Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


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I’m Coo-Coo for Coconut Oil!

 

imgresIsn’t it funny how you remember certain taglines for cereals, toys or even soap brands? The original line is the slogan for cocoa puffs cereal, “I’m cuckoo for cocoa puffs”. Just like Sonny the Cuckoo bird was obsessed with his sugar-sweetened cereal, I have found a new obsession…coconut oil.

For years, coconut oil has received a bad reputation in health, due to its high fat content, specifically its saturated fat content. Saturated fats are believed to be one of the contributing factors of heart disease; however, these studies typically are observing saturated fats from a multitude of different sources and typically as parts of unhealthy diet plans. One key difference here is that the saturated fat from a coconut is derived from a plant source. These fats are mostly composed of medium-chain fats known as MCTs (medium-chain triglycerides) vs. other sources of saturated fats are derived from long-chain fatty acids.  MCTs are more easily digested and metabolized and also appear to be used more so for energy rather than fat storage.

Another important fact about coconut oil is that 50% of its fat is composed of lauric acid. Lauric acid has been studied for its benefits as an antiviral and antimicrobial agent. In the body, lauric acid works to help boost one’s immunity. Coconut oil is also documented as an antioxidant source.

Tips on Using Coconut Oil:

  •          It’s solid! Well, at room temperature, that is. Coconut oil will liquefy once heated to 76oF.
  •          Try to find an organic, unrefined, extra-virgin coconut oil when making your first purchase. Most grocery stores carry a few varieties to select.
  •          It’s great for high temperature cooking (high smoke point of 450oF). Use it for baking, roasting, sautéing!
  •          Remember saturated fat from coconut oil is far different from the saturated fat found in your Big Mac and fries.
  •          Be mindful of portion sizes. Even though coconut oil is raised up for all of its health benefits, one should still practice good portion control when consuming coconut oil and using it in recipes.
  •          While I have only been using coconut oil for cooking purposes, other sources suggest that it can be used for a multitude of uses such as a skin moisturizer, eye make-up remover or even as a dental health promoter.
  •          Try to avoid partially hydrogenated forms of coconut oil that can be commonly found in cereals, baked goods, biscuits and salty snack foods.
  •          Adding coconut oil into your diet will not magically make you 100% healthier. A healthy diet is based on whole, unprocessed foods and balanced in calories.


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Drive-Thru Dinners- What’s the Best Option?

We are Americans. We love baseball, 4th of July, Black Friday deals, reality TV shows and eating out. In fact, we love eating out so much, 48% of the money we spend on food is spent on food consumed away from the home. Family meal times have been transformed from the dining table to inside the minivan.

chart

http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R40545.pdf

Eating out every once in a while is perfectly normal. However, when this practice becomes habitual, it can have serious health consequences. In general, meals consumed away from the home are lower in many nutrients including dietary fiber, potassium and calcium to name a few. These valuable nutrients are often replaced by meals loaded with saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. Luckily for us, fast food restaurants are slowly meeting the demands of consumers by increasing the variety of healthier menu options and creating dishes with fresh ingredients. If you are looking for healthier menu items, try following these simple guidelines.

  • Winning the war on saturated fat and sodium. It’s very difficult to find menu items that are both low in saturated fat and sodium, but you can at least find options that are lower in fat content. The easiest way to accomplish this is by not ordering anything fried. Here are some quick, easy swaps to decrease the amount of fat in your next drive-thru purchase:
Healthier Items Less Healthier Items
Grilled Chicken Sandwich Crispy Deluxe Chicken Sandwich
Soft Shell Chicken Tacos (fresca style) Hard Shell Beef Tacos
Roast Beef Sandwich BBQ Rib-eye Sandwich
Eggs/Ham on English Muffin Eggs/Bacon on Biscuit/Croissant
Single Hamburger 6 Piece Chicken Nuggets
Turkey Sub with all the Veggie Fixings Meatball Sub
Greek Salad with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad with Crispy Chicken

 

  • Steer clear from chicken nuggets. For real, turn around and run away as fast as you can. A 6 piece chicken nugget meal contains 281 calories and 18 grams of fat. While 281 calories seems pretty reasonable, it’s the amount of fat that makes this selection a bad choice. After crunching the numbers, we learn that 58% of this 6 piece meal is made from fat. Doesn’t that sound strange to you? After all, chicken is considered one of the leanest and most common sources of protein in our diets. The reason for this disproportion of fat and protein falls back on the way chicken nuggets are made.
  • Try to forgo the cheese. Adding cheese to a sandwich or on a salad increases the amount of saturated fat, sodium and calories in your meal. Just one slice of American cheese adds over 100 calories and almost 9 grams of fat to a sandwich. If you absolutely cannot go without adding cheese, then try to stick to lighter varieties such as natural Swiss or Mozzarella.
  • Go with calorie-free beverages.  Sticking with water or a diet-beverage can help save you hundreds of calories and limit your intake of added sugars. Tea naturally sounds healthier than soda, but unfortunately, sweet tea packs in a whopping amount of its own calories and added sugars. Try to avoid sports drinks too. These extra calories and electrolytes are completely unnecessary outside of a sport or competition.


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It’s Fair Time!

SONY DSCThe FAIR-quite possibly the quintessential summertime event. It’s a place where first dates occur, magical memories are created and you can find clowns, magicians, rides, music and…every deep-fried and sugar-coated food imaginable! My fair food diet vice came in three short words. Tom. Thumb. Donuts. To be perfectly honest, I have probably consumed thousands of calories over the years from these sugary-sweetened mini treats. Fair food is notorious for being laden with fat, sugar and calories and we can’t seem to get enough of it! There’s just something exciting about eating food on a stick, deep fried in fat or doused in powdered sugar. Having the occasional indulgence is perfectly normal; however, eating fair food every day of the week might leave you with a few surprises when you step on the scale Monday morning.

Every year, there is a new and improved fried concoction that hits the fair grounds. First there was the fried Twinkie and then came the fried Oreo and fried Klondike bar. While curiosity may lead you to these fried wonders, remember that other popular fair foods are also fried such as the jumbo corndog, fries, elephant ears and funnel cakes. Fried foods are very high in saturated and trans fats.

The American Heart Association http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp recommends consuming less than 15 grams of saturated fat per day and no more than 2 grams of trans fat per day. Following a heart healthy diet is important for everyone, but these guidelines should be strictly applied by persons with heart disease and diabetes. Saturated and trans fats are the types of fats we strive to limit in our diets because they have been found to raise triglyceride and bad cholesterol levels.

Did you know a jumbo corndog and 2 fried Oreos contain a whopping 26 grams of saturated fat and 5 grams of trans fat.  That’s more than two days of fat consumption in one snack!

If you’re trying to be somewhat diet-conscience with your fair food choices, there are healthier options available. Grilled meats will contain less trans fat than fried ones. You can almost always find a pork chop sandwich vendor and my personal favorite is the BBQ stand for a pulled pork, chicken or turkey. You can even sneak in a serving of vegetables by adding lettuce, tomato and onion to your sandwich.  Vegetable kabobs or fire-roasted corn on the cob also make healthier choices. Fairs can be an excellent opportunity to walk around and get extra physical activity.

Am I telling you to never eat fair food again? No; that would be completely unrealistic and darn right hypocritical of me. Fairs only come around once a year and the occasional indulgence is perfectly fine. What I do want to highlight is the fact that we sometimes lose touch with what moderation actually means. For many people, healthy eating behaviors are thrown out the window come 5:00 on Friday and don’t get picked back up until Monday morning. If your weekends are already filled with high-fat, high-calorie foods from appetizers, pizza, horseshoes, burgers and fries, then it may be a good idea to lean towards the lighter options served out at the fair. For people who generally eat healthy (lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, portion control of carbohydrates) all summer long, having a corndog and lemon shake-up won’t kill the diet.

 

 


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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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Label Reading 101

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.

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

Today’s Lesson:

  • Serving size
  • Calories
  • Fat
  • “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.

Next week’s lesson:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • “Sugar-free”
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