Sunday, December 27, 2015

Should you cut back on processed food?

Eating healthy isn’t hard, one just had to reduce the amount of processed food and focus more on fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  But what is processed food?  The Berkeley Wellness Letter (January 2016) outlined the various levels of “processed”.  Usually, the less processed the food, the better for your health.  Foods can range from highly processed to minimally processed.  Some processing is actually healthy for you.  For example, pasteurized milk is processed to kill the harmful bacteria so this is a good form of “processed” food. 
Highly Processed Foods – For many of us, highly processed foods comprise up to 63% of our calories.  That is too much processed foods.  These are foods so full of processed ingredients they are no longer recognizable as being from a plant or animal source.  Some examples:
                Hot dogs, margarine, most baked goods, ice cream, candies.  
                Also, snacks like Cheetos, Cheez-Its, Goldfish are highly processed.
Moderately Processed Foods – a lot of this processing is to preserve the food.  These foods make up about 30% of most people’s diets.  (So add up the highly processed and the moderately processed and Americans eat mostly processed food at about 93% processed.  That is a LOT of processed foods.) These aren’t all bad for your health.  White bread is processed and not good for your health but whole grain bread is processed and good for your health.  Yogurt is processed but a very healthy addition to one’s health, especially if you choose low fat varieties and those lower in added sugar.  Examples of moderately processed foods:
                White rice, white bread, pasta, canned produce, cheese, butter, yogurt, ham, and jam
    Unprocessed or minimally processed foods. Unfortunately, for many of us these comprise only 7% of our diet.  Just eating more of these foods would be a healthy choice.  Examples are:   
    Fresh or frozen produce – some people think frozen foods are unhealthy but they are a very healthy choice. Beans, Nuts, Eggs – a great source of protein and many vitamins, Brown rice – a good whole grain alternative to white rice, Milk -  after two years of age, choose low fat milk, Fresh meats – look for leaner cuts of meats, lean hamburger
    Processed foods are not only bad because many of the nutrients are missing, they are also usually the foods loaded with salt, saturated fat and added sugar.  
     What are some healthier choices in processed food?  Cooking Light notes,  (modified from Top 10 Best Processed Foods) :    
     1.      Oikos Caramel Greek Yogurt   2.  Starkist Yellow fin Tuna in Olive Oil, 3. Kashi 7 Whole Grain Pilaf or choose some quinoa.  Focus on whole grains including brown rice as a side dish instead of white rice which has many of the nutrients removed.   4. Pistachios – Planters has Pistachios flavored with sea salt which helps lower the sodium content or just get plain Pistachios or any lower sodium mixed nuts 5. Pom Wonderful Fresh Pomegrante Arils – they suggest mixing in yogurt or putting on salads.  6.  V8 juice – any V8 is a good choice, a great way to add a vegetable to your day.  V8 also has many veggie blends of juice and a V8 Fusion that provides a serving of vegetable and a serving of fruit in one beverage.  7. Whole grain crackers – a great way to add whole grains to your diet.  Triscuits and Wheat thins are popular choices.  8.  Unsweetened tea such as Inko’s Unsweetened Honeysuckle White Iced Tea.  Tea is full of antioxidants and a healthy choice but not if one drinks sweetened tea, which is loaded with added sugar.   9.  Cheese Sticks – a great high protein snack.  Choose one’s made with 2% milk to lower the fat content.  10.  Popcorn like Skinny Pop – popcorn is whole grain and can be healthy.  But theatre popcorn is loaded with salt and artificial “butter” packing on the calories. 

In the coming year, focus on less processed foods.  As the Berkeley Wellness letter noted, “Buy more whole or minimally processed foods and do the “processing” yourself.  It’s called home cooking.”

Sources:  How Processed Is Your Food?, Berkeley Wellness Letter, January 2016, Top 10 Best Processed Foods,  Image source:Fruit and Vegetables

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Are you feeding your gut bugs?

What are “gut bugs” you might ask?  Last week we talked about E. Coli and how these “bugs” can make you sick.  But you also have good “bugs” or bacteria in your gut.  And guess what?  You need to feed this good bacteria.  They are now finding that having good bacteria in your gut has huge health benefits.  As Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen said in a recent article, the next time “you open the fridge, remember that you’re not eating just for one.  You’re also feeding the 100 trillion bacteria that call your digestive system home.”   (   By feeding these good gut bacteria you can:
  • Help control your weight
  • Promote heart health
  • Stabilize blood sugar levels
  • Improve your immune system
  • Improve your mood
So what can you do to feed your gut bugs and reap these health benefits?
Probiotics – eating a yogurt a day is a good start.  Yogurt has probiotics which helps put the good bugs in your gut.
Fiber rich plant foods – go for the whole grain breads, cereals and foods like Quinoa.  Add some beans, chili, enjoy a stir fry full of veggies.  Replacing some red meat or fried food meals with chili, stir fry, and other fiber rich plant foods can double your amount of good bacteria that can help fight inflammation in just two weeks’ time.
Dark chocolate – previous posts outlined the heart and weight benefits of dark chocolate  but who knew dark chocolate can feed your good gut bugs?  Have about one ounce of dark chocolate with some fruit and reap the benefits of the dark chocolate  and the fiber in fruit.  Apparently, the “good bugs” in your gut love chocolate just as much as you do.  The chocolate feeds the bugs, this produces anti-inflammatory substances your body absorbs.  Bugs are happy and your body is happy and you lessen inflammation of your heart tissues.
Veggies – fiber-rich veggies like kale, broccoli, raw carrots, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower.  The good bugs convert the fiber in these veggies into cancer fighting compound.
Fruits – load up on raspberries, bananas, pears, watermelon, nectarines – full of fructans that feed your gut bacteria. 
What should you cut back on? 
Emulsifiers – processed food can contain chemical emulsifiers such as polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose that actually affect your gut bugs to promote weight gain, heart disease and diabetes.
Refined flour like white flour, white bread – Dr. Oz calls white flour foods “one of the Five Food Felons”.  Whole grains are best for your health and for healthy gut bacteria.  Choose more brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa.
Fast Food – avoid fried foods especially at Fast Food restaurants.  The more Fast Food you eat, the more your gut bacteria can take a hit. 
For more information on feeding your gut bugs go to:  How to Nurture Your Gut Bacteria to Improve Your Mood and Health.

Recommendations - So add some yogurt this week.  Eat more fresh fruit and veggies.  Enjoy a salad with dark greens at dinner.  Have some oatmeal or Cheerios for breakfast.  And, enjoy the dark chocolate in that gift box.

Sources:  Pamper Your gut bugs and you’ll reap the rewards, Two Docs, Dr. Oz and Dr. Roizen, Free Lance Star, Nov. 15,2015, How to Nurture Your Gut Bacteria to Improve Your Mood and Health. Image Source: Chocolate

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Can you avoid E.Coli?

Chipotle has certainly been in the news about E. Coli outbreaks at its restaurants.  What is E. Coli and what can you do to avoid getting an infection?  WebMD, CNN, CDC and others have focused on E. Coli and provide some excellent tips for consumers.
What is E. Coli?
It is a bacteria and the official name is Escherichia coli.  Food infections can come from animals or humans.  It is found in both animal and human intestines.   A simple way to describe it is “Poop Germs”.  Many of us can have E. Coli in our intestines and it is harmless.  However, some strains can make you sick with diarrhea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illnesses and if severe enough even kidney failure.
What foods can be contaminated with E. Coli?
Most commonly, E. Coli outbreaks are linked to undercooked hamburgers.  Produce can be contaminated and is the leading reason for outbreaks.  Raw milk as it hasn’t been pasteurized, and unpasteurized apple cider. 
How does E. Coli get into our food?
Animals are one source as noted above.  Slaughter houses can contaminate meat if the meat gets in contact with cattle feces.  Cow feces can also wash down into a field of celery or other produce.  If cow feces comes into contact with milk, the milk will be contaminated. Server didn’t wash their hands properly?  If their feces is contaminated with E. Coli and they serve your food, touch your plate, touch your glass, touch your menu, the E. Coli germs can be transferred to you. 
What are the symptoms of E. Coli infections?
Traveler’s diarrhea or Montezuma’s revenge can be caused by E. Coli.  For this, get some rest and drink fluids.  Other symptoms include vomiting, a fever, and even bloody diarrhea.  For these symptoms, seek out medical help.  CDC notes children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems can have more severe symptoms with E. Coli infections.  Your doctor may not prescribe antibiotics as that could make the symptoms worse.  And you probably won’t be prescribed antidiarrheal meds as that could keep the E. Coli in your intestines longer, prolonging your illness.
How can you avoid E. Coli infections?
Eat pasteurized dairy foods, pasteurized milk.  Buy pasteurized apple cider and cook beef to 160 degree F.  In the fridge, put meat in a tray or wrap up so the meat juice doesn’t drip and contaminate produce or other foods in the fridge.  After cutting meat, wash the cutting board and knife in hot, soapy water.  It is good idea to use separate cutting boards for vegetables/fruit and meats.  Some people buy different color cutting boards to ensure they keep them separate. Hand washing and then drying with a paper towel is also important.  Drying your hands on the “kitchen towel” may spread “poop germs” throughout the kitchen. 

So stay healthy this year and avoid E. Coli infections by choosing food and restaurants wisely and using safe cooking habits in the kitchen.   For more information on the E. Coli outbreak at Chipotle, watch the video from CNN at Chipotle E. Coli outbreak now linked to illness in 9 states.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a good Q and A on E. Coli at: Q and A:  E. Coli.   

Sources:  E. Coli Outbreaks, Chipotle E. Coli outbreak now linked to illness in 9 states, Q and A:  E. Coli.  Image Source:  E. Coli

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Why is yogurt so good for your health?

If you haven’t added some yogurt to your daily diet, it would be a good time to start.  Many people that eat yogurt think only Greek yogurt is healthy but it doesn’t have to be Greek yogurt.  Find a yogurt you like, in a flavor you are willing to eat.  Here are some health benefits of yogurt and what to look for when choosing yogurt.  (Adapted from Yogurt and health). 

     1.        Does yogurt help your smile?  Yes.  Yogurt not only doesn’t cause cavities, it helps protect your teeth (calcium) and even helps prevent periodontal disease.   
     2.       Does yogurt help your brain?  Yes.  Surprisingly, researchers have found that your gut bacteria affect brain function.  So researchers studied the probiotics in yogurt and found yogurt improved brain cognition.  
     3.       How do the probiotics in yogurt help your health?  Probiotics are the “healthy bacteria” in yogurt.  These bacteria help your intestinal flora and may improve your immune system.  
     4.       Can yogurt help you slim down?  Some researchers say yes.  But they studied people who ate a lot of yogurt, 18 ounces a day.  Those that ate all this yogurt and cut back on calories not only lost more weight but they also lost more belly fat and kept more muscle mass.  They theorize it is the calcium in yogurt that tells your fat cells to release less of a substance called “cortisol” which helps you lose more weight and more belly fat. 
     5.       Protein is filling – yogurt is a great source of protein and protein has “staying power” so you fill full longer.  Greek yogurt does have a higher protein content than other yogurts but also less calcium. So for those looking for a calcium boost, non-Greek yogurt may be the choice.  For those looking for a protein boost, then Greek yogurt is a good choice. 
     6.       Can yogurt help lower blood pressure?  Researchers have found that those who ate 2 servings of yogurt a day or more were less likely to develop high blood pressure, 54% less likely.  Yogurt is a good source of potassium which helps counter all that sodium we all have in our diets.   
     7.       Refuel after a workout – fueling up with protein and carbs is recommended after a workout.  Yogurt is a great choice for refueling as it provides an excellent quality protein and carbs, the lactose naturally present in milk and yogurt.    
     8.       Does yogurt help your immune system? Yes, it seems to build up one’s immune system.  Eating just 4 ounces of yogurt a day may strengthen and increase the number of immune cells.  It seems those probiotics in yogurt single the immune-boosting cells to power up to help you fight off illnesses.  
     9.       Vitamin D – so many Americans are deficient in vitamin D so adding yogurt is a great way to get more vitamin D in your diet. 

How to choose a healthy yogurt:  
  • Avoid Added sugar – try to avoid yogurts with added sugar.  But looking at “sugars” on the label won’t help.  Even plain Greek yogurt has the natural sugar called lactose in it.  So yogurt naturally contains about 12 grams of “ milk sugar” in a 6 ounce serving.  This 12 grams would not be ADDED SUGAR.  The only way to tell if sugar has been added is to look at the ingredients to see if sugar has been added.
  • Plain yogurt – doesn’t have added sugar but doesn’t have much flavor.  So add some fruit and maybe some honey.
  • More protein – then choose Greek yogurt.  But choose real Greek yogurt and not “Greek style” yogurt which uses thickening agents to make it seem like real Greek yogurt.
  • More calcium – to boost calcium, choose any yogurt but Greek yogurt which has less calcium per serving.  
  • Choose low fat yogurt – to lessen the amount of fat in your diet.
  • Active cultures – look for “Live and Active Cultures” seal on yogurt.  Most yogurts contain Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus but many yogurt companies are adding additional probiotics cultures.  This is a good thing as added probiotics may enhance your immune system.

 Adding some yogurt to your day is a healthy thing to do.

Sources:  Yogurt and health, Choosing yogurt, How to buy the best yogurt  Image source: