Category Archives: Dairy

Stress-Busting Snack Ideas

This Thursday, most Americans will kick off the holiday season with their first bite of Thanksgiving turkey. I personally love this time of year, but long shopping lines and mall crowds can be a total buzzkill. To calm down, try fueling up with my stress-relieving snack ideas, published in the December 2012 issue of Oxygen magazine!

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Are Carbs The Enemy?

Of all the major nutrients, carbohydrates have gotten a pretty bad rap. Personally, I don’t think it’s justified.

Carbohydrates are the core energy source for our body and brain and can be converted into amino acids to serve as the building blocks for protein. Certain sources of carbs are also chock-full of nutritious vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Grains, milk, beans, fruit and starchy vegetables, like potatoes and corn, all contribute to our daily carbohydrate intake. In fact, the U.S. government suggests we consume 45-65% of our daily calories from this nutrient group. So why the notoriety?

Not all carbs are created equal. There’s a big difference (nutritionally-speaking) between “refined” and “complex” carbohydrates. Refined carbs include chips, cake, candy, cereal, sweetened beverages (e.g., juice, lemonade, soda) and bread and pasta made with white flour. These foods are literally stripped of nutrients during processing. Due to their lack of fiber, they don’t fill us up and are digested quickly, causing our blood sugar to spike. Refined carbs contain few vitamins and minerals and likely end up replacing healthier foods in our diet. Eating too many of these foods can also lead to high triglyceride levels.

On the other hand, many complex carbohydrates are packed with nutrients. Examples include brown and wild rice, whole wheat pasta and bread, oatmeal, quinoa, bulgur and barley. Such whole grains are naturally low in fat and added sugars and supply iron, folate, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins and fiber – a nutritional powerhouse. Fiber cannot be digested by the human body and therefore, this complex carb passes through our system without adding calories! Fiber can help lower cholesterol, regulate bowel function, reduce spikes in blood sugar, protect against colon cancer and help us lose weight by warding off hunger! The fiber in whole fruit is what makes it a much better choice than juice, which is high in sugar and calories and not a dieter’s friend.

When it comes to weight loss, the low-carb Atkins diet certainly gets a lot of press. However, weight loss occurs when you consume fewer total calories than your body needs, whether you’re cutting back on fat, protein or carbs. A sustainable strategy for weight loss should reduce calories from all nutrient groups, so that you do not feel deprived. Reduce your intake of sugary beverages, desserts and foods made with refined flour, like white bread and pasta and be sure to include nutrient-dense and fiber-packed sources of complex carbs in your meal plan!

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Secrets of Greek Yogurt

Q: Is there a difference between Greek yogurt and regular, conventional yogurt?

A:All yogurts are a great source of calcium, protein and beneficial bacteria (“probiotics”), which aid in digestion. However, for those of you who dislike the thinner, runnier texture of conventional yogurt, Greek yogurt is a good alternative, because it’s richer and creamier. Three popular brands of Greek yogurt are Fage, Chobani and Stonyfield’s Oikos. No matter what yogurt you choose – conventional or Greek – make sure to purchase the low-fat or non-fat variety!

Let’s take a look at the specific differences in nutrient content…

Dannon’s Plain,    Non-fat (Regular Yogurt) Stonyfield’s Oikos Plain, 0% fat (Greek Yogurt) Fage’s Plain, 0% fat (Greek Yogurt)
Serving Size 6 oz 5.3 oz 6 oz
Calories 80 kcal 80 kcal 90 kcal
Sodium 120 mg 60 mg 65 mg
Sugar 12 g 6 g 7 g
Protein 9 g 15 g 15 g
Calcium 300 mg 200 mg 200 mg
  1. Greek yogurt contains about half the sodium of regular yogurt.  In general, yogurt is a great heart-healthy snack, but since we get way too much sodium in our processed-food diets as it is, Greek yogurt is a great option for salt-sensitive people.
  2. Greek yogurt is quite low in sugar.  With half the carbs of conventional yogurt, Greek yogurt won’t spike your blood sugar as high as a regular yogurt might.
  3. Greek yogurt is very high in protein. Dairy is always a solid source of protein, but with 15g of protein per 6-oz container, Greek yogurt will make you feel fuller longer than conventional yogurt.
  4. Greek yogurt is lower in calcium than regular yogurt. Unfortunately, conventional yogurt beats Greek yogurt in this category, at times packing 100 added milligrams of bone-building calcium per serving. While it’s important to meet your calcium requirement, adding any type of low-fat yogurt to your daily routine will bring you one step closer to a healthy, well-balanced diet.

Update: Upon further investigation of food labels, I’ve found a big difference in the calcium content of Greek yogurt flavors. The plain, 0% fat variety may contain 20-25% of the daily value (DV) of calcium, which is approximately 200 – 250 mg*, but honey & fruit flavors can have much less! The honey, cherry and peach flavors of Fage Greek yogurt contain only 10% of the DV! On the other hand, all of the low-fat Greek yogurt flavors made by Chobani contain 200 mg of calcium per 6 oz container. Clearly, it’s important to comparison shop by reading the nutrition label! Since yogurt packaged with fruit or honey will be higher in sugar, your best bet is to buy the plain, non-fat yogurt and add fresh fruit of your own!

*Remember: Adults should aim for 1,000-1,2000 mg calcium per day to maintain healthy bones!

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The Big Deal About “Organic”

Q: Is organic food more nutritious?

A: Not necessarily. The term “organic” is defined by the USDA. Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy must come from animals given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Plant foods (e.g. fruits, vegetables,  grains, legumes) must be produced without pesticides, artificial fertilizers, genetic modification or  irradiation. The government inspects every organic farm to make sure it meets these standards. There  are three levels of organic food claims:


100% Organic:Products that are completely organic and are produced organically at every step. For example, in a 100% organic trail mix, all the nuts, raisins and granola must come from organic fields and be processed in organic factories.

Organic: At least 95% of a product’s ingredients meet organic standards.

Made with Organic: At least 70% of a product’s components are organic. (If a product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the USDA forbids the use of the word “organic” on the label.)

Organic agricultural principles are kinder to nature and to farm animals, but are organic foods healthier? The jury is still out. In March 2008, The Organic Center completed a review of scientific research and found that organic plant-foods are more nutritious, on average, than conventional foods. In contrast, a September 2009 study funded by the UK Food Standards Agency and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no evidence of significant differences in nutrient quality between organically and conventionally produced foods (Dangour, et al). Until research is more conclusive, non-organic foods have the same nutritious components – vitamins and minerals included – as organic items. The difference lies in growing practices.

I realize buying everything organic is nearly impossible and can get very expensive. Here are 5 tips:

1. Buy dairy products free of artificial hormones, which force increased milk production in cows.  The health risk to humans is controversial, but recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been banned in the European Union for over 15 years. “Hormone-free” milk is not hard to find (you may already be drinking it!) and does not cost a lot.

2. If it’s a fruit or vegetable that you eat without peeling first, such as grapes or celery, think about buying the organic version. On the other hand, when you remove a thick skin off produce (like on an orange or banana), you reduce consumption of the chemicals used during farming and production anyway.

3. If the fruit is prone to soaking up a lot of chemicals during farming, buy organic. For example, non-organic berries and thin-skinned peaches are likely to retain a lot of chemicals, even after washing.

4. Due to body size, chemicals are more toxic to children. The government deems pesticides “safe” when used within certain restrictions, but it is especially important to limit a developing baby’s or child’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

5. Always thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables under running water! This can remove dirt particles, as well as some of the remaining pesticide or fertilizer used on non-organic produce.

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Building (and maintaining!) healthy bones

Q: How much calcium should I be getting and what are the best sources?

A: Adults (19-50 years old) should consume a minimum of 1,000mg calcium daily and adults 51+ years are recommended to get at least 1,200mg. Intakes for children and adolescents should be a little higher, since they are still accumulating bone mass. Aim to meet food pyramid recommendations and you’ll be well on your way to reaching calcium guidelines.

Most of us know that calcium is an integral part of bone structure, but this mineral does much more than that! Calcium plays an important role in maintaining normal blood pressure, blood clotting, muscle contraction and the transmission of nerve signals. The body tightly regulates blood calcium levels, and when intake is inadequate, the body draws on calcium stores in bones and teeth.

It’s important for kids and teens to get enough calcium, so that they are able to achieve their height potential and an optimal bone mass, which is reached by age 30. After age 40 or so, bone density inevitably begins to decline and a person with insufficient calcium stores is at risk for osteoporosis. Fortunately, bone loss can be slowed by a diet adequate in calcium and with regular physical activity!

It’s always best to obtain vitamins and minerals from food sources, rather than by taking a supplement. In fact, calcium supplements may be less effective at building strong bones, which may be due to the fact that other micronutrients found in a well-balanced diet – including vitamin D, vitamin K, magnesium and phosphorus – all play necessary roles in bone metabolism.

Some of the best sources of calcium come from the dairy group, but there are great vegetarian sources as well! Besides milk, yogurt and cheese, broccoli, collard greens, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, bok choy and kale are also excellent sources of calcium. Note that spinach, rhubarb and Swiss chard appear equal to milk in calcium content, but they actually provide little calcium to the body, because these foods also contain compounds that prevent absorption of the mineral.

1 cup milk = 300mg calcium

1.5 oz cheddar, mozzarella, muenster cheese = 250mg calcium

1 oz (~1 slice) American cheese = 160mg calcium

1 cup plain, nonfat yogurt = 300-400mg calcium

3 oz sardines (with bones) = 324mg calcium

1 cup enriched soymilk = 350mg calcium

1 cup soymilk, unfortified = 60mg calcium

1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice = 300mg calcium

1 egg = 25mg calcium

½ cup tofu = 275mg calcium

½ cup black-eyed peas (cooked) = 105mg calcium

1.5 cup broccoli (cooked) = 90mg calcium

100% whole grain waffle = 100-200mg calcium

So, what if you don’t drink milk? If you’re lactose intolerant, lower-lactose or lactose-free products are available, as well as enzymes that can be taken orally or added to the milk. Calcium-fortified juice and soy beverages provide calcium as well, but they may not provide other important nutrients found in dairy products.

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