soda?  The game works by first calculating your max amount of salt, sugar, and oil per meal based on your gender, age, and level of physical activity and then compares your levels with what is in commonly eaten junk foods many Americans eat.  Before you SMASH the foods, you have to guess how much sugar, salt, and oil will come out of it.  The closer you get to the actual amounts, the more stars you get and the more foods you unlock!

Today, there are two versions of the game, a free version that let’s you test out the game by smashing five foods.  Then, the paid version which is just $2.99 and includes additional levels with about 40 foods all together.

Here’s 5 reasons why you should download this game today:

  1. This game is a top winner in Michelle’s Obama’s “Apps for Healthy Kids Contest”
  2. This game will help teach you and your kids about what is actually in some of the most common unhealthy foods we eat.
  3. This game will help inspire you and your kids to start making small steps towards eating healthier
  4. It’s super fun AND informative!
  5. It’s designed and approved by nutritionists and dietitians

Check it out for yourself at www.smashyourfood.com and feel free to leave any comments and feedback for us!  Also, like us on Facebook and help us spread the word so that we can help teach kids how to make better choices about what they eat today and in the future!

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Featured Food: Acai Berry

Acai Berry….superfood or not?

I just came back from visiting Brazil and had the chance to spend a few days in the Amazon Rainforest.  And I’m not going to lie, I was all about the acai berry when I was down there.  From acai berry sorbet on the beach to acai berry jam in the amazon, I was in love!  I even brought back acai berry jewelry!  When you’re in this region, it’s hard to ignore this amazing fruit, especially after all the hype you hear about it.  But does this superfood live up to all the hype back in the US?

So what is the acai berry? The acai berry comes from the acai palm tree (photographed below) which is native to Central and South America, particularly in the Amazon region.  The fruit is small, round and the pulp is a black-purple color.  The seed makes up about 80% of the fruit and the remaining is a viscous pulp that can be eaten raw or as a juice.  The fruit pulp contains about 4% protein and 12% lipids, with the majority of lipids being a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid. Not only is the acai berry a complete food containing all the macronutrients, additionally, they are rich in nutrients like vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine, and are most known for containing antioxidants like polyphenols and anthocyanins.

What are the Health Benefits of Acai Berry?

Ever since Oprah and Dr. Oz presented the acai berry as a “super food” the food industry has been all over trying to make all sorts of acai products with numerous health claims.  Unfortunately, many of the health claims are not true, at least not from any scientific studies done so far.  That being said, the one health benefit we do know is true about acai berries is it’s antioxidant power.  Animal studies and  in vitro studies have found that acai berry is a very powerful antioxidant.  Research has shown that anthocyanins and polyphenols in the acai berry are  antioxidants that help defend the body against life’s stressors. They also play a role in the body’s cell protection system. Free radicals are harmful byproducts produced by the body. Eating a diet rich in antioxidants may interfere with aging and the disease process by neutralizing free radicals.  Antioxidants in general may help reduce the risk of some diseases, such as heart disease and cancer by lessening the destructive power of free radicals in the body.  

In addition, an animal study also found that regular consumption of acai berries improved lipid profiles in rabbits and rats, which could  help reduce risks of heart disease.  However, this has not been tested in humans yet so is still a bit of a stretch to claim this as a health benefit just yet.  I did find one study conducted in humans which was a pilot trial with only 10 participants aimed at looking at whether or not acai berry could improve the metabolic profile of overweight adults.  This study found that participants that consumed the acai berry pulp regularly had improved cholesterol, triglyceride, and insulin levels after just 30 days.  This is a promising study but unfortunately because it was done in such a small sample and specific subset of individuals of overweight and unhealthy adults, the results are not generalizable to the public– so again we don’t know for sure how beneficial the acai berry can be in lowering cholesterol and triglycerides in humans just yet.  However, it does prove the need for additional research to explore these and other potential health benefits in humans.

Another study actually found that red wine, pomegranate, grape juice and blueberry juice actually have higher antioxidant power than acai juice.  So just remember that all the health claims made by acai berry product manufacturers like helps fight heart disease, helps people lose weight, prevents aging, stops cancer, improves sexual performance, improves digestion, improves sleep, improves arthritis, and improves general health,  are mostly not yet proven scientifically in humans yet or can be  achieved from antioxidants from other berries such as blueberries, pomograntes, etc.

Source: acaiberryeducation.com

How to eat it?

I enjoyed eating my fair share of acai berry when I was traveling in Brazil, but until the health benefits of the açaí berry are scientifically proven, it seems more reasonable, cheaper, and safer to get your antioxidants from other fruit and vegetable sources rich in antioxidants like blueberries, pomegranates, strawberries, etc that are more readily available in the U.S.

Until further research is done, I would avoid any acai berry supplements since they have not yet been studied extensively and we do not yet know if the health benefits from the acai berry resembles that from supplements.  Additionally, I would definitely be suspicious of “free-trial offers” for acai products.

However, if you do want to try some acai berry products, here’s a few suggestions:

  1. Buy freeze-dried acai berry and use in smoothies.  Here’s a recipe you can use.
  2. Eat acai berry as part of flavored products like ice cream, sorbets, and jellies.  Each brand and food product has different amounts and forms of acai berry in their products so keep in mind this may not be the best method of getting your antioxidants.
  3. As a juice– but remember some juices are better than others.  Make sure to read the ingredients and nutrition label.  Many are mixed with other juices and contain a lot of added sugars which would generally cancel out the benefit from the antioxidants of the acai berry.  So if you’re not drinking it just for the flavor, make sure to read the labels to ensure you minimize the added sugar and other ingredients.
  4. I also started seeing chocolate covered acai berry on the market.  I took a look at the label and it seems that they don’t always use the actual fruit but they use the acai berry fruit juice or pulp mixed with other juices, then diped in chocolate.  So again, seems like all the processing and added ingredients may outweigh any benefit received from the antioxidants.

Overall, my recommendation is to get your antioxidants from other berries that are easily available and cheaper in the U.S. until 1.) more research is done and in fact shows that acai berries are indeed much more beneficial to your health than other fruits 2.) fresh or freeze dried acai berry is more readily available in the U.S.

If you like acai berry products, that’s fine, but just make sure you’re eating those products for the taste and flavor and not just for the health benefits since often times these products contain lot’s of added sugars and ingredients.  And last, if you go to South America, enjoy all the acai berry you can get :).  Natural, fresh, and tastes so good!

Me in Rio having fresh Acai sorbet 🙂

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Is ALL red meat bad for you?

Earlier this week, the LA Times published an article called “All Red meat is risky” based on a new study released by the Harvard School of Public Health that found increased risk of premature death with increased red meat consumption.  Some notable conclusions included that one 3 oz. serving of red meat per day was associated with 13% increased chance of premature death and change that to processed meat it jumps up to 20% increased chance of premature death. 

Source: LA Times

The article had stated that eating any kind of red meat in any amount was bad for you.  Now before you go and give up red meat completely, I wanted to share a few key points/thoughts I had after reading the published study.  I hope they help put things into perspective and help you make more realistic decisions.

  1. Dietary intake over the 20 years of the study was assessed using a Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ).  While FFQ’s are the best dietary assessment tool we have aside from controlled feeding studies, they still are inherently flawed. They ask participants to retroactively remember what they eat, make estimates and guesses, and in many cases over simplify ones diet so it’s important to keep this in mind when making drastic changes and conclusions based on studies using FFQs.
  2. While the study did separate out unprocessed red meat from processed red meat, it does not separate out organic from non-organic or grass-fed red meat, and also the various types of leaner cuts of red meat from fattier forms.
  3. The study also found that replacing 1 serving of total red meat with 1 serving of fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy products, or whole grains daily was associated with a lower risk of total mortality: 7% for fish, 14% for poultry, 19% for nuts, 10% for legumes, 10% for low-fat dairy products, and 14% for whole grains.  This shows that by including other things in your diet and substituting some of your servings of red meat for healthier alternatives can help reduce the risk associated with red meat consumption.

In addition, about a month ago, a study from Japan with more than 51,000 men and women over 16 years found no connection between moderate meat consumption up to 3 ounces a day and premature death and another study from the Havard School of Public Health on red meat also found no connection between red meat consumption and heart disease and diabetes, though it did find an association with processed red meat consumption and heart disease and diabetes.

I also found the absolute risks of red meat consumption from the latest study on Harvard’s blog and it puts things into better perspective:


Deaths per 1,000 people per year

1 serving unprocessed meat a week

2 servings unprocessed meat a day

Women

7.0

8.5

3 servings unprocessed meat a week

2 servings unprocessed meat a day

Men

12.3

13.0

Source: http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/study-urges-moderation-in-red-meat-intake-201203144490

The bottom line is that if you do eat red meat, processed red meat should be avoided or greatly limited in our diet (things like hot dogs, bacon, fast food hamburgers, pepperoni, etc.) and that unprocessed red meat should be eaten in moderation (1-3 times a week).

In addition, I find it interesting that the study in Japan found no connection between red meat consumption and premature death.  From my experience visiting Japan, I think there are three reasons that may be the case.

1. Japanese don’t eat very much red meat in general and have a diet high in fish compared to Americans.

2. Their red meat is much more likely to be organic and grass-fed than most meat Americans eat.

3. When they do eat red meat, the serving is generally less than 3 ounces and is prepared as thin slices either boiled or lightly seared.

I think more research is needed to make firm conclusions about whether or not grass-fed red meat is in fact much healthier and what amounts and cooking methods minimize risk, but based off ecological studies and comparisons, it may be true that what we feed our cows in America has an effect on how red meat affects our health, in addition to how much processed meats Americans tend to eat.

So when you do eat red meat, try to choose more unprocessed red meats and try to consume leaner cuts.  Below is a few of the extra lean cuts for you to choose from.

Extra Lean Cuts of Beef:

  • Eye of round roast or steak
  • Sirloin tip side steak
  • Top round roast and steak
  • Bottom round roast and steak
  • Top sirloin steak

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Featured Snack: Brown Rice Crackers & Hummus

Did you know that by eating just 100 calories over your needs per day, you can gain 10 pounds in a year?

That is why snacking can be dangerous– because it can easily add extra calories to your day and often times not a whole lot of nutrition if your’e not eating the right kind of snacks.  But, if done properly, snacking can actually be a healthy part of your diet and help you lose or maintain your weight.

Here’s why? 

If you’re just eating 3 times a day you may end up going too long between meals. This can cause you to become low on energy and become overly hungry and overeat during your meals– leading to weight gain.  So for many people, it is important to eat between meals as long as you can try to follow these three important guidelines:

  1. Eat a snack in between meals but when you’re NOT hungry.  When you try to get a snack when you are hungry, you can end up over eating and just consume more calories in the day than you need, instead of trying to control hunger and intake throughout the day.
  2. Use your snacks as a way to meet some nutritional gaps from your meals.  Things like nuts, yogurt, fruits are great snacks because they are highly nutritious and filling, and often helps fill vitamin and mineral gaps from your meals.
  3. Try to choose snacks that blend complex carbohydrates with protein.  These types of snacks are both nutritious and satiating and will help keep your caloric intake under control throughout the day.

Here’s a snack idea that I LOVE because it’s nutritious, satiating, and most importantly—it tastes good!

  1. 18 Multiseed Brown Rice Mini crackers from Trader Joe’s (see packaging below)
  2. 1/2 Persian Cucumber (cut in slices or sticks)
  3. 2 TBS. Regular Hummus

Nutrition Facts:   Calories:  120 ; Protein 3 g ; Fat 4 g ; 17 g carbs  (mostly complex)

These crackers are great because they’re made with brown rice flour and flax seeds so are a good source of omega-3 Fatty acids and b-vitamins. They’re also easy to take on the go or to work and you can eat up to 35 of them for about 100 calories.  For a more satiating snack that will keep you on track the rest of the day, I like eating half the serving size of the crackers (about 18) and add something with a bit of protein like the hummus or low-fat string cheese.

Happy “healthy” snacking!

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Featured Food: Dark Chocolate

Chocolate can be good for your health…well at least dark chocolate can be (and in small amounts).  It’s hard to imagine, but if you didn’t know, chocolate really comes from a plant.  It’s made from the beans of the fruit of a tropical plant called Theobroma cacao.  So like other plants, there are tons of great nutrients in cacao, but in order to truly receive these benefits, you need to eat the dark chocolate, usually 60% cacao and above, and of course, the darker the chocolate, the more nutrients there are and less sugar and milk fat.

Cacao plant and pods. Source: Fairtrade Foundation

Why is it good for you?

1. Dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids which is a polyphenol antioxidant that helps prevent cell damage, reduce clot formation and improve blood sugar levels.  In general, a 1.5-oz. serving of dark chocolate has the same amount of antioxidants as a 5-oz. glass of red wine and dark chocolate provides eight times more antioxidants than strawberries. (source: Livestrong)

2. It may reduce blood pressure.  In 2007, a study published in JAMA found that small amounts of dark chocolate helped reduce blood pressure without causing weight gain.

3. Flavonoids from dark chocolate may also help improve your cholesterol levels.  A small study at Pennsylvania State University found that participants who had a diet with flavonoids from dark chocolate had higher HDL (good cholesterol) than those without a diet rich with flavonoids from dark chocolate.

Nutrition Info: 

Here’s a comparison of general nutrition facts for various types of chocolate.  You’ll see as the antioxidant amount gets reduced, the higher the sugar and total carbohydrate content due to the added milk and artificial sweeteners.  While it may seem like the fat content is higher in dark chocolate than some milk chocolates, keep in mind that that fat is from the fat content from the cocoa beans so it’s richer in nutrients compared to the fat in regular chocolate which is primarily derived from milk fat.

  Fat (g) Sat. Fat (g) Carbs (g) Sugar (g) Calories Antioxidants Ranking
Cocoa Powder 4 2 16 0 64 1
Dark Chocolate, 70-85%   12 7 13 7 168 2
Dark Chocolate, 60%   11 6 15 10 162 3
Milk Chocolate 8 5 17 14 150 4
White Chocolate 9 5 17 17 151 5

Nutrient data from: USDA Nutrient Database 

How to eat it: 

  • Cocoa power contains the highest amount of flavonoids, then dark chocolate, then milk chocolate and white chocolate has almost no flavonoids.
  • Portion size and moderation is still key.  While there is not enough research to recommend an exact amount that is healthy, one study found that any more than half of a bar cancels out the positive benefits of the flavonoids.  Remember, chocolate is still high in fat and sugar so keep your serving size under 1 oz, and preferably, a third of an oz. (about 2 squares of a bar).  That amount usually may be enough to satisfy your chocolate craving and receive the most benefit of the flavonoids while limiting the fat and calories.
  • Try adding a little cocoa powder to your smoothie, milkshakes, coffee, or sprinkle a little on top of your oatmeal.
  • The darker the chocolate, the less milk fat and sugar there is and a higher amount of flavonoids so you ideally want to choose 70% dark chocolate or higher.  Some companies have as much as 90% dark chocolate bars available.  Unsweetened baking chocolate is also rich in flavanoids.
  • Don’t just start eating dark chocolate because you think you need the flavanoids/antioxidants– fruits and vegetables are much better options for antioxidants that are lower in fat and sugar if you’re not dying for the chocolate.
Source: Mercola.com

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Nutrition Fact: More than 25% of Americans are Vitamin D Insufficient

Are YOU Getting Enough Vitamin D?

It seems like Vitamin D has been the “fashionable” vitamin over the past few years mainly because there has been a trend in research suggesting vitamin D deficiency/insufficiency may play a role in various diseases other than just bone health.  Additionally, while the the Institute of Medicine (IOM) increased their recommendations and upper limits for vitamin D for optimum bone health in 2010,  other experts don’t agree with those recommendations and more and more research is showing increased intake may protect against several chronic diseases.  So, with all the controversy and inconclusive evidence out there how do you tease out what you really need to know about Vitamin D?  Let’s start by understanding what vitamin D is and where you get it from.     

What is Vitamin D? 

Vitamin D is a family of fat-soluble vitamins which functions to regulate calcium and phosphorus homeostasis.  Additional functions include:

  1.  Helps maintain bone health
  2. Aids in cell differentiation of hemotapoietic and epithelial cells
  3. Enhances immunity
  4. Helps reduce inflammation
  5. Aids in regulation of blood pressure and insulin

Aside from these known functions Vitamin D plays, new research suggests that vitamin D status may also be linked to chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, cognitive decline, depression, diabetes, pregnancy complications, and some autoimmune diseases.  Although the link between Vitamin D and these chronic diseases is still inconclusive, it’s not surprising that there has been a dramatic increase in sales in Vitamin D supplements and manufactures of the vitamin dues to evidence of protection against certain chronic diseases.

Where do I get Vitamin D from? 

Vitamin D is mostly obtained through skin exposure to UV B light where it is converted to the active form for Vitamin D (D3) in our skin.   Some Vitamin D is also obtained from the diet in fortified foods such as milk, cereals, and juices as well as some natural foods such as some fish (i.e. salmon and sardines) and liver.  But more recently many have been receiving vitamin D from supplements which either come in the form of D2 or D3.

Because most of our Vitamin D supply comes from sunlight, there are certain populations that are at risk of deficiency because they convert less sunlight to Vitamin D from their skin.  This includes:

  • Those with darker skin tones.  The increased melanin reduces conversion of sunlight to Vitamin D.
  • Those that don’t expose skin in the sunlight or wear high levels of sunblock all the time.  Clothing and sunblock inhibit the conversion of Vitamin D from sunlight.
  • Those that live in geographies that have less sun exposure.
What are the recommendations for Vitamin D intake?  

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) who puts out the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for nutrients makes the following recommendations for Vitamin D:

Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for Vitamin D
Set by the Institute of Medicine
Life Stage  Age  Males
mcg/day (IU/day)
Females
mcg/day (IU/day)
Infants 0-6 months 400 IU (AI) 400 IU (AI)
Infants 6-12 months 400 IU (AI) 400 IU (AI)
Children 1-3 years 600 IU 600 IU
Children 4-8 years 600 IU 600 IU
Children 9-13 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adolescents 14-18 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adults 19-50 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adults 51-70 years 600 IU 600 IU
Adults 71 years and older 800 IU 800 IU
Pregnancy all ages 600 IU
Breast-feeding all ages 600 IU

Credit: Linus Pauling Institute on Micronutrients 

The IOM also set the tolerable Upper Limits for Children 9 years and older at 4,000 IU/ day to prevent any toxicity from over consumption of Vitamin D.  It’s important to keep in mind that these are conservative recommendations based only on the IOM’s review of the research related to optimum bone health.  Many other experts are now recommending increased intake of vitamin D in light of new research linking increased Vitamin D status to lower risk of certain chronic diseases and based on data from a NHANES study showing that about 30% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient or at risk of being deficient according to IOM serum Vitamin D levels for optimum bone health.  I personally was tested two years ago and was severely deficient as well.  In order also project against some chronic diseases, some experts such as the Vitamin D Council are now recommending as much as 5,000 IU/day for adults.

SO WHAT DO I RECOMMEND?

I think it’s still too early to be recommending everyone to start taking high dose Vitamin D supplements to protect against various chronic diseases, however, there is promising research for additional benefits with increased Vitamin D coupled with the fact that many Americans are in fact not getting enough Vitamin D from sunlight or the diet so I would recommend the following to increase your intake of Vitamin D:

  1. Get tested.  Testing your Vitamin D level is a simple blood test and especially if your insurance covers it, I would recommend it.  That will give you a basis on how much Vitamin D supplements, if any you really need.  There are also tests you can do at home with a simple blood pinch that are fairly inexpensive with decent accuracy to give you some idea of your Vitamin D levels.
  2. Try consuming more Vitamin D rich foods from your diet.  Natural is ALWAYS better so make sure you’re including enough milk, salmon, and other fortified foods in your diet to help increase your Vitamin D intake.
  3. Try to expose enough skin (arms and/or legs) to at least 5-15 minutes of sunlight twice a day.  That amount of time without sunblock should provide you with more than enough Vitamin D while still minimizing risk to harmful side effects of sun exposure.  Additional plus is that you can’t get Vitamin D toxicity from Vitamin D synthesized from sunlight, only from too much supplement or intake from the diet.
  4. If you do wish to take supplements, or if your doctor recommends it, make sure you take Vitamin  D3 over D2 which research indicates may be up to three times more potent.

After I finished my prescription dose of Vitamin D to get me back to a healthy blood level,  my doctor recommends to get between 1,000- 2,000 IU/ day so I eat fortified foods and take a 1,000 IU supplement daily.  That recommendation is based on the fact that I don’t get much sun exposure living in Seattle, have darker skin, and that my levels were low.  So before you start popping 1,000 IU or 2,000 IU Vitamin D supplements per day, I would recommend you get your levels tested and try moderate sun exposure and diet before you choose supplements.  That will prevent any potential toxicity from too much Vitamin D intake and will save you money…and who doesn’t need to save money right?

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