Low fat or Full fat? Do you want the ‘whole’ truth?

BrooklynMilk_Preview_960Over the last two decades the media has been pushing it down our brains (and consequently down our throats!) – Whole milk is full fat and that it is bad for you. “To stay healthy and slim, go SKIM” seemed to be the golden mantra. Well, don’t be so sure! Like all myths (yes this is one!) this one was just awaiting the time when it would be busted.  And so finally now it’s time to bust the myths related to the different types of milk and take a closer look at ‘good whole‘ milk :).

Myth#1: Whole milk has a lot of fat

Truth: Whole milk has only 3.5% fat.  Whole milk is ‘whole’ because it is — for lack of a better word — intact. “2 percent,” “1 percent,” and “nonfat milk” are not intact, because they’ve been stripped of some of their dairy fatwhich makes them less creamy. However, you will be surprised that whole milk is not even that much more calorific; it only has about 30 calories more per cup than 2 percent milk1.

Myth #2: Whole milk can make you fat

Truth: As stated before, whole milk has only 30 additional calories per cup than 2% hence consumption of whole milk (instead of skim or low fat milk) is not likely to result in weight gain.  In fact, some recent studies have shown that consumption of full fat milk (whole milk) was linked to reduced body fat and to a lower risk of obesity 2. It has also not been proven that consuming reduced fat milk can prevent weight gain. A 2010 study by Children’s hospital, Boston concluded that switching from whole milk to reduced-fat milk at 2 years did not appear to prevent weight problems in early childhood 3.

So what could be the association behind whole fat milk and reduced weight gain?. One possible (which sounds plausible) theory : Whole milk gives us a greater sense of satiety and hence we tend to eat less. For instance we don’t feel the need to have that additional cookie or snack, which incidentally could be loaded with sugar!

Myth #3: Whole milk can increase your cholesterol

Truth: Whole milk contains beneficial omega-3 fatty acids which promotes cardiovascular health2. A study published in 2o14 found that higher intakes of whole fat milk, yogurt, and cheese were associated with better cardiovascular health 4. A systematic review published in 2012 showed that there was no association between the intake of dairy products and increased risk of CVD, coronary heart disease, and stroke, regardless of milk fat levels 5.  Organic whole milk has a higher omega-3 fatty acid content than regular whole milk and hence is more beneficial.

Bottom line: Stick to whole milk whether its for you or your kids.  I personally moved to whole milk about two years ago and did not gain any additional pounds by moving from skim to whole. My kids have  only had whole milk all these years and they are not overweight – far from it actually :). Of course, you do need to continue to eat a healthful diet with lots of vegetables and fruits and limit the amount of sugar. I say the new mantra should be “Stay Natural; Stick to Whole” !

1.http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/03/whole-milk-is-actually-3-5-milk-whats-up-with-that/?tid=sm_fb 2.http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2014/02/12/275376259/the-full-fat-paradox-whole-milk-may-keep-us-lean 3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3229928/ 4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25476191 5.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649459/

Picture Credit: I got this cute milk bottles picture from this site – http://work.repponen.com/Brooklyn-Milk

To be ‘gluten-free’ or not? : Gluten Unraveled

gluten-freeThese days you see ‘gluten-free’ everywhere  – in the print media ,on TV and of course all over the social networks. There has been a deluge of  ‘gluten free’ labeled foods in the supermarket.  There are also restaurants that are ‘gluten-free’ friendly with menus offering ‘gluten-free items’. The last time I had read about ‘gluten’ and its effect on health, which was like 10 years ago probably (and thereby not highly relevant or meaningful now!), gluten was a problem only for those who had an allergy to it.  That condition is called ‘celiac disease’. Clearly I needed to read more and update myself on the latest scientific literature. So I have been doing exactly that these last few weeks and I have to admit that I have been ‘enlightened’. Here’s a gist of my learnings and gleanings for your benefit.

Disclaimer/Request: I did not have ample time to do an exhaustive research and hence if you have any additional points on this topic that you feel I have not included here, or if you feel that I have not done full justice to the topic, please feel to write in your comments here and fill me in! 

So let’s start at the very beginning ….with the ABC’s….”So what exactly is ‘gluten’ ?”

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Gluten also shows up in many whole grain foods related to wheat, including bulgur, farro, kamut, spelt, and triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Some celiac disease experts warn patients to steer clear of oats, as well.

Gluten free grains include amaranth, buckwheat,corn,millet,quinoa and teff.

How can you know if you have celiac disease? What are its symptoms?

  1. Experts estimate that about 1% of Americans have celiac disease. The condition, caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten, can damage the lining of the small intestine. That, in turn, can prevent important nutrients from being absorbed.
  2. Symptoms of celiac disease include diarrhea, anemia, bone pain, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss and a severe skin rash called dermatitis herpetiformis. But celiac disease often has few or no symptoms. In part for that reason, only about 5% to 10% of cases are diagnosed in the U.S., Green says.
  3. The only way to know whether you have celiac’s disease or not is by testing for it. The first test is typically a blood test that detects antibodies related to an abnormal immune response. If the blood test is positive, a biopsy is performed to confirm inflammation in the lining of the small intestines. Going gluten free before testing may impact your test results.

If you don’t have celiac disease can you still be sensitive to gluten?

Some people may be sensitive to gluten even though they don’t have outright celiac disease2. For years, health professionals did not believe nonceliac gluten sensitivity existed, but experts are beginning to acknowledge now that it may affect as many as 20 million Americans3,7. Based on a 2010 study, researchers concluded that these patients with ‘gluten sensitivity’ who did not have celiac disease share the same “metabolic fingerprint” as diagnosed celiac patients and should follow the same avoidance of wheat, rye and barley8.

Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are two distinct “clinical entities” with the same environmental trigger – gluten – and many of the same symptoms shown below6:

  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Eczema
  • Headache
  • Foggy brain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Joint pain
  • Numbness in the extremities

Why are we seeing this sudden increase in ‘gluten sensitivity’ in the population?

We are no longer eating the wheat that our parents/grandparents ate. In order to have the drought-resistant, bug-resistant and faster growing wheat that we have today, we’ve hybridized the grain. It’s estimated that 5 percent of the proteins found in hybridized wheat are new proteins that were not found in either of the original wheat plants. Many experts believe that these “new proteins” are part of the problem that has lead to increased systemic inflammation, widespread gluten intolerance and higher rates of celiac.4

So is there any harm in folks trying to go on a ‘gluten free’ diet to determine if they feel better?

Per se there is no harm in trying to determine if one is gluten-sensitive or not by going on a gluten-free diet.  If you have some symptoms of ‘gluten-sensitivity’ and if your symptoms are not relieved from other treatments, it is ok to go experimentally on a ‘gluten-free diet’ for a short period of time (like a 30 day period) to see if you feel better.  Then re-introduce gluten into your diet and see if those symptoms come back. If they do, then this would confirm your suspicions that you are ‘gluten sensitive’.

But there are certain risks when you go on a ‘gluten-free’ diet unless you work your diet plan in consultation with a nutritionist.  This is because by going ‘gluten-free, you are inadvertently eating less of whole grains that are otherwise nutritious with minerals,vitamins and fiber. Going gluten-free also means that you will have to drastically change your diet – eliminating all wheat and other whole grains with gluten may mean that you are limited to a narrow range of food options which means risk of not getting adequate nutrients.

Is eating less ‘gluten’ beneficial to our health in general?

There has been no evidence thus far to suggest that eating less gluten can be beneficial to people who do not have either ‘celiac disease’ or ‘gluten sensitivity’. And for those folks who are really sensitive to gluten, they have to eliminate it completely from their diet- Even trace amounts can cause serious problems. So just going on a ‘partial’ gluten free diet if you are not really ‘gluten sensitive’ may not show any real benefits.

Will going ‘gluten-free help me lose weight?

Gluten does not cause weight gain. But portion control issues might cause weight gain. Hence cutting out gluten from your diet may not promote weight loss and there is no evidence in the literature to support that.

Some people who go off gluten to lose weight end up gaining weight instead. That’s because they consume gluten-free packaged products that are often just as high in saturated fat, sugar and sodium as other junk food, and these products often contain high-glycemic refined ingredients like white rice flour or fillers like potato starch that can affect your blood sugar and trigger cravings.5

But if one replaces the gluten-containing foods with naturally gluten-free meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts rather than gluten-free junk food, then such a diet could help one stay healthy and also perhaps lose some weight.  All healthy diets should contain plenty of vegetables and fruits,whole grains and proteins.

The bottom line:

If you think you may have a problem with gluten, get tested before you decide to go ‘gluten-free’. If your blood test results come negative and if you still would like to see if your symptoms get better with a gluten free diet, try a gluten free diet for 30 days. If you completely eliminate gluten for 30 days and begin to feel better (lack of your earlier symptoms), and if your symptoms come back when you re-introduce gluten in your diet, then you probably have gluten sensitivity and should make a serious effort to avoid it.  Going on a gluten free diet(even though you are not allergic or sensitive to gluten) just to lose weight does not seem practical based on available evidence6.









What foods should you eat more of ? : Focus on a 'Healthy' Plate

These days anywhere and everywhere you look you only come across articles that talk about ‘super foods’, ‘power foods’, ‘foods to help lose weight’, ’10 best foods’ ..so on and so forth.  If you haven’t noticed it, then my friend you have not been looking! 🙂 I think all this is really positive…people are certainly beginning to engage more in the conversation around healthy eating. Awareness around healthy eating habits in general has been increasing and an increasing number of folks are beginning to at least distinguish ‘junk/fast foods’ from healthful foods.  I also began paying more attention to the components of my family’s diet only since the last 5-6 years as I wanted to make sure I fed my young kids the best way I could.  But sometimes too much information does make you feel a little overwhelmed. !  So here is my attempt to simplify some of the information that is floating around us and ….mind you, this is by no means an exhaustive research paper but I have looked at some credible resources (sources are appropriately cited below).

To begin with let’s start with the concept of the ‘Healthy Eating Plate’.  Nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health designed this concept to address deficiencies in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s MyPlate 1. The Healthy Eating Plate provides detailed guidance, in a simple format, to help people make the best eating choices and it gives you a holistic approach to your entire diet plan vs just focusing on some ‘healthy foods’ . What I have attempted to do here is to combine this ‘full plate’ approach with the evidence that I could gather on ‘healthful’ foods  so that we can identify certain important foods to then include within each of the four main categories identified in the ‘Healthy Eating Plate’.   The picture below shows what your ‘healthy plate’ would be like. (I created this photo collage using the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating plate chart since I am more of a ‘pictures’ person than a ‘chart’ person 🙂 ) Along with eating right and eating ‘quality’ foods, it is equally important to exercise and ‘stay active’ and that should be an integral part of your diet plan.

The Healthy_plate

Vegetables and Fruits : 50% of the plate

Veggies and Fruits should constitute about 50% of your plate or your meal. Eat a variety of types and colors of produce in order to give your body the optimal mix of nutrients it needs. Try dark leafy greens; brightly colored red, yellow and orange vegetables and fruits.  Remember that ‘potato’ is not a vegetable. 🙂

Now Sweet potato on the other hand is a healthy choice and is packed with nutrients. sweet_potatoIt contains Vitamins A,B6 and C and also magnesium, which is the relaxation and anti-stress mineral 3,11.Not only do they taste great, but they provide some surprising health benefits! How sweet! 🙂

Broccoli is another important vegetable to have around the house -Besides being a good source of folate, broccoli also contains phytonutrients(compounds that may help prevent chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers). Fresh green vegetable, isolated over whiteBroccoli is also an excellent source of vitamin C — an antioxidant that protects your body’s cells from damage. It is also a great source of vitamin A and is linked to preserving eye health 2.

beetsBeets are another important vegetable that is often times overlooked. But this has amazing health benefits-These colorful root vegetables contain powerful nutrient compounds that help protect against heart disease, birth defects and certain cancers, especially colon cancer.It is now believed that beets could be one reason behind the longevity and healthy lives of Russians historically 10.

Apples are a good source of soluble fiber, which can lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. applesFresh apples are also a good source of vitamin C — an antioxidant that protects your body’s cells from damage2 .

Another great food to eat more of is ‘blueberries’. Blueberry_ClusterScientists have shown that blueberries are also loaded with phytonutrients. Blueberries may also improve short-term memory and promote healthy aging 2.

Some tips to incorporate more veggies and fruits
in your daily diet:

1.Keep them close at hand: For instance every morning,
get a stack of fresh fruits out of the fridge and onto your
dining table or kitchen counter where you cannot miss them.
While packing lunches, pack small snack portions of munchable
veggies like baby carrots or cucumber etc.

2.Mix 'em up!: Try to mix various combination of veggies
and fruits into your salads. Fruits like kiwis,oranges,apples,
pears, mangoes and even papayas can really perk up an ordinary

3.Make it a routine!: Make a habit of eating freshly cut
vegetables like lettuce, tomato, cucumber,beets before every meal
and fresh fruits after every meal.Once you make this a rule
around the house, its amazing how everyone in the family
quickly warms up to this idea and gets used to this.

4.Soup, Blend or Top!: I find that making soups out of a
mix of veggies is an easy way to get your family to complete
their veggie targets for the day. Blend veggies and use the
puree to make home-made breads like rotis or paranthas. Healthy
fresh vegetable and fruit juice blends are another way - let
your kids pick any combination and try different blends! Making
home made pizzas with different veggie toppings is another way of
doing that making them more motivated to eat the veggies.

5.Try new recipes using different vegetables that you
have never tried before - More than likely your family
will enjoy the variety.

Healthy Carbs: 25% of the plate

The quality of the carbohydrates you eat is as important as the quantity. Refining wheat creates fluffy flour that makes light, airy breads and pastries. But there’s a nutritional price to be paid for refined grains. The process strips away more than half of wheat’s B vitamins, 90 percent of the vitamin E, and virtually all of the fiber4Many studies, including some from several different Harvard teams, have shown that eating whole grains results in better health including lower risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes 4. Studies also suggest that eating whole grains may protect against cancers of the colon6.

Whole grains

Bottom line: Include Whole grains—whole wheat, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and foods made with them, such as whole wheat chapatis  or rotis (Indian flatbread), whole wheat pasta in your diet and limit use of refined grains and flour.Parboiled rice is another healthier option to white rice since it is processed differently as compared to regular white rice resulting in more fiber and nutrients being retained in the parboiled rice7.  You can read more about parboiled rice here

Proteins: 25% of the plate

Seafood, chicken, beans, and nuts are all healthy, versatile protein sources—they can be mixed into salads, and pair well with vegetables on a plate. The best animal protein choices are fish and poultry. If you are partial to red meat, such as beef, pork, or lamb, stick with the leanest cuts, choose moderate portion sizes, and make it only an occasional part of your diet, and limit or avoid the use of processed meats such as bacon and sausage.

Vegetable sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, and whole grains, are excellent choices, and they offer healthy fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Nuts-and-seedsNuts like almonds and walnuts are a great source of healthy fat and are excellent sources of protein and other healthful nutrients. Research has shown that people who regularly eat nuts are less likely to have heart attacks or die from heart disease than those who rarely eat them. Several of the largest cohort studies, including the Adventist Study, the Iowa Women’s Health Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, and the Physicians’ Health Study have shown a consistent 30 percent to 50 percent lower risk of myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac death, or cardiovascular disease associated with eating nuts several times a week 5One word of caution though : Do not splurge on nuts in addition to your usual calorie intake!. At 185 calories per ounce, a handful of walnuts a day could add more pounds on your body if you don’t cutback on something else.

Red beans, including small red beans and dark red kidney beans are also an excellent low-fat source of protein and dietary fiber2. In addition they are a good source of iron, phosphorus and potassium.

Calcium sources:

Another thing our body needs is Calcium. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, which have the highest concentration per serving of highly absorbable calcium, but there are also other non-dairy sources such as  dark leafy greens or dried beans, which have varying amounts of absorbable calcium. Also Calcium supplements often contain vitamin D; taking calcium paired with vitamin D seems to be more beneficial for bone health than taking calcium alone.

And last but not least, things to be consumed in moderation:

Oils and Butter:  In general limit the use of oil and butter and use healthy natural sources of fat and oil over low fat or processed products. Plant based oils like olive oil, peanut oil and coconut oil are better than heavily processed oils called as ‘vegetable oils’ which are in fact artificial products 8,9.

Sugar – Cut down on sugary drinks and artificially sweetened juices. Drink more water and or green tea instead. Add healthy alternatives like Agave nectar and honey to your tea and coffee.

In summary, these 10 tips for health eating (by the Harvard School of Public Health) are great to perhaps print and paste on your fridge! – http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2013/11/06/healthy-eating-ten-nutrition-tips-for-eating-right/

Bon Appetit! 🙂



2. http://www.mayoclinic.org/health-foods/sls-20076653







9.The Good Fat Cookbook, Fran McCullough



Pesticides in Foods: 6 Sensible things you can do

fruits-vegetables-pesticidePesticides are so prevalent these days that we may be exposed to them in a variety of ways . The Environmental Protection Agency considers food, drinking water, and residential pesticide use as important sources of exposure. However, the most common way is through the foods we consume.  According to the National Academy of Sciences, the major source of exposure to pesticides for infants and children would be diet.  Pesticides are suspected to cause many adverse effects in humans and other living organisms. A recent study done by Harvard university researchers and funded by NIH (National Institute of Health)  suggests that organophosphate(a type of pesticide) exposure, at levels common among US children, may contribute to ADHD prevalence 1.

Are there any things we can do to limit the amount of our pesticide exposure? Well, for starters, we need to start asking more questions and understand the quality of the food we consume. (http://www.whatsonmyfood.org is one good informational resource that I came across in my searches) And then it seems like there are certainly some simple things we can do to reduce our exposure and thereby protect our health and the health of our loved ones.

1. Wash your veggies!

Yes, yes washing with warm water thoroughly does help reduce pesticide content 2. Best way to clean the produce  to get rid of pesticide content (at least reduce it) is to scrub vigorously for a few minutes. Blot them dry with a paper towel or a clean dish cloth . The NPIC (National Pesticide Information center) recommends that you wash your produce under running water and then scrub produce with tough skin, like melons or potatoes. In addition, dry your fruits and vegetables with a towel 7.

2. Consider buying organically grown…

…for the following list of vegetables and fruits which have a high pesticide content generally as designated by the Environment Working Group.  If organic is too expensive, at least make sure you wash these thoroughly as explained in #1. (The Environmental Working Group studied 100,000 produce pesticide reports from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to create a list of the dirtiest and cleanest produce 3) :

Dirty (high pesticide content)

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Grapes
  • Hot peppers
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes
  • Spinach)
  • Strawberries
  • Sweet bell peppers
  • Kale/collard greens
  • Summer squash

3. Gorge on the following ‘clean’ foods! :

Clean (low pesticide content)

  • Asparagus
  • Avocados
  • Cabbage
  • Cantaloupe
  • Sweet Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mango
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet Peas
  • Sweet Potatoes

4. Peel, trim and clean

Peel fruits and vegetables when possible to reduce dirt, bacteria, and pesticides.  Discard outer leaves of leafy vegetables.  Make sure you trim fat from meat and skin from poultry and fish too because some pesticides residues are known to collect in fat4.

5. Do eat a variety of vegetables and fruits!

Eat more ( organic or conventional) produce for better health and a longer life. This advice is substantiated by decades of nutritional studies that show people who eat more fruits and veggies enjoy improved health 4, 6.

6.Eat Fresh , Buy Local whenever possible

When you buy locally grown produce, you are getting the freshest produce since there is no transportation involved 5.



3.12 Most Pesticide-Laden Fruit and Vegetables: The Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen, Updated (naturalsociety.com)