Are you trying to get through flu season without catching a cold or getting sick? Make sure to follow these three habits as part of your immune boosting care kit:
1. Eat well
Having a well-balanced antioxidant rich diet is the most effective immune-boosting nutrition strategy. Carbohydrates, lean protein and healthy fats are great to fill up on immune boosting nutrients like vitamin C, D, iron, zinc and magnesium.
Consider adding at least two to three antioxidant rich foods at each meal. These can be citrus fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, and dark coloured vegetables such as spinach or peppers.
The body’s immune cells feed on carbohydrates, and with the natural drop in blood sugar that occurs during exercise, having good pre- and post-training nutrition is key to keeping your immune system fuelled. Aim to have a snack before and after your training. If you’re running for longer than an hour, consider having a gel or sport drink.
2. Love friendly bacteria
Friendly bacteria in your gut or “probiotics” have been shown to have a positive effect on immune health. Before heading to buy a probiotic supplement, try to first increase probiotic intake through the diet.
Many foods are naturally high in probiotics such as yogurt, aged cheeses, Kefir, Kombucha, miso, tempeh and kimchi. Aim to have two to three probiotic rich foods per day to populate your gut friendly bacteria.
3. Spice up your diet
Many herbs and spices like ginger, turmeric, mint and cinnamon have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties contributing to a healthy immune system. Aim to include herbs and spices daily, for example add cinnamon to peanut butter toast, smoothie or an oatmeal bowl.
Choose fresh ginger, as it is best consumed uncooked, and grate into soups. Add turmeric to curry stews or make homemade spiced roasted nuts. Try adding fresh mint leaves to your salad or infusing the leaves to make tea.
The list is endless, get creative and spice up your diet.
(CNN) There’s no magic pill that will cure you of your cravings. But there is something that may help the effort, and it’s all-natural.
Research has shown that simply spicing up your diet may help you consume less salt and possibly less sugar, while potentially improving your health even beyond the reduction of salt and sugar.
There is more consistent evidence that spicy food helps curb salt cravings than sugar.
In a study involving more than 600 people from China whose brains were analyzed with PET/CT scans, researchers found that regions stimulated by intake of both salty and spicy foods overlapped. Because of similar activities taking place in this shared space (think of the overlapping parts of a Venn diagram), consuming spicy foods effectively enhanced one’s sensitivity to salt, thereby helping people crave and consume less salt.
“We think that spicy food can trick our brain when tasting salty food. It makes us taste the same (level of) saltiness even when a reduced amount of salt is actually consumed,” said study author Dr. Zhiming Zhu, professor and director of the Department of Hypertension and Endocrinology at the Third Military Medical University in Chongqing, China.
In fact, researchers found that people who regularly enjoy spicy foods consumed 2.5 grams less salt in a day (that’s 1,000 fewer milligrams of sodium) compared with those who typically steer clear of spice. They also had lower blood pressure.
It remains to be seen whether the findings can be replicated in other populations outside China, said Richard David Wainford, associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the Boston University School of Medicine, in an accompanying editorial. Still, “a lifestyle intervention that adds taste to the diet, in the form of extra spice and flavor, versus reduction of the pleasure given by the salt we add to our food, may have more success as a public health strategy to promote population-level dietary salt reduction,” he added.
Spice may have the potential to curb sugar cravings too, though the evidence is mixed. In one study involving 40 students from Denmark, when chili pepper was added to sweet, sour and bitter meals, participants experienced a greater desire to eat sweet foods compared with meals without chili added.
In another study, also from Denmark, people experienced a decreased desire for salty and spicy foods when they ate tomato soup with cayenne pepper compared with eating the soup without pepper. But their desire for sweet and fatty foods significantly increased when they consumed the spicy soup.
No pain, no weight gain?
Capsaicin is the compound in chili peppers that is responsible for the burning sensation we experience when eating them. The compound has the ability to suppress sweet taste, which could also explain some findings.
But while some may enjoy the heat that capsaicin produces, it may also come with an unintended consequence.
“Capsaicin helps fight pain. Most of the time, you hear about this as a topical cream, but eating chili peppers also has benefits. It may be that when the pain goes away, you’re stimulated to consume more sweet foods,” said Mary-Jon Ludy, an associate professor of clinical nutrition at Bowling Green State University.
In a meta-analysis, involving more than 70 studies, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the McCormick Science Institute, researchers state that the balance of the literature suggests the capsaicin suppresses appetite, though the magnitude of the effects is small. “Purposeful inclusion of these compounds in the diet may aid weight management, albeit modestly,” the study stated.
(Note that the National Institutes of Health is a federal government agency, and the McCormick Science Institute is an independent research organization that is owned and funded by spice product manufacturer McCormick & Co. Inc. The company said it does not influence the science institute’s research priorities.)
The meta-analysis included the Danish study that found increased sugar cravings among those who consumed spicy meals. But it also included a study that found adding spice can actually curb sugar cravings. In that study, when people added half a teaspoon of red pepper to their lunch, they had a decreased desire to eat sugary, fatty and salty foods, and ate about 70 fewer calories at their next meal. The effects were seen only among those who didn’t regularly consume red pepper.
“I think that there’s something in the novelty of the stimulus that would allow you to eat less,” said Ludy, who authored the study and the meta-analysis. “In terms of the work with red pepper, I think that that’s an important piece of the puzzle. If you are adding a spicy meal every couple of weeks, it might be enough to have an effect … but if you have it every day, the effect goes away, because you get used to it.”
A little dash will do ya
To get started with spice, Ludy recommends sprinkling red pepper flakes into eggs in the morning. You can also use spice when making a rub for meat or when seasoning vegetables, soups, pasta or curry dishes.
She also recommends adding red pepper flakes to a meal in anticipation of a tempting dessert. “It may give you that extra piece of security,” she said. Though not specific to sweet taste, cinnamon, ginger and saffron are other pungent spices with appetite suppressive effects, according to Ludy.
However you choose to use spice, it’s wise to start slowly. “Remember that a tiny bit of spice can go a long way!” Ludy said. If the heat is an issue, you can calm your taste buds by pairing hot spices with healthy fats, such as avocados and nuts, according to Ludy. “They help break down the chemical that causes the burn.”
If you’re new to spicy peppers, she recommends starting with milder varieties, such as jalapeno or serrano, which cause less burn than cayenne or habanero. “These peppers still contain some capsaicin but not as much. Although I haven’t researched it directly, my guess is that there would still be appetite effects (perhaps of a lesser magnitude) … but if you can’t tolerate higher quantities of spice, something is better than nothing, right?”
Lisa Drayer is a nutritionist, an author and a CNN health and nutrition contributor.
Either way, we say healthy
Who doesn’t love the flavours and aromas that turmeric imbues our lives with? But we can also thank this delicious spice for some powerful therapeutic properties. Find out what this yellow jewel can do for you.
If you’ve eaten curry, you’ve likely consumed turmeric. Not only does this spice lend its flavour and yellow colour to delicious curry dishes; it’s also played an important role in ancient medical practices like Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine.
Curcumin, found in supplement form at your natural health store, is the active ingredient of the turmeric plant. Over the last few decades, the extract curcumin has been the subject of wide-ranging scientific research for its medicinal properties.
The colour of health may be yellow
Prized for its yellow hue and medicinal properties for, reportedly, 4,000 years, turmeric’s unique qualities are found in its curcuminoid components. Extracted from the turmeric (Curcumin longa L.) plant, curcumin research has uncovered plenty of reason to turn (to) yellow.
Burns and scalds
While you’re in the kitchen cooking up a batch of your favourite curry, you may have occasion to remember that the curcumin in that turmeric you’ve just added to the pan is also useful in a gel to help heal minor burns and scalds.
The effectiveness of curcumin gel on the skin is, according to the author of a recent study, related to its powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Research subjects who were treated with a topical curcumin gel after suffering minor burns had less pain and inflammation and improved healing with less than expected scarring—even no scarring in some cases.
People who suffer from joint pain and swelling from arthritis, either from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, may be able to find some relief with curcumin’s ability to reduce inflammation. And it may help them get around much more easily.
Clinical studies have shown a positive effect of curcumin on reducing pain and improving physical function and quality of life for osteoarthritis patients through its anti-inflammatory and cartilage-protective qualities. Preliminary evidence suggests that curcumin may also have the same effect for people with rheumatoid arthritis.
In countries where people eat curcumin at levels of about 100 mg to 200 mg a day over long periods of time, there are low rates of certain types of cancer. Curcumin seems to have a powerful effect on cancer cells. In some cases curcumin has shown the ability to step in and reduce the ability of cancer cells to transform, grow, and spread to other parts of the body.
The promising results in laboratory studies have inspired researchers all over the world to continue the search for the exact mechanism by which curcumin could help prevent and even offer therapeutic benefits for certain types of cancer. Researchers, in a recent review of years of curcumin studies, suggest that future studies should take a more holistic approach to account for turmeric’s chemically diverse constituents that may synergistically contribute to its potential benefits.
There is currently no known cure for ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the large intestine (colon) and rectum. One of the goals of treatment is to prevent relapses of its symptoms and promote remission. This is something that curcumin seems to be able to help with.
A Cochrane Database systematic review of studies into curcumin’s effectiveness for maintenance of remission in patients with ulcerative colitis (UC) in 2014 concluded that curcumin may be a safe and effective adjunctive therapy for maintenance of remission in “quiescent” UC.
Elderly villagers in India, where turmeric is a dietary staple, have the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the world; and researchers have been keen to determine if curcumin may play a role in this. They were intrigued because of curcumin’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Though plenty of studies have focused on exploring this possibility, so far there’s no concrete evidence that curcumin is effective in combatting or preventing Alzheimer’s disease. The research continues, though, since laboratory studies have shown some intriguing and promising possibilities.
Scientists used to think that you were born with all the neurons you’d ever have. If you drank alcohol and killed brain cells, well, good luck. Then in 1998 researchers discovered the birth of new neurons in individuals who were near death. Turns out your brain–no matter how old or young–can generate new neurons.
One key to brain growth? Diet. What you eat helps generate healthy neurons with bushels of dendrites (nerve receptors). It also keeps nerve endings firing and allows you to maintain brain flexibility. Even if your memory’s so fried you can’t remember your spouse’s cell phone number, food still provides brain sustenance.
We’ve been in food information overkill ever since scientists discovered that you are what you eat. Contradictory studies analyze every type of food, vitamin, mineral, herb, and combination thereof. Even so, research does reveal old-time wisdom: what you swallow makes you smarter and happier (or slower and more blue).
Turmeric. So, will a little Indian curry help your brain? The chemical curcumin that makes turmeric yellow appears to activate a key antioxidizing enzyme that reduces plaque buildup. It also is an anti-inflammatory that fights some cancers and multiple sclerosis.
Saffron fights depression in humans, as well as improving learning and memory in animals. Saffron twice daily was as effective as Prozac in treating mild to moderate depression, according to a 2005 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology.
Sage, the aptly named herb, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Chinese sage root contains compounds similar to Alzheimer’s disease drugs, and just 50 microliters (.001690 fl oz) of sage oil extract significantly enhanced memory, according to research in Pharmacological Biochemical Behavior. Sage is a great addition to salads, in soups, even on pizza. It tastes and smells better fresh.
Cinnamon. A whiff of cinnamon boosts your brain. Even cinnamon-flavored gum enhances memory, visual-motor speed, recognition, attention, and focus. Cinnamon is a wonder spice: it helps to regulate sugar levels; reduces proliferation of leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells; reduces clotting of blood platelets; acts as a antimicrobial, which means it helps with yeast infections; contains the trace mineral manganese and is a very good source of dietary fiber, iron, and calcium. Try some apples and cinnamon for a snack–especially for your kids before homework.
Eating hot chili peppers may extend your life, according to a new study.
Researchers analyzed data from more than 16,000 Americans who were followed for an average of nearly 19 years and found that hot red chili pepper consumption was associated with a 13 percent lower risk of death, CBS News reported.
The study was published in the journal PLOS One.
Since this was an observational study, it offers no proof of a cause and effect relationship, but does add to the growing body of evidence that spicy foods may have health benefits that can help people live longer, according to the University of Vermont researchers.
Previous studies have suggested that a spice component called capsaicin may have anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammation and anti-cancer benefits. The authors of this new study say capsaicin may also act as an antimicrobial, CBS News reported.
The University of Vermont team called for further research to investigate the benefits of other spices and the effects of certain chili pepper subtypes.
“Such evidence may lead to new insights into the relationships between diet and health, updated dietary recommendations, and the development of new therapies,” they wrote.
But spicy dishes aren’t suitable for everyone, particularly those with gastrointestinal problems.
“For those who are affected by digestive disorders such as a stomach ulcer, I would be cautious about eating spicy foods,” Lu Qi, Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told CBS News.
Qi was lead author of a 2015 study that found regular consumption of spicy food is associated with a lower risk of death.
According the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States. That’s 40 million adults—18% of the population—who struggle with anxiety. Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, with about half of those with depression also experiencing anxiety.
Specific therapies and medications can help relieve the burden of anxiety, yet only about a third of people suffering from this condition seek treatment. In my practice, part of what I discuss when explaining treatment options is the important role of diet in helping to manage anxiety.
In addition to healthy guidelines such as eating a balanced diet, drinking enough water to stay hydrated, and limiting or avoiding alcohol and caffeine, there are many other dietary considerations that can help relieve anxiety. For example, complex carbohydrates are metabolized more slowly and therefore help maintain a more even blood sugar level, which creates a calmer feeling.
A diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits is a healthier option than eating a lot of simple carbohydrates found in processed foods. When you eat is also important. Don’t skip meals. Doing so may result in drops in blood sugar that cause you to feel jittery, which may worsen underlying anxiety.
The gut-brain axis is also very important, since a large percentage (about 95%) of serotonin receptors are found in the lining of the gut. Research is examining the potential of probiotics for treating both anxiety and depression.
Foods that can help quell anxiety
You might be surprised to learn that specific foods have been shown to reduce anxiety.
- In mice, diets low in magnesium were found to increase anxiety-related behaviors. Foods naturally rich in magnesium may therefore help a person to feel calmer. Examples include leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard. Other sources include legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
- Foods rich in zinc such as oysters, cashews, liver, beef, and egg yolks have been linked to lowered anxiety.
- Other foods, including fatty fish like wild Alaskan salmon, contain omega-3 fatty acid. A study completed on medical students in 2011 was one of the first to show that omega-3s may help reduce anxiety. (This study used supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids). Prior to the study, omega-3 fatty acids had been linked to improving depression only.
- A recent study in the journal Psychiatry Research suggested a link between probiotic foods and a lowering of social anxiety. Eating probiotic-rich foods such as pickles, sauerkraut, and kefir was linked with fewer symptoms.
- Asparagus, known widely to be a healthy vegetable. Based on research, the Chinese government approved the use of an asparagus extract as a natural functional food and beverage ingredient due to its anti-anxiety properties.
- Foods rich in B vitamins such as avocado and almonds
These “feel good” foods spur the release of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. They are a safe and easy first step in managing anxiety.
Are antioxidants anti-anxiety?
Anxiety is thought to be correlated with a lowered total antioxidant state. It stands to reason, therefore, that enhancing your diet with foods rich in antioxidants may help ease the symptoms of anxiety disorders. A 2010 study reviewed the antioxidant content of 3,100 foods, spices, herbs, beverages, and supplements. Foods designated as high in antioxidants by the USDA include:
- Beans: Dried small red, Pinto, black, red kidney
- Fruits: Apples (Gala, Granny Smith, Red Delicious), prunes, sweet cherries, plums, black plums
- Berries: Blackberries, strawberries, cranberries, raspberries, blueberries
- Nuts: Walnuts, pecans
- Vegetables: Artichokes, kale, spinach, beets, broccoli
- Spices with both antioxidant and anti-anxiety properties include turmeric (containing the active ingredient curcumin) and ginger.
Achieving better mental health through diet
Be sure to talk to your doctor if your anxiety symptoms are severe or last more than two weeks. But even if your doctor recommends medication or therapy for anxiety, it is still worth asking whether you might also have some success by adjusting your diet. While nutritional psychiatry is not a substitute for other treatments, the relationship between food, mood, and anxiety is garnering more and more attention. There is a growing body of evidence, and more research is needed to fully understand the role of nutritional psychiatry, or as I prefer to call it, Psycho-Nutrition.