Food & Fitness After 50: Clearing the Confusion on Probiotic Supplements

intestinal-gut-bacteria-balancing-microbiomeA friend asked a simple question, “should I take a probiotic supplement?” I wish there was a simple “yes” or “no” answer, as I’m sure that is what she wanted. But, as with many questions in nutrition, the answer is it depends. It depends on:

  • What is the reason for taking a probiotic supplement?
  • Is there a specific health problem that you are trying to alleviate by taking a probiotic supplement?
  • What dietary sources of probiotics are you consuming? And, is your diet rich in not only probiotics, but prebiotics and dietary fiber? Diets high in fat, sugar, and excess alcohol do not promote the good bacteria in our guts, while a diet rich in fiber, fruits, vegetables, pro-and prebiotics contribute to a healthy balance of bacteria in our guts. (For more information on dietary sources of pre-and probiotics, click here and here.)

I had the chance to ask Dr. Anthony Thomas, Director of Scientific Affairs for Jarrow Formulas* to help us  navigate the landscape on probiotic supplements. First, let’s understand that probiotics won’t completely alter your gut microbiome because “probiotics do not sustainably colonize the adult gut, but should be thought of as temporary, transient residents that interact with the body and its microbial ecosystem to influence function and health,” according to Dr. Thomas.

Let’s start with the definition of probiotics:

  • “Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host” (WHO/FAO definition).

The key words in that sentence, according to Dr. Thomas are live when administered, adequate amounts, and health benefit.

He explained that the probiotic has to be live when you take it. How do you know? “Choose products that include the “Best Used Before Date” date and avoid products that declare potency “at time of manufacture,” as this measurement does not reflect the amount still alive when purchased and consumed. A transparent, quality manufacturer lists the guaranteed minimum number of live cells, measured in CFUs, per serving when stored as recommended and used prior to the “best used before date.” Dr. Thomas goes on to explain that while probiotics don’t really expire, but the number of live cells may not meet label claims if not stored as stated on the label and used beyond that date. The “time at manufacture” almost certainly over represents the quantity of live cells because the normal manufacturing process results in some die-off of live probiotics.

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Identification chart courtesy of Jarrow Formulas

Adequate amounts mean not only quantity of probiotics in a supplement, but quality. “Probiotics are strain, dose, and condition specific.” Strains should be designated on a supplement label, so you know what you are getting. Dr. Thomas explains, “not all strains perform equally, and more strains are not better, better strains are better.” For example, if looking for a supplement to help with bowel issues, Lactobacillus (genus) plantarum (species) 229v (strain) is clinically proven to reduce bowel discomfort at dosing of 10 to 20 billion live cells daily.” The probiotic identification chart illustrates the difference between genus, species, and strain in a way that is understandable to those of us who might have forgotten what we learned in biology!

And, that leads us to the last part of the definition, health benefits. A probiotic must be studied to know if it conveys a health benefit. If a label simply says something like 40 billion CFU with 16 probiotic strains, it may or may not be clinically relevant. “Don’t be swayed by a large number of colony forming units (CFUs is how probiotics are measured). What you really want is the right strain in the right amounts,” says Dr. Thomas.

There are a lot of resources to help consumers know if a probiotic meets the definition from the International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP). It takes some homework to take the guess work out, but if you are going to pay good money for a supplement, isn’t it worth knowing that it has evidence to support it will do what you want it to do?

I think this statement from the ISAPP sums up what we know, “probiotics are not a “cure all” and it is not necessary to take them to be healthy. But they may help you even if you are generally healthy. Probiotics will have different benefits – look for a product with studies that support the benefit you want.”

Dr. Thomas cautions us to be aware of “disingenuous marketing masquerading as education” for some probiotic supplements. A product claiming to be “ancient” might sound impressive, but if the product doesn’t list the strains, 100 billion CFUs per serving is meaningless.

Resources:

To learn more about a specific supplement check out the Clinical Guide to Probiotic Produces Available in the USA to help you understand the evidence supporting a probiotic supplement.

And, here is a link to helpful infographics on probiotics from ISAPP.

*I heard Dr. Thomas speak at a sponsored food and nutrition conference, but I was neither asked nor compensated to write this post.

 

Fit to Eat

“Fit to Eat,” focuses on nutrition concerns of active people and showcases inspiring stories from adults who eat well, move well, and be well. Whether you are in your 50s, 60, 70s, or beyond you will find information to keep you healthy and active.

Food & Fitness After 50: Answering Your Questions

Slide openingI enjoyed talking to an engaged and inquisitive audience of about 100 older adults in Asheville, North Carolina on my favorite topic, Food & Fitness After 50. There were so many good questions that Dr. Bob and I will answer a few of them in this post. For some of the questions, we will refer you to some older posts that covered the topic in greater depth.

Question: What is the best oil to use…I am confused about so many choices?

The cooking oil aisle has become as crowded as the yogurt dairy case! With so many choices, brands, and health claims it is a challenge to sort it all out. In my opinion (based the nutritional properties of the oils) and the oils I use in my kitchen I recommend extra virgin olive oil for sautéing, salad dressings, and drizzling over roasted veggies and pasta. I like some flavored olive oils, too, like lemon, Tuscan herb, and garlic. For everyday cooking, I use a neutral-tasting canola oil. Both have a high percentage of monounsaturated fats with low levels of saturated fats. I also use peanut oil for stir-frying because it has a high smoke point, meaning that it can be heated to a high temperature without setting off the smoke detector. In addition, I use a dash of sesame oil at the end of stir-frying to give the meal a distinct flavor. The other factor in recommending these oils is economic. They are affordable compared to some of the new kids on the shelf.

Here’s a chart of the various oils; choose the oils with the yellow and blue bars and limit the ones with red bars.

oil-comparison-chart

Question: What is the difference between extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and light extra virgin olive oil?

Light extra virgin olive oil is more refined than regular EVOO, making it lighter in color, giving it a neutral taste and a higher smoke point. It is not lighter in calories or fat.

Question: Is vitamin K good for bone health and what foods is it found in?

The fat-soluble vitamin K works as a co-factor for making proteins important in blood clotting and bone metabolism. Deficiency of vitamin K is rare in the U.S. and it is unclear if supplementation will reduce the risk of osteoporosis, but this is a robust area of research, so stay tuned for more information as it becomes available. For now, your best bet is to eat plenty of leafy green veggies, one of the richest food sources of vitamin K. Collard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, and broccoli are all excellent sources. Also, canola and soybean oils contribute to our vitamin K status. You will probably find vitamin K in your multi-vitamin supplement as well as some calcium supplements touting bone health.

Contrary to popular belief, people on warfarin (Coumadin®) don’t need to eliminate vitamin K, but they do need to maintain a consistent intake of the vitamin so as not to interfere with the drug’s action. For more information of vitamin K, check out this fact sheet from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Question: Is Tai Chi helpful for arthritis?

older-adults-tai-chi-outside-e1505160556655I asked Tai Chi expert, Chris Cinnamon, founder of Tai Chi Chicago, and he gives Tai Chi an enthusiastic “yes” as a good exercise for those with arthritis. A recent review of research on the health benefits of Tai Chi reveals that the strongest evidence is for reducing fall risk and reducing pain from knee osteoarthritis. To learn more about the benefits of Tai Chi check out this interview with Chris from our blog.

Question: I love to swim and is swimming the only exercise I need, or do I also need to some strength training?

Swimming is a fantastic whole-body exercise that can help build and maintain muscle strength, improve stamina, and spark weight loss.  As with all types of exercise, we get out of it what we put into it.  In other words, we can’t expect great benefits if we constantly swim at a casual pace.  We need to push ourselves in the water so that our lungs and our muscles are frequently taken out of their comfort zones.  Isolating the legs with kicking exercises and doing the same with the arms by using a pull buoy can add variety and challenge to your swimming.  Out of the water, if you can make time for additional exercise—even if that’s only an extra 5 minutes a day—then briskly walking stairs or jogging or weight lifting or calisthenics are good ways to place stress and strain on your bones to help keep them strong, something that swimming does not do.

Question: Can you recommend specific exercises for fall prevention?

Falls can have devastating health consequences, especially in older adults.  We are all going to fall from time to time, so our goal should be to minimize the number of times we fall, along with the damage that occur when we do fall.  Improving our balance is just one aspect of fall prevention because on those occasions when we find ourselves off balance, we need the leg and core strength, along with quick reactions, to prevent ourselves from toppling over. Happily, there is good scientific evidence—coupled with common sense—to indicate that staying fit through a variety of different activities is a great way to reduce the risk of falling. Balance exercises such as standing on one leg for at least 20 seconds can help improve balance, but that shouldn’t be surprising.  More useful are exercises that require stepping over obstacles to mimic walking through a crowded attic or tiptoeing through a garden.  Exercises that increase leg and core strength are helpful, as are activities that improve agility—our ability to change directions quickly and accurately.  Dancing of all sorts, tennis, team sports, pickle ball, and handball all fit that bill.

Question: Can I get enough quality protein on a plant-based diet?

Absolutely. According to the Plant-Powered Dietitian, Sharon Palmer. “There are many examples of high-quality plant protein foods—similar to the quality of animal protein. The star plant protein is soy—it is similar in quality to animal protein. In addition, pulses (beans, peas, and lentils) are high in quality, too. The important point is that if someone consumes a balanced plant-based diet, with adequate sources of a variety of plants—pulses, soy foods, whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds—they can get the all of the amino acids needed by the body from those foods. It’s not necessary to “combine” or “complement” proteins at each meal. However, it is important to make sure you are selecting a variety of protein-rich foods at each meal to ensure adequate protein intake. One note: vegans may need slightly more protein daily to accommodate for digestibility—the high fiber nature of many plant foods means that the proteins are not quite as digestible. So, it’s a good idea to get servings of protein-rich foods at each meal and snack. And don’t forego soy needlessly—this is a really important plant protein source for vegans.”

For more on plant proteins, here is an interview with Sharon and be sure to check out her website for terrific tips, recipes, and lots of other great stuff.

Question: Can you recommend some online sites or videos for exercises designed for older adults?

There are plenty of websites and YouTube videos that focus on exercises for older adults.  Here are four examples:

1) National Institute on Aging has educational materials and videos targeted at getting older adults more active through basic exercises that can be done at home.

2) Fitness Blender offers a wide variety of at-home workouts of varying durations and difficulty.

3) For those interested in yoga, Yoga with Adriene is a good place to start.

4) For older adults who desire challenging strength training, along with an understanding of the science behind it, take a look at videos from Athlean-X.

All of these resources provide great ways to get started with new activities, all of which can be modified to suit individual needs and interests.

To learn more about foods and physical activity for those in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond, check out, Food & Fitness After 50 , available at Amazon (both as a soft-back or an E-book) or other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Cruise Control: Tips to Enjoying Great Food and Maintaining Your Weight on a 2-week Cruise

2017_Viking_Homelands_956x690_tcm13-15581We just returned from a 2-week Viking Ocean Cruise, visiting 7 countries and 10 cities in Scandinavia and on the Baltic Sea. It was a trip of a lifetime and before we left we heard the same thing from friends who are serious  cruisers….”the food is fabulous, with loads of options and endless buffets.” All that is true, and it made us pledge to enjoy the food but set the intention to not gain weight.

In Food & Fitness After 50 we advise four principles of a healthy diet for older adults:

  • Include all the energy-containing (calorie) nutrients of carbohydrate, protein, and fat
  • Choose nutrient-rich foods (foods packed with vitamins, minerals, and healthy plant-compounds)
  • Consider your risk for chronic disease when choosing foods
  • Enjoy food and mealtime

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On a cruise it is easy to focus solely on the enjoyment of food and mealtime. I’m not about to tell anyone to wear blinders when choosing their meal, but with these tips you can enjoy it all and still fit into your clothes when disembarking the ship.

Before you decide where or what to eat (ships have many options from intimate small dining to endless buffets to white table cloth fine dining, as well as specialty restaurants) check them all out. At the buffets, do a walk through before filling your plate, focusing on the regional cuisine and vow to sample one food that is new to you every day. Since Viking is a Norwegian cruise line the seafood options were endless; salmon, crab, lobster, shrimp, halibut, and cod were our staple proteins. In a previous post I wrote about smoked salmon and lox. I tried another variation….gravlax, a Nordic dish of salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill. It has a sweeter taste than the lox or smoked salmon than we eat in the U.S. My husband had kippers one morning for breakfast; a whole herring, butterflied and hot-smoked. The taste (and smell) was too strong for me!20190915_113831 (1)

Ask for smaller portions; yes, it is possible! Ask for a one-egg omelet instead of 3 eggs and load it up with spinach, peppers, and onions (a good definition of a nutrient-rich meal) and request entrée portions be scaled back. I often opted for a “sampler platter,” trying a small portion of many foods on one plate. Yes, it sometimes made for odd combinations, but it was fun to try so many foods without feeling stuffed at the end of the meal.

Fill up on foods with a low-energy density; that means foods lower in calories but with high volume to keep you full. Soup is a great way to start a meal and I often found that the soups were so delicious that one bowl of soup was all I needed to eat for lunch. Fruit is also low-energy density and the fruit options were plentiful and tasty.

IMG_3151And, back to smaller portions, what about dessert? The pastry chef turned out beautiful, decadent desserts and many were right-sized but there is opportunity to go overboard at the gelato station! Ask for one scoop of gelato to enjoy the sweet taste without blowing your food budget. I always tell folks that the second half of the dessert tastes just like the first half; so, no need to eat a big piece of cake, pie, or a cookie the size of a man hole cover!

IMG_3142Talk to the chef and take a galley tour. These tours are not advertised but ask guest services if you can get a look behind the scenes. I was impressed with how organized, efficient, and clean everything was in the kitchen. I enjoyed talking to the Chef de Cuisine, Ivan Paineman, about how he delivers high quality, delicious food for the many restaurants on board, as well as room service. We also took part in a special “Chef’s Table” meal one evening, featuring a regional cuisine 5-course meal with wine pairing and got to talk to the chef about how he decides which cuisines to feature.

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Don’t abandon your exercise routine; no need to do so with a world-class gym on board and indoor and outdoor swimming pools. (My favorite was the infinity pool at the back of the ship….feels like you could go over the ship and right into the ocean.) We spend some time in the gym, but we got most of our exercise on walking tours of the cities. Guided walking tours were included in most cities and we got lots of steps in while seeing the sights of Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Aalborg, Tallinn, and Bergen. It doesn’t feel like exercise when listening to a knowledgeable, engaging guide showing off his or her favorite city. Most days, we got over 15,000 steps.IMG_2739

I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up alcohol as it pours freely at lunch and dinner on-board. No need for a drink package on Viking unless you want to add breakfast drinking! Alcohol adds extra calories and loosens your resolve to eat healthy. We certainly enjoyed the wine with meals but breakfast, mid-morning, mid-afternoon, and late-night imbibing is something that no one needs! But, when in Germany, I couldn’t resist a local beer! For more on alcohol and health, click here.IMG_2969

Thanks to Viking for delicious food, charming cities, luxurious accommodations, and attentive staff. We met our goal of not gaining weight, but it was hard to transition to land lubber status and making my own meals and cleaning my house!

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Assembling Healthy Meals

Eating well coverI’m often asked if I develop recipes. The answer is no. I am great at following other’s recipes and I enjoy cooking, but I most often assemble meals. With basic cooking skills anyone can assemble a great tasting and good-for-you meal. I was happy to see the that the latest issue of Eating Well Magazine was called “The Convenience Issue” because it paired convenience foods with ingredients most of us have in our kitchens. As I talked about in a recent blog, frozen meals can be used for convenience and as the base to assemble a quick meal.

Today, I’ll share four meals that can be quickly assembled. These are favorites in my house.

#1          Thanks to my brother-in-law, Lew, for this meal assembly hack. I’ve modified the sauce to make it a bit lower in calories and saturated fat (I eliminated the cream and butter, sorry, Lew!) but it is still delicious and easy to make. Start with refrigerated ravioli (like Buitoni spinach ricotta, spinach artichoke, butternut squash, or mushroom agnolotti) and make a fresh tomato sauce. For the sauce, dice 2 fresh tomatoes, mince 3 cloves of garlic, and shred some fresh basil leaves. Heat olive oil in a large non-stick pan and add tomatoes, garlic, and basil. Cook down until tomatoes and garlic soften and add a little white wine; cook some more. Add a dash of milk and a squeeze of fresh lemon.  As the sauce cooks, boil water and cook the ravioli according to package directions. Plate the ravioli, top with tomato sauce, sprinkle with fresh Parmesan cheese and more fresh basil. Pair with a big green salad and enjoy!

#2          I love stir-fry, and this is so easy. I have an electric wok (I know, probably not Lean Beef Stir Fryauthentic, but it works for me). Thinly slice chicken breast or lean steak (if partially frozen, it makes it easy to get thin slices).  If you like a beef stir-fry, click on this link for the best stir-fry cuts. Clean out your refrigerator veggie bin…carrots, bell peppers, onion, asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms…..whatever you have will work. Chop veggies into bite-sized pieces before starting to cook. Heat oil in wok (I like peanut oil because it has a high smoke point) and when oil is hot, quickly add meat and stir-fry until done….it only takes a couple of minutes. Remove the meat from the wok, heat up a bit more oil and toss in the veggies and stir-fry until tender crisp. Add the meat to the veggies and toss all together. If you want a sauce, mix a teaspoon of cornstarch in cold water and add a bit of soy or teriyaki sauce, some grated fresh ginger and minced garlic and add the sauce at the end of cooking. Push the veggies and meat to the sides of wok and pour in the sauce and let it get bubbly. Then toss everything around to get it all mixed. Serve over brown or white ready rice (a super speedy way to cook brown or white rice in the microwave is to use the pouches of ready rice). And, if you don’t like brown rice, that’s ok…. the recommendation is to make half your grains whole.

channa masala#3          This next one is a yummy vegetarian dish, that my friend Lisa Carlson made last spring when I was in Chicago.  Start with a package of Indian Channa Masala (you can find it in the Asian or Indian section of your grocery store). Break up a head of cauliflower and broccoli and steam in the microwave until the veggies have lost their crunch but are still firm. Mix steamed veggies with the package of Channa Masala (it is a blend of chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, and spices) and add a can of drained, rinsed chickpeas to the mixture. Spread on a baking sheet and bake in the oven until the veggies are done. If you want to add protein and make it a meat-based dish instead of a vegetarian dish, stir in some cooked chicken. You could serve it with rice if you want to but the added chick peas make it a hearty dish without the rice.

#4          Have you ever thought of grilling watermelon? Sounds crazy but grilling brings out the sweetness of the melon. For this dish, use frozen, peeled and deveined shrimp and cubes of watermelon. Thread the shrimp and watermelon on skewers and drizzle with olive oil. Grill over medium heat, turning skewers frequently to get an even cook. It only takes a few minutes per side to cook the shrimp and grill the melon. When done, place the skewers on a plate and sprinkle with crumbled feta cheese and fresh mint. Serve with favorite sides, such as an ear of grilled corn, roasted new potatoes, quinoa, or coleslaw.

grilled-watermelon-shrimp-skewers-su

All of these meals are easy; experiment with cooking times and seasonings and you can’t go wrong! I’d love to hear your favorite quickly assembled meals, so please share!

For more ideas on food and fitness, check out Food & Fitness After 50 available at Amazon and other booksellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

Food & Fitness After 50: Owning a Dog Might be Good for Your Fitness

Thanks to Dr. Bob Murray for writing this post. As a dog-lover and dog-owner (well, I think Samson and Buddy own me!) I can related to the benefits of having a dog. Even when I don’t feel like walking, those pleading doggie eyes get me every time!

woman-walking-dogThat sure is a wishy-washy title.  Why not something more definitive such as “Owning a Dog Makes You More Fit”?  After all, most dog owners can vouch for the increase in their daily physical activity just to care for their pet, including regular walks around the neighborhood.  About half of U.S. households own at least one dog and some studies do suggest that dog owners walk more than non-dog owners and are much more likely to meet the current physical activity recommendations (150 minutes of physical activity each week).  I use the word “suggest” because it is not yet fully clear if dog owners walk more just because they already lead more active lifestyles or if the dog owners studied overestimated the amount of time they actually spend walking their pets.  On a more positive note, other studies report that dog owners are less sedentary because they do move more and sit less during the day.

a-person-walking-a-dogIn theory, dog ownership might help reduce the epidemic of sedentary behavior that increases the risk of all sorts of diseases such as heart diseases, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.  It is clear that increased daily physical activity combats all those nasty outcomes, yet most adult Americans do not come close to getting the recommended amount of physical activity (150 minutes each week).

isolated jack russell terrier holding leather leach over white backgroundWe often think of physical activity as something to be scheduled into our days rather than as the total of all the movement we’re able to accomplish during a day.  It’s actually the sum of that movement—day after day—that provides lifelong benefits to health and well-being.  For example, if a person goes to a one-hour daily exercise class, works up a sweat, but is then sedentary the remaining 23 hours, the benefits of that hour of exercise are greatly diminished.  In contrast, there are great benefits for those who are active all day long in one way or another, be it housework, gardening, walking, labor, and so on.  Add to that list taking care of pets, especially dogs.

Motivating people to swap a sedentary lifestyle for an active lifestyle is no easy task.  It’s relatively simple for us to change our habits in the short-term (e.g., joining a gym), but sustained long-term behavior change (e.g., going to the gym regularly) is much more difficult for most people.  And that’s where dog ownership comes in.

You may or may not be surprised to learn that some scientists have put a lot of thought into what motivates us to exercise.  Here’s one recent scientific explanation: “… the multi-action control (M-PAC) framework is a [physical activity] PA-specific model that recognizes reflective processes (e.g., perceived capability) as antecedents of PA intention formation, regulatory processes as key to the translation of intention to behavior (also known as action control), and reflexive processes (e.g., habit) as potential hallmarks of PA maintenance.” (Click here to see the study cited.)

Responsible dog owners recognize their pet’s need for physical activity and that involves daily walks, among other dog-related activities (feeding, petting, grooming, etc.)  Good dog parents develop sustainable, repeatable daily physical activity habits that can last for many years, motivated by the love they feel for their pet and their desire to provide the best care possible to ensure their dog has a long healthspan.

funny-5-miles-dog-walkingOwning a dog is obviously not a sure solution for reducing sedentary time and increasing physical activity time, but being a responsible dog owner does mean that you’ll be taking more walks (and bending over more often) than you did before you owned a dog.  And if those activities add to your daily activity total, you’ll be better off both physically and emotionally.

If your spouse or partner is reluctant to take on the responsibilities of a pet parent, perhaps a convincing argument might be “But honey, owning a puppy will help us both live longer, happier lives and there’s nothing I’d like more than to spend more time with you.”

For more tips on moving well as we age, check out Food & Fitness After 50, available at Amazon and other book sellers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

Food & Fitness After 50: How to Add Nutritional Balance to Frozen Meals

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Senior HS Photo

Fifty years ago, I graduated from high school in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. Nutrition was my chosen college major and under my high school yearbook photo it reads “future dietitian” (and, I was the scorer for the baseball team which may have led to my love of sports nutrition!) I was delighted to receive a scholarship from Stouffer’s, yes, the Stouffer’s of frozen food fame. I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a Mrs. Stouffer and she ran a restaurant in Cleveland in the 1920s. Her meals were uber-popular so much so that customers asked for take-out meals. In the front of the restaurant stood a freezer chest so customers could take home a frozen lasagna or meatloaf to feed their families.

stouffersSo, I was delighted when Nestle (who purchased Stouffer’s in 1973) invited me to Solon, Ohio to learn more about frozen meals, from conception to freezer case, and join with their team of chefs to experience the creative process. In addition to working with the chefs to create spice blends used for developing global flavors and reducing sodium (like the one below), we toured the innovation center to see how recipes are developed and tested for scalability (i.e., taking a homemade lasagna recipe and scaling it to make thousands of them). The recipes created in the kitchen used the same ingredients you would use at home, they just use a whole lot more of them!

 

For many, “processed” foods are to be avoided, but let’s face it, we are not going back to the days when every meal was home cooked from scratch, nor should we. There has been a lot of talk of reducing what has been termed “ultra-processed” foods. A recent study found that when people ate a diet of ultra-processed foods (the foods that are calorie-dense, taste good, and gobbled up by many of us) an extra 500 calories a day was consumed. This was a small study, but well controlled, and it gives us some insight into one of the contributors to obesity (note, I said contributing, not causing).

Tamar Haspel, writing in the Washington Post , details the problem of ultra-processed foods and notes that maybe the answer from the food industry is “better processed food.” Innovations to reduce sodium, saturated fat, and increase veggies and whole grains are a good start but the catch is….we have got to buy the products. It made me think of Trix cereal; parents demanded natural colors instead of the neon-colored cereal nuggets, but when the change was made using natural fruit dyes, the colors were not as bright and guess what? Cereal sales dropped and parents wanted the original cereal back in the aisles!

Nestle-My-Plate-e1366123280768So, bringing this back to my visit at Nestle, we talked a lot about their program to Balance Your Plate. The website and program shows how a busy family (or a single who doesn’t want to cook) can enjoy a frozen meal or a frozen pizza, but the entrée can be balanced with sides and salads to round out the meal. The portion size can be modest when other things on the plate…. a fresh fruit salad, a green salad, or grilled or steamed veggies, balance the meal, contributing to nutrient intakes and keeping you feeling full.

I also came away with a new respect for frozen foods; we tasted a few Lean Cuisine entrees, California Pizza Kitchen, Sweet Earth, and Wildscape products that were delicious and healthy. Pairing some of these products with a side of brown rice, a serving of chickpeas, or roasted broccoli or cauliflower makes an easy family meal.

So, next time it’s 5 pm and you have no dinner plans and are tempted to drive through a quick service or fast food restaurant, rethink your meal and try the frozen food aisle instead. Some data show that frozen meal eaters have better diet quality than those who rely on quick service meals.

Me with box
Me, 50 years later

During our visit, we were asked to bring the box of a favorite frozen meal and explain why we chose the item. I had to pay homage to Mrs. Stouffer and show a frozen lasagna box. I make a great spinach lasagna, but sometimes when I have a big family gathering, I get tired of cooking and on the last day of their visit I pop a frozen lasagna in the oven…. but I always balance the plate with huge salad and a slice of crusty bread!

 

Disclosure: My travel for the one-day trip to Solon, Ohio was paid for by Nestle, but I was not asked to or compensated to write this post.

 

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Seafood Nutrition Part 2

Today’s post is Part 2 of Seafood Nutrition, answering your questions on fish. In future posts, I’ll address fish oil supplements and sustainability/environmental concerns that you raised. In the last post, we covered differences between the five types of salmon, omega-3 content of various fish and shellfish, how cooking affects omega-3s, taste comparison between wild-caught and farm-raised salmon, and canned salmon. (If you missed the post, click here to read it.)

Question: Are salmon given dyes to make them pink?

salmonWild-caught salmon get their color from the food they eat, not from artificial dyes. If you’ve ever seen a pink flamingo (the real ones, not the yard ornaments!) they get their color the same way salmon do….from eating plankton rich in compounds called carotenoids. These compounds are broken down in the body to give the flesh a pink to orange to a deep red color, depending on the type and amount of food they consume. (Fun fact, humans who eat loads of carrots or drink a lot of carrot juice can develop a harmless condition called carotenemia…. the outer layer of skin, mostly seen on the palms of the hands, turn orange!)

Farm-raised salmon are fed a diet that mimics what wild-caught salmon eat, including carotenoids. While there is a lingering fear from various media stories that farm-raised salmon are injected with dyes, several news reports have corrected the inaccurate information, including Dr. Sanjay Gupta.  Click here to read more about setting the record straight.

Question: Does smoking salmon have any impact on the nutritional properties of the fish?

Smoked-Salmon-Header-1-1024x852That is a great question and it led me to ask another question: what is the difference between smoked salmon and lox? My husband loves lox with a good bagel and schmear of cream cheese, but I never thought about the difference between smoked salmon and lox.

I reached out to Tom Sunderland of Trident Seafoods who has over 15 years of experience in the salmon industry. “Lox is related to the German “Lachs,” which is used to describe smoked salmon.”

According to Epicurious Magazine, smoked salmon is cured or brined and then smoked. Nova lox is cold smoked salmon. (Nova gets the name from Nova Scotia, but now Nova just means any cold smoked salmon). And, if salmon is hot-smoked it is called kippers.

As for the nutrition, the primary difference is the sodium. “The sodium levels are a food safety requirement related to packaging under vacuum. The FDA mandates a 3.5% minimum water phase salt level on any non-nitrated product sold in a vacuum pack as a botulism inhibitor (3.0% is the minimum if sodium nitrite is used). The main purpose of sodium nitrite is color retention, but it does have some anti-microbial properties,” says Sunderland. (In a post a few months ago we covered sodium nitrite and what “uncured” means when used in meat, so for a refresher click here.)

According to Food Data Central, the USDA nutrient data base, 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of salmon has about 60 milligrams of sodium whereas smoked salmon and lox ranges from 800-1200 mg of sodium in the same 100-gram portion. Keep in mind that 3.5 ounces is a hefty portion of lox and many people (my husband included, use about an ounce on their bagel.) So, if you’ve been told to keep your sodium intake low to manage blood pressure, go easy on the smoked fish by using a smaller portion.

And, soon I’ll be introduced to gravlax, a Scandinavian cured salmon, when we visit the north lands for an anniversary trip! (Stay tuned for more on that.)

Question: Is Arctic Char as good as salmon?

I assume the question relates to nutrition and not taste, as taste is subjective, but the nutritionals are similar. Arctic char is a member of the Salmonidae family and found in cold-water lakes in the polar regions. “Most Arctic Char is imported from Iceland and Canada,” says  Valerie Agyeman, with Seafood Nutrition Partnership. She says that it has a “delicate texture and mild flavor, similar to trout and is a fattier fish than salmon.” Because of the higher fat content, it has about 1 gram (1000 milligrams) of omega-3s per serving.

For those unfamiliar with this fish, Agyeman says its “flavor appeals to people who enjoy trout but find salmon too strongly flavored.” As for cooking, she says cook char as you would trout. “Fillets and steaks can be broiled or cooked on the grill, while whole fish can be baked or poached. The skin becomes thick and leathery after cooking, so it’s best to remove it before serving. The oil content makes char also a good candidate for smoking.”

Question: Is frozen fish as healthful as fresh fish? Some frozen fish has added phosphates, why?

According to Christine Garvey of Trident Seafoods Corporation, some consumers think fresh fish is the premium offering. “Fresh fish is fantastic when it is truly freshly caught and not over a week old before it is consumed.  Unfortunately, when purchasing fresh fish, it is often impossible to know when that fish was caught and how it was handled through the supply chain. But, when fish is flash frozen at the source, I consider it the best quality fish available, typically frozen within hours of being caught.”

As for the addition of phosphates, “Alaska seafood companies do not use phosphates in processing fish in Alaska,” according the Michael Kohan, of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.  However, phosphates are an approved additive and some markets, such as Asian and Chinese markets, have long transit times to get their seafood to market so phosphates are used to improve the quality of the product. “Phosphates are added to preserve the moisture content of the fish during freezing to preserve freshness. When phosphates are used, they are declared on the label,” says Kohan.  Many people are looking for “clean” labels on foods and think the fewer additives, the better the product. While that is not necessarily true, those who are looking for fish without phosphates can choose Alaskan seafood, processed in Alaska.

Since my trip to Alaska I’ve become hooked on flash frozen wild Alaska Pollock, a cousin to cod with a mild taste and flaky texture. Try it broiled with lemon and thyme and a drizzle of olive oil, pan friend with seasoned panko bread crumbs, or blackened for fish tacos. One fillet (slightly over 4 ounces) has 80 calories and 19 grams of protein and is a great source of omega-3s, so it is a nutrient-rich choice for those over 50 years of age who want to keep calories in check while getting quality protein. And, try a wild Alaska Pollock burger for a change of pace on the summer grill.

 

 

I hope I’ve answered your questions on seafood nutrition, but if not, please let me know if you have lingering questions. Some people say seafood is too expensive, but as Linda Cornish, President of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, put it, “There is a perception that seafood is expensive, but chronic disease is more expensive!” So, take the pledge to start eating seafood twice a week!  Click here for delicious seafood recipes to help you keep the pledge!

Disclosure: I attended a sponsored travel program by Trident Seafoods where I got a deep dive (pun intended) into all things seafood and got introduced to helpful people and resources for evidence-based information on seafood. I was not compensated or asked to write this post. All of the questions came from my readers.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Supplements for healthy aging?

VitaminsType “supplements for healthy aging” in Google and 26,200,000 results show up! I’m constantly being asked about supplements but I want to know what supplements are on your radar. I’m working on an article for health professionals on supplements commonly used by those of us in our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. And, your input is important to help me narrow down the wide field.

I know from consumer survey data from supplement trade groups that that vitamins (like vitamin D) and minerals (like magnesium) are popular, as are supplements that claim to support “healthy aging,” “heart health, and “bone health.” But, I don’t know what supplements fit neatly into those boxes and would like to know if you take any supplements or are curious about supplements you’ve read about or seen advertised in print or on television.

When I reviewed some of those 26,200,000 results, I was impressed with the creativity of the names and claims. From youngevity to longevity to herbal supplements that claim to be the “root of anti-aging.” (And, of course, we all know there is no such thing as anti-aging; even animals kept in the purest environments age.)  And, the names are cool, too, sort of like the names of the paint samples in Home Depot: “cell shield,” “ReVerse,” “Imortalium, ” and my favorite…. Super Ultra Mega longevity, because super isn’t a strong enough descriptor.

Broccoli and pillsSo, email me (chrisrosenbloom@gmail) or hit me up on twitter @chrisrosenbloom and help me compile my list. And, of course I promise to share what I learn about the supplements (what works, what doesn’t, what might, and what is just plain hype) with you in a future post.

Thanks!

Food & Fitness After 50: Seafood Nutrition Part 1

I shared my Alaskan adventure with you in a previous post and today I’ll answer your questions about the nutritional benefits of seafood. You asked so many great questions that I’m breaking it down into two parts, so welcome to Part 1. Thanks to all who submitted questions before my trip and thanks to the experts at Trident Seafoods CorporationSeafood Nutrition Partnership , and the National Fisheries Institute for providing insights for my responses.

Let’s start with an overview of the nutritional benefits of fish:

  • High in lean protein
  • Low in saturated fat (the type that raises bad blood cholesterol levels)
  • Rich in vitamin B12
  • Supports healthy brains, eyes, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels
  • Eating 2-3 servings of seafood a week reduces risk of death from all chronic diseases by about 17%.
  • All fish is healthful, but “fatty” fish are rich in omega-3 fats, specifically EPA and DHA.

Omega-3s are needed for more than a healthy heart. They are also critical for pregnant women and babies for making healthy brains for growing children. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 of us meet the goal of eating seafood twice each week. (Dietitians take a food first approach, but if you don’t eat seafood, an omega-3 supplement is advised and more on this in a future post.) This chart identifies the fish richest in omega-3s. But, don’t worry if your favorite is on the lower end of the omega-3 chart. In the words of Dr. Tom Brenna of the Dell Pediatric Research Institute at University of Texas, “even fish with low omega-3s can deliver significant amounts if they are consumed frequently.”

snp_rdtoolkit2018_omega3_chart1

So on to your questions!

Question: I would like to understand the different types of salmon.

In last week’s post I gave you a handy way to remind the 5 different types of salmon, but here’s a rundown on the 5 types of wild-caught salmon, according to Analise Gonzales, Sales & Business Development Manager for Trident Seafoods:

  • King salmon or Chinook is the largest species (the current sport-caught world record is 97.25 pounds!) and is rich, moist, and buttery with a robust flavor. It is the highest in omega-3s and you are most likely to find it in an upscale restaurant.
  • Sockeye or red salmon is ruby red in color and remains red throughout cooking. It is high in omega-3s and is the second most abundant Alaskan salmon species.
  • Coho or silver salmon is the most commonly used in foodservice for its taste, color, and price point. It is moderate (compared to King or Sockeye) in omega-3s.
  • Chum or Keta salmon is moderately abundant, so it is a great value fish, with lighter color and milder flavor.
  • Pink salmon is the most abundant and is often used in canned salmon. It has the lowest omega-3s of all the wild-caught salmon.

Question: What’s the difference between Pacific and Atlantic Salmon?

Pacific salmon is wild caught. Atlantic salmon that you buy in the grocery store or  served in a restaurant is farm-raised. According to the National Fisheries Institute, wild Atlantic salmon is protected under the Endangered Species Act, so commercial fishing of Atlantic salmon is not allowed.

As for the nutrient profile, “it is based on what the salmon consume in their diets, and that would differ for wild species as well as farmed,” says registered dietitian Valerie Agyeman, Communications Manager for the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. “For example, Coho salmon from the Great Lakes has a different diet and “exercise regimen” than Alaska Coho. The five species of salmon, as mentioned above, also have different nutrient profiles, including omega-3s. The same is true for Atlantic salmon. What the farmers feed the fish will determine the omega-3 levels in the fish.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) website provides more details on the diet of fish, but wild-caught salmon eat tiny shellfish and krill that have natural pigments, carotenoids (the colorful pigment that we eat in foods like carrots) that give salmon it’s deep red or pink color. Farmed salmon are fed diets that are formulated by nutritionists to include plant proteins, minerals, and vitamins. Many farmed salmon also are fed fish meal that contain fish oil so that they have omega-3 levels in their flesh, providing the beneficial oils to us when we eat them.

Agyeman says “there are a lot of fantastic advances in fish feed for farm-raised salmon, including some nutrient-rich algae-based options loaded with omega-3s.” (And, when we write about fish oil supplements in a future post we’ll talk about algae-based omega-3s which are popular with plant-based eaters who avoid seafood.)

Question: Which salmon tastes better, wild-caught or farm-raised?

It depends on personal taste and what you are accustomed to eating. People who live in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest who grew up eating wild-caught salmon enjoy the bolder taste and meatier texture, compared to farm-raised, but taste is subjective! Farm-raised tend to be fattier than wild-caught salmon.

Seafood is lifesavingQuestion: Does the preparation method, frying vs. grilling, alter the omega-3 content?

Yes, omega-3s are long chains of unsaturated fats and frying can oxidize them, thereby reducing the beneficial omega-3 levels. To preserve the healthy fats, baking, broiling, grilling, or poaching is preferred over frying. But, keep in mind that the type of fish that is fried is usually a milder, white fish (like Tilapia) that is relatively low in omega-3s compared to salmon.

 Question: Does freezing or canning salmon alter the omega-3 content?

According to Agyeman, the answer is, no, “although do keep in mind that different species have different omega-3 levels. Pink salmon, which is often used for canned salmon, is lower in omega-3s than other species.”

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will look at the differences in smoked salmon, Arctic char vs. salmon, and what to look for in the freezer case when choosing fish.

 

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.

 

Food & Fitness After 50: Alaska Adventure, Part 1

I just returned from a week-long adventure in Alaska, thanks to Trident Seafoods “Women of Seafood” program. The goal of the sponsored travel is education, fishing, and fellowship and all three objectives were met with resounding success.

Prior to my trip, I asked you what you wanted to know about seafood and you responded with thoughtful, probing questions. I sorted the questions into three buckets: nutritional benefits of seafood, issues surrounding sustainability of fishing, and clarification on fish oil supplements. I will be following up with all three of these categories in future posts, but today I want to give you a flavor of the trip.

When I tell people I just returned from Alaska, the first thing they ask is “were you on a cruise?” Well, if you count being on trawler in the Bering Sea a cruise, then yes! But, this “cruise” took me to parts of Alaska that the average cruise ship doesn’t go, and most people don’t see.

IMG_5254We started the trip in Seattle, where we did a tour of the famous Pike Place Market, where I was challenged to catch a fish at the Pike Place Fish Market, the only fish I caught that week! We were introduced to two local restaurants, known for their delicious seafood, Staple & Fancy for dinner and Serious Biscuit for breakfast the following morning before heading off to King Salmon airport in Bristol Bay, Alaska.

Upon landing, we toured the Naknek production facility to watch sockeye salmon processing…from fresh fish off the boat to frozen fish, fish meal, and fish oil, all within hours of the catch. Many of us don’t know how our food gets from sea to table and seeing the operation gave me a new appreciation of fisherman and processors. This plant runs 24/7 during salmon season to give us the highest quality fish. After the tour we headed to a lodge on the Naknek River for a wonderful dinner of, you guessed it, salmon.

 

handOne of the questions you asked was about the different types of salmon. An easy way to remember it is to look at your hand.

  • Thumb, rhymes with Chum (also called Keta)
  • The space between your thumb and index finger looks like a sock, so think of Sockeye (also called Red)
  • The middle finger is the largest, so that is for King Salmon (also called Chinook)
  • We wear rings on the ring finger (often silver rings), so think of Silver Salmon (also called Coho)
  • And, of course, the pinkie is for Pink Salmon

The next day we donned waders and took to skiffs to fish for Sockeye; my first experience with fly fishing and it wasn’t easy! Obviously, not easy because I didn’t catch anything. But, only one person in our group caught a Sockeye, so I’m blaming it on the 90-degree heat! I think the fish just wanted to swim in deeper, cooler water since it seems that I brought the Georgia weather with me to Alaska!

IMG_2529In the afternoon we took a float plane to Katmai National Park and hiked the bear trail to Brooks Falls to watch the bears fishing for salmon. They didn’t have any better luck than I did, but it was amazing to see them in action! As we were getting ready to board our float plane, we had a slight delay as a momma bear took her two cubs for a lakeside stroll. No one wants to come between a mom and her cubs!

IMG_2541 (2)

IMG_2555The next day we took a flight to Dutch Harbor, midway down the Aleutian Island chain, and were lucky to find a catcher/processor vessel in the harbor for a tour. These vessels catch the fish and process it all on board before off loading the frozen fish in the harbor. Amazing to tour the boat as the cargo was being delivered to the dock. The number one thing I remember about the tour was how clean it was…. cleaner than my own kitchen! The dedication to food safety (as well as safety of the crew) is remarkable.

IMG_2613After the tour our “cruise” began; we boarded the Fishing Vessel (F/V) Sovereignty, heading out to fish for wild Alaska Pollock, heading to Akutan. If you’ve ever watched Deadliest Catch, you might recognize this view of Akutan, the largest primary fish processing facility in North America. The Pollock were not cooperating as they were further west and north, so we couldn’t drop the net, but we were entertained by a pod of humpback whales (at least 40 of them!) scooping herring into their huge jaws! IMG_2604

Touring the plant, a mini-city, as they processed Pollock at lightning speed was amazing. They also process surimi and fish oil. After a long day (dusk is about 11:30 in Alaska this time of year), we crashed in Akutan. Fog blanketed the island and the only way back to Dutch Harbor was to board the trawler at 5 AM for another 5-hour trip. (There is no airstrip on the island….only a helicopter pad.) The crew was so gracious to the eight women on board; preparing delicious meals for 2 days! I never expected to eat shrimp ceviche on a fishing vessel in the Bering Sea!

Our flight out of Alaska took us to Anacortes, Washington to tour a secondary processing plant. This is where the frozen fish meets battering and breading, depending on what the customer wants. From Costco and Sam’s Club to quick service restaurants to food service in schools and other institutions, you’ve probably had seafood from the Bering Sea!

Our last stop was in Seattle at the Trident Innovation Center where we got a peek, and a taste, of innovative products that will be coming to market in the future. We also heard from the Seafood Nutrition Partnership and the Alaska Seafoods Marketing Institute and many of your questions were answered.

20190712_200138The last night focused all on the fellowship as we relived our adventures and enjoyed the new friendships we made. We dined at the famous Ray’s and were joined by Captain Josh Harris. I never thought I would be learning to crack Alaska King Crab legs with the Deadliest Catch star!

I’m working on new posts to answer all of your questions, so stay tuned! But, for now, eat more seafood, because it does make you smarter and prettier!

Very special thanks to our Trident hosts, amazing Women of Seafood, Ana and Christine!20190712_171253

For more information on eating well, moving well, and being well check out Food & Fitness After 50.

Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.