Category Archives: Eating For Health

apple cider vinegar

Magic Potion, Right in Your Cabinet

What would you say if there was a cheap, easily available kitchen item right in your closet that could improve your blood sugars and unhealthy cholesterol, and promote weight loss?  It sounds too good to be true, but it’s probably the best kept secret that’s really worth sharing.  The magical liquid is apple cider vinegar – made from fermented crushed apples.

What’s The Good Stuff in Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar’s health benefit is mostly from the fermentation that yields 5-20% acetic acid, water and some B vitamins, vitamin C and minerals.  There are fast or slow methods of fermentation but both are healthy.  It’s the bacteria, either naturally grown over time or added for the quick method, that ferments the cider or apple must.  The vinegar is pasteurized prior to bottling to kill any harmful bacteria.

Apple Cider Vinegar and Antiglycemic Benefits

An NIH review of studies on the health benefits of apple cider vinegar are very promising. One study looked at the effects of consuming vinegar on two groups, one with insulin resistance (prediabetes) and one with type 2 diabetes. Each group drank 20 g of vinegar (4 tsp) in 40 g of water with 1 tsp of saccharin prior to consuming a meal consisting of 87 g of carbohydrates.  The insulin resistant group’s blood sugars after eating were reduced by as much as 60%. There was less antiglycemic response in the group with type 2 diabetes, but insulin sensitivity after the meal was improved. Based on this study, it’s possible that people with prediabetes could really benefit from regular consumption of apple cider vinegar. Even the Diabetes Self Management magazine supports the regular use of apple cider vinegar and you can read reviews on the use of vinegar from readers of WebMD.

Apple Cider Vinegar and Cholesterol

There is a some evidence that apple cider vinegar can improve cholesterol.  A Life Science Journal study showed that vinegar lowered the unhealthy LDL cholesterol and raised the heart healthy HDL cholesterol. And the BBC conducted their own study on 30 volunteers.  They divided them into 3 groups: one drinking a malt vinegar drink, one an apple cider vinegar drink and the last a placebo before eating a large bagel.  they did see a big difference in post-meal blood sugars in the apple cider vinegar group and were pleasantly surprised to see a drop in cholesterol as well:

“those consuming cider vinegar saw an average 13% reduction in total cholesterol, with a strikingly large reduction in triglycerides (a form of fat). And this was a particularly impressive finding because our volunteers were all healthy at the start, with normal cholesterol levels.”

Apple Cider Vinegar and Weight Loss

In a study that WebMD cites, 175 obese people consumed either vinegar or water and ate a similar diet for 3 months. The vinegar group lost about 2 pounds, while the water group lost none.  Obviously, that’s not an outstanding weight loss, but I do wonder if it might be more effective in those with prediabetes since they are insulin resistant.  Vinegar can interfere with starch absorption. If fewer carbohydrates are absorbed, than less insulin would be released from the pancreas. Insulin is a fat storage hormone; if less is circulating in the blood stream, then fewer excess calories will be stored in fat cells. I’m just curious about that possibility.

Warnings About Apple Cider Vinegar

Regular use of apple cider vinegar is not recommended for those with kidney disease because it may affect calcium absorption and could possibly have a  detrimental effect on blood pressure. Due to its acidic pH, it is also not recommended for anyone with gastrointestinal ulcers. Personally, I would use caution if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or a history of gastritis too. It can also damage teeth enamel, so it should be diluted in a cup of water and consumed fairly quickly to decrease dental exposure.

How To Consume Vinegar

There are at least 10 other benefits to making vinegar part of your life – from using it topically to help with fungal infections to even helping with foot odor.  But finding enjoyment out of downing that glass of sour liquid can be challenging.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Switch to a lower calorie and healthier salad dressing by mixing 1 part vinegar to one part olive oil and add garlic and onion powder and a bit of salt.
  2. Mix 1 cup of water with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar and 1 tsp honey.
  3. Mix 1/2 cup grapefruit juice with 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar.

There certainly is a lot of evidence on the benefits of drinking apple cider vinegar.  It’s cheap, it’s tolerable in the recommended dose and there are few downsides. It’s surprising that more research hasn’t been done on the benefits, but I bet big pharma would not be too happy if their sales of Metformin and Lipitor declined.  After all, we wouldn’t want nature’s medicine to “sour” big pharma’s profits would we?

Nutritional Vigilance Starts With These Simple Nutrition Steps

Eating healthy isn’t rocket science, but it can get you on a life trajectory of feeling and looking better.  There are simple nutrition steps you can follow to get you in orbit.  I often hear my clients say the steps need to be easy because they are either uncomfortable with meal preparation, don’t want to take the time or absolutely hate the concept of cooking.  With these kinds of conversations I emphasize that there are quick and easy meals and routines that can make this process easy.  The key is to keep a few essential ingredients always in stock and to shop with a list which includes these items.

Simple Nutrition Steps

A healthy meal should always combine lean protein, fiber and healthy fat.  With the right amount of each component, this magic combination will keep you feeling fuller longer, prevents your blood glucose from spiraling and keeps your energy levels high until the next meal.  There are simple nutrition steps that start with the shopping list below:

Grocery Shopping List

First, some important facts about food.  Most foods are a combination of the macro-nutrients protein, carbohydrates and fats.  Most are more of one macro-nutrient than the other.  For example salmon is high in heart healthy fats and is also a great source of protein.  Nuts are high in heart healthy fat but are also a good source of protein and fiber.  Cheese is a good source of protein, but it is very high in fat, especially the heart damaging saturated fat, which is why you want to focus on low-fat or moderate portions.  Beans are high in carbohydrates but also very high in fiber and have a reasonable amount of protein.   The fiber and protein prevents a spike in blood glucose unlike the “white” foods like rice, white bread and  boxed potatoes. Additionally, cutting back on foods high in fat, like cheese, oils and nuts, and eating more fiber especially from vegetables, will help you lose weight.

Other ingredients I always keep in stock and have on my shopping list are:

  • 2 quarts organic chicken broth
  • mustard (essentially no calories and a great addition to many recipes)
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • garlic/onion powder

Putting The Puzzle Together In These Simple Nutrition Steps

The meal below is a great example of protein, fiber and healthy fat.  The protein is coming mainly from the sautéed scallops.  Fiber is coming from the half plate of veggies, the brown rice and the sliced peaches for dessert.  The healthy fat is coming from the canola oil the scallops were sautéed in and the olive oil the veggies were tossed in.

healthy plate

Simple and Quick Meals You Can Make From My Shopping List

Using my shopping list, here are some simple meals you can put together.

  1. Chicken Quesadilla                                                                                                                         Saute the chicken in canola oil (can handle a higher heat than olive oil).  Let cool and shred into pieces.  Place in whole grain wrap (like LaTortilla) along with shredded green cabbage, 2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup black beans and pour salsa and wrap up.
  2. Baked Salmon with broccoli and small sweet potato                                                                  Preheat oven to Bake 400.  Cut sweet potato into 3/4 ” pieces and broccoli in small branches.  Place in baking dish and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and small amount of salt and put in oven.  Place salmon (4-5 ounces per person) in greased pan.  Top with mustard, then sprinkle Panco or bread crumbs on top and put next to the veggies.  Bake for 15 minutes until salmon and veggies are done.
  3. Baked Haddock with cheese, spinach and brown rice.                                                                When I make rice, I usually make 3 times the amount and freeze the rest for another time or use it in another meal a couple of days later.  A serving of rice is 3/4 to 1 cup cooked per person.  Brown rice takes about 50 minutes to prepare.  Quinoa is a great alternative and only takes 20 minutes to make and is also higher in fiber and protein than rice.  In a greased square pan place 2 cups fresh pre-washed spinach per person.  Then place 5 oz of Haddock per person on top of the spinach.  Place one slice of light Swiss cheese per person, spread a thin amount of reduced fat mayo and sprinkle with Panco.  Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes.
  4. Chicken/Rice/Veggie Soup                                                                                                                    If you’ve prepared extra chicken and rice from the previous meals you can use them here. If not then put the uncooked chicken breasts and the brown rice in a large pot filled with about 6 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool.  Add 1 bag each of chopped broccoli, spinach and carrots and 1 can kidney beans and simmer for 15 minutes.  Shred the chicken and return to the pot.  Then add 1 can diced tomatoes and 1 quart chicken broth.  Then add a tbsp onion and garlic powder along with 1 tsp of salt and pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes and serve with a slice of whole grain toast.
  5. Frittata                                                                                                                                                      I like to make this dish in a 12″ cast iron skillet.  Preheat oven to 400.  Take one dozen eggs and mix with one cup fat-free Greek yogurt ( to boost the protein) until well-blended.  In skillet saute one large diced onion in 1 tbsp canola oil .   Then add two bags frozen chopped broccoli and saute until broccoli is cooked.   Pour egg mixture in pan and stir in 1 cup grated low-fat cheddar cheese, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes.   Serve with whole grain toast.  I take the leftovers and place in a wrap with fresh spinach, some grated cheese and salsa to have for lunch or dinner for other meals.

Being Nutritionally Vigilant Starts With Planning And An Open Mind

Eating healthy starts with planning and a willingness to do things differently.  These simple nutrition steps of combining protein, fiber and healthy fats along with using my shopping list regularly will simplify your life, make you healthier, have more energy and lose weight.  Your freezer can become your best friend and allow you to eat healthy when you don’t feel like cooking.  Investing in portion sized freezer containers and freezing extra portions will save you from impulse buys on the way home from a long day.  You will find, after a few weeks that keeping these foods in your house will allow you to throw something healthy together in a manner of minutes.  And what’s not to like about a bowl of hot homemade soup and crunchy toast on a cold winter day, right?  That’s the way to launch into a healthy lifestyle!

hungry!

Constantly Hungry?

There are three different types of hunger:   hangry, hungry and what I will call “mouthgry” or mouth hunger.  Hangry happens when the body’s natural hunger mechanisms have long gone unfulfilled, the body’s glycogen stores have been depleted, and you feel irritable and foggy.  Hungry occurs due to fluctuations in satiety hormones, leptin and grehlin.  Leptin tells us we’re full.   Grehlin tells us we’re hungry.  Leptin levels decline and grehlin levels rise 4-5 hours after eating – motivating us to eat.  And “mouthgry” happens when the mouth is just crying for a little something-something, not due to any real hunger, but as a reward, a titillating mouth pause from life’s burdens.  If you feel you are constantly hungry, it’s important to know what kind of hunger you’re experiencing and to observe personal eating patterns if you really want to change it.

Hangry, Hungry, Mouthgry

Personally there is no excuse to ever experience hangry.  It is so easy to keep a protein bar or peanut butter and crackers at your work, in your car or on your person.  No excuse, it’s a no-brainer, period.  And mouthgry is much more complicated.  It could be from eating too many refined carbs that cause fluctuations in blood sugar, or it could be related to your personal level of life satisfaction and personal contentment.  This is a much bigger focus than what will be covered here and requires personal reflection, re-prioritizing and some serious de-cluttering, both physically and mentally.  So that pretty much leaves addressing feeling hunger.

How To Manage Hunger

The key to managing hunger is to make sure each of your meals contains a good amount of fiber from real foods, a good amount of protein from low-fat sources and just the right amount of fat from the heart healthy fats and to eat 3 spaced meals a day.  Personally, I’m not big on  snacking if meal planning is given its due diligence, but a snack prior to exercise certainly makes sense.  Here’s how you can keep hunger at bay.

  1. Don’t skip breakfast.  It’s the most important meal of the day and sets the pace for the day.  Focus on fiber and protein.  It is recommended that we get 25 grams of dietary fiber based on a 2000 calorie diet.  The best sources are from whole grains, beans, nuts and produce.  You’ll know something is whole grain if the first word under the list of ingredients starts with “whole” or “100% whole”, not “enriched wheat flour”.  Some good breakfast examples are a veggie omelette with whole grain toast, a smoothie, or plain fat-free Greek yogurt mixed with fruit and topped with 2 tbsp of nuts.  Oatmeal, teff or even quinoa topped with nuts and some Greek yogurt is another great breakfast that will keep you full until lunch.  If you don’t have the time to make an omelet, one of my favorite breakfast solutions is to take a slice of a frittata and put it in a whole grain wrap with some spinach and salsa.
  2. Reduce your high glycemic carbs.  These are the carbs that shoot your blood sugar up quickly.  This is a correlation between a high glycemic diet and low leptin levels.  Examples of high glycemic foods include donuts, fruit juice, corn, potatoes, white rice, pasta and bread and sodas.
  3. Include heart healthy fat in every meal.  Research indicates that getting adequate amounts mono- and poly-unsaturated fats raises leptin levels.  Good sources of healthy fats include nuts, soy, avocado, flax seed, olive oil, canola oil and nut butters.   These fats also will lower your bad cholesterol, LDL, and raise your good cholesterol, HDL.  Be mindful of portions by looking at the calories per serving size because fat is high in calories (9 calories/gram vs 4 calories/gram for carbs and protein).
  4. Boost your protein.  In this Psychology Today article eating sufficient protein caused rats to eat less:                                                                                                                                                             “They found that the regimen sparked production of glucose in the small intestine, and              that this increase, sensed in the liver and relayed to the parts of the brain involved in the          control of appetite, caused the rats to eat less.”
  5. Increase your volume each meal with nonstarchy veggies and soup.  Not only will this please your eyes, but it will fill your belly.  Adding nonstarchy veggies to eggs, casseroles, and soups will give you volume, without all the calories.  Make sure the soups are broth based without added cream or lots of cheese.  Here’s one of my favorite chicken soup recipes and using frozen veggies and canned beans makes this a quick preparation.
  6. Distract yourself.  Hunger does come in waves.  If you’ve eaten a balanced meal a few hours earlier, go for a walk, get a drink and know that it will pass in a few minutes.

Feeling hungry is normal.  I notice with my own hunger it can be uncomfortable at times.  It effects my thinking and makes me want to make quick food choices.  Even now, it’s been four and a half hours since I had my smoothie and I notice my hunger is a little uncomfortable.  I’m thinking about the half sandwich and extra salad I made for dinner last night.  I always keep quick meal ingredients stocked like my peanut butter or low-fat cottage cheese I put on Wasa crackers, a portion of last night’s meal or even the salad we make extra at dinner to have for lunch today.  I never let my hunger get to the point where I could eat a horse.  And I certainly don’t let myself get hangry.  It takes a little planning, but my body rewards me for my effort.  And that’s something to “nay” about!

 

Breaking The Weight Barrier: Set Point

Set PointHave you lost weight in the past only to regain all of it and perhaps a bit more?  You are not alone, most dieters regain their weight.  Our body has a genetically determined set point for weight it wants to maintain.  The Set Point for weight is an internal physiological system.  It involves hormones that work on the brain to regulate hunger and satiation.

The Physiological Feedback Loop

Leptin is a protein made by fat cells that signals the brain that the body is full.  Along with insulin, another hormone released when we eat, our body has a physiological mechanism for maintaining weight homeostasis or set point.  According to ObesityAction.org, we have a body fat thermostat that influences our appetite.  When weight goes up, more insulin and leptin are released, reducing appetite.  When weight goes down, insulin and leptin levels decrease, increasing appetite.  A gradual weight gain over time can raise the set point making it difficult to lose weight, especially when one feels constantly hungry.

In a WebMD interview with Robert Lustig, MD, a member of the Endocrine Society’s Obesity Task Force, he states that “Leptin is the way your fat cells tell your brain that your energy thermostat is set right”.   He goes on to say that with obesity, despite the high levels of leptin, the brain does not get the message to slow down eating.  He talks about the brain thinking it is in a “starvation mode” because it is not getting the leptin message:

 “The leptin is being made by the fat cells, the fat cells are trying to tell the brain, ‘Hey, I don’t need to eat so much,’ but the brain can’t get the signal. You feel hungrier and the reward doesn’t get extinguished. It only gets fostered, and so you eat more and you keep going and it becomes a vicious cycle. If your brain can’t see the leptin signal, you’re going to get obese.”

Lustig calls this “leptin resistance” and believes that it is caused by insulin resistance:  impaired ability for the body to recognize insulin.  He believes the best way to address insulin resistance is to not let insulin levels get high in the first place, by reducing sugar intake.

Resetting The Set Point

Dr George Blackburn, Associate Director of the Division of Nutrition at Harvard Medical School, discusses in his book, Breaking Through The Set Point:  How To Finally Lose The Weight You Want And Keep It Off, how to lower one’s set point.  Based on Set Point theory developed by Bennett and Gurin, Blackburn recommends a combination of physical activity and dietary changes.  He believes that people should lose weight gradually and maintain it for at least six months in order to reset their set point.  He has observed that rapid weight loss results in rapid weight gain.  He also observes that after someone has lost 10% of their weight, the body starts to conserve calories.  He has found that if someone can maintain the weight loss for six months, the set point will be reset and more weight can be lost if desired.

Looking At What Works

The National Weight Control Registry, a registry that tracks individuals who have lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it off for a year, lists common behavior patterns.  94% of these individuals increased their physical activity with 90% of them exercising for an hour on average a day.  98% have changed their eating habits eating a lower calorie, lower fat diet and 78% eat breakfast daily.  You can read more individual success stories here.

Making Sustainable Lifestyle Changes

Although dieting can get someone into that bikini quickly, I believe finding a broader purpose for losing weight is going to give more lasting motivation and sustainable results.  Excess weight tends to creep on over many years, so it should come off gradually – no more than a half pound or pound a week.  I believe the focus should be on getting healthy, not losing weight which connotes something negative about the process.  Personally, I believe in finding a daily exercise plan that can work throughout the seasons whether it’s walking outside, having personal equipment or videos, or going to the gym.  I believe in eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and no refined grains or processed food.  I believe it requires looking at habits and finding good substitutes for unhealthy habits.  I believe it’s making small permanent changes at a pace that seems natural and interesting.  I believe it starts with an attitude of curiosity and adventure, that ends with better health and satisfaction.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Eating My Ten Must Foods Daily

I shared in my last blog the ten foods I eat on a daily basis to keep me healthy, my energy level high, and are simple to prepare.  You may wonder how many different ways can you eat cottage cheese or cabbage before your mouth rebels.  But, honestly, you can eat these ten must foods daily and in a variety of ways and keep your taste buds happy.

My Ten Must Foods Daily, and Gaily!

kale smoothiePlain Greek Low-fat Yogurt, flax seed, and milk.  On weekdays I make a smoothie with Greek yogurt, kale, frozen berries, flax seed and low-fat milk.  On Saturday I make whole grain pancakes also using Greek yogurt, flax seed and milk.  I also use Greek yogurt to make veggie dips mixing half Greek yogurt and half light mayo with a spice mixture, like the ones from Westminster Whimsy in Chelsea Maine.  They make a variety of seasoning packets that go wonderfully with fresh veggies or whole grain pretzels or Wasa crackers.  You can also substitute Greek yogurt in a variety of recipes:

  • 1 cup sour cream with 1 cup low-fat or fat-free  plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup of butter with 1/3 cup mayo and 2/3 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup oil with 1/3 cup oil and 2/3 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup heavy cream with 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup milk or cream with  3/4 milk or cream and 1/4 low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup buttermilk with 1/3 cup milk and 2/3 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 8 oz cream cheese or mascarpone with 4 oz cream cheese or mascarpone and 1/2 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese with 1/2 cup ricotta and 1/2 cup low-fat or fat-free plain Greek yogurt

Cottage Cheese.  Instead of using Greek yogurt in dips, I sometimes use whipped cottage cheese.  If you whip cottage cheese for a few minutes it does become smooth and creamy.  It has much more protein than cream cheese.  Add chives and you have a perfect spread for a bagel.  A favorite summer lunch for me is cottage cheese with some freshly picked tomatoes from my garden.

Cabbage.  Roasted cabbageI love cabbage.  I love everything about it – the colors, whether green or red, the cheap cost, and even how long it will stay fresh in my frig.  I shred it to put in wraps along with chicken, black beans, cheese and salsa for a complete summer meal.  It’s in my Asian slaw recipe that my sister turned me on to and also includes one of my other ten must foods, peanut butter.  I put cabbage in my soups, in my salad concoctions and even in my delicious bean salad that makes enough for a large party, or to have over several meals during the week.  I’ve enjoyed roasting Napa cabbage with a bit of olive oil and salt and will try this wonderful recipe soon.

Wasa crackers and peanut butter.  Wasa crackers make a great foundation.  By themselves, many would say taste like cardboard, but top them with anything and they become the perfect vehicle and crunch for any topper.  One of my favorite toppers is cottage cheese, with a few onion slices and minced Kalamata olives.  A couple of these with a piece of fruit and I’m full until my next meal.  Lately, I’m hooked on eating them sandwiched over some crunchy Teddy peanut butter.  Keep a bag of them along with a jar of Teddy peanut butter and you have the perfect snack.  I love Teddy – it’s just roasted peanuts and salt, no hydrogenated oils added to line my arteries with transfat.  I also love to top my Wasa’s with bean soup or chili; Wasa crackers can stand up to anything you put on it and still maintain the crunch.

Olive oil.  There is some research that indicates several manufacturers have been caught substituting other oils for extra virgin olive oil.  Their recommendation was to get your olive oil from California or Greece.  I use my extra virgin olive oil to toss my veggies in before roasting, in some cake recipes and my salad dressing.  Of course one of the tastiest ways to enjoy olive oil is with some freshly baked bread.  Skip the butter, who needs that if you find some really nice buttery olive oil.  The link above also lists recommended brands.  Trader Joe’s California Estate scored well on a taste test.

Apple Cider Vinegar.  I love Balsamic vinegar but recently learned how only apple cider vinegar has an alkali pH – so it’s the only vinegar that can lower post meal blood sugars by interfering with the digestion of starches.  Over 9% or 29 million people in the US with diabetes, lowering post meal blood sugars could reduce some of the damage done to the arteries and reduce the workload on the pancreas if consumed regularly.  This doesn’t mean one can eat a whole pizza and follow up with a swig of apple cider vinegar to reduce the damage.  But it does mean that in addition to eating carbs mindfully, regular consumption of apple cider vinegar could lower blood sugars and A1c.  There is also some evidence that apple cider vinegar’s anti-glycemic effect could even help with weight loss.  Many sources recommend buying organic unfiltered apple cider vinegar and mixing 2 tbsp with 1 tsp of honey and water.  You can also mix this with olive oil and some of the Westminster Whimsy spice packets for a nice salad dressing.

Barley.  BarleyBarley is my rice substitute.  I add it to soups.  I use it in my seafood paella.  I have even substituted it for hot oatmeal.  Add a little low-fat milk, brown sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts and a raisins, and you have a perfect winter hot cereal full of fiber and protein.  You can follow the recipe mentioned here to slow cook it overnight.  It is slowly digested and will keep you fuller longer than most other grains, while also being one of the best foods to lower your bad cholesterol.

What You Might Notice After Eating These Ten Must Foods

What might you notice after a month of eating these ten foods?  Consumed regularly you will be giving your body good sources of low fat protein, plenty of fiber that will not only slow down digestion, keeping you fuller longer, but lower bad cholesterol as well.  You will also get fiber that will feed your good gut microbes that boost your immune system.  You will get anti-inflammatory agents that may reduce pain, arterial inflammation and perhaps even boost your mood.  You will be protecting your bones, keeping them strong for the future if you get at least 2-3 servings of dairy daily like low-fat milk, cottage cheese and Greek yogurt.  You could even lower your blood pressure by getting enough calcium from the above sources and the potassium from veggies like cabbage.  The antioxidants in the flax seed and cabbage will help your body fight against cancer.

It’s amazing how these ten foods will help protect your heart and arteries, fight against disease and cancer, help with weight loss and diabetes and even help auto-immune inflammatory conditions.  Isn’t that wonderful payback.  To feel better, improve health and possibly lose weight.  Try these ten foods on a daily basis for one month and see what you might notice.  You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

ten food musts

Ten Must Foods To Stock In Your Kitchen

Being empty nesters, my husband and I “wing-it” more often than not when it comes to mealtime in the summer in Maine.  We tend to eat simpler meals than the rest of the year.  For example, last nights meal consisted of a huge bowl of cut-up tomatoes from our garden combined with some fresh veggies, a scoop of low fat cottage cheese and a piece of whole grain toast.  Nothing fancy, but with freshly picked veggies from our garden, I was totally satisfied.  Making a quick health meal means always keeping key essentials around.  I have ten “must” foods that I always keep stocked in my kitchen so I can put together a quick meal that meets my requirements beyond just being tasty:  they must keep me full and must promote health.

How My List Promotes Fullness And Healthy

The key to fullness lies in getting enough fiber, protein and fat with each meal.  The key to making it healthy is getting both soluble and insoluble fiber, lean protein and heart healthy fat.

Fiber

Fiber increases biodiversity of microbes that boost our immune system and is linked to reducing the risk of many disease processes including irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and even the intestinal infection, C-difficile.   Fiber keeps us full, lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugars.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that women eat at least 25 gms and men 38 gms daily.  The average American consumes only 15 gms a day.  Foods high in both these kinds of fiber include fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, and a variety of whole grains.

Protein

Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.  Our body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbohydrates, so we need to consume it regularly and in the right amount.  The Institute of Medicine recommends .8 gm per kilogram of weight for the average adult.  That means a 200 lb person should consume about 72 gms daily.  Some research indicates eating large amounts at once, does not benefit the body as well as eating smaller amounts throughout the day.  On average, an ounce of meat, poultry or fish will deliver about 6-7 gms of protein.  There is also protein in beans, whole grains, nuts and dairy.  The key is to move away from the artery-clogging saturated fat found in beef and most dairy and move more towards poultry, fish and low-fat dairy.

Healthy Fat

Dietary fat is needed for energy and cell growth.  It also helps the body absorb certain nutrients and produce certain hormones.  Fats have more than twice the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins.  Eaten in small amounts with the focus on heart-healthy types, it can help lower cholesterol, improve cardiovascular healthy and keep you fuller longer.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume less than 10% of our total daily calories from saturated fat and get most of our grams of fat from olive and canola oil, nuts, avocado and seeds.  Here is the good, bad and ugly on fats.

My Ten “Must” Food

My ten “must” foods list does not make a complete meal, but each item is an essential component of my daily diet and meets my criteria for helping with fullness and promoting health.

  1. Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt – It’s high in protein with each 8 oz delivering 23 gms of protein – that’s equivalent to 3 1/2 oz meat, poultry of fish.  Plus it has probiotics that increase the good gut bacteria and are a good source of calcium for bone health.
  2. Low-fat cottage cheese – This is also high in protein with one half cup delivering 14 gms of fiber and is a good source of calcium.
  3. Cabbage – These crunchy leaves are a good source of fiber and sulforaphane, a compound associated with reducing the risk of cancer.  And red cabbage contains anthocyanin, a compound that can kill cancer cells.
  4. Flax seed – This is considered the most powerful plant food on the planet with 3 tbsp delivering 8 gms of fiber, 6 gms of protein, and loads of antioxidant lignans.  It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
  5. Wasa crackers – Two of these whole grain crackers provides only 60 calories, 3 gms of fiber and are very low in sodium.  I use them as a foundation to put cottage cheese, sliced onions and olives on or to sandwich around a scoop of my next essential.
  6. Teddy peanut butter – With ingredients including only roasted peanuts and salt, peanut butter is a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber.  Peanut butter and nuts in general are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and alzheimers.
  7. Skim or 1% milk – This is one of the best sources of calcium while also providing 8 gms of protein.
  8. Barley – This delicious grain is one of the best sources of soluble fiber and a great alternative to rice.  A half cup of cooked barley delivers 8 gms of fiber and 5 gms of protein.  It’s also very high in potassium which lowers blood pressure, and has also been linked to reducing risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Barley provides a high percentage of an individual’s daily requirement of manganese and selenium.
  9. Olive oil – This powerful anti-inflammatory reduces the body’s inflammatory markers and is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well.  Where you buy your extra virgin olive oil does matter – not all olive oil is what it says on the label.  Consider getting yours from California.
  10. Apple Cider Vinegar – When combined with extra virgin olive oil this makes a wonderful low calorie salad dressing, especially if you use a 2:1 ratio, vinegar to oil.  Apple cider vinegar is alkali and is known to reduce blood sugars.   Lowering post-meal blood sugars is very helpful for those with diabetes as well as those with insulin resistance (many people who carry excess weight around their belly have insulin resistance).  It has also been linked to weight loss, possibly by interfering with the breakdown of fats.  Taken with meals, apple cider vinegar interferes with the digestion of starches, allowing more for the good bacteria in our gut to enjoy.  The unfiltered apple cider vinegar is considered to be best.

I certainly don’t eat a perfect diet.  However, I believe the more I consume the foods on my list on a daily basis, the more I reduce my risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  And perhaps these items will make up for my occasional splurge on cookies, chips and cheese.  Life is not about being perfect, it’s about being better.  And these ten must foods might help you have better health too.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Eat Your Cake, But Eat This Too

It’s about damage control.  I like my cake, cookies, chips and chocolate like any other warm-blooded American, but I make sure I take care of my body first.  My kale/berry smoothie for breakfast, tomatoes and cucumbers at lunch, and salad or broccoli for dinner are my health reinforcements to make up for my splurges of tasty, crunchy morsels during the day.  I make sure I fortify my body with enough dietary potassium, a mineral that most Americans under consume.

Dietary Health Concerns

The scientific report from the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee concludes:

“Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber are underconsumed and may pose a public health concern. Iron also is a nutrient of public health concern for adolescent and premenopausal females.”

They further conclude:

“Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed and may pose a public health concern.”

We hear a lot on the importance of Vitamin D, calcium and fiber, but why is dietary potassium so important for health?

Dietary Potassium

According to the National Institute on Health our body needs potassium in order to:

  1. Build proteins
  2. Break down and use carbohydrates
  3. Build muscle
  4. Maintain normal body growth
  5. Improve heart health by lowering blood pressure
  6. Improve acid-base balance in the body, with a move towards a more alkali blood pH.

This fabulous article goes into further detail how an alkaline diet, one high in potassium, (particular fruits and veggies), can improve bone health, cardiovascular health, and prevent muscle wasting as we age.

Getting Enough Dietary Potassium

The FDA recommends that adults get at least 3500 mg of potassium based on a 2000 calorie diet.  And now the new food labels will include potassium.Dietary Potassium on Food label

The bottom of every food label will now list the amount of dietary potassium.  But the best sources of potassium are found in foods with no labels, from mother nature herself – fruits and vegetables.  The FDA recommends that we eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and veggies a day in a variety of colors.

Fortify Your Body

I think life is not about getting things perfect, just better, so I feel better.  When I feel good, I’m happier.  Focusing on fruits and veggies is a simple way for me to think about food.  When I do that right, the rest tends to fall into place.  In the winter and early spring, I keep frozen berries and veggies in the frig to add to smoothies, soups, and even casseroles.  In the summer I add lots of celery, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions to pasta salads or snack on them raw.  I grow a few things in my garden that I feel are the simplest and give me the most bang for my time: tomatoes and lettuce.  Fall is wonderful for winter squashes, root veggies, and apples.

I may not eat a lot of cake but I sure do stroke my sweet tooth by making fruit crisps.  Often, I just use frozen fruit like sliced mango, but apple is my favorite.  A fruit crisp is the perfect solution to getting a serving of fruit and whole grains, while still satisfying that need for a little somein’, somein’!  You can have your sweets, and still take care of your health too!

Bone Up To Avoid Bone Loss

Are your bones rattling for more milk?  If your calcium intake isn’t sufficient, your bones become your body’s backup source of calcium.  Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is needed for nerve conduction, blood vessel contraction and dilation, muscle movement and even cellular communication.  If calcium intake is not sufficient to perform all these activities then the body pulls the calcium from the bones.  Later in life this leads to osteoporosis, a debilitating condition causing vertebrae to crumble, increased likelihood of fractures with falls, and stooped posture.

Bone Formation

Bones are constantly in a state of renewal.  In adolescence, more bone is created than removed, with peak bone mass attained by the early twenties.   Around 30, that ratio reverses to more bone breakdown than creation.  The more bone mass attained in those crucial first two decades, the better the bones can weather the aging process.  Unfortunately,  43% of the US population, even with the use of supplements, fails to get adequate calcium intake – particularly girls ages 4 to 18, and males aged 9-18 and over 51.

Bones Require Adequate Calcium Intake

Getting adequate calcium intake, either through diet or supplements, is essential for bone strength.  And making sure your children and young adults are getting the minimum requirements is really an investment in the future.  The chart below, along with much of the information here is from the NIH, lists recommendations based on age and sex.  Our bodies only absorb about 30% of the total calcium that is consumed.   There are many factors that affect absorption including:

Calcium Recommendations

  1.  The amount consumed at one time.  The more calcium consumed, the less is absorbed.
  2.   Rate of absorption decreases with age, going from 60% as infants to less than 15% in older adulthood.
  3.   Adequate vitamin D intake enhances calcium absorption.  Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight and dietary intake.
  4. Alcohol intake can reduce calcium absorption and also interfere with the production of Vitamin D into its active form.
  5.  Interaction of dietary calcium with other food components, particularly oxalic and phytic acid.  High levels of oxalic acid are found in spinach, collard greens, beans, sweet potatoes and even rhubarb.  High levels of phytic acid are found in whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts and soy isolates.  So consuming milk with any of these foods will decrease the absorption of calcium from the milk.

Factors Affecting Absorbed Calcium

Once calcium is absorbed, there are other factors that can leach calcium out of our bodies through urine, feces and sweat.

  1. High sodium intake increases calcium excretion.
  2. Consuming a diet high in protein and grains increases the production of metabolic acids which then increase calcium excretion.  Eating more fruits and vegetables shifts the body’s acid base balance to a more alkali environment that decreases calcium excretion.

Good Sources of Dietary Calcium

Certain foods are very high in calcium and are easy and affordable to consume.  The chart below lists the best sources of calcium:Foods High In Calcium

Labels do not list the actual amount of calcium in a product, only a percentage based on a 2000 calorie diet.  Making sure people under 30 consume at least 3 servings from the top foods on this list will give huge payback in years to come.  As a child I remember eating sardines crumbled up with saltine crackers.  Sardines are also really high in omega 3’s and an excellent source of protein, I just wish I liked them now.  My primary sources of dietary calcium are yogurt, low-fat milk and occasionally cheese.  I do take a calcium carbonate supplement that provides 333 mg per tablet.

Bone Up On Your Calcium Intake

Pay attention to how much calcium you are consuming.  Getting too much calcium can cause constipation and has also been associated in some studies with prostate cancer and heart disease.  Aim for three servings of the top three listed foods and you know you are getting enough.  Having worked as a nurse in long term care and seeing the frequency of spinal compression fractures and hip fractures, especially in women, motivates me to be mindful of my calcium intake.  Maintain your bone bank by making adequate daily calcium deposits!

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthier lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Your Ticker Talking, “Too Much Salt!”

Sodium in SauceI asked my husband to pick up some tomato sauce the other day and what he came home with made my heart skip a beat.  I looked at the label and couldn’t believe what I saw – enough dietary sodium to get my heart pounding!  My mouth is drying up like a sponge in the sun just thinking about how much sodium I poured over my healthy stuffed cabbage.

Determining the Amount Of Dietary Sodium

To find out the amount of salt, in the form of sodium chloride, in a food product look at the serving size, the total number of servings and the amount of sodium per serving on the nutrition label.  In this 29 oz can of Hunt’s sauce there are 410 mg of sodium in each of the 13 servings.  That’s a grand total of 5330 mg in this high sodium sauce!  My ticker wasn’t just talking, it was screaming at me.  Each of my stuffed cabbages delivered nearly 1100 mg of sodium.  No wonder I was really thirsty a couple of hours later.

Dietary Sodium Hurts Your Heart

Sodium, like a sponge, makes your body hold on to water.  That extra fluid increases the volume of fluid your heart has to pump, increasing workload on the heart and raising blood pressure.  The extra workload and pressure can stiffen the arteries, leading to heart disease.  Two-thirds of all strokes and half of heart disease are caused by high blood pressure.

The average American consumes 3440 mg of sodium daily, well above the 2015 Nutrition Guidelines and the American Heart Association’s recommended amount of 2300 mg for people aged 14 and older.  Have high blood pressure already?  The recommended amount of sodium is even lower, at 1500 mg daily.  You can reduce sodium in your diet.

Where’s The Sodium In Your Food?

Sodium is found in canned goods and most processed foods like cold cuts, packaged meats, and prepared foods.  Most restaurant foods are saturated with sodium.  McDonald’s Quarter Pounder With Cheese contains 1100 mg of sodium.  Simply, sodium is added to nearly everything that requires shelf life and is saving you a step.

The best way to reduce sodium in your diet is to get only products that say sodium free, are flash frozen or are fresh.  Read labels to become aware of the sodium level in products – they vary widely.  There are some tomato sauces that have no added sodium.  When you cook, use spices other than salt to add flavor.  Let people add their own salt (keeping in mind that 1 tsp of salt contains 2325 mg of sodium) rather than letting salt embed itself during the cooking process.  Kidney.org lists some other ways to reduce sodium in your diet.  And you might find that if you are already taking medicine for hypertension, getting your daily sodium intake to 1500 mg might provide an opportunity to get off some medications.

You Can Reduce Dietary Sodium

I consumed nearly half my daily allotment of sodium in that one serving of sauce.  And the worse thing…is that it tasted way too salty.  Normally I use a tomato sauce that has no added sodium – my dear husband was sent on a nonspecific mission.  I should have been more clear.

Taste buds do adjust to a low sodium diet.  I make most of my meals from scratch, rarely adding salt and have my own time-saving steps by cooking in bulk and freezing or “re-creating” previously cooked meals into something different.  I’ve tried to reduce sodium in my diet.  I’d like to keep my ticker running smoothly and not hear it talk at all.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Weight Loss Success!!

weight loss journeyLosing weight is so much easier when you have the right weight loss expectations.   The focus should be on the process rather than the number.  Whether it’s a special event, a sexy swimsuit, or a little black dress, if there’s a deadline with a lofty pound goal, few achieve it and maintain it.  Once that deadline or event has passed, the motivation to continue evaporates.  It’s kind of like hiking:  If you only like the view from the top of the mountain, and not the climb, then the task can seem insurmountable.  But if you can go at a slower pace, enjoy the surroundings and views along the way, not only do you get to enjoy the view at the top, but you will enjoy the process in getting there.   Losing weight is all about making the process fun and interesting.

Setting Weight Loss Expectations

Here’s how you can enjoy the journey of losing weight while reaching your goal.

  1. Know that one pound is all anyone should lose in a week.  Aggressive weight loss requires too drastic a change in eating.  And losing more than two pounds a week will yield a loss in muscle mass, which will slow down your metabolism.  Each pound amounts to about 3500 calories.  If cutting out 500 calories a day sounds like a recipe for deprivation, then aim for a half pound weight loss a week.  Remember, this is not just a journey, but a destination you don’t want to leave.  If the changes feel awkward or tedious, they will not stick.
  2. Start by knowing where your calories are coming from.  Either use a tracking tool like Myfitnesspal or just track your fat grams which is much easier than tracking calories.  Tracking gives you information about your food choices.  Not tracking is like hiking a mountain without sign posts or cairns.  It’s going to take a lot longer to get to your goal and there’s a good chance you will get lost.  Tracking just fat grams makes is much simpler and helps rein in lots of calories since there are more than twice the calories in a gram of fat as there are in protein and carbohydrate sources.  The American Heart Association recommends getting between 25-35% of your calories from fat.  To determine what that looks like, take 25% of the average 2000 calorie diet, divide it by 9 to get about 55 gms of fat a day.   The Diabetes Prevention Program set fat gram goals based on weight with a minimum daily amount of 33 gms.  You want to consume at least 33 grams of fat to ensure  your body is getting all the nutrients it needs, especially vitamins A, D, E and K, but also eat enough in order to stay full between meals.  It’s a balancing act.
  3. Know your fat culprits.  The usual culprits are salad dressings, cheese, red meat, excessive noshing on nuts, chips, ice cream, full fat dairy and fried foods.  Small reductions can make a huge difference.  Skipping that piece of cheese on your sandwich will save you 10 gms of fat or 90 calories.  Cutting your salad dressing in half by adding more vinegar, low fat milk or water can save you another 100-200 calories.   Your heart will love you for reducing some of the saturated fats found in most of these.
  4. Eat 3 meals a day.  Do not skip meals.  Skipping meals slows down metabolism, making it even harder to lose weight.  Skipping meals will also make you hungrier and make you overeat at your next meal.  A meal can be as simple as a small low-fat Greek yogurt or a couple of Wasa crackers with peanut butter.
  5. Make sure you are getting enough protein at every meal, especially breakfast.  Don’t waste your time on cereal unless it’s whole grain.  Any other cereal will only make you hungry mid-morning because most cereals do not have enough protein and fiber.  Good sources of protein are fat-free or low-fat Greek yogurt, egg whites/eggs, lean meat, fish or tofu.
  6. Keep night snacking to a popsicle or a piece of fruit.  And keep sipping water, seltzer or some nice teas.  I’ve come to love my Wissotzky teas in the evening.  It gives me a unique ginger flavor and warm fluids that reduces my hunger and keeps me on task.
  7. Keep a supply of meals you can reheat in the freezer for those stressful days when you don’t want to cook.  Soups and small casseroles work really well and don’t take much time to make an extra one.
  8. Get family and friends on board!  Find and share recipes.  Get a Fitbit and have step challenges.  Reach out to them when you are stressed.
  9. Know this is not a diet, it’s a lifestyle change.  Weight usually comes on over many years, so naturally it should come off over a slow steady period of time.
  10. Weigh yourself no more often than once a week.  Weight naturally fluctuates depending on our activity, salt consumption and day-to-day food choices.  If you are someone who gets really discouraged if the scale hasn’t moved in a week, then weigh yourself every few weeks and use a pair of snug fitting pants to be your guide.

It’s The Journey, Not The Destination

Even if you just lose 5% of your weight, that could be as little as 8-10 pounds, you will have significant health benefits with improved:

  • blood pressure
  • blood sugar
  • triglycerides
  • LDL

You will notice you move better, you sleep better and your outlook will be better.  Life isn’t about getting things perfect; it’s about making things better, especially with you.  One step at a time on your journey to your future destination of a healthier you.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word.