Ask the Expert: Ask the Nutritionist, Claire Carlton

By Claire Carlton, MS, RD, LD/N
Claire Carlton

Claire Carlton is a registered dietitian and nutritionist practicing in her hometown of Gainesville. She earned her Bachelor of Science in nutrition and dietetics at University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida.

Q. Why does your pee smell after you eat asparagus?

A. Asparagus contains a compound called asparagusic acid. During digestion this compound is converted to volatile sulfur compounds with a strong odor. Not everyone has the ability to detect this odor in urine. Whether or not we actually smell this odor has to do with our genes and a specific mutation in one of the dozens of genes that code for scent receptors.

Q. Is there anything I can eat to help my memory?

A. Cognitive decline appears to be associated with inflammation, poor vascular health and oxidative damage. I would recommend dietary and lifestyle changes that fight inflammation, including an increase in omega-3 foods such as wild salmon, walnuts and flax seed. Certain herbs and spices such as ginger and turmeric also have anti-inflammatory properties. Decreasing inflammation in the body includes identifying the source. Consuming foods your body is sensitive or intolerant to could be causing inflammation. Excess alcohol, high intake of refined carbohydrate foods, chronic emotional stress, poor gut health and chronic diseases such as diabetes can increase inflammation as well. In addition, I would recommend eating foods high in antioxidants to combat oxidative stress. These foods fight free radical damage; think of brightly colored fruits and vegetables and literally “eat the rainbow.” Make it a goal to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.

Q. I am about to turn 40, and my hair has become dry and is breaking and falling out. What can I add to my diet to keep my locks shiny?

A. The symptoms you are experiencing could be a sign of a nutrient deficiency. Dull, lackluster or thin hair might indicate a protein, iron, zinc or essential fatty acid deficiency. Nutrient deficiencies can result from a diet inadequate in a particular nutrient or a problem with the absorption and utilization of the nutrients you are consuming. There are many digestive problems or conditions that could be contributing to poor nutrient absorption and utilization, including low stomach acid, fat malabsorption and less than optimal gut flora. I would speak with your doctor about testing for micronutrient deficiencies to determine if you are deficient.

Q. Is drinking a glass of wine a day actually good for you? What are the exceptions?

A. Alcohol in moderation can provide some health benefits. Moderation is defined as no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. One drink equals a 12-ounce beer, a 4–5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof whiskey, scotch, gin or vodka. Alcohol increases protective HDL cholesterol levels, an important factor in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Resveratrol, the antioxidant in red wine, may lower the risk of certain diseases, however the amount required would be so high that we could not obtain it through drinking wine. Keep in mind that alcohol is considered a toxin and it contains seven calories per gram, so if you’re trying to lose weight, avoiding alcohol is a good idea. People with a history of addiction or alcoholism or those taking medications that interact with alcohol should not drink. Exercise also increases good HDL cholesterol levels, so whether you drink alcohol or not, exercise is important for a healthy heart!

Q. What is something we should never eat?

A. Trans fats! Fats that are liquid at room temperature such as soybean or cottonseed oil undergo a process during which their chemical structure is altered to make them solid at room temperature. These artificial, man-made trans fats are used in many processed snack foods including peanut butter, packaged cakes, cookies, crackers, margarines and some fried foods. You can identify them on a label by reading the ingredients list and searching for hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil. These fats are very harmful to heart health as they increase bad LDL cholesterol levels and decrease protective HDL cholesterol levels. Research also shows that these fats change cell membrane function and alter the way cholesterol is removed from the blood. I recommend switching to real butter over margarine, using natural peanut butter (ingredients should include peanuts and salt) and limiting intake of processed snack foods by finding alternatives without trans fats or making your own.

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