August, 2015

Dried Fruit: Good or Bad?

Information about dried fruit is very conflicting. Some say it is a nutritious, healthy snack, while others claim it is no better than candy. This is a detailed article about dried fruit and how it can affect your health.

What is Dried Fruit?

Dried fruit has had almost all of the water content removed through drying methods. The fruit shrinks during this process, leaving a small, energy-dense dried fruit. Raisins are the most common type, followed by dates, prunes, figs and apricots. Other varieties of dried fruit are also available, sometimes in candied form (sugar coated). These include mangoes, pineapples, cranberries, bananas and apples. Dried fruit can be preserved for much longer than fresh fruit and can be a handy snack, particularly on long trips where refrigeration is not available.

Bottom line: Dried fruit has had most of the water content removed. The most common varieties are raisins, dates, prunes, figs and apricots.

Dried Fruit is Loaded With Micronutrients, Fiber and Antioxidants

Dried fruit is highly nutritious. One piece of dried fruit contains about the same amount of nutrients as the fresh fruit, but condensed in a much smaller package. By weight, dried fruit contains up to 3.5 times the fiber, vitamins and minerals of fresh fruit. Therefore, one serving can provide a large percentage of the daily recommended intake of many vitamins and minerals, such as folate. However, there are some exceptions. For example, the vitamin C content is significantly reduced when the fruit is dried. Dried fruit generally contains a lot of fiber and is a great source of antioxidants, especially polyphenols. Polyphenol antioxidants are associated with health benefits such as improved blood flow, better digestive health, decreased oxidative damage and reduced risk of many diseases.

Bottom line: Dried fruit is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. It is also high in phenolic antioxidants, which have numerous health benefits.

Health Effects of Dried Fruit

Several studies have shown that people who eat dried fruit tend to weigh less and ingest more nutrients, compared to individuals not eating dried fruit. However, these studies were observational in nature, so they can not prove that the dried fruit caused the improvements. Dried fruit is also a good source of many plant compounds, including powerful antioxidants.

Bottom line: Eating dried fruit has been linked to an increased intake of nutrients and a reduced risk of obesity.

Raisins May Reduce the Risk of Certain Diseases

Raisins are dried grapes. They are packed with fiber, potassium and various health-promoting plant compounds. They have a low to medium glycemic index value, and a low insulin index. This means that raisins should not cause major spikes in blood sugar or insulin levels after meals.

Studies show that eating raisins may:

  • Lower blood pressure.

  • Improve blood sugar control.

  • Decrease inflammatory markers and blood cholesterol.

  • Lead to increased feeling of fullness.

All of these factors should contribute to a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Bottom line: Raisins are high in fiber, potassium and other plant compounds. Eating raisins may improve blood sugar control, lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol, as well as decrease inflammation.

Prunes are Natural Laxatives and May Help Fight Diseases

Prunes are dried plums. They are highly nutritious, being rich in fiber, potassium, beta-carotene (vitamin A) and vitamin K. They are known for their natural laxative effects. This is caused by their high content of fiber and a sugar alcohol called sorbitol, which is found naturally in some fruit. Eating prunes has been shown to help improve stool frequency and consistency. Prunes are considered to be even more effective at relieving constipation than psyllium, which is another common remedy. As a great source of antioxidants, prunes may inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and help prevent heart disease and cancer. Prunes are also rich in a mineral called boron, which can help fight osteoporosis. Furthermore, prunes are very filling and should not cause rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.

Bottom line: Prunes have a natural laxative effect because of their fiber and sorbitol content. They are also very filling, and may help fight oxidative damage in the body.

Dates May Benefit Pregnancy and Help Prevent Several Diseases

Dates are incredibly sweet. They are a great source of fiber, potassium, iron and several plant compounds. Of all the dried fruit, they are one of the richest sources of antioxidants, contributing to reduced oxidative damage in the body. Dates have a low glycemic index, which means that eating them should not cause major spikes in blood sugar levels. Date consumption has also been studied in relation to pregnant women and labor. Eating dates regularly during the last few weeks of pregnancy may help facilitate cervical dilation, as well as decrease the need for induced labor. One study had women eat dates during the last few weeks of pregnancy. Only 4% of the date-eating women required induced labor, compared to 21% of those who did not consume dates. Dates have also shown promising results in animal and test-tube studies as a remedy for infertility in males, but human studies are lacking at this point.

Bottom line: Dates are rich in antioxidants, potassium, iron and fiber. Eating dates may help reduce oxidative damage, moderate blood sugar and help with labor in pregnant women.

Dried Fruit is High in Natural Sugar and Calories

Fruit tend to contain significant amounts of natural sugars. Because the water has been removed from dried fruit, this concentrates all the sugar and calories in a much smaller package. For this reason, dried fruit is very high in calories and sugar, including both glucose and fructose.

Below are some examples of the natural sugar content of dried fruit.

  • Raisins: 59%.

  • Dates: 64–66%.

  • Prunes: 38%.

  • Apricots: 53%.

  • Figs: 48%.

About 22–51% of this sugar content is fructose. Eating a lot of fructose may have negative health effects. This includes increased risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A small 1-ounce portion of raisins contains 84 calories, almost exclusively from sugar. Because dried fruit is sweet and energy-dense, it is easy to eat large amounts at a time, which can result in excess sugar and calorie intake.

Bottom line: Dried fruit is relatively high in calories and sugar. Common dried fruits contain 38–66% sugar, and eating too much of them may contribute to weight gain and various health problems.

Avoid Dried Fruit with Added Sugar (Candied Fruit)

To make some dried fruit even more sweet and appealing, they are coated with added sugar or syrup before being dried. Dried fruit with added sugar are also referred to as “candied” fruit. Added sugar has repeatedly been shown to have harmful effects on health, increasing the risk of obesity, heart disease and even cancer. To avoid dried fruit that contains added sugar, it is very important to read the ingredients and nutrition information found on the package.

Bottom line: Some fruit is coated with sugar or syrup before being dried. Always read the package when purchasing dried fruit and avoid brands that contain added sugar.

Dried Fruit May Also Contain Sulfites, and May be Contaminated With Fungi and Toxins

Some producers add preservatives called sulfites to their dried fruit. This makes the dried fruit look more appealing, because it preserves the fruit and prevents discoloration. This applies mainly to brightly colored fruits, such as apricots and raisins. Some individuals may be sensitive to sulfites, and may experience stomach cramps, skin rashes and asthma attacks after ingesting them. To avoid sulfites, choose dried fruit that is brown or grayish rather than brightly colored. Dried fruit that is improperly stored and handled may also be contaminated with fungi, aflatoxins and other toxic compounds.

Bottom line: Sulfites are added to some dried fruit to preserve color, which may cause adverse effects in sensitive individuals. Dried fruit that is improperly stored and handled may also be contaminated with fungi and toxins.

Take Home Message

Same as with many other foods, dried fruit have both good and bad aspects. Dried fruit can boost your fiber and nutrient intake and supply your body with large amounts of antioxidants. However, they are also high in sugar and calories, and can cause problems when eaten in excess. For this reason, dried fruit should only be eaten in small amounts, preferably along with other nutritious foods. They should not be eaten by the handful, because it is very easy to eat too many calories from dried fruit. Also, they are a high-carb food, making them unsuitable on a low-carb diet. At the end of the day, dried fruit is far from perfect, but it is certainly a much healthier and more nutritious snack than chips or other processed junk foods.

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Arsenic in Rice: Should You Be Concerned?

Arsenic is one of the world’s most toxic elements. Throughout history, it has been infiltrating the food chain and finding its way into our foods. However, this problem is now getting worse. Widespread pollution is raising the levels of arsenic in foods, posing a serious health risk. Recently, studies have detected high levels of arsenic in rice. This is a major concern, since rice is a staple food for a large part of the world’s population. Should you be worried? Let’s have a look.

What is Arsenic?

Arsenic is a toxic trace element, denoted by the symbol As. It is not usually found on its own. Rather, it is bound with other elements in chemical compounds. These compounds can be divided into two broad categories:

Organic arsenic: mainly found in plant and animal tissues.

Inorganic arsenic: found in rocks and soil or dissolved in water. This is the more toxic form.

Both forms are naturally present in the environment, but their levels have been increasing due to pollution. For a number of reasons, rice may accumulate a significant amount of inorganic arsenic (the more toxic form) from the environment.

Bottom Line: Arsenic is a toxic element naturally present in our environment. It is divided into two groups, organic and inorganic arsenic, with inorganic arsenic being more toxic.

Dietary Sources of Arsenic

Arsenic is found in nearly all foods and drinks, but is usually only found in small amounts. In contrast, relatively high levels are found in:

Contaminated drinking water: Millions of people around the world are exposed to drinking water that contains high amounts of inorganic arsenic. This is most common in South America and Asia.

Seafood: Fish, shrimp, shellfish and other seafood may contain significant amounts of organic arsenic, the less toxic form. However, mussels and certain types of seaweed may contain inorganic arsenic as well.

Rice and rice-based foods: Rice accumulates more arsenic than other food crops. In fact, it is the single biggest food source of inorganic arsenic, which is the more toxic form.

High levels of inorganic arsenic have been detected in many rice-based products, such as:

  • Rice milk.
  • Rice bran.
  • Rice-based breakfast cereals.
  • Rice cereal (baby rice).
  • Rice crackers.
  • Brown rice syrup.
  • Cereal bars containing rice and/or brown rice syrup.

Bottom Line: Seafood contains arsenic, but mostly the organic form. Rice and rice-based products may contain high levels of the inorganic (more toxic) form.

Why is Arsenic Found in Rice?

Arsenic naturally occurs in water, soil and rocks, but its levels may be higher in some areas than others. It readily enters the food chain and may accumulate in significant amounts in both animals and plants, some of which are eaten by humans. As a result of human activities, arsenic pollution has been rising. The main sources of arsenic pollution include certain pesticides and herbicides, wood preservatives, phosphate fertilizers, industrial waste, mining activities, coal burning and smelting. Arsenic often drains into groundwater, which is heavily polluted in certain parts of the world. From groundwater, arsenic finds its way into wells and other water supplies that may be used for crop irrigation and cooking. Paddy rice is particularly susceptible to arsenic contamination, for three reasons:

  • It is grown in flooded fields (paddy fields) that require high quantities of irrigation water. In many areas, this irrigation water is contaminated with arsenic.
  • Arsenic may accumulate in the soil of paddy fields, worsening the problem.
  • Rice absorbs more arsenic from water and soil compared to other common food crops.

Using contaminated water for cooking is another concern, because rice grains easily absorb arsenic from cooking water when they are boiled.

Bottom Line: Rice efficiently absorbs arsenic from irrigation water, soil and even cooking water. Some of that arsenic is of natural origin, but pollution is often responsible for higher levels.

Health Effects of Arsenic

High doses of arsenic are acutely toxic, causing various adverse symptoms and even death. Dietary arsenic is generally present in low amounts, and does not cause any immediate symptoms of poisoning. However, long-term ingestion of inorganic arsenic may cause various health problems and increase the risk of chronic diseases. These include:

  • Various types of cancer.
  • Narrowing or blockage of blood vessels (vascular disease).
  • High blood pressure (hypertension).
  • Heart disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes.

In addition, arsenic is toxic to nerve cells and may affect brain function. In children and teenagers, arsenic exposure has been associated with:

  • Impaired concentration, learning and memory.
  • Reduced intelligence and social competence.

Some of these impairments may have taken place before birth. Several studies indicate that high arsenic intake among pregnant women has adverse effects on the fetus, increasing the risk of birth defects and hindering development.

Bottom Line: The toxic symptoms of dietary arsenic usually take a long time to develop. Long-term ingestion may increase the risk of various health problems, including cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and decreased intelligence.

Is Arsenic in Rice a Concern?

Yes. There is no doubt about it, arsenic in rice is a problem. This may pose a health risk to those who eat rice every day in considerable amounts. This mainly applies to people in Asia or people with Asian-based diets. Other groups who may eat a lot of rice products include young children and those on a milk-free or gluten-free diet. Rice-based infant formulas, rice crackers, pudding and rice milk sometimes make up a large portion of these diets.Young children are especially vulnerable because of their small body size. Therefore, feeding them rice cereals every day may not be such a good idea. Of additional concern is brown rice syrup, a rice-derived sweetener that may be high in arsenic. It is often used in baby formulas.

Of course, not all rice contains high arsenic levels, but determining the arsenic content of a particular rice product may be difficult (or impossible) without actually measuring it in a lab.

Bottom Line: Arsenic contamination is a serious concern for the millions of people who rely on rice as their staple food. Young children are also at risk if rice-based products make up a large part of their diet.

How to Reduce Arsenic in Rice

The arsenic content of rice can be reduced by washing and cooking the rice with clean water that is low in arsenic. This is effective for both white and brown rice, potentially reducing the arsenic content by up to 57%. However, if the cooking water is high in arsenic, it may have the opposite effect and raise the arsenic content significantly. The following tips should help reduce the arsenic content of your rice:

  • Avoid using small amounts of water when cooking.
  • Wash the rice before cooking. This method may remove 10–28% of the arsenic.
  • Brown rice contains higher amounts of arsenic than white rice. If you eat large amounts of rice, the white variety may be a better choice.
  • Choose aromatic rice, such as basmati or jasmine.
  • Choose rice from the Himalayan region, including North India, North Pakistan and Nepal.

If possible, avoid rice that is grown during the dry season. The use of arsenic-contaminated water is more common during that time.

The last and most important piece of advice concerns your diet as a whole. Make sure to diversify your diet by eating many different foods. Your diet should never be dominated by one type of food.

Not only does this ensure that you are getting all the nutrients you need, it also prevents you from getting too much of one thing.

Bottom Line: You can follow a few simple cooking methods tips to reduce the arsenic content of rice. Also keep in mind that some types of rice, such as basmati and jasmine, are lower in arsenic.

Take Home Message

Arsenic in rice is a serious concern for many people. A huge percentage of the world’s population relies on rice as a main food source, and millions of people may be at risk of developing arsenic-related health problems.

That being said, if you eat rice in moderation as a part of a varied diet, you should be totally fine.

However, if rice happens to be a large part of your diet, make sure that it was grown in a non-polluted area.

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Good Carbs, Bad Carbs – How to Make The Right Choices

Carbs are highly controversial these days. The dietary guidelines suggest that we get about half of our calories from carbohydrates. On the other hand, some claim that carbs cause obesity and type 2 diabetes, and that most people should be avoiding them. There are good arguments on both sides, and it appears that carbohydrate requirements depend largely on the individual. Some people do better with a lower carb intake, while others do just fine eating plenty of carbs. This article takes a detailed look at carbs, their health effects and how you can make the right choices.

What Are Carbs?

Carbs, or carbohydrates, are molecules that have carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. In nutrition, “carbs” refers to one of the three macronutrients. The other two are protein and fat. Dietary carbohydrates can be split into three main categories:

  • Sugars: Sweet, short-chain carbohydrates found in foods. Examples are glucose, fructose, galactose and sucrose.
  • Starches: Long chains of glucose molecules, which eventually get broke down into glucose in the digestive system.
  • Fiber: Humans cannot digest fiber, although the bacteria in the digestive system can make use of some of them.

The main purpose of carbohydrates in the diet is to provide energy. Most carbs get broken down or transformed into glucose, which can be used as energy. Carbs can also be turned into fat (stored energy) for later use. Fiber is an exception. It does not provide energy directly, but it does feed the friendly bacteria in the digestive system. These bacteria can use the fiber to produce fatty acids that some of our cells can use as energy. Sugar alcohols are also classified as carbohydrates. They taste sweet, but usually don’t provide many calories.

Bottom Line: Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients. The main types of dietary carbohydrates are sugars, starches and fiber.

“Whole” vs “Refined” Carbs

Not all carbs are created equal. There are many different types of carbohydrate-containing foods, and they vary greatly in their health effects. Although carbs are often referred to as “simple” vs “complex,” I personally find “whole” vs “refined” to make more sense. Whole carbs are unprocessed and contain the fiber found naturally in the food, while refined carbs have been processed and had the natural fiber stripped out.

Examples of whole carbs include vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, potatoes and whole grains. These foods are generally healthy. On the other hand, refined carbs include sugar-sweetened beverages, fruit juices, pastries, white bread, white pasta, white rice and others. Numerous studies show that refined carbohydrate consumption is associated with health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes. They tend to cause major spikes in blood sugar levels, which leads to a subsequent crash that can trigger hunger and cravings for more high-carb foods. This is the “blood sugar roller coaster” that many people are familiar with. Refined carbohydrate foods are usually also lacking in essential nutrients. In other words, they are “empty” calories. The added sugars are another story altogether, they are the absolute worst carbohydrates and linked to all sorts of chronic diseases. However, it makes no sense to demonize all carbohydrate-containing foods because of the health effects of their processed counterparts. Whole food sources of carbohydrates are loaded with nutrients and fiber, and don’t cause the same spikes and dips in blood sugar levels. Hundreds of studies on high-fiber carbohydrates, including vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains show that eating them is linked to improved metabolic health and a lower risk of disease.

Bottom Line: Not all carbs are created equal. Refined carbs are associated with obesity and metabolic diseases, but unprocessed carbohydrate foods are very healthy.

Low-Carb Diets Are Great For Some People

No discussion about carbs is complete without mentioning low-carb diets. These types of diets restrict carbohydrates, while allowing plenty of protein and fat. Over 23 studies have now shown that low-carb diets are much more effective than the standard “low-fat” diet that has been recommended for the past few decades. These studies show that low-carb diets cause more weight loss and lead to greater improvement in various health markers, including HDL (the “good”) cholesterol, blood triglycerides, blood sugar, blood pressure and others. For people who are obese, or have metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes, low-carb diets can have life-saving benefits. This should not be taken lightly, because these are currently the biggest health problems in the world, responsible for millions of deaths per year. However, just because low-carb diets are useful for weight loss and people with certain metabolic problems, they are definitely not the answer for everyone.

Bottom Line: Over 23 studies have shown that low-carbohydrate diets are very effective for weight loss and lead to improvements in metabolic health.

“Carbs” Are Not The Cause of Obesity

Restricting carbs can often (at least partly) reverse obesity. However, this does not mean that the carbs were what caused the obesity in the first place. This is actually a myth, and there is a ton of evidence against it. While it is true that added sugars and refined carbs are linked to increased obesity, the same is not true of fiber-rich, whole-food sources of carbohydrates. Humans have been eating carbs for thousands of years, in some form or another. The obesity epidemic started around 1980, and the type 2 diabetes epidemic followed soon after. Blaming new health problems on something that we’ve been eating for a very long time simply doesn’t make sense. Keep in mind that many populations have remained in excellent health while eating a high-carb diet, such as the Okinawans, Kitavans and Asian rice eaters. What they all had in common was that they ate real, unprocessed foods. However, populations that eat a lot of refined carbohydrates and processed foods tend to be sick and unhealthy.

Bottom Line: Humans have been eating carbs since long before the obesity epidemic, and there are many examples of populations that have remained in excellent health while eating diets high in carbs.

Carbs Are Not “Essential,” But Many Carb-Containing Foods Are Incredibly Healthy

Many low-carbers claim that carbs are not an essential nutrient. This is technically true. The body can function without a single gram of carbohydrate in the diet. It is a myth that the brain needs 130 grams of carbohydrate per day. When we don’t eat carbs, part of the brain can use ketones for energy. These are made out of fats. Additionally, the body can produce the little glucose the brain needs via a process called gluconeogenesis. However, just because carbs are not “essential” – that doesn’t mean they can’t be beneficial.

Many carb-containing foods are healthy and nutritious, such as vegetables and fruits. These foods have all sorts of beneficial compounds and provide a variety of health benefits. Although it is possible to survive even on a zero-carb diet, it is probably not an optimal choice because you’re missing out on plant foods that science has shown to be beneficial.

Bottom Line: Carbohydrates are not an “essential” nutrient. However, many carb-rich plant foods are loaded with beneficial nutrients, so avoiding them is a bad idea.

How to Make The Right Choices

As a general rule, carbohydrates that are in their natural, fiber-rich form are healthy, while those that have been stripped of their fiber are not. If it’s a whole, single ingredient food, then it’s probably a healthy food for most people, no matter what the carbohydrate content is.

With this in mind, it is possible to categorize most carbs as either “good” or “bad” – but keep in mind that these are just general guidelines. Things are rarely ever black and white in nutrition.

Good Carbs:

People who are trying to restrict carbohydrates need to be careful with the whole grains, legumes, tubers and high-sugar fruit.

Bad Carbs:

  • Sugary drinks: Coca cola, Pepsi, Vitaminwater, etc. Sugary drinks are some of the unhealthiest things you can put into your body.
  • Fruit juices: unfortunately, fruit juices may have similar metabolic effects as sugar-sweetened beverages.
  • White bread: these are refined carbohydrates that are low in essential nutrients and bad for metabolic health. This applies to most commercially available breads.
  • Pastries, cookies and cakes: these tend to be very high in sugar and refined wheat.
  • Ice cream: most types of ice cream are very high in sugar, although there are exceptions.
  • Candies and chocolates: If you’re going to eat chocolate, choose quality dark chocolate.
  • French fries and potato chips: Whole potatoes are healthy, but french fries and potato chips are not.

These foods may be fine in moderation for some people, but many will do best by avoiding them as much as possible.

Bottom Line: Carbs in their natural, fiber-rich form are generally healthy. Processed foods with sugar and refined carbs are extremely unhealthy.

Low-Carb is Great For Some, But Others Function Best With Plenty of Carbs

There is no one-size-fits-all solution in nutrition. The “optimal” carbohydrate intake depends on numerous factors, such as age, gender, metabolic health, physical activity, food culture and personal preference. If you have a lot of weight to lose, or have health problems like metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes, then you are probably carbohydrate sensitive. In this case, reducing carbohydrate intake can have clear, life-saving benefits.

On the other hand, if you’re just a healthy person trying to stay healthy, then there is probably no reason for you to avoid “carbs” – just stick to whole, single ingredient foods as much as possible. If you are naturally lean and/or highly physically active, then you may even function much better with plenty of carbs in your diet.

Different strokes for different folks.

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15 Health Foods That Taste Better Than Junk Foods

Some people believe that healthy foods are tasteless and boring. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Here are 15 health foods that taste even better than the most commonly consumed junk foods:

1. Strawberries

Strawberries are exceptionally juicy and have a sweet, delicious flavor. They are an excellent source of vitamin C, manganese, folate and potassium, as well as various antioxidants and plant compounds. One cup of strawberries contains 3 grams of fiber and as little as 46 calories. Eating strawberries has been linked to improved heart health, better blood sugar control and cancer prevention. If you don’t like them plain, try dipping the tip of the berry in some melted dark chocolate.

Bottom line: Strawberries are low in calories and contain many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They have been linked to improved heart health, better blood sugar control and cancer prevention.

2. Blueberries

Blueberries are colorful and nutrient-rich with a sweet flavor. One cup of blueberries contains only 84 calories, but provides 4 grams of fiber. It also contains high amounts of many vitamins and minerals including vitamin C, vitamin K and manganese. Blueberries are an antioxidant superfood. They may protect against oxidative damage and chronic diseases, and have also been shown to improve memory in older adults. They can be enjoyed either fresh or frozen, and I find them especially delicious mixed with either yogurt or full-fat cream.

Bottom line: Blueberries are high in fiber and nutrients, but low in calories. They are an antioxidant superfood that may protect the body against oxidative damage and improve memory in older adults.

3. Dark Chocolate

Many studies have shown that dark chocolate is incredibly healthy, and may reduce your risk of several diseases.

Dark chocolate is loaded with fiber and antioxidants, as well as minerals such as iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. Plant compounds in dark chocolate have been shown to lower blood pressure, protect against heart disease, improve brain function and protect the skin against the sun’s harmful UV-rays. To make the most of the health benefits, it is recommended to eat dark chocolate with a cocoa content of 70–85% or higher. A piece of dark chocolate is especially delicious when enjoyed with a good cup of coffee.

Bottom line: Dark chocolate contains high amounts of fiber, antioxidants and minerals. It may reduce the risk of heart disease, improve brain function and protect the skin from the sun.

4. Almonds

Almonds are the ultimate crunchy treat. They contain heart-healthy fats, are very nutritious and require no preparation. Almonds are packed with antioxidants. They also provide large amounts of fiber, protein and several vitamins and minerals such as vitamin E, manganese and magnesium. Almonds may lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as reduce the oxidation of LDL-cholesterol. All of these are risk factors for heart disease. They are also very filling. Despite being high in fat and calories, one study showed that almonds increased weight loss by as much as 62% when part of a weight loss diet. If you are craving something sweet, try putting 2–3 almonds inside one date for an incredibly tasty treat.

Bottom line: Almonds contain heart-healthy fats and are packed with fiber, protein, and other nutrients. They are a satisfying food that may help with weight loss and reduce the risk of heart disease.

5. Pistachios

These little crunchy and salty nuts are absolutely mouthwatering. Pistachios contain large amounts of heart-healthy fats, high-quality protein and a good amount of fiber. They are also good sources of B-vitamins, phosphorus, potassium and iron. As a source of powerful antioxidants, pistachios have been linked with health benefits such as improved blood fats, decreased oxidized LDL-cholesterol, decreased inflammation and reduced blood sugar levels. Pistachios are very filling. When consumed in moderation, pistachios have been shown to help with weight maintenance. Just make sure not to eat too many of these at one time, as pistachios are very high in calories. A single cup of pistachios may contain up to 700 calories.

Bottom line: Pistachios contain heart-healthy fats, protein and fiber, as well as several vitamins and minerals. They are very filling and have been linked with many health benefits.

6. Cherries

These deep red, beautiful berries are a delicious and healthy snack. Cherries are low in calories, but high in various nutrients like fiber and vitamin C. They also contain many antioxidants and plant compounds. Cherries contain nutrients that may protect against diseases such as cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s.

Bottom line: Cherries are a low-calorie snack with large amounts of vitamins, antioxidants and plant compounds. They have been linked with a reduced risk of several diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

7. Mangoes

Mangoes are a tropical fruit containing soluble fiber and a wide range of antioxidants, as well as high amounts of vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C. They are relatively low in calories and have glycemic index values ranging from low to medium, which means that they should not cause major spikes in blood sugar levels. Mangoes are high in plant compounds and antioxidants, and may contribute to a reduced risk of oxidative damage and many chronic diseases, such as cancers. Fresh mangoes are simply delicious, and many people like to add them to breakfast porridges, smoothies or yogurt.

Bottom line: Mangoes are a relatively low-calorie fruit with high amounts of soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C. They may reduce the risk of oxidative damage in the body.

8. Cheese

Cheese is one of the most delicious foods you can find.

It is highly nutritious as well as rich in several vitamins and minerals like calcium, vitamin B12, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. Cheese and other dairy products are linked with improved bone health, and may be valuable in the battle against osteoporosis, a disease characterized by bone loss and an increased risk of fractures. There are many types of cheese, but all of them consist mainly of protein and fat. Most varieties are relatively high in calories. Cheese is high in protein, which may promote lower blood pressure and increased absorption of minerals. It also contains a fatty acid called CLA, which is linked to several health benefits and may promote weight loss in overweight individuals. In addition to all the health benefits, cheese is simply very tasty and filling.

Bottom line: Cheese is highly nutritious and rich in several vitamins and minerals such as calcium and vitamin B12. It contains high-quality protein and fat, both of which are linked with several health benefits.

9. Avocados

Avocados are an unusual fatty fruit with a smooth and creamy texture. Avocados are packed with healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, antioxidants and fiber. They are also a great source of B-vitamins, vitamin K, potassium, copper, vitamin E and vitamin C. Eating avocados is very beneficial for heart health, as it may reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides up to 22%, while raising the “good” HDL cholesterol. Avocados are also very filling and do not raise blood sugar levels very much, all of which make them a weight loss friendly food. If you don’t like your avocado plain, try adding some salt and pepper. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can also try creating an avocado “chocolate pudding” in your blender:

  • One small avocado.

  • Half a banana.

  • One tablespoon of coconut oil.

  • Two tablespoons of dark cocoa.

Just be aware that this pudding is rather high in calories, and should perhaps only be made on special occasions.

Bottom line: Avocados are very rich in monounsaturated fat and fiber, and also contain several vitamins and minerals. They are very filling and may reduce blood cholesterol and triglycerides.

10. Popcorn

Not many people know that popcorn is actually a whole grain. It is relatively low in calories and contains high amounts of fiber. Whole grains may have numerous health benefits, including improved digestion and reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Whole grains may also be useful for weight loss, and may help with weight maintenance. Just make sure to avoid the unhealthy popcorn varieties that are loaded with refined oils. Air-popped popcorn or popcorn that you prepare yourself in a pan are the healthiest options. Try adding some salt, butter, dark chocolate sprinkles or cinnamon for a different flavor.

Bottom line: Popcorn is a whole-grain food that is high in fiber and relatively low in calories. It may improve digestion and reduce the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

11. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are very nutritious, high in fiber and have a deliciously sweet taste. They are a great source of vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and contain decent amounts of vitamin C, as well as other vitamins and minerals. Sweet potatoes also contain several antioxidants and may reduce oxidative damage in the body, potentially helping to reduce the risk of cancer. One white variety may also help moderate blood sugar levels. Whether they’re boiled, baked or fried, sweet potatoes taste great. They are especially tasty with some sour cream or salted butter.

Bottom line: Sweet potatoes are very nutritious and contain high amounts of fiber, antioxidants, vitamin A (from beta-carotene) and vitamin C. They may reduce oxidative damage in the body, potentially reducing the risk of cancer.

12. Full-Fat Cream

High-fat foods have been making a comeback since recent studies show that saturated fat consumption is not linked to heart disease. Eating high-fat dairy, such as full-fat cream, has actually been linked with less central obesity, which is the harmful belly fat. Observational studies have also shown that consumption of full-fat dairy is linked with a reduced risk of weight gain and colon cancer. However, full-fat cream should not be eaten in large quantities as it is very high in calories. Full-fat cream is ideal to splash in your coffee or top off your yogurt, and tastes great mixed with some fresh berries.

Bottom line: High-fat dairy has been linked with less belly fat and a reduced risk of weight gain and colon cancer. However, full-fat cream is very high in calories and should not be consumed in large amounts.

13. Yogurt

Yogurt is a fermented dairy product that is both delicious and healthy.

It contains high-quality proteins and fats, as well as calcium and several vitamins. Consumption of yogurt has been associated with both improved bone health and reduced blood pressure. Some yogurt contains active cultures of beneficial bacteria. This is called probiotic yogurt. These probiotic bacteria are linked with many health benefits such as an enhanced immune system, lower cholesterol, improved digestion and synthesis of various B- and K-vitamins in the digestive system.

However, make sure to avoid the yogurt varieties that are filled with added sugar. Instead, buy natural yogurt and add some fruit, berries or muesli for more flavor and a crunchy texture.

Bottom line: Yogurt is high in protein, fat and calcium. It may improve bone health and reduce blood pressure. Probiotic yogurt may enhance the immune system and promote synthesis of B- and K-vitamins in the digestive system.

14. Peanut Butter

Peanut butter is a great source of unsaturated fatty acids, protein and fiber. It is also an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals such as B-vitamins, copper, manganese, vitamin E, phosphorus and magnesium. Peanuts are also very rich in antioxidants, even more than some fruits. Peanuts are very filling, and, despite being high in fat and calories, are not linked with weight gain. In fact, peanut consumption is linked to a reduced risk of obesity. However, some people find it hard not to eat too much peanut butter at a time. Try to consume moderate portions to avoid excess calorie intake. If you tend to binge on peanut butter, then you should probably avoid it. Also, make sure to choose varieties without added sugar or oils. The ingredient list should only include peanuts and a small amount of salt. Try adding some peanut butter on top of apple slices, celery or a banana for a tasty snack.

Bottom line: Peanut butter is rich in healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is very filling and may help to prevent weight gain when eaten in moderation.

15. Watermelon

Watermelons are packed with water, nutrients and vitamins. They are also low in calories and contain powerful plant compounds like lycopene and citrulline. Watermelons and watermelon juice may lower blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity and reduce muscle soreness after exercise. Because of their water and fiber content, they should not cause major spikes in blood sugar levels. Watermelons are incredibly refreshing, and may just be the ultimate snack on a hot summer day.

Take Home Message

The next time you’re craving something tasty, opt for one of the super healthy foods on the list above. Not only are they even more delicious than most junk foods, they will also improve your health and make you feel good about what you’re eating.

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5 Reasons Why Vitaminwater is a Bad Idea

A beverage called Vitaminwater has been very popular in recent years. It contains added vitamins and minerals, and is marketed as healthy. However, what is left out of the marketing claims, is that Vitaminwater is loaded with added sugar. As you may know, sugar can cause severe harm when consumed in excess. Additionally, almost no one actually needs more of the nutrients added to Vitaminwater.

This article lists 5 reasons why Vitaminwater is actually bad for your health.

What is Vitaminwater?

Vitaminwater is a beverage brand owned by the Coca-Cola company. There are many varieties, each with an attractive name like “focus,” “endurance,” “refresh,” “defence” and “essential.” As is reflected in the name, it is water that is enriched with vitamins and minerals. It is also claimed to contain natural colors and flavors.

 

However, Vitaminwater is also loaded with added sugar, particularly fructose, which is linked to all sorts of health problems when consumed in excess. Vitaminwater also has a “Zero” product line, with no added sugar. Instead, it is sweetened with erythritol and a refined sweet compound extracted from the stevia plant. The first three reasons do not apply to Vitaminwater Zero.

Bottom line: Vitaminwater is a brand of beverages owned by the Coca-Cola company. It contains added vitamins and minerals, and is generally sweetened with sugar. There is also a “Zero” line without added sugar.

1. Vitaminwater is High in Liquid Sugar, and May Contain Just as Much Fructose as Coca-Cola

One 20 oz (591 ml) bottle of Vitaminwater contains about 120 calories and 32 grams of sugar, just about 50% less than a regular Coke. However, it differs between countries which “type” of sugar is used. In the US, they sweeten Vitaminwater with crystalline fructose and cane sugar, but in other countries they use mainly cane sugar (fancy word for sugar). Crystalline fructose is the worst, being almost pure fructose (over 98%), while cane sugar is 50/50 of glucose and fructose.

If we look more closely, we can see that a bottle of Vitaminwater (in the US) may contain about the same amount of fructose as a bottle of regular Coke. That is because the majority of the sugar in US Vitaminwater is in the form of pure fructose, while fructose comprises only half of the sugar content of Coke. Many studies show that fructose is the main harmful component of added sugar, not glucose.

Bottom line: One bottle of Vitaminwater contains 120 calories and 32 grams of sugar. In countries where it is sweetened with Crystalline fructose (like the US), it contains just as much fructose as a sugary drink like Coke.

2. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Are Highly Fattening

When it comes to weight gain/loss, what you drink is just as important as what you eat. When you drink liquid sugar calories, your body does not compensate by making you eat less of other foods instead. The calories coming from these sugar-sweetened drinks are then added on top of everything you eat. Over time, this can lead to weight gain and increased risk of obesity and other related diseases.

Consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is among the world’s strongest risk factors for obesity, some studies showing up to a 60% increased risk of obesity in children, for each daily serving. There is no reason why Vitaminwater should be any different. It is just another sugary beverage.

Bottom line: Your body does not compensate for liquid sugar calories, making you eat more calories overall. Sugar-sweetened beverages like Vitaminwater are strongly linked to weight gain and obesity.

3. Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Raise Your Risk of All Sorts of Diseases

Almost all health experts agree that added sugar plays a key role in the epidemics of obesity and chronic diseases.

It is recommended to keep the intake of added sugars below 10% of total calories, preferably below 5%. For a 2500 calorie diet, 10% of calories amounts to 62 grams of sugar, and 5% amounts to 31 grams of sugar. As mentioned above, one bottle of Vitaminwater contains 32 grams of added sugar. That is 50-100% of the recommended upper limit.

Added sugar is strongly associated with type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, heart disease, the metabolic syndrome and even cancer. This applies mainly to fructose, which can only be metabolized by the liver in significant amounts. Excess fructose consumption may cause high blood cholesterol and triglycerides, increased blood pressure, increased insulin resistance, fat build-up around the organs, and increased risk of fatty liver disease. These are major risk factors for heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

It should be noted that this does not apply to the fructose we get from fruit. Fruit contains water and fiber, and has a low energy density, so it is very hard to eat too much of it.

Bottom line: One bottle of Vitaminwater provides 50-100% of the recommended upper limit for added sugar. Added sugar, especially fructose, is associated with a variety of diseases and health problems.

4. Vitaminwater Contains Micronutrients That Most People are Already Getting Enough of

All types of Vitaminwater contain B-vitamins (50-120% of the RDI) and vitamin C (50-150% of the RDI). Some types also contain smaller amounts of vitamins A and E, and the minerals potassium, magnesium, manganese, zinc and chromium. Vitamins B and C are water soluble vitamins that are almost never lacking in the average person’s diet. Consuming excess amounts of these vitamins does not provide any sort of health benefit. They are not stored, but are simply washed out of the body via urine.

That being said, there are subgroups of people who may be lacking in some of these vitamins and minerals (especially B12 and folate). However, it makes absolutely no sense to drink a harmful sugary beverage to get these nutrients. Eat whole foods instead, or take a supplement if you are truly lacking in something.

Bottom line: Most of the micronutrients in Vitaminwater are not needed, as most people are already getting more than enough. Any excess amount is simply expelled from the body via urine.

5. In Some Cases, Excess Micronutrients in Supplement Form Can Cause Harm

When it comes to nutrition, more is not always better. Vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are absolutely crucial as part of a healthy, real food-based diet. They may improve health and help prevent a range of diseases, including heart disease and cancer. However, supplementing with vitamins or antioxidants has not been linked with the same health benefits. Supplementation with some antioxidants and vitamins, such as vitamins A and E, has actually been associated with increased risk of premature death in some studies.

Although Vitaminwater does not provide excessive amounts of these vitamins on its own, it does contain considerable amounts (25-50% of the recommended daily intake). When you add 25-50% of the recommended daily intake on top of what you’re already getting from food, then it is possible that all of this will add up to reach excessive amounts. So not only are the micronutrients in Vitaminwater not beneficial, they may even be downright harmful if they are increasing your intake to harmful levels.

Bottom line: Some Vitaminwater varieties contain vitamins A and E, which may have harmful effects when consumed in unnaturally large amounts.

Vitaminwater is Not Healthy – It is Just Another Harmful Sugary Beverage

The owners (The Coca-Cola Company) have actually been sued for deceptive and unsubstantiated health claims about Vitaminwater. Their response was interesting: “no reasonable person would be misled into thinking that Vitaminwater was a healthy beverage”. They are actually trying to defend themselves by saying that the health promoting claims are so far fetched that people couldn’t possibly believe them.

The problem is that many people do actually fall for marketing claims. Most people don’t read ingredient labels, and don’t realize how unethical and ruthless the junk food companies can be. Despite the fancy marketing, Vitaminwater is a harmful, disease-promoting beverage that most people should be avoiding as much as possible.

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