Sunday, September 29, 2019

What are saturated fats and why are they bad for your health?

Look on any package and you usually see the amount of saturated fat grams listed.  Nice information but what is the average consumer supposed to do with that information?  Why are saturated fat grams on the nutrition label and how do saturated fats affect our health?

What are saturated fats?

Think of fats solid at room temperature like Crisco, lard, butter or bacon fat.  Look at steak, bacon, pork chops, salami and you can see the streaks of white – that is the saturated fat in the meat.  Whole fat dairy foods like whole milk, whole fat cheese contain saturated fat.  The chemical structure of saturated fats means the fat has no double bonds, is saturated with hydrogen and these fats can pack tightly together, and that is why saturated fats form solids at room temperature.  
Foods with saturated fat
What foods have saturated fats?

The American Heart Association is a go- to place for information on diet and heart health.  The heart association and other sources list examples of saturated fat as:
  • Processed Meats – salami, pepperoni, cured ham, bratwurst sausage, sausage, bacon, hot dogs
  • Dairy – whole milk, full-fat cheese, cream cheese, cream, whipping cream, ice cream
  • Meat – hamburger, pork ribs, pork chop with fat, poultry with the skin
  • Lard, Crisco,
  • Oils – palm oil, palm kernel oil, coconut oil
  •  Fast Food- think fried food, double bacon cheeseburger, fried chicken nuggets, fried chicken
Why are saturated fats listed on nutrition labels?  

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates nutrition labeling on our food packages.  FDA notes that diets with high levels of saturated fat are linked to an increase risk of heart disease.  
Look for saturated fat on nutrition labels
Why are saturated fats considered bad for your health?

Eating a lot of foods high in saturated fats can adversely affect our health in a number of ways:
  • Increase risk of heart disease – saturated fats increased the bad cholesterol in our blood, known as LDL cholesterol.  The medical profession used to focus on the amount of cholesterol we eat but now the focus is on saturated fat in foods.  Why?  Because eating diets high in saturated fat can raise the LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in our blood and cause a build up of cholesterol in your arteries. 
  • Weight gain – saturated fat doesn’t just increase heart disease risk but it also can be linked to weight gain.  Foods like pepperoni pizza, baked goods like pies, cakes and fried foods are high in fat and can have a lot of saturated fat.  Diets high in fat can pile on the pounds as fats provide more calories per gram than carbs or protein. 
How can you cut back on saturated fat?

Who doesn’t enjoy a steak, cheese, pepperoni pizza?  One doesn’t have to give up these foods.  The Dietary Guidelines recommend that we limit saturated fat calories to 10% of our calories a day.  Who counts this?  I don’t.  But simple changes can help anyone cut back on saturated fat in their every day diet.
  • Dairy – choose low-fat milk, low-fat cheese like Mozzarella, low-fat cream cheese, low-fat yogurt.
  • Meat:  choose leaner hamburger, cook the pork chop and then cut off the fat rink, microwave the bacon and dab off the fat, eat poultry without the skin like baked chicken breasts.  Cut back on fried foods.
  • Oils – choose olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and margarine in a tub like Smart Balance margarine.  
Smart Balance is heart healthy

We don’t eliminate saturated fat from our diet but we do choose low-fat dairy products and have found a low-fat ice cream that is quite good.  We choose lean hamburger, except when grilling as one needs regular hamburger for burgers on the grill.  I used to buy Cool Whip but stopped when they added the high fructose corn syrup.  So now we use light whipping cream, the real stuff, not the fake stuff, just some for taste on pudding or desserts.  Open our fridge and find the Smart Balance margarine and find canola oil in the pantry.  We also enjoy foods that do have saturated fat.  You will also find hot dogs in the freezer and we like pizza about once a week.  Find some ways you can cut back but not eliminate saturated fats from your diet.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Feeling tired? Maybe you need more magnesium.

Feeling tired?  Could a lack of the mineral magnesium be the problem?  Most people know we need iron our diets and “iron poor blood” or iron deficiency anemia can lead one to feel tired.  But magnesium is also an important mineral for many reasons, one of which is energy.  An article in Environment Nutrition noted that not having enough of the essential mineral, magnesium, can lead to feeling tired or fatigued.  

More Americans are low in magnesium, why?  Many of us are eating more processed food like white bread, white rice, white pasta, and Pop Tarts.  When they refine the grain to make white flour, white rice, etc., they remove most of the magnesium. Because of all the processed food we eat, they estimate we are getting only about 50% of the magnesium our bodies need each day.  The Recommended Dietary Allowance for magnesium is 310-320 mg per day for women and 410-420 mg per day for men.  

Why do we need magnesium?  Cells in our bodies need magnesium, especially cells that need energy to function like our hearts, brain and muscle cells.  Some reasons we need magnesium:
  •  Protein synthesis
  • Muscle and nerve function
  • Blood glucose control
  • Blood pressure regulation
  • Energy production – we need magnesium for our bodies to make energy
  • Bones
  • Normal heart rhythm

What are some symptoms of magnesium deficiency?
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Migraine headaches
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure

How can I add magnesium – rich foods to my day?

My daughter knew a teacher who suffered from migraine headaches.  The doctor wrote the teacher a prescription for Wheat Thins.  Yes, the crackers.  Why?  Because Wheat Thins are whole grain.  When the teacher got tired of eating Wheat Thins my daughter asked me what else he might eat to help prevent his migraine headaches.  I listed a number of foods high in magnesium as that is why the doctor recommended Wheat Thins.  Wheat Thins are whole grain and whole grains are a source of magnesium.  The teacher was happy to broaden his diet beyond Wheat Thins and hadn’t understood why Wheat Thins had been prescribed as a treatment for his migraine headaches.
Wheat Thins are whole grains
  • Whole grains – Wheat Thins, Triscuits, whole grain bread like Dave’s bread, whole grain English muffins, any General Mills cereal, oatmeal, Quinoa, Brown Rice   One cup of quinoa provides 118 mg of magnesium
  • Nuts – almonds, cashews, peanuts:  Two tablespoons of peanut butter have 49 mg of magnesium, an ounce of almonds about 80 mg and cashews provide 74 mg per ounce
  • Seeds - flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Greens like spinach – 1 cup of spinach will provide 157 mg of magnesium
  • Avocados – enjoy that guacamole dip
  • Dark chocolate – yes, chocolate can be good for you.  But be sure it is dark chocolate.  A one ounce serving has 64 mg of magnesium and also has good antioxidants. 
  • Yogurt – one should enjoy a serving of yogurt every day for calcium, vitamin D and those healthy probiotics.  You also benefit as yogurt is a source of magnesium, providing 30 mg per cup.  You also get the benefit of an excellent source of protein. But get real yogurt, made with real cow’s milk. 

For more information on the magnesium content of foods, go to Magnesium.  Many foods are listed so it is easy to add some more magnesium to your day.    

Sunday, September 15, 2019

What are probiotics and prebiotics and what do they do for your health?

Whenever one hears about bacteria, they think disease or illness.  But there are actually bacteria that are good for your health.  As WebMD notes, probiotics are live bacteria that are good for you, especially your digestive system.  This week in the nutrition class I teach, we are learning about probiotics and another term not often heard, prebiotics.  

What are Probiotics?
These are the “good” bacteria and these good bacteria help keep you and your gut healthy.  You have “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut and when you eat foods with “probiotics” or good bacteria, you change your gut to have more good than bad bacteria.  A healthy thing to do.  There are many “probiotics” as there are many different types of bacteria.  Usually in foods like yogurt you will see on the label:

Lactobillus – this is a probiotic commonly added to foods like yogurt.  Interesting that these bacteria digests some lactose, the natural sugar in milk.  So, people who are lactose intolerant – have trouble with real milk, can often eat some yogurt with no “bubble gut” as my daughter likes to call it. 
Bididobacterium – some yogurt and other dairy products have these good bacteria.  Those with irritable bowel syndrome may find these bacteria help relieve their symptoms.  

Why are probiotics considered healthy?  A lot of research has been done and more is being done on the health benefits of eating foods rich in probiotics.  Eating foods such as yogurt that have probiotics have been found beneficial to a number of conditions including:
o   Irritable bowel syndrome
o   Ulcerative colitis
o   Crohn’s disease
o   Eczema in children
o   Immunity – some studies have found that probiotics promote good immunity

What foods have probiotics?   Most yogurts have “live bacteria”.  In fact, yogurt is a super healthy food.  “Yogurt is often included on healthy food lists” as “yogurt is highly nutritious and is an excellent source of protein, calcium and potassium”.  And, most yogurts are fortified with vitamin D.  Many Americans are lacking calcium and vitamin D in their diets so yogurt is a good addition.  Surprising to me, my husband has noted there is less shelf space at the grocery store devoted to yogurt.  Which usually means less people are buying that food.  Yogurt was popular for years and should stay popular as it is a great “health” food to include every day.  

What to look for on the yogurt label.  Next time you are buying yogurt, look for the words “Live and active cultures”.  MyPlate recommends choosing low-fat or fat-free yogurt.  Greek yogurt is a good choice for those wanting more protein.  And for those with lactose-intolerance, Greek yogurt has less lactose so may be a better choice for those wanting a yogurt with less lactose.  But Greek yogurt provides less calcium than traditional yogurt.  Many women have diets low in calcium so traditional yogurt may be a better choice for women.  And be sure vitamin D has been added.
Look for Live and Active Cultures on the label
What are prebiotics?  Want to keep those good bacteria healthy and thriving in your gut?  Well then you have to feed them.  Like the play, “Little Shop of Horrors”, the good bacteria need to be fed.  What do they eat?  Fiber.  Foods high in fiber are a great way to keep the good bacteria in your gut fed.  Foods that are prebiotics include:
  • Vegetables:  garlic, greens like spinach and kale, onions, leeks, cabbage, bean,
  • Fruit:   fresh fruit like bananas, watermelon, apples, grapefruit,
  • Whole grains and bran, barley, oats – think oatmeal, Cheerios, All Bran, whole grain bread, whole grain English muffins, whole grain crackers
  • Nuts and seeds – almonds, pistachio nuts, flaxseeds

This week add some yogurt to your day.  If you eat some yogurt every day, great.  Keep up this healthy habit.  If you don’t eat yogurt or eat it only occasionally, try adding it back on a more regular basis.  Yogurt is so good for your health.  And remember to feed that good bacteria by adding some fresh fruit, veggies and whole grains to your day.  Some suggestions for adding prebiotics to your day:
o   Eating high-fiber breakfast cereals – add some nuts or seeds like a sprinkling of chopped walnuts
o   Eating whole-grain bread like Dave’s bread  
o   Snacking on fruits, nuts, and seeds
o   Adding beans to soups and salads – enjoy a 3-bean salad at dinner, enjoy some chili
o   Read food labels and check the fiber content of the foods you buy, especially the bread and cereals 

Sources:    notes, conditions, food, words, recommends, Greek, prebiotics, include, suggestions   Image sources:  cultures, yogurt, foods   

Sunday, September 8, 2019

What is the best way to minimize sugar intake?

I just started teaching another semester of nutrition.  Each semester I ask students to write down some of their nutrition questions on a stickie note and then post them on the board.  Throughout the semester I answer the students' questions.  One of the students asked “What is the best way to minimize sugar intake?”  

What “sugars” should we cut back on?
Many people are confused about sugars in our foods.  We should cut back on “added sugars” but what about the natural sugars occurring in foods? 

Added Sugars – how much should we have in our diets?
Many foods we eat have sugar added to the food.  Surprisingly, most foods we buy in the store such as soup, pasta sauce, catsup and many more foods have sugar added during the manufacturing process.  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends we limit “calories from added sugars to no more than 10% each day.  That’s 200 calories or about 12 teaspoons, for a 2,000-calorie diet.”

What are Added Sugars?  This means manufacturers have added sugar during the processing of the food. 
  • Added sugars include: Sugars and syrups added to foods like sodas, yogurt, candies, cereals, cookies, lemonade, Sunny D, Hi-C, fruit punches, fruit drinks, pies, donuts, energy drinks. And other foods like soup, crackers, pasta sauce, catsup.
  • Sugar you add to foods like a teaspoon of sugar on your oatmeal or sugar in your coffee.

Almost half of the added sugars in our diets come from drinks – like sodas, fruit drinks, and other sweetened beverages.

What are natural sugars in foods?
§  Fruits have fructose – a naturally present sugar in fruit.  Buy canned fruit and the manufacturer may add more sugar but all fruit has some naturally present sugar. 
§  Milk – real cow’s milk has the natural sugar, lactose, in it.  Milk doesn’t taste sweet as lactose isn’t a very sweet sugar.

                          The sugar naturally present in foods like fruit and milk is not “added sugar” and one does not have to cut back on fruit or milk because of this naturally present sugar.  

Why should Americans cut back on added sugars?
Added sugars are considered “empty calories”.  They provide calories but few nutrients.  Eating a lot of calories from foods high in added sugar, displaces calories from healthier options like whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables.  “Added sugars contribute calories, but no essential nutrients.”

How can one cut down on added sugars?   The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines has a handout on added sugars.  They recommend: 
  • Choose fresh fruit instead of a cookie or cake
  • Choose cereals with less sugar.  Look at the food label for cereals and choose cereals with less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.  Quaker now offers a lower sugar instant oatmeal.
Look for foods with less added sugar.
  • Choose real, 100% juice instead of fruit drinks or fruit punches.  Read the ingredients to make sure it is real juice.
  • With meals, drink milk or water and skip the sugared sodas or sweetened ice tea. Or choose unsweetened ice tea.
  • Eat healthy foods that have some added sugar.  Choose the Honey Nut Cheerios over Pop Tarts. Yes, the Honey Nut Cheerios have some added sugar but they are also whole grain and a good way to add whole grains to one’s day.


The average American gets 270 calories of added sugars each day. That’s about 17 teaspoons of sugar! 
 How can you cut back on the added sugars in the foods you eat?  A relative loved sweetened ice tea – loaded with added sugar.  Ice tea is actually good for one’s health but all the added sugar, not so much.  So, she started to blend her tea.  At first, she filled her cup with 75% sweet iced tea and 25% unsweetened ice tea.  After awhile she went 50-50.  She now drinks the unsweetened ice tea which is good for her health as it is full of healthy antioxidants.  She didn’t give up her iced tea, she just gave up the added sugar.  When trying to cut back on added sugars, focus on the sweetened beverages as they are packed with calories and few, if any, nutrients.  
Choose unsweetened ice tea
Sources:  Guidelines, handout, cereals  Image sources:  Spoonful, Quaker Oats , tea

Sunday, September 1, 2019

Ultraprocessed food – what is it?

We all have heard of processed food.  If it comes out of a bag, box or can, the food has undergone some processing. But now there is a new term to know, ultraprocessed food.  What are ultraprocessed foods and do they affect our health any differently than processed or whole foods? 

1.  Ultraprocessed Food
The definition varies but one definition for “ultraprocessed” foods can be described “as ready-to-eat formulations with five or more ingredients, often including flavor-enhancing additives, dyes or stabilizers”.  

      2.   Processed foods are foods that have undergone some processing – frozen, canned, dried , cooked or packaged.  These foods may be fortified or preserved in some way.  These include cereals, bread, fruit juices, canned vegetables like canned tomatoes, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, pasta sauces and crackers.  Examples of even more processed would be frozen pizzas or a microwave dinner.   

 3.  Whole Foods – foods like fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, meats, nuts that are not processed or minimally processed.  Examples would be mixed nuts lightly salted, natural peanut butter made with only peanuts and salt.
A handful of nuts a day is a healthy habit

How do ultraprocessed foods affect our health?  Researchers have found that if you eat ultraprocessed food, you may end up eating more.  Twenty people lived at a National Institutes of Health facility for 28 days.  For 2 weeks they ate an ultraprocessed diet and then for 2 weeks they were switched to a minimally processed diet.  The diets were matched for calories.  The participants were free to eat as much of the food served as they chose.  What is surprising is that well on the ultraprocessed food diet, the study participants ate an average of 500 calories a day more.  This, of course, led to a weight gain of about 2 pounds in only 2 weeks.  Conversely, while on the minimally processed diet, the study participants lost weight, about 2 pounds.  

The researchers noted, it is not just the nutrients in foods or the calories that can affect how much we choose to eat.  Ever have a bag of chips in front of you?  Easy to start with a few chips and before you know it, you have eaten the whole bag.  Recently, at a book club meeting some M&Ms were served.  The ladies commented on hard it was to stop eating M&Ms as they are so good. 

What reasons did the researchers give for study participants eating more of the ultraprocessed foods?  Maybe they were easier to scarf down – like those chips.  Maybe it was less protein.  Participants on the ultraprocessed diets did eat less protein.  And protein is filling.  Ultraprocessed foods are also more energy dense, meaning they provide more calorie per ounce. 

Many of us have diets loaded with ultraprocessed foods.  Easy to grab and easy to eat on the go.  I tell my students that an apple is healthier than applesauce which is healthier than apple juice. 

Some are suggesting ways to add more whole foods to your day.
  • Cereal – unfortunately many people have cut cereal out of their diet, yet oatmeal and other whole grain cereals are a good choice.  As noted, many times in my blog, all General Mills cereals are whole grain.  Cereal is a  great way to add some whole grain to a kid’s diet.
  • Bread – look for breads that are whole grain  
  • Fresh fruit – eat a banana, pack an apple in your lunch.  If you like juice, make sure it is real, 100% juice and not fake juice like Sunny D or Hi-C. Some people think lemonade is juice, but it is a sugar sweetened beverage.  Enjoyable on a hot day but is not considered real juice.
  • Vegetables – eat raw like baby carrots or buy fresh vegetables to cook like broccoli or frozen vegetables are good choices.
  • Milk – drink real milk not fake milk.   Choose 2%, 1% or fat-free milk to cut back on the fat in milk.
  • Meat/fish – by lean hamburger, chicken, fish and cook it at home rather than buying processed meat like hot dogs 
Enjoy a piece of fresh fruit

A recipe to try:
Mix together the following:
  •   1 1/8 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  •   4 teaspoons pumpkin seeds
  •    4 teaspoons sunflower seeds
  •    ¼ cup pecans
  •    2 Tablespoons raisins
  •     4 dried apricots chopped
This “cereal” has no added sugar, no added preservatives like BHT and no dyes like yellow dye No. 6