Sunday, August 30, 2009

New Site for Blogs

Dear Fellow Blog Readers:

I have launched my new web site as of today and will officially start blogging on my regular website at The blog is located on the top bar and titled: Doctor's Dietitian blog. I made the decision to house everything on the web page for easy access and will be updating information there frequently as well as blogging about the latest studies and products I found that are useful for individuals. Thank you and hope you like the new site!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Healthy Snacks for Diabetic Children

Understanding diabetes is the first step in planning healthy snacks for diabetic children. There are 2 types of diabetes that children can be diagnosed with – type I and type 2. With type I the child’s pancreas stops producing insulin usually due to a combination of genetic and environmental issues.

With type 2 the child has sensitivity to carbohydrates. A diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates combined with inactivity and a family history of diabetes can cause the insulin the child makes to become “sluggish” and eventually lead to high blood sugars. So type I is an absence of insulin, and type 2 is a resistance to the insulin that is there.

Both types need to monitor amounts of carbohydrates and choosing healthy carbohydrates from real whole food sources paves the way to choosing healthy snacks.

Healthy sources of carbohydrate include:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • low fat plain dairy products
  • nuts, seeds and nut butters
  • whole grains such as brown rice and quinoa
  • beans/legumes
  • buckwheat

How do we translate these choices to healthy snacks for those with compromised blood sugars? Sticking to foods that are in their whole form, rather than packaged foods is the first step. Following are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. 2 tablespoons of natural peanut or cashew butter with cut up apple or celery
  2. 2 slices of hard cheese melted on a whole wheat tortilla
  3. “Healthy Nut Mix” – recipe from blog 4/1/09
  4. Mixing a fresh ricotta cheese with berries, cinnamon and a little honey
  5. A miniature relish plate for kids with pickles, olives, hard cheese and grapes
  6. Homemade Hummus (recipe below) with carrot and celery sticks
  7. Ricotta Buckwheat pancakes (see blog 7/14/09) with Apple Blueberry Compote (recipe and picture in this blog)

Use your imagination and even take your child shopping to get them involved in picking our wholesome healthy food at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Their involvement in the process of healthy eating encourages healthy consumption!

Apple Blueberry Compote

Servings: 6 ½ cup servings

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes


4 medium apples, peeled and diced

(mix of Golden Ginger, Gala, Pink Lady, and Fuji)

1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon butter, cut in little pieces


Preheat oven 400 degrees.

Mix apples, blueberries and spices in glass dish. Dot with butter. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and then stir. Mixture will turn purple with stirring.

Per Serving

Calories 85

Protein 0 grams

Total Carbohydrates 18 grams

Total Fat 2 grams

Fiber 4 grams

Sodium 0 mg.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Crunchy Wheat-Free, Gluten-Free Snacks

Years ago wheat-free snacks lacked taste and crunch. There has been an explosion of snacks in the last 2 years which are tasty, crunchy and made of nuts, seeds, vegetables and spices. These make an excellent snack choice for those with carbohydrate sensitivity, diabetes, celiac disease and other medical issues.

My favorite variety is Wheat Free Crusts by Mauk Family Farms. These “crackers” are made of sunflower, sesame and flax seeds along with spices and will make an wonderful substitute for crackers.

Another company that makes many varieties is Lydia’s Organics. These “crackers” are usually made of almonds, sesame seeds, vegetables and spices. The Luna-Nori, Italian and Sunflower “Bread” have a great taste and pair well with cheese or peanut/almond and cashew butters.

Finally Matter of Flax is a excellent choice that makes their “crackers” of flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and spices which make them each a little different – Italian, Mexican, and Indian are a few of the flavors.

They all have a little kick and will satisfy that carby crunchy need without breaking your “carb” bank.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Does a Dark Chocolate a Day Really Keep the Doctor Away?

Many people think of dark chocolate as something their mothers used to bake with, but it has come a long way since that time in terms of texture and flavor. Many varieties of dark chocolate are on the market, with some tasting better than others. I myself was a big milk chocolate fan and when the research became clear that dark chocolate was the most advantageous I reluctantly transitioned myself over to the dark. However, after going over to “the other side” I am now sold on dark chocolate.

If you only like milk chocolate consider trying
Dove Dark Chocolate Promises – they come in a nice bite size and 2 per day is a good serving. Experiment with tasting different ones. Trader Joe’s has Dark Chocolate Wedges that come in a small round tin n regular dark chocolate and spiced with chipotle for a nice kick. My current favorite is Kallari dark cocoa which comes in 70, 75 and 85% at Whole Foods. Kallari has a rich smooth taste that I only experienced with dark chocolate I tasted in Switzerland. Choose ones that are greater than 70% cocoa since a higher cocoa content contains the most nutrients and the least amount of sugar.

Why eat dark over milk chocolate? Dark chocolate contains higher amounts of a type of phytochemcial (a chemical naturally found in foods that prevents disease) called flavanols than milk chocolate. The higher the percent cocoa the more flavanols the chocolate contains. Dark chocolate and cocoa contain several types of flavonoids called catechins and epicatechins which are thought to lower inflammation in the body.

Dark chocolate has been linked with lower inflammatory states in the body due to its high antioxidant activity. A 2008 study done with 5000 people linked a square or two of dark chocolate per day with 33 percent decrease in heart disease among women and a 26 percent decrease in men. The people in the study had lower levels of C - reactive protein, a marker in the blood that signals inflammation in the body.

It is recommended to eat one ounce of dark chocolate per day for health - I’d say a recommendation most of us can live with – and maybe not even a splurge, but a necessity!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Healthy Ice-Cream?

Do you remember the days of the hand cranked old-fashioned homemade ice-cream that had the most wonderful creamy taste? My mouth waters just to think of it and wonder why it is a lost tradition.

In my opinion ice-cream is a healthier dessert to eat since it contains no flour, gluten, and if made with few ingredients is a worthwhile splurge in moderation. One brand I discovered several years ago is a small family company in Santa Barbara called McConnell’s. Their ice-cream is made with very few and fresh ingredients and is sold at Whole Foods.

Recently Haagen-Dazs started making a new ice-cream called “Five” that tastes almost homemade and contains just five ingredients. The vanilla bean contains: skim milk, cream, sugar, eggs and vanilla. I tried the vanilla and coffee this past weekend and was surprised at how a satisfying a few bites could be. If you want to have ice-cream skip the ‘lite” fake fluff and enjoy the real deal.

The other healthy dessert I recommend is dark chocolate but let’s save that one for another day.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Alcohol and Breast Cancer?

Several years ago I got asked to speak at a women’s conference and address the connection between diet and cancer. After researching foods to include and foods to avoid I was surprised to find the strong correlation between alcohol intake and breast cancer. Were the alcohol companies just good at hiding these studies?

Since that time, multiple studies have established the link between alcohol intake and breast cancer risk. Wendy Chen, M.D., Ph.D., a cancer specialist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, presented her research data at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 2005. Her study tracked the health of 122,000 women since 1976 that were free of cancer when the study began.

When compared with those who did not drink, they discovered the following:

• Women who drank the equivalent of half a glass of wine a day were 6 percent more likely to develop breast cancer
• Women who drank the equivalent of a glass or two of wine per day had a 21 percent increased risk of breast cancer
• Women who drank the equivalent of two drinks per day had a 37 percent increased risk of cancer

Alcohol can increase breast cancer risk since it:

• Increases blood triglyceride levels
• Increases estrogen levels in blood circulation
• Decreases the liver’s processing of excess estrogen in the blood and decreases immune function.

A 2009 study published in the UK in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute showed similar results in women consuming alcohol: consuming as little as one drink per day increases a woman’s risk of several types of cancer by 13 percent.

Everyone reads about how a glass of red wine per day is good for your health. However, the studies that have looked at the correlation between wine and health have consistently shown that resveratrol is the component of alcohol which prevents disease, which is not in the fruit of the grape, but is contained in the skins. Therefore, just eating some grapes every day with skins can be more beneficial to health than a glass of wine.

So the next time you have a snack, reach for some grapes and have a few nuts or a piece of hard cheese for balance.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Plain Yogurt?

Since breakfast can be challenging, here is one more easy option that takes less than 5 minutes to prepare and can hold you for 3-4 hours or until lunch. Plain yogurt is a great food to have on a daily basis since it contains 400 mg. of calcium per cup serving besides providing healthy bacteria for your gut.

As opposed to European yogurts, most plain American yogurts are bitter and tasteless, at least until recently. A few years back this pattern started to change with several companies selling European-style yogurts with a thick creamy consistency.

One of my favorites is from Greece called Fage. The plain Fage 2% contains the best nutritional mix with high levels of protein, a little fat and a moderate amount of carbohydrate. It comes in large containers, and small ones that travel well.

Another favorite is Strauss plain yogurt. Strauss is a small company that carries all organic products including plain low-fat yogurt and whole milk yogurt. Both are good options that come in large containers only.

Spega La Natura is an Italian yogurt that comes in small glass jars which are handy for re-use around the house. This yogurt is easy to take to work for a snack or small meal.

All of these brand mix well with fruit and nuts or seeds, or the Healthy Nut Mix (see blog 4/1/09) from my upcoming book A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian which will be available in September.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Frittatas: A Simple Healthy Breakfast

Since I did a recent article about eggs (see 7/11/09) I thought I’d give you an easy breakfast idea for eggs. Eggs are the highest quality protein that exists. If you eat eggs for breakfast it will sustain you for many hours versus eating a bowl of cereal which will leave you ravenous in 2 hours. Eating protein in the morning also increases your metabolism so you burn more calories which could help with weight loss.

No time to make eggs? Try making my easy frittata on the weekend. Simple to make, and can provide breakfast throughout the week by just heating up a square with a cup or a pieced of fruit. Besides being portable to bring to work, frittatas are versatile since they can be made different each time with various colorful vegetables - appealing to the eyes and palate!

Serves: 8 squares
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

½ sweet yellow medium sized onion, chopped
5 cups chopped vegetables (zucchini, yellow squash,
mushrooms, red bell pepper, tomatoes)
12 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2-3 tablespoons 1% milk
1 tablespoon Herbs de Provence (or favorite spice)
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

In a medium saucepan sauté onions and red bell peppers in olive oil until tender for 5 minutes. Add other vegetables and sauté until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a bowl whisk eggs and add shredded cheese, milk, and spices. Fold in vegetables. Pour mixture into large glass baking dish (9 x 12) and bake at 350 degrees for half an hour or until lightly brown on top and firm. Remove and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut in squares and serve.

Per Serving

Calories 209

Protein 18 grams

Total Carbohydrates 6 grams

Total Fat 12 grams

Fiber 1 gram

Sodium 301 mg.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Low-Carb High-Protein Pancakes?

Let’s take a break from the research today and focus on eating. The recipes in my upcoming book: A Recipe for Life by the Doctor’s Dietitian focus on unprocessed “clean” foods that are balanced with respect to protein, healthy forms of carbohydrate and fat. In creating a breakfast recipe that fit these criteria I wanted a pancake high in protein and could be enjoyed by people with insulin resistance, diabetes and wheat and gluten in tolerances.

Although the name is deceptive, Buckwheat contains no wheat, and is from the beet family, making it technically a fruit and not a grain. Besides being high in protein and calcium, this recipe is a great way for carb lovers to feel spoiled. It is very light compared to regular pancakes and can be used as a wrap for sandwiches at other meals. Top with unsweetened applesauce and fruit.

Ricotta Buckwheat Pancakes

Serves: 20 medium sized pancakes
Prep Time: 10 minutes (plus 1 hour refrigeration)
Cook Time: 15 minutes

4 large eggs, separated
2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
½ cup buckwheat flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
¾ cup 1% milk

Separate egg whites in a small bowl and yolks in a medium bowl. Set egg whites aside. Mix yolks and ricotta cheese until thoroughly combined. Add the flour, salt and sugar into yolk mixture. Stir the milk.

Beat egg whites with electric mixer until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into yolk mixture. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight for best results.

Heat griddle with a small amount of butter. Measure batter in approximately ¼ cup increments and pour on hot griddle. Once bubbles start appearing (about 2-3 minutes), gently flip pancake until the other side becomes golden brown (an additional 1-2 minutes). Top with fruit or applesauce.

Tip: Recipe can be halved.

Per Pancake:

Calories 66

Protein 5 grams

Total Carbohydrates 3.7 grams

Total Fat 3 grams

Fiber .5 grams

Sodium 74 mg.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Vitamin D: The Wonder Vitamin?

This fat-soluble “sunshine vitamin” has recently re-emerged as the wonder vitamin with numerous research studies coming out monthly on its health benefits.

Until very recently, it was thought that the RDA for Vitamin D (400 IU/day) was sufficient to prevent disease and to maintain bone health. We have recently seen an epidemic of vitamin D deficiency in this country, which is thought to be responsible for many autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and Multiple Sclerosis, cancers and even cardiovascular disease.

What are the recent findings on Vitamin D?

In January 2009 researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Michigan Peninsula Medical School revealed that compared to those with optimum Vitamin D levels, those with the lowest levels were more than twice as likely to be cognitively impaired – i.e. have dementia

In February 2009 the Archives of Internal Medicine studied 19,000 adults and adolescents. People with the lowest average levels of Vitamin D were 40% more likely to have a recent respiratory infection compared to those with higher Vitamin D levels

In March 2009 the Journal of Nutrition published research showing that high intakes of both calcium and Vitamin D helped protect against diabetes. C-peptide (a measure that determines if diabetes is in the works) was 20% lower in those with higher blood levels of Vitamin D

In April 2009 the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published research showing that a daily supplement of 83 mcg. of Vitamin D per day (or 3320 IU) significantly boosted heart health by lowering triglyceride levels (storage form of fat) and markers of inflammation in the blood that indicate heart disease

In June 2009 the National Institutes of Health funded a study that showed that higher blood levels of Vitamin D were linked to increased loss of abdominal fat

Benefits of vitamin D are more important than we all knew – lowering risk of heart disease, respiratory infections, dementia, and diabetes and helping with weight loss!

A great way to get your vitamin D, besides food, is exposure to daylight or sunshine three times per week for about 10-15 minutes, since your skin has the ability to manufacture it after being exposed to sunlight. Since many of us try to stay out of sun due to skin cancer, we are deficient in natural vitamin D. However, it is still important to wear your sunscreen.

Some researchers are now calling Vitamin D the antibiotic vitamin since it boosts protection in the white blood cells of antimicrobial compounds that defends the body against germs. Many physicians are recommending intakes of 1000-2000 IU of Vitamin D per day to help with already low tissue levels and increasing the tissue levels to help prevent disease.

Next time you visit your physician ask to have your Vitamin D levels checked to know if you are in need of supplementation – it could save you more than just a cold!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cracking the Myths on Eggs and Cholesterol

For many years we’ve been told to avoid eggs if we want to keep our cholesterol levels under control. Since eggs contain cholesterol they must increase cholesterol levels in the blood, right?

Since research did not exist at the time this recommendation was made, committees were formed from the American Heart Association, American Dietetics Association and so forth to come up with guidelines for healthy eating. One of the guidelines stated that American should limit their eggs to 3 per week.

Since that time solid research is now available that dispelled the myth of needing to limit eggs. Following are excerpts from my upcoming nutrition book: A Recipe for Life by the Doctor's Dietitian explaining the current studies.

Myth: Eating eggs in your diet will increase your blood cholesterol levels.

Fact: Dr. Stephen B. Kritchevsky from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and J. Paul Sticht Center on Aging states in his 2004 review on eggs:

“Data from free-living populations show that egg consumption is not associated with higher cholesterol levels. Furthermore, as a whole, the epidemiological literature does not support the data that egg consumption is a risk for coronary disease.”

Very few studies exist linking any connection between cholesterol levels in the diet and cholesterol levels in the blood. When the guidelines were made up by the various health boards recommending a limit to cholesterol levels, it was based more on common sense than on research. It does make sense that if a food contains cholesterol, it must increase the blood cholesterol value. However, this analogy never really panned out.

Eggs are an excellent source of protein, and most of the fat contained in the egg is polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. It is an excellent source of the antioxidant lutein which can lower certain inflammatory responses in the body. Eating an egg daily or 2 eggs several times a week easily fits in with a healthy lifestyle and is even beneficial. If you are diabetic it might be prudent to limit your intake to less than 7 eggs per week, taking into consideration all the studies on eggs. So don’t be afraid of eggs, or limit yourself to egg whites. Enjoy an omelet and get on with life.

Dr. Bruce Griffin, a researcher from the University of Surrey stated in Nutrition Bulletin in February 2009:

The link between egg consumption and raised cholesterol levels, which ultimately could lead to cardiovascular disease, was based on out-of-date information. The egg is a nutrient-dense food, a valuable source of high quality protein and essential nutrients that is not high in saturated fat or energy…it is high time we dispelled the mythology surrounding eggs and heart disease and restored them to their rightful place on our menus where they can make a valuable contribution to healthy balanced diets.

We’ve now cracked the myth of eggs and cholesterol.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Omega 3's for Health?

Why all the hype about Omega-3 fatty acids, and what exactly are they good for? The history of fats is a long complex one we will save for another blog. The important thing to know for now is that Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat or one that is liquid at room temperature. Another type of polyunsaturated fat is known as Omega-6 fatty acids and it is vital to know the difference.

Omega-3 fatty acids are critical to keeping the cells of your body healthy and flexible so good nutrients can get in and waste can get out. They have what is known as an “anti-inflammatory effect” in the body versus the “pro-inflammatory” effect that omega-6 fatty acids have. Think of what happens when you sprain your ankle and it swells – this can happen internally to the body when your diet is out of whack and you are not getting the right types of fats.

The 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids have long chemical names but let’s stick with the abbreviations: ALA, DHA, and EPA. ALA is found in high concentrations in ground flax seeds and DHA and EPA are found in fish and fish oil It is thought that 85% of Americans are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids which has lead to many types of medical problems including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, depression, Alzheimer’s, and cancer to name a few.

Olive oil is the main one that contains large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Most other oils are high in omega-6: vegetable, corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean. Canola oil is a genetically modified product (see blog 4/9/09) and therefore not recommended.

Multiple research studies in the past year have proven:

Daily intake of DHA and EPA (fish oil) can lower triglyceride levels by 25-30% which can subsequently lower risk of heart disease and diabetes

EPA taken daily by patients with colorectal cancer had suppression of cancer cell growth

After supplementing for 4 weeks with EPA/DHA, subjects displayed significantly lower levels of depression compared to controls

Supplementing with DHA and DPA delayed the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by reducing inflammation in the brain

Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis taking omega-3 fatty acids had significant reduction of their pain intensity, morning stiffness and joint pain and were able to lower their pain medications

Taking EPA/DHA during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy contributes significantly to both neurological and visual development of the baby besides improved mood of the Mother

The ALA in ground flax seed contains a lignan, a type of phytoestrogen that is thought to have a role in prevention of breast cancer. Since the lignan can bind to estrogen receptors, estrogen related cancers are minimized

The take home message is you can’t afford NOT to take omega-3 fatty acids for health and prevention of disease. To get your omega-3’s I recommend a daily intake of:

1. 1 tablespoon per day of ground flax seed for ALA
2. At least 1000 mg. each of DHA and EPA from fish oil or fatty fish
3. Use olive oil as your main oil and minimize other oils

Monday, May 18, 2009

Soy: Friend or Foe?

Following is an excerpt from my upcoming book due out later this summer:

Soy was virtually unheard of until the early ‘90s except in infant formulas or for people with allergic reactions to cow’s milk. Many food manufacturers joined the “soy bandwagon” since soy appeared to be the latest health food. I remember attending the Natural Foods Expo in Los Angeles and noticing practically every food manufacturer was promoting foods containing soy!

Several years ago, I had to have a part of my thyroid removed. Soy nuts had become popular and I started snacking on them. After a few weeks, I noticed I didn’t feel so good. Since that was the only change I had made in my diet, I discontinued eating soy nuts. Within a few days I felt like my normal self again. At that time, I had no idea soy could interfere with thyroid function. A few years later, the research began to appear stating the negative effects of soy on thyroid.

Soy is not the health food many advocate. The studies regarding the health benefits of soy are very conflicting. Soy has been touted as a cure-all for hot flashes, heart disease, and cancer, just to name a few. Soy is also known as a “phytoestrogen,” or a substance that mimics estrogen, which is significant, since estrogen can increase breast cancer in some women.

In 1999, two Food & Drug Administration (FDA) expert researchers on soy, Daniel Doerge and Daniel Sheehan, wrote an alarming letter to the FDA stating, “There is abundant evidence that some of the isoflavones found in soy, including genistein and equol -- a metabolize of daidzen, demonstrate toxicity in estrogen-sensitive tissues and in the thyroid.”

Basically, they were stating that soy contains estrogen-like properties which can be harmful to many individuals and can also affect people with thyroid disease.

Despite this warning, the FDA approved soy as a “health” food and thus the soy craze began with manufacturers touting their products, from soy milk to soy bars, soy cereal, soy ice-cream, and so forth.

In Asian cultures soy is used as a condiment, rather than a “food.” If you compare the American food culture to what Asians eat, you would have to compare many attributes rather than just one particular food. Asian cultures use small amounts of miso, tempeh and natto (about 2 teaspoons per day), which are traditional fermented soy products versus the unfermented soy “foods” Americans consume (about 1-3 cups per day).

Fermented soy foods have been used throughout Asia since 1134 BC. However, they did not eat unfermented soybeans. A number of health risks which have been largely hidden from the public, are now starting to surface regarding the safety of unfermented soy.

Unfermented soy contains high amounts of phytic acid, which blocks the absorption of minerals and nutrients in the gastrointestinal track. Among these are zinc, copper, iron, calcium and magnesium. With fermented soy, the phytic acid has been neutralized during the process of fermentation, which cancels out the negative properties. Small amounts of phytic acid may not affect normal healthy individuals but can affect children and older adults.

Unfermented soy can:

Disrupt ovulation (thus interfering with getting pregnant)
Promote breast cancer in some women
Alter thyroid function or cause hypothyroidism (low thyroid)
Lower sperm production in men

Soy protein isolate (SPI) is a far cry from the natural fermented soy foods, such as tofu or soybeans. SPI is the powder that is in all the soy “foods” such as soy protein powder, soy milk, soy bars, etc. An interesting fact: many people think they are receiving calcium when they drink soy milk fortified with calcium. A few years back, it was discovered that the container soy milk was sold in absorbed most of the calcium, with very little left in the soy milk.

To make SPI powder, manufacturers take soybeans that are about 90 percent genetically modified, and mix them with a solution to remove the fiber. The soybeans minus the fiber are then dried at high temperatures to produce the SPI powder. At this point, the protein in the powder is denatured -- or changed from its original form -- which means the original soy is no longer a good quality source of protein.

This powder is in most soy foods. If you like the taste of soy and want to include healthy forms of soy in your diet, you may wish to purchase traditional fermented soy foods such as miso, natto, or tempeh. Other forms of soy are associated with the health risks mentioned previously.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sitting Time Does Matter

Does the amount of time you spend sitting really matter?

Last month’s journal of the American College of Sports Medicine Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise published a study from Canada that studied the relationship between sitting and mortality of all causes including heart disease and cancer.

The researchers studied 17,000 people over 12 years and put them in categories according to how many hours per day they spend sitting. They also factored in leisure time from physical activity, smoking status and alcohol consumption.

The study concluded that the longer subjects spent sitting per day, the higher their risk of mortality from all causes except cancer. These findings were true independent of leisure time physical activity. Even if you work out on a daily basis, sitting for many hours during the day can significantly alter your life expectancy.

So what’s the take home message: move around as much as possible during the day, even if you exercise on a regular basis. It could lengthen your life and lower your risk of disease.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Selling Obesity at Schools?

This morning’s New York Times had an article on “Selling Obesity at Schools.” With the obesity rates of children and adolescents tripling over the last four decades, legislators may be waking up.

The government is subsidizing crops such as corn and soy which comprise much of the food supply, and foods children eat in the cafeterias and buy in vending machines. What might happen if fruits and vegetables were subsidized?

School meals in both private and public schools are typically high calorie foods low in protein and healthy fats and high in refined carbohydrates. Vending machines and snack bars sell cookies, candy bars, and chips. Few sell healthy snacks like nuts, cheese or fresh fruit. Most of the snacks contain high fructose corn syrup (see entry on HFCS, Leptin and Weight 4/3/09) which increase carbohydrate cravings and hunger levels.

Education at home is very helpful, but if schools do not provide healthy choices, children are receiving unhealthy meals 5 meals a week. Organic, healthy food does cost more but what is the cost to our younger generation? Obesity, diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure 20-30 years prematurely.

Change for healthy options starts with planning at home - providing a bag lunch – so a school lunch is not the only option. Bring your children with healthy snacks after school so the fast food drive through is not enticing. Challenge the schools to start providing healthy meals to children – otherwise the upcoming generation will be in trouble – with a burden to their health and our medical system.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Label Reading 101

The following excerpt is from my upcoming book and gives you a quick guide to reading labels.

If something is designed to make our lives easier, why do we feel more confused? This is how many people feel after looking at food labels. Plain and simple – food labels are not user friendly. You almost need an interpreter to figure out what information is being conveyed and how to apply it to your life. It is similar to someone who has never attempted a crossword puzzle– where do you begin?

Many things on the label are optional. For starters, we are not scientists and need only to look at key pertinent information. Percentages, numbers on the bottom are comparisons to an average male adult of a certain weight, which may or may not apply. A good starting point is to read the list of ingredients on the label or side of the box. Questions to ask are:

How many ingredients does the food have? If there are more than 5 or 6 ingredients, consider re-evaluating your food choice, since the more ingredients the more processed the food will be.

Are any of the ingredients other names or components for sugar or starches– such as sucrose, dextrose, maltose, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, molasses, monosaccharides, polysaccharides, maple syrup, maple sugar, date sugar, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar, high fructose corn syrup? If the product contains any of these names it is very likely it is a high sugar product.
Does the product contain MSG, or other ingredients that may contain components of MSG such as aspartame, broth, glutamate, hydrolyzed, autolyzed yeast, monosodium glutamate, HVP, yeast extract, malted barley, rice or brown syrup? MSG is a flavor enhancer for foods but also can increase appetite and allergic reactions in some individuals.

How many preservatives or stabilizers does the product contain? Sometimes one or two are okay for a week or two of extended shelf life, but many preservatives ensures the “food” would be there next year if you came across it in your cabinet.

Is there anything you do not recognize or can’t pronounce? (one clue it may not be a healthy food choice).

If a product contains less than 5 or 6 ingredients and does not have extras sugars or other preservatives you can now check the label. Look for serving size as many manufacturers make it small, (serving sizes are one of the hidden keys on a label) to make their product look healthier than it actually is. Look for “total carbohydrates” which will tell you how much carbohydrate/starch/sugar the product contains. 15 grams is equal to about a serving or a slice of bread. A product containing 45 grams of total carbohydrates is similar to consuming 3 slices of bread.

Trans fat is one major consideration. Unfortunately many manufacturers make the serving size so small it falls under the “do not need to report” guideline. If the serving size has less then .5 grams of trans fat a manufacturer can state “contains no trans fat” on the label. Do not rely on what the front of the package states. If you ate several servings of a food with “no trans fat” on the label of a packaged/processed food it could add up to well over 2-3 grams of trans fat per day, which is the most dangerous type of fat.

Researchers at Harvard, including Dr. Walter Willet, warn against consuming greater than 2 grams of trans fat per day since it can increase your risk of heart disease by 37 percent, well above any risk of consuming saturated fat. How much trans fat does processed foods contain? Check it out before purchasing. Examples:

· a medium size order of French fries has approximately 8 grams of trans fat
· a small bag of potato chips has 5 grams
· a donut has approximately 5 grams
· a regular sized candy bar has 3 grams

If you eat even small amounts of processed foods, eating 2 or more grams of trans fat easily adds up.

How much sodium does the product contain? The average consumer eats about 6000 mg. per day. The American Heart Association and many health organizations including the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine recommend keeping your sodium intake below 2300 milligrams per day. If you consume several products which contain more than 500 mg. per serving of sodium, it quickly adds up.

Summing up label reading

Start by looking at the list of ingredients. If the list passes the litmus test, then read on to see if the product is moderate in carbohydrate, sodium, and trans fat. If it has some protein, some monounsaturated fat (healthy fat) and fiber listed on the label, all the better for a balanced meal.
Otherwise, stick with fresh unprocessed foods which do not have labels and limit your exposure to foods in a package. The more ingredients a food contains, the longer it may take your body to process the food. Furthermore, if there are items you cannot pronounce or recognize on the label it might be wise to leave it on the shelf. Your body will thank you!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Eating Non-GMO?

Last night I heard a lecture on: Is Our Food Safe: The Real Story About Genetically Engineered Food. Jeffrey Smith, one of the word’s experts on non-GMO eating, gave a very informative but disturbing lecture on the health risks of GMO foods.

What does it mean to eat non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) foods? The Center for Food Safety calls genetically modifying foods a “laboratory process of artificially inserting genes into the DNA of food crops or animals...GMO’s can be engineered with genes from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.”

Why avoid GMO foods? Simply put, changing the DNA of a food crop will ultimately change the way the food acts in our bodies. This could wipe out the food’s health properties, almost replacing nature.

If a food product is labeled “certified organic” you can be assured there are no GMO products in it. Otherwise, it is necessary to check the labels for ingredients listed. What types of foods contain GMO components? The “Big Four” ingredients in processed foods are:

Corn – corn flour, meal, starch, gluten and syrup, and sweeteners such as fructose, dextrose, and glucose
Soy – soy flour, lecithin, protein, isolate, isoflavone, vegetable oil, and vegetable protein
Canola – canola oil
Sugar – anything not listed as 100% cane sugar

The complete guide to eating non-GMO food can be food on the Center for Food Safety's website.

They have a handy shopping guide that shows which food manufacturers use only non-GMO products in addition to food products that contain GMO products. The process of eating clean now has to include non-GMO foods. It may require some effort but the health rewards are well worth it.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Grass-Fed Meat?

While attending a conference in Switzerland, I was surprised at the appearance of cows. Cows in Switzerland are pretty – a beautiful burgundy color, lean and frequently seen grazing on grass. This story may sound strange, but after looking at overweight cows in America, I was surprised at what I observed. In addition, the meat and dairy products tasted very different, and I found myself able to eat more than I regularly eat in America without gaining any weight. Since I was sitting at a conference, I knew this change had nothing to do with my activity level!

This observation sparked my interest in the difference in what animals are fed, and how that affects us. When animals are fed grass and allowed to graze out in pasture, they will be leaner, happier and produce products that are higher in omega 3 fatty acids. When they are fed corn or grains, they will produce products that are higher in omega 6 fatty acids.

Omega 3 fats are important since they have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body which assists with lowering a host of medical issues (to be discussed on a future blog). Omega 6 fatty acids have a pro-inflammatory effect in the body which can create more health issues.

Grass-fed meat tastes different but is far healthier than corn-fed meat, though more expensive. In addition, grass-fed meat also contains higher levels of CLA’s (conjugated linoleic acids) which have been linked to lowering inflammation, diabetes, cancer, and increasing immunity.

Most of the beef in this country is from corn/grain-fed animals. Corn/grain-fed beef comes from an animal fed a combination of grass and grains along with vitamin and mineral supplements. Grass-fed or grass finished meat comes from animals that eat only a diet of grass and remain on a pasture their entire lives. Most grass-fed beef is imported from Australia and New Zealand where grass is in greater abundance and grows year round. However, more grass-fed meat is becoming available in the U.S. due to demand and the health benefits it provides.

Grass –fed meat is not synonymous with organic meat. Certified organic meat is free of pesticides, hormones or antibiotic residues and assures you that the cattle were raised in a more humane manner.

When shopping for grass-fed meat you may encounter difficulties. Sometimes the taste seems “off” and varies from company to company. I found a wonderful tasting grass-fed meat at Bob’s Market in Santa Monica called Estancia Beef. Try different companies until you find one that suits your preference. So go ahead and enjoy a piece of grass-fed meat for dinner, and you’ll be eating for your health.

Friday, April 3, 2009

HFCS, Leptin and Weight: Avoiding the Slippery Slope

Recent media ads informing you HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) is safe might lead you to believe consuming a soft drink made with HFCS poses no health risks. When you look at the current research, nothing could be further from the truth.

To understand the truth, we need to look a little at the chemistry of different sugars and hormone interactions. HFCS was developed in the 70’s from cornstarch that is made from genetically modified corn. This process results in a product that is less expensive than sugar, and is used by the major food companies to sweeten their products – anything from sodas to jams, ketchup, juices, and processed packaged foods.

Table sugar is composed of 2 sugars – glucose and fructose. All the cells of our body can readily metabolize glucose, but fructose is only metabolized via the liver. Large amounts of fructose going to the liver causes fatty liver leading to high cholesterol and triglycerides.

Since HFCS contains more fructose than sugar, the fructose is more readily available since it is not bound up with glucose, as is the case with natural sugar. Therefore it has a straight shot to the liver.

Now enter the hormone leptin. Leptin is one of the main hormones regulating appetite. I like to state that leptin lowers your appetite. Several recent studies revealed a diet high in HFCS increased the level of triglycerides, which blocked the brain’s response to leptin.

Therefore, if your body becomes insensitive to leptin, and in fact, develops a leptin resistance, the brain will continue to signal your body it needs more food and continue to store fat.

Judith Altarejos, Ph.D. a researcher at Scripps states “obesity results when the brain becomes ‘deaf’ to the leptin signals.” If your brain is continuing to tell you to eat, you will have a hard time losing weight.

Turning this situation around is not as hard as you might think. Consuming protein at each meal and snack, along with healthy sources of carbohydrate like fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and healthy fats will do wonders for turning on the leptin switch. Keeping refined processed sources of carbohydrate out of your diet is essential and necessary to keeping or restoring balance to the body.

So look for HFCS on labels and stay clear of the slippery slope. Your body and arteries will thank you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

What about those Snacks?

In this morning's LA Times Family Circus cartoon Billy asked his Mom "how much of a snack do I get to eat before it becomes a meal?" This question comes up frequently with clients. Is snacking okay? How many calories constitutes a snack before it becomes a meal? Is it okay to snack, or am I supposed to wait till the next meal?

Snacking is an important part of eating. If you go more than 5 to 6 hours between meals it is essential to have a snack to prevent a drop in your blood sugar or overeating at the next meal. The size of snacks depends on your activity level, weight, and age. In general, snacks fall in the 200-350 calorie range while meals are over 500 calories.

Examples of healthy snacks are:
  1. 1 ounce of raw or unsalted dry roasted nuts (about 15-20) with a medium piece of fruit

  2. 1-2 slices of cheese with and medium piece of fruit

  3. 1-2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter with fruit or celery

  4. 1/4 cup of guacamole with cut up vegetables

  5. 1/2 cup of plain yogurt or cottage cheese with nuts or nut mix (below)

My upcoming nutrition book with recipes has a healthy delicious nut mix that is a flavorable topper for plain yogurt or cottage cheese, and works well by itself for a snack.

Healthy Nut Mix

Serves: 10 ¼ cup servings

¼ cup raw steel cut oats
½ cup of raw pumpkin seeds
¼ cup of raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup of unsweetened dried coconut
½ cup of coarsely chopped raw cashews
¼ cup of sliced raw almonds
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1.5 tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon of honey


Mix all ingredients together and spread on cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees till golden brown, about 20 minutes, stirring once through the cooking process. Remove from oven and let cool on the cookie sheet. Store in airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for a month.

So thank you Billy for posing the question for our blog today and no need to feel guilty about snacking. It is important to health, vitality throughout the day, and reasonable eating!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ode to Peanut Butter!

Peanut butter is my all time favorite food so I thought it appropriate to start my first blog with peanut butter talk. Many think of peanut butter as the usual kind in the grocery store, but many natural peanut butters or other nut butters now exist which taste amazing and have a much better flavor and consistency than in times past.

Peanut butter is a great snack to have on apples, bananas, or celery in the afternoon or evening. I think it gives you feeling you have had something decadent and healthy at the same time. Natural nut butters are packed with monounsaturated fat, which is the healthy fat that decreases incidence of heart disease by increasing your HDL or happy cholesterol. HDL is the cholesterol level you want to be high since it gets rids the body of bad cholesterol!

Two of my current favorite peanut butters are "Cream-Nut" which is a natural peanut butter by Koeze Company, a family run business in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Several of the Whole Foods in West Los Angeles sell this brand but you can also find it online.

My other current favorite peanut butter is a new one available at Trader Joe's called "Valencia Peanut Butter with Roasted Flaxseeds." The flaxseeds make it like you are eating a great peanut butter with toffee bits in it. Trader Joe's also sells a natural cashew nut butter and a cashew macadamian nut butter. One of my clients calls the cashew nut butter "dessert on a stick."

So the new blog is now launched. Stay tuned for postings on my favorite new foods products and the most recent studies on food and health. Feel free to ask questions on topics that are of interest to you.

Bon Appetit!