Superfood Series: Part 4

Chia Seeds:  Small, but Mighty

What’s not to love about chia seeds? They are unprocessed, whole grain, and chock-full of nutrients.  Chia seeds are jam-packed with protein, fiber, and minerals. Before we dive into the specifics, let’s take a look at their overall nutritional content. 

 

 

 

Healthy Weight.  Chia seeds are not the magic solution for weight loss that some companies would like you to believe, but their high fiber and protein content make them a viable addition to any healthy weight loss or maintenance plan. Thanks to their high fiber content, chia seeds can absorb 10-12 times their weight.  Their gel like presence in your stomach will help you feel fuller, longer and reduce the chance of over-eating. Additionally, chia seeds contain high quality protein that consists of all 9 essential amino acids (amino acids that cannot be synthesized on their own and must be obtained through food) that will keep hunger at bay and energy levels consistent. 

Healthy Heart.  Chia seeds are a great source of heart healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).  They are a particularly good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in sustaining health, specifically in blood clotting and inflammation. PUFAs can also help reduce bad cholesterol levels which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke and possibly type II diabetes. 

Digestion.  Fiber aids in digestion and chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber.  At 10 grams per ounce (about 2 tablespoons), they are 40% fiber by weight.  Fiber is not fully digested by the body, so it cleans out the digestive tract as it passes through.  Fiber also helps increase satiety (the feeling of being satisfied), which can aid in weight loss and healthy weight maintenance plans. 

Strong bones.  Chia seeds are high in many critical bone nutrients and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These three minerals account for 98% of the body’s mineral content by weight.  Although, deficiencies in phosphorus and magnesium are rare in the typical American diet, calcium deficiency is more common.  As we age, calcium absorption and retention decreases in our bones.  Including chia seeds in your diet may help offset this natural loss in calcium. 

Antioxidants have been shown to help fight off everything from heart disease to cancer.  Some of the most abundant antioxidants in chia seeds (quercetin, kaempferol,  myricetin, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid) are associated with health benefits such as boosted energy, endurance, and fitness of the brain and muscles; protection against chronic disease such as lung cancer, asthma, and type II diabetes;  and inflammation prevention.      

Athletic performance.  Folklore says that Aztecs and Mayans carb-loaded with chia seeds before an athletic event, much in the same way we do with sport drinks before a sporting event. We’re thinking they were on to something.  In one study, researchers compared athletic performance of athletes who drank Gatorade to athletes who drank a mixture of half-Gatorade and half-chia seeds.  The results indicated no difference in performance between the two groups, suggesting that chia seeds may serve as a possible healthy alternative to highly processed, sugar-laden sport drinks. Furthermore, the high calcium and magnesium content in chia seeds makes them a good source of electrolytes which helps prevent hydration and restore electrolyte balance lost during heavy exercise.

Diabetes.  The unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber (10 out of 12 carbohydrates are from fiber) in chia seeds causes a slow and steady rise in blood sugar which is favorable for people with diabetes.  A few clinical studies have demonstrated this favorable effect.  The results of one study indicated that including 37 grams (about 2.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks reduced blood sugar levels.  Hint* Substituting chia seeds for bread crumbs and other high glycemic load foods can be a helpful place to start.    

Versatility.  There are many ways to eat chia seeds. In addition to their long shelf life (thanks to antioxidants), chia seeds are so versatile that you can add them to almost anything.  Eat them alone if you’re in a hurry or add them to water or milk to create a thick, gelatinous pudding.  Other people like to add them to salads, sandwiches, and soups.  Check out these other ideas if you’re curious

Resources: 

http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442472548

http://authoritynutrition.com/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds/

http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3643

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3518271/

http://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/nutrition/Pages/Minerals-Calcium-Phosphorus-and-Magnesium.aspx

http://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements/omega-3-fatty-acids-fish-oil-alpha-linolenic-acid/evidence/hrb-20059372

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21183832

http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/HealthyEating/Polyunsaturated-Fats_UCM_301461_Article.jsp

http://www.chialive.com.au/Chia-Antioxidants.html

Superfood Series: Part 3

Spinach and Kale

We couldn’t decide which one to choose because they are both so comparably amazing!  These two are probably two of the biggest super food all-stars in the whole series!

Nutritionally, they are both rock stars.  Taste wise, they differ greatly.  Kale has a more distinctive taste that some people find bitter. The texture is also thicker and tougher than spinach. The denser texture is perfect for baking kale chips or making salads ahead of time. Kale salad won’t get soggy like most other greens when you add dressing. 

With a more subtle taste and a softer crunch, spinach is often the choice for fresh salads, steaming, and dressing sandwiches.  Spinach is a tried and true health food that has stood the test of time.  Kale is newer to the scene, but we think it’s here to stay.  Now, on to the facts.  

*RDA= Recommended Daily Allowance

  1. Vitamin A.  Both kale and spinach are a great source of this fat soluble vitamin (98.3 % RDA kale; 105% RDA spinach) which plays a role in the anti-inflammatory process.  One form, beta-carotene, functions as an antioxidant which helps protect cells from the damaging and sometimes cancer causing free radicals. Vitamin A also plays a crucial role in eye health, particularly the ability to see in low light. 
  2. Happy Brain.  We need vitamin C (71% RDA kale; 24% RDA spinach) to convert the amino acid tryptophan into serotonin, the neurotransmitter that is related to depression.  Out of balance serotonin levels can affect mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior.
  3. Bone Strength. Vitamin K (1,180% RDA kale; 987% RDA spinach) plays a vital role in bone health.  The body uses vitamin K to regulate calcium.  Therefore, low levels of vitamin K have been linked to low levels of calcium in bones.  This condition can lead to osteoporosis and/or a buildup of calcium in the arteries, which can lead to coronary heart disease. 
  4. Digestion.  One serving of spinach or kale provides 1 gram and 3 grams of fiber, respectively. When you take into the consideration the caloric content of these superfoods (23 kcal and 49 kcal, respectively), that’s a lot of fiber for a few calories.  Insoluble fiber found in both spinach and kale aids in digestion because it is not fully digested by the body.  As it passes through the digestive tract it acts as a sort of scrub brush of the intestines, helping to push food through the system on its way out and therefore aiding with regular bowel movements.
  5. Weight Loss. Spinach and kale are both low in calories which can be helpful for those trying to lose weight.  One serving of spinach has only 23 calories, but 3 grams of protein.  One cup of kale has only 49 calories but 4 grams of protein. Their high fiber content will leave you feeling fuller, longer.  Don’t forget they are chock full of many other vitamins and minerals.  Whether in a salad or steamed, fresh or frozen, these two salad greens are a great component of any weight loss or maintenance plan.
  6. Diabetes. Kale and spinach both contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes. Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral neuropathy and/or autonomic neuropathy in people with diabetes. Not to mention their high fiber and protein content per serving means they cause a slow and steady rise in blood sugar which is ideal for people with diabetes.  
  7. Prenatal and Pregnancy.  Folate (49% RDA spinach; 24% RDA kale) helps prevent neural tube deficiencies such as incomplete development of the brain and spinal cord.  Their high vitamin A content also supports healthy embryonic growth such as development of the heart, lungs, kidneys, eyes, and bones, and the circulatory, respiratory, and central nervous systems.  Vitamin A is particularly essential for women who are about to give birth, because it helps with postpartum tissue repair.
  8. Heart Disease.  Both kale and spinach contain omega-3 fatty acids which can help fight heart disease and chronic illness.  They are both also a moderate source of potassium which has been shown to help prevent heart disease and reduce blood pressure, especially as part of a diet rich in calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein.  One cup provides around 15% of the RDA for potassium for both kale and spinach; and as we’ve already learned, on a calorie-by-calorie basis, both kale and spinach are also a good source of fiber and protein. 

Sources:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/dash/

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=106

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=nutrient&dbid=63

http://www.nytimes.com/health/guides/nutrition/vitamin-a/overview.html

http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/serotonin

http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2008/mar2008_Protecting-Bone-And-Arterial-Health-With-Vitamin-K2_01.htm

http://www.babycenter.com/0_vitamin-a-in-your-pregnancy-diet_675.bc

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/270435.php

 

Caffeine: What to Look for & Stay Away from

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What to look for: natural sources of caffeine like coffee, tea; ≤400 mg caffeine per day

What to stay away from: un-natural sources of caffeine like energy drinks; caffeine-alcohol combinations; ≥400 mg caffeine per day

When consumed in moderation, caffeine has some health benefits. The issue arises when too much coffee, energy drinks, or supplements high in caffeine are consumed. High amounts of caffeine can negatively impact cognitive and physical performance. The effects are even worse when caffeine is combined with alcohol. Caffeine is a stimulant, which can blunt the “downer” effects of alcohol, reducing the feeling of drunkenness and further impairing the ability to exercise good judgment and make good decisions.

Energy drinks may be one of the most widely consumed sources of caffeine among military personnel. Like other dietary supplements, energy drinks are not considered “food” or “drink” by the FDA and therefore do not have regulations for caffeine content or other stimulants included in their products. In fact, it is not mandatory to list all ingredients on the label, which leaves consumers in the dark as to what ingredients they are actually drinking.

Known adverse effects of energy drink consumption include: nausea, kidney damage, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and heart attack.  Coffee and tea are safer alternatives to energy drinks since they are made from natural sources (cocoa beans and tea plants). Dietitians suggest consuming no more than 1 to 3 8 ounce cups per day. Go easy on the cream and sugar to limit the extra calories from sugar and fat. Coffee, tea, and dark chocolate also contain heart healthy antioxidants.

Take Home Point:  The best way to keep energy levels steady is to eat a balanced diet with snacks that are low in refined sugar, and drink plenty of water. When choosing to consume caffeine, be sure to do so in moderation and select natural sources over manufactured energy drinks.