Go Green for Earth Month & Improve Your Diet at the Same Time

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You don’t have to run out and hug a tree or play hackie sack while barefoot in the park to celebrate Earth Month. Instead, Earth Day and Month were designed to designed to inspire awareness for our environment. What’s in it for you? A polluted environment leads to pollution in our food and water supply that ends up on our plates and in our bodies. And therefore, a healthier earth means a healthier you. You can do your part by recycling, disposing of hazardous wastes properly (so they don’t end up in the water you drink or on the plants you eat) and changing your diet by incorporating foods that are not only good for you but also use fewer environmental resources to produce and/or are produced in an earth-friendly manner. On a recent segment on WBAL NBC Baltimore MD, I shared the top 3 steps you can take right now to help protect the environment and improve your diet at the same time:

1) Choose green seafood – seafood that’s both good for you and good for the ocean.  The DC-based Environmental Working Group has a guide to seafood that is high in omega-3 fats and low in methylmercury. This is especially important for pregnant women and young children. Growing fetuses are exposed to methylmercury in the womb when their mom eats fish and shellfish that contain methylmercury. Methylmercury can harm a baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Recent government data suggests an estimated 1.4 million women of reproductive age have blood mercury concentrations that may increase the risk of learning disabilities in their unborn children. Exposure to mercury is harmful to all people and may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes. EWG top choices for lower mercury omega-3 rich seafood: wild salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, mussels and rainbow trout.

2 ) Go Meatless. Now, I’m not suggesting everyone go completely meatless (because animal based sources of protein are typically better for building and maintaining muscle) but, adding more plant based proteins or going completely meatless for 1 day a week has the environmental impact of taking your car off the road for 320 miles, according to the Environmental Working Group. How does this help your body? Plant based sources of protein are typically lower in calories yet they are packed with good nutrition including vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. How can you get enough protein – choose soy, beans, lentils and nuts. I often mix animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins at meals.

3) Cook with canned foods. Americans throw away approximately 15 to 20 percent of the fresh fruits and vegetables they purchase every year. Stock up on canned foods because they help reduce food waste, saving us time and money, and reducing our impact on the environment. Canned food portion sizes are just right for both individuals and families, and most recipes are designed around these sizes. Plus, metal cans are endlessly recyclable and in fact, are the most recycled containers in America today, keeping metal out of landfills and saving significant energy. Looking for convenient, wallet-friendly sources of protein? Check out this resource (and easy recipes) Quality Protein – It’s in the Can – Fact Sheet 

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD is a proud Can-bassador – helping educate and communicate the benefits of cooking with canned foods.

 

 

Feast on Fish for Your Heart

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Salmon dinner from Foodie Buddha
Salmon Nigiri from Foodie Buddha

By Collier Perno

If you’re among the 60% of Americans with elevated blood pressure I’m sure you’ve heard your doctors say these things: “lower your sodium intake,” “increase your physical activity,” and “decrease your alcohol consumption.” While these are all great recommendations, new research has shows there is an alternative treatment that may be even better at lowering blood pressure: the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and decosahexaenoic acid (DHA)4.

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential (the human body can’t make them) polyunsaturated fat. There are three main types of omega-3s, EPA, DHA and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). EPA and DHA are found in cold-water fish, fish oil, and algae and are crucial for brain development, reducing inflammation, protecting structural cell integrity, and they may help decrease muscle soreness in athletes1.

In March of 2014, the American Journal of Hypertension released a comprehensive meta analysis (a statistical method for combining the results of several studies) that examined 70 randomized controlled trials studying the effect EPA and DHA on blood pressure (BP). Participants were adults with normal BP and adults with high blood pressure who were not taking BP lowering medications. Subjects were given EPA and DHA omega-3s in the form of seafood, fortified foods, or dietary supplements. The results of the study showed a decrease in both systolic and diastolic BP in all adults. The most significant effects were found in those with existing high BP. There was an average 4.51 mm Hg decrease in systolic blood pressure (SBP) and diastolic blood pressure (DBP) was reduced by an average 3.05 mm Hg4.

The analysis also compared common lifestyle recommendations and their effects on BP to EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids effects on BP. The findings were astonishing. When looking at SBP (the top number – this reflects the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats), consumption of EPA and DHA omega-3 had an average decrease of 4.51 mm Hg, while reduced dietary sodium had an average reduction of 3.6 mm Hg, and decreased alcohol consumption had an average 3.8 mm Hg decrease. The only lifestyle recommendation shown to have a greater decrease in SBP was increased physical activity, which lowered SBP by 4.6 mmHg.

Still not sold on the benefits of consuming omega-3? There’s more! Over the past two decades, some research has linked the consumption of omega-3 fish oils to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. killing about 600,000 Americans each year (that’s 1 in every 4 deaths)2. As previously discussed, omega-3s reduce BP levels (a major risk factor for heart disease) and lower triglyceride levels. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association concluded consumption of omega-3 fatty acids creates a significant cardioprotective effect in non-hypertensive individuals3.

How do I get my omega-3 fatty acids?

  • The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week to increase omega-3 dietary intake
  • Fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, sardines, herring, albacore tuna, and salmon are all great sources of omega 3 fatty acids
  • Eating walnuts, flax seeds, soy beans, kidney beans, and tofu are other great ways to increase your omega 3 consumption. These provide Alpha- Linoleic Acid (ALA) form of omega 3s.
  • When looking for omega 3 supplements choose nordic naturals or any supplement that is USP certified. Costco’s Kirkland brand is a great option!
  1. Omega-3 fatty acids | University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 Fat. Acids. Available at: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  2. CDC – DHDSP – Heart Disease Facts. Am. Heart Dis. Facts. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  3. Key Messages for JAMA/Annals of Internal Medicine Studies. Journal of American Medical Association. Accessed November 12, 2014.
  1. Cid, Martha. Omega-3s Can Significantly Reduce Blood Pressure, Study Finds.     Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s. Accessed November 12,20

Are You Getting the Nutrients You Need for Maximum Energy & Good Health?

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Take one quick peek at dietary survey data and you’ll find many Americans don’t consume enough vitamins and minerals through food alone. How does this impact your health? A nutrient deficiency could affect your energy levels, mood, ability to concentrate, structure of your skin, teeth, nails, bones and more. So, how can you be sure you are getting enough of the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health? First, focus on consuming foods that are particularly rich in the nutrients many Americans fall short on. Secondly, consider taking a multivitamin to make up for any nutrient gaps. But first, here’s a look at the food groups:

To watch my Talk of Alabama TV segment on this topic, click here.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds contain a wide variety of nutrients including magnesium – which is necessary for a healthy metabolism, good energy and muscle strength – yet many people get very little magnesium in their diet. On average, most women get about ½ of the magnesium they need each day. Nuts & seeds also have zinc for immune system functioning, wound healing, muscle growth and repair and some nuts, like almonds, also contain calcium, which we need for strong bones. If you are worried about the calories in nuts and seeds, stick to the right portion size (about 1/4 cup for nuts) and keep in mind that research shows people who eat nuts regularly tend to weigh less than those who consume nuts infrequently.

A few of my favorites based on nutrient content (including magnesium): pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and Brazil nuts.

Grains

Grains provide approximately 43% of the fiber in an average American diet. Fiber aids digestion, helping prevent constipation and it adds bulk to your diet helping increase feelings of fullness, which makes it easier to control your weight. Whole and enriched grains also naturally contain a wide variety of important vitamins and minerals. For instance, grains provide about 2/3 of the folic acid in an average American diet. Folic acid makes healthy new cells. And, it is a nutrient of concern for women of childbearing age because inadequate folate (folic acid) intake during pregnancy increases one’s risk of having premature and low birth weight babies or babies with certain types of birth defects in the brain or spine. Here in the U.S., grains such as bread, cereal, flour, and pasta are enriched with folic acid (gluten free products might not be enriched).

Beans

Beans count as both a vegetable and protein-rich food. Not only are they packed with fiber but they also contain iron, magnesium and potassium. And diets higher in potassium may help lower blood pressure, especially if you consume too much sodium. Plus potassium supports muscle functioning and higher potassium diets may also decrease risk of kidney stones.

Here are 3 you should focus on based on nutrient content and versatility: black beans, lima beans and white beans.

Seafood

Seafood is another rich source of nutrients. For instance, oysters have more zinc than any other food and more iron than red meat (a 3 oz. serving provides almost half of the daily value for iron). Try canned oysters to save time and money. Canned sardines with the bones are an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D – you need both of these for strong bones. But, chew those bones carefully! And, if you are concerned about mercury (and small children, pregnant and lactating women should consume only low mercury fish), check out this guide from the Natural Resources Defense Council, which categorizes fish based on mercury content.

While eating a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods is the best way to get vitamins and minerals, the reality is that most Americans don’t get enough through food alone, especially those on lower calorie diets or adults over the age of 50. So, consider a multivitamin. Multivitamins are a great solution to fill dietary gaps.

I partnered with Centrum and the Wheat Foods Council for this segment though I wrote the content of this post and the segment based on the latest scientific research.