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