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Top 10 Superfoods for Spring

Top 10 Superfoods for Spring

I’m the first to admit that the term “superfood” gets thrown around a lot in the media and marketing, but that doesn’t mean we should turn our backs on the bursting-with-nourishment, lovely, potent, and delicious foods that fall under the moniker. Especially when these foods that are known to lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and, while we’re at it, put you in a better mood.

Although some people have run rampant with the term and have made a mint by promoting the “miraculous! fountain-of-youth! death-defying!” benefits of superfoods, I hope that there won’t be a backlash against good, old-fashioned, super nutrient-exuberant food. As I’ve said before, I’m a crusader for most edibles in their pure forms–and the majority of them are superfoods in my book. There are few whole foods from the plant world that don’t have some health-boosting element to brag about–so how to decide what to eat? That’s why I like to think about–and eat–superfoods by season. Sure pumpkin is an A-plus superfood, but I like to save that for fall when it’s fresh and local, and look towards new fruit and tender green things this time of year. It’s a way to be connected to the planet’s cycle and decrease food miles, while giving your body a diversity of nutrients throughout the year to maximize its potential. And, to me at least, spring produce just tastes its amazing best in, yes, the spring! Funny how that works.

1. Artichokes
Studies have shown that artichokes contain a very high amount of antioxidants in the form of phytonutrients. A study undertaken by the USDA ranked artichokes as the number one fresh vegetable in antioxidant count. Among the most powerful phytonutrients are Cynarin and Silymarin, which have strong positive effects on the liver–any coincidence that artichokes have been reputed to help in the cure of liver diseases, liver cancer and to cure hangovers?

One large artichoke contains only 25 calories, no fat, 170 milligrams of potassium, and is a good source of vitamin C, folate, magnesium, and has 6 grams of dietary fiber–25 percent of the daily recommended amount.

How to prepare an artichoke? Read this.

2. Asparagus
According to the National Cancer Institute, asparagus is the food highest in glutathione, an important anti-carcinogen. It is also rich in two cancer-blocking vitamins (A and C) as well as the mineral selenium. These three nutrients have been singled out in several studies as fearsome cancer fighters. A 5 ounce serving (only 20 calories!) provides 60 percent of the recommended daily allowance for folacin which is necessary for blood cell formation, growth, and prevention of liver disease. Asparagus is also an excellent source of potassium, fiber, thiamin, vitamin B6, and is one of the richest sources of rutin, a compound which strengthens capillary walls.

Recipes:
Asparagus, Spring Onion, and Mushroom Pasta
Asparagus Spears with Black Pepper Pesto Vinaigrette
Savory Orange Roasted Tofu & Asparagus

3. Avocado
They’re rich, they’re buttery, they’re delicious, and they have about 30 grams of fat per fruit. Ouch. But that’s no reason not to love an avocado. Nutritionists have back-pedaled on their gentle warnings about avocados after finding that most of the fat in an avocado is monounsaturated–the happy fat that actually lowers cholesterol levels. Yay! Let’s have an avocado party!

A study published in the Archives of Medical Research found that the 45 volunteers who ate avocados every day for a week experienced an average 17 percent drop in total blood cholesterol. (Maybe because they were so happy to be eating so many avocados?!) As well, their levels of LDL (“bad fat”) and triglycerides, both associated with heart disease, went down. Their HDL (“good fat”) levels, which tend to lower the risk of heart disease, increased.

Avocados are rich in beta-sitosterol, a natural substance shown to significantly lower blood cholesterol levels. In a review article published in the December 1999 issue of the American Journal of Medicine, researchers pointed out that beta-sitosterol was shown to reduce cholesterol in 16 human studies.

Recipes:
Chilled Zucchini & Avocado Soup
Citrus Guacamole

4. Blueberries
Blueberries were one of the early belles of the Superfood Ball. Jam-packed with antioxidants and phytoflavinoids, blueberries are also high in potassium and vitamin C. Recent research has found that additional components of blueberries may play an important role in preventing and fighting cancer. The results of one study suggest a wide array of potential cancer fighting benefits related to wild blueberry consumption. Blueberries also have anthocyanin pigments, which may have the ability to halt cancer in the critical stages of promotion and proliferation. A 2005 study published in the Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology indicated that, in isolated cells, the tannins found in blueberries are very active at lowering a protein that plays a role in the metastasis of cancer.

And that’s not all! In addition to helping prevent and fight cancer, the compounds in blueberries are believed to help against Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, eye disease and urinary tract infections. See? Super.

Recipes:
Blueberry Creamy No-Bake Pie
Berry Custard Cake

5. Fava Beans (AKA Broad Beans)
Mmmm. Spring in a pod–I adore fava beans, even if they are a little work. Okay, a lot of work, but so worth it! Not only are the big, fat, creamy beans scrumptious, but fava beans are particularly high in fiber (85 percent of the RDV), and also high in iron (30 percent of a day’s requirement). They contain no cholesterol and are low in fat. Fava beans are also noted to contain L-dopa, which is used as a drug for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease. Additionally, as with most whole grains, consumption of fava beans can help reduce risks associated with heart disease.

Recipes:
Herbed Fava Bean Salad
French Spring Soup

6. Fresh Figs
You can get dried figs year-round, which is why they might show up on my winter superfoods list, but for now (mid-May for California figs), helloooo fresh figs.Fresh figs put the va va voom in fruit–the tender but toothsome skin gives way to a soft and sticky center, dotted with delicately popping seeds, the perfumed and honeyed flesh–you get the picture. In my humble opinion, figs are quite an experience. And beyond their drop-dead flavor is their profusion of life-boosting qualities.

Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits. With their standout source of potassium, figs may help to control blood pressure. Figs are high in calcium; bones, take notice. And as fate would have it, their potassium may reduce the amount of calcium lost as a result of high-salt diets. Figs are also a good source of iron, vitamin B6 and the trace mineral manganese.

The fruit also has tremendous amounts of fiber, more than any other dried or fresh fruit. Insoluble fiber protects against colon and breast cancer–soluble fiber helps lower blood cholesterol, and figs provide both. (Which also makes them a mild laxative, just so you know.) They also are a good source of flavonoids and polyphenols.

Recipes:
Try figs quartered, stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey and topped with sea salt and black pepper.
Fig & Kalamata Olive Tapenade

7. Leeks

Leeks look like cartoonishly big green onions, with a wonderfully sweet and subtle onion flavor. When braised or slowly sauteed, they melt into a sweet and creamy concoction that is hard not to love. And they are workhorses in the health department as well. Like garlic, onions, scallions, chives and shallots–all from the Allium family–leeks can help the liver eliminate toxins and carcinogens. Leeks contain sulfur compounds that may protect against heart disease and some cancers, they can help the liver eliminate toxins and carcinogens. Regular consumption of Allium vegetables (as little as two or more times a week–although I could certainly eat them every meal) is associated with a reduced risk of prostate and colon cancer.

Recipes:
Linguine with Leeks & Lemon
Creamy Vegan Potato Leek Soup

8. Oregeno and Other Fresh Herbs
Give me fresh oregano and find me happy. I love fresh oregano, especially if salty Mediterranean flavors–capers, olives, roasted peppers–are involved. Yum. And yum. And superfood-y too! When researchers at the University of Oslo, Norway analyzed 1,113 foods to identify those foods richest in total antioxidants. Of the 50 foods highest in antioxidants, 13 were herbs and spices. One study found that oregano had 42 times more antioxidants than apples.

Is it surprising that fresh herbs are so healthful? Not to me, on an instinctual level they strike me as deeply salubrious. Randomly pick an herb and research its health benefits. You might find that parsley is an excellent source of beta carotene, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin–essential for preventing macular degeneration–vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin K. Or try cilantro. In research studies, cilantro�s remarkable components have shown the potential to help promote detoxification, reduce high blood sugar and lower levels of cholesterol.

Recipes:
Chard and Feta Tart with Oregano
Parsley & Walnut Pesto
Cilantro Tabouli

9. Spinach
Spinach, good old spinach. It’s almost surprising that something so good for us is loved by so many! Spinach is an excellent source of folate–the B vitamin that helps to prevent birth defects, heart disease, dementia, and colon cancer (the third most common cause of cancer in women)–people who eat at least one serving of greens, including spinach, each week are 20 percent less likely to develop colon cancer, according to Italian research. Another compound in spinach, lutein, fights against macular degeneration, which causes age-related vision loss–in fact, including at least two servings of spinach a week in your diet halves the odds of macular degeneration (a leading cause of blindness), according to the the National Eye Institute. Eating cooked spinach more than twice a week cuts the need for cataract eye surgery in men by half, according to new Harvard University research. And in a large-scale Harvard study, spinach singled out as most protective against stroke! Finally, because of it’s high in vitamin K, spinach also helps build stronger bones–lowering the risk of hip fracture from osteoporosis as much as 30 percent, suggests a joint Harvard-Tufts study. Popeye was on to something.

Recipes:
Spinach Soup with Rosemary Croutons
Coconut Creamed Spinach

10. Strawberries
A of eight medium strawberries provides 140 percent of the daily recommended allowance of vitamin C, 12 percent of our RDA for fiber, 6 percent of our RDA for folate, 210 mg of potassium, and is also high in vitamins K, B2, B5 and B6, copper, magnesium, and omega-fatty acids. In addition, strawberries contain anthocyanin, which has been used for studies in preventing initiation of cancers. Strawberries contain a unique phenolic group, ellagotannins, which are effective in preventing initiation of esophageal cancer.

With more antioxidant punch than most other fruits, berries in general strengthen tissue defenses against oxidation and inflammation, which are underlying factors in most age-related diseases. For example, substances in blueberries help with short-term memory loss associated with aging. All berries help lower risk for breast, oral, and colon cancers in women. With a wealth of phytochemicals like ellagic acid, adding strawberries to the diet lowers tumor risk by up to 58 percent.

Recipes:
Spinach & Strawberry Salad
Strawberry Rhubarb Bread Pudding (Or a vegan version.)
Simple Strawberry Cream Freeze

by Melissa Breyer

Does Your Brain Need an Oil Change?

Does Your Brain Need an Oil Change?

Humans really are fat heads.  About sixty percent of the human brain is fat.  To maintain proper brain health, you need to get adequate fat from your diet.  But, not just any fat will do.  Some fats damage the brain.  The Standard American Diet (SAD) high in trans and hydrogenated fats worsens inflammation in the body, and this inflammation can damage delicate brain tissues.  These unhealthy fats are found in fried foods, shortening, lard, margarine, baked goods, and processed and prepared foods.

Healthy fats help keep the lining of brain cells flexible so that memory and other brain messages can pass easily between cells.  Both Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats are important to brain health and should be eaten in a one-to-one or two-to-one ratio to each other.  However, the average North American eats these foods in a twenty-to-one to a fifty-to-one ratio, causing a huge imbalance and resulting Omega-3 deficiency.  In this ratio, Omega-6 fats can cause or worsen inflammation, for which there is insufficient Omega-3 fats to keep inflammation under control.  The typical diet, if it contains any healthy essential fatty acids, usually includes fats found in meat and poultry, or occasionally from nuts and seeds.  Most of these fats are Omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-6 fatty acids are found in the highest concentrations in corn, sunflower, and safflower oils.  But, you are more than what you eat.  I read somewhere that “you are what you eat eats.”  So that means if you eat a diet with meat or poultry that was fed corn, or other grains high in Omega-6s, you’re getting lots of Omega-6s indirectly.

The best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include flax seeds or oil, walnuts and walnut oil, some types of algae, krill oil, and fatty coldwater fish, particularly wild salmon.  Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of Omega-3 fatty acid, makes up a large part of the lining of brain cells, helps to keep the cellular lining flexible enough to allow memory messages to pass between cells, promotes nerve transmission throughout the central nervous system, and protects the energy centers of the cells, called “mitochondria,” from damage.

Fish that contain high amounts of this Omega-3 fatty acid include mackerel, sardines, albacore tuna, salmon, lake trout, and herring.  But be aware, some of these fish have become contaminated with mercury and, as you just learned in chapter two, some research links mercury to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.  So, it is important to avoid fish that consistently shows up high on the mercury radar, including predatory fish like swordfish and shark, as well as sea bass, northern pike, tuna, walleye, and largemouth bass.  Salmon raised in fish farms also frequently shows up with high amounts of mercury, not to mention that farmed salmon often contains antibiotic residues and lower levels of the important Omega-3 fatty acids.

Adapted with permission from The Brain Wash by Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD.  Copyright Michelle Schoffro Cook.

Michelle Schoffro Cook, MSc, RNCP, ROHP, PhD, is an international best-selling and seven-time book author and doctor of traditional natural medicine, whose works include: The Life Force Diet, The Ultimate pH Solution, The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan, The Phytozyme Cure and HealthSmart News. Learn more at www.DrMichelleCook.com.

Chocolate: Fact vs. Fiction

Chocolate: Fact vs. Fiction

A new study reported in WebMD leaves health professionals questioning results. First off, the study was conducted by Hershey Company (ah what?) and published in Chemistry Central Journal. The study compares the total flavonol and polyphenol content as well as antioxidant activity content of cocoa powder and dark chocolate vs. superfoods like acai, blueberry, cranberry, and pomegranate.

Researchers found a higher level of antioxidant activity in cocoa powder than some of the other antioxidant-laden superfoods to which it was compared. But a review of the story and study on Health News Review brings up some important questions. For example, most chocolate sold in the U.S. is nothing more than sugary candy, including Hershey’s candy bars. And even more importantly, serving size matters. If you eat an entire candy bar, whether it’s dark chocolate or not, expect an expanded waistline, rather than the benefits of antioxidants.


Separate Dark Chocolate Fact From Fiction

 1. It’s Cocoa Not Dark Chocolate That Has Antioxidants

The story in WebMD did make a clear distinction between milk chocolate and dark chocolate when it comes to health benefits. But the fact of the matter is that it’s much more than just milk chocolate versus dark chocolate. Dark chocolate itself doesn’t supply the antioxidant value; it’s the cocoa powder that it’s made with. So in order to get the antioxidant benefits outlined in the study, there must be a high percentage of cocoa. The chocolate should be Fair Trade certified, organic, and be at least 70 percent cocoa. Avoid any filling like peanut butter, which could be laced with hydrogenated oils.

2. How Small is the Serving Size?

The serving size is incredibly important here. It’s normally a tiny square of chocolate within the chocolate bar, and depending on the size of the chocolate bar, there can be between 4 and 12 servings. If you’re not careful you can really overdo this, meaning that the saturated fats and sugar content can outweigh any benefits that you might have enjoyed beforehand. Mehmet Oz and Mike Roizen, authors of YOU: On a Diet, answered some important questions on the specifics of dark chocolate consumption. According to the article in the Sun Setinel, you don’t need a whole bar to get a healthy dose of antioxidants. The flavonoids in dark chocolate are so powerful that a daily piece the size of a Hershey’s Kiss can lower your blood pressure. While this is an ideal size comparison, it’s not a good quality comparison as written above.

3. The Price Is Much Different with Real Dark Chocolate

When compared to a conventional candy chocolate bar found in the candy aisle, real dark chocolate with known health benefits is much more expensive. Projections for world food prices show that the cost of chocolate is going up, up, up and real dark chocolate, already averages between $3 and $8 per bar.

4. Find the Benefits of Cocoa in Other Places

Sometimes a candy bar isn’t the best place to find the benefits of this known antioxidant. One of my favorite places to find it is in whole leaf tea. Use a French press to seep the tea leaves for at least 7 minutes. Add a touch of cream and raw sugar and you have the essence of delicious dark chocolate that’s much easier on your waistline. You can also enjoy cocoa by adding the unsweetened raw cocoa powder to a smoothie in the morning.

(Leesa recommends Chewcolat!  It’s the best of both worlds,  amazing acai, blueberry, cranberry, and pomegranate found in www.chews4health.com/Leesa and just the right amount of natural dark chocolate!  Learn more and place your order at www.chewcolat.com!)

By Sara Novak, Planet Green

Planet Green is the multi-platform media destination devoted to the environment and dedicated to helping people understand how humans impact the planet and how to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Its two robust websites, planetgreen.com and TreeHugger.com, offer original, inspiring, and entertaining content related to how we can evolve to live a better, brighter future. Planet Green is a division of Discovery Communications.

6 Foods That Weaken Bones

6 Foods That Weaken Bones

 

What you eat plays a big role in whether you’re getting the  nutrients you need to build strong bones. What might surprise you, though, is that your diet can also play a role in sapping bone strength. Some foods actually leach the minerals right out of the bone, or they block the bone’s ability to regrow. Here, the six biggest bone-sappers:
 

1. Salt
Salt saps calcium from the bones, weakening them over time. For every 2,300 milligrams of sodium you take in, you lose about 40 milligrams of calcium, dietitians say. One study compared postmenopausal women who ate a high-salt diet with those who didn’t, and the ones who ate a lot of salt lost more bone minerals. Our American diet is unusually salt-heavy; most of us ingest double the 2,300 milligrams of salt we should get in a day, according to the 2005 federal dietary guidelines.
What to do: The quickest, most efficient way to cut salt intake is to avoid processed foods. Research shows that most Americans get 75 percent of their sodium not from table salt but from processed food. Key foods to avoid include processed and deli meats, frozen meals, canned soup, pizza, fast food such as burgers and fries, and canned vegetables.

2. Soft drinks
Soft drinks pose a double-whammy danger to bones. The fizziness in carbonated drinks often comes from phosphoric acid, which ups the rate at which calcium is excreted in the urine. Meanwhile, of course, soft drinks fill you up and satisfy your thirst without providing any of the nutrients you might get from milk or juice.

What to do: When you’re tempted to reach for a cola, instead try milk, calcium- and vitamin D-fortified orange juice, or a fruit smoothie made with yogurt. Or just drink water when you’re thirsty, and eat a diet high in bone-building nutrients.

3. Caffeine
The numbers for caffeine aren’t as bad as for salt, but caffeine’s action is similar, leaching calcium from bones. For every 100 milligrams of caffeine (the amount in a small to medium-sized cup of coffee), you lose 6 milligrams of calcium. That’s not a lot, but it can become a problem if you tend to substitute caffeine-containing drinks like iced tea and coffee for beverages that are healthy for bones, like milk and fortified juice.

What to do: Limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee in the morning, then switch to other drinks that don’t have caffeine’s bone-sapping action. Adding milk to your coffee helps to offset the problem, of course.

4. Vitamin A
In the case of vitamin A, recent research is proving that you really can get too much of a good thing. Found in eggs, full-fat dairy, liver, and vitamin-fortified foods, vitamin A is important for vision and the immune system. But the American diet is naturally high in vitamin A, and most multivitamins also contain vitamin A. So it’s possible to get much more than the recommended allotment of 5,000 IUs (international units) a day — which many experts think is too high anyway.

Postmenopausal women, in particular, seem to be susceptible to vitamin A overload. Studies show that women whose intake was higher than 5,000 IUs had more than double the fracture rate of women whose intake was less than 1,600 IUs a day.

What to do: Switch to low-fat or nonfat dairy products only, and eat egg whites rather than whole eggs (all the vitamin A is in the yolk). Also check your multivitamin, and if it’s high in vitamin A, switch to one that isn’t.

5. Alcohol
Think of alcohol as a calcium-blocker; it prevents the bone-building minerals you eat from being absorbed. And heavy drinking disrupts the bone remodeling process by preventing osteoblasts, the bone-building cells, from doing their job. So not only do bones become weaker, but when you do suffer a fracture, alcohol can interfere with healing.

What to do: Limit your drinking to one drink a day, whether that’s wine, beer, or hard alcohol.

6. Hydrogenated oils
Recent studies have found that the process of hydrogenation, which turns liquid vegetable oil into the solid oils used in commercial baking, destroys the vitamin K naturally found in the oils. Vitamin K is essential for strong bones, and vegetable oils such as canola and olive oil are the second-best dietary source of this key nutrient, after green leafy vegetables. However, the amounts of vitamin K we’re talking about are tiny here — one tablespoon of canola oil has 20 micrograms of K, and one tablespoon of olive oil has 6 micrograms, as compared with 120 micrograms in a serving of spinach.

What to do: If you’re eating your greens, you don’t need to worry about this too much. If you’re a big lover of baked goods like muffins and cookies, bake at home using canola oil when possible, and read labels to avoid hydrogenated oils.

By Melanie Haiken, Caring.com senior editor

Caring.com was created to help you care for your aging parents, grandparents, and other loved ones. As the leading destination for eldercare resources on the Internet, our mission is to give you the information and services you need to make better decisions, save time, and feel more supported. Caring.com provides the practical information, personal support, expert advice, and easy-to-use tools you need during this challenging time.

Foods that Boost Brain Power

Foods that Boost Brain Power

Can some foods really make you more intelligent, have smarter kids, improve your memory, help you think more clearly, and perhaps even forestall the onset of those so-called “senior moments”–or worse, dementia?

The answer is yes, provided you take a balanced, holistic approach to nutrition and don’t get hung up on magic-bullet thinking–the belief that eating specific foods–or even supplements of isolated components found in some foods–is going to instantly boost your brain power or make your kid a genius.

“It’s all about balance and moderation,” says Patrick Sullivan, PhD, Associate Professor, Geriatrics, at Duke University’s Department of Medicine. Sullivan says that so-called brain foods also deliver nutrients that are good for your heart, liver, and kidneys. “The body was designed to use a variety of building blocks in foods to maintain optimal health overall–not to use one for the brain or heart or one specifically for the kidney,” he explains. “You really need to regularly eat a variety of foods that are good for you.”

Another important message: Start early. “Much of the discussion of nutrition and brain health is linked with infants and kids–the sooner good nutrition comes into play in a person’s life, the better the payout,” says Susan Moores, RD, a nutrition expert in St. Paul, Minnesota. She stresses the importance of good nutrition even before a woman becomes pregnant. It’s never too late to improve your diet, says Moores. However, if you don’t adopt a healthy diet until you’re 65, you probably won’t get “nearly as big a benefit as if you had started earlier.”

Antioxidants against aging


When you talk about getting “rusty” at certain tasks, you may not be far off. Oxidation, the process that causes metal to rust, can also damage your brain cells. And that’s not all. “Every major disease you can think of with respect to aging has an oxidative stress and inflammatory component–dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s–you name it,” says James Josephs, PhD, chief of the neurosciences laboratory at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. Antioxidants–vitamins C, E, A, and other compounds in foods–can help curtail the damage by disarming potentially harmful free radicals.

Josephs’ research shows that some antioxidative compounds in the foods we eat have a direct affinity for specific areas of the brain: Ellagitannins in raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries are found in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory control area. Proanthocyanins in blueberries, purple grapes, red grape juice, and red wine gravitate toward the striatum, which is more closely associated with spatial memory. The implication? These compounds may enhance the performance of those specific parts of the brain. And, indeed, much of Josephs’ research focuses on how these food types improve cognitive and motor skills in animals.

Another encouraging animal lab study showed that quercetin might play a role in maintaining our brains by reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders. So get your apple a day, as they say.

In the spice category, curcumin, a component of the curry spice turmeric, also has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It may even prove useful in treating Alzheimer’s: One recent study showed a reduction in beta-amyloid deposits, the plaques associated with the disease, in the brains of rats fed curcumin-enhanced food.

What to eat: Increase your intake of a wide variety of different color fruits and vegetables to five to 10 servings a day. Drinking your quota can help, too. In one study, people who drank fruit and vegetable juices at least three times a week reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 75 percent. Sip antioxidant tea (green or black without milk, according to the latest research), or treat yourself to a moderate amount of very dark chocolate or hot cocoa, one of the richest sources of powerful antioxidant flavonoids. Sprinkle some turmeric-rich curry powder on vegetables. Mix the spice into spreads and dips for veggies, or enjoy a curry dish at your local Indian restaurant.

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Healthy fats for mental fitness
No health-promoting diet would be complete without an adequate supply of healthy fats. Omega-3 fatty acids in particular may be instrumental in maintaining brain health throughout life.

“Omega-3s, particularly a component called DHA, are present in the brain, so having them in your diet will be beneficial to your brain,” explains Moores. Fatty fish is a particularly good source of DHA, she adds. “Components of fatty acids in fish go straight to the synapses of nerve cells,” says Duke University Medical Center Professor H. Scott Swartzwelder, PhD, who is also a senior research scientist with the US Department of Veterans’ Affairs. That means they help neurons communicate with one another, which may have a positive effect on learning and memory.

What to eat: Because your body can’t make these essential fatty acids, you have to get them from what you eat. The best source of omega-3s is cold-water fish like wild salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and tuna (limit your intake of albacore, however, because of the mercury content). Plant options include walnuts and flaxseeds. Avocados, other nuts and seeds, as well as healthy oils like olive and canola, are beneficial for other reasons, too, since they play a part in lowering the bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and help promote blood flow–another important factor in brain health.

Brain-boosting Bs
Researchers have long known that sufficient intake of folate, a water-soluble B vitamin, by pregnant women can help prevent some brain and spinal cord birth defects. But new research shows that folate may benefit everyone else, too. Elderly people deficient in B vitamins can suffer cognitive decline, including memory loss. On the other hand, people who consume higher levels of the B vitamins (folate, B12, and B6) may reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Folate also seems to play a role in decreasing homocysteine levels in the blood, which may improve cardiovascular health. And that means good blood flow to all organs, including the brain.

What to eat: Whole grains, green, leafy vegetables, and legumes such as dried beans, lentils, and peas.

Minerals for better concentration
If your mind wanders or you have memory lapses here and there, you may need more zinc and iron in your diet. A lot of research has linked decreased iron and zinc levels with poorer mental performance in children, but new studies on adults suggest these same elements help keep grown-ups’ minds sharp as well. Marginally low iron reserves reduced adults’ ability to concentrate, and lower levels of zinc slowed test participants’ ability to recall words.

What to eat: Good sources of iron include red meat (preferably lean), oysters, fortified cereals, pumpkin seeds, pistachios, tofu, and blackstrap molasses. (For better iron absorption from plant foods, pair them with good sources of vitamin C, such as orange juice.) For zinc, choose red meats, oysters, dark-meat poultry, pork, pumpkin seeds, soy nuts, and wheat germ.

 

Grab and Go Brain Foods

Your brain is your body’s gas-guzzler. In other words, it needs a steady supply of nutrient-rich calories with a good balance of healthy fats, protein, and carbs to function at peak performance. Try these healthy mini-meals and snacks on the run.

* Homemade trail mix: whole-grain cereal squares mixed with nuts and dried fruit
* Apple slices spread with peanut butter
* Low-fat yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit, sprinkled with nuts or seeds
* Fruit smoothies made with low-fat yogurt or milk blended with fresh or frozen fruit and a little honey
* Baby carrots to dip in salsa or hummus
* Whole-wheat pita stuffed with garbanzos or edamame, shredded carrots, and a few raisins, moistened with yogurt flavored with a little curry powder
* Mini fruit pops: freeze juice in an ice-cube tray stuck with popsicle sticks
* Celery stuffed with almond butter and raisins or hummus 

By Pamela Harding, Natural Solutions

Pamela Harding is a New-York based freelance writer covering topics of health, food, and pets.

7 Weird Energizing Foods Runners Swear By

7 Weird Energizing Foods Runners Swear By

Sure, there are tons of energy drinks out there promising to boost your endurance, quicken your pace, and keep you on point for anything — test taking or race. But really… do you want to soup up your body with chemicals and questionable ingredients that you can’t pronounce, have zero idea what they are, and may have actually read about on the “do not consume” list? I didn’t think so.

Thankfully there are tons of Bites with Benefits foods that really do benefit your body… naturally. But when it comes to athletes, there are certain expectations around what’s beneficial and what’s not. Your mind automatically goes to protein shakes, egg whites, sports drinks. But here are some out of the ordinary alternatives that runners swear by:

BEET JUICE
Beet Juice! No, not Beetle Juice. Beet juice is what one marathon runner swore got him through a 24-hour event. Two studies found that bicyclists who drank the purple potion before an event rode 20 percent more than those just given a placebo. Basically this beneficial beverage lets your muscles take it easy. The nitric acid makes it so your muscles don’t need to exert as much energy while working, which greatly increases stamina.

COCONUT WATER
This next one isn’t only for Iron Man marathons in Hawaii. I’m talking about Coconut Water. This foggy refresher embodies the perfect balance of muscle-supporting potassium and sodium that commercial sports beverages aim for, but without that sugary, highly processed taste.

SALTED POTATOES and RICE BALLS
One sports dietitian advocates baking fingerling potatoes, salting them, and wrapping them up to stuff in your pockets. This way they are easily accessible every 30 minutes or so when your energy depletes. This same carb/sodium combination can be found in small rice balls. Cook sticky rice, add soy sauce, and form small balls to also pocket for a workout.

HARD CANDY
Make a stop at the candy shop before a run. Here’s one that will completely go against your idea of nutritious, energizing food… hard candy! One sports nutritionist advocates sucking on hard candy during a long workout. The fast-acting source of glucose will keep your energy up.

TART CHERRY JUICE
Pucker up! I’m not talking about kissing your loved ones before a marathon (although, do that too!) I just mean that when you drink Tart Cherry Juice, you won’t be able to stop yourself from making a funny face. But researchers suggest the antioxidants found in Tart Cherry Juice reduce the production of enzymes in the body that cause inflammation.

PICKLE JUICE
A marathon-master and Anesthesiologist rave about pickle juice for its ability to reduce pain. And let’s face it; a man in that profession knows a thing or two about turning down the torture! He reported that his muscle knots virtually disappeared after incorporating pickle juice into his workout prep. Scientists suggest this could be because pickle juice replaces the sodium and fluid lost through sweat, and that the acidity of the vinegar conquers the cramps.

CHOCOLATE MILK
Sports drinks only WISH they were chocolate milk! It contains protein to repair muscles post workout, carbs to re-fuel, and fluids to replace the sweat you lose during a workout. Another part of this sweet deal is sodium, potassium and magnesium—crucial for strenuous activity—as well as the Vitamin D for healthy bones. What’s NOT to love?!

(Leesa recommends choosing organic when available!  She also recommends Chews4Health, a powerful, chewable antioxidant that tastes like a raspberry/cranberry sweet tart!)

By Laurel House, Planet Green

Planet Green is the multi-platform media destination devoted to the environment and dedicated to helping people understand how humans impact the planet and how to live a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle. Its two robust websites, planetgreen.com and TreeHugger.com, offer original, inspiring, and entertaining content related to how we can evolve to live a better, brighter future. Planet Green is a division of Discovery Communications.

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