Blog: Yoga, Nutrition & More

Coconut Oil, Behind the Hype

September 15th, 2014

Coconut OilCoconut oil is one of the hottest foods on the market, but is it as healthy as the hype promises? Let’s explore the evidence on this tropical nut.

The news is out! Coconut oil is hailed as the next super food hero in a jar, promising everything from weight loss to protection against Alzheimer’s disease. While coconut oil has been used as part of the traditional diet in some Asian countries for years, the proof supporting the list of health benefits attributed to its use is not strong.

Coconut’s saturated fat. Coconut oil is 92 percent saturated fat. For over 70 years, research established a connection between saturated fat and heart disease risk. It’s thought saturated fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which in turn creates inflammation in the body that leads to heart disease. However, a recent literature review (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2010) suggested that saturated fat might not be a villain in heart disease risk, feeding the debate over whether coconut oil is harmful for your health.

This hypothesis of saturated fat and heart risk could stem from the fact that Americans mostly eat saturated fat found in butter, meats, eggs and dairy products, which contribute to inflammation. Thus, it seems natural to conclude that all saturated fats are bad. Though coconut oil is high in saturated fats, it contains a very high percentage of a fat known as medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs). Some experts claim the benefits of MCTs may outweigh the risk of saturated fat in coconut. Saturated fat is often stored as body fat, while MCTs are quickly metabolized by the liver and used for energy. Though excess calories the body doesn’t use for energy are stored as fat.

Barry Sears, PhD, a lipids (fats) scientist formerly of Boston University School of Medicine and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says that coconut oil’s high level of saturated fats and MCTs are not such a good thing. “Two disadvantages are this rapid uptake by the liver. MCTs have a slight blood sugar-lowering effect that may lead to people struggling to manage their blood sugar, especially for athletes and people with diabetes. Then there’s the saturated fat content’s pro-inflammatory quality that cannot be ignored. Inflammation from the LDL is the bad boy of heart disease,” says Sears.

Walter Willett, MD, DrPH, Chair, Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, says, “While coconut oil raises LDL, it boosts HDL cholesterol, the ‘good’ kind, better than other fats. Research so far, though, is limited, so we still don’t know how it affects heart disease. The ability to boost HDL makes it ‘less bad’, yet it’s not the best choice of fat overall for heart health, as any fat that raises LDL should be limited.”

Coconut’s potential health benefits. Few weight loss studies using coconut oil show that it can help promote weight loss when compared with other oils. However, one study (Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2008) showed a modest increase in weight lost with those using MCT compared to olive oil. Keep in mind that this research was conducted on MCT oil, not coconut oil, which also contains high levels of saturated fat. Thus far, coconut oil has limited evidence for weight loss.

As for easing Alzheimer’s symptoms? One potential link may be ketones—a source of energy for the brain that has been linked with improved quality of life for some Alzheimer’s sufferers. It just so happens that when the body metabolizes coconut oil, ketones are produced. Still, there’s no direct proof to date that coconut oil provides brain benefits.

Best advice on coconut oil. We do need to include fat as part of a healthy diet and active lifestyle. The goal is to get the right amount of the right kind of fat. Coconut oil appears to be better than saturated animal fats, such as butter and fatty meats, and trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils, but not as good vegetable oils, which are rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as such as first cold-expeller pressed extra virgin olive oil.

At present, many experts in the field concur that until we have more studies, you should use coconut oil sparingly, as in flavoring Asian and Thai dishes, and the occasional piecrust, biscuits or cupcakes. Follow these healthy fat guidelines:

  • Use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and salad dressings.
  • Eat oily fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, at least two times a week.
  • Toss omega-3 rich walnuts and flaxseeds onto salads.
  • Serve omega-3 fortified eggs for breakfast.

Fat Comparison

Fat (per 1 Tbsp) Saturated
(g)
Mono-
unsaturated (g)
Poly-
unsaturated (g)
Beef Fat 6.4 5.4 0.5
Butter 7.2 3.3 0.5
Canola Oil 0.9 8.2 4.1
Coconut Oil 11.8 0.8 0.2
Corn Oil 1.7 3.3 8.0
Flaxseed Oil 1.3 2.5 10.2
Lard (pork fat) 5.0 5.8 1.4
Margarine (stick)* 1.6 4.2 2.4
Olive Oil 1.8 10.0 1.2
Palm Kernel Oil 11.1 1.6 0.2
Palm Oil 6.7 5.0 1.2
Safflower Oil 0.8 10.2 2.0
Sesame Oil 1.9 5.4 5.6
Soybean Oil 2.0 3.2 7.8
Sunflower Oil 1.4 2.7 8.9

Source: USDA’ *May vary depending on brand

Published in Environmental Nutrition.

 

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Tips for staying hydrated

July 28th, 2014

Water glassDrinking water is a challenge for many, even in summer when we’re typically thirstiest. What you reach for depends on what you like. Have you considered municipal tap water? It’s cheap, typically purified so clean, and it’s fat-, sugar-, and cholesterol-free. Bonus? It’s easy to find.

Still not sold? OK, let’s talk about other ways to fluid-up your body.

  • Coffee and tea, even caffeinated, are fluid. They count. They just may be more calorie-dense if you add sugar and creamer.
  • Sugar-free and flavored beverages, and tonic and seltzer waters, add a pop of flavor if plain tap water is boring.
  • Food! Has. Water. Especially fruits, vegetables, soups and juices. Dive into watermelons, mangos and berries and start some meals with soup.
  • Lastly, for sweet taste, frozen fruit pops and other sugar-free treats count! So does Jell-O – it’s liquid at room temp.
  • Whether water or something else, remind yourself to drink often. Keep smaller water bottles handy. At the gym, I see gallon-sized milk jugs filled with water. That intimidates me! Use refillable bottles that hold no more than 16 oz and keep in your gym bag, car door, desk and kitchen counter. Refill often!

How much? For starters, how much fluid did you lose today? Did you breathe, sweat, exercise, or pee or poop? That’s how most of us lose water.

Ah, good ole 8×8 a Day (8 8-oz glasses), the general rule forever. It’s easy to remember. You’re safe if you consume 1 quart of fluid for every 50 lbs of your body weight (1 quart = 2 of your 16-oz bottles!). Pregnant and breast-feeding Mamas need more fluid – 10-13 cups/day more. 

You’ll know you’re drinking enough if you’re inconvenienced by bathroom trips!

 

Diana’s Public Service Announcement: DO NOT DRINK OUT OF A GARDEN HOSE or a commercial plastic bottle left in a hot car! Bacteria thrive inside the hoses and plastic bottles when it’s hot out.

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Battle of the beasty bowel – IBS

July 13th, 2014

IBSI’m delighted to share this guest post with you, my hungry readers also plagued by digestive health issues, written by Alexa, a client who is conquering the Battle of the Bowel.

It was six a.m. and I was hungry. Or at least, I thought I was supposed to be hungry. I squinted with unawake eyes into the fridge assessing my options. My hand flew to my abdomen as a cramp rippled through me, causing temporary paralysis. After the pain subsided I decided I should eat oatmeal, mostly because it seemed like the food runners are supposed to eat for breakfast. Another cramp seized my body as I poured the hot water into the dry oatmeal mix and sipped my black coffee. Although the cramps in my stomach and achiness in my body seemed to protest, I was gearing up for a 20-mile training run that morning—one run amidst many other painful ones I had completed during my five month training period while I chased down the title of “marathoner.”

I think back to that morning, and what seem like hundreds of similar mornings like that one, and I hardly recognize the person staring confusedly into the fridge at the crack of dawn. Not only do I not physically recognize her—she’s gained about ten pounds now and has clearer skin, shorter hair, and more muscular arms— but I can also no longer clearly recall the piercing, paralyzing pain caused by daily laxative abuse due to a killer case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

If only they could call it something else not involving the word bowel. Those of us caught in its wrath don’t get to have a slick one-word name like Crohn’s or Colitis – we’re stuck with the awkward and ambiguous acronym that no one ever understands, forcing those of us cursed with the wretched disorder to say its name out loud. Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Instant conversation stopper.

My stomach problems, as I call them, in an attempt to avoid the “B” word as frequently as possible, began when I was fifteen and a sophomore in high school, amidst a myriad of teen anxiety, boy troubles, body image issues, and academic stress. Whether or not my intestines decided to stop functioning properly because I was anxious or because of a more physiological reason I am still unsure, but what I am sure of is that my stomach never seemed to stop hurting.

Soon after the stomach pain began, so commenced the countless trips to the pediatrician, gastroenterologist, and allergist, who gave me advice, medications, and sympathetic looks. In the end, none of them seemed to be able to cure me, and I continued to live in pain while abiding by their confusing, contradicting advice.

This confusion lasted about four years, and throughout that time, I attempted repeatedly to cure myself. I gave up dairy, meat, bread, and just ate fruits and vegetables. Then, I stopped eating all together. All the while, the pain persisted, and with every failed attempt to figure out what was wrong with me, I let my IBS take more and more control over my life. It controlled when I ate, what I ate, and when I could exercise, making my morning runs even more difficult. This lack of control, more than my inability to eat an ice cream cone, is what defeated me. There are so many things that already existed out of my control, and the fact that I was now unable to control my own bodily functions frustrated me beyond words.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is complicated. The physical symptoms intertwine themselves closely with the emotional and mental difficulties so that it is hard to tackle what is happening in the bowels (sorry, but the B word is sometimes necessary) without first dealing with what’s going on inside your own head. Dealing with a case of Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a lot harder than dealing with cranky intestines or a case of mild anxiety, it is something that requires energy, planning, a willingness to try, and a good dietitian who knows about the power of FODMAPS.

I’ve been on the FODMAP diet for almost nine months now, and it has revolutionized my ability to eat and function as an IBS sufferer. The low FODMAP diet, which stands for a diet low in Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols is a diet that eliminates the consumption of fructose, lactose, fructans, galactans, and polyols. How I explain it to people who aren’t scientists or dietitians though, is that it is a diet that doesn’t include many of the sugars that my stomach can’t digest properly. If I were to eat these foods, they would ferment in my stomach, and cause the unpleasant symptoms I dealt with for so many years.

Although I cannot say that I am cured of my IBS—as there isn’t really a cure—I now feel as though I have more control over my symptoms and my own bodily functions, which is definitely a step in the right direction. Listening to my body and becoming more intuitive about how it reacts to certain foods has been key, along with understanding which foods I can now eat again –in moderation. For anyone who is stuck in the dark abyss of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there is a way out. There is hope! Your bowels will not continue to fail you forever. Seek out a qualified dietitian, try out the low-FODMAP elimination diet, and while you’re at it, start brainstorming new names for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I’m sure you’re as tired as I am of saying the “B” word.

 

 

 

 

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Summer time’s about making it easy

July 7th, 2014

Fresh from the garden

Fresh from the garden

Over and over, I hear, “I just don’t have time for healthy eating.” Yet in the same conversation, complaints of not feeling 100% are voiced loud and clear. You’re not at your perfect weight, optimal vibrancy or well-being, and not happy at the end of the day, yet you’re indispensable at work, you attend to kids, mow the lawn, clean house, cater to a whiney partner. There’s no time for physical activity, meal planning, grocery shopping and food prep. Then…..here it comes…..drum roll……”I know what I should eat, I just can’t seem to get it together!”

That’s where summer time comes in. Mother Nature offers a bounty of fresh goodness from local farmer’s markets, CSA’s, even your own community or backyard garden. Your grocery store boasts of local produce – firm, red tomatoes, juicy, sweet corn, snappy green beans, brilliantly ruby beets, and crisp, buttery lettuces.

Why is this so hard? I believe you’ve lost touch with the part of you that gets excited about feeling awesome. About being your absolute best. About being energetic, capable, and beautiful. You know, that part that whispers all-knowing thoughts you choose to ignore. Well, Honey, I hear you, once you do it one time, you gotta do it every day, right? Not really, but you’ll want to, once you taste summer’s divine flavors.

You are meant to be a vibrant, strong, resilient and brilliant being! When you attune to the obvious and subtle qualities of your body, you are attuning to the grand rhythm of the Universal Light of Consciousness that dances through each rain drop, each particle of soil, each root, stem and leaf, and each and every cell of your own being. Attuning to that, dear one, means feeding your body what’s appropriate for the season.

Summer is about staying light, clear, attuned to the present. It’s not about blowin’ and goin’ 27/7. Yes, play is a part of summer. Yet, too much play intensifies Pitta, which is inherently light and that’s a by-product of heat. Light is good, don’t get me wrong, it’s the benefit of the intensity of the production of heat, of transformation. Yet, get too hot, what happens? You burn up. Ever pop a hot chile pepper into your mouth unbeknownst of the violent heat inside? Then you know what I mean.

Make summer healthy. Make health summery. No matter where you shop, stock up with an abundance of green leafy lettuces, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, fresh corn on the cob, crunchy asparagus, grassy peas, blueberries and strawberries, peaches, nectarines. Upon home arrival, wash it ALL. Yes, ALL. Bag produce in mesh refrigerator storage bags so when you’re ready, at your finger tips is a rainbow of deliciousness. You’ll feel better, lighter, cleaner, more vital eating this way at least once a day.

Feel the need for protein? First of all, attuned to Nature, you’ll recall spinach, corn, broccoli, peas and Brussels’ sprouts all have good amounts of protein. Want more? Toss in some nuts, sesame seeds, tofu, garbanzo beans or hummus on the side. If you’re lacto-ovo vegetarian, you can add low-fat cheese for a punch of flavor (or nutritional yeast if vegan). Animal protein needs high? 4 ounces of grilled salmon, chicken or lean steak rounds out this plant-based meal.

Now git to gittin’, as I like to say!

 

 

 

 

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Garden goodness

June 22nd, 2014

Garden goodness

Garden goodness

Garden goodness means a foundation of freshly picked green lettuces, like arugula and green and red leaf lettuces, tossed in a dreamy and light red wine vinaigrette (anything too heavy drowns out the simplicity of the taste of the young greens) and topped with a satisfying bean salad (get inventive and create your own bean salads – use black beans, chickpeas, navy or pinto beans)

Note the nasturtium flower adorning the top of this bowl of divine flavors (the blossoms and the leaves are edible). A bit of peppery arugula, mild mixed greens, tang of feta, heat of radish, and sweetness of cucumber. Use your imagination and create any kind of bean salad to accompany your greens!

Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon honey (local if you can get it)
  • Pinch salt and pepper (I love lots of freshly ground black pepper) 

Combine all and mix well (Magic Bullet emulsifies well or use a hand/wand blender).

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