Color of Food: Hidden Secrets to Health?

Color of food: hidden secrets to health?

What does colored food mean to your health?

The color of food you eat can be a huge factor in determining the quality of your diet. The quality of your diet can hold the secret to great health. Foods can range in color from white to black, and everyone should think about how to utilize color when planning healthy meals. The types of chemicals found naturally in foods often determine the color of the food. These compounds are called phytochemicals, which is Greek for plant chemicals. What scientists have come to believe is that these natural plant chemicals serve to protect plants from disease. If we eat the plant, we also get some sort of health benefit. In fact, these phytochemicals are emerging in scientific research as key players in regulating health.

Phytochemicals color your food

The roles of phytochemicals are wide ranging- from protecting our genetic material to fighting inflammation, aging, and disease. In addition to imparting color to our food, they often confer the specific smell a food emits upon cooking, such as that distinctive odor from cooked broccoli or cauliflower. Like hot peppers or the flavors of onions and garlic? It’s all about the phytochemicals present in these foods.

Although we can use color to do a basic “decode” as to which phytochemicals are present in a particular food, it’s important to note that a given food item may have thousands of phytochemicals. For instance, a tomato may have 1000 or more identifiable phytochemicals. Scientists also feel that the phytochemicals found naturally in food actually work together. This would be an argument against taking individual phytochemical supplements. Additionally, it is unclear if supplemental forms of phytochemicals are absorbed as well as the compounds from food.

Color of food: a closer look at what the colors mean

Color of food: secret to your health

 

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Red foods

Lycopene colors foods red. All tomato based foods, pink grapefruit, guava, and watermelon contain lycopene. By acting as a very strong anti-oxidant 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.

Blue foods

Anthocyanin colors foods dark red to blue. Cherries, blueberries, purple grapes, raspberries, red cabbage, and cranberries are sources of anthocyanin. In addition to being anti-oxidants, anthocyanins also appear to reduce cholesterol production to help keep our arteries clear. Aiding immunity and boosting production of detoxifying enzymes are other possible benefits of anthocyanins.

Blueberries, in particular, have been evaluated for their impact on the brain. Years ago researchers fed chow rich in blueberry extracts to rats, and fewer age related mental changes were exhibited in contrast to rats that ate regular chow. 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.

Black foods

Polyphenols, along with anthocyanins, help color foods black. Foods rich in polyphenols are also rich in anti-oxidants. Examples of black foods include prunes, dates, blackberries, figs, raisins, black beans, chocolate, and coffee. Dark chocolate is particulary high on the anti-oxidant chart. 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.

Orange foods

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

White foods like garlic, scallions, onions, and leeks contain the phytochemicals 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 such as stomach cancer.

Green foods

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 phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, green cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts) all contain sulforaphane. This phytochemial 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 phytochemicals 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 phytochemicals 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. Its the easiest way to improve the quality of your diet.

Keto Diet: Healthy or Harmful? Depends Who You Ask!

Keto foods

Popular food choices for the keto diet. Is the keto diet really healthy or harmful?

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.

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 1980 those diets were supervised in a medical setting because going into ketosis was not considered to be safe without medical supervision. Now, no one thinks twice about it. This attitude is on trend with everyone being an “expert”, because everyone eats.

Keto diets: healthy, harmful, or somewhere 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?

keto diet

How much fiber is in this keto diet dinner? Not as much as you think!

Keto diets may be harmful for what they are lacking

Fiber

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 of 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. 

Micronutrients

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.

Phytochemicals

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.

What else is going on with all that protein and fat?

While you are losing weight on the keto diet, is your liver gaining fat? Too much animal protein and fat generally contribute to a fatty liver. Fatty liver can lead to death. At this point, there is not enough research to lean one way or another. In practice, decreasing dietary fat is always effective medical nutrition therapy for a fatty liver.

Are you living without a gallbladder? This keto diet plan will make you pretty uncomfortable and maybe even sick. The gallbladder stores your bile which is released in amounts needed to digest your fat. Without a gallbladder, one might not be able to handle the amount of fat consumed on this diet. You could feel pretty miserable as a result.

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, is the keto diet healthy or harmful? The answer is probably somewhere in between. As a short term fix for weight loss, perhaps it’s ok if you enjoy eating fat. Long term, I suggest you rethink your options. Carbohydrates are healthy and let you eat like a normal person.

If you ask someone that has lost weight on this diet, they will most likely praise the keto diet and indicate it’s healthy because they feel great. My response is they probably feel great because they lost the weight. If you ask me, there are healthier, less risky methods to lose weight. There are many reasons to avoid the excessive fat on the keto diet and enjoy your carbohydrates. If you need more convincing, check this list out!

Do you have a keto diet experience? I’d love to hear any and all comments on short or long term experiences with this diet.

Strong Bones: 5 Novel Foods for Osteoporosis Prevention

Osteoporosis: Silent Stalker

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.
osteoporosis

Nutrients 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.

Olives

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.

Fish

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.

Beer 

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.

Wine 

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.

And, for information on getting enough vitamin D for strong bones, here’s more information!

For more detailed information on osteoporosis, visit here.

Has diet improved your bone density scans? How did you change your diet to build more bone density?

Enough Vitamin D: A Challenge

Why is vitamin D important?

A large percentage of people worldwide are not meeting the challenge of getting enough vitamin D. Doctors and dietitians have known for decades that this nutrient is important for bone health, but the list of reasons why we need optimal levels is growing. Researchers note an extensive list which includes warding off cancer, heart disease, depression, dementia, certain skin diseases, and high blood pressure. As vitamin D receptors are everywhere in the body, any part of the body will be affected by a deficiency.

Why we aren’t getting enough to reach our goals?

It’s dubbed the “sunshine” vitamin because we can both make it from sun exposure and get it from food. Given the right circumstances, our bodies are very adept at making this vitamin. Ultraviolet light from the sun shines on a cholesterol compound on our skin, then that compound is transformed into a vitamin D precursor which gets absorbed into the blood. Over the next day, the liver and kidneys finish converting this compound to the active form of vitamin D.

The factors that interfere with making this vitamin are directly related to factors that block our exposure to the sun. Think sunscreen use, air pollution, city living, geography, and dreary winters. Even our skin pigment is a factor as darker-skinned people synthesize less vitamin D than lighter-skinned people.

Sunshine makes vitamin D: a challenge to get enough

Enough vitamin D: A challenge

Food sources.

So if we cannot make it efficiently, how we can we get it from food? In terms of food sources, it’s interesting to compare sunshine vs. food. According to an old but very interesting 2009 AARP article (unknown author), you would need to eat the following amounts of food just to get the amount the amount of vitamin D your body makes in 10 minutes:

  • 6.5 pounds of mushrooms
  • 150 egg yolk
  • 3.75 pounds of salmon
  • 30 servings of fortified cereal
  • 2 pounds of sardines
  • 30 cups of fortified orange juice

Adult requirements.

While this is an interesting comparison, it is not a realistic diet strategy. The current adult recommendations for vitamin D intake are 600 IUs for those aged 19-70 and 800 IUs for those over 70 years old. Unfortunately,  foods with vitamin D are limited.  Some common foods with vitamin D content include:

  • 566 IU from 3 oz. swordfish
  • 440 IU from 1 tsp. cod liver oil
  • 400 IU from 3 oz. salmon
  • 228 IU from 3 oz tuna
  • 137 IU from 1 cup fortified orange juice
  • 120 IU from 1 cup fortified milk
  • 100 IU from 3/4 cup enriched cereals
  • 40 IU from 1 egg

As you can see, with limited sun exposure and limited foods with vitamin D, it can be challenging to have adequate vitamin levels. This is why supplementation is such a hot topic and why many people end up taking a supplement. The question is, “how much to take?”  A simple blood test determines if you need a supplement and how much to take.

What is your experience with vitamin D levels on your health and how did you determine you needed to supplement your diet?

For more thoughts on supplements for baby boomers.

Can Dietitians Write Prescriptions? Sort Of!

do dietitians write prescriptionsWhen I started out in college, I began as a premed student. Then, I took my first nutrition class. While I had been very interested in nutrition even in high school, my first college nutrition class made me quickly realize that there was a huge potential to “treat” people with food. No, dietitians do not write prescriptions, but we do a lot to help people take care of themselves. It was at that point I decided to give up the idea of being a doctor. Instead, I chose the path of dietitian.

What we do instead of writing prescriptions

Bottom line, in the traditional sense, dietitians don’t write medication prescriptions. But, we do effectively treat people with diet and lifestyle modifications that we “prescribe”. Most dietitians individualize those prescribed diet and lifestyle “prescriptions”. While we can’t heal everyone with our strategies, they are usually effective enough to impact the course of traditional physician management.

Here are just a few examples from my own practice:

  • “Ray” is referred for weight loss in order to be ready for a heart transplant. He loses 100 pounds, and in the course of the weight loss process, his cardiac enzymes return to normal. Now, he no longer needs that transplant.
  • Countless diabetics and prediabetics have been able to stave off treatment with medication by tweaking both diet and lifestyle. There are so many “dietary” bullets and lifestyle strategies that these patients can use which are effective and well tolerated. Why take medication if you can tweak your diet and physical activity to lower your blood sugar level?
  • Want to lower your blood pressure? Did you know that most of your sodium intake is from the restaurant and carry out food you consume? A dietitian can help you cut your sodium intake by making simple suggestions for alternative food options. Did you know your potassium intake can drastically affect your blood pressure? A dietitian can help you to increase your potassium intake as well!
  • And your cholesterol? If you are concerned about heart disease, there are so many dietary manipulations that can be suggested to lessen your odds of death from heart disease. Numerous clients have saved themselves with the proper diet and lifestyle recommendations that began in my office.

It’s a good feeling helping people with dietary and lifestyle “prescriptions”. While in some cases it is tougher to follow through on a dietitian’s suggestions than taking a traditional drug prescription, for those that can work with a dietitian, the benefits are boundless. You might even look and feel better, as well as be healthier!

To find a dietitian to work with in your area, check out the Registered Dietitian Finder from the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.