Sunday, September 28, 2014

Should you go organic?

Are organic foods healthier?  Should you spend the extra money and purchase organic foods?   People you know may buy no organic, buy some organic or all organic which can be quite pricey.    So what are organic foods and what are the advantages of going organic?
Organic – The main advantage of organic is that these foods don’t have the pesticides, herbicides, hormones or drugs that can be found in non-organically grown food. 
          Plants – may use natural pesticides like soaps, plant oils or bugs but not chemical pesticides.                   Only natural fertilizers used like manure or compost.
           Animals – are not fed hormones or given antibiotics, and the animals are fed only organic feed
                No GMO’s – a concern of many people
Government – in the US to use the label “organic” the farm is actually certified by a government Inspector.  Then the farmer can use the USDA Organic Seal   on their product.  But a farmer can be organic and choose not to use this label. 
How do you know if a food is organic?
  • 100% organic  – if a food is 100% organic, then it can say 100% Organic
  •  95-100% organic – then label says organic
  • 70% organic – Can’t use the USDA organic seal, but label can say:  Made with organic ingredients. 
  •  < 70% organic – then no claims about organic can be made 
Nutritional benefits:
More antioxidants, Less Pesticides:  A study in the British Journal of Nutrition found that organic foods had more antioxidants and less pesticides than non-organic foods.
Milk – we usually buy organic milk.  Not that the milk has greater nutritional value but for what it doesn’t have.  Organic milk is free of the antibiotics farmers give cows, free of added hormones and free of pesticides. 
So if you want to buy organic foods, look for the USDA Organic Seal.   If going organic is too expensive, then buy some organic foods like organic milk. Or, grow your own.  Herbs and spices are easy to grow in a pot on your deck or patio.  See my "organic" herb garden below.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014

News about high fructose corn syrup

If you listen to the commercials, high fructose corn syrup is the same as white table sugar and has no adverse health consequences.  But is that true?  For years now, I just try to avoid foods that have high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient.  Not easy to do as manufacturers love to sneak this sugar into everything from bread to catsup.  Many manufacturers know there are consumers that are like me and try to avoid high fructose corn syrup so they make a catsup without it then charge more.
Why high fructose corn syrup?  Manufacturers love it as it is easy to ship, has a long shelf life and is cheaper than sugar.   It improves the texture of cookies, and browns better in breads.    
What is HCFS?  It is comprised of fructose and glucose and manufacturers use it in place of sugar.  It has the same caloric value of sugar, 4 calories per gram.
Is HCFS Bad for our Health?  Many researchers would say no but more recent research raises a lot of questions.  The New York Times reported on a study this week and found HCFS can lead to a variety of health problems:
  • Fructose in HCFS is metabolized mostly in the liver and can leave fatty acids to build up in our livers, which can contribute to fatty liver disease.
  • Fatty Acids can also go to our bloodstream and cause high blood sugar levels, problems with insulin resistance, and Type 2 diabetes.
  • HCFS has been linked to more fat around our middle and who wants more belly fat?
  • Can you combat the adverse health effects of HCFS?   Maybe.  The best thing seems to be to avoid it if you can.  But the study above found that students who exercised 12000 steps a day were able to negate the bad effects of HCFS.  Those who didn’t walk and consumed 2 sodas with HFCS a day had higher cholesterol and blood sugar levels and an increase in body inflammation.  A similar study found those consuming HCFS and not exercising had insulin resistance, a step towards Type 2 diabetes.
So if you do have foods, soft drinks with HCFS, at least move more and sit less. These students really didn’t go on long walks but rather parked farther away, took stairs instead of elevators and sat less and moved more.    

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Breakfast for Champions

Growing up we would often hear a commercial about the breakfast of champions.  Who doesn’t want to be a champion?  Many people skip breakfast altogether so this post isn’t for them.  But for those of us who eat breakfast, what is a “good” breakfast?  What is a “healthy” breakfast?  So many of my students who eat breakfast say it has no “staying power” they get hungry soon after eating breakfast.  So what can you do to have a healthy breakfast with “staying power”?   Consumer Reports recently did an excellent article on “Breakfast Matters”.  Some highlights:
 Why Breakfast:
Breakfast eaters have better diets overall.  They eat more fruits, vegetables, milk and whole grains than breakfast skippers.
  • Eat within 2 hours of waking up and you positively affect blood glucose levels for not just the morning hours but the entire day.
  • Skip breakfast and your body can send off more of the “hunger” hormone, called Ghrelin.  Thus, you might overeat at your next meal.
What to eat for breakfast:
  • Skip the doughnut and coffee.  While black coffee has health benefits, the doughnut does not.  Skip the Pop-Tart and Sunny D – high sugar, highly refined carbs and not healthy choices.
  • Cereal  can be a healthy choice if you choose wisely.
  • Choose whole grain cereals – all General Mills cereals are whole grain so all offer some health benefits.  Consumer Reports recommended 5 top cereals:
    • Bob’s Red Mill Old Country Style Muesli
    • Kind Vanilla Blueberry Cluster with Flax Seeds
    • Cheerios – those commercials are true, oats are good for your heart
    • Cheerios Multigrain
    • Post Grape Nuts – kids may not like these but many adults do and a healthy choice
  • Yogurt – a great way to up the protein in your breakfast.  This is what will give your breakfast “staying power” as it takes longer to digest proteins than carbs.  Consumer Reports noted research shows eating 24-35 grams of protein for breakfast will prevent weight gain and stabilize your blood sugar, and makes you fill fuller than cereal and carbs alone.  You can top your cereal with yogurt or eat it separately.  One cup of yogurt topped with one fourth cup of almonds would add 33 grams of protein to your breakfast.
  • Other protein ideas  - instead of yogurt eat an egg or have a slice of whole wheat toast with nut butter or peanut butter.  Eggs get a bad wrap but they are healthy and the American Heart Association allows an egg a day for healthy adults (Good Eggs) . 
Calories:  Women aim for 400 calories for breakfast, guys 500.  I like a big breakfast and often eat 500 or so calories for breakfast.  Breakfast calories increases your satiety, you are less likely to overeat at lunch or overeating later in the day.

Sources:  Breakfast Matters, Good Eggs  Image source:  Breakfast

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Milk Vs Coconut Milk, Almond Milk

Many parents today fail to give their kids milk at meals.  Some even serve water thinking water is actually healthier than milk.  Odd since milk has water in it and one doesn’t need to serve a kid water when milk is served at the meal.   It is great that the new MyPlate shows a glass of milk with meals.  But many people choose milk alternatives.  Some because they are lactose intolerant.  Lactose is the naturally present sugar in milk that some people have trouble digesting so regular milk can lead to stomach upsets for them.  Others, have heard “coconut milk” is healthy so they forgo regular milk and have jumped on the coconut milk bandwagon.  So what are the pros, cons and nutritionally differences in milks versus milk alternatives?  Consumer Reports in their September issue did a great review of the various milk alternatives and their nutrition strengths and weaknesses.  Consumer Reports noted that up to 21% of Americans are drinking milk alternatives.  Unfortunately, they also report that 15% of Americans are buying less milk or none at all.  This week, we’ll look at Cow’s Milk, Coconut Milk and Almond Milk.  Next week we’ll focus on Soy milk, rice milk and Hemp milk.
Cow’s Milk up to 2 years of age, most children should drink whole milk at meals.  However, WebMD notes that some doctors may recommend 2% milk if the child is overweight.  After 2 years of age a child should be switched to fat-free or low fat milk.    Teenagers, adults should also choose fat-free or low fat milk to reduce our intake of saturated fats. 
    Pros:  Protein, Calcium and Vitamin D
  •   Protein – muscle-building, high quality protein.  Milk offers a higher quality protein than meat.
  •   Calcium – our bones need calcium and milk is a rich source of bone-building calcium. 
  •   Vitamin D – milk has vitamin D added to it and an important source of vitamin D in our diets.  So many adults and children are low or deficient in vitamin D.   
  • Saturated fat – whole milk has saturated fat.   So choose low fat or fat-free milk.
  • Lactose – this natural milk sugar is not a problem for most people.  However, some people are low or lack the enzyme needed to break down lactose so choosing a lactose free milk is a good alternative for them.
  • Milk protein allergies – not as common but some children and adults can be allergic to the protein in milk.
Coconut milk found in cartons in the dairy case – unsweetened or original
    Pros:  Water is added so this beverage matches the water and fat content of cow's milk.  
Usually fortified with calcium and vitamin D, but read the label to be sure.
    Cons:  NO Protein, Saturated Fat
  • NO protein – ZERO PROTEIN.  So not a good choice as a cow’s milk replacement.  And not a good choice to replace cow’s milk in a child’s diet.
  • Fat – fat-free is not an option.  The fat content is more like 2% or whole milk. The fat is mostly saturated fat so not a heart healthy choice. 
 Almond Milk -  since it is made from almonds and water it is lower in both calories and fat than cow’s milk.  Make sure the milk is fortified with calcium and vitamin D.       Pros:  Lower in fat and calories than cow’s milk.    
      Cons:   Very low in protein.  Some brands add sugar so read the label.  
Per Cup
Vitamin D
Cow’s Milk 1%
8.2 grams
2.4 grams
305 mg
100 IU
Coconut Milk
0 grams
4.5-5 grams
Varies by brand:  2 mg, 38 mg, to >400 mg.
0 to 100IU, read label to see if fortified with vitamin D
Almond Milk
<= 1 gram
2-2.5 grams
Read label, plain almond milk 2mg, Silk >400 mg.
0- 100 IU,
read label to see if fortified with vitamin D