Saturday, November 22, 2008

The best exercise

My husband, daughter, and I took a trip to the local beach this morning. I've been dying to ride a surrey for the longest time (a surrey is a bike-like transport vehicle with 4 wheels, think Fred Flintstone car). We rented it for an hour and rode up and down the beach path. I thoroughly enjoyed it! I think my husband finds me a little insane for this. Not only was I having fun and relaxing, but I was also getting some physical activity in without really thinking too much about it. That's what made me think to write this spin-off blog from the last one about "The best diet". I also think that some of the best exercise is that which you don't really think about doing. It's the stuff that you enjoy or fit into your day and that you don't dread. Here's to movement...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The best diet

I'm currently reading a fantastic book called Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink, PhD. I've read a lot of articles and research authored by Dr. Wansink, so I am thrilled about his book! He has this quote that I absolutely love...."The best diet is the one you don't know you're on". I 100% agree! Unfortunately, there so many diet supplements, products, books, programs, and more out there for weight loss that it's often hard for me to keep up. In fact, a recent stat I read says that Americans spend $100+ BILLION on diet-nutrition related products and services annually. WOW! At the same time, we unfortunately still have rising rates of overweight/obesity (66+% of American adults are overweight/obese.)

I just had a conversation with one of my students the other day about diets. She'd told me how she had tried a couple of diets temporarily just to see what they were like so that she could be more personally informed on how they 'feel'. One of my great friends has done the same with the Atkins diet. (By the way, she only lasted 1 day after feeling so dreadful on it.). I had to admit that I haven't ever been on a diet before. I guess I could say that I've been and am on that diet that you don't know you're on! I must tell you that it's the greatest. It's really just eating. That's it, plain and simple. In fact, I looked up the word diet on Wikipedia, and here's what I found: the sum of the food consumed by an organism or group OR Webster's: food and drink regularly provided or consumed or I love this one: habitual nourishment. It doesn't sound so bad when we see it described like this, huh?

I enjoy eating. I eat a variety of foods....vegetables, fruits, whole grains AND chocolate, ice cream, pizza, FRIES! Oh no, I hope the food police don't get me! Because I allow myself to eat (not cheat) a variety of foods, including those that are especially yummy, I feel zero guilt and zero deprivation about my eating. I love it! Do I throw nutrition out the window? Of course not. I always make sure I include a variety of foods that promote health and optimal nutrition daily AND I enjoy other foods that have a little of that added sugar or fat in them. Plus, I throw in that physical activity thing, too. Balance, variety, moderation, adequacy...these are four pillars of optimal nutrition NOT guilt, deprivation, shame, which would probably be the definition of most "diets" in my book. Yes, you may need some basic information on sound nutrition (i.e., from a Registered Dietitian like moi) or maybe you need some info on specifics like lowering cholesterol, triglycerides, etc. So, I guess what I'm saying here is that diets are not the answer to losing weight. However, when it comes to diets, all these do is provide an external force (outside the body) telling OUR body what, when, and how much to eat. I personally think one of the best approaches to eating is to listen to the owner's manual...YOU!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Go organic?'s all the trend these days. You've heard about it, but maybe you don't know exactly what the hype is all about. Well, let me try to shed some light on this issue. First of all, why are people choosing to go 'organic'? Well, lately it primarily stems from two reasons: 1) increased awareness about the link between diet and health, specifically pesticide use and 2) increased desire to protect the environment. While pesticides have known benefits (killing potential disease-causing organisms and controlling insects and other pests), there are also known risks associated with their consumption (possible damage to the nervous system, disruption of the endocrine/hormone system leading to reproductive disorders, birth defects, immune suppression and other disorders, and potentially cancer-causing). These issues may be even more concerning for fetuses, infants and children since their internal organs are still developing and they have much smaller bodies.

So, what does organic mean? Well, organically produced foods must be grown without the use of synthetic fertilizers or pesticides, sewage sludge, irradiation, or genetically modified ingredients.Slide 36 The standards for organic food production are regulated by the USDA. In terms of food labeling, something that is labeled as:
  • "100% Organic" must contain only organically-produced ingredients
  • "Organic" must consist of at least 95% organically-produced ingredients
  • "Made with organic ingredients" must contain at least 70% organically-produced ingredients
There are a few tips I like to offer when it comes to making informed decisions about going organic.
  • Organic does not = healthier! potato or tortilla chips, organic cookies, organic candy, organic donuts. When the organic craze was really on the roll, I loved seeing all the great, new organic products, and I'd hear people say how much 'healthier' these products are. One would still be better off snacking on fresh, whole vegetables and fruits more often than these types of organic foods.
  • Organic produce isn't necessarily pesticide-free. While organic produce tends to be lower in pesticide residues, according to testing by the USDA, 23% of organic produce contained detectable levels of pesticides in comparison to 73% of conventionally grown produce (the result of drift off or seepage into water systems from nearby conventional farms). However, only about 0.2% of the contaminated samples exceeded the EPA guidelines on pesticide residue limits.
  • Some organic foods offer more nutritional value in comparison to non-organic foods (i.e., vitamin C in leafy green vegetables and corn; iron and magnesium in leafy greens, potatoes and radishes). However, organic foods, especially produce, also costs up to 50% more, so if it's a choice between no vegetables/fruits or organically-grown...something is better than nothing, but more is better than a little. Research shows through and through that high intake of vegetables/fruits reduces the risk for many different types of chronic diseases, without regard to organic vs non-organic. So, one might be able to consume more of the affordable non-organic foods vs the organic foods, and this may be more beneficial in the long-run.
  • If you are concerned about pesticide consumption but still have a budget to stick with, you might consider prioritizing your organic purchases. "The Dirty Dozen" includes 12 items that are the most commonly contaminated, so it might be more worthwhile to purchase the organic version of these most often: Apples, cherries, grapes (imported), nectarines, peaches, pears, raspberries, strawberries, bell peppers, celery, potatoes, and spinach. The least likely to be contaminated, and therefore, the ones you may want to skip the big bucks for are: bananas, papayas, kiwi, broccoli, onions, asparagus, peas, mangoes, cauliflower, pineapple, avocado, corn, and peas. If budget is not a problem and/or if you want to go organic for reasons other than health, then by all means go all out because there's really no harm in it.
  • Aside from purchasing organically-produced foods, you can also do some other things to reduce your exposure. 1) Buy locally grown and fresh vegetables/fruits in season as less chemicals will be needed to prevent spoilage 2) Trim tops and outer portions of leafy vegetables where pesticide residue is most likely found 3) Peel and cook or wash/scrub produce with a brush to remove or reduce pesticide residue 4) Consume a wide variety of vegetables and fruits to reduce exposure 5) Purchase items that are subject to USDA regulations as imported items are not grown under the same regulations 6) Trim the fat from meat and fat/skin from poultry and fish as this is where pesticides tend to accumulate in the body.
I could go on about organic as I love this topic; however, this is just a blog (and probably too long as it is!). I just hope that it helps someone make a more informed decision when it comes to going organic:)

Eat well - Be well!
Slide 37

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Brain food

It may sound silly, but as I was growing up, my mom often told me the reason I was smart is because she ate fish while she was pregnant. It's funny to look back now and realize how intuitive she was about this concept. While there is much controversy over the consumption of fish during pregnancy, I've recently read more recent evidence revealing that the consumption of fish, specifically the omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, may be associated with increased cognitive and visual performance in young children. This essential fat is highly concentrated in the brain, eyes, and central nervous system, and it appears that consumption of it during the last two trimesters of pregnancy may be critical to optimal brain and visual development. I personally understand the importance of making informed decisions about factors that affect the health of the baby during pregnancy (and lactation), so if you know of a pregnant or nursing mom in need of some guidance on this you may check out this link for more information regarding guidelines on fish consumption during pregnancy. To a happy and healthy 9 months...

Monday, November 3, 2008

What's the deal with acai?

I'm sure you've seen something about it somewhere. The acai berry is considered by many to be a super hot, super food these days, and this is exactly why as a Registered Dietitian, I get asked many, many questions about this fruit or the products that contain it. Native to Central and South America, tests on this berry truly have deemed it a potential 'power food' primarily due to its antioxidant capcity. Depending on what study you look at, it rates among the highest, if not {the} highest in antioxidant capacity (aka, ORAC). So, what's my take on it? Well, based on the evidence I've read (and I have read actual research articles on this), I'd agree that it appears to be chock full of antioxidants as well as other beneficial nutrients. However, you will not find the actual acai berry in the produce section of your market. Most of what I've seen on the market is the freeze-dried version alone or in a juice blend since the fat content of the acai berry makes it decompose more readily.

Are you thinking there's a catch here? Well, yes, there are a few. One is that these products tend to be quite pricey, if you ask me. Mona Vie distributes an acai berry blend juice at about $40 a bottle (possibly lower depending on who you talk to), and based on the daily recommended servings one would need about 1 bottle/week (~$160/month). Oh, wait...let me put it another interesting way. At ~25 oz per bottle, this juice runs approximately $205/gallon!!!! You read that right, $205/gallon. the price of gas is looking better already, right? I also have a problem with the way it's distributed (MLM). While the company highly touts its acai berry content, the juice also contains a "exclusive blend" of 18 other fruits, including apple and grape juice. I'm very curious as to how much of this is apple and grape juice vs the freeze-dried acai berry and/or the other "super fruits". Could it be that one could get similar health benefits by simply purchasing and consuming a much less expensive bottle of apple or grape juice? Hmmm... I wonder if that $40/week could be more wisely spent on a variety of many other valuable vegetables and fruits that are also rich in antioxidants as well as other vital nutrients? I don't mean to pick on Mona Vie alone. It's just that this is the product that I'm asked about almost on a weekly basis lately...honest! Other companies sell the freeze-dried acai alone or in juice blends, too, and they're all very expensive as well. The problem with the freeze-dried acai or supplements is that when taken alone (not in the fresh, whole fruit form), one doesn't get the benefit of feeling satisfied by consuming an actual whole food. Also, there could be additional benefits to consuming this food in its whole form...the antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients could work together synergistically to produce even greater benefits.

As for the weight loss claims, I disagree with them. Consuming acai berry will not yield weight loss. One will get more bang for his/her buck by modifying food intake to lower calorie consumption and increasing physical activity for more successful and long-term weight management. So this is not a magic bullet.

So, is this harmful? Not really from a health and nutrition standpoint, but it could be a major drain on the pocket book! And one can still consume a wide variety of other foods that are very high in antioxidant capacity as well as many vital nutrients and still achieve similar health benefits.

Here's to your health...
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