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Soy, Almond, Rice…Oh my!  What milk should I drink?

The “dairy” case displays more choices today than ever before.  Let’s compare these choices and find out what is best for you

First of all, dairy milk is a perfectly healthy choice if it is fat-free (skim) or 1%.  Whole and 2% varieties contain more saturated fat and therefore are not heart healthy choices.  Milk is a good source of protein (8 g per 8 oz. serving), naturally high in calcium and fortified with vitamin D.   Some people, however, may not be able to tolerate dairy milk.  If you are lactose intolerant, try Lactaid milk or taking a Lactaid pill with your dairy intake to see if it will help you avoid the tummy upset.   

Whatever the reason, you may choose to drink soy, almond, coconut, or rice milk as an alternative.  Like dairy milk, soy milk is naturally a good source of protein (8 g per 8 oz. serving).   However, rice, coconut and almond milk are no match, weighing in at 0-1 gram of protein per serving.  Whereas dairy milk is a natural source of calcium, milk alternatives are fortified with calcium as well as vitamin D.  Be aware that some varieties of milk alternatives, flavored, and even original may contain added sugar.

If you want a beverage that is dairy-free but still need the protein, the soy varieties are a great choice.  However if you desire a soy & dairy free beverage and eat enough protein, almond, rice or coconut milk may meet your needs.  Just keep in mind that you will not be getting the quality protein found in soy or dairy milk. 

The Takeaway: include milk or milk alternatives daily to help meet your calcium and vitamin D needs for healthy bones!

Will a gluten-free diet help me lose weight?

In case you haven’t noticed, products labeled “gluten-free” are everywhere.  Many people perceive a gluten-free diet is healthier, and some have heard that the plan is good for losing weight.  Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. While these foods may seem easy to identify, there are a number of less obvious foods where gluten can be found, like condiments and processed meats. 

Unless you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or wheat allergy, you do not need to seek out gluten-free foods.  If you eliminate gluten in your diet, you automatically eliminate healthy whole grain foods which provide nutrients and fiber.

The more serious condition is celiac disease, affecting about 1% of the American population.  Celiac is an autoimmune disease that, with the ingestion of gluten, can permanently damage the lining of the small intestines, preventing nutrients from being absorbed.  Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloating and fatigue, but it is also perfectly normal not to have symptoms.  Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is becoming more common and now affects about 15% of the population.  This group may have similar symptoms to celiac, although the damage to the intestines is reversible with the elimination of gluten, and can also display headaches, rashes, and joint pain.  Those with wheat allergy, can have similar symptoms, but can also experience true allergy symptoms such as nasal congestion, itchy, watery eyes and difficulty breathing.  This group should avoid food with wheat but doesn’t have to eliminate all foods with gluten. 

Again, a diagnosis of one of these conditions should be the only reason to eliminate foods from your diet. If you know someone that has lost weight following a gluten-free diet, it may be due to the fact that they are eliminating foods that are typically overeaten (bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, battered and fried foods, etc.).  By choosing less packaged (canned, boxed, wrapped) foods, they have automatically reduced their calorie intake.  Gluten free cookies, cupcakes and pizzas often have more calories, sugar and fat as the regular foods, so don’t be fooled by the labeling of “gluten free”.  The best way to lose weight is eating sensible portions of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean meats, fish, low fat dairy, and using nuts and oils sparingly.

The Takeaway:  If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, a registered dietitian can provide information on foods to eliminate and foods to include daily.

Keeping foods safe during the holiday season

Any given year, someone can be heard saying…”well my mother and grandmother have been leaving foods out for years and no one has ever gotten sick.”  The truth is maybe they haven’t, or maybe no one put together the sour stomach and the stuffing that was left out all day.  This year, consider the elders and/or toddlers at your holiday table, whose immune system aren’t 100%.  Regardless of the age, we don’t want to take a chance.  Some helpful tips to remember:
1. Never leave your turkey on the counter to thaw at room temperature.  Instead place a frozen turkey in your refrigerator to thaw to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.  Plan ahead, thawing a turkey takes time.  But in a pinch, thaw a wrapped frozen turkey breast side down in sink filled with cool tap water and change the water every 30 minutes.
2. Cook turkey to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  If you are cooking a stuffed turkey, make sure stuffing reaches 165 degrees.  A Ham or pork roast may be cooked to 145 degrees.
3.  Follow the 2 hour rule.  After 2 hours in the danger zone (between 40-140 degrees) harmful bacteria starts to rapidly multiply.  Place leftovers in the refrigerator in small and shallow containers in a timely manner.
4.  Reheat leftovers to 165 degrees in the microwave. Use or freeze leftovers within 3-4 days.
5. Wash your hands! Sanitize surfaces and utensils after contaminated with raw meats.
Have a safe and wonderful holiday season!

The Takeaway:  Cover and chill foods soon after everyone is finished eating.

Paleo Diet: The dietitian weighs in

The Paleo diet in a nutshell is “if the cavemen didn’t eat it then you shouldn’t either.”  This means only food that can be hunted or gathered.  Meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, eggs, vegetables, roots, fruit and berries get the green light.  Foods that are off limits are grains, dairy, beans, peas, sugar or salt. 

On the positive side, this diet encourages more fruits and vegetables and eliminates added sugar and sodium.  Also this diet is rich in protein and lower in carbohydrates promoting blood sugar control.  On the down side, this diet may create shortfalls by eliminating entire food groups which contribute vital vitamins & minerals such as calcium and vitamin D.  Although lower in carbohydrates, it may be too low in carbohydrates in the long run and exceed the daily recommendations for fat and protein. 

Whole grains and legumes in appropriate amounts provide fiber and other nutrients which may help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes.  Dairy and grains may get a bad name due to over consumption, for example, cheese and large portions of calorie-laden pasta dishes and pizza etc. If tolerated, low fat dairy and whole grains should not be avoided. 
So will you lose weight if you follow a strict Paleo diet? Probably…unless you overindulge in meat, you will be eating fewer calories, which is the premise of any weight loss plan. 
Will it be hard to follow?  Definitely…get used to saying “I can’t eat that on my diet.”  No more Mexican restaurants; pizza is out; nothing for you at the ball games; no ice cream or any other dessert for that matter and the list goes on. Should I take any supplements if I choose to follow this diet?  Definitely take a multivitamin as well as a calcium and vitamin D supplement daily. 
Is there a better diet to follow?  Absolutely!  For breakfast choose a protein or low fat dairy, whole grain and fruit.  For lunch and dinner, make half your plate non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of your plate lean meat, and the other ¼ starch or grain.  Snack on fruit or low fat dairy when hungry.  There will always be fad diets, but healthy results that last come from sensible eating and regular exercise.

The Takeaway:  Weight loss occurs when you take in fewer calories than you burn and is not based on the rules of the latest diet craze.

The scoop on coconut oil

Whether you have seen it on the Dr. Oz show or heard about it from your girlfriend, you have probably heard claims that coconut oil will help you lose weight, prevent Alzheimer’s, and cure everything from a poor immune system to hypothyroidism, heart disease and cancer.  Claims like these can cause some to question whether to move the conventional oils over and embrace the latest trend. Well, not so fast!  

The clinical evidence that virgin coconut oil is a super food is weak and these claims are often based on testimonials.  The most studied area is coconut’s effect on cholesterol levels.  The benefit seems to come from the unique combination of short and medium chain fatty acids.  Some studies have shown coconut oil to have neutral to positive effects on cholesterol levels. 

Virgin coconut oil is unrefined, being extracted from mature coconuts without using high temperature or chemicals; This liquid oil is also unhydrogenated (the process used to add hydrogen to make a solid fat).  Refined coconut oil is made from dried coconut meat that is often chemically bleached or deodorized. This is generally listed as hydrogenated coconut oil on labels. 

Coconut oil is high in saturated fat (11.8 g saturated fat per tablespoon), regardless of the type.  Olive, canola, corn, soybean, grape seed oil etc all contain much lower amounts of saturated fats (1-2 g saturated fat per tablespoon).  Coconut oil is better than butter, trans fat and animal fats, but not as good as liquid vegetable oils.  It is still a saturated fat and should be limited.

Unfortunately, there is just not enough research out there to support all the claims about coconut oil.  What we do know is we should consume more mono and poly unsaturated fats, limit all saturated fat to about 7% of your calories (for a 2,000 calorie diet that would be 15.5 grams of saturated fat per day), and avoid partially hydrogenated oils.  If you choose to include coconut oil in your diet, choose virgin coconut oil in small amounts. 

The Takeaway:  All oils should be used sparingly, and monounsaturated oils found in olive oil, peanuts and avocados have known heart healthy benefits.





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