October 2013

Should You Be Concerned About Mercury in Fish?

You love tuna sandwiches. But, you’ve heard tuna is high in mercury. What should you do? To be on the safe side, cut back on canned tuna. While fish deserve a healthy round of applause, the waters in which they swim are not so pure. Many of the chemicals, pollutants, and pesticides used on land leach into the lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal waters where they are ingested by simple forms of marine life. These lifeforms, in turn, are consumed by medium-sized fish, which then are consumed by larger fish. Each step of this food chain – from plankton to tuna – further concentrates chemical contaminants in fish tissues. Among the chemicals of biggest concern is mercury.

Mercury exists naturally in nature and results from the burning of fossil fuels. The accumulation of mercury in the body and brain has been linked to an increased risk for nerve damage, birth defects, psychomotor retardation, and even cerebral palsy, especially in children whose mother’s consumed large amounts of mercury-contaminated fish or grain during pregnancy.

Almost all fish contain some mercury, but the levels range from less than 0.01ppm to 0.5ppm for most fish. It’s only in a few species that levels reach the upper limit set for human consumption of 1.0ppm. These are large predator fish, such as swordfish, shark, and large species of tuna that are used mostly for fresh steaks or sushi. The smaller species of tuna typically used for canning, such as skipjack and albacore, have much lower levels of mercury, averaging about 0.17ppm.

To play it safe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that women of childbearing age eat shark, tuna, and swordfish no more than once a month. Everyone else, should limit those fish to seven ounces a week.

The canned tuna you eat is not as concentrated a source of this toxic metal as is fresh tuna; however, frequent consumption or lack of variety in the diet could be a concern. Tuna is a great source of protein, some vitamins and minerals, and the omega-3 fatty acids so important for health. Two tuna sandwiches a week as part of a varied diet is fine, but more than that and you might be consuming too much mercury and missing out on the other foods necessary for optimal health.

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Just Do This Today

1. Switch from canned tuna to canned wild salmon to make your sandwich. Canned salmon is low in mercury and rich in the omega-3 fats, DHA and EPA, that lower risk for heart disease, dementia, depression, and more.

2. Use baked and mashed sweet potatoes as a substitute for rice or mashed potatoes. They are by far richer in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients.

3. Try one new whole grain today, such as spelt, Ezekiel cereal, instant brown rice, or old fashioned oatmeal.

4. Vow to only bring soft drinks and other sweetened bottled beverages into the house on special occasions and only less than once a month, such as for a baseball game.

Hot Off the Diet Press

1. Soda on the Hot Seat, Again!: Preschool kids who regularly drink sugary beverages pack on more pounds than other children, according to researchers at the University of Virginia. Soda consumption and body weight were compared in a group of 9,600 children between 2- and 5-years-old. Results showed that soda consumption was linked to higher BMIs (Body mass index) in the 4- and 5-year-olds. In addition, 2-year-olds who drank at least one sugary drink a day gained more weight during the subsequent few years than did their leaner friends.

While many factors contribute to excessive weight gain at any age, it is obvious that a total junk food with no nutritional value, such as sugary beverages, is an easy way to cut calories. According to federal government statistics, U.S. children could cut 235 calories a day from their diets if they swapped sugary drinks for water. That totals 85,775 calories a year, or the calories in 24.5 pounds of body fat.

Deboer M, Scharf R, Demmer R: Sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain in 2- to 5-year-old children. Pediatrics 2013;August 5th.

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2. Calm Down with Omega-3s: Low levels of omega-3s EPA and DHA might aggravate anxiety disorders, according to a study from Columbia University in New York City. Blood levels of omega-3s (AA, EPA, and DHA) were assessed in a group of patients (ages 18- to 73-years) with major depressive disorder with and without concurrent anxiety disorders. Results showed that patients with depression had low DHA and EPA levels and higher AA levels (the omega-3 fat found in flax, walnuts, and soy) compared with healthy volunteers. Low DHA and EPA levels and higher AA to EPA levels distinguished anxious from non anxious patients with depression. Anxiety severity was inversely related to DHA and EPA and was positively linked to higher AA levels. In other words, anxiety increased as DHA and EPA levels dropped and AA levels rose. Whether supplementation with these omega-3s could help lower anxiety requires further research.

Liu J, Galfalvy H, Cooper T, et al: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) status in major depressive disorder with comorbid anxiety disorders. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 2013;74:732-738.

3. Not So Sweet Brains: Elevated blood sugar levels might contribute to the risk for dementia, according to a study from the University of Washington in Seattle. Blood sugar and glycated hemoglobin levels were measured in a group of 2,067 people without dementia. During the 6.8-year follow up, 524 of those people developed dementia. Among those without diabetes, a higher average blood glucose levels compared to a more normal level (115mg/dl vs 100mg/dl, respectively) within the preceding five years was associated with an 18% increased risk of dementia. In diabetics, a glucose level of 190mg/dl compared to 160mg.dl resulted in a 40% increased risk. The researchers conclude that even in people without diabetes, a higher glucose level may predispose them to dementia.

Crane P, Walker R, Hubbard R, et al: Glucose levels and risk of dementia. New England Journal of Medicine 2013;369:540-548.

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Food & Mood Tip – Why Low-Carb Diets Don’t Work

Low-carb diets prevent the brain from making enough serotonin, which leaves the dieter fatigued, grumpy, stressed, and miserable. Oh sure, they start the diet with gusto, energized and hopeful that this time the weight will drop off for good. They lose a some pounds, but after a few weeks of existing on serotonin fumes, they emotionally cave. If you want to lose weight, you need to feel good. And, to feel good, you need to work with your serotonin levels. You need to get this clear –  it is not only possible to feel great while dieting, it is essential to success!

Successful dieters instinctively know this. They choose the right carbs in the right amounts to work in tune with their bodies to get a natural high, raising serotonin and side-stepping many of the problems associated with fad diets, stress, as well as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and depression. They either consciously or unconsciously know if they don’t work with serotonin – that is if they snack on too much of the wrong stuff, follow silly low-carb diets, or skip meals – they will pay for it emotionally and weight-wise. The good news is: you can have you cake and eat it too…so to speak. Choose the right carbs, such as 100% whole grains and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes, in the right amounts, or about 30 grams of carbs,  and you raise serotonin levels, improve your mood, and lose weight.

Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week  – When Should You Supplement?

The time of day has no effect on how well the nutrients in a supplement are used by the body, according to numerous studies. What is more important is what you take them with. Most nutrients are best absorbed when taken with meals. For maximum absorption, take a multiple with iron at a different meal than your calcium supplement, since these two minerals compete for absorption. Also, drink coffee or tea between meals and at a different time than your supplement, since compounds, called tannins, in these beverages block iron absorption.

If you are willing to put up with the inconvenience, select a product that can be taken in several doses throughout the day. Nutrients supplied in small doses throughout the day are better absorbed than are one-shot supplements. Multi-dose multiples also provide flexibility; you can adjust the dose to meet your needs.

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Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week

Baked Sweet Potatoes Topped with Apples, Cranberries, and Nuts
From The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams

Creamy, sweet, and crunchy all rolled into one, these potatoes can be made the day before and reheated without losing a bit of flavor. They go well with turkey, chicken, or pork. They pack a hefty antioxidant punch, supplying three times the minimum requirement for beta carotene, almost three-quarters of the daily requirement for vitamin E, and half the day’s need for vitamin C.

4 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed
1 /2 cup dried cranberries
1 tablespoon butter
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced
1/4 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped
4 teaspoons brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil.

1) Pierce potatoes with a fork, place on cookie sheet, and bake for one hour, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Set aside until warm and easy to handle.

2) Place cranberries in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Set side for 10 minutes. Drain.

3) Melt butter in a medium, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and saute until slightly soft and golden, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in cranberries, nuts, and 2 teaspoons brown sugar, and continue to saute for 1 minute. Remove from heat and add cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt to taste.

4) With a sharp knife, remove an oval of skin off the top of each potato, large enough to allow you to mash the pulp without disturbing the remaining skin. Sprinkle pulp with salt and 1 teaspoon brown sugar per potato. Gently mash the pulp with a fork until smooth and sugar is completely blended.

5) Divide the apple mixture evenly and mound on top of each potato. Serve immediately or cool and cover with plastic wrap, store in refrigerator, and reheat uncovered in oven at 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes, or until heated through. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per potato: 302 Calories; 23 percent fat (7.7 grams); 2.3 grams saturated fat; 5 percent protein; 72 percent carbohydrate; 6 grams fiber.

Answers to “Do You Know?” from last issue:

Do calories from saturated fat take longer to burn than calories from unsaturated fats?
Probably not. A handful of studies, mostly on animals, found that the monounsaturated fats in nuts and olives might burn a little faster, or that the polyunsaturated fats in vegetables oils might have a slight lowering effect on insulin levels compared to saturated fats in meat and dairy foods. But there also is evidence that monounsaturated fats are even more fattening than polyunsaturated and saturated combined. No study has found that a high monounsaturated fat diet is as good or better than a low-fat diet for weight loss. All fats are metabolized differently, but the differences are so slight that switching from one fat to another has no practical use for weight loss. Of course, the fats from fatty fish are heart-healthy, so that alone is reason to switch from filet mignon and butter to fillet of sole and olive oil.

Are empty and hidden calories the same thing?
No. “Empty calories” is an arbitrary term used for foods that have a lot of calories, typically from sugar and/or fat, for little or no nutritional value–a.k.a. junk foods. For example, a plain baked potato supplies hefty amounts of  vitamin C, folic acid, magnesium, fiber, and potassium for only about 200 calories, while the same weight in potato chips contains a whopping 1,068 calories. The chips are empty-calories, the potato is not. Most alcoholic beverages are also empty calorie items, since they usually add more calories than nutrients to the diet. In general, the more a food is processed, the lower it’s vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals, and the higher its fat, sugar, and empty calories.

In contrast, hidden calories can be found in both empty-calorie and nutritious foods. They are the quiet calories that sneak into the diet in subtle ways, such as the butter added to vegetables at a restaurant or the 4 teaspoons of fat in a seemingly harmless muffin. If you eat away from home, you’re in trouble, because you don’t know how many hidden calories from fat have been added to your meal. The only way to sleuth out hidden calories is to read labels; request that all restaurant foods be steamed, baked, or broiled dry; and always ask, never assume, about ingredients when eating away from home or purchasing processed foods.

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Do You Know?

1. Do no-calorie foods aid with weight loss?

2. Do calories eaten at night act differently from those eaten during the day?

Check next week for the answers….

Label Lingo

The label says that the food lowers cholesterol. Can you trust it? First off, lowering cholesterol helps reduce a person’s risk for heart disease. But, reducing cholesterol is only one in a series of risk factors that include maintaining a healthy blood pressure, reducing inflammation, aiding healthy blood flow, and maintaining a lean, fit body. Foods, such as some margarines, that contain plant sterols help lower blood cholesterol levels. These plant sterols are natural substances found in nuts and legumes that help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. The US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) says they may help reduce the risk of heart disease. But, dose is important here. You need several servings a day of these plant sterols to lower blood cholesterol levels. And, with calorific foods, such as fatty margarines, that means you might also be loading up on unwanted calories or even sugars. You can get the same cholesterol-lowering effect by eating a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, 100% whole grains, and legumes, which tend to be lower in calories, so help you also maintain a slim waistline.

Food Finds/Food Fails

Food Finds:
1. Nonfat Breyer’s Double Churn free Cappuccino Chocolate Chunk. When nothing will satisfy a craving except ice cream, and chocolate is your flavor of choice, this ice cream is the best thing going. Cold-churned, slow-churned, or double-churned ice creams thoroughly disperse tiny globules of milk fat. Right after the ice cream is churned it is frozen to very low temperatures to keep that texture, so the ice cream has the feel of richness for fewer calories and, in this case, no fat. Of course, that doesn’t give you a license to binge. But, a serving is only 100 calories, which is a big difference from other, full-fat brands!

2. Sahale Snacks: Nuts are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. They lower your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and possibly even help you manage your weight. Of course you need to keep it to about an ounce a day, which might be difficult with these snacks because they are so incredibly tasty!! All are slightly sweet glazed nuts. Take for example, Sing Buri, which is a Thai mix of cashews with pineapple, peanuts, lemongrass, and mild Chinese chili. Or, Dauphine, a mix of walnuts with blueberries, bananas, coconut, ginger, and lavendar. These would make great appetizers for your up-coming holiday parties, too. I sprinkle them over my oatmeal for a unique change of taste to a traditional breakfast.

Food Fails:
1. Cougar Mountain Gourmet  Cookies: The box looks like nature itself. The cookies are touted as all natural (I am using as an example, the Chew Molasses Ginger Cookies). What could be better for you? But, wait a minute. Take a look at the ingredient list. There is nothing “natural” about the first ingredient, which is white flour. The second, third, and fourth ingredients are sugar in one form or another, followed by saturated-fat-packed butter. A serving supplies no fiber, minuscule amounts of vitamins or minerals, and 2 1 /2 teaspoons of sugar. Lesson here is: Don’t be fooled by wording and packaging. No matter how “natural” a product might look on the outside, always check the backside label!

2. Reduced-fat Peanut Butter: What’s better for you – full-fat or reduced-fat peanut butter? It’s a wash. They both have about the same calories. The reduced-fat makes up for the calories by adding more sugar in the form of corn syrup solids. When it comes to your weight, a calorie is a calorie whether it comes from sugar or fat. Don’t get me wrong. I love peanut butter, just watch your serving size. Keep it to 2 Tablespoons and use as a dip for fruit, as a sandwich spread, when making Thai sauces, or even in smoothies. Also, you can add partially defatted peanut butter powder to smoothies for taste with fewer calories.

The Daily Menu

Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.

1 /2 whole wheat bagel, toasted and topped with:2 Tbsp. nonfat cream cheese and 3 Tbsp. crushed pineapple
Fruit smoothie, in blender: 1 cup nonfat milk, 3 Tbsp. orange juice concentrate, 1 banana, 2 Tbsp. wheat germ, 1 tsp. vanilla, and a dash of nutmeg

Mid-Morning Snack:
1 large apple

1 whole wheat pita bread, broken into 2″ pieces and dunked in:
1/3 cup hummus (made from package or purchased premixed in deli section)
10 baby carrots
1 cup grapes
Sparkling water flavored with lemon or lime

Mid-Afternoon Snack:
2 slices extra-lean ham lunch meat
12 fat-free whole wheat crackers

One half 10″ Boboli pizza made with: Boboli pizza sauce, 1 ounce cheese, 1/3 cup green pepper (chopped or slice thin), 2 Tbsp. sliced red onion, 3 fresh mushrooms (sliced thin), and 4 artichoke hearts (canned and drained)

Spinach-raspberry salad, made with: 2 cups fresh spinach,  2 Tbsp. thinly sliced red onion,  4 sliced fresh mushrooms,  3 Tbsp. fresh raspberries, and 2 Tbsp. vinaigrette salad dressing


Nutritional Information: 2038 Calories, 54 grams fat (24%), 301 grams carbohydrate, 87 grams protein, 4.153 mg sodium, 1,148 mg calcium, 45.2 grams fiber.