Week of May 14, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Will I get more nutrition from eating carrots raw or cooked?

A: Enjoy carrots both ways. Heating does not destroy the antioxidant compounds, alpha- and beta-carotene, that they provide. In fact, studies suggest our bodies absorb them better when carrots are chopped, grated, puréed or heated. When cooking, stir-frying is an excellent choice, as some fat enhances the body's ability to absorb these compounds. In one study, absorption of beta-carotene was almost seven times greater from stir-fried carrots than from raw carrots. However, that was looking at carrots consumed alone. If you eat carrots as part of a meal, the fat from other foods will be enough to help your body absorb carrots' carotenoids. Alpha- and beta-carotene are fat soluble and so are not likely to be lost in cooking water. But we don't fully understand all the protective phytochemicals in carrots and whether they are water-soluble. So in addition to stir-frying carrots, roasting, microwaving or steaming are better choices than boiling them in lots of water. Steaming is fast: quarter-inch thick carrot slices in a steamer basket over an inch or two of boiling water will be tender-crisp in five minutes. Adding chopped or grated raw carrots to vegetable and pasta salads are a few ways you can enjoy carrots in different foods.

Q: I've cut back on meals to try to lose weight, but I still snack. I don't seem to be losing weight so do I have to cut my snacks too?

A: It might be your snack choices that are holding you back. The latest national survey of U.S. eating habits shows that on average, about a third of the "empty calories" we eat come from our snacks. Empty calories are calories we get from foods that supply little if any nutrients or protective plant compounds. Many of the foods Americans typically choose for snacks come with a high calorie load in a relatively small portion. If snacks are part of your weight control challenge, consider nutritional, behavioral and psychological solutions. If you need only a small snack to tide you over to your next meal, fruit or raw vegetables would be a great choice instead of chips or sweets with calories that add up so quickly. For a snack that will sustain you longer, add a little protein, such as some yogurt or a handful of nuts. Perhaps the problem involves how you snack: if you sit down with the whole bag of chips or cookies, chances are that despite intentions to eat just a bit, you will eat more than you intended. Whatever you choose, take out the amount you think you need and put the container away. Another possibility is that you are using snacks to treat yourself or cope with stress and getting loads of empty calories your body doesn't need. Look for other ways to unwind that are truly being good to yourself, like taking a break for a brief walk around the block on a beautiful day or even a few moments of deep breathing to decompress. If none of these snacking problems is the issue, check your overall eating habits using the free online MyPlate Food Tracker. If you're not clear about how to make workable changes, find a registered dietitian who can help you individually to develop a strategy.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

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