Some carb choices better than others

177349526I recently had a physical, and the results of my blood sugar test were a little high. Since then, I started examining carbohydrate amounts on Nutrition Facts labels, and am surprised at how many carbs are in one of my favorite foods, black beans. Can I fit black beans into a lower-carb diet?

You don’t say how low in carbohydrates you want to go, but the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults get 45-65 percent of calories from carbohydrates, with 10-35 percent from protein and 20-35 percent from fat. To do the math, you need to know that carbohydrates and protein each have 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. So, if you’re eating, say, 1,800 calories a day, and want to trim carbohydrates to 45 percent of your diet, you still can have 200 grams or about 800 calories a day in carbohydrates.

Instead of trimming all sources of carbohydrates, nutrition experts recommend consumers focus on cutting way back on added sugars and refined grains, including products made from white flour instead of whole wheat or other whole grains. Carbohydrates found naturally in foods such as beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat or nonfat dairy are generally considered to be healthful. They provide important nutrients and, often, lots of fiber — an important consideration.

A half-cup of black beans has about 23 grams of total carbohydrates, with 6 or more of those grams as fiber. Because the human body cannot digest fiber, it doesn’t contribute to increasing blood sugar. Many dietitians recommend that when eating a high-fiber food — one with 5 grams of fiber or more — you should subtract the fiber grams from the total carbohydrate count. In the case of black beans, you would subtract 6 grams of fiber from 23 grams of total carbohydrate, for a final carbohydrate count of 17 grams.

Fiber is important for a few reasons. First, it helps you feel full without added calories, and it helps keep your digestive system “regular.” Also, research indicates that people who eat 20 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed, which would be 36 grams of fiber on an 1,800-calorie-a-day diet, have better blood sugar control. The standard recommendation is to eat 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories. Most Americans don’t get that much.

So, go ahead and enjoy those black beans. They’ll do you good.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or

Experts remain on sidelines over chia

177044047Some of my friends are huge fans of chia seeds. Do they really offer so many health benefits, or is it just hype?

Chia seeds do have some great properties. But unlike the seeds of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, they aren’t magic, despite the enthusiasm of some vocal advocates. The science so far just hasn’t supported all of the press these little seeds have received.

But first the good news. Chia seeds are packed with nutrients. One ounce, about 2 tablespoons, offers about 18 percent of the calcium most adults need per day, 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, plus 4,900 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids — more than what you’ll find in flax seed. They are also touted for their high levels of antioxidants, which are higher than even in blueberries.

Some people say chia seeds have a mild, nutty flavor; to others, they are completely flavorless. Either way, they can be used ground or whole, sprinkled onto yogurt, cereal or salad. Chia seeds can also be used as a thickener in smoothies, soups or other foods. Chia’s binding properties make its gel a possible substitute for pectin in jam and eggs in baked goods or meat and vegetable patties.

But, if your primary reason to try chia is to test the product’s weight loss claims, you’ll need to take into account its high calorie content: Two tablespoons have nearly 140 calories. Promoters say chia seeds help with weight loss because they expand when exposed to liquid, so, like other high-fiber foods, they could help you feel full more quickly. Although that sounds good in theory, actual research hasn’t always supported the claim.

In a study published in Nutrition Research in 2009, researchers in North Carolina followed 76 overweight and obese participants for 12 weeks, with half consuming about 4 tablespoons of chia seeds a day and the other half getting a placebo. At the end of the study, researchers saw no difference in body mass or composition. Promoters also say chia seeds promote heart health and reduce blood sugar levels, but the same study didn’t find any effect on disease risk factors.

Other studies have found positive effects on weight, blood glucose and triglyceride levels, but these studies were much smaller. Experts who have reviewed the scientific literature say that so far, the evidence for chia’s health effects is too limited to make a persuasive argument either way.

It is also important to note that if you have a sensitivity to sesame or mustard seeds, you may have a similar reaction to chia. And dietitians warn that anyone who takes high blood pressure medication or blood thinners should check with a doctor before jumping on the chia bandwagon.

Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1043, or


Wax off, wax on? Waxed produce OK

452415655Why is there a waxy substance on some of the fruits and vegetables I buy at the grocery store? Is it safe?

Some fruits and vegetables, especially those grown in warm climates, produce a natural waxy coating on the surface to prevent too much moisture from being lost.

When the crops are harvested and thoroughly cleaned before packaging and shipping, this natural wax is removed. If the wax isn’t present, produce that needs to travel a long distance may arrive damaged. So, produce handlers apply a thin coating of new wax to replace what was lost.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, applying the wax coating is helpful because it:

  • Helps the produce retain moisture and stay fresh.
  • Protects the produce from bruising and inhibits mold.
  • Prevents other physical damage or disease from harming the produce.
  • Enhances the product’s appearance.

While the wax can be made from several different materials, they all have to be approved by the FDA as safe to consume. Also, any fresh produce that is waxed must be labeled. The FDA recommends consumers look for labels that say, “Coated with food-grade vegetable-, petroleum-, beeswax-, or shellac-based wax or resin, to maintain freshness.”

Although “petroleum” and “shellac” are substances we don’t normally consume, the amount used is very small: A piece of waxed produce has only a drop or two of the microscopic coating. Still, for organic produce, the National Organic Program says wax can be applied only to non-edible portions of produce, except for organic citrus that can be waxed even though rinds could be used in juices and baking.

Wax is most often applied to apples, cucumbers, lemons, limes, oranges, other citrus fruit, bell peppers, eggplant and potatoes, although other types of produce also could be coated.

Since the coating is perfectly edible, there’s no need to worry about removing it before eating. Just rinse your produce, as usual, under running water. For cucumbers or other firm produce with a tougher rind, the FDA recommends using a vegetable scrub brush while rinsing under running water. You should do this even for produce that you intend to peel, especially cantaloupe. Doing so reduces the risk that any contaminants on the surface get onto the flesh as you cut through or otherwise handle the produce.

For more information on fresh produce, see the FDA web page at

Debate continues over ‘disease’ label

177320267I’m not sure what to make of the fact that so many people are now calling obesity a “disease.” What’s the point? Isn’t it a cop-out?

When the American Medical Association officially recognized obesity as a disease last June, the move was controversial.

But the idea behind classifying obesity as a disease rather than a “disorder” or “condition” has some merit: Health officials hoped it would encourage doctors to take more ownership in helping patients with weight-loss efforts and encourage more discussion about weight.

Still, in adopting the measure, the AMA essentially declared one-third of Americans as “sick” simply because of their weight, even if they don’t have any health problems. For that and other reasons, some health authorities continue to dispute the label.

Recently, new research has entered  the fray. The study, published online in January inPsychological Science, involved more than 700 people. Researchers found that participants who read an article labeling obesity as a disease tended to have a higher body image and reduced stigma about obesity. On the other hand, they also seemed less concerned about weight and saw eating healthfully as less important.

Experts are split on whether people have total control over their weight. Some point to evidence that hormones and other factors play a significant role in a person’s appetite and weight — circumstances that go beyond eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity. In addition, people wrestling with obesity often struggle with self-esteem issues, which present another roadblock in the battle of the bulge. Previous research has shown that having a healthy body image is extremely important to overall well-being and is associated with other health factors, including increased physical activity and reduced stress.

The bottom line? Maybe it’s not important whether obesity is a disease or not. If you’re battling a weight problem, it could be more advantageous to focus on overcoming any discomfort with the issue and having an upfront, honest discussion about your weight with your doctor or other health professional.

But don’t stop there. Self-esteem, stress reduction, physical activity and healthy eating all contribute greatly to overall health and well-being, and they’re all things you can make small but sustainable progress in. It’s important to also talk about these things with your doctor, as well as any medical or counseling options that may be helpful.