Nutrition

What You Need to Know About Healthy Fats

Fat-free and sugar-free diet fads are losing steam as more and more people wake up to the importance and benefits of integrating healthy fats into their diets.

While a fat-free diet was once thought to be an effective weight-loss method, diets such as the Mediterranean diet and the Keto diet have grown in popularity.

"We actually need fats -- can't live without them, in fact," reads WebMD.

"They provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-soluble vitamins, and are a great source of energizing fuel. But it's easy to get confused about good fats vs. bad fats, how much fat we should eat, how to avoid artery-clogging trans fats and the role omega-3 fatty acids play in heart health.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommends that adults get 20%-35% of their calories from fats. At a minimum, we need at least 10% of our calories to come from fat," reads the article.

In a recent interview with Mind Body Green, Cate Shanahan, M.D., shared what she views as the easiest way to know if something is a "healthy fat."

"If we're talking about fat that's a whole food, that's good," she explained. "That's natural fat, and human beings have been consuming it since there were human beings."

So the real key? Whole-food-based fats. Yep, when it comes to healthy fats, it's not that different from defining healthy foods: The closer something is to its natural form, the healthier it is, wrote Mind Body Green.

Read more about the different types of fats, which to avoid, and which to add to your diet, here.

 


One Powerhouse Veggie for Brain Health

Looking for an easy, tasty, and nutrient-packed green to add to anything from a smoothie, salad, sandwich, or pasta dish? With all the craze around superfoods and greens like kale and spinach, broccoli sprouts have been overlooked by most.

The immature broccoli plants, which resemble alfalfa or bean sprouts, have higher concentrations of the good-for-you compounds that have anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and potentially cancer-fighting effects. They have a stronger, spicier taste that differs greatly from the grown-up version.

A recent MindBodyGreen article outlined the benefits of the small greens. “What makes them different and packs their power is a higher concentration of the necessary components to boost the production of sulforaphane.

In studies, sulforaphane has been linked to fighting against certain carcinogens, and it may support heart health and brain recovery as well. Researchers have also found it can support gut health, rounding out a pretty solid set of benefits that you may be able to attribute to these little sprouts.”

Dr. Jessica Cooperstone, Ph.D., assistant professor of Horticulture and Crop Science and Food Science and Technology at Ohio State University has focused on researching broccoli sprouts. She says that as a cruciferous plant, broccoli sprouts “contain compounds called glucosinolate, which convert into isothiocyanates when eaten and chewed,” per Refinery29. “All cruciferous veggies contain glucosinolates, but broccoli sprouts have an insane amount — about 10 to 100 times more than most cruciferous vegetables.”

She also speaks to the sulforaphane in broccoli sprouts, which are especially potent, adding that “there's evidence to suggest that sulforaphane can prevent DNA damage that leads to cancer, and in studies on mice, sulforaphane seems to prevent inflammation that can lead to neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease.”

To reap the full health benefits of broccoli sprouts, it’s best to eat them raw, as cooking them will deactivate the enzyme that converts glucosinolates to isothiocyanates.

While you can find broccoli sprouts at many health stores, they are also easy to grow at home. This way, your grocery store run turns into a mini science experiment, as you can sprout them yourself in a little sprouting jar.

Lastly, neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D., reminds us to chew our food well for the best outcomes. "The trick here is chewing," he explained. "You've got to chew the broccoli sprouts in order to release the enzyme that then liberates, or activates, if you will, the sulforaphane."


Why It's a Great Idea To Add Walnuts to Your Diet

You might be surprised to learn that for the past half-century, scientists and industry experts from around the world have gathered at the University of California, Davis, for a conference to discuss nothing other than walnuts.

Walnuts are packed with healthy fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and researchers are continuing to learn about other ways they support health.

An article by Healthline discusses at least 13 benefits of eating walnuts, including its concentration of antioxidants, the most of any common nut. “A preliminary, small study in healthy adults showed that eating a walnut-rich meal prevented oxidative damage of 'bad' LDL cholesterol after eating, whereas a refined-fat meal didn’t,” read the report.

For those looking for omega-3 fats, which may help reduce heart disease risk, walnuts are a great plant-based source. They also may decrease inflammation, the root of many chronic diseases. Other studies indicate that the polyphenols in walnuts may reduce your risk of certain cancers such as breast, prostate and colorectal. However, more human studies are needed to confirm this. These nuts shaped like a tiny brain conveniently help support good brain function.

New research also shows that walnuts promote a healthy gut. Here’s an excerpt from a recent MindBodyGreen article covering a recent report published in the Journal of Nutrition which found positive changes in gut bacteria when people ate walnuts.

“The study included 42 participants, between 30 and 65 years old, who were overweight or obese. Participants were assigned to three different diets, which they followed for six weeks. One diet included whole walnuts and the other two excluded them but maintained the same level of nutritional value from different sources. Each diet used walnuts or vegetable oil to replace saturated fats.

After analyzing stool samples at the end of six weeks, Kristina Petersen, Ph.D., said, 'the walnut diet enriched a number of gut bacteria that have been associated with health benefits in the past.'

As one specific strain of bacteria (Eubacterium eligens) increased, blood pressure levels decreased. Another strain (Lachnospiraceae) reduced blood pressure and cholesterol. The other two diets had no effect on heart disease risk factors.”

Researchers indicated that replacing your snack with just two to three ounces of walnuts per day, or about a half cup of walnuts, could be a good way to improve gut health and reduce the risk of heart disease.


Read This Before Sugar Detoxing

While the best way to promote health and wellbeing is to make long-lasting lifestyle changes, sometimes it’s necessary to make more drastic changes in the short-term. One such example is with sugar detoxing or cutting sugar out of your diet.

Excessive sugar consumption has links to harmful health conditions including obesity and metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, chronic inflammation, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and dental plaque and cavities, according to Medical News Today.

A recent study found that the consumption of sugary drinks, such as sugar-sweetened beverages and 100% fruit juices, was significantly associated with the risk of overall cancer cases. Researchers suggested that sugary drinks might represent a modifiable risk factor for cancer prevention.

Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet can help you reduce your risk of other health conditions. Meanwhile, replacing high sugar foods with healthful options can help you get all of your essential vitamins and minerals without the added calories. For those struggling with weight loss, a low sugar diet has been shown to help improve outcomes. The National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that adults in the US get around 15% of their calories from added sugars alone!

Another 2017 study linked a high sugar diet with changing mood states, implying that lowering sugar intake can prevent mood swings.

It's important to know that going cold turkey on a sugar detox may induce fatigue, dizziness and low blood sugar, especially if we are used to consuming large amounts of it throughout the day. Whether you are cutting sugar out completely or starting slow by simply reducing sugar in your diet, you can expect to see your health improve, with other side effects including better skin and weight management.

A recent CNN article spoke to sugar detoxing:

“About 10% of the US population are true sugar addicts, according to Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics and member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. What's more, research suggests that sugar induces rewards and cravings that are similar in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs.

One of the biggest concerns is the amount of added sugars in our diets, which are often hidden in foods. Although ice cream cake is an obvious source of sugar, other foods that may not even taste sweet -- such as salad dressings, tomato sauces, and bread -- can be loaded with the white stuff.

"People don't realize that seemingly healthy foods are loaded with sugar -- and so we're basically eating sugar all day long, from morning till night,” said sugar expert and registered dietitian Brooke Alpert.”

Alpert recommends a sugar detox in which the first three days consist of no added sugars and no artificial sweeteners, which she says dull our pallets and make us “immune and less reactive to what sweetness really is.”

"By the fourth day, an apple tastes like candy," Alpert said. "The onions are sweet! Almonds are sweet! Once you take sugar away from your diet cold turkey, your palate recalibrates, and you start tasting natural sugars again."

Some tips for cutting out sugar out of your diet include reading product labels carefully, and keeping an eye out for different names for sugar including cane sugar, corn syrup, sucanat, evaporated cane juice, and ingredients ending in “ose.” It’s also wise to avoid simple carbohydrates like white flour, white pasta, and white rice, and focus instead on whole foods like vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and legumes, and nuts and seeds.


Tips for Experimenting with a Plant-Based Diet

As more people desire to turn away from meat and other animal products due to a variety of reasons -- from health to ethics and environmentalism -- it’s important that they are also educated on how to stay healthy and strong during the transition.

According to VeganHealth.org, a vegan diet can lower rates of high blood pressure by 50% to 75%, lower the risk of type-2 diabetes by 66%, and lower the risk of cancer by 15% to 20%. That said, if you are just experimenting with “Meatless Monday” or going cold “tofurkey” vegan for the first time, there are certain things that you have to now take into consideration in order to thrive.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits wrote a popular article about his experience as a vegan for the last five years (after being a vegetarian for a decade). Here's an excerpt below.

“I had a reader write to me about becoming vegetarian, and say that he went back to the gym and feels very weak. They didn’t like the feeling they got after eating meat, so wanted a change, but they’re worried about feeling weak.

Some things to say about this:

  • It’s not necessarily eating vegetarian that is causing you to feel weak — it could be a number of other things, like not eating enough calories, not getting enough sleep, not being in the gym for a while, etc.
  • If it is your diet, there are things you can do to address this. Getting enough iron, protein, calcium and other nutrients is a good idea.
  • Lots of vegans are super strong — seriously, google it, there are pro football players, mixed martial artists, bodybuilders, Olympians, Crossfitters, and more who are vegan (male and female). This is strong evidence that you can be strong, fit and healthy as a vegan. If you try it and have trouble, it just might take some research and experimenting.”

He recommends eating plenty of beans and legumes, as well as nuts and seeds for protein.

For those that are seeking out healthier, less processed alternatives, it’s important to note that many meat-alternatives like the Beyond Meat and Impossible burgers have been criticized for being overprocessed. Plant-based or not, it’s often true that the more local and the less processed you can get, the better.

Other “powerhouse foods of nutrition,” include greens such as kale, spinach, broccoli, and collard greens. If you have a hard time eating them on their own, try adding them to a creamy smoothie.

A big mistake that new vegans make is not getting enough iron. This can easily be solved by eating beans, grains, and greens. Vitamin C, found in citrus fruits, spinach, yellow and red peppers, and other foods, helps in the absorption of iron. Another common deficiency among people trying plant-based diet is B12, which can be found in fortified foods like soymilk and nutritional yeast. For insurance, you may choose to take a vitamin.

Healthy fats can be found in things like walnuts, ground flaxseeds, chia seeds, olive oil, etc.

To maintain your strength and agility, no matter what you are eating, but especially when you are changing up your diet, make sure to balance strength training with cardio and yoga. If you can exercise outside and get some vitamin D in the process, that’s even better.

For those seeking more information, VeganHealth.org is a great start on educating yourself.


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.


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