April 15

Why Does Asparagus Make Urine Smell Funny?

This might appear to be a strange topic for a feature article, but it is the question I am most frequently asked.

Asparagus contains a sulfur compound called mercaptan, which has a strong odor. (It’s the sulfur in rotten eggs, onions, garlic, skunks, and bad breath that give off the stinky odor.) Mercaptan is in a stable form in uneaten asparagus, so there is no odor until the body breaks down the vegetable during digestion and absorption. The process is so quick that your urine begins to take on the distinctive smell within 15 to 30 minutes.

roasted asparagus
The commonly held belief is that some people have an enzyme that breaks down mercaptan to its smelly form, sometimes called methyl mercaptan or methanehtiol, (estimates are as low as 22% of the population) and other people don’t, which explains why only some people developed stinky urine after a meal containing asparagus. The trait is genetic, so there is no way to get around the smell. However, another theory is that the phenomena might be a matter of smell, since some people’s noses can’t detect the smell of mercaptan. So, their urine could be just as stinky, but their noses don’t sniff it out.

Mercaptan is a very “smelly” compound, so stinky that it is added to natural gas, which otherwise is odorless and colorless. If companies didn’t add mercaptan to gas it would be hard to know that unlit natural gas was coming from your stove after you left the valve turned on or that you had a leak from the furnace or hot water heater.

While mercaptan might make your urine stinky, it is not harmful. In fact, it’s a powerhouse of nutrients. Asparagus, a member of the lily family along with garlic, onions, and leeks, is a great source of folic acid (a B vitamin that helps protect against birth defects, heart disease, and cancer), vitamin C (an antioxidant that protects tissues against damage), and beta carotene (which can be converted to vitamin A and also is an antioxidant), not to mention fiber and a host of health-enhancing phytochemicals that protect against disease. This is one vegetable worth including in the diet.

By the way, the widespread belief that asparagus urine is linked to higher intelligence is a figment of someone’s over-active imagination!

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: elana’s pantry via Compfight


Just Do This Today

Eat Nuts
Not only are nuts a good source of protein, magnesium, vitamin E, and B vitamins, but
recent research shows that a handful of nuts as a snack several times a week lowers heart disease by 35% and cancer risk.  The fat in nuts is heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats. High in fat, yet adding nuts to the daily diet helps weight loss. A study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found that women on low-calorie diets that included nuts lost just as much weight as women on low-calorie, low-fat diets, but were more likely to keep the weight off long-term.

Photo Credit: s58y via Compfight


Hot Off the Diet Press

1.   Red Meat Could Kill Ya’: That all-American steak shortens your life, raising your risk for heart disease, cancer, and other ills, according to a study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. Dietary intakes were gathered on 37,600 men and more than 83,600 women in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study and the Nurses’ Health Study. During the following 28 years, 23,926 participants died, with 5,910 of those deaths from cardiovascular disease and 9,464 from cancer. Results showed that every daily serving of red meat increased the risk of dying by 12%. Each serving (3 ounces or the size of a deck of cards) of processed meats, such as sandwich meats and hot dogs, increased death risk by 20%, while each serving of unprocessed meat increased risk by 13%. Risk dropped substantially every time red meat was replaced by seafood, chicken, nuts, legumes, low-fat milk products, or whole grains. Risk dropped 7% for fish, 14% for poultry, 19% for nuts, 10% for legumes, 10% for low-fat milk, and 14% for whole grains. The researchers calculated that if people ate less than half a serving of red meat each day, deaths would have dropped by 9.3% in men and 7.6% in women. http://1.usa.gov/GBWY8Y

Photo Credit: robert terrell

2. Trans Wreck: Eating foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils makes you mean and cranky, at least that is what researchers at the University of California, San Diego found in their study of 945 men and women. Diets and behaviors were analyzed and compared. Results showed that high intakes of trans fats found in hydrogenated vegetable oils and used in processed foods, such as cookies, crackers, soups, margarine, cake mixes, and fast foods were associated with high risks for irritability and aggressive behaviors. http://1.usa.gov/HwIbja

3. Fat and Infertile: Men who eat high-fat diets and/or who are overweight are the ones most likely to have low sperm counts or no sperm production at all, according to several studies including ones from Harvard Medical School and Ambroise Paré Hospital. In the Harvard study, diet and semen quality were analyzed in 99 men. Results showed that the more fat a man consumed, the lower his sperm quality, with men in the highest category of saturated fat intake having a 43% lower sperm count and 38% lower sperm concentration than men in the lowest saturated fat intake category. In the second study from France, sperm count and body weight were compared. Overweight men were 11% more likely to have a low sperm count and 39% more likely to have no sperm, while obese men were 42% more likely to have a low sperm count and 81% more likely to have sperm-free ejaculate compared to lean men.  http://1.usa.gov/HocgPe and http://1.usa.gov/HiEMD0


Label Lingo

Americans are eating more added sugar than any animal has eaten in the history of the planet. Up to 25% of calories are coming from this nutrient wasteland.

The American Heart Association recommends we consume no more than 100 calories from sugar for women and 150 calories for men each day, which is 25 grams and 37 grams, respectively.

Read labels. There is 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, so a fruited yogurt with 32 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 8 teaspoons. You’ll be surprised to find sugar in places you never expected, from frozen turkey entrees to some soups.

Make sure to check serving size, too. The 13 grams of sugar in a serving of canned barbecued beans might not seem like much until you realize that is only 1/4 of the can.

Photo Credit: D. Sharon Pruitt

Food & Mood Tip

A wealth of research is accumulating on a fat commonly found in fish, called omega-3 DHA, and brain function. DHA accounts for 97% of the omega-3 fats in the brain. It is the critical omega-3 for normal brain development and function throughout life, from infancy to the senior years and might lower Alzheimer’s risk by up to 60%. A study from Tufts University in Boston also concludes that maintaining high DHA levels produces up to a 47 % reduction in the risk of developing dementia. Recent studies found that the omega-3s not only protect against dementia, but protect the brain and help maintain memory in the early years, too.

The problem is that even for those of us who love salmon, it is difficult to get the two to three recommended servings of fatty fish each week, which explains why 75% of the population consumes no DHA on a given day. Fish get their DHA by eating DHA-rich algae. If you are concerned  about contaminants like pesticides and mercury in fish, can’t afford or don’t like fish,  you can get that same DHA in foods that are fortified with algal-based DHA. Be careful, some foods are fortified with omega 3s, but it is the wrong one. The omega-3 ALA in walnuts, flax, and soy, is good for your heart, but won’t give you the “brain” boost that you get only from DHA.

Photo Credit: drp


Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week

Another fool-proof, tried-and-true habit that is guaranteed to help with weight loss from my  Eat Your Way to Sexy is that diets succeed when you pay attention and monitor your progress. Everyone I know who lost weight for good has kept a food journal where they recorded what, how much, when, and where they eat, as well as hunger level and mood before and after the meal. This boosts self awareness, keeps you focused on your goals, provides invaluable feedback, and is a critical step in designing strategies. Be honest, specific, and complete in your record keeping. (Diet successes are consistently more accurate about portion size than are diet failures.) Record information at mealtime, since memory is highly inaccurate. Return to record-keeping at the first sign of weight gain.

Photo Credit: Laura Billings


Mood-Boosting Recipe of the week

Pan-Seared Asparagus with Gingered Onions

Ingredients:
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon orange peel, thinly sliced
4 cups onions, thinly sliced into rounds
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 1 /2 pounds fresh asparagus, washed and ends snapped off
salt to taste
Orange slices (optional)

Directions:

1. Soak orange peel in chicken broth for 5 minutes.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the chicken broth in a medium-sized, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add onions and orange peel. Cook, turning frequently, for 10 minutes or until onions are translucent and peel is tender. Add additional chicken broth, a tablespoon at a time, to keep onions moist, but not wet. Add ginger, brown sugar, and salt to taste. Continue to stir until onions are golden and limp, approximately 10 minutes. Set aside.

3. During the last 10 minutes while onions are cooking, pour olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add asparagus and salt to taste. Stir gently and frequently until asparagus turns bright green and is cooked through, but still crunchy, approximately 12 minutes. Add a tablespoon of chicken broth if pan is too dry.

4. Arrange asparagus spears on a platter and top with gingered onions. Garnish with orange slices. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 103 Calories; 14% fat (1.7 grams); 0 grams saturated fat; 20% protein; 66% carbohydrate; 5 grams fiber.


Answers to “Do You Know?” From Last Issue:

What is the #1 source of fat in women’s diets? Salad dressing. This explains why we can turn a healthy meal into a calorie disaster. Always ask for dressing on the side, then dip the fork lightly into the dressing before piling on the greens. Plan to leave 2/3 of the dressing in the bowl after the salad is consumed.

For every 7 teaspoons of fat consumed, potentially how much can be stored as body fat?
6.9 teaspoons. If calories are consumed in excess of what you burn in exercise, then the remaining calories (from carbs, protein, fat, or alcohol) will be stored as fat. Since dietary fat comes readily packaged and requires no conversion, as would carb or protein calories, it is easy for the body to store without burning any calories in the process.

Do You Know?

A label on olive oil says the product is “extra light.” What does this mean?

Experts recommend limiting saturated fat to no more than 10% of total calories. If you eat 2,000 calories, what would be your saturated fat gram allowance?

Check the next issue for the answers…


The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the morning snack  if you want to cut an additional 250+ calories.

Breakfast
1 3 ounce, low-fat bran muffin
  2 tablespoons almond or peanut butter
1 large nonfat latte made with nonfat milk
1 orange, peeled and sectioned

Snack
1 /2 toasted whole wheat bagel topped with 2 ounces smoked salmon/lox, 1 slice red onion, 1 thick slice tomato, and 2 tablespoons alfalfa sprouts
10 baby carrots
Sparkling water

 

 Photo Credit: Mark H. Anbinder via Compfight

 

Lunch
Linguini Marinara:

1 cup cooked linguini pasta

Marinara sauce: Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in cast-iron skillet. Saute 2 minced garlic, 1 /2 cup chopped onion, 1/4 cup sliced red bell peppers, and 1/3 cup grated carrot until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Add 1 /2 cup bottled pasta sauce and 1 /2 teaspoon Italian seasoning. Simmer until bubbling. Pour over pasta.

1 1 /2 cups fresh green beans, steamed and topped with 1 tablespoon slivered almonds
Water

Snack
1 large apple
2 tablespoons chunky peanut butter
Water

 

 

Grilled Spiced Chicken
  Dinner and Dessert

4 ounces grilled, skinless chicken breast
1 serving Pan-Seared Asparagus with Gingered Onions
1 small baked potato topped with fat-free sour cream
1 cup fresh berries topped with fat-free, plain yogurt and 1 tablespoon raspberry jam
1 cup nonfat milk, warmed and sweetened with 2 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon almond extract

Photo Credit: Matt McNier

Nutritional Analysis for the day: 2,001 Calories; 29%  fat (64.5 grams); 10 gram saturated fat; 1.1 grams omega-3 fats; 18%  protein; 53%  carbohydrate; 47 grams fiber.