Protein: Muscle builder or bust

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Protein is hailed as the king, the star that takes center stage at meals. For much of our history and even today, it seems as if a meal is not complete without meat, fish, or poultry – that slab of animal flesh. This is obvious when I watch the reality show Top Chef – as the chefs are off and running to compete in the next challenge, they are often seen grabbing the “protein” first and then the rest of the ingredients are chosen to highlight that.

Why have meat, fish, and poultry (MFP) been elevated to star status? We seem to enjoy eating it as much as we enjoy watching it being cooked since the typical American diet provides twice as much protein as we require. Out of the three macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat) protein is needed in the smallest quantity per calories, only 20% of our daily calories. Remember that protein is found in more than just MFP. The other animal sources of protein include milk, dairy foods and eggs and the plant sources of protein are vegetables, grains, dried beans and peas (legumes), and nuts and seeds.

There are a couple of reasons why MFP foods have taken center stage for so long. One is that MFP as well as milk, dairy foods and eggs are considered high biological value protein foods. What this means is that they are ‘complete’ proteins, providing all the ‘essential’ amino acids needed by our bodies to perform a variety of important functions. There are a total of twenty amino acids which are the building blocks of all protein molecules. Of those twenty, nine are considered essential – they must be provided by our diet since our bodies cannot make them. The other eleven amino acids are equally important yet they can be metabolized from other foods in the diet…

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Carbohydrates: Too complex?

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Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fiber. Sugars are simple carbohydrates and starches and fiber are complex carbohydrates. In general, you should consume more complex carbohydrates and eat fewer simple carbohydrates. Um, so how does this translate into which foods are best?

In my last blog, I mentioned the more nutritious foods that have simple carbohydrates that are important to include in a healthy diet: fruits, and low-fat and fat-free milk and dairy foods.

Where this gets complex is that many starchy foods have been stripped of their nutrients either during processing or during food preparation and cooking. We’ve become a nation that abhors the texture and flavor of whole grains and whole foods, in favor of processed or ‘refined’ foods where the hull, bran, germ, skins, seeds, etc. have been removed.

For example, let’s take wheat bread. Many people are surprised to find that white bread is actually made from wheat…

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Carbohydrates: Not so simple…

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What is a carbohydrate? What’s the difference between one that is simple and one that is complex? Shouldn’t I be on a low carbohydrate diet? Carbs are just breads and pasta, right? Oh, there is so much to share and so little time. Think of the word carbo-hydrate. Carbo means containing the element carbon, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, the chemical basis for life. Hydrate means water, which is made up of hydrogen and oxygen, good old H2O. So, carbohydrates are those foods with a chemical makeup that includes carbon, hydrogen and oxygen (CHO).

Carbohydrates include sugars, starches and fibers and are found in most of the food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and beans and legumes. The fact that carbohydrates are in most of the food groups and are our main source of energy is why we need half of our daily calories to come from carbohydrates. Keep in mind that most foods are mixtures of macronutrients.

For example, vegetables are mainly carbohydrates with small amounts of protein and sometimes even a bit of fat (think avocados). Milk and dairy foods are great mixtures of carbohydrates (lactose), proteins (casein and whey) and fats (saturated milk fats). Fruits are pure carbohydrate (fructose and fiber). This brings us to the term simple carbohydrate which means sugar. I was watching The Dr. Oz show one day and he mentioned the term simple carbohydrate. When he said it, I wondered how many people understood what he meant by it…

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What the heck is a calorie?

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We hear so much about calories when it comes to our body weight and how much food we should have. The importance of calories is underscored by the amount being prominently displayed just under the serving size at the top of the Nutrition Facts label on food packages.

Simply put, a calorie is a unit of measure of energy. Purely scientifically, a calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise one cubic centimeter (think of a little box with half-inch sides all around) of water one degree Celsius…

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Nutrition 101 for Life Series

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This series is created to help you understand the science behind food in a way that you can use. Hopefully, it will dispel some myths and take some of the guesswork out of making healthy choices, just like using Guiding Stars does! I’d like to start with describing calories. Then I’ll follow with the macronutrients that give us the calories that fuel our bodies…

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What you don’t know…

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Right now you are riding on the information superhighway, the Internet. Where we are supposed to have every tidbit of information that we could need or want virtually (and literally) at our fingertips. But, do we really have all the information that we need, whether from the Internet or other sources? And, how easy is that information to understand, digest and put to use in our everyday lives?

I ask you these questions because there has been a tidal wave across the globe of providing nutrition information on foods and beverages at point of purchase. Menu labeling in chain restaurants is now law in four states including Maine, California, Oregon and Massachusetts. Menu labeling legislation has also passed in multiple municipalities, most notably and the first to pass this type of law was New York City. This wave has to do with a consumer’s right to know and have easy access to information that has a direct effect on their health. How are you supposed to make an informed choice if the information you need to make that choice is not easily available when you need it?

Menu labeling legislation has reached national prominence and is a part of health reform – H.R. 3962 Affordable Health Care for America Act.

The rationale behind the Nutrition Facts label is to provide consumers with information to help them make informed food and beverage choices that contribute to a healthy diet. While you can trust the information on the Nutrition Facts label as being sound and accurate, it may not be easy for you to understand and use. This is where programs such as Guiding Stars can help you make informed and easy decisions about which foods and beverages to use. Guiding Stars is based on the information provided on the Nutrition Facts label. I work in public health and am passionate about people having easy access to healthy choices where they live, work and play.

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Resolutions for 2010

Well, it’s already January and I haven’t come up with my New Year’s resolutions for 2010. Oh, don’t misunderstand me, I have plenty that I can work on: to be a better person, or to finally meet the high expectations that I’ve set for myself.

I feel as if I should have already gotten it right by now… Weren’t there a bunch of goals for 2010? Oh yeah –> Healthy People 2010.

Healthy People 2010

So, have we reached any of those health goals as a nation? According to the progress reported on nutrition and overweight, we are far from reaching our target goals. For example, overweight and obesity in children and adolescents is getting worse; there has been little or no progress in fruit, vegetable, or whole grain product consumption; little or no progress in sodium (part of salt) intake; and a glimmer with calcium (lots found in dairy foods) intake improving. The report shows that the weight status and diets of Americans continue to remain an important public health and economic concern.

…there has been little or no progress in fruit, vegetable, or whole grain product consumption; little or no progress in sodium intake; and only a glimmer of improvement in calcium intake.

Get involved

You might be asking, what can I do about this? Can I contribute to my own health and diet and help the nation reach its health goals at the same time? The answer is yes, of course you can. The real question is, will you? What will it take?

Maybe you are in a new phase of life as an empty nester? I am. My three lovely daughters have left the nest, one is a college graduate living and working in New York City. The other two are in college in Boston. While I am still a mom and a wife and work full time — it seems as if I have all kinds of time on my hands. What to do with that time? Shall I become a foodie or a weekend warrior athlete? And should I drag my husband along for the ride?

Make 2010 a year of healthier choices

When I googled New Year’s resolutions 2010, it came up with 17,300,000 sites. Apparently, there are plenty to choose from and everyone is doing it! Okay, here goes, yes, I can definitely lose weight and feel better. I will eat more fruits and vegetables every day by reaching for them instead of chocolate. I will be physically active at least 5 days a week and invite my husband to join me.

There, I feel better already. Have a wonderful new year that is healthy, happy and safe!

What will you do in 2010 to make healthier choices?

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Massive Food Hysteria

As a Registered Dietitian, it is difficult to read about, see, and hear all the misconceptions that are promoted in the media and on the Internet regarding nutrition and its relationship to health. I worry that people are spending a lot of time and money on quick fixes, supplements, books, or fad diets that won’t, in the end, deliver on their promises…

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