Category Archives: Healthy Eating
Tomatoes are certainly nutritious — a good source of the antioxidants lycopene and beta-carotene. But consider this: if you eat a tomato without adding a little fat — say a drizzle of olive oil — your body is unlikely to absorb all these nutrients.
Scientists at Iowa State University figured this out a while ago. They recruited graduate students to eat bowls of salad greens with tomatoes and various types of salad dressings — from fat-free to regular Italian. “Basically once a month for several months we’d show up first thing in the morning,” recalls participant Gregory Brown, now a professor of exercise science at the University of Nebraska. Researchers put IV lines into the participants’ veins and drew blood samples before and after they’d eaten the salads in order to get precise measurements of the absorption of nutrients.
“The salads all tasted the same to me,” says Brown. But when researchers went back and analyzed the blood samples they realized that people who had eaten fat-free or low-fat dressings didn’t absorb the beneficial carotenoids from the salad. Only when they had eaten the oil-based dressing did they get the nutrients.
Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for red-, yellow- and orange-colored fruits and vegetables. And carotenoids are also found in dark green vegetables such as spinach. The compounds convert to Vitamin A in the body, and studies have found that carotenoids have anti-oxidant activity which may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Human studies have linked high consumption of fruits and vegetables to reduced risk of cancer.
Beta-carotene researchers were not particularly surprised by the findings of the fat-free vs. regular Italian salad dressing study. “We already knew that carotenoids were fat soluble,” explains Wendy White, a professor of Human Nutrition at Iowa State University. The results helped reinforce the idea that a little fat is healthy.
Chop And Chew
There are other ways to help maximize the absorption of carotenoid nutrients. Chopping or grating breaks down the plant material. “The finer the particle size … the better the absorption of beta-carotene,” explains White.
The findings of nutrition research often go against the grain of trendy food ideas. For instance, many people have heard that raw vegetables are best. But if you’re eating carrots, it may be helpful to cook them gently. The heat can soften the food allowing more nutrients to be released.
A recent study in the Journal of Food Science suggests that some cooking methods may be better than others. Researchers at the University of Murcia in Spain cooked 20 different kinds of vegetables six different ways. Then they analyzed how well the foods retained antioxidants. They found that microwaving helped maintain the antioxidants, whereas boiling and pressure cooking led to the greatest losses.
Green beans, beets and garlic all did well with heat — maintaining beneficial phytonutrients after most kinds of cooking. The antioxidant value in carrots actually increased after cooking.
Experts explain that boiling may allow nutrients to leach into the pan water that people end up tossing out, especially with water-soluble nutrients such as Vitamin C and the B Vitamins.
Eat Plenty Of Colors
As testing methods have become more sensitive, scientists have the ability to peer into our foods and tally up all the phytonutrients that may be beneficial. But experts say the ways in which our bodies may use and absorb these compounds are complicated. Therefore, many experts say it’s best not to fixate too much on how food is prepared. Instead, focus on eating more plant foods — of all colors.
Jeffrey Blumberg, an antioxidant expert at Tufts University, says “What’s important is that you find a way to cook that’s palatable to you so you’re getting lots of plant foods.”
A new American Heart Association scientific statement provides specific guidance on limiting the consumption of added sugars and provides information about the relationship between excess sugar intake and metabolic abnormalities, adverse health conditions and shortfalls in essential nutrients. The statement, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, for the first time, provides the association’s recommendations on specific levels and limits on the consumption of added sugars.
Added sugars are sugars and syrups added to foods during processing or preparation and sugars and syrups added at the table. High intake of added sugars, as opposed to naturally occurring sugars, is implicated in the rise in obesity. It’s also associated with increased risks for high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels, other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, and inflammation (a marker for heart disease), according to the statement’s lead author Rachel K. Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., associate provost and professor of nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington.
“Sugar has no nutritional value other than to provide calories,” Johnson said. “Consuming foods and beverages with excessive amounts of added sugars displaces more nutritious foods and beverages for many people.”
The statement says that most women should consume no more than 100 calories (about 25 grams) of added sugars per day. Most men should consume no more than 150 calories (about 37.5 grams) each day. That’s about six teaspoons of added sugar a day for women and nine for men.
In contrast, the statement cites a report from the 2001–04 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) that showed the average intake of added sugars for all Americans was 22.2 teaspoons per day (355 calories).
Soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages are the number one source of added sugars in Americans’ diet, according to the statement. “One 12-ounce can of regular soda contains about 130 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar,” Johnson said.
The American Heart Association recommends a dietary pattern that is rich in fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish.
“This new statement expands on earlier recommendations and gives consumers more detailed guidance by recommending a specific upper limit on added-sugars intake,” Johnson said.
In addition, the statement recommends that no more than half of a person’s daily discretionary calorie allowance should come from added sugars.
Discretionary calories refer to the number of calories “left over” after a person eats the recommended types and amounts of foods to meet nutrient requirements, such as fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, high-fiber whole grains, lean meat, poultry and fish. Added sugars, alcoholic beverages and solid fats — including saturated fat and trans fat — are typically considered discretionary calories that are to be included after individual daily nutrient requirements are met.
“It is important to remember that people’s discretionary calorie ‘budgets’ can vary, depending on their activity level and energy needs,” Johnson said. “So, if you can’t live with the recommended limits on your added sugars, you’ll have to move more.”
For example, a moderately active 51–55 year-old woman who eats 1,800 calories per day and maintains her weight would have about 195 discretionary calories per day and only about 100 calories, or half that amount, should come from added sugars. In comparison, if that same woman, still maintaining her weight, was more physically active and burned 2,200 calories a day, she could consume 2,200 calories a day, and would have a larger discretionary ‘budget’ of about 290 calories. About half of that amount, or 145 calories, could come from added sugars.
To ensure proper nutrient intake in the diet and to limit excess calories, Johnson said people should be sure foods high in added sugars are not taking the place of foods with essential nutrients or increasing their total calorie intake.
She recommended that people use their added sugars “allotment” as a vehicle to enhance the flavor of otherwise nutrient-rich foods. For example, choosing a nutrient-rich dairy product, such as a flavored yogurt or a sugar-sweetened whole-grain breakfast cereal, would be a better choice than a nutrient-void candy.
Rachael Ray’s got nothing on Auden Heitzler. Like a Food Network star, the Pacific School fifth-grader chops through an onion with uncanny skill, holding the base of the knife with one palm as she guides the blade with the other.
Her laser focus is understandable, considering she and three classmate sous chefs have less than two hours to prepare the crunchy slaw that will fill the Num Cha Gio Pale spring rolls for the exotic lunch menu she designed. In just 90 minutes, they will serve a Cambodian-inspired meal of Khmer baked chicken or tofu with a short-grain white rice to 100 hungry kids and teachers on top of red-checked table cloths as classical music softly fills the background.
Finished with a sliced mango and lime milk, the scene inside the school’s ocean-view lunch room is reminiscent of a Parisian bistro specializing in fusion food. But then again, most restaurant patrons aren’t encouraged by teachers during lunch to mind their manners, then asked to bus their own trays.
For nearly 25 years, fifth- and sixth-grade students at the Davenport public school have been cooking their own noontime meals through a revolutionary program taught by former Whale City Bakery and Grill owner Stephanie Raugust, now a local caterer who launched the project two decades ago as a parent displeased with unhealthy, unoriginal school food. The school is also ever-mindful of its relatively new culinary mission: Using as many organic, locally produced products as possible, including vegetables and herbs grown in its own garden.
Even before celebrity chefs and reality cooking shows became all the rage, the program has long been part of why half of the school’s enrollment consists of transfer students from nearby districts, including Santa Cruz, Bonny Doon and Pescadero. Other schools in the county have student gardens and vocational courses dealing with food and agriculture, but “Stephanie’s program really draws them in,” said Pacific School’s business manager, Noel Block.
Up to 100 students and adults buy the school lunch every day at $3-$3.50 a pop, though some students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Although Raugust is charged with overseeing the big operation, Block said the earthy cook “is fully qualified to run a three ring circus” considering her many years as a restaurateur.
While the Food Lab and its partner program, the Life Lab garden project, are designed to foster self-confidence, culinary skills and cultural awareness of other dietary traditions, the school has energized the curriculum with a new commitment to teaching and practicing sustainability. While many other school districts are working toward “greening” their lunch programs, most still buy bulk produce, meat and other lunch staples from large providers.
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