Monday, January 26, 2015

What to Drink Besides Diet Soda?

Hi Laurie, I am 59 years old and fairly healthy.  I go to the gym 3 times weekly. I feel very healthy. I have an active job as an Emergency RN. 
My question is concerning diet drinks. I have gone from regular sugar soft drinks to diets drinks(Coke Zero) and occasional ice tea sweetened with Splenda. I would like to now find a substitute for sweetened drinks. I have read plenty of info concerning non-sugar sweeteners. Would you know of any suggestions?
Sondra N.

Hi Sondra,
It's a great move, getting off of sweetened drinks; So many calories that are just wasted!

There hasn't been shown to be any harm in consuming artificially sweetened drinks, in moderation (say, less than 6 per day). Especially now that there is a variety of sweeteners (so you would likely be getting some nutrasweet, some sucralose, some stevia, and not a big amount of any one). But some people don't care for the taste, or just don't want one more unnecessary ingredient added to their drinks.

I, myself, am always seeking a beverage that has neither sugar nor a non-nutritive sweetener, and they are difficult to find. 
Here are a few options:

Tea: There are hundreds of varieties of teas. It doesn't have to be a black tea or a green tea or a caffeinated tea. You can get peppermint or blueberry or jasmine teas. I brew a bag in a small amount of hot water and then add ice (be sure to put a metal knife in a glass with ice before you pour in a hot beverage to keep the glass from cracking). Any tea aisle in any grocery store will surprise you with all the fruity, flowery, and minty flavors. I've had licorice, gingersnap, and my current favorite is mango! So you always have a different flavor to try, or an old stand-by to enjoy. They don't need sugar because of the mild sweet taste of the plant used (it's not really from a tea plant--it's from flowers or herbs so there's no caffeine), but if you like you can add a bit of sugar, honey or agave nectar for a little sweet taste with only 10 or 15 calories.

Water: You can flavor water yourself with a small amount of juice. You can even cut up fruit and keep it in the bottom of a water pitcher for the day. Think citrus, strawberries, even kiwi. Sliced cucumber gives water a refreshing taste as well.

Flavored seltzer/carbonated water: My current favorite to replace soda. Check the label carefully--there are many brands that say "zero calories!" or "just fruit-flavored carbonated water" but they contain artificial sweeteners. Brands with no sweetener include Seagrams, Canada Dry, Perrier and La Croix and include flavors like lemon, lime, grapefruit, raspberry and even coconut. 

Sometimes I'll find a "lightly sweetened" option like "Honest Tea" or a few random others that provide just 80 calories in a large bottle instead of the typical 180 or more. 

These are some good places to start looking for your next favorite thirst quencher. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Can I Get Sick from Eating Sushi?

Hello, and thank you so much for your time. What are the odds of me contracting a parasite or salmonella poisoning from eating sushi at the local Japanese restaurant? How often do people get sick eating sushi on a daily basis? 
I love sushi but I'm in fear every time I eat it!
Andrea F. 

Hi Andrea,

I don't have any statistics but I can tell you it's extremely rare that anyone gets sick eating sushi in a restaurant. 

Every restaurant in the US is required to take safety precautions with all the food and by all the foodservice workers. This includes safe receiving temperatures, detailed storing practices, compulsive handwashing, and many other instructions to prevent food poisoning. Fish intended to be consumed raw (sushi) has even more strict temperature controls.

Safety inspections are conducted by the health department, unannounced, and if a restaurant is not keeping up with the strict protocol they are shut down. You can always ask to see the latest health inspection, which many eating establishments keep posted in the front of the restaurant.

Furthermore, if there is a case of food poisoning, it must be reported to the CDC (Center for Disease Control), and the local health department also gets involved. This is very bad publicity for the restaurant, so they definitely do NOT want anyone getting sick from their food!

If you still aren't sure about eating raw seafood, there are plenty of items on the menu that aren't raw: California rolls are usually cucumber, avocado and cooked crab (or imitation crab); eel and shrimp are usually cooked (you can tell when shrimp is pink that it has been cooked); and there are lots of vegetable and fruit sushi items.

I can tell you that I've personally never gotten sick from sushi, and have never known anyone else who has either. You probably have as much chance getting sick from eating in any restaurant (or anyone's home, for that matter) if they don't have sanitary cooking practices, so don't let sushi scare you :)


Monday, January 19, 2015

Are Chips With Avocado Oil Better?

Hi, Thanks for taking my question! 
I bought some potato chips that were 'cooked in 100% Avocado oil' which I had never seen before. I know that kind of oil is considered better for you than other saturated fats, so are these chips any less harmful? Thanks, Larry M.

Hi Larry, 
Well, that's an interesting question. 
The "bad" part about chips isn't just the oil they are fried in (and usually it's corn, a polyunsaturated oil). It's the amount of "empty calories" they contribute to the diet. Because an ounce of chips usually provides about 150 calories and not a whole lot of nutrients (a small amount of vitamin C is usually about it), it's not usually a healthy addition to your diet.

Chips fried in avocado oil will still have the same calorie and fat content as chips fried in any other oil. It's true, we know mono-unsaturated oils--avocado, olive, peanut, canola-- are slightly better than polyunsaturates because polyunsaturated fats have somewhat of a lowering effect on HDL's, also known as the "good" cholesterol in the body. People are encouraged to include sources of mono-unsaturated oil in the diet, so changing your chips to this brand that uses avocado oil is a smart move.

But overall, if this is the only change made in your diet it's not going to have any major effects. And if you consume large amounts (especially if you are overweight or need to be limiting your sodium intake) that will cancel out any of the "good" effects of using the mono-unsaturated oil.

One thing you are doing that is great for your health is reading food labels and asking questions. Paying attention to what you eat is a great way to improve your diet!


Food Label Information for PreDiabetes

Dear Laurie,
I have prediabetes so am trying to lower my carbohydrates, including switching from white pasta to whole wheat. But I looked at the boxes and the white pasta has 41 grams of carbohydrates, while the whole wheat pasta has 39. They both have 2g of sugar. That's such a tiny difference, I thought it would be more. Am I missing something? How can the whole wheat pasta be that more beneficial, as far as carbs go?  Thanks, Marvin W.

Dear Marvin,
What you're probably missing is the grams of fiber per serving of each pasta.
Carbohydrate grams from fiber do not provide calories because humans cannot digest fiber. The material passes through our body untouched, except by 'good' bacteria that live in our gut.

And fiber helps slow absorption of a meal, delaying the rise of glucose in your bloodstream.

There are numerous benefits of consuming a diet high in fiber (25-35 grams per day). In this case, fewer calories per serving of pasta; slower absorption after a meal--which can make you feel more full sooner and longer; and slower rise in glucose after eating.

Aside from the benefits for diabetes control, fiber intake can prevent colon cancer, help regularity of bowel movements, and certain types of fiber help lower cholesterol.

Keep reading those food labels, and make the better choice every time you can!