June 1, 2013

The Visionary Diet

bright-sunSummertime is here. Along with sunscreen and a floppy hat, you need to be thinking about your eyes. About 30 million Americans, or one in every four, suffer from one of the two leading causes of blindness–age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. Nearly three-fourths of Americans aged 55 and older began noticing changes in vision between the ages of 40 and 45-years. Don’t take vision loss as a decree. There is much you can do diet-wise to avoid losing your eyesight down the road.

A recent study from the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology reports that daily consumption of at two dietary substances, lutein and zeaxanthin, as well as vitamins C, E, beta carotene, and zinc significantly reduce progression of age-related macular degeneration. Previous studies have found up to a 30% reduction in risk, so this new study confirms a body of evidence that diet and supplements can make a big difference on how well you see down the road.

It is important to note that our bodies can’t make these substances. They have to come from the diet. Our eyes can’t protect themselves without them, so we need to take this information very seriously. Most of these nutrients can be consumed in dark green leafy and richly colored orange vegetables. For example, beta carotene, which can be converted to vitamin A in the body and is important for seeing in dim light, is rich in carrots, sweet potatoes, and spinach. Spinach also is one of the best sources of lutein and zeaxanthin. So, while most Americans think carrots are the best food for eye health, it is spinach and other dark green leafies that are by far the better choice. Vitamin C protects the eyes from damage from UV light exposure. It’s found in citrus fruits, red bell peppers, kiwi, and watermelon. Vitamin E is found in nuts and wheat germ and the best sources of zinc include whole grains and legumes, like black beans, kidney beans, and lentils

veggiesHow much is enough? You need at least 2 servings a day of dark green leafies for lutein, zeaxanthin, and beta carotene. Two or more vitamin C-rich foods or 500 milligrams of vitamin C as a supplement, and lots of whole grains everyday. The study mentioned above used a supplement that contained 10 milligrams of lutein and 2 milligrams of zeaxanthin. Most Americans average only 1 to 2 milligrams of lutein a day, so if you can’t reach your daily quota of lutein-rich vegetables, then consider taking a supplement.

Another important nutrient for eye health is the omega-3 fats, especially those found in seafood. Preliminary research suggests at least 500 milligrams of the two omega-3s (DHA and EPA) found in fatty fish, such as salmon, might help lower the risk for future vision loss. In addition, the omega-3s, DHA and EPA, might help with dry eyes.

Finally, protect your eyes this summer by wearing good sunglasses that filter both UVA and UVB sunlight.

Just Do This Today

1. Switch from iceberg (head) lettuce to spinach for sandwiches and salads to boost intake of lutein and zeaxanthin.

2. Pile eye-healthy veggies on your pizza, including spinach, red bell peppers, and roasted carrots.

3. Rehydrate and boost vitamin C intake by snacking on chunks of watermelon.

4. Supplement with an sustainable, algal source of the omega-3s, DHA and EPA. Aim for at least 200 milligrams of DHA or at least 1,000 milligrams of a combination of DHA and EPA.

Hot Off the Diet Press

Watermelon1. Lycopene to the Rescue: Men who consume optimal amounts of lycopene-rich foods, such as watermelon and tomatoes, have about half the risk of suffering a stroke compared to men who eat little or no lycopene-rich produce, according to a study from the University of Eastern Finland. Blood lycopene levels were analyzed in 1,031 men ages 46- to 65-years-old. The men were monitored for the following 12 years. Results showed that men with the lowest lycopene levels at the onset were more than twice as likely to have a stroke later as were those men with the highest levels. The researchers conclude that, “…high serum concentrations of lycopene…decrease the risk of any stroke and ischemic stroke in men.”

Karppi J, Laukkanen J, Sivenius J, et al: Serum lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men. Neurology 2012;79:1540-1547.

2. Eat Like a Greek: A Mediterranean diet lowers your risk for heart disease, according to numerous studies, including a recent one from the University of Navarra in Pamplona. In this study, 7,447 people who were at high risk for heart disease were randomly assigned to either a Mediterranean diet with olive oil or with nuts, or a standard low-fat diet. After five years, 288 of the participants had suffered a heart attack or stroke or had died from cardiovascular disease. However, those who had followed a Mediterranean-style diet with either nuts or olive oil had up to a 30% lower risk than those on the low-fat diet.

A strict Mediterranean diet also improves the chances of staying mentally sharp as you age, according to a study from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai.

Estruch R, Ros E, Salas-Salvado J, et al: Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet. New England Journal of Medicine 2013;February 25th.

Te X, Scott T, Gao X, et al: Mediterranean diet, Healthy Eating Index 2005, and cognitive function in middle-aged and older Puerto Rican adults. Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics 2013;113:276-281.

beans3. Iron Clad Rules for PMS: Diets rich in plant-based iron lowers premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, state researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Food intakes were assessed in 1,057 women with PMS and 1,968 controls. Results showed that women with the highest intake of iron from plant sources had a 36% lower risk for PMS compared to women who consumed little iron-rich produce. PMS risk dropped dramatically for women who consumed more than 20 milligrams of iron daily. High intake of zinc from supplements (10 milligrams/daily) had a small protective effect, while intakes of sodium, magnesium, and manganese were unrelated to PMS risk. The researchers speculate that iron improves PMS symptoms by raising serotonin levels, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in clinical depression.

Chocano-Bedoya P, Manson J, Hankinson S, et al: Intake of selected minerals and risk of premenstrual syndrome. American Journal of Epidemiology 2013;February 26th.

Photo credit: Creative Commons License Harsha K R via Compfight1.

Food & Mood Tip – Guilt-Free Cravings

Got a craving? Feel bad for grabbing a doughnut? There’s nothing wrong with an occasional snack to soothe a mood. In fact, the marriage of emotions and food is as basic to our natures as breathing. Our first lesson in life is to associate food with love. As babies, the most powerful comforter when we were distressed was food, so it makes sense that as adults we continue to turn to that symbol of comfort. Grabbing a cookie is one way to re-experience that feeling of security, home, or a safe place.

A hormone called oxytocin hard-wires this connection into the brain. Oxytocin is released in the new mother right after her baby is born. It stimulates milk production and helps strengthen the mother-child bond. While this chemistry is useful in the early months of life, limited evidence suggests that elevated levels of oxytocin in adults might cloud the distinction between physical hunger and feeling lonely or in need of love, which then could lead to overeating and possibly weight gain.

Dark RitterOther chemicals in the body also nudge us to nosh. A nerve chemical in the brain called serotonin regulates our moods and our appetites. When serotonin is high, we feel good, calm, and satisfied; when levels are low we feel irritable, moody, tense, anxious, and even depressed. We also crave carbohydrate-rich foods – in particular, sweets. And rightfully so. These are the very foods that raise serotonin levels and help us feel better. It doesn’t take too many trips to the cookie jar to unconsciously learn to self-medicate with sweets when we are down in the dumps.

The trick is to keep a lid on the serving size and the frequency. Don’t make a habit of reaching for food every time you are mad, anxious, or sad. But, also don’t feel bad if once in a while you embrace a small serving of dark chocolate.

Photo credit:  el patojo via Compfight

Eat Your Way to Sexy This Week – Soy Sexy Food

edamame and radish salad Who would think that something like soy could be a super-sexy food! Whole soy foods are rich in protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins, antioxidants, and a host of phytonutrients, such as saponins, phytosterols, phenolic compounds, phytic acid, and protease inhibitors. However, they are best known for their phytoestrogens, weak hormone-like compounds that help balance estrogen levels in a woman’s body, possibly reducing hot flashes and premenstrual mood swings, stabilizing blood sugar, and even aiding in arousal. Soy also lowers risk for heart disease, hormone-related cancers, diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia, wrinkling, inflammation, skin cancer, and bone loss, while increasing nitric oxide, which improves blood flow to the sex organs.

How much do you need? Up to three servings a day for people with no history of breast cancer. Limit to one a day otherwise. Don’t take short cuts by using processed soy products and supplements, since it is the mix of compounds in whole soy foods that act synergistically to lower disease risk and promote health. Substitute tofu for meat in casseroles, soups, and stews. Use cooked soybeans instead of garbanzos in hummus. Add edamame to stir frys. Use soymilk instead of milk in recipes.

Photo credit: chotda via Compfight

Mood-Boosting Recipe of the Week

Chicken Salad Pitas with Red Pepper and Dill (from The Food & Mood Cookbook by Elizabeth Somer and Jeanette Williams)

Use leftovers from a roast chicken to make these simple and tasty pita sandwiches.

1 cup leftover roasted chicken breast, skinned and diced
1/3 cup red pepper, diced
3 tablespoons green onion, diced
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fat-free mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon dill
salt and pepper to taste

2 whole wheat pita breads
leaf lettuce

1) In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix first 7 ingredients (through salt/pepper).

2) Cut pita breads in half. Divide chicken salad into four equal parts and stuff the four halves with the salad. Stuff pita with lettuce and serve. Makes 4 servings.

Nutritional Analysis per serving: 295 Calories; 30% fat (9.8 grams); 2 grams saturated fat; 49%  protein; 21% carbohydrate; 2.1 grams fiber.

Answers to “Do You Know?” From Last Issue:

1. Will turkey or warm milk help you sleep like a baby?
This is a half truth. We’ve all heard about how tryptophan, a protein fragment found in turkey and milk, can make you sleepy. But this is a great way to show you how you really are what you eat: it’s the turkey you ate YESTERDAY that will help you sleep better TONIGHT. Eat an all-carb snack before bedtime, such as air-popped popcorn or a half whole-grain English muffin with jam, and the tryptophan floating around in your system from that turkey burger you ate the day before will be funneled into your brain and made into serotonin, that feel-good and get-sleepy brain chemical. The reason why warm milk makes some people sleepy, is not because of its tryptophan, but because warm beverages at bedtime slightly raise your body temperature, sort of like an internal warm bath, which relaxes and makes you sleepy.

chic-soup2. Is chicken soup really good for the soul (and a cold)?
Studies show that chicken soup helps mitigate the inflammatory response associated with colds and other upper-respiratory infections. Both the vegetables and chicken in soup individually reduce inflammation and curb cold symptoms. Besides, there is nothing better for a person’s soul than weight loss, and studies show that people who eat broth-based soups consume fewer calories, yet feel just as full, so have an easier time losing weight and maintaining the weight loss.

Photo credit: thejbird via Compfight
Photo credit: Cooking Light

Do You Know?

Is it true that you should eat the crust because it is the most nutritious part of the bread?

Is it true that yogurt can cure a yeast infection?

Check next week for the answers….

Label Lingo

It is difficult to understand everything mentioned on a food label. The short cut to label lingo is to avoid products that have a long list of artificial and difficult sounding ingredients. Choose foods that are made from whole foods (like whole grains), with little or no preservatives/colorings, and no hydrogenated fats and trans fats. Also, look for the manufacture date or the best used-before date in all products you buy.

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 cup cooked plain oatmeal (cooked in nonfat milk) topped with  1/2 cup blueberries and 1 packet Splenda
1 cup honeydew melon, cubed
Tea or coffee (sweetened with artificial sweetener, if desired)

Mid-Morning Snack
1 cup nonfat cottage cheese
1 cup fresh or canned pineapple
Sparkling water

Chicken Salad Pitas with Red Pepper and Dill (see recipe above.)

Caesar Salad:
2 cups romaine lettuce, chopped
2 tablespoons low-calorie Caesar dressing
Fresh-ground pepper
Sparkling water

Mid-Afternoon Snack
6 ounces tomato juice
1 ounce low-fat Swiss cheese
5 whole-grain crackers
Green tea

Dinner and Dessert
1 6 ounce chicken breast, grilled and topped with 2 tablespoons chutney
1 cup roasted zucchini, eggplant, and onions
1 cup cooked rotini pasta mixed with:
1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 minced garlic, and 1 tablespoon low-fat Parmesan cheese
2 cups tossed salad w/ low-fat dressing
1 cup 1% low-fat milk, warmed and flavored with almond extract
1 cup grapes

Nutritional Analysis for the day: 2,000 Calories; 27% fat (60 grams); 11 gram saturated fat; 1.2 grams omega-3 fats; 20% protein; 53% carbohydrate; 31 grams fiber.