Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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Not-So-Healthy “Health” Foods

January healthy eating habits are in full swing. Even grocery stores know that everyone is trying to eat healthier this time of year. Displays of protein powder, Special K products and high-fiber cereals are featured in the main walkways and aisle end-stands. While some of these products may look good on display, consider the entire picture before throwing these items into your shopping cart.

PB2 or Reduced Fat Peanut Butter. The alluring aspect of PB2 is that it supposedly provides the same flavor as peanut butter but without all the fat and calories. Anytime a food item has the word “reduced-fat” on it, most people generally assume that it is a healthier product. However, the fat found in nuts and seeds is the type of fat that we need in our diet. Studies support that mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, like those found in nuts, can help reduce the risk of heart disease and assist with weight management. peanut-butter-spoon

Fat-Free Salad Dressing. Oils found in salad dressings such as canola oil, soybean oil and olive oil are additional sources of healthy fats in the diet. In order to absorb the nutritious vitamins found in our salad vegetables (for example, Vitamin A in carrots or Vitamin K in spinach), one needs a source of fat to help the body properly absorb these essential nutrients. Fat-free salad dressings take out these healthy fats are replaced with “fillers” usually in the form of added sugars, sodium and other preservatives.

Whole Wheat Crackers. Crackers are many people’s favorite snack item and the words “made with whole grains” makes them that much more appealing to the health-conscious grocer shopper. Unfortunately, the phrase, “made with whole grains” does not make it a healthy whole grain food item. For example, Ritz Crackers Whole Wheat variety has unbleached enriched flour listed as its first ingredient. This is a fancy way of saying white flour is the main ingredient in the product. If 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain is not listed as the first ingredient, then it is not a whole grain food item.

Frozen Yogurt. Yogurt is often synonymous with health food. While frozen yogurt may have a little less fat and a little more calcium when compared to regular ice cream, calorie for calorie, there is no large, winning margin with choosing frozen yogurt. Your serving size should still be ½ cup, but many individuals take much more than this with the assumption that frozen yogurt is healthier and has less calories than ice cream.

Multi-Grain Bread. Watch out for catchy health phrases like “multi-grain” or “9-grain” if buying bread products. Unless the first ingredient is 100% whole grain, you simply have a product that was just made with “a variety of different grains” but doesn’t count as a whole grain food.

Premade Smoothies. Juicing really made a rebound in our American diets the past few years. While I am an advocate for blending fresh ingredients like carrots, beets, spinach, pineapple and ground flaxseed to make an antioxidant-rich beverage, commercially made juices and smoothies often have a hidden ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, added sugars and other chemicals. Keep in mind that “juicing” will not automatically make someone lose weight, but if it is home-made and minimally processed, it can provide an extra opportunity to increase one’s intake of fruits and vegetables.

Frozen “Diet” Entrees. From time to time, it is fine to have a frozen entrée for a meal. The downfall of these items is that they are often high in sodium (look for varieties that are < 600 mg/meal) and heavily based on starches (most are pasta or rice-based entrees). If you’re being health-conscious and selecting brands like Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice, these meals are replacing opportunities to consume fresh fruits and vegetables and minimally processed proteins.

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Gluten Free Breads/Desserts. There is no need to buy gluten-free breads or cookies unless you have Celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance. Going “gluten-free” is a popular diet trend for weight loss, but keep in mind that these products are no healthier than their regular counter-parts and often contain more calories due to the nature of the gluten-free ingredients and grains needed in their recipes. Instead, incorporate more foods that are naturally gluten-free such as fruits, vegetables and fresh meats.

 Photos Courtesy of savingmoneyinmissiouri.com and tastespotting.com


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Cholesterol Month – Part 3

heartexerciseThe final two factors of cholesterol: physical activity and weight.

Physical Activity

  • Daily physical activity helps reduce the risk of heart disease and can also help with weight management. It can help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and additionally boost your good cholesterol levels (HDL). Exercise helps speed up the rate that LDL molecules are sent back to the liver to be turned into bile salts or excreted. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, if not all days. Additional physical activity may be needed for weight loss/weight management. Any exercise is better than no exercise; however, research indicates that exercise performed at higher intensities may be more effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels and additionally raising the good HDL levels.
  • Find an activity that you love, or even several activities so you can vary up your routine. A combination of strength-training and cardio exercises has shown to be very beneficial for reducing risk factors for heart disease (weight loss, lowering blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels).
  • Exercise alone cannot guarantee one will not have high cholesterol. Diet and genetics also play very strong roles in determining one’s cholesterol levels. However, additional benefits observed from being physically active include bone strength, mood improvement, stress management and can decrease the risk of diabetes, cancer and stroke.  heartplate

Weight

  • Being overweight/obese is an additional risk factor for heart disease. Weight gain also tends to increase cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help decrease LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels and help increase HDL levels.
  • Losing just 5-10% of body weight can show improvements in cholesterol levels. Consuming 500 less calories every day can help you lose 1 pound per week. You can even combine this with exercise by consuming 250 less calories every day additionally to burning 250 calories from exercise. Easy ways to cut down on calories include:
    • Eliminating soda, sweet tea, juice or other sugary-sweetened beverages.
    • Using one slice of bread instead of two.
    • Limiting cheese consumption.
    • Avoid snacking while at the computer/watching TV.
    • Swap your potato chips or pretzels for carrots, bell pepper slices and celery sticks.
    • Choosing a side salad instead of a side of pasta or potatoes.

Sometimes, diet and lifestyle are not enough to lower your cholesterol levels to a safe range. Your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication. Always take these medications as prescribed. Additionally, consult with appleheartfruityour physician if you are considering taking an herbal supplement to decrease your cholesterol levels. In many cases, the safety of these supplements has not been proven since their dosage amounts are unregulated.

Click here to see parts 1 & 2 of this blog series.


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Cholesterol Month – Part 1

September is one of my favorite months. It marks the beginning of fall, campfires, football season and hoodies. It also happens to be National Cholesterol Education Month. Cholesterol was a word that I knew at an early age. Grandma was always yelling out across the farm, “Karl, did you take your cholesterol pills?” As a child, I believed that cholesterol was a problem that only old people had. Today, we now know this is not the case. Thanks to the Bogalusa Heart Study, http://tulane.edu/som/cardiohealth/  we have learned that children as young as 5 can begin developing risk factors for heart disease. This study and others like it show how important it is to adopt healthy lifestyles in childhood.

It’s important to know your numbers. Everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked at least every 5 years. This is an important matter because one does not feel symptoms of high cholesterol. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it begins to build up on the walls of your arteries. Over time, this build-up can lead to a hardening of the arterial walls which can slow down blood flow to the heart or even form a blockage. Lowering your cholesterol can help lessen the risk for developing heart disease.

cholesterol numbers

The three most important factors that you can control to help lower your cholesterol levels are: DIET, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY and WEIGHT.

Check back on Monday, Sept. 9 for part 2 of the Cholesterol Month Blog series where we discuss diet in regards to cholesterol management.


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When In Rome: The Mediterranean Diet

While skipping off to the coasts of Greece and Italy may seem like a fantastic idea, a less expensive option may be to bring the Mediterranean style of eating into your home. Research consistently shows that following the Mediterranean diet can help reduce one’s risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and possibly degenerative cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.med pyramid

Principles of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, chicken and eggs, beans and nuts, olive oil and small amounts of dairy.
  • Regular daily physical activity.
  • Family meal times.
  • Focus on plant foods and minimal consumption of red meat and processed foods and beverages.
  • Increased use of herbs and spices, not condiments to flavor foods.
  • Diet low in saturated fat with olive oil as the main fat source.

Foods to include on your next grocery list:

Vegetables

  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Red/green peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Mustard/collard greens
  • Squash
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Sweet potatoes

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pomegranate
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi

Fish/Poultry/Dairy

  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Tuna
  • Tilapia
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt

Beans

  • Chickpeas
  • Hummus
  • White, Black, Pinto Beans
  • Lentils

Nuts/Seeds

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Ground Flaxseed
  • Pine Nuts

Grains

  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur
  • Barley
  • Wild/Jasmine/Brown Rice
  • Couscous
  • Whole Wheat Pasta

Healthy Oils/Fats

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados

Herbs/Spices

  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Coriander
  • Cumin

While this is not an all-inclusive lists of foods found in the Mediterranean diet, it can be a great place to start.

What are the pros for following the Mediterranean diet?

  • Increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy fats containing omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce LDL (the bad) cholesterol levels, help prevent degenerative eye disorders and possibly reduce inflammation.
  • Increased fruit and vegetable consumption. Most people miss the mark for consuming 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Incorporating Mediterranean recipes into your meals can help you easily reach that goal.
  • Limited red meat consumption and dairy consumption. Red meat and high-fat dairy products are some of the highest sources of saturated fats. Diets high in saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Family meal times. Research shows that families who eat together consume more fiber, calcium, iron and Vitamins B6, B12, C and E and consume less sodium and added sugars. Children and adolescents who share family meal times are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier eating patterns.

The potential cons?

  • Meal planning. Most recipes require fresh ingredients that take to time to be chopped, cooked and prepared. However, planning ahead can help you utilize preparation and cooking time more efficiently.
  • Cost. Some items such as salmon, seafood and nuts can be more costly compared to other proteins.
  • Kid-friendliness. Consuming more natural flavors may take time to adjust to for young kids. Keep in mind that many children with unhealthy BMIs often consume too many processed food items and sugary-sweetened beverages.

Whether you take the Mediterranean diet on full-storm or simply incorporate a few Mediterranean-style meals into your week, consuming minimally processed foods is a great habit for a healthy lifestyle.


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Go Nutty

What is your favorite healthy food—the one you could eat every single day? Mine happens to be pistachios! Yes, those tiny green nuts in the humorous “Get Crackin’” commercials featuring celebrities like Brobee (from “Yo Gabba Gabba”), PSY, Charlie Brown and Lucy, and even the famous honey badger. I can usually find a 16 oz bag of pistachios on sale for $5.99 (regularly priced at $7.99), but, most of the time, I buy them in bulk since everyone in my household loves them.

Pistachios are known to be good for lowering the risk of heart disease. New research finds they can also increase antioxidant levels in the blood of adults with high cholesterol. (Credit: iStockphoto) - See more at: http://www.futurity.org/health-medicine/eating-pistachios-ups-antioxidant-levels/#sthash.W2L2w4Bk.dpuf

Pistachios are known to be good for lowering the risk of heart disease.  (Credit: iStockphoto)

Pistachios and other nuts make great snacks by themselves, or they can be added to yogurts and salads, crunched on top of proteins and cereal. Nuts are sources of fiber, magnesium, protein and healthy fats. Protein and fiber help increase satiety, keeping you feeling fuller longer. Walnuts are a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid source, giving people with fish allergies a great way to consume omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids are good for heart health and can help reduce inflammation. Research consistently shows that regular consumption of nuts (1 oz/day) can help reduce one’s risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and help control weight. Even the American Heart Association has certified almonds to display the “Heart-Check” mark for heart-healthy foods. One ounce of nuts (about ¼ cup) consists of 49 pistachios, 23 almonds, 14 walnuts or about 10 to 12 macadamia nuts.

Keep nuts handy in your gym bag, purse or car. They are an easy, convenient snack to have on-the-go, and the only preparation necessary is throwing a handful into a Ziploc bag. Need to snack on something crunchy? Grab a handful of nuts. Going on a long car ride to visit family? Pack a handful of nuts. In addition to a nutritionally dense diet and daily physical activity, consuming nuts can be part of a wholesome meal plan and healthy lifestyle.

Eat right, live well and go a little nutty!

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