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Monthly Archives: November 2016

Say No to Soda, Yes to Healthy Drinks

Sodas are sweet, sparkling and tasty — but don’t confuse them with a healthy drink. Doctors have discovered a ton of health risks connected with drinking soda pop. Worse, you’re robbing yourself of a healthy drink alternative brimming with needed vitamins and minerals every time you chug down a soft drink.

“If you’re choosing a soda, chances are you aren’t choosing a healthy beverage,” says Keri M. Gans, a nutrition consultant in New York City and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. There are a number of healthy drink choices you can make instead.

Why Say No to Soda?

  • Soda is truly worthless to your body. “In my opinion, there’s really one major reason to not drink soda,” Gans says. “It has absolutely no nutritional value. Soda is filled with sugar and calories and nothing else.” Even diet sodas — low to no calories and sugar — don’t have any redeeming virtues, nutritionally. Healthy drinks, on the other hand, have vitamins and minerals the body can use. Even plain water can rehydrate your body without adding extra calories to your diet.
  • Sugary sodas contribute to obesity and diabetes. Soda is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, a sweetener that has been linked to obesity. Soda consumption also has been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes, both due to its sugar content and its effects on the body’s hormones. And diet soda? It may not be any better. At least one study has linked artificial sweeteners, such as those used in diet sodas, to increased appetite, greater difficulty losing weight, and a harder time maintaining weight loss.
  • Soda damages your teeth. The sugar in soda coats your teeth, combining with bacteria in your mouth to form acid. Both regular and diet soda also contain carbolic acid through carbonation. These acids work to weaken tooth enamel, causing cavities and tooth decay.
  • Drinking soda can weaken your bones. Most sodas contain phosphorous and caffeine, agents that are believed to contribute to osteoporosis. Experts also worry that people consume soda in place of milk or other healthy drinks, depriving the bones of calcium.
  • Soda can harm your major organs. Research has demonstrated that increased soft drink consumption may be linked to chronic kidney disease, development of metabolic syndrome (a group of symptoms that add up to increased heart risk), and fatty liver, a chronic liver disease.

Healthy Drink Alternatives

Luckily, there are limitless options when choosing a healthy drink over a soda pop. Some soda alternatives include:

  • Water. It is the ultimate healthy drink. “It’s free in every sense of the word,” Gans says. “It has no calories and it comes straight from your tap.”
  • Fruit juice. Gans urges you not to drink straight fruit juice, which contains a lot of sugar. “Drink some seltzer with a splash of juice for a little flavoring,” she says. “Rather than drinking juice, eat a piece of whole fruit. You’re also getting the fiber in the fruit.”
  • Milk. This is another essential healthy drink, particularly for kids. “An 8-ounce glass of nonfat milk has 80 calories and nine essential nutrients,” Gans says. “You get a lot of bang for your buck.”
  • Tea. Whatever teas you prefer — green, black, herbal — they all have been shown to contain high levels of antioxidants, which are believed to protect the body from damage.
  • Powdered drink mixes. They contain no tooth-rotting carbonation, and come in sugar-free varieties. They give your sweet tooth a fix without harming your overall nutrition.

And remember that you can always cut up some fresh fruit and pop a little into a tall glass of water for an extra flavor kick. Choosing healthy drinks over soda: Give it a try. Your body will thank you.

Good Sources of Potassium

 Potassium is a mineral that most of us get every day through the foods we regularly eat — and that’s a good thing.

“Potassium is a mineral necessary for good health,” explains Alexa Schmitt, a clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It aids in maintaining heart health by helping to regulate the fluid balance in the body.”

Potassium is classified as an electrolyte, which means that it carries an electric charge in your body.

The body needs balanced amounts of electrolytes — including potassium, sodium, magnesium, and others — to keep the blood chemistry at the right levels so that your body can function at its best.

Potassium also helps your body put the protein you eat to work, building muscle, bones, and other cells.

Who Needs to Pay Attention to Potassium?

Even though potassium helps our bodies in many ways, Schmitt says she cannot simply make a blanket recommendation about eating more potassium. That’s because different people need different amounts of potassium, depending on their overall health.

So who needs to watch their potassium intake?

  • People with kidney disease are at risk of having too much potassium in the blood. They tend to retain potassium because their kidneys don’t get rid of extra potassium as normal kidneys would. Hyperkalemia, or high levels of potassium in the blood, can be caused by a number of things (including certain medications and hormonal deficiencies), but kidney disease is the most common culprit. High levels of potassium can lead to irregular heartbeats. Therefore, your doctor may periodically check your potassium levels, especially if you have kidney disease.
  • People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for having low potassium levels (hypokalemia) because some high blood pressure medications can deplete potassium levels in the blood. Other conditions that can cause low potassium include vomiting, diarrhea, and eating disorders. Certain laxatives and diuretics have been found to cause low potassium as well. Low potassium is characterized by weakness, fatigue,constipation, and muscle cramps. If your potassium level becomes too low, it can also affect your heartbeat. Talk with your doctor about monitoring your potassium levels if you take high blood pressure medication or have a condition that may cause low potassium.

Foods High in Potassium

Though a lot of people associate bananas with potassium, there are a number of other foods that are high in potassium, which Schmitt defines as having at least 350 milligrams of potassium per serving.

In addition to bananas, Schmitt’s high-potassium food favorites include dried apricots, cantaloupe, beets, figs, honeydew melon, and orange juice.

“Cantaloupe and honeydew are great [for potassium] because people tend to eat more cantaloupe in one sitting than they would bananas or dried apricots,” she says. Other foods that are high in potassium include potatoes (with the skin on), soy products, dairy products, and meats.

Many of us already enjoy foods that are high in potassium, but if you’re worried about your potassium intake because of conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, talk to your doctor or see a nutritionist. They can help you plan a healthy diet.

Measuring Body Fat

 Many people who are watching their weight — or trying to lose some pounds — turn to their bathroom scale. But that old familiar standby is not the only way to measure one’s size. Another possibility to consider is your body fat percentage.

Body Fat: What Are the Dangers?

When most of us hear the words “body fat” they have immediate negative connotations. However, in the right proportion, fat is actually critical to our diet and health. In the not-so-distant past, the ability to store extra body fat allowed our ancestors to survive in times of famine, when food was hard to come by. Even today it’s essential to keep the body functioning, to preserve body heat, and to protect organs from trauma.

Problems arise when our bodies store too much fat. This can lead to a variety of health issues, including high cholesterol, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. Especially dangerous is fat stored at the waist, creating what is often called an “apple-shaped” body, as opposed to fat on the hips and thighs, a “pear-shaped” body.

“Normal body fat for men is around 8 to 15 percent of their total body weight and for women approximately 20 to 30 percent,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center.

Body Fat: How Can It Be Measured?

There are a variety of ways to measure the amount of body fat a person is carrying. “The most accurate way is ‘underwater weighing,’ which weighs the person on land and then underwater,” says Mary M. Flynn, PhD, RD, chief research dietitian and assistant professor of medicine at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Providence, R.I. “But equipment for this is very expensive and not readily available.”

Another fairly accurate option is Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA). BIA consists of electrodes being placed on a person’s hand and foot while a current (which is not felt) is passed through the body. Fat has less water and is more resistant to the current, whereas muscle, which contains more water, is less resistant. The resulting numbers are entered into an equation which figures the percentage of fat and lean tissue.

The easiest method is measuring waist circumference and determining the Body Mass Index (BMI). A waist circumference over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is cause for concern.

Figuring BMI involves a little more calculation. BMI is done by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703, then dividing that number by your height in inches two times. If the end result is less than 18.5, the individual is underweight;18.5 to 24.9 is normal; 25.0 to 29.9 is overweight; and over 30 is obese.

“However, you must be aware of this disclaimer. BMI alone is not an indication of body fat, especially in athletes and bodybuilders. Growing children under 18 years old should also avoid using BMI,” says Elizabeth Downs, RD, clinical dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center at the University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

One final way of determining body fat is using skin calipers to measure fat at specific places in the body. However, not only is it easy to make errors, but this method also doesn’t measure any interior fat or fat contained in thighs and women’s breasts.

Ultimately the percentage of body fat is just another number in the health equation. And if you are not happy with the result, all it takes is adding exercise and cutting calories to get it moving in the right direction.

Why Fruits and Vegetables Are Vital

 If we are what we eat, then many of us must be tripping all over the place due to a lack of balance. That’s because the average American eats about three servings of fruits and vegetables per day — a stark contrast to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new guidelines stating that we should be eating 5 to 13 servings of nature’s best, depending on the number of calories you need.

So if we want to grow to be strong like Popeye, why can’t we just down some supplements instead of devouring a pile of spinach?

Nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables work together. Kristine Wallerius Cuthrell, MPH, RD, a research nutritionist and senior project coordinator for Hawaii Foods at the Center on the Family at University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that in the past five to 10 years, many large research studies have found that vitamin supplements don’t provide the benefits that foods do. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, created jointly between HHS and USDA and reviewed every five years, say that foods are the best sources of nutrients because they contain naturally occurring ingredients, like carotenoids and flavonoids.

“In addition to the substances we are aware of, there are many present in fruits and vegetables that have yet to be discovered. Food and the nutrients they contain aren’t consumed singly, but with each other. As such, they may act in synergistic ways to promote health,” Cuthrell says. For instance, eating iron-rich plants, like spinach, with an iron-absorbing enhancer, like the vitamin C in orange juice, is great for people who don’t get enough iron (typically young women).

Fruits and vegetables may prevent many illnesses. Eating fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. The Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study examined nearly 110,000 people over the course of 14 years. Part of the study revealed that the more fruits and vegetables people ate daily, the less chance they would develop cardiovascular diseases.

The relationship between fruits and vegetables and cancer prevention has been more difficult to prove. However, recent studies show that some types of produce are associated with lower rates of some types of cancer. For example, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest that mouth, stomach, and colorectal cancers are less likely with high intakes of non-starchy foods like leafy greens, broccoli, and cabbage. Though studies have been mixed, lycopene, a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color, may help stave off prostate cancer.

Fruits and vegetables are great for watching your weight. They’re low in fat and calories, and loaded with fiber and water, which create a feeling of fullness. This is particularly helpful for dieters who want more filling calories. Plus, that fiber helps keep you “regular.”

Fruits and Vegetables: Get Your Fill

When adding fruits and vegetables to your diet, remember that variety is the spice of life. It’s important to eat produce of various colors because each fruit or vegetable offers a different nutrient — think of it as nutritional cross-training. Trying new foods can be exciting, and be sure to sample every color in the produce rainbow.

The right number of servings of fruits and vegetables for you all depends on your daily caloric intake needs. A good way to find out how many servings you should be eating is by using the CDC’s online serving calculator. Or make things even simpler by eating a fruit or vegetable at every meal and snack.

Don’t let season, accessibility, or cost affect your fruit- and vegetable-friendly diet. If finding fresh produce is difficult, choose frozen, canned (low-sodium), or dried varieties. Also, 100 percent juice counts toward your servings, though it doesn’t offer the full fiber of whole fruit.

The power of prevention may lie in a salad bowl or a plate of fruit. When we take advantage of produce, our bodies return the favor by reducing our risk of developing various illnesses.