Is Tofu a Good Source of Calcium?

Karen writes: “How would you rate tofu as a source of calcium? Is it bioavailable?”

Calcium sulfate is often used as a coagulant in the tofu making process. It’s added to the soymilk to get it to set into a solid form. The more coagulant you add, the firmer the tofu gets. As a result, firm tofu will contain more calcium per serving.

The exact amount of calcium per serving varies considerably by brand, so check those nutrition facts labels.

Calcium sulfate is also a bioavailable form of calcium which can rival milk as a source.

A cup (8 oz) of milk contain about 300 mg of elemental calcium, about a third of which is absorbed from the digestive tract, providing about 96 mg of calcium.  A three ounce serving of firm tofu can also provide 300 mg of calcium. Despite a slightly lower absorption rate, you’d still get about 93 mg of calcium out of it.

Note that the recommended intake of calcium (1000 to 1200mg per day) is based on the amount of calcium in the food and not the amount of calcium that you absorb. In other words, the recommendations take into consideration the fact that calcium absorption varies from food to food and are based on typical dietary patterns.

Here’s more on calcium absorbability from different foods.

Do phytates fight cancer?

Jennie writes:

“I read a book on plant-based diets that which cliams that the phytates in whole grains kill cancer cells. Do whole grains really fight cancer?”

Ironic, isn’t it? In some corners of the nutrition world, the phytates in grains and legumes are reviled as “anti-nutrients.” In other circles, they are heralded as cancer killers.

In fact, both are true. Phytic acid in nuts, whole grains and legumes can bind to minerals like calcium and magnesium and reduce absorption of these minerals.  This effect can be greatly diminished by soaking, sprouting, or cooking these foods. But if you’re not soaking or sprouting your grains, don’t worry.  It’s unlikely to lead to mineral deficiencies.

In fact, the health benefits of phytic acid from whole grains and legumes appear to be much more significant than any downside.  In addition to building strong bones, lowering cholesterol, and removing heavy metals from your body, phytates may help prevent cancer (colon cancer in particular).

It’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of things that kill cancer cells.  But killing cancer cells in a petri dish and impeding the progression of cancer in a living organism are two entirely different things. Phytates are not effective chemotherapy. But they have been found to reduce the effects of actual chemotherapy in cancer patients.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Weighless Program

Q. I don’t live in the U.S. Will I be able to participate fully in the program? 

A. Geography is no barrier to taking part in Weighless!  We already have people enrolled from Australia, Canada, the UK, and Europe, so you also will not be the only one! As long as you eat food, move your body, and have access to the internet, you have everything you need to participate. We will also be sure to schedule our live check-ins at a variety of times of day so that everyone will have a chance to take advantage of this.

Q. My husband and I are trying to conceive. Will I have to drop out if I get pregnant?

A. I got this question from so many people that I suspect we are going to have a Weighless baby boom! Although some adjustments will obviously need to be made if you get pregnant during the program, Weighless is an ideal approach for those wanting to maintain healthy habits and manage weight gain during pregnancy.

Q. I will be traveling for a period of time during the program. Will this be a problem?

A. The Weighless approach goes wherever you go! The whole idea is to cultivate a healthy approach that works in the context of real life, which sometimes includes travel. If you have no access to the internet for an extended period of time, you may have a little catching up to do when you get back online. But any materials you miss will be waiting for you when you return. (If you give us some advance notice, we can also try to send some advance work along with you.)

Q. I’m a vegetarian. Will this work for me?

A. The Weighless approach accommodates any and all dietary preferences, restrictions, and requirements. There are no required or forbidden foods and no one-size-fits-all dogma. We believe there are many ways to put together a healthy diet. Our goal is to help you discover what works best for your body, metabolism, lifestyle, and preferences.

Q. I’ve been diagnosed with pre-diabetes? Can I do Weighless?

A. Our program draws on an evidence-based curriculum designed specifically for those at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. There is no better place for you to take steps to reduce your risk.

Q. I only have 10-15 pounds to lose. Is this a good fit for me? 

A. Absolutely! This program is not about losing a certain number of pounds. It’s about developing the mindset, habits, and lifestyle that allow you to maintain a healthy weight without dieting. Whether you have ten or a hundred pounds to lose, the process is the same. Those who have less to lose will simply be practicing their maintenance skills a bit sooner in the process. (Although even those with a substantial amount of weight to lose will have ample opportunity to practice the art of living at a lower weight.)

Q. I have a surgery scheduled during the program which will restrict my ability to exercise. Will that prevent me from participating? 

A. There is no prescribed exercise requirement or regimen. We do work on finding ways to make our lives more active, but based on what’s possible for you. Unfortunately, life occasionally serves up injuries, surgeries, and other inconveniences and we believe it’s important to have an approach that can accommodate all of that.

Q. How many people will be in the group? I don’t want to get lost in a crowd.

A. Although we don’t yet know for sure how many people will be in the program, we expect it to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 120 people–big enough to give us some esprit de corps but small enough that we will really be able to get to know one another. (Speaking of which, our private online group is already up and running and we look forward to welcoming you as soon as you enroll.)

Are you ready to stop dieting and start weighing less? Details for enrolling are here.

Probiotic Tea: Is this for real?

Josh writes:

Tea with probiotcsThis Thanksgiving, my grandmother had a lemon ginger tea from Bigelow, which had probiotics in it. I was surprised to see a dry tea that did not need refrigeration but still claimed to have probiotic properties. The tea was delicious. Even if the probiotic element might be questionable, would it be harmful to consume the tea anyway?

 

A. Probiotics are hot these days and adding some to your product is a sure way to increase sales. But does tea made from these tea bags contain any beneficial bacteria?

Actually, it does! Bigelow has selected a special strain of probiotic known as Bacillus coagulans. This particular strain is highly tolerant to heat as well as extremes in pH balance. As a result, it can survive both boiling water and stomach acid!

OK, so the bugs actually make it to your gut. But do they do anything for you once they get there? Possibly, yes.

Consuming bacillus coagulans on a daily basis may have positive effects on digestive function, including reduced gas and bloating after meals. (Ginger’s not bad at this, either.)  The probiotics might also have modest anti-inflammatory and immune-stimulating properties–although these have not been linked to any specific health outcomes such as a reduced risk of colds.

The tea is certainly safe to consume and the probiotics might add some modest benefits above and beyond the herbs. Enjoy it in good health!

Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?

Photo by Jennifer Blackburn for the National Sorghum Producers

Q. I’ve been seeing ads for Onyx Sorghum, specifically its use in certain cereals. This supposed “miracle” grain apparently contains a lot of antioxidants. However it looks like the high tannin content might affect iron absorption. Could this whole grain fit into a healthy and balanced diet or might it do more harm than good?

A. Sorghum is a whole grain that we’ve hearing more about lately.  Onyx (or black) sorghum is a special type of sorghum that is a dark red or black color intead of the usual pale beige.  It was created by plant geneticists at Texas A&M, who used traditional cross-breeding techniques and not genetic modification to create the richly hued grain.

As with berries and other plants, the pigment that gives onyx sorghum its distinctive color also happens to be rich in antioxidants. However, some of those antioxidants are in the form of tannins, bitter compounds that are also found in tea, coffee, wine, and other plants.  Tannins, in addition to acting as antioxidants can interfere with the absorption of iron and other minerals. Do the benefits outweigh the potential downsides?

 

Continue reading “Onyx Sorghum: Superfood or Nutrient Zapper?” >

Is the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade Right For Me?

Still not sure whether the 30-Day Nutrition Upgrade program is for you? Here are answers to some of the questions I got about the program this week. If others are wondering, maybe you are too! And if you have a question that I haven’t answered here, feel free to email me.

Q. I can’t make the live kickoff session. Can I watch it the next day?

A. Yes, I will be recording the entire thing in dazzling HD Video and will send a link the following day. Those who are with us for the live session will also have access to the recorded video, in case they’d like to watch any part of it again.  Although it’s not essential that everyone start their 30 days on the same day, I encourage you to watch the video and start your challenge as soon as you can. It’s just more fun that way.

Q. I’m not ready to start the program right now.  Can I just register when I’m ready to start and watch the recording then? 

A. Although you can watch the recording and start your 30-days whenever you like, you must register before the program begins.

Q. I have a vacation/work trip/special celebration coming up.  Won’t this interfere? 

This isn’t some extreme 30-day detox that will interfere with vacation plans or holiday celebrations. It’s a simple yet powerful approach that will fit easily into your (and your family’s) daily routine. The whole idea here is to develop habits (and attitudes about healthy eating) that are flexible enough to accommodate life’s little ups and downs, instead of going on and off various regimens.

I loved this comment from a previous participant: “Our family went to Disneyworld right in the middle of my 30-day challenge. Being on the challenge didn’t ruin my vacation. Even better, being on vacation didn’t ruin my challenge!”

Q.  I live in Europe/England/Australia/etc.  Is the program geared around things only available in the States or is it suitable globally?

A. We have folks participating from UK, Europe, Middle East, and Australia! There are no specific products or brands involved. The challenge focuses on entire food groups. As long are there are vegetables, nuts, and so on where you live, you’ll have what you need!  And although there’s not a lot of measuring involved, when I do offer guidance on portion sizes, I always provide metric equivalents.

Q. What foods do I need to give up to succeed with this program?

A. There are no forbidden foods in this program and the goal is not to get a “perfect” score every day. The more healthy choices you make, the more room there is for a little indulgence. The goal is to find a healthy sustainable balance between the two.

Q. My diet is already pretty healthy. What do I have to gain from this program? 

Here’s what one of the participants from September’s group told me:

“I wasn’t sure that the program would be worth it to me because I eat pretty well already. But the program revealed a couple of “blind spots” that I had about my diet. I did end up improving my diet and it was a very enjoyable process.”

Click here to read more reviews and feedback from past participants.

Q. I’m pregnant/breast-feeding. Would it be safe for me to do this challenge? Will I have trouble getting the calories I need? 

There is absolutely no calorie restriction involved. We focus on shifting food choices to healthier choices and trying to be more consistent. You should have no problem getting enough calories…it’ll just be from more nutritious foods!  People who want to lose weight frequently do lose a few pounds during the challenge, but it’s definitely not the focus of the program.

Q. I’m vegan/vegetarian. Will this program work for me?

A. The challenge is based on ten aspects of your daily diet for which you earn/lose points. Vegetarians and vegans have a slight advantage in that they presumably will never lose points for eating cured or processed meats! But that still leaves 9 other aspects to work on.  We have had vegetarians do the program in the past with great success (and I’m a about 90% vegetarian myself!)

Q. Can I do the challenge if I don’t use Facebook?

Participation in the private Facebook group is completely optional–and you always have direct access to me via email. But to be perfectly honest with you, the interaction and support in the Facebook group is pretty awesome and continues long after the 30-day challenge ends. (The group from 2015 is still active!)

Still not sure? Drop me an email.

Are flavored waters OK to drink?

Laila writes:

“I’ve noticed that flavored carbonated waters have become very popular. Many are tasty and its feels like a healthy alternative for soda. Is there any concern about drinking them regularly, other than cost?”

The carbonation itself is not a problem. (See Is Carbonated Water Bad For You?) And as long as the beverages are not sweetened or artificially sweetened, there’s nothing to fear on that front.

The one potential fly in the ointment is that the fruit essences used to flavor the waters can be acidic enough to harm tooth enamel.  An occasional glass is not a concern–especially as an alternative to soda. But sipping on flavored waters all day long could potentially do a number on your teeth.

Using a straw and rinsing your mouth with plain water (or chewing a piece of sugarless gum) after enjoying a glass of flavored water can help by quickly restoring the pH in your mouth to a more tooth-friendly level.

Pros and Cons of Pea Milk

“My family recently replaced our lowfat milk with pea milk.  We’re trying to do our part for the environment and the advertising suggests that pea milk is much healthier than dairy. I’d love to know the health benefits and drawbacks of pea milk.”

If they come up with any more nondairy milk options, they’re going to need a second aisle for them at my grocery store!

One of the latest entrants into this category is a beverage made from yellow peas.  Like soy milk, pea milk boasts more protein than most other nondairy milks. With 8 grams of protein per serving, it’s comparable to cow’s milk. Legumes such as soybeans and yellow peas a also a relatively complete source of protein, although not quite as complete as dairy. Continue reading “Pros and Cons of Pea Milk” >