A new research study from Loma Linda University (LLU) demonstrates that naturally occurring antioxidants in pecans may help contribute to heart health and disease prevention; the results were published in the January 2011 issue of The Journal of Nutrition.
Pecans contain different forms of the antioxidant vitamin E — known as tocopherols, plus numerous phenolic substances, many of them with antioxidant abilities. The nuts are especially rich in one form of vitamin E called gamma-tocopherols. The findings illustrate that after eating pecans, gamma-tocopherol levels in the body doubled and unhealthy oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol in the blood decreased by as much as 33 percent. Oxidized LDLs may further contribute to inflammation in the arteries and place people at greater risk of cardiovascular problems. “Our tests show that eating pecans increases the amount of healthy antioxidants in the body,” says LLU researcher Ella Haddad, DrPH, associate professor in the School of Public Health department of nutrition. “This protective effect is important in helping to prevent development of various diseases such as cancer and heart disease.”
These findings are from a research project designed to further evaluate the health benefits of pecans, according to Dr. Haddad. She analyzed biomarkers in blood and urine samples from study participants (a total of 16 men and women between the ages 23 and 44) who ate a sequence of three diets composed of whole pecans, pecans blended with water, or a control meal of equivalent nutrient composition. The pecan meals contained about three ounces of the nut. Samples were taken prior to meals and at intervals up to 24 hours after eating. Following the test meals composed of whole pecans and blended pecans, researchers found that amounts of gamma-tocopherols (vitamin E) in the body doubled eight hours after both meals, and oxygen radical absorbance capabilities (ORAC — a scientific method for measuring antioxidant power in the blood) increased 12 and 10 percent respectively two hours after the meals. In addition, following the whole-pecan meal, oxidized LDL cholesterol decreased by 30 percent (after 2 hours), 33 percent (after 3 hours), and 26 percent (after 8 hours).
“This study is another piece of evidence that pecans are a healthy food,” says Dr. Haddad. “Previous research has shown that pecans contain antioxidant factors. Our study shows these antioxidants are indeed absorbed in the body and provide a protective effect against diseases.” Research from Loma Linda University published earlier in the Journal of Nutrition showed that a pecan-enriched diet lowered levels of LDL cholesterol by 16.5 percent — more than twice the American Heart Association’s Step I diet, which was used as the control diet in that study. Similarly, the pecan-enriched diet lowered total cholesterol levels by 11.3 percent (also twice as much as the Step I diet).
The authors used survey data from Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), in which two groups of adolescents (1608 middle school and 3074 high school students) completed surveys in 1999 and 2004 regarding eating habits, parental styles, and various socioeconomic variables.
Cross-sectional results for adolescent girls indicated a positive association between maternal and paternal authoritative parenting style and frequency of family meals. For adolescent boys, maternal authoritative parenting style was associated with more frequent family meals. Longitudinal results indicated that authoritative parenting style predicted higher frequency of family meals five years later, but only between mothers and sons or between fathers and daughters.
There are some tricks that can help make any fast food meal better for you and your family. Follow these tips to cut down on fat, sodium, sugar, overall calories and make your meal healthier:
- If you are ordering á la Carte items on the menu, find out if there is a child’s size available. Another option is to order the regular size and split the order and share it. Avoid ordering extra large portions just because they are a deal! These deals usually have the words jumbo, giant, super sized or deluxe in the name.
- Don’t be shy about making substitutions! Children love kid’s meals because it comes with a toy and it is usually in a cool looking box. Let them order it but ask to make substitutions for the fries and soda if possible. Many restaurants will offer milk or water as a beverage and apple slices instead of fries.
- Talk to your child before ordering a meal and give them a choice of milk, juice or water (make sure it is low fat milk or 100% fruit juice.) Explain to them that soda is high in empty calories that will just fill up their tummies.
- Let your child know that they can ask for items prepared a specific way. For example, salad dressing on the side, baked or grilled instead of fried, brown rice instead of white rice.
- Finally, set a good example by ordering a healthy meal for yourself.
What Can Parents Do?
By learning how the food is prepared, you will be able to make healthier choices ordering from a menu:
- Order foods that are not breaded or fried because they are higher in fat and calories. Foods that are breaded and deep fried include: chicken nuggets, fried chicken, fried fish sandwiches, onion rings and french fries.
- Order foods that are prepared by being steamed, broiled, grilled, poached, or roasted.
- Have gravy, sauces and dressings served on the side so you can control the amount you eat.
- Use salsa and mustard instead of mayonnaise.
- Use non-fat milk or low fat milk instead of whole milk or heavy cream.
- Order a salad with ‘lite’ or non-fat dressing instead of regular dressing.
- Choose a regular, single patty hamburger without mayonnaise and cheese.
Over the last few years, many chain restaurants have been adding healthier menu options. They also started providing nutrition information for all the foods on the menu, but you usually need to ask for it. Try checking their website as well for additional information.
Hamburger fast food restaurants are the most popular with children. However, other options are available such as Asian food, sandwiches, or Mexican grills. Keep in mind that every fast food restaurant has both healthy and less-healthy choices. Here are some pointers to remember that can help you make better choices when eating out at various fast food places:
- Choose grilled soft tacos or burritos instead of a crispy shell or gordita-type burritos.
- Black beans are a better choice because they have less fat than refried beans.
- Ahhh, the Mexican condiments! Salsa is low in calories and fat and it makes a great substitute for sour cream, guacamole and cheese.
- Choose lean meats such as chicken breast, lean ham or roast beef, instead of salami or bacon.
- Ask for 100% whole wheat bread for sandwiches. Skip the croissants and biscuits because they are high in fat.
- Add low fat salad dressings instead of special sauces or mayonnaise.
- Choose baked chips or pretzels instead of regular potato chips.
- Steamed brown rice has more nutrients and less calories than fried rice.
- Stir fried, steamed, roasted or broiled dishes are healthier choices than battered or deep fried.
- Sauces such as low sodium soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, wasabi, or ginger are better choices than sweet and sour sauce or coconut milk.
It’s OK to enjoy fast food once in a while, but try to limit the visits to no more than twice a month. An average meal at a fast food restaurant has around 1000 calories and does not have the vitamins, minerals and other important nutrients that your child needs to grow healthy and strong. While fast food consumption has greatly increased over the years there are several contributing factors why childhood obesity is becoming more and more prevalent. While all the above information is important, we need to keep things in perspective by understanding that the weight epidemic in this country is because of how much food children eat, rather than what food children eat.
If your family is going to have fast food for one meal, just make sure the other meals that day contain healthier foods like fruits and vegetables. Perhaps you could take an afternoon with your child and prepare a few homemade meals in advance that can be served quickly to avoid the temptation of getting fast food too often while at the same time teaching them some simple food preparation steps. Either way, just remember, it is not that difficult to eat healthy even when you don’t have much time.
This family wellness article is provided by Nourish Interactive, visitwww.nourishinteractive.com for nutrition articles, family wellness tips, free children's healthy games, and tools. Available in English and Spanish.
Copyright ©2009 Nourish Interactive – All Rights Reserved.
The UK Government has made available a new, free cookbook for all 11-year olds today, to help them learn healthy versions of old favourites – from spaghetti bolognaise; risotto; lamb hot pot; lamb rogan josh; roast chicken legs; chow mein; and apple crumble.
The 'Real Meals – Simple Cooking Made Easy' cookbook containing 32 classic recipes and sauces and endorsed by top chef Phil Vickery, was chosen after the public was asked to nominate the basic dishes every child should learn how to cook.
The cookbook is available online at
Home-cooked meals are at the heart of a healthy diet. Keep the food you prepare at home both delicious and safe by taking control of home food safety. If you handle food properly, you can significantly reduce your risk for foodborne illness.
Eating alone can be difficult for people of any age. It may not seem worth the effort to cook just for you. But there are ways to put the fun back into eating. Start with keeping your cupboards well stocked with nutritious foods that you enjoy. Studies show that when you eat with others, you tend to have an improved nutrient intake. So, sit down with some friends, family members or neighbours and enjoy their company while you dine. Treat yourself well; you deserve it!
Make it a pleasure
- Create a pleasant place to eat. Set a table with flowers, place mat and napkin, even candles. Listen to music.
- Sometimes moving to a different location or doing something else while eating is helpful. Take your meal out on the porch, sit near a window, go to the park for a picnic, watch TV or read a book.
- Enjoy a dinner out in a restaurant occasionally. Ask for a “doggie bag” to take leftovers home.
- Want a break from cooking? Try a no-cook meal, ready-made meals or other convenience foods.
- Consider taking Meals on Wheels a few times a week or more.
- • Share a potluck dinner with a friend, or form a regular lunch group.
- Start an eating club. The host makes soup and others bring bread, salad or fruit.
- Join a collective kitchen or share cooking with friends. Find a place where a few of you can meet to plan, shop and prepare several meals together. Take those meals home, freeze them and pull them out when you don't feel like shopping or cooking.
- Ask other seniors who are alone for ideas and suggestions, and share yours.
- Exchange recipes.
- Teach your grandchildren how to cook or bake.
- Check your local senior or community centres; many serve weekly meals.
- Beyond the nutritional benefits of eating with others, starting a supper club or joining an eating group can also help you meet new people and forge new friendships.
If you have lost your appetite for more than a day or two, talk with your doctor. Nastaran can provide food and nutrition information you can trust.
©2009 Dietitians of Canada. Reproduced with permission.