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Monthly Archives: March 2017

What Is the Glycemic Index? Best Low Glycemic Index Foods

The glycemic index (GI) is a way to measure the impact specific types of food have on blood sugar.[1] GI values range from zero to one hundred. Food with a high GI value will make blood sugar levels rise (and fall) quickly, food with a low GI value will have a more slow and steady effect.

A GI value under 55 is low; foods that have a low GI value include beans, cruciferous vegetables, grapefruit, and tomatoes. A GI value between 56-69 is moderate; examples include pasta, green peas, sweet potatoes, orange juice, and blueberries. A GI value over 70 is high;[2] examples include refined sugar, potatoes, white bread, dried fruit, carrots, and watermelon.

Why Are Glycemic Values Important?

Paying attention to the GI values of the food you eat allows you to exert a level of control over your blood sugar; there are many reasons why this is desirable.

Persons with diabetes struggle with maintaining balanced blood sugar.[3] It’s a disease that’s reached epidemic proportions. Over 29 million Americans have diabetes, almost 90 million more are prediabetic. A diet centered around foods with a low GI value can help keep blood sugar under control.

You don’t have to suffer from diabetes to experience the benefits of regular, balanced blood sugar. Studies suggest consuming low GI food may help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer;[4] and that barely scratches the surface when considering the revelations uncovered by research into the effects of a low GI diet:

  • A low GI diet may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.[5]
  • A high GI diet is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.[6, 7]
  • A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January 2016 suggests that following a high GI diet increases the risk of depression.[8]

The Relationship Between Blood Sugar and Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for the human body[9] and there are two basic types — simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates, also known as monosaccharides or disaccharides, are digested quickly and have an immediate effect on blood sugar.[10] Common examples include refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup, as found in soft drinks.[11] In general, foods high in simple carbohydrates have a high GI value.

Complex carbohydrates, also known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, are metabolized more slowly and do not have a dramatic effect on blood sugar. Foods high in complex carbohydrates include whole grain bread, vegetables, and legumes. Complex carbohydrates usually have a low GI value and, additionally, accompany other nutrients (such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals) that further reduce digestion time.

What Is Glycemic Load?

It’s easy to think that all high GI value foods are best avoided since high blood sugar is associated with so many problems, but portion size needs to be considered as well.

For example, carrots have a high GI value but a typical serving of carrots only contains about 6 grams of carbohydrates; probably not anywhere near enough to upset the blood sugar of the average person.

This is where glycemic load enters the picture. The glycemic load provides a more thorough consideration of the impact food has on blood sugar because it takes into account the GI value as well as the grams of carbohydrates (fat and protein are not considered as they do not affect blood sugar) in a serving.[14]

Calculating Glycemic Load

Glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the GI value by the grams of carbohydrates in a serving and dividing by 100. A glycemic load value of 10 or less is low; 20 or above is high.[15]

Watermelon, for example, has a GI value of 72 although a typical serving of watermelon only provides 6 grams of carbohydrates; a quick calculation reveals a glycemic load of less than 5.

A can of soda, on the other hand, may have a GI value of 65 but if a single can provides 40 grams of carbohydrates that means the glycemic load is 26, which is very high.

Is it any wonder that steady, daily consumption of soda and other sugary beverages contributes to so many health problems?

Factors That Affect Glycemic Index Values

Keep in mind that the GI value is just a starting point and can be affected by a number of factors. Processing and refining, for example, will result in a higher GI value. A whole baked potato has a lower GI value than instant mashed potatoes; processed orange juice has a higher GI value than fresh squeezed.[16]

Eating different foods together can affect GI values. Research has shown that the negative effects of a high-carbohydrate diet are lessened when consumed with fiber.[17](Just to ensure there’s no confusion — no, eating a pound of lettuce won’t cancel out eating a pound of sugar.) The more ripe a fruit or vegetable, the higher its GI value. And, individual physiology–age, metabolism, health conditions–affect the way blood sugar is influenced.

Incorporating a Glycemic Diet Into Your Life

When constructing your diet, glycemic index and glycemic load values are great tools for guidance but need to be balanced with fundamentally sound principles of nutrition:

  • Eat a variety of real, whole, organic food.
  • Avoid junk food, refined sugar, and empty calories.
  • If you splurge, do so in moderation.
  • Quench your thirst with purified water.

Have you made a concerted effort to consume more low GI value foods and fewer high GI value foods? What tips can you share for designing a meal plan? What benefits have you noticed? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

Is Agave Nectar Really Better Than Sugar?

Professional chefs, bakers and home cooks alike have been pleased to discover agave nectar, a sweet and pleasantly mild syrup made from the root of the agave plant (which, when fermented, becomes tequila). Marketed as an all-natural sugar substitute, at 32 dollars a gallon agave is turning an extremely good profit globally. But is agave better and healthier than sugar?

Origins of Agave

Agaves, a close relative of the aloe plant, are native to the southwest of the United States, Central America, as well as central and tropical South America. It is produced mainly in the Guadalajara region in Mexico, where it has been used by native Mexicans for centuries.

Commercial production of agave nectar began in the 1990’s, and since then bottles of this exotic golden syrup have been crowding the shelves of health food stores across the United States and Europe. Agave nectar can be found on the labels of many products from soda and ice cream to ketchup and granola. Now entering the mainstream culinary market, restaurants, cafes, bakeries and bars are serving agave in cocktails, smoothies, sauces, dressings and baked goods.

Agave Nectar: Health Benefits and Concerns

Despite many claims that say agave is a healthier sweetener, there are both pros and cons.

Benefits

  • Agave’s claim to fame is its low glycemic index (GI), which translates to less of an impact on blood sugar levels. Compared to table sugar, honey, maple syrup and date sugar, agave ranks the lowest with a GI of around 30.
  • Some agave products also boast a unique kind of fiber called fructans. This news appeals to diabetics because according to a study in Mexico, a diet rich in fructans may stimulate production of a hormone called GLP-1 which encourages the release of insulin.
  • Agave is also good news for vegans, since it is a sugar substitute that does not rely on any animals to produce it (unlike honey).

Concerns

  • Because of the way most manufacturers process the agave plant to obtain syrup, the end product has as much or more fructose than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

While our bodies depend on the glucose in complex carbohydrates for energy, fructose is a sugar that, if not used right away, gets stored as fat. HFCS has become the black sheep in the sugar industry because some believe that fructose is a leading cause of obesity in the United States.

There are a few small companies that are striving to make an agave syrup that retains as much nutrition as possible. Instead of heating the agave at high temperatures to extract and intensify the sweetness of the liquid, they use lower temperatures and rely mainly on enzymes to split the complex natural sugars. This second process creates the only true raw agave.

Is Agave Better Than Sugar?

At the end of the day agave is still a sweetener, which means it is not a health food. The real reason that agave is better than sugar is because you can use less of it due to the fact that it’s sweeter. However, keep in mind that not all agave is created equal. Here are some tips to ensure that you are using agave in the healthiest form possible:

  • Buy raw agave. This is the least processed type of agave, and bears the least resemblance to high fructose corn syrup. Keep in mind, however, that even raw agave contains high amounts of fructose.
  • Go for the darkest stuff on the shelf. The darker the syrup, the more nutrients remain.
  • Use sparingly. The healthiest way to use sugar and all sugar substitutes is in moderation.

Uses of Agave

Since agave can be up to three times as sweet as table sugar, you can use less in your cooking and dessert recipes. When baking with agave, for each cup of white sugar, you can use 2/3 cup of agave and reduce the other liquids by 1/4 cup. Because it mixes easily and has a mild and versatile flavor, it goes especially well with soft and hard drinks like tea, lemonade, sports drinks, smoothies, mint juleps and mojitos. Look for agave syrups in a range of flavors like maple, vanilla, blueberry, cappuccino and hazelnut.

3 Healthy Smoothies Perfect for the Holidays

It’s time to get out the blender and put it to work with these simple, delicious recipes for healthy, seasonal smoothies with an autumn twist. If you don’t already drink juices or blended drinks on a regular basis, smoothies are a great place to start. These simple blends are easy to love and even easier to integrate into your daily routine.

Here are a few tips on why smoothies are an easy way to incorporate some great nutrition into your daily diet:

  • Smoothies are one of those no-hassle treats you can whip up quickly, and with just a few ingredients you may already have on hand.
  • Drinking smoothies on a regular basis can be a really good habit to form, however you have to be smart about the ingredients you choose. Store-bought smoothies typically contain sweetened fruit juice, sugar and even ice cream, but making them at home with fresh fruit, vegetables and other ingredients can make for a very healthy snack.
  • Fewer than a quarter of Americans get enough fruits and vegetables, despite the USDA’s recommendations of at least five servings per day. With a smoothie, you can easily incorporate 1-2 cups of greens and 1-1.5 cups of fruit. “Drinking smoothies, especially for breakfast, is one of the easiest way to add some fruit to your diet,” says Joseph Price, PhD, a health economist and associate professor at Brigham Young University.

Fall Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon agave syrup
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree, frozen
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 apple, cored
  • Dried cranberries

Instructions

Combine all ingredients except cranberries in blender and blend until smooth. Top with cranberries.

Health Benefits of Pumpkin

Pumpkin isn’t just for pie or decorating your front porch at Halloween. It’s also a low-calorie food packed with nutrients.

  • One cup of cooked mashed pumpkin contains just 49 calories.
  • Pumpkin may be beneficial for prostate health and improving HDL, the “good” cholesterol.
  • Both canned and fresh pumpkin are healthy options, as are the seeds. Just steer clear of canned pumpkin with added ingredients, such as salt or sugar.
  • Pumpkin flesh gets its orange color from beta-carotene, an antioxidant belonging to a group of pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene may help reduce cell damage in the body and improve immune function. It may also reduce your chances of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease.
  • Colorado State University’s Shirley Perryman, M.S. also reports that beta-carotene could lower your risk for cataracts and macular degeneration. This antioxidant is converted to vitamin A in the body, an important nutrient for eye health.

Winter Green Ginger-Pineapple Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 2 handfuls baby spinach
  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 2 cups frozen pineapple
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1 1/4 cups water

Instructions

Combine ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. If you like an extra crunch, top your smoothie with 1/4 cup chopped nuts, such as almonds or walnuts, for a more filling meal.

Health Benefits of Spinach

  • Low in calories and high in vitamins, spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence.
  • One cup of the leafy green vegetable contains far more than your daily requirements of vitamin K and vitamin A, almost all the manganese and folate your body needs and nearly 40 percent of your magnesium requirement.
  • It is an excellent source of more than 20 different measurable nutrients, including dietary fiber, calcium and protein.
  • One cup of spinach has only 40 calories.

Strawberry-Mango Sunset Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 banana, peeled, sliced and frozen
  • 1 frozen mango chunks
  • 5 large frozen strawberries
  • Chia seeds

Instructions

Combine ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

Health Benefits of Mango

Mangoes have been part of the human diet for over 4,000 years. The mango tree grows in the tropics and produces juicy, nutritious fruits. People eat mangoes alone or add them to fruit salads and salsas. Fresh mangoes are low in calories and contain beneficial nutrients. Available year-round, mangoes are a healthy addition to your diet.

  • Mangoes provide 2.6 g of dietary fiber in a serving of one cup.
  • Fiber provides short-term benefits, fostering proper digestion and prevents constipation.
  • Fiber also has long-term benefits. It can lessen your chances of developing heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and diverticular disease. The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume at least 25 grams of fiber a day and men consume at least 38 grams. One cup of mango can help you reach that total.
  • Mangoes supply a healthy dose of vitamin A, which is necessary to support healthy eyes and proper bone growth. One cup of mango provides about 35 percent of the vitamin A your body needs daily for good health.

6 Hot Cooking Trends and How to Do It Yourself

The culinary industry is a fickle business due in part to the variable palates of its customers that change, not just from generation to generation, but from year to year. Kale, house-made soft drinks, bruschetta? So 2014. That’s according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual culinary forecast, which surveys 1,300 professional chefs to determine the hottest cooking trends 2015.

Some of the foods that have gained the most trendiness since last year’s survey include ethnic condiments (hello sriracha!), wild rice and, just in case you thought culinary trends were all about health foods, donuts.

This uncovers an interesting point: Are the hottest food trends meant only for the chicest professional kitchens, or are they more accessible than we think? For those in the culinary field, or those who wish tolearn to cook, here is a sampling of the National Restaurant Association’s list of the hottest cooking trends 2015, along with DIY tips and recipes.

1. Local Sourcing

First off, there is no official definition of “local” food sourcing. Hardcore locavores would put the radius from farm to table at 100 miles, but others use state lines as a guide. Local food has grown in popularity because people are beginning to question the potential hazards of long-distance food sourcing on the planet, our tastebuds, and our bodies (chemicals are sometimes added to fruit to make them last longer.) Many people also choose local food to support their local economy.

Note: Buying organic is not necessarily the same thing as buying local, however it is common to find local produce that is also grown organically.

Local Sourcing DIY

In order to find the freshest produce from their area, most foodies ride the farmer’s market circuit. There are several mobile apps to help with that endeavor, including Locavore, which allows you to pinpoint farmer’s markets and farms in your area.

For those whose schedules preclude a trip to the market, there are also local grocery delivery services that will bring farm-fresh goods from your area straight to your door with a simple click. These include Good Eggs, which is currently available in Brooklyn, San Francisco, New Orleans and Los Angeles, and Relay Foods, which operates in roughly 9 cities in the mid-Atlantic states. The market for these services is expected to surge to keep up with the rising trend in local food, so keep your eyes out for more providers in your area.

2. Environmental Sustainability

A lot of complicated factors go into making food more sustainable for the globe, and not everyone is in agreement on how to go about it. However, food waste may be the most pressing issue in the sustainability movement: In the United States, 40 percent of the food produced is never consumed.

Environmental Sustainability DIY

You can do your part with these life hacks for reducing food waste at home:

  • Keep cookies fresh by storing them with a piece of bread. Heads up: Your bread will get stale, but your cookies will be delicious for days.
  • Store apples in your crisper with a damp paper towel over them. Apples store better in a cool, slightly moist environment.
  • Don’t waste the dregs at the bottom of your peanut butter or almond butter jar. Toss some oats, berries, nuts and milk into the jar and stick it in the microwave for instant and delicious oatmeal.
  • Stale chips? Toss them in the microwave for a few seconds to crisp them back up.
  • Turn bad bananas into delicious banana bread.

And perhaps most importantly, whether it’s in a coffee tin at the side of the sink or in a hand-cranked barrel in the backyard, be sure to compost!

3. Healthy Kid Meals

In an effort to combat the childhood obesity crisis, First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign aims to put child nutrition back into our national consciousness, and healthy meals onto cafeteria and dinner tables across America.

Healthy Kid Meals DIY

Here are some tips for prepping healthier meals for children from the Let’s Move campaign:

  • Choose lean cuts of meat like skinless chicken or extra lean ground beef for hamburgers or pasta sauces.
  • Substitute olive or vegetable oil for butter.
  • Mix vegetables into dishes, like adding peas to rice, or cucumbers to a sandwich.
  • Portions should be about the size of the back of a fist — a child’s fist for a child’s portion.

4. Gluten Free Foods

Gluten is the protein that helps hold food together, and is found in wheat, rye, barley and triticale. Some people are allergic to gluten, others have a sensitivity to the protein, but any way you slice it, a gluten free diet is jam-packed with the fruits, vegetables, and proteins that do a body good.

Gluten Free DIY

Due to the rising popularity of gluten free cuisine, more “GF” labels are being added to food packages every day. However, one of the best ways to ensure that you are eating gluten free is to avoid pre-packaged foods altogether. Baked goods, in particular, are a fun foray into the gluten free world. Here are some common GF alternatives to traditional flour:

  • Almond flour (also called almond meal): This is a great alternative to flour in baked goods such as cookies and apple crisp.
  • Brown rice flour: This is probably closest to whole wheat flour in consistency and usage.
  • Buckwheat flour: The most misnamed flour on the block, buckwheat flour contains no wheat (and no gluten), and is best used in combination with other flours due to its density.
  • Coconut flour: This is another flour that is best used in combination with other GF flours, due to its tendency to absorb moisture. It adds a delicious flavor and aroma to your gluten free baking.

5. Ancient Grains

The rise of the paleo diet, which touts the eating habits of our hunter-gather ancestors, has brought acute awareness to the fact that what we eat not now does not resemble what we ate even 100 years ago. This is due to the industrialization and mass production of food in the 20th century, particularly grain. Ancient grains predate this period, and provide a rich source of vitamins and proteins with minimal processing.

Ancient Grains DIY

Here is a list of ancient grains (not exhaustive), along with suggestions for quick at home recipes:

  • Quinoa: This gluten free grain makes delicious hot cereal with almond milk and maple syrup.
  • Millet: This is an incredibly versatile grain that when ground makes a great binder for meatballs and meatloaf.
  • Sorghum: This makes a great whole grain flour for use in cookies and brownies.
  • Amaranth: Another gluten free all-star, amaranth flour is great in pancakes.
  • Teff: Teff polenta is a delicious alternative for those allergic to corn.
  • Freekeh: With an appearance like wheat berries, this grain is great cooked and tossed in salad.
  • Chia seeds: Chia seeds can be added to just about anything, but they are particularly tasty in puddings of any kind.
  • Farro: Farro is a great alternative to rice; next time you are making risotto, try it with farro instead.
  • Spelt: Spelt flour works well in combination with flaxseed meal, particularly in muffin recipes.
  • Kamut: Kamut kernels can be cooked pilaf-style, similar to wild rice.

6. Donuts!

Science suggests that both fat and sugar trigger reward centers in the brain. When combined in one food, it becomes downright addictive, which may help to explain the eternal popularity of donuts.

DIY Donuts: Apple Cider Donut Recipe

In the colder months, when the days are shorter, we crave more calories, which is why donuts are an annual fall favorite. Take a page out of New England’s book, and try these apple cider donuts.

Ingredients

  • 3.5 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup boiled apple cider
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Safflower oil

Instructions

  1. Whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.
  2. Beat sugar and butter with a mixer. Add eggs, and mix again. Add the buttermilk, boiled cider and vanilla and mix well. Fold in the flour mixture.
  3. Pour dough into a baking sheet that has been dusted with flour and lined with parchment paper. Stick in the freezer for a few minutes, then remove and cut donuts with a donut cutter. (You can use the round centers to make donut holes.)
  4. Heat the safflower oil in a large pot. Drop the donuts into the oil and cook on each side until brown.