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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Why Fruits and Vegetables Are Vital

If we are what we eat, then many of us must be tripping all over the place due to a lack of balance. That’s because the average American eats about three servings of fruits and vegetables per day — a stark contrast to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new guidelines stating that we should be eating 5 to 13 servings of nature’s best, depending on the number of calories you need.

So if we want to grow to be strong like Popeye, why can’t we just down some supplements instead of devouring a pile of spinach?

Nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables work together. Kristine Wallerius Cuthrell, MPH, RD, a research nutritionist and senior project coordinator for Hawaii Foods at the Center on the Family at University of Hawaii at Manoa, says that in the past five to 10 years, many large research studies have found that vitamin supplements don’t provide the benefits that foods do. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, created jointly between HHS and USDA and reviewed every five years, say that foods are the best sources of nutrients because they contain naturally occurring ingredients, like carotenoids and flavonoids.

“In addition to the substances we are aware of, there are many present in fruits and vegetables that have yet to be discovered. Food and the nutrients they contain aren’t consumed singly, but with each other. As such, they may act in synergistic ways to promote health,” Cuthrell says. For instance, eating iron-rich plants, like spinach, with an iron-absorbing enhancer, like the vitamin C in orange juice, is great for people who don’t get enough iron (typically young women).

Fruits and vegetables may prevent many illnesses. Eating fruits and vegetables may reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. The Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study examined nearly 110,000 people over the course of 14 years. Part of the study revealed that the more fruits and vegetables people ate daily, the less chance they would develop cardiovascular diseases.

The relationship between fruits and vegetables and cancer prevention has been more difficult to prove. However, recent studies show that some types of produce are associated with lower rates of some types of cancer. For example, the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research suggest that mouth, stomach, and colorectal cancers are less likely with high intakes of non-starchy foods like leafy greens, broccoli, and cabbage. Though studies have been mixed, lycopene, a carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color, may help stave off prostate cancer.

Fruits and vegetables are great for watching your weight. They’re low in fat and calories, and loaded with fiber and water, which create a feeling of fullness. This is particularly helpful for dieters who want more filling calories. Plus, that fiber helps keep you “regular.”

Fruits and Vegetables: Get Your Fill

When adding fruits and vegetables to your diet, remember that variety is the spice of life. It’s important to eat produce of various colors because each fruit or vegetable offers a different nutrient — think of it as nutritional cross-training. Trying new foods can be exciting, and be sure to sample every color in the produce rainbow.

The right number of servings of fruits and vegetables for you all depends on your daily caloric intake needs. A good way to find out how many servings you should be eating is by using the CDC’s online serving calculator. Or make things even simpler by eating a fruit or vegetable at every meal and snack.

Don’t let season, accessibility, or cost affect your fruit- and vegetable-friendly diet. If finding fresh produce is difficult, choose frozen, canned (low-sodium), or dried varieties. Also, 100 percent juice counts toward your servings, though it doesn’t offer the full fiber of whole fruit.

The power of prevention may lie in a salad bowl or a plate of fruit. When we take advantage of produce, our bodies return the favor by reducing our risk of developing various illnesses.

Good Sources of Potassium

Potassium is a mineral that most of us get every day through the foods we regularly eat — and that’s a good thing.

“Potassium is a mineral necessary for good health,” explains Alexa Schmitt, a clinical nutritionist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “It aids in maintaining heart health by helping to regulate the fluid balance in the body.”

Potassium is classified as an electrolyte, which means that it carries an electric charge in your body.

The body needs balanced amounts of electrolytes — including potassium, sodium, magnesium, and others — to keep the blood chemistry at the right levels so that your body can function at its best.

Potassium also helps your body put the protein you eat to work, building muscle, bones, and other cells.

Who Needs to Pay Attention to Potassium?

Even though potassium helps our bodies in many ways, Schmitt says she cannot simply make a blanket recommendation about eating more potassium. That’s because different people need different amounts of potassium, depending on their overall health.

So who needs to watch their potassium intake?

  • People with kidney disease are at risk of having too much potassium in the blood. They tend to retain potassium because their kidneys don’t get rid of extra potassium as normal kidneys would. Hyperkalemia, or high levels of potassium in the blood, can be caused by a number of things (including certain medications and hormonal deficiencies), but kidney disease is the most common culprit. High levels of potassium can lead to irregular heartbeats. Therefore, your doctor may periodically check your potassium levels, especially if you have kidney disease.
  • People with high blood pressure are at increased risk for having low potassium levels (hypokalemia) because some high blood pressure medications can deplete potassium levels in the blood. Other conditions that can cause low potassium include vomiting, diarrhea, and eating disorders. Certain laxatives and diuretics have been found to cause low potassium as well. Low potassium is characterized by weakness, fatigue,constipation, and muscle cramps. If your potassium level becomes too low, it can also affect your heartbeat. Talk with your doctor about monitoring your potassium levels if you take high blood pressure medication or have a condition that may cause low potassium.

Foods High in Potassium

Though a lot of people associate bananas with potassium, there are a number of other foods that are high in potassium, which Schmitt defines as having at least 350 milligrams of potassium per serving.

In addition to bananas, Schmitt’s high-potassium food favorites include dried apricots, cantaloupe, beets, figs, honeydew melon, and orange juice.

“Cantaloupe and honeydew are great [for potassium] because people tend to eat more cantaloupe in one sitting than they would bananas or dried apricots,” she says. Other foods that are high in potassium include potatoes (with the skin on), soy products, dairy products, and meats.

Many of us already enjoy foods that are high in potassium, but if you’re worried about your potassium intake because of conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney disease, talk to your doctor or see a nutritionist. They can help you plan a healthy diet.

Best Diets for Weight Loss, Heart Health, and Diabetes

Jenny Craig may have taken top prize when Consumer Reports ranked the best diets of 2011 in May, but the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet earned best diets overall honors in U.S. News & World Report’s first-ever diet rankings, released today.

In an effort to help Americans weed through a seemingly endless array of weight-loss plan options, U.S. News recruited a panel of 22 health experts (nutritionists and specialists in weight loss, diabetes, heart health, and human behavior) to rank 20 of today’s most popular diets. “The goal of the Best Diets rankings is to help consumers find authoritative guidance on healthful diets that will work for them over the long haul,” according to U.S. News Health News editor Lindsay Lyon in a press release.

The results include the the best weight-loss diets, the best diets overall, the best heart-healthy diets, the best diets for diabetes, and the best commercial diets.

Each diet was rated from one to five in the following categories: short-term weight loss (within 12 months), long-term weight loss (two years or more), ease of compliance (satiety, taste appeal, special requirements), nutritional completeness (based on the 2010 U.S. dietary guidelines), health risks (malnutrition, rapid weight loss, contraindications for certain health conditions), and ability to prevent or manage diabetes and heart disease. Cost and exercise were not included in the scoring.

“Evaluating weight-loss plans isn’t an easy task, there’s a great deal to consider,” says Everyday Health nutritionist Maureen Namkoong, RD, adding that the “ease of compliance category” is essential when ranking diets, considering how difficult sticking to a diet plan can be. “I think they missed the mark by only having ‘experts’ evaluate these plans. It’s easy for a nutritionist to say a plan would be easy to follow, but it’s more important to know if dieters themselves — people who’ve struggled with healthy, balanced eating — would find it easy.”

So what do all of these rankings mean for you? Well, don’t read too much into the results.

“Different plans work for different people,” says Joy Bauer, Everyday Health diet and nutrition expert and creator of JoyBauer.com. “Just because one diet ranks higher than another doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be best for your personality, lifestyle, or taste buds.”

Read more about the diets ranked below, and take our What’s Your Diet Personality Quiz for a perfect plan that’s truly customized for your lifestyle.

Best Weight-Loss Diets

Winner: Weight Watchers

Runners-up (tie): Jenny Craig and the Raw Food Diet

Best Heart-Healthy Diets

Winner: Ornish Diet

Second place: TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet

Third place: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet

Best Diabetes Diets

Winner: DASH Diet

Runners-up (three-way tie): Mayo Clinic Diet, Ornish Diet, and Vegan Diet

Best Commercial Diet Plans

Winner: Weight Watchers

Second place: Jenny Craig

Third place: Slim-Fast

Best Diets Overall

Winner: DASH Diet

Runners-up (three-way tie): Mediterranean Diet, TLC Diet, and Weight Watchers

The Inside Scoop on the Best Diets From ‘U.S. News’

Here, get more details about all of the diets that U.S. News ranked, listed in alphabetical order.

And to find the best diet for you, visit us on Facebook to take our What’s Your Diet Personality Quiz.

Atkins Diet: The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate plan that emphasizes protein and fats, with a minimum of carbs during its initial phase. Select carbs are added back into the diet after an “induction” period of two weeks. No. 7 best weight-loss diets, No. 8 best commercial diet plans, No. 18 best diabetes diets, No. 19 best diets overall, No. 19 best heart-healthy diets

DASH Diet: Recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet aims to control hypertension and promote overall health through foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and lean proteins. Dieters are encouraged to eat nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, lean meats, lean poultry, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. No. 1 best diets overall, No. 1 best diabetes diets, No. 3 best heart-healthy diets, No. 8 best weight-loss diets

Eco-Atkins Diet: The vegetarian version of the Atkins Diet, this weight-loss plan still focuses on eating high-protein foods, but it replaces the high-fat animal protein with vegetable protein from such foods as soy and gluten. No. 8 best weight-loss diets, No. 10 best heart-healthy diets, No. 14 best diets overall, No. 16 best diabetes diets

Glycemic-Index Diet: Also known as the GI Diet, the Glycemic-Index Diet focuses on eating foods that are low on the glycemic index, which is a measure of how long your body takes to break down food. The longer foods take to digest, the less likely they are to spike blood sugar. Eating low-GI foods can help you feel full and may be helpful for diabetes. No. 12 in best diabetes diets, No. 16 in best diets overall, No. 18 in best heart-healthy diets, No. 19 in best weight-loss diets

Jenny Craig: Known for its support system and customized meal program, the Jenny Craig diet includes three prepackaged meals and one snack each day, supplemented with your own fresh fruits and vegetables. No. 2 best weight-loss diets, No. 2 best commercial diet plans, No. 7 best diets overall, No. 11 best heart-healthy diets, No 11 best diabetes diets

The Facts on Fad Diets

Weight loss veterans know that losing weight and keeping it off requires a long-term commitment, yet even savvy dieters can occasionally be tempted by the quickweight loss promised by fad diets. As each new “lose weight fast” gimmick comes along, some people forget about the negatives associated with most fad diets — from a lack of nutritional value to food restrictions that are hard to live with — while others might not know if the weight-loss plan they’re considering is a fad or a program that could be helpful over the long haul. Here’s how to tell a flash-in-the-pan plan from an effective one.

Beware Magical Claims and Passing Promises

“It seems to be human nature to be attracted to fad diets, which promise quick and easy results,” says Allen Knehans, PhD, chair of the department of nutritional sciences at Oklahoma University Health Sciences University in Oklahoma City. Weeding out fad diets takes a bit of effort because, Knehans acknowledges, “there is no standard definition of a fad diet.” Here are some of the red flags that indicate a weight-loss plan is an ineffective fad diet:

  • The diet promises that you will lose weight fast or at an unrealistic pace. The claims sound too good to be true. The diet’s recommendations are based on a single study – or no research at all.
  • The diet’s recommendations seem extreme.
  • Statements made about the diet are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
  • It refers to foods as “good” or “bad.”
  • Personal testimonials are used to “sell” the diet.
  • The fad diet involves crash dieting, or very intense reductions in eating and drinking.
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“Fad diets are the parachute pants of nutrition,” explains nutritionist Judy Penta, BS, a certified holistic health counselor and personal trainer with Patients Medical in New York City. “Usually these diets are popular only for a short time — a season or at most a few years — then become unpopular or even laughable when the new fad comes along.”

Feeding The Popularity Fad Diets

Why do fad diets become the rage? A number of factors typically fuel their popularity, including:

  • Celebrity endorsements. Who doesn’t want to be as popular and slender as the latest starlet?
  • The promise of quick weight loss. In this age of instant everything, there’s a natural temptation to fall for a weight-loss plan that promises quick weight loss in only weeks rather than months.
  • The “elimination” mentality. The idea that cutting out certain foods will result in quick weight loss plays into popular beliefs about dieting. “Many of these diets promote elimination of one or multiple food groups for a set number of days or in very specific combinations with some sort of gimmick,” says Penta, adding that many people equate misery and deprivation with dieting and so are more willing to accept this type of weight-loss plan, at least for a brief while.
  • Peer pressure. If all your friends are following the fad, it’s tempting to join in.

Fad Diet Safety Questions

The most important question about any weight-loss plan is not whether it is effective, but whether it’s safe and healthy for you.

Many fad diets work for a short period of time, usually causing you to drop pounds due to possibly unhealthy calorie reduction or water weight loss. Occasionally you may learn a trick or two about adding healthy foods to your diet or maybe a new recipe that you enjoy.

“The fad diets succeed at jolting you from the grind of mindless snacking, eating junk food on the run, and all the calorie and fat-packed extras like whipped cream in the cappuccino, or grabbing a slice of pizza on the way home from work. Just making these lifestyle adjustments is usually enough to see some weight loss,” explains Penta.

However, while you are reaping the benefits of your new quick weight-loss plan, you have to consider its overall nutritional makeup. Unfortunately, many fad diets do not meet the nutritional needs of most people. Here are some signs that a fad diet is not healthy for you:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Dehydration
  • Severe constipation or diarrhea
  • Mood changes
  • Constant hunger

People who are on medication or have chronic health concerns must be especially cautious with fad diets, says Penta, and should always talk to a doctor before trying any new diet. There are also some psychological consequences to fad dieting, Penta adds. The fact that the diet resulted in quick weight loss without meeting your nutritional needs can lead to regaining weight rapidly if you revert back to your old eating habits and, ultimately, to yo-yo dieting.

“The sad fact is that fad diets set the individual up for failure. When the diet fails, the dieters may blame themselves and develop a feeling of demoralization and hopelessness that they are unable to lose weight,” says Penta. This can make it harder to make the healthy changes needed for long-term weight loss.

Find Better Alternatives to Fad Diets

If you are concerned that a weight-loss plan could be a fad diet, do some research — look for the science behind the diet’s claims. A better solution is to work with a nutritionist or registered dietitian to create a realistic diet that will be effective for you.

“People should follow recommendations made by reputable organizations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Knehans says. The reality of weight loss is that, in the long run, a slow and steady approach brings more lasting results than any quick weight-loss fad.