Archive for the ‘Diet and Nutrition’ Category

NOTE: This is a repost of my latest article written for the Huffiness Institute at Texas A&M University, which you can find at this link.

Huffines2a

 

Recently, coconut oil has exploded in popularity: it is added to coffee, used in cooking, and even consumed by the spoonful. This begs the question of what exactly makes coconut such a “miracle food”? A number of organizations advise against the consumption of coconut oil because of its high saturated fat (SF) content, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and American Heart Association.  Indeed, coconut oil is approximately 90% SF (14), which has generally been shown to increase total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol. However, fatty acids vary in their number of carbons, yielding different categories of chain length that affect fat metabolism.  Coconut oil is mainly composed of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), which may give it unique properties that differentiate it from other SF.

Lauric acid is a 12-carbon MCFA that makes up 50% of coconut oil. Studies have shown that lauric acid may have a lesser effect on total and LDL cholesterol compared to other SF (4), and any increase in total cholesterol is attributed to increased HDL cholesterol (5, 9). Lauric acid is not degraded in the intestines, but is transported directly to the liver where it easily diffuses into mitochondria to be converted into acetyl-CoA and ketone bodies for energy (2, 5). Lauric acid is the most highly oxidized fatty acid, therefore contributing least to fat accumulation (5). Additionally, it has been shown to exhibit antibiotic and antiviral properties that may positively impact immune function (5, 11).

Animal studies have shown that virgin coconut oil supplementation in rats decreases total and LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, and abdominal fat while increasing HDL cholesterol (11, 15). Surveys of Pacific Islanders who obtain 50-80% of their energy from coconut sources have lower rates of cardiovascular disease (13), and such coconut-based diets show reduced markers of heart attack risks (9). During a weight-loss intervention in women, exercise with coconut oil supplementation increased HDL while decreasing both LDL:HDL and waist circumference (1); another study showed an increase in HDL with coconut oil supplementation in women but not in men (4).

Fewer studies have looked at the effect of coconut oil on exercise performance. An animal model showed that mice fed MCFAs significantly increased their swimming endurance, with increased markers of fat oxidation and ketone body utilization (6). A case study on elite endurance cyclists who were fed high SF diets containing coconut oil showed greater endurance capacity compared to a polyunsaturated diet (8).

While little research is available on the effects of coconut oil ingestion on exercise performance, the high concentrations of MCFAs (specifically lauric acid) exhibit potential for application to athletes. These fatty acids are available for “quick” energy while contributing least to fat accumulation, which could positively impact performance. Additionally, the general population may benefit from increased HDL cholesterol, lower LDL:HDL, and decreased abdominal obesity by consuming coconut oil in place of other SF. All of these properties together suggest that perhaps the “coconut craze” may have some truth to it after all.

coconut

References:

1. Assuncao M.L., H.S. Ferreira, A.F. dos Santos, C.R. Cabral Jr, T.M.M.T. Florencio. Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity. Lipids. 44(7):593-601. 2009.

2. Bach and Babayan. Medium-chain triglycerides: an update. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 36:950-962. 1982.

3. Chempro: http://www.chempro.in/fattyacid.htm (accessed 7/1/2015)

4. Cox, C., J. Mann, A. Chisholm, M. Skeaff. Effects of coconut oil, butter, and safflower oil on lipids and lipoproteins in persons with moderately elevated cholesterol levels. Journal of Lipid Research. 36(8):1787-1795. 1995.

5. Dayrit, F.M. The properties of lauric acid and their significance in coconut oil. Journal of the American Oil Chemists Society. 92(1):1-15. 2015.

6. Fushiki, T., K. Matsumoto, K. Inoue K, T. Kawada. Swimming endurance capacity of mice is increased by chronic consumption of medium-chain triglycerides. Journal of Nutrition. 125:531-539. 1995.

7. Lukaski, H.C., W.W. Bolonchuk, L.M. Klevay, J.R. Mahalko, D.B. Milne, H.H. Sandstead. Influence of type and amount of dietary lipid on  plasma concentrations in endurance athletes. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 39:35-44. 1984.

8. Lukaski, H.C., W.W. Bolonchuk, L.M. Klevay, J.R. Mahalko, D.B. Milne, H.H. Sandstead. Interactions among dietary fat, mineral status, and performance of endurance athletes: a case study. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 11:186-198. 2001.

9. Mensink, R.P., P.L. Zock, A.D.M. Kester, M.B. Katan. Effects of dietary fatty acids and carbohydrates on the ratio of serum total to HDL cholesterol and on serum lipids and apolipoproteins: a meta-analysis of 60 controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 77(5):1146-1155. 2003.

10. Muller, H., A.S. Lindman, A. Blomfeldt, I. Seljeflot, J.I. Pedersen. A diet rich in coconut oil reduces diurnal postprandial variations in circulating tissue plasminogen activator antigen and fasting liproprotein (a) compared with a diet rich in unsaturated fat in women. Journal of Nutrition. 133(11):3422-3427. 2003.

11. Nevin, K.G., T. Rajamohan. Beneficial effects of virgin coconut oil on lipid parameters and in vitro LDL oxidation. Clinical Biochemistry. 37(9):830-835. 2004.

12. Nevin, K.G., T. Rajamohan. Virgin coconut oil supplemented diet increases the antioxidant status in rats. Food Chemistry. 99(2):260-266. 2006.

13. Prior, I.A., F. Davidson, C.E. Salmond, Z. Czochanska. Cholesterol, coconuts, and diet on Polynesian atolls: a natural experiment: the Pukapuka and Tokelau island studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 34(8):1552-1561. 1981.

14. USDA: http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/636?fgcd=&manu=&lfacet=&format=&count=&max=35&offset=&sort=&qlookup=Coconut+Oil (accessed 7/1/2015)

15. Zulet, M.A., A. Barber, H. Garcin, P. Higueret, J.A. Martinez. Alterations in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism induced by a diet rich in coconut oil and cholesterol in a rat model. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 18(1):36-42. 1999.

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You may not think much about the release of The Hobbit this Friday, but there is one thing those short hairy-footed men got right: second breakfast! While I grab something quick immediately upon waking up, I usually need another breakfast around 8:30-9:30. This is a great second breakfast or Sunday brunch, and is actually a pretty quick-and-dirty meal, supplying a few servings of veggies along with with plenty of protein. So give it a try the next time your stomach starts rumbling mid morning!

frittata

Ingredients:

You have two options, you can either buy frozen veggies and steam them first, or chop your own. Regardless, you will need:

-onion

-bell peppers (whatever colors you want)

-tomatoes

-zucchini

-yellow squash

-4-6 eggs

-salsa (optional)

-cheese (optional, can use white cheddar, provolone, feta, or mozzarella)

Instructions:

1. Sauté onion with whatever spices you would like. I use garlic powder, parsley, rosemary, salt, and pepper.

2. Whisk eggs with salsa, if desired. May also mix with just tomatoes.

3. In another pan, sauté zucchini and yellow squash.

4. Mix tomatoes in with zucchini and yellow squash when the squash is nearly done.

5. In other pan, pour egg mixture over sauteed onions and allow to cook thoroughly on each side.

6. Remove egg from heat and transfer to plate.

7. Spoon sauteed squash and tomato mixture over the top of the egg and top with desired cheese.

8. Enjoy your frittata!

Sometimes just looking at a meal plan just won’t cut it. You want to know exactly what should/should not be in your kitchen and you want to see examples. So, to continue on the inventory I have been taking of my foods, I bring you: my pantry!

 

  • Mom’s Best Naturals Oat and Honey cereal
  • Nature’s Path Organic Heritage Flakes
  • Muesli
  • Cranberry Cashew Granola
  • Levant Falafel Chips
  • Whole Wheat Pita Chips
  • Silver Hills Big 16 bread
  • Xtreme Wellness spinach and herb tortillas
  • Whole wheat fig bars
  • ProBar Superfood slam
  • Earnest Eats cran-lemon zest food bar
  • Trail mix
  • Energy bites
  • Kind fruit and nut bars
  • Bob’s Red Mill steel cut oats
  • Ronzoni 100% whole wheat pasta
  • Slivered almonds
  • Pecans
  • Walnuts
  • RiceSelect Texmati rice
  • RiceSelect tri color orzo
  • Ronzoni Garden Delight veggie pasta
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Canned lima beans
  • Canned chili beans
  • Canned peaches
  • Canned mixed greens
  • Whole flax meal
  • Bob’s Red Mill Coconut Flour
  • Goya coconut milk
  • Goya black beans
  • Local honey
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Olive oil
  • Raw peanut butter
  • Raw peanut butter with dark chocolate
  • Garden of Life Raw Meal
  • Nuun electrolyte enhanced drink tablets
  • Vitamin C
  • Swanson Joint Care
  • Sundown Natural adult gummy multivitamin

So for all of those who ask me if they need to cut out carbs to eat clean, you can probably see my answer! Just be sure to go for complex carbs, like whole grains, not overly processed foods or simple sugars. Happy eating!

By popular demand, here is the first of several “inventory” articles that I will post. Keep in mind that this is a snapshot of what is in my fridge/freezer/pantry/fruit bowl at one given moment. This does not mean these foods are all that I eat, it is just to give you an example of what is regularly stocked! So this first post will focus on the refrigerator. Keep in mind that you can also view my meal plan in addition to checking out these inventories!

  • Whole milk (that’s right, WHOLE milk has all the good stuff…)
  • Chocolate milk
  • Stonyfield organic yogurt
  • Brown Cow all natural yogurt
  • 4% Milkfat cottage cheese
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Cantaloupe
  • Power Greens salad mix
  • Carrots
  • Onion
  • Cauliflower
  • Broccoli
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Green beans
  • Nectarines
  • Aged white cheddar cheese
  • Brisket
  • Hummus
  • Steak pinwheels
  • Bison top sirloin
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Salsa
  • Guacamole

Tune in next week for Part 2: The Freezer!

I know I’m not the only one who runs short on time some nights. You know, that feeling you get when you’re in the middle of doing something or you just walked in the door and you look at the clock and realize it’s 8:00pm and you haven’t had dinner? Well here is a quick yet well-rounded (and even kid-friendly!) meal to help you win the healthy-meal-in-a-time-crunch battle.

What you’ll need:

Sweet potatoes (1 for each person you’re feeding)

Wheat bread

Reduced fat cheese

Ham or turkey

Broccoli or carrots

Reduced Fat Ranch

Grapes or other fruit

No sodium butter

Brown sugar or honey

Reduced fat milk

 

Start:

Minute Zero: Wet sweet potatoes and put in plastic produce bag with twisted top, put in microwave for 5 minutes on 70% power (you can also cut sweet potatoes into chunks and boil, but this takes slightly longer).

Minute 1: Heat pan with small slice of butter, slice cheese (or use pre-sliced cheese).

Minute 2: Put cheese and ham/turkey on bread and put in pan.

Minute 3: Cut broccoli off stalk and wash.

Minute 4: Wash grapes.

Minute 5: Flip your sandwich.

Minute 6: Take sweet potatoes out of microwave (using pot holders or dishtowel), let cool for one minute.

Minute 7: Turn heat off on sandwich but keep it in the pan so that it stays warm.

Minute 8-12: Cut sweet potatoes in half and use spoon to scoop insides into a bowl. Add milk and 1/2 tablespoon of butter and mash. Stir in tablespoon of brown sugar or honey.

Minute 13-14: Put broccoli on a plate and add ranch, take grapes off stems and put in a bowl.

Minute 15: Take sandwich out of the pan, cut it if you wish, fill up a glass of water and enjoy!

Anytime you have this many colors on one plate, you know it has to be a great, healthy meal (unless of course, you have a plate full of M&Ms, then maybe not so much). Get your protein, carbs, fiber, and a ton of vitamins with this plate full of balsamic chicken with sweet potatoes and veggies. Here’s how:

Easy Balsamic Chicken: 

Cover the bottom of a pan with a thin layer of olive oil.

Add a half cup of balsamic vinegar (add another 1/8 of a cup for additional chicken breasts).

Add any seasonings you like (I sauteed with chopped garlic, rosemary, and oregano).

Once the oil and vinegar is simmering, add desired number of chicken breasts, chopped into bite sized chunks.

Let one side of the chicken cook then flip the pieces.

Sweet Potato Slices:

Wash sweet potatoes, but don’t peel. A lot of the vitamins are in the skin!

Cut desired number of sweet potatoes into slices.

Add to a pot of boiling water with a small amount of olive oil and salt.

Once sweet potatoes are soft, drain water and add olive oil and either cumin, Greek seasoning, or just salt and pepper, and toss.

Veggies: 

These are the easiest! Just grab a steam-in-the-bag pack of mixed veggies at the store and pop in the microwave.

And here’s the colorful masterpiece you’ll have when you’re done:

Happy eating!

This meal is more than just a “meal of the week”, it is a small part of a diet that has shown time and time again to be one of the healthiest in the world. I’m not saying you should move to the sunny shores of the Mediterranean, abandoning all cares and forsaking all other foods, though that doesn’t sound too bad. But try working in some Greek and Mediterranean dishes into your diet in order to get the following health benefits:

  • micronutrients
  • antioxidants
  • vitamins, and minerals
  • weight loss due to filling, satisfying food choices
  • reduce chronic disease
  • lower LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol)
  • reduce risk of diabetes
  • protect against cancer
  • reduce the risk of heart disease
  • fend off Alzheimer’s disease

So what does a Mediterranean diet look like? Mayo clinic outlines it this way:

The Mediterranean diet emphasizes:

  • Getting plenty of exercise
  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Replacing butter with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)

The diet also recognizes the importance of enjoying meals with family and friends.

Why does this end up being such a healthy diet? Some reasons include the presence of monounsaturated fats in foods typically found in such a diet (i.e., olive oil), as opposed to the intense amount of saturated fat in a typical American diet. A very interesting conclusion in a 2003 study from The New England Journal of Medicine suggests that it may actually be the synergy between the foods of this diet that leads to the health benefits, not necessarily any one food or ingredient by itself.

Cardiologist Arthur Agatston, MD, says that such health benefits just “cannot be replaced by a supplement.”

So what are you waiting for? Break out the olive oil, the nuts, and the red wine and start working a Big Fat Greek Diet!

Here’s my easy Greek meal to get you started:

 

For this sandwich, I just take a whole wheat pita (check the packaging to make sure there’s no high fructose corn syrup added!) and spread the inside with hummus. Then stuff it with cucumber slices, sprouts, and greek salad – which includes feta, olives, banana peppers, and olive oil. You can add sliced chicken or turkey if you want some meat (I’ve added Boar’s Head Everroast chicken breast to mine). Simple as that! Enjoy!

 

Articles/References:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703883504576186970964603198.html

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2011/03/08/greek-study-shows-benefits-mediterranean-diet/

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mediterranean-diet/CL00011

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/benefits-mediterranean-diet

http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500194_162-644874.html

Need some fruits and veggies in your life? Try this salad with grilled chicken to get your vitamins and protein in the same tasty meal. I like to use a 50/50 mix of spring mix and baby spinach. The number of chicken breasts depends on how many people you’re cooking for (if I’m cooking for multiple people, I’ll give each person their own chicken breast and just mix the salad separately). Marinade the chicken in a low sodium salad dressing and grill. While the chicken is on the grill, mix your spring mix and spinach with a handful of chopped walnuts, dried cranberries, chopped apple, and top with feta cheese. You can garnish the salad like I did with some whole carrots, or chop and mix them in! It’s that easy. I like to use either Greek or balsamic vinaigrette for a dressing. Toss and top with chicken and you’re done!

This meal is relatively easy to make but takes a little bit of time, around 30 minutes. You can increase or decrease serving size, but the recipe below will make approximately 4 servings. This meal supplies lots of vitamins from the veggies as well as good fiber, and there are plenty of whole grains in the pasta.

-2 Chicken breasts

-2 or 3 cloves of garlic (based on personal preference)

-1 zucchini, sliced and quartered

-2 whole carrots, sliced

-1 green or yellow bell pepper

-1/2 small can black olives

-1 can organic primavera sauce

-Whole grain Farafalle pasta (3/4 is one serving, so based on desired servings, you can make as much or as little pasta as you would like)

Directions:

Cut the chicken breasts into 1″x1″ chunks and sautee in olive oil and Italian seasoning with the garlic (sliced or minced, to preference) in a large saucepan.

Once the chicken is nearly cooked through, add the veggies and cook until tender.

Add pasta sauce and black olives and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

While chicken and sauce is simmering, cook the pasta.

Mix both together or pour sauce over the top of the pasta. You can sprinkle parmesan or romano cheese over the top (in moderation of course!).

Enjoy!

Per reader suggestion, here is your first Meal of the Week brought to you by my Sunday morning breakfast. Obviously, you may not have time to cook something up like this every day (and don’t worry, I’ll get around to some quicker morning meals here soon) but on the days you do, this is a great, high-protein start to your day.

Here’s what you see:

1. Orgain

2. Eggs (2)

3. Toast (1)

4. Low sodium, 1% milk fat Cottage Cheese (1 serving) with strawberries

5. Water (8 oz)

Here’s why you see it:

1. Orgain is an organic protein supplement with zero saturated fat, 10 servings of fruits and veggies, 24 vitamins and minerals, gluten-free, with no artificial sweeteners. Since I’ve been drinking this in the mornings, I haven’t even needed my daily coffee as a pick-me-up! The vitamins in this drink will fuel you all morning long while the protein/carb mix helps build lean muscle.

2. Eggs, of course, are high protein. I will eat mine fried or scrambled, but here is a good tip for cooking eggs: instead of using butter, try an olive oil pan spray.

3. Toast gives me some extra carbs to make sure I feel full, plus it’s a great source of whole grains. Look for low sugar fruit preserves or use honey as a topping.

4. Cottage cheese is another great source of protein, and opt for the full fat version if you’re regularly training/working out (I get 4% milk fat)! I mixed strawberries in with mine to get another serving of fruit for the day.

5. Water needs no explanation! Remember, anytime you drink some sort of protein shake,  you should drink at least as much water.

Be on the lookout for more meal ideas each week!