Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


3 Comments

How Your Next Meal Could Help Fight Depression And Stress

Do you find that food deeply affects your mood? Science is beginning to back up such gut feelings.

The link between poor diet and mood disorders has been long known, but what has been less clear is the direction of causality. When we’re depressed, we tend to reach for lower-quality comfort foods, but can more comfort foods contribute to depression? And if we’re depressed, can improving our diets improve our symptoms?

New research is helping to pave the way toward greater clarity. One small but important trial was recently published from Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre (the center’s very name a testament this burgeoning line of research). It involved men and women who were taking antidepressants and/or were in regular psychotherapy.

All of the 67 subjects had unhealthy diets at the start, with low intakes of fruits and vegetables, little daily dietary fiber and lots of sweets, processed meats and salty snacks. Half of the subjects were then placed on a healthy diet focusing on extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish and grass-fed beef. The other half continued eating their usual diets and were required to attend social support sessions.

Before and after the three-month study, the subjects’ symptoms were graded on a common depression scale. After three months of healthier eating, those in the intervention group saw their scores improve on average by about 11 points. Thirty-two percent had achieved scores so low that they no longer met criteria for depression. Meanwhile, people in the social support group with no dietary intervention improved by only about 4 points; only 8% achieved remission.

What this early research demonstrates is that even for patients with major depression, food may be a powerful antidepressant. And with no negative side effects.

One way a healthier diet may improve one’s mood is through our bodies’ immune systems. The same process by which we respond to acute injuries or threats also puts out fires initiated by our diets and lifestyles. That’s why poor diet can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. These sorts of illnesses now account for 60% of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

disease & diet

Though the mechanisms linking inflammation to depression are just beginning to be understood, other studies involving compounds with a known anti-inflammatory effect, such as curcumin (a component of the spice turmeric), have also demonstrated some efficacy in reducing symptoms. Though the studies are small and warrant further research, they strengthen the notion that depression may be the brain’s response to inflammation in the body, at least for some.

Whole, healthy foods also provide micronutrients that help the brain better cope with daily stress. Today, with 90% of Americans deficient in at least one vitamin or mineral, it has left our brains weaponless as it attempts to repair from the damage. Case in point: Nearly 50% of Americans don’t consume enough magnesium, a mineral involved in DNA repair. And yet it is easily found in foods such as almonds, spinach and avocado.

Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, eggs and even properly raised red meat. A large study found that women who consumed less than three to four servings of red meat per week were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder. The study was performed in Australia, where more of their meat comes from grass-fed cows, a caveat the researchers call out as noteworthy.

What foods should we avoid consuming to maintain a healthy, balanced mood? Sugar and highly refined, processed oils, which include canola, corn and soybean oil (the use of which has skyrocketed up to 1,000% over the past century). These foods have been linked to mental health issues including depression, and both now saturate our food supply, constituting in large part the ultra-processed foods that now make up 60% of our caloric intake. These foods, when consumed chronically, drive inflammation and deplete our bodies’ protective resources, compounding the damage done.

Although the science regarding diet and mood has a long way to go before being settled, there’s little reason to wait given that switching to a healthier diet may help and is definitively better for your overall health. Research suggests that a better diet may even be easier on your wallet.

Max Lugavere is a health and science journalist and the author of “Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life.”

By Max Lugavere     Tuesday, March 20, 2018
 
source: www.cnn.com
Advertisements


1 Comment

The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds

Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that the standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume.

But a new study, published Tuesday in JAMA, may turn that advice on its head. It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. And their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.

The research lends strong support to the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run. It also suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,” said Dr. Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. “It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.”

The new research was published in JAMA and led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

Dr. Gardner and his colleagues designed the study to compare how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. But they also wanted to test the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.

The researchers recruited adults from the Bay Area and split them into two diet groups, which were called “healthy” low carb and “healthy” low fat. Members of both groups attended classes with dietitians where they were trained to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home whenever possible.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread are technically low in fat, for example, but the low-fat group was told to avoid those things and eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was trained to choose nutritious foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels, Dr. Gardner said. In classes with the dietitians, most of the time was spent discussing food and behavioral strategies to support their dietary changes.

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

“The unique thing is that we didn’t ever set a number for them to follow,” Dr. Gardner said.

Of course, many dieters regain what they lose, and this study cannot establish whether participants will be able to sustain their new habits. While people on average lost a significant amount of weight in the study, there was also wide variability in both groups. Some people gained weight, and some lost as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Dr. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had “changed their relationship with food.” They no longer ate in their cars or in front of their television screens, and they were cooking more at home and sitting down to eat dinner with their families, for example.

“We really stressed to both groups again and again that we wanted them to eat high-quality foods,” Dr. Gardner said. “We told them all that we wanted them to minimize added sugar and refined grains and eat more vegetables and whole foods. We said, ‘Don’t go out and buy a low-fat brownie just because it says low fat. And those low-carb chips — don’t buy them, because they’re still chips and that’s gaming the system.’”

In a new study, people who ate lots of vegetables and whole foods
rather than processed ones lost weight without worrying about calories or portion size.

Dr. Gardner said many of the people in the study were surprised — and relieved — that they did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

“A couple weeks into the study people were asking when we were going to tell them how many calories to cut back on,” he said. “And months into the study they said, ‘Thank you! We’ve had to do that so many times in the past.’”

Calorie counting has long been ingrained in the prevailing nutrition and weight loss advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, tells people who are trying to lose weight to “write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day,” while making an effort to restrict the amount of calories they eat and increasing the amount of calories they burn through physical activity.

“Weight management is all about balancing the number of calories you take in with the number your body uses or burns off,” the agency says.

Yet the new study found that after one year of focusing on food quality, not calories, the two groups lost substantial amounts of weight. On average, the members of the low-carb group lost just over 13 pounds, while those in the low-fat group lost about 11.7 pounds. Both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like reductions in their waist sizes, body fat, and blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

The researchers took DNA samples from each subject and analyzed a group of genetic variants that influence fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Ultimately the subjects’ genotypes did not appear to influence their responses to the diets.

The researchers also looked at whether people who secreted higher levels of insulin in response to carbohydrate intake — a barometer of insulin resistance — did better on the low-carb diet. Surprisingly, they did not, Dr. Gardner said, which was somewhat disappointing.

“It would have been sweet to say we have a simple clinical test that will point out whether you’re insulin resistant or not and whether you should eat more or less carbs,” he added.

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a “precision medicine” approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a “high quality diet” produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

“The bottom line: Diet quality is important for both weight control and long-term well-being,” he said.

Dr. Gardner said it is not that calories don’t matter. After all, both groups ultimately ended up consuming fewer calories on average by the end of the study, even though they were not conscious of it. The point is that they did this by focusing on nutritious whole foods that satisfied their hunger.

“I think one place we go wrong is telling people to figure out how many calories they eat and then telling them to cut back on 500 calories, which makes them miserable,” he said. “We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.”

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR      FEB. 20, 2018


4 Comments

Whole-Grain, Multigrain, Sourdough: Which Bread Is The Healthiest?

In the quest for healthy eating, bread seems to be a food staple many struggle with.

And with so many choices lining the grocery store shelves, it can be difficult to know the nutritional difference each bread has to offer, and if the choice you are making is actually benefiting you in the way you hope.

Registered dietitian Andy De Santis breaks down each option and reveals which type of bread you should be reaching for if you want maximum health benefits.

Multigrain
Multigrain bread is often made from white flour and includes some added grains.

In order for a bread to be labelled “multigrain,” it must contain at least two different grains that each represent at least two per cent of the total product, De Santis says.

Grains can include barley, oats, wheat and flax, among others.

Multigrain is also low in fat, introduces more fibre into our diet, and includes 26 per cent of the daily recommended intake of manganese, Livestrong reveals. It also provides 12 per cent of your daily selenium intake, which is nutritionally essential for humans, the National Institute of Health says.

Whole-grain
This type of bread is made with whole-grain flour.

“Technically speaking, whole-grain flour must include all parts of the original seed (bran, germ, endosperm) and be very minimally refined.

Make sure to look for the term “100 per cent whole-grain” on the label, the Cleveland Clinic warns, or “100 per cent whole wheat.”

Be cautious, however, of terms such as “wheat” and “multigrain” that don’t list a percentage on the package. This, the clinic says, often means the bread is made with partially, or mostly refined, white flour.

Eating whole-grains has been found to reduce inflammation in the body, which can help fight type 2 diabetes, a 2017 study out of the Technical University of Denmark found.

People have also been found to eat less when they consume whole-grains because it causes satiety and can help in weight loss, the same study found.

Sourdough
Any type of bread that is made through fermentation using yeast and lactobacilli (naturally occurring bacteria) is a sourdough bread. That naturally occurring bacteria is what actually gives the bread its taste.

The nutrition found within the bread depends on the type of flour that was used to make it, Healthline explains – wholegrain versus refined.

On average, however, its benefits resemble that of many other breads. But because of the fermentation process, the bread is considered to come with additional benefits.

For example, it makes it easier for your body to absorb the good amount of minerals like potassium, phosphate, magnesium and zinc – four nutrients often hindered by the presence of phytic acid in other breads (which is minimally present in sourdough bread), Healthline says.

Wholemeal
Wholemeal is the British version of saying whole wheat, De Santis says.

Whole wheat, however, does not mean whole-grain. In Canada, whole wheat flour has some of the germ and bran removed (which contains nutrients and fibre), he adds.

According to the Telegraph, one slice of wholemeal bread provides about 15 per cent of an adult’s daily recommended fibre intake.

Rye
A product that is labelled “rye bread” contains at last 20 per cent rye flour, which may or may not consisted of the whole rye grain, De Santis says.

Eating rye bread can make you feel more full, which is great if you’re looking to lose weight, Livestrong says. It can also help with managing blood sugar.

Low GI
This is not an official designation used on Canadian food packages, De Santis says.

“GI is short for Glycemic index, a measure of how much and how rapidly a given food increases your blood sugar after you eat it,” he says. “Less refined usually means lower GI.”

And the winner is…
According to De Santis, the healthiest option is whole-grain bread.

“Because whole-grains have been very minimally refined and have not had any healthy components of the seed removed, they are the best for us,” he says. “If we look at the scientific research, we understand that those of us who eat whole-grains tend to be at a lower risk of a variety of chronic diseases.”

Whole-grains are high in B vitamins like niacin and thiamin, minerals like zinc and iron, protein and antioxidants like phytic acid and sulfur compounds, Healthline says.

This type of bread can also lower your risk of heart disease between 22 per cent and 47 per cent, depending on the amount you eat, according to several studies. Whole-grains also lowers the risk of stroke and helps with digestion.

Breads to avoid
If you want the maximum health benefit from your bread, stay clear of breads that have had much of the original grain removed during processing, De Santis says.

This includes white bread, which is considered the least useful to us.

“Although they have some nutrients added back after process (i.e. enriched), they are still lower in fibre, nutrients and other healthy compounds that are contained within the whole-grain,” he says.

And despite the negative reputation bread has in general, De Santis says he fails to see a “downside” to any type of bread.

“The only real drawback I can see of eating too much bread is eating too many calories in total – if you happen to be a bread lover – and missing out on the benefits of enjoying other healthy whole-grain foods like oats.”

 

By Dani-Elle Dubé    National Online Journalist, Smart Living     Global News     January 22, 2018
 
source: globalnews.ca


4 Comments

Organic Food Provides Significant Environmental Benefits To Plant-Rich Diets

The study of more than 34,000 people is the first to investigate the environmental impacts of both food choices and farm production systems

A study of the diets of 34,000 people confirms that a diet high in fruit and vegetables is better for the planet than one high in animal products. The study also finds that organic food provides significant, additional climate benefits for plant-based diets, but not for diets with only moderate contribution from plant products. This is the first-ever study to look at the environmental impacts of both food choices and farm production systems.

A major new study confirms that a diet high in fruit and vegetables is better for the planet than one high in animal products. The study also finds that organic food provides significant, additional climate benefits for plant-based diets, but not for diets with only moderate contribution from plant products. Published today in open access journal Frontiers in Nutrition, this is the first study to investigate the environmental impacts of both dietary patterns and farm production systems. It is also the first to investigate the environmental impact of organic food consumption using observed diets rather than models.

Many organizations, including the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, advocate the urgent adoption of more sustainable diets at a global level. Such diets include reduced consumption of animal products, which have a higher environmental impact than plant-based products. This is mainly due to the high energy requirements of livestock farming as well as the very large contribution of livestock to greenhouse gas emissions. Intensive livestock production is also responsible for significant biodiversity loss due to conversion of natural habitats to grass and feed crops.

The method of food production may also influence sustainable diets. Organic agriculture is generally considered more environmentally friendly than other modern production techniques. However, while many studies have investigated environmentally sustainable diets, these have rarely considered both dietary choices and the production method of the foods consumed.

“We wanted to provide a more comprehensive picture of how different diets impact the environment,” says Louise Seconda from the French Agence De L’Environnement Et De La Maitrise De L’Energie and the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Unit one of the article’s authors. “In particular, it is of considerable interest to consider the impacts of both plant-based foods and organic foods.”

To do this, researchers obtained information on food intake and organic food consumption from more than 34,000 French adults. They used what’s called a ‘provegetarian’ score to determine preferences for plant-based or animal-based food products. The researchers also conducted production life cycle environmental impact assessments at the farm level against three environmental indicators: greenhouse gas emissions, cumulative energy demand and land occupation.

“Combining consumption and farm production data we found that across the board, diet-related environmental impacts were reduced with a plant-based diet — particularly greenhouse gas emissions,” says Louise Seconda. “The consumption of organic food added even more environmental benefits for a plant-based diet. In contrast, consumption of organic food did not add significant benefits to diets with high contribution from animal products and only moderate contribution from plant products.”

However the researchers caution that the environmental effects of production systems are not uniform and can be impacted by climate, soil types and farm management.

“We didn’t look at other indicators such as pesticide use, leaching and soil quality which are relevant to the environmental impacts of productions systems,” says Louise Seconda. “Therefore future studies could also consider these as well as supply chain and distribution impacts of food production.”

The authors also say it will be important to conduct further studies to confirm these results and to expand our understanding of how the entire food production lifecycle impacts sustainability.

Journal Reference:
Camille Lacour, Louise Seconda, Benjamin Allès, Serge Hercberg, Brigitte Langevin, Philippe Pointereau, Denis Lairon, Julia Baudry, Emmanuelle Kesse-Guyot. Environmental Impacts of Plant-Based Diets: How Does Organic Food Consumption Contribute to Environmental Sustainability? Frontiers in Nutrition, 2018; 5 DOI: 10.3389/fnut.2018.00008


3 Comments

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.


3 Comments

5 Delicious Health Benefits Of Pumpkin

The phytonutrients found in pumpkin show a lot of promise when it comes to protecting our noggins.

If you’re like a lot of people, Thanksgiving and Halloween are probably the only times you really give pumpkin a second thought; something to make a pie with and cover it with whipped cream or as a front-porch decoration, carved and lit with a candle. Both a traditional tribute to autumn, but pumpkin is so much more than that!

Rethinking the plump orange fruit

Yup, pumpkin is a fruit, not a vegetable! Pumpkins belong to the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes cucumbers, melons, squash, and gourds. Pumpkin is an extremely nutritious food with lots of health-promoting properties. Going beyond pumpkin pie, there is no shortage of mouth-watering pumpkin recipes, so getting more pumpkin nutrition in your diet is easy, whether it’s in salads, soups, desserts, preserves or baked goods like muffins or quick breads. To make it easier, nothing could be more straightforward than seasoning it with a little butter and cinnamon and baking it like you would a sweet potato.

Pumpkin nutrition. Check it out…

Pumpkin is rich in fibre, iron, vitamin B3/niacin, alpha and beta-carotene, vitamin E, lutein and zeaxanthin, and potassium.

One cup of cooked pumpkin [baked, boiled, and roasted] has an impressive:

  • 52 calories (very low)
  • 3 grams of fibre
  • 13 gm of carbohydrate
  • 1.48 milligrams of iron
  • 595 mg potassium
  • 5.4 mg beta-carotene
  • 7 mg alpha-carotene
  • 2.5 mg lutein & zeaxanthin
  • 2 mg vitamin E

 

No doubt the first food that comes to mind when potassium is mentioned is bananas, thank you banana marketing boards, kudos. But there are loads of other potassium-rich foods out there, not the least of which is pumpkin. The same one-cup measure has a whopping 565 mg of potassium, more than a large banana. Potassium is an under-appreciated mineral; more potassium and less sodium = healthy blood pressure and less cardiovascular disease risk. In fact getting more potassium is more important than lowering sodium intake.

Carotenes are awesome in so many ways too. As a group, they give several plants their respective colours, lycopene is red (tomatoes), lutein is yellow (corn, avocado), and alpha and beta-carotene are orange (pumpkin, mango, peaches, carrots etc).

Carotenoids are anti-cancer and anti-inflammation superstars. They help to reduce the risk for several cancers and the carotenoid lutein helps to reduce the risk for age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause, and one of the most preventable forms, of blindness in those over 50 years of age.

One cup of pumpkin has a boat-load of these awesome carotenoids: 5.4 mg beta-carotene and 7 mg of alpha-carotene and 2.5 mg lutein & zeaxanthin. Take my word for it — that’s a lot.

5 delicious health benefits of pumpkin

Cardiovascular disease: Eating more plant foods has been shown over and over to reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease — high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease — because plant foods provide a plethora of protective compounds like phytonutrients and blood vessel-loving minerals like potassium and magnesium. Get more heart-loving pumpkin with this warming Pumpkin Soup with Almonds and Sage.

Immunity: Plant foods help the immune system stay strong so that it can respond quickly and adequately to fight off invaders like viruses and bacteria. The immune system is even responsible for killing different types of cancer cells as they form, however, to be vigilant, the immune system needs good nutrition to keep it in tip-top shape. Phytonutrients such as beta and alpha-carotene help it do just that. For something different, try this Pumpkin Pie Smoothie for a twist on the classic Thanksgiving dessert.

The phytonutrients found in pumpkin such as alpha & beta-carotene and lutein show a lot of promise when it comes to protecting our noggins.

Eye health: As an antioxidant, beta-carotene appears to protect the lens from oxidation, helping to reduce the risk for cataracts. Lutein, on the other hand, is concentrated at the back of the eye in the macula where it helps to reduce the risk for macular degeneration by filtering out harmful blue light. The more lutein in your diet, the more lutein in the macula and the better protection your eye has. Nourish your eyes with this amazing Pumpkin Lasagna.

Dementia and cognition: Nutrition plays a huge role in the health of the brain. What we eat and drink affects the structure of the brain which, in turn, affects its function and this is no truer than with dementia and cognition. Several nutrients have been shown to nourish the brain and the phytonutrients found in pumpkin such as alpha and beta-carotene and lutein show a lot of promise when it comes to protecting our noggins. Loving your brain is easy with this simple Roasted Pumpkin and Garlic side dish (personally, I’d load it up with rosemary as well).

Blood pressure: As mentioned above, higher intake of potassium is crucial for a blood pressure-lowering diet. To be specific, the ratio of potassium to sodium appears to be more important than the amount of sodium in your diet, a ratio that is naturally found in diets that include a lot of plant foods and little processed foods. Because most of us don’t get enough potassium, a focus on getting more plant foods is the best place to start and these Pumpkin Bran Muffins make it easy to do so.

by Doug Cook Integrative & Functional Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian       10/06/2017 

Doug Cook RD, MPH is a registered dietitian and integrative and functional nutritionist. Doug’s practice at the Donvalley Integrative Digestive Clinic focuses on digestive and mental health.He is the coauthor of Nutrition for Canadians for Dummies (Wiley, 2008),The Complete Leaky Gut Health & Diet Book(Robert Rose 2015) and 175 Best Superfood Blender Recipes (Robert Rose, 2017). Learn more by checking out his website www.dougcookrd.com


Leave a comment

Raw or Cooked? How Best to Prep 11 Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables contain a lot of nutrients and antioxidants like carotenoids, flavonoids, and polyphenols that can help prevent health issues like cancer and cardiovascular disease and can even help your mood. Antioxidants help your body counteract damage caused by toxic byproducts called free radicals. Eating more fruits and vegetables also increases your vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin B6, thiamine, and niacin, minerals, and fiber.

But it can be tricky to know how you should store and prepare fresh foods to get the most nutrients.

Luckily, storing most fruits and vegetables generally does not lose antioxidants. In fact, antioxidant levels can even go up in the few days after you buy them. But when you start to see the fruit or vegetable spoil and turn brown, that usually means that they have started to lose their antioxidants. The main exceptions are broccoli, bananas, and apricots, which are more sensitive and start to lose their antioxidants in storage within days, so eat those sooner than later.

Here’s how you should prepare 11 fruits or vegetables in order to maximize antioxidants and nutrients.

1. Tomatoes. Cooked may be better than raw.

Storage tip: Even though this will make shelf life shorter, store tomatoes in room temperature since tomatoes can lose antioxidants (and flavor) when stored in cooler temperatures.
Cook your tomatoes to release higher levels of lycopene and overall antioxidants. You can cook them for up to 30 minutes at 190.4 degrees Fahrenheit (88 degrees Celsius). Lycopene is found in red fruits and vegetables like watermelon, red bell pepper, and papaya and has been linked to lower rates of cancer. Raw tomatoes have less overall antioxidants, but have more vitamin C.

2. Carrots. Raw or sous vide, steamed, boiled. Cooked can be better than raw.

Cook your carrots to get more beta-carotene, an antioxidant that gets converted in your body to vitamin A, which is good for your eyes and immune system.
Sous vide carrots for best results. Steaming or boiling carrots preserves more antioxidants than roasting, frying or microwaving. If you’re in Top Chef mode, try sous vide carrots — this method of sealing food in an airtight plastic bag and placing the bag into a water bath keeps even more antioxidants than steaming.

 3. Broccoli. Raw, steamed, or sous vide.

Storage tip: Keep broccoli wrapped in packaging in the refrigerator at 1 degree Celsius (or 33.8 degrees Fahrenheit). Unlike most vegetables, broccoli tends to lose antioxidants faster than other vegetables when stored without packaging, particularly when it starts to lose its color and turn yellow. Wrap the broccoli in microperforated or non-perforated packaging to keep antioxidants for longer.
If you eat raw broccoli, you’ll get higher levels of an enzyme called myrosinase, which creates compounds like sulforaphane, which blocks the growth of cancer cells and fight Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers. Myrosinase is sensitive to heat and destroyed during cooking.

However, cooked broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, have more indole, which is thought to be protective against cancer. Steamed broccoli has also better potential to reduce cholesterol than raw broccoli.

Sous vide or steamed broccoli to keep antioxidants. Steamed broccoli retains color and texture. Boiling broccoli for 9-15 minutes loses up to 60 percent of nutrients, which become leached into the water. Stir-frying loses the most vitamin C and nutrients.

4. Cauliflower. Raw, steamed, or sous vide.

Fresh raw cauliflower has 30 percent more protein and many different types of antioxidants such as quercetin. Raw cauliflower keeps the most antioxidants overall, but cooking cauliflower increases indole levels.

Don’t boil cauliflower in water because that loses the most antioxidants. Water-boiling and blanching causes the worst loss of minerals and antioxidant compounds in cauliflower because many of the nutrients get leached into the water. Steam or sous vide cauliflower to maintain nutrients.

5. Brussels sprouts, cabbage. Raw or steamed.

Brussels sprouts and cabbage are cruciferous vegetables rich in compounds protective against cancer. One study found that people who consumed about 300 grams or two-thirds pound of Brussels sprouts daily for a week had higher levels of a detox enzyme in the colon, which helps explain the link between eating cruciferous vegetables and lower risk of colorectal cancer.

Raw Brussels sprouts gives you the most folate and vitamin C. Like broccoli, steaming Brussels sprouts releases more indole than raw (but they admittedly taste best when roasted).

6. Kale. Raw or blanched.

Kale has beta-carotene, vitamin C, and polyphenols. Cooking kale significantly lowers vitamin C and overall antioxidants. Keep kale raw or, if you prefer cooked, blanch or steam kale to minimize antioxidant loss.

7. Eggplant. Grilled.

Grill eggplant to make it much richer in antioxidants compared to raw or boiled (and it tastes a lot better, too). Don’t forget to salt your eggplant slices before cooking to get rid of excess moisture and bitterness.

8. Red Peppers. Raw, stir-fried, or roasted.

Red peppers are a great source of vitamin C, carotenoids, polyphenols, and other phytochemicals. Raw red peppers provide more vitamin C because vitamin C breaks down with heat. But other antioxidants like carotenoids and ferulic acid go up when red peppers are cooked.

Stir-fry or roast red peppers. Do not boil red peppers — boiling red peppers loses the most nutrients and antioxidants. Stir-frying and roasting actually preserves red pepper antioxidants, more than steaming.

9. Garlic and onions. Raw or cooked.

Garlic and onions have been shown to help fight high blood pressure. Red onions have the highest amount of quercetin, a type of flavonoid family antioxidant thought to protect against certain forms of cancer, heart disease, and aging.

Garlic and onions are pretty hardy when cooked. You can blanch, fry, and even microwave them without changing their antioxidant levels by much, so use them however you like.

10. Artichokes. Steamed.

Cook your artichokes in order to boost their antioxidants. Steam artichokes to boost antioxidants levels by 15-fold and boil them to boost them by 8-fold. Microwaving them also increases an artichoke’s antioxidants. But don’t fry them — that gets rid of flavonoids, a type of antioxidant.

11. Blueberries. Raw or cooked.

Blueberries are one of the fruits with the highest levels of antioxidants, and you can eat them raw or cooked. One study found that some type of antioxidants levels went up with cooking blueberries, while others went down.

Some final tips on eating your fruits and vegetables:

  • Avoid deep frying. Bad news for vegetable tempura fans: Deep-frying vegetables creates free radicals from the hot oil. Not only are free radicals damaging for the body, but the vegetables lose much of their antioxidants in the process.
  • Fresh is generally better than frozen. Vegetables like spinach and cauliflower can lose B vitamins in the process of being frozen.
  • At the end of the day, prepare your fruits and vegetables so that you’ll be more likely to eat them. As long as you stay away from the deep fryer, fresh fruits and vegetables will generally give you a lot more nutrients and antioxidants than processed foods.
10/05/2015   By Marlynn Wei, MD, JD