Stop With the Gluten-Free Already!

Dear Dr. Mo: Is gluten-free food generally a healthier option?

Dear reader: The trouble with gluten-free products is that they tend to have a health aura around them, which sometimes blinds people from seeing what they’re really eating.

There is nothing necessarily healthier about gluten-free bread or cookies or pasta or any other food you can think of. Often, if one took a closer look at the label, the product would likely be lower in protein and fiber than a non gluten-free alternative.  The catch is that the calorie counts remain the same or similar but because we may think that being gluten-free automatically means healthier food, we may eat more of it.

Many people who eat gluten-free foods say they think they’re healthier and also many believe it will help them lose weight but be cautious of this trap as you may actually be gaining weight by eating more and by eating foods with more fat, more sugar, less protein etc.

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What is Glycemic Index and how to use it to eat healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I am trying to lose some weight and improve my diet. Is there a way to shop around for good foods that will load me with less sugar and help me eat healthier?

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Foods with high GI will shoot your sugar through the roof

Dear reader: The total amount of carbohydrates we consume (with a meal or with a snack) mostly determines what happens to our blood sugar levels right after we eat. But, it’s not just the absolute amount of carbs that’s important – the food itself also plays a big part. So, for example, a serving of white bread or white rice has almost the same effect as eating pure table sugar— it produces a quick, high spike in blood sugar. On the other hand though, a serving of something like zucchini, beans or squash has a slower, smaller effect.

Strategically picking good sources of carbs can help us control our blood sugar and in most cases, our weight although I don’t want this to sound too simple. The levels of our activity, age, sex, overall health and metabolism and genetics are all important parts of the equation.

Okay so let me give you one good way we can choose our foods: we can use the glycemic index (GI) to know how much any given food boosts blood sugar.

The glycemic index gives us the effect a certain amount of specific food would have on blood sugar as compared with the same amount of pure glucose. This means that a food with a glycemic index of say 20 boosts blood sugar only 20% as much as pure glucose would. One with a GI of over 90 acts almost like pure glucose.

Glycemic index is easy to use, just choose foods with a low(er) index rather than higher whenever you can. Here’s the breakdown: Continue reading

How “whole” are whole grains and are they always healthy?

Dear readers: Whenever I spot a link between food industry professionals and scientists, I get a queazy feeling in my stomach as their intention is almost by definition driven by profits and never by our health and well being.

Look twice

Look twice

In the 1999’s definition of “whole grain” by the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) International, which is exactly that ominous kind of mixture of food industry professionals and scientists, “whole grain” can be any mixture of components of an intact grain (the bran, endosperm and germ) but the grains are allowed to be (and usually are), processed so that the parts are separated and ground before being put into foods.

To clear things up a bit – the “whole grain” is an INTACT grain – a fiber-rich coating of bran surrounding a starchy endosperm and a reproductive kernel called the germ. The fiber content is what’s synonymous with good health, good digestion, lower cholesterol, heart health etc.

When you separate these components and process them, the contents of healthy fiber and nutrients drop significantly.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted (to no wonder) the AACC definition in 2006, allowing the food industry to push out their products marketed as “whole grain” that contain very little fiber and lots of sugar.

As reported by the Scientific American’s text Whole Grain Foods Not Always Healthful from July 2013:

“An individual would have to eat 10 bowls of Multi-grain Cheerios, 16 slices of whole-wheat bread, or nine cups of brown rice to get the fiber recommended for an American adult for one day. “There’s nothing wrong with eating brown rice, but you can’t expect health benefits if you’re going to be eating brown rice as your source of whole grains,” David Klurfeld the national program leader for human nutrition in the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of  Agriculture.”

When the whole grains are being processed (usually by grinding or flaking) to make them tastier and longer lasting, this also degrades their natural antioxidant content and markedly reduces the amount of fiber – remember, those are the two ingredients that make whole grains good for the heart and over-all health.

To make matters worse, the AACC International recently went on to propose a modification of its definition of “whole grain”, which is bad as it is, to allow for this nutrient loss during processing. Continue reading

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

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

Artificial sweeteners – what are they, are there risks and what are the possible benefits?

Dear Dr. Mo: What exactly are the artificial sweeteners and what are their pros and cons? 

Jellies often contain artificial sweeteners

Jellies often contain artificial sweeteners

Dear reader: Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes, usually synthetic , but may also come from naturally occurring substances like herbs or sugar itself (like sucralose, which is derived from sugar).

These sweeteners are many times sweeter than table sugar and this is why they are intense sweeteners. Continue reading

Why is gluten-free a risky way of eating?

Dear Dr. Mo: Gluten-free food is gaining in popularity and suddenly a lot of people think gluten is bad for health – is that true and should I consider a gluten-free diet?

Dear reader: Actually no, going gluten-free for no particular reason can be a very risky business.

This is NOT a gluten-free bread - it is a multi grain

This is NOT a gluten-free bread – it is a multi grain

Why gluten-free diets can be bad for you?

Gluten-free diets exclude many whole grains and are lower in fiber content while higher in simple carbohydrate content.  Continue reading

What is healthy eating?

Dear Dr. Mo: How do we really define healthy eating? Where should I begin?

healthy eating means versatility in colours, shapes, sizes and tastes

healthy eating means versatility in colours, shapes, sizes and tastes

Dear reader: Healthy eating could mean different things for different people so when you hear or read that you should eat healthy, there comes a logical question – what does it mean for you?

En générale, healthy eating means choosing the right types and amounts of different food for your age, sex, activity level, health and of course, taste!

I have written extensively about food choices and types so explore my previous posts, some of which are here: Mediterranean diet, Importance of breakfast, Myths about healthy eating, Foods for a lower cholesterol, Eating healthy on the road, Fiber and health, Healthy foods etc.

So how to do it? How to eat healthy? Continue reading

6 myths about healthy eating and weight loss

Dear readers: After receiving many of your questions related to weight loss, diet and healthy eating, I have realized that there are several misconceptions about dieting, which are bound to affect your diet plans. I think now is the good time to talk about some of the most common advice, which you will hear the minute you announce that you’ve decided to lose some weight or to change your diet habits. I am not saying that all these are completely devoid of truth, but even with a grain of truth in it, a proper interpretation is in order.

One of the first things you’ll probably hear is that you shouldn’t eat after 6 pm or 7 pm or 8pm, or generally in the evening and at night.

Dieting is riddled with myths and fads

Of course, there is no magical cut off time after which you must not eat or else…
What matters in your weight loss plan are your total calories you eat and not really when you do it. What’s true here is that most of us tend to eat more calories in the evening times during dinner or snacking after dinner. In this regard, it makes sense to limit the calories at night if you are one of those who eat more later in the day.

The next word of advice you’re likely to hear is that “eat smaller but more often” myth.

Just because some people eat like this naturally, and stay thin, doesn’t make it a rule for everyone. People who naturally eat like this tend to answer their body’s call and not some strict timing and schedule. Do not eat on the clock but rather listen to the signals the body sends. Eat when you are hungry and don’t wait for a specific time because then you might be too hungry and overeat.
Normally, whichever way works for you, be mindful of the calories to avoid eating too many. Continue reading

Why are sodas unhealthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I drink soda every day and I love its sweet taste. I keep hearing this is bad for my health. If that’s true, why is that so? 

Dear reader: Yesterday I was out riding my bicycle with several hundred other cyclists of all ages to mark the beginning of the European Mobility Week. There were people of all kinds of fitness levels and from different parts of the world. There were even entire families with children on bikes big and small and we all took a nice ride down the streets of the city while the traffic was closed just for us. Perfect.

Sodas are sweet – too sweet for health

What a celebration of health and exercise, I thought to myself.

The ride was over in about 45 minutes as we had arrived to our destination in one of the city’s big parks outside the central area. What happened next inspired me to write today’s post and answer your question.

Organizers were thoughtful enough to prepare a supply of drinks to deliver for free to all the thirsty cyclists. There were several types of sodas available and bottles of water.
90% of people took sodas and very few opted for water. Children, adults, seniors.. without exception.

Drinking 500 ml of soda after 45 minutes of nice bike ride entirely defeats the health-related purpose of biking and erases the potential health benefits one may have incurred on a bicycle. Continue reading