Tag Archives: fiber

Are Potatoes Good For You?

Happy St. Patty’s Day! In honor of my Irish ancestors who subsisted on potatoes, I’m celebrating this holiday by highlighting the spud’s nutritional benefits. Potatoes are a humble vegetable, often judged by starch load and preparation method, instead of their rich potassium, fiber and antioxidant content!

The typical American diet is low in fruits and vegetables and, therefore, most of us consume only half the daily potassium recommendation (4,700 mg/day). Potassium is a mineral that plays a role in nerve function, muscle contraction and fluid and electrolyte balance. When combined with an effort to curb your sodium intake, high potassium consumption is associated with the prevention and reversal of high blood pressure. Bananas are a famous source of potassium, yet they contain only 50% of the whopping 844 mg of potassium that a baked Russet potato has to offer.

Put down the peeler! One of the healthiest parts of a potato is the skin, which is packed with fiber and antioxidants. The skin of a medium Russet potato packs 4 grams of fiber (20-35 gm/day is recommended). Fiber can help lower cholesterol, maintain bowel regularity, slow the absorption of carbs into your bloodstream and may decrease the risk of colon and rectal cancer.

Potatoes come in a variety of colors, from red, white and blue, to the orange flesh of a sweet potato. Phytochemicals are plant compounds responsible for these colored pigments. When they act as antioxidants, phytochemicals are thought to be beneficial in protecting against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Despite their many health benefits, I’m not encouraging you to chow down on scalloped potatoes, French fries, or a baked tater stuffed with all the fixings! Nix the butter, bacon, cheese and sour cream toppings in exchange for steamed broccoli, sautéed onions, fresh herbs and Greek yogurt. I also suggest you try making oven-baked potato wedges. Slice an Idaho potato into 6-8 segments and toss in a bowl with olive oil and rosemary or thyme. Place wedges flat side down on a cookie sheet and bake at 400°F for approximately 20-30 minutes, flipping them at the half-way point. Alternatively, you can use the same technique to prepare bite-sized, oven-roasted, red potatoes (my personal favorite!)

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Heart Healthy Choices, Meal Tips, Vitamins & Minerals

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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Filed under Dairy, Food Groups, Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Weight loss

Protecting your heart

Q: My doctor says I have high cholesterol. What can I do to lower it?

A: There are several components to a “lipid profile” – total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. If your physician is telling you that you have “high cholesterol,” he is referring to either the total cholesterol number, your LDL reading or both. A desirable profile is as follows:

Total cholesterol <200 mg/dl

LDL cholesterol <130 mg/dl

HDL cholesterol >40 mg/dl (>50 mg/dl for women)

Triglyceride level <150 mg/dl

Cholesterol is a component of animal products and is not found in plant-based foods. It is necessary in the body for the production of bile, which helps digest fats, and steroid hormones (e.g. vitamin D, estrogen and testosterone). While the body utilizes cholesterol for important functions, the liver is also able to synthesize necessary amounts – it is not necessary to ingest it as part of your diet! Total cholesterol, LDL and triglyceride levels that are too high put you at risk for cardiovascular disease.


Let’s focus on LDL cholesterol, since it has been linked to atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Several factors influence LDL levels, including age, diabetes, obesity, reduced estrogen levels and diet.  Diets high in saturated fat and cholesterol elevate LDL. In addition, trans-fats can raise LDL and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol – a double whammy!

Lower your saturated fat intake! Saturated fat intake has a much greater negative effect on blood cholesterol than does dietary cholesterol. (Dietary cholesterol, however, is often found in the same foods that are high in saturated fat.) Choose lean meats, select skim milk, low-fat dairy products and stick to vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature (e.g. cook with olive or canola oil, rather than butter or lard.) To further cut back on fat intake, remove the skin from chicken before eating, substitute margarine for butter and grill or bake fish, meat and poultry instead of frying.

Eat a minimum amount of trans-fat. Select products that are made with no hydrogenated (or partially hydrogenated) vegetable oils. Check the ingredient list before buying!!

Lastly, up your intake of viscous or soluble fiber. Choose more fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, especially barley and oats.

While there are several ways to manage blood cholesterol levels with medication, try modifying your diet first. Just a 1-point decrease in your LDL cholesterol level corresponds to a 1-2% decrease in your risk for developing coronary heart disease!

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Benefits of Fiber

Q: What exactly is ‘fiber’ and why is it so good for you?

A: Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate, or a string of sugar units held together by bonds that human digestive enzymes cannot break. There are two types: soluble and insoluble fiber.

Food Sources

Soluble fiber: barley, oats, oat bran, rye, fruits (especially apples and citrus), beans, vegetables, seeds

Insoluble fiber: Brown rice, fruits, beans, seeds, vegetables (cabbage, carrots, brussels sprouts), wheat bran, whole grains

While fiber does not provide energy, it has many other beneficial effects:

1. Lowers blood cholesterol: Soluble fiber reduces cholesterol and the risk of heart disease by several mechanisms. (Note: This is why General Mills is able to claim that eating whole grain oat Cheerios can help lower your cholesterol.)

2. Maintains bowel function: Insoluble fiber speeds up the transit of food through your system, while soluble fiber slows it down.

3. Assists blood glucose control: Soluble fiber slows the absorption of glucose from the intestine into the blood stream, thereby preventing a spike (and crash) in blood glucose after a meal. This can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.

4. Promotes weight management: Fiber makes you feel full and lessens hunger

5. May defend against colon and rectal cancer: Scientific studies are mixed, but insoluble fiber speeds up the removal of cancer-causing agents from the colon, while resident bacteria in the colon ferment soluble fiber, producing a beneficial compound that may help colon cells resist injury.

Recommended Intake: Since most fiber-rich foods supply a mixture of soluble and insoluble fiber, recommendations are given without regard to type. The American Dietetic Association suggests 20 – 35 grams of fiber daily, which is about twice the average intake. That said, don’t overload on fiber and make sure to increase fluid consumption as you gradually increase fiber intake.

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans are among the best sources of fiber! Also, remember that fiber supplements are not necessarily substitutes for whole, fiber-rich foods.

Check the nutrition facts on the back of products to find out how much fiber is in one serving! Here are some examples:

½ cup whole grain barley – 3g fiber

½ cup instant oatmeal – 2g fiber

1 slice whole wheat bread – 3g fiber

1 slice white bread – 1g fiber

½ cup cooked brown rice – 2g fiber

½ cup cooked white rice – less than 1g fiber

¾ cup (2 oz) whole wheat penne pasta, dry – 6g fiber

¾ cup (2 oz) regular penne pasta, dry – 2g fiber


1 medium apple (with skin) – 3g fiber

1 medium pear (with skin) – 5g fiber

½ cup blackberries – 4g fiber

½ cup strawberries – 2g fiber

1 medium orange – 4g fiber

½ cup orange juice – less than 1g fiber

½ cup American grapes – less than 1g fiber


½ cup lentils – 8g fiber

½ cup chickpeas (garbanzo beans) – 5g fiber

½ cup black beans – 7.5g fiber


½ cup cooked broccoli – 2.5g fiber

1 medium artichoke – 10g fiber

1 medium baked potato (with skin) – 4.5g fiber

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Whole vs. Refined Grains

Q: Why are whole grains healthier than refined grains?

A: The wheat kernel contains four main components: the germ – rich in oils, vitamins and minerals, the starchy endosperm, the nutrient- and fiber- packed bran coating and the inedible husk. A “whole grain” refers to a grain milled in its entirety, except for the husk. Examples of nutritious whole grains include amaranth, barley, buckwheat, bulgar, corn, millet, quinoa, brown rice, oats and whole wheat. Refining grains removes the coarse parts of the kernel, which leaves only the starchy endosperm and causes the loss of fiber, vitamins and minerals.  All refined products (e.g. white bread, white pasta) are required to be enriched with iron, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate to combat deficiencies in these nutrients. Unfortunately, even enriched products remain nutritionally inferior to whole grains. For example, a slice of enriched white bread contains only 18% of the amount of vitamin B-6 that a slice of whole grain bread contains, and only a quarter of the amount magnesium and fiber.

The bottom line? Whole grains are much more nutrient dense than refined grains. When at the grocery store, do not judge by color alone! Look for products, such as breads, pastas, cereals and crackers, which contain “100% whole grains” or the word “whole” in front of the grain name on the ingredient list. For example, the ingredient label on a box of Cheerios tells us that the product is made from “whole grain oats.” Be cautious – “wheat bread” or “multi-grain crackers” may list  “unbleached enriched wheat flour” first on the ingredient list, which means it’s not made with healthy whole grains!

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