Beans – fiber and protein rich powerhouse of health

Beans, Beans, glorious Beans

Beans, Beans, glorious Beans

Dear Dr. Mo: Are beans really any good to eat? All I know is that they give me gas and cramps, but I’ve heard they might be really healthy so, are they?

Dear reader: Beans are one of the fiber-richest foods out there, especially when it comes to cholesterol lowering soluble fiber. Eating a cup beans, any beans really, a day can lower your total cholesterol levels by as much as 10% and that’s significant.

Soluble fiber dissolves in water and binds cholesterol preventing its re-absorption in the body.

In fact, beans are so nutritious and healthy that the latest dietary guidelines recommend a triple of our current suggested intake, from 1 to 3 cups per week, and like I told you, a cup a day would be the best way to go.

Beans are a good meat protein substitute but they are even more than just a simple substitute. Beans have similar calorie count as meat and their water and fiber content will make you feel fuller for longer, which helps in weight management and weight loss and will allow you to cut total daily calories in your diet without starving yourself or skipping any meals. Meat however, contains zero fiber!

How much fiber?

One cup of cooked beans contains about 12 grams of fiber, which is almost half the recommended dose of 25 grams (women) to 35 grams (men) on average.  Continue reading

The great health benefits of spinach and why Popeye the Sailor was wrong

Popeye was wrong, well, sort of..

Popeye was wrong, well, sort of..

Dear readers: Spinach is one of those foods we should always have in mind when we’re planning a healthy meal – it’s just that good! In fact it is one of the healthiest leafy greens around – and it’s actually not so much for its iron content although that’s likely to be your first association.

Popeye the Sailor has been eating tones of it for decades but what works for him is not really what works for the rest of us, at least when iron is concerned.

Spinach has a high nutritional value and that’s beyond any doubt. It is very rich in antioxidants, it is a rich source of vitamin A (particularly high in lutein, which is very good for the eyes), vitamin C, E, K, B and magnesium.

Spinach is also a rich source of Folate, which is an essential ingredient for our cells and is especially important for pregnant women and those trying to conceive. However, boiling it can more than halve the Folate content while microwaving it doesn’t seem to have such an effect.

Folate aside, boiling spinach actually increases its nutritional value several times as it helps our body use the nutrients more effectively.

A compound in spinach called oxalate prevents iron and calcium from being absorbed into our body. In case of calcium, even though spinach has a high calcium content, its absorption is decreased by oxalate to only around 5% so don’t count on it too much.

Similar goes for iron – oxalate both reduces the absorption and flushes it out of our intestines. Boiling is a good way to get rid of some oxalate content and for this purpose you should boil it for at least 2 minutes. Another way is to eat a vitamin C rich food together with spinach to help deactivate oxalate. Continue reading

4 super foods to clean up your pipes

Awful but healthy

Awful but healthy

Dear readers, our modern diets are plagued with unhealthful food choices. Many people are struggling with excess weight and our arteries are taking the toll over the years – they begin to accumulate plaque. Plaque buildup increases the chances for heart disease, heart attack and/or stroke.

This basically means accelerated death. Or debilitation. Then death.

We can use a healthy diet to keep our arteries in good shape and preserve their fitness into the old age.

The following 4 foods are very powerful arterial cleansers – I cannot say which of the first three I hate more but these are my top 3 foods I’ll never ever eat even if it kills me. The 4th food is actually pretty cool.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat them and in fact, you’ll benefit greatly if you introduced all 4 to your daily diet. Here’s why: Continue reading

Fiber and health

Add fiber-rich foods to your daily diet

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking to improve my diet and fiber comes highly recommended as something to eat daily. What is it and where to get it from? How much is enough?

Dear reader: The reason fiber is highly recommended as a part of any healthy diet is simple – it is really good for you.

Previously, it was thought that fiber was a significant factor in preventing colon cancer but as it turns out, most of the evidence show that fiber has no such effect in prevention of this disease.

Still, fiber has many other good effects, for which it is considered a must-have in our everyday diets.

So, what does fiber do for us?

Fiber helps prevent heart disease, obesity, diabetes (by improving insulin resistance), constipation and diverticulitis (an intestinal problem). It helps to regulate cholesterol levels by slightly reducing the “bad” LDL cholesterol. And last, but certainly not the least of good effects is the increase of the bulk of foods making us feel fuller for longer – that’s another way fiber helps us in avoiding overeating and being overweight.

What is fiber and where to get it from?

Fiber is an indigestible carbohydrate form found in plant foods.There are two types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble Continue reading

Milk – what’s good about it, what’s not and the alternatives

Dear Dr. Mo: Is it true that most people are to extent lactose intolerant? Does dairy long term slows ones’ metabolism or truly have a power to boost it? Would you recommend substitutes for dairy for those people with lactose intolerance?

Milk's OK

Milk’s OK

Dear reader: I’ve been drinking milk my whole life – I grew up on it, as was the case with many other kids and as it is the case today. Kids need milk to grow, that’s for sure.

Adults? As with most things, there are benefits and there are risks.

So what’s good in milk and other dairy?

It’s a good and relatively inexpensive source of protein, calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D does not really naturally occur in milk but in most countries, milk is fortified with it so you find it there. Continue reading

On prebiotics and probiotics – what labels won’t tell you

Dear Dr. Mo: I would like to know more about prebiotics and probiotics, especially in treating specific conditions – I found it difficult to find information on their applications and effects different strains of probiotics may have.

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Probiotics can be found in yogurts

Dear reader: In response to your interesting question about use and effectiveness of probiotics, I’ve been browsing the dairy sections (containing yogurts, kefirs and alike) of some popular supermarkets here in Vancouver, BC to actually see what are the health claims the manufacturers (are allowed to) put on their probiotic-containing products.

To my surprise I was unable to find any concrete or revealing claim, which would help a person (patient or clinician for that matter) decide which product to choose and whether or not this particular probiotic product is a right choice for a potential medical condition. Most claimed to support or improve a body function but not to treat a condition/disease. Continue reading

Drink water to stay healthy

Dear Dr. Mo: How much water do I really need to stay hydrated and healthy?

Dear reader: This is the time of year where common colds are indeed common and when you will often hear that advice to drink lots of fluid, usually herbal teas or water. Of course, water is essential to your health but the needs for water vary from person to person and many factors may influence that, like for example your health condition, your daily activities, where you live, your age, metabolic rate etc.

Water means health!

Water is our main constituent – it makes up about 60% of our body mass. We need water to maintain normal functions: we throw out waste matter dissolved in water, water participates in digestion of food, it carries nutrients to cells, we use water to show emotions when we cry etc.

Water also helps to regulate body temperature through perspiration (sweating).

When water is insufficient we dehydrate. Dehydration is a state in which our cells don’t have enough water to function normally. Even a mild dehydration could cause fatigue because when tissues lose water, enzymes are slowing down their functions and energy production drops.

A simple way to see the link between health and water is to observe what happens when we age. As we age, the water content of our bodies is decreasing steadily and while a newborn is 80% water, in an adult this ratio is at 60% and it keeps on decreasing as years go by. Continue reading

Herbal infusions during pregnancy – are they safe?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the deal with other teas – not relating to caffeine? I’ve heard pregnant women shouldn’t drink chamomile tea…? I thought ‘herbs’ were generally healthy and a desirable component.

Dear reader: During pregnancy, many women choose herbal infusions instead of caffeinated drinks. Most of these choices are perfectly fine.
I would always advise to stay away from herbs and supplements of any sort during the first trimester, while the fetus is particularly vulnerable; but even during this sensitive period, one or two cups of herbal teas now and then (even daily) are so moderate an amount that any harm is virtually impossible.

Herbal infusions are generally safe during pregnancy

I would generally stay away from herbal infusions, which contain some additional supplements (such as Ginseng) as these are of unknown action on the fetus and are not undergoing sanction and approval by regulatory bodies. Choose pure herbal teas with nothing added.

The talk about herbs that may concern you is that some may help induce a certain level of uterine contraction so I’d stay away from herbs such as black or blue cohosh. Also avoid herbal infusions with known pharmacological actions that are intense and aggressive on your body and generally unhealthy like Sena leaves.

Chamomile infusion is fine and safe to drink in moderation – stay within a few cups a day but not liters of it. Continue reading

Fiber-rich foods – your allies in healthy weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I wish to lose some weight and I know fiber is important part of a good weight-loss plan. My diet so far has not been very healthy and I am trying to improve it. Which foods do you suggest as a good source of fiber?

Dear reader: Nutritional super foods, rich in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and other health preserving compounds are all around us. And yet, we succumb to advertising and our own cravings for sugars, greasy junk food and the simple fact that fast food is easier to acquire, it’s more readily available and in truth, it is often cheaper.

Colorful salads are a sure shot when it comes to fiber-rich food

The first step is to become aware of these things and understand that in the 21st century, eating healthy presents a real challenge and asks for will power.

The magic word in today’s healthy diet which attains and maintains a healthy weight and good shape is, planning.

I say that in any weight loss plan, a strategic goal has to be Attain and Maintain.

To Attain and Maintain, you need proper tools, one of which is dietary fiber.
Fiber absolutely has to be on your daily menu – it not only helps in weight loss by keeping you fuller for longer and by regulating your bowel movement, it helps regulate cholesterol levels and ratios in the blood, preventing both weight gain and heart disease, Type 2 diabetes etc.

To help in your planning, here are some fiber-rich (super)foods you could include in your everyday meals: Continue reading

An apple a day? You should take this advice

Dear Dr. Mo: Is there some truth in the old saying that “An apple a day keeps a doctor away”?

Dear reader:  Your question is timed well as we are now in the season of apple picking. This saying could be in principle applied to many fruits and veggies and I always recommend a balanced diet to accommodate for a variety of healthful foods to keep us healthy. Here are some of the reasons why apples are so revered for their health benefits.

Apples belong to ‘super foods’

Apples lower cholesterol – there is about 4 grams of fiber per average-sized apple. Pectin is one of those fibers, which is soluble and is thought to lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) by reducing the absorption of it from food and bile and stimulating the body to use the cholesterol rather than to store it.

Apple helps with constipation and diarrhea – Pectin again, increases the volume and viscosity of stool and this relieves both constipation and diarrhea symptoms. Generally, fiber in apple (as with all other fiber-rich food) is beneficial for our digestion. Continue reading

Constipation during pregnancy – what happens and what to do?

Dear Dr. Mo: What to do for constipation during pregnancy?

Fresh fruits and vegetables are among the best remedies for constipation.
I took this photo on an Adriatic island of Vis last summer

Dear reader: Constipation (infrequent bowel movements or having difficulty in passing stools – waste  products of digestion), is a common gastrointestinal problem and also a common complaint in pregnancy, usually affecting women during the first and/or last trimester of the pregnancy.

Normally, food is passing through intestines via muscle contractions, which slowly push it in the forward direction. In the colon (the large intestine), most of the water and salt content from digested material is reabsorbed into the body and this process is essential for keeping our bodily functions balanced and normal.

First of all, what’s considered ‘normal’ frequency for passing stools varies widely. You’ve probably heard that ‘only every day is good enough’ and this would be an ideal case but in general, let me tell you that one is probably experiencing constipation if one passes fewer than three stools a week, and these stools are hard and dry. This can happen for any number of reasons, most commonly when there is not enough fluid or fiber-rich food in a diet or the colon muscle contractions are slow and/or uncoordinated.
Continue reading