Diet & Health – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that in 2000, partially because of a surge in meat consumption, the average American ate almost 20 percent more calories than he did in 1983. The problem isn’t only that we’re eating too much, but that we’re eating a lot of bad stuff: According to the CDC, more than 11 percent of the American diet comes from fast food. Could the gloomy 2050 predictions be averted? A hopeful sign is the growing interest in healthy diets and in particular, super-foods.
New research by Mintel, a market research firm, has found that between 2011 and 2015, the number of new food and drink products to hit the marketplace containing the terms “super-food,” “super-fruit” or “super-grain” increased more than 200 percent worldwide. Just a cursory glance at your local Whole Foods will give you a sense of how ubiquitous the word has become to sell various foods and drinks. And while the term super-food has been used aggressively as a marketing tactic, it’s a real concept. The Oxford Dictionary defines a super-food as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.”
But that doesn’t mean super-foods should be treated as panaceas. While Cancer Research UK points out that super-foods are often marketed as having the power to prevent or even cure various diseases and ailments, it warns that consumers “shouldn’t rely on so-called ‘super-foods’ to reduce the risk of cancer. They cannot substitute for a generally healthy and balanced diet.” But that doesn’t mean they can’t be a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Interested in making the most of what you eat? Try including these five “super-foods” in your diet. (And as with any change in diet, check with your doctor before trying anything new).
Moringa: What has more protein than yogurt, more calcium than milk, more B vitamins than peanuts, more potassium than bananas and more vitamin A than carrots? Moringa. Packed with protein and phytochemicals (compounds that may reduce the risk of chronic disease), moringa also has all eight essential amino acids. And while there’s also compelling evidence that moringa can help diabetes and function as an anti-carcinogen, Singh points out that the current research is preliminary.
Turmeric: A member of the ginger family whose root is widely used as an ingredient in medicines, turmeric is a superfood that has many health properties. Since ancient times, turmeric has been used to fight inflammation, a power given to it by the compound curcumin, which has been found to inhibit several molecules that play a role in inflammation in human clinical trials. It has also been used to treat a wide number of ailments, including arthritis, heartburn, ulcerative colitis, diarrhea, high cholesterol, headaches, bronchitis, fibromyalgia and depression. Curcumin may also help fight cancer, as its antioxidants may help prevent free radicals from damaging cellular DNA.
Aronia: Native to the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S., aronia (aka chokeberry) have been used in many food products, from jam, salsa and syrup to ice cream, beer and wine. But this dark, sour berry that has long been prized by Native Americans as a miracle fruit has emerged as a potent super-food. “Based upon many cell-line studies, animal models and human clinical trials, it has been suggested that anthocyanins possess anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic activity, cardiovascular disease prevention, obesity control and diabetes alleviation properties, all of which are more or less associated with their potent antioxidant property,” according to a 2010 Ohio State University study.
Mung Beans: A popular food in India, China and Southeast Asia, the mung bean has a nutty, sweet flavor that complements sweet and savory dishes. While they are packed with potassium, iron, magnesium and fiber, it’s the protein content that is amazing: 24 percent. It’s no surprise that they are popular, even for breakfast, in India, where 40 percent of the population is vegetarian.
While most other legumes lose their vitamin C content after cooking, mung beans retain most of it. Also, studies have shown that fermented mung bean extracts can help lower bad cholesterol levels and also blood sugar levels, which is good news for diabetics.
Maple Syrup: New finding from a University of Rhode Island study puts maple syrup alongside such known super-foods as berries, red wine (in moderation), tea and flaxseed. “We found a wide variety of polyphenols in maple syrup,” said Seeram. “We discovered that the polyphenols in maple syrup inhibit enzymes that are involved in the conversion of carbohydrate to sugar. In fact, in preliminary studies, maple syrup had a greater enzyme-inhibiting effect compared to several other healthy plant foods such as berries.” –Eco Watch
BODY & MIND – Intermittent fasting and exercise may have some surprising brain benefits, research shows. Forget what you’ve heard about “brain food”…turns out, the best food for your brain may be none at all. New research on intermittent fasting and exercise show some surprising brain benefits of depriving yourself of calories — at least occasionally. “We have evidence that exercise and probably intermittent fasting increase the number of mitochondria in neurons,” said Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging in Baltimore.
So far, Mattson and other researchers have studied the phenomenon in animals, and are beginning to understand how intermittent fasting in rats and mice can enhance learning and memory, and how it can decrease the risk of those brain functions degenerating. The upcoming human study would seek people who are at risk for cognitive impairment — obese individuals between 55 and 70 with insulin resistance who are not being treated for diabetes. They would be put through “a battery of cognitive tests,” Mattson said, while their brains were scanned by fMRI. They’d also undergo the scan in a resting state. Then, after two months with half the group on a 5-2 diet (eating a calorie-restricted diet for two non-consecutive days a week and unconstrained eating the other five days), the researchers would repeat the evaluations and compare them to the control group.
Although exercise and fasting can produce some similar results (increased production of BDNF, for example), Eric Ravussin, Associate Executive Director for Clinical Science at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, points out that the mechanisms are very different. Still, there’s some preliminary ruminating that combining a short fast and exercise could piggyback to more quickly get the optimal results. “The thing that’s important is to dig into fat stores,” Ravussin said. “The longer the fast, the better. Or the more exercise, the better. If you could run at 6 a.m. and then skip breakfast, this would be the ideal.”
“We haven’t connected all the dots, but we know that exercise and intermittent fasting increases BDNF and that BDNF can slow resting heart rate,” Mattson said. In a review published this week in PNAS, the authors (including Ravussin and Matson) point out that an intermittent fasting type of diet has evolutionary roots — it’s likely closer to the way our ancestors ate. But if the thought of fasting makes you cringe, there’s good news: intermittent fasting can be as simple as severely restricting your calories just two days a week. Eat what you want five days of the week, and then eat 500 or so calories twice a week. Most people have better success at that model, which is popular in some fitness circles, than its precursor, alternate day fasting. –Seeker