What’s the big deal with eating green vegetables?

chardI honestly don’t think you can get to healthy without at least one, preferably two, servings of dark green leafies every day. While our intake of dark green leafies, such as spinach, kale, chard, and collards, has increased by 50% since the 1970s, we still average less than 0.2 servings daily or about one bite. You should get at least one cup raw or half cup cooked of ark green leafies every day. Packed with vitamins and minerals, that serving supplies an entire day’s requirement for vitamin A, more than 3 milligrams of iron, almost a third of your daily need for folic acid, and hefty amounts of calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins, all for about 20 calories. Spinach and other greens also are excellent sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, phytochemicals that lowers risk for cataracts and macular degeneration, the two leading causes of blindness. Lutein and zeaxanthin are antioxidants and they act as a blue-light filter in the eye, blocking this sensitive tissue from the sun’s UV rays. Iceberg or head lettuce doesn’t count. You have to go green, really green, to get the biggest nutritional bang for your buck. Use them in salads, add to sandwiches, add chopped spinach to soups, steam and blend with mashed potatoes… the options are endless.

I know coffee drinks can be high in calories. Which ones are the worst?

coffee-milkThe worst offenders are the ones made with whole milk, chocolate, and whipped cream, such as the mocha drinks, which contain up to 11 ounces of whole milk in a large beverage and a hefty dose of chocolate syrup. For example, a Cafe Mocha made with whole milk contains up to 400 calories and almost 7 teaspoons of fat – that beats out chocolate fudge cake by 150 calories! Add a dollop of whipped cream and the calories jump to more than 500 and you’ve used up 60% of your daily allotment for fat, or more than 40 grams. But even lower-fat coffee drinks, such as lattes and cappuccinos, can pack in the calories if they are made with whole milk or topped with whipped cream.

 

 

 

I hear the omega-3 fats are good for memory. Is this true?

Yes, but only if it is the right omega-3. Even a few years ago, most experts thought the brain was unaffected by dietary intake and also unable to regenerate. All of that has changed. Now we know that 66% of brain aging is within our control and diet plays a huge part in staying mentally sharp. The omega-3 fats in seafood, EPA and DHA, are critical building blocks of healthy brain cells. In fact, 97% of the omega-3s in the brain are DHA. But, your body can’t make this fat. It must come from the diet. No wonder researchers have found that people who consume ample amounts of DHA maintain better memories and are up to 60% less likely to develop dementia. DHA also reduces depression by up to 50% even in people who are the most difficult to treat and depression rates are 60 times lower in countries where people consume the most DHA, which is why even the American Psychiatric Association in 2006 added this fat to their recommendations for treating depression. In addition, a recent study from Oxford found that DHA supplements even improved reading by up to 50% in children and curbed behavioral problems. Stay tuned: Preliminary research is investigating the link with DHA and attention deficit, autism, and other neurological problems. Aim for at least 2 servings a week of DHA-rich salmon, include DHA-fortified foods in the diet, or take a supplement that supplies at least 220 milligrams of DHA. The omega-3 fat in flax, walnuts, soy, etc, called ALA, has not been found at this time to have any impact on brain health.

 

 

My dad has macular degeneration. Is there any diet tips to prevent or slow this disease?

Years ago, people believed that the common causes of vision loss as we aged – cataracts and macular degeneration – were an inevitable consequence of getting older. Now we know there is much you can do to prevent, slow, stop, and possibly even reverse this damage by simply making a few changes in what you eat today.

Long-term exposure to air and sunlight generates little oxygen fragments, called oxidants, that damage the eyes. Choosing a diet rich in the anti-oxidant nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc, fortifies the eyes against this damage and helps protect against the development of both cataracts and macular degeneration. People with high levels of these antioxidants are at lowest risk of vision loss later in life. Lutein and zeaxanthin also help filter blue light, which protects the eyes from damage.

For example, vitamin C is the antioxidant found in oranges, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables. The eye naturally stockpiles vitamin C to levels 20 times and higher than those found in the blood. The high concentration of vitamin C in our eyes might be an adaptation that protects against the damaging UV rays in sunlight.

A host of other antioxidant-rich compounds, called phytonutrients, in colorful fruits and vegetables also are sight savers. Lutein is one of them, a phytonutrient in dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach. When people consume as little as 10 milligrams of lutein daily (the amount found in 1 /2 cup of spinach), their levels of lutein increase in the blood and eyes, and they are less prone to vision loss. If they do develop vision problems, the disease is less likely to progress to advanced stages.

Dietary fat also might play a role in the development of age-related vision loss. Saturated fats in meat and fatty dairy products might increase risk up to 80%, while the healthy fats, especially the omega-3 DHA in fatty fish, possibly lower risk for both cataracts and macular degeneration.

The visionary diet is simple, just follow these 4 guidelines to stack the deck in favor of healthy vision throughout life:

1. Consume daily at least eight servings of colorful fresh fruits and vegetables (including two servings of lutein-rich dark green leafy vegetables and two servings of vitamin C-rich citrus fruits).

2. Take a moderate-dose multiple vitamin and mineral supplement to fill in the gaps on the days when you don’t eat perfectly. Choose one that contains lutein and zeaxanthin.

3. Limit or avoid saturated fat by reducing intake of meat and fatty dairy products; then emphasize the eye-healthy fats in fish. If you don’t eat at least 2 servings a week of fatty fish like salmon, then take a supplement that contains at least 220 milligrams DHA.

4. Wear protective sunglasses year-round that filter out 100 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Is low-fat milk better than nonfat or whole milk?

Milk and Cookies  2% low-fat milk has more calories and fat than you think, or 120 calories versus 150 calories in whole milk and 5 grams of fat versus 8 grams of fat. The saturated fat in milk, cheese, and meat is the type of fat that clogs arteries and contributes to colon cancer. Ironically, Americans have cut way back on their whole milk intake to reduce saturated fat, but have increased their intake of cheese, which contains much more saturated fat. Consequently, cheese is now the #1 source of saturated fat in the American diet, nudging out red meat.

What should you to choose instead? For almost no difference in taste and texture, you can cut calories and fat by choosing 1% low-fat milk, which has only 100 calories a cup and 2.5 grams of fat. Of course, nonfat is the best with only 85 calories and 0 grams of fat. You also can “thicken” nonfat milk so it tastes more like low-fat by adding some nonfat dry milk to it. Or, select light soymilk, which has all the benefits of nonfat milk, fewer calories, and the health-enhancing phytoestrogens that lower heart-disease risk.     Photo credit: Nick Wheeler via Compfight