Sunday, September 24, 2017

Boost Your Brain Power

Can you eat to improve your memory?  Apparently so.  A recent article in CommonHealth describes how one can eat to essentially clog up those brain pathways or how one can eat to unclog your brain and improve your memory.  Another article reviews 15 foods to eat for a healthy brain. 
What food clog up your brain?
We all know that eating high fat foods, especially those high in saturated fat, can clog up your arteries and are not good for your heart.  Another fat, trans fat, is especially bad as it builds up in our blood vessels and damages them.  So those French fries loaded with fat and foods high in saturated fat like bacon, are not only not good for your heart, they might not be good for your brain.
The Diets high in cholesterol and fat might speed up the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain.  These sticky protein clusters are blamed for much of the damage that occurs in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.
Recommendation 1 for a healthy brain – cut back on foods high in saturated fats.  Read the label to see how many grams of saturated fat are in the food.  Eating at a fast food restaurant?  Look online at their menu and nutrition information and choose menu items with less saturated fat. 
  •  Choose the grilled chicken sandwich instead of the fried chicken sandwich
  • Choose fruit instead of French fries or at least get the smaller fries
  • Choose Lay’s chips as they have a heart healthy oil. Choose the Sun Chips to get some whole grain
Recommendation 2:  Choose foods for a healthier brain to boost brain power
What foods are good for brain health?

Unclog your brain and keep it unclogged by eating healthier fats.  Choosing monounsaturated fats like Olive Oil and Canola Oil and Polyunsaturated fats like Corn oil and Safflower oil are good for brain health. 
Canola oil – high in monounsaturated fats at 63% and very low in saturated fats at only 7%.  This oil also has a good amount of omega-3 fats which are good for your heart and brain.  An interesting fact is that canola oil contains “phytosterols” which actually help reduce how much cholesterol your body absorbs.
Canola Oil
Olive Oil very high in monounsaturated fats at 73%. Low in saturated fats at 13.8%.  Olive oil is a good source of vitamin E and K. Olive oil also provides antioxidants which are anti-inflammatory.   

Other healthy fats:  besides the plant oils other healthy fat foods:
  • Walnuts, almonds, pistachios – I add some chopped walnuts to my oatmeal or other cereal every morning.
  • Flax seeds
  •  Fish- salmon and canned tuna are especially healthy because of the omega – 3 fats.  CommonHealth recommends salmon to “keep your brain running smoothly – goodbye brain fog”. 
  •  Avocados – these used to be on the “no” list as they are high in fat.  But now they are on the “enjoy” list as avocados are loaded with monounsaturated fats good for heart and brain health.   Avocados provide vitamins K and folate which helps protect against blood clots and improves brain function in terms of memory and your concentration.   Enjoy that avocado dip and use some whole grain chips for dipping. 
What “diet” is good for brain health?
The Mediterranean Diet is not really a diet to lose weight but an eating pattern for a healthier you.  Eating the Mediterranean way promotes heart heatlh and brain health.  Improve the health of your blood vessels by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and olive oil.
  • Blueberries definitely brain food.  My husband tries to eat some blueberries every day.  Rich in those good for you antioxidants and high in vitamins C and K and a good source of fiber.  Blueberries have a substance called “gallic acid” that promotes brain health by protecting your brain from degeneration and stress.
  • Dark Chocolate – who doesn’t like chocolate?  Chocolate provides “flavonols” a good for you and your brain antioxidant.  (Have you noticed there are many, many antioxidants in foods and eating a variety of foods provides you with different antioxidants.)  This antioxidant helps improve blood flow to heart and to your brain and helps lower your blood pressure. Looking for some Hershey chocolate?  Choose the dark chocolate to get the health benefits.
  • Green Leafy Vegetables – yes, that Kale salad is good for your health.  Or choose Swiss chard, Romaine lettuce, spinach.  Eating from a salad bar?  Skip the iceberg lettuce and load up on the spinach or darker salad greens.  The darker the green, the more vitamin A and vitamin K it provides. 
To read more about healthy “brain foods” see the CommonHealth article at: 15 Best Foods for your Brain.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Growing Waist Size in America

America is growing, not just in terms of population but also in size.  The Editorial in our local paper reads:  Obesity rates remain a national concern.  As the editorial notes, too many Americans are getting bigger.  Trust for Americas’ Health released their 2017 Obesity report.  The report found that, “far too many Americans, both adult and children, are significantly overweight to the extent that it jeopardizes their overall health and well-being.”  

States vary a lot in the number of adults who are overweight or obese.  West Virginia leads the nation as 37.7% of the adults in West Virginia are obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. The state with the lowest rate of obese adults was Colorado at 22.3%.  If you are interested in your state, visit Adult Obesity Rate by State, 2016.  Some states and their rankings are noted below:

% Obese Adults (BMI 30+)
District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Colorado
Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, South Dakota, Virginia
Nebraska, North Dakota, Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin
Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana

But there is good news.  In the last two years, five states have shown a reduction in the number of adults who are obese.  

The editorial noted that it is easier to prevent obesity than it is to lose the weight after the fact.  In college, my nutrition professor was Mrs. Osborne.  She went to a convention for a week, came back to class and said she had gained five pounds at the convention.  Lots of sitting and lots of good food to eat.  But, she then said, “and now I will lose the five pounds.  No apple pie for dessert for a while.”  Rather than let the five pounds lead to more weight gain over time, she dealt with the five pounds soon after she had gained the weight.  A few weeks later she announced to the class that she had lost those five pounds.  

The Trust for America’s Health found some disturbing facts about how teenagers eat.
  •  5.2% of high school students surveyed said they had not eaten any fruit or 100% juice in the week before the survey.
  • 6.7% said they had not eaten a vegetable in the week prior to the survey
  • 14% did not eat breakfast

Eating healthier is a common theme among my students and people I talk to.  Yet, there is a lot of confusion about what eating healthier means.  The Dietary Guidelines have some recommendations for “eating healthier”.
  • Limit calories from added sugars – soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages.  Look at the ingredients of the beverage you are drinking.  Is it 100% juice or a juice drink which can be loaded with added sugar.
  • Make at least half the grains in your diet, whole grains

  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy – milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified soy beverages.  Or as noted in last week’s blog, enjoy some whole milk yogurt as the saturated fat from dairy may not be bad for your health.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables, especially whole fruits.  Aim for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
  • Oils – look for monounsaturated fats like Olive Oil or polyunsaturated oils like canola, corn, safflower, sunflower oil. And when choosing a cooking spray, choose one made from one of these oils.

Physical Activity – not surprising is how physically inactive many Americans are.  CDC looked at adults 50 years and older and found a low percentage of adults who are involved in physical activity.  Trust for America’s Health reports 80% of American adults do not meet the government’s national physical activity recommendations for aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.  About 45% of adults are not sufficiently active to achieve health benefits.  Not surprisingly, the states who have the most physically inactive adults are also the states with higher rates of obesity. On a positive note, more people are becoming physically active 32 states.

Physical Activity GuidelinesThe Dietary Guidelines on Physical Activity states:  Regular physical activity is one of the most important things individuals can do to improve their health.   How much physical activity is recommended?
  • Children 6-17 years – 60 minutes  or more of physical activity every day.  Most of this activity should be aerobic, of moderate or vigorous intensity.
  • Adults 18-64 years – being active is better than inactivity.  Aim for 2 hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity and one hour and 15 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic physical activity.  This can be done in 10-minute intervals throughout the week.
  • Adults 65+ - If they can, follow the adult guidelines.  If not, older adults should be as physically active as their condition and abilities allow them to be.  Include a focus on balance exercises.  

My daughter told me about a physical education teacher, Brian Howells, who asks all his students to go to the bookstore or a local store and buy a Fitbit to track their steps as part of his class requirement.  I was in a retail store recently and the clerk said when no customers were in the store, he walked around the store and had just finished walking 1,000 steps.   Walking 10,000 steps a day is a good goal to work towards.  If you are not at 10,000 steps a day, then work towards walking more steps than you do now.

The editorial ends by stating: “Americans will do what they want to do, but if they want to be around longer to enjoy family and friends, and endure fewer health issues as they age, avoiding obesity or dealing with obesity can be a good start.”

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Add Some Yogurt to Your Day

Why is yogurt so healthy?
  • Protein – yogurt is not only a good source of protein, the protein in yogurt is a high-quality protein.  Eating protein at meals helps you feel full longer as protein has “staying power” and takes longer to digest than carbs.  This may be the reason that yogurt helps keep off the weight.  Greek yogurt is higher in protein than regular yogurt but often has less calcium.
  • Probiotics – a huge, benefit of yogurt is the probiotics.  The “friendly bacteria” in yogurt that seems to have so many health benefits.  Look on the label for “live” active cultures when buying yogurt.
  • Fat in Yogurt – the fat in yogurt contains “sphingolipids” a type of fat that actually seems beneficial to heart health.  And fat is more filling.  Eating whole milk yogurt would be a snack that would be more filling and have more "staying power" than a low fat yogurt. 
Not All Dairy Fat is Equal – one would think that the dairy fat in butter would be the same as the dairy fat in cheese.  But not so.  Apparently, butter fat has less of those “sphingolipids” than cheese or yogurt does.  This is good news for cheese lovers like me. 
Calcium and Vitamin D – these are 2 nutrients that so many Americans are not getting enough of.  Adding a yogurt to your day will boost your calcium intake.  But check to make sure the yogurt you are eating also provides vitamin D.  Not all brands do.

Which yogurt to choose?  Choose a brand you will eat.  A student in my class was eating yogurt and looking pained with every bite.  She was trying to add yogurt to her day but choose a brand of yogurt she obviously did not like.  Other students in the class offered her suggestions and the next class she said she found a yogurt brand she liked to eat.  Plain yogurt with no added sugar can be a good choice.  My husband buys plain yogurt and adds some fresh berries to it.  I like flavored yogurt.  And if you like whole-milk yogurt – enjoy every bite.  New research is showing you may not have to switch to a low-fat yogurt.  Try different brands, different flavors and find some yogurt you can enjoy every day.

This week, add a yogurt a day for better health.  In their yogurt article, Consumer Reports recommends a number of whole milk yogurts including Trader Joe’s Organic Plain Whole Milk Yogurt, Annie’s Organic Whole Milk Yogurt, Dannon Oikos Plain Whole Milk Greek Yogurt, Chobani Plain Whole Milk Greek Yogurt and Great Value (Walmart) Plain Whole Milk Greek Yogurt. For those who like a little more flavor in their yogurt, some berry yogurts recommended by Consumer Reports are Dannon Strawberry Whole Milk Yogurt, Brown Cow Strawberry Whole Milk Yogurt, Chobani Raspberry Whole Milk Greek Yogurt and Fage Total Strawberry Whole Milk Greek Yogurt.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Walk your way to better health

Can you walk your way to better health?  Is taking your dog for a walk every day good for your health?
Walking for Heart Health
According to an article in NPR, even moderate-intensity walking can be as effective as running in terms of reducing one’s risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  So many people think exercise has to be going to the gym, jogging, participating in a sport like basketball.  All these are great activities but going for a walk also has health benefits. The American Heart Association notes, “walking is one of the simplest ways to get active and stay active”.  The organization recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise like walking.  But it doesn’t have to be done all at once.  No time for a long walk, then “even 10-minute activity sessions can be added up over the week”.  
The President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition has some suggestions for adding more steps to your day

  •  Walk and Talk with a friend – instead of instant messaging or a phone call to keep up with friends, go for a walk together.  My daughter has a friend that she walks with each week to catch up and to get in a good walk. 
Walk With A Friend
  • Park Far Away – my car is always parked far from the entrance.  A former student stopped me recently and asked me, “Guess where I parked?”  I looked puzzled and he said, “Far away from the door. You taught us to park far away.” 
  • Walk At Your Kid’s Sporting Event – As your son or daughter is playing soccer, baseball, walk up and down the field and get some steps in.
  • Get Off the Bus or Subway Early – Walk the last few blocks to your destination
  • Take a Walk Break Instead of a Coffee Break – take a few minutes to walk outside – take your coffee or bottled water with you.
Take a Walk Break
  • Walk the Golf Course Instead Of Using A Cart – walk instead of ride.
Walk the Golf Course

Take your dog for a walk to improve your health
Have a dog?  Taking that dog for a walk not only can improve your dog’s health but also your physical and mental health. 
  •  Older adults who take their dog for a walk every day, walk about 22 minutes more a day than those who don’t take a dog on a daily outing.  According to a study done in Scotland.  And those who were walking a dog, usually kept a pretty good pace and walked briskly.  This helped get their heart rate up.
  •  Boosting Your Mental Health – according to Psychology Today, being outdoors, especially in parks or on trails, can boost your mood.  According to Linda Andrews, “ taking your dog for a walk, you may be boosting your own health and happiness.”
  • Walking Your Dog Gets You Outside:  You get more fresh air and sun.  Along with sun comes vitamin D.  So many Americans are low in “D”.  If more Americans took their dogs for a walk every day, they would get more vitamin D in their day.
Ziggy enjoying the sun
Now that cooler weather is here, it is a great time to go for a walk.  And if you have a dog, the whole family can take the dog for a walk each day.