Do you take a multivitamin everyday? Choose beverages with added vitamins? If you answered yes, you may want to rethink your routine. Recent studies have shown that too much of the vitamin, folic acid, may be linked to an increased risk of breast, prostate andcolon cancer.
Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate, which is necessary for producing healthy red blood cells. So, too little folate can lead to anemia. If you're a woman in your child bearing years, folate is essential for reducing the birth defect spina bifida. For this reason, foods made from refined grains such as breads, pastas and cereals have added folic acid.
If you start your day with a bowl of cereal, take a multivitamin and then grab a vitamin enhanced water after your work-out, you may be getting way more than the 400 micrograms (mcg) needed daily for adults. In fact, outside testing of some popular vitamin waters have shown they contain much greater levels of folic acid than advertised. The truth is, one type was shown to have 1500% more folic acid than shown on the label.
Now the problem only seems to come from an excess of the synthetic form, folic acid. You can eat as much as you want of naturally occurring folate, which is in foods like beans, oranges, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, peas, romaine lettuce and peanuts.
So they next time you're thinking about a vitamin enhanced beverage, or a vitamin pill with more than 100% of your daily needs, you might want to think twice. You could be getting too much of a good thing.
A few months ago, the National Dairy Council launched a campaign called Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk. This was in response to a number of schools removing the popular, flavored milk from their menus. If you have kids in school, you might be familiar with this issue which continues to be debated by parents, educators and health professionals.
The reason for removing the questionable milk? The small amount of added sugar. Chocolate, like plain milk, contains nine essential nutrients including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, protein, vitamins A, D and B12, riboflavin and niacin. Research shows that kids who drink flavored milk actually meet more of their nutrient needs, do not take in more sugar, and are not more overweight than non-milk drinkers. The belief is, if you remove the sweeter chocolate milk the kids will go with plain instead. But this is not the case. The studies show that removing chocolate milk resulted in up to a 63% decrease in milk consumption.
Now, I'm not saying that all kids must drink milk. I know some non-milk drinkers who eat other sources of milk's nutrients. However, my personal experience as a mom, and dietitian, has shown that most of the time, this isn't the case. I'm always surprised how few kids and teens are consistently drinking milk. Since many of these kids are also not eating a lot of vegetables, soy or other low-fat dairy, their diets are deficient in essential nutrients. At a time of rapid growth and bone formation, this is not a time to be missing out on nutrition.
I know, I recently wrote about limiting foods with added sugar. The key message here is making educated choices about the sweetened foods in your diet. Isn't it better for kids to have a little added sugar with a very nutritious food, than not choose this food at all? When it comes to the option of chocolate milk in schools, my hand is raised. Is yours?
At the gym, I couldn't help but peek at the magazine with Jillian Michaels on the cover. For anyone who doesn't watch reality TV, she's the tough-as-nails fitness trainer from The Biggest Loser. Now that she's a star, she's offering nutrition advice. My only fear is that people are listening.
In the article, the reporter describes how Jillian gives her a cup of coffee with coconut milk. Jillian explains that the coconut milk is "super good for you, and has more vitamin D than regular milk". Huh???
The reality is, coconut milk is very high in saturated fat, which is known to increase the risk of heart disease. And it contains no vitaminD. In fact, a cup of coconut milk has 552 calories and a whopping 57 grams of saturated fat. That's more saturated fat than a stick of butter! While virgin coconut oil has become the in-thing in many health food circles, there is very little scientific research to support most of the health claims.
On the other hand, a cup of whole milk is only 150 calories and 5 grams of saturated fat. And yes, it is an excellent source of vitamin D. Use a reduced fat version and you'll save even more calories. If you're trying to lose weight and protect your heart, which would you rather put in your coffee?
Jillian Michaels' expertise is in fitness training. And of course, she's a celebrity. So does that make her an expert in nutrition? Does she understand biochemistry and how to examine scientific research? Be careful who you listen to for nutrition advice. Just something to think about over your next cup of coffee. And be sure to use the milk.
With the eating and drinking of the holidays behind us, many people are looking for a fresh start. In Hollywood, cleanses and detox diets are all the rage. When we look at these beautiful stars, it's easy to believe they are doing something right. Fasting, juicing, vinegar, pills and powders all have their following. While this might sound like a good idea, does it really work?
Our bodies have their own built-in detox systems - the kidneys, liver, lungs, colon and lymphatic system. These systems are pretty efficient at getting rid of toxins introduced from our environments, as well as those created through normal metabolism. While it sounds magical, there is no scientific evidence to show that special diets, vitamins or herbs, help us eliminate more unwanted toxins.
Not only don't they work, some detoxing regimens could actually be dangerous. While a one day fast offers no benefit, and is probably harmless, longer fasts could be risky for some. As for the powders and pills, these are considered supplements and are not regulated. In the past, some supplements have been found to contain prescription drugs, as well as contaminants, like lead. If this is the case, you could actually be eating toxins as part of your detox.
What's the best way to detox? Start the year with a healthy diet. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain antioxidants, which neutralize the free radicals, or "toxins", created by normal metabolism. These same foods contain fiber which most of us need more of. And eating enough fiber will help move things through your digestive tract, naturally "cleansing" your colon. Avoid processed foods when possible, include some lean protein and low-fat soy milk or dairy, and you'll have a balanced diet. Now that's a "detox" plan for a healthy 2010!
As 2009 comes to a close, many of us will celebrate with our favorite alcoholic beverage. So, as we raise our glass and welcome 2010, join me in looking back at what we've learned so far about alcohol and health.
Yes, it's true, sensible drinking may have some health benefits. In moderation, alcohol may protect the brain against dementia and Alzheimer's disease. When it comes to our hearts, alcohol may offer protection by raising HDL or "good cholesterol" , decreasing inflammation, and preventing clots that can cause heart attacks. In some cases, moderate drinking has been shown to lower blood pressure which also protects the heart. Just recently, research has shown that reasonable alcohol intake could even protect your bones by increasing their density and reducing fractures.
The key word here is moderation. In excess, alcohol can damage the brain, liver, bones, stomach and pancreas. So what's moderate drinking? For women this includes 1 drink per day, and 2 for men. One drink is considered 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.
Now the bad news. When it comes to breast cancer, even one drink a day can increase your risk. Some researchers have shown that alcohol increases estrogen. While this same boost could protect your heart, it might also contribute to breast cancer.
So how do you choose between your heart, brain, bones or breasts? Look at your lifestyle and family history. Do you eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains? Exercise and maintain a healthy weight? If you have a family history of heart disease or Alzheimer's, then maybe that daily cocktail is just fine. If your family has a history of breast cancer, then you may want to rethink that glass of wine. We all make decisions every day that carry both risks and benefits. How often do you drive your car? So, if you choose to raise your glass this New Year's Eve, do so in moderation, and don't forget to toast to your health.
Happy New Year!
Kim Kulp, RD
* Journal of the National Cancer Institute; March, 2009
*American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; April, 2009
*Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research; February, 2009
When people choose to improve their diets, they often tell me they're giving up sugar. While that can be a good idea, it's certainly not easy.
Sugar occurs naturally in a variety of healthy, whole foods such as milk, yogurt and fruit. However, it's the addedsugar that we all need to watch. This is trickier since it's often hiding in places you'd least expect, like spaghetti sauce, salad dressing and soup. Unfortunately, the food labels aren't much help, since the listed grams of sugar don't differentiate between what's naturally occurring or what's added.
The American Heart Association has recommended that women not exceed 100 calories of added sugar, and men 150 calories each day. This translates to no more than 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men. For reference, a 12 oz can of soda has about 10 teaspoons of added sugar. So how do you know where that added sugar is hiding? Read the ingredient list.
Added sugar has many names. Other than sugars, honey or molasses, look for dextrose, fructose, sucrose, glucose, fruit juice concentrate or malt, cane and corn syrups. Once you start reading ingredient lists, you'll be surprised at how many products actually contain added sugar.
So what's the problem with too much added sugar? Other than providing energy (calories), sugar has no nutritional value. When you eat too much sugar, there's no room for the nutritious foods you need. And, if you eat too many calories, you'll gain weight. For some people, too much sugar can cause an increase in triglycerides, which can lead to heart disease. Of course, if you want to help your dentist buy a new car, then consuming a lot of sugar could definitely help.
To cut back on added sugar, avoid processed foods when you can. If you can't, read the labels and try to make choices with the least amount of "sugar aliases" as possible. Save your added sugar for those foods you enjoy most, and make those 6-9 teaspoons a day really count!
Here comes the joy of holiday treats, and with it the fear of gaining weight. You might have heard the average person gains five pounds between Thanksgiving and New Years. Now here’s the good news. Research shows the average gain is only a little less than a pound. Unfortunately, most holiday weight gain sticks around, adding up year after year.
Better news. With some simple planning, you can enjoy those wonderful holiday parties, and still wear your favorite jeans come January 1st.
1. When you’re getting ready for a party, think P.O.T.S.
2. Prepare - don’t go to a party hungry. Start with a healthy breakfast, and don’t skip meals. If you’re feeling ravenous, you’ll have no control.
3. Observe - take time to look over the holiday table. Pick your three favorites and take a small portion, about the size of your palm. Fill the rest of your plate with veggies and lighter fare. Then step away from the buffet table.
4. Taste and Savor - slow down, and pay attention to the textures, and flavors of each bite. Chew thoroughly. It takes about 20 minutes for our bodies to signal we’re full, and you’ll be surprised at how much more satisfying and filling your choices will be.
5. When given food as gifts, spread the wealth – bring the gifts to a party, the office, or give them away. This is a time when re-gifting can be a good thing.
6. Have fun – remember, the best part of the season is spending time with others. Enjoy the conversation, and focus on interests and activities other than food.
7. Picture yourself a success!