Favism: The Freaky Side of Fava Beans

19 Mar

Favism: The Freaky Side of Fava Beans

It’s no surprise that fava beans are full of fiber.¬† As a legume, the fava bean boasts 5 grams of fiber in a 90 calorie half-cup serving.

But favas have a more sinister side: they are a trigger food for favism.

According to an article published in The Lancet, glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency (G6PD deficiency) – also known as favism – is the most common human enzyme defect.

People with favism have low levels of the G6PD enzyme that is important for red blood cell health. Sufferers are genetically predisposed to hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells) and jaundice. Those at greatest risk for favism include people of African and Mediterranean ancestry, and men are 3 times as likely to have it than women.

An individual with favism who eats the legume – or even comes in to contact with its pollen – risks a hemolytic crisis, and possibly death.

The only way to treat the condition is to avoid known triggers. Triggers for favism include all legumes, a comprehensive list of which can be found here.

One final favism fact: Pythagoras and adherents to the Pythagorean code banned the consumption of fava beans. Speculation suggests that Big P had early knowledge of the link between the bean and its blood-rupturing potential.

Legend has it that after Pythagoras’ enemies set fire to his house, he ran into a field filled with the bean and proclaimed he would rather die than progress through the land laden with the legume. At which point, his suitors promptly slit his throat.

So buyer beware…that fiber may come a pretty morbid price.

2015 Dietary Guidelines: Piling it On

24 Feb

2015 Dietary Guidelines: Piling it On

Every 5 years, a panel of US nutrition experts convenes to produce a blueprint for how Americans should eat. This monstrous document – called the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs) – is set to publish later this year.

The 2015 DGA Advisory Committee has been busy poring over research conducted since the last DGAs were published in 2010. This research sets the stage for what will become simple and straightforward (yet evidence-based) suggestions for improving the diet of an alarmingly overweight and obese population.

The 2010 DGAs were memorable in that they accompanied the introduction of MyPlate and ushered out the era of pyramid-based food guides.

Although it does not appear that the 2015 DGAs will feature any dietary bombshells, the committee did raise a few eyebrows with its preliminary advisory report released last week.

Among the recommendations are:

Cholesterol

  • The committee recommends lifting the 300 mg per day cholesterol limit citing a lack of evidence to support this approach to reducing heart disease risk.
  • This is an interesting, yet not-all-that-important development since most practitioners have long known that research supports focusing on the type of fat – and not cholesterol or total fat numbers – when providing instruction a heart healthy diet.

Caffeine

  • The committee asserts that drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee per day is not linked to any long-term health risks, and, in fact, has been associated with reduced risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • This is unusual in that questioning the safety of caffeine was never part of the larger discussion on chronic disease risk, and a focus on caffeine draws attention away from the real issues at hand which are excess calories from added sugars and fats that promote overweight and obesity.

Sustainability

  • For the first time, the DGAs may ask Americans to consider sustainability and environmental concerns when selecting foods.
  • While it is no surprise that a diet heavily reliant on animal products uses more non-renewable resources than a plant-based one, this recommendation seems to have really irked some lawmakers and animal food interest groups who claim the committee has no place recommending factors that are “extraneous” to the diet.

While it remains to be seen what exactly will make it to the final report, most health professionals agree that one move in the right direction with these DGAs appears to be the trend away from nutrient-specific recommendations (i.e., eat less saturated fat, eat more potassium) to more food-based recommendations  like eat more plants.

To provide public comment on the proposed 2015 DGAs until March 9, 2015 check out http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2015/comments/.

But First…Fix Your Fiber Problem

19 Feb

But First…Fix Your Fiber Problem

There’s no doubt that nutrition advice can be confusing, and sometimes downright contradictory.

One week egg yolks are good for you, the next they’re super bad. Does diet soda make you fat? Does diet soda help fight fat? As a Registered Dietitian, this nutrition nonsense is essentially my job security :)

But even I would agree: nutrition guidelines can get ugly. Case in point: the American Heart Association’s completely over-complex “Guidelines on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk“.

Among other things, this 46 page publications advises adherents to:

  • Eat at least 30 grams of high-fiber foods each day
  • Eat fish twice a week
  • Get protein from vegetables and lean meats
  • Get 50% to 55% of calories from carbohydrates, 15% to 20% of calories from protein, and 30% to 35% of calories from fat (including just 7% of calories from saturated fat and less than 1% from trans fats)
  • Eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day
  • Minimize sugar, sodium and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Drink no more than a moderate amount of alcohol

If you stopped reading after bullet point number 1 – you might just be ok.

And that is because earlier this week a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine with a very unique study design. The study showed that complex diet recommendations might not matter, and maybe all you need is fiber.

The study authors divided 240 obese subjects into 2 groups: one who got all of those above AHA dietary recommendations, and another group told to just eat 30 grams of fiber per day.

The results weren’t earth shattering, and both groups lost weight at the end of the year period: the AHA group lost 6 pounds on average and the fiber group lost 4.6.

What was interesting was that the fiber group actually did increase their fiber intake by 4.7 grams per day whereas the AHA group – with all of that additional info that didn’t really work to help lose weight – only ate an additional 1.3 grams.

Since the typical American eats only 10-12 grams of fiber per day – but needs more like 30 grams, a 4.7 gram per day increase from healthy foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains is pretty promising.

What’s the take away message? Sometimes it pays to cut out the clutter and ignore the nutrition noise. Sticking to 1 recommendation, like working to increase fiber, can have a secondary effect of improving your overall diet.

Popchips’ Fiber Finally Poppin’ Off

13 Feb

Popchips’ Fiber Finally Poppin’ Off

I’ve always liked the idea of popchips – an un-fried potato product with “nothing fake or phony” – but I do admit I wasn’t a fan of their low fiber count.

The original popchips had just 1g fiber per 120 calorie serving. And while the ingredient list was clean, the starches consisted of potatoes, rice, and potato starch (white on white on white carb crime)… so the OG ones weren’t really a snack food worth a fiber fan’s time.

But I recently got my hands on a bag of the new veggie popchips. They caught my eye because they boast a better fiber profile. I bought the sea salt flavor, which this time around has 3g fiber in 120 calories.

The reason for the change? Popchips has wised up to the power of legume flour.

The ingredient list still starts with dried potato, but it goes on to include chickpea flour, navy bean flour, tapioca starch, beet powder, spinach powder, pumpkin powder, pea fiber, tomato powder, red bell pepper powder and kale powder.

In addition to the fiber pump, I think these veggie popchips also have a better, more nuanced flavor than the original popchips. They still stick a little too much to my teeth, and like all potato starch products, the texture is still slightly chalky.

Regardless, I would recommend the veggie popchips over the original popchips based on taste, fiber, and ingredient list alone. You can eat 1/3 of the bag (23 chips) for 120 calories & 3g fiber – and at 200 mg, the sodium count isn’t half bad either.

Now, you have to remember: if it looks like a chip and it tastes like a chip, it’s still a chip…and certainly not the same thing as eating real vegetables. You’re missing out on valuable nutrients like potassium and vitamin C there. But in a pinch, if you gotta grab a chip, I say the veggie popchips are a pretty good product.

 

Why Massaging Kale is a Must

10 Feb

Why Massaging Kale is a Must

When it comes to love for leafy greens, kale does not want for admirers.

Long touted as a super food, kale is a nutritional powerhouse that packs:

  • 4 grams of fiber in just 50 calories (about 6 cups loosely packed)
  • 1/3 daily value for vitamin A & double your daily need for vitamin C
  • 150 mg calcium (about half the amount in a cup of milk)

Sure kale tastes great if you cook it. But when consumed raw, the bitter kale leaves can be a bit off-putting.

Enter the kale massage. Massaging your kale mellows its flavor and softens up the brittle green.

Here’s how to master the mighty kale massage:

  • Strip the kale leaves away from the center vein and discard vein
  • Chiffonade or very thinly slice remaining kale leaves
  • Transfer to a bowl, grab bunches of kale in both hands, add a little olive oil if you want, and go to town
  • After a few minutes of massaging, the kale leaves’ texture will visibly change and shrink in size

Although the massage yields a darker-colored kale, there is no data to suggest that massaging kale alters its nutrient profile.

But if a kale massage is all it takes you to get more of this fiber friendly food…then clearly, massaging kale is a must!