Category Archives: Nutrition

Rhubarb

Rhubarb cake to die for

Nothing in the garden shouts out “spring” like rhubarb.  Rhubarb is a perennial that’s hardy in most climates as long as it receives a yearly dose of compost and is kept watered regularly. Just do these two things and your rhubarb will produce for years with an occasionally splitting of the roots when the plant gets too dense. Then you can divide them and plant them elsewhere in your garden or give some to your neighbors.

Rhubarb is really a vegetable but in a dessert it’s disguised as a fruit. It’s high in potassium and fiber and low in carbs. One cup provides 10% of the recommended daily allowance of potassium and fiber for a healthy adult and contains only 5 gs of carbs.  Potassium supports heart health, while Rhubarb nutritionfiber supports your gut health, lowers cholesterol and promotes weight loss.

I’ve always made strawberry rhubarb crisp with my rhubarb, but this year I came across a wonderful rhubarb cake recipe that I modified (of course) to boost protein, increase fiber and therefore lower that natural blood sugar rise that can lead to diabetes, weight gain, and of course, that after dinner nap.

This recipe will take you only 20 minutes to make and is moist and delicious. I reduced the flour by half a cup and substituted a half cup of potato starch, a resistant starch that can help lower the post-meal blood sugars  as well as make cakes even moister – especially if you follow a gluten-free diet and use gluten-free flour in your recipes. I also use oat flour instead of white or whole wheat mainly because it’s higher in cholesterol lowering soluble fiber and because it’s close to white, unlike whole wheat. Moreover, it concerns me how much wheat has been modified to yield a hardier grain, but one that I think isn’t as tolerated by our bodies as well.

Rhubarb Cake

1 cup white sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups oat flour (I reduce to 1 1/2 cups and add 1/2 cup potato starch by Bob’s Red Mill)
2 eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1 tsp almond extract
3 cups diced (1/4″ size pieces if you can)

1/4 cup water, to thin batter if you are using a whole grain flour

Crumb Topping

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 stick cold butter
1/4 cup oat flour
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Directions

Grease and flour a 9 X 13 glass pan. Preheat oven to 350. Cut up rhubarb into 1/4″ pieces.
In large mixing bowl, put in all the top 8 ingredients and mix well with a blender, for about 3 minutes. With a spoon, mix in rhubarb until evenly dispersed and pour in casserole dish. Mix the crumb ingredients until pea sized and sprinkle over the cake mixture. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean.

al dente spaghetti

Improve your blood sugar by eating more of this

Resistant starch. What the heck is that? It sounds like something you might spray on your shirt to prevent staining.

Actually, it’s something you want to eat more of because it’s probably one of the most health-promoting food discoveries of the past couple of decades. Resistant starch is truly a miracle food compound that will help you lose weight and have better blood sugar control. In fact it has revolutionized the food industry around the world. Food manufacturers are adding it to foods like pasta, crackers, breads and baked goods to promote weight loss and prevent diabetes. Consuming resistant starch helps reduce the risk of colon cancer, heart disease and obesity. And to think that all this wonderful health promotion takes place in the gut.

What is resistant starch?

Resistant starch is a non-digestible part of fiber that bypasses absorption in the stomach and the small intestine and is fermented by microbes in the large intestine.  This process favorably alters the absorption of calories and certain nutrients. Most Americans don’t eat enough resistant starch, only getting about 5 gms a day, while in countries where the diet consists largely of cooked and cooled porridge and beans, the average daily intake of resistant starch is between 30-40 gms.

Health Benefits

There are no dietary guideline recommendations for resistant starch but evidence indicates eating more of it can reduce both digestible calories and blood insulin levels. Research also supports:

  • Improved insulin sensitivity – this means less work for your pancreas and less circulating insulin. High blood insulin levels are associated to weight gain, diabetes and cancer.
  • Improved bowel health – protective against colorectal cancer, diverticulitis, constipation, inflammatory bowel disease, and ulcerative colitis
  • Improved blood lipid profile – protective against cardiovascular disease
  • Increased feeling of fullness and less calorie intake – helps with weight loss
  • Increased micro-nutrient absorption – improves the absorption of minerals, including calcium for bone health

There are discrepancies among countries in how resistant starch is measured; consequently in 2002 the Association of Official Analytical Chemists started recommending a specific in vitro method for consistency of measurement. Not every country follows this recommendation which is why you still see disparities in values.

Four types of resistant starches:

Resistant starch is both a dietary fiber and functional fiber, depending if it is from food or added to food. Its discovery has led the Institute of medicine to define fiber as viscous and fermentable and phase out the former definition of soluble and insoluble. There are four different types of resistant fiber found in foods.

  • RS1 – these types cannot be broken down by digestive enzymes. Examples are whole and partly milled grains, seeds and legumes. Milling and chewing increases digestibility but also reduces the amount of resistant starch.
  • RS2 – these resist digestion due to their physical nature. Sources include raw potatoes, green bananas, some legumes and high-amylose corn (Hi-maize cornstarch). Cooking and processing reduces them.
  • RS3 – these are formed in the process of cooling after cooking. They include bread and tortillas and cooled pasta, rice and potatoes. Processing reduces them.
  • RS4 – these are chemical modified starches made to resist digestion.

Structural changes occur in resistant starches with processing, cooking, ripening and temperature, making them more digestible and less beneficial. The advantages of the commercially manufactured resistant starch like Hi-maize, are that they are not affected by processing and storage.

Resistant starch in food

Resistant starch changes with cooking time and food temperature. A roasted potato that has cooled has over 19 gs of resistant starch while a hot baked potato has less than 1 gm. Foods like grains, beans and pasta that are served al dente have much more resistant starch than foods that are cooked longer and are softer.

Unripe fruits and vegetables have more resistant starch than riper ones.

Below is a table of common foods with their respective grams of resistant starch. The higher the number of grams, the better the source of resistant starch. You can look up other foods here, from freetheanimal.com.

resistant starch table

Commercial sources of resistant starch

resistant starchBob’s Red Mill makes potato starch that you can add to your smoothies or use in baking. And King Arthur makes Hi-maize that you can substitute for part of your flour. They also suggest adding it to soups and sauces to make them creamier.

Increase your dietary resistant starch this way

Good sources of high resistant starch include cooked then cooled potatoes, green bananas, legumes and raw oats. If you plan on increasing your intake begin gradually so your gut can adjust. Below are some ways you could increase your daily intake of resistant starch:

  • Serve your pasta and rice al dente
  • Instead of a hot baked potato, make cold potato salad
  • Make cold grain salads to take for lunch; mix quinoa, tuna and raw veggies with balsamic vinaigrette
  • Refrigerate your fruit and veggies to slow ripening
  • Instead of canned, prepare your own beans using dry and cook them leaving them a little crunchy.
  • Eat bananas that still have a partially green peel
  • Prepare your oatmeal or other grain al dente and let it cool before eating.
  • Make no-bake chocolate refrigerator cookies! Remember these? They call for uncooked rolled oats.
  • Look for pasta, crackers, and breads made with resistant corn starch. They will have fewer carbs and more fiber. That’s a win-win.

It is so refreshing to learn that simple changes in how we prepare and eat food, not another pill, can significantly impact weight and health. And these suggestions won’t interfere with your usual routine. If anything it will save time on cooking, allow you to cook enough for several meals if you choose (like making a pot of oatmeal), and it will save you time.

I have already made some changes in my diet since learning about resistant starch. I had stopped buying bananas years ago thinking they were really high in carbs, but now I will buy and eat them green. In fact, I will top my oatmeal with them. This morning I cooked steel-cut oats, leaving them quite chewy. I added some chia seeds, some dates and ground flax seed and then let in cool before I ate it. Interestingly, I noticed four hours later, my usual stomach growling time, I was still reasonably satiated.

I’m having company tonight and for dessert I’m making rhubarb cake replacing a portion of the flour with potato starch. I’ll share my recipe next time.

reduce carbs to lose weight

Losing weight is not just about calories

A calorie is a calorie, is a calorie, right? Can’t you just lose weight by reducing calorie intake?

I don’t think it’s as simple as that and here’s why.

It boils down to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when cells in the body, particularly the muscle, fat and liver cells, don’t utilize insulin as effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into the cells for energy. The body compensates for insulin resistance by making extra insulin, a condition called hyperinsulinemia.

If someone with high levels of insulin eats a diet high in carbs, then more of those calories are going to be stored in the body because insulin is the gatekeeper to the utilization of digested carbs. The more insulin in the body and the more glucose from digested carbs, the more will be stored in the body. This is my opinion, and it’s based on experience.

It reminds me of a person I knew who tried to lose weight by lowering her calories to 800 a day (way too low) and her diet consisted mainly of carbs. Her weight didn’t budge an ounce. Part of that may have been due to her body thinking she was in starvation mode, and really slowed down metabolism. But I believe the other reason is she also had hyperinsulinemia and all those carb calories were being stored. This doesn’t mean you should avoid carbs. However it does indicate, in my opinion, the importance of eating a balanced diet with adequate protein, healthy fat and fiber. I’ll go more into that in the next blog.

For a while the insulin-producing pancreas can keep up with the increasing demand for insulin and blood glucose levels stay in a healthy range. But eventually, the beta cells of the pancreas stop producing enough insulin and blood glucose levels start to rise leading to prediabetes, and eventually type 2 diabetes.

This period of hyperinsulinemia may go on for years before blood sugar levels rise. And what’s behind it is most likely a genetic component that makes someone prone to insulin resistance and a diet high in quickly digested carbs.

Genetics of type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is thought to be due to the “thrifty gene”. Certain cultures historically were exposed to periods of food scarcity and their bodies compensated by slowing down metabolism. And then these same cultures over time were exposed to a higher carb diet with foods like processed grains, fried foods, and sweetened drinks. Not what you want to be eating when your body is on the slow burn road. According to the National Institute of Health, these cultures include Pacific Islanders, African Americans, Native Hawaiians, Asian Americans, American Indians and Hispanic or Latino.

Since genetics plays a role, ask your relatives about any family history of type 2 diabetes. Be aware, that out of the 26 million people in the U.S. with type 2 diabetes, there are 7 million who don’t know they have it. Indications that someone may have undiagnosed diabetes include:

  • Excessive thirst – high glucose levels cause dehydration.
  • Frequent infections including yeast infections in folds of skin that are slow to heal.
  • Blurry vision that comes and goes – glucose and fluid collects in the lens of the eye when glucose levels are high causing swelling that distorts vision.
  • Extreme fatigue – glucose is not getting into the cells sufficiently to provide the body with energy.
  • Hunger – people with type 2 diabetes are constantly hungry, even right after eating probably due to changes in other hormones affecting digestion like Leptin and partially due to the cells “starving” for glucose.

Other indications you may have insulin resistance

There are other conditions that may indicate that you have insulin resistance. If you have any of these then you most likely have insulin resistance.

  • Gestational Diabetes
  • Were a large baby at birth, > 9 pounds
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
  • Low (good) HDL and high triglycerides
  • Hypertension
  • Over age 45
  • Depression
  • Have a skin condition called acanthosis nigricans, dark, velvety skin around your neck or armpits
  • Overweight or carry excess weight around your middle

Symptoms of insulin resistance can be very subtle

Perhaps you may notice that you’re more tired and hungry than usual. Perhaps you’ve been a bit down and depressed. Maybe you’ve gained a few pounds. You might chalk it up to stress at work, but perhaps your body is shifting to a more insulin resistant state and you’re developing hyperinsulinemia. Maybe your just don’t want to think about that right now because you’ve got too much on your plate.

Danger of hyperinsulinemia

Insulin makes our body store more calories which contributes to weight gain.

The increased work load on the pancreas eventually exhausts the beta cells of the pancreas and leads to diabetes.

But most people are not aware of the link between high insulin levels and cancer. As I’ve mentioned many times before, insulin is like fertilizer to our body. It does get glucose into the cells for energy, but it is also feeds the “weeds” in our body, those cancerous cells our body is always making but not always destroying. Getting insulin levels down reduces the risk of cancer.

I’ll never forget a patient I worked with who developed type 2 diabetes and eventually used an insulin pump to better manage her blood sugars. Her A1c was at a healthy range, but she gradually gained weight. She was eating pretty much whatever she wanted, and doing an awesome job adjusting her insulin dosage, but over time she was requiring more and more insulin to keep those blood sugars under control. She gained over 30 pounds over that period, despite good blood sugar control, but she was requiring a lot of insulin. She ended up passing away not from complications of diabetes, but from cancer. I always wondered what all that insulin was doing to the other hormones in her body, setting herself up for cancer.

A calorie may be a calorie, but I believe the type of calorie counts

Losing weight is not just about calories. High insulin levels in conjunction with a high carb diet will make weight loss difficult. However, I also don’t believe in a ketogenic diet like Dr. Adkins; it’s a radical way of eating that isn’t sustainable and it omits a lot of vitamins, minerals and cholesterol lowering fiber that grains can provide. But I do believe reducing carbs, and making them whole grain and adding more enough protein and fiber will reduce your insulin levels, improve your insulin resistance, help you lose weight and ward off diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

If you enjoy my tips, please share with your friends and family. You can get healthy on your own with good information and a desire to live a healthier life. Please make a donation to the Saint Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen. They are in great need of your financial support while they provide over 10,000 meals a year to Portland, Maine’s neediest population.

breakfast1

Are your carb choices slowly killing you?

Jelly donuts, pancakes with syrup, Devil Dogs, French fries, potato chips, and candy bars – especially Zero bars. Not exactly healthy carbs. As Julie Andrews sings, “These were a few of my favorite things.” I never had a weight or “sugar” problem in my younger years but then getting older happened. Something that none of us can escape.

Now I look at food much differently. I still love my carbs, even the unhealthy ones, but I keep them at bay. I look at each carb splurge as a “bruise” to my body. My favorite sweet potato ginger donut from Holy Donut is only going to spike my blood sugar. I know that once that big bag of potato chips comes into the house, I can’t stop at a serving size. I learned that my former pancake recipe made with white flour and covered with syrup was like a kick to my pancreas telling it to work double time.

Learning to break old habits took time and many bumps along the way. I eventually developed a three-pronged approach.

  1. Add more of the healthy carbs to my diet
  2. Boost my non-starchy veggie intake by experimenting with roasting, sautéing and adding extra to soups, stews, salads, and sauces.
  3. Eat fewer unhealthy carbs.

It’s not rocket science, but it did launch me on a sustainable trajectory that brought my A1c down, helped me lose weight, and gave me more energy.

With over 50% of the nation being insulin resistant, making better carb choices is essential to keeping insulin levels to a healthier level. High insulin levels are linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

What are carbs?

Carbs are found in grains, starches and sugar.

  1. Grains – Since flour is made from grains, anything that contains flour is a carbohydrate – things like cereal, crackers, and pasta. Most food manufacturers like to use the cheaper white flour, the starchy endosperm stripped from the wheat berry, and then resuscitate it with fortifying vitamins and leavening agents to make it into something the typical American “pampered palate” will tolerate.
  1. Starchy – Some carbs are naturally starchy like winter squashes, peas and beans. These foods are also high in fiber so they don’t cause a sudden blood sugar rise like the processed carbs do. A half cup of cooked beans can have as much as 7 gms of fiber. That fiber slows down digestion, and slows down the workload on the insulin producing pancreas.
  1. Sugar – all types of sugar are carbohydrates whether it’s brown, agave, syrup or honey. A teaspoon of any of these sugars has 4 gms of carbohydrates.
  2. Foods naturally with sugar – Foods like fruit and milk contain sugar naturally. A cup of milk, regardless of fat content contains 12 gms of carbs, coming from the sugar lactose.  Make it chocolate milk and the carbs go up to 24 gms. Fruit contains fructose. Fruits vary in their amount of fructose and ripening can enhance the sugar content. Ripened bananas are much higher in glycemic index than green bananas. Watermelon and strawberries are much lower carbohydrates than tropical fruits like pineapple, mangoes and bananas.

Desserts are a double whammy

Cakes, cookies and pies are made with flour (which comes from grains) and sugar – both carbs. One Oreo contains 27 gms of carbs. And that’s not double-stuffed!

Don’t get fooled by “sugar-free” desserts. Unfortunately, most brands make up for the lack of sugar by adding extra fat, like palm oil or partially hydrogenated trans-fat to maintain texture that the sugar normally provides.

You’re much better off just having one higher fiber cookie, like an oatmeal cookie. Or better yet making a cookie using a small amount of real sweetener and a non-grain flour like flax, coconut or almond meal. Here is a good peanut butter coconut cookie recipe.

How many carbs should you eat daily?

Even with the emphasis on “no added sugars” on the new food label, the carbohydrate recommendation is still about 285 grams of carbs daily for a 2000 calorie diet. Eating sweets like candy, cake, cookies, ice cream and soda adds up quickly.

I hate to think of the number of people who eat a donut and chocolate milk or juice for breakfast. An apple fritter from Krispy Kreme has 42 gms of carbs and their Ghirardelli Hot Chocolate has 57 carbs, 48 of it coming from sugar. That’s 100 gms of mostly insulin spiking carbs along with 19 gms of saturated fat to keep the spike going for hours. I can just hear that pancreas sputtering, whirling and choking. I love my donuts, but I love my pancreas more.

Healthy carbs – the low-glycemic ones

I don’t believe in eliminating carbs from one’s diet, but the ones you choose should not put your pancreas into overdrive. Grains, beans, starchy veggies and fruit are full of fiber that feed the immune-strengthening bacteria in your gut and maintain satiety between meals. These healthy, low-glycemic carbs like beans, barley, quinoa and winter squashes don’t cause the insulin spike that high-glycemic carbs like white bread, donuts, most crackers, “instant foods”, rice cakes, bagels and most cereals do. Here is a good list put together by Oregon State University.

Glycemic Index

That eliminates a good portion of the grocery store.

What works for me

I use oat or wheat flour when I bake. I don’t eat any cereal other than Uncle Sams Cereal or steel-cut oatmeal the rare time I eat cereal. I keep my favorite “trigger” foods like potato chips to single portion sizes. Instead of rice, I eat barley or bulgar. In fact, their nuttier, crunchier flavor and texture stands up better to my sautés and soups. And the only crackers I buy are Triscuits Thin Crisps which are made from only whole grain wheat, canola and salt, and Wasa crackers also made with whole grains, a fat and salt. And desserts or sweets are a once or twice a week splurge.

Elevate fruit; it’s nature’s treat

Lately, my new dessert, thanks to my husband, is sliced apples. No kidding. My husband has fond memories of his grandmother cutting up apples for him when he was a child. We’ve started this habit ourselves and it hits the sweet spot perfectly. Around 8 o’clock, when we both need a little something-something, he’ll go out to the kitchen and get a cold new variety of apple called Juicci, and slice it up into about 20 slices. They are a juicy, crunchy, hit-the-sweet spot kind of treat that satisfy the urge.

I know that the few minutes of pleasure I got from eating my favorite foods were not going to make up for the longer-term damage to my body caused by eating them on a regular basis. It’s been a journey of self-exploration and recipe experimentation. This is my version of Julie Andrew’s song, My Favorite Things:

Julie Andrews

If you enjoy my tips, please share with your friends and family. You can get healthy on your own with good information and a desire to live a healthier life. Please make a donation to the Saint Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen. They are in great need of your financial support while they provide over 10,000 meals a year to Portland, Maine’s neediest population.

no more carbs

Can you eat a very low carb diet forever?

No more sugar, no more grains, no more processed foods and no more potatoes; yes, to full fat and food products with no processing, just real ingredients. Does this low carb diet sound good to you?

I recently was asked about my thoughts of dramatically reducing carbs and following the above recommendations. This way of eating is essentially the message delivered by Dr. Sarah Hallberg, DO, an obesity specialist with her own patient research to back it up.

No grains or potatoes means no more pasta or rice, or baked potatoes with that steak. It means anything made with flour from grains or sugar is out. Good bye to crackers and cheese, pie and ice cream, all cereal and bread, including pizza. And that means no more Holy Donut…. Hmmmm.

Reducing carbs, reduces insulin levels.

The theory behind this way of eating is very logical: the goal being to reduce insulin levels. Almost half of this country has a condition called insulin resistance where the body makes extra insulin due to compensate for decreased insulin sensitivity. This is partly due to genetics and partly due to eating a high carb diet consisting of too many processed foods.

Insulin is a fat storage hormone so the more insulin on board, the more weight people gain. High insulin levels also raise inflammatory proteins that raise the risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

So, reducing carbs, reduces the need for that extra insulin. Less insulin means weight loss and decreased inflammation. Sounds perfect on paper, but how about execution? I’d say daunting.

Why do we eat too many carbs, sugar, potatoes and grains?

If you look at each insulin spike caused by eating too many carbs as the enemy, then this shifts the solution to understanding the motivation for eating too many carbs. It’s emotions that drive our behavior. If you want to make behavior change, you should understand the “why”.

Why are so many of us eating too many white, processed carbs?

  • Is it from a lack of understanding of the consequences of food choices?
  • Is it from cravings from too little sleep, too much stress, loneliness or boredom?
  • Is from not knowing how to cook?
  • Is it from unwillingness to change eating patterns due to entitlement, denial, or plain stubbornness?
  • Is it from bringing tempting foods in the house that make it hard to say “no”?
  • Is it from watching too much TV with all the food commercials that trigger binge eating?

The solution lies in addressing both the emotional component of eating as well as the structural component of how to eat. Moreover, the stronger the reason someone has for not wanting to reduce carbs, the smaller the changes in eating patterns must be. It’s like asking someone to suddenly reverse direction going 60 mph. First, they must brake slowly, then down shift and then turn the steering wheel before they can go 60 mph the other direction. Cutting out grains, sugar and potatoes for most people is like being asked to reverse direction mid race. Mindset needs to be shifted first, then change needs to happen gradually before someone can resume usual speed.

If someone is an emotional eater, then it starts with addressing the emotions first and then the plate second.

Damage control

I don’t believe in drastic dietary changes. I believe in making gradual changes that fit the person where they are in life. If someone grew up eating boxed, canned, and fast food, it’s pretty unlikely they’re going to have success in the long run cutting out sugar, grains or potatoes. That’s all I’m saying.

There is another way. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s called damage control.

What if someone reduced their insulin spikes by eating well some of the meals, and eased up a bit on one meal each day. That would be a 50-66% improvement. Not perfect, but much better.

What if someone ate a lower carb breakfast consisting of plain Greek yogurt with some fruit and nuts, or an omelet with lots of sautéed veggies and one piece of whole grain toast, and a lower carb lunch consisting of a couple of hard-boiled eggs with a piece of fruit, a salad with chicken, or some cottage cheese with fruit and then had a burger, chips and dessert for dinner. That would be much better than a donut or muffin for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch and eating the same dinner.

Making two out of three meals lower carb is much better than eating poorly at all 3. Even making just one of your meals lower carb is still a 33% improvement.

Or what if someone followed a low carb diet 5 days out of the week, and the other two days they ate “their way”? This is similar to the intermittent fasting diet.

A good place to begin

People with insulin resistance tend to have the highest insulin resistance in the morning. Skipping cereal and making breakfast low carb with focus on healthy fats and lean protein is a perfect place to start. My experience shows that people who eat this way at breakfast tend to stay full until lunch and be less likely to binge the rest of the day.

Psychologically, when people start off the day on the right foot, they have more confidence to make healthier choices the rest of the day.

Success builds success

From my experience, I also find that when people have success for a few weeks, they have the confidence and desire to take further steps as long as these three things are also in place:

  1. They must like what they are doing.
  2. They must not feel deprived.
  3. They must feel it is sustainable.

I’ve worked with so many people who think making drastic changes will get them into the size 10 pants forever. Some achieve their goal but end up regaining it once a vacation, holiday or stressful event happens.

Making gradual changes allows enough time to strategize, explore and understand what’s behind unhealthy eating. It’s not that people can’t reverse direction in life, it’s that the mindset has to be reversed first.

Cutting out grains, potatoes and sugar makes complete sense for the body, but the head has to be on the same page.

Barbara will work work with you for 3 months free if you make a donation to the St Vincent De Paul Soup Kitchen 

 

 

flax-seed-1274944_1920

Flax seed: the best two bites for your health

Flax seeds are the Mighty Mouse of food, smaller than a rice kernel, yet the most powerful two tablespoons of food you can put in your mouth. These tiny seeds help to combat cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, autoimmune and neurological conditions and aid in weight loss. They may even help improve symptoms of psoriasis and menopausal hot flashes. And all you need for this benefit is two measly tablespoons a day. That’s a powerful punch!

History of flax seed

Flax dates to over 30,000 years ago when the fiber from the plant stem was used to make clothing. In ancient Egypt, the fiber was used to make linen for priests and the Romans purchased it for their sails. Linseed oil, which comes from a type of flax seed, is used for finishing furniture and linseed meal, ground flax seed with the oil removed, is used for to feed livestock.

Nutritional value of flax seed

But it wasn’t until about 20 years ago research showed the nutritional value of flax seed. Flax seed is high in Alpha linolenic acid (a type of Omega 3), lignans (a polyphenol that reduces inflammation) and fiber. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA) is converted in the body to two other essential fatty acids: EPA and DHA and we can only get these from certain foods.

ALA, EPA and DHA are the primary omega-3 fatty acids studied that show significant health benefits. Flax protein is known to help with heart disease and boost the immune system.

Focus on unsaturated fats, but get the right ratio

It’s important to consume more unsaturated fats from plant based foods and fish, and much less saturated fat and trans-fat from dairy, red meat and processed foods.

But it’s also important to get the proper balance of unsaturated fats in the diet. Unsaturated fats consist of mono-unsaturated fat or MUFA’s found in olive oil, nuts, avocado’s and poly-unsaturated fat or PUFA’s which include both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

The American diet tends to be high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which contributes to inflammation, and much lower in Omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation. Omega-6 fatty acid is found in many foods vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains and seeds. Whereas Omega-3’s are much harder to get because they are found primarily in cold water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, fresh tuna and flax seed.

Keep this in mind when adding flax seed to your diet

You can have too much of a good thing. Eating more than a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seed can increase your exposure to some toxins and constipate you.

You should not consume flax seed at the same time you take supplements or certain medication such as cholesterol-lowering meds, blood sugar-lowering meds or anticoagulants. You may want to discuss with your health care provider first.

Add flax seed to your diet

Flax seed is now added to many food products like pasta, cereal, crackers and chips, so consider those other sources when adding ground flax seed to your diet. WebMD and most research recommends about 2 tbsp daily or 30 gms a day. Here are some good sources of ALA, EPA and DHA:

sources of flax

You also want to keep this in mind:

  1. To get full nutritional benefit, you want to grind it in a coffee grinder or buy it ground. There are some cereals, like Uncle Sam’s that contain the whole seed.  You can still reap the health benefits if you fully chew each mouthful (a wonderful way to slow down eating!).
  2. Keep ground flax seed in the fridge or freezer since the natural oils are more exposed to air and can go rancid.
  3. Bake with it by replacing some of your flour with ground flax seed. I add it to my crisp topping, to my cakes and muffins and even to my meatloaf.
  4. Add a little at a time by putting it in your yogurt, your smoothie or your oatmeal.

Get your two tablespoons a day

You can find flax seed at most grocery stores but here in Maine I get mine at Christmas Tree Shop or Reny’s. I buy the whole flax seed, which does not need to be refrigerated, to put in my smoothie and I buy ground flax seed for baking.

I look at my daily dose of flax seed as one more health installment against my genetics. If it can help my arteries stay supple and reduce the free radicals that contribute to cancer and heart disease, then I’ll continue to chew, chomp and grind away my two tablespoons a day.

protein for breakfast

Are you getting enough protein for breakfast?

Many people start their day with a bowl of cereal.  The cereal aisle at the store has undergone so much change over the past ten years with a shift from sugary cereals to organic, whole grain and sometimes protein-enriched choices.  But, just because a cereal is organic or has added protein, is it better for you?  Are there better, simpler choices to eat first thing in the morning? Here are some things to consider.

Role of protein In your body

Protein is the workhorse of your body. Protein has a role in just about every function for survival: cell structure and function, tissue repair and is the building block or muscle, bone, skin and blood.  Dietary protein allows this to happen in order to support our immune health, hormone production and cell to cell communication.

There are 20 amino acids that make up the proteins of the body.  These amino acids are like a Lincoln Log House.  You need each piece to build a complete house.  Take out a few pieces and it will fall down.  If our body does not get all of them it can’t survive.  Eleven of them can be manufactured, but there are nine of them our bodies  can not make, they must be consumed.  Our bodies do not store protein like it does sugar and fat.  If we do not consume enough dietary protein our bodies will breakdown muscle tissue in order to get the amino acids it needs.  An indication of this is muscle wasting and increased fatigue.

How much dietary protein do you need?

The Institute of Medicine has set the Recommended Daily Allowance of protein at .36 gms per pound of weight.

Someone weighing 200 pounds will need to consume about 72 gms of protein daily.  

An estimated 45% of U.S. adults don’t get enough protein or have impaired protein utilization and experience muscle wasting as a result.

One study indicated that consuming more than 30 gms of protein at one time did not yield a higher absorption.  Thirty gms of protein is about four ounces of meat, fish or poultry.

Most of the people I work with get ample protein at dinner but not enough at breakfast unless they are eating eggs.  Most cereals, unless they have protein enhancements (usually from soy byproducts) don’t have enough protein unless the serving size is doubled.  But do you really want the doctored-up soy isolated-enhanced cereal?

Soy Isolates and Concentrates 

soy isolates

Special K protein enhances protein by using soy isolates

Soy isolates are formed by taking out most of the carbohydrates and fats from defatted soy flour, making it 90% protein.

Soy concentrates are made from removing some of the water-soluble carbohydrates from defatted soy flour, making it 70% protein.

Soy protein is being added to cereals, protein bars and just about anything stating the product has “added protein”. There’s controversy over the benefits of eating all this extra soy.  Some studies link the added consumption of soy isolates to improved glycemic control in postmenopausal women with diabetes, as well as some beneficial results in cardiovascular health in monkeys and reduced tumor incidents rats.  And there was even one study even indicated increased soy protein consumption reduced thyroid cancer risk.

But there is still some controversy over increased soy consumption and breast cancer.

There are some supportive studies, but also some that show increase in precancerous breast tissue in women who consumed too many soy protein isolates.  Furthermore, the USDA is now studying furan, a possible human carcinogen, that’s found in soy protein isolates.

The practical side of me says, why take a risk with man-made, manipulated proteins when there are plenty of non-controversial choices out there?  I’m not against soy, but maybe just stick with the real thing: edamame, soy milk, tofu, miso and tempeh, not the manufactured isolated soy proteins that could be the real culprit just through the process of manufacturing them.

Getting too much protein

Dietary protein takes longer to break down than carbohydrates so consuming enough helps with satiety which helps you feel fuller longer between meals.  One study also shows that eating 30 gms of protein per meal improved body weight management and risk factors contributing to heart disease.

Keep in mind that there is still some controversy over eating too much protein at one time and that doing so can lead to osteoporosis, increased risk of cancer, impaired kidney function and heart disease if the protein is coming largely from beef and other highly saturated fat protein sources.

What’s the best protein for breakfast?

The best sources of protein should be low in saturated fat, be whole with minimal processing, and be quick and easy to put together.  Here are some of the things I recommend for breakfast:

  • smoothie.  It delivers 30 gms of protein through the Greek yogurt, the flax seed and milk.
  • Two pieces of sprouted whole wheat toast with 3/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese.  It delivers about 30 gms of protein since the sprouted wheat contains more protein.
  • 1 cup of steel-cut oats topped with 1 tbsp on chopped nuts and berries.
  • frittata wedge in a whole grain wrap with spinach.  I often times make this frittata recipe for dinner and then save the rest for a quick breakfast.  The saturated fat is reduced by substituting egg whites for some of the eggs.  I also boost the protein by adding Greek yogurt.  Look under ingredients for words, “whole” or “100% whole” to find out if it is whole grain.  I like La Tortilla’s wraps and also Valley Bread Whole Wheat Lavash wraps.
  • two slices of whole grain bread with 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese.
  • A cup of plain, fat-free Greek yogurt topped with a half cup of fruit and 2 tbsp of chopped walnuts.  This Greek yogurt will deliver 23 gms of protein and you get some nice fiber and heart healthy omega 3’s with the fruit and nuts.  Try to move away from the flavored and fruited Greek yogurts since they have much more sugar and far less protein.
  • Leftovers from the night before!  Why not eat some left over salmon or chicken?  Put it in a wrap with some greens and you have a perfect breakfast.  Why not think out of the box.

I believe in eating “whole” foods that have not been processed, recreated or enhanced with added protein or fiber or some other doctoring.  If there are enhancements to be made, I want to do them myself in my kitchen.  I have not always eaten this way but as I have learned more about nutrition I believe the less handling and “re-creating” of what goes into my mouth, the better I feel, the more energy I have.