Sunday, August 31, 2014

Nutrition Myths vs Truths

How many times have we heard something about nutrition that we wonder, “Is that really true?”.  In class I showed a video about nutrition and the nutritionist stated potato skins are healthy.  Is this really true?   You may have heard nuts are fattening.  Is that true or a myth?  So here are some myths vs truths you may have heard and the real truth.
Nuts are fattening – it is is true that nuts are higher in calories than some foods.  But they have recently discovered that almonds and perhaps all nuts have less calories than previously thought.  USDA researchers have found that almonds provide 130 calories per ounce, not the 170 calories they thought and you may still find on nutrition labels.  Why?  USDA was measuring all the calories in almonds and not the calories we digest.  Turns out we don’t absorb all the calories in almonds.  So enjoy almonds and other nuts.  A handful of nuts a day is actually a healthy habit.  Nuts are very nutritious and the fat in nuts is heart healthy.
Potato skins have all the nutrients – not exactly true but it is true that potato skins are full of nutrients and may be the healthiest part of the potato.  I love baked potatoes and often eat the skin.  The potato skin has fiber, many minerals: potassium, calcium, iron and vitamins including vitamin C and many B vitamins.  Wash the potato well before cooking; remove any sprouts or any areas with a green tinge.  We also like to buy the French fries with the skin on.  Many people think potatoes aren’t healthy but potatoes offer a lot of nutrients.  According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “If you eat a medium baked potato, including the skin, you’ll get nearly 4 grams of fiber, 2 milligrams of iron, and 926 grams of potassium.”
Brown Bread is whole grain – so many people are fooled as to what is whole grain and what isn’t.  The only way to be sure is to look at the ingredients.  If the first ingredient is “WHOLE” such as whole wheat flour, whole rye flour, then the product is all or mostly whole grain.  If the first ingredient is “enriched” then it is not mostly whole grain, even if later in the ingredient list it has some whole grain.  Oatmeal, brown rice are also who grain as is quinoa.   But a manufacturer that dyes bread brown doesn’t make the bread whole grain.   A student asked me if rye bread was whole grain.  Certainly a dark color but every brand of rye bread I looked at in the store was not made with whole rye flour.   I did find some imported whole grain rye bread from Germany at World Market but couldn’t find any whole grain rye bread in the local food stores. 
Grapefruit can have drug interactions – quite true.  I was at a conference once and an attendee suddenly felt ill, dizzy and passed out.  An ambulance was called.  Turns out she drank grapefruit juice and was on a medication that was adversely affected by grapefruit juice.  For those of us not on these drugs, grapefruit juice is healthy and would not cause any ill effects.  But some medications such as cholesterol-lowering statins, HIV drugs, and antidepressants can interact with grapefruit or grapefruit juice.  In fact there are about 85 such medications.  If you want a list of such medications, you can go to  Some meds have a low risk of interaction and some higher.
There are many, many nutrition myths.  Relying on good and reliable sources of information on nutrition can help decipher the myths from the real truth.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How to Choose Healthy Snack/Nutrition Bars.

I enjoy having a “power” bar or nutrition bar as a snack.   If dinner is going to be late, I often snack on a nutrition bar to tide me over until I can eat a full meal.  What should you look for in a nutrition bar to make a healthier choice?
What to look for:
  • Fruit – many bars have fruit as an ingredient – raisins, other dried fruit are healthy ingredients.
  • Nuts – nuts are very healthy so any nutrition bar having nuts as an ingredient is good.
  • Protein – many people eat nutrition bars for protein.  Many offer quite a few grams of protein per serving.  Protein also gives the bar “staying power” as protein is digested after carbs so you will fill fuller longer.  If you are choosing a bar for protein, look for at least 5 grams of protein.
  • Whole grains – man Americans are sorely lacking in whole grains so choosing a snack/nutrition bar with some whole grains is a good choice.  Look for Oats, Whole Grain Wheat, Wheat Bran, Brown Rice.
  • Fiber – look at the fiber content.  Not only is fiber healthy it also gives you a feeling of fullness so will satisfy your hunger for a longer period.  Look for at least 3 grams of fiber.
  • Calories – if you are choosing a bar as a pre- or –post workout bar, then one with 200 calories might be just fine.  If you are choosing a bar to replace a meal, then more calories like 300-400 would be more appropriate.  If the bar is replacing a meal, try to add fruit, yogurt, cheese stick, carton of milk, other food groups to round out your “meal”. 
What to avoid:
  • Sugar – many nutrition/snack bars are loaded with added sugar.  Look at the label for grams of sugar.   Four grams of sugar is the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar.  Thus, a bar with 24 grams of sugar has the equivalent of 6 teaspoons of sugar.  But natural sugars, like the fructose in the raisins would be included in this total so take time to read the ingredients to see what sugars have been added.  Look for sugar, cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown rice sugar.  If sugars are the first ingredient, it is a snack bar to be avoided. 
  • Saturated Fat – fat can make the bar taste better and help you fill full.  However, saturated fat is a fat to avoid so read the label for saturated fat content and choose bars with less saturated fat.
Environmental Nutrition newsletter listed some of the nutrition bars they recommend in their Sept. newsletter.  I like Fiber One bars as they taste good.  Some other brands to look for:  Fiber One, KIND, Gnu, Lunar, Think Thin, Clif, Odwalla, Nature Valley. 

  • Clif bars – usually good choice for fiber and protein.
  • Odwalla Bars – focus on grains and whole fruit.
  • Luna Bars – Good for protein, low in sugar, not usually the best for fiber.
  • Nature Valley – the Oatmeal Breakfast Squares can be a good breakfast replacement.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New Food Products Coming Your Way

There are some new food products you may be seeing on store shelves soon. 
1.  Camelina oil – most of you know olive oil is a heart healthy oil to use.  Soon you will be seeing Camelina oil on store shelves.  It is made from a seed from the mustard family and has a nutty, light flavor.  Some may refer to it as wild flax or false flax.  It was a common oil grown in Eastern Europe and Russia in the 1940’s before it was replaced by other crops.  It is becoming popular in the US and farmers in Montana now grow it.  A blogger (Julie)  noted a farmer in Minnesota produces and sells Camelina oil. “A few months ago, Deanne and Francine blogged about a new oil they'd discovered in their quest for Minnesota produced or grown products. Camelina Oil is produced from the Camelina plant by a farmer in Lamberton. I'd just mentioned to Tim we should see if we can visit the farm and purchase some oil. As I was saying goodbye to Deanne, I noticed the Camelina Oil for sale on their counter.”
Why is Camelina oil healthy?  For one it has the heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  It also provides high levels of vitamin E, it helps reduce the bad LDL – cholesterol.  It is also good for cooking as it can withstand high cooking temperatures (a smoke point of 475 degrees). 
2.  Advantame – A new artificial sweetener – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved a new artificial sweetener, called “Advantame”.  It is a derivative of the current aspartame.  You will find it as a white, crystalline powder.  One can use it in cooking as unlike some artificial sweeteners, it is stable at high temperatures.  So you could use it in place of white table sugar at the table or when cooking.  But it is sweet, 20,000 times sweeter than white table sugar.  You may read labels and find it in food products.   Manufacturers may use it to reduce the sugar used in foods and use some sugar and some Advantame. 
What other artificial sweeteners are approved by FDA? 
  • Saccharin  (Sweet’N Low)
  • Aspartame  (Equal)
  • Sucralose  (Splenda)
  • Neotame  (Newtame)
  • Acesulfate potassium or ace-K   (Sweet One)
Another sugar substitute currently on the market is Stevia.  It is not “artificial” as it is made from the leaves of a plant.  Some countries have used stevia for years, like Japan.  The US actually banned stevia in the early 1990’s unless manufacturers labeled it a dietary supplement.  As of 2008, FDA approved refined stevia on the GRAS list or Generally Recognized As Safe.   I buy stevia as Truvia.  Like artificial sweeteners, stevia has no calories and is sweeter than sugar, about 200 times sweeter.
So watch your store shelves and read the ingredients on labels as you soon may be seeing Camelina Oil and Advantame.  You may see Advantame in baked goods, candies, puddings, jam, toppings, syrup. 

Sources:  Stevia FAQ,  FDA Approves New Artificial Sweetener, Camelina Oil Alternatives, Environmental Nutrition, Sept. 2014. Image Source:  Camelina Oil From Minnesota

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Can a tick bite make you allergic to red meat?

My sister said she heard on the news that a bite from tick can cause you to become allergic to red meat.  Then I picked up our local paper and there was a big article about it.  So what is the real story on this?
Apparently this started a few years ago as doctors saw patients becoming allergic to red meat after being bitten by a tick.  It is now becoming more widespread as the tick is spreading from the Southwest and Eastern US to other parts of the country.  An allergist in Long Island, New York has seen 200 cases in his practice.  He notes, “Why would someone think they’re allergic to meat when they’ve been eating it all their lives?”  (Tick bite and red meat) 
So what kind of tick is this?  The Lone Star tick.  Although it is named for Texas, the tick has spread throughout the South and East of the US. Lone star tick bites are likely the cause of thousands of cases of severe red meat allergies that are plaguing patients in Southeastern United States including Tennessee, North Carolina and Virginia and spreading up the Eastern Seaboard along with the deer population. (Red meat allergies likely result of lone star tick -- ScienceDaily) 
What is the cause of the allergic reaction to red meat?  Doctors call it “alpha-gel allergy.  Red meat has a sugar in it termed, alpha-gel.  It is found in beef, pork, lamb, venison, and rabbit.  Nothing wrong with this, until one gets bit by the Lone Star tick.  Then one can develop antibodies to the alpha-gel, which can trigger an allergic reaction when they eat red meat.  
What are symptoms of this allergic reaction to red meat?  Hives, swelling, vomiting, diarrhea, and even breathing difficulties.   The symptoms take a while, six and even ate hours after you eat the meat.  Dr. Fineman suggests being your own detective.  If you get hives after eating meat, then check in with an allergist.  Especially true if you are an outdoors type and in areas with ticks.  (Lone Star Tick  Bite Might Trigger Red Meat Allergy: Study 
How is it diagnosed?  A blood test can confirm if one has alpha-gel allergy. 
Who discovered this?  A University of Virginia researcher, Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills published a paper on this in 2011.  
Is the allergy permanent?  They don’t seem to know.  Some allergists have found patients with declining antibodies over time, and some think it doesn’t seem to be a lifelong allergy but they really don’t know yet.  
We are always cautious about ticks around Virginia.  Lyme disease was discovered in Lyme, Connecticut and then spread along the East coast before spreading elsewhere.  We also have Rocky Mountain spotted fever from ticks.  But this alpha-gel allergy is certainly a new one for most people.  
 Sources:   Tick bite and red meat,  Tick bites blamed for red-meat allergies, Red meat allergies likely result of lone star tick -- ScienceDaily  Image source:  Lone Star Tick

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Are Carbs Good for Athletes?

Who hasn’t heard the myth, “Carbs are bad for you.”  You should avoid carbs”.  Really, is that myth true?  Briefly, NO – you shouldn’t avoid carbs.   There are “bad carbs” such as white sugar and white flour but there are many good carbs such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables.  Avoiding carbs can mean avoiding the many nutrients carbs provide that our bodies need and that athletes need.

Should athletes focus on carbs?  Absolutely.  For good athletic performance, an athlete needs carbs.  During exercise, carbs provide the greatest source of energy in the form of glucose.  Our bodies convert the carbs we eat to glucose.  Glucose is the sugar in our blood that feeds our cells and glycogen is how we store carb energy in our muscles and liver.  Eating carbs before a workout, before soccer, baseball or other sports game provides one with the energy needed for that event.

Weight lifters – should those who are strength training eat carbs or protein before they work out?  To have energy for the weight lifting, focus on carbs before you lift weights.  After weight lifting you can have carbs and protein.  Having some protein after you work out can promote muscle synthesis.  A glass of milk or a cup of yogurt is a great way to get high quality protein after a workout.    

Should an athlete avoid eating one hour before they exercise?  This is an old myth.  You can eat before you exercise and again focus on carbs before you exercise as carbs improves performance.  A low fat, light snack before exercising would be what to choose within an hour of the event.

Should you re-fuel during exercise?  Prolonged exercise, such as distance running, soccer, basketball, and cycling require one to refuel during prolonged exercise lasting a few hours.  During a cycling class, I have seen new members come in without breakfast, no water bottle and then attempt to cycle for an hour.  Not surprising many end up fatigued, weak and often dizzy.   Most have to quit well before the hour is up.  They would have done much better with a breakfast focused on carbs (banana, cereal, milk) and then coming to the cycling class with a water bottle for hydration. 

Do you need to refuel if you exercise for less than an hour?  If you are exercising moderately, you probably don’t need extra fuel.   But keeping hydrated is important.  The American College of Sports Medicine recommends not only drinking plenty of fluids during exercise but also  before and after exercising.  For endurance athletes, they recommend beverages with low or moderate sugar content, and some electrolytes such as sodium and potassium.  For endurance athletes sports drinks are appropriate. 

Sources:  Eating for Champions, Hydrating for Fitness  Image Source:  carbs