Avoiding Anxious Eating
When stressed out or anxious, some people turn to food as a way to comfort themselves. If you tend to turn to food as a way to cope with a stressful situation, consider the following nutritional tips:
- Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol (and don’t smoke) when stressed. These can heighten or prolong your anxiety and its side effects.
- Drink plenty of water – between six and eight glasses per day. This can help offset an empty stomach and promote a healthy digestive system.
- Keep your blood sugar levels stable by eating several small, nutritious meals rather than three large ones.
- Make sure your meals or snacks incorporate omega-3 fatty acids. Include walnuts, salmon and freshly ground flaxseeds into your diet.
- Incorporate foods rich in magnesium, which help relax muscles, into your diet. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds are good sources.
- Soy foods – some studies suggest that the phytoestrogen compounds in soy may help protect bones and prevent bone loss – try to eat several servings of whole soy-based foods each day.
- Salt – keep this to a minimum, as sodium can increase the amount of calcium lost through urine.
- Eat moderate amounts of protein – too much can lead to an increase in urinary calcium losses.
- Drink tea instead of coffee. Regular consumption of coffee has been associated with lower bone mass in women. Tea has less caffeine (which can interfere with calcium absorption) and offers flavonoids and fluoride which may enhance bone strength.
Embracing Your Love Affair with Chocolate
By now we’ve all heard the news about dark chocolate. The antioxidants – phenols and flavonoids – found in dark chocolate may offer protection against heart disease. In addition, cocoa butter – a saturated fat – may have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. A number of chemically active compounds in dark chocolate can improve mood and pleasure by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. And consuming dark chocolate may slow the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Chocolate’s blend of sugar, fat, seductive aroma and smooth texture can make it addictive, and stimulants such as caffeine and theobromine can make chocolate especially crave-worthy. Be aware, however, that milk chocolate is not as heart healthy as dark chocolate. It contains more fat and sugar and less cocoa and antioxidants. White chocolate, which is actually not chocolate at all, is no more than a mix of fat, milk and sugar.
By eating dark chocolate infrequently, and choosing products that list chocolate (or chocolate liquor, cocoa or cacao) as the first ingredient, you can enjoy its benefits without guilt. When you’re indulging, savor the flavor and the texture. Try to note the effects it has on your body. Most importantly, enjoy yourself.
How Healthy is Your Sweetener?
Americans consume about 20 teaspoons of sugar daily, not including what is found naturally in foods like fruit, milk and beans. Sugar itself is considered safe, and its caloric contribution may be small when used in moderation, but it can play a role in obesity and dental problems if abused. Some alternatives to white sugar include:
- Stevia. This plant-derived sweetener is noncaloric and can be used in baking or cooking, but needs to be diluted before using. I occasionally recommend it for diabetics and those who can’t tolerate sugar.
- Honey. While it has some antioxidant properties, honey is not necessarily healthier than white sugar, mainly because it can stick to teeth and contribute to cavity formation. However, honey does have more fructose than sugar, which causes less stress to the pancreas.
- Splenda (sucralose). This artificial sweetener is 600 times sweeter than sugar. It is not all-natural, being derived only in part from sugar, and while it is FDA approved and appears safe, it has not proven itself to be beneficial in losing weight.
- Aspartame and Saccharine. These artificial sweeteners are found in some foods and are available to add to drinks and some foods. I do not recommend either of these – if you want to cut calories or are diabetic, I suggest stevia or sucralose instead.
You may also want to try fruit juice as a sweetener, especially when cooking or baking. Keep in mind, however, that if you’ve been using sugar appropriately, there is no reason to reach for artificial substitutes.
Nutrition for Women
Women incur their own unique health issues – such as pregnancy, PMS and cervical cancer. The good news is many related symptoms can be affected by diet. Consider the following:
- To ease side effects of pre-menstrual syndrome, increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids; use only hormone-free meats, poultry and dairy products; eat soy foods regularly; and eliminate all sources of caffeine.
- If you are pregnant and have morning sickness, keep your stomach partially full by eating crackers, dry toast, or dry cereal before you get out of bed in the morning; snack on dry, starchy foods later in the day; sip clear liquids between meals; and consider ginger to keep your stomach calm.
- If you are predisposed to cervical cancer, help lessen the risks by eating generous amounts of vegetables and fruits, especially in the cabbage family, increasing your intake of B vitamins including folic acid, pyridoxine and riboflavin, and taking a daily antioxidant formula.
The French Paradox
For years, scientists on both sides of the Atlantic have been trying to unravel the “French paradox” – the finding that despite a high-fat diet, the French appear to have a lower rate of heart attacks (as well as a lower rate of obesity) than other Western countries, particularly the United States. Part of the reason appears to be that added sugars, rather than fat, are major contributors to both obesity and heart disease, and the French eat far less added sugar than Americans do.
I suspect it also has a great deal to do with the French attitude toward food: their portions are smaller; they eat only at mealtimes; snacking is frowned upon; they eat a wider variety of food; and they don’t skip meals. They also enjoy their food – they emphasize better foods made from quality ingredients; fresh, locally grown produce; eating meals with family and friends; and not feeling guilty about indulging in really good meals and getting full pleasure from them. Americans, on the other hand, tend to eat more, eat on the run, and eat more low-quality foods – and get less satisfaction from them.
Consider changing your attitude toward food and taking time to enjoy meals and see if it makes a difference in your life.
Ways to Eat Better
Every year, many of us take the time to clean out the closets, clear out the garage, and give the house a good dusting. Why not apply that same vigor to “cleaning up” your diet? Try these simple suggestions to help optimize the way you eat:
- Cut out saturated fats. Avoid margarine, vegetable shortening, and foods that contain palm kernal or coconut oil. Instead, use heart-healthy extra-virgin olive oil. Eat whole grains instead of refined grains. You will feel fuller, in part because of the higher fiber content whole grains provide.
- Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables. Make a colorful salad – red and yellow peppers, dark leafy greens, ripe tomatoes – part of one meal every day. And add a fresh fruit salad as a delicious and healthful alternative to high-fat desserts.
- Take in fewer calories. A simple way to do this is to substitute low-fat ingredients for high-fat ones. Plus – make it a point to skip the fast food.
Fighting Free Radicals
Free radicals are highly reactive chemical substances that possess one or more unpaired electron. They occur naturally in the body as part of energy production and immune defenses, but they can also result from environmental factors including sunlight, cigarette smoke and air pollution.
When produced in excessive amounts, free radicals can cause damage at the cellular level, and increase the risk of chronic illness, [delete] including respiratory disorders such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, heart disease (due to cholesterol and fat plaque buildup); DNA mutations; and other types of cancer.
Fortunately, the body has protective mechanisms to fight against free radical damage – they’re called antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that stop the chain reaction of free radicals by donating one of their electrons without becoming unstable themselves. They are one of our best natural defenses against the problems caused by free radicals. With a healthy diet and prudent supplement use, you can help prevent free radical formation. Try the following:
- Take a daily antioxidant formula that provides a wide range of antioxidants including vitamins C and E, selenium, mixed carotenoids and coenzyme Q10.
- Avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight, cigarette smoke and air pollution.
- Increase your intake of foods rich in antioxidants, especially fresh vegetables, fruits and green tea.
Alleviating PMS Symptoms
Many women who have premenstrual syndrome (PMS) frequently experience symptoms such as depression, tension, anger, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, changes in appetite, and a feeling of being overwhelmed. While symptoms can range from mild to severe, there are ways to lessen their impact. Consider the following:
- Eliminate all caffeine (including the chocolate some women crave premenstrually). Avoid polyunsaturated vegetable oils, especially partially hydrogenated products.
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, drink purified water, and avoid foods high in sodium to help eliminate bloating.
- Eat soy foods regularly.
- Use only hormone-free meats, poultry, and dairy products.
- Do regular aerobic exercise – 30 minutes of endorphin-releasing daily activity that raises your heart rate. Take 500 mg of black currant oil or evening primrose oil twice a day.
- Experiment with dong quai or chaste tree.
- Take calcium supplements (500-700 mg daily), with half as much magnesium.
- Practice breathing exercises.
You may also consider analyzing your symptoms. List the symptoms that bother you most, when you experience them, and if they occur in conjunction with an event, meal or activity. This can help you anticipate what to expect – and even what to avoid – each month.
I have long been a proponent of organic foods, for a variety of reasons. This list of attributes was published by the United Kingdom’s Soil Association – the leading organic certifier for that region. As an advocate of organic produce I consider the following:
- It’s healthy. Organic food tends to contain higher levels of vitamin C, cancer-fighting antioxidants, and essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and chromium.
- No nasty additives. Organic food doesn’t contain food additives that can cause health problems such as heart disease, osteoporosis, migraines and hyperactivity.
- It avoids pesticides. More than 400 chemical pesticides are routinely used in conventional farming and residues are often present in non-organic food.
- No genetic modification. Under organic standards, genetically modified (GM) crops and ingredients are not allowed.
- There is not a reliance on drugs. Organic farming standards prohibit the routine use of antibiotics and growth hormones in farm animals.
- There are no hidden costs. As taxpayers, we pay for chemicals to be removed from our drinking water – including the pesticide runoff from conventional farms.
- There are high standards. Organic food comes from trusted sources that are inspected to ensure compliance to organic standards.
- Organic methods provide for animals. Animal welfare is taken very seriously under organic standards. It’s good for wildlife and the environment. The UK government has said that organic farming is better for wildlife, causes lower pollution from sprays, produces less carbon dioxide – the main global warming gas – and less dangerous wastes.
- It’s flavorful. Many people prefer organic food because they say it tastes better.
For more information, visit soilassociation.org, as well as the Web sites for U.S. organic certifiers such as the California Certified Organic Farmers, the Organic Trade Association, Quality Assurance International and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.