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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Is Butter Really Better for You?

GettyImages-1078201394There is good reason for confusion surrounding what might arguably be one of America’s favorite spreads, topping everything from toast to popcorn to potatoes. The butter-versus-margarine debate has been a hot topic for the last several decades and is still a slippery subject. We have begun to understand the possible dangers of our high saturated fat consumption to our health. However, at the same time we are told that margarines are “artificial,” while butter is the all-natural choice. Which do we choose?

So Tell Me: Is Butter Actually Healthy?

In short, no. Saturated fat (found in high concentrations in butter) has been shown to raise “bad” cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. Saturated fat content may not be helpful in judging healthfulness of foods (coconut oil presents conflicting research), so we need to prioritize foods that we know improve health—and butter is not one of them.

We have enough evidence to know that high saturated fat content in foods definitely doesn’t help us—especially when we get it from the food sources that we do (a high intake of processed meats, cheese, and butter followed by too few fruits and veggies). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that we aim to keep our saturated fat intake to less than 5–6% of our total calorie intake—meaning if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, you should be consuming 13 grams or less of saturated fat daily. Foods higher in unsaturated fat lead to lower risk of heart disease, so placing most of our focus on these foods like nuts, avocados, fatty fish such as salmon, nuts/nut butters, and olive oil is extremely important.

Note: The saturated fat content in just 1 serving of butter (1 tablespoon) puts the saturated fat intake at 7 grams. The AHA recommends 13 grams or less on a 2,000 calorie diet.

What About Margarine/Vegetable Oil–based Spreads?

While these options may have less saturated fat and more unsaturated fat (making them slightly more “healthy”), they are still very high in calories and we need to be extremely mindful of how much we are using. Excessive energy consumption will lead to weight gain and chronic health conditions. However, replacement of saturated fat in butter with more unsaturated fat does lower your risk of heart disease.

Try using a little olive oil, canola oil, avocado, hummus, or nut butters in place of your usual butter. Check your ingredients list for “partially hydrogenated” oils on any butter alternatives that you are using. If you see anything that is partially hydrogenated, it means that it contains what is called trans fat—a definite avoid-at-all-costs ingredient. Most food manufacturers have transitioned all of their products away from trans fat.

Note: 1 tablespoon (Earth Balance Original Vegetable Oil Spread) has 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams trans fat, and 7.5 grams of unsaturated fats.

Saturated fat is found not only in butter but also in meat, milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, and vegetable oils. Each food has a unique nutrient profile that has a different effect on heart disease. The deeper issue, beyond news headlines and the ever-changing results of various studies, comes down to an obsession with nutrients instead of focusing on foods. We become convinced that we need more fish oil supplements, vitamin C, or collagen. When we try to decrease our “bad” fat/saturated fat intake, we need to make sure we are replacing that high-saturated-fat-content food with something healthy.

Your goal should be to focus on ways to minimize packaged foods and maximize whole foods. Currently, our diets are high in processed meats, sides of fries, loaves of white bread, cereal, chips, cookies, and crackers along with soda and a daily dessert, which has made the US one of the least healthy countries in the world with one of the leading rates of obesity. We do know that large amounts of plant-based foods such as fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts in the diet are beneficial despite the seemingly endless supply of perplexing research in other areas, and so the focus is to try and shift the plate toward an eating pattern that emphasizes these plant foods.

We fall back on the idea that more fruits and vegetables can only help us, and this is an area that even dietitians have to remind themselves to work on every single day. Butter is just an addition to a diet that is generally already very calorically dense and high in saturated fat—something we get too much of in our day-to-day diets. Does half of your plate consist of fruits and veggies at every meal? When we create variety in the diet, we minimize the risk of “doing it wrong.” We can be certain that if we are filling our bellies with exactly what Mother Nature provided us, we can avoid falling into an eating pattern that sets us up for an unhealthy life and be even closer to getting nutrition “right”—setting us up for a lifetime of good health and happiness.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating calories fat plant-based

Are You Eating Enough Fruits, Vegetables, and Other Whole Plant Foods?

GettyImages-1142790917“Aim to consume a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables.”

“Make half of your plate a fruit and vegetable.”

“Consume 5 to 6 servings of vegetables and fruits every day.”

This nutrition advice has been the standard from physicians, food and nutrition scientists, and even dietitians. However recent research is revealing that just as important as quantity may be the diversity of your diet. What fruits and vegetables do you pick up from the store on a weekly basis? Do you spend a significant amount of time in the produce section and fill your cart with plant foods? Or do you end up lingering for half an hour in the center aisles and packing your cart with processed food products?

The SAD Truth About the Standard American Diet

Check out these scary statistics… The standard American diet (termed the “SAD diet”) is often very high in animal protein, saturated fats, added sugar, and refined/processed foods. In fact, it is estimated that the average American consumes 32% of their calories from animal foods, 57% from processed foods, and only 11% from whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, and nuts (Source: USDA). Three out of four Americans don’t eat a single piece of fruit in a given day, and nearly 9 out of 10 don’t reach the minimum recommended daily intake of vegetables (Source: National Cancer Institute)!

Promote Gut Health with Whole Plant Foods

To create a healthy gut microbiome (meaning the trillions of bacteria that live in your digestive tract), increase the variety of whole, plant foods in your diet. The American Gut Project found that individuals who ate 30 or more different types of plant foods every week had gut microbiomes that were more diverse than those who ate 10 or fewer types of plant foods every week. A healthful plant-based diet improves the health and diversity of your gut microbes and may help prevent conditions like obesity, heart disease, inflammation, and diabetes by turning the genes on and off that affect these conditions.

How to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

I often find myself picking out the same fruits and veggies every week, and this has made me stop and think about what’s in my shopping cart—if I bring it home, I will usually eat it! Freezing fruit and veggies is also a great way to make sure nothing goes to waste before it’s used. Below I offer some advice on how to add more plant foods into your weekly routine. I would also like to challenge you to see how many different fruits and vegetables you can eat this week—anything that is a whole plant food and that you eat a decent portion of counts. The goal is to not only increase plant foods in your diet, but also the diversity.

  • Aim to include a piece of fruit and one vegetable at every meal—including breakfast! Instead of a fried egg on a piece of bread, scramble the egg with spinach, mushrooms, or onions. For an even bigger impact, replace your egg with soy and make a tofu scramble.
  • Eat two meatless meals during the week. Replace your animal protein with beans or lentils, or try making your own veggie burger.
  • Make snack time a chance to shine. Skip the vending machine and bring carrot sticks with hummus, a piece of fruit, dehydrated fruit, or mixed nuts.
  • Try smoothies. Smoothies are a great way to disguise vegetables if you have trouble hitting your goals. Add spinach, kale, avocado, or celery to a smoothie. The strong flavor of the fruit hides most of the flavor of these greens and eliminates issues with texture many people face with avocado.
  • Ditch refined grain products like noodles, white bread, and white rice. Try spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles in place of spaghetti noodles, or try cauliflower “rice” in place of white rice. Instead of crackers or bread, use sliced cucumbers for crackers or Portobello mushrooms, peppers, apples, or lettuce for wraps/bread.

What I’m Eating

Here’s peek at my list of plant foods consumed over the course of three days. You’ll notice a lot of repetition, so by midweek I am still only at about 15 different types of plant foods. I have 15 more to go by the end of the week!

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Apple
  • Lunch: Lettuce, veggie sushi (asparagus, cucumber, avocado rolls)
  • Dinner: N/A (no veggies! Even dietitians sometimes eat just a bowl of cereal—oops!)

Monday

  • Breakfast: Rolled oats, banana, ground flax
  • Lunch: Roasted asparagus, grapes, avocado (on toast), roasted chickpeas
  • Dinner: Kale, red bell pepper, cherry tomato, carrots, roasted chickpeas (all combined as salad and topped with olive oil and lemon juice)

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Rolled oats, strawberries, ground flaxseed
  • Lunch: Apple, kale, red bell pepper, cherry tomato, carrots
  • Dinner: Roasted asparagus, grapes

Stay tuned for updates on the “30 Plant Foods Challenge” here at NIFS—can we find a member who eats more than 30 plant foods weekly? Do you think you can do it?

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition gut health whole foods fruits and vegetables plant-based

Struggling to Get in Your Vegetable Nutrition? Try Frozen!

GettyImages-846048468It can be a challenge to get in the recommended 2–3 cups of vegetables each day. Even people who like vegetables can struggle coming up with ways to increase them. Thankfully, the food industry realizes this and has come out with a ton of quick and easy options to make it simple to get in those servings.

The key is to take a stroll down the frozen food aisle. Some people are concerned that frozen veggies aren’t as healthy as fresh vegetables, but that isn’t the case. Frozen vegetables are flash-frozen at their optimum nutritional state. This guarantees that all of those nutrients are preserved. Cook them to crisp tender and the majority of those nutrients will be intact.

Not only can you go for the traditional frozen veggies like broccoli and carrots, but now there are lots of fun options to make it easier to get the recommended plant-based nutrition and vitamins into your meals.

Delicious Frozen Options

Here are some new items to toss into your grocery cart at your next shopping trip.

Cauliflower Craze

Spiralized Sensation

Protein Power

Watch the Sodium

One thing to be cautious about is that some of these frozen veggie options are higher in sodium than the standard bag of plain frozen vegetables. Make sure to drink plenty of water with your meal to help flush out the sodium, and pair your frozen veggie side with a fresh piece of protein and a whole grain. Don’t add additional salt to the dish, and review the nutrition facts label to see which ones are higher than others.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: vitamins plant-based frozen food veggies meals