From the Desk of The Nutty Nutritionist

Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category

Vegetarian Lifestyles

In Feeding your kids, Trends, Wellness on December 17, 2012 at 1:05 PM

19049967I have recently had a flood of requests to clarify what it takes to create a healthy vegetarian diet.   Not only are more and more adults choosing to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, but teens and pre-teens are adopting the practice in record numbers as well.  For example, a friend of mine’s pre-teen daughter, a life-long “picky eater”, has decided to become vegetarian and limit her food choices to fruit, vegetables, crackers, and pasta.  Yikes!  This is far from the balanced diet required for healthy growth and development, thereby making “vegetarianism” a potentially dangerous practice for an uninformed, growing girl.

The vegetarian diet is a challenging topic to address in a forum such as this since becoming vegetarian can mean different things to different people— some folks are raised vegetarian for religious or cultural reasons, whereas others choose a vegetarian lifestyle during their teen or adult years as a means of weight control, healthier living, in support of animal rights, or for environmental concerns, to name a few.  Today, vegetarianism has taken on many forms and it is essential for an individual wishing to become vegetarian to decide which practice he or she will follow:  vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, pesce vegetarian, or flexitarian.    Say what?  Let me explain:

Traditionally, a “true vegetarian”, or vegan, is someone who does not eat meat (i.e. animal flesh) of any kind nor any foods containing animal products, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, or butter. This strict form of vegetarianism is the most challenging and the avoidance of ALL animal foods limits one’s intake of complete proteins, calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iron, and zinc, putting one at nutritional risk when not implemented properly.  A nutritionally adequate vegan diet should include soy products, such as tofu, edamame, soymilk, and soy yogurt, which contain all essential amino acids to support bodily growth and repair (known as “complete” proteins); vitamin B12 and iron-fortified whole grain products (such as cereal, breads, rice); calcium-rich foods, such as fortified juice and soy milk, as well as almonds, green vegetables, and broccoli; legumes, such as kidney beans and lentils; fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.  When you are eating vegan, you need to make sure that most of your choices are natural, nutrient-rich, whole foods, as opposed to vegan “junk foods” containing little or no nutrition whatsoever.  If a number of essential food items listed above are also avoided, vitamin and mineral supplementation is generally required.  If you are considering the vegan lifestyle, it is best to seek personalized advice from a dietitian in order to ensure nutritional adequacy for yourself and your family, rather than simply relying on the advice dispensed in this article.

The most common practice is as a lacto-ovo vegetarian—avoiding all animal flesh (beef, pork, lamb, chicken, turkey, fish), but including animal products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt (lacto) and eggs (ovo) in the daily diet.  Provided one is consuming dairy products and eggs on a regular basis, there is little need for concern over adequate protein intake, as animal proteins are “complete”, providing all essential amino acids for proper bodily growth and repair.   This form of vegetarianism is also likely to meet one’s nutritional needs for vitamin B12, calcium, vitamin D, and zinc provided fruits, vegetables, dairy products, eggs, whole grains, nuts, seeds, soy, and legumes are included as well.   To ensure adequate iron intake, incorporate plenty of iron-fortified cereals, breads, and grains, legumes, seeds, green-leafy vegetables, and/or dried fruit.  Including a source of vitamin C with these foods, such as citrus fruits, strawberries, or bell peppers, allows for better iron absorption.  Less common variations on this form of vegetarianism is an ovo-vegetarian who consumes eggs, but no animal flesh or milk products, or a lacto-vegetarian who consumes milk products, but no animal flesh or egg products.

Someone who adopts a lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle while including fish and/or seafood on a regular basis is considered pesce-vegetarian.  And, finally, the ever-expanding group of folks who limit their meat choices to lean chicken, turkey, and fish, while excluding “red meats” (such as beef, pork, and lamb) are considered flexitarians, as they are not truly vegetarian by definition, but are choosing to avoid specific animal meats and/or products.

In summary, if you are an adult looking to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, first give some thought to the type of vegetarianism you desire to practice.  Next, plan to incorporate a wide variety of nutritious foods that fit within your chosen regime on a regular basis.  If you admit to being a “picky eater” or simply do not enjoy a wide variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and whole grains, then it may be best to sit down with a nutrition professional, such as myself, to develop a personalized meal plan to best meet your needs.

Now, if you are a parent of a child or teen looking to become vegetarian, it is important to discuss his or her reasons for desiring a vegetarian lifestyle and to review the wide variety of vegetarian practices that exist today.  Many teens consider vegetarianism as an opportunity for weight loss or as a “legitimate excuse” for picky or disordered eating practices, without considering the potential nutritional or growth implications.  If you suspect an eating disorder, it is best to consult a nutrition professional to develop a healthy eating plan within the chosen vegetarian regime to nip any unhealthy practices in the bud…  I tend to encourage the lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle for most children and teens, as it is generally the easiest to follow and contains the widest variety of nutrients that growing bodies need.  Again, when dealing with very restricted picky-eaters, it is best to meet with a dietitian to develop a satisfactory eating plan.

If you would like to set up an appointment to develop a healthy vegetarian meal plan for yourself or your child, call me at 248-592-0875 or email at

Live well!  Eat well!



The Realities of Arsenic in Food

In Trends, Wellness on December 11, 2012 at 6:12 PM

By now, most of you have heard the reports (or seen the Dr. Oz show) alarming consumers about high levels of arsenic in apple and grape juice, brown and white rice products (like baby cereal), dairy and meat products, seafood, fruits, and vegetables.  With information like this, what is left to eat?  Many of these foods are supposed to be good for us, right?  Has everyone had it all wrong?  No wonder folks are worried and confused… Unfortunately, many media outlets tend to distort or oversensationalize the facts in order to improve ratings.  I am going to clear up some unfortunate misconceptions right here, right now and show you how to eat such foods in a sensible way.

41807704First of all, arsenic is a trace element that occurs naturally in our environment (as part of the earth’s crust) and is found in food, water, soil, and air.  In other words, we simply CANNOT escape it!   Arsenic is absorbed by all plants through the soil, but tends to be more concentrated in leafy vegetables, rice, apple and grape juice, and seafood.  Does this mean we need to avoid these foods entirely?  Not exactly.  There are things we can do to minimize our exposure which I will share with you now:

Arsenic compounds have historically been used in the production of pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides (like on fruit trees),  as well as added to animal feed to prevent disease and stimulate growth.   This is a great reason to buy organically grown fruits, vegetables, meats, and dairy products as often as possible, which do not use chemicals on plants or animal feed.  Even when you are buying organic produce, make sure to wash them well as you would conventionally-grown options.  Another worthwhile strategy for reducing arsenic exposure is to increase the variety of foods in your daily diet—if you enjoy including white or brown rice with your meals, how about trying jasmine, basmati, black, or red rice grown in different regions around the world?  Or, forego rice altogether and try other grains, such as quinoa, in your recipes.  If you really, really, really want to have white or brown rice over all else, you can cut your exposure to arsenic by rinsing the rice first, cook it in a higher proportion of cooking water, and then drain off excess water after cooking.  As for rice baby cereal, switch to oatmeal just to be safe.  Worried about them apples?  Choose from the many available varieties, such as Gala, Fuji, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith, rather than eating the same kind day after day.  Now is a great opportunity to expand your culinary and taste horizons!!   As for apple juice, go ahead and avoid it—there is not much nutrition in it anyway.  As of now, no federal limits have been set for arsenic in most foods, but many US farmers are seeking improvements in rice, fruit, and vegetable cultivation in order to lower arsenic levels, but that will take some time before the problem is corrected.

Arsenic occurs naturally in groundwater, and in the US, higher aresenic levels tend to occur in New England, the Upper Midwest (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota), as well as the Southwestern states.   Yikes!  Before you make plans to re-locate, rest assured that today’s drinking water treatment processes are very effective at removing the majority of arsenic.  However, this is why seafood can be a problem, as the fish hang out in untreated waters.  Know a recreational fisherman who spends time on a small, inland lake in Michigan?  I sure do!  You certainly don’t want your fish intake to be limited to  such “local catch”.  Like I have suggested previously to minimize mercury exposure, choose a variety of fish species from a variety of different sources in order to minimize your exposure to both mercury and arsenic.

I hope this article has cleared up some concerns for you.  It is important to realize that arsenic is a part of our natural environment and is present in miniscule amounts in our drinking water and many foods and beverages we have safely consumed for years and years.  We are not all going to die of cancer because we eat rice or drink apple juice!  Our limited food exposure does not even begin to compare to the toxic occupational exposure to arsenic by workers involved in wood preservation, glass production, and semiconductor manufacturing–now these folks truly have something to worry about…  When Dr. Oz sounded the alarm, it was as if drinking a glass of apple juice amounted to working in a glass factory for 10 years!   I don’t think so, pal.  But he certainly got you to watch his show and up his ratings, didn’t he?

Don’t get me wrong, it is very important to be careful about what we put in our mouths and do our best to make healthier choices.  However, scare tactics are not going to help and tend to cause undue stress.  No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater—it is still possible to eat well and be healthy in this “arsenic-infested” world 😉

Live well!  Be well!

Coconut Oil: Yay or Nay?

In Trends, Wellness on February 26, 2012 at 2:16 PM

A friend of my mine recently asked my opinion regarding a new research study’s results indicating the usefulness of coconut oil in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  She asked me to watch a very provocative and convincing video (CBN News) that depicted how one man’s Alzheimer’s symptoms dramically improved as a result of including large portions of coconut oil in his diet.  Hmmm…  Well, first off, I can say that one patient’s success does not mean it will work for others.  Secondly, the study design was not the gold-standard “double-blind, placebo controlled” trial with a large enough sample size that is essential to validate a proposed treatment.  However, such positive results are intriguing, and I can completely understand the curiosity.  Is it possible to have such an easy dietary answer for the treatment Alzheimer’s disease?  It would be nice if that were the case.  However, a disease as complicated and unpredictable as Alzheimer’s, much like many forms of cancer and autoimmune illnesses, will unfortunately never have an easy cure.  There are way too many unknowns as to why the disease develops and how it progresses for it to be that simple.  For the purpose of this blog however, my friend wanted to know whether I thought there was any validity to incorporating coconut oil in her diet to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease, as she has a strong family history and is concerned about developing it herself someday.  A valid question indeed.

First off, there is a lot of hype surrounding coconut oil right now in the media, as it has been touted as a cure for many ailments and health food store personnel have been pushing it like crazy.  Just stop right there.  No one food is a cure for ANYTHING.  I promise you that.  However, there are many so-called  “miracle elixirs” or “miracle foods” that crafty salespeople are convincing millions of people to buy.   Don’t fall sucker to such scams—they are simply taking your money and getting rich off your ignorance and willingness to believe anything.  Also, let it be known that doctors and dietitians are not your enemies.  Health professionals are not “keeping secrets in order to keep you sick”, like many fanatical websites proclaim.  Your doctor is deliberately keeping you sick to stay in business? Are you kidding me?? 

Outside of the preventable diseases related to us being inactive and overweight,  such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes,  I have no sensible explanation as to why so many other diseases, such as many forms of cancer and Alzheimer’s, are running rampant right now.  Is it our food supply?  Environmental toxins?  The fact that we are simply living longer?  It is hard to make any concrete assumptions right now.  All we can honestly do to stay as healthy as possible is make smarter food choices, get regular exercise, undergo routine preventative testing (mammogram, Pap smear, colonoscopy, prostate and breast exams, etc…), get adequate sleep, reduce stress as much as possible, and laugh more often.  (Laughter has and always will be the best medicine!)  Yes, living a long healthy life does require good genetics as well, but there are many factors under our control that can make our lives better and healthier, regardless of what health challenges happen to come our way.

So, back to the coconut oil question:  should we be including more coconut oil in our diets as a means of preventing Alzheimer’s disease?  Coconut oil is extracted from the white meat of a mature coconut.  This is not to be confused with coconut water, which comes from an immature green coconut and has a completely different nutrient composition.  (I am a big fan of coconut water and you can check the archives for more details regarding this nutritious hydration beverage.)  Coconut oil is solid at room temperature and has the highest saturated fat content of all the different food oils—saturated fat is known to raise cholesterol levels and health professionals have suggested cutting back on saturated fats in order to prevent heart disease for many, many years.  However, in recent years, the specific fatty acid composition of coconut oil has been studied extensively, and due to the large proportion of lauric acid, is believed to raise the good HDL cholesterol, and not so much the bad LDL cholesterol.  So, this is why the exclusion of coconut oil from a heart healthy-diet is being reconsidered.

I must point out that there are two forms of coconut oil in our food supply: fractionated coconut oil, in which easy to digest medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s) have been selectively removed (this includes the heart healthy lauric acid mentioned above); and partially hydrogenated coconut oil (containing artery-clogging trans fats) which is commonly found in processed foods such as non-dairy creamer and microwave or movie theater popcorn.  Should you decide to include coconut oil in your diet by the end of this article, you want it to be the fractionated coconut oil, not the hydrogenated form.

The reason coconut oil is of interest in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) research is because of it being a rich source of medium chained triglycerides, or MCT’s.   For many years, diets high in MCT oils (and low in carbohydrates) have proved useful in treating childhood epilepsy (seizures) due to its tendency to induce ketogenesis.  This so-called “ketogenic diet” changes the brain’s energy source from sugar (glucose) to fat (ketones), which decreases frequency of seizures as a result of the altered brain chemistry.  Research has shown that glucose metabolism by the brain is impaired in AD, so would the substitution of ketones also alter the development of plaque and neural tangles characteristic of Alzheimer’s? That is the big question at the moment.  There are a variety of clinical research trials underway seeking to discover how a ketogenic diet can modify the development or progression of a number of neurological diseases, to include Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.  A powdered form of MCT oil, called caprylidene, was approved as a “medical food” by the FDA in 2009, under the brand name Axona, but it is unclear how effective it really is at preventing or improving AD sympotoms at this point.  AD develops for an unknown and variable amount of time before symptoms become fully apparent, so that makes it challenging to know when treatment should begin with MCT’s.  Again, back to our prevention question….

It is known that cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and smoking, are likely to increase the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease–excess amyloid plaque buildup in the brain is analagous to atherogenic plaque buildup in veins and arteries.  Therefore, it makes sense for everyone to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, manage blood sugar, and avoid tobacco in order to decrease risk of heart attack, stroke, AND Alzheimer’s.  So my professional opinion is this:  Go ahead and include some fractionated (or virgin) coconut oil in your diet if you please, but still avoid the hydrogenated form, and keep a watchful eye on your cholesterol to make sure the addition of coconut oil is not raising unhealthy LDL levels.  Coconut oil will not do anything on its own, so be sure to also exercise regularly, engage in challenging mental activities, and follow a heart healthy diet to get maximum benefit.  Refer to my previous blog post for more ideas on adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Any more questions?  Feel free to ask.

Live Well!  Think Well!


Sorting Out The Sweeteners

In Diabetes, Trends, Wellness on September 21, 2011 at 4:07 PM

A friend asked for my opinion regarding a recent Yahoo! Health article entitled “The 4 Best and 3 Worst Sweeteners to Have in Your Kitchen”.  The article names Aspartame, Sucralose, and Agave as the “bad guys” and Stevia, Sugar Alcohols, Honey, and Molasses as the “good guys”.   Oh boy.  Glad I have the opportunity to clear the air on this one…

I agree that artificial, non-caloric sweeteners such as Aspartame (Equal), Sucralose (Splenda), and Saccharin (Sweet & Low) are bad news and should be avoided whenever possible, especially when you are pregnant.  The good news is that these sweeteners are 100 times sweeter than sugar, so it is easy to just use a small amount, if you must have it.  (i.e. you refuse to eat your oatmeal unless you can sweeten it up a bit…), and it will not add calories or raise your blood sugar.  In my opinion, getting a little bit of regular sugar is always a safer option than consuming artificial derivatives, but since regular sugar can mess with your blood sugar, I draw the line here for people suffering from reactive hypoglyemia or diabetes.  If you have blood sugar problems, you should avoid all forms of sugar as much as possible, and a small amount of aspartame or sucralose will not cause bodily harm.  The cancer scares on the Internet are ridiculous, as we are not consuming large amounts of these sweeteners on a daily basis.   Since the artificial sweeteners are so concentrated sweet, you aren’t getting that much from most food products.   People with diabetes have a lot more to lose by overconsuming sugar than they do from getting some blood-sugar-friendly artificial sweetener on occasion.   A reasonable limit on artifically sweetened foods would be consuming a 6 oz. container of “light” yogurt and a can of diet soda daily.  If you drink a 6-pack of diet soda a day, you definitely should cut back, for many many reasons, which I am not going to discuss here…

I also believe, in agreement with the Yahoo! article, that agave should be limited as well.  Because it is naturally-derived sweetener does not mean it is good for us, contrary to popular belief.  It is still a form of sugar and will add calories and raise blood sugar.  Agave syrup is being added to more and more foods and beverages these days, claiming health benefits.  Oh phooey.   But here is a fun factoid:  did you know agave is fermented to produce tequila?  Let’s limit our agave intake to a tequila shot or two, shall we?  (just trying to lighten the mood here…HA!)

I disagree with the author of the Yahoo! article and am not convinced that Stevia is a safe alternative to sugar.  While it is true that Stevia will not raise our blood sugar or add padding to our hips and thighs, similar to the other non-caloric sweeteners mentioned above, it too should be consumed in moderation.  Yes, it is a naturally-derived plant component, but plants produce toxins to defend against its predators.  Could this chemical compound really be a toxin used by the Stevia plant to fend off critters?  I’m not trying to scare anybody here.  I just haven’t seen any long term research supporting it’s safety.  Personally I find the aftertaste quite offensive and avoid it completely.  But I find the aftertaste of all non-sugar sweeteners unsavory,  so that just might be me and my inherited taste sensitivities.   So, in short, Stevia should not be consumed with anything and everything.  We cannot assume it is safe at this point. 

Sugar alcohols are OK in small amounts (like in gum) but skip the low carb junk foods that are loaded with it, such as many “sports bars”, Atkins Diet branded foods, and brands catering to the needs (??) of people with diabetes.  So called “diabetic friendly” chocolate, cookies, ice cream, and pies sweetened with sugar alcohols are NOT health foods, and are just as capable of raising your blood sugar as all baked goods can.  Plus, the resulting diarrhea is no fun and keeps us from absorbing the vitamins from foods. 

Honey is the sweetener I use, but only in moderation, as it is still a source of calories and will raise blood sugar.  I add it to plain Greek yogurt on occasion, and that’s about it.  The advantages mentioned in the article regarding honey’s antioxidant content and such is true, but from a teaspoon or tablespoon serving size, it doesn’t begin to amount to what you would get from eating a diet rich in brightly colored fruits and vegetables.

Finally, it is funny how molasses is mentioned as a good guy.  It is still very sweet, just like other sugars, and high in calories.  While it is true that Blackstrap molasses is a rich source of vitamin K, which may sound healthy, those taking blood-thinning medications , such as Coumadin (warfarin), will need to count this sweetener into their total vitamin K intake, as vitamin K promotes blood clotting and will render these meds less effective.  This can be dangerous for someone with a history of blood clots, heart attack, or TIA/stroke.  Again, not trying to scare anybody, just advising you to be mindful.

For more information (and my professional opinion) regarding sugar and other carbohydrates, check out the archives under the “Diabetes” category, as I have written extensively on this topic.

Live well.  Be well.

The Dukan Diet

In Trends, Weight Loss on August 2, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Several readers have inquired about “The Dukan Diet”, which has been on the bestseller list for much of 2011, and would like to know my thoughts about it, especially since the author is a medical doctor.  There has to be some merit to a diet designed by a physician, right?  Not necessarily, as medical school curriculums do not put emphasis on nutrition.    (I should know…I’m married to one.)  This is a common misconception among the general population, which most likely contributes to the “bestseller” status of Dr. Dukan’s book.  Unfortunately, this is a perfect example of just another diet fad that is unlikely to help you lose weight and keep it off long term.  Here’s why:   

The Dukan Diet is essentially an updated version of the low-carb Atkins diet of years past, and I wouldn’t expect any better weight loss results than was seen before.  The Atkins Diet was first published in the 1970’s and experienced a wildly-popular rebirth in the 1990’s.  Sure, many people following Dr. Atkins’ plan lost weight initially, but found it unrealistic to maintain long term and promptly gained the pounds back (and then some).   I’m sure you know someone who has first-hand experience with this, perhaps even yourself.  This rapid weight loss and regain phenomenon is common with super-restrictive diet fads and a very unhealthy pattern for your overall health and metabolism.  (Did somebody say “yo-yo”??)   A doctor should know better, wouldn’t you think?  Well, Dr. Dukan has decided to recycle the carbohydrate-prohibitive craze by adding some new twists to make it seem better than ever.  (Yeah, right.)  His gimmicks include eating lots of oat bran and drinking a boat-load of water.  Hmmm…  Let it be known that water will never take the place of solid food to help keep your appetite in check, and you will likely find it impossible to severely restrict carbohydrates for the rest of your life.  He doesn’t put much emphasis on adopting an exercise routine either, which has been proven time and again to be an essential adjunct to any successful weight loss “diet”.   Doctor or not, this diet will not keep you slim and trim for a lifetime.   No point in wasting your time.

Any other questions?  Feel free to ask!

The Realities of Sugar

In Nutrition Basics, Trends, Weight Loss on July 26, 2011 at 8:05 PM

Let’s settle the HFCS vs. table sugar debate once and for all, shall we?

Do you think foods made with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) will make you gain significantly more weight than those made with other forms of sugar?   This is what we were led to believe last year when results from a Princeton University study revealed that rats fed a HFCS solution developed more belly fat and higher blood triglycerides compared to those fed a sucrose (table sugar) solution.  Hmmm…  The study was apparently simulating our mounting obsession with sugary beverages, as HFCS is most commonly found in American-made soft drinks and juices.   Pepsi and Mountain Dew jumped all over this news and went as far as to introduce “throwback” formulations (from the early 70’s) containing “real sugar” instead of HFCS, in the hopes of increasing sales.  Whoopin’ Frickin’ Dew. (pun intended!)  This is really quite laughable.  Can we honestly believe that soda made with table sugar (sucrose) is healthier and will not affect our waistlines?   LOLOLOLOL  I’m falling out of my chair from laughing so hard.  People are so anxious to hear that their beloved junk foods are good for them that they will hop on any train that supports such nonsense.  Sorry, junk food junkies, but too much sugar of any kind is unhealthy, whether it comes from HFCS, corn syrup, ordinary table sugar (sucrose), honey, agave syrup or nectar, apple juice concentrate, brown sugar, corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, fructose, glucose, dextrose, grape juice concentrate, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, Confectioner’s sugar, or beet sugar.   Many people have become so conscious of avoiding HFCS that they forget about avoiding all the other added sweeteners too.  If you eat more sugar calories than your body can burn off, you will gain weight, regardless of the source.  The debate is over. 

Let’s egg on the debate a little bit further, just for amusement’s sake…

So what do we do about all the non-soda foods that also contain HFCS, such as bread, cereal, granola bars, yogurt, ketchup, and baked goods?  I say, avoid them as much as possible.  Will avoiding all HFCS-containing foods put an end to our obesity crisis?   Absolutely not.  The pervasiveness of HFCS in our food supply certainly contributes to the problem, but added sugars in all forms are equally abundant and need to be limited if we want to control our waistlines.  Much of the paranoia seems to surround the “high fructose” part of HFCS.    Fructose is naturally abundant in honey and most varieties of fruit.  So frankly, we could also label these sources “high fructose”.  Then why aren’t we ranting about the need to avoid these natural sources of fructose as well?  Good question, eh?  Yes, HFCS is lab created and not “natural”.  HFCS is made from corn syrup that undergoes enzymatic processing, converting some of corn syrup’s glucose to fructose, that produces a sweeter tasting and more water-soluble product with higher levels of fructose than regular corn syrup.  Hence the name, “High Fructose Corn Syrup”. Food manufacters prefer to use HFCS over other forms of sugar, including regular corn syrup, as it is cheaper and the higher fructose content affords a softer texture to foods while maintaining moisture and freshness.   As a result of all the bad publicity, food manufacturers are now replacing HFCS with regular corn syrup, sucrose, and a whole bunch of other “natural” sugars, like those listed above.  Avoiding HFCS only to load up on “natural” corn syrup or cane sugar (sucrose) doesn’t make much sense. 

Sugar is sugar, and we as a population are addicted to it.   There is an abundance of evidence suggesting that added sugars, from sweetened beverages, coffee drinks, candy, chocolate, cakes, cookies, muffins, pies, ice cream, cereals, granola bars, etc., may raise the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and gout.   Have an interest in preventing these formidable diseases?  Cutting back on all added sugars is one positive step towards doing so, whether it comes from evaporated cane juice, HFCS, honey, or agave syrup.   Sugar adds a lot of extra calories to foods, which most certainly can lead to weight gain.   Sugar is not evil, it just needs to be consumed in moderation.  As a country, we eat way too much junk food, period.  Fat or no fat.  Sugar or no sugar.  If we cut out the junk, we will shrink our waistlines, pure and simple. 

“Ooooh, but it’s an organic cookie made with brown rice syrup instead of sugar!  It must be good for me then, right?”  Oh my….I honestly hear this all the time.  A cookie that lists “brown rice syrup” in its ingredients still has added sugar and is most certainly not a health food.  Organic processed foods can be just as junky as the rest of them.  Don’t be fooled.   Become privy to a food’s sugar content by not only reading the grams of sugar per serving as listed on the Nutrition Facts label but by checking the ingredients list for those more misleading forms of sugar.  Unfortunately, at this point in time, there is no distinction between natural sugars and added sugars on the Nutrition facts panel, so you must rely on the ingredient list.  As a general rule of thumb, if a food contains little or no milk or fruit (which have natural sugars), then the ”Sugars” number on the package will let you know how much added sugar you are getting in each serving.  Don’t worry about the naturally occurring sugar in whole fruit, milk, and plain yogurt.  There is nothing wrong with getting some of these natural sugars. 

The greatest problem with added sugar is that it is a source of “empty” calories—essentially no nutritional value, regardless of it’s source.   Added sugars either crowd out healthy, nutritious foods (such as fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy, whole grains), or they make you gain weight if you eat too much of them in addition to healthy foods.  It is important to realize that most sugary foods are junk foods—high in sugar and calories, and low in nutrients.  Many are also packed with virtually worthless white flour (refined from wheat) and come in sizes not suitable for just one person watching his or her waistline.  The tempting “breakfast muffin” at Panera or Starbucks is essentially a large piece of cake, and certainly not the best way to start your day whether it is sweetened with sucrose, HFCS, or agave syrup.

Enough said…

The Myths Surrounding “Gluten-Free” Foods

In Gluten-Free diet, Trends, Weight Loss on June 30, 2011 at 9:36 AM

I have been ask to discuss the health value of following a gluten-free diet for weight loss and improved overall well-being.  As a result of all the media hype surrounding gluten-free foods, many people mistakenly believe that such foods are automatically healthier for them.  Gluten, a naturally occurring protein in wheat, rye and barley, is essentially being blamed for making us fat.  Are you kidding me?  While it is true that we are eating gluten at high levels in breads, baked goods, and pasta, we cannot forget that it is just as easy to indulge in naturally gluten-free tortilla chips and salsa when visiting a Mexican restaurant….is that a healthy choice?  Food manufacturers and restaurants are hopping on this bandwagon and going out of their way to generate gluten-free foods and menu choices to entice consumers into thinking they are making  healthier choices, while raising profit margins.   Don’t fall victim to this ubiquitous scam.

Please ignore the idea that avoiding gluten will make you lose weight.  The notion that a gluten-free diet is automatically healthier can be a big mistake.  Many people can just as easily gain weight following a “Gluten Free Diet” because so many gluten-free products marketed today contain an abundance of refined starch, sugar, and fat.  A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie—it is just not made with our traditional refined wheat flour, but refined rice flour or potato flour instead…  How about tortilla chips, potato chips, and French fries?  Corn and potatoes are naturally gluten-free, but what about all the added fat and calories that are added during processing?  If you eat a large bag of potato chips each week while watching Dancing with the Stars, you will gain weight for sure, gluten-free or not.  Weight control still boils down to total calorie intake, whether that be from starches, sugars, proteins, or fats.  Gluten-free DOES NOT mean low-calorie.

Choosing to follow a gluten-free diet is a personal preference, and can be challenging to maintain over the long term unless you are gaining significant physical rewards, such as less gastrointestinal distress and discomfort (discussed below).   The key to following a healthy gluten-free diet is sticking with less processed foods: lean meats, low-fat dairy products, legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, rice, oats, and lesser-known gluten-free grains such as quinoa, amaranth, millet, and buckwheat (has nothing to do with wheat, believe it or not).  In other words, stocking your pantry with gluten-free chips, cookies, and other snack items is not the way to go.

Following a 100% gluten-free diet is only absolutely necessary for people who suffer from an autoimmune condition known as celiac sprue disease (CD).  Celiac disease can occur in children as well as adults, and is a lifelong disorder in which gluten-containing foods damage the inner lining of the small intestine.  Even small amounts of gluten can affect people with CD.  Fortunately, the resulting intestinal inflammation and poor absorption of nutrients is reversible upon complete elimination of gluten from the diet.

Some people have what is called “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”, in which they develop symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and/or diarrhea, following gluten intake.  It is important to note that no physical damage occurs to the intestinal lining in this situation.  Making a point to consume only small amounts of gluten-containing foods at a time can be enough to relieve symptoms.  Should you suspect a gluten-sensitivity, you can try eliminating all gluten-containing foods from your diet for one week to see if gastrointestinal distress resolves.   If so, you can choose to continue to eliminate gluten, or slowly introduce small amounts of gluten-containing foods back into your diet.

If you are thinking about trying a gluten-free diet to relieve any gastrointestinal distress, first review the symptoms of celiac sprue to determine whether or not you need to have a blood test or small intestine biopsy:

-recurring bloating, gas, and abdominal pain

-chronic diarrhea, constipation, or both

-unexplained weight loss or weight gain

-unexplained anemia (low hemoglobin/iron levels)

-vitamin K deficiency

-fatigue, weakness, or lack of energy

-frequent canker sores inside the mouth

-delayed growth or onset of puberty (children)

-behavior changes, irritability, depression (especially children)

 If you, or someone you know, exhibit three or more of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your medical doctor to rule out the possibility of celiac sprue. 

A lesser-known form of gluten sensitivity occurs as a chronic skin rash known as dermatitis herpetiformis.   It presents as an intensely itchy, blistering rash, with symptoms ranging from mild to serious, but they are likely to disappear if gluten ingestion is avoided.  If you develop a rash that does not respond to other forms of treatment, consider asking your doctor for a blood test (for IgA antibodies) or a skin biopsy.  If the test comes back positive, a strict, lifelong gluten-free diet must be followed to relieve symptoms. 

If you don’t have celiac sprue disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, or other gastrointestinal signs of gluten sensitivity, then the choice to follow a gluten-free diet is entirely up to you.  If cutting out the likes of pizza, pasta, bread, and traditionally made cakes, cookies, and pastries helps you cut your total calories and lose weight, that is great.  Just be sure you don’t substitute them with a bunch of gluten-free junk foods, otherwise you are back to square one.

Alcohol Calories Count Too

In Trends, Weight Loss on June 13, 2011 at 5:07 PM

Summer is a time when a variety of fruity, sweet, alcoholic concoctions take center stage at social gatherings.  Before you accidentally grow out of that bikini or Speedo, let’s discuss the potential impact these fashionable delights can have on your waistline.  Even someone who drinks moderately can end up with excessive calories that are likely to be ignored.  Most people acknowledge that fast food and desserts are “fattening”, but are less likely to consider alcohol intake into their weight management strategies. 

Let’s review the basics first:  a serving of alcohol is considered 12 oz. of beer, 5 oz. wine, or 1.5 oz. of distilled spirits.  Generally, 12 oz. of regular beer will cost you 150 calories (200 if it’s a pint), 90-100 calories for a “light” beer, or 55-65 calories for an “ultra” beer; most table wines will contain 100-110 calories a glass (185 calories if it’s a dessert Port); and 1 oz. of 80 proof liquor contains about 85 calories.  Mixed drinks are bound to get you into the most trouble as they usually contain multiple shots of liquors/sweetened liqueurs/juices/soda, etc.  (FYI: Alcohol has 7 calories per gram.) 

In your effort to limit calories this summer, do you think the overly-hyped “Skinnygirl Margarita” is your saving grace?  Well, guess again…while it is true that 4 oz. of this fruity, easy to drink concoction has only 100 calories, who realistically pours themselves a 4 oz (half cup) serving?   This portion contains the same number of calories as a glass of wine, but with its sweet, fruity flavor, it goes down the hatch easier than wine, setting you up for a refill…or two.  Realistically, you are more likely to start with at least an 8 oz. serving.  While the bottle claims “Skinnygirl is the margarita you can trust”, this only applies if you can trust yourself to have the restraint for a single, 4 oz. glass.  Otherwise, it has the potential to pad your hips and thighs as easily as all the other margarita mixes out there.  Don’t be fooled by all the marketing hype.

Here are some suggestions to help keep you from consuming too many calories from alcohol this season:

1.  Don’t drink alcohol!   Of course, the best calorie-saving choice, but if you desire to do so, alternate alcoholic beverages with a large glass of water to help keep you hydrated and slow down your pace of drinking.

 2.  Avoid calorie bombs such as dessert drinks (like chocolate martinis);  fruity, frozen concoctions (Pina Coladas can contain up to 800 calories depending on the size); and drinks with multiple alcohols and mixers (a Long Island Iced Tea typically contains 780 calories per drink!)  Even an innocent looking Bailey’s Irish Creme shot to mix in your coffee has 130 calories in it…(Hey Bravo, are you reading this?)

 3.  Cut the calories by choosing diet mixers instead of regular soda and juices (an 8 oz. vodka cranberry has 200 calories). Turn wine into a “spritzer” or a lager into a “shandy” to dilute the alcohol content.  Sorry guys, but Leinenkugel’s “Summer Shandy” is not what I am referring to here…the lemonade adds too much sugar. 

4.  Plan alcohol into your daily calorie “quota”.  (i.e. instead of ordering dessert, have a glass of wine, NOT BOTH!)

 5.  Don’t skip meals or drink on an empty stomach—this increases the rate of alcohol absorption which can lead to low blood sugar and the resulting increase in appetite, also known as  ”the munchies”.  Alcohol also reduces your inhibitions so you are more likely to throw your diet goals out the window and overindulge.

 A final note:  drinking in “moderation” is considered no more than 1 drink per day for a woman and no more than 2 drinks per day for a man.  Binge drinking is not only detrimental to your waistline, but to your liver and safety as well.

Have a safe and happy summer!

The Glycemic Index

In Trends, Weight Loss on April 30, 2011 at 1:20 PM

Many people have been taught to believe that eating foods with a low glycemic index (GI) will promote weight loss.  This is the basis for the South Beach Diet and Sugar Busters recommendations.  They even go as far as to warn readers to avoid carrots, a low-calorie, nutritious food.  I am going to dispel this common nutrition myth once and for all. 

The GI for a particular food is a measure of the effect it has on blood sugar levels relative to glucose, the simplest form of sugar, which has a GI of 100.  Foods with a measurable GI all contain high levels of carbohydrates.  Foods with a high GI (greater than 55), such as white bread, white rice, and white potatoes, are those that break down more quickly during digestion and consequently raise blood sugar more rapidly.  Foods with a low GI (less than 55), such as barley, oatmeal, and lentils, digest more slowly and raise blood sugar more gradually.  This measure assumes the food is consumed alone on an empty stomach.  Do you honestly sit down to eat a baked potato all by itself?  I highly doubt it.  The GI of an individual food item is essentially negated once you add other foods into the mix at the same time.  Proteins, such as meat, and fats, such as oils, have a very low GI, and will therefore alter the net GI effect on your blood sugar.  

It is also a misnomer to believe that all whole grains automatically have a low GI.   While it is true the fiber in whole grains allow foods to digest more slowly, all whole grains are loaded with carbohydrates which still digest down into a significant amount of glucose when all is said and done.  Depending on which published GI chart you are looking at, the estimated GI for wheat bread is about 68, which clearly does not meet the low GI criteria.  Add some turkey, lettuce and tomato to the wheat bread and the GI of 68 no longer applies.  Unhealthy, high-calorie foods, such as full-fat ice cream and chocolate cake, have a low GI, due to the presence of a whole lot of fat.  You will most certainly not lose weight by eating cake and ice cream, low GI or not.  You will not be able to control your blood sugars well by eating cake and ice cream either. Calories and portion sizes still make all the difference when it comes to weight and blood sugar control.  Regardless of GI rating, eating large portions of carbohydrate-containing foods will still raise your blood sugar levels and provide excess calories.  Taking the portion size and GI of a particular food into consideration is what is called the Glycemic Load (GL).   The larger the portion, the higher the GL, and a high GL will most certainly hurt your blood sugar and result in greater calorie consumption.  See the newly revised chapter entitled “Curtailing the Carbs” for more information on how to manage blood sugars wisely.

Moral of the story:  low GI foods will not help you lose weight.  It is still a matter of fewer calories and smaller portions, no matter how you want to look at it.

Fad Diets of 2011

In Trends, Weight Loss on January 27, 2011 at 10:23 PM

Every year brings a new slew of diet books and gimmicks promising “miracle” weight loss.  Most of these approaches are not new, but simply recycled oldies with an updated twist.   A  friend of mine, whom I will call “Noah”, asked my opinion of the hCG diet.    So, I shall start with that one…

A couple of Noah’s male acquaintances  have tried the hCG diet and supposedly lost weight “in all the right places”.  My friend desires to rid himself of  his “unsightly gut” and “big ol’ man boobs” once and for all.  (those were his words, not mine!!!)    I am glad he asked for my advice before embarking upon such an endeavor.    The hCG Diet may sound new to folks of Generation X and beyond, but it has actually been around since the 70’s.   hCG stands for Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, a hormone naturally produced in pregnancy.  This severely calorie restricted diet claims that  injections of hCG enable dieters to comfortably subsist on 500 calories a day by suppressing appetite, mobilizing stored fat, and redistributing fat from the waist, hips, and thighs.  The “new” part being that hCG is now available in both injections AND sublingual form (taken under the tongue).    Seriously guys?  You want to take a pregnancy hormone to lose weight?   Scary…

 Before I believe any diet claims, I want to see the cold, hard facts from good, old-fashioned scientific research, not just random testimonials from paid moviestars.  Is there any research to support the claim that injections or oral hCG contribute to weight loss beyond a 500-calorie allowance?  The answer is nope, absolutely none.  Any time calories are severely restricted like that, weight loss is going to occur, INITIALLY.  Eating less than 1200 calories per day eventually kills your metabolism and sets you up for nutritional deficiencies.  A diet containing less than 1200 calories requires medical supervision–such as a 700-calorie hospital-based liquid weight loss plan—like the one Oprah used many moons ago and ended up looking like a starved chicken.   That kind of diet was not sustainable long-term, and Oprah has continued to battle her weight ever since.

The same goes for the Master Cleanse Diet, in which you mix up an icky concoction of water, lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper 6-12 times a day for 10 days.  Why on earth would you want to deliberately ruin 10 days of your life?  Once you stop the “cleanse”, the weight comes back.  You were essentially fasting for 10 days.  You didn’t learn any new eating habits, did you?

Did you know that Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon follow The Baby Food Diet to lose and maintain their weight?  They substitute a jar of baby food for 1-2 meals per day.  Seriously ladies?  Jen was on a much healthier track 10 years ago when she followed The Zone Diet.  That plan is much healthier and she had her own personal chef to keep it that way.  She has gone and traded in her chef for jars of Gerber?  Yuck.  Baby food tastes gross and is nutritionally inadequate for an adult.   Jen doesn’t need to eat baby food to look good—even if she gained 10 pounds, she would still look fabulous.

Unless you want to clear a room quickly, don’t even think about The Cabbage Soup Diet…

In summary, many popular weight loss gimmicks have not been scientifically evaluated or reviewed by credible health professionals.   Just because the author is an “M.D.”, doesn’t mean he or she knows diddly about nutrition or realistic weight loss methods.  The diet industry is  big business and doctors want a piece of the pie too.  (ha ha…get it??)    In his entire 4 years of medical school and 3 years of residency, my husband spent all of one hour learning about nutrition.  Now what does that tell you?  Don’t get me started on Dr. Atkins…

Before trying any new diet craze, consider these health-minded rules first:

1.  It does not require less than 1200 calories a day

2.  You lose weight at a safe rate of 1-2 pounds per week

3.  It allows for individual food preferences and tastes

4.  No food groups are “prohibited”

5.  It is sustainable long-term

6.  Physical activity is recommended

7.  No special supplements or products are used to guarantee success  (that’s how these idiots steal your money)

8.  Research-based testimonials are cited

9.  The author’s credentials should include a degree in nutritional science

10.  Ask me about it!

So, Noah, my dear friend, no hCG diet for you…please.  Eat less.  Exercise more.  That is the only REAL way to long-term success.

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