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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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3 Reasons Your Granola May Be Hurting Your Diet

We’ve had breakfast cereal for over a century, but granola is a much younger phenomena, dating back to the late sixties and the hippie movement. Sometime justified, sometimes not, granola enjoys a health halo, allowing manufacturers to charge a premium compared to cereals. However, in many cases, granola is not much healthier, or even worse, than sugary cereals and candy bars.

Here’s why granola’s health halo is not always justified:

1. More calories. This is important when losing weight. While the average breakfast cereal is 100-120 calories, granolas are in the 200-250 calorie range. True, granola is much more dense than corn flakes or rice puffs, but if you are trying to lose weight, beware.

2. Not so natural. Many “natural” sounding products are made up of the same ingredients as candy bars  – partially hydrogenated oils (read: trans-fat), artificial colors, and various preservatives.

3. Sugar. While many granola products names boast titles including “Honey Toasted” and “Maple Syrup”, the first sweetener listed in the ingredient list is almost sugar. Often, sugar is listed multiple times, with different names, which confuses folks.

How to choose a good granola cereal?

If you are using the Fooducate app, we’ve got you covered. If not, read the nutrition label AND the ingredient list:

  • Watch out for the calorie count
  • Inspect the ingredient list to make sure that sugar in its various names is not the predominant ingredient.
  • Avoid granola with long ingredient lists.

Even better, learn to make your own homemade granola. You’ll never want to go back.

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5 Recommended Bread Options

Walking through the bread aisle at the grocery store can be very frustrating. The shelves are loaded with a multitude of brands and flavors. How to chose the best bread? The experience is overwhelming! Which is why we have been asked a gazillion times, “which bread do you recommend?”

The things we look for in bread are:

  •     Whole Grains
  •     More than 3 grams of fiber per serving
  •     Short list of ingredients
  •     Little or no added sweeteners
  •     None of these bad ingredients

Here is a list of our favorite bread options, based on Fooducate’s grading algorithm.

1. Dave’s Killer Bread
This bread has got all real ingredients, is USDA Organic (& non GMOs), and uses sprouted whole grains.  The bread comes in cool packages, with fun names and interesting seed mixes. And to top that, the brand has an inspiring story.

2. Food for life Sprouted Whole Grain Bread
It’s soft and has good levels of protein from its sprouted organic grains. The cinnamon raisin line of breads is to die for. It’s also a great way to transition to whole grain bread for picky kids (or even grown ups) trying to replace white bread with whole grains. Bonus: Gluten-free and yeast free alternatives are available.

3. STORE BRAND
It’s shocking, but true – stores as diverse as Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Giant, Kroger, Costco, Publix, Albertson’s, etc. can offer good whole grain bread choices.  Scan the pacakge’s barcode with your Fooducate app to find out.

4. Bake your own!
if you’ve never baked a loaf of bread, you’re in for a treat. Bob’s Red Mill is one of our favorite choices for baking ingredients. The fiercely independent brand offers a good variety of “regular” flours, ancient grains and helpful items like a gluten free mix.  If you follow the directions on Bob’s Red Mill website, the breads turn out fantastic (Fooducate staff tested!).

5. Think outside the (bread) box
Instead of using bread, try making sandwiches with something else. Lettuce wraps are a great way to bundle up anything you might put on a bun.  Even PB & J can go breadless – try slicing an apple (remove core and slice horizontally) and using the slices as “bread.”  Try using skewers for meat & veggies in place of sandwiches.

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Fruits and Vegetables – Why You Should Make an Extra Effort to Eat More

Fooducate-

We all know that fruits and vegetables play a crucial role in protecting the body from disease. The current recommendation is to consume 5 servings a day – 3 vegetables and 2 fruit. Sadly, the majority of Americans don’t even come close.

A recent meta-study, conducted across the pond in the UK, has found that while 5 a day is a good way to reduce your risk of disease and early death, even half that amount will confer health benefits.

If you think it is too difficult to eat so many fruits and vegetables, start by making sure they are a part of every meal and snack.  A banana counts as a serving. 3 heaped tablespoons of broccoli are a serving. A side of dark leafy vegetables counts as a serving. Don’t give up.

The study further found that doubling down on five-a-day, and increasing it to 10 servings a day, will reduce risks as follows:

  • heart disease – 24 percent reduction in risk
  • stroke – 33%
  • cardiovascular disease – 28%
  • cancer of any type – 13%
  • premature death – 31%

If you are eating vegetables and fruits, make sure to eat the rainbow, and to vary your choices. Each plant has slightly different nutrient and antioxidants. The variety is will provide you maximal health “coverage.”

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Cottage Cheese Curds

-Fooducate

Ever wonder what those chunks in cottage cheese are? They are called curds, and in this post we’ll tell you all about them.

Cottage cheese is a fresh cheese. There is no aging or ripening. This makes it cheap compared to other cheeses.

Turning milk into cottage cheese requires two additional ingredients:

  • a lactic starter to sour (acidify) the milk, similar to what’s used for yogurt
  • an enzyme, typically rennet, that causes the milk to start coagulating.

At the right temperature, and over the course of a day, the above mixture becomes firm enough. It is then cut into small cubes that are rolled, partially drained, and rinsed to create the little white curds. You can usually get either “small curd” or “large curd” varieties of cottage cheese at the supermarket.

In the next step, cream and salt are added to create the cottage cheese texture we’re so familiar with. Most manufacturers also add some sort of gelling ingredients such as locust bean gum or carrageenan to firm up the final result.

You can make your own cottage cheese at home, but it’s a rather tasking and lengthy process requiring stringent temperature control.

Cottage cheese enjoys certain health halo, especially the low fat versions. A half cup serving is less than 100 calories and has only 2.5 grams of fat (1.5 are saturated). It’s a great source of protein with 13 grams!

The biggest problem with cottage cheese, though, is its high sodium level – between 400-500 mg per serving. That’s close to 20% of the daily value! Unfortunately, there are very few low-sodium options. It just isn’t cottage cheese without all that salt.

About a billion pounds of cottage cheese are consumed annually in the US. That’s about 3 lbs. for every man woman and child!  There are many options to choose from at the supermarket, including cottage cheese mixed with various fruits. We suggest sticking with the plain, low-fat containers. Large tubs may be effective for big families, but since this is a fresh cheese, beware of the expiration date.

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Vitamin D – What’s the Right Amount for Me?

Fooducat-

Vitamin D is an interesting nutrient. It is a fat soluble vitamin that is found in food, but can also be manufactured by our body after exposure to sunshine’s UV rays. Fat soluble means it needs a to be consumed together with a small amount of oil/butter/lard to be effectively absorbed by the body.

Vitamin D’s job is to help the body regulate calcium and phosphorous levels in the body. Without vitamin D, our bones don’t absorb up enough calcium from the bloodstream. Without proper amounts of vitamin D, bones become thin and brittle, or don’t develop properly in children.

Are Americans getting enough vitamin D?

The FDA thinks not, and starting next year, food manufacturers will be required to label vitamin D content on nutrition labels. From past experience, this will encourage food companies to fortify their foods with vitamin D. Today, virtually all milk sold in the US is fortified. Expect many more foods to follow.

In the medical community, there is controversy among experts as to the proper amount of vitamin D levels in the body. According to the Institute of Health (IOM) levels of 20 ng/mL (nanograms per mililiter) or higher are acceptable. However, the Endocrine Society issued a report suggesting that the minimum should be at least 30 ng/mL, and since measurements are imprecise, the minimal measured value should be 40 ng/mL. On the other hand, a recent opinion piece published in the esteemed New England Journal of Medicine, and written by some of the same scientists from the IOM, recommend that the minimal level that would require some intervention should be just 12.5 ng/ML. (The 20 ng/mL value is “acceptable” but 12.5 ng/mL is “minimal”).

While scientists are bickering, what can you do to reduce your risk of fractures and bone problems?

  • If you are in a risk group, get tested for vitamin D levels. People at risk include post-menopausal women, people who had gastric bypass procedures, suffer from celiac and other nutrient absorption related maladies, and people with dark skin whose body is more effective at blocking sunshine
  • If you are not in a risk group, don’t worry about this too much
  • You can increase your vitamin D intake by getting a daily does of sunshine with exposed skin (not just your face)
  • You can get vitamin D from foods such as salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines. The brave can opt for cod liver oil.
  • Milk and other foods are fortified with vitamin D, so that’s also an option
  • Lastly, you can resort to supplements.

Do you know your vitamin D levels?

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