For the first time, scientists have discovered certain fruits and vegetables – and not others – are associated with preventing weight gain over the course of many years regardless of calories, according to a recent Harvard study published in the British Medical Journal. These fruits and vegetables contain a class of phytonutrients called flavonoids, a plant compound with anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, among other benefits.
“The particular fruits and vegetables associated with less weight gain are rich sources of several flavonoid subclasses, particularly flavonols, anthocyanins, and flavones. Animal models and short term human studies provide evidence for underlying mechanisms that relate flavonoids to weight: several flavonoid subclasses have been shown to decrease calorie intake, increase blood sugar uptake in muscle in humans, and decrease blood sugar uptake in fat tissue in test tube studies. Other studies, predominantly focusing on green tea, a rich source of the flavan-3-ol subclass of flavonoids, provide evidence to suggest that flavonoids may decrease fat absorption, increase energy expenditure, and inhibit body fat synthesis,” according to the study.
In the study, anthocyaninins, the blue pigment in many fruits and vegetables, were mainly found in blueberries and strawberries, among others. Flavan-3-ols were mainly from tea, apples, pears, and peppers.
So, while it’s important for your health and weight management to eat at least 5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, you may want to consider adding these very specific fruits and vegetables to your routine. “An Apple A Day…”
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Need an excuse to break for afternoon tea at work? A new study found green or black tea, in a very concentrated form, can improve your overall health in many different ways.
As I wrote in my Washington Post article, tea has long been known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. So researches decided to extract one of the most active compounds in tea to see what would happen. The extract, called “AssuriTEA,” was given to subjects in different doses. They found all doses had benefits, but most of the benefits were experienced in the subjects with the largest dose. After taking the extract for 28 days, the subjects showed improved antioxidant levels (which protects you from almost all diseases), lower blood glucose levels, and increased energy. They also found lower systolic blood pressure at both dosages and lower diastolic blood pressure at the higher dosage.
Even though we don’t have access to this extract; no matter; I recommend using “whole” tea leaves anyway: The whole food is always better! Studies use concentrated forms of foods so they can more easily measure results. This study, published recently in the journal “Functional Foods in Health and Disease,” confirms the health benefits of tea are impressive – I know what I’m doing at 3 o’clock today! You?
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One of my 50-something clients, who lost twenty pounds with a few “Diet Simple” tricks, increased pedometer steps, and weight training, confided in me that she feels sexy for the first time in years! On the tennis court, she performs better, is more flexible, stronger and quicker. Who could ask for more in your 40s, 50s, 60s – or even older?
My clients regularly ask me, “How do I maximize my workouts to gain muscle as quickly and effectively as possible?”
My answer: “What you eat and when you eat it profoundly improves your ability to build muscle mass and strength, and new surprising studies show an ancient beverage and a simple stretching routine can make a huge difference, too. Let me explain…”
1. Your Workout
While nutrition is important, the quality of your strength training workout is a key factor for building muscle mass. The National Institute on Aging recommends strength training all of your major muscle groups at least three times a week for 30 minutes. I encourage all my clients to get some kind of strength training so that when they lose weight, they not only look more toned and have more strength (who wants to be a flabby skinny person?), they’re healthier. This can be accomplished by working with a skilled trainer, but also through vigorous yoga and pilates – whenever there is resistance and you work your muscles to exhaustion – that is, you can’t do just one more pushup – you’re building muscle.
It’s also important to build muscle because the more lean muscle you have, the more calories your body burns because muscle mass increases metabolism. That’s why a man who weighs the same as a woman can eat so much more, and will lose weight more easily. He has relatively more muscle so he burns more calories, even at rest!
Studies of 80-year-olds show muscular strength can mean the difference between independence and a nursing home… it improves balance, walking, and reduces falls.
But it’s not easy to build muscle for a variety of reasons.
First, muscle mass declines as you age, starting in your mid 30s. An average person will lose five to seven pounds of muscle between age 35 to age 50 due to disuse. For every pound of muscle lost, you lose the capacity to burn 35 to 50 calories per day. That means if you’ve lost seven pounds of muscle by the age of 50, at 50 calories per muscle, that’s 350 calories you can’t eat just to prevent weight gain, let alone lose weight.
Second, weight loss causes muscle loss. When you lose weight, about half of what you lose is muscle -though you can minimize muscle loss by eating right (so read on!). This makes it even harder to keep the weight off because you’re reducing your muscle and therefore your metabolism as you lose pounds.
This brings us to the obvious: Building muscle as you age, eating the right kinds of foods to make that happen – and to minimize muscle loss as you lose weight – is essential to keeping lean.
Now for the nutrition…
Protein is essential for healthy living. It is one of the most important nutrients in the human body, second only to water. Bone health, muscle function, muscle strength, muscle mass and immune function — all are impaired with a low protein intake. But how much protein do we need?
New research has found that eating the right amount of protein – and at the right times – is essential not only for your health, but also for effective muscle gain and weight loss. Eating enough protein while losing weight is more likely to minimize muscle loss and maximize fat loss. Keeping muscle stores high is critical as losing muscle decreases resting metabolic rate, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat.
The National Academy of Sciences, in a recent report, recommended Americans eat at least 15% of their calories as protein but never exceed 35 percent, as that may be when adverse symptoms begin to appear (Low carb diets are often as high as 80% protein, and have many adverse health consequences).
If you’re losing weight or are worried about muscle or bone loss, consider increasing your protein.
How Much Protein? A personalized formula: The studies of aging populations find about 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of (2.2 lbs is 1 kg) helps to reduce age-related muscle – and bone – loss. This amount should also be adequate for you to maximize your workouts, especially if you are in your mid-30s or older. Though some in the body-building community believe you can go as high as 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight. You may also need this higher amount if you’re sick or bed-bound to minimize muscle loss.
Example: So, if you weigh 150 pounds, this means the amount of protein you should eat is: 150 lbs (divided by 2.2 lbs per kilogram) = 68 kg; 68 kg X 1.2 grams of protein per kg of ideal body weight = 82 grams protein daily. For the maximum amount of protein, multiply 68 kg X 1.6 grams of protein per kg = 109 grams of protein per day
Where Do I Get Protein? Protein can be found in a wide range of foods. Animal protein is in seafood, dairy, meat, poultry and eggs. Vegetarian protein can be found in legumes, soy, vegetables and grains. And while it’s true that high-protein foods often bring fat and calories along as uninvited guests, it doesn’t have to be that way. The lowest-calorie animal protein sources are the leanest. Go for seafood, poultry with no skin, lean veal cuts, pork tenderloin, lean beef cuts such as the round or tenderloin or 95 percent lean hams (less than 3 grams of fat per ounce). Skim milk, nonfat yogurt, lowfat cheeses are also great options. Soy products also provide great low-calorie options and are high quality proteins similar to meat.
Toss four ounces of lean beef, chicken or seafood or 12 ounces of spiced tofu into your salad and gain 28 grams of high-quality protein and no more than 150 to 200 calories.
8 ounces milk/yogurt: 8 grams protein
8 ounces Greek Yogurt: 20 grams
1/2 cup cooked beans/tofu: 8 grams protein
1 ounce meat/fish/chicken/cheese (the leaner the meat,the more protein and the fewer calories): 7 grams protein
1 large egg: 7 grams protein
1/2 cup cooked or one ounce dry (1 slice bread) grain: 3 grams protein
1/2 cup cooked or one cup raw vegetables: 2 grams protein
3. Timing is Everything!
Eat a food or beverage high in protein 20 minutes before, and again, immediately after your strength training workout or after a vigorous cardiovascular workout, such as tennis, swimming, or kayaking, or even just a long walk. When you work out, you break down your muscles. Taking in protein when your muscles are being broken down and are metabolically active will build your muscle mass and strength more effectively. You also need to make sure you hydrate yourself properly!
My personal regimen includes drinking some skim milk before my workout – all you need is about 1/2 cup – and eating yogurt immediately after my workout or after yoga. If I forget the yogurt, I’ll run to the nearest coffee shop after my workout and buy a skim latte for my protein, which contains milk, or soy milk. But, I like yogurt the best: It contains important probiotics which keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy. It also contains high quality protein, carbohydrate, calcium, potassium and magnesium – important nutrients which you need to replenish your muscles. Eating immediately after your workout could have other benefits: It prevents the “extreme hungries” some people feel after heavy exercise, and it could prevent muscle cramps, according to a client who used to have muscle cramps regularly until she started eating yogurt after her exercise.
Current thinking among protein researchers is that protein is most bioavailable for your muscles (and your cells and organs) if eaten in relatively small quantities through the day. For women, 20 grams per meal is what the body can utilize efficiently. For men, that can go up to 30 grams per meal. So, with my personal protein goal being 60 grams per day, I’m sure to have about 20 grams in the morning, 20 grams mid-day and about 20 grams in the evening, as my body may not benefit from more at one sitting.
If you’re a man who needs 100 grams per day, you could spread out your protein intake through the day to 4 meals – separated by at least two hours – of about 25 grams each. So an 8 ounce steak at night, containing 56 grams of protein, just won’t cut it!
A new study found tea improves muscular strength. Tea? Apparently, as we age, oxidative stress and inflammation cause age-related muscle and bone breakdown. Tea’s healthy compounds, called “polyphenols,” reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, preventing this breakdown, and even improve muscular strength and bone mass. In a recent study funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, when post-menopausal women with osteopenia (the beginning of osteoporosis – brittle bones) were given tea and/or Tai Chi exercises, after six months, the tea alone caused an improvement in muscle strength and bone-building biomarkers. Learn more about the health benefits of tea… So did the Tai Chi alone – certainly not a rigorous or impactful exercise, which we’ve been taught all along was necessary for muscle and bone building! Apparently, Tai Chi also reduces inflammation and oxidative stress.
With the amazing results of this study in mind, it makes sense that any foods high in anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds, such as fruits and vegetables, may help improve bone and muscle strength. And, if Tai Chi helps improve bone and muscle mass, shouldn’t other forms of meditation or meditative exercise, such as yoga? More research is needed to establish the facts, but these results certainly are promising.
See more specifics of my own personal regimen below!
In the meantime, I’m drinking tea every day, doing vigorous yoga at least 2 to 3 times a week, working with a trainer once a week, walking A LOT to keep body fat down, at least 10,000 pedometer steps is a daily average, in my posture-improving MBT shoes, from Comfort One Shoe Store (ask for Manager, Shawn O’Neill), eating plenty of yogurt, and my own delicious batch recipes filled with healthy foods found in Diet Simple and Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes (only $4.95) to keep my muscles and bones strong, and my body in shape!
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My clients regularly ask me: Do certain foods affect my brain and cognition?
My answer: an emphatic Yes! What you eat profoundly affects the brain, memory, and mental function.
Are you eating “Smart” foods? Please let me know by commenting at the end of this article in “Comments.”
“Nutrients are essential for brain function, and because all human beings must eat, we are all exposed,” said Martha Clare Morris, at a National Institutes of Health conference on brain function and preventing cognitive decline.
“The dietary components with the strongest evidence to date for dementia prevention include antioxidant nutrients, fat composition, and B vitamins,” said Morris, director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology at Rush Medical College in Chicago.
“The brain is particularly vulnerable to oxidative damage due to its high metabolic activity and the presence of relatively few antioxidant enzymes… Antioxidant nutrients (vitamin E, vitamin C, carotenoids, flavonoids) are a natural defense mechanism… Of the antioxidant nutrients, the evidence for brain protection is strongest for vitamin E; that for carotenoids, vitamin C, and flavonoids is limited and inconsistent but promising,” said Morris.
But when it comes to nutrients, both too little or too much can be dangerous. So I recommend you get those nutrients from food, not from supplements, which can be harmful and may disturb the natural nutritional balance of your brain.
Some examples of foods high in brain-protecting antioxidant nutrients:
Vitamin E: Sunflower seeds, almonds, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil, hazelnuts, pine nuts, spinach, turnip greens, beet greens, dandelion greens, canned pumpkin, carrot juice, broccoli, sweet potato, sweet red peppers, mangos, papayas
Carotenoids, such as Beta-Carotene (orange), Lycopene (red), and Lutein (yellow/green): Orange, red, and deep green veggies and fruits, particularly…Carrot juice, carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin (or any orange-colored winter squash), sweet potato, greens such as spinach, collards, kale, turnip greens, beet greens, avocados, orange melons such as cantaloupe, red peppers, apricots, broccoli, plums, mangos papayas, plantains, Brussels sprouts, watermelon, asparagus, tomatoes, watermelon, pistachios
Vitamin C: Citrus fruits such as orange, lemons and grapefruit, peaches, sweet and hot peppers, papayas, pineapple, strawberries, broccoli,kiwi fruit, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi
Flavonoids: Cocoa, green and black tea, citrus fruits, dark chocolate, red wine, apples, grapes, berries (read “Berry Bonanza” for more facts about berries), numerous fruits and vegetables. Tea is filled with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, both of which reduce brain decline, and even slow down muscle and bone breakdown. Read about tea’s health benefits in my recent Washington Post article.
Fat is an essential nutrient. But the type of fat you eat trumps everything. Fat ends up in all of your body’s cells, including your brain cells. It acts as a cell lubricant, improves flexibility and communication between cells. If the fat you eat is saturated – solid at room temperature – as in butter or animal fat – this stiffens and decreases cellular flexibility and functioning. Saturated fat also raises LDL cholesterol, and high cholesterol is correlated with cognitive decline. This may be why people who eat diets high in meat and animal fats suffer from a higher rate of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
A diet high in fish, on the other hand, is correlated with a reduced incidence of brain decline. Fish oil – omega-3-fatty-acid – concentrations are highest in the brain and nervous system. They are necessary for optimal functioning of the neurons, protect cells, decrease cell death and improve nerve transmission. Emerging research indicates Omega 3s may boost levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violence.
“In 5 out of 6 of the clinical trials where people were given either a placebo or omega-3 fatty acids, on average, the symptoms of depression have been reduced by about 50%,” says Joseph Hibbeln, a psychiatrist at the National Institutes for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “This is true even when the subjects were already on anti-depressants and failing to respond to them.”
Hibbeln’s studies found an increase in depression, violence and homicides in countries who eat less fish as compared to countries who eat more fish. It may even improve conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“Vitamin B12 and folate … are widely believed to be protective risk factors of cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease,” said Martha Clare Morris. “Vitamin B12 deficiency results in a neurologic syndrome that involves impaired cognition. Recent interest in folate deficiency as a risk factor for dementia is primarily due to its effect on raising homocysteine concentration, which has been related to the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease… Both low vitamin B12 and low folate status are associated with cognitive decline, and high folate exposure in persons with low vitamin B12 also may be associated with cognitive decline,” said Morris.
Balance is key, so eat food high in these nutrients instead of risking an imbalance caused by an overdose.
Folic Acid (Folate): Spinach, lentils, pinto beans, black beans, blackeyed peas, greens, soybeans, broccoli, asparagus
Vitamin B12: Found naturally only in animal foods such as seafood, chicken, fat free or low fat yogurt, milk
Physical Activity is the primary lifestyle factor impacting your brain’s health, as well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention.
“Physical activity and exercise have been found, over the past several decades, to reduce the risk of a multitude of diseases including cardiovascular disease, breast and colon cancer, obesity, and type II diabetes,” said Arthur F. Kramer, at the National Institutes of Health’s conference on brain function and preventing cognitive decline. “Many of these diseases have been associated with diminished cognitive and brain health and serve as risk factors for age-associated neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. Therefore, physical activity appears to enhance cognition and brain health through disease reduction and prevention, but also has more direct effects on both brain health and cognition,” said Kramer, professor of psychology and neuroscience, Beckman Institute, University of Illinois, Urbana.
During just one exercise bout, your brain releases chemicals called endorphins into the blood stream. They reduce pain, increase feelings of well-being and elevate your mood. If you are regularly physically active, these benefits multiply. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that a brisk 30-minute walk just three times a week relieved major depression just as effectively as an antidepressant in middle-aged and older people.
Physical activity increases the oxygen to your brain, particularly the frontal regions where it increases reaction times, as reported in the journal, Nature. Physical activity also improves memory, mental function and reduces your chances for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Those who walked 18 miles or more per week experienced the most improvements. These studies were reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine and the journal, Neurology.
“A rich social network may provide better social support and consequently better access to resources and material goods. Large social networks also may enhance brain reserve by providing intellectual stimulation,” said Laura Fratiglioni at NIH’s conference on brain function and preventing cognitive decline. “In addition, neuropathological data have shown that subjects with a similar amount of neuropathological lesions had higher cognitive performances if they also had larger social networks,” said Fratiglioni, Professor of Geriatric Epidemiology, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden.
Most studies have suggested “a protective effect of leisure activities, especially mentally stimulating activities, against dementia,” said Fratiglioni. “These activities, which include reading, playing board games and musical instruments, knitting, gardening, and dancing, often have been associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Furthermore, a recent review of prospective studies also has concluded that physical activity may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s by approximately 45%. However, most physical activities also include social and mental components in addition to the physical component. Indeed, complex leisure activities composed of all three components of physical, mental, and social activities seem to have the most beneficial effect.”
Are you engaging in a “Smart” Lifestyle? Eating plenty of “Smart” foods? Please comment below in “comments,” and let me know how you are doing!