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Monthly Archives: December 2016

The Hidden Fat Content in Your Diet

It’s probably no surprise that greasy cheeseburgers, French fries, and pizza are loaded with fat.

But did you know that even certain vegetables and healthy fish can have a high fat content?

Keep in mind that fat is an important part of a healthy diet and while not all fat is bad, the fat content of a given meal should be evaluated just as closely as its calories.

Fat Content in Your Diet: How Much Fat Is Okay?

It’s important to pay attention to how many fat grams you eat each day to make sure you’re getting just the right amount of fat in your diet and no more.

The recommendation is that no more than 30 percent of your daily calories should come from fat, says Anne Wolf, RD, a researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. Based on the average daily total intake of 2,000 calories, this means we should eat less than 65 grams of fat each day. “Typically we’re eating well over what we need,” notes Wolf.

There are two kinds of fats, commonly considered “good” and “bad” fats. Saturated and trans fats are bad, as they are linked to a number of health problems, like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unsaturated fats — the good ones — can actually protect your body from some of these conditions. Still, that doesn’t mean you can eat them without limit because too much of any fat, or of any food for that matter, can lead to weight gain.

When tracking the fat content of your meals, make sure that most of your fat intake is in the form of unsaturated fats, that less than 20 grams are coming from saturated fats, and that hardly any are from trans fat.

Fat Content in Your Diet: Fat in Everyday Foods

Think of the foods that frequently make up your daily meals. Have you ever considered their fat content? Here are some commonly eaten foods and where they weigh in on fat (typically the bad kinds):

  • Average fast-food hamburger: 36 grams
  • Average fast-food fish sandwich: 24 grams
  • 10 French fries: 8 grams
  • One ounce of potato chips: 10 grams
  • One slice of cheese pizza: 8 grams
  • Two ounces of bologna: 16 grams
  • One hot dog: 14 grams
  • Three slices of cooked bacon: 10 grams
  • One ounce cheddar cheese: 8 grams
  • One cup whole milk: 7 grams
  • Two tablespoons of peanut butter: 14 grams
  • One teaspoon of butter or margarine: 4 grams
  • One serving of most breads, bagels, and cereals: about 1 gram

If some of those numbers don’t look that bad to you, pay attention to the amounts and serving sizes of each of them. When was the last time you ate only one ounce of potato chips, just 10 fries, or a single slice of pizza? So think about fat content before you indulge in a burger and fries for lunch followed by pizza for dinner.

Fat Content in Your Diet: Surprisingly High-Fat Foods

While the high fat content of certain foods is no surprise, you may not realize that many other foods are loaded with hidden fat:

  • Movie theater popcorn (because of the way it’s processed)
  • Packaged meals with added sauces, butter, or oil
  • Highly marbled red meats, including some cuts of beef and lamb — that white marbling is fat
  • Chicken and other poultry if the skin is eaten
  • Salad dressings

Perhaps the biggest hidden sources of fats to watch out for are prepackaged snack foods and meals. They often contain dangerous trans fats — frequently listed as partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening in the ingredients — because they give these foods a longer shelf life. Trans fats are particularly unhealthy for your heart and cholesterol levels and should be avoided as much as possible.

While you might know that olive and vegetable oils are high in fat, so are nuts, olives, avocados, and certain fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines. These foods contain the good, unsaturated fats — just monitor how much you eat to control your weight.

Given the high fat content of so many foods, if you’re not careful, you could exceed your entire daily fat allowance by lunchtime! Keep an eye on your fat intake, and opt for unsaturated fats in place of saturated and trans fats. Your health, your heart, and your waistline will thank you.

A Diet for Better Energy

Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you’re at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly,” says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

Diet and Diabetes

For most people who don’t feel well, a visit to the doctor can diagnose and fix the problem. Simple, right?

But some diseases can be silent predators, offering few or no warning signs to alert you early on that help is needed. One such disease is diabetes.

Not only does diabetes affect almost 24 million people in the United States, but 25 percent don’t even know they have it.

What Is Diabetes?

As food is digested, it is broken down into glucose (also known as sugar), which provides energy and powers our cells. Insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, moves the glucose from the blood to the cells. However, if there is not enough insulin or the insulin isn’t working properly, then the glucose stays in the blood and causes blood sugar levels to rise.

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 results from the pancreas no longer being able to make insulin and is usually found in children, teens, and young adults. Gestational diabetes can occur near the end of a woman’s pregnancy and usually disappears after the baby’s birth.

The most common form of diabetes is type 2. Risk factors include being overweight; not getting enough physical activity; having a parent or sibling with diabetes; being African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander; being a woman who had gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds; having high blood pressure, having low HDL (good cholesterol) or high triglycerides; and having pre-diabetes.

Diabetes: Why Is It Dangerous?

“When poorly controlled diabetes causes blood glucose levels that are too high or too low, you may not feel well,” explains Claudia L. Morrison, RD, outpatient diabetes program coordinator at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Diabetes that is poorly controlled over time can lead to complications that affect the body from head to toe.” Issues can occur with everything from one’s eyes, kidneys, and nerves to reproductive organs, blood vessels, and gums. But the most serious problems are heart disease and risk of stroke.

Diabetes: What Role Does Diet Play?

“Food can either promote diabetes or help prevent it, depending on how it affects the body’s ability to process glucose,” says Elizabeth Ricanati, MD, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 Program in Cleveland. “People should avoid foods that increase blood sugar and those that raise cholesterol, such as processed foods, foods high in saturated fats or with trans fats, and foods with added sugars and syrups.”

Processed foods as well as items high in fat or sugar not only can disrupt the balance between glucose and insulin, resulting in inflammation, but can also contribute to risk factors such as being overweight.

Carbs, too, need to be watched. While they are necessary to fuel the body, some carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels more than others. “The glycemic index (GI) measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose,” says Morrison. “Foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food such as white bread. Dry beans and legumes, all non-starchy vegetables, and many whole-grain breads and cereals all have a low GI.”

Diabetes: What Is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet for diabetes is virtually the same as a healthy diet for anyone. Eat reasonably sized portions to avoid gaining weight, and include fruits and vegetables(limit juice to no more than eight ounces a day); whole grains rather than processed ones; fish and lean cuts of meat; beans and legumes; and liquid oils. Limit saturated fats and high-calorie snacks and desserts like chips, cake, and ice cream, and stay away from trans fats altogether.

Thirty minutes of exercise most days of the week and losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight, if a person is overweight, are also crucial in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Finally, anyone experiencing frequent urination, extreme thirst or hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurry vision, or frequent infections should see a doctor for a blood test to check for diabetes. With careful attention and healthy lifestyle choices, diabetes can be kept under control.

Can Diet Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

Little in life is as scary as the idea of forgetting our loved ones, our histories, and ourselves. Yet that is exactly what is happening to the more than 5 million people in North America suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Mild forgetfulness in the early years of the disease slowly expands to include serious problems with memory, language, and abstract reasoning until eventually this brain disorder robs its victims of the ability to function.

Despite extensive research, both cause and cure for Alzheimer’s disease remain elusive. Experts theorize that a complicated combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors result in cognitive decline, though they are still working on exactly how it happens and what can be done to prevent it.

One logical area of exploration is diet. While there have been no definitive breakthroughs yet, there are certain foods that are being carefully studied for their specific relationship to Alzheimer’s.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and B Vitamins

“A few studies found a correlation between high dietary fish with omega-3 fatty acid intake and a decrease in developing Alzheimer’s,” says Tara Harwood, registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “However, more studies must be conducted before any conclusions can be drawn.”

High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, have been associated with the risk of dementia. One avenue being examined is whether increasing intake of folate and vitamins B6 and B12, which break down homocysteine, can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. “Neither vitamin B6 or B12 supplementation has been proven effective,” says Harwood, “but data from one study found a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s for individuals with the highest folate intake.”

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Antioxidants

Another possible theory in the development of Alzheimer’s disease involves free radicals destroying the integrity of the body’s cells. These unstable molecules have the potential to cause cell aging and damage, which could be one piece of the Alzheimer’s puzzle.

“You can reduce your exposure to free radicals by limiting contact with the sun, environmental pollutants, and cigarette smoke,” says Harwood. “However, free radicals are a byproduct of metabolism, which occurs every minute of the day. Because it’s impossible to completely eliminate free radicals, [eating foods with] antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, and flavonoids, can help.”

Foods high in antioxidants include berries, dark green and orange vegetables, nuts, and beans. Specifically, studies have shown rats and mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease had improved mental function after being fed blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries. Green tea is also high in antioxidants, and although it hasn’t been proven specifically to prevent Alzheimer’s, it has been shown that drinking five cups a day can reduce one’s risk of heart disease.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Mediterranean Diet

A few recent studies conducted by researchers from the neurology department at Columbia University Medical Center in New York have looked at the possible preventive effects of the typical diet eaten by people in countries around the Mediterranean sea, such as Greece. The “Mediterranean diet” is primarily made up offruits, vegetables, and beans, fish, olive oil, a moderate amount of wine, some dairy foods, and small amounts of meat and chicken. Though more study is needed, results point to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and lower mortality rate among those who contracted the disease.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Next Steps

While there is no definitive answer to the Alzheimer’s mystery, there are certainly clues to follow. “No changes in diet, dietary supplements, food additives, vitamins, nor alternative herbal medicines have ever been demonstrated to affect the risk for Alzheimer’s disease or the course of the disease in a well-designed clinical trial experiment,” says Randolph Schiffer, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Cleveland. “With that said, most of us in the Alzheimer’s research field believe that people should adopt and continue healthy lifestyles, including diets low in saturated fats and high in antioxidants and B vitamins.”

Until more research is available, it makes sense to combine a good diet with physical and mental activity and social interaction. This approach just might help keep Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other illnesses, at bay.