National Nutrition Month Week 4: 4 Types of Foods to Help Boost Your Memory

If you’re feeling forgetful, it could be due to a lack of sleep or a number of other reasons, including genetics, level of physical activity and lifestyle and environmental factors. However, there’s no doubt that diet plays a major role in brain health.

The best menu for boosting memory and brain function encourages good blood flow to the brain — much like what you’d eat to nourish and protect your heart. Research found the Mediterranean Diet helps in keeping aging brains sharp, and a growing body of evidence links foods like those in the Mediterranean diet with better cognitive function, memory and alertness.

Strengthen Recall by Adding These Foods to the Rotation

Eat your veggies. You’re not likely to forget this message. Getting adequate vegetables, especially cruciferous ones including broccoli, cabbage and dark leafy greens, may help improve memory. Try a kale salad or substitute collard greens for a tortilla in your next sandwich wrap. Broccoli stir-fry is also an excellent option for lunch or dinner.

Be sweet on berries and cherries. Berries — especially dark ones such as blackberries, blueberries and cherries — are a rich source of anthocyanins and other flavonoids that may boost memory function. Enjoy a handful of berries for a snack, mixed into cereal or baked into an antioxidant-rich dessert. You can reap these benefits from fresh, frozen or dried berries and cherries.

Get adequate omega-3 fatty acids. Essential for good brain health, omega-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in particular, may help improve memory in healthy young adults. “DHA is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain. It makes sense that if you have higher levels of DHA in the blood, then the brain will operate more efficiently,” says Andrea Giancoli, RD, registered dietitian and past Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson (2005-2014).

Seafood, algae and fatty fish — including salmon, bluefin tuna, sardines and herring — are some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Substitute fish for meat a couple of times each week to get a healthy dose. Grill, bake or broil fish for ultimate flavor and health. Try salmon tacos with red cabbage slaw, snack on sardines or enjoy seared tuna on salad greens for dinner. If you don’t eat fish, discuss other food options and supplementation with your doctor or registered dietitian nutritionist. You can get omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil, seaweed or microalgae supplements.

Work in walnuts. Well known for a positive impact on heart health, walnuts also may improve working memory. Snack on a handful of walnuts to satisfy midday hunger, add them to oatmeal or salad for crunch or mix them into a vegetable stir-fry for extra protein.

These foods are not just good for the brain, they sustain a healthy heart and all parts of the body. While there’s no guarantee that these foods will help you remember where you put your keys tomorrow, over time they can support lifelong good health

National Nutrition Month Week 3: Make a Fresh Start with Spring Foods

Spring is a great time to hit the reset button and reintroduce some fresh foods into your kids’ diet after a long winter.
Get into the swing of spring produce with these four seasonal favorites.

Spinach

Spinach is called a superfood for a reason: It’s packed with vitamins A and C, which are essential for eye health, immune function and many other body processes. Vitamin K helps build strong bones. Spinach also contains folate and iron, which help prevent anemia. The magnesium and potassium are important for muscle development and growth.

If your kids are on-board with green stuff, serve spinach salads or add it to smoothies. Serve it sautéed with meat and fish. For veggie avoiders, the mild flavor of spinach is easily masked. Just puree and mix it into sauces, soups and meatballs.

Yogurt

A calcium-rich food, yogurt is important for building strong bones and teeth. At eight grams per 6 ounce container, yogurt is also a great source of protein. Greek yogurt has up to twice that much, however it provides less calcium. Yogurt is also a good source of probiotic bacteria, which can promote good digestion and immune system function.

Strawberries

Loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, fresh strawberries are a seasonal superstar. Just one cup provides more than a day’s worth of vitamin C, plus a hearty dose of manganese, which is important for bone development. A serving of strawberries also packs three grams of fiber.

Strawberries are great eaten plain or with other foods. “Sweet and colorful, berries are a great addition to smoothies, cereal and yogurt.

Asparagus

Asparagus is an excellent source of bone-building vitamin K as well as folate. It also provides vitamin A and iron. Available in green, purple and white varieties, asparagus spears are fun to eat and go with all kinds of foods.

National Nutrition Month Week 2: The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Label

The following is a quick guide to reading the Nutrition Facts Label.

Start with the Serving Size

  • Look here for both the serving size (the amount people typically eat at one time) and the number of servings in the package.
  • Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.

Check Out the Total Calories

  • Find out how many calories are in a single serving. It’s smart to cut back on calories if you are watching your weight.

Let the Percent Daily Values Be Your Guide

Use percent Daily Values (DV) to help evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan.

  • Daily Values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day. A food item with a 5 percent DV of fat provides 5 percent of the total fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat.
  • Percent DV are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack
  • You may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For some nutrients you may need more or less than 100 percent DV.

The High and Low of Daily Values

  • Low is 5 percent or less. Aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.
  • High is 20 percent or more. Aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Limit Saturated Fat, Added Sugars and Sodium

Eating less saturated fat, added sugars and sodium may help reduce your risk for chronic disease.

  • Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Eating too much added sugar makes it difficult to meet nutrient needs within your calorie requirement.
  • High levels of sodium can add up to high blood pressure.
  • Remember to aim for low percentage DV of these nutrients.

National Nutrition Month Week1: Eating Right Isn’t Complicated

Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated — simply begin to shift to healthier food and beverage choices. These recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans can help get you started.

  • Emphasize fruit, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Make sure your diet is low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium) and added sugars.

Make Your Calories Count

Think nutrient-rich rather than “good” or “bad” foods. The majority of your food choices should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, and lower in calories. Making smart food choices can help you stay healthy, manage your weight and be physically active.

Focus on Variety

Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups to get the nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned. Eat more dark green vegetables such as leafy greens and broccoli and orange vegetables including carrots and sweet potatoes. Vary your protein choices with more fish, beans and peas. Eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day.

Know Your Fats

Look for foods low in saturated fats and trans fats to help reduce your risk of heart disease. Most of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. Check the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels for total fat and saturated fat.

Back Pain at Work

Low-back pain is a leading cause of job-related disability and missed work in the United States. The pain is so unbearable that Americans spend more than $50 billion per year in an effort to make it go away. If you are experiencing work-related back pain, here are some back-protecting tips that may bring you relief:

  1. Lift wisely. Take your time, get help when needed, use lifting devices, and alternate heavy lifting with less physically demanding tasks. Follow the rules of good posture while lifting:
  • Place feet at least shoulder-width apart.
  • Stand as close as possible to the object being lifted.
  • Hold the object as close to your body as you can.
  • Avoid twisting or bending forward when lifting and carrying.
  • Bend at the knees instead of the waist.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles when lifting and lowering.

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Can Exercise Reduce Your Risk of Catching a Cold?

Sir William Osler, the famous Canadian medical doctor, once quipped, “There’s only one way to treat the common cold—with contempt.” And for good reason. The average adult has two to three respiratory infections each year. That number jumps to six or seven for young children.

Whether or not you get sick with a cold after being exposed to a virus depends on the many factors that affect your immune system. Old age, cigarette smoking, mental stress, poor nutrition and lack of sleep have all been associated with impaired immune function and increased risk of infection.

Keeping the Immune System in Good Shape

Research has established a link between moderate, regular exercise and a strong immune system. Early studies reported that recreational exercisers reported fewer colds once they began running. Moderate exercise has been linked to a positive immune system response and a temporary boost in the production of macrophages, the cells that attack bacteria. It is believed that regular, consistent exercise can lead to substantial benefits in immune system health over the long term.

More recent studies have shown that there are physiological changes in the immune system as a response to exercise. During moderate exercise, immune cells circulate through the body more quickly and are better able to kill bacteria and viruses. After exercise ends, the immune system generally returns to normal within a few hours, but consistent, regular exercise seems to make these changes a bit more long-lasting.

According to professor David Nieman, Dr. PH., of Appalachian State University, when moderate exercise is repeated on a near-daily basis there is a cumulative effect that leads to a long-term immune response. His research showed that those who perform a moderate-intensity walk for 40 minutes per day had half as many sick days due to colds or sore throats as those who don’t exercise.

On the other hand, there is also evidence that too much intense exercise can reduce immunity. Research shows that more than 90 minutes of high-intensity endurance exercise can make athletes susceptible to illness for up to 72 hours after the exercise session. This is important information for those who compete in longer events such as marathons or triathlons. Intense exercise seems to cause a temporary decrease in immune system function. During intense physical exertion, the body produces certain hormones that temporarily lower immunity. Cortisol and adrenaline, known as the stress hormones, raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels and suppress the immune system.

Should you exercise when sick?

Fitness enthusiasts and endurance athletes alike are often uncertain of whether they should exercise or rest when sick. Most sports-medicine experts in this area recommend that if you have symptoms of a common cold with no fever (that is, symptoms are above the neck), moderate exercise such as walking is probably safe.

Intensive exercise should be postponed until a few days after the symptoms have gone away. However, if there are symptoms or signs of the flu (fever, extreme tiredness, muscle aches, swollen lymph glands), then at least two weeks should probably be allowed before you resume intensive training.

Staying in Shape to Exercise

For athletes who are training intensely for competition, the following guidelines can help reduce their odds of getting sick.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet—The immune system depends on many vitamins and minerals for optimal function. However, at this time, there is no good data to support supplementation beyond 100% of the Recommended Dietary Allowances.
  • Avoid rapid weight loss—Low-calorie diets, long-term fasting and rapid weight loss have been shown to impair immune function. Losing weight while training heavily is not good for the immune system.
  • Obtain adequate sleep—Major sleep disruptions (getting three hours less than normal) have been linked to immune suppression.
  • Avoid overtraining and chronic fatigue—Space vigorous workouts and race events as far apart as possible. Keep “within yourself” and don’t push beyond your ability to recover.

Additional Resource

American College of Sports Medicine Current Comment—Exercise and the Common Cold: www.acsm.org/

 

Exercise and Asthma

Asthma is an increasingly common lung disease in the U.S. People who have asthma have inflamed and highly irritable airways. When the airways are exposed to irritants, they narrow, making breathing more difficult. Signs of asthma include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness and difficulty breathing, especially at night and early in the morning. Common irritants include tobacco smoke, air pollution, viral infection and allergens like dust mites and cat dander. Vigorous exercise also can act like an irritant by triggering airway spasm and narrowing. This is referred to as exercise-induced asthma.

The ABCs of Exercise-induced Asthma

About five to 10 minutes into a strenuous soccer game you start to cough and feel short of breath. You tell yourself that you’re out of shape and recommit to your resolution to participate in vigorous cardiovascular exercise at least three days per week. But then, the next time and the time after that the same feelings of difficulty breathing set in. You finally go visit your doctor, who tells you that you have asthma. But this only happens with exercise, you say.

If that’s the case, you’re one of 5 to 10% of people with asthma who only experience symptoms with exercise. On the other hand, 90% of people with asthma have exercise-induced symptoms. Exercise-induced asthma attacks may start during exercise or shortly after exercise. These episodes tend to be shorter than attacks with other triggers.

Many people with asthma avoid exercise, thinking it will do more harm than good. The truth is that people with asthma can experience the same benefits from exercise as everyone else. And with the proper precautions, the risks are significantly lessened.

Exercising With Asthma

First, have a thorough medical evaluation and obtain your doctor’s permission before beginning an exercise program. Your doctor will probably prescribe you a medicine to help keep your airways open during exercise. For example, you may be instructed to take albuterol, a short-acting inhaled bronchodilator, 15 minutes before exercise to prevent symptoms for up to about four hours.

Once you receive clearance from your doctor, consider the following exercise guidelines:

  • Always have medication nearby for use in the event of an asthma attack. Be aware of early signs of an asthma attack, such as shortness of breath and coughing.
  • Take extra time (aim for 15 minutes) to warm up before exercising. This helps the airway retain a more normal size.
  • Prolong your cool-down. The second most likely time to experience an exercise-induced asthma attack is in the five to 10 minutes after exercise. By gradually decreasing intensity, you reduce your risk.
  • Be aware of your exercise environment. Avoid exposure to other asthma triggers such as pollen and pollution when exercising. A warm and humid environment (like that in a pool) reduces exposure of the lungs to cool, dry air—the suspected cause of exercise-induced asthma.
  • Consider exercising at the lower end of your target heart-rate range and incorporating intervals for high-intensity training to minimize your risk of an asthma attack. Choose exercises least likely to trigger an attack, such as pool swimming and walking.
  • Maintain adequate hydration. This will decrease mucous accumulation in the airways, thus reducing risk for an asthma attack or a future infection like bronchitis or pneumonia.
  • Maximize air exchange with diaphragmatic breathing. Inhale deeply through your nose and exhale through your mouth. With each inhalation you should see or feel your belly rise.
  • Rest when necessary and listen to what your body is telling you.

Keep Your Options Open

Asthma does not equate to an inactive life. In fact, six-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner–Kersee achieved the highest levels of athletic success despite having asthma. As long as you and your physician are comfortable with your level of activity, nothing should keep you from doing the activities that keep you happy and healthy. An ACE-certified Advanced Health & Fitness Specialist can help you design the program that’s just right for you if you need help getting started.

Additional Resources

American Academy of Asthma, Allergy, & Immunology
Mayo Clinic
Medline Plus

Fitting in Fiber

Fiber is a substance found in plant foods. Most people eat much less than the recommended 25-35 grams of fiber per day. But getting enough dietary fiber is important because it does all of the following:

  • “Cleans out” the intestines and promotes digestive health
  • Lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Increases feeling of fullness after a meal and slower emptying of the stomach, which both curb overeating
  • Lowers risk for diseases like heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers

Read More

Reducing Workplace Stress

Reducing Workplace Stress

Do you have a demanding boss or difficult co-workers? Stacks of work to get done and not enough time? Everyone encounters job stress sooner or later — but that doesn’t make it easier. There are many aspects of your work environment that you have no control over — but you can take action to manage stress so that work doesn’t take a toll on your well-being. Read More

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