Is Sunflower oil really heart-healthy?

Sunflower oil rose to fame as being heart-healthy oil and is being used in many kitchens, restaurants and you will find it listed in abundant packaged products like chips and cookies. But is it really heart-healthy?

Why did the use of sunflower oil and other cooking oils increase?

For decades we have feared saturated fats like butter or coconut oil as being the unhealthy form of fat and so many organizations promoted using vegetable oils instead. And since the amount of saturated fat in sunflower oil is the lowest, it rose to fame as being heart-healthy. But what went unaccounted was the amount of omega-6 fats it contains. Also, the omega-6 and omega-3’s in it are not stable so when heated at a high temperature they can undergo oxidation and become pro-inflammatory.

What are the different types of fats?

To understand if sunflower oil is really heart-healthy let’s talk about different types of fats to make an informed decision.

Fats that are solid at room temperature for e.g. butter, ghee, coconut oil are “Saturated fats”. While on the other end of the spectrum, fats that are liquid at room temperature e.g. cooking oils are “Unsaturated fats”. You would have heard of the terms – Omega-3, 6, and 9. All of them together constitute unsaturated fats.

Unsaturated fats can be classified into:

1. Essential fats: both omega-3 (EPA, ALA, DHA) and omega-6 (Linoleic acid, arachidonic acid) are essential fats and together are called polyunsaturated fats aka PUFA. Essential means that our body cannot make it and we need to consume them from our foods for wellbeing.

2. Non-essential fats: while omega-9 (i.e. oleic acid) which is monounsaturated fats also known as MUFA is something that our body makes and hence is not classified as non-essential.

To summarize, omega-9 is a non-essential fat also known as MUFA while omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fats known as PUFA. But unlike PUFA which can react to heat and light, MUFA is stable when heated. This explains the rise in the use of cooking oils with high MUFA content e.g. canola oil.

What are the sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in our diet?

The sources of omega-6 fats in our diet are nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, meat, and dairy products. While the sources of omega-3 fats in our diet are walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and fish. Remember, as I mentioned earlier both 3’s and 6’s are essential fats and you need to consume them from food. However, it is important to consume plenty of omega-3 fats to maintain a beneficial ratio of healthy fats in our diet.

The ideal ratio of omega-3: omega-6 should be 1:4. But in the western diet, the balance is lost with that ratio being 1:16 or even more. Hence, of late you might have heard of omega-6 being unhealthy. Omega-6 itself is not unhealthy but the skewed ratio is unhealthy and brings a host of diseases like heart disease, obesity, stroke, and high blood pressure.

What to look for on the label if buying sunflower oil?

There are 3 types of sunflower oil:

1. High-oleic sunflower oil (80% omega-9)

2. Mid-oleic sunflower oil (65% omega-9)

3. Linoleic sunflower oil commonly labeled as sunflower oil (70% omega-6)

The most commonly available one is linoleic sunflower oil because that is the cheapest one and hence widely used in restaurants and packaged foods.

There are better options when it comes to cooking oil but still, if you want to purchase sunflower oil look for “high-oleic sunflower oil”.  You will know if it is the right one even when you look at the price label because typically high-oleic sunflower oil is 3x the cost.

What happens when you cook sunflower oil at high heat?

The widely available sunflower oil is high in omega-6 which when heated leads to the formation of lipid peroxides which are pro-inflammatory and damaging.

So if you are using sunflower oil, make sure the label says high-oleic sunflower oil. If it does not say that it means the sunflower oil has high omega-6 which is not heart-healthy and could be damaging when heated.

5 Nutritional Strategies for Boosting Immunity

Thank you @Natural Awakenings Dallas Metroplex Magazine for this opportunity allowing me to share my 5 key nutritional strategies that can give the immune system an upgrade! Check them out and include them for even better health. Article link:
A strong immune system is at the top of our minds these days. Now more than ever, having a robust immunity is a must. This fall with your new school and work routines, as a Mom and a Board-certified Clinical Nutritionist, I have 5 key strategies for you. Incorporate these in your daily nutritional intake for a boost to your immunity.
🥑Balanced breakfast: All meals should be balanced, but most importantly breakfast. Most common breakfast choices like cereals, pancakes, waffles, bagels, muffins, etc are loaded with sugar and white processed flour; they lack any nutrition. Starting the day with breakfast choices loaded in protein, healthy fats, and complex carbs can provide the necessary fuel for the immune system without causing a drop in energy levels in the middle of the day or untimely cravings.
🌈Eat all the colors of the rainbow: Include different colored fruits and vegetables that provide nutritional density with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients (which gives them the color). If I were to start a public health initiative to increase overall wellness it would be to “Eat more fruits and vegetables”.
💪🏼Probiotics: You might be thinking of your bottle of probiotics supplements, but there are foods that have live bacteria/probiotics. Probiotic food sources include fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, sourdough bread, and Indian foods like idli/dosa to name a few. Consume a variety of these foods for microbial diversity. If you are sticking to supplementation, rotation is more important than taking the same probiotic supplement consistently.
👊🏻Prebiotics: These fibers act as fuel for the healthy bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics do not get enough limelight but are essential for a healthy gut. Most food sources of prebiotics are plant-based: garlic, onions, artichokes, asparagus, chicory root, bananas, oats, legumes, and mushrooms. They will help achieve a healthier and more diverse microbiome. Since 70% of the immune system resides in the gut, both prebiotics and probiotics should be a vital part of your nutritional intake.
💊Supplementation: If necessary, taking a high potency professional quality multi–commonly termed as MVM (multi-vitamin-mineral)–can help fill nutritional gaps. Remember food first, supplement second if needed.
These 5 nutritional strategies will give your immune arsenal an upgrade along with exercise, adequate sleep, and vitamin D.
Be well, Niti.

Intermittent Fasting: Fad or Best-kept Secret to Healthy Aging?

Eating in a certain window of the day or week a.k.a intermittent fasting has been a consistent buzzword within the health and fitness world. There are claims for it to help with weight loss, overcome metabolic imbalances and improve health overall.
One thing to keep in mind is like everything else there is no one size fits all for intermittent fasting too. I wanted to present some evidence-based information so you can make an informed decision for yourself.

Is intermittent fasting a new intervention?

Intermittent fasting seems like a new health trend but looking back in time, fasting has been in practice for ages and has been part of almost all cultures and religions including Islam, Jainism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and many more. Fasting during Ramadan month in Islam, eating during light hours (sunrise to sunset) in Jainism, and mandatory fasting in times of limited food sources are examples of intermittent fasting in history. Historically, humans ate in certain windows of the day and did not eat throughout the day like in present times.

Why is intermittent fasting so popular these days?

Fasting does not involve complex calorie counting. There is no specific intermittent fasting diet that needs to be followed. In fact  an intermittent fasting schedule can be made to match any individual’s existing schedule comfortably. All these factors have led to the popularity of “Intermittent Fasting.”

What are the different versions of intermittent fasting?

They can be divided into four main versions based on how long the fasting is practiced:
1.      Time-restricted feeding (eating within a window of 6, 8, 10, 12 or 14 hours during the day) with 16/8 intermittent fasting being the most widely practiced these days
2.      5:2 fasting (eating for 5 days and fasting for 2 days every week)
3.      Alternate-day fasting and
4.      Periodic fasting (once a week or once every other week)

What is immunosenescence?

Immunosenescence pronounced as (ĭm″ū-nō-sĭ-nĕs′ĕns) sounds like a spelling bee word. It sure can be!
But is also a term that has been gathering interest in the scientific and health-care community.
Immunosenescence can be defined as a decline in immunity associated with advancing age and an increased frequency of infections and chronic diseases.

Why is it important to delay immunosenescence?

Aging is an irreversible process and so our goal is to find interventions that might delay the process of immunosenescence and consequently improve the quality of life.

Which form of intermittent fasting has shown the best results for healthy aging in research?

To delay immunosenescence and age gracefully in both men/women periodic fasting once a week or once every other week (fasting with only fruits and vegetables consuming <500kcal on the fasting day or going for water-only fasting) appears to show best results1,2. Besides, it is always advisable to include more vegetables in one’s diet.

What effect does periodic fasting have on our cells?

Periodic fasting has been shown to reduce the rate of aging and has also been shown to provide an anti-inflammatory effect. This periodic cycle of caloric restriction followed by re-feeding possibly helps delay immunosenescence by killing old, damaged cells and replacing them with young, functional, healthy cells1,2.

Is it very difficult to fast? Will I be able to fast?

These are valid concerns if you have never tried fasting before. Give yourself a month and trust me it gets easier. Try fasting on a busy day rather than the weekend which will keep your mind off of food. Green tea, black tea, clear broths, can act as appetite suppressants and help control hunger.

Can I eat whatever I like on days I am not fasting?

Fasting should not be an excuse to eat whatever you like on non-fasting days. Try to follow a nutritious diet on non-fasting days as well. After your fast, eat normally as if you never fasted. Be aware to not fall into binge eating the following day as it can nullify the benefits of intermittent fasting If you are a newbie and want to incorporate fasting in your lifestyle, I recommend reading- The complete guide to fasting by Dr. Jason Fung.

Periodic fasting or time-restricted feeding where one limits the hours of the day when one is eating (preferably early in the day following circadian rhythm) can be the best-kept secret our ancestors followed for their wellbeing.  Like most things, we are turning a full circle and realizing the wisdom of our ancestors around fasting!

Choi, I. Y., Lee, C., & Longo, V. D. (2017). Nutrition and fasting-mimicking diets in the prevention and treatment of autoimmune diseases and immunosenescence. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 455, 4–12.
Maijó, M., Clements, S. J., Ivory, K., Nicoletti, C., & Carding, S. R. (2014). Nutrition, diet, and immunosenescence. Mechanisms of aging and development, 136-137, 116–128.

Please share your insights or intermittent fasting benefits you would have experienced.
In health, Niti

Overcoming Hypertension with Nutrition & Lifestyle

Hypertension is a “silent, invisible killer” that rarely causes symptoms. One of the key risk factors for cardiovascular disease is hypertension. And so On this world hypertension day, our goal is to increase awareness and overcome hypertension with what we have under our control. Hypertension has become a global public health issue. Raised blood pressure is a serious warning sign that significant lifestyle changes are urgently needed. While medical interventions are necessary and please consult your healthcare practitioner for those, I wanted to share what I have in my toolkit- powerful nutritional and lifestyle interventions that can make an impact in reducing the risk of hypertension.

Attached below are presentation slides from a workshop I did on World Hypertension day for students of Delhi Pharmaceutical Sciences and Research University (DPSRU).

Eat more vegetables🥒🥕🍅

I will be working hard 👷‍♀️this last quarter in my Master’s program for the next two months and will miss posting and connecting! Wish me luck!🍀 Meanwhile, remember to eat your vegetables. You can never get an overdose from them and for most of us, it is always a work in progress!

This click ⬆️shows 10 days of produce consumption for my family of four. We got here after years of trying to add more produce instead of grains or other food groups. Saturday or Sunday afternoon is my meal prepping day when I wash, cut, and prep for the week ahead. A glimpse of my method to the madness!

Remember to eat your vegetables and I will see you around in a little bit💗

Fat is neither a friend nor foe! What matters is the type of fat…

Fat is important for health, and thinking of it to be either a friend or foe would be extreme. The answer of how much fat to consume is somewhere in the middle💛
Know the kind of fat consumption -they could be broadly classified into1️⃣ Saturated fats 2️⃣ Unsaturated fats 3️⃣ Dietary cholesterol and 4️⃣ Trans fat.

An easy distinction between the two widely used fat sources is that saturated fat is solid at room temperature 🧈 (some examples would be ghee, butter, coconut oil, etc.) while unsaturated sources of fat are liquid💧 (examples of which would be olive oil, avocado oil, sesame oil, etc).
👉🏼 Our body needs saturated fats for physiological functions but makes more than enough to meet the needs meaning there is no dietary requirement for consumption of saturated fats. Intake of saturated fats should be limited to less than 10% of daily caloric intake. The foods rich in saturated fats are those containing meat and cheese like pizza, burgers, sandwiches, etc and so watching the portion size is important.
👉🏼 Strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats like those found in avocado and olive oil is associated with reduced risk of CVD. ✨Therefore, saturated fats in the diet should be replaced with unsaturated fats when possible for better health as recommended in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans(DGA)👍
👉🏼 Cholesterol is an essential component of cell membrane and necessary for structural integrity of cells. But since our liver can produce it in ample amounts dietary sources of cholesterol are not necessary. Hence, DGA recommends to limit consumption to <300 mg per day or as little as possible. Animal foods like dairy, eggs, poultry, and meat are the rich sources of dietary cholesterol.
👉🏼 Trans fat is the manmade version of synthetic fat. The good news is in 2015 FDA recognized that trans fat is not safe and has made it mandatory for the food industry to remove partially hydrogenated oils in margarine and other packaged foods. So hopefully we do not need to read labels for trans fat anymore.

👉🏼 In summary, consume fat primarily from unsaturated fat sources like avocado and olive oil and lesser saturated fats and dietary cholesterol since our body can make those and no trans fat for optimal health!❤️

That was lot of info, some new and some you already knew. Stay tuned for my next post on cooking oils!

The Ultimate Dairy-Free Ice Cream: A Clean summer treat!🍨

In a quest to find a summer treat that tastes great 😋and is dairy-free I came up with this recipe. Over the last couple of years, I gradually transitioned from vegetarianism to veganism. Not saying you have to but in case you decide to, now is a great time. There is plenty of plant-based 🌱milk and products available. You will not miss out on any milk delicacies by choosing to be dairy-free.

Dairy-free ice cream was on my list for a long time now. So wanted to share my successful experiment with you guys! I should say our experiment because my 🐣kids helped me a lot and inspired me to go for it…So happy to find these products that yielded the best summer treat. Check out the recipe card for details. You can edit the flavorings as per your liking. I chose Saffron and nuts for my 1st try!

In case you are wondering what it tastes like, I would say it is “a must-try”. I feel even a dairy enthusiast cannot make out the difference, and to top it off it is even more flavorful. I will have to wait until my dad (a big dairy fan) comes over- cannot wait to see his reaction though😉
Shoutout to the American Nutrition Association for envisioning a healthy world, powered by nutrition and all the evidence-based recommendations.

An easy, delicious summer meal🥬Vegan lettuce wrap🥬

Features of this recipe that I love 🥬Fresh 🥬Delicious 🥬Low-carb 🥬Grain-free 🥬Readyin30mins
I first enjoyed this delicious dish at PFChangs. Little did I know it was so easy to make and enjoy at home as well. 😋Perfect summer meal. Since there is no grain or starchy vegetable in this recipe it is naturally low in carbohydrates. Add different sauces as per your preference and you cannot go wrong! Very delicious…:) Check out the recipe below ⬇️⬇️⬇️

Think…Vegetarian or Grainatarian?

For many many years, I thought 💭of myself as being a Vegetarian, eating some vegetables, and a lot of grains. Truly speaking I was a “Grainatarian.” Born in India, my cultural and religious beliefs taught me to be a vegetarian🟢 Nothing that I did specifically.

One day during a casual discussion before a meeting, a friend out of curiosity🤔 asked me how many vegetables do I consume daily as a vegetarian? This question of hers made me pause and on analyzing my intake I found myself relishing rice🍚 and tortillas/flatbreads🌾 mainly with a side of curry/vegetables/or lentils and plenty of dairy products.
What😳….I finally realized that I was a vegetarian who ate very little vegetables! An eye-opener👁️

On looking closely putting on my nutritionist lenses, I found some answers to the questions I had never thought of earlier. Even though 40% of the population in India follow a vegetarian dietary pattern, why aren’t they among the world’s healthiest people? My brain connected the dots. Plant-based dietary pattern is great once we make the right choices🤜🏼
Lots of fruits and vegetables, lentils/beans, nuts, seeds, and a side of grains are a part of my daily nutrition now. Along the way, I gave up dairy too so now a true Vegan🌱 That’s my story!

Now tell me what your dietary analysis reveals below?? ⬇️⬇️⬇️

What feeds the good bacteria in your gut?

The answer is FIBER!!
We all know fiber is important for our well being. But did you know that fiber is the fuel for good bacteria in your gut?🤔 Fiber is the non-digestible portion in plant-based foods that acts as fuel stimulating the growth of good bacteria in the gut.🥦
Only 5% of the US population meets the daily requirement of fiber. Dietary fiber is considered a “nutrient of public health concern” according to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Report.😲
Since plant-derived foods are the only sources of fiber you can meet your daily requirements by consuming fruits🍓, vegetables🥒, whole grains🌾, legumes🥗, nuts, and/or seeds. Plenty of choices!!
This fiber-rich click should get you some more ideas and also let me know what your favorite source of fiber is?