Week of July 27, 2009
Contact: Mya Nelson, (202) 328-7744

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: How can I meet calcium needs on a plant-based diet?

A: A plant-based diet means eating mostly, not only, plant foods. So you can get most of your calcium from dairy products, which provide calcium in concentrated amounts in a well-absorbed form. Current federal recommendations for adults of 1000 to 1200 mg of calcium per day can be met by a variety of healthy foods that includes 2.5 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt or cheese. You can also choose plant-based options for some or all of those servings. The amount of calcium in one dairy serving can come from one serving of calcium-fortified orange juice, calcium-fortified bread, or calcium-fortified soy milk or soy yogurt. Tofu is another option, though check the label because the calcium content varies widely. A number of dark green leafy vegetables also provide calcium but these alone will not supply calcium needs because of the body’s limited ability to absorb the vegetable form of calcium. To get an amount of absorbed calcium from vegetables equivalent to one serving of dairy products requires: 1/2 cup of Chinese cabbage, 1 to 1 1/2 cups kale or bok choy, more than 2 cups of broccoli, and 8 cups of cooked spinach. For individuals who can’t or don't want to develop a combination of these options to meet their calcium needs, a calcium supplement would be advised.

Q: How do crab and clams rate as healthy seafood choices?

A: As with most seafood, the healthfulness of crab and clams depends on how you prepare them. Neither ranks among the high sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fat. But nonetheless, with about 85 calories in a three-ounce cooked portion of crab, or 125 calories in cooked clams, each providing less than two grams of fat and 0.2 grams of saturated fat, both are lean, healthy choices. However, that picture changes drastically with high-fat cooking methods. Clam strips that are breaded and fried contain about 330 calories and 20 grams of fat in that three-ounce portion (just a half-cup). Crab cakes’ content varies widely with the recipe, but may contain 150 to 300 calories, which goes higher if you top it with a fat-based sauce. One bowl of clam or crab cream-based bisque or chowder may contain from 320 to 500 calories and 15 to 40-plus grams of fat. So enjoy both of these delicious seafood choices, but remember the impact in your choice of preparation.

Q: Are all types of grapefruit juice equally effective at promoting weight loss?

A: Actually, statements that grapefruit or grapefruit juice can somehow burn body fat are not true. Even the one study widely circulating on the Internet, in which people consuming grapefruit or grapefruit juice before each meal lost more weight than people who ate no grapefruit, does not prove that the grapefruit was responsible. A wide variety of ways to “fill up” before meals in order to reduce consumption of other, higher calorie foods have been successful in the short-run, but this does not necessarily make them the key to a long-term healthy weight, at least not alone. Grapefruit juice, like grapefruit, is an excellent source of vitamin C and antioxidants. So choose whatever type of grapefruit juice you like, and if drinking it before a meal helps you get used to smaller portions of food at your meals, that’s great. But keep in mind that it’s not a fat-burner to be consumed in endless amounts. The 96 calories per cup will add up if you overdo. And, of course, make sure you are working on ways you can continue long-term to keep calorie consumption in balance with what you burn up in activity.

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