Fat Country: A General Guide for Different Fats

Food and nutrition can be confusing.  One such way is with fats.  There are so many types out there, and debate about if they are healthy or not.  Thanks to its poorly-moderated nature, the internet has all sorts of misinformation out there.  Today I am going to be making a short-hand guide to hopefully help you be a better educated consumer!

 

FAT:  This is a general term for boring biochemical stuff.  It comes in one of three forms in foods (I know there’s a lot of different ways this stuff can end up before or after being eaten, but this is a general short guide for any of you science people out there who want to criticize me for overly simplifying this!).  It can be found in saturated, unsaturated and trans-fat varieties for cooking.  Other forms are used in the body for various functions

SATURATED FAT:  This is the kind that doctors call “unhealthy fat.”  It plays a role in increasing blood cholesterol, which can cause damage to the blood vessels and heart.  It’s found in foods like butter and other animal products.  Typically, this is found in a solid form at room temperature.

UNSATURATED FAT:  This is the kind that doctors call the “good fats.”  It can help lower bad cholesterol in the body.  These are found in liquid form at room temperature.  Foods like nuts and avocados are high in saturated fat.

TRANS-FAT:  These are most commonly found as synthetically made fats (they can actually exist in nature, but they are pretty rare).  Essentially some food chemist does their mumbojumbo science stuff to some unsaturated fats, and it becomes solid at room temperature.  They are also more shelf stable than other kinds of oils.  However, they also increase the risk of developing heart and vessel issues.  In fact, the FDA removed it from the “generally regarded as safe” list!  This means that foods with trans-fats in them must undergo reviews to ensure consumer safety.

TROPICAL OILS:  These are things like palm oil and coconut oil.  Many people think coconut oil is a healthier option when compared to butter.  Unfortunately, this type of oil has A LOT of saturated fat.  More so than butter!  Some websites proclaim this as a healthy oil, but so far my research does not indicate that.

 

Any comments, questions, or anything else you would like to say?  Leave them below!

All in the Family: Does Eating Meals with Family Decrease Obesity Risk?

I take a look at two sides on whether family meals can lower the risk of obesity.

Damn, it’s been awhile since I made a post.  Sometimes, college happens…

It’s been talked about in the field of health and nutrition that eating dinners at home might decrease the risk of developing obesity.  Cornell University’s director of the Food and Brand Lab, Brian Wansink said that where you eat, and how long it takes you to finish eating are indicators of children developing obesity.  This makes sense to me.  You spend five hours in a pizzeria, chances are you are going to eat a lot of pizza, whereas if you eat at home and eat a homecooked meal you are going to eat fewer Calories.

However, a recent article in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (or a journal that has a long title about nutrition, for the less scientifically inclined people) indicated this might not be the case.  Research shows that you are not more or less likely to be obese if you eat with or without your family.  Basically, eating with your family does not necessarily decrease obesity risk.

What does this mean for you?  To start, I think both people are right in their own way.  Where you eat, and how long you eat does impact how many Calories you consume.  Eating at a place where they have unhealthy food for a long time does mean you are more likely to eat unhealthy (unless you have a cast-iron will, unlike me).  However, I think it is also right that eating with family does not necessarily mean you are eating better.

There is a factor to food and nutrition I don’t think either cover very well.  Meal quality.  I can eat a healthy meal that consists of a shitton of fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and lean proteins alone.  I can also eat this when I visit my family.  I also eat a lot of unhealthy foods, because college.  I eat these foods whether I am alone or with my family.

Long story short:  Eat fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole-grains, and healthy oils, and you should be fine.

 

What do my readers think?  Would eating more meals with family reduce obesity, or should we instead be focusing more on what is on the plate?  Leave your comments below.

Halo on Fire: What is the Health Halo?

I discuss a marketing tactic trying to get you to buy products based on health merits.

I think it’s time for me to get up off my ass and do some writing for my blog.  Instead of getting on my ass and writing for my assignments?  That doesn’t sound quite right, but whatever.

First, let me take you on a mystical, magical tour of going to a grocery store in America.  The first step is getting in a car.  Along the way, you pass by a restaurant promoting that their meats are “Antibiotic Free.”  Another restaurant proudly proclaims that they do not use GMOs in their meals.

While in the grocery store, there are many products available for any type of food you can imagine.  Foods labels promote the item inside as being “gluten-free,” or “reduced fat,” or any other label variety you can imagine (and label claims you can’t).  All these products are exhibiting what is called the “health halo.”  The health halo is more of a lose term, as a quick search online does not directly tell you what it means.  From what I have gathered, it means a food item is marketing itself as being a healthy choice, or at least a healthier choice, when compared to other products.

So what?  Why is this a big deal?  Well, for starters, this can skew consumer choice, which is what food companies want.  Organic food items sound healthier than conventional produce.  Organic products might have less antibiotic resistant bacteria on meats, or more phosphorous and omega-3 fatty acids, when compared to conventional products.  These health benefits can be eliminated though, if the product is something unhealthy, like in a candy.  Organic cane sugar is still added sugar.

As with the restaurants promoting antibiotic-free meat, or non-GMO ingredients in their meals, these phrases do not indicate things about how healthy the food is.  You can have antibiotic free, non-GMO meats and cheeses in a product, use only the finest of gluten-free flours to make breads, and any other health buzzword out there, and still wind up with an unhealthy product.  In the case of restaurants, assuming the meal IS in fact healthy, you can undo the health effects.

This begs the question:  Why should I care?  If you just want to eat whatever food, no amount of blog posts are going to change your mind.  However, I am focusing on those who will learn and become more aware.

So how can you avoid the “health halo?”  I recommend buying raw ingredients, like fruits and vegetables.  Reading the Nutrition Facts panel is also helpful.  Look for things like Calories, and added sugar.

Spirit: Understanding Your Alcohol

A brief overview of some alcoholic beverage terms, and some cautions.

Wow, yet another blog post title that wrote itself!  Thanks Ghost!

Alcohol is one of the beverages I enjoy in moderation (might have to do with the fact I am still young).  When I drink, I typically have are beer, vodka, and whiskey.  I sometimes drink tequila if I feel like spending a bit more.  Talking with my peers, I am unique in the fact I take my drinks straight.  I don’t add anything to them, just add the liquor into a glass and drink it.

Instead of discussing my choice of poison, I am going to give some loose definitions for different kinds of ethanol-infused solutions.  My information comes from a few quick searches online, and from one of my nutrition classes.

Alcohol Proof:  This is how “strong” the drink is.  Proof is measured as twice the alcohol by volume (ABV) amount in America.  Meaning a 100-proof drink is 50% ethanol.

Beer:  This is an alcoholic drink made with fermented grains with hops added for flavor, and slowly fermented with yeast.  A typical serving of beer has somewhere between 5-9% ethanol.  A standard serving is 12 fluid ounces.  Some beers are stronger, so keep that in consideration when drinking, as these have a much smaller serving size.

Wine:  This is a fermented grape drink.  Sometimes other fruits are fermented to make different wines, but this is a looser interpretation of wine.  Wine typically has 12-17% ethanol.  A serving size is 5 fluid ounces.

Spirits (liquor):  These are drinks that are made, and then distilled to have a higher proof/ABV.  Any alcoholic beverage with more than 20% ABV is considered a spirit.  Drinks like vodka, tequila, and whiskey are considered spirits.  A serving of these is 1 to 1.5 fluid ounces.

Some of you might be wondering what is considered a “safe” amount to drink.  One drink a day for women, and up to two drinks a day for men is considered safe, according to mayoclinic.com.  Now, this does not mean you have to drink this much.  It is healthier to drink as little as you can.

Ethanol, even when drank responsibly can pack a lot of Calories, as 1 gram of ethanol contains 7 Calories (compare this to 1 gram of fat with 9 Calories).  This is not even considering mixed drinks, which have even more stuff added that increases the number of Calories per serving.  Not to mention there is an age restriction in the United States, so anyone under the age of 21 probably should not drink alcohol anyway.

What kind of drinks do you guys out there enjoy (if you are legal, that is)?  Anyone abstain from drinking alcohol at all?  If so, would you like to share why in the comments, provided it’s not too personal (don’t want to make things awkward for you guys!)?

Valentine’s Day: The Heart You SHOULD Care About

I use the holiday to discuss heart health.

Oh yeah, my calendar indicates that it is the 14th of February.  Meaning that today is the day of love or some other bullshit that the corporations came up with to get you to buy cheap candies, cookies, wine, etc.  Because we cannot clearly show love without spending a shit-ton of money on frivolous crap, I say cynically.

Valentine’s day is closely associated with the heart shape.  But I don’t give a damn about that heart.  The hearts I care about are more internal.  And on the left side of the body.  I’m talking about that blood-pumping motherfucker.

The American Heart Association has a set of recommendations to take care of the four-chambered beast contained inside of your flesh prison.  They are:

  • Eat enough Calories, but not too much
  • Be sure to exercise for at least 150 minutes a week at moderate intensity
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins (like low-fat dairy, skinless poultry, fish, beans, tofu, and legumes), and nuts
  • Limit saturated-fats, trans-fats, sodium, red meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Be sure the foods you eat are high in nutrients
  • Moderate alcohol consumption, for those of legal age. None if you are underage

The guidelines set up by the AHA are a good rule of thumb for anyone to follow.  The diet they suggest has benefits for everyone.  The older population can minimize the damage a longer life has caused, and younger populations can help prevent the damage to the heart and vessels.

Some of these foods increase blood pressure, meaning your heart must work harder.  This can lead to several problems in the future, involving issues with the vessels in the kidney and the brain.
For any of you out there who are sad I rained on your plans to drink a bunch of wine with your significant other, don’t be.  If you care about your heart (and your liver, and brain, etc.) perhaps you would rethink your plans for romance?  Or not, it is your choice after all!

So what did you guys think?  Did you have to rethink your Valentine’s Day plans after reading my post?  Feel free to leave a reply below!

The Great Divide: Why Medicine Can Be Confusing

A nutrition student gives some reasoning as to why medicine is confusing.

Imagine this scenario:  Your doctor hands you some papers that you need to read and sign through.  The words are small, so you need to squint to see them.  The page just seems filled with words.  Eventually you reach the bottom where your signature is required.  How many non-medial people think to themselves “what the fuck did I just read?”

Now imagine this other scenario: you talk to your doctor after some blood work.  They talk about several problems, perhaps something with “triglycerides” or “hypertension.”  Not wanting to look stupid, you nod in agreement, despite the fact you have no idea what was just said.

These are issues real enough in medicine, that I am taking a class on how to write a document to the lay-person.  Whose fault is it that there is this breakdown in communication?  Is it your fault that you don’t understand the doctor?  Or is it perhaps the doctor’s fault for not knowing their audience?

Personally, I think it’s the latter.  The class I am taking that teaches nutrition students how to write for a lay-audience discussed that the average reading level in America is 8th grade.  Meaning that there are several people like me who can read a research article, understand what is going on in the study, and then report it back as a summary or as a point of evidence.  There are also several people that struggle with reading materials that are considered “basic.”

How can communication between medical professionals and patients be improved?  For starters, I think documents have more whitespace (the spacing around paragraphs), bigger font sizes, and definitions next to some key words.   Whitespace and larger font sizes improves readability, while definitions help people understand.  If you are unfamiliar with “triglycerides,” on a document, the paperwork can instead say “triglycerides (fat found in blood).”

Doctors and other medical professionals can also use more casual language when talking about health issues.  Instead of telling the patient they have “hypertension,” the doctor could tell them they have “high blood pressure.”  Not everyone understands medical jargon.  Simplifying the language used can help patients understand the issue and how to correct it.

In case you were curious, this blog post has a reading level of 8.9, meaning that someone who is almost a 9th grader most likely can understand this piece.  Some of the reasons it’s higher is I had to use several complicated words to explain my point.  I also have longer sentences with more than one idea, which raises the reading level.

Also, if you feel I am picking on the lay-person, keep in mind I am the lay-person in several topics.  There have been times when friends and family have talked about something outside of the food and nutrition realm and I have been like “huh?”

Any other ideas you guys have for improving the readability of documents?  Any advice a non-medical person can give to a soon-to-be medical professional to make documents easier to read?

Stay Bullet: Why I Don’t Believe in Silver Bullet Miracle Foods

Why I don’t believe the media hype involving certain foods.

Recently, Time magazine posted an article about how the spice turmeric might not be a “miracle spice” after all.  A recent research article reported that there has not been a well-designed research trial done on the spice yet.  So, what gives?  Why is this even a big issue with food?  Can’t people just enjoy their food in peace without some asshole on the internet blogging about it?

To answer the lattermost question:  No, I blog about food, it’s what I do.  Secondly, the term “miracle food” or any derivative gets thrown out there like it’s no big deal.  Anything that might have some semblance of increasing metabolism or being incredibly rich in vitamins and minerals causes media to latch on and blow up its properties to hell.  Even Googling “miracle food” turns up results that things like chocolate are a miracle food.

The issue with proclaiming foods have mystical properties can have a variety of effects.  In the best situation, some foods can be found to be beneficial, in worst cases, it can have harmful effects.  For example, news media lists several health benefits of drinking beer.  A Huffington Post article lists some of these benefits as being high in some micronutrients, such as vitamin B, and healthier aging in women because it might play a role in improving blood circulation.

Now, I love me my local brews.  Being an Oregonian, I have access to several craft beers.  Not a hipster, though, as much as I can sound like one.  However, alcohol does have several downsides.  Alcohol can be addictive, which can lead to alcoholism.  Alcohol can also cause issues with the liver, which for those of you not familiar with human anatomy, the liver is a detoxifying organ.  Alcohol also inhibits a hormone in the body that helps regulate hydration, which means over consumption of this “healthy” beverage is detrimental.

I also hate the term “miracle food” or “silver bullet to combat _____.”  Might be because I am a hypercritical douche, but that’s beside the point.  To me, the terms imply that the food is a be-all-end-all to becoming healthy.  Imagine, a world in which all you need to do is eat turmeric (a spice in curry powder) and drink beer, and suddenly you become the pinnacle of human health!

What do you guys reading this think?  Am I off base here, or is “miracle food” an overused term that overemphasizes the benefits and downplays the negatives of certain foods?