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Eat Well to Be Well: What to know about food safety and COVID-19

By Cheryl Mussatto MS, RD, LD

News on COVID-19 has overtaken our lives like no other worldwide event in many, many years. From vigilant hand washing to practicing social distancing, no one has been spared the magnitude this unseen virus has unleashed. Many are questioning, what about food safety? Can COVID-19 be transmitted through eating and what can we do to protect ourselves and others?

During this historic and unprecedented time, this is what you need to know concerning the safety of what you are eating and reduce chance of viral contamination:

Is the U.S. food supply safe?

The short answer is yes, the U.S. food supply is safe. The 2019 coronavirus (COVID-19) is not a foodborne illness but rather a respiratory illness. It attacks the lungs but not the digestive system, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Viruses such as norovirus, salmonella, and hepatitis A can be contracted through contaminated food and water. However, Covid-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 which causes respiratory illnesses but with no known means of transmission through food. This virus is believed to be mainly spread from being in close contact (less than 6 feet) with other people through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person sneezes or coughs. People exposed to these droplets that land in their mouth or nose, can be inhaled into the lungs. While the virus may be transmitted by touching a surface or object with it and then touching your mouth or nose, this not believed to be the main mode of transmission. Preventing foodborne illnesses can be achieved by practicing the 4 steps of food safety :

  • Clean – Wash kitchen surfaces often and always wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, or going to the bathroom
  • Separate – Do not cross contaminate
  • Cook – Cook to proper temperature
  • Chill – Refrigerate or freeze promptly

How can I be sure eating takeout from restaurants is safe during COVID-19?

This is a valid question that is natural for us to worry about. We want to support local restaurants by ordering take out or delivery options but to also be safe. Generally it is safe to order and eat takeout food – restaurant employees are well-trained and will be wearing gloves. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture currently state that there is no evidence COVID-19 has spread through food or food packaging.

Foods that are well-cooked should be free of any microbes and safe for consumption. Undercooked or raw foods have more of a risk of carrying a virus that can cause a digestive illness – food safety experts agree that foods that are properly cooked for a long enough time at a high enough temperature can kill harmful bacteria that can cause foodborne illness. During this pandemic, the main concerns would be if someone working at the restaurant is infected with the virus, coughs or sneezes and the droplets land on the food. If the takeout food is delivered to your home, have the delivery person leave the food at your doorstep. Remove takeout food from the container or box (throw this away) and place on a plate – do not eat food while still in a takeout box. You can also use a cloth of soap and water to wipe down the takeout containers before removing the food, if you want. Be sure to wash your hands before eating.

Beat back COVID-19 with foods that boost immune health

As Coronovirus (COVID-19) continues to crisscross the globe, each of us should do our part to help stop the spread of this potentially deadly virus. Aside from vigilant hand washing, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes, and staying home when sick, a strong immune system is an important ally in keeping you healthy and well.

Strong immune functioning begins by eating a healthy diet. Fortunately, there are plenty of nutrient-dense foods to choose from such as crunchy vegetables, succulent fruit, hearty whole grains, and energy-rich beans, nuts, and seeds. However, there are certain top-notch foods ready and willing to duke it out with the germs, viruses or microbes wanting to cause you harm. Thanks to their antioxidant-rich powers, these foods kick it into high gear helping your immune system work as efficiently and diligently as always.  Not only are they health-promoting but are also available any time of year, providing peak performance for protecting your body from microbial harm.

Consuming these foods several times a week increases your odds of enjoying more healthy and disease-free days than someone who rarely consumes them.  Of course, other factors that help strengthen immune functioning are regular exercise, adequate sleep, minimizing stress, and avoiding smoking. Basically, practicing good health habits is more likely to enhance immune health, increasing your chances of fighting off COVID-19 along with other illnesses.

Best foods for boosting immune health

Citrus fruits

No matter what time of year, citrus fruits are always a winner for promoting immune function. Whether you choose to eat oranges and grapefruit, or lemons and limes, these citrus fruits grown in warmer climates will bring that ray of sunshine into your home on the bleakest of day.

Citrus fruits will also bring to your immune system a healthy dose of the water-soluble vitamin, vitamin C.  Oranges and grapefruit are particularly abundant in vitamin C as they can contain as much as 70 milligrams in one piece of fruit.

Eat Well to Be Well: Small weight loss leads to big health gains

Rates of obesity in the U.S. show little sign of slowing down. In 2017 and 2018, more than four in 10 American adults, or 42.4 percent had obesity, and more than 9 percent had severe obesity according to a report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. In 10 years, a 2019 study in the New England Journal of Medicine projects that nearly one of every two adults or roughly half of the U.S. will be obese. This continued increase of obesity rates is concerning as excess weight gain is associated with increasing many chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain forms of cancer, osteoarthritis, lower back pain, gout, sleep apnea, and complications in pregnancy and surgery, to name a few. At some point, change needs to happen if we are ever to reverse the current direction we continue to follow.

Meaningful changes take time. This statement is especially true when it comes to reaching a healthy body weight. It doesn’t happen overnight. But here is a bit of good news for those seeking weight loss – shedding just five percent of your body weight does a lot of good. That small tip of the scale can result in significant improvement in many health parameters. According to a small 2016 study in the journal Cell Metabolism, findings showed that a five percent weight loss can give you a large “bang for your buck” and an additional 10 to 15 percent weight loss continues to cause even more improvements in measures like blood pressure and blood lipids.

Whether obese or overweight, the thought of having to radically transform your body by losing lots of pounds can be extremely formidable. For many, knowing that they are expected to lose all of their excess weight to get healthier can lead to feelings of hopelessness that they will never be able to see major improvements in their health.

This thinking is actually wrong and for good reason. Research has shown that even if a person does not reach a weight or body mass index (BMI) that the charts consider to be optimal, one can still be successful at improving their health, reducing their risk of chronic diseases and their overall quality of life with a weight loss of just 5 percent.

This means for someone, for example, who weighs 250 pounds, a 5 percent body weight loss is around 12 pounds. This sounds like a much more doable, manageable, and achievable weight loss goal than to expect one to lose 50 pounds or more. By aiming for and achieving smaller target weight loss goals, this results in significant improvements to metabolic health and more importantly, opens up the door to continued weight loss.

Eat Well to Be Well: Choose first-rate foods to protect liver health

One of the most fascinating organs in your body is your liver. But do you know how healthy it is? That’s a tough question to answer, yet all of us would be wise to protect and preserve this vital organ.

Next to your skin, the liver is the second largest organ in your body. Weighing about three pounds, roughly the size of a football, it’s one of the hardest working, multitasking organs of the digestive system, performing hundreds of jobs. For instance, everything you eat or drink passes through the liver, helping to manufacture substances your body needs. Other duties your liver does includes filtering blood, monitoring blood sugar, removing alcohol to be eliminated, detoxifying chemicals, producing proteins essential for blood clotting, getting rid of old, damaged cells, and metabolizing medications, all to keep your body safe from harm. It’s apparent that to achieve optimal health, protecting your liver is critical for your overall well-being.

The concern of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

There’s a growing public health issue due to the large increase in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Referred to as “silent liver disease,” NAFLD is when fat deposits accumulate in your liver. These deposits keep your liver from doing a good job of removing toxins from your blood. You may have heard of liver disease in people who drink too much alcohol, such as cirrhosis brought on by chronic alcoholism, and sometimes necessitating a liver transplant. But that is not the same as NAFLD.

NAFLD is more likely to develop in overweight to obese individuals or those who have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides. Rapid weight loss or anyone with poor eating habits are also candidates to develop NAFLD.

NAFLD is the most common chronic liver disease in adults with approximately one in three adults in the United States who have it. There has been a steady rise in NAFLD over the years, likely due to the progression of obesity, as it is directly associated with and proportional to the degree of obesity, particularly abdominal fat.

A concern with NAFLD is that in some cases, it could progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, an aggressive form of fatty liver disease and liver inflammation that increases the risk of advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure.

Eat Well to Be Well: Take a look inside a health-promoting refrigerator

Before reading any further, get up, open your refrigerator and take a look inside.

What did you see? A peek inside your refrigerator can be a revealing look at how well your health goals are being met. Is it clean, well-organized and stocked with plenty of healthy foods? Or is it more of a disarray of takeout containers and old produce rotting in a drawer, while soda, juice, creamy dressings, and packages of hot dogs grab your attention first?

If it’s the latter, you’re not alone. We’ve all been there and it only goes to show, there’s always room for improvement. When trying to be healthy by losing excess weight or managing a health condition, it begins by placing healthy eating within reach whenever you open the refrigerator door. Besides, your chances of eating a nutrient-rich diet are only as good as your food supply.

Here’s a look at smart tips to makeover the inside of your refrigerator for successful healthy eating:

Eat Well to Be Well: Hydration still important during cold weather

Just because cold temperatures have arrived doesn’t mean keeping hydrated should be an afterthought. In fact, hydration is just as important in cold winter months as it is during hot, humid summer days. Likely you’re not breaking out in a noticeable sweat on a frosty winter day, but drinking a sufficient amount of water still matters.

Since you do not store or make water, your body’s water needs must be replaced each day. The main sources of water losses from the body are urine and sweat, but water is also lost through bowel movements, and respiration and perspiration.  You likely could go for weeks without eating food but would last only a few days without water.

Why winter weather can cause dehydration

Here are ways cold winter weather can lead to loss of body water, making it vital to be aware of your hydration status during this time of year:

  • Breathing in cold, dry air, and spending more time in dry, heated environments such as our homes or vehicles – both can lead to water loss.
  • Exposure to cold air can reduce the body’s thirst sensation by up to 40 percent. Therefore, you tend to feel less thirsty, drinking less water, even though your body’s water needs have remained unchanged.
  • You still perspire in cold winter weather but it is likely less noticeable than during hot summer months, when perspiring reminds you to drink more water.

How mild dehydration affects the body

Your body is made up of about two-thirds water and no matter what time of year it is, you still need a sufficient supply to prevent dehydration. Every cell, tissue, and organ in your body requires water to function properly. Water is necessary to rid your body of wastes and helps maintain body temperature, along with lubricating and cushioning joints.

During cold weather, we bundle up to keep warm and to conserve body heat. However, wearing long underwear, long sleeve shirts, hooded sweatshirts, and heavy coats makes your body work about 10 to 40 percent harder because of added weight. This leads to increased perspiration and sweat resulting in more fluid loss.

Eat Well to Be Well: Stress less, enjoy more this holiday season

Decorate the house, buy gifts, wrap gifts, address holiday cards, make holiday treats, host a party, go to parties, attend children’s school holiday events – and the list goes on. Ever feel a bit stressed out this time of year?

Relax. We all do.

Yes, it’s a wonderful time of year but the pressure to make it memorable and fun can be overwhelming. When we place sky-high expectations on ourselves and others, it’s no wonder the holidays become stressful. Consider the fact, nothing changes during this time – we still have to get up, go to our jobs, tend to our families, fix meals, workout, just like we do all year long. What changes is the month long (or more) anticipation and buildup towards a beautiful celebration that shouldn’t cause us stress and yet it does.

How do we keep ourselves from stressing out during what is supposed to be a time of joy and celebratory exultation?

We can start by telling ourselves, “It’s okay not to be perfect.” None of us are. Is it possible to remove all stress? Don’t we wish! However, we can lessen the burden of stress making our lives feel more carefree, lighthearted, and even at times, happy-go-lucky. Here’s how:

Keep connected with family and friends. This can be a huge stressor if you feel disconnected from those you care about and love. Take time to reach out with a phone call, visit, text message, Facebook message, or whatever you feel comfortable doing. All of us feel special knowing someone carved out precious time to want to spend it with you.

Distance yourself from negative influences. At the same token, there are unfortunately those people in our lives who bring us down. Unless you are able to look past their negativity and chalk it up to a personality issue, it’s best to avoid contact with someone who will only raise your stress level.

Nurture creativity. Each of us has a creative side to us whether you believe it or not. Maybe you can’t carry a tune or can barely draw a stick figure, but you have a special way with animals. Or maybe you’re talents are in creating beautiful cakes, caring for the elderly or taking amazing sunset photos. Discover, nurture and then share your talents so others will be blessed with them. Whatever we are good at we tend to feel less stress when doing it.

Practice meditation. This may not be for everyone, but for those who do it regularly they swear it immensely diminishes stress. Meditation can be as easy as simply closing your eyes and visualizing a peaceful, calm scene that will quiet the stress demons filling your mind.

Take a deep breath. By the same token, practicing controlled breathing, similar to meditation, is another guaranteed stress buster. In a seated or lying down position in a quiet room, inhale deeply filling up your lungs while counting to 5 and then exhale pulling your abdomen to your spine to a steady count of 5 once again. Breathe this way for at least a couple of minutes or more and notice the immediate blanket of serenity enveloping you.

Eat Well to Be Well: Stave off winter weight gain with these expert tips

Beginning with Halloween candy and ending with a New Year’s Eve toast, the last months of the year can challenge even the most disciplined weight watcher. By the time the New Year arrives, you may feel heavier, yet in reality most people have not packed on as many pounds as they think.

The average American gains about one to two pounds during the six-week stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. This doesn’t sound like much unless you gain that extra one to two pounds year after year, without losing it. Before you know it, in 10 years you could easily be 10 to 20 pounds heavier. Here’s the rub – this extra weight gain can be harmful to your waistline while increasing your risk for serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, or joint problems.

So, how can you enjoy the holiday’s festivities and delicious food without sabotaging your waistline? Even though this time of year is filled with fatty and sugary treats, the truth is you can continue to make good food choices. Follow the expert tips below. They’ll point you in the right direction, allowing you to still revel in this beautiful season while avoiding holiday weight gain:

Practice the 90/10 rule – A simple trick to use year-round that can change how you eat forever. Ninety percent of the time, eat healthy along with exercise. But give yourself 10 percent wiggle room. Have a small indulgence here and there. No one can eat perfectly 100 percent of the time. It’s okay to enjoy and savor holiday treats, just make sure the majority of time you are focusing on healthy foods.

Prevent meal skipping – It may sound like a good idea to save your appetite for a holiday party later in the day but that plan can backfire. Likely by the time the party rolls around, you’re cranky and tired besides being ravenously hungry. Arriving at a party on an empty stomach only spells disaster – you’ll likely end up eating more calories than the ones you skipped earlier in the day. Instead, eat breakfast, a light lunch and before leaving the house, have a snack of fiber-filled foods. Fiber helps you feel full preventing you from overeating. Choose foods with minimal calories such as crisp, fresh vegetables, fruit, a small salad, nuts, or a small bowl of oatmeal.

Eat Well to Be Well: 5 spices to spice up your health

Did you know your spice rack is really your medicine cabinet? One look and you’ll be staring at some of the most powerful and effective secret weapons known for fighting inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and more.

These aromatic substances used for flavoring food have an impressive array of health potential. Before automatically shaking salt or dabbing a dollop of butter onto food, stop. Consider how they contribute to heart disease and high blood pressure. Opt instead to use spices to flavor your food. Besides providing a unique, appetizing appeal to your meals, take advantage of their disease-fighting compounds as they protect your body’s health.

While there are more than 100 spices used in cooking throughout the world, there’s no need to go on an exotic hunt. Your local grocery store will carry some of the best spices you need and here are five good examples to begin using in your meals:

1. Tumeric for fighting inflammation

Popular in Indian curry dishes, turmeric has become a trendy super food for its ability to reduce inflammation. A starring component of turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory substance called curcumin. Research has shown curcumin to be effective for reducing pain and swelling in people with arthritis. This same compound has also been found to inhibit growth of certain breast cancer cells while other research suggests it may also protect against stomach and pancreatic cancers.

How to use it: Try turmeric on vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, on brown rice or quinoa, or sprinkle onto chicken noodle soup.

Eat Well to Be Well: Foods helping you “C” better

As a nation, we are aging – fast. So fast that it is predicted that the number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent.

That’s why it’s more important than ever to prioritize vision-protective nutrients and foods. In fact, the American Optometric Association has emphasized that consuming food rich in vitamin C can reduce and slow the progression of certain eye conditions and loss of visual acuity. One such nutrient having direct beneficial effects promoting eye health is vitamin C.

About Vitamin C

Vitamin C is a busy vitamin. This water-soluble vitamin, which our body does not store, has many functions keeping our body healthy. From promoting healthy capillaries, gums, teeth, and cartilage to enhancing the absorption of iron, almost all cells of the body depend on this nutrient also known as ascorbic acid.

Before it was discovered, vitamin C has an interesting and rich history. Back in the early eighteenth century, seafarers who traveled for months at a time over the ocean knew that fresh vegetables and fruits – especially citrus fruits – could cure scurvy, which is the deficiency disease of vitamin C.

Today, we now know far more about this vitamin and the vital role it plays in maintaining our body. One part of our body that clearly cannot do without this precious vitamin is our eyes. Vitamin C plays an important role in supporting the health of blood vessels leading to our eyes and is critical for maintaining good eye health.

There are two conditions affecting our eyes in which vitamin C can help reduce at least the progression if not possibly preventing them from occurring. One is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and the other is cataracts.

Eat Well to Be Well: Are you under-consuming these key nutrients?

Let’s start with what many Americans over consume each day – excess sodium, unhealthy fats, and an abundance of overly sugary carbohydrates. This barrage of overabundance over time can be a major detriment to our health. But what about nutrients we under consume, also setting the stage for future health problems? Scientists with the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey* have identified five top nutrients many of us are lacking or what they refer to as “shortfall nutrients.” Let’s take a look at these five nutrients and how a few dietary changes can help make up some of the nutrient shortages:

Calcium – Calcium has the distinction of being the most abundant mineral in our body. It’s necessary for strong bones and teeth, lowers risk of osteoporosis and colon cancer, and may aid in weight loss. Despite the mineral’s importance in the body, many people fall short of the 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium they need daily. In fact, the average woman consumes only slightly more than half of her daily requirement.

Top tips for boosting intake – Each day, include two to three servings of dairy (cow’s milk, cheese, cottage cheese, and yogurt) or calcium-fortified non-dairy beverages. Dark green leafy vegetables are also high in calcium. However, the human body absorbs more calcium from dairy foods than plant-based foods. Also, more calcium is absorbed from kale and broccoli than from spinach because they have less oxalate. Oxalate is an organic compound found in foods such as spinach that can bind with minerals like calcium carrying it on out the body, preventing some of it from being absorbed.

Fiber – Fiber has a multitude of important roles in our health. It prevents constipation, improves gut and heart health, and may lower the risk of colon cancer. Yet, few Americans are anywhere near meeting the recommended daily allowance. The average person in the U.S. gets about 15-16 grams of fiber daily. Ideally, men should strive for between 30-38 grams of fiber a day while women require between 25-30 grams per day.

Top tips for boosting intake – Begin by replacing white bread with 100 percent whole wheat bread. Have a fruit or vegetable at every meal and snack. Speaking of snacks, choose nuts and seeds for a fiber boost. Add dried or canned beans to soups, stews, taco meat, or to a pasta dish.

Eat Well to Be Well: A+ after-school snacks enhance kids’ health

Summer is almost over with a new school year about to begin. You’ve bought new book bags, shoes, and school supplies to start your child’s school year off right.  But there’s one other important component enhancing your child’s school success and health – healthy after-school snacks.

The importance of after-school snacks

Who doesn’t remember coming home from school hungry and looking for something to eat? Children of today are no different. Keeping nutritious after-school snacks on hand allows kids of all ages the perfect opportunity to enrich their growth and nutritional needs.

As parents, we are responsible for forming our kids’ snack habits.  Think of the after-school snack as a mini-meal.  Healthy, nutritious snacks are a far smarter way to fill them up instead of offering overly-refined foods such as chips or Cheetos. Smart snack choices can provide key nutrients like fiber, iron, and protein that may otherwise be lacking in some kids’ diets.

The idea is to fuel your kids’ brains providing an energy boost while satisfying their hunger cravings helping them achieve academic success. For those participating in sports, busy student athletes will be wise to choose nutritious snacks supporting energy for growth and athletic performance. When smart snack choices are frequently made, this not only develops good eating habits, but also enjoyment of wholesome foods.

Eat Well to Be Well: Simply sidestep metabolic syndrome

Results from your annual physical were not the best – high cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, high blood pressure – should you be concerned? Yes. You may have a condition called metabolic syndrome that can erupt into multiple health worries. The good news is making lifestyle changes can significantly blunt the advancement of this health problem. But what is metabolic syndrome and how would you know if you have it?

Understanding metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions significantly increasing your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. If you have this condition, it’s not a matter of if you will have a heart attack or stroke; it’s a matter of when.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are five conditions considered to be risk facts for metabolic syndrome: high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugar, abnormally high triglyceride levels, a low HDL cholesterol level (good cholesterol), and excess body fat around the waist (waist measurement or circumference). Below are the criteria for each of these conditions indicating if you are at risk:

  • Blood pressure – equal to or greater than 130/85 mmHg.
  • Fasting blood sugar – greater than 100 mg/dl.
  • Triglycerides – equal to or greater than 150 mg/dl.
  • HDL cholesterol – equal to or less than 50 mg/dl for women or equal to or less than 40 mg/dl for men.
  • Waist circumference – equal to or greater than 35 inches for women or equal to or greater than 40 inches for men.

Anyone with at least three or more of the risk factors has metabolic syndrome. Currently, a whopping 34 percent of American adults have metabolic syndrome, up from 25 percent two decades ago. And just recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has found that the gains made in improving death rates from heart disease and strokes have stalled, which is driving down life expectancy in the U.S. This is after decades when Americans could expect to live longer than the generation before them.

Eat Well to Be Well: Why choosing cow’s milk still matters

Going to the grocery store to “get milk,” is not always what it used to mean. Open up the refrigerator in many homes, and the “milk” might instead be a nondairy milk alternative. From soymilk, almond, coconut, rice, cashew, oat, hemp, quinoa, or hazelnut, just to name a few, cow’s milk has competition.

Traditional cow’s milk still dominates the milk market, but research shows that U.S. nondairy milk sales are growing, causing cow’s milk sales to sag. Nondairy milk alternatives have gained popularity among consumers. But are nondairy milk alternatives as healthy for us as cow’s milk and why are consumers dropping dairy milk for plant-based alternative milks anyway?

Reasons for the switch to nondairy milk alternatives

The consumer consumption switch on buying more nondairy milk alternatives is being fueled for several reasons:

  • People with a milk allergy have a safe alternative to cow’s milk.
  • People with lactose intolerance – however, dairy milk manufacturers make some varieties of cow’s milk with the lactose already broken down.
  • People who are vegans and consume no animal products.
  • People who have health concerns over consuming dairy milk believing it is fattening or unhealthy.
  • There is public perception that nondairy milk alternatives are healthier than dairy milk.
  • Some consumers question modern milk production practices.

How does the nutritional profile of cow’s milk compare to plant-based milks? This is where it is very important for consumer’s to read the nutrition facts label on all types of nondairy milk alternatives. While it’s tempting to follow the trend of drinking plant-based milk alternatives, before deserting cow’s milk, know the nutritional differences between them.

Let’s be clear, cow’s milk is still the gold standard with a high nutritional profile for several reasons:

Eat Well to Be Well: Why making every bite count matters more as we age

Humorist, novelist, and journalist Mark Twain was famous for his wit and wisdom. One of my favorite quotes he coined was, “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” However, what does matter is how healthfully we age, at least to me. I personally hope to live a long healthy life, with the emphasis on “healthy.”

So, is healthy eating more important as we get older? Good nutrition is important at every stage of life. But as the decades go by, likely, health issues will start to appear. Your food choices often have a significant role of what we may or may not develop. Smart nutritional choices do make a difference. That’s why it’s never too late to start afresh with eating habits promoting your health.

When you look at each decade of life nutritionally, they bring certain phases and changes to focus on. Anyone who has lived long enough has seen and felt bodily changes. That’s why starting young is best for building a strong nutritional foundation. Let’s look at what to focus on as the years go by:

Eat Well to Be Well: The harms of going gluten-free when you don’t have to

In case you haven’t noticed, the gluten-free market has exploded within the past five years. This tidal wave of gluten-free popularity took off with endorsements from food blogs and social media hash tags. Even the food industry has played a significant role. Extensive labeling of foods as gluten-free or not has amassed such a following, an estimated one in five Americans include gluten-free foods in their diet.

Yet, most people pulling gluten-free foods off grocery store shelves do not have sensitivity to wheat, barley or rye. In fact, experts estimate that only about seven percent of Americans benefit from avoiding gluten. That means many of us eating gluten-free really don’t need to. Despite this fact, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, gluten-free alternatives to traditional foods accounted for nearly $1.6 billion in sales in 2015. Most of this growth is driven by consumers believing gluten-free is healthier and may aid weight loss. So, who should go gluten-free and who should not?

Who benefits from following a gluten-free diet?

Any person diagnosed with celiac disease through an intestinal biopsy will need to follow a gluten-free diet for the rest of their life. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by an abnormal immune response to gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye that can damage the lining of the small intestine by causing inflammation. When the damage occurs, it reduces the ability of the intestinal lining to absorb nutrients, which can lead to problems such as anemia, osteoporosis, or growth delays in children.

A food label shows this product is not gluten free: Wheat flour and whole wheat flour are derived from gluten-containing wheat. USDA graphic.

Another form of celiac disease called dermatitis herpetiformis (DH), also warrants going gluten-free. DH can trigger the immune system to attack the skin, causing a chronic, itchy bumpy rash that can be quite painful.

One other reason to avoid gluten is to reduce symptoms of gluten sensitivity. Gluten sensitivity is not an autoimmune disease; instead it’s the inability to process gluten, resulting in unpleasant symptoms such as diarrhea, gas, bloating, and constipation.

Anyone who believes they may benefit from a gluten-free diet should be evaluated by their family physician and a gastroenterologist to determine if they have celiac disease, DH or gluten sensitivity. If they do, following a gluten-free diet will help them feel better with fewer symptoms.

Eat Well to be Well: Build brainpower with brain-healthy foods

“To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” This very wise and aptly spoken quote from Buddha makes perfect sense in the world today when a greater percentage of our population is developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

We always hear talk about heart health but what about brain health? Our brain needs our attention too. It needs to be nourished and fed the right kind of foods to keep us thinking clearly, focused, feeling energetic and functioning at our best.

As dementia and Alzheimer’s disease continue to rise in the United States with no cure in sight, the earlier we begin making healthy food choices, the better. Currently, Alzheimer’s disease is the 6th leading cause of death with 5.3 million Americans living with this condition. It is predicted that unless a cure is found, 16 million Americans will have the disease by 2050.

The brain needs adequate blood flow to enhance memory and cognitive thinking. Many studies have been conducted demonstrating how a healthy diet with proper food choices does indeed make a remarkable difference in how we think and feel, giving us a brain boost we can benefit from. By adding in foods to boost brain health, this is one way we can participate in keeping our brains healthy. Here are five foods for protecting, promoting and preserving brain health:

Eat Well to Be Well: Hormones in beef – Should you worry?

When it comes to food, everyone has an opinion and each of us has many questions. Take beef for instance. It seems you either eat it or you don’t. And if you choose not to, one concern for avoiding it could be the fear of hormones in beef.  How do we know beef is safe to eat and why are hormones used anyway?

The ‘beef’ over eating meat

The sensationalism surrounding beef being filled with hormones is just that – an over exaggeration.  It’s important to understand all living things – plants, animals, and people – produce hormones. Hormones are special chemical messengers necessary for controlling most major body functions from hunger to reproduction. The hormones used in beef production are only those that are also naturally produced by cattle. They include estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, as well as synthetic versions of them.

Why are hormones used?

The simple answer why cattle are implanted with hormones is to help the cattle grow faster. These growth-promoting hormone pellets, about the size of an Advil tablet, contain a small amount of hormones and are put under the skin on the backside of the ear – cattle ears are never used in food production, thus they do not end up in the food we eat.

If you’re worried about the amount of hormones in these pellets, don’t be. The amount is a fraction of the natural production of mature bulls or heifers. A 1,300 pound steer is implanted with 30 milligrams of estrogen to last 150 days and that’s it. Compare this to the amount of ingested hormones a woman on birth control pills takes for months or years. Also, hormones don’t build-up in the cow’s system so there is no residue from the pellets in your meat.

These hormones not only help the animal gain weight faster, but they also have less of an impact on the environment than a non-treated animal. This means less time, food, and water are used to finish the animal, making them less expensive to produce, a cost-savings passed on to us as consumers. Research from Iowa State University found that hormone implants have no effect on beef quality or safety.

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