Tag Archives: Food and Nutrition Experts

The 6 Nutrients Vegetarians and Vegan Diets May Be Missing

Incorporating more meatless meals into your diet is a great way to boost health. Research shows that eating more plant-based foods and less animal products can reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and even some cancers. However, whether you choose to eat this way part-time or all of the time, there are a few nutrients that need more planning to ensure you are getting enough. Luckily, there many whole food sources, fortified foods, and supplements to ensure you are meeting the daily nutrient requirements. If you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, or plan on switching any time soon, be mindful of these 6 nutrients.

 

Vitamin B-12

Vitamin B12, found primarily in animal products, is needed for production of DNA and maintaining nerve cells. A deficiency can cause megaloblastic anemia and nerve damage, among other problems. Therefore, a reliable source of B-12 is essential, especially for vegans, in order to prevent deficiency. Since fortified foods vary greatly in the amount of B12 they supply, a daily supplement is recommended instead.

 

Calcium

Calcium needs can be easily met without animal products since calcium-rich foods are found in all food groups. Vegan sources include leafy greens, calcium-set tofu, soybeans, tempeh, dried figs, almonds, tahini, broccoli and chickpeas, as well as fortified foods.

 

Vitamin D

Also known as the sunshine vitamin, this is one nutrient that we don’t need to obtain directly from our diets during summer months. When the sun’s UV-B rays hit the skin, a reaction takes place that triggers skin cells to manufacture vitamin D. You don’t need much, as fair-skinned individuals can produce up to 10,000 IU’s of the vitamin with just 10 minutes of exposure. However, depending on your skin tone, where you live and the time of year, this amount can be harder to obtain directly from sunlight. Plant-based sources of vitamin D include fortified plant-based milks, tofu, some mushrooms, fortified breakfast cereals and orange juice with calcium.

 

Iron

Iron is found in two forms, heme and non-heme iron. Heme iron, found predominately in meat, poultry, and fish, is well absorbed. Non-heme iron, found in plant foods like fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts is less well absorbed. As plant-based diets only contain non-heme iron, vegans especially should include foods that are high in iron and include techniques that can promote iron absorption. These include sprouting, soaking, and fermenting as well as including a Vitamin-C rich food source. Plant-based sources of iron include chickpeas, lentils, tofu, whole and enriched grain products, raisins, figs, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds and broccoli.

 

Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids provide the building blocks for the brain, nervous system, and cell membranes. Vegetarians and vegan may have difficulty balancing the amount of essential fatty acids and intake of omega-3 fats. Unlike omega-6 fatty acids, omega-3 fatty acids are less common in food, making it easy to be deficient in this important nutrient. Good sources of omega-3 ALA’s are found flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, leafy greens, soybeans, and wheat germ. If these are not included regularly, supplementing with an algae-derived DHA/EPA supplement is encouraged.

 

Zinc

The main sources of zinc in the diet are usually animal products, followed by fortified cereals. However, many plant foods do contain zinc. Being mindful of incorporating these foods into your diet is important, especially since phytates in plant-foods can inhibit some of their absorption. However, the effects of phytates can be lowered through fermentation, soaking, and boiling root vegetables. Good sources of zinc include tofu, tempeh, pumpkin, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, oatmeal, tahini and cashews.

 

Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.” 

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

What Vegetarian Dietitians Eat at Fast-Food Restaurants  

As a dietitian and longtime vegetarian, I find that people are often surprised to hear that I do sometimes eat fast food. But these days, there are some tasty, balanced vegetarian options at restaurants like Subway, Chipotle, and Panera. Here are some of my healthy favorites, and picks from fellow vegetarian and vegan dietitians.

 

Subway: Veggie Delite Salad + Egg Patty

This is my off-the-menu go-to: I top a Veggie Delite Salad with an egg patty. I request a base of spinach and add a ton of veggies: tomatoes, green bell peppers, red onion, cucumber, banana peppers, and jalapenos. I top the salad with sprinkling of shredded cheese, as well as dried oregano and red wine vinegar. I love that Subway sells apple slices, so I’ll usually grab a baggie of those, as well.

 

Taco Bell: Fresco Bean Burrito

“I’ve been eating this for years on road trips,” says Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, blogger at Whole Green Wellness. “Fresco means replacing the sour cream and cheese with pico de gallo.” You can also add extra veggies — like lettuce, tomatoes, and jalapenos — for a little bit extra.

 

McDonald’s: Fruit & Maple Oatmeal

McD’s now serves breakfast all day, which means you can pick up this vegetarian oatmeal anytime. “It’s easy to go overboard on sodium if you choose the breakfast sandwich route,” says Meredith Harper, MS, RDN, owner of MeredithRD.com. “Many contain at least half the daily recommended limit, but this oatmeal has only 140 milligrams of sodium.” Order it with a slight modification: “I recommend choosing to get it without the brown sugar — it’s sweet enough as is,” says Harper.

 

Chipotle: Burrito Bowl

Load up a customized bowl with veggies, as does Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, owner of ChampagneNutrition.com. “I get every type of veggie Chipotle offers, including fajita veggies and all types of salsa,” says Hultin, who requests both pinto and black beans. Note for vegans: The Chipotle Honey Vinaigrette contains honey, so opt instead for guacamole as a topper.

 

Panera: Modern Greek Salad with Quinoa

This is a favorite of Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, owner of NutritionalaNatalie.com. “The salad has 510 calories and11 grams of protein, and it’s a heart, filling, and tasty lunch,” says Rizzo. “I usually opt for an apple as my side to keep the calories to a minimum and increase my fiber intake.” You can also order a half portion and pair it with cup of soup or a half sandwich.

 

Panda Express: Eggplant Tofu

“It’s so hard to find vegetables in fast-food choices, so this dish is great,” says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. Veggies add filling fiber, and this dish is a good source. Palmer suggests pairing it with steamed brown rice for additional fiber.

 

Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ. She’s a regular contributor to many publications, including ReadersDigest.com, Shape.com, FitnessMagazine.com, Dr. Oz the Good Life, Runner’s World, and more—as well as WeightWatchers.com, where she was a longtime editor. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy’s Eat List.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Should You Take a Collagen Supplement? 

Some are claiming that they’ve found the fountain of youth, and it’s in a bottle at your local vitamin shop. Collagen is the newest supplement fad to hit the market, and many are adopting this new craze in the hopes of having tighter skin and less aching in their joints. But does it really do what it promises?

 

What is collagen?

Quite simply, collagen is the structural protein found in animal connective tissue. As the most abundant protein in the human body, it’s found in skin, muscles, bones and tendons. Collagen is also found in animal meat, so eating is it not new…but bottling and selling it as a supplement is. Many claim that taking collagen supplements will reduce wrinkles, make skin look younger and increase the elasticity in the joints. Yet, collagen is quickly broken down during digestion, so how can any of this be true?

 

Researchers realized this digestion problem early on and created a unique solution called hydrolyzed collagen. In simple terms, in hydrolyzed collagen, the molecular bonds between the individual collagen strands have been broken down into 19 amino acids. Research has found that this form of collagen is about 85% absorbable by the bloodstream. In other words, you may absorb more collagen when taking hydrolyzed collagen supplements than eating a piece of meat.

 

What does the research say?

Since collagen supplements are new to the market, the research is still preliminary. But a handful of studies show promising results on the effects of collagen supplementation on skin and joints.

 

In a recent randomized controlled trial, women aged 35-55 either received 2.5 grams or 5.0 grams of hydrolyzed collagen or placebo once a day for 8 weeks. At the end of the study, the skin elasticity in the groups taking the collagen supplement significantly improved, while the placebo group did not. Another similar study observed 114 women aged 45-65 years as they received a collagen supplement or placebo once a day for 8 weeks. After 8 weeks, the group that took the collagen supplement saw a statistically significant reduction of eye wrinkle volume. There are a few other studies that showed similar results, suggesting that collagen supplementation may help skin look younger or prevent against the signs of aging.

Because collagen is a major component of muscles, bones and tendons, it has been also studied for its role in preventing the breakdown of joints. One study looked into the effectiveness of collagen supplementation on treating the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. After thirteen weeks taking a collagen supplement, the researchers found that supplementing with collagen decreased the symptoms of osteoarthritis. Another study observed the effects of collagen supplementation on the joints of athletes — a population that puts high stress on their joints. Subjects were either given 10 grams of hydrolyzed collagen or placebo for 24-weeks. The researchers found that the athletes given the collagen supplement had less joint pain than those that did not receive the supplement.

 

The bottom line

Research suggests that supplementing with collagen is a safe and effective way to improve the health of skin and joints. But, as with any supplement, it’s best to be cautious. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements, making it impossible to know if the supplement matches what’s on the label. Choose brands that use third party testing, like NeoCell, rather than generic brands. And don’t be fooled by extreme claims on the label. While the research on collagen is promising, it won’t undo the effects of smoking, excessive sun exposure or a bad diet. As with any supplement, it should be accompanied by a healthy diet and lifestyle.

 

Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition à la Natalie.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Ask An Expert: Is Couscous Healthy?

Ever wondered about couscous…what is it? How it’s prepared? And most of all, is it healthy? A registered dietitian weighs in on this commonly misunderstood food.

 

What Is Couscous?

Often mistaken for an ancient grain, couscous is actually tiny pieces of wheat pasta – basically a mixture of semolina flour and water. Popular in cuisines around the globe, couscous is quick cooking and can be used like rice to accompany a wide variety of foods.

Traditional or Moroccan couscous are very small grains that can be prepared by simply adding hot water or broth and allowing to steep for 5 minutes to allow the liquid to be absorbed. Larger round pieces of couscous known as Israeli or pearled can be cooked in boiling liquid. This version takes slightly larger to cook and has a more robust and pleasantly chewy texture.

 

Nutrition

Regular couscous isn’t considered a whole grain but can be part of a healthy diet when properly portioned. One cup of cooked traditional couscous has about 175 calories, 6 grams of protein and 1gram of fiber. Look for whole wheat couscous, which contains slightly more fiber and is widely available in most large chain grocery stores. Israeli couscous comes in with similar numbers at 200 calories, 7 grams protein and 1 gram of fiber in a one cup cooked portion.

 

Ways To Enjoy

Use your preferred variety of couscous like rice or pasta and prepare by cooking in water or broth. Couscous recipes often include other flavorful ingredients to add texture and flavor such as fresh herbs, chopped nuts and dried fruit. Combine prepared couscous concoctions with lean protein and vegetables to create a complete meal.

 

Recipes to Try 

Sweet and Sour Couscous Stuffed Peppers

Couscous with Dried Dates

Crowd Pleasing Couscous

Couscous Salad with Tomatoes and Mint

 

Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Can The Mediterranean Diet Help Treat Depression?

Feeling a bit down? New research suggests that a Mediterranean diet can help treat depression. Now that’s cause for celebration! The study suggests that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins may be able to treat major depressive episodes.

 

The study

The researchers followed 67 Australian individuals with a history of depression and poor dietary habits. Study participants were randomly sorted into two groups. One group received dietary intervention, consisting of 60-minutes of Dietitian-lead nutrition one time per week. The second group received social support, otherwise known as ‘befriending’ or spending time with another individual discussing neutral topics, like sports, news or music. In addition to the interventions, both groups were being treated with a mixture of anti-depressive medication or therapy.

The dietary intervention group learned about the importance of eating a Mediterranean diet, including 5-8 servings of whole grains per day, 6 servings of vegetables per day, 3 servings of fruit per day, 3-4 servings of legumes per day, 2-3 servings of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods per week, 1 serving of raw and unsalted nuts per day, 2 servings of fish per week, 3-4 servings of lean red meats per week, 2-3 servings of  chicken per week, 6 eggs per week and 3 tablespoons of olive oil per day. They were also encouraged to reduce their intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks to no more than 3 per week.

After 12 weeks of the intervention, the dietary support group showed a significantly greater improvement on the depression rating scale than the social support group. In other words, the participants who received dietary support felt less depressed. This study is still preliminary, but it suggests that changing one’s diet may actually be a useful tool in treating depression.

 

Eat The Mediterranean Way

The Mediterranean Diet has long been promoted for its many health benefits. Not only may it help fight depression, but research suggests that eating like a Greek can improve weight loss, control blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and dementia. Follow these tips to add more of the Mediterranean style of eating to your diet to reap the benefits.

  • Use oil whenever possible, like in homemade salad dressings and marinades. Opt for oil instead of margarine or butter when roasting veggies or topping popcorn.
  • Swap out chicken for fish two nights per week. Don’t get stuck in the boring old protein rut. Treat your family to an omega-rich serving of fresh fish.
  • Add veggies to every plate—even breakfast. According to the USDA’s My Plate, every plate should consist of at least half fruits and vegetables. Since many of us don’t get that at breakfast, make an effort to add veggies to your morning smoothie, omelet or toast.
  • Opt for whole grains. Luckily, the abundance of commercially available whole grains is at an all-time high. If you’re not in the mood for whole wheat bread or brown rice, try quinoa, oats, kamut, bulgur, farro, freekeh, sorghum or buckwheat.
  • Go nuts! Replace the chips in your snack drawer with unsalted nuts. Walnuts are high in heart-healthy omegas, but any type of nut will do. Nuts are bit high in calories, so be cautious of the portion size—it’s usually about a handful or 20 nuts.
  • Pick pulses. A group of superfoods made up of chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans, pulses are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. Try Meatless Monday by swapping out your dinner meat for a protein-packed pulse.
  • Herb it up. Mediterranean food is rich in flavorful herbs, like oregano, dill and basil. Add herbs to roasted veggies, soups and salads to reduce the salt and add big flavors.

 

Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition à la Natalie.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.