Tag: omega-3s

Eat for the Sake of Your Eyes

by Mia Syn, M.S., R.D.

Many of us know that adding carrots into the diet, is good for our eyes. What we may not realize is that there is a plethora of food and nutrients that can help keep vision sharp and slow the natural decline that occurs with age. Some of these nutrients include antioxidants lutein, zeaxanthin and vitamin E, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Knowing how these nutrients work within the eye and where to seek to them, is one way to help keep eyes looking and feeling healthy.

Nutrition and Your Eyes

The National Eye Institute encourages a healthy diet as being a key factor to eye health. (1) Age-related visual decline is inevitable for most individuals and the risk of developing eye diseases increases with age. (1)

There are several types of eye disorders. Two common types include cataracts, characterized by clouded vision, and diabetic retinopathy, a visual impairment brought on by high blood sugar damaging blood vessels in the retina. Additional conditions include dry eye disease marked by insufficient tear fluid and glaucoma characterized by degeneration of the optic nerve leading to poor vision or blindness. The leading cause of blindness in the developed world is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is caused by degradation of the central part of the retina called the macula, which controls visual acuity. (2) While genetics and age play a role in the development and progression of these diseases, diet and lifestyle also contribute, thus empowering us to make good choices.

Zeaxanthin and Lutein

Zeaxanthin and lutein – they aren’t only tongue twisters, but two carotenoid antioxidants thought to play a significant role in supporting eye health since they are found concentrated in the macula.

Since the lens and retina suffer oxidative damage, these antioxidants are considered protective by sequestering free radicals, which in turn help to protect and repair cells. Too many free radicals can contribute to eye diseases including AMD. (3) The National Eye Institute recommends a diet high in antioxidant-containing foods for those susceptible to age-related disease. (1)

The good news is that these two powerful antioxidants are usually found together in foods. Vegetables and eggs are considered the best sources. (4) Vegetable sources include dark-colored leafy greens, carrots, corn and orange peppers. (5) Carotenoids are best absorbed when eaten with a healthy fat source like olive oil or avocado. (5)

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is another power antioxidant and fat-soluble vitamin thought to play a role in supporting eye health. Several observational studies have suggested a relationship between high vitamin E levels and lens clarity as well as reduced risk of cataract formation. (5) Cataracts are characterized by accumulation of proteins damaged by free radicals. (5) Since vitamin E is an antioxidant, it helps reduce free radicals and mitigate their damage. Reliable sources of vitamin E include nuts and oils as well as carrots, squash and peaches. Non-fat containing sources of vitamin E should be consumed with healthy fat for optimal absorption.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for proper retinal function. (6) Omega-3 fats exist in three forms: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The DHA and EPA forms found in cold-water fish like salmon, tuna and halibut are the most important for vision. (7) ALA is largely found in plant foods like walnuts and flax, but requires conversion to DHA in the body in order to be active. Since this conversion is largely inefficient in individuals, it is best focus on consuming sources of EPA and DHA. If you seek out supplements, it is important to preserve the quality of omega-3 fats by storing them in the refrigerator to prevent oxidation.

Body Weight

Having a high body mass index (BMI) can put you at greater risk of developing diabetes, which can have a negative impact on eye health. Elevated blood sugars are directly linked to blindness and neuropathy. (1) Thankfully diets rich in foods containing these nutrients will naturally promote a healthy body weight.

References

1. nei.nih.gov [Internet]. Bethesda: National Eye Institute; c2017 [cited 2017 May] Available from: nei.nih.gov.

2.cdc.gov [Internet]. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; c2017 [cited 2017 May] Available from: cdc.gov.

3.Fletcher AE:Free radicals, antioxidants and eye diseases: evidence from epidemiological studies on cataract and age-related macular degeneration. Ophthalmic Res. 2010;44(3):191-8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20829643

4.Abdel-Aal, EM., Akhtar H., Zaheer K., et. al: Dietary Sources of Lutein and Zeanthin Carotenoids and Their Role in Eye Health. Nutrients. 2013;5(4):11691-1185. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3705341/

5. Rizvi S., Raza ST., Ahmed F., et. al: The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J. 2014;14(2):e157-e165. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997530/

6.Querques G. Forte R. Souied EH.: Retina and Omega-3. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism 2011;(2011):748361. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3206354/

7. Swanson D, Block R. Mousa, SA: Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life. Advances in Nutrition. 2012;3:1-7. http://advances.nutrition.org/content/3/1/1.full

8. who.int [Internet]. Geneva: World Health Organization; c2017 [cited 2017 May] Available from: who.int.

Your Brain Health Nutrition Guide: What You Should Know

by Tori Schmitt, MS, RDN, LD

Your brain: it helps command everything you do. It powers digestion, circulation, breathing and thinking. It controls your body movements and emotions. Parts of your brain and nervous system help release chemical messengers that give you signals that it is time to eat, that you are thirsty, that you are full or that your body should start digesting the food it has just eaten.

It is understood that you should provide your brain with the nutrients it needs to function optimally. Though carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for the brain, we know that the brain needs several other nutrients to support its health. So, what are those nutrients and foods that you should have, and others you want to steer clear from? This Brain Health Nutrition Guide gives you six helpful tips for keeping your brain in gear.

  1. Go Nuts for Healthy Food
    Eat your nuts and olives – and your vegetables, too! Why? An eating pattern that focuses on antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods may provide protection from cognitive decline. Recent research demonstrates that nuts and olive oil, when paired with a Mediterranean-style diet (rich in green leafy vegetables, fish, whole grains, legumes, and vegetables) may help improve cognitive function.1 Incorporate nuts like walnuts, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, peanuts, almonds, and their nut butters into your eating plan more often.
  1. Berries for Better Brain Health
    Berries, specifically strawberries and blueberries, may support brain health while reducing the speed of cognitive decline in older adults.2-3 Berries contain flavonoids, specifically anthocyanidins, which appear to confer the brain-health benefits – so much benefit that women who eat more berries appear to delay cognitive aging by up to 2.5 years! Pop your berries in a smoothie, add them overtop a salad, or serve them fresh with a handful of nuts. And, consider choosing a balanced variety of other flavonoid-rich foods, too, like apples, oranges, onions, tea and red wine (in moderation, of course).3
  1. Catch of the Day: Omega-3s
    About 60 percent of the brain is made up of essential omega-3 fatty acids like DHA, which supports brain health and reaction time in young adults.4-5 Since it’s so important, it makes sense to consume enough DHA through what you eat. Find brain-healthy DHA in lower-mercury fish like anchovies, sardines, salmon, and herring, as well as in algal-based DHA supplements and fortified foods.
  1. Get Privy with Probiotics
    Can healthy gut bacteria (i.e. probiotics) also support the health of your brain? Recent research seems to point to “yes,” and the reason lies within the gut-brain axis. You see, your digestive tract is full of neurons (nerve cells) that send signals to and from your brain, so maintaining a healthy digestive system is important for preserving healthy nervous system functions. Though more research is needed, in animal studies, those supplemented with probiotics tended to show less anxious behavior, a decrease in depressive behaviors, and benefits to memory performance.6 What can you do? Choose cultured and fermented foods that offer probiotics, like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and yogurt, and consider a quality probiotic supplement, if necessary.
  1. Consider What Else You May Be Eating
    Do you tote around plastic water bottles, microwave food in plastic containers or use canned foods? Be careful, as some of these items may contain bisphenol A (or BPA), which may have the potential to disrupt normal brain development in the prenatal period and lead to long-lasting learning impairments.7 To stay away from BPA, choose glass, porcelain or stainless steel containers, straws and water bottles, reduce the amount of food you eat that is packaged in BPA-lined cans, and keep plastics out of the microwave, dishwasher, freezer and sun.
  1. Cut Back on Added Sugar and Fructose
    From your baked goods to fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, and from your soft drinks to ketchup, added sugar and fructose find its way into not only your treat foods, but your everyday foods, too. Why is this a concern? Along with its potential role in contributing to obesity and insulin resistance, fructose – especially when eaten alongside a diet that is insufficient in omega-3s – may impair cognitive function.8 More is yet to be learned about this association, so for now, be aware of how much added sugar you eat in a day, and strive to get less than 5 percent of your total energy from sugar per day (about 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons), as recommended by the World Health Organization for better overall health.

Need some brain boosting meal ideas? How about plain yogurt with berries and walnuts for breakfast, an avocado with sauerkraut for lunch, or a green salad with salmon, strawberries and pistachios for dinner? Begin to combine these foods with an eating pattern full of vegetables, whole fruits, whole grains and fatty fish as you strive for improved health.

References

  1. Valls-Pedret C, Sala-Vila A, Serra-Mir M, Corella D, de la Torre R, Martínez-González MÁ, Martínez-Lapiscina EH, Fitó M, Pérez-Heras A, Salas-Salvadó J, Estruch R, Ros E. Mediterranean Diet and Age-Related Cognitive DeclineA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(7):1094-1103. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2015.1668
  1. Krikorian, R., Shidler, M.D., Nash, T.A., et al. Blueberry Supplementation Improves Memory in Older Adults. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry. 2010;58(7):3996-4000. doi:10.1021/jf9029332.
  1. Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MMB, Grodstein F. Dietary intake of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Annals of neurology. 2012;72(1):135-143. doi:10.1002/ana.23594.
  1. Sinn N, Milte C, Howe PRC. Oiling the Brain: A Review of Randomized Controlled Trials of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Psychopathology across the Lifespan. Nutrients. 2010;2(2):128-170. doi:10.3390/nu2020128.
  1. Stonehouse, W, Conolon, CA, Podd, J, Hill JR, Minihane, AM, Haskell, C, Kennedy, D. DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 May; 97(5): 1134-43. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.053371.
  1. Wang H, Lee I-S, Braun C, Enck P. Effect of Probiotics on Central Nervous System Functions in Animals and Humans: A Systematic Review. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2016;22(4):589-605. doi:10.5056/jnm16018.
  1. Negri-Cesi P. Bisphenol A Interaction With Brain Development and Functions. Dose-Response. 2015;13(2):1559325815590394. doi:10.1177/1559325815590394.
  1. Lakhan SE, Kirchgessner A. The emerging role of dietary fructose in obesity and cognitive decline. Nutrition Journal. 2013;12:114. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-12-114.

Common Misconceptions about Supplements

In our last article, we talked about the difficulties of meeting recommended guidelines for essential nutrients. iStock_000011975542_sm“Even if you follow a healthy diet, a busy lifestyle can make it difficult to obtain the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals from food alone,” says Elizabeth Somer, a leading registered dietitian and author of several books, including “The Essential Guide to Vitamins and Minerals.”

So, how else can we get the nutrition we need? One easy way to maintain good nutrition is to enhance your diet with supplements. The problem for many is that the frequency of new studies combined with the staggering number of supplements available makes it increasingly confusing to know what is right.

To help you put nutrition news in context, Somer is debunking a few of the common misconceptions about dietary supplements:

Continue reading “Common Misconceptions about Supplements”

On-The-Go Healthy Snacks

Healthy eating does not happen without a little planning and dedication. Avoid rushing around in the morning or having to grab take out for lunch and take a few minutes before bed each evening to plan your meals and snacks for the following day. You can rest easy knowing you’ll be all set to make good eating choices right away in the morning.

Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer says eating five or more small meals and snacks encourages the body to “burn” food for immediate energy. She also says a healthful snack can curb hunger and prevent overeating later in the day. Since snacks are so important, they should also be full of nutrition and quick for when time is of the essence.

Here are a few healthy snack ideas:

  • Baby carrots and low-fat ranch dip
  • Craisins and nuts
  • Low-fat, custard-style yogurt topped with a dollop of light whipped cream
  • Hummus and whole wheat pita bread
  • OatMega bars, which come in blueberry pomegranate, mocha, vanilla almond, dark chocolate mint or dark chocolate peanut butter (bonus: includes omega-3 fatty acids and is gluten-free)
  • Frozen blueberries
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • An apple with Jif Peanut Butter with Omega-3 DHA & EPA
  • Dried plums stuffed with almonds
  • Whole wheat fig bars
  • Salsa and baked tortilla chips

What do you eat for a healthy, on-the-go snack?

Image

Support your immunity through the winter months

The winter season also means germ season, which can lead to pesky colds that leave you feeling miserable. Help support your immunity through these five nutrients:

Probiotics

Probiotics are found naturally in yogurt, which will give your kids the support they need to help their natural defenses against the challenges of the cold season and occasional digestive upset. 

Multivitamins

Vitamins A & C and zinc can help the immune system fight off infections.

Omega-3s

Part of the way to combat recurrent respiratory infections is with these essential fatty acids. 

Garlic

This member of the onion family stimulates the production of infection-fighting white cells and reduces the build-up of free radicals in the bloodstream.

Bioflavonoids

These phytonutrients protect body cells from environmental pollutants. Strive for at least six servings of a variety of fruits and vegetables to ensure you get the bioflavonoids your body needs.