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    Archive for the ‘legumes’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Nutrition and Cancer Risk

    10_foods_berries_raychel_deppeWhat foods reduce the risk of cancer the most?

    — Ronald (Last name unknown)
    (Location unknown)

    In terms of overall cancer risk, it is pretty clear that diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seafood, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices appear to have a more protective effect than those high in red meat and dairy products.

    FYI: many people — nutritionists included — often forget the power of consistent intakes of herbs and spices, all of which are loaded with phytonutrients and antioxidants.

    That is not to say, of course, that cancer can be prevented simply by eating healthy, since other factors like stress, pollution, and genetics play a prominent role as well.

    Also, I am not stating that meat or dairy cause cancer.  As I have explained in previous posts, part of the dilemma with nutrition research lies in determining if a certain diet increases cancer risk because of what it is high in or because of what it offers little of.

    What is absolutely obvious, though, is that phytonutrients and biochemical compounds (like flavonoids and antioxidants) play crucial roles in cancer risk reduction, and diets low in plant foods offer much lower amounts of these compounds.

    I consider the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research two top-notch sources for information regarding nutrition and cancer.  Here are some of their conclusions based on reviews of thousands of large-scale long-term clinical studies:

    • Non-starchy vegetables are most helpful in reducing risk of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, and stomach cancers
    • Allium vegetables (garlic, onions, scallions, leeks, etc.)  have been found to be most effective against stomach cancers
    • There is also substantial evidence of garlic having a protective effect against colorectal cancer
    • Fruits (this includes avocados!) are implicated in risk-reduction of mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung, and stomach cancers
    • Nuts and seeds have a protective effect against prostate cancer

    As you may suspect, one rather frustrating issue — at least for me — with large-scale nutrition research studies (the ones that receive significant funding and often make significant discoveries) is that, understandably, they tend to focus on commonly-consumed foods.  It makes sense; after all, it’s most helpeful to determine what effect mainstream dietary patterns have on health, since those literally affect tens of millions of individuals.

    However, this means that a lot of wonderful, but not as commonly consumed, foods chock-full of nutrition (think quinoa, maca, ginger, cumin, wild rice, goji berries, tempeh, kale, hemp seeds, etc.) are barely investigated.  Heck, even sweet potatoes have largely been ignored.

    It’s clear these foods have health-promoting properties and offer plenty of nutrition, but I wish there were more clinical studies looking at their effect on health.

    In conclusion, though, you can never go wrong with whole, minimally processed foods.

    Keep in mind my “dartboard” visual:

    • The center circle is for foods you want to eat on a daily basis.  This circle should be mainly made up of minimally processed plant-based foods.
    • The second outer circle is for foods that can be enjoyed four or five times a month.
    • The third outer circle is for foods that are best consumed no more than once or twice a month

    PS: One of my absolute biggest pet-peeves is rankings of healthy foods.  I consider articles or television segments which state that an apple is healthier than an orange, which in turn is healthier than a banana a complete joke.  The fact that a fruit has 10 percent more vitamin C than another does not make it superior (because, chances are, that other fruit contains unique phytonutrients).


    In The News: Seeking Health? Look to the Mediterranean

    The question of “ideal diets” is a hot topic in the nutrition field.

    Although many dietitians agree that a Mediterranean style of eating — ” rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals [mainly whole grains], fish, olive oil and, yes, a bit of red wine with meals” — is optimal, you are bound to run into individuals of the opinion that good health is achieved by eating liberal amounts of saturated fat and protein while shunning carbohydrates.

    The British Medical Journal is helping shed light on this cloudy matter with one of the largest meta-analysis studies ever conducted, compiling “a dozen of the most methodologically sound of these observational studies, which included over 1.5 million people followed for up to eighteen years, analyzing cardiovascular consequences and some other important health outcomes.”

    End result? The Mediterranean diet was found to have the lowest rate of cardiovascular disease, cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s.

    To quote directly from the study, “greater adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with a significant improvement in health status, as seen by a significant reduction in overall mortality (9%), mortality from cardiovascular diseases (9%), incidence of or mortality from cancer (6%), and incidence of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease (13%).”

    Although the Mediterranean Diet is no longer an accurate name (the younger generations in these countries are eating too much processed food and too many calories, as evidenced by rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes), this particular way of eating does many things correctly.

    Among them? Focusing on minimally processed foods high in fiber and phytonutrients, including heart-healthy fats (monounsaturated and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats), and keeping added sugars to a minimum.

    Although this is termed a “Mediterranean” diet pattern, it contains many parallels to the diet of one of the healthiest countries — Japan.

    This bit of “news” simply confirms what dietitians have been recommending for decades: stick to a desirable caloric range while making sure to eat your fruits and vegetables, keeping an eye on saturated and trans fat intake, choosing healthy fats, and avoiding added sugars whenever possible.

    I am also of the belief that since this kind of eating pattern cuts down on empty calories, it makes sticking within a desired caloric range a little easier.


    You Ask, I Answer: Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber

    I’ve become aware now (with your help) on how to find fiber and foods that are high in fiber but I’m wondering about the amount of soluble fiber and insoluble fiber in a lot of common “high fiber” foods.

    I would love for you to explain a little bit the different things each does and if you really need to try to balance between the two for the best health benefits or if, as long as you get enough fiber, you don’t really have to worry about the two different types.

    I ask this because I notice a lot of foods just state how much fiber they have but some bars (especially Gnu) go the extra mile to break down and show how much of each type they contain.

    — Andrew Carney
    Richmond, VA

    Great question.

    Remember that fiber is solely found in plant foods — meats and dairy do not provide it.

    With that in mind, let’s break it down.

    Soluble fiber is helpful with cholesterol reduction, providing a feeling of fullness for a significant amount of time, and stabilizing blood glucose levels.

    Insoluble fiber, meanwhile, keeps things moving through the digestive tract, making it an important factor in reducing the risk of colon cancer.

    Both are important and necessary.

    Oat bran is the best source of soluble fiber, while wheat bran is composed of solely insoluble fiber.

    Legumes, beans, and nuts are a mix of insoluble and soluble, as are fruits and vegetables (in the case of fruits, skins contain insoluble fiber and the actual fruit contains soluble).

    So, as long as you have a varied diet, you are getting sufficient amounts of both.

    The important goal to keep in mind is to have 25 – 35 grams of fiber a day from your diet.

    If you want to get a bit more technical, it is recommended you get at least 5 grams of soluble fiber a day for maximum cholesterol-lowering benefits.

    This isn’t all that much — a quarter cup of oat bran does the trick.

    Similarly, a medium pear provides 1.7 grams of soluble fiber, a peach 0.8, a mango 0.76, and a banana 0.6.

    Later today I will post a yogurt bowl recipe that meets the daily soluble fiber recommendation.


    You Ask, I Answer: Menopause

    What nutritional requirements should I be on the lookout for as I go through menopause?

    — Lena Hill
    Boca Raton, FL

    Since menopause is a time when a woman’s body undergoes a number of changes (among them hormonal, since estrogen and progesterone production is halted), nutrition recommendations are slightly altered.

    To begin with, there is a fairly decent body of research linking diets rich in phytoestrogens (plant versions of estrogen) with alleviation of some menopause symptoms.

    It is worth pointing out that phytoestrogens are not as powerful as human estrogen, so in order for them to have any sort of therapeutic effect, they need to be consumed in fairly large quantities on a consistent (daily) basis.

    Although there are approximately 30 different forms of phytoestrogens, isoflavones and lignans are the two most commonly cited as helpful with menopause symptoms.

    Legumes (including lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans) are good sources of isoflavones, while flaxseeds and bran are the best sources of lignans.

    Although there is some research showing no relationship between isoflavone consumption and menopause symptoms, it is worth pointing out that most of those studies only looked at soy intake, rather than a variety of phytoestrogens.

    Additionally, I don’t see the harm in trying to include phytoestrogen rich foods (like edamame, pictured alongside this post) in the diet, since they are good sources of fiber, healthy fats, zinc, and calcium.

    Even if they don’t help you specifically with symptoms, you are certainly getting a fair share of nutrition.

    Menopause is also a time to increase the intake of specific nutrients.

    First up – calcium. Once women hit 50 years of age, their calcium requirement returns to that of their adolescent years – 1,200 to 1,400 milligrams a day.

    This is up to 40 percent higher than the 1,000 milligram requirement for women ages 18 – 49.

    It is recommended to get as much as calcium as possible from food first, and resort to supplements to make up any lost ground.

    Supplementation of Vitamin D is also encouraged.

    Requirements increase from 400 International Units to 800, since older women can’t convert sunlight into vitamin D as efficiently as their younger counterparts.

    Because aging is accompanied by a loss of muscle mass, metabolism also slows down.

    By the time a woman reaches the age of 60, for instance, her calorie needs decrease 15 to 20 percent than when she is in 30.

    This means that the hypothetical 2,000 calories required at age 30 to maintain weight turn into roughly 1600.

    This is one reason why exercise is so crucial. Weigt bearing exercises help minimize muscle loss, thereby keeping metabolism slowdown to a minimum (assuming there are no other health problems).


    You Ask, I Answer: Fiber

    I’ve recently been drinking Naked Juice because I love the taste of it.

    I know full well (from my last question) that it isn’t a replacement for healthy eating, so I still try to round out my diet.

    However, fiber seems like something I still probably am not getting enough of, and I would love to add, like, 10 grams a day mixed into my juice.

    Do you know if any of those pure “green” juices include fiber?

    If not, do you know of any powdered fiber supplement that isn’t marketed as a laxative?

    I know it shouldn’t stop me, but as a healthy 21 year-old, I can’t bring myself to go buy Metamucil.

    Until I can afford to drop $500 on a crazy blender that blends whole fruits, I’m hoping adding some powdered fiber to a juice will help.

    — Andrew Carney
    Richland, WA

    If your goal is to increase fiber consumption, skip the powders and liquids and go for a much tastier and plentiful source — food.

    I personally don’t understand the decision behind taking Metamucil as a fiber supplement.

    It has an unpleasant taste and texture, doesn’t offer more fiber than food (one serving offers 3 grams — as much as six Triscuit crackers,) and doesn’t provide the naturally-occurring nutrients and phytochemicals in fiber-rich foods.

    So, if 10 grams is what you seek, enjoy your juices as they are and consider the following instead:

    Snack on one Gnu Flavor & Fiber, Lara, Pure, or Clif Nectar bar every day.

    Add a half cup of legumes (chickepas, kidney beans, lentils) to a meal. Some easy options? Heat up some lentil soup or add legumes to a salad, wrap, or burrito.

    Complement your breakfast with a cup of whole grain cereal or two slices of whole (or sprouted) grain toast. For an extra fiber boost, start off your morning with fruit as well (a medium banana provides 3 grams of fiber).

    If you’re making smoothies at home, add two tablespoons of ground flaxseed. You’ll get Omega-3 fatty acids, lignans, and 4 grams of fiber in a 70 calorie package.  Another great option?  One tablespoon of psyllium husks is a wonderful way to add soluble fiber to your day.

    Like pasta? Next time you make some, mix a regular variety with a whole wheat one.
    A cup of cooked whole wheat pasta packs in 5 grams.

    By all means, try to get your fiber from food first.

    There’s no reason why anyone — young or old — should be spending money on fiber supplements.


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