‘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.”

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

  • Karen Graham
  • December 5, 2012

Vitamin D, in the true sense, is actually a hormone, not a vitamin. The human body can synthesize vitamin D as long as we are exposed to enough sunlight. This is why vitamin D is known as the “sunshine vitamin.” We can also get it through specific foods in our diet and supplements.

When UVB rays from the sun hit our skin, an inactive form of vitamin D is produced. This inactive form then travels to the kidney where it is converted to the active form, known as 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D, which the body can use for many purposes.

Health Risks of Vitamin D Deficiency

Researchers have discovered that there are vitamin D receptors in all tissues in the human body. This means that these tissues, including the heart, brain, muscle and intestines, all need vitamin D to function properly.

Vitamin D: The Sunshine Vitamin

We used to think that the only role of vitamin D was to regulate blood levels of phosphorus and calcium to keep our bones strong and healthy. Over the past several years, however, researchers have discovered that this hormone plays a much bigger role than just bone health. They now know that the sunshine vitamin enhances our immune system by creating a resistance to chronic diseases such as colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s.

In addition, low levels of vitamin D have shown to be a risk factor for cognitive decline in the elderly. One study looked at 6,257 elderly women and found that those with low vitamin D levels had an increased risk of cognitive impairment.

Causes of Vitamin D Deficiency

If vitamin D is so easy to obtain from sunlight, diet and supplements then why is it estimated that one billion people worldwide are deficient in it? Some researchers suggest the fear of skin cancer from UV rays is causing people to avoid the sun or use sunblock, or that our lifestyles have evolved to be indoors more often, all of which prevents vitamin D production. Ethnicity plays a role as well. The darker a person’s skin color, the more sun exposure they need to obtain sufficient levels of vitamin D. For example, in the United States African Americans have been found to have lower serum levels of vitamin D than Caucasians.

In addition, there are limited foods that contain naturally occurring vitamin D, mainly wild-caught oily fish (salmon, mackerel, bluefish, and canned tuna) and egg yolks. There are also fortified foods such as milk, baby formula, cereal and orange juice. If these foods are not consumed on a regular basis, levels could drop. Still, experts claim that 90 percent of our vitamin D comes from sun exposure alone.

Symptoms of Vitamin D Deficiency

Bone pain and muscle weakness can be a sign of vitamin D deficiency. However, the symptoms are often unnoticeable until a greater complication is present.

Know Your Vitamin D Levels

Now that we know the importance of maintaining optimal vitamin D levels, how do we find out our own levels? Fortunately, there is a blood test which can determine your status.


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2.    Slinin Y, Paudel M: Association Between Serum 25(OH) Vitamin D and the Risk of Cognitive Decline in Older Women. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2012; gls075v1-gls075.
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Vitamin D Sources

The best way to get vitamin D is through the sun. We absorb large amounts of vitamin D in a short amount of time when exposed to UVB rays. There are many factors that affect how much vitamin D we can produce from UVB rays, including the time of day, latitude, time of year, skin type and age. Someone above 60 years of age requires four times more exposure than someone in their 20s.

There are also vitamin D supplements. The amount of vitamin D necessary to raise levels from deficiency to a normal range is very controversial and many experts have varying opinions. Again, there are many factors that come in to play such as age, weight, sun exposure, other health conditions, medications and the quality of the supplement. When choosing a supplement, seek advice from a registered dietitian or other health care practitioner.

What works for one person may not work for another. The only way to tell if a certain regiment is working is to have your vitamin D levels measured and then occasionally monitor.

Find the original article on WellnessFX.