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Category Archives: diet/ weightloss

Good vs. Bad Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet, but there’s much discussion about the good and bad carbohydrates.

So how do you know which is which? The answer is both simple — and complex.

Good vs. Bad Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, often referred to as “carbs,” are your body’s primary energy source, and they’re a crucial part of any healthy diet. Carbs should never be avoided, but it is important to understand that not all carbs are alike.

Carbohydrates can be either simple (nicknamed “bad”) or complex (nicknamed “good”) based on their chemical makeup and what your body does with them.

Complex carbohydrates, like whole grains and legumes, contain longer chains of sugar molecules; these usually take more time for the body to break down and use. This, in turn, provides you with a more even amount of energy, according to Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky.

The Detail on Simple Carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are composed of simple-to-digest, basic sugars with little real value for your body. The higher in sugar and lower in fiber, the worse the carbohydrate is for you — remember those leading indicators when trying to figure out if a carbohydrate is good or bad.

Fruits and vegetables are actually simple carbohydrates — still composed of basic sugars, although they are drastically different from other foods in the category, like cookies and cakes. The fiber in fruits and vegetables changes the way that the body processes their sugars and slows down their digestion, making them a bit more like complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates to limit in your diet include:

  • Soda
  • Candy
  • Artificial syrups
  • Sugar
  • White rice, white bread, and white pasta
  • Potatoes (which are technically a complex carb, but act more like simple carbs in the body)
  • Pastries and desserts

Meyerowitz says that you can enjoy simple carbohydrates on occasion, you just don’t want them to be your primary sources of carbs. And within the simple carb category, there are better choices — a baked potato, white rice, and regular pasta — than others — chips, cakes, pies, and cookies.

The Detail on Complex Carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are considered “good” because of the longer series of sugars that make them up and take the body more time to break down. They generally have a lower glycemic load, which means that you will get lower amounts of sugars released at a more consistent rate — instead of peaks and valleys —to keep you going throughout the day.

Picking complex carbohydrates over simple carbohydrates is a matter of making some simple substitutions when it comes to your meals. “Have brown rice instead of white rice, have whole-wheat pasta instead of plain white pasta,” says Meyerowitz.

To know if a packaged food is made of simple or complex carbohydrates, look at the label. “Read the box so you know what exactly you’re getting. If the first ingredient is whole-wheat flour or whole-oat flower, it’s likely going to be a complex carbohydrate,” says Meyerowitz. “And if there’s fiber there, it’s probably more complex in nature.”

The Glycemic Load Factor

Describing carbs as being either simple or complex is one way to classify them, but nutritionists and dietitians now use another concept to guide people in making decisions about the carbs they choose to eat.

The glycemic index of a food basically tells you how quickly and how high your blood sugar will rise after eating the carbohydrate contained in that food, as compared to eating pure sugar. Lower glycemic index foods are healthier for your body, and you will tend to feel full longer after eating them. Most, but not all, complex carbs fall into the low glycemic index category.

It is easy to find lists of food classified by their glycemic index. You can see the difference between the glycemic index of some simple and complex carbohydrates in these examples:

  • White rice, 64
  • Brown rice, 55
  • White spaghetti, 44
  • Whole wheat spaghetti, 37
  • Corn flakes, 81
  • 100 percent bran (whole grain) cereal, 38

To take this approach one step farther, you want to look at the glycemic load of a food. The glycemic load takes into account not only its glycemic index, but also the amount of carbohydrate in the food. A food can contain carbs that have a high glycemic index, but if there is only a tiny amount of that carb in the food, it won’t really have much of an impact. An example of a food with a high glycemic index but a low glycemic load is watermelon, which of course tastes sweet, but is mostly water.

The bottom line: Just be sensible about the carbs you choose. Skip low-nutrient dessert, consider the levels of sugar and fiber in carbs, and focus on healthy whole grains, fruits, and veggies to get the energy your body needs every day.

High Blood Pressure Diet

If you have high blood pressure, it’s best to eat meals low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.

This is, of course, good dietary advice for everyone, regardless of their blood pressure.

Salt and High Blood Pressure

Too much salt or sodium can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure.

If you have high blood pressure, this is why your doctor will recommend limiting how much salt you eat to no more than about 1 teaspoon per day.

Another rule to follow, according to the American Heart Association, is consuming 1,500 milligrams a day of salt if you have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, or if you are African-American or 51 years of age or older.

Healthy people can aim for 2,300 milligrams a day or less.

To stay on track, choose low-sodium and no-added-salt foods and seasonings, and read nutrition facts labels carefully to determine the amount of sodium added to packaged and processed foods.

Get Plenty of Potassium

Since potassium helps balance the amount of sodium in your cells, not getting enough can lead to too much sodium in your blood.

Hence, getting plenty of potassium can help prevent and control high blood pressure.

Limit Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol can raise your blood pressure, even if you don’t have hypertension, so everyone should monitor alcoholic intake.

Healthy women of all ages and men older than 65 should limit themselves to one drink a day, while men 65 and younger can stick to up to two drinks a day.

Keep in mind that one drink is a 4 oz. glass of wine, 12 oz. beer, or a small amount of hard liquor (1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits).

Supplements and High Blood Pressure

There’s no solid evidence that any supplement can help lower your blood pressure, but a few healthcare providers believe that supplements might have some benefit.

More research is needed to determine what role, if any, supplements might play in lowering blood pressure.

Talk with your doctor before taking any of the following since some supplements can interact with medications and cause deadly side effects.

  • Fiber, such as blond psyllium and wheat bran
  • Minerals, such as calcium and potassium
  • Supplements that increase nitric oxide or widen blood vessels, such as cocoa, coenzyme Q10, or garlic
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Probiotics (though their potential effect on blood pressure is not known)

DASH Diet

Once diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan, which focuses on heart-healthy foods that are low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and rich in nutrients, protein, and fiber.

Foods may include the following:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Nuts

DASH limits the following:

  • Red meats (including lean red meats)
  • Sweets
  • Added sugars
  • Sugar-containing drinks

While your doctor will help tailor the DASH diet to your needs, the following is an example of the recommended servings from each food group for someone on the diet who is consuming 2,000 calories a day.

  • 6 to 8 servings a day of grains
  • 4 to 5 servings a day of vegetables
  • 4 to 5 servings a day of fruits
  • 2 to 3 servings a day of dairy
  • 6 or fewer servings a day of lean meat, poultry, and fish
  • 4 to 5 servings a week of nuts, seeds, and legumes
  • 2 to 3 servings a day of fats and oils
  • 5 or fewer sweets a week

What about a Mediterranean Diet?

Common characteristics of a Mediterranean diet include the following:

  • High consumption of fruits, vegetables, bread and other cereals, potatoes, beans, nuts, and seeds
  • Olive oil as a common monounsaturated fat source
  • Dairy products, fish, and poultry are consumed in low to moderate amounts
  • Little red meat is eaten
  • Eggs are consumed zero to four times a week
  • Wine is consumed in low to moderate amounts

While you may have heard of the health benefits surrounding a Mediterranean diet, the American Heart Association states that before it would recommend the diet, further studies are needed to determine whether the diet alone is the reason for lower death rates from heart disease in Mediterranean countries, or if other lifestyle factors such as more physical activity and extended social support systems contribute.

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.

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.