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QUESTIONS

1.  I understand that coconut palm sugar doesn't produce the bad carbohydrate effects of regular sugar. What do you know about this product?

2. I often find myself overeating when I'm not hungry. Why?

3.  How do we properly dispose of energy saving light bulbs?

4.  How do I properly dispose of old prescriptions and expired vitamins?

5.  Is there any nutritional value in mushrooms?

6.  I'm feeling dehydrated. How much water should I be drinking each day?

7.  Should I eat only the white of the egg to be healthy?

8.  Should I buy all of my fruits and vegetables organic?

9.  I frequently get sick. What can I do about it?

10.  Are brown eggs healthier than white since they are more expensive?

11.  Is there a healthy sports drink?

12.  What brand of probiotics do you recommend?

13.  Why is soy to be avoided for breast cancer risk?

ANSWERS

1. I have drastically cut back on my sugar intake, but I still want to bake some healthy breads for breakfast. I recently made an apple, whole wheat bread with coconut palm sugar which is similar in taste to brown sugar. (I cut the sugar amount in half as well.) I understand that it doesn't produce the bad carbohydrate effects of regular sugar. What do you know about this product? Barbara S. from Schererville, Indiana

Great question, Barbara. Sugar is quite a big buzz these days. First of all, fantastic job making your own bread and cutting down the sugar from the recipe instructions! When buying coconut palm sugar, be sure to check the label of the product you are buying as some of the “palm sugar” sold is not pure coconut palm sugar but is blended with other fillers such as white cane sugar. Look for pure certified organic coconut palm sugar, such as the brand Sweet Tea. Pure coconut palm sugar is reportedly very low in fructose (though there is question about the authenticity of this claim), and its main sugar component is sucrose. The number of calories in coconut palm sugar is similar to the number in regular table sugar and its closer relative, brown sugar.

In my opinion, coconut palm sugar should not be considered a "health" food and should be used as a treat, just like any sugar. It seems like not enough independent information is out just yet to believe all of the claims about it being low in carbs and glycemic index. Also, there is a downside to coconut palm sugar that should be mentioned. Many believe that it is not a sustainable industry. Coconut trees farmed for the sugar cannot be used for their coconuts. This means that producing the palm sugar comes at the expense of wonderful things like coconut oil, milk, flour, and water. As more trees are converted to producing sugar, it will drive up the price for these other coconut products.

The bottom line is that there seems to be mixed opinions about coconut palm sugar—both from the health claims and sustainability. You could try using raw local honey or maple syrup as a "healthier" sugar substitute (keeping in mind that it's good to reduce all forms of sugar in your diet). You could also try substituting bananas, applesauce, or dates (or date syrup). On a related note for baking, a good substitute for white flour is almond flour. You might want to check out Against All Grain for some healthy recipe ideas.

2. I often find myself overeating even when I'm not hungry. Why?

People who overeat are often using food as a way to satisfy their emotional need, not their physical one. One of my overweight clients said that he did not eat to get full, he ate to change his mood. He would keep eating until he felt better. The problem is that with time, the quantity of food needed to feel better got larger and larger. Next time you find yourself overeating, stop and ask yourself why. If you are eating because you are hungry, great - keep eating (though recognize that it takes 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full). If you are eating to change your mood, take a moment and think about whether there is another way to satisfy the need. Go for a walk, call a friend, play with your pet, read a book.

3. We have gotten most of the house switched over to energy saving light bulbs, but now we have a few burning out, and I think I heard somewhere that they cannot be thrown in the "regular" recycle. True or am I making things up? And if so, how do we get rid of them properly? Tiffany D. from Danville, CA

First of all, great job switching over to energy saving light bulbs. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) use around 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times as long as standard incandescent light bulbs. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if every home in the U.S. replaced one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, the energy savings would be enough to power three million homes for a year. However, you are right. Because CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, they should be disposed of properly. If you go to Earth 911 and type in "light bulb" and your zip code, you will get a list of local places to return your energy efficient bulbs. Typically home improvement places like Home Depot and Loews will take them. Thanks for being kind to the environment and not just throwing them in the trash.

4. How do I properly dispose of old prescriptions and expired vitamins? Christy S. from Alamo, CA

Great question! Many people throw old medications in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Neither of these are ideal solutions for the environment. Medications thrown in the trash find their way into the soil and those flushed down the toilet make their way into our water supply. Eighty percent of the streams and nearly 25% of groundwater in the U.S. have been found to be contaminated with a variety of medications. Many places like police departments and pharmacies have take-back programs for unwanted medications. To find a place near you, go to Earth 911 or Dispose My Meds. Simply type in your zip code to find a place near you. The same places that take your medications should also take your unwanted vitamins.

5. Is there any nutritional value in mushrooms? Janet F. from San Ramon, CA

Yes! The health benefits vary with the type of mushroom. Button mushrooms are the ones you see most often. These include white, crimini, and portobello. Button mushrooms are an excellent source of many minerals, including selenium, copper, potassium, and zinc. They are also an excellent source of B vitamins. The health superstars in the mushroom family are shiitake, maitake, and reishi. These mushrooms are excellent sources of selenium, polysaccharides, and iron. They are also good sources of protein, dietary fiber, and vitamin C. Shiitake mushrooms help to boost the immune system and lower cholesterol levels. Maitake mushrooms are thought to help fight cancer. Reishi mushrooms are known to boost the immune system and help treat viral infections. So, enjoy your mushrooms! They are helping to promote your health, even the most common ones.

6. I'm feeling dehydrated. How much water should I be drinking each day?
Mike D. from Tracy, CA

Water is the regulator of all of our body's functions and is the main source of energy transport for every cell in our body. Dehydration can lead to a variety of health problems. Try to drink 48 to 64 ounces of water daily, tending toward the higher end if you drink a lot of coffee, alcohol, or soda. Dehydration contributes to toxic overload in the body which can lead to a variety of health problems including arthritis, asthma, colitis, depression, diabetes, heartburn, headaches, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and low back and neck pain. Drinking water is a great way to promote health in your body. Do you have a cup of water next to you now? If not, go get one!

7. Should I eat only the white of the egg to be healthy?

No, just the opposite. The yolk is the healthiest part of the egg where all of the nutrients are. Eggs are a fantastic source of protein (has all of the essential amino acids) and have a lot of vitamins and minerals. Just some more info about the yolks - Yolks contain more than 90% of the calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, B6, folate, and B12 of the egg. In addition, the yolks contain all of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in the egg, as well as all of the essential fatty acids. Although eggs get a bad rap for raising cholesterol, research is showing this not to be the case. So don't be afraid to eat an egg - all of it!

8. Should I buy all of my fruits and vegetables organic?

In a perfect world, yes. But sometimes, money and availability can prevent this. The Environmental Working Group puts out a guide highlighting which fruits and vegetables have the highest pesticides ("Dirty Dozen") and which 15 are the cleanest ("Clean 15"). Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables a day from the Clean 15 list rather than from the Dirty Dozen can lower your pesticide intake by up to 92 percent. Produce listed on the Dirty Dozen should be bought organic, when possible. The Dirty Dozen are apples, celery, strawberries, peaches, spinach, nectarines, grapes, sweet bell peppers, potatoes, hot peppers, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. The Clean 15 are onions, corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, eggplant, cantaloupe, kiwi, cabbage, papayas, sweet potatoes, grapefruit, and mushrooms. You can download a free app here by signing up for the EWG newsletter.

9. I frequently get sick. What can I do about it?
 Jennifer S. from San Pedro, CA

Wash your hands! This can protect you from respiratory diseases, stomach disease, germs, and viruses. Technique is more important than technology, so washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (sing Happy Birthday twice in your head) will leave you better off than using hand sanitizers. Sanitizers are a great alternative if no soap and water are available, but they do not eliminate all types of germs.

10. Are brown eggs healthier than white since they are more expensive?

No! There is no nutritional difference between brown and white eggs. The only distinction between the two is the price and color. White eggs get their color from being produced by hens with white feathers and ear lobes, while brown shelled eggs are produced by hens with red feathers and red ear lobes. Save money and buy white, preferably from hens that are humanely treated.

11. Is there a healthy sports drink?

Yes, try coconut water. It is all natural and has more potassium, less sodium, and less sugar than most manufactured sports drinks. If you don't love the taste, try adding fresh lemon or lime juice to it.

12. What brand of probiotics do you recommend? Kristin R. from Paso Robles, CA

A few of the brands I recommend are Garden of Life Raw Probiotics that you can get at Whole Foods. Pearls is also a good brand. It is cheaper at Amazon, but carried at Whole Foods too. Other brands I recommend that you can find online are Strengtia by Apex Energetics and Probiotic Synergy by Designs for Health. Look for brands that contain Lactobaccillus and Sacchromyces Boulardi as ingredients.

13. Why is soy to be avoided for breast cancer risk? Paul C. from Berkeley, CA

Such an important question, Paul. There is some controversy about the connection between soy and breast cancer. The argument for not eating soy to reduce breast cancer risk is that soy foods contain isoflavones, which are chemically similar to estrogens. Estrogen is linked to hormonally-sensitive cancers in women, such as breast cancer. Others say there is no connection between soy and breast cancer. If you are concerned about breast cancer risk, the jury is still out with people on both sides of the argument, but I err on the side of caution (I ham at risk for breast cancer) and avoid soy altogether.

On a side note, soy is typically a very processed food, so if you are going to eat soy, it is best to eat it as pure as you can (e.g. tempeh or edamame). Also, a lot of the soy products on the market are genetically modified, so search for ones that are not.

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