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Spring clean your diet with these 10 simple tips

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post, “Spring clean your diet with these 10 simple tips”

You can also read it here.

Strawberries

Along with a new season come new foods and rituals. One of the things I love most about springtime is the extra daylight. I try to take advantage of these longer days by taking a walk outdoors or biking in the park. I also love taking advantage of enjoying the seasonal produce available this time of year. From asparagus to berries, springtime is the season for healthy produce.

As a nutritionist, I am a big believer in working to improve our bodies along with our minds for optimal health. These 10 simple tips will help boost your health, and maybe even your mood, this season.

1. Make small shifts to your diet.

One of the key messages in the recently released 2015-2020 dietary guidelines is an emphasis on making small shifts to our diet, as opposed to radical changes which are often difficult to stick with. Think of a food habit you’d like to change and slowly ease into a new ritual by making a small shift. If you are a soda drinker, for example, shift your beverage to water or seltzer. If you tend to go hours without eating, plan for a healthy snack by bringing along an apple and a small bag of your favorite nuts. And most of us can make shifts in our diet to include more fruits and vegetables.

2. Mind your hand.

Paying attention the size of your portion is one of the best ways to keep your weight in check. While measuring your food can be a bit cumbersome and not always practical, using your hand is a simple and useful trick to help you guesstimate your portion. As I discuss in my book, The Portion Teller Plan, your portion of meat should be the size of your palm (approx 3 oz) and your side of rice should be the size of your fist (approx 1 cup.) While it’s not an exact science, as we all have different size hands, it is a helpful way to help gauge how much you eat. And if you have a bigger hand, you can probably get away with eating a bit more.

3. Get moving.

If you do not yet have an exercise routine, this is a great time to get one into place. Exercising regularly offers up many benefits — from helping us shed pounds, boost our moods, and even keep our minds sharp. In the springtime, we have the added benefit of great weather and more sunlight, a perfect time to get moving outdoors.

Research even shows that you exert more energy when exercising outdoors and you even may enjoy it more. Exercising outdoors may also help to alleviate stress and depression.

4. Swap multigrain for whole grains products.

Many of my clients are easily deceived by healthy sounding terms like “multigrain.” The term “multigrain” is defined as containing a blend of two or more grains and has little meaning when it comes to boosting your health. The grains may be healthy if they are whole rye or whole oats, for example, but they may also not be particularly healthy if they are a blend of enriched wheat flour, which is refined, and not to be confused with whole wheat. So pay attention to food labels and the first ingredient in your grain products.

5. Go green.

I am a huge fan of all things green, especially green veggies. Spinach, kale, broccoli, you name it, and if it’s green, it is most likely healthy! One of my favorite springtime produce is asparagus. Chock full of fiber, folate, vitamin K, and iron, asparagus is a nutrition powerhouse. I invite you to add asparagus to your springtime dinner routine. My favorite method of preparation is simply roasting it with a drizzle of olive oil and you are good to go.

6. Find hidden sugars lurking in your favorite food.

For the first time, the dietary guidelines call out added sugar, and advise us to limit our intake to no more than 10 percent of total calories. While we know that soda and candy are full of added sugar, we may not pay attention to the sugar lurking in our favorite salad dressing or whole gain cereal. Trying to reduce our sugar intake would be easier if every product that contained it called it “sugar.” However, so many food products on the shelves contain sugar yet call it by a different name. Be on the lookout for the following terms which are other names for sugar: sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, honey, dextrose, and evaporated cane juice.

The Food and Drug Administration has proposed a daily value (DV) for “added sugar” along with prominently displaying the amount of added sugar on the nutrition facts food label. This will hopefully clear up some of the confusion. But until that happens, be a food sleuth, and read the ingredient list.

7. Scoop it out.

We eat more out of large containers and when we pour out our favorite foods into a bowl or plate, we often pour too much. We also tend to overeat when we nibble right out of a jar or box of food. Consider your favorite cereal: pour it into an oversize bowl and you probably poured too much. Same with your favorite ice cream: eat a spoonful straight from a pint, and you may end up polishing off the entire container. A scoop or measuring cup to the rescue! Pour your cereal into a one-cup measuring cup or scoop, and you will hopefully stop right there. Use a half-cup ice cream scoop and it will be easier to stick to that portion.

8. Eat fat.

As a nutritionist, I advise clients to incorporate healthy fat into their diets. Healthy fats include olive oil, nuts, and avocado. Fats help us feel full so that we are not grabbing for that cookie an hour after eating. Nuts make for a great snack as they contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats, protein, fiber, and plant stanols. Just be sure to stick to one handful. Because fat contains more calories than carbohydrates and protein, practicing portion control is key.

9. Add strawberries to your favorite salad.

Strawberries are delicious and one of the lowest calorie fruits. They are also rich in nutrients, particularly vitamin C, an antioxidant which helps the body quench free radicals. In addition to tasting great plain (or with whipped cream, of course), strawberries will add color, flavor, and nutrients to your fruit salad or even your tossed green salad.

10. End your day with a grateful heart.

Giving thanks and practicing gratitude leads better sleep and improved mood.Research reveals that cultivating gratitude leads to better psychological and physical health. One ritual that I love recommending (and practice myself) is to write down 5 things I am grateful for each day. While certain things can always be better, we can all find a variety of things, both large and small, to be thankful for.

Photo complements  freedigitalphotos.net by Rakratchada Torsap.

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Foods to enjoy without added sugar

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post 10 foods to enjoy without added sugar.

You can also read it HERE.

The problems with consuming too much added sugar seem to be getting lots of attention these days. From contributing to inflammation, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity, sugar has been recently singled out as a cause for concern.

The recently released report from the Dietary Guideline Committee (DGAC) suggests, for the first time, that Americans limit sugar to 10 percent of calories. That would translate into roughly 200 calories–and 12 teaspoons–for a 2000 calorie diet. TheWorld Health Organization (WHO) also suggests we limit added sugar to less than 10 percent of total calories. And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed that manufacturers be required to declare the amount of “added sugars” on food labels to help consumers understand how much sugar has been added to a product.

Indeed, we love sugar and eat too much of it. Americans currently consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which come from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. Sugar contributes to the sweet taste of our foods and drinks while also acting as a preservative in many of our favorite foods.

Acting as a food sleuth, I recently visited a local New York City supermarket with a reporter for a public radio station for a story on hidden sources of sugar. While we know that sugary drinks such as soda and sugar-sweetened cereals such as Fruit Loops are a main culprit of added sugar, it is often surprising to people when they hear that sugar is also lurking in breads (even whole-wheat varieties) as well as salad dressings (even healthy sounding ones especially low-fat varieties.) Perusing the supermarket aisles, while we were sure that we would see lots of sugar in fruit punch, ice cream, and candy bars, we also found considerable amounts of added sugar in many commonly consumed foods including waffles, ketchup, teriyaki sauce, and granola.

So what can we eat without too much added sugar?

Below are 10 foods to enjoy without having to worry about exceeding sugar budget.

1. Plain Greek yogurt
Finding the added sugar on your cup of yogurt can be tricky these days which is one of the reasons why the FDA wants to require manufacturers to list “added sugars” on the food labels. While on first glance, yogurt appears to be high in sugar, unsweetened yogurt contains only the naturally occurring simple sugar lactose, called milk sugar. Flavored yogurts, on the other hand, often contain lots of added sugar, in addition to the naturally occurring sugar. Many sweetened yogurts contain several teaspoons of added sugars.

2. Apple
While fruits contain sugar (called fructose), it is a naturally occurring source of sugar. Apples, as well as other fruits, also contain fiber which will help you feel full without the calories.

3. Peanut butter
Spread a tablespoon of peanut butter on your apple for flavor and fullness while also getting a dose of healthy fats and added nutrients. Steer clear, however, of the sugar-sweetened peanut butters. Stick to the plain unsweetened varieties.

4. Tossed salad
Fresh vegetables of all kind contain carbohydrates as their primary source of calories but you really do not have to worry about their sugar content. While a carrot may have more sugar, and therefore more calories, than a stalk of celery, vegetables contain naturally occurring sugar while also containing fiber, high water content, and a fairly low calories count. Fresh vegetables in their natural state do not contain added sugars.

5. Avocado
Throw in some avocado which contains heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. While avocado is not low in calories, (due to its fat content), this fruit is not a source added sugar.

6. Homemade salad dressing
To skip the added sugar often found in store-bought bottled salad dressings, I suggest making your own. Ingredients such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, and lemon are very low in sugar.

7. Grilled Salmon
Top your salad with grilled salmon which contributes protein as well as heart-healthy fats called omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon as well as other fish and high protein foods are not a source of added sugars. However, watch the teriyaki glaze, soy sauce, and breadcrumbs which can contribute sugar, salt, and added calories. Drizzle your salmon with olive oil and spices to save on added sugar and salt.

8. Air-popped popcorn
Hungry for a mid-afternoon snack? Skip the candy bar and choose air-popped popcorn instead. Air-popped popcorn is low in sugar and calories and contains fiber which will help you feel full. And, what’s even better, is that you can enjoy a generous serving. 3 cups of popcorn constitutes one serving from the grain group.

9. Hummus and veggies
Hummus contains protein which helps you feel full. Enjoy this yummy chick pea spread with your favorite fresh vegetables.

10. Sparkling water
Hydrate yourself with sparkling water instead of soda and other sweetened drinks. Add a twist of fresh lemon or lime for a hint of flavor. Many sparkling waters are flavored naturally without any added sugar. Read labels carefully, however, because some healthy sounding beverages often contain added sugars. And those without added sugar often contain artificial sweeteners, which aren’t much better than sugar.

We would love to hear some of your favorite foods which are low in added sugar?

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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Nutrition panel urges American’s to eat green, limit sugar, drink coffee and more

Below is my blog post for Huffington Post on the new report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC):  Nutrition Panel urges American’s to eat green , limit sugar, drink coffee and more.

You can also read it HERE.

new report by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC), which convenes every five years and advises the federal government on the official dietary guidelines, calls for some changes to the American diet.

The purpose of the Advisory Report is to inform the government on the scientific evidence related to diet and nutrition. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jointly write the Dietary Guidelines, which are due out later this year.

According to the DGAC:

… about half of all American adults — 117 million individuals — have one or more preventable, chronic diseases, and about two-thirds of U.S. adults — nearly 155 million individuals — are overweight or obese … Poor dietary patterns, over consumption of calories, and physical inactivity directly contribute to these disorders.

Americans eat too much sugar, saturated fat, and salt. We don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and fish.

The report further states that:

… individual nutrition and physical activity behaviors and other health-related lifestyle behaviors are strongly influenced by personal, social, organizational, and environmental contexts and systems. Positive changes in individual diet and physical activity behaviors, and in the environmental contexts and systems that affect them, could substantially improve health outcomes.

The report by the committee eased certain restrictions (those for cholesterol, total fat, and coffee) and stressed limits for other restrictions (such as those for added sugar and saturated fat).

Rather than obsess over individual nutrients, the committee urges Americans to strive for a healthy dietary pattern: a diet with more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, and low- or non-fat dairy, and less red and processed meat, sugar-sweetened foods and drinks, and refined grains.

According to Dr. Marion Nestle, my NYU colleague, author, and nutrition policy expert: “The DGAC has produced an honest, straightforward, courageous report thoroughly based on research and at long last without mincing words.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group in Washington, D.C., also supports the report and issued the following statement:

The report of the DGAC is mostly unchanged from the reports of 2010 and years past, and in the ways it differs, the changes are mostly for the better. Contrary to some media accounts, the pendulum is not swinging wildly back and forth on most of these scientific questions; the basic advice to eat less saturated fat, sugar, and salt, and to eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, is largely the same.

Here are some of the committee’s key recommendations.

SUSTAINABILITY

The committee, for the first time, urges American’s to eat green.

The report recommends that the government consider the environment — along with their heart, of course — when advising Americans about what they should eat.

The panel wrote “The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”

This move could have a significant impact on how much meat people eat. Not surprisingly, the meat industry called the report “flawed” and “nonsensical.”

ADDED SUGAR

The committee stressed that Americans consume too much added sugar and recommended a daily intake of 10 percent of calories, which amounts to around 12 teaspoons for a 2,000-calorie diet. To put this in perspective, “12 teaspoons of sugar” is just a tad more than a can of soda. Americans currently consume 22 to 30 teaspoons of added sugar daily, half of which come from soda, juices and other sugary drinks. This is why the report recommends that Americans drink water instead of sugary beverages such as soda.

Previous dietary guidelines have included warnings about eating too much added sugar, but this is the first time the committee made a specific recommendation for limiting sugar. Indeed, too much sugar is linked to obesity and chronic disease.

The CSPI welcomed the DGAC suggestions to consume less sugar along with the report’s blunt advice to drink fewer sugary drinks. They said, “The strong recommendations on added sugars are important and have far-reaching policy implications.”

I also applaud the recommendation for limiting added sugar along with environmental and policy changes like those suggested by the committee. As I toldFood Navigator, “The DGAC report supports the possibility of soda taxes as an incentive to promote purchasing healthier beverages, policy changes for SNAP…and limiting food marketing to kids, all steps in the right direction to promote a healthier food environment.”

The American Beverage Association (ABA), however, issued a different sentiment on restricting sugar and sugary drinks. According to Food Navigator, the ABA said: “Numerous studies have shown that restricting one food or food group is not the best approach for achieving calorie balance and maintain a healthy weight.”

Indeed, drinking less soda would be bad for their business.

FAT

The Committee is recommending that we limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of total calories. Saturated fat may promote heart disease by elevating blood cholesterol levels. Americans are urged to eat unsaturated fat — found in nuts, fatty fish, olive and vegetable oil — instead of saturated fat, found in red meat, cheese, butter, coconut, and palm kernel oil. While many celebrities and Atkins devotee’s heavily promote both coconut and red meat, the committee report advocates the contrary.

The DGAC, however, dropped a suggestion from previous guidelines to restrict total fat intake to no more than 35 percent of daily total calories. While previous editions of the Dietary Guidelines have advised Americans to eat a low-fat diet, the committee suggests that reducing total fat intake does not appear to decrease our risk for heart disease. Rather, replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates — including low-fat cookies and cakes — increases our disease risk.

CHOLESTEROL

The committee dropped its long recommendation that Americans limit their intake of dietary cholesterol from foods such as eggs and shellfish to no more than 300 mg per day. (One egg contains nearly 200 mg cholesterol.) The committee cites research showing that cholesterol from the diet has little or no effect on blood cholesterol levels for most people.

Dr. Nestle, however, wrote a thought-provoking blog post raising several important points on the research. She states, “I’m wondering if research sponsored by the egg industry could have anything to do with this.” Furthermore, she writes, “if the Advisory Committee is dropping the cholesterol recommendation, could it be because so many people are taking statins that dietary cholesterol doesn’t appear to matter so much anymore?” These are certainly points to consider.

COFFEE

If you enjoy several cups of coffee, you are in luck. The committee advised that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee per day (or up to 400 mg of caffeine) is okay. However, I suggest you watch the size of your mug to partake healthfully in those “five cups of coffee.” As I told Food Navigator, “3-5 cups translates into 2-3 Starbucks-sized cups … I worry that the public may think they can drink more coffee than the guidelines really suggest. Education on serving size is necessary here…”

Finally, will the feds accept these recommendations, and how will we implement them?

The DGAC report states:

It will take concerted, bold actions on the part of individuals, families, communities, industry, and government to achieve and maintain the healthy diet patterns and the levels of physical activity needed to promote the health of the U.S. population. These actions will require a paradigm shift to an environment in which population health is a national priority and where individuals and organizations, private business, and communities work together to achieve a population-wide “culture of health” in which healthy lifestyle choices are easy, accessible, affordable, and normative — both at home and away from home.

According to Dr. Nestle, a former member of the DGAC:

Whether the agencies — USDA and HHS — will accept its recommendations remains to be seen. Congress has already weighed in and said that the Dietary Guidelines cannot consider sustainability in making dietary advice. Much will depend on the response to the call for public comments.

Stay tuned.

We would love to hear our thoughts on the DGAC report. And you can tell the gov’t what you think by weighing in here.

Follow Dr. Lisa Young on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drlisayoung

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