Food/Healthy Cooking

 

Oatmeal with mixed fruit and berries

We've got lots of other ideas for how to mix up a good meal for very little dough.

 
BUDGET BREAKFAST: Oatmeal with mixed fruit and berries is a healthy and inexpensive way to begin your day. (Photo: Foodie In Disguise/Flickr)
Does it sometimes feel like you have to take on a second mortgage to eat healthy? Is $10 a pound for organic meat out of your league? (it is for us :)  If so, here are some guidelines on healthy eating on a budget.
 
Breakfast
If you’re trying to save money on food, don’t skip breakfast. It’s the most important meal of the day because it revs up your metabolism. Try to eat by 10 a.m. to fuel your system. Buy the following items from a natural grocer (or even the healthy section of your regular store) and for less than $20 a week, you can have a healthy breakfast every day:
 
  • Locally-grown eggs (large; $4-5 per dozen)
  • Sprouted grain or rice flour bread ($4-$5 per sliced loaf)
  • Organic spinach ($2 a bunch)
  • Grass-fed cheese ($5 a pound; use cheese substitute if dairy intolerant)
  • Avocado ($1-$2 per)
Making an egg sandwich every morning with the above ingredients should satiate you for at least three hours or longer, before you’re ready for a snack or lunch. Sure, you could save even more money by buying industrial, large factory-farmed eggs, white bread and nacho cheese dip but that most likely would not be considered healthy eating by most nutritionists.
 
Getting tired of breakfast sandwiches? Oatmeal or quinoa cost up to $5-$6 per box and usually have 5 to 20 servings. Mix in a handful of fresh berries, a dab of cream (a little fat is good for you and will keep you full longer) and almond butter.
 
Lunch
SaladTime for lunch yet? Nutrient-dense salads are a perfect way to eat healthy on a budget. Organic spring mix salad, or spinach, or any other bunch of greens costs much less than a ticket to the movies. But eating greens alone won’t satisfy. If you ate oatmeal for breakfast, throw in one or two chopped hard-boiled eggs. Here are some other ingredients to make a satisfying, inexpensive, healthy salad:
 
  • Raw sunflower seeds
  • Olives
  • Blueberries
  • Walnuts
  • Feta cheese
  • Canned tuna or sardines (if you like the smell and taste)
  • Edamame (unprocessed soy beans)
 
All these healthy salad ingredients will last you for at least a week, keep you full for several hours and won’t break the bank.
 
Dinner
Don’t have time to make a salad for lunch? Make one for dinner. Better yet, prepare your salad at night, after the kids have gone to bed. It will only take you about 5 minutes to prepare. Make sure you pack your salad with enough protein and natural fat so you won’t get hungry an hour after eating and then go to splurge at a restaurant.
 
You can, of course, also eat a salad for dinner. But to mix things up, try making a quinoa pasta dish. A box of quinoa spaghetti from Ancient Harvest (organic and gluten free) costs less than $3 from most natural markets. If you’re single and cooking for yourself, a box will last you at least a few days. Cooking for kids? Quinoa pasta comes in other varieties besides spaghetti, including vegetable medley spiral noodles. Alternate between the pastas and for about $15 a week, you should have enough for the whole family.
 
Add some veggies and spices and voila, a delicious, healthy budget-minded dinner.
 
The secret to eating healthy for cheap
The key to eating healthy on a budget is not to eat out. Sure, there are plenty of healthy options when eating out, but if you’re concerned with saving as much money as possible, cook at home.
 
Wild sockeye salmonGrill up a pound of wild sockeye salmon (about $10-$12 a pound) and cut into little pieces and mix in with the quinoa pasta to receive the mega-nutritious benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. This should make for several meals. 
 
There are plenty of other ways to eat a healthy, budget-conscious dinner. Got a hankerin’ for some meat? Healthy, humanely raised meat is cost-prohibitive for most people on a budget. Explore food co-ops in your area or go in with some friends on home-delivered small-farm, grass-fed meats to reduce the cost.
 
It’s no wonder that many low-income families eat unhealthy foods. Buying all organic can be expensive. But for around the same price as a fast-food value meal, you can cook yourself something healthy. It might just save you money on health care in the long run.
 
Got any other healthy-eating-on-a-budget ideas? Please share them.
 
Judd Handler is a health coach and writer in Encinitas, Calif.
 
Photos: ccharmon/Flickr; sporkist/Flickr; MNN homepage photo: iStockphoto

 

Woman taking a vegan omega-3 supplement

This important fatty acid is most commonly found in oily, cold-water fish. So what's a fish-shunning herbivore to do? We've got ideas on how vegetarians can include omega-3s in their diets.

 
Photo: Supri Suharjoto/Shutterstock
Next time you’re in the supermarket, take a look at some of the products fortified with omega-3 fatty acids: waffles, peanut butter, eggs, milk and yogurt, bread, orange juice and fake butter spreads.
 
Are sources of omega-3s for vegetarians as potent as cold-water, oily fish such as salmon and sardines?
 
Fish and fish oil are generally regarded as the best sources of these fatty acids, which we need to get from food, so what’s a fish-shunning herbivore to do? Especially when research has concluded that a diet rich in omega-3s:
 
 
study in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine analyzed research on fish oil dating back to 1970 and concluded that omega-3s reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides as well.
 
(The same study also revealed that very high doses may prolong bleeding. Another study, from the University of Connecticut, stated that high doses cause blood vessels to rupture, possibly inducing stroke, so don’t start popping a fistful of fish oil pills.)
 
Strict vegetarians can cut out the middle man, er, fish
Fish aren’t born naturally oozing omega-3s out of their gills. It’s their diet of algae, krill, plankton and other microscopic primordial matter that flush the fish full of fatty acids. In essence, we get omega-3s from the fish because fish eat algae.
 
Strict vegetarians can now take supplements derived from algae that are free of fish oil. It’s best to get an algae supplement that contains both DHA and EPA, which are two of the three omega-3 fatty acids and regarded as the most beneficial fatty acids for health.
 
Fish oils are loaded with DHA and, to a lesser extent, EPA, both of which are found in the human brain and retina. One would assume that since fish get their fatty acid profile from algae, that algae supplements would be just as efficient as consuming a salmon filet.
 
Are DHA/EPA supplements as effective as whole fish?
We don’t know for sure, says, Edward Dennis, a professor at the University of California San Diego and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Lipid Research.
 
“Until researchers run a controlled study, it cannot be concluded that omega-3 supplements are as effective as omega-3-rich fish,” says Dennis, who is part of a "lipidomics" team of researchers, mapping out all the fatty acid molecules in the human body, much like "genomics" researchers a decade ago sequenced and mapped the protein-rich DNA sequences.
 
How many milligrams of omega-3 should I have each day?
Dennis also thinks there’s not enough scientific data for recommended dosages, although many health articles will suggest going for about one gram per day.
 
“Most physicians who give recommendations — either for vegetarians and omnivores — don’t have a basis for the dosage,” he says.
 
Should vegetarians consume more omega-3’s than non-vegetarians?
Not necessarily so, says a fatty acids researcher, who, coincidentally, is allergic to fish.
 
Dr. David Bernlohr of the University of Minnesota says he can’t eat fish because of an allergy, but he can stomach fish oil supplements.
 
“Certain fish have the highest fraction of omega-3s but you can clearly reach an equivalent amount by eating plant-based sources and taking supplements,” he says. “Even strict vegetarians can reap the benefits of the anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting properties that omega-3s offer.”
 
What about walnuts and flax seeds or oil? Aren’t they super rich in omega-3s?
Natural vegetarian sources like walnuts and flax seed and flax oil contain more ALA, the third type of omega-3.
 
Thus the dietary paradox for the strict vegetarian: On one hand, ALAs are the most bioavailable of the omega-3s (the body can metabolize it easier), but ALAs don’t do such a good job converting into DHA and EPA, which are widely regarded as being more potent. Some statistics claim only 5 percent of ALA gets turned into DHA and EPA.
 
Canola oil is high in omega-3According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, walnuts have the highest omega-3 content of any common nut, with 30 percent of it comprised of ALAs. (Only an Indonesian nut — the candlenut — has more.)
 
Flaxseed oil contains the richest amount of ALAs, though it does have a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, a common trait of the typical Western diet and a factor that the University of Maryland cites as a possible cause for inflammation.
 
Canola oil (at right) has the best omega-6 to omega-3 ratio: 2 to 1, making it a perfect salad dressing for vegetarians or for light sautéing cooking oil.
 
A final word on omega-3s for vegetarians:
The Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetics Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says, “Although vegetarians tend to have lower blood levels of long chain omega-3 fatty acids, it is sufficient to meet the needs of most people … however, certain factors can … adversely [affect] this important conversion process [including] high intakes of saturated fat, trans fatty acids, cholesterol and alcohol, an inadequate intake of energy or protein, or a deficiency of certain nutrients, such as zinc or copper.”
 
Photo: tellumo/Flickr
 
Are you a vegetarian? What other sources of Omega-3’s do you consume?
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

Woman thinking about eating chocolate

New research finds that cocoa helps improve blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, HDL cholesterol and overall cardiovascular health.

 
Photo: Yuri ArcursShutterstock
Cocoa, revered centuries ago by the Aztecs and Mayans as the ‘food of the gods,’ is now being worshipped by modern science.
 
Two recent independent studies at Harvard and another from Cambridge, published in the British Medical Journal, have found that cocoa is a superfood when it comes to improving, among other things:
 
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood vessel health
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • HDL Cholesterol
  • Overall prevention of cardiovascular disease
 
But do the benefits of cocoa outweigh the risks of eating too much chocolate?
 
Is chocolate—the combination of cocoa powder, cocoa solids (fats), sugar and other processing ingredients like soy lecithin and milk powders—a powerful medicinal food?
 
Should the two-thirds of American adults who are overweight consume it liberally in hopes of reversing the potential of developing heart disease and diabetes?
 
The answer, according to Eric Ding, a Harvard professor of nutrition and epidemiology, and co-author of a study on cacao in the Journal of Nutrition and another in the Current Cardiovascular Risk Report: you’d have to eat a lot of chocolate to derive the benefits of cacao.
 
Exactly how much?
It would take about eight bars of dark chocolate or 33 bars of milk chocolate to reduce the chance of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, to the level that the study participants achieved, says Ding.
 
For those watching their weight and sugar intake, “obviously, that’s a problem,” Ding tells the Mother Nature Network.
 
What Ding and other researchers have found is that a specific subcategory of the antioxidant group, flavonoids, specifically epicatechin (eh-pee-cat-a-kin), is the compound that gives cocoa (or cacao, as it’s also known) its myriad health benefits.
 
“Cocoa flavonoids are the main beneficial compound of chocolate. Dark chocolate has more flavonoids than milk chocolate and pure cocoa has the most,” Ding says.
 
Ding and his fellow researchers performed a meta-analysis of dozens of studies involving cocoa. The analysis involved 2,575 participants and concluded that the maximum benefits of cocoa were cashed in after consuming 400-500 mg of cocoa flavonoids per day. Subjects were given a combination of fortified shakes or powders or dark chocolate bars (bars being at least 65 percent cocoa; control parameters included keeping the amount of fat, sugar and total calories of the participants the same).
 
Due to both pure cocoa’s bitter taste and its relative lack of availability in the U.S., compared to processed chocolate bars (processing destroys most of the flavonoids), one can assume that most Americans would need to supplement with cocoa flavonoids.
 
Can I take a vitamin to get the health benefits of cocoa?
Sort of. Currently, there are 13 vitamins that are considered essential by theNational Institutes of Health. Although some vitamins are antioxidants, the free-radical-damage-fighting flavonoids found in chocolate are not considered essential.
 
So, at the moment, there are no epicatechin vitamins. There are, however, some cocoa supplements on the market, though not many.  It’s also unclear whether supplements are just as effective as naturally-occurring cocoa.
 
Dr. Norman Hollenberg, another Harvard researcher who has studied cocoa extensively, believes drinking pure cocoa is a certain prescription for good health. 
 
Hollenberg has observed for many years the ethnic Kuna group, who typically drink 5-6 cups of minimally-processed cocoa per day, on their offshore Panamanian island habitat.
 
Is drinking cocoa healthier than eating it?
Drinking unadulterated cocoa is certainly healthier than bingeing on a dozen bars of chocolate, thinks Hollenberg.
 
Although his studies of the Kuna were largely observational, compared to the controlled and random studies of Ding and other researchers, Hollenberg believes imbibing in liquid cocoa has kept the Kuna free of modern lifestyle disease.
 
But that begs the question: does the fact that the Kuna’s lifestyle lacks the same stressors as first-world workers bias Hollenberg’s hypothesis? How do we know that it’s not just the chocolate, but a combination of many factors?
 
“We just don’t know the answer to that; it’s very hard to quantify stress,” Hollenberg tells to Mother Nature Network.
 
But Hollenberg is betting on the cocoa. “The Kuna drink 40 cups of cocoa per person per week and manage, for the most part, to avoid getting four of the five most common killer diseases: stroke, heart failure, cancer and diabetes,” he says.
 
Are there other foods that contain the same beneficial compounds found in chocolate?
Yes. Every fruit and vegetable contains flavonoids. Hollenberg describes epicatechin as the ‘all-star’ flavonoid. Many fruits and vegetables contain both epicatechin and its closely-related compound, catechin.
 
So why not just ditch the chocolate all together and eat just fruits and vegetables?
 
“The flavonoids found in chocolate are too important to ignore,” says Hollenberg. “The health benefits are tremendous.”
 
Hollenberg, however, adds this cautionary last note, despite all the latest research on the health benefits of cocoa: “We know that cacao is good for you but we still don’t know if you need anywhere near the amount the Kuna drink; there remains a lot of research to do.”
 
Do you eat chocolate for health? Let us know below…
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

Bowl of tofu, sesame and spinach stir-fry

We sift through the research to let you know the good and bad about tofu.

 
Photo: Shutterstock
Now that a recent widely reported Harvard study concluded that red meat consumption shortens lives, should you be eating more plant-based sources of protein such as tofu?
 
Maybe yes, maybe no. As with many things in nutrition, it’s not a simple thing to decide. But, after reading about tofu nutrition facts, you can choose for yourself whether you want to include it in your diet.
 
Soy products, the second largest cash crop in the country, valued at $31 billion a year, contain antioxidant compounds called isoflavones, which are chemically similar to estrogen. It is these phyto- (plant) estrogens that have caused controversy in the nutrition world. 
 
Advocates of a rich soy-based diet say that products like tofu can:
  • reduce the risk of developing certain cancers
  • lower cholesterol
  • reduce the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease (CD)
  • heal hot flashes
  • prevent artheriosclerosis
 
But, anti-soy crusaders argue that diets high in phytoestrogens can wreak hormonal havoc by driving estrogen levels too high. 
 
Several research studies on soy's efficacy have been inconclusive. One study published in the American Association for Cancer Research failed to conclude any link between increased tofu consumption and lowered risk of prostate cancer.
 
The Journal of the National Cancer Research Institute published a Johns Hopkins University study concluding that it would be premature to recommend high isoflavone intake to prevent breast cancer or the recurrence of it.
 
Women experiencing undesirable side effects from menopause such as hot flashes are frequently urged to eat more tofu and other soy products to make up for the lost estrogen. But a University of Miami study shows that soy does not necessarily help women during menopause.
 
So where does the truth lie?
Like almost everything else in life, somewhere in the middle. Eating a lot of highly processed soy products (soy cheese, soy hot dogs, soy burgers) could potentially activate too many estrogen receptors in the body.
 
But eating a moderate amount of unprocessed tofu can be part of a balanced, nutritious, whole-food diet (say, a quarter of a block of tofu or fermented tempeh, or a small cup of edamame).
 
Soy proponents (especially marketers advertising it as a super food) say that products like tofu contain isoflavones that are potent antioxidants.
 
University of Washington professor Michael E. Rosenfelda nutrition researcher who focuses on the role of antioxidants and cardiovascular disease, recommends including tofu in the diet. But he admits that the role of soy as a powerful antioxidant capable of killing free radicals in human cells is still ambiguous.
 
Rosenfeld co-authored a study that concluded that genistein, the main isoflavone found in tofu, does not prevent arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). 
 
"We administered genistein to mice that developed cardiovascular disease (CD). The isoflavone supplement did not prevent progression of CD in older mice," says Rosenfeld, who also co-authored another study that found that the benefits of antioxidant supplements are also inconclusive, at best, and completely nonexistent, at worst.
 
Rosenfeld believes that tofu offers the full complement of compounds that cannot be derived from isoflavone supplements (similar to whole-food antioxidants being more effective, possibly, than antioxidant supplements).
 
But if you're in the winter of your life, Rosenfeld says that starting to eat tofu now likely won't help. The earlier that one consumes tofu in life, says Rosenfeld, the better.
 
"Up until now, there have been no studies that whole sources of soy, like tofu, can prevent or cure CD [cardiovascular disease]. The key is that CD markers can begin to develop in childhood. Foods like tofu really need to be consumed over a lifetime; CD will not be reversed if you start eating tofu at 50 years old."
 
What's in a serving of tofu?
One half-cup of tofu contains 10 grams of protein; 25 percent of the daily recommended value of calcium; 11 percent of iron; 5 grams of fat (mostly polyunsaturated, omega-6 fatty acids). One serving of tofu is relatively high in other minerals such as phosphorous, magnesium, copper, selenium, and especially manganese (40 percent of daily recommended value).
 
Because tofu also contains the aforementioned estrogen-like isoflavones, this brings up a common question amongst those paranoid to partake in soy and tofu.
 
Will men develop female characteristics if they eat tofu?
Rosenfeld unambiguously and emphatically says, "You’re not going to grow breasts if you eat tofu!"
 
In the studies he co-authored on genistein, Rosenfeld says, "Markers of effects that would represent estrogen receptor mediated responses were examined and nothing popped out in the study; there's nothing to worry about. You’d have to be taking huge amounts of purified phytoestrogen to have a huge impact."
 
The bottom line on tofu, according to Rosenfeld: it's a great source of protein for vegetarians and even carnivores should eat more of it.
 
"The more we can reduce our red meat intake, the better off we’ll be in the long run. People should replace red meat with other sources of protein such as tofu frequently. Consumption of red meat has been linked to multiple forms of cancer and elevated bad blood cholesterol from high saturated fat intake.
 
Is tofu really a healthier source of protein than red meat?
Not necessarily, according to Kaayla Daniel, a Ph.D. in nutritional sciences and anti-aging therapies, and author of the book "The Whole Soy Story: The Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food."
 
"Eating tofu every day could lead to problems," says Daniel. "If someone has a whole block of tofu at dinner and has a cup of soy milk for cereal and snacks on a whole bag of soybeans and eats a soy meal replacement bar, that amounts to a whopping amount of plant estrogens."
 
The problem with eating a diet rich in plant estrogens, says Daniel: "They may be weaker than human estrogens but nonetheless, they do affect the body's ability to use and make estrogen."  
 
Yet Daniel acknowledges that tofu does have a place in a healthy eating plan, if it's incorporated into the diet similar to how traditional Asians eat it.
 
"The traditional way in Asia involves eating a couple small squares in miso soup orfish broth," says Daniel, who adds that the problem is in the U.S. is: "We’re not eating only a few cubes, we’re eating the whole block."
 
What are the risks of eating large amounts of tofu?
According to Daniel, a whole cup of tofu contains 56 mg of isoflavones. Consumed on a daily basis, Daniel believes the potential for thyroid damage (in the form of hypothyroidism, which produces a sluggish thyroid) is the most serious risk, followed by potential reproductive system damage.
 
"What I would suggest is don’t eat tofu every day and never eat processed soy products,” she says. “Eating veggie burgers or a whole big bag of edamame is bad; including unprocessed tofu twice a week in a stir-fry is not bad."
 
If eating a lot of tofu and red meat is bad, what's left ... chicken?
Daniel alludes to the previously mentioned Harvard study on red meat as "Nonsensical...[a] complete misuse of statistics, involving an observational study of unhealthy individuals, using notoriously fallible food frequency questionnaires that produced unwarranted conclusions."
 
For the omnivore, Daniel suggests that a small serving of humanely raised grass-fed beef offers a lot of nutritional density. But the bottom line, whether it's red meat, or tofu: moderation is the key.
 
Daniel recommends tofu that has no additives and avoiding pre-flavored block tofu. "Don't get duped by ingredients listed as 'natural flavorings,’” she says. “They are the same as 'artificial flavors.'"
 
Can tofu affect your brain?
Possibly. A study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition involving Japanese-American men living on Oahu concluded that higher midlife tofu consumption was associated with cognitive impairment and brain atrophy later in life.
 
Now that's food for thought.
 
The estrogen-laden moral of the story: soy nuggets and tofu dogs? Avoid. Small portions of fermented tempeh, a block of tofu, or a small bowl of edamame? Enjoy in good health.
 
What do you think about tofu? Do you think it's a super-food? Only if it's in moderation and unprocessed? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer for MNN.com. He lives in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Athlete drinking water

With spring fast approaching, more athletes will head outdoors to sweat. Here are some ideas for how to prevent dehydration.

 
Photo: MitarArt/Shutterstock
With winter soon coming to an official close, weekend warrior athletes are dusting off their mountain bikes, running shoes, hiking boots and other adventure gear.
 
If you’re looking forward to getting outdoors more often, especially now that daylight hours are longer, don’t underestimate the power of sweat. The heat can take a toll on your body but here are some ideas for how to stay hydrated.
 
For most recreational athletes, the keys to hydration will be:
 
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Avoiding excess alcohol intake
  • Monitoring body weight and urine color
  • Drinking water before thirst sets in
 
What about avoiding caffeine?
Coffee drinkers, rejoice! Although most of us have heard that caffeinated beverages dehydrate, some research studies suggest that caffeine is no more a diuretic than water, and will not in fact dehydrate you.
 
Dr. Lawrence Armstrong, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, concluded, after reviewing other studies on caffeine, “…athletes and recreational enthusiasts will not incur detrimental fluid-electrolyte imbalances if they consume (caffeine) in moderation and eat a typical U.S. diet.”
 
Armstrong’s findings were published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.
 
Do I need a sports drink to stay hydrated?
Most likely, no. In fact, Armstrong does not recommend sports drinks for staying hydrated, but he does tell Mother Nature Network that research proves they are beneficial in a couple of situations.
 
“In rare instances, an athlete can have a severe carbohydrate deficiency, where glycogen stores in muscles and liver are completely depleted,” says Armstrong.
 
How do you know if you have depleted your glycogen stores? “You don’t really know for sure unless you do a biopsy,” says Armstrong.
 
But there are common symptoms when you hit the proverbial wall, such as headache, fatigue, dizziness, shakiness and extreme hunger.
 
If you experience any of these symptoms, you are severely dehydrated and should immediately replenish your electrolytes (sodium, potassium and other minerals) with a sports drink.
 
Armstrong offers this final word on sports drink: “Unless you’re an ultra-marathoner or have a rare sodium deficiency, which is not likely for those consuming a typical Western diet, you don’t need sports drinks.”
 
How much water should I drink and when should I drink it?
Courtney Pinard, research scientist at the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition in Omaha, Neb., says that if you wait until you’re thirsty while exercising, you are not staying hydrated.
 
“Biologically, once our thirst cues kick in, it’s most likely too late. You’re already dehydrated, so it’s important to stay on top of it and drink before, during and after exercising,” says Pinard.
 
Pinard recommends that female athletes drink 3 liters of water per day and male athletes should consume 4 liters.
 
“Pre-hydrate with two, 8-oz servings of water well before you exercise and try to consume around 32-oz. of water for every hour you exercise,” recommends Pinard, who concurs with Armstrong that if you eat a balanced diet, water is all you need to hydrate and you don’t need extra electrolytes — even if you’re a weekend warrior athlete grinding out a 90-minute mountain bike ride.
 
How can I tell if I’m properly hydrated?
Look at the color of your urine and also weigh yourself. If your urine is clear, you’re adequately hydrated; if it’s dark you are likely dehydrated.
 
If you urinate with adequate frequency, roughly every two hours or so, you are most likely hydrated. For those that take supplements rich in B Vitamins, the urine might be discolored with a bright green hue, but that does not mean you are dehydrated; it’s the vitamins being flushed out by the kidneys.
 
Dr. Armstrong recommends weighing yourself on a scale that is able to measure tenths-of-a-pound first thing in the morning for a week and using the most common number in the weekly reading as a baseline.
 
After you exercise, weigh yourself and if your weight is lower than your morning baseline reading, you may be dehydrated.
 
For each pound of bodyweight that you’ve lost, replace it with a pint of water to get back to your baseline.
 
Do you agree with the researchers? How do you stay hydrated while exercising?
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

A woman enjoying candy

We go through the different types of sugar addicts and offer some ideas for how to curb cravings.

 
Photo: auremar/Shutterstock
We take for granted the idea that sugar is bad for our bodies. And yet, we eat more and more of the stuff. Why? Well, we can’t say for sure but there’s some evidence to suggest sugar is an addictive substance.
 
A 2008 study by researchers at Princeton University supported the hypothesis that under certain circumstances, rats can become sugar dependant. The animals in the experiment displayed behaviors similar to those associated with addictive drugs, including binging, craving and opiate-like “withdrawal” marked by signs of anxiety and behavioral depression.
 
Learning how to stop sugar addiction can help prevent a life-long sentence in which addicts face the dangers of diabetesobesity and a host of other health ailments.
 
What type of sugar addict are you?
Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, author of four natural wellness books, including “Beat Sugar Addiction Now,” says that beating sugar addiction doesn’t take a one-size-fits-all approach.
 
Teitelbaum lumps sugar addicts into four categories:
 
  1. Chronically exhausted, energy-drink addicts, or as Dr. Teitelbaum calls the beverages, ‘energy loan-shark drinks.’
  2. Hungry, irritable sugar addicts who might be likely to tell you, “If I don’t eat now, I’m going to kill you.”
  3. Those with chronic congestion, sinusitis or spastic colons.
  4. Women who are perimenopausal (as well as some men who might have deficient levels of hormones like testosterone).
 
“Sugar cravings exist because food processors dump 150 pounds of sugar per person per year,” says Dr. Teitelbaum.
 
Reaching for sugar because you’re tired
The first of Teitelbaum’s type of sugar addict seeks a serotonin surge to bypass a rough day. Instead of popping into the local saloon for a quick beer, the sugar addict fantasizes about “[w]alking into a bar, asking for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s, and having the bartender obligingly slide a pint down the bar,” says Teitelbaum.
 
The problem with this approach: Initially, serotonin will rise, causing a feeling of euphoria, but the insulin resistance will backfire, causing further exhaustion.
 
The cure, according to Teitelbaum, is fairly simple: “Taking a good multivitamin powder, and adding in a five gram scoop of ribose [Ironically, a sugar, but one that is made naturally by your body], getting enough sleep, getting daily moderate-intensity exercise, and eating 4-5 balanced meals with all-natural food should help defeat sugar cravings.”
 
I’m hungry, I need sugar NOW!
The adrenal glands, which rest on top of your kidneys play a vital role in controlling blood sugar.
 
Teitelbaum’s second type likely suffers from adrenal fatigue. “This person is the ‘Feed me now or I will kill you’ variety,” says Teitelbaum. The adrenals also make the stress hormone, cortisol, helping us to adapt to ‘fight or flight’ situations. Cortisol speeds up production of blood sugar during stress.
 
“If the adrenals are exhausted from stress and sugar is the only food that’s fueling your system, you’re going to see a lot of irritability when hunger arises,” says Teitelbaum.
 
The solution, besides eating balanced meals: Getting enough Vitamin C, licorice (Opt for the root, which helps slow down cortisol production), Vitamin B5 and adrenal gland supplements.
 
Does sugar make your runny nose worse?
Candida yeast, which primarily colonizes in the digestive tract, feeds on sugar. Teitelbaum says that scientists have yet to isolate what exactly the candida yeast secretes that ends up stimulating sugar cravings.
 
For those with candida overgrowth or who often have runny noses, or more serious sinusitis and digestive complications like spastic colon or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Teitelbaum suggests taking probiotics every day, as well as an antifungal natural supplement and, of course, cutting down on sugar.
 
“When you kill the candida the sugar cravings go away,” says Teitelbaum, who adds that only addressing the problem with probiotics and not cutting down on sugar is like saying, “Will a fire hose help put out a fire? Yes — but not if you keep pouring gasoline on the fire.”
 
Chronological clock cravings for sugar
As people age, hormone levels, including sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone may plummet. According to Teitelbaum, depression and anxiety can result from hormonal imbalances. Sugar is often the go-to quick fix for the blues.
 
A simple solution, especially for peri- or menopausal women: eating a handful of edamame every day to make up for the depleted estrogen levels. Teitelbaum also suggests supplementing with bio-identical hormone replacements when needed.
 
Some sugar addicts may need dopamine
Karen Paquette, a naturopathic doctor based in Solana Beach, Calif., says that those who have insatiable sugar and food cravings might have an underlying condition with brain chemistry, most notably a lack of dopamine, the feel-good chemical.
 
“We can get a temporary uplift in dopamine from food so that’s why some people indulge in sugar, to make up for the deficit of the dopamine neurotransmitter,” says Paquette, who recommends those with sugar addiction receive a neurotransmitter panel test along with a blood test for a genetic marker for enzyme deficiency.
 
Do you need to go 100 percent sugar-free?
No, says Teitelbaum. "Why bother living to 120 years old if you have to give everything up?" he says. "Indulge a bit in dark chocolate, which I consider a health food."
 
Eating fruit is also not a concern according to Teitelbaum, but he does strongly urge sugar addicts to abstain from fruit juices.
 
"They’re just as bad as regular soda."
 
Got any other ideas how to stop sugar addiction? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

Coconut oil and coconuts

Learn more about how this very fatty ingredient can be beneficial to your health.

 
Photo: joanna wnuk/Shutterstock
One tablespoon of coconut oil contains 12 grams of saturated fat. Nearly 60 percent of the 115 calories in one tablespoon comes from saturated fat. The remaining 40 percent is unsaturated fat. Coconut oil is 100 percent fat and lacks any vitamins or common minerals.
 
If you’ve been consuming coconut oil regularly, should you call your cardiologist?
 
Or, are there some healthy coconut oil benefits that aren’t readily apparent from reading the nutrition label on the jar? Is coconut oil harmful, harmlessly neutral, or healthy? Let’s take a look…
 
1. Coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol: Stop the presses! Isn’t LDL the ‘bad’ cholesterol? Some medical papers warn that tropical oils like coconut oil increase the body’s level of LDL, also known as low-density lipoprotein. But are higher LDL levels unequivocally a bad thing? Some research goes against popular conceptions. One small study of non-exercisers who were put through a rigorous workout determined that those who gained the most muscle mass also had the highest levels of LDLs. At least one doctor commented on this study, suggesting that LDL cholesterol and muscle function has a direct correlation.
 
2. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat but won’t make you fat: Again, contrary to public opinion, the fact that coconut oil is high in saturated fat but is considered a health food by many might confound people. But not all fat is created equally; some forms are easily absorbed and utilized by the body (specifically medium and short-chain fats; coconut oil is medium chain). In other words, consuming non-hydrogenated (processed), natural forms of saturated fat will not make you fat, necessarily. One study published in the journal Lipids concluded, “It appears that dietetic supplementation with coconut oil does not cause dyslipidemia [high blood cholesterol levels] and seems to promote a reduction in abdominal obesity.”
 
3. Coconut oil increases HDL cholesterol: Similar to the popular notion that LDL cholesterol is ‘bad,’ HDL cholesterol is generally regarded as good. Although some researchers claim that cholesterol is cholesterol; it’s neither good nor bad, virtually every doctor encourages healthy HDL levels. Coconut oil was both vilified and lauded by Harvard School of Public Health’s, Walter Willett, M.D. Willett says in a Harvard Health Letter that coconut oil raises both LDL and HDL levels. “What's interesting about coconut oil is that it also gives ‘good’ HDL cholesterol a boost. Fat in the diet, whether it's saturated or unsaturated, tends to nudge HDL levels up, but coconut oil seems to be especially potent at doing so,” Willett concludes.
 
4. Coconut oil has anti-microbial properties: An abstract of a study in the Journal of Medicinal Food concluded: “It is noteworthy that coconut oil was active against species of Candida at 100 percent concentration compared to fluconazole. Coconut oil should be used in the treatment of fungal infections in view of emerging drug-resistant Candida species.”
 
research paper on the Asian and Pacific Coconut Community website by Dr. Jon Kabara, professor emeritus at Michigan State, states that coconut oil was recognized for its “extraordinary health properties” 4,000 years ago by the Ayurveda medicinal community in ancient India. “The medium chain fatty acids and monoglycerides found primarily in [coconut oil has] miraculous healing power. It is rare in the history of medicine to find substances that have such useful properties and still be without toxicity or even harmful side effects.” (p.1)
 
5. Coconut oil may help prevent heart disease: The Coconut Research Centerclaims a large number of studies prove a direct correlation between chronic infections and heart disease. Pathogenic organisms are killed by medium-chain fatty acids found in coconut oil. Therefore, says the Center, coconut oil can reduce the risk of heart disease.
 
One of the studies the Center points to is one published in the journal, Lipids, which concludes, “[P]olicies that prioritize the reduction of SFA [saturated fatty acid] consumption without specifically considering the replacement nutrient may have little or no effects on [cardiovascular] disease risk, especially as the most common replacement in populations is often [carbohydrates].” In other words, at the very least, some research proves that saturated fat is not necessarily bad for heart health and a diet high in carbohydrates could be much worse.
 
Know of other coconut oil benefits? What do you think about coconut oil? Is it a health food? Let us know below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer residing in Encinitas, California.

 

Strawberries in a white bowl

You probably know these berries pack a vitamin C wallop, but there's a wealth of other good stuff inside.

 
Photo: Manchester-Monkey/flickr
Like strawberries? If you’re like the average consumer of this fruit — which is actually a member of the rose family — you consume about 5 pounds of strawberries each year.
 
How are strawberries, which are second only to apples in fresh-fruit popularity, doing your body good? Let’s review some strawberry nutrition facts.
 
Most strawberry lovers know that a serving contains a lot of vitamin C. In fact, one cup of strawberries (about eight medium-sized berries) yields 150 percent daily value (DV) of vitamin C. Talk about nutrient density! That’s a lot of vitamin C for only 50 calories.
 
Strawberries are also relatively high in fiber. One cup provides 3 grams, or 12 percent DV.
 
Some stick-figure-worshipping, conscientious dieters might pass up a handful of strawberries because a single serving contains 12 grams of sugar. But when you factor in the fiber, strawberries have a low glycemic load; they will likely not make your blood sugar levels spike and then subsequently crash.
 
Just take it easy on the whipped cream if you’re empty calorie-conscious. (Plain strawberries are virtually fat-free.)
 
Strawberries: Good for your bones and hormones
If you’re concerned about bone health, strawberries are an excellent source of the trace mineral manganese, which is essential for maintaining healthy bone structure, absorbing calcium, creating enzymes that build bone and a host of other benefits, including proper functioning of your sex hormones.
 
David Handley, small fruit specialist at the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension, says potassium and folate are also highly beneficial nutrients derived from strawberry consumption.
 
“Seniors and the elderly population sometimes have trouble getting enough potassium and folate, which [also] helps form bone mass,” Handley tells Mother Nature Network.
 
One cup of strawberries has 240 milligrams of potassium (7 percent DV) and 10 percent DV of folate.
 
Totally radical(-fighting) anthocyanins: The unsung heroes in strawberries
While Handley praises berries’ high vitamin C content, he says it’s the free-radical fighting compounds called anthocyanins that are the true all-star health components of strawberries.
 
“Anthocyanin pigments are anti-carcinogenic and berries that have a deep red color like strawberries or deep blue, such as blueberries, tend to be high in these anthocyanin compounds,” says Handley, who adds that strawberries are also rich in another natural antioxidant compound called ellagic acid.
 
study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry confirms the health benefits of anthocyanin-rich fruits.
 
Can strawberries prevent cancer?
There is evidence that they just might. Two years ago, data revealed by researchers at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center concluded that seven common berries, including strawberries, prevented certain cancers from developing in in rodents.
 
The findings of the Ohio State study suggest that it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on exotic berries (acai, blackberries, wolfberries, goji, etc.) to derive the same cancer-fighting benefits.
 
“With respect to cancer prevention, it’s not clear that the ‘exotic’ berry types are any more effective than the less expensive blueberries, strawberries and red raspberries,” researcher Dr. Gary Stoner said in the study’s press release.
 
Can strawberries prevent memory loss?
Yes, according to researchers at Harvard’s Brigham and Woman’s Hospital. In astudy published in the Annals of Neurology, berries — including strawberries — can delay cognitive impairments by up to 2.5 years.
 
One might say, “Why should I bother eating berries if I’m going to have memory loss anyway? Two and a half years … is it worth it?”
 
Considering that antioxidant-rich berries have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, it’s a good idea to include free-radical fighting berries in your diet.
 
Does the nutritional content vary between organic and conventionally grown strawberries?
According to the University of Maine’s Handley, there may be some subtle differences.
 
“I’ve read studies that bounce both ways; they are mostly minor differences. One study claims conventional-grown strawberries contain more potassium, while another study might say that organic strawberries are higher in zinc,” says Handley, who also said it’s difficult to control studies analyzing the difference between organic and conventionally grown strawberries.
 
“Not all researchers use the same protocols for organic standards and testing methods also vary,” he says.
 
The good news about conventionally grown strawberries? Handley says that the philosophies and ideas that organic farmers were pushing decades ago in relation to soil health have spilled over recently into conventional farming.
 
“Conventional farmers are now more concerned about soil health for the long term,” says Handley, who acknowledges that though conventional farmers still rely on fumigation practices, the process now eliminates the most toxic elements such as methyl bromide and also uses drip fumigation instead of a full fumigation assault on the entire crop.
 
Despite the improvements in conventional farming practices, Handley advises, “Wash your fruit.”
 
Do you love strawberries? Let us know why in the comment section below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer based in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Bowl of oatmeal with apples and raspberries

The mix of slow-burning carbohydrates and fiber found in oats is a great source of fuel for breakfast.

 
Photo: Lilyana Vynogradova/Shutterstock
Is oatmeal truly beneficial for reducing cholesterol and keeping our hearts healthy? Let’s review some oatmeal nutrition facts to get the real scoop.
 
A half-cup of instant, regular oatmeal contains the following:
 
  • 150 calories
  • 30 grams of carbohydrates
  • 8 grams of fiber
  • 11 grams of protein
  • 5 grams of fat (1 gram saturated)
  • 20 percent daily value (DV) of iron
 
Oatmeal is also rich in other minerals. The same half-cup of plain, instant oatmeal contains:
 
  • 30 percent DV of magnesium
  • 33 percent DV of phosphorous
  • 33 percent DV of selenium
  • 20 percent DV of copper
  • 150 percent DV of manganese
 
Isn’t 30 grams of carbs a lot for weight-watchers?
Maybe for a bodybuilder about to compete in a contest, but for the majority of people, the mix of slow-burning carbohydrates and fiber found in oats is a great source of fuel for breakfast.
 
In fact, medical studies back this claim.
 
The fiber found in oats, barley, and pectin-rich fruits and vegetables provides lipid-lowering benefits, says a paper by the American Heart Association. The AHA recommends a total dietary fiber intake of 25 to 30 grams per day from foods.
 
Current dietary fiber intake among adults in the United States averages about half the recommended amount, says the AHA paper.
 
In addition to reducing serum lipid levels, diets that include whole-grain sources such as oatmeal helped reduce blood pressure in men and women who have elevated levels of cholesterol, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
 
Not everyone thinks oatmeal should be touted as a healthy food.
 
An article in the Chicago Tribune reported that a consumer advocacy organization, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, filed a petition with the Federal Trade Commission, accusing Quaker Oats of exaggerating the health benefits of oatmeal.
 
But more recent research seems to vindicate the oatmeal claims.
 
In a review of several studies on oatmeal’s benefits, published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, the data concludes that the soluble fiber in oats does indeed lower cholesterol and contains properties that bolster cardiovascular health.
 
Other oatmeal benefits mentioned in the study include:
 
  • Preventing oxidation of arteries
  • Curbing weight gain
  • Preventing type 2 diabetes
  • Bolstering the immune system
 
What’s the main compound in oatmeal that’s so healthy?
A fiber known as beta-glucan seems to be the all-star compound in oatmeal. There have been hundreds of studies published on beta-glucan.
 
One study published in Vascular Health Risk Management concluded, “Dietary intake of beta-glucans has been shown to reduce risk factors to benefit the treatment of diabetes and associated complications. In addition, beta-glucans also promote wound healing and alleviate ischemic heart injury.
 
Can I take a beta-glucan supplement if I don’t like oatmeal?
You can but the Vascular Health study also concluded, “…The mechanisms behind the effect of beta-glucans on diabetes and associated complications need to be further studied using pure beta-glucan.”
 
But, at least one study, published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, concluded that a beta-glucan supplement may prevent upper respiratory tract symptoms, and improve overall health and mood following a competitive marathon.
 
Does oatmeal contain gluten?
Pure oatmeal does not contain gluten; however, most oatmeal is made in facilities that also process wheat, so a bit of cross-contamination may occur. It’s possible that people with Celiac disease may have an adverse reaction to commercially made oatmeal. This group should buy certified gluten-free oatmeal from a health food store.
 
Why not eat oatmeal for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
Oatmeal is also rich in omega-6 fatty acids, containing almost 2 grams per half-cup serving. Omega-6s seem to be a mixed bag, providing some health benefits, yet too much of them — combined with too little omega-3 fatty acid sources — can cause inflammation and other problems.
 
Most Americans consume upwards of 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3s, instead of the recommended ratio of 2-4:1 (up to four times more 6s than 3s); most nutritionists would likely caution against consuming large quantities of oatmeal as a result.
 
What about flavored packets of oatmeal?
The nutrition is roughly the same with the big exception being the amount of sugar. A packet of Quaker Oats’ apple and cinnamon instant contains 12 grams of sugar, as opposed to just one gram in regular oatmeal.
 
The fiber in the oatmeal will somewhat help prevent precipitous spikes and drops in blood sugar, however, those who are trying to lose weight or prevent diabetes should stick with the regular, unflavored variety.
 
Adding a handful of blueberries and a small squirt of raw honey can add sweetness to the oatmeal without adding refined sugar.
 
Have any other thoughts on oatmeal nutrition facts? Let us know below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

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