Monday, April 29, 2013

Surmounting the Cereal Aisle

Eating a balanced breakfast every day is important because it jump starts your metabolism after an overnight fast and helps you maintain high energy levels throughout the day. Cereal has long been the the “go-to” choice and for good reason. It’s quick, requires no kitchen skills and it’s so tasty, too. Navigating the cereal aisle can be as time consuming and head spinning as finding the right greeting card. Here are a few guidelines to help you narrow the choices and pick the healthiest option:

1. Look at the nutrition facts label. Choose a cereal with:
  • At least 4 to 5 g of fiber per serving.
  • Less than 3 g of fat per serving.
  • No more than 5 to 8 g of sugar per serving.
  • No more than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
2. To really have control over how much sugar is in your cereal, choose a sugar-free cereal like Shredded Wheat, Kashi 7 Whole Grain or plain oatmeal and add flavor and sweetness with fresh cut fruit or a milk alternative like almond or soy milk.

3. Try something new like “overnight oats.” This latest oatmeal sensation takes a comforting winter favorite and transforms it into a convenient summertime (or anytime) meal. It requires no cooking, just some planning. Oats soak in a mixture of milk and yogurt overnight in an air-tight container, and by morning the oats are perfectly softened in this creamy concoction. Add in your favorite fresh or dried fruits, nuts, cinnamon, honey or nut butters  Find a basic overnight oats recipe and some creative versions here.

4. When it comes to milk, please refer to a previous post on which milk does a body good.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unessential Essential Oils

Q: Are essential oils an acceptable way to obtain vitamins and minerals?

“Essential" oils are used for various emotional and physical wellness purposes. They are most known for their role in aromatherapy, a popular generator of  relaxation and meditation. Some oils are also applied topically and absorbed by the skin for their restorative and calming properties with massage. I have used peppermint, oregano and some more obscure oils myself for relieving musculoskeletal pain and discomfort. Additionally, there have been a few studies showing a possible anti-microbial effect of certain oils.

I use “essential" in quotes because the name is very misleading. Essential literally means that something is needed or required. This is not the case with oils that are used for aromatherapy, perfumes, soap and food flavorings. There are only two true essential oils, fats rather, that we need in our diet because our bodies lack the enzymes needed to make them. They are linoleic and linolenic acid, an omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid, respectively.  

Using essential oils as a dietary supplement is a less common application where research is lacking and something that should heed caution. Some people look to these oils for their high concentration of antioxidants and because they are a proposed catalyst for weight loss. However, their effectiveness and safety have not been proven by scientific research.

 Essential oils are highly concentrated and can be toxic if not diluted. They can be reactive with some type of medications, cause severe irritation of the mucous membrane of the alimentary canal or provoke an allergic reaction. They may also cause nausea and vomiting. You should refrain from using essential oils during pregnancy because of unknown safety concerns.

Furthermore, essential oils do not supply you with any energy from carbohydrates, protein, essential fat or fiber. Another deterrent is the financial investment. Some of these oils can run you anywhere from $20-50 for a 2 ounce bottle. Wouldn't eat be cheaper and much more satisfying to eat a colorful, hearty salad?

Bottom Line: There is no research to support supplementing your diet or relying on essential oils to fulfill your nutrient needs. If you are serious about improving your health, the quality of your diet or losing weight, essential oils do not change your current nutrition and lifestyle habits and, in the long run, are not a sustainable dietary practice.

If you do decide to take essential oils by mouth, please be sure to first talk to a knowledgeable healthcare provider, follow all label warnings and instructions and consider the amount, frequency and duration of application. 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Jumping on the Chia Bandwagon

Remember these?

Very few dietary fads peak my interest. I usually sigh and roll my eyes at the latest health breakthrough that Dr. Oz is touting will reverse heart disease and mitigate obesity. However, one nutrition nugget keeps sticking in my head: chia seeds.

Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. Its origin is believed to be in Central America where the seed was a staple in the ancient Aztec diet. Chia seeds have recently gained attention as an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. They are also full of fiber with 10 grams per 2 tablespoons, and they contain protein and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

I started to consider chia seeds because I am really making an effott to limit my fish intake to seafood that I know is sustainabily harvested. Fatty fish like salmon and tuna have been the primary source of omega-3 fatty acids in my diet and so I want to make sure that I continue to consume adequate amounts.

So let’s say that I cave. What do I do with them? There are basically three options:

1. You can eat them whole, sprinkled on cereal, yogurt or a salad.
2. You can grind them up into a flour and use it to make cakes and breads.
3. You can soak it in water (1 cup water for 2 Tbsp chia) for 10-30 minutes until it becomes a viscous gel that you can add to liquid foods like smoothies or yogurt.

One tablespoon of dry seeds has about 68 calories and makes 9 Tbsp of chia gel, which can be stored  in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks.

Will I join the thousands who already ride the chia seed bandwagon? Maybe. I added them to the bottom of my grocery list so maybe this week I will feel adventurous and jump on board. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Glory of Garlic

Garlic to me is what grilled cheese and meatloaf is to others: comfort food. Growing up in a household that predominately ate Italian foods, there were few meals that were not graced with the presence of garlic. My mother’s hands are stained with the scent of fresh cut garlic from being in the kitchen every day preparing meals for me and my family. When I miss her, all I have to do is crack open a clove and I am transported  home.

Lucky for me, April is National Garlic Month.  This is an opportunity to celebrate the bountiful attributes that this meek aromatic brings to the table and to our bodies. Not only does garlic add flavor and personality to food, research has shown promising health benefits from consuming 1-2 teaspoons of garlic a day.

Garlic may be effective in slowing the development of heart disease and cancer (particularly breast, colon and prostate) in some individuals, and assisting in the management of diabetes and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Some studies have shown garlic to increase immunity in regular consumers, thereby protecting against the common cold and flu virus.

The applications don’t stop there. Though the research is not conclusive, garlic is sometimes used for treating osteoarthritis, hay-fever and traveler's diarrhea. Other uses for garlic include indigestion, fighting fatigue, preventing tick bites, treating bacterial and fungal infections, headache, stomachache, sinus congestion, gout, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, asthma, bronchitis and snakebites.

Let’s not forget that garlic is also proven to be an effective vampire repellent