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Archive for April, 2013

Berry bites: Exploring the health benefits of berries

Eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables has been correlated with a reduced risk of various chronic diseases. And for good reason: they are low in calories and rich in nutrients. Berries, in particular, are a nutrition powerhouse. Many reasons exist to put berries on your shopping list and to cook with them.

Naturally low in calories, berries contain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, folate, potassium, and calcium. The pigments that give berries their beautiful colors turn out to also contain polyphenols and antioxidants that are good for health. Fruits rich in phytonutrients are linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, strokes, and cancer in the people who eat them.

And there is more good for berry lovers. A study in Circulation found that berries may ward off heart disease in women.

Berries are also high in fiber which can aid digestion. One cup of raspberries, for instance, contains only 65 calories plus a healthy 8 grams of fiber. So feel free to fill up on them, guilt free. Pectin, one of the soluble fibers in berries, also has cholesterol lowering properties and contributes to heart health.

Berries are a terrific fruit group to include in the diet because of its high ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) value, a measure of antioxidant capacity. Diets high in antioxidants are beneficial and help fight chronic diseases because they protect the body from free radicals associated with aging and inflammation, among other conditions. Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, and blueberries are among the foods that top the chart for containing the most antioxidants per serving. So feel free to enjoy these colorful jewels.

Berries—in particular, blueberries, cranberries, and mulberries—contain the polyphenol, resveratrol, associated with heart health, anticancer activity, and reduced inflammation. Berries known for their deep concentrated pigment contain the flavonoid, anthocyanins, which contain many health benefits which may help ward off diseases such as diabetes and cancer. Raspberries, strawberries, and cranberries also contain the polyphenol antioxidant, ellagic acid, which seems to have some anti-cancer properties.

Good news for berry lovers. You can get them year round without worrying about price. While fresh berries eaten immediately after harvest are the best choice in obtaining essential nutrients, frozen berries are the next best thing and allow us to indulge year round. Berries frozen right after harvest preserve most of their nutrients making them a terrific and nutritious choice. I suggest keeping a bag of frozen berries in your freezer.

Here are some berry bites on 5 winners:

Blackberries top the chart for containing the most antioxidants per serving so put them on your shopping list.

Blueberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C and may benefit heart health and brain function associated with aging. Research suggests that consuming blueberries may keep your blood pressure in check.

Cranberries contain flavonoids which may protect against inflammation and may help prevent urinary tract infections. Furthermore, the procyandins found in this berry contains antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

Raspberries contain the antioxidant quercetin which contains anti-inflammatory benefits and the phenolic compound, ellagic acid, and can help fight cancer. And even more good news: one cup contains only 65 calories and 8 grams fiber.

Strawberries are a terrific source of vitamin C; one cup of sliced strawberries contains more than a day’s worth of this antioxidant nutrient. A cup of strawberries also contains 3 grams dietary fiber and is low in calories (less than 50 calories per cup).

Berry tip: Beware of HYPE:

While the juice from the acai berry, for example, may be high in antioxidants, little evidence actually exists that it has special weight-loss or other powers, often touted on internet ads.

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Plate size matters

Below is my blog post Portion Size Matters for Huffington Post.

You can also read it HERE.

A new study out of Temple University suggests that one solution to helping kids eat less is to give them smaller plates. With childhood obesity rates so high, we need effective strategies to help youngsters eat more healthfully and eat less.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that plate size matters, at least for first-graders. The research was conducted at lunchtime on first-graders. Eighty percent of children served themselves 90 more calories when using large, adult-sized plates than when using smaller plates. And the students ate about half of the additional calories that they piled onto the plate. According to the researchers, the additional calories on these bigger plates were probably carbohydrates or protein, as kids did not usually serve themselves extra vegetables.

These results make perfect sense to me as a nutrition researcher tracking portion-size trends. As I wrote in my book The Portion Teller Plan, the sizes of plates have increased in recent years, and could certainly be an additional contributor to the obesity epidemic in our country. When given a larger plate, consumers tend to pile on more food.

Indeed, research from Cornell University conducted on adults found that people eat more off of larger plates. They found that a food portion looks smaller when it is placed on a large plate. And this new study confirms this phenomenon in kids.

I often suggest to clients in my private practice to eat off of downsized dishes. Using a smaller dish makes a smaller portions look like more food. And dieters do not want to stare at a half-empty plate. It makes them feel deprived. When one of my clients started eating off of her grandmother’s dishes, she began to lose weight. She ate less without even realizing it.

Another suggestion that I offer clients is to use a larger plate for salad (a great way to increase your veggie consumption) and use a smaller plate for the main dish. This way, you do not have to go out and buy new dishes.

Divide-and-conquer is another great approach when thinking about your plate. As USDA’s dietary guidance icon MyPlate suggests, fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies, one-quarter with healthy grains such as brown rice or quinoa, and one-quarter with protein-rich foods such as grilled fish or chicken.

One caveat: When using a smaller plate, remember not to pile on your food. If food can fall off of the plate, you probably served yourself too much.

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Most kids’ meals at restaurants are unhealthy: What you can do



A new study out last week by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., found that most meals from national chain restaurants marketed to children were not healthy and did not meet nutrition standards for healthy eating. This is quite troubling, considering the high obesity rates among today’s youth and all the eating out we do. We currently spend nearly half of our food dollars on foods consumed outside the home.

Of the nearly 3,500 meal combinations studied, 97 percent of the meals targeted to kids failed to meet healthy standards developed by nutrition experts. Such standards suggest that a children’s meal contain: no more than 430 calories, no more than 35 percent of calories from fat, and no more than 770 mg sodium, among other parameters.

Ninety-one percent of such meals failed to meet the standards set by the National Restaurant’s Association Kids LiveWell Program. Such standards require that at least one children’s meal (including a beverage) contain fewer than 600 calories, contain no more than 35 percent of calories from fat, and contain at least two servings of the following: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy.

As reported in the New York Times, when CSPI conducted the study back in 2008, they found that 99 percent of kids’ meals were unhealthy and failed to meet standards set by nutrition experts.

Why do so many meals get a failing grade? The answer is pretty obvious. They contained sugary beverages, fried foods (including French fries and fried chicken), burgers, and full-fat cheese, in addition to other unhealthy ingredients. The calorie counts, fat, sugar, and sodium levels often exceeded standards. One meal contained 3,200 mg of sodium, more than twice the amount recommended for kids for an entire day.

For some good news: The chain Subway did not offer sugary beverages with kids’ meals. (They were the only chain to do so.) Instead they suggested water or low-fat milk. And the chain’s entire line of Fresh Fit for Kids meals met nutrition standards. It would be great if other restaurants followed Subway’s lead.

As a nutritionist advocating for healthy choices and educating families on nutrition and healthy eating, here are six things you can do when taking youngsters out to eat in a restaurant:

  • Order meals that contain fruits and/or vegetables. Think colorful!
  • Skip the white bread products and choose whole grains (i.e., whole-wheat breads and pastas).
  • Choose water or low-fat dairy instead of soda or other sugary beverages.
  • Skip the extra cheese.
  • Order sauces on the side.
  • Choose grilled, baked, roasted dishes instead of fried dishes.

And better yet, get kids into the kitchen, and involve them in the cooking process. You may be pleasantly surprised.

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