Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Skinny on Skinny Foods: A Look at Today's Trendiest Health Foods

Madalena Pierangelino, Marketing Intern

We’ve all seen it – ads and articles naming the latest and greatest diet supplements to lose weight and be fit. “A scoop of this and you will lose 10 pounds!” is all too prevalent in the marketing world of weight loss. Chia seeds are one product on the rise, along with other ambiguous plants and powders. But, should you actually be using these marketed substances just because Dr. Oz endorses them? Supplements can be extremely beneficial and perhaps even necessary. However, you should know the correct uses and doses of each before you pour countless scoops into your morning protein shake.

Here is a little break down of the most popular and revolutionary products on the market today: Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, wheat germ, wheat grass, and whey protein. See where they come from, their nutritional benefits and the right portions to consider including in your diet. 

Chia seed
Although chia may be more famous for its role as the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! Pet that we all owned in the fourth grade, it has actually been around for much longer. The Aztecs were the first to grow chia to use as a medicinal herb (R. Bourne, Ph.D.) Now, it is one of the trendiest additions to smoothies, meals, and well, everything. The white, black, or dark brown seeds are wholegrain, gluten-free and tasteless– eat them raw, sprinkle them on salads and ice cream, or blend in a smoothie. The soluble fiber creates a sort of jelly-like substance when mixed with water, milk or other liquids that serves as a replacement for butter in recipes or makes pudding. The idea is that the thick gel will expand and make you feel full, causing you to eat less and slowing digestion. The seeds also contain extreme amounts Omega-3 fatty acids, which protect against inflammation, arthritis, and heart disease. Protein, calcium and phosphorous are other notable vitamins and nutrients found in this superfood, as well.

Since one-ounce packs a powerful 11 grams of fiber, 5 grams of Omega-3s, 4.4 grams of protein and 137 calories, the recommended dosage is 3 tablespoons per day. You don’t want to eat much more than that, because they are high in calories and too much may lead to stomach pain. To purchase chia seeds, visit stores like Whole Foods ($8.99), go online at ($6.25) or check the supplements section at various vitamin shops.

Flax seed
Flax seeds are very similar to chia seeds in that they have a high Omega-3 and fiber content, but flax must be blended in order to digest. They have a toasty flavor and have been said to help lower cholesterol. They also provide a good source of lignans, which act as antioxidants. Pastry-lovers incorporate the seeds into baked goods, using them as a partial substitute for flour in recipes for waffles, muffins or breads. Flax flavor can also be masked in dark sauces, yogurt, or smoothies. The suggested dose is 1-2 tablespoons daily.

While flax seeds may lack the variability that chia seeds have, they make up for in cheapness and accessibility. When choosing between the two, it comes down to personal preference. Try each one to see which flavor and texture your taste buds prefer. You can grind flax seeds yourself or buy them already ground at most supermarket chains like Whole Foods ($2.75) or online at Amazon ($3).

Hemp seed
The hemp seed’s history began in China 6,000 years ago, when the Chinese discovered the nutritional benefits of the infamous Cannabis plant (Napoli, Jessica, The seed then traveled to Europe and was made into hemp butter. Although hemp seeds have zero drug-like properties, Cannabis is still illegal to grow in the U.S., so the supply generally comes from Canada.

Hemp is ideal for vegetarians and vegans, because it consists of all of the essential amino acids, making it an invaluable protein source. The protein found in hemp is actually double that of flax seed. And it contains three times the amount of Vitamin E that flax has. It is very easily digestible and not genetically modified. The essential fatty acids hemp holds are mainly Omega-6s, which are great for the hair, skin, nails, metabolism, bone health and the reproductive system.

You can purchase hemp in a variety of forms – hemp oil, hemp powder, or hemp protein – but it is most commonly ground into a powder to put in smoothies and shakes as an extra boost. Two tablespoons a day is plenty, which will give you 6 grams of fat, 2 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of solid protein. The only drawback of the hemp seed is that it is almost exclusively available on the Internet ($16).

Wheat germ
Don’t let the word “germ” deter you from eating this nutrient-filled food. Wheat germ is actually the nutrient-filled embryo of a wheat kernel meant to nourish a new wheat plant. However, it is removed from wheat in the refining process in order to increase bread and flour shelf life, so we are forced to add wheat germ to our diets in other ways.

Sprinkle wheat germ into your breakfast (like yogurt) or any meal to add a little crunch. Just two tablespoons is 60 calories, consisting of 9 grams of carbs, 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of fiber, and 2 grams of sugar. Plus, you get the added benefits of vitamin B and E, phytosterols to lower cholesterol, Omega-3 fatty acids and various minerals like zinc, magnesium, and calcium. If you are lacking variety in your diet, wheat germ is a wise addition. It is available at almost all supermarkets and of course online ($7).

Wheat grass
Wheat grass is in fact pure grass, and it tastes like grass, too. However, I have tried it myself and it is not half bad. It is most commonly cut and juiced on the spot then taken as a wheat grass “shot”, but also comes in powder form. Although not all benefits are scientifically proven, it is extensively believed to improve health in many ways that flax and chia seeds cannot. One unique property is chlorophyll, which is a natural healer that rebuilds red blood cells, purifies the liver and neutralizes toxins in the body. Because of the large amount of enzymes, it is also said to stimulate your metabolism and clear your digestive system.

Wheat grass outshines other green vegetables like spinach and broccoli in nutrients. One scoop contains a mere 15 calories, 1 gram of protein, 0 sugars, and over 90 vital nutrients and minerals. If you can get past the grassy taste, wheat grass could be a very beneficial addition to your diet. Buy wheat grass shots at juice bars like Jamba Juice ($2.99), or buy wheatgrass powder online from Vitamin Shoppe ($20.99) or Amazon ($18).

Whey protein
Originally, whey was a waste discarded by cheese manufacturers. Now, it is a ubiquitous protein product used by body builders and young adults alike. So does that mean you should use it, too? Whey protein can have significant health benefits, but could also lead to some annoying complications.

Whey protein is known as a complete protein, meaning it has all 9 essential amino acids. When taken with food, it slows digestion and promotes protein synthesis to build muscle. When taken alone, especially directly before or after workouts, it can significantly increase muscle size. No worries, you will not turn into a bodybuilder unless you take high amounts and work out!

The risks associated with whey protein are indigestion, bloating, gas, cramps and fatigue. The amount of whey you should eat strongly depends on your lifestyle and diet. For an on-the-go diet, whey protein can be a fast protein source; for vegetarians, a protein replacement; for workout enthusiasts, large amounts can increase muscle mass. One scoop of flavored whey protein powder usually contains about 100 calories. Make sure to correctly allocate the protein to fit into your recommended daily calorie intake so you don’t overdo it. Retail stores like Target ($19.99) or Wal-Mart ($15.98) sell tubs of whey protein and it is also available online at the store websites or Amazon ($15).

Making a Decision
So, what’s the final verdict? It seems that even though these health products may be overly commercialized, each seed, plant and protein listed above really does provide vital health benefits. It can be very difficult to incorporate all the necessary vitamins and nutrients into a college diet, so after analyzing all of the pros and cons, judge for yourself what product might be the best fit for a more-fit you.

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"7 Good Reasons to Start Eating Chia Seeds." N.p., n.d. Web. 03

Bourne, R. "Chia Seeds: An Ancient Super Food for Today's Health Conscious  
Consumer." Yahoo. N.p., 7 May 2007. Web. 03 Nov. 2013.

Napoli, Jessica. "Hemp – Alot of Nutrition in a Tiny Seed." N.p., n.d.

Sugar, Alana. "A New Take on Ancient Seeds." Whole Foods Market. N.p., 4

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