Sunday, January 1, 2006

Is Coffee Good For Me?

Can’t do without your morning cup o’ joe? If you thought you were making a better choice by skipping the caffeine, you may want to think again. A report presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions back in November noted that excessive consumption of decaffeinated coffee may lead to an increase in LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol levels, and thus, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Researchers from the Fuqua Heart Center in Atlanta stated that individuals who consume 3 to 6 cups of decaf a day may benefit from “a combined approach of diet, exercise, weight loss and cessation of decaffeinated coffee,” which could effectively reduce LDL levels by 30% and help avoid using drug therapy to treat high cholesterol.

Unfortunately, the moral of this story isn’t cut and dry. Researchers also found that if an individual is not overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) under 25, decaf coffee may decrease levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) by 30%. In comparison, overweight individuals with a BMI above 25 presented beneficial HDL-raising results by nearly 50% from the consumption of decaf coffee.

What’s the bottom line? Evidence remains under investigation and each individual is different, personalized recommendations are best. Stick to 1-2 cups of coffee, decaf or regular, a day though and you’re in good shape. Keep those unwanted extra-pounds off with straight, black coffee or some skim milk with minimal sugar or sweetener. If you’re seeking to cut back on your caffeine cravings, try an Americano, espresso with hot water (espresso contains less caffeine than regular coffee). Or try a new twist in your daily routine and switch to green tea for a healthful change…a little caffeine goes a long way.

Trans Fat & Food Allergen Labels: An Overview

A nutrition-minded start to 2006, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new, long-awaited federal regulations requiring all food companies to list trans fatty acid content on packaged food labels earlier this month. You and fellow grocery store-goers across the country will now be able to distinguish between what’s ‘heart-healthy’ and what’s not with the inclusion of trans fat content on all food labels. Trans fatty acids are ‘unhealthy’, ultra-saturated (or ‘hydrogenated’) fats used to preserve shelf-life and are linked to increasing the risk heart disease by raising levels of ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Trans fats are most often found in processed foods, commercial baked goods and snacks (eg. cookies, cakes, donuts, chips), fried foods and vegetable shortening and margarines. So the next time you’re weaving through grocery aisles, take a peek at what you’re about to put into your cart. Aim to choose products with zero or extremely minimal amounts of trans fats. In addition to checking the nutrition label itself, look out for ‘red-light’ words in the ingredient list such as “partially hydrogenated”.

Along with the inclusion of trans fat content, the FDA is also requiring food companies to list any potential allergenic ingredients on all food packages. Common food allergens include nuts, milk, peanuts, eggs, shellfish, soybeans and wheat. This regulation will make grocery shopping much easier and put many individuals, particularly parents, at ease when choosing new products. According to statistics from the National Institute of Health (NIH) food allergies affect nearly 5 million Americans, an estimated 5-8% of young children and 1-2% of adults.

Fighting The Common Cold Through Good Nutrition

It’s that time of year again, dust off the Kleenex and cough medicine. Flu shot or not, cold season is here in full swing. But with our simple tips and sound nutrition you can give your immune system a boost and banish the sniffles, sore-throat, aches and pains.

Eat up, squash your symptoms:

  • A shot of C: Vitamin C increases cold-combative white bloods cells and helps shorten the duration of sickness. Look to brightly-colored, fresh fruits and vegetables such as grapefruits, oranges, kiwi, dark leafy green vegetables, broccoli and red peppers.
  • Up the antioxidants: Reduce your body’s natural inflammatory response that turns on to battle a cold with stocking up on powerful antioxidants. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Beta-carotene (vitamin A) in particular helps heighten immunity and is found in yellow and orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash and cantaloupes as well as dark leafy greens. Some research shows that drinking 2-3 cups of green tea per day also aids in sparking our natural defenses with its high level of polyphenols, a type of antioxidants. Salmon is another excellent choice which boasts anti-inflammatory properties and packs another bonus punch of ‘heart-healthy fats’ with omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Beneficial bacteria: Consuming a serving of plain low-fat yogurt on a daily basis can help maintain a strong immune system by promoting the growth of healthy bacteria.
  • In the zone with zinc: Touted as one of the best minerals to ward off a cold, zinc is best absorbed from sources of red meat as well as chicken, legumes, oysters and fortified whole grain cereals. Zinc aids in the development of white blood cells, immunity-boosters. Be careful of overloading with supplements however, too much zinc may actually decrease immune-function. Aim to stay in the range of 8mg per day for women and 11mg per day for men.
  • Clear the decks!: Help clear your sinuses with hot liquids – mom was right all those year, a steaming bowl of chicken soup does have its benefits. You can also help break up congestion with ‘mucilaginous agents’; try sipping a cup of ginger tea, or add garlic, chili, or even a bit of zesty horseradish to warm, hearty dishes.
  • Sweat out the germs: Daily exercise and physical activity helps to stimulate the production of white blood cells, our “immunity-superstars” and thereby, helps prevent the occurrence of a cold or the flu. Sweating also helps release bacteria and toxins that build up in our bodies and contribute to sickness.
  • Preventative measures: Leading a healthy lifestyle will do much to help prevent the onset of pesky colds. Be sure to get adequate sleep each night and limit items that weaken our body’s defenses such as alcohol, excess sugar and refined carbohydrates, excess fat, and fried and processed foods.

A Day’s Menu of Cold-Fighting Food:

  • Breakfast: ½ grapefruit + 1 cup high fiber cereal like Kashi Go Lean w. ½ cup skim milk & ½ cup blueberries
  • Mid-morning snack: 1 cup green tea or ginger tea + 6oz plain low-fat yogurt like Stonyfield Farms Plain Organic Low-fat Yogurt or Fage Total Greek Yogurt 0%
  • Lunch: 3 cups (1 small bowl) Asian-Inspired Chicken & Vegetable Soup (see recipe below) + 2 Fiber Rich crackers
  • Afternoon Snack: 1 cup green tea or ginger tea + 1 Lara Bar or 12 almonds
  • Dinner: 3-6oz (1-2 decks of cards) poached salmon + 1 cup (2 fists) cooked spinach sautéed with 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, garlic & red pepper flakes + ½ cup brown rice

Asian-Inspired Chicken & Vegetable Soup
4 cups water
1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 lb skinless boneless chicken breasts
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
4 medium carrots, cut diagonally into 1/3-inch-thick slices
1 lb fresh kale, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, salt to taste
3 tablespoons chopped green onion

Bring water and broth to a simmer in a 2- to 3-quart saucepan. Add chicken and simmer, uncovered, 6 minutes. Remove pan from heat and cover, then let stand until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and cool 10 minutes. Reserve poaching liquid, uncovered.

While chicken is poaching, cook onion in olive oil in a 4-quart heavy pot, covered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots, salt, and pepper and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until softened, 8 to 10 minutes. Add poaching liquid, kale and ginger and simmer, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat.

While vegetables are cooking, shred chicken into 1/4-inch-wide strips (about 1 inch long). When vegetables are done simmering, stir chicken into soup along with green onions.

Makes 4 to 6 servings. Recipe adapted from

Nutrient Analysis:
Calories 275; Fat 9.5g (sat 1.7g); Protein 32g; Cholesterol 77mg; Sodium 251mg; Carbohydrate 17g; Fiber 5g