Category Archives: Nutrition Myths & Truths

Sweet Potatoes & Spices

This week I’m featuring information about where to buy sweet potatoes and spices here in Cuenca, EC. In response to an article that I wrote on Cuenca HighLife, readers submitted tips for locating and cooking sweet potatoes (camotes) and different spices. Thanks for all of your contributions!purple_sweet_potatoes

Thanks to those who wrote in about where to find the best sweet potatoes in Cuenca, what are they called, how to best prepare, etc! Lots of good info:
A number of readers wrote to say that sweet potatoes are called “camote” or “camote amarilla”, and are found in a number of fresh mercados in the city.
Cheri wrote to say, “Many vendors sell the purple sweet potatoes, but the ones we’re used to in the States are called “camote amarillo”. We buy them at Feria Libre…and have heard they’re at the 10 de Agosto mercado. “
Other readers have also commented about using a microwave to start them off (I like to do this too): Bob reminds us to use a fork or knife to pierce the skin in a few places before microwaving (and scrub and rinse).
Gary at Gary’s Cakes & Bakery wrote, “The yellow orange sweet potato is called a batata, pronounced using the soft b or v sound. Most mercados do not have this but carry the purple camote. The camote has a similar flavor and texture but is not the same as the batata.
Here in Cuenca, water boils at about 198 F. If one is making a candy, you have to adjust the temperatures on your candy thermometer down by those 14 degrees F. When baking, it is a good idea to buy an oven thermometer and check the thermometer against the dial on the oven. I have found most ovens are way off the mark of the dial.
And Kathy wrote also about the “sweet potato lady” at the Feria Libre “who sells the best sweet potatoes I have ever had anywhere, hands down. The potatoes are from Peru (I just learned Peru has 3,000 kinds of potatoes). They look more like yams and it cost me about $1 for 5 big ones and she also sells dried chili peppers and Peruvian dark beer. I cook them in the oven at about 350 degrees for an hour and a half. You could also use a slow cooker. So the difficult part is where in the Feria Libre is this lady? (who is very sweet and looks like a kindly grandmother). She is not with all the other folks who sell potatoes. A friend found her by asking for sweet potatoes (camote) and I would add “de Peru”.

Chuck wrote to say, “The Comote lady is Amanda. Her booth is easy to find. Go to the street, parallel to las Americas, in back of the fiera libre. About mid block, look on the opposite side of the street from the market for a tienda named ¨Abcderia Israel¨. Directly across from that tienda is a small square building with bars on the windows. Amanda´s booth is between the small building and the market proper. Amanda sits with her back to the small building. When she sees a gringo approaching, she usually holds up a comote amarillo cut to show the yellow orange color because she knows that gringos prefer them to the purple variety, which she also sells.

Comote is a Nahuatl (the language spoken by the Aztecs) word. When we were in New Zealand, we were surprised to be see comote on the menu. We then checked the grocery stores and found sweet potatoes marked as comote. We also saw them labelled kumara, which is a Quechra word from Peru. We think this is linguistic evidence of pre European trade between Polynesia and Central or South America.”

Lucia y Yanni from Nectar wrote to say…”the sweet potato variety that one can mostly find in Cuenca is a purple inside that once cooked, smells like a rose. Check for freshness by digging you nail bypassing the skin and if it is soft – it should not be brown on the outside. Our preferred method of cooking: Brush and wash: add some water to a pan with the potatoes and bake, covered, in a pan with a little water at about 200 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes, then keep checking with a fork until soft. Or boil them on stovetop. after they are cooked, you slice them in half lengthwise and put them in a skillet cut side down with coconut oil, or a sunflower oil to sear that side for a few minutes, until you hear them sizzle. Sprinkle some cinnamon on the seared side. Yum!”
Regarding a good place to buy spices, a reader wrote to describe three: One on Remigo Crespo next to Boyoca, just east of Unidad National: very small, look hard. Another is a block and a half from the flower market downtown, on Padre Agurire between Presidente Cordova & Juan Jaramillio. It’s very small but has many good spices. The last one I use is by Mercado Doce De Abril. It’s on the corner across the street from the market.”
“Kong’s Mom” has some great recommendations: “My spice, grain and nut ‘go-to’ place in Cuenca is Esafran located on Padre Aguirre between Pres. Cordova and Juan Jaramillo in El Centro just south of the San Francisco market. The glass counter is full of nuts and spices and is almost flush with the sidewalk. You verbally request the items you want and the clerk brings them to you at the counter. This store stocks loads of items at fair prices e.g. golden raisins, dried cranberries, mustard seed, thyme, rosemary, cloves [whole and ground] along with a good selection of nuts e.g. peanuts, walnuts almonds [whole and slivered] and hazelnuts. Also quinoa, whole oats, sesame and flax seed can be found along with a host of other seeds, grains and goods for baking.
For cayenne, I just recently found a source at ‘Live Green Superfoods’ at their store at Luis Moreno Mora 323 y Francisco Moscosco. They have another store at Gran Colombia y Padre Aguirre but I don’t know if they stock cayenne there. To check on supply at this store you can contact owner Marcelo Garcia at or check out their Facebook page livegreensuperfoods.

Type 2 Diabetes – Can You Prevent It?

global diabetesLiving here in Cuenca, Ecuador, I’m both encouraged that there are more opportunities to eat healthfully – and discouraged that so many people are choosing to eat the SAD diet…the Standard American Diet. It’s not just North Americans who are eating fast food, greasy burgers, french fries and quaffing gallons of sugary soda – it’s Ecuadorians too – and they’re grappling with the unwanted side-effects of poor diet and less exercise – as most of the Western world is as well.

When it comes to our risk for diabetes – many people under-appreciate how lucky we are to have choice when it comes to what we eat. Food is one of the few things about our health and our future that we have control over.

Some things we have absolutely no control over. Our age, our height, our gender is set when we’re born.  Who our parents are, and the risk that they may pass down to us in terms of susceptibility to disease is written in stone – we can’t change our genes.

In North America, health experts predict dire straights ahead. One in three Americans born today will develop type 2 diabetes – with complications of heart disease, blindness, amputation, kidney failure and early death assured if the disease is not controlled.

More than 80% of newly diagnosed type 2’s are overweight or obese…type 2 is a “lifestyle” disease, one that’s closely linked to your weight and how much activity you get daily.
obese kids
In Ecuador, my new home, obesity and diabetes are growing epidemics – similar factors to what’s happening in the USA.

For many the lack of physical activity and the ongoing transition from reliance on home-grown and home-cooked foods to highly processed foods, sugar-laden beverages – leads to higher rates of obesity, which critically increases risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

What used to be seen only in adults is now known as type 2 diabetes – children as young as five are being diagnosed with this disease.

Because symptoms of Type 2 diabetes may be subtle at the start (blurred vision, poor healing, and neuropathy, excessive thirst and urination), on average, someone has type 2 for 6 years before they’re diagnosed – and by then, the damage is done…and it’s not reversible. Untreated and uncontrolled type 2 causes irreversible damage to eyes, peripheral nerves, then kidneys, and heart: it is the leading cause blindness, renal failure, and non-traumatic amputation.

The younger a child is when he or she becomes obese, the more likely they are to be obese as adults – and the higher the risk for type 2 diabetes.

How successful you are at controlling blood glucose meantype 2 dm kids either living with diabetes or getting very sick from diabetes. A diagnosis can be a lifesaver – why? Because from diagnosis you can take steps to prevent complications – you can control your future – day by day.

The Diabetes Prevention Program study conclusively showed that people with pre-diabetes can prevent and reverse the symptoms and improve insulin sensitivity. Subjects lost five to ten percent of their current weight, and incorporated just thirty minutes of moderate activity daily—and reduced incidence of progression to diabetes by 58 percent.

You can do this too. But, it’s got to be permanent. It’s not “lose weight and then go back to what you did before”. It’s losing weight by making permanent changes to your lifestyle with smart food and activity strategies. Weight loss has additional benefits, including lower blood pressure, less stress on joints and tendons, improving sleep and making you feel more energized. Keep up the activity, keep smart food choices permanent, and maintain your weight and your health indefinitely.

Get Screened
According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes is defined as fasting blood glucose of 126 mg/dL or greater.  A diagnosis of prediabetes means blood glucose levels are higher than normal (a fasting blood glucose level between 100 and 125 mg/dl) but not yet diabetic. If this is your diagnosis, you can take steps to avoid advancing to type 2 diabetes.

Forestall Your Fate
Experts predict that children born today will be the first to have a lifespan shorter than their parents. Type 2 diabetes is called an “epidemic” and like any other disease transmitted by personal contact people are more likely to “catch” obesity if their family members—and especially if their friends—are overweight or obese. However, the reverse is true as well, and if your best friends and family take steps to gain control—getting healthier and losing weight—that’s contagious, too. Choose your friends wisely, and be a role model to your family.
woman exercise
How you choose to live your life may increase—or lower your chances of getting type 2 diabetes.

Write down personal goals for losing weight and increasing activity: Some include staying healthy to avoid complications; feeling more energetic; fitting into good-looking clothes better.

Post your goals on your bathroom mirror, and greet them every morning – check in with them in the evening – how are you staying healthy? One day at a time.

Choose to Lose:  This week – what will you choose? Create one Food Goal and one Activity Goal:
I’ll switch to nonfat milk

I’ll cut one unhealthy food choice (fast food, anyone?)
I’ll eliminate soda and juice, and switch to water and a piece of fruit
If I choose a high calorie meal my other meals will be high in fiber and low in fat and calories.

This week I will walk for 10 minutes three mornings

This week I will use half of my lunch break to walk (either outside or using the stairs).
This week I will take an extra 20 minute walk on the weekend
I’ll get a pedometer and start logging my steps and increase my steps by 500 weekly.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease often passed down through generations. Take steps to make the changes to your lifestyle permanent, and defy your fate.

Speak with your physician if you’ve not exercised recently.


American Diabetes Association

American Heart Association

National Diabetes Prevention Program


Nutrition Myths: Focus on Fat

How much do you know about nutrition? It’s often hard toquestion separate the truths from the myths when it comes to nutrition, but my mission is to research the latest credible findings and recommendations from educated and credentialed experts. So, let’s see how much you know about nutrition myths and truths. Take this week’s quiz – no peeking! The answers are below – I’m looking forward to your comments – Tell me what you know – and if you have a favorite myth, please post it below – along with the truth.

Questions: Myths & Truths

  1. Fat-free diets are linked to the increase in obesity.
  2. Polyunsaturated fat has fewer calories than other fats.fat free myth
  3. If the label says “fat free” you can be assured it’s lower in calories.
  4. Eating eggs leads to high cholesterol.

 Answers: Myths & Truths

  1. Fat-free diets are linked to the increase in obesity.

Truth. Yes, the advent of fat-free diets are linked to the increase in obesity. High in take of refined carbohydrates – juices, white flour – are not only linked to obesity, but also inflammation and may increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Since fat contains more than twice the calories per gram compared to protein and carbohydrates ( 9 vs. 4), it’s important to choose your fats wisely, but not eliminate them. Foods such as nuts, avocado, seeds and fatty fish contain immune-promoting monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids – and are linked to better health.

  1. Polyunsaturated fats have fewer calories than other fats.

Myth. All fat has 9 calories per gram – and although some fats are healthy, because fat is highly concentrated in calories, be prudent – especially with added fats like deep friend foods and mayonnaise and butter.

  1. If the label says “fat-free” you can be assured it’s lower in calories.

NutMyth_FatFreeCookieMyth. Experts link the “fat-free” craze to the increase in obesity. One of my favorite examples are cookies – “fat-free” can have the same calories per serving compared to the original. When manufacturers eliminate fat, they’ll often add more sugar to make up for the texture and taste changes. Yes, for sure – some reduced and fat-free dairy and dressings are lower in calories compared to the original, but read the label to compare ingredients and calories per serving – and choose wisely.


  1. Eating eggs leads to high cholesterol.

reading labelsMyth. The Dietary Guidelines For Americans are about to reflect new research that confirms that the data does not prove that eating more eggs leads to high blood cholesterol. Your overall diet, including the amount of refined carbohydrates and trans fat, is very important, however. Eggs are low in saturated fat and rich in important nutrients including protein, B vitamins and vitamins A, D and E.




Egg Mythology

Egg Mythology
Let’s separate the myths from the truths concerning eggs.happy eggs

Whereas the old Dietary Guidelines for Americans advised restricting dietary cholesterol to 300 mg or less daily, (a large egg has about 186 mg of cholesterol), the new 2015 proposed guidelines say that, “dietary cholesterol is “not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” This follows increasing medical research showing the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream is more complicated than once thought. That means – you can eat more eggs…?!

The committee says available evidence “shows no appreciable relationship” between heart disease and how much dietary cholesterol you eat, but it still recommends eating less saturated fat. As in previous years, the report advises limiting saturated fats to 10 percent of total calories. I’ll write more about saturated fat in an upcoming column.

Let’s bust some myths about eggs.


Truth? Eggs are thinning! Each has only about 70-80 calories and packs a punch of protein (7 grams of high-quality), vitamins (especially A & D), minerals such as iron, with carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, helpful in reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in older adults. Plus choleine, a brain function nutrient!

However, just like my grannies’ green beans, eggs can become saturated fat and calorie carriers, such as frying a green vegetable in fat or swamped with heavy cream and cheese. At breakfast, replacing your (white flour) bagel (refined carbs) with satiating eggs can help you lose weight.

The Takeaway: Poached, hard or soft-boiled, eggs satisfy without added fat. My favorite is an open-faced omelet, a frittata: eggs whipped and cooked in a nonstick skillet, with lots of veggies, and topped with some feta cheese (naturally low in sat fat).


Truth? A diet lower refined carbs, including healthy fats (fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocado) is a more effective recommendation for the prevention and treatment of high cholesterol compared to recommending a strict limit on dietary cholesterol, such as in whole eggs.

The Takeaway: It’s not the egg, it’s the additions. As in Myth#1, instead of making your eggs (and foods in general) carriers of extra calories (obesity is an independent risk factor for heart disease), eat eggs “clean” – as above. Note: some researchers still think that those with existing heart disease due to high blood cholesterol need to consider the evidence carefully for limiting their eggs.

Top advice from for preventing high cholesterol – don’t smoke and stay away from second-hand smoke; eat a healthy diet – including eggs or not – keep it mostly plant-based and high in fiber, and stay active.

For vegans, the guidelines don’t say to eat more eggs – as Dr. David Katz, the Director, Yale University Prevention Research Center; Griffin Hospital and President, American College of Lifestyle Medicine writes, “Whether adding eggs to your diet will confer benefit, harm, or neither, almost certainly depends on what you are now eating instead of eggs, and what eggs would be displacing. We seem to like our dietary guidance oversimplified, and sunny side up. Inevitably, though, the details can be a bit deviled. It makes sense to stop focusing on cholesterol restriction. But should you eat more eggs? It depends.

As a son of a cardiologist, Dr. Katz didn’t eat eggs for 20 years. I only added them back when the weight of evidence clearly tipped the other way. I added them back very selectively, however. I eat them occasionally, and when I do, they are organic, locally sourced, and from hens treated kindly — eggsclusively! Nor have eggs replaced my standard breakfast of mixed berries and other fruits in season; walnuts; whole grains; and non-fat, plain Greek yogurt. Read more here.

How many eggs can I eat?
The US guidelines do not say how many is too many. The British Medical Journal says on average one a day. The recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines confirm Australians need to eat more nutrient rich foods such as eggs, in place of foods of lower nutritional quality. Their evidence found that consumption of eggs every day is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease and eggs should be considered in a similar way as other protein rich foods and consumed as part of a varied diet that is low in saturated fat and contains a variety of cardio-protective foods such as fish, whole grains, fruit, vegetables, legumes and nuts.

Author’s note: As a registered dietitian, my goal is communicating current scientific and informational advice and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Susan Burke March, a Cuenca expat, is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian, a Certified Diabetes Educator who specializes in smart solutions for weight loss and diabetes-related weight management. She is the author of Making Weight Control Second Nature: Living Thin Naturally—a fun and informative book intended to liberate serial dieters and make healthy living and weight control both possible and instinctual over the long term.
Contact her at

Juicing for Weight Loss

5 Top Myths About Juicingjuice

It’s pretty inviting—some great looking people on television claim that their weight, health and energy—their immunity—all result from their daily regime of juicing.  So easy, you think, so logical, right?  They say, “who has time to eat that much fruit and vegetables anyway?”

Your doctor has told you to lose weight…but she didn’t tell you how.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could “juice” your way to a size six, without hunger, without dieting?   Wouldn’t it be great to get those 9 servings of fruit and veggies in just one glass?

After all, juice is just another processed food.  Drinking your fruits and vegetables is a very efficient way to consume a lot of calories conveniently.

Pureed foods may be prescribed for people who are unable to chew and swallow, whose medical conditions demand strategies that respect their inability to eat.  Using a juicer produces what can be considered by-products of whole food.  After juicing an orange, for example, what’s left is water and fructose, some minerals and vitamins in the fluid, and what’s tossed is the pulp and fiber.

  1. Myth:  you can juice yourself to weight loss:  Truth:  Since fiber fills you up it’s ideal for weight management, and unless you’re drinking all the fiber (pulverized) you lose the benefit.  Juice is an energy-dense food.  Instead of filling you up with fewer calories, juice has more calories in a smaller package, counter-intuitive to weight management.  You could say that juicing is a recipe for weight gain.
  2. Myth:  I can never eat enough fruits and vegetables as recommended.  Truth: How much is enough?  At minimum, enjoy at least three to five servings of vegetables (1 cup raw/1/2 cup cooked) and two or three servings of fruit (1 small piece/1 cup) daily.  The minimum provides adequate vitamins and minerals for good health.
  3. Myth:  As long as it’s fresh, I can eat all that I want.  Truth: calories count.  Consider how many oranges to make just one six-ounce glass of juice…depending on the size and juiciness of that orange—it could be three, four…or more.  You’re getting a huge dose of fructose and calories, and research shows that beverages do not make a dent in your appetite.   If you peeled and ate that orange, you’d get a bigger ‘bang for your buck’, nutritionally.
  4. Myth: Why can’t I get all the nutrition I need in those dietary supplements, capsules and powders?  Truth: The front-of-the-package labeling appeals to the quest for good health with words like “immune promoting” and “antioxidants”.  By drying and dehydrating fruits and vegetables into powders, you’ve processed the fiber and essential freshness out of the produce. For health and for weight management, eat whole fruit, for more energy and fiber, and you’ll feel fuller, longer.
  5. Myth:  Juice fasts can detox my body.  Truth: Fasting is another term for “starving”, and can at the very least be dangerous, especially if you have an underlying medical condition.  Balance is best, with the right amount of produce, protein (plant and animal), and healthy fats too.  Your body performs everyday miracles of chemical processes, and when you feed it well, it’s happy and keeps you healthy.  Eat to fuel your engine…as if it were a Ferrari.  Avoid processed foods, enjoy fresh foods, and your body will detoxify itself regularly.