Monthly Archives: March 2010

Are Nut Butters Worth The Hype?

Question:  I’ve heard that peanut butter alternatives, like almond butter, are better for you. The problem is, they can cost twice as much! Are the health benefits worth shelling out the extra dough?

Answer: A small container of peanut butter may cost $3.50, while an even smaller jar of almond butter might run you $7 bucks! The thing is, these “nut butters” are all very similar nutritionally and it mostly comes down to what your taste buds prefer.

Real butter comes from animal sources and contains a lot of artery-clogging saturated fat. Nut butters are made from plant-based sources, such as almonds, peanuts and cashews. Nut butters also contain a large amount of fat, but they are low in saturated fat and high in heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

The following table lists the nutrient profiles of 1 Tbsp of several nut butters. They generally have the same amount of calories, but peanut butter contains the most protein, which is what fills you up. Unfortunately, peanut butter also contains the most saturated fat (2 g per Tbsp), although not significantly more than the other nut butters.

Calories Protein Total Fat Saturated fat Monounsaturated fat Polyunsaturated fat
Peanut butter 95 cal 4g 8g 2g 4g 2g
Almond butter 101 cal 2g 9g 1g 6g 2g
Cashew butter 94 cal 3g 7.5g 1.5g 4.5g 1.5g
Sesame butter/Tahini 89 cal 3g 7.5g 1g 3g 3.5g
Sunflower butter 93 cal 3g 7.5g 1g 1.5g 5g

The nut butters highest in monounsaturated fats are the best for cardiovascular health, but all are great vegetarian options. Nut butters make great snacks, high in protein, calcium and iron! Here are a few healthful ideas: top a half a bagel or an apple with nut butter or spread nut butter on a whole-wheat tortilla and add sliced banana.

I found a 2003 study examining how eating different forms of almonds affect men and women with high cholesterol levels (Spiller et al). The subjects all followed a heart-healthy diet, which included 100 grams daily of roasted salted almonds, roasted almond butter or raw almonds for four weeks. All three forms lowered LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but only roasted and raw almonds lowered total cholesterol. HDL (“good”) cholesterol did not change in the raw or roasted almonds groups, but slightly increased with almond butter!

All nut butters are healthy choices when used in moderation and when substituting for an unhealthy snack. If you’re interested, you can choose “natural” varieties that contain no hydrogenated oils or trans fats. Regular peanut butter contains a tiny amount of partially hydrogenated oil (a.k.a. trans fat), which keeps the product from separating and makes it taste creamier. “Natural” nut butters made with zero hydrogenated oils may have a layer of liquid at the top of the container, which needs to be stirred into the mixture prior to consumption. However, since the amount of trans fat in regular peanut butter is insignificant, government regulations allow products to remain labeled as containing “no trans fats per serving!”

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Filed under Food Groups, Heart Healthy Choices

Planning A Vegetarian diet

The quality of any diet – inclusive of meat or not – depends on whether nutritionally-sound food choices are made. The term ‘vegetarian’ refers to people who steer clear of most or all animal-derived foods, including eggs and dairy. Lacto-ovo vegetarians, on the other hand, consume milk products and eggs, but exclude meat and seafood. Ovo-vegetarians include eggs, but do not eat meat, seafood or dairy. Lastly, pesco-vegetarians eat seafood, eggs and dairy, but not meat or poultry. Depending on what type of “vegetarian” you are, a carefully planned diet must include good sources of calcium, iron, zinc and B12:

Calcium: If you don’t eat dairy products, you should select calcium-fortified juices, soy milk and breakfast cereals. Other good sources of absorbable calcium include figs, fortified tofu, some beans, and certain green vegetables, such as broccoli, kale and turnip greens.

Iron: The iron in plant foods, such as beans, dark green leafy vegetables and whole-grain breads is poorly absorbed.Luckily, vegetarians tend to eat produce that’s rich in vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron more efficiently.

Zinc: Meat is the richest source of bioavailable zinc. Since soy interferes with zinc absorption, it’s important to include whole grains, nuts, and beans such as black-eyed peas, pinto beans and kidney beans in your diet.

B12: This vitamin, also known as cyanocobalamin, is only found in animal products. While soy products may contain some B12, it is not in the active form. The recommended daily intake for male and female adults is 2.4µg/day, although percent daily values (% DV) on food labels are based on 6µg. Your body stores about 5 years of B12, after which a deficiency in this vitamin can be extremely detrimental to your health. Strict vegetarians should not ignore this nutrient. B12 is absorbed with the help of intrinsic factor (IF), which is produced in your stomach. If you’re 60 or older, the loss of IF and low stomach acid levels may lead to B12 deficiency, whether or not you adhere to a vegetarian diet. If the deficiency is due to the loss of IF, you may need an intramuscular B12 injection.  If you’re younger, low B12 levels are more likely due to inadequate dietary intake and an oral vitamin supplement and careful food planning will help. Depending on what type of vegetarian you are, non-meat sources high in B12 include mollusks (e.g. clams), salmon, trout, tuna, egg, yogurt, American cheese and fortified cereal.

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Filed under Food Groups, Meal Tips, Vitamins & Minerals

Rethink Your Drink

As a follow-up to my post on laying off the booze, it’s important to discuss the effect other types of caloric beverages, including juice and soda, have on weight loss efforts.

The scientific literature demonstrates that gulping water instead of high-calorie beverages at mealtime results in a lower total energy intake. In one particular study, no matter what drink subjects were assigned, participants consumed the same amount of calories from food (Della Valle et al, 2005). In other words, people don’t compensate for a highly caloric beverage by eating less. The beverage then ends up tagging unnecessary calories onto the energy tab.

But can water, specifically, help you lose weight? According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, adults who drink water have significantly lower total energy intake than non-water drinkers.

Scientific evidence also shows that water boosts lipid oxidation, or the breakdown of fat.  Experiments show that drinking water during exercise, rather than a sugary beverage, results in a greater breakdown of fat tissue stores (Stookey et al, 2009). Caloric beverages promote the release of insulin in the body, which inhibits fat oxidation.

Another study examined fat oxidation in healthy adults after eating (Brown et al, 2006). In the hours following breakfast consumption, fat breakdown in those who drank water with their meal exceeded the amount of fat contained in the actual test food. Fat breakdown was significantly less in subjects who had orange juice with breakfast. Put simply, constantly sipping on caloric beverages slows fat breakdown.

The bottom line? Switching to water is an effective way to reduce energy intake and stimulate the breakdown of fat. No wonder the ancient Greek poet Pindar once said, “Water is the best of all things.” Intake of all types of caloric beverages – be it alcohol, juice, regular soda or sports drinks – has the potential to make weight management a losing battle.

 

Reference: Stookey JD. Will drinking water help me lose weight? What healthcare professionals can say in response. Clinical Nutrition Insight. 2010; 36(2):1-4.

 

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Filed under Meal Tips, Weight loss

Beer: Better to “stay thirsty, my friends”

Q: How many calories are in a typical alcoholic beverage?

A: The quick answer? More than you probably think! One 12-oz beer has around 150 calories, while a 5-oz glass of wine contains about 100 calories. One small shot of an 80 proof spirit (e.g. gin, rum, vodka, whiskey), however, packs 96 calories and that’s not accounting for the mixer you’re using!

Simple math tells us that just two glasses of wine with dinner tacks another 200 calories onto the energy bill, while a tumbler of rum & cola adds anywhere from 150 – 200 calories. Most surprisingly, a single piña colada can supply nearly 300 calories! Yikes.

Do you remember the term “empty calories” being tossed around in health class? Alcoholic beverages are high in energy, but nearly devoid of any beneficial vitamins and minerals. Weight maintenance is all about balancing ‘energy in’ with ‘energy out,’ so if you’re worried about your figure, be careful how many frozen margaritas you’re slugging back and try to order drinks made with diet or club soda.

This post wouldn’t be complete without briefly mentioning other potentially harmful effects of alcohol consumption. Chronic heavy drinking raises your chance of developing future health complications, including liver problems, cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, quantity and frequency are independently associated with risk. In most cases, it is the number of drinks in one sitting that is detrimental to your health, rather than an occasional social cocktail. Frequent, but modest alcohol intake actually lowers your risk for cardiovascular disease, but may still be associated with an increased risk of cancer. To balance these effects, the American Heart Association recommends drinking only in “moderation,” if you’re going to do it at all. “Moderation” is defined as no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 for women.

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Filed under Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Medical Conditions, Weight loss