Heart Healthy Foods You May Have Missed

Some Heart Healthy Foods You May Have Missed


This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

When looking for foods that can improve your heart health, many of the ones most often recommended are either expensive, not easy to find, or are foods you don’t like. That doesn’t mean you have no chance of lowering your risk factors for heart disease through diet. The same attributes in those commonly named “heart-healthy” foods are found in many other more palatable options.


Sardines – Salmon gets all the attention when it comes to fatty fish, but sardines are one of the most concentrated sources of the omega-3 fats DHA and EPA you can get, and at a much lower price all year round. The oils in fatty fish help lower triglycerides in the blood and reduce blood pressure and irregular heart rhythms. A 3-ounce serving eaten twice a week is all you need.


Black beans – Oatmeal is recognized as being good for your heart, but dry beans, like black beans, have the same benefits and are far more versatile in the diet. Beans are a good source of soluble fiber, which binds cholesterol and keeps it from being absorbed. They are also rich in phytonutrients, like flavonoids, that can inhibit the clumping of platelets in the blood. Eating ½ cup a day can make a difference.


Raisins –Like blueberries, raisins are rich in antioxidants that help reduce cardiovascular risk factors, such as blood pressure, total cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, and markers for inflammation. Unlike blueberries, raisins are convenient to have on hand no matter what the season. Enjoy ¼ cup as a fruit serving daily.


Popcorn – Whole grains don’t just in the form of breads and cereals. Popcorn is a whole grain and a good source of polyphenols, a naturally occurring antioxidant, that improves heart health. It’s very budget friendly and a satisfying snack as long as it’s prepared without excess salt and oil.


Milk– Most often associated with calcium, milk is also high in potassium which is maintain the fluid balance in the body and help the kidneys eliminate excess sodium. With as much potassium as a medium banana, every 8 ounce glass of fat free milk you drink is a great way to keep your heart strong.


Plant Stanols and Sterols – These compounds are found in very small amounts in fruits, vegetables, and grains. They help block the absorption of cholesterol, but there is not enough of them in foods to get the 2 grams a day needed for cholesterol-lowering benefits. Daily use of foods fortified with stanols and sterols, such as Minute Maid Heart Wise Orange juice and Benecol spread, is an valuable way to supplement a heart-healthy diet.

Barley Can Help Control Type 2 Diabetes

A Secret Weapon to Help Control Diabetes: Barley


This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

No one wants to learn they have diabetes, yet nearly one in four Americans over the age of 60 receives this news. Many others have pre-diabetes, a condition where their blood glucose level is higher than normal, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes. If you fall into either category, an ancient grain can help you control your blood glucose and offer other protection against type 2 diabetes.

Barley, once known as a “food of the Gladiators,” has a unique profile of nutrients that makes it a great defender against diabetes and worth adding to your diet.

Of course, no single food can prevent or cure diabetes. But some foods do offer more protection than others, so it makes sense to include them in your meals as often as possible. And diabetes isn’t the only disease that barley offers protection against, so everyone who cares about their health can benefit by eating more barley.

Barley can help with your battle against diabetes in these ways:

High in Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber has the ability to form a gel when it mixes with liquids in the stomach. The presence of this gel slows down the emptying of the stomach, which prevents carbohydrates from being absorbed too quickly and raising blood glucose levels. One cup of cooked whole grain barley contains 14 grams (g) total fiber, with 3g soluble and 11g insoluble. A cup of cooked pearl barley contains 6g total fiber, 2g soluble and 4g insoluble.

Low Glycemic Index

People with diabetes experience fluctuations in their blood glucose level after eating carbohydrate-rich foods. Different amounts and types of carbohydrates have a different impact on blood glucose. A measurement known as the glycemic index (GI) ranks foods according to their ability to raise blood glucose. The lower the GI, the less impact it has on blood glucose levels. Barley has a GI of 25, compared to 58 for oatmeal, 55 for brown rice and 45 for pasta.

Rich in Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral that acts as a co-factor in more than 300 enzymes in the body, including enzymes involved in the production and secretion of insulin and the use of glucose. Studies show magnesium levels are lower in people with diabetes than in the general population. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for magnesium for adults is 420 mg for men and 320 for women. One cup of cooked whole grain barley contains 122mg of magnesium while a cup of pearled barley provides 34mg.

Find more information here: Living Healthy with Diabetes Barley Foods Recipes

Are you ready to include more barley in your diet?

Potatoes provide nutritional and culinary benefits worth celebrating all year round

It’s Time to Celebrate Potatoes


This blog was originally written during my 2 1/2 year tenure as a blogger for Health Goes Strong. The site was deactivated in July 2013, but you can read the original post here.

Potato chips are part of most celebrations in the U.S., but today is the day they are celebrated. Yes, March 14th is National Potato Chip Day!

Since the average American consumes about 17 pounds of potato chips a year, there is no need to say anything that might encourage eating more of this fried and salted snack. Instead, I want to talk about their primary ingredient, the potato.

And with St. Patrick’s Day in the same week, there is no better time to promote the nutritional and culinary benefits of potatoes.

What’s So Good About Potatoes?

On its own, a medium potato (5.3 ounces raw) is one of the best low calorie foods you can buy. For only 110 calories you get 45% of the daily value (DV) for vitamin C and more potassium than a banana (620 mg vs 450 mg). That same potato provides an often overlooked 3 g of protein along with 2 g of fiber, half of which is in the skin.

Though colorful fruits and vegetables get more attention, the white ones, like potatoes, are also a good source of phytonutrients with antioxidant potential. The total antioxidant capacity of russet potatoes ranked fifth out of 42 vegetables tested, ahead of broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes.

One of the best things about potatoes is what they don’t contain: No saturated fat, no trans fat, no fat at all. And they have no cholesterol and no sodium, either.

Depending on how you prepare them, a potato can become “stuffed” with even more nutrients. I like to add salsa and cheese or leftover chili to a baked potato for a quick and satisfying lunch. Or I’ll stuff one with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

Why Are Potatoes Such a Culinary Staple?

One of the best ways for a food to become a staple in any cuisine is to be available, affordable and versatile. Potatoes are all three.

Potatoes are consumed in some form by people on every continent. In the U.S., frozen is the most popular form, followed by fresh, chips, dehydrated and canned. They can be cooked by baking, boiling, deep frying, grilled, microwaving, pan frying, roasting, and steaming, plus in casseroles and slow cookers. Every cook appreciates that kind of versatility when faced with limited fuel or cooking facilities.

The most common varieties are categorized as russets, reds, whites, yellows (or Yukon’s) and purples. The shapes and sizes cover everything from the finger-shaped fingerlings, to round ones ranging in size from golf-balls to baseballs, to the classic oblong russet. That’s enough variety to serve them every day and never see the same ones twice in a month!

To tell the truth, the only potato I can’t recommend is the couch potato!

Go to PotatoGoodness.com for recipes and videos.


Don't let myths about potatoes keep you from benefiting from this nutritious vegetable

Top 5 Potato Myths

This blog was originally written as a guest blog for the Alliance for Potato Education & Research. You can see the post here.

Some foods have been in the human diet so long that the history of our survival is inseparable from theirs. The potato is one of them. Yet even with this shared legacy, some myths persist about the value of the potato in our diets. Letting the facts speak for themselves is the best way to put these myths to rest so we can all continue to enjoy America’s favorite vegetable!


This myth would disappear if fresh potatoes were sold with a Nutrition Facts panel like those found on all packaged foods. The Nutrition Facts panel to the right shows what one would look like for one medium baked potato, flesh and skin, without salt.

The Nutrition Facts panel [i] shows that a medium baked potato is an excellent source of potassium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6; plus, it’s a good source of fiber, folate, and the essential minerals phosphorus and magnesium. Add to that the 4 grams of protein and you have a nutrition powerhouse!

potaot facts

These Nutrition Facts provide plenty of evidence that there is no truth to the myth that potatoes are “nothing but carbs,” but there’s more. Most of the carbohydrate found in potatoes is the complex type, so it delivers a steady source of energy to our bodies. And emerging research shows that some of the carbohydrate in potatoes is a type called “resistant starch,” which may help regulate blood glucose levels and favorably alter bacteria in the large intestines, among other health benefits.


Color is an easy way to identify nutrient-rich vegetables, but that doesn’t mean the white, tan, and brown ones are not as good. Potatoes, onions, and cauliflower are just a few of the “white” vegetables that provide us with key nutrients, such as potassium, fiber, and vitamin C. But white vegetables can be overlooked if we only focus on the dark green and red and orange vegetable subgroups named in USDA’s MyPlate. White vegetables are also an important source of many phytonutrients that do not yet appear in food composition tables, but are believed to have significant health benefits, such as the colorless flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol found in potatoes.

All types of potatoes can make big nutritional contributions to the diet, so don’t limit yourself to any one type or color. Enjoy them all as part of your healthy diet!


There are essential nutrients in every part of the potato—flesh and skin—so enjoy the whole vegetable to get the best nutritional value. The nutrients aren’t just skin deep; potatoes provide key nutrients, including fiber and potassium, whether eaten with or without the skin. A medium baked potato with skin contains 920 mg potassium and 3.6 g fiber, and without skin, 676 mg potassium and 2.6 g fiber. You can prepare potatoes peeled or unpeeled to increase your culinary options in dishes like potato salad or mashed potatoes.


All of the potatoes we enjoy are processed to some degree before we eat them because even cooking is a type of processing. Whether you start with fresh potatoes or one of the other more convenient forms available, they all provide us with key nutrients, like fiber and potassium. Food companies that freeze or process potatoes use similar methods we would use if preparing them that way at home, just on a larger scale. A big advantage to having all these different types of potatoes is that it makes it easier to eat them more often. As a result, potatoes are among the best nutritional values in the produce aisle or frozen vegetable case.


The good news about French fries is that leading manufacturers and most restaurant operators are now cooking them in oil that is trans-fat free and a source of beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Industry reports also show that new frying techniques can reduce fat absorption by as much as 50% compared to traditional frying methods. And market leaders are going the extra step to provide consumers with even more choices, like the new SATISFRIES™ at Burger King that have 40% less fat and 30% fewer calories per serving.

We’ve just scratched the surface of potato myths and will be sharing more myth-busting facts about potatoes in a future post!

Disclosure Statement: Robyn Flipse was compensated by the Alliance for Potato Research & Education for her services as a guest blogger, but all opinions expressed here are her own.

[i] Nutrition Facts panel information calculated from USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 26, 2013. Potato, baked, flesh and skin, without salt (11674).

Soy is good for everyone, not just vegetarians

Soy is Good for Everyone, Not Just Vegetarians

This post was written as a guest blog for Family Goes Strong. You can read the original post here.


Being a vegetarian isn’t the only reason to eat soy-based products. There are benefits for all of us – young or old, vegan or omnivore – to incorporating more soyfoods into our meals. The one I promote the most is that it increases the variety in our diets. That is also the tagline for National Soyfoods Month, which is celebrated in April each year.

I like to focus on variety because it’s the best way to make room on “your plate” for everything you enjoy while keeping any food from taking up more space than it should. And that helps you deal with the hard-to-grasp concept of moderation. Simply put, it means you must control the amount and frequency of everything you eat to have a balanced diet.

Yet with all the news you hear about “super foods,” it’s easy to believe you can eat all you want of some foods (you can’t), or you’d be better off limiting your diet to some top ten list (you won’t). Eating a greater variety of foods is the best bet for optimal nutrition.

So in honor of National Soyfoods Month, here are some reasons why you might want to expand the variety of your family’s diet with the addition of more soyfoods:

12 Reasons to Add Soy to Your Diet

  • Lower dietary cholesterol
  • Enjoy more meatless meals
  • Decrease risk of breast cancer in later life
  • Use instead of peanuts for those with peanut allergy
  • Replace cow’s milk for those with lactose intolerance
  • Provide choice for those with milk protein allergy
  • Reduce saturated fat in diet
  • Increase fiber in the diet
  • Ease constipation
  • Incorporate another vegetable (yes, soybeans are vegetables!)
  • Provide an alternate protein source to a vegetarian or finicky eater
  • Get another source of calcium using fortified soy milk

You can find soy-based products in every section of the grocery store, so why not add a few of these to your shopping list?

Where to Find Soyfoods in the Supermarket

Produce – fresh soybeans, tofu, tempeh, miso

Freezer – edamame, soy burgers, soy nuggets, soy crumbles

Dairy – soymilk, soy yogurt, soy cheese

Snack – soy nuts, soy chips, soy bars

Staples – canned soybeans, soy pasta, soy flour

How many different soy foods do you eat each week?

Constipation is a sign there may not be enough fiber in your diet.

Which Foods and Fibers Can Prevent Constipation?


You know it if you have it, but to get a proper diagnosis of constipation you must experience two or more of these problems for at least three months:

  • Two or fewer bowel movements a week
  • Hard stools more than 25% of the time
  • Straining or excessive pushing during bowel movements more than 25% of the time
  • Incomplete emptying of the bowels at least 25% of the time

What Does a Healthy Colon Do?

The colon is the last 5 feet of the intestinal tract. It is also known as the large intestines in contrast to the other 20 feet which are referred to as the small intestines. The functions of the colon are to:

  • Serve as a storage area for the waste material from within our bodies and from undigested food
  • Extract excess water from the waste material
  • Expel the waste material as a soft mass on a regular basis

What Causes Constipation?

Constipation can happen to anyone occasionally and usually does not require any treatment if it lasts just a few days. If constipation is a reoccurring problem or persists for several months, then medical attention is recommended. The most common causes of constipation are:

  • Inadequate fluid and fiber intake
  • Inactivity or immobility
  • Some medicationsantacids with calcium or aluminum, strong pain medications, antidepressants, iron supplements
  • Lack of or changes in your daily routine
  • Over use of laxatives or stool softeners
  • Other medical conditions – irritable bowel syndrome, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, hypothyroidism, colon cancer, depression, eating disorders, pregnancy, stress

How Can Dietary Fiber Help?

By definition, dietary fiber is all of the non-digestible parts of the plant foods we eat. Since anything that we cannot digest must be eliminated, the more fiber-rich food we consume, the more likely our bowels will empty on a regular basis.

The Institute of Medicine set the Adequate Intake (AI) for total dietary fiber at 25 grams a day for adult women and 38 grams a day for men.

One of the best sources of dietary fiber to prevent constipation is wheat bran. Every gram of wheat bran eaten generates about a 5 gram increase in fecal weight due to the water it binds. A half-cup serving of All-Bran®cereal contains 10 grams of wheat bran fiber, so it could increase fecal weight by 50 grams or 1 ¾ ounces.

Whole grains are another important source of dietary fiber. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that half the grain foods we eat should be whole grains. For adults that means at least 3 servings of whole grains a day, which supply another 6-12 grams of fiber.

Beans are the best source of dietary fiber in the vegetable kingdom. One half cup of cooked beans has 6-7 grams of fiber. Most other fruits and vegetables have between 2-3 grams of fiber per serving. Making sure you eat 3 cups of beans per week and the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day will provide all the rest of the fiber you need.

What changes can you make to increase the high fiber plant foods you eat each day?