Archive for the ‘Nutrition’ Category

The simple answer is that sugar is one type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are a whole family and sugar is the evil step brother. Just kidding! Kind of. There is no technical definition of sugar, but for the purpose of this article it will be defined as that granulated white (or brown) stuff used in baking and poured on your cereal or coffee.  Food manufacturers also add sugar to beverages and foods such as soda, juice drinks, cookies, cakes, candy, etc.  Sometimes this added sugar is listed under names such as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and corn syrup solids. The scientific name for white sugar is sucrose.

Carbohydrates are the broader category which includes all sweets, grains, fruit, milk, and even vegetables. Carbohydrates found in fruit are fructose; carbs in milk are lactose; and carbs in grain foods are glucose. When your body digests carbohydrates they break down into glucose when they enter your blood stream. All types of carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in your body. A strawberry will turn to glucose just the same as a piece of bread or a tablespoon full of sugar will turn into glucose. The difference is that the strawberry contains vitamin C, fiber, and approximately 80 calories for 1 cup. On the other hand, 1 cup of white sugar (sucrose) contains zero vitamins and fiber, and has a whopping 770 calories. Of course, most of you are not going to eat a cup of sugar, but you may drink a soda which contains 9 teaspoons of sugar.

If you ever turn a food package around and look at the label (which I hope you do!) you may notice that it shows carbohydrates, dietary fiber and sugars. Basically, the more fiber it has the healthier it is, and the less sugar it has the healthier it is. Fiber is also a carbohydrate, but it is indigestible and it moves through your body helping to lower your cholesterol and promote regularity. Fiber can also help stabilize your blood sugar.

Overall, carbohydrates provide fuel for your body and should not be avoided. There are both healthy carbs (whole grains, fruit) and unhealthy carbs (sugar), and with a bit of balance and moderation you can happily consume both types :).




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Being Emo with my Diet Coke Lime

Is diet soda a good alternative to regular? I get this question ALL the time. Over the years, I have found that people have really strong opinions on diet soda. Either they think its God’s gift to the earth or it’s devils blood. There are hardly any middle roaders when it comes to diet soda. But there is one sitting right here. ME!

The Good

  • Diet soda is calorie free. If you replace exactly one diet soda for one regular soda each day this can help you lose weight. However, if you alter your diet or exercise routine in any other way to compensate for the diet soda you may not see results.
  • For some, diet soda tastes good and is more refreshing than water. It may possibly help you satisfy a sweet tooth and has a lot less calories than chocolate cake.

The Bad

  • Several studies have shown that diet soda drinkers are just as fat as regular soda drinkers. To learn more see this LA TIMES Article. It turns out its not so much about metabolism but more about the mental act of drinking diet soda.
  • Diet soda contains aspartame, citric acid, acesulfame, caffeine, and sodium. All of these substances are approved by the FDA, but that does NOT mean they are “healthy.”

Overall, I would like  for you to make your own conclusions. As for me, I chose water, 100% fruit juice with sparkling water, and the occasional Diet Coke Lime. If a company could make diet Sprite that actually tasted like Sprite I would be all over that.

Do you drink diet? Regular? Any favorite flavors or non-carbonated substitutions?

P.S. Massage Envy gave me a free upgrade 🙂


Heather Mason

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As a nutritionist, this is a question that I am constantly hearing. The truth is that eating a lot of sugar DOES NOT give you diabetes mellitus (DM).

Slightly embarrassed I had Cocoa flavored cereal in my pantry...

“The myth that sugar causes diabetes is commonly accepted by many people. Research has shown that it isn’t true. Eating sugar has nothing to do with developing diabetes” (American Diabetes Association).

There you have it, straight from the horses mouth. Then why do people believe that they will develop DM from eating a lot of sugar?

  1. The greatest risk factor for developing type two diabetes is central adiposity, AKA, being overweight. If you are overweight or obese you are at greater risk for developing diabetes.
  2. It is true, that once you have DM it is important to monitor and limit the amount of carbohydrates and sugars consumed.
  3. I am a nutritionist; of course I don’t think it’s a good idea to eat a lot of sugar. However, if you are of a healthy body weight, and are metabolically healthy in terms of lipids, go ahead and eat some cake.

Of course, like most chronic diseases, there is a huge genetic component to diabetes. If anyone in your family has DM, you are at greater risk. In this case, it is even more important to maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, and to see a registered dietitian if you need help.

I would love to hear your opinions and questions on this subject. Have you been told that eating too much sugar will give you DM?

Happy Eating,

Heather Mason, MS

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Its almost New Years and you know what that means? New Years Resolutions! Undoubtedly one of the most popular resolutions involves improving one’s health and fitness. Over 50% of Americans will vow to lose weight come January 1st.  And sadly, the majority of them will fall off the wagon by February 1st *. The reason that many people find it hard to sustain a weight loss diet is that they search for a quick fix and get sucked into these so called “detox diets.”

There is a wide spectrum of detox diets out there ranging anywhere from an all liquid vegetable diet to a coffee enema. Now doesn’t that sound like fun? One of my favorite detox diets is the Lemonade Master Cleanse made popular by Beyonce. This is a diet where you consume only lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper for a few weeks. Yum-O.

In addition to weight loss, detox diets promise to “rid your body of harmful toxins”. This is simply not true. There is absolutely zero scientific evidence that these diets work. In fact, your body is great at cleansing itself. The main function of your liver and kidneys are to act as detoxification organs to keep the good stuff in and excrete what may be harmful or unnecessary. While there is nothing wrong with following a diet that promotes more fruit and veggies, reduced sugar, or eating less processed foods, the type of detox diets promoted in the media are simply too extreme and are likely to do more harm than good.

Reasons NOT to follow a detox diet:

  1. Detox diets are short term and promote yo-yo dieting. Fluctuating weight can be more harmful to your health than being overweight.
  2. Detox diets are often very calorie restrictive. Severe calorie restriction may actually slow down your metabolism because your body tries to conserve energy as it prepares for “starvation mode.”
  3. Most detox diets are lacking essential macro and micro nutrients that you need for optimal health.

Hopefully, these diets can be left behind in 2010. If you’re looking to have a healthier New Year the best way to do it is to make small lifestyle changes and set attainable goals for yourself. Finding a support group or speaking with a registered dietitian is also a great way to make a healthy change. Some simple changes you can make right now include:

  1. Cut back on soda and high calorie juice drinks. Replace with water, non-fat milk, or diet soda (if you have to).
  2. Replace at least one high calorie snack a day such as chips or cookies with a fruit or vegetable snack.
  3. Limit fast food to once a week or less.
  4. Snacks are great, but be careful of mindlessly “snacking” throughout the day. If you’re going to have a snack measure out a portion instead of bringing the entire bag along with you.
  5. Last but not least, make time to exercise at least 5 times per week. Find an activity that makes you happy.

Heres to a healthy, happy, non colon-cleansing 2011. I’m spending my holiday in Mammoth snowboarding 🙂

* Alright, so I made this statistic up, but I think you get my point.

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mmmm… I LOVE pie! apple, pumpkin, banana cream, and my very favorite Razzleberry (courtesy of Marie Calendars), I love them all.  Since, I’ve officially declared it pie eating season (although I admit, it probably really started in October) lets talk about pie nutrition.

First we have the most sought after Thanksgiving pie. Pumpkin!

Pumpkin Pie Nutrition Info: As a general reference we should be eating about 2,000 calories a day and 60-70 grams of fat/day, but this varies widely from person to person depending on age, weight, gender, etc.

As you can see, there is a little over 300 calories and 14 g of fat per slice of pumpkin pie.  While this is not great, this really isn’t too horrendous. Some of the good things about pumpkin pie, well, pumpkin is a vegetable! and just like most orange vegetables its filled with vitamin A and fiber! Look at the bottom of the label and you will see that you are getting 249% of you’re daily value of Vitamin A. I teach my kids that Vitamin A is good for your eyes and your skin! and it really is, so eat your pumpkin pie with no regrets this thanksgiving but please try to keep your serving size to 1/8 the pie because there really is no need to be getting 500% of your values of vitamin A . Lastly, even though its oh so fun to shoot out of the can we can’t go crazy with the reddi whip.

Next we have Apple pie.

Interestingly, the nutrition facts doesn’t look much different for apple pie then pumpkin. Similar calories, similar fat, not so much vitamin A, but more vitamin C. Most of the calories in your apple pie are coming from A) the crust B) the added sugar. So here’s a few tips for lightening up your apple pie, try one crust, like an apple pie tart type thing. This can save you a lot of calories. Also, if you’re making the apple pie fresh buy sweet apples and cut your added sugar in half. I like it tart anyway.

Last we have the super rich, super nutty, super grandma-ee Pecan Pie

I was always a little afraid of pecan pie, and then one thanksgiving I tried it and realized that it actually is amazing! Amazing tasting that is, but nutritionally quite the opposite. Its that middle filler portion that I’m just so weary of. In this commercially prepared pecan pie featured in the label above you can see that there are about a million ingredients of filler added to this pie. If its homemade it may be a little better, but lets face it. Nuts have ALOT of fat! And, I’m all about nuts, especially the walnut variety. But when we’re already eating pie with buttery crust and corn syrupy filling the last thing we need is more fat. This pie packs over 500 calories per one measly slice. We can calculate that to be about 1/4 of our daily needs of calories. Since I’m sure were not planning on eating this for our entire meal its probably not the best choice if we’re watching out waist lines. On the other hand, if you’re looking to gain weight, go for it! Not to villify pecan pie or anything, I will say that the majority of the fat in it is MUFAS and PUFAS which are the unsaturated kinds that are better for our health than saturated fat.

Alright, that about sums it up. What is your favorite kind of pie? Do you have any secret recipe substitutions for making your pie healthier? If you don’t eat pie for dessert on Thanksgiving, what do you eat?

Lastly, If I don’t post again before Thursday HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

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Over the weekend I played rugby with my old college team from Davis. I had an amazing time!  After seeing a few ruggers chow down on some food that wasn’t exactly the best for enhancing sports performance, I figured I better blog about it. As far as sports nutrition goes, there are some simple basics that can pretty much be applied to any sport, but for this post I’m mostly going to be referencing rugby  (I’m sorry if you don’t understand the rugby jargon). But just know that the basic nutrition principals apply to most sports/ exercise.

Pre-game meal: It’s recommended that you eat a substantial meal rich in carbohydrate 2-3 hours before the big event. This means pasta, potatoes, bread. Of course your meal doesn’t have to be all carbs, but it should be at least 60-70% carbohydrates. Remember that fruits also contain carbs. The only foods that aren’t made of carbs  are meats/poultry and pure fat foods like butter/oil.  A salad is not a good choice, while vegetables do have carbs they are very minimal. Little Lindsay was trying to eat a salad before her Humboldt game and I was not about to let that happen! Had she been playing Davis next perhaps I would have let it slide… Additionally, you do not want to eat too much fiber with your pregame meal as this can cause GI distress and cramping. This can be especially bad if you are “poop shy,” a new term I learned from an SD rugger. 

Image from blog.fatfreevegan.com

Pre-game Snack: It’s Important to have a small carb snack 20-30 minutes before the game. This could be oranges, granola bar, or 1/2 a bagel. The reason that carbs are so vital for sports that involve running is because glucose is your quickest energy source. Carbohydrates = glucose.If you consume glucose your body will not waste energy trying to mobilize fat stores or break down glycogen.  If you do not have glucose readily available you will be slower and you will not have enough energy to make it to the next ruck and your teammates will hate you.

Post-game Meal: Many nutritionists/scientists believe there is a  30 minute “window of opportunity” after we have a tough workout or game when its the most vital to consume food for maximal nutrient uptake and recovery. So, even if you’re not hungry you should try to eat a little snack within 30 minutes of the end of your event. After the game is when we want to focus more on protein because it can help heal our torn muscles and lay down new muscle. Some snacks that I would recommend are nuts, yogurt, and apples and peanut butter, or anything with PB really. Also, chocolate milk has been shown to be a great recovery drink because it contains the perfect balance of carbs to protein. So instead of buying muscle milk which will cost you an arm and a leg you should just drink regular old 1% chocolate milk. When you’re hungry for a big meal, just eat as you normally would but just make sure there is at least one protein food in your meal.  Pizza is alright because of the cheese, but not really an ideal food. Beer is not an acceptable post-game meal! 

Hydration: Proper hydration could easily be one of the most important aspects of sports nutrition. Studies have shown that over 60% of college athletes begin their practice/ game in a dehydrated state.  If you are starting off dehydrated you will only become more dehydrated throughout the game and your performance will suffer. You need to drink plenty of water prior to your game. During the game it is important to consume gatorade or other sports drinks. You need electrolytes during prolonged sports competition. If you are competing for longer than 1 hour your body will be losing too much sodium and potassium, especially if you are a heavy sweater. These nutrients which you are losing are in sports drinks. Please do not rely solely on water. I could show you a million graphs where the person who drinks Gatorade outruns/ out cycles the person who drinks water, but I don’t feel like fetching my graphs right now. If you have difficulty packing bottles of gatorade I suggest bringing some powder form and adding it to the water, I believe its cheaper if you get it in powder form as well.

OK, got that? In a nut shell: carbs before, protein after, no beer, just gatorade. Proper nutrition will not make you a rugby star if you are not talented and don’t work hard. But it can give you the extra edge to out run the other team in the last minutes of the game.

Here are some lovely photos from this weekend taken by Michael Coons.

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I’ve been thinking about my organic post for quite some time now. Tonight I decided it was time to knock it out  after hearing a girl in my epidemiology class say “It’s hard to eat healthy because organic food is so expensive.” ayayaya. This statement makes me cringe like no other. But its important to bring it up because I think many people believe that organic food is healthier for you and will blindly choose organic foods just because they are labeled organic, but have no real concept of what organic actually means. One part of this statement is true, organic food is more expensive. However, eating organic food has nothing to do with obesity and will certainly not help you lose weight. With that said, there are definitely some benefits to eating organic.

First, lets start with a definition. Organic farming is the form of agriculture that relies on techniques such as crop rotation, green manure,  and biological pest control to maintain soil productivity and control pests on a farm. Organic farming excludes or strictly limits the use of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulators such as hormones, livestock antibiotics, food additives, and genetically modified organisms.

Yep, taken straight from wikipedia, and as much as I know that wikiP. is frowned upon its the easiest and most basic definition out there. I REALLY wanted to give you the USDA definition, but it was about 5 pages long…

So now that we know that organic just means that pesticides, fertilizers, and other chemical additives aren’t used (or limited) in the production we can focus on what this means for us. Below are some facts and fiction about organic.


  • Buying organic helps support a clean and healthy environment. The production is not nearly as fossil fuel intensive as traditional agriculture.  Additionally, if the cows are grass fed they will not emit nearly as much methane as the cows being fed corn on the regular farms. BUT,  some organic farms merely force feed their livestock organic corn, in which case it really is no better.
  • Organic is beneficial for the worker/farmer’s health. Many studies have shown direct exposure to pesticides has negative consequences for the people working in the fields.
  • There are some foods that buying organic may be beneficial, for example, potatoes have been shown to have a slightly higher pesticide content in the skin. So, if you eat the skin, and I highly recommend that you do! maybe ist worth buying organic potatoes if you are really concerned about pesticides. On the other hand, there are a lot of foods, especially those with peels or shells like bananas, peanuts (I’m thinking organic PB), coconuts? where it literally makes no sense at all to buy organic, unless you are concerned about the environment.


  • Organic is better for you nutritionally. In almost all cases this is not true. If you were to compare the calories and nutrients of organic blackberries to regular blackberries it will be almost exactly the same. There is some very limited research that will show that said organic food may have higher antioxidant capacity over a regular food, but these studies are few and far between and there are many studies supporting the exact opposite. Here is a nice conclusion statement from a 12 month systematic review  “there is no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health in relation to nutrient content”
  • Pesticides and fertilizers from the non organic foods are the cause of obesity, autism, asthma, all food borne illnesses and everything that is wrong with our society. I’m not an expert on all of these topics (well maybe obesity), but I do know that there is not a lot of evidence showing non organic foods as the main cause of these problems.

This is an important part I forgot before…

In general, animals living on an organic farm are treated better and more humanely. 1) It is required that they have access to open air and are not caged 2) They are not given antibiotics and they are not given growth hormones. At first, I did not understand why not giving them antibiotics was a good thing, I thought well if they are sick they should get antibiotics too! BUT the reason that farms have to give their animals antibiotics is because they crowd the animals soo tight and they are literally falling in and ingesting their own feces so these poor animals need mega doses of antibiotics just to keep from dying in order to have the short unpleasant life that they do have.
With that said, there are many small, local farms that treat their animals better than larger Organic chains such as O Organics buy walmart. If the organic brand is very cheap there is probably a reason, and if the organic brand is more expensive there is also probably a reason (AKA they are actually using humane practices). Being organic certified is actually really costly to the farmer and it is a huge procedure to go through so some farms simply can not afford the certification.
In conclusion, you are helping out the animals by buying organic, but the practices vary widely by farm. This is a great article by the huffington post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/13/organic-vs-conventional-h_n_201609.html
I would also recommend the movie FOOD INC to everyone.

Alright, I know its a lot of information to digest, but I just wanted to be as thorough as possible so you can really understand the truth. From a personal standpoint I think buying organic is great because I’m a huge tree hugger and I would like for the world to have greater social equality in terms of how we treat laborers. But, if you are mainly concerned with your own personal health and are on a tight budget then I say go buy apples from Walmart Target.

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