Nutrition, Uncategorized

More Nutrition Myths Debunked

Sydney Bates, Dietetic Intern

There is a lot of conflicting information when it comes to nutrition. It seems that every day there is a new headline that’s that is at odds with everything we thought we knew. Despite emerging science, many nutrition myths are still prevalent. Here’s the truth about some common nutrition myths.

Myth: Egg yolks are high in cholesterol and should therefore be avoided
Fact: For decades, we were told not to eat eggs too often (and only the whites) if we wanted to be healthier and avoid elevated cholesterol. The latest evidence, however, shows that advice was scrambled. While egg whites are an excellent source of protein, the egg yolks contain most of the major nutrients including iron, folate and vitamins that support eye and brain health. The dietary cholesterol in eggs that was demonized for decades is now largely recognized by the medical community as having little effect on blood cholesterol. Overall, eggs contain a host of valuable nutrients, and focusing on the cholesterol content of eggs as a contributor to disease is not only counter-productive but false. Maintaining a balanced eating pattern with plenty of plant-based proteins and fats with the occasional animal product is the key to keeping those blood lipids at an optimal level.

Myth: Coffee is bad for you
Fact: The majority of studies on coffee have actually shown it provides protective effects against disease. Coffee is loaded with antioxidants, and has also been shown to help reduce the risk of developing diabetes in regular consumers. It’s likely the bad reputation comes from cream and sugar many people add to their drink. Adding sweetener greatly decreases this protective effect. To reap the most benefits, limit the amount of cream, milk, sugar, or artificial flavorings you add to your coffee.

Myth: You can eat as much “healthy” food as you like
Fact: The key to a healthy lifestyle is eating a variety of foods from all the main food groups. What this means is that just because the media touts avocados and kale as healthy “superfoods,” it doesn’t mean more is better; even healthy foods still need to be eaten in moderation. Ever hear of the saying, “too much of a good thing?” It applies to so-called healthy foods too. The body needs a certain amount of nutrients to function, and any excess is either stored as fat or eliminated. Plus, when you eat from only a small selection of foods, you miss opportunities to obtain vital nutrients from other sources. No one food contains all the macro- and micronutrients we need. That’s why it’s so important to view articles that promise things such as “eat as much of these foods as you want and never gain weight” with a critical eye. These headlines are designed to grab your attention using the allure of being able to eat all day long and never gain weight. To maintain health, eat a variety of foods, from all the food groups, in portions that are satisfying but don’t leave you feeling overly full all the time.

Myth: Gluten Free is healthier…and other labeling misconceptions
Fact: The term “health halo” is given to foods with a reputation for being better for you. They may have a special title or brand that is associated with being more nutritious, but this is not always the case. For instance, foods like smoothies, granola, organic snacks, protein shakes or foods labeled “organic” or “gluten free” are often thought of as being better options. The fact of the matter is that this is simply marketing and tailoring to consumer demand. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that has received a lot of attention recently. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity need to avoid gluten, but there is no need for the average person to eliminate gluten from their diet. As for organic foods, if you have the resources to purchase the “dirty dozen” (produce known to have high levels of pesticides) organic, wonderful. If not, you will not be losing out on any of the health-giving vitamins and minerals found in fresh produce. Learn more about the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” and make an informed decision about which foods you will purchase organic. Overall, beware of falling for labeling traps and use your best judgement!

If you have questions about nutrition or your meal plan, speak with a Registered Dietitian to shed light on the evidence.

Post content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, LDN, CDE
Nutrition, recipes

Be Fit Basics: Quinoa Breakfast Cereal

Ingredients:
11/2 cups skim milk
1 cup uncooked quinoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, plus more for serving
4 teaspoons honey, agave, or maple syrup
20 walnut halves
1 cup sliced strawberries

Instructions:
In a medium saucepan, combine skim milk, quinoa, salt, and cinnamon and bring to a boil, covered. Reduce heat to low and cook until milk is absorbed and quinoa is tender (about 20 minutes).

Remove pan from heat and let stand for 5 minutes, covered. Fluff with fork.

Divide quinoa evenly among 4 bowls. Top each with 1 teaspoon of honey, agave, or maple syrup, 5 or 6 walnut halves, and 1/4 cup of sliced strawberries. Use additional milk as desired.

Yield: 4 servings

Nutrition Information per Serving:
Calories: 300 • Protein: 10g • Sodium: 190mg • Carbohydrate: 50g • Fiber: 7g • Fat: 8g • Sat Fat: 0.5g

Recipe adapted from epicurious.com
Nutrition

Personalized Nutrition- Is the Future Here Yet?

By Robert Dunn, Dietetic Intern

Is the secret to a perfect diet hidden in your own body?

Personalized nutrition is a modern approach to nutrition that aims to prescribe specific diets based on biomarkers. Biomarkers are substances that provide information on a person’s condition, and can be used to measure disease risk. By assessing their impact on nutrition, medical professionals may be able to precisely determine the best diet for improving a person’s health.

The role of personalized nutrition is evolving quickly. Many researchers are optimistic that it may provide a breakthrough in the treatment of certain diseases. One of the diseases being closely studied is diabetes, a condition that affects over 29 million people in the United States. Additionally, over 80 million people are estimated to have prediabetes, putting them at risk for developing diabetes later in life. Diet and lifestyle have always been important for diabetes management, and personalized nutrition may soon play a key role in this process.

Researchers in Denmark recently published a study on personalized nutrition in diabetes treatment. Their goal was to determine the most effective weight loss diet for people that were diabetic, pre-diabetic, or neither (healthy group). To do so, they divided patients from prior weight loss studies into those groups based on two biomarkers: fasting insulin and fasting blood glucose. Once the patients were assigned groups, the researchers could then compare weight loss data to determine if any diet had a particularly strong effect on any specific group.

After comparing the data, several trends became clear. Patients in the diabetic group lost more weight on a low-carbohydrate diet that was high in plant-based fats like olive oil. Meanwhile, the healthy group was more successful with a low fat, high-carbohydrate diet. Finally, pre-diabetic patients who followed a diet high in fiber (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) lost more weight than those who followed a control diet. Based on these results, the researchers concluded that biomarkers like fasting blood sugar could be helpful in planning diet interventions for patients with either diabetes or pre-diabetes.

The results of this study seem promising, and may offer insight into weight loss strategies for people with diabetes or pre-diabetes. However, personalized nutrition is an emerging area of research and it is important we don’t make conclusions based on limited evidence. The study’s authors stated that next steps include “research to explore additional biomarkers…which may help to more effectively customize the right diet for specific individuals.”

In the meantime, people with diabetes and pre-diabetes should be encouraged to optimize their nutrition and physical activity. Nutrition counseling with qualified professionals has been shown to improve the health of people with these conditions. Anyone interested nutrition for diabetes management should consider meeting with a Registered Dietitian (RD).  Registered Dietitians are nutrition experts who help people of all backgrounds use diet to meet their medical needs.

To schedule an appointment with an RD from Massachusetts General Hospital, contact the Department of Nutrition and Food Services by calling 617-726-2779.

Content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, LDN, CDE
Nutrition

Low-Calorie Options for Adding Flavor to Water

By Melanie Pearsall RD, LDN, CDE
Sr. Clinical Nutritionist

Water is the healthiest drink for people of all ages. Drinking enough water is an important part of helping your body “detoxify,” and even mild dehydration can cause problems with concentration.  Americans tend to drink a lot of beverages other then water. Many of these drinks have a lot of added sugars and fat’s which are high in calories and cause weight gain. But the one thing these beverages have is flavor!   Many people know it’s important to drink water and stay hydrated but hate to drink “plain” water. Here are some suggestions to help even the pickiest water drinker succeed:

  • Flavor your water with orange or lemon slices, cucumber slices, berries or fresh herbs like mint or basil
  • Try flavored or plain seltzer waters! Sometimes that added fizz is enough to tickle your taste buds.
  • Herbal teas are a great way to flavor water. I often add an herbal tea bag to my cold water bottle and let it steep slowly, flavoring the water. Tea also provides an extra health benefit from anti-oxidants.
  • Add small amounts of sugar free type flavorings like Crystal Light to your water. I suggest people start off with just enough to add some flavor but without making it overly sweet.
  • Buy a water purifier for your home or individual bottle. This can make the water taste clean and refreshing as it removes some of the impurities that cause an aftertaste
  • If you like to drink pre-flavored water just double check the label to make sure it is low calorie (fewer than 10 calories per serving)
Article originally appeared in Summer 2013 DiabetesViews
Nutrition, Uncategorized

Other Whole Grains

By now you’ve probably heard about the many health benefits of whole grains (and hopefully started making half your grains whole grains).  Brown rice, quinoa and whole wheat bread are some of the go-to whole grain options but there are many, many other kinds to choose from.  Here are some other types of whole grains to try.

Barley

Barley is a really good source of fiber.  In fact, it has the most fiber of all the whole grains.  Barley has been shown to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and keep blood sugar stable.  When shopping for barley, look for hulled barley rather than “pearled” barley.  Although pearled barley cooks much faster (about 30 minutes vs. an hour for hulled barley), pearled barley has had much of the bran scraped off.  Without the bran, it is no longer considered a whole grain.

Serving ideas:  Barley can be eaten alone as a hot cereal, used to thicken soups and stews, or as a substitute for rice.

Buckwheat

Like quinoa, buckwheat isn’t really a grain (it’s a seed).  It’s also not a type of wheat – it’s more closely related to rhubarb.  Buckwheat is high in protein and gluten-free, making it a good option for people with Celiac or other gluten sensitivity.  The kernels (called “groats”) cook in about 20 – 30 minutes.  If you’re short on time, look for toasted buckwheat groats (called “kasha”) which typically cooks in 15-20 minutes.

Serving ideas:  Cooked groats can be eaten alone in place of oatmeal, or added to salads or soups.  Buckwheat flower is used to make soba noodles.

Oats

Oats are a good source of fiber and are known to help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and blood pressure.  Some different types of oats you may find in the store include oat groats, steel cut oats, and rolled oats.  The difference between each of these is how they’re processed.  Oat groats are whole oat kernels.  Steel cut oats are oat groats that have been cut into smaller pieces, while rolled oats are groats that have been steamed and flattened.  Processed oats cook faster, but here’s the good news:  all processed oats are still whole grains!  Even instant oatmeal counts as a whole grain, but read the nutrition facts label very carefully and choose brands that do not have a lot of added salt and sugar.

Serving idea:  Make up a batch of this Be Fit Power Granola for a healthy snack

One final thing to remember:  whole grains are still high in carbohydrate.  While you’re trying out new whole grain options, remember to pay attention to portion size.

 Content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE
Nutrition, Uncategorized

Serving Up Satiety

By Elizabeth Daly
Dietetic Intern

In today’s society, we are constantly tempted by food. Whether we are commuting to work, out with friends or watching TV at home, we are influenced by messages encouraging us to eat more. Living in an environment surrounded by food can make it challenging for people to make healthy choices, lose weight and manage their diabetes. There are many different weight-loss diets advertised in the media, but dieting often leaves us feeling hungry, deprived and ultimately defeated. How can we better control our intake without feeling the need to eat all the time?

Satiety is the feeling of fullness that comes after eating. If we feel satiated after a meal, we are less likely to snack between meals or eat large portions the next time we sit down to eat.  Learning how to feel more satiated after a meal may help us better control how much we eat, aid in weight loss and better control blood sugar levels.

Feeling satiated takes time, often up to 20 minutes after eating a meal. It is controlled by a number of factors that begin once we take our first bite of food. When we eat, our stomach expands, we begin absorbing and digesting nutrients and the brain receives signals that lead to feelings of being full.

Not all foods produce the same level of satiety. Here are a few tips to help you feel fit and full:

  1. Add lean protein to meals and snacks

Adding protein to meals or snacks helps keep you full for longer and control blood sugar levels. Meals that only contain simple carbohydrates are digested quickly, spike blood sugar, and make you feel hungry again soon after.

~Ex.  1 oz low fat cheese or ¼ cup hummus or 1-2 tablespoons peanut butter or 1 oz nuts

  1. Add fruit and vegetables to meals

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and water.  Both of these help you feel full. They are also good sources of important nutrients and contribute to overall good health.

~Ex. Add a side salad with meals, add berries to cereal or yogurt, add vegetables in soup

  1. Limit sugary beverages

Sweetened beverages are high in sugar and calories but low in nutrients. They do not cause your body to feel as full as solid foods do, and can lead to spikes in blood sugar and weight gain.

~Try swapping sugar sweetened beverages with water at meals to curb your hunger!

 Content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE
Nutrition

Plant-Based Protein

Alexandra Regalado
Dietetic Intern

What is Protein and How Much Do You Need?
Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is part of a balanced diet and is essential for life. Protein plays key roles in building and maintaining muscle, keeping the immune system working, regulating hormones, and healing wounds.  Protein is made up of compounds called amino acids. Some amino acids are made by your body, while others come from the food we eat. Amino acids that come from food are called essential amino acids. This is why it’s important to eat protein from a variety of sources, including plants!  The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for the average adult is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.  To find out how many grams of protein you need to eat each day, multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36.

Sources of Plant-Based Protein
Protein is found in a number of plant foods.  While plants provide quality protein, they typically do not contain all of the essential amino acids. But, if you eat several sources proteins throughout the week, you will have no problem getting all the amino acids and nutrients your body needs. Some plant-based protein, such as beans and legumes, contain carbohydrates, so always check the nutrition facts label for grams of carbohydrate per serving and factor them into your meal or snack.

 Some Examples of Plant-Based Protein

  • Beans and Legumes: Black beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, lentils
  • Nuts and Nut Butters: Peanuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, pine nuts
  • Seeds:Chia, flax, sesame, sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, quinoa
  • Soy and Soy Products: Soy milk, edamame, tofu, tempeh
  • Meat Substitutes: Veggie burgers and sausages, seitan, faux “chicken” and “burgers”

 Benefits of Plant-Based Protein
Most plant-based proteins are naturally low in calories, saturated fat, and sodium; have no cholesterol; and are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. The combination of protein and fiber helps to slow digestion so you feel fuller longer, and raises blood sugar gradually after a meal or snack (avoiding blood sugar spikes).  Many plant-based proteins are more environmentally sustainable and affordable than animal sources of protein, too!

Plant proteins can be incorporated into any dietary pattern. Vegetarian and vegan diets are especially high in plant proteins and are also rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The American Diabetes Association recommends plant-based eating patterns because they can help prevent and manage diabetes. Research shows plant-based diets are good at lowering A1C, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index.  Studies have also shown that plant-based diets are helpful for losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight.  Including more plant-based meals in your routine, such as by following “Meatless Monday,” is a wonderful way to fuel up on more plant-based protein!

Ideas for adding Plant-Based Protein to Your Meals
Breakfast:

  • Sprinkle nuts and seeds on oatmeal or yogurt
  • Sautee tofu and veggies for a breakfast scramble
  • Spread hummus or nut butter on toast

Lunch & Dinner:

  • Use beans or lentils to make “meat” sauce
  • Add tofu or tempeh to a stir-fry meal or sandwich
  • Top salads or grain bowls with beans or edamame
  • Vegetable or black bean burger

Snacks:

  • Hummus with raw veggie sticks
  • Roasted chickpeas or edamame
  • Handful of nuts
  • Plant-based protein bar
 Content reviewed by Melanie Pearsall, RD, CDE