Top 10 Flat Belly Foods

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Your abs are made in the gym and revealed in the kitchen. A good training program develops the muscles in your midsection and the right diet helps banish bloating so you can see your abs. Here are the 10 flat belly foods you should add to your diet for a better looking (and better feeling) mid-section):Greek yogurt for belly fat

Greek Yogurt with Live and Active Cultures

Look for Greek yogurt with “live cultures (aka good bacteria)” or the “Live & Active Cultures” seal. The cultures are good bacteria that take up valuable real estate in your gut, helping your body digest food and decreasing gas and bloating. The amount of healthy, versus harmful, bacteria influences body weight and how much weight you can lose while following a lower calorie diet. Plus, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity found people who get their calcium from yogurt, as opposed to other foods, may lose more weight in their belly. Even more evidence to support yogurt consumption comes from a study showing dieters who ate five servings of dairy, such as Greek yogurt, daily lost more weight and abdominal fat than those who ate just three servings every day. A more recent review of the research found higher dairy intake was associated with lower risk of obesity in the midsection and yogurt seems to help keep weight in check.

2 Nuts

Though nuts are relatively high in calories for a small amount of food,  people don’t gain weight when they add nuts to their previously nut-free diet. A study in over 13,000 adults revealed nut eaters, those who ate at least ¼ ounce of nuts or peanuts (technically a legume) per day had smaller waists than adults who didn’t eat nuts. Additionally, tree nuts and peanuts contain a considerable amount of monounsaturated fat. Dieters who eat more foods containing monounsaturated fats may lose more belly fat than those who eat the same number of calories per day with less monounsaturated fat.

3 Asparagus

When examining dietary patterns, weight and waist circumference in close to eighty thousand people over a 10-year period, researchers found those who ate more vegetables every day had both a lower BMI and smaller waistline compared to adults who ate few vegetables. Asparagus contains prebiotic fiber, a type of fiber that is food for the good bacteria in your gut. Plus, asparagus is a natural mild diuretic making it the perfect food before hitting the beach or wearing a more formfitting outfit.

4 Avocados

Avocados contain a good amount of monounsaturated fat, not to mention nineteen vitamins and minerals. But, their monounsaturated fat is the ticket to a smaller waistline. In one study scientists gave obese adults with type 2 diabetes diets rich in saturated fat, monounsaturated fat or  carbohydrates. Those on the high carbohydrate diet ended up with fat redistributed to their stomachs while the monounsaturated fat rich diet prevented fat redistribution to the belly area. Plus, a look at dietary intake data from close to 18,000 adults found body weight, BMI and waist size were all significantly lower in avocado consumers versus those who didn’t include avocados in their diet.

5 Popcorn

Popcorn is a whole grain and when you pop it yourself on the stovetop (or in a brown paper bag in the microwave, just add good old fashioned popcorn kernels in a brown paper bag and fold the top) and top it with a little spray butter or spices for flavor, you’ll end up with a snack that takes a long time to eat and fills you up on relatively few calories. In addition, several studies show people who eat about three servings of whole grains per day weight less and have a smaller waistline compared to those who don’t.

6 Cold Pea Salad

Peas are naturally rich in resistant starch, a type of fiber that isn’t completely broken down or absorbed during digestion. Cooking and cooling peas to make a pea salad will significantly increase the amount of resistant starch they content. Rodent studies show resistant starch helps reduce stomach fat and increase hormones that tell the brain it’s time to stop eating.

7 Eggs

Choose eggs over cereal in the morning and you’ll tame hunger pangs for hours after breakfast, decreasing the likelihood of overeating later in the day. Make a meal containing at least 25 – 30 total grams of protein (the protein is in the white of the egg so this equates to 4 – 5 egg whites though you can choose any combination of whole eggs and egg whites as long as you consume at least 4 -5 of the whites) so you can cash in on the satiety-enhancing benefits of eggs. Added bonus: following a high protein diet for a short period of time can lead to significant reductions in belly fat.

8 Green Tea

The combination of caffeine and antioxidants in green tea may lead to small to moderate reductions in body fat and waist size. However, you need to consume quite a bit of it so get creative and cook with green tea by brewing it and using it to cook rice (it’s particularly good with jasmine rice), make stews, soups or stocks. You can also poach fruit green tea or use dried green tea leaves as part of a rub for meats, tofu or fish.

9 Barley

Barley is a cereal grain with a nutty taste and consistency that is a cross between pasta and rice. In a double-blinded trial (both the men and the researchers didn’t know which food they were getting), Japanese men were given rice or a mixture of rice with pearl barley. The group receiving the pearl barley and rice mixture lost a significant amount of visceral fat, the kind that covers your organs like a thick winter blanket and increases risk of heart disease, stroke and type-2 diabetes. Compared to the rice only group, the group who ate pearl barley decreased their waist size.

10 Blueberries

Blueberries are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which will not only help keep you full but also help keep your waistline in check. Plus they are a natural source of prebiotic fiber – the kind that the good bacteria in your gut munch on.

A flat belly is one of the most recognized signs of a fit body. Blast away abdominal fat with high-intensity cardio and build the underlying muscle by regularly switching up your training program. Also, incorporate a 30-minute abs classes to your routine. At least one study found you can spot reduce if you exercise the same muscle group for at least 30 minutes at a time. Keep in mind abs are made in the gym but revealed in the kitchen. Add the top 10 flat belly foods to your diet while cutting down on sugar alcohols (sorbitol, maltitol, and mannitol are the worst for causing gas and bloating), fizzy drinks and chewing gum (all of these can increase bloating at least temporarily) and you may fall in love with skinny jeans.

 

References
Clifton PM, Bastiaans K, Keogh JB. High protein diets decrease total and abdominal fat and improve CVD risk profile in overweight and obese men and women with elevated triacylglycerol. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis 2009;19(8):548-54.

O’Neil CE1, Keast DR, Nicklas TA, Fulgoni VL 3rd. Nut consumption is associated with decreased health risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome in U.S. adults: NHANES 1999-2004. J Am Coll Nutr 2011;30(6):502-10.

Kahn HS, Tatham LM, Rodriguez C, et al. Stable behaviors associated with adults’ 10-year change in the body mass index and likelihood of gain at waist. Am J Public Health 1997;87:747-54.

Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, Cheng J, Duncan AE et al. Gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate metabolism in mice. Science 2013;341:6150.

Turnbaugh PJ, Ley RE, Mahowald MA, Magrini V et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature 2006;444:1027-1031.

Vidrine K, Ye J, Martin RJ, McCutcheon KL et al. Resistant starch from high amylose maize (HAM-RS2) and dietary butyrate reduce abdominal fat by a different apparent mechanism. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2014;22(2):344-8.

Bisanz JE, Reid G. Unraveling how probiotic yogurt works. Sci Transl Med 2011;3:106.

Dhurandhar NV, Geurts L, Atkinson RL et al. Harnessing the beneficial properties of adipogenic microbes for improving human health. Obesity Reviews 2013;19:721-735.

Delzenne NM, Neyrinck AM, Bäckhed F, Cani PD. Targeting gut microbiota in obesity: effects of prebiotics and probiotics. Nat Rev Endocrinol 2011;7(11):639-46.

Furet JP, Kong LC, Tap J et al. Differential adaptation of human gut microbiota to bariatric surgery-induced weight loss: links with metabolic and low-grade inflammation markers. Diabetes 2010;59:3049-3057.

Ley RE, Turnbaugh PJ, Klein S, Gordon JI. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature 2006;444: 1022–1023.

Santacruz A, Marcos A, Warnberg J et al. Interplay Between Weight Loss and Gut Microbiota Composition in Overweight Adolescents. Obesity 2009;17:1906–1915.

Harland JI, Garton LE. Whole-grain intake as a marker of healthy body weight and adiposity. Public Health Nutr 2008;11(6):554-63.

Yadav BS, Sharma A, Yadav RB. Studies on effect of multiple heating/cooling cycles on the resistant starch formation in cereals, legumes and tubers. Int J Food Sci Nutr 2009;60 Suppl 4:258-72.

Keenan MJ, Zhou J, McCutcheon KL et al. Effects of resistant starch, a non-digestible fermentable fiber, on reducing body fat. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2006;14(9):1523-34.

Nagao T, Komine Y, Soga S et al. Ingestion of a tea rich in catechins leads to a reduction in body fat and malondialdehyde-modified LDL in men. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81(1):122-9.

Paniagua JA, Gallego de la Sacristana A, Romero I et al. Monounsaturated fat-rich diet prevents central body fat distribution and decreases postprandial adiponectin expression induced by a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects. Diabetes Care 2007;30(7):1717-23.

Fulgoni VL 3rd, Dreher M, Davenport AJ. Avocado consumption is associated with better diet quality and nutrient intake, and lower metabolic syndrome risk in US adults: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2001-2008. Nutr J 2013;12:1.

Shimizu C, Kihara M, Aoe S et al. Effect of high beta-glucan barley on serum cholesterol concentrations and visceral fat area in Japanese men–a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. Plant Foods Hum Nutr 2008;63(1):21-5.

Du H, van der A DL, Boshuizen HC et al. Dietary fiber and subsequent changes in body weight and waist circumference in European men and women. Am J Clin Nutr 2010;91(2):329-36.

Peters EM, Anderson R, Nieman DC, et al. Vitamin C supplementation attenuates the increases in circulating cortisol, adrenaline and anti-inflammatory polypeptides following ultramarathon running. Int J Sports Med 2001;22(7):537-43.

 

Is Saturated Fat Good for You?

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Though largely driven by misinterpretation of the science and cherry-picked population studies, the “Butter is Back” movement comes with very persuasive sound bites followed by arrogant punctuation marks. No wonder so many people hopped on board the bandwagon while looking back, pointing fingers and shouting “health professionals have been misleading us for decades!” Yet the flawed reasoning behind the pro-saturated fat movement comes with a hefty price tag – you could be making food choices that, over time, will increase your risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this article:

  • Why is there so much confusion about saturated fat?;
  • The science behind saturated fats, cardiovascular disease (diseases of the heart & blood vessels) and type 2 diabetes;
  • Best food choices for heart health.

Why is there so Much Confusion about Saturated Fat?

There are a few reasons for the confusion about saturated fat (fat that is solid at room temperature such as butter, shortening, coconut oil and the fat on meat) and misinterpretation of the science. First off, some people group all saturated fatty acids (saturated fatty acids make up saturated fat) together as a team. However, there are several types of saturated fatty acids. Some raise LDL cholesterol (the kind that contributes to clogged arteries and is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease) as well as HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol, the kind that removes bad cholesterol; SN: drugs that increase HDL do not lower risk of heart disease so there is some considerable debate regarding the role of HDL), others don’t raise LDL cholesterol and some we aren’t quite sure about. Secondly, using population-based studies alone to draw conclusions about saturated fat intake and heart disease is misguided.  These studies are not designed to determine cause and effect (that’s the job of well-designed clinical trials) plus, there are inherent issues with the methods used in many of these studies.  Nutrition research is not easy, especially in humans living their life (those not in a metabolic ward where all factors are controlled and measured including diet and physical activity).

Lastly, some research studies (and the media) take the results way out of context. So, here’s the lowdown based on sound science:

The Science Behind Saturated Fat, Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes

  • There is no dietary requirement for saturated fat. Your body can make all of the saturated fatty acids it needs.
  • Foods high in saturated fat typically increase total, HDL and LDL cholesterol. However, the impact dietary saturated fat has on increasing LDL-cholesterol (the kind that contributes to clogged arteries and an inflammatory cascade in arteries) may depend on the amount of polyunsaturated fat (PUFAs) in your diet (as well as the type of saturated fatty acids consumed).
  • In general, replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (and monounsaturated fat though there is less evidence for monounsaturated fat) reduces LDL and total cholesterol, both risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
  • saturated fat and cholesterolOverweight, obesity and insulin resistance may reduce the beneficial effects (lowered LDL cholesterol) generally noticed from a reduction in saturated fat intake. *If obese or overweight, losing excess body fat (regardless of the type of diet used to lose the weight) has powerful effects on lowering risk for cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and type II diabetes.
  • Food contains a complex mixture of compounds that may affect cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk (it is not just the fat). The food “matrix” matters.
  • Many factors impact how a food affects cholesterol and blood lipids (fats) including fats eaten at the same time, overall diet, and carbohydrate intake (and type of carbohydrates consumed – high fiber vs. foods high in added sugar with few other nutrients).
  • There are individual, genetic differences in response to saturated fat intake – your cholesterol might shoot up after eating a diet containing a diet high in the type of saturated fatty acids that raise LDL cholesterol and I might be able to get away with this diet without a problem (blame your genetics or consider it an opportunity to open your taste buds to foods containing less saturated fat; particularly the kind that is artery clogging).
  • Certain saturated fatty acids, or a diet high in saturated fat, may increase risk for type 2 diabetes.

Best Choices for Heart Health

If you are overweight, focus on losing excess body fat. Even small amounts of fat loss will improve health and risk factors for cardiovascular disease. If you have high total and LDL cholesterol, swap foods high in saturated fat for foods high in polyunsaturated fat (liquid oils, nuts, seeds, olives, avocados). Minimize your intake of foods high in added sugars and refined, white flour, carbohydrates. Instead, choose higher fiber carbohydrates as often as possible.

Don’t get sucked into the media headlines written by journalists who could sell ice to an eskimo. Butter isn’t back (for good health anyway). The bulk of your fat intake should still come from foods that are higher in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. However, food is a complex matrix of compounds and therefore, some foods higher in saturated fat may have little to no impact on cholesterol and therefore fit into your diet while contributing to your vitamin and mineral needs and providing plant-based compounds important for good health.

References

Tholstrup T, Hoy CE, Andersen LN, Christensen RD, Sandstrom B. Does fat in milk, butter and cheese affect blood lipids and cholesterol differently? J Am Coll Nutr 2004;23:169–76.

Nestel P. Effects of Dairy Fats within Different Foods on Plasma Lipids. J Am Coll Clin Nutr 2008, 27(6): 735S–740S.

Hodson L, Skeaff CM, Chisholm WA. The effect of replacing dietary saturated fat with polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat on plasma lipids in free-living young adults. Eur J Clin Nutr 2001; 55(10):908-15

Soerensen KV et al. Effect of dairy calcium from cheese and milk on fecal fat excretion, blood lipids, and appetite in young men. Am J Clin Nutr 2014;99(5):984-91.

 

Save Money at the Grocery Store, Improve Health & Save the Earth

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Food: Fruits and vegetables

 

 

Today is Earth Day, a day focused on building a healthy, sustainable environment. Keep the earth healthy, slash your grocery bill and improve your health at the same time. Here’s how:

Avoid Food Waste

In America, food is cheap and always available. This oversupply of food combined with food marketing means we over buy and end up throwing out an average of 31 – 41% of the food we purchase. In addition to throwing your hard earned dollar in the trash can, food waste drains the environment. Rotting fruits and vegetables, the top food wasted, uses fresh water and contributes to ethylene gas, methane and CO2 emissions all of which are harmful for our environment (1). “Food waste now accounts for more than one quarter of the total freshwater consumption and ∼300 million barrels of oil per year” (1). Rotting food produces a large amount of methane gas, a gas that has 25 times the impact of CO2 on global warming (3). Dairy products are second behind fruits and vegetables followed by meat, which has the biggest impact on the environment.
Here’s what you can do to avoid waste:

    1. Use a shopping list to prevent impulse buys. It doesn’t matter if it’s on sale if you will end up throwing it out.
    2. Buy small amounts and only what you need and will realistically use before it goes bad.
    3. Buy frozen and canned versions, which have the same nutrition value and you can use them at your convenience (metal cans are endlessly recyclable)
    4. Keep fruits and vegetables fresh or for longer period of time with products that decrease the production of ethylene gas (find them in your local natural food store in the produce section).
    5. Don’t automatically throw food out when the “use by” date arrives. That date is a measure of quality and not food safety. Assess your food to ensure it is still safe (smell your meat, poultry, fish, dairy, nuts and oils; make sure fruits and vegetables are not molded).
    6. Follow these tips from Reader’s Digest.

Choose Plant Proteins

Plant proteins typically cost less $ than meat, fish and poultry and they cost less in terms of environmental resources to produce – less water, fewer environmental gases produced. Plant proteins also deliver plant-based compounds that protect the body. When choosing plant proteins you may need more, per meal, to get the right amount of muscle building amino acids.  In addition to swapping out some meat-based meals, consider eating smaller amounts of meat and adding a plant protein as a side dish. Here are some excellent choices based on their nutrition profile:

  • Peas, split pea soup
  • Legumes, beans, bean pastas, lentils (I soak lentils for about 45 minutes and add them to a variety of dishes)
  • Soy foods including tofu, tempeh, edamame
  • Nut, bean and other flours –  substitute some of the flour in your  recipe for: pecan, peanut, almond, garbanzo bean, fava bean, black bean and other higher protein flours

Buy Staples in Bulk

Whole Foods, Sprouts, Wegmans and similar stores have a bulk section where you can get everything from black rice to oatmeal. Consider shopping in the bulk isle. You’ll save $ and food packaging!

Grass Fed Lies: The Truth about Organic Milk & Grass Fed Beef

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Grass fed meat

If you’ve been sucking up the extra cost of organic dairy products and grass fed beef, comforted by the fact that you’re doing what’s good for your body, I have some news for you: you’ve gained little more than peace of mind grounded in a marketing scam. There is no meaningful nutrition difference in organic milk, grass fed beef and their conventional (non organic / grass fed) counterparts.

The Truth about Organic Dairy

Organic milk is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin D, according to an article published Feb. 16 in the British Journal of Nutrition. This meta-analysis examined the results from 170 published studies comparing the nutrient content of organic milk with conventional milk. They suggest organic milk wins by a landslide: it’s nutritionally superior to its conventional counterparts. Though there were no significant differences in saturated fat and monounsaturated fat in organic vs. conventional milk, organic milk has 56% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, 41% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), significantly more vitamin E and iron than conventional milk. Statistically speaking, they are scientifically correct. Nutritionally speaking, these differences are meaningless.

Organic milk contains 56% more omega-3 fats than regular (conventional) milk (56% more based on the total fat content). However, statistically more than a little bit is still a little bit. Milk is not considered a major source of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, regardless of milk type. In fact, according to one study, 1 cup of organic whole milk has about 8.2 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 11 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) compared to 6.2 mg of EPA and 9.1 mg of DHA. That’s a far cry from the 250 – 500 mg of EPA + DHA we should get, on average, each day. Fatty fish are the best way to get EPA and DHA.

milk jug
Organic Milk:
19 mg EPA + DHA

Conventional Milk:
15 mg EPA + DHA

 

 

 

Salmon

Herring, Wild
Salmon, Farmed (Atlantic)
Salmon, Wild (King)
Mackerel, Wild

1,200 mg EPA + DHA

 

 

  • EPA and DHA are heart smart – they lower blood fats (triglycerides) and blood pressure. Plus they’re good for your brain and eyes.

What about CLA? CLA is group of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in meat and milk. There are many proposed benefits associated with CLA including changes in body fat with ultra high supplemental doses of CLA. However, the difference in CLA content is also biologically meaningless – 56 mg in a glass of organic whole milk and 47 mg in a class of conventional whole milk.

The British Journal of Nutrition research also showed slightly higher beta carotene and vitamin E in organic milk. These very small differences may be due to a host of reasons including seasonal variation and breed. Milk is not a major source of these nutrients, so this has no biological impact on human health. If you want iron, eat more red meat, fish and poultry or plant-based sources including beans, lentils and peas (eat these with a vitamin C rich food to increase the absorption of plant-based iron). For vitamin E your best bets are oils, nuts and seeds.

  • Key point: statistical significance ≠ biological relevance.

What about antibiotics and hormones in dairy? I covered that in another blog post. You can read more about it here.

Is Grass Fed Beef Better?

If you’re one of many Americans paying a premium for grass fed beef because it contains more omega-3s and less saturated fat than it’s unassuming conventional counterparts, it may be time to reconsider where you’re spending your grocery money.

The omega-3s in grass fed beef are different than the kind in fatty fish. Fatty fish and algae contain EPA and DHA. There’s a third omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), found in plants including walnuts, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Grass fed beef contains ALA because flaxseeds are added to their feed. While EPA and DHA lower blood fats (triglycerides) and are tied to heart benefits, ALA does not lower blood fats and is not associated with the same heart health benefits. ALA rich foods also contain a variety of other bioactive compounds that may act independently or synergistically to improve cardiovascular disease risk factors (eat the whole food not just ALA). The human body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but this conversion process is inefficient. Less than 4% of ALA is converted to EPA and less than 1% makes its way to DHA. ALA ≠EPA + DHA. A 5-ounce serving of grass fed beef contains a whopping 20 to 30 mg of ALA (slight variations in brands of grass fed beef based on the cow’s diet). The Adequate Intake for ALA is 1,600 and 1,100 grams per day for adult men and women, respectively. Eat grass fed beef and you’ll get 2 – 3% of the AI for ALA for men and 1-2% for women.

Grass fed beef and conventional beef have the same amount of saturated fat with some differences in the types of saturated fatty acids. The difference in CLA content of grass fed and conventional beef is tiny. According to a review from Dave et al. (Nutr J 2010;9:10), it ranges from 0.13 – 2.65 (grams CLA/100 grams of fat in the meat) in conventional meat and 0.43 – 5.14 (grams CLA/100 grams of fat in the meat) in grass fed beef depending on the cow and feed. So, you could be getting less total CLA in certain cuts of grass fed beef than conventional beef. 

What about the Bacteria in Conventional Beef?
You cook your beef right? Bacteria is killed during cooking. Moot point.

Is Grass Fed More Sustainable? What about Hormones and Antibiotics?
I will address this and other issues in the next post. Stay tuned….

Organic dairy products and grass fed beef come in beautiful, higher end packaging with natural hues of green and brown outlining their superiority to modest looking products that sit beside them on store shelves. If you love the taste, stick with your organic milk and grass fed beef. But don’t buy into the marketing hype.

References

Circulation 2011;123(20):2292-333.
British Journal of Nutrition 2016;115:1043–1060.
PLoS One 2013; 8(12): e82429.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001;74:612–9.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999;69:890–7.
British Medical Journal 1996;313:84–90.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009;89(5):1649S-56S.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;83(6):S1526-1535.
PLoS One. 2013; 8(12): e82429.
Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:10.

 

 

 

 

Which Fat is Best for Heart Health?

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Butter

If you are more confused than ever about dietary fats, you’re not alone. Can a high fat diet help you lose body fat? Which fat is best for heart health – butter, coconut oil or vegetable oil?

What is Cholesterol & Why is it Essential?
Cholesterol is an essential component of all cell membranes and a precursor to hormones, vitamin D and bile acids (needed for the digestion of fat). It is so important that your body regulates cholesterol balance to ensure your cells receive a continuous supply of cholesterol.

How does High LDL Contribute to Cardiovascular Disease?

Though cholesterol is critical for life, low density lipoprotein cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, is considered a risk factor for heart disease because excess LDL can lead to an increase in plaque buildup in your arteries. Think of this process like a garden hose with gunk stuck in it. The gunk interferes with water flowing through the hose. If too much debris gets in there, no water will flow through.  Likewise, plaque in your arteries will decrease the amount of blood that moves through your arteries at one time and a complete blockage could lead to a heart attack or stroke.  Now, this is a simplistic view, especially considering LDL isn’t just one particle but instead, several that contain different amounts of cholesterol. Some research suggests that smaller, more dense LDL particles are more artery clogging. However, in addition to particle size, total number of LDL particles and oxidation of LDL contribute to the disease process.

As LDL particles travel through the bloodstream, excess LDL particles can stick to artery walls (particularly walls that are damaged due to smoking, high blood pressure and other insults). Trapped LDL becomes oxidized and sets off an inflammatory cascade resulting in the development of plaque (gunk) stuck to arteries – atherosclerosis.

Coronary Artery Disease

How Can I Lower my LDL Cholesterol?

Cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol.

Years ago we were told to stay away from shrimp, eggs and other high cholesterol foods. Yet this advice wasn’t based on sound science – cholesterol in food has little effect on your blood cholesterol levels. So there is no need to take these nutrient-rich foods out of your diet. Shrimp is loaded with protein, and is a good source of iron plus it contains just 80 calories per serving. Eggs are also packed with nutrition – the whites are an excellent source of protein and the yellow color you see in the yolk is from antioxidants – plant compounds that protect plants from disease and protect your body from the damaging effects of free radicals, compounds that are essential but can cause damage as well.

Coconut Oil, Butter and Other Solid Fats are Not the Best Options

Man-made trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fat you can eat. However, they should, finally, be making their way out of our food supply over the next few years. High levels of *saturated fat, the kind that is solid at room temperature like butter, increases HDL (the “good” cholesterol but not a target of therapy – doctors don’t focus on HDL levels because increasing HDL does not lower heart disease risk) and LDL cholesterol in the blood. In controlled diet experiments where saturated fat is replaced with polyunsaturated fat rich vegetable oils, risk of heart disease is reduced. Replacing saturated fat with monounsaturated fat, the kind found in olive oil, also lowers LDL but not to the extent that polyunsaturated fat does.

Coconut oil is popular and calorie for calorie it might be better for weight management than other fats. However, coconut oil raises our total, good and bad cholesterol levels. And therefore, it is not the best option for heart health.

Excess Carbohydrate Intake can Increase LDL

Overconsumption of carbohydrate-rich foods can also increase VLDL cholesterol (very low density lipoprotein). Foods with added sugars, in particular, are potent stimulators of VLDL production when the energy (calories) aren’t needed right away for energy or increasing glycogen stores (stored carbohydrate in your liver and muscle).

Best Fats for Your Heart

Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and liquid oils are your bets for heart health. Oils with more polyunsaturated fat have a greater impact on LDL cholesterol than those rich in monounsaturated fat. Make sure you are choosing the right oil for the right cooking application. Many oils can’t stand high heat and they break down, damaging the structure (and function) of the oil.

Fatty Acids in Oils

Conclusion

Many factors contribute to high blood cholesterol levels, including genetics, overweight/obesity, inactivity, smoking, diabetes and age, making cholesterol management a multifactorial issue. Saturated fat increases LDL cholesterol but, as I’ll say over and over, we are all different and, people vary in their response to dietary saturated fat due to intrinsic differences in fat metabolism as well as other factors including obesity, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.

Replace fats that raise cholesterol with liquid oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives. Consider your overall diet as well. Eat a plant-based diet including vegetables (non-starchy veggies as well as beans, lentils and peas), fruits, nuts, seeds and whole grains (oats, barley etc.). Consume fatty fish ( salmon, mackerel, herring, halibut, sardines etc.) at least two times per week. Limit your intake of foods with added sugars and refined starches as well as your alcohol consumption. 

* There are differences in specific saturated fatty acids and their effects on blood cholesterol. Therefore, some foods high in saturated fat do not raise LDL cholesterol. Also, oils have a different array of vitamins (primarily vitamin E) and plant-based compounds that may be beneficial for heart health.

Fatty acids composition of oils taken from the USDA Nutrient Database.

Go Green for Earth Month & Improve Your Diet at the Same Time

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You don’t have to run out and hug a tree or play hackie sack while barefoot in the park to celebrate Earth Month. Instead, Earth Day and Month were designed to designed to inspire awareness for our environment. What’s in it for you? A polluted environment leads to pollution in our food and water supply that ends up on our plates and in our bodies. And therefore, a healthier earth means a healthier you. You can do your part by recycling, disposing of hazardous wastes properly (so they don’t end up in the water you drink or on the plants you eat) and changing your diet by incorporating foods that are not only good for you but also use fewer environmental resources to produce and/or are produced in an earth-friendly manner. On a recent segment on WBAL NBC Baltimore MD, I shared the top 3 steps you can take right now to help protect the environment and improve your diet at the same time:

1) Choose green seafood – seafood that’s both good for you and good for the ocean.  The DC-based Environmental Working Group has a guide to seafood that is high in omega-3 fats and low in methylmercury. This is especially important for pregnant women and young children. Growing fetuses are exposed to methylmercury in the womb when their mom eats fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury. Methylmercury can harm a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Recent government data suggests an estimated 1.4 million women of reproductive age have blood mercury concentrations that may increase the risk of learning disabilities in their unborn children. Exposure to mercury is harmful to all people and may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. EWG top choices for lower mercury omega-3 rich seafood: wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, mussels and rainbow trout.

2 ) Go Meatless. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone go completely meatless (because animal based sources of protein are typically better for building and maintaining muscle) but, adding more plant based proteins or going completely meatless for 1 day a week has the environmental impact of taking your car off the road for 320 miles, according to the Environmental Working Group. How does this help your body? Plant based sources of protein are typically lower in calories yet they are packed with good nutrition including vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. How can you get enough protein – choose soy, beans, lentils and nuts. I often mix animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins at meals.

3) Cook with canned foods. Americans throw away approximately 15 to 20 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables they purchase every year. Stock up on canned foods because they help reduce food waste, saving us time and money, and reducing our impact on the environment. Canned food portion sizes are just right for both individuals and families, and most recipes are designed around these sizes. Plus, metal cans are endlessly recyclable and in fact, are the most recycled containers in America today, keeping metal out of landfills and saving significant energy. Looking for convenient, wallet-friendly sources of protein? Check out this resource (and easy recipes) Quality Protein – It’s in the Can – Fact Sheet 

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD is a proud Can-bassador – helping educate and communicate the benefits of cooking with canned foods.

 

 

Snacks that Won’t Set You Back

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By: Gisselle Marie Rosa

Healthy grains and dried fruit

Have you had those days where your stomach feels like it is going to eat itself at any moment and you realize that it is only ten in the morning? Even after eating a good breakfast, having hunger pangs before lunchtime can be frustrating and really decrease concentration and productivity. That’s why many people turn to snacks – to tie them over until their next meal. According to recent studies, 97% of male and female participants over the age of 20 reported eating a snack1, with most individuals eating 2 to 3 snacks a day2. However, having a snack that is high in fat and sugar can make you feel sluggish and put you over your calorie budget for the day. So, before running to the vending machine and grabbing a candy bar, indulge in these healthy, tasty snacks that will fuel your body through your midmorning tasks:

  1. Nuts & Seeds

All nuts and seeds are full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and healthy plant based compounds (including antioxidants) and therefore, you should mix and match your nuts and seeds so you get a diverse array of nutrients (since each nut/seed has different nutrients) and tastes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Almonds – These power-packed nuts are sure to fuel your work day with plenty of protein and heart-healthy fats. A one-ounce serving (about 23 raw almonds) will only set you back 164 calories and provide you with 6 grams of protein.

Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili
Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili

In Shell Pistachios – Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili*.

Preliminary behavioral studies suggest that you may consume fewer calories if you opt for in-shell pistachios versus those already shelled because it takes time to break them open and the shells are a visual reminder of what you’ve eaten. Wonderful Pistachios 100-calorie snack packs make a great on-the-go snack that conveniently helps control your portions.  Looking for flavor and maybe even something a little sweet and spicy? Try Wonderful Pistachios Sweet Chili – the secret is in the spices. Salt and pepper has just the right touch of spices to deliver a peppery bite.

If you are worried about the calories in nuts, fear not. Read more about how nuts can help you live longer and lose weight. 

  1. Ants on a Log

A childhood favorite, this snack not only brings out your favorite memories, it also gives you a great protein-packed snack to keep you satisfied ‘till lunchtime. Cut a small stalk of celery in half, then lengthwise to give you four halves of celery. Divide one tablespoon of peanut butter and one tablespoon of raisins into each of the celery halves. This tasty, fun snack stacks up to only 124 calories and 4 grams of protein!

  1. Turkey and Cheese Roll-Up

Looking for a more savory snack? Pack a 1-oz slice of deli turkey and a slice of your favorite low-fat cheese for a dose of 12 grams of protein to keep you full, 200 mg of calcium for bone health, and a measly 145 calories!

  1. Edamame

Ever heard of edamame? Don’t worry, it is just a fancy word for green soybeans. Steam ¾ cup of these shelled soybeans with a sprinkle of garlic powder for a tasty treat that only sets you back by about 140 calories. And don’t worry, with 13 grams protein and 6 grams of fiber, this snack will be sure to keep your belly happy!

5.  Hummus Dippers

Hummus is a food trend that is really sticking; it is a great, healthy snack that is inexpensive and flavorful. So, what exactly is it? Hummus is a Mediterranean dip made of ground chickpeas and spices. Try dipping your favorite vegetable in it, such as baby carrots, sliced cucumbers, or sliced bell pepper for a nutrient-dense snack. At about 100 calories, 2 tablespoons with a handful of your favorite dip-able veggies are a fresh way to keep you going. Also check out edamame hummus – it’s simply amazing (Trader Joe’s has one or make your own).

  1. Peanut Butter Toast

This rich, creamy snack will help quell your stomach and hold you over. Toast one 100% whole wheat slice of bread and top with 1 tablespoon of your favorite peanut butter for 160 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 3 grams of fiber.

  1. Popcorn

Popcorn is a fun, easy-to-eat snack that gives you more bang for your calorie “buck”. For a whole 3 ½ cups of plain popcorn, you’re getting 4 grams of fiber and only about 100 calories. Word of caution: try to avoid the buttery or sweet popcorn flavors as those have more calories and sodium in them!

  1. Strawberries and Cream

Want a change from a plain cup of strawberries? Dip some berries or 1 cup of your favorite fruit in ½ cup of low-fat or fat-free Cool Whip for a light and fresh 100-calorie snack. Or try mixing higher protein cream cheese with a little cheesecake flavored cream cheese and spread this on sliced strawberries or pipe it into hulled strawberries.

  1. Yogurt Parfait

Fuel up with this creamy treat that won’t weigh you down. Top ½ cup of fat-free vanilla yogurt with 2 tablespoons of your favorite low-fat granola and ½ cup of fresh blueberries (or ½ cup of your favorite fruit). This fun snack is nutrient-packed with 7 grams of protein, plenty of calcium for strong bones, and only 200 calories.

Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!
Cabot Snack Size. Because everything is better with cheddar!

10. Cabot snack size*. Individually pre-wrapped cheeses can be kept out for hours and they are a great nutrition-rich (protein, calcium and more) snack to tie you over until your next meal. Find them at Wegmans, Costco and Acme.

* Clients

References

  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Percentages of Selected Nutrients Contributed by Food and Beverages Consumed at Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. 2014. Snacks: Distribution of Snack Occasions, by Gender and Age, What We Eat in America, NHANES 2011-2012.
  3. United States Department of Agriculture. Supertracker. Internet: https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx (accessed 5 November 2014).

Are You Getting the Nutrients You Need for Maximum Energy & Good Health?

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Take one quick peek at dietary survey data and you’ll find many Americans don’t consume enough vitamins and minerals through food alone. How does this impact your health? A nutrient deficiency could affect your energy levels, mood, ability to concentrate, structure of your skin, teeth, nails, bones and more. So, how can you be sure you are getting enough of the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health? First, focus on consuming foods that are particularly rich in the nutrients many Americans fall short on. Secondly, consider taking a multivitamin to make up for any nutrient gaps. But first, here’s a look at the food groups:

To watch my Talk of Alabama TV segment on this topic, click here.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds contain a wide variety of nutrients including magnesium – which is necessary for a healthy metabolism, good energy and muscle strength – yet many people get very little magnesium in their diet. On average, most women get about ½ of the magnesium they need each day. Nuts & seeds also have zinc for immune system functioning, wound healing, muscle growth and repair and some nuts, like almonds, also contain calcium, which we need for strong bones. If you are worried about the calories in nuts and seeds, stick to the right portion size (about 1/4 cup for nuts) and keep in mind that research shows people who eat nuts regularly tend to weigh less than those who consume nuts infrequently.

A few of my favorites based on nutrient content (including magnesium): pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and Brazil nuts.

Grains

Grains provide approximately 43% of the fiber in an average American diet. Fiber aids digestion, helping prevent constipation and it adds bulk to your diet helping increase feelings of fullness, which makes it easier to control your weight. Whole and enriched grains also naturally contain a wide variety of important vitamins and minerals. For instance, grains provide about 2/3 of the folic acid in an average American diet. Folic acid makes healthy new cells. And, it is a nutrient of concern for women of childbearing age because inadequate folate (folic acid) intake during pregnancy increases one’s risk of having premature and low birth weight babies or babies with certain types of birth defects in the brain or spine. Here in the U.S., grains such as bread, cereal, flour, and pasta are enriched with folic acid (gluten free products might not be enriched).

Beans

Beans count as both a vegetable and protein-rich food. Not only are they packed with fiber but they also contain iron, magnesium and potassium. And diets higher in potassium may help lower blood pressure, especially if you consume too much sodium. Plus potassium supports muscle functioning and higher potassium diets may also decrease risk of kidney stones.

Here are 3 you should focus on based on nutrient content and versatility: black beans, lima beans and white beans.

Seafood

Seafood is another rich source of nutrients. For instance, oysters have more zinc than any other food and more iron than red meat (a 3 oz. serving provides almost half of the daily value for iron). Try canned oysters to save time and money. Canned sardines with the bones are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D – you need both of these for strong bones. But, chew those bones carefully! And, if you are concerned about mercury (and small children, pregnant and lactating women should consume only low mercury fish), check out this guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which categorizes fish based on mercury content.

While eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods is the best way to get vitamins and minerals, the reality is that most Americans don’t get enough through food alone, especially those on lower calorie diets or adults over the age of 50. So, consider a multivitamin. Multivitamins are a great solution to fill dietary gaps.

I partnered with Centrum and the Wheat Foods Council for this segment though I wrote the content of this post and the segment based on the latest scientific research.