Tips to Keep Your Eyes Healthy

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Why did nature provide us with two eyes and two ears, but only one mouth? We should view, examine, and listen to our environment twice as much as we talk or eat,  for our own good. Also, if one eye or ear becomes damaged, we have another to use and protect us.   

Protecting your eyes starts with the food on your plate. Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, xeaxanthin, zinc, and vitamins A, C, and E may help prevent or slow age-related vision problems such as age-related macular degeneration (progressive deterioration of part of the retina, otherwise known as AMD) and cataracts (clouding of your eye lens). To obtain these and other important nutrients, eat a variety of whole foods rather than supplements. Eating a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet also helps you maintain a healthy weight which makes you less likely to get obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes (1, 5). Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults.

Eat nutritious foods regularly for good vision: 

  • Green, leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, collards, dandelion greens, mustard greens, and swiss chard are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin, antioxidants that reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts. Antioxidants protect against eye damage from sunlight, cigarette smoke, and air pollution. Lutein and zeaxanthin are believed to enter the lens and retina of the eye and absorb damaging visible light. Most people are deficient in these two nutrients. Eating a cooked 10-ounce block of frozen spinach over the course of a week will help lower your risk of age-related eye disease. Kale has double these nutrients. Broccoli and bright-colored fruits like kiwis and grapes are ways to get them, too.
  • Eggs: Egg yolk is a prime source of lutein, zeaxanthin, and zinc, which all help reduce the risk of macular degeneration.
  • Nuts like almonds, pecans, walnuts, seeds, and wheat germ are filled with vitamin E, which slows macular degeneration. Vitamins C and E actually work together to keep healthy tissue strong. But most of us don’t get as much vitamin E as we should from food. One handful (an ounce) provides about half of your daily dose of E. Have a small handful of sunflower seeds, sprinkle nuts, seeds, or wheat germ on your salad, or add wheat germ or extra virgin olive oil to your dressing for a big boost.
  • Beans, edamame, lentils, quinoa, and other non-meat protein sources
  • Anchovies, Arctic char, herring, salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, trout, and other fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as DHA, a fatty acid found in your retina. Omega-3 fatty acids keep your heart and brain healthy and may also protect the eyes by reducing inflammation and helping cells to work better. Low levels of DHA have been associated with “dry eye syndrome” (moderate to severe ocular dryness), according to Jimmy Lee, MD, director of refractive surgery at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. Salmon, sardines, and herring have the most omega-3s, followed by flounder, halibut, and tuna. Try to eat at least 2 servings of cold-water fish each week.
  • Citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), berries, brussels sprouts, papaya, and bell peppers are rich in vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant which has been shown to reduce the risk of developing macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Turkey, oysters, and crab provide zinc which keeps the retina of your eye healthy. Zinc is also found in other meats, eggs, peanuts, and whole grains.
  • Apricots, cantaloupe, carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and other orange and yellow vegetables contain beta carotene which is converted by the body into vitamin A which helps prevent night blindness and promotes eye health and vision. Beta-carotene gives food an orange hue and helps the retina and other parts of the eye to function properly.
  • Minimize or avoid sodium (salt) and salty foods: Salt intake may increase your risk of high blood pressure, blood vessel damage, and glaucoma.* Americans regularly eat much more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg, mostly in bread, crackers, cold cuts, condiments, processed foods, sauces, and restaurant meals. The recommended daily limit is even lower (1,500 mg) if you are 51 years or older, African American, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Cook from scratch with whole foods as much as possible, and use fresh or dried herbs, unsalted spices, citrus juice, and/or vinegar to enhance flavor (3).
  • Avoid foods with sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, mono- and diglycerides, and other chemicals.
  • Limit processed food, including cold cuts: Processed foods tend to be high in salt, sugar, starches, unhealthy fats, preservatives (nitrate, nitrite, sodium benzoate, sulfites, etc.), and often, empty calories.
  • Eat less meat: While meat offers protein, iron, and vitamin B12, it is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can increase your risk of atherosclerosis.
  • Avoid unhealthy saturated animal fats, trans fats, butter, cream, ice cream, icings, pastries, shortenings, etc., and choose healthy monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado: High-fat diets can cause deposits that constrict blood flow in your arteries. Eyes are especially sensitive to this, due to the small size of blood vessels that nourish them.
  • Limit caffeinated coffee to 2 cups or less daily: Drinking 3 or more cups of caffeinated coffee has been associated with an increased risk of developing exfoliation glaucoma (a type of glaucoma characterized by tiny fibers peeling from the eye’s lens that can cause a pressure build-up), particularly among people with a family history of glaucoma (6).
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet rich in plant foods, especially fruits and vegetables providing folate, magnesium, vitamins A and C, potassium, and other nutrients (4).

Additional tips to protect your eyesight:
  • Always wear sunglasses when necessary: Good sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat can protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Choose sunglasses that protect against all ultraviolet rays, both UVA and UVB (a special label should indicate “100% UV blocking”). Wraparound lenses help protect your eyes from the side. Polarized lenses reduce glare when driving. If you wear contact lenses, some offer UV protection. Exposure to UV rays can damage your retina, increase your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration, as well as, skin cancer on your eyelids. Overexposure to the sun’s rays can also lead to ultraviolet keratitis (sunburn on the epithelium of the cornea, the clear outer part of the eye) which can occur when skiing or in a tanning booth if you fail to wear protective goggles. As with a sunburn, pain, blurry vision, and tearing can start slowly and worsen hours later.
  • Avoid overusing eye drops: Drops that take the red out make your eyes look better, because they temporarily constrict blood vessels. However, the inflammation can return after a few hours when the drops stop working and the blood vessels dilate, making the eyes appear redder than they were to start.
  • Treat dry eyes properly: About 3.5 million women and 1.5 million men in the U.S. suffer from “dry eyes”. Lubricating drops usually come in bottles with preservatives. Using these drops too many times can actually irritate your eyes. It is more costly, but better, to get individual blister packs of artificial tears if you are going to use them more than 4 times a day. When treating itchy eyes, keep your drops in the refrigerator. The coolness may help to reduce the itchy sensation. Avoid rubbing your dry eyes, and use a humidifier, or many houseplants, to increase moisture in your home.
  • Avoid staring too long at any screen: Blinking helps distribute fluid throughout your eyes. But when you focus on a cell phone or computer screen, you blink less often than usual. Try to blink 12 to 15 times per minute. Staring at such devices generally causes you to not blink enough. Your tears evaporate, your vision becomes smeary, and your eyes may burn and water. Reading very small print for prolonged periods of time also forces your eyes to work too hard, so be sure to look up from the screen and look at something far away every so often. One more reason to decrease screen time: Looking at small print on mobile devices may increase the risk of myopia (nearsightedness).
  • Glance away from the computer frequently, every 15-20 minutes if possible, since staring at a screen can cause:
    • Eyestrain
    • Blurry vision
    • Difficulty focusing at a distance
    • Dry eyes
    • Headaches
    • Neck, back, and shoulder pain
  • Additional steps to protect eye health when using a computer:
    • Make sure your glasses or contact lens prescription is up-to-date and adequate for computer use.
    • Some people need glasses to help with contrast, glare, and eye strain when using a computer.
    • Position your computer so that your eyes are level with the top of the monitor. This allows you to look slightly down at the screen.
    • Try to avoid glare on your computer from windows and lights. Use an anti-glare screen if needed.
    • Choose a comfortable, supportive chair. Position it so that your feet are flat on the floor.
    • If your eyes are dry, blink more often.
    • Every 20 minutes, rest your eyes by looking 20 feet away for 20 seconds. At least every two hours, get up to walk around and take a 15-minute break.
  • Be careful with contact lenses: Use fresh cleaning solution daily, and never put contact lenses in your mouth or rinse them in water. Many ophthalmologists recommend daily disposables. Never wear contact lenses in a shower, hot tub, swimming pool, or the ocean. To ensure your eyes get enough oxygen, don’t sleep in your contacts. Also, don’t just order lenses without seeing an eye doctor first to get them fit properly. Otherwise, you increase your risk of getting infections. If the contact lens fits like a suction cup, removing it may cause a small scratch on the cornea which becomes an entry for bad bacteria that may cause serious eye infections.
  • Avoid using old makeup and/or sleeping in it: To avoid exposure to infection-causing bacteria, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends disposing of cosmetics after 3 months. Furthermore, always remove makeup before going to bed.
  • Avoid pouring, spraying, or using caustic chemicals and cleansers in the home or at work carelessly or without eye protection.
  • Wear safety goggles or other eyewear at home, work, and while playing sports to protect eyes from injury: When working with hazardous or airborne materials at home or work, mowing the lawn, using a weed whacker, or doing home repairs, always wear safety glasses or protective goggles. Goggles will protect your eyes from any flying debris which can cause abrasions in the cornea. Make sure that anyone nearby has protective eyewear on, especially children. Certain sports such as ice hockey, racquetball, and lacrosse can also lead to eye injury. Wear helmets with protective face masks or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses to shield your eyes.
  • Stop smoking and avoid exposure to cigarette smoke: Smoking, exposure to smoke, and air pollution increase the risk of inflammation within the lumen (interior lining) of blood vessels, cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration. Such pollutants reduce the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the eyes and increase oxidative stress for all tissues in the body. If you tried to quit smoking before and started smoking again, keep trying. The more times you try to quit, the more likely you are to succeed.
  • Stay physically active and include safe, moderate exercise in your schedule more oftenExercise improves blood circulation which increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen and removal of toxins throughout the body including your eyes, enhances concentration and muscle mass, and can help reduce your weight, blood pressure, and levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and cortisol stress hormone.
  • Maintain regular eye exams: Visit your ophthalmologist, especially if you have eye-affecting conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to blindness.
  • Pay attention to symptoms: Don’t assume that flashing lights, pain, fuzzy vision, redness, or light sensitivity will vanish automatically, says Anne Sumers, M.D., an ophthalmologist who is a clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. If you see things floating around and then turning fuzzy, it could mean your retina is coming off. Go to an ophthalmologist quickly, since a delayed diagnosis can increase the risk of more complex surgery and a worse prognosis for vision recovery.
  • Contact your doctor if you develop a bloodshot eye(s) while on a blood thinner like aspirin or Coumadin: A bloodshot eye or bruise that seems to appear for no reason is often nature’s way of warning you that too much blood thinner is accumulating in your body. Bring these symptoms to your doctor’s attention, if you are taking any kind of blood thinner.
  • Supplements for eye health as you age: If you have or are at risk for AMD certain vitamin supplements may help slow or keep it from getting worse. Formula supplements known as AREDS, after the Age-Related Eye Disease Studies that tested and fine-tuned the formula, combine high doses of most of the nutrients mentioned in the foods above. The newest version, called AREDS 2, is probably good if you get very little lutein and zeaxanthin and considered safe if you are a smoker or recently quit, since it doesn’t contain beta carotene (in very high doses, beta carotene can raise your chances of getting lung cancer). Although AREDS 2 formula supplements can be purchased over the counter, first speak with your eye doctor. Some people should not take high doses of antioxidants. If you do not have AMD, there is no proof that a supplement will prevent it. If you are in your 60s and have a family history of AMD, ask your eye doctor about taking such supplements.

Do everything you can to protect those beautiful eyes!!!

*Glaucoma: A group of diseases of the eye characterized by increased intraocular pressure, resulting in pathological changes in the optic disk and typical visual field defects, and eventually blindness if not treated successfully. Uncommon in domestic animals, except in dogs where several breeds are predisposed.

A normal eye is filled with aqueous humor in an amount carefully regulated to maintain the shape of the eyeball. In glaucoma, the balance of this fluid is disturbed; fluid is formed more rapidly than it leaves the eye, and pressure builds up. The increased pressure damages the retina. If not relieved by proper treatment, the pressure will eventually damage the optic nerve, causing blindness.

References:

  1. Dianesays.com. “Eat Whole Fruits, Not Juice, to Lower Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.” 11/01/13.
  2. Dianesays.com. “Improve Your Health in 2014.” 01/10/14.
  3. Dianesays.com. “Reduce Dietary Salt and Sodium For Good Health.” 11/08/11.
  4. Dianesays.com. “The Mediterranean Diet: Delicious, Nutritious, and Heart-Healthy.” 12/31/11.
  5. Muraki, Isao (Research fellow); Fumiaki Imamura (Investigator scientist); JoAnn E Manson (Professor of medicine); Frank B Hu (Professor of nutrition and epidemiology); Walter C Willett (Professor of epidemiology and nutrition); Rob M van Dam (Associate professor); Qi Sun (Assistant professor). “Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies.” British Medical Journal (BMJ). 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f5001. Published 08/29/13.
  6. Pasquale, L. R.; Wiggs, J. L.; Willett, W. C.; Kang, J. H. “The Relationship between Caffeine and Coffee Consumption and Exfoliation Glaucoma or Glaucoma Suspect: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts.” Channing Division of Network Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts; Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science, 53 (10): 6427-33. 09/21/12. (DOI: 10.1167/iovs.12-10085).

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“A plant-based diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains, offers the surest path to a low cholesterol” 

Neal Barnard, M.D., Washington

Cholesterol (from Ancient Greek: chole- [bile], stereos [solid], –ol [chemical suffix for an alcohol]) is a soft, waxy substance, a steroid lipid (fat) actually, found in all parts of the body, including the bloodstream, central nervous system, skin, muscle, liver, intestine, and heart. Our liver manufactures all the cholesterol we need, so it is not necessary to consume it in the diet. The liver produces 75% of the cholesterol that circulates in our blood. The other 25% comes from food including animal products. Foods of plant origin (vegetables, fruits, grains, cereals, legumes and lentils, nuts, and seeds) contain no cholesterol.

While there can be negative health benefits associated with low cholesterol, cholesterol deficiency is rare. But cholesterol levels are precariously high in more than 100 million Americans. High levels of cholesterol and cholesterol consumption have been correlated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Since cholesterol is only found in animal food products, vegans tend to have lower cholesterol levels than non-vegans. Consequently, cholesterol lowering foods should be incorporated into everyone’s diet for optimal health.

Cholesterol is important for health because it is:

  • A critical component of animal cell membranes (the outer coating of cells) which enable proper membrane permeability and fluidity.
  • Converted into bile in the liver. The bile is stored in the gallbladder. When you eat, bile acids (salts) in the bile help digest food in your intestine and allow fat and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to be absorbed.
  • A precursor molecule for the synthesis of Vitamin D and steroid hormones, including adrenal gland hormones, cortisol and aldosterone, as well as sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.
  • Important in brain development and for facilitating connections between brain cells (synapses), making it essential to learning and memory.
  • Transported in the blood to be used by all parts of the body.

Without cholesterol, these functions could not take place, and human beings wouldn’t exist. Note that some of the most nutritious foods like egg yolks and liver are also the foods richest in cholesterol.

Why the concern about cholesterol?

A high level of cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease), heart attacks, strokes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Since cholesterol is present in animal-based foods which also tend to be high in saturated fat and trans fat, cholesterol may simply be associated with, though not the direct cause of, these pathologies. Excess cholesterol and saturated animal fat (which also contains some trans fat) in the bloodstream can promote a build-up of plaque inside and on the walls of arteries that eventually narrows these arteries. This is dangerous, because artery narrowing can restrict blood flow to various organs. If the blood supply to part of your heart or brain is significantly reduced or completely cut off, the result is a heart attack or stroke.

Family history and cholesterol levels: Cholesterol comes from two sources, the body and food, and either one can contribute to high cholesterol. Some people inherit genes that trigger too much cholesterol production, resulting in a condition called “hypercholesterolemia.” For others, diet is the main culprit. Saturated fat and cholesterol occur in animal-based foods, including meat, eggs, and dairy products. In some cases, high cholesterol stems from a combination of an unhealthy diet and genetics.

Good cholesterol versus bad cholesterol: Up to a third of blood cholesterol is carried by high-density lipoproteins (HDL). HDL is called “good cholesterol” because it helps remove “bad cholesterol,” low-density lipoproteins (LDL), preventing the latter from building up inside arteries. The higher the level of HDL cholesterol, the better. People with too little HDL and too much LDL are more likely to develop atherosclerosis and heart disease. Eating healthy fats, such as olive oil, may help boost HDL cholesterol.

Factors associated with an increased risk of high cholesterol:

  • A diet high in animal-based foods, saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol
  • A family history of high cholesterol blood levels or hypercholesterolemia
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Getting older

High risk groups who should limit or avoid cholesterol consumption:

  • Individuals with a family history of high cholesterol: Regulation of cholesterol blood levels is hereditary. It is wise to learn if any relatives have high cholesterol levels.
  • Older adults: Cholesterol levels rise with age, particularly in post-menopausal women.
  • Over-weight individuals: Being over-weight is associated with high cholesterol levels and increases the risk of heart-disease.
  • Sedentary lifestyle: People who are not physically active are at risk for high cholesterol levels. Regular exercise helps to lower LDLs and raise HDLs.
  • Individuals with high blood pressure: High blood pressure in combination with high cholesterol levels greatly increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
  • Smokers: Have a higher risk of heart disease due to smoke’s irritation of artery walls and should try to curtail or stop smoking,

Recommendations: More than half of the adult population has blood cholesterol levels higher than the desirable range. High cholesterol levels often begin in childhood. Some children may be at higher risk due to a family history of high cholesterol. In general, your total cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl), since that level carries the least risk of heart disease. Above that level the risk for heart disease increases. Ask your health care provider about your HDL and LDL levels, as well as, what your cholesterol levels indicate.

Cholesterol and children: Cholesterol can begin clogging arteries during childhood, leading to atherosclerosis and heart disease later in life. Recommendations for children’s diets are similar to those of adults. However, it is very important that children get enough calories to support their growth and activity level, and achieve and maintain a desirable body weight. The American Heart Association recommends that diet and exercise be used to help reduce high cholesterol levels in children and teenagers. Ideally, total cholesterol should be below 170 mg/dl in people ages 2 to 19.

To lower high cholesterol levels:

  • Become more physically active and include safe, moderate exercise in your schedule more oftenFirst talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Regular, moderate exercise, including aerobics, increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, improves concentration and muscle mass, and can help reduce your weight, blood pressure, diabetes risk, and levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and cortisol stress hormone. Moderate exercise may also reduce build-up inside coronary arteries and thereby improve blood flow. Choose a safe activity that boosts your heart rate, such as walking briskly, dancing, swimming, gardening, using stairs instead of an elevator, hiking, biking, or running. Aim for at least 30 minutes, or two 15-minute sessions if that is easier to schedule, on most days of the week.
  • Talk with your doctor about a safe weight loss program if you are overweight: Losing weight can help raise HDL levels and lower triglyceride, LDL, and total cholesterol levels.
  • Gradually increase your intake of both dietary fiber and water to help flush the fiber through your digestive tract and reduce cholesterol: Soluble fiber helps lower LDL cholesterol by interfering with absorption of dietary cholesterol from your digestive tract. Good sources include oatmeal, oat cereal, beans, lentils, dried peas, apples, oranges, pears, oat bran, strawberries, nuts, flaxseeds, blueberries, psyllium, cucumbers, celery, and carrots.
  • Eat more plant foods including fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts and seeds (for soluble and insoluble fiber) and fewer foods from animals (low in fiber).
  • Check food labels and select items low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, and sugar. 
  • Consume heart-healthy fats sparingly:* Olives, olive oil, vegetable oils, avocado, nuts and seeds, simple, unflavored nut butters, and the oils that come from nuts provide polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. All fats contain about the same number of calories, so consume them in moderation for easier weight management.
  • Avoid unhealthy fats: No more than 35% of your daily calories should come from fat. But not all fats are healthy. Saturated fats from animal products and tropical oils raise LDL. Trans fats raise LDL and lower HDL! These artery-clogging fats are found in many meats, cold cuts, partially hydrogenated oils, processed foods, prepackaged mixes, baked goods, pastries, fried foods (doughnuts, fries, chips), butter, solid shortenings like Crisco, stick margarine, chocolates, cookies, and snack foods.
  • Limit total fat intake to 25-35% of total daily calories: Less than 7% of daily calories should be from saturated fat, not more than 10% should be from polyunsaturated fat, and not more than 20% from monounsaturated fat.
  • Eat less than 200 mg of dietary cholesterol per day.
  • Eat smaller portions of meat, about the size of a deck of cards.
  • Choose lean protein: Meat and full-fat milk offer plenty of protein, but they are also major sources of cholesterol. Select low-fat or non-fat dairy products. Reduce LDL cholesterol by switching to quinoa (a whole grain which provides complete protein) or soy protein such as edamame and tofu, or eat beans or lentils with whole grains like rice or whole wheat pasta at some meals. Many fish, like Arctic Char and wild Alaskan salmon, are healthy and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can improve cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least twice a week.
  • Select meat with the least amount of visible fat and trim fat from the edges of the meat.
  • Remove all skin from poultry before cooking.
  • Remove all skin from cooked fish, unless it can be removed prior to cooking.
  • Stop smoking: Smoking lowers HDL levels. The American Heart Association reports that quitting smoking can increase HDL by up to 10-20%. In contrast to HDL’s positive effects, LDL cholesterol promotes cellular damage to the interior of blood vessel walls and storage of cholesterol as plaque inside artery walls. Exposure to smoke, whether by actively smoking or breathing secondhand smoke, causes LDL to bind more effectively to artery walls. Talk with your health care provider about which smoking cessation strategies may be best for you.
  • Avoid “simple carbohydrates” like sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, beet sugar: Diets low in simple carbohydrates may be better than low-fat diets for improving cholesterol levels. In a two-year study funded by the National Institutes of Health, people who followed a low-carb plan had significantly better HDL  levels than those who followed a low-fat plan.

Food sources naturally high in cholesterol: 

  • Egg yolks
  • Dairy products
  • Meats
  • Organ meats such as liver, kidney, sweetbread, and brain
  • Poultry
  • Fish generally contains less cholesterol than other meats, but some shellfish (oysters, clams, mussels, etc.) are high in cholesterol.

Cholesterol-rich foods, like eggs, shrimp, and lobster are no longer completely forbidden. Research shows that the cholesterol we eat has only a small effect on blood cholesterol levels for most people. Some people are “responders,” whose blood levels spike up after eating eggs. But for most, saturated fat and trans fats are bigger concerns. Daily cholesterol limits are 300 mg for healthy people and 200 mg for those at higher risk. One egg has 186 mg of cholesterol.

Fat content is not a good measure of cholesterol content. For example, liver and other organ meats are low in fat, but very high in cholesterol.

Healthy foods which help to lower LDL cholesterol naturally, while preserving HDL cholesterol:

  • Fish
  • Whole grains
  • Oat bran: Proven effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels. Add bran to hot cereals, non-fat yogurt, and bread.
  • Whole barley or buckwheat: Like the bran from oats and rice, barley reduces cholesterol, particularly when it is used as a substitute for wheat products. Barley can easily substitute for wheat in the form of barley noodles, barley flour, or whole pearl barley.
  • Plain old-fashioned oatmeal or steel-cut oats
  • Brown rice
  • Garlic: Less than half a clove (900mg) of raw garlic a day can lower cholesterol. Raw garlic is best and can be added to olive oil salad dressings, or as a garnish on soups and sandwiches.
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Broccolli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Carrots
  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Raspberries, blackberries
  • Nuts and seeds, including walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds (Since these are calorically dense, eat no more than 1/4-1/2 cup at a time. Add them to baked goods, cooked whole grains, cottage cheese, yogurt, and hot cereals like oatmeal)
  • Beans and legumes
  • Soybeans and soy products
  • Low-fat or non-fat yogurt with live active cultures
  • Green tea (without sugar)
  • Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats: Substituting saturated animal fats and other high cholesterol foods with healthier fats like olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, nuts and seeds, olives, and avocados can help you reduce your LDL cholesterol.
  • 100% grape juice
  • 100% cranberry juice
  • 100% pomegranate Juice

Foods to avoid (or limit) if you already have high cholesterol or want to keep it relatively low: 

  • Foods with tropical oils such as coconut, palm, or palm kernel
  • Foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, and/or trans fats
  • Butter, lard, shortening: Common in cakes, cookies, breads, pre-packaged vegetables with sauce included, etc. [100 grams of butter contains 215mg (72% DV) of cholesterol; one stick contains 243mg (81% DV) cholesterol, and one tablespoon contains 30mg (10% DV)]
  • Fatty red meats, pork, veal
  • Organ meats (brain, kidneys, liver, sweetbreads, etc.)
  • Pate, Foie gras
  • Bacon
  • Most fast food meals: Fast food biscuits, breakfasts, burgers, and sandwiches are packed with cholesterol. A ham, egg, and cheese biscuit will provide 172mg (57% DV) per 100g serving, or 246mg (82% DV) of cholesterol per biscuit. An egg and sausage biscuit has even more with 261mg (87% DV).
  • Cheese: Port de Salut contains the most cholesterol with 123mg (41% DV) per 100 gram serving. That is 21mg (7% DV) per one inch cube. Other cheeses high in cholesterol include: Fontina (39% DV), Gouda (38%), Cream Cheese (37% DV), Gruyere (37%), and Cheddar (35% DV).
  • Whole milk, milk products that contain more than 1% milkfat, cream, half-and-half, heavy whipping cream
  • Whole milk yogurt, cheeses, and ice cream
  • Egg yolks: The yolks of eggs have the most cholesterol of any food with 1234mg per 100 gram serving or 411% of the DV. A single egg yolk will provide 210mg (70% DV) of cholesterol, while a whole egg provides slightly more with 212mg (71% DV). Thus all the cholesterol in eggs is found in their yolks.
  • Cookies, cakes, pies, brownies, mousse, soufflees, etc.
  • Pastries (Cream puffs, croissants, eclairs, danish, etc.)
  • Muffins
  • Crab, lobster, shrimp, prawns, camarones, mussels, scallops, oysters, clams, squid (calamari), octopus
  • Fish roe (caviar)
  • Processed meats (Beef stick snacks, liverwurst, pepperoni, salami, sausage, lamb, duck): The amount of cholesterol in any processed meat depends on the cut used, and the amount of fat added during processing. Liver sausage and bratwurst will contain around 158mg (50% DV) of cholesterol per 100 gram serving. That is 63mg (21% DV) per link. In terms of meats, lamb and duck will contain the most cholesterol all things being equal.
  • Chicken skin
  • Fried foods
  • Oil-packed fish: Although generally good for your heart, the oil of certain fish, and some oil-packed fish may contain quite a bit of cholesterol. Oil-packed Atlantic Sardines carry 142mg (47% DV) of cholesterol per 100g. That is 131mg (44% DV) per can, and 17mg (6% DV) in a single sardine.

In many cases, substitutions can help reduce the cholesterol content in a meal. For example, using non-fat or low-fat milk, cottage cheese, and low-fat cheese, instead of whole milk, butter, and regular cheese for a macaroni and cheese dish can cut the cholesterol of your recipe in half.

Cholesterol levels may vary greatly between food products. Always read nutrition labels for the exact amount of cholesterol in each individual product.

Cholesterol also varies greatly between cuts of meat. Ask for low-fat lean cuts which will greatly reduce the amount of cholesterol. For chicken and turkey, white meat has less cholesterol and fat than dark cuts such as the leg and thigh.

Low-fat cooking techniques:

  • Grilling
  • Broiling
  • Baking
  • Roasting
  • Steaming
  • Cook food without butter in a good-quality nonstick pan, or use some olive oil, low-sodium broth, or water, to reduce sticking in a stainless steel pan.

Have your cholesterol checked once every five years:

Regardless of whether you have high cholesterol, have your cholesterol checked once every five years. People with higher cholesterol levels may need to have their levels checked more often. The same is true for individuals who have certain risk factors for heart disease such as smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or a family history of heart disease.

If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked for some time, be sure to ask your doctor for a blood test called a lipid profile, a simple blood sample taken from the finger or arm to determine your cholesterol levels.

Can damage to arteries be reversed?

It takes years for high cholesterol to clog arteries with plaque. But there is evidence that atherosclerosis can be reversed, at least to some degree. Dean Ornish, MD, has published several studies showing that a low-fat vegetarian diet,  stress management, and moderate exercise can help reduce the build-up inside the coronary arteries. Other research supports the idea that big drops in cholesterol can somewhat help open clogged arteries.

Two ways to reduce cholesterol oxidation:

Have as little cholesterol circulating in your blood as possible. After all, if cholesterol particles are not there, they cannot oxidize. A plant-based diet is the surest path to a low cholesterol.

Consume such an abundance of antioxidants that cholesterol oxidation is inhibited. Again, a plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains comes to the rescue.

* Fats are an extremely concentrated form of energy, providing more calories per gram (9 calories per gram) than do carbohydrates (4 cal./g) and protein (4 cal./g) combined. Digestion breaks fats down into fatty acids, which can be stored in muscle and other body tissues. There is no limit to how much fat your body can store!

References:

  1. (Source: http://www.healthaliciousness.com/articles/foods-which-lower-cholesterol.php#6T4s1DS8Rodtc8qr.99)         
  2. Neal Barnard, M.D., Washington. “Plants to the Rescue.” Science Times (Letters to the Editor): The New York Times. Page D6. 12/24/13.

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Quick Tips to Improve Your Health

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

 

  1. Become more physically active and include safe, moderate exercise in your schedule more oftenRegular, moderate exercise, including aerobics, increases the flow of nutrients and oxygen throughout the body, improves concentration and muscle mass, and can help reduce your weight, blood pressure, and levels of cholesterol, triglyceride, and cortisol stress hormone. Moderate exercise may also reduce build-up inside coronary arteries and thereby improve blood flow. Choose a safe activity that boosts your heart rate, such as walking briskly, dancing, swimming, gardening, using stairs instead of an elevator, hiking, biking, or running. Aim for at least 30 minutes, or two 15-minute sessions if that is easier to schedule, on most days of the week.
  2. Eat foods that promote good health and are in season: Eat to live! Don’t just live to eat.
  3. Eat more whole plant foods like fruits, cruciferous, leafy green, and root vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, and seeds.
  4. Choose organic foods, preferably labeled “U.S.D.A. organic,” when possible to reduce your exposure to fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals.
  5. Eat sustainable fish (wild Alaskan salmon, wild Pacific cod, USA tilapia, Arctic char) or other seafood low in contaminants twice a week.
  6. Avoid unhealthy fats (saturated animal fats, trans fats, butter, cream, ice cream, icings, pastries, shortenings, etc.) and choose healthy monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado.
  7. Avoid foods which contain genetically modified (GMO’s) ingredients whenever possible like corn, soybeans, wheat. Many animal studies show toxicity that predicts serious medical consequences in humans from long term exposure. Genetically modified crops have produced no significant increases in yield, raised the use of herbicides tenfold, and resulted in no social or economic benefit, except for the reduction of factory farm labor costs. Notify your grocer, state representatives, congressmen, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that you want foods containing GMOs to be labeled as such.
  8. Check expiration dates when you shop, as well as, after food has been stored at home: Try to use a food item as soon as possible after purchasing for the best nutrition value. The longer food sits on a grocery store shelf or in your pantry or refrigerator (ex., fruits, vegetables, herbs, dairy products like, milk, kefir, yogurt) the more nutrients deteriorate and the fewer nutrients will be left when you do eat the food.
  9. Limit processed food, including cold cuts: Look for whole foods in ingredient lists. If an ingredient sounds unnatural, beware. Processed foods tend to be high in salt, sugar, starches, unhealthy fats, preservatives (nitrate, nitrite, sodium benzoate, sulfites, etc.), and often, empty calories.
  10. Minimize or avoid sodium (salt): Americans regularly eat much more sodium than the recommended daily limit of 2,300 mg, mostly in processed foods and restaurant meals. The recommended daily limit is even lower at 1,500 mg if you are 51 years or older, African American, have high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney disease. Cook from scratch as much as possible, and use fresh or dried herbs, unsalted spices, citrus juice, and/or vinegar to add flavor to food.
  11. Limit or avoid foods with sugar, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrin, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and other chemicals. 
  12. Eat less meat: While meat offers protein, iron, and vitamin B12, it is also high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Use a small amount to flavor largely plant-based dishes, vegetable soups, whole-grain pasta and stir-fried dishes.
  13. Eat more vegetables: High in fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, other phytonutrients, and low in calories, fat, and cholesterol. When dining out, begin your meal with salad or order a vegetarian entree.
  14. Choose whole grains: Replace refined grains with whole grains to obtain beneficial nutrients in the bran and germ (ex., Barley, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, kamut, quinoa, whole wheatberries, etc.) Whole grains provide fiber which helps you to feel fuller on fewer calories, essential nutrients and healthy fats, promote regularity, and can help you slim down.
  15. Drink more water to help wash down your whole grains, fill you up so you don’t overeat, promote better blood flow and regularity.
  16. Eat out less often and prepare more meals at home.
  17. Stop smoking and avoid smoke-filled environments: Smoking lowers good cholesterol (HDL) levels in your bloodstream. Quitting smoking can increase HDL by 10-20%, according to the American Heart Association. In contrast to HDL’s positive effects, bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein [LDL]), causes cellular damage to the interior of blood vessel walls and promotes the storage of cholesterol as plaque inside arteries. Exposure to smoke, whether by actively smoking or breathing secondhand smoke, enables LDL to bind more effectively to artery walls. Talk with your health care provider about a smoking cessation strategy which may be best for you.

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Avoid Trans Fats for Better Health

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Trans fats, also known as trans fatty acids, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, have become an increasingly significant part of the human diet, especially during the latter half of the 20th century and wherever processed foods are consumed.

Prior to 1910, dietary fats consisted primarily of butterfat, beef tallow, and lard, animal-based fats that were once the only trans fats consumed. However, the largest amount of trans fat consumed today is man-made, created by the processed food industry as a side effect of partially hydrogenating unsaturated plant fats, usually vegetable oils. Partially hydrogenated fats have been substituted for natural solid fats and liquid oils in many areas, especially the fast food, snack food, fried food, and baked goods industries.

High intake of trans fatty acids can lead to many health problems. Trans fats are abundant in fast food restaurants and many commercially- prepared foods. People who cannot afford or do not have access to healthier food often consume fast food. This can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and a greater risk for heart disease in this population. For example, East Harlem mostly has fast food restaurants and bodegas with few healthy alternatives, which might be partly why 31% of adults in East Harlem are obese compared to 22% citywide and only 9% in the Upper East Side.

What are trans fats?

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat which is somewhat uncommon in nature but can be created artificially. Artificial trans fat is made when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation involves heating liquid polyunsaturated vegetable oil in the presence of hydrogen and finely ground particles of nickel metal. The oil turns into a solid fat, typically margarine and vegetable shortening.

Why were trans fats developed and included in certain foods?

Trans fats have been used in food for many reasons. Partial hydrogenation increases product shelf life and flavor stability and decreases refrigeration requirements. Many baked foods require semi-solid fats to suspend solids at room temperature; partially hydrogenated oils have the right consistency to replace animal fats such as butter and lard at lower cost. They are also an inexpensive alternative to other semi-solid oils such as palm oil.

Companies like using trans fats in their foods because they’re easy to use, inexpensive to produce, and last a long time. Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture. They are used in shortenings for deep-frying in restaurants and fast-food outlets, since oils with trans fats can be used many times in commercial fryers and last longer than most conventional oils before becoming rancid. In the early 21st century, non-hydrogenated vegetable oils that have lifespans exceeding that of the frying shortenings became available.

Is trans fat worse than saturated fat in promoting heart disease?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Institute of Medicine and the American Heart Association both agree that trans fatty acids have a stronger effect on the risk of coronary heart disease than saturated fatty acids.

Why are trans fats so unhealthy?

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils are extremely harmful to heart and vascular health, because they elevate bad cholesterol (“low density lipoproteins” or LDL) in the bloodstream, while lowering good cholesterol (“high density lipoproteins” or HDL). These changes increase the risk of fat deposition within artery walls, sclerosis (hardening of artery walls), atherosclerosis, heart disease, heart attack, diabetes, and stroke. Efforts are being made to remove trans fats from our food supply.

Do trans fats occur naturally?

Trans fat found in foods can either be natural or artificial. Naturally occuring trans fat is produced in the gut of some grazing animals, and that is why small amounts can be found in animal-based foods such as butter, butterfat, milk, and certain meats including beef, lamb, and pork. However, trans fats in processed foods seem to be more harmful than naturally occurring trans fats.

Do naturally occurring trans fats pose the same risks as manufactured ones?

No. Naturally occurring trans fats do not have the same bad effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured. Research reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that naturally occurring trans fats found in dairy and meat products, when eaten in moderation, are not as harmful as manmade trans fats and do not increase heart risks.

Where are artificial trans fats found?

Trans fats are found  in hardened vegetable fats such as stick margarine, vegetable shortenings like Crisco, and foods made with them, including many commercially prepared baked goods (biscuits, crackers, cookies, cakes, muffins, pancake mixes, pastries, pie crusts, pizza dough, and other items), packaged mixes, almost all fast food (doughnuts, French fries, etc.), as well as many commercially prepared nut butters, spreads, candies, chocolates, and snack foods:

Whole Milk and cheese     18.8      Natural

Butter                                         5.9      Natural

Eggs                                            0.9      Natural

Meat and meat products   10.3      Natural

Oils and fats                           35.5      Mainly resulting from hydrogenation

Biscuits and cakes               16.5       Mainly resulting from hydrogenation

Savoury pies, etc                    3.5      Mainly resulting from hydrogenation

Chips, french fries                 4.5      Mainly resulting from hydrogenation

Since fast-food chains often use different fats and cooking techniques in different locations, trans fat levels in fast food can vary from one region to another.

Why do artificial trans fats produce serious health problems?

Hydrogenated oils increase serum cholesterol more than other types of fats. The addition of hydrogen to oil makes the trans fat more difficult to digest, and the body seems to treat the trans fat as a saturated fat. One theory is that human lipase enzyme, a water-soluble enzyme that helps to digest, transport, and process dietary lipids such as triglycerides, fats, and oils in most living organisms cannot metabolize trans fats. Trans fatty acids may also impair the metabolism of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs).

Can a food product list the amount of trans fat as 0 grams on the Nutrition Facts panel if the ingredient list indicates that it contains “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil?”

Yes. Food manufacturers are allowed to list amounts of trans fat with less than 0.5 gram (1/2 g) as 0 (zero) on the Nutrition Facts panel. As a result, consumers may find products, like brownie mix, corn muffin mix, pizza, packaged cookies, etc., that list 0 g trans fat on the panel, which actually contain “partially hydrogenated vegetable oils” like soybean or cottonseed oil or “shortening.” This means the food contains very small amounts (less than 0.5 g) of trans fat per serving. However, if a person eats more than 1 serving at a time, or, for example, a whole bag of popcorn or chips, then a large amount of unhealthy trans fat will be ingested.

Is it safe to consume small amounts of trans fats?

No! There is no safe level, recommended daily amount, or tolerable upper limit for trans fat consumption. This is because any incremental increase in trans fat intake increases the risk of coronary heart disease. Always read the ingredient list on a food package. Even if the package’s nutrition label indicates 0 g trans fats, if any trans fat is mentioned in the ingredient list, such as a “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and tropical oils, like coconut and palm oil,”  avoid buying that food item.

Health effects of trans fats: 

  • Before 1990, very little was known about the health effects of trans fats. In the 1990s, research began identifying their adverse health effects.
  • Whether of animal or plant origin, trans fatty acids are not essential and provide no benefit to human health.
  • While both saturated and trans fats increase LDL levels, trans fats also lower HDL levels, significantly increasing the risk of coronary heart disease.
  • Dietary trans fatty acids promote more coronary heart disease than saturated fatty acids.
  • Trans fats have been shown to increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • It has been established that trans fats in human milk fluctuate with maternal consumption of trans fat, and that the amount of trans fats in the bloodstream of breastfed infants fluctuates with the amounts found in their milk. Reported percentages of trans fats (compared to total fats) in human milk range from 1% in Spain, 2% in France, 4% in Germany, and 7% in Canada and the United States.

Due to the damage trans fats do to the entire cardiovascular system, consuming them may actually increase your risk of other chronic health problems: 

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Consumption of both trans fats and saturated fats may hasten the development of Alzheimer disease, by impairing memory and learning, and promoting inflammation in and around the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and memory.
  • Cancer: The American Cancer Society states that a relationship between trans fats and cancer “has not been determined.” One study has found a positive connection between trans fat and prostate cancer. However, a larger study found a correlation between trans fats and a significant decrease in high-grade prostate cancer. An increased intake of trans fatty acids may raise the risk of breast cancer significantly, according to results from the French part of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition.
  • Obesity: Animal studies indicate that trans fats may increase weight gain and intra-abdominal deposition of fat, and cause insulin resistance.
  • Liver dysfunction: Trans fats are metabolized differently by the liver than other fats and interfere with delta 6 desaturase, an enzyme involved in converting essential fatty acids to arachidonic acid and prostaglandin, both of which are important to the functioning of cells.
  • Infertility in women
  • Depression
  • Behavioral irritability and aggression: A 2012 observational analysis of subjects of an earlier study found a strong correlation between dietary trans fat acids and self-reported behavioral aggression and irritability, suggesting but not establishing causality.

How can I avoid trans fats?

  • Read the Nutrition Facts panel and check the ingredient list on foods you buy at the store. The amount of trans fats in a particular packaged food should be listed in the Nutrition Facts panel. Ingredients referred to as “partially hydrogenated oils” are trans fats.
  • When eating out, ask what kind of oil foods are cooked in.
  • Replace trans fats in your diet with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.*

Are coconut oil and palm oil healthy? 

Coconut oil and palm oil are higher in saturated fat than other plant oils. They are less harmful than partially hydrogenated oil, which is high in trans fats. But they are less beneficial for your heart than plant oils that are rich in unsaturated fats such as olive, canola, sunflower, and other oils. Coconut oil increases good cholesterol, which may make it okay when cooking a dish that needs a little hard fat. Generally, it is better to cook with extra-virgin olive oil. The healthy fats in extra-virgin olive oil are stable at temperatures used in home cooking. However, for deep-fat frying or stir frying use an oil that’s more stable, like peanut oil.

 *Healthy fats include:

  • Monounsaturated fats: found in olive, canola, and peanut oils, nuts, and avocados.
  • Polyunsaturated fats: found in other plant-based oils, such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, sesame, and cottonseed oils.

References: 

  1. “Eat Healthy Fats.” The Mayo Clinic Diet. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. Published by Merle Good. p. 28-29. 2010.
  2. “Questions and Answers Regarding Trans Fat.” United States Food and Drug Administration. 10903 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20993, [Tel. 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332)]. 11/07/13. (Source: www.fda.gov/Food/PopularTopics/ucm373922.htm)


 

November 7, 2013

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Heart-Healthy Nutty Cinnamon Granola

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Store-bought granola often contains unhealthy ingredients, such as high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and hydrogenated oils which may increase your appetite, cause weight gain, and elevate your risk of heart disease. In addition to providing excess calories from these ingredients, it is rather costly.
The following granola recipe, a combination of whole grains, nuts, seeds, dried unsweetened fruits, and cinnamon, is very easy to prepare, economical, delicious, high in fiber, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and allows you to be creative. Mix the dry ingredients in any proportions you desire, with oats making up most of the mix. Serve it for breakfast with low-fat or non-fat milk, by itself as a healthy snack, or as a delightful dessert topping over fresh fruit, nonfat yogurt, cottage cheese, or ice cream.

 

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • 1 cup raw, unsalted nuts (chopped, slivered, or whole almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, walnuts)
  • 1 cup seeds such as ground flaxseed, hulled pumpkin, sesame, and/or sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1 cup, or more, dried fruit, preferably unsweetened, such as chopped apricots, dates, golden and/or dark raisins

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large roasting pan or rimmed cookie sheet, combine dry ingredients (oats, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, cinnamon).
  3. Add oil and maple syrup to dry ingredients. Stir well and spread the blended mixture evenly in pan.
  4. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Continue baking for 10-15 minutes more until crispy and golden brown.
  5. Remove from oven and cool thoroughly.
  6. Stir dried fruit into cooled granola.
  7. Store in an air-tight container for 2 weeks or in freezer for 1 month.

Nutrition per 1/2 cup serving: 270 calories, 7 grams protein, 27 g carbohydrates, 16 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 8 g monounsaturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 4 g fiber, 3 mg sodium.

 Fruit and Yogurt Parfait 088

Fresh fruit, granola, and yogurt parfait

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Health Benefits of Cranberries

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Cranberries are a wonderful source of Vitamin C, a good source of Vitamins E, K, and A, dietary fiber, lutein, zeaxanthin, folate, and minerals like manganese, copper, and potassium, as well as, other essential micronutrients that support good health. Naturally low in calories, fat, and sodium, cranberries play a significant role in preventing urinary tract infections, reducing the risk of gum disease and tooth decay, and possibly other inflammatory conditions. 

Why are cranberries so good for you?

  • Cranberries are rich in phytonutrients (naturally-derived plant compounds), especially proanthocyanidin antioxidants*, which are essential for good health. They surpass nearly every fruit and vegetable, including strawberries, spinach, broccoli, red grapes, apples, raspberries, and cherries, in offering the most disease-fighting antioxidant activity, the strongest effect on inhibiting human cancer cells, and the most powerful phytochemicals! A unique variety of antioxidants (phenolic antioxidants, proanthocyanidin antioxidants, anthocyanin antioxidants, flavonoid antioxidants, and triterpenoid antioxidants) and combination of three antioxidant nutrients (resveratrol, piceatannol, and pterostilbene) are found exclusively in whole cranberries. These phytonutrients provide maximal antioxidant benefits only when consumed in combination with each other, and also, only when consumed with conventional antioxidant nutrients present in cranberry like manganese and vitamin C. When cranberry processing disrupts this antioxidant combination, health benefits are decreased. Studies have shown that it is the overall blend of cranberry antioxidants that provides the strongest health benefits. (One cup of whole cranberries has an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) score of 9584 µmol TE units per 100 g, one of the highest in the category of edible berries. Only blueberries 0ffer more [wild varieties have 13,427; cultivated blueberries have 9,019]).

  • Provide an excellent source of 2 types of important phytochemicals:
    • Flavonoids (anthocyanins, flavonols, proanthocyanidins): Research suggests that these three phytochemicals work together to suppress the growth of human cancer cells and decrease the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
    • Phenolic acids (hydroxycinnamic acid)
  • Help prevent and treat bladder/urinary tract infections: Cranberries contain proanthocyanidins (PACs), that seem to make it more difficult for certain types of pathogenic bacteria, like E. coli, the bacteria responsible for 80-90% of urinary tract infections, to latch onto the bladder and urinary tract lining. Women who drink cranberry juice tend to suffer fewer symptomatic urinary tract infections (UTIs). By making it more difficult for unwanted bacteria to cling to the bladder and urinary tract lining, PACs help prevent proliferation of bacterial populations that could result in outright infection. The age group in which researchers are least sure about this process involves children—it’s not clear when cranberry’s health benefits fully extend to this age group. Benefits have been most pronounced in middle-aged women who have experienced recurrent UTIs. In some studies, UTIs in this age and gender group have been reduced by more than 1/3 through dietary consumption of cranberry juice.

  • Cranberry’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients (ex., flavonoids) support digestive health and have been associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer and periodontal disease.
  • Optimize the balance of bacteria in our digestive tract: Participants in a recent study who drank 2 ounces of cranberry juice daily over the course of 3 months were able to increase the relative amount (%) of Bifidobacteria in their digestive tract while maintaining other bacterial types (Bifidobacteria are typically considered to be a desirable and “friendly” type of bacteria). As a result, the microbial environment of the digestive tract improved.
  • Regular cranberry juice consumption for months been associated with a significant reduction in Helicobacter pylori bacteria which increase the risk of stomach cancer and ulcers: Stomach ulcers are often related to overgrowth of one particular type of stomach bacteria (Helicobacter pylori or H. pylori) on the stomach lining. Just as PACs help prevent the adhesion of certain bacteria to the lining of the bladder and urinary tract, PACs seem to prevent attachment of H. pylori to the stomach wall. Cranberry juice may help reduce the risk of gum disease and stomach ulcer in this way. Cranberries are the only fruit that contain these unique and powerful PACs.
  • Anti-inflammatory benefits: Dietary consumption of cranberry has been shown to reduce the risk of chronic, unwanted inflammation in the stomach, large intestine (colon) and cardiovascular system (especially blood vessel linings). For the cardiovascular system and many parts of the digestive tract (including the mouth, gums, stomach, and colon) cranberry has been shown to provide important anti-inflammatory benefits. Phytonutrients in cranberry are especially effective in lowering our risk of unwanted inflammation, and virtually all of the phytonutrient categories represented in cranberry are now known to play a role. These phytonutrient categories include PACs, anthocyanins (the flavonoid pigments that give cranberries their deep shades of red), flavonols like quercetin, and phenolic acid (hydroxycinnamic acids).
  • May improve oral health and reduce the risk of periodontal (gum) disease:
    • PACs prevent plaque formation and the development of cavities on teeth by interfering with the ability of gram-negative bacterium, Streptococcus mutans, to stick to the tooth surface, in a way similar to the mechanism preventing urinary tract infections.
    • The anti-inflammatory properties of cranberry can help lower the risk of periodontal disease. Chronic, excessive levels of inflammation around the gums can damage tissues that support our teeth. This kind of inflammation gets triggered by overproduction of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines (messaging molecules) which “tell” cells to mount an inflammatory response. As messages are sent more frequently, the inflammatory response becomes greater. Phytonutrients in cranberry help reduce this inflammatory cascade of events precisely at the cytokine level.
  • Lower the risk of high blood pressure: Animal studies with rats and mice indicate that cranberry antioxidants benefit the cardiovascular system by reducing oxidative stress inside blood vessels which could eventually damage blood vessels and elevate blood pressure. Additionally, antioxidants may lessen or prevent overconstriction of blood vessels which would increase blood pressure.
  • Promote a healthy cardiovascular system: The combination of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients in cranberries may prevent cardiovascular disease by counteracting against cholesterol plaque formation in the heart and blood vessels. These compounds also appear to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels in the blood. Oxidative stress and chronic inflammation place blood vessel walls at great risk of damage. Once damaged, blood vessels walls can undergo a process of plaque formation, and the risk of atherosclerosis (blood vessel wall thickening, stenosis, and blocking) can be greatly increased. Dietary intake of cranberries and cranberry juice (in normal everyday amounts, unchanged for research study purposes) has been shown to prevent the activation of two enyzmes that are pivotal in the atherosclerosis process by blocking activity of a pro-inflammatory cytokine- messaging molecule called tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha). These anti-inflammatory benefits of cranberry appear to be critical components in the cardiovascular protection offered by this amazing fruit.
  • Help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and total cholesterol, but raise HDL (good) cholesterol.
  • Consumption of cranberries turns urine acidic: This, together with the bacterial anti-adhesion property of cranberry juice helps prevent the formation of alkaline (calcium ammonium phosphate) stones in the urinary tract by working against proteus bacterial-infections.
  • Contain hippuric acid, which has an antibacterial effect on the body, as well as natural antibiotic ingredients.
  • May improve immunity and reduce the risk of colds and the flu.
  • May help to trigger programmed cell death in tumor cells (apoptosis) and reduce the risk of cancer, especially breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancer: Chronic excessive oxidative stress (from lack of sufficient antioxidant support) and chronic excessive inflammation (from lack of sufficient anti-inflammatory compounds) are two key factors which raise the risk of cancer. The cancer-related benefits of cranberries are not surprising, since they are rich in both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients.
  • Whole cranberries consumed in dietary form, in comparison with purified cranberry extracts consumed in either liquid or dried supplement form, do a better job of protecting our cardiovascular system and liver: It is the synergy among cranberry nutrients (rather than individual cranberry components) that is responsible for cranberry’s health benefits. This synergy is only found in the whole berry when consumed as food. The importance of “whole foods” in our diet definitely applies to the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer benefits of cranberry.

There is a clear association between a diet high in fruits and vegetables and a low risk of chronic disease. Fruits and vegetables contain phytonutrients, naturally derived from plant compounds. In particular, antioxidants, a group of extremely beneficial phytonutrients, are increasingly being shown to contribute to improving human health. For optimum health try to eat 5-10 servings of various fruits and vegetables each day.

Safety concern for patients with oxalate stones or on Coumadin:
  • Cranberries contain oxalic acid, a substance naturally found in many fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds (ex., spinach, rhubarb, chard, beets, beet leaves, bananas, star fruit) which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some individuals. People with a known history of oxalate urinary tract stones should limit intake of cranberries and, especially vegetables belonging within the Brassica family. Adequate water intake is advised to dilute and maintain normal urine output and reduce the risk of such stones. If you have kidney stones, consult your doctor before self-treating with cranberry juice or cranberry products.
  • People taking Coumadin (Warfaran) should avoid or minimize eating cranberries, drinking cranberry juice, or taking cranberry containing herbal products. Cranberry products destabilize Coumadin and increase its anticoagulant effect on the body which increases the risk of severe bleeding problems. Avoid or drink only small amounts of cranberry juice when taking warfarin.

* Antioxidants: Important compounds in plants which protect the body from “free radicals,” harmful oxidants in cigarette smoke, pollutants, unhealthy foods, and environmental toxins. Free radicals cause cell damage which weakens the immune system and may increase the risk of several diseases. Antioxidants reduce the effect of free radical oxidants by binding with them to decrease their destructive tendencies and repairing the damage already done. Research has shown that antioxidants help to maintain healthy cells, tissues, and arteries.

Medical disclaimer: The information on this website is intended solely for the general information for the reader. It is not to be used to diagnose specific health problems or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your health care provider for any advice on medications.

References:

  1. “Cranberries: #1 in Antioxidants and #1 in Proanthocyanidins (PACs).” USDA Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods. 2007.
  2. “Cranberries-What’s New and Beneficial About Cranberries?” Whole Foods: The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2013. (Source: www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145)
  3. Davis, Jeanie Lerche. “Cranberries: Year-Round Superfood. You Can Get the Antioxidant Benefits of Cranberries Long After the Holidays.” WebMD, Inc. Feature Archive. 2007. Reviewed on September 29, 2009.

 

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Cranberry Sauce with Apricots, Raisins, and Orange Recipe
Stewed fruit compotes are a great way to satisfy your sweet tooth while receiving numerous nutritional benefits. A compote can be served alone, as a side dish for a meal, a topping for hot cereal, plain or vanilla yogurt, or over fresh sliced fruit such as pears and apples for a healthy dessert. 
The following recipes are easy to make and taste wonderful! If you cannot locate fresh cranberries, substitute frozen ones. Note that canned versions of cranberry sauce contain not only cranberries, but also genetically modified high fructose corn syrup, genetically modified corn syrup, filtered water, and probably Bisphenol A (an endocrine disruptor) due to the epoxy lining of the can. Always try to use wholesome, fresh ingredients in season, with minimal or no added sugar, for better health.
Healthy Cranberry Compote with Apricots, Raisins, and Oranges
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Ingredients for 16-18 servings:
  • 16-ounce package (1 lb.) or 4 cups fresh cranberries, picked over, rinsed, and drained
  • 1 cup orange juice (or use juice of 2 large fresh-squeezed oranges)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup sugar* (optional)
  • 1 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1 cup golden or dark raisins or currants
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rind (zest)
  • Chopped fruit of 3 oranges (rind and seeds removed)
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium/high heat, combine the orange juice, water, sugar*, cranberries, apricots, raisins, orange zest, orange chunks, and cinnamon stick.
  2. Stir gently and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cranberries burst and sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat. Cranberry sauce will continue to thicken as it cools at room temperature. Transfer to a bowl.
  4. Refrigerate until serving time. (If added during cooking, remove cinnamon stick before serving.)
  5. Sauce can be made a day in advance.
* While honey, maple syrup, or molasses may be substituted for sugar, this compote is delicious, wholesome, and healthier without any sweetener added, due to the natural sweetness of all the fruits in the recipe. Add a cinnamon stick during cooking and/or some ground cinnamon after removing the compote from heat to enhance the natural flavors of the fruits (I use 1 cinnamon stick and about 1/3 teaspoon of ground cinnamon).
Cranberry Sauce with Ginger and Pineapple
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients for 10-12 servings:

  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp minced orange zest
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 12-ounce bag of fresh or frozen cranberries (Rinsed and picked over)
  • 1/2 cup crushed pineapple
  • 1/2 cup honey

Directions:

  1. Bring orange juice, ginger, zest, and cinnamon to a boil on high heat in a medium saucepan.
  2. Add cranberries to pan once liquid is boiling. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 10 minutes.
  3. Add crushed pineapple and honey. Remove from heat and cool.

Traditional Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 12-ounce package Ocean Spray® Fresh or Frozen Cranberries

Directions:

Combine sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil; add cranberries, return to boil. Reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate until serving time. Makes 2 1/4 cups.

Per serving (2 Tablespoons): Calories 51(3%DV), Fat 0grams, Pot. 14mg(<1%DV), Total Carb. 13grams(4%DV), Dietary Fiber <1gram(3%DV), Sugars 11grams, Vitamin C 2mg(3%DV), Dietary
Exchange: Fruit 1

Other additions to cranberry sauce:
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon or 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Stick cinnamon
  • Minced peeled fresh or ground ginger
  • Fresh or dried thyme or rosemary
  • Diced apples
  • Diced pineapple
  • Pomegranate seeds
  • Chopped pecans, walnuts, or other nuts
  • Dried or frozen pitted cherries

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry Apple Crisp Recipe

Ingredients for 9 servings:

  • 5 cups tart apples (about 6 medium apples), pared and sliced
  • 1½ cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ cup butter

Directions: 

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking pan.
  2. Layer apples and cranberries in pan, sprinkling with sugar as you layer.
  3. Make topping: Mix flour, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Work in butter until light and crumbly. Sprinkle topping evenly over apples and cranberries.
  4. Bake 45 minutes or until apples are tender.

Per serving: Calories 210 (25% from fat); Protein 1 g; Fat 6 g; Carbohydrates 39 g; Cholesterol 15 mg; Fiber 3 g; Sodium 64 g.

References:

  1. “Cranberries-What’s New and Beneficial About Cranberries?” Whole Foods: The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2013. (Source: www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145)
  2. Davis, Jeanie Lerche. “Cranberries: Year-Round Superfood. You Can Get the Antioxidant Benefits of Cranberries Long After the Holidays.” WebMD, Inc. Feature Archive. 2007. Reviewed on September 29, 2009.
  3. “Fresh Cranberry Sauce Recipe.” Ocean Spray. (Source: www.oceanspray.com/Recipes/Corporate/Sauces,-Sides…) 

 

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healthy cranberry sauce recipe Sugarless Cranberry Sauce

Serving cranberry sauce is a tradition during the holidays. However, cranberries are a superfood which can be enjoyed all year round.

The cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon) is related to the blueberry and huckleberry in the Vaccinium genus. It grows in acidic bogs throughout the US and Canada, particularly in New England, Washington, Oregon, northern California, and southwestern British Columbia. The plant resembles a dwarf, creeping shrub or vine with slender, wiry, woody stems bearing small, evergreen leaves and can reach 2 meters in length and 10-20 centimeters in height. The berry is initially white but turns to its characteristic scarlet color in July-August.

Fresh native American cranberries are sometimes called “bounceberries” because ripe ones bounce or “craneberries” due to their pale pink blossoms which resemble the heads of cranes that frequent cranberry bogs. A fruit with a short season, cranberries are harvested between Labor Day and Halloween and appear in markets from October through December. Besides adding a festive hue and tart tangy flavor to holiday meals, fresh cranberries offer numerous beneficial nutrients and health protective effects which peak during this season. Once cranberries’ short fresh season is past, unsweetened cranberry juice made from whole berries and dried or frozen cranberries are available to offer delicious health benefits every day throughout the year.

The ripe cranberry is a small, round, red berry with four centrally situated tiny seeds enclosed inside. The berry is very acidic in taste, having a ph in the range of 2.3 to 2.5.

How cranberries are harvested:

Many cranberries are water-harvested, i.e., grown in bogs and floated on the surface of the water to allow for easy harvesting. The anthocyanin content of cranberries (the phytonutrients that give the berries their red color) increases in direct proportion to the amount of natural sunlight received by the berry. If berries floating on top of water get exposed to increased amounts of natural sunlight (in comparison to other growing and harvesting conditions), they may develop greater concentrations of anthocyanins. These greater concentrations of anthocyanins are likely to provide stronger health benefits. Since water-harvesting tends to expose cranberries to more natural sunlight than other growing methods, greater phytonutrient health benefits may result from the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of anthocyanins.

How to select and store:

  • Choose fresh, plump cranberries, deep red in color, and firm to the touch.
  • Firmness is a primary indicator of quality. In fact, during harvesting, high quality cranberries are often sorted from lesser quality ones by bouncing the berries against barriers made of slanted boards. The best berries bounce over the barriers, while the inferior ones collect in the reject pile.
  • The deeper red their color, the more highly concentrated are cranberries’ beneficial anthocyanin compounds.
  • Although typically packed in 12-ounce plastic bags, fresh cranberries, especially if organic, may be available in pint containers.
  • Fresh ripe cranberries stored in the refrigerator are usually good for up to 2 weeks. Before storing, discard any soft, discolored, pitted or shriveled berries. When removed from the refrigerator, cranberries may look damp, but this moistness does not indicate spoilage, unless the berries are discolored, sticky, leathery, or tough.
  • Fresh cranberries freeze well. To freeze, store them in their original plastic bag, without pre-washing, for up to one year. DO NOT THAW frozen cranberries before using. Simply rinse in cold water and use as directed for fresh cranberries. Frozen berries can be chopped in a food processor (one bag or 3 cups /750 mL at a time). Another way to freeze fresh cranberries is to spread them on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. In a few hours, the fully frozen berries will be ready to place in a freezer bag. Date the bag before returning them to the freezer. Buy extra bags of fresh cranberries and freeze them for year-round use.
  • Once thawed, frozen berries will be soft and should be used immediately.
  • Dried cranberries are available at many markets with other dried fruits, but often include added sugar.

For optimum health try to eat 5-10 servings of various fruits and vegetables each day.

Preparing cranberries:

  • Treat fresh berries with care. Just prior to use, place them in a strainer and briefly and gently rinse under cool running water. Drain in a colander.
  • When using frozen cranberries in recipes that do not require cooking, thaw well and drain prior to using. For cooked recipes, use unthawed berries, since this will ensure maximum flavor. Extend the cooking time a few minutes to accommodate for the frozen berries.
  • Cranberries offer their maximum amount of nutrients and taste when eaten fresh and not prepared in a cooked recipe. That is because their nutrients, including vitamins, antioxidants*, and enzymes, cannot withstand the temperature normally used in baking (350°F/175°C).

Nutrition:

Native American cranberries are quite nutritious and known for being a good source of vitamin C. One-half cup (50.00 grams or 125 ml) of fresh cranberries contains 23-25 calories and the following recommended daily allowances: vitamins C (11%), E (4%), pantothenic acid (3%), K (2%), and A (1%); 2.3 grams of fiber (6%), minerals manganese (8%), copper (3.5%), and potassium (1%), plus many natural antioxidants.

Fresh cranberries contain no cholesterol, virtually no fat, and very little sodium. Fresh, as well as dried, berries contain the most antioxidants, while bottled cranberry drinks and cranberry cocktails with added sugars contain the least.

Cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon), Fresh, ORAC score 9584,
Nutritive Value per 100 g.
(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
(Principle) (Nutrient Value) (Percentage of RDA)
Energy 46 Kcal 2.3%
Carbohydrates 12.2 g 9%
Protein 0.4 g 1%
Total Fat 0.13 g <1%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 4.6 g 12%
Vitamins    
Folates 1 µg <1%
Niacin 0.101 mg 1%
Pantothenic acid 0.295 mg 6%
Pyridoxine 0.057 mg 4%
Riboflavin 0.020 mg 2%
Thiamin 0.012 mg 1%
Vitamin A 60 IU 2%
Vitamin C 13.3 mg 22%
Vitamin E 1.20 mg 8%
Vitamin K 5.1 µg 4%
Electrolytes    
Sodium 2 mg 0%
Potassium 85 mg 2%
Minerals    
Calcium 8 mg 1%
Copper 0.061 mg 7%
Iron 0.25 mg 3%
Magnesium 6 mg 1.5%
Manganese 0.360 mg 16%
Phosphorus 13 mg 2%
Selenium 0.1 µg 0%
Zinc 0.10 mg 1%
Phyto-nutrients    
Carotene-ß 36 µg
Crypto-xanthin-ß 0 µg
Lutein-zeaxanthin 91 µg
Some quick serving ideas:
  • Use cranberries to replace vinegar or lemon when dressing green salads. Toss the greens with a little olive oil, then add color and zest with a handful of raw cranberries.
  • Add dried cranberries to your favorite cereal
  • Drink 100% fruit juice that includes cranberries
  • Add cranberries to chicken and pork dishes
  • To balance their extreme tartness, combine fresh cranberries with other fruits such as oranges, apples, pineapple, or pears. If desired, add some fruit juice, honey, or maple syrup to chopped fresh cranberries.
  • For an easy-to-make salad that will become a holiday favorite, place 2 cups fresh berries in a blender with 1/2 cup pineapple chunks, a quartered skinned orange, 1 apple, and some walnuts or pecans. Blend till well mixed but still chunky. Transfer to a large bowl. Dice 3-4 stalks of celery and add to the cranberry mixture. Stir till just combined. Enjoy!
  • Combine unsweetened cranberry juice in equal parts with your favorite fruit juice and sparkling mineral water for a lightly sweetened, refreshing spritzer. Garnish with a slice of lime.
  • Add color and variety to your favorite recipes for rice pudding, quick breads or muffins by using dried cranberries instead of raisins.
  • Sprinkle a handful of dried cranberries over a bowl of hot oatmeal, cream of wheat, or any cold cereal.
  • Mix dried cranberries with lightly roasted nuts for a delicious snack.

Fresh, frozen, or dried cranberries may be added to the following for color and flavor:

  • Pancakes and waffles
  • Muffins and breads
  • Fruit desserts, pies, pastries
  • Smoothies
  • Fruit juice blends
  • Meat entrees
  • Holiday stuffing
  • Fruit and vegetable salads
  • Jell-O salads
  • Sauces for meat and sandwiches
Safety concern for patients with oxalate stones or on Coumadin:
  • Cranberries contain oxalic acid, a substance naturally found in many fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds (ex., spinach, rhubarb, chard, beets, beet leaves, bananas, star fruit) which may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some individuals. People with a known history of oxalate urinary tract stones should limit intake of cranberries and, especially vegetables belonging within the Brassica family. Adequate water intake is advised to dilute and maintain normal urine output and reduce the risk of such stones. If you have kidney stones, consult your doctor before self-treating with cranberry juice or cranberry products.
  • People taking Coumadin (Warfaran) should avoid or minimize eating cranberries, drinking cranberry juice, or taking cranberry containing herbal products. Cranberry products destabilize Coumadin and increase its anticoagulant effect on the body which increases the risk of severe bleeding problems. Avoid or drink only small amounts of cranberry juice when taking warfarin.

Medical disclaimer: The information on this website is intended solely for the general information for the reader. It is not to be used to diagnose specific health problems or for treatment purposes. It is not a substitute for medical care provided by a licensed and qualified health professional. Please consult your health care provider for any advice on medications.

Antioxidants: Important compounds in plants which protect the body from “free radicals,” harmful oxidants in cigarette smoke, pollutants, unhealthy foods, and environmental toxins. Free radicals cause cell damage which weakens the immune system and may increase the risk of several diseases. Antioxidants reduce the effect of free radical oxidants by binding with them to decrease their destructive tendencies and repairing the damage already done. Research has shown that antioxidants help to maintain healthy cells, tissues, and arteries.

References:

  1. “Cranberries: #1 in Antioxidants and #1 in Proanthocyanidins (PACs).” USDA Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) of Selected Foods. 2007.
  2. “Cranberries-What’s New and Beneficial About Cranberries?” Whole Foods: The World’s Healthiest Foods. 2013. (Source: www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=145)
  3. Davis, Jeanie Lerche. “Cranberries: Year-Round Superfood. You Can Get the Antioxidant Benefits of Cranberries Long After the Holidays.” WebMD, Inc. Feature Archive. 2007. Reviewed on September 29, 2009.
 
 

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Oven-Roasted Chickpeas

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Delicious, high in plant protein, fiber, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, iron, thiamin, potassium, and calcium, low in calories, fat, and cholesterol, vegan, and very easy to prepare, roasted chickpeas (Garbanzo beans) may be served as an appetizer for a party, snack, tossed in a salad or over quinoa, rice, or other pilaf.

Other varieties of beans may be added and roasted with the chickpeas in this recipe. If using canned beans, try to select “salt-free” brands when possible.

Ingredients for 8 (1/4 cup) servings:

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (about 2/3 cup dried), or 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained thoroughly
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin
  • Seasoning variations: Pepper and salt, or 2 garlic cloves, finely minced, or a blend of 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon chili powder, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or 1-2 tablespoons sodium-free cajun or taco seasoning, or a mix of ground cumin, paprika, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 45

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Toss beans with oil and seasonings in a bowl to coat evenly.
  3. Spread them on a rimmed cookie sheet or 13 x 9-inch baking pan in a single layer.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes, then shake pan or stir to reposition beans for even browning.
  5. Bake 20 minutes more or until crispy and golden brown.
  6. Serve warm or cold.

 Nutrition:

  • Calories: 130
  • Protein: 4 g
  • Carbohydrate: 17 g
  • Dietary fiber: 3 g
  • Total fat: 5 g (from olive oil)
  • Saturated fat: 0 g
  • Cholesterol: 0 g
  • Trans fat: 0g

 

 

 

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The best six doctors anywhere
And no one can deny it
Are sunshine, water, rest, and air
Exercise and diet.
These six will gladly you attend
If only you are willing
Your mind they’ll ease
Your will they’ll mend
And charge you not a shilling.
(Nursery rhyme quoted by Wayne Fields, What the River Knows, 1990)

Eat more whole fruit:

A new study led by Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) researchers and published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) August 29, 2013, has reported that eating more whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples, is significantly associated with a lower risk of type 2 (maturity-onset) diabetes. However, consumption of fruit juices is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. The study is the first to look at the effects of individual fruits on diabetes risk.

“While fruits are recommended as a measure for diabetes prevention, previous studies have found mixed results for total fruit consumption. While total fruit consumption is not consistently associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, certain fruits may be especially beneficial for lowering diabetes risk,” according to senior author Qi Sun, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and assistant professor at the Channing Division of Network Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

The researchers examined data gathered between 1984 and 2008 from 187,382 participants in three long-running studies (Nurses’ Health Study, Nurses’ Health Study II, and Health Professionals Follow-up Study). Participants who reported a diagnosis of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at enrollment were excluded. Results showed that 12,198 participants (6.5%) developed diabetes during the study period.

The researchers looked at overall fruit consumption, as well as consumption of individual fruits: grapes or raisins; peaches, plums, or apricots; prunes; bananas; cantaloupe; apples or pears; oranges; grapefruit; strawberries; and blueberries. They also looked at consumption of apple, orange, grapefruit, and “other” fruit juices.

People who ate at least two servings each week of certain whole fruits, particularly blueberries, grapes, and apples, reduced their risk for type 2 diabetes by as much as 23% in comparison to those who ate less than one serving per month. Conversely, those who consumed one or more servings of fruit juice each day increased their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by as much as 21%. The researchers found that swapping three servings of juice per week for whole fruits would result in a 7% reduction in diabetes risk.

The fruits’ glycemic index (a measure of how rapidly carbohydrates in a food boost blood sugar) did not prove to be a significant factor in determining a fruit’s association with type 2 diabetes risk. However, the high glycemic index of fruit juice — which passes through the digestive system more rapidly than fiber-rich fruit — may explain the positive link between juice consumption and increased diabetes risk.

The researchers theorize that the beneficial effects of certain individual fruits could be the result of a particular component. Previous studies have linked anthocyanins found in berries and grapes to lowered heart attack risk, for example. But more research is necessary to determine which components in the more beneficial fruits influence diabetes risk.

“Our data further endorse current recommendations on increasing whole fruits, but not fruit juice, as a measure for diabetes prevention,” said lead author Isao Muraki, research fellow in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH. “And our novel findings may help refine this recommendation to facilitate diabetes prevention.”

Avoid drinking juice: 

Type 2 diabetes risk increases with greater consumption of fruit juice. The juicing process causes some of the beneficial natural fiber and phytochemicals in fruit to be lost. Also, since fruit juices are fluids, they can be absorbed more rapidly into the gastrointestinal system than whole fruits, and subsequently lead to more dramatic changes in blood sugar and blood insulin levels.

Scientific evidence exists that large changes in blood sugar and blood insulin levels after meals may in the long run increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. More research is needed to determine if other factors in fruits could further explain their different effects on diabetes risk.

Qi and his colleagues are conducting several studies to further explore the associations between phytochemicals such as resveratrol, flavonoids, and chlorogenic acid, and diabetes risk. “We also hope to extend these associations to persons with chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, and to other patient populations such as diabetic patients.”

 Increase your consumption of a variety of whole fruits, especially blueberries, grapes, and apples, to help reduce your risk of diabetes.

References:
  1. Fields, Wayne. What the River Knows: An Angler in Midstream.  A memoir written by Dr. Fields, Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor of English, American Literature and American Culture Studies at 1 Brookings Drive, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130-4899. 1990.
  2. Muraki, Isao (research fellow); Fumiaki Imamura (investigator scientist); JoAnn E Manson (professor of medicine); Frank B Hu (professor of nutrition and epidemiology); Walter C Willett (professor of epidemiology and nutrition); Rob M van Dam (associate professor); Qi Sun (assistant professor). “Fruit consumption and risk of type 2 diabetes: results from three prospective longitudinal cohort studies.” British Medical Journal (BMJ). 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f5001. Published 08/29/13.

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