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Archive for the ‘NUTRIENTS & NUTRITION’ Category

What causes all those wrinkles as we age? No doubt, our gene pool makes a difference, but are there ways to keep those wrinkles at bay? For years, collagen has been touted as a fountain of youth. Is it?

What is this substance, and how do we get it? The word itself comes from the Greek kolla, meaning glue, and gennao refers to producing, which somewhat explains collagen’s role in the body. It is a protein produced by our bodies primarily from the amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroproline. Collagen, the most abundant protein in the body, is a main component of bones, skin, muscles, and ligament structures.

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Collagen production decreases as we age. We recognize symptoms of diminishing collagen when wrinkles replace soft, pliable skin. Tendons and ligaments become stiffer, and muscles weaken from shrinking. Worn cartilage causes joint pain and osteoarthritis. While aging may result in discomfort from less collagen, noticeable changes occur in the skin, the largest organ in our bodies. Collagen removes and repairs skin and keeps it moist. Most people notice changes well before middle age as skin loses its elasticity. The face and neck start to develop folds or creases we don’t want. What, if anything, will stop or at least slow the onslaught of wrinkles before we look like a dried prune? Aside from aging, poor diet is the primary reason people don’t have enough collagen.

Hands, Old, Old Age, Elderly, Vulnerable, Care

Food Sources of Collagen:  

Image result for pixabay free clip art foods with zinc and copper

Before spending money on creams, pills, and potions for the skin, consider this. Foods we consume may have a greater impact on skin and wrinkles than any other choices we make affecting health other than smoking and sun exposure. Smoking produces free radicals that damage cells. The sun’s ultraviolet light damages the elastin in skin causing it to sag, stretch, and lose the ability to snap back. The skin also bruises and tears more easily and takes longer to heal. Nothing can repair sun damage, but the skin sometimes repairs itself.

The best food source of collagTangerines, Citrus, Fruit, Clementines, Citrus Fruiten is meat broth. Equally significant are nutrients involved in the production of collagen, primarily Vitamin C (ascorbic acid), zinc, and copper. Vitamin C is abundant in citrus fruits, broccoli and green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupe, and green and red peppers. Oysters are plentiful in zinc and copper. Other good sources are seafood, dried beans, and dark chocolate. In addition to broth from meat sources, meats provide necessary amino acids as well as zinc and copper to produce collagen.

Supplements:

Varied collagen supplements may help increase collagen production. Before the body can use them, most supplements are broken down into peptides to increase availability. Check labels to confirm if they have been hydrolyzed. However, remember labels may or may not be accurate since food supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Therefore, manufacturers do not have to prove effectiveness or safety of the products sold.

One scientific study of collagen supplements compared to a placebo found that some participants reported improved skin elasticity and decreased joint pain. That does not mean results may hold true for those taking supplements. Because of lack of regulation, consumers have no way of knowing if what they choose is safe and effective.

Image result for food and drug administration free clip art

 

Like many products on the market, collagen supplements may be overrated. One thing is sure. No strong scientific evidence supports collagen supplements in any form to treat or reverse the natural aging process.

Aging remains a fact of life, but appropriate foods and adequate protection of the skin will help keep those wrinkles at bay.

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Image result for pixabay food labels

New research on eating habits implicated a need for revised food labels to reflect updated scientific findings. Labels provide useful information to help consumers choose foods wisely. While companies with annual food sales in excess of $10 million have until 2020 to initiate new labels and companies with less than $10 million in annual sales have until 2021, at least ten percent of manufacturers already use them.

An earlier blog listed eight changes to expect on updated food labels. In a condensed version these included:

  • Manufacturers will use larger fonts in bold to print “calories” and “servings.”
  • Serving sizes will more readily reflect what people actually eat.
  • New labels will identify “added sugars.”
  • Packages with from one and a half to two servings will change to one serving to reflect what most people actually consume.
  • DV (daily values) of some nutrients will indicate recommendations based on the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine.
  • Vitamin D, potassium, calcium, and iron will include actual gram amounts plus %DV while vitamins A and C will no longer be required on labels, but food manufacturers may choose to list them.
  • Total calories from fat will be deleted, but the types of fat―“Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat”―will remain.

What do consumers want on a food label? Recent changes seek to help interpret and use labels to make better choices. What else would be helpful? A random online survey of more than 1,000 people ages 18-80 revealed that a whopping 95 percent most always looked for healthy food selections. Information on food labels influenced decisions, and that could lead to better dietary choices. While consumers want to eat healthy, only slightly more than a fourth (28 percent) thought the task easy. Eleven percent thought it difficult to identify nutritious foods.

Most in the survey (69 percent) agreed the nutrition Facts Panel on labels was their primary source of information followed by the ingredient list (67 percent). Participants paid attention to iconography such as the American Heart Association certified seal, “Heart-check Mark,” and believed additional information would be even more helpful. Nearly half of respondents checked front-of-package icons with millennials the most aware of symbols. They advocated universal icons or images to identify and encourage food selections of higher diet quality.

Joseph Clayton, the CEO of International Food Information Council Foundation and one of the sponsors of the survey, suggested that “Even subtle changes to food labels could have a positive impact on public health.”

Confusion over food dates may be among future changes. Currently, “best before” and “sell by” dates are unregulated but about 1/3 of consumers believed they were. Consumers perceived “best used by” as a quality standard while they interpreted “expires on” and “use by” as a safety standard. In 2017, the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) proposed consistent wording with two standard phrases, “Best if Used By” for product quality and “Use By” for more perishable items and those that may be unsafe after the date stated. By December 2018, 87 percent of food products used these terms to bring clarity of product quality and safety to consumers.

While updated labels help us make nutritious and safer choices, future changes in food labels may ease the process even more.

Image result for pixabay food labels

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June is National Dairy Month. In past times, the mention of milk referred to dairy or that white liquid produced by mammals. Not so anymore. Controversy continues as to whether drinks from almonds, soybeans, coconut, and other plants constitute milk. While these products may be healthy, they definitely aren’t the same as milk from animals.Glass, Milk, White, Cow'S Milk, Pour A

Test your knowledge about dairy (with 1% fat), unsweetened almond, soy, rice, and coconut milks by taking the quiz below.

  • What milk listed above has the highest amount of protein?
  • Which one is highest in calories?
  • Which milks are fortified with calcium and vitamin D?
  • Which milk is highest in fat, based on the above criteria?
  • Which one(s) is/are lactose-free?

Protein in milk. Cow’s milk by far has the highest content of protein. In doesn’t matter if the product is skim, reduced fat, whole, organic, or inorganic, it contains the same amount of protein, about 1 gram per ounce or 8 grams in 8-ounce servings. Coconut and rice are the lowest with 0 grams of protein while almond has 1 gram, and soy 7 grams.

Calories in milk. Dairy milk (1% fat) also contains the most calories with 110 per serving. The most popular non-dairy milks usually contain added sugar, increasing the calorie count. When served unsweetened, plant milks have a calorie count as follows: almond― 40, soy― 80, rice― 70, and coconut― 45.

Fortified milk. A fortified food indicates that manufacturers have added micronutrients to the product. Federal regulations mandate fortification of cow’s milk with 2000 International Units (IU) per quart of vitamin A and 400 IU of vitamin D. Cow’s milk is naturally high in the mineral calcium, and the vitamin D improves calcium absorption. The federal government does not regulated fortification in plant milks, but many do add vitamins and minerals to simulate cow’s milk.

Fat content. Coconut milk, with 4.5 grams per serving of mostly saturated fat, has the highest content of the milks listed. Controversy continues regarding the pros and cons of the healthfulness of coconut milk. Current research confirms that saturated fat is less healthy than unsaturated types of fat whether from animal sources or plant sources. Soy milk is second highest in fat content with 4 grams per serving. The amount of fat in cow’s milk depends on whether it is skim―with minimal fat, whole―full-fat content, or somewhere in-between for reduced fat milk. Based on the 1 percent criteria, dairy, almond, and rice all have 2.5 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving.

Lactose. Lactose is a sugar found only in milk. Some people who have trouble digesting cow’s milk may be lactose intolerant.

Consumer Reports compared these milks and identified pros and cons.

  • Almond milk. These drinks contain few almonds, sometimes no more than the equivalent of three to four whole almonds. The nuts are ground and added to water. Drinks may contain some vitamin E and are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Panelists preferred “Almond Breeze Original” of the eight tasted. This drink has sugar added and possibly other additives.
  • Coconut milk. This drink is not the same as coconut milk found in cans. It is watered down to match the consistency of dairy milk. Added nutrients may include calcium and vitamin D, and some may have B12. Of the five brands tasted, the panel chose “Silk Almond-Coconut Blend Original” as the most flavorful.
  • Soy milk. This product is a good source of protein, but not the quality protein found in cow’s milk. It is made with ground soybeans and water, and is often fortified with B-vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D. Consumer Reports panelists tasted four products and selected “Silk Soymilk Vanilla” as the best. It, too, has added sugar.

With these facts, you can make more informed decisions about the type of milk you choose for you and your family. Dairy is usually the most economical and packs in more nutrients than any of the plant sources. All dairy milk has nine essential nutrients and high-quality (complete) protein. Non-dairy milks have no federal standards and may contain as much as ten different added ingredients including salt and sugar plus stabilizers and emulsifiers like locust bean gum, lecithin, and other gums.

Let me know what you think. Should these non-dairy drinks continue to be labeled as milk?

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Many Americans know something about vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. What do we know about fiber? Health professionals may disagree as to whether fiber is a nutrient, but it is essential to health. A healthy diet includes sufficient fiber, a form of carbohydrate that differs in significant ways from other types of this nutrient. The complexity of the sugar molecules linked together causes fiber to be more difficult to digest.

Fiber comes from plant sources, primarily whole grains which have twice the amount of fiber as refined grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes. Unpeeled fruits and vegetables also provide more fiber as well as other nutrients than those that have been peeled.

Fiber is divided into two types, soluble and insoluble. Dietary sources are basically the same. Soluble fiber is water solvent and aids in digestion by causing carbohydrate and other nutrients to be absorbed more slowly. This helps control blood sugar levels, a positive for those with diabetes. It also plays a significant role in lowering blood levels of LDL cholesterol because it interferes with absorption of fat and cholesterol.

Insoluble fiber provides bulk in the diet which in turn helps stimulate movement through the intestinal tract to regulate waste removal from the body. Because both soluble and insoluble fiber cause a feeling of fullness, they can be beneficial in weight loss. Those who consume higher fiber diets usually eat less and remain free from hunger for longer periods of time.

How much fiber do we need? Requirements may vary, but most women need at least 30 grams and men 38 grams per day. After age fifty, both need less. Women need about 21 grams and men 30 grams of fiber per day.

To avoid abdominal distress, it is best to increase fiber intake slowly. Gradually change from a low-fiber to a high-fiber diet. The following are suggested ways to increase fiber in our diets:

  • Switch from refined foods to those made with whole grains.
  • Add beans to soups, salad and side dishes.
  • Add unsalted nuts and seeds to foods and use as snacks in place of sweets.
  • Add fruits and/or vegetables to cereals, salads, and other foods.
  • Add vegetables (such as zucchini and carrots) into main dishes like lasagna, meatloaf, stews, and more.
  • Keep fresh fruits and vegetables prepared and refrigerated for quick snacks.

When buying foods, check labels of similar products to determine those with higher fiber content. Increasing fiber in the diet isn’t difficult. It will pay dividends in better health and well-being.

 

 

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Do we bother to check labels on foods we eat? Those labels can help us make informed Comparison of Old and New FDA Nutrition Facts Label Formatchoices about what goes into our bodies. In May 2016, the U. S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) announced changes to update food labels, the first revision since 1993. Changes intend to make them more user-friendly. Except for smaller food industries, new labels will go into effect on July 26, 2018. What changes can we expect?

  • The updated design will showcase “calories” and “servings.” Manufacturers will print these two categories in bold and use larger font sizes.
  • Serving sizes will more readily reflect what people actually eat instead of what is healthier to eat. As an example, the previous ½ cup serving size for ice cream is changing to 2/3 cup.
  • A new addition to labels will identify “added sugars” to help consumers follow the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans which recommend no more than 10 percent of total daily calories come from added sugars.
  • Package contents that fall between one and two servings will be labeled as one serving since that is what most individuals will consume, i.e. 20 ounce soft drinks will be considered as one serving since most will drink the entire beverage.
  • Updated daily values (DV) of some nutrients (sodium, dietary fiber, vitamin D) will reflect recommendations of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Institute of Medicine. DV refer to amounts of nutrients the body needs daily, and in many cases, the amount one should not exceed. Labels use %DV to represent the amount in food, and a footnote will help consumers better understand what that means.
  • Levels of Vitamin D and potassium will include actual gram amounts and the %DV. Calcium and iron will remain on labels with grams and %DV listed. Vitamins A and C, however, will no longer be required since these two vitamins are rarely deficient in the American diet. Nevertheless, food manufacturers may choose to list these two as well.
  • “Calories from Fat” will be deleted, but types of fat―“Total Fat,” “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat”―will remain. Evidence suggests that the type of fat is more significant than the number of calories derived from fat sources in a given food.
  • Dietary supplements will also reflect the same label changes.

The new label design and revamping of information should make it easier to read and understand the contents of the foods we eat. It remains up to us to use this information to choose the types and amounts of foods to promote healthier lifestyles.

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Do you take multivitamins or other dietary supplements?Dietary supplements. Variety pills. Vitamin capsules. Clipart The majority of us do take some type supplements either every day or occasionally. While most people consider that as a good thing, there are downsides. Vitamin/mineral supplements replace deficiencies when foods we select lack certain nutrients, but they aren’t a substitute for a healthy diet. Individuals with compromised immune systems or health issues, the elderly, pregnant women, and sometimes young children benefit from appropriate supplements. However, most who take supplements do not need them. Problems occur from our warped thinking that if a little works, a lot is better. Not so. Increased levels of certain vitamins and minerals can cause harm, and in extreme cases, may lead to health problems that result in death.

Some two decades ago, researchers observed that those who ate diets with plenty of fruits and vegetables were less prone to cancer. Because of that, they hypothesized that nutrients found in those foods could prevent this disease. In controlled rat studies, they set out to prove beneficial effects of large doses of certain nutrients. Results weren’t what they expected. Instead of improved health, some caused an increase in cancer.

Standards

If you do take a vitamin or mineral supplement, how do you know if you are taking safe amounts? The Institute of Medicine (IOM) established the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) and Adequate Intake of vitamins/minerals to help consumers determine safe amounts. The Tolerable Upper Limit Levels give a safety net to prevent overdoses and/or adverse effects. These standards aren’t listed on product labels. However, labels do list the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) nutritional measurements of Daily Values. In most cases, this measure is comparable to the RDA.

All dietary supplements must have a Supplement Facts panel listing the contents, active ingredients per serving, and added ingredients such as fillers, color, etc. Several independent labs assure that product labels give the name of the manufacturer, ingredients, and are free of harmful levels of contaminants. Three reliable companies who offer seals for those standards include U. S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International.

Warnings

Some vitamin/mineral products are more risky than others. While most of us are unlikely to have adverse effects from a multiple vitamin/mineral supplement when taken as directed, excess amounts of single nutrients may cause problems. Too high a dose of certain nutrients is dangerous. Those most likely to cause side effects from higher doses are fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, K and the minerals iron and selenium. The IOM established upper limits for twenty-four nutrients. Below are select ones from their list.

NUTRIENT UPPER LIMIT
Calcium   2,500 milligrams
Zinc        40 milligrams
Iron        45 milligrams
Selenium      400 micrograms
Folic acid   1,000 micrograms
Niacin        35 milligrams
Vitamin B6      100 milligrams
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid)   2,000 milligrams
Vitamin A 10,000 International Units
Vitamin D   4,000 International Units
Vitamin E   1,500 International Units

Vitamin/mineral supplements may help when taken appropriately and under the supervision of a health professional. Be wary of advertisements that touts beneficial results without scientific prove to substantiate claims. Unless medically prescribed or recommended, invest your money on healthful foods. They are tasty and more likely to help you stay well.

 

 

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For me, the annual Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo is the highlight of nutrition education. I enjoy seeing long-time friends, hearing the latest nutrition research, and visiting many booths of the more than 200 food-related exhibitors.

Companies represented at the Expo serve a vital purpose as they share information, and often samples, of the latest products introduced to the consumer market. Each year, vendors promote old favorites as well as new products or nutrients.

Artificial sweeteners were among many ingredients repeated at the exhibit. Although I tolerate the taste, I prefer sugar or skipping all sweeteners. Sugar-substitutes showed up in a variety of products. Beverage companies touted the 10-calorie drinks by enhancing flavor with a little sugar. If you, like most, enjoy  the taste of non-nutritive sweeteners and the thought of lower calories, go for it.

Featured this year were numerous products incorporating less-liked vegetables—collard greens, kale, beets, and a variety of other vegetables. Smoothies abounded with these ingredients. As I passed a sign for V-8 juice, I envisioned a refreshing tomato-based drink to quince my thirst. What I found were newer mixtures of vegetables. My palette failed to adjust. I also didn’t care for another vendor’s smoothie heavy on collard greens. Vegetables are a  staple in my diet. Although collards are less familiar in my area, I love turnip and mustard greens from our garden but not prepared into smoothies. I favor fresh tender greens, washed and lightly cooked until tender and served with catfish, ham, white beans, or any number of other great foods. Curly-leaf kale, sowed in my garden to use as garnish, was so tasty that is has become a favorite for cooking like other greens.

Regardless of how you use them, dark green leafy vegetables are an important part of any diet. They are:

  • High in nutrients: Provide Vitamins A, C, and K; folate; calcium; phytonutrients (carotenoids, flavonoids, and glucosinolates); and are a good source of fiber.
  • Low (or no) fat and carbohydrates: They yield from 10 to 30 calories per cup.
  • Versatile: Eat raw, steamed, sautéed, or baked.
  • Available in abundant varieties: Try kale; chard; spinach; collard, mustard, turnip, and beet greens; Asian mustard greens; bok choy (baby, baby shanghai); and others.

Maybe your taste-buds differ from mine. That’s why we have new products on the market—to meet consumer’s preferences and needs. If you like vegetable smoothies—great. It’s always your choice. As for me, I think I will stay with a big bowl of cooked greens with a nice hunk of cornbread served up with unsweetened tea.

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Are you a candidate for cancer? People may take precautions yet still succumb to this awful disease. While the last blog looked at ways to avoid becoming a statistic, many questions remain. One study rarely paints a clear picture of what helps and what hurts in the prevention process. Below are recent research findings about nutrients to help discern what is best for you.

Antioxidants: Antioxidants are known to block the activity of harmful substances called free radicals. Because of this action, many tout that antioxidants ward off malignancy. Numerous foods, especially fruits, offer an abundance of antioxidants in the diet.

Grapes and grape juice: Grapes and grape juice contain high quantities of the potent antioxidants polyphenols and resveratrol. In animal studies, resveratrol prevented cell and tissue damage known to trigger the cancer process. Additionally, resveratrol slowed cancer cell growth and inhibited the formation of tumors in lymph, liver, stomach, and breast cells. It also triggered death of leukemic and colon cancer tumors and blocked development of skin, breast, and leukemia cancers at all stages of the disease.

Supplements: According to the National Cancer Institute, antioxidant supplements haven’t proven effective in reducing the risk of developing or in dying from cancer. In fact, evidence suggested that excessive antioxidant supplements may increase the risk of certain cancers. According to recent studies, vitamin E supplements increased possibilities for prostate cancer. Mortality rates increased for those who took supplemental beta carotene and vitamins A and E.

Fruits: Many fruits have benefits in addition to antioxidants that may effectively protect against cancer. Apples, blueberries, cherries, cranberries, raspberries and strawberries are high in fiber and vitamin C. These fruits may help prevent colon cancer and probably lower risks of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lungs, and stomach cancer. See additional information at this site of the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Cruciferous vegetables: This vegetable group (bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radishes, turnips, and others) once strongly linked to preventing lung, colorectal, stomach, breast, prostate and other cancers, may be less effective than previously thought. Newer research failed to substantiate earlier relationships. However, these vegetables are high in nutrients and antioxidants and may in the future provide a link to combating cancer. In animal studies, broccoli and tomatoes—which are high in the antioxidant lycopene—reduced tumor growth in prostate cancer.

Teas: This beverage has the antioxidant catechin which may cut cancer risk. Green tea contains more catechin than does black tea. Green tea extracts may lower the risk of prostate cancer. While some studies found that oral cancer benefitted from tea, other studies failed to find the same association. Therefore, studies related to tea and cancer are inconclusive and need additional study.

Vitamin D and Calcium: Vitamin D lowers risks for colorectal cancer. Adequate blood serum levels of vitamin D cut total cancer incidents and mortality. However over a seven-year period, the Woman’s Health Initiative found that healthy women who took vitamin D and calcium supplements did not improve their chance of avoiding colorectal cancer. High intakes of calcium—greater than 1,500 milligrams/day—increased the risk for prostate cancer but results may have occurred because of lower vitamin D2 levels.

Modifying the diet may affect your risk of cancer. As researchers point out, diet alone is unreliable. However, it is one factor you can control to help you remain cancer free.

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Sometimes it’s important to get back to basics. My blog relates to nutrition and food events based on current research or newsworthy items. As a dietitian, I tend to believe everyone has heard of the foods we need daily for a healthy diet. Not true. With a plethora of information, people tend to forget the simple. Often advertising or false claims mislead people. How can we eat for optimum health and enjoy food without the hassle? Below is a brief summary of nutrients our bodies need plus those we may eat in access.

  • Calories: Our bodies need energy (fuel). We get that energy only from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. An ounce of fat provides more than twice as many calories as the same amount of carbohydrate or protein (which have about the same). The calories we need depend on age, activity, gender, and other factors. Healthy adult women of appropriate weight need about 2,000 calories a day. Men and very active women need more. In addition to calories, the body requires the following.
  • Vitamins: These nutrients help convert carbohydrates, fats, and proteins into energy, carry out body functions within the cells, and form bones, teeth, and tissue.
  • Minerals: Mineral elements help regulate enzymes, build body and bone tissue, and keep nerves and muscles healthy.
  • Water and Fiber: Drink ample fluids (six to eight glasses per day), especially water, and eat foods high in fiber to help eliminate waste from the body.

Sometimes our diets have too much or not enough of varied nutrients. While excess of some nutrients may be okay, others can harm health. Consider the following as you eat.

  • Sugar (carbohydrate): Many, if not most, Americans have a sweet tooth. A little is okay as long as you don’t over do it. Foods high in sugar, especially sweetened beverages, are responsible for much of the obesity in society. Sugar may also increase the risk for dental decay, especially in children.
  • Fats: The body needs fat for body fuel and other functions. Fat in the diet helps keep us from getting hungry as quickly. Some types of fats are good while others can increase risks of health problems. Saturated fats, found mostly in meats, may increase risks for heart disease. To consume less of these fats, trim fat from meats, remove skin from chicken, and switch to low-fat milk and milk products. Unsaturated fats, found in plant sources, may help decrease heart problems. Olive oil, a mono-unsaturated fatty acid, is considered a healthier source of unsaturated fats. Use more vegetable oils in cooking (see post for 8/20/2013) and limit the use of trans fats.
  • Meats and Protein Foods (protein, fat, vitamins, minerals): About four ounces daily of a protein food is adequate. Legumes and nuts are healthy sources. For a healthier diet, choose skinless chicken and fish instead of red meat. While controversy lingers over the health value of eggs, they are excellent sources of protein and other nutrients.
  • Milk and milk products (carbohydrate, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals): Consume the equivalent of two to three servings a day. Milk, a natural source of calcium and other minerals and vitamins, is fortified with Vitamin D. Choose low-fat options for a healthier diet.
  • Breads, Cereals, Pasta (carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, fiber): Choose five to six servings a day with at least half from whole grain sources.
  • Fruits and Vegetables (vitamins): While Americans may get too many calories from carbohydrates and fats, most fail to eat enough fruits and vegetables. A healthful diet will include a variety of four to five vegetables and three to four fruits each day. Choose from fresh, frozen, or canned sources. Consider the following selections and others.
    • Fruits: apples, bananas, blackberries, blueberries, cherries, dates, figs, grapes, grapefruit, mangos, oranges, papaya, peaches, pears, pineapple, strawberries.
    • Vegetables: asparagus, beets, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, corn, eggplant, green beans, green peas, kale, legumes (field peas/beans), mustard greens, okra, potatoes, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips/turnip greens, pumpkin, zucchini. Choose one serving of a deep green or deep yellow fruit/vegetable at least three to four times per week.
  • Salt (the minerals sodium and chloride): Controversy continues about the amount of salt (actually the sodium) needed by healthy people. While the body needs salt, too much can damage health, especially for those with high blood pressure. With the increased consumption of prepared foods, snacks, and meals eaten away from home, it’s safe to say most American exceed the amount needed. To cut back on the amount in the diet, check sodium content of foods and avoid using extra salt at the table.

Sometimes we make eating the right foods way to difficult. Make your choices based on guidelines for a healthier diet without a lot of hassle.

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Español: Semillas de Chía (Salvia hispanica)

Español: Semillas de Chía (Salvia hispanica) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 30 years it’s been heard every Christmas. In fact, it may not seem like the holidays have arrived until you hear that familiar commercial for the latest chia pet. When you water the ceramic pottery figurine, you can watch green “fur” cover the surface.

Maybe chia pets aren’t your thing, but don’t discount the benefits of chia seeds. Nutritionally, chia is far ahead of most seeds and grains.

Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant, a member of the mint family. Its history goes back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Although a food staple, the plant had religious symbolism and was used in ceremonies as well as for currency. Chia means “strength.” Folklore says the natives ate seeds for energy, and some referred to it as “Indian Running Food” because Aztecs consumed it to endure long-distant journeys.

When roasted and ground, chia seeds produce a flour called pinole. Cultivation of chia ceased with the spread of Christianity whose followers outlawed it because of its religious significance. Wild chia remained an important part of cultural diets. In the 1960s-1980s, cultivation expanded as seeds became known as a “super food.” It is now used throughout Mexico and has become a popular nutritional alternative elsewhere.

This bland food with a slightly nutty flavor blends well into many dishes.  Nutritional characteristics noted include the following:

  • Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds, with 32 to 39 percent oil, have the highest known natural percentage of Omega-3 oils.
  • Powerful source of antioxidants. Unlike other foods high in antioxidants, chia seeds need no refrigeration to stay fresh.
  • High protein levels. Chia seeds contain from 19 to 23 percent protein compared to wheat at 13.7 percent and oatmeal at 16.9 percent. They are a complete protein and contain all the essential amino acids.
  • Significant calcium and mineral levels. Chia seeds have greater amounts of calcium than milk, and the form of calcium it has is more readily absorbed by the body. They are excellent sources of phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, and copper.

Watching seeds grow on the latest chia pet may reduce stress during the holidays. But eating chia seeds can contribute toward a healthful diet throughout this busy season of overindulgence.

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