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!

Getting Real About Holiday Weight Gain

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An often-cited statistic is that the typical American packs on 1-2 pounds over the Holiday Season. While that might not sound like much, if you do this year-in and year-out, on top of other weight gaining factors…things could get heavy!

So why do people tend to gain weight over the holidays? A number of factors could be at play:

  • Stress – the Holidays can be stressful for many reasons, and some people turn to food when emotions run high
  • Greater availability – face it: you don’t see cookies and cakes and candy ever as much as you do around the Holidays, there’s just more bad food constantly in our faces!
  • Less activity – cold weather can be a deterrent for physical activity; if you’re not offsetting your calories with motion, pounds can creep up
  • Alcohol – the Holidays mean celebration, and many celebrations come hand-in-hand with alcohol and their added calories

With parties and gatherings galore, it can seem challenging to keep your health in check. So here are a few tips to help fight the heaviness that sometimes gets associated with the Holidays:

  • Make a plan – exercise earlier in the day if you know you have a party later; bring your lunch to work if dinner means drinks and food with friends…keep in mind that, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  • Never show up hungry – you’ve likely heard this one before, but don’t show up to the festivities when you’re famished. Have a snack ahead of time to ensure you don’t overdo it at the party.
  • Walk it off – the Holidays are a great time to get together with friends and family, so why not get everyone together outside for a brisk walk after dinner? You can spend time together in places other than on your butt!

Whatever your holiday has in store – don’t forget that it doesn’t HAVE to involve weight gain. Stay active and savor small versions of what the season has to offer!

Slim State Showdown: Best and Worst States for Diabetes

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How slim your state is may also say something about its diabetes rates. According to the American Diabetes Association, across the US in 2012, 29.1 million Americans or roughly 9.3% of the population had diabetes. But not all diabetes is evenly distributed throughout the country.

New research, published as part of the Gallup-Healthways State of American Well-being series recently examined the new cases of diabetes across the US.

The states with the lowest incidence of diabetes in the United States (with less than 8% of the population with diabetes) are:

  • Utah
  • Rhode Island
  • Colorado

The states reporting the highest number of people with diabetes (with more than 16% of the population with diabetes) are:

  • Alabama
  • West Virginia

What’s not surprising is that diabetes rates correlate with obesity rates. As weight increases, the body’s ability to use the insulin it produces diminishes. Losing weight causes fat cells to shrink, which in turn improve the body’s ability to utilize insulin and lowers diabetes risk.

For more information about diabetes and minimizing risk, visit the American Diabetes Association. And for some cool interactive tools that track diabetes on different devices, check out the US Diabetes Surveillance System.

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