Category Archives: Nutrition

fiber in fruits and veggies

The inside scoop on your poop

Your gut environment impacts your brain. Recent research links specific gut bacteria types with chronic fatigue syndrome, also called myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS). Scientists at Columbia University’s Center of Infection and Immunity at the Mailman School of Public Health have discovered that the type and amount of bacteria in your intestine is associated with ME/CFS. ME/CFS is a debilitating autoimmune disorder that causes extreme fatigue, body aches and even impaired thinking. It turns out that 90% of people with this condition also have irritable bowel disease (IBS), also a condition that has been linked with an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria.

Gut-brain connection

One would like to think that everything that ends up in the large intestine doesn’t have any other business with the rest of our body at that point. Mission accomplished, body nourished. But that’s not the case. Even worse, the contents of our colon, specifically the bacteria in there, still communicate with our brain even from the large intestine. Furthermore, the more impaired this gut microbiome or microorganism environment, the worse the symptoms of ME/CFS.

The bacteria in the gut affect normal metabolic pathways between the brain and the gut. Lead researchers in the Mailman School of Public Health study state:

“Much like IBS, ME/CFS may involve a breakdown in the bidirectional communication between the brain and the gut mediated by bacteria, their metabolites, and the molecules they influence”. 

In other words, the bacteria in your gut talks to your brain. Higher amounts of “good bacteria” leads to positive health outcomes while larger amounts of “bad bacteria” or insufficient good bacteria lead to negative health outcomes.

What’s in your gut?

Bristol Stool Chart

photo from Cabot Health

Your poop says a lot about your general health. The Bristol Stool Chart was developed in 1997 by Dr Ken Heaton from the University of Bristol in England to better understand diseases of the bowel and as a communication tool.  A healthy stool should look like type 3 or 4 in the chart. If yours doesn’t and you have no known digestive issues, then you might want to consider doing some housekeeping on your microbiome. You can even be part of the American Gut and have your stool sample analyzed.

Improving your gut microbiome

Jeff Leach, from the Human Food Project, in an NPR interview, states that even though understanding the gut microbiome is in the early stages of research, dietary fiber is very important. Dietary fiber feeds the good gut bacteria. Leach also recommends:

  • Eat garlic and leeks. These are high in a prebiotic called inulin which feeds the good gut bacteria. Garlic also may kill some of the bad bacteria.
  • Eat more vegetables. Leach believes that they are the best source of fiber and that they should be eaten as whole as possible.
  • Boost your dietary fiber to as much as 50 gms daily in order to really change the gut microbiome. If you decide to do this, increase it gradually and boost your water intake.
  • Increase your intake of fermented foods like kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and yogurt.

You are what you eat

The nutrients from your diet impact every cell in your body: their function, structure and integrity. And now we know that the bacteria in our body can turn on and off certain metabolic pathways. Boosting the good bacteria in your colon while limiting the bad bacteria through diet could prevent inflammatory conditions like ME/CFS and perhaps even improve symptoms in those with these conditions.

You have to wonder, are we creating these diseases ourselves by the foods we eat?

The cells in our body are constantly dying off and new ones are being made. Could it be that the overgrowth of bad bacteria is changing the DNA in this process of cell development and creating these inflammatory conditions which also include autoimmune disease like lupus, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis? Could the 23.5 million people in the U.S. with these conditions improve their symptoms through their diet?

Could the answer to improving and preventing these autoimmune conditions lie in dietary choices? All I know is that if I suffered from pain, chronic fatigue, poor sleep and impaired thinking, I would much rather try to tackle it through what I eat than through a pill. Improvement of symptoms might not happen overnight, but I can imagine the battle going on in my gut. Now, I think I’ll plant my vegetable garden this week.

low fiber diet linked to breast cancer

Is your daughter’s diet increasing her risk for breast cancer?

Is your daughter’s favorite meal a nice steak with mashed potatoes? Or is picking up a burger and fries on the way home from sports practice a frequent habit? Or is her idea of fruit and veggies, ketchup and relish? These foods may be tasty – who doesn’t love a nice steak or crispy fries dipped in ketchup? But these food choices could increase your daughter’s risk for breast cancer down the road.

The Nurses Health Study II

The original Nurses’ Health Study, funded by the National Institute of Health, looked at the long-term impact of oral contraception on women’s health. Female nurses were selected for their health awareness and appreciation of filling out an accurate health history. The 121,700 returned questionnaires shed light not only on the cancer and heart disease risk with the use of oral contraception, but also the impact of smoking. The Nurses’ Health Study II in 1989 focused on additional lifestyle factors and behaviors and their connection to over 30 different diseases in a younger population – 116,430 women aged 25-42. This second study has provided insight to the link between diet and breast cancer risk.

Dietary fiber and breast cancer

A prospective study reported in the March, 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics looked at the connection between dietary fiber intake during high school years and premenopausal breast cancer risk. After statistical analysis they found a connection between the amount of dietary fiber intake, particularly fruit and vegetable fiber, and risk of breast cancer. Higher consumption of dietary fiber was associated with reduced breast cancer risk. In fact they found:

 “a 13% lower breast cancer risk per 10 g/day fiber increment during early adulthood and 14% lower breast cancer risk per 10 g/day fiber increment during adolescence.”

In other words, for every 10 g of dietary fiber eaten daily, there was a 13% lower risk of breast cancer. The American Heart Association (the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines do not state specific dietary fiber intake) recommends that females between the ages of 14-18 get 26 g of fiber daily, and males consume 38 g. Foods highest in fiber are nuts and seeds, legumes, foods made with whole grains, and fruit and vegetables. An example excellent dietary fiber: a half cup of beans delivers at least 8 g of fiber depending on the bean type. Topping salads, adding to soups or having as a side dish will give you a great dose of cancer prevention.

Red meat consumption linked to breast cancer

A study reported in the October, 2014 International Journal of Cancer looked at the connection between consumption of different protein sources and risk of breast cancer, also looking at data from the Nurses’ Health Study II. They found that the more red meat consumed during the adolescent years, the greater the premenopausal breast cancer risk. They also found that replacing some of the red meat with other protein sources like fish, poultry, nuts and beans reduced the risk for breast cancer.

Less red meat, more fruits and veggies

The answer is pretty obvious. Red meat is high in saturated fat, expensive and has a large carbon footprint, and now there’s a link to red meat consumption and breast cancer. Additionally, not consuming enough fiber from fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, and whole grains, also puts your daughter’s breast health at risk.

Food is health promoting…or health stealing

It really comes down to a mindset. It’s finding the balance between food that is nurturing and nourishing. I don’t expect to love everything I eat, but I try to prepare them in ways to make them tasty. I feel sorry for the kids who never grew up eating vegetables and only ate meals that came out of a box from a fast food restaurant. If that’s the only way someone has eaten, then the concept of learning how to plan and prepare a meal, let alone try new foods, can be daunting.

Tips For Eating Health Promoting Foods

  1. Keep it simple.  Make something in a crock-pot, make a soup or try some of these one pan dinners. Find 5 recipes that you like, write them down on index cards or on your phone notes along with the list of ingredients, and keep them with you so you always have them available when you shop.
  2. Make this an automatic thought: “how can I add more veggies to this meal?” I add extra frozen or fresh veggies to soups, casseroles and even to my breakfast smoothie. i always have at least a box of frozen spinach and broccoli in my freezer. I add cabbage (which has a really long frig life) to wraps, salads, and even soups. I keep cut up fresh veggies in my frig to snack on with humus all the time. I even mash steamed cauliflower to add to my mashed potatoes. I try to get at least 3-4 cups a day.
  3. Cutting down on red meat really comes down to finding other fish, poultry or meatless recipes you like. If you take the time on the first suggestion, you will find that beef disappears, or will be eaten less often.
  4. Your freezer is your way to convenience.  Double or even triple recipes. There isn’t one dinner that I’ve made that hasn’t frozen well. You can even portion extras servings into individual containers to take on the go, or when you don’t have time to prepare a meal.
  5. Know that you are eating this way for you and your daughter’s health in the future. Many of us make regular deposits in retirement accounts for a happy future; how many of us are making regular deposits in our daily lives for our or our family’s future health? What’s the point of having money if you don’t have good health to enjoy it? At least take these steps for your daughter’s sake.
low carb diet

And you think Adkins and Paleo diets always work?

Are you eating a low-carb, high-fat fad diet like Adkins or Paleo in order to lose weight? Do you have a family history of diabetes or have you been told you have prediabetes? If so, then you really need to read this.

Low-carb diets like the Paleo or Adkins diet are still really popular. Many people lose weight following them, but others don’t. Furthermore, for those with prediabetes these low-carb, high-fat diets don’t reduce the risk of advancing from prediabetes to diabetes.

Study showed weight gain and no change in risk for diabetes

A 2016 study reported in Nutrition and Diabetes magazine found that New Zealand Obese mice with prediabetes fed a low-carb, high-fat diet gained weight, and did not see an improved function of their insulin-producing pancreas. The mice were fed a low-carb diet consisting of 13% protein, 6% carbs and 81% fat, with over half of the fat calories coming from saturated fat. Even though their triglycerides and HDL(the good cholesterol) improved, they gained weight and their was no improvement to the health of their pancreas. In other words, they got fatter and their prediabetes did not improve.

Researchers believe that a low-carb, high-fat diet causes an accumulation of fat in the liver causing the liver to keep making glucose. In healthy people, higher insulin blood levels halt the production of glucose in the liver. This normal process goes awry when someone with prediabetes eats a low-carb, high-fat diet. Keep in mind, the CDC reports that more than 1 out of 3 adults in the U.S. have prediabetes.

Caveats to the study

The diet used in the low-carb, high-fat diet study consisted of a very high fat diet – over 3/4 of the calories were coming from fat and half of those were from the heart-clogging saturated kind. I wonder what the results would have been if the diet had consisted of slightly less fat and the heart-healthy unsaturated kind – the mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Would there have been weight loss and improved pancreatic function?

Paleo and Adkins Diet premises

adkins diet

From Adkins.com

The Adkins and Paleo diet depending on what you choose to eat could have you consuming a diet low in carbs but really high in fat – the saturated kind if you are not careful. There are a few differences in the two diets. The Paleo diet forbids dairy, meaning cheese, yogurt, and milk and encourages only grass-fed meat.

From the Paleodiet.com

It also emphasizes heart-healthy fats mainly from fish, seeds, oils like olive and flax seed, and avocado. The Adkins diet does not discern between saturated fat and healthy fats. It also allows cheese and only full fat dairy after phase 1. Both diets encourage lots of non-starchy veggies, but the Paleo diet allows fruit from the start and expects that 35-45% of your calories come from non-starchy fruits and veggies.

The proof is in the pudding

You have to use some common sense when it comes to dietary choices. Why not use some of the dietary tips from the Omniheart study that protects heart health while still eating a lower carb diet? Here are some other tidbits:

  1. Know your blood cholesterol and glucose levels. If your LDL, triglycerides and fasting blood sugars are going down, as well as your weight, then it’s working!
  2. People don’t gain weight from eating too many non-starchy veggies. The more the merrier. They are low-calorie (as long as the toppings and dips are used sparingly), they have plenty of vitamins and minerals, and they are high in fiber. They give you volume that will fill you up. Try roasting them, blending them in smoothies or adding a variety of them to soups and casseroles. Diet or not, veggies are the key to keeping weight off.
  3. Don’t go hog-wild over bacon and sausage. I heard stories of people on the Adkins diet eating a pound of bacon for breakfast. Even if you are losing weight with Adkins (Paleo discourages processed meat), your arteries have to be screaming. The same goes for eating large portions of cheese and beef fat. Just don’t do that!!
  4. Emphasize the heart-healthy fats. This just makes sense. It’s like walking through an old battle field zone with landmines – wouldn’t you want to stay on the proven path and not veer off??? Ketosis or not, why play with so many saturated fats that will only put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke?

Make sustainable lifestyle changes to lose weight

Fad diets like Adkins and Paleo may seem like a prescription to a lovely destination, but are you losing weight? And if you reached your goal are you going to keep maintaining on that diet? You most likely still have to learn how to keep old habits at bay. Find a path to health that is sustainable. NutritionAction.com, a nonprofit group that has consumer’s interests at heart (they are the ones that got trans-fats listed on food labels), has a wonderful guide that will help you lose weight in a sensible way and keep your heart healthy.

You can get other health tips if you ‘like me’ on my facebook page.

Nutritional Vigilance Starts With These Simple Nutrition Steps

Eating healthy isn’t rocket science, but it can get you on a life trajectory of feeling and looking better.  There are simple nutrition steps you can follow to get you in orbit.  I often hear my clients say the steps need to be easy because they are either uncomfortable with meal preparation, don’t want to take the time or absolutely hate the concept of cooking.  With these kinds of conversations I emphasize that there are quick and easy meals and routines that can make this process easy.  The key is to keep a few essential ingredients always in stock and to shop with a list which includes these items.

Simple Nutrition Steps

A healthy meal should always combine lean protein, fiber and healthy fat.  With the right amount of each component, this magic combination will keep you feeling fuller longer, prevents your blood glucose from spiraling and keeps your energy levels high until the next meal.  There are simple nutrition steps that start with the shopping list below:

Grocery Shopping List

First, some important facts about food.  Most foods are a combination of the macro-nutrients protein, carbohydrates and fats.  Most are more of one macro-nutrient than the other.  For example salmon is high in heart healthy fats and is also a great source of protein.  Nuts are high in heart healthy fat but are also a good source of protein and fiber.  Cheese is a good source of protein, but it is very high in fat, especially the heart damaging saturated fat, which is why you want to focus on low-fat or moderate portions.  Beans are high in carbohydrates but also very high in fiber and have a reasonable amount of protein.   The fiber and protein prevents a spike in blood glucose unlike the “white” foods like rice, white bread and  boxed potatoes. Additionally, cutting back on foods high in fat, like cheese, oils and nuts, and eating more fiber especially from vegetables, will help you lose weight.

Other ingredients I always keep in stock and have on my shopping list are:

  • 2 quarts organic chicken broth
  • mustard (essentially no calories and a great addition to many recipes)
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes
  • garlic/onion powder

Putting The Puzzle Together In These Simple Nutrition Steps

The meal below is a great example of protein, fiber and healthy fat.  The protein is coming mainly from the sautéed scallops.  Fiber is coming from the half plate of veggies, the brown rice and the sliced peaches for dessert.  The healthy fat is coming from the canola oil the scallops were sautéed in and the olive oil the veggies were tossed in.

healthy plate

Simple and Quick Meals You Can Make From My Shopping List

Using my shopping list, here are some simple meals you can put together.

  1. Chicken Quesadilla                                                                                                                         Saute the chicken in canola oil (can handle a higher heat than olive oil).  Let cool and shred into pieces.  Place in whole grain wrap (like LaTortilla) along with shredded green cabbage, 2 tbsp shredded cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup black beans and pour salsa and wrap up.
  2. Baked Salmon with broccoli and small sweet potato                                                                  Preheat oven to Bake 400.  Cut sweet potato into 3/4 ” pieces and broccoli in small branches.  Place in baking dish and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil and small amount of salt and put in oven.  Place salmon (4-5 ounces per person) in greased pan.  Top with mustard, then sprinkle Panco or bread crumbs on top and put next to the veggies.  Bake for 15 minutes until salmon and veggies are done.
  3. Baked Haddock with cheese, spinach and brown rice.                                                                When I make rice, I usually make 3 times the amount and freeze the rest for another time or use it in another meal a couple of days later.  A serving of rice is 3/4 to 1 cup cooked per person.  Brown rice takes about 50 minutes to prepare.  Quinoa is a great alternative and only takes 20 minutes to make and is also higher in fiber and protein than rice.  In a greased square pan place 2 cups fresh pre-washed spinach per person.  Then place 5 oz of Haddock per person on top of the spinach.  Place one slice of light Swiss cheese per person, spread a thin amount of reduced fat mayo and sprinkle with Panco.  Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes.
  4. Chicken/Rice/Veggie Soup                                                                                                                    If you’ve prepared extra chicken and rice from the previous meals you can use them here. If not then put the uncooked chicken breasts and the brown rice in a large pot filled with about 6 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the chicken from the pot and let cool.  Add 1 bag each of chopped broccoli, spinach and carrots and 1 can kidney beans and simmer for 15 minutes.  Shred the chicken and return to the pot.  Then add 1 can diced tomatoes and 1 quart chicken broth.  Then add a tbsp onion and garlic powder along with 1 tsp of salt and pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes and serve with a slice of whole grain toast.
  5. Frittata                                                                                                                                                      I like to make this dish in a 12″ cast iron skillet.  Preheat oven to 400.  Take one dozen eggs and mix with one cup fat-free Greek yogurt ( to boost the protein) until well-blended.  In skillet saute one large diced onion in 1 tbsp canola oil .   Then add two bags frozen chopped broccoli and saute until broccoli is cooked.   Pour egg mixture in pan and stir in 1 cup grated low-fat cheddar cheese, 1/2 tsp salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes.   Serve with whole grain toast.  I take the leftovers and place in a wrap with fresh spinach, some grated cheese and salsa to have for lunch or dinner for other meals.

Being Nutritionally Vigilant Starts With Planning And An Open Mind

Eating healthy starts with planning and a willingness to do things differently.  These simple nutrition steps of combining protein, fiber and healthy fats along with using my shopping list regularly will simplify your life, make you healthier, have more energy and lose weight.  Your freezer can become your best friend and allow you to eat healthy when you don’t feel like cooking.  Investing in portion sized freezer containers and freezing extra portions will save you from impulse buys on the way home from a long day.  You will find, after a few weeks that keeping these foods in your house will allow you to throw something healthy together in a manner of minutes.  And what’s not to like about a bowl of hot homemade soup and crunchy toast on a cold winter day, right?  That’s the way to launch into a healthy lifestyle!

ten food musts

Ten Must Foods To Stock In Your Kitchen

Being empty nesters, my husband and I “wing-it” more often than not when it comes to mealtime in the summer in Maine.  We tend to eat simpler meals than the rest of the year.  For example, last nights meal consisted of a huge bowl of cut-up tomatoes from our garden combined with some fresh veggies, a scoop of low fat cottage cheese and a piece of whole grain toast.  Nothing fancy, but with freshly picked veggies from our garden, I was totally satisfied.  Making a quick health meal means always keeping key essentials around.  I have ten “must” foods that I always keep stocked in my kitchen so I can put together a quick meal that meets my requirements beyond just being tasty:  they must keep me full and must promote health.

How My List Promotes Fullness And Healthy

The key to fullness lies in getting enough fiber, protein and fat with each meal.  The key to making it healthy is getting both soluble and insoluble fiber, lean protein and heart healthy fat.

Fiber

Fiber increases biodiversity of microbes that boost our immune system and is linked to reducing the risk of many disease processes including irritable bowel disease, cardiovascular disease and even the intestinal infection, C-difficile.   Fiber keeps us full, lowers cholesterol and improves blood sugars.  The Institute of Medicine recommends that women eat at least 25 gms and men 38 gms daily.  The average American consumes only 15 gms a day.  Foods high in both these kinds of fiber include fruits and veggies, beans, nuts, and a variety of whole grains.

Protein

Protein is the building block for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin and blood.  Our body doesn’t store protein like it does fat and carbohydrates, so we need to consume it regularly and in the right amount.  The Institute of Medicine recommends .8 gm per kilogram of weight for the average adult.  That means a 200 lb person should consume about 72 gms daily.  Some research indicates eating large amounts at once, does not benefit the body as well as eating smaller amounts throughout the day.  On average, an ounce of meat, poultry or fish will deliver about 6-7 gms of protein.  There is also protein in beans, whole grains, nuts and dairy.  The key is to move away from the artery-clogging saturated fat found in beef and most dairy and move more towards poultry, fish and low-fat dairy.

Healthy Fat

Dietary fat is needed for energy and cell growth.  It also helps the body absorb certain nutrients and produce certain hormones.  Fats have more than twice the amount of calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins.  Eaten in small amounts with the focus on heart-healthy types, it can help lower cholesterol, improve cardiovascular healthy and keep you fuller longer.  The 2015 Dietary Guidelines recommend that we consume less than 10% of our total daily calories from saturated fat and get most of our grams of fat from olive and canola oil, nuts, avocado and seeds.  Here is the good, bad and ugly on fats.

My Ten “Must” Food

My ten “must” foods list does not make a complete meal, but each item is an essential component of my daily diet and meets my criteria for helping with fullness and promoting health.

  1. Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt – It’s high in protein with each 8 oz delivering 23 gms of protein – that’s equivalent to 3 1/2 oz meat, poultry of fish.  Plus it has probiotics that increase the good gut bacteria and are a good source of calcium for bone health.
  2. Low-fat cottage cheese – This is also high in protein with one half cup delivering 14 gms of fiber and is a good source of calcium.
  3. Cabbage – These crunchy leaves are a good source of fiber and sulforaphane, a compound associated with reducing the risk of cancer.  And red cabbage contains anthocyanin, a compound that can kill cancer cells.
  4. Flax seed – This is considered the most powerful plant food on the planet with 3 tbsp delivering 8 gms of fiber, 6 gms of protein, and loads of antioxidant lignans.  It has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.
  5. Wasa crackers – Two of these whole grain crackers provides only 60 calories, 3 gms of fiber and are very low in sodium.  I use them as a foundation to put cottage cheese, sliced onions and olives on or to sandwich around a scoop of my next essential.
  6. Teddy peanut butter – With ingredients including only roasted peanuts and salt, peanut butter is a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber.  Peanut butter and nuts in general are linked to reduced risk of heart disease and alzheimers.
  7. Skim or 1% milk – This is one of the best sources of calcium while also providing 8 gms of protein.
  8. Barley – This delicious grain is one of the best sources of soluble fiber and a great alternative to rice.  A half cup of cooked barley delivers 8 gms of fiber and 5 gms of protein.  It’s also very high in potassium which lowers blood pressure, and has also been linked to reducing risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.  Barley provides a high percentage of an individual’s daily requirement of manganese and selenium.
  9. Olive oil – This powerful anti-inflammatory reduces the body’s inflammatory markers and is known to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well.  Where you buy your extra virgin olive oil does matter – not all olive oil is what it says on the label.  Consider getting yours from California.
  10. Apple Cider Vinegar – When combined with extra virgin olive oil this makes a wonderful low calorie salad dressing, especially if you use a 2:1 ratio, vinegar to oil.  Apple cider vinegar is alkali and is known to reduce blood sugars.   Lowering post-meal blood sugars is very helpful for those with diabetes as well as those with insulin resistance (many people who carry excess weight around their belly have insulin resistance).  It has also been linked to weight loss, possibly by interfering with the breakdown of fats.  Taken with meals, apple cider vinegar interferes with the digestion of starches, allowing more for the good bacteria in our gut to enjoy.  The unfiltered apple cider vinegar is considered to be best.

I certainly don’t eat a perfect diet.  However, I believe the more I consume the foods on my list on a daily basis, the more I reduce my risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.  And perhaps these items will make up for my occasional splurge on cookies, chips and cheese.  Life is not about being perfect, it’s about being better.  And these ten must foods might help you have better health too.

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthy lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word

Eat Your Cake, But Eat This Too

It’s about damage control.  I like my cake, cookies, chips and chocolate like any other warm-blooded American, but I make sure I take care of my body first.  My kale/berry smoothie for breakfast, tomatoes and cucumbers at lunch, and salad or broccoli for dinner are my health reinforcements to make up for my splurges of tasty, crunchy morsels during the day.  I make sure I fortify my body with enough dietary potassium, a mineral that most Americans under consume.

Dietary Health Concerns

The scientific report from the 2015 dietary guidelines advisory committee concludes:

“Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber are underconsumed and may pose a public health concern. Iron also is a nutrient of public health concern for adolescent and premenopausal females.”

They further conclude:

“Nutrient intake data, together with nutritional biomarker and health outcomes data indicate that sodium and saturated fat are overconsumed and may pose a public health concern.”

We hear a lot on the importance of Vitamin D, calcium and fiber, but why is dietary potassium so important for health?

Dietary Potassium

According to the National Institute on Health our body needs potassium in order to:

  1. Build proteins
  2. Break down and use carbohydrates
  3. Build muscle
  4. Maintain normal body growth
  5. Improve heart health by lowering blood pressure
  6. Improve acid-base balance in the body, with a move towards a more alkali blood pH.

This fabulous article goes into further detail how an alkaline diet, one high in potassium, (particular fruits and veggies), can improve bone health, cardiovascular health, and prevent muscle wasting as we age.

Getting Enough Dietary Potassium

The FDA recommends that adults get at least 3500 mg of potassium based on a 2000 calorie diet.  And now the new food labels will include potassium.Dietary Potassium on Food label

The bottom of every food label will now list the amount of dietary potassium.  But the best sources of potassium are found in foods with no labels, from mother nature herself – fruits and vegetables.  The FDA recommends that we eat at least 4.5 cups of fruits and veggies a day in a variety of colors.

Fortify Your Body

I think life is not about getting things perfect, just better, so I feel better.  When I feel good, I’m happier.  Focusing on fruits and veggies is a simple way for me to think about food.  When I do that right, the rest tends to fall into place.  In the winter and early spring, I keep frozen berries and veggies in the frig to add to smoothies, soups, and even casseroles.  In the summer I add lots of celery, cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions to pasta salads or snack on them raw.  I grow a few things in my garden that I feel are the simplest and give me the most bang for my time: tomatoes and lettuce.  Fall is wonderful for winter squashes, root veggies, and apples.

I may not eat a lot of cake but I sure do stroke my sweet tooth by making fruit crisps.  Often, I just use frozen fruit like sliced mango, but apple is my favorite.  A fruit crisp is the perfect solution to getting a serving of fruit and whole grains, while still satisfying that need for a little somein’, somein’!  You can have your sweets, and still take care of your health too!

Bone Up To Avoid Bone Loss

Are your bones rattling for more milk?  If your calcium intake isn’t sufficient, your bones become your body’s backup source of calcium.  Calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body, is needed for nerve conduction, blood vessel contraction and dilation, muscle movement and even cellular communication.  If calcium intake is not sufficient to perform all these activities then the body pulls the calcium from the bones.  Later in life this leads to osteoporosis, a debilitating condition causing vertebrae to crumble, increased likelihood of fractures with falls, and stooped posture.

Bone Formation

Bones are constantly in a state of renewal.  In adolescence, more bone is created than removed, with peak bone mass attained by the early twenties.   Around 30, that ratio reverses to more bone breakdown than creation.  The more bone mass attained in those crucial first two decades, the better the bones can weather the aging process.  Unfortunately,  43% of the US population, even with the use of supplements, fails to get adequate calcium intake – particularly girls ages 4 to 18, and males aged 9-18 and over 51.

Bones Require Adequate Calcium Intake

Getting adequate calcium intake, either through diet or supplements, is essential for bone strength.  And making sure your children and young adults are getting the minimum requirements is really an investment in the future.  The chart below, along with much of the information here is from the NIH, lists recommendations based on age and sex.  Our bodies only absorb about 30% of the total calcium that is consumed.   There are many factors that affect absorption including:

Calcium Recommendations

  1.  The amount consumed at one time.  The more calcium consumed, the less is absorbed.
  2.   Rate of absorption decreases with age, going from 60% as infants to less than 15% in older adulthood.
  3.   Adequate vitamin D intake enhances calcium absorption.  Vitamin D is obtained from sunlight and dietary intake.
  4. Alcohol intake can reduce calcium absorption and also interfere with the production of Vitamin D into its active form.
  5.  Interaction of dietary calcium with other food components, particularly oxalic and phytic acid.  High levels of oxalic acid are found in spinach, collard greens, beans, sweet potatoes and even rhubarb.  High levels of phytic acid are found in whole grains, beans, seeds, nuts and soy isolates.  So consuming milk with any of these foods will decrease the absorption of calcium from the milk.

Factors Affecting Absorbed Calcium

Once calcium is absorbed, there are other factors that can leach calcium out of our bodies through urine, feces and sweat.

  1. High sodium intake increases calcium excretion.
  2. Consuming a diet high in protein and grains increases the production of metabolic acids which then increase calcium excretion.  Eating more fruits and vegetables shifts the body’s acid base balance to a more alkali environment that decreases calcium excretion.

Good Sources of Dietary Calcium

Certain foods are very high in calcium and are easy and affordable to consume.  The chart below lists the best sources of calcium:Foods High In Calcium

Labels do not list the actual amount of calcium in a product, only a percentage based on a 2000 calorie diet.  Making sure people under 30 consume at least 3 servings from the top foods on this list will give huge payback in years to come.  As a child I remember eating sardines crumbled up with saltine crackers.  Sardines are also really high in omega 3’s and an excellent source of protein, I just wish I liked them now.  My primary sources of dietary calcium are yogurt, low-fat milk and occasionally cheese.  I do take a calcium carbonate supplement that provides 333 mg per tablet.

Bone Up On Your Calcium Intake

Pay attention to how much calcium you are consuming.  Getting too much calcium can cause constipation and has also been associated in some studies with prostate cancer and heart disease.  Aim for three servings of the top three listed foods and you know you are getting enough.  Having worked as a nurse in long term care and seeing the frequency of spinal compression fractures and hip fractures, especially in women, motivates me to be mindful of my calcium intake.  Maintain your bone bank by making adequate daily calcium deposits!

Barbara writes a biweekly blog to help inform and empower people to live healthier lives.  Please “share” her articles and “like” her facebook page to help spread the word