Sunday, April 30, 2017

Five “Must Haves” for the Pantry

There is solid evidence supporting the health benefits of a flexitarian diet. In short, lowering the amount of red meat in our weekly diet in exchange for more fruits and vegetables. Then in the last year we have seen the media focus on the potential benefits of decreasing our daily sugar calories, exchanging them for a few more fat calories.

If you’ve wondered if there are specific healthy foods you can ADD to your diet, here are five that should be in your pantry.

#1 - Vegetables (especially colored vegetables)

Your mom was right (again) when she told you to “eat your vegetables.” When diets have been analyzed for the ratio of meat vs. vegetables (adding points for plant based foods and subtracting points for animal products) the group with just a middle of the road score of 40 (60 equals a full vegetarian diet) experienced a 40 percent drop in mortality compared to the unlimited red meat group.  The study participants didn’t have to be full vegetarians to benefit from increasing their daily vegetable intake.

Colored vegetables provide an additional benefit. The colored pigment is incorporated into the retina itself where it helps to protect the retina from harmful uv rays. The result is a significant decrease in macular degeneration, the most common cause of blindness in the Western world.

#2 - Coffee

Although it was once speculated that coffee was a health risk, the facts are just the opposite. A 2014 analysis combined all the previously published studies assessing the health risk of coffee consumption.  It demonstrated that drinking coffee was actually associated with decreased mortality (the risk of dying for any reason). And the more cups of coffee a day, the lower the overall risk decreasing a maximum of 16 percent with four cups of coffee a day. 

There was no evidence for an increased cancer risk. In fact, a separate study actually demonstrated just the opposite, a cancer protective benefit with a 50 percent decrease in colon cancer recurrence in coffee drinkers compared with those who abstain from Seattle’s favorite brew.

#3 - Nuts

A study published in 2013 compared a group that rarely ate nuts to several others with varying nut intake. Those who ate nuts once per week had an 11 percent decrease in all-cause mortality which rose to 20 percent for those that reported eating nuts daily.  The protective benefits included reduced risks for cardiac disease, cancer, and a variety of inflammatory conditions.

Although nuts are traditionally considered highly caloric and fattening, another diet study demonstrated that a group that snacked on nuts actually lost more weight than the comparison group on a traditional low fat diet. The appetite suppressing effects of the nut oils appear to outweigh (sic) the few additional fat calories.

How many nuts? A handful, about an ounce (23 almonds, 14 walnut halves, or 21 hazelnuts) a day. And it needs to be whole nuts. Nut oils did not change the inflammatory markers in a study which compared nut oils to whole nuts.

#4 - Beans

A cross-cultural study attempting to identify specific foods associated with longer lifespans identified just one, legumes (Japanese - soy, Swedes - brown beans and peas, Mediterraneans’ - lentils, chickpeas, and white beans). There was an 8 percent reduction in overall mortality with just two tablespoons of beans a day.

The current recommendation is one-half cup a day. Canned beans are as good as dried beans. Canned beans contain significant salt so if you are on a low salt diet you should cook your own.

It is thought that the benefit of beans results from some of the poorly absorbed legume starches feeding our “good” gut bacteria in the colon. And it is the metabolic end products from the bacteria (microbiome) metabolism that are the beneficial agents.

# 5 - Flax meal

Fiber is a common component of all fruits and vegetables that helps to speed the progress of everything we eat through the digestive tract. The result is regular bowel movements which in turn decreases the time potentially cancer causing agents in our foods spend in the intestines. The result is both a notable decrease in colon cancer and as well as a blunting of the absorption of fats (which means a lower blood cholesterol) in those groups which eat high fiber diets.

In addition, phytates, the specific fiber in flax, appears to have a specific benefit in precancerous prostate changes as well as an independent benefit in the control of high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

Two tablespoons of flax meal in one-fourth cup of applesauce is an easy way to meet your daily fiber requirements without worrying about counting servings of fruits and vegetables.

So there you have it. Five foods that can easily be added to your daily diet. Start with a second cup of coffee in the morning, supplement your breakfast with a serving of a flax/applesauce mixture. Then, mid-morning, a snack of a handful of nuts to counteract the urge to snack on high sugar foods (and help keep the weight under control).  And finally, one-half cup of beans along with a colored vegetable as a side for lunch or dinner.

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