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Tampa Bay Holistic Wellness is a preventative health care practice offering corrective exercise, sports performance, massage therapy and nutrition services.

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Filtering by Tag: Phytochemicals

Food Labels: Understand What You're Reading

Dawn Molina

As lots of people make new year’s resolutions to improve their diet, some may start to pay closer attention to the nutrition labels on the foods they buy. You may have recently caught my brief interview on WTSP Tampa Bay News 10. In this blog I will specifically expound on what to look for on your food labels as a concerned consumer. If you would like to schedule a grocery store visit with me, feel free to reach out and we can visit the store together. I totally understand how confusing and frustrating reading food labels can be!

Here are some guidelines to get you started:

1. Look at Serving Size

Start by looking at the nutrition facts and the serving size. Packages frequently contain more than a single serving, which means that you may have to multiply all of the amounts listed to get an accurate picture of how many calories or how much sugar is in a single container.

2. Check Calorie Count

Although calories are only part of the picture when it comes to reading labels, they’re vital to help you determine appropriate portion size. The standard daily caloric intake guidelines are 1,800-2,200 calories for adult women and 2,200-2,500 for adult men. (These calculations vary according to physical activity.) So, if you choose a food with 700 calories per serving, keep in mind that is approximately one-third of your daily calorie intake.

3. Avoid Enemy Fats

Trans fats raise LDL (“bad” cholesterol), lower HDL (“good” cholesterol), and slow your metabolism. Look for foods with zero trans fats, but be aware of this disturbing little factoid: If a product contains less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving, it can be listed as containing zero trans fats. Those trace amounts can really add up if you’re eating multiple servings per day.

So, how can you avoid eating trans fats? The best thing to do is stay away from foods that contain any partially or fully hydrogenated oils, which contain large quantities of trans fats and other altered fat substances.  Hydrogenated oils, which are often found in commercial baked goods, are designed to be impervious to bacteria so that they can sit on grocery store shelves for long periods of time. Is it any surprise that our own bodies would have trouble breaking down and processing these synthetic compounds?

4. Minimize Sodium

The recommended maximum daily intake of sodium is 2,300 mg per day (about one teaspoon), or 1500 mg per day if you’re over 40 or have hypertension. Consuming excess sodium is correlated with hypertension because it draws in water, which increases blood volume, which in turn increases blood pressure. The increased pressure strains the heart and increases the risk of atherosclerosis. If you have hypertension or heart disease, talk to your health care provider to determine your recommended daily limit of sodium.

5. Choose Carbs Wisely and Avoid Added Sugars

Carbohydrates (“carbs”) are often demonized in the media, but in truth, they’re abundant in whole foods and are a very important source of energy. The key thing to keep in mind is that complex carbohydrates (i.e., the carbohydrates in natural, fibrous foods like fruits & vegetables) are infinitely better for you than simple carbohydrates like refined sugar. The presence of fiber in complex carbs causes your body to break down the food more slowly, thus preventing sudden spikes in blood sugar. This is why you’ve likely heard that eating a piece of fruit is a healthier option than simply drinking fruit juice–the whole piece of fruit contains fiber, while the juice has been processed and stripped of fiber.

When you look at a food label, you’ll notice that there’s no recommended daily amount for sugar; the amount of sugar in the food is simply listed in grams. But most of us can’t really visualize a gram of sugar. To get a better picture, try converting grams to teaspoons by dividing by 4. For example, 20 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 5 teaspoons of sugar. As you read labels, you may realize that your daily sugar intake includes a lot more than what you add to your coffee!

Keep things simple by choosing complex carbohydrates, and by keeping added sugars to a minimum. For further advice, consult a nutritionist – we love talking about this stuff!

6. Get Your Fiber On

The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 g of dietary fiber for adult women and 38 g for adult men per day. Fiber is a crucial component of any food because it helps prevent big swings in blood sugar, keep your colon healthy, and best of all, it makes you feel full – so you eat less!

7. Stick with Short Ingredients Lists

Ingredients are listed in order by weight, so the first items on the list make up the bulk of the food. Look for foods containing unprocessed, recognizable ingredients.  If you can’t pronounce or don’t recognize some of the ingredients, put the product back on the shelf!

Another common rule of thumb is to look for foods with no more than five ingredients. Lengthy lists are usually a sign that a product has unnecessary extras such as artificial preservatives.

8. Look for Sugars with Nutritional Benefits

White sugar is highly processed and has been stripped of other nutrients. Instead of white sugar, look for less-processed sugars such as: Brown rice sweeteners (which usually include fiber), Honey (which contains beneficial antioxidants) or Molasses (which contains trace minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron and magnesium)

Please remember even though these types of sugars have more nutritional value than other processed sugars, they’re still sugars, and should be kept to a minimum.

9. Be Aware of “Hidden” Sugars

Sugar can masquerade under many different names. Be on the lookout for dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, levulose, maltose, sucrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, beet sugar, corn sugar, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, isomalt, maltodextrins, maple sugar, sorghum or turbinado sugar. You might even find more than one listed. These are all just variations on high-calorie, low-nutrient, added sugar.

Sugar alcohols deserve special mention – there are many different types, a few of the most common include: sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol.  A food sweetened with “sugar alcohols” can  say “0 grams sugar” on the nutritional label, but if the product is labeled ‘sugar-free’ or ‘no added sugar,’ the manufacturer must list the sugar alcohol count separately.

In general sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed by the body, which means they can have less of an impact on your blood sugar. That’s arguably a good thing, but the side effects are often intestinal discomfort, bloating and gas, so our advice is generally to steer clear!

10. Look for Whole Grain Breads

If you don’t see the word “whole” before the name of a grain, it’s not a whole grain. “Enriched flour” is not a whole grain product, nor is “unbleached white flour.” They are the same as white flour and have been stripped of fiber. To maximize your fiber intake, look for whole grains in the ingredient lists.

11. Know that Ingredients May Change

Even if you’ve been buying a particular product for years, it’s still a good idea to glance at the ingredients list every once in awhile. Things change! A recent example is Green & Black’s chocolate – their dark chocolate was always deliciously dairy free, but since they were acquired by Kraft Foods in January of 2010, their chocolate now contains whole milk powder.  This may seem inconsequential, but if you’re sensitive to dairy it is important to know.

When you begin reading food labels, it can feel almost feel like a second job. But once you get into the swing of it, it becomes more natural. Most importantly, it puts you back in control of what you’re eating. Start with a close examination of one or two packaged foods on a weekly basis–take a moment or two to understand what you’re really putting into your body…and let us know how it goes!


Spinach and Kale: Just Two of Our Greenest Friends

Dawn Molina

Blog 1 Spinach and Kale.jpg

When I was a child I never thought in a million years that I would love green vegetables as much as I do now. Like many of you I didn't grow up on an organic farm and I didn't have access to the beautiful gifts nature had to offer. I grew up in a generally unhealthy home. We weren't impoverished and we had access to finer things. Despite that we simply didn't know any better and having good nutrition simply meant we were able to eat more.

When I was younger I didn't understand that cells need nutrients to grow and work. I didn't know that lack of vitamins, minerals, adequate calories and proper protein can weaken our immune systems and make it less able to find and destroy germs. With all that unknown I generally ate whatever I wanted. Additionally I was athletic so most of what I ate I burned. To this very day almost two decades forward, one child later, I remain within five of what my weight was as a teenager. I move a lot and due to this my weight stays consistent. Nonetheless being well built doesn't make you disease free. Just look at athletes like Major League Baseball first baseman Andres Galarraga and Cyclist Lance Armstrong. Both were able to overcome their bouts with cancer, but they were not able to avoid the war against cancer with being fit alone. They still fell victim.

Research evidence suggests that some components of food may play a role in decreasing the risk of developing cancer including: phytochemicals, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Phytochemicals are chemicals found in plants that protect plants against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Eating large amounts of brightly colored fruits and vegetables (yellow, orange, red, green, white, blue, purple) may decrease the risk of developing certain cancers as well as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. The action of phytochemicals varies by color and type of the food. They may act as antioxidants, nutrient protectors or prevent carcinogens (cancer causing agents) from forming. Phytochemicals cannot be found in supplements and are only present in food. Foods high in phytochemicals include the following:

  • Broccoli
  • Berries
  • Soynuts
  • Pears
  • Turnips
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Olives
  • Tomatoes
  • Lentils
  • Cantaloupe
  • Garlic
  • Apricots
  • Onions
  • Green Tea
  • Apples
  • Cabbage
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Bok Choy
  • Kale
  • Red Wine

Today I want to focus on two of my favorite green vegetables: Kale and Spinach. I just love these too green guys! They are my go to my salads and sandwich garnishes. I also enjoy eating the both of them cooked. Listed below are some nutritional facts about the two.

Spinach: Among the world's healthiest vegetables, spinach comes out at the top for nutrient richness. Rich in vitamins and minerals, it is also concentrated in health-promoting phytonutrients such as carotenoids (beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin) and flavonoids that provide us with powerful antioxidant protection. Even though virtually all vegetables contain a wide variety of phytonutrients—including flavonoids and carotenoids, our friend spinach can claim a special place among vegetables in terms of its phytonutrient content. Researchers have identified more than a dozen different flavonoid compounds in spinach that function as anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer agents. And of course from excessive inflammation typically emerges the risk factor for increased cancer risk. Thus spinach is on top of its job by helping to reduce inflammation caused by other factors. Additionally one cup of spinach a day provides us with over 200% of our daily-recommended value of Vitamin K, which is essential for healthy bones. The friendly bacteria in our intestines convert vitamin K1 into vitamin K2, which activates osteocalcin, the major non-collagen protein in bone. Osteocalcin anchors calcium molecules inside of the bone. All of these vitamin K-related mechanisms point to the importance of vitamin K-rich foods for bone health and it is difficult to find vegetables that are richer in vitamin K than spinach.

Kale: While not as well researched as some of its fellow cruciferous vegetables like broccoli or cabbage, kale is a food that you can count on for some unsurpassed health benefits, if for no other reason than its exceptional nutrient richness. Like most of its fellow cruciferous vegetables, kale has been studied more extensively in relationship to cancer than any other health condition. This research focus makes perfect sense. Kale's nutrient richness stands out in three particular areas: (1) antioxidant nutrients, (2) anti-inflammatory nutrients, and (3) anti-cancer nutrients in the form of glucosinolates. Without sufficient intake of antioxidants, our oxygen metabolism can become compromised. We then can experience a metabolic problem called "oxidative stress." Without sufficient intake of anti-inflammatory nutrients, regulation of our inflammatory system can become compromised, and we can experience the problem of chronic inflammation. Oxidative stress, chronic inflammation and the combination of these two metabolic problems in conjunction with one another; are risk factors for the development of cancer. You can count on kale to provide valuable cardiovascular support in terms of its cholesterol-lowering ability. Our liver uses cholesterol as a basic building block to product bile acids. Bile acids are specialized molecules that aid in the digestion and absorption of fat through a process called emulsification. These molecules are typically stored in fluid form in our gall bladder, and when we eat a fat-containing meal, they get released into the intestine where they help ready the fat for interaction with enzymes and eventual absorption up into the body. When we eat kale, fiber-related nutrients in this cruciferous vegetable bind together with some of the bile acids in the intestine in such a way that they simply stay inside the intestine and pass out of our body in a bowel movement, rather than getting absorbed along with the fat they have emulsified. When this happens, our liver needs to replace the lost bile acids by drawing upon our existing supply of cholesterol, and, as a result, our cholesterol level drops down. Kale provides us with this cholesterol-lowering benefit whether it is raw or cooked. However, a recent study has shown that the cholesterol-lowering ability of raw kale improves significantly when it is steamed. In fact, when the cholesterol-lowering ability of steamed kale was compared with the cholesterol-lowering ability of the prescription drug cholestyramine (a medication that is taken for the purpose of lowering cholesterol), kale bound 42% as many bile acids (based on a standard of comparison involving total dietary fiber). Amongst all of the cruciferous vegetables, only collard greens scored higher at 46%. Collard greens are another one of my favorite greens! Collard greens & bacon are included in the picture provided with this blog, but I love collards so much that I have to write a blog post strictly about them!

- Dawn Molina

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