Sunday, December 29, 2013

Peanuts in the News

Some latest research on peanuts and peanut allergies is quite interesting.  Researchers studied pregnant women who ate peanuts during their pregnancy and those that didn’t.  Then they looked at their children to see if the children had peanut allergies.  They found the more peanuts a pregnant woman ate during her pregnancy, the less likely her child was to have a peanut or nut allergy. 

The study in JAMA Pediatrics  followed 11,000 pregnant women and children throughout the pregnancy, then from birth to adolescence.  Pregnant women who ate peanuts and other nuts five or more times a month had children with the lowest chance of having peanut or nut allergies.  However, these pregnant women also ate more fruits and vegetables than other women in the study.  Additionally, they fed their children nuts before age 1.  So maybe it was the fruits and vegetables or the early introduction of nuts that led to less nut allergies. 

The authors of the study stated, “Our study supports the hypotheses that early allergen exposure increases the likelihood of tolerance and thereby lowers the risk of childhood food allergy.” 

There has been an increase in reported peanut allergies among children.  In 1997 about .5 percent of children were allergic to peanuts.  By 2010, this increased three fold to 1.4 percent of children.  According to an editorial by Ruchi Gupta of Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, about 1 in 13 children have a food allergy with about 40% of these have a severe or even life-threatening allergy.

There has been confusing recommendations given to pregnant women about peanuts and nuts.  The American Academy of Pediatrics in 2000 actually recommended pregnant women avoid eating nuts while pregnant or breastfeeding.  Then children were to be kept away from nuts until age 3.  This was reversed in 2008 when the Academy said there was no reason to avoid nuts either in pregnancy or early childhood.

Dr. Gupta notes there are studies that show that women who avoided nuts in pregnancy actually increased the child’s nut allergy risk.  So much for the recommendations of the experts to avoid nuts in pregnancy as they recommended for 8 years.

But others warn the study doesn’t prove eating nuts during pregnancy can prevent a nut allergy.  More research needs to be done to verify the findings. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Holiday Munching- the good and bad choices

With the holidays in full swing, most of us will be enjoying plenty of food and treats.  As we are out and about and hosting parties and meals, we can choose foods and drinks that are gut busters or have fun but make some healthier choices.  Just making some modifications in what we order can influence how many calories we are packing in.

Thirsty? – stopping at Starbucks for some caffeine?  Coffee actually has a number of nutritional benefits as does tea.  It is what is added to the coffee that can do one in.  The Center for Science in the Public Interest recently evaluated the Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha made with 2% milk and whipped cream on top.  They compared it to a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder and noted the Venti was actually worse nutritionally than the quarter pounder.  Why?  Perhaps because of the 580 calories and 13 teaspoons of added sugar.   If you want the Venti, then choose to modify it by asking for nonfat milk and skip the whipped cream. 

Chipotle – this eating establishment actually has many healthy options to choose from.  But it also has some that are not the best choices.  Choose the Chipotle Chicken Burrito and you are choosing 970 calories and 18 grams of saturated fat.  If you really want this burrito you can trim some of the fat by skipping the sour cream and cheese but it will still add 750 calories to your meal.  Although the chips are tasty, a 4 ounce serving packs 570 calories, with almost half of these fat calories.  Chipotle has many healthier side options such as brown rice, black beans, pinto beans, fajita veggies, and salsa which is loaded with nutrition and few calories.  Chipotle has a great nutrition calculator on their web site - worth checking out before one orders.

Hosting a party?  Certainly there will be fun foods and not so healthy foods at a party.  But one can also serve some healthier options like veggie trays, crisp bread crackers like Wasa, RyKrisp and Ryvita which are whole grain.   There are many reduced fat cheeses.  I found a cheddar wine cheese spread that was reduced fat but also delicious.  This cheese spread is great on some Triscuits or other whole grain crackers.   Hummus is popular now and also a great spread for crackers or a dip for carrots and other veggies.    Serve a bowl of nuts.  A handful of nuts a day is a healthy choice.  Fresh fruit such as grapes are also healthy alternatives.  So have the fun food but also have some healthier options available. 
Going to a Holiday Party?  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has some Helpful Tips for Healthy Holiday Parties
If you are a guest at a dinner party or other gathering, consider these tips to keep your night healthy, happy and safe:
  • If you plan on treating yourself later, start your day with a small meal that includes whole grains, fruit, low-fat or fat-free dairy and protein, such as eggs, ham or peanut butter.
  • Don't starve yourself beforehand. Rather, eat a small, lower-calorie meal or snack including fruit or a bagel so you aren't tempted to overdo your calorie intake for the day.
  • Choose carefully between foods you definitely will eat, those you will sample and those you will skip.
  • Don't rush to eat. Socialize and settle into the festivities before you eat. 
  • Move your socializing away from the buffet or appetizer trays. This will minimize the unconscious nibbling.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Can you prevent Type 2 Diabetes?

Everyone has heard of Type 1 or Juvenile Diabetes.  The diabetes someone gets when they are young through no fault of their own and they usually need insulin shots for the rest of their lives.  But many aren’t aware of how rapidly the risk of Type 2 diabetes is growing.  Over 23 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes and of those, 7 million don’t even know they have diabetes.  Even more surprising is the 79 million Americans with pre-diabetes.  It used to be that doctors would warn patients their blood sugar was a little high.  Now, doctors tell patients that you have pre-diabetes.  This is to warn patients that if they don’t change their habits they are going to get full blown diabetes before too long. 

Diabetes brings on its own share of health risks.  People with diabetes can have complications leading to eye problems, heart disease, stroke, nerve damage and kidney disease.  When people have pre-diabetes or diabetes the insulin produced by the pancreas isn’t working as it should.  Their bodies may not use insulin properly to get sugar into cells so the sugar builds up in their blood. 

Fortunately, over 90 percent of Type 2 diabetes can be prevented by adopting a healthier lifestyle.  What can you do to reduce your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes?
  1.          Weight – those who are overweight increase their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.   Dropping a few pounds reduces this risk.  In one study, the Diabetes Prevention Study, those who lost 7% of their body weight such as 14 pounds for a 200 pound person, were able to lower their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes by a whopping 58%. 
  2.        Healthy Fats – I’ve discussed on this blog the importance of eating healthy fats like a handful of nuts a day or switching to olive oil.  The bad fats are saturated fats and trans fats. Both fats are bad for your heart and increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  Eating out?  Then look over the menus online and choose entrees and foods lower in saturated fats such as choosing grilled vs. fried entrees.
  3.        Sugary Beverages – so many Americans drink soda, Sunny D, Capri Sun, sweetened ice tea, beverages loaded with sugar.  This sugar puts a stress on your pancreas to pour out the insulin to handle all the sugar from these beverages.  All that added sugar can also lead to weight gain.  So look for unsweetened beverages, drink water, unsweetened tea, black coffee or one of the low calorie flavored waters.   
  4.   Whole grains – so much healthier than white flour.  Whole grains take longer to digest than refined grains because of the fiber.  So there is less risk of developing diabetes with whole grains.  Try whole grain cereals – oatmeal is an excellent choice.  All General Mills cereals are whole grains so it should be easy to find a whole grain cereal you like.  
  5.        Exercise – most people hear the word “exercise” and think of the gym.  But walking is great exercise.   Sit less, move more is another way to think about being more active.
Sources:  5 ways to prevent type 2 diabetes,  5 Steps to Beat Type 2 Diabetes, Environmental Nutrition, January 20123.  Image source: Type 2 Diabetes

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Is Walking Just As Good As Running?

The key seems to be how much energy is expended.  If you walk for a good distance and burn up the same calories as a jogger who jogs 1-2 miles, then YES, walking can give you the same health benefits. 

What are those health benefits?  Lowering your risk of heart disease, less risk of hypertension, less risk of diabetes. 

As article in the December 2013 issue of Tufts’ Health and Nutrition Letter, outlined the many health benefits of walking.

Dr. Nelson, a professor at Tufts is quoted, “A 150 pound woman will burn 80 to 100 calories for each mile she walks.”  

The researchers looked at data from 15,945 participants in the National Walkers’ Health Study and 33,060 participants in the National Runners’ Health Study.  What did the study find?  Yes, runners did reap great health benefits with lower risks of hypertension, less unhealthy cholesterol, and less incidence of diabetes.  But the walkers also reduced their risk of diabetes and heart disease.  (Walking versus running for hypertension, cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus risk reduction).  In an interview, an author of the study, Paul T. Williams of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, noted the key is the number of calories burned in each activity, “walking and running provide an ideal test of the health benefits … because they involve the same muscle groups and the same activities performed at different intensities. (Walking IS as good fyoru your health as running - but you'll need to do it for longer to get the same benefits longer to get the same benefits)

But to get the benefits, one needs to walk the distance a runner would run.  Thus, walking around the block won’t have much benefit.  Walking the mile or two or more reaps the rewards.  Many people won’t be able to walk a mile right away, especially if they have been sedentary.  But start small and begin walking.  If at first it is just right the block then at least that is a start. 

Source:  Walking as Good as Running, If You Have Time,  Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter, December 2013. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

What is the difference between juice and a fruit “drink”?

In the nutrition classes I teach I find many people are very confused as to what a juice is and what is a fruit drink?  Many people buy a fruit drink and think they are getting 100% juice.  Something that is 100% juice has many nutritional benefits such as vitamins like vitamin A, C, and folate, minerals and antioxidants.  Fruit drinks may have none of these or the manufacturer might fool you and add something like vitamin C and you might think you are buying something healthy when it is mostly sugar water. 

Look at the items below and see if you can tell if it is a drink or a real juice?

Sunny D
Capri Sun
Juicy Juice
Pink Lemonade
Simply Orange
Hawaiian Punch
Sunland Fruit Drink

So how do you think you did?  How many times are you  in a grocery store and you see parents who  have loaded their cart with a case of Capri Sun?  Or instead of orange juice there is a gallon of Sunny D?  Some hints at knowing if it is a juice or drink:

Drink  - if it says “drink” anywhere on the label, it is not real juice.  Thus, Sunland Fruit Drink is not real juice.  Avoid Juice Drinks that have a small amount of juice but are mostly sugar water.  Avoid “juice cocktails” which may contain only small amounts of juice. 

Juice – but if it says “juice” it may not be 100% juice.  Manufacturers note the % juice on the label so you need to read the ingredients.

Drinks – Avoid These
Juice – choose these
Sunny D
Simply Orange – 100% juice
Tropicana Orange Juice
Sunland Fruit Drink
Vegetable juice
Hawaiian Punch
Cranberry, Blueberry,Acai Berry – choose low or no sugar juices
Naked Juice
Pink Lemonade
Capri Sun 100% juice
Capri Sun Juice Drink

How much juice should you drink?  
Kids – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:
Under 6 – no more than 4-6 ounces of juice a day
Ages 7-18-  AAP recommends 4-12 ounces a day

If your child wants more juice than this, add some sparkling water to 100% juice and dilute it. 

Want more information on great juices for your health?  WebMD has a great slide show on juices vs. drinks – well worth looking at.  See:  Juice Wars Slideshow: Best and Worst Vegetable and Fruit Juices
So the next time you are thirsty and at a convenience store or the grocery store, read the label.  Leave the Sunny D and Hi-C on the shelf and buy some 100% juice.  
Image Source:

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eat Nuts and Be Healthier

Many people look for quick fixes when it comes to their diet.  Instead of some miracle diet or quick fix, if people just started some healthier eating habits their health would improve.  Most people think eating healthy is giving up things.  Can’t have cake, can’t have cookies.  But eating healthy is more about eating healthier foods.  This week the latest research shows that just adding a handful of nuts to your diet every day lowers your death risk by reducing cancer and heart disease.

Dr. Oz has long recommended a handful of nuts a day for health.  Since 2003, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended a handful of nuts to lower your heart disease risk.  In my nutrition class, I always give a list of ways to eat healthier and one of them is eating a handful of nuts a day. 

So what did Harvard researchers find out and what did they study? (Association of Nut Consumption with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality)  Over a 30 year period Harvard researchers tracked 110,000 men and women.  They found that those who ate a handful of nuts every day lowered their risk of death by 20%.  Eat nuts less often and you still benefit but not as much as those who ate nuts every day.  Previous researchers have shown nuts can lower heart disease risk.  This study found the risk of dying from heart disease dropped by 29% and the risk of dying from cancer dropped by 11 percent in those who ate nuts seven or more times a week. 

What nuts to eat?  The study noted peanuts, pistachios, almonds, walnuts and other tree nuts all provided health benefits.

But aren’t nuts fattening?  Surprisingly, those who ate the handful of nuts a day were slimmer.  But remember, they were eating a handful of nuts a day, not the entire container of nuts.
So one healthy habit to start is eating a handful of nuts a day.  Pack a handful in a baggie and bring them to work as a snack.  Pack them in your lunch.  So easy to make this a habit and improve your health in the process.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Does Hot Chocolate Boost Brain Power?

As the cold weather approaches a hot chocolate with marshmallows sounds tasty.  Are there any health benefits from drinking hot chocolate?  Apparently so.  Numerous articles have been written and research done on the health benefits of cocoa and hot chocolate.  So this winter when you are drinking your hot chocolate by the fire, think of these great health benefits:
  •  Cocoa Boosts Brain Power - The November 2013 issue of the Tufts University Nutrition Letter,  notes that drinking hot chocolate can boost brain power among the elderly ( Drinking Cocoa Boosts Cognition and Blood Flow in the Brain).   A new study has shown that as little as 2 cups of cocoa a day can improve brain function by improving cognitive function and blood flow to the brain.  It seems the flavonoids in cocoa and in dark chocolate help the brain by improving blood vessel function and thus blood flow.  Harvard researchers gave 2 cups of hot chocolate to 60 people (average age 73) for 30 days.  The study participants had no other chocolate.  Then they gave them a battery of tests, memory tests, thinking skills, and a test to measure blood flow to the brain.  The researchers found cocoa increased blood flow to the brain and thus cognition.    
  •   Cocoa and Your Heart:  Previous research notes that cocoa can be heart healthy.  An article in Circulation noted that cocoa is a beverage that can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine).  Drinking cocoa had a beneficial effect on blood pressure, insulin resistance and heart health.
How to enjoy the benefits of hot chocolate.
  • Make your own hot chocolate with cocoa, low fat or skim milk and a sweetener. 
  • Buy the hot chocolate packets that are low in sugar and calories.  We purchase Swiss Miss Diet Hot Cocoa Mix which only has 25 calories a serving.  I add a few marshmallows which does add some more calories but also adds a lot of flavor.
 Sources:  Drinking Cocoa Boosts Cognition and Blood Flow in the Brain, Contemporary Reviews in Cardiovascular Medicine.  Image source:

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Nutrition In the News

One nutrition topic in the news this week was trans fats. 
Trans Fats
In the news because the federal government is pressing towards banning all trans fats in our food supply.
What are Trans Fats?  This fat is made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil which makes it a more solid fat.   But by making the fat more solid, they create a fat that is bad for our health. 
Why Are Trans Fats Bad for Your Health?
Trans fats are known as the “bad” fats.  Actually, the worst of the fats as they have been linked to heart disease, stroke and developing type 2 diabetes.  In an article by the Associated Press, (No More Trans Fat:  FDA Banning the Artery Clogger) they called them “heart clogging trans fats”.   Good description as these fats have been linked to heart disease because they not only aise your “bad” cholesterol (LDL –cholesterol), but also lower your good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol)  and thus increase your risk of heart disease.  Many people have heard saturated fats were linked to heart disease, but didn’t know  trans fats are even worse for your health. 
Why are trans fats in foods? 
Food manufacturers like to use trans fats to improve shelf life, flavor and the texture of foods.  You will find trans fats in processed foods and some restaurant foods.  Baked goods, pie crusts, biscuits, pizza dough, cookies, crackers, stick margarine, shortening.  ready to eat cereals and frosting are foods that can contain trans fats.
How to Avoid Trans Fats:
·         Look for “0” trans fats on the label. 
·         Look for partially hydrogenated  oils in the ingredient list which is  another name for trans fats.   Since 2006, food labels list trans fats so you can avoid them by looking for “0” trans fats. 
There are some naturally occurring trans fats in meats and dairy products, but in small amounts so these aren’t considered such a threat to our health.
Why is the government asking manufacturers to dump the trans fats?  To save lives.  They estimate by getting trans fats out of the food supply,20,000 heart attacks could be prevented and 7,000 lives saved.  Some places have taken a step to ban these fats.  Bloomberg banned the use of trans fats in New York City.  Companies like Walmart are voluntarily getting trans fats out of the foods in their stores and hope to sell trans fat free foods by 2016. 
So far some of these reductions in the use of trans fats has been beneficial.  As a whole, Americans are eating less trans fats, declining from 4.6 grams in 2003 to 1 gram per day in 2012.  Which is good as the American Heart Association recommends we limit trans fats to less than 2 grams a day.
Sources , Image Source (

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Top Ten Diet Tips From Dietitians (cont.)

Last week we discussed some diet tips from dietitians.  Here are 5 more tips from the nutrition experts.
6.  Eat more Fruits and Vegetables
I always tell my students to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day, minimum.  The World Health Organization recommends nine servings a day.  But 5 is a start for most people.  It is really hard for some people to get used to eating 2 fruits/vegetables at lunch or dinner.  I was just reviewing some lunch and dinner menus my students planned for a 4 year old.  Even though the meals were supposed to comply with MyPlate, very few students served the child 2 fruits and vegetables at lunch and dinner.  So get in the habit of having 2 fruits and vegetables at lunch and dinner. Fruits and vegetables are not only packed with vitamins and minerals, they also offer the antioxidants that have so many beneficial health effects. 
Packing lunch – include 2 fruits/vegetables in lunches.  Pack carrot sticks, apples, grapes, celery sticks, green or red pepper slices. 
Dinner – try for 2 vegetables at every dinner.  Having potatoes at dinner, then have a lighter second vegetable such as green beans.  Or have fruit for dessert, or fruit as a side dish such as cut up watermelon, cut up cantaloupe. 
7.  Save Alcohol for Weekends
Kathleen Zelman, R.D. who writes for WebMD, recommends saving alcohol for weekends.  She notes alcohol calories can add up quickly.  She recommends limiting alcohol to the weekends and then only 1-2 drinks. 
8.   Make Your After Dinner Drink – Decaf or Tea
Enjoy a hot tea or decaf after dinner and you may be able to forgo the dessert.  An hour or so after dinner, make that cup of decaf to enjoy. 
9.  Munch on Produce Before Dinner
Got the munchies before dinner is ready?   My husband munches on hummus and carrot slices before dinner.  Or cut up some vegetables and fruit and have these out as a pre-dinner snack.  Munch on broccoli, carrots with some low fat Ranch dressing. 
10.  Count Your Colors
The senior nutritionist at the Cancer Project in Washington, D.C. recommends you count your colors at meals and aim for 4 colors.  Why?  It seems each of the different colors in fruits and vegetables offers different antioxidants and flavonoids, thus providing different health benefits.  To enjoy all these health benefits, each fruits and vegetables of different colors.  (Read more about colors from my blog post, Why Colorful Foods Are Important to Your Health)
I hope you enjoyed these tips from various dietitians.  If you can’t incorporate all these tips into your diet, try for one or two.  Or try to add one tip a week.  Let me know how these work for you.
Image source:    Hummus and Vegetables