Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is cheese healthy?

Who doesn’t like cheese?  Cheese pizza, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese and crackers.  Many studies have been done on cheese and its health benefits.  So what is the latest – is cheese healthy or bad for our hearts and bodies?

The recent issue of the Wellness Letter from the University of California reported on the latest cheese research (Say Cheese?, September 2015). 

They noted the French consume a lot of cheese as I can verify having visited France last year.  Cheese and bread at breakfast, cheese and bread at lunch.  The French love their cheese.  Yet, the French have relatively low heart disease rates.  Why?
  •  Heart Health – many people say cheese is not good for your heart because cheese has some bad fat in it, saturated fat.  A study in 2013 found no link between eating a lot of cheese and heart disease.  Another 2012 study found followed Swedish women for 12 years.  Surprisingly, the women who ate the most cheese had the lowest rate of heart attacks.  Other studies found that butter does raise your bad cholesterol, LDL but cheese does not.
  • Diabetes – rather than raise your blood glucose, cheese seems to help stabilize it.  A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that cheese and yogurt improved insulin sensitivity and control of blood glucose levels.  A Swedish study found that woman consuming cheese had a lower risk of diabetes.  They aren’t sure why but cheese does have fat and this slows stomach emptying which means less of a rise in blood sugar levels.
  • Anticancer – The more dairy the less your risk of colon cancer probably because of the calcium in dairy and thus in cheese.  But other studies have been mixed as to whether cheese consumption reduces cancer risk.
  • Weight – many studies have been done on dairy and weight.  A recent study suggests that cheese consumption is associated with less weight gain and may help a person control their weight.  A study in the Journal of Nutrition involving obese and overweight women found that those who consumer a high protein and a high dairy diet, exercised, restricted calories not only lost weight but loss more fat and gained muscle.
  • Cavities – what does cheese have to do with cavities?  First, cheese doesn’t promote cavities and some research shows it may help prevent cavities.  Cheese helps build up the minerals in your teeth, the calcium, phosphorus and even protein promote mineralization.
  • Nutrients – cheese is loaded with good nutrients: calcium, protein, vitamin A, B12, B2, zinc and other nutrients.  But most cheese has no or little vitamin D so milk or yogurt are needed to meet vitamin D needs. 

So enjoy some cheese this week.  If you want to cut back on the calories from cheese, choose part-skim mozzarella, mozzarella sticks, feta cheese, part-skim ricotta cheese, 2% cheddar, 2% Swiss which are made with 2% milk.  

Sources:  The Best Low-Fat Cheeses, Say Cheese?  Image source:  Cheese sticks

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Low Carb or Low Fat?

How often do we hear people say, “I am watching my carbs?” So many people think cutting back on carbs is the best way to lose some weight.  But is this true?  Should you cut back on fat calories or carb calories?  A recent study posted by WebMD looks at carbs vs fats.  Which diet burns more fat and which diet would lead to lasting weight loss?

The title of the WebMD article gives away the study findings:  Low-Carb Diets Don't Work the Way We Thought.
  • Low carb diets – do they really “melt away the fat”?  Melt away your belly fat?   One theory behind low carb diets is that eating less carbs lowers your insulin levels in your blood.  Since insulin promotes fat storage, less insulin less fat storage.  Is this true?  The newest study says “NO”
  • Study – NIH studied 19 overweight adults.   For 11 days, they lived in a special room and everything they ate was monitored.  They even captured the air they breathed to measure exactly how many calories they burned and if they were burning calories from fat, carbs or protein.
  • Baseline  – participants ate a “normal” diet of 50% carbs, 35% fat and 15% protein – their baseline diet.
  • Low Carb  – for 6 days participants ate a diet with 30% less calories, less calories from carbs – the low carb diet plan.  Fat and protein calories remained the same as the baseline diet.
  • Low Fat -  for 6 days (after a few weeks break from the low carb diet) – calories were cut from fat, with protein and carbs remaining the same.
So what diet was the best at losing fat?  Surprisingly:

“People lost more total fat on the low-fat diet than they did when they were eating the low-carb diet.” says author Kevin Hall, PhD. 

Not only was this finding a surprise but just as surprising was the change in metabolism:

“And cutting fat didn’t appear to slow metabolism, while cutting carbs did.”  The study found that cutting back on carbs lead to metabolism slowing by about 100 calories a day.  Cutting back on fat, metabolism did not slow down.

So cutting carbs slows your metabolism?  Who would want to be on a low-carb diet if doing so, slows your metabolism?

The study shows your metabolism does change on a low carb diet or on a low fat diet.  A low-carb diet does lead to fat loss but not as much fat loss as not eating all the fat in the first place.
Bottom line – if you are interested in losing weight:
Cut the Fat,  Keep the Carbs

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Kids’ Lunches, What to Pack

School is starting soon and has started in some cities.  What should you pack for your kids’ lunch?  What are some of the more healthier options?  In Japan, they have these cool lunch packaging containers with compartments for essentially each food group.  When packing a kids’ lunch keep MyPlate in mind.   

  • 2 fruits/veggies – yes, 2 servings – one of each is good or 2 fruits, 2 veggies – carrot and celery sticks, a juice box and an apple 
  •  Grains – whole grains are best but it is often not easy to get a child to like whole grains.  They do have whole grain white bread or whole grain crackers.  They even have whole grain Goldfish.
  •  Dairy – if it can be kept cold, yogurt is a great option as long as it is not the child’s versions loaded with added sugar and artificial flavorings.  Or have your child buy milk at school.
  • Protein – lean meats, peanut butter, 2% cheeses.

MSN, Healthy Foods That are Perfect for School Lunch, had some great suggestions for healthier kid lunch options.  They noted too many kids are filling up on “empty” calories rather than calories packed with nutrients.  Here are some of their suggestions:

  1. Happy Squeeze Apple, Kale, and Mango – so many parents stuff some applesauce in a child’s lunch.  While applesauce can be healthy, too many options are loaded with sugar.  These squeeze packs are 100% whole fruit and some kale.  Kids get fruit and a vegetable in one pouch. 
  2. Organic Beef Hot Dog – hot dogs have a bad wrap because of the nitrates and nitrates they often contain.  These hot dogs have no antibiotics, no fillers,  and are not high in sodium. 
  3. Peanut Butter is a healthy choice and for kids without a peanut allergy a good choice.  MSN recommends SunButter Organic Sunflower Spread.  This spread is made with sunflower seeds and isn’t loaded with sugar.  It is also allergy-friendly as it doesn’t contain nuts.
  4. Water – some parents think water is the healthiest choice for a beverage.  But a child needs dairy.  If yogurt is packed in a lunch, then the beverage can be a juice box or water.  Hint Pineapple Water is a fun choice to pack, a hint of flavor without the added sugar and artificial flavors. 
  5.  Nature’s Own Double Fiber Wheat Bread – getting a child to eat any food that is whole grain is a challenge.   This is one bread they may be willing to try.  It is also a healthier choice in that it is free of high fructose corn syrup, has no artificial colors or flavors and no artificial preservatives.
  6. Cheese sticks – a fun way to get in some dairy and a good source of protein.  Reduced fat Sargento cheese sticks are a great choice.  Each cheese stick offers calcium and protein.  The Sargento Cheese Stick brand has no additives. 

So when packing your child’s lunch this school year, include some healthier options.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Can diet help you live longer?

How would you like to have dinner with a longevity expert?  What questions would you ask about how to live a longer life?   Well, a New York Times reporter did have dinner with the longevity expert, Dan Buettner.  So what advice does a longevity expert offer?   
      1.  Coffee according to Buettner, coffee is “one of the biggest sources of antioxidants in the American diet”,  He notes Greeks living on the Greek island, Icaria, drink 2-3 cups of coffee a day.  These are people who often live to 100.    
      2.  Focus on veggies and herbs – to prepare an evening meal, Buettner purchase fennel, broccoli, celery, carrots, chickpeas   
      3.  Add Honey – local honey, and Tofu, coconut milk, frozen berries 
      4.  Walk – exercise is important to a long life and walking is one of Buettner’s approved ways to exercise as those living in the “Blue Zones” walk a lot.  
       5.   Is butter back?  Although some are saying butter is fine, Buettner notes a dollop or two a week may be fine but he is not yet on the butter is good for you bandwagon.   
       6.  Meat and fish – not a true vegetarian but those in the Blue Zones eat meat and fish sparingly.  This would be hard for me as I love cheese and like most Americans, I enjoy some meat in my diet.  
      7. “Icarian stew” made by Buettner consisted of black-eyed peas, fennel, onions, garlic, carrots, canned tomatoes, other veggies and some olive oil.  Sounds healthy but I would need to add some ham or other meat for a real stew.   
      8.  Bread – he doesn’t shun carbs, gluten or bread.  Good news for me as I love bread and it isn’t a meal if it doesn’t have bread. 

So how does Buettnner fair health wise?  To get an accurate assessment he went to the renowned Mayo Clinic to get an executive physical.  His arteries were clear.  What does Buettner have to say about the popular Paleo Diet?  “He joked the paleo diet is fine if all you want is the life expectancy of a cave man.”  And cave men didn’t lead long lives.  

Buettner authored a book about longevity, The Blue Zones.  It focuses on 5 communities with lessons from those who have lived the longest.  You can go to his website, and take your Vitality Compass, to calculate how long you might live and also get information from the Vitality Coach.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Enjoy Watermelon for a nutrition boost

What is summer or a backyard cookout without some watermelon?   How healthy is watermelon, what nutrition benefits does it offer?  As noted below, watermelon packs a lot of nutrition for few calories.
    National Geographic’s  Reasons to Eat Watermelon  and Medical News Today:  Watermelon:  Healthy Benefits and Nutritional Information:    
      1.   Soothes sore muscles – what does eating watermelon have to do with your muscles?  A research study found that “drinking watermelon juice before a hard work out” helped reduce muscle soreness the next day.  Watermelon also shortens recovery time.  Watermelon has the amino acid, L-citrulline which our bodies change to L-arginine, an amino acid that improves blood circulation and relaxes your blood vessels.    
     2.  Heart Health These same amino acids improve your heart health by helping to lower blood pressure.    
     3.  Watermelon is rich in vitamins and minerals – Although watermelon is 90% water, it also has many vitamins and minerals.  Some people don’t realize watermelon is a good source of vitamin C.   
       It also provide vitamin A and potassium.  Watermelon also provides the minerals iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium.  Zinc and copper.  Besides A and C watermelon provides B-vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6 and folate.  
     4.  Cancer fighting – watermelon provides the healthy antioxidant, lycopene.   Most people know lycopene is found in tomatoes but watermelon is also a good source.  The National Watermelon Promotion Board states that watermelon provides more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. 
     5.  Low calorie – one cup of diced watermelon has only 43 calories and no fat and almost no sodium
     6. Asthma prevention – those consuming high amounts of nutrients like the vitamin C in watermelon lessen their risk of developing asthma.   
     7.  Digestion – because watermelon has fiber and contains a lot of water, it aides in digestion.
     8. Hydration – a good way to help kids stay hydrated in the summer is to serve some watermelon.  Watermelon not only has water in it, it also offers electrolytes to help prevent dehydration.
     9.  Reduce Inflammation:  watermelon can help reduce inflammation because it contains choline.  
     10  Healthy Skin – watermelon promotes skin health because of the vitamin A it contains.  Vitamin A also promotes healthier hair.  The vitamin C in watermelon helps our skin build and maintain collagen.  The water in watermelon promotes skin hydration.

So enjoy some watermelon this summer and pack in some nutrition benefits.