When you are cruising the grocery store aisles, you probably flip over a few items to scrutinize their nutrition labels. But do you understand what you’re looking at? The government is working on updating the label to reflect today’s nutritional concerns and include more realistic serving sizes, but until that happens, use the diagram included with this article to help make quick, informed food choices that contribute to a healthy, balanced diet.
REMEMBER THESE HELPFUL TIPS:
- Nutrition information is provided for one serving of a food or beverage. Many products contain more than one serving. If a serving size is one cup, and you eat two cups, then you must double the calories, fat, sugar, and other ingredients to get an accurate estimate of how much you’ve eaten. If you’ve eaten a smaller portion than what is on the label, calculate accordingly.
- Pay special attention to the amount of sugars (including carbohydrates) in one serving. This is especially important if you have diabetes (or other health concerns) that require you to monitor sugar intake or the glycemic index of foods.
- Check out the amount of fat, especially saturated fat, in one serving. Fats contribute to many chronic health problems. Trans fats are also labeled because they are known to contribute to “bad cholesterol,” which contributes to heart disease. Choose foods that are low in these fats. However, some foods, like nuts, have high fat content, but the source of fat is actually good for the body- it’s not a saturated or a trans fat.
- Be aware that “0” does not mean zero! It means less than 5% per serving!
- In addition to understanding the nutrition label, take a look at the list of ingredients. This is the most important part of the food label, rather than counting calories, ensure the quality of the ingredients and product before consuming. If you cannot pronounce the words that are listed on a food label, it’s likely coming from chemicals and processed (unnatural) elements that are not healthy for the body. Some of the items you want to avoid include:
- Preservatives including BHA, BHT, brominated products
- GMO - genetically modified organisms, common in corn and soy derivatives
- Xanthan gum
- Hydrocarbons (pesticides PCB, DDE, DDT)
- Soy and cottonseed oil
- Dyes (e.g., yellow dye no. 5, tartrazine)
- MSG - monosodium glutamate (common in canned foods and Asian cooking)
- Food allergens - if you or family members have a known allergy to peanuts, wheat, soy, or gluten
If you are in a hurry and can’t take the time to read labels, be sure to avoid packaged (bag, box, or bottle) foods. Instead, buy fresh foods and “eat a rainbow everyday” (e.g., fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt). Also, choose water, tea, or juices with no sugar added.
From Shakespeare’s reference to "pumpion" in The Merry Wives of Windsor to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, pumpkin is woven into the fabric of history and cuisine. Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkin over an open flame and ate them. Colonists made pumpkin pie by slicing off the pumpkin top; removing the seeds; filling the rind with milk, spices, and honey; and then baking the pumpkin over hot ashes. And we all know pumpkin transforms into Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween decor. Today, we appreciate pumpkin not just for culinary traditions, but also for its abundance of nutrients and versatility in healthy meal preparation, such as souffles, soups, bread, jam, butter, and desserts.
A member of the Cucurbitaceae family of vegetables (along with cucumber and squash), pumpkin is cultivated around the world for both its fleshy vibrant orange meat and seeds. It is a naturally low calorie (49 calories per one cup serving), yet filling food that offers the following health benefits.
- Pumpkin contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. It is rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and many antioxidant vitamins, including A, C, and E.
- It is also an excellent source of many natural polyphenolic flavonoid compounds such as beta-carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenes convert into vitamin A inside the body. Zeaxanthin is a natural antioxidant that may offer protection from age-related macular disease.
- Pumpkin is a good source of the B-complex group of vitamins including niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
- It is a rich source of copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
- Pumpkin seeds provide dietary fiber and pack a powerful mix of protein, minerals, and vitamins: 100 g (1 cup) of pumpkin seeds provide 559 calories, 30 g of protein, plus folate, iron, niacin, selenium, and zinc.
RECIPE: SPICED PUMPKIN BREAD
Adapted from Bon Appetite Fast, Easy and Fresh cookbook
Yields: 2 loaves
Preheat oven to 350F
Butter and flour two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans
- 1.5 c. all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour mix)
- 1.5 c. whole wheat flour (or gluten-free flour mix)
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 c. raw sugar (or raw honey, or coconut sugar)
- 1 c. sunflower oil
- 3 large eggs (room temp)
- 15 oz. (1 can) pure organic pumpkin
- 1 c. chopped organic raw walnuts (optional)
Sift first eight ingredients into a large bowl. In second bowl, beat sugar and oil to blend, and then add eggs and pumpkin. Mix well. Stir dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture in two additions, just until blended. Add nuts, if desired. Divide between loaf pans. Bake approximately 1 hour 10 minutes, or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Transfer to racks and cool in pans for 10 minutes. Cut around sides of pan with a knife to loosen. Turn loaves onto rack to cool completely.
WHAT DO YOU REALLY KNOW ABOUT YOUR DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS?
There's a frightening and emerging trend plaguing the dietary supplement (DS) industry. Recent studies (conducted by independent labs, scientists, and/or newspapers) in which DS were randomly and independently tested have shown that DS products do not always contain the ingredients (or the purity of ingredients) stated on the product label. This concern goes across all supplements: vitamins, minerals, herbs/botanicals, and amino acids.
To complicate matters, manufacturers of DS are not required to submit products to the scientific scrutiny of the FDA because DS are regulated as a food product, not a drug. The Federal Trade Commission regulates advertising of product claims, but that has nothing to do with the purity and quality of the pill you're taking. The FDA has the authority to spot-check supplements (and to remove products that violate certain regulations) but is not required by law to test, or require testing, on all over-the-counter supplements.
Several private groups, as well as the Government Accountability Office (Natural Resources and the Environment Division) want more done to hold supplement makers accountable for the purity of their products. It's a heated debate, but as more clinicians, consumers, and retailers call for standardized practices for testing, producing, and marketing DS before they go on the market, the more confident we all can be about what we're buying.
BE AN INFORMED CONSUMER:
- Read labels and understand what the terms on the label actually mean (see diagram above). Ingredients you don't want to see include fillers, dyes, lead, dextrose, and titanium dioxide.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Look for a Quality Assurance seal of approval: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP).
- Purchase products from your healthcare provider or a reputable company.
- Research the product and company on the Internet: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). Look for product recalls and scams: FDA Health Fraud Scams & Tainted Supplements.
Your best source of educational support is your health care practitioner.
WHAT'S REALLY IN YOUR HERBAL REMEDY?
Herbal supplements (botanicals; plant-based medicine) have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. Today they are recognized for having drug-like effects such as improving mood. Products that can have medicinal effects also carry risk, especially if taken with other medicines or supplements. However, most over-the-counter herbal supplements are not subjected to the same scientific scrutiny and aren't as strictly regulated as medications.
As noted in our article about dietary supplements, makers of herbal supplements are not required to submit their products for FDA approval before going to market. Their only requirement is to demonstrate their products meet quality manufacturing standards. Studies have shown this is not enough: Many over-the-counter herbals are contaminated or substituted with alternative plant species and fillers that are not listed on the label. According to the World Health Organization, this adulteration of herbal products is a threat to consumer safety.
Before buying herbal supplements, do your homework and investigate potential benefits and side effects. Follow our tips below to help identify quality herbal supplements. Before taking an herbal supplement, talk your health practitioner- especially if you take other medications, have chronic health problems, or are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Look for products that indicate standardized extracts; no fillers, preservatives or additives; naturally harvested; fair-trade and sustainable manufacturing practices.
Quality control (QC) refers to processes for maintaining the purity of a product. Without QC, there is no assurance that the herb contained in the bottle is the same as what is stated on the outside. One of the key solutions to the QC problem that exists in the United States is for manufacturers and suppliers to adhere to standardized manufacturing practices.
Products should indicate they are third-party tested. Look for a USP (U.S. Pharmacopeia) seal of approval. Check products (and product recalls) on these websites: Council for Responsible Nutrition, ConsumerLabs, and the National Institutes of Health Dietary Supplement QA Program. Check the product website for more information.
CUPPING: A TRADITIONAL CHINESE THERAPY
Cupping is one of the oldest methods of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) dating back to 300 A.D. It was first described in A Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergencies, written by Ge Hong, a noted Taoist herbalist. Historical texts describe the use of various types of cups including bamboo and pottery, and medicinal treatment for headaches, dizziness, respiratory illness, and abdominal pain.
Today, cupping methods vary by intensity, size of the cups, use of heat or air, cup movement, and whether or not acupuncture is combined in a treatment session. Glass or thick, clear plastic cups are preferred because they allow the practitioner to evaluate the effects of treatment.
Like acupuncture, cupping follows the lines of the meridians. There are five meridian lines on the back, and these are where the cups are usually placed. In TCM, cupping is believed to purge toxins and help to restore qi (life force energy) by opening the meridian channels so that qi flows throughout all tissues and organs to promote healing and vitality.
WHAT HAPPENS IN A CUPPING SESSION?
In a traditional cupping session ("dry" cupping), glass cups are warmed using a cotton ball that has been soaked in alcohol, is lit, and placed inside the cup. Burning a substance inside the cup removes all the oxygen, which creates a vacuum. Next, the practitioner turns the cup upside-down and places it over a specific area on the body. The back, chest, abdomen, and buttocks are the most common sites on which the cups are applied. The vacuum effect anchors the cup and pulls the skin upward inside the cup. Cups are left in place for 5-10 minutes (sometimes longer depending on the condition being treated). Several cups may be placed on a patient's body at the same time. Small amounts of medicated or herbal oils may also be applied to the skin just before the cupping procedure; this allows a practitioner to move cups up and down meridians ("gliding" cupping).
In addition to "dry" cupping, some practitioners also use "wet" or "air" cupping. In "air" cupping, after the cup is applied to the skin, a suction pump is attached to the cup to create a vacuum. In "wet" cupping, the skin is punctured before treatment. When the cup is applied and the skin is drawn up, a small amount of blood may flow from the puncture site, which is believed to help remove harmful substances and toxins from the body.
WHAT DOES IT TREAT?
In China, cupping is used primarily to treat respiratory conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, and congestion; arthritis; gastrointestinal disorders; and for management of pain and swelling. Clinical studies are limited, though there is growing interest from researchers. For now, there isn't conclusive data on the effects of cupping for specific health concerns.
IS CUPPING SAFE?
While cupping is considered relatively safe for most people, it can cause swelling and bruising on the skin where the cups were applied. Bruising may last anywhere from a few days to two weeks. You may feel sore after treatment, but this will subside within 24 hours after a session.
Cupping should not be performed on individuals with inflamed skin, high fever, or convulsions, or with persons who bleed easily or who are pregnant. It's wise for you to learn about the credentials of any practitioner who offers cupping treatments.
- Cao, H., X. Li, and J. Liu. "An Updated Review of the Efficacy of Cupping Therapy." PLOS ONE 7, no. 2 (2012). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031793
- Chinese Cupping. "History of Chinese Cupping."
- Institute for Traditional Medicine. "Cupping."
- Kim, J., et al. "Cupping for Treating Pain: A Systematic Review." Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2011).
- Mehta, P., and V. Dhapte. "Cupping Therapy: A Prudent Remedy for a Plethora of Medical Ailments." Journal of Traditional and Complementary Medicine 5, no. 3 (February 2015): 127ñ134.
The information offered by this newsletter is presented for educational purposes. Nothing contained within should be construed as nor is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. This information should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider. Always consult with your physician or other qualified health care provider before embarking on a new treatment, diet or fitness program. You should never disregard medical advice or delay in seeking it because of any information contained within this newsletter.