January 10, 2017

Get to Know Some Other Breakfast Foods

Last week we learned about cereal, now let’s get to know some other breakfast foods. More than 80% of us eat breakfast at home. If you’re like me, you eat it in pjs with a cup of hot coffee in hand. There’s no end to the possible breakfast options, so we’ll take a look at some of the more popular items we choose at home.
Eggs are king of the traditional American breakfast. Simple to cook in a variety of ways in only a few minutes, an egg is packed with protein and low in carbohydrates. One egg has 70 calories, 6 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbohydrate, and 65 mg of sodium. The high protein and low carb content make eggs an ideal choice for diabetics.

Unlike most foods, eggs contain all 9 essential amino acids that cannot be made by your body plus iron, vitamins A,D,E, & B12, folate, selenium, lutein, zeaxanthin, and choline. Eggs also provide the primary source of cholesterol in the American diet. One egg has 195 mg.

Because blood cholesterol has been of concern in heart disease, for many years Dietary Guidelines recommended limiting consumption of cholesterol thereby giving eggs a bad rap. This changed in 2015. The Guideline regarding cholesterol was removed because it is now recognized that dietary cholesterol plays no role in blood cholesterol.

With that concern removed, it’s hard to find a better food to get you going in the morning.*

Ever drink a glass of orange juice with your eggs?
Apparently a lot of us do. About two billion dollars worth of orange juice are purchased in the US each year. The largest selling brand is Tropicana Pure Premium.

Orange Juice

An 8 oz glass of Tropicana Pure Premium No Pulp Orange Juice has 110 calories, 2 grams of protein, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 450 mg of potassium, 22 grams of naturally occurring sugars and a total of 26 grams of carbs. A glass of this juice also provides 120%** of the recommended daily allowance of vitamin C, 2% of the daily value for calcium, 10% for thiamine, 4% for riboflavin & niacin, 6% vitamin B6, 15% folate, and 6% magnesium.

How does that compare with an orange?


One large orange has about 86 calories, 2 grams of protein, 0 fat, 4 grams of dietary fiber, 17 grams of sugars and 22 total grams of carbs. It also has 163% of the RDA of vitamin C plus naturally occurring calcium (7% RDA), vitamin A (8%), and iron (1%).

Looks like an orange has less calories, more fiber, more calcium, more vitamin A, more iron and 43% more vitamin C, but lacks the added thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and magnesium.

If you are choosing orange juice for vitamin C, you’ll get significantly more from eating an orange plus the benefit of 4 grams of dietary fiber and 5% more calcium.

Before choosing store bought orange juice, you should also be aware that in spite of the “not from concentrate” verbiage on the label, this type of orange juice is processed by having the oxygen removed so it can be stored in vats for up to a year. This process removes the flavor. A flavor pack is then added so that when it’s bottled it will taste like orange juice. Because the flavor pack is made from orange by-products, it is not considered an ingredient, and therefore isn’t required to appear on the label despite the fact that the by-products are chemically altered. 1)


What about yogurt for breakfast?

Up until two years ago, Greek yogurt sales were skyrocketing. While the growth has now slowed to a moderate level, you can’t pass a dairy cabinet without seeing a wide array of single serving yogurt options. Many of those convenient cups are occupying our breakfast tables, but not all single serving yogurt is created equal.

The top selling brand of yogurt is Chobani, so let’s start there.

Non-fat Greek Yogurt
Chobani 5.3 oz non-fat Greek yogurt contains 80 calories, 15 grams of protein, 0 fat, 10 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 4 grams of sugars and a total of 6 carbs, 15% of the RDA of calcium, and 6% of potassium. This yogurt is also full of probiotic live and active cultures that help your digestive tract.

That’s twice as much protein as an egg for only 10 additional calories. Plain Greek yogurt is also low in carbohydrates and has a significant amount of calcium making it another good choice for diabetics.

Plain yogurt? Yuck! What about flavored yogurt?

Blackberry Yogurt
One 5.3 oz container of Chobani Greek Yogurt with Blackberry on the Bottom contains 120 calories, 12 grams of protein, 0 fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 50 mg of sodium, 16 grams of sugars and a total of 18 carbs, 15% of the RDA of calcium, and 6% of potassium. Like plain yogurt, this version is also full of probiotic live and active cultures that help your digestive tract.

While blackberries may account for some of the sugar listed on the label, evaporated cane sugar is the 2nd ingredient, meaning that many of the 16 grams of sugar come from added sugars. The sugar adds most of the 40 additional calories. Although the protein content is still high at 12 grams and the probiotics are present, added sugar makes this yogurt less healthy in general than plain yogurt and doubly bad for diabetics and those with heart disease.

I understand why flavored yogurt is tempting. Yogurt can be a bit tangy on its own. I eat 1/3 – 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt for breakfast most mornings. Rather than adding sugar, sweetener or honey, I top it with about a tbsp of golden raisins and 10 raw almonds. As a breakfast, this is crunchy, filling, and just sweet enough. The nuts and raisins both add protein, the nuts add fiber, and the raisins add carbs. This combination is also quick and doesn’t require cooking.

While I find Greek yogurt convenient, many people prefer the portability of breakfast bars. The top selling nutrition/health bar is Clif.

Clif Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bar

In one Clif Oatmeal Raisin Walnut Bar you’ll find 250 calories, 10 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 150 mg sodium, 7% RDA of potassium, 5 grams of dietary fiber & 4 grams of insoluble fiber, 20 grams of sugars and 44 grams of total carbohydrates. It is also fortified with vitamins & minerals.

Although this bar offers a good amount of protein and fiber, the calorie count is high and the total amount of carbohydrates is very high. These bars are not an option for those who are gluten-free, and they cannot be characterized as a good choice for those who are diabetic or at risk for heart disease.

Of course there are other breakfast bars with varying amounts of protein, fat, and sugar so you may find one that fits your eating plan. You won’t find one that beats eggs or plain Greek yogurt in nutrition per calorie.

Of all the foods we’ve learned about so far, eggs and non-fat plain Greek yogurt offer the best high protein, low fat, low carb breakfast choice.

Next up, we’ll look at some popular on-the-go breakfast sandwiches and then we’ll be ready to move on to lunch and dinner.

Should we explore coffee? Probably, but right now I’d rather just have another cup. Until next week…

*Eggs are one of the 7 top allergens. Approximately 2% of children are allergic to eggs, but 70% outgrow the allergy by the time they’re 16. http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergies/types-food-allergy/egg-allergy If you have an egg allergy, please avoid eating eggs and products containing them.
**Percent of daily values listed are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your DV may be higher or lower based on your calorie needs.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


January 5, 2017

Get to Know Your Food

Let’s get to know your food! All the healthy changes you want to make in 2017 will be affected by what you choose to eat. Rather than moving ahead with resolutions at lightning speed only to give up just as quickly, why not take a moment to gather some information that can help you sustain a plan? It’s always tempting to skip the preparation phase in the hope of getting results sooner, but, as the 42.4% of us who never succeed with our resolutions know, the results don’t usually get here soon enough to keep us on track.

In order to follow any sort of healthy eating plan, you must get to know your food. This month, we’ll explore some commonly consumed foods so that you can decide whether or not they are in line with your goals. What’s healthier for me will be gluten-free. What’s healthier for you may be lower in salt. You and I can both make the best choices when we are equipped with good information.
Breakfast seems like a good place to start. While its dominance has declined in the past few years, cereal is still the most commonly consumed breakfast food in the US. The three top selling cereals in 2015 (2016 figures are not yet available) were: Honey Nut Cheerios, Frosted Flakes, and Honey Bunches of Oats. If you’re choosing one of those for breakfast, what are you really choosing?

Honey Nut Cheerios
Serving Size is 3/4 cup.
That 3/4 cup has 110 calories.
The calorie count isn’t bad. Of course, you’ll probably pair that with milk which will add a few. If you are only concerned about calories, you might choose this for breakfast. But calories are not the only consideration. Some calories provide better nutrition than others.

Where do Honey Nut Cheerios get their calories?
When we take a look at the ingredients, sugar is listed second. Ingredient lists are compiled in order of quantity included. When an ingredient is listed first, it means that there is more of that ingredient in the product than any other ingredient. In addition to sugar, this cereal contains honey, and brown sugar syrup which are also sugars. All of these sugars are carbohydrates.

Sugar gives you quick energy, but it does not provide a sustained energy source. Carbohydrates including sugar can be detrimental to blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. It is best for diabetics to limit carbohydrates to fresh vegetables, fruits, and legumes and further, to limit starchy vegetables.

What about Sodium?
The Honey Nut Cheerios nutrition label lists 190mg of sodium per serving. The average piece of white bread has 147mg of sodium. A half cup of milk will add 54mg of sodium. Many physicians recommend no more than 1500mg of sodium per day for those with heart disease.

How do Frosted Flakes compare?
Frosted Flakes

Serving size is 3/4 cup.
Calories per serving are 120.
Frosted Flakes, like Honey Nut Cheerios, list sugar as the second ingredient. In addition, they contain high fructose corn syrup which is also a sugar. This leads to a total carb count of 28g per serving. The sodium content is 150mg per serving, making Frosted Flakes slightly higher in calories, carbs, and sodium than Honey Nut Cheerios.

What about Honey Bunches of Oats?
Honey Bunches of Oats

Serving size is 3/4 cup.
Calories per serving are 120.
Sugar is the third ingredient listed on this label. In addition, Honey Bunches of Oats contain brown sugar, corn syrup, malted corn and barley syrup, and honey. The total carb count per serving is 25g, and sodium per serving is 135mg. This cereal has slightly fewer carbs than Frosted Flakes, but slightly more than the 22g found in Honey Nut Cheerios. Honey Bunches of Oats are lower in sodium than the other two of the top selling three cereals.

If sugar is the second or third ingredient, what is the first?
The primary ingredient in breakfast cereals is some type of grain – wheat, oats, corn, and rice are common. Wheat, wheat contaminated oats, and malt (from barley) are ingredients that mean many breakfast cereals are not gluten-free.

Whole grains naturally contain protein, but grains are often refined into flour before they become cereal. The process of refining removes many of the nutrients including protein. With the nutrients gone, the manufacturer must then add something in order to provide the small amounts of protein listed on cereal labels. These additions may be in the form of nuts or soy protein isolate.

Cereals are full of vitamins and minerals, aren’t they?
These grain-based products and others like them do not naturally contain all the vitamins and minerals that cereals are touted for providing. That is why you may see the word “fortified” in descriptions. The manufacturer fortifies the product by adding ingredients like ascorbic acid (vitamin C), niacinamide, iron, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B4), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin A palmitate, tocopherols (vitamin E), folic acid, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

What else is in there?
Most boxed breakfast cereals contain some kind of preservative like BHT and many have “natural flavor” added. Natural flavor is a mystery ingredient defined under the Code of Federal Regulations as “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional” (21CFR101.22).
Should I eat cereal for breakfast?
Only you can decide what’s best for you. The primary advantage of boxed cereal is convenience. It can be prepared in seconds, stored for a long period of time, and doesn’t require refrigeration.

Obviously, there are more than 3 cereal choices, so you may be able to find one that helps you better meet your goals. For instance, if you want to limit sugar and sodium and are concerned about whole grains, Post Shredded Wheat Original Spoon Size contains only whole wheat and the chemical preservative BHT. A one cup serving contains 6g of protein, no sodium, and no sugars. It is important to note that even without added sugar, a serving still delivers 36g of total carbs.

Breakfast cereal is a processed food. If your plan is to limit processed foods and added chemicals, you may want to choose something different.

Is boxed breakfast cereal the best choice for breakfast?
It seems like there should be an easy answer for this. After all, there’s science, right? Science should tell us. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.

The WebMD website says, “Want to statistically reduce your risk of death from all causes (in other words, your total mortality rate) by 15% just by making one dietary change? Choose whole grains whenever you can.” That’s a pretty strong statement indicating that whole grain cereals are a great choice, but the statement is made in reference to switching from refined grain to whole grain, so cereals made with refined grains would not be recommended.

Dr. David Perlmutter author of “Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar — Your Brain’s Silent Killers” would disagree that whole grains are beneficial. He draws a connection between consuming whole grains and experiencing dementia, ADHD, anxiety, chronic headaches, depression, and more. Cardiologist Dr. William Davis author of “Wheat Belly” notes problems caused by eating wheat range from minor rashes and high blood sugar to the unattractive stomach bulges that he calls “wheat bellies”. Obviously, these doctors advise against consuming foods like breakfast cereal, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, pancakes, waffles, bread, pasta, cookies, and cake.

There are disagreements within the medical community. Some old research is relied on even when new research conflicts with its results. If you want to be really confused, try reading this review of the evidence supporting the benefits of breakfast cereal: http://advances.nutrition.org/content/5/5/636S.full

So, I’ll just answer for myself. Is breakfast cereal the best choice for breakfast?

For me? No. That doesn’t mean I never ever eat cereal. I love party mix during the holidays, and I buy a box once or twice a year when it sounds like a good treat. With that said, I am not comfortable with the high levels of sugar and carbohydrates, low level of naturally occurring nutrients, amount of added chemicals, or potential for cross-contact with gluten (even in products labeled gluten-free) in processing.

That means if I choose cereal as my primary breakfast day in and day out, I will experience a daily internal struggle. I would rather feel good about eating breakfast, so I make a different choice. I can then use the energy I would have expended struggling with myself to learn something new, laugh with my grandson, or add to my yoga routine.

Next week, we’ll explore some other breakfast alternatives you may want to consider. In the meantime, you’ll have a chance to read the labels on your favorite cereals to see if they are in line with your health goals for 2017.

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a big bowl of fresh blackberries with a tiny bit of cream. Bon appétit!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”




December 29, 2016

Environment Affects Healthy Habits

new year
It is clear that environment affects healthy habits. I’m in my hometown for a holiday visit with family. Funny thing is, there’s not much family left here so I’m not running from party to party with no time to spare. I’ve had time to notice how quiet it is in this little town. It reminds me of a snow day when there’s no traffic and a blanket of white absorbs the noise.

There’s a wonderful new restaurant in town. I eat there every time I’m here. Last night when I finished eating, the manager walked me to my car. It was about 7pm, but really dark outside. There were more bright stars visible in the sky than you can imagine. The whole scene struck me as ironic. In a town so small that I can see every star in the sky, the restaurant manager is courteous enough to make sure I get safely to my car…at 7pm.

This stands in sharp contrast to a recent experience in the neighborhood where I live. After a concert at a highly touted restaurant, in order to reach my car I had to walk past two men who had rolled out a mattress in the parking lot where they were openly smoking crack and talking to the car next to them. The car was empty, but the alarm had gone off causing the men to loudly admonish it. There was no security guard and certainly no restaurant volunteer to walk with me.

This is not the first time I’ve encountered a crack-encumbered man outside of an upscale restaurant in my city. One night on the way to my car, another man who was flying high hugged me after I told him I wasn’t going to give him money. He could just as easily have shot me.

I felt pretty sure a gold-toothed man I encountered at a gas station was going to hurt me whether I gave him money or not. I don’t go to that gas station any more, but I don’t think my instincts were wrong. Four people have been shot and killed near that intersection in the past year. And so it goes where I live. In the past month, a two-year-old and a 3-year-old were shot and killed while riding in cars.

You might dismiss this as a large inner city problem, but I don’t live in a large city. The population is under 200,000. You might dismiss this as my choice of neighborhoods, but I live 5 blocks from the governor’s mansion. In an even more affluent nearby neighborhood, two women were recently robbed at gunpoint in a grocery store parking lot. My daughter-in-law had just left that store moments before.

Today I’m left pondering the contrasts – a small town that is often called ultraconservative, redneck, closed-minded, uneducated, bigoted, and the most racist small town in America where a total stranger wants to make sure I’m safe on a short walk to my car vs a small city that is considered more sophisticated, diverse, educated, inclusive, and enlightened where it is commonplace to encounter danger and uncommon to encounter concern for my welfare.

If I had grown up in the community where I now live, would I believe that I would live long enough for healthy habits to matter? Would organic produce seem important when I’m rolling off the couch into the floor to crawl away from external walls because I hear the rapid-fire shots of an AR-15 and the screeching tires of the car out of which it’s being fired? Would I be more likely to seek comfort in a high carbohydrate, endorphin releasing meal?

I can answer one of those questions. The most recent drive-by shooting at my house was within the past year. Nothing seems more important than hitting the deck when you hear gunfire outside. Period. You’re not going to make sure to grab your phone so you can call the police. You’re sure as hell not going to make sure you grab a salad while you wait for your heart to stop pounding.

If there’s a way to import the attitude of community concern I experience in my insular hometown, sans bigotry, to the city where I currently live, it’s sorely needed. Self-care begins by giving our bodies good nutrition, adequate sleep, plenty of movement, and enough stillness, but the feeling that we are worthy of self-care begins when we feel valued. That feeling comes when our environment provides safety and responsiveness to our need for food, warmth, comfort, and touch.

It is ideal when that responsiveness comes from our parents and extended family in our first moments, but it can be healing even when it comes later. The violence and divisiveness in my community exposes a huge need for healing. Extending a hand may require courage. It could make us vulnerable. But if we don’t begin to summon some courage to reach out, we all become more vulnerable anyway.

As I move into the new year, it is with an acute awareness of the unhealthy environment in which I live. No matter what I do within my household, I am still affected by my neighborhood and the community at large. I must decide how I can best take care of myself while best contributing to the larger community. It is the ideal time for reassessment and reevaluation.

The extent to which I am willing to face my failures, own my weaknesses, understand my limitations, enforce my boundaries, and feel my shame will determine the extent to which I am effective in contributing to healing, health, peacefulness, and joy.

In 2017, I hope you will join me on a journey to create an environment for ourselves, our partners, our children, and our communities in which we can all become healthier as well as more whole, peaceful, and joyous. We may not solve the world’s problems, but when we show concern and kindness one walk to the car at a time, we will make a difference.

Happy New Year!

Additional Reading:

December 20, 2016

Yuccity, Yucity, Yuca

yuca starchYuccity, Yucity, Yuca. James and I recently had a confusing conversation about tapioca starch/flour. As it turned out, the confusion began with spelling and ended with laughter once we figured out the problem. 

Many gluten-free recipes include tapioca starch or tapioca flour as an ingredient. The brands I see most often in the store identify tapioca as both starch and flour, i.e., starch/flour, implying that there is no difference between the two. In fact, there is only a slight difference in that tapioca starch is derived from the starch of the yuca plant and tapioca flour is derived from the root.

That wasn’t where the confusion entered our conversation. The confusion was that James thought we were talking about YUCCA, not YUCA. There’s a big difference there. Yucca with two Cs has edible parts, but they all grow above the ground. The Yuca plant with one C is known in many countries as cassava or bitter cassava. 
The name tapioca came about as a reference to the method used by the South American Tupi to prepare bitter cassava to make it suitable for eating. There are harmful chemicals in the branches of cassava that, if not properly processed, can cause paralytic disease when consumed over a period of time. Processing yields the third best source of carbohydrates in the world and takes the form of flour, rectangular sticks, pearls (boba), and flakes.

The root of the yucca on the other hand is not used as food. It seems James had the spelling confused, so when I said something about yuca, he googled yucca and neither of us could figure out what the other was talking about. There’s no shame in the confusion. In fact, confusion with cassava by early discoverers of yucca led to the similarity in the names of the two plants.

A small typo could result in an equally amusing conversation or a menu stumper. A local Brazilian restaurant serves adorable little cheese rolls made with yuca/tapioca/cassava flour, BUT they list it on the menu as yucca root flour. English is a second language for the owners, so translation may be the origin of this disconnect.
As a practical matter, you will get a satisfactory result from using either tapioca starch or tapioca flour in a gluten-free recipe so there’s no need for extensive searching for a product that says it’s one or the other. I include small quantities of one or the other in many Cooking2Thrive bread, cracker and cookie recipes.

Whether you call it cassava, manioc, tapioca, or yuca, this carbohydrate starch/flour can serve you well in gluten-free baking. Cassava can also be enjoyed as tapioca pudding, boba tea, and Kerala-style tapioca masala, and you can find recipes for yuca root fries, chips, fritters, and hash – all of which will leave you saying, “Yum!” And that, we all can spell.

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