6 tips for surviving Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a time to spend with people we care about, pause to be grateful, and we don’t have to purchase any gifts (yet.) I also happen to enjoy cooking on these types of days where I get to pull out recipes that I only cook once or twice a year.

I realize for many of you, this may be stressful because you’ve worked hard all year to lose weight and get your health on a better path. Maybe past years have thrown you off track, led to unwanted weight gain, or worse, started the reversal process of hard work earlier in the year. So how about we not go through another yo yo this year?

Here are some tips that I think will help you out:

  1. Eat breakfast. Possibly it’s been tradition for you to skip all eating occasions prior to the big dinner on the big T day. But this is really a set up for overeating until discomfort. If youve been in the habit of eating a healthy breakfast every morning, wake up like you always do that morning and have your normal breakfast. If you have room for improvement int his area, focus on protein. I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, but it’s really important to start your day off with 25-30 grams of protein to keep from overeating later in the day. If you are needing ideas for what this looks like in a breakfast, click here to get my free list of 25 breakfast ideas with 25 grams of protein.
  2. Get moving. It’s a popular day to sit on the couch, watch football or whatever is on television and relax and eat if you aren’t the one doing the cooking. What if you made a resolve to go for a thirty minute walk or three -ten minute walks? Exercise also helps with energy levels and will help combat that tryptophan crash coming later on. If you want to incorporate it into the day, plan some fun outdoor activities with the family such as tossing the football, tag, hide and seek (with the kids), corn hole, sack races, etc. If you’re in the snow, do snowball fights, bobsledding, make snow angels – whatever it is you do this time of year! (I live in Florida, so it’s realistic to say we could get our bathing suites on a run around in sprinklers!)
  3. Avoid taste-testing a meals worth of calories. This one’s for the cooks. Ever cooked a meal that takes a while and by the time it’s done, you really aren’t hungry? Maybe you eat anyway, especially on a holiday because you’re with a bunch of family and you’d feel bad if you didn’t? If you haven’t sat down for an actual meal at a dinner table in well over three hours, you should feel hungry. If you aren’t, check yourself on the tasting spoons. If we’re being honest, we have prepared most of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes no less than ten times and having one taste test max (if any) is necessary. If you continue to pick at the turkey, grab a spoonful of stuffing, grab a roll, grab a slice of yams, you could end up with 500 calories under your belt (literally) before you’ve even made a plate for yourself.
    • Chew mint gum or metabolic gum (made with essential oils) to help curb cravings and appetite while you are cooking.
    • Keep some fresh raw veggies next to your cooking area like baby carrots, cut up bell peppers, and sugar snap peas to satisfy the need to “munch” while you’re preparing the meal for a fraction of the calories.
    • Limit yourself to one plastic tasting spoon per dish and throw it out after you’ve tried it.
    • Elicit help in the kitchen to keep you accountable or better yet, consider a pot luck style dinner this year.
  4. Slow down before you run for seconds. They aren’t going anywhere. When you’ve finished that first plate, there is a 99% change you’ve had more than enough food, especially on Thanskgiving Day. This year, I challenge you to wait it out 15-20 minutes before you decide if you truly need seconds to feel satisfied with the meal. You may just surprise yourself since it takes the brain that long to get triggered by your body that you’ve had enough to eat.
  5. Review your menu and decide now if anything can be modified. Usually, certain ingredients can be substituted without making any difference in the finished product. Some of my favorites include reducing the sugar by 25-30%, using low fat or fat free milk for whole or 2% milk, fat free half and half for the full fat version, greek yogurt for sour cream, fat free evaporated milk for the full fat version or heavy cream, powdered defatted peanut butter for traditional peanut butter, reducing the nuts by 25%, nuefchâtel cheese for regular cream cheese, and low sugar jelly for the regular stuff.
    • Note some ingredient items can not be changed but a good rule of thumb to remember is that “baking is a science and cooking is an art.” In scientific projects, there are going to be less items that can be modified if you want the final product to come out the same. When cooking, however, you have a lot more flexibility to experiment with and still end up with an excellent result.
  6. Don’t freak out. Just be cool about this. It’s one day. Too often people are off to a great start, wanting to get ahead of the new year’s resolution game only to disappoint themselves on turkey day and fall totally and completely off the wagon until January 1 when everyone else is waking up from their eating and shopping and televisioning slumber. If you do none of the tips I outline in this post but just put your efforts on maintaining your weight and staying on track on every day that ISN’T an actual holiday (so saying no to leftovers, over-eating at holiday parties, binging on christmas cookies at the office) then you will be just fine.

What do you struggle with most during the holidays around your diet? I’d like to know for future blog post topics so I can help you! Comment below!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Is grass fed healthier?

Do you consume grass fed beef, dairy, or butter?  I gotta admit, when I started digging into the research, I wanted to throw in the towel quickly because this is one of those topics that can be debated pretty heavily and the research is not conclusive either. But is it ever in the area of nutrition?

A little back ground for you. Most of the beef you purchase in the store is going to be grain fed. And the dairy you buy will come from cow’s who have consumed grain feed made from soy and corn. Why? Because cows fed grain grow faster and frankly, grain is kinda like cake and ice cream to them. They love it and it’s cheaper. Win-win, right? I can see this – I have a pet rabbit and while she is supposed to eat mostly hay, she very well prefers her little rabbit food pebbles over the hay hanging in her cage that is much healthier for her digestive system. I’ve read the grain feed isn’t good for her if she eats too much and in fact, I’m pretty sure she’s addicted to the stuff. She’s kinda fat actually.

Back to the cows though. Why should we care what they eat? More importantly, does it really matter? I mean, I’m a dietitian and even I wonder this because I have better things to do than worry about what the cows ate before their milk was turned into butter and melted on my morning bagel….like my obese pet rabbit, my child’s missing homework (again), and the fact that I haven’t made time to get my oil changed in six months (true story.)

Well one reason I believe it’s getting attention is because the standard American diet (aka SAD) is so low in healthy omega 3s fats (the kind that helps lower inflammation in the body and protect against heart disease). It is a proven fact that grass fed beef products are higher in omega 3 fats than grain fed. However, that does not mean eating a grass fed hamburger is a high source of omega 3 fats. In fact, in a four ounce hamburger patty, you will only get 80 milligrams of omega 3 fats. I’m not impressed. The best sources remain fatty fish like salmon (~1700 milligrams in three ounces), walnuts (~2600 milligrams in 1/4 cup), and flax seed (~1600 milligrams in 1 tablespoon.) Problem is, when is the last time you ate any of those items? And do you eat them daily? I don’t.

Let’s break it down though. Because it goes deeper, much deeper. There are different types of omega 3 fatty acids, and this is where I was tempted to throw in the towel. But I pressed on.

  1. Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid (EPA and DHA): these are the two heavy hitter omega 3 fatty acids that our body can use directly. They are well known for fighting inflammation, and reducing heart disease. This is the kind found in fish. This is what you want.
  2. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Grass-fed butter contains five times more CLA than butter from grain-fed cows. Why is that a big deal? CLA converts inside your body to DHA and EPA.
  3. Butyric acid: beneficial in aiding digestion and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a short chain fatty acid found highest in amounts in high quality butter, ghee, and raw milk among other types of foods. Fun fact: it is responsible for the smell of vomit. Doesnt that make you want to run out and buy some butter now?
  4. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA): small amounts are converted to EPA and DHA. This is the kind primarily found in grass fed beef. Much larger amounts are found in walnuts and flaxseeds, as stated above. But evidence shows you really need the EPA and DHA to be used by the body.

What’s the bottom line here though? From my research, there isn’t any hard evidence that grass fed butter or dairy will improve one’s heart disease risk when substituted for the grain fed versions. I’ve written extensively on the topic of dairy in the past, check it out here. What there is evidence for, is that those in countries that are provided mostly grass fed beef and dairy are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease if they are among those who consume the highest amount of full fat dairy products. Keep in mind, these studies I linked are just observations, so they don’t necessarily prove that eating high amounts of dairy and/or beef cause a lower risk of heart attack. But they still show something.

Okay, but what else? This is where I think it really counts. So pay attention if you’ve been half reading so far. After asking around and digging more, I found that the real concern is the genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs. Recall cattle feed is made mostly from ground up corn and soy, which tastes super yummy to them. Currently, 89% of corn and 94% of soy is grown with genetically modified seeds (check it out.)

Why? So that they are resistant to the herbicide, glyphosate, aka Roundup. Well, the cows are eating it not us, so why should we care? According to this study, this widely used herbicide accumulates in the animal tissue and urine. This means it remains in the hamburgers we eat and milk we drink. That study also found that it accumulates in human tissue, by the way. This is a highly controversial topic. But there are studies suggesting glycphosate is linked to a host of health issues we are experiencing in the world today to include cancer, including non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, parkinson’s disease, birth defects, hormonal disruptions, kidney disease, and a host of other health issues. Unfortunately, the issue of GMO avoidance goes far beyond choosing grass fed beef and dairy products. But that’s for another blog post.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Is juicing really healthy?

I’ve been asked this question quite a few times, but admittedly I haven’t had much of an opinion or any thoughts because to me, there’s no harm in juicing your fruits and vegetables, especially if you don’t like them and this will help you consume more. But is it healthier? Or does it remove nutrients that would come best from eating the whole piece of produce? I looked into it because I don’t personally “juice.”

Here’s what I found:

  1. If you aren’t exactly sure what “juicing” refers to, simply put, it just means you are squeezing the juice from fresh fruits or vegetables by using a high powered machine or your hands. The leftover liquid contains most of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (a.k.a. healthy stuff only found in plants.) Some people opt for juicing because they believe your body can absorb the nutrients better and it gives your digestive system a rest from working on fiber.
  2. There is an alternative form, referred to as “blending.” This will retain more of the antioxidants/phytochemicals (aka nutrition) because it preserves the whole fruit, including the peel, as demonstrated in this study when comparing juicing flesh only versus blending the entire edible portions of pears, apples, persimmons, and mandarin oranges. Same here for blending grapefruit versus juicing. I’m not surprised by that, but nonetheless there were still nutrients when these fruits were “juiced” without the fiber portions.
  3. Just my professional opinion, if for some reason you have problems digesting fiber (irritable bowel syndrome flare ups, bouts of diverticulitis, gastroparesis, etc), juicing fresh fruits and vegetables can be a great way to get in vital nutrients without the fiber. As far as those of us with healthy, normal digestive systems, I do not believe we need a “rest” from fiber. Quite opposite actually. The average American consumes about 10 grams of fiber daily when the daily recommended intake is 25-30 grams per day. We need it for lots of health reasons, particularly in our digestive tract. I’m not gong to be the one to give you a reason to eat LESS fiber. K?
  4. If blending or juicing, I actually do think it can be an excellent option for most of us who don’t eat very many fruits and vegetables and likely wouldn’t eat vegetables like kale, spinach, carrots, beet greens, pineapple, apples, citrus, pears, berries etc on a  regular basis. There are lots and lots of options and combinations to make interesting smoothie recipes and it really can be a fantastic addition to a healthy diet.

If you plan to incorporate this into your diet, I recommend replacing one meal and adding a couple of eggs or a yogurt on the side with it because a smoothie made for these purposes does not have any protein in it. If you have followed me for any length of time, you know how important it is to include protein at your meals. As much as I love the healthy goodness of fruits and veggies, you will be STARVING an hour or two later on a carb-filled smoothie like this. As an alternative, it can be perfectly acceptable to have as a mid-morning snack instead. Lastly, some of you who are considering intermittent fasting, may opt to incorporate something like this into your routine. Enjoy the recipes I’ve provided for you if you’d like to it out. Just click the picture thumbnail below to view them.

 

P.S. Last week, we started our “Fall Back into Healthy Habits” journey. It’s not too late too  join in. Just head over here for the details and how to join my support group where we will be having weekly live chats and goal setting sessions.Follow me for daily livestreams on Facebook

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

How to safely use your plastic water bottles

In the aftermath of the hurricane, this topic has come up again. In my household, we have twelve gallons of water stocked up in the laundry room as I type this. Normally, I don’t drink out of plastic, partly for environmental reasons and partly for health concerns. In my house, you will see only stainless steel and glass cups or bottles. To my knowledge, there is no convenient way to stock up on water in the event of an impending power outage other than the plastic options we currently have. So, if you’re like me and have lots leftover, what’s the deal?

First, a lesson on chemicals found in plastic. There are three main ones of concern. First is polycarbonate, a monomer made of bisphenol A, or BPA, which has a recycling code of “7” on the bottom of the bottle.  You’ve probably heard of it, especially if you’ve had children recently. Most all baby bottles and cups are sold with a label “BPA-free,” although the research is a big mixed on it’s safety. BPA has been linked to certain types of cancers and reproductive issues as well as increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. However, it is generally recognized as safe by most manufacturers if consumed in normal amounts (very small). Interestingly, this scientific review does give some compelling evidence of the research that there is in fact some cause for concern, stating:

“there are now over 125 published studies funded by government agencies such as the National Institutes of Health documenting that BPA has a wide range of significant effects including structural and neurochemical changes throughout the brain associated with behavioral changes, such as hyperactivity, learning deficits, increased aggression, and increased likelihood of drug dependency; abnormalities in sperm production in males and oocytes in females; disruption of hormone production and fertility in both males and females; immune disorders, increased growth rate; and early sexual maturation. Most of the small number of studies funded by government agencies that report no significant effects of BPA used one model animal (the CD-SD rat) that after being subjected to selective breeding for over 1000 generations has become extremely insensitive to any estrogenic chemical or drug.”

Luckily, you won’t see it much because of the negative view it has in the public eye (rightfully so.)

The second one is polyvinyl chloride or PVC which has a recycling code of “3.” You probably won’t see it much on the bottom of your water bottles because it’s known carcinogenic properties. A basic building block of polyvinyl chloride is chlorine (duh.) Unfortunately, chlorine production releases dioxins into the environment. This is not good. It’s used mostly to make vinyl-like plastic as a flame retardant (aka binders, shower curtains, children’s lunch-boxes, vinyl flooring, crib mattresses, yoga mats, it’s everywhere.)

Now for the third one, the one that you want to pay attention to, polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which has a recycling code of “1.” The one has been approved globally for safe usage, including the Food and Drug Administration. There is some concern that it may leach a substance called antimony into the food or drink it is holding, which is a known carcinogen and may cause menstrual irregularities and even miscarriages in women when exposed in high levels due to occupational hazards. So far is there is no known scientific evidence supporting that exposure levels in food or drink would be high enough to cause the same issues. However, this study did find that under extreme conditions of worst case scenarios (including high temperatures), antimony does leach into water at levels higher than the Environmental Protection Agency’s daily intake recommendations. I did a quick look through my pantry and found several food items with the number 1 on the bottom including honey, salad dressing, and peanut butter.

Now on to my suggestions for keeping it safe:

  1. Avoid the temptation of reusing those plastic bottles and jugs. I know they look so clean and reusable (there was only water in them after all!). But the more you use it, the more likely the chemicals in the plastic will start to leach into your drinking water. This is especially true once you start washing them in hot water (no putting them in the dishwasher!). If the bottle is marked with a “1”  or “7” on the bottom, it likely contains BPA or PET and why risk it?
  2. Don’t store them in the garage. I know, if you stocked up on a ton, it can be difficult to find a reasonable place to store it all. But in the south, it’s still pretty hot here and temperatures are rising into the 90s. Heat breaks the plastic down and that increases the risk of the chemicals leaching into the water. This holds true if you left a water bottle in your car for a bit.
  3. Aside from chemicals, don’t create a science experiment. I took a look at our water jugs and fortunately, ours have the number “2” on the bottom, which are actually pretty safe. However, I still do not plan to refill them because of the risk of bacterial growth. Now that the jug is opened and air has been allowed in, that moist environment is ideal for bacteria to start growing.  Even if you washed them, over time the water just sitting there with air exposure is going to create an environment for invisible bacteria to start growing. Don’t risk it.
  4. Consider essential oils. One main reason I drink only out of stainless steel or glass is because I add a drop or two of citrus essential oil to every glass of water I consume and because of the purity, it will degrade any plastic I add it to. For the reasons stated above, I’d prefer not to consume those chemicals! Aside from that, there are several health benefits to adding citrus to drinking water. Lemon, for example, contains three main constituents, called limonene, β-pinene, γ-terpinene, which have a positive effect on mood, the immune system, and digestion. It’s also great for cleansing the body and surfaces (ya know, in case a bacteria or germ happens to sneak into my water bottle – makes me feel better!)
  5. In summary, stock up enough water to have one gallon per person per number of expected days of no running water and recycle when you’re done to save the environment. For my family of four, we got twelve gallons for three expected days and then filled up both of our bath tubs to flush the toilets and get clean. Luckily, we didn’t need it all and will now be prepared for next time!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Foods that naturally boost your metabolism

First off, let’s start with a little background because most people who struggle with their weight are tempted to blame their metabolism for the difficulty they are experiencing. If you have a longstanding history of weight cycling, aka yo yo dieting, a slow metabolism may very well be your problem – for the purposes of this post, that is what the main focus will be. So what happens to your metabolism when you weight cycle, aka “yo yo” diet?

1. First, you lose a lot of fat mass (good thing) but a lot of muscle mass too (unavoidable with rapid weight loss, not a good thing)
2. If it was not a sustainable diet (often it’s not), then the weight piles back on at lightning speed, but this time it is all mostly replaced with fat mass.
3. Fat burns less calories than muscle = your metabolism tanks. Next time you try to diet, it doesn’t come off as easily or fast.
4. Over time, chronic dieters find themselves with a slower and slower metabolism because they keep losing muscle and replacing it with fat. It’s a viscous cycle that eventually makes it almost impossible for weight loss success to occur.

Fear not, if this all sounds too familiar and you think you are in this situation, I’ve done a little research for you and found some promising ways to boost your metabolism, naturally.

  • Tomato juice: in a 2015 study published by the NIH, menopausal women aged 40-60 who consumed 200 ml unsalted tomato juice twice daily experienced an increased in resting energy expenditure (REE) by an average of 400 calories
    Bottom line: drink 200 milliliters twice a day (about 6 ounces twice a day). Hey, it’s not gonna hurt anything.
  • Cinnamon: in a 2012 study published by the International Journal of Preventative Medicine, one group of individuals took cinnamon supplements every day, while the other group took a placebo. After 8 weeks, the cinnamon group lost more weight and body fat than the group taking the placebo.
    Bottom line: add cinnamon to your food or try the pure essential oil for a more concentrated version. Contact me if you are interested in learning more about brands I trust and recommend. remember, supplements are not regulated and therefore, may not be free of contaminants.
  • Coffee: most studies with caffeine in doses of about 100mg per day (6 ounces of coffee) showed an increased calorie burn between 75 and 110 calories for the entire day. There are other sources of caffeine, but coffee is a calorie free source that actually contains some antioxidants.
    Bottom line: have some caffeine before exercise to maximize the calorie burring effects if you are going to try this one. Hey, I love coffee, why  not?
  • Grapefruit: A study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food in 2006 showed that obese patients who consumed 8 oz of grapefruit juice or 1/2 of a grapefruit before each meal lost about 3.5 lbs after 12 weeks, without making any other changes to their diets. Participants in the study who consumed a grapefruit capsule before meals also lost weight — but just 2.2 pounds over the 12 weeks. The placebo group did not lose weight.
    Bottom line: drink 8 ounces grapefruit juice, eat 1/2 grapefruit daily, or take a grapefruit capsule with meals (I recommend with 2-3 drops pure essential oil in each one, contact me for recommended brands)
  • Lean Protein: Eggs, chicken, fish, low-fat yogurt, low-fat cheese, turkey
    The “thermic effect of food” (TEF) is the energy we use to digest food into small, absorbable components. Protein burns more calories to digest than carbs & fats. It also takes longer to digest, keeping you fuller longer.
    Bottom line: include 30 grams protein at meals, 8-10 grams of protein at snacks, and eat every 3-5 hours
  • Ginger: promotes digestion and stimulates metabolism, which leads to increased calorie burning. In animal studies, it increased metabolisms by 20%. In human studies, most herbal supplements taken internally increase metabolic rates by 2 to 5% tops. Every little bit helps! In a small, but very interesting pilot study, it was shown to enhance the thermic effect of food and increase the feeling of fullness after a meal. Bottom line: add it to your foods (we aren’t animals); you could also try the pure essential oil for a more concentrated source. If youve never cooked with essential oils, visit my previous post here.

What about appetite suppressants?

There are a few medical options that can help. I’ve talked them in the past along with habits that can help. In the spirit of natural options, here are some effective options I found in  my research:

  • Peppermint Oil: in its food grade, it is used often in the candy and dental industries (seems like an oxymoron, huh?). There is a reason for those after dinner mints! Because of the strong smell, it has an appetite suppressing effect in its purity. Try brushing your teeth after dinner, chewing mint gum while cooking, or diffusing peppermint essential oil to take advantage of this benefit.
  • Water: dehydration often leads to excessive hunger and even sugar cravings, especially chronic dehydration. Aim to consume half of your body weight in ounces of water daily. Add citrus for flavor and extra cleansing benefits. My personal favorite is pure lemon essential oil. Better yet, add fresh squeezed grapefruit juice or grapefruit essential oil.
  • Capsaicin: as in chili peppers. Ever notice you eat less when you have an extra spicy dish? This is why. Unless you are a glutton for punishment, of course.

Let me know what you try and feel free to reach out to me if you are interested in learning more about incorporating essential oils into your weight management routine.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Take probiotics to stop sneezing and fidgeting?

Gut health seems to be getting the spotlight in the past several years. People are more concerned than ever about what’s going on in their insides. And this has made probiotics of particular interest. But why? In my early career days, the only people we would recommend probiotics to were those with intestinal infections and those on heavy doses of antibiotics.

Today, it’s as common to take probiotics as it is to take a multivitamin. Why? Let’s first review what exactly a probiotic is before we begin to understand some of the reasons why people would want to consider taking them as a daily supplement. Probiotics contain microorganisms, most of which are bacteria similar to the beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the human gut. In other words, beneficial = does good things. Sounds really scientific, huh? The most-studied species include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces. (yeah, I know those do sound really scientific.)

To keep this post reasonably short, I’m going to go over the top four reasons my readers said they take probiotics and discuss them here.

  • They improve digestive regularity. You’ve probably heard this one. Makes sense, right? If the natural and beneficial bacteria that are similar to probiotics are found in the gut, they should benefit our bowel habits. Don’t ya think? What does the research say, though? “There is high-quality evidence that probiotics are effective for acute infectious diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, clostridium difficile–associated diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, functional gastrointestinal disorders, and necrotizing enterocolitis. Conversely, there is evidence that probiotics are not effective for acute pancreatitis and crohn’s disease.” C. diff is bad news and highly contagious diarrhea. It can be big problem in hospitals and can really keep someone there for a while with pretty severe dehydration if not handled correctly. It will put you out for quite some time if you are unfortunate enough to get it. Good news is, probiotics are safe for infants, children, adults, and older patients. I’m going to add here, that probiotics do not survive in an acidic and hostile stomach environment. We don’t necessarily need the billion gazillion cells that most available brands pride themselves on. Problem is, the majority of the them don’t survive the stomach acid long enough to reach the small intestine where they are needed. The billions of live cells are present in these brands in hopes that some will make it to the end. We don’t actually know how many that is. Perhaps that’s why some people experience benefits and others do not.
  • They support our immune health.  Our digestive system is not only responsible for the digestion and absorption of food nutrients, but it provides protection against potentially harmful antigens (such as toxins, bacteria, virus, foreign blood cells.) Several available research data points to the conclusion that probiotics can be used as innovative tools for treating dysfunctions of the gut mucosal barrier, including acute gastroenteritis (i.e. food poising or a “stomach bug”), food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. diverticulosis). You’ve probably been told at some point in your life to take probiotics during or after a course of antibiotics to restore the healthy bacteria that was killed off. We need them.
  • May help alleviate allergy symptoms. Infants are more susceptible to allergic responses because their immune systems and digestive symptoms are still developing. The types of bacteria and amounts present depend on several different factors including whether the child was born by cesarean or vaginally, breastfed or formula fed, age they were introduced to table food and types of food, antibiotic exposure, and of course genetics. This review examined the available research and found that indeed probiotics did improve their allergic responses and reduced symptoms of common ailments like eczema, allergic rhinitis, and allergic dermatitis. When infants were given Lctbs rhamnosus for the first 2 years of life they had a significant reduction by approximately half in the prevalence of eczema. And this study showed that when adults and children suffering from allergic rhinitis took therapeutic doses of Lactobacillus paracasei, they experienced significant improvements also.

In another study , they gave children at a daycare fermented milk containing lactobacillus casei (think kefir) and saw marked improvements as well, but not in those children with asthma. Pretty cool, huh? More research still needs to be done in spite of these exciting results since not all come to the same conclusion and they weren’t done on large scales. It doesn’t hurt to go ahead and take them though.

  • Reduce Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Say what?! It’s true. Recent experimental evidence suggests that gut microbiota may alter function within the nervous system. This particular study published in 2015 followed 75 children from pre-birth to age thirteen and supplemented the experimental group from four weeks before birth (the mom) to six months of age with Lactobacillus rhamnosus and the control group with placebo. They initially examined the differences in gut microbiota in the children at birth and later found a correlation to those who were later diagnosed with either ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome. Turns out, those affected had a significantly lower amount of Bifidobacterium longum at the age of three months than the children that did not receive a diagnosis. At the end of the thirteen years, six out of thirty five children in the placebo group were diagnosed with ADHD or AS while NONE of the children in the probiotic group were. 

That’s pretty compelling, but what I found the most profound of all was this gem of a study right here, published in 2003. It was only performed on twenty children age 7-12, but I don’t care. What they found was amazing. Supplementing these kids for just four weeks with a mix of B vitamins, Vitamin C, minerals (iron, copper), phytonutrients, amino acids, essential fatty acids, phospholipids, and probiotics specifically chosen to address the ADHD biochemical risk factors was found to be just as affective as ritalin treatment. We’re talking behaviors like focus, consistency, fidgeting, impulsiveness, stamina, vigilance, and speed. I’m impressed. You may see a future blog post on this topic soon.

What to do with all of this information? For some immunocompromised individuals (those on chemotherapy, HIV patients, or those receiving organ transplants) you may want to ask you doctor before you start any new supplements. Otherwise, I’ve given you lots of good reasons to add probiotics into your daily regimen. If you choose a supplement, be sure to read the label and follow the directions. If you prefer to start with adding some food sources, here are some good options:

Kefir: fermented milk

Yogurt: you know what this is, but I recommend greek because of its high protein content

Kombucha: fermented black tea

Sauerkraut: fermented cabbage

Apple cider vinegar: the kind with floaty things on the bottom, not the cheap stuff, use as a salad dressing

Tempeh: a fermented soybean product, thicker and firmer than tofu

Miso: a traditional Japanese paste-like spice made from soybeans and barely with koji (fungus…yum)

Fermented pickles: these won’t be shelf stable, those are pasteurized and do not contain live cultures (so think gherkins, not the ones pickled in vinegar but rather salt and water)

Sourdough bread: did I just give you a reason to eat bread?? Sort of. The yeast is fermented, creating the “sour” taste and making it easier to digest than other breads

Aged, soft cheese: such as cheddar, gouda, parmesan, and swiss (note, most others will not contain live, active cultures)

Kimchi: a spicy, korean dish made up of mostly cabbage and other fermented vegetables

Have fun trying some of these new foods if you are interested in expanding into some of the ethnic or vegetarian options. If you are interested in what brand of probiotic supplement I use and recommend, feel free to reach out to me via the links below.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 reasons why people are following a dairy-free diet

If you aren’t avoiding dairy like the plague, you probably know someone who does. If you don’t, you may have heard that it’s best to choose the full fat versions over the fat free or low fat. And what about those hormones? Should you choose organic? A dairy alternative?

What’s what? Why are they avoiding it? And should you? Let’s start with two of the biggest, most glaring reasons why someone would want to avoid dairy:

1. Lactose intolerance. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, as many as 65% of adults in the U.S. suffer from this – ya know, that bloated, uncomfortable gassy feeling that sends you to the bathroom after you’ve drinking a glass of milk or just eaten a bowl of ice cream?. It’s not an allergy, but just simply the body’s inability to digest lactose, the sugar found in milk, because it lacks the necessary enzyme, lactase, to break it down. It’s actually rare before the age of two. Milk is a big no no here, but often this includes cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, and yogurt in large quantities. Those who have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Celiac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, or Diverticulosis will more than likely also have lactose intolerance. Many lactose-free options have been developed over the years such as Lactaid milk and my personal favorite, Fair Life ultra filtered high protein milk which now has available options to include DHA omega-3 fatty acids.

2. Milk allergy: this is more than just an intolerance to the lactose enzyme. Understand that an allergy is very different in that it is defined as a damaging immune response by the body to a substance. There is no tolerating even a yogurt or lactose free option if they want to avoid hives, anaphylaxis, or whatever it is that their body does in response to milk protein.

If you don’t fall into the above two categories, you may want to explore some of the other reasons with me to find out why people have sworn off dairy before you decide if you are joining the bandwagon or not:

1. Dairy is an acne-trigger: TRUE. Some research does, in fact show that high intakes of dairy are linked to moderate to severe acne in teenagers and young women due to the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) found in milk. The IGF-1 is the primary mediator for the growth hormone and is present in pregnant milk-producing cows. I believe this hormone and others is to blame for why many people are so nervous about consuming cow’s milk and have made the switch to one of the many alternatives available on the market today. Read on.

2. It contains harmful hormones: FALSE. As with with above, the word hormone gets people nervous and thus, there has been lots of public concern over the synthetic hormone, recombinant bovine somatotropin (rbST), that leaks (in miniscule amounts) into our dairy products from pregnant cows. What exactly is it and why is it used? Simply put, it helps the cows produce more milk, i.e. increases efficiency and productivity for their ahem, job. In fact, it’s been studied extensively in it’s twenty years in use and in this most recent review of those many studies, has been concluded totally safe. You have likely seen organic rbST-free milk and yogurt options available in your local grocery store and assumed they were better. From what I have researched, these are in response to market demand, not necessarily safety concerns. If I find out any differently, I will tell you. Promise. If you are still concerned, you have those available to choose from and certainly, if you are acne prone, go for them.

3. Dairy has been linked to certain types of cancer: FALSE except for possibly prostate, which remains inconclusive. In a 2015 analysis of 22 prospective cohort studies (1,566,940 participants), they concluded dairy was associated with a decrease in breast cancer incidence. And again, a study published last month (June 2017), they indicated after analyzing the results of 13 different studies (493,415 participants and 7453 cases) that increased calcium intake coming from diet and supplements was associated with a decreased risk of ovarian cancer. In another review, published at the end of last year, they concluded that cow’s milk is indeed associated with a reduced risk of colorectal, bladder, and gastric cancer as well but neutral for ovarian, pancreatic, and lung. With that many participants and cases, they make a strong argument. The jury remains out for prostate as there has been evidence that dairy raises the risk of prostate cancer, particularly because of the presence of the IGF-1 hormone. Stay clear if you’re a male and have a strong family history for now….in my opinion. It’ cancer, after all.

4. It raises diabetes risk: FALSE. In a 2016 analysis that included 22 cohort studies comprising of 579,832 individuals and 43,118 Type 2 diabetes cases, total dairy consumption, particularly from low-fat yogurt was associated with a reduced risk. Although another study found no difference using full fat yogurt, suggesting the benefits came from the fact that yogurt is rich in probiotics and the fat content is not as important. Lots of human subjects here, that’s what I like to see in results.

  • 5. It causes inflammation: TRUE, maybe. Looking at 78 studies, it really was a toss-up. This review concluded that dairy products, especially fermented ones, like yogurt, are anti-inflammatory. However, for people who have a known dairy allergy, it is definitely pro-inflammatory. Makes sense, that’s kinda what an allergic response is. As far as what it was that caused the dairy to be inflammatory, they did find more of an association with the dairy products highest in saturated fat.

6. It’s fattening and raises risk of heart disease: FALSE. In the same review, they discussed how in actuality, full fat dairy products raise HDL levels (a good thing). Although whole milk dairy products do tend to increase LDL cholesterol as well, understand that there are two types – small particle and large particle. The small, dense particle size are the ones that are more susceptible to oxidation and artery wall build-up, whereas the large are not. Dairy products have more of the large particles. That’s good. A recent meta-analysis of thirteen studies published in December of last year concluded plainly that :

Higher dairy fat exposure is not associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

7. It was never meant for humans, only baby calves. Personally, I find this to be a weak argument. One could argue that the only milk meant for humans is breast milk. However, many of us, myself included, enjoy soy milk, almond milk, and many of the other non-dairy novelties on a regular basis. The NHANES pubished in 2010 reported that indeed, children aged 2-4 and 5-10 did have higher BMIs when drinking higher quantities of milk (higher BMI was not necessarily equivalent to obesity). However, these results were used for the 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans to encourage milk consumption among children since a higher BMI (not necessarily obese) for a child is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it is well known that calcium and vitamin D intake are linked to bone health and that milk is an excellent source of these vital nutrients. We also know that bone mass is developed during childhood and adolescence.

One might argue that calcium and vitamin D are also available from the many dairy alternatives such as almond, rice, soy, and coconut milk, and often in higher quantities. In this study, however, they found that our bodies absorb about 25% less of the calcium most brands of soy milk add to their product compared to cow’s milk. In other words, you need to drink about 12 ounces of soy milk to get the same amount of calcium you would get from an 8 ounce glass of cow’s milk. Another review pointed out that we simply don’t know the amount our bodies can absorb from all of the nutrient-fortified plant-based milk options to say whether or not it’s the same as drinking cow’s milk. Either way, no one can deny our children are consuming energy dense, but not necessarily nutrient dense diets and that’s a problem. Cow’s milk is the only product I know of that is consistently high in protein, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D while low in food additives including added sugars that is widely offered to children in their critical growth years.

Hear me out. If you read my blogs, I understand that some of you read holistic health sites as do I. And much of what I’ve said in this post goes against what you’ve probably read or heard. But I do not believe in living in fear, I believe in what it is evidence when it comes to this stuff. I dig as much as my time allows to avoid any potential bias and present the facts to you. If you have any personal experiences that differ and you need to remain committed to a dairy free diet, there are acceptable options to get your calcium from, including some you may haven’t even thought of yet like kale, broccoli, and canned salmon. If you need probiotics and extra supplementation, I have recommendations that I fully trust and use myself that I would feel confident in sharing with you. Feel free me to contact me if you’d like to discuss it more.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here. We have an upcoming fitness challenge that’s going to be lots of fun!

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Do you know what high fructose corn syrup really is?

Believe it or not, there is a large degree of controversy in the health community as to whether or not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) any different than consuming sugar, honey, or any of the other sweeteners humans have consumed for decades prior to the 1970s when it was first introduced on the market.

Let’s start off with defining what this evil thing is, HFCS, anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, probably all bad things. But do you know what it really is (besides an evil liquid sweet substance that makes you fat especially your liver, inflames everything in your body, and will likely give you a heart attack in the next 5 years)? Defined, it is derived from corn starch which has been broken down into corn syrup to which enzymes have been added to change some of the glucose to fructose, making the product

sweeter than regular corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is 100% glucose whereas HFCS now has a large portion or fructose. According to the FDA, HFCS 42 (as in 42% fructose) is mainly used in processed foods, cereals, baked goods, and some beverages. HFCS 55 (as in 55% fructose) is used primarily in soft drinks. Make sense?

Why is it used? Because it’s cheap. It comes from an abundance and renewable source in the agricultural industry – corn. It’s also stable in acidic environments and beverages, making it very easy to use in products. Being that it’s liquid, it’s also easy to pump from delivery vehicles to mixing and storage tanks.

So why the controversy? It’s cheap, it’s easy, seems to be near identical to table sugar, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose – the substance all other sweeteners are compared to. So why all the media hype? One of the biggest spotlights it has been deemed a demon for is the obesity epidemic. I’ve done as thorough research review and as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t convince them, conf

use them.”And that’s largely where I’m at -sort of.

Here’s why. The vast majority of the studies I read concluded that HFCS is no more to harmful to our health than consuming regular table sugar is. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, it just means it’s not worse for you than eating added sugars in general. That makes a lot of sense to me because I already know that eating added sugar does more harm that good. What didn’t make sense to me was that some of these articles, like this one from the NIH, while compelling, were funded by Pepsi Co International, Coca Cola, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods, Corn Refiners Association, and Weight Watchers. The conclusion was “based on high quality evidence from randomized controlled tria

ls (RCT), systematic reviews and meta-analyses of cohort studies that singling out added sugars as unique culprits for metabolically based diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease appears inconsistent with modern, high quality evidence and is very unlikely to yield health benefits.” In case you forgot, Weight Watchers has a large product line if one and two point cakes, muffins, and other yummy sweet treats to keep you on track with your point count.

And this review, who’s final statement was “it does not appear to be practical to base dietary guidance on selecting or avoiding these specific types of sweeteners,” was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s just hard for me to see beyond the possibility of hidden agendas w

hen companies who have a lot to lose are dumping their money into statements telling the public th

at what they are doing is perfectly safe.

I did find some unbiased research out there though. As of 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that there indeed is evidence that it may have a special connection to the rising obesity rates, particularly because of the overconsumption of sweetened sodas. The conclusion that started this whole controversy was that “the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and gout is also increased with the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

But why would this be? For starters, with the cheap source of sweeteners, the average soda size grew from sixteen ounce bottles to twenty. Even more so, this sugary substance is addicting. W

hen we get a taste of it, we want more. Sweetness is an acquired taste. Ever met a one year old who’s never had candy or cookies? I have and they could care less about it. I met a holistic nutrition doctor once that has two children between the ages of five and ten who have never had sugar of any kind before….and they didn’t want it. In contrast, I’ve met a two year old who’s tasted candy and they will go through great lengths to get it (like pulling up chairs, climbing furniture, hiding behind furniture with said candy, screaming, crying…not that this was my kid or anything.)

In a more recent study in 2013, they concluded similar results (along with increased risk of fatty liver disease) with more astounding statistics – between 1950 and 2000 the soda consumption increased from 10 gallons per year to over 50 gallons per year and from 120 pounds of sugar in 1994 to over 160 pounds of sugar in the 21 st century.

Additionally, fructose can be a nightmare if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. For about one third of sufferers, fructose malabsorption or intolerance may exacerbate symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Fructose is naturally found in honey and fruits. But we eat it on the daily in sugary drinks and processed foods – trying to eliminate it can be a challenge. Same goes for those with a corn allergy. It’s becomes a second job to avoid HFCS since it’s now in not only sodas but crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, granola bars, and yogurt.

Lastly, I’ve talked about the hunger regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin before. There is evidence to suggest that HFCS inhibits insulin secretion thus, the leptin isn’t produced to promote satiety after a meal or a snack full of HFCS. As far as I have found, ghrelin (the hunger producing hormo

ne) isn’t increased, but who cares when you get no full signal while you’re chowing down on a box of doughnuts?

Bottom line: eat it, as with table sugar and all added sugars, in moderation. It is unclear if HFCS is the cause of the rising obesity epidemic and all of the related health issues we are experienc

ing in ourselves and our families, but it is crystal clear that there is a correlation.

What is moderation though? Well, I didn’t find much out there. I know less than 160 pounds per year, but that doesn’t tell me a whole lot. To give you an idea, one 12 ounce can of soda has 40 grams. So consider a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminate sweetened beverages. Start there and limit the sweets to special occasions and holidays.

 

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Don’t believe everything you read

I don’t know about you, but it makes me a bit aggravated that we have to comb through piles of research articles to understand what’s in our food supply these days. I’m supposed to be a nutrition expert and even I get confused. I can tell you dietitians are confused too, because they buy in to a lot of the junk out there – and here’s the thing: most of it is opinion based. For instance, if you keep up with the latest nutrition trends, you likely heard about coconut oil recently and how the American Heart Association has deemed it “unhealthy.” They’ve gone as far to say that we should eliminate it from our diets in order to keep our LDL (aka “bad” cholesterol) at bay. In fact, many of the dietitians (not all) in the circles I run in support this stance. Why? Because “holistic” health is unpopular in a science-based community. I’ve experienced the ridicule directly. Sometimes it’s easier to just believe what the big governing bodies say than to go against the grain. The research is there for functional and homeopathic medicine, but it’s not popular in western medicine.

I’ve been there. I was employed by one of the most well known research-based teaching hospitals in the world for nearly ten years. Going against traditional medicine and what a doctor says isn’t very popular. But we need to think for ourselves sometimes, especially if we are going to call ourselves nutrition experts. Because they don’t have time to talk to people about their patients’ diets. It’s not their thing. Their thing is sick people. We are the ones who have a chance to talk to the well and we are blowing it.

Now let me be very clear. I am NOT one of those people that live in fear of the government’s conspiracy against the people. I am NOT one of those people that believe all big Pharma is out “to get us” nor do I believe doctors or researchers have the cure for cancer and they’re just all hiding it from us to stay rich. I’ve looked into the eyes of a doctor right before and right after he’s had to tell a patient they have cancer and their hope for a long future is shattered. Believe me when I say – being rich was not on that doctor’s mind. But I do believe when it comes to making money, the business of pharmaceuticals as well as food manufacturing is alive and well. But that’s for an entirely different conversation.

So let’s get to the subject of the American Heart Association’s so called “review” of the research. They picked four publications to focus on. By now you’ve probably read some rebuttals on the subject as have I. But as a dietitian, I feel it’s my responsibility to write my own evaluation on the subject and properly educate the public. So let’s start with the facts. The press and the AHA have spotlighted coconut oil as being the evil one yet has failed to mention that coconut oil was not the source of saturated fat in their core studies completed over 50 years ago (side note: I was taught to sick within this decade when reviewing research.) I’ve read it twice just to be sure. The saturated fat sources put to the chopping block come from dairy and animal fats in said studies. Those just aren’t the same thing. At the end, coconut oil gets it’s own section, and based off of seven studies they cherry picked, they concluded that coconut oil raises LDL cholesterol in the same way as animal and dairy fats and thus, conclude that it should be eliminated from our diets. They do admit these studies did not examine coconut oil’s direct effects on CVD. It was also noted to raise HDL cholesterol and lowered the LDL:HDL ratio, however (both good things.) I’ll just leave a recent study right here published at the end of 2015.

If the AHA is going to advise against using coconut oil, why didn’t they recommend we eliminate dairy or meat from our diet? I mean, there was more evidence in their review on those two if you ask me. Now I’m not a vegan and I’ve discussed this diet in another post. But there are a lot of good things to be said about going vegan. But then again, the AHA are proponents of the DASH diet, so there’s that. And as you will see later, although they deny conflicts of interest, that remains questionable. They give honorable mention to the mediterranean diet as well, which I also highly recommend. This one is high in monounsaturated fat and those folks tend to have lower rates of heart disease.

Lastly, the underlying theme of this article was that polyunsaturated fats, more specifically omega-6 fats, will save the day. I’m not sure I buy that. It has been known from previous, more current research that eating a higher proportion of omega-6 (found in soybean oil) to omega-3 (found mostly in flax seed, walnuts, and fish) fat has a negative effect on heart health. I do, however, believe that lowering animal fat will decrease LDL cholesterol, which their studies in this review did show.

Scroll down to the very end of this review, not the post everyone’s reading about how unhealthy coconut oil is, but the actual published paper they are referring to. It was funded by eleven pharmaceutical companies including: Amarin, Amgen, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Glaxo-Smith Kline, Merck, Pfizer, Regeneron/Sano, Takeda, Akcea/ Ionis, and Dr. Reddy. And it was also funded by several others including Esai (energy research and consulting firm), California Walnut Commission (Certified by the AHA, proponents of the DASH and Mediterranean diets), Ag Canada and Canola Oil Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Seafood Nutrition Partnership, TerraVia (algae oil high in monounsaturated fat, low in saturated fat), and Avocado Nutrition Science Advisors. Need I say more? I think I’m done here.

So what is coconut oil good for anyway?

  1. Oil pulling: the practice of swishing it around like mouthwash for about 10-20 minutes for oral hygiene purposes. In one study in particular, after just fourteen days there was a reduction in plaque forming bacteria, even as good as using chlorhexidine with distilled water. In a second study, oil pulling reduced plaque and gingivitis markers after just seven days and continued after thirty days.
  2. Weight loss aid: because it contains medium chain triglycerides, it has been found to decrease waist circumference after four weeks in subjects, particularly men. It has also shown a slight increase in metabolism, however this has only been a temporary effect which is why I don’t generally recommend it for that purpose.
  3. Antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties: this makes it great for fighting common skin infections and issues like acne, athlete’s foot, candida, even cellulitis.
  4. Moisturizer: again, great for healing dry, irritated skin and related conditions like eczema or diaper rash. It can even be used as a sunscreen, blocking 20% of UV rays.
  5. Anti-inflammatory: studies have shown it may help reduce this symptom of oxidative stress.
  6. Easily digestible energy source that won’t raise blood sugar levels: medium chain triglycerides are the easiest for our bodies to metabolize and thus, are used by the body quickly.
  7. Carrier oil: as an essential oil lover myself, some of them are considered “hot” and are better if mixed with a carrier and will actually be absorbed better because it holds them to the skin longer rather than the essential oil evaporating quickly. The possibilities are endless if using coconut oil since it already acts as a natural moisturizer and anti-fungal. Add essential oils and all of their various health benefits, you can have anything from bug repellents to sleep creams to extra strength anti-fungal creams and more.

These are just to name a few. Coconut oil has a high smoke point, which makes it easier to cook with than other oils like olive oil. It adds a variety of flavor to foods that need a twist. As with anything, no need to go overboard, if you are wanting the health benefits of consuming it, two tablespoons a day is plenty but anything less is probably not enough. And go for organic, extra virgin. The other stuff is highly processed and health benefits are stripped.

As you may have noticed, I’ve included a ton of links to evidenced-based research in this post. I believe in providing sound advice, I really do. Some of the stuff I’ve talk about has been referred to as “quackery,” but that’s just silly. I understand research and have participated in a few studies myself. It IS possible to have a respect for both sides. So now that we’ve cleared all that up, let me know in the comments what your favorite way to use coconut oil is!

P.S. Interested in some weight loss hacks? The event is over, but the replay is still up on Facebook!

P.P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Part 1: Food additives, are they safe?

MSG, GMO, HFCS, and on and on and on. I dunno about you, but it’s really confusing to eat healthy these days because it seems there is always someone around the corner saying what once was thought to be a health food is now going to disrupt my hormones, upset my gut health, or wreak havoc on my immune system. I thought it was just an apple?

Seriously, when I was growing up my dad always told me those kept the doctor away. And so far for him, they have…..but he’s also from the generation that doesn’t go to the doctor. Not unless there’s a limb hanging off. (That’s another topic, because I don’t necessarily support that mindset, we’ve had a few scares with him over the years.)

So which is it? What do you need to look for? I know if I’m confused and I’m a Dietitian, others must be too. And unfortunately in my research on this topic, our food supply ain’t what it used to be. With growing food trends to make more, make more that lasts longer, and feed the masses from far away places, we need to be aware of what’s in our foods and what we are comfortable feeding ourselves and our families. There are many and I won’t be able to cover them all in this post, but I’ll start with a few today:

  • Sodium nitrites and nitrates: if you have EVER talked to me about eating processed meat of any kind, I’ve likely told you to take the extra second and find some without this ingredient. This includes your bacon, deli meat, hot dogs (should you choose to indulge), sausage and any canned or cured meats like vienna sausage. They are added to these foods to enhance the color and acts as a preservative. If you’ve ever had a nitrite/nitrate free slice of bacon or deli turkey slice, you would NOT taste the difference. But you would be ridding yourself of the cancer-causing effects. We now know that there is a very strong link to digestive cancer and this food preservative. Here is what the American Institute of Cancer Research says: “Research shows that any amount of processed meat eaten regularly increases the risk of both stomach and colorectal cancers. Why risk it when there are other options easily available?
  • Carrageenan: it’s extracted from red seaweed and used in a wide variety of applications in the food industry as a thickening, gelling, stabilizing and suspending agent in water and milk systems. So you are going to find it mostly in dairy products including liquid coffee creamer, cottage cheese, yogurt, soy milk, almond milk, processed cheese, chocolate milk, ice cream, frosting mix, and infant formulas. According to numerous research studies, it’s linked to various harmful effects in the gastrointestinal system including cancer and inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcers and ulcerative colitis.) The article linked is a review of multiple animal studies – note I don’t always take these types of studies seriously because we’re people and our bodies are very different from rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, and monkeys. But here’s the deal – the results were profound. In just one example, they noted that 100% of guinea pigs given 2% degraded carrageenan as liquid for 20–30 days had colonic ulcerations and  75% of the animals developed > 200 ulcers. When guinea pigs were given 1% undegraded carrageenan as liquid for 20–30 days, 80% developed colonic ulcerations. The review concluded:
• Degraded carrageenan is a known carcinogen in animal models
• Undegraded carrageenan is a known co-carcinogen in animal models of carcinogenesis• In animal models, both degraded and undegraded carrageenan have been associated with development of intestinal ulcerations that resemble ulcerative colitis
• Hydrolysis such as may occur by exposure to gastric acid in the human stomach can lead to the depolymerization of undegraded carrageenan and the availability of degraded carrageenan
• Food-grade carrageenan may be contaminated with low molecular weight, degraded carrageenan that may arise during food processing
• The use of a viscosity measurement to characterize a carrageenan sample is insufficient because the presence of a small number of large molecules (and undegraded carrageenan may have molecular weight in the millions) may obscure a significant low molecular weight fraction.

Personally, my soy milk is carrageenan free. I’m sure it creeps up in my diet elsewhere but when I can, I will be avoiding it.

  • Potassium Bromate: used as a flour enhancer – it increases the volume of bread and produces a fine crumb structure. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to form innocuous bromide during the baking process. The problem is that bromate itself is a known carcinogen in animals and if tiny amounts remain in the end product, it poses a risk to those who eat it. I dunno about you, but I’m getting pretty upset about the amount of known cancer-causing additives in our food products, even if “tiny” and in animals. Especially since many of them, including bromate have been banned everywhere else except in the United States (bromate is also allowed in Japan although most manufacturers have voluntary stopped using it.) Just a side note, if you live in California, you are less likely to consume it because a cancer warning is required on the label when they use it. I will mention many of the brands we are familiar with, like Pepperidge Farm, Arnolds, Entenmann’s and several large supermarket chains have switched to non-bromate bread more than a decade ago, but there are still several products on the market you should be aware of that still use it. For the most updated list I could find on the internet, click here.  If you aren’t sure, read the ingredients list and look for “potassium bromate” or “bromated flour.”

I’m gonna stop here for now because frankly, it takes quite a bit of research on my part to give you sound advice on what’s going on out there. I’m not about instilling the fear in you so you don’t want to eat anything and I know that the world of nutrition can be quite dramatic sometimes. Get on google for a few minutes and you will want to start your own garden and wonder if you have what it takes to milk a cow.

I am going to continue with this in future posts and I would love to hear from you. If there are any food additives or preservatives that you have been wondering about – safety, etc., please contact me or comment on this post.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN