Monthly Archives: October 2016

Food grown more healthful

More and more grocery stores are making room for organic produce to keep up with increasing demand. Why are people going organic? Reasons include a growing national concern about the safety of our produce and a general movement toward an organic diet.

The Organic Diet: What Does Organic Really Mean?

Organic foods are thought to be better for your health and the environment because they’re grown in a natural, chemical-free way. Organic produce is grown using natural pest control methods, instead of pesticides, and organic meats don’t rely on chemicals to prevent diseases in animals. Instead of chemicals, organic farmers:

  • Rotate crops frequently to stave off insects
  • Fertilize crops with manure or compost
  • Use chemical-free soils
  • Allow animals to spend more time roaming instead of in confined spaces where diseases can spread
  • Use organic feed to feed livestock
  • Do not use certain medications (including hormones and antibiotics) on livestock

Find out what the 13 best superfoods are.

The Organic Diet: What Are the Benefits of Going Organic?

The decision to choose organic produce and other foods is a personal one, based on your own needs and concerns. Some people just don’t want to eat any food that could contain pesticides and other chemicals, says Anne Wolf, RD, a registered dietitian and researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine.

Another reason: Organic food tastes better, says Wolf, adding that studies have shown organic foods contain more disease-fighting antioxidants.

In addition to health and better taste, there’s the green aspect of going organic. “A lot of people eat organic for the philosophy of it — to help sustain our earth,” notes Wolf. Organic farming practices are better for the sustainability of land, water, and food.

For most healthy adults, though, Wolf admits, organic foods aren’t necessary for better health — it’s just a preference. Pregnant women and children are more susceptible to the health effects of pesticides (including nervous system damage and behavioral problems), so for them, organic foods are a good health investment.

Diet for Heart Health

For maximum heart health, you need to eat a well-balanced diet. But what does that really mean? “Try a diet low in saturated fat and high in fiber,” recommends Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, adjunct professor in the department of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. Here’s how to put such a diet in place.

Diet for Heart Health: Get Plenty of Fiber

Fiber can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of diabetes (a risk factor for heart disease) and certain types of cancer. “We recommend about 25 grams of fiber a day, for men a bit more. It’s based on your weight,” Young says. “Most Americans eat much, much less than that. If you follow a good diet, you’ll get enough, but so many of us don’t.”

The best way to include fiber in your diet is to eat a variety of whole grains and a mixture of fruits and veggies that have both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps clear out cholesterol from your bloodstream. Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, barley, dried beans, and peas; insoluble fiber is found in vegetables like beets and brussels sprouts, as well as whole-grain bread.

Diet for Heart Health: The Role of Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates should be 50 to 60 percent of your diet. In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, get your carbohydrates from legumes, whole-grain breads and pastas, and brown rice. Carbohydrates from these sources are considered good because they offer you nutrients, vitamins, and fiber, in addition to the calories.

However, Young explains that carbohydrates are often vehicles for saturated fats like butter, sour cream, cream cheese, and dips and spreads. That’s not good news because saturated fat increases your LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. So you want to watch what you put on your carbs, and how much of them you eat.

  • Eat the right carbs and the right fats. While too much LDL cholesterol is bad news, replacing all the fat in your diet with carbohydrates is not the answer either. “A diet too high in carbs and too low in fats will decrease the HDL cholesterol,” says Young. The HDL cholesterol, found in certain good (non-saturated) fats, is actually good for your heart.
  • Understand the role of triglycerides. Fruits and vegetables contain carbohydrates and are jam-packed with nutrients that your body needs. Other simple carbohydrates, like breads, cakes, and cookies made from white, refined flour, have less nutritional value. After we eat, our bodies turn carbohydrates, fats, and protein into triglycerides, the chemical that our cells use to give us energy. We need some triglycerides to fuel us throughout the day. But too much of this chemical has been found to increase the risk of heart disease. “It depends on the type of carb,” Young says. “White bread, for instance, elevates the triglycerides.”

Help prevent eye disease

Eye disease is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in the United States. More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, and 10 million Americans age 60 and over have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These eye diseases occur as we grow older, and proper nutrition may have some affect on both of them.

Cataracts develop on the lens of the eye when the proteins in the lens are damaged. These proteins are responsible for keeping the lens clear. When they become damaged, the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, and your vision may become blurry. You may also have poor night vision or double vision with cataracts. Cataract surgery is often necessary to remove and replace the damaged lens with an artificial lens.

AMD occurs when cells in the macula of the eye die. The macula is located in the center of the retina in the back of the eye, and is responsible for your sharp, central vision, which you need for reading and other tasks that require good eyesight. Once the macula is damaged, your vision is no longer clear, and you cannot make out fine details of objects. There is no cure for AMD, but proper nutrition may help prevent it from worsening.

Diet and Eye Disease: What Is a “Healthy Eyes” Diet?

According to Nelson, the nutrients associated with eye health are vitamins C and E; carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; omega-3 fatty acids; zinc; and vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid or folate), and B12.

“Antioxidants, especially lutein, help deter build-up of waste products in the retina, which in turn helps reduce your risk for AMD,” says Jennifer K. Nelson, MS, RD, director of clinical dietetics and associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo School of Health Sciences in Rochester, Minn. “Folate and vitamin B6 decrease the presence of the blood chemical homocysteine, which lowers your risk for AMD. Antioxidants also help prevent the cross linking of proteins in the lens which can cause cataracts.”

Here’s a list of foods containing eye-healthy nutrients:

  • Fruits and vegetables (good sources of vitamins C and E)
  • Dark green vegetables such as kale and spinach (lutein, vitamin E)
  • Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (beta carotene and zeaxanthin)
  • Anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and white fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Beef, eggs, lamb, milk, peanuts, pork, and whole grains (zinc)
  • Bananas, chicken, dried beans, fish, liver, pork, and potatoes (vitamin B6)
  • Citrus fruits, fortified cereals, dried beans, green leafy vegetables, liver, mushrooms, nuts, and peas (folic acid)
  • Dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and shellfish (vitamin B12)

Some even boost their nutritional content

If you’re like most Americans, you read the ingredients list on food packages. But what exactly is alpha-tocopherol? Ascorbic acid? Sodium nitrite? And how do these and 3,000 other approved food additives affect you and your health?

Food Additives: What Are They?

A “food additive” is any substance added during the production, processing, or storage of food. A manufactured product or a product derived from nature, it can be salt used to preserve or sugar used to sweeten. Additives can be vitamins or minerals used to enrich, a fat replacement used to enhance texture, or a color or dye to enhance appearance.

Regardless of whether an additive contributes nutritionally or just cosmetically, it cannot be used in a food product until it has been deemed safe for the general public by the U.S. Department of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and sometimes other agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Food Additives: FDA Regulations

While new additives must pass rigorous testing before approved, the 1958 Food Additives Amendment that set the stage for FDA approval of food additives stipulates that:

  • Certain food additives in use before 1958 and “believed to be safe” will not undergo further review. These include sodium nitrite and potassium nitrite, which are used to preserve lunch meats (and some are nonetheless questioned by consumer watchdog groups).
  • Several hundred other food additives, including salt, sugar, spices, and baking soda — all used in cooking for centuries — are “generally recognized as safe (GRAS).”
  • Before any other additive can be used in a product, the FDA will investigate the makeup of the additive, the amount the consumer will most likely ingest in a product, and possible short- and long-term health effects.

Food Additives: Guaranteed Safety?

Does this mean every additive in every food is absolutely safe for every one of us?

“Like all of science, food science evolves,” says Kathryn M. Kolasa, PhD, RD, professor and section head of nutrition education and sciences at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. “As science progresses, we do find things to be bad. Then you re-look at your laws, regulations, and labeling.”

Sulfites, for example, were once widely used to prevent discoloration and spoilage in fresh foods; produce managers at grocery stores commonly sprayed produce with sulfites, while restaurant managers sprayed sulfite solution on foods at salad bars. When the FDA began fielding reports of severe allergic reactions among severe asthmatics, and even some deaths after ingestion of sulfites, new regulations were put in place. The FDA banned the use of sulfites on fresh produce, while most restaurants and grocery stores voluntarily quit using sulfites on their salad bars and produce. Better labeling is also now required on products that have come in contact with sulfites.