Here’s a great fun fact to share at your next friendly gathering: 60% of your body’s immune cells reside in your intestines. And while washing your hands is still one of the best ways to prevent the spread of disease, researchers are focusing more and more attention on how what we put in our mouths affects the microbes in our gut and risk for chronic illness.
Most people think of white blood cells, lymph nodes and vaccines when asked about their immune systems. But our “microbiota” holds the key to immunity that affects the entire body. The more diverse the bacteria in your bowels, the better your health.
To keep your gut happy and healthy, here are some key foods to eat and why:
- Asparagus-These pretty green stalks contain a compound called inulin, an insoluble fiber that ferments in the large intestine to produce pre-biotic “food” for probiotic/good bacteria. Artichokes and onions are also good sources.
- Bananas are not only a source of potassium and vitamin B6, they also contain pre-biotic fiber, which feeds the pro-biotic (good bacteria) in your gut.
- Beans The musical “fruit” isn’t fruit at all. Beans and legumes release short chain fatty acids, which improve the integrity of the cells in the small intestine and aid in nutrient absorption. If they make you gassy, that means they’re doing their job by fermenting fiber in your small intestine. Gas is good.
- Vegetables from the cruciferous family including broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage have glucosinolates, sulfur-containing compounds that aid in reducing inflammation in the gut. Aim to eat some form of leafy greens daily.
- Fermented foods. Sauerkraut gets a bad rap for its sodium content, but if you don’t have a need to limit sodium, enjoy the German favorite. Fermented plant foods provide probiotics to improve gut flora and intestinal integrity.
- Kefir– This cultured yogurt-type drink is a quick way to get your probiotics. Unlike yogurt, it’s virtually lactose-free, making it a good option for those with lactose intolerance.
- Kimchi– Korean, fermented cabbage is a staple in Asian diets. It adds flavor and a healthy dose or probiotics.
- Kombucha– Don’t shy away from this fermented, fizzy tea. Kombucha is a great replacement for soda as it coats your gut with healthy bacteria and much less sugar. The floaty bacteria is known as “scoby”, which creates natural carbonation from fermentation.
- Miso– fermented soybean paste adds an earthy flavor to food and provides a great dose or probiotics. The darker the miso, the richer the flavor.
- Yogurt contains several strains of probiotic bacteria that keep your gut humming. Try Greek style yogurt, which has a tangy flavor and thicker consistency. It’s lower in sugar, which is also important to limit for good gut health.
Oops! You’ve done it again. You agreed to that last beer at closing time, tequila shot with your persuasive friends, or second glass of champagne at the stroke of midnight. Here’s some tips to get your brain and body back to full throttle the day after:
Ginger. Ginger has been used for centuries as a natural nausea cure. It’s not just for morning sickness! Try ginger tea, ginger ale or non-alcoholic ginger beer to calm your stomach.
Peppermint. Peppermint oil relaxes stomach muscles and can have a soothing effect. Peppermint oil is often used with IBS, but should be avoided in those with gastroesophageal reflux, as it lowers esophageal sphincter pressure. The sugar in peppermint candy will raise blood sugar, too for energy.
Toast or crackers. Normally when blood sugar is low, your liver kicks in to release sugar from glycogen (stored glucose). But if it’s been metabolizing alcohol all night, it can’t handle the extra work. Toast, crackers, bread or any other carbohydrates will bring your blood sugar up and give you energy.
Water, water, water. It’s a known fact that alcohol is a diuretic- meaning it will make you pee most of the night, resulting in dehydration and a headache. If you can, drink at least 2 glasses before going to bed the night before. If not, start drinking as soon as you wake up. You CAN over-hydrate yourself- resulting in hyponatremia (low blood sodium) and brain edema. Three liters/day is plenty for most people. Seltzer water is also good option for a headache or upset stomach.
Coffee. If you’re a regular consumer of coffee, you’ll need a bit to prevent a caffeine-withdrawal headache. Overdoing it won’t help as it is a diuretic and too much can cause stomach upset. Enjoy your usual 1-2 cups, but continue to hydrate throughout the day.
Pain meds. Stick with aspirin, naproxen or ibuprofen for your hangover headache. Tylenol mixed with alcohol can lead to liver damage. Take non-steroidal drugs as prescribed on the bottle. Taking with food will help prevent them from eating up your stomach lining over time.
This time of year, no one wants to count calories. But, the sad reality is that most Americans gain an average of one pound every year between Thanksgiving and New Years. While that may not sound like a lot, that one pound is typically not lost and can add up over time. Those five pounds can make a difference in blood sugar and blood pressure. Below are some simple tips to cut calories and fat, without sacrificing taste.
- Start lean. Buy skinless chicken or turkey breast or lean beef and pork. Look for the words ‘round’ or loin when buying beef. Remove skin from chicken or turkey before cooking.
- Substitute ground turkey breast (or 93/7) ground turkey or meatless crumbles (soy) for ground beef in tacos, spaghetti sauce or meatloaf.
- Saute’ foods in non-stick spray or broth in place of oil, butter or margarine.
- Make at least 2-3 meals per week meatless. Enjoy beans and lentils.
- Use 2% or skim milk cheese instead of full fat (whole milk) cheese.
- Switch to 1% or skim milk in place of 2% or whole milk.
- Limit stick butter. Use reduced fat margarine, whipped butter or spray margarine when available.
- Replace sour cream with Greek plain yogurt in dips and salad dressings.
- Use reduced fat mayonnaise in place of full fat mayonnaise.
- Try salad dressing spritz in place of bottled dressings. Blend olive oil, balsamic vinegar and dijon mustard together for your own dressing.
- Reduce the fat by 1/3 in cookie and cake recipes.
- Substitute jarred baby prunes, mashed bananas, applesauce or plain yogurt for the fat in baked goods (such as quick breads)
13. Bake, broil, grill or boil foods instead of frying.
14. Top a baked potato with salsa or plain Greek yogurt instead of sour cream or butter.
15. Share desserts instead of having a whole slice of something.
Confused about cholesterol? First off, you should know that dietary cholesterol is ONLY found in animal foods. Cholesterol is made in the liver, meaning cows, chickens, pigs, etc. While those chips you’re chowing on are “cholesterol free”, that just means they were fried in something other than animal fat. The chips, unfortunately, can raise your blood cholesterol. Keep reading!
What is cholesterol? Cholesterol is found in 2 forms- dietary cholesterol (from animal foods, egg yolk) and cholesterol in our blood. Blood cholesterol is a fatty/waxy substance made by the liver that is needed for hormone production, vitamin D and production of compounds needed for fat digestion. Too much cholesterol in your blood is one risk factor for heart disease.
What’s the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol? HDL (high density lipoproteins) are made up of fat and protein molecules and are considered “good cholesterol”. HDL transports cholesterol from parts of your body back to your liver for disposal. LDL (low density lipoproteins) are made up of mostly fat, and some protein. This type of cholesterol contributes to the development of plaque in the arteries. I tell people to remember that H is for healthy (HDL) and L for lousy (LDL) cholesterol.
What is saturated fat and what should we be eating instead? Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and comes primarily from animal foods including beef, pork, poultry, egg yolks, full fat dairy products (butter, ice cream, cheese, sour cream). Hot dogs, sausage, brats & metts are also high in saturated fat. Coconut and palm oil are also primarily saturated fat, though these come from plants. To reduce saturated fat in your diet, switch to leaner cuts of meat (sirloin, flank steak, tenderloin), choose low fat or fat free dairy products (like 2% milk cheese, skim or 1% milk, low fat or fat-free yogurt) and eat poultry without the skin. Use whipped butter in place of stick butter or use canola, olive or vegetable oil to cook with. Reducing animal foods in general is also beneficial to overall health. Choose more fish, beans, lentils or soy products. Use natural peanut butter (just nuts & salt) as commercial peanut butter contains palm oil. Cut back on cookies, cake, doughnuts and chocolate as well as fried snacks and fried food.
How much saturated fat should we be eating? The new 2015 US Dietary Guidelines advise Americans to eat 10% or less of total calories from saturated fat. So for a 2000 calorie diet, only 200 calories should come from this type of fat. There are 9 calories/grams, which means consuming roughly 20 grams of saturated fat or less. For individuals whom already have heart disease or have elevated cholesterol levels, the recommendation is 7% or less of calories from saturated fat, meaning ~15 grams per day. The recommendation to limit cholesterol intake was dropped this year because research shows that it’s not dietary cholesterol that increases blood cholesterol, FAT is the culprit.
Are there specific foods for reducing blood cholesterol levels? Yes! Consuming foods high in soluble fiber such as brown rice, fresh fruit, oats, oat bran, beans and barley helps bind cholesterol and lower blood cholesterol levels. Including nuts such as almonds and walnuts are also beneficial to lowering cholesterol as well as flaxseed, canola and olive oil. Fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel and tuna) may also reduce risk for heart disease due to high omega-3 fatty acid content.
Other than diet, how can reduce cholesterol levels? Regular aerobic exercise helps lower total cholesterol and LDL and increase HDL levels. Some individuals may need medication to reduce cholesterol levels- especially if they have a strong family history of heart disease. If your father, mother, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin died of a heart attack or stroke under the age of 50- get your levels checked and under control sooner than later.
Any other tips for managing cholesterol? Eat less fried foods and processed meats. Bake, grill or broil meat instead of frying. Choose frozen yogurt in place of ice cream for dessert. Choose lower fat dairy products VS full fat milk, cheese, yogurt sour cream and ice cream. Cut back on chips, cookies and other high fat/high sugar snacks. Sugar can increase triglycerides and cholesterol levels by making arteries sticky. Drop the soda! Eat more vegetarian meals including beans, lentils and whole grains. It may save your life!
Anthocyanins. I dare you to say that word 5 times fast. You can certainly impress friends at your next party with anthocyanins. These are plant flavonoids that gives blueberries (and other deep red and purple fruits and veggies like cranberries and cabbage) their beautiful color and health benefits.
Thankfully, blueberries are in full bloom and ripe for the pickin’, which means they’re readily available and affordable. They’re one of the most versatile and nutritious fruits on the planet. Here’s why.
Research suggests that blueberries may lower the risk for Alzheimer’s dementia. Studies in older adults indicate improved cognitive function in elderly blueberry consumers versus a control group. Aim for at least 3/4 cup blueberries per day.
Blueberries have also been found to reduce risk for heart disease in women in a large Harvard Nurses study. Pre-menopausal women aged 20-34 consuming 3 or more servings of blueberries or strawberries per week were 34% less likely to suffer a heart attack than non-consumers during the study.
In addition, blueberry intake has been linked with improvement in insulin sensitivity in pre-diabetic patients. Study participants whom consumed 3 servings of low glycemic index fruit (such as berries or citrus fruit) had improved blood sugar compared to controls. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly a food containing carbohydrate raises blood sugar.
Nutrients in blueberries may also aid in reducing the risk for cancer. Blueberries contain 25% of the daily value for vitamin C as well as a healthy dose of folate and fiber. Enjoy them in cereal, yogurt, or smoothies or just pop them into your mouth solo.
Blueberries may also aid in reducing inflammation (or swelling) in the body. This is important to improving symptoms of arthritis as well as reducing risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer. Inflammation does not only mean pain, it means cell damage.
So- what are you waiting for? Go get you some blueberries before they’re all gone! And get plenty. They freeze well and can be eaten any time of the year. Bonus!