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The Hidden Influences That Shape Our Eating Habits

The New Year has barely begun and already your plans to eat more healthfully are skidding off track. You couldn’t help but devour the holiday chocolates. You’ve nibbled your way to the bottom of a bag of chips, without even really enjoying them. And that kale you’ve been meaning to eat? It’s wilting in your vegetable crisper. But don’t fret. Your willpower is probably just fine.

There’s a whole host of external factors that determine what and how you eat, from what’s written on the packaging and the colour of your dinnerware to the noise level of your surrounding environment. That’s the focus of Dr. Rachel Herz’s new book Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship With Food, which looks at the many influences on the way we consume and experience food.

Herz is a neuroscientist known for her work on the psychology of smell. She teaches at Brown University and Boston College, and has authored the previous books The Scent of Desire and That’s Disgusting. Her latest book offers support for the notion that many of the problems we experience with food, from overeating to picky eating, aren’t moral failings. We can’t simply will ourselves to eat less or expand our palates – our relationship with food is much more complicated than that. Whether we think a food item is decadent or low-calorie can affect how our bodies respond to it; our appetites are often influenced by the people we’re with; and how familiar we are with certain foods determines how filling they seem.

But understanding these factors allows us to manipulate them to our advantage, Herz says.

“This book should make people feel that they have the power. They can take back the meal,” she says. “What I’m hoping is that people can see how they can use this information to change their relationship with food.”

Herz spoke with The Globe and Mail about hidden factors that shape our meals, including a little-known factor that makes airplane food taste so bland.

‘Healthy’ labels

How they influence you: It’s probably no surprise that when a food item is labelled “healthy,” people tend to eat more of it. Might as well have two helpings of ice cream if it’s “low-calorie,” right? But just thinking something is healthy can actually change your body’s response to it – and not necessarily in a desirable way.

The science: Herz describes a Yale University study in which participants were given the same 340-calorie vanilla milkshake, labelled two different ways. For one group, the milkshake was called “Indulgence” and labelled as containing 620 calories. For the other, it was called “Sensi-shake,” and labelled as having zero-per-cent fat, no added sugar and 140 calories.

Those who drank the “Indulgence” shake experienced an immediate surge in the hunger-signalling hormone ghrelin after an initial taste. But a half-hour later, their ghrelin levels plummeted three times more than in those who drank the “Sensi-shake,” whose ghrelin levels remained flat. That means simply believing they were drinking a high-calorie shake made participants’ bodies respond accordingly; they felt less hungry, regardless of the actual calorie content.

The take-away: 

“If … you’re interested in not having your body pack on every calorie that’s in the food, you should approach all food as it being decadent, to the extent that you can,” Herz says.

Familiar foods

How they influence you: What makes food filling? Besides attributes such as being high in fat, providing roughage and being served in solid form instead of as a liquid, Herz says there’s also a psychological factor at play: The more familiar a food is to you, the more satiating it seems.

The science: Herz points to a study from the University of Bristol in which participants were shown pictures of various common foods, all in 200-calorie portions, and asked how often they ate them. Then they were asked how filling they thought each food was. Participants rated the foods they consumed most frequently as most filling.

The take-away: Familiar foods act as a signifier that you’ve eaten or that you’re satisfied with what you consume, Herz says, which explains why individuals accustomed to eating rice may only feel full when they’ve had rice, or why those accustomed to eating meat and potatoes don’t feel a meal is complete without those staples. She suggests you can use this to your advantage to train yourself to feel satisfied with eating vegetables.

“If after your lunch, you have a couple celery sticks or a couple carrot sticks or whatever, then that sort of becomes a psychological marker for being full and being done eating,” she says.

Colours

How they influence you: Remember Pepsi-Cola’s failed colourless Crystal Pepsi? Or Heinz’s short-lived green ketchup? Colour has a big impact on how we experience food, and whether we’re willing to consume it. But the colour red, in particular, can influence us in multiple ways, Herz says. Since we associate red with the colour of ripe fruit, it can make food taste sweeter, yet since it is also a signal for danger, it can curb mindless snacking.

The science: Herz describes a German study that invited participants to help themselves to pretzels, presented on either a blue, white or red plate, while they were asked to fill in a questionnaire. Those who were served pretzels on the red plate ate half as many pretzels as those who were offered them on blue or white plates.

“Red works to kind of alert you, first of all,” which can make you more mindful of what you’re eating, Herz explains. “And at the same time, it also makes you potentially question: Should you consume?”

The take-away: If you want to reduce absent-minded nibbling, choose a red plate, Herz suggests. But she says, if your goal is to try to encourage eating, avoid using red dishes and serving vessels.

Sounds

How they influence you: The loud, continuous hum inside an airplane dampens your perception of saltiness and sweetness, which contributes to the lacklustre taste of airplane food, Herz says. Yet the volume doesn’t alter your sense of bitterness, so bitterness may be amplified, and it actually intensifies the taste of umami, or savoury brothy flavours, which explains why tomato juice is such a popular inflight beverage choice.

The science: There are three cranial nerves that innervate our perception of taste, Herz explains. One in particular, the chorda tympani, also innervates our perception of hearing. It transmits taste information from the tongue to the brain, and crosses through the ear along the way, she says.

“Loudness actually influences the degree to which our taste buds are able to communicate with the brain and it alters our taste in specific ways.”

The take-away: Cranking up the volume can make an umami-rich meal more delicious, but you may want to turn it down in time for dessert.

WENCY LEUNG             JANUARY 8, 2018
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10 Things That Can Help Make Kids Less Anxious

“Anxiety is a normal part of childhood, and every child goes through phases. A phase is temporary and usually harmless. But children who suffer from an anxiety disorder experience fear, nervousness, and shyness, and they start to avoid places and activities.” ~ Anxiety and Depression Association of America

It is estimated that anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Studies show that children with untreated anxiety are more likely to engage in substance abuse, under-perform academically, and remove themselves from important social development experiences.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 80 percent of children with a diagnosable anxiety disorder are not getting treatment. This is particularly troublesome considering that the brain undergoes tremendous growth during childhood; thus, increasing the chances that the anxiety becomes hardwired.

In this article, we’re going to discuss signs of childhood anxiety, how to reduce a child’s anxiety, and other possible treatment options.

SIGNS OF CHILDHOOD ANXIETY

Parents of a young girl named Ella share their story:

“Ella was a worrier. Every morning, she worried that she wouldn’t make the bus on time, even though she hadn’t missed it once all year. And every afternoon, she worried that she wouldn’t get her favorite spot at the lunch table, or that she might have a pop quiz in science class and wouldn’t be prepared. At night, she worried about getting her homework done and whether her clothes would look right at school the next day.”

As you can gather from these parents’ story, child anxiety is quite apparent provided adequate attention is being given. Anxious kids display their anxiety in many ways – at home, school, and in social settings.

Per kidshealth.org, kids suffering from anxiety will have one or more of the following signs:

– excessive worry most days of the week, for weeks on end
– trouble sleeping at night or sleepiness during the day
– restlessness or fatigue during waking hours
– trouble concentrating
– irritability

THINGS THAT REDUCE CHILDHOOD ANXIETY

When children experience chronic anxiety, it’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of trying to protect their child. However, overprotection is counterproductive to relieving anxiety – and exacerbates many of the symptoms.

Per the Child Mind Institute, here are 10 pointers for helping children escape the cycle of anxiety
before kids

1. UNDERSTAND THAT ELIMINATING ANXIETY ISN’T THE GOAL – BUT MANAGING IT.
It can be discouraging to see your kid deal with anxiety. It’s painful for us. But as much as we would like to get rid of everything that causes anxiety, it’s just not possible.

Instead, it’s all about teaching the child to tolerate their anxiety as best they can, even when they’re anxious.

Eventually, the anxiety will subside.

2. ALLOW THE CHILD TO CONFRONT THEIR ANXIETY.
While helping children avoid the things they’re afraid of may help in the short-term, it exacerbates the problem in the long run.

It’s important for parents to understand that pulling their child out of every anxiety-provoking situation reinforces avoidance – a poor coping mechanism for anxiety and stress.

3. SET POSITIVE AND REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS.
Setting positive and realistic expectations is all about instilling a sense of self-confidence. Often, expressing confidence that your child will be okay allows them to manage their anxiety well enough to see things through.

4. RESPECT, BUT DON’T EMPOWER, THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS.
You don’t want to belittle your child’s anxiety, but you don’t want to amplify it either. If your child is fearful about going to the doctor, address (don’t ignore) her concerns.

Listen and be empathetic, and say something along the lines of “I know you’re scared now, and that’s okay. We’ll get through this together.”

5. DON’T ASK ANTICIPATORY QUESTIONS.
If you have a vague feeling that something may be bothering your child, make sure to ask open-ended questions – and not leading them.

For example, the question “How is studying going for your exams?” encourages your child to express themselves more than “Are you anxious about your mid-terms?”

6. DON’T REINFORCE THEIR FEARS.
In other words, don’t give your child a reason to be afraid. If your child has a negative experience with a bully, for example, the last thing you want to do is give him or her a reason to fear the big, strong kid in class.

Again, empathize and listen. If you don’t know how to respond, do some research and come back to the discussion. Whatever you do, don’t say “there’s a good reason for your fear” unless there is.

7. MOTIVATE THE CHILD TO TOLERATE HER ANXIETY.
It’s important to let your child know how proud you are of them enduring anxiety. Anxiety and fear aren’t easy things for anyone to contend with, much less a young child.

We should know that we all possess what is called the “habitation curve.” As we are exposed to the thing(s) that we fear, we slowly but surely get over them; which is precisely what a child – and all of us, for that matter – needs to do.

8. MAKE SURE TO REACH A CONCLUSION.
We all live busy lives and may leave things unfinished from time to time. However, adequately addressing your child’s anxiety issues isn’t something to put off.

Commit to finding a resolution and resolve to keep that commitment no matter how long it may take.

9. SET A GOOD EXAMPLE.
If your child is dealing with stress and anxiety issues, the best thing you can do is keep a stiff upper lip about your problems.

Again, stress and anxiety hit all of us. If you must release some pent-up tension, do it away from the child. Certainly, do not involve the child in such scenarios.

10. LISTEN WITH FULL INTENT.
When we’re dealing with a child who is obviously anxious, we’d be wise to lend an attentive ear. Not only is this part of being an adult, but attentively listening to a troubled child both sets a good example and helps to reach a solution earlier.


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Why ‘get A Good Sleep’ Should Be Your Top New Year’s Resolution

If getting a good night’s sleep is not on your list of New Year’s resolutions, you might be setting yourself up for failure with the other goals on your list, including health-related ones, according to a sleep specialist from Ryerson University.

“If you’re having poor quality sleep it can actually interfere with some of your weight loss and weight maintenance goals,” said Colleen Carney, director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University. “It actually affects your metabolism, your ability to process insulin, and makes you hungrier and makes you feel less full when you’re eating so you’re prone to overeating.”

Not only does poor sleep affect a person’s physical health, it’s connected with mental health problems as well, said Carney, speaking on CBC Radio’s Ottawa Morning.

“Unfortunately, people suffering from insomnia are susceptible to developing depression, so it’s really important for us to understand those links,” Carney said.

Create a routine for winding down

To get 2018 off on the right foot, Carney recommends implementing a routine for winding down that begins one hour before bed.

“You want to make sure that the phone is put away because that’s the device that keeps you plugged in to problem-solving, sometimes bad news or exciting news,” Carney said. “And you want to really cease any goal-directed problem-solving that we regularly do during the day.”

Suitable replacements for looking at one’s smartphone could be any relaxing, enjoyable activity, such as taking a bath, meditating, yoga or hobbies, Carney said. If you use your phone as a wake-up alarm, turn off the notifications so you’re not tempted to pick it up.

Sleeping well makes it easier to achieve other goals such as those for
exercise and weight loss, according to a Ryerson University sleep expert.

Find your perfect sleep cycle

People vary in terms of the times when they typically get sleepy or wake naturally, Carney said. This often changes over one’s lifetime, for example, teenagers generally prefer to go to sleep later than adults, but adults can figure out their natural cycle and plan to sleep accordingly.

“If you typically get sleepy around 11 and your body would actually wake you up around six or seven, then you know that’s pretty much the sweet spot for you and this is largely genetically determined,” Carney said.

As far as how much sleep you really need, Colleen recommends looking at how much you sleep on average over a two-week period. Sleeping nine hours on a single weekend night may not mean you need nine hours of sleep every night.

“Some people are longer sleepers, but you shouldn’t be sort of picking what your longest sleep is and say ‘that’s what I’m going to go for’ because that will create insomnia over time.”

Adults can take a cue from children

While adults push their children to go to bed early and give them routines for winding down before bed, many don’t apply the same rules to themselves, Carney said.

“We know it’s good for how alert they’re going to feel during the day, their emotion regulation and how well they sleep,” Carney said. “But when we become adults we think we outgrow that and we throw all that out the window, and when we feel crappy and have trouble sleeping, we can’t understand why.

“We have to get back to basics.”

CBC News    Jan 06, 2018
source: www.cbc.ca


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Start A New (good) Habit, Kill An Old (bad) One

Odds are, you are trying to break a bad habit or institute a good one right now. As a species, we are impressively committed to self-improvement, and most of us believe that habits are an effective means to that end.

Habits – actions performed with little conscious thought and often unwittingly triggered by external cues – are powerful influences on behavior and can be our greatest allies for positive change. But because they are so difficult to break, habits are also frequent saboteurs of personal progress.

“Habit is a good servant but a bad master” is how author Gretchen Rubin summed it up in her book “Better Than Before: Mastering the Habit of Our Everyday Lives.” Hers was one of three recent books I read back-to-back on the subject of habit formation; the others were Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit” and Jeremy Dean’s “Making Habits, Breaking Habits.” Together, they helped me understand more deeply the importance of habit control, how to choose a habit to begin or end, and the mechanics of sticking with it.

The first thing to know, each book explained, is that a lot of our daily actions are so rote, they are automatic. “All our life … is but a mass of habits,” philosopher and psychologist William James wrote, though a 2006 study put the amount of habitual daily action at 40%. Still, that’s a lot of mindless behavior.

It’s helpful that we don’t need to think about how or when to drink coffee, brush our teeth or drive to work. If we did, we’d waste so much time rethinking or learning those tasks, we’d get little else done.

The whole trick is to get habits to work for you, not against you. Self-control is a limited resource, Dean explains, so a good habit means not having to exert effort every time you need to do the right thing.

Room to grow

The first thing to identify for yourself is the habit you want to work on, whether it’s starting a new (good) one or ending an old (bad) one. That’s a minor distinction, by the way. Eating healthier is eating less junk. Exercising more is being less sedentary. One is often the inverse of another.

This step requires some honest self-evaluation. What is not working in your life? What personality flaws are holding you back? Where is there room to do better?

We know what many of the most common areas of improvement are, at least when it comes to making resolutions. People want to lose weight, eat better, be more mindful, spend money more wisely, sleep better and improve relationships. By eliminating bad habits and starting new ones, you can succeed in most of these areas.

One helpful checklist frequently used for goal-setting is the acronym SMART, created by economic theorist Peter Drucker. Effective resolutions, research has shown, are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Before finishing the first book (Dean’s, which is the most prescriptive and research- and science-based), I decided on two habits to work on myself. The first was to be more present and mindful with my kids. The second was to stop seeking out and consuming free, non-nutritious food at work. One was a good habit to start, the other a bad habit to quit.

Rubin, who approaches the topic personally and looks for specific techniques that work for her, recommends starting a habit at the same time as a big turning point such as pregnancy, marriage, a medical diagnosis, a family death, an anniversary, a long trip or a new year.

Repeal and replace your behavior

The consensus among these books is that the most effective way to adopt a habit is to replace a bad one with a better one. Dean’s metaphor is to think of habits as well-worn rivers of action that flow out of the predictable path of your routine. Often, the most effective way to stop it flowing in harmful directions is not by damming it but by diverting it. For example, many people stop smoking by chewing gum.

The point is that bad habits die hard, and as with riding a bike, your brain never stops learning how to do them.

So it’s easier to think about any habit formation, even new “good” ones, in terms of replacing unwanted behavior. That made sense for my snacking at work. I started buying healthy yet still delicious snacks to keep there: yogurt instead of morning doughnuts, dried papaya instead of chocolate, sweetened rice cakes instead of stale leftover doughnuts. A supply of healthy snack options kept me on a new course of action that largely followed the old eating habit pattern.

To be more mindful with my kids, I needed to avoid the opposite behaviors, such as checking my work phone or planning activities while with them so I could focus on their needs and thoughts.
Duhigg explains that habit “reversal therapy” is a legitimate technique used for things like tics and obsessive-compulsive disorder, as well as predilections such as gambling, smoking and bed-wetting.

It’s important to make a distinction between a bad habit and addiction, however, even if the behaviors seem to overlap. Addiction requires greater intervention than habit hacking.

Dean describes the hallmarks of addiction as not being in control and not being aware of time/energy spent on the behavior. People with addictions are preoccupied with soothing a craving and needing more and more to get the same effect, as well as suffering withdrawal without it.

Unlike bad habits, addictions eat away at important activities such as relationships and work. They tend to be an escape from normal life and are often hidden from others.

The wonderful thing about triggers

We like to think we have free will in every situation, but many of our actions are predictably triggered by external situations. And if those events are part of your daily or weekly routine, our Pavlovian tendencies become ingrained. Pajamas are on: Time to floss and brush. Cup of coffee in hand: Time to dunk a doughnut. Beer finished: Let’s have a cigarette. But triggers can also be feelings, such as stress or boredom.

Being aware of your triggers is the first step in learning how to keep them from sabotaging you and make them work for you instead. Is there a certain time of day or task when you crave a treat? What do you always do when you feel stress (go for a run or go for a drink)? What is your bedtime ritual to let your brain know it’s time to sleep?

You can help create conditions to avoid triggers, but not fully. If the trigger is deeply ingrained, maybe going back years, it will sabotage you when your guard is down. For these situations, you need contingencies. Dean calls them “If … then …” plans. When trigger X happens, I won’t do bad habit Y, as I usually do, but I will replace it with much healthier Z action.

My favorite example of effective trigger planning is Starbucks, a company that puts a higher premium on customer service than on the (habit-fueled) products it sells. Duhigg, who prefers Malcom Gladwell-esque case studies for his book, explains that the chain’s baristas are well trained on what to do when something goes wrong, such as a messed-up order that angers a customer.

Rather than improvise or consider options in those moments, they practice rapid responses – such as apologizing and offering a replacement drink for free – until it’s second nature.

You likewise need to have a plan for when a strong, perhaps rare, trigger threatens your winning habit streak. Ordinarily, I can avoid eating cupcakes at work, but what’s my plan when I’ve skipped lunch, it’s late afternoon, I have some onerous task that would be made more enjoyable with a treat, and the cupcake is filled with peanut butter?

66 is the magic number

According to one study cited by Dean and Rubin, it takes 66 days of doing something to convert it to a habit. However, that number varies depending on the person and activity. For example, it took those participating in the study less than 20 days to habitualize drinking a glass of water every day, 60 days for eating fruit with lunch and more then 84 days to make 50 sit-ups a daily habit. Some habits could take a year to form. But 66 days is a good target.

I avoided work snacking and improved my capacity for parental mindfulness for 66 days straight. Or rather, I diligently monitored these habits over 66 days, because another pillar of successful habit formation is tracking. Even something as subjective as “be more present with my kids” can be numerically self-scored every evening.

And another pro tip of habit-making (or replacing) is accountability. Tell other people. Share on social media (unless social media is the habit you’re changing). Ask your friends and family to support the effort. Getting others involved, or even just aware, makes it harder for you to give it up. And others’ support can be inspiring and helpful.

Treat yo’self: rewards

Unlike tracking and accountability, incentives are a debatable strategy. Duhigg believes that they are central to the exercise, because habits are reward-based. Rubin concludes that external rewards take you away from internalizing the right motivation behind your new habit.

For me, rewards have been pivotal. Five years ago, I took off 25 pounds and have kept it off by establishing an elaborate reward system.

If you do treat yourself for keeping a habit, make sure it’s not self-defeating. You may not want to reward, say, avoiding doughnuts by indulging in a half-gallon of ice cream.

And that’s one to grow on

At the end of 66 days, I stopped tracking my new habits and found that they had largely stuck. When I came home from work, seeing the faces of my daughters was the trigger to remind me to give them my undivided focus. I rarely (instead of automatically) checked my phone for work updates, and I put off my personal agenda items until after bedtime. And I replaced workplace snacking with my private stash of more nutritious snacks: same trigger, but alternate behavior at much fewer calories.

The real test though, is time. More than six months have passed since my 66 days of daily tracking, and I’m still doing a solid job on mindful parenting. I have occasionally slipped on the work snacking, though. I wouldn’t say I’ve failed at it, because I’m building up a new long-term habit muscle for healthy snacking, and I ate a lot less junk food than I would have without trying.

Rubin would call it “stumbling,” and we should accept that it happens in the habit game. Stumbling is not a reason to quit trying.

You may want to read one of the habit books, too. The three overlap and support each other, but my personal preference was for Rubin’s, largely because I feel a kinship with her love of life-hacking, introspection and applied psychology.

She’s the author of the bestselling “The Happiness Project” and wrote this new book, she explained, after concluding that habits were the best means to actually achieve happiness.

But I’ll give the last word to the wise Ben Franklin, whose advice would make all these books unnecessary. ” ‘Tis easier to prevent bad habits than to break them,” he wrote.

By David G. Allan, CNN       January 5, 2018
 
This essay is part of a column called The Wisdom Project by David Allan, editorial director of CNN Health and Wellness.
The series is on applying to one’s life the wisdom and philosophy found everywhere, from ancient texts to pop culture. 
You can follow David at @davidgallan
 
source: www.cnn.com


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This Food May Help You Sleep Better

Forget warm milk. A new study from the University of Pennsylvania says that fish may be the key to a good night’s sleep.

The paper, published Thursday in Scientific Reports, found an association between regular fish consumption and high sleep quality among Chinese schoolchildren, likely thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. Largely as a result of that improved sleep, the researchers found, the children also scored higher on IQ tests.

“There’s a relationship between fish consumption and higher cognitive functioning. What what we document here is that it’s the better sleep that explains the relationship,” says Adrian Raine, one of the paper’s authors and a professor of criminology, psychiatry and psychology at Penn. “From A to B to C: From fish consumption to better sleep to higher cognitive functioning.”

The researchers asked 541 schoolchildren in China between ages 9 and 11 to describe their eating habits, including how often they ate fish. Their parents, meanwhile, were asked to answer questions about the kids’ sleep patterns. Researchers then administered IQ tests when the children turned 12.

They found links between eating fish regularly — the more, the better — and both improved sleep and higher IQ scores. But, Raine explains, it appears that many of the cognitive benefits can be traced back to bedtime. “The brain is so much more plastic early on in child development,” he says. “We might anticipate that fish consumption earlier in life may be particularly beneficial for a child’s sleep and cognitive functioning.”

While the study focused on kids, Raine says “it’s quite reasonable to imagine that these findings can also apply to adults,” citing studies that have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can alter psychological functioning in adults.

Eating fish just a few times a month may improve your brain functioning, Raine says. (Fish and omega-3s have also been shown to be good for your heart.)

“The important thing is really having a balanced diet. It needn’t be a lot,” Raine says. “Even if parents could just get fish on the table once a week, that could be enough to make a bit of a difference over at school and in long-term performance, and especially sleep.”

By JAMIE DUCHARME       December 22, 2017      TIME Health
source: time.com


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Improve Your Health, Well-Being And Happiness With Plants

As we enter a new year, it’s a great time to consider a few ways of adding greater value to our lives.  Engaging the world of plants will improve our sense of well-being, happiness and health, whether that means growing our own food in containers or a garden, nurturing indoor plants or simply walking in a green space.

In terms of growing the healthiest food, the latest research has found that not all varieties are created equal.  Certain varieties of vegetables have far more nutritional value and antioxidants than other varieties in the same food group.  Eating nutritious foods is one of the best ways to stay healthy and maintain a better quality of life, so it’s important to know which varieties offer the most significant health benefits.

Plants promote good health in so many ways

Food gardening has skyrocketed in popularity, mainly because folks want more control over the food they eat. They want fruits and vegetables that are free of harmful pesticide residues, and they want to savour flavours that can be achieved only by harvesting fresh, naturally-ripened produce.  It seems logical that today’s food gardeners should focus on the varieties with the best nutritional, vitamin and antioxidant qualities.

Leeks are great for flavouring many dishes, and the ‘Kilima’ leek has the highest nutritional value.  This variety contains vitamin C, B-complex, potassium, magnesium, silica, iron and calcium. If you enjoy leeks, it makes sense to grow this variety.

Onions are also right up there for flavouring salads, soups and meats, and the variety ‘Candy’ is the most valuable because of its ability to fight bacteria and reduce blood pressure, harmful cholesterol and blood sugars.

Peppers, both sweet and hot, are healthful in many ways, but the hottie, ‘Mucho Nacho’, is high in vitamin C, phenolic acids, plant sterols, and it has lots of carotene.  The sweet peppers, ‘Red Beauty’ and ‘Blushing Beauty’, are chock full of vitamin C, and, ounce for ounce when mature, have more vitamin C than oranges,

Tomatoes, the most popular garden fruit, contains cancer-fighting lycopene, a very strong antioxidant and free radical neutralizer, and ‘Health Kick’ has 50 per cent more lycopene than other standard varieties. Research has shown that men, who consumed a minimum of 10 servings of high lycopene-enriched tomatoes a week could reduce their risk of prostate cancer by 45 per cent. Very few foods contain lycopene — watermelon, apricots, pink grapefruit and guava have varying amounts.

oregano

Combine your favourite edibles to make a beautiful container

Leafy vegetables, particularly the darker green varieties like spinach and kale, contain high levels of lutein and zeathanthin, two carotenoids helpful in protecting eyes, arteries and lungs from those nasty free radicals.  Advanced Nutraceutical Research Inc. has found that folks consuming lutein every day have a 43 per cent less chance of developing macular degeneration.  Two to five servings a day of leafy vegetables will provide adequate amounts.

We often hear of the value of garlic, and garlic researcher Dr. Eric Bloch suggests that regular consumption of garlic lowers the incidence of stomach cancer and reduces the risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Yu-Yan Yeh indicates that regular use of garlic results in lower cholesterol levels. Historically, garlic was used in treating infections because of its anti-microbial agent called allicin.  In addition to flavouring so many dishes and keeping vampires away, it also inhibits many harmful bacteria.

All these plant foods simply need to be grown, harvested and enjoyed. Over winter, as you await the arrival of spring and a new opportunity to grow these wonderful foods, do a little research on the varieties that will provide you with the greatest health benefits.

Revive your spirits when you surround yourself in a canopy of green

Our gardens provide another opportunity for improving our lifestyles: exercise. The regular, natural movement of the body is one of the best prescriptions for good physical health, and the anaerobic nature of gardening is an exercise we can enjoy.  The Royal College of Physicians in Britain has produced a list comparing various activities and the number of calories each burned over 30 minutes of exertion.  Here is part of that list:  90 calories when walking, 162 when raking, 182 when weeding, 202 when digging, 243 when using a push mower, and 243 to 364 when shovelling.  Clearly, our gardens can be our new gyms.

Green spaces also afford us the opportunity to engage with plants.  Arizona State University has identified a name for a “connection to plants and nature”:  biophilia.  Creating this connection by bringing the outdoors inside is the latest trend in “interiorscapes.”  Using water, living walls, larger indoor plants, and other natural elements boost people’s mood, productivity and health.  After a long, arduous flight, arriving back at the Vancouver airport to the sound of water and loons and the natural look of weathered stumps is a relaxing and comforting welcome.

The importance of green spaces in urban areas is now recognized as critical to people’s mental health and sense of well-being.  As little as five minutes in a park can have a positive impact.  Japanese researchers found that spending just 20 minutes walking in a natural area enhances mood, vitality and creativity.  They call it shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”.  They discovered that trees in forested areas give out aromatic phytoncides, and “forest bathers” inhale these compounds.  They also learned that a forest walk, two days in a row, stimulated the human immune system in a significant way, as well as the production of a type of white blood cell.  Apparently, this effect remains 23 per cent higher after a month of forest exposure.

It’s hard to beat the sound of rushing water

According to the World Health Organization’s report, Urban Green Spaces and Health, increasing children’s exposure to green spaces influenced their cognitive ability in a positive way, improved their social inclusiveness and behaviour and lowered the risk of ADHD.  There’s also a growing understanding that the quality of “streetscapes” enhances social cohesion.

WHO also compared the proximity of green spaces and the corresponding health benefits.  Ideally, there should be 1.5 hectares of green space within a five to 10-minute walk from any home; a 20-hectare park within a 2km distance; a 100-hectare park within 5km, and a 500-hectare green space within 70 km.  Scientists have determined that one-hectare of green space per 1000 people in the surrounding area is the optimal situation.

This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the benefits of connecting to plants and green spaces.  To be happier and healthier in the new year, grow, nurture and eat healthy, fresh foods.  Enjoy the plants inside your home, the ones growing on your patio or in your garden, and visit the parks, gardens and forests around you.


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Fun Fact Friday

  • Eating bananas, pasta, almonds, grapes, oatmeal, chocolate, watermelon, orange juice, cornflakes, and tuna can help relieve stress.

  • A chicken is 75% water.

  • A Canadian university has built a “Puppy Room” in its campus, where students can go and play with puppies to relieve stress and tension.

  • The average woman absorbs up to 5 pounds of damaging chemicals a year thanks to beauty products.

 
Happy Friday!
source: @Fact