Monday, February 9, 2009

Is there really any nutritional value in lettuce?

Q: Is there really any nutritional value in lettuce?

A: Lettuce is a leafy crunchy vegetable with substantial water content, some fiber and a negligible calorie count—all factors that are beneficial for filling up your plate and pairing down your waistline.

You should know that only certain types of lettuce are loaded with lots of vitamins, minerals and antioxidant plant chemicals, whereas others contain virtually nothing in terms of nutrition. Hence, even though all types of lettuce are low in calories, the different varieties offer different valuable sources of nutrients. For example, romaine lettuce is especially rich in vitamins A, C, and K, folate, and manganese when compared to iceberg lettuce.

When making lettuce choices, be sure to get in the power lettuces, romaine and red leaf—the darker the leaf, the greater the amount of nutrients such as vitamin A and folate. Other salad greens, such as spinach, kale, arugula and radicchio, while technically not lettuces, are among the most nutrient-dense foods available.

So when it comes to good health and weight control, be sure to pile on the dark leafy greens (an antioxidant gold mine), and leave the iceberg in the bin!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Is soda ok for my kids in moderation?

Q: I let my kids drink soda with special meals (no more than two cans per week). Is this OK for them?

A: Your advice to limit the intake of soda to two cans per week is a good one. So many parents have no qualms about providing unlimited amounts of sweetened beverages such as sodas to their little ones. In fact, it’s been estimated that almost one third of parents serve this type of drink to their 12-14-month-old children and, believe it or not, this statistic increases to almost 50% of parents when children reach 19-24 months old. As a mother of three, and as a registered dietitian, I urge parents to rethink this practice due to the childhood obesity epidemic that envelopes our country.

According to the Dietary Recommendations for Children and Adolescents issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should limit their children’s intake of sugar-sweetened drinks such as soda. With the limits you’ve set in your own home, you’re teaching your children the concept of “moderation” and starting them off on the right foot by promoting a healthy lifestyle.

The most valuable tool you can use to promote good health in your kids is to be a good role model yourself. Eat healthy and exercise daily and your children will learn not so much by what you say but by what you do!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

How do I start training for a marathon?

Q: Where is a good place to start if I've never run a marathon and would like to start training?

A: Having trained for and completed four marathons, I must say that the experience of crossing the finish line of a marathon is well worth the grueling training and personal sacrifice involved in preparing both mind and body for this extraordinary accomplishment. Kudos to you for having the courage to make this commitment!

The best place to start training for a marathon is a year away from the date of the race. Start training the body with short runs, on an almost daily basis. Six months out from race day you should be able to log in at least 25 miles of running in a week, comfortably. At this point (6 months from race day), I would highly encourage you to join a running club or a charity organization that trains its runners to complete marathons such as Team In Training, the organization that raises funds to help stop leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin lymphoma and myeloma. A set training program with knowledgeable leaders will help you to safely and gradually increase your endurance and give you lots of training and nutrition tips that should make your first marathon an event that you will forever cherish. Good luck and best wishes . . . and remember, the goal is to cross that finish line with a smile on your face, regardless of your finish time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What is a good rule of thumb when purchasing healthy food?

Q: What is a good rule of thumb when purchasing healthy food? The fewer ingredients, the better?

A: Absolutely right! When it comes to making wise nutrition choices, the golden rule on the ingredient list is “less is better!” This is because the most nutritious foods are generally the least processed foods with the least amount of additives. The closer the food is to the way Mother Nature intended it to be, the more natural vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients the food product will contain.

For example, it’s always healthier to choose an apple over a slice of apple pie loaded with unhealthy fats, salt, spoilage retardants, refined carbohydrates and excess calories. If you peruse the frozen vegetable case, better to grab the bag of frozen peas that simply contains two ingredients—peas and salt—rather than a frozen pea product with 20 ingredients in the list. Another important tip regarding processed foods is that if you have a choice, make the food yourself (such as your own tomato sauce versus a jar of sauce). This way YOU control the ingredients and can be very judicious with adding in excess amounts of harmful ingredients such as sodium and bad fats.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Is whole grain white any different from regular whole wheat bread?

Q: When it comes to choosing a healthy bread, is whole grain white any different from regular whole wheat bread?

A: The definition of “whole grain white” bread or flour is nebulous at best. It is a fairly new product that can consist of virtually anything, but generally comprises a mixture of 100% whole grain and white flour. The white wheat comes from an albino variety of wheat that differs from the traditional red wheat kernels. Furthermore, the white wheat is more heavily processed than the 100% whole grain flour to make the product taste more like its refined cousins, though the jury is still out regarding exactly how much nutrition is lost in the processing.

The product is marketed to regular consumers of white bread who want to consume more whole grains for the health benefits but just can’t quite take the plunge to eating 100% whole grain products. So, for those people, the new “white wheat” products are a better choice than refined white bread products. The bottom line is, nutrition-wise, your best bet is to routinely go for the 100% whole wheat products that have been less processed, contain all three parts of the original wheat kernel and have been shown scientifically to help prevent chronic disease.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Are Probiotic Drinks Healthy?

Q: With all of the probiotic culture drinks, cheeses and other dairy products on the market, can the use (or overuse) of these products be detrimental to my digestive system?

A: Probiotics are live, “healthy” bacteria that are added to the diet and function to promote better health. They reside in the colon. Common names of these “friendly” bacteria are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria (this strain of healthy bacteria is included in Dannon Activia yogurt).

Why is it good for your health to increase the number of these bacteria? Probiotics ingested in the diet:

Overpower bad disease-causing bacteria.
Help boost the body’s immune system.
Help the body absorb vitamins and minerals and increase the body’s internal production of B vitamins.
May help bone health by increasing the absorption of calcium and the ability of the bones to absorb calcium.
Decrease diarrhea and diaper rash in babies.
May improve constipation in the elderly.
May reduce the conversion of bile into carcinogenic substances (decreasing risk of colon cancer).

Because probiotics are the good kind of bacteria, and promote health, they would not be detrimental to your health, regardless of the amount ingested.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What type of oatmeal is healthiest?

Q: Why have I heard that rolled oats are healthier than quick oatmeal packets?

A: As you can see, there are different types of oat products out there on the market. The two kinds that you will most likely find on your supermarket shelf are “steel-cut” oats and different varieties of “rolled” oats.

Steel-cut oats (my personal favorite) are the least processed of the two varieties and so retain the greatest amount of nutrients—especially the cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber found in oats, namely beta-glucan. Because steel-cut oats are pretty much “right off the farm,” they do take much longer to cook than the rolled type, but it is well worth the extra time and effort for their superior flavor, texture and nutrient composition.

Rolled oats are what most Americans know as oatmeal and are often sold in familiar round cardboard containers. These oats have been steamed, dried, sliced and then flattened, producing the flat oatmeal shape that we have become accustomed to. There are actually three types of rolled oats: (1) old-fashioned, (2) quick-cooking, and (3) instant. The instant variety is the most processed of the three and has already been precooked—making it convenient to cook but unfortunately mushy in texture. In addition, the instant variety frequently has added sweeteners, salt and other flavorings. Your best bet is to choose the least processed type of oats such as the steel-cut or the old-fashioned varieties. If you need the time-saving convenience of instant, go for the plain instant packets and add your own sweetener—and also be sure to add a couple tablespoons of oat bran (the concentrated form of beta-glucan, much of which has been lost in the instant varieties).