Nutrition, Secret Ingredient

The Secret Ingredient Is . . . Avocado

Animated AvocadoDark green/black bumpy skin on the outside, bright yellow-green meat inside and a large pit nestled in the middle.  We’re talking of course about the avocado – the pear shaped tropical fruit known for its creamy texture and mild nutty flavor.  Guacamole is probably the first thing that comes to mind when talking about avocados, but diced avocado is also a nice addition to your salad or cold soup.  You can also use it in your sandwich as a healthy alternative mayonnaise, or eat it plain all by itself!  Avocados are cholesterol-free and a good source of fiber.  While it’s true they contain a lot of fat, it’s mostly monounsaturated (one of the “good” fats).

Most of us are familiar with the dark green Hass variety of avocados (or maybe the Fuerte which has a smoother, light green skin), but did you know that there are hundreds of avocado varieties?  Here’s another bit of trivia:  avocados will not ripen until they’re picked.  This is why they’ve available all year – they can be left on the tree for an extended period before harvesting.  An easy way to tell if your avocado is ripe is give it a light squeeze.  If there’s a little give to it you’re good to go; if not you can help it along by placing it in a paper bag on your counter for a day or so.

If you’ve ever cut into an avocado, you know it starts to turn brown before long.  This is caused by enzymes in the avocado reacting to the oxygen in the air (this is also why apple slices turn brown around the edges).  You can slow this process by adding a splash of lemon (or lime) juice to your cut avocado.  If you’re not going to use the entire fruit at once, sprinkle leftover pieces with lemon juice and place in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

What’s your favorite way to eat avocado?

(Content reviewed by MGH Nutrition Department)




Guest Post, Heart Health, Nutrition

Spotlight on the Mediterranean Diet

By Emma Louise Toolson
Dietetic Intern

Med Diet Pyramid 2

Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a study linking the Mediterranean diet with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  Quite simply, the Mediterranean diet is a way of eating that is based on the traditional foods and cooking styles of countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The general eating pattern while following a Mediterranean diet includes:

  • Several servings of fruits and vegetables daily
  • Focus on healthy fats like olive oil and canola oil
  • Consuming fish and poultry at least two times per week
  • Limiting dairy products, red meat, processed meats and sweets
  • Use of herbs and spices to flavor foods in place of salt
  • Red wine, in moderation (if appropriate)

While the Mediterranean diet is abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, a typical Western diet, in contrast, contains more processed foods, refined carbohydrates and saturated fat. Another key feature of the Mediterranean diet is the inclusion of regular physical activity — the Western diet, meanwhile, tends to be more sedentary.

The NEJM study followed 7447 participants over 6 years. Two groups of participants were randomly assigned to a Mediterranean diet pattern, while a third followed a low-fat diet which acted as a control. The two groups following the Mediterranean eating plan were given either olive oil or mixed nuts to provide the monounsaturated (healthy) fats. Restricting calories was not advised for either group.  The study observed a Mediterranean diet, in which extra-virgin olive oil or nuts were the main source of fat, resulted in a significant reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events in high-risk individuals. This led researchers to conclude that following a Mediterranean diet may prevent cardiovascular disease, particularly in those that are already at risk.

Health, Nutrition

Nutrition Myths

By Debra Hollon, MS, RD, CDE, LDN
Senior Clinical Nutritionist

This is the first post in a series on health and wellness myths. Explore the article below to lean more about 5 common nutrition MYTVegetables falling into basketHS.

If you’re dieting, fruit juice is better than soda—Soft drinks have been criticized for containing a large amount of sugar per serving, while fruit juices are regarded as a healthier alternative. Fruit juices often do contain more vitamins than soda, but they also have large amounts of fructose—a natural sugar found in fruit. One 16oz bottle of fruit juice contains the same amount of sugar/carbohydrates as 4 medium pieces of fruit. For a healthy beverage choice, water is a better option.

All fats are bad—With all the media attention on the connection between fat and heart disease and obesity, it’s easy to believe a healthy diet shouldn’t include any fat. The truth is we need some fat in our diet: fats help our bodies absorb nutrients such as Vitamins A and E, build cell membranes and give you a sense of satiety—that “full” feeling you get after eating. But not all fats are the same: saturated fat, found in many meat and dairy products, has been shown to raise cholesterol while unsaturated fats like Omega 3’s are known to promote heart health. For a healthy diet, try to limit saturated fats and/or replace them with the healthier unsaturated fats from fish and nuts.

Brown sugar is better than white sugar—Brown rice is a better nutritional choice than white rice, and whole wheat bread is a better option than white. Brown sugar, therefore, must be better than white sugar, right?  Whole grains are a good source of fiber, Vitamin E, iron, B Vitamins and a number of other nutrients, many of which are lost when whole grains are processed into white bread and white rice. Brown sugar, meanwhile, is regular white sugar with a little molasses added in and has roughly the same nutritional value as plain white sugar. In other words, choosing brown sugar over white sugar is not the same thing as choosing 100% whole wheat bread over white bread.

Avoid carbohydrate to lose weight—There are a number of popular fad diets out there that advise limiting carbohydrate in your diet in order to lose weight. The weight loss achieved through these diets can be dramatic, but it’s not necessarily because of the limited carbohydrate intake—many of these diets also limit the number of calories consumed as well. Losing weight is as simple as burning more calories than you consume. Exercise along with a well-balanced diet that includes lean protein, whole grains, dairy, and fruits and veggies and is low in saturated fat will work just as well.

Calories eaten late at night turn to fat—This one does have a small kernel of truth: calories you don’t burn in a day are stored in your body as fat. However, the time of day you consume calories doesn’t matter; if your body can’t use them for immediate energy, they’ll be converted to fat regardless of what time of day you eat.