Mind Over Matter Works for Healthier Eating

brain with dumbbellAccording to an uplifting new study that puts a healthy new spin on “mind over matter”, simply ‘thinking’ of yourself as a healthy eater can make it a reality. For this study scientists were interested in testing the concept of ‘self as doer’, which links personal identity with behaviors. Meaning, the more a person mentally identifies himself or herself in a particular role, the easier it is to stick to the behaviors typical of that role. To investigate if ‘self as doer’ could be put to use with healthy eating, they placed a group of 124 women into one of three study groups for a six-week period. One group was provided nutrition education; a second group was treated as a control and received no guidance; and a third was instructed to create specific personal identity statements based on healthy eating goals. For example, if study subjects in group three wanted to consume more fruits and veggies, they were instructed to purposely and regularly think of themselves as good fruit and veggie eaters. The results – those in group three were the clear winners maintaining success with healthier eating throughout the six weeks in contrast to those in both other groups who actually made less healthy choices as the study progressed. Even more promising, those in group three provided by far the most positive feedback noting that even in the most trying dietary situations, simply thinking of themselves as “doers’ empowered them to make healthier choices. Take home message – if you want to eat healthier, regularly identify with and see yourself in your mind’s eye as a healthy eater. Self and Identity, 2015; 14 (6): 638 DOI: 10.1080/15298868.2015.1043335

The Best Produce for Weight Control

waist measure 2If you are looking for a science-based tactic for choosing the very best fruits and veggies for weight control, keep reading. In an exciting new study from researchers at Harvard, scientists found that those consuming the highest levels of a unique category of plant compounds called flavonoids, experienced superior weight control vs. those consuming lesser amounts. For this evaluation, the scientists followed the diets and health status of over 124,000 men and women over a 24-year period. After adjusting for other influencing factors, study subjects who consumed foods rich in flavonoids gained up to ¼ of a pound less every 4 years for each standard deviation of greater flavonoid intake. Translation – even a very small dose of flavonoids seemed to positively impact weight management! For perspective, a single serving of blueberries was equivalent to 12 standard deviation units. For further motivation to consume an abundance of flavonoid-rich produce, keep in mind that we already have solid evidence for their propensity to guard heart and brain health. Click here to see the fruits and veggies that provide the most. (BMJ, January 28th, 2016)

Superstar Food – Broccoli

broccoli2Broccoli is bonafide healthy food megastar. This non-starchy, cold weather veggie is chock full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber, yet ridiculously low in calories. Even more remarkable, broccoli is home to over 150 health-promoting phytochemicals, including sulforaphane, now world famous for its anti-cancer prowess. Because I know that “volume” is a powerful appetite suppressant, broccoli is my go-to veggie for bulking up my meals and dishes without adding hardly any calories. Strive to include 2 or more servings weekly, and note broccoli is healthiest raw or lightly steamed.

Sugary Beverages Fuel Belly Fat

sodaThe perils of drinking sugary beverages strike again. In a new evaluation from the prestigious Framingham Heart Study, researchers reported that drinking sugary beverages was tied to larger accumulations of belly fat. This is of note because belly fat, known as visceral fat, is the deadliest type of body fat because it can dramatically boost the risks of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. For this study the scientists monitored the diets and quantity of abdominal fat (measured by CT scan) over a six-year study period in 1,003 adults. Relative to those who never or rarely drank sugary beverages, those consuming at least one sugary drink a day experienced about a 25 percent increase in the toxic fat deep in their bellies. Even those consuming very modest amounts of sugary beverages (once a week to less than one a day) experienced a significant increase in belly fat.

Sadly, 40 percent of Americans still consume sugary beverages, and sugary beverages comprise the single greatest source (47 percent) of sugars in our diets. If you are in that 40 percent, let 2016 be the year you stop drinking them once and for all and encourage those you love to do the same. (Circulation, 2016; CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018704 DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.018704)

What You Eat Affects Your Sleep

sleep 2What you eat affects every aspect of your being, even your sleep! In an intriguing new clinical trial researchers found that diet quality had a significant impact on various aspects of sleep quality. For this tightly controlled study, researchers had 26 healthy adults (half male and half female) spend five straight nights in a sleep lab where their sleep could be accurately monitored and recorded. For the first four days the study subjects were fed a controlled, “healthy” diet, while on the 5th day they were allowed to self-select their own food. Relative to the control diet, the diet the study subjects self-selected on the fifth day was higher in saturated fat and sugar and lower in fiber, thus less healthy. When the researchers compared the sleep recordings of the subjects on the days they ate the healthy controlled diet vs. the day they ate on their own, there were notable differences. Study subjects were able to fall asleep faster and spent more time in deep sleep after the higher fiber and lower saturated fat healthy diet. On the fifth day when they ate as desired, the researchers also noted a link between greater sugar intake and more arousals from sleep. The lead researcher commented that it was indeed surprising to see how even a single day of eating less healthy foods could affect sleep. (J Clin Sleep Med 2016;12(1):19-24)

If You Want To Stay Young…

Handful_of_Nuts

… be sure these foods make their way into your grocery cart often!

  • A variety of fruit – especially berries, apples, red grapes, cherries, oranges, and plums
  • A variety of vegetables – especially dark leafy greens, red onions, tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and red/orange/yellow bell peppers
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Herbs and spices – especially ginger, turmeric, curry, garlic, and rosemary
  • Green or white tea – loose leaf or bagged
  • Oily fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and trout
  • Nuts – especially walnuts
  • Beans – any variety in any form
  • Whole grains – Intact whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, barley, quinoa, etc. and high fiber (≥5 grams/serving) cereals

 

Exercise Can Turn Off Obesity Genes

runnersRejoice! Obesity genes do not have the final word-you do! In a highly encouraging new report, scientists concluded that regular physical activity can dramatically diminish the activity of the FTO gene, the most common and powerful obesity gene. For this study, researchers carefully monitored the activity levels of over 17,000 multiethnic adults from 17 different countries for three years. Their results revealed that maintaining a physically active lifestyle could blunt the activity of the FTO gene, as well as other obesity genes up to 75 percent.
This study is a shining example of what I believe is one of the most liberating and motivating scientific revelations of the 21st century, which is that genes are not destiny. This is because healthy behaviors like eating right and exercise can turn bad genes off and good genes on! Never doubt the power you hold to decidedly impact your own health. (Scientific Reports January, 2016)

Just Say Whoa! to Cancer

dangerIf you are under the illusion that cancer is simply bad luck or all in your genes, I have some fantastic news for you. According to a new report published in the prestigious journal, Nature, up to 70-90 percent of cancer cases are related to lifestyle and environmental factors. This new analysis was specifically undertaken to determine the extent to which external factors influence cancer risk. For the analysis the researchers methodically applied four distinct analytic approaches to the same set of data. Collectively, the results clearly indicated that our lifestyle choices along with environmental exposures are by far the greatest contributors to our cancer risk and not our genes. (Nature, 2015: DOI: 10.1038/nature16166)
I hope that this encouraging report, as well as the fact that 80 percent of all chronic disease is preventable through diet and lifestyle, inspires you to take charge of your health in 2016. Because the healthier you are, the more joy and happiness you can have in your life!

White Potatoes Without the Guilt

Plate Fork and KnifeNormally, white potatoes are on my list of forbidden foods because of their high glycemic response (which means they send your glucose levels up high and fast because of their rapid and easy digestibility). If you have a craving for them, here are 4 simple strategies that you can use to turn this high glycemic starch into a much lower glycemic option.

  1. Choose baby “new” potatoes. The starch structure of new potatoes is different from larger, mature potatoes and has a lower glycemic response.
  2. Eat the skin too. The fiber in potato skin lowers the potato’s glycemic response by slowing the digestion and absorption of the potato starch. (The skin is also where most of the potato’s antioxidants and nutrients are!)
  3. Refrigerate the potatoes for 24 hours or longer before eating them. After cooling, the potato’s starch structure changes resulting in slower digestion and thus a lower glycemic response. You can eat them cold (think potato salad) or reheat them.
  4. Combine the potatoes with some healthy fat (olive oil) and/or lemon juice or vinegar. Fats and acids (like lemon and vinegar) slow down the digestion of starch.

A German potato salad made with new potatoes, including the skin, takes advantage of all 4 of these tips and is a great way to enjoy white potatoes without wrecking your waistline and metabolic health. Here is a delicious recipe for my favorite German potato salad.

 

 

A Simple Way to Stick to Your Resolutions

Want a super-simple way to decidedly boost your chances of succeeding with your New Year’s resolutions?Ask don’t tell! According to a hot-off-the-press study encompassing the most comprehensive look at what is known as the “question-behavior effect,” simply rephrasing your resolutions in the form of a personal question versus a declarative statement can be game-changing. For example, instead of stating, I will stop eating fast food, challenge yourself with the question, Will I stop eating fast food? And answer, YES. According to the researchers, the impact of simply definitively answering questions we pose to ourselves about future behaviors has an effect lasting greater than six months and is likely due to an emotional response triggered when the opportunity for the behavior arises. This is not surprising given that the part of the brain responsible for behavior change, known of the limbic area, has no capacity for language and can only respond to emotions and feelings. So make a point right now to write down your resolutions in the form of a question, and answer them with conviction! (Journal of Consumer Psychology, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jcps.2015.12.004)