Monday, May 23, 2011

Food Sources for Phytosterols

Fruits and Veggies are sources
of phytosterols
Phytosterols are naturally occurring compounds found in plants that resemble the chemical make-up of cholesterol. Plant cholesterol, though, can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels in the human body. Phytosterols help prevent the bad cholesterol from accumulating in the blood stream by blocking absorption of the fatty substance, resulting in less cholesterol entering the bloodstream. Certain foods are naturally high in phytosterols and food manufacturers are fortifying products with phytosterols to make them more heart friendly.


Pecans, cashews, walnuts and almonds contain high concentrations of phytosterols. Add these to your diet as snacks and include them in stir fry dinners. Peanuts are also high in phytosterols, but are actually a legume or bean. Include unsalted peanuts in your diet anyway, because they taste good, but do so in moderation.

Whole Grains and Seeds

Cereal grains, such as whole wheat and barley, contain phytosterols. Substitute processed white breads, pastas and baked goods made from refined flour for whole grain products to increase your intake of phytosterols. Seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are high in phytosterols. Add these to homemade whole grain quick breads for heart healthy snacking.

Fruits and Veggies

Fruits and vegetables are part of a heart healthy diet, but they contain lower concentrations of phytosterols than nuts, legumes and whole grains. Nonetheless, they should be included as a source of these cholesterol fighting compounds. The positive effects of phytosterols are cumulative, so eating five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables throughout the day can supplement your intake.

If you are allergic to nuts or unable to eat whole grain foods due to celiac disease or gluten intolerance, fruits and vegetables, along with seeds, may be your primary sources for phytosterols.

Cooking Oils

Cooking oils, such as olive oil and vegetable oil, contain naturally occurring phytosterols by way of their ingredients, though some of the concentration of phytosterols, and other beneficial fats, may be reduced through processing and high cooking temperatures. Some companies are opting to fortify their products with phytosterols to increase the heart-healthy benefits of using their oils. Use sunflower, safflower and canola oils as well in your cooking, as these not only diversify the flavors in your dishes, they offer higher concentrations of phytosterols.

Fortified Dairy Products

Phytosterol fortified milk, cheeses, butters and margarines are available in supermarkets and other food outlets. Just as with cooking oils, companies that produce these products incorporate phytosterols into the production process to make the foods more heart healthy. If you have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, use vegan friendly products, such as Earth Friendly butter substitute, soy or rice milk, and soy-based cheeses.

Monday, May 16, 2011

May is Celiac Awareness Month

The point of such a thing, of course, is to raise awareness of celiac disease, a condition in which the body does not tolerate gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley and oats, a condition that affects 1 out of every 133 people in the U.S. alone.

May is also Digestive Diseases Awareness Month, Food Allergy Awareness Month, National Arthritis Month, and National Osteoporosis Awareness and Prevention Month.

That's a lot of diseases...And a lot of awareness.

All of these conditions are food related, even osteoporosis. Those with celiac disease are at higher risk for developing osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones thin and become brittle. It's not just an old lady disease, as was once thought.

There's a school of thought that certain forms of arthritis are symptomatic of food allergies; the inflammation of the joints is an allergic reaction. Before you dismiss the idea, consider that in celiac disease the small intestines become inflamed when exposed to gluten, and other food allergies result in inflammation of the esophagus, the throat, the face... why not the joints?

A friend of mine's grandson has eosinophilic esophagitis (EE). He is sensitive to corn, dairy, soy, sugar, gluten and fruit, among other foods. Foods you and I would consider good for us -and good for our kids, like applesauce- put this kid's esophagus into inflammation hell.

So many aspects of our health pertain to food. And one man's healthy diet is another man's toxin. My mother lived to be 90 years old. She ate eggs almost every morning of her life. She salted all her food. And fat did not scare this woman.

My husband, at 48, had a triple by-pass and the doctor told us, straight out, that if he continued to eat as he had been (heavy on the fat and salt, light on the fruits and veggies) he would die.

Contemporary cooks need to be more than just meal makers. They need to understand how food affects each member of the family. They need to balance the desire for good tasting foods and the need for foods high in nutritional value. And if they are dealing with food allergies and special dietary needs, these cooks need to master the art of culinary diversity.

My friend with the grandson with EE - his mom learned how to bake without eggs or butter, without wheat flour, corn syrup or granulated sugar. Now that's culinary diversity.

It's May. It's a month for making people aware, aware of how food affects your health and theirs. Do your part. Make something good to eat and share it with your family and friends.

For more information, visit The Celiac Disease Foundation Website

The Low Salt Diet Puts You at Risk for Heart Disease Study

It's all over the internet. A study published in the May 4th edition of the "Journal of the American Medical Association" (JAMA) claims that following a low-sodium diet now puts you at risk for heart disease.

It makes for a great headline. All these years the doctors, dieticians, nutritionists, and the medical community at large have warned against foods with high sodium content, telling us that too much salt in the diet may lead to hypertension, a condition associated with fatal heart disease.

Now, in 2011, suddenly a study, published in the respected JAMA magazine, says otherwise.

The Harvard School of Medicine newsletter, "The Nutrition Source",  disputes the findings, calling the study flawed. Dr. Walter Willet, who chairs the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, couldn't resist the pun when he is quoted as saying, "Take this study with a huge grain of salt, and then dispose of it properly."

The sampling for the study, titled, "Fatal and Nonfatal Outcomes, Incidence of Hypertension, and Blood Pressure Changes in Relation to Urinary Sodium Excretion"  consisted of only 3,681 participants, none of which could be considered a part of the "at risk" group: over 40 years of age, overweight, and leading a sedentary lifestyle. In other words, the study group was made up of what should have been the control group.

The methodology is also faulty. The researchers didn't monitor the participants' actual salt intake on a daily basis, nor did it account for height and weight differences, among other standards in such studies.

Out of the 3,681 people studied over an 8 year period, 84 people died of heart disease. That's 2 percent. Since all the participants were on a low sodium diet, the researchers concluded that a low-sodium diet leads to heart disease.

And this was published in the "Journal of the American Medical Association".

So who is singing praises to these faulty findings? The Salt Institute, the trade association for the salt production industry. Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute, in light of this stunning study, calls on the government to "[]stop their population-wide sodium reduction agenda and amend the Dietary Guidelines on sodium[]." She makes this proclamation against the governments War on Salt from the institute's website.

Because, you know, she's not biased or anything.

A low-sodium diet doesn't mean no-salt. It means monitoring your sodium intake, and keeping it below 2400 mg a day, but no lower than 500 mg a day. And if you are over 40, overweight, and tend to be a body at rest for a good part of the day, eating foods high in sodium and salting everything you eat is going to put a lot of pressure on your heart. Plain and simple.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Cookbooks and Blogs

Salads are my favorite summertime go-to meals. Here in Phoenix, summer starts in April and lasts until October, so we eat a lot of salads.

That's why I had to buy "The Everything Salad Book" by Aysha Schurman the first day it hit the market in mid-April. Ms. Schurman's book offers 300 salad recipes, so it's destined to be my go-to cookbook throughout the summer. And since our winters resemble springtime in the Midwest, I'm likely to use this book all year round.

Ms. Schurman divides her salad book into chapters, and chapter 1 details a bit of history, a few techniques, and a few bits about substitutions and storage.

Chapters 2 and 3 focus on salad dressings and starting with chapter 4, the salad recipes are divided by types, including green, fruit, potato, seafood, gourmet and more.

From the crisp simplicity of a Mediterranean Tomato salad to the more complex flavors of the Eggplant Arugula salad, Ms. Schurman's got it covered.

The book is well-organized, the listed ingredients easily found in local supermarkets and each recipe includes nutritional stats. I would have loved to have seen photos of the salads, but the lack of visual aids has not deterred me from loving this cookbook.

Ms. Schurman, in her opening letter to the reader, defines her idea of heaven as "a diverse buffet of fresh salads and fruity desserts." And it is the diversity of her approach to these recipes that encourages readers to achieve diversity in their diet.

Blogger Shaun Bevins, author of the blog, "Fitness for Smart Poeple," shares that philosophy. From her April 6, 2011 post, "Choosing Nutrient Dense Foods - A Diet Revolution," she writes about a more holistic approach to dieting:

"Instead it is a system that rates a food or even your diet on its overall nutrient density, the amount of nutrients it supplies compared to the amount of calories it contains."

This is what the Contemporary Cook strives for: diversity of flavor and texture; nutrient rich foods that offer those flavors and textures; and an array of foods to offer to those with restrictive diets. What we want is good food to feed to our friends and family.

And in these contemporary times, we cooks have books and blogs to help us achieve our culinary goals.

I did not nor do I now receive any compensation for reviews of any books, products or sites.