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New 'Year's resolutions: beans, berries, bran, & beyond.

If you're like most people, you've already forgotten the resolutions you made on January 1.

The fact is, it's not easy to change habits, unless you've just had a heart attack or some other traumatic event. You may know what you should eat, how often you should exercise, and when you should see a doctor for which tests. But the gap between knowing and doing isn't always easy to bridge.

To make life easier, we came up with 10 practical suggestions for improving your diet. They're backed by good science, they're specific (not just "eat less bad fat"), they go beyond the obvious ("switch from whole milk to fat-free"), and they're doable.

How do we know? We do them.

You probably know the basics. Buy low-fat or fat-free milk and ice cream; switch from refined to whole grains; use oil or tub margarine instead of butter or stick margarine; and limit sweets, salt, and bad (saturated and trans) fats. (And don't forget to exercise, take a multivitamin, get regular colonoscopies and mammograms, etc.).

Here are 10 tips that go beyond the basics.

1 Eat bran cereal in place of other cereals.

Don't get us wrong. Any 100% wholegrain cereal is good for you. But bran cereals appear to be better.

Why? For starters, they're loaded with fiber. Without them, it's tough to reach the new recommended target: 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories you eat per day. (That works out to about 21 grams for women 51 or older, 25 grams for women 50 or younger, 30 grams for men 51 or older, and 38 grams for men 50 or younger.)

An ordinary whole wheat cereal like Wheaties has just 3 grams of fiber per serving, but raisin brans hit 5 to 8 grams and an all-bran cereal reaches 10 to 14 grams. That's because bran--the outer layer of the whole grain--is fiber-rich.

What's more, although many studies have found a lower risk of disease in people who eat more whole grains or more grain fiber (from breads, cereals, pasta, rice, etc.), a few have looked at bran alone. For example, in a study of nearly 43,000 men, the risk of heart disease was 30 percent lower in those who consumed the most bran (roughly 7 grams or more a day) than in those who ate none. (1)

"We found that bran seems to lower the risk of heart disease more strongly than whole grains," says researcher Eric Rimm the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "The mechanism has never been clear," he adds, since soluble fiber seems to lower cholesterol, but bran is high in insoluble fiber. Among the possibilities: bran may curb inflammation or blood clotting.

Bran may also keep you trim. A recent study found less weight gain in men who increased their bran intake over eight years than in those who didn't. (2)

"It's possible that people feel full after eating bran so they don't eat as much," suggests Rimm.

Resolved: "Focus on wholegrain foods," says Rimm. "But when you can, choose foods that are higher in bran."

2 Eat less meat or go meatless.

Colon cancer. Stomach cancer. Pancreatic cancer. Maybe even breast cancer (if you're premenopausal) and prostate cancer (if you're African American).

People who eat more red meat--beef, pork, and lamb--have a higher risk of all of them. (3-6) And all but premenopausal breast cancer have also been linked to processed meats like bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and lunch meats.

"That's why the American Cancer Society recommends that people limit consumption of processed and red meat," says Michael Thun, the society's vice president of epidemiology and surveillance.

And it's not just cancer. Other studies find a higher risk of diabetes in women who eat more meat, especially processed meats. (7)

But the evidence is strongest for colon cancer. Among the mechanisms that might explain the link: "When meats are cooked, they produce heterocyclic amines that are carcinogenic," says Thun. "The iron in meat may also act as a pro-oxidant."

What's more, the nitrites in processed meats are a precursor of nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. And fat stimulates the body to make more bile acids, which may promote colon cancer.

"You don't have to become a vegetarian," says Thun. "The idea is to put more emphasis on plant foods and not have meat at the center of the plate."

Processed meats include not just bacon and hot dogs, says Thun, but sausage, lunch meats, and other smoked or cured meats. There isn't much data on lunch meats made out of poultry, he adds. "It's not clear if smoked turkey is a problem, for example."

Resolved: Go for fish, poultry, or beans instead of red meat. Check out the nitrite-free cold cuts made by Applegate Farms, Wellshire Farms, and others. Try veggie sausage or veggieburgers (even in a brown-bag lunch).

3 Let beans squeeze out starches.

Eat at least three cups of legumes a week, says the government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. What's so special about beans?

If nothing else, they're inexpensive, fiber-packed sources of potassium, folate, iron, and protein. And some studies suggest that beans lower the risk of adenomas, the kind of polyps that can turn into colon cancers.

When researchers tracked more than 34,000 women for 18 years, those who ate at least four servings of beans a week had a 33 percent lower risk of colon adenomas than those who ate beans no more than once a week. (8)

And in a study of people who had already had a polyp removed, those who followed advice to boost their beans the most had a 65 percent lower chance of being diagnosed with a new advanced adenoma than those who bumped up their beans the least. (9)

"In Western countries, about half of the people have adenomas by age 60," explains investigator Elaine Lanza of the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. "But not all adenomas turn into colon cancer."

Only the large or somewhat abnormal "advanced" adenomas--which are likely to become cancer--were lower in bean eaters. Those people "increased legumes more than we expected," notes Lanza. "They ate about 1 1/2 cups of beans a day."

It's not clear how beans might protect the colon. One possibility: "We know that the fermentable fiber in beans increases the level of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate in the colon," says Lanza. "And butyrate is anti-inflammatory." (Inflammation may make the colon more vulnerable to cancer.)

And beans may have other benefits. "In another study, when we asked men to eat 1 1/2 cups of beans a day, they lost 10 pounds in the first month," she notes. "So beans may also affect satiety."

Resolved: Serve beans instead of side dishes like rice, pasta, or potatoes (see "Quick Fixes," p. 7). Or mix beans into your rice or pasta. Or replace the croutons in your salad with beans. It takes about 90 seconds to open a can of beans and rinse them (to wash off some of the salt). Talk about convenient.

4 Don't drink your calories.

Call it beverage bloat. The calories you drink are more likely to show up on your bathroom scale than the calories you chew.

For example, researchers gave 15 young adults 450 extra calories every day for four weeks, either as a liquid (soda pop) or a solid (jelly beans). During their month on the jelly beans, the volunteers unconsciously compensated by cutting calories from the other foods they ate. But during their month on the soda, they ate no less food to compensate, which led them to gain an average of 2 1/2 pounds. (10)

"We don't know if it's the speed with which beverages go through the GI tract or that they're absorbed more quickly or that people don't think they're getting much from beverages, or other factors," says Richard Mattes of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. "But it's clear that beverages have a weak effect on satiety cues."

Other studies back up Mattes's findings. When researchers gave regular soft drinks to 20 people for 10 weeks, the volunteers gained four pounds. But 20 others lost two pounds when they got diet drinks. (11)

While those are short-term studies, there is also long-term evidence for beverage bloat. In a study of more than 90,000 women, those who boosted their soft-drink intake (from no more than one a week to at least one a day) were more likely to gain weight over four years. (12)

"We ought to think of soft drinks as a treat, like ice cream, not as a staple," says researcher Meir Stampfer of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Obesity may not be the only risk of reaching for another can of Coke:

* In a study of 2,500 people, women who drank at least one cola a day had lower bone density than those who drank less than one cola a month. (13) It's not clear why colas may weaken bones. Neither the drinks' caffeine nor their phosphoric acid seemed to explain the link.

* Women who drank at least one soft drink a day were 83 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes over a four-year period than those who drank less than one soft drink a month. (12)

* In a study of 77,000 Swedes, those who reported drinking at least two soft drinks a day had roughly twice the risk of pancreatic cancer versus those who drank none. (14) A U.S. study of 88,000 women and 49,000 men also found twice the risk, but only in soda drinkers who were overweight or sedentary. (15)

"A huge sugar load puts a strain on the pancreas because that's where insulin is made," explains Stampfer. "It's certainly far from proven, but the stress on the pancreas may cause cellular proliferation," which can lead to cancer.

Although most studies have targeted soft drinks, any beverage with calories makes a deposit in your fat cells. That includes your eight-ounce glass of fruit juice (110 to 130 calories) or low-fat milk (100 calories), or your Starbucks venti Java Chip Frappuccino (650 calories).

Resolved: Stick to water or other calorie-free beverages like flavored seltzer or plain coffee or tea (with a spoonful of milk or sugar if you prefer). Diet soft drinks may help if you're hooked on soda pop.

5 Hold the cheese.

Cheese is everywhere these days--in or on soups, salads, steaks, sandwiches, breads, potatoes, chicken, eggs.

Panera throws cheese on all five of its Hot Panini sandwiches and seven of its nine Signature Sandwiches (like the Mediterranean Veggie and Bacon Turkey Bravo). Gorgonzola, Asiago, or feta ends up on six out of its nine salads.

Applebee's serves cheese on five of its seven salads and all but two of its 12 sandwiches and burgers. You'll find it on everything from the Zesty Ranch Chicken to the Roasted Turkey & Bacon Ciabatta.

Restaurants love cheese because it pumps up the flavor without much skill from the chef. But it's bad news for the ol' pumper in your chest. The 17 sandwiches with cheese that are listed on the menu at Au Bon Pain's Web site, for example, have roughly 7 to 15 grams of saturated fat. Their four cheeseless cousins average only 4 grams.

Resolved: At restaurants, order cheeseless sandwiches, salads, etc., and pizza with half the usual cheese. At home, buy a high-quality wedge of Parmesan and grate a light dusting over your food as needed. (Or buy a good shaved or shredded Parmesan.) With intensely flavored cheeses, a little goes a long way.

6 Snack smart.

The average American eats three meals and two snacks a day. That hasn't changed much since nationwide surveys started in the early 1970s.

What's changed--along with our apparently inflatable national waistline--is how much we eat per snack and per meal. Surveys suggest that we're eating more in ounces, in calories, and in calories per ounce (calorie density). (16)

No surprise there. How many 500-calorie scones, muffins, and Danish pastries can we grab on the way to work before it starts to show?

In surveys that ask people what they eat, "the lower the calorie the lower the of obesity," Rolls, chair of Nutritional Sciences at Pennsylvania State University.

In her two-day studies, people ate 24 percent fewer calories when offered foods with lower calorie density (for example, a lower-fat, less-cheese pizza with veggies on top). (17)

"And when we offered lower-calorie-density food in small portions, they reduced their calories by 30 percent--that's over 800 fewer calories a day," adds Rolls, who is the author of Volumetrics (HarperCollins, 2000).

In other words, trade the chips, candy, cookies, and other junk for apples, peaches, pears, carrots, red pepper slices, and other fresh (not dried) fruits and veggies.

"Fruits and vegetables are key players in lowering calorie density," says Rolls. In fact, she adds, "people who eat more fruits and vegetables can get away with eating a higher-fat diet and still be lower in body weight, because the water in fruits and vegetables dilutes the calorie density."

And if you can afford the calories, think nuts. Nut eaters have a lower risk of heart disease, in part because the polyunsaturated fats in nuts help lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. (18) You can have almonds on Monday, pistachios on Tuesday, walnuts on Wednesday, etc.

Resolved: "Wherever you can, try to get extra fruits and vegetables into your day," says Rolls. "Tuck them into casseroles, sandwiches, and pizza, and keep your favorites on hand to turn to when you get the munchies."

7 Make it salmon, not tuna.

"We recommend eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times a week," says the American Heart Association.

Fish has less saturated fat than meat. What's more, its omega-3 fats appear to lower the risk of heart disease. (19)

"The preponderance of the data has supported the impact of fish on cardiovascular disease risk," says researcher Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University in Boston.

For years, it looked as though omega-3s might protect the heart by preventing irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias). But in recent studies, fish oils haven't curbed arrhythmias in people who have implanted defibrillators to correct their irregular rhythms.

"That was surprising," says Lichtenstein. "But the evidence for omega-3s is far more expansive than just arrhythmias and sudden death."

For example, fish oils also lower triglycerides, help prevent blood clots, and curtail the inflammatory response, she notes. "Inflammation makes plaque more unstable, which can precipitate a heart attack." That happens if part of the plaque breaks off and gets stuck in a partially clogged artery.

Why does the heart association recommend eating fish twice a week? "That seems to be the breakpoint," says Lichtenstein. In other words, the risk is lower in people who eat at least that much.

"If possible, make it fatty fish," she adds. "But any fish is okay except commercially fried fish filets and fish sticks. There's much omega-3 fats there, be prepared in partially hydrogenated oils." That would add heart-damaging trans fat.

Resolved: If you ordinarily eat canned tuna, try canned salmon for extra omega-3s. If you don't want to deal with the skin and bones, try boneless, skinless salmon in pouches or cans.

Neither stacks up to fresh fish when it comes to sodium (fresh is lower) and taste (fresh is higher).

But if you're reaching for a can opener anyway, canned salmon has virtually none of tuna's mercury. And it's almost always wild, so it has fewer contaminants than farm-raised salmon.

8 Sip soup, not salt.

Salt raises blood pressure, which boosts the risk of heart attacks and strokes. And high blood pressure, or hypertension, is an epidemic in the United States. What else would you call a problem that afflicts more than half of people over age 60?

Nevertheless, the food industry keeps dumping salt into our food especially restaurant food, as though advice to cut back--from the Surgeon General, the American Heart Association, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute--didn't exist.

Soup is one of the worst offenders because it crams so much sodium--roughly 1,000 milligrams per serving--into a food that often has just 100 calories.

But soup also has its good points. Your body doesn't ignore the calories in soups, as it does the calories in beverages. In fact, people eat fewer calories--and feel less hungry--on days they're fed soup than on days they're given either beverages or solid foods. (20)

Researchers aren't sure why. Soups may make us feel full, says Purdue's Richard Mattes, "because they're viewed as nutritive and substantial."

Resolved: Make your own soup, buy lower-sodium soup (like Amy's Light in Sodium line), or try this: Start with a carton of a (lower-than-usual-sodium) Imagine soup like Sweet Potato, Creamy Sweet Corn, or Creamy Broccoli. Then dump in fresh or unseasoned frozen vegetables. (Saute them lightly in olive or canola oil first, if you prefer.)

Voila! It may have more sodium than homemade, but you get less salt--and more vegetables--than in canned soups.

9 Roast vegetables, not potatoes.

Yes, potatoes are technically vegetables. But white potatoes have little in common with salads.

"Potatoes raise blood sugar as fast as sugar does," says Harvard's Meir Stampfer. "A potato may be a complex carbohydrate, but your body treats it like sugar."

When Harvard researchers tracked more than 84,000 women in the ongoing Nurses' Health Study for 20 years, those who reported eating one serving of potatoes a day (one cup mashed or one baked) had an 18 percent higher risk of diabetes than those who ate potatoes once every two weeks or so. (21) The risk was clearest in women who were sedentary or obese.

Why? "Eating any food that causes a sharp upswing in blood sugar is followed by a rise in insulin, followed by a sharp decline in blood sugar," Stampfer explains. "If that process is repeated several times a day, over days and weeks and it may lead to insulin resistance, which is the first step towards diabetes."

And don't assume that potatoes are as long as they're not french fries.

"Many health-conscious people know they shouldn't eat fries, so they eat a baked potato or mashed potatoes instead," says Stampfer. But neither is good for you, and "eating mashed potatoes is not that far from getting an intravenous load of glucose."

That doesn't mean you should never touch a potato again. (For starters, the rise in blood sugar is dampened when you eat them with fat or other foods.)

Resolved: If spuds are a staple in your pantry, try switching to roasted vegetables (see "Quick Fixes").

You can roast whatever's in your fridge--broccoli, cauliflower, onions, zucchini, winter squash, asparagus, sweet potatoes--so the mix can vary from day to day.

As long as you go easy on the oil, you'll minimize the calories per bite, which is a good thing for most people. Add an entree and a salad--yes, more veggies--and dinner is done.

10 Finish with fruit.

For many people, dessert is time to splurge.

They wouldn't be caught dead serving pork chops, meatloaf, or fettuccine alfredo. But they proudly finish off their grilled salmon, broccoli saute, and arugula salad with chocolate cheesecake, tiramisu, or a brownie sundae.

Everyone knows it's a splurge ... they just don't know how much of one.

At a typical restaurant, expect to pay at least 1,000 calories--and one or two days' worth of saturated fat--for that slice of New York cheesecake or tiramisu or fudge brownie sundae. They make pork chops and meatloaf look good.

Resolved: At restaurants, look for fruit on the menu. At home, throw together some Balsamic Berries or another elegant but simple fruit dessert (see "Quick Fixes").

That's not to say you can never have another slice of cheesecake. Just save it for (really) rare occasions when you can afford an extra 1,000 calories.

(1) Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 80:1492, 2004.

(2) Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 80:1237, 2004.

(3) CA Cancer J. Clin. 56: 254, 2006.

(4) Arch. Intern. Med. 166: 2253, 2006.

(5) J. Natl. Cancer Inst. 98: 1078, 2006.

(6) Int. J. Cancer 118: 2866, 2006.

(7) Diabetes Care 27: 2108, 2004.

(8) Cancer Res. 66: 3942, 2006.

(9) J. Nutr. 136: 1896, 2006.

(10) Int. J. Obes. Relat. Metab. Disord. 24: 794, 2000.

(11) Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 76: 721, 2002.

(12) JAMA 292: 927, 2004.

(13) Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 84: 936, 2006.

(14) Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 84: 1171, 2006.

(15) Cancer Epidemiol. Biomarkers Prev. 14: 2098, 2005.

(16) Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 84: 1215, 2006.

(17) Am. J. Clin. Nutr 83: 11, 2006.

(18) BMJ 317: 1341, 1998.

(19) Am. J. Clin. Nutr 84: 5, 2006.

(20) Physiol. Behav. 83: 739, 2005.

(21) Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 83: 294, 2006.

Quick Fixes

Eat beans instead of pasta, rice, and other starches. Substitute roasted veggies for potatoes. Replace fatty, sweet desserts with fresh fruit.

Easy for us to say. Turns out it's easy for you to do. Here's a start.


Aggie's Amazin's

Combine 1 can of drained and rinsed beans (try black) with the juice of 1 lemon, a drizzle of olive oil, some chopped fresh parsley and (if you like) cilantro, a little freshly ground black pepper, and 2 crushed garlic cloves. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes. Heat before serving. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

South of the Border

Combine 3 Tbs. lime juice with a splash of hot sauce, some chopped fresh cilantro, a little garlic powder, and 2 Tbs. salsa. Pour over 1 can of drained and rinsed black or kidney beans in a small bowl. Serve cold or warm.

Do the Dijon

Combine 3 cans of drained and rinsed beans in a bowl (try blackeyed peas, kidneys, and great northerns). Mix together 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar with a drizzle of olive oil, 2 tsp. each Dijon mustard and sugar, some chopped scallions, and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Let marinate for at least 30 minutes.


Roasted Medley

Coat 4 cups of just about any cut-up vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, onion, squash, asparagus, you name it) with 2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 tsp. light soy sauce, 5-6 cloves chopped garlic, and a sprinkle of pepper. Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated 450[degrees] oven for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.


Hint of Mint

Combine cut-up fruit (honeydew, cantaloupe, pineapple, berries, oranges, kiwi, grapes, etc.) in a large bowl. Mix together 1/2 cup orange or pineapple juice with 1/4 cup nonfat plain yogurt, a little lime juice, and some chopped fresh mint. Pour over the fruit and toss well. Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Maple-Sour Cream Dream

Combine raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, and sliced strawberries in a bowl. Mix together 1/4 cup light sour cream with a little maple syrup and drizzle over the berries.

Balsamic Berries

Combine 4 cups quartered strawberries with 1 Tbs. sugar and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Chill for 1 hour before serving.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Center for Science in the Public Interest
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Jan 1, 2007
Previous Article:Down market.
Next Article:Nutrition labels, round 2.

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