Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Smoothies–Summer Friend or Foe?

Peach Melba Smoothies for Two. (Gluten-Free) from Springfield Clinic's health library.

Peach Melba Smoothies for Two. (Gluten-Free) from Springfield Clinic’s health library.

With the craze of juicing, blending and vitamix-ing, what could possibly sound better than a fruit smoothie on a hot summer day? Consumer research shows that even though a large percentage of meals are consumed away from the home, fast food diners desire healthier menu options. In efforts to keep up with the trends, many fast food chains now offer smoothies. With buzz words like “pomegranate” and “low-fat” circulating through ads, a fruit smoothie has got to be a healthy choice, right? In fact, a smoothie just naturally sounds healthy. One important piece of information to remember is that a homemade smoothie is very different from one prepared for you at a fast food restaurant.

McDonald’s fruit smoothies have been marketed as fresh, low-fat and a refreshing way to quench one’s thirst. According to their website, the strawberry-banana smoothie is made with a strawberry-banana fruit base, low-fat yogurt and ice. A small, 12 ounce serving contains 210 calories, 3 grams of protein and 0.5 grams of fat. At first, this looks like a great option; however, this fruit drink also packs in 44 grams of sugar. To put things into perspective, one 12 oz can of Pepsi contains 26 grams of sugar. What I find curious with these numbers is the lack of protein found in the smoothie, considering low-fat yogurt is one of the main ingredients.

A 16 ounce blue raspberry and cherry Coolata from Dunkin’ Donuts contains 240 calories, no protein or fat, but nearly 61 grams of sugar. Feeling lucky with Burger King? Their small 12 ounce tropical

Blueberry Banana Smoothie (Gluten-Free) from Springfield Clinic's health library.

Blueberry Banana Smoothie (Gluten-Free) from Springfield Clinic’s health library.

mango smoothie packs in 270 calories and 51 grams of sugar. Starbucks’ 16 ounce orange-mango smoothie comes in with 260 calories and 37 grams of sugar. However, unlike other fruit smoothies, this one packs in 16 grams of protein (mainly from the skim milk added to the smoothie).

Are these smoothies worth your money and calories? My vote leans toward no. It may be tempting to go with the larger size because of the better value, but your best bet is to stick with the smallest options available. Look for smoothies that are made with skim milk or non-fat yogurt for the additional bonus of nutrients from protein, calcium and vitamin D.

Smoothies can be a great way to incorporate nutrients into a healthy snack or meal. If you’ve got picky eaters in your household, smoothies are also a convenient way for sneaking in super foods like spinach and ground flaxseed.

How to Make a Smoothie:

Step 1: Start with fresh/frozen fruit. Popular choices include blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, peaches, bananas, mangoes, kiwi and pomegranates. Fruits with a high water content such as watermelon, oranges and pineapple may also be used, but this may cause your smoothie to be more liquid in consistency.

Step 2: Add your liquid/base. This is an excellent opportunity to include a calcium and vitamin D source into these treats. Try milk or low-fat yogurt. If you are lactose intolerant, almond, coconut or soy milk may be used in their place. Yogurts, especially Greek, will result in a thicker smoothie. Try frozen Greek yogurt as a fun replacement.

Step 3: Add your sneaky extras. Adding one tablespoon of ground flaxseed will give your smoothie an antioxidant, omega-3 one-two punch. Extra protein may be added from peanut butter or whey powder. Greens like kale and spinach also blend very well in smoothies and do not offset taste.

If you need additional sweetness added to your smoothies, try natural sweeteners first like ripe bananas, honey, agave nectar, cinnamon or vanilla extract.

Step 4: Add ice and blend away!

Here are two kid-friendly smoothie recipes that will satisfy any hot summer day:


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High-Fiving Fiber

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

Broccoli and Walnut Salad

  • Kidney beans
  • Oatmeal
  • Orange
  • Oat bran
  • Broccoli
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Apple
  • Banana

Other sources of fiber:

  • Blueberries/raspberries/blackberries
  • All beans/legume varieties
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Artichokes
  • Almonds
  • Shredded wheat cereal
  • Pears
  • Prunes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Whole wheat bread/pasta

Assorted fruitIn 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.


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Let’s Get the Flax Facts!

When hearing the word omega-3 fatty acids, most people think of salmon, or maybe walnuts. Today, I wanted to introduce you to another heart-healthy food that contains omega-3 fatty acids—flaxseed. I know what you’re thinking: what is flaxseed, and how do I eat it?

Flaxseed is one of many nutritional powerhouse foods, meaning it is full of healthy nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, protein and omega-3 fatty acids (specifically alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). ALA is a polyunsaturated fat that is needed in our diets. Replacing bad fats (saturated and trans-fats) with the good fats (mono- and poly-unsaturated fats) can help lower the risk for chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer, as well as lower the LDL (bad) cholesterol. Flax is a source of lignans which are antioxidants that may reduce the activity of cell-damaging free radicals. One tablespoon of milled flax contains about 3 grams of fiber (both soluble and insoluble). Fiber from flax can help one feel fuller longer, help reduce cholesterol and improve colon and digestive health. Flax is also a great source of nutrients for vegetarians and a great way to obtain omega-3 fatty acids for people with fish allergies.

You can find flaxseed at your local grocery store. I have found it in the cereal aisle, next to the oatmeal or in the gluten-free section. Remember to refrigerate the flaxseed once opened.  Aim for an intake of 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed per day. The best way to buy it is “milled”. We cannot absorb all the healthy nutrients flax has to offer unless it’s in the ground/milled form. You can grind whole flax seeds on your own using a coffee grinder, food processor or blender.

Here are some ideas for adding flax into your diet. Consuming it with other foods adds a light nutty flavor to your dishes:

  • Mix flax in with your yogurt
  • Add it to breakfast cereal or oatmeal
  • Mix in with fruit smoothies
  • Sprinkle into soups/stews/sauces

Try these other flax-friendly recipes!

For kids:

  • Add to applesauce
  • Sprinkle a thin layer between peanut butter and jelly sandwiches
  • Add to beans/chili after cooking
  • Mix in with mashed potatoes (or mashed cauliflower) after cooking

How do you add flax into your diet?

For more ideas, recipes and information about flax please visit: www.healthyflax.com.

Eat right, move more and live life to the flax!

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