Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Goji Berry

Eat it raw, dried, cooked, or as juice; this bright reddish-orange berry has a mild sweet, sour, and tangy taste when dried, and has a chewy texture similar to a very dry raisin. Ancient Chinese medicine used goji berries for longevity and immunity. Today the goji berry has earned the reputation of being a super fruit thanks to its nutrient value. The berry contains various phytochemicals, phenolic pigments, calcium, vitamin C, selenium, riboflavin, beta-carotene, and zeaxanthin. These vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant compounds have led the way for preliminary medical research to identify possible healing powers within the goji berry. It is important to note at this time due to limited clinical trials no health claims have been substantiated and consumers should be aware of this when reading advertisements. 

Published studies have speculated from animal models and human pilot studies that goji berries may inhibit some forms of cancer, prevent oxidative stress, protect against retinal damage secondary to ischemia, and prevent against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases. From my research it appears only two published studies have tested goji on humans, one published in 1994 found people with cancer did respond better to treatment when goji was added into their diet.
When it comes to eyesight the antioxidant zeaxanthin found in goji berries absorbs blue light and protects the retina of the eye. Several studies show consuming foods rich in zeaxanthin may reduce the risk of macular degeneration. This compound is also found in paprika, corn, and saffron.
For most people eating goji berries along with other fruits and vegetables is an excellent was to add nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals into their diet. Since research is ongoing and nothing is conclusive just yet I would recommend not “overdoing it” with the goji crazy, but certainly adding some goji into your diet can be part of a healthy lifestyle.

Goji berries can interact with some medications, particularly with the way they are metabolized in the liver. Taking goji with anticoagulants (especially warfarin) by increasing bleeding risk, drugs for diabetes by causing drops in blood suagr, and drugs for hypertension by causing your blood pressure to go too low. Goji can also stimulate the uterus and should not be used when pregnant or breastfeeding. Most interactions were seen in people consuming 3-4 cups of juice daily or 6-18g berries daily.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Coo-coo for Coconuts

Coconut oil is the latest “super-good-for-you” food claiming to improve cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, increase metabolism aiding in weight loss, and fight off  infection.

For years every major health organization advised consumers to avoid high consumption of coconut oil due to it being high in saturated fat. Today we are hearing the type of saturated fat in coconut may not be harmful to our health.
There are two types of coconut oils, hydrogenated coconut oil and virgin coconut oil. Hydrogenated coconut oil is manufactured and contains trans fats which turn good cholesterol into bad cholesterol in your body. Many major health organizations are lobbying to have trans fats removed from all foods. It is important to read food labels on packaged goods to ensure it does not contain trans fats, hydrogenated, or partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated coconut oil is no exception and should not be consumed.

Virgin coconut oil, or regular coconut oil that is not hydrogenated typically means the oil has been unprocessed. Unlike olive oil, there is not an industry standard for the meaning of “virgin”. It is assumed the coconut oil has not been refined or bleached. 1 tablespoon of coconut oil has 120 calories and meets 60% of the maximum amount of saturated fat allowed in a 2000 calorie diet. If you have that with 4 ounces of beef you have exceeded your daily limit. Here is a side by side comparison with 1 tablespoon of olive oil:

 Historically polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids are considered the “good fats” that prevent heart disease and improve cholesterol levels in the body. Trans fats and saturated fats have been considered the “bad fats” that cause plaque buildup in the arteries and lead to heart disease. The unique feature of coconut oil is that it contains mostly medium-chain triglycerides that may not have a significant effect on cholesterol.
Medium-chain triglycerides are digested rapidly and are broken down immediately. Once in the blood stream they are sent directly to the liver which uses them for energy or stores them as fat. It is thought the rapid speed of digestion leads to increased energy and increases in metabolism helping to promote weight loss.

For all the positive effects we hear about coconut oil we rarely hear the negative or harmful effects. Because medium-chain triglycerides are rapidly delivered to the liver, overconsumption can lead to added stress on your liver and some studies show it may contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Ketones are also produced as a byproduct of metabolism and can be a large concern for people with diabetes. Diabetics and people with liver disease are encouraged not to consume medium-chain triglycerides. Other side effects of consumption include nausea, gastric distress, and diarrhea. Coconut oil also contains omega-6 fatty acids that produce a more inflammatory effect on the body while oils containing omega-3 fatty acids produce an anti-inflammatory effect on the body.
Eating too much of anything is unhealthy and something as concentrated in calories as fat can quickly lead to weight gain, increasing risk of cardiovascular disease. When we hear recommendations to “eat more healthy fats” I often see clients take this as an invitation to use copious amounts of oil on everything they eat. A well balanced 2000 calorie diet should include 6 teaspoons of healthy fat daily. 1 teaspoon of oil is equivalent to:

·         1 ½ tsp nut butter

·         2 Tbs avocado

·         6 almonds

·         8 black olives

·         1 Tbs regular salad dressing

·         2 Tbs reduced-fat salad dressing

·         1 Tbs flaxseed

·         1 slice bacon

·         2 Tbs sour cream

As you can see an ounce of almonds and dressing on your salad meets your recommended 6 tsp daily. Remember you will be consuming additional fat in the protein you consume, as well as in other processed foods. When all of this is taken into account you want to end up with consuming about 50-75g of fat overall for the day on a 2000 calorie diet. There is no need to go overboard with covering everything in oil.
The reality is we do not have enough information at this time to know for sure if coconut oil does harm or good for the body. There certainly are better options out there such as olive and canola oil which have been very beneficial in decreasing cholesterol and providing better ratios of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids promoting anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Instead of playing roulette with your health it is best not to switch over to the coconut oil trend. I always say everything in moderation…enjoying coconut oil from time to time is not dangerous but making it a steady part of your diet may not be so positive.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Eat to Boost Energy

Food gives us much-needed energy. Just like a car, our body needs fuel to run. It is important to maintain normal blood sugar levels, and the best way to accomplish this is by eating every few hours any never let our “tank” get empty.

Studies show people who Eat Breakfast have a better mood, have more energy throughout the day, overeat less at night, and are less likely to be overweight. After an overnight fast eating breakfast supplies your body with fuel and signals your metabolism to start burning energy efficiently. Eating a 300-400 calorie nutrient rich breakfast balanced with fiber and protein will help provide a steady stream of energy. This will keep you satisfied longer than a sugary breakfast filled with empty calories. Try:

·         Whole wheat English muffin with 1 tbs peanut butter topped with sliced banana

·         Nonfat Greek yogurt topped with 1/3 cup low-fat granola and ¾ cup blueberries

·         1 egg and 2 egg whites mixed with spinach and tomato with 2 slices whole wheat toast

·         1 cup whole grain cereal with 1 cup nonfat milk, 2 tbs walnuts, and 1 cup sliced melon

·         2 frozen whole grain waffles topped with ½ cup nonfat yogurt, 1 tbs slivered almonds, and 1 cup fresh raspberries

Enjoy a Power Snack by eating between each meal. Studies show eating large quantities of food stimulates increased insulin production and deposition of fat. Eating less more often, through smaller meals and snacks every 3-4 hours encourages your metabolism to consistently burn calories, your blood sugar levels to remain stable, and you to stay well energized. Just like breakfast, combine fiber with protein to provide a nutrient dense power snack. Try:

·         1 oz low fat cheese and 1 medium apple

·         1 cup baby carrots and 2 tbs hummus

·         23 almonds

·         Single serve low fat yogurt with ¾ cup berries

·         2 rice cakes with 1 tbs peanut butter and ½ banana

Maintaining consistent energy is established through keeping blood sugar balanced. Eating more whole grains and less sugar helps allow a slow and steady release of carbohydrates into the bloodstream. When we eat sweet foods or refined carbs, such as cookies, candy, or white rice, we get a spike in blood sugar and an initial burst of energy which is followed by a rapid drop in blood sugar. We then have feelings of fatigue and may start eating more to compensate for our drop in energy. If we do this enough times in a day, we feel exhausted by the evening. Studies also show people who eat whole grains can lower their cholesterol levels, manage their diabetes better, and are less likely to be overweight. Try:

·         Brown rice

·         Popcorn

·         Oatmeal

·         Any grain that starts with “whole”

·         Quinoa

Dehydration can deplete our energy levels and lower our metabolism. Drink water throughout the day to stay well hydrated, remembering thirst is not a good indicator of hydration status. Most people need about 8-10 cups of fluid daily. Water is the best but other fluids count towards that total too. Keep in mind caffeine may be a quick pick-me-up but once the caffeine wears off, where will your energy levels be? Drinking caffeine and alcohol later in the day can also affect your quality of sleep. Get enough sleep to restore your energy levels and promote greater health. Studies show lack of sleep contributes to weight gain, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased rates of depression, aging, accidents, and forgetfulness.

Magnesium supports over 300 enzymatic reactions within the body and plays a significant role in how our body produces energy. Magnesium is the most common nutrient deficiencies in the United States…along with calcium and vitamins A, C, D, and E. Food high in fiber are generally high in magnesium as well. Men need about 420mg daily; women need about 320mg daily. Try:

·         Dark Leafy Greens: Spinach, Swiss chard, Kale

·         Nuts and Seeds: Pumpkin, Sesame, Brazil Nuts, Almonds, Cashews, Pine Nuts

·         Fish: Mackerel, Pollock, Tuna

·         Beans and Lentils: Soybeans, White beans, French beans, Black-eyed peas

·         Whole Grains: Brown Rice, Quinoa, Millet, Bulgur, Buckwheat, Wild Rice

Treat yourself to a piece of Dark Chocolate to fight off fatigue. Dark chocolate comprised of at least 70% cocoa contains a significant amount of flavanols which have been linked to lowering blood pressure, decreasing LDL cholesterol oxidation, increasing insulin sensitivity, decreasing inflammation, and reducing fatigue. Researchers believe chocolate may increase serotonin levels in the brain helping to regulate mood and sleep which helps alleviate chronic fatigue. One study also showed increased blood flow to the brain for 2-3 hours after consumption which may increase alertness and cognitive skills.

Food is fuel and picking the right nutrients at the right time gives you optimal energy throughout the day.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Food Intolerance, What is Real and What is Not

It seems like everyone is gluten free these days. Is gluten bad for us? What about wheat and other grains? I’ve heard of food sensitivity blood tests…should I get tested? Every day I have 1 or 2 patients ask me these same questions. It is time to set the record straight…

Food intolerance is real. Foods that irritate your body and cannot be properly digested are a food intolerance. They range from person to person, with symptoms mild to severe. Nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, vomiting, gas, bloating, cramps, heartburn, headache, irritability, and nervousness are the most common signs someone has a food insensitivity/intolerance.

Food allergies are not as common but symptoms can be similar. The largest difference is that food allergies involve the immune system and are life threatening. The body produces immunoglobulin E (IgE) which circulates throughout the blood and releases histamines once exposed to an allergen. People with allergies may begin to feel itchy, experience gi distress, or even have difficulty breathing. If you have a true food allergy, having a blood test will reveal IgE antibodies. It is very important for people with food allergies to avoid foods that they are allergic to.

Food intolerance does not involve the immune system and are not life threatening. People with food intolerance may need to avoid trigger food to prevent the unwanted symptoms they experience. There are many different food substances that cause intolerance; the most common are lactose, preservatives and additives, tyramine, and gluten. In recent years food sensitivity blood tests have surfaced claiming to identify food intolerance and help you avoid your trigger foods. 

Are food sensitivity blood tests valid?

Food sensitivity/intolerance tests seek out the presence of IgG and IgA antibodies to identify reactions to various foods. Some people who receive test results and eliminate identified foods do believe the test helped them. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology’s position is that the tests do not have clinical relevance, are not validated, lack sufficient quality control, and should not be performed. These blood tests produce an unacceptably high false positive rate and are not accurate enough to diagnose food intolerance. Also the presence of IgG antibodies to foods may not necessarily mean intolerance but could be related to foods you eat often or ate recently. Research also shows elevated IgG antibodies have been related to childhood allergies that were outgrown as a child becomes an adult (such as an egg allergy), indicating increased tolerance to the food not an increased intolerance.

At this time the best method of identifying food intolerance is through an elimination diet. This diet removes foods and slowly reintroduces them one at a time over several weeks while keeping close track of your symptoms. A dietitian can help assist you with an elimination diet to help ensure your success.

The bottom line is food sensitivity testing may have worked for some people, but the evidence-based research backing up the findings are not there. If you have received test results and have eliminated foods based solely on this recommendation, you may try slowly adding back in these foods and see if you experience any side effects. If you are currently suffering from food intolerance and you do not know which foods are causing you distress, working with an allergist and dietitian and trying an elimination diet may help bring you relief.

What about gluten?  

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley responsible for triggering an immune response in about 1% of the American population who suffers from a condition called Celiac Disease. Symptoms include diarrhea, anemia, pain, skin rash, and malabsorption. People with Celiac Disease must avoid gluten to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Some people may suffer from an intolerance to gluten, which does not trigger an immune response, and avoiding foods with gluten may help them feel better.

Gluten is deemed safe to consume and there is no reason to avoid it unless you experience symptoms and avoiding gluten resolves your discomfort. Currently gluten-free products are booming and many people perceive a gluten-free lifestyle to be healthier-this is not always the case. Many whole grains that contain gluten are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber that gluten free products may be lacking. Also gluten free products may be higher in fat, sugar, and salt to improve taste. The bottom line is avoiding gluten does not make you any healthier than eating gluten. The majority of people tolerate gluten and it is safe to eat. Some people may experience intolerance and avoiding gluten helps relieve their symptoms. 

What about wheat and other grains?

Wheat is one of the most common allergies among children. It involves an immune response and production of antibodies after exposure to several different proteins found in wheat. With Celiac Disease only one protein, gluten, causes an immune response. Avoiding wheat is essential for people with wheat allergies, particularly hidden sources of wheat such as in condiments and beer. Intolerance to wheat and other grains does exist, and just like other intolerance's it does not trigger an immune response. Starting an elimination diet to pinpoint what specifically is causing your symptoms is the most effective way to manage food intolerance.

Food allergies and food intolerance can be difficult to manage. Working with your registered dietitian to find a well balanced diet that works for you can help. Grains are an excellent source of nutrients and energy; they belong in every healthy diet in moderation.