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Tricia Answers Your Nutrition Questions

I’ve read the recent reports about coconut oil. Is it really bad for us? 

While coconut oil is in fact a source of saturated fat, the type of fat that has been linked to raising LDL (bad) cholesterol, it has also been shown to increase your HDL (good) cholesterol. According to Harvard Medical, the best way to assess your total cholesterol levels and overall heart health is by looking at the ratios of both types, “The ratio of total cholesterol-to-HDL is important; the smaller the number the better. For example, someone with a total cholesterol of 200 and an HDL of 60 would have a ratio of 3.3 (200 ÷ 60 = 3.3). If that person’s HDL was low — let’s say 35 —the total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio would be higher: 5.7.”

Additionally, nearly 2/3 of the fat in coconut oil is in the form of medium chain triglycerides, also known as MCT, a type of fat that is more easily and efficiently absorbed by the body. Most notably is lauric acid. Lauric acid is known to have antimicrobial and antibacterial effects in the body.

Finally, the notion of dietary fats causing heart disease has been long debated. Cholesterol is complicated and there are many factors involved in heart health. Recent evidence has shown that the cholesterol you eat is not directly related to your serum cholesterol levels. It is also important to remember that fats are essential to the optimal functioning of the human body! Fats function to protect our organs, give structural integrity to our cells, help our body absorb fat soluble vitamins, gives us energy and produce important hormones.

I want to lose weight. Is a juice cleanse the way to go?

While the allure of a juice cleanse is strong, there is little to no science supporting its efficacy in long-term weight loss. There is no doubt that drastically restricting calories for a period of time will lead you to drop a few lbs, but when you start eating “normal” food again, the weight will inevitably come back. But the few hundred dollars you just spent on your “cleanse” certainly won’t and you’ve learned nothing about healthy eating. Not to mention how terrible you will likely feel during the process. All of the fiber that naturally occurs in fruits and vegetables (the stuff that helps keep you full) is removed, leaving you with a major blood sugar blast and very little energy.

The body is equipped with natural detoxifying agents, AKA the liver and kidneys. A great way to give them a boost is by eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and lean proteins and limiting the culprits that cause weight gain; refined sugars and highly processed foods.

Practice portion control. Fill your plate with mostly greens. Bake, broil or steam your food. Get moving.

What’s the best diet to follow? 

Every body is different and there is certainly no “one-size-fits-all” diet that will work for everyone. The diet that has been scientifically proven time again to promote overall health is a Mediterranean-style diet. The basics of this diet include:

  • Eating primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts
  • Include healthy fats such as olive oil, olives and avocado
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods
  • Limiting red meat to no more than a few times a month
  • Eating fish and poultry (skin removed) at least twice a week
  • Enjoying meals with family and friends
  • Drinking red wine in moderation (optional)
  • Getting plenty of exercise

I don’t sleep very well. What changes can I make in my diet to improve my sleep? 

A poor night’s sleep can drastically affect your productivity, your mood and also your health. Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to such ailments as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and depression. The first step you can take to improving your sleep is eating a whole foods, plant based diet. This means avoiding foods that come in a package and only buying products with ingredients you can pronounce. Aim for at least 6 servings per day of fresh fruits and vegetables and choose whole grains instead of processed ones.

It can be helpful to limit alcohol and caffeine. Caffeine can take up to 6 hours to metabolize leading to sleep disruption. While alcohol may seem to help you get to sleep quicker, it actually reduces the amount of REM sleep you are getting, leading to a more disruptive night’s rest.

Know your triggers. Some people are very sensitive to spicy foods, dairy or gluten. Try keeping a food/sleep journal for 2 weeks to identify any correlation.

Sip a soothing drink like cherry juice or warm chamomile tea before bed.

If you could recommend  3-4 supplements that everyone should take (or consider taking) what would they be? 

While I certainly believe that it is possible to get all of the vitamins and minerals needed to support health by eating a varied and nutritious diet, most American’s could benefit from taking a few daily supplements.

  • High-quality multi-vitamin. Think of it as an insurance policy against pitfalls in your diet and the food system.
  • Probiotic to support gut health. Stress, diet, pollution and antibiotics can all deplete the good bacteria that support digestion. A daily probiotic can help to rebuild the healthy bacteria in your gut to improve digestion and support immunity! Probiotics can also be found in foods like yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and kefir.
  • Vitamin D (if levels are low). Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a vitamin and plays an essential role in fighting disease and protecting bone health. Typically, about 2,000-6,000 international units daily are needed to support maintenance, but you may need more if you are deficient.

I know that eating dessert isn’t a good thing. But are there other sources of sugar that I should know about/look out for? 

Sugar is a sneaky little ingredient and definitely hides is some very commonly used products!

  • Pasta sauce, ketchup and barbecue sauce
  • Flavored yogurt (the milk in yogurt contains natural sugars, you should look for products with <12 gm of sugar/serving)
  • Peanut butter
  • Bread
  • Sparkling/flavored water

Look out for words like cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup and anything that ends with -ose i.e. sucrose, fructose or dextrose.

If you could give someone one piece of advice about improving their nutrition, what would it be? 

In the words of Michael Pollen, “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

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