Are all sugars created equal? Look beyond the label

sugar photo

 

When you look at a nutrition facts panel, there is one devilish line that seems simple, but causes stress and anxiety for millions of Americans: Sugar.

 

Talking about sugar and health requires a nuanced message. We can’t demonize all carbohydrates – we couldn’t survive without them. But we do know that too much sugar is a bad thing: The World Health Organization recently recommended that adults get less than 10% of their daily calories from added sugars. Meanwhile, there are many different types of sugars – natural, refined, and added are just some of the descriptors we regularly hear – and yet, it’s not clear from nutrition panels or the popular press if it actually matters where our sugar comes from, or if all sugar is unequally unhealthy.

 

So today, let’s dive in to the world of sugar, and I’ll share what can you do today to make healthier sugar choices.

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Your Guide to Probiotic Foods & Supplements

probiotic foods yogurt photo // @happyhealthysam

Our bodies are covered in bacteria. I know. Gross. But it’s actually a really good thing – the bacteria in our guts and on our skin help us develop our immune system, in harves nutrients from our food, and helps prevent skin conditions like eczema!

 

The incredible importance of our microbiome, and it’s intimate connection with the food that we eat means there are a lot of products and supplements out there that claim to be providing the probiotics that you need for a healthy digestive system. But do their claims live up to the hype?

 

In today’s post, we’ll take a look at which foods have probiotics (and how to prepare them), if and how to take probiotic supplements, how to avoid probiotic scams, and learn about probiotic’s lesser-known (but very important) counterpart, the prebiotic.

 

It’s time to be good to the bacteria in your belly!

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How to Make Healthier Choices at Restaurants

healthier choices at restaurants

In a perfect world, I would look at a restaurant menu only to find an option that reads

“Local, pasture-raised delicious with a side of healthy sauce, sure to please anyone with Sam’s exact dietary needs”.

Unfortunately…I haven’t come across that offering yet.

Getting a healthy meal at a restaurant is just plain tough because we don’t know the exact ingredients and amounts that go into the dishes we’re eating, even in the meals that come along with a calorie count! What we do know is that most likely, the food we consume at a restaurant is less healthy or contains more calories than what we would make for ourselves at home. That’s because restaurants are in the business of serving deliciousness, and salt, sugar, and fat are incredibly good at making that happen.

Because restaurant menus aren’t custom-designed for our personal optimal health, how do we make healthier choices at restaurants? It can happen with some preplanning, knowledge, and a few Jedi mind tricks to control your portions. Luckily, I have just the info you need to make a healthier choice below!

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Juices and Smoothies: Health or Hype?

are smoothies healthy photo

Hey guys!

I’ve been hearing about green juices and smoothies constantly, and since I finally have a blender to call my own (yipee!), it’s time to talk about them. The way that some articles tout the benefits of juicing, you’d think it was the fountain of youth, the giver of energy, and saver of puppies. But do the veggie, fruit, and protein packed drinks really stack up?

 

 

 Let’s look into the science and the psychology of juices and smoothies, so you can integrate them with your diet in the most optimal way. And, I’ll share some of my favorite smoothie recipes!

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Do I have to eat tofu to be healthy?

healthy soy photo
Photo by Alexandra C. Bertin

When the topic of vegetarianism comes up, the most common complaint I hear is “does that mean I’ll have to eat tofu all day long?” Unfortunately, the idea that vegetarians and vegans live a 90% soy-filled lifestyle is a pretty outdated view of plant-based eating. But even if you do have a meat-friendly diet, should you incorporate soy into your diet for health reasons?

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How much protein do you need? A look at Behavior and Biology

how much protein photo
Some awesome sources of protein: eggs, almonds, giant white beans, and chickpeas!

 

If we had to name the most beloved macronutrient in our society today, it would have to be protein. Important for building muscle, innocuous for our blood sugar levels, and generally packaged in delicious foods like hamburgers, nuts, and eggs. In contrast to carbohydrates and fat, protein is never demonized by the popular press. A life without protein? No thanks.

That doesn’t mean, however, that protein is the end-all, be-all savior for our health, and that we should eat as much protein as possible every day. For example, our brain, arguably one of our most important internal organs, relies on glucose for fuel! In times of great starvation, yes, it can use some amino acids, the building blocks of protein, for energy, in truth, your brain craves sugar.

And while protein is critical for building our muscles, bone, body tissues, and enzymes to keep our body running, too much protein can do the exact same thing that too many carbs or too much fat can do — turn into excess weight.

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Quick ways to choose a healthier snack

choose a healthier snack photo
Snack choices at a restaurant I visited in Bogota, Colombia last summer

 

Do you often find yourself staring at a product display, trying to find the healthy choice among 10 or 20 foods that seem exactly the same? It can be tough to figure out which product best aligns with your needs and health routine, especially since every product proudly displays why they are the best choice.

When you find yourself faced with too many product choices, but no leads on which one best aligns with your healthy habits and goals, here are some quick and easy ways to choose a healthier snack.

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Reasons to get vitamins from food versus supplements

Vitamin from supplements picture
Image via hereandthere.us

Hello again! Thanks for the great comments on my post about dietary sources of calcium. I’m glad you found it helpful and understandable. Have a nutrition question you’d like to see answered? Let me take a crack at it! Email me at samantha.attard[at]gmail.com. Today’s question is a complex one, so I’ll be splitting it up into a series of posts over the coming weeks.

Today’s question: “Should I be getting my vitamins from food or from supplements?”

This is a tough question that the nutrition community has been debating for decades. I think it became such a big issue because humans have been using food medicinally for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that we began identifying the active chemical compounds (like vitamins and minerals) that were responsible for these beneficial health effects. Once we did determine that scurvy was due to low vitamin C, or that rickets was because of a vitamin D deficiency, we naturally became interested in isolating these compounds from food and selling them to people to improve health. But we are far from knowing whether it’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from food or from supplements…there are pros and cons to each method. Today, we’re going to tackle the reasons why it may be better to get your vitamins from food versus supplements.

Reasons to consume your vitamins from food versus supplements

1. If you have a varied, whole foods diet without large dietary restrictions or special needs, there may be little beneficial effect of adding vitamin supplements to your diet.
2. The combination of chemicals in food (versus the isolated compounds found in supplements) can improve vitamin absorption and efficacy.
3. Vitamin supplements are not well regulated, and there are contamination and labeling concerns for many supplements currently on the market.

More detailed explanations of these reasons to consume vitamins from food versus supplements can be found after the jump! Continue reading…


Best dietary sources of calcium

Dietary sources of calcium picture
Image courtesy of dietnutritionadvisor.com

Every time I tell someone I’m in nutrition, I get a question or comment about food, the latest diet craze, or my favorite nutrition habits. I realized that for every person that does ask me a question, there are a lot more who are wanting to know the same thing, but were too afraid to ask.

In this new series (as of yet unnamed), I’ll be answering the most frequently-asked questions I receive about nutrition as well as your questions! Have something you’d like to see me write about? Email me at samantha.attard[at]gmail.com!

Today’s Question: What are the best dietary sources of calcium?

If I was to ask a group of people what the best dietary source of calcium is, undoubtably most people would answer – Milk! This unanimous uproar of support is a product of the truly amazing marketing campaigns from the Dairy Council over the last few decades. However, as Michele Simon and Andy Bellatti point out in their report, dairy products like milk are not the only dietary sources of calcium.

But is dairy the best source of calcium?

Calcium is found in a variety of plant- and animal-based foods including milk, cheese, kale, broccoli, almonds, black beans, sardines, and bok choy. Per serving, milk and dairy products have some of the highest levels of calcium, but the plant-based sources are not far behind, and particularly with a varied diet, it is possible to match the calcium levels of dairy foods while still eating a dairy-free.

There are a few important points we have to consider if we’re trying to find the best dietary sources of calcium:

1. Calcium absorption is more efficient and lower calcium intake levels.
2. Calcium absorption in the intestinal lumen requires adequate Vitamin D; Magnesium is required to adequately store calcium in bones rather than soft tissues.
3. Some calcium in plant-based sources is less bioavailable because the calcium is bound to oxalate and phytate.

Let’s investigate these points further to figure out the best ways to meet the recommended daily allowance (RDA) for calcium.

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Grocery Store Shopping Series: Happy Healthy Tip #5

Evaluate nutrition claims on products

Welcome back to another post in our healthy grocery store shopping series! This series is designed to help you be a more efficient, healthier, happier shopper. Last time, we talked about shopping the perimeter first: buy the fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, and fresh bread before you head into the aisles to pick up the processed stuff. Once you do make your way into the labyrinth, you’re ready for Tip #5:

Beware products bearing gifts (particularly nutritious ones).

There are many subtle (or not so subtle) nutrition messages on the front of food products that are designed to catch your eye and snag a sale. As a savvy grocery shopper, these nutrition claims are a signal for you to inspect that product a little further, and decide if what the company is claiming is actually of benefit to you.

Let’s look at various messages common to most packaged products:
ront Label of cereal box

Cereal box photo courtesy of smncc.com

On the front of this box of Frosted Flakes, the left side has the usual players — the manufacturer, brand name, the dazzling smile of Tony the Tiger, but on the right, I noted the appeals to both parents (nutritious!) and children (toys!) to buy the product. The toys are a pretty obvious sell, and it’s probably a losing battle to get your kids to not be tempted by those free gifts. But I’d like to spend the rest of this post deciphering some of the nutrition claims found on products, so you can make an informed decisions about which products to buy and consume.

Common Nutrition Claims Deconstructed

  • Cholesterol Free!

    What does this message actually mean? That the product is made from plants. Only animal-based foods (milk, meat, eggs) have cholesterol! On the one hand, this message is great: the manufacturers didn’t have to do any special processing or add weird ingredients to make your products cholesterol free! On the other hand, it’s a little misleading to think that the label denotes an extra level of healthfulness above that in other similar products.

  • Now with less fat! (or less sugar).

    This message is a big warning sign that the ingredients have changed since you last bought the product. Fat and sugar are very important for the deliciousness and shelf stability of a product. So if a product has been reformulated to decrease the fat (for example), there may have been an increase in sugar, salt, or other ingredients to keep it tasty, keep the consistency of the product, and keep it shelf stable. When you see a “now with”, check the back of the box to see if what ingredients may have been substituted in, and make sure the new formulation still aligns with your health needs.

  • High Fiber!

    Similar to the cholesterol message, high fiber does not have to be a bad thing. If anything, we need more fiber in our diets! There are two possible reason why your product say high fiber: either the food is naturally high in fiber (because of flax seeds, dried fruit, or whole grains), or a bunch of ingredients were added to the product to increase it’s fiber content. Some of these fiber additives can increase abdominal discomfort (read: gas), so added fiber is something to watch out for if you haven’t been feeling so great after eating certain products. If you’re searching for added fiber on the ingredient list, watch out for “bran” ingredients.

Double check the price of products with nutrition claims on the front.

Some better-for-you products truly do cost more because it takes higher quality ingredients, a slower process, or a specialized workforce to make that good quality product. However, sometimes, the price are higher only because of the health claim, and not because they actually cost more to produce. When you see a claim attached to a higher price tag, take a step back to evaluate what their enhancement is, and if you actually feel that the benefit provided by the product is a worthy trade off for the price.

What are other common nutrition claims do you see on the front of products you buy? Do they influence your purchasing decisions?