Sunday, June 24, 2018

Can you eat for a healthier mind?

Everyone knows you can eat for a healthier body.  But can you eat foods to improve your mind or to keep your brain healthier?  Yes.  Actually, there is a diet called the MIND diet specifically designed to keep your brain healthier.  The MIND diet is a combination of two other highly recommended diets – the DASH diet designed to prevent high blood pressure and the Mediterranean diet for overall good health.  U.S. News & World Report ranks the MIND diet as 5th in their rankings of Best Diets Overall.  They describe this diet as one that aims to prevent mental decline, especially designed to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.  Rush University researchers found that following the MIND diet can reduce Alzheimer risk by 53% for those who strictly followed the diet plan.  And the good news is, you can benefit your brain health without even sticking rigidly to this diet plan.  For those who followed the diet only moderately well, their risk was lowered by 35%. 

What are some of the “brain foods” you eat on the MIND diet?
The MIND diet emphasizes 10 food groups of brain-healthy foods and recommends decreasing your intake of 5 not so brain healthy food groups.  

What foods to eat for brain health:
  1. Whole grains – 3 times a day.  Start your day with oatmeal or any General Mills cereal.  At lunch, make a sandwich with a whole grain bagel or whole grain English muffin.  Have a KIND bar for a snack.
  2. Green Leafy vegetable + 1 more veggie – so 2 veggies a day.  Have some carrot sticks at lunch and a spinach or spring salad mix for dinner.
  3. Nuts – Dr. Oz recommends a handful of nuts a day for good health.  A handful of nuts a day is also good for brain health.
  4. Poultry – chicken or turkey at least twice a week.  Pretty easy to do as there are so many chicken recipes.  And if you like fast food, many places now offer grilled chicken like KFC or a grilled chicken sandwich.
  5. Fish – at least once a week.  If you are not a fish lover, try fish sticks or a tuna salad sandwich.
  6. Berries at least twice a week – add those blueberries to your morning oatmeal.  Enjoy some berries on your yogurt.  Blueberries seem to be especially healthy for your brain.  Full of those good antioxidants.  Dr. Morris, a nutritional epidemiologist, says, “blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain.”  Strawberries run a close second. 
  7. Beans – eat them a few times a week.  Enjoy those baked beans at the next barbecue you go to.  (On Prince Edward Island, the breakfast buffet offered baked beans right next to the oatmeal.) 
  8. Wine – if you like wine, a glass a day is good for your brain.  But you don’t have to drink wine to benefit from the MIND diet.

What foods should you cut back on for brain health?

Margarine that lowers cholesterol
  1. Butter – limit to 1 T. a day.  But margarine is OK.  Choose heart healthy margarines.  Livestrong recommends 3 margarines for good heart health, Smart Balance (which we use), Benecol spread which the Mayo Clinic likes because it has been shown to lower cholesterol levels and Promise Activ – also recommended by the Mayo Clinic as it is low in saturated fat and may lower cholesterol.   Choose olive oil for cooking.   
  2.  Sweets and Pastries – hard to give up as who doesn’t like sweets?  But reducing intake and choosing oatmeal , for breakfast instead of a pastry would bee good for your brain
  3. Whole fat cheese – cheese is one of my favorite foods and I eat a lot of cheese.  But we do try to purchase 2% fat, or reduced fat cheese.  Many stores offer Cheddar Cheese is a lower fat option, Mozzarella cheese is usually lower in fat.
  4. Fried or fast food – limit to once a week.  Fast food gets a bad rap but one can have a pretty healthy meal at fast food restaurants.  KFC offers the grilled chicken, corn on the cob, green beans and coleslaw.  Most fast food establishments offer a good choice of salads.  Wendy’s offers the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad.  Starbuck’s offers the Turkey & Fire-Roasted Corn Salad.  Panera has the healthy Ancient Grain & Arugula Salad. So, one doesn’t have to give up fast food, just make some healthier choices from the menu. 
Heart healthy margarine

Everyone can benefit from eating healthier.  If you aren’t up for following the entire MIND diet, adopting some of the healthier habits would still be good for your health.  Start a habit of a handful of nuts a day.  A very easy habit to follow.  When buying cheese, choose the lower fat options.  Switch your margarine to a heart healthy choice.  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Are there anti-aging foods?

Who doesn’t want to slow down the aging process? Are there foods you can eat to slow down Father Time?  WebMD has an article called, 7 anti-Aging Foods for Your Skin.  In this article, dietitian Kerri-Ann Jennings is quoted, “Everyone wants smooth, radiant skin.  What you eat can bring you closer to that goal.”  

The Dietary Basics for Slowing the Aging Process:
1.      Eat foods full of nutrients, called nutrient dense foods, which pack in the vitamins and minerals your skin needs.  These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish.
2.      Change it up.  Go for variety – lots of color, lots of different fruits and vegetables.  Each color delivers different antioxidants so mixing up colors means you are getting a lot of antioxidants which means a healthier you.
Mix colors and eat a variety of fruit
3.      Go beyond food – get enough sleep and exercise and don’t forget the sunscreen.  (I use sunscreen on my face 365 days a year.)

The author of Younger Next Week  says all of these basics will help you look younger.

What are some foods you should put on your grocery list for a younger looking you?
1.   Oats – choose that oatmeal or Cheerios for breakfast.  Whole grain oats are a complex carb so slow to digest without spiking your blood glucose.  Dr. Debra Jaliman, a New York dermatologist, recommends “complex carbohydrates like oats because they are low-glycemic”  She notes that high-glycemic foods  (white bread, white rice, white pasta) are known to cause wrinkles.  Also, oats “have a natural plant chemical that helps prevent damage to skin cells and smoothes skin irritation”.
2.    Oranges – loaded with vitamin C which helps promote collagen production.  Vitamin C can be termed the anti-wrinkle vitamin as it helps keep your skin younger longer.  Other vitamin C foods would include any citrus foods and tomatoes.  Tomatoes offer vitamin C and lycopene which protects your skin from sun damage. And cooked tomatoes are great.  Enjoy that salsa or spaghetti sauce. 
Make or buy some salsa
3.   Avocados – enjoy that guacamole.  Avocados have fat, but a healthy monounsaturated fat that help keep your skin hydrated.  The fat in avocados also helps you absorb vitamin A and carotene that your skin needs to be healthy.
4.    Lean protein – protein helps build collagen.  Low fat milk, low fat yogurt, low-fat cheese like 2% mozzarella,  lean beef, chicken, fish all provide high quality protein. 
5.    Salmon –healthy omega 3 fats are good for your skin. Serve it with quinoa or brown rice and you add some healthy complex carbs to the meal.
6.   Grapes – has the unique anti-aging resveratrol which is in the skin of the grapes.  It may slow the aging process but also helps our skin fight off the bad effects of UV light and sun damage.
7.    Berries – add some blueberries, raspberries, strawberries to your day. Berries add many different antioxidants to your body. They help protect your skin from pollutants in the environment and promote cell regeneration. 
WebMD also notes eating lots of yellow and green vegetables can lead to fewer wrinkles.  Additionally, focusing on antioxidants and foods rich in antioxidants is also a good strategy for healthier, younger looking skin. 

    What are some common foods with the most antioxidants?  WebMD provides a list of the 20 Common Foods with the Most Antioxidants
1.      Fruits – cranberries, blueberries and blackberries rank the highest
2.      Vegetables – beans, artichokes and russet potatoes
3.      Nuts – pecans, walnuts and hazelnuts rank high in the nut category
4.      Other foods with good antioxidant capacity include:  prunes, kidney beans, raspberries, strawberries, red delicious apples, Granny Smith apples, sweet cherries, plums, black beans and Gala apples.  
Enjoy some Granny Smith apples
 5.      Green tea – this tea is rich in antioxidants and may improve skin.  
6.      Chocolate – WebMD notes a study found that women who drank hot chocolate had softer, smoother skin in 3 months.  But they drank a special hot chocolate with higher cocoa content.  I add some cocoa to the low calorie hot chocolate mix I buy.  Just a teaspoon or so to enhance the flavor but also to get more nutritional benefit.

     Among all of these foods there should be some you can add to your diet.  Farmer’s markets are getting in fresh crops of fruits and vegetables.  We just bought locally grown blueberries last weekend.  And since Granny Smith and Gala apples are rich in antioxidants, maybe an apple a day isn’t such bad advice after all. 

     Sources:  7 anti-Aging Foods for Your Skin, Younger Next Week, tomatoes, 20 Common Foods with the Most Antioxidants , study Image sources:  fruit, salsa, apples

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Eat more fiber

Last week we discussed probiotics and how important it is to have probiotics like yogurt in your diet.  But we also noted that you have to feed the probiotics, the healthy bacteria.  One way to “feed” the healthy bacteria in your gut is to add fiber to your day.  Although our bodies can’t digest fiber, the good bacteria need it.  Fiber also plays many healthy roles in our body.  

Why add fiber to your day?                                    
1.       Weight loss – fiber helps fill you up.  Fiber has no calories so adding it to your meal fills you up without filling you out.  Fiber also takes longer to digest so when you have fiber in your meal, you will fill fuller longer.

2.       Lower your cholesterol – ever see the Cheerios commercials?  Cheerios are advertised as being “heart healthy”.  That is true.  The fiber in Cheerios grabs onto cholesterol and takes it out of your body.  That is why Cheerios can say it has “a soluble fiber proven to help lower cholesterol as part of a heart-healthy diet”. Oatmeal is also loaded with this same soluble fiber so having oatmeal for breakfast is also a heart healthy way to start your day.  Many people like the instant oatmeal.  Yes, some flavors of instant oatmeal have some added sugar, but you are still getting the benefits of the fiber so enjoy.

3.       Prevention of diverticulitis, constipation – fiber helps keep your gut healthy.  It helps move the digested food through your system.

4.       Healthy Blood Sugar levels – they always recommend diabetics have fiber in their day?  Why?  Because fiber helps keep your blood sugar levels normal.  Since fiber slows down absorption of food, fiber helps prevent spikes in your blood sugar.  

How much fiber do you need each day?

How much fiber?
Fiber – grams per day
Women 18-50 years old

For most people getting enough fiber in their day is quite challenging.  Studies have found that most American men get only 19 grams a day and American women get only 15 grams of fiber a day.  Start reading package labels and for a day or two try counting how much fiber you get in a day.  You may be surprised you are quite under the recommended amount.

How can you add fiber to your day?
First, find out how much fiber you are getting now.  When adding fiber, do it SLOWLY.  You don’t want to go from 10 grams of fiber per day to 25 or 30 grams.  Your stomach and intestines won’t be happy.  Increase your fiber slowly over a two week period or longer.  

1.       Grains – look for whole grain cereal (all General Mills cereals are whole grain).  Look at the package for how much fiber there is per serving of cereal.   Choose cereals that offer at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.  In “The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood”, Dr. Sears noted how he taught his kids and grandkids to look at cereal labels for at least 3 grams of fiber.
Tasty choice - easy to bring to work
Bread – look at the fiber content of each slice or each bagel or English Muffin.  Some breads are packed with fiber.  I like Dave’s Killer Bread which provides 5 grams of fiber per slice.  Have a sandwich and you added 10 grams of fiber to your lunch. And it is super healthy bread with 21 grains and lots of seeds.
Dave's Killer Bread
2.       Fruit and vegetables – eat them fresh and whole for the most fiber.  Going to a cook out?  Enjoy some baked beans and watermelon.  Add some fresh fruit to your yogurt, smoothie, or cereal.

3.       Nuts and seeds – have a handful of nuts a day.  Dr. Oz recommends a handful of nuts a day for overall good health.  Adding nuts and seeds to your day is an easy way to boost the health of your diet, fill you up, and add some fiber.  Pack a handful of nuts in a baggie for a healthy afternoon snack. Choose a bread that has some seeds in it.

4.       Water – hydration.  Increasing fiber means you also need to up your fluid intake.  Fiber attracts water like a sponge as it moves through your system.  Drinking more fluid will help your digestive system process the fiber you are taking in. 

The American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has these hints to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet.  Eat This, Not That! has a good article on “The 43 Best Foods for Fiber”.  

Foods high in fiber
Amount of fiber (grams)
7 grams
1 c. Raspberries
8 grams
Almonds 1 oz.
3.5 grams
Black beans ½ c. cooked
7.5 grams
Popcorn 3 cups popped
3.6 grams
Orange - fresh
3.1 grams
Banana – fresh medium
3.1 grams
Apple – medium
4.4 grams
3.6 grams
Avocado ¼
3.4 grams
Carrots 1 cup raw
3.6 grams
Sweet potato – 1 medium
3.8 grams
Potato –baked Russet
4 grams
Sugar Snap Peas 1 c.
4 grams
Pasta – whole grain – 1 c.
4.9 grams

What are some ways you can add fiber to your day?  I like a banana for breakfast and eat one almost every day.  I also enjoy Cheerios or some instant oatmeal.  Lunch – I enjoy some baby carrots, fresh fruit and often a cheese sandwich with whole grain bread.  Dinner – I enjoy refined bread at dinner – some good Ciabatta, French bread.  No, refined breads don’t add much or any fiber, but they can be delicious.   I focus my fiber intake on breakfast and lunch and dinner not so much.  If we have pasta at dinner, we often add some whole grain pasta to it.  All whole grain pasta spaghetti is not too appetizing.  But a little whole grain spaghetti noodles and you can hardly taste it.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

How to eat for a healthy gut

Who knew that there are bacteria that are good for us.  It’s true, there are some bacteria that actually improve your health.   What foods provide healthy bacteria?  Some people know that yogurt has healthy bacteria.  But did you know you also have to “feed” the healthy bacteria?  What can you do to add some healthy bacteria to your day for a healthier gut? And not just your digestive system benefits.  Research is now showing that probiotics may help our health in many ways including:  “immunity, weight, heart health, and even memory”.  But skip the supplements and get your probiotics and prebiotics from real food. 

What are the “good” bacteria for a healthy digestive system?
You may have heard of “probiotics”.  According to WebMD, probiotics are “live bacteria and yeast that are good for your health, especially your digestive system”.   Probiotics are the good bacteria that promote a healthy gut.  But you not only need to eat foods that provide probiotics, your diet also needs food that feed the healthy bacteria.  These types of foods are called prebiotics.  

What foods provide probiotics? 

  • Yogurt – look at the label for “live cultures” to be sure you are getting the healthy, live bacteria.  Usually you will find, lactobacillus, a common probiotic in yogurt.   Surprising, lactobacillus helps digest the lactose in yogurt.  So many people who are lactose intolerant, can enjoy some yogurt.
Yogurt with fruit
  • Kombuchas – these are fermented beverages with probiotics.  My daughter has gotten into these drinks and tries to drink a Kombucha drink every day.
Kombucha- Gingerade
  • Olives – get the cured Greek olives and you will get some probiotics, not to mention the healthy oil in olives
  • Apple Cider vinegar – use to make salad dressings
  • Dairy products – besides yogurt, buttermilk,, and soft cheeses provide probiotics

What foods have prebiotics?  So healthy bacteria need to eat.  What do you feed them?  Fiber.  We can’t digest fiber but the good bacteria thrive on fiber. By “feeding” your healthy bacteria fiber, you promote a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut and promote the growth of healthy bacteria.   If you don’t feed the healthy bacteria, then they can naturally decrease in number.  Thus, “prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut”.

  • Vegetables – some vegetables contain prebiotics.  These include:  leeks, garlic and onions.  Add some of these to a salad with the apple cider vinegar and you will get the benefit of probiotics and prebiotics.   Other vegetables to choose are asparagus, Jicama, legumes. 
  • Grains – whole grains like oats, whole wheat, barley and rye provide fiber and thus prebiotics.  Enjoy some oatmeal, Cheerios, whole grain English muffins to add some prebiotics to your day.
  • Fruit – blueberries are not only filled with heart-healthy antioxidants, they also promote the health of your good gut bacteria.  Add some blueberries to your favorite yogurt and you once again will be getting probiotics and prebiotics.  Bananas are another good choice for prebiotics.  Apples provide pectin which has “prebiotic effects”.  The pectin in apples not only promotes growth of the healthy gut bacteria but also lowers the number of harmful bacteria in your gut.
  • Cocoa chocolate – a favorite of so many people.  “Cocoa is a tasty prebiotic food.  It contains flavanols that increase healthy gut bacteria, lower cholesterol and improve heart health.” 
  • Flaxseeds – many people sprinkle flaxseeds on their cereal or add flaxseed powder to their morning smoothie.  Or you may see “flaxseed” as an ingredient in a healthy whole grain bread.  It is the fiber in flaxseed that helps feed your good gut bacteria. 

If you would like to know more about probiotics and prebiotics, then read this helpful article, Probiotics 101.

Add some probiotics and prebiotics to your life this week.  Have some yogurt and blueberries at lunch.  Put banana slices on your morning oatmeal or Cheerios.  Make some salad dressing with apple cider vinegar.  So many easy ways to promote a healthy gut.