Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Is Fruit Sugar Better for You Than Refined Sugar?

Is the natural sugar found in fruits better for you than refined cane sugar?  Mike J.

Dear Mike,

Your body actually processes all sugars to the same end product--glucose.  Whether you consume milk sugar (lactose), fruit sugar (fructose), cane sugar (sucrose), or even starches, the final breakdown product is glucose, the simple sugar that is the preferred source of energy for most of the body's cells.

I think processing has a negative connotation in some regard because of the over-processing of some products (like wheat) that results in the omission of nutrients.  The refining of cane sugar is necessary because we cannot cook or bake with chunks of raw cane!  So the process is merely necessary to get the consistency of a product we can use.

Fruit itself is probably healthier than products you consume that contain cane sugar because of the vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber contained in addition to the fruit sugar.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What's The Best Diet Plan?

My doctor advised me to lose 25 or 30 pounds to help reduce the pain from my sciatica.  I have tried Atkins diet before but was unsuccessful.  What do you think the best diet plan is?   Donna L.

Dear Donna,

If you're looking for a weight loss plan I'd have to say weight watchers is the way to go.
You might also see if you would like planning your own diet using the food guide pyramid at http://www.mypyramid.gov/. This site shows you how many servings from each group you need, based on your height, weight, activity level, and weight loss goals. Then you make your own meal plan to support that.

If you feel you would benefit from ongoing support, consider working with a diet coach.
A coach will work with you weekly on an individual basis to help keep you motivated, update your weight loss plans, and remain accountable.
Weight watchers offers weekly support on a group basis, both in person and online.  It's up to the individual what works best for you.  Some people prefer groups and some like to stay at home!

The very best plan would be altering the eating habits that have lead to your weight gain, instead of going on a set "diet" or meal plan. Slowly work to reduce portion sizes, become more active (like taking a flight of stairs instead of the elevator), choose lower fat foods, drink more water, and eat more fresh fruit and vegetables--especially instead of sweets and snacks.

The weight won't come off at a rate of five pounds a week, but once you reach your goal you'll have healthy new habits and the weight will stay off  for good!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Is My Peanut Butter Too High in Saturated Fat?

I just read the label on my peanut butter jar and found it has 1.5 grams of saturated fat in a 2 Tablespoon serving.  Is that really bad?     Gary L.

Dear Gary,

No, I don't think it's really bad.  I actually think it could be a better substitute for what a person may be eating it in place of: substituting this for bacon and eggs on your toast at breakfast, making a sandwich with it for lunch instead of a few ounces of high-fat cheese spread, or having some for a snack instead of a candy bar--it is a better option than many other choices, and there are many foods that would be considered "worse" on a good-to-bad food scale.

But mostly I think there are no "bad" foods--only bad diets.  You need to consider how much peanut butter you consume as a serving, and how often you eat it.  Whether or not you are otherwise healthy or perhaps have a high cholesterol level and need to be limiting your saturated fats. 

There are levels of eating "better" foods and limiting foods that have more fat and calories than nutrition.  There is the issue of including balance in your diet and limiting portion sizes to what is reasonable. There isn't really any one food that stands alone as "bad".

Oh, and of the three varieties of peanut butter that are in my pantry right now, they have between 2 and 3 grams of saturated fat per 2 Tablespoon serving--so your peanut butter actually appears among the better, saturated-fat-wise!

Friday, October 23, 2009

What Do You Think of My Vitamin D Supplementation?

I have been doing some reading on Vitamin D supplementation, and recently started taking 1000IU of Vit D. I also get 800IU in my calcium pill and 500IU in my daily Centrum multivitamin. I also take 1000mg of fish oil daily. I am 58 year old male in good general health. What is your opinion about Vit D supplements and the general regimen I have described?    Dave N.

Dear Dave,

I would be interested to know the source of your reading and what it was you read that made you decide to supplement at a level above the daily value. The daily value for vitamin D is 400 IU. You are more than meeting that in your multivitamin, and then getting some more in your calcium pill. I couldn't say how much additional is in the fish oil you are taking, but remember that you are also getting some in your diet (especially from dairy products), and likely receiving some of what you need through daily sun exposure.  Topping it off with another 1000 IU supplement leads you to exceed the tolerable upper limit that is currently set for this vitamin.

Since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, excess amounts are stored in your body. The tolerable upper intake level is currently set at 2,000 IU, (although later studies do suggest the upper limit could be set higher). Some effects of taking too much vitamin D include calcium deposits in soft tissues (which can damage organs) and kidney stones, as well as other symptoms like generalized weakness, constipation, poor appetite, and also an increase in serum calcium levels which could lead to serious heart rhythm abnormalities.

I suggest you see your physician to discuss an optimal level for you . Exceeding your needs of this vitamin could very well result in doing more harm than good.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Is There Trans Fat in My Peanut Butter?

My peanut butter label says "zero trans fat" on the front, but when I read the ingredients there are "hydrogenated oils" contained.  These seeming conflictions are confusing to me... what can I believe?
Larry F.

Dear Larry,
Technically, if a food has only 0.5 gm trans fat in a serving they can state"zero trans fat" on the label.  There is currently no recommendation for a safe level of trans fats and consumers are advised to avoid any amount whenever possible.  I would take a close look at the listed serving size on your peanut butter label: there's a chance some manufacturers may start listing smaller serving sizes in an attempt to be able to claim "zero trans fats" for their products.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Why Do People With Strokes Sometimes Need Their Liquids Thickened?

My Aunt had a stroke and now we have to add something called "Thick-it" to all her liquids.  How does this help her swallow?  Janet W.

Dear Janet,

Sometimes after a person has a stroke, or if they have any condition that affects their gag reflex (ALS, Parkinsons Disease, advanced stages of Alzheimers), liquids will not be swallowed properly, but instead will accidentally go down the windpipe (trachea) instead of the food pipe (esophagus).  We can experience something like this if we are talking while we eat, or accidentally take a breath while we drink: We cough and cough and say, "something went down the wrong way".  But in stroke patients where the swallow reflex is affected, the person may not even sense that something did go down into the lungs, and may not have a coughing reflex to attempt to get the fluids out.  Eventually, this can lead to a build up of fluid in the lungs and lead to pneumonia, advance to a serious infection, and even result in death.

Thick-It is a powdered thickener that, when added in varying amounts, can make liquids the consistency of honey, nectar, or pudding.  The prescription from the doctor will usually specify to what thickness liquids should be made.

Thickening all liquids (even water) will make it easier for the nervous system to sense what is in the back of the throat (fluids are not as easy to sense), close the epiglottis (the flap that covers the trachea when swallowing) and send the liquids down the safe, intended route to the stomach.

The swallowing process is not done consciously, so if the swallowing function is not working properly , a person may present to the hospital with frequent episodes of pneumonia without knowing the cause. In order to diagnose the condition a speech therapist will do a swallow assessment with the patient, and if any signs of aspiration (food or fluids going down the trachea) are suspected, the next step would be a modified barium swallow (x-ray test) to see exactly what is going on in the throat during swallowing.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Is Weight Watchers A Good Diet Plan?

I am 30 pounds overweight and thinking of joining Weight Watcher's. What is your professional opinion of this diet program and why?  Linda N.

Dear Linda,

I have a very high opinion of the Weight Watcher's program.  It's a realistic way of weight loss because they teach you how to eat in real life--you can cook your own meals, purchase ready to eat meals from the grocery store, or eat out wherever you like.  They teach you to be aware of what you eat and what your portions are.

Many people also appreciate the accountability that is built in by showing up every week and weighing in.  During your meeting you get information and support, as well as rewards for weight loss, which can be very motivating.

This diet, more than any other, is one you can stay on for life. And that's important. Because when you go off a diet, you gain back the weight.

If you are finally read to change your lifestyle, your eating habits, and your activity level, instead of trying another diet for a few weeks to get the weight off for now, this is one of the best ways to go!

You can also choose to join either online or in person, whichever suites you best.

Second to having your own personal diet coach, I think it's one of the best plans out there!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Is Deer Meat High in Cholesterol?

Dear Laurie,
My family received a large amount of deer meat as a gift from a friend who is a hunter.  I would like to eat it, but my concern is that I was able to reduce my cholesterol from 250 to 210 over the past few years by reducing my intake of beef and other meats.  If I enjoy venison this winter, will my cholesterol level go back up again? I really want to avoid taking medication for it.   Drew R.

Dear Drew,

Congratulations on reducing  your blood cholesterol level so well by changing your diet!  My suspicion is that you did more than just eliminate beef on a regular basis: You may also have cut back on other fatty foods, reduced portion sizes, increased fiber intake, and started exercising more.  You probably lost weight as well.  It's usually a combination of dietary changes that leads to such a significant change in cholesterol level.  It's also significant, as you probably know, what the level of your LDL and HDL cholesterol is, too.

If you would not consider eating beef again, you might not want to consider eating venison either: While lower in fat than beef, it is also higher in cholesterol by about 25%.  The lower fat content may make it a safer option than beef, but if your tendency is toward higher serum cholesterol you'll want to proceed with caution.
Be sure the portions are small (3-4 ounces) and that you eat leaner cuts of the meat.  If it were me, I'd try having it once a week and have my blood cholesterol level checked in about six weeks.  By then you should be able to see a difference if one will occur.  If your cholesterol goes up, you'll have to back off on the deer meat, and if not you can continue to enjoy small amounts throughout the winter.

In time, you may become more comfortable enjoying certain foods on occasion, which you have been used to avoiding over the past few years.  It's the combination of all the lifestyle changes I'm sure you have made that reduced your cholesterol level and as long as you keep up most of them on a regular basis you should continue to keep your cholesterol under good control.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Are Meat Substitutes Healthy?

I was wondering about the meatless patties that substitute for burgers and chicken.  Are they healthy enough to eat every day?   --Peter T.

Dear Peter,

There are many varieties of meatless burgers: some are combinations of vegetables, some are made from soy products and my favorite, Quorn is made from textured mushroom protein. There is not a reason I can think of that they wouldn't be good to eat as often as any other food.

Just remember to include variety in your diet.  It's not a good idea to eat any one food to the exclusion of others.  If you like meatless meals, consider other options such as pasta dishes, vegetable stir fry, casseroles, or bean-and-rice dishes to provide a good source of protein and other nutrients as well.