5 Painless Steps to a Healthier Diet
Simple steps can be the key to healthy eating. Subtle changes, such as cutting back on chips or taste-testing less while preparing dinner, can lead to big effects over the long haul. Here are five easy things you can do that provide a major nutrition boost with hardly any effort.
1) Switch from pretzels to nuts as a mid-day snack. Not only are nuts a much better source of protein, magnesium, vitamin E, and B vitamins than are pretzels, but recent research shows that a handful of nuts as a snack several times a week lowers heart disease by 35% and cancer risk. Granted, they are high in calories, but the fat in most nuts is heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats and appears to help with weight loss. A weight-loss diet that includes moderate amounts of healthy fats, such as nuts, can contribute to supporting long-term weight loss.
2) Drink tea or coffee between meals (tannins in tea and coffee block iron absorption).These beverages contain compounds called tannins that reduce iron absorption by up to 94%. Women already consume too little iron to meet their needs; tea and coffee only aggravate the problem. Herbal teas do the same: Peppermint blocks iron by up to 84%, chamomile and others by half. Instead, drink your tea and coffee between meals.
3) Slice a tomato on your salad or add stewed tomatoes to soup. A new study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston found that women who maintain the highest blood levels of lycopene have up to a 50% lower risk for developing heart disease. Lycopene is a potent antioxidant and is found in the red pigment in plants, with tomatoes being the best source. Cooked tomato products have more lycopene than fresh tomatoes, which are better than supplements. People should be encouraged to eat more tomatoes and tomato products as part of a varied diet rich in fruits and vegetables, but I would caution against lycopene supplements, since it may be the combination of healthy substances in tomatoes, not just lycopene that provides the best health protection. You’ll need at least 10 milligrams or the amount of lycopene in ½ cup of tomato sauce or two fresh tomatoes at least seven times a week. Vine-ripened tomatoes have more lycopene than tomatoes picked green and allowed to ripen later.
4) Switch from a baked potato to a sweet potato. Ounce for ounce, sweet potatoes outshine the traditional spud in every nutrient from A to zinc. For example, they have more than 7 times the calcium and twice the vitamin C. While traditional potatoes have no beta carotene, even a small sweet potato packs in three times your daily allotment of this potent antioxidant, which lowers your risk for heart disease, and cancer, and reduces the redness and skin inflammation of sunburn – a sign of accelerated aging and cancer of the skin. Beta carotene accumulates in the skin providing 24-hour protection against sun damage.The more carotene-rich produce you eat, the more skin protection you get. Caution: Eating too many carotene-rich foods can turn skin yellowish, but don’t worry, this fades when you cut back on sweet potatoes and doesn’t show up at all with a light tan.
5) Add a handful of beans to your salad or soup. People who include a few servings each week of beans lower their risk for heart disease by up to 22%. Besides fiber, beans contain health-enhancing compounds called phytochemicals, including saponins and phytosterols, that lower blood cholesterol. One cup, sprinkled onto a salad, added to vegetable soup, mixed with couscous to make a meal, or rolled into a tortilla with cheese and salsa supplies almost one-third of a woman’s daily need for iron, but only 219 calories and no fat!
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Just Do This Today
1. Switch from milk chocolate to dark chocolate: Look for at least 70% cocoa powder. Dark chocolate is a powerhouse of antioxidants that protect cells from age-related damage, thus lowering the risk for heart disease and dementia, and even possibly aiding in weight loss. Just keep the portion to 1 oz and no more than 5 times a week.
2. Switch from white to red wine. Compared to white wine, red wine is packed with antioxidants…more than 20 times that found in white wine. It helps keep platelets from clumping
in the blood, possibly preventing blood clots. Moderation is key. One glass of red wine a day for women, and no more than 2 glasses for men.
3. Switch from whole wheat to 100% whole wheat. Unless a bread says it is 100%, assume it only has a dusting of whole grain. Chewy whole grains have a low glycemic index, so they help lower risk for heart disease and diabetes and aid in weight loss. 100% whole grains also are loaded with antioxidants, trace minerals like chromium and zinc, and fibers that reduce the risk for everything from colon cancer to heart disease.
Hot Off the Diet Press
1. Fructose on the Hot Seat: Even when supplied in similar quantities, fructose out-matches glucose in its ability to pack on the pounds, encourage inactivity, and deposit fat in all the wrong places. Researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois studied two groups of mice. One group was fed a diet where 18% of calories came from fructose, mimicking the intake of sugar of adolescents in the United States. The second group was fed 18% glucose diets. Calories were similar to usual intakes. Results showed that the fructose-fed rodents showed significantly greater weight gain, liver mass, and fat mass in comparison to the glucose-fed mice. The fructose-fed mice also were less active. The researchers conclude that, “Given the dramatic increase in obesity among young people and the severe negative effects that this can have on health throughout one’s life, it is important to consider what foods are providing our calories.” Rendeiro C, Masnik A, Mun J, et al: Fructose deceases physical activity and increases body fat without affecting hippocampal neurogenesis and learning relative to an isocaloric glucose diet. Scientific Reports 2015;5:9589.
2. DHA: The Sleep Aid: A good night’s sleep is important for general health, emotional well-being, thinking, and school performance in children. In contrast, poor sleep habits are linked to behavior problems and learning difficulties. Researchers at the University of Oxford may have found a safe way to improve a child’s sleeping habits. Sleep habits and blood levels of the omega-3 DHA were assessed in a group of 675 healthy children between the ages of 7- and 9-years-old, after which the children were give daily either DHA supplements (600 milligrams) or matched placebos. At the start of the study, blood levels of DHA were very low and sleep habits were rated as poor. Low DHA levels also were associated with higher total sleep disturbance scores. After 16 weeks of DHA supplementation, sleep habits had improved in the children who had been diagnosed at the start with clinical-level sleep problems, Sleep duration increased by 58 minutes with fewer night awakenings in the DHA group compared to the placebo group. The researchers conclude that, “….this is the first study to show that increasing children’s dietary intake of omega-3 DHA can improve their sleep.” Although more research is needed, it appears that low intake of the omega-3 DHA reduces melatonin production and impairs dopamine metabolism, which then interferes with sleep patterns. Richardson A: Omega-3 and sleep: New insights from the DHA Oxford Learning and Behaviour (DOLAB) study. Lipid Technology 2015; April 22nd.
3. Folic Acid for Heart Disease: Folic acid supplementation might help lower the risk for stroke by reducing homocysteine levels, according to a study from Ningbo University in China. The link between homocysteine levels and ischemic stroke and coronary heart disease was compared in 5,935 people from 60 communities. Folic acid’s influence on homocysteine levels also was evaluated in 501 people with essential hypertension, who took folic acid supplements for an average of 2.5 years. Results showed that elevated homocysteine levels increased the risk for stroke by 2.4-fold in men and 2.7-fold in women. Compared with normal levels of homocysteine,those people with the highest levels had up to almost a five-fold increased risk. No significant risk for coronary heart disease was noted. Notably, folic acid supplementation reduced homocysteine levels by almost 28% in patients with hypertension. Han L, Wu Q, Wang C, et al: Homocysteine, ischemic stroke, and coronary heart disease in hypertensive patients. Stroke 2015; June 2nd.
Food & Mood Tip-
It is difficult to imagine in this era of gluttony, that for 99.9% of the millions of years our ancestors walked this earth, finding food was a challenge. To survive, our Stone Age ancestor’s needed concentrated calories – the sweet and greasy foods that pack the greatest calorie punch per bite. These foods were rare and limited to fruit or honey in season, wild game, and a few nuts, seeds, and avocados. As a result, the human body evolved complex appetite-control systems to ensure we eat a lot when these foods are around and to drive us to look for them when they’re not.
That elaborate crave control center includes a symphony of brain chemicals, such as neuropeptide Y (NPY) and serotonin, that increase our yearnings for carbohydrate-rich foods. Today, those chemical create a strong desire for any starch or sweet, from cereal, pasta, and rice to cakes, cookies, and pies. Other brain chemicals, such as galanin and the endorphins, drive our modern desires for fatty foods, such as pizza, hamburgers, chocolate, fries, and chips. And another nerve chemical, called dopamine, stamps that pleasurable experience into our memory banks, so at the very smell or sight of a cinnamon roll, we already are drooling. There appears to be no chemistry driving us to crave low-calorie, fiber-rich broccoli, lentils, or lima beans. This does not give us a license to binge. Rather than the knee-jerk reaction to sweets that comes from our lower brain centers, we must stop, think, and engage our highly-evolved rational minds to make smart food choices!
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Mood-Boosting Recipe of the month-
Low-Fat Panna Cotta with Fresh Raspberry Sauce (from The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams). This delicate, smooth cream is so delicious you won’t believe that it’s almost fat free (traditional panna cotta is 69% fat calories!) and has a third of the calories of the original version. Top with the berry sauce below or chunks of fresh fruit, such as mango, apricot, berries, kiwi. This panna cotta an be cooled in custard cups as described below (this is the best presentation when drizzling sauces over the dessert), or pour liquid mixture into parfait or wine glasses, chill, and serve.
3 tablespoons water
2 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 cup fat-free half & half
4 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons Splenda
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pour water into a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatin. Stir and let stand for 5 minutes until gelatin softens and forms a stiff gel. Combine half & half, sugar, and Splenda in medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until just about to boil. Remove from heat, add gelatin mixture, and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved and mixture is smooth. Set aside and cool, approximately 45 minutes. Stir buttermilk and vanilla into cream mixture. Pour into 6 custard cups or ramekins. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until panna cotta is completely set. Run thin sharp knife around edges and set each ramekin in hot water for 1 minute to loosen gel. Place plate on top of ramekin and invert to allow panna cotta to settle onto plate. Top with fresh fruit or Fresh Raspberry Sauce (see below). Nutritional Analysis per serving: 90 Calories; 6% fat (0.5 gram); 0 gram saturated fat; 21% protein; 73% carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber.
Fresh Raspberry Sauce
If you can’t find fresh raspberries, frozen raspberries, or any berry, can be used.
2 cups fresh raspberries
2 1 /2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1) Blend berries in food processor or blender. Pass liquefied berries through a fine sieve, pressing with spatula, to remove all seeds. Whisk sugar and lemon juice into berry liquid. Pour over pannacotta or ice cream, or drizzle over chunks of mango. Also can be stored in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week. Makes about 1 cup of sauce.
Nutritional Analysis per 1 ounce serving: 38 Calories; 4 percent fat (< 0.5 grams); 0 gram saturated fat; 3 percent protein; 93 percent carbohydrate; 1 gram fiber.
Answers to “Do you know?” from last issue:
1. Do you need to use full-fat dressing to absorb all the vitamins and minerals in a salad?
Yes, but not too much and it depends on what else is in the salad. Studies show that a little fat boosts the absorption of not just the fat-soluble vitamins, including vitamins A, D, E, and K, but also significantly increases the absorption of many of the antioxidant-rich phytonutrients, such aslycopene. However, if that salad is packed with greasy croutons, cheese, avocado, or a mayonnaise-rich topping like chicken salad, then adding more fatty dressing won’t give you any further benefits other than an extra inch around the waistline. On the other hand, a salad made up of dark green lettuce or spinach and lots of veggies needs a reasonable serving of full-fat dressing to ensure you get the biggest nutritional bang for your salad buck.
2. Do the fats in olive oil and other healthy fats convert to trans fats when heated on the stove?
No. Trans fats are formed from polyunsaturated fats only be the addition of hydrogen and that is done chemically and not just by heating oils. While cooking extra-virgin olive oil to high heat will lower the amount of healthful phytonutrients found in that oil, it will not convert it to harmful trans fats.
Do You Know?
1. Are whole flax seeds one of the best sources of omega-3 fats?
2. Are brown eggs more nutritious than white eggs?
Check next week for the answers….
“Reduced” on the Label
This may or may not be a good marker for health. A food that says reduced simply means it contains at least 25% less of something. For example, a reduced-sodium soup may contain 25% less sodium than the original version, but that doesn’t mean it’s low in sodium. A one-cup serving could still contain a third or more of your total day’s recommended sodium limit of 1,500 milligrams. And sometimes reduced isn’t a good thing. A serving of reduced fat cookies typically contains about the same number of calories per serving and often more sugar that the original cookie. Reduced-fat almond butter could mean they have taken some of the healthy fats out and replaced the calories with more sugar. The lesson is no matter what the front of the label says,always check the ingredient list and the nutritional panel on the back for actual numbers and serving size.
Food Finds/Food Fails:
1. Nectarines: This time of year is the best for produce. Honestly, there isn’t much better than a fresh nectarine. For only about 70 calories and zero preparation time, you get a hefty dose of vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium. Slice and add to cereal, a peanut butter sandwich, a smoothie, salsa, or even brush with bourbon and grill on the barbecue.
2. Baby Spinach: I don’t think you can get to healthy without spinach. It’s is one of the richest sources of vitamins A and C, iron, potassium, folate, and a wealth of phytonutrients, including lutein and zeaxanthin that protect eyes from vision loss. Bags and boxes of baby spinach are perfect because you don’t even need to stem and wash the leaves. Add to salads, sandwiches, stir frys, or saute with garlic and olive oil.
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1. Stacy’s Pita Chips Simply Naked: Up front and center on the front of the package is the promise that these chips contain “Nothing but sea salt.” So why is the first ingredient white flour? In fact, there is more sea salt than there is whole wheat flour. Like any chip, these impostors supply 130 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving. The serving size? Only 10 chips. Snack on baby carrots instead and leave these chips on the store’s shelf.
2. Udi’s Gluten-Free Ancient Grain Millet Chia Bread: Here is another example of how the trendy word “gluten-free” can lead to serious nutritional deficiencies. The first ingredient (after water) is tapioca starch, which has the nutritional equivalent of corn starch – or zero vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytonutrients, protein, etc. You also get a hefty dose, or 300 milligrams, of sodium to help cover up the fact that this bread would have no taste otherwise. The label claim to“Eat Well, Smile Often” must related to the rest of your diet because this bread is a looser when it comes to both nutrition and taste.
The Daily Menu
Put know how into practice with this simple, nutritious meal plan. Eliminate the snacks if you want to cut additional calories. And, with all the menus in my newsletter, feel free to tweak to your food preferences and choices.
Berry Parfait: Layer the following in a tall glass – 1 cup plain, nonfat yogurt, 1/3 cup low-fat granola, and 1 1/4 cup berries (fresh or thawed and drained frozen)
1 cup calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice
Green tea (optional)
1/4 cup dried figs and 1 ounce almonds
Bagel Melt: 1 4-ounce 100% whole wheat bagel cut in half. Top one side with 3 tomato slices, 1 slice red onion, and 1 ounce Reduced-fat Cheddar Cheese. Broil until cheese bubbles. Top with remaining half of bagel.
Cole Slaw: 1 cup shredded cabbage mixed with 1 tablespoon low-fat dressing.
2 cup watermelon cubes
Water with lemon or lime
Broiled Halibut with Corn Salsa: 5 ounces halibut steak, brushed with lemon juice and black pepper. Place steak on broiler pan and broil 4 inches below heating element, for 10 minutes per inch of thickness or until fish flakes easily. Top with 1/2 cup corn salsa (commercial brand or homemade from lime juice, corn, and diced red onion, cilantro, red pepper, and jalapeno pepper) 1/2 cup cooked brown rice mixed with fresh herbs and 1/4 cup green peas 15 asparagus spears lightly sauteed with 1 minced clove garlic in nonstick frying pan coated with cooking spray 1 serving Low-Fat Panna Cotta with Fresh Raspberry Sauce Decaffeinated tea (optional: sweetened with sugar substitute)
Late-Night Snack: 2 cups air-popped popcorn
Nutrition Analysis: 1,945 Calories, 17 % fat (37 g, 7 g saturated), 64 % carbs (311 g), 19 % protein (92 g), 47 g fiber, 1,150 mg sodium.
What has Elizabeth been up to?
July 23rd, Elizabeth was on AMNorthWest, KATU Channel 2 in Portland, OR, talking about what to look for and what to look out for on food labels.
August 20th and 22nd Elizabeth will speak at the California Dental Association’s meeting in San Francisco.