Saturday, June 24, 2017

Coconut oil and health myths

Is coconut oil healthy?  So many people think so.  So many students in my class have told me they use coconut oil as someone recommended it to them as being good for their health.  Not surprising since the NY Times reported that 72% of Americans think coconut oil is healthy.   Even more surprising is that 37% of nutritionists thought coconut oil was healthy.  A recent article in USA Today highlighted on MSN probably says it best as the title of their article is:  Coconut oil is about as healthy as beef fat or butter .

What does the American Heart Association say about coconut oil?
The go to place for information on heart health is the American Heart Association, at  There are so many misconceptions about coconut oil, the American Heart Association has released a report advising against coconut oil.   

Why is coconut oil bad for you?
Coconut oil raises your bad, LDL cholesterol.  Why?  Probably because it is high in saturated fats like butter and the fat in beef or bacon.  So, saturated, that 82% of the fat in coconut oil is saturated fat.  A highly concentrated source of saturated fat.   One tablespoon of coconut oil provides 11 grams of saturated fat.  How much saturated fat should you have in a day?  You should limit saturated fat to 13 grams a day according to the American Heart Association.  So, it is easy to go over the limit of saturated fat with coconut oil.  Coconut oil is even more saturated than butter (63%), beef fat (50%) or pork lard (39%) fat.  Since coconut oil raises your bad cholesterol, which is a cause of heart disease, and has no good benefits, the American Heart Association advises against coconut oil.   

Why do some people think coconut oil is healthy?
So many people have been duped into thinking coconut oil is healthy.  If someone recommends coconut oil to you, don’t listen.  The lead author of the American Heart Association report, Frank Sacks, told USA Today, he has no idea why so many people think coconut is healthy.  Some people might think coconut oil promotes weight loss.  There are studies that show medium chain triglycerides rev up the metabolism and thus might promote weight loss.  But the study that found this out didn’t use coconut  oil but an oil specially designed for the research study. 
Is there a healthy use for coconut oil?
My daughter has a great use for coconut oil.  She uses it on her dog, as it makes his coat smoother and silkier.  Some people use coconut oil as a skin moisturizer and it can be found in hair conditioners.
“You can put in on your body, but don’t put in in your body,” Sacks said.    

What other oils should one avoid?
I tell my students to avoid tropical oils, coconut oil and palm oil. Like coconut oil, palm oil is high in saturated fat.

What oils are better for your health and your heart?
Olive oil is a good, heart healthy choice.  Or choose from a number of polyunsaturated oils like corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, peanut oil.  Read about healthy cooking oils and watch a Healthy Cooking Oils 101 Video  at  The video describes which oils are heart healthy and which oils, like coconut oil, will help clog your arteries.

So, if you have some coconut oil in your home, use it as a lotion on your body or use it on your dog for softer skin and softer hair.  If someone recommends you use coconut oil in smoothies or in cooking, refer them to this blog or to so they can learn why coconut oil is not a heart healthy choice.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Brown Eggs or White Eggs?

Is there a difference between brown eggs and white eggs?  Are brown eggs healthier?  Many people think so.  Why do brown eggs often cost more than white eggs?  Recently we enjoyed a breakfast buffet at a Bed and Breakfast in Connecticut.  The buffet included a bowl of brown hard-boiled eggs.  Hotels often serve hard boiled eggs as part of their free breakfast buffet.  But usually white hard-boiled eggs.  This led to a discussion as to whether or not brown eggs are healthier and/or have a different taste. 

What is the difference between brown eggs and white eggs?
Answer:  COLOR
Yes, the only difference is the color of the eggs.  Eat This, Not That has a recent article, discussing the difference between brown eggs and white eggs.  Why are brown eggs brown?  Because of the type of chicken the eggs come from.  Brown eggs are from red-feathered chickens with red ear lobes.  White eggs come from white-feathered chickens with white ear lobes.  Mystery solved.

Why do brown eggs usually cost more?
Answer:  SIZE
Brown eggs are usually larger than white eggs. Why?  Red-feathered chickens that lay brown eggs weigh more than white feathered chickens.  A bigger chicken, a bigger egg.  And because they weigh more, the red-feathered chickens eat more and thus cost more to feed and more land to raise.

Why do some people serve brown eggs?
According to the American Egg Board, New England states prefer brown eggs.  Thus, it shouldn’t have surprised us to see brown eggs being served at a Bed & Breakfast in Connecticut. 

Why does the color of a yolk differ?
Yolk color depends on what the hen is fed.  Yolk color can vary from medium yellow when hens are fed yellow corn and alfalfa to lighter yellow from eggs fed barley. 

Does the nutritional value of eggs vary depending on what the hens are fed? 
All eggs pack a pretty powerful nutrition punch.  The protein in eggs is not only high quality, it is often cited as the “gold standard” for protein.   Eggs provide  about 6-7 grams of protein per egg, 13 vitamins and minerals (including iron) and packed in a low-calorie food, only about 60-70 calories per egg.  But don’t skip the yolk, as the yolk provides most of the vitamins and minerals. We like to use Egg Land’s Best eggs.  Why?  These eggs have more vitamin E, less saturated fat in the yolk, more than double the Omega-3’s, more vitamin D, and more lutein (good for eyes).   They feed the chickens a diet of grains, canola oil, rice bran, alfalfa, sea kelp and vitamin E. 

What about eggs and cholesterol?
WebMD notes that the American Heart Association revised its dietary guidelines for cholesterol back in 2000 to allow healthy adults to enjoy an egg a day.  But to still keep daily cholesterol to a limit of 300 mg.  A large Egg Land’s Best egg provides about 170 mg cholesterol.  But WebMD also recommends knowing your blood cholesterol and talking to your physician about your diet.  Those with high cholesterol should also talk to their doctor about eggs in their diet.

I enjoy eating eggs.  Summer is a time for egg salad sandwiches and deviled eggs.  And now you know that brown eggs and white eggs provide the same nutritional value.

Sources:  article, American Egg Board, Yolk color, Eggs provide , WebMD  Image source:  eggs

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Non-Cow’s Milk and Children’s Height

Milk at meals is a healthy choice for kids over one year of age.  Children need milk for calcium and vitamin D for healthy bones.  Milk is also an excellent source of protein and provides many other nutrients important to good health.  Most parents give their kids cow’s milk every day, but for many reasons, some parents are choosing to give their kids non-cow milk alternatives like Almond Milk or Soy Milk.  A new study looked at the growth of children receiving cow’s milk, almond milk, soy milk, or rice milk.   

Findings:  Compared with children who consumed cow’s milk, those who drank non-cow’s milk were shorter than average for their age.... For each cup of cow’s milk a child drank, they were 0.2 centimeters taller.  Some kids drank both cow’s milk and alternative non-cow’s milk.  These children were also shorter than average.
For example, the study noted a 3-year-old who drank 3 cups of cow’s milk a day would be .6 inches or about one-half inch taller than a 3-year-old who drank 3 cups of non-cow’s milk a day.

Why?  What is the difference in nutritional value between cow’s milk and non-cow’s milk?  It doesn’t seem to be the calcium or vitamin D content of the milks.  The study author, Dr. Maguire, noted:  two cups of cow’s milk contain around 16 grams of protein, which is 100 percent of the daily protein recommendation for a 3-year-old child.  In comparison, two cups of almond milk contain just 4 grams of protein.   And 4 grams of protein would be only 25% of a 3-year-old’s daily protein requirement.  However, the study concluded that more research is needed to find out the relationship between non-cow’s milk and height.
Non-cow’s milk is also usually lower in fat than whole cow’s milk.  One news article noted:  Researchers believe this may be due to non-cow’s milk lower fat and protein content halting children’s growth.  

Federal Regulations – the federal government regulates cow’s milk and the nutritional value such as how much vitamin D is added.  But the nutritional value of non-cow’s milk isn’t regulated. 
Drinking milk is important to children’s health.  Drinking cow’s milk offers children not only calcium and vitamin D but also a good serving of high quality protein.  Not just kids, but many adults drink non-cow’s milk.   A young woman I know drinks Almond Milk in place of cow’s milk because Almond Milk has less calories per serving.  This woman has grown to her full height and gets plenty of protein from other sources.  So, for her, Almond Milk may be a good choice.  Many guys like to ensure adequate protein in their diets and for them, drinking cow’s milk would be a good choice as not only is it higher in protein than non-cow’s milk, the protein in cow’s milk is a high-quality protein.  But for parents of growing children over one year of age, this study provides important information for parents to be aware of.  CBS news noted:    Maguire says parents shouldn’t assume milk alternatives are “healthier” than cow’s milk – no matter what the advertising claims.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Weight Loss – Myths and Truths

So many Americans try different diets or think some myths like “gluten free” will lead to weight loss success.  Time magazine has an excellent article, The Weight Loss Trap:  Why Your Diet Isn’t Working.  They interviewed many experts and discuss the National Weight Control Registry.  What is this registry?  It is a study of over 10,000 people who have lost 30 or more pounds and have kept it off.  The study attempts to figure out why these people were success stories and others who go on diets gain back the weight they lost. 
What are some of the take-a-ways from this article?

      1.  Find a diet or eating plan that works for YOU.  What worked for your neighbor, your best friend may not be what it best for you.  People react differently to diets.   One person can lose a lot of weight on a diet and another person on the same diet loses only a few pounds or may even gain weight.  A student in my class said her parents tried Weight Watchers – a good diet program.  Her mom didn’t mind tracking the points.  But her father found all the point tracking burdensome.  

2. Slow and Steady wins the weight loss game.  Ever see the I Love Lucy Show, The Diet, in which she wants to lose 12 pounds in only 5 days?  She tries jumping rope, running laps around her apartment building, eating a celery-only meal while her neighbors the Mertzes feast on steak and potatoes.  In final desperation, she sits in a steam box all day.  Hilarious show, and she does lose some weight.  But weight taken off this rapidly is often a lot of water loss and one loses muscle as well as fat.   Time highlights Lexi Reed, a 26-year-old, who tried many diets, lost weight and then gained it back.  What did he finally do to lose 278 pounds?
a.       Tracked calories – so many ways to do this using the many apps available such as Lose It! and MyFitnessPal
b.       Working out – adding exercise to your day is a way to burn up some calories, add some muscle, get toned and feel better
c.       Eating healthier – Lexi started eating healthier versions of the food he loved.  I like KFC chicken but choose the grilled chicken which is a healthier option.  I like the McDonald’s Egg McMuffin but order it without butter.  What are some of your favorites that you could modify to a healthier choice?
d.        Take Lexi’s Advice:  My advice is to focus on each day, not how far you have to go.  Weight loss is a journey, not a sprint.  (Time)

      3.   Follow some Steps that have worked for people on the National Weight Control Registry, read their facts at NWCR Facts
a.        Eat breakfast every day:  78% of those on the registry eat breakfast every day.  Less likely to get those mid-morning hunger pains when one often goes to the snack machine for a candy bar or two.
b.       Change your Diet:  Try smaller portions, try adding protein to each meal.  Focus on cutting back on the fat and added sugars in your day.
c.       Less TV, more exercise:  94% of the people on the registry increased their physical activity and the most common way was to walk more.
  4.  Cut the Added Sugar – avoid sugary drinks that not only provide calories but can produce belly fat as suggested by Dr. Dean Schillinger UC San Francisco (Time).    Skip the soda/pop and go for water, unsweetened tea.  I like Crystal Light lemonade or their Peach tea.  Great summer drink. 
        5.  Take a Break – a relative finds some ways to treat herself while on a diet.  Whether it be some occasional wings, a 100-calorie bag of cookies, some treat so she isn’t just giving up all the good stuff.  Learn to make some of your favorite foods with less calories by modifying a recipe.  My younger daughter is a great cook.  We often try to modify recipes to make them healthier with less calories.  We will cut down on the fat in a recipe by using 2% milk fat cheese.    We will use half regular pasta noodles and some whole grain noodles.  We don’t want to modify a recipe so much the food is tasteless but enough to keep the good taste, yet reduce some fat or sugar calories and add more wholesome ingredients like whole grains.

Time also notes that many people may not need to lose weight as much as focus on better health.  Exercising more is a good healthy habit.  Cutting back on fat and foods with added sugar is healthier. And, if an overweight person lost 10% of their weight, they would reduce their risks of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and probably lower their blood pressure.  

Sunday, May 28, 2017

How to eat for healthier skin?

Who doesn’t want healthy, glowing skin that isn’t dry and flaky?  And, is there a way to halt some of the signs of aging?  Well, a number of foods have nutrients and substances like antioxidants that can promote healthier skin.  A recent article in Environmental Nutrition, Eat Your Way to Better Skin, highlights some foods you may want to consider adding to your day.  WebMD also offers some guidance on, Foods for Healthy Supple Skin.  What are some of their suggestions?  
     1.  Add vitamin A to your day – not only should you eat carrots for better vision, but also for healthier skin.  Since summer is here, vitamin A also helps protect the skin from damage from sun exposure   .  Who wants skin that is dry or flaky?  Vitamin A foods help prevent this.  So add some foods rich in vitamin A.  A good way to choose foods high in vitamin A are to look for foods dark orange or dark green.  Thus, lettuce would have little vitamin A, but spinach greens would have a lot.  So if you are filling up your plate at a salad bar, skip the lettuce and fill your plate with darker greens, add some carrots and green peppers.
      Vitamin A rich foods:  sweet potatoes, green peppers, dark greens like kale, spinach, collards.  Pumpkin, apricots, cantaloupe, broccoli      

    2.  Water – yes, water.  You want to keep your body and your skin hydrated.  Although we have heard you should drink 8 glasses of water a day, all liquids count.  I am drinking a nice glass of Crystal Light Lemonade – so refreshing for summer.  Or enjoy some unsweetened ice tea with lemon slices.  The water in milk and juice also counts.  Fruits like watermelon provide some water.  If you are thirsty, you are “low in water” so drink up.     

    3. Add some omega 3's to your day.  What are omega 3’s?  The heart healthy fats we want in our diet. Some ways to add them is to add flax seed.  Add a spoonful of ground flax seed to your cereal or smoothie.  An article in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating some flax seed every day promotes skin hydration.  Other ways to add some omega 3’s to your day are chia seeds, walnuts and enjoying fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel.  Or cook with Olive Oil or Canola oil. I like to add some chopped up walnuts to my oatmeal or other cereal in the morning.  The California Walnut Board has a website,, that offers many delicious salad recipes featuring walnuts like Wilted Spinach Salad with Green Onions.  This salad is a great way to add some vitamin A (spinach) and omega 3’s (walnuts and olive oil) to your meal.      

    4. Green Tea – so many health benefits to drinking green tea.  Green Tea provides polyphenols a substance that promotes a healthy glow to your skin and may help protect your skin from sun damage.  Environmental Nutrition notes this may be due to the ability of these polyphenols to increase blood flow to your skin and thus more oxygen is delivered.  Whatever the scientific reason, drinking green tea is a healthy choice.  How much?  Try to drink 1-2 cups of green tea a day to benefit your skin.    
   5.  Chocolate, chocolate – who doesn’t like chocolate?  Most of us have heard we should avoid chocolate if we want healthier skin.  However, cocoa may actually benefit our skin.  Seems cocoa can help protect our skin from sun damage like aging and wrinkles. Look for dark chocolate and foods that have cocoa powder.  During the winter, I like to add some cocoa powder to my hot chocolate for an extra “chocolate” boost.    
   6. Antioxidants – adding antioxidants to your diet is good for your overall health and especially good for your skin as antioxidants help prevent skin damage.  How to add them?  Enjoy more fruits and vegetables – aim for 5 A Day – five fruits and vegetables a day.  We have berries in season here – fresh strawberries.  Add other berries: fresh or frozen raspberries or blueberries.  And vary your colors.  Each color offers up different antioxidants.  Enjoy tomatoes, red and green peppers, apricots, sweet potatoes, tangerines.  Find some fruits and veggies you like.  Aim for two servings of veggies and fruit at each meal.  For breakfast, I like a banana and I add a small box of raisins to my cereal (along with the chopped walnuts.)  Breakfast is such an easy meal to get 2 servings of fruit.  
    7. Vitamin C – like vitamin A, vitamin C is so important for healthier skin.  It protects the collagen and elastin in our skin from sun damage. So, vitamin C can help firm our skin.  So many ways to add vitamin C to your day.  We all know citrus foods are good sources of vitamin C but so are red and green peppers, watermelon, kiwi fruit, broccoli and those dark greens like spinach. 
So, for healthier skin, try adding some of the foods above.  Make a salad this week with dark greens and add some chopped walnuts. 

  • 1 medium tart apple (e.g. Granny Smith, Jonathans, Jonagolds, Honeycrisp, Melrose, Winesap, Braeburn)
  • 3 T. Fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small avocado, ripe
  • ¼ cups Extra-virgin Olive
  • 2 c. sliced red onion
  • ½ tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 1 c. lightly toasted California walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 10 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves – dry after washing
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper and lemon wedges for garnish

  1. Cut apple into thin slices, drizzle with 2 tsp lemon juice, cover and refrigerate.
  2. Pour remaining lemon juice onto a plate.  Peel and slice avocado, put slices in lemon juice.  Turn slices to coat with lemon juice.
  3. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet, add onion and cook over high heat for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in cumin seeds and walnuts.  Turn heat down to medium, with minimal stirring, cook another 2-3 minutes or until seeds and nuts give off a toasty aroma.  Do not burn.
  4. Add onion, seed, walnut mixture to spinach and toss.  Spinach will wilt.  Sprinkle with salt. 
  5. Mix in avocado, all the lemon juice and apple. Grind in some black pepper.  Garnish with lemon wedges. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Caffeine – how much is too much?

Caffeine – who doesn’t enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning? Whether a K-cup, Starbucks or Mr. Coffee, most people enjoy starting their day with a cup of coffee.  But in the news recently is the story of the teen who died, according to the coroner, from drinking too much caffeine.  So how much caffeine is safe to drink? Are there any health benefits to drinking coffee and other beverages that provide caffeine?

How much caffeine is safe to drink?

The teenager who died drank three caffeine drinks over a two-hour period, a large Mountain Dew, a latte and an energy drink. According to some reports, it is estimated that this was about 300 mg of caffeine – which should be safe for most people. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most adults can safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is about four 8-ounce cups of coffee. According to WebMD, drinking more than this can lead to some symptoms, such as insomnia, nervousness, increased heart rate, stomach irritation and other symptoms. The Mayo Clinic notes that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults. This would be the amount in four cups of brewed coffee or 10 cans of cola soft drink, or just 2 “energy shot” drinks. The Mayo Clinic notes that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their doctor about caffeine.

FDA notes that moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful. But what is moderate? For most of us that would be one to two, five ounce cups of coffee a day. But since we are all different, caffeine affects us differently depending on our size, gender, and how sensitive we are to drinking beverages with caffeine.

How much caffeine is too much?

According to FDA, experts agree that 600 mg of caffeine or about 4-7 cups of coffee or more a day is too much.

Is drinking coffee healthy?

A lot of research has documented good health benefits of drinking beverages with caffeine. WebMD notes people who drink coffee are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Coffee drinkers also have fewer strokes and some cancers. But it seems it is not just the caffeine in coffee that has health benefits as decaf also seems to help prevent diabetes. WebMD notes it may be the antioxidants in coffee, decaf or regular, that may help prevent diabetes. Or the minerals it provides like chromium or magnesium which help control our blood sugar levels. In the same article, WebMD stated that for women, coffee may actually lower their risk of stroke.

How much caffeine is in beverages?
The Mayo Clinic lists the caffeine content of coffee, soda and more. The math department the University of Utah has an extensive chart of the caffeine content of popular drinks. The charts below are adapted from these two websites.

Coffee drinks
Size in ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Brewed, regular
Brewed, decaf
Espresso, regular
Espresso, decaf
Latte or mocha

Tea Drinks
Size in ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Brewed black tea, regular
Brewed black tea, decaf
Brewed, green tea
Ready to Drink, bottled tea

Sodas, Soft Drinks, (Pop) 12 ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Coca-Cola Classic
Diet Coke
Mountain Dew
Red Bull (8.2 ounces)
Diet Pepsi
Minute Maid Orange
A & W Root Beer

I will continue to enjoy my cup of coffee every morning.  Or if you prefer, decaf or tea, drink those beverages.  As noted, it may not be the caffeine in coffee or tea that has health benefits but the antioxidants or minerals.  Learn how your body reacts to caffeinated drinks and what your tolerance level is.  Perhaps one cup is all your body can tolerate.  Perhaps coffee or tea interferes with your sleep if you drink it too late in the day.  Adapt your intake to your response to these beverages.

Sources: in the news recently, According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most adults can safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is about four 8-ounce cups of coffee., WebMD, The Mayo Clinic notes that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults. This would be the amount in four cups of brewed coffee or 10 cans of cola soft drink, or just 2 “energy shot” drinks. Mayo Clinic lists the caffeine content of coffee, soda and more, math department the University of Utah, image source: coffee cup