One of the biggest buzzwords in current media refers to the smallest subject: the human gut microbiome. This microbiome is a collection of microorganisms living in the human intestinal tract; aka the “good gut bugs.” These good gut bugs help our gut produce compounds needed for digestion and absorption of other nutrients. They also provide protection against harmful “bugs” and support our immune system. These good gut bugs have also been shown to promote brain health.
There is communication between the human microbiome and the brain, called the gut-brain axis. This means the health of your gut microbiome may impact the health of your brain—a healthy gut leads to a healthy brain.
The best way to take care of your gut microbiome is to focus on your overall eating pattern.
- Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Choose fiber-rich foods because increasing fiber can promote abundance of gut bugs.
- Try fermented foods and foods with pre- and probiotics to improve the variety of your good gut bugs.
- Prebiotics are plant fibers that promote the growth of healthy bacteria. They are found in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, including apples, asparagus, bananas, barley, flaxseed, garlic, jicama, leeks, oats, and onion.
- Probiotics contain specific strains of healthy bacteria. The most common probiotic food is yogurt; other sources include bacteria-fermented foods, including sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.
- Shreiner AB, Kao JY, Young VB. The gut microbiome in health and in disease. Curr Opin Gastroenterol. 2015;31(1):69–75. doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000139.
- Foster JA, Lyte M, Meyer E, Cryan JF. Gut microbiota and brain function: An evolving field in neuroscience. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol. 2016;19(5):1–7. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyv114.
- Jandhyala S, Talukdar R, Subramanyam C, Vuyyuru H, Sasikala M, Reddy D. Role of the normal gut microbiota. World J Gastroenterol. 2015;21(29):8787–8803.
Fruit-infused water has become popular in recent years. It’s a great way to drink more and stay hydrated. With no added sugar, it’s a good alternative to juice or soda. The endless flavor combinations are tasty and refreshing. There are some important food safety tips to remember, however. To avoid increased bacteria growth and foodborne illness, follow these tips:
- Start with clean hands; wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds.
- Wash produce thoroughly under cool running water. Use a clean produce brush on firm items such as oranges or lemons.
- Use clean cutting boards and utensils to avoid crosscontamination.
- Store infused water in the refrigerator at 40°F or below in a sealed pitcher.
- If you are taking your infused water on the go, make sure to drink it within four hours. Infused water at room temperature must be used or discarded after four hours to prevent bacteria growth.
- For best results, drain fruit solids within 24 hours and refrigerate water up to three days.
- Always start with clean equipment for new batches; avoid refilling the same pitcher.
Source: Michigan State University Extension
Food portions can be a challenge, but choosing sensible amounts of all food is important for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. The best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to make small, long-term changes in what you eat and drink, along with getting daily physical activity.
Follow the MyPlate healthy eating food plan:
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables—think variety and make it colorful.
- Make half your grains whole grains.
- Choose low-fat and fat-free dairy products.
- Vary your protein—poultry, seafood, meat, eggs, nuts, and beans.
Other helpful tips:
- Avoid portion distortion—read labels, measure, and place servings into containers or baggies.
- Record the amount of food you eat with a three- to five-day food journal—you might be surprised!
- Use smaller bowls and plates at mealtime.
- Choose foods with less saturated fats, sodium, and added sugar.
- Cook more often at home to control the ingredients in your food.
- When dining out, look at nutritional information before ordering.
- Drink water or low-calorie beverages with meals.
- Get the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.
Set realistic and achievable goals for your health. Remember, if you slip up one day don’t dwell on it, just press on with your health goals in mind. Download Key Nutrients from the Extension Store for additional information.
A new term in the world of diets is the Flexitarian Diet. The mission of the Flexitarian Diet is to add more plant-based foods to your diet. Flexitarians eat less meat than they used to, but don’t give it up completely. The Flexitarian Diet has benefits like those seen with vegetarian diets—a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. The American Heart Association encourages the Flexitarian Diet as a good compromise to promote heart health. This way of eating can be fun—and may save you money!
Try these simple tips:
- Find ways to replace meat at your meals with legumes or soy products. For example, have a black bean burger instead of a hamburger.
- Start out small, by making just one meal each week meatless. You may find you enjoy the variety.
- Visit the Extension Store to download a free copy of Dried Beans, Peas, and Lentils Can Help You Save $$.
- Find vegetarian recipes on the American Heart Association website.
- When you do eat meat, select a lean cut. Lean cuts of meat include the words “loin” or “round.” After cooking, rinse ground meat with water and drain to reduce fat content. Limit your daily intake to 6 ounces.
Melina V., Craig W., Levin S. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Vegetarian Diets. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(12):1970–1980.
American Heart Association. Vegetarian, Vegan and Meals Without Meat. Last Reviewed January 27, 2017.
The International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2018 Food and Health Survey reported consumer confusion about food and nutrition. Eighty percent of survey respondents stated they have come across conflicting information about food and nutrition, and 59% state the conflicting information makes them doubt their food choices.
It is no wonder consumers are confused. There is an explosion of nutrition and food safety information readily available, making it difficult to sort fact from fiction. One reliable source is the IFIC Foundation. The IFIC Foundation’s mission is to effectively communicate science-based information on health, nutrition, and food safety for the public good. The public nonprofit organization partners with credible professional organizations, government agencies, and academic institutions to advance the public understanding of key issues.
Topics recently explored on the IFIC Foundation’s website and blog include the following:
- What’s the Carnivore Diet?
- Google Can’t Diagnose Your Food Allergy
- Everything You Need to Know About Aspartame
- Snacking Series: Do Snacks Lead to Weight Gain?
Food Advocates Communicating Through Science (FACTS) is a global network of the IFIC Foundation that can help consumers understand the science behind the myths and truth related to food, nutrition, and food safety.
Learn more about the IFIC Foundation or about FACTS.
Source: IFIC Foundation
Intermittent fasting (IF)—the practice of abstaining from food for limited periods—is growing in popularity as a dieting fad. Two main types of IF are the 5:2 diet and time-restricted feeding. On the 5:2 diet, a person eats normally five days of the week and then eats just one meal a day on two nonconsecutive days. Time-restricted feeding involves fasting for about 16 hours a day, with an 8-hour eating window, usually from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Some people are attracted to IF as a way to lose weight because it doesn’t require calorie-counting. However, fasting can cause headaches, fatigue, and lightheadedness. Fasting at certain times may lead to overeating at other times. This practice is dangerous for people with certain health conditions, such as diabetes.
In the short term, according to the American Heart Association, IF does not help people lose weight or lower their cholesterol levels any more than conventional methods of dieting do. The long-term effects of this way of eating are unknown.
If you are interested in exploring proven and safe methods of weight control, visit the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). Consult your doctor before beginning any weight-control program.
Sources: www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/0218p34.shtml; www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/intermittent-fasting; www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/not-so-fast-pros-and-cons-of-the-newest-diet-trend
Summer is the time to get out the camping gear and head outdoors. In addition to the hot dogs and s’mores, consider packing some of the following choices to balance out meals and snacks.
- Fruits and veggies. Sturdier fresh produce that holds up well includes apples, carrots, snap peas, and oranges. Dried fruit also makes a great snack.
- Whole grains. Popcorn is a whole grain and is an easy snack to take along. For cereal bars, check the nutrition label and choose those made with whole grain and that have a lower sugar content.
- Dairy. If you have adequate refrigeration, hard cheeses, cheese sticks, and yogurt tubes are much easier to pack than a carton of milk.
Preparing fresh produce can be easy when you have the information you need and a few skills. The Produce Basics information found on the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website and app describe how to store, clean, and prepare various fruits and vegetables. Check out this link: spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu/cook/produce-basics/. Search for Spend Smart. Eat Smart. at your app store and download the free app today!
The claims sound believable, so it can be tempting to try the latest diet you hear about. While a diet plan may sound tempting, an eating plan should be the goal. To manage your weight and maintain a healthy nutritional status, it would be wise to consider these questions:
QUESTION: Does the plan promise weight loss without exercise?
For most healthy adults, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends the following exercise guidelines:
- Aerobic activity – Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity.
- Muscle-strengthening exercises – Two or more days per week.
Keep activity exciting by doing different things you enjoy.
QUESTION: Are there particular foods, or food groups, excluded or consumed excessively?
Use MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov) to guide your food intake. All food groups are important.
QUESTION: Does the plan require you to purchase pills, bars, or shakes?
A sustainable eating pattern is based on food readily available in grocery stores and farmers markets.
QUESTION: Does the plan promise weight loss of more than 1–2 pounds per week?
Losing 1–2 pounds or less a week is gradual, healthy weight loss. Weight lost more rapidly than this tends to be regained even faster.
QUESTION: Does the plan sound too good to be true?
If it does, it probably is.
Serving Size: 1 1/2 cups | Serves: 6
- 2 tablespoons oil (canola or vegetable)
- 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium carrot (sliced 1/8 inch thick)
- 2 teaspoons garlic (peeled and minced; 3 cloves) or 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup dry yellow or brown lentils
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) low sodium chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon dried basil or Italian seasoning
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) no sodium added diced tomatoes or 2 chopped tomatoes
- 1 bunch kale (about 7 ounces)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
- Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.
- Add onion, carrot, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes.
- Add water to veggies in pot. Heat to boiling.
- Rinse lentils in colander with water. Add lentils to pot and simmer for 20 minutes. Do not drain.
- Add chicken broth, dried basil or Italian seasoning, and tomatoes. Cover and cook for 5–10 minutes.
- Rinse kale leaves; cut out the main stems and discard. Cut leaves into 1” pieces.
- Stir kale, salt, and pepper into lentil mixture. Return to boiling. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Nutrition information per serving: 200 calories, 5g total fat, 1g saturated fat, 0g trans fat, 0mg cholesterol, 170mg sodium, 29g total carbohydrate, 12g fiber, 4g sugar, 11g protein
Recipe courtesy of ISU Extension and Outreach’s Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website. For more information, recipes, and videos, visit spendsmart.extension.iastate.edu.