Sweet potatoes are a perfect combination of filling and healthy carbs that add a touch of natural sweetness to any dish. Typically, I enjoy my sweet potatoes sautéed in some coconut oil with a pinch of salt and pepper or roasted in the oven with garlic and onions. I usually avoid recipes for sweet potatoes that call for additional sweet ingredients like brown sugar and cinnamon because I feel they are then too sweet. But, boy oh boy am I glad I tried this recipe–out it’s became another instant favorite in our household. This dish is a little bit higher on the carb side so make sure you serve it with a lean protein and non-starchy vegetables (green beans, salads, broccoli, etc).
3-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled or cut into small pieces
2 tbsp rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 425oF. Place cubed sweet potatoes in pan and toss with melted coconut oil, salt and pepper. Cook for 30 minutes or until slightly crispy.
2. Meanwhile place raisins and balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook for about 10 minutes so vinegar reduces and raisins plump up. Be sure not to overcook the vinegar as this can scorch your pan.
3. Once sweet potatoes are done, place in serving dish and toss in raisins, remaining vinegar, goat cheese and rosemary. Serve warm. (But it was also quite tasty cold the next day!)
It was the spring semester of my junior year in college. I was engaging in conversations with my classmates as we were being handed back the results of our cholesterol screenings. I glanced down at the sheet that had been deposited on my desk and quickly went to my professor because I clearly had someone else’s results. She replied, “No, those results are yours, Amanda, and you have high cholesterol.” I thought this can’t be! I’m 21 years old, I run, teach group fitness classes, watch what I eat; how could I have high cholesterol???
This was a major scare to me, especially since heart disease runs in both sides of my family. After coming to terms with the news, I had a good hard look into how much fiber I was consuming in my diet.
Fiber has been referred to as many different things: bulk, roughage, even cardboard. Essentially, fiber is the indigestible part of plant products. It is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds. The average American needs at least 20-30 grams of fiber daily, but, unfortunately, most people miss this mark…by a lot. This is due largely to our high consumption of refined carbohydrate sources and processed food items, in addition to a poor intake of fruits and vegetables. But fiber has many benefits.
Fiber has shown to help keep you fuller longer between meals, aiding in weight management.
Choosing foods that are higher in fiber has shown to benefit blood glucose control.
A diet high in fiber can decrease one’s risk for diverticulosis/diverticulitis. Fiber can play a role in treating both constipation and diarrhea.
Increased fiber can help children’s constipation problems (check out this article for tips), as well as those of adults.
Another great thing a high fiber intake can do (and the focus of this blog) is help lower one’s cholesterol and, therefore, reduce the risk for heart disease.
Fiber is split into two categories: soluble and insoluble, and most fiber-containing products have both. Insoluble fiber can aid as a laxative by moving intestinal contents more rapidly. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like product when entering the digestive system. Soluble fiber absorbs bile salts in the intestines, which are important for digesting and absorbing fat. In order to keep our pool of bile salts at a proper level, the body utilizes cholesterol, specifically LDL found in the blood stream, to manufacture more bile salts. The National Cholesterol Education Program’s Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes recommends consuming at least 5-10 grams of soluble fiber per day to reduce LDL cholesterol by 5%. Check out the complete list of recommendations.
Good sources of soluble fiber:
Broccoli and Walnut Salad
Other sources of fiber:
All beans/legume varieties
Shredded wheat cereal
Whole wheat bread/pasta
In addition to consuming more fiber, there are other diet recommendations for reducing one’s cholesterol level. This includes limiting trans and saturated fats from the diet (fatty red meats, fried foods, whole fat dairy products, snack crackers, chips, candy, cookies). It is encouraged to replace saturated fats with omega 3 and unsaturated fats from sources like salmon, walnuts and ground flaxseed. Fat intake should be limited to no more than 35% of total calories. Plant foods are recommended more often. Engaging in physical activity can also be very beneficial, as recommended by one’s physician.
How does my high cholesterol story end, you ask? I first began with choosing foods higher in fiber. I replaced my regular granola bars with high-fiber bars, consumed more vegetables, snacked on nuts more often, added fruit as part of my breakfast routine and chose cereals, English muffins and bread with higher fiber contents. In six months, I dropped my cholesterol level down from 216 mg/dL to 167 mg/dL. Today, I am still going strong with my fiber intake, omega-3 fatty acid intake and consuming low amounts of saturated and trans fats. Physical activity is a priority every day, and I am constantly finding new ways to challenge my body. My most recent cholesterol level taken was 151 mg/dL and I couldn’t be happier.
When increasing fiber in one’s diet, it is recommended to make sure you consume an adequate amount of water. Although it is rare with mixed diets, too much fiber can also be a problem causing poor absorption of calcium, iron, zinc and magnesium. Always consult with your physician or dietitian before making changes to your diet.
Label Reading 101, our first lesson on label reading educated us on how to understand the serving size, calories and amount of fat values that are listed on the nutrition facts label. We know to be aware of individually packaged food items like chips because they often come with this hidden message: “You got served…twice!” It’s also important to look at the bigger picture, such as amount of added sugars or sodium, when selecting an item with reduced-fat or fat-free labeling.
Today, we’ll tackle some of the other important nutrient information that is posted on the label:
Carbohydrates. Total carbohydrates is a very important value to monitor, especially if you are a diabetic and need to watch your carb intake. Remember, the gram amount listed is per the indicated serving size of the product. I know what you’re thinking—isn’t sugar more important to observe? When it comes to carb-counting, it is more important to look at the total carbohydrates number. Fiber and sugars are indented underneath this value because they are components of the sum of total carbohydrates in the food item. The other missing components are starch and sugar alcohols, which are not required to be listed. It is a good idea to compare the sugar content when looking at two like items. One cup of Cheerios contains just one gram of sugar, while one cup of Frosted Flakes packs in almost 15 grams of sugar. Clearly, the Cheerios would be the better choice in this scenario.
Fiber. Did you know that the average American needs at least 25 grams of fiber per day? Fiber is a wonderful nutrient that can help control appetite, improve feelings of fullness, help reduce cholesterol levels, promote a healthy colonic environment and possibly help improve blood sugar control. It can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and nuts/seeds. Choosing healthy foods includes incorporating foods that are high in fiber. When looking at the label, try to choose foods with at least three to four grams of fiber per serving. Make sure you are consuming adequate amounts of water if consuming foods that are very high in fiber such as beans, legumes or fiber-fortified cereal products, such as Fiber One or Fiber Plus.
Sodium. When you think of someone who needs to watch their sodium intake, we typically think of Uncle John, who had a heart attack last year, or your neighbor, Jess, who has had two kidney stones. In reality, everyone should be monitoring sodium intake. A good rule of thumb is to limit meals to no more than 600 mg of sodium. Keeping up with these recommendations becomes very difficult when consuming a lot of processed food items. Choosing fruits, vegetables and fresh lean proteins are easy ways of consuming foods with lower sodium contents. Using fresh spices and herbs is another way to add flavor and zip to our meals without adding to our sodium intake. Check out this article on finding the herb/spice that’s right for you.
Calcium. Individual calcium needs range from 1000 mg to as much as 1500 mg per day. A common question is, “how much calcium am I consuming if it’s listed as a percentage on the food label?” Here is a little secret: add a ‘0’ to the percent value listed for calcium and that is how many milligrams the item contains. For example, one eight ounce serving of almond milk reads it has 45% of calcium; this means it contains 450 mg per eight ounce serving. Keep in mind that calcium is the only nutrient this trick applies to. When monitoring calcium intake, remember that your body only absorbs about 500 mg in one sitting. This is especially important for individuals who are taking calcium supplements and monitoring calcium intake.
“Sugar-free.” Become more aware of sugar-free products as this “health halo” tricks a lot of us. Many studies have found that when people perceive an item to be healthier, such as foods with low-fat or sugar-free on the label, we tend to consume larger portions of them. Using Calorie King, I compared Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups with Russell Stover Sugar-Free Peanut Butter Cups.
Peanut Butter Cups
2 pieces (1 pkg)
Peanut Butter Cups
One important message to take away from this is that sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate-free or calorie-free. If you are someone who is monitoring your carbohydrate intake, it’s important to always check the labels, whether an item is sugar-free or not.
Reading food labels is very important for monitoring your nutritional intake. Some of the best foods for us don’t even have a label: fruits, vegetables or fresh proteins. Try to do most of your grocery shopping around the perimeter of the store and limit purchases from the center aisles for improved nutrient quality of food choices.
Reading food labels can be very advantageous; you can find information on serving sizes, calories, amount of fat, calcium content and many other nutrients. However, if you’re like most people, reading food labels can become quite overwhelming. I’ve had a family friend tell me that she doesn’t read food labels because there is too much information on there. I began reading labels when I was in high school. Unfortunately, the only thing I looked at was the amount of fat
The truth about food labels.
and paid no attention to the rest of the information provided. Just like everyone else, I could have used a little help from a Label Reading 101 course.
Label Reading 101
“Reduced fat” and “fat-free”
Serving Size: The serving size of a product is located at the very top of the nutrition facts label. This is the foundation for all the nutrient information because all the numbers listed below are pertinent to that listed serving size.
I want to make a little side-note; serving size ≠ portion size. Serving size is the amount recommended on the food label; portion size is the amount you actually serve yourself. For example, not many people actually measure their cereal in the morning; rather we pour until we think we’ve got the “right amount” in our bowl. The serving size of most cereals is ¾ cup. As an experiment, pour the amount of cereal you normally have and then measure out your portion to see how closely your estimates are to the recommended serving size.
Calories: Calories is the first bolded item found on the label. The calorie amount shown is based on the listed serving size. Keep in mind some products may contain several servings per container. In this case, you may see two columns of information: one indicating the calories per serving, and one for the entire container. You will often see this format on candy, chip and beverage containers. “Calories from fat” is a little unnecessary. It’s more important (and, to be honest, much easier) to pay attention to total fat and its other components (saturated, trans and unsaturated fats) instead of monitoring “calories from fat.” Below is my explanation of this.
Fat: The total fat value is a sum of all the different types of fat in that product. Nutrients that are indented under a bolded item means that they are components of the total value. Saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat all make up the total fat value. Saturated fats and trans fats are the types of fats to consume less of in the diet. Try to find products with no more than three grams of saturated fat per serving and no amounts of trans fat.
Sometimes, we get turned away from a food item because the fat content is much higher than other products. For example, peanut butter has a fat content of 16 grams per two tbsp serving size and a four ounce serving of salmon has around 12 grams of fat. However, these total fat values are mainly composed of the healthy fats that we strive to get in our diets; mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This is why looking at “calories from fat” can be misleading. The value listed doesn’t indicate if those are calories from good fats or the unhealthy fats. An example of an unhealthy fat is Chili’s nachos on their appetizer menu; just four chips with all the toppings contain almost 30 grams of fat and over half of that is saturated fat (aka the kind of fat that is not kind to our waist lines).
Labels that say “reduced fat” or “fat-free”: Many people purchase these types of items like fat-free salad dressing or reduced-fat peanut butter because the label makes it sound like they are healthier options. Unfortunately, in many cases, they’re not. One solid piece of advice to remember is fat-free does not mean “calorie-free.” Often, the fat-free or reduced-fat options of foods have almost the same amount of calories as the regular version. Sometimes health halos accompany food labels with the words “fat free” on it. This means that people tend to consume larger portions of the food because they believe that it is healthier than the regular version. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience on this one.
Another important piece to remember is that fat flavors our food. When fat is taken out of product, it is often replaced by extra sodium and extra sugars which doesn’t necessarily make a healthier food product. Reduced-fat peanut butter has twice the amount of sodium in it compared to regular peanut butter. Fat is important in our diet; we especially need it to absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) which are often found in our non-starchy vegetables. This is why fat-free salad dressing is not the best choice to make. If you don’t have any fat in the meal, your body will have a hard time absorbing the vitamin K from your spinach or the vitamin A from the raw carrots in your salad. Stick to a vinaigrette; they spread easily and your portion sizes tend to be smaller.