Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What is The Healthiest Food?

What are the healthiest foods to eat? Is meat healthy? What about milk and whole grains? Are humans the only species that don't inherently know what to eat?   Jonathan K.

Hi Jonathan,

I wouldn't say there are "healthy" and "unhealthy" foods: There are foods that contain more desired nutrients (like vitamins, minerals, and fiber) and less undesirable components (like cholesterol and sodium and added sugar).

For example, a hamburger has fat and cholesterol...but it also contains protein and iron, so it's not "bad for you" if you aren't eating a 10-oz burger while you're overweight and have high blood cholesterol levels.

Broccoli and kiwi are nutritious, providing vitamins A, C, potassium and fiber in a very small amount of calories; but they don't have protein, vitamin B12 or sodium, which your body needs. So if your diet was just composed of broccoli and kiwi, it would be unhealthy.

What's "healthy" or not is your average diet over a period of time... what you eat, in what amounts, and how much variety you include. Are you eating the calorie level you need, or too much?  MyPlate.gov helps show people how to balance their diet by making the better choices from all food groups to balance their diet, so they aren't missing nutrients Americans tend to fall short in (like Calcium and Vitamin C) and aren't over-consuming other components like fat, sodium and sweets.
 The best foods are those we call "Nutrient Dense" meaning they have a high amount of nutrition compared to their caloric content. For example, if you compare a peach to a slice of peach pie, they both have vitamin A, fiber, and carbohydrate from the peaches, but the pie adds calories from fat (in the crust) and sugar (in the filling) and an extra dose of carbs from the flour in the crust. So the peach provides in 60 calories what the pie provides in 300, while the latter is also tipping the scale with more fat and sugar.

If humans ate what was natural (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and dairy), it probably wouldn't be an issue. It's when all the canned (high sodium), processed (low-fiber), manufactured (added sugar) and "convenient" items get into the mix that we start getting into trouble!

In my opinion, everything is fine, in moderation. That means even bacon once a month or *wince* soda is okay once in a while. Most often, the diet should be composed of a balance and variety of fresh foods from each food group. There is nothing inherently wrong with sugar, wheat, meat, or dairy.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Can I bake with olive oil?

I've heard that olive oil is more healthy than plain vegetable oil, but I'm wondering if I can use it for baking, like muffins and cakes. I've been told not to use any substituting in baking because its an exact science and altering the recipe will affect the final product.
Thanks! Darla J.

Hi Darla, 

Olive oil is monounsaturated and this type of oil probably raises your "good" cholesterol while also lowering your "bad" cholesterol levels. Other vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower) only do the bad cholesterol lowering.

I've used olive oil in baking and never noticed a taste. Peanut oil is also monounsaturated, and may be interesting to bake with (peanut-flavored oil in a chocolate cake?!) if there was a hint of taste. 

All the oils act alike in baking, so it's not really substituting a different product at all.

By the way, there are ways to substitute some of the oil in baking to lower fat and calories in the finished baked good. You can use applesauce, mashed banana, yogurt, and even puréed prunes or beans!  Replacing all the oil often changes the texture noticeably. I've had mushy banana bread result more than once! But replacing half the oil with equal amounts one of these fat free healthy foods usually comes out well.


Friday, July 19, 2013

Can I Make My Own Vitamin Water?

I was wondering if there was any good way to add vitamins into water as that they would be effective, but never overdose the person no matter how much they drink? I don't like drinking so much of the brand name vitamin water because of the artifical colors and flavors. But I'd like to be able to ingest vitamins every time I consume water throughout the day. Preferably without noticable flavor. 
Thank You, Peter M.

Hi Peter,

I don't know of a way to gauge how much to put in a beverage so that you can't overdose no matter how much you drink. I suppose you could crush a daily multivitamin into a pitcher of water, estimating that you would drink that pitcherful during a day.

But after a certain amount of vitamin intake, even while the water-soluble (B and C)vitamins are not likely to be harmful, your body just can't use any more of them so it excretes the extra in your urine. You might notice after having something fortified with vitamins (like some breakfast cereals) you urine is almost a bright yellow--that is from the presence of B vitamins.

And you really don't have to add vitamins to make water healthy. There are all sorts of nutrients occurring naturally in beverages. Orange Juice provides vitamin C, and tea can provide antioxidants, for example. Think about just adding a splash of juice to flavor your water, or drink tea some of the time. There are over a hundred varieties of herbal teas and they can be enjoyed iced as well as hot.

With a balanced diet you can get all the vitamins you need from your food, so there's really no reason to consume extra in an artificially-fortified water.
But extra water....it's hard to go wrong with just drinking plain water!



Sunday, July 7, 2013

How do I Train my Brain to Think like a Thin Person?

I am a 40-year old female with high blood pressure. I was very overweight, but by making some conscious effort I have lost about 80 pounds and would like to lose another 80. My diet has changed rather drastically: I used to eat processed foods, soda and sweet tea and lots of junk! Now I eat lots of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and drink lots of water.
My diet is not perfect--I still enjoy ice cream once in a while, and fried chicken--but I keep those treats in moderation.
The problem I hope you can help with is that my brain still tells me to eat like I used to. For example, I went to the quick-mart to buy some food for my 5-hour work shift-- I got 2 bottles of water, a breakfast burrito and a greek yogurt. That would have been enough. But while I was there I also bought a turkey sandwich. Sure enough, at lunch time I wasn't hungry, but I knew I had that sandwich and it was "lunch time" so I ate half of it. Then on the way home I knew it was there. I still wasn't hungry, but I ate the rest of it.

How do I retrain my brain to realize I don't need to eat all the time, just because it's meal time, etc. I am not even hungry, but it's telling me to eat. It doesn't make sense.

Thanks, Pat. A.

Dear Pat,

Congratulations on your successful weight loss and the healthy changes you've consciously made!
Your struggle makes a lot of sense, and I'll tell you why... Of course, if we knew what made us want to eat and how we could overcome these urges, we could stamp out obesity across the country, right?!

The issue is that we, as humans/animals, our brains are programmed to eat whenever there is food in front of us. Imagine if a caveman had some meat and berries in front of him and said, 'Nah, I'm good for now. Maybe I'll eat in a few hours.'  What are the chances food would be there later?
So when we see food (in front of us, smelling the aroma of baking, being confronted with the rows of chips and candy bars at the drug store, driving by the Golden Arches, etc etc) it makes us, on a primal level, give our conscious brain a very strong signal that we need to eat, NOW!
Your primal brain said, "I know there's a turkey sandwich" and another part of your brain acknowledged, "Yes, there is, and I can have it now".

So, the trick is training yourself to rationalize why it's NOT a good idea to eat now. To do this, you can start with writing some short sentences that make sense to you on note cards and carry them with you wherever you go, and read them often (dozens of times a day) and especially when the urge hits. 
They may say, "I can eat later" or "I just ate 2 hours ago" or "I'm not hungry so I'm not going to eat" or "I am too advanced to let my primal brain think for me" or maybe, "I will be so proud of myself tomorrow when I step on the scale" ... whatever resonates with you.
For years you have been listening to the instinctive part of your mind and you have been obeying. So it's going to take a lot of re-programming, but that's exactly how it's done. Simply repeat the NEW message you want to learn over and over again repeatedly for weeks and weeks until you realize you are starting to think this new way.

I would highly recommend the Beck Diet Solution Workbook by Judith Beck which helps overcome a struggle exactly like the one you speak of, that so many overweight people face when trying to lose weight. I lead a teleclass every few months that I call "Lifechanging Weight Loss" in which I use Dr. Beck's workbook as the basis of the course. Anyone anywhere in the country can be in the class since we meet over the phone on a weekly conference call. So many people have told me how well this program works for them, and it's even better when you've already had success in progress!
You can see when the next course is offered, and register here
Please feel free to email me again with any questions.

Good luck with your continued success!

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Is Fruit a Good Snack for a Person With Diabetes?

Hi Laurie. I really liked your response to the January 2013 post on pre-diabetes and wanted to ask a similar question. I'm prediabetic, I've had both the tests you mentioned (fasting blood glucose and Hemoglobin A1C) and they came back indicating I was at a prediabetic stage. I met with a diabetic nurse, but she didn't really give me any helpful advice that pertained to me and my eating habits. I'm very slim and I love to exercise. I also eat pretty healthy (75% of the time), but I have a big sweet tooth. I've cut out things like banana chips, honey cashew/peanuts and desserts at restaurants. But I love to eat fruit and that's my preferred snack between meals. Is this still okay even though it's pure carbs? I tried to snack on vegetables, but I just don't enjoy it at all. Thank you, Lisa (link from I'm Trying to Prevent Diabetes)

Hi Lisa,
I'm glad to hear you are being so proactive with this condition. It can save you so many health problems down the road!

Your number one priority would be to get a prescription from your doctor to meet with a Registered Dietitian. Most hospitals have out-patient dietitians, or you may find one in private practice in your area through the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) or other dietitian directories (https://www.eatright.org/programs/rdfinder)
Ideally you will be given a specific calorie level to meet your needs, and then the dietitian will determine the number of carbohydrates to include daily, and help design a meal plan with you to spread the carb servings over the day.
For example, in an 1800-calorie meal plan, there would be about 225 grams of carbohydrate per day (about 15 'servings'). A meal plan would be set up to choose 4 "carbs" at breakfast, for instance, such as 3/4 cup cereal flakes, 1 cup skim milk, 1 slice of whole wheat toast and 1/2 banana, and then a certain number of carbs at each other meal and snack to total 15.
A serving of fruit would count as one carb serving, just like a slice of bread would, or a serving of pasta or a handful of mini-pretzels. 
A couple of points to note here-- the fruit is likely going to add some essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals and fiber that other foods (like pretzels) won't, so it may be considered a healthier choice. However, each individual reacts differently to a variety of carbohydrate sources. So you could find that eating 10 cherries causes your blood sugar to spike; or maybe grapes do but bananas don't. Some people find that watermelon raises their blood sugar but ice cream doesn't! So it's extremely individualistic to note the reactions of various foods on blood glucose levels (despite glycemic index numbers).
It would take a period of checking your blood sugar at home in a variety of situations to figure out what snacks are better for you, personally.
Another point is that when a person eats carbs alone (like fruit or pretzels) the glucose level is likely to rise more quickly. Including a protein or fat source along with a piece of fruit (like cheese, peanut butter, or nuts) may blunt that reaction.
Bottom line--fruits are good for you in many ways, but no one has a "free" license to eat fruit with abandon. They contain carbohydrates and calories, and must be taken with moderation just like anything else.

Friday, May 17, 2013

How Are Foods Altered in Order to Make Them Lower in Sodium, Fat or Sugar?

A friend told me she avoids foods with chemical additives. I think that's a good thing, but she said she includes in this category foods that are labeled "low fat" or "low sodium" or "sugar free" because to be able to alter the food in that way, they add other things to it. Is it true that to change foods to be 'low sodium' etc., they use more additives?  Thanks, Ellen L.

Hi Ellen,
That's a good question, and the answer is, "not all the time".

Some foods typically have a lot of salt, sugar, or fat in them, and these ingredients can be easily eliminated or removed. Examples include "unsweetened tea", "unsalted pretzels, chips or crackers" and "low-fat" or skimmed milk. There is nothing added to the foods to substitute for the sugar, salt or fat. When you buy skim milk it's just plain milk, and when you buy unsalted chips they are the same chips, just without salt on top.

In other cases, something IS added and a great example of this is fat-free salad dressing. In order to make the dressing look, taste, and feel like one with oil, something with a thickened consistency, such as glycerol, is added and sugars are often added as well... same with lower fat peanut butter (which, interestingly, rarely is lower in calories than regular peanut butter, so what's the point?!)

Another of my least favorites is "diet tea" which apparently does not mean the same as "unsweetened"...Much to my dismay, these will generally have an artificial sweetener added.
I find it discouraging that it's nearly impossible to find some products without the manufacturer adding sugar or other sweeteners: fruit juices, canned fruits and brewed tea particularly annoy me! Just when I think I've found a real, plain bottle of tea or juice (because it says "no sugar" on the label) I turn to the ingredient label and see there is stevia or sucralose or aspartame added. Why can't I just have plain tea? Since when is a pear not sweet enough on it's own that the manufacturers feel compelled to add something to make it sweeter? Even worse, in my opinion, are products that are 'renovations' of original, fresh, whole foods, like "low-calorie orange juice"... definitely some altering going on there!

But, I digress.
To answer the question, you can find out what's really in the food by checking the ingredient section of the nutrition panel. If you aren't sure what everything is, try comparing it to the original product that will be right next to it on the shelf.
Some "low-sodium" soups may just have much of the added salt left out while others may have potassium chloride added, which mimics a salty taste.

I also want to add that sometimes a product is just making a claim and hasn't been altered at all. Examples that come to mind are "cholesterol-free peanut butter" (because cholesterol is only present in animal fats), "caffeine-free 7up" (as they tell you on the commercial, 'never had it, never will'), and "Less-Fat" bragging notes on peppermint patties and 3-musketeer bars (which show, when you look closely at the small print, that they are comparing themselves to other 'full sized candy bars' which frequently contain nuts, that are a natural source of fat and calories).

The fact is, some of these "lower in ... " foods will be better for you in some way if you can weed through the details. Reducing the sodium in your diet could keep your blood pressure lower, and limiting fat and sugar can help control your weight. So do a little more reading on the side panel to discover which of these foods you might want to avoid because of the additives, and which of them have merely left out ingredients you didn't want as much of in the first place.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

How Does a "Cheat Day" Fit Into My Diet?

I am starting a diet to lose weight. I've heard that people incorporate a "cheat" day or meal into their diet. My question is, how does this work? If I eat right 5 days a week and "cheat" the other two, will I still lose weight? Does a cheat day mean eat one food you don't allow on your diet, or eat whatever you want all day?

Thanks, Carl R.

Hi Carl,

Let's start with an example to illustrate how this might work: Say you are eating 500 fewer calories than you need on a daily basis so you can lose 1 pound a week (if you burn 2200 calories a day you'll be aiming to take in 1700).
If you "cheat" one day a week and consume an extra 500 calories above your needs (2700 calories), you will cancel out one of your dieting days. In this case you will lose one pound every 9 days instead of every 7 days.

If you cheat big time and really pig out one weekend and consume 1000 calories above what you burn on each weekend day you'll cancel out 4 of your diet days, plus you won't lose on those two days either. It would take 7 weeks to lose one pound at this rate!

And, in fact, many dieters quickly find out that they can completely trash all their progress during the week when they just let go on the weekend.

A better approach might be to pick one "cheat" food to include on a rare basis and plan to exercise it off. For example, you might decide to have 2 strips of bacon on Sunday breakfast, or an alcoholic beverage on Fridays after work (or even both!). This would add about 300 calories into your work, and not even set you back one day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

What Does the BUN Level in the Blood Mean?

Hi there, I was wondering, how does one lower their Blood urine nitrogen (BUN) level? Is there a certain kind of supplement that a person could take, & if so,  is there  a specific kind of supplement that you would recommend? or is there a certain food, or overall diet that would help bring down a person's BUN level? hope you can answer this for me.
Thank you, Donald N.

Hi Donald,
You've probably been given the results of a blood test and been told your BUN level is above normal (about 8-20 mg/dL depending on the individual laboratory). 

BUN (blood urea nitrogen) is a measure of how much urea is in the blood, a breakdown product of protein. It's usually an indicator of kidney function, as the kidneys excrete this waste product. A high BUN (say from 30 - 60 mg/dL) often indicates a decline in kidney function. It is usually interpreted along with the serum creatinine level (normal range about 0.7-1.2 mg/dL). In the case of kidney insufficiency, a protein-restricted diet may be prescribed to slow the progression and ease the stress on the kidneys.

A high BUN level can also indicate a bleed in the GI tract, when an excessive amount of protein is being absorbed from the blood in the digestive tract that does not belong there.
There's nothing that can be taken to lower the BUN level--the problem behind the BUN elevation is what has to be addressed, and your medical doctor should be able to provide you with answers or refer you to a specialist.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Vitamin K and Coumadin (Warfarin)

The information on the internet is vast and difficult to sort through. I am on warfarin and am looking for a list of foods and their vitamin k levels.  I am trying to eat a consistent diet but would like to make informed, smart choices. Any suggestions would be appreciated, thank you for your time.      Marcy D.

Hi Marcy,

I'm so pleased to hear you received the correct education, which is to maintain a consistent intake of vitamin K and NOT to avoid vitamin K foods!

Here is a reputable list of vitamin K content of foods from a university (Anytime there is ".edu" on a website--as opposed to ".com"-- it's from a university and I deem this information to be far more reputable than blogs or sites with contributions from people who are not necessarily professionals in the field).


For the most part, the best way to maintain a consistent intake is to not greatly vary your intake of leafy greens: For example, going on a diet where you suddenly start having spinach salad every day could definitely throw off your coumadin/vitamin K balance.

Kudos to you for paying close attention to your dietary and medication regimen :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

My Breakfast Doesn't Fill Me Up

I have a question about breakfast. I usually have a slice of toast and a bowl of Fiber One cereal. The cereal has 14 grams of fiber, but I still don't feel full after eating. In general, cold cereals don't fill me--are there some hot cereals or hot dishes that might work?
Donna L.

Hi Donna,
Since you're eating basically all carbohydrates at breakfast, consider adding some protein and/or fat. These nutrients tend to stay in your stomach longer than carbs so it may help keep you full for longer.
Try peanut butter or cottage cheese on your toast, a slice of cheese, yogurt or an egg.
(If you're watching your weight you will have to eat about 75 - 150 calories fewer later in the day to keep your calorie level the same.)

Saturday, January 26, 2013

I'm Trying to Prevent Diabetes

I have diabetes in my family, and I seem to have many of the symptoms of insulin resistance, so I'm trying to watch my carb intake and eating lower glycemic.

I have a friend that says she lost weight by not eating carbs in the morning. Instead she has some fruit with low fat yogurt.
I found this interesting. I find it hard to lose weight, even though I am a picky eater and am very active.

All my life I have had a breakfast of cereal and toast. Perhaps with my genetics, this is what was hapening to me?

Is a yogurt and fruit breakfast healthier.

Thanks for your thoughts! Sharon E.     Hi Sharon, First I want to commend you on trying to prevent diabetes which you know runs in your family.     I would have to say, the number one preventive for diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight. In order to do this, it's important to limit your daily calorie intake, not just carbs. Exercise is also essential to maintain the balance that keeps you at a healthy weight.     Your friend said she has no carbs at breakfast, but fruit is pure carbs, and yogurt contains carbohydrate as well. It's important to find an accurate source of information (such as the American Diabetes Association or a Registered Dietitian) since what well-meaning friends and family -- as well as the internet -- have to say can be confusing and just plain wrong!     I'm curious as to what symptoms you are experiencing that make you think you are insulin resistant: the main symptom would be an elevated blood glucose level. I recommend getting a blood test to see where you stand. The "Hemoglobin A1C" level can show what your blood sugar has been running over the past 3 months, so that's a good place to start.     If you are overweight, eating less and moving more to get to a more healthy weight would be your first line of defense. (An easy first step would be keeping a food diary so you can see where you might overeat during a typical day).     Good Luck! Laurie