Belt Busters: Watch Those Drinkable Calories

MP900440312The festive month of December has arrived.  Along with extra calories from holiday cookies, candy, and restaurant fare, there are those often shrugged off or unacknowledged extra calories that creep insidiously into our diets from common holiday beverages.  Those beverages do not even need to contain alcohol, but many are alcohol based.  Without being mindful of those drinkable calories while you are humming holiday carols, you might be singing the blues come January 1.   Anyone hoping to avoid moving out a notch on the belt come January would be wise to be mindful of the extra calories from holiday beverages.  The good news is that there are some festive drinks that will do less damage to your waistline.  Your secret weapon here is to watch the portion size of your holiday beverage and be mindful of the calories contributed to your daily intake. Taking it a step further by tracking all your calories (not just thinking about them), usually ends up really helping to keep the belt notch in one spot.

Here is a sampling of those calories:

  • 4 ounces of champagne- my favorite at only 65 calories a glass
  • 1 ounce brandy-65 calories!  Consider drinking on the rocks to give the illusion of a larger serving!
  • 12 ounces non-alcoholic beer-70 calories
  • 2 ounces Martini-120 calories
  • 5 ounces of wine (red or white)-120 calories
  • 12 ounces Light beer-varies from 50 -120 calories
  • 5 ounces Bloody Mary-125 calories
  • 2.5 ounces Cosmopolitan-130 calories
  • ½ cup low-fat eggnog-150 calories
  • 12 ounces Regular beer-150 calories
  • 10 ounces Irish coffee-160 calories
  • 2.5 ounces Chocolate martini-190 calories
  • 7 ounces Gin and tonic-190 calories
  • ½ cup regular eggnog-220 calories
  • 6.5 ounces Margarita-330 calories
  • 10 ounces Hurricane-380 calories
  • 6 ounces Amaretto Sour-420 calories

Just as when selecting food for a healthy diet, portion sizes matter!  Multiple servings of some of these high calorie beverages, coupled with typical high fat snack foods often served along with these drinks will most likely blow your calorie intake to the North pole.  There’s an old saying, “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” so enjoy your party beverages, but think about your choices as you enjoy the holiday spirit this month.  Doing so will make for a healthy and easier transition to 2016.

How Does Your Favorite Cereal Stack Up?

 

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Did you know cereal is a healthy nutrient dense carbohydrate? Selecting a good breakfast cereal means you will be providing complex carbohydrates to efficiently fuel your brain and body.  A good quality breakfast cereal should have fiber and not much sugar.  I like to see a breakfast cereal with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving.  Speaking of “serving”, how big is your portion? Most people actually do not mentally note the serving size on the Nutrition Facts Label and are rather shocked to find out, for instance, that a serving of Frosted Mini Wheats is just 21 pieces!   It’s ok to double your serving size, but this will be an issue if you are trying to control your calories along with other nutrients.

Thumbs Up to FiberFiber aids digestion, stabilizes blood glucose levels, aids in blood cholesterol reduction, and can offer a feeling of satiety to actually aid in weight reduction! That’s a lot of benefits from a bowlful of fiber rich cereal.

Thumbs Down to Sugar. Did you know that every 5 grams of sugar yields one teaspoon of sugar?  So, that fruity loop cereal your kids love which contains 15 grams of sugar contains 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving.  That assumes your serving size is what is noted on the box.  Pour a second bowl and you double your sugar consumption along with the calories.

Thumbs Down to Fat. A cereal is mostly complex carbohydrate and should not have much fat in it.  Some whole grain cereals will have a natural small amount of fat, but if the fat content per serving of the cereals gets too high (over 3 grams), then the assumption is fat has been added in production.  A classic example of a cereal with excessive fat per serving is Kellogg’s Crackling Oat Bran which contains 7 grams of fat per 3/4 cup serving.

Thumbs Up OR Down to Iron.  If you are a female of child bearing age, or a growing child, then enriched breakfast cereal is an excellent source of dietary iron. For everyone else, beware!  Males and older women do not need the large amount of iron in cereal.  Too much iron is constipating and also an issue if you have a common genetic condition called hereditary iron overload.  If you have been paying attention to the iron content of cereal, you know it is very difficult to find a cereal without iron.  In fact, many popular lower sugar and high fiber cereals are also loaded with iron. For instance Wheat Chex (6 grams fiber) contains over 14 grams of iron.  Cheerios contains 8 grams of iron. This is too much iron for men and older women who only need 8 mgs. per day and will be getting additional iron in the diet through other foods.

Cereals with less iron include:

  • Kashi cereals range from virtually no iron up to 2 mg depending on the variety selected
  • Puffins have less than 1 mg
  • Cooked oatmeal has less than 2 mg
  • Fiber One has 4.5 mg
  • Frosted Cheerios have 4.5 mg
  • Basic 4 has 4.5 mg
  • Flax Plus Multibran Flakes has less than 2 mg
  • All Cascadian Farm Organic cereals (my new “find”), have less than 2 mg iron

Enjoy your cereal for breakfast, snacks, and maybe even dinner, but make sure you choose one that is right for your health.

The Potential Hidden Danger in Your Cereal: Iron

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We all know iron is something we need to stay healthy and prevent anemia.  But did you know that too much dietary iron can hurt your health? When choosing a cereal, most people grab what tastes good.  If they are health conscious,  cereals low in calories and sugar and high in fiber might be selected.

One of the main problems with iron fortification in cereal is that the cereal is fortified for the part of the population that needs the most iron-namely women of childbearing age.  So, listen up adult males and older women: you, in particular, need to be mindful of the iron content of your favorite breakfast cereal.  When looking at a Nutrition Fact Label, note the percentage of DV iron. Looking at the above label, if a young female of child-bearing age has a 3/4 cup serving of Wheat Chex, she will be consuming 80% of her iron requirements (or about 14 grams of iron).  However, if an adult male or older woman eats 3/4 cup of the above cereal, he/she will be consuming almost double the iron recommendation of 8 grams of iron.  The fact that so much of our food supply is fortified with iron increases the risk that this hefty load of iron in a single serving of breakfast cereal could be problematic.

What exactly is the problem with eating too much iron?  Research has suggested the following:

Accelerated aging process?  Researchers recently pointed this out in worms, and will likely try to evaluate if this applies to humans;  in the interim, we already know that iron causes oxidative stress, which as far as the human body is concerned, is a negative event!  Oxidative stress in humans is thought to be involved in the development of many diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Constipation.  Aside from being unpleasant, this is not healthy for your body.   Any toxins or food pathogens present in your food will linger in your gastrointestinal tract, and potentially threaten your overall health. There is also scientific evidence that constipation can be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

Healthy people make a hormone, hepcidin, which swings into action to prevent too much iron from being absorbed. However, in a now common genetic condition called iron overload (or technically Hemochromatosis), the body is unable to put the brakes on iron absorption and iron begins to build up in the tissues. Early symptoms are varied and include fatigue, abdominal pain, and increased infections.  Later symptoms include liver failure and heart failure, and bone damage, and diabetes.

For those as yet undiagnosed people who are at particular risk from too much dietary iron, the iron content of generous servings of cereal are particularly troublesome.  For the rest of the males and older women, reading the nutrition fact label can help you keep your iron intake where it belongs-which is significantly less than noted on the label of most cereals on today’s supermarket shelves.

Have a favorite breakfast cereal which is low in iron? Please share for the next updated blog on which are the best low iron cereal options on the market.

 

 

February’s Favorite Food: Chocolate

Valentine’s Day is here and so are those tempting chocolates. They arrive from a friend, a child, your co-worker, or spouse and they call for you, no make that shout for you!  Should you feel guilty eating some chocolate?  Absolutely not, but the operative word in the previous statement is some.

Most of us have heard there are health benefits to chocolate.  Indeed, chocolate is highly ranked on the food chain as being very beneficial as an anti-oxidant rich food. Without getting too technical, anti-oxidants are wonderful for health because they help fight something called free radicals which cause damage to our bodies.  This damage to our bodies translates as disease and aging!

The health enhancing compounds in chocolate and cocoa are from a group of compounds called flavonoids.  Flavonoids are also found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and even spices.

Of course, not all chocolate is created equally when it comes to health benefits. On Valentine’s Day, enjoy a piece or two of your favorite chocolate candy. But to enjoy the health benefits of chocolate all year, consider the following:

  • Move your focus to chocolate products that are not heavily processed. The processing of chocolate degrades the flavonoid content, rendering it less therapeutic in fighting diseases.
  •  Avoid cocoa products which note Dutch processing, which allows for the destruction of flavonoids by treating it with an alkali to tame the natural pungent taste of cocoa.
  • Add chocolate products to your diet that are lower in sugar and fat.  Most of us do not have a dietary need for more fat and sugar in our diets!  The fats in chocolate are not considered uniformally “bad”, but the calories from fat in chocolate remain a nutritional concern for many people.
  • We always hear that dark chocolate is better for us than milk chocolate, but it depends on how the dark chocolate was processed.  Reading the dark chocolate product label prior to purchase may be helpful in choosing a minimally processed chocolate, and therefore, healthier chocolate.

For the other 364 days of the year, a few 1 oz. servings of unprocessed chocolate per week is a great eating strategy if you need a chocolate fix.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Homemade Chicken Soup: Oh So Good and Good For You!

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Homemade chicken soup made in my favorite Cuisinart electric pressure cooker

It seems as though sinus infections, the stomach flu, bronchitis, and muscle aches are making the rounds in my large family and we don’t even live in the same house! I finally found both the energy and time to take out my favorite cooking equipment, my pressure cooker, to make some virus fighting fuel.  We have all heard that even canned chicken noodle soup can help fight a cold, but I was eager and ready to taste the rich flavorful type of chicken noodle soup I could make with my electric pressure cooker. At this point, I decided I would enhance the rich flavor by making the chicken stock base in my pressure cooker rather than using low sodium chicken broth.

Pressure Cooker Homemade Chicken Stock Ingredients

  • 2 pounds of chicken wings
  • small onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 parsley sprigs
  • 2 quarts water

Cook all ingredients on high pressure for 40 minutes. Use a natural release to continue extracting the flavors.  Strain the stock. Cool the stock in order to skim the fat off.  If time is short and you need to use the chicken stock before it is completely cool, use a chilled lettuce leaf to help skim the fat off the stock.  The chilled leaf will actually attract the fat in the broth to allow for removal.

On to the Chicken Soup….

  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 pound of skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper, to taste
  • 6 cups of your homemade chicken stock recipe or 6 cups low sodium packaged chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 cup egg noodles (may substitute rice or orzo)

Saute the celery, onion, and carrots in the tablespoon of oil for a few minutes.   Add the chicken breasts, thyme, salt, pepper, and stock or broth.  Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes; when done release the pressure quickly.  Add in the chopped parsley and then cook the egg noodles or other pasta or rice in the hot soup.

In addition to being a “comfort” food, chicken soup will fight inflammation, thin your mucous, and hydrate you which will all hopefully fight whatever ails you!

Do you have a favorite chicken soup recipe?  Interested in more soup recipes?

 

 

 

“Turkey Day” Food: Slimming Strategies for Favorite Foods!

Turkey DinnerThe big turkey day is upon us in a few weeks, so many cooks are already planning their menus for Thanksgiving.  Across the country, people will eat dinner with family and friends in homes and restaurants.  Many of my clients feel it is difficult to focus on health and wellness at this time of the year.  For Thanksgiving gatherings, I tell my clients it is “just one day” of dining.  If you exercise control over the aftermath of the meal, then it should be viewed as a meal enjoyed with those that matter in your life, a time to be thankful, and a time to reflect.  Controlling the “aftermath” means that you get rid of the leftovers that may sabotage your healthy eating plans or plan appropriately to avoid having leftovers in the first place!  With that stated, I think we can also think about the traditional Thanksgiving meal as having the potential to be a meal that can even offer health benefits to your diet.  Here is a sampling of traditional Thanksgiving foods and the potential impact on your health:

Pumpkin.  Pumpkin is loaded with beta-carotene which is the plant derived form of vitamin A.  Consider offering your guests a slimmed down crustless pumpkin pie option in addition to traditional desserts.

Sweet potatoes.  This is another beta-carotene superstar.  Keep the calories in tow by limiting the brown sugar, butter, and marshmallows used in traditional recipes.

Mashed potatoes. Potatoes are loaded with potassium!  Slim down your recipe by limiting the butter used in your recipe.  Consider using skim milk, low sodium chicken broth, or fat-free sour cream in your recipe to slash the fat and calories.

Cranberries.  This traditional side dish is loaded with cancer fighting plant chemicals, vitamin C, and fiber.  No need to limit its use to cranberry bread and sauce-consider using it in a fruit compote instead.

Turkey.  Turkey is full of lean protein.  Watch your serving sizes and the gravy added to your plate, and consider this a healthy meat option for your Thanksgiving gathering.  Roast your turkey without the stuffing inside, baking it in a separate casserole dish.  This keeps your stuffing lower in calories as well.

Watch your servings sizes for all your foods and leftovers, and enjoy the day and the health benefits of traditional Turkey day fare.  Top your meal with a nice family walk, and you will be slim and ready for the next round of holidays in December!

 Do you have any healthy Thanksgiving recipes to share?

Fish Oil: Good For Furry Friends Too!

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My rescued Golden enjoying the summer shade a few years ago

As a practicing dietitian/nutritionist, I recommend fish oil to my patients all the time.  While my credentials and experience let me call myself an “expert” in human nutrition, I would never make the same claim for animal nutrition.  Animals are not humans, and while some aspects of human nutrition can and do cross-over to recommendations for our pets, I do not pretend to have the expertise in animal nutrition to know which principles of human nutrition would apply equally to our beloved furry friends.  Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3-fatty acids, which in humans, are documented as having the following general health benefits:

  • Lowers blood triglycerides, decreasing cardiovascular disease risk
  • Fights inflammation, a cause of pain and disease
  • Seems therapeutic for certain skin disorders such as psoriasis and eczema, and just plain old dry skin

I have a very dear Golden Retriever that was rescued from a shelter at the age of one.  She is now a senior canine.  A recent trip to the vet along with a xray of her back showed osteoarthritis and disc degeneration.  The standard Rimadyl was started (an analgesic and anti-inflammatory) along with Dasuquin for joint support. While my options for therapy seemed limited, a vet tech at the office made a comment to me about fish oil.  He said human fish oil supplements were good for dogs, and the dosage would be the same as for humans.

Sounding like a benign and economical option, I did some reasearch.  Digging a bit into the literature, it seems fish oil supplementation for dogs is a very common practice.  As a practicing dietitian, I frequently run into incorrect supplement dosage recommendations made for people, and often those dosage recommendations are made by physicians.  For supplements to be therapeutic for humans, dosing does matter.  Too much of a supplement may foster a toxic situation or promote interference of other important nutrients essential to health.  Too little, and there may be no clinical impact.  So a bit of digging lent me insight into the dosing for dogs.  To figure out how much fish oil to give your dog, take your dog’s weight in pounds and multiply by 20.  So, if your dog weighs 75 pounds, the dosage of fish oil would be 1500 mg.

No special doggie fish oil is necessary.  Human fish oil supplements are fine.  Many pills are on the larger side, so you may pierce the pill and put on food.  Or, if your dog is like my dog, she will eat anything in a piece of bread.  Nature Made brand Fish Oil “pearls” are on the smaller side and 500 mg per pill.  This smaller size and dosage pill makes dosing and administration of fish oil easy!

I am hoping with this process to cut Mollie’s dander and ease her joint pain while also decreasing or eliminating her prescription medication.  For your beloved pet, please check with your vet before self-prescribing the fish oil because there may be health issues that need to be discussed first.

Making Weight Loss a Reality: 5 Surefire Simple Steps

Woman Stepping onto ScalePerhaps you started off the year with the best intentions, like most people.  You were going to hit the gym and lose twenty pounds by March.  Then the wind, snow, and winter doldrums came, and have not gone away.  Your best intentions for weight loss fizzled out as you became tired of it all, again (both the snow and the lost commitment).

It happens! But, this can be the beginning of the end of your weight loss hassles as long as you follow some historically successful suggestions.  Consider the following:

  • Know your “magic” number.  You need to eat fewer calories than your body needs in order to burn body fat, which is the objective in weight loss.  You do not want to lose water or muscle mass, you want to lose body fat.  If you take your current weight, and multiply by 10, this will be a good gauge of the amount of calories you should consume to cause weight loss.  So, if you weigh 135 and you wish to lose weight, multiply 135 by 10, and your good starting point is 1350 calories.  If you have a complicated workout schedule or need very specific guidance due to diseases such as diabetes, PCOS, and chronic fatigue syndrome, consider consulting with a dietitian to find the best calorie prescription for your circumstances.
  • Track your food.  It truly works!  If you know your magic number, but have no idea how much you are eating, you will stay fat.  My favorite tracking tool is MyFitnessPal because it is a very user-friendly app and makes tracking food a snap.  You can literally snap a picture of a bar code on a food item and the nutrition information will go to the data base.  Because everyone is on the go, using this app for food tracking eliminates the need to park yourself at the computer.  If you track your food as you move through your day, it will also be much more accurate!
  • Eat only foods you can really track.  If this means you avoid a restaurant because you do not have the nutrition information, so be it.  You want to be accurate with your food tracking, so make it a policy to eat only what you can intelligently measure in terms of calories.  MyFitnessPal has a large nutritional data base, but you won’t be able to accurately document your chicken parmesan from your favorite local Italian restaurant.  You will be guessing on the calories, and this is to be avoided.
  • Get a good digital scale.  Ok, you hate weighing your food, I know.  But the reality check here is that you don’t need to do it often.  For instance, I started tracking my food today, and weighed my portion of peanuts.  The label stated that 1 oz. of peanuts was 160 calories.  I knew I was not going to eat that many of my calories as peanuts, so I weighed out 1/4 oz.  I counted the peanuts as roughly 15, so now I know what a reasonable portion is for me.  Another point, leave the scale on the counter to remind you to use it!
  • Moving around helps.  Yes, exercise is great, but if you cannot exercise, that is not an excuse for not losing weight.  Exercise aids weight loss both in the short and long-term, but you can so undermine your gym time by not paying attention to what you put into your mouth.

No one ever said it was easy to lose weight.  Like anything important, it takes some effort and concentration.  With that stated, I believe anyone can lose weight, you simply need the right tools and commitment.

 

To Supplement or Not: 5 Facts To Factor

supplements from a bottleNews coverage over the last few days seems to be revolving around the weather, the holidays, Obamacare, and of all things nutritional supplements!  While I can’t comment about most of this current list of media topics, I do have a few words to say on the topic of supplements!  If you listen to the media hype over the last few days, there are some recurring  statements from the so-called experts being interviewed.  Some “experts” note most of our nutrients should come from food, come from “natural” whole foods put into pill form, or just be avoided altogether.  The truth and correct answers are most likely somewhere in between the primarily black and white general statements made by these so-called experts. Sadly, despite this topic of supplements airing over many news stations for the last few days, not one “expert” ever suggested that each person should be evaluated on a case by case basis in order to really assess the need and benefits from supplements. To determine if supplements are right for you, consider these tips:

  • Supplements are meant to fill in for dietary shortfallsIf you eat a healthy diet (include dairy or source of calcium, fish, plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains), there is a fairly good chance you can skip taking pills!  If you are lactose intolerant, hate dairy products, don’t eat any foods containing omega-3 fatty acids, or you are vegan, then you may benefit from a supplement.  Consulting a licensed/registered dietitian can help you sort out what you may or may not need to be doing regarding supplements.
  • Supplements are of benefit to your health if you have a documented deficiency of a nutrient!  Wondering if you should really be taking vitamin D supplements?  You should have a blood test to determine if you need to be taking a supplement.  Once blood work is done on my clients, most have turned out to be deficient.  Once a deficiency of any nutrient is determined, it is easy enough to replete the diet through both food and supplements (or sunshine in the case of vitamin D).
  • Be aware of upper limits of safety!  More is definitely not better for you in most cases.  In fact, many people who take multiple supplements forget that they may be doubling or tripling their intake of a given nutrient because it is in several of their supplement formulas.  Beyond a certain limit, it can be dangerous to take the nutrient. Some nutrients can even be toxic if taken in excess.  Your favorite dietitian can be your best resource for this information!
  • Food is your best source of nutrients.  Nature has an uncanny way of packaging foods and one food is loaded with many nutrients that actually work together to maximize your nutritional status.  With that stated, those people who eat a lot of processed foods and a limited diet may indeed benefit from specific supplements.  An evaluation of your diet and eating habits is the best way to move forward with accurate supplement recommendations.
  • Did you know there is no regulation of supplements?  If a supplement has been implicated in causing harm, it will be pulled from the shelves, but until then it is buyer beware!  With that stated, the savvy consumer choosing to take supplements should consider well-know brands that have a reputation to protect.  Using lesser known brands may result in less quality control.  Over the decades, some supplements have been known to be tainted with arsenic and lead.  Choosing a name brand product can potentially protect you!

Not all supplements are good or bad for that matter.  Not all people need supplements, and many people do!  Consulting with a professional who is educated on this topic and takes the time to evaluate your diet prior to making recommendations will be time well spent in improving both your health and nutritional status!

The Fat in Your Blood Your Doctor Doesn’t Talk About, but Your Dietitian Will!

Blood SampleAccording to a recent airing of the Dr. Oz show, triglyceride levels are the orphan fat that is not readily discussed during your doctor’s appointment. If your triglyceride value is elevated, your blood is thick like motor oil, which can contribute to deadly plaque formation and heart disease.  If you are in need of taming your triglycerides, here are some simple and effective steps:

  • Limit Alcohol— For some people, cutting out alcohol can elicit a marked decrease in their triglyceride levels.  While you may like it if your doctor tells you red wine is good for you, your dietitian knows alcohol can increase your triglyceride levels and I tell patients to eat grapes instead.
  • Choose Fats Wisely— Replace butter with equivalent amounts of olive oil, but don’t forget to swap the fats for each other. Simply adding olive oil to your diet on top of your usual butter intake will not assist you in improving your cholesterol or triglyceride numbers!
  • Cut Down on Simple Carbs—Carbohydrates are basically divided into two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbohydrates tend to be sweet, such as soft drinks, desserts, candies, and syrup. Complex carbohydrates are found in bread, pasta, rice, fruits, and vegetables.  It is generally recommended that people with high triglycerides avoid simple carbohydrates. Some people are so sensitive to sweets that their triglyceride levels increase drastically when they eat too much sugar. In any healthful diet, complex carbohydrates should be in the 45-65% of overall calorie intake, but even too much high-fiber, nutrient-dense complex carbohydrates can aggravate triglyceride levels when eaten in amounts exceeding 60% of total calorie intake.
  • Eat More omega-3 fatty acids— Omega-3 fatty acids are found in most fish, but are more abundant in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and herring.  Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include tofu, soybeans, flaxseed, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
  • Increase Physical Activity—Aerobic exercise can help with weight loss and can decrease triglyceride levels at the same time. In fact, both short bouts of aerobic exercise as well as long-term repetitive exercise have been shown to decrease triglyceride levels. Most studies find that the best bet is to do 30-45 minutes of moderately intensive exercise five times a week. First, get your doctor’s approval if you’re not accustomed to exercise.
  • Maintain or Get to a Healthy Weight—Studies have shown losing weight and maintaining an ideal weight to be associated with decreased levels of blood fats-including both triglycerides and cholesterol.

Do you have a success story about how you lowered your triglyceride numbers?