Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Should You Freak-Out About Soy?

There’s a lot of confusion out there about soy.  I was just speaking to a mom the other day who was buying soymilk at the grocery store for her newly diagnosed lactose-intolerant toddler.  Apparently the women behind her in line stopped her and told her she was crazy to buy it and listed all of the evil things that soy would do to her poor child’s body.  She was terrified.  Many of us have been in similar situations, we’ve heard that soy will do everything from preventing heart disease to making men grow “man boobs” and giving women breast cancer.  So, what’s the truth about soy?

Soy has a lot of great health benefits.  It’s one of the few vegetables that’s high in protein and provides a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids.  The reported health benefits of soy are many with multiple studies suggesting that soy consumption may decrease one’s risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, breast and prostate cancers and type 2 diabetes. 

So, what are people so freaked out about?  Here’s a summary of the main concerns and if I think they hold much weight and you can decide for yourself:

  • Soy will give you breast cancer.  Soy is chalked full of isoflavones that mimic estrogen in the body.  The concern is that this could promote tumor growth in women with estrogen-sensitive breast cancer.  While animal studies have suggested this issue, no human studies have shown that soy (or soy isoflavones) negatively affect breast cancer markers (and it’s important to note that we are not the same as mice).  Also, most concerns have resulted from studies using high doses of pills or powders that do not really translate into what would come from a normal diet.
  • Soy makes men have ED and grow “man-boobs.”  This is my husbands favorite objection to soy…I think he should just tell me he doesn’t like it.  A resent study (published in Sterility and Fertility) that reviewed over 150 clinical studies found that soy has no effect on sperm count, semen quality, breast size, or ED in men.  Remember, don’t stress out about one study…what matters is what all of the studies together are pointing to so studies like these that review the body of evidence are especially helpful. 
  • Soy can make you infertile.  While this is probably not really an issue, because of a lack of research, some experts recommend that women struggling with infertility and women who are pregnant should moderate their soy intake (not freak out…just don’t pound tofu and soy protein bars multiple times a day).

So, my advice is to not stress out about soy.  It does have some great health benefits, so having some (like 2-4 servings/day) in your diet isn’t a bad idea.  And, the amount of soy isoflavones that you’ll get from real food as a part of your diet is probably very healthy.  I would simply avoid high doses in supplement form and possibly consider backing off while pregnant or if you are struggling to get pregnant.  

What crazy soy claims have you heard lately?  Do you include soy foods as a regular part of your diet?

For tons of great nutrition tips, recipes and fun giveaways, follow Enjoy Real Food on facebook or twitter (@EnjoyRealFood) 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pop Some Popcorn...Without a Microwave

One of my pet peeves is unhealthy "health foods."  Our grocery stores or loaded to the brim with foods that have all sorts of health claims because they are low in fat or sugar or high in fiber or some other special something that'll make you skinny by tomorrow.  The problem is, when we start tinkering with food to fit certain standards, we tend to add other things that we don't really want.  One such food is microwave popcorn.  There's lots of ones out there that tout that they're super healthy because they're low in fat but they also tend to have preservatives, coloring and artificial flavors (no, real fat free butter does not exist).

The crazy thing is that we've all decided that popcorn is so hard to make that we must have an easy microwave version.  If you have an air popper, then you know how easy it is to make air popped corn without the microwave.  But my favorite is the old fashioned stove top method.  I too, had believed that popcorn only came from microwaves until my friend, Nicole, showed me how easy (and yummy) the stove top method is (it was the same night she also showed me how funny "50 First Dates" is).

Anyways, all you've got to do is coat the bottom of a large pan with a thin layer of canola oil and heat it over medium-high heat.  Place one kernel in the oil and when it pops, the oil is ready.  Add about 1/2 cup popcorn kernels (depending on the size of your pan), put the lid on and shake the pan back and forth over the heat until the popping stops.  I recommend using Jolly Time Organic popping seems to work the best.  When you're done, you can top it with whatever you'd like (we like a sprinkle of parmesan cheese at our house).

Yes, there's more fat this way so it should be treated as a special treat.   However, we need to stop thinking that low-fat necessary means healthy...especially when we're swapping natural oils for chemicals and preservatives.

What's your favorite way to make popcorn?

The Book Contest Winner from last week is Lacie Nezbeth!  Email me your address at and I'll get your copy in the mail!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Fun Give Away!

I figured since it's Friday that maybe it's time for a fun give away.  My sister recently had her awesome book, "The Christian Mama's Guide To Having A Baby," released.  It's a fantastic (and super funny and easy to read) pregnancy guide and I had the honor of being the nutrition contributor for the book.  It's the perfect baby shower gift or just a really great read to keep for yourself if you're expecting (or if you're expecting that you'll be expecting any time in the near future). I'll do the drawing on Monday.

OK, here's how to enter to win your copy...
1.  Comment on the craziest pregnancy craving you (or a friend) has had
2.  Become a follower of my blog
3.  "Like" Enjoy Real Food on facebook and/or become a follower of @EnjoyRealFood on twitter

Good luck!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What's The Deal With GMOs?

OK, I’m afraid I’m gonna open up a can here, but I’ve recently been asked to comment on GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and so I’m gonna give it a go.  It’s a pretty controversial and complicated issue, so here's my best shot at summarizing the issue so you can make the best decision for yourself and your family.

While it sounds crazy to think that scientists are literally genetically modifying our foods, it’s actually a pretty cool process that some pretty smart people invented.  Basically, some scientists discovered that they could introduce certain genes into crops to make them more resistant to attack from insects or viruses.  This makes for heartier crops that, in some cases, require less herbicides and insecticides because they basically contain their own.  These crops have been around for quite a while (1990s) and make up a large portion of our food supply.  The most common GM crops are herbicide- and insect-resistant soybeans, corn, cotton, canola, and alfalfa (and if you’re eat any of these, you’re eating some GM foods cause they aren’t labeled in the US).  Scientist have also been able to engineer a rice called Golden Rice that produces Vitamin A, which could significantly reduce the incidence of blindness in children in developing countries where rice is a staple crop.

First off, I want to make it clear that these foods are essentially the same nutritionally as non-GM foods (with the exception that they contain a gene that they wouldn’t normally have).  They go through a pretty rigorous risk assessment and so far have not shown to cause any problems for human health.  They’ve also helped increase food supply and in some cases decreased the use of certain pesticides.  So, if you aren’t bothered by your food being genetically modified, I cannot confidently tell you that you should freak out about them.

That being said, there are definitely a lot of people who are concerned out there.  Most of the concern falls under the “I’m not sure why but it freaks me out to have my food genetically modified but I’d just rather have my food the way God made it” category.  And honestly, even if it’s not exactly scientific, it’s a pretty valid concern.  Why mess with what God made?  For those of you who want more, the more scientific-sounding concerns generally fit into the following four categories:
  1. Allergenicity:  Could the newly introduced genes cause people to have allergic reactions to foods they previously weren’t allergic to?  Luckily, this hasn’t really happened yet.
  2. Gene Transfer:  Could an antibiotic-resistant gene from a GM food transfer to bacteria in the gut of a person and result in a new antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria?  According to WHO, it’s a low possibility, but it could happen and so some people are encouraging not trying to use antibiotic-resistant bacteria in GM crops.
  3. Outcrossing:  GM crops could cross pollinate with non-GM crops.  This is highly likely and is super frustrating for people who would like to avoid GM foods.  Especially those who are wanting to buy organic as organic crops can become contaminated.
  4. Loss of Biodiversity:  Basically, there’s a concern that these “super crops” are gonna (and already kinda have) take over the food supply and we’re gonna loss a lot of the diversity of our food supply.

If you are concerned about GMOs, you’re best bet is to buy organic as organic foods should not contain GMOs.  If buying all organics is too expensive, try to buy organic when you are purchase foods that are often genetically modified like corn, soybeans and canola. 

Are you concerned about GMOs?  Do you buy organic to avoid them?

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Something New To Help You Sleep

My 3-year-old niece has always been a fantastic sleeper.  Since Christmas, however, she has decided that she prefers to be awake from 2-5 am and likes to bug my poor pregnant sister with important middle of the night questions like "why don't your pajama pants match your shirt" and "Is it OK that I love Luke Skywalker?"  Needless to say, my sister has been feeling pretty desperate.  So, when my mom found an article on aiding sleep with cherry juice last week, my sister was more than happy to give it a try with her two kiddos.

My nephew with his cherry juice
I was a little more skeptical, on the other hand, so I decided to do a little research.  Turns out there may be something to the claim that a glass or two of tart cherry juice a day may be able to help with sleep.  A study done by a team of researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester, and VA Center of Canandaigua found that adults who drank 2 glasses of tart cherry juice each day (one in the morning, one in the evening) reported a significant decrease in the severity of their insomnia.  The thought is that this is due to the melatonin found in cherries.  Melatonin is an antioxidant that regulates our sleep cycles.  Many people take it as a supplements to improve sleep but I far prefer recommending a whole food over a supplement any day, especially for kiddos.  So, if you suffer from insomnia, it may be worth a try.

So far, my niece has stayed in bed until 5:30 am every morning this week (still early but a huge improvement).  We're not sure if it's the cherry juice or the promise that she can pick out a "princess outfit" at Target after she stays in bed for 5 nights straight that's doing the trick.  My sister really doesn't care.  She's just happy that her daughter's getting a good daily dose of anitoxidants and a little more sleep for now.