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For Immediate Release: October 15, 2009
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NW: Questions about oatmeal and cholesterol, dark v. milk chocolate, tonic and club soda

Week of November 16, 2009
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Nutrition Wise
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q. How much cholesterol-lowering power can I expect from one bowl of oatmeal a day?

A: The best research linking oatmeal consumption and cholesterol levels shows drops of about 10 mg/dl in LDL (“bad”) cholesterol with a daily serving of 3/4 cup of quick or old-fashioned oats as measured before cooking. A standard serving, according to the label, starts with a half-cup of oats, so the 3/4 cup would be one-and-a-half servings. This amount of oats – equivalent to three packets of instant oatmeal – provides three grams of soluble fiber. Although oats’ fiber (beta-glucan) is established as effective in lowering cholesterol, research also supports aiming for soluble fiber from a variety of sources, such as barley, legumes and many fruits. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, increasing consumption of soluble fiber by 5 to 10 grams a day can decrease LDL cholesterol about five percent. The program’s guidelines recommend aiming for a total of at least 5 to 10 grams of soluble fiber daily, and preferably 10 to 25 grams a day. So if two or three bowls of oatmeal is unrealistic for you, you could reach the overall target by combining options. For example, you get 2 grams of soluble fiber from each 1/2 cup oats (measured before cooking), 2 or 3 grams from each 1/2 cup of kidney beans or other legumes, and 1 or 2 grams from each piece of fruit or each half-cup of broccoli, carrots or some other vegetables. The amount your cholesterol drops will likely also depend on what foods oatmeal replaces: if it means you’re omitting some unhealthy foods like bacon and sausage or doughnuts, it may lead to a bigger change in blood cholesterol than if it replaces a generally healthy choice like a bowl of shredded wheat.

Q: I hear so much about antioxidants in dark chocolate providing health benefits. Does milk chocolate really offer nothing?

A: In equal size portions with equal calories, dark chocolate provides nearly three times the total antioxidant power that you get from milk chocolate, according to USDA data. Studies show that the higher the nonfat cocoa solids, the higher the antioxidant compounds chocolate contains. But milk chocolate’s antioxidants are also significant. In fact, the ORAC score (a measure of antioxidant power) of milk chocolate is higher than that of red grapes, blueberries, nuts or almonds if you compare equal weights of all foods. But that’s not a fair comparison, since you’d get many times more calories getting those antioxidants from chocolate (whether milk or dark chocolate) than from fruit. Furthermore, although nuts are concentrated in calories, they provide additional benefits beyond their antioxidants, such as fiber, protein and other nutrients. To maintain a healthy weight most people should limit chocolate to small amounts daily so it will only provide a fraction of a day’s antioxidant total compared to antioxidants from vegetables, fruits, whole grain, beans, nuts and other selections such as tea or coffee. Bottom line: You get more antioxidants from dark chocolate, but if milk chocolate is your preference, enjoy it and keep your focus on a balanced diet for the health benefits.

Q: Are tonic and club soda good low-sugar alternatives to regular soft drinks and sweetened mixers?

A: Club soda is a zero-calorie, zero-sugar beverage. However, tonic is not. Even though it does not taste very sweet, 12 ounces of tonic – with 124 calories and 32 grams of sugar (8 teaspoons) – is only slightly lower in sugar’s empty calories than regular soft drinks, which may contain from 135 to 150 calories in the same portion. And choosing tonic saves nothing compared to sweet mixers like Collins mix. The big calorie savings with these drinks would be drinking your tonic with just a squirt of lime or lemon and omitting the alcohol. If you’re really trying to avoid concentrated sugar and calories, stick with club soda, unsweetened seltzer and sparkling water options.

 

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