Sunday, May 28, 2017

How to eat for healthier skin?

Who doesn’t want healthy, glowing skin that isn’t dry and flaky?  And, is there a way to halt some of the signs of aging?  Well, a number of foods have nutrients and substances like antioxidants that can promote healthier skin.  A recent article in Environmental Nutrition, Eat Your Way to Better Skin, highlights some foods you may want to consider adding to your day.  WebMD also offers some guidance on, Foods for Healthy Supple Skin.  What are some of their suggestions?  
     1.  Add vitamin A to your day – not only should you eat carrots for better vision, but also for healthier skin.  Since summer is here, vitamin A also helps protect the skin from damage from sun exposure   .  Who wants skin that is dry or flaky?  Vitamin A foods help prevent this.  So add some foods rich in vitamin A.  A good way to choose foods high in vitamin A are to look for foods dark orange or dark green.  Thus, lettuce would have little vitamin A, but spinach greens would have a lot.  So if you are filling up your plate at a salad bar, skip the lettuce and fill your plate with darker greens, add some carrots and green peppers.
      Vitamin A rich foods:  sweet potatoes, green peppers, dark greens like kale, spinach, collards.  Pumpkin, apricots, cantaloupe, broccoli      

    2.  Water – yes, water.  You want to keep your body and your skin hydrated.  Although we have heard you should drink 8 glasses of water a day, all liquids count.  I am drinking a nice glass of Crystal Light Lemonade – so refreshing for summer.  Or enjoy some unsweetened ice tea with lemon slices.  The water in milk and juice also counts.  Fruits like watermelon provide some water.  If you are thirsty, you are “low in water” so drink up.     

    3. Add some omega 3's to your day.  What are omega 3’s?  The heart healthy fats we want in our diet. Some ways to add them is to add flax seed.  Add a spoonful of ground flax seed to your cereal or smoothie.  An article in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating some flax seed every day promotes skin hydration.  Other ways to add some omega 3’s to your day are chia seeds, walnuts and enjoying fish like salmon, sardines and mackerel.  Or cook with Olive Oil or Canola oil. I like to add some chopped up walnuts to my oatmeal or other cereal in the morning.  The California Walnut Board has a website,, that offers many delicious salad recipes featuring walnuts like Wilted Spinach Salad with Green Onions.  This salad is a great way to add some vitamin A (spinach) and omega 3’s (walnuts and olive oil) to your meal.      

    4. Green Tea – so many health benefits to drinking green tea.  Green Tea provides polyphenols a substance that promotes a healthy glow to your skin and may help protect your skin from sun damage.  Environmental Nutrition notes this may be due to the ability of these polyphenols to increase blood flow to your skin and thus more oxygen is delivered.  Whatever the scientific reason, drinking green tea is a healthy choice.  How much?  Try to drink 1-2 cups of green tea a day to benefit your skin.    
   5.  Chocolate, chocolate – who doesn’t like chocolate?  Most of us have heard we should avoid chocolate if we want healthier skin.  However, cocoa may actually benefit our skin.  Seems cocoa can help protect our skin from sun damage like aging and wrinkles. Look for dark chocolate and foods that have cocoa powder.  During the winter, I like to add some cocoa powder to my hot chocolate for an extra “chocolate” boost.    
   6. Antioxidants – adding antioxidants to your diet is good for your overall health and especially good for your skin as antioxidants help prevent skin damage.  How to add them?  Enjoy more fruits and vegetables – aim for 5 A Day – five fruits and vegetables a day.  We have berries in season here – fresh strawberries.  Add other berries: fresh or frozen raspberries or blueberries.  And vary your colors.  Each color offers up different antioxidants.  Enjoy tomatoes, red and green peppers, apricots, sweet potatoes, tangerines.  Find some fruits and veggies you like.  Aim for two servings of veggies and fruit at each meal.  For breakfast, I like a banana and I add a small box of raisins to my cereal (along with the chopped walnuts.)  Breakfast is such an easy meal to get 2 servings of fruit.  
    7. Vitamin C – like vitamin A, vitamin C is so important for healthier skin.  It protects the collagen and elastin in our skin from sun damage. So, vitamin C can help firm our skin.  So many ways to add vitamin C to your day.  We all know citrus foods are good sources of vitamin C but so are red and green peppers, watermelon, kiwi fruit, broccoli and those dark greens like spinach. 
So, for healthier skin, try adding some of the foods above.  Make a salad this week with dark greens and add some chopped walnuts. 

  • 1 medium tart apple (e.g. Granny Smith, Jonathans, Jonagolds, Honeycrisp, Melrose, Winesap, Braeburn)
  • 3 T. Fresh lemon juice
  • 1 small avocado, ripe
  • ¼ cups Extra-virgin Olive
  • 2 c. sliced red onion
  • ½ tsp. whole cumin seeds
  • 1 c. lightly toasted California walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 10 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves – dry after washing
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper and lemon wedges for garnish

  1. Cut apple into thin slices, drizzle with 2 tsp lemon juice, cover and refrigerate.
  2. Pour remaining lemon juice onto a plate.  Peel and slice avocado, put slices in lemon juice.  Turn slices to coat with lemon juice.
  3. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet, add onion and cook over high heat for 5 minutes.  Sprinkle in cumin seeds and walnuts.  Turn heat down to medium, with minimal stirring, cook another 2-3 minutes or until seeds and nuts give off a toasty aroma.  Do not burn.
  4. Add onion, seed, walnut mixture to spinach and toss.  Spinach will wilt.  Sprinkle with salt. 
  5. Mix in avocado, all the lemon juice and apple. Grind in some black pepper.  Garnish with lemon wedges. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Caffeine – how much is too much?

Caffeine – who doesn’t enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning? Whether a K-cup, Starbucks or Mr. Coffee, most people enjoy starting their day with a cup of coffee.  But in the news recently is the story of the teen who died, according to the coroner, from drinking too much caffeine.  So how much caffeine is safe to drink? Are there any health benefits to drinking coffee and other beverages that provide caffeine?

How much caffeine is safe to drink?

The teenager who died drank three caffeine drinks over a two-hour period, a large Mountain Dew, a latte and an energy drink. According to some reports, it is estimated that this was about 300 mg of caffeine – which should be safe for most people. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most adults can safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is about four 8-ounce cups of coffee. According to WebMD, drinking more than this can lead to some symptoms, such as insomnia, nervousness, increased heart rate, stomach irritation and other symptoms. The Mayo Clinic notes that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults. This would be the amount in four cups of brewed coffee or 10 cans of cola soft drink, or just 2 “energy shot” drinks. The Mayo Clinic notes that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should consult their doctor about caffeine.

FDA notes that moderate amounts of caffeine are not harmful. But what is moderate? For most of us that would be one to two, five ounce cups of coffee a day. But since we are all different, caffeine affects us differently depending on our size, gender, and how sensitive we are to drinking beverages with caffeine.

How much caffeine is too much?

According to FDA, experts agree that 600 mg of caffeine or about 4-7 cups of coffee or more a day is too much.

Is drinking coffee healthy?

A lot of research has documented good health benefits of drinking beverages with caffeine. WebMD notes people who drink coffee are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Coffee drinkers also have fewer strokes and some cancers. But it seems it is not just the caffeine in coffee that has health benefits as decaf also seems to help prevent diabetes. WebMD notes it may be the antioxidants in coffee, decaf or regular, that may help prevent diabetes. Or the minerals it provides like chromium or magnesium which help control our blood sugar levels. In the same article, WebMD stated that for women, coffee may actually lower their risk of stroke.

How much caffeine is in beverages?
The Mayo Clinic lists the caffeine content of coffee, soda and more. The math department the University of Utah has an extensive chart of the caffeine content of popular drinks. The charts below are adapted from these two websites.

Coffee drinks
Size in ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Brewed, regular
Brewed, decaf
Espresso, regular
Espresso, decaf
Latte or mocha

Tea Drinks
Size in ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Brewed black tea, regular
Brewed black tea, decaf
Brewed, green tea
Ready to Drink, bottled tea

Sodas, Soft Drinks, (Pop) 12 ounces
Caffeine (mg)
Coca-Cola Classic
Diet Coke
Mountain Dew
Red Bull (8.2 ounces)
Diet Pepsi
Minute Maid Orange
A & W Root Beer

I will continue to enjoy my cup of coffee every morning.  Or if you prefer, decaf or tea, drink those beverages.  As noted, it may not be the caffeine in coffee or tea that has health benefits but the antioxidants or minerals.  Learn how your body reacts to caffeinated drinks and what your tolerance level is.  Perhaps one cup is all your body can tolerate.  Perhaps coffee or tea interferes with your sleep if you drink it too late in the day.  Adapt your intake to your response to these beverages.

Sources: in the news recently, According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most adults can safely consume 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is about four 8-ounce cups of coffee., WebMD, The Mayo Clinic notes that 400 milligrams of caffeine a day is safe for most healthy adults. This would be the amount in four cups of brewed coffee or 10 cans of cola soft drink, or just 2 “energy shot” drinks. Mayo Clinic lists the caffeine content of coffee, soda and more, math department the University of Utah, image source: coffee cup

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Berries for Brain and Heart Health

Are there foods that “feed” the brain?  Well, berries have been found to promote brain health as well as heart health.  Which berries and what health effects do they have?
Our doorbell rang at 9 this morning.  Our neighbor was standing there with 2 quarts of strawberries he had just purchased at the Farmer’s Market.  Strawberries are not only loaded with many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, there are also one of the berries known to promote healthy brains.

Why are berries so healthy?

Berries are rich in antioxidants – in fact they have found that berries have some of the highest antioxidant levels of any fresh fruits.    Antioxidants aren’t vitamins or minerals but plant chemicals that protect the plant and have been found to have many health benefits when we eat these plants.   The differing color of the berries means they provide different antioxidants.  Berries that are red, blue or purple provide anthocyanin,  a strong antioxidant.  It is associated with promoting memory.  

Berries provide flavonoids – a plant chemical that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Scientists haven’t yet figured out why berries are so good for our brains but they believe these antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in berries are indeed good for brain health.

What do berries do for brain health?
  • Memory – I tell the students in my class to add some fruit, especially berries to their diet, for good memory.  Studies have found that young and old benefit from adding blueberries.  Blueberries improve memory, attention to tasks, and even increased blood flow to our brains.  (Environmental Nutrition, June 2017) 
  • Slow Down Brain Aging - as we age, our brains decline in function, but berries have been found to slow down this aging process.
  • Boost Your Mood – the flavonoids in berries have even been found to boost your mood.  Now who wouldn’t have a boost in their mood as they enjoy their first strawberry shortcake this summer season?
Berries and Heart Health6 healthiest berries suggests we sprinkle some blueberries on our yogurt and add some strawberries to our smoothie for heart health. Berries are linked to a lower risk of heart attacks. 

Some berries to try for brain and heart health: 

Blueberries – a super food.  Promotes good memory and heart health.  Good source of vitamin C and fiber. Enjoy fresh or buy frozen to add to smoothies or pancakes.
Strawberries – Loaded with vitamin C, good source of folate, and may prevent the build up of plaque in our arteries. 
Raspberries – good source of fiber.  A half cup of raspberries provides 4 grams of fiber.  Also provides vitamin C and the mineral, manganese.  Another berry that promotes heart health.
Blackberries – another berry rich in antioxidants to promote heart health.  Try a blackberry jam on a whole grain English Muffin.  

As berry season comes to your area, enjoy some fresh berries this season.  Add some fresh or frozen berries to a smoothie or add berries to your yogurt.  But eat them regularly to obtain the most benefit.

Blueberry Oat Smoothie  (adapted from)  Makes 2 Servings
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
2 cups frozen blueberries
1 yogurt 5.3 ounces, non-fat blueberry Greek yogurt
1 banana
½ cup coconut water
2 T. honey – buy some locally grown honey
  1. In a blender, process oats for 30 seconds.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and puree until blended.
Nutrition facts 340 calories, 2.5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat and 0 mg of cholesterol, 10 mg protein, 75 g carbohydrates, 8 grams fiber,  only 50 mg sodium, 410 mg potassium, 95 mg calcium and 17 mg vitamin C.