New News on Old Super Foods
Do you ever wonder what happened to last year’s super foods? Are they still worth the time to include in your diet? Let’s take a look, but first it’s important to note that super foods are not, and never have been, all that they are cracked up to be.
Many people like to think there is a magic bullet to the diet game. Just add berries to the diet and you’ll side step dementia or add kale and you’ll lose weight. Food companies take advantage of that interest by marketing their foods as super foods. In reality, there is no one food that can promise anything. It is the overall diet that determines whether you gain or lose weight, are at risk for heart disease or diabetes, and alter your odds of developing dementia down the road. That said, if you already eat really well, there are a few foods that do pack an extra nutritional punch. The best part is we keep finding more benefits from including these in our diets.
Kale: Last year’s super food is this dark green leafy veggie. Like spinach, it is rich in nutrients, like vitamins A and C, folate, iron, and fiber. The old news here is that these dark greens also are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. These two compounds are related to beta carotene and are known to cross the blood-brain barrier and deposit in your eye tissue where they act like internal sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV light. That, in turn, protects you from the two major causes of vision loss, cataracts and macular degeneration.
The new news here is that preliminary research shows lutein and zeaxanthin also might protect your brain tissue from damage associated with dementia. We know you need at least 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin, or about ½ cup cooked kale or spinach every day.
Word of warning: Skip the processed kale chips high in fat and salt.
Salmon: The omega-3s in fatty fish, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), improve mood, sharpen the mind, keep blood vessels squeaky clean, and reduce inflammation. They lower heart disease risk, raise HDLs – the good cholesterol, help stabilize the heartbeat, reduce blood clots so lower the risk for heart attack and stroke, and lower the chances of getting high blood pressure, cancer, vision loss, arthritis, depression, attention deficit, dementia, and a host of other unsexy ills.
The new news here is that recent studies show that DHA also might improve sleep patterns and reduce aggressive and anti-social behaviors in children and teens. Honestly, I don’t think you or your children can get to healthy without at least two servings of fatty fish a week!
Word of warning: Battered and/or fried salmon does not appear to have the same health benefits, so be careful how you prepare you seafood. And, the omega-3-rich foods often touted as superfoods, such as flax, contain a different omega-3 called ALA. It is good for lowering heart disease and possibly inflammation, but has no benefits when it comes to mood, mind, memory and behavior.
Yogurt: We have known for a long time that this super food improves gut health, lowering the risk for intestinal problems. That apparently was just the tip of the super-food iceberg.
The new news here is that maintaining a healthy gut is critical for maintaining a healthy weight, boosting immunity to disease and infection, and lowering disease risk. It even might lower the risk for anxiety and impaired memory. We don’t know how much yogurt you need, but we do know you need to replenish those probiotics frequently, especially acidophilus, rhamnosus, and bifidum.
Word of warning: Skip the fruited and flavored yogurts, which have the sugar equivalent of a candy bar. Purchase plain nonfat or low-fat yogurts that contain at least 5 different probiotics.
Nuts: It doesn’t matter whether it’s almonds or cashews, filberts or peanuts, a small amount of any nut helps curb hunger and aid with weight management. We also know that these old super foods have protein and heart-healthy fats.
The new news is that a vitamin in nuts, vitamin E, might help protect and strengthen muscle cells, which could have implications for muscular dystrophy, diabetes-related muscle weakness, and even traumatic brain injuries. It also means vitamin E in nuts could help all of us recover from exercise or just maintain optimal muscle function.
Word of warning: Because nuts are high in calories, stick to no more than 1 ounce a day.
Photo credit: Sarah Sammis via Compfight
Photo credit: Foodie Baker via Compfight
Photo credit: Kyle Brown via Compfight
Just Do This Today
1. Aim to fill half of every plate with colorful fruits and/or vegetables. Done every day, along with switching to only 100% grains, this one habit can cut disease risk by up to 80%.
2. Take time at the grocery store to read labels today. Avoid any food that has added sugar, fat, or salt. You’ll find there is almost no processed food that meets that criteria!
3. Sit down to a family dinner of home-cooked foods. You’ll save calories and help establish good eating habits in your kids.
Hot Off the Diet Press
1. Eat Regularly for Your Waistline: A study on animals at Ohio State University found that skipping meals alters metabolism leading to increased risk for abdominal weight gain. In this study, mice that ate all of their food as a single meal and fasted the rest of the day developed insulin resistance. When the liver does not respond to insulin signals telling it to stop producing glucose, the extra sugar in the blood is stored as fat. Granted, the food-restricted mice lost weight compared to controls, but they gained more belly fat, which is associated with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and the metabolic syndrome. The researchers conclude that, “…you definitely don’t want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss.”
Kliewer K, Ke J, Lee H, et al: Short-term food restriction followed by controlled refeeding promotes gorging behavior, enhances fat deposition, and diminishes insulin sensitivity in mice. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 2015; March 13th.
2. 3 Factors for Healthy Eating: To be successful at healthy eating, a person must adopt a 3-tiered tactic toward food, according to a study from Cornell University. The researchers reviewed more than 100 studies and found three factors that consistently helped people make better food choices. The foods had to be 1) convenient ( C), 2) attractive (A), and normal ((N), or CAN. Healthy foods that fit this criteria were more successful than telling people not to eat certain foods or asking them to use willpower to avoid temptation. The study found that people make about 200 food-related decisions every day, which means the majority of those choices are quick and instinctive. Healthy foods must be on-hand, easy to prepare or in plain sight, and convenient.To be attractive, healthy foods, such as fresh fruit, should be at the top of a bowl on the counter, not buried at the bottom of the refrigerator drawer. These two factors help to make healthy choices more normal or typical for a person to instinctively choose.
Wansink B: Change their choice: Changing behavior using the CAN approach and activism research. Psychology & Marketing 2015;32:486-500.
3. Lycopene Against Parkinson’s: Adding more lycopene-rich foods to the diet might help reduce the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, according to a study on animals from Annamalai University in India. Lycopene was supplemented in doses of 5, 10, and 20 milligrams/kg body weight/day in the diets of animals with Parkinson’s. Results showed lycopene protected dopamine receptor sites in the animals’ brains in a dose-dependent fashion. It also lowered oxidative stress and improved motor abnormalities. The researchers conclude that, “…lycopene…offers promise as a strategy in the treatment of this neurodegenerative disease.”
Prema A, Janakiraman U, Manivasagam T, et al: Neuroprotective effect of lycopene against MPTP induced experimental Parkinson’s disease in mice. Neuroscience Letter 2015;599:12-19.
Food & Mood Tip –
Lunch should supply a balance of quality carbohydrates (whole grains, starchy vegetables, or legumes) and protein-rich foods, such as lean meat, chicken breast, fish, legumes, or nonfat milk products). The carbs supply fuel your brain and body need throughout the afternoon hours, while protein helps you feel full longer, so you are less likely to visit the vending machine for a candy bar or bag of chips. Don’t make the mistake of focusing solely on carbs. A high-carbohydrate lunch, such as a plate of pasta with marinara sauce and a tossed salad, raises brain levels of the nerve chemical serotonin, which leaves you relaxed and perhaps a bit sleepy. Combine carbohydrates and protein, such as bean and veggie burrito or a grilled cheese and roasted red pepper sandwich on whole wheat, and you curb the serotonin effect and raise levels of energizing nerve chemicals, such as dopamine and norepinephrine. This leaves you feeling alert and ready to concentrate.
Mood-Boosting Recipe of the month –
Grilled Cheese, Tomato, and Roasted Yellow Pepper Sandwich (From The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams) A wonderful twist on the classic grilled cheese and a great way to sneak extra vegetables into your day (one sandwich supplies two servings of vegetables!). Roast the peppers a head of time and this sandwich takes only 12 minutes from start to finish. You also can freeze these sandwiches once cooked, then microwave to reheat. If you can’t find sun-dried tomato paste at your grocery store, increase the tomato paste to 3 tablespoons instead. You can substitute tart apple slices for the tomato for a crunchy, sweet flavor.
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomato paste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon canned chipotle pepper, diced
2 teaspoons honey
6 slices French or sourdough bread
6 ounces low-fat cheddar cheese, grated
3 firm medium tomatoes, sliced thin
3 thin slices red onion
1 yellow pepper, seeded, sliced into 6 slices and roasted*
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
Heat nonstick skillet or griddle.
1) Blend pastes, chilies, and honey. Spread 1 tablespoon mixture on one side of all 6 slices of bread.
2) Divide half of cheese equally and place on 3 slices of bread, paste-side up. Top with tomatoes,red onion, roasted yellow pepper, cilantro, and second half of cheese. Top with remaining 3 slices of bread, paste side inwards.
3) Spray skillet/griddle with cooking spray and arrange 3 sandwiches. Cook until each side of bread is golden brown, approximately 5 minutes per side. Serve warm.
* To roast yellow peppers, place on cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 425 degrees turning occasionally, until skin begins to bubble and turn brown in places. Peppers should be tender, but still firm, approximately 15 minutes. Makes 3 sandwiches.
Nutritional Analysis per sandwich: 312 Calories; 18% fat (6 grams); 3 grams saturated fat; 26% protein; 56% carbohydrate; 4 grams fiber.
Answers to “Do you know?” from last issue:
1. Is cutting back on sodium only important for someone who has high blood pressure? No. Everyone would benefit from a sodium cut-back. Americans are consuming excessive amounts of sodium, primarily from processed and fast foods, as well as restaurant fare. That glut contributes to an increased risk for other diseases, including heart disease, even if a person doesn’t have high blood pressure.
2. Does drinking a glass of water before a meal help curb appetite, so you eat less? Maybe. Most of the research on water shows that it is water or fluids incorporated into foods, like soups, stews, thick smoothies, that curb appetite and fill people up before they overeat. That said, it can’t hurt to drink water prior to a meal. It certainly is better than an alcoholic beverage, which dissolves the resolve encouraging people to overeat.
Do You Know?
1. Do you need to use full-fat dressing to absorb all the vitamins and minerals in a salad?
2. Do the fats in olive oil and other healthy fats convert to trans fats when heated on the stove?
Check next week for the answers….
Label Lingo –
Multi Grain Madness
The label says “multi grain.” That means it’s better for you, right? It must have more fiber, vitamins, minerals, maybe even more phytonutrients and antioxidants. Not necessarily. Multi grain cereals and breads can be mostly white, refined or “wheat” flour (the latter being refined white flour extracted from whole wheat). Even if the bread also is a nice dark color, that could be from added caramel coloring. Always turn the package over and read the ingredient list. The product must contain only whole grains, like whole wheat, quinoa, brown rice, oats, or wheat berries, to be a real 100% whole grain. For more information on how to find real whole grains at the grocery store, check out the Whole Grains Council’s fact sheet: http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/identifying-whole-grain-products
Food Finds/Food Fails:
1. Tillamook Farmstyle Greek Strained Yogurt: Plain and Simple: This is my new favorite yogurt. It’s fat-free, creamy, not tart, and it has seven different probiotics. One cup supplies 23 grams of protein and 30% of your daily need for calcium. It’s also made from milk from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones. The name might be a mouthful, but so is every bite!
2. Baby Carrots: You probably already have these in your refrigerator and are wondering why I’d even mention this snack. I just want to commend you for doing the right thing. Baby carrots are one of the few real foods that come in a bag at the grocery store. High in vitamin A, fiber, and a host of phytonutrients, yet low in calories and so good for you. Munch plain, dip in peanut butter or low-fat dip, have as a side to sandwich instead of potato chips, or steam and add in stir-frys. A great grab-and-go snack for kids, too.
1. MaraNatha All Natural Coconut Butter: This jar of grease boasts that it is “made with natural whole coconut pulp.” Not sure why that is an advantage considering that 2 measly tablespoons packs 220 calories and 20 grams of fat, with 19 of those grams coming from artery clogging saturated fat. That’s more than you’d get in an equal serving of butter. In short, that slippery serving is 82% fat calories with not one redeeming quality. Not sure how people who work for companies like this can sleep at night.
2. Annie Chun’s Noodle Bowl – Peanut Sesame: This meal in a box is in the healthfood section of the grocery store, but there’s not much healthy about it. The puny serving supplies 590 calories, 21 grams of fat (almost a teaspoon of which is saturated), three teaspoons of sugar, and almost 60% of the recommended healthy day’s serving of sodium. The label says “100% Natural”, but not sure what is natural about wheat gluten, cane syrup, cultured dextrose, and most of the 40+ items tallied on the ingredient list. Apparently, the only claim to fame is that it doesn’t have preservatives or MSG. Big deal, considering it doesn’t have much of anything else good for you. Another example of needing to keep your whits about you when in the health-food store.
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.
1 Bran muffin, topped with 1 Tbsp. fat-free cream cheese
1 whole peach, fresh or canned in own juice
1 cup Orange juice
Caffe Latte made with 1 cup nonfat milk
2 cups air-popped popcorn
water with lemon
1 Grilled Cheese, Tomato, and Roasted Yellow Pepper Sandwich
2 cups spinach salad with 2 Tbsp. low-fat dressing
1 cup chili
1 Cornbread muffin (made according to package mix)
2 Tomatoes, sliced
1 cup Hot chocolate made with nonfat milk
nutritional information: 1,626 calories, 12% fat (22 grams), 68% carbohydrates, 20% protein
What has Elizabeth been up to?
June 3: She spoke to grocery store Dietitians at a ShopRite event in New Jersey
June 10th: She and Dr. Michael Roisen spoke at a Roundtable focus group assessing nutrition topics
June 29th: She was on AMNorthWest, KATU, Channel 2 in Portland, Oregon talking about super foods