Tuesday, July 30, 2013

How TRANS FATS Are Sneaking Into Your Diet

You have probably heard of trans fats and know that they are bad for you, but maybe you’re not sure why, and you don’t know where they come from. You may think you’re eating a diet free of trans fat, but if you’re like most Americans, you definitely are not. Trans fats do occur in small amounts in nature, but most are artificially created fats which have an added hydrogen to the fatty acid chain (in a process that makes them “hydrogenated”). Manufacturers do this because hydrogenation allows foods to have a longer shelf life, have a better taste and texture, and the oils can be used several times in deep fat frying, which saves restaurants money.

Trans fats are bad for you because they have shown to increase bad cholesterol (LDLs) and lower good cholesterol (HDLs). In fact, artificial trans fats were “banned” from restaurant chains in NYC a few years back, making these restaurants reformulate their recipes to contain <0.5 g trans fat/ serving. On food labels, a food can be considered “trans fat free” if it contains <0.5 g trans fat/serving. That being said, a food can have 0.45 g and be considered trans fat free. Eat 2 servings of that product, and you will be consuming close to 1 gram of trans fat. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 1% of calories from trans fat, so on an 1800 calorie diet, that would be less than 2 grams. Furthermore, if a food is trans fat free, that doesn’t mean it is fat free nor healthy- the food still may contain loads of fat and saturated fat.

Trans fats are still omnipresent in the typical American diet, and surprisingly, manufacturers are still using them in foods. Some examples I have come across are Special K Chocolately Delight [in the 4th ingredient! Serving size= ¾ c], Coffeemate powdered and liquid coffee creamers [2nd & 3rd ingredients respectively- serving size 4 tsp dry, 1 tbsp liquid], JIF and Skippy regular and reduced fat peanut butters [3rd ingredient, serving size= 2 tbsp], and a ton of other foods you may be consuming.

My Recommendation: ALWAYS look for the words “hydrogenated ____ oil” on a food’s ingredient label and avoid eating that product if it contains a hydrogenated oil. Even foods like bakery Irish soda breads, which are low in fat, oftentimes contain these oils to help keep them from staling and to give them the texture people crave. There is no need to consume trans fat, and there is no positive research on it. So best to avoid it, and always read the ingredient label… that is always more telling than the basic nutrition information.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Skip the Junk Food! Eating That Cookie Will Probably Make You Hungrier Later!

One tip of advice I always give my clients is to just avoid taking a “bite” of a cookie or chip. Once you take that first bite, your salivary glands start pumping out saliva and your body prepares for more food to come in. If you continue to eat the refined grain or sugar, your blood sugar spikes then plummets, causing your body to want to consume more to restore a stable blood sugar. That is one reason you can’t just eat one Wheat Thin, or why only eating only ¼ of the plate of restaurant pasta is so difficult.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition further supports this claim. In this study, 12 overweight or obese men consumed a milkshake on two separate occasions. Both shakes had the same nutritional profile (calories, fat, etc), the only difference being that one was made with a high glycemic index (GI) corn syrup and the other was made with a low-GI sweetener. Four hours after milkshake consumption, plasma glucose was lower and hunger reported was higher after the high-GI shake compared to the low-GI shake. Additionally, the high-GI shake caused more activity in the region of the brain associated with reward and craving. When the blood sugar plummets again, the body wants a quick acting carb (ie: refined high GI carbs) to restore the sugar level immediately- which may lead to the cycle of overeating refined foods like pretzels, crackers, cookies, ice cream and others.

My recommendation: As mentioned on the first line of this tip, it is better just not to take that first bite, whether it is cake or Mac and Cheese. I encourage everyone to only eat whole grains since the refined grains are lacking healthy fibers, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and cause these blood sugar spikes which are not healthy for anyone. Try to think of refined grains and carbs as poison- that should definitely help to keep you from nibbling on those Stacey’s Pita Chips or the candy bowl at work. It’s not carbs that are the enemy, it is the refined carbs. Your body will be working optimally if you consume the right kinds of carbohydrates- whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and non-fat or low-fat dairy.

Study source: Am J Clin Nutr 2013 ajcn.064113; First published online June 26, 013.doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.064113

Monday, July 1, 2013

Go (mostly) vegetarian ~ vegetarians live longer!

In most studies over the years, vegetarians tend to have the lowest rates of heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. Recently, a study using the 7th Day Adventists (a religious group that has a high vegetarian population) found that the all-cause mortality rate for non-vegetarians was significantly higher than for vegetarians (spit up into semi-vegetarians [mostly vegetarian with some poultry & fish], pesco-vegetarian [fish], lacto-ovo-vegetarian [dairy + eggs], and vegan [no animal products]). The study found that only 5-6/1,000 vegetarians died over one year compared to 7/1,000 for non-vegetarians. Furthermore, men in the study who were vegetarian were significantly less likely to die of ischemic heart disease or CVD.

These findings, again, go along with the 2010 US Dietary Guidelines that recommend a “mostly plant based diet” for optimal health. People eating a mostly plant based diet tend to have much lower rates of heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes compared to those that eat meat. This particular study followed over 70,000 individuals over the course of 5 years and those vegetarians that also include seafood in their diet (pesco-vegetarians) had the lowest mortality rates of any group. Being an extreme vegetarian or vegan didn’t seem to confer any additional benefits than being lacto-ovo or pesca-vegetarian.

My recommendations:  There is no need to go completely vegetarian in order to get major health benefits. Eating a “mostly vegetarian” diet or a “flexitarian” diet (as people now like to label themselves) is a very healthy way of eating that allows for you to enjoy lean meats in small quantities. For those of you who do love meat, try to limit the amount of fatty and processed meats you eat, and try to keep your meat-based proteins to a minimum each day (no more than 6 oz for the day for most people). There is no need to eat an 8 oz steak for dinner- replace at least ½ of that with more vegetables or beans! Another benefit, aside from health, is that by cutting down on your meat portions you will cut down significantly on your food bill which is emphasized in my blog post on healthy eating on a budget.

I only advise going vegan if you are doing so for a valid moral or ethical reason. If you plan on going vegan, you must be willing to do the research and learn about ways you can get in all the necessary nutrients (like Vitamin B12)… and actually eat those foods! When one chooses to go vegetarian, they must be open to eating high quality plant-based proteins like soy, hemp, quinoa, and include lots of fruits and vegetables in their diets. A bread, pasta, and cheese based vegetarian diet is not a healthy one. As far as vegetarianism goes, I would recommend trying lacto-ovo-pesca vegetarian since that is the best way to get in all of your necessary nutrients and allows for more options when eating out.  This type of diet will help to ensure that you can easily get in all your necessary nutrients and high quality sources of protein.

Reference: Orlich MJ, Singh P, Sabaté J, et al. Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Mortality in Adventist Health Study 2. JAMA Intern Med.2013;():1-8.