Depression-Proof your Diet

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By now, it’s possible that you’ve adjusted to the time change and reveled in that extra hour of sleep we got on Sunday. Don’t forget that it comes with a heavy price tag. As the days get shorter and the sky turns darker your mood might take a devastating dip.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the ever so appropriate acronym SAD) tends to present itself in the fall and winter. But have no fear; depression proof nutrition is here!

Fats are where it’s at

Consider fats the stars of the show when it comes to regulating moods. Hydrogenated oils, better know as trans fat, have been under scrutiny for years because of their ability to increase LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL levels (good cholesterol). That’s barely half the story of these evil fats. In 2011, for the first time ever, researchers in Spain identified a link between trans fat and depression. Trans fat in the diet increased the risk of depression by almost 50 percent! Those who only ate “good fats” had a 35 percent reduction in mood disorders. For a quick refresher course in fats, my previous post, The Skinny on Fats can clear things up. In the meantime here are some brief guidelines:

  • Nuts and seeds contain polyunsaturated fats that can halt unhappiness in its tracks. Try sprinkling sunflower seeds on your salad, chopped walnuts in your oatmeal or sesame seeds as a topping for any type of protein.
  • Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, contains polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which basically act as an antidepressant in the body. Combine with flavored vinegar (Martin Pouret found at the Williams-Sonoma store makes delicious ones) and use for salad dressing instead of store bought brands. Lightly brush olive oil on fresh veggies, top with salt and pepper, and broil in the oven.
  • The main purpose of trans fat is to extend the shelf life of a product. You will find it in most processed foods, packaged baked goods and fried foods. Think about what the appropriate shelf life of a food item should be before you buy it. If that muffin your about to eat can stay “fresh” for over a week, it probably has trans fat in it.

Beef up on B vitamins

Although there are eight B vitamins, the ones that may determine the status of your mood are folate, B6 and B12. They all work together in the body, so if you are lacking in one, chances are you’re lacking in a few.

Thanks to grain fortification, folate deficiency is pretty rare in the United States. When choosing foods naturally high in folate, think beans and greens! Spinach, asparagus and collard greens all score high in levels of folate, along with pinto, kidney and navy beans. Steam any deep green leafy vegetable, mix with cooked lentils and flavor with lemon juice for a meal that’s sure to boost your folate level.

B6 acts as a precursor for numerous cognitive reactions in the body, so it’s essential to make sure that you have enough. Garbanzo beans, chicken and tuna are some traditional sources, yet you’ll also find it in bulgur wheat, cottage cheese and winter squash.

Sub-par levels of B12 can cause restlessness, anxiety and irritability. Animal products such as beef and liver are terrific sources, but it’s also found in fortified cereal, milk and yogurt. Surprisingly, clams have one of the highest levels of B12 of any food. Try them steamed over a serving of whole-wheat pasta tossed lightly with olive oil. For fish fans, opt for salmon, rainbow trout or haddock to increase daily levels. Keep in mind as you get older your ability to absorb B12 decreases. Checking in on your status with a blood test never hurts.

Vitamin of the Year

If you listened to everything you read and saw in the media you would think Vitamin D cured everything. Maybe not, but low levels in the body have been directly linked to depression in adolescents, healthy adults, and the elderly population. Of course, short winter days and cold nights makes it a bit tricky to get an adequate amount from sunlight. Besides dairy products, copious amounts of Vitamin D are found in ocean products such as herring, salmon, halibut and oysters.

If you’re feeling down in the dumps, don’t fill up on carb-laden foods. Eating processed foods with simple carbohydrates will only cause severe dips in sugar levels and mood. Choose some of the foods listed above to get through the dreary, winter months.

Totally Snackable- Kale Chips

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When it comes to dark, leafy greens, Kale is like spinach on steroids. You can get more vitamins and minerals from this vegetable than most of the big time produce players like broccoli, brussels sprouts or swiss chard. The problem usually lies less with your willingness to eat such a healthful vegetables and more with the fact that you really just don’t like its taste. I have two words for you: kale chips.  When baked, kale crisps up and with just a touch of seasoning you can have your favorite chip variety in your very own home. This article, Kale-icious Chips!, from FitSugar gives you great recipes as well as the best packaged kale chips you can buy. If Dan Barber is doing it, then it has to be good. Enjoy!

 

I Ain’t Afraid of Food Fads

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When there’s something strange in the nutrition news… who you gonna call? Nu-Train!

Nutrition myths spread like cream cheese on a bagel, they’re all over your email inbox, splashed across magazine and paper articles and even discussed on the nightly news. Well, the time has come to debunk some of these common nutrition myths.

 

Myth #1: Eating eggs raises your blood cholesterol levels.

Contrary to popular belief, the dietary cholesterol found in eggs actually does not have a tremendous impact on your blood cholesterol levels. It’s a simple mis-”semantic”-communication; unlike the toe-may-toe vs toh-mah-toh conundrum, these two cholesterols, dietary and blood cholesterol, are not created equal. Dietary cholesterol, which is the fat-like molecules in animal-based foods like eggs, actually has little to do with the amount of cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream. Since your body is capable of producing its own cholesterol, it doesn’t need you to get any from food sources so the cholesterol you ingest has little influence over the amount in your blood. However, the actual thing that may increase your body’s blood cholesterol production is specific saturated and trans fats and adversely, soluble fiber may lower blood cholesterol by inhibiting its absorption in the small intestine. One large egg contains only 1.5 g of saturated fat (such a miniscule amount compared to the butter you use to cook your egg), which means they are not a big contributor to blood cholesterol levels. Keep them on your grocery list because they’re a rich source of 13 vitamins and minerals!

 

Myth #2: The more fiber you eat, the better.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the Fiber Fad has arrived! This is a little trickier than some of the other myths because there is a lot of truth to it. Fiber does keep you full, meaning you’ll ingest fewer calories but not all fiber are created equal. The naturally occurring fiber-rich whole foods satisfy hunger, such as the fiber found in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes. However, the yogurt found in your grocery aisle that contain fiber-supplements, “faux-fiber foods”, may not be equally beneficial. Manufacturers are isolating specific types of fiber and adding them to packaged foods in order to increase sales. There are so many components of fiber and they each have their own jobs- wheat bran keeps things moving, oat bran lowers cholesterol and inulin supports a healthy gut, so it’s best to get the benefits of fiber from whole foods rather than isolate aspects of fiber from “faux-fiber foods” boasting unnatural added fiber!

 

Myth #3: Organic foods are more nutritious than conventional ones.

We all do it, I am a victim of buying the 30 cent more per pound fruit just because it’s organic but truth is a good mango by any other name is still a mango. Manufacturers began promoting organics as being inherently more nutritious but this is a fallacy, there is no significant nutritional difference existing between conventional and organic crops. Of course there is the issue of pesticides and herbicides that can be found in conventional produce. Also if you opt for organic because the sustainable farming support the health of the soil, the work of small farmers, or he well-being of livestock- then you’re good in my book.

 

Myth #4: Skipping meals helps you lose weight

This is a dietitians’ biggest nightmare! Did you know that people who skip meals, particularly breakfast, and eat fewer times during the day actually tend to be heavier… yes I said heavier. When you skip a meal you slow down your metabolism and you frequently eat more at other meals to compensate, both of which work against your body trying to lose weight. Actually eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day can help you control your appetite and keep your calories burning.

 

Myth #5: You have to drink 8 glasses of water everyday.

Water, water- it’s everywhere; water bottles have become the fashion accessory and it’s for good reason too. Drinking your necessary daily water requirements is absolutely crucial but you don’t need to go crazy trying to satisfy the eight 8-oz glasses a day rule. Insider’s secret: no one is really sure where this so-called “8-by-8” mantra originated. You know the saying- “everyone’s different”? well this is where it actually applies; the amount of water you should drink daily is dependent on your diet, size and body chemistry.

 

Eat Your Illnesses Away

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Before you pick your poison, albeit Advil, Excedrin or TUMS, you may want to take a trip to your refrigerator, pantry or spice rack before you pop a pill. There are certain items in there that can treat your everyday ailments. They may not work for everyone but these easy home remedies often work better than over the counter drugs with way fewer chemicals and potential side effects. It should ‘t come as a surprise that food has the power to heal because what you eat and drink dictates your long-term wellness, so it only makes sense for it to be medicine too. Read up on these easy Secret Kitchen Cures from Whole Living and find out why you should reach for the sesame oil instead of sleepy time for your insomnia and so much more!

The Big C

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We hear and talk about the big, bad C word all the time. It unfortunately affects millions of people all over the world; we now live in a world where having or knowing someone who has been diagnosed with cancer is as common as catching a cold. So why be the rule, when you can be the exception? All over the world, studies are being conducted on possible prevention methods and the most convincing and astonishing evidence is stemming from nutrition and physical activity. While they may not be cure alls, they definitely don’t hurt.

With October being Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am going to focus primarily on decreased risk factors specific to breast cancer, especially those who have a heightened risk due to genetic factors (having a first degree relative diagnosed with breast cancer or having the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation). Thankfully, however, these are also many of the prevention tips for other cancers as well as a general healthy living guideline for any and everyone.

Did You Know…?

  • About 1 in 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.
  • In 2010, there were more than 2.5 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S.
  • For women in the U.S., breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer besides lung cancer.
  • Postmenopausal women who decreased their weight 4 to 11 pounds, decrease their risk by 20%.
  • For postmenopausal women, every 11 pounds gained, you increase your risk by 3%.
  • Just being overweight postmenopausal, increases your risk by 30-60%.

So now that you know, it’s time to do something about it. Since just being a woman and aging are the two biggest risk factors and completely unavoidable (unless you’ve found the fountain of youth, and if you have… do you mind sharing?), I think it only appropriate to start with something that is controllable: weight. Being as lean as possible without becoming underweight is one of the preventative measures you can take to decrease your risk. Avoiding weight and waist gain, especially through adulthood, may decrease your risk up 20% and in order to do so, you must adopt a healthful diet. A study following 86,000 nurses over 26 years was just published in the American Journal or Epidemiology in August showing a correlation between a diet high in plant foods, and decreased red meat, sodium and processed carbohydrate intake decreased their risk of developing estrogen-receptor negative invasive breast cancer by 20% (estrogen-receptor negative breast cancer is responsible for 25% of all malignancies and is a type of cancer that currently has no effective treatment). Start by cutting out red meat little by little and replacing it with tons of vegetables, fruits and legumes to reduce your risk too. Are you nuts for nuts? Another study published in the August/September issue of Cancer and Nutrition indicates that there may be a correlation between walnuts and decreased breast cancer risk as well, but you need to eat 2oz of walnuts daily to see benefits.

What else can you do? Take Action. Studies have showed that being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day can reduce your risk as well. Increasing your physical activity decreases your body fat, decreases insulin and IG-1 levels, reduces inflammation as well as reducing free estrogen levels, which are all potential body fat mechanisms for cancer. And that’s not all because it’s not only for weight control. Physical activity, even if it’s just walking 10-15 minutes around the block, limits sedentary and TV time, can relieve stress and help sleep, all of which are relative risk factors for developing cancer.

Now for the take home messages…

  • Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (at least 5 servings of non-starchy vegetables and fruits daily)
  • Increase your dietary fiber, foods high in antioxidants (vitamin C, lycopene, beta-carotene, flavonoids, magnesium, folate, allium) and cruciferious vegetables
  • Avoid sugary drinks, high fat foods, salty and processed foods, red meat and alcohol

Avoid long term use of estrogen replacement therapy at menopause

 

Eat Mor Chikin

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I tire easily of my same chicken routine. While chicken literally pairs with any flavor combination, I find myself sticking to the same recipe over and over, and to be honest it’s getting boring. At this point in the season, we are knee-deep in zucchini and I am struggling with new recipes to use with this versatile vegetable as well. That’s’ why this recipe, Chicken Breasts with Zucchini Pappardelle is absolutely perfect. It kills two birds with one stone and is delicious. Using skinless chicken breasts will definitely cut down on calories and fat too! Enjoy!

 

 

Leaders of the Packed

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The first day of school represents more than just the embarkation of your child’s academic journey. Yes, there are new things to learn, skills to master and goals to achieve but it’s also important to remember your child’s mind is not the only thing getting bigger… they are too! No one wants their child to merely survive, you want them to thrive, and that starts with adequate nutrition. You may be able to prepare them for almost everything: freshly sharpened pencils, an endless supplies of neon highlighters, Lightening McQueen folders, Star Wars notebooks, Cinderella backpacks and anything else you can buy in the back to school section at Staples, but unless they are prepared to stay energized throughout the day they are merely objects, not the tools that will help them excel.

By now, we are aware of how preservative-, trans-fat-, sodium- and high-fructose corn syrup- laden all of the processed foods once infiltrating lunch boxes are, but kids still want these familiar tasting foods and we want the simplicity and ease of simply tossing items into a lunchbox. One thing is for certain: they definitely don’t want to be different than their peers who are still eating these chemically processed foods. We now know that these foods will only slow down your child, physically and academically, as well as contribute to the rising childhood obesity epidemic unfortunately sweeping the nation. At the end of the day, kids want what other kids are having, but whether its food allergies or adequate nutrition on your mind, you know you can’t send your kid off to school with those foods in their packed lunches. There are so many factors to keep in mind when you’re packing your child’s lunch- it needs to be fun and engaging, delicious, and healthful.  There are a few things we need to tackle, so let’s start with food allergies.

As I mentioned in Allergies: A to Z, the number of children suffering from food allergies is on the rise- eight percent of children until age 18 have a food allergy (that’s one in 12!). The most common food allergies include peanuts, milk, eggs, wheat and tree nuts, and they the peanut allergy has become so severe that some schools have started banning peanuts all together. It may take an excel sheet with pivot tables and pie charts to keep track of which friend can’t eat what at the lunch table or the classroom food policies, so why not be proactive and pack a school lunch that won’t land you in allergy detention?

Passing on Peanuts:

Does your child love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Try a peanut-free alternative like SunButter, which is made from sunflower seeds. Healthy homemade trail mixes can always been a tough one to tackle but are great snacks, try pumpkin and sunflower seeds mixed with dried fruit and flaked coconut instead of store bought trail mixes which not only have peanuts but tons of sugary chocolate. Here are some of my favorite peanut free packaged foods:

-        Snackers crackers- seedlander (free of peanuts and tree nuts)

-        Enjoy Life soft baked cookies (nut and gluten free)

-        Trader Joe’s Soft-baked Snickerdoodles (free of all of the 8 common allergies)

Peanuts may be the most dangerous and common food allergy but one of the trickier food sensitivities is excluding eggs especially since mayonnaise is a popular condiment, try switching to hummus or honey mustard in your turkey cucumber wraps (whole wheat of course) or sandwiches (have you seen this adorable whole wheat goldfish shaped bread by Pepperidge Farms?). Also these Kidekals water-restistant, washable, personalized labels are great for informing others of your kids allergies.

Aside from allergies, our biggest concern is providing healthful lunches and snacks that will give your kids the energy they need to make it through the day. Studies show that if you equip your children with healthy food to eat at school, they will be better prepared to study and learn. And it’s not all serious- lunch making can be a fun activity as well as a great way for kids to feel independent. Before we get into some specifics, some general suggestions to healthfully spice up your kids lunch box are swapping whole grains for refined, simple carbohydrates and trying flavored drinks or waters without added sugars in place of sodas and sugary juices.

Pack Pass
GoGo sqeeZ applesauce: individual sized, mess free, 100% real fruit and no sugar added. And its fun! Motts Apple Sauce or any apple sauce with added sugar and tons of preservatives
Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunnies: the perfect fun snack that are baked with no artificial ingredients. Comes in a variety of flavors, whole wheat and pretzels! Cheez-It Crackers and Teddy Grahams (they have partially hydrogenated oils eventhough they claim to have 0 g of trans fats)
Pirates Booty, Lentil Chips, Hummus Chips, 365 Soy Crispettes or Pop Chips: all of these come in a ton of flavor combinations and are never friend. They have more fiber, are all-natural and have less fat than regular potato chips. Any potato chip!
Stretch Island Fruit Company and Annie’s fruit bites are great ways for your kids to enjoy anywhere from ½ to 1 whole serving a fruit naturally and with no sugar added. Fruit by the foot or fruit roll ups (they all have tons of high fructose corn syrup or heaps of added sugar).
Horizon Organic low moisture, part skim string cheese. Polly-O string cheeses (or any non organic, part skim string cheeses) because they contain food coloring and preservatives.

And all the while, your kid has to have the coolest lunch box in class; Parenting brings us the 12 best kids lunch boxes that are too adorable (and environmentally friendly) for words!

 

Zooming Out

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During summer, we primarily focus on what we need to eliminate from our diets rather than what to incorporate to make us feel and look our best. This usually deters us from stepping back to take in the panoramic view- “what kind of lifestyle should I lead to ensure a long, healthful life?”  A recent article in Healthland TIME reminds us of the four crucial habits associated with the bigger picture: not smoking, drinking alcohol moderately, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. While this may seem obvious, it’s always easier said than done. And sometimes, we need a little reminder to zoom out of the short-term lens and focus on the end goal. So Eat Well, Move Often, Don’t Smoke, Drink a Little- and Live Long. Simple as that.

A Peachy Keen Summer

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There is nothing sweeter than the deliciousness of a juicy, ripe peach in the summer. Summer fruit really hits it out of the park and makes for the perfect addition to any dish or can stand alone as a delectable snack; however my favorite way to healthfully indulge on these oh-so-sweet summer treats is by letting my sweet tooth take the lead. This Sultry Summer Peaches & Cream recipe from My New Roots blog is so good there really isn’t much to say aside from, it’s that good. Holistic nutritionist and vegetarian chef, Sarah Britton, always knows how to combine the mouth-watering dishes you crave with the healthful lifestyle we should all be living, and she gives you the nutritional information on what you’re eating too. After reading this article you’ll learn all about the essential mineral potassium found in peaches and why it’s so good for you, but when you make this recipe you’ll forget all about that and it’ll take to you beachside on a hot, summer day.

In good health!

 

Gluten Freedom

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Health crazes and diet trends may come and go but every so often there are advances in the nutrition and medical field that are true game changers. For decades, individuals diagnosed with Celiac disease were simply characterized with ghastly gastrointestinal problems, but with further research this multisystemic autoimmune disorder is now known to be caused by permanent intolerance to gluten, predominately found in genetically susceptible individuals. Gluten is the main storage protein of wheat, rye and barley. While gluten is mainly found in foods, shockingly it is even an ingredient in everyday products such as medicines, vitamins, lip balms, play dough, toothpastes, and adhesives. Gluten wears many hats- it provides elasticity to dough, acts as a binder in many recipes, adds flavor and protein and lends that much beloved chewy texture to delicious baked goods.  With the increasing prevalence of diagnoses of Celiac disease in America, the demand for gluten free products has skyrocketed; the food industry has strongly met those demands by putting out numerous gluten-free products, making the life of sensitive to gluten easier. But, those burdened by this disease are not the only ones scooping the gluten-free brownies off the shelf of your supermarket, health conscious individuals are buying them too. So should you reach for your inner gluten freedom as well?

Well, truth be told, the only incontrovertible evidence showing the benefits of a strict gluten-free diet have been a result of research investigating its effectiveness in individuals with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease. These individuals, when introducing gluten into their diet for a prolonged period of time, have flattened villi in their small intestine, meaning they are unable to absorb many of the vitamins, minerals and nutrients that are necessary for optimal health. Including gluten in their diet leads to a slew of gastrointestinal problems and, more often than not, can cause iron-deficiency anemia, reduce bone mineral density and chronic fatigue, and that’s only the beginning. Currently, the only scientifically proven treatment for Celiac disease is a strict lifelong adherence to a gluten-free diet and after sticking to this diet for a few months, the villi of the small intestine return to normal and the signs and symptoms begin to disappear.

Gluten-free diets have also been put under the microscope as possible treatment options for individuals with autism, ADD/ADHD, and IBS. Some parents, doctors and researchers say that children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome have shown mild to dramatic improvements in speech and/or behavior when following a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. Also, while a gluten-free diet may alleviate some symptoms, it is not proven effective as the sole treatment option for ADD/ADHD and IBS, and it is best to consult your dietician and physician before completely removing gluten from you or your child’s diet.

So what about the rest of us? Oprah eliminated gluten from her diet during her “21-day cleanse” and claimed astounding results, is she personally responsible for deeming gluten the latest dietary bad boy? While doctors estimate just 1% of the population have Celiac disease, marketers estimate that 15% to 25% of consumers want gluten-free foods. Why? Surprisingly, even if you don’t have full-fledged gluten intolerance you still may be slightly sensitive to it, causing symptoms ranging from bloating and discomfort to rashes. So, if you think you and gluten don’t mix, you may actually be right. However, the health craze may not even be gluten-related but rather a placebo effect. Gluten shunners may actually be feeling better and lose weight because they are consuming fewer processed and fast foods and reaching for healthier options like fruits, vegetables and certain whole grains. A high gluten diet may mean that you are over-consuming simple carbohydrates and sugars, two things that are digested quickly making you eat more often than you should, upping your caloric intake causing you to gain weight.

Clearly there is a fad aspect to the diet, but if it gets college kids off pizza, bagels and beer, in my opinion, the fad doesn’t seem to be so bad. What we have learned is that what is more important than minimizing your gluten intake, is what you are replacing it with. A well-balanced diet full of whole grains, vegetables, fruits and lean protein will do the trick. And you have to be weary of gluten-free products. Many of them have an outrageously high fat content to compensate for the lack of flavor in gluten free products. Also, giving up too much gluten when you aren’t gluten-sensitive may actually put you at risk for not getting enough vitamins, most commonly iron, calcium, fiber, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate, and decreasing bone mineral density.

But enough talk about gluten this and gluten-free that, what we all really want to know is which gluten-free products are best. And to save you from having to read a novel, I’m not going to list everything that gluten-sensitive people cannot eat, and rather the things they can. As I mentioned before, cutting out or reducing your gluten consumption has never been easier. Restaurants and bakeries have gluten free options on their menu, some have even devoted their entire menu to being gluten free, there seem to be more gluten-free products in your grocery store than not and gluten-free blogs are among the most visited on the internet. There are some things to be mindful of when choosing gluten-free foods, mainly fat content and fiber, so always check your nutrition labels on the packaging. Here is a little gluten-free cheat sheet to start you on the right foot and remember all fresh fruits, vegetables, fresh meats, fish and poultry (not breaded, battered or marinated) and most dairy products are gluten free! Reach your inner gluten freedom by trying out these delicious and healthy products.

 

Gluten Freedom Foods

Gluten-Free Grains and Starches:

-        Amaranth

-        Arrowroot

-        Buckwheat

-        Corn/Cornmeal

-        Gluten-free flours (rice, soy, corn, potato, bean)

-        Hominy grits

-        Polenta

-        Pure corn tortillas

-        Quinoa

-        Rice

-        Tapioca

Bars: Renew Life Organic Fiber bar, Oskri Fiber bar (both offer 50% fiber), and The Simply Bar

Cereal: Mesa Sunrise Gluten Free cereal

Bread: Food for Life Wheat and Gluten Free breads

Waffles: Van’s Natural Foods Waffles Gluten-Free Mini’s

Crackers and Rice Cakes: Health Valley Original Rice Bran Crackers and Mother’s Natural

Nut Butters: MaraNatha

Snacks: Sea’s Gift Roasted Seaweed Snacks

Frozen Meals: Amy’s Brown Rice and Black Peas and Organic Bistro Sesame Ginger Wild Salmon Bowl

Sauce: Amy’s Premium Organic Tomato Basil Pasta Sauce (Light in Sodium)

 

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