Functional Foods

Last week I attended the Annual Nutrition Convention and Exposition for the Massachusetts Dietetic Association. It’s always interesting to get a few hundred dietitians together and see what happens (well, I find it interesting!). The session subjects varied from School Nutrition to Diabetes Education to Food Safety (just to name a few). One of the sessions I attended was “Functional Foods” and I thought I would share some things that came to mind as I listened to the talk.

If you have never heard the term before, functional foods are foods that provide some health benefits beyond the energy (Calories) and micronutrients (vitamins & minerals) that people generally think about. Some functional foods are whole and some have been fortified, enriched or enhanced in some way; they all have bioactive compounds within them that influence health and disease. These foods are sometimes in the media spotlight as “Superfoods” and contain various phytochemicals which can help to reduce oxidation, balance hormones, reduce inflammation and stimulate the immune system. Functional foods can be helpful for diseases such as Diabetes, Colitis, IBS, Crohn’s, Asthma, Obesity, and various Cancers.

At this point you are probably waiting for a list of these foods that you can eat in prescribed doses to combat all of the health problems you have (or never want to have); am I right? Well, the bad news is that I’m not going to say that everyone must eat one or two specific foods and the good news is that these phytochemicals are found in lots of different foods not just a few! Sources are fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts & seeds and herbs & spices. Of course some contain more of one phytochemical than another, usually color intensity is an indication, but not for every phytochemical. Depending upon the phytochemical you are looking for, it may be found more in orange foods or red/purple foods for example. To get the benefits without making yourself crazy, make sure that you eat a variety of these foods (a rainbow of color) and that they make up the majority of your diet. Add a variety of seasonings in the form of herbs and spices to enliven your taste buds and add to the nutritional benefits. If you have a specific health concern, eating more of some foods may be very helpful; see a Registered Dietitian for help with your individual concerns.

Get Your Plate (and Yourself) in Shape

We’re now a few weeks into National Nutrition Month and I thought I should touch on the last principle on the list: Be physically active your way. It may be last on the list but that doesn’t make it any less important. Some of you may be thinking “you don’t eat physical activity!”, but the fact is that physical activity goes hand in hand with your metabolic health. How much you move influences the amount and type of food your body needs. Being physically active can also help influence many health concerns such as Diabetes, Cholesterol, Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease just to name a few.

How much, and what types of activity you incorporate into your day will vary between individuals. There are basic guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control that state we should all be getting a combination of aerobic and muscle strengthening activities every week. I would also add something that incorporates stretching and balance (which is often included in some muscle strengthening classes). At a bare minimum, adults should be getting about 150 minutes of moderate aerobics (like walking) per week and 2 days of muscle strengthening.

So how can you apply these recommendations? Choose activities that you like, then start by doing what you can, for 10 minutes at a time. The 150 minutes of walking for example is just over 20 minutes a day; one 10 minute walk in the morning and one in the afternoon. If you have no experience with strength training, it might be best to meet with a personal trainer to get started. Once you have learned some basics it is easy to add these moves into your day; you can even try fitting them in during commercials while you watch TV in the evening. If you are currently doing very little, whatever amount of activity that you add will be beneficial!

Once again, these recommendations are the minimum for health but for even greater benefits you need to do more. The key to increasing physical activity and improving fitness is in doing things you enjoy. Try lots of different options before you say that exercise isn’t for you. If you hate running that’s fine, try biking, dancing, swimming or hiking instead! Join group activities or go solo for some meditative alone time. There are many options out there to choose from so get creative. What you choose isn’t the important thing, just get out there and move!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Go Green!

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and while many people will be thinking about corned beef, cabbage and boiled root vegetables with the only green coming from their beer, I think of it a little differently. Why not go green today?

How many green foods can you incorporate into your day today?  If you are at a loss for where to start, here are a few to choose from: Spinach, avocado, asparagus, artichokes, kiwi, green cabbage, pistachio nuts, green tea, kale, broccoli, peas, green lentils, lime, fresh herbs (basil, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, mint, and more), string beans, snap peas, fennel, bell pepper, celery, zucchini, cucumber, brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, grapes, okra, pears, olives, swiss chard, collards, capers, sprouts, edamame, scallions…. There are more out there but you get the idea!

While others around you may be celebrating with green beer, and corned beef, why not try some green tea and vegetables?  You might just feel a little healthier in the morning and you definitely won’t be nursing a hangover!

Happy RD & Pi Day!

Today is an auspicious day for people like me who love food and nutrition. It’s Registered Dietitian day and it’s Pi day. RD day was created to help increase awareness of RDs as the go-to source for credible scientific information about food and nutrition. For more information, check out the links below from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Today is also Pi Day because it’s March 14 (or 3.1415926535….). I can’t think of anything better than to combine the two into one delicious lunch! Pie for lunch? Of course, as long as it’s this delicious vegetable pie (well actually a tart but it’s still round so you can use it to calculate Pi if you want!). When I put a big wedge of this on my plate alongside some greens and a poached egg, I know my plate will be balanced; about half vegetables, a serving of grains (cornmeal), a serving of dairy (cheese) and protein.  Happy RD day and happy Pi day!