Reading Nutrition Labels

By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
Which is the healthiest bread to buy? What salad dressing isn’t bad for you? Which spaghetti sauce has the lowest sugar content? These are common questions get asked by clients who, like many of us, are concerned about making the healthiest choice when selecting basic grocery items. The simple answer may be to go for the item that says “natural”, “pure”, or “organic” on its label; however, the problem is that often these descriptions are misleading, and misrepresent the true ingredients in the product. The Nutrition Facts label and ingredients list (usually on the back or side of the product)—required by the Food and Drug Administration on most packaged food and beverage products— is your best friend when it comes to deciphering between products and deciding which is the healthiest option for you and your family.
The Nutrition Facts label provides standardized information about the nutrient content of the product such as calories, fat, sodium, fiber, and sugars. The label is supposed to help you decide whether a food or beverage fits in to your eating plan, but unless you truly understand what you are reading and its significance, it can also lead you down the wrong path. Here are some basic steps to help to guide you through the process of interpreting the Nutrition Facts Label:
1. Read the list of ingredients which is usually next to the nutrition information. The longer the ingredients list, the more likely the food is processed. Any ingredients that are unfamiliar are usually artificial or a preservative of some kind, and probably should be avoided. You will be able to see if there is added sugar or other sweeteners by reading the list carefully.
2. Move on to the nutrition facts, and first check the serving size and calories, especially if you are watching your weight. From this you can work out if the food has a reasonable energy density or if it has excessive calories.
3. Know how many servings in the product, called “Servings Per Container”. This is usually a good reflection of how many people can be fed.
4. Check sodium and saturated fat, particularly if you have high blood pressure and/or cholesterol. Reasonable amounts for these conditions are less than 1 gram of saturated fat and 140 milligrams or less of sodium.
5. Check total fat in grams. Low fat usually means less than 3 grams of total fat per serve.
6. Check fiber content. High fiber means more than 5 grams of fiber.
The more practice you get reading food labels, the better you can become in using them as a tool to plan your diet, and the less time you will need to spend trying to choose between products that all look so similar, but really are not!

Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
Free one hour initial health and nutrition consultation for readers

Are All Olive Oils Heart-Healthy?


By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]

If I were to define the most essential ingredient in any dish, it would undoubtedly be olive oil—made from the crushing and pressing of olives. One tablespoon of olive oil contains approximately 125 calories, and is an adequate amount to add to your entire salad or stir-fry. If that sounds like a lot of calories, consider how may calories in your typical store-bought salad dressing or sauce, together with the incredible amount of added sugar and artificial ingredients that it may contain. Olive oil is not only a superfood for the heart, but a way to naturally add flavor to vegetables, meats, grains, and bread. I always emphasize to my clients that food and eating is not only a physical act, but a spiritual act because it provides comfort and enjoyment. When you use olive oil in your cooking, you are definitely adding to the spiritual component of the meal, by connecting with one of Israel’s native fruits, and with an ancient ingredient in the Jewish culture.

Olive oil’s well-studied health benefits surpass that of other so-called vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, canola, soy, or corn). Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that can lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol levels in your blood. In contrast, saturated and transfats (such as butter, animal fats, and partially hydrogenated oils) increase your risk of heart disease by increasing your total and LDL cholesterol levels. Olive oil contains high levels of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant that also can promote heart health. The Mediterranean diet, of which olive oil is a central component, has long been associated with numerous health benefits, including decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, breast cancer, lung cancer, and some dementias. But don't overdo it, consuming more than two tablespoons at a meal (or per day if you are trying to lose weight) may induce free radial damage and contribute too much total fat to your diet.

When you shop for olive oil, you will notice that many different grades are available, including extra-virgin, fine virgin, refined and pure. "100% Pure Olive Oil" sounds like a high-end product, but in fact is often the lowest quality available in stores, as it’s a blend or refined and unrefined oil. Extra-virgin is the unrefined oil derived from the first pressing of the olives, and being the least processed it has the most delicate flavor (the lease overall acidity) and is the most heart healthy. Virgin is also derived from the first pressing of the olives, but has a higher acidity level than extra-virgin olive oil (as well as less phytonutrients and a less delicate or more subtle taste). So I recommend extra-virgin oil (cold-pressed if possible) as your first choice, making sure to store it away from the stove and replacing it every 3 to 4 months to ensure its healthy nutrients remain at their maximum.

Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
Free one hour initial health and nutrition consultation for readers

Is Sea Salt Healthier than Table Salt?


By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]

When I was in medical school we learnt about the significance of iodine deficiency, especially for women who are planning a pregnancy or who are pregnant. The concern is that iodine deficiency can predispose the new born baby to severe nervous system problems. Since everyone I know grew up eating table salt, which is iodized, inadequate iodine intake has never been a major an issue until more recently.

In the last few years, sea salt, which is not iodized, has become more widely used and has replaced table salt for cooking in many restaurants and households. These days, even in ready-made or fast foods, iodine-fortified table salt is seldom used in cooking. This is because sea salt has been marketed as more natural and healthier than table salt; however, in reality sea salt and table salt actually have the same amount of sodium chloride; and both are processed salts (except for unrefined organic sea salt of course!). So, why do we love sea salt if it’s chemically almost the same as table salt (apart from not being fortified with iodine)? Sea salt has a coarser texture and a more pleasant taste than table salt. For cooks and chefs, kosher salt (also not iodized) is also a favorite because it’s lighter and less grainy than regular table salt.

Whilst iodine deficiency is still relatively uncommon in the United States, research has shown that average levels of intake have been steadily decreasing over the past few years.
Because sea salt generally lacks high amounts of iodine, I always recommend my clients have their iodine levels checked, especially if they are planning a pregnancy. Furthermore, because most of us are consuming sea salt, I recommend considering supplemental iodine, which can be found in some multivitamins.
Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
Free one hour initial health and nutrition consultation for readers

Dispelling Some of the Health Myths about Cheese

By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]

With Shavuot just around the corner, many of us are preparing our ovens for cooking delicious cheese-based meals. This presents a great opportunity to clarify some of the myths surrounding cheese. Many of my clients generally avoid cheese because of its high fat content, propensity to cause high blood cholesterol, and rumors that it is fattening. One of my greatest pleasures is providing clients with permission to start eating cheese again—even whole cheese— as part of their overall nutrition plan. Here’s why:

Cheese Will Not Cause Weight Gain
Some research over the past few years has suggested that including skim or fat-free milk or dairy products into your diet can actually help you lose weight. Without going into a detailed account of the potential flaws of such research, these claims are not founded. The principle of moderation that applies to any food also applies to cheese. Make sure to read the labels of cheese packages to determine the calorie content per serving. Amongst the types of cheese with the lowest calories per ounce are cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, and farmer cheese. If you prefer cheeses that have more texture, but still with only 70-80 calories per ounce try feta or mozzarella.

Whole Milk Cheese May be Better than Low-Fat Cheese
Lower-fat versions of cheese are usually recommended for people watching their cholesterol intake because of reduced quantities of saturated fat. However, reduced dairy products may not contain the same quantities of fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) as whole milk ones because of the de-fatting process. As far as milk is concerned, the difference between 1% milk and whole milk is a matter of 50 calories and about 6 grams of fat per (1 cup) serving. In contrast, indulging in a small Hershey’s chocolate bar will set you back 250 calories and 17 grams of fat. Clearly choosing reduced fat dairy products makes the most sense from the point of view of stringent calorie and saturated fat monitoring; however, whole milk products are without a doubt more nutritious.

Not All Cheese is Poorly Digested
Some people do not digest lactose in dairy products such as cheese well so they avoid it altogether. However, there are different degrees of intolerance and it is best to determine your level before eliminating cheese from your diet permanently. Also, many individuals with a degree of lactose intolerance can still eat aged cheese (for example, asiago, cheddar, and parmesan), which contain primarily lactic acid (as opposed to lactose).

Cheese is a Natural Product
There are many delicious cheeses to enjoy that are relatively unprocessed. Cheeses such as cream cheese and American cheese are highly processed, so we should keep consumption of these at a minimum. Go ahead and enjoy your cheese cake on Shavuot; just remember everything in moderation.

Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
Free one hour initial health and nutrition consultation for readers

Promoting Healthy Eating Habits in Young Children

By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]

We live in increasingly health-conscious times. With the prevalence of childhood obesity and diabetes it is our obligation to think about how to raise our children as healthy eaters. Here are 5 practical strategies that will make a huge difference in your child and their eating habits:

1) Make the meal time environment positive: Meals should be a time that your child is looking forward to. It should not be a time for criticism or stress. The entire family should participate in the meal, with the child having some role, whether it’s in planning the menu or setting up the table.
2) Encourage your child to play a role in food preparation: Studies have shown that children who help prepare a meal are more likely to "eat what they have made". Even it’s as simple as stirring the sauce, adding an ingredient or measuring an amount of liquid, the child will have ownership of the meal, fueling their self-esteem as a little cook.
3) Do not use meal time or food as positive or negative reinforcement: Many parents fall into the trap of rewarding their children with food, or threatening them by taking it away. This sets a bad precedent as you are training a child to become an adult who will reward him/herself with food as well.
4) Do not reward a child for finishing all their food: Children have the ability to recognize when they are full. Too often we get caught up in the "Clean your plate" syndrome. This compels children to eat more than they need and ignore internal signals of fullness. Tell your child if they are no longer hungry, they no longer need to eat.
5) Give choices, but not too many: A dinner consisting of three simple foods—protein, grain and a vegetable— is usually more than enough to satisfy a child’s tastes. Set up your child’s plate with all choices on it, and let them "explore" the food, investigating its texture, color and size. Make positive statements about what is on the plate, but again do not force the issue. A hungry child will eventually try something on the plate. If they don’t like any of it, explain firmly that those are the choices and they may not have any other. Do not worry about your child going hungry; they will come around to eat when they get hungry enough again.

Simone Stromer, MD, CHC [AADP]
Free one hour initial health and nutrition consultation for readers

Boost Your Protein with Quinoa


By Simone Stromer, MD

There isn’t a cookbook these days that doesn’t include a recipe using quinoa. Usually it’s a vegetarian side dish, most often served accompanying the meat. Since it gluten-free, quinoa also seems to be popping up in cookies, breads and breakfast cereals as a wheat substitute. Quinoa, a grain-like seed native to South America, was cultivated originally by the Incas thousands of years ago; nowadays it is grown in North America. There is no doubt that the Incas were on the money—quinoa provides more amino acids, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients than most grains. It has such a diverse profile of essential amino acids that some classify quinoa as a complete protein— meaning that it has the necessary quantities and proportions of amino acids to be considered as important a protein source as meat. As such, I recommend quinoa as a main dish for vegetarians and omnivores alike. For individuals watching their cholesterol or fat, substituting a meat meal for a quinoa-based meal is a good way to reduce your intake of saturated fats.

Two varieties of quinoa are usually available—cream-colored or red—each having their own distinctive flavors. The cream-colored variety has a smooth and creamy taste which lends itself well to hot dishes; the red variety has a crunchier and nuttier taste which is fantastic for cold salads garnished with nuts and other vegetables. Preparation for quinoa is similar to rice, but takes less time. First, thoroughly wash quinoa with running water and a strainer to remove soil and excess bitter resins. Then boil, covered, for about 10 minutes, drain, and mix with a drop of oil to loosen the seeds and avoid clumping. Hot or cold; breakfast, lunch, or dinner; sweet or savory, quinoa is a highly versatile food. My personal favorite is quinoa and blueberries sweetened with agave nectar for breakfast or cream-colored quinoa with cherry tomatoes, baby spinach, and feta cheese for lunch or dinner.

Health and Nutrition

Only a few drops…….

By Simone Stromer, MD, CHC

The health benefits of moderate alcohol consumption (a glass a day for women, 2 glasses for men) are not ground-breaking news. Packed with polyphenols from the skin and seeds of grapes, a glass a day of your favorite wine (especially red) may be associated with advantages ranging from reducing cholesterol to preventing chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. My favorite red wine is Shiraz, a dark-skinned grape variety popular in Australia and Europe, with aromas of berries, chocolate, espresso and black pepper.

The key to experiencing the benefits of wine is through the age-old wisdom of “everything in moderation.” Too much wine may be associated with disease, and as I remind people everyday in my practice, regular alcohol drinking may result in weight gain due to its empty calories. If you enjoy a glass of wine, I advise drinking it as part of a Mediterranean diet - an eating plan full of mostly fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and good quality olive oil. I also highly recommend using wine as a seasoning in cooking to enhance and accent the flavor of the food. With just a few drops of leftover drinking wine added to your short-grain brown rice, you can turn boring whole grain rice into an Italian Risotto!

Dr. Stromer is board-certified in health and nutrition counseling by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP) and a graduate of the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York City. She is also board certified in family medicine in Australia, where she practiced for 7 years before beginning her integrative health and nutrition practice.

She is particularly interested in helping women and mothers who are busy balancing work, social demands, and family, and who wish to get results that are life-long and easy to sustain. Her areas of specialty include: weight loss and maintenance, disease prevention, stress and energy issues, and nutrition for pregnancy.

Contact Dr. Stromer on 646 259 2793 or for more information.
Free one hour initial consultation for readers