Sunday, September 15, 2019

What are probiotics and prebiotics and what do they do for your health?

Whenever one hears about bacteria, they think disease or illness.  But there are actually bacteria that are good for your health.  As WebMD notes, probiotics are live bacteria that are good for you, especially your digestive system.  This week in the nutrition class I teach, we are learning about probiotics and another term not often heard, prebiotics.  

What are Probiotics?
These are the “good” bacteria and these good bacteria help keep you and your gut healthy.  You have “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut and when you eat foods with “probiotics” or good bacteria, you change your gut to have more good than bad bacteria.  A healthy thing to do.  There are many “probiotics” as there are many different types of bacteria.  Usually in foods like yogurt you will see on the label:

Lactobillus – this is a probiotic commonly added to foods like yogurt.  Interesting that these bacteria digests some lactose, the natural sugar in milk.  So, people who are lactose intolerant – have trouble with real milk, can often eat some yogurt with no “bubble gut” as my daughter likes to call it. 
Bididobacterium – some yogurt and other dairy products have these good bacteria.  Those with irritable bowel syndrome may find these bacteria help relieve their symptoms.  

Why are probiotics considered healthy?  A lot of research has been done and more is being done on the health benefits of eating foods rich in probiotics.  Eating foods such as yogurt that have probiotics have been found beneficial to a number of conditions including:
o   Irritable bowel syndrome
o   Ulcerative colitis
o   Crohn’s disease
o   Eczema in children
o   Immunity – some studies have found that probiotics promote good immunity

What foods have probiotics?   Most yogurts have “live bacteria”.  In fact, yogurt is a super healthy food.  “Yogurt is often included on healthy food lists” as “yogurt is highly nutritious and is an excellent source of protein, calcium and potassium”.  And, most yogurts are fortified with vitamin D.  Many Americans are lacking calcium and vitamin D in their diets so yogurt is a good addition.  Surprising to me, my husband has noted there is less shelf space at the grocery store devoted to yogurt.  Which usually means less people are buying that food.  Yogurt was popular for years and should stay popular as it is a great “health” food to include every day.  

What to look for on the yogurt label.  Next time you are buying yogurt, look for the words “Live and active cultures”.  MyPlate recommends choosing low-fat or fat-free yogurt.  Greek yogurt is a good choice for those wanting more protein.  And for those with lactose-intolerance, Greek yogurt has less lactose so may be a better choice for those wanting a yogurt with less lactose.  But Greek yogurt provides less calcium than traditional yogurt.  Many women have diets low in calcium so traditional yogurt may be a better choice for women.  And be sure vitamin D has been added.
Look for Live and Active Cultures on the label
What are prebiotics?  Want to keep those good bacteria healthy and thriving in your gut?  Well then you have to feed them.  Like the play, “Little Shop of Horrors”, the good bacteria need to be fed.  What do they eat?  Fiber.  Foods high in fiber are a great way to keep the good bacteria in your gut fed.  Foods that are prebiotics include:
  • Vegetables:  garlic, greens like spinach and kale, onions, leeks, cabbage, bean,
  • Fruit:   fresh fruit like bananas, watermelon, apples, grapefruit,
  • Whole grains and bran, barley, oats – think oatmeal, Cheerios, All Bran, whole grain bread, whole grain English muffins, whole grain crackers
  • Nuts and seeds – almonds, pistachio nuts, flaxseeds

This week add some yogurt to your day.  If you eat some yogurt every day, great.  Keep up this healthy habit.  If you don’t eat yogurt or eat it only occasionally, try adding it back on a more regular basis.  Yogurt is so good for your health.  And remember to feed that good bacteria by adding some fresh fruit, veggies and whole grains to your day.  Some suggestions for adding prebiotics to your day:
o   Eating high-fiber breakfast cereals – add some nuts or seeds like a sprinkling of chopped walnuts
o   Eating whole-grain bread like Dave’s bread  
o   Snacking on fruits, nuts, and seeds
o   Adding beans to soups and salads – enjoy a 3-bean salad at dinner, enjoy some chili
o   Read food labels and check the fiber content of the foods you buy, especially the bread and cereals 

Sources:    notes, conditions, food, words, recommends, Greek, prebiotics, include, suggestions   Image sources:  cultures, yogurt, foods   

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What is the best way to minimize sugar intake?

I just started teaching another semester of nutrition.  Each semester I ask students to write down some of their nutrition questions on a stickie note and then post them on the board.  Throughout the semester I answer the students' questions.  One of the students asked “What is the best way to minimize sugar intake?”  

What “sugars” should we cut back on?
Many people are confused about sugars in our foods.  We should cut back on “added sugars” but what about the natural sugars occurring in foods? 

Added Sugars – how much should we have in our diets?
Many foods we eat have sugar added to the food.  Surprisingly, most foods we buy in the store such as soup, pasta sauce, catsup and many more foods have sugar added during the manufacturing process.  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we limit “calories from added sugars to no more than 10% each day.  That’s 200 calories or about 12 teaspoons, for a 2,000-calorie diet.”

What are Added Sugars?  This means manufacturers have added sugar during the processing of the food. 
  • Added sugars include: Sugars and syrups added to foods like sodas, yogurt, candies, cereals, cookies, lemonade, Sunny D, Hi-C, fruit punches, fruit drinks, pies, donuts, energy drinks. And other foods like soup, crackers, pasta sauce, catsup.
  • Sugar you add to foods like a teaspoon of sugar on your oatmeal or sugar in your coffee.

Almost half of the added sugars in our diets come from drinks – like sodas, fruit drinks, and other sweetened beverages.

What are natural sugars in foods?
§  Fruits have fructose – a naturally present sugar in fruit.  Buy canned fruit and the manufacturer may add more sugar but all fruit has some naturally present sugar. 
§  Milk – real cow’s milk has the natural sugar, lactose, in it.  Milk doesn’t taste sweet as lactose isn’t a very sweet sugar.

                          The sugar naturally present in foods like fruit and milk is not “added sugar” and one does not have to cut back on fruit or milk because of this naturally present sugar.  

Why should Americans cut back on added sugars?
Added sugars are considered “empty calories”.  They provide calories but few nutrients.  Eating a lot of calories from foods high in added sugar, displaces calories from healthier options like whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables.  “Added sugars contribute calories, but no essential nutrients.”

How can one cut down on added sugars?   The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines has a handout on added sugars.  They recommend: 
  • Choose fresh fruit instead of a cookie or cake
  • Choose cereals with less sugar.  Look at the food label for cereals and choose cereals with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.  Quaker now offers a lower sugar instant oatmeal.
Look for foods with less added sugar.
  • Choose real, 100% juice instead of fruit drinks or fruit punches.  Read the ingredients to make sure it is real juice.
  • With meals, drink milk or water and skip the sugared sodas or sweetened ice tea. Or choose unsweetened ice tea.
  • Eat healthy foods that have some added sugar.  Choose the Honey Nut Cheerios over Pop Tarts. Yes, the Honey Nut Cheerios have some added sugar but they are also whole grain and a good way to add whole grains to one’s day.


The average American gets 270 calories of added sugars each day. That’s about 17 teaspoons of sugar! 
 How can you cut back on the added sugars in the foods you eat?  A relative loved sweetened ice tea – loaded with added sugar.  Ice tea is actually good for one’s health but all the added sugar, not so much.  So, she started to blend her tea.  At first, she filled her cup with 75% sweet iced tea and 25% unsweetened ice tea.  After awhile she went 50-50.  She now drinks the unsweetened ice tea which is good for her health as it is full of healthy antioxidants.  She didn’t give up her iced tea, she just gave up the added sugar.  When trying to cut back on added sugars, focus on the sweetened beverages as they are packed with calories and few, if any, nutrients.  
Choose unsweetened ice tea
Sources:  Guidelines, handout, cereals  Image sources:  Spoonful, Quaker Oats , tea

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Ultraprocessed food – what is it?

We all have heard of processed food.  If it comes out of a bag, box or can, the food has undergone some processing. But now there is a new term to know, ultraprocessed food.  What are ultraprocessed foods and do they affect our health any differently than processed or whole foods? 

1.  Ultraprocessed Food
The definition varies but one definition for “ultraprocessed” foods can be described “as ready-to-eat formulations with five or more ingredients, often including flavor-enhancing additives, dyes or stabilizers”.  

      2.   Processed foods are foods that have undergone some processing – frozen, canned, dried , cooked or packaged.  These foods may be fortified or preserved in some way.  These include cereals, bread, fruit juices, canned vegetables like canned tomatoes, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, pasta sauces and crackers.  Examples of even more processed would be frozen pizzas or a microwave dinner.   

 3.  Whole Foods – foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, meats, nuts that are not processed or minimally processed.  Examples would be mixed nuts lightly salted, natural peanut butter made with only peanuts and salt.
A handful of nuts a day is a healthy habit

How do ultraprocessed foods affect our health?  Researchers have found that if you eat ultraprocessed food, you may end up eating more.  Twenty people lived at a National Institutes of Health facility for 28 days.  For 2 weeks they ate an ultraprocessed diet and then for 2 weeks they were switched to a minimally processed diet.  The diets were matched for calories.  The participants were free to eat as much of the food served as they chose.  What is surprising is that well on the ultraprocessed food diet, the study participants ate an average of 500 calories a day more.  This, of course, led to a weight gain of about 2 pounds in only 2 weeks.  Conversely, while on the minimally processed diet, the study participants lost weight, about 2 pounds.  

The researchers noted, it is not just the nutrients in foods or the calories that can affect how much we choose to eat.  Ever have a bag of chips in front of you?  Easy to start with a few chips and before you know it, you have eaten the whole bag.  Recently, at a book club meeting some M&Ms were served.  The ladies commented on hard it was to stop eating M&Ms as they are so good. 

What reasons did the researchers give for study participants eating more of the ultraprocessed foods?  Maybe they were easier to scarf down – like those chips.  Maybe it was less protein.  Participants on the ultraprocessed diets did eat less protein.  And protein is filling.  Ultraprocessed foods are also more energy dense, meaning they provide more calorie per ounce. 

Many of us have diets loaded with ultraprocessed foods.  Easy to grab and easy to eat on the go.  I tell my students that an apple is healthier than applesauce which is healthier than apple juice. 

Some are suggesting ways to add more whole foods to your day.
  • Cereal – unfortunately many people have cut cereal out of their diet, yet oatmeal and other whole grain cereals are a good choice.  As noted, many times in my blog, all General Mills cereals are whole grain.  Cereal is a  great way to add some whole grain to a kid’s diet.
  • Bread – look for breads that are whole grain  
  • Fresh fruit – eat a banana, pack an apple in your lunch.  If you like juice, make sure it is real, 100% juice and not fake juice like Sunny D or Hi-C. Some people think lemonade is juice, but it is a sugar sweetened beverage.  Enjoyable on a hot day but is not considered real juice.
  • Vegetables – eat raw like baby carrots or buy fresh vegetables to cook like broccoli or frozen vegetables are good choices.
  • Milk – drink real milk not fake milk.   Choose 2%, 1% or fat-free milk to cut back on the fat in milk.
  • Meat/fish – by lean hamburger, chicken, fish and cook it at home rather than buying processed meat like hot dogs 
Enjoy a piece of fresh fruit

A recipe to try:
Mix together the following:
  •   1 1/8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  •   4 teaspoons pumpkin seeds
  •    4 teaspoons sunflower seeds
  •    ¼ cup pecans
  •    2 Tablespoons raisins
  •     4 dried apricots chopped
This “cereal” has no added sugar, no added preservatives like BHT and no dyes like yellow dye No. 6

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Is water the best for hydration?

Who hasn’t heard the recommendation that we all should drink 8 glasses of water a day?  Yes, drinking water is good for our health.  Water is actually a nutrient we need every day.  How much water?  The Institute of Medicine recommends women consume about 91 ounces of a day (about 11.3 cups) from food and beverages and men consume 125 ounces a day (about 15.6 cups) from food and beverages.  Thus, not just water counts but all liquids like coffee, milk, tea, juice and the many foods that contribute water.   Many people don’t think of foods as hydrating, but foods like watermelon are up to 90% water so do contribute water to our daily needs.  In fact, the Institute of Medicine notes, “About 80 percent of people’s total water comes from drinking water and beverages – including caffeinated beverages- and the other 20 percent is derived from food.”  Thus, the Institute doesn’t recommend hydration in terms of the number of glasses of water per day as we can meet our body’s water needs from many different beverages – think milk, juice, coffee, tea as well as many of the foods we eat.  

But for hydration, is water really the best choice?  Well, researchers in Britain have studied the best ways to hydrate.  They came up with a hydration index and found that some fluids stay in your body longer than other fluids.  Thus, would be more hydrating.  They had 72 males drink a liter each of 13 different fluids and measured how much stayed in their bodies after 2 hours.  Water was given a score of 1.0.  What beverages had a higher hydration score than water?  Four beverages:  Pedialyte, fat-free (skim) milk, whole milk, and even orange juice. 

Oral rehydration score
Fat-Free (skim) Milk
Whole Milk
Orange Juice

Surprising to some, drinking milk is a good way to hydrate.  Milk contains protein and some carbs.  Whole milk has fat and milk provides minerals like some sodium and also potassium.  The nutrients slow down absorption and helps the body take up more water and retain more water.  Thus, milk and orange juice are more hydrating than plain water.  I am not surprised.  Often after a walk on a hot summer day, I like to have a glass of orange juice on ice.  It always seemed more refreshing than a glass of ice water and now research shows this may be true.  
Milk: a good way to hydrate
Time magazine had a recent article on, Why Drinking Water All Day Long Is Not the Best Way to Stay Hydrated.  Drinking some water before meals or during a meal is a recommended way to hydrate.  Why?  Because the nutrients in food, the fat, protein, vitamins and minerals all work together to help the body retain water.  This is why milk or fruit juice do well in hydration studies.  The article also noted that eating a banana post-exercise instead of a sports drink may actually be a better way to recover after exercise.  And even better is eating a piece of fruit + water.  The fruit will help the body take up and retain the water.  Researchers also found that sipping some water throughout the day was better than guzzling down many ounces at one time.  
Juice is also a good way to hydrate
The take home message isn’t to stop drinking water.  But to also remember to drink some water before meals or drink water with a piece of fruit.  And that other beverages including milk and fruit juices can be more hydrating than plain water.  And think about sipping small amounts of water throughout the day.  I usually carry some water with me throughout the day or have a glass of water on my desk or nearby.  
Drinking water with a fruit is a good way to recover post-exercise

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Food Swaps That May Not Be So Healthy

Most people say they want to “eat healthier” but then are puzzled by all the advertisements and bogus health claims.  Some of us substitute one food for another and think we are making healthier choices.  What are some food swaps that can fool us into thinking we are eating healthier?

      1.. Granola vs. a sugary cereal – Granola can be a healthy choice if you make it yourself or choose wisely by reading the calories per serving and ingredients.  However, many granola mixes are very high in added sugars.  And watch the serving sizes.  Many times, the serving sizes for granola is a mere ¼ to ½ a cup.  Much less than the 1 cup cereal serving size.  By eating more than the ¼ to ½ cup serving of granola, you can easily eat an extra 300 calories.  Fine for an athlete in training but not so fine for a person wanting to lose or maintain their weight.  If you enjoy granola – it can be a healthy choice as most brands do provide some whole grains.  The first ingredient is often whole grain like whole grain oats, quite a healthy choice.  Just watch the serving size unless you are trying to bulk up.  Hotel breakfast bars often offer steaming cooked oatmeal with all the fixings, including granola.  I enjoy sprinkling some granola on my oatmeal.  Yes, a few extra calories but it is whole grain and it makes the oatmeal taste better.  An option for you might be Bear Naked V’nilla Almond Fit Granola.  If you only eat the ¼ cup serving, it provides 110 calories or 210 calories if you eat a ½ cup.  The sugar is less at 3 grams per ¼ cup or 7 grams per ½ cup.  But, it has the same calories as Nature Valley if you eat one cup of it at a time. 
Lower in sugar

a.       Added sugar – many food labels are now noting “added sugar” calories so read the label and see how much sugar has been added.  The granola you choose may have more sugar than a Krispy Kreme Donut.
Watch serving size and sugar grams
b.       Calories – The calories can easily add up if you aren’t careful about the serving size.  Pour yourself a cup of granola and those calories add up fast. 

Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Donut
10 grams
Nature Valley Oat ‘n Honey Protein Granola (1 cup)
24 grams
Nature Valley Oats & Dark Chocolate Protein Granola (1 cup)
28 grams
Bear Naked V’nilla Almond Fit Granola (1 cup)
14 grams

      2.  Veggie Chips Vs. Potato Chips – who doesn’t like a bag of chips with lunch or as a snack?  Many students say they eat veggie chips as they are a healthier choice.  Are they?  Vegetables are certainly good for us but what about veggie chips?  Not so fast. Most veggie chips are low on the veggies but still have the fat and salt.  And potatoes are a vegetable so technically potato chips are veggie chips.  Some veggie chips are better choices like Kale chips.  They often bake the kale leaves instead of frying them so much less fat.  Good Health Veggie Chips contain potatoes but also other dried veggies and are made with heart healthy oils, safflower or sunflower oils.  Quinoa- based chips would be another healthier option.  Try baking some veggies and make your own chips.  Or just choose some whole grain chips like Sun Chips. 

Don’t be fooled by granola or veggie chips.  Read the labels and note the serving size and calories.  Look at the ingredients to see how much sugar has been added.  When looking at chips, look for heart healthy oils like Sunflower or Safflower oil. 

Baked Sweet Potato Chips  (adapted from Martha Stewart) – Homemade – choose a heart-healthy oil like olive oil, safflower or sunflower oil when making these chips.  Click on the link and there is a video demonstrating how to make these tasty and easy chips. 
Slice sweet potatoes into thin slices.  Spread on a cookie sheet in a thin layer.  Cook about 10 minutes, turn over and cook about another 10 minutes.  Watch carefully as thinner chips will turn brown faster. Remove any chips done and finish cooking the rest.  In 22-25  minutes, all chips should be done.
                2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed

                1 Tablespoon oil (olive, sunflower or safflower oil)

                2 teaspoons dried Rosemary or try 1 lime cut into wedges

                ½  teaspoon sea salt  

Directions:  “Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with racks in center and lower positions.  Divide sweet potatoes between 2 rimmed baking sheets.  Drizzle with oil, toss, and spread them in a single layer on sheets.  Bake, flipping once, until centers are soft and edges are crisp, 22-25 minutes.  Sprinkle with salt, and serve with lime wedges.”  Or, try baking with some dried or fresh Rosemary for a different flavor. 

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sports Nutrition 2: Maintaining Weight and Muscle Mass

Sports – so fun to have your kids play a sport.  Last week we noted that sports not only require skill but also fuel.  We noted how important it is to stay hydrated and how important carbs are to an athlete as carbs fuel the body.  What about maintaining weight?  Many teenagers lose weight when participating in sports as they not only need calories because they are growing, they need calories to fuel their sports activity.  A local basketball coach was alarmed when one of his players kept losing weight and lost 11 pounds over the basketball season.  And this was 11 pounds the teenager didn’t want to lose.  What are some ways an athlete can maintain their weight and muscle mass while playing sports?  What are some nutrition goals student athletes should focus on to “eat better, play better”?

1.       Maintaining Weight – Not surprising, maintaining weight involves calories.  Athletes, especially growing teenagers, need the calories for growth plus the calories to fuel their sport.  Focus on foods that are energy dense but also provide a lot of nutrients.
  •  Shakes – Instead of water or a glass of milk with a meal, enjoy a shake.  Can be a milkshake, a protein shake or a smoothie.
  • Trail Mix – a great snack to add to your day.  Trail mix can provide lots of nutrients and lots of calories.  Look for trail mixes packed with dried fruit, nuts, seeds, and even chocolate.  Nuts are high in calories but are heart healthy as they provide the heart-healthy unsaturated fats.  Dried fruit can vary from raisins, apricots, apples, cranberries, to dried mangos. Choose a mix that one likes.  But check out the calories and choose a mix that provides a good amount of calories for weight maintenance.   Kirkland has a trail mix providing 160 calories per 3 Tablespoons but there are many brands to choose from.
Snack on Trail Mix
  • Peanut Butter – add peanut butter to your morning toast or bagel, spread it on waffles, pancakes, apples.  Bring a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as a mid-afternoon or pre-practice snack.  Spread some peanut butter on a granola bar.
  • Cheese – have the cheeseburger, have cheese and crackers as a snack, add cheese to your egg salad sandwich. 
  • Pudding – not as popular as it used to be but pudding provides nutrition as well as calories.  Top with some fruit or some whipping cream. 
  • Salads – think egg salad, tuna salad, chicken salad – good nutrition and more calories than other salads.
  • 3 meals a day plus snacks, snacks, snacks.  Playing on a sports team is no time to be skipping breakfast or snacks.  Breakfast – think oatmeal, any General Mills cereal, fruit and peanut butter on a bagel.  Lunch- milkshake and a tuna salad sandwich, fruit.  Bring a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich or trail mix to eat before practice.  Think in terms of 3 meals plus some mini-meals as snacks throughout the day. 
  • Other ways to add calories:  Add an instant breakfast mix to your glass of milk, drink more juice.  Six cups of cranberry juice adds about 1,000 calories.  But drink real juice, not fake juice.  Snack on dried fruits, mixed nuts, or have a handful of seeds like sunflower seeds.  Enjoy some avocado dip on your veggies.

2.       Maintaining Muscle Mass – an athlete that is losing weight is not only losing fat but probably also losing muscle mass.  Yes, protein is needed but high quality protein. 
  • Dairy at meals and snacks – have a high quality protein at every meal.  Milk provides a high quality protein.  Add milk to your meal but having a glass of milk, a glass of chocolate milk, a milkshake, a protein shake, Greek yogurt, pudding, or some ice cream.  If the lactose in milk is a concern, try Almond milk, Fa!rlife milk, or soy milk.  Add Parmesan cheese to your spaghetti, cheese to your sandwich.  Have some cottage cheese and fruit as a snack.  Add dried fruit to the Greek yogurt to add more calories and nutrients. 
Chocolate Milk - a good source of protein
  • Lean protein – grilled, baked or roasted chicken, turkey, fish, beef, pork are all quality protein choices.
  • Eggs – another high quality protein source.  Enjoy that egg salad sandwich with a slice of cheese.  Have some scrambled eggs with cheese for breakfast or an omelet.  Enjoy some boiled eggs.  
Egg Salad Sandwich with Whole Wheat Bread

It is so important not to skip meals or snacks when playing sports.  Mangieri, who works with teen athletes , has advice for those who skip meals and snacks and head straight to practice or a game.  “You will feel weaker, tired, slower.”   WebMD recommends: “Keeping your body fueled with good food and plenty of fluids will help keep you playing at your best.”  If you know a student involved in some athletics, share this information with them.  Share this information with someone coaching student athletes.  Review some of the articles cited in this blog as all provide good and reliable information on nutrition and athletic performance.

Sources:  eat better, play better, Nuts, peanut butter, Fa!rlife milk, athletes , WebMD  Image Sources:  Chocolate Milk, Egg salad sandwich, Trail mix                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Classic Egg Salad Sandwich adapted from
·         2 hard boiled eggs          
·         1 Tablespoon chopped celery
·         1 Teaspoon sweet pickle relish
·         ½ Teaspoon Dijon mustard
·         1 Tablespoon chopped green onion
·         3 Tablespoons Mayo
·         Salt and pepper to taste
·         Lettuce or spinach leaves or avocado or add a slice of cheese to your sandwich
·         2 pieces of bread – use whole wheat bread or whole wheat English Muffins for a nutrition boost