Monday, February 25, 2013

Something Smells Fishy

Q: What types of fish should I avoid?

A:  Buying fish today causes both moral and health dilemmas. Overfishing is one of the greatest single threats to marine wildlife and their habitats and mercury contamination is hazardous to human health, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women. Fish is also a great source of protein and high in the essential omega-3 fatty acids which have been extensively studied for their effects on reducing inflammation, asthma and heart disease.

When figuring out which fish is the best to consume, you are likely to encounter contradictory advice. Answers are usually a single perspective, such as this fish is best for your health or this fish poses less of an ecological threat. A good example is farm-raised salmon. It is high in omega-3 fatty acids and very low in mercury and therefore, promoted as safe and healthy. However, environmental groups consider it a fish to avoid because over-crowded pens pollute the water, causing the fish to become diseased and antibiotics used leak out into the water. Another dilemma consumers are faced with is a lack of data available in restaurants and grocery stores that is needed to make fully informed choices, such as the origin of the fish or the fishing methods.

Now what?

For simplicity-and sanity’s- sake, let’s focus on three widely consumed types of fish and seafood: shrimp, salmon and tuna.

Ninety percent of shrimp sold in the U.S. is imported. Though it is low in mercury, farmed shrimp is host to a slew of contaminants: antibiotics, chemical residues and E. coli to name a few. Less than 2 percent of all imported seafood gets inspected before it is sold. Coastal mangrove forests have been cut down to make room for shrimp farms to meet the international demand for shrimp. This is not a sustainable practice. Waste builds up, making the ponds uninhabitable for shrimp, and the farm relocates to a new area.  The destroyed forests are crucial for protecting coastal areas. If this hasn't squelched your appetite, always buy domestic shrimp.

Choose wild Alaskan salmon for its heart-healthy benefits in lieu of Atlantic salmon. It is actually illegal to fish for wild Atlantic salmon because the stocks are so low. This demise is partly due to the detrimental consequences of salmon farming.  All fish that is labeled “Atlantic salmon” is from aquaculture. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration are considering allowing genetically engineered salmon to be sold, unlabeled, to consumers. Watch out…         

Pregnant women and small children should avoid eating tuna. The rest of the population should limit tuna consumption as much as possible due to its mercury content and its lack of sustainability. Limit canned light tuna to six servings or fewer per month and canned Albacore or Yellowfin tuna to three servings or less per month. Atlantic Bluefin tuna has the highest levels of mercury of any type of tuna. It is harshly over-harvested to the point of reaching near-extinction levels. 

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch provides consumers with a downloadable Seafood Watch Pocket Guide that you can keep with you and use as a reference when ordering sushi or deciding what looks best at the market.

This is an unfortunate situation, but as consumers, we can help to control the demand of fish and seafood, and educate ourselves on how to make informed decisions that will least impact our health and the environment. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Purple Potato Eater

I feel very lucky to be living in a place where I can get fresh and local produce at the Farmer’s Market in the middle of February. Vendors at the Bellingham Farmer’s Market have come together under the cover of Market Pavilion to offer us the fruits of their winter labor. Greens, leeks, Brussels sprouts and beets are just a few of the goods on display. There are also fresh cheeses, mushrooms and bread tempting your taste buds and making you indifferent that summer is months away.

Roasted purple potatoes with garlic.
One of my produce picks at Saturday’s market was a pound of purple potatoes. I have never cooked with these medium-starch potatoes. Cutting into them, they look like an exotic fruit, leaking colorful juices as the knife pierces through.

Purple potatoes provide four times the amount of antioxidants as the average white potato. They are high in the antioxidant, anthocyanin, which is the same flavonoid that is found in red and purple produce such as berries and pomegranates. Studies have shown anthocyanins to slow the growth of cancer cells, protect against heart and neurological diseases, strengthen the immune system and lower blood pressure. Not bad for a tuber the size of a golf ball.

Be kind when cooking purple potatoes because their skin is very delicate, and leave the skin on to gain the maximum nutritional benefits. Try them baked, grilled, roasted and mashed. Use them to brighten up soups and salads. Make home fries and hash. The purple potato possibilities are endless!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Weight Gain & Injury: A Runner's Ruin

Q: How can I keep from gaining weight when I am injured and can’t run?

A: As runners, we are envied by our passive
peers for our uncanny ability to consume food. When we are confronted with injury and forced to come to an abrupt halt in our training, it can be hard to readjust our eating patterns.

A break in training doesn't necessarily mean that you will pack on the pounds. Especially if you continue to cross train, you are still going to be burning calories. Believe it or not, running isn't the only activity that burns calories. For a 130 lb person, biking can burn anywhere from 400-800 calories an hour depending on the intensity, and 400-600 calories an hour swimming or aqua jogging.

The major  technique to practice even when you are not injured is to eat mindfully. Before mechanically reaching for seconds or thirds, ask yourself, “Am I really still hungry? How much is an adequate amount of food for me to eat right now?”  If you are in-tune with your body, it will efficiently regulate how much fuel you really need.  Eat when you are hungry and stop before you get too full. Yes, it’s that simple. Also, be sure to eat high quality foods every day to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients that it needs to recover more quickly. Though you may feel like it’s the only thing that will make you feel better, alcohol and sweets will not get you out the door sooner.

If you are not capable of doing anything physical, focus on healthy practices like meditation or sleeping better. Meditation can help manage the blues and quality sleep will speed recovery time. And remember, you need to eat too! Sometimes athletes think that because they are not moving around as much that they don’t need to eat. The truth is that our organs like the liver, kidney and heart, not our exercising muscles, burn most of the calories to support the energy we need to survive. Any drastic decrease in caloric intake will not only impede your recovery, but also have negative consequences on your metabolic rate and internal organs.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

Going to the Extremes

We are living in a day and age of extremes- extreme sports…extreme violence…even extreme weather, as the northeast folks well know. There are also extreme forms of dieting. Some people have a horrendous diet, laden with fast and fried foods, sugary soft drinks and Trans fat. On the other end of the spectrum you have those who are up-to-date on the latest nutrition news, in a constant state of detox and eating “clean.”

As a dietitian, part of my job is to help my clients find a happy medium. There is a perception that dietitians are “perfect” eaters, void of any fatty fault or sugary snag. This is simply not the case. Our goal is to model an eating behavior that is both health conscious and sustainable, and sometimes that means eating an occasional piece of cake.

If you are an overall healthy person following a diet that is well-roundingly rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein, the body can handle the infrequent ice cream cone. You don’t have to get caught up in having the ideal diet as defined by health fanatics on the internet. The disservice comes when you abuse this feature daily over months and years. The diet you choose, whether it’s whole food, plant based, gluten-free or vegan should be one that complements a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing your peace of mind and happiness. Don’t beat yourself up because you can’t eliminate all forms and sources of sugar from your diet.

Relax. Eating doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be a chore and it certainly doesn’t have to be extreme.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Choosing the right Calcium Configuration

Q: What is the best calcium supplement to use?

A: Some days we can't get the recommended requirements for calcium from our diets and some women at a specific age and life stage would benefit from taking a calcium supplement. But when it comes to choosing a supplement, which calcium configuration is the best?

Calcium supplements come in two main forms: carbonate and citrate. Calcium carbonate is the most commonly available form and it is less expensive. However, in order to be well absorbed, the carbonate form must be taken with food. This differs to calcium citrate which is equally as effective at being absorbed regardless of food intake. So if you are an individual with reduced levels of stomach acid, inflammatory  bowl disease or absorption disorders, I recommend taking calcium citrate in lieu of calcium carbonate.

The absorption of calcium is best when you do not exceed 500 milligrams at one time. So to get the optimal bioavailability of your calcium, spread out your intake throughout the day. Some people who take calcium supplements experience side effects such as gas, bloating or constipation. If you experience one or all of these symptoms, try taking smaller amounts of calcium, take supplements with meals or change the type you are using.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Heart Healthy Habits

There is not one particular food that will work to protect your heart and blood vessels from cardiovascular disease. Instead, it is the synergistic effect of the nutrients in a variety of foods. In honor of American Heart Month, make an effort to incorporate the following foods into your daily diet plan:

1. Salmon and Tuna
2. Oats
3. Black and Kidney beans
4. Almonds
5. Walnuts
6. Dry red wine
7. Tofu
8. Brown rice
9. Soy milk
10. Blueberries
11. Carrots
12. Spinach
13. Broccoli
14. Sweet potatoes
15. Bell peppers
16. Asparagus
17. Oranges
18. Tomatoes
19. Dark chocolate
20. Tea

What is it about this particular list of foods that deem it "heart-healthy"? These foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, B-complex vitamins, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, calcium and plant sterols. Their components have been shown to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides and protect the immune system. When designing your heart-healthy meal, keep in mind colors and textures. The more variances on your plates, the wider array of nutrients you are likely going to consume.

In addition to your diet, you can also care for your heart by exercising regularly. An inactive lifestyle is one of the top risk factors for heart disease. Your heart and health will benefit from a combination of aerobic exercises and strength training on most days of the week.  Aim for 20-30 minutes 3-4 times a week.