Whole Grains Every Day: Key to Your Health and Waistline

Steven Reinberg wrote . . . . . . . . .

Whole grains can help older adults maintain a thinner waist, lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar, new research suggests.

Just three servings a day may do the trick, the authors said.

One serving is a slice of whole-grain bread, a half-cup of rolled oat cereal, or a half-cup of brown rice.

Researchers noted that their study — partially funded by the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition — doesn’t prove that whole grains are protective, only that there appears to be a link between them and waist size, blood pressure and blood sugar.

“These are all risk factors that can contribute to the development of heart disease if not maintained at healthy levels,” said study co-author Nicola McKeown of the Nutritional Epidemiology Team at Tufts University’s Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston.

The researchers used data from a health study of residents in Framingham, Mass., which started in 1948. They looked at health outcomes linked to whole and refined grains in the diets of more than 3,100 participants. Data was collected every four years over a median follow-up of 18 years. (Median means half were followed longer, half for less time.)

The new study compared changes in five heart disease risk factors — blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and waist size — with reported intake of whole grains. Researchers examined effects of eating less than a half-serving to three or more a day.

The upshot: People who ate few whole gains gained an inch around the waist every four years — compared to a half-inch among those who ate the most whole grains.

Participants who ate fewer whole grains also saw bigger increases in blood pressure and blood sugar than those who ate the most whole grains.

While whole grain intake was also associated with improvements in blood levels of HDL, or good, cholesterol, as well as triglycerides, the findings were not significant, researchers added.

For waist size, blood pressure and blood sugar, the greatest benefit came from having three to four servings of whole grains a day.

Most whole grains came from whole wheat breads and ready-to-eat cereals. Refined grains were mostly pasta and white bread.

McKeown said whole grains probably help prevent adverse changes in risk factors studied in several ways, but the mechanisms aren’t yet known.

“For instance, in terms of helping prevent gain in body fat, the benefits may be related to the fiber in whole grains, which can help to prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes, help us to feel full so that we might eat a little less, or even feed our healthy gut microbes,” she said.

Other nutrients found in whole grains, such as magnesium, may help with maintaining healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

“And then we have the many phytochemicals found in whole grains that may act alone or in synergy with other nutrients to help maintain our health as we age,” McKeown said. “This is still a very active area of research.”

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, was not part of the study but reviewed the findings. She said whole grains have many benefits.

“Fiber-rich foods like whole grains provide a plethora of healthy compounds like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants,” Heller said. “Research has found that whole grains help reduce body weight and low-grade inflammation, manage blood sugar, reduce the risk of certain cancers and keep the gastrointestinal tract running smoothly.”

But, Heller said, the typical Western diet consists primarily of refined grains, such as white bread, cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries. These refined grains have been found to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers and even a decline in memory and thinking skills, she added.

The good news: Adding more whole grains to the diet is easier than you might think.

“Consumers may be surprised to realize that foods like tortilla chips, shredded wheat, oatmeal, whole wheat tortillas and whole-grain crackers all count as whole grains,” Heller said.

She said shoppers can look for the Whole Grain Council’s “Whole Grain” stamp on product labels. It identifies how many grams of whole grains are in a product.

The findings were published online in the Journal of Nutrition.

Source: HealthDay

Average Soda Fountain Serving in the U.S. Exceeds Daily Recommended Added Sugars

You’ll get more than a day’s worth of added sugars when you pour a soda fountain drink at most U.S. restaurant chains, a new report finds.

Even small-sized drinks exceed recommended guidelines, said researchers at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

For the study, CSPI researchers examined levels of added sugar in full-calorie soda fountain drinks at the top 20 restaurant chains by revenue.

The investigators found that small drinks averaged 65 grams of added sugar — more than the recommended daily limit of 50 grams (12 teaspoons) of added sugar, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Medium or regular drinks averaged 75 grams — that’s 1½ times the recommended limit. Large drinks, averaging 109 grams, had more than two days’ worth of added sugar.

The report suggests that state and local governments in the United States should require menus to include warning icons on items with high levels of added sugar.

“People are returning to restaurants and dining out more,” said Sarah Sorscher, deputy director of regulatory affairs for the CSPI.

“Sugar warnings would allow all of us to make more informed decisions about our own health by providing information on menus about the added sugars that are often hidden in restaurant foods and beverages,” she said in a center news release.

The researchers also found that even drinks sold as part of meal combinations usually had more than the recommended daily limit of added sugar. And half of kids’ drinks had more than 40 grams of added sugar.

Making it harder for consumers to manage their sugar intake, sugar content in the same size soda could vary threefold from restaurant chain to chain, according to the report.

Citing a New York City idea as a model, the researchers said a proposal there would require icons on menu items that exceed the 50-gram recommended daily limit for added sugar.

A new survey accompanying the report showed that three-quarters of New York State residents support having these warnings on menus.

The findings were released online by the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Source: HealthDay

How to Eat Right and Save Money at the Same Time

Michael Merschel wrote . . . . . . . . .

You want to eat healthy. You need to save cash. Can you have it both ways?

Yes, experts say.

“People think that healthy eating is an elite thing, that it’s something you can only do if you have lots of money, and lots of spare time, and all kinds of fancy equipment,” said Christine Hradek, a nutrition specialist at Iowa State University Extension and Outreach in Ames. “And really, that isn’t true.”

Here’s how to make it happen.

Start in a happy place.

The first step is to think about what kinds of foods you like, said Cheryl Anderson, dean of the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science at the University of California San Diego. Then, envision the healthiest version of them.

Are you a french-fry fiend? Ponder a baked potato seasoned with herbs as an affordable, not-soaked-in-fat option. Is boxed macaroni and cheese your go-to quick meal? You can get a whole bag of pasta for much less per serving. Sprinkle olive oil, fresh herbs and spices and maybe just a sprinkling of cheese, and you’ve just stretched your dollar and made something that’s better for you.

Learn to cook.

“If you are always buying food that is at least partially prepared for you, chances are you’re going to spend a lot more money on food than you need to,” Hradek said.

You don’t need to make something out of a gourmet magazine, she said. “But for overall habits, we tend to say investing a little bit of time can save you a lot of money.”

Plan on it.

“You should not have to start fresh cooking from scratch every day,” Hradek said. Planning before you shop can save time in the kitchen and money at the store.

If the idea of planning out a whole week is too much, start by planning just workdays, or just one meal a day. Take inventory of what you have on hand to make sure perishable items won’t go to waste. Then fill in your list with things to purchase. It can help keep you from being tempted by things you don’t need.

Planning also can ensure you hit all the healthy food groups you need each day. Several resources can be found online. For example, Iowa State’s Spend Smart Eat Smart webpage has a printable menu planner with a checklist.

Leverage your leftovers.

Hradek calls them “planned-overs.” Find a meal you can make, double the size, freeze half. You’ve just knocked out two meals in the time it takes to make one.

Planned leftovers let you take advantage of sale items. And they take away an excuse to grab something unhealthy in a rush.

Anderson, who travels a lot for work, uses this strategy. “When I make a meal on a Saturday afternoon, it looks like it’s Thanksgiving in my house, because I’ve not just thought about me eating today – I’m thinking about that day when I get off of the airplane, and it’s 9:30, and I don’t want to drive through some fast-food restaurant.”

Planning lets her go home and pull a nourishing, home-cooked meal out of the freezer.

Canned can be OK.

Frozen, too. At least when it comes to fruits and vegetables.

If canned beans make your time in the kitchen easier, have at it. “Just be mindful of what’s in the can by looking at the labels,” Anderson said.

Be store-savvy.

A lot of things that look like a sale are actually advertisements, Hradek said. Always compare the price with the items above and below on the store shelf.

Coupons also call for caution. If it’s for a product you use regularly – fine, she said. “If the coupon is instead acting as an advertisement and is getting me to buy something I wouldn’t have bought otherwise, I would probably avoid it.” Especially if it would cause you to buy a bunch of something perishable.

This is another area where planning helps, Hradek said, by preventing you from impulsively stocking up on things you won’t use. “Don’t improvise with perishable items outside of your plan, because chances are you’ll lose them.”

Know where to get help.

If you’re struggling to put food on the table, you’ve got plenty of company. According to Census Bureau numbers gathered in May, 19 million U.S. adults reported their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days.

Although many people look to local food pantries, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is the best place to start, Hradek said. State-by-state instructions can be found at the Department of Agriculture’s website.

SNAP even allows shopping at farmers markets, Anderson said. “So that’s a new and healthy thing.”

Remember, she said, cheap food that’s heavy on calories and light on nutrition comes with long-term costs, including obesity, diabetes and other heart disease risks.

Enjoy yourself.

“Food is more than just nourishment,” Hradek said. It’s about culture and memories, and there’s no one-plan-fits-all approach to find balance. “If you’re miserable, you’re doing it wrong. It should be a source of pleasure.”

But, she said, “a little bit of knowledge, a little bit of planning can add up to a lot of savings and healthier choices, regardless of your budget.”

Source: American Heart Association

What’s Hidden Behind the Sweetness of Watermelon?

Michael Merschel wrote . . . . . . . . .

Whether they’re serving as snacks at a family reunion or props in a late-night comedy act, watermelons and fun just seem to go together. But how does watermelon hold up health-wise?

Smashingly, you might say.

“I’m definitely impressed by its health benefits,” said Tim Allerton, a postdoctoral researcher at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.

Fruit is always part of a healthy diet. But watermelon’s combination of nutrients makes it special, Allerton said.

It’s a rich source of minerals such as potassium and magnesium. It’s also a good source of vitamins C and A (plus beta carotene, which helps produce vitamin A), and it has fair amounts of vitamins B1, B5 and B6. You get all of that for only 46.5 calories per cup.

Befitting its name, watermelon is about 92% water, which suggests why ancestral watermelons were carried in Africa’s Kalahari Desert as long as 5,000 years ago. This is a treat with a lineage: Modern-looking versions are depicted in ancient Egyptian tombs.

Where watermelon really stands out is in its concentration of certain antioxidants, which regulate cell-damaging free radicals in the body. “Our body has its own antioxidant system, but it helps to get a boost from our diet,” Allerton said. “And watermelon is a good source of those antioxidants.”

Lycopene, which gives watermelon its reddish color, is one of those antioxidants, along with vitamins C and A. Lycopene also works as an anti-inflammatory and has been linked to lower stroke risk. It is most abundant in cooked tomato products, but watermelon’s lycopene levels are about 40% higher than raw tomatoes.

Watermelon also has glutathione, which Allerton called a “versatile, global antioxidant.”

And watermelon is high in an amino acid called citrulline, which has been a focus of Allerton’s research. “Watermelon is pretty unique because not a lot of foods are high in this,” he said.

In a small 2013 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, citrulline in watermelon juice was credited with helping relieve sore muscles in athletes.

Citrulline also is linked to the production of nitric oxide, which is important for the health of blood vessels. Several small studies suggest citrulline in watermelon extract could lower blood pressure, although those effects were seen in people eating the equivalent of more than 3 pounds of watermelon a day for six weeks.

That’s a lot of watermelon. But aside from the general idea that overindulgence in anything is a bad idea, Allerton said there’s no downside to enjoying it.

Even though it has natural sugar and a high glycemic index – a measure of how fast sugar enters the bloodstream – it has a low glycemic load. That means its actual effect on blood sugar is small. And it will fill you up faster than, say, a bowl of cookies.

All nutrition and science aside, afficionados of the fruit just enjoy the taste. Superfan Mark Twain wrote, “It is the chief of this world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.”

Allerton prefers his straight up, but he adds that watermelon juice retains many of the benefits of the whole fruit because so much of the fruit is water already.

That makes watermelon work well in smoothies. Or you can turn it into a fruit salsa.

Experts agree the secret to finding a ripe one is to look for a creamy yellow spot from where the watermelon sat on the ground. If the spot looks more white than yellow, then the melon may not be fully ripe. Weight also is a sign of quality – the heavier the better.

But most experts say you can’t learn much about a watermelon’s ripeness from thumping one. So you can probably leave that to the comedians.

Source: American Heart Association

Study: Adults Who Skip Breakfasts Miss Out on Nutrients

Emily Caldwell wrote . . . . . . . . .

Adults who skip breakfast are likely to miss out on key nutrients that are most abundant in the foods that make up morning meals, a new study suggests.

An analysis of data on more than 30,000 American adults showed that skipping breakfast – and missing out on the calcium in milk, vitamin C in fruit, and the fiber, vitamins and minerals found in fortified cereals – likely left adults low on those nutrients for the entire day.

“What we’re seeing is that if you don’t eat the foods that are commonly consumed at breakfast, you have a tendency not to eat them the rest of the day. So those common breakfast nutrients become a nutritional gap,” said Christopher Taylor, professor of medical dietetics in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest dietary guidelines, calcium, potassium, fiber and vitamin D are considered “dietary components of public health concern” for the general U.S. population – with iron added for pregnant women – because shortages of those nutrients are associated with health problems.

Most research related to breakfast has focused on the effects of the missed morning meal on children in school, which includes difficulty focusing and behavioral problems.

“With adults, it’s more like, ‘You know how important breakfast is.’ But now we see what the implications really are if they miss breakfast,” Taylor said.

He completed the study with Ohio State College of Medicine graduate students Stephanie Fanelli and Christopher Walls. The research, which was supported by a regional dairy association, is published online in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.

The team used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which collects health information on a nationally representative sample of about 5,000 people every year through interviews, laboratory tests and physical exams.

The sample for this study included 30,889 adults age 19 and older who had participated in the survey between 2005 and 2016. The Ohio State researchers analyzed data from 24-hour dietary recalls participants completed as part of the NHANES survey.

“During the recall, participants self-designate their eating occasions as a meal or a snack, and they tell you at what point in time they ate whatever food they report,” said Fanelli, first author of the study. “That’s how we determined whether someone was a breakfast eater or a breakfast skipper.”

In this sample, 15.2% of participants, or 4,924 adults, had reported skipping breakfast.

The researchers translated the food data into nutrient estimates and MyPlate equivalents using the federal Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies and daily dietary guidelines, and then compared those estimates to recommended nutrient intakes established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academies.

On several key recommendations measured, from fiber and magnesium to copper and zinc, breakfast skippers had taken in fewer vitamins and minerals than people who had eaten breakfast. The differences were most pronounced for folate, calcium, iron, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C and D.

“We found those who skipped breakfast were significantly more likely not to meet the bottom threshold of what we hope to see people eat,” Fanelli said.

Compared to the Healthy Eating Index-2015, which assesses how well a set of foods aligns with federal recommendations, breakfast skippers also had an overall lower-quality diet than those who ate breakfast.

For example, breakfast skippers were more likely than those who noshed in the morning to eat more added sugars, carbohydrates and total fat over the course of the day – in part because of higher levels of snacking.

“Snacking is basically contributing a meal’s worth of calorie intakes for people who skipped breakfast,” Taylor said. “People who ate breakfast ate more total calories than people who didn’t eat breakfast, but the lunch, dinner and snacks were much larger for people who skipped breakfast, and tended to be of a lower diet quality.”

While the data represent a single day in each participant’s life, the huge sample provides a “nationally representative snapshot for the day,” Taylor said.

“It shows that those who skipped breakfast had one nutrient profile and those who ate breakfast had a different nutrient profile,” he said. “It helps us identify on any given day that this percentage of people are more likely to be skipping breakfast. And on that day, their dietary intake pattern showed that their consumption didn’t capture those extra nutrients that they have basically missed at breakfast.”

Source: The Ohio State University