Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Are Some Types of Beans Better Than Others?

My family eats a lot of legumes, mostly chickpeas and black beans because I have lots of recipes for those. I am wondering if there is enough nutritional difference between varieties of beans that I should be branching out and serving more different kinds - maybe lima beans, kidney beans etc? Or are they basically all the same nutritionally anyway? Thanks so much! - Jennifer C.

Dear Jennifer,

It appears at first glance that all beans are equally good sources of iron, fiber, and minerals so you might not need variety. But the same seems true of many fruits and vegetables until the discovery of some new phytonutrient that seems to come along every few months. All of a sudden one day blueberries are super, or tomatoes have something no other food has so much of, or red raspberries are a must for this new fantastic component that is healthy for our cells!

Apparently the lesson is that variety is always important, even within the same type of food.
I would suggest using any type of bean you can find to mix and match in recipes: try black-eyed peas, great northern beans, pinto beans and navy beans for starters. You might find some new favorites, and you'll never be left out of the loop when some amazing nutrients are discovered in high concentration in one kind of bean!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

What if I Can't Drink Eight Glasses of Water?

I have a question about drinking water.  It seems like the healthy people I see are carrying around water bottles, or drinking lots of water with lemon.  I tried to drink 8 glasses a day a few years back, but it makes me feel bloated and of course I have to run to the rest room every hour!  I want to lose weight and be healthy, but I am mostly a coffee drinker and I'm afraid drinking more water will just make me uncomfortable.  Tim Y.

Dear Tim,

If you drink mostly coffee and hardly any water, there's a good chance you are walking around in a consistent state of dehydration.  Coffee (with caffeine) tends to increase urination and you aren't replacing the water lost from your body.  You may feel a bit sluggish or get slight headaches as an indication you need to drink more fluid.  By the time your mouth is dry from thirst, you've really gone over the edge into dehydration, so don't use "I'm not thirsty" as a judge of when it's time for you to drink.

People who drink lots of water may be a more appropriate weight because they may tend to eat and drink fewer calories than other people do.  Often we look for something to eat between meals when what we actually need is something to drink.  Our brain can send confusing signals which cause us to look for food.
Water is also a calorie-free source of hydration, whereas drinking soda, sweetened tea, lemonade, etc can really pile on the calories.

My advice to you would be trying to drink three or four glasses of water a day.  You don't need to get in eight glasses a day to be in better shape than you are now!  If you can sip at a bottle of water in between each meal you'll be getting a lot more in without feeling like you have to chug it all at once (making you feel bloated) or having you running to the restroom so often.  Remember that most water bottles contain 16 ounces which is two glasses.  If you can try drinking two bottles a day, I'll bet you notice that you start feeling a little bit better and eating a little bit less.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Does Sugar Cause Weight Gain?

I was wondering if sugar causes weight gain, or if it is the calories in the sugar that add up over time?  Janet R.

Dear Janet,
I love the way you phrased that, and you are correct! It is the calories that add up.

For example, if someone drinks several sugary juices or sodas each day, they will end up with a few hundred extra calories they aren't using and their body will store this as energy (fat) for later use.

The other issue is, many foods that contain sugar (like donuts, cake, and candy bars) have fat in them as well---putting on more calories and more weight.

There is nothing wrong with sugar, itself, in moderation---enjoy a teaspoon in your coffee or on your morning cereal without worry!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Can I Stretch My Food Budget?

I'm a college guy on a very tight budget.  I have my own apartment so I can store and cook food, but my family is helping me to pay many of my bills.  I would like to figure out how to cook with the least money possible--any suggestions?  Sam D.

Hi Sam,
Here is a great resource that was printed to help people live on a food stamp budget: That means something around $30 a week for a guy like you!  There are tips for shopping and cooking, meal plans, menus, and recipes in this book, "The Thrifty Meal Plan".  I hope you like it!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Can You Live Off the Water Found In Food Without Drinking?

I have been debating an issue with my coworker. We all know that water is essential to good health. Does water in food count the same as drinking water? Example: is drinking 8 glasses of water in a day the same to the human body as getting the same 8 glasses of water in mashed potatoes? My coworker believes that the 8 glasses of water in the mashed potatoes would not satisfy the body's liquid requirement the same as drinking water would. Could the human body survive if it never had water in liquid form but instead had all of its liquid from food?   Lonnie N.

Dear Lonnie,
Yes, technically if you could get all the water you needed from food, the body would use it the same--H20 is H20!  But it would be quite difficult. The average person who eats 2000 calories per day requires 1 gram (cc) of water per calorie to metabolize the food eaten. 2000 cc's of water is about 8 glasses, and this is where the recommendation comes from.

Let's take a large banana that weighs 200 grams (a bit over 6 ounces) and is 75% water (one of the highest water-content foods)  It contains 150 grams of water--just about 5 ounces. You need most of this to metabolize the calories contained in the banana (maybe 120 calories) so you wouldn't have much left over (1 ounce) for other foods that are low moisture--cheese and crackers and meats and oils.

Indeed if it were possible to eat fruits and vegetables all day long, and nothing else, one may get a good percentage of the water needed. Certainly there are people who never drink water and instead slurp down beverages that make them require more water: sugary sodas, caffeinated coffee, and alcoholic beverages. They manage to live, but they would do much better getting enough water for the many functions it serves in the body: transport, weight elimination, blood volume, and temperature control just to name a few.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

What is the Oily Residue in My Cooking Pans?

If you cook with margarine in a pan, can there be margarine residues on the pan after washing? When I wipe the pan with some paper towels, there seem to be a slight staining.  -- Ben H.

Hi Ben,

Yes, there certainly can be some residue, especially if the pan is just rinsed and wiped. Oils need lots of soap to break up the molecules and allow them to rinse away.

The residue may be greater when using spray margarines and squeeze margarines, as well as some of the low-fat varieties of "buttery spread" because they have other products in them that contribute an oily feel, but are not the same as real oil in structure.  They mimic the taste well, but the consistency is a bit different and they may be reflected in what remains after cooking.  Some of the spray butters and light butters do tell you not to use for cooking, and I've been told they virtually melt into something resembling plastic when heated.

Also, when using a "non-stick" pan it is advised that you not coat the pan, especially not with a cooking spray.  The directions do say that leaves a residue.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Eating Healthy versus Eating Disorder

Confidential to K.M
I hesitate to provide you with all the ways you can reduce your calorie intake, count your calories, monitor your weight, burn the most calories, etc. because I am concerned you may be flirting with disordered eating.

While I do not suspect you have a full blown eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, certain parts of your letter indicate you may benefit from counseling at this time instead of more information on dieting.  Being afraid to gain weight, focusing the majority of your morning planning what you'll be eating the rest of the day, and other thoughts concentrated on calorie-burning are a way of controlling things in your life when there are so many other issues over which we have little control.  Perhaps a trusted therapist will be able to help you deal with so many of the other aspects and one day your weight will not be something on which you focus 24/7.  Other options are eating disorder therapy specialists, outpatient eating disorder units, and local support groups.  Most hospitals can direct you to assistance in your area; I hope you'll take advantage of it and get your old happy self back!

Where Does My Fat Go When I Lose Weight?

When you lose fat weight, where does it go?  How does it physically leave the body?  --Carrie S.

Dear Carrie,

I just love that question!  I'm sure it's something we've all wondered at one time or another.

Well, it's a matter of biochemistry. Each fat molecule is made up of atoms of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen. When your body needs energy (like when you are exercising, or if you haven't eaten enough to support your weight) the fat molecules break down to yield energy in the form of calories. The molecules go through a series of reactions which generate energy that has been stored up until now in neat packages of fat, in special cells for this storage purpose. When you burn a lot of energy (like when running) your body temperature actually goes up and you begin to sweat.

The final breakdown products (and these same atoms are present in protein and carbohydrate as well--which go through a variation of the biochemical reactions to yield calories) are Hydrogen Oxygen, and Carbon. The Hydrogen and Oxygen leave your body as water through the kidneys, the intestine, your breath, and a small amount through your skin (as in sweat). The Carbon atoms combine with the oxygen you breathed in, and are excreted as carbon dioxide.
Ha! Remember in 6th grade when you learned "you breathe in oxygen and you breath out carbon dioxide"? Now you know where the carbon comes from!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Am I Eating Enough Calories?

I am 145lbs and would like to be 125lbs. I am confused about how many calories I should eat. If I burn 1600 calories doing nothing and I work out burning anywhere from 350-800 calories depending on the excercise how many calories should I eat to lose 2lbs a week? I eat about 1600 calories a day and when I incorporate work outs, I am wondering if I am eating enough. I am thinking I need to increase my daily calories.  Sarah M.

Dear Sarah,

The number of calories each person burns varies quite a bit with age, height, activity level, and body type.
At your weight (I am estimating age and height) you may burn about 1600 calories doing no exercise during the day, but if  you want to lose 2 pounds per week you would have to eat 1000 calories PER DAY less than you burn.  This would have you eating 600 calories per day, and it's neither healthy nor reasonable. 

You are doing what's wise by incorporating calorie-burning workouts into your day to promote faster weight loss.  With a slight decrease in calorie intake along with a daily workout to boost calories burned, you'll be able to lose weight, but probably closer to one pound per week than two.
Let's say you burn an average of 2100 calories per day including your work out: Then 1600 calories per day will allow one pound per week weight loss.  Unless you are very large, it's too difficult to lose two pounds of body fat per week.  (For example, a 250 pound man who is 6 feet tall might burn 2900 calories a day and he could  fairly reasonably reduce his intake to 1900 calories per day to lose two pounds per week).

I hate to be the one to tell you, but you are eating enough, and eating more will not allow for any more weight loss than a pound every few weeks. Be sure you are eating nutrient-dense and filling foods so you aren't going around hungry!