Sodium: Is Your Food Full of It?

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

SaltShaker

Consuming too much sodium is not good for the 68 million Americans with high blood pressure. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that a high sodium diet increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke even if you have normal blood pressure.

Based on the most recent evidence, your sodium goal is from about 2,300 to 2,400 mg a day. However, most Americans consume between 3,500 to 5,000 mg per day, which is well above the recommended amount.

Eating mostly unprocessed foods including fruits, veggies, milk, bread, and chicken or other animal protein offers about 1,000 mg of sodium. If you add just a ½ teaspoon of salt, that adds another 1,000 mg. However, for most Americans, 80 percent of our sodium comes from processed, fast, and restaurant food. For example, one biscuit has about 600 mg, one ounce of American cheese has 270 mg, one tablespoon of soy sauce has 1,000 mg, and one hot dog about 510 mg.

orange chickenIf you eat out, the sodium amounts are even higher. Panda Express Two Entrée meal with Orange Chicken has a whopping 2,300 mg of sodium, In and Out Burgers Double Double has 1,440 mg, and even the seemingly healthy McDonalds Grilled Chicken Sandwich has 1,030.

So what can you do to eat less sodium? Here are a few tips.

  • Pay attention to what you are eating. Ask about the sodium amounts in fast and restaurant foods and check the Nutrition Facts on packages.
  • Eat out only 1 to 2 days per week.
  • Eat fewer canned, packaged, and processed foods.
  • Cut out the salt you add while cooking or at the table. Use herbs, spices, vinegar (I especially like balsamic), garlic, onions, wine, or spice mixes such as Mrs. Dash or Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute instead.
  • Most importantly, eat more fresh, healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, and lentils.

The great news is that your taste buds will get used to a lower sodium amount in just 3 to 4 weeks. Even a small decrease the amount of sodium you consume will have a big effect on your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Antibiotics, Fermented Foods, and Your Health

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

Antibiotics were a miraculous discovery, saving lives because of their ability to kill bacteria. Thanks to antibiotics, diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, diphtheria, and leprosy are treatable and not a problem for most people. However, there is a downside to antibiotics, and one that I experienced firsthand after taking them for 7 years at the advice of my physician. When you take antibiotics, they destroy both bad and good bacteria.

Collectively, the bacteria in our gut or gastrointestinal (GI) tract are called the microbiome or the microbiota. These good bacteria are necessary for our health. They help us fight infection by crowding out unhealthy bacteria. We also need bacteria to help us digest food. And they decrease our risk of allergies, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. Without these healthy bacteria, we would not survive.

By the age of 18, the average person has taken 10 to 20 courses of antibiotics. And with each course of antibiotics, we lose more of the good bugs.

Taking antibiotics only when really necessary is an important step in preserving the good bacteria in your microbiome. Adding back healthy bacteria is another important step you can take. The best and most reliable sources are fermented foods. This includes high-quality yogurt with live cultures, kefir, and fermented veggies. Since I can’t eat dairy, I have been eating fermented veggies and have to say that I love them!

When looking for fermented vegetables, make sure they contain live cultures. You will find them in the refrigerated section of the market. Below are a few I have found.

Bubbies sauerkraut is easier to find and it does have live cultures.

Bubbies

Gold Mine sauerkraut is available at some Whole Foods Markets and independent health food stores.

Gold Mine

There are even salt free options!

Salt free

beetsI found the Pickled Planet brand at the Co-Op in Santa Monica. I tried their sauerkraut made with beets and caraway seeds and it was delicious. Check independent health food stores near you to see if they carry this or other brands.

I even found fermented pickles and salsa! And there is always kimchi, Korean-style fermented vegetables with a spicy kick. You can even make your own fermented veggies at home.

There are so many options to choose. All are a lot more interesting than a probiotic supplement. Do you have any favorite fermented veggies? I would love to know which brands you like or what you are willing to try.

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Six Health Promoting Dietary Changes for the New Year

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

It’s a new year, and a great time to make some changes to your diet. Here are six dietary changes that are worth making.

  1. Red_chardEat more non-starchy veggies. Every diet that has been researched and linked with health (including the Mediterranean, DASH, and low fat vegan) has an abundance of these vegetables. Not only are they super low in calories, but they also offer a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Good examples are leafy greens, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peppers, mushrooms, radishes, summer squash, and sugar snap peas.
  2. Plant a vegetable garden. Having your own garden can lower stress, improve your health, and offer organic vegetables at your fingers tips for a great price. Swiss chard is particularly easy to grow, even in a pot. Tomatoes are easy to grow as well. And you can’t beat the taste of a homegrown tomato!
  3. Eat less sugar. We all know we should eat less sugar but how much should we have? The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of added sugar or 24 grams for women and about 9 teaspoons or 36 grams for men.
  4. red beans and rice 003 Large Web viewEat more meatless meals! Eating less meat is becoming more popular than ever. Even Bill Clinton went vegan. While avoiding meat entirely is not for everyone, eating more meatless meals is good for your health, your wallet, and the planet. A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine suggests a link between red meat, disease, and death. Each daily three-ounce portion was associated with a 12 percent increase risk of dying overall, a 16 percent increase risk of dying from a heart attack, and a 10 percent greater risk of dying from cancer. There was an even higher risk from eating processed meats, such as bacon and sausage. No matter how you slice it, eating less meat is good for you.
  5. Add fermented vegetables to your diet. Did you know that with each course of antibiotics you take, loads of healthy bacteria are destroyed? Adding fermented veggies, such as unpasteurized sauerkraut, to your diet is one great way to add back healthy bacteria, improve your immune system, and help your digestion.
  6. beerDrink less alcohol. The average American drinks almost 100 calories worth of alcohol each day. Over a year that is 10 pounds of weight most of us could do without. Not only does alcohol contain calories, but it also stimulates appetite and lowers inhibitions making it easier to overeat. That’s a lose/lose for most of us who would benefit from consuming fewer calories.

Now is a fantastic time to start some healthier habits. Please let me know what you are willing to change this year!

Copyright © 2013 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

These are a few of my favorite things…from Trader Joe’s

By Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

The perfect time to think about our favorite things is during the
holidays. Here are a few of my favorite things from one of my favorite
places, Trader Joe’s. These items make it easier and quicker to do the right thing—eat healthy and tasty foods!

Organic Kale

photo-5I worte a whole post on kale, but the bottom line is that it’s a top-rated veggie that it is full of nutrients. It’s great in salads, smoothies, or as a side dish. And you have no excuses because it is easy to use since it’s already washed and cut. Since it’s organic, it does not have any of the neurotoxic organophosphate  pesticides!

Roasted Mashed Sweet Potatoes

photo-4I love sweet potatoes. They are high in vitamin A and fiber and they taste good!The one disadvantage is the time to prepare and cook them. Trader Joe’s makes them easy to eat with their already mashed potatoes. They come in small frozen pellets that you just heat up with a dash of water in a pan. Yum!

Balsamic Vinegar of Modenabalsamic

This mild-tasting vinegar is great on a salad all by itself. It can also be used to enhance the flavor of everything from chili to a raspberry reduction.

Aartichoke heartsrtichoke Hearts

They are low in calories and a good source of vitamin C, K, and folic acid. Try adding them to a salad or even by themselves with a little balsamic vinegar.

bruschettaBruschetta

This sauce is so tasty, that I have been known to eat it right out of the jar! I primarily use it on pasta and on top of grilled tofu

Organic Sprouted Tofutofu

Organic, no GMOs, a good source of calcium, inexpensive, and a great source of protein. What more can I say? Try it with the Bruschetta sauce on top for a yummy quick meal.

Canned Organic Beans

TJ BeansBeans are loaded with fiber, and they are a great source of phytochemicals and protein. I love kidney beans and garbanzo beans in salads and black, pinto, and kidney beans for chili. Their newest option, great northern white beans, is one of my favs to use in soup with carrots and sage. And Trader Joe’s organic beans are in cans without BPA (Bisphenol A),  a compound that can mimic estrogen and may be associated with health problems. If you have high blood pressure, rinse the beans with water to remove a lot of the sodium.

FBrown riceully Cooked Brown Rice
Healthy eating can’t get any easier than already cooked brown rice. I like to use it in soups instead of noodles and as a side dish with a meal.

Organic White Quinoa

quinoaQuinoa is such a super food. It acts like a grain, but it is actually a seed, which is why is has all the essential amino acids. It has a low glycemic load (which means it doesn’t raiser your blood sugar) and is a good source of fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, and iron. Best of all, it cooks in about 10 minutes and can be used as a side dish or even a breakfast cereal.

HummusOrganic Hummus
Move over McDonalds, hello hummus, the perfect healthy fast food. You can have it with carrots, broccoli, sugar snap peas or any veggie. It’s a great tasting and healthy meal on the run.

Orgtomatoesanic Sugar Plum Tomatoes
These tomatoes are the perfect snack. Everyone loves them, even kids. The trick is to make sure they are a rich red, especially the area close to the stem.

From the moment I first visited a Trader Joe’s store, I was hooked. They always have interesting, trendy, and tasty offerings for a good price. So now you know my favorites. What are yours??

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

Is Organic Food Better for You?

By Carole Bartolottto, MA, RD

A recent Stanford University Study found that organic foods are not more nutritious than those that are conventionally grown. This finding was the result of a review of about 200 studies looking at the health, nutritional, and safety characteristics of organic vs. conventionally grown meat and produce. The results were a surprise to many and created such a firestorm of media attention and headlines that I decided to take a closer look at the Stanford review and what benefits, if any, organic foods have to offer.

The Stanford Review

There were some major flaws in the review, including the following:

  • They did not consistently compare the same varieties of fruits and vegetables grown in similar locations.
  • They narrowly defined nutritious as having more nutrients and did not include the amount of bacteria or number of pesticides in their definition of nutritious.
  • They excluded evaluating a host of nutrients that are typically higher in organic produce.
  • The way they analyzed the data was more effective for a single medication and not the diverse array of nutrients found in food.

Additionally, the review was published at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford which receives major funding from Cargill. Cargill is a large multinational corporation that buys and distributes grain and other agricultural products; processes, refines, and distributes oil and glucose syrup; and slaughters cows for beef, to name a few of its businesses. Cargill also contributed nearly a quarter of a million dollars to the “No on Prop 37” campaign to label genetically engineered foods. Clearly, they are not supporters of organic foods! I recommend taking the results of the Stanford review with a very large grain of salt.

So what are the benefits of organic foods?

  1. They have fewer pesticides! Even low levels of pesticides can cause developmental problems in children, such as a lower IQ. Pesticides also harm farm workers and wildlife around farms. I can’t help but wonder what low levels over a long period of time are doing to us.
  2. Organic fruits and vegetables are generally 5 to 15 percent higher in nutrients, but they can be 30 to 100 percent higher in some cases. And they are much higher in the health-enhancing phytochemicals that plants create to fight off pests.
  3. Organic produce can have a longer shelf life since they have more antibacterial phenolic acids under their skin, which helps prevent mold, bacterial growth, and thus spoilage.
  4. Organic foods have more microbial diversity with plenty of healthy bacteria. So if unhealthy bacteria are introduced, they are not as likely to multiply and cause health problems for us.
  5. Organic meats and poultry do not contain antibiotics or added hormones. Conventionally grown meats and poultry usually do. And conventionally grown are also more likely to contain bacteria that are resistant to 3 or more types of antibiotics!
  6. Organic foods are free of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
  7. Organic foods are better for the environment. They reduce the number of pesticides and other toxins found in the air, water, and soil.

As you can see, organics have a lot to offer. Since they are more expensive than conventionally grown produce and meats, you can save money by:

  • shopping at farmers markets or specialty store such as Trader Joe’s
  • growing your own veggies and planting a fruit tree if you have a yard
  • choosing organic versions of the most contaminated fruits and vegetables. See the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list here.

So are you ready to switch to organic foods? I am.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

How to Eat Less on Thanksgiving Day and a Book Giveaway!

by Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD

 * Giveaway! See below for info on how to win a free copy of Michael Pollan’s Book, Food Rules.

For most Americans, Thanksgiving is the holiday we let loose and, let’s face it, binge. Turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, green bean casserole, rolls with butter, and a big slice of pie can push you over your calorie cliff. Add to that sugary drinks and alcohol and you will probably consume over 2,000 calories for just one meal! Considering that 2,000 calories is more than most people need for the entire day, here are a few tips to help you eat less on turkey day.

  1. Don’t drink your calories! Sugary drinks cause you to gain more weight than other foods. That’s because they have a lot of calories but they don’t make you feel full. And they cause you to feel hungry in just a few hours. Instead, try sparking mineral water or unsweetened teas. My current favorites are Hint Fizz and Trader Joe’s Sparkling Mineral water—especially the berry flavor.
  2. Fill up on vegetables without a lot of butter or fat and salads with minimal salad dressing.
  3. Choose smaller amounts of your favorite side dishes.
  4. If you are going to someone’s house, bring along a salad or other veggie you like to make sure you have at least one healthy option to eat.
  5. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink. Not only does alcohol add calories, it also lowers your inhibitions making it harder to say “no” to that second piece of pie.
  6. Make sure to eat breakfast. If you are hungry and faced with all the yummy choices on Thanksgiving Day, it is harder to resist temptation.
  7. Go for a walk or do some other physical activity. While this will not burn off all the extra calories you consume, even trimming 200 calories can help.

Remember, the true meaning of Thanksgiving is to give thanks for all the good things we have in life. Sometimes it’s so easy to focus on the problems that we lose sight of the good. Are you thankful for something? Let us all know by posting a comment below.

Book giveaway!! (Deadline is midnight on December 2, 2012)

I have two copies of Michael Pollen’s Book, Food Rules. To win one, all you have to do is:                      

1. Subscribe to Healthy Eating Rocks and leave a comment below. Once you subscribe, you will get an email and you must click “confirm follow” in order to complete your subscription. 

2. Like my Facebook page at Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD 

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.

How to Avoid Genetically Modified Foods

Depending on who you talk to, genetically engineered foods, also know as genetically modified foods (GMOs) are either Frankenfoods or the solution to world hunger; untested and unsafe or substantially equivalent to non-GMO crops. The truth lies buried under all the dogma but here are some sobering facts.

  1. We eat on average 193 pounds of genetically modified foods in a year, at minimum. Yes you read that right—193 pounds!
  2. There are no long-term safety studies in humans and none are in the works.
  3. Genetically modified crops use more pesticides. Their use has increased by 404 million pounds from 1996 to 2011. And stronger herbicides are needed to counter resistance, including 2,4-D, which is one of the chemicals found in Agent Orange! This is bad for the environment and can’t be good for us.
  4. Chemical companies that create GMO seeds, patent them so farmers have to buy new seeds each year. I just don’t think it is right to patent seeds, GMO or otherwise.
  5. Some of these companies, such as Monsanto, participate in unethical business practices including suing farmers for patent infringement when their non-GMO crops become contaminated with GMOs. See here for more infoDo we really want chemical companies to control our food supply?

It is for these reasons that I avoid genetically modified foods. I hope you consider removing them from your diet as well.

The current crops that are GMO are soy, corn, canola, sugar beets, cotton, zucchini, yellow crook neck squash, and alfalfa (which is fed to cattle and not us). Here are some tips to help you cut out the bulk of GMOs from your diet.

  • Buy USDA Organic, which is grown from seeds that are not genetically modified. 
  • Look for the Non GMO Project Verified label. Foods with this label are free of GMOs.
  • Buy brands that do not contain GMOs. All Trader Joe’s labeled foods, Whole Foods 365 Daily Value, and Follow Your Heart labeled foods are sourced to be free of GMOs.
  • Since most corn and soy are GMO, choose organic when you eat these foods. This includes sweet corn, corn tortillas, corn oil, corn chips, tofu, edamame, soy milk, and baby formula. You can also buy these foods if they have the Trader Joe’s or 365 Daily Value labels.
  • Oil is a major source of GMOs. Choose extra virgin olive oil or organic canola oil (cold pressed), or Trader Joe’s brand canola oil instead of corn, soy, cottonseed, or other oils.
  • Sugar and high fructose corn syrup are another source of GMOs. Cane sugar is not genetically engineered so when you do have sugar, choose cane. However, sugar is not good for us anyway, so it would be best to cut it out as much as you can.
  • Yellow crook neck squash, zucchini, and Hawaiian papaya are all genetically modified. Buy these foods organic. All Trader Joe’s produce is sourced to be free of GMOs so you can also buy these veggies there. You will notice that Trader Joe’s sells Caribbean papaya and not Hawaiian, which is one of the ways they avoid GMOs.
  • If you love processed foods, such as canned and packaged products, either buy organic or purchase Trader Joe’s labeled foods, 365 Daily Value, or Follow Your Heart brands.
  • There are a lot of invisible GMO ingredients in processed food. To learn more about them, see here.
  • Do you eat out a lot?
    • Ask your favorite restaurants if their menu items contain GMO ingredients. This will help increase their awareness and perhaps move them in the direction of removing GMOs from their menu.
    • If they don’t know, ask if they use organic foods. If they don’t use organic products, avoid tofu, corn, corn tortillas, corn chips, edamame and other foods from corn and soy. Also avoid sugar and desserts.
    • Ask what kind of oil they use. If it is soy, canola, or cottonseed, they are most likely GMO.
    • Avoid fried foods or ask them to use olive oil when grilling or frying.
    • Safe options are salad but ask for the cruets with olive oil (not an olive oil blend) and vinegar instead of other salad dressings.
    • Also ask what the chef prepares fresh and then request it to be made with olive oil or no oil.
    • The great news is that some restaurants have made the effort to avoid GMOs in the Los Angeles area such as Real Food Daily and Hugo’s. Some are in the process of removing them, such as Follow Your Heart Restaurant. The more you ask, the more likely restaurants in your area will remove them as well.
  • What else can you do? Request that restaurants and fast food establishments you go to use non-GMO ingredients. Sharkey’s says their corn chips are made with non-GMO corn and that is a good thing. But they are fried in genetically modified canola oil. Tell Sharkey’s, restaurants, fast food chains, and grocery stores, you want products without GMOs. They will respond to customer demand, as they have done in the past. Remember what happened when we found out there was “pink slime” in our hamburgers?

For more information, check out the non-GMO shopping guide here.

Copyright © 2012 Carole Bartolotto, MA, RD. All rights reserved.