Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quick and Easy Dinner Ideas

Below I list a "go-to" meal guide I made for quick and easy dinners
Choose 1 protein, 1 starch, and 1 or more vegetables from each row
(Size of fist)
(Bulk of meal)
(Size of fist)

Frozen Chicken Breast
Frozen Steamfresh Vegetables or Stir Fry veggies
Brown Rice (Steamfresh, Quick Cook, or regular)
Soy Sauce, Teriyaki, Hot Sauce, Vinaigrette
Frozen (Trader Joe’s) Fish Filets (Halibut, Salmon, Tuna)
Spinach salad w/ vinaigrette
Brown Rice, Sweet or baked potato
Olive oil, ketchup, Sriracha
Eggs (1 egg: 2 egg whites)
Frozen Spinach, onions, cauliflower, asparagus, etc.
Whole wheat bread, baked potato (or baked French fries)
Salsa, ketchup
Canned tuna
Fresh spinach, tomatoes
Whole Wheat Pita
Light Mayo or olive oil, Dijon Mustard
Cottage Cheese
Mixed vegetables, spinach
 Whole Wheat Pasta
Tomato or Marinara Sauce
Boca Burger
Steamfresh flavored mix (Brussels Sprouts), L,T,O
Whole Wheat Hamburger Roll
Light Mayo, mustard, ketchup, salsa
Chicken or low-fat ground chicken, cottage cheese
Shredded Lettuce, peppers, tomatoes
Whole wheat Tortilla
Salsa, light sour cream, guacamole, low-fat cheese
Pork Tenderloin
Asparagus, Broccoli
Sweet potato, baked potato, or wild rice
Beef broth or soy sauce
Beans (kidney, navy, black, etc)
Dark green lettuce salad
1 small whole grain dinner roll
Favorite vinaigrette
Beans and cottage cheese
Lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, onions
Brown rice
Salsa, hot sauce, light sour cream
Tofu and edamame
Stir Fry Mix
Brown Rice
Soy sauce, teriyaki, sesame oil

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Little Less Wine-ing Please!

Over the past few years red wine has become labeled as a “heart healthy” beverage and has been adopted by many who seek to improve their heart health. However, studies are still inconclusive as to if it is just red wine that provides benefit, or if the cardio-protective aspects can be found through other sources. No studies I am aware of have distinguished whether it is the wine itself, the lifestyles of wine drinkers, alcohol in general, or the grapes that are cardio-protective. For example, red wine drinkers may be more likely to exercise regularly and eat more fruits and vegetables (and less saturated fat) than non-wine drinkers, and for those reasons, wine-drinkers have a lower risk of developing heart problems. The polyphenols in wine (flavanoids and nonflavanoids like resveratrol) are thought to help protect the lining of the blood vessels in the heart, reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reduce the risk of blood clots, while alcohol alone is thought to provide some benefit. I describe the alleged benefits of each below:
·         Resveratrol- Derived from the skin of grapes, but also found in peanuts, blueberries, and cranberries (and obviously, resveratrol is high in grapes and grape juice) and may be anti-inflammatory; Many studies on resveratrol are conducted on mice, and use amounts equivalent to drinking 100-1,000 bottles of wine/day… which is impossible for humans to consume (I do not advise buying resveratrol supplements, as there is not enough research to support them. As with most levels of supplements, high quantities of an isolated substance is not natural, and probably not very good for you).
·         Alcohol- Alcohol is believed to increase HDL (good) cholesterol, reduce the formation of blood clots, and prevents artery damage from LDL (bad) cholesterol
As mentioned previously, the studies are inconclusive as to whether red wine itself is the best beverage for the heart, or if the same benefits can be obtained by drinking grape juice or forms of alcohol other than wine (e.g.: hard liquor or beer).
My Recommendations:   If you drink wine, do so in moderation. It appears red wine may be the best choice of all alcoholic beverages because of its high antioxidant content and apparent benefits of alcohol. The term “moderation” means that women can have up to 1 glass (4 oz) and men up to 2 glasses (8 oz) of wine per day, as recommended by the American Heart Association. Too much wine can lead to other problems such as alcoholism, elevated triglycerides and blood pressure, weight gain (which can lead to diabetes and heart disease), cardiomyopathy, cardiac arrhythmias, breast cancer, liver failure, and many other serious disorders. So, as with most dietary recommendations: moderation is key. If you drink more than the recommended amounts of red wine, you will probably be harming yourself more than any benefits you will be getting. Also, keep in mind that alcohol is calorie dense (7 calories/gram vs. 4 calories/gram for carbs and protein) and just 6 oz. of red wine has 150 calories… Coke or any other soda has about half the calories of that! The best bet is to exercise regularly, eat your fruits and veggies, and follow a mostly plant-based diet.

Interested in the Mediterranean Diet? Check out this great cookbook: The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: A Delicious Alternative for Lifelong Health

1.         Red Wine and Resveratrol: Good for Your Heart? Mayo Clinic Website.
2.         Alcohol, wine and cardiovascular disease. American Heart Association.
3.         Alcohol. Beaumont Hospitals Services & Programs Website.
4.         Szmitko PE, et al. Red Wine and Your Heart. Circulation. 2005;111:e10.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Coconut Oil and Milk: Is it worth the squeeze?

You may have noticed over the past few years that Coconut is being touted as a superfood. There is now Coconut Milk on supermarket shelves, Coconut Oil being marketed as the latest "EVOO" in terms of heart health, and other coconut extracts being used as weight loss aids. If you don't believe me, here are just some of the claims I found upon an internet search for coconut:

Coconut Oil: Lowers cholesterol, is anti-thyroid (enhances weight loss), anti-cancer, anti-microbial, regulates blood sugar, controls hunger and cravings, reduces viral effects of HIV/AIDS, improves hair, skin, aids with stress relief, increases immunity, improves digestion, dental health, and bone strength
Coconut Milk: Aids in immunity, the Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) aid in weight loss, and it is a "good source" of vitamins and minerals
Coconut Water: Replaces fluid and electrolytes in the body, kills intestinal worms, breaks up kidney stones, can be used as human plasma, is antibacterial, and reduces vomiting.

Coconut Oil is approximately 91% saturated fat (see below), which the majority of long-term and reputable studies show as being linked to an increased risk for heart disease. However, many of the health claims associated with coconut oil are related to the fact that most of the saturated fat in coconut oil is made of MCTs which are digested differently than the normal long-chain triglycerides. Most of the studies showing evidence for weight loss associated with MCT consumption are when half of a persons daily calories come from MCTs (which is highly unrealistic). 
Chart Source: Canola Council of Canada

Overall, the possible cholesterol-lowering benefits of coconut oil remain controversial. Many epidemiological studies follow Pacific Islander populations that consume higher quantities of coconut (compared to the average American) and have lower levels of cholesterol and a lower prevalence of heart disease. However, these populations that consume lots of coconut also tend to follow a mostly plant-based diet which is determined to be one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of heart disease. Walter Willet, the department chair of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health says that while coconut oil may not make cholesterol ratios worse, the oil does not compare to olive or canola oil in terms of improving cholesterol ratios and ultimately benefitting heart health.

Coconut water seems to be a good alternative to sports drinks like Gatorade and does have important electrolytes such as potassium. So overall, coconut water seems to be a nutrient dense and low-calorie alternative to juices or sports drinks.

My recommendation: Research is still extremely inconclusive about the health effects of coconut oil. I advise you not to consume high quantities of coconut oil, milk, or cream, but also, do not completely avoid the stuff. Everything in moderation! Just don't expect coconut products to work miracles such as making your cholesterol levels perfect, allowing you to lose 10 lbs quickly, or make your immunity so strong that you never get a cold again.

1.  B. Martena, M. Pfeuffer, J. Schrezenmeir (2006). "Medium-chain triglycerides". International Dairy Journal 16 (11): 1374–1382. 
2.  Martijti B Katan, Peter L Zock, and Ronald P Mensink, Effects of fats and fatty acids on blood lipids in humans: an overview, Am J Cli. Nutr., 1994;60(suppl):lOl7S-22S. [link]

Thursday, January 13, 2011

PhytoeSTROGEN's: A little hormonal, yes. But immasculating? No!

Last Friday night I was handing out flaxseed samples and a man came up to me asking why the flax brochure didn't say anything about the phytoestrogens in the seeds. I was rather taken aback because it was not until starting this new job that I learned how many men are opposed to eating soy and flax because of their high
phytoestrogen content. Men have told me they avoid these foods because they think it will take their testerone out of balance, and therefore, inhibit muscle growth and decrease fertility, or they avoid it because of other health concerns. As I probably mentioned before, I have come across a lot of women here too that completely avoid soy and think it is the root of many of our health problems (including AHDH, autism, diabetes, etc).

Here is what we know:
  • Phytoestrogens (PE's) are compounds (including isoflavones, lignans, and coumestans) which are structurally similar to the hormone estrogen in human beings. These are found in grains, beans, seeds, berries, fruit, vegetables, and root crops (so if you are looking to avoid them, you are cutting out the foundation of a healthy diet). Another fun fact: they are found in trans-resveratrol in red wine which has been shown to be protective for cardiac health.
  • Studies are not definitive, but many suggest that soy protein intake may help prevent breast cancer. In the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study, the authors concluded: "Among women with breast cancer, soy food consumption was significantly associated with decreased risk of death and recurrence" (2). However, the findings of different studies are mixed, with the strongest trend showing that soy intake during adolescence may be protective against developing breast cancer later in life.
  • PE's help to regulate blood-sugar balance, which is involved in insulin metabolism and weight control
  • Only when PE's are isolated and concentrated (as in supplement form) do they actually promote some types of cancer growth
  • Only a few studies have shown that in rats with high PE intakes their fertility decreases. However, most of these studies did not take into account other factors such as oxidative stress, so they are inconclusive.
  • More research is still needed on PEs, but overall, the studies show no, or possibly, a favorable effect of eating a high PE diet (through food sources!). The message is that the studies are inconclusive.
  • In order to get the most benefit, you need to eat PE's in natural food form, and DO NOT use supplements or concentrated doses. If you are a women with breast cancer or without ovaries, consult with your doctor before adopting a high PE diet (PE's act differently on these types of women).

My recommendation: Eat lots of beans, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and yes... even soy and flax!

1. Feminist Women's Health Center Website:
2. Boyapati, S.  M., et al.  (2005).  Soyfood intake and breast cancer survival:  a followup of the Shanghai Breast Cancer Study.  Breast Cancer Research Treatment.  92, 11-17.
3. The World's Healthiest Foods Website.  "Do phytoestrogens, like those found in flaxseed, have an effect on male hormone balance?"
4. Linus Pauling Micronutrient Information Center.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Milk Money: Discriminating between all the new milks on the Market

Back in the day, people had their milk delivered, and they only had one choice: Whole (cow's) Milk. A few decades ago, consumers were given the opportunity to choose between Whole, 2%, 1%, and Skim cow's milk. However, if you step into an Acme today, you will be bombarded by all the milk products on the shelf: Skim, Superskim, 1%, 2%, Omega-3, high Vitamin D,  Vanilla, Chocolate, Whole, Lactose-Free, Almond, Soy, Coconut, Hemp, Whole Grain, Rice, and probably more! It can be tough to determine which is best for you and your family. Below I list the nutritional value of one of the most general milks in each category (eg: within Soy Milks you have fat free, low-fat, original, vanilla, light, chocolate, etc- I pick Original).

Comparison of Milks (based on 8 fl oz):

Milk Name
Fat (g)
Carb (g)
Protein (g)
Vit A (%DV)
Vit C (%DV)
Iron (%DV)
Calcium (%DV)
Vit D (%DV)
8th Continent Original Soy
Silk Pure Almond Original Almond
Rice Dream Original Rice
So Delicious Coconut
5 (5g SFA)
Tempt Hempmilk Original

8th Continent Original Nutrition Label
 As far as which milk is the healthiest, it really depends on what you are looking for. I have recently discovered that many people avoid soy because they think it is the cause of many health problems (much like gluten in my previous post). However, in terms of calories, fat, protein, Calcium, and Vitamin D (the key nutrients that are generally associated with "dairy"), Soy Milk is very comparable to 1% cow's milk, and therefore, I recommend it. Plus, it has soy protein which has shown to help prevent against heart disease (at levels >25 g/day) and some varieties even contain naturally occurring fiber.

Almond milk is healthy if you are trying to get in healthy monounsaturated fats, Vitamin E, and find a milk-like product that is low in calories (unsweetened can contain as low as 40 calories/cup!). However, Almond milk is VERY low in protein, so I don't recommend it if you aren't consuming any other protein with a meal.

I don't advocate rice milk unless you have allergies against all the other versions of milk. Rice milk is very high in carbohydrate and very low in protein, so it's not the best bang for your buck.

Per a friend's request, I will be writing about coconut products in the future. But, as far as coconut milk goes, 100% of the fat is saturated, which is still controversial with regards to heart disease and cancer development. Although, the fats in coconut milk and oil are about 75% medium chain triglycerides (MCT) which are metabolized differently than most fats and therefore, some studies show they might be beneficial for weight loss. Also keep in mind that coconut milk is lower in protein and calcium than cow's milk, and it comes with a hefty price tag.

Hemp milk contains a good ratio of Omega 3: omega 6 fatty acids and is usually grown in a sustainable way. I'm a fan of hemp products, but as with other alternative milk products, Hemp milk is low in protein.

My recommendations: I encourage you to try all the alternative milks on the market. However, please know that skim or 1% cow's milk is extremely nutritious and nothing that should be avoided unless you are lactose intolerant or have a milk allergy. Lactose-free milk (eg: Lactaid) is almost nutritionally identical to regular milk, except that the lactose sugar has been broken down, so it is sweeter tasting. My top two favorite milks are cow's and soy as far as nutrition, and I do recommend Almond and Hemp as supplementary beverages. I just ask before you completely switch cow's milk to an alternative milk that you do your research and know what nutrients you may be missing out on.

1. 8th Continent Soy Milk
2. Lehigh Valley Dairies Skim Milk
3. Silk Pure Almond ™ Original Almond Milk
4. Rice Dream Enriched Refrigerated Original Rice Milk
5.  So Delicious Original Coconut Milk
6. Tempt™ Original Hempmilk
8. Am J Clin Nurt 2005; 8:380-387