Tag Archives: Whole Grains

30 Days to Better Health: Part IV

23. Add yogurt to your diet. If you’re not already eating yogurt regularly, start today: research shows that it improves digestion, strengthens the immune system, lowers cholesterol, protects against osteoporosis, promotes fat loss, and may reduce the risk of ulcers, arthritis, and colorectal cancers. Yogurt’s health-boosting properties come mainly from its probiotics (the live and active cultures like Lactobacillus acidophilus) and calcium content. In numerous studies, high calcium intake is correlated with lower body fat accumulation; it does so by limiting the ability of fat cells to store fat. Look for yogurt with “live and active cultures” on the label to get the most benefit, and avoid fruit-on-the-bottom flavors or brands with added sugars.

24. Think of food in terms of its nutrient density. If you think of food as fuel your body can use – to repair damaged skin cells, to power you through a workout – instead of simply in terms of taste, you’ll naturally begin to choose healthy, functional foods. Compare 100 calories of an avocado and 100 calories of candy: in terms of just numbers, avocado might lose out because it has much more fat. Even so, the avocado will give you lasting power until lunch, while the candy will immediately spike your blood sugar and then send you into a crash, leaving you more hungry and more irritable than before. But food can do more than keep you satiated. The lycopene found in tomatoes, watermelon, and papaya, for example, literally adds SPF to your skin by preventing DNA damage from the sun. And research shows that a balanced diet of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, fiber and lean protein can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 80% – a number that is certainly tangible.

25. Embrace carbs (of the whole grain variety). Ever since the Atkin’s Diet, an eating plan that emphasizes protein and fat and places the weight gain blame on carbohydrates, Americans have come to fear carbs. In a refined flour and stripped-of-their-nutrients state and in vast quantities, carbs can lead to blood sugar spikes and dips that leave you fatigued, moody, and hungry for more. But whole grains are as much a part of a healthy diet as vegetables, fruits, omega-3s, and proteins. Whole grains contain filling fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, and selenium. Whole grains may also be the key to happiness: whole grains trigger the release of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood. Look for breads and cereals that contain 100% whole grains; lables like multigrain, 10-grain, and wheat only signify the presence of some whole grains. Breads that are brown in appearance may also be deceitful: food manufacturers use caramel coloring and molasses to tint their loaves, making them appear whole grain.

26. Give in to your cravings…every once in a while. Cravings range from mild to all-encompassing. When a craving strikes, give yourself 15 minutes to try and forget about it (go for a walk, call a friend, read a book). If it passes, your craving was likely a consequence of boredom. If it doesn’t, give yourself permission to have a reasonable portion of the good stuff. By allowing yourself an indulgent treat every so often, you maintain power over your diet by making the conscious decision to eat your treat without guilt. A study from Tufts University found that those who gave in to their cravings were better able to manage their weight than those who always deny their cravings, most likely because abstainers go overboard when they do lose control. When you really crave something, give yourself the green light to enjoy the real thing. If you crave ice cream, don’t settle for no-sugar-added fro-yo; get a cup of real, full-fat ice cream.

27. Experiment with grains. Wheat toast for breakfast; cornbread with your chili at lunch; fish served over rice for dinner. If you’re like most Americans, you’re most likely restricting your grain intake to wheat, rice, and corn. But these grains are often highly refined, removing most of the fiber, B vitamins, and up to 90% of its vitamin E. Next time you’re in the bulk foods section, look for other grains like amaranth, quinoa, teff, kamut, farro, and buckwheat. Each supergrain (or seed) has a unique nutritional profile that contributes to the health benefits of eating whole grains: decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some type of cancers, as well as increased satiety and energy. Quinoa, for example, has two times the protein and eight times the fiber as white rice, and teff, a tiny grain native to Ethiopia, is high in calcium and iron.

28. Sub out sour cream for Greek yogurt and coconut milk. Greek yogurt and sour cream offer the same creamy tang, but with far different nutritional profiles: a ¼ cup dollop of sour cream adds 120 calories, 10 grams of fat (7 saturated), and 2 grams of protein; the same amount of Greek yogurt adds 37 calories, 1 gram of fat, and 5 grams of protein. By cutting out sour cream and using Greek yogurt instead, you can cut out unnecessary calories and fat and add muscle-building protein in dips, soups, burritos, pasta salads, and on baked potatoes. You can also use Greek yogurt as well as coconut milk – which helps maintain stable blood sugar levels and increases satiety – in baked goods like muffins, breads, and cakes to strip calories and add moisture.

29. Go meatless once a week. Even if it’s not a Monday, you’ll still benefit by cutting out meat every now and then. Numerous studies document the health benefits: a Harvard University study found that cutting out foods high in saturated fats, like red meat and full fat dairy, and replacing them with foods high in polyunsaturated fats (like nuts and seeds) can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 19%. Another study from Imperial College in London found that vegetarians and those on limited-meat diets had significantly lower body weights and BMIs; and numerous research points out that the consumption of red and processed meats is correlated with increased cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality. Cutting out meat also allows you to add otherwise forgotten beans, legumes, and other alternative sources of protein to your diet, which are nutritional powerhouses loaded with fiber, folate, zinc, potassium, iron, magnesium, and antioxidants.

30. Discover what other cultures are eating. Experimenting with different ethnic cuisines gives you the chance to cook with ingredients you wouldn’t otherwise use. Indian cuisine, for example, uses turmeric (one of the ingredients in curry) in many of its dishes. Turmeric acts as an anti-inflammatory to help control rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic illnesses; its active compound, curcumin, decreases the risk of cancer, improves liver function, and protects against cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. The Mapuche, the indigenous people of Chile and Argentina, regularly eat piñones, large, protein-rich pine nuts with a host of nutrients (iodine, manganese, copper, zinc, vitamin A, B complex vitamins, and alpha-linolenic acid) and maqui, berries that have more than three times the antioxidant capacity of açai berries. You can also benefit from the eating habits of different cultures as well. Instead of stuffing yourself every night, practice hara hachi bu, a Japanese phrase that means “eat until you’re 80% full.” Experiment with international recipes to discover tasty and healthy new ingredients and to develop healthier eating habits.

Brain Foods That Get an A+ (Or a 170)

In my ultimate quest to become a nutritionist, my first official step is taking the GRE so that I can apply to Public Health School. I’m taking the new and revised GRE tomorrow, and I’ve been studying for weeks. While I can’t control how hard the test is, one thing I can take into my own hands is my diet. Certain foods have been shown to enhance memory, reasoning skills, and the ability to concentrate, so in a last-ditch effort to raise my scores, I’ve been eating these foods all day. Of course, to really get the most of their brain-boosting effects, you’d want to start including them in your diet a lot earlier – but I’m relying on the placebo effect here. Eat these smart foods for smart health!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Our brain is partly composed of gray matter, neuronal cell bodies that are distributed predominantly throughout the cerebral cortex and cerebellum. One of the elements that allows the gray matter to function properly is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid. These fatty acids increase the fluidity of cell membranes, allowing for better synaptic communication to and from nerves – thereby enhancing learning and memory. DHA also protects the brain by reducing oxidative stress. A lack of omega-3s in the diet can have the opposite effect: in one study, rats deficient in omega-3s experienced impaired learning and memory. Salmon is one of top sources of DHA; walnuts, flaxseed, and seaweed are good vegetarian sources of omega-3s.

Green Tea
Green tea has long been touted as a fat-burning, antioxidant-filled alternative to coffee. Its claim to fame is its high levels of EGCG (epigallocatechin-3-gallate), a polyphenol. These compounds have been shown to reduce age-related brain damage and to protect the brain from neurotoxic substances, such as viruses. In a study reported in the Journal of Nutrition, rats were given either differing amounts of a mixture containing EGCG or a mixture containing none for 26 weeks. At the end of the period, the rats were tested in a difficult maze to measure their learning abilities. The rats who received the EGCG-spiked drinks performed better on the maze, demonstrating increased short-term learning ability; in addition, these rats showed decreased free radical damage in their hippocampi, the brain structure that deals with memory and information processing. Japanese researchers suggested that EGCG may have brain-protecting abilities beyond their antioxidant activity, including the supervision of cell survival. Sip matcha for the greatest EGCG content; decaffeinated and bottled green teas contain significantly less.

Whole Grains
Replacing refined carbohydrates with whole grains is one of the most popular tips for overall health. They contain healthy vitamins and minerals, unique antioxidants, provide energy and mood-boosting serotonin, and reduce the risk of certain cancers, diabetes, and other health problems. In terms of brain health, however, their most important quality is their cardiovascular-health promoting qualities. By improving your cardiovascular system, whole grains boost blood flow to the organs – including the brain. Just like your body requires adequate blood flow to your muscles while you exercise and to your stomach while you digest food, ample blood flow to the brain improves brain function. In addition, whole grains provide a steady stream of glucose, the fuel your brain uses to function. While subsisting on refined flours results in spikes and dips in blood sugar, whole grains provide balanced energy for optimal brain function. For an early-morning boost, eat a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with wheat germ or whole grain toast smeared with a nut butter.

If you’re nervous before a big test, include lysine- and arginine-rich yogurt in your test-day breakfast. In a study from Slovakia, scientists gave two groups either a placebo or three grams each of the amino acids lysine and arginine. Measurements of stress hormones circulating in the blood confirmed that those who had taken the amino acid supplements demonstrated half as much anxious behavior during a public speaking test. Taken together, lysine and arginine reduce stress hormones such as cortisol in order to normalize stress responses. Yogurt is also one of the best sources of calpain, a unique calcium-dependent protein found in yogurt as well as leafy greens such as kale. Studies have shown that calpain plays a role in long-term potentiation, a fancy phrase for the strengthening of firing between synapses, thereby increasing long-term memory. Combined with yogurt’s protein, these three nutrients will increase alertness and memory, giving you the ammo you need to ace your test.

Plenty of other foods can boost brain health as well, such as curry, nuts and seeds, berries, citrus fruits, green, leafy vegetables, sage, eggs, and even chocolate. And just as nutritionists advise eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables to get the maximum amount of nutrients possible, eat a wide range of these brain-loving foods to reap their benefits from every direction.

Tomorrow, I’ll be eating a pre-GRE breakfast of yogurt with multigrain flakes, ground flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, cinnamon and green tea. Here’s to the placebo effect!