Nutrition

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.


Paula Recommends ...Cherry Tomato & Watermelon Salad with Feta & Mint

We call this "Summer in a Bowl."  It's salty and sweet, with a hint of acidity. Make it with the best tomatoes you can find, a cold watermelon, less dressing than you would think and, if you can find it, Bulgarian feta (we found it at Whole Foods). Yellow tomatoes are a great choice for this dish because they are so visually striking against the dark pink of the watermelon. The combination of flavors and textures in this cooling salad is superb. This quick and easy seasonal dish is packed with vitamins, plant phytochemicals as well as calcium and a dose of healthy fats. Enjoy it as a starter or as a side dish to grilled shrimp. - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients
1 mini seedless watermelon, about 4 lbs
1 3/4 lb heirloom tomatoes, sliced
2 Persian cucumbers, sliced
2 Tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
2 Tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
3 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled (preferably Bulgarian feta)
1/2 cup fresh mint leaves

Directions
1. Remove the rind from the watermelon and cut into 3-inch edges, then thinly slice.

2. In a large, shallow serving bowl, gently toss together the watermelon, tomato and cucumber slices. Drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over the mixture.

3. Sprinkle with the feta cheese and serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings

Note: If you have leftovers, feel free to put it in the blender for a refreshing gazpacho variation the next day. 

 


The Cancer-Fighting Properties in Cruciferous Vegetables

A growing body of evidence supports the benefits of a diet rich in natural foods. Emphasizing fruits and vegetables while steering clear of processed foods, meat and sugary products, can radically decrease our chances of getting sick while supporting optimal health and longevity.

One family of vegetables, however, is particularly cut out to help us fight cancer, according to various reports. These nutrient-rich foods are not only high in carotenoids, vitamins C, E and K, folate, minerals and fiber, but they also contain a group of sulfur-containing substances called glucosinolates that are broken down to form biologically active compounds such as indoles, nitriles, thiocyanates and isothiocyanates (ITCs).

Compound Found in Broccoli, Radishes and Other Veggies Used to Slow Tumor Growth

A recent study published by Science showed that the disease-fighting ingredient known as indole-3 carbinol (I3C) and found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, was able to inhibit tumor growth by impacting a cancer-causing gene called WWPI.

By analyzing another gene called PTEN, which aids in stopping tumor growth but gets shut off in some individuals, researchers found that the WWP1 releases an enzyme that stops PTEN from functioning as it should.

That’s where the I3C ingredient in cruciferous vegetables comes into play. Researchers found that it could serve as a potential antidote to the detrimental effects of the WWPI gene, by stopping WWPI from working and aiding PTEN in slowing tumor growth.

While the study notes that to get the full benefit, you’d have to eat six pounds of raw cruciferous vegetables, Yu-Ru Lee, PhD., author of the paper, says that it “paves the way toward a long-sought tumor suppressor reactivation approach to cancer treatment.”

The study helps support previous research that highlights the cancer-fighting properties of these vegetables. According to The National Cancer Institute, the indoles and isothiocyanates in cruciferous vegetables have been found to inhibit the development of cancer in animal organs including the bladder, breast, colon, liver, lung and stomach.

In a blog post, Joel Fuhrman, MD, cited various studies that showed ITC-rich cruciferous vegetables protected against cancer. For example, one study found that 28 servings of vegetables per week lowered the risk of prostate cancer by 35%, while just three servings of cruciferous vegetables per week decreased risk by 46%. Another study showed that one serving of cruciferous vegetables per day lowered the risk of breast cancer by more than 50%.

The cruciferous vegetable family includes greens such as kale, broccoli, Brussesl sprouts and bok choy, as well as cauliflower, watercress, radishes, cabbage, and more.


Paula Recommends ...Pan Roasted Tomato & Chickpea Salad

This savory and slightly sweet salad fits the bill. The peppery arugula and fresh basil served with warm citrus dressing and pan roasted tomatoes provide a hint of summer and plenty of comfort, along with protein, vitamin C, lycopene, fiber and potassium. - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄4 cup orange juice
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 cups baby arugula
2 cups basil leaves
One 15 oz can no salt added chickpeas, drained

Directions
1. In a large non-stick pan, sauté the tomatoes, cut side down, in 1 Tablespoon of the oil until well browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the pan and reserve.

2. Add the remaining oil and sauté the garlic for 30 seconds. Stir in the orange juice and simmer to reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar, salt and plenty of black pepper.

3. Toss the arugula and basil leaves with the dressing and top with the tomatoes and chickpeas.

Note: Makes 4 (2 cup) servings

Nutritional info: Per serving: 230 calories, 12g total fat (1.5g saturated fat), 25g carbohydrate, 7g protein, 5g dietary fiber, 270 mg sodium.