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

 

Superfood Series: Part 2


7 Reasons why non-fat Greek Yogurt is a superfood all-star: 

  1. Weight Control.  Non-fat Greek yogurt is a power house for lean protein.  One serving (1 cup) of plain non-fat Greek yogurt has 130 calories, 0g fat, 6g sugar (naturally occurring in all dairy), and a whopping 22g of protein. Nutritionally speaking, that is half the sugar and 2x the protein found in plain nonfat regular yogurt, which will help you feel fuller, longer. This is the Holy Grail for those who are looking for healthy snacks while on the path to weight loss or healthy weight maintenance. 
  2. Diabetes.  There are so many foods and snacks that are not ideal for those with insulin resistance or diabetes. Greek yogurt is certainly not one of them.  Greek yogurt is absorbed slowly into the blood stream, which allows for a slow and steady release of energy.  Greek yogurt undergoes a straining process which removes the liquid whey.  Subsequently, half of the sugar is also removed, but the protein remains intact.  It’s because of this process that Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt.   
  3. Digestion.  Greek yogurt is a great source of probiotics.  What’s so great about probiotics?  They are tiny little microorganisms that help improve digestion and protect your gut from harmful bacteria.  Research has shown that probiotics can help treat Irritable Bowel Syndrome, diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, and other gastrointestinal disorders.  They can also help promote regular bowel movements.
  4. Blood Pressure.  In one of the largest studies of its kind, research by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) indicated that foods rich in potassium, calcium, magnesium, and protein (i.e. Greek Yogurt) can help reduce elevated blood pressure.  Bonus:  Greek yogurt has about half the amount of sodium of regular yogurt. Greek yogurt is a clear choice for those with high blood pressure. 
  5. Lactose Intolerant.  Contrary to popular belief, it not only acceptable, but health experts recommend that people with mild lactose intolerance include small amounts of dairy in their diet. The key is to choose dairy with low amounts of lactose.  Cue the Greek yogurt.  Part of the straining process that transforms regular yogurt into Greek yogurt subsequently removes about 95% of the lactose.  This is why lactose intolerant people can often digest Greek yogurt comfortably. 
  6. Athletes. The same high protein, calcium, magnesium, and potassium content that contributes to Greek yogurt’s ability to lower blood pressure, also makes it a great choice for athletes.  All the protein and electrolytes present in Greek yogurt can help athletes replenish stores that may have been lost during intense exercise. Not to mention the calcium in Greek yogurt helps keep bones strong and less prone to injury.
  7. Versatility.  One of the best things about Greek yogurt is that in addition to being eaten alone, it can be substituted for just about anything!  It can be blended in with smoothies or mixed with fruit and frozen to make a healthier ice cream.  Greek yogurt doesn’t curdle at a high temperature so it can also be used in place of sour cream, mayo, vegetable oil and cream cheese in dessert recipes and casseroles. 

Please note*When we say Greek yogurt we are referring to the plain, non-fat variety. 

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.