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Using food to improve and maintain health

Let’s admit it. We live in a world that is increasingly geared toward instant gratification. Yet for all our apps, tweets, tags and posts, some things still require time and attention to detail.

Your health, for example.

In an effort to maintain and restore health, there’s one key area people tend to ignore: what they eat. You wouldn’t fill the tank of your gasoline-powered vehicle with diesel and expect positive results. Yet many people have poor eating habits and then wonder why they have no energy, are frequently sick or struggle with various health conditions.

Food is fuel. It can also be powerful medicine.

Before you run out to the vitamin store and stock up on supplements, you should know that taking supplements is not the same as eating a balanced, nutritious diet. For example, you may take a calcium supplement for bone health, but the ability of your body to use calcium depends not only on the amount (or dose) provided by a supplement but also the level of vitamin D in your body, your age, whether you took calcium with or without food, as well as your intake of sodium, caffeine and alcohol.

Supplements can provide a false sense of what health is, observes Amy Freeman, RDN, LDN, CDE, a nutritionist and certified diabetes educator who works at Ocala Health’s Senior Wellness Community Center.

“Most clients I work with want to practice good health, but there is a lack of knowledge on how to do this. The marketers of supplements have done a complete job at convincing consumers of their message to buy a supplement or ‘anti-oxidant’ tablet to fill that desire to be healthful,” says Freeman.

Freeman explains that it’s much better to get as much of your nutrients as possible from what you eat.

“The beauty of food when compared to a tablet or capsule or gummy is the elegant arrangement of not just one vitamin or mineral, but numerous vitamins, minerals, fiber types and the wide range of phytochemicals working synergistically to support the metabolism and endogenous anti-oxidant systems,” she notes.

Food That Fights

Incorporating the following food can provide essential nutrients for various conditions you may be facing. Always talk with your health care provider before embarking on any radical diet change. If you’re dealing with digestive health issues, it’s especially important to first discuss these with your primary care provider or gastroenterologist.

“I want to encourage folks who are reading the food lists to recognize that the body is one system,” notes Freeman. “If you are choosing food to address inflammation due to arthritis, those choices will also provide support to brain health. As a certified diabetes educator, I work with folks who want assistance in managing their diabetes. When they make lifestyle improvements to address their blood sugar, their blood pressure is typically improved as well. It is all connected.”

Realize that no one food will cure an illness. Use the food lists included here to influence what you eat, and remember: “A person can dramatically improve their health by limiting processed foods and choosing a plant-based meal plan using the listed foods,” says Freeman.

For those who think they don’t have time to shop and cook healthy, Freeman issues the following challenge.

“Take 30 minutes and plan your next seven dinners,” she advises. “Once you have your seven dinners planned, write out a grocery list. I’ve found that when the clients I work with plan their meals and have the ingredients on hand, meal prep is not so demanding, nor intimidating. This is where working with a dietician can assist folks, not only in providing ideas for easy meal prep of healthful food but also encouraging them in taking right-sized steps to overcome a rather daunting task.”

And don’t underestimate the importance of hydration!

“Water should be the primary beverage of choice,” says Freeman. “The Institutes of Medicine recommend 91 ounces of total water per day for women and 125 ounces total water per day for men.”

Arthritis: 

  • Red bell peppers
  • Carrots
  • Berries
  • Oranges
  • Pumpkin
  • Turmeric
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Squash
  • Onion
  • Garlic

Blood sugar (to help stabilize): 

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Beans/legumes
  • Turkey

Brain health:

  • Ground flaxseed
  • Walnuts
  • Fatty fish (wild salmon, tuna, sardines, rainbow trout, char, haddock)
  • Shrimp
  • Spinach
  • Grapes (red and green)
  • Curry

Bone health:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Watercress
  • Spinach
  • Oregano
  • Tomatoes

Cholesterol (maintain healthy levels): 

  • Whole grains (whole wheat, barley, rye, millet, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, etc.)
  • Beans/legumes
  • Walnuts
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Apples
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Cranberries
  • Kiwi fruit

Cancer: 

  • Berries
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Watermelon
  • Beans/legumes
  • Pumpkin
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Apples
  • Beets
  • Papayas
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Grapes (red and green)
  • Turmeric
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Garlic
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit and tangerines)

Colon/digestive health: 

  • Yogurt without sugar or artificial sweeteners
  • Curry
  • Bananas
  • Legumes
  • Oats
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Flax seed
  • Nuts
  • Asparagus
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chicory
  • Honey

Diabetes: 

  • Dark, leafy greens (spinach, kale, bok choy, dark lettuces, etc.)
  • Swiss chard
  • Whole grains (whole wheat, barley, rye, millet, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, etc.)
  • Wild salmon
  • Turkey breast
  • Soybeans
  • Non-fat yogurt
  • Apples
  • Onions
  • Garlic

Eye health/ macular degeneration: 

  • Eggs
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Squash

Heart disease: 

  • Fatty fish (wild salmon, tuna, sardines, rainbow trout, char, haddock)
  • Shrimp
  • Whole grains (whole wheat, barley, rye, millet, quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, etc.)
  • Oatmeal
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Berries
  • Bananas
  • Papayas
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Grapes (red and green)
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit and tangerines)
  • Avocados
  • Beets
  • Watercress
  • Spinach
  • Dark, leafy greens
  • Curry
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Onions
  • Garlic

Immune system (to strengthen): 

  • Yogurt
  • Turkey
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit and tangerines)
  • Mushrooms
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Squash

Inflammation: 

  • Beets
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Avocados
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Berries
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruit and tangerines)

Migraines: 

  • Omega 3-fortified eggs
  • Beans/legumes
  • Skim milk
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Spinach

Urinary tract/bladder health: 

  • Berries
  • Yogurt
  • Sauerkraut
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Oysters
  • Egg yolks
  • Garlic
  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Peanuts
  • Almonds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Cinnamon
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Ginger
  • Tofu

Do I Ever Need A Supplement?

When there is a deficiency of a vitamin or mineral in your diet, or when the body has an increased demand for certain nutrients (during illness or pregnancy, for example), you may need to add a supplement. Ask your doctor about this, and increase your own knowledge by becoming familiar with U.S. Dietary Guidelines (health.gov/dietaryguidelines).

What’s Recommended?

US Dietary Guidelines recommend the following:

  • 4 cups vegetables and fruits combined per day
  • 5 ounces grains, preferably whole grains
  • At least 1 cup of dry beans or legumes per week
  • 11 ounces of fish and seafood per week
  • 4 ounces of nuts and seeds per week

Ditch The Iceberg

A salad is not just a salad. To make yours as healthy as possible, skip the iceberg lettuce and, instead, opt for dark, leafy greens. Think spinach, kale, boy choy and dark lettuces. These powerhouse greens are chock-full of vitamins and minerals, beta-carotene, folate, iron, magnesium, carotenoids, phytochemicals and antioxidants. Use them as the foundation for a nutritious salad, and then add chopped veggies, nuts, seeds and sprouts. Choose dressing carefully because you can add a shocking amount of calories and unhealthy fats this way. Better to go with no dressing (Yes, it’s possible to eat salad sans dressing!), or use extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar or a flavored rice wine vinegar.

Drink To Your Health

For those who enjoy the convenience of drinking a meal, Freeman recommends a “green” smoothie where the primary ingredients are vegetables with 1 cup (or less) of fruit. She frequently uses the following recipe in demonstrations at Ocala Health’s Senior Wellness Community Center.

“The protein powder is optional,” notes Freeman, “but a nice addition if the smoothie is to be a meal replacement.”

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup raw spinach, washed
  • 1 cup raw kale, washed
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple chunks
  • 1 teaspoon mint leaves
  • 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • ice cubes
  • 1 scoop protein powder (egg white, whey or rice, your choice)

Add all ingredients to blender, along with as many ice cubes as desired to thicken the smoothie. › Blend until desired consistency and drink right away.

 

Posted in Healthy Living Features

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