Can Vitamins Help Your Hair, Skin and Nails?

Sounds pretty simple: take a “high potency” vitamin cocktail and your hair, skin and nails will magically start to shine.

But is there any truth to the claims that dietary supplements can help improve hair, skin and nail health?

In short: no.

You see, the B vitamin biotin is associated with nail (and even a bit of hair and skin) health. But that’s when a diet includes an ample amount of biotin.

Having a sub-par diet and then topping it off with a biotin pill chase, isn’t going to do the trick.

A diet that is inadequate in biotin will result in poor hair, skin and nail health (as will a diet that has inadequate dietary fat).

But bulking up on biotin supplements will not make your hair, skin and nail health better.

Your best bet is to round out your diet with foods that are natural sources of biotin like nuts, eggs, avocados, vegetables, meat and fish.

Let the food based source of biotin work its magic, and save your money from those supplements, which in this case don’t do any good!

Magic Mushrooms…with Vitamin D

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If you know anything about vitamin D, it’s that most foods don’t contain much of it. Sure, you can sop it up from the sun, when it comes to food, outside of fortified dairy foods, most things we eat are vitamin D duds.

But if you’re not big on dairy to get your vitamin D, you might give mushrooms a second shot. Mushrooms you ask? Yes, mushrooms!

According to the Mushroom Council, all mushrooms contain some vitamin D, but certain growing techniques have the potential to increase vitamin D levels by exposing the mushrooms to ultraviolet light.

The light-exposed mushrooms that you are most likely to find at your market will likely have about 400 International Units (IUs) vitamin D per serving (adults need 600 IUs per day according to the US Dietary Reference Intakes). For 400 IUs of vitamin D, that’s 4-5 white button mushrooms or one portabella, and a vitamin D level that is comparable to 4 cups of milk!

So if you don’t dig on dairy – check out light-treated mushrooms as a great way to get close to your daily dose of vitamin D!

Bugs for Breakfast?

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Bugs probably aren’t big when it comes to your favorite foods. While the typical Western diet typically eschews anything bug-related in our diet, many parts of the world actually embrace eating insects.

Entomophagy is the name given to the practice of eating insects. And it’s a common occurrence in other cultures. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN), insects form part of the traditional diets of at least 2 billion people and more than 1,900 species have reportedly been used as food.

Now why would anyone want to eat bugs? Well for one, they are a great source of protein in areas where other animal products are not as readily available. Bugs contain other micronutrients and because they themselves are lean, bugs are low in fat and saturated fat.

Insects have a “high feed conversion efficiency” meaning they require relatively little feed compared to their body weight. They emit fewer greenhouse gases and less ammonia than cattle or pigs and of course they take up less land than the grazing animals we typically eat.

In 2013 the FAO published Edible insects: future prospects for food and feed security. The authors state that, “insects offer a significant opportunity to merge traditional knowledge and modern science to improve human food security worldwide.”

The most commonly consumed insects are:

  • Beetles (31%)
  • Caterpillars (18%)
  • Bees, wasps and ants (14%)

Other bugs that become food include grasshoppers, locusts, crickets, cicadas, termites, dragonflies and flies.

In the US, this niche-market is gaining steam. You can buy cricket-flour infused energy bars (in 3 flavors!) from Chapul. Or, for an extra dollar, add insect protein to your Mama Bird’s Granola order.

If you’re not quite ready to take the plunge on eating bugs, maybe a beautiful book of eating insects is more for you. Noted food and photojournalists Peter Menzel and Faith D’Alusio published Man Eating Bugs: the art and science of eating insects – a conversation starter for any coffee table collection!

Regardless of your inklings about insects, don’t count them out as a valuable source of affordable nutrients, that may be a beneficial food shift for our planet.

Raw Cookie Dough? Don’t Do It

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Are you a raw cookie dough fan? Maybe the temptation to treat yourself on what will eventually become a cookie conjures up memories of your mom warning you not to. Well guess what? Mom was right. Raw cookie dough is a no go, and it’s not why you think it is.

Most people assume that the raw cookie dough danger stems from its raw egg ingredients that could harbor Salmonella. And while it’s true that raw or undercooked eggs can house this pathogen, it’s actually the flour that may be doing more harm.

Flour comes from grain, and grains are not treated to kill bacteria prior to their inclusion in foods. Grazing animals who relieve themselves on certain grain crop could have their waste product eventually worked into your food supply.

Normally, a “kill step” like baking or broiling would kill potentially harmful pathogens – but you are avoiding that step if and when you consume raw cookie dough.

The US Food and Drug Administration reports that dozens of people have reported becoming ill from a strain of bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O121 that can be traced back to raw flour consumption.

So when it comes to raw cookie dough – be sure to steer clear.

In addition to ditching raw cookie dough, the FDA also recommends that consumers avoid eating raw cake batter, cake mix or any other raw baked good batter.

For more FDA food safety information, click here.

 

Fertility and Diet

April 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Biotechnology, Obesity

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It’s National Infertility Awareness Week. According to the National Infertility Association, about 30% of infertility can be attributed to female factors, 30% to male factors, 20% is unexplained and 10% is caused by a combination of problems in both partners.

While there are many potential causes of infertility, weight may play a role. Women who are very thin or obese are less likely to conceive than those who are in a healthy weight range.

According to The American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) 12% of all infertility are a result of a woman weighing either too little or too much. Too much body fat results in overproduction of estrogen and too little body fat leads to underproduction of estrogen. Both result in hormonal changes in the body that disrupt ovulation and reduce likelihood of conception.

When it comes to fertility and diet, ASRM states that there is no evidence to support diet changes in women with a healthy body weight (body mass index 19-25) who have regular periods.

There are however a few dietary considerations that may be linked to infertility, regardless of BMI:

  • A diet high in mercury (found in seafood)
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption (more than 2 drinks per day in women)
  • Heavy caffeine intake
  • Recreational drug use

If you are considering pregnancy, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake and avoiding smoking and recreational drugs are the dietary considerations that you should be making. To learn more about fertility take the Fertility Myths quiz from www.myfertilityfacts.com.

Making Water Wise Food Decisions

June 30, 2015 by  
Filed under Biotechnology, Meat

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If you live in California, no doubt you are getting seriously concerned about our drought. But regardless of where you live, water is a precious resource and all consumers can make small changes to be more water wise when it comes to food buys.

According to the LA Times, 80% of California’s water use goes to support agriculture. Individuals have become increasingly conscious of water usage as water conservation regulations continue to tighten. Typically we hear about water saving strategies like cutting sprinkler use or only doing full loads of laundry. More and more individuals are becoming aware of their diet’s impact on water usage.

The most water requiring protein is beef. An 8-ounce piece of steak requires 850 gallons of water (that’s like flushing your toilet 530 times!). Other examples of foods that require a lot of water include pork, lamb, goat, chickpeas, lentils, mangoes and asparagus. More water-wise foods include cabbage, strawberries, onions, lettuce, carrots, eggplant, grapefruit, and tomatoes. Producing chicken uses 10 times less water than beef making chicken a more water-conscious protein.

Hungry for more details regarding water-conscious foods? Check out this fun interactive plate graphic from the LA Times to learn more about how much water your favorite foods actually require to produce.

Here are some additional tips to help you make water-wise food choices:

  1. Reduce the number of animal products from your diet to conserve water.
  2. Shop consciously and only purchase what you know you will use. It is easy to let a bag of lettuce rot in the bottom drawer of the fridge and go wasted. Plan meals and purchase foods intentionally.
  3. Don’t stop eating vegetables because they require water use! Instead try to make water friendly choices like carrots, tomatoes, and lettuce. Purchase vegetables that require a lot of water more sparingly.

Special thanks to dietetic intern Brittany South for her contributions to this post.

Diet For a Healthier Planet

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With Earth Day upon us, have you considered the carbon footprint your dietary choices leave?

A carbon footprint is the total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event, or product. As individuals, the foods we choose to purchase and eat can have an impact on our planet. And different foods have different impacts.

The article, Mediterranean diet: Not just healthier but also better for the environment?, discusses a recent study in which researchers compared the carbon footprint of daily menus served in Spain to those served in English-speaking countries like the UK and US. The study’s findings indicate that the Spanish menu leaves significantly less of a carbon footprint than that of the menus in the UK and US. Why? Based on the Mediterranean diet, the Spanish menu, places a greater emphasize on fruits and vegetables – foods with a smaller carbon footprint, and less emphasize on beef – a food with a larger carbon footprint. Lead researcher, Rosario Vidal says, “Therefore, it is not only healthier, but our diet is also more ecological.”

By making small changes to way to you purchase and consume food, you can make your diet more ecological too. Here are a few simple tips to reduce your food’s carbon footprint:

  • Eat less meat. Add Meatless Mondays to your routine. Try meat as a side dish instead of as the main course.
  • Choose fish and poultry. Ruminant animals, such as cattle, goats, sheep, bison release the most greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Eat more plants. Pick lower-impact plants proteins, such as grains, legumes, nuts, and tofu.
  • Don’t waste food. Buy the correct portions and eat what you buy.
  • Purchase seasonal and regional food when possible. Opt for frozen fish, as fresh fish is often air-freighted.
  • Avoid processed and packaged foods. Cook from scratch and make your own. Choose the least processed alternative, such as brown rice versus white rice.
  • Choose organic food products when possible.

Curious about your carbon footprint? The Nature Conservancy’s calculator measures how many tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases your choices, including food and diet, create each year. For a guide of twenty common foods and their green house gas emissions, check out Eat Smart, created by the Environmental Working Group.

And Don’t forget – your food choices can affect your waistline and our plant. Happy Earth Day!

Dishing on the Dirty Dozen

When shopping for fruits and vegetables, it is nearly impossible not to feel good knowing that you are purchasing products that will supply you and your family with vital nutrients.

But what about organic produce – is it really better for you than conventional fruits and vegetables? From an environmental standpoint, there’s no question – if you can eat organic, than do.

Nutritionally, organic foods are not significantly more nutritious (or less nutritious) than their conventional counterparts.

So what should you do if you want to eat organic, but can’t afford to do it full time? Check out the Dirty Dozen!

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Each year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases its Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce.

The data is based on samples collected throughout the year that assess pesticide levels in produce. The produce is collected in measures that represent typical intakes, meaning produce is washed and if necessary, peeled.

Here’s the rundown on this year’s Dirty Dozen – purchase these items organic whenever possible to reduce exposure to pesticides:

  • Apples
  • Peaches
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Grapes
  • Celery
  • Spinach
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Snap peas- imported
  • Potatoes

In contrast to the Dirty Dozen, the Clean 15 list rounds out the non-organic version of fruits and vegetables with low pesticide levels.

The Clean 15 list for 2015 includes:

  • Avocados
  • Sweet Corn
  • Pineapples
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet peas – frozen
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Mangoes
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Sweet potatoes

 

Even though the thought of consuming pesticides is alarming it is still important to consume your fruits and vegetables. The health benefits of these products far outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. These are merely tips to reduce the exposure even further.

For more information check out the 2015 EWG report here: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/index.php

Special thanks to dietetic student Briana Rodriquez for her contributions to this post.

Keep Your Kitchen Safe this Holiday Season

The holidays mean lots of home cooking. But improper food safety techniques can lead to foodborne illness that will ruin anyone’s holiday!

Here are some simple guidelines for maintaining food safety in your home kitchen this holiday season:

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  • Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and produce to prevent bacteria from spreading
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure dishes are cooked to their proper internal temperatures
  • Do not let food sit out at room temperature for more than 2 hours
  • Keep leftovers in the refrigerator for no more than 3-4 days or the freezer for 3-4 months
  • Reheat leftovers to at least 165 degrees F

For more information on keeping your food supply safe, check out AskKaren.gov – the USDA’s online expert for all things food safety.

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Jenny Legrand for her contributions to this post.

Would You Eat Foods Engineered in a Laboratory? You Probably Already Do!

Food labels have long had to list all ingredients on the Nutrition Facts Panel. This is great, if you can interpret the many additives found in most processed foods (which now total over 3000!). Consider, for example, titanium dioxide (used as a coloring agent), butylated hydroxytoluene (used as an antioxidant), or propylene glycol alginate (used as a food thickener or stabilizer). Scary, huh? But at least these products are listed on the label, by law. What about foods that have been altered at the genetic level (called genetically modified organisms [GMOs])? Do they require special labeling? Do you think they should, and if so, why?

First, let’s take a look at the science and rational behind the genetic manipulation of agriculturally important organisms. GMOs are plants or animals that have been genetically modified to contain DNA from microorganisms, such as bacteria of viruses, or other plants or animals. These experimental combinations of genetic material could not have been otherwise produced naturally. Almost all GMOs have been engineered to withstand herbicides or to produce insecticides. The idea is that if the plant produces a protein that allows it to withstand a particular herbicide (e.g. Roundup), then the farmer just sprays the whole field and everything dies except the engineered crop plant. Although the scientists and the companies they work for have declared GMOs to be safe for human consumption, there are others that disagree (see, for example, NON GMO Project).

It turns out that there is no current U.S. law requiring the labeling of foods which are derived from GMOs. This goes against current policy in many countries worldwide, including some countries of the European Union, Japan and New Zealand, which restrict or ban the production and sale of foods derived from GMOs (Examiner GMOs).  If you, however, agree that genetically modified foods should be labeled, you are not alone. In fact, the state of Vermont has recently passed a law requiring all foods made from GMOs (VT Approves GMO Labeling). Three counties in California (Medocino, Trinity and Marin) have also successfully banned genetically modified crops. Other potential bans are in the works in several states, including Connecticut and Maine. However, many U.S. states and countries worldwide have embraced the use of GMOs products in foods.

Obviously there exists a controversy regarding the safety of foods derived from GMOs for human consumption.  Since all the world’s countries have very smart people living there and working in government and the sciences, why is there such inconsistency in policy? It seems the differences in policy go beyond human intelligence and are based more upon human emotion than upon proven scientific facts. Some argue that GMOs could contain new toxins, have different nutrient content or lead to the development of new food allergies. Others express concern about the emergence of herbicide-resistant ‘super weeds’ and insecticide-resistant ‘super bugs’. These are noteworthy concerns, but so far, these fears have not been backed up by scientific study. Only time will tell. In the meantime, will you choose GMO-free foods?

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