Posted by Vahista Ussery on Monday, Jun 25th, 2012.

Here is an appropriate question as we are creeping toward the triple digits this summer:

Summer heat, and summer sun, wear me out. What foods and drinks, like juices, do you recommend to help me combat dehydration, skin damage from overexposure to sunlight, and other heat-related fatigue?

Let's start with discussing keeping yourself hydrated, which means water, water, and then some more water! Water is the best way to quench your thirst and keep your body from getting dehydrated, which can be extremely dangerous in this heat. Water also helps maintain a healthy weight-it's sugar free, caffeine free, and calorie free! The amount of water you need a day depends on your age, weight, and gender, but in general, women should get 8-10 glasses per day and men should get 12. Now, water can also be obtained through foods, so including plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet also helps keep you hydrated. If you are exercising, you will need to add more water to your daily intake; about 2 additional cups for every 15-20 minutes of exercise. You will also need more water as the temperatures continue to rise, and if you spend more time outdoors.

Other healthy sources of fluids include low-fat (1%)/fat-free milk and 100% juices. The new USDA MyPlate recommends 2-3 servings of dairy a day, so during the summer months, milk might be a good dairy choice to keep you hydrated. Plus, milk will help keep your bones strong and help reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes! 100% fruit juice can also be included in a healthy diet, but you have to be careful, as it is very calorie dense! If you are going to drink juice, I would limit it to 1 cup (8 oz) per day for adults, but if you are trying to lose weight, it's better to choose whole fruit over juice. Remember, you can still help hydrate yourself with foods like fruits and vegetables...think watermelon! 100% juice should also be limited for children. Children 6 months to 6 years old should drink no more than 4-6 ounces per day, and children 7 years and older should be limited to 8-12 ounces per day.

Everyone should stay away from fruit juice drinks and sodas, and sports drinks should be limited to serious athletes. Fruit juice drinks and sodas provide very limited nutrition, if any at all, and are filled with unnecessary sugars. Sports drinks are also very high in sugar, but contain electrolytes which might help athletes recover from vigorous workouts. Most people do not lose enough electrolytes or burn enough calories during a workout to justify drinking a sports drink.

When it comes to skin damage, sunscreen is the key! The Skin Cancer Foundation considers SPFs of 15 or higher acceptable protection for normal everyday wear, and SPFs of 30 or higher for extended or intense outdoor exposure. Sunscreen should be applied one-half hour before going outside and should be reapplied every 2 hours when outdoors or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.  Applying sunscreen on your face is extremely important as it is highly exposed. Purchasing a daily moisturizer with sunscreen is a good way to help protect your face.

Other protective measures when being in the sun include wearing hats and sunglasses.

So when planning to combat summer heat, remember to keep hydrated and sun-screen lathered up!

Sources: Files/Nutrition/DRIs/New%20Material/9_Electrolytes_Water%20Summary.pdf

Posted by Vahista Ussery on Wednesday, Dec 14th, 2011.

This question was submitted by an HEBISD foodie :)

What is the best way to lower LDL cholesterol through food choices?

Before I answer that question, let'a take a step back for the rest of our readers, and explain LDL cholesterol and the rest of the components that make up your total cholesterol number.

LDL or low density lipoprotein is what we call the "bad" cholesterol. LDL cholesterol circulates in your blood, and when you have too much of it, it begins to form plaque. Plaque can deposit in your brain or heart arteries constricting the openings. Constricted arteries lead to heart attacks and strokes.

HDL or high density lipoprotein is what we call the "good" cholesterol. HDL cholesterol actually protects you from heart attacks! HDL cholesterol carries the bad cholesterol away from your arteries to your liver, where it is then excreted.

Triglycerides are a form of fat created by your body. Triglycerides are elevated in people that are overweight, physically inactive, smoke, consume excessive alcohol, and/or eat a diet very high in simple carbohydrates.

Together LDL, HDL, and triglycerides form your total cholesterol value. The goal is to keep your total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL, while keeping your HDL above 40 mg/dL.

If you have high cholesterol, here are some diet tips to lower it:

1. Limit your saturated fat and trans fat intake. Saturated fat increases both your LDL and HDL cholesterol, an undesirable effect. It is mainly found in animal products such as meat, dairy, eggs, and seafood. Some plant foods are also high in saturated fats such as coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil. Focus on consuming lean meats and vegetarian protein options, butter substitutes with sterols (a plant source that could help reduce total cholesterol), and reduced fat cheeses.

Trans fat is the absolutely worst fat you can eat! Trans fat, found in many packaged foods, not only increases your LDL cholesterol, but decreases your HDL cholesterol! Look for trans fat on package labels, but be sure to look beyond the nutrition facts label to the ingredients. The FDA allows manufacturers to put 0 grams trans fat on the label even if it contains .5 grams or less. The ingredients will reveal the truth!

2. Increase your healthy fat intake. Low fat diets are out; it's all about eating the right kinds of fats! Healthy fats, also known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, lower total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats also increase HDL cholesterol. Examples of monounsaturated fats include: nuts, avocados, olives, canola oil, and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats, which include omega 3s, are found in fatty fish, like salmon and tuna; corn, soy, safflower, and sunflower oils; walnuts and flax seeds.

3. Load up on fiber! Soluble fiber can help reduce your blood's absorption of LDL cholesterol. Aim for 5-10 grams per day. Soluble fiber is found in oatmeal, barley, beans, bananas, pears, apples, and prunes. Another bonus to eating soluble fiber is that it slows down digestion, making you feel full for longer. If you feel full, you eat less, which will help you lose weight! This leads to my last diet recommendation...

4. Reduce calories and lose weight to lower cholesterol! Your body is healthiest at its ideal weight. Research has shown that if you just lose 10% of your body weight, significant decreases in cholesterol can be achieved!

Finally, while the question asked about food choices, I have to stress the importance of physical activity as well! Exercising helps lower total cholesterol numbers, while increasing HDL (it balances out). Shoot for 150 minutes over the course of a week, but start slowly. Even 10 minutes a day is better than nothing!

Posted by Vahista Ussery, MS, MBA, RD on Friday, Apr 1st, 2011.

The following questions were submitted by one our cafeteria employees, Ana.

What is the difference between good carbs and bad carbs?

How do they affect our sugar?

I love these questions. Carbs have gotten such a bad rep these days! I would love to help clear up some of the confusion. First off, you need carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are one of three macronutrients that supply your body with energy; fat and protein being the others. Carbohydrates, however, are your body's preferred energy source, Regardless of what type of carb you eat, your body converts it to glucose to use as energy. In fact, protein and fats are converted to glucose when you don't eat enough carbohydrates. You gain weight from overeating any of these three macronutrients, not just by overeating carbohydrates. It all comes down to calories in vs. calories out.

Instead of saying good carbs and bad carbs, let's say simple carbs and complex carbs. Dietitians try not to refer to foods as good or bad.  Simple carbohydrates are found in fruits and fruit juice, and are easily digested by the body. They also are found in processed foods (i.e. cakes, cookies, white bread) and anything with added refined sugar, such as soft drinks and sugar based candy. Your body digests simple carbs quickly, leading to a spike in blood sugar and in turn, a fast insulin response. Most foods loaded with simple carbs usually provide you with empty calories, meaning they aren't supplying your body with anything other than calories. Although fresh fruit contains simple carbs, it is also loaded with fiber and many vitamins and minerals, making it a healthy choice. Complex carbohydrates are found in nearly all plant-based foods and usually take longer for the body to digest. They are most commonly found in whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, and starchy vegetables. Complex carbs are digested more slowly in your body, so they provide you with a steady stream of energy rather than a quick spike like simple carbs. Complex carbs keep you full for longer and are more nutrient dense than their simple counterparts.

In summary, when selecting carbs, focus on fruit, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. These foods will provide your body with the nutrition you need to stay healthy. When looking for whole grain items, be sure to read the ingredient information. The phrase "whole grain" should appear first before any grain ingredients. Your goal should be to make half your grains whole. To be considered whole, a food should be 100% whole grain; if it's marked as 51% whole grain, it counts as just that, 51% a whole grain serving.

So the next time you hear someone say carbs are bad for you, don't be fooled! You now know the truth :)

Posted by Vahista Ussery, MS, MBA, RD on Wednesday, Mar 30th, 2011.

This set of questions came from one our managers, Belinda Posey:

Is sea salt better to use than regular table salt? Why?

Does it have be Iodized? Why?

Does your body need sodium? Is there sodium in everything you eat? Do you need to add sodium to our food?

How do you go about reducing the sodium in your diet?

Let's begin by discussing the different types of salt, including table salt, iodized salt, sea salt, and kosher salt. They all have one thing in common; they are predominately made of sodium and chloride. The main difference is the way they are produced. Table salt and iodized salt are the most unnatural of the types of salts and undergo the most processing. These salts are refined with chemicals that eliminate most of the naturally occurring minerals, and then are fortified with additives. Table salt contains additional chemical additives that help it not clump together and remain pourable. Iodine is one of the minerals that is removed during processing, so to make iodized salt, it is added back. Most of us aren't lacking in iodine anymore, so it's not essential to buy this salt just for iodine. Sea salt is more complex as it has a higher mineral content (although minimal), can be different colors, and has a different taste depending on where it comes from. Sea salt has a stronger salty taste than the other salts, so usually less is required when cooking, which could be helpful when watching sodium content. Kosher salt is less salty tasting than sea salt. The benefit of kosher salt is its rough texture; it allows for easy grabbing when cooking. You probably will use less kosher salt if adding it by pinching what is needed than pouring iodized or table salt from a canister or box. Sea and kosher salts are less dense than table salt, so they have less sodium per teaspoon, but when comparing by weight, the sodium content is essentially the same.

Your body needs sodium, so don't think you need to eliminate all salt in your diet. Salt helps maintain the right balance of fluids in your body, helps transmit nerve impulses, and has a part in the contraction and relaxation of muscles. In addition, salt brings out the natural flavors of foods. Without it, your food might taste bland and you might not want to eat!

The best way to reduce sodium in your diet is to stay away from most processed foods. Sodium does appear naturally in foods, but most of the sodium Americans eat is through processed foods. Its best when you are in control of the salt yourself through cooking natural/raw ingredients. If you do purchase processed foods, look for items that are under 140 mg, which is considered low sodium. I would recommend adding salt during the cooking process, except with beans and soups, rather than waiting until the end. If you season as you go, you probably will end up using less salt since you will be bringing out the flavors of your ingredients throughout the cooking process. Another trick is to learn to use other flavor enhancers including freshly ground pepper, fresh herbs, spices, and lemon juice. I wouldn't use them to replace all of the salt, but they help minimize the amount of salt you need for flavor.

In summary, I would recommend sea or kosher salt when cooking. I believe sea salt's flavor and kosher salt's texture could possibly help keep sodium levels lower in your cooked meals. I also think they have better flavor in savory dishes. I personally use kosher salt as I feel like you know how much is needed just through how it looks when you add it. For example, I can sprinkle it over raw chicken and see I have enough. Regardless of what salt you choose to use, remember to shoot for a range of 1500 to 2300, aiming for the lower range if above 50, are a child, or have a disease that warrants a reduced sodium diet.

Posted by Vahista B. Ussery, MS, MBA, RD on Tuesday, Mar 29th, 2011.

Trans fat is created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process termed hydrogenation. This process transforms vegetable oil into a solid state and increases its shelf life. For this reason, many manufacturers use trans fats in their processed foods to help them stay fresh for longer. Trans fat appears in commercial baked goods, including crackers, cookies, pie crusts, and cakes, and many fried foods, such as French fries and doughnuts. Shortenings and margarines also contain trans fat. Small amounts of trans fats can occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, including beef, lamb, and butterfat. At this time, we do not have enough research to determine if these naturally occurring trans fats have the same negative effects on cholesterol levels as manufactured trans fats.

Trans fat is bad for you because it not only increases your LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol); it also decreases your HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol). In comparison, saturated fats increase your LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. Trans fats are therefore worse for your body than saturated fats! In the past, trans fat was used more often, but with research showing its negative effects, the food industry has begun to cut back. The FDA now requires companies to include grams of trans fat on their nutrition label, but be cautious, manufacturers can list 0 grams trans fat on the label if the total amount falls below .5 grams. .5 grams might sound like a small amount, but if you eat several items with even this low level of trans fat, the total amount can quickly add up and exceed recommended limits of <2 grams per day. For this reason, it is important to read ingredients. Look for words that say hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated;these terms indicate trans fat is in the food. For heart health, try to avoid products that contain any trans fat or at the least, limit their consumption.