Monday, January 30, 2012

Herbs And Spices Pack More Than Flavor

Adding flavor to your food can be good for your health

When you think of herbal remedies, what comes to mind?  Is it black cohosh, ginko biloba, or echinacea?  Well, look no farther than your spice rack for the healing powers of these unassuming flavor enhancers.  Packed with phytochemicals, these leaves, stems and seeds may ward off a wide range of illness--from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.  Read on to learn more.
The bark of a tropical evergreen tree, cinnamon, is used to impart a sweet, spicy flavor to desserts and savory dishes.  An alternate role cinnamon may play is to inhibit bacterial growth, specifically Listeria monocytogenes, which is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, seniors, and those with compromised immune function.  Cinnamon steeped in hot water with tea may act to calm the stomach, lessening nausea and vomiting. Cinnamon may also play a role in blood-sugar regulation.  Of forty-nine herbs, spices, and medicinal plants tested by the US Department of Agriculture for their ability to regulate insulin, cinnamon ranked the highest.

A twisted, knotted root common in Indian and Asian cooking, ginger may lessen pregnancy and chemotherapy-related nausea.  Recent research shows that ginger may also help to alleviate arthritis pain.  These findings, although promising, are relatively new and no recommendations are made for ginger to replace traditional osteoarthritis treatment.

Oregano is a member of the mint family whose main components, thymol and carvacrol, are potent antioxidants capable of preventing lipid peroxidation and neutralizing food-borne bacteria, such as E. coli, Listeria monocytogenes, and salmonella.  Oregano exhibits stronger antioxidant power than vitamin E.  Other culinary herbs with strong antioxidant activity are rose geranium, sweet bay, dill, purple amaranth, and winter savory.

The use of rosemary in cooking dates back to 500 BC.  It has been used as a food preservative and as a cosmetic fragrance, as well as for medicinal purposes.  It is loaded with a variety of phytochemicals that are proving to be important in the realm of disease prevention.  It has been shown to be beneficial to heart patients, preventing low-density lipoprotein cholesterol oxidation, as well as helping to preserve memory by reducing inflammation and neuron damage.  Carnosol, one of rosemary’s chief constituents, may play a future role in the treatment of liver disease and leukemia.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used sage as a homeopathic remedy.  Spanish sage may have a future as a treatment for age-related cognitive decline.  It has been shown to mimic the action of certain anti-Alzheimer’s medications.

Also a member of the mint family, thyme exhibits strong antioxidant and antimicrobial activity.  Its oils have been shown to disable respiratory pathogens, including those that cause influenza and pneumonia.  It may play a role in cognitive function as well.  Thymol, a primary phytochemical in thyme, may maintain optimal fatty acid balance in aging neurons.

Grown in India and other tropical areas of Asia, turmeric has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties owing to the phytochemical curcumin.  Two areas where turmeric’s effects are being shown are in the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease and certain forms of cancer, particularly those of the stomach and colon.

Despite the use of culinary herbs and spices in folk medicine for centuries, research into their ability to prevent disease is young.  They are best consumed in whole food form.  Individual plant chemicals isolated from the herbs may not have the same beneficial actions.  So add a little spice to your life, you may be healthier for it.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Fallacy of Moderation

What does moderation really mean?
 Moderation is a word that has been used quite often when describing healthy eating and drinking patterns. Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines moderation as avoidance of extremes or tending toward average. What does this really mean when we are talking about food? Does it mean one cookie a day or one less cookie than we usually eat? Perhaps it means that we don't eat the whole cookie jar? Does it mean once a day, once a week, once a month or once a year? The problem is that it can mean anything that we want it to mean. This isn't good enough when we are talking about promoting healthy eating behaviors. To say "all things in moderation" to me seems like an excuse to maintain the status quo, which arguably is average.

Paula Deen announced this week that she has had type 2 diabetes for the past three years. Her announcement mentioned very little about following healthy dietary habits. Rather, she stated that she has always been a advocate for moderation (there's that word again). Deen's recipes are not known for being healthy and it must be extremely embarrassing for her to have developed a disease that has a strong tie to dietary factors. Regardless of the cause of diabetes, diet and exercise are integral for its management. They are much too important to be passed off by the use of a non-specific word such as moderation. Deen's announcement this week motivated me to write this blog post, but this post is not about her.

The food industry loves the term moderation for the very reason that it is non-specific. Hershey's has created the Moderation Nation to help consumers find balance in their lives. Part of their message is that 100 calories a day of chocolate can fit into your balanced diet. That's fine, if you do not need to lose weight, but about one third of American adults are obese. George Blackburn, MD, PhD, Chief of the Nutritional/Metabolism Laboratory, and Director of the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine, which are affiliated with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, reports that for a vast majority of obese Americans, as little as 200 calories a day prevents them from losing the 20-30 pounds necessary to gain significant health benefits(1). That is less than a small package of M&M's (240 calories). Often, that 100 calorie treat becomes a 200 or 300 calorie "nibble" especially when the whole package contains more than 100 calories. The concept of moderation keeps consumers buying products, which is the primary concern of major food manufacturers and restaurants. In the case of Deen's Savannah, GA restaurant, it keeps the line of patrons circling the block waiting to be seated. Moderation promotes sales and keeps the customers coming through the door.

Last month the marketing research group NPD discovered that Americans are following MyPlate guidelines only 2% of the time. That translates to seven days out of the year! That surely is not moderation and I would argue that the message of moderation is not working. MyPlate promotes such a simple concept and advises Americans to consume half of their plate from fruits and vegetables. It doesn't get much easier than that!

So what can we do that is better? The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in collaboration with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases developed the WeCan Program to teach children and families how to choose healthier diets and exercise more. This program uses the Stoplight Approach to teach which foods should be eaten every day (green light), which foods should be eaten in smaller quantities and less often (yellow light) and which foods should rarely be eaten (red light). Another way to define this approach uses the words "Go, Slow, and Whoa." These three simple words convey more meaning than the word moderation and help to underscore that not all foods can be eaten regularly in moderation if you are trying to lose weight. This approach can be used to teach adults how to better control their food intake too and shows great promise in some area weight management programs.

Stoplight symbols have been added to packaged foods in some European countries to help consumers choose healthier diets. It's doubtful that food manufacturers would allow such a system in the United States because many food products would be labeled yellow or red which could potentially negatively impact sales. You can understand why manufacturers prefer the use of the term "moderation" when it comes to promoting healthier diet habits.

Smart phone users can benefit from using the Fooducate application which independently grades thousands of grocery food items and provides a stoplight color code and letter grade to help consumers make appropriate food choices. The app also discusses the reason for the grade so that you can better understand what makes a food more or less healthy.

I encourage you to make a pertinent comment on this post. I will send a copy of The Little Black Book of Foodspiration by Yvette Quantz, RD, CSSD, LD to the first 20 people who leave a comment. If you are one of the twenty, please email me at info@rochesternutrition with you name and address.

1. Blackburn, GL and Waltman, GA. Expanding the Limits of Treatment-New Strategic Initiatives. J Am Diet Assoc. 2005;105:S131-S135.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Resistant Starch: The New Carb on the Block

Resistant starch is the next hot topic that you’ll be hearing about in the news, and I’m not talking about the laundry. This is nutrition science discovering new things about how foods impact our health. In the early 1980’s it was discovered that a component of starch could not be absorbed by the small intestine and passed into the large intestine where it was digested by bacteria, releasing beneficial compounds for the cells of the colon. It was identified as resistant starch (RS). RS is different from dietary fiber because it is bound along with other starchy carbohydrates, not the bran or the germ.

RS can be found naturally in legumes, seeds, whole grains, under-ripe bananas, raw potatoes, and (to a lesser extent) processed starchy foods that have been cooked and cooled, such as breads, cereals, potatoes, rice and pasta. A brand of corn has been engineered to contain a large amount of RS for use in food manufacturing; it is called high-amylose corn (Hi-Maize). This isn’t the corn that you eat at your dinner table. High-amylose corn is processed into flour and added to baked goods to decrease the overall absorbable carbohydrate and increase the RS of a product.

There has been a surge of recent research looking at the health properties of RS. Much of the research uses processed products such as Hi-Maize. Some benefits are improved glycemic control, decreased insulin secretion, decreased cholesterol levels, increased fat burning and improved colonic health. Negative effects have been discovered too, especially with highly purified RS diets that do not include the other components of dietary fiber. There is a concern for increased risk of colon cancer in this situation.

The consumption of RS in the US is currently estimated to be about 3-6 grams per day. In developing countries where unprocessed starch consumption is high the intake ranges from 30-40 grams per day. RS intake in China is about 18 grams per day. Research has identified the beneficial intake of resistant starch to be between 10-20 grams per day. With RS, more is not necessarily better, and a healthful intake can be as little as 5% of total carbohydrates.

Over-processing of foods diminishes RS content along with many other nutrients. This is one plague of industrialized food production. Our goal for healthy eating should be to include whole grains, legumes, and seeds while decreasing processed baked goods. Processed and engineered foods are no match for the panoply of nutrients that whole foods provide.

Engineered RS has been developed to be a functional food, a food or dietary component that may provide a health benefit beyond basic nutrition. I wonder if eating high-amylose corn muffins, pasta, or bread will benefit the consumer as much as the manufacturer. Only time, and more research will tell.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Nutritional Beauty

A healthy diet can make you beautiful inside and out
A growing consumer trend is to eat well for naturally glowing skin, strong shiny hair, and inner holistic radiance. We clearly are what we eat, and this mantra applies to more than just health.

Nutritional products have long been used topically to promote beauty. Honey masks, olive oil hair conditioning, and oatmeal baths can trace their roots back to ancient times. Retinol, a vitamin A derivative, and alpha-hydroxy have been shown to improve sun-damage or wrinkles when applied to the skin. Many cosmetics contain antioxidant vitamins, minerals, and plant chemicals. Most recently vitamin K has been discovered to lighten dark circles under the eyes.

The idea of promoting beauty can also be applied from the inside out. A top nutrient in this category is water. Without proper hydration, skin can seem dull and less supple. Antioxidant vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, and essential fatty acids are next in line. Antioxidants neutralize compounds that damage the body including skin. It is no lie that eating your fruits and vegetables can make you more beautiful. A recent study looking at the amount of vitamin C women consumed in their diet showed that those who ate the least amount of vitamin C from food had the most wrinkled appearance. Vitamin C is important for the synthesis of collagen, a protein that helps maintain skin elasticity. Fruits and vegetables are the main source of vitamin C. Another recent study showed that eating more carotenoid containing fruits and vegetables gave the skin a tanned hue when compared with study participants who did not eat the carotenoid containing foods. Carotenoids are the yellow to deep red pigments found in foods. You may say that eating fruits and vegetables provides skin a healthy glow.

The next big beauty secret believed by some estheticians is controlling inflammation from the inside out; not just reacting to a skin problem. Barry Sears, PhD president and founder of Zone Labs, Inc., contends that “inflammation links to all chronic disease, skin degeneration, and the aging process. To stop inflammation, balance protein and carbohydrate ratio at each meal.” Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold water fish such as salmon, walnuts, flax and chia seed exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. An increased intake of linoleic acid, and omega-6 fatty acid found in nuts, whole grains, most vegetable oils, eggs and poultry, is also associated with more youthful looking skin in research studies. Conversely, high intakes of saturated fat and refined carbohydrates abundant in the typical American diet are associated with a more wrinkled appearance.

Companies looking to capitalize on this trend are introducing products containing antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and phytochemicals. Will they make you more beautiful? Perhaps, if you already eat in a healthful manner, but drinking a special concoction won’t help if you are eating doughnuts for breakfast, sub sandwiches for lunch and pizza for dinner. And if you smoke, all bets are off. The aging effect of smoking undoes any good that a healthy diet or special supplement provides. Research shows that what matters more than eating a particular food or nutrient to prevent aging is to follow an overall healthy diet. People eat foods in combinations, not one at a time. It is the interplay of nutrients together that seems to provide the greatest anti-aging benefit. Here’s one more reason to eat your fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. They can make you look marvelous.