Microbial Gardens?

In my last blog we discussed the health benefits of consuming a variety of different foods high in fructans (e.g. select vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains).  As you remember, fructans are prebiotics that help fuel our healthy gut microbiota.  Fueling our healthy gut flora not only helps to boost our immunity and fight pathogens but also aids our digestion and metabolism.

Although more studies are needed, current research shows our gut flora may play an important role in specific conditions such as obesity and diabetes.  For instance, it appears lean people have different gut microbiota compared to those who are obese.  Research shows that animals transplanted with gut bacteria from obese animals demonstrated a significant increase in body fat even though caloric intake did not change.  In fact, it has been noted that germ-free animals gain twice as much body fat when transplanted with bacteria from obese animals compared to transplants from lean animals.  Researchers believe this is attributed to the influence bacteria have on the genes involved in storing fat since obese mice have more energy-harvesting genes in their gut than lean mice.

Other studies have shown that the microbiome changes when people lose weight, and that children born via C-section are twice as likely to be obese at age 3 compared to those who are delivered vaginally (initial inoculation of bacteria differs between the types of delivery).  Research has also shown that gut microbiota may be different in people with type 2 diabetes compared to those without diabetes.  Animals transplanted with obese-derived bacteria not only gain body fat but also become more insulin resistant.  Preliminary research shows that insulin resistance and triglycerides decreased when men with type 2 diabetes received “fecal transplants” from lean men without the disease.

These findings are no doubt of great interest, especially given our obesity epidemic.  However, much more research is needed since it is not clear whether changes in the microbiome actually cause obesity or type 2 diabetes.  This is obviously a complex area of research since the etiology of obesity and diabetes is not only multifactorial but the type and amount of bacteria can vary widely among people (i.e. we carry about three or four pounds of microbes in our gut and the strains of bacteria can vary 80% to 90% between two different people).

Our unique “enteric bacteria fingerprint” is attributed to our genes, our diet and our environment. Although we cannot change our human genome, we can change our diet and environment.  Tune in next time when we will review what you can do to enhance your microbial garden!

In Good Health,

Anne L. Hague, PhD, MS, RDN, LD, RDH, CLT

Ask the Expert:  Are frozen meals good for me?

Some frozen dinners are loaded with fat, sodium, and calories. Sticking with the lighter versions (such as Lean Cuisine, Healthy Choice, Smart Ones) is usually a safe bet. But there are no guarantees. You still need to read the label to be certain.

If you’re watching sodium, be especially careful about frozen meals. My advice for everyone is to look for meals with less than 800 milligrams of sodium (that’s about 1/3 of a day’s recommended allotment). If you’re on a low-sodium diet, divide the total number of sodium milligrams recommended per day by three. Then use that number as a guide when selecting frozen entrees.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that package claims are always what they seem. While most brands are reputable and honest, some may use wording that can mislead you. For example, it’s not always clear what makes products labeled “natural” or “organic” qualify for that terminology.

Some labels boast that their dinners are “preservative free,” yet most frozen meals don’t include preservatives because freezing prevents spoilage. The bottom line: Don’t assume a product is healthy without carefully checking out the nutrition facts panel.

By the numbers, here are my guidelines for choosing a healthy frozen meal:

  1. Aim for those that keep calories in the 250-300 range (journal as light frozen meal).
  2. Choose meals with less than 4 grams of saturated fat.
  3. Choose meals with less than 800 milligrams of sodium.
  4. Select meals with at least 3-5 grams of fiber.

By Laura Poland, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Nutrition: Oversimplified & Overgeneralized

I was reading my Facebook newsfeed and came across another article that peaked my interest. The Time article highlights ‘11 Foods That Make You Hungrier’. OK, now I am really curious.

Here are the 11 foods and my professional thoughts as a dietitian:

  1. White bread: Yes, this one I will totally agree. White bread has a high glycemic index ranking.  Go here to read more about glycemic index.
  2. Juice: Another high glycemic index item. Juice excludes the valuable fiber and other nutrients provided by the flesh and skin of its fruit.
  3. Salty Snacks: WHAT? Nuts, corn chips, and popcorn can be healthier salty snacks to help hit the “spot”; dependent on type chosen and portion consumed. Hmmm.
  4. Fast Food: Not all menu items are created equally. You can choose better menu options that will satisfy you and not cause the stated hunger cascade.
  5. Alcohol: In a way. Excessive alcohol intake could potentially lead to over-eating and provides a plethora of non-nutritious and empty calories. Think moderation.
  6. White pasta: The same as white bread. Most grains can be easily over consumed; watch your portion sizes.
  7. MSG: Not supported by current research. However, there are sodium free flavor enhancers; use them instead.
  8. Sushi rolls: It depends. Does anyone buy the brown rice variety or make a healthier version at home? Wow, I love sushi rolls.
  9. Artificial Sweeteners: This one could be true for some individuals, but the research is inconclusive. What about stevia or monk fruit? Sometimes artificial sweeteners are beneficial (i.e., diabetes, weight loss).
  10. Kid’s cereals: It depends. Does it contain fiber, whole grains or added sugar? Not all “kid” friendly cereals are unhealthy. Read the food label to determine ingredients and nutrients.
  11. Pizza: Again, it depends on the toppings, crust, and amount of cheese. The article does clearly mention these points.

I find nutrition information can be biased, skewed, and often misrepresented by non-credentialed sources. It only confuses the public more. Although I agree with most of the foods on this list, nutrition is a very complex topic. This “top 11” list was devised with oversimplified information and overgeneralized research findings.

Bottom Line: Beware of your nutrition information sources. They can be misleading and only confuse you more.

In good health,

Larissa Brophy, MS, RDN, LD

Summer Nutrition Facts

Living in Ohio, I hear this all the time; ‘Why can’t we eat like this all year long?’  In the summer, fruits and vegetables are bountiful and somehow just taste better.  So why can’t we eat like this all year round?

We often don’t try hard to include fruits and vegetables in our diets during the winter months.  But they are so important and there are many different kinds of produce that are in season all year round.  Here’s a guide to what is in season all year long.

Below is a list of the many nutrient benefits from fruits and vegetables from the ChooseMyPlate.gov website:

  • Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. None have cholesterol.
  • Fruits and vegetables are sources of many essential nutrients that are under consumed, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (folic acid).
  • Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Sources of potassium include bananas, potatoes, spinach, winter squash, prunes and prune juice, dried peaches and apricots, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and orange juice.
  • Dietary fiber from fruits and vegetables, as part of an overall healthy diet, helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may help to lower the risk of heart disease. Fiber is also important for proper bowel function. It helps reduce constipation and diverticulitis. Fiber-containing foods such as fruits help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories. Note:  whole or cut-up fruits and vegetables are sources of dietary fiber; fruit and vegetable juices contain little or no fiber.
  • Vitamin C is important for growth and repair of all body tissues, helps to heal cuts and wounds, and keeps teeth and gums healthy.
  • Folate (folic acid) helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should consume adequate folate from foods, and in addition 400 mcg of synthetic folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly during fetal development.

I like to think of it this way, fruits and the vegetables help to protect our bodies from cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity, to name a few!  Fruits and vegetables contain the nutrients the body needs to de-toxify our system.  THAT’s RIGHT, we don’t need pills or starvation diets, our body has a built in detox system.  We just need to consume the foods necessary to fuel it properly!  It’s no wonder we feel so great in the summer when we are consuming more fruits and vegetables.

Also be sure to consider frozen vegetables and fruits.  Frozen produce has a comparable nutrient value to fresh produce since it is flash frozen at harvest.  Look for 100% frozen fruits and vegetables without any additives.  They are an excellent option!

I challenge you to plan strategically now and make this a habit you can live with all year round.  Plan to get those fruits & vegetables into your meals when they are not “in season” and enjoy the feeling of summer all year long.

-Laura Poland, RDN, LD

Fuel Your Bugs

In my previous blogs, we discussed the addictive nature of added sugar and how certain foods/ingredients promote chronic inflammation such as added sugar,  saturated and trans fat, excess alcohol, red meat and omega 6 rich foods (e.g. safflower, sunflower and corn oils).  We also discussed which foods are anti-inflammatory such as vegetables and fruits, fish, whole and cracked grains, beans/legumes, healthy fats (e.g. extra virgin olive oil, expeller pressed organic canola oil, avocado, omega 3 enriched eggs, select nuts) and whole soy.  When you consider the different anti-inflammatory foods, it is no surprise that vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains go to the head of the class!  Let’s take a closer look at why these foods are so important to our health.

First, do you have a microscope?  That’s how close we need to look at the 100 billion to 1 trillion bacterial cells per milliliter that take residence in our colon (large intestine).  These different bacteria (i.e. more than 1,000 different species) are vital in helping to boost our immunity, fight pathogens, aid our digestion and metabolism, as well as produce various nutrients (e.g. vitamins B12, K and fatty acids).  Unfortunately, research data show that Americans have less-diverse gut microbiomes compared to other populations due in part to our consumption of more processed foods with less fiber content.  However, keep in mind there are different kinds of fiber.  The prebiotic fructans, found in many different vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains, provide important fuel for the bacteria in our gut.  If our bacteria do not have enough fiber to eat, they will target the lining of the colon causing inflammation.

So how can we feed our gut microbiome more fructans to help support optimal health?  Start by including more foods into your diet that are high in fructans (see below).

Amount Food (raw) Grams of Fructans
1 c Jerusalem artichoke 47
.5 c Chicory root 29
1 Leek 10
1 c White onions 9
1 c Raspberries 6
1 Artichoke 6
1 c Cooked beans 6
5 Asparagus spears 5
6 Cloves of garlic 3
.5 c Wheat bran 1
1 Nectarine 1
1 c Watermelon 1
1 medium Banana 1
1 Pear 1
1 c Blueberries 0.7
1 c Broccoli 0.7
1 c Kale 0.3
2 c Red leaf lettuce 0.2
Tomato 0
Carrot 0
Green lettuce 0

* Note: Storage and preparation of foods can affect the estimate of fructans.

Be sure to increase your fructan containing foods slowly into your diet to help avoid GI distress such as bloating and gas.  Experts estimate the average American consumes only about 1 to 4 grams of fructan-type fibers per day.  Please note, those foods with low to zero containing fructans do promote health in other ways!  Be sure to target at least 4-5 servings of vegetables and 3-4 servings of fruit per day.

Tune in next month when we will discuss other important aspects of gut health!  In the meantime, fuel your healthy bugs!

In Good Health,

Anne L. Hague, PhD, MS, RDN, LD, RDH, CLT

Which is more effective for weight loss? Nutrition or Exercise

Have you ever asked this question? My quick answer is: “It totally depends on you!” As a dietitian, I definitely support the role of nutrition for better health and weight management. However, I also fully recognize the significance of exercise as an essential component to health and weight management.

So here is the “formula”:

If you eat and/or drink excess calories (i.e., dining out frequently or drinking sugary beverages/alcohol), then dietary changes will most likely have the biggest impact on weight loss initially. Remember, 3500 calories is approximately one pound of body weight. So if you reduce your daily intake by 500 calories through elimination of “extraneous” foods and drinks, then you will lose approximately one pound of body weight per week.  Please note that over-restricting calories is not recommended.  Be sure to focus on whole, unprocessed, and nutrient dense choices such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean meats, and plant based fats.  Sound familiar?

If you are already following a healthy diet and managing your caloric intake appropriately, then exercise is going to give you the best results. Exercise helps you maintain or build new muscle.  An increase in muscle mass will increase your metabolism and help you lose inches/pounds.  The key with exercise is that it should be a combination of aerobic activities (elevation of heart rate) and strength training (resistance). An efficient workout incorporates both components of fitness, like boot camps and circuit training.  Target aerobic exercise most days of the week and strength training 2-3 times per week.

Ideally, ALL weight loss efforts should be a combination of nutrition and exercise. But as you begin, evaluate your starting point.  Be sure to consider what you are capable of doing right now, and go from there. Success is best with small, incremental steps that result in lifelong changes for better health.  Remember, one step or bite at a time!

In good health,

Larissa T Brophy, MS, RDN, LD

Are You Addicted?

In my last blog we discussed how added sugar promotes chronic inflammation (i.e. associated with diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, dementia and type 2 diabetes).  We also discussed how the newly released documentary FED UP is challenging Americans to go sugar free for 10 days to help improve vitality, clarity of mind, reduce aches and pains, improve gut health as well as sleep.  I hope you had the opportunity to view FED UP and complete the sugar free 10 day challenge!

If you found the 10 day challenge difficult, it is not a surprise.  Added sugar is in many of our food products.  Much of the added sugar is hidden since there are many different kinds/forms of added sugar.  Recent data show the average American consumes 78 pounds of added sugar per year (i.e. one pound from honey, 9 pounds from corn syrup, 29 pounds from high fructose corn syrup and 39 pounds from sugar, cane and beet).  Approximately 38.6 pounds of added sugar is in the form of sugar drinks (i.e. soda, tea, energy, sport and fruit drinks).  Did you know that a single 20 oz container of Coke contains 15 teaspoons of added sugar?  Yikes!  Remember, the American Heart Association recommends women and men consume no more than 6 teaspoons (24g) and 9 tsp (36g) of added sugar per day, respectively.

Many food manufacturers add sugar to their products for improved taste and profit.  Since sugar is addictive, the food manufacturer knows the consumer will return for more and the more sugar you eat, the more you “need” to satisfy your cravings (i.e. much like the addictive properties of cocaine).  Functional MRIs show the brain releases dopamine in response to sugar creating a sense of euphoria.  However, the reward center eventually becomes blunted and needs more sugar to “feel good.”  Even artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols disrupt taste perception, and encourage you to crave more sweet-tasting foods.  Unfortunately, food manufacturers are not required to include warnings about the addictive properties of their products!  Nor, are they required to indicate exactly how much added sugar is in the product.  Hopefully the latter will change with the proposed new food label.

In the meantime, look for predominant ingredients listed first on food/beverage labels as well as terms that denote sugar in disguise (e.g. ingredients that use an “ose” ending). Also look at the total amount of sugar but know that natural sugars are also included in the total.

If you have not completed the 10 day challenge yet, be sure to check it out.

Stay tuned for my next blog when we will examine other foods associated with chronic inflammation!

In Good Health,

Anne L. Hague, PhD, MS, RDN, LD, RDH, CLT

Advertising Mismatch: Have commercial foods gone too far?

While watching TV a few nights ago, I was extremely disturbed by a commercial. This commercial, for Magnum®Double Carmel ice cream bar, was “sexy”. The bar looked so decadent, appealing and tempting (even with my food allergies). The actress eating the bar was beautiful, thin, and seductive. MAJOR MISMATCH! I cannot deny the bar is probably beyond delicious as the on-line reviews confirm. However, if you eat this bar frequently or more than once in a great while, then you will definitely NOT look like the woman in the commercial. Should we even associate “sexy” with our food?

To confirm my suspicions, I looked up the nutrition information for this Magnum® Double Carmel ice cream bar. It has a whooping 320 calories per bar. WOW! There is also 20 grams of total fat, 14 grams of saturated fat and 29 grams of sugar. Although some of the sugar is naturally derived from milk, the majority is added as indicated in the ingredient list (the current Nutrition Facts do not distinguish between natural sources and added sugar yet… but stay tuned).  For added sugar, the American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 6 teaspoons (24g) per day for women and a maximum of 9 teaspoons (36g) per day for men. The dietary recommendations for saturated fat are 7% to 10% of your total daily calories. Just one bar almost meets the daily limits for both added sugar and saturated fat. YIKES!

I am not just “picking” on this product. I see other disturbing commercials too. I certainly understand that manufacturers want to sell their products. And advertising sells. The problem is that many of these advertised “sexy” food products are laden with calories and have little nutritional value, contributing to our nation’s current overweight/obesity epidemic and plaguing our health.  I question the ethics of portraying food products as “sexy” when indeed they are not. Food should be a source of nourishment and enjoyment, not elicit confusing emotions. An occasional treat is acceptable (in moderation), but let’s leave the seduction and sexy out of it.

Do you want to think of your food as “sexy”?

By Larissa Brophy, MS, RDN, LD

Just Breathe

August is here!  Time flies when the kids are getting back to school and all of a sudden there are a lot of demands on our time and wallet.  I find August to be a busy and stressful month.  It’s important to take some time for yourself and de-stress.  Since August is Respiratory Health Month I thought it would be great to focus on breathing.  REALLY!

Have you ever thought about breathing?  The thing is, when life gets out of control and stress is high, a simple thing like taking deep breaths can help you to de-stress.   How does this happen?  Below is a helpful quote from WebMD:

Deep breathing is one of the best ways to lower stress in the body. This is because when you breathe deeply, it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. The brain then sends this message to your body. Those things that happen when you are stressed, such as increased heart rate, fast breathing, and high blood pressure, all decrease as you breathe deeply to relax.

Many of us find ourselves so used to stress that we don’t even realize we are stressed.  So we are constantly in a state of stress breathing.

Take some time and pay attention to your breath when you are in a relaxed state.  Are you breathing deeply?  Are you using your full lung capacity?  The breath can be trained.  Think about it.  If you are stressed all the time you will breathe differently – typically short shallow breaths.  When you are relaxed the breath typically becomes deep and full.

The correct breath:  Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach and take a deep breath in through your nose.  Your stomach should expand and your chest should not move much.  If the chest moves, it may indicate your breath is too shallow – which can happen when we continuously breathe incorrectly.  Again, our breath can be trained.

I have practiced a variety of breathing techniques.  I recommend you search and find the one that suits you.  Some are simple breathing only techniques and some are in a combination with yoga, meditation and/or imagery.  The cool thing about using breathing techniques to reduce stress is you can do it anytime, anywhere.  Here are a couple of resources you may find helpful:  HelpGuide.org and WebMD.

I have not yet tried meditation but I hear great things.  What will you try?  HAPPY BREATHING!

Grilling Smart & Healthy: Sauces, Marinades & Rubs

grill

Are you overwhelmed by the choices in sauces, marinades or rubs? What are those ingredients you’re reading? Are you concerned by them?

Here’s a healthy alternative!  Try making your own sauce, marinades or rubs.  They are not only easy and fun to make, but they are often healthier and more economical than store bought.  The different variety of sauces, marinades and rubs are practically endless.  Tap into your creativity today!

 Here are some basics to get started:

  • A sauce is something that is put on the meat once it is cooked to add flavor.
  • Marinades and rubs are added prior to cooking.
  • Marinades are used to help with tougher cuts of meat to tenderize them.
  • A rub is a mixture of spices and herbs that bring out the flavor of the meat but do not overpower it.

Marinades

Marinade

Here’s a basic marinade recipe you can modify, you will need:

  • An acid to tenderize:  Vinegar works well but you can also use lemon juice, orange juice, wine or kiwi.
  • Flavoring:  can be very versatile.  Choose the seasonings or spices you happen to have on hand or use frequently.
  • Oil-to hold the ingredients together and add moisture to the meat.
  • Salt- makes the meat more juicy and flavorful.

Preparation

1. Mix together three parts oil for every one part acid.

2. Then, add in your choice of flavorings and salt to taste.

Marinating Tips and Warnings

1. Always marinate in a non-reactive container like glass or stainless steel. Aluminum containers are not suitable for marinating.

2. Pierce the meat with a fork to allow the marinade to penetrate.

3. Store foods in the refrigerator while they marinate.

4. Do not reuse any marinade that has come into contact with raw meat, unless it has been boiled for at least five minutes.

5. Fish should not be marinated for more than 30 minutes because the acid will start to “cook” it.

6. Allow raw meats to soak in marinade for up to 24 hours to tenderize.

Rubs

I’m sure you have previously used salt and pepper to season your meats before grilling.  Other kinds of tasty rubs can be easily made.  Dry rubs typically include spices and dried herbs.  Experiment with what you have on hand.  Focus on Salt, Sugar, Savory and Spicy flavors.  Paprika makes a nice base for most rubs (no flavor, just color).  Try a smoked paprika when you feel a little more adventurous.  Once you find a recipe you like, you can make a large amount and store it in an airtight container or spice shaker.

Sauces

Although BBQ sauce is very popular, there are many other sauces to consider. Our family favorite is pesto sauce.  Feel free to review recipes on-line to find your family’s favorite!  I suggest buying a basil plant and make pesto sauce all summer! Here is my personal pesto recipe:

1 cup basil leaves, washed, patted dry

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tbsp lemon juice

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Chop basil leaves in a food processor, add garlic, continue processing and add the olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Once it is the desired consistency (you may add more of the liquid ingredients if needed), add Parmesan cheese.  Serve over grilled chicken, shrimp or beef.  We also like to have pasta and cut up tomatoes with the sauce.  Enjoy!

Fire up the grill and enjoy your marinades, rubs and sauces this summer!