Something to Chew On

A Guide to Eating Right and Living Well


1 Comment

How Carb Smart Are You?

Carbohydrate-food-shot-carbsWhat do breads, cereals, fruits, juices, milk, yogurt, pasta, rice, potatoes, beans, vegetables, soda and desserts all have in common? If you didn’t already guess it from the title, it’s Carbs. When asked what foods contain carbohydrates, bread, pasta and potatoes are the most commonly identified. Many people do not realize that carbs are actually found in almost our entire food supply with the exception of meats, cheeses and fats.

As Americans, we generally consume way too many carbs throughout the day. Most breakfast meals include toast, Poptarts, pancakes, biscuits or cereal followed by sandwiches, pizza, spaghetti and burger and fries for the rest of the day. These foods are also highly processed menu items that often contain preservatives and other added chemicals.

Do I feel that carbs are contributing to many of our current diseases and illnesses? Absolutely. Does that mean that in order to be healthy, one must cut out all carbs? Not at all.  In fact, many athletes actually need to increase their carbohydrate intake to ensure optimal performance. Research has shown that vegetarians, who are known for having high-carb diets, tend to have reduced risks for obesity, diabetes and heart disease.1

Going “low-carb” is a very popular diet trend to lose weight. While consuming fewer carbohydrates can help decrease circulating levels of insulin, which in turn can help the body switch to a fat-burning mode, weight loss is typically more attributed (but not conclusive in all studies) to the combination of consuming fewer calories, better food choices, less processed foods and improved physical activity habits. Researchers in a 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that low-carb diets may give individuals a “metabolic advantage” meaning that more weight loss may be achieved per calories consumed (versus the same amount of calories consumed from a standard high-carb meal plan).2  

This is a very controversial subject since these findings somewhat violate the laws of thermodynamics. Since there is no consensus on what low-carb actually is (for some studies it’s a mere 5% of total calories and for others it’s defined as 45% of total caloric intake), the term smart-carb has become more popular.

download

Today, research is investigating the health benefits of low-moderate carb meal plans:

  • Following a “smart-carb” diet in addition to exercise can help improve insulin sensitivity and assist in weight reduction in women with polycystic ovary syndrome.
  • A Duke University study found that obese individuals with type 2 diabetes who ate a low-carb diet versus a low-glycemic diet experienced greater weight reduction and greater reduction in HgbA1C. In this same study, most of the subjects (95.2%) in the low-carb group were able to reduce or eliminate their diabetic medications compared to only (62%) in the low-glycemic group.3
  • There also appears to be some variation in low-carb meal plans. A group of Swedish subjects showed greater benefits in waist circumference reduction and improved blood sugar control when following a diet based of meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, eggs and nuts (paleo diet) when compared to a subjects who followed the Mediterranean diet.4
  • The obvious concern with consuming a low-carb diet is the increased fat intake and potential increased risk for heart disease. Fortunately, studies are confirming that higher fat intake when associated with a low-carb diet may not be as big of a problem as once thought.

Low-carb meal plans may not always be the best, but choosing smart-carb lifestyles such as the Mediterranean and Paleo lifestyles are much more suitable for day to day living. Here are a few ways to smarten up your carb choices.

  • Nix pretzels, crackers, chips and granola bars and opt for healthier carb and non-carb snack food choices such as fruits, vegetables, yogurt and nuts.
  • Vary up your breakfast meal. Swap sugar-sweetened cereal and refined white bread for a veggie omelet, turkey sausage frittata or fruit with Greek yogurt.
  • Serve vegetables with a side of vegetables. Many people state that they always have to have a starch with their dinner meals. Why not swap the rice and pasta for vegetable starches such as sweet potatoes, butternut squash or spaghetti squash?
  • If choosing grains, consider whole grain choices such as oatmeal, quinoa or wild rice.

Remember, limiting carbs is not the only way for improved health. The mere reduction of processed foods in one’s diet can have positive health effects.

  1. American Heart Association. Vegetarian Diets. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Vegetarian-Diets_UCM_306032_Article.jsp
  2. Westman, E., et. Al. (2007). Low-carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86(2), 276-284. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/86/2/276.full.pdf+html?sid=ac06d160-abd0-4ba6-8a19-8b5560469446
  3. Westman, E.C., Yancy, W,S, Jr., Mavropoulos, J.C., Marquart, M. and McDuffie, J.R. (2008).The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition and Metabolism, 5, 36. http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/5/1/36
  4. Lindeberg, S., Jönsson, T., Granfeldt, Y., et al. (2007). A Palaeolithic diet improves glucose tolerance more than a Mediterranean-like diet in individuals with ischaemic heart disease. Diabetologia,50(9):1795-1807.


Leave a comment

Recipe of the Week

Don’t forget to join us today at the Illinois Products Farmer’s Market at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, IL from 4 -7p.m. The Illinois Products Farmer’s Market will be taking a two-week break following this week for the Illinois State Fair and will resume again on August 22. Come out and buy fresh local produce, enjoy a beverage, and grab some delicious BBQ.

This week’s healthy recipe is Mediterranean Vegetable Strata from Springfield Clinic’s health library.

Vegetable strata

Ingredients

  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 small Vidalia onion
  • 1 red or green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 large whole-wheat roll
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
  • 4 ounces garlic and herb feta cheese

Directions

Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly oil or spray a cookie pan with olive oil. Slice vegetables and roast for about 20 minutes, turning once. Onions and peppers will take longer than mushrooms, which can be added when you turn the vegetables. While vegetables are roasting, cut roll into small cubes (less than an inch). Spread cubes evenly over the bottom of a two-quart baking dish. Layer vegetables on top of bread. Spread crumbled feta cheese evenly over vegetables. Beat eggs with sour cream and cream cheese. Pour egg mixture over vegetables. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serves eight

Each serving contains about 178 calories, 11 g protein, 10 g fat, 90 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, and 326 mg sodium.


Leave a comment

When In Rome: The Mediterranean Diet

While skipping off to the coasts of Greece and Italy may seem like a fantastic idea, a less expensive option may be to bring the Mediterranean style of eating into your home. Research consistently shows that following the Mediterranean diet can help reduce one’s risk for developing heart disease, diabetes and possibly degenerative cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.med pyramid

Principles of the Mediterranean diet include:

  • Consumption of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, chicken and eggs, beans and nuts, olive oil and small amounts of dairy.
  • Regular daily physical activity.
  • Family meal times.
  • Focus on plant foods and minimal consumption of red meat and processed foods and beverages.
  • Increased use of herbs and spices, not condiments to flavor foods.
  • Diet low in saturated fat with olive oil as the main fat source.

Foods to include on your next grocery list:

Vegetables

  • Tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Artichokes
  • Red/green peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Fresh green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Zucchini
  • Mustard/collard greens
  • Squash
  • Olives
  • Onions
  • Sweet potatoes

Fruits

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Melons
  • Blueberries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Pomegranate
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi

Fish/Poultry/Dairy

  • Salmon
  • Shrimp
  • Scallops
  • Tuna
  • Tilapia
  • Chicken
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt

Beans

  • Chickpeas
  • Hummus
  • White, Black, Pinto Beans
  • Lentils

Nuts/Seeds

  • Walnuts
  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Ground Flaxseed
  • Pine Nuts

Grains

  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur
  • Barley
  • Wild/Jasmine/Brown Rice
  • Couscous
  • Whole Wheat Pasta

Healthy Oils/Fats

  • Olive oil
  • Avocados

Herbs/Spices

  • Garlic
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Coriander
  • Cumin

While this is not an all-inclusive lists of foods found in the Mediterranean diet, it can be a great place to start.

What are the pros for following the Mediterranean diet?

  • Increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids. Healthy fats containing omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help reduce LDL (the bad) cholesterol levels, help prevent degenerative eye disorders and possibly reduce inflammation.
  • Increased fruit and vegetable consumption. Most people miss the mark for consuming 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Incorporating Mediterranean recipes into your meals can help you easily reach that goal.
  • Limited red meat consumption and dairy consumption. Red meat and high-fat dairy products are some of the highest sources of saturated fats. Diets high in saturated fats have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Family meal times. Research shows that families who eat together consume more fiber, calcium, iron and Vitamins B6, B12, C and E and consume less sodium and added sugars. Children and adolescents who share family meal times are more likely to be in a normal weight range and have healthier eating patterns.

The potential cons?

  • Meal planning. Most recipes require fresh ingredients that take to time to be chopped, cooked and prepared. However, planning ahead can help you utilize preparation and cooking time more efficiently.
  • Cost. Some items such as salmon, seafood and nuts can be more costly compared to other proteins.
  • Kid-friendliness. Consuming more natural flavors may take time to adjust to for young kids. Keep in mind that many children with unhealthy BMIs often consume too many processed food items and sugary-sweetened beverages.

Whether you take the Mediterranean diet on full-storm or simply incorporate a few Mediterranean-style meals into your week, consuming minimally processed foods is a great habit for a healthy lifestyle.


Leave a comment

Do You Have Neuroprotection?

Alas, no, it’s not acquired by dialing a 1-800 number.

Research suggests that healthy eating and active lifestyles can provide this positive benefit. My grandmother always told me to do crossword puzzles because it’s good for my brain. While I’m sad to admit that I still have never been able to fully complete one on my own, the good news is research indicates that there are other ways to keep my brain in shape.

Having a nutritionally dense diet and engaging in daily physical activity is great for brain health and can help prevent neurodegeneration (loss of cognitive functioning). To some extent, a loss of cognitive functioning occurs naturally with age; however, scientists are concluding that some forms of neurodegeneration can be prevented. Neuroprotection is the term used to describe the strategies that defend the central nervous system against degenerative disorders, like Alzheimer’s and dementia.

One review in The Lancet Neurology, 2011, estimates that almost one half of all worldwide cases of Alzheimer’s disease could be prevented. Being overweight, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes are all risk factors for cognitive degenerative disorders. What’s alarming is that these are all modifiable risk factors, meaning you can prevent them or improve outcomes from dietary and lifestyle changes.

Physical activity has long been associated with physical and emotional wellness, but research is now showing how exercise benefits our mental health. Exercise increases fuel utilization by the brain (oxygen and glucose) and promotes neuron growth and survival.  Just like our muscles, your brain needs its exercise, too!

Try adding these foods to your meals for neuroprotection:

Walnuts. Do you remember what you had for breakfast this morning, or what you wore yesterday? A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that walnut consumption, as part of a Mediterranean diet, was associated with better memory scores and cognitive function. Their findings suggest that walnuts, in combination with other antioxidants found in the Mediterranean food choices, may help prevent or slow down cognitive decline.

Extra virgin olive oil (or, as Rachael Ray has coined it, “EVOO”) has also been associated with improved cognitive function. Use extra virgin olive oil to lightly coat vegetables and proteins, then grill or bake in the oven to infuse the flavors. Try making your own salad dressings using olive oil as your base.

The Impact of Blueberries.

The Impact of Blueberries.

Berries. Not only are berries a potent antioxidant source, but studies have shown that consuming berries as part of a healthy diet are linked to slower mental decline in areas of memory and focus. Blueberries, which have been nicknamed “brainberries”, can help protect the body and the brain from oxidative stress. Add berries to cereals or yogurts, or enjoy them by themselves as a healthy antioxidant-packed snack.

Spinach. This dark green vegetable contains a well-researched antioxidant, lutein. Formally, researched for its role in eye health, newer research supports the role of lutein with brain health. Harvard Medical School researchers found that women in their study who ate the most dark leafy green vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower) experienced a slower rate of cognitive decline as compared to women who had the least vegetable consumption.

Ground flaxseed is another plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids consistently found in Mediterranean diets that offers brain-boosting benefits. Sprinkle ground flaxseed on oatmeal, yogurt or applesauce, or mix in with sauces and stews.

In laboratory studies, many individual minerals, vitamins and compounds demonstrate these positive neuroprotective effects. Yet, evidence suggests that it is the synergy of all the antioxidants, phytochemicals and compounds of a total diet that work together to offer the strongest benefit. This emphasizes the importance of consuming an overall nutritionally-dense diet vs. trying to super-supplement with a specific food or nutrient.

For a healthy body and peace of mind, eat healthfully, exercise and, as Grandma recommends, do your crossword puzzles.

 

Barnes, D.E. & Yaffe, K. (2011). The projected effect of risk factor reduction on Alzheimer’s disease prevalence. The Lancet Neurology, 10(9),819-828.

Valls-Pedret, C. et al. (2012). Polyphenol-Rich Foods in the Mediterranean Diet are Associated with  Better Cognitive Function in Elderly Subjects at High Cardiovascular Risk. Journal of Alzheimer’s   Disease, 29, 773-782. http://iospress.metapress.com/content/w012188621153h61/fulltext.pdf

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,679 other followers