Want to dramatically lower your risk of chronic diseases and improve your mental well-being? Go dig into some fruits and veggies! The power of produce for lowering the risk of our most common chronic diseases is firmly established, and it looks like improving happiness andmental health is another worthy reason to keep this sensational food piled high on your plate. In a new report that included 14, 000 British subjects age 16 or over, scientists sought to investigate the relationship between self-reported mental well-being relative to a variety of health behaviors. Aside from smoking status, consuming fruits and vegetables was the only health-related behavior consistently linked to mental well-being. Overall, the higher an individuals intake of fruits and vegetables, the greater their chances of high mental well-being and the lower their chances of low mental well-being. Of the study subjects that reported the highest mental well-being, 64.9% ate three or more servings of fruits and veggies daily relative to only 6.8% who ate less than one daily serving. The implications of these study findings are paramount in that low mental well-being is strongly linked to mental illness, while high mental well-being is strongly linked to happiness, productivity, and superior overall quality of life. (BMJ Open, 2014;4(9))
- Canned pumpkin provides the highest concentration of carotenoids of all foods. Carotenoids are special plant-based antioxidants that keep our hearts, eyes, and skin healthy while lowering our cancer risk.
- Canned pumpkin is fantastic for weight control because it is high in fiber and low in calories.
- Given its remarkable nutritional firepower, it is a food that is dirt cheap yet quick and convenient to use. Stir it into your morning oatmeal or yogurt and add it to your “healthy” baked goods like corn bread or homemade granola. I always have a can or two in my cupboard!
All types of apples are standout fruits for weight control, but green apples (Granny Smith varieties) may turn out to be the cream of the crop. Scientists have known that apples in general are home to an abundance of non-digestible plant fibers that “feed” the good bacteria in our guts. This is notable because having an abundance of “good” bacteria in our GI tracts is fundamental to metabolic health and weight control. Meaning, there is now compelling evidence that an unhealthy microbiome (a GI tract dominated by ”bad” bacteria) can translate to weight gain and ultimately obesity. In contrast, having an abundance of “good” bacteria in the gut is protective against metabolic dysfunction and obesity.
Knowing that apples are uniquely high in fibers favored by beneficial bacteria, scientist conducted a series of lab experiments in obese mice testing which varieties of apples were most effective in transforming their gut bacteria from the “bad” obesity-associated types to the “good” lean types. And it turns out that the tart and tangy Granny Smith apples came out on top. For further inducement to go green with your apples, Granny Smith varieties also shine for their stellar antioxidant and anti-inflammatory power. Here are the other key strategies for boosting the good bacteria in your gut. (Food Chemistry, 2014; 161:208)
Thankfully, an enormous body of solid science supports that there are a variety of eating styles from vegan to Mediterranean to omnivorous that can lead to optimal health. That is, if the following two ESSENTIAL features are regularly adhered to:
- Eating unprocessed or minimally processed real foods that are as close as possible to their natural state.
- Eating predominately plant-based foods.
When it comes to health promotion and disease prevention, if any “expert” touts one and only one type of diet as “the best,” they are ideologues that are not espousing what the scientific facts convey—so beware!
- Dry Roasted Edamame (“soy nuts”)
- Raw or Roasted Almonds (other nuts awesome too, but almonds arguably tops)
- Dried Chic Peas (available now at most grocers in all sorts of yummy flavors)
- Any Raw Veggie Dipped in Hummus
All four of these exceptionally nutritious selections provide that unbeatable, appetite-quieting 1:2 punch of fiber and protein. These are my personal go-to mid-afternoon snacks.
Think that putting on a few pounds is harmless – think again. In a sobering new study presented at a recent scientific meeting, researchers demonstrated that gaining as little as five pounds is enough to drive up blood pressure, particularly if the weight is gained in the belly. For this eight-week study, scientists had 16 healthy, non-obese study subjects purposely eat an extra 400 to 1,000 calories a day with the goal to increase their starting weight by 5 percent. The study subjects had their blood pressure continuously monitored for a 24-hour period just prior to the study and at the end of its completion. Results revealed that those who gained weight (even as little as five pounds) increased their systolic blood pressure an average of 4 points, with the greatest blood pressure increases seen in those who gained their weight in the abdominal area. (American Heart Associations High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions 2014)
This study underscores the menace that seems to inevitably arise when even a little fat makes its way into the belly. Knowing that belly fats cells are relentless in their production of damaging, proinflammatory molecules, these results are not surprising. On the flipside there is some very positive news – past studies have shown that losing even a little belly fat can have profound benefits for your blood pressure and your overall health. Click here to get my best advice for busting belly fat.
Consuming optimal amounts of omega 3 fats relative to omega 6 fats is vitally important for brain health. And because brain health is EVERYTHING – I urge you to take advantage of the advice that follows to keep these two fats in a healthy balance. Tragically, the average American consumes about 20 times more omega 6 fats than omega 3 fats. The ideal ratio is felt to be closer to 2:1 (twice as much omega 6 relative to omega 3)
Consume More Omega 3 Fats
- Strive to eat oily fish at least three times a week. (Salmon, especially wild salmon is best.) There is no more effective way to reach optimal intakes of omega 3 fats than eating oily fish!
- Enjoy the other omega -3 rich foods regularly – dark leafy greens, walnuts, canola oil, flax, chia, and hemp seeds, and omega-3 eggs.
- Consider high quality fish oil supplements as a safety net. I prefer the Nordic Naturals brand. (But know that eating the oily fish is even better.)
Consume Less Omega 6 Fats
- Restrict your intake of processed foods that contain soybean oil and corn oil. Both are filled with omega 6 fats. Beware – they are everywhere!
- Do not buy corn oil or soybean oil. Use olive oil or canola oil instead.
- Avoid salad dressings and mayonnaise that are made with corn oil and soybean oil. Make your own salad dressings with olive oil and only buy canola oil-based mayonnaise.
- Minimize your intake of red meats and look for grass fed beef and pork. Conventionally raised cows and pigs are fed unnatural diets of corn and soy.