It’s been my experience as a practicing dietitian that most healthy people do not readily meet their dietary potassium requirements. Being able to eat a lot of food (calories) can help, since potassium is actually found in a wide range of foods. Obviously, the more food eaten, the greater likelihood of eating enough potassium. But, what about the individual that is always restricting calories for weight management? Or, what about the person who eats a lot of calories, but they are junk food calories? Theses scenarios will hinder meeting overall current potassium recommendations. While potassium plays a huge role in maintaining overall health, there is some emerging discussion that potassium plays a role in COVID-19 recovery (preliminary report, not yet peer reviewed). Therefore, knowing potassium food sources should be considered a basic nutrition education strategy for self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Current potassium recommendations
In 2019, potassium recommendations were adjusted. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) reset the recommendations for the population. Previously, the potassium requirements were 4700 mg for all adults, regardless of gender. Previous pediatric recommendations ranged from 3000 to 3800 mg. The updated requirements are more refined and are based on both gender and age.
Updated potassium requirements in mg are as follows:
1-3 years old 2000 mg for both genders
4-8 years old 2300 for both genders
9-13 years old 2500 for males and 2300 for females
14-18 years old 3000 for males and 2300 for females
19-50 years old 3400 for males and 2600 for females
1 cup unsweetened cranberry juice has about 200 mg
1/2 cup cooked carrots has about 185 mg
For an understanding of how your favorite food stacks up regarding potassium, visit FoodData Central.
As you can see in the list above, there should be plenty of appealing foods to meet your potassium requirements. With that said, many individuals will wonder or think they can just pop a supplement. However, this is not the case! Most multi-vitamin and mineral supplements typically have less than 100 mg of potassium. And, potassium supplements sold as single entity supplements provide the same. Your best bet is really to focus on nutrient dense foods that you enjoy eating in order to both improve your diet and meet your potassium requirements. Most potassium rich foods are high in nutrients and fiber, both of which you need to stay well, boost immunity, and feed your gut bacteria.
Final thoughts on potassium food sources and COVID-19
While there is no guarantee that ramping up potassium food sources will protect you from COVID-19, there are plenty of solid science backed reasons to pay attention to this nutrient! Low intakes of potassium can put one at risk for various conditions such as high blood pressure. Research also suggests that diets low in potassium promote blood sugar problems, kidney stones, and increase calcium loss from bones. Calcium lost from bones can lead to osteoporosis. When needing to improve your self-care through diet, healthy individuals cannot go wrong by adding more good quality potassium rich foods to their diet. In such unsettling times, even some positive self-care can feel empowering. Be well.
I just returned from a lovely oceanfront vacation. When I left for my vacation, there were only a few cases of Covid-19. When I returned home, it was as if the world had literally changed within the week. Watching the stock market crash, I felt helpless. I was in disbelief that there was no hand sanitizer on store shelves. I began feeling like I was in the middle of a natural disaster or war. It’s daunting to think that a pathogen could literally turn the world upside down and be so threatening to our health care system. While so much of this is out of our control, as individuals, there is plenty you can do with self care and diet to boost your own immune system. It’s time to get on board by following distancing rules and taking care of your own well-being as much as possible!
Tips to boost immune system
1. Ramp up the quality of your diet
If there ever was a time to stop eating junky processed food, it’s now. A healthy diet skewed to plant based foods, healthy fats, and less fatty animal protein is key to a healthy immune system. This will give your body a better chance to fight off all viruses you are exposed to. If need be, back up your new healthy eating plan with a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement. As the quality of your diet improves, it won’t be necessary to take a supplement every day. Speaking of supplements, there is no benefit to taking massive amounts of vitamin C. In fact, excessive vitamin C can aggravate gout, kidney disease, and give you a stomach ache. It can even affect certain prescription medications such as anti-clotting drugs. If you are eating lots of fruits and vegetables, you will be getting plenty of vitamin C.
2. Heed your vitamin D status
A vitamin D deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to infection. With that stated, I’m not telling you to run to a lab right now for a blood draw. But, I am telling you that if you know your vitamin D levels are typically low, then do something about it. As vitamin D is made by the sun shining on your skin, grab some rays outside on a sunny day. Even if you are in self quarantine or just doing distancing (as you should be), a sunny day can be a great tool for making vitamin D. Sit on your patio or take a walk. If it’s not possible to get some sunshine, then the multi-vitamin and mineral supplement suggested above will always have some vitamin D. In summary, if past testing has shown your blood values run low, then either get outside or take your supplement.
3. Boost your immune system with exercise
The immune system is very responsive to exercise. While your gym may be closed, you can still exercise. If you are lucky, you have equipment at home to use if the weather is bad. Otherwise, walking outside is perfect for our new world circumstances. Grab a sweater, skip the sunscreen (to make the vitamin D you need) and just get going. And, if you can’t go outside for some reason, then just get moving in the house. Any movement will put you in better shape than sitting around worrying. Charge that Fitbit and challenge yourself on a daily basis. This will help your physical and mental health.
4. Mind your gut to boost your immune system
The composition of bacteria in your gut are crucial to a healthy immune system. Eating a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables is the perfect way to feed your gut bacteria properly. If you’ve been on certain medications like anti-inflammatories or antibiotics, chances are your gut bacteria are not working to capacity because many of the good bacteria will have been adversely affected (wiped out). At this point, consider adding probiotic rich foods to your diet such as kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and yogurt. And, if you don’t care for these food sources of probiotics, then consider using a good quality probiotic supplement.
5. Sleep to boost your immune system
According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep plays a critical role in overall health. While getting enough sleep won’t necessarily prevent you from getting sick, it may very well affect your immune system. Without enough sleep, your body makes fewer cytokines which are a type of protein that targets infection and inflammation. These cytokines are produced and released while we sleep. The Sleep Foundation also suggests that if sleeping 7-8 hours nightly isn’t happening, you can take 30 minute naps during the day. This will offset stress and the negative effects on the immune system when a full night of sleep is lacking. And, according to a Mayo Clinic physician, a lack of sleep will also affect how fast you recover if you do get sick.
6. Limit exposures when possible
Clearly, we are in unchartered territory. First and foremost, hand washing needs to be kept up. Covid-19 or not, this is just a good policy to stay well. Steering clear of anyone we don’t need to be around is also key. Sorry, even the grand kids.
As I headed home from my vacation, I had time to think a great deal about limiting exposure to Covid-19. If you have your bacterial wipes, think about doing the following:
Hold the disinfectant wipe in your hand while pumping gas. Or, use another physical barrier such as a paper towel. Pitch immediately.
Remember to wipe off as much of your grocery cart as possible if you are out buying food.
If you are headed into a store, many have handicapped buttons you can push so as to avoid touching the door. If flexible, use your foot or your elbow to hit these buttons!
Use the drive through options even for picking up prescriptions. Today, I needed to pick up a prescription and I put cash in an envelope so as to avoid another point of contact in the transaction.
If food is being delivered, consider wiping down parts of your delivery such as plastic containers.
And, don’t handle money without then washing hands afterwards. There is recent research that the Covid-19 lives on copper for 4 hours. Pennies are made primarily of copper plated zinc; silver colored coins are made using copper and nickel combinations. I know first hand at least one progressive Chicago area hospital is banning the use of all currency due to thinking it may be a means of spreading the virus. For additional information on various surfaces and Covid-19 survival, click here.
We all need to do our part here. As is often the case, we are solely responsible for certain diet and lifestyle actions we take. As we fight this as a country, you can do much to help boost your individual immune system. In addition to hand washing and sanitizing surfaces, implement self care as a means to boost your immune system. Eat properly as much as possible. Include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet. Make sure you add probiotics to your diet. Don’t be tempted to turn drive through eating into poor eating! Take a walk to increase your vitamin D levels. Move your body in order to boost your immune system. Try and rest as much as possible. The current health care system is quickly being overwhelmed. If you take care of yourself, our health care system will be better prepared to take care of others.
Magnesium has widespread implications for our health. It can relieve some types of pain, improve blood pressure, and improve heart health. Hundreds of chemical reactions in the body rely on magnesium. Magnesium is needed for the release and use of energy from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Along with calcium, magnesium assists in muscle function. While calcium assists in muscle contraction, magnesium assists in muscle relaxation. Magnesium also affects the metabolism of nutrients such as calcium, potassium, and vitamin D.
Magnesium requirements for health
Many medical references state only a small number of people in the US fall short of meeting magnesium requirements. However, when my college nutrition students would check their diets with nutrition analysis software, they almostneverconsumed the required 300-400 mg. of magnesium. Therefore, that begs the question of what “nutritional” camp are you in? Do you try to eat a healthy diet by eating a variety of foods on a regular basis? Or, do you avoid whole grains, fruits, lentils, and green leafy vegetables? Or, perhaps you are trying to eat a healthy diet, but have decided to cut your carbs along the way. As you cut your carbs, you’ll automatically decrease your magnesium because most carbs are rich in magnesium. As magnesium rich diets offer health benefits, it’s time to take stock of how much you are eating.
Magnesium health benefits are diverse
Patients with fibromayalgia frequently have low magnesium levels. Consequently, there is a lot of interest in whether magnesium can help manage fibromyalgia symptoms. Aside from taking magnesium supplements to increase magnesium in the body, there are some emerging alternative magnesium treatments. According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, there may be some benefit to magnesium sprayed directly on tender points of patients. A recent study at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN looked at the pain control of fibromyalgia patients using this new magnesium skin spray. The study showed promise in that the participants experienced less pain after several weeks of using the spray version of magnesium.
And, there are always Epsom salt baths to try. Epsom salts are actually salts made up of both magnesium and sulfate. Apparently, even though Epsom salts are often recommended for sore muscles, there’s not much in the way of scientific research to back up the recommendation! A hot bath always seems to help soothe pained muscles, so using Epsom salts could be your own experiment! You get to be the judge on this one.
The verdict is not totally in on whether magnesium is helpful for menstrual pain. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, magnesium may be of value in treating painful menstrual cramps. However, there is not really enough research to say conclusively. Still, other health care providers regularly recommend magnesium for cramping, speculating that pain is eased as the magnesium relaxes the uterine muscles.
Magnesium for pregnancy health
Leg cramps in pregnancy are common. There is some thought that either dietary calcium or magnesium may be too low in those women who experience pregnancy leg cramps. Before taking supplements, focus on magnesium rich foods such as nuts, seeds, bran, and leafy vegetables (more details below). Also, make sure you are meeting your calcium requirements, since the calcium and magnesium work together for healthy muscle functioning.
Another second serious pregnancy problem is high blood pressure. In fact, high blood pressure in pregnancy can be life threatening. Magnesium administration in pregnancy seems to relax the blood vessels. That relaxation of the blood vessels helps restore normal blood pressure.
Heart disease and high blood pressure
Adequate magnesium is important for healthy heart contractions. It also plays a role in lowering blood pressure by once again, dilating the arteries. Research indicates that adults with adequate magnesium, calcium, and potassium consistently have better blood pressure control.
Magnesium for hearing health
When given to either prevent or treat hearing damage, magnesium seems to be effective in both animals and humans. In one large scale recent study conducted in China, higher whole blood levels of magnesium were associated with lower overall hearing thresholds as well as risk of hearing loss. While researchers may be unclear on the exact mechanism of how magnesium protects hearing, scientists know it’s important to auditory health.
In an often cited 1996 study, 81 people with reoccurring migraines were given either 600 mg of magnesium daily or placebo. By the last 3 weeks of the study, the treated group’s migraines had been reduced by 41.6%. The placebo group only had a 15.8% reduction in migraines.
Type 2 Diabetes
According to the publication Diabetes in Control, magnesium is a key factor in controlling blood sugar levels. The risk of patients developing diabetes may increase with inadequate magnesium. And, they note that patients who already have magnesium rich diets seem to have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Magnesium for cognitive health
In one US 20 year term study, researchers found that 6473 elderly women who consumed about 250 to 300 mg of magnesium per day from foods and supplements had a 37% lower risk of developing mild cognitive impairment in comparison to those that ingested less than 200 mg. It was noted by researchers that lower and higher end dosages of magnesium were not beneficial for cognition. In other words, exceeding the 300 mg was not of benefit with regard to cognition. As the requirement for magnesium is 300-400 mg, bear in mind that up to 400 mg is still appropriate for overall wellness.
When taking magnesium supplements, keep some guidelines in mind. It’s important that the product actually contains the labeled amount of magnesium. Additionally, the supplement should be free of contaminants. And, it should break down when digested. And lastly, cost per pill may be an issue. Many supplements are expensive! While you can easily figure out the cost per pill, the rest of the list is a bit harder to sift through. As the vitamin industry is self-regulating, consider going with a well-known brand that has a good reputation. And, take note if the USP logo is on the label. This logo means the nutrients will actually be absorbed, rather than passing though your body undigested. Here are a few more points to keep in mind when buying supplements.
Additionally, keep these points in mind:
MAGNESIUM OXIDE is cheaper, but harder to absorb. And, it may cause diarrhea in certain individuals.
MAGNESIUM CITRATE AND MAGNESIUM CHLORIDE may be formulas that are better absorbed. And, there may be fewer side effects if taken in larger amounts.
Lastly, remember these supplements are meant to supplement the magnesium you are getting through food. If you are not clear on the amount of supplement you might need, then consult a qualified dietitian. A dietitian can assess how much magnesium you consume through food. Then, the dietitian can figure out the best dosage of supplemental magnesium for your health and well-being.
Magnesium has varied and diverse roles in human health. At the biochemical level, it participates in hundreds of biological chemical reactions. It’s necessary for the release and use of energy from protein, carbohydrates, and fats. Magnesium works together with other nutrients such as calcium and potassium for muscle relaxation. As a natural pain killer, it may reduce fibromyalgia, menstrual, and migraine headache pain. It aids in blood pressure control and hearing health! Finally, it helps regulate vitamin D and blood sugar levels. Clearly, this is one nutrient that you want to be sure to get enough of in your daily diet.
Are you meeting your magnesium requirements? What foods do you eat to be sure you consume enough magnesium?
Fiber does a lot for your health. If you are skipping this key nutrient, then you are missing out on a lot of potential health benefits. People that eat more fibrous foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lentils are statistically healthier. And, the impact is not just on the digestive tract. Beyond the gastrointestinal tract, it affects cancer risk, immunity, and helps stabilize blood and cholesterol levels. And, it even helps with weight loss. As fiber rich foods are a key source of phytochemicals and anti-oxidants, they are important in fighting inflammation in the body. With so many health benefits, let’s check out how much we need and how to get enough. Once you know how much to eat and where to find it, you can reap the health benefits of a diet high in fiber.
Requirements vary by gender and age. Adult women up to 50 years of age need 25 grams. After 50 years of age, requirements decrease to 21 grams. Adult men up to 50 years of age need 38 grams. After 50 years of age, requirements decrease to 30 grams. And, what about eating more than the requirement? You should be aware that excessive fiber intake beyond these recommendations may actually be harmful for some. Too much dietary fiber limits absorption of: iron, zinc, and calcium.
Impact on health of a diet high in fiber
Diet high in fiber for constipation
Fiber help moves your food through your digestive tract by softening the stool. Some types of fiber swell (soluble) when exposed to water. In the digestive tract, this causes your bowel movements to soften, easing the constipation. Other types of fiber that are coarser (insoluble) will stimulate the colon to make mucous and water, which also enlarges and softens the stool.
Gut bacteria benefit from fiber
Fibrous foods are a source of prebiotics for your gut bacteria. Prebiotics are essentially the food or fuel for gut bacteria. It’s important to feed your gut bacteria because a healthy balance of bacteria has the potential to have a huge impact on your overall health. While researchers have known for some time that the mix of gut bacteria can affect our digestion and immunity, it’s becoming apparent that there’s more to it. In fact, gut bacteria may affect metabolism, heart disease, and even mood.
Diet high in fiber for diverticulosis
If you have this condition, then you have pouches known as diverticula that balloon out from the colon wall (see photo below). This should not be confused with diverticulitis, which is the same pouches that are inflamed or infected.
When you eat enough fiber, it pushes on the muscular colon from the inside out. The pushing outwards of the colon wall will eliminate or shrink the pouches, and reduce the diverticulosis. As the pouches lessen or decrease in size, there is less likelihood of inflammation or infection occurring. And, random food particles from corn, nuts, and seeds will not readily lodge themselves in the colon as these pouches shrink. Think of the fibrous foods as free weights for your colon! The colon is a muscle, and the fiber will work it and push it outward.
High fiber diets and cancer
There is a decrease in colon cancer risk as dietary fiber consumption increases. Fibrous foods may protect against certain cancers by binding, diluting, or removing cancer causing agents from the body. As fiber speeds up the time it takes food to move through the digestive tract, cancer causing agents that might be in our food are removed more quickly from the body. This decreases the amount of time a cancer causing agent is in contact with the body, and reduces cancer risk. Alternatively, the abundant phytochemicals found in fibrous foods may be protective from cancer. These phytochemicals may also decrease inflammation, which is thought to be the root of all diseases and even the aging process.
Diet high in fiber helps blood sugar
It’s well known that fiber can affect blood sugar levels and have a positive impact on diabetes management. When low fiber foods are eaten, blood sugar levels rise rapidly. When high fiber foods are eaten, blood sugar levels rise much slower. For instance, eating a piece of low fiber white bread would cause a sharper spike in blood sugar than eating a slice of high fiber whole grain bread.
Fiber can almost act like a sponge when it comes to blood cholesterol levels. It can bind to cholesterol and bile acids, which are made from cholesterol. By binding to both, they are removed from the body in your poop! This makes the body resort to using the cholesterol from the blood to make more bile acids. In doing so, blood cholesterol levels are automatically lowered as they are used up to produce more bile.
Diet high in fiber helps weight control
Who doesn’t want to lose weight and feel full? That’s what fiber helps with. The actual fiber in food passes through your digestive tract and is excreted. It contains no calories. The calories in fibrous foods, such as apples, come only from the natural carbohydrates in the apple. But, that calorie free fiber does make one feel full. And, remember, blood sugar levels will stay elevated for a longer time period. Hunger kicks in when blood sugar levels drop, so by keeping your blood sugar elevated for a longer time period you’ll feel less hungry. Less hunger can mean better weight control!
Fiber in fruits and vegetables (3+ grams)
raspberries, 1 cup has 8
1/2 cup cooked lentils have 8
blackberries, 1 cup has 7.6
black beans, 1/2 cup has 7
pear, one medium whole has 6
garbanzo beans, 1/2 cup have 6
3 oz. of avocado have 5.7
baked beans, 1/2 cup has 5.5
1 apple, medium whole has 5
hummus, 2 Tbsp. have 3.7
blueberries, 1 cup has 3.6
carrots, 1 cup chopped has 3.6
banana, medium has 3
celery, 3 stalks have 3
Fiber with whole grains (3+ grams)
Awake High Fiber Bran Buds, 1/2 cup has 17
Kashi Golean Cereal, 1.2 cup has 13
All Bran, 1/2 cup has 12
Ezekiel Cereal, 1/2 cup has 6
Shredded Wheat, 1 cup has 5
Flax Plus, 0.8 cup has 5
Natural Ovens, Everything Bagel, 1 Bagel has 5
Orowheat High Fiber bread, 1 slice has 5
Natural Ovens, Whole Grain bread, 1 slice has 4
Oatmeal, 1 cup has 4
Barley, cooked, 1/2 cup has 3
Wild Rice, cooked, 1 cup has 3
Cheerios, 1 cup has 3
Fiber from a breakfast bar (3+ grams)
These products do not have the nutritional quality of the above list, but they can be used to fill in as needed. If you are going to indulge in a breakfast bar or snack bar, I always say get some important nutrients while indulging. I’ve even used some of the sweeter bars as a dessert!
Quest Bar has 17
Fiber Love Bar has 12
Fiber Plus Protein Bar, Kellogg’s has 7
Cliff Luna Bar Peanut Butter Strawberry has 7
Isagenix Fiber Snack Bar has 6
Meleluca Bar has 6
Fiber One Bars, all varieties have 5
Fiber Now Bar, Millville has 5
Advocare Bar has 5
Meta Health Bar has 4
Special K Fiber Bar has 3
Easy ways to improve your fiber intake
Consider focusing on a plant based diet. Emphasizing more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains will automatically improve your fiber intake. Keep in mind there is absolutely no fiber in meat or pure fat (sorry keto diet fans). Use lentils on salad and in soups. Mix vegetables into noodle dishes. Add grains like oats into recipes such as meatloaf. And, consider making your own smoothies.
Adjusting to increased fiber
Go slowly when you start adding fiber to your diet. It can take some time for your gut to adjust and you may feel gassy at first. If a particular food seems to cause a lot of gas, move on to another food with fiber. All foods will not cause the same amount of gas in all people. You need to experiment to find the best foods for your gut. Lastly, be sure that as you increase your fiber you also increase your fluid intake at the same time. This will keep your food moving nicely through your digestive tract!
Take away messages
Skipping this key nutrient will have a negative impact on your health. For gut health, it reduces constipation and diverticulosis. It also feeds your gut bacteria which can impact your overall health. It’s able to help regulate both your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. And, for many, it’s a perfect tool for weight loss. The fiber helps fill you up, providing that full feeling to help manage your appetite.
Anyone have any great high fiber recipes to share? I’d love to add to this post.
Oh, the aging process! It comes with so many challenges in terms of health. Aches and pains are only a few of the issues. For Americans aged 40 years and older, eyesight can be jeopardized in a variety of ways. Common eyesight disorders related to aging include: age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, and glaucoma. Despite being unable to reverse the aging process, there is good news in that better nutrition can help our aging eyes. Since our diet is highly modifiable, adapting good nutrition strategies is pretty easy once you know what foods to eat for eye health.
Foods for eye health should be green
Green foods are rich sources of plant chemicals called lutein and zeaxanthin. These plant chemicals actually protect plants from diseases. But, when we eat those same chemicals, we are also able to gain some protection as well. Lutein and zeaxanthin are anti-oxidants that filter harmful high-energy blue wavelengths of light. Common sources of blue light include sunlight, fluorescent light, and LED televisions. Blue light exposure also comes from our electronic toys-smart phones, computer monitors, and tablets.
Lutein and zeaxanthin are very unique in that they actually accumulate in the human retina. Our body cannot make these compounds, so we must eat them. There is mounting evidence that these antioxidants help protect against both macular degeneration and cataracts.
Key food sources for these plant chemicals are just about any green leafy vegetable. These green leafy vegetables are also recommended by the Glaucoma Research Foundation to reduce glaucoma risk. Topping the list are spinach and kale (recipe). But, if you are not a fan of those two vegetables, pick any green vegetable and you will be upping the odds of getting this protective nutrient into your body and then to your eyes. Egg yolk is a non-vegetarian source of both lutein and zeaxanthin.
On the topic of green foods
While you’re thinking about green foods, drink some green tea too. Green tea is an excellent source of compounds called catechins. In particular, it’s loaded with a specific catechin called EGCG. This catechin is showing promise in protecting from corneal ulcers, but needs more research. Catechins can also function as antioxidants. With glaucoma, oxidative stress is associated with damage to the optic nerve. Ingesting antioxidants to counter that oxidative stress would be helpful in preventing further injury.
Foods for eye health should be orange
Orange colored foods are a rich source of beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene to the active form of vitamin A after it is eaten. Vitamin A helps prevent dry eyes and night blindness. Both beta carotene and vitamin A reduce eye infections.
Pretty much all orange colored foods are rich in beta-carotene. Think pumpkin (healthy pumpkin pie recipe), squash, sweet potatoes, yams, cantaloupe, carrots, apricots, and mangoes. There’s something for everyone’s taste! And, if you follow the guideline to “go green,” note that many green foods are actually orange underneath all that green chlorophyll. So going green is also going orange. You can also get vitamin A from milk, eggs, liver, and cod liver oil.
Get enough vitamin C
Vitamin C is a key dietary antioxidant for our eyes and seems to protect against both cataracts and macular degeneration. Some good news is vitamin C is in all fruits and vegetables. So, if you don’t like citrus foods, then you don’t need to eat them. By following the “go green” recommendation and also eating orange foods, you’ll easily meet your vitamin C requirements.
Get enough zinc rich foods for eye health
Zinc is a mineral that activates enzymes in the body and plays a key role in helping to produce the active form of vitamin A in our visual pigment. Zinc concentrates in the eye just like lutein and zeaxanthin. Poor night vision and cataracts are linked to zinc deficiency. As the body does not produce zinc, it must come from food or supplements.
The landmark Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) showed that people at high risk for age related macular degeneration could slow the progression of advanced disease by 25% and visual acuity loss by 19% by taking very large amounts of zinc (40-180 mg/day). These amounts are much higher than the recommended amount of 8-11 mg/day for women and men respectively. Your eye care specialist should prescribe the higher dosages only as part of a treatment plan. High dosages of zinc can upset the stomach and interefere with copper and iron absoption. Food sources of zinc include animal protein, shellfish, dairy products, and enriched cereal.
Get enough vitamin E
Vitamin E is an strong antioxidant that is a key player in reducing the risk for cataracts and macular degeneration. When the lens of the eye oxidize in response to the UV rays of sunlight, cataracts form. The role of vitamin E in the diet would be to counter that oxidation. Vitamin E in conjunction with zinc, vitamin C, and beta-carotene were found to lower risk of age related macular degeneration in the landmark AREDS study noted above. Research has not supported any significant benefit of vitamin E to date for glaucoma.
Fatty foods like oils, seeds, nuts, and wheat germ are good sources of vitamin E. However, high frying temperatures or extreme processing destroy vitamin E. Work around this problem by eating more unprocessed sources of oil and fat (salad oils, nuts, seeds) and you’ll be more likely to meet your vitamin E requirements.
Strong bones may mean healthy eyes
There has been speculation that vitamin D status may be related to risk of macular degeneration. It appears that there are conflicting scientific opinions on the role, if any, vitamin D plays in protecting from macular degeneration. However, there does seem to be a strong association between osteoporosis in women and age related macular degeneration. As vitamin D is a key player for strong bones and prevention of osteoporosis, I guess the verdict is not in on this nutrient as it relates to eye health.
Osteoporosis prevention can include lifestyle and diet strategies such as:
eating the correct amount of protein, not too much OR too little
limiting dietary sodium
limiting alcohol consumption
being physically active
Strengthen your gut health for eye health
New evidence supports that our gut bacteria also play a role in preventing macular degeneration. Every day we hear about how important our gut health is to overall health, and here is yet another example. Gut health is always improved when the diet is nutrient dense and those bacteria in your gut are fed healthy prebiotics. Prebiotic rich foods are the fuel for your gut bacteria. Fruits and vegetables are a typically some of the best prebiotic foods you can feed those gut bacteria. By “going green” and adding orange foods to your diet you will be feeding your gut bacteria a healthy diet.
Decrease your sodium
Lastly, you’ve always heard you should watch your sodium. This is a good recommendation for not just blood pressure, but your eye health as well. Health care providers know that too much salt or sodium can increase blood pressure. This may lead to increased intraocular pressure in the eyes which can worsen glaucoma. Excessive sodium may also be a risk factor for cataract formation. Eat more fresh, unprocessed foods at home (vs. in a restaurant) to easily lower your sodium intake.
Omega-3 fatty acids and fish oil
Research has not supported a clear preventative effect of these fats for cataracts, macular degeneration, or glaucoma. But, there was high hope that these fats could improve a common condition called dry eye syndrome. The syndrome is so common, that one 2017 reference states that 25% of visits to eye care providers is for dry eye disease. Unfortunately, a 2018 NIH study did not support this line of thinking. So, while these fatty acids cannot currently be recommended for dry eye, they are important to overall health. In fact, most Americans have too low of an intake of these fatty acids, so sound nutrition strategies would suggest getting these fats into the diet regardless of the impact on your eyes. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish, flaxseed, chia seed, and walnuts.
A word on eye supplements
Although food is your best source of lutein and zeaxanthin, supplements are widely available. The American Optometric Association suggests a supplement with 10 mg of lutein and 2 mg of zeaxanthin. While there is no recommended intake for lutein and zeaxanthin, a supplement could be a good safeguard for those that aren’t consistently eating a lot of fruits and vegetables and/or are at risk for eye disease. Take supplements with a little bit of dietary fat to increase absorption.
Key points on nutrition for aging eyes
You can eat better today, for healthier vision in the future. Adequate nutrition for aging eyes includes plenty of green food and even green tea. Add plenty of orange foods, which are secretly green as well, and you are off to a good start. All those green and orange foods will also give you plenty of vitamin C. Make sure you are eating enough zinc by eating some good quality protein from meat, poultry, or dairy foods. Keep your food sources of vitamin E unprocessed and watch your sodium consumption. Make sure you strengthen your gut bacteria with plenty of fiber rich fruits and vegetables of all colors. And, remember that your bone health may be tied to your visual future. Eat right and stay active to keep your bones strong so you have a “clearer” future.
Please share this post if you found it enlightening. And, please share your comments.
Oats, including oatmeal, can dish up some serious health benefits. When we think of oat based foods, we typically think of them as being a good source of health enhancing fiber, particularly soluble fiber. By definition, soluble fiber actually dissolves in water. In foods, soluble fiber adds a pleasing consistency. When we eat foods with soluble fiber, we can potentially decrease our blood sugar and cholesterol levels. There is scientific evidence that soluble fiber, once fermented in the gut, can reduce inflammation and even support our immune system. And fiber, in general, fills us up so it’s easier to lose weight! With so many health benefits, why would we hesitate to eat it?
Oats may have gluten
If you need to avoid gluten, not all oat cereal is gluten free. Oats do not contain gluten, but they may become contaminated with gluten if processed with other gluten containing foods. Choose brands of oat based cereals manufactured in a gluten free facility if there is a medical reason to avoid gluten. These products, such as the one in the below photo, can state they are gluten-free. They can state this because there were no other gluten containing products made at the processing facility that could contaminate the oats.
Oats and weed killer
Glyphosate is a weed killer that is sprayed on many of our conventional crops including oat crops. This compound has caused reproductive problems in animals and is thought to be a potential carcinogen in humans. The common weed killer Roundup contains glyphosate.
Published safety limits are hard to find. As is the case with a lot of controversial food topics, it’s hard to get at some of the facts. According to a Consumerlab.com. review, California has set a daily limit of 1100 mcg. In contrast, European countries set a higher adult limit of 34,000 mcg. The same review states a standard 3/4 cup serving of Original Cheerios contained only 32 mcg of glyphosate. If this is still not low enough for your healthy eating strategies, you can always opt for organic versions of your favorite oat based foods. You may not be able to totally avoid ingesting some of the glyphosate, but you can decrease your exposure by going the organic route.
Fungal contamination of oats
Ochratoxin is a fungal toxin found in foods of plant and animal origin. Molds produce the Ochratoxin when exposed to heat and moisture during crop production. Up to 70% of oat-based cereals in the United States have been reported to contain this toxin. And, it’s a compound strongly linked to cancer. According to research, choosing organic over conventional counterparts will not be helpful. Cooking does not destroy this toxin. The best practical risk reduction strategy is watching your portion sizes! This will obviously limit your exposure to the toxin if it’s in the cereal.
The good news: Oat cereal is a good source of fiber and protein
So should you skip the oat cereals? I think definitely not! Oatmeal and other oat cereals are a source of healthy complex carbohydrates and a fairly significant source of dietary fiber. A single 40 gram serving of oatmeal has 4 grams of fiber and 6 grams of protein. Choosing gluten free organic options and watching portions will go a long way in making sure the oat cereals you choose are the best possible choices for your health.
Your gut contains many bacteria that help you stay well. This is frequently referred to as the gut microbiome. The make-up of your individual gut bacteria is unique and hinges, in part, on the types of foods you eat on a regular basis. When you have the right mix of gut bacteria, your immune system is stronger and your digestion is better. While bacteria reside in the gut, people can also consume bacteria known as probiotics. The gut bacteria may be altered to improve overall health when these probiotics are consumed in adequate amounts. Certain foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut are rich sources of probiotics. Probiotics are also available as a supplement (purchasing tips).
Probiotics should not be confused with prebiotics. Prebiotics serve as food for probiotics, assuring their viability. Prebiotic foods are usually rich in fiber. While the fiber is in the digestive tract, the bacteria use it for food. Eventually, the fiber is excreted in digestion, but while in the digestive tract, it plays a crucial role in feeding the gut bacteria. Oatmeal is a classified as a prebiotic food.
As is the case with many foods, oats are at risk for pesticide and toxin contaminants. Choosing smaller amounts and organic versions of oat cereals can lessen risk from these contaminants. The good news is oats are low in sugar and iron (good for many people). They are a lower calorie source of protein and fiber. That fiber lowers your blood sugar and cholesterol levels and aids in weight loss. And, it’s critical for feeding your gut bacteria. Bottom line, oats are a pretty good fuel for both you and your gut bacteria.
The 2019 Chicago Marathon is around the corner on Sunday, October 13. If you are a non-runner sort of person, did you ever ask yourself why anyone would run that 26.2 mile distance? According to one running blog full of fun stats, there are about 570 marathons held in the United States each year and only 0.5% of the population has run a marathon. Some of those super motivated athletes just want to test themselves, improve fitness, or say they’ve accomplished a feat few athletes have achieved.
Aside from the varied personal reasons for running, some runners have goals such as raising money for charity. Team Emma, named after my granddaughter, is a marathon team with such a goal. This team raises money for pediatric brain cancer research. The marathon team has run in 2017, 2018, and runs again on October 13, 2019. All funds raised go directly to the brain tumor research program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, IL.
Our brief story on fighting for the life of a child
My family is not really unique. We are just a normal family that never had any cases of pediatric cancer anywhere in the family. Suffice it to say that if pediatric cancer can strike my family, it can lash out at any family. But, my sincere hope is it doesn’t ever affect anyone you love. It’s devastating and it shakes the core of every family it strikes.
Ewing’s sarcoma was my 35 month old granddaughter’s cancer. Her tumor was in her brain. It was the size of a tennis ball. Over the course of 10 months, Emma had 4 surgeries, 11 rounds of chemo, 5 weeks of radiation, and 36 blood and platelet transfusions. She had countless scans, blood draws, tests, and spent 50 nights in the hospital. Even with all she has endured, she is thriving, happy, and well adjusted. She is two years disease free.
Facts on pediatric cancer and brain tumors
More children die of brain tumors than any other form of cancer.
Only 4% of the billions of dollars that are annually spent on cancer research and treatment are directed to treating all childhood cancers. That leaves virtually no funding for pediatric brain cancer.
More than 28,000 children are living with brain tumors.
13 new cases of pediatric brain tumors are diagnosed daily.
There are over 100 different types of pediatric brain tumors which makes diagnosing and treatment challenging.
While survival rates have improved, survivors suffer lifelong side effects caused by surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.
Brain tumors of children are NOT like brain tumors in adults. Kids’ brain tumors require specific research and different treatment. It’s time to change the landscape of pediatric cancer treatment.
Research that focuses specifically on pediatric brain tumors is critical to saving kids’ lives and improving their quality of life.
Source: Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, 2016
Pediatric brain cancer research funds needed
In an effort to move research forward to help others like Emma, the Team Emma Marathon and now Teamemma.org have evolved. For the marathon, all funds raised go directly into the hands of researchers that will make the difference in the outcome of a child’s brain cancer prognosis. Pediatric brain cancer is devastating. Saving a child really saves a whole family.
If you can make a donation, please know that no donation is too small. In fact, there is a “tipping point” for all things in life. Your extra dollar in the hands of researchers could be that “tipping point” for finding a cure for a child. All donations are tax deductible and will be acknowledged by Lurie Children’s Foundation. Thank you, in advance, for taking the time to read about our cancer story.
Want to make a difference with a DONATION? PLEASE CLICK HERE. Remember, every little bit helps a child, which helps a family, and then helps a community. And, on behalf of all pediatric cancer families, thank you!
The color of food you eat is a factor in determining the quality of your diet. And, the quality of your diet can hold the secret to better health. Foods can range in color from white to black. In addition to color making foods look pleasing, the color of foods can be used for healthy menu planning. The types of chemicals found naturally in foods often determine the color of the food. These chemicals are technically called phytochemicals, which is Greek for plant chemicals. What scientists have come to believe is that these natural plant chemicals protect plants from disease. Then, when we eat the plant, we also get some health benefits. In fact, these plant chemicals are emerging in scientific research as key players for health.
Plant chemicals color your food
The roles of plant chemicals seem wide ranging- from protecting our genetic material to fighting inflammation, aging, and disease. In addition to coloring our food, they are responsible for the specific smell a food emits upon cooking. This includes the distinctive odor from cooked broccoli or cauliflower. Do you like hot peppers or the flavors of onions and garlic? It’s all about the plant chemicals present in these foods!
Although we can use color to do a basic “decode” as to which plant chemicals are present in a particular food, it’s important to note that a given food item may have thousands of chemicals. For instance, a tomato may have 1000 or more identifiable plant chemicals. Scientists also feel that the plant chemicals found naturally in food actually work together. This would be an argument against taking individual supplements. Additionally, it’s unclear if supplemental forms of plant chemicals are absorbed as well as the same compounds from food. Mother nature is pretty darn good at packaging up the nutrients found in foods.
Color of food: health benefits of the colors
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Lycopene is a plant chemical that colors foods red. All tomato based foods, pink grapefruit, guava, and watermelon contain lycopene. By acting as a very strong antioxidant and cancer fighter, lycopene protects your health. Early research studies have found that men who ate ten or more servings of tomato based foods or other pink/red foods weekly had a significant reduction in prostate cancer. Some studies also suggest lycopene protects against other cancers such as liver, skin, breast, and lung cancers. Newer research suggests the lycopene derived from tomatoes helped human subjects improve their cholesterol levels.
Heat and oil aid in increasing lycopene absorption. Therefore, Italian cuisine that has both tomatoes and oil is a great way to boost your dietary lycopene absorption.
Anthocyanin is a plant chemical that colors foods dark red to blue. Cherries, blueberries, purple grapes, raspberries, red cabbage, and cranberries are sources of anthocyanin. In addition to being antioxidants, anthocyanins also appear to reduce cholesterol production to help keep our arteries clear. Aiding immunity and boosting production of detoxifying enzymes are other possible health benefits of anthocyanins.
Blueberries, in particular, have been evaluated for their impact on the brain. Years ago researchers fed food rich in blueberry extracts to rats, and fewer age related mental changes were exhibited in contrast to rats that ate regular food. This was the beginning of the “brain superfood” called blueberries. Current research continues to support adding anthocyanin rich foods to the human diet. One recent study supported incorporating blueberry juice concentrate into the diets of older adults of to aid brain function.
The plant chemicals called polyphenols, along with anthocyanins, help color foods black. Foods rich in polyphenols are also rich in antioxidants. Examples of black foods include prunes, dates, blackberries, figs, raisins, black beans, chocolate, and coffee. Dark chocolate is particularly high on the antioxidant chart. Obviously, news every chocoholic loves to hear. And, our morning coffee? Studies have found that coffee polyphenols seem to protect against diabetes and certain cancers such as pancreatic cancer. If you need other beverages high in polyphenols, there is green tea and wine.
The plant chemical beta-carotene colors foods orange. Beta-carotene is the plant derived form of vitamin A. Once eaten, it’s converted to vitamin A that can be used by the body. Beta-carotene rich foods include cantaloupe, acorn squash, carrots, pumpkin, guava, mango, sweet potatoes, and apricots.
Key health benefits are that it’s another anti-oxidant. It protects the skin, fights infection, regulates genes, and impacts reproduction. In particular, beta-carotene rich foods offer health benefits against various age related eye diseases.
White foods like garlic, scallions, onions, and leeks contain the plant chemicals allicin and diallyl sulfide. The smell of garlic after cutting is due to the allicin. Allicin may protect against certain cancers as well as decrease blood pressure. Diallyl sulfide also seems to offer protection against certain cancers, in particular stomach cancer.
Green foods contain chlorophyll which may mask other colors such as the orange color of beta-carotene. It is safe to say that green colored foods contain a wide array of many types plant chemicals, vitamins, and minerals. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, green cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts) all contain sulforaphane. This plant chemical may act by detoxifying cancer causing compounds, limiting production of cancer causing hormones, and preventing tumor growth. Green fruits and vegetables are also sources of plant chemicals known to prevent macular degeneration. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in the US in those over 60 years of age.
Color of foods: a menu planning tool
Menu planning for a healthy future must include a rainbow of colors. By making sure there is a lot of color in your diet, you are making sure you get a wide spectrum of disease fighting plant chemicals into your body. As you age, you then decrease your chances of heart disease, cancer, infection, eye diseases, and cognitive decline. You can’t go wrong with a plate full of color. It’s the easiest way to improve the quality of your diet.
We all know the keto diet is the rage, but is the keto diet healthy or harmful? Do you really want to put your body through the process of getting into ketosis? When I counsel my clients, I often point out that just being skinny is not what defines overall health. While their goal may be weight loss, you want to maintain or even improve your long term health in the process of losing weight. With that stated, it’s important to look at the keto diet through the lens of how healthy or harmful the diet is to your overall health.
Truth be told, I want to scream “keto diet, please leave and never come back.” I think there are many awesome (logical and scientifically based) reasons to consider skipping the keto diet and looking elsewhere for healthier weight loss strategies. It reminds me of the popularity of the Atkins diet. Twice in my professional lifespan the Atkin’s plan reared it’s “ugly” head. Once when I was right out of college, and then decades later. The “keto” style of eating with restricted carbohydrates is nothing new to the professional community.
A little history on low carb diets
Back in the late 1980s, medically supervised fasts gained in popularity and those diets also restricted carbohydrates and overall calories. The end result, like the keto diet, was to make the body go into ketosis. Newsflash-in the 1980 those diets were supervised in a medical setting because going into ketosis was not considered to be safe without medical supervision. Nowadays, no one thinks twice about it. This attitude is on trend with everyone being an “expert”, because everyone needs to eat.
Keto: healthy, harmful, or in between?
Management of epileptic seizures by the keto diet has been going on for over a century. There is no dispute as to the efficacy of keto diets for seizures. “Keto” flu symptoms aside, the keto diet is an easy and mindless way to lose weight. Without sufficient carbohydrates available to fuel the brain and central nervous system, the body transitions to using ketones. Those ketones act as a natural appetite suppressant, making the weight loss process easy.
Eat the fat, sufficiently limit the carbs, make the ketones, and voilà the body fat melts away. This is the impression I get from all the keto diet fans out there. The questions I have are: can this be sustained, do you want to sustain it, are you going to be healthier in the long run? And, did you know that going into ketosis is meant to be a survival mechanism to stay alive?
How much fiber is in this keto diet dinner? Not as much as you think!
Keto diets may be harmful for what they lack
Sadly, for the keto junkie, fiber intake is too low. Fruits, vegetables, and grains are your only source of dietary fiber. There is no fiber in oil, butter, bacon, eggs, or anything meat related. Did you know that women need 21-26 grams, and men need 30-38 grams of fiber? This is why constipation is a problem. Sure, take some fiber pills. However, last time I checked, you need a lot of those pills to meet your dietary fiber goals.
Adding healthy fiber rich foods to your diet helps regulate both your blood glucose and cholesterol level. Colon cancer prevention and diverticulosis are two notable conditions that benefit from fiber. Fiber fills you up and helps you feel satiated, without ketones.
Food for your gut bacteria
Those carbs you are severely restricting are a significant food source for your gut bacteria. Fiber rich foods, which are found almost exclusively in complex carbohydrates, offer prebiotics for your probiotics (gut bacteria) to feed on. Probiotic bacteria need prebiotics as a fuel. If you haven’t heard it already, your gut microbiome is very important to your overall health status. Skipping carbs can affect the type bacteria that grow in your gut. Feeding your gut bacteria with prebiotic rich carbohydrates is the best way to fight inflammation and improve your immunity. Sure, you can take a probiotic in pill form, but those probiotic bacteria need their own food and it should be from fiber rich carbohydrates.
Those carbs you are skipping contain significant sources of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). Key micronutrients at risk include vitamin C, all the B vitamins, potassium, calcium, and magnesium. In fact, without your fruits and vegetables, it will not be possible to meet your potassium requirements. You cannot meet your potassium requirements in pill form without a prescription from your doctor. Blood pressure issues? Increasing dietary potassium can help lower blood pressure.
Fruits, vegetable, and whole grains have compounds called phytochemicals. The phytochemicals protect the growing plants from disease. When we eat plant based foods, we are also eating those phytochemicals. Most phytochemicals are thought to confer protection from heart disease and cancer.
Eating too much protein and fat may do harm
While you are losing weight on the keto diet, is your liver gaining fat? Too much animal protein and fat can contribute to a fatty liver. Fatty liver can lead to death. My point above, being skinny does not necessarily correlate with health. Living without a gallbladder? This keto diet plan will make you pretty uncomfortable and maybe even sick.
Too much animal protein can weaken your bones. And, if you have kidney disease, your kidneys could be strained dealing with all that extra protein. Got gout, the excess protein will aggravate it. So, now ask yourself if the keto diet is healthy or harmful! The answer is probably somewhere in between. A short term fix, perhaps. Long term, I suggest you rethink your options. Carbohydrates are healthy and let you eat like a normal person.
Osteoporosis is a public health problem that affects about 54 million people. It’s a condition where the bones become thin and then weaken. It can occur anywhere in the skeletal system and it’s always silent in terms of symptoms. When a fracture occurs, it is often life altering because it is difficult to repair the extensive fracture. I can still remember my sharp and nimble 85 year old grandfather stumbling on a hose and breaking his hip. He never came out of the surgery. Fortunately, a first line of defense is selecting foods for osteoporosis prevention. A diet with foods providing nutrients for bone strength starting early in life is key.
Foods for osteoporosis prevention
Choosing the right foods for osteoporosis prevention will provide the best nutrients for bone strength. Most people know the importance of enough calcium and vitamin D for strong bones. Furthermore, we know diets rich in bone building nutrients early in life allow for stronger bones later in life. We all start losing bone strength as we age. Think of your skeletal system as a calcium bank that you start withdrawing from around 40 years of age. For that reason, the more strength in your bones earlier in life, the better off you will be when old.
Top important nutrients for bone health are calcium and vitamin D along with vitamin K, C, and A. Some recent studies have pointed out some novel foods that could help prevent osteoporosis.
Dried plums (aka prunes)
According to researchers, prunes have a unique nutrient and dietary profile that seem to have a beneficial effect. A variety of phenolic compounds in this fruit may be the factor that helps prevent bone loss. As little as 6 prunes a day might be therapeutic.
It seems consumption of olives as well as olive oil improves bone health. The beneficial effect of olives and olive oil may be attributed to their ability to reduce inflammation. Human studies have revealed that daily consumption of olive oil could prevent the decline in bone density and improve bone turnover markers.
The Framingham Osteoporosis Study has shown that people who eat at least 3 weekly servings of fish gained hip bone mass density over 4 years compared to people with low to moderate fish consumption. The correlation is due to a number of dietary factors. Fish is high in protein and also omega 3 fatty acids, which are known to decrease inflammation.
Researchers have long known that silicon may contribute to bone mineralization. Silicon is available from drinking water and some foods. But, the silicon content of beer is relatively high. Researchers have noted that dietary silicon intake in men and women aged 30-87 years of age was correlated with a higher bone mineral density.
In particular, the Framingham Osteoporosis study identified red wine as particularly beneficial to bone in women. This led to the thinking that perhaps the resveratrol found in wine was the protective factor. Resveratrol is a naturally occurring polyphenol abundant in wine, grapes, and some nuts. Researchers cautioned that moderation was key because excessive alcohol had a negative impact on bone density.