Add nuts to your diet for better brain health

Bowl of mixed nuts on rustic wooden table in natural light.

Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and pistachios are all delicious nutrient-dense snacks. Nuts are often mentioned as healthy snacks for heart health. Not to mention that they taste great and can be a healthy replacement to chips as a salty and crunchy snack. But did you know that they can also help your brain health? A recent study shows that eating a little bit of nuts everyday can benefit brain health.

About nuts

Nuts come in many varieties, but they all provide rich health benefits. These tasty plant-based treats contain many important nutrients like:

  • healthy fats like monounsaturated (MUFA)  and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats
  • protein
  • soluble and insoluble fibers
  • vitamin E
  • vitamin K
  • folate
  • thiamine
  • minerals such as magnesium, copper, potassium, and selenium
  • antioxidants
  • phytosterols

Because of their antioxidant content, nuts are great for reducing the amount of inflammation in the body. This in turn can help lower risk of inflammatory related conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

In particular, eating just an ounce or two of almonds daily can reduce blood glucose levels after meal time. They can also increase satiety or fullness in those with type 2 diabetes. Also, eating an ounce or so of walnuts daily can help some people lose weight since they also help increase fullness and reduce insulin levels. Finally, research shows that eating an ounce and a half of pistachios daily can help improve lipid markers such as reducing LDL-C or “bad” cholesterol.

Nuts and brain health

A 2019 study looked at data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey over 22 years. Nut intake data was collected from over 4800 study participants in 1991, 1993, and during the years of cognitive function data collection in 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006. Study results show that nut intake is associated with reduced levels of cognitive decline.

In particular, eating more than 10 grams or more of nuts daily, which equates to about 2 teaspoons a day, may benefit brain health. In fact, the researchers report that this small amount of nuts can improve thinking, reasoning, and memory. Also, they report that this same amount of nuts can improve the brain function of older adults by about 60-percent compared to those who didn’t eat nuts.

Interestingly enough, the same antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that help improve heart health also benefits brain health. Therefore, make sure to add nuts to your daily routine to reap these awesome health benefits.

Other ways to help brain health

Now if you’re allergic to nuts, this talk of nuts and health benefits may be a bummer. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t other ways you can improve brain health. Read below for tips on keeping your brain at its healthiest.

  • Keep your brain busy: As the saying goes “Use it or lose it.” The same concept works for brain health. Just like you exercise your body to stay fit, you should not forget to do the same for your brain. Crossword puzzles, reading, drawing, painting, and even crafts can help keep your brain strong.
  • Exercise your body: Like I mentioned before, exercise for your body is important for heart health, but also for brain health too. This is because your heart pumps all-important oxygen-rich blood to the brain to keep it healthy. Every step counts, so walk, jog, bike, dance, or do whatever movement you enjoy. Your brain will thank you.
  • Improve your diet: Eating lots of fiber-rich and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can benefit brain health as well as overall health. This is because, just like nuts, these antioxidants reduce inflammation in the body that can increase chronic disease risk. Color your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables each day to reap the benefits of the different antioxidants they contain that possess different healthful properties.
  • Limit alcohol intake and stop smoking: Smoking can constrict blood vessels , which means less oxygen reaches your brain. For help to quit smoking, visit Smokefree.gov for helpful resources. And as far as alcohol goes, research shows that more than two standard drinks a day can increase dementia risk. A standard drink is equal to 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, or 1.5 ounces liquor.
  • Take a supplement for brain health:  If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough brain food in your diet, then you can add a brain health supplement like UltaMind to your daily routine. UltaMind by Vita Sciences contains innovative compounds like St. John’s Wort and Gingko biloba, to name a few that have been shown to support brain health, memory, focus, and concentration.

References:

de Souza, R., Schincaglia, R. M., Pimentel, G. D., & Mota, J. F. (2017). Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients9(12), 1311. doi:10.3390/nu9121311

Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School (accessed April 4, 2019) “12 ways to keep your brain young.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young

Li, Ming and Shi, Z. (February 2019) “A Prospective Association of Nut Consumption with Cognitive Function in Chinese Adults Aged 55+ – China Health and Nutrition Survey.” The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging, 23(2): 211-216.

Roche, Ph.d., B. (July 17, 2014) “10 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health.” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/iq-boot-camp/201407/10-ways-improve-your-brain-health

 

Could weight loss help lower risk of migraine?

anxiety, stress, depression, health, mental health, headache, migraineWith summer on the horizon, weight loss efforts are in full bloom. However, weight loss can provide more than just body confidence. The Centers for Disease Control report that just losing 5-percent of your body weight, which is equal to about 10 pounds for a 200 lb. person, can lower your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Not to mention that a recent study shows that losing weight can also lower risk of migraines.

What is a migraine?

A migraine is a recurring type of headache that causes a throbbing or pulsing pain along with other uncomfortable symptoms. Other symptoms of a migraine may include:

  • nausea
  • weakness
  • sensitivity to light and sound

Migraines can be triggered by a variety of different things such as:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • hormonal changes in women
  • loud noises
  • bright or flashing lights
  • lack of sleep
  • tobacco
  • skipped meals
  • certain medicines
  • caffeine
  • too much activity (overexertion)

Women and those with a family history of migraines are at greater risk of developing migraines. Treatment usually includes certain pain relievers, resting with your eyes closed in a quiet, dark room, as well as placing an eye pack on your forehead and drinking plenty of fluids.

Migraines and weight loss

A recent study analyzed data from 10 different studies regarding migraine occurrence. Study results show that those who lost weight had a reduction in the days per month they had migraines. Also, pain severity and duration of the headache was reduced with weight loss. The results seemed to be the same in adults and kids. Also, results were similar for anyone who lost weight, no matter how the weight was lost (i.e. surgery, diet and exercise).

It is thought that those who are overweight or obese may be more at risk for migraine headaches due to inflammation. Researchers suggest that certain proteins released by fat tissue, obesity-related health problems such as hypertension and type 2 diabetes, as well as psychological risk factors, stroke, and respiratory conditions may also increase risk of headaches in those who are overweight or obese.

If you have migraines, but have not found success with any medications over-the-counter, then you may want to visit your doctor for suggestions. Another option is to try a natural supplement like Migravent by Vita Sciences. Migravent contains ingredients like CoQ10, magnesium, and riboflavin, among others to help promote migraine relief and provide neurological support.

Tips on losing weight 

There are many ways to approach weight loss. It will vary according to the individual. Your current health status will determine your nutrient needs and exercise tolerance. Also, your food allergies or intolerances and daily schedule will help determine the eating plan that will work best for you. The key is to start changing unhealthy habits one at a time. Over time, you will create the healthy lifestyle that helps you meet your health goals and that is easy for you to stick with for the long term.

Here are some tips to help you start planning your weight loss program.

  • Write down short-term and long-term goals: Although the term goals may make some people sigh in frustration, they are important for keeping you on track with your weight loss regimen. Start by writing out your ultimate goal for the year, then break it down into smaller goals such as monthly goals. For example, your yearly goal may be to lose 50 pounds. Since this can seem overwhelming to approach, break this goal down into smaller monthly goals. These goals should be S.M.A.R.T., or specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. A goal of this kind will help you track your progress since it’s measurable. Therefore, instead of just saying “I want to eat more vegetables,” instead you could make one of your monthly goals “I will eat at least one cup of vegetables at each meal over the next four weeks.”
  • Make time for planning and prepping meals: Your busy schedule may have you pressed for time. However, in order to have the best chance of weight loss success, you need to make time for meal planning and prepping. Just an hour a week can give you plenty of time to write a shopping list and meal calendar. These tools can help you know what foods you need to stay on track with your diet. A registered dietitian may be helpful to get you started on such as meal plan. Once you have the foods you need in stock, then just take another hour or so a week to wash, chop, dice, and portion out fruit and vegetables for meals and snacks. This can provide convenient meal and snack options that can make it easier for you to stay on track throughout the week.
  • Be active whenever possible: Every step counts, so move whenever possible. Take the stairs when you can, or walk your dog or take a walk after meals. You can also take a walk at lunch at work or home to help get some steps in and aid digestion.
  • Visit your doctor regularly: You should visit your doctor at least once a year to check your numbers. These numbers include blood pressure, weight, and labs like cholesterol and blood glucose. However, if you have a chronic condition or are at risk for such conditions like heart disease or diabetes, then you should visit twice a year or more to keep track of your numbers and risk factors.
  • Be accountable: Besides going to the doctor, it’s important to stay accountable in other ways as well to stay on track with your weight loss. This means weekly weigh-ins, having a weight loss buddy, and/or having a health coach to support you and provide motivation along the way.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed February 13, 2018) “Losing Weight.” https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

Mayo Clinic Medline Plus (Last updated on February 7, 2019) “Migraine.” https://medlineplus.gov/migraine.html

MindTools (accessed March 27, 2019) “SMART Goals: How to Make Your Goals Achievable.” https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/smart-goals.htm

Preidt, R. (March 25, 2019) “Fewer Excess Pounds May Mean Fewer Migraines.” https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2019-03-23/fewer-excess-pounds-may-mean-fewer-migraines

 

Could sugary drinks reduce life expectancy?

soda, cola, sugar, sugary drinkAnyone who has been on a healthy lifestyle plan knows that you should try not to drink your calories. This is because you want to cut calories wherever you can to lose weight. However, cutting out those sugary drinks are not only helpful in weight loss, but also in cutting your disease risk. In fact, a recent study found that those who drank less sugary drinks had a lower risk of chronic diseases and early death as compared to those who drank sugary drinks often.

What is considered a sugary drink?

A sugary drink can be anything from processed colas to fresh squeezed juices. Here are some examples of sugary drinks you should limit in your daily routine.

  • cola
  • milkshakes
  • coffee drink blends
  • orange, apple, or other fruit juices
  • certain kinds of smoothies
  • flavored milks
  • sports drinks
  • sweetened waters
  • energy drinks

These sugary drinks can be sweetened with plain sugar or one of many forms of sugar used in processed goods. Some examples of added sugars include:

  • brown sugar
  • corn sweetener
  • corn syrup
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • glucose
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • lactose
  • malt syrup
  • maltose
  • molasses
  • raw sugar
  • sucrose

Sugary drinks and health outcomes research

Sugary drink intake has been linked to cognitive impairment, obesity in children and adults as well as dental caries.   Also, some research shows that sugar-sweetened beverage intake may be linked to heart health issues.

One recent study looked at the impact of sugary-sweetened beverage intake on health. Study results show that those women who drank sugary drinks more than two servings a day had a 63-percent higher risk of early death than those who drank less than one serving a month. Also, by looking at the same factors in men, those who drank more sugary drinks had a 29-percent higher risk of premature death than those who drank less.

Researchers suggest that this risk of premature death comes from chronic diseases linked with sugary drink intake. For example, those who drink more sugary drinks may have overall poorer diets. In turn, this may lead to a greater risk of obesity. Then this increase in body weight may increase risk of obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Therefore, it’s these chronic diseases that increase the risk of early death in those that drink a lot of sugary drinks.

Other ways to reduce sugar in your diet

Besides cutting down on sugary drinks, you can cut out sugar in your diet by following the tips below.

  • Have healthy snacks on hand: If you’re not prepared with healthy snacks in tow, then you are more likely to walk to the vending machine for a snack. However, most convenience snacks are full of added sugar and sodium. Therefore, grab some portable fruit like bananas, apples, or oranges before you leave the house for work. Fruit may also contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar. Not to mention, that fruit also contains fiber and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the body and keep your gut healthy.
  • Find alternatives to sugary drink options: Instead of energy drinks, reach for a cup of coffee with some almond milk. Or instead of a soda, try drinking a seltzer water infused with fruit like lemon or limes. Also, if you enjoy your coffee blended drink, just opt for sugar-free flavorings, skim or plant-based milk options, and skip the whipped cream and chocolate or caramel drizzle on top.
  • Take a sugar control supplement: If you’re in the midst of trying to cut down on sugar in your diet, but need a little help, then try a glucose control supplement. Glucarex by Vita Sciences is one example of a natural supplement that can help you control your blood glucose levels. This is because Glucarex contains ingredients like chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon to help naturally support weight loss, metabolism, and healthy blood glucose levels. Therefore, such a supplement could support any healthy lifestyle habits you are trying to make to improve your health.
  • Know your numbers: By keeping track of your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides you can detect health problems before they start. Just be sure to visit your doctor often to have your labs checked at least once a year. However, you may have to visit more often if you have a family history of or diagnosis of chronic disease(s) already.

References:

Anjum, I., Jaffery, S. S., Fayyaz, M., Wajid, A., & Ans, A. H. (2018). “Sugar Beverages and Dietary Sodas Impact on Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review.” Cureus10(6), e2756. doi:10.7759/cureus.2756

Bleich, S. N., & Vercammen, K. A. (2018). “The negative impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on children’s health: an update of the literature.” BMC obesity5, 6. doi:10.1186/s40608-017-0178-9

Bracho-Sanchez, E. (March 18, 2019) “Sugary drinks linked to higher risk of premature death, especially for women, study says.”  https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/18/health/sugary-drinks-premature-death-women-study/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed February 27, 2017) “Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption.”

Deshpande, G., Mapanga, R. F., & Essop, M. F. (2017). “Frequent Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and the Onset of Cardiometabolic Diseases: Cause for Concern?” Journal of the Endocrine Society1(11), 1372-1385. doi:10.1210/js.2017-00262

Luger, M., Lafontan, M., Bes-Rastrollo, M., Winzer, E., Yumuk, V., & Farpour-Lambert, N. (2017). “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review from 2013 to 2015 and a Comparison with Previous Studies.” Obesity facts10(6), 674-693.

 

Could your yo-yo diet lifestyle be hurting your heart?

vegetables, nutrition, hypertension, high blood pressure, heart healthWith new year’s resolutions perhaps on their second wind, and summer approaching, you may be considering a new diet. Maybe this is a reboot of the diet you started at the beginning of January. Or maybe you saw a new fad diet online that promises quick results just in time for bathing suit season. But before you fall into this trap, you should know that current research shows that yo-yo dieting could hurt your heart.

What is yo-yo-dieting?

Yo-yo dieting is a pattern of losing weight and gaining it  back repeatedly.  There is inconclusive evidence to show that yo-yo dieting impacts future weight gain and metabolic health. In fact, a 2017 study shows that weight loss efforts, no matter how many times they are repeated, should continue to be encouraged in those who are overweight or obese.

However, this does not mean though that you should strive to be a yo-yo dieter. This is because recent research shows that yo-yo dieting could impact heart health. A 2019 study looked at 500 women with an average age of 37 years old.

Study results show that women who lost 10 pounds and gained that weight back within a year were more likely to have heart health problems. Also, the more they yo-yo dieted, the more at risk they were for heart disease. Researchers suggest that this may happen because when a person loses weight, they lose some lean muscle mass. And when they gain weight back, they often  gain fat in place of this muscle. Over time, this may cause a build-up of fat in the abdomen, which can increase heart health risk.

About a heart healthy diet 

Instead of yo-yo dieting, you can protect your heart by following a heart healthy diet. This means lots of fiber-rich and antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like oats, quinoa, nuts, and seeds. In addition, this means consuming lean protein at meals and snacks, eating plenty of healthy plant-based fats like avocado and olive oil, as well as limiting alcohol intake. Focusing more on consuming a balanced diet that is nutrient-dense is better for your heart than countless cycles of fad diets and weight gain.

Other ways to help your heart

Besides a heart healthy diet, read below for other things you can do to help your heart.

  • Move more: Exercise is not only good for helping you to manage weight, but is also great for your heart. You should try to move at least 30 minutes a day for most days of the week for the most benefit. This movement should be of moderate intensity. This means that when you move, your breathing quickens, but you’re not out of breath. This includes brisk walking, gardening, or light aerobics for example.
  • Stress less and quit smoking: Stress and smoking are two lifestyle behaviors that can contribute to increased blood pressure. This is because they can constrict blood vessels and make it harder for blood to flow in the body. Therefore, if you smoke, use resources such as those on Smokefree.gov to try to quit. And if you’re stressed, try to talk to someone like a friend, loved one, or counselor. You can also use relaxation breathing, yoga, or meditation to help with stress.
  • Visit your doctor often: It’s important to visit your doctor at least once a year, or more if you have a chronic health condition. This will help you keep track of your numbers like blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels. In turn, this can help you catch any heart health problems in the early stages and treat them before they cause serious issues.
  • Add a heart healthy supplement: If you are already following a low stress, smoke-free, heart healthy eating and lifestyle plan, then that’s great. However, if you want to further enhance the benefits of such a lifestyle, you can try a heart healthy supplement like Alestra by Vita Sciences. Alestra contains ingredients like niacin, plant sterols, and garlic to maintain healthy cholesterol levels and promote heart health.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com

References:

American Heart Association (August 15, 2015) “The American Heart Association’s Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations.”

Dictionary.com (accessed March 11, 2019) “Yo-yo dieting.”

Gordon, S. (March 7, 2019) “Yo-Yo Dieting Can Take a Toll on Your Heart.” HealthDay

Mackie, G.M., Samocha-Bonet, D., and Tam, C.S. (March-April 2017) “Does weight cycling promote obesity and metabolic risk factors? Obesity Research and Clinical Practice, 11(2): 131-139.

Mayo Clinic (June 9, 2018) “Is yo-yo dieting making you fat.” Mayo Clinic online

Mayo Clinic (June 12, 2018) “Exercise intensity: how to measure it.” Mayo Clinic online

University of Michigan: Michigan Medicine (June 28, 2018) “Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation.” https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255

 

 

A plant-based diet may help treat diabetes

fruit, vegetable, nuts, seeds, healthy, dietIf you’ve ever tried to eat healthy, which I’m sure most of us have, then you may have been told to eat more vegetables. This is a tried and true statement that is vital to every healthy lifestyle. This is because plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables are full of gut-healthy fiber and antioxidants.  In turn, this helps to lower your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. That is why it may not be surprising that a recent study shows that a plant-based diet may help diabetes treatment.

What is a plant-based diet?

There are several ways you may view a plant-based diet. And you don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of this eating plan. In fact, the definition of a plant-based diet is a group of eating habits that avoid eating most or all animal products and support mostly intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, whole grains and nuts. Therefore, all you have to do is include a plant-based food to each meal or snack time. So try to pick a variety of colors of plant-based foods to reap the benefits of the vast array of antioxidants.

Plant-based diet research

There is a lot of research supporting the benefits of a plant-based diet. Research shows that such a diet can help improve mental health, heart health, quality of life, HbA1c levels, and body weight. It can also help people manage their diabetes. It’s thought that these health benefits stem from the antioxidants in produce that help improve gut health and decrease oxidative stress and related inflammation. Also, plant-based foods provide a ton of nutrients like fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and vitamins A and C.

A recent study looked at how the vegan diet may help those with diabetes. Researchers looked at the effects of vegetable-based foods on health versus animal-based foods. For sixteen weeks, 20 people with type 2 diabetes were fed either veggie-based burgers or meat-based burgers.

Study results show that the tofu burgers enhanced post-meal insulin secretion more than the meat burger. This means that after meals, blood glucose levels did not rise as much in those on the plant-based diet.  Also, the vegan meal improved beta-cell function, which produces, holds, and releases insulin. This is important since diabetes usually damages the beta-cell function in those who have the condition. Therefore, this study shows that a plant-based diet could help those with diabetes control their condition.

Other ways to help control diabetes

Besides eating a plant-based diet, there are other things you can add to your healthy lifestyle to help control diabetes.

  • Stay active: Exercise can help increase how sensitive insulin is and can help the body use blood glucose better for energy. Therefore, be sure to move as much as you can each day. This can be walking, cleaning house, walking around the market, or aerobics, to name a few. Every step counts, so just because you can’t work out at the gym, that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to stay active and control your blood glucose levels.
  • Take medications: Many people with type 2 diabetes benefit from taking daily medications that help lower blood glucose levels. Some people may also have to take insulin to assist with diabetes treatment. Your diabetes healthcare team will look at your health history and current health status to find the medicine regimen that will work best for you.
  • Add a daily supplement: A supplement like Glucarex by Vita Sciences can help control blood glucose levels naturally. Glucarex contains  compounds like chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon that can support healthy weight, metabolism, and blood glucose levels.
  • See your doctor often: If you have a chronic disease like diabetes, it’s vital to visit your doctor more than once a year. During these visits, have your labs checked and have your medicines adjusted if needed. This can help you stay on top of your diabetes and lower risk of complications.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com

References:

Hever, J., & Cronise, R. J. (2017). “Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.” Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC14(5), 355-368.

Kahleova, H., et al. (2019) “A Plant-Based Meal Stimulates Incretin and Insulin Secretion More Than an Energy- and Macronutrient-Matched Standard Meal in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Study.” Nutrients, 11(3): 486.

Kerley C. P. (2018). “A Review of Plant-based Diets to Prevent and Treat Heart Failure.” Cardiac failure review4(1), 54-61.

McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). “A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.” Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC14(5), 342-354.

Toumpanakis, A., Turnbull, T., & Alba-Barba, I. (2018). “Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review.” BMJ open diabetes research & care6(1), e000534.

Could too much fat in your diet harm your gut health?

gut health, digestion, ibs, fat, probioticAlthough some fats are healthy in a balanced diet, too much of anything can be a harmful thing. For some people, like those with irritable bowel syndrome, too much fat in the diet may cause digestive distress. And for those with conditions like pancreatitis, fat is not digested well, so must be limited in the diet. Recent research shows that anyone, no matter their health status, may be at risk for gut health issues on a high fat diet.

What exactly is gut health?

When you hear about gut health, probiotics may come to mind. Probiotics are good bacteria that are important to help balance the health of the gut microbiome. It’s a vital part of gut health. You can consume probiotics through daily supplements that are diverse and potent. However, if you prefer, you can also consume probiotics through fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha, for example.

In order to make sure those probiotics thrive, it’s also important to feed those good bacteria and protect the gut. Therefore, you can feed the gut bacteria by eating foods known as prebiotics. Prebiotics are fibers that help feed probiotics. Such prebiotic foods include asparagus, yams, and bananas, to name a few. The more diverse the gut bacteria in your gut, the healthier your gut and in turn your body.

All about fats

High fat diets have been all the rage in recent days from keto to low carb diets. These diets may have some benefits such as weight loss and helping to control blood glucose levels. This however is likely when people consume mostly healthy, unsaturated fats in their diet. Research shows that when people replace saturated fat content with unsaturated fat content, they have heart health benefits.

Saturated fats include those in foods such as dairy, fatty meats, butter, and some vegetable oils, to name a few. On the other hand, unsaturated fats include foods such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils like olive, coconut, and avocado oils.

Fat intake and gut health

A recent study looked at the impact of a high fat diet on the gut microbiome. A 6-month trial placed healthy people on either a low, moderate, or high fat diet. Blood and fecal samples were tested at baseline and after the study to assess gut health.

Study results show that the lower fat diet produced the highest alpha bacterial diversity, or richness of bacterial species in the gut as compared to the high fat diet. Also, those in the high fat diet had changes to long-chain fatty acid metabolism. This in turn resulted in higher levels of chemicals that could potentially trigger inflammation. Higher levels of inflammation in the body can lead to increased risk of chronic inflammatory diseases like heart disease and diabetes, to name a few.

Researchers suggest that those who traditionally consume a high carbohydrate, low fat diet who transition to a higher fat diet may be at most risk for high fat diet-related health risks. Further studies need to be done to see if those already on a moderate fat diet may be at health risk if they transition to a high fat diet.

Other ways to help gut health

Besides balancing the fat intake in your diet, there are other ways to help improve your gut health. Follow the tips below to help your gut feel happier and healthier today.

  • Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables each day. Fruits and vegetables contain a variety of gut-friendly fibers and antioxidants. The antioxidants can help reduce inflammation in the body and strengthen immunity. This can reduce chronic disease risk and improve overall health status.
  • Take a daily gut health supplement. If you don’t feel like you eat enough produce each day, then a probiotic supplement may be helpful for you. One such supplement is Biovia 30 by Vita Sciences. Biovia 30 contains 30 billion organisms from 10 different strains of healthy bacteria.
  • Limit inflammatory behaviors. Lifestyle behaviors like smoking, drinking caffeine, and consuming alcohol can all negatively impact gut health. Therefore, limit or avoid such activities to lower your chronic disease risk and improve your gut and overall health.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com

References:

Columbia Surgery (accessed February 25, 2019) “Pancreatitis diet.”

Mayo Clinic (March 6, 2018) “Prebiotics, probiotics and your health.”

Saha L. (2014). Irritable bowel syndrome: pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and evidence-based medicine. World journal of gastroenterology20(22), 6759-73.

Wan YWang FYuan J, et al. (February 2019) “Effects of dietary fat on gut microbiota and faecal metabolites, and their relationship with cardiometabolic risk factors: a 6-month randomised controlled-feeding trial.”

Could preventing or treating hypertension protect your mind?

hypertension, blood pressure, heart health, healthWhen you think of high blood pressure, or hypertension, your heart health may be the first thing that comes to mind. But what many may not realize is that blood pressure also relates to the health of your mind. It makes sense if you think about it. All the body’s tissues and organs require oxygen from the blood that flows from the heart. If something is affecting blood flow, then this can affect the health of many parts of your body. Let’s look a bit more at blood pressure and how controlling it can improve the health of your heart and mind.

About hypertension

Hypertension happens when the blood flow in your vessels has to use extra force to travel though the body. There are several different causes of blood pressure. Some of these causes include high sodium intake, obesity, thyroid problems, or sleep apnea, to name a few.

A person has hypertension if their blood pressure consistently reads at or above 140 mm Hg over 90 mmHg. The top number is the systolic blood pressure, or the pressure of the blood in the arteries during contraction. On the other hand, the bottom number is the pressure of the blood in the vessels at dilation, or in between contractions.

It’s important to see your doctor on a regular basis so you can track your blood pressure. This is because untreated high blood pressure can lead to complications like heart attack, heart failure, or stroke, to name a few.

Blood pressure and brain health

By keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy, you ensure healthy blood flow all over the body, This includes healthy blood flow to the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, taking care of your heart can help reduce your risk of stroke and dementia.

A recent study looked at a group of older adults at risk for heart disease but had no history of stroke or diabetes. Researchers looked at whether intensive or standard treatment for hypertension could improve cognitive health outcomes.

Intensive blood pressure control would involve a goal of a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mm Hg. On the other hand, standard treatment would merely try to lower the systolic blood pressure below 140 mm Hg.

Study results show that the intensive treatment helped reduce mild cognitive impairment risk by 20-percent. Because of this finding, researchers suggest that intensive blood pressure treatment could lower risk of dementia. However, more studies will need to be done to see if this theory holds true.

How can you improve your blood pressure?

When it comes to heart health, here are several steps you can take to help control your blood pressure and in turn help the health of your mind.

  • Eat a heart healthy diet: Cut back on sodium, fatty red meats, alcohol, and sugary processed foods for better heart health. Instead, swap out these foods for lean animal or plant-based proteins like chicken, fish, nuts, or seeds. Also, load up on antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits that also provide gut- and heart-healthy fiber.
  • Move more: Every step counts when it comes to heart health. Try to walk, swim, bike, dance, or do whatever moves you to exercise. Try to move at least thirty minutes total a day most days of the week to help keep your weight within a healthy range and your heart strong.
  • Sleep enough: During sleep, your body takes care of a lot of internal business. One piece of business is regulating fluid and hormones in the body. If interrupted this can have a negative impact on blood pressure. This is why most adults should sleep at least seven to nine hours a night most nights for optimal health.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking can constrict blood vessels and in turn narrow them and increase risk of blood pressure. Therefore, if you smoke, be sure to visit smokefree.gov for resources on how you can quit today to help your heart and brain health.
  • Take a heart healthy supplement:  Along with these lifestyle changes, it also never hurts to add a heart healthy supplement to give your heart health the upper hand. One such supplement is Circova by Vita Sciences. Circova contains ingredients like L-arginine, niacin, and hawthorne that help to naturally improve blood pressure and blood flow.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

References:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 26, 2018) “Brain Health Is Connected to Heart Health.” https://www.cdc.gov/features/heart-brain-health/index.html

Mayo Clinic (January 9, 2019) “10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (accessed February 18, 2019) “High Blood Pressure.”

NIH Research Matters (February 12, 2019) “Intensive blood pressure control may lessen cognitive loss.”

 

 

Could eating processed foods increase risk of death?

processed, processed foods, ultraprocessed, unhealthy, canned, packaged, convenienceIf you read just about any healthy eating plan, you may see the phrase “eat less processed foods.” This can seem like a difficult task since many foods in the grocery store aisles seem to contain long lists of ingredients. Therefore, it can be hard to figure out what to eat for optimal health while still staying within your food budget. However, recent research shows that eating too many ultraprocessed foods can increase risk of death. Let’s learn a  bit about these foods and how you can clean up your diet.

What are ultra processed foods?

Ultra processed foods are those processed foods that are mass produced, packaged foods. They often contain ingredients such as flavoring agents, colors, emulsifiers, humectants, non-sugar sweeteners, and other cosmetic additives. These compounds are used to imitate natural flavors. Examples of ultra processed foods include:

  • packaged breads and buns
  • sweet or savory packaged snacks
  • prepackaged candies and desserts
  • sodas and sweetened drinks
  • pre-made meat products that are packaged such as meat balls, poultry, and fish nuggets
  • instant noodles and soups
  • frozen or shelf stable ready meals

These foods are different from other processed food products like canned vegetables and preserved meat products that only contain added salt. This salt merely helps to preserve the food product. Other foods in this group include cheeses and freshly made un-packaged breads.

On the other hand, minimally processed to unprocessed foods include fresh, dried, ground, chilled, frozen, pasteurized, or fermented staple foods. Such foods may include packaged fresh fruits, vegetables, rice, pasta, eggs, meat, fish, or milk products such as milk or yogurt.

Ultra processed foods and health research

Research is showing a lot of health risks from consuming too many ultra processed foods (UPF). One study shows that those who consumed more UPF had higher body mass index (BMI) and waist cicrcumference than those who didn’t eat such foods.  Another study shows that those who consumed more UPF had overall poor diet quality compared to those who ate less of these foods.

A recent study also found that increased intake of UPF increased a person’s risk of death. This was a seven-year long study that looked at food intake data from over 40000 people. Study results show that intake of UPF was linked with a mean age of 45 to 64 years old, living alone, lower physical activity level, and higher body mass index, among other demographics.  Therefore, researchers will need to conduct more studies to figure out the mechanisms which these UPF directly affect health.

How to clean up your diet

It can be hard to eat less ultra processed foods and stay healthy. Or so you may think. Here are some tips on how to eat a healthier diet while not breaking the bank.

  • Buy in bulk. Although it may just be you or a few of you in your home, buying in bulk can save money. Choose family packs of meats to save money on these protein-rich food products. Separate the bulk pack into smaller servings in freezer bags and put in the freezer for later use. This way you can have a few meals from one bulk pack.
  • Buy manager’s special or discontinued items. Find out what day your grocery store puts out manager’s special items. This items in the meat, produce, and dairy sections will likely have brightly colored stickers on them with reduced prices to help sell items that may be a week away from being past their sell-by date. These foods are perfectly safe food items. However, you will just need to use them in your meals and snacks soon after purchasing.
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables without added sauces, batters, or butter can be healthy and cheap ways to eat your veggies. Buy in bulk to save even more money. These vegetables are typically flash frozen, so they retain many nutrients from their fresh form and will produce less waste since they are good in the freezer for eight to ten months.
  • Do a  little prep work. Some low-cost healthy food items like fresh carrots, potatoes, celery, and salad greens may require some prep work. Rinsing, drying, and chopping such produce may be necessary to make them ready to eat. However, they are much cheaper than already washed and chopped veggies.
  • Eat out less. Eating out and ordering takeout may be convenient, but the cost can add up fast. Not to mention that such foods are high in sodium, unhealthy fats, and preservatives. Therefore, try to limit eating out to a treat once a week to help improve your health and save money.
  • Take a multivitamin to fill in the gaps. If you feel like your current diet is not meeting your nutrition needs, then a multivitamin may be in order. Although it’s best to consume your nutrients from food, a supplement can help if your healthy diet still has a few gaps. The multivitamin Zestia from Vita Sciences fills your nutrient gaps and then some. Zestia contains a comprehensive vitamin and mineral profile as well as a superfood complex and probiotics to enhance gut health.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

References:

Fiolet, T., et al. (2018). “Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.)360, k322.

Schnabel L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, et al. (2019) “Association Between Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Mortality Among Middle-aged Adults in France. “JAMA Intern Med. Published online February 11, 2019.

Silva, F.M., et al. “Consumption of ultra-processed food and obesity: cross sectional results from the Brazilian Longitudinal Study of Adult Health (ELSA-Brasil) cohort (2008-2010).” Public Health Nutrition, 21(12): 2271-2279.

Vandevijvere, S., De Ridder, K., Fiolet, T., Bel. S., and Tafforeau, J. (December 2018) “Consumption of ultra-processed food products and diet quality among children, adolescents and adults in Belgium.” European Journal of Nutrition, doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1870-3. 

Heart Health Month: How to protect yourself from heart attack

heart, health, heart attack, heart diseaseYou may know that many people suffer from heart disease. However, you may not know that heart disease is the number one leading cause of death in the United States. Therefore, it’s important to know what puts you at risk for heart disease. This way you can work to prevent such risk factors and in turn lower your risk of heart disease. So, read below and find out how you can lower your risk of heart disease including reducing your risk of heart attack.

Risk factors for heart attack 

A heart attack can occur when blood flow to the heart is blocked for one reason or another. Blockages in the blood vessels are usually caused by fat or cholesterol that form plaques. These plaques are like roadblocks that prevent blood from flowing to the heart well enough to deliver oxygen to the heart and in turn other tissues in the body.

It’s when a plaque breaks off from the vessel and forms a clot that you can have a heart attack. This is because the clot stops blood flow in a vessel. Without blood flowing to the heart, this can cause muscle damage in the heart.  That is why it’s so important to try and prevent risk factors of a heart attack to prevent this from happening. Here are some of the major risk factors that you can work on preventing today.

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure, or hypertension, can damage blood vessels over time, and in turn put you at higher risk for heart disease.
  • High blood cholesterol and blood fats: High blood fats, also know as triglycerides, as well as high cholesterol can narrow arteries and increase risk of heart disease.
  • Diabetes: Those with diabetes are have an increased risk of blood glucose levels rising. In turn, this puts them at higher risk for heart disease than those who do not have diabetes.
  • Obesity: Since those who are obese are at higher risk for high blood fats, cholesterol, and diabetes, then they are in turn at higher risk for heart disease.
  • Family history of heart attack: If your sibling, parent, or grandparent has had a heart attack by the age of 55 years of age for men and 65 years of age for women, then you may be at increased risk yourself.
  • Illicit drug use: Stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine can cause coronary artery spasms that can trigger a heart attack.
  • An autoimmune condition: Those with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are at higher risk for heart disease than those without such conditions.
  • Lack of physical activity: Exercise, in particular cardio exercise like walking, running, or biking, can help to strengthen the heart. If you don’t exercise much, then your heart may weaken over time.  Even if you can’t do a whole lot at once, start with a few minutes of walking here and there. Over time, try to work up to a total of thirty minutes most days of the week can be great for your heart health.
  • Stress: When you’re stressed, this can increase your blood pressure. When you have increased blood pressure, it can cause damage to your blood vessels. Over time this can put you at increased risk for heart attack. However, it’s important to know that high blood pressure is not an accurate predictor for having a heart attack.

Warning signs of a heart attack 

If you notice any of the following signs of heart attack, be sure to call 911 right away. Notice that some signs and symptoms of women can be different from the common signs. Therefore, it’s important not to ignore any symptoms in which you just don’t feel right since they may be signs of a heart attack or other health condition taking place.

  • chest pain or discomfort
  • upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach (women may be more likely to experience back or jaw pain in lieu of chest pain)
  • shortness of breath (women are more likely to experience this symptom than men)
  • nausea and/or vomiting (women are more likely to experience this symptom than men)
  • lightheadedness
  • cold sweats
  • upper back pressure

How to prevent a heart attack 

You may not be able to prevent all heart attacks. However, there are some steps you can take today to lower your risk.

  • Know your numbers: Visit the doctor at least once a year to check your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood fats, so you can assess your risk of heart disease. When you know your numbers, you can take steps to prevent or treat a chronic condition.
  • Quit smoking or don’t start: Smoking can narrow the arteries, increase blood pressure, and damage blood vessels over time. Therefore, if you smoke, visit smokefree.gov for resources to help you quit and in turn lower your heart disease risk.
  • Start moving: Exercise more to help strengthen your heart and to manage your weight. Both of these benefits can help lower heart disease risk.
  • Add a heart healthy supplement to your routine: If you are having trouble lowering your cholesterol, then try a heart healthy supplement like Alestra by Vita Sciences. With ingredients like niacin and plant sterols, this vegan supplement helps promote healthy cholesterol levels and overall heart health.
  • Change your diet: Along with any changes you make in your lifestyle to prevent heart disease, you should definitely look at your diet. Make sure you are eating enough antioxidant and fiber rich fruits and vegetables. These foods can help improve gut health, reduce inflammation in the body, and provide nutrient-dense, low calorie foods in your diet that can help to manage weight. The Mediterranean diet in particular has been shown to help reduce heart disease risk and prolong life.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

References:

American Heart Association (last reviewed on July 31, 2015) “Heart Attack Symptoms in Women.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed November 28, 2017) “Heart disease facts.” https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

Mayo Clinic (May 30, 2018) “Heart Attack.”

NIH News in Health (February 2019) “”Control Your Cholesterol: Protect Yourself From Heart Attack and Stroke.” https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2019/02/control-your-cholesterol

Move more to fight depression …and diabetes

depression. mental health, happy, mood, healthWhen most people start an exercise program, they may be trying to do one of a few things. Most people move more to lose weight, some exercise to gain muscle, and some just want to tone up. However, the benefit from exercise that most may not think of is improved mood. A recent study shows that moving more each day may have prevent depressive symptoms. Not to mention, that research also shows that preventing or improving such symptoms can help improve health outcomes in those with diabetes.

What is depression?

Depression is a mood disorder that can greatly impact daily life. It can make daily activities seem impossible by impacting the way you feel, think, sleep, eat, and work. There are various forms of depression such as persistent depressive disorder, which involves symptoms lasting two years or more.

On the other hand, there are forms of depression that occur as a result of certain environmental changes such as in climate like with seasonal affective disorder, or after pregnancy like with postpartum depression. Some people with depression may also experience other serious mood symptoms like with bipolar disorder or psychotic depression.

No matter what type of depression a person may have, they all share certain serious symptoms for more than two weeks at a time that may include:

  • persistent “empty” mood or sad feelings
  • irritability
  • hopelessness
  • loss of interest in hobbies or daily activities
  • decreased energy or fatigue
  • restlessness
  • moving or talking more slowly
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble sleeping or eating
  • digestive problems or headaches without a medical cause
  • thoughts of death or suicide

Not everyone with depression experiences every symptom. However, if you have a few of these symptoms and you feel that daily life has become hard to handle, then it may be time to reach out to a healthcare professional for help.

Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, like talk therapy are typical primary treatments for depression. However, if these treatments alone are not helping all of your symptoms, then there are some other things you can try. Experts suggest asking for help from a trusted friend, family member, or counselor as well as taking steps to take part in your community for social support.

Another treatment option is to join a study through the National Institutes of Health where new treatments will be tested. If you need help now, then reach out to someone today for advice through one of the resources found on this website. Exercise can also be something you can do now to help improve your depressive symptoms.

Exercise and depression research 

The American Heart Association suggests that most adults exercise at least 150 minutes a week. This means that for most days of the week, you should move at least thirty minutes a day. This doesn’t have to be all at once, but can be a few minutes at a time. And this exercise should be at a moderate pace. Therefore, if you walk briskly for a few minutes here and there for a total of thirty minutes a day, then you can keep your heart strong. Not only that, but you can also keep your mind healthy too.

A recent study shows that exercise may help improve depressive symptoms. This study looked at data from over 600000 adults. Study results show that there is a protective relationship between exercise and risk for major depressive disorder. And what makes this finding stronger is that this data was taken from actual measured movement, not self-reported exercise. Therefore, experts suggest that exercise could be an effective adjunct strategy to help treat and prevent depressive symptoms.

Exercise and diabetes research

If you exercise to help improve your depressive symptoms, you could also help improve your diabetes risk. Experts report that depressive symptoms correlate strongly with a risk of incident diabetes. A study of data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) looked at whether positive behavior could help lower risk of type 2 diabetes in postmenopausal women.

The study looked at data from over 100000 women over 14 years. Study results show that those who were the most optimistic had a 12-percent lower risk of developing diabetes versus those in the lowest quartile of optimism. Also, those who showed more hostile and negative behaviors, were at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Therefore, prevention strategies to help target such negative mood and personality traits may help lower risk of type 2 diabetes in these persons.

Take home message

If you suffer from depression, then there are many steps you can take to help improve your quality of life. The first step is to ask for help.  I know this is not an easy ask, but there are many resources out there where people want to help you take back your life.

And if you have diabetes, it may be worth it to be screened for depression to see if such strategies listed above may help you not only feel better in your mind, but also help improve your diabetes symptoms.

Changes in diet such as consuming more antioxidant-rich foods and taking supplements such as Elevia by Vita Sciences may also help. Elevia contains GABA and 5-HTP to help calm your mind and boost serotonin levels. This could be another tool in your belt to help you improve your depressive symptoms and start feeling better inside and out.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

References:

American Heart Association (last reviewed April 18, 2018) “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids.”

Choi KW, Chen C, Stein MB, et al. (Published online January 23, 2019) “Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among AdultsA 2-Sample Mendelian Randomization Study.” JAMA Psychiatry, doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4175

National Institute of Mental Health (February 2018) “Depression.”

Sandoiu, A. (January 27, 2019) “Diabetes: How optimism may influence your risk.” Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324297.php