Monday, July 15, 2013

Savor the Flavor, taste, pt 6

Savory flavor was first described in 1908, though there are records of the use of this flavor back in the 1800s, even though the chef’s in question weren’t quite sure what was responsible for the taste. By 1985, Umami (as it is called today) was first recognized at a symposium in Hawaii. While the flavor certainly isn’t new, our understanding of it is.
Savory flavor comes from nucleotides and glutamate. Glutamate may sound familiar – it’s a key component of monosodium glutamate or MSG. MSG is used as a food additive because it rounds out and balances the other flavors in a very complimentary fashion. You may recall that salt is often used in a similar manner. Savory flavor gives that special something to what you’re eating, and though you may not know it, you are certainly capable of craving it.
But usually we just call it meat.
Meat is mostly protein. And protein is pretty important. It would make sense then that the body would have a fairly reliable mechanism for telling you when you need more of it. After all, protein is in your DNA. Also your hormones, signaling pathways, enzymes, blood, bones… everywhere. It gets under your skin. And in your hair and nails. Protein is what makes it all possible.
Protein is made up of amino acids, hooked up into chains (we call ‘em peptides). When you get a bunch of them together (polypeptide) they start to form funny shapes. They swirl (alpha helix) and flatten out into sheets (beta sheets, specifically). These shapes are very specific, and can only happen when you have the right amino acids hooked up together and in the right order. Sickle cell anemia is actually a protein disorder. Hemoglobin is made up of 147 amino acids. The sixth in this chain is usually a glutamate. In this disease, however, it’s a valine. And that’s all it takes.
In human nutrition we only care about 20 of these amino acids. We can make about half of them (some of them you may not be able to make enough of if you need extra for some reason, such as when you’re sick). The rest need to come from your food. But fear not – animal products have everything you need and plants have most of them. But the good news is different plants have different pieces, so if you don’t eat meat, but you have a healthy balance of different veggies, grains, nuts, seeds and legumes (beans), you’ll get everything you need.
There are recommendations for protein out there, some are from the USDA, others are from various body building websites, but if there’s one thing to take from this, it’s that eating protein won’t make your muscles big. But it will make your immune system (and just about everything else) stronger, and provide your body with the ingredients it needs to for cell growth, repair and maintenance. And the cells are happy, every body’s happy.
If you’re really curious about your protein needs, I’d direct you for general recommendations to the RDAs at For more specific recommendations, you can meet with a dietitian to determine what your needs are. But one thing is certain – with balanced intake you can be sure you’re getting enough of everything you need, protein included.

- Les, MS RD LD

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Obesity -- A disease?

If you’ve been paying much attention to the news the last week or so, you have probably heard something about the American Medical Association (AMA) officially terming obesity as a disease. There are arguments both for and against this notion, and both sides of this argument were present at the AMA meeting in Chicago. In fact, the committee that studied this matter recommended that Obesity not be defined as a disease, but this motion was outvoted.
The argument goes back several years. In 2008, a study published in the Obesity Journal used several approaches to review the literature and found that, yes, the benefits of classifying obesity as a disease would far outweigh the drawbacks (1). In 2004, Medicare removed all references to Obesity as not a disease, though they continue to not cover weight-loss medications on the Part D prescription plan.
I don’t know about you, but this sounds like an awful lot of mixed messages to me. So let’s start at the beginning – What is obesity?
Traditionally, Obesity is classified using weight as a function of height. It has a medical code, which means that paperwork documenting this can be submitted to insurance for reimbursement by your healthcare providers. The formula typically used is BMI, which is calculated by dividing your weight by your height (squared) – kg/m2. Anyone with a BMI >30 is considered “Obese” by this calculation.
The theory is that if you are X height, and you weigh more, you are likely carrying a disproportionate amount of body fat, and you are therefore more likely to have certain medical complications as a result – elevated blood lipids, high blood pressure, diabetes, to name a few. However, this calculation does NOT take into account actual body fat. This means that if you have a high proportion of body fat, and are therefore at risk for these complications, but your BMI happens to be in a healthy range (generally considered to be right around 22), then you are not obese, even if you have the aforementioned metabolic complications. BMI may be a useful tool, but it is only one of many when evaluating a patient for certain risks, and this finding is the primary reason the AMA committee did not recommend classifying Obesity as a disease.
Further, there is plenty of research to show that healthy lifestyle (including proper nutrition and regular physical activity) independent of body weight are better predictors of risk than weight alone. Meaning, if you are technically overweight or obese, but you exercise and have a balanced diet, you are more likely to be healthy than if you are of a “normal weight” but do not include balanced meals and exercise in your everyday.
So, why then, are we bothering with this question at all? As it happens, the AMA does have some amount of clout. If this group of physicians makes a declaration, insurance companies are likely to follow suit, which means they will begin to cover and reimburse programs (and medications) aimed at promoting healthy weight and resolving the Obesity issue. Reimbursement by insurance is a pretty good incentive to create and market medications and treatments, and so pharmaceutical companies are more likely to begin developing medications to help achieve and/or maintain a healthy weight.
Is there a lesson here? Maybe, maybe not. Like so many things in life, there’s no clear right or wrong in this situation, it simply is. Maybe the best we can do for now is to promote a healthy lifestyle, loaded with balanced meals and regular physical activity. After all, research has shown us time and again, that’s the easiest way to ensure you achieve metabolic balance – regardless of the number on the scale.
For more information:

- Les, MS RD LD

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Break out that Grill!

Summer is upon us, bringing with it the sunshine and late afternoon thunderstorms Florida is famous for. And of course, the grill. The summer holidays are full of friends, family, and open flame, charring meats, vegetables and even fruit (yes, fruit) to smoky perfection. But these gatherings may bring some stress to your holiday, so to help ensure the thunderclouds stay in the late-afternoon sky (and not hanging over your head), NG is here to help with a few tips and tricks to food safety, managing balance and reducing stress so you can get down to business – and enjoy your day off!
Food Safety
  • Clean that grill!! Whether it’s the grill behind your house or one down at the park, be sure to scrub it with warm soapy water before each use
  • Take a spare plate! When taking meats to your grill, make sure to take a clean plate to transfer the meat to after cooking. Never reuse a plate that previously held raw meat. The same goes for cutting boards, counters and knives/utensils. Be sure to wash anything that comes into contact with raw meat to help prevent cross contamination. Including your hands!
  • Cook it through! Use a thermometer to check for internal temperatures.
  • Steak – 145°
  • Ground meat (including burgers) – 160°
  • Chicken - 165°
  • Keep an eye on that clock! Be sure to keep hot foods hot to prevent contamination with potential pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses. After two hours, be sure to cover, label (and date) and refrigerate all leftovers. Cooked foods can be frozen for up to 2 months (watch for freezer burn) or left in the fridge for 2-3 days. When you decide to reheat, make sure that temperature reaches 165°.
  • Chilled favorites, such as potato salad or spinach dip, can be kept and displayed on ice. This will help them stay cool and safe at your parties. You can also switch out items every hour to ensure that they get plenty of time in the fridge to cool down.
Managing Balance
  • With friends and family often comes food. Take a plate to the buffet table to get all your food together. Not only will this help you choose portions to help you meet your needs, it can also give you a clear idea of what (and how much) you are eating.
  • Be sure to get some of those fruits and veggies on your plate, too! Grilled peaches and watermelon are popular this time of year, and tossing peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions on skewers can add a pop of flavor to your favorite grilled meat.
  • Aunt Betty’s apple pie and a blueberry crumb cake? Remember, there’s always tomorrow! Any leftovers can be saved (see above for tips!) and used at a later meal. It’s a great way to bring the spirit and camaraderie of the 4th to your entire week!
Managing Self
  • Gatherings can sometimes be stressful. Be sure to take time for yourself. If you need a breather from the party, take a walk or step back to a quiet place to gather yourself or allow for a bit of downtime on an otherwise hectic holiday.
  • Balance your time visiting family and friends with downtime to help keep yourself centered. Using weekends and holidays to spend time with loved ones can be great fun! Make sure you take care of yourself in-between to really get the most out of your holidays.
Do you have a favorite marinade or recipe you'd like to share? Have a question you’d like answered? Have another grilling/party idea? Like us on Facebook and join the conversation!
Happy Grilling!

- Les, MS RD LD