Boost your moods naturally with foods

foods-for-spring-season-400x400When it comes to our mental health, the pharmaceutical industry spent billions of dollar in advertisement trying to convince us that the “chemical imbalance” in our brain can only be fixed with the latest blockbuster drugs. For the majority of us, drugs are only temporary quick fixes and they do not address the problems in the long run. The drug industry are after new customers and new markets, not cures.   “Food, if it’s chosen well, can reshape our medical destinies for the better,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center. It can improve our mood and focus,  increase energy and vitality, and brighten up your skin. Here are some ways to graze your way to a healthy and happy you:

  • Snack on walnuts: Walnuts are packed with tryptophan, an amino acid your body needs to create the feel-great chemical serotonin. (In fact, Spanish researchers found that walnut eaters have higher levels of this natural mood-regulator.) Another perk: “They’re digested slowly,” Dr. Katz says. “This contributes to mood stability and can help you tolerate stress.”
  • Add asparagus to your salad: A cup of cooked asparagus has 268 micrograms (mcg)—two-thirds of the 400 mcg RDA for women. Add a cup of enriched pasta—which is fortified with folic acid, the synthetic form of folate—and you’ll have a feel-good meal indeed. Asparagus are also one of the best veggie sources of folate, a B vitamin that could help keep you out of a slump. “Folate is important for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine,” says David Mischoulon, MD, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. All of these are crucial for mood.
  • Eat fish and nuts rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to vital for moods and memory. Bonus: Omega-3s also regulate oil production in the skin and boost hydration, which helps keep your complexion dewy and healthy. “Salmon is rich in a fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), a type of omega-3 that naturally helps block the release of UV-induced enzymes that diminish collagen, causing lines and sagging skin,” says Ariel Ostad, MD, a dermatologist in New York City.

Source: Top 10 Superfoods for Spring (from Health)

(Image Source: Health)

More reasons to love kale

massaged-kale-saladKale is one of the healthiest vegetables around and you can ensure maximum nutrition and flavor by cooking it properly, or not cooking it at all; kale makes a crunchy, enticing addition to all manner of raw dishes. Kale is super nutritious with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. The Isothiocyanates made from glucosinolates in kale play a primary role in kale’s ability to lower the risk of many cancers, as well as indole-3-carbinol, which boosts DNA repair in cells and may block the growth of cancer cells. Kale is also a good source of carotenoids and flavonoids, beta carotene, vitamin K, vitamin C, lutein, zeaxanthin, and a fairly rich in calcium too. Kale is far more nutritious than other leafy greens, and here are some reasons why you try to eat them more often:

1. Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is the number one cause of arthritis, heart disease and a number of autoimmune diseases, and is triggered by the consumption of animal products. Kale is an incredibly effective anti-inflammatory food, potentially preventing and even reversing these illnesses.

2. Iron: Despite the myth that vegetarians are anemic, the number of non-vegetarians with iron-deficiencies is on the rise. Per calorie, kale has more iron than beef.

3. Calcium: Dairy and beef both contain calcium, but the U.S. still has some of the highest rates of bone loss and osteoporosis in the world. Kale contains more calcium per calorie than milk (90 grams per serving) and is also better absorbed by the body than dairy.

4. Fiber: Like protein, fiber is a macronutrient, which means we need it every day. But many Americans don’t eat nearly enough and the deficiency is linked to heart disease, digestive disorders and cancer. Protein-rich foods, like meat, contain little to no fiber. One serving of kale not only contains 5 percent of the recommended daily intake of fiber, but it also provides 2 grams of protein.

5. Omega fatty acids: Essential Omega fats play an important role in our health, unlike the saturated fats in meat. A serving of kale contains 121 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 92.4 mg of omega-6 fatty acids.

6. Immunity: Superbugs and bacteria are a serious risk to our health. Many of these come as a result of factory farm meat, eggs and dairy products. Kale is an incredibly rich source of immune-boosting carotenoid and flavanoid antioxidants including vitamins A and C.

Sources:

  1. Kale (from Organic Authority)
  2. 7 Reasons Kale Is the New Beef (from Organic Authority)

(Photo Credit: HomeGrown Organics: Gainesville)

Natural ways to reduce your blood sugar

cinnamonThere is a strong link between high blood sugar levels and various types of cancers in women. The researchers found that women with elevated glucose levels were more likely to develop cancer, and that those in the highest third of glucose levels were nearly twice as likely to develop cancer than those in the lowest third. Studies have also shown that  it is possible that elevated glucose levels are linked to increased blood levels of growth factors and inflammatory factors that spur the growth of cancerous cells. Obesity — which is usually accompanied by elevated blood levels of glucose and insulin — is a another risk factor for women of all ages. Defend yourself against diabetes, obesity, and other health problems by sticking to these simple lifestyle choices:

  1. Get enough sleep: Long-term sleep deprivation may amp up the body’s insulin resistance, especially in people genetically predisposed to diabetes. A preliminary University of Chicago study found that those who regularly snoozed fewer than six hours a night were at the highest risk. Try to get at least seven hours of shut-eye each evening.
  2. Choose whole foods: Whole foods are usually higher in fiber and nutrients. The rough stuff isn’t just good for digestion—it also curbs post-meal sugar spikes by slowing down the flow of glucose into the bloodstream. So when you crave something sweet, opt for fiber-rich fruit such as raspberries or pears. And consider adding brown rice to your diet: Eating two or more servings a week lowers diabetes risk by 11 percent, says an Archives of Internal Medicine study.
  3. Eat your spices: Cinnamon may be an ace at lowering blood sugar levels, says research in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. Rich in nutrients called polyphenols, the sweet spice may help insulin do its job more effectively. Sprinkle some into your morning joe or mix it into an oatmeal snack.
  4. Lastly, don’t take everything so seriously: Chronic stress is a risk factor for many major diseases, including diabetes. “When your body senses stress, it releases hormones that increase blood sugar,” says Colberg-Ochs. That rush is beneficial in a pinch but dangerous long-term. Regularly practicing deep breathing or meditation, listening to calming music, or getting massages can quell stress hormones and help lower overall blood sugar, she says.

Source: Cut your diabetes risk (from Women’s Health Magazine)

(Photo Credit: Women’s Health Magazine)

Delicious Ways to Add Fiber to Your Diet

Papaya-Fruit-food-wallpaper-fruit-wallpapers-1024x768Dietary fiber fills you up, keeps blood sugar levels in check, and helps prevent chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. But even though fiber is widely available in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole unprocessed grains, most of us get very little of the stuff — a paltry 14 grams a day, compared with the recommended 25 to 35 grams. The good news: Not only is boosting your fiber intake easy but it’s tasty too! Here are some delicious ways to add fiber to your everyday meals: Start the day with oatmeal or a whole-grain cereal that contains at least 5 grams of fiber per serving. Want to boost the fiber content of your breakfast even higher? Top it with wheat germ, raisins, bananas, or berries, all of which are good sources of fiber. Grain is not the only way to add fiber to your diet. Here are some foods that are naturally high in fiber are how to add them to your meals:

  • Papaya: A cup of cubed papaya has only 55 calories and 2.5 grams of fiber, and it’s chock-full of important nutrients, including potassium, calcium, and vitamins C and A. What’s more, since papaya is loaded with digestive enzymes, it helps break down protein. Fish tacos with papaya salsa, anyone?
  • Berries (Especially Raspberries): All berries are disease-fighting superstars — and most are low in calories and high in fiber. Raspberries, for example, have a measly 64 calories per cup but 8 grams of fiber. Berries also contain polyphenols and anthocyanins, powerful plant chemicals that help fight cancer, reduce inflammation, and ease the symptoms of arthritis.
  • Pumpkin: Don’t restrict this nutritional powerhouse to fall holiday fare. With only 49 calories per cup and 2.5 grams of fiber, it’s a great vegetable to enjoy all year long. What’s more, pumpkins are loaded with potassium (565 mg per cup), a mineral that has been shown to build strong bones and dramatically reduce the risk of stroke. Need another reason to scoop out the orange stuff? Per cup, pumpkin has more than 2,400 mcg of the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which help keep your eyes healthy and your vision sharp.
  • Avocado: Eat avocados whole right out of the skin. With a couple of hundred calories, tons of heart-healthy fat, and half a day’s fiber, you’ll be full for at least a few hours.
  • Apple: Apples and their skin pack twice as much fiber as other common fruits, like peaches, grapes, and grapefruit. “Plus, for someone who has high cholesterol, the soluble fiber in an apple helps regulate cholesterol,” says Sari Greaves, R.D. a national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.

SourceBoost Your Diet With Fiber (from Everyday Health)

(Photo Credit: Everyday Health)

The health benefits of gardening

Digging The Vegetable GardenThe health benefits of gardening are as abundant as the garden’s yield. Gardening brings families and communities together, offers a good workout, and provides you with seasonal vegetables and fruits. A beautiful garden isn’t just something to be admired in glossy magazines. There are solid reasons to start a garden, including the health benefits of gardening — from physical activity (calorie burn!) to the fruits (and vegetables) of your labor. And there are emotional benefits, such as connecting with your kids when you garden as a family and the joy of watching a seed grow into a plant from your efforts. Here are some additional benefits to gardening:

  • Be active: Light gardening burns about 330 calories an hour. Because gardening is a physical activity, increase your workload slowly to avoid aches and pains.
  • Family/community bonding: According to a study published in the Journal of Community Health, when researchers followed 42 families involved in learning organic gardening techniques in a community garden, they found that in addition to the nutritional health benefits of gardening (participants reported eating more vegetables), families said they felt more united and bonded. The researchers theorized that time spent working together in the garden increased family unity.
  • Discover new fruits and vegetables:  In a 12-week pilot project involving fourth- and sixth-graders in gardening activities during a summer camp, researchers publishing in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found an increase in enjoyment of and willingness to try new fruits and vegetables.
  • Relieve stress: A small study from Wageningen University and Research Center in The Netherlands comparing the stress-relieving impact of reading with that of gardening found that gardening had a physiologically soothing effect on 30 adult participants.

Source7 Reasons to Start a Garden (from Everyday Health)

(Photo Credit: Garden Web)

Additives to Watch For in Processed Foods

food-additivesAccording to a report in the New York Times, Americans buy 787 pounds of processed food like microwave dinners and salty snacks per year, compared with only 602 pounds of fresh food. Staying away from these items can boost your overall health. A growing volume of research is indicating that what you eat, including some common additives found in many packaged and processed foods, might play a role in learning disorders in children, and chronic pain conditions such as such as fibromyalgia, migraine, and arthritis. Here are some additives that you want to be aware of:

  1. Artificial Sweeteners: Artificial sweeteners like aspartame (NutraSweet) and Splenda, which are found in diet drinks and foods as well as those little packets on restaurant tables, were developed as safe, healthy substitutes for sugar. But research has linked these food additives to a variety of chronic pain conditions, including fibromyalgia and migraines. “One patient I worked with who came in for chronic headaches drank two diet sodas every day,” says Peter Bongiorno, ND, a naturopathic physician with InnerSource Health in New York City. “He had been to five doctors and was on three pain medications. Once we removed the diet soda from his diet and had him replace it with water, his headaches stopped.”
  2. Preservatives: One of the reasons that many foods can last so long on store shelves is due to the addition of preservatives, chemicals (with names like benzoates, monoglycerides, diglycerides, nitrates, nitrites, and sulfites) that keep the food from spoiling. A number of studies have also linked some of these preservatives to chronic pain conditions. Says Mendez, “These preservatives are often found in commercially prepared baked goods, so consider making your own homemade products.”
  3. High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Also known as HFCS, this sweetener used in many packaged products like soda, cakes, and candy has received a lot of bad press lately. Though some believe that HFCS is likely no worse for your health than standard sugar, that doesn’t necessarily make it a good thing. Some studies have shown that some people have an intolerance to high-fructose corn syrup that can lead to chronic abdominal pain and other digestive disorders.
  4. Salt: Most experts agree that salt is not directly linked to pain. However, we have become so addicted to salt that the overabundance of the mineral is now indirectly leading to pain in many people, says Dr. Bongiorno. “In some individuals, salt intake can allow the body to retain water in its tissues. The pressure of this water can squeeze and impinge on nerve and joint function, which can increase pain,” he explains. “It may be worth trying a salt-free diet to see if it decreases pain.” Bongiorno adds, “Everyone should avoid foods with added salt.”

Source6 Food Additives to Subtract From Your Diet (from Everyday Health)

(Photo Credit: SF Bay)

Tips to add physical activity into our daily lives

dsc_4423Health experts recommend that we try to fit in at least 30 minutes of physical exercise each day. Think you don’t have time? You don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once. You’ll get the same benefits if you divide your time into two or three 10- to 15-minute segments a day.

“Building physical activity back into our daily lives is one of the great public health challenges of this century,” said Russell Pate, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Exercise at the University of South Carolina. “Our bodies were designed to be physically active, and they don’t do well with long-term exposure to sedentary living.  Lack of physical activity is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.” Here are some of Dr. Pate’s tips for getting active:

  1. Get out the leash and walk your dog. It’s a great activity for both man and man’s best friend. Your heart — and your pooch — will thank you!
  2. Take your child for a brisk walk. It’s an excellent way to get some one-on-one time (or one-on-three, depending on the size of your brood.) Spice up your routine by exploring new neighborhoods or turning your walk into a scavenger hunt.
  3. Mall walk. Are you sweating (or shivering) at the idea of walking outside? Take a brisk stroll around your local mall instead. Window shop, people watch and give your heart a workout in a climate-controlled environment.
  4. Join a team. Pick an activity you love and round up some friends. Team sports can be fun — and keep you motivated and accountable.
  5. Walk and talk. Even if you’re glued to your phone for work calls, you don’t have to be glued to your seat. Make it a habit to talk and walk. Some workplaces have walking paths to make it even easier to burn while you earn.
  6. Tune into fitness during TV time. Reject your inner couch potato. Walk, jog in place or use the treadmill at the gym while you watch your favorite 30-minute show.
  7. Park and walk. How many times have you circled the parking lot to find “the” spot? Spare yourself the stress and gain more energy by parking far away (or even in a remote lot) and walking farther to your destination.
  8. Take the stairs. The elevator may go up — but it doesn’t make your heart rate climb. Take the stairs instead. You may huff and puff at first, but over time, your body will thank you.
  9. Dance! Do it in a ballroom, at a club or even in your living room. You’ll burn calories and gain a new hobby.
  10. Skip the cake, say goodbye to pie and take a walk after dinner. You’ll get a reward that’s sweeter than dessert: more family time.

If these ideas don’t work for you, find something that you enjoy. Ditching the excuses can be the first step to a healthier you. Of course, if you have an injury, talk to your doctor first to see if there’s a low-impact exercise you can do or find out if you should wait until you’re healed.

SourceNo time for exercise? Try our Top 10 Tips to get more! (from American Heart Association)

(Photo Credit: Shape)

Sleep Deprivation and Obesity

130806145542-largeA sleepless night makes us more likely to reach for doughnuts or pizza than for whole grains and leafy green vegetables, suggests a new study from UC Berkeley that examines the brain regions that control food choices. The findings shed new light on the link between poor sleep and obesity. Previous studies have linked poor sleep to greater appetites, particularly for sweet and salty foods, but the latest findings provide a specific brain mechanism explaining why food choices change for the worse following a sleepless night. “These results shed light on how the brain becomes impaired by sleep deprivation, leading to the selection of more unhealthy foods and, ultimately, higher rates of obesity,” said Stephanie Greer, a doctoral student in Walker’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory and lead author of the paper.

In this newest study, researchers measured brain activity as participants viewed a series of 80 food images that ranged from high-to low-calorie and healthy and unhealthy, and rated their desire for each of the items. As an incentive, they were given the food they most craved after the MRI scan. Food choices presented in the experiment ranged from fruits and vegetables, such as strawberries, apples and carrots, to high-calorie burgers, pizza and doughnuts. The latter are examples of the more popular choices following a sleepless night.

“What we have discovered is that high-level brain regions required for complex judgments and decisions become blunted by a lack of sleep, while more primal brain structures that control motivation and desire are amplified,” said Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience and senior author of the study published Aug. 6 in the journal Nature Communications. Moreover, he added, “high-calorie foods also became significantly more desirable when participants were sleep-deprived. This combination of altered brain activity and decision-making may help explain why people who sleep less also tend to be overweight or obese.”

SourceSleep Deprivation Linked to Junk Food Cravings (Science Daily)

(Photo Source: Science Daily)

Eating more eggs is not associated with higher serum cholesterol

130719083908-largeIn 1973, the American Heart Association recommended limiting egg intake to a maximum of three per week, an idea that was accepted by health experts for years. Now, a new study has found that eating more eggs is not associated with higher serum cholesterol, regardless of the physical activity levels. This  study was led by researchers at the University of Granada who analyzed the link between egg intake in adolescents and the main risk factors for developing cardiovascular diseases, such as lipid profile, excess body fat, insulin resistance and high blood pressure. As Alberto Soriano Maldonado, primary author of the study, explains: “The conclusions, published in the journal Nutrición Hospitalaria, confirm recent studies in healthy adults that suggest that an intake of up to seven eggs a week is not associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.”

The most recent research suggests that increased serum cholesterol is more affected by intake of saturated fats and trans fats — present in red meat, industrial baked goods, etc. — than by the amount of cholesterol in the diet. Although the majority of foods rich in cholesterol are usually also rich in saturated fats, a medium-size egg contains only 200 milligrams of cholesterol but has more unsaturated fats than saturated fats and only has 70 calories. Egg is a cheap food that is rich in very high-quality proteins, minerals, folates and B vitamins.

Here are some other health benefits of eating eggs:

  • Reduce your risk of cancer: Whole eggs are one of the best sources of the nutrient choline (one large egg has about 30 percent of your RDA). A study published this year found that women with a high intake of choline were 24 percent less likely to get breast cancer. Note: Choline is found mostly in the yolk, so feel free to ditch the egg-white omelets.
  • Great for your vision: Egg yolks are also high in lutein and zeaxanthin, two antioxidants that have been shown to ward off macular degeneration–so you’ll still be able to eyeball hotties from afar when you’re 80.
  • Helps you stay fullLouisiana State University system researchers found that obese people who ate a two-egg breakfast at least five times a week lost 65 percent more weight and had more energy than women who breakfasted on bagels. “Eggs are more satisfying than carbs, making you feel full longer,” says Kristine Clark, Ph.D., R.D., assistant professor of nutrition at Penn State.

SourceEating Eggs Is Not Linked to High Cholesterol in Adolescents, Study Suggests (Science Daily)

(Photo Source: Science Daily)

Vegetarian Athletes Can Stay Competitive With Plant-Base Diets

78633519It’s still a common question: can vegetarians perform as well as their carnivorous counterparts in physical competition? A recent study suggests that it is very possible. A balanced plant-based diet provides the same quality of fuel for athletes as a meat-based diet, provided vegetarians seek out other sources of certain nutrients that are more commonly found in animal products, according to a presentation at the 2013 Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting & Expo®. The research was compiled by Dilip Ghosh, Ph.D., director of Nutriconnect in Sydney, Australia. The key to success, Ghosh found, is that vegetarian athletes must find ways within their diet to reach the acceptable macronutrient distribution for all athletes, which he breaks down as carbohydrates (45-65 percent), fat (20-35 percent) and protein (10-35 percent). “Vegetarian athletes can meet their dietary needs from predominantly or exclusively plant-based sources when a variety of these foods are consumed daily and energy intake is adequate,” Ghosh wrote in his presentation.

Vegetarians should find non-meat sources of iron, creatine, zinc, vitamin B12, vitamin D and calcium because the main sources of these typically are animal products and could be lacking in their diets. Vegetarian women, in particular, are at increased risk for non-anemic iron deficiency, which may limit endurance performance. In addition, vegetarians as a group have lower mean muscle creatine concentrations, which may affect high-level exercise performance. These deficiencies can be avoided or remedied through several food sources acceptable to the vegetarian diet, such as orange/yellow and green leafy vegetables, fruits, fortified breakfast cereals, soy drinks, nuts and milk products (for vegetarians who consume dairy).

Just for the fun of it, check out this list of Five Fit Female Vegetarian and Vegan Athletes. These five vegetarian athletes rose to the top of the sports world — without any help from meat:

  1. Debbie Lawrence: Racewalker Debbie Lawrence has been a vegetarian for many years, including when she competed in three Olympics and various world championships. She’s also held the world record for the racewalker 5K and is a Pan American Games silver medalist.
  2. Fiona Oakes: Cyclist Fiona Oakes has been a vegan for over 20 years, in which time she’s competed as a track cyclist in the 1992 Olympics. She’s won several titles for the UK as a cyclist, and when she’s not on her bike, she’s running. With 24 marathons under her belt, Fiona’s currently taking part in the six-day, 151-mile Marathon des Sables endurance race.
  3. Ruth Heidrich: Ruth Heidrich knows about running. The author, athlete, and raw food advocate, who’s been a vegan for over 30 years, holds gold medals in races ranging from 5Ks to ultramarathons and has competed in several Ironman triathlons.
  4. Martina Navratilova: Before Martina Navratilova competed on “Dancing With the Stars”, she was winning titles in the tennis world. The tennis champ credits a plant-based diet for allowing her to compete — and win — well into her 40s. “It made me mentally sharper and made it possible for me to endure the physical conditioning that is required to compete at that level,” Martina has said.
  5. Venus Williams: After a diagnosis of the rare autoimmune disease Sjögren’s Syndrome (which caused her to drop out of last year’s Australian Open), Venus drastically changed her diet. Now the tennis star, who competed in a match last month, is sticking to a raw vegan diet in the hopes that it will help reduce the symptoms of her disease.

SourceMonitoring Nutrient Intake Can Help Vegetarian Athletes Stay Competitive (Science Daily)

(Photo Source: The Nest)