Tag Archives: nutrition

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.

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

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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: 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? 

yogurt

Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com/Joe 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

250

 

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.

low-fat-yogurt

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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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: 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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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: 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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