• My 10 year old daughter eats very small meals and doesn’t typically eat a lot of “meat” at any one meal.  She sometimes goes a day or two without eating any meat or poultry.  I’m worried that she isn’t getting enough protein and iron.  Any thoughts on how I can make sure she’s getting the nutrients she needs? Answer

  • My 8-year-old son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I've done a lot of reading to learn more about his condition, and I keep coming across recommendations that children with ADHD should eat high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. Is this a healthy approach for children? Answer

  • I have a tendency to feel very sleepy after lunch in the middle of the afternoon. I've heard that if I eat a high protein lunch, I'll feel less sleepy and more alert. Is this true? Answer

  • When I buy fresh and packaged meat and poultry products, there's a “sell by” date printed on the product. Can the product still be eaten after that date? Answer

  • I recently had gastric bypass and need to eat iron rich foods.  My nutritionist recommended blackstrap molasses as the best source.  How does its iron content compare to meat and poultry? Answer

  • My family is constantly on the go.  We have sports practices and other activities on most nights of the week and many events on weekends as well.  Eating together as a family seems nearly impossible.  What can I feed my family that will meet our hectic lifestyle needs and be healthy? Answer

  • I’ve always heard that “fresh is best” but fresh doesn’t work for my lifestyle.  I hate buying foods and then having them spoil in the refrigerator because I didn’t get a chance to cook and eat them.  How does fresh food compare to frozen and canned when it comes to nutrition? Answer

  • What is Hemochromatosis? Answer

  • What is “nutrient density”? Answer

  • My father is 86 years old and becoming frail.  His doctor asked me about his protein intake and was concerned because my father eats only once or twice each day and mostly eats by himself.  He doesn’t enjoy cooking for himself.  What can I do to make sure my father gets the protein he needs? Answer

  • I'm concerned that my kids don't eat enough protein. They think the major food groups are peanut butter, jelly and white bread. How much protein does a child need and how can I incorporate protein into their diet? Answer

  • I've just been told I'm anemic and I should eat iron rich meat and poultry. Are certain cuts better sources than others? How can I be sure my body absorbs the iron I consume? Answer

  • I've been on a high protein diet for four weeks but I'm not seeing the pounds fall off like some people do. I take yoga three times a week. Do I need to increase my exercise level? Answer

  • I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and my doctor told me to follow a healthy diet and exercise to help keep my blood sugar levels stable. How do different types of foods affect my blood sugar levels? Answer

  • My 17 year old son has been regularly lifting weights for the past year. Recently, he's starting using protein powders with supplemental amino acids to further build his muscles. Does he need these powders? Are they safe? Should he just eat more meat instead? Answer

 

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My 10 year old daughter eats very small meals and doesn’t typically eat a lot of “meat” at any one meal.  She sometimes goes a day or two without eating any meat or poultry.  I’m worried that she isn’t getting enough protein and iron.  Any thoughts on how I can make sure she’s getting the nutrients she needs?

First, if you have any concerns about your daughter’s growth or development, check in with her pediatrician.  Once you have determined that she is healthy and developing normally, you can take a look at improving her diet.

When it comes to food and kids, one thing to be aware of is that “forcing” children to eat certain foods or follow a specific meal pattern can be very problematic.  Food battles are no fun for parents or kids:  even if the child does eventually eat the food in question they may develop negative attitudes and feelings about the food that can last many years into adulthood.  Ellyn Satter, a well-known registered dietitian and author of Child of Mine:  Feeding With Love and Good Sense, suggests the following rule of thumb to follow when it comes to food and kids: 

Parents are responsible for what meals and snacks children are offered to eat, where and when it is presented.  The child is responsible for how much and whether he/she eats the food. 

That being said, meat products do offer a lot of nutritional benefits for kids as well as adults.  Meat and poultry products are excellent sources of protein, highly absorbable iron (heme-iron), zinc, and B-vitamins such as thiamin, niacin, B6 and B12. 

To make sure that your daughter gets the nutrients she needs, make sure she is offered “nutrient dense” foods for both her meals and snacks.  Nutrient dense foods are those that supply good amounts of vitamins and minerals for the calorie content.  Some examples of nutrient dense foods include:

  • lean roast beef, roasted chicken or turkey breast, and broiled seafood;
  • most fruits and vegetables;
  • low fat or fat free milk and dairy products;
  • whole grain products such as whole wheat bread and cereals.

(For more on nutrient density see Ask the RD:  What is nutrient density?). 

Also, consider offering her snacks that are more like “mini-meals” rather than traditional snacks of crackers, cookies or chips.  For example, you might try some of the following ideas to tempt her:

  • “wraps” made with tortillas, luncheon meats and lettuce;
  • English muffin or pizza bagels topped with meat sauce;
  • burritos made with meat or poultry and beans;
  • Sloppy Joes sandwich made with ground beef or turkey in tomato sauce served on a bun;
  • chicken or turkey strips with peanut butter dipping sauce;
  • meatball sub sandwich made with heat ‘n eat meatballs and jarred spaghetti sauce.

Finally, you might try pairing your child’s favorite foods with new foods that you are trying to encourage her to eat.  Include her in the preparation of the meal, and she’ll be even more likely to try the new food.  Here are some ideas:

  • Favorite food = pasta:  try adding some pieces of chicken to macaroni or spaghetti. 
  • Favorite food = tortillas:  try making chicken or beef tacos or put a slice of turkey in a cheese quesadilla.
  • Favorite food = pizza:  try topping it with sausage or another meat.

For more ideas on snacks for kids, check out the following websites:

http://www.kidnetic.com/recipes/

http://kidshealth.org/kid/recipes/

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My 8-year-old son has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I've done a lot of reading to learn more about his condition, and I keep coming across recommendations that children with ADHD should eat high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets. Is this a healthy approach for children?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a serious health condition that affects between 3 percent and 10 percent of children in the United States . Children with ADHD can have academic problems, social difficulties and poor self-esteem. Children with ADHD are typically treated with medication, parent/school counseling and behavioral therapy.

Up to 70 percent of children with ADHD respond to treatment with stimulant medication. However, some children experience severe side-effects from the medication while others simply do not respond to it. In addition, some parents are hesitant to use prescribed medications to treat their children's ADHD because of side effects. For this and other reasons, many parents turn to alternative therapies, such as herbal treatment, diet intervention and neurofeedback. Most of these therapies have not undergone clinical trials, but many parents have reported anecdotal success in using them.

There is not a lot of research on the effect of high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets per se on ADHD. Also, any type of diet that potentially restricts calories or nutrients, is not recommended for children unless suggested and supervised by a physician.

However, there is a great deal of research on the benefits of a high-nutrient diet and cognitive functioning (brain activity). Protein foods, such as lean meat and poultry, seafood, nuts and eggs, are "nutrient dense," which means they pack a lot of nutrients into a serving (for more on nutrient density, see Ask The RD: What is nutrient density?). All kids can benefit from a high- nutrient diet, including those with ADHD. In addition, eating some protein with meals and snacks can help keep blood sugar on even keel.

Finally, preliminary research shows that some children with ADHD may benefit from consuming additional essential fatty acids known as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in fatty fish, such as salmon and fish oil supplements. Ask your pediatrician or a registered dietitian about whether fish oil supplements might benefit your child.

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I have a tendency to feel very sleepy after lunch in the middle of the afternoon. I've heard that if I eat a high protein lunch, I'll feel less sleepy and more alert. Is this true?

Research on the food/mood connection has been ongoing for the last 50 years or more. Over the last 25 years, scientists have been able to develop better and better methods for measuring and detecting the more than 70 neurotransmitters that have currently been identified. Neurotransmitters are the messengers that relay electrical signals between nerve cells. Without neurotransmitters, all of your body's nerve functions and brain's thought processes wouldn't happen!

Neurotransmitters are also responsible for your moods and feeling of alertness or sleepiness, as well as many other processes. Neurotransmitters are made by the brain from amino acids that our bodies make or obtain from the foods we eat. Higher levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are associated with being in a better mood, feeling more alert, coping well with stress, and better mental functioning. Dopamine and norepinephrine are made from the amino acid tyrosine, and several other nutrients including folic acid, magnesium and vitamin B 12 . When we eat a high-protein meal with little carbohydrate, it allows higher levels of tyrosine to reach the brain. This may lead to increased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, which may make you feel more alert. So goes the theory...not everyone will feel more alert after a high-protein meal and reactions to food vary widely. However, there is nothing wrong with trying some of the following lunch possibilities and seeing if they work for you:

  • Roasted turkey salad with skim milk
  • Roasted chicken breast with steamed vegetables
  • Chef salad with ham and cheese

For more information:

  • Somer, Elizabeth. How Food Affects Your Mood. In: Food & Mood: The Complete Guide to Eating Well and Feeling Your Best , 2 nd Edition. New York , NY : Henry Holt and Company, LLC; 1999: 13-18.

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When I buy fresh and packaged meat and poultry products, there's a "sell by" date printed on the product. Can the product still be eaten after that date?

Meat and poultry products may have one of several types of dates listed on their packages. This date can help consumers make sure that they are purchasing food products at their peak of freshness. Here are the types of dates that you might see on a meat or poultry package:

•  Sell-By Date : These are put on perishable meat and poultry items by grocers and processing companies to make sure that consumers get the freshest product available. Although not required by Federal law, nearly all meat and poultry processors use these dates on their packages. A sell-by date indicates the last date that a grocer will display the product on the shelf.

•  Best If Used By Date : This is the date recommended by the manufacturer for best flavor or quality. It is not a "food safety" date because the food is still safe to eat when eaten after this date.

•  Use-By Date : this is the last date recommended by the manufacturer that a product may be eaten and will still be at peak quality.

Consumers can purchase meat and poultry products on their use-by, sell-by, and best if used by dates and they will still be at top quality as long as these U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines for storage are followed:

  • Purchase the product before the sell-by date expires. Follow the product's use-by date if available. For fresh or uncooked meat and poultry items, follow the recommendations on Chart A (see below). For meat and poultry items that are packaged or processed, follow the recommendations on Chart B (see below).
  • For fresh or uncooked meat or poultry items , take the food home immediately after purchase and refrigerate it promptly at 40° F or below . Freeze it if you can't use it within times recommended on chart A (see below).
  • Once a fresh or uncooked product is frozen, it doesn't matter if the date expires because foods kept frozen continuously are safe indefinitely.
  • If a sell-by date or no date is listed on the product, cook or freeze the product by the times on chart B (see below).
  • Follow the safe handling recommendations listed the on product.

Chart A: Recommended Storage of Fresh or Uncooked Meat and Poultry Products

Note: If product has a "Use-By Date," follow that date. If product has a "Sell-By Date" or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the following chart.

Product

Storage Times After Purchase

Poultry

1 or 2 days

Beef, Veal, Pork and Lamb

3 to 5 days

Ground Meat and Ground Poultry

1 or 2 days

Fresh Variety Meats (Liver, Tongue, Brain, Kidneys, Heart, Chitterlings)

1 or 2 days

Cured Ham, Cook-Before-Eating

5 to 7 days

Sausage from Pork, Beef or Turkey, Uncooked

1 or 2 days

Eggs

3 to 5 weeks

Source: Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA; http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Food_Product_Dating/index.asp

Chart B: Storage of Processed Products Packed by the Manufacturer

Note: If product has a "Use-By Date," follow that date. If product has a "Sell-By Date" or no date, cook or freeze the product by the times on the following chart.

Processed Product

Unopened, After Purchase

After Opening

Cooked Poultry

3 to 4 days

3 to 4 days

Cooked Sausage

3 to 4 days

3 to 4 days

Sausage, Hard/Dry, shelf-stable

6 weeks/pantry

3 weeks

Corned Beef, uncooked, in pouch with pickling juices

5 to 7 days

3 to 4 days

Vacuum-packed Dinners, Commercial Brand with USDA seal

2 weeks

3 to 4 days

Bacon

2 weeks

7 days

Hot dogs

2 weeks

1 week

Luncheon meat

2 weeks

3 to 5 days

Ham, fully cooked

7 days

slices, 3 days; whole, 7 days

Ham, canned, labeled "keep refrigerated"

9 months

3 to 4 days

Ham, canned, shelf stable

2 years/pantry

3 to 5 days

Canned Meat and Poultry, shelf stable

2 to 5 years/pantry

3 to 4 days

Source: Food Safety and Inspection Service, USDA; http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Fact_Sheets/Food_Product_Dating/index.asp

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I recently had gastric bypass and need to eat iron rich foods.  My nutritionist recommended blackstrap molasses as the best source.  How does its iron content compare to meat and poultry?

Great question!  Black strap molasses is one of the by products of refining sugar from sugar cane to white, granulated sugar.  The molasses is a thick, brown syrup left behind when the crystalline sugar is removed.  Blackstrap molasses does contain a significant amount of iron (3.5mg per tablespoon) but this iron does not come from the sugar cane itself but from the machinery that is used to process the sugar.  Because this type of iron is non-heme, it is not as well absorbed by the body.  Heme iron, which is found only in animal foods such as meats, poultry and fish, is more easily absorbed.  In addition, meat, poultry and fish contain MFP factor, which increases the absorption of any non-heme iron eaten with the meal as well.  So, your best bet might be to eat a meat or poultry dish marinated with a sauce made with black strap molasses. 

Comparison of Iron-Containing Foods

Food

Serving Size

Calories

Milligrams (mg) of iron per serving*

Chicken breast, roasted, skin removed

3 oz.

138

0.9 mg

Turkey breast, roasted, skin removed

3 oz.

112

1.3 mg

Ground beef, 85% lean, broiled

3 oz.

212

2.2 mg

Shrimp, steamed

3 oz.

84

2.6 mg

Blackstrap molasses

1 Tbsp.

47

3.5 mg

Beef liver, pan fried

3 oz

146

5.1 mg

Clams, steamed

3 oz.

126

23.7 mg

*Most men need about 8 mg of iron per day.  Women in the reproductive years require 18 mg.  Vegetarians need about 1.8 times a much iron (14.4 mg for men, 32.4 mg for women) to make up for the low bioavailability of iron in their diets (source: Committee on Dietary Reference Intakes, 2001).

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My family is constantly on the go.  We have sports practices and other activities on most nights of the week and many events on weekends as well.  Eating together as a family seems nearly impossible.  What can I feed my family that will meet our hectic lifestyle needs and be healthy?

Several ideas come to mind.  First, make sure you have good-sized ice chest (cooler) on hand that can travel in your car.  Next, shop for portable foods that you can use for on-the-go car picnics or that you can use as supplements with fast food items.  Before you set off for your afternoon or evening activities, stock your cooler with these items.  That way, even if your family is eating on the run, they will get a full complement of nutrients.  Even better, if you do have time to stop along the way, you can spread a blanket and turn eating on the run into a fun family mealtime.  Here are some quick ideas:

  1. Pack sandwiches ahead of time and offer these instead of going through the drive-thru.  Or, you can pack an assortment of deli meats such as lean roast beef, roasted chicken or turkey breast, sliced cheese, reduced-fat mayonnaise, mustard, and bread and have everyone make their own sandwiches.  Throw in a bag of baked chips or pretzels, fruit or vegetables, along with a refreshing beverage, and lunch is served.
  2. Thaw some pre-cooked, marinated chicken, turkey or beef strips.  Pack some salsa, cheese and tortillas and everyone can “wrap it” up.  Don’t forget the napkins!
  3. Baby carrots, celery sticks and fresh chunks of melon or strawberries are a great way to round out any fast food meal.
  4. Pack a thermos of ice-cold milk or chocolate milk to boost calcium.

Second, invest in a crock-pot--or dust off the one you already have.  There are many, many meals that can be easily prepared in the crock-pot.  For recipe ideas, try http://busycooks.about.com/od/healthycrockpotrecipes/.  You’ll need to shop ahead and perhaps assemble the ingredients in the pot the night before (keep the “crock” in the refrigerator until you are ready to cook).  Then, whenever your family is ready to eat, the meal will be waiting.

Third, make some time to stock your pantry well with heat ‘n eat items such as pre-cooked and pre-marinated meat and poultry items and frozen vegetables.  Make quick side dishes by tossing pasta with some olive oil and Parmesan cheese or having some ready-to-prepare rice mixes on hand.  For more ideas on this check out http://www.meatpoultrynutrition.org/ht/d/sp/i/26904/pid/26904

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I’ve always heard that “fresh is best” but fresh doesn’t work for my lifestyle.  I hate buying foods and then having them spoil in the refrigerator because I didn’t get a chance to cook and eat them.  How does fresh food compare to frozen and canned when it comes to nutrition?

Fresh, frozen and canned foods are nutritionally comparable.  Although fresh foods that have just been picked, caught or butchered will usually have somewhat higher nutrient values than frozen and canned items, it depends on what nutrient you are considering.  Many of the vitamins that we value in fresh foods are fragile.  Vitamin C in broccoli, for example, is extremely sensitive to the oxygen in air and riboflavin in milk is destroyed by light.  Therefore, it’s important to follow sell-by and use-by dates found on all products to maximize freshness and quality.

Cooking methods also affect nutrient values regardless of whether the food is fresh, frozen or canned.  For example, when foods are boiled in water, water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C and the B vitamins can end up in the cooking water or destroyed by the heat.  In contrast when foods are roasted, baked or steamed, nutrients are not lost in cooking liquids; they may still be affected by heat, however. 

The bottom line for nutrition content of fresh foods vs. frozen or canned is that it depends on your preferences and lifestyle.  If your goal is to eat a healthful diet and its easier for you to do this by eating fresh foods that you personally prepare, then that’s the most nutritious choice for you.  On the other hand, if your schedule is such that frozen and canned foods allow you to eat a healthy diet, then that is the most nutritious choice.  In the end, the nutrient differences between fresh, frozen and canned are insignificant when compared to excluding a potentially healthy food from your diet because it’s inconvenient for you to cook or prepare, or because you believe that “processed” foods are less nutritious.  Choose first to eat healthfully and then select the style of foods (fresh, frozen, canned) that best support your goal and your lifestyle. 

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What is Hemochromatosis?

When it comes to iron, we tend to hear about conditions related to low iron levels.  However, some people have just the opposite problem:  too much iron. 

Hemochromatosis or iron overload is an outcome from a genetically inherited disorder that increases the body’s iron absorption.  It affects about 1.5 million people in the United States.  Men are more likely than women to develop this condition.  The signs and symptoms of iron overload are very similar to what people feel when they are low in iron:  low energy, low interest in activities usually enjoyed, and general tiredness.  Iron overload can lead to organ damage (e.g., liver).  Since bacteria love iron-rich environments, infections in the body increase as well.  Untreated iron overload can raise the risk of experiencing diabetes, liver cancer, heart disease and arthritis.

Eating iron-rich foods such as fortified cereals, cooked dried beans, canned clams, red meats, and liver does not cause the genetic problem that leads to iron overload.  In fact, iron-rich foods are usually an important part of a healthy diet.  However, people with hemochromatosis should check with their doctor before consuming iron-rich food, iron-fortified foods, or vitamin supplements that contain iron. 

Treatment of hemochromatosis usually involves removing blood from the body on a regular basis.

For more information:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=DS00455

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What is “nutrient density”?

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and USDA’s MyPyramid (http://www.mypyramid.gov/) both emphasize that most of the foods we eat should be “nutrient dense.”  This means that we should choose foods that have good amounts of vitamins and minerals yet are low or moderate in calories.  Some examples of nutrient dense foods include:

  • lean roast beef, roasted chicken or turkey breast, and broiled seafood;
  • most fruits and vegetables;
  • low fat or fat free milk and dairy products;
  • whole grain products such as whole wheat bread and cereals.

When foods are low in nutrient density, they provide few vitamins and minerals and are higher in calories.  Examples of foods that are typically low in nutrient density include fried foods, most desserts and treats, sweetened soft drinks and beverages, beverages with alcohol (e.g., beer, wine, distilled spirits), and oils, margarine and butter.

If large amounts of low nutrient density foods are included in the diet, it’s harder to get the vitamins and minerals you need without gaining weight.  One easy way to increase nutrient density is to choose the low-fat or sugar-free versions of the foods you typically eat.  For example:

Instead of….           

Try…..

Fried chicken

Roasted chicken without the skin

80% lean hamburger

90% lean hamburger

smoked kielbasa     

turkey kielbasa

Whole milk

1% or skim milk

Regular soft drinks
Diet or reduced calorie soft drinks
Regular chips

Baked chips

Regular margarine and salad dressing

“Light” or reduced fat margarine, salad“dressings"

Most people can’t eat foods that are high in nutrients all the time:  that would be no fun!  One way to make room for “fun” foods such as desserts, treats and other foods and drinks is to be physically active everyday.  The more you move, the more “extra” calories you can eat.  The chart below will give you an idea of how activity translates into calories.

Number of Minutes of Activity Required to Burn 150 Calories*

Activity           

Number of Minutes = 150 Calories

  • Stair walking
  • Snow shoveling
  • Running 1.5 miles (10 minute miles)
  • Jumping rope

15 minutes

  • Basketball
  • Swimming laps

20 minutes

  • Water aerobics
  • Walking 2 miles (15 min/mile)
  • Raking leaves
  • Pushing a stroller 1.5 miles
  • Dancing fast (social)
  • Bicycling (5 miles)

30 minutes

  • Walking 1 3/4 miles (20 min/mile)

35 minutes

  • Gardening
30 to 45 minutes
  • Washing windows or floors
  • Washing and waxing a car or boat

45 to 60 minutes

* Calories burned by an adult weighing 154 pounds (70 kg).  Source:  http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/physical/recommendations/adults.htm

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My father is 86 years old and becoming frail.  His doctor asked me about his protein intake and was concerned because my father eats only once or twice each day and mostly eats by himself.  He doesn’t enjoy cooking for himself.  What can I do to make sure my father gets the protein he needs?

First, it’s important to make sure that your father is basically healthy with no issues that prevent him from purchasing, preparing or chewing foods.  Second, his lack of interest in food may have more to do with his meal environment and the fact that he is eating alone.  Your father, like many people, might benefit from sharing his meals with other people.  Most of us enjoy food more when we are sharing it with friends.  If you can help him find ways to eat more of his meals with other people, he may not only eat more food but he’ll probably eat a more well-balanced diet overall—including the protein he needs. You might see if there is a friend or neighbor he is willing to share meals with or look into whether his local senior center offers meals.  That way, he could share a meal with others and have social events to look forward to a few times each week. 

What he is eating will make a difference in his health.  It is important that your father gets the protein he needs so that his immune system stays healthy and to prevent the loss of muscle tissue.  Most men his age need to eat about 56 grams (.8g/kg of body weight) of protein each day which is approximately 6 to 7 oz. of meat, poultry or fish—roughly the size of two decks of cards.  The table below will give you an idea of how much protein different foods contain. 

Finally, if your father doesn’t like to cook but is willing to “heat ‘n eat,” there are dozens of options available in your local grocery store.  There are many microwavable meals that can be found in either the fresh meat case, deli counter or in the frozen meals section.  Look for ones that include a source of protein such as beef, turkey, chicken, pork or seafood.  In addition to providing protein, these foods will also supply Vitamin B12, a vitamin that some people over age 50 have trouble absorbing. Vitamin B12 deficiency can lead to short-term memory loss, pernicious anemia, and peripheral nerve damage.  To make sure he gets his ‘5 a day,’ keep his freezer and pantry stocked with frozen and canned vegetables and fruits.  That way, he can heat or eat what he needs and store the rest for another meal. 

Amount of Protein* in Common Food Items
(Note:  this is the same table used in the protein and athletes answer)

Food
Amount of Protein (grams)
Chicken, 3 oz.** roasted breast w/o skin
26
Turkey, 3 oz. roasted meat w/o skin
26
Ground beef, 3 oz. 85% lean, broiled
22
Ham, 3 oz. roasted
19
Salmon, 3 oz. broiled
19
Eggs, 2 large, fried
2.5
Milk, 1 cup
8
Cheese, American, 1 slice
3.5

* Protein values are from USDA’s National Nutrient Database (http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/index.html)
** 3 oz. is about the size of a deck of cards; most people eat more than this in a typical meal.

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My children seem to get colds all the time. I've heard that zinc can help. Is this true? What foods contain zinc?

Zinc is a trace element that is present in every cell of our body and used by more than 100 enzymes in the body. Here are just a few of zinc's many functions in the body:

  • Serves as a co-factor for enzymes involved in metabolism;
  • Helps cell membranes fend off attacks by free-radicals-unstable and highly reactive molecules that can damage cells;
  • Assists in immune function and growth;
  • Involves making, storing and releasing insulin in the pancreas;
  • Assists with blood clotting;
  • Affects thyroid functioning;
  • Influences behavior and learning;
  • Essential for normal taste perception, wound healing, sperm production, and fetal development.

Zinc deficiencies are very rare in the United States because it is widely available in many of the animal protein we eat such as beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken and seafood. In fact, most people are able to easily meet the Recommended Daily Allowance, or RDA, of 8 mg per day for women and 11 mg per day for men through diet alone. However, some populations such as pregnant women, children, the elderly and the poor may have trouble meeting their zinc requirements. Zinc is typically found in protein foods such as red meats, poultry and seafood, as well as nuts, seeds and dairy products. Deficiency symptoms include growth retardation in children, impaired immune function, hair loss, eye and skin lesions, and a loss of appetite. The chart below lists some common sources of dietary zinc.

Food
Serving
Zinc (mg)
Oysters 6 medium (cooked) 43.4
Beef 3 ounces* (cooked) 5.8
Crab, Dungeness 3 ounces (cooked) 4.6
Turkey (dark meat) 3 ounces (cooked) 3.5
Chicken (dark meat) 3 ounces (cooked) 2.4
Pork 3 ounces (cooked) 2.2
Beans, baked 1/2 cup 1.8

There have been numerous studies done with zinc lozenges and a few studies done on intranasal zinc (gels and sprays) and their effects on the common cold. Some studies have found them to be effective while others have not. To date, some studies using zinc gluconate have reported shorter duration of cold symptoms while studies of other compounds have had no effect. Ask your pediatrician or pharmacist for more information about whether zinc is a good approach for handling your children's colds.

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I'm concerned that my kids don't eat enough protein. They think the major food groups are peanut butter, jelly and white bread. How much protein does a child need and how can I incorporate protein into their diet?

Its fairly common for kids to get into food "jags" or ruts where they want to eat the same favorite and familiar foods day after day. Kids protein needs vary according to their age and weight but most kids between the ages of 4 to 8 years need about 19 grams per day (the amount in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is about 11 grams). You can boost your child's protein and nutrient intake by making sure they include meat, poultry and dairy products in their diets. To expand your child's protein choices try adding a new food along with the old favorites. For example, you might try offering poultry strips with a peanut butter dipping sauce. Or, try offering pizza with ground meat as a topping. It can take up to 10 to 15 times before a child "accepts" a new food so keep trying!

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I've just been told I'm anemic and I should eat iron rich meat and poultry. Are certain cuts better sources than others? How can I be sure my body absorbs the iron I consume?

Meat and poultry (and fish) are naturally good sources of iron. In addition, they contain a type of iron known as "heme" iron which is more easily absorbed by the body than "non heme" iron which is the only type of iron found in plant foods. Also, meat, poultry and fish contain a factor known as MFP that increases "non heme" iron absorption. Another way to increase iron absorption is to eat iron-rich foods along with foods that contain vitamin C. So, if you eat a roast beef sandwich (heme iron source) with tomato slices (vitamin c source) on iron-enriched whole wheat bread (non-heme iron source), you will be sure to absorb the iron you eat!

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I've been on a high protein diet for four weeks but I'm not seeing the pounds fall off like some people do. I take yoga three times a week. Do I need to increase my exercise level?

Many dieters see "plateaus" in their weight loss rate after a few weeks. As long as you are continuing to eat fewer calories than your body requires for weight maintenance, you will continue to see your weight decrease. To give your metabolism a boost, however, you might consider increasing your aerobic activity by walking, biking or swimming for 30-60 minutes on days when you are not taking a yoga class. Depending on the type of exercises you are doing, yoga can be an excellent way to increase flexibility, strength and peace of mind, all of which are beneficial to your health.

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I was recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and my doctor told me to follow a healthy diet and exercise to help keep my blood sugar levels stable. How do different types of foods affect my blood sugar levels?

Diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body either does not produce enough insulin or the insulin that is produced is not effective. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Normally, when we eat and digest food, it causes blood sugar to rise. Higher blood sugar then stimulates the pancreas to release insulin. Insulin allows the body's cells to absorb the blood sugar. Without insulin, or when the insulin is not effective, the blood sugar can't be absorbed. Over time, elevated blood sugars may lead to other health problems.

The best way to keep your blood sugar in the normal range is to follow the advice of your doctor or dietitian in terms of your meal planning, medication and exercise recommendations.

In a typical meal, we eat a combination of foods that supplies us with carbohydrates, protein and fat. The body requires all of these nutrients to function normally. With diabetes, carbohydrate is the main nutrient that will affect blood sugar. People with diabetes, like all of us, should still eat carbohydrates. In fact, the American Diabetes Association, recommends that people with diabetes get most of their calories from carbohydrate (60-70%), some from protein (20% or less) and the rest from monounsaturated and other types of fats (mostly polyunsaturated). The recommendations of the government's dietary guidelines, MyPyramid, are very similar to what the American Diabetes Association advises.

People with diabetes have a greater risk of developing heart disease and other vascular problems. To help lower this risk it is important that diabetics like everyone else to "go lean with protein" from the meat group of MyPyramid. Better choices include beef and pork choices that have "loin" in their names, 90% lean ground beef and turkey, skinless poultry cuts, and seafood. For more ideas, see http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/meat_tips.html.

Some experts also recommend that people who have diabetes or whom are at risk for diabetes eat foods that have a low glycemic index. The glycemic index is a way of classifying foods that contain carbohydrates according to their potential to raise blood sugar. For example, white bread has a high glycemic index while nuts and beans have a low glycemic index. Some foods, such as meat, poultry and seafood have a glycemic index of zero because they do not contain carbohydrates. The glycemic index of a food is affected by its fat and fiber content: the higher the fat or the fiber content, the more slowly the food is digested and the lower its glycemic index. When foods with carbohydrates are absorbed more slowly, less insulin is required to manage blood sugar levels. Scientists are still debating the benefits and usefulness of the glycemic index, which is why it not currently recommended by most health organizations.

For More Information:

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My 17 year old son has been regularly lifting weights for the past year. Recently, he's starting using protein powders with supplemental amino acids to further build his muscles. Does he need these powders? Are they safe? Should he just eat more meat instead?

Many people--including athletes--mistakenly believe that we need to eat extra protein in order to build more muscle. The only way to build more muscle is to make your muscles work hard regularly. In other words, only athletic training will help your son build more muscle. That being said, some experts suggest that athletes eat a little more protein on a daily basis to build muscle and as a source of energy (see Chart 1 below). However, this slightly higher protein need can be easily and safely met through food alone since most Americans get one to two times the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA). Even the most active people of all, endurance athletes who train for over an hour each day, can easily "eat" their extra protein needs. Since most athletes typically eat more of all kinds of food, their diets are likely to include the extra protein they need (see Chart 2 below).

Protein powders and individual amino acid supplements are expensive and unnecessary, in some cases, harmful. When ingested, concentrated amino-acid powders draw large amounts of water into the small intestines which can lead to cramping and diarrhea. Protein supplements should never be used a replacement for food without a doctor's supervision. Individual amino-acids have also been documented to cause harm when taken without supervision.

The bottom line is that athletes, like all people, need to eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of variety. Muscles and strength come with persistence and hard work. Encourage your son to eat sensibly and keep training hard.

Chart 1: Protein Requirements for Athletes

 
Recommended
Protein Intake
(g/kg/day)
Protein Intakes (g/day)
 
Men
(154 lbs)
Food Equivalent*
Women
(121 lbs)
Food
Equivalent
RDA for Adults*
0.8
56
6 oz. meat, poultry or fish (~50 g) 1 c. milk (8g)
44
5 oz. meat, poultry or fish (42g) 1/2 c. milk (4g)
Endurance Athletes**
1.6 -1.7
112-119
10 oz. meat, poultry or fish (~83 g) 3 c. milk (24g) 2 eggs (12.5)
88-94
9 oz. meat, poultry or fish (~75g) 2 c. milk (16g)
Strength or Resistance Athletes**
1.2 -1.6
84-112
9 oz. meat, poultry or fish (~75g) 3 c. milk (24g) 2 egg (12.5g)
66-68
6 oz. meat, poultry or fish (~50 g) 2 c. milk (16g)
Typical Intake by Americans
95
9 oz. meat, poultry or fish (~75g) 2 c. milk (16g) 1 egg (6g)
65
6 oz. meat, poultry or fish (~50 g) 2 c. milk (16g)

*Based on Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterols, Protein and Amino Acids (http://www.nap.edu/books/0309085373/html/)

**The American Dietetic Association's Position Paper, Nutrition and Athletic Performance (http://www.eatright.org/Member/PolicyInitiatives/index_21037.cfm).

*** The foods listed are meant to provide a reference frame and are not intended as recommendations. Protein values estimated based on Chart 2.

 

Amount of Protein* in Common Food Items
(Note: this is the same table used in the protein and athletes answer)

Food
Amount of Protein (grams)
Chicken, 3 oz.** roasted breast w/o skin
26
Turkey, 3 oz. roasted meat w/o skin
26
Ground beef, 3 oz. 85% lean, broiled
22
Ham, 3 oz. roasted
19
Salmon, 3 oz. broiled
19
Eggs, 2 large, fried
12.5
Milk, 1 cup
8
Cheese, American, 1 slice
3.5

* Protein values are from USDA's National Nutrient Database (http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/index.html)
** 3 oz. is about the size of a deck of cards; most people eat more than this in a typical meal.

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