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Breaking Down Food Claims: Coconut Oil

Wouldn’t we all love a one-size-fits-all, eat this one food to lose weight and be healthy claim? Usually, when you hear these types of advertisements, it is safe to assume that they are not true. Today, we are going to look at some of the claims of coconut oil, and why it may not be the super addition to your diet we see on the media.

Before we look closer at these claims, let’s get a quick overview on coconut oil itself. Coconut oil is a fat that is very high in saturated fat. In fact, it is approximately 90% saturated fat. This is higher than butter, and even beef or lard. High amounts of saturated fat in the diet can lead to a raise in LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. The reason for the hype behind coconut oil is that, contrary to most other saturated fats, it not only raises bad LDL cholesterol, but it can also slightly increase your HDL (good) cholesterol. However, this research has only looked at short term results, and there are better ways to increase that HDL (good) cholesterol without such high levels of saturated fat.*

Recently, there have been claims that coconut oil can help you lose weight, prevent/treat diabetes, and even reverse Alzheimer’s disease. While there may be some truth behind parts of these claims, it is important to be informed of the research behind this fatty oil.

  • The claim on helping with weight loss: Yes – coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides, which we claim speed up metabolism. Research has only studied a very small group of people regarding weight loss with coconut oil, with potentially skewed results. When coconut oil was added to the diet, participants were shown to have only lost very small amounts of weight. These results may be skewed, however, because there was not a control factor, and other lifestyle changes that were made (i.e. less calories consumed and more exercise) are more likely to be the reason for weight loss. Therefore, there is still no scientific evidence that coconut oil aids in weight loss.
  • Briefly, studies regarding diabetes have only been done on animal models. There have been results showing that coconut oil may be beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes, however, as stated before, there is no scientific evidence of these effects on human subjects. If you are an individual with diabetes, coconut oil should not be treated any differently that any other saturated fat.
  • Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) are what link coconut oil to brain health. Glucose, which is provided by the foods that we eat, is broken down to provide energy for the brain. Some research states that the brains of individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease are unable to break down glucose efficiently to provide this energy for the brain. Therefore, there are claims that the alternate source of glucose as MCTs found in coconut oil can assist in energy production. There is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Takeaway:

So, what does all this mean? This is not to say that you should never consume coconut oil, but it is important to know the facts! There may be many claims, but the facts remain the same. Coconut oil is high in saturated fat, and in turn can increase your risk for heart disease. As any other saturated fat, this should be treated as such, and be consumed only in moderation. Replacing saturated fats, such as coconut oil, with more heart healthy fats, (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats) like extra virgin olive oil, may be more beneficial for total health.

*If you are looking to raise your HDL cholesterol, try replacing saturated fats with healthier fats, and include healthy fats in your diet! These include Omega-3s like fatty fish (salmon, herring, trout, sardines), walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp seeds, along with monounsaturated fats, such as nuts, extra virgin olive oil, avocado, and peanut butter.

Sources: https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-facts-about-coconut-oil, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/coconut-oil, https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/dietary-guidelines-and-myplate/choose-healthy-fats

Balanced Nutrition

Improve your diet by focusing on eating from these five food groups.

  1. Fruits

Choose fresh, canned, frozen, pureed or dried fruits. Limit fruit juices, even those that are a 100% fruit juice. It is always best to eat whole fruits.

  • Vegetables

Choose fresh raw, cooked, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated vegetables. Drinking 100% vegetable juice will limit the fiber you consume.

  • Dairy

Choose low fat or fat free milk, cheese, or yogurt products. If you are lactose intolerant, you may choose calcium- fortified soy products.

  • Proteins

Choose variety from meat, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds.

  • Whole grains

Choose whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, old fashioned oats, barley, whole grain or whole wheat breakfast cereal. It is easy to overeat grains, be mindful of how much grains you consume daily.

Sourcehttps://www.choosemyplate.gov/

Track your nutrition in the Sharecare app!

Did you know that the Sharecare app can track 13 health behaviors each day? This includes your nutrition. Simply open the app and click “Track” and you can enter data for your meals every day. Each health behavior is rated on a 5-point color scale from green to red. Your goal is to be in the green for at least 8 health behaviors each day to earn a Green Day.

Get tracking today!

Ready, Set, Salad

Looking for a way to stay cool this summer? Why not skip heating up your kitchen and opt for a nutrient packed salad? Salads can be your friend when you are looking to get healthy. They allow you to incorporate a variety of super foods. There are hundreds of variations so you will not get bored. Beware of the sneaky toppings than turn your health friendly salad into a “frenemy”. Watch out for the high fat and high sugar dressings and high fat toppings such as certain cheeses and fried toppings. Go for lean, healthy protein and healthy fats, add in your favorite veggies and fruits (give dry fruits a try), toss in healthy nuts and seeds and ENJOY!

If you are interested in more ideas for salad recipes? Log in to your Sharecare account and search recipes under: ‘Discover’.

Easy vinaigrette recipe:

Whisk together ¼ cup olive oil or canola oil, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar and ¼ teaspoon ground mustard. Add a dash or two of black pepper and toss into a salad for four or more people.

*Please consider possible food allergies when preparing recipes for yourself or anyone you are serving.

Source: American Heart Association

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/add-color/how-to-make-a-hearty-healthy-salad

Recipe: Mason Jar Taco Salad with Avocado-Cilantro Dressing

Ingredients

Servings  4   Serving Size   1 jar

Dressing Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
  • 2 medium green onions (coarsely chopped)
  • 1 medium fresh jalapeño pepper (seeds and ribs discarded, coarsely chopped, optional)
  • 1 medium halved, pitted avocado (halved, pitted)
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon canola or corn oil
  • 1 tablespoon water plus more, as needed
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Salad Ingredients

  • 1 can no-salt-added kidney beans (rinsed, drained)
  • 1 can no-salt-added black-eyed peas (rinsed, drained)
  • 1/2 medium English, or hothouse cucumber, chopped
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes or cherry tomatoes (halved)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked fresh corn or frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed and drained
  • 1 cup sliced radishes
  • 1 cup fat-free, shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 cups shredded romaine or any other greens, such as spinach or arugula, chopped if desired

Directions

  1. In a food processor or blender, process the cilantro, green onions, and jalapeño until finely chopped. Process all the remaining dressing ingredients until smooth, adding more water if needed so the salad dressing is the desired consistency.
  2. Put 4 Mason jars on a work surface. Remove the lids. Divide the salad ingredients among the jars in the following order: salad dressing, beans, black-eyed peas, cucumber, tomatoes, corn, radishes, and Cheddar. Top with the romaine.
  3. Replace the lid on each jar and tighten it. Refrigerate the jars for up to 4 days.
  4. Before serving, shake the jars to distribute the salad dressing. Serve the salad in the jars or pour into bowls.

Nutrition Facts

Calories448
Total Fat12.0 g
Saturated Fat1.5 g
Trans Fat0.0 g
Polyunsaturated Fat2.5 g
Monounsaturated Fat7.5 g
Cholesterol6 mg
Sodium406 mg
Total Carbohydrate63 g
Dietary Fiber17 g
Sugars13 g
Protein27 g

Quick Tips

Cooking Tip: Be sure to drain the beans thoroughly before adding them to the Mason jars, otherwise the extra liquid will dilute the salad dressing.

Keep it Healthy: To bulk up salads so they’re both healthy and filling, add beans or cooked whole grains, tofu, or chicken.

Tip: The salad is layered in the Mason jar in a certain order so that the ingredients stay crisp in the fridge for a few days; the salad dressing is put in first so it stays on the bottom and doesn’t make the other ingredients soggy.

Tip: Make It Kid-Friendly: Let the kids do all the layering of the ingredients in the Mason jars.

Source:

American Heart Association

https://recipes.heart.org/en/recipes/mason-jar-taco-salad-with-avocado-cilantro-dressing

How to Reduce Sugar Consumption

You can reduce your sugar consumption today by gradually incorporating these healthy habits into your daily life.

  1. Drink more water. Soda, sweet tea, and juices are high sugar drinks. Some of your diet beverages may include artificial sweeteners instead but even then, the ADA has established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for these beverages too. Water is the safest and healthiest beverage to drink regularly.
  2. Read food labels. Be mindful of how much sugar is included in your meals and choose lower sugar foods when you have the option.
  3. Pay attention to portion sizes. Amount of sugar on labels is usually based on a serving size recommendation. If you eat twice the service size, that’s twice the sugar.
  4. Gradually reduce sugar. You can usually drop 25% of sugar from a recipe without a noticeable difference. Take your time and give your taste buds a chance to adjust.
  5. Have a healthy and educated relationship with food. Instead of immediately going sugar free, choose a realistic and sustainable lifestyle for you.

Source and Images are from the Sharecare Clinical Innovation team.

Tips to Reduce Sodium

Sodium plays a major role in flavoring and preserving our foods. Sodium is essential for our body although it is crucial to follow recommended guidelines. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg daily.

Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of salt:

  • 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium

If you have certain medical conditions, such as hypertension, it is best to reduce daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg or 1/3 teaspoon . Try the tips below to help you manage your sodium consumption.

  1. Limit the amount of prepackaged foods and take outs. It is always best to cook majority of your meals at home. This gives you control over what and how much you add to your food.
  2. Add a ¼ teaspoon measuring spoon in your salt cellar. If you are using a saltshaker, be sure to leave the measuring spoon close by. This will ensure you are measuring your salt prior to adding it to your food.
  3. Boost the flavors in your recipe by adding spices, herbs, lime, lemon, vinegar reduced salt or salt-free seasonings.
  4. Get into a habit of reading food labels at the grocery store or prior to purchase. You will always be able to find a low sodium option.
  5. Choose fresh, frozen, or canned (low- sodium or no added salt) vegetables. It is always best to season your own foods.

Source:

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/all-publications-and-resources/tips-reduce-salt-sodium

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium/sodium-and-salt

Image from https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/sodium?uid=1934

Healthy Ingredient Swaps

Often, we look at recipes and wonder how we can make them healthier without sacrificing taste. Making small adjustments is easier than you’d think. Let’s be upfront here, we probably won’t be able to take your triple chocolate ooey gooey brownie squares that call for 2 sticks of butter and 3 cups of sugar to a level considered “healthy.” Instead, let’s look at those ‘borderline’ recipes we know and love to help with some big-ticket items!

When deciding what substitutions to make, focus in on the ones that make a bigger impact like sugar, sodium, or unhealthy fats. Below are some of the swaps I make daily – they have become so routine that I swap without even realizing now!

Original IngredientNew SubstituteMeasurementNotes
Veg/Canola Oil – for baked goodsUnsweetened plain applesauceEqual1C applesauce for 1C oil
Veg/Canola oil – in cooked itemsExtra Virgin Olive OilEqualExtra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) is a much healthier oil option for sautéing, cooking, pan frying, etc.
Butter – baked goodsEVOO¾ of what recipe calls forButter is 80% fat, while EVOO is 100% – if recipe states 6oz butter use 4oz EVOO
SugarSteviaVaries depending on product – see packaging for detailsStevia leaf extract is naturally 250-300 times sweeter than table sugar!
White PastaWhole Wheat Pasta OR Veggie Noodles (zucchini, spaghetti squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, beets, turnips etc.)EqualHealthier option opt for whole wheat Lower carbohydrate option opt for vegetable
White RiceBrown Rice OR riced cauliflowerEqualHealthier option opt for brown rice Lower carbohydrate option opt for cauliflower
Tortilla / sandwich bread / hamburger bunsLettuce LeafEqualTurn wraps into lettuce wraps, sandwiches into lettuce-wiches, and wrap that burger with crunchy lettuce as buns

Sources: https://www.eatright.org/health/lifestyle/seasonal/helpful-tips-for-healthy-holiday-parties,

https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/healthy-eating/what-is-a-whole-grain

Meal Planning

We all have days where deciding what to cook can just stump us. Meal planning plays an important role in helping you live a healthy lifestyle. When you eat healthy, you will feel great! Below are some tips to help you plan meals with ease.

  1. Plan your meals ahead of time!
  2. Make a weekly grocery list and stick to it!
    • Remember to plan for healthy snacks and include plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
    • Do not go grocery shopping on an empty stomach. 
  3. Be consistent!
    • Even when life gets hectic, do your best to stick to the plan.

Source:  https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/fun-family-recipes.htm

Meal Planning Quick Tip: Family Favorites with a Twist

Don’t know where to start when it comes to planning healthy weekly meals?  Begin with some of your favorites and make small adjusts to make them healthier.  If spaghetti night is your easy go-to, swap out the ground meat for ground turkey instead.  Add more veggies to the sauce by grating in carrots and skip out on the garlic bread all together.  Love the crunch of fried pork chops?  Try braising a pork tenderloin as an easy substitute.  It’s still full of flavor without the added fat.  

https://www.choosemyplate.gov/eathealthy/protein-foods/protein-foods-tips