Vitamin D is not just for your bones! It’s also important for the health of your nerves, muscles, and immune system. Research suggests it can even help combat depression. Many Iowans have difficulty maintaining adequate vitamin D levels in the winter months, 40–75% of us being deficient.
It is recommended those up to the age of 70 years consume 600 International Units (IU) and those over the age of 70 consume 800 IU of vitamin D. We get vitamin D three ways: through our diet, our skin, and supplements. Yes, vitamin D is so important your body makes it with a little help from the sun!
In order to reach therapeutic levels described by research requires a supplement. You should always speak with your health care provider before taking any supplements. Eating vitamin D-rich foods during the winter months is especially important. Try these vitamin D-rich foods:
Fatty fish (e.g., tuna, wild salmon, sardines canned in oil; canned fish is just as good as fresh or frozen)
What we eat affects the health of our eyes. Dark green leafy vegetables are rich in the antioxidants lutein (pronounced loo-teen) and zeaxanthin (pronounced zee-uh-zan-thin). The Age-Related Eye Disease Study 2 (AREDS2) found that lutein and zeaxanthin, lowered the risk of developing age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) by about 25%.
AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in older adulthood. It affects nearly 10 million Americans. Both lutein and zeaxanthin are stored in the macula of the human eye. They help filter light and protect and maintain healthy eye cells
Since the body does not naturally make the lutein and zeaxanthin, it’s important that our diets provide it. Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, the substances that give fruits and vegetables their deep green, yellow, and orange colors. Thus eating a variety of dark green, yellow and orange foods will help. Try to include these lutein-rich foods in your daily meal plans:
Grocery shoppers tend to avoid fruits and vegetables that have odd shapes or unappealing spots. As a result, many tons of edible food go uneaten and wasted.
Although it’s true that bacteria can cause blemishes on produce, that doesn’t necessarily mean that blemished produce is unsafe to eat. “Ugly” fruits and vegetables are usually tasty and healthful. They provide the same—in some cases, more—nutrients as their more attractive cousins.
Several studies have shown some imperfect fruit and vegetables have higher amounts of phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant chemicals that give produce its color and flavor. Phytochemicals may also protect us from cancer and heart disease.
So go ahead and eat ugly produce! It usually costs less because of its appearance. The nutrients it gives you, though, are priceless to your health.
If you read Nutrition Facts labels, you may have noticed they now list the potassium content of foods. So why is potassium a mineral we need to pay attention to?
For starters, potassium controls your heartbeat, builds muscle, and helps your body make proteins. Potassium can protect you from heart disease, stroke, muscle wasting, osteoporosis, and kidney stones. If you get enough of it, you can lower your blood pressure and cut your risk of dying from all causes by 20%!
Potassium is in many common foods, such as bananas, citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, milk, yogurt, beans, and leafy greens. However, fewer than 2% of adults meet their daily recommended potassium requirement. Adults should aim for 4,700 mg of potassium a day.
For example, this is one potassium-rich meal that would fulfill 40% of that requirement:
1/2 cup Swiss chard
1 baked potato
3 ounces turkey breast
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup fruit cocktail
Please do not rush out to buy potassium pills. High-dose potassium supplements can disrupt heart rhythm. They are also dangerous for those who have undetected kidney disease. Enjoy your potassium by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables!
To find out more about potassium-rich foods, visit MedlinePlus (medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002413.htm)
October 22nd is National Nut Day, so let’s talk nuts. Nuts are an excellent source of protein, minerals, and heart-healthy fats. So healthy that the FDA approved this health claim: “Eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.”
The heart-healthy fats that make up as much as 80% of the nut are unsaturated fats, which include omega-3 fatty acids. These fats work to protect your heart by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Each type of nut has its own unique profile of nutrients. For example, one Brazil nut can meet 100% of your daily need for selenium, which can keep your mind and heart healthy. Eat a wide variety of nuts for the most benefit. Specific nutrition information about each variety can be found in the USDA article, Go Nuts! (www.ars.usda.gov/plains-area/gfnd/gfhnrc/docs/news-2013/go-nuts).
One serving of nuts is 1.5 ounces of whole nuts (a small handful) or 2 tablespoons of nut butter. Try these tips to add more nuts to your diet:
Choose nuts instead of your typical less-healthy crunchy snack.
Add nuts to yogurt, salads, or hot cereals for the perfect crunch.
Mix nuts into your favorite smoothie for a richer, creamier texture.
Put nut butter on your morning toast instead of butter or margarine.
Slivered almonds are a tasty addition to sautéed green beans.
Mayo Clinic (www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/in-depth/nuts/art-20046635) Harvard Health (www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/nuts-for-the-heart)
According to the American Heart Association, eating fish twice a week will lower your risk of heart failure, heart attack, and stroke. The best fish for heart health are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines, or albacore tuna. These fish are all high in omega-3 fatty acids.
So many people have heard about the benefits of omega-3s that fish oil is the most popular nutrition supplement in the United States. However, the latest research shows fish oil isn’t as beneficial as actually eating fish. Whole fish offers a wealth of nutrients besides omega-3 oil, such as protein and selenium. For reasons scientists do not yet fully understand, nutrients often provide the most benefit when they are combined with other nutrients—in the form of food!
Eating fish is both healthy and delicious! Here are a few tips for including fish in your meal plan:
Keep seafood on hand. Seafood doesn’t need to be fresh to give you health benefits. Canned and frozen seafood varieties are just as healthy.
Be creative. Try different ways to enjoy seafood like seafood salads, tacos, stir-fry, or with pasta.
Cook it safely. Make sure you follow safe food handling practices and cook seafood to an internal temperature of 145oF.
ChooseMyPlate.gov offers tips on how to get more heart-healthy seafood on your plate.
Asparagus, lettuce, radishes, rhubarb, spinach, and strawberries are just a few of the fresh fruits and vegetables available in June! They provide a range of colors to eat and enjoy. It’s important to get a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet every day.
Colorful fruits and vegetables provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds in food that your body uses to maintain good health and energy levels, protect against the effects of aging, and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and heart disease.
Phytochemicals may be considered just as important as protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals, and vitamins. Many of the phytochemicals and other compounds that make fruits and vegetables good for us also give them their color. It’s important to eat the rainbow of colors every day to get the full health-promoting benefits of fruits and vegetables.
When planning meals, try to use colorful fruits and vegetables. Usually the darker the color, the higher the amounts of phytochemicals. When introducing children to a new fruit or vegetable, consider designating a color for each day or week.
Mother always said you are what you eat. What we eat becomes more connected to our bodies every day. Now scientific evidence suggests diet plays a bigger role in brain health than we ever knew. Following a brain healthy diet (MIND diet) can reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia by 35–53%. MIND diet research at Rush University followed 923 individuals aged 58–98 for more than four years. Reduction in dementia risk among those who closely or moderately followed the diet was observed.
The MIND diet combines the Mediterranean diet pattern and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet with mild calorie restriction. The MIND diet encourages minimally processed plant-based foods and limited consumption of animal foods high in saturated fat. It also encourages food found to be potentially brain protective such as green leafy vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, fish, poultry, and berries. Research continues on the effects of the MIND diet on cognitive decline in the brain.
Foods to Eat More:
Beans, every other day
Berries, at least twice per week
Fish, at least once per week
Green leafy vegetables, every day
Other vegetables, at least once per day
Nuts, every day
Poultry, at least twice per week
Whole grains, three times per day
Foods to Eat Less:
Fried food or fast food, less than one serving per week
Pastries and sweets, no more than five servings per week
Red meat, three 3- to 5-ounce servings per week
Butter and stick margarine, less than one pat a day
Whole fat cheese, one to two ounces per week
Source: Diet for the Mind, Dr. Martha Clare Morris, 2017.