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.

Can Giving Babies Peanuts to Prevent Peanut Allergy

March 8, 2017 by  
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If you’re a parent with a baby, you might be pondering about peanuts.

You see, the guidelines about introducing peanuts to babies recently changed.

It used to be that the American Academy of Pediatrics and other nutrition authorities recommended that parents hold off on introducing peanuts until a baby was well beyond his first birthday.

But a new set of guidelines from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has reversed course, and now recommends earlier introduction of peanuts.

Based on a body of research, it appears that earlier introduction of peanuts helps prevent peanut allergy, especially in babies who are higher risk of peanut allergy (such as those with a family member with peanut allergy or a baby who already has egg allergy or severe eczema).

Here’s the breakdown of the new guidelines:

  • Guideline 1 – If your baby has severe eczema, egg allergy, or both (conditions that increase the risk of peanut allergy), he or she should have peanut-containing foods introduced into the diet as early as 4 to 6 months of age.
  • Guideline 2 – If your baby has mild to moderate eczema, he or she may have peanut-containing foods introduced into the diet around 6 months of age to reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy.
  • Guideline 3 – If your baby has no eczema or any food allergy, you can freely introduce peanut-containing foods into his or her diet.

Bottom line is, earlier introduction of peanut allergy appears to be protective against peanut allergy infection.

 

Turning the Truth Inside Out – The Reality about Popcorn

April 8, 2016 by  
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As a consumer we trust that the food products we are buying are safe for ourselves and our families. However, there may be less than desirable ingredients in one of your favorite snack foods. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a little popcorn as a quick snack or evening treat. It always seems to hit the spot and provides a light snack packed with fiber and whole grains. In fact, one ounce of popcorn provides almost 4g of fiber to help you feel fuller longer. But beware, if you are not air-popping this tasty treat yourself the risks may outweigh the benefits.

Microwavable varieties of popcorn, such as Jiffy Pop or Jolly Time, contain toxic perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), cell damaging diacetyl (DA), and heart harming trans-fats. PFOA is the same toxic substance that is used on Teflon pots and pans. This chemical is used in many microwavable brands to line their bags which protects from oil leakage and provides non-stick sides that produce a perfectly popped product. However, according to Emory University scientists, this toxin has been associated with both kidney and testicular cancer in individuals who work or live near PFOA plants.

Also toxic to your body, DA is the butter flavoring chemical which has been found to break down cell layers that protect an extremely vital organ, your brain! What’s more, if consumed in larger quantities for a long period of time, DA can also cause a respiratory disease known as “popcorn lung”. In fact, one consumer who ate two bags of microwaveable popcorn daily for 2 years was awarded $7 million by the manufacturer after developing this condition.

Finally, trans-fats are oils that have been artificially partially hydrogenated and are known to increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease good cholesterol (HDL). Trans-fats also increase you risk of developing heart disease and stroke and have been associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One serving of microwavable popcorn contains 3g trans-fat which is almost 200% over the recommended daily value based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Not to mention trans-fats are typically the second ingredient listed on the ingredient list of most packaged popcorn. Yuck!

So grab this deceiving delectable and pop it in the trash. Buying just the kernels and making your own popcorn recipe will be better for your body and your long term health.

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Amanda Cravinho for her contributions to this post.

2015 Best Diets List is IN!

December 31, 2015 by  
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The end of each year brings with it the annual U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Diets” list.

While the internet is rife with false and misleading claims about diet and nutrition, one of the best things about this annual list is the rigorous testing the diets undergo and the very reputable experts who serve on the selection panel.

The annual report features a variety of diet categories, such as Best Diets Overall, Best Weight-Loss Diets, Best Diabetes Diets and Best Heart-Healthy Diets.

Experts on the selection panel compare efficacy, research, reliability of claims and nutrient adequacy when selecting award recipients.

This year, the “Best Diets Overall” category features the following winners:

  1. DASH Diet – Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, originally designed to fight high blood pressure but helpful for many other conditions
  2. TLC Diet – the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change diet, created by the National Institutes of Health is cited as having “no major weaknesses”
  3. Mayo Clinic Diet – helps adherents make healthy eating a lifelong habit and is also helpful in the fight against diabetes and can help promote weight loss
  4. Mediterranean Diet – a primarily plant-based diet with an emphasis on healthy fats, this diet is coming up roses with a lot of supporting research indicating its effectiveness at limiting chronic disease risk
  5. Weight Watchers – always the favorite commercial plan among nutrition experts, Weight Watchers teaches you that what you put in your mouth matters! Easy to follow and draws on the importance of a support group, either in person or online to help promote adherence.

For a full list of all of the winners in each of the diet categories, check out the full U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets list available here.

Sugar Alcohols: Friend or Foe?

December 7, 2015 by  
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Sugar alcohols are a type of low-calorie sweetener that turn up in all sorts of diet foods in our food supply. When you chew sugar free gum or eat sugar free candy, you’re almost certainly containing sugar alcohols.

sugar-alcohols-in-nutrition-label

Despite their name, sugar alcohols contain neither sugar nor alcohol. Sugar alcohols are a classification of carbohydrates that are different from artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal), saccharin (Sweet’n Low) or sucralose (Splenda) which contribute no calories. Sugar alcohols yield between 0.2-2.7 calories per gram, although they are so intensely sweet they can be used in such small quantities that they sweeten without contributing many calories.

The sugar alcohols most readily seen on today’s food ingredient lists include those that end in “-ol”, such as:

  • Xylitol
  • Sorbitol
  • Mannitol
  • Malitol
  • Lactitol

Short of allowing you to ingest sweet-tasting foods with a reduced caloric burden, sugar alcohols are not necessarily worth adding to your diet for any added benefit, although what they protect against may be of interest: tooth decay.

The FDA has an approved health claim for sugar alcohols, saying that, “Frequent between-meal consumption of foods high in sugars and starches promotes tooth decay. The sugar alcohol in [name of food] does not promote tooth decay.”

The drawback with sugar alcohols is that they can lead to gastrointestinal distress and have a laxative effect. If you’ve ever found your stomach hurting after eating sugar free jelly beans or sugar free chocolate, you have sugar alcohols to thank.

Sugar alcohols are not entirely absorbed or digested by the human gut. Rather, they are fermented in your large intestine, which can cause gas or diarrhea in some people.

Your best bet is to consume any food with sugar alcohols in moderation. Just because a candy or chocolate is “sugar-free” certainly does not mean it is calorie-free. Sugar free desserts are often loaded with refined grains and other empty calories.

You – and your gut – may be better off just having a smaller slice of the real thing!

Spring Cleaning Your Refrigerator

March 20, 2015 by  
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Usher in the spring season with a spring cleaning of your refrigerator!

A few simple, easy kitchen steps – wash, seperate, cook, and refrigerate – go along way in keeping our families safe and free from food borne illnesses.

But, did you know that mold, bacteria, and spills in the refrigerator can put you and your family at risk? Maintaining a clean refrigerator is just as important as cooking food to the proper temperature or keeping your ready-to-eat foods separate from raw meats.

refrigerator
Here are a few simple refrigerator cleaning tips:

  • Clean refrigerator spills immediately, especially those from raw meat juices. Hint: Defrost meats in a covered container on the bottom shelf to reduce spills.
  • Wash the inside of your refrigerator with a clean sponge and warm soapy water, rinse with clean water, and dry with a clean cloth. Don’t skip the shelves and drawers!
  • Regularly clean the refrigerator and freezer handles – they are touched the most.
  • Place an opened box of baking soda in the back of the refrigerator to combat odors. Hint: Swap the box every 3 months.
  • Dust the front grill to allow free airflow to the condenser for best cooling and efficiency.
  • Unplug the refrigerator and clean the condenser coils with a brush or vacuum.

Sorting through foods each week is also an important step in maintaining a clean refrigerator and preventing food borne illnesses. Check the expiration dates, and dispose of expired, rotten, or spoiled food. When in doubt, throw it out!

While it’s important to regularly clean your refrigerator, many of us put off washing the inside, dusting the front grill, and cleaning the condenser coils. This Spring make cleaning your refrigerator a priority!

For more information check out the How Clean Is Your Refrigerator? article, where you can also find helpful links to the refrigerator safety inspection and refrigerator organization video. Happy Spring Cleaning!

Special thanks to dietetic student Briana Rodriquez for her contributions to this post.

Your Best Diet Bets for 2015

January 22, 2015 by  
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It’s mid-January, which means many people’s New Years Resolutions to lose weight are probably already out the window.

But if you’re still on the weight loss bandwagon, US News and World Report recently published their Best Diets for 2015. As part of this annual review, 35 diets were evaluated and ranked by a panel of health experts.

Diets were rated on their ease of implementation, nutrition quality, safety, and effectiveness, as well as their ability to prevent diabetes and heart disease.

Here is a rundown of the top 5:

  1. The DASH Diet – DASH stands for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet was developed to help treat high blood pressure and to prevent against heart disease and stroke. The diet promotes ample fruit and vegetable intake, whole grains, and lean poultry, fish, and low fat dairy, while cutting back on sodium. To get started: choose lean poultry and fish as your main protein options, ditch the salt and use herbs and spices to season your foods while loading up on veggies, whole grains, and have fruit for dessert.
  2. TLC Diet – TLC stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. The TLC diet claims to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol by 8-10 percent in 6 weeks. The TLC diet cuts back on saturated fat and limits fatty meat, full fat dairy products, and fried foods. To get started: take the skin off of your poultry and include plenty of fruits and vegetables at meals and snacks.
  3. (tie) Mayo Clinic Diet: the Mayo Clinic diet promotes gradual weight loss, claiming that you’ll shed 6-10 pounds in 2 weeks and continue losing 1-2 pounds per week until you have reached your goal weight> Snacking on fruits and vegetables is encouraged while also promoting mindful eating, such as avoiding eating while watching TV.  To get started: cut out sugar for the first 2 weeks, incorporate sweets only sparingly thereafter, and create your customized diet plan with Mayo Clinic’s food pyramid.
  4. (tie) Mediterranean Diet: this well-known diet promotes long-term weight loss success, heart and brain health, cancer prevention and diabetes prevention and control. The diet encourages an active lifestyle, a diet low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fat and high in produce, nuts, and other whole foods. To get started: build meals around whole grains and veggies, have a small glass of red wine with dinner, and eat red meat no more than a few times per month.
  5. (tie) Weight Watchers Diet: Centered on weight loss, the Weight Watchers diet claims you’ll drop up to 2 pounds per week using their point system for foods. Choices that are high in fiber and are more nutrient dense have lower point values. The idea behind the diet is to encourage healthful foods that keep you feeling fuller for longer. To get started: snack on high fiber foods to stay satisfied and sign up with Weight Watchers online.

Remember that the key to weight loss success and health is to make a lifestyle change that you can stick with. A healthy diet and lifestyle includes incorporating exercise into your daily routine, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, eating mostly whole grains, choosing lean protein and low fat dairy products, and enjoying saturated fat and high sugar content foods in moderation.

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Jenny Legrand for her contributions to this post.

Words

Words. They’re pretty nice, wouldn’t you agree? They allow us to talk, read, and articulate our thoughts. Without them we wouldn’t be able to communicate very effectively (can you imagine a world of grunters?). Nor would we be able understand things to quite the same degree. And we certainly wouldn’t be able to debate the finer details of various topics near and dear to our hearts like, say, baseball, dark chocolate, or the environment.

Given the power and utility of words, they are the primary focus a new program called the Lexicon of Sustainability. “Lexicon” is a fancy word for “language”. And “sustainability” is, well, a fancy word that many people banter about, but don’t truly understand or embrace. The Lexicon of Sustainability is based on a simple premise: people can’t be expected to live more sustainable lives if they don’t even know the most basic terms and principles that define sustainability.

For instance, what are food miles? What is the difference between annual vs. perennial plants? Organic vs. conventional food? Grass-fed vs. grain-fed meat? What is food sovereignty? Or biodiversity? For most people, these topics aren’t even a consideration because they don’t even know the words for them exist. In the meantime, the health of our bodies and our planet hangs in the balance. The hope of the Lexicon of Sustainability project is that as more people become aware of these issues, the more progress we’ll make towards achieving a socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable future.

Food for thought

Take a moment to look at the following samples of educational art pieces produced by The Lexicon of Sustainability. There are many, many more posted on their website, as well as videos produced in cooperation with PBS.org. Have you ever thought about these words  and concepts before? If  yes, thank you (please pass them on). If not, perhaps it’s because you never had the opportunity to learn them before. Check out The Lexicon of Sustainability website for more words and information.

Lex1

Lex3

Lex2

Lex 4

Have you hugged your farmer today?

April 5, 2014 by  
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After a long, cold winter, spring has finally sprung in this neck of the woods. The sun is shining, the snow is melting, and tiny green leaves are beginning to poke through the brown earth. It’s a seasonal cycle that birds, bees, and bunnies look forward to every year, as do the 1% of folks who grow food for the remaining 99% of us. That’s right, I’m talking about farmers.

The industrial U.S. food system is a thing of absolute wonder. It’s a complex network of machines, synthetic chemicals, and economies of scale that produces a staggering amount of food – enough to provide each American with 3,800 kilocalories every day (U.S. Department of Agriculture), plus countless more that are fed to livestock and/or exported to exotic places across the globe.

And yet less than 1% (!) of Americans identify themselves as farmers. And of those who do, only 45% claim farming as their full-time occupation, meaning that the majority of farmer income is actually earned off-farm. In addition, the average age of U.S. farmers is approaching sixty years old. To put this matter into a historical context, at one point in the early 1900s the vast majority of Americans farmed. But the number of U.S. farms peaked at 6.8 million in 1937, then declined to the current two million. Keep in mind that there are more than 300 million citizens in the United States. (All data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency).

My point of this blog post is threefold: First, most of us are not actively involved in food production. Second, most of us don’t know a spade from a harrow (meaning that we haven’t got a clue about the time, effort, and energy required to produce food). Third, most of us keep clamoring for cheaper and cheaper food (from farmers who already struggle to make a living working multiple jobs), even as we eat more and more of it.

Food for thought

Please consider the plight of U.S. farmers. Not only for their health, but for your health as well. There is certainly nothing wrong with choosing career paths outside of farming (we need mechanics, doctors, teachers, and plumbers, too), but let’s not forget about the people that literally put food on our table. If you haven’t yet, I strongly suggest volunteering for a day (or more!) at a local farm or community garden. Get to know the people and places that produce your food. The rewards will extend far beyond your belly.

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