A Diet High in Fiber: A Solution for Many Health Problems

fiber how to get enough

Fiber does a lot for your health. If you are skipping this key nutrient, then you are missing out on a lot of potential health benefits. People that eat more fibrous foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lentils are statistically healthier. And, the impact is not just on the digestive tract. Beyond the gastrointestinal tract, it affects cancer risk, immunity, and helps stabilize blood and cholesterol levels. And, it even helps with weight loss. As fiber rich foods are a key source of phytochemicals and anti-oxidants, they are important in fighting inflammation in the body. With so many health benefits, let’s check out how much we need and how to get enough. Once you know how much to eat and where to find it, you can reap the health benefits of a diet high in fiber.

Requirements

Requirements vary by gender and age. Adult women up to 50 years of age need 25 grams. After 50 years of age, requirements decrease to 21 grams. Adult men up to 50 years of age need 38 grams. After 50 years of age, requirements decrease to 30 grams. And, what about eating more than the requirement? You should be aware that excessive fiber intake beyond these recommendations may actually be harmful for some. Too much dietary fiber limits absorption of: iron, zinc, and calcium.

Impact on health of a diet high in fiber

fiber impact on health

Constipation

Fiber help moves your food through your digestive tract by softening the stool. Some types of fiber swell (soluble) when exposed to water. In the digestive tract, this causes your bowel movements to soften, easing the constipation. Other types of fiber that are coarser (insoluble) will stimulate the colon to make mucous and water, which also enlarges and softens the stool.

Gut bacteria benefits from a diet high in fiber

Fibrous foods are a source of prebiotics for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics are essentially the food or fuel for gut bacteria. It’s important to feed your gut bacteria because a healthy balance of bacteria has the potential to have a huge impact on your overall health. While researchers have known for some time that the mix of gut bacteria can affect our digestion and immunity, it’s becoming apparent that there’s more to it. In fact, gut bacteria may affect metabolism, heart disease, and even mood.

Diverticulosis will benefit from a diet high in fiber

If you have this condition, then you have pouches known as diverticula that balloon out from the colon wall (see photo below). This should not be confused with diverticulitis, which is the same pouches that are inflamed or infected.

diverticulosis and fiber benefitWhen you eat enough fiber, it pushes on the muscular colon from the inside out. The pushing outwards of the colon wall will eliminate or shrink the pouches, and reduce the diverticulosis. As the pouches lessen or decrease in size, there is less likelihood of inflammation or infection occurring. And, random food particles from corn, nuts, and seeds will not readily lodge themselves in the colon as these pouches shrink. Think of the fibrous foods as free weights for your colon! The colon is a muscle, and the fiber will work it and push it outward.

Cancer and fiber

There is a decrease in colon cancer risk as dietary fiber consumption increases. Fibrous foods may protect against certain cancers by binding, diluting, or removing cancer causing agents from the body.  As fiber speeds up the time it takes food to move through the digestive tract, cancer causing agents that might be in our food are removed more quickly from the body. This decreases the amount of time a cancer causing agent is in contact with the body, and reduces cancer risk. Alternatively, the abundant phytochemicals found in fibrous foods may be protective from cancer. These phytochemicals may also decrease inflammation, which is thought to be the root of all diseases and even the aging process.

Blood sugar benefits from a diet high in fiber

It’s well known that fiber can affect blood sugar levels and have a positive impact on diabetes management. When low fiber foods are eaten, blood sugar levels rise rapidly. When high fiber foods are eaten, blood sugar levels rise much slower. For instance, eating a piece of low fiber white bread would cause a sharper spike in blood sugar than eating a slice of high fiber whole grain bread.

Blood cholesterol

Fiber can almost act like a sponge when it comes to blood cholesterol levels. It can bind to cholesterol and bile acids, which are made from cholesterol. By binding to both, they are removed from the body in your poop! This makes the body resort to using the cholesterol from the blood to make more bile acids. In doing so, blood cholesterol levels are automatically lowered as they are used up to produce more bile.

Weight control is helped by a diet high in fiber

Who doesn’t want to lose weight and feel full? That’s what fiber helps with. The actual fiber in food passes through your digestive tract and is excreted. It contains no calories. The calories in fibrous foods, such as apples, come only from the natural carbohydrates in the apple. But, that calorie free fiber does make one feel full. And, remember, blood sugar levels will stay elevated for a longer time period. Hunger kicks in when blood sugar levels drop, so by keeping your blood sugar elevated for a longer time period you’ll feel less hungry. Less hunger can mean better weight control!

fruits and vegetables for fiber

How to get enough fiber with fruits and vegetables (3 or more grams per serving)

  • raspberries, 1 cup has 8
  • 1/2 cup cooked lentils have 8
  • blackberries, 1 cup has 7.6
  • black beans, 1/2 cup has 7
  • pear, one medium whole has 6
  • garbanzo beans, 1/2 cup have 6
  • 3 oz. of avocado have 5.7
  • baked beans, 1/2 cup has 5.5
  • 1 apple, medium whole has 5
  • hummus, 2 Tbsp. have 3.7
  • blueberries, 1 cup has 3.6
  • carrots, 1 cup chopped has 3.6
  • banana, medium has 3
  • celery, 3 stalks have 3

How to get enough fiber with whole grains (3 or more grams per serving)

  • Awake High Fiber Bran Buds, 1/2 cup has 17
  • Kashi Golean Cereal, 1.2 cup has 13
  • All Bran, 1/2 cup has 12
  • Ezekiel Cereal, 1/2 cup has 6
  • Shredded Wheat, 1 cup has 5
  • Flax Plus, 0.8 cup has 5
  • Natural Ovens, Everything Bagel, 1 Bagel has 5
  • Orowheat High Fiber bread, 1 slice has 5
  • Natural Ovens, Whole Grain bread, 1 slice has 4
  • Oatmeal, 1 cup has 4
  • Barley, cooked, 1/2 cup has 3
  • Wild Rice, cooked, 1 cup has 3
  • Cheerios, 1 cup has 3

How to get enough fiber from a breakfast bar (3 or more grams per bar)

These products do not have the nutritional quality of the above list, but they can be used to fill in as needed. If you are going to indulge in a breakfast bar or snack bar, I always say get some important nutrients while indulging. I’ve even used some of the sweeter bars as a dessert!

  • Quest Bar has 17
  • Fiber Love Bar has 12
  • Fiber Plus Protein Bar, Kellogg’s has 7
  • Cliff Luna Bar Peanut Butter Strawberry has 7
  • Isagenix Fiber Snack Bar has 6
  • Meleluca Bar has 6
  • Fiber One Bars, all varieties have 5
  • Fiber Now Bar, Millville has 5
  • Advocare Bar has 5
  • Meta Health Bar has 4
  • Special K Fiber Bar has 3

Easy ways to improve your fiber intake

Consider focusing on a plant based diet. Emphasizing more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will automatically improve your fiber intake. Keep in mind there is absolutely no fiber in meat or pure fat (sorry keto diet fans). Use lentils on salad and in soups. Mix vegetables into noodle dishes. Add grains like oats into recipes such as meatloaf. And, consider making your own smoothies.

Adjusting to increased fiber

Go slowly when you start adding fiber to your diet. It can take some time for your gut to adjust and you may feel gassy at first. If a particular food seems to cause a lot of gas, move on to another food with fiber. All foods will not cause the same amount of gas in all people. You need to experiment to find the best foods for your gut. Lastly, be sure that as you increase your fiber you also increase your fluid intake at the same time. This will keep your food moving nicely through your digestive tract!

Take away messages

Skipping this key nutrient will have a negative impact on your health. For gut health, it reduces constipation and diverticulosis. It also feeds your gut bacteria which can impact your overall health. It’s able to help regulate both your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. And, for many, it’s a perfect tool for weight loss. The fiber helps fill you up, providing that full feeling to help manage your appetite.

Anyone have any great high fiber recipes to share? I’d love to add to this post.

Healthy College Eating: Tips From a New Grad

Written by Tess O’Brien and Edited by Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN
hleathy college eating tips

Now that you’ve been in college for a few months, you may find it challenging to eat healthy. Based on my experience, I often blamed my irregular schedule, super-tight budget, lack of sleep, and insubstantial meal plan. Adjusting to the college lifestyle is not easy and it may seem that weight gain or “malnutrition” are inevitable. However, utilizing tips for healthy college eating will help you be mindful in seeking healthier, accessible options on campus.

The first few years: on-campus living and dining hall tips

During your first year at college, you may be living in a 130-square foot dorm room that doesn’t provide you with many options for food storage. It is also common for 1st year and on-campus students to depend on a meal plan that is strictly valid for dining halls which are not typically recognized for providing nutritious options. Thus, the first year or two of college are probably the most difficult time to achieve a healthy eating routine, let alone adjust to a new style of eating altogether. Here are some personal tips for healthy college eating that helped me during the initial years spent eating dorm food.

My personal tips for healthy college eating as you begin college

  • Keep a loaf of whole grain bread in your dorm. Buy peanut or almond butter for your bread.
  • Drink plant-based milk! Milk alternatives such as almond milk can be purchased in single servings. No refrigeration is necessary until the seal is broken.
  • Store canned goods anywhere there’s space.
  • Enjoy a microwaved sweet potato. Poke holes in the skin with a fork, microwave for 5-6 minutes, and top with black beans or salsa!
  • Cold cereals and oats can be stored in a dry environment and last for a long time. These staples are good sources of iron and fiber, which are important nutrients for college students.
  • Buy apples and bananas in various stages of ripeness for snacks.
  • Purchase nuts in bulk. Raw unprocessed nuts are the most nutritious.
  • Pack your mini fridge full of fruits and vegetables!
  • Buy green or herbal tea bags and microwave water as the boiling/heating method.
  • Most dining halls provide a salad bar, so utilize it and add as much color to your plate as possible. Color is key to a healthier diet.
  • Skip the heavier salad dressings. Instead, opt for a more vinegar-based dressing. Try red wine vinegar mixed with a small amount of olive oil and seasonings.
  • Add beans (kidney or black) or chickpeas to your salad as a source of protein rich fiber.
  • Keep your water bottle full and drink plenty. Aim to skip sugary drinks.
  • Stay focused on portion control to prevent overeating.

The last few years: off campus living and apartment eating tips

healthy college eating tips

You are now living on your own and don’t have to depend on a meal plan or limiting yourself to a mini fridge for perishables. For some of you, retreating from your meal plan may be a relief. You are now free to expand your food options from outside of a dining hall. However, some of you may be uncertain on how to provide yourself with nutritious choices while dealing with a tight financial budget and time constraints. Personally, I was excited to move out of my dorm room and be in charge of my food options. However, I was a non-working, full-time student so I utilized these tips for healthy college eating that worked with my restrictive budget and schedule.

My personal tips for healthy college eating off campus

  • Find restaurants/stores that offer healthy options and student discounts. For example, Sweet Tomatoes gives students 10% off everything you can pack into your bowl at their salad bar!
  • Skip the dairy in your daily coffee and opt for a dairy-free option (almond, oat, coconut, soy). Tip: If there is a Whole Foods near you they don’t charge extra for dairy-free options!
  • Buy foods that can be prepared quickly and taken on the go (oatmeal, pre-made salads and wraps).
  •  I ate a lot of canned soups while in college. My favorite was the Amy’s Organic Soup that was only about $2.50 per can and was enough to fill me up. Be sure to check labels for the sodium content though, as canned soup can be loaded.
  • Always carry healthy snacks with you throughout the day so you aren’t craving junk food when you finally get home from the library. Here’s a list of 50 calorie snacks.
  • Some grocery stores offer a small discount when you bring your own bags to carry your groceries (Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Target).
  • Obviously, alcohol consumption is not healthy and is often referred to as “empty calories” due to the lack of nutrients. If you do choose to drink alcohol, avoid sugary drinks. Instead, opt for a lighter alternative such as a vodka soda with fresh lime.
  • After a few evening alcoholic drinks, treat yourself well. Drink plenty of water, eat foods high in nutrients, and eat a healthy snack before bed!

Grocery store tips for easier healthy eating at a savings

  • Eggs are super inexpensive- even organic and cage-free eggs can be priced around $4.00 a dozen! I’d often hard-boil an entire carton at a time and eat a few of them throughout the day to keep me satisfied.
  •  Buy frozen fruits and vegetables! In fact, frozen fruits and vegetables are actually picked when they’re perfectly ripe so they still have all the nutritional value and flavor. They are also reasonably affordable and easy to store in your freezer for very long periods of time. Frozen fruits are perfect for a fast and nutritious smoothie recipe.
  • Adding a plant-based protein option to your grocery list can be significantly cheaper than buying animal products. While you don’t necessarily have to be a vegetarian to maintain a healthy diet, you can seriously save some cash by going meatless a few days a week.
  • Buy food in bulk such as rice, pastas, and nuts. This will not only save you money, but also save you time consuming trips to the grocery store.
  • If you have roommates, consider investing in a food delivery service (Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, etc.) and splitting the cost. It’s a fun activity to cook your meals together and it’s super convenient! It’s delivered every week right to you with pre-measured out ingredients and instructions on how to make every meal. Also, it will save you a trip to the grocery store, giving you more time to study or have fun with your friends.

Planning your eating at home and out

cooking at home

  • Meal prep is a key strategy! Meal prepping helped me so much in college because after spending long periods of time preparing meals for myself, I felt less tempted to eat out.
  • Obviously you don’t want your healthy eating getting in the way of going out to eat with your friends. I feel I’ve been most successful when I look up the menu beforehand to make sure there is something healthy that I can eat on the menu. If you find there isn’t anything on the menu, you can always suggest a different restaurant or eat a meal beforehand and just order something small. I try to never let my dietary choices get in the way of having a fun night with my friends. When I plan accordingly, I always seem to find an option that works out for everyone. Here are some more tips for healthier dining out.
  • Try to avoid late-night junk food snacks by keeping plenty of healthy snack options at your disposal. You will save money and feel better the next day.
  • Don’t 100% limit yourself to only eating super healthy foods all the time. Treat yourself to your favorites every once in a while. Everything in moderation is key.
  • Lastly, train yourself to bring a reusable water bottle with you everywhere. Drinking enough water and staying hydrated plays a very important role in staying healthy. It’s also great for your skin (more eating tips for great skin)!

Take-Away

While college is all about adjusting to a new and independent lifestyle, it’s OK to have a less than perfect diet. Being on your own and learning how to nourish yourself appropriately are important college lessons too!  A healthy diet is a challenge at college, but key to preventing that feared “Freshman 15.”  Knowing how to make better dorm food choices and provide for healthier food options are important in the beginning of college as you navigate your first few years on campus. As you branch out on your own as an upperclassman, shopping know how and planning are key. Learning healthy eating strategies now will be a useful lesson for your entire life.

Please share your healthy eating tips for college! And, please share this post if you learned something.

Potassium Food Sources: A Dietary Challenge

getting more potassium: a dietary challengeIf you are concerned about healthy eating, you might want to ask yourself if you are eating enough potassium rich food sources. As both a dietitian counseling private patients and former college level nutrition instructor, I have observed the difficulty that people of all ages have in getting adequate dietary potassium. Given that the daily dietary recommendation for North Americans is about 3500 to 4700 mg, it’s not that surprising that people fall short of meeting their requirements. Having an understanding of high potassium food sources can improve your diet immediately.

Why it’s important

potassium and health

Why is potassium so important for our health and well-being? First and foremost, it’s inside every cell. It’s a key factor in maintaining our fluid and electrolyte balance. And, it’s critical for maintaining a normal heartbeat. Sudden deaths that occur during fasting and the severe food restriction seen in anorexia are usually due to heart failure caused by inadequate intake. It’s also a key player in maintaining healthy nerve functioning and muscle contraction.

Even if the diet is very low in potassium, the body can usually handle maintaining blood potassium levels in order to maintain heart stability and nerve function. Although the body is able to maintain blood potassium levels despite eating less than the recommended amount, there are still health concerns tied to chronic low potassium diets. Low potassium diets are a trigger for hypertension. Research also suggests that diets low in potassium promote blood sugar problems, kidney stones, and increase calcium loss from bones. Calcium lost from bones can lead to osteoporosis.

Unprocessed foods are the best potassium food sources

Knowing how important this nutrient is to overall health, a healthy diet should be packed with potassium rich foods. Since potassium is found in all plant cells, just like it’s in our own cells, all plant foods that are unprocessed will yield plenty of this nutrient! Need “unprocessed food” defined before reading on? It’s a food that has not been altered in terms of chemical treatment in order to preserve it, improve the taste, or alter the appearance of the food.

Examples of unprocessed foods

potassium food sources

Think of the potato as an unprocessed food, but potato chips are processed. Corn is an unprocessed food, but caramel corn is a processed food. If it looks like it did as grown in the ground, then it’s unprocessed! Unprocessed fruits and vegetables will have the potassium left intact, and upon eating that food, we are able to benefit nutritionally. That’s why many excellent sources of potassium in the following list are whole fruits and vegetables that have not lost their potassium content from any processing. Some animal protein and whole grains also provide this nutrient.

Stumbling blocks to getting enough potassium

Although many health care providers think it’s an easy process to eat this much potassium on a daily basis, Americans usually eat too few servings of unprocessed foods to get the job done. As unprocessed foods are the leading dietary source of potassium, therein lies the problem. Additionally, as chronic dieters edit out calories to lose weight, they may also be editing out potassium rich foods in the process. Popular diets such as the keto diet also put the dieter at risk for a low potassium intake. With that stated, consuming enough does not have to be as difficult as one would think. The key is knowing the best food sources, and making sure these foods are consumed on a regular basis.

Target unprocessed foods as top potassium food sources

  • 1/2 cup baked beans have 285 mg
  • 1/2 cup lima beans have 476 mg
  • 1 cup cooked spinach has 466 mg
  • 1/2 cup soybeans have 476 mg
  • A large can low sodium V-8 juice has 1180 mg
  • 1 small can low sodium V-8 juice has 700 mg
  • 6 prunes have about 290 mg
  • 1/2 cup navy beans have 376 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

Other benefits of potassium rich foods

The beauty of this list? Adding more of the above foods will not only increase your potassium, but also add other valuable nutrients to your diet such as fiber, and vitamins A and C. Potassium rich fruits and vegetables are also the foods with high levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants. In one large study, women who ate over five servings of fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of aggressive tumors in comparison to those who ate only two servings.

How do you manage to get your fruits and veggies into your diet? Do you add any toppings to certain recipes or use in smoothies? I know making smoothies is my easy way of getting my own potassium requirements met! Please share your ideas.

Does Your Cereal Have Too Much Iron? Check the Label and Know Your Needs

cereal with too much iron

This is an update to a popular blog written years ago. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem much has changed with regard to the iron fortification in cereal. Iron requirements for humans have not changed, and many cereals still have way too much iron for certain people. Many people do not need a lot of iron. Those people include all adult males and women who are menopausal. Women of childbearing age require the most iron and iron fortification mandates that this be taken into consideration when setting the amount of iron added to a food in the fortification process. So, some people win on this matter (women that need iron) but, other people are eating cereal and inadvertently eating way too much iron!

Excess iron from cereal and foods in general

Iron is toxic in large amounts. Once absorbed inside the body, it’s difficult to excrete. A healthy person will be able to defend against too much iron absorption in numerous ways. Typically, the body can prevent too much iron from being absorbed by trapping in intestinal cells and then shedding it through digestion. The iron exposure to the intestinal cells can, however, pose a risk for colon and rectal cancer. In healthy people, the hormone hepcidin also swings into action to prevent too much iron from being absorbed. For some with a genetic condition, these safety measures to prevent iron absorption do not happen. Iron overload (technically called Hemochromatosis) then occurs with symptoms of fatigue, abdominal pain, depression, and eventual liver failure, diabetes, and bone damage if left untreated.

For those healthy people that can defend against too much iron, even they can experience the downside of too much iron. Excessive iron is constipating. That constipation can prevent food from moving through the digestive tract efficiently. Food moving through the digestive tract too slowly poses a risk of increased exposure to food borne pathogens and toxins that are present in our foods. As those not so nice things in our food supply linger too long in our gut, we can get sick. It’s so much better for our food to move nicely through our digestive tract rather than taking days to move along!

Gender and age will determine your iron requirements

  • Adult males aged 19 to >70 need only 8 mg/day
  • Adult females aged 19 to 50 need 18 mg/day
  • Once an adult women reaches 51 years of age and older, requirements decrease to 8 mg/day
  • Children aged 1-3 need only 7 mg/day
  • Children aged 4-8 need 10 mg/day
  • Growing adolescent males aged 9-13 need only 8 mg/day
  • Growing adolescent males aged 14-18 need 11 mg/day
  • Females aged 9-13 need only 8 mg/day
  • Females aged 14-18 need 15 mg/day to accommodate growth and menstruation

Avoiding cereal with too much iron

Nutrition Fact LabelCereals with too much iron can be avoided by first checking the Nutrition Fact Label. If you walk down the cereal aisle and start looking at the Nutrition Fact Label on cereal boxes, you will see that some of the most popular cereals are often packed with 50 to nearly 100% of “the requirement”. Remember, iron requirements vary by gender and age. So, the Nutrition Fact Label must select only the iron requirement of the part of the population needing the most iron. Therefore, all the iron percentages on the label are based off the 18 mg recommended for 19-50 year old females as their requirements are the highest!

So, what about a man or older woman who chooses to eat multiple servings of a these cereals in a given day? They would be ingesting much more iron than they need, potentially placing themselves at medical risk over the long run. The solution to this dietary dilemma is to simply know your requirements and choose the cereal that matches your needs. The Nutrition Fact Label reading can get complicated, so I’ve gone ahead and looked up popular cereals and done the calculation to note the iron content per serving so it is easier to review what can work best into your own diet.

Updated iron content of popular cereals

Cereals with less than 3 mg of iron per serving

  • Puffins have < 1mg
  • Kind Healthy Grains (all varieties) have <1 mg
  • Erewhon Brown Rice Cereal has <1 mg
  • Cascadian Farm Cereal Berry Vanilla Puffs Organic have <1 mg
  • Nature’s Path EnviroKidz Panda Puffs Cereal Peanut Butter Organic has <1 mg
  • Nature’s Path Sunrise Cereal Crunchy Vanilla Gluten Free Organic has <1 mg
  • Raisin Bran Crunch has 1 mg
  • Shredded Wheat has 2 mg
  • Kashi Whole Wheat Cereal Berry Fruitful has 2 mg
  • Nature’s Path Heritage Flakes have 2 mg
  • Kashi Golean has 2 mg
  • Nature’s Path Flax Plus has 2 mg

Cereals with 5-9 mg of iron per serving

  • Cracklin Oat Bran has 5 mg
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch Cereal has 5 mg
  • Fiber One has 5 mg
  • Frosted Flakes have 5 mg
  • Golden Grahams have 5 mg
  • Honey Nut Cheerios have 5 mg
  • Life Cereal has 7 mg
  • Cornflakes have 8 mg
  • Smart Start has 8 mg
  • Regular Cheerios have 8 mg
  • Kix has 8 mg
  • Wheaties has 8 mg
  • Great Grains Cereal Raisins, Dates, & Pecans have 9 mg

Cereals with greater than 10 mg of iron per serving

  • Corn Chex has 11 mg
  • Special K has 11 mg
  • Rice Krispies have 11mg
  • Cheerios Oat Crunch has 14 mg
  • Grape Nuts have 16 mg
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 16 mg
  • Quaker Oatmeal Squares Cereal with Hint of Brown Sugar have 16 mg
  • Total Cereal has 18 mg

Serving sizes and cereal with too much iron

It’s important to take note that the serving sizes of most cereals are only 1/2 to one cup. If someone eats, say double, the above iron numbers double as well. Another little known fact is that if iron rich foods are eaten with a source of vitamin C, the absorption rate of the iron is tripled! Think orange juice with breakfast cereal. And, note that all fruit has vitamin C, so eating berries or melon with your cereal will also triple the iron absorption. This is great for those that have iron deficiencies, but not so great for those that need less iron. And remember, other popular foods are also either fortified with iron or are natural sources of iron. Pasta, bread, lentils, dried fruits, beef, and fish all contain iron. And, the more calories consumed, the greater the dietary iron consumed.

Key points on cereal with too much iron

Know your individual iron requirements. If you are male or an older female, you need much less iron than a younger woman. If you like large amounts of cereal (like me), then make sure you are eating within your recommended limits by picking a lower iron cereal. Cereal is really a healthy breakfast (and can be a creative good dinner, if I’m honest). It can be a great source of fiber and B vitamins, but also a source of too much iron for many except the anemic. Besides the iron content of a cereal, fiber and sugar content should be evaluated when you buy cereal.

If you want to see how your favorite popular cereal stacks up for sugar, click here.

Do you have any favorite low iron cereals you enjoy? If you found this blog post helpful, please share comments and the post itself!

Willpower for Weight Loss? Not the Best Strategy

willpower for weight loss does not work

If the cupcake was not in your house, it would not be an option.

Many of us think that it’s necessary to have willpower for weight loss. 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. It converts a positive decision- to be healthy- into another reason to feel guilty if willpower isn’t enough to get the weight loss started and the goal achieved.

Think about your eating environment instead instead of willpower for weight loss

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.

Strategies for weight loss without willpower:

Toss your leftover holiday or special occasion 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, as 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. Avoid impulse purchases with a planned grocery list that you stick to. And, as you have heard before, don’t grocery shop when you are hungry. It be a good idea to also not shop when you are pressed for time or tired.

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! Here are some suggestions for keeping a healthy stocked kitchen.

Any treats in the house should be less than 150 calories

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. Here’s a list of 50 calorie treats providing protein, fiber, and help for your 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. In plain English, let them hide them.

Keep undesirable foods off your counter and out of your line of vision

Make these food items hard work to get to. Don’t keep the ice cream in the freezer; instead, if you want to indulge, make it so you have to go out and get your portion of ice cream. And if you do go out and indulge at the ice cream shop, think about some smart strategies ahead of time. A little mental preparation ahead of time can help you make the best choices for your health and waistline.

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!

Keto Diet: Healthy or Harmful? Depends Who You Ask!

is keto healthy or harmful

We all know the keto diet is the rage, but is the keto diet healthy or harmful? Do you really want to put your body through the process of getting into ketosis? When I counsel my clients, I often point out that just being skinny is not what defines overall health. While their goal may be weight loss, you want to maintain or even improve your long term health in the process of losing weight. With that stated, it’s important to look at the keto diet through the lens of how healthy or harmful the diet is to your overall health.

Truth be told, I want to scream “keto diet, please leave and never come back.” I think there are many awesome (logical and scientifically based) reasons to consider skipping the keto diet and looking elsewhere for healthier weight loss strategies. It reminds me of the popularity of the Atkins diet. Twice in my professional lifespan the Atkin’s plan reared it’s “ugly” head. Once when I was right out of college, and then decades later. The “keto” style of eating with restricted carbohydrates is nothing new to the professional community.

A little history on low carb diets

Back in the late 1980s, medically supervised fasts gained in popularity and those diets also restricted carbohydrates and overall calories. The end result, like the keto diet, was to make the body go into ketosis. Newsflash-in the 1980 those diets were supervised in a medical setting because going into ketosis was not considered to be safe without medical supervision. Nowadays, no one thinks twice about it. This attitude is on trend with everyone being an “expert”, because everyone needs to eat.

Keto diets: healthy, harmful, or somewhere in between?

Management of epileptic seizures by the keto diet has been going on for over a century. There is no dispute as to the efficacy of keto diets for seizures. “Keto” flu symptoms aside, the keto diet is an easy and mindless way to lose weight. Without sufficient carbohydrates available to fuel the brain and central nervous system, the body transitions to using ketones. Those ketones act as a natural appetite suppressant, making the weight loss process easy.

Eat the fat, sufficiently limit the carbs, make the ketones, and voilà the body fat melts away. This is the impression I get from all the keto diet fans out there. The questions I have are: can this be sustained, do you want to sustain it, are you going to be healthier in the long run? And, did you know that going into ketosis is meant to be a survival mechanism to stay alive?

keto diet

How much fiber is in this keto diet dinner? Not as much as you think!

Keto diets may be harmful for what they are lacking

Fiber

Sadly, for the keto junkie, fiber intake is too low. Fruits, vegetables, and grains are your only source of dietary fiber. There is no fiber in oil, butter, bacon, eggs, or anything meat related. Did you know that women need 21-26 grams, and men need 30-38 grams of fiber? This is why constipation is a problem. Sure, take some fiber pills. However, last time I checked, you need a lot of those pills to meet your dietary fiber goals.

Adding healthy fiber rich foods to your diet helps regulate both your blood glucose and cholesterol level. Colon cancer prevention and diverticulosis are two notable conditions that benefit from fiber. Fiber fills you up and helps you feel satiated, without ketones.

Food for your gut bacteria

Those carbs you are severely restricting are a significant food source for your gut bacteria. Fiber rich foods, which are found almost exclusively in complex carbohydrates, offer prebiotics for your probiotics (gut bacteria) to feed on. Probiotic bacteria need prebiotics as a fuel. If you haven’t heard it already, your gut microbiome is very important to your overall health status. Skipping carbs can affect the type bacteria that grow in your gut. Feeding your gut bacteria with prebiotic rich carbohydrates is the best way to fight inflammation and improve your immunity. Sure, you can take a probiotic in pill form, but those probiotic bacteria need their own food and it should be from fiber rich carbohydrates. 

Micronutrients

Those carbs you are skipping contain significant sources of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Key micronutrients at risk include vitamin C, all the B vitamins, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. In fact, without your fruits and vegetables, it will not be possible to meet your potassium requirements. You cannot meet your potassium requirements in pill form without a prescription from your doctor. Blood pressure issues? Increasing dietary potassium can help lower blood pressure.

Phytochemicals

Fruits, vegetable, and whole grains have compounds called phytochemicals. The phytochemicals protect the growing plants from disease. When we eat plant based foods, we are also eating those phytochemicals. Most phytochemicals are thought to confer protection from heart disease and cancer.

What else is going on with all that protein and fat?

While you are losing weight on the keto diet, is your liver gaining fat? Too much animal protein and fat can contribute to a fatty liver. Fatty liver can lead to death. My point above, being skinny does not necessarily correlate with health. Living without a gallbladder? This keto diet plan will make you pretty uncomfortable and maybe even sick.

Too much animal protein can weaken your bones. And, if you have kidney disease, your kidneys could be strained dealing with all that extra protein. Got gout, the excess protein will aggravate it. So, now ask yourself if the keto diet is healthy or harmful! The answer is probably somewhere in between. A short term fix, perhaps. Long term, I suggest you rethink your options. Carbohydrates are healthy and let you eat like a normal person.

If you ask me, there are healthier, less risky methods to lose weight. I enjoy my carbs very much. For more great reasons to enjoy carbs, see this list!

My Food Sensitivities: A Dietitian’s Personal Perspective

When I was 40 years old, I became very ill-so ill I headed to the emergency room. The doctors said something was going around and I should go home to rest. And rest I did! In fact, for at least a week I was barely able to move. I followed up with my primary care physician who proceeded to do a complete medical evaluation. All tests came back negative. So, I rested some more and tried to pretend that I felt normal. Never did I imagine that my extreme fatigue was due to food sensitivities.

my food sensitivity journey

Is this healthy for me or not?

As time progressed, I mentioned my fatigue issues to every physician I saw, and the responses ranged from “You have medical conditions that cause fatigue- IBS, fibromyalgia, asthma”, to “You seem OK, you aren’t acting tired now”, to “You are the healthiest patient I’ve seen today!” My energy levels continued to wax and wane. Sometimes I was near normal and other times I needed to drag myself to bed. Fatigue was my partner in life, and although rest didn’t solve everything, I was often tired enough that I simply could not move. My goal became to get through the day as a functioning person and carry on with my commitments as best I could.

Later in life, food sensitivities uncovered

During the second 50 years of my life, it seemed that my energy levels were worsening. I figured at this point I was functioning at less than 50% of normal. Then, last year, a college friend asked me about food sensitivity testing as she was considering going that route due to ongoing headaches and IBS symptoms. I told her I had mixed feelings about it, but said that maybe we could go down that path together. I am so grateful that I took that path as my life has actually changed course.

Food sensitivity testing is controversial

Some medical “experts” question accuracy of any food sensitivity testing process and the clinical relevance to a patient. For those practitioners that feel it may help a patient, there is controversy as to the best test to use. I used the Alcat test which evaluates how your white blood cells react in contact with various foods, chemicals, and food additives. Based on your white cell response, your reaction to various foods, additives, and chemicals is assessed on a scale of non-reactive to severe.

It’s important to keep in mind that food sensitivity testing is different from allergy testing. With an allergy, there may be an immediate response. With a food sensitivity, the response in terms of symptoms may be delayed by days so it does become difficult to determine what foods may be problematic. In my case, I would never have been able to succeed by just eliminating foods speculated as often problematic because one of my severe responses was to fluoride. Turn on the tap water and there is fluoride. Grab coffee at a restaurant, there is fluoride. Grab that toothpaste, there is fluoride. That is just one example of how the testing can help you come up with a customized eating plan just for you. I would never have been able to determine that something found in my water was a contributing factor in causing my fatigue, muscle, and joint pain.

My life has changed now that I know my food sensitivities

Today, I still look OK but I also feel pretty good! I am now able to work with a trainer, and regularly work out on a treadmill and elliptical. I even have competitions with my active grandchildren to see who can get the most steps in a day! My energy level is far more consistent, and when I’m tired, that’s all it is tired. I’m not fatigued to the point of being unable to move. I have come a long way from the fatigue that has haunted me for the last 25 years. I am so thankful that I was able to access testing. It can be very challenging to make the necessary dietary changes but, it’s worth the effort if your life changes! My only regret is waiting so long.

Do you have a personal story to share about your food sensitivity testing experience and outcome?

Chronic Fatigue: 4 Diet and Lifestyle Tips to Tackle

It goes by many names: chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), systemic exertion intolerance disease (SEID), myaligic encephalomyelitis (ME). Whatever you want to call it, it requires lifestyle changes to cope, and bed rest is not a quick fix for those that are truly afflicted. If you have this condition, you know who you are! You may also remember your life before the condition and after, that red line of health and when it was crossed and what triggered your seemingly endless fatigue.

chronic fatigueEven rest can’t help chronic fatigue

Here are some tried and true tips to help chronic fatigue:

Manage your weight for lessening chronic fatigue

Under the circumstance, this can be a huge challenge. If you are needing to pace yourself with rest, then you will be sitting more. Eating more nutrient rich low calorie foods will be your tool for weight management. It’s amazing what a difference there is in terms of calorie burn on days you are mostly sitting vs. being able to walk around all day when you may feel better. It’s important to match your calorie intake with calorie output.

I am a huge fan of fitness trackers for just this reason. Knowing real time energy output on bad days and then better days, helps immensely in weight management. The fitness tracker can guide you on how much you can eat on a given day based on your calorie burn.

Do eat a nutrient dense diet

Your calories need to “count” from a nutritional standpoint because there may not be a lot of discretionary calories for you to be eating if you are burning few calories due to your fatigue and limited activity. The better quality diet will only increase your chances of feeling better. There’s no guarantee, but it can’t hurt.

Too tired to prepare food?  Never cook for only one meal. Double batch and use your freezer. Don’t be afraid of a frozen meal such as Healthy Choice brand meals. They are always going to be healthier than what you might grab at a restaurant.

Consider certain supplements

The condition remains one that the established medical community cannot open a text book and find solid direction on how to treat. With that said, there are a few supplements that may be helpful. Consider CoEnzymeQ10, D-ribose, and probably a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. I don’t uniformly recommend the latter to patients, but when calories need to be restricted for manage weight, it’s not a bad idea in my opinion. The CoQ10 and D-ribose are tied in with our biochemical energy cycle, and I personally find them to be helpful. Other research has suggested a daily dosage of 200 mg CoQ10 and 20 mg of NADH twice a day as being therapeutic for symptoms.

Know and state your boundaries to manage chronic fatigue

While boundary setting is not necessarily a nutrition tip, it’s an important lifestyle tip. Learn to say “no” if you feel it will compromise your health. Many of us are so eager to be normal, that it is very easy to overdo it when we feel on the normal end of the spectrum. Both mental and physical pacing need to be first and center in your life. If you are reading this, you are probably all too familiar with the “crash and burn” cycle of both chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Doing too much at a time can result in being a limp rag doll later. Best to manage that precious resource called energy and pace yourself all day and every day-even when you may be feeling “normal”.

What tips can you share to live your best life?

 

 

How Does Your Cereal Stack Up? How to Buy Cereal

 

How to buy cerealDid 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. But, how would a smart shopper know how to buy cereal? 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 key nutrients.

Buy cereal with fiber

Fiber 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. The fiber factor should always be taken into consideration when you buy cereal.

Buy cereal with less 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. The sugar factor is another serious consideration when you buy cereal.

Buy cereal with almost no 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 cereal 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.

Tips To Decrease Your Triglycerides: 6 Easy Steps

tips to decrease your triglycerides

Do you need tips to decrease your blood triglycerides? Triglycerides are the blood fat not readily discussed during your doctor’s appointment. The focus may be more on your blood cholesterol level. But, blood triglyceride levels are still very important to your heart heath. If your blood triglyceride value is elevated, your blood is thick like motor oil. This can contribute to heart disease as well as other medical conditions.

In addition to being present in your blood, triglycerides are the common fat found in all food as well as your body. In fact, 95% of the fat found in food and the human body would be classified triglycerides.

Normal ranges for triglycerides

These test results are part of simple routine blood work. When blood is checked for various types of cholesterol, triglycerides can also be measured. An elevated triglyceride level can be an independent medical problem, or related to another medical problem. For instance, poorly controlled diabetics often have elevated blood triglyceride levels. Those people with thyroid disease, obesity, and kidney disease also often have elevated triglyceride levels. Hypertriglyceridemia is the technical term for an elevated blood triglyceride level.

The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) classifies ranges of fasting triglycerides as follows:

  • Normal-less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL
  • Borderline high- 150-199 mg/dL
  • High- 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very high- more than or equal to 500 mg/dL

In addition to increasing heart disease risk, elevated triglycerides increase risk of stroke and pancreatitis. When a stroke occurs, blood flow is cut off to the brain. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas gland is necessary for producing insulin which then regulates blood sugar levels.

Here are six simple tips to decrease your triglycerides:

1. Limit alcohol as the first of 6 tips to decrease your triglycerides

For some people, cutting out all alcohol drastically lowers triglyceride levels. And, while you may like it if your doctor tells you red wine is healthy, your dietitian knows it can increase your triglyceride levels. So, I tell patients to eat grapes instead! I know it’s not as fun, but it works. And, if you must have a beer, consider going the non-alcoholic beer route. Doing so will not cause your triglycerides to increase.

2. Choose fats wisely and make appropriate swaps

Replace highly saturated fats with more unsaturated fats. For instance, replace butter with olive oil. Don’t forget to swap these fats for each other! Simply adding olive oil to your diet on top of your usual butter intake will NOT decrease your triglyceride level. That also goes for topping your salad with a whole avocado. While an avocado has heart healthy fat, the impact on your triglycerides will be the same as too much olive oil. Scale it back to a small wedge or 2 Tbsp. Serving sizes of fats matter. Keep in mind that a serving of oil is only 1 teaspoon (not 1 tablespoon).

In addition to olive oil, consider using canola and peanut oil in your diet when needing fats. Add raw unprocessed nuts and seeds to the diet as another method of adding healthy fats to your current diet.

3. Decrease simple carbs

simple carbohydrates and triglycerides

Carbohydrates are basically divided into two categories: complex and simple. Bread, pasta, rice, fruit, and vegetables are examples of complex carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates tend to be sweet, such as soft drinks, desserts, candies, and syrup. Individuals should avoid simple carbohydrates in order to decrease triglyceride levels. Some people are so biologically sensitive to sweets that their triglyceride levels drastically increase when they eat too much sugar.

In any healthful diet, complex carbohydrates should be in the 45-65% range of overall calories. But even excessive amounts of healthy complex carbohydrates can elevate triglycerides. Triglycerides often decrease when complex carbohydrates are less than 60% of the overall diet. Complex carbs that are rich in fiber will also aid in lowering your blood cholesterol, if that is of concern!

4. Eat more omega-3 fatty acids

Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and herring give us omega-3 fatty acids. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include: tofu, soybeans, milled flaxseed, chia seed, walnuts, and even green leafy vegetables. And, if you eat a food from an animal that ate a rich omega-3 fatty acid diet, you will reap the omega-3 fatty acids. For instance, when you buy eggs that say they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, it’s because the chickens were fed an omega-3 fatty acid rich diet!

5. Increase physical activity 

Aerobic exercise can help with weight loss. Aerobic exercise can also decrease triglyceride levels while aiding with weight reduction. Triglyceride reduction occurs with both short bouts of exercise and longer term repetitive exercise. Most studies find that the best bet is to do 30-45 minutes of moderately intensive exercise five times a week. Have your doctor approve an exercise program if you have been inactive.

6. Maintain or get to a healthy weight as a final tip to decrease your triglycerides

A healthy body weight has been shown to correlate with lower blood fats-including both triglycerides and cholesterol. In addition to reducing all blood fats, weight loss helps with decreasing blood pressure and diabetes.

In Summary

Start lowering your triglycerides by cutting down your alcohol and total fat. Add some more omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. Be careful to add more healthy fats to your diet while decreasing more saturated fats. And, lastly, ramp up your physical activity and get to a healthy weight. These steps usually get the job done when trying to decrease triglyceride levels.

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

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