At some point, you may have heard or read that yogurt is good for you, so you’ve been faithfully eating it ever since. Or maybe you’ve been choking it down even though you don’t like it. Or maybe you’ve been avoiding it for some other reason but are still regularly told that you “should” eat it.
We hear so much about yogurt in part because it is considered a probiotic food. Probiotic foods are those consisting of live bacteria and yeasts that help colonize the digestive tract with health-promoting microorganisms. Whoa, what does that even mean?
Probiotics are most well known for their role in promoting good digestion, or, in other words, bowel “regularity”. Probiotics have also been shown to have numerous other health benefits, including positive effects in:
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Inflammatory bowel disease
Infectious diarrhea and antibiotic-related diarrhea
Skin conditions, e.g. eczema
Urinary and vaginal health conditions
Allergies and colds
Additionally, probiotics are associated with increased resistance to c. difficile, an infectious bacteria that may cause severe diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, and they promote optimal digestion of anti-inflammatory compounds found in food, which are also known to have health benefits. Probiotics are linked to prevention of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. They may reduce depression and anxiety, improve heart health, and improve immune function.
So, what foods contain probiotics? Here are some non-yogurt, probiotic-rich foods:
Apple cider vinegar (raw)
Some of these may sound foreign to you, but most are widely available at large grocery stores and Walmart. Click here to read more about the above foods, as well as a few more obscure probiotic-rich foods.
In addition to probiotics, the digestive system also needs prebiotics, which are non-digestible fibers found in food that help promote growth and activity of beneficial microorganisms in the gut, i.e. probiotics. So, probiotics need prebiotics. Foods containing high amounts of prebiotics include:
Raw or cooked onions
Raw dandelion greens
Raw Jerusalem artichoke
Additionally, other raw fruits and vegetables also contain prebiotics, though in lower amounts than those listed above.
Together, prebiotics and probiotics help to promote and maintain balanced gut bacteria, which is important for both good digestion and lowering overall disease risk.
It may seem overwhelming to consider all of this information at once, but don’t be afraid to take baby steps toward better health! Aim to eat a serving of either rawfruit or vegetable (prebiotic) or a serving of something fermented or cultured (probiotic) at each meal. And stay tuned for a future post that more thoroughly discusses IBS specifically.
Oh, sugar. We all know about the sweet stuff. We’ve all tried it, and at one time or another, we’ve all added it to our food or drink. There’s no denying that sugar is sweet, tasty, and easily incorporated into just about everything. But just because it tastes good and is readily available, should we really be consuming as much of it as we do? Likely, the answer is “No.”
To date, sugar’s effects on health have been widely studied, and the general consensus is that there can be too much of a good thing–not to mention that most Americans greatly exceed recommended sugar intake on a regular basis. Many studies have found that a diet high in added sugars greatly increases a person’s chances of being obese, as well as the risk for having high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease. For more information about the harmful effects of a diet high in sugars, click here.
So, how do you know if you could stand to decrease your sugar intake, and what changes should you make to accomplish this? Read below to find out.
Added Sugars vs. Natural Sugars
All sugars are similar in that they are simple forms of carbohydrates. That being said, not all sugars are created equal. It’s important to consider natural sugar vs. added sugar. Natural sugars are found in foods like fruit and milk. These minimally processed foods are also natural sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and protein and are very much a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Added sugars, on the other hand, are found in highly processed and much less natural food items. As you might imagine, these sugars are not naturally present in food and are instead added to foods and drinks after processing to improve taste and texture. Oftentimes, foods with a lot of added sugar also contain a lot of not-so-healthy fat and sodium but don’t contain a great amount of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Added sugars can be sneaky, and it’s very easy to consume a large amount of them if you’re unaware of where they lurk.
So, where exactly are these added sugars hiding? The most common food and drinks that contain added sugars are listed below.
Packaged cookies, pastries, donuts and candy
Packaged foods like cereal, ready to eat meals, flavored oatmeal
Dressings, condiments, marinades, and sauces
Ice creams, flavored milk, and yogurt
Juices, sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and coffee drinks
As you can see, added sugar is all around. According to the American Heart Association, women should limit their added sugar intake to no more than 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day, while men are limited to 9 teaspoons (150 calories). This limit does not include the natural sugars that were mentioned earlier. As of now, nutrition facts labels on food items do not have a line indicating how much added sugars are in a product, so determining this takes a bit of effort. Added sugar often goes by several names, which can be identified by checking the ingredients list found near the nutrition facts label:
High fructose corn syrup
Added sugars are sneaky, and it’s hard to completely avoid them. But, there are ways to reduce the amount of sugar you might be used to eating. When buying food products, look for those labeled “unsweetened” or “no sugar added”, incorporate more water or unsweetened teas instead of sugary beverages (remember, hydration is important!), and focus on the basics of building a healthy plate . Artificial sweeteners may also be an option, but there’s no consensus as to whether or not regular consumption of them is beneficial to health. Ideally, it’s best to decrease added sugar by working on the above suggestions rather than just switching to artificial sweeteners.
As you can see, added sugars are pretty prevalent in the average American diet. When eaten in moderation, these sugars can fit into a healthy diet; however, it’s easy to have too much of a good thing. For more tips on how to reduce sugar intake, click here. Speaking to a dietitian can also be very helpful in decreasing sugar in a more individualized way. As always, don’t hesitate to email email@example.com with any questions or concerns.
This post was written in large part by Taylor Beard, dietetic intern at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Taylor will be eligible to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in May of 2018.
For many people, snacking is necessary to maintain energy levels throughout the day and prevent excessive hunger and dramatic drops in blood sugar. There are many benefits to snacking, and if done thoughtfully, snacking between meals can be part of a healthy lifestyle plan. Potential benefits of snacking include the opportunity to consume more vitamins, minerals, and fiber, as well as satisfy hunger between meals so that overeating doesn’t occur when meal time rolls around.
A lot of people may find snacking scary or detrimental to a healthy lifestyle because it can lead to what may feel like non-stop eating. When thinking about snacks, convenience foods like cookies, chips, and candy may come to mind, as these are easily available and easy to eat on the go. The problem with these types of snacks is that they tend to be very high in unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium. They also may be high in calories but low in vitamins and minerals, which is not ideal. Frequently snacking on these items can contribute to undesirable weight gain, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Portion size of snacks may also be of concern; sometimes, what was intended to be a snack can turn into what could actually be considered a meal. In general, 1-2 snacks per day, at about 150-200 calories each, is appropriate for most people.
When choosing snacks, it is important to choose foods that will fuel the body, contribute to health, and leave you satisfied until the next meal. Ideally, a snack consists of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. In combination, these three nutrients. known as macronutrients, make a powerful and healthy snack that will keep you full and satisfied between meals. Sometimes it’s not possible to create an ideal snack, but keep in mind that pairing two different types of foods together is a good guideline. For example, pineapple provides mostly carbohydrates, but pineapple and cottage cheese together provides carbohydrate, protein, and a bit of fat. Unsure about what foods contain what macronutrients? Check out the lists below for ideas.
Peanut butter (or any other nut butter, e.g. almond, cashew, etc.)
Ground flax seed
Dried fruit (ideally with no sugar added)
Bread (ideally 100% whole grain)
Whole grain cereal (think Cheerios or shredded wheat)
Whole grain waffle
Whole grain crackers (think Triscuits or Beanitos)
Lean turkey, ham, or roast beef
Lean beef or turkey jerky
Try combining an item from each list to create a great snack that will nourish you and keep you full. Below is a list of snack ideas that combine all three components and will provide you with some healthy fuel between meals.
½ nut butter & jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread
Apple or celery with peanut butter
1 boiled egg with ¼ of an avocado
Trail mix made with dried cranberries, almonds, and cashews
Raw vegetables with hummus
Cheese stick with fresh fruit
Tortilla chips with salsa or guacamole
Snacking can be a wonderful and necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. By planning ahead, being mindful of portions, and remembering the recommendation to pair two foods together, you can be sure that you’re providing optimal fuel to your body throughout the day. For more easy and healthy snack ideas, click here.
This post was written by Taylor Beard, dietetic intern at Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri. Taylor will be eligible to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist in May of 2018.
With all of the health-related information available these days, it’s sometimes difficult to know what foods to choose for meals and snacks. Good news: choosing and eating healthy meals and snacks doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive, and it can still taste good. One definition of the word “healthy”is indicative of, conducive to, or promoting good health.By that definition, there are a few simple points to keep in mind that can assist you in building a healthy plate without much fuss.
Many people probably remember the Food Pyramid or the many other versions of it that have existed over the years. The goal of these guides is to promote eating in a varied and balanced way. Variety refers to a bunch of different kinds of foods and is necessary for optimal intake of nutrients. Balance refers to eating these foods in proportions that are most beneficial to the body. The latest guide to healthy eating is called MyPlate, and its goal is to provide a visual representation of what variety and balance would look like at each meal. Below is an adapted version of the USDA’s MyPlate. This version divides a typical dinner plate into five sections: Whole Grains & Starches, Proteins, Healthy Fats, Digestives, Vegetables, and Fruits.
Whole Grains & Starches: Include high-fiber whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole grain breads and pastas, or starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, corn, and peas. Whole grains and starches make up about 1/4 of a plate. Be mindful of refined grains (white bread, white rice, pasta), and consider choosing whole grains half of the time.
Proteins: Include a variety of plant proteins such as beans, nuts, and seeds, as well as animal proteins like fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy. Proteins make up about 1/4 of a plate.
Healthy Fats: Include fats from whole foods such as avocado, nuts, and seeds. Use cold-pressed oils such as olive oil and sesame oil for dressings and marinades; use olive oil, coconut oil, and butter for cooking and baking. Fats make up a small portion of a plate, about the size of a ping pong ball, and are often included in cooking, e.g. chicken roasted with some olive oil.
Digestives (also known as probiotics):Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, miso, tempeh, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, kombucha, kefir, and fermented vegetables can aid in immune function, digestion, and support the normal flora of the digestive tract. Stay tuned for an upcoming post outlining the details of these foods.
Vegetables: Fill your plate with a variety of raw and cooked vegetables, making sure to choose different colors, e.g. dark green (broccoli, spinach), orange/red (tomatoes, bell peppers), purple (eggplant, red onion), white (cauliflower, onion, garlic), etc. Vegetables make up about 2/3 of a plate.
Fruits: Consume a variety of fruits with meals, snacks, or as a refreshing dessert choice. Fruit makes up to 1/4 of a plate and sometimes shares space with vegetables.
A couple more things: Water is included as the most healthful beverage to go along with meals (don’t forget the importance of staying hydrated!), and 8-12 oz. per meal and snack is generally appropriate. Also, you may have noticed some information on the graphic about choosing organic, free-range, grass-fed products. If these are accessible to you and you desire to choose them, that’s great; if they’re not accessible to you, don’t worry, and don’t let it cause you stress. You’ll reap the benefits of a balanced and varied plate, regardless of whether or not you choose organic products.
Below are some photos representing balanced meals with good variety.
As you can see, there are many commonly eaten meals that can easily fit into a health-promoting lifestyle. When attempting to adopt healthier habits, remember to make small changes and to avoid doing too much, too soon. A series of small changes made over time is much more sustainable and beneficial than totally overhauling your diet for a few weeks, becoming overwhelmed, and throwing in the towel. Below are some examples of SMART goals than can assist you in making sustainable, health-promoting choices:
Each day for lunch this week, I will eat an apple in addition to my regularly eaten peanut butter sandwich.
When ordering a hamburger, I will order it with lettuce, tomato, and onion, and/or have a side salad with it.
Next time I go grocery shopping, I’ll purchase two vegetables of different colors, e.g. broccoli and red peppers, to have with dinners a few times during the week.
Instead of eating sugary cereal for breakfast, I’ll have some oatmeal with blueberries and Greek yogurt.
Regardless of whether you plan meals and snacks ahead of time, regularly choose to eat out, or spontaneously put together several food items in hopes of it making a satisfactory meal, aiming for variety and balance as outlined abovecan go a long way in helping you to find better health if you desire it.
If you’ve been following along with the blog, you’ll recall several references to nutrition facts labels, which are found on packaged food products and can assist you in making health-promoting decisions about food. Specifically, these labels may come in handy when considering dietary fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber, and sugar.
With countless packaged food products available these days, nutrition facts labels can also be overwhelming and confusing, which is frustrating and definitely not health-promoting. Read on to learn how to understand them and use them to your benefit.
The graphic below is from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is an example of a nutrition facts label for macaroni and cheese. It’s divided into sections and color-coded for explanation purposes, but note that there are not sections or colors on any labels that you’ll see on products you’re purchasing.
Serving Size indicates the amount of food/beverage that is referenced on the Nutrition Facts label. The Servings Per Container indicates how many servings are included in the entire package. So, one serving of macaroni and cheese is one cup, and there are two cups total in the entire package.
Calories are a measure of energy received by ingesting a food/beverage. In the example, there are 250 calories per one cup of macaroni and cheese, which means there are 500 calories total in the package.
Note: if you’ve not yet read the previous posts about dietary fat, sodium, and fiber, click the links to do that now.
Trans Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium may be of particular interest here depending on individual health concerns. As a reminder, it’s best to avoid intake of Trans Fats. Some people may also be advised to limit intake of Saturated Fat and/or Cholesterol. Stay tuned for future posts on both of those.
Fiber and Sugar are of particular interest here. We know that most of us don’t get enough fiber and that fiber is good for stabilizing blood sugar. Use this simple math to choose foods that are a good source of fiber:
Divide the grams of Carbohydrates by 10. The result is how many grams of fiber you want. In the sample label above, there are 31 grams of Total Carbohydrate. 31/10 = 3.1 desired grams of Dietary Fiber.
Compare that number with grams of Dietary Fiber listed. As you can see, this particular variety of macaroni and cheese contains 0 grams of Dietary Fiber, which is less than the desired 3.1 grams, so you may want to look around for a whole grain variety, which would likely contain some fiber.
As you can see, there are a couple other things that could be considered when looking at a Nutrition Facts label. The Footnote (5) and The Percent Daily Value (%DV) (6) both provide additional information, though they are in reference to needs of 2,000 calories per day, which may not be applicable to everyone since calorie needs vary from person to person. You’ll also notice that there are some vitamins and minerals listed on the sample label above in blue. Generally speaking, the higher the percentage of vitamins and minerals the better. Note though, that vitamins and minerals are found in high quantities of foods that don’t usually have a label, e.g. fresh fruits and vegetables, so you’ll hopefully be getting vitamins and minerals from those foods, too.
One more thing: as if there wasn’t already enough to consider when trying to decipher Nutrition Facts labels, the FDA has issued an update to the label and has begun rolling out changes. Below is a graphic representing the old label (left) vs. the new label (right), which will likely be phased in over the next couple of years. The most important thing to note on the new label is the Added Sugars, which highlights the amount of sugar added to a food or drink, i.e. not found naturally in the product. Generally speaking, the lower the amount of Added Sugars, the better, but stay tuned for a future post on all things sugar.
Whew, that was a lot. If you made it all the way through, you’ll hopefully now have a better understanding of how to use Nutrition Facts labels to your benefit. Give them a look the next time you have a few minutes to spare while grocery shopping, and know that understanding and using them becomes easier with practice. As always, don’t hesitate to email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!