Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Myth: Vegetarians are deficient in protein because you can only get protein from meat.

Answer: BUSTED!

There are many sources of protein. Animal products like meat, milk, eggs and yogurt are great sources of protein. However, these animal products also contain unnecessary fat and cholesterol; whereas plant products do not. There are many plants that also contain protein, and the added benefit is that plants do not have cholesterol.

Let’s examine a few plants that contain protein. Soy is probably the most popular. Soybeans are a major crop grown in the Midwest. They can be roasted or boiled and eaten right out of the pod. They are sometimes called Edamame, a Japanese version of salted soybean. Soy is also used to make many other products. Tofu is a product made from fermented soybeans. Tofu comes in a variety of textures and flavors. It can be used as a meat alternative in cooking. Soy is also made into soy milk, soybean oil, tempeh, soy flour, soy yogurt, and soy “nuts.” Soy nuts are just the beans, removed from the pods, and roasted and salted. They make a great crunchy snack!

various beans & lentils
Nuts are another common source of plant protein. While nuts contain fat, the fat has a high level of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Peanuts are a great source of protein, but they are actually a legume, not a nut. Peanut butter is classified as a protein as well! Other legumes would include beans, lentils, peas, chickpeas and more.

One of the best things about getting your protein from plant sources is that you also get fiber. Fiber aids in digestion and can help lower your cholesterol. So, by consuming plant proteins instead of animal proteins, you are getting beneficial fats, no cholesterol and added fiber. It’s a win-win-win!

Protein content of plants (1/2 cup serving):
  • Soybeans – 14 grams
  • Tofu – 10 grams
  • Soy nuts (1/4 cup) – 15 grams
  • Soy milk (1 cup) – 6.6 grams
  • Walnuts – 24 grams
  • Peanuts – 24 grams
  • Almonds – 21 grams
  • Pistachios – 21 grams
  • White Beans – 9 grams
  • Black Beans – 8 grams
  • Red Kidney Beans – 8 grams
  • Lentils – 9 grams
  • Chickpeas – 7 grams

For more tips on maintaining a healthy vegetarian diet, download a free pdf of MyPlate: Ten healthy eating tips for vegetarians from MU Extension publications.

Contributors: Erin Plumberg, Dietetic Intern, KU Medical Center; and Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Myth: I’m too busy to prepare nutritious meals, so I have to buy frozen dinners and already-prepared foods.

Answer: BUSTED!

You just got home from a long day. The kids are starving, your feet hurt, you’re tired, but you still have to prepare dinner. You look through the refrigerator and cupboards for something to cook, but it seems like there just isn’t anything you feel like making! So, what happens? You probably end up grabbing a quick, already-prepared food that doesn’t have the greatest nutrition for your family.

This is a common occurrence in the American household. Often times, we choose the easier option over the more nutritious option just because it’s quicker. We must realize, however, what those food choices are doing to our bodies and our children’s bodies over time; and we need to make a concerted effort to feed our families with nutritious wholesome foods.

Woman selecting apples at the grocery store
One solution to making the right choices for family dinners at home is to make the right choices when SHOPPING. Grocery shopping is the first step in choosing what you will feed your family. Here are some tips to help you avoid the not-so-nutritious, yet tempting, foods at your supermarket.

  1. Before you head to the store, think about what meals you want to cook over the next week and make a list of everything you will need. Think about MyPlate as you are planning to ensure you have all of the food groups covered for each meal.
  2. When you first enter the store, go directly to the fresh produce department. Pick out the seasonal items which might be on sale. This will be the most nutritious bang for your buck. Keep snacks in mind. Fresh fruit and nuts are a great way to keep you going during a busy day. Kids love fruit too! Pick out fruits to always keep on hand, ready for kids to grab when they need a snack.
  3. Head to the meat department next to check out the sales. Fish is a great source of protein, and two servings a week is recommended. Choose lean cuts of beef or pork and choose skinless chicken. You don’t have to grab a lot of meat. Meat can be very pricey, and having a few meatless meals throughout the week is never a bad idea. Steer clear of the bagged/boxed meat products, which includes foods like breaded popcorn chicken, buffalo chicken wings and microwavable taquitos and burritos. These are high in fat and salt. It is better to buy fresh whole meats and prepare them yourself with little salt and fat.
  4. When shopping for pastas, tortillas or bread in the dried goods aisle, look for the whole grain options. When looking for a sauce (like spaghetti), steer clear of this aisle because they are loaded with salt! Instead, look down the canned goods aisle for a basic tomato paste and experiment to come up with your own sauce ideas. It’s easier and quicker than you might think (and will have less salt)!
  5. The canned goods aisle is also loaded with salt, but there are many options today that are healthier for you. For example, if you choose to buy canned vegetables instead of fresh, look for the “no salt added” varieties. When looking for beans, try the dried beans instead of canned; they are cheaper and the only salt will be what you add at home. (Quick tip: Rinse canned vegetables and beans before using to remove some of the salt.) Many other foods you will find in this aisle are also loaded with salt, including baked/BBQ beans, olives, pickles, relish and condiments like soy sauce, BBQ sauce and ketchup. Eat these foods sparingly.
  6. The frozen food aisle is one that should be avoided altogether (for the most part)! Choose frozen vegetables and fruit from the frozen food aisle if they aren’t available fresh. Of course, the occasional tub of ice cream may find its way into your basket, but overall, the frozen food aisle, consisting of entrees and other prepared foods, contain preservatives, salt and sugar. Steer clear of already-prepared frozen foods – if you make these foods yourself, you control how much salt, sugar and fat go into them.
  7. The dairy aisle is pretty basic. The main concern here is fat/cholesterol content. Choose low-fat milks, low-fat cheeses including cottage cheese, reduced-sugar yogurts, low-fat cream cheese, etc.
  8. As always, avoid the checkout line candies and soda pops! Avoid the drink aisles too. Soda pops and juices have so much sugar and so many empty calories that they shouldn’t be in your food budget. It’s money you could spend on fresh, filling, nutritious foods.

Making the right choices at the grocery store will help you be better prepared in your home. You won’t be tempted to grab that frozen dinner because you didn’t buy it. Filling your kitchen with only nutritious foods will leave you no choice but to eat healthy. When you feel too tired, think about the fact that if your food choices are more nutritious, you will feel better and more energized!

Contributors: Erin Plumberg, KU Medical Center; Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Myth: Reducing salt in the diet without sacrificing taste is impossible.

measuring spoon of salt
Answer: BUSTED!

Experts tell us to reduce salt (sodium) so that our heart and blood vessels are healthier. Since many of us are used to eating food with lots of added salt this advice often goes unheeded. Here are some simple and practical tips to get you started:

  1. Go slow! Don’t start out with an “all or nothing” approach. Reduce your salt intake gradually. My personal experience with eating low-sodium foods was when my father was diagnosed with high blood pressure. This meant the whole family had to change our eating habits. After a period of time, we got used to it. Now when I eat something very salty, it isn’t enjoyable.

  2. Look for lower salt alternatives when buying processed food like tomato sauce. Use herbs and spices instead of salt to enhance the flavor of your food. You can also lower the salt in some processed food like canned beans by draining and rinsing before using.

  3. Choose and prepare fresh foods for yourself. Often, the more a food is processed, the more sodium it will contain (unless it is made with less or no salt). Instead of buying pre-cooked chicken breast with seasonings added, cook your own. If you prepare it yourself, you will have control over what goes in it.

Visit the MissouriFamilies website to learn more about how decreasing your salt intake can decrease your blood pressure.

Contributor: Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Myth: Acai berries are an antioxidant superfood, so I don’t need any other type of berry in my diet.

Answer: BUSTED!

Antioxidants are good for the body because they inhibit oxidation, which can cause damage to your cells. Some of the symptoms of oxidation include aging, wrinkles, other skin disorders, mental impairments, cancer, coronary artery disease and arthritis, among others.

Fruits and vegetables contain many beneficial antioxidants. Berries are among the best sources for these cancer-fighting phytochemicals. Acai berries get a lot of hype for being a superfood; and they are wonderful! There are many other berries, however, that are also great sources of antioxidants.
berries in a row

One way scientists measure the benefits of an antioxidant-rich food is to measure its Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC). This is a measure of how well the food absorbs free radicals. Here is a breakdown of common berries and their ORAC load (measured in ┬Ámol/g):

  • Strawberries: 260
  • Boysenberries: 350
  • Blackberries: 510
  • Cranberries: 520
  • Pomegranates: 690
  • Red Raspberries: 270-530
  • Black Raspberries: 500-1,640
  • Blueberries: 320-870
  • Acai: 1,840-3,100

As you can see, all of these berries have a high ORAC value and they are all beneficial. However, scientists also say that the ORAC value of foods can be misleading. This is because some antioxidants, like anthocyanins in blueberries, may not be well absorbed by the body. Even though the ORAC value may be very high, your body might not be able to absorb it well, and therefore not receive the expected benefits. Contrarily, some foods are not tested on the ORAC scale, like broccoli, but it contains a powerful antioxidant booster. So, be leery of fad diets and fad foods because often times you can get the same nutrition from other foods without paying the high prices of a fad item. Acai berries are great, but so are many other berries that you can find locally and fresh at a lower cost. Besides, we all know that variety is an important part of our daily diets, so try different kinds of berries, and make your plate colorful!

Check your local Farmer’s Markets for fresh, ripe, in-season berries near you. They are great places to find inexpensive, locally-grown berries.

Visit for nutrition facts on a variety of berries.

Contributors: Erin Plumberg, KU Medical Center & Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, University of Missouri Extension,, 573-882-1933

Friday, June 1, 2012

Myth: Women can’t eat seafood during pregnancy.

Answer: BUSTED!

Yes, it is true that some seafood contains mercury which, if consumed in excess during pregnancy, could build up and cause damage to the developing baby’s brain and nervous system. However, this doesn’t mean that a pregnant woman needs to cut out seafood from her diet completely. There is plenty of seafood that is low in mercury and even the higher mercury products are fine in moderation.

Both the FDA and the EPA say a pregnant woman can safely consume 12 ounces of seafood per week. A similar recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states 8 to 12 ounces of seafood a week is safe for a pregnant woman.

salmon with a side of asparagus, red peppers and cherry tomatoes
Choose seafood with low levels of mercury:
  • Shrimp
  • Crab
  • Salmon
  • Pollock
  • Catfish
  • Cod
  • Tilapia
  • Canned light tuna

  • Shark
  • Swordfish
  • King Mackerel
  • Raw oysters and clams

Follow general safety precautions with seafood to avoid other risks. This includes properly cooking seafood to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. If consuming local fish, pay attention to advisories.

Seafood can be beneficial during pregnancy because it is a great source of protein and iron which are important for a baby's growth and development. Seafood also provides omega-3 fatty acids which can help to promote a baby's brain development.

The bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with consuming seafood in moderation during pregnancy. Just know how much is being consumed and prepare it properly to provide the maximum health benefits for both mom and baby.

For more special dietary considerations for pregnant women and other nutrition and health related information, visit

Contributors: Kelly Hall, MU Dietetic Intern; Mary Wissmann, MS, RD, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, St. Louis County, University of Missouri Extension,