Tag Archives: health

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:

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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.

Image-of-a-woman-in-a-grocery-store

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

Photo Credit: Mercola.com

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: 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: 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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