Oat Cereal: The Good and Bad

oat cereal Oat cereal, including oatmeal, can dish up some serious health benefits. When we think of oat based foods, we typically think of them as being a good source of soluble fiber. By definition, soluble fiber actually dissolves in water. In foods, soluble fiber adds a pleasing consistency. When we eat foods with soluble fiber, we can potentially decrease our blood sugar and cholesterol levels. There is scientific evidence that soluble fiber, once fermented in the gut, can reduce inflammation and even support our immune system. And fiber, in general, fills us up so it’s easier to lose weight! With so many health benefits, why would we hesitate to eat it?

Oat cereal may have gluten

If you need to avoid gluten, not all oat cereal is gluten free. Oats do not contain gluten, but they may become contaminated with gluten if processed with other gluten containing foods. Choose brands of oat based cereals manufactured in a gluten free facility if there is a medical reason to avoid gluten. These products, such as the one in the below photo, can state they are gluten-free. They can state this because there were no other gluten containing products made at the processing facility that could contaminate the oats.

gluten free oatsOat cereal and weed killer

Glyphosate is a weed killer that is sprayed on many of our conventional crops including oat crops. This compound has caused reproductive problems in animals and is thought to be a potential carcinogen in humans. The common weed killer Roundup contains glyphosate.

Published safety limits are hard to find. As is the case with a lot of controversial food topics, it’s hard to get at some of the facts. According to a Consumerlab.com. review, California has set a daily limit of 1100 mcg. In contrast, European countries set a higher adult limit of 34,000 mcg. The same review states a standard 3/4 cup serving of Original Cheerios contained only 32 mcg of glyphosate. If this is still not low enough for your healthy eating strategies, you can always opt for organic versions of your favorite oat based foods. You may not be able to totally avoid ingesting some of the glyphosate, but you can decrease your exposure by going the organic route.

Fungal contamination

Ochratoxin is a fungal toxin found in foods of plant and animal origin. Molds produce the Ochratoxin when exposed to heat and moisture during crop production. Up to 70% of oat-based cereals in the United States have been reported to contain this toxin. And, it’s a compound strongly linked to cancer. According to research, choosing organic over conventional counterparts will not be helpful. Cooking does not destroy this toxin. The best practical risk reduction strategy is watching your portion sizes! This will obviously limit your exposure to the toxin if it’s in the cereal.

The good news: Oat cereal is a good source of fiber and protein

oatmeal labelSo should you skip the oat cereals? I think definitely not! Oatmeal and other oat cereals are a source of healthy complex carbohydrates and a fairly significant source of dietary fiber. A single 40 gram serving of oatmeal has 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Choosing gluten free organic options and watching portions will go a long way in making sure the oat cereals you choose are the best possible choices for your health.

Oat cereals are low in iron and sugar

And, what may not be readily apparent is the fact that oatmeal is a cereal that is low in iron. While cereal for much of the population is an important source of necessary dietary iron, there are many people that do not benefit from that iron. In fact, the iron may harm their health. Most men and older women should be picking cereals that are lower in iron. And, if your oat cereal is unflavored or plain, the sugar content clocks in at virtually nothing. Given the sugar content of most cereals, that is actually unusual and clearly a nutritional advantage.

Oats are a good prebiotic food

Your gut contains many bacteria that help you stay well. This is frequently referred to as the gut microbiome. The make-up of your individual gut bacteria is unique and hinges, in part, on the types of foods you eat on a regular basis. When you have the right mix of gut bacteria, your immune system is stronger and your digestion is better. While bacteria reside in the gut, people can also consume bacteria known as probiotics. The gut bacteria may be altered to improve overall health when these probiotics are consumed in adequate amounts. Certain foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut are rich sources of probiotics. Probiotics are also available as a supplement (purchasing tips).

Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, assuring their viability. Prebiotic foods are usually rich in fiber. While the fiber is in the digestive tract, the bacteria use it for food. Eventually, the fiber is excreted in digestion, but while in the digestive tract, it plays a crucial role in feeding the gut bacteria. Oatmeal is a classified as a prebiotic food.

Take away

As is the case with many foods, oats are at risk for pesticide and toxin contaminants. Choosing smaller amounts and organic versions of oat cereals can lessen risk from these contaminants. The good news is oats are low in sugar and iron (good for many people). They are a lower calorie source of protein and fiber. That fiber lowers your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and aids in weight loss. And, it’s critical for feeding your gut bacteria. Bottom line, oats are a pretty good fuel for both you and your gut bacteria.

While I like oats for the above reasons, another researcher suggests oats may be the next superfood as they are loaded with anti-oxidants!

If you want to try the very popular overnight oats, the basic recipe is here.

Why do you think oats are healthy? Please share so I can add to this blog. If you learned something from this blog, please share as well.

 

 

Restaurant Dining: A Cost to Your Health and Wallet

Resturant dining and cost

My spouse and I are health conscious because I am a dietitian and not a hypocrite, and his life depends upon it. We regularly visit an area of southwest Michigan, and recently had breakfast at a local diner with great TripAdvisor reviews. Unfortunately, we did not agree with the great reviews on TripAdvisor. Here’s why I think there’s a restaurant dining cost to your health and wallet!

Restaurant dining menu and cost

The menu was limited, but I will be the first to state that this is not necessarily a bad thing. A limited menu may end up focusing on food quality, rather than an abundance of mediocre dishes. The good news here was the staff was more than happy to substitute requested egg whites for whole eggs.

Now the bad news: the nice multi-grain bread was already buttered on the bottom of the toast (so did not realize it until it was eaten), the portions were huge (I know many people want large portions for the money being doled out), and I saw no fruit options on the menu. Other bad news: the bill was $30.00 for what we could have made at home for probably a dollar at most, and made it a lot healthier in a shorter amount of time. This is, in fact, the key issue with dining out on a regular basis.

Restaurant dining cost to your health and bank account

More fat. If you make the same food at home, you can control the fat in the dish with very simple recipe tweaking. Restaurants don’t typically care about the high fat content in their meals because fat carries flavor and texture. And of course, they want you to return for another meal! You can bank on eating more calories than you anticipated due to the higher fat content. You can also assume that it will be more difficult to meet your weight loss goals.

More calories. And, let’s not forget the simple concept that larger portions, when eaten, yield more calories. Unless you can exercise a lot of self-restraint while dining out, you will most likely eat your whole meal. If you can consistently ask for healthy substitutions such as fruit for fries, you are on the right track. Also, you need to get in the habit of bringing at least half of your meal home. And who doesn’t want that yummy appetizer, dessert, or cocktail while dining out? It’s probably safe to say that if you are eating at home you are not eating those extra high calorie goodies.

Salt in restaurant food

More sodium. If you are fortunate to find a nice restaurant meal low in fat and overall calories, the sodium is probably lurking. I have yet to see a healthy restaurant meal that is low in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, calories, and sodium. If you think the sodium content does not matter because your blood pressure is fine, you need to think again. High sodium intakes cause other health problems such as bone loss and are correlated with increased cancer risk. And, if you hop on the scale the next day, you can credit that weight gain of several pounds to fluid retention from all that salt you ate.

More money. My husband made a lower sodium chili on Sunday, and pointed out that the entire pot of chili cost less than a few dollars. Purchasing a bowl of chili at a restaurant would have cost about $6.00. He used half a packet of low sodium chili powder and added additional beans plus veggies, creating a healthier chili.

When you must dine out at fast food restaurants

Ironically, thinking in terms of restaurant food chains rather than non-chain full-service restaurants may serve your health concerns more effectively. Unless you live in a cave, you have seen nutrition information is posted at your favorite fast food restaurant. In 2014, the FDA set into motion new labeling requirements for chain restaurants. By now, all that nutrition information has been available to customers for years. If you pay attention to that posted nutrition information, it can help you make better decisions while dining out. There are lots of helpful websites to start planning for healthier choices. One that I really like is HealthyDiningFinder. Put in your zip code and you can start your search for healthier cuisine.

Consider frequenting casual dining restaurants that actually have a set calorie controlled menu with a lot of choices such as the Cheesecake Factory. While in the past I would have cringed at dining there, they have made great strides with their Skinnylicious menu options. I was pleasantly surprised at how tasty the food was from that menu and ecstatic with all the choices for under 600 calories. I can’t say the sodium was acceptable across the board with that menu, but as I stated, it’s very hard to nail the fat, calories, and sodium content of any restaurant meal.

Full service restaurants

Restaurant dining cost to health and walletClearly, fast food options are not always what we want or need for social occasions. Always try and check out the restaurant menu online prior to arriving there. This will at least allow you an opportunity to avoid split second and thoughtless decisions when ordering. Socializing with friends while trying to order without some prior thought does not usually translate to a healthy choice.

Looking for plain menu options like a ladies’ cut filet or chicken that is not smothered in sauce might be good options. Add some steamed vegetables and plain baked potato and you’ve made some wise choices. By skipping the appetizers, cocktails, and desserts you are on your way to helping your waistline. And that bread basket is always a problem, right? Ask the wait staff to keep it in the kitchen or move it to another part of the table. And, if portion sizes of your meat based entree are larger than a deck of cards, bring the leftovers home if you are serious about managing your healthy diet. Help yourself with that action by asking for the “doggie” bag at the beginning of the meal!

While eating out is recreational for many, it should be a treat for special occasions rather than your regular diet. Eating at home more often will result in a healthier diet and bank account. With that stated, here are some additional tips to manage food choices and calories when eating away from home. Eating at home is a win-win scenario, except for the dirty dishes.

Do you have any strategies for managing your calories, fat, and sodium while dining out that I didn’t mention? And what recommendations can you share to keep restaurant dining cost to a minimum when you do splurge?

If this blog post was helpful, please share it with a friend!

 

Fast Breakfast Ideas: Easy and Nutritious On the Fly

fast breakfast ideas chocolate chip buckwheat muffins

Grogginess in the morning? You know you should eat some breakfast and not just gulp down java. But, creative and fast breakfast ideas are often limited and with tight schedules, most of us could use some help. Breakfast does not need to be complicated or labor intensive. We just need to do a little thinking a ahead and maybe outside the box. Here are some fast breakfast ideas that are easy and require very little time to pull off.

Nutritionally speaking, there are a lot of important reasons to fuel up in the morning. Research has noted that breakfast eaters have a jump-start on: maintaining a healthy weight, meeting daily nutritional requirements, and performing better physically and mentally all day. However, the issue is always what to eat, how long will it take to prepare, and how fast can it be eaten!

Fast breakfast ideas that are easy and nutritious

Smoothies are a versatile and fast breakfast idea

fast breakfast ideasTry a breakfast smoothie. The most time consuming part of making a smoothie is rinsing your blender!

For my creamy berry smoothie, blend 1.5 cups of blueberries (may start off as frozen and let thaw while in shower), ½ cup 1% milk fat cottage cheese, and ½ cup orange juice in a blender until thoroughly mixed. Yes, add the cottage cheese or cultured cottage cheese. It makes the smoothie thick and gives a very slight “cheese cake” twist to the smoothie along with some major high quality protein.

Each 12 ounce serving has 260 calories, 15 grams protein, 48 grams carb, 2 grams fat, 7 grams fiber, and 275 mg. of potassium.

Muffins made ahead and frozen are a fast breakfast idea

This is about as easy as it gets and you know what’s going into your body. Make ahead of time, freeze, and grab as needed. Let thaw as you shower. Enjoy with some orange juice or low sodium V-8 juice.

Consider making oat bran muffins as a healthy alternative to hot cereal. When evaluating an oat bran muffin recipe consider recipes without dried fruits if you are watching your waistline. Those additional ingredients will make the overall calorie value of your muffin much higher. If a recipe calls for applesauce, that allows for a moister oat bran muffin. Here’s a healthier oat bran muffin recipe.

For those needing a change of pace, I recommend this buckwheat chocolate chip muffin recipe that has gotten great personal and client reviews. The blog photo on top shows what these delicious muffins look like.

Improvise with an English Muffin for more fast breakfast ideas

Toast an English muffin, add one slice low-fat cheese and a slice of Canadian bacon. Now you have an Egg McMuffin, sans the egg, and you don’t need to stop at the drive through and get tempted with those fatty hash browns.

What about English muffin pizza for breakfast? Toast each half to make it crispy. Spread some pizza sauce on each half, some shredded mozzarella, and zap for a few seconds in the microwave. Who doesn’t enjoy pizza for breakfast?

Improvise with a waffle for a fast breakfast

Take your favorite regular or gluten free waffle and smear on some peanut butter. Top with a sliced banana for a nice dose of potassium. Or, instead of peanut butter, melt a slice of your favorite cheese on top of the waffle.

Standby eggs

Consider hard boiling several to grab during the week. Each egg is a nice packet of nutrients and only about 80 calories. Or, consider making small cheese and spinach quiches in muffin pans and freezing. This is one of my favorite breakfast foods of all time for myself and if I am hosting guests. They always freeze great and can defrost in the microwave in seconds. Making that little bit of effort ahead of time in order to grab these will be worth it as you head out the door.

Overnight oats

overnight ats fast breakfast ideasThis takes a little effort the night before, but “little” is the operative word here. This is very easy to toss together the night before, and enjoy in the morning. To prep the basic overnight oat recipe take:

1/2  cup of oatmeal, combine with 1/2 of any type of milk (skim, 2%, soy, almond, coconut, rice, cashew), add 1/2 yogurt or skip the yogurt and use an additional 1/2 cup of milk. Add a pinch of salt and whatever sweetener you desire.This basic recipe can be modified by adding chocolate chips, Nutella, peanut butter, a mashed banana or berries. If you need more of a caffeine jolt on top of your java, add some instant coffee to your oats!

Mix your basic ingredients and your optional ingredients and place in any container with a lid. Mason jars are popular at the moment for this recipe, but any container that can be capped will work. Place in the refrigerator overnight, and you are done. The oats will be ready to eat in the morning. They can be eaten cold, or gently warmed in the microwave if warm oatmeal is your preference. Another advantage of this recipe, as it will last about 4 days in the refrigerator, so it’s not impeative to eat it the very next day.

 No crust  pumpkin pie

crustless pumpkin pie

Crust free pumpkin pie is perfect to start out the day. I bet you didn’t see that one coming as a fast breakfast idea! It’s full of anti-oxidants and with some good quality protein from the eggs and milk used in this recipe. Even my crust free version that does not use splenda is healthy for the whole family. And, it would work to decrease the sugar a bit more in the conventional recipe if you like. When my kids were growing up, I often made this recipe and served it for breakfast. No one was complaining at all. As long as it doesn’t get eaten first, it will last all week. Make it on Sunday night for the work week.

Bottom line, a better breakfast will mean a better you and better day. If you are also thinking of lunch and dinner, here are some other suggestions! 

Do you have a favorite, fast, and healthy breakfast idea? If so, please share so I can add to my blog.

 

 

Cereals With Too Much Sugar? Pick These Cereals, Not Those

sugar in cereal

When you look at a Nutrition Fact Label, you can see sugars noted on the label. The amount of sugar will be stated in grams of sugar from the product based on the serving size noted on the label. Here’s a quick fact to visualize what those grams of sugar look like if put into a teaspoon. For every 5 grams of sugar, that is equal to one teaspoon of sugar. So, if a cereal has 17 grams of sugar per serving, then that cereal contains over 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving. I think most nutrition professionals would say such cereals have too much sugar. At least this one would!

Cereal label showing sugar in cereal So, if you take a look at the Nutrition Fact Label, you can see that a serving of this cereal has only 2 grams of sugar. That sugar content is very low in comparison to most cereal products. It would be a good choice if you wanted to limit your sugar from cereals. While limiting sugars is important, a cereal should be providing other important nutrients such as fiber and iron. For many people, the amount of iron in cereal is particularly problematic and could potentially be harmful to their health.

Drawbacks to lots of sugar in the diet

Sugar is classified as a simple carbohydrate. It is a type of carbohydrate that has virtually no nutritional value other than calories. This is in direct contrast to complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates give us so much more than just empty calories. These foods are significant sources of B complex vitamins, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Examples of complex carbohydrates include potatoes, corn, legumes, barley, brown and wild rice, and whole grain derived products. In fact, the cereal chosen to eat for breakfast should be viewed primarily as a complex carbohydrate and should not be a significant source of the other carbohydrate-the simple ones.

While calories are an important nutrient, it is desirable to have our calories provide many nutrients, and not just energy. So, what ‘s the real problem with too much dietary sugar? The list could go on and on, but here are some highlights:

Cereals with too much sugar, 15 grams or more (3 teaspoons of sugar)

  • Frosted Flakes have 21 grams
  • Raisin Bran Crunch has 19 grams
  • Raisin Bran has 17 grams
  • Lucky Charms have 17
  • Cracklin Oat Bran has 16 grams

Options with 11-14 grams of sugar (2+ teaspoons of sugar)

  • Cheerios Oat Crunch have 14 grams
  • Kashi GoLean Cereal Crunch 13
  • Great Grains have 13 grams
  • Honey Nut Chex have 12 grams
  • Frosted Mini Wheats have 11 grams
  • Kashi GoLean Multigrain Toasted Berry Crisp has 11 grams
  • Cascadian Farm Cinnamon Crunch has 11 grams

Options with less than 10 grams of sugar (less than 2 teaspoons of sugar)

  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch has 9 grams
  • Oatmeal Squares with Hint of Brown Sugar have 9 grams
  • Honey Nut Cheerios have 9 grams
  • Life Cereal has 8 grams
  • Quaker Life Cereal has 6 grams
  • Multi Grain Cheerios have 6 grams

Cereals with 5 grams or less of sugar (1 teaspoon or less of sugar)

  • Grape Nuts have 5 grams
  • Wheat Chex has 5 grams
  • Special K (plain) has 4 grams
  • Rice Krispies have 4 grams
  • Crispix has 4 grams
  • Corn Chex has 4 grams
  • Wheaties have 4 grams
  • Corn Flakes have 3 grams
  • Kix has 3 grams
  • Rice Chex has 2 grams
  • Cheerios (plain) have 1 gram
  • Fiber One has 0 grams

Choosing the best cereal for your needs

So, none of us need to be loaded up with sugary cereal. It does not matter how old or young we are, we should be avoiding high sugar cereals! The one exception might be if you count it as a dessert (which I do occasionally). However, when choosing your cereal, it is also important to consider things like the iron and fiber content. For determining your iron needs and which cereal would be best for your individual health, just check here. This is actually quite important. Iron requirements vary by age and gender, and cereal is fortified for the population needing the most iron. Those needing the most iron are women of childbearing years. The rest of us may actually be exposed to excessive quantities of iron in cereal. This is particularly true for those that like extra large servings. Knowing your iron requirements should always be a guideline for picking a healthy cereal. For other cereal purchasing considerations, refer here.

Sometimes it’s not an easy decision on which cereal to pick. If cutting iron is critical, you may need to be eating a tad more sugar than desired. And, if fiber is a priority, you may need to comprise once again. But, knowing the nutrition facts on your favorite cereal choices can go a long way on choosing the best option for your individual or family needs!

Do you have a great cereal that you enjoy that is low in sugar with the right amount of iron and fiber? Care to share? Speaking of sharing, please share this post if you enjoyed it.

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!

Color of Food: Hidden Secrets to Health?

Color of food: hidden secrets to health?

What does colored food mean to your health?

The color of food you eat can be a huge factor in determining the quality of your diet. The quality of your diet can hold the secret to great health. Foods can range in color from white to black, and everyone should think about how to utilize color when planning healthy meals. The types of chemicals found naturally in foods often determine the color of the food. These compounds are called phytochemicals, which is Greek for plant chemicals. What scientists have come to believe is that these natural plant chemicals serve to protect plants from disease. If we eat the plant, we also get some sort of health benefit. In fact, these phytochemicals are emerging in scientific research as key players in regulating health.

Phytochemicals color your food

The roles of phytochemicals are wide ranging- from protecting our genetic material to fighting inflammation, aging, and disease. In addition to imparting color to our food, they often confer the specific smell a food emits upon cooking, such as that distinctive odor from cooked broccoli or cauliflower. Like hot peppers or the flavors of onions and garlic? It’s all about the phytochemicals present in these foods.

Although we can use color to do a basic “decode” as to which phytochemicals are present in a particular food, it’s important to note that a given food item may have thousands of phytochemicals. For instance, a tomato may have 1000 or more identifiable phytochemicals. Scientists also feel that the phytochemicals found naturally in food actually work together. This would be an argument against taking individual phytochemical supplements. Additionally, it is unclear if supplemental forms of phytochemicals are absorbed as well as the compounds from food.

Color of food: a closer look at what the colors mean

Color of food: secret to your health

 

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Red foods

Lycopene colors foods red. All tomato based foods, pink grapefruit, guava, and watermelon contain lycopene. By acting as a very strong anti-oxidant and cancer fighter, lycopene protects your health. Early research studies have found that men who ate ten or more servings of tomato based foods or other pink/red foods weekly had a significant reduction in prostate cancer. Some studies also suggest lycopene protects against other cancers such as liver, skin, breast, and lung cancers. Newer research suggests the lycopene derived from tomatoes helped human subjects improve their cholesterol levels.

Heat and oil aid in increasing lycopene absorption. Therefore, Italian cuisine that has both tomatoes and oil is a great way to boost your dietary lycopene absorption.

Blue foods

Anthocyanin colors foods dark red to blue. Cherries, blueberries, purple grapes, raspberries, red cabbage, and cranberries are sources of anthocyanin. In addition to being anti-oxidants, anthocyanins also appear to reduce cholesterol production to help keep our arteries clear. Aiding immunity and boosting production of detoxifying enzymes are other possible benefits of anthocyanins.

Blueberries, in particular, have been evaluated for their impact on the brain. Years ago researchers fed chow rich in blueberry extracts to rats, and fewer age related mental changes were exhibited in contrast to rats that ate regular chow. This was the beginning of the “brain superfood” called blueberries. Current research continues to support adding anthocyanin rich foods to the human diet. One recent study supported incorporating blueberry juice concentrate into the diets of older adults of to aid brain function.

Black foods

Polyphenols, along with anthocyanins, help color foods black. Foods rich in polyphenols are also rich in anti-oxidants. Examples of black foods include prunes, dates, blackberries, figs, raisins, black beans, chocolate, and coffee. Dark chocolate is particulary high on the anti-oxidant chart. News every chocoholic loves to hear. And, our morning coffee? Studies have found that coffee polyphenols seem to protect against diabetes and certain cancers such as pancreatic cancer. If you need other beverages high in polyphenols, there is green tea and wine.

Orange foods

Beta-carotene colors foods orange. Beta-carotene is the plant derived form of vitamin A. Once eaten, it’s converted to vitamin A that can be used by the body. Beta-carotene rich foods include cantaloupe, acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, guava, mango, sweet potatoes, and apricots.

Key health benefits are that it’s another anti-oxidant. It protects the skin, fights infection, regulates genes, and impacts reproduction. In particular, beta-carotene rich foods offer health benefits against various age related eye diseases.  

White foods

White foods like garlic, scallions, onions, and leeks contain the phytochemicals allicin and diallyl sulfide. The smell of garlic after cutting is due to the allicin.. Allicin may protect against certain cancers as well as decrease blood pressure. Diallyl sulfide also seems to offer protection against certain cancers such as stomach cancer.

Green foods

Green foods contain chlorophyll which may mask other colors such as the orange color of beta-carotene. It is safe to say that green colored foods contain a wide array of many types phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, green cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts) all contain sulforaphane. This phytochemial may act by detoxifying cancer causing compounds, limiting production of cancer causing hormones, and preventing tumor growth. Green fruits and vegetables are also sources of phytochemicals known to prevent macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the US in those over 60 years of age.

Color of foods: a menu planning tool

Menu planning for a healthy future must include a rainbow of colors. By making sure there is a lot of color in your diet, you are making sure you get a wide spectrum of phytochemicals into your body. As you age, you then decrease your chances of heart disease, cancer, infection, eye diseases, and cognitive decline. You can’t go wrong with a plate full of color. Its the easiest way to improve the quality of your diet.

Ice Cream Calories: 6 Tips to Lighten Up

tips to decrease your ice cream calories and not increase your waistlineIce cream is a special summer treat. For many of us, summer is the time we went to the local ice cream shop for a special treat on a hot summer day. We did this as kids, and now with your own kids, you may be repeating family traditions. But, if you are like many Americans, it might be advantageous to know how to lighten the calories to help your waistline. If you are not careful, you can easily end up with an ice cream calorie equivalent of a whole day’s worth of calories!

Here are six tips to carry on with your ice cream tradition without increasing your waistline:

Avoid premium ice creams altogether 

A single 6 oz. scoop of premium ice cream can cost you 500 calories. Oberweis chocolate chocolate chip, chocolate marshmallow, chocolate almond, butter pecan, butter brickle, chocolate caramel crunch, cookie dough, and strawberry cheesecake flavors can all claim that calorie content! After you decide on your ice cream, you need to pick a cone or cup. Waffle cones generally have more calories (120-160 calories) than sugar cones (60-130). Pick the paper cup instead and you’ve saved yourself some calories without sacrificing much of the flavor!

Eat like a little kid to lower your ice cream calories

kids eating ice creamCalories and fat will always follow portion sizes, so you can either have a bite of someone else’s treat, or get yourself a kid scoop. A kid scoop is roughly 2.5-3 oz., so you can assume the calories are slashed 50% from the adult version, translating to much more calorie and fat control.

Exercise caution with low-fat and dairy free options

Don’t assume because the ice cream is low-fat that it is fine to have a double scoop! The Oberweis single scoop low-fat flavors range in calories from vanilla at 250 calories to chocolate marshmallow at 300 calories. Do the math and you can see how you might still get into a calorie bind by having a double scoop.

Dairy free ice creams are the current hot rage as the demand for healthier frozen treats has spiraled. These dairy free ice cream treats are made from almond, soy, and coconut milk and some also contain pea protein. While the dairy has been removed, the calories have not. Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream roasted peanut butter and strawberry jam flavor yields 17 grams of fat and 270 calories per 2/3 cup. Ben & Jerry’s almond milk chocolate chip cookie dough flavor has 16 grams of fat and 350 calories for 2/3 cup. A better choice would be Talenti brand dairy and fat free mango sorbetto which will satisfy your sweet tooth for only 160 calories.

Avoid the final touches to lower those ice cream calories

Dipping your DQ vanilla cone in chocolate will add anywhere from 100-200 calories to your treat, depending on the size of cone you opt for. Adding  the candy pieces, whipped cream, and nuts will also give you some additional “energy” to the tune of at least 100 calories.

Go for cold alternatives 

Most ice cream franchises have healthier lower fat and calorie options for consumers.Better options include sorbet, low-fat frozen yogurt, and sherbet. Single scoop servings of these frosty alternatives may also be significantly lower in calories. A 4 oz. serving of sorbet can run your calorie tab 80-150 calories. Many frozen yogurt flavors are 150 calories or less per 4 oz. serving. While sherbet is virtually fat-free, the calories can start adding up as a 4-6 oz. single scoop of orange sherbet can run as high as 260 calories. If slashing fat is the objective, sherbet is a good way to go, but the calorie tab may run higher than anticipated.

Go to the supermarket instead 

There are so many frozen treats at your supermarket to take advantage of if you are trying to stay slim this summer. Spend a few minutes looking at the nutrition fact labels and pick a product that suits your palate and nutritional goal. There are many ice cream-like products hitting the mainstream and specialty grocery stores all the time that are both tasty and fit into anyone’s eating lifestyle.

If your full fat treat is a once in awhile treat, enjoy it! But if you frequent ice cream shops, then you’ll help your waistline by paying attention to the type and portion size of treats selected.

What do you opt for at the ice cream store? Can you share the nutrition information of your favorite frozen treat?

 

Keep Your Grilled Food Safe at the Plate

grilled fod

Keep your food safe to eat

With Memorial Day around the corner, grills will be fired up. Grilled food is usually considered healthy because it is cooked without fat. For instance, a typical 4-ounce chicken breast cooked on the grill contains about 7 grams of fat, while a 4-ounce serving of fast-food fried chicken contains about 17 grams of fat. To keep your healthy grilled foods safe to eat, food safety precautions should be taken.

Although your waistline is better off with grilled cuisine, the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) points out that grilling might increase the risk of cancer. Cancer-causing compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are produced when meat (eg, fish, beef, and chicken) is cooked at the high temperatures used in grilling and broiling. Other cancer-causing compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when meat fat drips onto hot coals. As food cooks on the grill, flames and smoke help deposit the PAHs onto the food.

Making grilled food safer

There are steps that you can take to lower your risk of these potentially cancer-causing chemicals:

  •  Trim the fat. To minimize the PAHs from forming, trim as much fat as you can from the meat.
  •  Marinate. Some studies suggest that marinating meat before grilling may reduce the formation of HCAs.
  •  Precook. Pop the meat in the microwave to partially cook it before grilling.
  •  Use smaller cuts of meat. Smaller cuts take less time to grill. You can also flip your food often, which can further shorten grilling time.
  •  Remove charred parts. After grilling, cut off any charred parts from the meat.
  •  Eat your fruits and veggies. Add variety to your meals by grilling fruits and veggies instead of meat. Vegetables do not produce HCAs.

Other ways to be a safe grillmaster

  •  Frequently wash your hands and surfaces. This can prevent cross-contamination of bacteria, like E. coli.
  • Use separate plates. Use one cutting board for raw meats and a clean one for other foods in order to reduce bacteria crossover. Be sure to use separate plates, utensils, and platters for raw and cooked foods. For instance, if the raw  steaks are carried out on a platter and tongs are used for placing them on the grill, you must use a new clean platter and tongs for taking the cooked steaks off the grill when they are done.
  •  Keep the temperatures appropriate. Meats should be refrigerated while marinating and up to the point of being cooked. When the grilling starts, be sure the internal temperature of meats is appropriate to kill bacteria . Use a meat thermometer to check proper internal temperatures.
  • Refrigerate leftovers immediately. If left out more than one hour in hot temperatures or 2 hours in cooler temperatures they should be pitched.

A little precaution goes a long way in keeping your grilled food safe at the plate, both on this holiday weekend and all grilling season.  Happy Memorial Day!

Strong Bones: 5 Novel Foods for Osteoporosis Prevention

Osteoporosis: Silent Stalker

Osteoporosis is a public health problem that affects about 54 million people. It’s a condition where the bones become thin and then weaken. It can occur anywhere in the skeletal system and it’s always silent in terms of symptoms. When a fracture occurs, it is often life altering because it is difficult to repair the extensive fracture. I can still remember my sharp and nimble 85 year old grandfather stumbling on a hose and breaking his hip. He never came out of the surgery. Fortunately, a first line of defense is selecting foods for osteoporosis prevention. A diet with foods providing nutrients for bone strength starting early in life is key.
osteoporosis

Nutrients for Osteoporosis Prevention

Choosing the right foods for osteoporosis prevention will provide the best nutrients for bone strength. Most people know the importance of enough calcium and vitamin D for strong bones. Furthermore, we know diets rich in bone building nutrients early in life allow for stronger bones later in life. We all start losing bone strength as we age. Think of your skeletal system as a calcium bank that you start withdrawing from around 40 years of age. For that reason, the more strength in your bones earlier in life, the better off you will be when old.

Top important nutrients for bone health are calcium and vitamin D along with vitamin K, C, and A. Some recent studies have pointed out some novel foods that could help prevent osteoporosis.

Dried Plums (aka prunes)

According to researchers, prunes have a unique nutrient and dietary profile that seem to have a beneficial effect. A variety of phenolic compounds in this fruit may be the factor that helps prevent bone loss. As little as 6 prunes a day might be therapeutic.

Olives

It seems consumption of olives as well as olive oil improves bone health. The beneficial effect of olives and olive oil may be attributed to their ability to reduce inflammation.  Human studies have revealed that daily consumption of olive oil could prevent the decline in bone density and improve bone turnover markers.

Fish

The Framingham Osteoporosis Study has shown that people who eat at least 3 weekly servings of fish gained hip bone mass density over 4 years compared to people with low to moderate fish consumption. The correlation is due to a number of dietary factors. Fish is high in protein and also omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to decrease inflammation.

Beer 

Researchers have long known that silicon may contribute to bone mineralization. Silicon is available from drinking water and some foods. But, the silicon content of beer is relatively high. Researchers have noted that dietary silicon intake in men and women aged 30-87 years of age was correlated with a higher bone mineral density.

Wine 

In particular, the Framingham Osteoporosis study identified red wine as particularly beneficial to bone in women. This led to the thinking that perhaps the resveratrol found in wine was the protective factor. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol abundant in wine, grapes, and some nuts. Researchers cautioned that moderation was key because excessive alcohol had a negative impact on bone density.

And, for information on getting enough vitamin D for strong bones, here’s more information!

For more detailed information on osteoporosis, visit here.

Has diet improved your bone density scans? How did you change your diet to build more bone density?

Without Wheat: Blueberry Streusel Teff Muffins

I decided to finally try using the teff flour I bought months ago. Muffins always seem like a forgiving baked product to start on, so teff muffins it was. It seems as though a lot of the available recipes require another flour in addition to the teff flour. The teff flour can make a drier product so a recipe that has sweet potatoes, bananas, applesauce, and berries would seem to be a good fit. I took a conventional recipe and modified the flours.

1/4 canola oil
1 cup skim milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 cup teff flour
1 cup Bob's Red Mill 1 to 1 Gluten free Flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 cup frozen organic blueberries, thawed and well drained

Streusel Topping:
2 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. brown sugar

Heat oven to 400º . Mix the streusel ingredients into a bowl and set asside. Generously grease or spray muffin pan. Mix the milk, oil, vanilla, and egg together. Stir in both flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt until moistened. Fold in the drained blueberries. Divide batter in 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle the streusel topping on top and bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from the pan immediately.

These muffins, as is the case with all muffins, freeze well for a quick grab start to the day or easy snack. 

Yeild 12 muffins: Each muffin has 199 calories, 6 g fat, 30 g carbohydrates, and 4 g protein

If you are looking to experiment with another wheat free flour, try my buckwheat muffin recipe.

Have you used Teff flour in a baked product?