Brain Fuel: Tips for a Brain-Healthy Diet

December 5, 2017 Edited by  
Filed under Carbohydrates, Cooking, Dietary Patterns, Uncategorized

 

There is strong evidence that there are specific foods we can eat to improve and protect our cognitive function. Brain health can be achieved by eating a healthy diet rich in nutrients such phytochemicals and anti-oxidants. It has been proven that following a heart-healthy diet is as good for the brain as it is for the heart. A heart-healthy lifestyle includes regular exercise and a healthy diet pattern to allow adequate blood flow to the brain.

For example, diet styles such as the Mediterranean and Dash-style diet have been researched and inked to improved cognitive function, memory and alertness. A diet style known as the MIND diet (MEDITERRANEAN- DASH Intervention for Neuro- degenerative Delay) is a combination of both the Mediterranean and Dash-style diet. This diet combination focuses on whole, natural, plant-based foods, with an increased focus on consumption of berries and green leafy vegetables, while limiting animal-based and high saturated fat foods.

The MIND diet has proven beneficial in lowering and slowing rick for and progression of Alzheimer disease (the leading cause of dementia). Research has shown that individuals who followed the MIND diet closely, lowered their risk of Alzheimer disease by up to 53%. Studies of individuals who are following the MIND diet pattern has been suggest that the MIND diet substantially slows cognitive decline with age.

Foods to Fuel Your Brain:

  • Green leafy vegetables & other vegetables
  • Nuts – unsalted
  • Dark berries
  • Beans
  • Whole grains
  • Fish & lean poultry
  • Olive oil
  • …and even small amounts of red wine

Brain-Fuel Nutrients:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids –
    • Found in fish, shellfish, and algae, but especially prevalent in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies, menhaden, and sardines, is especially important to brain function.
    • Avoiding saturated and trans fat may be as important as consuming polyunsaturated omega-3 fats.
  • Vitamins –
    • Adequate consumption of vitamins and minerals (B,C,D,E) maintain brain function.
  • B Vitamins –
    • Found in animal products such as fish, meat, poultry, eggs, milk and fortified breakfast cereals. Helps with energy production in the brain.
  • Vitamin C –
    • Found in many fruits such as cantaloupe, citrus fruits and juices such as orange and grapefruit, kiwi fruit, mango, papaya, pineapple.strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries and watermelon. Helps with energy production in the brain.
  • Vitamin D –
    • Found in cod liver oil, sardines, salmon, mackerel, tuna, raw milk, caviar, eggs and mushrooms.
  • Vitamin E-
    • Found in whole grains, nuts, seeds, blueberries, blackberries, avocados, dark leafy greens, bell peppers, and vegetable oils.
    • Reduces oxidation in the brain.
    • Supplementation with vitamin E must be done safely as taking more than 1,000 IU of vitamin E supplements per day may be unsafe, especially in individuals with cardiovascular disease.
    • Vitamin E supplementation may be risky for people who take blood thinners.
  • Lutein-
    • Found in egg yolk, dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale and even avocado is a yellow-pigmented carotenoid linked to brain health and improved memory. May be most beneficial in combination with Omega-3-Fatty Acid consumption.
  • Polyphenols –
    • Found in fruits, vegetables, tea, wine, juices, and some herbs.
    • High in antioxidants, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Curcumin –
    • Curcumin is the polyphenolic compound curcumin that provides the yellow pigment to turmeric (often used as an ingredient in traditional Indian curries).
    • High in antioxidants, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Resveratrol –
    • Found in grapes, wine, peanuts, and some berries.
    • Helps to eliminate free radicals, improving brain health.
  • Catechins –
    • Found in green, white, oolong, black and Pu-erh tea.
    • Highest concentration found in green tea.
    • Potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory

Overall, consuming a well balanced diet that is rich in the protective nutrients listed above it the best way to fuel and maintain brain health!

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Carlyn Blevins for her contributions to this post.



Mindful Eating

With a busy schedule full of work, family and life obligations, it is easy to rush meal times while eating our food on the run. Many of us have mastered the skill of multi-taking, only to miss out on the opportunity to enjoy our food. Do you ever stop to notice the texture of the food that you’re eating or pay attention to your body telling you that you’ve had enough?  Mindful eating is a way to bring the focus back to the peace and joy that eating can provide.

What is Mindful Eating?

Mindful eating is applying mindfulness to why, when, where, what, and how you eat. This means being aware of both the physical and emotional feelings connected to eating; it is the process of paying attention to the experience of eating.

One study suggests that applying mindful eating tools may help you to avoid overeating by being aware of portion control, taste, texture and sensations such as mouthfeel. By being mindful you will raise awareness to why are you eating (are you hungry or simply snacking?), what you are eating (is this food nourishing to your body?), and how you are eating (am I on the run, multi-taking, driving, watching TV, texting? Am I even enjoying my food?).

Individuals who apply mindful eating tools have reported an increase in self-efficacy; cognitive control, improved eating behaviors; and even decreased symptoms of depression. A mindful eating approach may increase consumption of healthful fruits and vegetables which have protective qualities to help fight against coronary heart disease, stroke, obesity, and certain cancers.

Quick Tips For Eating Mindfully:

  • Observe your body: Notice hunger and fullness signals that guide you to start and stop eating.
  • Do not judge yourself: If you want to eat something, have it; as long as eating this food will not bring about any feelings of shame or guilt. If it will, recognize this and either avoid eating it or try to change your reaction to this food.
  • Notice your reaction to food. What do you like, what don’t you like? Try closing your eyes for a moment while you are eating to experience food in a new way.
  • Savor your food: While eating, notice all of the colors, smells, flavors, and textures of the food. Focus on each mouthful. Try to engage all 5 senses when you eat (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch).

Ask yourself, “Am I…” 

  • Physically hungry? Try using a scale of 1-10 (1 very hungry and 10 very full). Ideally, you want to eat when your hunger is mild at a 3-4 and stop when it reaches a 7-8.
  • Eating quickly or slowly? If you notice you’re rushing; take a deep breath and slow down.

Mindful Eating Resources:

  1. Intuitive Eating website: www.IntuitiveEating.org
  2. Miller CK, Kristeller JL, Headings A, Nagaraja H. Comparison of a mindful eating intervention to a diabetes self-management intervention among adults with type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. Health Educ Behav. 2014;41(2):145-154.
  3. The Center for Mindful Eating website:http://www.tcme.org/
  4. Tylka, T. Intuitive Eating Assessment Scale. J Counseling Psychology 2006(53):226-240.
  5. Mathieu J. What Should You Know about Mindful and Intuitive Eating?J Am Dietetic Assoc 2009;109(Dec):1982-1987.

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Carlyn Blevins for her contributions to this post.



Pumpkin Season: Benefits of Adding Pumpkin to your Diet

November 15, 2017 Edited by  
Filed under Cooking, Food Labels, Holidays

Tis’ the season for pumpkin everything and that is actually a very good thing. Pumpkin contains many protective nutritional qualities.

Fun Facts about pumpkin:

  • Pumpkin belongs to the Curcurbitaceae family, which also includes gourds, squash, cucumbers and watermelons.
  • There are  many shades and sizes of pumpkins, some are best for decorations and some are sweeter and best for pies and baking.
  • In other parts of the world, winter and summer squash are referred to as pumpkins.
  • When cooking or baking with pumpkin, used freshly made or canned pumpkin. Avoid pumpkin pie mix, which is filled with sugar.
  • The fiber content of pumpkin helps you to feel full, promotes digestive health, weight control and prevents constipation.
  • Pumpkin if left uncut, should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to two months.

Nutritional Benefits of Pumpkin:

  • Low in calories per serving
  • Approximately 90% water
  • Fiber rich
  • Antioxidants: may help to prevent degenerative damage to the eyes.
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin A / provitamin A from Carotenoids (Beta-carotene)
  • B Vitamins: (folate, niacin, vitamin B6, thiamin, and pantothenic acid)
  • Vitamin C: antioxidant support
  • Copper
  • Calcium
  • Potassium: provides a positive effect on blood pressure.
  • Phosphorus

Beta-carotene:

Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant found in pumpkin, giving pumpkin its orange color. In the body, beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A. The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements calls beta-carotene “by far the most important provitamin A carotenoid.” Current evidence on the nutritional benefits of beta-carotene suggests it may help protect against cancer, diabetes, heart disease, asthma, fight inflammation, delay aging/body degeneration and improve skin appearance. Multiple studies have concluded that a diet rich in plant food such as pumpkin, decrease the risk factors of chronic disease  such as obesity and decreases overall mortality.

Fiber:

Many Americans consume an average of 15 grams of fiber daily, falling short of the recommended 25-30 grams of fiber daily required to maintain health and a properly functioning GI tract. Adding pumpkin to your diet is a great way to increase daily fiber intake. Fiber helps to slow the absorption of sugar into the blood, aids in smooth digestion and promotes regular bowel movements.

What about the Seeds?

Pumpkin seeds are high in protein (7 grams per 1-oz), contain omega-6-fatty acids, and contain the amino acid tryptophan which helps the body produce mood-elevating serotonin. Pumpkin seeds contain fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, minerals and vitamin K.

Pumpkin Seed Oil:

Researchers also have looked into the potential health benefits of pumpkin seed oil, which is high in zinc, vitamin E, and magnesium.The main benefit of pumpkin seed oil is in the protective nutritional qualities benefiting the urinary and reproductive areas of the body, especially in the prostate.

Disease Fighting Properties:

Vegetables are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber and phyochemicals which play a vital role in the prevention of chronic disease. Researches state that the nutrition profile (carotenoids, pectin, oleic and linolenic acids) of pumpkin helps to improve glycemic and insulin response, decrease systemic inflammation and decrease cardiovascular disease risk factors. The plant compounds in pumpkin seeds and pulp are excellent for helping the absorption of glucose into the tissues and intestines, as well as balancing levels of liver glucose.

Nutrient Content:

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup of cooked, boiled, or drained pumpkin without salt contains

1.76 g of protein

2.7 g of fiber

49 calories

0.17 g of fat

0 g of cholesterol

12.01 g of carbohydrate

Recommended daily allowance (RDA) of:

200%: Vitamin A

19%: Vitamin C

10%: Vitamin E, Riboflavin, Potassium, Copper, Manganese

5%: Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Pantothenic acid, Niacin, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus

How to Incorporate Pumpkin into your Diet:

Pumpkin may be incorporated into desserts, soups, smoothies, salads and even made into a pumpkin butter to be used as a spread or substituted for butter in baking.

Tip: Remember the only ingredient in canned pumpkin should be pumpkin.

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Carlyn Blevins for her contributions to this post.



What’s a Superfood Anyway

 

While most of us can agree that the idea of a “superfood” is supposed to be something that is good for our health, you might be surprised to find out there’s no real consensus about what defines a super food.

Superfood is a term that gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes it pertains to berries, other times you see it ascribed to grains or seeds, and there’s no shortage of packaged and processed snack foods that are touting the superfood label.

But a unique study by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease sought to define what really is a superfood.

Now, these researchers steered clear of the somewhat controversial term “superfood” and decided instead to call their subject matters “powerhouse fruits and vegetables”. And what they did was to study the relative nutrient density of 47 different pieces of produce to analyze which ones were PFVs (powerhouse fruits and vegetables).

To qualify as a PFV, a fruit or vegetable had to have 10% or more daily value per 100 calories of 17 different qualifying nutrients. Based on the nutrient analysis, here are the top 10 “powerhouse fruits and vegetables”, ranked in order from highest nutrient density score:

  1. Watercress
  2. Chinese cabbage
  3. Chard
  4. Beet green
  5. Spinach
  6. Chicory
  7. Leaf lettuce
  8. Parsley
  9. Romaine lettuce
  10. Collard greens

You might have noticed a pattern here – that these are mostly dark green leafy vegetables. If you’re looking for an area where you can make an improvement in the nutrient density of your diet, try adding more greens to your meals. You can do so in salads, stews, sautéed or even ground up and mixed into patties to help cut meat when you’re enjoying burgers or meatloaf.

To see the rest of the PFV list of fruits and vegetables and their rankings, check out the CDC article here.



Tips for a Healthier Halloween

October 11, 2017 Edited by  
Filed under Child nutrition, Holidays

Halloween is just around the corner – and it often comes with a SCARY amount of sugar in most households.

Did you know that the average American will eat just about 3 pounds of candy each Halloween season?

Nobody says you have to give up the sweet stuff, but here are a few tips for having a healthier Halloween!

 

Be Pro-Pumpkin..but without all the Sugar

The second it hits October you see pumpkin-flavored everything, everywhere. But most drinks and foods touting their pumpkin-flavors have just that, flavoring, and very minimal actual pumpkin.

Pumpkin is a great source of vitamin A and fiber – but only if you get the actual pumpkin! Try incorporating canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix which has added sugar) into favorite foods like waffles, oatmeal and home-made muffins.

Spiced pumpkin soup, homemade pumpkin raviolis made with won-ton wrappers and pumpkin smoothies with plain yogurt are other great ways to get a feeling for fall without all of that added sugar!

 

Scatter your Sugar – Use Nuts and Fruit

If you’re looking for something to nosh on this time of year, make sure to have fresh fruit and nuts on hand. You can make your own trail mix – even using a little candy if you want – but spread out the sugar by incorporating fruit and nuts.

Many dried fruits contain added sugar, so look for items that don’t – or incorporate fresh instead of dried fruit when you can.

When it comes to nuts, calories do add up quickly – but those calories also come with protein, fiber and healthy fats that will help keep you full when it comes time to go trick-or-treating

 

Out of Site…Out of Mind

Ever find yourself raiding your kids’ candy bag, just because it’s there? Same thing goes with the candy jar on the counter. You probably wouldn’t eat it if you hadn’t seen it! Studies show that a move as simple as moving tempting foods out of site can help cut down on overeating.

Sure, it’s fine to indulge your sweet tooth once in a while – but keeping your sweets stashed away (and in small portions) might help you cut back on the calories from sugar this holiday season!

 



Exercise: 1 Hour a Week Might Cut It?!

October 3, 2017 Edited by  
Filed under Fitness

Although nutrition guidelines can be hard to follow and sometimes contradict each other…exercise guidelines aren’t always in any better shape!

Guidelines about how much we should exercise range from:

  • Children do 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day
  • Vigorous intensity aerobic activity at least 3 days per week for adults
  • Bone strengthening activity at least 3 days per week
  • …and don’t forget about cardio: for major health benefits adults should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week

It’s hard to know exactly how much we should move!

And the harsh reality is that most Americans aren’t doing anywhere close to that much. In fact, the CDC says that up to 80% of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of weekly exercise.

A new study shows that doing something is better than nothing, and as little as 1 hour of exercise per week may curb depression risk.

Researchers from a team of British, Australian, and Norwegian analysts looked at data gathered from nearly 34,000 adults. They found that people who exercise just one hour per week (regardless of the level of intensity of that exercise) had a 44 percent lower risk for developing depression over the course of a decade when compared to those who never exercised at all.

The benefits of exercise are widespread, from weight and appetite control, to bone health and balance. But it appears from this particular study, that even a small amount of exercise can help curb depression too!



When Vegetarian Diets go Bad

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the benefits – and drawbacks – of a primarily plant-based diet.

A recent article in the New York Times buy Jane E. Brody entitled “Good Vegan, Bad Vegan” brought some of these issues to light. Her article was based on opinions about and feedback from another popular publication, the documentary “What the Health“, a controversial movie with many questionable premises billing itself as “The Health Movie Health Organizations Don’t Want You to See”.

Brody points out in her article some of the same points that many dietitians and other nutrition and health advocates regularly repeat, that even vegetarian diets, if not properly planned and balanced can be unhealthy.

Take this sample vegetarian meal “plan” for example:

  • Sugary cereal with vanilla (sweetened) soy milk for breakfast
  • White pasta with pesto and high-sodium canned soup for lunch
  • Refined white carb crackers and salty soy cheese for snack
  • Grilled vegan cheese sandwich on white bread with canned green beans for dinner

Now of course this menu is a big exaggerated…but you get the point: there are no animal foods in that diet, but there is a ton of added sugar, salt, and refined white carbs that also aren’t so great for you either. Not enough fiber either…

While cutting back on your reliance on animal protein can be good for your health – and the environment – there are certainly ways to incorporate small amounts of animal foods responsibly in a diet that is well-balanced!

  • If you’re a heavy meat-eater, try making at least one day a week meatless. (Check out meatlessmonday.com for inspiration)
  • Focus on plants you can eat MORE of – aim for at least one serving of fruits and/or vegetables every time you sit down for a meal or snack
  • Be picky about processed food – don’t forget that even processed vegetarian foods can be devoid of important nutrients or have high amounts of added sugar and/or salt


What’s Up with the New Food Label?

September 26, 2017 Edited by  
Filed under Consumer awareness, Food Labels

Back in 2016, the FDA announced sweeping changes that would be coming to its Nutrition Facts Panel.

Nutrition professionals and health advocacy groups were excited about almost all of these changes, including:

  • Long-waited addition of the Added Sugars line under Carbohydrates that will help consumers differentiate between natural versus added sugar in their foods
  • More realistic portion sizes and bigger font call out of calories in a package
  • Updated list of nutrients (vitamin D and potassium) replacing ones we get enough of (vitamins A and C)

 

 

But if you’re still waiting for the roll out of the new label, don’t hold your breath. The FDA recently announced that it is proposing to extend the compliance dates for Nutrition Facts Label Final Rules from July 26, 2018 to January 1, 2020. The rationale is that this will give manufacturers additional time to comply.

In the meantime, consumers will have to continue relying on the current version of the food label, which hasn’t changed much since its original roll-out in 1992.



Is Lack of Sleep Making You Fat?

August 4, 2017 Edited by  
Filed under Dietary Patterns, Obesity

If you’re feeling a little sluggish in these dog days of summer, here’s a pretty good reason to start getting more sleep: a new study suggests that skimping on sleep certainly adds pounds.

The study – published in the journal PLOS One – looked at over 1,600 adults in the United Kingdom and found that not getting enough sleep basically makes you gain a clothes size.

Those who got only 6 hours per night had waist measurements that were 1.2 inches greater than those who slept 9 hours per night.

Additionally, the light sleepers also had less favorable lipid profiles, suggesting a metabolic effect in addition to weight when not getting adequate sleep.

So how much sleep should we be getting? Experts don’t EXACTLY agree on a set number, but it’s certainly more than 6! The Mayo Clinic says healthy adults need somewhere between 7-9 hours per night.

Think about turning in early tonight – your gut and your heart will thank you!



World Breastfeeding Week

August 1, 2017 Edited by  
Filed under baby food, Child nutrition

It’s World Breastfeeding Week, and a new report out from The Global Breastfeeding Collective finds that as a planet, we’re not doing so well when it comes to exclusive breastfeeding goals.

The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding (meaning nothing other than breastmilk given to baby) for the first 6 months of life.

Breastfeeding, which helps lower infant mortality rates and increases optimal development in infants, also brings huge economic benefits to families and the countries they reside in.

But currently none of the countries evaluated – rich or poor – are doing enough to help encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months.

A few sobering statistics from the report:

  • Only 40% of infants are exclusively breastfed for 6 months per the WHO recommendations
  • Increasing that to 50% by 2025 would save the lives of more than 500,000 young children
  • Highest exclusive BF rates at 6 months are in Rwanda and Burundi at 87 and 83%, respectively
  • Lowest exclusive BF rates at 6 months are in Chad and Djibouti at 0 and 1%, respectively

Here in the US, only 25% of babies are exclusively breastfed.

Authors of the report recommend a number of ways to increase global breastfeeding rates. These include cracking down on advertising of infant formula which supplants breastfeeding and advocating for paid maternity leave for parents.

To learn more about the positive impact that breastfeeding can have on individual children, their larger families and communities and countries, check out the UNICEF page that promotes exclusive breastfeeding here.