Nutrition

The Best Foods for Eye Health

We’ve all heard that carrots are great for our sight -- but there’s a long list of other foods that can improve our eye health.

Of course, we know that maintaining our eyesight is important to our sense of wellbeing and ability to enjoy life, but for dietitian Maya Feller, R.D., eye care is “an indicator of internal health.”

She tells MindBodyGreen that certain health implications can be recognizable through the eyes.

Here's an excerpt from the recent article: “Feller has seen blood vessels burst in the eyes of patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure. While that conjures a pretty intense image, it's interesting that our eyes have the ability to showcase what's going on with our health.

She also notes that people who have diabetes have a significant amount of redness and yellowness in their eyes, which relates to their internal endocrine dysfunction. So, we should think of our eyes as our master communicators—they're a great way to see (pun very much intended) into what's going on underneath the surface.

That's why, according to Feller, it's important to keep our eyes sharp and healthy, starting with foods that provide essential eye-healthy nutrients and antioxidants."

Apart from carrots, which contain a high level of vitamin A, Feller recommends loading up on antioxidant-rich foods that decrease the risk of macular degeneration. Some of the best include spinach, corn, and broccoli.

Leafy greens, such as kale and dandelion greens, are high in vitamin K, which is known for keeping arteries from clogging, but also has been shown to improve eye health.

Berries, or “antioxidant powerhouses,” are also great for reducing macular generation. Feller is partial to berries with the darkest colors, such as blueberries and blackberries.


What Is Intuitive Eating and Why You Should Try It

A movement is gaining momentum in the US, and it is against the modern “health and wellness” industry. A viral New York Times op-ed called “Smash the Wellness Industry” gained popularity as the writer poked holes in the “wellness” culture that she views as extremely problematic and harmful for women in particular. In efforts to separate her sense of worth from her appearance and embark on a new relationship with food and body image, the author tried intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating is an evidence-based approach to eating that was originally designed to help chronic dieters get back in tune with their body’s unique needs, rather than rely on external food rules to determine what, when and how much they eat, according to Self.

The system at its core is listening to your body’s signs for when you are hungry, and when you are not, regardless of what time it is, how many calories you’ve consumed that day, and other factors.

The research shows that not only can this alleviate the emotional rollercoaster of “dieting,” but it can improve physical health. “Yo-yo dieting in women may increase their risk for heart disease, according to a recent preliminary study presented to the American Heart Association. They might also promote behaviors that increase community and connection, like going out for a meal with a friend or joining a book club. These activities are sustainable and have been scientifically linked to improved health, yet are often at odds with the solitary, draining work of trying to micromanage every bite of food that goes into your mouth,” read the New York Times op-ed written by novelist Jessica Knoll.

“I feel lighter than I ever have. Food is a part of my life — a fun part — but it no longer tastes irresistible, the way it did when I told myself I couldn’t have it. My body looks as it always has when I’m not restricting or bingeing. I’m not ‘good’ one day so that I can be ‘bad’ another, which I once foolishly celebrated as balance,” Knoll continued.

Intuitive eating is also about satisfaction and does not rule out any food groups. For example, you may eat foods that are traditionally thought of as “unhealthy” such as chips and fries, if you really want to eat them. This is intended to reduce the guilt associated with eating and satisfy cravings. This reduces the mental chatter associated with depriving yourself and decreases the chances of binge eating.

“My binges stopped once I stopped judging myself for wanting to eat the foods “wellness” vilified, sometimes for reasons other than physical hunger… The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health. Wellness influencers attract sponsorships and hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram by tying before and after selfies to inspiring narratives. Go from sluggish to vibrant, insecure to confident, foggy-brained to cleareyed. But when you have to deprive, punish and isolate yourself to look ‘good,’ it is impossible to feel good. I was my sickest and loneliest when I appeared my healthiest," wrote Knoll.

One of the core principles of intuitive eating is respecting your body, or at the very least, learning to accept it as it is, per Self. In this regard, many advocates of intuitive eating see a focus on weight loss as contradictory to body respect. Instead, they would recommend listening to their body’s natural cues and letting go of your desire to control your weight. Unlike traditional diet culture, intuitive eating aims to improve your relationship with food (and as a byproduct see better health outcomes) and improve mental health.

If dieting and body image are topics that you struggle with, consider working with a licensed therapist.


How Much Coffee Is Too Much?

Many of us look forward to our morning ritual of drinking a caffeinated beverage before work or to kickstart the day and boost our energy levels. However, little by little, a harmless coffee habit can turn into a serious dependency. For people with high-stress jobs, or who work at offices with free cappuccino machines, they may start to wonder how many cups is too much.

For one, if coffee starts to make you feel anxious, jittery, or leads you to experience higher highs and lower lows, you are not alone. Most decide that the benefits, such as improved stamina, focus, and energy, outweigh the drawbacks. Ultimately, you must be willing to have a conversation with yourself over whether coffee is really working for you, or against you.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition set out to help discover the tipping point when too much caffeine causes high blood pressure, a key heart disease risk factor.

The study looked at cardiovascular risk in nearly 350,000 participants who drank coffee. Researchers found that from one to five cups of coffee, there was no negative effect on heart health. Once the people went to their sixth cup of coffee, their risk of cardiovascular disease increased by 22%.

“In order to maintain a healthy heart and a healthy blood pressure, people must limit their coffees to fewer than six cups a day," said study author Professor Elina Hyppönen, of the Australian Centre for Precision Health.

It’s important to clarify what exactly one cup of coffee means, as this definition can vary widely.

"If we assume one cup is … a standard measure of cup, it would approximately contain 75 mg of caffeine," said Hyppönen. "If we look at caffeine content only, a double espresso is roughly equivalent to a normal coffee." By comparison, a grande iced latte at Starbucks contains as much as 150 mg of caffeine.

Other studies have supported the notion that coffee could even decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, as well as boost brain health and metabolism.

That said, each individual is unique and will respond to inputs differently. For some, whether it’s a half a cup or 5 cups, they will feel exhausted throughout the day, or it may mess with their digestive process.

It’s important to look at the data, but also keep a note of how coffee makes you feel on a personal level. While many studies have excited the more than half of Americans who say they drink coffee daily, there are other reports that indicate coffee consumption could be linked to imbalanced sugar levels and lead to other health issues.


Why Iron Is Important and Where to Get It

Most of us have been told to make sure we get enough iron, and have been warned about the risks of an iron deficiency. That said, few people can tell you exactly why their body needs iron, and what foods are the best to get it from. 

Iron is a naturally present mineral necessary for the functioning of hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that transports oxygen from the lungs to the tissues. 

“As a component of myoglobin, another protein that provides oxygen, iron supports muscle metabolism and healthy connective tissue. Iron is also necessary for physical growth, neurological development, cellular functioning, and synthesis of some hormones,” per the National Institutes of Health

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for elemental iron depends on age, sex, and other factors like whether you consume animal products. For the average adult age 19 to 50, it’s recommended that females consume 18mg of iron, and men the same age consume 8mg.

A shortage of iron in your blood can lead to a variety of health issues. Roughly 10 million people in the United States have low iron levels, and half of these people have been diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, per Medical News Today. Iron deficiency is the leading cause of anemia in the United States, and is one of the most common nutritional deficiencies, per Eatright.org

Symptoms of an iron deficiency include fatigue, pale skin and fingernails, weakness, dizziness, headache, and an inflamed tongue, known as glossitis. Since iron is responsible for carrying oxygen to the muscles and brain, it is critical for mental and physical performance. While a lack of iron may cause brain fog, irritability, and reduced stamina, proper iron intake can boost athletic performance. 

Eating a balanced, healthy diet is the best way to get enough iron, although iron supplements can be helpful. For vegetarians, it’s beneficial to combine iron with vitamin C in the same meal. For example, a juice with lemon and spinach would be ideal. This is because when iron comes from plant sources, it is called non-heme, as opposed to heme iron, which comes from animals, and there are multiple steps the body needs to absorb it. The RDA for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher than for meat eaters. 

Some of the best plant-based sources of iron include beans and lentils, tofu, dark chocolate, baked potatoes, cashews, dark leafy vegetables like spinach, and fortified grains. Be sure to consider components of food and medications that block or reduce iron absorption, including phosphates in carbonated beverages like soda, and tannins in coffee, tea, and some wine. 

Individuals who are the most at risk of iron deficiency include pregnant women, since increased blood volume requires more iron to drive oxygen to the baby and growing reproductive organs. Making sure infants and young children have enough iron is also crucial, as after six months, babies’ iron needs increase. Women with heavy menstrual bleeding, frequent blood donors, people with cancer, or those with heart failure, gastrointestinal disorders, and other health issues, should also be more cautious of their iron levels. 

It’s important to note that too much iron has been shown to increase the risk of liver cancer and diabetes.

To make sure your body has a sufficient level of iron, first discussing the topic with your medical professional is advised.


How to Reset Your Diet and Cleanse Your System

There are a wide variety of reasons that you’d want to “reset” your diet, whether it be to cleanse after a weekend of unhealthy eating, or to reduce cravings for things like sugar and caffeine. While many of us jump straight to extreme diets and restrictive detoxes, they are typically short-lived and may end up increasing our stress and frustration. The good thing is, there are plenty of ways to reset your diet without going on an all-water fast. 

Some of the best foods to eat when you are trying to flush your system are those high in fluids and fiber. Most fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds, land in these categories, and can help speed up digestion. If bloating is the issue, anti-inflammatory foods such as cucumber, bananas, papaya, and asparagus are great ideas. 

To clean out your system without using harsh laxatives, you can drink warm water with magnesium citrate powder, or sip on an herbal laxative tea before bed. 

Cleaning out the pantry and fridge may also be helpful for a full diet reset. Give away, compost, or donate any food that is either expired or will not make you feel healthy and happy. Restock with your feel-good staples. 

While a diet reset does not require a salt water flush, it is still important to drink more water than normal. According to Allison Gross, M.S., RDN, CDN, and founder of Nutrition Center, you should aim for 1.5 to 2 liters of water per day to help get rid of unwanted materials in your system, as cited by Mind Body Green. A nice hack for remembering to drink water is to carry around a refillable water bottle. Plus, you’ll help eliminate plastic waste. 

Sugar is the toughest item for many people to cut out of their diets. Experiments with lab rats have supported the notion that sugar is more addicting than drugs such as cocaine, per The Huffington Post. While it may be hard, especially in the beginning, eliminating processed sugars will allow you to appreciate the sweetness of natural, whole foods, such as berries and sweet potatoes. 

It’s always smart to have a support system and other incentives to stay on a healthy track. 

“I like to hold myself accountable by sharing about it on social media and put a reward in place for when I complete the cleanse. During my cleanse, I stock my kitchen with everything I need and make sure I'm prepared whenever I leave the house, and practice daily mindfulness (two minutes of meditation a day can aid in making rational choices, being more in touch with your feelings, and will improve your willpower),” says Sophie Jaffe, founder of Philosophie Superfoods. 

Ultimately, as you start to get better sleep, increase your confidence, have more energy, less bloating, clearer skin, and more focus, you will feel momentum to continue treating your body well. That said, be sure to forgive yourself for slip ups, and give yourself credit for your wins.


Why You Should Add Jackfruit to Your Diet

With more studies revealing the health risks and detrimental environmental impact of a meat-centric lifestyle, many people are choosing to transition to a plant-based diet. Even if you’re taking small steps at first, such as a “Meatless Monday,” you probably don’t want to sacrifice the taste of your favorite foods, and you definitely want to make sure that you get the proper nutrients. 

This is where jackfruit comes in. The exotic fruit is native to Southern India, and has grown in popularity as many vegans and vegetarians use it as a meat substitute. Instead of buying more expensive and more heavily processed meat alternatives like the recently popular Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers, you can substitute for a raw fruit without compromising taste. The fruit, known for its fibrous texture similar to that of meat, is used in a variety of dishes, and can take on the flavor of its seasonings and sauces. 

The sweet fruit has a distinctive flavor, described by some as a cross between a banana and pineapple, and similar to “juicy fruit” gum. 

Jackfruit has a low glycemic index and provides fiber and antioxidants that promote better blood sugar control. The antioxidants in jackfruit, such as Vitamin C, carotenoids, and flavanones, protect your cells from oxidative stress and inflammation. The phytochemicals in jackfruit may help counter the effect of free radicals, per the American Institute for Cancer Research. These free radicals are highly reactive molecules that occur naturally in the body and can damage cells, leading to chronic diseases and cancer.

According to Medical News Today, animal studies suggest that jackfruit seeds may work to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol and increase levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) “good” cholesterol. 

Jackfruit beats most other fruit in terms of its protein content. It provides more than 3 grams of protein per cup, compared to 0 to 1 grams in other similar fruits. One cup of raw, sliced jackfruit also contains 157 calories, 2.84 grams of protein, 1.06 grams of fat, 38.36 grams of carbohydrates, 729 mg of potassium, 22.6 mg of vitamin C, and 2.5 grams of dietary fiber. 

Simply googling “jackfruit recipes” will give you more options than you can sort through. I recommend Minimalist Baker's easy spicy jackfruit taco recipe to get started. 

As jackfruit becomes more mainstream and finds its way to restaurant menus across the country, the product is available at a wider variety of grocery stores. Many specialty supermarkets and Asian food stores sell jackfruit fresh, canned or frozen. Canned jackfruit, available at retailers such as Trader Joes, may contain syrup or brine. For people who want to try out jackfruit, but who don’t have the time to cook, stores including Whole Foods Market sell pre-cut and seasoned jackfruit, if you’re willing to pay the extra for it.


Research Links Ultra-Processed Foods to Overeating, Weight Gain

Those who are trying to combat overeating and achieve a healthy weight often resort to counting calories. This approach, however, is not the best for disease prevention or weight loss, and does not address the negative health implications of eating highly processed foods. 

A recent study published online by Cell Metabolism on May 16, 2019, found that when people ate a diet full of ultra-processed foods, they consumed more calories and gained more weight than when they ate a minimally processed diet. The results highlight the importance of educating yourself on healthy foods, and incorporating them into your diet. 

Many studies show a correlation between the intake of ultra-processed foods and a wide variety of health issues. The rise in obesity and type 2 diabetes has been linked to an increasingly industrialized food system, which favors large scale production of high-yield, inexpensive, agricultural inputs like corn and wheat, which are refined and processed. 

Highly processed foods contain ingredients common in industrial food manufacturing, such as hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, flavoring agents, and emulsifiers. They are typically high in calories, salt, sugar and “bad” fats (trans fats and saturated fats). Currently, the majority of calories consumed in America are from ultra-processed foods.   

A research project led by Dr. Kevin Hall at NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases compared body weight changes and calorie consumption for 20 healthy adults, evenly divided between men and women, who ate either an ultra-processed or minimally processed diet for two weeks. The volunteers stayed at the NIH Clinical Center for one continuous month, were randomly assigned a diet for two weeks, and then switched. 

The ultra-processed and minimally processed meals had an equal number of calories, macronutrients, sugars, fiber, fat and carbohydrates. For example, one ultra-processed breakfast consisted of a bagel with cream cheese and bacon, while an unprocessed breakfast was oatmeal with fruits and nuts. Participants could eat as much or as little as they wanted. 

On the ultra-processed diet, participants ate an average of 500 more calories per day, ate faster, and gained 2 pounds during the two weeks on average. On the minimally processed diet, they lost about 2 pounds over the same time period. 

“Though we examined a small group, results from this tightly controlled experiment showed a clear and consistent difference between the two diets,” said Kevin D. Hall, Ph.D., an NIDDK senior investigator and the study’s lead author. “This is the first study to demonstrate causality — that ultra-processed foods cause people to eat too many calories and gain weight.”

That said, the researchers noted the major lifestyle changes that could be necessary to shift to a less processed diet, as well as the socio-economic limitations. 

“We have to be mindful that it takes more time and more money to prepare less-processed foods,” Hall says. “Just telling people to eat healthier may not be effective for some people without improved access to healthy foods.”

Overall, the study reinforces one common piece of advice recommended by most diets, which is to avoid ultra-processed foods in favor of whole foods as often as possible.


Paula Recommends ...Lentil Burgers with Lettuce and Yogurt

Lentils are a protein-rich, fiber-packed member of the legume family. Similar to a mini-version of a bean, lentils grow in pods and can be found in red, brown and green varieties. Lentils are rich in folic acid as well as many essential vitamins and minerals including calcium, potassium and magnesium. This easy-to-prepare recipe can be made ahead of time, refrigerated and used for a quick meal or snack. - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients
3/4 cup french green lentils, picked over and rinsed
3 cups water
Coarse salt
1 small shallot, finely diced
2 large eggs, lightly whisked
1 cup plain, fresh breadcrumbs
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 head lettuce such as oak leaf, bib or escrow separated
1/2 cup plain yogurt
pinch cayenne pepper, for serving
8 to 12 caper berries and small red onion, half diced, half thinly sliced, for serving

Directions
1. Bring lentils and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat, season with salt and simmer until lentils are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and let cool completely. (If not using lentils immediately, let cool and then refrigerate in cooking liquid up to five days.)

2. Combine lentils, 1/2 teaspoon salt, diced shallot, eggs, breadcrumbs and parsley in a medium bowl. Transfer half of mixture to a food processor; pulse until smooth (or mash with a potato masher). Fold into remaining lentil mixture until well combined. Using a 1/4 cup measure as a scoop, shape mixture into eight 2 1/2-inch patties.

3. Heat a heavy, large skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and swirl to coat bottom. Add patties in a single layer, working in batches if necessary. Cook, turning once, until crisp and brown, about 4 minutes. Transfer patties to a plate and let cool slightly.

4. Divide lettuce among serving plates; top with lentil patties. Divide yogurt among plates. Season with salt, sprinkle with cayenne pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Garnish with caper berries, sliced onion and parsley.

Note: Makes 4 servings, two patties each

Nutritional info: Per serving: 305 calories, 5g total fat (1g saturated fat), 48g carbohydrate, 18g protein, 11g dietary fiber.


Celery Juicing: The Real Deal or a Fad?

While juicing is nothing new to the health and wellness industry, the unprecedented take-off of celery juice has turned the water-filled, low-calorie vegetable into an overnight sensation. Celery juicing has driven the average price of a carton of celery juice from just $20 at the start of 2019, to more than $60 in early April, per Produce Retailer.

The popularity of celery juicing can be largely attributed to “medical medium” Anthony William, who recently published his book “Celery Juice: The Most Powerful Medicine of Our Time Healing Millions Worldwide.” He advises drinking 16 ounces of celery juice each morning on an empty stomach.

Alongside celebrity endorsements, William has gained widespread fame, spurring hundreds of thousands of #CeleryJuice hashtags on Instagram. 

Williams has been touting celery juice since the 70s, citing its ability to address “all manner of ills—mental, physical, spiritual, emotional" because celery juice is "alkalizing, enzyme-rich, electrolyte-enhancing, liver-repairing, blood-sugar-balancing, antiseptic and more,” he says. He attributes the elixir’s ability to heal to “undiscovered sodium subgroups,” or “sodium cluster salts,” which he says cannot be obtained by eating whole celery, and flushes out toxins, dead pathogens, pathogenic neurotoxins and debris from the body, per Mind Body Green.

Celery juice enthusiasts rave about how their morning ritual has cleared chronic health issues such as brain fog, anxiety, Crohn’s disease, joint pain and multiple sclerosis.

While there is no shortage of booming reviews on celery juice, since the reviews are anecdotal, largely based on personal experiences shared online, some skeptics demand more controlled research on celery juicing before making any big claims. That said, there is supportive research on the phyto-chemicals in celery, which have been shown to help reduce blood pressure and inflammation, and fight against oxidative stress, as noted by HealthLine.

Choosing celery juice in place of a higher-calorie, or more sugar-dense drink, smoothie or snack could also help individuals shed pounds, achieve clearer skin, and curb their appetite.

Celery juice itself contains Vitamins A, B-2, B-6, C and K, as well as folate, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, phosphorus, electrolytes, water and other vitamins and minerals. Given its electrolyte content, and the fact that celery is 95% water, drinking it absolutely aids in hydration -- which has its own multitude of benefits.

Few studies have looked into whether celery juice itself improves one’s health. Rather, they have focused on the health benefits of specific nutrients in celery, particularly apigenin and luteolin, per Medical News Today.

Research suggests that these powerful antioxidants can help ease asthma and rhinitis, and may offer protection against certain brain diseases and neurodegeneration, as well as halt the growth of some types of cancer cells in animal studies, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and improve cardiovascular health.

The chemical nutrients called phytonutrients contain the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties raved about online.

It’s important to note that when celery is juiced, it loses its fiber content, which provides a wealth of benefits for functions such as digestion and blood sugar stabilization.

Ultimately, the simple act of drinking the juice, widely believed to improve health outcomes, can spark the placebo effect, shown to sharpen focus and lift energy levels.

Critics note that the quick-fix mentality, while appealing to many, goes against the fact that there is no food in isolation that is a cure-all. Individuals should continue to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and consult their trusted nutritionists and registered specialists to address their unique situation.

While drinking the juice of a bundle of celery stocks a day likely won’t hurt you, most doctors recommend loading up on all types of fresh vegetables, including a diverse group of leafy greens.