Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dairy... It Does the Body Good!

Milk and Yogurt

Over the past few years dairy has gotten an extremely bad reputation. I have people coming in my office almost on a daily basis who say they want to avoid dairy, and I often question their motive. Many fad diets attack dairy and say it is the cause of obesity, cancer, early puberty, among a million other things. However, the research backing these claims is lacking. Many populations have been eating dairy for centuries and are very healthy with low rates of chronic disease (the Mediterranean diet is touted for its health benefits, and that includes yogurt, milk, and even cheese). Furthermore, some studies show great benefit for individuals who consume three servings of real dairy per day in terms of weight loss, muscle growth, blood pressure, and bone health.

I agree that there are many dairy products that are not healthful and can definitely contribute to obesity and diseases, such as ice cream, lots of cheese, heavy cream, and other fatty and sugary types of dairy products- which is the form the majority of Americans are consuming. I am known to tell people to try to really limit their cheese intake. My rationale for limiting your cheese is that it is an easy way to tack on hundreds of calories, sodium, and saturated fat to any meal or snack (1 slice of cheese, on average, is about 100 calories). However, more healthful varieties of dairy, such as yogurt, kefir, and organic milk are definitely an important way to get in many important vitamins, minerals, and healthful probiotics.

I oftentimes do recommend people consume dairy alternatives such as soymilk or almond milks, but these are to get in different nutrients and flavors than regular dairy milk can provide. I recommend soymilk due to the soy isoflavones which have shown to be beneficial for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, and for reducing the risk of certain cancers. I recommend almond milk due to the fact that it can be very low in calories (if unsweetened) and it most varieties are an excellent source of Vitamin E. However, the reason almond milk is low in calories is because it’s lacking protein (each gram of protein contributes 4 calories- 1 cup almond milk= 1 g protein, skim milk= 8 g (=36 more calories)). Milk alternatives do tend to be much more processed than dairy milk, which is definitely one of the drawbacks. While they may be fortified with calcium and vitamin D, they are not natural sources, and are also lacking other important nutrients that regular dairy milk provides such as thiamin, riboflavin, phosphorus, folate, niacin, Vitamin C, magnesium, Vitamin B12 and potassium. Additionally, I rarely ever recommend dairy-free alternatives for cheeses or yogurts unless someone has a dairy allergy. This is because these products are highly processed and have a ton of junk added to them to give them the right texture and flavor (even though the flavor is usually lacking too…). They also typically do not have as much (or any) calcium and protein as real dairy, especially if they are made with rice.

I can almost guarantee the health problems of our society are not due to individuals consuming too much skim milk, kefir, or low fat plain yogurt. I always encourage people who have no trouble consuming real yogurt to do so instead of finding almond milk or soymilk alternatives.  Do not be afraid of dairy. For most people, there are many more aspects of their diet that are contributing to their inability to lose weight or for their health problems.

If you do want to test whether going dairy-free will make you feel better, you should first make sure your diet is full of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, beans and legumes, fish, and other lean proteins before you begin. Likewise, before participating in any fad diet that eliminates food types/groups (e.g. Paleo), you should make sure you are eating the healthier foods within each food group. Chances are, once you start eating a more well-balanced diet overall you will see the benefits. You will most likely also find that incorporating a glass of skim milk in the morning, a yogurt as a snack, and cottage cheese with fruit for dessert will help you in whatever your goals are- losing weight, building lean muscle, preventing osteoporosis, etc. I always encourage people to buy organic milk because eating purer foods is always better… and I personally think organic milk does taste better.

People and companies like to place blame on one food or food category, when really, it is a multitude of factors that are contributing to chronic disease. Dairy has been blamed for many health problems, just like grains (or gluten) have. However, most people are not eating only eating healthy whole grains like oats, quinoa, and barley nor are they eating the healthy sources of dairy like low-fat yogurt and kefir. Of course you will feel better by cutting out pizza, pretzels, heavy cream, and ice cream- they are not good for you; plain and simple. It’s not the name of the food group that is to blame; the unhealthy food choices within those groups are the bane of modern society. Make healthy food choices and you will feel better, guaranteed; you do not need to eliminate an entire food group.


Louie JC, Flood VM, Hector DJ, Rangan AM, Gill TP. Dairy consumption and overweight and obesity: a systematic review of prospective cohort studies. Obes Rev. 2011;12:e582–e592

Jones KW, Eller LK, Parnell JA, Doyle-Baker PK, Edwards AL, Reimer RA. Effect of a dairy- and calcium-rich diet on weight loss and appetite during energy restriction in overweight and obese adults: a randomized trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67:371–376

Rideout TC, Marinangeli CP, Martin H, Browne RW, Rempel CB. Consumption of low-fat dairy foods for 6 months improves insulin resistance without adversely affecting lipids or bodyweight in healthy adults: a randomized free-living cross-over study. Nutr J. 2013;12:56

Ralston RA, Lee JH, Truby H, Palermo CE, Walker KZ. A systematic review and meta-analysis of elevated blood pressure and consumption of dairy foods. J Hum Hypertens. [Epub ahead of print]. 2011 Feb 10.

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Friday, February 14, 2014

If You Love Them, Be Supportive of Their Goals

Today is Valentine's Day, marked by red, pink, chocolates and roses. Most people in the nutrition field choose to write about the health benefits of dark chocolate or heart health on this day. I am choosing to write about the importance of supporting your spouse/significant other/partner/what have you because I find this person is one of the most influential people with regards to your health.

They say when you fall in love you gain weight. This tends to be the case because the early stages of dating revolve around going out to dinner, drinking, boxes of chocolates, etc. I know some of my clients have also mentioned they give up their normal workout routine at the chance to hang out with their guy. If you move in together, that can definitely mix things up in terms of your normal eating routine, the foods you buy, and your exercise regime. However, some people fall in love and get in great shape. Perhaps your new interest runs marathons and eats really healthy. Most people don't want to feel like lazy unhealthy blob compared to their partner, so you decide to pick up going to the gym with them or eating their homemade quinoa salad. It works both ways- you can gain weight or lose, or maintain. But it is up to you to be your own person!

Upon a first counseling session with me, I ask who you live with or if there are any people you spend a large period of time eating with or sharing food. This is because the people you surround yourself with are so influential on your eating habits. If you grow up and your family drinks whole chocolate milk, eats white bread, and the vegetable is corn every night, chances are your diet will be pretty poor too. On the contrary, if you grew up with a vegetarian mother who cooked a ton of fresh vegetables and made farro with salmon, you most likely have retained many of those positive food preferences.

Friends, are often a huge influence on each other's diets. Men often get together to watch sports and eat pizza, wings and beer (yes, I am generalizing, and for the purposes of this article I am okay with that). Women oftentimes will choose sugary "fun" cocktails, order appetizers, a meal, and dessert when they go out to dinner. If someone orders a salad there might be one or two people in the group who are the "sabotagers." They will cause a big scene and try to force you to order something more decadent. A sabotager is a person who doesn't want you to eat healthy, mainly because they don't want to feel bad about their own food choices, or maybe because they don't want you to be successful in your goal of losing weight (jealousy?). Be aware that these people exist. They can be your best friend or your favorite aunt. They may say things like "oh come on, live a little!", "you need some more meat on your bones", or "it's my birthday, indulge!", among others. This is where your willpower comes in.

My biggest tip of advice is that only you control your decisions and your health. Yes, other people can influence your decisions, but it is ultimately left up to you. For people who have a boy/girl friend or spouse that eats like crap, or a friend that is a "sabotager", you need to be up front and honest with them. Tell them you need to eat healthy and exercise for your HEALTH and you want them to be supportive. After all, it would be pretty selfish of them to want to sabotage your health and leave you with diabetes and obesity later on....

Most of the time, people respond positively by you explaining just why you are trying to make healthy decisions. When it comes to health, most people understand that. If you are just trying to shed weight to look good for bikini season, they may not be as supportive (most women don't want you looking better in a bikini in them...). However, if you are choosing to eat salads at a restaurant because you have a family history of heart disease or your blood sugar is high, or you just want to be there for your kids in 30 years, they should be more willing to let you make your healthy decisions. Also, if you are a newly engaged couple, you can always use the point that people who eat healthier,exercise, and maintain healthy body weights have a much easier time reproducing (if you're looking to have some babies in the future ;-) Obesity (for men & women!) definitely decreases the chance of a successful pregnancy.

The best combination is when a couple decides to become healthy together. You are both on board, and you keep each other accountable. When I counsel both parts of a couple, they are usually VERY successful in whatever their goals are. So try to encourage your friend/boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse/parner/whatever to join you in your journey towards optimal health.


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