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Monthly Archives: February 2017

Are Fruits and Vegetables Less Nutritious Today?

When it comes to getting enough nutrients in your diet, one bit of information is pretty clear-cut: Everybody should be eating an abundance of different fruits and vegetables every day. Yet according to research, fruits and vegetables are less nutritious than they used to be say 50 years ago. The reason?

A number of studies have explored the phenomenon of declining nutrients in fruits and vegetables, but the one that garnered the most media attention was led by Donald R. Davis, PhD, at the University of Texas in Austin, and was published inHortScience. Among Davis’s findings, one of the most consistent was that a higher yield of crops — in other words, more crops grown in a given space — almost always resulted in lower nutrient levels in the fruits and vegetables. What’s more, the median mineral declines among a variety of fruits and vegetables could be fairly significant, ranging from 5 to 40 percent, with similar declines in vitamins and protein levels.

Higher yield is one reason behind the decline, but several nutrition experts say it’s not the only one. “The soil itself has been over-harvested, meaning that over years of use and turnover of soil, it becomes depleted in nutrition,” says Michael Wald, MD, an integrated medicine specialist in Mount Kisco, N.Y. “All crops growing upon depleted soil must therefore be depleted in nutritional content.”

Cherie Calbom, MS, a clinical nutritionist and author of The Juice Lady’s Living Foods Revolution, sees it as a bigger problem that extends to many aspects of modern farming. “Our poor farming practices are leading to sick plants, depleted soil, and a need to use higher and higher doses of pesticides and herbicides to ward off what healthy plants would naturally ward off,” she says. “We are heading toward a dust bowl in many parts of the country if nothing changes.”

Despite these concerns, Janet Brill, PhD, RD, a nutritionist and author of Cholesterol Down, it’s still critically important to eat lots and lots of fruits and vegetables, and these developments shouldn’t discourage you from doing just that. “People should be concerned about one area of fruits and vegetables and one area only: to eat lots more of them each day, cooked and raw,” she says. “After we have solved that problem [of consumption], then we can move on to any nutrition concerns about growing them.”

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Fruits and Veggies

There are still many steps you can take to ensure a healthy nutrient punch every time you include fruits and vegetables in your diet.

Go with locally grown. The key to getting more nutrients is eating food that spends less time traveling from the field to your table. The way to accomplish that goal is with locally grown produce, either from your own garden or from a local farmer’s market. “Buy fresh, whole, and locally grown seasonal produce,” Brill suggests. “Try to purchase produce with the least amount of time from farm to table, as vitamins and minerals are lost over time as well as with cooking and handling.”

Choose frozen. Your natural instinct when eating produce is to think that fresh is always better than frozen. But Brill says that this isn’t necessarily the case. “Sometimes the veggies frozen right after harvest have retained more nutrients than those ‘fresh’ veggies that have taken forever to get to your plate,” she explains.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Big, shiny fruits and vegetables sure look good and grab your attention in the supermarket, but just because they’re beautiful doesn’t mean they’re better for you. For example, organic apples may be smaller and not quite as pretty, but their pesticide levels are likely to be lower.

Keep them rough. When it comes time to prepare those fruits and vegetables for eating, bigger, rougher pieces of produce may have the nutritional edge over finely chopped and sliced options. “Keep chopping to a minimum,” Brill advises. “The greater the exposure of the fruit or vegetable to air, the greater the loss of nutrients.”

Minimize cooking time. Though there are some exceptions (the lycopene in tomatoes, for example), the less most fruits and vegetables are cooked, the more nutrients they retain. So eat your fruits and vegetables raw whenever possible. When you do cook them, keep the cooking time to a minimum and avoid too much contact with water. “Cooking methods that are quick, with a minimum amount of liquid, will help to preserve nutrients,” Brill says. “Steaming, blanching, and stir-frying are all great ways to cook vegetables quickly and retain valuable nutrients. Keep veggies crisp — never overcook or boil in water until soggy.”

It may take a bit more effort to find fruits and vegetables as nutrient-rich as they were 50 years ago, but with more local farm stands cropping up, seasonal choices are getting easier to find and are certainly more delicious.

Best Diets for Weight Loss, Heart Health, and Diabetes

Jenny Craig may have taken top prize when Consumer Reports ranked the best diets of 2011 in May, but the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet earned best diets overall honors in U.S. News & World Report’s first-ever diet rankings, released today.

In an effort to help Americans weed through a seemingly endless array of weight-loss plan options, U.S. News recruited a panel of 22 health experts (nutritionists and specialists in weight loss, diabetes, heart health, and human behavior) to rank 20 of today’s most popular diets. “The goal of the Best Diets rankings is to help consumers find authoritative guidance on healthful diets that will work for them over the long haul,” according to U.S. News Health News editor Lindsay Lyon in a press release.

The results include the the best weight-loss diets, the best diets overall, the best heart-healthy diets, the best diets for diabetes, and the best commercial diets.

Each diet was rated from one to five in the following categories: short-term weight loss (within 12 months), long-term weight loss (two years or more), ease of compliance (satiety, taste appeal, special requirements), nutritional completeness (based on the 2010 U.S. dietary guidelines), health risks (malnutrition, rapid weight loss, contraindications for certain health conditions), and ability to prevent or manage diabetes and heart disease. Cost and exercise were not included in the scoring.

“Evaluating weight-loss plans isn’t an easy task, there’s a great deal to consider,” says Everyday Health nutritionist Maureen Namkoong, RD, adding that the “ease of compliance category” is essential when ranking diets, considering how difficult sticking to a diet plan can be. “I think they missed the mark by only having ‘experts’ evaluate these plans. It’s easy for a nutritionist to say a plan would be easy to follow, but it’s more important to know if dieters themselves — people who’ve struggled with healthy, balanced eating — would find it easy.”

So what do all of these rankings mean for you? Well, don’t read too much into the results.

“Different plans work for different people,” says Joy Bauer, Everyday Health diet and nutrition expert and creator of JoyBauer.com. “Just because one diet ranks higher than another doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be best for your personality, lifestyle, or taste buds.”

Read more about the diets ranked below, and take our What’s Your Diet Personality Quiz for a perfect plan that’s truly customized for your lifestyle.

Best Weight-Loss Diets

Winner: Weight Watchers

Runners-up (tie): Jenny Craig and the Raw Food Diet

Best Heart-Healthy Diets

Winner: Ornish Diet

Second place: TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet

Third place: DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet

Best Diabetes Diets

Winner: DASH Diet

Runners-up (three-way tie): Mayo Clinic Diet, Ornish Diet, and Vegan Diet

Best Commercial Diet Plans

Winner: Weight Watchers

Second place: Jenny Craig

Third place: Slim-Fast

Best Diets Overall

Winner: DASH Diet

Runners-up (three-way tie): Mediterranean Diet, TLC Diet, and Weight Watchers

The Inside Scoop on the Best Diets From ‘U.S. News’

Here, get more details about all of the diets that U.S. News ranked, listed in alphabetical order.

And to find the best diet for you, visit us on Facebook to take our What’s Your Diet Personality Quiz.

Atkins Diet: The Atkins Diet is a low-carbohydrate plan that emphasizes protein and fats, with a minimum of carbs during its initial phase. Select carbs are added back into the diet after an “induction” period of two weeks. No. 7 best weight-loss diets, No. 8 best commercial diet plans, No. 18 best diabetes diets, No. 19 best diets overall, No. 19 best heart-healthy diets

DASH Diet: Recommended by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet aims to control hypertension and promote overall health through foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and lean proteins. Dieters are encouraged to eat nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, lean meats, lean poultry, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy. No. 1 best diets overall, No. 1 best diabetes diets, No. 3 best heart-healthy diets, No. 8 best weight-loss diets

Eco-Atkins Diet: The vegetarian version of the Atkins Diet, this weight-loss plan still focuses on eating high-protein foods, but it replaces the high-fat animal protein with vegetable protein from such foods as soy and gluten. No. 8 best weight-loss diets, No. 10 best heart-healthy diets, No. 14 best diets overall, No. 16 best diabetes diets

Glycemic-Index Diet: Also known as the GI Diet, the Glycemic-Index Diet focuses on eating foods that are low on the glycemic index, which is a measure of how long your body takes to break down food. The longer foods take to digest, the less likely they are to spike blood sugar. Eating low-GI foods can help you feel full and may be helpful for diabetes. No. 12 in best diabetes diets, No. 16 in best diets overall, No. 18 in best heart-healthy diets, No. 19 in best weight-loss diets

Jenny Craig: Known for its support system and customized meal program, the Jenny Craig diet includes three prepackaged meals and one snack each day, supplemented with your own fresh fruits and vegetables. No. 2 best weight-loss diets, No. 2 best commercial diet plans, No. 7 best diets overall, No. 11 best heart-healthy diets, No 11 best diabetes diets

The Facts on Fad Diets

Weight loss veterans know that losing weight and keeping it off requires a long-term commitment, yet even savvy dieters can occasionally be tempted by the quickweight loss promised by fad diets. As each new “lose weight fast” gimmick comes along, some people forget about the negatives associated with most fad diets — from a lack of nutritional value to food restrictions that are hard to live with — while others might not know if the weight-loss plan they’re considering is a fad or a program that could be helpful over the long haul. Here’s how to tell a flash-in-the-pan plan from an effective one.

Beware Magical Claims and Passing Promises

“It seems to be human nature to be attracted to fad diets, which promise quick and easy results,” says Allen Knehans, PhD, chair of the department of nutritional sciences at Oklahoma University Health Sciences University in Oklahoma City. Weeding out fad diets takes a bit of effort because, Knehans acknowledges, “there is no standard definition of a fad diet.” Here are some of the red flags that indicate a weight-loss plan is an ineffective fad diet:

  • The diet promises that you will lose weight fast or at an unrealistic pace. The claims sound too good to be true. The diet’s recommendations are based on a single study – or no research at all.
  • The diet’s recommendations seem extreme.
  • Statements made about the diet are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
  • It refers to foods as “good” or “bad.”
  • Personal testimonials are used to “sell” the diet.
  • The fad diet involves crash dieting, or very intense reductions in eating and drinking.
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“Fad diets are the parachute pants of nutrition,” explains nutritionist Judy Penta, BS, a certified holistic health counselor and personal trainer with Patients Medical in New York City. “Usually these diets are popular only for a short time — a season or at most a few years — then become unpopular or even laughable when the new fad comes along.”

Feeding The Popularity Fad Diets

Why do fad diets become the rage? A number of factors typically fuel their popularity, including:

  • Celebrity endorsements. Who doesn’t want to be as popular and slender as the latest starlet?
  • The promise of quick weight loss. In this age of instant everything, there’s a natural temptation to fall for a weight-loss plan that promises quick weight loss in only weeks rather than months.
  • The “elimination” mentality. The idea that cutting out certain foods will result in quick weight loss plays into popular beliefs about dieting. “Many of these diets promote elimination of one or multiple food groups for a set number of days or in very specific combinations with some sort of gimmick,” says Penta, adding that many people equate misery and deprivation with dieting and so are more willing to accept this type of weight-loss plan, at least for a brief while.
  • Peer pressure. If all your friends are following the fad, it’s tempting to join in.

Fad Diet Safety Questions

The most important question about any weight-loss plan is not whether it is effective, but whether it’s safe and healthy for you.

Many fad diets work for a short period of time, usually causing you to drop pounds due to possibly unhealthy calorie reduction or water weight loss. Occasionally you may learn a trick or two about adding healthy foods to your diet or maybe a new recipe that you enjoy.

“The fad diets succeed at jolting you from the grind of mindless snacking, eating junk food on the run, and all the calorie and fat-packed extras like whipped cream in the cappuccino, or grabbing a slice of pizza on the way home from work. Just making these lifestyle adjustments is usually enough to see some weight loss,” explains Penta.

However, while you are reaping the benefits of your new quick weight-loss plan, you have to consider its overall nutritional makeup. Unfortunately, many fad diets do not meet the nutritional needs of most people. Here are some signs that a fad diet is not healthy for you:

  • Muscle cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Dehydration
  • Severe constipation or diarrhea
  • Mood changes
  • Constant hunger

People who are on medication or have chronic health concerns must be especially cautious with fad diets, says Penta, and should always talk to a doctor before trying any new diet. There are also some psychological consequences to fad dieting, Penta adds. The fact that the diet resulted in quick weight loss without meeting your nutritional needs can lead to regaining weight rapidly if you revert back to your old eating habits and, ultimately, to yo-yo dieting.

“The sad fact is that fad diets set the individual up for failure. When the diet fails, the dieters may blame themselves and develop a feeling of demoralization and hopelessness that they are unable to lose weight,” says Penta. This can make it harder to make the healthy changes needed for long-term weight loss.

Find Better Alternatives to Fad Diets

If you are concerned that a weight-loss plan could be a fad diet, do some research — look for the science behind the diet’s claims. A better solution is to work with a nutritionist or registered dietitian to create a realistic diet that will be effective for you.

“People should follow recommendations made by reputable organizations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which are made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” Knehans says. The reality of weight loss is that, in the long run, a slow and steady approach brings more lasting results than any quick weight-loss fad.

Why Obesity Rates Are Rising Faster Than Ever

It seems everywhere we turn we hear about obesity. The statistics. The dangers. The effect it has on all areas of one’s life. The annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Indexsurvey released this week, which tracks respondents’ self-reported height and weight data, revealed that its tracked national obesity rate has risen to 27.7 percent — up from 25.5 in 2008. Mississippi has the highest obesity rate at 35.2 percent, while Hawaii is the only state where fewer than 1 in 5 residents are obese. And for the first time since 2008, there has been a sharp increase in the number of obese Americans ages 65 and older.

We know weight gain — especially excessive weight gain — is bad, but when you’re surrounded by all-you-can-eat buffets and communities not designed for walking, is there any hope of winning the battle of the bulge? The answer is a resounding yes, and the first step is knowing what obesity is and how it affects all of us.

Obesity: What Is It?

Over the last 25 years, obesity rates have been climbing steadily. While the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index finds 27.7 percent of Americans are obese, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that nearly 35 percent of adults and 18 to 21 percent of children are obese.

In layman’s terms, obesity is carrying enough body fat to put an individual at risk for a variety of ailments including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, reproductive disorders, osteoarthritis, and cancer, among others. “In short, obesity can affect functioning of all major body organ systems,” says Jennifer Nasser, RD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Obesity is typically determined by figuring out an individual’s body mass index (BMI) using a formula that includes his or her height and weight. For an adult, a number of 25 or larger falls in the overweight category, while a value of 30 or more is considered obese.

This formula is not appropriate for children and teens, however. “BMIs for children and teens are age- and gender-specific because the amount of body fat changes with age and growth and differs between boys and girls,” says Rose Clifford, RD, clinical dietitian in the department of pharmacy services at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. The CDC offers an accurate BMI calculator for those under age 20 with their Child and Teen BMI Calculator.

Obesity: What Causes It?

A variety of factors are converging to cause the current obesity epidemic. “More people are becoming obese because of the foods that are available and inexpensive,” says Caroline M. Apovian, MD, director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at the Boston Medical Center. “We are eating 200 more calories per day than we did 50 years ago.”

Technology has made our lives easier, yet also more sedentary as we drive instead of walk and e-mail instead of wandering by a colleague’s desk. The environment, too, can be causing us to add extra pounds. “Weight gain results from the interaction between genes and environment,” says Linda Bacon, PhD, associate nutritionist at the University of California, Davis. “Environmental conditions are changing and some people’s genes make them susceptible to gaining weight in the current environmental conditions.” Bacon says that these include increased toxins in the environment, some of which cause changes in hormones which lead us to store fat, and changes in our eating habits — some of the nutrients more common today don’t trigger our internal weight regulation mechanisms as readily as foods from nature do.

Obesity: What Are Its Effects?

Besides health dangers, obesity can cause economic hardships and psychological effects including depression and self-esteem issues. Perhaps worst of all is the discrimination suffered by those who are obese. “Discrimination against larger people now exceeds that based on race and gender,” says Bacon.

And the effects don’t stop there. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index also asked respondents to rate their overall well-being. The survey defines well-being through five key areas: purpose (liking what you do each day), social (relationships), financial, community (liking where you live), and physical (having good health and energy to get things done). The survey found that obese Americans are more likely to suffer in these key areas than those who are not obese.

While obesity can be affected by genetics and the environment, there is still plenty you can do to fight it. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss which weight-loss and treatment options are right for you. Stay active by scheduling exercise into your routine and avoid spending too much time on sedentary activities like TV-watching. And make healthy diet choices — with correct portion sizes and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.