Sunday, December 23, 2012

Good Food News of 2012

Nutrition headlines seem to shout the "worst" food news...from "everything causes cancer" to "no health benefits found" by consuming your favorite food. So, let's take a moment as 2012 comes to a close to celebrate those nutrition stories that you may have overlooked in all of the noise. The following nutrition stories were good news stories and should be embraced in 2013.

1. A healthy diet (one high in the usual suspects...fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish) is additive to the protective effects of medications used to treat heart disease. In a study of over 31,000 patients from 40 countries, researchers found that those who ate a healthy diet along with taking prescription meds reduced their risk of cardiovascular disease by 35%, stroke by 19%, heart attack by 14%, and congestive heart failure by 28%. This study looked at secondary prevention....that is preventing another disease after one disease has been diagnosed and treated. Paying attention to diet...and not just relying on medication to treat our most common diseases has a better outcome than just popping pills.

2. Speaking of nuts...did you see the study from researchers at the United States Department of Agriculture who found hat calories on the label are too high for our of the most heart healthy foods....almonds (check out my photo above to see that almonds even look heart healthy!) Researchers found that almonds contain 20% fewer calories as stated on the label; so that means your 100-calorie snack pack of almonds provides only 80 calories to your body. When we eat nuts, especially hard nuts like almonds, the cell walls are not completely broken down and the fat content inside of the cells does not get absorbed. Voila...fewer calories but all of the great taste and nutrition.

3. For the 2.9 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S. there is good news on eating soy. For years, those of use who have had breast cancer have been frightened to eat soy because of reports that the isoflavones in soy exert an estrogenic effect on breast tissue. Recently, the American Institute for Cancer Research reported that "six recent human studies and one major meta-analysis have found that consuming moderate amounts of soy foods does not increase a breast cancer survivor's risk of recurrence or death." A moderate serving of soy is defined as one or two servings of soy a day; a serving is 1 cup of soy milk, 1/2 cup of edamame, 3-ounces of tofu, or a soy-based veggie burger.

4. Lastly, one of my good food news stories comes from McDonald's...yes, McDonald's. In September they announced that they will voluntarily post calorie counts on menu boards and I applaud any quick service restaurant that provides nutrition information to the public. And, if you haven't tried some of their healthier options like the strawberry banana real fruit smoothie, Southwest salad with grilled chicken, or the new Egg White Delight McMuffin, try one in 2013 and be prepared to be surprised.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Healing Foods

Although I was in denial for about 6 years the truth is I needed a total hip replacement. For me, an old high school injury + 25 years of running + age = osteoarthritis. I tried physical therapy, cortisone injections, glucosamine, chondroitin, oral meds, and even acupuncture, and while everything helped for a little while, the reality was that the cartilage cushion in my hip just wasn't coming back. I was sure I was too young for such a big surgery, although my surgeon's PA assured me I was a year over the average age of patients getting hip replacements (thanks for reminding me of my age). I learned from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website that hip replacement "is one of the most successful operations in all of medicine," with more than 285,000 performed each year in the U.S.

So, I had a total hip replacement five weeks ago today. The first 2 and half weeks were rough but then I got my strength back (thanks to home physical therapy) and am walking 2 miles a day without pain and without a more swaying when I walk!

In all the preparation leading up to the surgery no one talked about the importance of nutrition in recovering from surgery, so here is my advice to anyone having major surgery.

1. Eat high quality protein foods before and after surgery. Foods that contain all of the essential amino acids are need to keep your immune system strong (the last thing you want is to get sick before surgery). After surgery protein-rich foods help wound healing and to make blood cells to replace blood losses from surgery. Expect a poor appetite after surgery (my appetite was depressed for about 2-3 weeks after surgery) so eat small portion of protein several times a day. For example, eat a hard cooked or a scrambled egg for breakfast, a piece of string cheese mid-morning, Greek yogurt for lunch (regular yogurt is OK, but Greek yogurt is higher in protein), shredded chicken in chicken soup for dinner and a handful of almonds in the evening to get protein at every meal and snack. As your appetite picks up, add cereal and milk, peanut butter toast, turkey on a bagel, grilled cheese, a small lean steak, or a tofu noodle bowl.

2. Vitamin C-rich foods are needed to make the protein collagen that provides strength to the surgical wound. In the old days when vitamin C deficiency led to scurvy (it was prevalent in those undergoing long sea voyages with little access to fruits or vegetables) it was common for wound dehiscence or the opening up of old wounds.We don't have to worry about scurvy today and it is easier for us to get vitamin C by eating citrus fruits or drinking orange juice. I snacked on my favorite seasonal fruit, Clementine tangerines, every afternoon. If your appetite is not good, try a supplement of vitamin C or a vitamin C adult gummy.

3. Zinc is a mineral found in meat, fish, poultry and dairy foods, with smaller amounts found in whole grains, legumes and nuts. Zinc is needed to repair cells and keep a healthy immune system. Get zinc from foods rather than supplements...too much zinc can cause nausea and vomiting.

4. Tart cherry juice is a potent source of anti-oxidants and many athletes use it to reduce muscle soreness and inflammation after exercise. And, tart cherries also contain melatonin which might help improve sleep quality. Tart cherries aren't the same as the sweet cherries that you eat for a snack; so, it you want to try it look for tart cherry juice. One 10.5 ounce bottle contains the equivalent of about 45 tart cherries which is enough to reduce inflammation and pain.

5. Fiber may not seem to fit with the "healing" foods theme of this article, but after surgery including high fiber foods in your diet (along with plenty of water) can alleviate constipation. Prescription pain meds are well known to cause constipation so stock up on prune juice or dried prunes. Drink about 4-5 ounces of prune juice or eat 2-4 dried prunes each day to keep things moving without having to resort to harsh chemical laxatives.

No one wants to have surgery, but if it happens, use foods to help you heal and bounce back to be better than the old you!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cancer Resource for Prevention, Treatment and Survivors

September marks 7 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer so that means I join 11 million cancer survivors in the U.S. Many of you are also cancer survivors and what we eat and how much we exercise has a big impact on cancer prevention and recurrence, as well as our quality of life.

I am often asked about "super" foods or supplements and which, if any, I recommend. My "super" food is, well, food. Eating plenty of fruits and veggies (as pictured at left from a summer cookout) along with whole grains, lean meat and fish in small portions, and nuts is a great way to eat for everyone. The only supplement I take is fish oil because I'm just not the crazy about fatty fish so I use a high quality, USP approved, "burpless" fish oil supplement. But, no special South American berries, antioxidants, or trendy food-of-the-month...just real food that tastes real good.

When first diagnosed with cancer, I was so focused on the treatment that I didn't think much about the aftermath. Once treatment was over, I was more apprehensive because cancer lurks in the mind....every new   pain or change in body function is viewed as the cancer returning. I am thankful to have understanding doctors who assured me that an upset stomach might be due to a mild food borne illness...not stage III colon cancer as I diagnosed. Or that hip pain is osteoarthritis, not bone cancer.

That is why I was so glad to see the new publication, Cancer Resource: Living with Cancer from the American Institute for Cancer Research. For a flip book of the publication, check out this link

In one quick resource, you can learn about all stages of cancer, help in formulating questions to ask your health care providers, and learn about delicious eating and the importance of exercise. This resource can help you learn to fight cancer with more than drugs, surgery and radiation....the power of food and exercise is something in your control and should be an integral part of any cancer prevention and treatment plan.

Here is looking forward to many more years as a cancer survivor!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hydration Tips for Active Older Adults

As the temperatures soar, active 50+ exercisers (myself included!) need to pay special attention to hydration. There are some who say that thirst should be your only guide for hydration, but that advice could be dangerous as we age. When older adults exercise, especially in hot and humid climates, they have a diminished sensation of thirst. And we know that "normal" thirst kicks in after you are already thirsty so waiting for thirst may lead to heat illnesses.

Aging also brings about other changes in normal physiology that contribute to dehydration. Our sweat rate changes, our kidneys change the way they handle fluids and electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, and there is an altered blood flow response. All of these normal age changes mean that we need to be aware of hydration and adopt strategies to keep us hydrated during the physiological stress of exercise.

In addition, many 50+ take medications that contribute to loss of body water. Chief among the drugs are common blood pressure medications that act as diuretics which can increase water loss. When you add in other common drugs, caffeine and alcohol, both which are mild diuretics, hydration becomes even more important.

How do you know if you are dehydrated? This question is of great interest to researchers and unfortunately there is no single, easy test to assess hydration. Until there is an easy reliable and valid test, the best strategy is to weigh yourself before and after exercise. For every pound loss, drink 16-24 ounces for every pound loss during exercise. If you gain weight after exercise that means you are most likely overhydrated, but a loss of 1 pound or less means you are doing pretty well at hydrating. Another way to assess hydration is by monitoring urine volume and color. A dark colored urine usually means you are dehydrated (although some dietary supplements like vitamins with a high concentration of riboflavin can cause a bright colored urine) as well as infrequent urination.

Here are some tips to keep you hydrated:
  • Monitor body weight before and after exercise to gauge fluid loss
  • Monitor urine volume and color
  • Drink fluids before activity and during activity when exercising in hot, humid environments
  • Replace fluids after exercise
  • Eat foods with high water content (fruits and vegetables)
  • Consume fluids with meal
  • Use sport drinks if you are a heavy sweater and/or a salty sweater; if watching calories, try the "light" verisons that provide some carbohydrate but with the same electrolyte content as the regular sport drinks.

Friday, May 4, 2012

I liked this article on 13 health buzzwords we're sick of....

Because I am sick of them, too, and throw in the word "artisan" to that list because all of these words have been overused in marketing and don't always mean what a consumer thinks they mean.

But, it got me to thinking about a couple of words that you might think are bad when associated with foods, but both of these words are good words when used with a few nutrients that those of us 50+ need for good health.

The first is "irradiated."  We don't want our food irradiated (it smacks of radiation, but it isn't the same thing). Researchers have found that mushrooms can be exposed to ultraviolet light and, voila, the irradiated mushrooms are bursting with vitamin D. Why is this a good thing for older adults? We are part of the "at risk" group for vitamin D deficiency because as we age our skin is less efficient at making vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. We need 600 IU of vitamin D a day (those over 70 years need 800 IU) but data from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES) found that for women aged 51-70 the average intake of vitamin D from foods was 156 IU/day and was bumped up to 404 IU/day when supplements were added to their intake...but, still short of the daily recommendation.

Vitamin D does not occur naturally in too many foods. Salmon, tuna, and some other fatty fish, as well as eggs (but the vitamin D is in the yolk) contain vitamin D so some foods producers add or fortify foods with vitamin D. Milk and dairy foods, and some (but not all) yogurt has vitamin D but you need to read the labels to find out how much.

So, I was surprised when I bought some mushrooms to toss in a stir-fry and the label said "100% Vitamin D" in a 3-ounce serving. Not all mushrooms have been irradiated to boost vitamin D so look for labels that tout the added vitamin if you want to increase your vitamin D intake with a tasty, healthy food.

The second word is "synthetic" when followed by vitamin B12. I know what you are thinking, isn't natural always better? Not when it comes vitamin B12 and those of us over 50.Vitamin B12 is needed for red blood cell formation, DNA synthesis, and neurological function and is found predominantly in animal foods. The vitamin is tightly bound to the protein in foods and it takes stomach acid to separate the vitamin from the protein before it can be absorbed. Therein lies the problem...10-30% of those of us over 50 have decreased secretion of stomach acid. In fact, the Institute of Medicine recommends synthetic vitamin B12 (synthetic vitamin B12 is used in supplements and fortified foods) for everyone over 50 because the synthetic vitamin doesn't need stomach acid for absorption.

So, just as some words have been used to get us buy foods, some words might turn us off from buying a food or supplement that is actually good for us.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

There is Good News on Beef

Americans love beef but some media headlines have frightened consumers into thinking that only "white" meat is healthful. A new study from Penn State University researchers shows that lean beef when part of a heart healthy diet can lower total and low density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) and even lower markers of inflammation. The key is choosing the leanest cuts of beef, paying attention to preparation in the kitchen and watching portion size. And that is good news for all of us who love beef.

The BOLD study (Beef in an Optimal Lean Diet) was conducted with adult men and women with elevated total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol (LDL levels ranged from 110 to 177 milligrams) with different diets prepared in a test kitchen (that means it was a well-controlled diet study). None of the study participants were on cholesterol-lowering medications. The diets studied included the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) which contained only 1 ounce of beef a day and the BOLD and BOLD plus diets contained 4 and 5 ounces of lean beef, respectively.

Weight remained constant during the study (losing weight in itself can lower blood lipid levels so monitoring weight was a positive aspect of this study) and researchers found about a 5% reduction in LDL-cholesterol when the BOLD and BOLD plus diets were consumed, similar to the DASH diet. Researchers also noted that a marker of inflammation (CRP) was lower in those who had the highest levels of blood cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol.

The take away from this study is that lean beef can be part of a heart-healthy diet. While there are 29 cuts of lean beef that meet the criteria for lean meat, the study authors note that most grocery stores carry top loin and top round steak, top sirloin bottom round roast and 95% lean ground beef.

There is another good reason to include lean beef in your diet...a 4-ounce serving is an excellent source of the nutrients that are often low in the diets of the 50+ population: protein, B-vitamins niacin, B6 and B12 and minerals zinc and selenium. It is also a good source of choline, phosphorus, and iron. Beef is nutrient rich and many cuts of beef are 20% leaner than 15 years ago, according to the USDA.

It is important to keep portions moderate (4-5 ounces). Good ways to incorporate lean beef in your diet is by making kabobs with plenty of veggies, slicing lean grilled meat over a salad, and whipping up a stir-fry dish. Lean ground beef can be used as patties, meatloaf, and meatballs or as pizza topping or in pasta sauces. To further reduce the fat in ground beef, check out these tips at

Friday, January 20, 2012

Will zinc help you get over your winter cold?

I've managed to avoid the dreaded winter common cold; when I was teaching I almost always got a cold at the beginning of the semester when students brought those nasty cold viruses into the classroom.

There about a billion colds in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC, but the good news for those of us in the 50+ age group is that we get less colds probably because our lifetime exposure to viruses gives us a leg up in the immunity department.

But, if you do get the scratchy throat and other cold symptoms, will zinc be the answer to preventing the cold or at least reducing the severity? Zinc is an essential nutrient that is found in every cell of our body, acting as an anti-oxidant and critical nutrient in a healthy immune system. Zinc has the potential to inhibit the rhinovirus (the virus that causes most colds) to sticking and replicating in the nose and throat. It can also stop inflammation that contributes the symptoms of a cold...runny nose and stuffy head.

While there are many zinc preparations in the cold and flu aisle of your local drug or grocery store, should you use them? The research results are mixed, of course, they often are, but the latest review from the Cochrane Collaboration (a group that reviews medical topics by reviewing many studies on a particular topic) found that when zinc is taken at the first sign of a cold the length of the illness is reduced by about one day. Underwhelming or is it worth reducing your cold by about 24 hours?

If you want to try it, here are some tips and some personal advice...more on that later. Some considerations if you decide to use zinc lozenges (most provide between 5-10 milligrams of zinc):
  • timing and dose is important, try one zinc lozenge at the first sign of a cold and take it every 4 hours
  • more isn't better, in fact, in can make things worse; nausea and vomiting can occur and it can leave a metal taste in the mouth
  • avoid zinc nasal sprays...the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers that zinc sprays can lead to changes in the sense of smell and sometimes permanent changes
  • zinc can interfere with some prescription medications, like antibiotics and blood thinners, so always consider potential drug interactions

My personal advice comes from a bad (and stupid) reaction to zinc, even though I should have known better. Several years ago I was on my way to professional meeting in France when I started to get a sore throat..always my first cold symptom. During the flight a colleague's spouse gave me a bag of zinc lozenges and I popped them like candy for the 9-hour flight. When I arrived at the hotel I was so sick to my stomach I couldn't even make to the bathroom before vomiting. A great first impression to the conference hosts and hotel staff! And, to add insult to injury I still got sick.

So, my advice is to be careful when using zinc and I won't touch the stuff after my experience. Instead, I 'll stick to chicken soup. In 2000 some physicians actually studied chicken soup and found that it does have anti-inflammatory properties that inhibit a white blood cell that produces mucus. Mom was right about so many things!