If you had a magic formula that was inexpensive and readily available, that helped with weight control, increased immunity, and decreased the risk of disease, would you take it? Of course! The "magic formula” is getting enough fiber. Yet the average American falls short – often eating only half the levels of fiber recommended by medical professionals.
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I have been a loyal devotee of probiotics ever since my internist first introduced me to the idea many years ago after a strong round of necessary antibiotics. After experiencing the benefits for myself, I was hooked. So apart from taking probiotics, I have made it part of my daily routine to consume food sources of prebiotics and probiotics.
Millennials are the first generation to be more overweight than their parents and to spend more on food than clothing. So in trying to figure out why this may be the case, I tried to identify some patterns of the Millennial generation in general.
In an effort to eat as close to nature as possible and lead healthful lifestyles, many of us have growing concerns about what is added to our foods, especially processed foods. The array of chemicals meant to thicken, stabilize, color, and flavor can be intimidating enough to make one question their safety.
When it comes to protecting our hearts, there is much we can do through diet. We are becoming more aware than ever that it is the type of dietary fat, rather than the total amount of fat, that affects health.
In a recent survey by the International Food Information Foundation (IFIC) on food and health, a remarkable 78 percent of consumers reported that they encounter a lot of conflicting information about what to eat and avoid. Of those people, more than half agree that the confusing information makes them doubt the choices they are making. There is no surprise on the confusion considering 77 percent rely on friends and family for nutrition information, yet a handful trust these sources. In addition, the constant bombardment of the latest trend and faux nutrition experts touting the next miracle quick fix for weight loss can distort anyone’s views of what is sound advice for nutrition and health.
It is becoming increasingly evident that a plant-based diet has many health benefits including lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancers, and obesity. In fact, researchers of a study tracking plant-based dietary patterns and incidence of type 2 diabetes in the US (published in PLOS Medicine medical journal) found that those who ate more healthy plant foods (meaning whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and oils) and fewer animal foods, had a 35 percent lower risk of diabetes regardless of their weight.
The way I interpret “clean eating”—and I think most nutrition experts would agree—is predominantly choosing whole, real foods or close to how they are found in nature, as well as foods that are less or minimally processed.
In my attempt to be an “informed consumer,” I quickly realized that genetically engineered or modified foods are one of the most hotly debated issues at this time. Regardless, I believe in being aware and making my own educated decision on matters of health and environmental impact, and this applies to GMO and non-GMO foods.
Eating right matters, and this does not change as we get older. In fact, it is never too late in life to see the health benefits of good nutrition. The main principles of eating well are the same no matter what age. A nutritious diet should emphasize fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (including fish and seafood) and plant proteins (beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds), and healthy unsaturated fats while limiting processed foods, especially processed meats and fast foods.
Appropriately planned, well-balanced vegetarian and vegan diets are healthful and may play a significant role in disease prevention.
The truth is that most of the food we eat is processed. For example, a peeled apple, pre-washed spinach, and yogurt are processed foods.
For many of us, the New Year also means the promise we make to ourselves to lose weight and get fit. My top bit of advice is to make good health a priority all year long, not just the few days or weeks after January 1. Many of us give in or give up as soon as the holidays begin and count on getting into shape in the New Year. But the time is now. It is easier to make gradual positive changes along the way than to try to lose weight overnight and make it last.
Fact: There is no scientific data that proves that eliminating gluten promotes weight loss. Any time we try something new, we are “all in,” at least at the onset, with a keen and committed attention to our nutrition, physical activity, and avoidance of what we (or the internet) consider “bad food.” So yes, there can be indirect weight loss for some people due to cutting down on calories as a result of elimination of certain foods or even an entire food group. Additionally, if processed gluten foods are being replaced with fruits and vegetables, some weight loss will likely occur.
I am addicted to chia and flax… and even sesame seeds. I guess I love them all, and I’m in good company. Seeds are everywhere: in snack bags, in salads, and even in bread
All whole grains are healthful, in both universal and unique ways. According to the Dietary Guidelines, at least half of our grains should be whole.
Many of us think that once the holiday season hits, there is no way we can win against an 8-week barrage of holiday feasting from Halloween until the New Year. So we resign ourselves from the start and let go of all our good habits. But don’t give up on yourself or your waistline! We can be in the spirit without packing on the pounds.
I took an unscientific poll in the office and asked co-workers: “how much weight do you think people gain, if any, over the holiday season?"
The answers ranged from 2 to 15 pounds with the average number at 6.5 pounds. Well, luckily the results of my pseudo poll were way off.
As it turns out, Americans gain an average of 1.32 pounds (0.6 kg) according to a study published in September 2016 in the New England Journal of Medicine. This study looked at weight gain over the holidays in three countries: Germany, Japan, and the United States. Americans participating in the study saw their weight increase by 0.2 percent during the Thanksgiving holiday and 0.4 percent over Christmas. Another study from 2000, in the same journal, found that the average holiday gain minimum was 1 pound (0.48kg). A look at studies over the last decade yielded similar results, demonstrating holiday weight gain is less than commonly asserted. Therefore, I remain optimistic for our waistlines between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.
So what’s the problem?
Weight gain, even a little, is still weight gain that takes time and effort to come off. Although up to half of holiday weight gain is lost shortly after the holidays, the other half seems to remain until the summer months and sometimes beyond. Year after year, that weight can add up, not including any weight gain that occurs the rest of the year. So as hard as it is to resist the extra piece of pie or prevent weight gain during the holiday season, remember, it is much harder to lose it later.
Weight gain is not inevitable
Stay focused on all the healthy habits you have been working on the rest of the year. Here are some quick and familiar reminders from past blogs to get you through the holiday season:
- Eat complex carbohydrates with fiber, lean proteins, and healthy plant fats
- Be physically active on most days of the week – make it a priority
- Watch portion sizes – Ex: select small serving dishes
- Make traditions healthy with some smart recipe substitutes
- Be prepared ahead of time with meal and snack prep – Ex: Eat something healthy before going out to a holiday party or bring healthy options to the party
- Stay social, but not by the food table – talk more, eat less by making food less accessible
- Eat consciously, no mindless eating
- Skip the leftovers
- Watch the alcohol – these are empty calories
- Find a buddy – build a support system
The most recent study assessing weight gain in three countries concluded with the recommendation that the less one gains, the less one then has to worry about trying to lose it. I am going to agree with the researchers on this one! Check out this month’s blog to learn more on how to enjoy the holidays without packing on the pounds.
Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), organic food is one of the fastest growing segments of American Agriculture, up nearly 300 percent from 2002. So is it safe to say that consumers are buying organic because they believe it is healthier and safer than conventional? And if so, are they correct?
Although Sprouted Grains are popping up in the market at an increased rate, they are a long-standing practice and not just the latest trend. You may have noticed more use of sprouted grains in recipes and food manufacturing for cereal, bread, pasta, and other packaged foods with good reason, as the process of sprouting grains maximizes the nutrition of whole grains and makes the nutrients more bioavailable, i.e. easier for your body to access the nutrients.