HBH Guide to Ethnic Cuisine: Asian

As the holidays approach, it becomes more common to eat out (at least I know it is for our family)! Whether it’s because our schedules become filled with events and a quick meal is needed or it is the focus of a social gathering, the amount of times we cook meals at home dwindles.  One of our goals of starting this blog was to provide our readers with the tools to eat healthier! Our Quick Bites posts that provide suggestions on foods to order while eating out at specific restaurants have been extremely popular. However, it may be hard to look up the nutritional facts of every restaurant you go to especially local places where they do not provide the facts. Instead, we wanted to provide some common tips on various cuisines so you can be prepared to choose healthier options. First up: Asian cuisine!

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When eating out at any Asian restaurant, fat and sodium content are going to be some of the larger issues to be aware of. Here are some tips for maneuvering these type of restaurants without sacrificing your healthy lifestyle.

Go for the veggies: Many of these establishments do not provide nutritional facts to look at (especially local places) but a general rule of thumb is to choose an entree that contains vegetables. The more that the dish is filled with colorful vegetables and less of fried protein and carbohydrates like large amounts of noodles, the healthier the dish likely is. And, are you a fan of edamame? Make sure to ask how it was prepared. Steamed with water is a much better option than cooked in oil!

  • Choose: Vegetable spring rolls, vegetable dumplings or Moo Goo Gai Pan for an alternative to other dishes.

Ask for sauce on the side or for less of it. When possible, choose steamed dishes with minimal sauces. If a sauce is included, ask for it on the side to prevent excess calories, fat and sodium.

  • Choose: Don’t be afraid to ask if your favorite dish could be steamed with sauce on the side. If you need more flavor, mix a small amount of the included sauce with a small amount of low sodium soy sauce! A perfect example of the nutritional difference between steamed and stir fried is at PF Changs – choose Buddha’s Feast Steamed for a healthier version (250 calories, 0 grams saturated fat, 300 mg sodium) over Buddha’s Feast Stir Fried (480 calories, 1 gram saturated fat, 3860 mg sodium!)

Go Whole: Choose whole grain carbohydrates when possible. As we have previously talked about, whole grains are filled with fiber which not only keep you fuller for longer, but also provide other health benefits.

  • Choose brown rice over fried rice or Lo mein noodles for a healthier option!

Watch portion size: Many of the portions provided at Asian restaurants are large enough for multiple people to enjoy! Try sharing with others you are dining with or ask for a to-go box when the entree is brought to you to prevent from over eating. For rice, try to not eat more than a fistful size at one sitting.

Have soup first. By having soup as an appetizer first, you are preventing yourself from eating more than you should later on.

  • Choose: Wonton, hot and sour, or egg drop soup for a broth based appetizer option that fills you up without excess calories.

Talk to us! What are some of your favorite healthier Asian dishes?

 

Caffeine 101

Do you find yourself confused about whether or not coffee is good for you? Have you had someone tell you that caffeine is bad for you? Caffeine (and coffee in particular) have always seemed to get mixed reviews about the health benefits or risks and it can be hard to discern what is accurate and what is not. One minute coffee is full of antioxidants and you’re being told you should be drinking multiple cups per day, and the next minute you’re being told that caffeine can cause health problems and should be consumed only sparingly. This is definitely frustrating when you’re trying your best to live a healthy life, so today we wanted discuss all things caffeine to help clarify fact vs fiction!

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What is caffeine and where is it found?

Caffeine is defined as a compound that stimulates the central nervous system, and for this reason it is classified as a drug. Caffeine is commonly found in various foods and beverages, most notably including: coffee, tea and chocolate.

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Other beverages such as sodas and energy drinks have added caffeine. Caffeine can also be found in some pain killers, cold medicines and diet supplements. The table below shows the range of caffeine content for some common foods and drinks containing caffeine.

Substance Serving size Caffeine Content
Brewed coffee 6 oz 80-150 mg
Espresso 1 oz 30-50 mg
Decaf coffee 6 oz 2-10 mg
Brewed Tea 6 oz 30-90 mg
Canned or bottled tea 12 oz 8-32 mg
Soft Drinks 12 oz 20-70 mg
Milk Chocolate 1.5 oz 2-10 mg
Dark Chocolate 1.5 oz 5-35 mg
Pain Medicines 2 tablets 65-130 mg
Weight loss pills 2-3 tablets 80-200 mg

 

How does caffeine act in the body?

Caffeine acts as a vasoconstrictor, meaning it constricts blood vessels, thereby reducing blood flow throughout the body which can lead to increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Other potential side effects can include reflux due to increased stomach acid production, diarrhea, dizziness, anxiety and insomnia.

The caffeine molecule is similar in structure to adenosine, a naturally occurring compound in the brain. There are various adenosine receptors in the body, which when bound with an adenosine molecule act to help the body relax, or make it sleepy. Since caffeine is a similar shape to adenosine, it can also bind to the receptors, making adenosine unable to bind to the receptors, and therefore keeping the body awake and alert (Source).

 

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Caffeine Molecule (Source)

 

Studies show that consuming greater than 100 mg of caffeine daily can lead to physical dependence and potential withdrawal symptoms in the absence of caffeine intake (Source). The average American citizen is consuming 280 mg of caffeine daily.

Caffeine is contraindicated in various conditions including pregnancy, gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), anxiety disorder and insomnia due to effects it has on blood circulation and stimulation of stomach acid.

Fact vs Fiction

Caffeine increases your risk of cancer: Fiction

There are no studies to support the notion that caffeine intake causes cancer, in fact some studies suggest it may have protective effects against cancer due to its high antioxidant properties. NIH studies also show coffee may decrease risk of Alzheimers disease, Parkinsons disease, Type II Diabetes and various other conditions (source).

Caffeine intake causes heart disease: Fiction

There are no studies linking caffeine intake to increased incidence cardiovascular disease. Those who have high blood pressure may want to moderate caffeine intake due to the temporary rise in blood pressure as a result of vasoconstriction in the blood vessels.

Caffeine causes dehydration: Fiction

Though caffeine can have a slight diuretic effect, studies fail to prove that caffeine itself causes dehydration. Make sure to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day to offset any fluid losses from caffeine.

Caffeine is harmful to pregnant women: Fact/Fiction

The general recommendation regarding caffeine intake during pregnancy is less than 200 mg/day (or about 2 cups of coffee) as higher caffeine intakes have been linked with increased risk of miscarriage.

Caffeine is addictive: Fact/Fiction

Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system and chronic consumption can lead to withdrawal symptoms if caffeine intake is stopped, though moderate caffeine intake is not linked to a physical dependence on the substance.

Conclusion

Moderate caffeine intake is safe. Coffee in particular has some additional health benefits likely related to the antioxidant properties. Pregnant women and children should have limited caffeine intake, and those with existing cardiovascular disease may want to discuss their caffeine intake with their doctor. Avoiding high doses of caffeine found in supplements and energy drinks would be best as high doses of caffeine may have some adverse effects.

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Be sure to check out our post about healthier ways to flavor your coffee for all of you coffee drinkers! And if you are still on the pumpkin spice train- don’t miss this clean eating pumpkin spice creamer!

Talk to us: Do you drink coffee? How much caffeine do you have in a day?

 

 

 

 

 

Ask the RD – Part 3

Happy Thursday! We are back with another edition of Ask the RD to answer some of the most frequent questions we get as dietitians. We love hearing from readers and clients on questions that you have, so as always, feel free to reach out to us!

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What are your thoughts on frozen meals/ entrees, especially for a quick lunch on the go? What criteria should we use when selecting a frozen meal?

Frozen meals can be extremely convenient for busy people. And, they are usually a healthier option than eating out if you are unable to pack a lunch or bring leftovers from the night before, as long as you choose the right one! But, there can be some options available on the market that are not the healthiest. Some of our favorite brands are Kashi, Evol, Amy’s or the Simply line from Healthy Choice; however, it is important to review the nutrition label and ingredient list before making any purchases. Even some of the “healthier” brands can be loaded with saturated fat, sodium or a long list of ingredients.  Some important aspects to consider while trying to choose a frozen meal include: 

  • Look for a good ratio of protein to carbohydrates. Ideally, look for a meal with as much protein as carbohydrates (if not more). In fact, I would recommend avoiding any meal that has a significantly higher amount of carbohydrates than protein.
  • Choose a frozen meal that does not have more than 600 mg sodium per serving but definitely not over 800 mg. If your doctor has placed you on a sodium restricted diet, these markers may be even less.
  • Look for a clean ingredient list – the less ingredients, the better. 

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A great option that meets all of these qualifications is the Grilled Chicken Pesto and Vegetables meal from Healthy Choice (Simply Cafe Steamers line). With 200 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrate, 27 grams of protein and 600 mg sodium per meal, this frozen entree makes our list for meals to consider!

Why is it so important to eat breakfast?

Because you go all night without eating, breakfast is found to be the most crucial meal of the day. Some of the reasons why eating breakfast is so important include:

  • Weight control: Eating breakfast jump starts your metabolism. In fact, studies have shown that it helps prevent overeating later in the day.
  • Skipping breakfast may increase your risk of diabetes.
  • Studies show that eating breakfast is correlated with lowering your risk of heart disease in the future.
  • If you eat breakfast you are more likely to have improved cognitive function and memory.

Check out our breakfast recipes for some great options that are easy to prepare for a quick breakfast on the go!

What can I eat that keeps me fuller for longer?

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Fiber is one of the best nutrients to keep you fuller for longer. So, by choosing healthier, whole grain alternatives instead of white breads, pasta, and potatoes, you are consuming foods with substance. Some healthier options of carbohydrates that would include fiber would be natural popcorn, a piece of fruit, whole grain bread, Ezekiel bread (low sugar option), brown rice, etc. Also, try adding a protein to each carbohydrate you eat. For instance, for breakfast, don’t just eat a piece of whole grain toast but add a protein like an over easy egg or peanut butter/ almond butter on top.  This combination will keep you fuller for longer, as protein and fat take longer to digest than carbohydrates alone.

Hydration is another key in feeling satisfied. Many times hunger is mistaken for thirst. Make sure to drink at least 64 oz of water per day to stay hydrated (plus more if you are physically active or sweating a lot).

Is hot tea really as good for you as some people say? If so, what kinds have the best health benefits?

Hot tea can be good for you – depending on what kind you are drinking and how it is prepared! If you are using it as a replacement for a sugary coffee drink in the morning (especially when it’s cold outside), it can definitely have added benefits. However, if you are drinking it instead of water, it can be dehydrating if it contains caffeine. Looking for a hot tea option? Try hot Green tea with lemon and honey for a naturally sweetened drink with an antioxidant boost! 

Product Review: Healthier Soda Alternatives

About a week and a half ago, I spent the evening with the Texas A&M Aggie Dance Team talking about nutrition and healthy eating. I always love the time I spend with them. I know from my time on the team during college how important fueling your body with proper nutrition is. One of my favorite parts of meeting with them is the questions they have for me. And, one of the most popular questions I received this year was regarding healthier soda alternatives.

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Food Cravings and How to Beat Them

Food cravings. We have likely all had some type of craving at some point, and for some its a daily battle. One of the more common questions I have been asked as a dietitian is how to beat cravings or how to manage them. There is not a quick and easy answer because cravings themselves are pretty complex. Cravings result from certain brain chemicals, like dopamine (the feel good hormone), being released when you eat certain foods. As a result, your brain continually seeks this “feel good” reaction, thus craving that food that stimulated dopamine release in the first place.

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