Sunday, September 23, 2018

Healthy Habits to Help with Weight Loss or Maintaining Your Weight

Trying to lose a few pounds?  Or are you trying to maintain your current weight?  So many people are successful in losing some weight but then gain the weight back.  Why?  Probably because they haven’t adopted a healthier lifestyle.  Changing habits as you take off the pounds can be the key to keeping the pounds off.  U.S. News & World Report has a great article:  Stop Relying on Willpower to Lose Weight.   In it they talk about how important it is to build healthy routines into your day.  You may already be doing some of these suggestions.  Then keep it up.  Are there some healthy routines you could add to your day?  They introduce a new term, “skill-power” vs willpower.  The promote developing the “skills” to handle our diet throughout the day.  Here are some of the healthy habits they suggest we all adopt.

1.   “Beat the Morning Munchies” – How many people skip breakfast only to hit the office snack machine at 10 AM?  Our breakfast becomes a candy bar or two.  The article suggests planning out a healthy breakfast before you go to bed.  It may be a grab and go breakfast.  Grab some 100% real juice and a healthy granola bar.  Carnation has some Breakfast drinks that are easy to take with you or drink before you leave home.  On a commute, you can easily drink some 100% juice and snack on some whole grain cereal or granola.  Quaker has some Breakfast Squares that are very easy to grab an go.  If you have missed breakfast, taking something healthy with you to snack on, a banana, a Breakfast Square, some yogurt will help you avoid the trip to the snack machine.
2.   Bring Healthy Snacks With You – as I noted in a previous blog.  I was at a car wash and noticed a mom with her daughter who was about 4 years old.   The daughter had just walked past the snack machine and promptly announced to her mom, “I’m hungry”.   The mom and the girl sat down, the mom pulled out baggies of carrot sticks, whole grain crackers, cheese sticks and asked her daughter what she wanted for a snack.  The U.S. News & World Report article recommends taking some meal replacements with you.  They use as an example the meal replacements used by Weight Watchers.  See a sample day on the HMR plan.  I like to bring nuts in a baggie, a granola bar, cheese sticks and crackers with me when I am traveling or know that I will not be able to eat for a while. 

3.   “Don’t Let Work Stress Get to You-   To me it wouldn’t be just work stress.  Stress can come from other areas of your life.  They recommend a “walk break” during the day to replace the “snack break”.  But I think you can have a healthy snack break of yogurt and fruit and also take a short walk.  Add a walk to your lunch break.  Taking a few minutes to decompress can help relieve stress in your day.

4.   “Don’t Go Hungry” - who isn’t tempted to eat anything in sight when you are hungry?  So, have on hand plenty of healthy food options.  Have the fresh fruit on the counter, cut up veggies in the frig, have some cheese and crackers on hand.  Weight Watchers recommends having on hand lots of “Yes” foods.   One can fill up on fruits, veggies, healthy smoothies, granola bars, no calorie beverages like sparkling water.  
Healthy snack foods
5.   “Old Habits are Hard to Break” – The goal is to replace your unhealthy habits with healthy habits.  This isn’t done overnight.  The HMR Weight Watcher’s program has list of “To-Do” behaviors.   What are some of these To-Do’s?  One is to eat 5 fruits and vegetables a day.  We have talked a lot about “5 A DAY” and how important it is to have enough fruit and veggies every day.  Another To-Do is to add some physical activity to your day.  Even a short walk counts.  So, at lunch or after dinner, take a walk.  Try to be more active during the day.  In a book by Dr. Norman Sears, The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood, he recommends Time Sitting = Time Moving.  Thus, if a kid wants to play 30 minutes of video games, they first have to have 30 minutes of physical activity first.  More of us could be trying to sit less and move more.

What old habits can you try to break this week?  Can you be more physically active?  Can you pack some healthier snacks for work or for school?  Can you add some fruit or veggies to your day?  Aim for 2 servings of fruits/veggies at lunch and 2 servings at dinner.  Check out the sample day on the HMR plan.  It offers some good tips.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

How to lower your cancer risk

Are there things you can do to lower your risk of cancer?  Cancer – such a scary word.   All of us have known people who have had cancer.  Are there things you can do to lower your cancer risk?  I was surprised this week as I was meeting with a nurse practitioner and when I asked her about diet and lowering your risk of cancer, she responded that it is all genetics.  There was nothing one could do to lower their risk of getting cancer.   She is partially correct, genetics does play a role. The American Cancer Society notes that “although our genes influence our risk of cancer, most of the difference in cancer risk between people is due to factors that are not inherited”.   The American Cancer Society is a great resource about things we can do to lower our risk of getting cancer.   In fact, the American Cancer Society states, “for most Americans who do not use tobacco, the most important cancer risk factors that can be changed are body weight, diet and physical activity.”   Most people are aware that a healthy diet can lower your cancer risk, but not everyone even considers how important physical activity is in lowering one’s risk of cancer.  And if you stay active, eat healthy and have a healthy weight you not only lower your risk of cancer but also you lower your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

What does the American Cancer Society recommend for physical activity?
The American Cancer Society first recommends that we stay physically active but they also have more specific guidelines for children and adults.
  • Adults – each week get 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity each week.  Spreading the activity throughout the week is better than becoming the weekend warrior.
  • Children and teenagers – each day kids and teens should get 1 hour of moderate or vigorous activity.  Say yes to the after-school soccer game, the basketball game, to swimming which are all good ways for your kid to get exercise.  On weekends, be active with the kids and teens.  Bike rides, walking, hiking – so many ways for a family to stay active.
Everyone should try to sit less and move more – if you are not a very active person, add some activity to your day.  Park farther away from the front door, go for a walk at lunch, walk around the office, go for a walk in the neighborhood after dinner.  

What does the American Cancer Society recommend for a healthy diet to lower one’s risk of cancer?
  • Fruits and vegetables – they recommend 5-8 servings a day.   That may sound like a lot but everyone should aim for 5 A DAY, at least 5 servings of fruit and veggies a day.  Also, a large banana is really 2 servings of fruit so you may be getting the 5 servings a day and not realize it.  Fruits and vegetables are not only loaded with healthy vitamins and minerals, they are full of the antioxidants that help protect against disease including cancer and heart disease.  Vary the color as each color provides different antioxidants to your day.
Enjoy a fresh salad
  • Whole grains – not all carbs are “bad carbs” – you want good carbs like whole grains in your day.  Whole grains have many more vitamins and minerals than white bread, white rice and has fiber.  What are some whole grains you can add to your day?
    • Whole grains cereals – oatmeal or any General Mills cereal
    • Whole wheat bread, English muffins, whole wheat bagels
    • Choose brown rice instead of white rice
    • Other whole grains:  quinoa, buckwheat, barley, popcorn, whole rye and whole corn meal 
Quinoa salad
  • Limit processed meat and red meat – processed meat includes meat that most of us enjoy like such as sausages, hot dogs, bacon, corned beef, beef jerky, salted meat like ham and salami.  This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate these meats from your diet but cutting back on them would be a good idea.  Who doesn’t enjoy a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich?  I do.  Who doesn’t like a hot dog on a bun at a cookout?  One can enjoy some processed meat.  But that doesn’t mean you have bacon at breakfast, hot dogs for lunch and ham and biscuits for dinner. 
  • Weight – maintaining a healthy weight is always a good choice to lower one’s risk of cancer and other diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  The textbook I use for the nutrition class I teach has some good advice as it recommends we choose an “eating plan for good health” rather than a “diet for weight loss”.  
 If you want to know more about how you can decrease your risk of getting cancer, visit the American Cancer Society’s website at    They also have some short videos on Healthy Kitchen, Healthy Life and Healthy Living Basics:  Eating Well and Physical Activity.  These are short videos that are easy to watch.  

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Can low-carb diets shorten your life?

Eating healthy can help you feel better, have energy and reduce your risk of developing heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.  But some people think they are “eating healthy” by cutting their carbs.   They may choose a low-carb diet to lose weight such as the popular Atkins diet.  Or they choose the low-carb Paleo diet as way to “eat healthier”.  But a recent study indicates that low-carb diets may actually shorten your life span.   To paraphrase one article, cutting carbs may also cut your lifespan. 
So often you hear people say, “I am watching my carbs.”   Or, “carbs are bad for you”.  I know people who order a cheeseburger, but then take off the bun and only eat the hamburger patty and the cheese because they are cutting their carbs.  Or they order a Subway sandwich and then take off the bread.  But is this a wise thing to do?  Maybe not.  New research indicates you may want to keep the carbs in your diet.   Those that are cutting too many carbs out of their day may actually be shortening their lifespan.  By how much?  As much as four years off your life.  But just like not enough carbs can shorten your life, too many carbs aren’t good either.  
Enjoy the Subway sandwich with the bread
What research was done on low and high carb diets?
The Lancet Public Health followed 15,428 adults ages 45-64 years living in the U.S. over a 25-year period.  Each adult completed dietary questionnaires at the start of the study and then at six years.  Study participants also noted how frequently they consumed certain foods and beverages.  Lancet also looked at other dietary studies from over 20 countries. 

What did the study find about low-carb diets?
Low carb was defined as eating less than 40% of one’s daily calories from carbs.  The study found that those who had a low carb diet lived four years less than those who had an average amount of carbs in their diet.  

Why did those on low-carb diets have a shorter lifespan?
The authors of the Lancet study speculate that those eating a low carb diet may be eating fewer fruits, vegetables and grains.  They also may be eating more animal protein.  Eating more fruit, vegetables and whole grains not only add important nutrients to your diet, but also the healthy antioxidants that help prevent many diseases.  The authors noted low-carb diets may also be lower in fiber and lower in some vitamins and minerals. 

What about high carb diets?
The study found that low-carb diets shorten your life but high carb diets do also.  High carb diets were those with more than 70% of calories from carbs.  Compared to people with a moderate intake of carbs, those on high carb diets shortened their life span by one year.  The higher carb diets such as those in Asian countries often focus on white rice and refined carbs of poorer nutritional quality.  

What is the recommended amount of carbohydrates one should have each day?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends carbs make up 45-65% of our daily diets.  Note that 45% is greater than the low-carb diets of less than 40% of calories from carbs.  And, 65% is also less than what the study considered a high intake of carbs at over 70% of daily calories.  So eating 45-65% of your calories as carbs is a healthy choice.
The Mayo Clinic noted if you eat about 2000 calories a day, then you should be eating “between 900-1300 calories” from carbs.  Or, between 225 grams and 325 grams of carbs a day.  

What kind of carbs should we be eating?
Healthy carbs are fruits, vegetables and whole grains.   Aim for at least 5 A DAY of fruits and vegetables.   Enjoy some fruit at breakfast – whole fruit or 100% fruit juice.  At lunch and dinner aim for 2 servings of fruit and vegetables.  The Dietary Guidelines recommend half our grains should be whole grain.  So yes, still enjoy some white bread like a delicious French bread or ciabatta bread.  But also, be sure to include some whole grains in your day.  One of my students wrote on good and bad carbs and how good carbs can fuel our day. 
Enjoy some fresh fruit
Why are carbs important?
Carbs are your energy nutrient.  As Mayo Clinic notes, “carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel source”.  I am not one to cut the carbs out of my diet as I like to have lots of energy.  I like to say, “a low carb diet is a low energy diet”.  And who wants to be low in energy?  And healthy carbs like fruits, vegetables and whole grains add so many important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to your day.   And to those who say, “carbs are fattening”.  You can respond by saying those who eat more fruit, vegetables and whole grains have better control over their weight as the fiber in these foods fills them up. 

This week, enjoy some carbs.  I enjoy carbs at every meal, including bread and cereals.  The first thing I look for at lunch or dinner is the bread.  Going out to eat, I am always looking forward to the bread basket.  But I also enjoy many fruits and vegetables during the day and include whole grains in my daily diet.  So, to live longer, forget the low carb diet and add some healthy carbs to your day.  
Foods rich in carbs

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Food Additives and Your Health

So many things are added to the foods we eat.  An interesting article appeared in the paper about food additives and our health, especially children’s health.  It is actually hard to find and eat foods that are additive free.  Especially if you buy a lot of ready made food or eat at Fast Food restaurants.  This article is based on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)new policy statement which encourages families to try to reduce exposure to the synthetic chemicals in our foods.  Three types of synthetic chemicals are focused on, the chemicals in: food colorings, preservatives and the chemicals found in food packaging.

What harm are these food additives causing?
According to the AAP, some food additives can interfere with children’s hormones, their growth and development.  Some additives are linked to an increased risk of childhood obesity.  

How many food additives are there?
You may be surprised to learn that over 10,000 food additives have been approved for use in the U.S.  These additives are used for enhancing the taste of the food we eat, to preserved the food, to improve the texture or appearance of the food. 
Just because something has been added to a food, doesn’t’ mean it is bad for our health.  For centuries people have added salt or sugar to food as a preservative.  

What chemicals are in food packaging that may be of concern?
Food packaging may lead to an “indirect” additive to  food as the chemical may come from the packaging, the paper, the dyes, or the coating like the coating inside a canned food.  These chemicals include:
    1.  Bisphenols (known as BPA) – consumers have been concerned about BPA for years.  It was banned for use in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups years ago.  But it can still be found in plastic containers such as water bottles and the lining of some metal cans.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates BPA is safe. 
a.       To cut back on BPA –
                                                               i.      Eat more fresh food and less canned food.  Some food manufacturers are removing BPA from canned food but not all have.  Campbell’s removed BPA from its soup cans in 2017 so enjoy your canned soup and be BPA free.  
                                                             ii.      Use glass, stainless steel or other non-plastic containers for heating food.  Glass containers and stainless steel pots and bowls are BPA free.  You may freeze food in a plastic container but then heat it up in a glass container in the microwave or a metal pot on the stove.
2 Artificial colors – hard to avoid artificial colors in foods like fake juice – e.g. Sunny D, fruit punch, or some kid’s cereals.  AAP associated these artificial colors with “worsened attention-deficit disorder (ADHD)".  AAP noted some studies have found that ADHD symptoms are lessened in kids that have cut back on artificial colors in their diets. 
a.        To cut back on artificial colors:
i.       Replace fake juice with real juice.  100% juice has the natural color from the fruit and not an added artificial color.  Serve real orange juice, not Sunny D.  Serve Juicy Juice and not a fruit punch drink.
ii.     Choose kid’s cereals that have no artificial coloring.  Trix tried to take out the artificial colors but some parents did not like it.  But General Mills noted “about 90% of its cereals, including Cheerios, Cocoa Puffs and Golden Grahams”  are still made without artificial colors.
iii.   Choose chips that are free of artificial colors – Choose Sun Chips instead of Cheetos.  (And Sun Chips add whole grains to your day.)

Sun Chips are whole grain chips
How can parents cut back on or avoid food additives that may be harmful?  AAP offers a number of suggestions:
  • Buy more fresh or frozen fruit and vegetables 
Choose fresh or frozen fruit
  • Don’t heat up food in plastic containers as AAP notes the BPA are more likely to leak into the food
  • In the kitchen, use more glass, stainless steel – use glass containers to heat or reheat foods
  • Wash fruits and vegetables that aren’t peeled.  My husband always packed the kids’ lunch.  He always washed the apple before putting it in their lunch.
  • Choose alternatives – skip the Cheetos and choose Sun Chips or other chips that don’t have artificial colors
  •  Read the ingredient list:  look for foods without artificial colors (e.g. Yellow #5, Yellow #6, Red #40, Green #3) in the ingredient list.   
  • Limit the intake – if your kids still love the original Trix or other foods with artificial colors, then use them as an occasional treat and not an everyday food item

My daughters introduced me to some great glass container storage dishes.  We now store leftovers in these glass containers.  There is a plastic cover but the food mostly touches the glass.  

You may not be able to remove all harmful or suspected harmful food additives from your or your families’ diet, but there are many easy ways to cut back on food additives.  

Store food in glass containers