Your ‘Ask the Dietitian’ questions answered
Earlier this month, readers submitted their diet and nutrition questions to health enews. Today Rosemary Mueller, MPH, RD, LDN, who is a registered dietitian and licensed dietitian nutritionist with Advocate Medical Group Weight Management is answering a few of those questions.
Robert: Is the nutritional value of frozen vegetables different than that of fresh vegetables? I’ve heard that when frozen vegetables are stuck together, it may mean they were thawed and refrozen, which impacts the nutritional content. Is this true?
Rosemary: According to a number of studies, fresh vegetables lose about half of their vitamins in just a matter of days after being harvested if they are not properly chilled or sustained. After you refrigerate freshly harvested veggies, they still lose a percentage of their nutritional value in about a week’s time. However, the good news is that there is actually very little difference between fresh, frozen or canned vegetables, as canned and frozen veggies are picked and harvested at their nutritional peak. So you don’t have to necessarily worry about “compromising.” If your budget is more amenable to the purchase of frozen or canned veggies choose low sodium versions.
Frozen vegetables most likely have “ice/veggies clumps” inside the package, due to some partial thawing and then refreezing in the transporting or storing process. This might cause minor changes in texture and/or flavor but not major nutritional losses. As long as the bag is not punctured and there is no discoloration or off-flavor to the frozen product, if can still be safely used.
Gina: Why is it so difficult for post-menopausal women to lose weight? And what is the best way for a post-menopausal woman lose weight?
Rosemary: Health authorities estimate that in the U.S. about 30 percent of women ages 50 to 59 are not just overweight, but obese. Researchers think that lower estrogen levels in menopause might negatively influence resting metabolic rate and also cause the body to use starches and blood sugar less efficiently, which would increase fat storage (especially around the mid-section) and make it harder to lose weight. Other age-related factors that contribute to weight gain include: women being less likely to exercise enough, a loss of muscle mass (which further lowers resting metabolism), and a declining rate of energy use during exercise (to use the same energy as in the past and achieve weight loss, you may need to increase the amount of time and intensity you’re exercising, no matter what past activity levels were).
Some suggestions to help with weight loss include:
- Make strength training, or a weight-resistance program a regular habit; aim for 2-3 times per week
- Low impact aerobics are good for the heart and lungs
- Walking is great, as is swimming, cycling, aerobic floor exercise, dance and tennis
- Try to exercise moderately for 30 minutes on most days of the week
If you are new to exercise, make sure to talk to your doctor first.
When it comes to eating right:
- Choose whole grains over white flour versions (the phytoestrogen lignin in whole grains can be helpful) but watch total portions of starches
- Look for good-quality iron sources from lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, leafy greens and nuts
- Don’t skip meals; have smaller, more frequent “positive eating opportunities”
- Include some protein each time you eat a meal anhd with most snacks
- Drink coffee and other caffeine-containing beverages in moderation (limit to 2-3 cups/day) and watch out for sugary coffee drinks as well as high-fat add-ins, such as cream
- Have at least 1.5-2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables each day
- Cut back on high fat foods and avoid all trans fats
- Don’t add salt at the table or in cooking if possible and read labels to reduce your consumption of salt overall
- Eat less sugar. If you need a little something sweet, indulge in a small piece of dark chocolate or a few graham crackers.
- Drink plenty of water – a guideline is drinking half your body weight in ounces of fluids per day, not exceeding one gallon (or 16 – 8 oz. cups.)
- Be sure to limit alcohol to one drink per day or less.
Joan: I’m vegetarian and would like to get calcium from non-dairy sources. What are some good options? If I must get it from a dairy source, what would be my healthiest options? Is there anything I can do to maximize calcium absorption? Also what is a good breakfast for a vegetarian?
Rosemary: There are many good options for sources of calcium. Here are a few non-dairy foods high in calcium:
- Kale (1 c. = 90 mg.)
- Sardines (3 oz. canned in oil, with bones=325 mg.)
- Fortified soy milk (8 oz. = 300 mg on average)
- Steel-cut oats (35 g. serving = 105 mg)
- Sesame seeds (1 oz.=280 mg)
- Turnip (1 c. boiled=200 mg)
- Arugula (1 c.=125 mg)
- Dried figs (2 figs =55 mg)
- Broccoli (1 c. cooked =180 mg)
- Tofu (1 serving, hard type – made with calcium sulfate = 250 mg)
- Sunflower seeds (1 oz.=50 mg)
- White beans (1/2 c.=100 mg)
- Blackstrap molasses (1 Tbsp = 200 mg. – watch quantity of this for calories and sugar)
- Naval orange (1 orange=60 mg)
When it comes to foods containing dairy, Swiss and Gruyere cheeses are higher than other varieties by about 70 mg/oz with one ounce of these cheeses containing 270 mg of calcium. Parmesan cheese has 70 mg in one tablespoon as well. An eight ounce yogurt contains 415 mg of calcium.
The calcium from food is absorbed along with stomach acid. This helps the stomach digest and absorb the food which assists in making the calcium available to your body. Some functional foods, like calcium fortified orange juice (contains a form of calcium citrate) are readily absorbable on their own. You do not have to consume dairy in order to get your daily allowance for calcium – you just need to choose foods wisely.
For a healthy vegetarian breakfast, try combining a fruit, a complex, whole grain carbohydrate (ex., oats, a grain product containing bran and/or whole wheat) with a protein source such as egg whites (limited whole eggs), fat free dairy or non-dairy milk or yogurt, nuts or nut butter (watch portion size due to calories and fat).
Christina: My son is four-years-old and he doesn’t like to eat fruit or veggies, but he will drink smoothies. Does blending the fruits and vegetables for a smoothie make them lose nutrients? Also, what are some other ways to get him to eat fruits and veggies?
Rosemary: Blending fruits and vegetables in a standard blender or high-speed “nutrient extractor” does not cause the nutrient content to diminish. It is ideal to drink these combinations soon after preparation for greatest taste appeal and texture. Limit the storage time of your blenderized drinks to only a day or two, as longer storage times lead to partial nutrient degradation. Always keep blenderized drinks covered and refrigerated.
Some ideas for sneaking in fruits and vegetables other than smoothies would be:
- Adding cooked, pureed vegetables to spaghetti sauce/marinara or meatloaf recipes
- Cut raw fruits into interesting shapes and pair with a peanut-butter or yogurt-based dip
- Cut carrots with a “zig-zag” shape French-fry cutter and serve with low-fat ranch dressing
- Sneak some smaller mushroom or assorted-colored sweet pepper pieces on cheese pizza in the shape of a “face”
Perhaps the biggest factor is influence. If your son is with other children who are trying some of the aforementioned fruits and vegetables and appear to be enjoying them, he might try them too. The average young child generally needs at least six exposures to a new food before considering acceptance, so don’t give up.
Thank you to all who submitted a question. Due to the overwhelming response from our readers, not all the questions could be answered. During the month of November, there will be an additional opportunity to submit your questions.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.