Nutrition Hot Topics & FAQs

    Dr. Jacklyn Oakley, Family Medicine & Obstetrics, Deaconess Clinic Gateway 

    Nutrition is one of the most important aspects of our health. The food we eat can determine how well and even how long we live. This is a topic I care so much about because food really can be medicine—or toxic--depending on what we eat.

    Below are some of the most common topics I encounter with my patients, as well as some commonly misunderstood areas of nutrition.

    Vegetables & Fruits – Half of our Diet

    Half of everything we eat should be fruits and vegetables—did you know that? There are so many benefits to produce, including fiber to help feel full and keep digestion regular. But possibly the biggest benefit is from the countless vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants and other micronutrients not found in supplements. These are responsible for:
    • Preventing cancer, heart disease and other illness
    • Immune system strength
    • Bone health
    • Brain function
    • Healthy skin, hair and nails
    • Weight and metabolism

    At each meal, half of your plate should be a vegetable—preferably a brightly colored one, or mixture of colors. The brighter the better, as that means there are more nutrients. 

    Snacks throughout the day are also an easy way to get in more produce. A fresh apple, baby carrots or sugar snap peas, celery sticks, a banana—all are easy and ready to go. Also, start meals with salads—another great way to sneak in extra produce.

    Don’t Drink Your Calories

    I think a nutritional mistake so many people make is that they drink their calories—meaning, sodas, juices, sweet teas and coffee drinks. These can add up to literally hundreds of calories per day, and have very little nutritional benefit.

    Instead of fruit juice, you’re so much better off just eating the fruit. Fruit juices can cause a sudden blood sugar spike, leading to hunger afterwards.

    Sodas are just bad for you overall regardless of whether they’re regular or diet sodas.  Regular soda is full of calories from sugar, and diet sodas contain artificial sweeteners, which can cause cravings in some people, and can cause other digestive disruptions as well.  Also, all soda contains phosphoric acid which contributes to weakening bones over time.  This is even a problem among young people, as they drink soda instead of milk and water at a time in life when they should be building bone mass.

    For better health, drink water, and unsweetened tea and coffee for the antioxidants (although watch your caffeine intake, especially if you have high blood pressure).

    For more information about the calories in beverages, visit Rethink Your Drink! 

    What Are Whole Grains, and Why Do They Matter?

    People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies.

    There are many health benefits of whole grains as part of a healthy diet.
    • Whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease.
    • Consuming foods containing fiber, such as whole grains, can reduce constipation.
    • Whole grains may help with weight management.
    • Eating grain products fortified with folate before and during pregnancy helps prevent neural tube defects during fetal development.
    How to identify whole grains
    • Choose foods that name one of the following whole-grain ingredients first on the label's ingredient list:
    Whole grain ingredients
    • brown rice
    • buckwheat
    • bulgur
    • millet
    • oatmeal
    • popcorn
    • quinoa
    • rolled oats
    • whole-grain barley
    • whole-grain corn
    • whole-grain sorghum
    • whole-grain triticale
    • whole oats
    • whole rye
    • whole wheat
    • wild rice
    • Foods labeled with the words "multi-grain," "stone-ground," "100% wheat," "cracked wheat," "seven-grain," or "bran" are usually not whole-grain products.
    • Color is not an indication of a whole grain. Bread can be brown because of molasses or other added ingredients. Read the ingredient list to see if it the first ingredient is whole grain.
    • Use the Nutrition Facts label and choose whole grain products with a higher % Daily Value (% DV) for fiber. Many, but not all, whole grain products are good or excellent sources of fiber.
    • Read the food label’s ingredient list. Look for terms that indicate added sugars (such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, or raw sugar) that add extra calories. Choose foods with fewer added sugars.

    Tips to help you eat whole grains

    At meals:
    • To eat more whole grains, substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product – such as eating whole-wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice. It’s important to substitute the whole-grain product for the refined one, rather than adding the whole-grain product.
    • For a change, try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Try brown rice stuffing in baked green peppers or tomatoes and whole-wheat macaroni in macaroni and cheese.
    • Create a whole grain pilaf with a mixture of barley, wild rice, brown rice, broth and spices. For a special touch, stir in toasted nuts or chopped dried fruit.
    • Experiment by substituting whole wheat or oat flour for up to half of the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin or other flour-based recipes. They may need a bit more leavening.
    • Use whole-grain bread or cracker crumbs in meatloaf.
    • Try rolled oats or a crushed, unsweetened whole grain cereal as breading for baked chicken, fish, veal cutlets, or eggplant parmesan.
    • Try an unsweetened, whole grain ready-to-eat cereal as croutons in salad or in place of crackers with soup.
    • Freeze leftover cooked brown rice, bulgur, or barley. Heat and serve it later as a quick side dish.
    At snacks:
    • Snack on ready-to-eat, whole grain cereals such as toasted oat cereal.
    • Add whole-grain flour or oatmeal when making cookies or other baked treats.
    • Try 100% whole-grain snack crackers.
    • Popcorn, a whole grain, can be a healthy snack if made with little or no added salt and butter. is a source of the whole grain information posted above. Other excellent nutrition information can be found on this site.

    Watch Your Salt (Sodium)

    Sodium is critical to how our body functions, but many of us get way too much in our daily diet—and don’t even know it.

    For our bodies to function correctly, we need no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.  However, many of us get that much sodium in a single meal.  Because sodium is hidden in so many foods—especially restaurant and processed foods—many Americans get 10,000 milligrams a day or more.  This much sodium can be hard on our hearts, causing us to retain fluids and blood pressure to rise.

    Most people make the mistake of thinking that if they don’t add salt to their food, then they’re not getting much. 

    However, some of the most common places salt/sodium are found include:
    • Breads
    • Lunchmeats
    • Canned soups, vegetables, tomatoes, etc.
    • Soft drinks
    • Chips and similar snacks
    • Frozen meals (this is a big one!)
    • Sauces and condiments
    • Restaurant meals. It’s important to watch your sodium. You can learn a lot by reading labels and even keeping a food diary for a few days. You’ll be amazed by how much sodium is in everyday foods.

    Sugar Sugar Sugar

    Speaking of “hidden in everyday foods,” sugar is pervasive in our society. We celebrate everything with sugar, and we add it to nearly everything we eat. Americans eat many times more sugar than we should in a day, contributing to obesity, diabetes, inflammation, heart disease and more.

    Sugar has many nicknames on labels, but all sugars are calorie dense, and have effects on our metabolism. Sugar names can include:
    • High fructose corn syrup
    • Corn syrup
    • Fructose
    • Lactose
    • Sucrose

    Notice the “ose” endings?  That’s a sign of sugars.

    Read labels! Not everything that contains sugar is something you’d think of as being sweet. Spaghetti sauce, breads and crackers, cereals, yogurt, salad dressings, ketchup, etc. may not be thought of as “sweet” but can contain lots of sugar.

    Also, while natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, etc. may be a better choice due to antioxidants, they should still be limited and used sparingly.

    Another source of sugar for our bodies isn’t sugar itself, but refined carbs. Earlier I wrote about the importance of whole grains. I want to emphasize now that processed carbs, such as white rice, white breads and rolls, crackers, pasta and other “flour” foods can cause the same spike in blood sugar (leading to the cravings/hunger roller coaster) that sugary treats can create.

    Cholesterol, Good Fats, Bad Fats

    Cholesterol is often misunderstood.

    We get cholesterol from the foods we eat. Many people are starting to have high cholesterol earlier in life, often from fried foods, and other foods high in cholesterol.

    Animal fats are a source of cholesterol. A commonly missed source is eggs, as one egg contains a daily dose of cholesterol. So eating animal sources of cholesterol and fried foods should be something you watch and reduce, as they can both raise your bad cholesterol.

    Not all fats are equal, either. Monounsaturated, such as fats found in olive oil, nuts, safflower oil, canola oil, etc. can help reduce your risk of heart disease and other illness. (Be careful, as all fats are very high in calories even in small servings).

    Strongly limit lard, butter and other saturated fats, and completely avoid transfats, as they’re known to be horrible for you.

    For additional nutritional articles from my colleagues:
    Helping Kids Develop Healthy Eating Habits – Dr. Taniza Karim 
    Tips for Aging Healthier & Happier – Becky Richardville, MSW, LCSW
    Preventing Cancer – Lifestyle Factors That Reduce Your Risk – Dr. Devi Kodali 
    Posted: March 21, 2017 by Kate Reibel

    Tags: cholesterol, Dr, eating, grains, healthy, nutrition, Oakley, whole

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