Hot Topics

May’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Coo Coo for Coconut Water

If I had to define coconut water in two words it would undoubtedly be ‘sexy beverage’. Literally, Vita Coco just came out with a lemonade coconut water. It’s slogan: ‘Lemonade was a one piece…we made it a bikini’. For reals. I don’t know what it is about this stuff, but professional athletes and supermodels around the world are promoting coconut water as if it were liquid gold. So why is it so popular?

Truth is, I am constantly asked about the health benefits of coconut water. ‘Will it help me lose weight?’ ‘Why aren’t you (a dietitian) guzzling this stuff?’ ‘If I want to increase muscle definition, I should only be drinking coconut water, right?’ Sweet baby Jesus, the list goes on and on.

Image from Google Images

Image from Google Images

I suppose coconut water isn’t all that ‘new’, but I still get questioned on it every few weeks at work and that’s why it is May’s Nutrition Hot Topic. I thought it would be good to hone my standard answer with a bit more research and provide some insight for you people. Psh, you’re welcome – no big deal. 

The health-conscious and celebratah are downing coconut water like the world’s last coconuts are falling from palm trees and dehydrating as fast as my skin in December. You see, at baseline, coconut water is made from -oh my God, you guessed it – water! Ahhh. So yeah, it’s hydrating…most water based fluids are. That last statement could send us down a dark, weird path so I’ll move on quickly. Coconut water should not to be confused with coconut milk. Coconut milk is an emulsion of coconut water and grated coconut. Coconut water is the fluid found inside the coconut (also not to be confused with coconut flavoring added to water). Make sense? To make it even simpler, technically coconut water is a type of juice. I’ll wait while the blowing of your mind subsides…

Now then, coconut water’s big claim to fame is its electrolyte content. Think of it as Mother Earth’s

Image from Google Images

Image from Google Images

Gatorade. It is a good source of potassium, magnesium and sodium. Potassium is the big spotlight mineral of coconut water. According to The American Heart Association, potassium helps keep our fluid

balance regular, stimulate nerves and contract muscles. Basically our cells need potassium to function properly. Sounds pretty essential, right? But coconut water isn’t the only source of potassium. You know where else it’s found? Fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products.

So if you have a balanced diet and aren’t working out like Michael Phelps, do you need to be drinking coconut water for its electrolyte content? Only you can answer that question. The answer lies in the calorie content of this sweet, sweet nectar. An average 8-ounce serving carries between 45-60 calories. The real question is, do you need those calories or can you accommodate them in order to prevent weight gain? As most of us know, weight gain occurs when you consume more calories than you burn on a daily basis. I agree dear reader, 45-60 calories does not sound like much. However, if you consumed 8 ounces of coconut water daily for one year and did not account for it in other places of your diet or exercised a tid bit more, it would result in roughly a 5 pound weight gain annually. Food for thought! Don’t believe me on the math? Post your dispute in the comment section below.

Look, I’m all for finding natural hydrating products. Ones that aren’t loaded with artificial sweeteners sound great! I love the initial slogan of Vita Coco. ‘Hydrate Naturally’. Hey fools, you know what else can do the same thing?! A banana and a large glass of water. Just saying. And by all means, omit the banana if you’re not massively hungover or having just finished an aggressive workout.

Finally, to put it simply, the calories in coconut water are coming from it’s carbohydrate content = sugar. I don’t mean to be a dietitian downer, but you should know all the facts. Coconut water is no devil beverage, but consume responsibly with an informed mind.

Happy Hydrating 🙂

Resources:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Potassium_UCM_306021_Article.jsp
http://www.mayoclinic.org

April’s Hot Nutrition Topic: Ch-Ch-Chia Seeds

Chia seeds boast numerous health claims – weight loss and a good source of antioxidants and protein are just a few of them. But seriously! What the heck is the deal with these little black and white seeds? A few years back, chia seeds started coming into the forefront of healthy eating. Why? What’s their deal? Sure, ‘healthy people’ are throwing them into their oatmeals, smoothies and yogurt, but we as informed individuals should know why. Surely these seeds must offer some nutritional punch, which bring us to April’s Hot Nutrition Topic. Oh yeah, these posts (much like Shameless Product Placements) are freaking back. And I got news for you my few but avid readers, I love these posts because there’s nothing better than exercising your brain, learning more and getting to the facts on all things nutrition.

Image from Google

Image from Google

As a kid, Chia Pets were all the rage for my generation. Just add water and watch these terra-cotta pots sprout! It was my first introduction to chia seeds.  Now in 2014, these little babies are back, but instead of watering them to grow grass, we’re ingesting them to better our health.

Chia is an edible seed cultivated in Mexico dating back to the Myan and Aztec cultures. Little known fact, these seeds are also a member of the mint family. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, protein, omega-3s and antioxidants. And unlike flaxseed, chia seeds are able to be processed and absorbed by the body. In theory, chia seeds are thought to expand in the stomach and increase satiety, thus promoting weight loss. However, in terms of the chia research out there right now, this weight loss theory continues to go unproven. But you know what curbs over eating and promotes satiety? Protein and fiber – oh yeah, chia seeds have both those features! One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, and 11 grams of fiber.

“Over a 12-week period, we did not see a change in appetite or weight loss” in study participants who consumed chia seeds, says researcher David Nieman, DrPH, a professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. “Our study showed no reduction in body weight, body fat and no improvement in traditional cardiovascular markers from 50 grams of chia per day.”

As a dietitian, I say food before supplements. While chia seeds may not help you shed the added winter weight for beach season, they are still a good good source of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full. Their mixture of fatty acids and antioxidants also provide an excellent anti-inflammatory mixture. For weight loss, I advise sticking with a healthy, calorie-reduced diet and exercise. Sorry kiddos.

Add chia seeds to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, salad dressings and baked goods for added nutritional punch. Below is HR’s Overnight Oats recipe for a simple way to start incorporating chia seeds into your diet. Make this recipe the night before and store in a sealed plastic container overnight in the fridge. Voilà! The next morning you have delicious oaty goodness at your fingertips ready to be devoured come breakfast time.

For the full post, click here.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Overnight Oats

One Serving
1/2 cup dry rolled oats
1 cup milk (skim, soy, or almond)
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 Tablespoon of chia seeds
A dash or two of cinnamon

In your plastic container, mix together oats, cinnamon, and chia seeds.  In a small separate bowl mix together milk and the mashed up banana. Add the milk and banana mixture to your dry ingredients.  Stir well. Cover and place in fridge overnight. Stir up in the morning and enjoy! I enjoy it as is, but feel free to top with nuts, dried coconut, peanut butter, dried fruit or pure maple syrup.

 

Recources:
Nieman, D. Nutrition Research, May 2009; vol 29: pp 414-418.
http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442472548
http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/truth-about-chia
https://www.nutrition.org/asn-blog/2012/03/the-real-scoop-on-chia-seeds/
 

Revisited: Sage Advice For Holiday Eating From Someone Who Knows Nothing

It’s that time of year again. When we head over to Aunt Sheryl’s, load up those red plastic plates with horse ovaries (more commonly known as hors d’oeuvres), hunker down on a fireplace hearth and wait for the self-loathing and regret to kick in. Trust me. We’ve all been there. Why did I eat that ninth macaroon?  Who poured me this fourth glass of eggnog?  How did I get pieces of gingerbread down my bra?  Sooner or later though, the holiday feasts reap what they sow and sweatpants suddenly seem like appropriate work options. Enter in New Year’s resolutions.

Well this year, that will not happen. This year will be different. This year I will control myself – I will eat only half the ham, seven turtle cookies and limit myself to three hot toddies. Take that Saint Nick! I am not perfect, nor do I pretend to be. I believe the holidays are a time to enjoy the wonderful foods we, and the people we love, churn out. However, enjoyment doesn’t have to equate to perpetual gluttony. And so, to save you from yourself, I present to you…
Kimberly’s Strategies for Surviving the Smörgåsbords
1. Don’t Go To The Party Hungry
This is the kiss of death.  You’ve been running around all day trying to find that Pokémon bean bag chair your eight-year old god son wants, you perform your Mariah-Carey-5-minute-costume-change at the house, grabbed your keys, your significant other and are out the door. Sure enough, as the car pulls out of your driveway you realize that snack bag of Bugles you ate for breakfast and lunch may not have been enough to power you through the day. Suddenly your stomach starts talking like Kimmy Gibler from Full House, you’re light-headed and in need sustenance…fast. Cut to you licking the crumbs off your fourth (stupidly small) appetizer plate as you walk it to the trash can.  The presence of others is all that stops you from reaching into the garbage and polishing off that half-eaten piece of fruitcake sitting right there on the top.
I’ve been there. I am a firm believer of never getting overly hungry.  Whenever I hit that point of blinding hunger, I end up reaching for foods I will a) regret and b) over-eat.  It’s for those reasons I never leave home without snacks.  At any given time, my purse/book bag/satchel looks like a go-go-gadget of munchies.
Holiday parties are wonderful.  You get to see half-drunk people you sort of like in dim lighting while you all stuff your faces with the hostess’ provisions. This suggested ‘rule’ hardly implies showing up to a party puffer fish full.  Just don’t arrive to the front door seeing spots and drooling unconsciously. I find I make wiser food choices when I arrive any place where free food is in abundance free of that malnourished feeling. I will actually select the foods I really want to try and not simply reach for anything containing cheese whiz. Not only that, I won’t suffer the all-too-common conundrum of overzealous food selection. This doesn’t mean you can’t go up for seconds, but arriving semi-full will allow you to be selective and therefore, more aware of how much you’re eating.
2. Be The Change You Wish To See In The World 
By this I mean, bring a more healthful dish.  If I had a dime for every time I went to a party where the only vegetable served qualified as great Aunt Rebecca’s bloomin’ onion or the olive in my martini, I’d be a less poor woman.  This does not mean you have to bring a vegetable tray.  I curse those things. I am a dietitian and even I hate eating raw broccoli flowerets. Surely there must be some middle ground. Off the top my head – tomato bruschetta, edamame humus, roasted potato wedges with sun-dried tomato pesto, Caprese on a stick (tomato, basil, mozzarella), kale chips, maple glazed Brussels sprouts. BAM! Vegetables don’t have to be gross. And don’t worry, just because you’re bringing a ‘healthy’ dish doesn’t mean everyone else is going to do the same.  You will still get your true holiday fix in at the party, mark my words. You’re dish will just lighten up the spread.
3. Mind What You’re Swilling

God, to talk about calories here is just too boring. It’s also been done a million times. What I can’t stand is when some health nut writer tells me to avoid booze at holiday parties. Has he/she never been to one before? Sometimes a social lubricant is required for survival at these kinds of functions.  Your ex-boyfriend is avoiding you like the bubonic plague, your girl friend is crying the bathroom because ‘if one more person asks her when she plans to start having babies, she’s going to adopt a Himalayan whistle kid by March’, and your mom commented that your eye makeup made you look like an extra in an off-Broadway production of the Grinch as you walked out the door.

All I will say is this: booze has calories; it’s not a ‘free food’.  As we all learned in D.A.R.E., alcohol also impairs our judgment. Those repulsive deep-fried Oreos you first saw when you walked into the party might suddenly look downright appetizing after four glasses of mulled wine. So easy does it.  Plus, the person who has raced to the end of the night by 8pm never goes home or wakes up a winner.  I can sadly say this from experience.  Lastly, if you plan to drive home, do not drink. It’s a no brainer, but it would feel irresponsible to endorse moderate drinking at holiday parties to those who may go on to be designated drivers.  But Kimberly, you told me it was okay! I have only you to blame for my poor decision-making. No! Not on my watch.
4. Back Away From The Food Table
Okay, I’ll admit this one is easier said than done.  The act of walking away from mountains of appetizers can at times, require the Jaws of Life. Unless you have the will power of a much stronger man, standing near plates of copious amounts of food is like going to Mexico and never wearing sunscreen. You will burn yourself time and time again. After you’ve had your fill, thrown away your plate and utensils, comes Act II of the night. It opens with the scene titled “Grazing” and concludes with you unbuttoning your pants on the car ride home. Don’t act like you’re better than it because you’re not.
From personal experience, I’ve found that removing myself from the vicinity of all the foods that taunt me to have the greatest effect. After I’ve eaten and I am feeling full, I try to migrate to a different room.  However, I do realize the kitchen is often a congregation location. So instead of wandering into the host’s personal office or sitting alone with the cat watching reruns of the Match Game, put those Crescent dogs out of arms reach. At the heart of it, we’re all lazy.  Maybe all it takes is the required extra four steps to snatch the last smoked salmon quesadilla to deter you from overindulging.
5. Return to Normalcy 
 Hypothetically, let’s say you decided to ignore strategies one through four and ate until it hurt. The next day you arise thinking, “Today I will eat less to make up for last night.”  Please, please, please don’t do this.  Food isn’t about atonement and the holidays shouldn’t be filled with self-induced regret. So what? Last night didn’t go so well. You came home, popped the Pepto and woke up every two hours mumbling “never again”…that’s probably a little dramatic, but you get the idea. Nobody is perfect. So instead of skimping on calories following an epic holiday bender, just get back to normal. Wake up, eat some breakfast and go about your day as normal – eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.  Besides, if you decide you’re going to start a ‘diet’ on December 17th you, my friend, may just be more dumb than a first grader. Don’t even get me started on diets.  That’s for another day.  There’s nothing quite like intentional self-denial while all those around you indulge in the very thing you’ve sworn off.  Say hello to crying in the shower and aggressive journal entries.
Bottom line here: when we decide we’re going to enter into Calorie Deficit Land in an effort to amend for last night’s destruction, nine times our of ten we wind up hitting 3pm in a ravenous state…and the cycle repeats.  The biggest favor you can do yourself is to wake up and kick your metabolism in the pants with some breakfast.

April’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Anchovy Love In the Pill Aisle

Better late than never. Right?

This past week, Dr. Jennifer Sacheck from Tufts University came to guest lecture in one of my classes.  Her lecture topic was The Nutrition-Exercise-Inflammation Connection: Impact on Health and Disease. Interesting, right?  I feel like inflammation has become a buzz-word in the health media these days. We talk a lot about preventing it or treating it. You can’t feel inflammation.  There’s no anti-inflammation drug out there. So why do we care? Better yet – what the heck is it?

Inflammation is a biological response of vascular tissues to an irritant, think toxins/pathogens/damaged cells. It’s really just a protective response our body sends out to remove the damaging stimuli and initiate the healing process within tissue(s). In an acute situation (i.e.- healing wounds and infection) there’s an increased movement in plasma and white blood cells to injured tissue.  It’s a process that our body tightly regulates but if uncheck or excessive can lead to chronic inflammation and your body no likey.

So what’s the golden pill?  There isn’t one.  Stop eating meat! Cut out dairy! Drink orange Fanta before bed! I love realistic solutions.  Some researchers seem to think omega three fatty acids are the answer.  While there is some conflicting research out there, it’s what we’re going to talk about today.

Fish oil.  Why are people obsessed with supplements?  Is Terry Hatcher behind this movement?  Should I get renters insurance?  If you’re like me, these three questions all ran across your mind just now.  You’ll notice on most food labels, under total fat, fat grams are broken down into saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fat.  It’s the mono- and polyunsaturated fat you want to consume. More specifically though, polyunsaturated fat can be further divided into its two essential fatty acid forms: omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids.  They are called essential because our bodies cannot make them and therefore, must be consumed through our diet. Also referred to as alpha-linoleic (omega 6) and alpha-linolenic (omega 3), both play an important role in maintaining healthy skin, nerves and cell membranes.  They can also play a role in our body’s ability to regulate blood pressure, blood clotting and, you guessed it, inflammation.

Alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3) can be converted into two other important compounds, that for the sake of simplicity we will call DHA and EPA. Research has shown that these two compounds can reduce one’s risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The most common sources of  alpha-linolenic acid (omega 3) are fish and flaxseed. The American Heart Association recommends consuming at least two servings of fish per week, which averages out to be 0.5 gram daily, to obtain these omega 3 fatty acids.  FYI: a serving of fish is 3.5 ounces, cooked. The fattier the fish, the better.  So if you want to hit your omega three goals, reach for salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, anchovies or tuna.

What about omega 6s you ask? Well, these are the less than favorable omegas.  While still essential for brain function and normal growth, they have been shown to have pro-inflammatory effects when consumed in excess. Therefore, it’s important we consume these omegas in the right ratio. In 2003, it was recommended by Haag et al., that a 2:1 to 3:1 ratio of omega6/omega 3 be consumed.  In reality, Americans are consuming a diet that is four times lower than the current recommended amount.  Haag and company recommended that us peabrains increase our omega 3 consumption in an effort to improve this actual consumption ratio. This is one of the many reasons I hate nutrition researchers.  They always find stuff we’re doing wrong.  You can find nutrition researchers somewhere between Al Gore and Sigmund Freud.  True story. 

It’s important to note that more isn’t always better when it comes to omega threes either.  Typically only achieved through supplement use, consumption of more than three grams daily can lead to elevated LDL cholesterol, blood glucose and increased risk for excessive bleeding.  Be careful out there kids and talk to you doctor first before you dive head first into the supplement world.

By now I am sure you all must be reaching a manic-like desire to know if I take fish oil.  I do. I am not endorsing it and I am not telling you all to go out and purchase bottles of this stuff.  After speaking with my doctor, I decided to start taking it because I am dirt butt poor and cannot afford to buy fish twice a week.  I like to think I see improvements in my skin, but I’m sure that’s more of a placebo effect.  So allow me be your moral health compass and say you’re never too young to be worried about heart disease.

To those who can afford fish – buy it.  Eating the actual food is always more beneficial than taking a supplement. The take home here is this – fish oil is not a bad thing to supplement but it’s not imperative either.

For more information on fish oil visit the American Heart Association website.

March’s Nutrition Hot Topic: The Beginning of Governmental Brainwashing

(If you’re unsure, that title is laden with sarcasm)

Does nutrition information on a restaurant menu influence what you order? I feel like this has become an age-old question in the nutrition world.  I am immersed at the collegiate nutrition level, so stuff like this is pretty much all I hear about. It’s probably not the best gauge for what real people think. Putting nutrition labels on restaurant menus isn’t exactly ground breaking.  It was introduced several years ago and is now at the center of the healthcare reform debate. First seen in New York City, now Oregon, California, Maine and Massachusetts require chain restaurants to put nutrition information on their menus.  Most labels provide calorie information for the consumer.

Image from latimes.com

Our government is starting to intervene in the food world.  We’ve seen certain states and cities take more proactive steps in protecting their citizens’ health.  While many are in support of this kind of political action, some are up in arms over it, stating the government doesn’t have a right to control what we eat.

Let the insanity commence! Click the picture to go to the video. If you are not a fan of Fox News, it’s okay. This is literally a 4-minute video and I promise it will not indoctrinate you. Okay – maybe a little bit. Cue evil laugh.

First of all, let me say it’s absolutely hilarious to me that the dude opposing menu labeling is clearly in shape. Moving on.  I think this video holds some good points for both sides of the argument. Yes, people know the difference between a banana and a bear claw. Thank you Einstein. However, the difference between a Caesar salad and a chicken club sandwich isn’t always so apparent. This issue was debated in one of my classes recently. Part of the discussion involved the class (all graduate nutrition students) taking an online test of which foods were healthiest from various chain restaurants.  As a whole, the class got a 50%. These are people who STUDY nutrition and are asked to shell out big bucks to learn/know this information, so don’t tell me it’s always so obvious.

Honestly, I don’t care if you like the labels or hate them.  My question is, are they effective for the general population? Personally, I think something is better than nothing. If I had a nickel for every time the word “obesity” was uttered in one of my classrooms, the interests on my student loans would probably be paid off by now. True story. Do I think this menu makeover is going to solve the obesity epidemic? No, but every little bit helps. As the guy with the glasses says above, some restaurants revamped some of their menu items to create healthier options for their customers because of this labeling demand. Is this really such a bad thing?

image from latimes.com

What I love most about this debate is when people argue that the government doesn’t have a right to intervene in what people eat. Are they? I hadn’t noticed.  If you call the government mandating restaurants put nutrition information on their menus as intervening, then yeah sure. I would classify intervening as some dude from the FDA standing at every McDonalds counter in America informing you what you’re allowed to order based on your BMI. Last time I checked, this wasn’t the case.

It’s kind of the government’s jam to protect the public’s health.  It’s been this way for years.  While they have been known to drop the ball on an occasion or two, this is just part of their responsibility. I am sorry Wendy’s created the Baconater (which has 1330 calories and 38 grams of saturated fat) and will probably modify the burger because that kind of information on a menu board just makes them look like murders. I understand you have the right to choose what you put into your body and I agree whole-heartedly with you. What I don’t agree with is consumerism that kills. Ignorance is bliss, but you know what isn’t bliss? Heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and cancer. Major Buzzkill here, reporting for duty!

When I tell people I am studying nutrition a common response I hear over and over again is, “I just don’t have time to eat healthy.”  Externally I say to you, “Yeah, it can be challenging in the beginning to turn over a new leaf” – or something to that effect. Internally I think, okay, but will you have time for disease later?  Excuse me while I get down from this soap box.  Ever since Mitt Romney took this thing to Iowa, it’s been very unstable. “People are corporations too, my friend.”  If Mitt Romney ever calls me his friend again, so help me God I will demand he call Oprah and Gail for a proper definition of the word friendship.  Have he and I ever taken a cross-country road trip together? No. Weeeeeeelllll, we did go maple syrup tasting in Vermont but that was just a PR stunt.  He had fake cheesiness written all over him during our tour through that miniature dollhouse museum.

If you don’t want to see nutrition information on a restaurant menu or you don’t think it’s necessary, I have good news for you.  Don’t read it. If you do not care about the calories in your food, then feel free to ignore the signs. It’s just that simple.  Other than putting a burden on restaurants, what harm is this movement going to impose on the consumer? I suppose if you’re a true pessimist, you’re response to that hypothetical would be a guilty conscience. Fair enough. In the video clip above J. Justin Wilson says, “You know sometimes a burger should just be a burger.” JJW – I agree! I really do.  Unfortunately, as of 2010 one in three adults in the United States is obese according to the CDC. The time has come for informed decision making as a whole when it comes to eating food outside the home. It’s no secret that behavior change is hard. I think the public not only needs this information, I also think it’s ready for it.  And that’s coming from a girl who drank four beers and split an order of nachos with a fellow nutrition student last Tuesday night. I’m no saint.

January’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Almonds & Your Cholesterol

I think Satan himself invented Mondays.

After careful consideration, a Black Keys listening session and two bags of Twizzlers I have finally mustered the courage to write a hot topic post. It doesn’t actually take bravery, it merely requires endurance. Along with my brain, my finger muscles have been on vacation for the last three weeks. No note taking, paper writing or online researching has been done and the cells in my body are confused. While my sacred ‘me time’ is in short supply these days, I decided to devote some serious time to you all. Surely by now you all must be thinking: How am I supposed to start off the New Year without Kimberly discussing some bangin’ nutrition hot topic? Ah my little grasshopper, you are learning! I haven’t done one of these since July, but I can tell by all the non-existent comments you people leave me that you’re yearning for knowledge. So let’s get going.

I love weird stuff. I also take pleasure is learning. When the two collide absolute madness ensues. Add to that tickling duo, I also enjoy absurd health claims like drinking clam juice to improve skin elasticity, eating moldy cheese as a means for improving GI health or taking laxatives to stimulate immune cells. Those were all made up so please scratch clam juice off your food list right now.

Last semester a professor of mine assigned a media critique where in we had to find a health claim published in relation to food and disease. You know, one of those articles where the author claims blueberries can help cure herpes. The second part of the assignment involved sifting through medical journals for evidential support to said claim. Ultimately, we were doing the due diligence the author failed to do. It was enlightening and also a little bit boring. Little known fact: don’t ever base your medical decisions on one research study or a trendy article run in Bowel Movements Monthly. Loads of evidential support needs to be in place for any type of public health initiative to be put into action. So when you see an article run in People Magazine about rubbing grated carrots on your skin each night to ward off restless leg syndrome, please do your homework.

English: Shelled almonds (Prunus dulcis) Itali...

My claim came from Female First Magazine. Don’t let the title fool you, this publication runs on estrogen and those weird female protein bars you see in the drug store. I got my period shortly after leaving the webpage, ergo, user be warned. Moving on, the lifestyle section highlighted almonds as a ‘super food’ during the month of November. Among the numerous health benefits cited in the article, the ability to reduce cholesterol was one proclamation the author made about almonds. For years now, serum cholesterol has been a target for treating and preventing heart disease. Today, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. Now researchers and the medical community are interested in exploring intervention approaches outside of pharmaceuticals for reducing blood cholesterol levels. Kimberly, tell me something I don’t already know. Please!

Nuts are plant-based foods rich in unsaturated fatty acids (good fat), soluble fiber, vitamins and minerals. Almonds are a tree nut and contain all the aforementioned nut components. Many researchers have dedicated studies to exploring almonds’ cholesterol lowering effects due to their nutrient dense nature and potential for clinical benefits. Blah, blah, blah. But is it true?! Can almonds actually lower my cholesterol?

Let’s brush up on cholesterol real quick. LDL is the bad stuff, HDL is the good stuff. If you’re a goody two shoes patient and know you cholesterol levels, below is a classification chart provided by the National Cholesterol Education Program. Yeah, this is happening.

Allow me to prepare you – we are going to talk about three research studies. I have condensed them each to a paragraph. I will not bore you with study design details nor will I discuss statistical analyses. I am giving you the SparkNotes of the SparkNotes. You will just have to trust me and if you don’t, I have my references listed at the bottom of the post. Fact check away, you little devil you.

The springboard for the Female First article claim was based on a study performed by the University of Toronto.  The study had 27 participants and they cycled through three, 1-month diet phases: a whole-wheat, low saturated fat muffin phase, a full dose almond phase and a half dose almond plus half dose muffin phase.  During the full dose almond phase, participants consumed about a half cup of almonds daily. During the half dose almonds phase they consumed, you guessed it, about a quarter cup. Participants were cycled through each diet phase.

So what did they find? Perfectly boring, modest results. There was a significant reduction in LDL cholesterol among participants during the whole almond dose phase. We’re talking 2% reductions here people. To say a 2% reduction in LDL cholesterol is modest is like saying Al Gore is kind of into global warming. Side bar: I blame him for this whole polar icecap melting issue. What did the pilgrims do when climate issues arose over 3,000 miles away? Oh yeah, nothing. Ignorance is bliss and technology is a curse, says the girl operating a computer powered by hazelnuts. Back to the topic at hand, there were not other improvements in any of the other cholesterol parameters and a 2% reductions is nothing to alert the press about. At least I don’t think so. Let’s look at some other studies, shall we?

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, another study found that a high-almond diet significantly reduced total cholesterol by 4.4% and LDL cholesterol by 7.0%, as compared to a low almond diet. A ‘high almond diet’ would involve you replacing 20% of your caloric intake with almonds. These people also followed the National Cholesterol Education Program Step I diet and all meals were prepared for them in a metabolic kitchen. Essentially, we’re talking STRICT dietary control. So if you ate a 2,000 calorie diet, you’d have to get 400 of your calories from almonds. That’s around a half cup of almonds each day.

In a different study published in 2002, researchers from the University of California Davis supplemented 22 individuals with normal cholesterol levels with roughly 65 grams of whole almonds daily. They found that after six weeks, participants saw declines in total cholesterol by 4% and LDL cholesterol by 6%. I could dive into the three additional studies I pulled for the assignment, but I will spare you. They all yielded similar results and it would only continue this yawn fest. You’re welcome.

Bottom Line: Ooh la la. So we’re talking a 4-7% decrease in either total or LDL cholesterol with the supplementation of a half cup of almonds each day. Look, a reduction is a reduction, but come on! As a future RD I will always tout food over medications.  However, we now have these little pills on the market called Statins which are specifically designed to lower elevated LDL cholesterol. Depending on the brand and dose, Statins can lower LDL cholesterol anywhere from 18 to 46%; convincing your doctor to let you lower your cholesterol through this tree nut may not be a feasible option. I love almonds just as much as the next nutrition geek, but a half a cup each day just sounds…gross. What’s more is this author used the word ‘powerful’ to describe almonds’ ability to reduce cholesterol. Powerful, eh?  To say a 4-7% reduction in LDL or total cholesterol is powerful is the equivalent of saying you need an iPhone to help you poop.

Almonds are a wonderful, nutrient dense food, but eating them by the palmful to lower your cholesterol levels may not be the best approach.

References:

“Super food feature: Almond – Female First”, n.d., http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/health/Super+food+feature-2233.html.

David J A Jenkins et al., “Dose response of almonds on coronary heart disease risk factors: blood lipids, oxidized low-density lipoproteins, lipoprotein(a), homocysteine, and pulmonary nitric oxide: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial,” Circulation 106, no. 11 (September 10, 2002): 1327-1332.

Joan Sabaté et al., “Serum lipid response to the graduated enrichment of a Step I diet with almonds: a randomized feeding trial,” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 77, no. 6 (June 2003): 1379-1384.

Dianne A Hyson, Barbara O Schneeman, and Paul A Davis, “Almonds and almond oil have similar effects on plasma lipids and LDL oxidation in healthy men and women,” The Journal of Nutrition 132, no. 4 (April 2002): 703-707.

Sage Advice For Holiday Eating From Someone Who Knows Nothing

It’s that time of year again. When we head over to Aunt Sheryl’s, load up those red plastic plates with horse ovaries (more commonly known as hors d’oeuvres), hunker down on a fireplace hearth and wait for the self-loathing and regret to kick in. Trust me. We’ve all been there. Why did I eat that ninth macaroon?  Who poured me this fourth glass of eggnog?  How did I get pieces of gingerbread down my bra?  Sooner or later though, the holiday feasts reap what they sow and sweatpants suddenly seem like appropriate work options. Enter in New Year’s resolutions.

Well this year, that will not happen. This year will be different. This year I will control myself – I will eat only half the ham, seven turtle cookies and limit myself to three hot toddies. Take that Saint Nick! I am not perfect, nor do I pretend to be. I believe the holidays are a time to enjoy the wonderful foods we, and the people we love, churn out. However, enjoyment doesn’t have to equate to perpetual gluttony. And so, to save you from yourself, I present to you…
Kimberly’s Strategies for Surviving the Smörgåsbords
1. Don’t Go To The Party Hungry
This is the kiss of death.  You’ve been running around all day trying to find that Pokémon bean bag chair your eight-year old god son wants, you perform your Mariah-Carey-5-minute-costume-change at the house, grabbed your keys, your significant other and are out the door. Sure enough, as the car pulls out of your driveway you realize that snack bag of Bugles you ate for breakfast and lunch may not have been enough to power you through the day. Suddenly your stomach starts talking like Kimmy Gibler from Full House, you’re light-headed and in need sustenance…fast. Cut to you licking the crumbs off your fourth (stupidly small) appetizer plate as you walk it to the trash can.  The presence of others is all that stops you from reaching into the garbage and polishing off that half-eaten piece of fruitcake sitting right there on the top.
I’ve been there. I am a firm believer of never getting overly hungry.  Whenever I hit that point of blinding hunger, I end up reaching for foods I will a) regret and b) over-eat.  It’s for those reasons I never leave home without snacks.  At any given time, my purse/book bag/satchel looks like a go-go-gadget of munchies.
Holiday parties are wonderful.  You get to see half-drunk people you sort of like in dim lighting while you all stuff your faces with the hostess’ provisions. This suggested ‘rule’ hardly implies showing up to a party puffer fish full.  Just don’t arrive to the front door seeing spots and drooling unconsciously. I find I make wiser food choices when I arrive any place where free food is in abundance free of that malnourished feeling. I will actually select the foods I really want to try and not simply reach for anything containing cheese whiz. Not only that, I won’t suffer the all-too-common conundrum of overzealous food selection. This doesn’t mean you can’t go up for seconds, but arriving semi-full will allow you to be selective and therefore, more aware of how much you’re eating.
2. Be The Change You Wish To See In The World 
By this I mean, bring a more healthful dish.  If I had a dime for every time I went to a party where the only vegetable served qualified as great Aunt Rebecca’s bloomin’ onion or the olive in my martini, I’d be a less poor woman.  This does not mean you have to bring a vegetable tray.  I curse those things. I am a dietitian and even I hate eating raw broccoli flowerets. Surely there must be some middle ground. Off the top my head – tomato bruschetta, edamame humus, roasted potato wedges with sun-dried tomato pesto, Caprese on a stick (tomato, basil, mozzarella), kale chips, maple glazed Brussels sprouts. BAM! Vegetables don’t have to be gross. And don’t worry, just because you’re bringing a ‘healthy’ dish doesn’t mean everyone else is going to do the same.  You will still get your true holiday fix in at the party, mark my words. You’re dish will just lighten up the spread.
3. Mind What You’re Swilling

God, to talk about calories here is just too boring. It’s also been done a million times. What I can’t stand is when some health nut writer tells me to avoid booze at holiday parties. Has he/she never been to one before? Sometimes a social lubricant is required for survival at these kinds of functions.  Your ex-boyfriend is avoiding you like the bubonic plague, your girl friend is crying the bathroom because ‘if one more person asks her when she plans to start having babies, she’s going to adopt a Himalayan whistle kid by March’, and your mom commented that your eye makeup made you look like an extra in an off-Broadway production of the Grinch as you walked out the door.

All I will say is this: booze has calories; it’s not a ‘free food’.  As we all learned in D.A.R.E., alcohol also impairs our judgment. Those repulsive deep-fried Oreos you first saw when you walked into the party might suddenly look downright appetizing after four glasses of mulled wine. So easy does it.  Plus, the person who has raced to the end of the night by 8pm never goes home or wakes up a winner.  I can sadly say this from experience.  Lastly, if you plan to drive home, do not drink. It’s a no brainer, but it would feel irresponsible to endorse moderate drinking at holiday parties to those who may go on to be designated drivers.  But Kimberly, you told me it was okay! I have only you to blame for my poor decision-making. No! Not on my watch.
4. Back Away From The Food Table
Okay, I’ll admit this one is easier said than done.  The act of walking away from mountains of appetizers can at times, require the Jaws of Life. Unless you have the will power of a much stronger man, standing near plates of copious amounts of food is like going to Mexico and never wearing sunscreen. You will burn yourself time and time again. After you’ve had your fill, thrown away your plate and utensils, comes Act II of the night. It opens with the scene titled “Grazing” and concludes with you unbuttoning your pants on the car ride home. Don’t act like you’re better than it because you’re not.
From personal experience, I’ve found that removing myself from the vicinity of all the foods that taunt me to have the greatest effect. After I’ve eaten and I am feeling full, I try to migrate to a different room.  However, I do realize the kitchen is often a congregation location. So instead of wandering into the host’s personal office or sitting alone with the cat watching reruns of the Match Game, put those Crescent dogs out of arms reach. At the heart of it, we’re all lazy.  Maybe all it takes is the required extra four steps to snatch the last smoked salmon quesadilla to deter you from overindulging.
5. Return to Normalcy 
 
Hypothetically, let’s say you decided to ignore strategies one through four and ate until it hurt. The next day you arise thinking, “Today I will eat less to make up for last night.”  Please, please, please don’t do this.  Food isn’t about atonement and the holidays shouldn’t be filled with self-induced regret. So what? Last night didn’t go so well. You came home, popped the Pepto and woke up every two hours mumbling “never again”…that’s probably a little dramatic, but you get the idea. Nobody is perfect. So instead of skimping on calories following an epic holiday bender, just get back to normal. Wake up, eat some breakfast and go about your day as normal – eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full.  Besides, if you decide you’re going to start a ‘diet’ on December 17th you, my friend, may just be more dumb than a first grader. Don’t even get me started on diets.  That’s for another day.  There’s nothing quite like intentional self-denial while all those around you indulge in the very thing you’ve sworn off.  Say hello to crying in the shower and aggressive journal entries.
Bottom line here: when we decide we’re going to enter into Calorie Deficit Land in an effort to amend for last night’s destruction, nine times our of ten we wind up hitting 3pm in a ravenous state…and the cycle repeats.  The biggest favor you can do yourself is to wake up and kick your metabolism in the pants with some breakfast.