Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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The Surprising Health Benefits of Avocado

Not only is avocado delicious but this superfood is packed with disease-fighting antioxidants. Find out how this creamy fruit can benefit your health.

Avocado: The underestimated superfood
Yes, avocados are relatively high in fat and calories (138 calories and 14.1g fat in half a medium-sized avocado). But they’re also one of the best foods you can eat, packed with nutrients and heart-healthy compounds. Here are five great reasons to eat them regularly.

Avocado is packed with carotenoids
Avocados are a great source of lutein, a carotenoid that works as an antioxidant and helps protect against eye disease. They also contain the related carotenoids zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, as well as tocopherol (vitamin E).

But avocados aren’t just a rich source of carotenoids by themselves-they also help you get more of these nutrients from other foods. Carotenoids are lipophilic (soluble in fat, not water), so eating carotenoid-packed foods like fruits and vegetables along with monounsaturated-fat-rich avocados helps your body absorb the carotenoids.

An easy way to do this is to add sliced avocado to a mixed salad. (Try this avocado salad with lemon-herb shrimp.)

Avocado can help you lose weight
Half an avocado contains 3.4 grams of fibre, including soluble and insoluble, both of which your body needs to keep the digestive system running smoothly. Plus, soluble fibre slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in your body, helping you feel full for longer.

Avocados also contain oleic acid, a fat that activates the part of your brain that makes you feel full. Healthier unsaturated fats containing oleic acid have been shown to produce a greater feeling of satiety than less-healthy saturated fats and trans fats found in processed foods.

Avocado can help stabilize blood sugar
Rich, creamy, and packed with beneficial monounsaturated fat, avocado slows digestion and helps keep blood sugar from spiking after a meal. A diet high in good fats may even help reverse insulin resistance, which translates to steadier blood sugar long-term. Try putting mashed avocado on sandwiches instead of mayonnaise or on bread instead of butter. To keep what’s left over from turning brown, spritz the flesh with cooking spray or coat with lemon juice and wrap in plastic. (If you love caprese salad, this avocado caprese crostini won’t disappoint!)

Avocado can protect your unborn baby-and your heart
One cup of avocado provides almost a quarter of your recommended daily intake of folate, a vitamin which cuts the risk of birth defects. If you’re pregnant-or planning to be-avocados will help protect your unborn baby.

A high folate intake is also associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and heart disease. Does your family have a history of heart problems, or do you have risk factors (such as being overweight or smoking) for heart disease? Avocados could help keep your heart healthy.

Avocado can help lower your cholesterol
As well as increasing feelings of fullness, the oleic acid in avocados can help reduce cholesterol levels. In one study, individuals eating an avocado-rich diet had a significant decrease in total cholesterol levels, including a decrease in LDL cholesterol. Their levels of HDL cholesterol (the healthy type) increased by 11 percent.

High cholesterol is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. The cholesterol-lowering properties of avocado, along with its folate content, help keep your heart healthy. (If you’re not exactly a fan of avocado, try these fruits and veggies to help prevent high cholesterol.)

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This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful. The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. Oravecz says the findings highlight the psychological benefits that intimate relationships can offer. In fact, study participants ranked human interaction as a more significant expression of love than receiving material items, like presents. Connecting with others was also rated more highly than getting positive feedback on the internet, indicating that people derive the most support from personal human contact. In fact, other studies suggest more time on social media leads to increased feelings of isolation. Yet despite the findings that spending time with friends and family makes us feel good, during hectic times like the holidays, these social interactions can feel burdensome instead of fulfilling. Fatigued from an overload of shopping, spending, and travel, most Americans describe this time of year as stressful instead of magical. In fact, a telephone survey conducted by the American Psychological Association showed that compared to other times of the year, 44 percent of women and 31 percent of men (out of 786 individuals polled) feel more stress during the holidays. In addition, 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men said purchasing and giving gifts added to their distress.

Esther Lui for NPR

Small acts of kindness are what make us feel loved.
 

Any kind of stress can strain relationships and cause us to withdraw from others, but small stressors can be just as trying as larger burdens. A 2015 research study found that daily hassles like working, running errands, and money troubles negatively impact romantic unions, causing people to feel less satisfied and more alone in their relationships. When we’re anxious and fatigued, it can also be more challenging to see someone else’s point of view, which might explain why family feuds seem more likely to arise during the holidays. While prioritizing one’s self-care during the months of November and December may be difficult, adopting a mindset of being present in the moment may help lessen the stress of the season.

“During the holidays, anxiety rises, making it harder to remain present with ourselves and others. However, the power of spending time with another person is a gift we can give at any moment,” says Dr. Carla Naumburg, a mindfulness coach and social worker in Newton, Mass.

While we may associate presence with mindfulness meditation, we don’t need to be Zen masters to create a calmer holiday. Naumburg says we can cultivate presence by cutting back on social media (which helps limit distractions), getting plenty of rest, and taking a pause (and remembering to breathe).

“For everyone, breathing is a small but powerful act that can keep us connected to ourselves by shifting our awareness to the present moment,” she says.

According to The American Institute of Stress, focused breathing elicits the body’s “relaxation response,” slowing one’s heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and helping muscles relax. This physical process aids in repairing an overactive nervous system, helping us to enter a calmer physical and emotional state. Although it can be challenging to forgo doing extra errands during the holidays, Naumburg suggests balancing party planning and online shopping with moments of human connection. Activities like reading to a child, meeting a friend for a walk, or taking a moment to call a family member, are ways to express love and care and can keep us emotionally grounded. While the idea of offering loved ones the gift of our time may pale in comparison to giving them a lavish present, recent empathy research shows shared human experiences can tighten social bonds. Oravecz and her colleagues also found that despite personality differences, most people agree on what makes us feel loved — the presence of our loved ones.

Juli Fraga is a psychologist and writer in San Francisco. You can find her on Twitter @dr_fraga.
December 9, 2017    JULI FRAGA
 
source: www.npr.org


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Mindful Yoga Can Reduce Risky Behaviors In Troubled Youth

For some young people, dealing with life stressors like exposure to violence and family disruption often means turning to negative, risky behaviors – yet little is known about what can intervene to stop this cycle.

But one long-term study by the University of Cincinnati looks at the link between stressful life events and an increase in substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors and delinquency in a diverse population of 18- to 24-year-old youths. The research also sheds light on distinct coping strategies that can lead to more positive outcomes.

As part of a 10-year study looking at risk-taking and decision-making – or the lack thereof – Jacinda Dariotis, UC public health researcher, spent 12 months focusing on early life stressors as a predictor of risky sexual behavior, substance abuse and delinquency for more than 125 at-risk youths. Surprisingly, she found a small number of the youths were already engaging in constructive coping behaviors on their own that will have positive outcomes later in life.

But what about the majority of troubled youth who cope by engaging in negative, risky and dangerous behaviors?

Results from the most recent segment of Dariotis’ study were presented at the American Public Health Association conference in Atlanta, under the title,”Stress coping strategies as mediators: Toward a better understanding of sexual, substance and delinquency-related risk-taking among transition-aged youth.”

The study revealed that in spite of early life stressors, positive coping behaviors, either learned or self-generated, can actually have a protective effect.

“We found that many of these youths who had endured stressful life events and otherwise would have fallen into the risky behavior trap could actually have positive outcomes later in life because they chose to join in prosocial physical activities, yoga or mindfulness meditation,” says Dariotis.

Risky outlets

During the study, Dariotis looked at the disconnect between the youths who had intended to have positive influences in their lives but continually found themselves engaged in behaviors that had negative outcomes. She found a link between stressful life events and increased risky unprotected sex, violence and substance abuse.

“We took a holistic approach, looking at these issues from a social and biological perspective,” says Dariotis, also director of UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services Evaluation Services Center. “In addition to question-and-answer information, we collected urine samples for drug use confirmation and testosterone levels early in the study to see how hormones played out in negative behaviors.”

According to Dariotis, testosterone can be influential in dominance and aggressive behaviors, but if directed through prosocial behaviors like sports, yoga or healthy competition it can have very positive outcomes.

“If you are the star on your sports team you are succeeding,” says Dariotis. “You can also be competitive academically where you succeed by competing with your peers.”

It’s not that testosterone itself is all bad but it depends on how it is channeled, she adds.

The right track

Before joining UC as an associate professor of research, Dariotis spent the last decade at Johns Hopkins University gathering most of the data that includes neuroimaging and weekly questioning for hundreds of youth from all walks of life.

“I’m particularly interested in teaching at-risk youths to regulate their thoughts, processes and emotions,” says Dariotis. “The neuroimaging allows us to see what’s activated in one’s brain while at rest or performing tasks to help us understand the intersection between hormones, brain structure and activity.”

Dariotis found that at-risk youth who voluntarily spend their time reading books, playing sports or engaged in avoidance coping behaviors were twice as likely to avoid risky sexual behaviors or substance abuse. An example of avoidance coping behaviors, she says, is not thinking about a bad event that had occurred and instead, thinking about what could be better.

Dariotis found youths who were unable to develop positive coping strategies were much more likely to turn to greater risk-taking behaviors that included unprotected sex or sex for money, substance abuse, violence and crime.

Saving time, money and lives

Participating in weekly mindful yoga intervention programs as part of the current study taught the youths how to take control of their breathing and their emotions and helped them develop healthier long-term coping skills.

“These findings highlight the importance of implementing positive coping strategies for at-risk youth particularly for reducing illicit drug use and risky sexual behavior,” says Dariotis. “Mindfulness-based yoga programs designed to improve the ability to cope are needed at earlier ages in schools to help vulnerable youths channel their skills more effectively.”

Given the relative low cost of such programs and easy adaptations to different populations and settings, Dariotis says the return on investment may be substantial especially if they can reduce arrests, repeat offenses and other negative outcomes for risk-taking youth.

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Cincinnati.   Date:December 7, 2017
Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Jacinda K. Dariotis, Frances R. Chen, Douglas A. Granger. Latent trait testosterone among 18–24 year olds: Methodological considerations and risk associations. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2016; 67: 1 DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.01.019


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Some Video Games Are Good For Older Adults’ Brains

If you’re between 55 and 75 years old, you may want to try playing 3D platform games like Super Mario 64 to stave off mild cognitive impairment and perhaps even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

That’s the finding of a new Canadian study by Université de Montréal psychology professors Gregory West, Sylvie Belleville and Isabelle Peretz. Published in PLOS ONE, it was done in cooperation with the Institut universitaire de gériatrie de Montréal (IUGM), Benjamin Rich Zendel of Memorial University in Newfoundland, and Véronique Bohbot of Montreal’s Douglas Hospital Research Centre.

In two separate studies, in 2014 and 2017, young adults in their twenties were asked to play 3D video games of logic and puzzles on platforms like Super Mario 64. Findings showed that the gray matter in their hippocampus increased after training.

The hippocampus is the region of the brain primarily associated with spatial and episodic memory, a key factor in long-term cognitive health. The gray matter it contains acts as a marker for neurological disorders that can occur over time, including mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.

West and his colleagues wanted to see if the results could be replicated among healthy seniors.

The research team recruited 33 people, ages 55 to 75, who were randomly assigned to three separate groups. Participants were instructed to play Super Mario 64 for 30 minutes a day, five days a week, take piano lessons (for the first time in their life) with the same frequency and in the same sequence, or not perform any particular task.

The experiment lasted six months and was conducted in the participants’ homes, where the consoles and pianos, provided by West’s team, were installed.

The researchers evaluated the effects of the experiment at the beginning and at the end of the exercise, six months later, using two different measurements: cognitive performance tests and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure variations in the volume of gray matter. This enabled them to observe brain activity and any changes in three areas:

  • the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex that controls planning, decision-making and inhibition;
  • the cerebellum that plays a major role in motor control and balance; and
  • the hippocampus, the centre of spatial and episodic memory.

According to the MRI test results, only the participants in the video-game cohort saw increases in gray matter volume in the hippocampus and cerebellum. Their short-term memory also improved.

The tests also revealed gray matter increases in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and cerebellum of the participants who took piano lessons, whereas some degree of atrophy was noted in all three areas of the brain among those in the passive control group.

What mechanism triggers increases in gray matter, especially in the hippocampus, after playing video games? “3-D video games engage the hippocampus into creating a cognitive map, or a mental representation, of the virtual environment that the brain is exploring.,” said West. “Several studies suggest stimulation of the hippocampus increases both functional activity and gray matter within this region.”

Conversely, when the brain is not learning new things, gray matter atrophies as people age. “The good news is that we can reverse those effects and increase volume by learning something new, and games like Super Mario 64, which activate the hippocampus, seem to hold some potential in that respect,” said West. Added Belleville: “These findings can also be used to drive future research on Alzheimer’s, since there is a link between the volume of the hippocampus and the risk of developing the disease.”

“It remains to be seen,” concluded West, “whether it is specifically brain activity associated with spatial memory that affects plasticity, or whether it’s simply a matter of learning something new.”

Story Source:
December 6, 2017     Materials provided by Université de Montréal. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Greg L. West, Benjamin Rich Zendel, Kyoko Konishi, Jessica Benady-Chorney, Veronique D. Bohbot, Isabelle Peretz, Sylvie Belleville. Playing Super Mario 64 increases hippocampal grey matter in older adults. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (12): e0187779 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0187779


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8 Foods That Fight Colds

If someone asked you which foods were good for helping fight a cold, you would probably think of things like oranges, because they are known to contain vitamin C. You might also suggest chicken soup, since this is one of the most well-known home remedies of all time. Scientific research has proven that there are benefits from eating chicken soup, but there are many other foods you can eat that will help you battle a cold. Here is a sample.

#1 Oysters

Most people know that oysters have a reputation as somewhat of an aphrodisiac, but they probably do not know that they can also help your body fight a cold. Oysters are rich in zinc, and zinc is a mineral that helps fights colds as researchers discovered when they tested the effectiveness of zinc lozenges. They found that people whole took zinc lozenges experienced cold systems for a shorter amount of time.

#2 Garlic

We all know that eating lots of garlic comes with a risk of offending some people around you due to the strong odor it can leave on your breath. When you are suffering with a cold, you may consider this a risk well worth taking, however. One of the key ingredients in garlic is called allicin, and it has proven itself as a potent antioxidant, and antioxidants help the immune system fight illness.

#3 Yogurt and kefir

Just about everyone is familiar with yogurt, but have you heard of kefir? Where taste is concerned, kefir might be described as liquid yogurt. It has a lot in common with yogurt, and that includes loads of beneficial bacteria. These tiny microbes are actually helpful to our health, and many of them take up residence in the digestive tract and help fight off bad bacteria. Both yogurt and kefir can help fortify your own private army of beneficial bacteria that will help destroy unfriendly bacteria, and help boost your immune system, making it better able to fight off a cold.

#4 Red peppers

Vitamin C often comes to mind when we think of the best way to fight off a cold, but we are probably inclined to think about things like oranges and other citrus fruits when someone mentions vitamin C. Red peppers should not be left out in the cold, however, since they are loaded with vitamin C. Just a single red pepper averages about 150 milligrams of vitamin C, which is twice the recommended daily allowance for women. Many experts believe even more vitamin C should be used to treat a cold – as much as 500 or even 1000 milligrams a day.

#5 Mushrooms

Another food you may not even consider when thinking of foods that help fight colds are mushrooms. Granted, not everyone loves these earthy-tasting fungi, but for those who cannot get enough, getting a cold means it could be time to pig out on mushrooms. The many varieties of mushrooms that are edible differ quite a bit when it comes to their nutrient content, but most of them contain antioxidants that will help give your immune system a bit more strength to kill of a cold.

#6 Sunflower seeds

These tasty seeds are popular as a snack, and are often salted and sold in individual packages in retail stores. It’s the antioxidant power of the vitamin E in sunflower seeds that makes then useful in the battle against colds. They are probably a bit healthier if you get them unsalted, especially if you suffer from high blood pressure.

#7 Brazil nuts

While we’re talking about nuts, we may as well take a little time to mention Brazil nuts. These crunchy treats not only help you fight colds, they can also help your body kill off other viruses like the flu. A medical research study from 2001 found that mice infected with a flu virus suffered from more severe inflammation if they did not have enough selenium in their system. Brazil nuts are rich in selenium, and don’t need to be eaten in great quantities to get their benefit. Just one Brazil nut contains more than the daily recommended amount of selenium.

#8 Tea

This is something that may naturally come to mind to help ease the symptoms of the common cold. Not only does it tend to make you feel better to sip hot tea when you are feeling sick, it has real cold-fighting benefits as well. Virtually all tea contains compounds called catechins which are powerful antioxidants that are effective in the fight against illness. A study conducted in Japan in 2011 found that people who took catechin supplements for five months lowered their chances of catching the flu by 75 percent! That sounds like it might be better than a flu shot!

source: thrutcher.com


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Eat slowly. Your body takes 20 minutes to recognize it’s full.

  • Humans cannot walk in a straight line without a visual point – When blindfolded, we will gradually walk in a circle.

 

  • People who regularly eat dinner or breakfast in restaurants double their risk of becoming obese.

  • Oddly enough, people on the Internet are more real than people in real life. The ability to act anonymously makes us much more genuine.

Happy Friday!
source: @Fact


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Alzheimer’s Linked To Too Much of This In Your Diet

Excess sugar in the diet could play an important role in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, new research finds.

Too much glucose (sugar) in the diet damages a vital enzyme which helps fight the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr Omar Kassaar, the study’s first author, said:

“Excess sugar is well known to be bad for us when it comes to diabetes and obesity, but this potential link with Alzheimer’s disease is yet another reason that we should be controlling our sugar intake in our diets.”

The researchers studied samples of brain tissue from people with and without Alzheimer’s disease.

They found that sugar can damage an enzyme called MIF (macrophage migration inhibitory factor).

The researchers studied samples of brain tissue from people with and without Alzheimer’s disease.

Professor Jean van den Elsen, a study co-author, explained:

“We’ve shown that this enzyme is already modified by glucose in the brains of individuals at the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
We are now investigating if we can detect similar changes in blood.

Normally MIF would be part of the immune response to the build-up of abnormal proteins in the brain, and we think that because sugar damage reduces some MIF functions and completely inhibits others that this could be a tipping point that allows Alzheimer’s to develop.”

MIF helps to fight the build up of abnormal proteins in the brain, which are characteristic of Alzheimer’s.

The reduction of MIF activity by glucose could eventually lead to a ‘tipping point’ in Alzheimer’s progression.

Dr Rob Williams, a study co-author, said:

“Knowing this will be vital to developing a chronology of how Alzheimer’s progresses and we hope will help us identify those at risk of Alzheimer’s and lead to new treatments or ways to prevent the disease.”

The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports (Kassaar et al., 2017).

source: PsyBlog