Thursday, April 28, 2011

What's a "Health Food?"

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

When you’re watching your calories, all foods are scrutinized for calories, portions, and nutrient richness. And now it appears that food choice is also influenced by how a food is described.

An interesting study published on-line in the Journal of Consumer Research (April 12, 2011) found that consumer views of a “healthy choice” were largely based on the perception of health, based on how it is listed on a menu. And, a big difference in response was found between those self-described as “on a diet” compared with non-dieters.

A “pasta salad” (containing greens, tomatoes, onions, as well as pasta, meat, and cheese) was evaluated by both dieters and non-dieters. When termed a “daily salad special” both groups ranked this salad as a healthy choice. When listed as a “daily pasta special”, the dieters decided this was NOT a healthy choice – but it was the same salad ingredients! Non-dieters ranked both salads the same.

This opens up a lot of questions about how dieters and non-dieters choose foods. While the non-dieters seemed to be most interested in the actual ingredients to rate their choice, the dieters were heavily influenced by the description of the meal.

My bottom line? When it comes to selecting foods, it’s important to be a saavy consumer and look for ingredients, not buzzwords! Has this kind of labeling affected your own food choices? Let me know!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What Colors Are Your Fruits and Vegetables?

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What Colors Are Your Fruits and Vegetables?

by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

One key to good health is a “colorful plate.” Colorful fruits and veggies are loaded with vitamins and minerals, as well as “phytochemicals.” That’s a fancy word for plant nutrients that vary depending with color of the produce - the stuff that provides color to your food also provides these value-added nutrients. And, each color contains different phytochemicals, so variety counts for optimal nutrient concentration! Aim for 5 servings a day – even though recent recommendations boost that to 7-9 for many people. It’s tough enough to get “5 a day,” and some is better than none.

Don’t forget “white” and “black” foods as well. I’m not talking about white bread – but about vegetables like parsnips, leeks, onions and garlic. Try some black beans or black sesame seeds, or blackberries (well, they’re actually dark blue!).

And what about those gourmet vegetables in unusual colors? Stick with the traditional colors of fruits and vegetables for optimal health benefits and price. While you’ll find yellow and orange peppers beside the standard green ones, the cost can be 3-4 times higher! The same goes for yellow tomatoes, red celery; orange cauliflower, white eggplant, and yellow watermelon; the colors are exotic, but the price is sky-high. The best way to put color in your plate is to mix and match what you enjoy, not what you feel you should be eating. Try a fruit salad – fresh, canned, or frozen fruits (skip the syrupy kind) - with endless ways to combine your favorites. A vegetable soup is as easy as combining some reduced-sodium beef or chicken broth, or tomato soup, with a bag or two of your favorite unsauced, frozen mixed vegetable combinations.

How do you add color to your diet? Share your thoughts!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day Health Tips

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Do you know what “holiday” is on April 22? It’s Earth Day! While we should be kind to our planet everyday, it’s a nice reminder of how we are all part of Mother Nature. In celebration of Earth Day, I’d like to share some of my favorite tips on eating, food safety, and recycling to make the earth and ourselves healthier.

Clean Your Sponge: Don’t toss your kitchen sponge when it shows some dirt. Instead, run it through a dishwasher cycle or wet it and microwave for one minute.

Skip Plastic Water Bottles: Even the newer bottles don’t break down for at least 50 years, so buy a reusable bottle for your beverage of choice.

Choose a Food-Safe Cutting Board: Stick with a dishwasher safe plastic cutting board, and skip the wood. Tiny cuts in both kinds can harbor bacteria which are can’t be washed off. Restaurants are not permitted by the Board of Health to use wooden boards. If you like wood, newer “composite woods” are available, and dishwasher safe.

Opt for a Vegetable Protein: Try eating lower on the food chain, with a protein-rich vegetarian source, like soybeans, black beans, lentils, or chick peas instead of beef or chicken. An easy start is a prepared veggie burger in your grocer’s freezer section

Happy Earth Day! What are your own ways to support Mother Nature?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Secrets to a Long Life

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

I’d like to share an interesting article I read recently, An obituary, actually. The world’s oldest man died last Thursday, at age 114. His name was Walter Breuning, and he lived in Great Falls, Montana. While a long way from Pittsburgh, his secrets are those from which we can all learn.

While no guarantee for a long and healthy life, here’s some of his personal advice: (1) eat two meals a day; (2) help other people; and (3) embrace change. Simple advice, but hard to follow for a lifetime.

He found a good way to manage his weight, by limiting his frequency of eating (which from a nutritional point of view is fine). Fred Astaire, who died when he was nearly 90 – and still dancing until the end – was also a member of the two meals a day club! This is not a recipe for success, but a take-home message that weight control is one factor tied to longevity, and it’s important to follow a plan that works for you.

Helping other people is a key factor of social connection and a positive mindset. While he was not of the generation of Facebook and Twitter, Mr. Breuning stayed engaged with volunteerism. Stay connected in ways that are meaningful to you.

Perhaps most importantly, is the ability to embrace change, and be adaptable. Learn to accept that this is not a perfect world, and we must all be flexible and “roll with the punches.”

No matter what your age – do you have any personal suggestions for a long life?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Slim Down Your Bread

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Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear about the forlorn “longing for breads” from people trying to cut calories. While whole grain breads can be a healthy part of a calorie-controlled diet, it’s often hard to limit the portions. So, while 100% whole grain breads contribute a mighty dose of fiber and B-vitamins, you’ll often be chowing down close to 250+ calories for the sandwich bread (that’s without the filling!). And forget about bagels the size of your head – close to a whopping 400 calories (before the toppings).

There are some new options you can try, to continue enjoying breads and bagels while still paying attention to your calories.

You might already be familiar with the 40-calorie per slice 100% whole wheat bread, or the 100-calorie whole grain English muffins. Perfect for breakfast, or a sandwich! A couple of new products get my two thumbs up: Bagel Thins (a 100 calorie full size bagel) and Deli Flats/Slim Buns (a 100 calorie roll). No matter which of these products you choose, you can count on good taste and a definite plus to keeping those “starchy carbs” as a regular part of your diet plan.

It’s great that portion down-sizing for breads are readily available in area supermarkets. It sure gives lifestyle efforts a boost! What portion-controlled breads have you found? Let me know!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Do You Zumba?

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Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

When people tell me that exercise is no “fun”, my thoughts immediately turn to Zumba. It’s a Latin-inspired dance fitness “party” that requires no special equipment or talent – just a willingness to have fun.

Available as classes in your local gym, as an at-home DVD or Wii Fit game, Zumba gives you the chance to let your hair down, relax, and get fit. What’s great about Zumba is that there are certain steps to learn – but it doesn’t really matter whether you’ve mastered the steps or not – the music is so engaging just moving in your own rhythm works too!

Dancing is a fantastic way to exercise, at your own pace. If you’re not a fan of the Latin beat – there are endless options available. Whether it’s a ballroom dancing class with your partner, or imaging yourself on “Dancing With the Stars” with a DVD at home (featuring their pros showing steps from the cha-cha to swing dancing), the time will fly by - and you’ll get an efficient workout. (Tune in to this season’s Dancing With the Stars to get some inspiration from the Steeler’s own Hines Ward who is quite the dancer himself!)

So, if you’re a clock-watcher on the treadmill, or have given up altogether – give dancing a try! I’d love to hear from you dancers out there – beginners and advanced!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Truth About Eggs

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Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Did you know that eggs are the most easily digested source of complete protein found in nature? While eggs are cholesterol-rich, they are chock full of nutrients that make them a healthy choice. But you need to choose wisely! Good for both your waistline and your wallet, a “large” egg has just 70 calories, and costs about 15 cents.

Most people can enjoy eggs several times a week, or even daily, when monitoring intake of other foods with saturated fat and cholesterol. According to the USDA, eggs now have 14% less cholesterol than years ago – 185 mg, down from 215 mg. With a recommended intake of 300 mg of cholesterol daily for much of the population (check with your doctor for your own personal health recommendation), whole eggs can be part of any healthy diet.

While many people choose egg whites exclusively – another healthy choice for sure – most of the nutrients are found in the yolk. Eggs are loaded with choline (for nervous system health), lutein/zeaxanthin (supporting vision), as well as a good source of vitamin D (2 eggs have 25% of your daily requirement). Plus, you’ll get 6 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fat.

What about those lower-cholesterol eggs? They’re two to three times more expensive, and are not low in cholesterol, just reduced. Same for “free range” eggs – this only means a chicken had access to the outdoors, not that they are out scratching in a barnyard. These are pricey choices, with a flimsy health payoff. So stick with regular eggs – white or brown – for nearly identical nutrient profiles.

Are you an egg eater? Do you stick with egg whites? Why not weigh in on this one?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Body Weight or Body Shape?

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by Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

When it comes to the risks of heart disease, a popular focus is your body shape – are you an “apple” (belly/abdominal fat) or a “pear” (hips/buttocks fat)? Typically, an apple shape has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, compared to a pear. But a new study challenges this concept – and in a large review of more than 220,000 people and cardiovascular disease, body shape was not a predictor of risk.

What does this mean for you? Simply put, whatever your shape, it might not matter for heart disease risk. But being overweight or obese are the modifiable factors that impact most. Importantly, it you have lower-body obesity (pear-shaped), that’s not a “better” kind of excess weight; I’ve talked with dozens of patients who rationalize their own weight issues by saying “at least it’s not belly fat”. If you’ve got excess pounds, you’re at risk.

It IS tough to lose weight and keep it off – but worth the effort. Start with small steps, and get some support to stay on track. Good health is definitely its own reward!

Are you an apple or a pear? And how do you address your own weight issues?