How to Handle Those Holiday Carbs!

holiday feastHolidays are filled with foods that you might normally try to avoid.

Dining room tables are covered with potatoes, stuffing, glazed vegetables and meats, marshmallow-topped casseroles, dumplings, breads, and more. Appetizer trays feature crackers and crostini and fried treats of all kinds. Fudge and candy plates abound. You may have invites already for holiday baking or cookie parties.

And of course, there are the sweet drinks to wash it all down, from hot chocolate to egg nog and holiday cocktails, sodas to holiday brews.

So it’s probably no surprise that we wind up consuming anywhere from 3000 to 4500 calories just on a single holiday feast.

If you’re looking to manage your carb intake over the holidays, you’re not alone. Of course, it may not be possible to remove them entirely – or even desirable, considering the strong ties between holiday foods and traditions.

Even so, replacing some standard sides with slightly healthier versions or subbing a few key ingredients can really make a difference. Here are 7 alternatives to help get you thinking creatively about your meals this holiday season:

  1. Consider an alternative eggnog like this from So Delicious – less than half the calories and a fraction of the carbs. Of course, it still contains some sugar. If you want to go sugar-free, there are great recipes online such as this one, which uses stevia in place of the sugar.

  2. Mix in some gluten-free or vegan recipes with some of your standards. You’ll find some recipes to get you started here and here.

  3. Don’t forget the salad! Salads can be very pretty with colorful vegetables, a little dried fruit, and some nuts or feta cheese.

  4. Consider soups thickened and made creamier with pureed vegetables such as carrots or squash.

  5. Try a side dish heavier in vegetables with less (or no) pasta, like this Butternut Squash & Cauliflower Casserole, for instance.

  6. Replace traditional noodles with spaghetti squash or spiralized vegetables.

  7. Sweet potato casserole, mixed with a little whole fat coconut milk and cinnamon, can be a great replacement for the standard pumpkin pie (and tastes very similar!).

And if you want to stick with tradition and carb out as you please?

Maybe think about a fitness or nutrition challenge with a few friends or coworkers after the season has passed. Or think about signing up for a holiday fun run. Getting in a quick 5K or one-mile run with your family or friends could be the start of a new tradition and a great way to introduce a balance of healthy living with holiday indulgence.


Image by Jessica Spengler

A Look Back at…Nitric Oxide

Originally posted September 29, 2016

nitric oxide moleculeUnlike nitrous oxide, a.k.a. “laughing gas,” nitric oxide it is no laughing matter. Rather, it’s a signaling molecule that our body produces to help the trillions of cells in our body communicate with each other.

Nitric oxide is made by the body’s blood vessel’s lining. When this lining – the endothelium – senses healthy conditions, such as when you exercise, it releases more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide expands the blood vessels, increases blood flow, and decreases plaque and blood clotting.

A healthy release of nitric oxide has been reported to

  • Help memory and behavior.
  • Support the immune system’s fight against pathogenic bacteria and defend against tumors.
  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Improve sleep quality.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Increase endurance and strength.
  • Aid digestion.

We get plenty of nitric oxide when we’re young, but production falls later in life. Production also drops off when the endothelium senses less than healthy factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and increased stress levels. Free radical damage, inactivity, and poor dietary choices likewise have a negative effect nitric oxide release.

Happily, there are ways to increase nitric oxide and reap its benefits.

  1. Exercise
    When you exercise your muscles require more oxygen, which is supplied by the blood. As your heart pounds, your arteries release nitic oxide into the blood. This opens and relaxes the vessel walls and allows more blood to pass through.

  2. Diet
    Vegetables such beets, beet juice, celery, and dark leafy greens such as kale chard, arugula, and spinach are high in dietary nitrates and nitrites, both of which stimulate the production of nitric oxide. In addition, eating food with color increases the flavonoids in your diet. Flavonoids protect nitric oxide from free radical damage. Generally, it’s best to avoid a diet either too high in fat or carbohydrate. Both can inhibit nitric oxide production.

  3. Nitric oxide supplements
    Traditionally, supplementing for nitric oxide meant taking supplements containing L-arginine. But current research indicates that, as you age, L-arginine is less likely to prove effective.

    Enter new research out of the University of Texas Health Science Center, which has led to a proprietary, beetroot-based, nitric oxide formula that generates authentic nitric oxide while supporting the enzyme that makes nitric oxide in the body.

    The scientist at the helm of this form of supplementation is Dr. Nathan Bryan who co-authored The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution based on his research.

Whether you increase nitric oxide via exercise, diet, supplementation, or a combination of all three, tapping into this overlooked molecule’s power may well help you age with strength and vitality.

Food Literacy? There’s Room for Improvement

grocery store aisleAsk a typical American where their food comes from, and they’ll probably say something like “the grocery store.” Beyond that, they might not even want to know – just so long as the food they want is there when they want it.

The depths of food illiteracy were recently seen in a new dairy industry survey.

Among the most shocking findings? Almost half of American adults aren’t sure where chocolate milk comes from. Seven percent actually believe that chocolate milk comes only from brown cows.

Really.

If you do the math, that works out to 16.4 million misinformed, milk-drinking people. The equivalent of the population of Pennsylvania (and then some!) does not know that chocolate milk is milk, cocoa and sugar.

Other research cited in the same article found more than half of urban California fourth- through sixth-graders “didn’t know pickles were cucumbers, or that onions and lettuce were plants.”

Four in 10 didn’t know that hamburgers came from cows. And 3 in 10 didn’t know that cheese is made from milk.

The problem of food illiteracy isn’t unique to Americans. A recent survey from the British Nutrition Foundation

found that children between the ages of 5 and 16 have real misconceptions about what they’re eating. Among them: the belief that pasta comes from animals, which about a tenth of 8- to 11-year-olds subscribe to.

…The poll also found that about a fifth of 5- to 7-year-olds believe fish fingers contain chicken. And another 29 percent of them thought cheese was a plant….

Such beliefs don’t necessarily signal a lack of intelligence. They do show that a good many of us are very divorced from the source of our sustenance.

If you grew up in the country, you probably have an idea of how “farm-to-table” actually works. Otherwise, it’s quite reasonable to think that food comes in packages and leave it at that. Food, in that world, is a consumer good, and who thinks about how any consumer good winds up in our hands, the path it took from raw materials to the item we bought online?

The simple fact is that most of us have handed over our food and nutrition needs to third parties. That’s why labeling matters as much as it does. If we don’t make or grow the food ourselves, it’s one of the main ways we have to know much of anything at all about it.

Industrialization reduces food to simply a matter of consumption. We come to think of it as fuel or as a delivery system for nutrients and not as something that’s also important socially, culturally. Just think about any special occasion: a holiday, a birthday, a first date, a funeral. Chances are, food is at the center of it – not for the nutrition it delivers but for its ability to bring us together in our shared humanity.

Improving food literacy could take us a very long way toward improving the health of our nation – indeed, of our world. Alice Waters’ Edible Classroom project is perhaps the most notable effort to reconnect kids with nature through food, and it’s certainly spawned many imitators. After all, it offers beautiful evidence of how kids gravitate toward the real when given the chance.

Image by Sean Gregor

At Risk for Prediabetes or Diabetes?

pricked finger

Not sure if you’re at risk of developing type 2 diabetes?  The American Diabetes Association (ADA) wants to help you with its “Alert Day,” slated for March 28.

The ADA has a free, quick, and anonymous risk test available you can use to find if you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes. If you are, their site can help you learn how to decrease your risk. Certainly there are many outlets, that offer good information, tips to help you maintain a healthy weight, make better food choices, incorporate exercise and ways to maintain motivation. To reclaim and maintain your health you’ll need to identify what works best for you. Could be a supportive friend who will take a daily walk with you or a one day a week dinner party with friends interested in healthy cooking–let it be unique to you.

Whether you take a holistic approach or a more traditional one, we believe Alert Day serves a critical function in bringing a much needed awareness to the diabetes epidemic. The CDC estimates that 29 million Americans have diabetes yet only 21 million have been diagnosed. That means that 8.1 million remain undiagnosed.

If you’re concerned that one of them could be you

  1. Schedule a dental exam and hygiene visit.
    The latest science indicates that dentists can play a vital role in diagnosing diabetes. If you have gum disease, science now indicates it could mean you already have diabetes or that it’s immanent.

  2. See another health care provider.
    A health care provider can evaluate and monitor your level of risk. They can also support you in developing a lifestyle that may improve your disease profile. This is critical because diabetes is a disease of chronic inflammation. As such, it affects the entire body. Systematically, it has been linked other diseases of chronic inflammation, such as

    • Cardiovascular disease.
    • Obesity.
    • Stroke.
    • Some cancers.
    • Periodontal disease.
  3. Do your research and make necessary changes.
    There is good information out there. Through the years, we’ve put together our own library on health and wellness. Much of it is geared toward eating better, exercising more, and improving diseases of chronic inflammation. Since the health of your mouth is vital to your overall health, we’ve made it easy to search our blog by topic anytime. Here’s a sampling of entries that can help you learn more about the systematic nature of diabetes. Check them out, because whether it’s  March 28th’s Alert Day, or any other day, we think it makes for some pretty good reading:

    Image by Alisha Vargas

Fish: Methylmercury on your Plate

Fish on a plateDuring this Lenten season, those of us who give up meat on Fridays will be eating fish. We know including fish in our diet can offer nutritional benefits–a 6-ounce serving offers a hefty dose of B vitamins, some minerals, and those beneficial omega-3 fats.

But we’ve also heard other things about fish. Every year an advisory is issued for pregnant women and young children that calls for a limit on the amount and types of fish they eat. That’s because all fish, all fish, is contaminated with methylmercury, a neurotoxic element that is particularly dangerous for a fetus or young child.

Because the amounts of methylmercury in fish vary greatly, to eat fish safely, you need to know what fish are more likely to contain more methylmercury.

But as a recent NPR article points out, lists can be confusing. For starters, you have to know what they are filtering for. Very often it’s for sustainability, not methylmercury . Only two out the most commonly referred to guides take mercury content into consideration.

Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Regional Consumer Guide or App

  • Recommendations help you choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment.

Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector

  • Scientists analyze many aspects of wild fisheries and fish farming operations for more than 200 types of seafood frequently sold in the US market.
  • They collaborate with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program.
  • They rank mercury content in fish with a vague category: unknown, moderate, or elevated.

Environmental Working Group’s Consumer Guide to Seafood

  • Since government and independent scientists have not reached a consensus on a safe level of mercury exposure, it makes recommendations that are aimed to steer people to toward seafood with the best safety profiles.
  • Until the EPA completes its multi-year process to revise its assessment of mercury toxicity, this guide recommends that pregnant women and children consume no more than 75% of the EPA’s safety level. This builds in an extra margin of safety.

Similar to our ubiquitous and unknown levels of exposure to fluoride, mere avoidance of mercury is not only complicated, but political.

Since 1994, when the first published advisory about methylmercury in fish was issued, the FDA and the EPA have come under scrutiny. This year’s advisory is no different. A public health watchdog organization,  the Environmental Working Group, fired back on the “shocking” EPA-FDA advice about eating fish and shellfish. As an eater, you have to wonder, who do you trust and what do you do?

Concern is a good indication that we need more information, for example:

The answers to these questions don’t mean you can’t eat fish. But they do suggest it may be best to check with a guide or a print off list. Things can, and do, change.

Image by Art Siegel

 

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Fluoride in Your Tea

5001227590_1a883e0927_zThough we’ve blogged before on the benefits of green tea for healthy gums and its ability to relieve oral pain, we’ve not looked at the relationship between tea – green or otherwise – and fluoride

A recent entry on the Nourished Kitchen blog, a traditional foods blog, posed the question: Should you be worried about fluoride in your kombucha? If you have never even thought to ask the question, you’re not alone. Most of us don’t know where to look for fluoride.

In answering the question, the blog’s creator Jenny McGruther cites the Big Book of Kombucha:

Kombucha is made from weak tea, rather than strong, so there will be less fluoride in kombucha than a strong tea of the same volume.

On the surface, this answer might seem plausible. But it’s an incomplete answer. The reality is, since we don’t often consider what foods and beverages may contain fluoride; since many of us live with fluoridated municipal water supplies; since many of us use products like toothpaste and mouthwash that contain fluoride, we have no real way of knowing what our daily intake is.

The truth is, ingesting a known toxin daily at unknown levels can be problematic.

Though McGruther says she doesn’t “worry about relatively small amounts of fluoride in the modest amounts of kombucha my family drinks,” this might err on the side of simplicity.

If you’re wondering about fluoride in tea products, one of the best sources for scientifically based information is the Fluoride Action Network.

Five informative links to assist  your decision making:

  1. How fluoride ends up in a tea plant?
  1. Which tea contains high levels of fluoride?
  1. What kind of health issues a heavy tea drinker might expect?
  1. How much fluoride is in newer tea commodities, such as: packed teas, bottled tea, canned tea, and instant tea powders?
  1. How to minimize your exposure to fluoride in tea, and other products?

That said, it’s important to remember that drinking tea does have many benefits, some which may offset potential fluoride exposure. A well-researched approach can provide information that allows for balanced decision making.

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Nitric Oxide: No Laughing Matter in the Quest to Age Strong

nitric oxide moleculeUnlike nitrous oxide, a.k.a. “laughing gas,” nitric oxide it is no laughing matter. Rather, it’s a signaling molecule that our body produces to help the trillions of cells in our body communicate with each other.

Nitric oxide is made by the body’s blood vessel’s lining. When this lining – the endothelium – senses healthy conditions, such as when you exercise, it releases more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide expands the blood vessels, increases blood flow, and decreases plaque and blood clotting.

A healthy release of nitric oxide has been reported to

  • Help memory and behavior.
  • Support the immune system’s fight against pathogenic bacteria and defend against tumors.
  • Regulate blood pressure.
  • Improve sleep quality.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Increase endurance and strength.
  • Aid digestion.

We get plenty of nitric oxide when we’re young, but production falls later in life. Production also drops off when the endothelium senses less than healthy factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and increased stress levels. Free radical damage, inactivity, and poor dietary choices likewise have a negative effect nitric oxide release.

Happily, there are ways to increase nitric oxide and reap its benefits.

  1. Exercise
    When you exercise your muscles require more oxygen, which is supplied by the blood. As your heart pounds, your arteries release nitic oxide into the blood. This opens and relaxes the vessel walls and allows more blood to pass through.

  2. Diet
    Vegetables such beets, beet juice, celery, and dark leafy greens such as kale chard, arugula, and spinach are high in dietary nitrates and nitrites, both of which stimulate the production of nitric oxide. In addition, eating food with color increases the flavonoids in your diet. Flavonoids protect nitric oxide from free radical damage. Generally, it’s best to avoid a diet either too high in fat or carbohydrate. Both can inhibit nitric oxide production.

  3. Nitric oxide supplements
    Traditionally, supplementing for nitric oxide meant taking supplements containing L-arginine. But current research indicates that, as you age, L-arginine is less likely to prove effective.

    Enter new research out of the University of Texas Health Science Center, which has led to a proprietary, beetroot-based, nitric oxide formula that generates authentic nitric oxide while supporting the enzyme that makes nitric oxide in the body.

    The scientist at the helm of this form of supplementation is Dr. Nathan Bryan who co-authored The Nitric Oxide (NO) Solution based on his research.

Whether you increase nitric oxide via exercise, diet, supplementation, or a combination of all three, tapping into this overlooked molecule’s power may well help you age with strength and vitality.

Sugar Lies: The Bitter Truth

sugarBy now you know, you’ve been duped.

Recent news has revealed how the sugar industry paid off Harvard scientists to steer evidence away from sugar as a culprit in heart disease. Payola, not actual science, persuaded scientists to indict fat.

The falsified research helped shape 50 years of dietary recommendations.

The disclosure of this deception seems the perfect time to re-examine the work of Dr. Robert Lustig, a UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. Following in the footsteps of British physiologist and nutritionist John Yudkin, Lustig was well ahead of the curve in pointing out the true dietary villain – sugar.

Seven years ago, Dr. Lustig’s presentation “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” walked on what then seemed the edge of accepted scientific knowledge. Today, as we learn more about the sugar industry’s tactics, this talk seems more relevant than ever.
 


 
Image by Adam Engelhart

A Look Back at…Keeping Your Teeth Naturally Healthy

Originally posted June 4, 2015

The Caries Crisis

tooth models showing cariesAccording to the latest CDC statistics, almost all adults have experienced dental caries – 91% to be exact.

“It is not what people are doing wrong,” Dr. Bruce Dye, who led the survey, told Today. “It is maybe what we can do better.”

Well, that’s a way of putting it – and a positive one at that. Yet tooth decay doesn’t happen just because it happens. Some “wrong” things are playing a role – or, at the very least, are doing little to help.

Consider fluoride, which the Today write-up mentions as one intervention that “greatly reduces rates of tooth decay.” Consider that nearly 70% of Americans receive fluoridated water. Consider that in some stores, it is near impossible to find non-fluoridated toothpastes. Fluoride is everywhere.

Then consider again: 91% of American adults have experienced tooth decay. More than a quarter have untreated tooth decay.

The upside to that startling statistic is that it may be partly explained by the fact that more of us are keeping more of our natural teeth for a longer time. In fact, the rate of edentulism – having no teeth – has dropped almost 40% over the past 50 years.

But the ideal, of course, is not just to keep all your teeth but to keep them in their naturally healthy condition.

A major help is ditching soft drinks and fruit juices – the two biggest culprits when it comes to enamel erosion, which leaves the teeth more vulnerable to decay. Even better is when that’s part of a move to a simpler, more wholesome diet.

It’s interesting to note that our distant ancestors typically had far less oral disease than we do. For instance, people living during the Middle Ages did have problems like worn down or broken teeth, but as recently discussed in a column on Slate:

Contrary to the depiction of medieval peasants with blackened and rotting teeth, the average person in the Middle Ages had teeth that were in very good condition. This is substantially due to one factor—the rarity of sugar in the diet. Most medieval people simply could not afford sugar, and those who could used it sparingly, usually as a seasoning or minor ingredient and almost never as a condiment or the basis of a dish. This means that most people used natural sugars, such as those in fruits and honey; even then, they ate this kind of sugar sparingly. Taken with a diet high in calcium via dairy, high in vegetables and cereals, and low in foods that cause decay, the average medieval person ate the way most modern dentists would recommend for good teeth.

Not surprisingly, tooth decay was actually much less prevalent in the Middle Ages than it became in later centuries, when mass imports of sugar from the tropics made it a staple rather than a rarity. Surveys of archaeological data from the medieval period show that an average of only 20 percent of teeth show any sign of decay, as opposed to up to 90 percent in some early 20th-century populations.

This is totally in line with what Dr. Weston Price found through his observations of indigenous populations. He found that who ate traditional diets consumed at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins than those who ate industrial diets, and had good orofacial development and good oral health. Once they transitioned to a Western, industrial diet with its white flour and refined sugar, crowded, crooked teeth, caries and other problems soon appeared.

Better food: A better way than fluoride to support good oral health.

Image by Xauxa

Dietary Balm for Gum Disease

toothy grin with gum diseaseYou do all the right dental things. You brush at least twice a day. You floss (even if some insist there’s “no scientific evidence”). You schedule your next hygiene appointment before you leave your last one. Still, you have gum disease.

So what base might you be missing? It could well be diet.

A recent pilot study suggests that switching to a low inflammation diet may help that gum disease finally heal.

The small study focused on 15 adults with gingivitis and an apparent appetite for carbs – a major contributor to chronic inflammatory conditions. Ten of them followed a low-carb, anti-inflammatory diet. They were also directed to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, vitamin D, and antioxidants.

The remaining five served as the control group and kept on eating their typical high-carb diet. All participants were told to stop using floss or other interdental cleaners but otherwise keep up their usual oral hygiene habits. Each group followed their plan for six weeks.

After the four observational weeks, the experimental group showed significantly reduced gingival and periodontal inflammation compared with the group who did not change their diet. Specifically, reducing carbohydrates led to a significant improvement in gingival index, bleeding on probing, and periodontal inflamed surface area. In addition, increasing omega-3 fatty acids and fibers improved plaque index.

The improvements pose many questions for further studies to explore. First, since the periodontal health indicators occurred despite both groups showing no change in periodontal values, the authors question the actual role plaque plays in the development of gum disease.

Further research will likely be done to determine if one particular component of the anti-inflammatory diet was more significant than another. But one thing’s certain from this very limited study: Dietary pattern plays a significant role in the development of periodontal disease.

In the meantime, you don’t need to wait. You, friend, can be an experiment of one. Give the study’s protocol a try:

  1. Put the kibosh on carbs.
  2. Get on your omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Welcome the vitamin C and vitamin D.
  4. Eat a rainbow of antioxidants.
  5. Fiber up!

And by all means, keep practicing your effective oral habits!

Image by Morgan