Nutrition Basics

Maximize Vitamin E Intake with Diet

Vitamin E: A Fat-Soluble Vitamin

Vitamin E is the name for a group of fat-soluble compounds that have distinctive antioxidant properties.  The type of vitamin E that our bodies most easily absorb and transport is called alpha-tocopherol.  Nuts, seeds and vegetable oils are among the best sources for alpha-tocopherol.  While alpha-tocopherol is the preferred form of vitamin E because it is better used by our bodies, it is not the most common form of vitamin E that we eat.  Most vitamin E in American diets is in the form of gamma-tocopherol, which is found in soybeans, canola, corn and vegetable oils.

A Protective Anti-inflammatory: The Role of Vitamin E

Antioxidants protect cells from the damage of molecules called free radicals.  Free radicals damage cells and may contribute to the development of heart disease and certain cancers.  Some examples of how free radicals are formed include during digestion of certain foods, and environmental exposures to cigarette smoke, pollution and UV rays.  Since vitamin E can help prevent the buildup of these harmful molecules, scientists are looking into understanding if vitamin E supplementation can play a role in preventing chronic disease.  At this time it is best to try to get your vitamin E through foods.  Interestingly, Vitamin E is also involved in immune function.  Studies show it can play a role in gene expression and help keep epithelial cells and blood vessels healthy.

Recommendations for vitamin E intake:  15 milligrams (22.4 IUs) daily over age 14 for men and women.

Highest Vitamin E containing foods: Wheat Germ Oil, Enriched Bran Flakes, Sunflower Oil, Safflower Oil, Hazelnut Oil, Sunflower Seeds Swiss Chard, Spinach, Kale, Mustard Greens, Almonds, Hazelnuts

Personal Food Rules Part II: What this RD Eats Everyday

I have written on this overarching topic before (not even referring to Part I which was posted on Monday!) because I think that it’s important for people to understand that as RDs, we face the same challenges as you do daily.  Well a big part of my food philosophy and personal food rules is to establish very basic healthy habits to employ daily.  Here is my everyday routine:

The Routine

I have coffee with one of a few breakfasts in the morning (whole wheat toast with peanut butter and chia seeds, a chia charger and piece of fruit, oatmeal with ground chia and/or flax seeds, a high fiber cereal with a piece of fruit).  I try to eat a nice, big salad for lunch most days; my only other alternatives might be a sandwich (1-2x/week) or cup of soup.  I try to have a piece of fruit or small snack around 4PM so I don’t snack while I’m cooking dinner.  And then with regards to dinner, I generally make well balanced meals using whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat couscous) and incorporate at least another 2 servings of veggies. 

The Philosophy

As you can see, setting up my daily routine to be healthy allows for a few things: 1. I’m not making decisions on the fly and am not tempted to have something less healthy. 2. Eating healthful real foods and lots of fruits and vegetables makes my meals very volume-satisfying while not being energy dense.  3. I’m getting in plenty of fiber and protein that lasts me between meals. 4. I have identified a problem area (snacking while cooking dinner) and set up a strategy to avoid it (4PM snack).

Less Decisions, Less Problems

The way I see it, I have 21 meal opportunities weekly to eat healthfully, so if I can make my daily routine healthy enough that each week I eat at least 15-18 healthy meals without really thinking about it or putting too much effort in, then I might have 4 or 5 meals decisions left in my week.  The point isn’t to stray too far when I’m out of my routine, in fact I usually don’t because it doesn’t feel good to eat ‘poorly’.  The point is that if I do go out for a nice meal, or decide to make pizzas with friends or munch on a cheese and crackers platter, I don’t feel bad about it and I’m not compromising my health for those meals because my routine and daily choices remain intact.  This is where nutrition becomes about the lifestyle choices and not dieting.

Personal Food Rules: Part I

As a dietitian I am often asked about how I eat and if I follow a vegetarian (used to), vegan (wouldn’t be able to – I love cheese and wearing leather), pescetarian (also used to), or paleo (no thanks, I like the encouragement of real, whole foods but too much meat for me) diets. Well while I subscribe in pieces to many different diets, these are my personal food rules that I live by:

  • Mostly choose water. I genuinely feel refreshed drinking water and I don’t want to waste any of my precious energy needs on sugary and calorie-filled drinks. They are not worth it to me. Plus staying adequately hydrated helps curb the appetite.
  • Keep at least half of meals plant based. I do 1-2 meatless days per week, eat lean red meat about once a week, and keep the rest of my protein sources to chicken/turkey/fish. I tend to pick out an animal based protein source for 1-2 meals per day (on my non-meatless days). All I can say is: mmmn, seafood in New England…
  • Save butter and cream based products for special occasions. I only cook in oils and I use the healthier spreads on toast (usually Smart Balance or Olivio).
  • No pastries, minimal candy/sweets. I am one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have a sweet tooth. I’d rather have a nice glass of wine with dinner instead of dessert any night of the week. This eliminates a lot of energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods such as cakes, cookies, ice cream, pastries, pies, etc. The only two things I will say I like are real chocolate (nothing waxy) and gummy candy such as Swedish Fish (in fact, I request these instead of cake for my bday every year).
  • No late night snacking. I’m rarely even tempted to do so because I have a good dinner.
  • No eating out of the boxes/bags. I always serve myself snacks in a small bowl to stay cognizant of portions. I also tend not to buy snack food items because I don’t want to have it around.
  • Fearlessness with trying healthy cooking modifications. I always put extra veggies in dishes, and I’m not afraid to try making substitutions in dishes such as using Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. One of my best tricks is to buy the 97% lean ground beef and add (per 1 lb of meat) 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of water.
  • Make my everyday routine healthy. [Stay tuned for Thursday’s Blog Post!!]

I hope this gives some insight to the food voyeurs out there (present company included) that like to understand what others’ food choices are. Do you have any food rules you live by?

Blue Ribbon Vegetables

As a Registered Dietitian I find that my counseling often emphasizes adding vegetables and fruits in.  Although it sounds simpler that it is, the truth is that it is easier for us to eliminate the bad by utilizing the good.  This leads to satisfying and nutritious meals.  Not to mention, a pattern of intake that our bodies were meant to experience.

Take a look at all of the wonderful nutrients you can get from the following foods.  Use this 'Blue Ribbon' produce in as many meals as possible!

Top Vegetables for Various Nutrients:

Vitamin A - Pumpkin, Collard Greens, Sweet Potato, Kale, Carrots

Vitamin C - Red Pepper, Oranges, Strawberries, Grapefruit, Kiwi, Broccoli

Vitamin K - Kale, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Collard Greens, Broccoli, Green Cabbage

Vitamins B1 and B2 - Peas, Spinach, Mushrooms

Vitamin B6 - Prunes, Banana, Sweet Red Pepper, Baked Potato, Spinach, Zucchini

Folate - Asparagus, Spinach, Cauliflower, Endive

Potassium - Baked Potato, Kale, Avocado, Sweet Potato, Cantaloupe, Bananas, Tomato, Cabbage

Phosphorus - Green Peas, Corn, Baked Potato, Broccoli

Magnesium - Spinach, Banana, Arugula, Pineapple, Swiss Chard

Manganese - Pineapple, Spinach, Blackberries, Strawberries, Peas

Nutrients that are Impacted by Stress

And Vice Versa!  Is it the chicken or the egg?

Stress is an oxidative process in the body, during which micronutrients are used to help fight off further damage to cells from this oxidation.  That's why it is important to maintain regular intake of all of those colorful fruits and vegetables.  Each one contains different phytonutrients that help to fight off stress, which in turn means they need to be replaced thereafter.  So whether you feel it is before, during, or affter a stressful period in your life, you need these nutrients!  Here are some ideas for food sources.

  • Tomatoes, watermelon, papayas are sources of lycopene (a carotenoid, or provitamin A)
  • Oranges, apricots, bell peppers, and broccoli are all sources of vitamin C
  • Carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes are sources of beta-carotene (a carotenoid, or provitamin A)
  • Spinach, whole grains, and milk/yogurt are all sources of B vitamins

 
Photo courtesy of healthy-eating.org/uk

 

All About Fiber

What is fiber?

One of the topics that I find myself talking a lot about with clients is fiber as it is essential to healthy eating.  Fiber is a nondigestible substance that reduces the risk of many chronic health conditions, including diabetes mellitus, heart disease, constipation, diverticulosis, obesity, and certain cancers.  It is found in fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes, bran, oats, and whole-grain products.  

Dietary recommendations for daily fiber intake is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.

Insoluble vs Soluble

There are two different types of fiber: insoluble and soluble.  Both types provide the health benefits detailed below, in fact getting a miz in your diet is the best approach.  Soluble fibers dissolve in water and are fermented by intestinal bacteria while insoluble fibers do not, instead they are more viscous.  Soluble fiber examples include the cellulose that makes up the meat of an apple or the lignins in beans.  Insoluble fiber examples include the pectins in vegetable skins or citrus fruits.

The Physiology Behind the Benefits

I personally feel that understanding the body and the science of good nutrition helps to motivate people to follow through.  I hope that at least one or two of these motivate you!

  • Fiber helps to moderate blood cholesterol levels.  How?  In the digestive tract fiber holds onto bile salts (a compound that helps digest fat) which end up being excreted instead of reabsorbed.  This means your body uses cholesterol from the blood to create new bile salts.
  • Fiber slows the release of food from the stomach during digestion, in turn this slows the absorption of glucose in the blood stream and improves blood sugar control.  
  • Fiber helps keep things moving in the digestive tract so that potential cancer promoting substances spend less time in contact with the intestinal lining.

 

Women's Nutrition - The Big Four

Calling all female attention!  Are you sure you're getting the most important nutrients for you?  As women we have specific nutritional needs for optimal growth and function throughout our lifespan.  So how do you think you're doing when it comes to these nutrients and lifestyle changes?

Calcium

Calcium is very important for bone health as women are at a greater risk for osteoporosis than men.  Bone mineral accretion (in other words, the most important years for intake) lasts from the teen years into early thirties ... and then it's all about maintaining it with regular intake of calcium and weight-bearing exercise.

Calcium sources: [low-fat!] dairy products, spinach, kale, broccoli, brussel sprouts, fortified soy milk and orange juice, quinoa, chard

Iron

Iron is a mineral that plays a role in oxygenation of the blood supply.  On top of being a mineral that is often consumed in insufficienct amounts, women experience monthly losses during menstruation.  This can lead to various types of anemia and fatigue.

Iron sources: [lean!] red meats, dark poultry, shellfish, soybeans & products, spinach, lentils, iron-fortified cereals

Complex Carbohydrates

Focus on maintaining a healthy intake of this [type of] macronutrient as it boosts serotonin levels for more even-keeled energy.  Plus you get all the benefits of higher fiber for heart and intestinal health.  Foods in this category include fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, whole wheat bread.  In fact, for the most optimal energy levels throughout the day, take this principle, and use it at every...

Meal.  Regular Meals.  Regular Physical Activity.

I know it sounds simple and that it's advice that you've probably heard before.  But that doesn't change its importance.  Your body's natural cadence for energy means that you'll be the most satisfied if you have something nutritious every 3-4 hours during the day.  Smaller, more-frequent meals are a great strategy for weight management when they're planned correctly.  Now, regular physical activity.  I'm not talking about 3 hours in the gym or running a marathon.  Physical activity for at least 30 minutes MOST days of the week.

 

So ladies, how do you think you're doing with these?  I think breaking it down to a few basic concepts helps us know where to focus our attention.  Any other women's health questions or concerns?!

Adolescent Eating Behaviors

Family Meals

Establishing a family meal is incredibly important to developing strong relationships with your family and learning about the day to day of what family members are dealing with.  It can also serve as a time for problem solving and picking up on any red flags before issues arise.  While these social and behavioral benefits have been known for awhile now, some research emerged recently indicating that adolescents have healthier diets with a greater frequency of family meals. 

This intuitively make sense.  One might imagine that with improved relationships within the family and a place to provide a nutrient dense meal that better diets will emerge among the teenagers that fall into this category of more "frequent family meals".

Photo courtesy of iVillage.com.Strictness Improves Nutrition?

According to the study, parents that enforce family meals tend to have a more "authoritative" parenting style.  Interestingly, this authoritative role in the child's life (and improved nutrition!) showed a stronger role with opposite sex dyads (father with daughter, mother with son).  Although the methodology of the study could stand to be improved, I thought this was an interesting relationship to extrapolate.  

I think this shows the importance of sitting around the dinner table, with a well balanced meal atop, and having a conversation with your family.  It is a simple practice that can be overlooked in our overworked and over-scheduled society.  

Happy family dining everyone!

Summertime Snacks

Beautiful Bounties

The summer months bring along a wonderful abundance of fresh and in season produce and the craving for lighter fare.  A combination that the dietitian in me enjoys!  With Farmer's Markets cropping up all over the place and better prices in the grocery store, now is the time to take advantage.  Here are some ideas for getting interesting and satiating snacks into your diet.

Some Snack Rules:

  1. Healthy, unprocessed carbohydrates will help curb any immediate feeling of hunger.  Fruit, vegetables, or whole grains are all great options.
  2. Pair it with a little bit of protein and/or fat to help stay fuller for longer.  
  3. Snacks are meant to keep your body supplied with energy when there are long bouts between meals.  Regimenting your body to expect healthy energy throughout the day may in fact improve your metabolism and help reduce hunger cravings.

Snack Ideas:

  • 1/2 whole grain english muffin or 1 slice whole grain toast with peanut butter
  • Strawberries with a little bit of vinaigrette to enhance the flavor
  • Low fat cheese slices or laughing cow cheese spread over cucumber slices (instead of crackers)
  • Fresh cut apples with peanut butter
  • Start dipping quarters of peppers into [spicy] salsa 
  • Any vegetable dipped in hummus (carrots and snap peas are a personal favorite)
  • Wrap sliced carrots and avocado in lettuce (and dip in a light asian sesame salad dressing)
  • Throw some frozen or fresh berries in low fat yogurt
  • Combine trail mix or granola with freshly sliced melon or berries

 

Enjoy the snack ideas, hopefully catered to your own taste!

Happy National Nutrition Month!

Nutrition From the Ground Up

The theme for this year's NNM is "Nutrition From the Ground Up" so this month I will try to bring you posts that deliver exactly that.  In this complicated world of food where tens of thousands of options exist when we walk into the grocery store, please remember that complex isn't always better.  It's time to come back to the basics with food and nutrition.

Image courtesy of the ADA.Food Can Be Simple

Remember how satisfying eating whole foods is?  Instead of trying to inspect every label and count up your calories, fat, sodium, and protein as the day goes on, try returning so the 'oldie but goodies'.  Whole fruits, whole vegetables, whole grain bread, rice, and pasta products, lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, and low-fat dairy products are items to keep in mind as you shop and plan your meals.  This return to whole foods will help maintain a consistent stream of energy throughout the day, help fill you up on nutritious and fiber-rich foods, and may lead to a healthier weight maintenance.  

 

Challenge

I challenge you to eat as many whole foods as you can this month.  You may find that eating closer to the earth allows you to enjoy the rich natural flavors of each food as it was grown and intended, that balancing your meals becomes easier because there's less calculating involved, and that with the introduction of more nutritious and wholesome energy sources you have less energy swings throughout the day.  Good luck!  I'll be doing the same myself.  Please let me know of any comments, questions, or hurdles along the way!

Hydration

Importance

When a plant doesn't get enough water it shrivels up.  When you don't consume enough water the same happens to your cells. 

Well a dramatic but eye-opening metaphor.  Water is crucial to every tissue and reaction that takes place in our bodies.  It is a substrate in metabolic reactions, a structural component of cells, essential for digestion and blood circulation, helps maintain body temperature, and the list goes on...  It may even raise energy levels and boost the immune system.  Thirst cues help to regulate our water intake, but ensuring that we ingest enough water throughout the day is very important.  

The Recommendations

As you may already know, drinking 8 glasses of non-caffeinated water (or approximately 2 liters) per day will certainly meet your water requirements.  But getting those liters in can be difficult.  Thirst cues are frequently mistaken for hunger cues.  Next time you're feeling a little bit hungry and can't figure out why... try having a glass of water and waiting 15 minutes.  Still hungry?  Then it was probably a hunger cue.  

It's also common to overlook dehydration as the root of the problem.  A 2% drop in body water can lead to fuzzy thinking, and dehydration is a top cause for daytime fatigue.  In addition, 70% of headaches can be attributed to dehydration.  Remember this the next time you're feeling a little downtrodden during the day, grab two glasses of water (16 ounces total), and see how you're feeling about twenty minutes later.  I'll bet you that more often than not you'll be feeling better.

Some Tips to Drinking More Water

  1. Buy a reusable water bottle.  Carrying water around with you all day will help remind you to continue taking sips throughout the day.
  2. Dress your water up.  Throw in some frozen berries or a slice of lemon for flavor.  All the benefits of fresh water with something to jazz it up.  You can also try using nice glassware or fun straws!
  3. Eat your water.  Remember that part of your water intake can come from raw fruits and vegetables as well.  How delicious does watermelon, sliced fresh peppers or grapes sound right now?
  4. Take advantage of tea.  Enjoying a nice cup of tea provides water as well as antioxidants.  Just remember that the number one rule of tea drinking is to boil the water and steep the tea fresh.  Throw a large batch in the fridge to cool during the summer.
  5. Alternate when the caffeine craving takes hold.  Working a long day or feeling the need for a caffeine boost?  Grab coffee and water and alternate your sips.  You'll enjoy the coffee for longer and get more water into your system.

 

Understanding Fats and Oils

The Basics

Understanding the world of fats and oils requires diving into a complex world.  People often find it daunting to determine exactly what's best and the glamorized media headlines with minimal data can be cause for confusion.  Here I hope to introduce a few of the basic terms, as well as to point out some things to look for so that shopping can become easier!   Photo courtesy of Turtle Dragon Herb and Tea

Fats, or lipids, come in solid or liquid form and are insoluble in water and are 9 calories per gram.  All fats have some combination of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, but it is the proportion of these that determine whether the whole is considered "saturated" or "unsaturated".  

Fats are essential to our system, as they help us break down and transport certain vitamins, make up the essential fatty acids that our body can't make on its own, maintain healthy skin and hair, and help regulate blood cholesterol levels, among other things.  It is their remarkable ability to store energy that has made them a modern day enemy.

Breaking it Down

Monounsaturated Fatty Acids (MUFA) - Increase HDL, Decrease LDL

     Some examples: olive oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, olives, avocado, almond butter

Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) - Decrease HDL, Decrease LDL

     Some examples: sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oils (vegetable oils)

Saturated Fatty Acids (SFA) - Increase/Maintain HDL, Increase LDL

     Some examples: full fat animal products (butter, dairy, meats), some processed foods

Trans Fats - Decrease HDL, Increase LDL

     Some examples: hydrogenated vegetable oils, rumen of cow/sheep

That's great but what does it all mean?  Well these four categories of fats are actually based on the various ways in which fats and oils regulate blood cholesterol.  HDLs are high-density lipoproteins, the "good" type of cholesterol because they transport excess cholesterol from the blood to the liver (where it is then removed from the body).  LDLs are low-density lipoproteins, the "bad" type of cholesterol because they are the primary transporters of cholesterol and can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.  

All in all... HDL good, LDL bad, which means MUFA good and Trans Fats bad.  

Some General Tips

It's important to first be armed with this knowledge on how fats and cholesterol works together since both play an important role in heart health.  The take home message is not to shift to eating only foods with MUFA, not only would that be very difficult to enjoy, but remember that fats are healthy for your system in moderation.  Instead focus on these tips:

  • Try to keep caloric intake of fats and oils at about 25-30% of total calories in the diet.  This means not exceeding 50g for 1500 calorie intake, 60 g for 1800 cal, 66 g for 2000 cal, and 83 for 2500 cal.
  • Read the labels of the foods you're buying!  Learn about whether saturated fat or trans fats are in these foods.  Especially look out for processed foods since we tend to think less about those at the time of purchase.
  • Since olive oil is made from a fruit, it is sensitive to air, heat, and light so store it in a dark glass or opaque container in a cool place.  If it has gone bad it will have a buttery flavor.
  • A lot of the spreadable butters now have a better composition than plain old butter so for toast or a baked potato try something like Olivio or Smart Balance.  Every small step helps.

All in All

Well that was a lot of information on fats and oils!  And only the tip of the iceberg...  I hope you can sit back and digest this information until we delve further into the topic.  Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns!