What foods you eat together may be associated with your risk of dementia, according to a new study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology. While it is no surprise that a healthy diet may benefit the brain, this study shows the surprising way that the combination of foods may also impact brain function.
Researchers from the University of Bordeaux in France looked at “food networks” and found that those whose diets consisted of starches, highly-processed meats, and sugary snacks were more likely to have dementia years later compared to those who ate a wider variety of healthy foods.
“There is a complex inter-connectedness of foods in a person’s diet, and it is important to understand how these different connections, or food networks, may affect the brain because diet could be a promising way to prevent dementia,” said study author Cécilia Samieri, Ph.D. “Several studies have shown that eating a healthier diet, for example, a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains and fish, may lower a person’s risk of dementia. Many of those studies focused on quantity and frequency of foods. Our study went one step further to look at food networks and found important differences in the ways in which food items were co-consumed in people who went on to develop dementia and those who did not.”
The study analyzed information from 209 people with an average age of 78 who had dementia and 418 people who did not have dementia. Both groups were matched for age, sex, and educational level.
Participants were required to complete a food questionnaire for five years outlining the types of foods they consumed and how frequently they consumed them. All participants had medical checkups every two to three years.
After analyzing all data provided from participants, researchers found that while there were few differences in the number of individual foods that people ate, overall food groups or networks differed substantially between people who had dementia and those who did not have dementia.
“Processed meats were a ‘hub’ in the food networks of people with dementia,” said Samieri. “People who developed dementia were more likely to combine highly processed meats such as sausages, cured meats, and patés with starchy foods like potatoes, alcohol, and snacks like cookies and cakes. This may suggest that frequency with which processed meat is combined with other unhealthy foods, rather than average quantity, may be important for dementia risk. For example, people with dementia were more likely, when they ate processed meat, to accompany it with potatoes and people without dementia were more likely to accompany meat with more diverse foods, including fruit and vegetables and seafood.”
Researchers concluded that those who did not have dementia were more likely to have more diversity in their diet. This was demonstrated by many small food networks that usually included healthier foods such as fruit and vegetables.
“We found that more diversity in diet, and greater inclusion of a variety of healthy foods, is related to less dementia,” said Samieri. “In fact, we found differences in food networks that could be seen years before people with dementia were diagnosed. Our findings suggest that studying diet by looking at food networks may help untangle the complexity of diet and biology in health and disease.”
Researchers hope these findings will help physicians better understand the development of dementia and help them explain the importance of early lifestyle changes to their patients. A healthy diet and getting plenty of exercises are key components to reducing the risk of dementia and many other health issues and diseases.
Stress eating is something that many people struggle with on a regular basis, when things are "normal." But with the coronavirus pandemic challenging us in different ways each day, it seems to have become an equal opportunity problem, affecting even those who don't typically eat in response to anxiety or other emotions.
"I think I need to be socially distanced from my refrigerator," said Lisa C., who preferred not to reveal her last name, a now working-from-home legal executive who added that "going down the stairs for food and back up again is my only exercise these days.
Lisa C. is not the only one who has shared her stress-eating sentiments with me.
"I think I've snacked all day long for the last 10 days," said Liliana Fazendeiro, who has been at home with her 2-and-half-year old son since his daycare closed.
"While being homebound during these last two weeks I've noticed I've been self-soothing by grabbing a little sweet here and there and having a second helping of dinner," said Natalie Santos Ferguson of Baltimore, Maryland.
"Plus, all the homebound extra baking we're doing is not helping. As a mother, I don't want to let my children see how worried I have actually been, so rather than letting my emotions out, I'm grabbing the nearest treat to make myself feel good," Ferguson added.
While many often eat in response to stressful situations, others lose their appetite during such life events. But for those who typically engage in stress eating, being stuck at home makes the challenge of avoiding indulgences all the more difficult.
"For people who were stress eaters but may have been in the office all day doing stressful work, it may have been a relief to come home and eat a lot of food that may not be healthy for them. But now they have access to that [food] all day long," said registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of "Read It Before You Eat It - Taking You from Label to Table."
How to manage stress eating
Whether it's your first time struggling with stress eating, or it's gotten increasingly more frequent, we want you to know that there are ways to manage it. And here's some more good news: It doesn't necessarily require cutting out your favorite treats.
Here are some tips for managing stress-eating:
Control triggers. First and foremost, if you find yourself eating in response to stress, it's a good idea to become acutely aware of what heightens your stress and them come up with a plan, advised Martha McKittrick RD, a registered dietitian in New York City.
Whether it's watching the news or talking with a friend or family member who irritates you, it's important to find a way to help minimize triggers. "Maybe it's watching less of the news or tell your friend you only have five minutes to talk," McKittrick advised.
If you're not sure what your triggers are, a food journal can help to reveal your stress eating patterns, explained Carolyn O'Neil, a registered dietitian and author of "The Slim Down South Cookbook." "Include what you're eating, when, how much, where you sat or stood and with whom," O'Neil said.
Don't deny yourself your favorite comfort foods. Now is not the time to give up your favorite indulgences. Food is more than nutrition -- it's joy, too. Expecting yourself to give up perhaps what is one of the few pleasures you can relish now is simply unrealistic and unnecessary.
"Whether it's cheese or chocolate or chips or Chardonnay, do not banish your favorite treats from the kitchen kingdom," O'Neil said.
"No one should be beating themselves up over making choices they wouldn't otherwise make; nor is this the time for a strict fad diet," Taub-Dix added.
That being said, it is important to establish a healthy relationship with your favorite foods so you feel in control and avoid a vicious cycle of stress eating and weight gain. That includes savoring your favorite foods in sensible portions, O'Neil explained.
Pre-portion snacks. One of the best ways to enjoy your favorite treats while avoiding out-of-control eating is to pre-portion snacks.
Taub-Dix advises putting snacks like pretzels and chips into zippered bags ahead of time, which allows you to naturally avoid eating out of super-sized bags or containers.
You can also purchase single-sized pre-portioned snack bags of cheddar bunnies, graham crackers, cookies, goldfish and other snacks.
Edit your kitchen. This can be especially helpful if you find yourself working in your kitchen with food surrounding you all day long. Clear your counters of tempting visual cues like cookies, sweets and soft drinks and place a fruit bowl out instead.
It's also a good idea to keep trigger foods on high shelves, or hidden behind other foods, so they won't be the first thing you grab. The opposite logic applies for healthy foods.
"Try to keep things in your refrigerator that are better for you at eye level -- like fresh fruits and vegetables," said Taub-Dix. You can also make healthy foods more easily accessible by washing veggies and cutting up fruit ahead of time "so you can just grab it and eat it," Taub-Dix added.
Ask yourself if you're truly hungry. If you find yourself craving carbs near your pantry but then you realize "I had lunch an hour ago!" -- it's probably wise to leave the kitchen, Taub-Dix explained.
Feeling a desire for food despite a lack of true hunger could also mean you are anxious or bored. Instead of reaching for stress-soothing treats, you might go for a walk, call a friend, take a bath, listen to music, watch a movie or simply brush your teeth.
Take a tea break. Sipping beverages like tea can be a great way to let a stress-induced craving pass.
"Drinking herbal tea with a little honey provides a speed bump; it makes you think for a minute about having a snack or meal that may be unnecessary," Taub-Dix said.
A spoon of hot cocoa in a cup of coffee can also do the trick. Taub-Dix does this often. "It gets me back to my work -- so when I'm ready for my meal, I'm really ready for it instead of eating it when I didn't really need to eat."
Go for "busy" snacks. Food that keeps your hands busy can be helpful during stressful times, Taub-Dix explained. She recommends snacking on air-popped popcorn; dipping apple slices into yogurt or adding your favorite seasonings and spices to Greek yogurt; then dipping with veggies.
"These foods keep you busy, but they don't add a lot of calories to your diet," Taub-Dix said.
Try healthier swaps. If a certain craving drives your stress eating, such as "I've gotta have a calorie-laden cinnamon roll," consider healthier substitutes to calm the craving, like a cinnamon pecan breakfast cereal or adding cinnamon and a little brown sugar to your morning oatmeal, O'Neil explained.
Additionally, if you must have something that's crunchy to calm your nerves, before you dive into the tortilla chips, try crunching on carrot slices or celery sticks or cucumber dipped into in salsa or queso," O'Neil advised.
If you are working from home, take breaks during the day. Give yourself breaks to have a snack and to eat a meal, so you're not working non-stop, Taub-Dix advised. This can also help you avoid mindless nibbling during stressful work.
Taking a break to get some physical activity like taking a walk or doing some yoga or stretching can also be refreshing and an opportunity to clear your mind and relax for a few minutes.
Schedule virtual mealtimes with friends. This is particularly helpful if you are alone and struggling with stress eating. Set times to dine with someone on FaceTime or Zoom so you can share a conversation in addition to a meal, Taub-Dix advised.
Take a deep breath. When you feel stress hitting you, you may find that your pulse quickens, or you may feel a tightness in your chest and walk into the kitchen on autopilot.
"Tell yourself you need to take a five minute break, then you can still eat if you need to," McKittrick advised. Find a place to sit quietly and practice deep breathing.
"You can do a 10 minute meditation app, but oftentimes just the act of slowing down and deep breathing can take your mind off the urge to eat," McKittrick added.
Indulgent snacks can be healthy, too
Here are some nutritionist-recommended indulgences:
These last four recipes are my nutritionist-approved recommendations and can be found online; two are even created by dietitians.
I don’t think it’s any secret that our current food system is, well, broken. It’s not okay—or even logical—that a hamburger costs less than a salad. It’s not okay that 70 percent of the world’s human use of water goes to animal production—not, in fact, humans. And that’s just one of the ways our current food system is negatively affecting the environment and climate.
People often tell me that when they think about the long list of problems our current food system—a term used to describe how we eat and where our food comes from—has created, they feel overwhelmed. I get that; it’s complicated. But that’s also not an excuse to do nothing. Whether you choose to acknowledge it or not, how you eat affects not only your body, but the planet—for better or for worse. That’s why I decided to write Food Fix: How to Save Our Health, Our Economy, Our Communities, and Our Planet—One Bite at a Time to give everyone—eaters, entrepreneurs in the food space, and policymakers—a blueprint to help make tangible steps toward change.
Maybe you think my book’s title is overblown. Can changing the way we eat really transform the economy, our communities, and planet? Well, yeah, it can. The truth is, we all have the potential to be changemakers.
Why our broken food system is ground zero for so many other problems
Let’s start with something that you’ve probably already thought about before: the connection between food and health. I’m not going to sugarcoat this (I don’t like sugar), but what and how we eat is a major contributor to the global epidemic of chronic disease. In 2019, The Lancet published an analysis of dietary risk factors in 195 countries based on the Global Burden of Disease study, the most comprehensive study of the effects of diet on health ever conducted. They found that a diet high in processed foods, refined grains, and sugar—which essentially describes the standard American diet—was responsible for 11 million deaths worldwide in the year 2017 alone.
Imagine if a viral outbreak killed 11 million people in a year. Governments would do everything in their power to stop it. But from where I sit, that urgency is not given to unhealthy foods causing chronic diseases and preventable deaths. The reason why our food isn’t given the same attention is because conditions like heart disease and cancer are seen as “noncommunicable,” aka not contagious; people think they just appear randomly due to genetics or are the result of poor judgment. We often unfairly blame the victim for these diseases, but the truth is that it comes down to the social, economic and political environment in which we live.
If we don’t start addressing the connection between unhealthy food and health, it’s going to destroy our economy, too. Treating chronic diseases—many of which are caused or exacerbated by food—will cost the global economy an estimated $47 trillion by 2030. It’s a number so unimaginably big that we could eradicate poverty with a check that size.
Then there’s the health of the planet to consider. Pollinators like bees—upon which 75 percent of our food production depends—are being killed by pesticides. Our soil health is deteriorating because of existing practices, like livestock grazing and pollution, which means the food we grow isn’t as nutrient-rich as it once was. Big agriculture (and the related deforestation to make room for new farms) are responsible for between a quarter and half of all greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
Riled up? Good. It’s time to take action.
The “food fix” we should all start making now
There are a lot of big, systemic changes that have to be made in order to make our food system better for ourselves and for the planet. What does change look like, exactly? As I see it, everyone will have access to nutritious food; these healthy foods won’t cost more than unhealthy foods; they’re sourced in a way that’s humane and not harmful to the environment. To get here, there are certain things everyone can do to help push that change into existence.
Many of the big changes that need to happen to fix our food system need to be political. Fifty-three percent of citizens voted in the 2018 midterm election—and that was actually the highest turnout in four decades. Who you choose to represent you in government can go a long way towards ensuring that our nation’s food policy is truly healthier and most sustainable. That’s why I urge everyone to research their congressional representatives and senators and see what their beliefs are when it comes to how we eat. For example, do they support taxing items on soda and junk food, which have shown to be effective at incentivizing people to make healthier food choices? The Food Policy Action website, which tells you what your Congress member has voted on various food and agricultural issues, is a great resource for finding this information.
You can also vote with your dollar by supporting businesses and restaurants aligned with your food values. Brands want to make money; if consumers are demanding they make a change, they’ll do it. Several big companies, led by Campbell Soup Company, announced in 2016 that they would start disclosing genetically modified ingredients on all their packages nationwide—a change that happened because consumers demanded it. Kellogg’s recently declared they would no longer allow the toxic herbicide glyphosate in their cereals, and General Mills committed to 1 million acres to regenerative agriculture (a way of farming that helps reverse climate change). That’s just a few examples of how brands could change the way they operate if it will affect their bottom line.
Think about changes you can make in your community, too. Someone I know saw that her kids weren’t being served healthy foods in their school cafeteria. She started thinking of ways that worked within the school budget to create healthier, kid-approved school lunches. It launched with a pilot program and is so successful that it’s now expanding into other schools in her district.
We didn’t get to this place of brokenness overnight, nor is it one person’s fault. Collectively, and over time, we can fix this. But it starts by taking action now.
A recent review article looked at the latest data to determine if dietary changes can affect mental health.
Dietary psychiatry, an emerging field in mental health and treatment, has recently been featured in several scientific literature journals.
Although much of the data show a significant association, scientists are still trying to accurately determine whether diet can affect mental health. If so, how much of an effect can be seen?
In an effort to explicate and compare the evidence that has so far been presented, a team of scientists from several European countries has published a review article in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology.
In this article, the authors warn that while there indeed appears to be a large evidence-base supporting the benefits of a healthy diet for mental health and wellbeing, such evidence is not thorough enough to be considered proof.
On the one hand, several efforts comparing large amounts of research showed that the Mediterranean diet indeed has an effect on mental health. Such a diet, high in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains, was found to both protect against, as well as reduce the symptoms of depression. Similarly, vitamin B12 deficiency has been shown with great confidence to create symptoms of fatigue, lethargy, depression, and poor memory.
The authors also mention that detecting such effects varies across the lifespan. While deficiencies in nutrition can create very significant effects in early life, especially in infancy or in the womb, such effects rarely exist later on. In adulthood, the authors suggest, the effects would be relatively small, and it is possible that dietary changes would only have an effect on mental health for adults with poor nutritional habits.
The authors further explain that much of the evidence accumulated to this point is correlational, not causational. This means that more quality studies need to be conducted in order for this topic to be properly investigated. Just as important, however, the authors state that future research should attempt to explain the metabolic and cellular processes that connect nutrition and mental health or brain functioning.
Source: Medical News Bulletin
Food, at the most basic level, is nourishment. But many nutrient-rich ingredients also contain positive healing properties that can help alleviate frustrating, and often persistent, ailments. Today, I'm excited to share a few tasty remedies that can help you tame a cold, ease a bout of stress and lift fatigue. Let's eat, drink and be healthy!
Note: It's important to point out that medication is a vital way to manage and treat various health conditions. Food should not take the place of medication.
When you're feeling under the weather, these refreshingly sweet and hydrating ice pops are just what the doctor ordered. Simply mix five cold-and-flu-fighting ingredients together and freeze 'em in ice pop molds for a few hours. They're made from grapefruit, guava and carrots, which nourish your system with immune-boosting vitamin C and beta-carotene, while helping to tame uncomfortable symptoms such as sneezing, coughing and a runny nose. Plus, they're soothing on a sore throat and gentle on an upset stomach.
Feeling stressed and anxious?
When life leaves you frazzled, pour yourself a cup of orange-chamomile tea. This comforting beverage contains chamomile and orange, two ingredients that can help calm your nerves and relieve tension. Just add a few sliced oranges to a cup of hot chamomile tea, making sure to squeeze in some of the fresh juices to sweeten the taste and brighten the aroma. Pair with mini whole-grain sandwiches stuffed with hummus and thinly sliced cucumbers, because what else goes better with tea than tea sandwiches? Hummus, made with slow-burn chickpeas, is another tasty stress-buster.
No-Bake Espresso Energy Bites
Tired of feeling tired? Eat these energy bites! Each delicious bite is crammed with energizing ingredients like protein-packed nut butter, fiber-filled oats, omega-3-rich flax and chia seeds, antioxidant-loaded cocoa and the key ingredient: espresso! Plus, they're a cinch to make (no food processor or oven required) and can be stored for days in the refrigerator. Your body and taste buds (and friends, if you care to share) will thank you.
It’s common for people to focus on their health at the start of the year. But few consider the well being of the microbes that live inside the human gut – the microbiome – which are vital to an individual’s good health.
How important are these bacteria? There are as many bacterial cells in us as there are human cells, and they help control everything from inflammation and the development and treatment of cancer to how much energy we get from our foods and perhaps even what foods we crave and our moods. When our microbiome becomes unbalanced, often indicated when certain species or groups of bacteria become overly abundant, these functions can be disrupted, contributing to the development of a wide range of diseases such as obesity, cancer, inflammatory bowel disease and many others.
Our gut microbes are also responsible for gas production when we eat new foods as those microbes adapt to this new nutrient source in their environment. So it is clear we want to have a healthy microbiome, but what is that?
There is a lot of debate regarding what exactly constitutes a healthy community of gut microbes, but one thing has become clear. Humans need a diverse microbiome with a variety of bacterial species that can quickly adapt to the wide range of foods that we might want to consume while still performing all those important functions like preventing inflammation. So what are some things that you can do to support a healthy, diverse microbiome?
5. Eat your fruits and veggies
While all the different foods that make up your diet can influence the gut microbiome, it is the fiber – the carbohydrates in our diet that we cannot break down ourselves but the bacteria in our gut can use readily – that drives the formation of a healthy microbiome. Eating a diverse and abundant selection of fruits and veggies is a great way to feed some of the most health-promoting bacteria in our gut.
4. Add resistant starch
Most of the starch in our diet - like white bread and pasta - is quickly broken down and absorbed. But a fraction of that starch is resistant to digestion and acts more like a fiber, feeding the bacteria in our gut. Resistant starch has been identified as particularly beneficial for supporting all of those healthy functions of the gut microbiome.
Some sources of resistant starch include potatoes and legumes. All sources of starch can also become more resistant after cooking and then cooling in the fridge. So those leftover potatoes and pasta, cold or reheated, may have some added microbiome-promoting punch.
3. Experiment with different fibers
Not all gut microbiomes are the same and not all fibers are the same. Certain fibers and microbiomes will mix better than others, depending on what functions are present. This means that you need to do some experimentation to see what fibers will make you and your gut feel the best. You can do this with fiber supplements or with different categories of fiber sources such as whole grains, legumes or cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. Give your microbiome a couple of weeks to adjust to each fiber source to see how it responds.
2. Exercise for both you and your microbes
Regular physical activity is not only good for your heart, but it is also good for your gut, too. Studies recently showed that some of the lactate produced during exercise can impact certain gut microbes – although we don’t yet know how and why. Start slow if you haven’t had regular physical activity as part of your daily life. If you start on New Year’s, by Valentine’s Day you could be walking daily, or doing some time of activity that you like, to help your heart, mind and gut.
1. Add probiotic foods into your diet
What are probiotic foods? These are foods that contain microorganisms that have a health benefit. There are several different kinds of helpful microorganisms that are added to foods like yogurt or are naturally found in other fermented foods – like sauerkraut or kimchi – that give them a health-promoting effect. Give one of these foods a try in the new year. You might be wondering if probiotic supplementsare as beneficial as probiotic food. So far there isn’t enough evidence to say that – so stick with food.
Certain breakfast drinks can have a really negative impact on your health, especially for people over 50. As you grow older, it is best to watch out for these morning drinks to avoid unnecessary calories, sugar, and saturated fats, which can lead to wait gain and other health problems. Specifically, sugar and saturated fats have been linked to high cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease (which already increases as you grow older).
To make it easier to decide what morning drinks to order, we spoke to experts about the drinks they recommend avoiding. Read on for the 4 morning drinks experts say no one over 50 should be ordering anymore.
Pumpkin Spice Latte
Although a seasonal favorite, these pumpkin-flavored lattes are not the healthiest option for a morning drink. Lynell Ross, certified health & wellness coach, nutritionist, and founder of Zivadream, warns against drinking them: "A large pumpkin spice latte contains 470 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, and 64 grams of sugar (the equivalent of 16 teaspoons)."
Citing these nutrition facts, Ross warns that the pumpkin spice latte is both bad for your heart and can lead to type 2 diabetes.
Ross also warns against ordering an iced frappuccino. She explains, "Every flavor (vanilla, chocolate or caramel) is loaded with sugar, saturated fat, and calories. Ingesting that much caffeine, calories, sugar, and saturated fat all at once puts stress on your pancreas and adrenal glands."
Staying away from iced frappuccinos is especially important as you grow older. Ross explains, "Middle aged people and seniors need to pay special attention to making sure they limit added sugar and saturated fat to keep their heart healthy and their weight down."
Although it might be tempting to turn to Pepsi for a morning caffeine fix, Ross also recommends steering clear of soda during your morning routine. As you grow older, this is especially important. Ross explains, "Soda can leach calcium out of your bones, a mineral people over 50 need to build up to avoid osteoporosis (bone loss)."
Plus, soda won't actually help you stay awake. Ross says, "Soda with real sugar will raise your blood sugar levels, then cause your blood sugar to crash, leaving you feeling lethargic."
Premade Fruit Smoothie
Premade fruit smoothies seem like a healthy option, but they are often surprisingly high in calories from sugar and fat. Instead, make your smoothie at home and pay special attention to your ingredients. Lisa Richards, nutritionist and author of The Candida Diet, explains her rules for homemade smoothies: "Replace inflammatory dairy products with coconut or almond milk and yogurts. Also, make sure you are measuring your fruit ingredients to prevent taking in more servings than necessary and thereby increasing the sugar content."
Source: She Finds
Have you ever bought a local carton of fresh strawberries in early June and marveled at just how delicious they are? A June strawberry is a thing to behold—its juices practically dripping down your chin, its deeply fragrant smell, and jewel-bright color.
There’s a reason, of course, why eating a strawberry goes from something mundane to an almost magical experience in late spring and early summer: peak season for many varieties of strawberries is from early June through early July in the United States (depending on where you live, of course).
In our modern world, no matter where we live across the United States, we tend to eat all manner of fresh produce year-round and think nothing of it. So we no longer think of food as seasonal. Our latte flavors, sure—but our food? But to our not-so-distant ancestors, finding a fresh strawberry in December would have been completely unimaginable.
The difference seasonal food makes
Even though our modern food system makes it possible to eat strawberries in the dead of winter (although they pale in comparison to June strawberries), there are benefits to eating with the local seasons that extend beyond taste. Eating foods at their seasonal peak is also better for our health, our wallets, and the environment, too.
Consider, for instance, that watermelons and tomatoes, which both have their peak season at the height of summer, are incredibly rich in lycopene—an antioxidant that absorbs both UVA and UVB radiation. One study found that eating foods rich in antioxidants like lycopene can be protective against sun-caused skin damage. In a remarkable way, the earth is producing the exact foods that will best serve us during the season when we are outside in the sun the most.
In-season fruits and vegetables may also be denser in nutritious elements like antioxidants than those grown outside of your local season, because they are often fresher than out-of-season produce. For example, the strawberry that you eat in December was probably grown in Mexico (or another place where strawberries are still in season), so they spend a lot more time “on the road” in the time between when they were picked and when they’re atop your morning bowl of yogurt and granola. So not only did that June strawberry taste better to you, it was probably better for you, too.
Which brings us to the environmental impact of eating out-of-season. Consider the carbon footprint of a bell pepper grown in-season (July through September) at your local farm compared to one grown out-of-season in South America; the potential impact on the environment of our season-less eating habits becomes pretty alarming. Sometimes costs reflect that: consider how cheap ears of corn are in the autumn—at my local grocery store at this time of year, the price can go as low as six ears for a dollar—compared to how much they’ll cost (if they can be found at all) several months from now.
Of course, getting fresh produce of any sort, in-season or out, can be a real challenge for far too many families in the United States. Food deserts (that is, parts of the country that have fewer grocery stores with fresh fruits and vegetables and more quickie marts with sugar and fat-laden foods) are a real problem, and I believe our first priority when it comes to food should be to feed our families with the most nutritionally-dense food we have available (and affordable) to us. But for those with a plethora of fresh food sources at our disposal, eating with the local seasons can be an excellent way to fuel our bodies, to ethically fuel our local economy, and to be good stewards of the environment.
After all, some of us wait all year for “Pumpkin Spice Latte Season” and would never consider asking our barista for one until we can do it while clad in a scarf and jeans. Knowing what we now do about how in-season food affects our bodies, wallet, and environment, perhaps we will one day await strawberry season with the same fervor.
It’s not just that your tummy is gurgling in your board meeting, it’s that you’re picturing a very specific chicken sandwich smothered in artichoke dip. Or maybe brownies and BBQ sauce-soaked ribs. Screw it, maybe you even have the urge to buy a can of whipped cream that you’ll devour straight from the nozzle.
These cravings happen to most all of us. They’re a normal part of life — and, sometimes, they’re a health signal from your body that something is up.
Evelyn Tribole — MS, RD, pioneer of the self-care eating model “intuitive eating” and coauthor of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works — explains that urges to eat specific food groups may be your body’s way of telling you about nutritional deficiencies. For example, if you’re craving carb-heavy treats or sweets like scones, you might not be getting enough to eat, she says.
But it’s not quite that simple. There’s also a psychological component to cravings. “Our biology and psychology are intricately wired together,” Tribole says. A 2010 review on the subject in Current Directions in Psychological Science noted that research suggests that mental imagery plays a factor, with one study finding that the strength of cravings has to do with how vividly you can imagine the food you have a hankering for.
Tribole herself says she doesn’t like to “pathologize” cravings, but rather encourages people to get curious about why they’re happening. “When you feel a craving, ask yourself: What am I feeling and what do I need?” Tribole suggests. Then you can take that information and respond by listening to your body, often times by indulging the craving to satisfy your body's needs.
If your food cravings are impacting your life in a negative way, you might want to talk to a nutritionist or doctor about them. But if you’re just curious about cravings, we asked nutritionists about some common causes, from dehydration to dieting.
For most people, cravings tend to be tied to heartier foods. "I’ve never run into a patient who’s told me: I can’t stop craving kale or broccoli.” Tribole laughs. She says you might be more likely to crave sweets if you’re not getting enough carbohydrates, which often happens to people who are dieting and depriving themselves of certain things on a nutritional level.
“Our brain relies on carbohydrates,” says Tribole. “They’re the preferred fuel of the brain…. If you’re having these cravings and if you find yourself thinking about food 24/7, that’s a sign you’re not getting enough to eat. It’s your body trying to survive. ”
Holistic nutritionist Kelly LeVeque — who’s worked with celebs like Jessica Alba — says hormones also can impact the foods we yearn for. “Cortisol plays a big part in food cravings — it's the hormone produced by the adrenals when our body senses stress,” she says. In small doses, it's fine, but chronically elevated levels of cortisol may lead to longings for specific foods like scrumptious crumb cakes.
“Stress, which most of us experience on a day-to-day basis, can cause cravings that have us in dire search of highly palatable foods like cookies, pizza, and chips,” she says.” We crave these foods because when we eat them we release the "reward hormone" dopamine.”
When it comes to food cravings, LaVeque says, it can be good to focus on nourishing your body "with anti-inflammatory and blood sugar–balancing meals, without focusing on the perfection and strict rules, since those cause even more stress.”
“Instead, focus on getting to bed an hour early at night, text a friend to schedule a workout, and at your next meal focus on filling up on blood sugar balancing foods like protein, fat, fiber and greens,” she says.
There are tons of theories out there about why pregnant women crave certain foods. Some hinge on hormonal changes, and other suggest that they’re about nutritional deficits, according to a 2014 review in Frontiers in Psychology. Whatever the reason, pregnancy cravings are certainly common, and may lead you to crave anything from pickles to ice cream.
If you find yourself spooning frosting out of the Betty Crocker jar, it could be because you’re dehydrated. Some research suggests being dehydrated triggers cravings foods, according to Cleveland Clinic.
You’re on your period.
Tribole notes that period cravings are common, and notes that the body has more energy needs leading up to menstruation, which might cause the body to need more fuel and crave certain things. “I would have sworn cravings would be specific to chocolate during this time, but research shows that women will crave a wide variety of different kinds of foods during this time,” she says.
They’re emotional cravings.
Tribole notes that some cravings are tied to emotional factors. “Maybe you’ve been going 24/7 working hard and you need a break,” she says. “You start thinking about the vending machine, and it’s the only way your mind is willing to give you a break.”
It’s a special time of year.
Tribole says it’s not unreasonable for people to yearn for pumpkin ice cream in the fall, or sugar cookies during the holidays. “Sometimes a seasonal thing, and sometimes it’s just about food,” she says
Ultimately, Tribole says, sometimes cravings are just cravings. “Sometimes it’s about listening to body — what tastes, good, what sounds good — and letting go of food rules gradually, “she says. “And sometimes a food just sounds good.”
(Reuters Health) - Many patients with life-threatening food allergies may feel anxious or overwhelmed at times, but it’s rare for mental health professionals to be involved in their care, suggests a survey of U.S. centers of excellence in allergy treatment.
Allergy specialists and mental health professionals should work together to create easier pathways for patients to get mental health support, the survey team writes in a “clinical communication” in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
“Food allergy is a chronic disease, but unique because you don’t suffer from the pain of it every day, but every time you eat, you may be afraid that something bad might happen,” said Dr. Marcus Shaker, a pediatric allergist at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, who wasn’t involved in the paper.
About 8 percent of children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with a food allergy, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“Depending on how that’s framed and approached has profound implications, and it can start at an early age with family or doctors,” Shaker told Reuters Health in a phone interview. “For some families, it doesn’t affect them much, but for others, it’s a completely different framing with constant vigilance and fear.”
In the paper, a group of clinicians led by Linda Herbert of the Children’s National Medical Center and George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., describe the results of their online survey. The authors were not available to comment on their report.
The survey asked site coordinators at 28 Food Allergy Research and Education Clinical Network Centers of Excellence across the U.S. about the presence of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and other counselors in their practice, and the availability of mental health practitioners in the community through referrals.
Survey questions also asked about perceptions of the mental health concerns patients had in relation to managing their food allergies, allergy tests and challenges, and participation in clinical trials.
Overall, 22 of the centers of excellence were in hospital settings, including 16 that provided care only to children. Among the sites, five had a mental health professional in their division, full or part-time. More than half of the sites had a professional in their institution to whom they could refer patients, but fewer had a professional in the community for referral. Only four places had students who were receiving training in food allergy-related mental health concerns.
All but one of the survey participants said they observed food allergy-related mental health concerns in their patients, including both child and parent anxiety. Site coordinators thought mental health services could be most beneficial at the time of allergy diagnosis, before notable developmental transitions in kids and before food challenges occurred. Coordinators also said they had observed mental health concerns related to dosing, allergic reactions, epinephrine use in emergencies and food aversions.
Eighteen participants said they didn’t have mental health support for clinical trial participants, but would like to have it. They also noted that they thought few mental health professionals had adequate food allergy knowledge to provide specialized care.
“We’ve seen kids develop a full-blown anxiety disorder, and if they do have a reaction, it can be traumatic and cause some degree of post-traumatic stress disorder that takes time to get back to where they were,” said Dr. Amanda Cox of the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute in New York City, who wasn’t involved in the paper.
The allergy and mental health communities should work together to create educational programs about food allergy for mental health professionals and primary care doctors, as well as expand the pool of professionals available for referrals, the study authors write.
“With any chronic health problem, it’s important for parents and caregivers to observe how it affects how a person functions in the world,” Cox said in a phone interview. “If it limits them and is stressful, it could be a problem that could benefit from good coping mechanisms.”
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