Meatless burger crumbles, Gluten-free foods, and Sources of vitamin A

Q: Are meatless burger crumbles a healthy substitute for ground beef?
Q: My grocery store is now carrying more and more gluten-free foods. Are they healthier than others?
Q: Can a person get enough vitamin A from milk, fortified cereal and other food sources without eating dark green and orange vegetables?


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

Q: Are meatless burger crumbles a healthy substitute for ground beef?
A: Yes. Meatless crumbles, which are usually made from soy protein concentrate and wheat gluten, are a healthful alternative and can easily replace ground beef in many favorite dishes, including sloppy joes, chili, spaghetti sauce, burritos and casseroles. A three-ounce portion of the plant-based protein contains about 90 to 120 calories and zero to four grams of fat. This is substantially less than the 195 calories and 10 grams of fat found in the same portion of 90 percent lean ground beef. In addition, the convenient vegetarian crumbles even supply a few grams of dietary fiber. Since the latest major international report on diet and cancer risk emphasizes that research is stronger than ever linking red meat to colon cancer risk, using meatless crumbles is a great way to cut back on ground meat while continuing to serve your favorite dishes. If you decide to try the crumbles, experiment with different brands of both frozen and dried products to find the ones you like best. Compare sodium content, too, since some products can be unfortunately high.

Q: My grocery store is now carrying more and more gluten-free foods. Are they healthier than others?
A: Gluten-free food products are intended for use among consumers who suffer from celiac disease – a condition that triggers an autoimmune response to the protein gluten. Gluten is a natural component of grains like wheat, rye and barley, and many food companies also add gluten protein as a thickening agent to processed foods like soups and salad dressings. Exposure to even trace amounts of gluten is dangerous for people with celiac disease, resulting in damage to the digestive tract and causing both immediate symptoms and long-term health risks. Although the increased availability of gluten-free foods is wonderful for people diagnosed with celiac disease, if you don’t have the disease, there’s no reason to spend additional money on gluten-free products as they offer no advantage to the average consumer. If you think you may have a digestive problem related to wheat or gluten, see your doctor before you try a gluten-free diet. Your doctor can order a blood test to check for gluten sensitivity, but if you’ve already omitted gluten from your diet, the test won’t tell you anything.

Q: Can a person get enough vitamin A from milk, fortified cereal and other food sources without eating dark green and orange vegetables?
A: Vitamin A, most notable for its role in immune function, eye and skin health, is an essential nutrient. There are two major dietary sources of vitamin A. Animal foods such as milk, cheese, eggs and liver provide a pre-formed source of the vitamin, while plant sources, like dark green and orange vegetables, supply the nutrient as its precursor beta carotene. Fortified grains and cereals are also a source of the vitamin. Although you could obtain adequate amounts of vitamin A solely from animal sources, you would miss out on the important antioxidant properties provided by beta-carotene-rich vegetables and fruits. Antioxidants protect our cells from highly reactive “free radicals” that could otherwise damage cells and lead to cancer, heart disease and other health problems. In addition, people who don’t eat enough vegetables and fruits are likely to be low in other vitamins and minerals, including folate and potassium, as well as disease-fighting phytochemicals that occur naturally in plant foods; emerging laboratory science suggests that phytochemicals may block several steps in the cancer development process. Regardless of the non-plant-based sources of vitamin A in your diet, aim for at least five servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits every day to obtain a wide range of health benefits.

Reprinted with permission from the American Institute for Cancer Research

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