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It’s strawberry season, my childhood favorite time of year. I grew up on a small farm where my dad grew strawberries. Fond memories linger of those days when fresh-from-the-field strawberries were often a part of every meal. I ate all the berries I wanted throughout the growing season plus unending amounts of frozen berries during the year.

It never occurred to me how healthy thImage result for free clipart strawberriesose bright red fruits were or the many nutritious benefits from eating them. Today, researchers assure us that strawberries are a part of a healthy diet and may contribute to well-being in many ways. They are high in vitamin C, folate, potassium, and phytochemicals. Flavonoids, a type of phytochemical, have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antimutagenic properties. Strawberries have been associated with many health conditions and may help or prevent the following:

  • Reduce total cholesterol, LDL oxidation, and cell inflammation: These factors influence risks of heart attacks. A diet high in strawberries significantly lowers cholesterol levels. Researchers found that women who ate three servings per week of strawberries or blueberries reduced their chances of heart attacks by nearly one-third.
  • Prevent weight gain: According to studies in the British Medical Journal, flavonoid-rich foods like strawberries may help manage weight more easily.
  • Improve insulin resistance: Anthocyanins, responsible for berries’ bright red color, may improve insulin sensitivity. Researchers found that women who ate strawberries at least once a month were at a lower risk for diabetes.
  • Improve cognition: Strawberries and blueberries may help prevent age-related cognitive decline. They offset negative effects of cell oxidation and inflammation in the brain and protect women’s memory. Eating strawberries may delay mental aging in older women by as much as 2.5 years. In one study, women who ate more than two servings a week experienced less deterioration than those who ate one or fewer servings.

As a bonus, strawberries also seem to improve motor skills in women. What a delicious way to improve health and keep our brains intact. Make it a point to include ample servings in your diet. During this plentiful strawberry season, remember you are helping your overall health and brain function while enjoying a tasty treat.

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.

 

 

March is National Nutrition Month, and today, March 8, 2017, is National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day. Why is that significant? The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (Academy) is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy represent more than 100,000 credentialed practitioners, primarily registered dietitians nutritionists, who are committed to improving the health of individual patients/clients, families, and the community.
I'm Blogging National Nutrition Month

In 2008, the Academy created a special day for Registered Dietitians Nutritionists. According to their website,  key messages for the public about these leading nutrition and dietetic experts encompass the following:

  • Acquire degrees from Academy-approved programs in colleges and universities in specific fields of nutrition, food service, and dietetics plus additional internship training or plans of study,
  • Translate the science of nutrition into practical application for healthy living,
  • Help individuals achieve positive lifestyle changes,
  • Advocate the advancement of nutritional status of Americans and people around the globe.

The Academy distributes nutrition related educational materials, and for National Nutrition Month has posted a word game for adults. Try it to refresh your memory and challenge your brain.

Celebrate this month with wise food choices. Should you need help with diets or food issues, remember to contact a registered dietitian nutritionist.

cancer-prevention-monthFebruary may be the shortest month, but it’s a busy time for holidays and health. Valentine’s Day blows warm kisses amid cold winters. President’s Day follows close behind reminding us of extraordinary American leaders in past years. While we observe these two holidays, February additionally focuses on health. Heart-related problems are the number one cause of death in our nation. National Heart Month in February encourages Americans to alter lifestyles to slow progression of this disease.

This is also National Cancer Prevention Month. More than a half million Americans will lose their lives to cancer this year. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) estimates that nearly one-third of cancer cases could be prevented by eating healthy, staying active, and maintaining appropriate weight.

For 2017, AICR provided a 30-day prevention checklist to improve lifestyles. In these few remaining days in February, we can include modified food-related suggestions from their list along with other recommendations to help prevent cancer.

  • If overweight or obese, make every effort to reach your recommended weight. Up to 40 percent of all cancers are associated with excess weight.
  • Distinguish between weight loss myths and facts.
  • Measure portion sizes to avoid overeating.
  • Enjoy meatless dishes. Most American grew up with red meats, from hamburgers to prime rib. While we can periodically enjoy these tasty foods in our diets, to reduce cancer risks limit red meats, especially those that have been cured. Try healthier entrees from vegetables, cheese, or beans.
  • Swap processed meats for better protein sources such as fish or chicken.
  • Substitute water or unsweetened beverages for sugary drinks.
  • Learn the relationship between sugar and cancer.
  • Try new whole grains. Today we have access to familiar grains as well as those unknown to us a decade ago. Common whole grains include amaranth, buckwheat, farro, Kamut, maize, millet, quinoa, rye, sorghum, and teff.
  • Cook cancer fighting recipes.
  • Read labels. Remember, ingredients are listed on the label in order of weight, with the main ingredient first.
  • Take the AICR healthy diet quiz.

The dreaded “C” word affects many lives. Lower your risks by incorporating these suggestions into your routine and adopting permanent changes for a healthier lifestyle.

Heart health took center stage when Lyndon B. Johnson issued Proclamation 3566 in December,1963. He declared February as American Heart Month and Congress passed a joint resolution requesting presidents each year to follow suit. In that era, more than half of deaths in the United States resulted from heart-related conditions.

In the 2017 proclamation, President Donald Trump stated “The death rate from heart disease in the United States has fallen dramatically since the 1960s . . . [yet] heart disease remains a leading cause of death. . . . During American Heart Month, we remember those who have lost their lives to heart disease and resolve to improve its prevention, detection and treatment.”

 Globally, more than 17 million deaths occur annually from heart related conditions with projected increases in future years. What is more appropriate than to think about healthy hearts on Valentine’s Day? As a day of love, it’s befitting to encourage those we love to eat healthy and to express our love to family and friends by practicing a healthy-heart lifestyle.                                     

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 If you plan to treat those you love with any type of food this Valentine’s Day, make it healthy. Increase the availability of fruits and vegetables, avoid offers of high-sugar, high-salt foods, and provide meats low in fat, especially saturated fats.

As we commemorate a day for hearts, remember to protect yours. Helping yourself and others choose healthy-heart foods can reduce the number of people likely to meet untimely deaths due to cardiovascular disease. It’s the way to honor a national treasure―you and those you love. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Best Diets for 2017

The U S News and World Report recently published their annual assessment of the best 38 diets in 9 categories. For the past seven years, a panel of experts has selected the DASH diet as the best diet overall. The Mediterranean diet came in a close second while the MIND diet ranked third. What makes these diets healthy choices, and how do they differ?

DASH DIET (Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension)

The DASH diet, originally establish to reduce high blood pressure, is nutritionally sound and promotes heart health. This diet includes the following daily servings; 4-5 each of  vegetables and fruits, 6-8 grains, 2-3 dairy products, 6 or less of fish, lean meat, poultry (one ounce is considered a serving), 2-3 fats or oils.

The diet suggests 4-5 servings a week of nuts, seeds, and legumes and less than 5 servings per week of sweets. For heathy individuals, the diet recommends limiting sodium to 2,300 mg/day or less. The elderly or those with certain health issues should not exceed 1,500 mg of sodium/day.

MEDITERRANEAN DIET

The Mediterranean diet is nutritionally sound with diverse foods and flavors. It represents the typical foods eaten by those living in the region around the Mediterranean Sea. That population tends to live longer and have fewer incidents of cardiovascular disease and cancer than is common to most Americans.

This eating plan may help with weight loss, improve heart and brain health, and reduce risks of cancer and diabetes. The Mediterranean diet doesn’t recommend specific amounts of foods. However, a typical diet consists of 7-10 servings of vegetables and fruits daily, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish (1-2 times per week) plus poultry and limited red meats. The diet avoids such foods as sausage, bacon, and other high-fat meats. This diet is  generous in nuts, and olive oil is used abundantly in place of other fats and oils.

MIND DIET (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay)

The MIND diet blends the Mediterranean and DASH diets plus specific recommended  foods. The aim of this diet is to delay memory loss and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It is categorized into 10 brain-healthy food groups and 5 unhealthy groups. Brain-healthy foods include green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, berries (blueberries/strawberries), nuts, beans (lentils, white beans, etc.), whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, and wine. Foods to avoid include red meat, butter/stick margarine, cheeses, pastries/sweets, and fried/fast foods.

Researchers found that those who strictly followed this diet lowered their risk of Alzheimer’s disease up to 53 percent. Even those who moderately followed the diet seemed to lower their risk by up to 35 percent.

BENEFITS

These three diets demonstrate that foods do make a difference in our mental capacity as well as our physical health. When followed faithfully, both the DASH and Mediterranean diets may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. However, unlike the MIND diet which can help divert the disease with moderate following, the DASH and Mediterranean diets must be followed closely to affect memory or neurodegenerative disease. The DASH diet decreases risk of cardiovascular disease, especially as related to blood pressure. The Mediterranean has been shown to decrease risks of cancer. If memory, dementia, and Alzheimer’s are a specific concern, follow the MIND diet.

Our health is in our hands. While other factors influence wellbeing, diet is a major contributor in maintaining quality of life.

 

 

 

 

 

Before this year slips into the sunset, let’s take a quick look back at food-trends for the past year. Below are a few trends noted by culinary experts. Some of us may have lagged in these choices. If we haven’t incorporated them into our cooking, we can see what others have been up to.

Comfort Foods with an Asian Twist. Nothing like getting out of the doldrums by jazzing up everyday foods with a little zing. Within the past few years, favorite dishes showed up with touches of Korean kimchi and gochujang and Japanese dashi stock or Sriracha sauce (and no, I haven’t tried them). These products blend well with many comfort foods we’ve enjoyed through the years.

  • The New Butters. Now many butters are seasoned with favorite flavors that make a hit with bread or added into other dishes. Flavors vary from toasted sesame seed, to madeira, shiitake, lemon, and even double chocolate. Create your own unique flavors by softening butter and adding oregano, garlic, tarragon, or ginger.
  • Ubiquitous Coconut. Coconut seems to be everywhere. The meat of coconut, a long-time staple in many kitchens, now takes center front with coconut milk. Also, look for chips, spreads, and vinegar as well as coconut flour.
  • Dukah. This blend may contain nuts, black pepper, coriander, fennel, cumin, and other spices. Ingredients vary by the chef. These blends add crunch and pizzazz to many dishes.
  • Farm-raised Fish. While wild varieties had their heyday, American fish farms are more likely to have better controlled health and safety measures. As one indirectly involved with catfish farming for nearly thirty years, my husband insists on local farm-raised fish when we eat out or purchase. Others may want to take notice. Quality and taste are so much better.

The list goes on, but these foods were trending this past year and probably, will find favor in the coming year. Forecasters predict more consumption of goat meat, and in select markets, sherry is expected to become a potential trendy item for 2017. Try these new food experiences. Whatever your choices for the new year, make them healthy.

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