Is Your Diet in Need of a Potassium Make-Over?

As both a dietitian counseling private patients and a college level nutrition course instructor, I have become concerned that both my patients and students consistently have difficulty consuming enough dietary potassium.  Given that the daily dietary recommendation for North Americans is 4700 mg., it’s not that surprising that people fall short of meeting their potassium requirements.  Although many health care providers think it is an easy process to eat this much potassium on a daily basis, Americans eat too few servings of unprocessed foods which leads to this problem.  Additionally, as chronic dieters edit out calories to lose weight, they may also be editing out potassium rich foods in the process.  With that stated,  consuming enough potassium does not have to be as difficult as one would think.  The key is knowing the best food sources of potassium, and making sure these foods are consumed on a regular basis.

Why is potassium so important for our health and well-being? Potassium is necessary for healthy nerve and heart function.  Evidence also suggests that diets low in sodium and ample in potassium seem to prevent or correct some types of high blood pressure and lessen the likelihood of stroke.

With these health benefits in mind, it is crucial to know how we can increase our dietary intake of potassium.  Potassium comes mainly from unprocessed foods, like fruit and vegetables- something that all Americans need to incorporate more regularly in their diets.  Consider the following options when specifically trying to target your levels of potassium intake:

  • 1/2  cup baked beans have 285 mg.
  • 1/2 cup navy beans have 376 mg.
  • 1/2 cup lima beans have 476 mg.
  • 1/2 cup soybeans have 476 mg.
  • 1 cup cooked spinach has 466 mg.
  • 1 small can low sodium V-8 juice has 700 mg.
  • 6 prunes have about 290 mg.
  • 1 cup orange juice has about 500 mg.
  • 11.2 fluid ounce box Naked brand coconut water, about 530 mg.
  • 1 cup of skim milk has about 400 mg.
  • 1 banana has 420 mg.
  • 1/2 cup uncooked oatmeal has about 335 mg.
  • 3 oz. salmon has about 380 mg.
  • 3 oz. chicken or beef has about 290 mg.
  • 1/2 cup cooked carrots has about 185 mg.
  • 1 cup of honeydew melon has about 400 mg.
  • 1 cup cantaloupe has about 417 mg.
  • 1/3 avocado has about 360 mg.
  • 6-oz. baked potato has about 850 mg.
  • 1/2 cup sweet potato has about 400 mg.
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries have about 250 mg.
  • 1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice has about 200 mg.

The beauty of this list? These potassium rich fruits and vegetables are also the foods with high levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants, and the foods least likely to add pounds to your waistline! Yet one more reason to make sure you get five or more servings of fruits and veggies per day. Bon appetit!

This Dietitian’s “Do’s and Dont’s”

There are many misperceptions surrounding what a dietitian can do to help you in life. The range of our services is tremendous, and addresses most aspects of eating and exercise behavior needed to sustain long-term quality of life. In order to help you understand what a dietitian does and does not do, I present a brief overview below which can better prepare you should you decide to consult with a dietitian. Bear in mind that each dietitian has a unique counseling style, and various areas of strength. For example, I consider myself to be a seasoned generalist, with the following areas of specialization: weight management, gastrointestinal diet therapies, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, cardiac disease, cancer, wellness, and nutritional supplement strategies.  So, let’s discuss what dietitians can do for you:

  • Listen. You speak and we listen. By gathering information relating to your diet and lifestyle we are able to launch a realistic food plan tailored to your specific needs. For my practice, this initial information gathering session is a minimum of 2 hours. By the end of the appointment, you will have your own personalized food plan.
  • Evaluate. We evaluate your food intake patterns and work on improving them to help you achieve your health and weight goals. Evaluation processes vary from dietitian to dietitian. Most dietitians would like clients/patients to document their food intake. As of this month, I have a new online platform for clients to document their food. This means I can see how you are doing between appointments!
  • Provide accountability. Often, sticking to a diet and exercise plan requires having someone to oversee it. Dietitians offer this accountability by helping you to monitor your diet and eating behavior on an ongoing basis.  That way, it becomes more difficult to put off your healthy lifestyle goals.
  • Offer support. Starting a new diet or exercise regimen is not an easy process. Dietitians provide encouragement and support, and help you brainstorm ways to keep you on the path to a healthier lifestyle. We have suggestions for how to eat well away from home, eat well when there is no time, eat well when you are not feeling well, and eat well when life gets in the way.

Clearly, dietitians play a crucial role in the formulation and maintenance of your diet and exercise plans. However, while I cannot speak for all dietitians, there are a few things that I do not do in my practice:

  • Create prefabricated cookie cutter food plans. While certain tools such as the new USDA food plate and old food guide pyramid have a place in nutrition education, such tools are not the centerpiece of my counseling. Each client is presented with cutting edge information and individually tailored recommendations.
  • Write prescriptions. While clinical dietitians generally have significant medical knowledge, they are not physicians and do not prescribe medicine. I may, however, suggest supplements if I find a nutritional gap in your diet based on your food preferences and my monitoring of your diet.

While I have no magic wands, I am confident that in working together, I can help you achieve your goals for a healthier lifestyle. A few examples from my 25 years of nutritional counseling best illustrate this:

  • A physician referred a patient to me who needed to lose 100 pounds in order to undergo a heart transplant. After receiving my nutrition counseling services, the patient lost the 100 pounds, and ultimately no longer required the heart transplant.  His significant weight loss allowed for his cardiac enzymes and heart function to return to normal.
  • Hundreds of my patients have had their physicians discontinue certain medications altogether as they have either successfully lost weight or modified their diets to address their specific medical conditions.  Although many physicians are frequently surprised at the outcome of medical nutrition therapy, I don’t believe most dietitians are at all surprised because we know counseling and diet therapy are effective!

As you can see, the impact of nutritional consulting can be tremendous. Dietitians are able to do a great deal to help you achieve your diet and exercise goals, and ultimately help you on your path to a healthier lifestyle.

Do You Have the “New” Vitamin Deficiency?

Research suggests that 75% of teens and adults in this country may be deficient in the so-called “sunshine vitamin”.  Vitamin D is made in the body when the sun shines on skin unprotected with sunscreen – hence the term the “sunshine vitamin”.  With more pollution, increased sunscreen use, and less outside activities, the impact on our vitamin D levels has become quite evident to the medical community.

While we can eat foods containing vitamin D, those foods may be limited in the typical American diet.  Milk, some enriched cereals, fortified orange juice, and some fish can provide vitamin D.

Many people already know that vitamin D is important for strong bones, but fewer people are aware that the importance of vitamin D extends well beyond bone health. Research is hinting that vitamin D deficiency could potentially impact heart disease, blood pressure, infections, various forms of arthritis, certain cancers, mental health, and even cause our muscles to ache more!

Take charge of your health and ask your physician to check the vitamin D in your blood. After those results are available, consult with a knowledgeable health care providerA dietitian may be your best guidance for correcting your deficiency with a combination of food, lifestyle, and supplements if warranted.  All too often, when the deficiency is diagnosed, I hear of an inappropriate dosage of vitamin D suggested to correct the deficiency!


Revamping Your Diet in 2012

2012 is less than two weeks old and I am hoping you are still  focused on being the best you can be in 2012.  High on that “to do list” may be getting rid of your paunch and boosting your energy level.  So, your mind thinks “go for good nutrition”.  But, will your best intentions actually last long enough to get your goals and weight loss dreams accomplished?  If your efforts were like most Americans last year, your good intentions fizzled out around February.

For 2012, consider beginning with small painless changes that make a monumental dent in your bad health, waistline, and poor energy levels.

First, try a few easy tricks with your table settings:

  • Focus on smaller portions of all foods placed on smaller plates.  It may sound  ridiculous, but smaller portions always yield less fat and calories, both of which are important in achieving weight loss.
  • Research* has suggested that contrasting plate color and food color may aid in prompting smaller food portion sizes.  For instance, pasta covered with red sauce served on a white plate would tend to cause less to be eaten.  A serving of pasta covered in red sauce served on a red/orange plate would potentially trigger the consumption of a heftier portion!
  • The same researchers also found that food portion sizes could be reduced by limiting contrast between the dinner plate and the tablecloth.  So a white plate on a cream tablecloth would be more effective in cutting food portions than a white plate placed on a black tablecloth.

Try implementing some other basic eating strategies, which are not only easy to sustain, but also health enhancing:

  • Eat less animal protein.  You will help your waistline and the planet at the same time. Each 1-oz. serving of animal protein may actually hide as much as a pat of butter in the muscle. By slashing your intake of animal protein, you are also cutting down on saturated fat which is the most detrimental fat to our overall health. For the planet, cutting down on animal protein consumption cuts down on energy usage and pollution.
  • Eat more plant based foods every day.  Plant based foods yield fiber which fills you up.  These plant based foods are rich sources of phytochemicals which help ward off disease.  These disease fighting compounds are not found in vitamin pills, but are readily available in whole grains and fresh/frozen fruits and vegetables!
  • Record your daily fat intake. Heightened awareness helps to reduce our fat intake and can allow you to start to see patterns in your dietary habits that may be prohibiting you from attaining those New Year’s resolutions.

Remember, small but consistent change in eating behavior can affect your health for the rest of your life!


Willpower for Weight Loss?

Many of us view weight loss and diet as a matter of willpower.  We think, “If only I am strong enough and determined, if only I exercise self-control with my diet and exercise, I will be able to maintain a healthier lifestyle and weight.”  Such thinking can be mighty self-limiting, however.  It converts a positive decision- to be healthy- into another reason to feel guilty if willpower isn’t enough.  For this reason, if you are my client, I advocate a different approach.  Namely, I believe that willpower is a self-defeating concept when it comes to losing weight or maintaining weight loss.  Instead, I counsel my patients to control their eating environments.  By sustaining a “healthy” eating environment, you can also assist in improving your own health and weight.  Such an environment means limiting the high calorie and fat foods in your home, so that you are not tempted to succumb to their temptation, which in turn makes willpower at home irrelevant.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on creating a healthy environment:

  • Toss your leftover holiday goodies.  If you have trouble pitching them, give them to a skinny friend or bring them to your office.  A moment on your lips can result in months on your hips…… the saying goes.  Evaluate if it is worth the momentary gratification.
  • Be smart when you do your grocery shopping.  Avoid putting high temptation foods in your cart in the first place. Self-control only needs to happen at the grocery store.
  • While avoiding poor food choices, do stock up on lots of health enhancing foods at the grocery store. These healthy foods are your “tools” for successful weight loss. If you are concerned about fresh foods perishing, remember, frozen foods are just as nutrient dense as their fresh counterparts!
  • If you must have some treat-like foods in the house, make sure they are not loaded with calories and fat.  There are many desserts available that are pre-packaged and under 150 calories.  These lower calorie treats can be great for curbing our sweet tooth.
  • If others in your household just have to have certain high calorie treats in the house, tell them to make them unavailable to you.
  • Lastly, keep undesirable foods off your counter, in hard to reach places, and out of your line of vision if they must be in your household.  Make these food items hard work to get to.

While there are always other eating and dining obstacles to be faced while trying to lose weight and keep ourselves healthy, take a step in the right direction by reducing your reliance on willpower and making your home a healthy eating environment!