Category: Health Watch

Let’s unsaturate the fat talk


Article by Megan Meyer as appeared on Health US News

While checking out at the grocery store last week, I took the 5 minutes or so that I had to glance at a few of the magazines that were lining the checkout aisles. In that small amount of time, I found that massive amounts of nutrition information centered on fat and which diets were the best – but what also caught my eye was the enormous amount of focus on “banishing belly fat” or “X ways to stop feeling fat.” Like the other two macronutrients, protein and carbohydrates, fat is a macronutrient we all need – yet it’s the only macronutrient that becomes a target for us to “trim from our bodies” and is used as an adjective to describe appearances and/or feelings. Because of this, the information and conversations about fat can become muddled and confusing, indicating a real need to clear up the confusion and give sound, science-based information about dietary fats.

First Things First, What Is Fat?

Fat, comprised of fatty acids, is one of three essential macronutrients, and it’s important for the formation of your cells and brain and nervous tissue. There are two kinds of dietary fats: saturated and unsaturated. The term “saturation” depends on the amount of hydrogen atoms that surround the fatty acid structure.

Saturated fats are “saturated” or completely full of hydrogen, contain no double bonds and are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fat is typically found in animal products, fully hydrogenated oils and tropical oils, such as palm and coconut oil. Unsaturated fats are not “saturated” or filled with hydrogen, contain double bonds and are usually liquid at room temperature. The double bonds in unsaturated fat are what distinguish between monounsaturated fats, aka omega-9 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fats, aka omega-3 and -6 fatty acids. Not surprising (based off their name), monos (omega-9 fatty acids) have one double bond, and polys (omega-3 and -6 fatty acids) have two double bonds.

What Kinds of Fat Should I Try to Consume?

You may have been tuned in to the saturated fat craze that has become popular in recent years, stemming from research that concluded that “current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.” However, these findings differ drastically from the large body of evidence linking saturated fats and heart health, which was not adequately acknowledged by the researchers.

Instead, recommendations from leading health organization like the American Heart Association, plus the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines, emphasize the importance of fat in our diet, but want us to be more aware of the types of fat we eat. Instead of focusing on total amounts, the focus should shift toward replacing less healthy fats with more healthy fat options. The recommendation from these organization is to swap saturated fats with mono-and polyunsaturated fats, since the Dietary Guidelines states that there is “strong and consistent evidence” for reducing blood levels of both total and LDL cholesterol, while also reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease events and CVD-related deaths.

What Foods Are Rich in Unsaturated Fat?

There is a wide variety of foods from plants and animals alike that you can turn to as rich sources of unsaturated fat. Plant oils such as soybean and canola are good sources of both mono- and polyunsaturated fat. Olive oil has more monounsaturated fat, but does contain some polyunsaturated fat, in the form of omega-6. Nuts and seeds such as walnuts and flaxseed are great sources of unsaturated fat, and some common nuts like almonds and peanuts provide monounsaturated fats and omega-6s. Dairy products such as yogurt and low-fat milk also contain some monounsaturated fat, while non-dairy products like soy contain both mono- and poly-unsaturated fat.

Lean meat such as chicken, pork and meat contain both mono- and polyunsaturated fat, though only as omega-6 fatty acids. In case you were wondering, the term lean meat refers to the amount of saturated and total fat. Specifically, the “lean” label indicates that the meat does not have more than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, and no more than 10 grams of total fat. In addition to meat found on dry land, seafood is another great source of healthy fat: tilapia, catfish and salmon are great sources of omega-3s and -6s and monounsaturated fat; tuna provides both monounsaturated fat and omega-3s; and shrimp provide monounsaturated fat.

Instead of focusing on numbers and amounts, try to focus on type. Using this approach to fat will allow you to reap the health benefits of fat, while still enjoying different foods and flavors.

Megan Meyer, PhD is the Manager of Nutrition Communications at the International Food Information Council. At IFIC, she develops educational materials and stimulates conversations surrounding nutrition related issues. Coupling her training in basic scientific research with her passion for communication, Megan strives to serve as science liaison to promote and discuss public health related topics and materials to various audiences.

Categories: Health Watch

Peanut allergy theory backed up by new research

Peanut Butter and peanuts show a classic allergen that affects children and adults

Article by By Dominic Howell
BBC News

In 2015, a study claimed early exposure to peanut products could cut the risk of allergy by 80%.
Now researchers say “long-lasting” allergy protection can be sustained – even when the snacks are later avoided for a year.
The New England Journal of Medicine study looked at 550 children deemed prone to developing a peanut allergy.
The latest paper builds on the results of the 2015 research, which was also carried out by King’s College London and marked the first time scientists were able to suggest that exposing children to small amounts of peanut snacks could stave off an allergy.

The new study suggests that if a child has consumed peanut snacks within the first 11 months of life, then at the age of five they can afford to stop eating the food entirely for a year, and maintain no allergy.
Lead author Prof Gideon Lack said: “[The research] clearly demonstrates that the majority of infants did in fact remain protected and that the protection was long-lasting.”

He said that part of the problem was that people lived in a “culture of food fear”.
“I believe that this fear of food allergy has become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the food is excluded from the diet and, as a result, the child fails to develop tolerance,” he told the BBC News website.
The researchers used the same children who took part in the 2015 study – half of whom had been given peanut snacks as a baby while the remainder had been fed on a diet of breast milk alone.

“The study found that at six years of age, there was no statistically significant increase in allergy after 12 months of avoidance, in those who had consumed peanut during the [2015] trial,” the authors said.
The children taking part in the study were considered prone to peanut allergy, because they had already developed eczema as a baby – an early warning sign of allergies.

Prof Lack said that further studies were needed to see if the resistance lasts for considerably longer than the 12-month abstinence period.
He said that in the UK and US combined, 20,000 babies a year are being diagnosed with peanut allergies.

He also said that between 1995 and 2005, the number of people being diagnosed had trebled, and this was not because detection methods had become any more advanced as they had remained the same.
Prof Barry Kay, from Imperial College London, said the study’s results “point the way to completely fresh thinking on the mechanisms of tolerance to allergenic foods in ‘at risk’ infants”.

Speaking about both pieces of research, Michael Walker, a consultant analyst and medical adviser to the government, said: “Taken together these are reassuring findings that pave the way to stem the epidemic of peanut allergy.”

Categories: Health Watch

If You’ve Replaced Olive Oil with Coconut Oil, You Must Read This


Article by Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE as published on

The relationship between saturated fats and increased risk of heart disease has been well-established in the medical literature. In March 2014, however, a systematic review and meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine muddied the waters, suggesting that there was limited evidence linking saturated fat to heart disease.

A media frenzy ensued with popular outlets such as the New York Times calling for the return of butter and other saturated fats to our tables. In my own practice, I encountered patients who were getting increasingly confused and sadly disillusioned with all the mixed messages they were receiving. But as it turned out, the study was deeply flawed and was greeted with staunch opposition. One expert, Dr. Walter Willet, chair of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, called the findings into question.

What are We Substituting for Saturated Fats?

It’s important to note the kinds of foods that we are substituting for those rich in saturated fats, as we remove or limit them from our diets. Most folks do not simply eliminate saturated fat in their diet. Instead, they replace foods rich in saturated fat with something else to keep their calorie intake consistent. For instance, when foods rich in saturated fat get replaced with foods rich in refined and processed carbs (think fat-free cookies and pretzels), the subsequent spike in blood glucose can release a large amount of insulin from your pancreas, raise a form of fat in your blood called triglycerides and lower your HDL cholesterol (the healthy kind). Thus, the replacement of saturated fats with refined carbohydrates can be even more detrimental to health.

On the flip side, when you replace saturated fats with mono- or polyunsaturated fats (for instance: sautéing vegetables in olive oil instead of drizzling them with butter), this can favorably impact your cholesterol levels, i.e. lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) and raise HDL cholesterol.

Is Coconut All It’s Cracked up to Be?

Touted by some as the next superfood, coconut’s claim to fame may be because more than half of the fatty acids it contains are medium-chain fatty acids, called MCTs (the fatty acid chains in MCTs have between eight and 12 carbon atoms). Recent studies show that MCTs are more readily oxidized by the body and hence not as easily stored as fat compared to LCTs, or long-chain triglycerides. This could confer an advantage for those trying to lose weight. What is interesting about MCTs is that they are able to bypass a metabolic route in the body that other fats in foods, such as olive oil, cannot.

Eager to cash in on coconut’s many purported benefits, food manufacturers started adding coconut and coconut oil to a variety of commercial products such as spreads, smoothies and creamers. However, the studies in question contained MCTs with eight and 10 carbon fatty acid chains. Since almost half of coconut oil (44 percent) consists of 12-carbon fatty acids, and 16 percent contains 14-carbon fatty acids, the results were not directly applicable to coconut oil. Besides, at about 91 percent saturated fat, coconut oil has the dubious distinction of containing the highest amount of saturated fat among all oils Tweet this, outstripping even butter which contains about 68 percent. Saturated fat raises HDL, but unfortunately raises LDL too, so at this time experts recommend that consumers use coconut oil sparingly.

Chew on This

That being said, small amounts of saturated fats are acceptable (between 7 to 10 percent of total calories), which amounts to about 140 to 200 calories per day on a 2,000-calorie diet. Since fat yields 9 calories per gram, that is about 15 grams of saturated fat per day.

A tablespoon of butter provides 7 grams of saturated fat, and a half-cup serving of some brands of ice cream can provide 10 to 12 grams of saturated fat. Meanwhile, just one tablespoon of coconut oil has 12 grams of saturated fat! That is how easy it can be to plow through your daily allowance.

The current scientific consensus is that we should replace saturated or trans fats in our diets with unsaturated fats. Experts advise emphasizing monounsaturated fats from olive oil; whole-plant fats from foods such as nuts, avocados or olives; and omega-3 fatty acids from fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseed. Replacing saturated and trans fats with refined carbs will adversely impact cholesterol as well as triglycerides in your blood. Although small amounts of coconut oil may be acceptable, we want to think twice before adding it to every recipe or smoothie.

Sangeeta Pradhan, RD, LDN, CDE, is the diabetes program coordinator of Charles River Medical Associates in Massachusetts, chair of the Central Mass Dietetic Association and nutrition columnist for India New England News. Read her blog, Web Dietitian, and follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.

Categories: Health Watch

3 Reasons to Give Up on Fad Diets

imageBy: Sarah Romotsky

It’s a fact: fad diets are here to stay. From Lord Byron’s popular diet of potatoes drenched in vinegar (stomach problems, anyone?) to the grapefruit diet and cleanses, there’s always a new “it” diet. Believe me, I know how enticing it is to believe that there is one answer to being healthy, and that it has eluded scientists and nutritionists all these years. Of course we all want a simple solution to our eating and weight issues that doesn’t involve the boring message of “moderation” and “physical activity,” but does that actually exist? Or, are there benefits to giving up on fad diets?

Yes, there are! Here are the benefits to going fad-free:

1. Your weight loss and weight maintenance will be realistic and sustainable.

Ditching fad diets will allow you to focus on tried-and-true methods for weight loss: energy balance. This means balancing the calories you consume with the calories you burn from exercise. I know it’s not new and exciting, but it’s the only method that has been proven by science to be helpful for realistic weight loss and long-term weight maintenance.

Fad diets may help you lose weight, but they’re a short-term fix. Consider this: If the only calories you consume in one day is 400 calories of green juice, sure you’ll lose weight. You might even maintain that extremely low calorie intake for a few days, but sooner or later, you’ll feel the effects of consistently under eating: dizziness, headaches, fatigue and hangriness. The negative feelings can erode your willpower, and you’ll eventually go back to eating as you typically would. And those pounds will come right back.

When you say no to fad diets, you can start examining your current eating habits and make a commitment to swap them for healthier ones. Forming healthy eating habits are a long-term commitment, which you can’t make if you’re yo-yo-ing from one fad diet to another. In addition, “weight cycling” (aka yo-yo dieting) may have detrimental long-term effects on your health, as some studies say it may increase your risk for certain health conditions like high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

2. You’ll be getting all the nutrients you need from a balanced, varied diet.

Many of the fad diets require you to cut out key food groups, which can set you up for deficiencies in certain nutrients. When you embark on a cabbage soup diet, and this is all you eat for an extended period of time, there’s no question you’ll be missing key nutrients.

Even less extreme fads like going on a gluten-free diet for weight loss can make your nutrition less optimal. How? Swapping a whole-grain, gluten-containing cereal for a rice-based, gluten-free cereal can reduce how much B-vitamins and fiber you’re getting. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat a nutritionally adequate gluten-free diet; it means you have to be aware of pros and cons of the particular fad diet.

Whatever it is that you are shunning from your diet, think about the consequences from a nutrition standpoint because there usually are consequences. Something gets left behind or replaced and you don’t want it to be nutrients that are critical to your health like protein, vitamins and minerals. Without the confinement of a fad diet that forces you to leave something out, you can be free to enjoy a variety of foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet.

3. You’ll give yourself a chance to have a healthy, happy relationship with food.

By letting go of fad diets that propagate food fears, you will be embracing a healthier relationship with food that is more inclusive. You’ll be happier because you don’t have to worry constantly about what you can and can’t eat. What does that look like? It means eating a balanced diet most of the time, and enjoying all foods in moderation, including a slice of that apple pie you love, without feeling guilty. You’re able to do this because you know how to deal with minor setbacks.

Like all relationships, a healthy relationship with food takes time, and it’s never too late to start. If you’re a chronic yo-yo-dieter, the first step to fixing your relationship with food is to say no to fad diets.

Waiting for a magic bullet to keep you healthy and at your desired weight is like waiting for Santa Claus. Instead, replace that fantasy with solid habits of healthful eating and regular exercise. You’ll soon be on your way to a fad-free life forever.

-Sarah Romotsky, RD, is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council


Foods to Fight Iron Deficiency

Grilled White Fish Dory with Spicy Creole Cajun Rub

You may pump iron at the gym a few times a week, but your body pumps it continuously through the bloodstream every day. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin, a part of red blood cells that acts like a taxicab for oxygen and carbon dioxide. It picks up oxygen in the lungs, drives it through the bloodstream and drops it off in tissues including the skin and muscles. Then, it picks up carbon dioxide and drives it back to the lungs where it’s exhaled.

Iron Deficiency

If the body doesn’t absorb its needed amount of iron, it becomes iron deficient. Symptoms appear only when iron deficiency has progressed to iron deficiency anemia, a condition in which the body’s iron stores are so low that not enough normal red blood cells can be made to carry oxygen efficiently. Iron deficiency is the most common nutritional deficiency and the leading cause of anemia in the United States.

Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Pale skin and fingernails
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Glossitis (inflamed tongue)

Sources of Iron

The body absorbs two to three times more iron from animal sources than from plants. Some of the best dietary sources of iron are:

  • Lean beef
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Lean pork
  • Fish

Although you absorb less of the iron in plants, every bite counts, and adding vitamin C to vegetarian sources of iron will enhance absorption. Some of the best plant sources of iron are:

  • Beans, including pinto, kidney, soybeans and lentils
  • Dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • Fortified breakfast cereals
  • Enriched rice
  • Whole-grain and enriched breads

High-Risk Populations

The following populations of individuals are at a higher risk for developing iron deficiency.

Women Who Are Pregnant or Breast-feeding: Increased blood volume requires more iron to drive oxygen to the baby and growing reproductive organs. Consult your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist before taking an iron supplement.

Young Children: Babies store enough iron for the first six months of life. After six months, their iron needs increase. Breast milk and iron-fortified infant formula can supply the amount of iron not met by solids. Cow’s milk is a poor source of iron. When children drink too much milk, they crowd out other foods and may develop “milk anemia.” Two cups of milk per day is the recommended amount for toddlers.

Adolescent Girls: Their often inconsistent or restricted diets — combined with rapid growth — put adolescent girls at risk.

Women of Childbearing Age: Women with excessively heavy menstrual periods may develop iron deficiency.

How to Prevent Iron Deficiency

Eat a balanced, healthy diet that includes good sources of iron to prevent any deficiencies. Combine vegetarian sources of iron with vitamin C in the same meal. For example: a bell pepper-bean salad, spinach with lemon juice, or fortified cereal and berries.

If treatment for iron deficiency is needed, a health-care provider will assess iron status and determine the exact form of treatment — which may include changes in diet or taking supplements.

Originally published on

Categories: Health Watch

Vitamin C – Supporting a Healthy Immune System

Couple of delishes grapefruits isolated on white. Clipping path included in the file!

Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, is a water soluble vitamin well known for its role in supporting a healthy immune system. Because your body cannot make vitamin C, it must come from the foods you eat every day.

Research shows vitamin C is essential for the growth and repair of tissue all over the body. Vitamin C helps heal wounds and repair and maintain healthy cartilage, bones, teeth and skin. As an antioxidant, vitamin C fights free radicals in the body which may help prevent or delay certain cancers and heart disease, and promote healthy aging. Vitamin C also seems to reduce the progress of cartilage loss in those with osteoarthritis. Though it may not keep you from catching a cold, there is evidence that high doses of vitamin C may decrease the length of cold symptoms by as much as one to 1½ days for some people.

Sources of vitamin C are abundant and extend well beyond the ever-popular orange or orange juice. Many fruits and vegetables supply this vital vitamin. Sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, tomatoes, potatoes, strawberries, green and red bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and kiwi fruit, among others. You can enjoy these foods raw or cooked, but it’s important to note that fruits and vegetables lose vitamin C when heated or stored for long periods of time. To get the most nutrients, eat them as soon as possible after shopping and consider steaming or microwaving vegetables for short periods of time to limit nutrient loss.

Vegetarians may be especially interested to know that vitamin C helps the body to better absorb non-heme iron — the kind from plant-based sources such as beans, spinach and quinoa. To get this benefit, combine vitamin C-rich foods with iron-rich plant foods in the same meal. For example, combine black beans and salsa or create a flavorful spinach salad with strawberries and mandarin oranges.

Originally published on

Categories: Health Watch

Coconut Oil Isn’t All That It’s Cracked Up to Be

coconutoilhp2If  coconut oil is your go-to oil, read this.

According to many so-called experts, coconut oil is a cure-all that can do everything from clear up your skin to treat ulcers, burn fat, improve brain and heart health, among many other “amazing” benefits.

However, the scientific evidence to support coconut oil’s health benefits is still considered preliminary. Here’s what you need to know before swapping your olive oil for coconut oil.

Marketers of coconut oil claim the oil is rich medium-chain fatty acids, called MCTs (MCTs have between eight and 12 carbon atoms). MCTs are more easily burned as fuel and are thought to have health benefits compared to long-chain fatty acids. The problem is, the research on MCTs is generally with eight to 10-carbon fats and coconut oil is comprised of longer-chain MCTs of 12 and 14-carbon molecules, so studies that have used shorter chain MCTs don’t necessarily apply to coconut oil.

What’s more, much of the coconut oil sold in supermarkets and used in food products is highly refined and may lack some of the natural polyphenols present in virgin coconut oil. (This is similar to using a light olive oil instead of extra-virgin expeller pressed olive oil.)

It is 90 Percent Saturated Fat

Coconut oil is naturally rich in saturated fat, with 12-13 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. In fact, it has more saturated fat than lard, butter and any of the popular vegetables oils like olive oil, corn, canola, safflower or soybean oils. That’s what makes it so firm and solid at room temperature. While the major saturated fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, it’s unclear whether or not this specific saturated fat is less unhealthy than other saturated fats.

Saturated fat is like blood sludge that raises harmful LDL cholesterol levels and theAmerican Heart Association recommends that we keep saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories. For a woman, that’s no more than 14 grams of saturated fat a day—or about what you get in a tablespoon of coconut oil.

The Bottom Line

Using virgin coconut oil on occasion when cooking and baking certainly won’t hurt you. However, eating lots (a tablespoon or more) of coconut oil daily for its health benefits is not yet recommended. And, if you’re struggling to lose weight, you’ll need to limit total calories so keep in mind that all fats contain 9 calories per gram, or 120 calories per tablespoon, so they pack in more than twice the calorie per weight compared to protein or carbohydrates.

Originally published on

Categories: Health Watch

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