Vitamin C Power Foods

Recently, our Dietetics and Nutrition department was featured at the Springfield Clinic sponsored Illinois Products Farmers’ Market. Our topic was “Vitamin C at the Market” and my goal was to help educate Market-goers on foods that are nutritionally dense in Vitamin C.

Farmer's Market

Juice is one of the first things that come to most people’s minds when they think of Vitamin C. You want to get rid of a cold faster? Drink some orange juice. How do you increase Vitamin C with breakfast? Drink some orange juice.

These old nutrition practices have been around for decades. The reality of the matter is that juice is no different than soda once it’s consumed. It is processed the exact same way in the body. Liquid sugar (juice) is one of the most rapidly digested food sources and quickly converts to glucose and enters the blood stream. So, the technical term for juice we should be using is “soda with a squirt of Vitamin C”.

Not only can we derive the same amount (or even more) Vitamin C from whole foods compared to juice, we gain greater benefits from their consumption. Whole foods provide us the benefit of fiber (something juice certainly does not have)! Fiber aids in digestion, helps control blood sugar levels and keeps you fuller longer. Juice is often overloaded with one particular vitamin or mineral. Whole foods contain a plethora of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and the synergistic consumption of all these nutrients has been found to have a higher absorption rate compared to large doses of one single vitamin or mineral.

Here are some additional sources of Vitamin C found in natural foods. The top 5 food sources are (and listed in order of Vitamin C content):

  • Red Bell Peppers. Enjoy them all year round. Add them to salads, omelets, sautéed with onions, zucchini and mushrooms or string them on a kabob.
  • Kiwi. Simply cut a kiwi in half and scoop out the middle with a spoon. They are great on their own or can be blended in a smoothie, added to Greek yogurt or mixed with strawberries and other fruit for a nutritious fruit salsa.
  • Strawberries. Best consumed in the summer time when they are in season!
  • Oranges. Opt for citrus fruits like oranges in the winter months when other fruits aren’t in season in the US.
  • Broccoli. A nutritional powerhouse full of fiber, folate, Vitamin K and antioxidants.

Juice is one of the first things that come to most people’s minds when they think of Vitamin C, but juice is no different than soda once it’s consumed. It is processed the exact same way in the body. Try these Vitamin C Power Foods next time instead of going straight for the juice!

Vitamin C has many functions in the body. It is an antioxidant that strengthens the body’s immune system, aids in collagen formation as well as wound healing and helps improve the absorption of iron. The latter is especially important for those who are anemic. A great tip to enhance absorption of iron found in spinach is to consume it with red bell peppers, tomatoes or strawberries. I know summertime screams strawberry spinach salads in our household!

Figge’s Favorite Groceries

grocery shoppingWith the success of  Figge’s Favorite Things blog post, I thought I would follow up with a list of some of my favorite foods that frequently occupy my shopping list. Years ago, my diet heavily consisted of processed luncheon meats, frozen dinners and snack bars. Today, fresh fruits, vegetables and meats are typically what fill up my grocery cart. This was no overnight process, but slowly, I began to step outside my comfort zone and taught myself how to prepare and cook with fresh ingredients. To stay healthy, I rely on clean, minimally processed foods. Combined with a healthy dose of physical activity each week, clean eating helps keep my cholesterol down, energy up and promotes a good night’s sleep.

  1. Eggs. Eggs have been hounded over the years for their fat and cholesterol content. However, with today’s research on eggs, we are learning that 1) the cholesterol found in eggs is not what is causing high cholesterol in individuals and 2) the benefits of the yolks include a Vitamin B12 source, eye-healthy lutein , zeaxanthin antioxidants, and choline, which is essential for cardiovascular and brain function.
  2. fresh-spinachSpinach. This green giant gets sautéed in with my eggs each morning and makes several appearances in other meals throughout the week.
  3. Peanut or almond butter. If I could eat almond butter every day, I would; but because the cost of it is often more than peanut butter, I tend to go back and forth between these heart-healthy fat and protein snack additions.
  4. Cauliflower. My kitchen often looks like a cauliflower war zone. For those of you that regularly cut up cauliflower, you know what I’m talking about! My preferred way of cooking it is steaming in a sauce pan and then mashing it in my food processor. Add a pinch of salt, garlic powder, onion powder, butter and garnish with chives and you have a great vegetable side dish (not to mention for the cost of $3 or less!)
  5. Spaghetti Squash. We have been having a lot of fun with spaghetti squash this winter. It is a great substitute for pasta in recipes. To me, it is not very tasty when served plain, but if you add mixed vegetables, seasonings, sauces or a homemade mayo to the mix, you’re set-to-go for a delicious meal.
  6. Chicken. This is the most popular protein consumed in our household. For that reason, I am constantly finding new ways to season and prepare it. We also consume beef, pork and fish but chicken definitely takes the podium for most consumed.
  7. Apples. This fruit is a good source of antioxidants and soluble fiber. I usually have at least one and sometimes two apples a day with my peanut or almond butter for heart-healthy, filling snacks.
  8. Whey protein powder. Since both my husband and I do Crossfit, we need a quick source of protein for our post-workout snacks. One scoop of protein powder poured in 8 oz. of almond milk allows my body to quickly refuel after a workout, promote lean tissue growth and speed up recovery time.
  9. Ground flaxseed. This antioxidant powerhouse can be easily mixed into recipes or sauces or can even be sprinkled on top of foods to add fiber, omega-3 and healthy lignans to any dish.
  10. Sweet potato. These Vitamin A giants interestingly are most often consumed with my breakfast meal. I’ll sauté a medium-large sweet potato in 1 Tbsp of coconut oil on Sunday nights and then portion out servings to grab and go for the week. NCI5_POTATO

Dinner’s Ready

Dinner time is often the one chance for everyone to sit down together, share a meal and discuss life’s events that day. However, in today’s busy world, this Norman Rockwell scene often is replaced with everyone jammed into the car and going through a drive-thru window. Did you know that families who sit together at home for three or more meals per week are more likely to consume:Norman-Rockwell-Freedom-from-Want-1943

  • More fruits and vegetables
  • Less fried food and soda
  • Less saturated fat and trans fat
  • More fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins B6, B12, C and E

When you think about these facts, it makes perfect sense that a home-cooked meal is going to be more nutritious than one purchased from the fast-food, drive-thru window. Most fast-food purchases include fried foods (chicken nuggets or chicken tenders, fries, fish fillets, onion rings) and a sugary-sweetened beverage, resulting in meals that are loaded with saturated and trans fats, sodium and added sugars. When meals are prepared at home, they are more likely to include a fruit and/or vegetable, a lean protein that has been grilled or baked, a whole grain product and either water or low-fat milk to drink.

Two nutrients that most American kids do not consume enough of are dietary fiber and potassium. Additionally, we are not getting enough plant-based foods. Eating more plant-based foods can help easily increase both dietary fiber and potassium intake. Foods that are excellent sources of potassium include: acorn and butternut squash, avocados, baked beans, bananas, broccoli, cantaloupe, mushrooms, nectarines, kiwi, spinach, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, oranges, tomatoes. Dietary fiber can be found in whole wheat bread and whole wheat pasta, nuts and seeds, beans (all varieties), berries, apples, pears, oranges, oats and peas to name a few. Adding these foods to familiar recipes or serving them by themselves is a wonderful way of improving nutritional intake at the dinner table.

Eating together as a family not only sounds like a great idea, research is showing that there are both social and health benefits that can be experienced by all family members.1 Additionally, children and adolescents who share family meals three or more times per week are2:

  • More likely to be in a normal weight range
  • Have healthier eating patterns

Additional benefits of family meal times include:

  • Better academic performance
  • Better connectedness and communication at home
  • Better language and communication skills
  • Opportunities to model healthy eating habits
  • More family time

As our families grow and take on more extracurricular activities, it can be more difficult to have everyone sit down at the same time for dinner. Making time in everyone’s schedules for a family meal has benefits that go beyond nutritional health. In a report published by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, 2011, they found that teens who consumed dinners with their families 5-7 times per week compared to those who sat down with the family less than 3 times per week were3:

  • 4x less likely to use tobacco
  • 2x less likely to use alcohol
  • 2.5x less likely to use marijuana

To limit distractions, make mealtimes a no-phone zone and turn off the television. Remember to make family meal time fun! Discussing bad grades or negative events should not occur at the dinner table. Positive family talks can be stemmed from questions like:

  • What was the best thing that happened today?
  • What was the funniest thing you saw or heard today?
  • Did you learn anything new today?
  • If you could eat the same vegetable every single day, what would it be?
  • What has been your favorite memory so far this year?

1.Family Dinner and Diet Quality Among Children and Adolescents. Arch Fam Med. 2000;9:235-240.

2.Is Frequency of Shared Family Meals Relate to the Nutritional Health of Children and Adolescents? Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. May 2011.

3.The Importance of Family Dinners VII. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. September 2011.

Eating Right Through All Stages of Life

Healthful eating and physical activity play a significant role in aging well. For older individuals, it may be a bit harder to consume adequate levels of nutrients each and every day. Chewing difficulties, appetite changes, medications, stress of caring for ill family members and a decrease in digestive enzymes can all affect dietary choices and nutrient absorption.

Protein is a vital component in our diets. It serves as the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood. Protein intake is also associated with wound healing, recovery and immunity. Many older adults observe a loss in lean body mass as they age. Adequate protein intake can help preserve that lean muscle tissue. The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein for adults is 0.8 grams of protein/kg of body weight. Newer research is suggesting that the protein needs for older adults may be higher than this well-established recommendation. Protein sources with the best bioavailability include eggs, milk, poultry, fish and meat. Beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains can also provide protein in the diet, but these sources do not contain all the essential amino acids needed in the diet and most be consumed with complimentary protein sources.pumpkinoatmeal

One problem that many older adults face is a difficulty in chewing. Tough foods such as animal proteins can become more cumbersome to consume at meals. Cutting proteins into small pieces or utilizing moist cooking methods are two ways to help make chewing easier. Here are a few other tips for increasing protein in the diet:

  • Add dry milk powder to soups, sauces, casseroles or mashed potatoes
  • Consume cheese on whole wheat toast, whole wheat crackers, vegetables or soups
  • Keep hard-cooked eggs readily available for snacks or salads
  • Add leftover meats to soups, casseroles, salads, omelets or shredded into a dip mix
  • Sprinkle chopped nuts such as walnuts onto cereal, yogurt or on top of salads.
  • Stir in beans into sauces and pasta dishes
  • Order fish dishes when dining out since fish tends to be more tender and easier to chew
  • Spread peanut butter on toast, English muffins, whole grain bagels or whole wheat crackers

Taking care of loved ones often takes priority over one’s own health. My grandma was the sole caretaker of my grandpa when he became ill later in life. With each visit to my grandparent’s home, it was very noticeable that my grandma was losing weight mainly from increased stress levels and putting her own needs second to those of her husband. It’s just as important to encourage our healthy loved ones to consume well-balanced meals in addition to those suffering from illness.

As the body ages, it does not absorb vitamins and minerals as efficiently. Nutrients impacted by these physiological changes include Vitamin D, Calcium and Vitamin B-12. Good sources of these nutrients include milk or fortified milk substitute, yogurt, cheese, fatty fish, egg yolks, dark green vegetables and poultry. Dementia is often regarded as a natural part of aging; however, one possibility for memory loss and signs of dementia could be due to a Vitamin B-12 deficiency.

Fluid needs are also a concern for older individuals. Many people lose the strong sense of thirst as they age, making them more susceptible to dehydration. In addition to consuming adequate fluid amounts, consuming foods with high water contents like fruits, vegetables and soups can also preserve one’s hydration status.

Researchers at Tufts University have developed a modified plate method that addresses dietary concerns for older individuals. Proper nutrition is a significant component in the prevention and management of chronic diseases. Today marks the 20th anniversary for National Senior Health and Fitness Day but remember, every day is a new opportunity to make wholesome, nutritious food choices.

Find out more on nutrition for older adults.

Label Reading 101

Reading food labels can be very advantageous; you can find information on serving sizes, calories, amount of fat, calcium content and many other nutrients. However, if you’re like most people, reading food labels can become quite overwhelming.  I’ve had a family friend tell me that she doesn’t read food labels because there is too much information on there. I began reading labels when I was in high school. Unfortunately, the only thing I looked at was the amount of fat

The truth about food labels.

The truth about food labels.

and paid no attention to the rest of the information provided. Just like everyone else, I could have used a little help from a Label Reading 101 course.

Label Reading 101

Today’s Lesson:

  • Serving size
  • Calories
  • Fat
  • “Reduced fat” and “fat-free”

Serving Size: The serving size of a product is located at the very top of the nutrition facts label. This is the foundation for all the nutrient information because all the numbers listed below are pertinent to that listed serving size.

I want to make a little side-note; serving size ≠ portion size. Serving size is the amount recommended on the food label; portion size is the amount you actually serve yourself. For example, not many people actually measure their cereal in the morning; rather we pour until we think we’ve got the “right amount” in our bowl. The serving size of most cereals is ¾ cup. As an experiment, pour the amount of cereal you normally have and then measure out your portion to see how closely your estimates are to the recommended serving size.

Calories: Calories is the first bolded item found on the label. The calorie amount shown is based on the listed serving size. Keep in mind some products may contain several servings per container. In this case, you may see two columns of information: one indicating the calories per serving, and one for the entire container. You will often see this format on candy, chip and beverage containers. “Calories from fat” is a little unnecessary. It’s more important (and, to be honest, much easier) to pay attention to total fat and its other components (saturated, trans and unsaturated fats) instead of monitoring “calories from fat.” Below is my explanation of this.

Fat: The total fat value is a sum of all the different types of fat in that product. Nutrients that are indented under a bolded item means that they are components of the total value. Saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat all make up the total fat value. Saturated fats and trans fats are the types of fats to consume less of in the diet. Try to find products with no more than three grams of saturated fat per serving and no amounts of trans fat.

Sometimes, we get turned away from a food item because the fat content is much higher than other products. For example, peanut butter has a fat content of 16 grams per two tbsp serving size and a four ounce serving of salmon has around 12 grams of fat. However, these total fat values are mainly composed of the healthy fats that we strive to get in our diets; mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This is why looking at “calories from fat” can be misleading. The value listed doesn’t indicate if those are calories from good fats or the unhealthy fats. An example of an unhealthy fat is Chili’s nachos on their appetizer menu; just four chips with all the toppings contain almost 30 grams of fat and over half of that is saturated fat (aka the kind of fat that is not kind to our waist lines).

Labels that say “reduced fat” or “fat-free”: Many people purchase these types of items like fat-free salad dressing or reduced-fat peanut butter because the label makes it sound like they are healthier options. Unfortunately, in many cases, they’re not. One solid piece of advice to remember is fat-free does not mean “calorie-free.” Often, the fat-free or reduced-fat options of foods have almost the same amount of calories as the regular version. Sometimes health halos accompany food labels with the words “fat free” on it. This means that people tend to consume larger portions of the food because they believe that it is healthier than the regular version. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience on this one.

Another important piece to remember is that fat flavors our food. When fat is taken out of product, it is often replaced by extra sodium and extra sugars which doesn’t necessarily make a healthier food product. Reduced-fat peanut butter has twice the amount of sodium in it compared to regular peanut butter. Fat is important in our diet; we especially need it to absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) which are often found in our non-starchy vegetables. This is why fat-free salad dressing is not the best choice to make. If you don’t have any fat in the meal, your body will have a hard time absorbing the vitamin K from your spinach or the vitamin A from the raw carrots in your salad. Stick to a vinaigrette; they spread easily and your portion sizes tend to be smaller.

Next week’s lesson:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Fiber
  • Sodium
  • Calcium
  • “Sugar-free”