Tag Archives: Diets & Weight Loss

Can The Mediterranean Diet Help Treat Depression?

Feeling a bit down? New research suggests that a Mediterranean diet can help treat depression. Now that’s cause for celebration! The study suggests that a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and lean proteins may be able to treat major depressive episodes.

 

The study

The researchers followed 67 Australian individuals with a history of depression and poor dietary habits. Study participants were randomly sorted into two groups. One group received dietary intervention, consisting of 60-minutes of Dietitian-lead nutrition one time per week. The second group received social support, otherwise known as ‘befriending’ or spending time with another individual discussing neutral topics, like sports, news or music. In addition to the interventions, both groups were being treated with a mixture of anti-depressive medication or therapy.

The dietary intervention group learned about the importance of eating a Mediterranean diet, including 5-8 servings of whole grains per day, 6 servings of vegetables per day, 3 servings of fruit per day, 3-4 servings of legumes per day, 2-3 servings of low-fat and unsweetened dairy foods per week, 1 serving of raw and unsalted nuts per day, 2 servings of fish per week, 3-4 servings of lean red meats per week, 2-3 servings of  chicken per week, 6 eggs per week and 3 tablespoons of olive oil per day. They were also encouraged to reduce their intake of sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks to no more than 3 per week.

After 12 weeks of the intervention, the dietary support group showed a significantly greater improvement on the depression rating scale than the social support group. In other words, the participants who received dietary support felt less depressed. This study is still preliminary, but it suggests that changing one’s diet may actually be a useful tool in treating depression.

 

Eat The Mediterranean Way

The Mediterranean Diet has long been promoted for its many health benefits. Not only may it help fight depression, but research suggests that eating like a Greek can improve weight loss, control blood sugar and reduce the risk of developing cancer, heart disease and dementia. Follow these tips to add more of the Mediterranean style of eating to your diet to reap the benefits.

  • Use oil whenever possible, like in homemade salad dressings and marinades. Opt for oil instead of margarine or butter when roasting veggies or topping popcorn.
  • Swap out chicken for fish two nights per week. Don’t get stuck in the boring old protein rut. Treat your family to an omega-rich serving of fresh fish.
  • Add veggies to every plate—even breakfast. According to the USDA’s My Plate, every plate should consist of at least half fruits and vegetables. Since many of us don’t get that at breakfast, make an effort to add veggies to your morning smoothie, omelet or toast.
  • Opt for whole grains. Luckily, the abundance of commercially available whole grains is at an all-time high. If you’re not in the mood for whole wheat bread or brown rice, try quinoa, oats, kamut, bulgur, farro, freekeh, sorghum or buckwheat.
  • Go nuts! Replace the chips in your snack drawer with unsalted nuts. Walnuts are high in heart-healthy omegas, but any type of nut will do. Nuts are bit high in calories, so be cautious of the portion size—it’s usually about a handful or 20 nuts.
  • Pick pulses. A group of superfoods made up of chickpeas, lentils, dry peas and beans, pulses are a great source of plant-based protein and fiber. Try Meatless Monday by swapping out your dinner meat for a protein-packed pulse.
  • Herb it up. Mediterranean food is rich in flavorful herbs, like oregano, dill and basil. Add herbs to roasted veggies, soups and salads to reduce the salt and add big flavors.

 

Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition à la Natalie.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Diet 101: The Ketogenic Diet

The latest fad diet riding on the coat tails of the low-carb trend is the ketogenic diet. This nutrition plan has been around for ages, and has been effectively used in the treatment of epilepsy, but it’s also become popular to help folks shed pounds. Here’s what you need to know about this diet plan before you hop on another fad diet bandwagon.

About the Diet

This diet promotes low carb, moderate protein, and high fat intake touting health benefits such as weight loss and improved overall health.  It promotes an extremely low intake of carbs: about 30 grams per day. For the average American on a 2,000 calorie diet, this would be 120 calories of any type of carb per day. You can find carbohydrates in fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and legumes — which, when minimized in the diet, limits food choices dramatically. The distribution of macronutrients recommended is 5% carbohydrates, 25% protein, and 70% fat.

The fats recommended include both unsaturated like avocado and fatty fish along with saturated like whole milk, sour cream, and mayonnaise. Flour, sugar, and other such carbs are not recommended on the plan. Fruits are eaten in very small amount, low carb vegetables are recommended, and nuts in moderation.

The purpose of taking in so few carbs is to put your body in a state called ketosis. As carbs (AKA glucose) is the body’s primary source of energy, 30 grams of carbs runs out quickly forcing the body to utilize fat and some protein (or ketones made from fat) as a source of energy. When excess fat and protein is used for fuel, it creates an acidic environment in the blood, known as acidosis. Long-term acidosis can cause damage to your organs and is potentially deadly. While in this state, the body acts as if it is in starvation mode and other side effects include headaches, fatigue, irritability, and loss of muscle mass.

The Costs

Although this diet eliminates added sugars, the plethora of protein and fats can cost you a pretty penny (avocados and meat aren’t cheap!). Further, it’s very tough to follow a diet with a maximum limit of 30 grams of carbs, which is equivalent to 2 slices of bread.

This plan also eliminates many food groups, especially fruits and vegetables which have been shown to help lower the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease. The 2015 dietary guidelines found that 90% of Americans don’t eat the recommended amount of vegetables, while about 85% don’t eat the recommended amount of fruit. Eliminating most fruit and vegetables also takes away many important vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that can help keep you healthy in the long run.

Other huge costs include taste and sustainability of the diet. Eating loads of meat, cheese, and avocado can get boring without fruits, vegetables, grains, and nuts. Go ahead and try it for a few days, or even a week or two, and you’ll miss out on those other food groups in no time.

 

The Good

  • The diet has been shown to be effective with those with epilepsy to help reduce the number of seizures. These folks are very carefully monitored by a physician.
  • Added sugar is decreased dramatically

The Not-So-Good

  • It’s a dangerous diet! Setting your body into ketosis can lead to increased acid levels in the blood, which has severe health consequences.
  • The elimination of multiple food groups removes many nutrients the body needs to stay healthy.
  • Many of the foods recommended are high in saturated fat, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • It is tough to follow this diet at social events or when travelling, and isn’t conducive to a household filled with children.
  • The meal plan isn’t tasty, and it’s extremely tough to sustain over a long period of time.

 

Bottom Line

Between the lack of nutrition, health consequences and lack of flavor, this is one diet plan that just isn’t healthy (or tasty!) to follow.

 

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

5 Ways to Improve Body Image

In a social-media driven world full of perfect, curated images, it can be hard to not compare yourself to others, and love the body you are in. Since we could all use a little boost from time to time, we chatted with top fitness and nutrition experts on simple ways to promote positive body image. After all, there’s never a better time to start loving yourself than right now.

 

  1. Exercise because you want to, not because you have to.

Consider your relationship with exercise; do you do it because you have to or because you want to? When exercise is viewed as a mandate, essential only for desired aesthetics, it begins to feel like punishment, creating a negative experience that can last well after the workout is through. According to K. Aleisha Fetters MS, CSCS creator of Show Your Strength, “when people begin to exercise for performance, rather than trying to ‘fix’ something, their body image changes drastically.” Seeing your body adapting, progressing and performing tasks that didn’t feel possible before allows you to have new appreciation for what your body can do.

To begin, focus on what activities bring you the most enjoyment. Ignore the suggested caloric burns on the machines (they’re usually off anyways) and instead focus on what makes you feel your best.

 

  1. Don’t dwell in negative space

Even the most self-assured individuals can feel down about their bodies from time to time. After all, we’re only human. Instead of lingering in that space, turn a negative into a positive. Anne Mauney MPH, RD, author of fANNEtastic food offers up this advice. “Anytime your notice yourself criticizing your body, acknowledge it and then offer up something positive instead that’s not image related. Focus on the things your body can do, like enjoying a nice walk or picking up your child.”

Additionally, begin to identify what triggers you to feel badly about your body. Rebecca Clyde MS, RDN, CD, Body Positivity Champion at Nourish Nutrition encourages you to “get to the source of negative thoughts about your body. If you are able to recognize and resist those feelings, you’re in a better place to move beyond them.” If you notice that you’re feeling less-than after watching a certain reality show, reading a magazine or being around various individuals, you’re able to either avoid these situations or create a game-plan for moving on.

 

  1. Follow body-positive people on social media

It’s easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you surround yourself with those who recognize the importance of liking yourself for who you naturally are.  The same is true for who we follow on social media. Rachael Hartley RD/LD, CDE, CLT, author of Joyful Eating, Nourished Life advises to, “follow plus-sized models and healthy-at-every-size activists on Instagram. In traditional media, we’re exposed to a very narrow definition of beauty. It’s important to train our eyes to recognize that beauty isn’t size specific.” Favorite accounts include @healthyisthenewskinny, @hapsters and @dove.

 

  1. Practice gratitude.

Keep a daily gratitude journal to reflect on all the wonderful things you were able to do or experience. Focusing on abundance, on possibilities, is a powerful framework for feeling good about one’s life, hopefully spilling over into body-image. Rebecca Clyde agrees, adding, “you are more than your body. Instead of focusing on how your body looks, write down a few things everyday about what you are grateful for.”

 

  1. Practice Self-Care

It’s easier to love your body when you take care of it. Whatever makes you feel your best, indulge often. Whether that’s 10 minutes of morning meditation, curling up uninterrupted with a good book, or getting a massage, you are worth it.

Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.” 

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

Eat These Foods to Boost Your Brain Power

We’ve all had those days when our brains feel foggy: when we can’t focus and our memory is less-than sharp. And chances are, you’ve resorted to extra caffeine and a sugary snack in an effort to jolt your brain back into full function. But what if you could consume something that’s actually healthy for your brain instead?

That’s the idea behind numerous supplements, foods and drinks that contain nootropics, substances purported to improve cognition. Nootropic cocktails may contain any number of things including B vitamins, L-theanine, niacin, as well as various herbs and amino acids. But despite the growing popularity of these brain boosters, there is little scientific evidence to back up most of their claims. “I love the idea of boosting brain power, but show me any science that a supplement is better than movement, meditation and nutrient-dense brain food when it comes to mental health,” says Drew Ramsey, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, Columbia University and author of Eat Complete (Harper Collins, 2016).

According to Ramsey, boosting brain power is actually pretty simple. He even made a little rhyme about the key brain foods to make it easy to remember: “Seafood, greens, nuts and beans.” Eating more of those core foods can go a long way toward keeping your brain healthy—and a healthy brain works better. Important nutrients for feeding your brain include omega-3 fats, monounsaturated fats, vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, iron, choline, lycopene, vitamin E and carotenoids. It’s not about a specific food or magic bullet supplement, but rather categories of healthy foods that provide high levels of these proven brain-boosting nutrients. “Our brains consume 20 percent of everything we eat,” says Ramsey. “This nourishment provides energy and nutrients to create and sustain the quadrillions of connections that construct the brain, plus the electricity that courses between those connections.” In other words: if you want a better brain, feed it better food.

 

Crispy Shrimp with Greens and Beans

Serves 4

Lovers of fried seafood take note. This crispy panfry is a healthier option than your usual deep fry. Pick your shrimp well (wild with no salt preservative) for a high-protein, iodine-rich seafood option that is appealing for kids and those new to seafood. By subbing in the greens and beans for biscuits or fries, not only do you get a major nutrition boost, but you also load up on filling fiber.

½ cup gluten-free pancake mix

½ cup Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons ground flaxseeds

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds

1 teaspoon dried herbs, such as Italian seasoning

1 pasture-raised egg

1 pound large shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed

3 tablespoons olive oil

½ pound Swiss chard or kale, chopped

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

One 15.5-ounce can no-salt-added chickpeas or navy beans, rinsed well under cold running water and drained

 

Place the pancake mix, cheese, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and herbs on a plate and toss with your fingers to mix.

Whisk the egg in a shallow bowl.

Dip a shrimp in the beaten egg and press into the pancake mixture, then transfer to a large clean plate. Repeat with the remaining shrimp, working in batches as needed, and place in the fridge while you prepare the greens.

Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet and add the greens and garlic. Toss well and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until the greens have wilted. Add the beans and toss again. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Heat a separate large skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the shrimp and cook for 4 to 6 minutes, turning occasionally, until the shrimp are crispy and cooked through. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Place the greens on four plates, dividing them equally, and top with the shrimp. Serve immediately.

 

Per serving: Calories 525; Fat 19 g (Saturated 3 g); Cholesterol 1 g; Sodium 461 mg; Carbohydrate 51 g; Fiber 11 g; Sugars 11 g; Protein 38 g

Recipe and photo courtesy of  Drew Ramsey.

 

Sally Wadyka is a Boulder, Colorado-based journalist who writes about nutrition, health and wellness.

Diet 101: Whole30

As a registered dietitian, I’ve got a healthy skepticism towards most diets. Being in private practice for almost a decade will do that to you. I’ve seen clients come in on just about every eating pattern imaginable, from raw-food to paleo and everything in between. With the growing popularity of Whole30, I set out to examine the basics of the diet and nutritional truths behind some of the claims.

 

What is Whole30?

Whole30 is an elimination diet, with shares a similar philosophy with the Paleo trend. Both recommend eating lots of fresh, high-quality foods while ditching anything processed. Specifically, you are removing all grains, dairy, soy, legumes, sugar, certain preservatives and artificial sweeteners from your diet. According to the authors, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, these foods have been linked to hormonal imbalance, systemic inflammation, gut issues and more, though most of those claims aren’t backed by evidence-based research. Ideally, Whole30 is to be done strictly for 30 days; afterwards you can gently add back in said foods to see how your body responds.

 

Mindful eating

In addition to the diet recommendations, Whole30 encourages no calorie counting, measuring or weighing yourself for the entire 30-day process. Instead, the program focuses on non-scale victories, like improved sleep, skin, energy and overall feeling. The program isn’t promoted to be a long-term diet, but instead a reset button to focus on whole-foods that nourish your body.

As a long-time student of intuitive eating, I’m a big fan of switching the focus to non-scale victories and removing the added pressure of specific numbers and goals. For most dieters, these are big detractors and can often feel like punishment rather than an empowered choice. However, one of the tenets of intuitiveness is allowing yourself to eat whatever you want, without any parameters in place. Whole30 can fit this mindset if you are truly enjoying the foods you are eating and don’t feel deprived, but it’s not an automatic switch to mindful eating.

 

Whole grains are not the enemy

Whole30 encourages the removal of all grains; whole, unprocessed grains included. While some people report feeling better after the removal of gluten from their diets, many grains are naturally gluten-free. But in fact, eating whole grains may be more beneficial than taking them out. Grains contain essential micronutrients and both soluble and insoluble fiber, and they are also inexpensive and may improve longevity. In a recent meta-analysis published in BMJ, whole grains can help you live longer by reducing your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and infections diseases. The same report also states than consuming 90 grams of whole grains daily cuts risk for all mortality by 17 percent.

While you can get enough fiber from fruits and vegetables, there is likely not an additional need to cut out all grains. If you feel that you do better without gluten, check out gluten-free varieties like quinoa, millet, oats, sorghum and brown rice.

 

Processed-free

While the term processed-free gets thrown around often, there is some benefit in reducing intake of packages snacks, sugary treats and preservatives. For one, eliminating intake of these foods almost all but forces you to cook from scratch, which has big payoffs. Cooking your own meals, especially for novice chefs, reinforces life-long habits, improves kitchen confidence and helps you control exactly what goes into each meal. For those who have shied away from cooking before may find that they actually enjoy the process and will continue to do so well after Whole30 is complete.

It’s no secret that the Standard American Diet is high in refined grains, sugar, salt, processed meats and salt. An excess of any of these has been linked to both chronic disease and a lower mortality rate. Tackling the Whole30 plan allows you to check-in with your current diet to asses how much of these foods you currently eat and positive ways to cut back.

 

Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.”