Sunday, March 30, 2014

Are there “Energy” foods?

In the middle of the afternoon, do you feel tired and need an energy boost?   Are you full of energy in the morning and then by late afternoon, a nap sounds good?  Are there foods you can eat to help you maintain your energy throughout the day?   Or is there a food that will give you an afternoon pick up of energy when you need it?
Men’s Health had a great article on Foods That Fight Off an Afternoon Slump.  Their suggestions:
  • Green Tea – yes, skip the energy drink and have a cup of tea?  How can that energize you?  Tea offers not only caffeine but also theanine.  These will improve your reaction time; help your creativity and even your ability to multitask.  Rather than the caffeine jitters, cups of coffee might give you, green tea has a more calming effect.  (See more about the health effects of green tea in my blog post, Boost Your Health with Green Tea, 2-2-14).
  • Almonds – I’ve written about the health benefits of a handful of nuts before.  Try a handful of almonds for an afternoon energy boost.  So many people have avoided nuts because of their higher fat content.  But studies have shown nuts don’t really pile on the pounds and may actually aid you in your weight loss efforts.  Almonds offer protein, a healthy fat and fiber.  Eating a handful won’t spike your blood sugar but give you more lasting energy.
  • Greek Yogurt – all the rage today.  Any yogurt will do as long as it is a low fat, low sugar variety.  Many prefer Greek yogurt because of its taste and higher protein content per serving.  Like almonds, yogurt won’t spike your blood sugar but provides a  more steady energy boost. 
  • Dark Chocolate – yes, chocolate.  Not the whole box of chocolates but 1-2 ounces can provide just the energy boost you need to get through the afternoon.  Chocolate does have some caffeine but it also contains phenylethylamine.  This compound helps boost the neurotransmitter, dopamine, a feel good chemical in your body.  Even the smell of chocolate might increase your attention span.  (Read more about the health benefits of chocolate in my post, Can Chocolate Be Good for Your Heart?  1-26-2014).

So rather than reach for a donut or cake in the break room, choose something that will boost, not sap your energy.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Move More, Sit Less

Too many Americans are couch potatoes.  Not just sitting or lying on the couch but sitting and being sedentary for a good portion of the day.  In my recent nutrition class, we talked about overweight children.  A number of studies have shown overweight children don’t necessarily eat more than their peers but they do sit more than their peers and get much less exercise. 

Not only is exercise beneficial to our health in many ways, it may actually reduce our risk of cancer and reduce inflammation.  An article in Environmental Nutrition notes, “Regular physical activity seems to reduce chronic low-grade inflammation that can lead to DNA damage and promotes unhealthy cell growth that can lead to cancer.”  (Cancer-fighting plant foods) More physical exercise lowers our risk of a number of cancers.

But one can’t just exercise for 30 minutes and then sit the rest of the day.  Studies have also shown sitting too much seems to negate some of the benefit of our exercise.  So how can we “sit less, and move more”?
  • Focus on getting 30-60 minutes of exercise a day.  One doesn’t have to go to the gym, but a brisk walk, gardening, biking, swimming.  Can’t do 30-60 minutes in one session?  Then break it into 15 minute exercise sessions.  A walk before work, a walk at lunch, a bicycle ride after work with the kids.
  • Love to watch TV?  Replace one of your TV shows with a walk outside.  Find ways to sit less when you are home and move more. 
  • Desk job?  Find ways to get up every hour and walk to get a cup of coffee, walk over to talk to a co-worker instead of sending an email.  Or when talking on the phone, stand up for a few minutes.  Just standing is helpful.  Just one to two minute breaks from your sitting and can be helpful.

Sources:  Cancer-fighting plant foods ,    Image source: Standing desk

Sunday, March 16, 2014

How Much Added Sugar is In Your Diet?

The World Health Organization created quite a stir recently when they announced we should cut our added sugar intake to only 5% of our daily calories (WHO | Draft Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children).    Sounds easy?  Not really as manufacturers sneak added sugar into almost every food we eat.   The WHO focused on all sugars, but in this blog I will focus on ADDED sugar, what manufacturers add in processing.  Added sugars are not sugars naturally present in foods like fructose in an apple or lactose in milk.  
So what did the WHO propose and why? 
Currently, WHO recommends added sugars should make up less than 10% of our daily calories.
WHO Draft guidelines:  Sugar should be less than 10% of our total calories with even more health benefits if we reduce sugars to less than 5% of our daily calories.
What is 5%?   This means reducing our sugars to about 25 grams a day or 6 teaspoons for adults. 
Most of us enjoy our sugary treats whether it is Girl Scout cookies this time of year, ice cream or other desserts which, of course, would have added sugars.   But manufacturers put added sugars in almost everything.  My husband read the WHO article and then went into our kitchen and found added sugars in many foods.
  • 1 slice whole wheat bread  3 grams sugar
  • 1 serving instant oatmeal apple, cranberry  12 grams sugar
  • Catsup 1 T.  4 grams sugar
  • Salad Dressing 2 T.  5 grams sugar
  • Prego Spaghetti Sauce – ½ cup 7 grams sugar 
Look through your cupboards to find all the hidden added sugar in our foods.  That is before we even get to our desserts.
Then there are the culprits we expect to be loaded with sugars and they are:
  • Soda – sugared 12 ounce  39 grams sugar
  • Red Bull one can 27 grams sugar
  • Iced Tea – sugared 8 ounces   24 grams sugar
  • Capri Sun one pouch – 18 grams sugar

Yes, one sugared soda and you are over your daily limit of sugar. 
You really can’t tell if a food has added sugar by reading the “sugars” on the food label.  You need to look at the ingredients.  For example, milk notes it has “Sugars 12 grams” on the food label, yet the ingredients are only Milk, vitamins A and D.  No sugar is added.  The “sugars” in milk are lactose, a naturally present sugar. Not something added by the manufacturer.  Very confusing to those wanting to cut back on “added sugars”
I enjoy my dark chocolate, Girl Scout cookies and other treats and I know these foods have added sugars.  But I really don’t appreciate manufacturers sneaking added sugars into every food under the sun.  I don’t need added sugars in my bread, in spaghetti sauce, and in my catsup. 

Sources: Image source: WHO | WHO opens public consultation on draft sugars guideline, How Much Sugar in Sodas and Beverages?   

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Weight Loss Success Secrets

Can you lose weight and keep it off?  Many people are able to lose weight and then maintain that loss while others gain back every pound they lost and more.  So what is the secret to weight loss success?  Two researchers established a National Weight Control Registry in 1994, Drs. Wing and Hill.  They have tracked 10,000 people who have lost weight and kept it off.  On the average this group has lost 66 pounds and kept the weight off for 5 years. 

Have you lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least a year?  Are you over 18 years of age?  Then you could join the weight loss registry at:  Or visit the web site to read about their success stories.
So what are the Weight Loss Success Secrets? 
  • Breakfast – those who started their day with breakfast were better able to keep the weight off.  Of those who were successful in losing weight and keeping it off, 78% were breakfast eaters.  Why?  Those who eat breakfast make better food choices and eat less during the day.  Breakfast skippers tended to feast on high sugar foods such as donuts and other high sugar snack foods. 
  • Exercise – not just a burst of exercise once a week but daily exercise.  Those on the registry exercise an hour a day.  In fact, studies have shown that if you want to keep the weight off, an hour a day of exercise is key.  But the hour doesn’t have to be done all at once. You can exercise 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes after dinner.  Or exercise for 20 minutes, three times a day.  Losing weight, then 30-60 minutes can help promote weight loss.  But once you want to maintain your weight loss, then you aim for 60 minutes a day.    
  • Maintenance – can you be successful?  Yes.  And many people are able to lose 10% of their body weight and keep it off for a year.  The longer you keep the weight off, the greater your chances of success.   Probably because it becomes a lifestyle change and not just another fad diet.
  • So eat breakfast and exercise to maintain that hard earned weight loss.
 Sources:  The Secrets of Weight Loss Success, 
Image source:

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Get Ready for New Food Labels!

This week the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced proposed changes in our food labels.   Major changes in the food labels appearing on everything from chips to soup haven’t changed much in 20 years.  So what are some of the proposed changes?
Serving sizes – ever look at the serving size on ice cream.  It states one half cup is the serving size, yet who eats only one half cup?  In teaching my nutrition class, I show a video in which the dietitian notes the one half cup serving size on ice cream.  The students are always surprised it is so low.  When I told my husband, he insisted that one half cup was too low and went to the freezer to prove it.  Of course, the ice cream container verified that one half cup is the serving.  So one of the proposed food label changes is to increase the serving size on foods such as ice cream to reflect what people actually eat.  Thus, for ice cream the serving size will increase from one half cup to one cup.  FDA notes, By law, the label information on serving sizes must be based on what people actually eat, not on what they “should” be eating.
Calories – the calories per serving is now on food labels but under the proposal it will be much more prominent – larger font and in bold print. 
Sugar – the current food labels list “Sugars” but these can be naturally present sugars such as fructose or lactose in milk.  The new labels will not “Added sugars” which will be great as it is the “added sugars” we are trying to avoid in our diet, not the naturally present sugars.
Avoid Too Much – under this heading will be the saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, along with the added sugar.  So one can easily be made aware of what we should try to cut back on in our diets.
Get enough – this section will focus on nutrients we need to be emphasizing more in our diets to ensure we get enough such as vitamin D, potassium, calcium, iron and fiber.
So when will we see these new food labels?  Not anytime soon as the comment period is 90 days, a final rule issued in about a year and then provide the industry two years or so to come into compliance.  Thus, it could take two years or longer before the changes make it onto food labels in your grocery store shelves.  The current food labels and the proposed are from FDA’s website.