Monday, September 29, 2014

Java Jive

Mmmmm coffee! Java. Cup of joe. No matter what you call it, you've got to love it!  And no matter how you take it: black or con leche, it just doesn't seem right to start your day off without it.  Or for some of us, to have a cup constantly by your side like a loyal companion.  Yes, I love coffee first thing in the morning with breakfast or on my commute into work (before I worked from home).  I love coffee in the middle of the afternoon whether working, reading a book or just stalking people on facebook.  And I love coffee at night after a satisfying meal, along with a little something sweet of course. 
You can call me an addict, but I'm fine with that, because coffee is good for you!  Yes, there are those pesky haters that say coffee is a bad for your health, but to them I say: psshhht!  Here are three reasons why coffee drinking is all-good.
1. Improved Cognitive Function: Many human studies have shown that caffeine helps to improve aspects of cognition such as memory and reactions times. How? Caffeine causes the amounts of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine to increase, leading to enhanced firing of neurons.
2. Natural Laxative: Okay, sorry if this is TMI, but it's true!  Coffee makes you poop and therefore can help keep your digestive system regular.  That's the reason why it is traditionally always offered after a meal (you learn something new every day).
3. Contains Antioxidants: Antioxidants are protective of things like cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.  In the Western diet, coffee is the main source of antioxidants!  Studies have shown that people get more antioxidants from coffee than from fruits and veggies combined.  Sad, but true!  
So there you have it! Straight from the dietitian's mouth, go grab yourself a cup of joe!  Just do me a favor and skip all the whipped cream, syrups and sprinkles that will negate all its healthy properties!

Healthfully Yours,

Meghan 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

O'Mazing Omega-3's

People are constantly being told by doctors and yes, dietitians, “Limit this food or avoid that food because they're bad for you.”  Well, I for one, would rather spend time focusing on the things we should be eating more of!  Have you heard of omega-3's and their health benefits?  In honor of American Heart Month, let's explore these healthy fats: what exactly are they and how can we eat more of them?
salmon 2
More and more research is supporting the important role that omega- 3's play in reducing the risk of heart disease including heart attack and stroke. In fact, the American Heart Association's Dietary Guidelines suggest that increasing our consumption of these fats can help prevent cardiovascular disease, specifically by lowering serum triglyceride and blood pressure levels.  Plain and simple, omega-3's are good for the heart!
Omega-3's are a type of essential polyunsaturated fat.  Essential means that the body needs them for basic functions, but cannot make them, and therefore must be consumed in the diet. There are three types of omega-3's:
      1. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
      2. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
      3. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
There are two main dietary sources of omega-3's: fish and seeds and nuts.  Fatty fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel and sardines contain high levels of EPA and DHA.  Walnuts, chia seeds and ground flaxseed are excellent sources of ALA.  ALA can also be obtained from canola, walnut, soybean and flaxseed oils.  Additionally, there are now many products being fortified with omega-3's such as eggs and yogurt.  And for those who don't care for fish or are vegetarian, there are always supplements available.

To reduce the risk of heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends consuming 2 serving of fatty fish (8 oz total) per week or 1 gram of omega-3's per day.  As a reference, 1 tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flaxseed has about 2 grams, 1 ounce of salmon has about 0.75 grams, and 1 teaspoon of canola oil has about 0.5 grams.
Unsure of how to add more omega-3's to your diet?  Try adding a handful of walnuts to your oatmeal or a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your smoothie in the morning.  Replace two of your usual meat dinners with salmon or another fatty fish.  You could also make your own salad dressing using walnut oil!  Keep in mind that both flaxseed oil and walnut oil are heat sensitive and not meant to be
cooked with.
walnuts1

For more information on the benefits of omega-3's check out www.eatright.org or www.heart.org.

Healthfully Yours,

Meghan

Friday, November 8, 2013

November is National Diabetes Month


November is National Diabetes Month, a public health campaign that works to bring awareness to diabetes and to encourage action towards its prevention and management. According to the American Diabetes Association nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States alone currently have diabetes and another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes or are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. To put it another way, one in every four Americans either currently has or is at risk for diabetes!
 
What is Diabetes?
A lot of people know that diabetes has to do with sugar but they don't fully understand the disease. Diabetes occurs when your body is unable to convert the sugar (glucose) you consume into energy and so it builds up in your blood. This is known as high blood sugar or hyperglycemia. The chart below shows normal blood glucose levels for those with and without diabetes. Hyperglycemia is when your blood sugar is higher than these guidelines.
 

High blood sugar or hyperglycemia happens for a couple of reasons that have to do with insulin production. Insulin is a hormone that the pancreas produces and is a necessary tool for your cells to use the glucose you consume for energy. When you are insulin resistant, the cells do not “recognize” the insulin your body is making and so the glucose stays in your bloodstream. Another reason for hyperglycemia is that your pancreas can't produce insulin at all. This is the case with type 1 diabetics, although most type 2 diabetics eventually stop producing insulin as well.
 
How is Diabetes Managed?
For those who have diabetes, managing the disease means taking measures to control your blood glucose levels so that they stay in a healthy range. This is extremely important as complications of poorly-managed diabetes can include blindness, kidney failure, poor wound healing and even stroke or heart attack.
 
The three most important elements of diabetes management include self blood glucose monitoring (i.e. checking your blood sugars), diet and medications. Diabetics are encouraged to check their blood sugars several times a day in order to know if they are in the healthy range. Since the glucose in our blood comes from the food we eat, diet is a pivotal part of managing diabetes. Carbohydrates which include grains, fruit and sweets should be limited in the diet in order to keep blood glucose levels from spiking. And finally, medications including pills and insulin injections, work in different capacities to help keep blood glucose levels within a healthy range.

How Can I Prevent Diabetes?
Being overweight and having a family history are two strong risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. If you think you may be at risk, talk with your doctor, a registered dietitian, a certified diabetes educator or any health care professional about prevention. You can also check out these great resources for more information:


http://ndep.nih.gov/index.aspx

http://www.eatright.org/Public/


Healthfully Yours,
Meghan

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Pumpkin-Honey Beer Quick Bread


I don't really consider myself a baker, but I do enjoy making quick breads. I'm embarrassed to admit it, but the idea of yeast and proofing and punching and kneading really intimidates me!  Quick breads allow you to skip all that; just a little mixing and you're ready for the oven!

Now, I've made banana breads, Irish soda breads and zucchini breads many times before, but never a pumpkin bread. And in case you didn't notice, pumpkin is the hot seasonal item right now! It's a great source of fiber and beta-carotene, an antioxidant, and provides moisture to baked goods. So when I came across this gem of a recipe for a Pumpkin-Honey Beer Quick Bread, I was super excited!

I knew that this bread was going to be awesome when the house filled with the warmth of pumpkin and honey while it was baking...I mean, the house smelled like autumn! And I was not disappointed - this bread was AMAZING! It is a delicious little fall treat and would be perfect paired with a pumpkin spice latte!


Pumpkin-Honey Beer Quick Bread
adapted from Cooking Light Magazine
makes 1 loaf
 
Ingredients
  • 7.3 ounces 100% whole-wheat flour (about 1 2/3 cups)
  • 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda  
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/6 ground flaxseed
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup organic unrefined coconut oil (see my post on oils)
  • 1/3 cup room-temperature honey beer (I used Leinenkugel's Honey Weiss)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 (8-ounce) can pumpkin
Preparation
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, salt, and next 4 ingredients (through pumpkin pie spice) in a medium bowl; stir with a whisk.
  3. Combine 1/4 cup water and flaxseed. Set aside to let thicken.
  4. Place sugar and next 4 ingredients (through eggs) in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium-high speed until well blended. Add flaxseed mixture and pumpkin; beat at low speed just until blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until combined.
  5. Pour batter into a greased loaf pan. Bake at 350° for about 50-60 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.
  6. Enjoy!
Healthfully Yours,
Meghan

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Ins and Outs of Oils


Oils, or fats, are an important part of cooking: acting as a source of heat transfer, aiding in solubility and emulsification as well as adding flavors and textures to our foods. But deciding on the right cooking oil can be confusing, especially now that there are so many to choose from. The other day at the grocery store I counted about 15 different types of oils, not to mention all the different varieties and brands! Which ones are the healthiest? What do all these descriptions mean? What do they taste like? Can I use it to sauté, stir-fry or bake with?
 
For me, there are three key things to keep in mind when choosing a cooking oil or other fat. First, what kind of fat is it mainly comprised of? Second, how is it processed? And third, what am I going to use it for? Hopefully, this information will help to sort some of that out.

Remember, all oils are fats, but not all fats are the same. There are four main types of fats:
  1. Saturated – Chemically, saturated fatty acids contain the maximum number of hydrogen atoms. Most animal or tropical plant derived oils are saturated fats. Their relationship to cardiovascular disease and other health issues is an ongoing topic of research and debate. (ex: butter, lard, coconut oil)
  2. Polyunsaturated – Fatty acids that lack four or more hydrogen atoms and have two or more double bonds. There are two types of essential polyunsaturated oils:
    a. Omega-3's: anti-inflammatory, heart protective (good) (ex: flax seed oil, walnut oil)
    b. Omega-6's: pro-inflammatory (not so good) (ex: corn oil, canola oil)
  3. Monounsaturated – Fatty acids that lack two hydrogen atoms and have one double bond. (ex: olive oil, canola oil)
  4. Trans Fat – Fatty acids with hydrogen on opposite sides of the double bond. They behave similar to saturated fats when consumed. Trans fats are bad for your health and should be avoided. (ex: any oil that is hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated)
Below are some descriptions commonly seen on a container of oil, most of which refer to the way they were made:
  1. Refined vs. Unrefined - Most oils produced on a large scale, such as canola, are refined. Refined basically means processed involving the use of heat and chemicals. As a general rule, more refining leads to less flavor, less color and most likely, less health benefits.  Unrefined then means unprocessed, or in the purest form.
  2. Light – Refers to color and taste only (not calories or fat content). Like every other oil, light oil is 100% fat.
  3. Cold-pressed/Extra Virgin - The oil is extracted by mechanical pressing only. There’s little or no heat used to extract more oil. After it’s pressed the oil just needs to be filtered, so it tends to keep its natural flavor. You can usually tell a cold-pressed oil by its deep color and stronger flavor (and higher price)!
  4. Expeller-expressedThe oil is obtained by squeezing at high-pressure, which generates heat. Remember that heating an oil during processing can destroy some of it's properties including health benefits.
Based on their healthfulness, here are some oils/fats that I recommend using:
    Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) – Rich in flavor and aroma, EVOO is excellent for cooking, using in marinades and in salad dressings. Mainly a monounsaturated fat, it is fairly low in those pro-inflammatory omega-6's. EVOO is high in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant that enhances our immune system and aids in the prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
     
    Coconut Oil (unrefined, organic) – Coconut oil is high in a “good” saturated fat, lauric acid, and is low in omega-6 fatty acids. It's also very versatile: great for baking and cooking at high temperatures. Keep in mind it does have a strong flavor profile, which may not be suited for all recipes. Avoid hydrogenated versions, which contain trans fats.
     
    Flax Seed Oil - Flax seed oil is high in omega-3's, which are good for us! Flax seed oil is heat sensitive and is better suited for use in dressings than it is for cooking. Make sure to store flax seed oil in the refrigerator.
     
    Butter (grass-fed) - Yes, butter! True butter is a saturated fat, but grass-fed is high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which have some possible health benefits including fat loss and the treatment of some cancers. It's also low in omega-6's. Use butter in baking or sautéing. Butter is pure, not processed, and should be purchased from organic sources.
 
Oils and fats to use sparingly or avoid altogether:
    Soybean and Corn Oil - Both oils are very high in omega-6's. They are almost always highly processed (i.e. refined, bleached, deodorized) and unless organic, are derived from genetically modified crops.
     
    Palm Oil – Palm oil is very high in omega-6's and is especially of concern due to it's environmental implications. Palm oil cultivation has led to the destruction of rain forests, greenhouse admissions and reduced biodiversity in many countries. For more information on palm oil and the environment, check out this news article from the New York Times.
     
    Margarine – Margarine is highly processed and contains hydrogenated oils, or trans fats. You are better off using grass-fed butter.



Healthfully Yours,
Meghan

Monday, August 19, 2013

Utilizing the Nutrition Facts Panel


Recently, a good friend asked me about nutrition labels and wanted to know “how much sodium is considered a lot?” Now I'm pretty certain she is not the first person to look at a package's label and wonder if it's a good choice or not. Just walk down the aisles of the grocery store and I guarantee you will find plenty of people staring blankly at the back of packages, not sure what it all means! Whether you are looking to lose weight, are a diabetic or just want to eat better, the Nutrition Facts Panel (nutrition label) can be a great tool, but only if you know how to use it!

But First, A Brief History...

What we commonly refer to as a nutrition label is technically called the Nutrition Facts Panel. It first appeared on packaged foods in 1992, the first label to show per serving nutrition information. The nutrients listed in the panel were chosen because of their importance to modern health.  In other words, the nutrients Americans consume too much of and those we tend to be deficient in. As new concerns come to light, the required nutrients of the panel will be changed (i.e. trans fat).
The Nutrition Facts Panel is required on all packaged items except fresh fruits and vegetables and food served for immediate consumption such as those served at delis, in hospitals or on airplanes. Only recently (March 2012), did the Nutrition Facts Panel become required on packages of raw meat.

And Finally, Your Cheat Sheet...

Serving Size & Servings Per Container
The first and foremost thing you should check on a label! Remember that a package might contain more than one serving. If the serving size is listed as ½ cup and you eat 1 cup, you need to double the amount of calories, sugar, etc.
Calories and Calories From Fat
Knowing how many calories you consume can be helpful for weight management. A single serving that contains 40 calories or less is considered low and 400 or more is considered high. Try to keep the calories from fat < 30%.

Total Fat
This includes both saturated and unsaturated fats. A serving that contains 3 grams or less of total fat is considered low fat. Keep in mind, unsaturated fats are not a required component of the label. Most manufacturers will only list it if the product is high in them and they want to promote it!

Saturated Fat
Keep saturated fat intake at < 10% of total calories per day. This equates to approximately 22 grams a day on a 2000 calorie diet.

Trans Fat
Trans fat should be avoided at all costs, so look for items that have 0 grams per serving. Of note, items that actually contain 0.5 grams or less can be listed as 0. Sneaky right? You can find hidden trans fat in the ingredient list as partially hydrogenated oils.

Cholesterol
The recommended intake for cholesterol is 300 milligrams per day. Less than 20 mg per serving is considered low.

Sodium
The recommended intake for most healthy adults is less than 2400 milligrams per day. A low sodium food has < 140 mg per serving and > 400 mg per serving is considered high. If you are on a sodium restricted diet, > 300 mg is high.

Carbohydrates
Total carbohydrates includes both sugar and fiber. Although what's considered to be “low-carb” diet varies, on average, 100 grams or less per day could be considered “low-carb”. Diabetics should look to consume around 45-60 grams per meal and 15 grams per snack.

Fiber
Adults need 30-35grams of fiber each day. Most Americans consume only 1/3 of that! Aim for > 3 grams per serving.

Sugar
Look for items with < 10 grams per serving. If you are concerned about added, processed sugars (you should be), check the ingredients list for things like agave nectar, cane crystal, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrates, glucose, molasses, raw sugar, and sucrose and any syrup.

Daily Values
The percent of daily value (DV) is based on a general 2000 calorie per day diet. Any DV less than 5% is low – aim for low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. A DV of 20% and greater is considered high – aim for high in vitamins (A and C), minerals (calcium and iron) and fiber.

While not part of the Nutrition Facts Panel, its just as important to read the ingredients list.  Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the first listed is the most prominent. This is where you want to look for allergens, added sugars, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), and additives and preservatives.

Okay, so now you know how to read the Nutrition Fact Panel, but here's the kicker: The majority of foods that require a label are highly processed and simply not good for you!  If you really want to eat healthier, choose more fresh fruits and vegetables or look for more “natural” items that have less than 5 items in the ingredients list.

Healthfully Yours,

Meghan

Monday, August 5, 2013

Super Easy "Super Foods"!


Unless you've been living under a rock for the last 10 years, I'm sure you've heard the term “super foods” being tossed around a lot (especially if you follow Dr. Oz), but what does that phrase really mean?

If you think about it, any food in its whole, natural form can be considered “super” in its own right: chicken for its protein, bananas for their potassium, beans for their fiber, etc. But when we say “super foods” we're referring to those that pack a little something extra!

In technical terms “super foods” (also referred to as functional foods) are foods, which contain physiologically active compounds that provide health benefits beyond their basic nutrients. This includes foods that are consumed in their natural form as well as those that have been purposely modified or fortified.

I thought I'd share my top five super foods that I consume on a regular basis. The best thing about these specific items is that you don't have to go to a specialty health store or learn any new cooking techniques to incorporate them into your diet. Chances are, these are foods you are already familiar with, so just bump up the consumption!

Meghan's Top 5 Super Foods:

  1. Greek Yogurt – I recommend Greek yogurt over regular yogurt, because it contains about twice as much protein, but what makes it “super” is the probiotics it contains. These bacteria are live active cultures, similar to the ones that already exist in our digestive tracts. They help maintain and restore the delicate balance of both "good" and "bad" bacteria necessary for a healthy digestive system. It's best to buy the plain version as the flavored or fruit added tend to be pretty high in sugar. Try Greek yogurt in a smoothie, as a sub for sour cream, or topped with fruit and granola.
  1. Wild Salmon – Salmon is a great source of lean protein, calcium, iron and vitamin D. If that wasn't “super” enough, it also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with depression, heart conditions and inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. While wild salmon is more expensive than non-wild, the wild caught have higher omega-3 levels and are a more sustainable choice. I like to grill or bake salmon with a little olive oil, fresh herbs and spices.

  2. Blueberries – These sweet berries are “super” because they contain antioxidants called anthocyanins. Anthocyanins not only provide the bluish/purple color, but they may play a role in cancer prevention, prevention of cardiovascular diseases (including stroke) and neurodegenerative disorders of aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I prefer to eat blueberries all by themselves, but I also add them into smoothies, or enjoy them with some Greek yogurt, and of course, in pancakes!

  3. Walnuts - Already high in protein and fiber, these “super” nuts contain omega-3's and polyphenols both of which have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, a handful of walnuts contain more polyphenols than a glass of red wine! I like to snack on them plain, add them for crunch in my oatmeal or use them instead of pine nuts to make pesto. Just remember, 1 ounce, or about 14 walnut halves, contains 190 calories so watch your portions!

  4. Spinach - Spinach is a good source of vitamins A, K and folate, but just one cup of this “super” green contains about 3.6 mg of the antioxidants, lutein and zeaxanthin. Scientific evidence suggests that eating at least 6 mg a day of lutein and zeaxanthin may help reduce oxidative damage to the eye and lower the incidence of age-related macular degeneration. I enjoy spinach in my eggs, sauteed with a little garlic and on occasion, stuffed in pizza!

Healthfully Yours,

Meghan