‘Healthy’ Foods that Really Aren’t

  • Karen Graham
  • December 6, 2012

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

Anything with less fat seems like it would be a healthier choice, but in reality, it’s not, says Karen Graham, SmartNutritionbyKG.com a registered dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Reduced-fat peanut butters are usually junk. Often when they remove the fat from a product they have to manipulate the ingredients to make up for the lost flavor and texture, so manufacturers usually replace the fat with sugar.” Plus many brands use ingredients like corn syrup solids and hydrogenated vegetable oil, Graham says.

The Better Pick: “Avoiding fat is not always the best way to be healthy,” says Graham. “Eating food in its most natural state is.” For the healthiest option, she recommends choosing an all-natural peanut butter that lists ingredients like peanuts and maybe a little salt, but that’s it.

Non-Dairy Ice Cream

Hoping that switching to that non-dairy version of your favorite ice cream flavor will slim you down? Don’t count on it. “Non-dairy ice cream means no dairy,” says Graham. “It does not mean no fat, no sugar or no calories.” If you compare non-dairy ice cream with the regular stuff, most are similar (some are even higher) in terms of their fat, calorie and sugar content. Non-dairy ice creams brands aren’t healthier, they’re just better for those of us with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, Graham says.

The Better Pick: If you are lactose intolerant, or just truly want a healthier version of ice cream, consider slicing some ripe bananas and freezing them, then use a blender to turn them into your own frozen treat. You can additional mix-ins, like frozen strawberries (no syrup), to flavor your “ice cream.”

Flavored Almond Milk

Almond milk can be a healthy, non-dairy alternative, especially since it’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D, says Graham. But it’s the flavored almond milk you need to watch out for — vanilla almond milk contains as much as 15 grams of sugar per serving, which is more than a serving of chocolate ice cream, says Graham.

The Better Pick: Graham suggests sticking with plain, unsweetened varieties to keep this non-dairy alternative to milk a healthy choice.

Frozen Yogurt

If you thought switching from ice cream to frozen yogurt was better for your health (and waistline), think again. “Frozen yogurt is no healthier than ice cream,” Graham says. While some brands are lower in fat than ice cream, many are higher in sugar. And what about those new fro-yo chains that claim their product contains “live active cultures” that are good for your digestive health? “The truth is, frozen yogurt is not a viable source of active cultures; between the extreme temperatures, the shelf life and the manufacturing process of the frozen yogurt, it is highly doubtful that any of those bacteria exist upon ingestion,” she says.

The Better Pick: if you really want ice cream, satisfy your craving with a serving of the real deal. Dr. Oz recommends buying slow-churned varieties – which have about half the fat of premium ice cream.

Moderation is Key to Benefits of Using Olive Oil

  • Karen Graham
  • December 6, 2012

Next time you reach for the olive oil at the stove, use a lighter touch. It may not be as healthy as you think. For years, olive oil has been hailed as a part of a healthful diet, and nutrition conscious cooks have used it freely. Therein lies the problem: People might be cautious about how much butter they use, but olive oil seems to have been given a pass in the moderation department.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, author of “Eat to Live” and a specialist in nutrition treatments for obesity agrees that people might consume more olive oil than they otherwise should because they’ve read or been told that it’s healthy. “People don’t realize how fattening it is, and then they eat olive oil instead of whole food fats such as nuts and seeds,” Fuhrman said. Nuts and seeds tend to be much less fattening because they contain unsaturated fats. Fuhrman says that olive oil might have gained its “healthy” tag because substitutes such as butter and margarine were labeled unhealthy making it popular only because it’s “safer” – not actually safe.

Alisha Chasey, a nutritionist in Gilbert, explains why olive oil is better suited for raw consumption, as in a salad dressing than for cooking. “Because of olive oil’s relatively low melting point, the properties of the oil get changed while cooking, removing its health benefits,” Chasey said.

Also, olive oil available in the market might not be pure. Said Scottsdale-based dietitian Karen Graham in an email: “True, pure olive oil has an abundance of very healthy ingredients including antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. The problem is that most olive oil brands we find in our grocery stores are not pure or the quality of the olive oil is very poor.”

“The best advice I can offer is to cut out the middleman and buy olive oil straight from a mill or close to a mill,” Graham said. “Olive oil deteriorates with age. We are lucky that Arizona has an olive mill that allows you to taste the oil before you buy it. It is called Queen Creek Olive Mill (http://www.queencreekolivemill.com). They now have a location in Kierland Commons, which is a boutique store with a tasting bar. All their bottles list the press date so you know how fresh the product is.”

According to statistics from the International Olive Council, the worldwide consumption of olive oil is 80 to 100 percent from 2006 to 21012. One reason olive oil is considered healthy is that it has long been associated with a traditionally healthy Mediterranean diet. “The Mediterranean people of the past years ate lots of olive oil, but they also worked hard int he fields, walking about 9 miles a day often guiding a heavy plow,” Fuhrman wrote in a paper called “The Mediterranean Diet.”

When reading about the Mediterranean diet, most Americans don’t take home the message to eat loads of vegetables, beans, and fruits and do tons of exercise; they just accept the myth that olive oil is a health food.” Also, terms used for olive oil such as “extra light” are often misleading.

“People may be under the impression that this means fewer calories. All it really means is the product is highly refined, which is not a good thing,” Graham said.

Alexandra Kicenik Devarenne, an olive oil consultant in California said, “Olive oil is safe as long as people remember that it needs to be treated as a substitute and not as an addition to the diet. Olive oil has been associated with health benefits, but that doesn’t mean you go and add olive oil to an already fat-rich diet.”

First Steps: One Change to Start A Low-Cholesterol Diet

  • Karen Graham
  • December 6, 2012

Beginning a low-cholesterol diet after a lifetime of routine can be very challenging. Here, nutrition experts told us what they would do if they could only make one change to begin a cholesterol-lowering diet.

Write it Out

“List 16 of your favorite plant-based foods,” recommends Carol Ireton-Jones, PhD, RD, LD, Nutrition Therapy Consultant in Carrollton, Texas. “By listing what people like, they can identify things that they can eat in place of processed foods and fats, providing is an easy way to decrease cholesterol and fat intake.”

Select Unprocessed Foods

“Eat whole, real foods and avoid packaged processed foods, which contain added sugars, sweeteners and omega-6 oils that all contribute to increasing inflammation in the body, which can in turn increase cholesterol levels,” says Susan Dopart, Nutrition Consultant in Santa Monica, California, and author of “A Recipe for Life by the Doctor’s Dietitian” (SGJ Publishing, 2009).

Add in Oatmeal

Karen Graham, RD, owner of Integrative Nutrition Consultants in Scottsdale, Arizona, recommends using oatmeal to lower cholesterol levels. “I have been very successful in lowering cholesterol in many of my clients. Many of them have been able to go off of their medications — or never had to start them. I have them eat ½ cup of steel-cut oats five days a week for six weeks. That’s all it takes!”

Regular rolled oats do not have the same effect as steel-cut oats, according to Graham. She explains that this is due to the fact that steel-cut oats contain a large amount of beta glucan (fiber). “This special fiber binds to cholesterol in the body and removes it,” she says. “Steel-cut oats take about 30 minutes to cook. They take that long because of the beta glucan. Regular rolled oats that take 15 minutes to cook have less of this beta glucan — which is why they cook faster, and why they are not as efficient at lowering cholesterol. Instant oats, where you just add hot water, do not have any beta glucan, and hence don’t lower your cholesterol. They now have ‘quick cooking’ steel-cut oats, but again, they have less beta glucan so they do not lower cholesterol as well as the regular kind.”

Add in Beans

In the experience of Jan Patenaude, RD, CLT, Director of Medical Nutrition for Signet Diagnostic Corporation, adding in beans is a wise first move for a low-cholesterol diet. “Years ago, people who thought they were on a cholesterol-lowering diet but weren’t experiencing success sure got their levels to go down once they added beans and nuts to their diets on a daily basis,” she says.