Blog

Folate vs. Folic Acid

Check the label of your prenatal vitamin and make sure it’s folate, not the synthetic form, folic acid

Folate (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) is vitamin B9, folic acid (pteroylmonoglutamic acid) is the synthetic form. 

Folic acid absorbs well into the blood stream but 40-60% of the population has a mutation in the MTHFR gene which means they are unable to use folic acid or are less efficient at converting it to the active form (1). Since the conversion is inefficient, folic acid can build up in the blood and cause health issues (2, 3).

But more importantly than that, if it’s not being converted it won’t help prevent neural tube defect.

Neural Tube Defect

Neural tube defects develop around 6-8 weeks gestation, a time when some women may not know they’re pregnant. For this reason, public health officials want all women of childbearing age to take a folate supplement or a prenatal vitamin that contains folate. 

While consistent supplementation would be nice, it’s not realistic to expect every woman to do that. If you are planning to become pregnant start taking a prenatal right away, ideally supplementation begins 3 months prior to conception. 

Sources and RDA

Pregnant women need at least 600 mcg of folate per day. Check your prenatal vitamin to make sure it contains folate and not folic acid. You’ll also want to make sure you’re getting plenty of folate from foods.

Good sources of folate:

  • Liver
  • Avocado
  • Legumes
  • Leafy Greens
  • Beets
  • Nuts / Seeds
  • Eggs

Sources:

  1. Multivitamin Supplementation During Pregnancy: Emphasis on Folic Acid and l-Methylfolate
  2. Folic acid for the prevention of colorectal adenomas: a randomized clinical trial
  3. Cancer incidence and mortality after treatment with folic acid and vitamin B12

Baby Food Toxins: Should You Worry?

The heavy metals in baby foods pose serious risks.

Recently the New York Times and other publications reported on toxic levels of heavy metals found in popular baby food brands. Many people are calling these reports “alarmist”. While I completely support a bit of skepticism, this happens to be one of those times when the headlines are correct.

The words in the report couldn’t say it any clearer: “The test results of baby foods and their ingredients eclipse [allowable] levels: including results up to 91 times the arsenic level, up to 177 times the lead level, up to 69 times the cadmium level, and up to 5 times the mercury level.” (1)

That, is NOT (even a little) alarmist.

The worst part is, these numbers came from the companies themselves. They had been testing the food and the ingredients they used. They knew the levels were dangerously high yet they chose to use ingredients and to sell foods with dangerously high levels of heavy metals.

While the spotlight has been on the testing results we do know, the report states concern over even higher heavy metal levels in the products manufactured by Walmart (Parent’s Choice), Sprout Organic Foods, and Campbell (Plum Organics), the companies who refused to participate.

Dangers Posed by Heavy Metals

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) states on their website: “There is no safe level of lead exposure in children.” (2)

A study of Maine schoolchildren who had been exposed to water polluted with 5 ppb arsenic “showed significant reductions in Full Scale IQ, Working Memory, Perceptual Reasoning and Verbal Comprehension scores.” 

The allowable arsenic limit is 10 ppb, baby food was testing up to 91 times that amount.

Lead and arsenic can cause permanent brain damage leading to learning difficulties and developmental delays.

Is it Unavoidable?

It is true that due to pollution many foods contain heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. To ensure that the public is not being bombarded with toxins, the FDA regularly tests foods from across the country as part of the Total Diet Study (TDS).

The most recent report available on their website includes data collected from 2006-2013. (3) While ingredients like sweet potatoes and carrots did have measurable levels of arsenic and lead (levels below), those levels are nowhere near as dangerous as those seen in the ingredients used by these baby food companies.

Beech-Nut ingredients:

  • Carrots – 20 ppb lead
  • Sweet potato – 55 ppb lead

TDS 2006-2013:

  • Carrots baby, raw – 1ppb lead
  • Carrots fresh, peeled, boiled – 2ppb lead
  • Sweet Potatoes, Canned – 12 ppb lead

*the goal level for lead in baby food is 1 ppb

Foods like rice and root vegetables are known for having higher levels of contaminants. Baby food companies have the capabilities of avoiding such ingredients yet they choose to use them. The companies could also specifically source foods from areas lower in pollution, clearly, they don’t do that. And despite testing ingredients, they still use them regardless of a poor test result.

It seems the goal is not to protect our most vulnerable, but to profit off of them.

Going Forward

Unfortunately since pollution is present in foods making foods at home may not completely protect children. Below are a few strategies to reduce heavy metal exposure from food.

  • Reduce rice intake, check all labels for rice flour
  • When preparing rice, add extra water, then pour it off before serving
  • Vary foods, there is no need to wait days before introducing a new food
  • Avoid juice
  • Peel sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables and serve them less frequently

Sources:

  1. Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury
  2. Lead Exposure in Children
  3. Analytical Results of the Total Diet Study

Crispy Oven Roasted Cauliflower

Try this easy, simple, and fast cauliflower recipe anyone will enjoy. It is the perfect addition to any meal.

Cauliflower. It’s good for you! It can also taste great.

My favorite way to prepare it is to set the oven to 450, cut your cauliflower into bite size florets, toss it in olive oil with salt, a dash of cayenne, thyme, and garlic powder. Put it on a cookie sheet with enough olive oil to avoid any sticking, and bake for 20-25 minutes.

Often times I also add some bacon fat for flavor and crispness.

What is Intuitive Eating?

Intuitive eating is a philosophy, not a diet it teaches you that YOU know how to make the best choices for your body.

Intuitive eating is a philosophy that is the opposite of a diet. Rather than place limits on foods or cut out whole food groups, intuitive eating teaches you that YOU know how to make the best choices for your body.

The biggest draw to intuitive eating is the no rules philosophy.

Yes, if you eat intuitively you can eat desserts but there is more to intuitive eating than that. It’s about understanding your body’s signals and listening to them.

It’s about developing a healthy relationship with food.

It’s about avoiding starve / binge cycles.

It’s about ENJOYING YOUR FOOD

It’s about losing the obsession with food.

It’s about being happy.

Intuitive eating has been shown to improve self esteem, body image, and decrease depression and anxiety.

To begin intuitive eating there are great resources like podcasts, books, and YouTube videos to get started. You can also seek help from a therapist or dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating.

If you’re feeling skeptical, I felt the same way. The more I learned about intuitive eating and paid attention to my own thoughts about food the more I’ve come to love and understand intuitive eating. Our culture teaches us that food and hunger are the enemy and that is no way to live.

Send an email to jess@jessnutrition.com to learn how you can get started with intuitive eating.

Does chicken soup help a cold?

There’s truth to this old wives’ tale! Chicken soup has been shown to have numerous benefits for a cold.

Chicken soup has been shown to help clear nasal passages and reduce inflammation. While hot fluids generally help clear nasal passages, chicken soup has been shown to be better when compared to other hot liquids (1).

It is a great source of vitamins, minerals, calories, and protein, all of which are nutrients you need when you’re sick (2). It also helps you to stay hydrated and is an excellent source of electrolytes, two critical factors when dealing with a cold or flu (3).

One reason for chicken soups beneficial effect is that chicken contains an amino acid called cysteine which is anti-vital, anti-inflammatory, and helps to break apart mucus (4, 5). For a vegetarian source of cysteine, try adding lentils to your soup. 

Aside from the chicken itself, chicken soup typically contains a number of ingredients that can help to ease cold symptoms. Onions contain a compound called quercetin which is both antiviral and antibiotic (6). Garlic and ginger have also been shown to have antiviral properties (7, 8).

On top of all the actual evidence to show that chicken soup helps fight a cold, it’s also easy to eat and soothing when you’re not feeling well.

Soucres:

  1. “Effects of drinking hot water, cold water, and chicken soup on nasal mucus velocity and nasal airflow resistance.” CHEST. (1978).
  2. Metabolic response to injury and illness: estimation of energy and protein needs from indirect calorimetry and nitrogen balance
  3. Water, electrolytes, vitamins and trace elements – Guidelines on Parenteral Nutrition, Chapter 7
  4. Existing and potential therapeutic uses for N-acetylcysteine: the need for conversion to intracellular glutathione for antioxidant benefits
  5. Adjunctive therapies and immunomodulating agents for severe influenza
  6. “Modulatory effects of plant phenols on human multidrug-resistance proteins 1, 4 and 5 (ABCC1, 4 and 5).” FEBS J. (2005).
  7. “Garlic for the common cold.” The Cochrane Library. (2009).
  8. “Fresh ginger (Zingiber officinale) has anti-viral activity against human respiratory syncytial virus in human respiratory tract cell lines.” J Ethnopharmacol. (2013).

Collagen Powder

Benefits of dietary collagen, causes of collagen damage, and how to add more collagen to your diet!

Dietary collagen has been shown to have lots of potential health benefits:

  • Slow aging by reducing wrinkles and dryness (1)
  • Reduction in wrinkle depth (2)
  • Improve symptoms of osteoarthritis and reduce joint pain (3, 4)
  • Reduce bone loss and prevent osteoporosis when combined with calcium (5)
  • Increased bone density (6)
  • May boost muscle mass when combined with resistance training (7)
  • Increase HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce artery stiffness (7)

Despite the benefits we do know, there are many things not yet supported by evidence. Overall more research needs to be done!

Not supported but not refuted by evidence:

  • Helping to prevent acne and other skin conditions
  • Improvements to gut health
  • Increased metabolism and weight loss

Things that damage collagen:

  • Smoking (9)
  • Too much sugar and refined carbs (10)
  • Too much sun exposure (11)

Collagen has shown to not have any associated risks and appears to be safe for most people though some experience fullness and heart burn. If you take collagen supplements and notice any side effects be sure to consult your doctor.

While we can get collagen from the diet, the body also makes it if you provide your body with the right building blocks! In order to promote collagen production in the body ensure that you’re consuming complete proteins and adequate vitamin C. Even though humans produce collagen, getting it through diet is beneficial because as we age we produce less and lower quality collagen.

Collagen comes from the connective tissue of animals, animal skin and bones are a good source of collagen. Foods like bone broth that contain gelatin provide collagen. If you notice a gel on refrigerated stock, bone broth, or other animal product, that’s gelatin!

Bone broth has become popular in the last few years but collagen powder is another great way to add more collagen to your diet. It is easily added to any liquid and is flavorless. It mixes into hot liquids better than cold so I usually add it to my morning coffee. Adding collagen powder to soups and sauces is very easy but I’ve mixed it into foods like mashed potatoes or oatmeal as well.

Sources:

  1. Skin anti-aging strategies
  2. Effects of a nutritional supplement containing collagen peptides on skin elasticity, hydration and wrinkles
  3. Collagen hydrolysate for the treatment of osteoarthritis and other joint disorders: a review of the literature
  4. Collagen supplementation as a complementary therapy for the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis and osteoarthritis: a systematic review
  5. A calcium-collagen chelate dietary supplement attenuates bone loss in postmenopausal women with osteopenia: a randomized controlled trial
  6. Specific Collagen Peptides Improve Bone Mineral Density and Bone Markers in Postmenopausal Women—A Randomized Controlled Study
  7. Collagen peptide supplementation in combination with resistance training improves body composition and increases muscle strength in elderly sarcopenic men: a randomised controlled trial
  8. Effect of Collagen Tripeptide on Atherosclerosis in Healthy Humans
  9. Smoking affects collagen synthesis and extracellular matrix turnover in human skin
  10. Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation
  11. Mechanisms of Photoaging and Cutaneous Photocarcinogenesis, and Photoprotective Strategies with Phytochemicals

Choosing Olive Oil

Choosing olive oil is deceptively difficult but here are some tips to keep in mind the next time you go grocery shopping.

Choosing olive oil is deceptively difficult but here are some tips to keep in mind.

Go for Extra Virgin: these olive oils are the least processed, they weren’t treated with any chemicals or heat. If this is the only thing you look for in olive oil, you’re guaranteed to have at least a baseline level of decent quality olive oil regardless of brand or any other factor. Extra virgin olive oil is always cold-pressed, so no need to look for that on the label.

No “light” olive oil: if a bottle of olive oil is ever described as light, run the other direction. Olive oil is and should always be high in fat!

No clear containers: olive oil can easily be damaged from exposure to light so avoid any olive oil that does not come in a dark glass, tin container, or other opaque.

Look for a specific region: A product labeled merely “Mediterranean” may be of lower quality than you’re anticipating. Mediterranean olive oil is typically made using all the defective leftover olives or olive oil from across the Mediterranean. In addition to defective olives, if defective olive oils from around the world are bottled in Italy they can be sold as Italian olive oil. To avoid these oils check the back of the bottle, it will tell you the country of origin for the oil itself. But a good way to ensure you’re purchasing high-quality oil is to purchase olive oil that is listed by region. For example Sicilian or Kalamata olive oil as opposed to Italian or Greek olive oil. The more specific the better.

In order to not completely break the bank on olive oil alone, I buy two. I buy one more expensive olive oil from a specific region and use that for dressings, marinades, anything else that will really benefit from a distinct olive oil flavor. But, when I am using olive oil to grease a pan, I use a generic extra virgin olive oil.

Does Coffee Cause Dehydration?

Coffee has long been considered a culprit in dehydration but this may be less straight forward than we thought.

Coffee has long been considered a culprit in dehydration because caffeine has a mild diuretic effect. But recent studies have shown that while the caffeine in coffee does increase urination, that increased urination does not counteract the main ingredient in brewed coffee —— WATER.

One study found that consumption of 300 mg of caffeine which is the equivalent of 3 cups of coffee (710 ml) resulted in increased urine production of only 109 ml (1).

In order to see a significant diuretic effect from coffee, it would require the consumption of 5 or more cups of brewed coffee at once (2).

Sources:

  1. Coffee with High but Not Low Caffeine Content Augments Fluid and Electrolyte Excretion at Rest
  2. No evidence of dehydration with moderate daily coffee intake: a counterbalanced cross-over study in a free-living population

Chamomile and Anxiety

Chamomile has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety in those with moderate to severe anxiety.

Feeling anxious?

Chamomile has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety in those with moderate to severe anxiety.

In 2020, we have had a lot to keep us anxious. Whether it be economic insecurity, health, wildfires, police shootings, protests, massive change and disruption in schedules, and now an election that could take days (or longer) to call. While you try to keep your sanity consider turning off the news and curling up with a cup of tea.

In addition to anxiety, chamomile had been shown to help relieve colds, reduce the severity of menstrual cramps, boost the immune system, and act as a mild sedative.

Caesar Dressing

A few years ago I started to make my own salad dressing. This is something I decided to do because store-bought salad dressing almost always contains oils that I specifically try to avoid.

Salad dressing can be as simple as tossing your greens in oil and vinegar. My favorite dressing is Caesar and unfortunately it is a little more complicated than that. It requires a whole lot of whisking but I use a food processor to make the process a little easier.

I use a recipe I found a few years ago from Bon Appetit.

Some notes about this recipe:
– for vegetable oil, I use unrefined peanut or avocado oil, examples of oil to avoid are listed below. In addition to vegetable oil this recipe includes olive oil, you could use olive oil for all of the oil in the recipe but I wouldn’t recommend it. Olive oil has a stronger flavor than vegetable oil and will be noticeable in the finished product
– You can skip anchovies and still have a lovely dressing, when I make this I don’t always remember to buy anchovies so I have made it without them many times

Oils to avoid: soybean, sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, grapeseed, refined coconut, refined peanut, refined avocado

If you don’t want to make salad dressing or don’t have time Primal Kitchen makes great dressing with high-quality oil!