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Why People Eat Less Red Meat

Once a mainstay of the American diet, consumption of red meat has steadily declined since the 1960’s.  This is due to its association with increased risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and other degenerative diseases.

Notably, red meat has several excellent features, beyond taste. From a nutrition standpoint, it contains a wealth of nutrients, such as protein, iron, zinc, B vitamins and others.

To its detriment, red meat has a high level of saturated fat, dietary cholesterol, nitrates, added hormones/ antibiotics as well as other components that are linked with diseases. Studies conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health show how individuals who consumed daily servings of pork, lamb or beef tripled their risk of developing colon cancer.

Many nutritionists and dietitians advise on reducing red meat consumption to a few times per week. Alternatives to red meat are: poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, soy, legumes, grains and other plant-based sources.

If you decide to switch or transition to a mostly plant-based diet, it is important to understand which vitamins and minerals you will need to focus on. The protein composition and bioavailability of some nutrients (ie. iron, vitamin B12, etc.) are not comparable to red meat.

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I’ve Never Met a Blueberry I Didn’t Love

This is the true and uncensored confession of a blueberry addict.

Blueberry consumption (and production) in the US has skyrocketed since 1995. from just 1 pound of blueberries a year in the 1990’s, today the average American consumes nearly 5 pounds of blueberries. Of course, averages are a lie, because I personally eat about 3 million blueberries each summer.

As an American, I am proud to let you know that blueberries are a native Northeast plant. Made in America, baby!!

There are 2 types of blueberries grown in the USA – highbush and wild (lowbush). The highbush berries are big and pretty and served mostly fresh – yummy. Wild blueberries are smaller and mostly used in food preparation, especially my blueberry muffins and pancakes.

July is national Blueberry Month, and is peak season for my little blue friends. This is why these precious babies are most affordable now. Not to mention that their flavor is incomparable. The season begins in May and lasts until early Fall. I get withdrawal symptoms in September.

I was surprised to learn that blueberries are only blue on the outside, and that their flesh is actually green. The blue tinted skin is an indication of the presence of anthocyanins, a set of powerful antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of cancer. Woot!

As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of blueberries. They are my go to snack. Not only do they taste great, they are very low in calories – just 40 calories for a half-cup serving. I’m a lean, mean blueberry guzzling machine.

My wife is a dietitian, and she asked me to throw in the following information about Blueberries, which I will sum up as follows: BBs are a nutrition powerhouses. A half-cup serving of blueberries has 25% of the recommended daily value for vitamin C and manganese, as well as 4 grams of fiber (15% of the daily recommended intake).

Whatever. Get in my belly!

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Coconut Oil Unhealthy, Says New Research

Coconut oil is extremely high in saturated fats, yet somehow people think it is a healthy oil. In fact, 3 out of 4 Americans rated it as healthy. Even 1 out of 3 dietitians rate coconut oil as healthy. The last time we posted about coconut oil was 3 years ago. We wrote that emerging evidence about the makeup of saturated fats in coconut oil may render it “less unhealthy” than other saturated fats such as butter or lard. Our recommendation was limited consumption.

A recent meta-study published in Circulation, and endorsed by the American Heart Association, has determined that coconut oil consumption is unhealthy. This is due to the fact that it increases levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. As a reminder, increased LDL levels are associated with a higher risk of heart disease.

According to the authors, in 7 out of 7 studies comparing coconut oil to vegetable oils (mostly unsaturated fats), the former raised LDL levels, but the latter did not. In 6 of the studies, LDL levels rose significantly.

Detractors of the study claim that it does not differentiate between different types of LDL bad cholesterol, each with different levels of risk associated with it.
Limit your consumption of foods high in saturated fat, including coconut oil.

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How to Lose Belly Fat

One of the frequently asked questions by dieters is a variation on the theme of “the fastest way to lose belly fat”. It is totally understandable that people want to lose the flab they see when looking at their toes. This is a painful reality to face, especially during summer, aka bikini-season.

Belly fat is not just a visual nuisance. It also increases the chances of diabetes and heart disease. Scientifically known as visceral fat, it is found wrapped around internal organs such as the liver and intestines. Everyone has a bit of visceral fat, but when your belly starts protruding, you know it’s too much.

A common misconception is that belly-fat can be burned off simply through ab crunches and other core exercises. While these will tone the muscle layer, the fat underneath won’t necessarily disappear. As with general weight-loss, dietary changes are a more effective means to reduce belly fat than exercise on its own.

The recommendations, as usual, are to focus on lifestyle change, a slow and deliberate weight reduction that can be sustained for years. This includes:

  • More home cooked meals
  • Smaller portions
  • More lean protein and less refined carbs
  • More healthy fats from nuts and seeds
  • No soft drinks or fruit juices
  • Lots and lots of leafy greens
  • Fruits, not smoothies
  • Fiber rich foods such as whole grains and legumes
  • Less alcohol
  • More sleep
  • Exercise
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Sugar – Food or Drug?

One of the most frequently heard phrases in dieting circles is “I’m addicted to sugar”. This brings up an interesting question.

Is sugar a food, or is it a drug?

The line may not be so clear, but research coming out of Australia has demonstrated the addictive nature of sucrose, the scientific term for table sugar. Excess sugar consumption has been shown to lead to weight gain and a host of health issues. Reducing sugar intake is challenging, and many people report cravings that are hard to resist.

Excess sugar consumption messes not just with the body, but also with the brain. It repeatedly elevated dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical that is released in the brain’s pleasure and reward systems. Drugs such as cocaine, morphine, and nicotine cause similar dopamine release.

As the brain adjusts to a certain level of sugar (or other drug) intake, less dopamine is produced, which increases cravings, and leads to increased consumption.

A study conducted on rats at the Queensland University of Technology, found that an effective means to counter sugar addiction is the administration of varenicline, an FDA approved medication used to help people quit smoking. Varenicline is a “partial agonist”, competing with dopamine in binding to the pleasure and reward receptors in the brain, but creating less of an impact. When varenicline is taken, the pleasure derived from sugar is substantially reduced and the cravings subside. Dopamine levels return to normal.

The researchers conclude that drugs such as varenicline may represent a novel approach to reducing sugar consumption. Before you rush off to fill a prescription, keep in mind that replacing one drug with another is not necessarily a good strategy.

The key takeaway from this post should be that sugar addiction should be taken more seriously. If you have sugar cravings, it’s not because you are weak-willed or lazy, but because it is messing with your brain.

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Do Diet Soft Drinks Increase Your Chances for Stroke, Dementia?

Last week, a research paper published in a scientific journal generated substantial fear-mongering headlines across the web and social media. A cohort study found positive correlation between consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and stroke and dementia. According to the study, people who drink diet sodas daily have three times the risk of stroke and dementia compared to people who rarely drink them.

Does this mean that drinking a Diet Coke will lead to stroke?

Not necessarily. That’s because correlation does not mean causation. It could be, for example, that people already inclined to be overweight or ill, decide to drink diet beverages.

Does this mean that Diet Soda is a good alternative to sugary soda?

Sorry, no. There is plenty of evidence that diet soft drinks won’t help you lose weight. More importantly, the artificial sweeteners in diet beverages harm the gut microbiome. There is also some evidence that artificial sweeteners are carcinogenic.

Stick to water. If you are drinking diet cola on a daily basis, breaking your addiction may be one of the hardest things you will ever do; it will likely be very rewarding as well. Try it, and let us know!

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Those Confusing Food Expiration Labels Are Getting an Upgrade

Almost every food you buy in the supermarket has a date stamped somewhere on its package. People are often confused by it’s significance. There is no standard phrasing of the text preceding the date: “sell by”, “use by”, “best by” and many others are used.

Does food go bad once the date is reached? Is this a marketing ploy to get us to frequently purchase more of a product? Or, is there some other explanation?

As strange as it may seem, there is no federal regulation around expiration dates. The only exception is baby formula. The FDA allows for voluntary “Open Dating”, a calendar date applied to a food product by the manufacturer or retailer. The calendar date provides consumers with information on the estimated period of time for which the product will be of best quality. It also helps supermarket staff determine how long to display the product for sale.

There are two issues at play here:

  • The first is food safety. Is there a date after which consumption of a food may poise a health risk?
  • The second is a one of quality. Some foods simply taste better closer to their manufacturing date.

In order to simplify things, the food industry’s largest trade groups have agreed on a standard that will voluntarily go into effect in mid-2018. There will be only 2 date statements:

  1. “Best If Used By <date>” – a quality indicator, meaning the product may not taste as expected after this date; it will still be safe to consume. This is NOT an expiration date.
  2. “Use By <date>” will appear on highly perishable foods. This phrase will be used only on products where food safety will be a concern at a certain point. When you see a product with this label, it should be discarded after that date.

Despite the above guidelines, we always recommend the sniff test. If something smells off, or doesn’t look right, better be safe than sorry – chuck it.

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Still Afraid of the Fats in Avocado? Read This

Guacamole is one of the most identified foods with this holiday. And there would be no guac without avocado. It’s unfortunate that some people don’t partake in avocado, simply because of the outdated notion that it’s full of fat.

Yes, it’s true, avocados are high in fat!  But it is good fat, and your body will thank you for it. A medium sized Haas avocado weighs between 4-5 ounces. An avocado serving is considered 1 ounce, so you’ll get about 4 servings from a single avocado.

A one ounce serving of avocado has is about 50 calories.

It contains 4.5 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of carbs, of which 2 are fiber, and less than 1 gram of protein.  So if you do the math, about 40 of the calories in avocados come from fat.

Here’s the important thing to know about fat in avocado: of the 4.5 grams, only half a gram is saturated fat. The rest are “heart healthy” fats, with 3 grams of monounsaturated fats, and the rest polyunsaturated.

When thinking about your fat intake, the daily recommended amounts is 65 grams of fat, of which no more than 20 grams are saturated. That would be about 3 whole avocados!

Ounce per ounce: Avocado has 4.5g of fat, salmon 2g, chicken breast 1g, lean beef steak 2g, almonds 14g.

Ounce per ounce: Avocado has 0.5g of saturated fat, salmon 0.25g, chicken breast 0.3g, lean beef steak 0.8g, almonds 1g.

Bottom line: Fear not the fats in avocados. Add it to your salads, as a mayonnaise replacement in sandwiches, or use it for guacamole dip.

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Intermittent Fasting Not More Effective for Weight Loss

In recent years, intermittent fasting has caught on as a legit weight loss strategy. People on this type of diet set several significant blocks of time during a week in which they refrain from any caloric intake. We’ve written about this in the past, and advised of the difficulty of maintaining this lifestyle for prolonged periods of time.

A recent study compared a fasting diet to a standard reduced calorie diet and found that they are comparable in results (pounds lost). A group of healthy obese adults was divided into 3 groups: standard weight loss diet, intermittent fasting diet, and control with no weight loss diet. The 2 groups lost similar amounts of weight over 6 months. However, a larger percentage of dieters quit the fasting diet compared to those on a regular diet.

Have you tried a fasting diet? What has your experience been?

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No, Fruit Juice is NOT the same as Fruit

Despite the sexy commercials and the extreme convenience, fruit juice is not a healthy beverage juice for daily consumption. An occasional juice can be a fun and tasty treat, but America is addicted. In fact, 50% of Americans’ fruit intake is in the form of juice! This is partially the fault of USDA recommendations, which equates fruit juice to fruit. Millions of kids across the country meet fruit at lunchtime in the form of apple juice.

Here is a comparison of fruit juice vs. real fruit:

Fruit juice, even 100% freshly squeezed, is a concentrated dose of sugar that is quickly ingested, spiking blood glucose levels and straining the pancreas to quickly produce insulin. Fruit works in exactly the opposite direction.

In a study on half a million Chinese adults, higher fresh fruit consumption was associated with significantly lower risk of diabetes. Furthermore, among people who already had diabetes, there was a lower risk of death and heart disease for those who regularly consumed fruit.

This is because juice loses one of the most important nutrients that whole fruit provides – fiber. When eating whole fruit, the cell structure keeps the sugars “under control”, and as a result there is no spike in blood glucose levels.

Juicing an entire fruit and consuming the juice without filtration may, theoretically, keep the fiber in your drink. However, the fiber linings are torn by the juicer into minuscule pieces, and their efficacy is lessened. This results in blood glucose spikes as well.

While whole pieces of fruit keep you busy munching for a few minutes and later satiated, fruit juice just makes you want to drink more. It takes 3-4 oranges to make a one-cup serving of orange juice.

You can drink a cup of orange juice in 25 seconds and instantly be ready for another glass. How long does it take to eat 3 oranges, even if they have been peeled and sectioned for you? After eating 3 oranges, will you eat 3 more?

Bottom line: drink water, eat fruit. Save juice for occasional treats.

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