Nutrition has never been so hot. And, rightfully so. According to Elizabeth Somer, registered dietitian and author of Eat Your Way to Sexy, recent discoveries are redefining the entire field of nutrition and some of those old diet “facts” have had a facelift in recent years. March is National Nutrition Month and Elizabeth gave us the scoop on the hottest nutrition findings.
Hot Discovery #1: Vitamin D works far beyond its role as a bone-builder
Last year marked the 100th birthday of the discovery of the first vitamin. We’ve come a long way since then. But, we’ve come an even farther way in the past couple of years when it comes to vitamin D. When I was in college studying nutrition, the only known role of this vitamin was in helping to absorb calcium and move it into bones. It was assumed the vitamin was very toxic, so daily intakes were strictly limited. In the past few years, we have found that every cell in the body has receptors for vitamin D and it’s essential in the prevention of cancer, heart disease, depression, Winter Blues, multiple sclerosis, and more. It also might aid in weight loss and helps to maintain muscle in elderly, reducing falls by up to 60%. Even in sunshine areas, such as San Diego, up to 80% of the population is low in vitamin D. It’s no where near as toxic as once thought. In fact, it’s impossible to get enough from diet alone, so consider first having your blood levels checked and if you are low, supplement!
Hot Discovery #2: Omega-3s for mood, mind, and memory
Even a few years ago, most experts thought the brain was unaffected by dietary intake and also unable to regenerate. All of that has changed. Now we know that 66% of brain aging is within our control and diet plays a huge part in staying mentally sharp. The omega-3 fats in seafood, EPA and DHA, are critical building blocks of healthy brain cells. In fact, 97% of the omega-3s in the brain are DHA. But, your body can’t make this fat. It must come from the diet. No wonder researchers have found that people who consume ample amounts of DHA maintain better memories and are up to 60% less likely to develop dementia. DHA also reduces depression by up to 50% even in people who are the most difficult to treat and depression rates are 60 times lower in countries where people consume the most DHA, which is why even the American Psychiatric Association in 2006 added this fat to their recommendations for treating depression. In addition, a recent study from Oxford found that DHA supplements even improved reading by up to 50% in children and curbed behavioral problems. Stay tuned: Preliminary research is investigating the link with DHA and attention deficit, autism, and other neurological problems. Aim for at least 2 servings a week of DHA-rich salmon, include DHA-fortified foods in the diet, or take a supplement that supplies at least 200 milligrams of DHA.
Hot Discovery #3: Tomato extract improves blood flow
Heart disease prevention is a four-fold process. You need to:
1. Lower your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while keeping your “good” cholesterol, called HDL cholesterol in the healthy range.
2. Keep your blood pressure at 120/80 to avoid hypertension.
3. Improve blood flow. That means keeping your circulation in tip top condition so that blood clots or constricted arteries don’t lead to heart attack or stroke.
4. Avoid inflammation in your blood vessels associated with the development of plaque that constricts blood vessels leading to the underlying cause of heart disease - atherosclerosis.
A new tomato extract now being added to food products is vital for #3. It keeps circulation moving cleanly and smoothly for hours after ingestion, with lots of solid research to support its safety and effectiveness, including studies finding the benefits last for up to 12 hours.
Hot Discovery #4: Resveratrol: The anti-aging secret of red wine
Resveratrol is a polyphenol found in abundance in red wine, and in lower amounts in red grapes, peanuts, pomegranates, and berries. It is a potent antioxidant and alters gene expression, turning on cells’ production of anti-aging substances. It also speeds cell repair, encourages cancer cells to self-destruct, strengthens blood vessels and lowers the risk for inflammation, heart disease, cancer, dementia, Alzheimers, menopause symptoms, diabetes, and possibly even obesity and sexual dysfunction. It even shows promise in extending lifespan. There are no guidelines for optimal resveratrol intakes, but studies currently are investigating a minimal dose of 20 to 40 milligrams a day, preferably taken in divided doses. (To put this into perspective, a five-ounce glass of red wine has < 2 milligrams of resveratrol.) You will find supplements that contain much higher amounts, but there is no evidence that high doses produce any further benefits.
Hot Discovery #5: Oats: A lifeline for weight control, heart health, diabetes prevention, and athletic performance
This simple, old-fashioned favorite helps maintain a healthy weight thanks to the magic combo of fiber and water, which fills you up on fewer calories and digests slowly so you are satisfied between breakfast and lunch and less likely to be grazing at the fridge or vending machine. In addition, the type of fiber in old fashioned oats, called beta glucan, is a soluble fiber, that helps decrease cholesterol absorption and lowers blood sugar levels, lowering the risk for both diabetes and heart disease. Old fashioned oats have more fiber and staying power than instant or quick-cooking oats, but oat bran of any kind is good. The new research here is that the soluble fiber, or beta glucan, in oats also appears to enhance athletic performance and reduce fatigue, possibly because of its ability to reduce blood lactic acid levels and increase glycogen levels, a big plus for runners or anyone doing endurance sports.
How to include more in your diet: Before you go to bed, do the prep work by adding hot milk and oatmeal to a wide-mouthed thermos. Close and tighten the lid. In the morning just open the thermos, sprinkle with 2 tsp. slivered almonds, and you have a warm, delicious breakfast waiting for you!
Hot Discovery #6: Phytonutrients and Nutrigenomics
These are two of the hottest new areas in nutrition research. More than 1 million phytonutrients have been identified in real foods, such as colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, wine, etc. They aren’t protein, fat, carbs, vitamins, minerals, or fiber. They are other compounds with names such as lutein, zeathanxin, ellagic acid, lycopene, anthocyanins, phenols, etc. Many are antioxidants. Some enter into the range of nutrigenomics. Since the mapping of the human genome, scientists have discovered that many compounds in real foods tweak gene expression. The phytonutrients, for example, in berries turn on cells’ production of its own antioxidants, which then work 24/7 to protect the cell from damage and aging. There is even preliminary evidence that these advantages can be passed on to the next generation. This is just the tip of the nutritional iceberg, but gives us even more reason to load the plate with produce!
For example, the lycopene in watermelon lowers heart disease risk by reducing inflammation within blood vessels. Or take berries, which loaded with phytonutrients, including anthocyanins, resveratrol, ellagic acid, carotenoids, and polyphenols. These phytonutrients protect healthy cells throughout the body, preventing aging from head to toe. A recent study from Harvard found regardless of the rest of the diet, women who consumed several servings a week of berries had a significant reduction in heart attack risk. Berries also lower risk for cancer, diabetes, vision loss, urinary tract infections, inflammation, erectile dysfunction, periodontal disease, and kidney stones. Another phytonutrient called ellagic acid in berries is a youth elixir for skin, increasing elastin fibers and inhibiting collagenase, an enzyme that otherwise breaks down collagen in the skin. Berries ability to protect your mind is so amazing that some call them “brain berries.” The phytonutrient power is directly proportional to the color, so select the darkest produce, such as berries, that are richly hued from skin to core.
Hot Discovery #7: Probiotics for health
Remember the days when yogurt was a health food for hippies? Not anymore. Yogurt has gone mainstream and rightfully so. Thousands of recent studies consistently show that encouraging the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract could lower the risk for a wide variety of diseases, ranging from diarrhea and all kinds of bowel problems to allergies, heart disease, and even cancer. They also help boost the immune system. A strain of bacteria is only considered a probiotic if it survives the acidic environment of the stomach to exert healthful benefits in the intestine. Strains found to be most beneficial include Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and L. rhamnosus. Be careful of the commercial brands, especially the ones with fruit or flavorings, since most have the sugar equivalent of a candy bar. Instead, choose plain, nonfat yogurt and sweeten it yourself with fruit or a little jam. If a yogurt won’t admit to the type of bacteria used, assume none. Also, a mix of different bacteria is better than just one.