Eggs: Eat the Yolk or Toss it?

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When I was a kid I heard that egg yolks were full of saturated fat and bad. If you have high cholesterol, you should limit egg consumption to 2-3 per week. And, though that was years ago, people still ask me about eggs and at first seem perplexed when I tell them to go ahead and eat the yolk.

Eggs were thrown under the bus years ago because the yolk contains saturated fat. There are three reasons why eggs were inappropriately demonized. First, people with high cholesterol need to watch their intake of man-made trans fats (in partially hydrogenated oils) and interesterified fats (in some fully hydrogenated oils; palm oil and palm kernel oil) more than saturated fat. And, they often need to lose weight and eat better in general. Secondly, eggs contain a whooping 1.6 grams of saturated fat per egg. Let’s put that into perspective. One glazed Krispy Kreme donut contains 6 grams of saturated fat. Opt for the cinnamon filled one and you are getting 10 grams (and zero nutrition value). The third reason eggs were inappropriately demonized is because they are packed with nutrients. Egg whites are pretty much all protein and easy to digest. The yolks? These provide a nutrition punch including – the antioxidants beta carotene, the two main antioxidants in eye tissue (which are beneficial for preventing and treating macular degeneration – lutein and zeaxanthin), some vitamin D and choline (important for brain health and functioning as well as reducing inflammation).

Eggs do contain some cholesterol but the cholesterol in food has less of an effect on your blood cholesterol than trans fats and saturated fats (and possibly less than interesterified fats as well). Plus, we need some cholesterol to make steroid hormones- such as testosterone.

So, in summary, eat the egg and, if you are worried about the fat, minor amount of saturated fat or cholesterol, cut out movie theater popcorn, doughnuts, French fries and other fat and saturated fat laden foods first.  After doing this, I bet your cholesterol will drop (LDL and total). But, keep eggs in your diet!

Fat + Sugar Turn on the Genetic Switch to Obesity

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It’s no secret that people who move to the U.S. from other countries are likely to experience a something bigger than the American Dream – an expansion in their waistline. Food is everywhere, our serving sizes are huge and we eat on the run, wolfing down copious amounts of sugar and fat in the process. As if the empty calories weren’t enough, these foods may turn on a genetic switch to obesity.

A recently published study in The FASEB Journal found that high fat and high sugar foods stimulate the kappa opioid receptor, one that causes our body to hold on to more fat than we otherwise would. It’s like a double-whammy. You get all the calories and your body holds onto them for dear life.
In this particular study they took mice and divided them into two groups. In one group, the scientists blocked the kappa opioid receptor. Both groups were fed a high fat, high sugar diet for 16 weeks and ate the same total amount of calories, respectively, over the course of the study. The group of mice that didn’t have the receptor blocked gained a significant amount of weight and fat while the other group of mice, the one with the receptor blocked, experienced a blunting of trigylceride synthesis in the liver, better glycemic control and at the end of the 16-week period they had a 28% lower body weight and 45% lower fat mass when compared to
the other group of mice.
Though the scientists expressed the common “more work needs to be done in this area,” they are onto something. This study gives companies a starting point for developing drug therapy aimed at this receptor, therapy that may keep people from eating themselves to obesity, obesity-related diseases and sky-high insurance costs. In the meantime, this should be a no-brainer: avoid a high fat, high sugar diet. Put the candy bar down.

Low Carb vs. Low Fat

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A recently published article took on a brewing battle between diets: low carb versus low fat. Which is best for weight loss? They took 106 overweight and obese people and put them on a reduced calorie (1433 – 1672 calories) very low carbohydrate diet (4% of calories) or low fat diet for a year and measured weight loss, well-being, mood and memory. Sixty-five people stuck with the diet over a year and lost an average of about 30 lbs each. There were no significant between group differences in weight lost.

Despite the equal weight loss between groups, the people on the very low carbohydrate diet were more likely to have experienced an unfavorable mood. Now, the take home message here, if misconstrued by the media, might be to eat your carbohydrates and ditch the fat but, here’s the key: both diets were calorie restricted. Just cutting down on fat and eating bread and pasta like it’s going out of style will get you no where, I promise. And, keep in mind that they ate a very low carbohydrate diet – just 4% of calories (a maximum of about 16 grams of carbohydrate – the amount in a very small apple). I’d be downright grouchy and confused too if I ate just 16 grams of carbs a day. So, yes, you can go on either very low carb or low fat (or actually do a low carbohydrate vs. very low carbohydrate) diet and see results…… if, you stick with it and in the case of the low fat diet, you better be counting your calories too.

This study differs from many low carbohydrate studies (including the Atkins Diet) because some low carb approaches don’t restrict calories which can make things a bit easier – just eat when you want but opt for low to no carb foods.

So here’s my take-home message: a person’s diet should depend in part on the research and largely on what they are willing to do that fits into their lifestyle. Low carb, low fat, counting calories, people vary tremendously in what they can realistically stick with. And having a come to truth meeting with yourself first will pay off in the end.

Ditch Your Diet this Thanksgiving

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I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories about Thanksgiving food. Hundreds of calories and a load of fat your favorite stuffing, gravy-soaked deep fried turkey and of course Aunt Betty’s homemade sweet potato casserole. And, of course, all of these are proceeded by hours of eating chips, dips and drinking beer or mixed beverages.

Regardless of the tally on Thanksgiving Day, I’m going to step out on a limb and tell you to ditch your diet. That’s right, skip it. Why? Because it’s one day. Now, I’m not handing out a license to eat enough for a linebacker – to the point where you end up with a massive food hangover by 8pm, but, I do think there are a few good reasons why you shouldn’t count your calories this Thursday.

First, like I mentioned, it’s one day. And, in general, if we overeat but really listen to our body the next day we won’t be very hungry and probably undereat a little (combined with massive mall-walking starting at 4am on Black Friday).

Second, the weight people gain over the Holiday Spread – from Halloween through the New Year is a result of eating anything and everything their eyes see with the mindset that they’ll start their diet in the New Year. If you eat a little more on Thanksgiving day, that’s fine. Overeat for 2 months straight and you’ll wake up on January 2nd wondering why you needed all those glasses of wine and mixed drinks, sugar cookies, casseroles and less than delicious office party fare.

Lastly, I think people should enjoy Thanksgiving Day and focus a little less on food and calories and more on being thankful. By doing this they won’t binge eat to the point of destruction.

And now I need to sign off and go play with my 5 year old nephew who informed his parents that I went to his little sister’s Thanksgiving party today but missed his at the same school last year. And for that I’m thankful – that he notices when I miss his events and gives me a hard time about it. With all of the toys, games and TV shows that capture the attention of small children, I’m lucky to have an important place in their lives – yet another thing to add to my list this Thanksgiving.

Brand Name or Generic? What Supplement Should You Choose?

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If you’ve ever spent some time in a convenience store or sports supplement shop, you may be perplexed by the array of supplements that line the store shelves. And, more often than not, you’ll find a 16 year old kid with a blank stare on his face trying to sell you whatever product makes him the most commission.
So, how do you know when you should pick a brand name or go generic? What’s the difference between the 15 different tubs of whey protein powder? Here are my three rules to standby:
1) go with a product that tastes good
2) choose supplements and products with research to back their claims
3) run from products with outrageous claims
For multivitamins, you can go cheap but your best bet is one of the multi packs (several pills a day). Why? Certain minerals are too big and bulky to fit into a multi. With 100% of the daily value for all vitamins and minerals those pills would truly be horse pills. Oh, and skip the mega multis- you don’t need 3000% of anything unless you are deficient.
With other supplements, choose brands with good, sound research behind them (look on the website or ask a dietitian or physician for tested brands). Here’s an example: I pay significantly more for a specific brand of glucosamine & chondroitin sulfate that was used in the NIH Glucosamine Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT) – it’s backed by research and I’ve noticed a huge difference in comparison to the other brands that I’ve tried.
With sports supplements, choose something with an effective dose. This is pretty important since some companies skimp on dose. And of course, choose a powder or bar that tastes good.
Though you don’t always need to go with a name brand per se, when it comes to sports supplements sometimes brand names mean trust, integrity and an effective dose. With multivitamins, omega 3s and other supplements, you may not recognize the brand name but still get a great product.

Got a Picky Eater? It’s Okay…

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Two summers back I prepared for the arrival of a few special house guests: my 5 & 3 year old nephews and 1 year old niece (oh, and their parents). I eagerly stocked my fridge with my nephews favorite foods, bought tattoos, bouncy balls and tickets to a Braves game and the aquarium.

When they arrived the kids immediately started playing while my sister-in-law surveyed the food situation. Pizza – they don’t eat anything but plain or pepperoni (I bought veggie pizza). Orange juice – I bought the wrong kind. It had “floaties” according to my 5 year old nephew. A few winners – the cereal, yogurt, Z-bars and fruit that I picked up. I was batting about 500 at this point.

As a dietitian, all but one of my nephews and nieces eat pretty well and like a variety of food. And their simple requests for clear OJ and plain pizza really weren’t too picky. When I hear parents frantically tell me their stories and ask for advice on getting their child to eat, my job often goes back and forth between supportive listener and providing nutrition advice. In reality, most kids will turn out just fine (even if you don’t feed them the “only” meal they’ll eat – chicken fingers and fries).

How do I know this? I speak from true experience. I picked the “white stuff” off of bacon when I was about 4, hid my peas in a napkin at dinner and always dreaded certain meals my mom made: tacos, meatloaf and pork to name a few. And, for 8 years straight (or maybe more) I ate the same thing for lunch every single day in school (except pizza day): 1/2 of a peanut butter sandwich, a piece of fruit, a snack and chocolate milk. In an effort to try to get me to gain weight, my mom would often sneak butter on my sandwich. As an adult I let her in on a secret – I scraped it off every time or threw away the parts with chunks of butter. A peanut butter sandwich for me meant one thing only: Peanut butter on bread. Nothing else.

So what’s my advice to parents? First, relax. Your child will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full if you don’t force feed them. Second, never have your child clean their plate. You are forcing them to override their satiety cues and eat when they are not hungry. Third, continue to offer children a specific food several times. Let’s say little Johnny doesn’t like broccoli. It’s okay, it may take more than 10 times for you to offer it to him before he decides he’ll try it. Fourth, try “dipping sauces.” Hummus, olive oil and light dressing may convince your kid to eat more veggies. Fifth, let your child choose chocolate or strawberry milk at school. I drank white milk at home but the milk at school tasted gross to me. Probably because it was 2% versus the skim milk I was used to. Kids need the calcium equivalent of about 3 servings of milk daily. Unlike vegetarian forms of milk alternatives which contain vitamin D2, fortified milk has vitamin D3 in it – which is more effective at raising the vitamin D levels in our body. Milk also has a plethora of other nutrients in it including potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin (niacin equivalents). Yes, it has some sugar in it, but, kids should be running around in PE, active at home and easily burning off that sugar. Plus, if it gets the picky ones like me to drink milk, a little flavor is worth it!

How Italian People Stay Slim

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When I was a kid I thought most Italians resembled Tony Soprano or his friends – brown hair, brown eyes, overweight or obese with thick gold chains around their necks. To my relief, my first trip to Italy proved me very wrong and made me realize that the Italians in America picked up their love of thick gold chains here and they are overweight or obese for one reason: they embraced the American way of living. Italians in Italy are, for the most part, slim. In fact, in my grandparents hometown many residents are what Americans would call “very skinny.”

The cultural differences are vast but there are several that I attribute to their healthier way of life:
1) They walk everywhere. Even at night they spend time outside in the piazza socializing or just walking around. And the bonus is that the cities are meant for walking and they are safe. See picture to the left – this is a set of steps up to several homes in a city on the Italian Riviera.
2) They play. Games aren’t just for kids. The picture to the right shows “older” people playing bocce ball on a random Sunday afternoon. And this wasn’t a typical. I’ve seen groups of elderly men throughout Italy playing cards, chess and other games. Sure, some of these games aren’t very active but they also don’t involve an American outlet at night: food.
3) They eat reasonable portion sizes of fresh food. Even the Auto Grill stops on the highway carried fresh salads, cheese and other healthy options.
4) Fast food is a rarity. In fact, McDonald’s is only in the big cities and even then, there are no drive- throughs. People don’t eat in their car, while walking or on the train. They stop and take time to enjoy the experience of eating. Being “present” when you eat means you aren’t reaching for food later to make-up for the experience you never had because you were driving, talking on the bluetooth and eating dinner.
5) Their food is very different. Sure, some of it seems fattening or carbohydrate-rich but, it is fresh. There are few processed foods, no partially or fully hydrogenated oils, genetically modified crops, no hormones in meat or milk and no high fructose corn syrup. For dinner there you may eat gnocchi with gorgonzola cheese sauce and a salad. In America, I have clients that eat things that resemble food but are sugar-free, fat-free, fiber-fortified, flavor-free concoctions created in a lab.
6) They eat a phytochemical rich diet. Vegetables, fruit, and nuts are plentiful. Plant based foods prevent oxidative stress and subsequent mass inflammatory processes in the body – both of which have been implicated in many chronic diseases including obesity.
7) They enjoy life. People don’t work 24/7 over there. Instead, they spend time with family and friends, walk outside, play games and lay on beautiful beaches.
There are so many things I love about the Italian way of life and I hope they don’t become too “Westernized” with fast food places everywhere, inactive lifestyles, a prevalence of packaged foods and living life in a hurry.
I look forward to my next trip, sight-seeing and visiting with some of my wonderful friends and colleagues there.

Worst Habit for Your Health? Lack of Physical Activity.

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According to one of the foremost experts on physical activity, Steven Blair, PhD, our nation’s collective lack of physical activity is “the biggest public health problem of the 21st century.” Now of course Dr. Blair is going to say this – physical activity is his profession, he is a professor of exercise science and epidemiology at the University of South Carolina. But, I happen to agree with him for some of the same reasons he passionately discusses every day in addition to some first hand experience.

As one of the nutritionists for a local weight loss challenge (where participants range from 180-320 lbs), I’ve noticed one thing most participants have in common – they never played sports or did any physical activity as kids. They didn’t learn to like physical activity or find something they were good at. What’s even worse is that some were “punished” with laps, push-ups or sit-ups. It’s usually around this time, after they tell me their stories, that I get this blank sad look on my face. Everyday I am thankful for the opportunities playing sports brought me in life, the lessons learned, the sheer joy of winning and doing something well, the friendships I made, the disappointments that I learned to overcome and … I could go on for pages here. But my point is this – these individuals never received these opportunities. They didn’t learn how good it feels to move their bodies, get active, play. And, now obese and morbidly obese, physical activity is a challenge and they are far less healthy then they should be.
At a time when we need physical activity more than ever I hear stories of states that are cutting PE classes in favor of trying to use that time for other subjects. Those in favor of cutting PE will tell you their students must get their standardized test scores higher. But don’t they realize that children sit still for longer periods of time and have a better attention span when they move their bodies? Don’t they realize there is an obesity epidemic among children (and adults) today? Don’t they realize that our health care costs are sky rocketing partly because of this obesity epidemic? Sadly enough, they don’t.
There are many college students studying physical activity and hoping to make an impression on America’s youth. Let’s give them the chance to do this because what we are doing now certainly isn’t working.

Does Nutrition Information Change Behavior?

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This past month I spent some quality time in 7 airports in 4 different states and 3 countries. All were vastly different in regard to food offered, food availability and prices. I learned that food is a complete afterthought in Milian, Italy (more on that in another blog), the Denver airport is so clean you can eat off the floors, and in JFK you’ll end up sitting on the floor (which by the way is far from clean).

But something else stood out at JFK (besides the $4 bottles of water) – the menus in all chains contained the calorie information for all items not packaged. So as I waited in line at Starbucks I wondered if people chose the 1o0 calorie tall skim cafe latte or opted for a 380-calorie Grande Pumpkin Spice Latte instead. Do New Yorkers and those out-of-town visitors see the calorie information? If so, does this influence their choice or do they choose to ignore it? It’s an experiment in human behavior and as I looked around I wasn’t sure it was working.
But, according to survey data released by the Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene it does make a difference. This survey examined 10,000 customers at 275 locations in 2007 and 12,000 this year and found 56% of consumers saw the calorie information (how could any miss it?) and overall the posted nutrition information does have an impact and alters behavior in many who choose to see it.
Personally, I like the posted calorie information because it offers full disclosure to consumers. Now you really know your options and it’s your choice – the 500 calorie salad or a 1,200 calorie loaded sandwich.

Burger King’s 7 Patty Whooper

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Marking the worst promotional idea I’ve ever seen, Burger King announced the “Windows 7 Whooper” – a gut busting 7 patty sandwich that celebrates the launch of Windows 7 (a program that makes me even more thankful for my IMac).

A triple whooper contains 1160 calories and 76 grams of fat including 3 grams of artery-clogging trans fats (the stuff is potent, 3 grams is a lot!). I’m left wondering how many calories, fat grams and heart attacks are associated with the 7 patty version.
This sandwich is a great example of why we have a growing worldwide obesity epidemic.