Thursday, December 31, 2009

Five Simple Strategies

Happy New Year! I'm getting ready to make steps towards losing the pounds I gained over the holidays. I really wonder why I give myself permission to eat everything I want between Thanksgiving and New Years. That's 2 months of uncensored eating and its not kind to ones body. Its my poor attempt at handling the stress of the holidays (Note to self: Next year come up with another means of handling holiday stress)

Don't beat yourself up if you've gained weight, just think of 5 things you can incorporate into your lifestyle to lose the excess weight. I call it a 'handful of hope'!

My five strategies:

1. Cut out all refined grains
2. Take my sneakers to work and walk at lunchtime (weather permitting)
3. No more midweek wine at home (still available to go out)
4. Cut out red meat
5. Get moving - back to karate and exercising

I can tell you the first 4 will be relatively easy and I suspect those modifications alone will shed some body fat but, its number 5 that is going to pose some difficulty. So in reality I only have one simple strategy that I will find truly challenging.

Come up with 3-4 easy lifestyle modifications and one challenging one. Why will this be so challenging ??


Friday, December 18, 2009

Holiday Cheer!

Ho, ho, ho! Yep, its that time of year. Crazy busy and little time to think about 'healthy' foods. Dunkin Donuts is making out with your debit card and you've been eating roasted nuts and humming carol songs for two weeks. Oh sorry, I'm talking about myself !

I did think of posting on how one needs to watch out for 'hidden fats,' or how one needs to exercise more, and I even thought of posting about the adverse health effects of drinking too much alcohol ! What stopped me ? Well, I've been thinking, we all know what's bad for us and whats good for us - don't we? Just do your best to make healthier choices and fit in a walk or two over the holidays.

Do I have any followers out there ?? Well if I do, the tone of this blog is "to heck with the advice - enjoy the holidays!" And lets start anew in the New Year!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ready for the Challenge?

Obesity is our current day epidemic....those of us who are overweight or obese outnumber (by a long shot) those of you who are normal weight. We win! (Although we lose in the long run)

Ready for change? Take a look at these 2 links.

The reality.

The solution ? The 50 Million Pound Challenge.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Back to Basics

I think this economy is making all of us reevaluate how we spend our money. Do you eat out less ? We do. And its OK because we're still having fun - dinner parties at home, pizza night, and even an evening of 'small bites' (appetizers only). But this change is making me take stock....

The Paleolithic diet was a nutritional plan that was largely based on what food was readily available to our ancestors. Today we don't even have to physically move our bodies to get food -- apart from pushing a button to lower the window in our cars and using our vocal cords to request our "Double whopper, larger fries and large soda, please". Or logging onto Peapod to order our groceries. Its way too easy.

Now, I know we are not 'hunter-gatherers' (well I'm a slight hunter at Marshall's or TJ's) but I like the idea of going back to the, nuts, whole-grains fruits and vegetables. Real food, not processed food. Eating in, not out. And I'm not opposed to meat - in fact I really enjoy meat. But I can't help wonder, if I don't chase and kill it, do I need to eat it more than a couple of times a month? So I'm thinking more of a plant-based diet.

Back to basics - its a nice concept. I'd like to prepare real food at every meal but it requires time and the trouble is, that despite my best intentions, I don't have the same amount of time as my caveman ancestors. There's work, game practices, meetings, school events, birthday parties and the list goes on and on....but here's the cliché "change is hard".

So here are some tips for preparing real foods....
1. Prepare for the week
Sit down on Saturday and look at your weeks schedule. Figure out the nights you can't prepare something from scratch and then ask yourself "What can I prepare in advance?". Figure out the days you'll only have time to prepare a salad or vegetable side dish. What will you have for lunch this week? What will the children have for lunch this week? Really take the time to plan upfront.

2. Go grocery shopping Saturday or Sunday morning
Why ? Because Sunday afternoon or evening you are the 'gatherer' in your family. You will gather and prepare the vegetables and fruit. Be prepared to chop, slice, mince, peal and bag your vegetables. Stir fry is so easy but only if you've chopped everything in advance. Chop and throw all the ingredients in a freezer bag and keep in the fridge, then all you have to do is heat the oil and stir fry! Cook up a batch of brown rice and let it cool, then put it in freezer bags and freeze it. This takes time plan to spend an hour in the kitchen.

3. Get lunches out of the way
Every evening take 15 minutes to get your lunch ready. If you are planning for the family, give yourself extra time. Fruit is easy as long as you have it in your house. So that is why planning on Saturday is so important. Fruit will keep if stored correctly. Need some creative lunches - go to this link - weight watchers always has handy healthy tips!

4. Host a cooking party for busy parents
If you have a friend who has the perfect kitchen, multiple ovens and lots of space, choose their house. Let the hostess know she doesn't have to purchase the food - she'll be psyched and only too eager to host this cooking fest. Then invited a small group of busy Mums (or Dads) to participate, brainstorm on what you'd like to cook, and then assign each friend a shopping list. Spend a Saturday afternoon cooking with friends and then freeze the food in batches! Soups, casseroles, lasagnas, meatballs, curry sauces (Thai/Indian), chicken cutlets and other bite size treats ! Real food prepared with real friends.

Lets see if this Mum can make this 'back to basics' concept work ! Tips welcome.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dump refined grains from your diet.....

.....and replace them with whole grains.

I spend a lot of time researching the health benefits of whole grains. Recently I was grocery shopping with a friend and we got into a conversation about the different types of breads. It went something like this...

"What's the difference between a whole and a refined grain bread - the color right?"
In order for a food to be called a 'whole grain' it must contain all the parts of the kernel (the seed) of the grain. There are 3 parts to a grain, the outer bran layer, the inner germ layer, and the starchy endosperm. During the milling process of whole wheat into refined white (or wheat) flour, we remove the germ and bran and discard it! The goodness of the grain is gone, and the result is a loss of dietary fiber and several nutrients.

Its hard to know without looking at the food label if a bread is made from refined flour or whole wheat flour. Most breads appear as if they are whole-grain but you need to look at the ingredient list. If the first ingredient is 'enriched wheat flour' then it's a refined grain bread (i.e. the bran and germ have been removed). BUT if it says "whole wheat flour" or "enriched whole wheat flour" then its a whole grain bread. The key word to look for is WHOLE.

"So most baked goods, like cookies & cakes are made with refined white flour, right?".

Yes, although there are many types of flour available for us to use in baking, we most commonly use 'all purpose flour'. This refined flour is used in cookies, cakes, donuts and muffins. Take a look at this booklet that gives tidbits to help you with your baking needs and perhaps you'll come up with some ideas on how to incorporate whole wheat flour into your everyday baking !

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Picky Eaters.....

  • Does your child only eat white foods (bagels, breads, rice, pasta)?
  • Do you joke that your child is on the Atkins diet (eats only meat)?
  • Does your child freak out if one food touches another food on his/her plate?
  • Does your child refuse to eat soft food ?
  • Does your child examine food before eating it? If a fruit has a brown spot, it has to be removed. If a bagel is too toasted, it's not right. If a chicken nugget isn't crunchy enough its left to the side of the plate?
Sound familiar?

The vast majority of children exhibit some 'freakish' food habits that make you question your parenting abilities. But what do you do if you're really concerned about your childs eating behavior(s)? For instance, your child is anxious at birthday parties because they don't like pizza and so they don't really enjoy themselves. Or your child refuse to go to a friends house because they worry about whether they will like the food that is being served. Or your child dreads family gatherings because everyone comments on what they don't eat! What do you do? I don't know.

I am a parent of two children, my son eats lots of different foods but dislikes vegetables, while my daughter eats lots of fruits and vegetables, but refuses to eat soft food or foods that have more than one ingredient! I'm fed up cooking different dinners for the family or serving different foods.

I'm researching the topic on 'picky eaters'. Do you worry about your child's eating habits and rituals ? Share your story.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Timing of Carbohydrates During Exercise

I'm sorry for dropping the blog - life got in the way. But I'm back now and I hoping to have some guest writers post on this site too!

I was recently asked, what should I eat to help improve my exercise performance ? Good question.

You have 3 goals to consider when you are involved in competitive sports and the 'timing' of carbohydrate food sources is important.

1. You want to minimize fatigue by making sure you get enough energy during exercise.

Between 2 to 4 hours before exercise you eat 150 to 300 g (depending on sex/body size) of carbohydrate from foods that are low in fat and fiber and moderate in protein.

Suggestions: Whole wheat bread with peanut butter; turkey sandwich; scrambled egg with English muffin

2. You want to maintain your glucose supply to working muscles.

Drink a 4 to 6 oz sport beverage containing 60 to 80 grams of carbohydrate per liter every 15 to 20 minutes.

3. You want to maintain glycogen synthesis, especially if you work of daily.

Suggestion: Immediately after your workout you should drink a carbohydrate-protein drink, containing 3-4 g of simple carbohydrates (sucrose, fructose, or malodextrin) for every gram of protein. The amount depends on your weight but ranges between 1.0 to 1.2 g/kg carbohydrate, 0.3 to 0.4 g/kg protein.
And remember to stay hydrated !!

Monday, July 6, 2009

No Title

Sorry for the lack of blogs - we just moved into a new house.
Upcoming topics:
Energy drinks
Adolescent diets
Stress & comfort foods

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Question Everything

"My husband freezes a glass of orange juice and then eats it in the evening. He insists it's no worse than eating an orange. Is he right?"

Let me provide you with the facts and this way you can have a healthy debate on the topic.

1 medium orange contains approximately
- 62 kcal
- 3 g dietary fiber
- 12 g sugar
- Weight Watchers: 0.5 points
- Net Carbohydrates: 12
On the other hand, 1 glass of orange juice (8 fl oz) contains
- 120 kcal
- 0 g dietary fiber
- 28 g sugar
- Weight Watchers: 2 points
- Net Carbohydrates: 28
In summary, OJ has double the calories and sugar and lacks dietary fiber. It causes an increase in blood sugar (glucose) levels - not an ideal metabolic response for our bodies to undergo just before heading to bed. In women (no study published in men), one study found that one glass of orange juice a day raised the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 18%.

I'd suggest he tries another bedtime snack, perhaps an orange!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Question Everything

Can you tell me what is an essential amino acid?

An essential amino acid is an amino acid that cannot be made in our body and must be obtained from our diet. There are 8 essential amino acids and most are found in foods that contain protein such as beef, poultry, pork, fish, milk, yogurt, eggs, cheese, soy products and certain nuts and seeds. Foods that contain all 8 essentail amino acids are referred to as complete proteins. These come from animal sources. Many athletes take whey protein as a dietary supplement. Whey protein is a complete protein that contains all the essential amino acids. Foods that contain some, but not all, essential amino acids are called incomplete proteins and these come from plant sources.

Here is a list of the essential amino acids and a sample of select dietary sources (but keep in mind meat/fish and dairy are predominant sources)

Phenylalanine: Cottage cheese, roasted peanuts, sesame seeds.
Valine: Cottage cheese, roasted peanuts, sesame seeds.
Tryptophan: Turkey, brown rice, nuts, oats, bananas.
Threonine: Eggs, bananas, carrots.
Isoleucine: Cheese, seeds, nuts, eggs.
Methionine: Whole grains, beans, eggs.
Lysine: Lentils, soybeans.
Leucine : Soy beans, cowpeas.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Melatonin (Part 2)

Sorry about the lack of posts on my blog. I have lots of excuses but, as someone pointed out, if you commit to writing a blog, you need to WRITE! So, hopefully I'll be a little more productive in the next coming weeks...

OK, todays topic,
"How can you boost your own natural melatonin production?"

1. Melatonin is naturally found in some foods - oats, sweet corn, rice, ginger, bananas and barley. So a good bedtime snack may be a bowl of porridge, a banana or a banana smoothie.

. Eat foods rich in tryptophan, an essential amino acid from which melatonin is derived (the pineal gland in our brains coverts tryptophan to serotonin and then to melatonin). Both turkey and milk are relatively high in tryptophan but other more abundant food sources include cottage cheese, soy nuts, almonds, peanuts and brewers yeast.

3. A vitamin B-6 supplement may stimulate melatonin production because the body uses B-6 to convert tryptophan into serotonin, the precursor of melatonin.

4. Drink in moderation and not too late at night. Alcohol definitely disrupts sleep and apparently it lowers melatonin levels if consumed early in the evening hours. Yet paradoxically, a late night cap may stimulate melatonin production. Perhaps my grandmothers hot whiskey had a medicinal purpose!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A move in the right direction

I'm excited to read this but I wonder if it will have any impact on obesity rates ?

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tricked by the nutrition label

The other day my husband brought us home a box of blueberry muffins. A nice gesture - a treat to enjoy with a cup of tea. Before I even opened the box I decided to eat just 1/2 of a muffin. A quick glance at the nutrition label nearly convinced me to eat the entire muffin. Only 200 calories in a serving - really? Upon further inspection I read that a serving size was one third of a muffin. Come on, who eats 1/3 of a muffin?

f one muffin is 3 servings, and each serving is 200 calories, that's 600 calories in your morning muffin.
Do you read the fine print and do the math? Or do you just glance at the nutrition label and look at the calories?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Melatonin (Part 1)

Insomnia can have a serious impact on your immune system and make you incredibly susceptible to colds, viruses, and other infections. I experienced this first hand this past winter. After weeks of sleepless nights, I turned to friends and colleagues for advice. I got great advice – reiki, acupuncture, foods rich in tryptophan, a hot shower/bath, exercise, relaxation techniques and supplements. One colleague suggested trying melatonin, while another suggested taking valerian. I tried many of the sleep remedies suggested, including taking a melatonin supplement. And...I think the supplement worked! Could this be a placebo effect? Or could there be something to melatonin?

My fascination with melatonin prompted me to read a book on the topic entitled “Melatonin: Your Body's Natural Wonder Drug” by Russel J. Reiter. Dr. Reiter is the world's leading authority on melatonin and has spent his career investigating the effects of this critical hormone. My husband noticed my bedtime reading and made the following comment “How can someone write an entire book on one supplement?”. As I pointed out to him "Its not the supplement the author discusses but rather the hormone, which also functions as an antioxidant". That was all my husband needed to hear. He pulled the covers over his head, rolled over and fell into a deep sleep! Clearly his natural production of melatonin is fine.....mine on the other hand was impaired.

Some highlights from the book....

On page one of his book, Dr. Reiter writes

“In the exact center of your brain resides a tiny organ called the pineal gland, which is about the size and shape of a kernel of corn. The pineal was the first gland in your body to be formed, clearly distinguishable a mere three weeks after conception. Yet ironically, it has bee the last to reveal its secrets to medical science”.

He goes on to describe how it was not until the late 1950s that the principal hormone secreted by the pineal gland was revealed - melatonin. It is a hormone involved in regulation of

  • mood
  • sleep
  • sexual behavior
  • reproductive alterations
  • immunologic function
  • circadian rhythms

But as I mentioned, melatonin also functions as an antioxidant i.e. it stops free-radical damage and helps to preserve the integrity of our cells and protects our overall health. Dr. Reiter presents some interesting evidence to suggest that melatonin plays a role in slowing the aging process. He discusses how melatonin may be of use in the treatment of many pathophysiological disease states including various cancers, hypertension, and a variety of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease. But the main reason I was reading this book was because I was taking a melatonin supplement and I was curious to read what the author had to say about supplement use.

“The conservative course of action is to refrain from taking melatonin at the present time. In five years we should know a great deal more about the possible benefits and risks of taking the hormone, especially in regard to treating insomnia, biological rhythm disorders, and cancer, which are the most active areas of research at this time. As you wait for the results of these studies, you can focus on preserving and enhancing your own natural melatonin supply. If you are in good health and 40 years old or younger, this may be the wisest course of action.” (page 202).

This is all well and good, but what happens if you've got insomnia and you are too tired to enhance your natural production of melatonin? Dr. Reiter does go onto to say if you are suffering from a condition that could be aided by melatonin therapy, you may want to consider taking a melatonin supplement. As a sleep aid, he recommends a dose of 0.1 to 10 milligrams. That's a wide range in dosage and the reason is because there is no clear recommendation.

Now that spring is here, and my circadian rhythm is back to normal, I'm going to try to boost my own melatonin production and cut back on the supplement. I believe melatonin did help me catch up on some lost sleep and get me back into a good sleep pattern.

So how do we protect and enhance our natural production of melatonin?

Dr. Reiter suggests the following:

  1. Increase your daytime exposure to sunlight or bright artificial light – ideally first thing in the morning.

  2. Sleep long enough at night that you wake up feeling fully rested.

  3. Avoid bright lights at night.

  4. If possible, avoid night-shift work and travel that involves frequent crossing to time zones.

  5. Reduce your exposure to electromagnetic fields.

  6. Do not smoke. Drink in moderation.

  7. If possible avoid melatonin-lowering drugs, or take steps to minimize their impact on your melatonin production.

  8. Eat foods rich in calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and niacinamide, or take supplements of these vitamins and minerals.

  9. Eat foods rich in antioxidants or take antioxidant supplements.

  10. Eat snacks high in tryptophan or melatonin last thing at night.

  11. Spend sometime each day in restful contemplation, meditation or prayer.

[My next blog will focus on the points in bold]

After reading his book I have come away somewhat enlightened and also a little curious about the potential role of this antioxidant. I recommend you read it for yourself. Oh, and by the way, the author takes a nightly melatonin supplement (1 milligram dose), as does his wife.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Lack of sleep & anxiety

Lets face it - lack of sleep and anxiety are a brutal combination, particularly for busy mothers. Once you start to lose those precious hours of sleep, the anticipation of 'not sleeping' takes over, and you end up feeling anxious about not sleeping. And so the cycle goes....until you figure out how to break it.

A recent headline caught my attention "Short-sleepers may develop a blood sugar abnormality that can lead to diabetes". And if you really need something to keep you up at night, how about this headline - "Poor sleep quality may put children at risk of obesity". Who is at risk ? Those who sleep less than 6 hours a night.

* The findings of these studies were presented at this years American Heart Associations 49th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.

I called this blog 'Beyond Nutrients' because I believe there are many elements to a healthy lifestyle. It's more than diet and supplements, other aspects of our lives impact our health such as exercise, relaxation and SLEEP. And sleep is emerging as a very important aspect to better health.

Americans are sleeping less. In 1900, reported sleep time was on average nine hours a night. By the 1970s reported average sleep time was closer to seven hours a night. Today, the average sleep time for an American adult is approximately 6 hours. The solution: go to bed as early as possible and keep your fingers crossed you'll only wake after 7 hours of sound sleep.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Probiotic Straws

One probiotic product on the market for children, Nestle Boost Kid Essential, uses a 'probiotic straw' to deliver the 'healthy bugs'. The straw contains Lactobacillus reuteri, one of the Lactobacillus species that has been used safely for many years as a probiotic dietary supplement. One study found that in infants fed a formula supplemented with L reuteri they had fewer and shorter episodes of diarrhea. But the drink also contains other essential vitamins and minerals. For instance, each serving provides 3.4 mg of iron and 290 mg of calcium, two shortfall nutrients in our childrens diets. I'd certainly consider giving this to my child if they were sick and couldn't hold down food, or if they were a picky eater.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The good bugs: Probiotics

A key to optimal health is keeping the intestinal microflora in your digestive system in balance. Once our immune system is weakened this balance is compromised and one way to restore this balance is by taking 'probiotics'. Probiotics improve the intestinal microflora balance and this allows our natural immune system to work more effectively.

What is a Probiotic?

The Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization (FAO/WHO, 2001) defines probiotics as ‘Live microorganisms* which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host’. These live microorganisms are found in foods such as yogurt, fermented and unfermented milk, miso, tempeh, some juices and soy beverages.

The term 'probiotic' however does not refer to a single type of microorganism. There are about 20 probiotic strains. The most common probiotic strains used in dairy products belong to the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria family. However, within each family there are different species. For example, in the Lactobacillus family you can have the following species L. casei, L. acidophilus, L. plantarum, L. reuteri, L.brevis......and the list includes another 6 species.
*Microorganisms are tiny living organisms—such as bacteria, viruses, and yeasts.

What are the health benefits of probiotics ?

Probiotics have a number of health benefits. For example, they have been used to

  1. Treat or prevent diarrhea (induced by some antibiotics)

  2. Improve symptoms of lactose intolerance - a condition in which the gut lacks the enzyme needed to digest significant amounts of the major sugar in milk (lactose) and this causes gastrointestinal problems

  3. Treat irritable bowel syndrome

  4. Prevent and treat infections of the urinary tract or female genital tract

  5. Prevent and manage atopic dermatitis (eczema) in children

  6. Treat allergic conditions

  7. Support cardiovascular health and wellness

A friend recently asked me whether all probiotic products on the marketplace were the same, and whether they all had the same health benefits. Think of when you hear the term 'vitamins'. There are many different types of vitamins and we would never suggest for example, that the functional properties of vitamin D are the same as vitamin E. The same argument can be made for probiotics. The health benefits obtained from one strain may not be the same as that of another strain. It's a complicated topic and to be honest, I don't know the answer to my friends question - there are so many probiotic products available and we need to consider the probiotic strain.

Some scientists believe that the term 'probiotic' is too broad, while others feel that more scientific knowledge is needed about about their safety and appropriate use. Since each probiotic is different, some would argue that it's time to stop lumping them all together!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Random Facts

  1. Check out this link about trans fat. Some labels stating 'zero' trans fat may actually contain trans fat!
  2. Panera Bread’s Sierra Turkey sandwich contains 970 calories and 54 g of fat. Oh I am so in favor of restaurants being made post the nutrition information – who would have guessed a Turkey sandwich could be this bad?
  3. A USDA study found that only 6% of teenagers eat the recommended servings of vegetables a day and only 24% eat enough fruit (i.e the five-a-day recommendation).
  4. British food scientists found that bathing raw, sliced potatoes in water for 2 hours reduced acrylamide by 48%. A 30-minute soak dropped levels by 38%.

  5. Which contains more vitamins, a vitamin-enhanced water or a standard multi-vitamin pill? The pill.....but this is probably obvious to most readers. (BTW, I am not an advocate for vitamin-enhanced water - a topic for another day)
  6. Natural remedies: Some believe that ginger-root warms painful joints by increasing blood flow and this will decrease joint pain from arthritis.
  7. Baby carrots supply about 23% less beta-carotene per ounce than regular sized carrots.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

My toddlers love of sugary foods...

Today I came across two headlines:

Headline 1: "Children's increased desire to eat sweets has entrenched biological roots, with new research explaining their preference for sugary foods could be linked to actual growth". Study link.

Simply stated, when children are growing they crave sweet foods but this stops in the adolescent years.
The authors observed a change in sugar preference among adolescents and concluded that "the change in sugar preference from high to low during adolescence appears to be associated with the cessation of growth".

My inner thoughts.....
I'm not sure I'm buying into this theory ! BUT as a mother of a child who loves sweet foods, it's somewhat reassuring that she may switch to healthy savory foods and green vegetables in the future. I'm running with this positive thought....

Headline 2: "A specific genetic variation may help explain why some people consume more sugary foods than others". Study link.

In this study, the authors found that a polymorphism in a gene was linked to higher intake of sugars in two different populations. The authors suggest that individual differences in the desire to eat foods high in sugars may be due to a persons genes.

My inner thoughts.....
I'm buying into this theory. It's genetic why my 4 1/2 year old LOVES sweets. For those interested, it's from her father's side of the family. Her father loves ice cream, and her grandmother has a self proclaimed sweet tooth.

With our son, we didn't expose him to anything we considered 'bad', or 'sweet', or 'fried', or 'sugary,' or 'candy-like'. It wasn't until he was 3 years old that he enjoyed the taste of ice-cream. He'd rather savory food and recently was asked his favorite food. His response "a salmon sandwich"! (side note: Because he knows I HATE soda, he'll sneak off with a can if he can get his hands on it ...and he only eats potato chips at parties)

Our daughter, on the other hand, was exposed to sweets earlier, and for the past 4 1/2 years I've assumed her sweet tooth is directly linked to her early exposure to ice cream. As many of us parents know, most of the best laid plans go out the window with the arrival of the second baby. There are no more nap schedules - there are play dates and parties. The eating environment we so carefully established in our kitchens has expanded to the outside world. It becomes impossible to micromanage their eating habits.

I may have studied nutrition for 20 years, but I've only been parenting for 6 1/2 years. So I'm dropping my 'nutrition hat' and I'm speaking as a mother of two active children.
Forgive yourself if they eat some sugary foods....and keep working on introducing better foods into their diets. It's a constant 'work in progress' ! So try to shed the guilt!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Revisited

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about flaxseed oil and the fact that ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is not efficiently converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). To be honest, I'm not up on the literature on fatty acid metabolism - its a complex field in nutrition research. But, a recent report published by the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) delivered the scientific evidence that consumption of ALA does not deliver the same health benefits as other omega-3* fatty acids. Why ? Because the conversion of ALA to DHA is very low, and the evidence suggests that it is the long-chain n-3 fatty acids (EPA, DHA) that confer the health benefits.
* also know as n-3

What does this mean ? Taking flaxseed oil may not be delivering the health benefits you think!

But what about other plant based oils ? One reader of the blog brought my attention to echium seed oil. Keep in mind, not all sources of n-3 fatty acids are created equally (to complicate things!). Back to nutritional biochemistry - for those interested....
The fatty acid composition of echium oil is different to flaxseed as it contains both ALA and stearidonic acid (SDA) [the desaturation product of ALA], as well as the some omega-6 fatty acids, linoleic acid (LA) and γ-linolenic acid (GLA).

So in essence, echium oil is unusual because it contains substantial amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and different types of PUFA (i.e. both n-3 and n-6 fatty acids). So consuming this plant-based oil may deliver different health benefits. The fatty acid, SDA, may have similar biological properties to EPA (the major n-3 fatty acid in fish oil). This should be discussed in a future blog i.e. the health benefits to consuming echium oil.

So what's my bottom-line: In a past blog I had stated
"If you are a vegan/vegetarian, including plant sources of n-3's in your diet is essential, and you should eat flaxseed oil and other sources of ALA".
But based on my recent readings, I'm not sure taking flaxseed oil is really delivering any health benefits. It appears that the conversion of ALA to DHA is very low. Since our bodies are reliant on DHA from dietary/supplement sources, the best of which are marine-based, I'm back to encouraging you to eat fish and fish oil supplements.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Brain Foods

Keeping your brain alert (a challenge for most of us!)

In no particular order, 6 potentially benefit foods to keep us smart:
  1. Fish: The omega-3-fatty acids [mainly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)] may offer protection against Alzheimer's disease risk and may slow mental decline in people with very mild Alzheimer's disease.
  2. Walnuts: The alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and other compounds found in walnuts, act as antioxidants to protect brain cells and brain function.
  3. Blueberries: Rich is antioxidants, blueberries protect against age-related declines in cognitive function.
  4. Coffee: The caffeine may protect against mild memory and thinking problems that come with old age.
  5. Gingo Biloba: This chinese herbal contains biologically active compounds that may improve cognitive function.
  6. Dark chocolate: The cocoa bean is rich in naturally occurring flavanols and other substances that could enhance blood flow in the brain and improve brain function.

Deep Fried Snickers Bar

OK. Despite many, many, many (note the many) years of studying 'nutrition', tonight I enjoyed eating a deep fried snickers bar (smothered in whipped cream, melted chocolate and ice-cream). Guilty. But here's the kicker....I didn't feel one bit guilty. I can only guess the number of calories and the % saturated fat, but I'm not going to...not tonight. So if I ever sound like I'm preaching, you can remind me of the "Deep fried snickers bar"....bad I tell you, bad, but oh so good ! Good company and bad food....well sometimes thats just what one needs !!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Question Everything

Question: "Can you tell me why flaxseed oil is so good ?"
Some background information:
  • Polyunsaturated fats come in 2 forms: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
  • One omega-3 fatty acid is essential (i.e. it can only come from diet) - alpha linoleic acid (ALA).
  • Good sources of ALA include green vegetables, walnuts, soybean oil, canola oil and flaxseed oil.
  • Flaxseed oil is the richest plant source of ALA.
  • Your body converts ALA into longer chain omega-3's, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
  • EPA and DHA also occur naturally in some foods, such as fish.
You have probably heard a lot about the heart-health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. As mentioned above, ALA is a omega-3 fatty acid, but it is the longer chain omegas (EPA and DHA) that provide the health benefits. And so while flaxseed provides ALA, which is converted into the the longer-chain, omega-3 fatty acids, it would be more efficient to eat sources of EPA and DHA. Why? Because these are the fatty acids most strongly linked to improved cardiovascular health.

Bottom line: If you are a vegan/vegetarian, including plant sources of omega-3's in your diet is essential, and you should eat flaxseed oil and other sources of ALA. BUT, if you do eat fish, you should continue to do so because flaxseed oil (or other sources of ALA) is not a substitute for the omega-3's found in fish. This doesn't mean there are no benefits to adding flaxseed oil to your diet, just don't do it at the expense of eating fish. It is recommended that fish should be consumed twice a week.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Goodness of Garlic

I would eat garlic everyday if it wasn't for the fact that I'm a very social person. Once I've enjoyed a meal containing garlic, I become very self conscious, and I immediately begin to regret eating the meal in the first place! But I'm beginning to wonder if the health benefits of garlic outweigh the 'garlic breath' issue. In ancient times, garlic was used to cure all sorts of problems, ranging from flatulence to skin diseases (a good enough reason to start eating garlic if you ask me). But more recent scientific evidence suggests that garlic can lower blood pressure, improve blood cholesterol and may be a powerful anti-carcinogenic.

For years, a work colleague has been recommending that I eat a fresh clove of garlic DAILY ! She begins each day by eating a clove of garlic and swears this is why she hasn't been sick for years. I'm beginning to buy into this 'garlic goodness' mantra of hers ! And so the motivation to write this blog.

First some interesting facts about garlic

  • Garlic (Allium sativum L. ) is a species of the onion family.
  • Because of its distinct odor, garlic is sometimes called the "stinking rose."
  • Over 60% of the garlic consumed worldwide is produced in California.
  • Garlic was worn, hung in windows, or rubbed on chimneys and keyholes, to scare off vampires!

Fresh garlic versus bottled garlic: Is there a difference ?

Once you crush fresh garlic it becomes chemically unstable and allicin (a compound found in the garlic) begins to decompose to create a compound called sulfenic acid. This is the powerful antioxidant delivering the health benefits associated with garlic. The key point to consider is the following: "A study found that only crushed garlic and microwaved crushed garlic was biological activity". Perhaps you're thinking "great, I've got a jar of peeled crushed garlic sitting in my fridge that I frequently use. I'm getting the health benefits of garlic in my diet". You'd be wrong. There is a trade off to the ease and convenience of the bottled garlic - it doesn't contain the active component you find in fresh garlic. Japanese scientists found that garlic stored in water at room temperature lost about half its allicin in 6 days, while garlic stored in vegetable oil lost half of its allicin in less than an hour. So although bottled garlic may have some health benefits, it is clearly inferior to that of fresh garlic.

And what about garlic supplements ?

There is no getting away from it - an odorless variety of fresh garlic does not exist - so for this reason many people prefer to take garlic supplements. However, the amount of allicin in these products is questionable, and it varies greatly between products. If you are taking a garlic supplement, check the label to see if it contains allicin powder.

The bottom line: Incorporate fresh garlic into your diet. Saute green vegetables in lots of fresh crushed garlic with olive oil (so easy with the Magic Bullet!). But remember, allicin starts to degrade immediately after it is produced (i.e. once you crush the garlic), so make sure to crush just before cooking. And inform your friends and family that you're on a new garlic kick !

And keep in mind this proverb, "A nickel will get you on the subway, but garlic will get you a seat".

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Random Facts

  1. The French Paradox claims that French people experience lower coronary heart disease death rates compared to Americans, despite having similar intakes of saturated fat, similar risk factors and the same levels of LDL cholesterol. The suspected reason for this difference ? Red wine.
  2. The phytochemicals found in red wine that are suspected to protect against heart disease are called flavonoids, and the highest concentrations are found in Chianti.
  3. Honey has been shown to be useful in treating wounds and it is an effective cough suppressant.
  4. Which diet works better ? Doesn't appear to matter which macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fat or protein) you cut from your diet. Reduce you caloric intake - you lose weight. In a recent study, 811 overweight adults were assigned to 1 of 4 diets. After 6 months, average weight loss was similar in all groups (average weight loss 6 kg).
  5. One recent study report that recipe books have increase portion size by 40% over the past 70 years.
  6. Eating eggs does not cause an increase in blood cholesterol levels - saturated fat in other foods is the main offender. Other factors that influence blood cholesterol levels include genetics, smoking, exercise, and being overweight.
  7. How many calories are in an Irish coffee? 220 to 250 depending on the bartender!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Do you believe in Magic ?

Often when I see an infomercial on TV I will say to my husband "oh this looks really good". And without missing a beat he will reply "Nic, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is".

Well last week I headed out to Costco for the basics and I was given strict instructions not to spend frivolously on non-essential items. How does one define a 'non-essential item' ? This was the question I asked myself as I stood in front of the 'Magic Bullet'.
It certainly seemed like an essential item.
"With the Magic Bullet, entertaining has never been easier, or more fun! That's because it's the Ultimate Party Machine!"
OK sounds essential to me ! Sorry, I'm side tracking..........back to nutrition, stay with me, I'm getting there.....

When Kate, my friend, was diagnosed with cancer, she borrowed our friends MB to make daily cancer-fighting smoothies. At this time I suggested trying Dr. Oz's green drink and we talked about her daily smoothies from a nutrition standpoint. But I couldn't help notice her enthusiasm for the MB. She made it sound too good to be true! The idea of making daily smoothies for everyone in the house was appealing and lets not forget those summer cocktails. So right there, in the home goods section of Costco, I grabbed the MB and grinned to myself ( essential !).

We have been drinking smoothies everyday. My children pick out their fruit combination and yogurt flavor, throw it in the cup, mix and drink. My husband, the skeptic, uses it more than once a day, and is still waiting to find something wrong with it....but its been one week and I haven't heard one complaint yet !

I've made pesto, used garlic daily in pasta/vegetable dishes, made asparagus soup (yes!) and even a fresh salsa. I LOVE IT! I've even been heard saying "I'm getting this as a present for my friends 40th Birthday" and "this is my next baby shower gift"!

Now it may break it a month, and my next post may very well be "it was too good to be true". But in the meantime, I plan to use it and enjoy it ! From garlic to cocktails and back.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

How to make sure your man lives longer !

In 5,820 Japanese American men, who were studied from middle-age for up to 40 years, the following 9 key factors to surviving a healthy 85+ years were identified as follows:
  1. High grip strength
  2. Avoidance of overweight
  3. Avoidance of high blood glucose levels
  4. Avoidance of hypertension
  5. Non-smoking
  6. No excessive alcohol consumption
  7. High education level
  8. Avoidance of high triglyceride levels
  9. Having a marital partner (side note: If you ask me, their wives must have taken very good care of them!)
Some tongue in cheek humor, please be advised, this may offend some readers. I guess if you don't want your husbands to live longer, let them drink, smoke, become couch potatoes, eat high fat meals, and definitely don't let them go back to college to get their masters (or any other form of education!)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Random Facts

  • Based on data from a nationally representative sample of youth, an astonishing 73% of adolescent boys and 62% of adolescent girls consume carbonated soft drinks on any given day, of which the vast majority contain sugar rather than nonnutritive sweeteners. (French et al. 2003)
  • In Mexico, obesity rates are accelerating faster than anywhere in the world.
  • A Dunkin Donuts Egg Cheese Croissant Sandwich contains 550 Calories, 34 grams of fat, 41 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber. And its equivalent to 14 weight watchers points ! Oh, and if you go for the sausage sandwich, you are up to 630 calories ! (BTW: A chocolate covered donut has 200 calories if its calories you are counting, this is a better choice).
  • On the other hand, a half a cup of Kellogg`s All Bran With Extra Fiber, contains only 50 calories and a whopping 13 grams of dietary fiber!
  • Did you ever notice within a half-hour of eating asparagus, your urine has a very distinctive odor ? This is not true for everyone, only 40 to 50% of people experience this phenomenon! This is because of the excretion of various sulfur-containing compounds.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What's Acrylamide ?

I came across a headline today "Heart study may raise pressure to cut acrylamide levels in snacks".
Cut what from snacks ?? Acrylamide.

Some facts about Acyrlamide
  • Acrylamide is not added to foods. It is a chemical that can form in some foods (particularly carbohydrate-rich foods) during high-temperature cooking processes, such as frying/baking/toasting. It forms from sugars and an amino acid (asparagine) that are naturally present in food.
  • Acrylamide was first detected in foods in 2002 by Swedish researchers who reported a high content in potato chips, breakfast cereals and crisp bread. High levels are found in French fries. For information on acrylamide levels in foods refer to the following page: .
  • In animal studies, high exposure to acrylamide caused cancer. BUT as of yet, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other government agencies, have not yet determined the exact public health impact, if any, of acrylamide that are found in the much lower levels in foods. Research is ongoing in this area.

I will be interested to see if potato chips now get a bad rap in popular consumer magazines because of acrylamide. Keep in mind the potato chip was first created in 1853, by a Native American named George Crum It contained acrylamide then, just as it does now !

The bottom-line: There is insufficient evidence to suggest its harmful at the levels we consume in foods, but perhaps its another reason not to reach for the French fries and potato chips !

Monday, March 2, 2009

Weight Stigmatization

As parents, we hope our children will never be picked on because of their weight, and we certainly hope our child will never tease their peers about their weight. According to Wikipdeia, the definition of weight stigma refers to "invidiously discriminatory attitudes towards overweight/obese or underweight/thin individuals that influence interpersonal interactions". Weight stigmatization exits -its time to pull your head out of the sand !

This topic is rather distressing but I think its worth posting because as parents, aunts, uncles, caregivers, friends, medical personnel, school counselors and teachers, we need to give it some consideration. I am reading a series of articles dedicated to this topic and some of the points I've taken from it are as follows (and some are my own views).
  • Weight stigmatization exists across all ethnic groups - it is a problem for all youth.
  • An estimated 26% of adolescent girls and 22% of adolescent boys are teased about their weight (Neumark-Sztainer et al, 2002). This is likely an underestimation of the actual truth.
  • In one study, a quarter to one half of adolescents said the teasing bothered them (van den Berg et al. 2008). Again, this is probably an underestimation of the truth.
  • One study found that teenagers who were teased about their weight were more likely to use unhealthy behaviors such as restricting carbohydrates, fasting, taking laxatives, and vomiting.
Deep is upsetting, isn't it ?

Research in this field also indicates that teasing children/adolescents about weight is related to the following problems:
  • Body dissatisfaction
  • Low self esteem
  • Anxiety
  • Increased depression and withdrawal
  • Decreased physical activity
  • Eating disorders
Family members, in particular siblings, may tease each other about their weight. However, the family home should be a safe "no teasing" place for the child. How a family member (in particular caregivers) view a child's body shape, and how they treat that child, is the foundation on which that child builds their self esteem, and how they view their own body image.

What about parents who internalize the idea of 'being thin' and their 'dieting practices', how does this affect a child ? Your children watch your behavior. As one author wrote "Mothers who are obsessed with their weight and hate their bodies teach their daughters to do and feel the same" (Fontaine, 1991). If you do this, you need to stop.

Some of the most widespread consequences of childhood obesity are psychological. The message we need to work on translating to our children is one of 'overall good health'. Pediatric doctors should ask children and teenagers if they are teased about their weight, who is teasing them and the degree to which it bothers them. We need to praise our children for making healthy choices, encourage lots of physical activity and work towards helping our children achieve healthier weights. How do we do this ? Turn off the TV, shut down the computer, take away the video games, stop buying them soda and junk food, and take a sport up with them.....sounds like a lot of work ? It is.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Chewy Fruit Snacks

I am yet to meet a child who doesn't LOVE chewy fruit snacks ! The marketing that goes into these products is excellent - Power Rangers, Princesses, Shrek, Indiana Jones, and the list goes on and on......

Often the packaging of these products states something to catch your eye - "100% Vitamin C", "80 calories", or "fat free". FAT FREE !!! But its certainly not sugar-free. The main ingredients are high fructose corn syrup and sugar.

Recently, a some what more 'sophisticated' (in terms of packaging) chewy fruit has emerged in the market - Florida's Natural Au'some Blueberry Fruit Juice Nuggets. The box contains 8 small packs (0.5 ounces each), smaller than the average packs, and so you are eating fewer calories (50 kcal) and less sugar. The first ingredients are fruit juice and puree from concentrate. But don't be fooled, it contains for the most part, the same ingredients (corn syrup, starch, dextrose) you find in your average 'Shrek' fruit snack.

What do I think of these snacks ? It depends which 'hat' I'm wearing, and whether we are talking about our children's diet or our own diet. I place these foods in the candy category. For adults, if you are eating a balanced, healthy diet, then go ahead and enjoy a bag of these 'organic' fruit nuggets. I consider these as 'discretionary calories' i.e. those calories that can be used ‘at your discretion’ after you've met your other nutrition requirements and as long as you haven't exceeded your daily energy intake. [note: most of us don't carry a nutrition calculator around with us, so keeping track of our energy intake is almost impossible!]. When we talk about discretionary calories, its better to eat something more 'nutrient dense' - so why not reach for a piece of fruit which would give you a lot more 'bang for your buck' ? But this may not satisfy your sweet craving which is probably the reason you've reached for the chewy fruits!

As a parent, I have been guilty of giving these snacks to my children on occasion. My mantra is "It won't hurt every now and then to have a bag of chewy fruit snacks". But as a nutritionist my mantra is "chewy fruit snacks have tooth decay written all over them and so reward your child with a piece of fruit". This is all very good but I've witnessed the meltdowns in the chewy fruit aisle - it not pretty.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Out with Vit C - In with Vit D!

A new study published in Archives of Internal Medicine reports that "higher levels of vitamin D may protect against the common flu and cold".

This study found that among 19,000 adults and adolescents, people who had the lowest blood levels of vitamin D were 40% more likely to have recently experienced a cold or flu. The authors of this study also noted that low levels of vitamin D were linked to even higher risk of respiratory complications in those who suffer from chronic respiratory disorders (asthma, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Although further studies are needed to confirm this observation, it certainly contributes to the list of potential health benefits linked to this immune fighting vitamin!

Note to my friend with pneumonia: Another reason to take those vitamin D pills !!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Shocking salads!

Brace yourself for this rant...bad salads ! Yes, we know they exist, but seriously, did we know they were this bad ?
Some examples....

T.G.I. Fridays Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad = 1,360 calories (company does not provide the nutritional information on total fat, saturated fat, or sodium)
99 Restaurant Crispy Honey Mustard Salad = 1,160 calories, 74g total fat, 18 g saturated fat, 2110 mg of sodium. This is 114% the daily value (DV) for total fat, 90% for saturated fat, and 88% for sodium (based on 2,000 kcal intake).

Cheesecake Factory Lunch Caesar Salad = 860 calories, 10g saturated fat, 861 mg sodium. If you order the regular size salad you double these values.
I'm not suggesting you 'throw the baby out with the bathwater'!. When you order a salad, ask for the dressing on the side, skip cheese, bacon, croûtons and anything that's crunchy and not a vegetable. Sound less appetizing ? It is. An alternative suggestion, go with grilled fish or chicken, steamed vegetables, and rice or 1/2 baked potato (eat the skin, easy on the butter). Or as my husband likes to point out "Order what you want to eat because I'm not sharing". I have a tendency to order what I perceive to be healthier, and then I end up eating the food from my husbands plate. I admit, it is a very annoying habit. So now I order what I want to eat, and I try to eat only a third, or a half of what is on the plate. I find this degree of 'self control' very difficult because I grew up in a household where you had to eat everything on your plate (sorry, side tracking).

Back to the topic...

So why all the secrecy over what's in a meal ? Isn't it time for "full disclosure and transparency" ? Shouldn't customers be provided with the information they need to make informed choices about what they eat? Finally, change is on the way. Last week, a federal appeals court upheld the regulation in New York requiring that some chain restaurants post calories on menus and menu boards, saying the rule is a reasonable effort to curb obesity. Other states have passed similar bills (California and Philadelphia). Personally I fully and whole heartily support this regulation - curbing weight gain starts with knowing what is on the plate !

And for dieters trying to lose weight, keep this cartoon in mind and ask yourself "does it taste too good to be true?"

Just think, one day we will be sharing this story with our children "when we would go out to dine in restaurants, we'd have absolutely no idea what we were eating ! Not a clue !!". Or at least I hope we will be sharing this story...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Take the Calcium Quiz

You can do this for your entire family, ask them to answer yes/no to a series of questions about what they ate yesterday. Its not an exact, valid screener of habitual calcium intake, but it will give you a good indication if you are even close to meeting your daily calcium needs.

It produces a nice graph that you can show your child. This will help you illustrate how they fair with respect to reaching their calcium needs. It also gives you some good ideas on how you can increase the calcium in your diet.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Random Facts

Here are my 7 random facts of the week:
  1. To burn off 250 calories from a 20-ounce bottle of coke, or a 250 calorie candy bar, a 135-pound woman would have to walk three miles in 45 minutes or play vigorous basketball for 40 minutes. Yikes ! Oh no, the same would go for those 2 glasses of wine !
  2. Studies in older children have shown that eight to 15 repeat exposures to a new food are necessary to enhance acceptance of the food (Birch et al. 1995;Young Children;50:71-78; Skinner et al. 1998:30;17-22)
  3. Eat a handful of almonds daily - they are an excellent source of vitamin E and magnesium, a good source of protein and fiber, and provide potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron, and monounsaturated fat.
  4. Cheerios is one of the better breakfast cereals on the market for children with only 1 gram of sugar and a healthful 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  5. Check out MyPyramid for Preschoolers Web site ( This gives advise to parents on how to make mealtimes stress-free for children by talking about fun things, encouraging children to try new foods without forcing them, and cooking together. I'll let you know if I can fit this into my crazy schedule! Mealtimes fun ?? I'm not a believer.
  6. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported approximately 3 million U.S. children and teenagers under age 18 – or nearly 4 percent of that age group – had food allergies, compared to just over 2.3 million (3.3 percent) in 1997. This is an 18% increase. The CDC also found that children with food allergies were more likely to have asthma, eczema, and respiratory problems. Although not part of the study, the most common foods (that account for over 90% of allergic reactions in affected individuals) include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, and wheat. For more information go to
  7. Afternoon cup of green tea anyone ? There are so many health benefits associated with drinking green tea that it will be its own posting on this blog in the near future. The secret of green tea lies in the fact it is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) which is a powerful anti-oxidant (prevents or slow the oxidative damage to our body).

Calcium needs of children

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. More than 99% of total body calcium is stored in the bones and teeth and the remaining 1% is found throughout the body in blood, muscle, and the fluid between cells.

Calcium has several important functions, for example
  • It is vital in the construction, formation and maintenance of bone and teeth.
  • It is an essential component in the production of enzymes and hormones that regulate digestion, energy, and fat metabolism.
  • It maintains all cells and connective tissues in the body.
  • It is a vital component in blood clotting systems, helps in wound healing and may prevent gum disease.
  • It is involved in blood pressure control, nerve transmission, and release of neurotransmitters.
  • It is essential for muscle contraction.
In the US, more than 60% of dietary calcium comes from milk and dairy products. Adequate dietary calcium intake during growing years is critical for the accretion of peak bone mass, which protects against osteoporosis later in life. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid ( recommends that children two years and older eat 2-3 servings of dairy products per day. A serving is equal to:
1 cup (8 fl oz) of milk
8 oz of yogurt
1.5 oz of natural cheese (such as Cheddar)
2.0 oz of processed cheese (such as American)
Dairy products are the most concentrated food sources of calcium (e.g. one cup of milk contains approximately 271 mg of calcium). But what if your child/adolescent doesn't drink milk or is lactose intolerant, how do they meet their calcium needs ? In this case you need to consider other sources of calcium, for instance:
Calcium-fortified orange juice is a very good source of calcium, however because the calcium settles on the bottom of the carton, you need to ensure you shake it before pouring. Since most children require more vitamin D in their diet, choose an orange juice that is fortified with vitamin D as this will help improve calcium absorption. You may be inclined to think that giving your child several servings of juice is the solution to their calcium needs. As parents we need to keep in mind that excess juice intake may provide excess calories in the diet of our children. The American Academy of Pediatrics' recommendation is that children over the age of 7 years limit their juice consumption to 2 servings per day. So while calcium-fortified juice provides a useful alternative to dairy as a calcium source, drinking too much orange juice is not recommended.

Canned fish,
such as salmon and sardines, are excellent sources of calcium. A single sardine contains 92 mg calcium, while a 3 ounces can of salmon (with the bones) contains 181 mg calcium. OK, this is great except I can't imagine too many children eat sardines. Perhaps we will have better luck with salmon, hmm.....not so sure they'll eat the bones !

Next idea...

Calcium fortified soy milk, (note, natural soy milk is not a good source of calcium, it needs to be calcium-fortified), is an alternative to dairy milk. Again, sedimentation of the calcium occurs so you need to make sure to shake the carton. One report (1) found that unshaken samples of soy beverages had only 31% of the expected calcium and there is some concern regarding whether the absorption of calcium in these products is the same as that of dairy milk. But it is a good alternative to dairy if your child does not drink milk.

Processed foods such as ready-to-eat breakfast cereals contain calcium. If the food label states the product contains 10% of calcium on the label - this is equivalent to approximately 100 mg of calcium.

Other foods that contain modest amounts of calcium include citrus fruit, dark-green leafy vegetables (chinese cabbage, kale, collard greens and broccoli), nuts/seeds and peanut butter.
If your child doesn't eat dairy products, will they have an adequate intake (AI) for calcium?"

First of all, lets review the AI for calcium:
500 mg for children aged 1 to 3 years
800 mg for children aged 4 to 8 years
1,300 mg for children aged 9 to 18 years.
One study (2) conducted in children aged 9 to 15 years found that an adequate intake (AI) of calcium could not be met if the child was eating a dairy-free diet and so they recommended that calcium-fortified foods should to be included in the diet. Ideally, calcium fortified juice or soy milk should not be a substitute for dairy milk. However, given that only 25% of boys and 10% of girls are getting enough calcium in their diet, its a welcomed solution for parents.

(1) Heaney, R. (2006). Journal of the American Dietetic Association; 106 (11); 1753-1754.
(2) Gao et al. (2006) Journal of the American Dietetic Association; 106 (11); 1759-66.

Friday, February 20, 2009

A good point worth posting....

Because it's school vacation week I haven't had any opportunity to write, but I have been doing lots of reading in the evenings. It's sad, but true, that I've been reading a journal supplement entitled "Obesity: etiology, treatment, prevention and application in practice". I came across a statement by one of the experts in the field that I wanted to share with you. It's about obesity and how we assume that energy balance is a simple concept i.e. energy intake is what we eat, energy expenditure is what we burn through physical activity and just being alive and, if we do gain weight, it's because we are eating more than we burn off. This expert states:
"Another limitation of the concept of energy balance as the cause of obesity is the implication that if one is getting fatter; it is one's fault. One need only to control his or her energy intake and energy expenditure to control the problem. This implies that we should blame our children for their obesity. This seems grossly unfair. If obesity were easily controlled by moderating energy intake, the US military would not discharge up to 5,000 men or women yearly for failing to meet its weight standards. If loss of livelihood is not sufficient motivation to lose weight, then the problem must be more complex" (Bray & Campagne, 2005; ADA;105:S17-S23)

Like every other chronic disease, obesity is a complex condition. We need to consider genetics, the effect of drugs, intrauterine events, and disease conditions. In the US, dietary patterns have changed in the past 30 years - excess calories from dietary fat and high fructose corn syrup are major contributors to weight gain. As a society we are exercising less, working more and dare I say it, not taking 'time out' from our busy schedules like our ancestors. For most people, excess energy intake, or lack of physical activity, is the cause of weight gain, but health professionals should keep an open mind regarding the cause of weight gain in patients.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Cookin' with Google

I was so excited to come across this website:

Cookin' With Google allows you to find a recipe based on a list of ingredients that you may have in your fridge and cupboards. Ingenious!

I typed in "chicken, garlic, asparagus" and Google directed me to several cooking sites. Some of the suggested recipes included:
Penne with Chicken and Asparagus
Garlic Chicken With Asparagus and Mushrooms
Lemon-garlic Chicken Asparagus And Potatoes
It gets better! Vegetarian, diabetic, and gluten-free options are also available! I'm sure some of you are reading this and thinking "eh, welcome to the 21st century!"

This reminds me of a story. A couple of years ago, an older relative was sharing her thoughts with us on what to expect in the future. With an expression of certainty she announced, "one day you'll be able to work on your computer and it won't even need to be plugged in". I didn't have the heart to say "I'm sorry to tell you but that day is here". I guess sometimes everyone needs to feel they're ahead of the game, or at least still on the playing field, so please, don't bench me. I'm just so excited to find out that I can use what is in my fridge and come up with a meal plan.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Random Facts

I plan to make this a weekly feature - nutrition/health facts that are being published in popular magazines (NOT TABLOIDS!). I'm thinking more along the lines of Prevention, Shape, Self, Mens Health etc. What's my motivation ? It's what people read, some facts are true, others may be exaggerated, but the bottom line is these facts are more likely to influence peoples thoughts and behaviors that advice given by their Doctor!

My friend Kate ( wrote a great piece about how we change every 7 years, and this motivated her to come up with a "7 Songs of the Day" playlist. As Kate knows, I'd be lucky to come up with 7 songs in one year! I don't know the artists, or the words, and to the annoyance of my husband I make up words of songs and belt them out as if I'm auditioning for American Idol ! So Kate, the best I can do is come up with 7 random nutrition/health facts !

  1. Consumer Magazines Digest interviewed 21,000 subscribers about their lifetime weight history and their eating, dieting and exercising habits. They found 6 behaviors were linked to a healthy weight. The most important - portion size. The others: limit fat, eat fruits and vegetables, chose whole grains over refined, eat at home and exercise, exercise, exercise (Feb, 2009).
  2. In 1969, 50% of children walked to school. Today, only 15%. (Parenting,2007)
  3. To calculate the number of teaspoons of sugar in a product, look at the sugar on the label and divide by 4 ( one teaspoon of sugar equals 4 grams).
  4. Upsizing your fast food meal from a medium coke and fries to a large of both only costs 17% more but the increase in calories is 55% (Mens Health, 2007).
  5. In a recent study, 27% of people who said they would opt for fruit over a sweet treat actually reached for the indulgence when given the choice a week later (Self Magazine, 2009).
  6. The average serving of a bagel is a 5-inch, but one portion of grains is actually one half or a 3 inch bagel. So eating a bagel should count as 2 servings of grains.
  7. Soda accounts for 33% of the added sugars in the American diet.
Please send along any facts you may come across while flicking through your favorite magazines !