Archive for the ‘What is … ?’ Category

Homemade soft pretzel (plain) - Photo credit Bryan Ochalla - Used unmodified via Flickr, under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

Photo Credit: Bryan Ochalla via Flickr
Used unmodified under CC BY-SA 2.0 license

By Shelly Najjar

Carbohydrates (carbs) are mentioned a lot, by many people. In November you hear about carbohydrates because of Thanksgiving feasts and American Diabetes Month. In January you hear about people going on low-carb diets for weight loss. In the summer people try to give up carbohydrates for swimsuit bodies. Carbohydrates are in the news and in conversation, but what are they? Do we need them? Are they bad? Do they make you gain weight? This post is an introduction to carbohydrates.

What is a carbohydrate?

Medical Dictionary Definition:

any of various neutral compounds of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (as sugars, starches, and celluloses) most of which are formed by green plants and which constitute a major class of animal foods –Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary

Real Life Definition:

Carbohydrates are compounds that occur naturally in foods (and can also be manufactured and added to foods) in three types (starches, sugars, and fibers).

What foods have carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are found in dairy, starches, fruit, sweetened beverages, and dessert sweets. There can be added or naturally occurring carbohydrates in any of these. Foods do not have to taste sweet to have carbohydrates. Some examples include

  • Dairy: milk, chocolate milk, ice cream, frozen yogurt, and regular or flavored yogurt (not cheese)
  • Starches: any type of pasta, bread, rice, beans, starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas, lentils, etc), crackers, cereal, etc (any starchy food)
  • Fruit: apples, oranges, grapes, melon, berries, fruit juice, etc (any fruit)
  • Beverages: fruit juice, lattes, chocolate milk, sweet tea, non-diet sodas, energy drinks, etc (any drink sweetened with anything other than non-caloric sweetener)
  • Sweets: cake, cookies, pies, candy, etc (anything made with starch or fruit ingredients and/or sweetened with anything other than non-caloric sweetener)

Plain meats, fish, poultry, cheese, eggs, and tofu (all without added sauces, which could contain carbohydrates) do not have carbohydrates. Also, non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, avocado, lettuce, carrots, onion, etc. are not counted to have carbohydrates if eaten in portions less than 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw.

Are some carbohydrates better than others?

Some carbohydrates affect our blood sugar more than others, and have different benefits. The three main types of carbohydrates are starch, sugar, and fiber.

Once digested and absorbed in the body, starch and sugar raise our blood sugar, while fiber, the indigestible carbohydrate, does not have the same effect on our blood sugar. Fiber is not digested or absorbed by our bodies, but it does make us feel full and have many health benefits, so fiber-containing foods are recommended as a part of a healthy diet. Whole grain foods (which has all parts of the grain: endosperm, germ, and bran) have fiber and starch, are also recommended for overall health.

Most starches are digestible in our small intestines and will affect blood sugar, but there is also a type of starch called resistant starch that behaves more like fiber, since it continues into the large intestine without being digested. And, like fiber, many resistant starches can be digested or fermented by the bacteria in our large intestine, which helps us stay healthy (Source: Weisenberger, 2012).

Sugars can be naturally occurring or added to foods. Examples of foods with naturally occurring sugars are apples and milk. Added sugar is in many candies, cookies, and canned fruits in syrup, and includes sugars like honey, agave syrup, maple syrup, raw sugar, etc. Even if the food (like honey) has sugar naturally, when used as a sweetener, it counts as an added sugar. In general, the recommendation is to eat as few added sugars as possible.

Are carbs bad for us? Do they make you gain weight? How many carbs do we need?

Carbohydrates are neutral. We need carbohydrates to live, but too many or too few of them in our diets can cause problems. Carbohydrates on their own do not cause a person to gain or lose weight. Weight changes are caused by a variety of factors, including diet. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA2010):

“Strong evidence shows that there is no optimal proportion of macronutrients [macronutrients include carbs, fat, and protein] that can facilitate weight loss or can assist in maintaining weight loss […] evidence shows that the critical issue is not the relative proportion of macronutrients in the diet, but whether or not the eating pattern is reduced in calories and the individual is able to maintain a reduced-calorie intake over time. The total number of calories consumed is the essential dietary factor relevant to body weight.”

It goes on to say that we can choose healthy eating patterns that work for us, as long as they are within the right caloric range for us, and are consistent with the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Ranges (AMDR) established by the Institute of Medicine. The AMDRs are “ranges for the percentage of calories in the diet that should come from carbohydrate, protein, and fat” and “take into account both chronic disease risk reduction and intake of essential nutrients” (Source: DGA2010). Based on the ADMRs, we should eat between 45-65% of our total calories from carbohydrates. This includes all sources and types of carbohydrates and should be based on how your body responds and your overall health. (Your medical team can help you decide exactly how many carbohydrates you should eat – Click here to find a dietitian).

In general, most healthy people do well with about 45-50% (about half) of their calories coming from carbohydrates. For someone eating 1800 calories, this is about 200-225 grams of carbohydrates, spread out evenly throughout the day (usually about 45-60 grams at each of 3 meals, plus about 15 grams at 2 snacks between meals). Carbohydrates should come from a variety of foods, including many fiber-containing foods. Here are some helpful guides to let you know how many grams of carbohydrates are in how much of certain foods:

Summary:

  • Carbohydrates come in many types, from many foods.
  • We need carbohydrates to live, and they can and should be part of a healthy diet, coming from a variety of healthy foods.
  • While most people seem do well on a diet with up to half their calories coming from carbohydrates (about 45-60 grams carbohydrate per meal), only a medical team can help you decide what your specific health situation requires.

Read More:


Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and editor of Nutrition Nuts and Bolts. You can contact her on Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), LinkedIn, and at shellynajjar.com.

Like this post? You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

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Dark Chocolate Caramel Turtle Brownies by Elaine Ashton (hfb) on Flickr

Dark Chocolate Caramel Turtle Brownies
Photo Credit: Elaine Ashton (hfb) on Flickr
Used unmodified under CC BY-ND 2.0 license

By Shelly Najjar

Calories: It’s on every food label, but what does it mean? What do they do? How many should we eat?

Definition

“A unit of measure used to express the amount of energy in a food”
Source: Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food (2007) by McGuire and Beerman (commissioned link*)

In general science, a calorie (little “c”) is a very tiny measure of energy. To make this amount useful, in nutrition, we talk about Calorie (big “C”), kilocalories, kcals, or kcalories. These words all mean the same thing: 1000 calories (with the little “c”). The one on the food label is the big “C” version.

How many Calories should I eat?

Everybody needs calories to live. There are many equations you can use to find out how many Calories you should eat each day, but to make it easier, you can use a Calorie needs estimator that will calculate a range for you. The range will change based on many factors.

These include

  • age
  • sex
  • height
  • current weight
  • goal weight
  • activity level
  • if you’re recovering from serious injury (like major burns, trauma, broken bones, etc)
  • if you’re female, the program also should ask you if you’re pregnant or nursing

You can also get a free customized food plan from the USDA’s SuperTracker program, which includes estimations of how many Calorie, protein, fat, carbohydrates, and other nutrients you need each day.

Where do calories come from?

Calories are in almost every food we eat or drink, with the exception of plain water (and water flavored with zero-calorie flavorings). Some foods and drinks have more calories than others.

Foods are made up of the macronutrients called carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Some foods and drinks also have alcohol in them. Here is the amount of Calories that each gram of those things provide:

  • Carbohydrates (carbs) have 4 Calories (kcal) in 1 gram (g)
  • Fats have 9 Calories (kcal) in 1 gram (g)
  • Proteins have 4 Calories (kcal) in 1 gram (g)
  • Alcohol has 7 Calories (kcal) in 1 gram (g)

A note on the alcohol calories: This is per gram of alcohol, not per gram of alcoholic beverage. If you drink mixed drinks with lots of sugar (a carbohydrate), you need to add the calories from each gram of sugar (even if it’s natural sugar from fruit juice) to figure out how many total calories the drink has.

How many calories are in… ?

If you want to find out how many calories a certain food has, you can check the Nutrition Facts label. If the food doesn’t have a label, you can use a variety of resources to find out how many calories a food has.

Here are some reputable places to look for calorie information:

You may also want to read…

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and editor of Nutrition Nuts and Bolts. You can find her on Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), LinkedIn, and at shellynajjar.com

I appreciate your support. *Affiliate link = Amazon pays me a small portion of the sale price, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend things that I think are worth buying. You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

What are nutrients?

Posted: January 14, 2014 in What is ... ?
Tags: , ,
Photo Credit: Gualberto107 via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo Credit: Gualberto107 via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Shelly Najjar

“Nutritious,” “nutrient-rich,” and “nutrient-dense” are words used often in the media and by health experts. But what do they mean?

What are nutrients?

Here are two slightly different explanations of what nutrients are:

There are six categories of nutrients:

  • water, carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids (these are all called macronutrients, because we need to eat relatively large amounts of them)
  • vitamins and minerals (these are both called micronutrients because we need to eat very small amounts of these)

Buzz-word Dictionary

Nutrient-dense: “the relative ratio of nutrients in a food in comparison to total calories” (Source: Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food*)
(*I get commissions for purchases made through this link)

Nutrient-rich: the same as nutrient-dense

Nutritious: provides nutrients (Source: Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary); “Foods that contain high levels of nutrients are more nutritious than foods that do not.” (Source: Nutritional Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food*)
(*I get commissions for purchases made through this link)

How do you know if a food has nutrients in it?

For packaged foods, you can read the food label.

For foods without packages, you can look up foods on sites like SuperTracker or CalorieKing.

You can also eat healthier and get more nutrients by following these suggestions:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, lean meats, and other protein sources like seafood
  • Limit added sugars, saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium (salt), refined grains, and alcohol

To get free information about nutrition basics delivered to your inbox, click here.

You may also be interested in reading…

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and editor of Nutrition Nuts and Bolts. You can find her on Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), LinkedIn, and at shellynajjar.com.

I appreciate your support. *Affiliate link = Amazon pays me a small portion of the sale price, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend things that I think are worth buying. You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

© www.foodandhealth.com - used with permission

Photo © foodandhealth.com – used with permission

By Shelly Najjar

Superfoods are talked about a lot in the news and online (Google searches for the term “superfood” have increased over the past two years).

But what are they? What do they do in our bodies?

The word superfood has no medical definition, but it is used commonly in the press to mean a food that is reported to provide health benefits like reducing risk of diseases, prolonging life, or healing illness. They usually have many vitamins and minerals, and contain antioxidants. (Source: MedicineNet, a WebMD network site)

So what is the correct term?

Instead of superfood, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and many other organizations support the use of the term “functional food.” This term has slightly different meaning depending on the organization, but the basic meaning is a whole food (not pill or supplement) that has some benefit beyond basic nutrition required for survival. (A comparison table of these definitions can be found in the position paper from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.)

However, “functional food” is still not a federally legal term, which means there’s no regulation for that term or for “superfood.” On the other hand, there are many foods that have a statement from one of three groups of health claims that are approved and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use on some food labels. These statements are called health claims, nutrient content claims, and structure/function claims.

A health claim is a statement that says a food or part of a food (like a nutrient) is related to a disease or health condition. Within the health claims, there are three more categories, sorted by the scientific evidence for the claim:

  • Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) Authorized Health Claims (the nutrient-disease relationship is well-established in scientific literature)
  • Health Claims Based on Authoritative Statements (an “authoritative statement” from a scientific body like a branch of the US government or the National Academy of Sciences has been issued)
  • Qualified Health Claims (there is emerging evidence for this nutrient-disease relationship, but it is not yet well-established in scientific literature)

Different from a health claim, “Nutrient content claims describe the level of a nutrient or dietary substance in the product, using terms such as free, high, and low, or they compare the level of a nutrient in a food to that of another food, using terms such as more, reduced, and lite” (Source: FDA).

Lastly, a structure/function claim is a statement about a nutrient and a normal function or structure of the body, such as “fiber maintains bowel regularity.” They are also allowed to include information about the nutrient deficiency disease resulting from insufficient amounts of that nutrient, as long as they make it relevant by saying how many people actually have the disease in the USA.

Click here to read more about each of these types of labeling claims.

What foods are functional foods or have the health claims?

There are many foods considered to be functional foods. Here are some examples:

  • fruits and vegetables (blackberries, blueberries, apples, grapefruit, cranberries, broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes, soy, garlic, ginger, pumpkin)
  • nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts, pistachios, sesame)
  • beans and legumes
  • oils (fish oil, olive oil)
  • yogurt
  • wine
  • whole grains
  • bran
  • chocolate

You might want to visit…

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and editor of Nutrition Nuts and Bolts. You can find her on Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), LinkedIn, and at shellynajjar.com.

Like this post? You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

Videos appearing below this line are advertisements and not part of the post nor endorsed by this blog. —————————————————————————————————————————————

Orange Awareness Ribbon for Anti-Hunger Causes

Orange Awareness Ribbon
for Anti-Hunger Causes
Photo modified from original
by digitalart (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

By Shelly Najjar

The term malnutrition is often heard in news stories and international health organization fundraising brochures, but do you know what it means, why it’s important, and what you can do?

This week is Malnutrition Awareness Week (September 23-27, 2013), created by the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN). ASPEN is a professional organization for clinical nutrition (nutrition for people in hospitals and other acute, chronic, and transitional care settings), particularly for parenteral (IV nutrition) and enteral nutrition (tube feedings). Although they are focusing on clinical recognition and treatment of malnutrition, this isn’t something that only affects people in hospitals. Malnutrition and its associated problems are seen around the world in a variety of settings.

What is malnutrition?

“Malnutrition” means unbalanced or inadequate nutrition (Source: Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary). It can occur in many situations, including (but not limited to) the inability to digest and absorb nutrients, having an extended illness, limiting types of foods eaten (for example, not eating any fruits or vegetables), and not eating enough food due to lack of money. Technically, malnutrition can be either “overnutrition” (excessive intake that causes medical problems) or “undernutrition” (deficiency of one or more nutrients) (Source: White, et al). However, it is usually used to mean “undernutrition” or not eating enough (of a one or more nutrients, or of total calories) to maintain optimal health. While both overnutrition and undernutrition are important topics, the rest of this post will be mostly about undernutrition.

The method for diagnosing malnutrition vary slightly depending on which set of criteria are used. Some of the criteria sets are the International  Classification of Diseases Ninth Revision (ICD-9), the Tenth Revision (ICD-10), and the International Dietetics and Nutrition Terminology (IDNT). There are also some guidelines included in the AND/ASPEN Consensus Statement on malnutrition.

Why do we care?

The issue of malnutrition is important because adequate nutrition is essential for our bodies to work correctly. Exactly what the symptoms are depends on which nutrient is deficient (meaning: not meeting the recommendation for intake). Some issues that may be caused by malnutrition include decreased ability to fight off infections, delayed injury healing, and decreased ability to build and maintain muscle. It also can affect fertility, mental function, and overall growth and development (Sources: Nutrition in the Prevention and Treatment of Disease*; Nutrition therapy and pathophysiology* I get commissions for purchases made through those links*).

What can be done?

The treatment for malnutrition is to correct the nutritional deficiencies, whether they are single nutrient (one example: someone who lacks iron in their diet) or total calories (one example: someone who cannot keep food in their stomach due to treatments for cancer). If the deficiency is caused by another problem (for example, an intestinal disease), that problem will need to be treated. Doctors, dietitians, and nurses often help with the treatment of malnutrition.

Malnutrition can happen anywhere. It is often linked to poor diet quality when people cannot afford enough nutritious food. There are several ways you can help prevent malnutrition, and many resources for people who want some help getting food.

Help out:

Donate time (volunteer) or money to organizations that fight hunger, help provide nutritious food, or offer jobs and training so people can afford food. Do your research on organizations before you give, to make sure the organization is legitimate and your money will be used wisely. Some resources that may be useful are Charity Navigator, GuideStarBetter Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, and GiveWell.

Get help:

Communities, cities, states, and countries usually all have some form of food assistance programs available. Social workers, doctors, nurses, dietitians, community leaders, community agencies and organizations, schools, and local and state governments may offer help with finding food. Food assistance can include food banks, hot meals, or money for buying food (like Food Stamp programs, now called SNAP in the USA). If you are in the USA, you can use the Benefits Finder to find government benefits you may be eligible to receive.

You may also be interested in…

Shelly Najjar, MPH, RDN is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and editor of Nutrition Nuts and Bolts. You can find her on Twitter (@ShellyNajjar), LinkedIn, and at shellynajjar.com.

I appreciate your support. *Affiliate link = Amazon pays me a small portion of the sale price, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend things that I think are worth buying. You can support me and this blog if you click here before shopping on Amazon, so that a small commission on whatever you buy will be sent to me at no extra cost to you.

Videos appearing below this line are advertisements and not part of the post nor endorsed by this blog.
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