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Why You Should Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

The importance of eating enough fruits and vegetables in your diet cannot be overstated. Sure, fruits may be sworn off by the most fervent No Sugar No Grain (NSNG) dieter, but the sugars in fruits are not exactly like processed sugars in candy bars. The NSNG crowd is not all wrong however, as there is some cause for concern for all kinds of sugar in our ultra-processed food ecosystem. Studies suggest you should avoid dried fruit as they contain more sugar with less nutrients. And smoothies and fruit juices should also be avoided, as they do not provide the benefits of an actual fruit but are densely packed with sugars.

According to NPR,

“There are lots of kinds of sugar. Fruits have fructose, glucose and a combination of the two called “sucrose,” or “table sugar.” But the sugars in fruit are packed less densely than in a candy bar, according to Elvira Isganaitis, a pediatric endocrinologist at Joslin Diabetes Center and a Harvard Medical School instructor.”

So it is better to eat a whole piece of fruit, as it contains fiber (providing the feeling of satiation after you eat) and other healthy nutrients and minerals. But, unfortunately, most Americans are not eating enough fruits and vegetables. Here’s why they should.

The Harvard School of Public Health, a fantastic resource for all things dietary, published a general list of benefits associated with increased intake of fruits and vegetables in your diet. These include:

  • Reduce risk of heart disease and stroke;
  • Prevent cancer;
  • Promotes healthy eyes.

And, helpfully, The Huffington Post, summarizes more extensively the relevant literature on the benefits of both:

Vegetables:

Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable, and part of the Brassica family, which also includes kale, collards, cabbage, bok choy, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and cauliflower. Members of the Brassica family are rich in phytochemicals, known to have antioxidant properties. Broccoli is a true nutrition powerhouse: It is chock full of vitamin C, the mineral calcium, fiber, and vitamin A. It is also rich in sulforaphane, a health-promoting compound that can fight cancer.

Carrots are a good source of fiber, which helps to maintain bowel health, lower blood cholesterol, and aid in weight maintenance. The orange pigment found in carrots are due to the antioxidant beta-carotene, also found in other deep orange foods such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, butternut squash, papaya, and cantaloupe. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and helps to maintain healthy eyes, support your immune system, keep your skin healthy, and protect against certain cancers.

Spinach is available year-round in grocery stores around the country, offering a readily-available source of many vitamins and minerals. Spinach contains the minerals iron and potassium, as well as vitamins A, K, C, and the B-vitamin folate. Spinach also contains phytochemicals that may boost your immune system and flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties that may be preventative against certain cancers.

Sweet Potatoes are rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene and are also full of fiber, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin C, and the mineral potassium. They are especially nutritious when eaten with the skin on, and contrary to a popular dieting myth, they are not fattening!

Beets contain healthy doses of iron, the B-vitamin folate, and fiber. Red beets offer betacyanin, a plant pigment which may protect against colon cancer.

Fruits

Cantaloupe. This member of the melon family is rich in the antioxidant beta-carotene, a plant-based vitamin A precursor that helps with eye health, among other conditions. It is also rich in the mineral potassium, which may help lower blood pressure and the risk for stroke. And, it is terrific if you are watching your waist — a one-cup serving contains a mere 50 calories.

Watermelon, which is especially terrific this time of year, offers a juicy, sweet taste and a high water content, while packing in the antioxidants lycopene, beta-carotene, and vitamin C, and the minerals potassium and magnesium.

Citrus fruits, including oranges and grapefruits, provide a significant source of vitamin C, folate, and potassium, as well as fiber. Pink grapefruits are particularly rich in the antioxidant lycopene. Eating these fruits whole yields more nutrients than drinking the juice.

Avocados are rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, which may help raise levels of HDL (good cholesterol) while lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). They are also high in the antioxidant vitamin E.

Grapes. Consuming grapes may reduce the risk of blood clots, lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), and prevent damage to the heart’s blood vessels, aiding in the maintenance of healthy blood pressure. Antioxidants called flavonoids may even increase HDL cholesterol (the good kind). The resveratrol found in the skins of red grapes may interfere with cancer development. Eating the whole fruit instead of consuming the juice contains the added benefit of fiber.

Kiwifruit, with its brilliant green inside, is packed with vitamin C and fiber.

As you can see, fruits and vegetables contain an absurd amount of vitamins and minerals. So much so that new guidelines suggest half of your plate should be split between servings of fruits and vegetables. Next time you’re in the grocery store, don’t leave out what could be the most important part of a balanced, healthy diet: eat more fruits and vegetables for a healthier life.

What is the Keto Diet?

It’s all the rage these days: the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet. It tells you the ideal diet is the opposite of the food pyramid, which makes grain and carbohydrates the staple of a healthy diet. According to the Harvard Medical School blog, the “ketogenic diet is not something new. In medicine, we have been using it for almost 100 years to treat drug-resistant epilepsy, especially in children.” Continuing, the Harvard blog explains the diet succinctly:

“In essence, it is a diet that causes the body to release ketones into the bloodstream. Most cells prefer to use blood sugar, which comes from carbohydrates, as the body’s main source of energy. In the absence of circulating blood sugar from food, we start breaking down stored fat into molecules called ketone bodies (the process is called ketosis). Once you reach ketosis, most cells will use ketone bodies to generate energy until we start eating carbohydrates again. The shift, from using circulating glucose to breaking down stored fat as a source of energy, usually happens over two to four days of eating fewer than 20 to 50 grams of carbohydrates per day.”

Because this diet moves away from carbs, each meal contains more fats and proteins than a typical meal. There is, of course, no restriction on vegetables with this diet, but it is emphasized that the main source of energy come from fats rather than carbs. That’s what sets the ketogenic diet apart. As a result, people on this diet utilize oils to cook foods more regularly. And Dr. Cate Shanahan, a biochemist from John Hopkins University, provides a useful list of good and bad oils to use for cooking.

So is the ketogenic diet good? Dr. Eric Westman, director of the Lifestyle Medicine Clinic at Duke University, is summarized by Time Magazine as reporting it “can help reduce appetite, spur weight loss and improve markers of heart disease.” Dr. Westman’s studies also suggests that “a ketogenic diet can help treat obesity, type-2 diabetes and fatty liver disease.”

The main risk with the keto diet is confusing good fats with bad fats, and eating too much processed foods, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. As with any change of diet, you will want to approach with caution, consult with your doctor, and thoroughly research the keto diet if you plan to jump on the bandwagon.

Don't Fall for the Fruit Juice Trap

As carbonated, sugary drinks fall out of favor with the public, fruit juices and fruit smoothies are on the rise. Whereas sugary soft drinks have been linked to obesity, squeezed fruit can’t be unhealthy, right? The logic is pretty simple: people believe fruit juices are equivalent to the serving sizes of a few piece of fruit, contain real fruit sugar, and have about the same effects as eating fruit. Unfortunately, this wrong in every case. In fact, the same scientists who blew the whistle on corn-syrup in soft drinks are ringing the alarm bell again.

In his interview with The Guardian, the scientist Barry Popkin warns us against the myth  that a glass or two of fruit juice is equivalent to one or two pieces of fruit:

“Think of eating one orange or two and getting filled,” he said. “Now think of drinking a smoothie with six oranges and two hours later it does not affect how much you eat. The entire literature shows that we feel full from drinking beverages like smoothies but it does not affect our overall food intake, whereas eating an orange does. So pulped-up smoothies do nothing good for us but do give us the same amount of sugar as four to six oranges or a large coke. It is deceiving.”

Indeed, because fruit juices contain little-to-no fiber, you don’t feel satiated after drinking them. According to Susan Jebb, a government advisor and head of the diet and obesity research group at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit at Cambridge University, “Fruit juice isn’t the same as intact fruit and it has as much sugar as many classical sugar drinks. It is also absorbed very fast, so by the time it gets to your stomach your body doesn’t know whether it’s Coca-Cola or orange juice, frankly.”

But that’s not all. Barry Popkin continues,

“The most important issue about added sugar is that everybody thinks it’s cane sugar or maybe beet sugar or HFC syrup or all the other syrups but globally the cheapest thing on the market almost is fruit juice concentrate coming out of China. It has created an overwhelming supply of apple juice concentrate. It is being used everywhere and it also gets around the sugar quotas that lots of countries have.”

Disturbingly, “Popkin and colleagues found that fruit juice concentrate was the fifth most common sugar overall and the second most common, after corn syrup, in soft drinks and in babies’ formula milk.” And, “all the long term studies on fruit juice in anything show the same kind of effect whether it’s a smoothie or natural [juice] and whether it’s a diabetes or weight gain effect,” Popkin added.

As The Guardian reports,

“Researchers from the UK, USA and Singapore found that, in large-scale studies involving nurses, people who ate whole fruit, especially blueberries, grapes and apples, were less likely to get type 2 diabetes, which is obesity-related, but those who drank fruit juice were at increased risk. People who swapped their fruit juice for whole fruits three times a week cut their risk by 7%.”

So don’t fall for the fruit juice trap and don’t believe the hype that it’s a good addition to a balanced meal. At least, not all juices are created equal. Be sure to conduct thorough research before you make up your mind as to whether fruit juice will find its way into your fridge.

unhealthy holiday habitsThe holidays are just around the corner. What, with all the food temptations, warm, chocolate drinks, and electric blankets, how can you blame anyone for lounging around? The snow is great—when you’re not covered in it. And besides, the best time for a nap is when it’s cold outside, and the fireplace is going, right?

But some habits are developed during the winter months that are best left undeveloped. Here are some habits to avoid this winter season.

Hot Shower

After you’ve built a snowman and won a snowball fight, what can be better than taking a long, hot shower? Well, in terms of your skin, one thing better than taking a hot shower is not taking a hot shower. A hot shower can dry out your skin. And in the winter months, you don’t want to look like a snowman, do you? Prevent skin irritation and flaking by taking a cooler shower.

Diet

Is there such a thing as a “cheat month?” The fact is, your body doesn’t think so. It doesn’t matter how warm that hot chocolate is. Don’t let your diet die this winter. Be sure to include vegetables. And don’t just drink hot chocolate 24/7.

Exercise

Of course, dieting and exercise are on every healthy-habits list. But in the winter months exercise is especially important. In the warmer months, you’re outside more on average than you are in the winter months. Think about the times you’ve walked to the store, jogged on trails, or relaxed with friends at the park or at that outside restaurant. But in colder weather, it’s really easy for all that extra movement in your day to completely cease. Keep up on your exercise: it might be the only significant movement you get most days.

The holiday season is just around the corner. Don’t let your health take a holiday! Avoid these three holiday slumps to stay in shape this winter.

Guide to Eating Healthy Post ImageRemember the food pyramid? That’s out. The United States Department of Agriculture created a new visualization for the healthiest way to eat. It’s called MyPlate.

Many reasons are cited for this change. One is the pyramid itself doesn’t exactly tell you what a typical plate conducive to a healthy lifestyle might look like. That’s really where MyPlate comes from. It shows you healthy portions in relation to a plate: thus the name.

Offered, also, are suggestions for a healthier lifestyle. We’ve listed some highlights for you.

All Choices Are Important

Your focus, when selecting foods and making dinner, should be to select healthy choices within each food category: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy. This means, first of all, to include each group in your food choices. Next, it means to be selective about choosing what to get from each group. For instance, whole grain bread is better for you than enriched bread. Most of all, remember what you eat and drink matters, every time you eat and drink.

Lower Saturated Fats, Sodium, and Added Sugars

One of the easiest ways to improve your diet is to not fill that table salt shaker. Salt is an essential part of making food: for its taste. But don’t overdo it. Don’t add more than recommended in the recipe and don’t sprinkle salt on that steak right before you eat it.

The same is true of sugar. Just leave it in the jar. After you wean yourself off both, your taste buds will adjust. And pretty soon you’ll have an aversion to added salt and sugar. It’ll be worth it in the long run.

Set Small Goals

Setting up big, nearly unreachable goals from the beginning is just setting yourself up to fail. It’s discouraging to not reach a goal. And having a huge goal at the outset may prevent you from eating healthy in the first place. Avoid this by setting small goals: maybe don’t reach for the table salt one day a week, then two, and so on.

It’s fun to set goals. And, once it becomes part of your lifestyle, it’s easy to eat well. Share your tips for eating healthy below!