Brain Fuel: Tips for a Brain-Healthy Diet

 

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.

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.

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

Is Lack of Sleep Making You Fat?

August 4, 2017 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!

Kids Favor Fruit Over Veggies

There’s not always a ton of good news on the kids nutrition front. But here’s a little bright spot: according to the USDA, more kids are eating fruits and vegetables.

While the majority of kids still don’t meet the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables consumed per day, at least intake levels are on the rise.

Not surprisingly, on a daily basis, kids do eat more servings of fruit than they do vegetables. Based on a recent analysis of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2009-2010), here’s what’s happening:

  • 77% of kids aged 2–19 years ate fruit on a given day
  • Almost 92% of those aged 2–19 years ate vegetables on a given day.
  • Nine out of 10 kids aged 2–5 years consumed fruit, while only 6 out of 10 adolescents ate fruit on a given day.
  • More children aged 2–5 years than adolescents consumed vegetables on a given day.

So if you have kids at home, be sure to include at least one fruit or vegetable at each meal…and more if possible!

Babies, toddlers and young children who are exposed to a greater variety of foods are more likely to continue those patterns into adolescence and adulthood.

What’s Up with Milk Substitutes?

Cruise the dairy aisle of your nearest grocery store and the “milk” aisle will blow you away.

Most likely because there’s a decreasing amount of conventional cow’s milk available for sale but a LOT of milk alternatives.

So what exactly is a milk alternative – and who might benefit from drinking one?

Milk alternatives are non-cow’s milk beverages that provide some (or in some cases, all) of the nutrient benefits of milk.

These includes foods like almond milk, soy milk, coconut milk and rice milk.

But you have to be careful when it comes to milk substitutes because not all of them are created the same.

Calcium

Cow’s milk is hands down the best source of dietary calcium. It is very well absorbed and found in higher quantities in dairy foods than in any other food category.

But some people can’t handle cow’s milk, either because of allergy, intolerance, or personal preference.

Most milk substitutes today do contain calcium – but always check your labels. There’s no point in drinking a milk substitute if it is not fortified with calcium.

Protein

Cow’s milk is a great source of protein, with about 8 grams per cup of cow’s milk. Many milk substitutes do contain protein, but some don’t have as much as you would think.

A good example of this is almond milk. Almond milk (even though it comes from high protein almonds) retains very little protein after processing.

You’re likely getting enough protein elsewhere in your diet, but especially for children you want to make sure that almond milk is a good fit (by checking with your primary care practitioner or dietitian) if you’re withholding cow’s milk for whatever reason.

Sugar

Cow’s milk contains 12 grams of sugar per cup – but it’s naturally occurring milk sugar, lactose.

Many milk substitutes have added sugar in the form of vanilla or other flavoring. Nobody needs to be getting added sugars from their milk substitutes, so look instead for plain or unsweetened versions if you’re looking at a substitutes.

The bottom line is: milk alternatives can be a good way for a person who doesn’t drink cow’s milk to get some important nutrients. You do have to be an educated consumer though, and read those labels, to make sure you’re really getting the best bet when it comes to an alternative.

National Nutrition Month: Put Your Best Fork Forward

March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is Put Your Best Fork Forward.

So how exactly can you go about leading with your best fork?

Small shifts in your food choices add up over time. So don’t stress if you don’t have a “perfect” diet – just work to make small changes that move you in the right direction!

Here are the key messages for this year’s month-long celebration of nutrition:

  1. Create an eating style that includes a variety of your favorite, healthful foods.
  2. Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
  3. How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do.
  4. Find activities that you enjoy and be physically active most days of the week.
  5. Manage your weight or lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist. RDNs can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs.

For more great information about National Nutrition Month, visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ NNM website.

 

Are Gluten Free Foods Just Glorified Junk Food?

There’s no doubt that the gluten free market is blowing up.

The size of the gluten free food market may be worth more than $7.5 billion by 2020.

But what sort of quality have we come to expect when we see a gluten free label?

What is Gluten?

Gluten is simply the protein found in rye, wheat and barley. So,theoretically, gluten free foods would be those that are just devoid of those ingredients.

But the gluten free market has become so much more…instead of focusing on foods that are naturally gluten free, many people with a celiac diagnosis (which requires lifelong adherence to the gluten free diet) instead look to gluten free versions of junk foods that they shouldn’t be eating that much of anyway.

What Gluten Free Foods are Popular?

Take a gander down your local grocer’s gluten free aisle, and here’s what you’ll see:

  • Gluten free cakes
  • Gluten free cookies
  • Gluten free refined breads
  • Gluten free crackers
  • Gluten free pretzels

…and the list goes on.

Anyone trying to eat well should avoid foods like cakes, cookies, refined breads, crackers and pretzels – regardless of whether they are gluten free or not.

Don’t Bulk Up on Gluten Free Junk Food

A new study showed that nearly half of all gluten free product sales come from snack foods.

And guess what: nobody needs that many snacks!

A good approach if you do need to eat gluten free is to focus on eating more of the foods that are naturally gluten free, like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, reduced- or low-fat dairy foods, and grains such as quinoa, corn and gluten free oats.

Don’t waste your money on refined, packaged and processed gluten free junk foods!

To learn more, here’s a great article on Gluten Free Whole Grains from the Whole Grains Council.

Magic Mushrooms…with Vitamin D

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If you know anything about vitamin D, it’s that most foods don’t contain much of it. Sure, you can sop it up from the sun, when it comes to food, outside of fortified dairy foods, most things we eat are vitamin D duds.

But if you’re not big on dairy to get your vitamin D, you might give mushrooms a second shot. Mushrooms you ask? Yes, mushrooms!

According to the Mushroom Council, all mushrooms contain some vitamin D, but certain growing techniques have the potential to increase vitamin D levels by exposing the mushrooms to ultraviolet light.

The light-exposed mushrooms that you are most likely to find at your market will likely have about 400 International Units (IUs) vitamin D per serving (adults need 600 IUs per day according to the US Dietary Reference Intakes). For 400 IUs of vitamin D, that’s 4-5 white button mushrooms or one portabella, and a vitamin D level that is comparable to 4 cups of milk!

So if you don’t dig on dairy – check out light-treated mushrooms as a great way to get close to your daily dose of vitamin D!

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