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

 

Ultimate Diet Comparison

Anyone looking for a weight loss plan probably feels like they are being bombarded with new diets, fads, and gimmicks on a regular basis. With all of the information out there, it’s hard to know what works, what doesn’t, what is healthy, and what is not.  Let’s take a look at some of the most popular plans out there and examine the components of each one.

Diet comparison2

 

Paleo Diet (Similar to Atkins, Dukan Diet, Vegan Diet)

The Goal: Promotes weight loss and maintenance; prevention of Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.

The Theory: Paleo advocates say that the highly processed, high carbohydrate diet of the typical American is the cause for many of the biggest health issues. The premise of this diet is to eat the way cavemen did in the Paleolithic period more than 10,000 years ago. The motto of the Paleo diet is “if a cavemen didn’t eat it, I shouldn’t either”.

The Food: The Paleo diet is high in meats, fish, nuts, berries, fruits, vegetables. Grains, sugars, dairy, and legumes are not consumed.

Pros/Cons: While most Americans would benefit from eating fewer processed and sugary foods, and more fruits and vegetables, any diet that encourages the omission of complete food groups is not recommended. Whole grains are the preferred source of energy for the brain, and also offer vitamins and fiber. Furthermore, because dairy and fortified cereals are not allowed on the Paleo diet plan, calcium and vitamin D will be lacking. Both of these dietary requirements are crucial in muscle function and bone health. Weight loss may result from following this plan because of simple calorie reduction, but the rigid rules and guidelines make it difficult and unhealthy to follow long term.

DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet (Similar to TLC Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, Vegetarien Diet, Ornish Diet)

The Goal: To prevent and lower high blood pressure; promotes weight loss.

The Theory: A healthy eating pattern that is low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber will help fight off hypertension. The DASH diet was designed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

The Food: The DASH eating plan emphasizes vegetables, fruits, and low fat or fat free dairy products. It includes whole grains, fish, poultry, beans, seeds, nuts, and vegetable oils. Sweets, red meats, sodium (salt), and sugary beverages are limited.

Pros/Cons: This eating plan is rich in potassium, calcium, fiber, and protein and is low in sodium, saturated and trans fats. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 2300mg of sodium per day, while those with high blood pressure or who are at risk for developing high blood pressure further reduce sodium intake to 1500mg/day. The DASH diet is backed by scientific research studies showing that this pattern of eating does help to lower blood pressure and even promotes weight loss. Although reducing/omitting salt may take some time to get used to, seasonings such as herbs and spices can help avoid blandness. This is a healthy, balanced eating plan that includes all foods groups and echoes the recommendations of the American Dietetic Association. 

Dukan Diet (Similar to Paleo Diet and Atkins Diet)

The Goal: Weight Loss.

The Theory: The idea behind this diet is that protein, not calories, is the key to weight loss. When protein supplies the majority of the diet and fat and carbohydrates are restricted, the brain turns to alternate fuel sources (stored fat) for energy. This diet has 4 stages with clearly identified rules for eating at each stage.

The Food: What you are allowed to eat depends on the stage of the diet. In stage 1 (the “Attack” phase), it’s all you can eat proteins: lean beef, veal, pork, venison, organ meats, eggs, fish, shellfish, ham, turkey, chicken, tofu, and nonfat dairy. Water and diet sodas are also allowed, along with 1 ½ Tbsp of oat bran per day. In the phases that follow, foods like vegetables and eventually fruits and specific carbohydrates are slowly added back into the diet. The last phase (called “Permanent Stabilization”) is meant to last a lifetime and help keep the weight off.  It also includes strict rules about when and what foods can be eaten.

Pros/Cons: This diet encourages the body to be in a state of ketosis, where fat is used as the brain’s fuel source. Common side effects of this type of very low-carb diet include bad breath, dry mouth, lethargy, and constipation. At each stage, you must follow specific rules and cheating is considered destructive. This diet is low in potassium, fiber, and vitamin D.  For those who do not eat fish, omega fatty acids could also be lacking. Consuming a diet this high in protein causes the kidneys to work overtime to eliminate uric acid, a byproduct of protein breakdown. Kidney stones and other kidney problems may result from a long term, very high protein diet such as this. Besides unhealthily omitting whole food groups, the “black and white” way of thinking foods is not recommended. A more balanced approach and mindset would be a better way to reach weight loss goals.

Mediterranean Diet (Similar to DASH Diet, Mayo Clinic Diet, and Vegetarian Diet)

The Goal: Weight Loss and improvement; overall health.

The Theory: In general, people who live in the countries near the Mediterranean Sea live longer, healthier lives than Americans.  The population experiences less heart disease and diabetes as well.  This eating pattern mirrors that of the region.

The Food: The Mediterranean eating pattern emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, legumes, and olive oil, with fish and seafood at least a couple times per week. Poultry and dairy are encouraged in moderation, and red meat and sweets are saved for special occasions only.

Pros/Cons: This is a sensible eating plan that focuses on heart healthy foods while limiting foods high in saturated fat and sugar. Researchers at Harvard University developed a Mediterranean Diet Pyramid to help consumers with food choices. There are clear and well established cardiovascular benefits to this style of eating (note: this is not considered a “diet” but rather a way of eating for life).  The Mediterranean diet has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve blood cholesterol profiles, and meets the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for fat, protein, fiber, and other key nutrients.

The Engine 2 Diet (Similar to Vegan Diet, Vegetarian Diet, Raw Food Diet, Ornish Diet,    Macrobiotic Diet)

The Goal: Improve overall health with the added benefit of weight loss.

The Theory: A plant based diet can prevent and often reverse heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, which are thought to be caused by the typical American diet that is high in animal foods and saturated fat. The creator of this diet claims that plants and plant based foods offer the nutrients, fats, and proteins that keep the body functioning as it was intended.

The Food: The Engine 2 Diet consists of plants and plant based foods, minus vegetable oil (which is said to be stripped of nutrients and high in calories and saturated fat). All animal based products (meat, dairy, fish, eggs) and processed foods are omitted from the diet and replaced with whole grains, vegetables, beans, and fruits. Cooking with water instead of vegetable oil is recommended. This is a 4-phase program that slowly eliminates unwanted foods until a full vegan diet is achieved.

Pros/Cons: Most Americans eat too many processed foods and high-fat animal products, so the premise of this plant based diet for improving overall health is likely to have benefits. This diet plan aligns with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for most nutrients, but may fall short on Vitamin B12, Calcium, and Vitamin D, all which are found mainly in dairy products and meat. Some people find it difficult to follow a strict vegan diet, though it can be maintained in a healthy way with proper education and support. The Engine 2 program does offer online support for a fee.

Superfood Series: Part 1

bananas

There’s a lot of information floating around the web which boasts the fantastic, heroic-like powers of bananas. But, what does the research say? We’ve looked through the literature and done the work for you. The verdict? Bananas pack a healthy food punch!

Here are 7 reasons why bananas are superfood all-stars:

  1. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease. Just one medium size banana provides 12% of the recommended amount of daily fiber (20-35 g/day). Approximately 1/3 of the fiber in bananas is soluble fiber which is the type of fiber associated with decreased risk of heart disease. High in potassium and low in salt, bananas are officially recognized by the FDA as being able to lower blood pressure, and protect against heart attack and stroke.
  2. Healthy Weight. Soluble fiber also provides us with the feeling of fullness, which helps promote weight loss. For a fiber-full breakfast or snack, throw in a whole, ripened banana with 1 cup of cooked steel cut oats. This combination provides around 12 grams of fiber which can help you in reaching your weight loss goals!
  3. Digestion. Bananas digest more slowly than other foods due to their fiber and pectins which causes a slower absorption into the blood stream.
  4. This means bananas are also good for people with Diabetes. Bananas have a relatively low glycemic load value (16) because they digest slowly which leads to a slow and steady rise of blood sugar.  As bananas ripen, their starch is broken down into sugar, which means the greener the banana, the lower the glycemic load.     
  5. Constipation. Stopped up? Research indicates that bananas can help you. The fiber in bananas acts as a sort of “scrub brush” of the intestines, which aids in digestion and helps prompt regular bowel movements. The key is to eat a ripe banana.  Green tinted bananas contain a considerable amount of starch, which can be hard to digest and lead to constipation. As bananas ripen, their starch is broken down into sugar, and they become easier to digest.  Bonus: as bananas turn from green to yellow, levels of cancer and heart disease fighting antioxidants increase! 
  6. Athletic Performance. The unique combination of vitamins and minerals in bananas in conjunction with their low glycemic load, makes them a great fruit for athletes. Did we mention that bananas are a good source of potassium which helps prevent muscle cramps? Their portability also makes them a perfect snack for travel games.
  7. Happy Thoughts. Some nutrients in bananas are known to be able to help fight against depressive symptoms. That’s right; bananas play a small role in overcoming depression due to high levels of tryptophan, which is converted into serotonin -- the happy-mood brain neurotransmitter.

Sources:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120529113258.htm
http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Glycemic_index_and_glycemic_load_for_100_foods.htm
http://www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/SIOW/2011/09/a-banana-a-day-keeps-depression-away.html
http://columbusclinical.com/blog/five-foods-that-cause-constipation
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=7
http://www.naturalnews.com/036771_bananas_digestion_health_benefits.html
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/PreventionTreatmentofHighBloodPressure/Potassium-and-High-Blood-Pressure_UCM_303243_Article.jsp