Living Lite

Seven Misunderstood Foods You Should Be Eating

June 10, 2012

Are you shying away from bad foods that are actually good for you? With all the hoopla about healthful eating, it's hard to separate fact from fiction.

As a nutrition consultant, I've come to realize there is no shortage of surprises and superstitions in the world of nutrition. As a follow-up to my article "5 So-Called Health Foods You Should Avoid." I thought it would be fun to give you reasons to enjoy some of your favorite so-called "bad" foods that are actually good for you ...

Gluten and Wheat

They are "the most demonized ingredients beyond high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oil," said Melissa Abbott, culinary director at the Hartman Group, a company specializing in consumer research.

Yet decades of studies have found that gluten-containing foods, such as whole wheat, rye and barley, are vital for good health, and are associated with a reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and excess weight.

"Wheat is a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals," said Joanne Slavin, nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota. She added that the confusion about gluten, a protein, has caused some people to avoid eating wheat and other grains.

Only about 1 percent of the population  - those with celiac disease or wheat allergy - cannot tolerate gluten and must eradicate it from their diet to ease abdominal pain and other symptoms, including the ability to fully absorb vitamins.

One reason wheat-free or gluten-free diets are popular is that people who don't eat wheat often end up bypassing excess calories in sweets and snack foods. Then they start feeling better, lose weight, and mistakenly attribute their success to gluten or wheat avoidance. Learn more about a gluten free diet and who may benefit from it...

Eggs

Eggs also don't deserve their bad reputation. In recent decades, their high cholesterol content has been thought to play a role in increasing LDL ("bad") cholesterol and heart disease risk. But cholesterol in food is a minor factor contributing to high blood cholesterol for most people, and studies have not confirmed a correlation between eggs and increased heart disease risk. The major determinant of LDL (bad) cholesterol is saturated fat, and while eggs are high in cholesterol - 184 milligrams in the yolk - they're relatively low in saturated fat - about 1.6 grams in the yolk.

Interestingly, some of the biggest egg eaters in the world, the Japanese, have low cholesterol and heart disease rates, in part because they eat a diet low in saturated fat. In contrast, Americans eat eggs alongside sausage, bacon, and buttered toast.

"The amount that one egg a day raises cholesterol in the blood is extremely small," says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard's School of Public Health. "Elevations in LDL (bad) cholesterol of this small magnitude could easily be countered by other healthy aspects of eggs." Learn more about eggs...

Potatoes

Potatoes have been blamed for increasing blood glucose levels, insulin resistance, excess weight and Type 2 diabetes. A recent Harvard study that followed large populations and their disease rates linked potato eating with being overweight, blaming  it on the blood glucose rise.

But many foods, including whole-wheat bread and whole-grain cereals, cause similar spikes in blood glucose, and are correlated with superior health and lower body weights. How could the higher body weight in the Harvard study be explained? The study lumped all potato products together, including potato chips and french fries, very fattening versions of potatoes usually eaten in large portions alongside hamburgers, hot dogs, and sodas.

"It's an easy food to attack; but the meal pattern may be the culprit," said David Baer, a research leader at the Agricultural Research Service of the Department of Agriculture. "Other epidemiological studies have not verified a connection between potatoes and weight gain or any diseases, and no clinical studies have shown a connection." Learn more about the Harvard study...

Potatoes are a great source of potassium, Vitamin C and fiber that many cultures - Scandinavians, Russians, Irish, and Peruvians - relied on as a nutritious staple for centuries. And they were not fat.

Fruits

People often ask me if fruit is too high in sugar, especially for diabetics. This fear of fruit, I believe, is left over from the Atkins craze, which discouraged eating some fruits on the grounds that they are high in carbohydrates.

Avoiding fruit could actually damage your health. Study after study over many decades shows that eating fruit can reduce the risk of some cancers, heart disease, blood pressure and fruit. Lean how fruit reduces diabetes risk...

Fruit is high in water and fiber, which help you feel full with fewer calories, one reason why eating it is correlated with lower body weight. Even though they contain simple sugars, most fruits have a relatively low glycemic index. That is, when you eat fruit, your blood sugar raises only moderately, especially when compared with refined sugar or flour products.

Several health organizations, including the U.S. Dietary Guidelines, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Heart Association, recommend Americans eat at least five cups of fruits and vegetables a day because of their superior health benefits.

Soy

Though popular for centuries in many Asian cuisines, soy is sometimes seen as dangerous after studies found elevated rates of breast cancer among rats when they were fed a concentrated soy derivative. But studies looking at whole soy foods in humans have not found a connection. In fact, the reverse may be true.

Soy, "when consumed in childhood or adolescence may make breast tissue less vulnerable to cancer development later in life and probably has no effect on breast cancer risk when consumption begins in adulthood," said Karen Collins, registered dietitian and nutrition adviser with the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Actually, Collins said, the evidence is so strong for protection against heart disease that the FDA allowed a health claim for labels on soy food products.

 Alcohol

Alcohol is feared because of the potential for abuse and alcoholism and complications such as liver disease, which are valid concerns.

But decades' worth of research shows that moderate alcohol consumption "can reduce deaths from most causes, particularly heart disease, and it raises HDL (good) cholesterol," the USDA's David Baer said.

Wine may have additional benefits because its grapes are filled with nutrients called polyphenols, which reduce blood-clotting, inflammation and oxidation.

The key is to drink alcohol moderately and with meals. What's moderation? One serving daily for women and two servings for men, with a serving being 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Learn more about wine...

Fried Foods

While it's true that frying food usually increases its caloric content, that doesn't necessarily make it unhealthful.

As long as food is fried in healthful oil instead of butter, shortening, or trans fat, and it's eaten in moderation, it isn't less healthy. In fact, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and heart-healthy, cancer-preventive carotenoids such as beta-carotene (e.g., carrots, sweet potatoes), lycopene (e.g., tomatoes) and lutein/zeaxanthin (deep-green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale), need fat in order to be absorbed by the body.

"The consumption of certain fats, such as saturated fatty acids and trans fatty acids [fats that are solid at room temperature],is associated with an . . . increased risk of cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, the unsaturated fats, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids [canola, safflower and olive oils] have significant metabolic benefits and are health promoting," said the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. Learn more about healthy fats...

Read my Washington Post "Local Living" cover story 24 May 2012

and  Read the Washington Post Web Chat Transcript

 


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CNN Features Rose Park Farmers Market

May 24, 2012

When CNN asked me to talk to them about why farmers markets are important, I knew just the place to film: our own Rose Park Farmers Market. Farmers Market produce is superior because when fruits and vegetables are picked at their peak ripeness and brought to you immediately, their flavor and nutrition are at their best.

And while produce from the Farmers Market is more tender, sweet and juicy, and will improve your health, it also saves the environment. Buying seasonal, locally grown fruits and vegetables can halt global warming by lowering greenhouse gases, saving land, energy and water. 

Environmental resourse conservation is reduced if food is transported long distances and grown  in large industrial farms which specialize in only one or a few foods. Locally, organically produced food saves water, energy, and encourages a region's unique varieties of fruits and vegetables. Heirloom varietes, for example, have been passed down through generations, have natural resistance to pests, disease and are better able to tolerate local conditions without too much extra energy, pesticides or water.

See the CNN video starring Rose Park ...


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Size Matters: A Delightful Discovery at La Madeleine

May 21, 2012

What a surprising respite! I was delighted Saturday morning, after my three mile walk to Memorial Bridge and back, to find La Madeleine open at 7:00 am. I was delighted to find a delicious cafe latte - and muffins and pastries even a nutritionist could love - and they weren't "diet" pastries.

Yes, you heard right! How could I enjoy La Madeleine and even its pastries?

First, I admit I'm a food snob. I buy all my fruits and vegetables at Farmers Markets, because I believe so strongly in the benefits of seasonal, locally grown produce. There are few restaurants I really enjoy because I expect fresh, superior ingredients, interesting small plates, and polite, professional service. I only frequent independently-owned businesses, because I think it preserves the uniqueness of the town and I want to support small businesses. So I've been at a loss since my favorite diner, Furin's of Georgetown, closed and Laura and Ricardo Bonnino left Griffin Market, along with their one-of-a-kind Italian delicacies. What to do? Where to go?

So on Saturday morning, after my walk, when I was in the mood to sit at a cafe and enjoy a latte and a little something, I broke down and tried Le Pain Quotidien - CLOSED - just as well. I've never had a good experience there and I blame them for Furin's closing (rightly or wrongly). Okay, what next... I wandered over to La Madeleine across the street, into which I have never walked before, tried the door, and it opened. Uh-oh, am I really in la Madeleine? I skeptically, cautiously walked up the stairs. After I asked if they could serve me a Cafe Latte and I was met with a cheerful YES. I was committed. But, "My! those muffins are huge," I said, feeling tempted but calculating the 500+ calorie counts in my head. "But," says a perky cook behind the counter, "we have smaller ones, let me show you!"

And there began my delightful discovery of an array of mini pastries, desserts and muffins I could enjoy and even recommend at la Madeleine. The size was perfect, just enough to enjoy, but not feel over-stuffed and miserable. I borrowed the manager's pen so I could scribble down some of the numbers for you:

Mini Blueberry Muffin - 160 calories (regular is 630)
Mini Lemon Cream Cheese Muffin - 170 calories
Mini Bran Muffin - 140 (regular is 550)
Mini Fruit Tart - 150 (regular is 500)
Mini Lemon Tart - 200 (regular 820)
Mini Sacher Torte Parfait - 300
Mini Tiramisu Parfait - 220 (regular 520)
Mini French Vanilla and Fruit Parfait - 110
more...

I had a lovely time, sitting among the country French decor at the window, a lively Vivaldi playing in the background. Friendly, professional staff buzzing around. Will I visit more than once or twice a month? Probably not. But it's nice to know it's there!

For more information about la Madeleine, and what to look for in restaurant eating without the bulge ...

For more details: KatherineTallmadge.com


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