Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fall For Sweet Potatoes

Domesticated over 5000 years ago in it's native South America, the many varieties are now cultivated world wide. It's no wonder since the sweet potato covers a lot of bases nutritionally, is affordable, easy-to-prepare, and add so much color and diversity to the diet. Is it a Yam, or a sweet potato? Most of what is labeled yams are botanically sweet potatoes. The true Yam commonly eaten in South Africa is seldom sold in the U.S.
At only 180 calories per cup of cooked sweet potato, and on average about $1 per raw pound, sweet potatoes won't break the scales or the budget. One cup also yeilds a huge 7 grams of fiber (white potatoes offer only 2 gm.) Dietary fiber is a key to decreasing LDL cholesterol, adds bulk to help ward off cravings and hunger, and can also help help regulate blood sugar levels. With a glycemic load of only 17, sweet potatoes make a great stand-in for white potatoes or pasta, which cause more dramatic swings in blood sugar. The 950 milligrams of potassium in that same cup plays an important role in regulating blood pressure. The orange color provides an abundance of carotenoids which are used to form vit. A; a staggering 769% of the daily value! 65% DV of vit. C (used to form collagen; a protein that keeps skin, hair, and nails strong), and 33% DV of vit. B6; important for amino acid and lipid metabolism, and is used to form many neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Lutien and iron are also high on the list.
Sweet potatoes are naturally fat free, so keep them on your diet plan without the butter and sugar. Use olive oil, spices, or nuts. Sorry - marshmallows aren't a healthy topping.
~ Tufts University

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What We Know About Plant Sterols

Nutraceutical foods containing plant sterols and stanols, promising to lower cholesterol, are appearing on supermarket shelves in astounding numbers. Consumers can now find yogurts, salad dressings, breads, margarine, and even cookies with plant sterols. While plant sterols and stanols are found naturally in plants, they are concentrated to unnatural levels in common nutraceutical foods.
Though they have been found to reduce LDL cholesterol, the current major concern is that plant sterols may inhibit the absorption of beta-carotene, vit E, D, K, and other fat soluble nutrients. Also, the effectiveness seems to depend dramatically upon the type of food carrier. While certain products perform very well, including dairy, salad dressings, and margarine, other products such as orange juice, breads and chocolates do not. Individual response varies also, which are mainly genetic factors. They do not appear to interact with other cholesterol lowering medications, and have a synergistic effect when used in combination with statins. Studies have shown a 35% reduction in LDL and a 32% reduction in triglyceride levels when used in combination with medications. However, a few studies have raised concerns that excess levels of plant sterols may increase plaque formation and actually raise the risk of atherosclerosis (vascular disease) and a cardiac event. Long term use studies have not yet been conducted.
Until more conclusive research is done, stick to the current recommended amount of 2 - 3 grams per day, and no more!
~Nutrition Review, 2009

Friday, September 17, 2010

Red Yeast Rice Extract

Red yeast rice extract is yeast grown on fermented rice. It is found naturally in certain Asian foods, including Peking Duck, and is commonly used in powdered form as a food coloring. It is also known as "nature's statin" and is used as a home remedy for reducing LDL cholesterol. Red yeast rice contains monacolin K - the same ingredient in the statin Mevacorl, which acts to block a key enzyme necessary to make cholesterol in the body. It may also contain isoflavinoids, monosaturated fats, and sterols that contribute to cholesterol lowering effects.
Several studies have shown positive support for the lowering of LDL's, and it appears to be safe even when used in combination with prescribed statin medications. However, a physician should supervise it's use, since it is equivalent of a dose of statin.
Red yeast rice does not come without side effects, however. Since it is a statin, the potential for muscle damage and liver toxicity is a major concern. It is usually recommended to take CoEnzyme Q-10 with statin medications to avoid muscle break-down. Mild adverse effects include dizziness, low appetite, nausea, diarrhea, and stomach aches. Also, the quality of over-the-counter medications can be inconsistent, and many of the products available in the U.S. have not been found to contain significant amounts of the active ingredient.
Bottom Line: When it comes to OTC supplements and nutraceuticals, most are a waste of money because they fall through the cracks of FDA regulations. Always check with a physician, pharmacist, or nutrition professional before sampling health food store potions.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Color of Safety

Synthetic food colorings are made from petroleum. Food companies like them because they are cheaper, more stable, and brighter than natural food colorings like paprika, beet or blueberry juice. The use of synthetic dyes has increased five-fold over the past 50 years. Today, there are still lingering questions about the safety of the nine synthetic dyes that are used in candies, breakfast cereals and other processed concoctions. The dyes in question are: Blue 1, Blue 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6.
Twenty years ago, the FDA banned Red 3 from cosmetics and topically applied drug because the dye caused cancer of the thyroid gland in animal studies. But, the FDA never got around to prohibiting the use in food and drugs that are swallowed. Then, in 1984, the FDA (the then-acting commissioner) reported that Red 3 "was of greatest public health concern,... and has clearly been shown to induce cancer." Since then, the food industry has poured 5 million pounds of Red 3 into the food supply.
The second most popular dye is tartrazine, (Yellow 5) which has been found to cause hives. Recent studies show damaged DNA in test animals, which is often a sign of carcinogens. Yellow 5 & 6 can also be contaminated with the human carcinogen benzidine.
Thought the FDA has dismissed claims of ADHD resulting from synthetic food dyes over the years, two current studies commissioned by the British government revealed that the dyes do affect children who haven't been diagnosed with a behavioral disorder. As a result, the European Parliament passed a law requiring warning notices on foods that contain at least one of the six dyes used in the studies.
True, all food colors must pass FDA testing, not all impurities are detected in the routine testing. The FDA says it doesn't have the resources to do more thorough testing. Both the FDA and Canadian govt. scientists discovered that the benzidine is bound to the molecules in the dyes (the less-detectable version), and are sometimes contaminated with up to 1000 times more bound than free benzidine.
The bottom line: READ the labels of products you purchase and avoid the synthetic dyes.
To read more about hyperactivity in food dyes, the new report by CSPI is available at

~Center for Science in the Public Interest

Friday, September 3, 2010

Alternative Avenues

Supplements and nutraceuticals are intended to compliment traditional medical treatment. Though the medications for treating heart disease for example, may work, they also have undesirable side effects. Because many consumers assume that dietary supplements have no side effects since they are created from "natural" ingredients, they gravitate toward these products in addition to, or in place of other medications. But some claims for these products fall through the cracks. Not everything found in nature is harmless!
Manufacturers are required by law to notify the FDA when a new product is introduced and to provide assurance that the product is safe. The quality of the products can be inconsistent. And once the product is on the market, the FDA must prove that it is unsafe before it can be removed from the shelves. The FDA also keeps watch on the label's health claims, but plays a rather passive role in monitoring whether the ingredients are safe or effective. The resulting label-claim word game tends to mislead rather than enlighten. Consumers should use herbal remedies and vitamin supplements with caution and with the knowledge or consultation of their physician.