Stronger Bones Can Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis

Stronger Bones Can Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis

woman with pomegranate
As you age, your bones tend to get thinner and more brittle. This can lead to health problems and may make it harder for you to be independent and perform your usual daily activities. It can also be hard to recover from broken bones as an older adult.

Taking steps to strengthen your bones can help you stay healthy and active in the future.

Understanding Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a disease that leads to weak bones. About 4.2% of men and 18.8% of women over the age of 50 have this condition.

When you are younger, your body goes through an ongoing process of breaking down old bone tissue and creating new bone to replace it. However, your body will start creating new bone at a slower rate. After this time, your bone tissue will continue to be eliminated, but your body may not make enough new tissue to replace the bone loss. Therefore, it’s important to strengthen the bone you have and to take measures to prevent your bones from being broken down.

If your bones become too weak and fragile, you may be diagnosed with osteoporosis. This condition may occur if:

  • You have a very low bone mineral density (a measure of how much calcium and other minerals are present within your bone tissue)
  • You lose too much bone mass and your bones become thin
  • Your bone structure or quality begins to change

People with osteoporosis are more likely to experience bone breaks or fractures. The most commonly broken bones in people with osteoporosis are the hip, wrist, and spinal vertebrae. In fact, half of all women age 50 and above will experience a fracture in one of these bones at some point during their life. However, it is possible to break any bone.

Osteoporosis is related to another similar disorder called osteopenia. Osteopenia or low bone mass also leads to weakened bones but isn’t as severe as osteoporosis. However, people with osteopenia can develop osteoporosis in the future.

Symptoms of Osteoporosis

Many people with osteoporosis don’t realize they have the condition. They often don’t have symptoms when the disease is still in its early stages, and they may only discover that they have weakened bones when they experience a fracture.

In some cases, people may develop noticeable symptoms, such as:

  • A decrease in height
  • A stooped posture
  • Back pain due to a compression fracture of the spinal vertebrae
  • Kyphosis (a curving of the top area of the spine, leading to a round hump in the upper part of the back or base of the neck)

What Causes Osteoporosis?

super foods
Factors that cause your body to destroy bone at a quicker rate than normal or prevent your body from making new bone can lead to osteoporosis. You may be at risk if you:

  • Are older and have gone through menopause or have decreasing hormone levels
  • Went through early menopause, either naturally or as a result of surgery to remove the ovaries
  • Have experienced a period of time (at least three months in a row) in which you don’t have menstrual periods
  • Are underweight (weigh less than 127 pounds)
  • Have family members who have had osteoporosis
  • Have experienced a bone fracture after the age of 50
  • Don’t consume enough foods or drinks that contain calcium or vitamin D
  • Have a condition that prevents your body from absorbing calcium from the things you eat (for example, you’ve had gastric bypass surgery)
  • Drink a lot of alcohol
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Are not very physically active
  • Have a disorder that causes chronic inflammation
  • Take certain medications that can weaken the bones
  • Have anorexia, bulimia, or another eating disorder

Certain people are also more likely to develop osteoporosis. Women get this condition more often than men — four out of five people with osteoporosis are women. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, women tend to naturally have smaller, less dense bones compared to men. Additionally, estrogen helps lengthen the lifespan of osteoblasts — the cells that build new bone tissue. When women go through menopause, they produce far less estrogen, making them lose bone more quickly. Finally, women are more likely to live longer than men, and bone strength decreases over time.

White women and Asian women get osteoporosis more often than Black women and Hispanic women. However, all women have some risk of developing the condition. White men are also more likely to develop osteoporosis than men of other races and ethnicities.

Diagnosing Osteoporosis

woman with a salad and tape measure
Your doctor can measure your bone density with a type of painless X-ray scan called central dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA or DEXA). This scan can measure how thick your bones are and use this information to determine whether you are experiencing bone loss and calculate your risk of breaking bones in the future.

Public health experts recommend undergoing a DXA to screen for osteoporosis about once every two years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends DXA screening for women over the age of 65. Additionally, screening may be a good idea for women between the ages of 50 and 64 who have certain risk factors (such as having a family history of osteoporosis).

A DXA may also be paired with other diagnostic tests. Your doctor may recommend a vertebral fracture assessment (VFA) — a spine X-ray that can determine if you have any breaks in your spinal vertebrae. You may also undergo blood and urine tests to look for any other health issues that could be causing bone loss.

Preventing and Treating Osteoporosis

By focusing on your bone health, you can take measures to strengthen your bones or prevent additional bone loss. These strategies may help you avoid having problems with low bone density in the future. Alternatively, if you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, these measures may help you prevent your condition from worsening.

Getting More Calcium and Vitamin D

Boost your bone strength with important nutrients like calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is important for many parts of the body, including the bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. The body’s main way of storing calcium is in the bones. When you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, your body will remove it from your bones, making them weaker.

Foods and drinks that contain calcium include:

  • Dairy products like milk and yogurt
  • Spinach, kale, bok choy, and other dark green leafy vegetables
  • Broccoli
  • Cans of sardines or salmon that contain bones
  • Foods with added calcium, such as tofu, soy milk, breakfast cereal, and orange juice

You also need vitamin D in order for your digestive system to absorb calcium from your food. To get more vitamin D, reach for:

  • Milk
  • Milk alternative products like soy milk and oat milk
  • Oily fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout
  • Mushrooms
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Foods with added vitamin D, including some kinds of yogurt, margarine, and breakfast cereals

To check whether certain foods contain calcium or vitamin D, check the Nutrition Facts label. The best food sources of calcium will provide at least 20% of your daily value of this nutrient.

You can also take supplements that contain calcium, vitamin D, or both. Your skin also makes vitamin D when you are in the sun. However, too much sun exposure can increase your risk of skin cancer, so it’s a good idea to get vitamin D from your diet and protect yourself from the sun when you’re outside.

Lifestyle Changes

woman with a salad and tape measure

, One great way to increase or maintain bone density is through weight-bearing exercises. This includes any type of activity in which your muscles pull on your bones. You may want to try:

  • Walking
  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Climbing stairs
  • Doing aerobics
  • Weight training (lifting weights or performing bodyweight exercises)
  • Playing tennis
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Tai chi

Before trying a new exercise or increasing your levels of physical activity, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor. If you already have osteoporosis, you should avoid activities that twist your spine or put pressure on your back, including swinging a golf club, doing sit-ups, or performing toe touches. You may also need to stay away from activities like step aerobics that place a lot of pressure on your joints and may lead to fractures.

Other lifestyle changes can also help you protect your bones. Alcohol disrupts the body’s ability to use calcium, make vitamin D, regulate stress levels, and maintain a proper balance of hormones. These factors can all decrease bone density. Therefore, limiting how much alcohol you drink may lessen your chances of developing bone problems.

Studies show that people who smoke cigarettes have a higher risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures. Their bones also take longer to heal after breaking. To support bone health, join a program to help you quit smoking or ask your doctor for advice.

Managing Other Health Conditions

Several disorders can increase the risk of osteoporosis. These include anorexia, rheumatoid arthritis, conditions that lead to hormone imbalances, gastrointestinal conditions, HIV infections, and certain types of cancer.

Working with your doctor to find an effective treatment plan and keep these conditions under control may help you avoid bone problems down the line.

Avoiding Medications That Cause Bone Loss

Some medications can weaken the bones, such as:

  • Glucocorticoids (a type of steroid medication)
  • Certain medications that treat rheumatoid arthritis or asthma
  • Thiazolidinediones (a diabetes treatment)
  • Proton pump inhibitors (drugs used to treat stomach ulcers and acid reflux)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs (medications prescribed for depression and anxiety)
  • Medications that treat seizures
  • Breast cancer or prostate cancer treatments that involve taking hormones

Taking Medication to Strengthen Bones

Certain medications can help prevent or treat osteoporosis. The most commonly used drugs are bisphosphonates, which help slow down the rate at which your body loses bone tissue. Other medications like Xgeva (denosumab) and Evenity (romosozumab) are antibody medications that block body processes that break down the bones.

Some osteoporosis medications contain hormones or related molecules that can help build up more bone. These treatments include Forteo (teriparatide), Tymlos (abaloparatide), Calcimar (calcitonin), parathyroid hormone analogs, estrogen therapy, and estrogen receptor modulators.

Staying Safe

Weakened bones lead to a greater risk of fractures, which may mean hospital visits, surgery, or a lot of bed rest. Preventing falls can help you stay safe and avoid breaking your bones.

Unfortunately, your risk of falling increases as you age. Eye problems, hearing difficulties, dulled reflexes, muscle weakness, and foot problems can all lead to falls. Additionally, you may have other health conditions or need to take medication that makes you feel tired, dizzy, confused, or off-balance.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help prevent falling and fractures, including:

  • Take care of your eyes and ears — Get your sight and hearing tested regularly. Make sure to wear any glasses, contacts, or hearing aids you are prescribed.
  • Get enough sleep — You are more likely to fall when you feel tired.
  • Take your time getting up — Your blood pressure may drop and you may feel off-balance when you quickly stand up after sitting or lying down.
  • Cut back on alcohol — The more that older adults drink, the more likely they are to break their hip.
  • Be aware of medication side effects — Talk to your doctor if you think your drug regimen is making you feel tired or confused.
  • Add more lighting in your home — Make sure all of your living spaces are well-lit, including stairways and long halls.
  • Keep your floor clear — Attach carpets and rugs to the floor to avoid slipping, and don’t leave items or electric cords laying on the floor where you could trip over them.
  • Wear proper shoes — Find shoes with a non-slip grip that offer comfortable support for your feet. Wear shoes in your home rather than socks or slippers with a slipperier sole.
  • Use an aid when walking on slippery surfaces — Install a bar or seat in your shower and use a non-skid bathmat to help prevent falling on the wet shower floor. Spread salt on the steps or sidewalks near your home to keep them from icing over in the colder months.
  • Ask your doctor about a cane or walker — Using assistive devices can help you avoid falling.

Getting Help With Osteoporosis

When your weakened bones go untreated, you may end up with fractures that cause a lot of pain, surgery, or disfigurement. However, there are a lot of treatment options that can strengthen the bones and help you avoid bad outcomes. Make an appointment with Dr. Connor to discuss whether it’s a good idea to be screened for osteoporosis, and work with your healthcare team to come up with a treatment plan if you are at risk of having bone problems.

The Best Anti-Aging Superfoods

The Best Anti-Aging Superfoods

woman with pomegranate
Staying young isn’t just about the way you look or the way you act — it’s also about protecting your health. The older we get, the more damage builds up in our tissues and the more likely we are to be diagnosed with chronic health conditions.

Of course, there’s no way to permanently halt the aging process. However, eating right and taking care of yourself can help minimize age-related damage and keep you feeling as good as you can throughout many decades of life.

(I encourage you to read my entire series on superfoods to learn about what is so super about superfoods as well as about superfoods for weight lossheart healthdiabetes and pre-diabetesradiant skin and gut health.)

Aging and Your Health

Every part of your body goes through age-related changes. Your skin loses its elasticity, your muscles become weaker, and your bones lose strength.

Additionally, the older you get, the higher your risk for health conditions such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Arthritis and other joint problems
  • Cognitive disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
  • Cancer

Adopting healthy habits, including eating more nutritious foods, may help slow down these changes and keep you as healthy as possible as you age.

What Causes Aging?

Experts are still learning about the many factors that bring about aging. However, they have identified a few possible causes, which may be affected by lifestyle habits such as diet.

Some genes help control aging. These genes may be turned on or off or develop mutations that lead to age-related changes within cells.

Aging is also linked to damage. Small molecules called reactive oxygen species (ROS) can form within cells. ROS damage DNA and cells, causing a cell to age. On the other hand, antioxidants are substances that get rid of ROS, helping prevent and heal damage. Some unhealthy foods can lead to higher levels of ROS, while other foods can act as antioxidants, keeping your cells young.

Inflammation is another factor that leads to aging. A little bit of inflammation is necessary to help the immune system fight off germs or toxins. But chronic (ongoing) inflammation can accelerate the aging process and lead to age-related health problems. Different foods can help raise or lower the amount of inflammation in the body.

Superfood Solutions to Stop Aging

super foods
Eating a variety of foods from each food group is enough to help you get most of the vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy. However, if you’re worried about aging, you may want to eat extra superfoods that can help your cells stay healthy.

There’s no one definition of a “superfood,” but the label tends to be given to foods or drinks that offer higher levels of health-boosting nutrients. Superfoods also frequently contain helpful molecules like antioxidants, which protect cells from free radicals and help heal the damage that builds up with age. Additionally, many superfoods have been shown to help reduce the risk of developing different chronic diseases.

Adding more of these foods to your diet may help you keep your body healthy and make you look and feel as young as possible as you age!

Blueberries

Blueberries are a powerful superfood that can help keep you healthy into your later years. These fruits contain antioxidants and other anti-aging molecules.

Blueberries can protect nerve cells from ROS and inflammation. This can help prevent or even reverse age-related problems with memory, cognitive abilities, balance, and motor function.

Blueberries also contain molecules called anthocyanins that help protect against disorders like diabetes and heart disease. They may even help protect against early death.

Nuts

Different kinds of nuts — including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, and pine nuts — provide healthy fats and protein and help protect against inflammation. Another big benefit of eating nuts is their ability to help prevent age-related health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and cognitive problems like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Nuts may even help you live longer. One study found:

  • People who ate nuts once per week were 89% less likely to have an early death.
  • Those who ate nuts two to four times a week were 87% less likely to die early.
  • Eating nuts five or six times per week led to an 85% reduced risk of early death.
  • People who had nuts at least seven times a week were 80% less likely to die early.

Pomegranates

Pomegranates are a fantastic superfood that contain several anti-aging molecules.

Several substances found in pomegranates can help protect cartilage from being degraded. This may help keep joints healthy and protect against arthritis.

These fruits also contain molecules called ellagitannin and ellagic acid. When you eat pomegranate, the good bacteria in your gut transform these chemicals into urolithin A (UA). UA reduces inflammation and gives a boost to the mitochondria (small structures that make energy for your cells).

UA can also protect against age-related problems that appear in your muscles, joints, brain, and other tissues. In some laboratory studies, UA also helped animals live longer, although this has not yet been tested in humans.

Tomatoes

Eating more tomatoes may be an easy way to keep your skin healthy as you age. Tomatoes contain lycopene, a red pigment that also acts as an antioxidant. Pro tip: your body can absorb lycopene from tomato paste more easily than it can from fresh tomatoes.

Researchers have found that lycopene is present in your skin cells and in the oil that your skin produces, although levels decrease with age. Fortunately, eating more lycopene can increase how much of this molecule is present in your skin, bringing lycopene levels up to those seen in young adults. Studies have also found that eating more tomato paste protects the skin from sun damage.

Tomatoes may provide other benefits as well. Some research shows that eating more tomatoes can help reduce your chances of being diagnosed with serious conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Salmon

Salmon, as well as other fatty fish like trout, mackerel, sardines, and tuna, is a great source of vitamin D, protein, and healthy fats, making it an important superfood.

Levels of vitamin D in the body tend to drop with age. This is bad news for your bones, since vitamin D is needed to keep them strong and healthy. Low vitamin D levels mean an increased risk of weak or broken bones. Not getting enough of this vitamin also puts you at risk for certain age-linked diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and cancer. Making sure you have enough of this vitamin as you age is essential.

Healthy protein sources also become increasingly important as you age. The older you get, the more muscle mass you lose. Eating higher levels of protein can help combat this and keep the muscles healthy.

The omega-3 fats found in salmon and other fish also help with healthy aging. They can reduce inflammation and protect brain health, helping prevent age-related declines in thinking and memory abilities.

Nonfat Milk

Milk and dairy products such as cheese and yogurt provide several important nutrients. Like fatty fish, milk is a good source of protein. In the United States, milk is also usually fortified with extra vitamin D, making it another good source of this vitamin.

Dairy foods also contain a lot of calcium, a mineral that is important for bone health. Low calcium levels can eventually lead to osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones become weak. Older adults may also be at risk for this condition because some medications may prevent the body from absorbing as much calcium as it normally would. Getting enough calcium from your diet is important at every age and can help prevent future bone problems.

Whole Grains

People who want to age well should look to whole grains. Try switching out white bread for whole wheat bread, refined pasta for wheat pasta, and white rice for brown rice. You can also eat more grains like quinoa, oats, or popcorn.

Research shows that middle-aged adults who eat more whole grains are more likely to have better physical and mental health, and are less likely to have chronic illnesses.

Turmeric

Turmeric is the super spice that gives Indian curries their yellow color. Turmeric contains a molecule called curcumin that can help improve many aspects of health and has some anti-aging properties.

Laboratory studies have found that curcumin can help worms, flies, and mice live longer. It’s not yet clear whether turmeric can affect lifespan in humans, but researchers have identified several ways in which this spice can affect aging.

Curcumin can boost the body’s own natural antioxidants. It can also turn off several genes linked to aging. Finally, it can lessen symptoms of certain health conditions linked to aging and inflammation, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Water

While it may not be a “superfood” in the usual sense, water is an important nutrient that is vital for aging well. Your skin loses moisture as you get older, which makes it age. Staying hydrated is important for keeping all of your tissues healthy.

Your sense of thirst may also decrease as you get older, making it harder to remember to drink enough fluids. Additionally, staying hydrated is important when taking certain medications for chronic health conditions.

Make a plan to drink a certain number of glasses of water each day. Plan when you’re going to have drinks — don’t wait until you feel thirsty. Try having a full glass of water with every meal, and while taking any medication. If drinking enough water is difficult, you can also drink some low-fat or nonfat milk, or juice without added sugar or salt.

Diet Plans for Healthy Aging

woman with a salad and tape measure

While eating superfoods can help protect against illness, following a healthy eating plan may provide even better results. Researchers have developed certain diets that reduce a person’s chances of developing conditions that may come on with age.

One of the best-studied diets is the Mediterranean diet. It emphasizes plant-based meals with lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, and seafood. This diet can lower the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and certain types of cancer. In one study, people who followed the Mediterranean diet more closely were 26% less likely to have an early death from heart problems.

A related diet, called Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH), helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and boost heart health.

The Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay (MIND) diet combines elements from both eating plans above. The MIND diet encourages people to eat leafy green vegetables, berries, whole grains, nuts, beans, and wine. It can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

Other Tips for Aging Well

Many different lifestyle factors affect how we age. If you want to maintain health into your later years, you may also want to consider making other changes.

Getting Enough Physical Activity As You Age

Nearly one in three adults over the age of 50 are physically inactive. Additionally, people with chronic health conditions are more likely to report that they don’t get as much exercise. However, physical activity is very important — it can help prevent or treat many different disorders and reduce a person’s chances of an early death.

Experts make the following physical activity recommendations for older adults:

  • Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week (for example, take five 30-minute brisk walks per week)
  • Spend two days each week doing strength training or other activities that help build muscle
  • Regularly perform exercises that help improve balance, such as standing on one foot

If you can’t reach all of the above goals, remember that doing something is better than nothing. The more time you spend moving and the less time you spend sitting, the better! Make sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise plan to make sure that you are being active in a way that is healthy for you.

Limiting Alcohol and Tobacco

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol can speed up the aging process. They can both negatively impact the skin and lead to more wrinkles. Alcohol and tobacco can also increase a person’s chances of being diagnosed with cancer and other serious conditions.

One study also found that people who didn’t drink heavily or smoke, and adopted other healthy habits like eating healthy and getting exercise, were 60% less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Maintaining Mental Health

People of all ages can struggle with maintaining good mental health. However, problems like depression or anxiety can have a bigger impact on physical health for older adults. Poor mental health can make it harder for people to seek treatment for other conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

If you notice changes in your mood or emotions, talk to your doctor. Therapy or medication often helps improve your mental health, which can in turn have a positive impact on your physical health.

Conclusion

Your diet increasingly impacts your health as you age. The more you add superfoods and other nutritious foods to your diet, the more you can protect your skin and other organs from age-related damage and decrease your risk of chronic health disorders. Please click here to schedule an appointment with Dr Connor or call us at (512) 382-9500.

Superfoods Part 6: Foods That Promote Gut Health

Superfoods Part 6: Foods That Promote Gut Health

woman with bag of groceries
This is the final installment of my first six-part series on superfoods, this time focussing on foods that promote gut health. I welcome you to read the other articles in the series, “What Is a Superfood and What Is So Super About Them?”, “Supercharge Your Diet with Superfoods for Weight Loss”, “Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart”, “Essential Superfoods for Diabetics and Pre-Diabetics”, and “Ten Essential Superfoods for Radiant Skin”.

The foods you feed your body play a big role in how well your body works and how healthy and well you feel. Some foods offer very little nutritional value, as you might have heard of “empty calories” while others contain high levels of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that boost health and help you tremendously . Eating these superfoods can play an important role in keeping your gut functioning at its best.

Your Digestive System

Your digestive system, also called your gastrointestinal system, or your gut, is important for turning food into fuel and helps keep you healthy. When you eat, food travels from your mouth, through your esophagus, to your stomach. From the stomach, food passes through your small intestine, large intestine or colon, and rectum, and passes out of your body through the anus when you go to the bathroom. Together, these organs form a tube stretching through your body that is about 30 feet long! Other organs, such as the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas also help with digestion by producing enzymes that break down food.

The primary role of the digestive system is breaking down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into smaller pieces that the body’s cells can more easily absorb. However, the gut also performs several other jobs as well:

  • Absorbing vitamins and minerals
  • Soaking up water
  • Eliminating waste
  • Helping the immune system get rid of harmful germs
  • Communicating with the brain to control digestion, appetite, and emotions

Gut Bacteria

Another very important part of the digestive system is bacteria. Some bacteria, such as E. coli or Salmonella, can make you sick if you eat foods that are contaminated with them. However, other “good bacteria” live in our intestines and are very important for keeping us healthy. Their roles include:

  • Helping the body digest food
  • Crowding out more harmful bacteria
  • Keeping harmful substances from getting into the bloodstream
  • Helping form a barrier on the cells of the intestine
  • Boosting the immune system
  • Creating new vitamins that our bodies can use
  • Helping control appetite and how our body uses fat
  • Communicating with the brain in order to control moods and emotions
  • Helping the body fix damaged cells

The gut bacteria may also play a role in all sorts of different diseases, including cancer and asthma. Adopting habits that help gut bacteria thrive can help our bodies work properly and make us feel healthy.

Keeping Your Gut Healthy

belly
Many different lifestyle habits, including the foods we regularly eat, have a big impact on how our digestive systems and gut bacteria function. The choices we make can help make our health better or worse. Certain eating habits can optimize our guts. Eating smaller meals can make it easier for our bodies to digest foods. Eating more slowly and chewing food for longer amounts of time before swallowing can also break down food more efficiently and helps us swallow less air. Additionally, creating an eating schedule and having meals at the same times each day may help our guts work better. Other measures to keep your gut working at its best include:

  • Exercising: Getting a lot of physical activity helps the muscles in the digestive system move properly, encourages the growth of more healthy bacteria, and causes lower levels of inflammation in the gut.
  • Sleep: When you get regular sleep on a consistent schedule, your gut gets time to rest and reset. Lack of sleep can cause digestive system inflammation. People who don’t get good quality sleep are also more likely to have gastrointestinal diseases.
  • Lowering stress: High stress levels can make the cells in the intestines more “leaky,” leading more harmful substances to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Some people may often get constipation, diarrhea, or other symptoms of gut diseases during times of stress, because the digestive system isn’t working at its best. See my article, “How Stress Affects the Gut and What You Can Do About It” for more.

One of the biggest factors in how your digestive system and your gut bacteria function is the foods that you eat. Proper nutrition keeps you at your healthiest. This is where superfoods come in. Eating foods that are easily broken down by your gut, that keep the cells of your digestive system working properly, and that keep your gut bacteria healthy can help you get the most nutrition out of your food and prevent disease.

Digestive Disorders

When the organs of the digestive system stop working properly, several different diseases and conditions can occur. A couple of the most common are:

All of these conditions may have more specific treatments that help with specific symptoms. However, the food you eat also plays a big role in when and how often these symptoms come up. Eating some hard-to-digest or less nutritious foods can lead to frequent digestive issues. On the other hand, regularly eating nutrient-packed superfoods helps your gut work the way it’s supposed to.

Probiotics

Probiotic Food picture
You now know that healthy bacteria is one of the keys to a healthy gut. But where do these “good germs” come from? While babies pick up their first gut bacteria during or immediately after birth, adults can introduce more healthy bacteria into their systems using probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that boost health. Eating foods that contain probiotics helps maintain a good balance of healthy bacteria in your system. These foods have been linked to a lower risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Probiotics may also help treat IBS symptoms, such as diarrhea.

What Foods Have Probiotics?

You can buy probiotics in supplement form, or you can get them from fermented superfoods. These include:

  • Cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir
  • Sourdough bread
  • Fermented cabbage like kimchi and sauerkraut (choose unpasteurized products in order to get probiotics)
  • Fermented soybean products like tempeh, miso, and natto
  • Kombucha (fermented tea)

Yogurt is one of the most widely available fermented superfoods. It is jam-packed with healthy bacteria. Choose yogurt brands that are labeled as having “live active cultures”. These cultures may include LactobacillusL. acidophilusL. bulgaricus, or S. thermophilus. Yogurt makes for a great breakfast or afternoon snack. It can also be used in a sauce or a dip as a substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream. In addition to eating probiotic foods, you can also eat prebiotic foods to support gut health. While probiotics contain actual live bacteria, prebiotic foods help feed those bacteria. They can also help the body absorb nutrients such as calcium, decrease the risk of allergies, and improve the immune system. Some items that help good bacteria grow are oats, barley, cereals, dairy products, asparagus, artichokes, onions, garlic, bananas, beans, and honey.

Fiber

healthy produce and fish
Fiber is material that can’t be digested by the body. While it might seem odd to eat something that your body can’t absorb, fiber serves other important purposes. Fiber allows the digestive system to soak up more nutrients, feeds gut bacteria, and helps prevent constipation. Fiber has other benefits, too – it can help the body control cholesterol and blood sugar levels and reduce a person’s risk of conditions like diabetes and heart disease. There are two types of fiber, soluble and insoluble, and both are important for good health. Foods that come from plants that have a lot of fiber can also help build up a layer of mucus in the intestines. This is a good thing – it’s where the healthy bacteria live and work to digest food. Fibrous foods help build up this layer, while foods that are processed or have a lot of sugar wear down this layer. There is one caveat to eating a lot of fiber. Many high-fiber superfoods fall into a category called FODMAPs. FODMAPs are molecules found in certain fruits (apples, blackberries, cherries, dates, pears), certain vegetables (artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, mushrooms, onion, peas), dairy products, beans, wheat, and some types of sweeteners (honey, high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol). FODMAPs are perfectly fine for most people to eat. However, some people, such as those with IBS, may be more sensitive to these foods and should eat them in lower amounts. If you want to avoid these foods, try to find other ways to get a lot of fiber into your diet.

Fiber-Filled Foods

Whole grains have large quantities of both soluble and insoluble fiber, in addition to B vitamins, phytonutrients, and iron. Whole grains use the entire kernel of the grain. Refined grains are more processed, which removes a lot of the fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. To get more whole grains into your diet, substitute them for refined grains – for example, use brown rice instead of white rice, or wheat bread or pasta instead of the regular variety. Or try reaching for oatmeal for breakfast, or popcorn for a snack. You can also try cooking up some new grains as a side dish, such as quinoa, bulgur, or wheat berries. Nuts, seeds, and legumes also have high levels of fiber. Legumes include foods like beans, lentils, peas, peanuts, and soybeans, and are often thought of as superfoods because of all the health benefits they provide. Many legumes can be easily incorporated into side dishes. Nuts and seeds also make for great salad toppers, or a filling snack in between meals. Fresh produce also contains a lot of fiber. Some high-fiber fruit and vegetable superfoods include:

  • Berries: In addition to fiber, berries often have other health-boosting nutrients like vitamin C and antioxidants. They can be easily added to any meal. Try topping yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal with blueberries or strawberries. Or blend frozen berries with other superfoods like yogurt, almond milk, or coconut water to make an extra nutritious smoothie. Add them to other meals by throwing them on top of salads or into desserts.
  • Leafy greens: Superfoods like spinach, kale, and collard greens have a lot of vitamins A, C, E, and K, B vitamins, calcium, iron, and magnesium. Make up a salad with some greens, sauté them in olive oil, or toss some in a soup for an easy superfood boost.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy are a part of the cruciferous vegetable family. Some leafy greens like kale also fall into this category. Cruciferous vegetables contain immune-boosting phytochemicals as well as vitamins like folate and vitamin K. Try steaming, roasting, or stir-frying cruciferous vegetables as a side dish.

Polyphenols

Many plant-based superfoods contain polyphenols, antioxidants that repair damage and heal cells. When we eat these molecules, the cells of our intestines can’t absorb them very well, so they start piling up in the large intestine, where our gut bacteria use them as food and break them down so that our bodies can benefit from them. Polyphenols can help the digestive system in several ways. They can:

  • Help keep bad bacteria from growing
  • Encourage good bacteria to grow
  • Help bacteria form a stronger barrier in order to protect the intestines from damage
  • Boost metabolism and help fight diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve the immune system
  • Protect against colon cancer

Coffee and tea both contain different types of polyphenols. Many fruits also contain these molecules, especially blueberries, kiwis, apples, and reddish-colored fruits like strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and blackberries. Other foods with polyphenols are onions, soy, red wine, and dark chocolate.

Conclusion

model of a body
The health of your gut plays a role in the health of other systems of the body. A digestive system that works well can help fight off germs and prevent diseases. One great way to stay healthy is to eat a variety of different superfoods, including probiotics and foods that contain fiber and polyphenols. Making these foods part of your regular meals can help treat digestive disorders such as IBS and prevent other chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

If you would like to discuss any digestive issues you may be experiencing with Dr. Connor, please make an appointment.

Superfoods Part 5: Ten Essential Superfoods for Radiant Skin

Superfoods Part 5: Ten Essential Superfoods for Radiant Skin

Young woman holding apple

This is the fifth article in my series on superfoods, with this one focussing on superfoods for healthy skin. I encourage you to visit the “Nutrition” section of Ask the Doctor for my other articles on superfoods.

You are what you eat. The foods that make up your diet can either supply your body with nutrients that help it work its best, or cause problems like damage and inflammation. You can help your skin become healthy, hydrated, and glowing by eating a lot of vitamin and antioxidant-packed superfoods.

Giving Your Skin Proper Building Blocks for Health

Why are certain foods better for your skin than others? While we may think of our skin as a single layer, it actually has seven layers and many different parts. In addition the skin is the largest organ in the body and is part of the integumentary system that also includes hair and nails.

Skin cells make up the outermost skin layer, called the epidermis. This layer protects the body, but is also most likely to be damaged by things like UV light from the sun.

Below the epidermis lies the dermis. This layer contains several things important for skin health, such as:

  • Sweat pores, which get rid of waste
  • Collagen and other proteins that give the skin structure and keep it firm but elastic
  • Immune cells, which fight off germs
  • Blood vessels that deliver nutrients and oxygen to the rest of the skin

Eating a balanced diet can help keep each of these components working properly.

1. Flax Seeds

Bowl of flaxseeds

Flax seeds are small brown or yellow seeds that are packed with nutrients. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits throughout the body. Research has found that omega-3 molecules can help the skin by:

In one study, people who ate more omega-3’s tended to have less skin aging associated with light damage. Other experiments have also found that omega-3’s can decrease skin irritation and redness and improve skin hydration and smoothness. Omega-3’s have other health benefits as well, such as boosted heart, brain, and eye health.

If you want to add flax seeds to your diet, try adding them to your breakfast by spooning a tablespoon on top of oatmeal or cereal. You can also add this superfood to yogurt or a smoothie, or bake them into breads, muffins, or even cookies! I often tell my patients to try them on salads as a crunchy topping as well. It is better to eat ground rather than whole flaxseeds, because your body can more easily digest and absorb nutrients from the ground form. Buy them pre-ground, or chop up whole seeds in a coffee grinder. You can also find omega-3s in seafood, plant oils such as canola oil, and in other nuts and seeds.

2. Salmon

Superfoods for Skin
Salmon is another excellent source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It is also a good source of protein, as well as several other molecules that promote healthy skin.

Salmon contains a lot of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This molecule is a damage-fighting antioxidant. The human body can produce its own CoQ10, but levels tend to decrease with age, stress, and certain diseases. Therefore, eating food-based sources of CoQ10 may help keep us healthy as we get older. This enzyme can lead to healthier skin by protecting against damage and helping skin cells make more energy. In one study, people who took a CoQ10 supplement for 12 weeks had more elastic, smooth skin and fewer wrinkles.

Salmon is also full of selenium, a mineral that neutralizes damage-causing free radicals. It can help skin cells heal DNA damage and leads to less damage following exposure to UV light. The combination of CoQ10 with selenium may protect against many signs of aging, leading to more vitality and health, a better quality of life, and improved physical activity.

As if all of this weren’t enough, salmon has still more skin-boosting compounds. This superfood has a lot of vitamin D, which may help protect against some skin diseases. It’s a , which promote skin health and wound healing. Another antioxidant, astaxanthin, can increase the amount of collagen in the skin, leading to fewer wrinkles and rough spots and better elasticity.

3. Yogurt

Bowl of Yogurt

As we’ve discussed before, yogurt is a great source of probiotics, or the “good” bacteria that inhabit the gut and help your body work better. When it comes to your skin, eating these healthy microbes can balance your skin’s pH and improve its ability to act as a protective barrier. By calming inflammation and reducing stress, probiotics can also help fight acne. It may also help with skin conditions such as rosacea and dermatitis.

Yogurt also contains other nutrients that support skin health, like vitamin A, vitamin D, and B vitamins. For better results, avoid flavored yogurts, which tend to contain high levels of inflammation-promoting sugar. On the other hand, if you’re not a yogurt fan or have dietary restrictions to eating yogurt but still want a probiotic boost, look to other cultured or fermented foods such as miso, komboucha, sauerkraut, or kimchi. You can also consider probiotic supplements.

4. Oranges

Sliced orange
The skin normally contains a lot of vitamin C. This nutrient acts as an antioxidant and helps the skin build up more collagen. It may also play an important role in healing wounds once the skin is damaged. As a result, vitamin C is often added to skin products like creams and serums. However, some evidence also shows that eating foods with vitamin C can lead to skin health. For example, researchers in one study collected diet information from 4000 women. They found that women who ate more vitamin C-containing foods often had fewer wrinkles and less skin dryness.

Vitamin C is found at high levels in oranges and orange juice. Be careful when going the juice route, however – many fruit juices contain high levels of sugar, which isn’t good for the skin. Other citrus fruits like grapefruits also have a lot of vitamin C, as do kiwis, bell peppers, strawberries, and broccoli.

5. Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Did you know that a food’s color can sometimes tell you what nutrients it contains? Many red, orange, and yellow fruits and vegetables get their color from carotenoids. These molecules are very important for heart and eye health, and also help the skin.

Tomatoes contain high levels of one important carotenoid called lycopene. Scientists have found that when people eat more lycopene, their skin is smoother and appears more youthful. Eating lycopene or tomato-based products can even help people get less sunburned. It’s also possible that lycopene may also help prevent skin cancer.

The body can more easily absorb lycopene when tomatoes are cooked, especially when they’re cooked in olive oil. Try eating roasted tomatoes as a side, or make a sauce to serve over whole-wheat pasta. Tomatoes can also give you a good helping of vitamins A and C.

6. Sweet Potatoes

Sliced Sweet Potatoes
There are other carotenoids besides just lycopene. Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, a carotenoid that the body transforms into vitamin A. Like lycopene, beta-carotene can also protect against sun damage and sunburn. It can also help the body make more collagen, leading to fewer wrinkles.

Getting high doses of beta-carotene may actually lead to increased damage, so it may be better to get this nutrient from foods rather than from supplements. In addition to sweet potatoes, you can get beta-carotene from superfoods like carrots, squash, and leafy greens like kale.

7. Avocadoes

Avocado
Avocadoes are a superfood powerhouse full of nutrients that are good for the skin. They are sources of healthy fats, including omega-3’s and vitamins C and E.

Some fats are healthier than others. Avocadoes contain a lot of monounsaturated fats, which are the building blocks of many different types of cells, including your skin cells. These monounsaturated fats improve the elastic quality of skin and can lead to fewer wrinkles when eaten more frequently.

The carotenoid zeaxanthin can also be found in avocadoes. It protects the skin from damage-causing light. Clinical trials have also shown that eating zeaxanthin as a supplement can lead to fewer facial lines and wrinkles.

Avocadoes are also high in lutein, yet another type of carotenoid. Lutein can help prevent eye disease and improve memory and thinking ability. It can filter out damage-causing ultraviolet light, protecting the skin. When carotenoids are eaten at the same meal as healthy fats, they work even better because the body can absorb them more easily. Avocadoes provide the perfect combination of these fats and carotenoids.

8. Broccoli

Broccoli

Broccoli is loaded with nutrients. Eating this superfood will provide your skin with vitamins A and C, as well as multiple carotenoids like lutein and beta-carotene.

Eating your broccoli is also a good way to get vitamin K. This nutrient plays a big role in blood clotting, and can help the skin repair wounds and bruises.

Broccoli contains the mineral zinc. Because the body can’t store zinc, we need to make sure we’re getting it regularly through our diets. Zinc helps the skin by:

  • Allowing skin cells to divide to produce new cells
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Healing cells from damage
  • Smoothing the skin
  • Helping heal wounds

Finally, broccoli has sulforaphane, a molecule also found in other cruciferous vegetables like cabbage and bok choy. Research into sulforaphane is in the early stages, but some experts believe that it can protect the skin from sun damage and keep the skin looking more youthful. Some studies also show that sulforaphane can help protect against several different kinds of cancer, including skin cancer.

9. Green Tea

Cup of Green Tea
Green tea is a superfood with many health benefits. This brew contains a mixture of polyphenols, compounds that act as antioxidants to neutralize free radicals within cells. Like some of the other superfoods on this list, green tea uses these antioxidants to protect the skin from UV damage. Typically, when the skin is exposed to UV light from sources like direct sunlight or tanning beds, skin cells will turn on biological pathways that create inflammation and encourage the development of tumors. Polyphenols in green tea can help turn down these processes.

In one study of 60 women, those who drank green tea had less redness after being exposed to UV light. These women also had better blood flow in the skin, meaning that their skin cells could get more oxygen, and had smoother, better hydrated skin. In mouse studies, green tea polyphenols can also help prevent skin cancer, although this effect hasn’t yet been well studied in humans.

You can also find some of these polyphenols in dark chocolate and red wine. However, eating too much sugar or drinking too much alcohol can also have negative effects on the skin, so these may not be the best sources for getting skin-boosting polyphenols on a regular basis. Replacing a cup of coffee or bottle of soda with green tea can help give your skin a healthy boost.

10. Turmeric

Turmeric spilling out of bowl

Turmeric is a spice that is a part of the ginger family. It is traditionally used in Indian, Southeast Asian, and Middle Eastern cuisines in curries and rice dishes. Turmeric contains the molecule curcumin, which has been studied in recent years for a large variety of health benefits.

Curcumin can turn on antioxidants within skin cells, helping them better respond to stress and damage. This helps cells resist stress and stay healthy. This molecule also helps cells build up new collagen, which is important for both wound healing and for keeping the skin firm and wrinkle-free. Finally, early research has found that curcumin can help reduce the symptoms of certain skin disorders, such as psoriasis and dermatitis.

Turmeric also contains another useful compound called silymarin. The milk thistle plant is the primary source of silymarin, but the molecule is also found in some other vegetables and spices. Silymarin plays a protective role in the skin and also helps prevent collagen from breaking down. The combination of silymarin and curcumin also helped block cancerous cells in laboratory experiments, but this has not yet been tested in humans.

Try adding turmeric to rice, quinoa, soups, stews, or curries. You can also blend turmeric into a smoothie or whisk into eggs for a superfoods breakfast.

Conclusion

Start early! If you’re younger, eating a healthy diet can help your skin continue to look radiant and healthy for the long term. If some signs of aging have already begun to appear on your face, there are still things you can do to slow or even reverse damage. Eating a variety of nutrient-packed superfoods on a regular basis can help build up the health of skin cells and the underlying dermal layer, and keep your skin looking and functioning at its best.

If you would like to discuss your skin, or treatments that we offer, such as microneedling with Skin Pen, please contact our office to make an appointment.

Superfoods Part 4: Essential Superfoods for Diabetics and Pre-Diabetics

Superfoods Part 4: Essential Superfoods for Diabetics and Pre-Diabetics

Superfoods for prediabetes and diabetes
This article is part of my series on superfoods. Learn more about superfoods, superfoods for weight loss, and critical superfoods for a healthy heart. Stay tuned for more to come in this series.

Diabetes occurs when the body can’t process carbohydrates and sugars as well as it should. The foods that we eat can play a big role in preventing and managing this condition. Turning to superfoods is a great, nutritious way to get your metabolism working more efficiently.

Is Diabetes Something You Need to Be Concerned About?

The older you get, the higher your risk for developing chronic conditions such as diabetes, so it’s important to learn more about how to protect your health and wellness as you age.

There are a few different types of diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is a condition that you are usually diagnosed with when you are younger, although this is changing as there are many adults who have a new diagnosis of this type of diabetes. People with this disease cannot make any insulin, a hormone that helps the body use sugar as fuel. People with type 2 diabetes may produce some insulin, but their body does not use the insulin hormone very well. Additionally, gestational diabetes is a third form of this disease that may be diagnosed when a person is pregnant. All of these forms of diabetes cause a person to have high levels of blood sugar, which can damage the body and lead to further health problems down the road.

It’s also important to be aware of a condition of elevated blood sugar that does not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of “diabetes.” This condition is sometimes called “prediabetes”. People with this condition have slightly elevated blood sugar levels, and have a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, or stroke. While one out of every three Americans has “prediabetes”, the vast majority of them don’t know it! For this reason and many other reasons, it is very important to get your blood sugar checked at regular physical exams so that you have a better idea of whether you may be at risk and to get the information you need to stay healthy.

Risk Factors for Diabetes

If you have any of the following factors, your risk of getting type 2 diabetes may be higher:

  • You have prediabetes
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You are at least 45 years old
  • You have a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes
  • You don’t get very much exercise
  • You are Black, Hispanic or Latino, Native American, or Alaska Native

Controlling Your Diabetes Risk

If you want to reduce your chances of being diagnosed with diabetes, you can make some lifestyle changes. Getting more physical activity and losing extra weight is a great place to start. Additionally, if you eat a more nutritious diet, you can better control your blood sugar levels. This can help you prevent or manage diabetes.

Superfoods are a great way to eat better. There isn’t one official definition that says which foods count as “superfoods,” but in general this label is given to foods that are jam-packed with nutrients that your body needs in order to stay healthy. Many superfoods can help keep your body’s blood sugar levels in a more normal range.

Superfoods for Better Blood Sugar Levels

Superfoods for Diabetes
The foods you eat have a big effect on how stable your blood sugar levels are. Certain food choices are better than others when it comes to avoiding high blood sugar spikes or low blood sugar crashes.

Why Is Controlling Blood Sugar Levels Important?

When we eat food, the body breaks down carbohydrates into smaller sugar molecules, which enter the bloodstream. For most people, the pancreas makes insulin and sends it around the body. Insulin then helps the cells in different organs absorb sugar from the blood and convert it into energy. After a meal, blood sugar levels rise temporarily and then eventually go back to normal as sugar is removed from the blood.

In people with diabetes, who don’t make or cannot use insulin, cells can’t absorb sugar. These sugar molecules stay in the blood for longer periods of time, and often reach high levels. Additionally, diabetes makes a person more likely to have blood sugar levels that get too low if they miss a meal, take too much medication, or exercise a lot.

The Glycemic Index

Overall, the goal is to keep blood levels stable. You can do this by paying attention to the glycemic index of the carbohydrates that you eat.

Foods that contain carbohydrates include grains (bread, cereal, pasta, rice), fruits and fruit juices, starchy vegetables (potatoes, corn, peas), dairy products, foods with fiber (beans and lentils), sugary desserts and snacks, and sugary drinks.

The glycemic index (GI) is a number that rates all carbs on a scale from 0 to 100. Low GI foods:

  • Take longer for the body to break down, and require your body to actually work harder to break down these types of foods
  • Cause your blood sugar to rise slowly and steadily
  • Give you longer-lasting energy
  • Make you feel full for a longer period of time

On the other hand, high GI foods:

  • Increase your blood sugar levels very quickly, and then rapidly drop those blood sugar levels back down to low levels
  • Make you crave more carbohydrate-rich foods once your blood sugar levels plunge
  • Make you more likely to overeat or to eat when you are not truly hungry

When people with diabetes eat mostly low GI foods, they have better control over their blood sugar levels. One of the reasons many superfoods are so good for you is because they have a low GI.

Whole Grains

Whole grains, as opposed to refined or processed grains, contain high levels of fiber. Fiber is a type of complex carbohydrate that has a low GI. Your body can’t completely break down fiber, so it doesn’t make your blood sugar levels increase as much. People who eat high levels of fiber have a lower chance of becoming diabetic. In particular, people who eat at least three servings of whole grains per day have a 20-30% lower chance of getting diabetes.

When people with diabetes eat low GI, whole grain foods on a regular basis, they also have lower levels of inflammation. This can help fight obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease, and help the body become more responsive to insulin.

Most whole-grain foods can be considered a superfood, not only because of their fiber content, but also because of their high levels of B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, and antioxidants. Examples of whole grains are:

  • Whole-wheat pasta, or baked goods like bread or crackers made with whole-wheat flour
  • Brown rice
  • Grains often served for breakfast, such as steel-cut oats, stone-ground grits, or amaranth
  • Grains that are often prepared as sides, such as quinoa, barley, millet, or bulgur
  • Popcorn

Low GI Superfood Fruits

Some superfood fruits have a low GI, while other potentially less healthy fruits have a higher GI. A fruit’s GI is primarily based on how much fiber the fruit contains. Some fruits have more fiber, and therefore, a lower GI.

Eating low GI fruit helps people with diabetes lower their blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Examples of low GI fruits are:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and other citrus fruits
  • Berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Nectarines

Berries may also provide diabetics with additional benefits. They contain antioxidants that have shown the ability to improve insulin and cholesterol levels, and are linked to a lower likelihood of developing diabetes.

To get the maximum amount of fiber from your fruits, try strategies like:

  • Eating whole fruits rather than drinking fruit juice. Juice has had most of the fiber removed, and often has added sugars, meaning that it has less nutrients and a higher GI.
  • Avoiding fruit products like canned fruits that contain added sugar.
  • Eating fruit with the skin on, if it’s edible.

The Power of Legumes

Legumes – beans, lentils, and peas – are superfoods that offer a ton of nutritional benefits. They also contain high levels of fiber, making them a good low GI food option. Other nutrients found in legumes include:

  • Protein
  • B vitamins
  • Copper
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Zinc
  • Phosphorus

In one study of over 100 people with diabetes, those who ate at least one cup of legumes per day had lower blood sugar levels and a reduced chance of developing heart disease.

However, despite these health benefits, on any given day only about 8% of Americans say they eat legumes. Get more of these superfoods by adding black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, cannellini beans, pinto beans, soybeans, and lentils to your meals.

Other Superfoods for Diabetics

Superfoods for Diabetes

In addition to eating more low GI foods, people with prediabetes or diabetes can make other dietary changes. There are many more nutritious superfoods that can be beneficial to people watching their blood sugar levels.

Fatty Fish

While many different types of seafood can be a part of a healthy diet, fish with a high fat content are typically the only ones to receive the “superfood” label. This is because these fish contain the highest levels of omega-3, a healthy form of fat.

Omega-3’s are great for the heart. This is especially good news for diabetics, who have a higher chance of heart disease and stroke. There is some evidence that omega-3’s may also help prevent other health conditions, including certain types of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, although research has found conflicting results.

When diabetics eat fatty fish on a regular basis, their bodies can better control blood sugar levels. However, this result is not seen when people with diabetes or elevated blood sugar levels eat large amounts of lean, non-fatty fish.

Fatty superfood fish include:

  • Salmon
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Herring
  • Sardines

Eggs

This superfood is a great way to start your day. Eggs may help with weight loss, which is important for preventing and managing diabetes. Scientific studies have found that eggs can:

Eggs can also specifically help with diabetes. When diabetic folks eat two eggs per day, they tend to have lower cholesterol, blood sugar, insulin, and blood pressure levels. Replacing a carb-heavy breakfast with eggs may be a good way to improve the way your body processes food.

Leafy Greens

While these veggies do contain a small amount of carbohydrates, they are considered a low GI food and won’t significantly change blood sugar levels. Additionally, leafy green vegetables provide a lot of vitamin C, which is particularly important for people with diabetes.

Spinach, kale, chard, and other leafy greens also contain antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin, which can improve eye health. It’s important for people with diabetes to take care of their eyes, because they are more likely to have eye problems.

Yet another nutrient provided by leafy green superfoods is vitamin K. This key vitamin can help the body make better use of insulin, reduce inflammation, and decrease diabetes risk.

Tree Nuts

Tree nuts, including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, and pecans, have low levels of carbohydrates. They also contain some of the same nutrients as many of the other foods on this list, including protein, fiber, and omega-3’s.

Scientific research has found that tree nuts can help people with diabetes in several ways:

  • When nuts are eaten along with carbohydrates, the blood sugar doesn’t spike as much as when carbohydrates are eaten alone.
  • Some research has shown that nuts can decrease appetite and calm inflammation.
  • clinical trial found that eating a lot of almonds every day led to lower cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar levels.
  • When people with diabetes ate walnut oil every day in one study, they had better blood sugar levels.
  • A study of over 16,000 diabetics found that people who ate more tree nuts were less likely to have heart disease.

Yogurt

Eating this superfood may be a good way to stave off diabetes. Research has found that people who eat 80-125 grams of yogurt per day are 14% less likely to develop this health condition. In particular, dairy products with high levels of protein may be extra effective at preventing diabetes. Eating Greek yogurt gives you more protein per serving, and often contains less sugar, too.

Other fermented superfoods, including kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi, may also help prevent diabetes. These foods supply the body with healthy bacteria that can help improve the body’s metabolism.

Conclusion

People with diabetes need to be especially careful to make sure that the foods they eat aren’t causing problems with blood sugar levels. Many superfoods can help by keeping these levels more stable and helping the body better respond to insulin. Whether you’re worried about developing diabetes in the future, or are trying to manage this condition right now, eating more superfoods every day can give you better health benefits.
Make an appointment with Dr. Connor to further discuss how superfoods can benefit your health.

Superfoods Part 3: Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Superfoods Part 3: Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Superfoods Part 3: Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Heart health becomes increasingly important as we get older. Our daily habits, including the foods we eat, can have a big effect on whether or not we develop heart disease, heart attacks, or strokes. If you often eat food that you know is less healthy, it’s not too late to make changes now that can have an impact on your health later. Adding more superfoods to your meals can help your heart and blood vessels function at their best.

Why Is Heart Health Important?

Heart disease can be very serious. It causes one out of every four deaths in the United States, making it the number one cause of death. Additionally, every 40 seconds an American has a heart attack. Keeping your heart healthy can help you avoid sickness, disability, or an early death.

Heart Disease

The term “heart disease” doesn’t just refer to one illness. Rather, it’s a general term for several related conditions:

  • Coronary heart disease, in which plaque builds up in the blood vessels, blocking blood flow to the heart
  • Heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked and the heart muscle dies or becomes damaged
  • Heart failure occurs when the heart becomes too weak to keep pumping blood
  • Other conditions can also lead to changes in the heart’s valves, muscle, or rhythm

Who Gets Heart Disease?

Heart disease affects men and women at equal rates, although women tend to get heart disease at a slightly older age than do men. Additionally, a person’s risk of heart disease changes based on their race and ethnicity. People who are Black tend to have a higher chance of developing heart disease, while people who are Hispanic, Asian, or Pacific Islander tend to be at lower risk.

A person’s genetics also play a role. Genes are passed down through families, so if you have a relative who was diagnosed with heart disease, your risk is higher.

Finally, the older you get, the more your risk increases. Men who are older than 45 and women who are older than 55 have a higher chance of developing heart disease.

Lifestyle Factors Related to Heart Disease

While a person cannot change certain things, such as his or her genetics or age, each of us can still do other things to boost our heart health. The three main risk factors for getting heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoking. Nearly half of Americans have at least one of these factors, but in most cases, they can all be prevented.

People with certain conditions or lifestyle factors are also more likely to develop heart disease:

Eating for Heart Health

To boost your heart health, start by focusing on the things that are within your control. Changing the things that you eat is a great place to start. Goals of a heart-healthy diet include:

  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Reducing levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and increasing levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol)
  • Lowering your blood sugar levels

Many superfoods can help you reach these goals. Eating a variety of different nutritious foods on a regular basis can make a big difference in how well your heart functions.

Critical Superfoods for a Healthy Heart

Heart-Healthy Protein Options

Protein that comes from animals, including red or fatty meats, contains a lot of saturated fat. This type of fat leads to more cholesterol in your blood vessels, which in turn raises your risk of heart disease.

It’s okay to eat meat occasionally – it provides you with several different kinds of nutrients. Certain strategies can help you reduce the amount of saturated fat you are getting from meat:

  • Eat meat less often
  • Eat smaller portions of meat
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat
  • Take the skin off of foods like chicken

Ultimately, replacing meat with other protein-packed superfood options gives you the best shot at heart health.

Eat More Seafood

Replacing fattier meats with superfood protein sources is a great way to help your heart. Fatty fish is one such food that can boost your health. Research has shown that people who rarely eat fish are more likely to die from heart disease than those who eat fish once per week or more. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be responsible for this effect – people who get more of this nutrient have lower levels of fat in their blood and have a reduced risk of heart attack and heart disease.

Superfood seafood sources of omega-3’s include:

  • Salmon (fresh, wild caught is best)
  • Herring
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Oysters
  • Sea bass

Omega-3’s are available in supplement form but it is always best to obtain them from food if you can because the studies to date seem to be inconclusive about the effectiveness of the supplement form.

Plant-Based Sources of Protein

You can also use plant protein in place of fatty meats. Soybeans, beans, and lentils can all be used as a main dish, and are all considered superfoods.

Like seafood, soybeans also contain a lot of omega-3’s. Try stir-frying or sautéing tofu in an omega-3-containing oil such as canola oil, topping with your favorite sauce, and serving over brown rice or a healthy pasta. Alternately, roast tofu in the oven along with some vegetables or mash up a block of tofu to make a scramble.

Eating beans, lentils, and other legumes has also been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. These foods contain many of the same nutrients as meat, but lack saturated fats. Legumes are also packed with fiber, and people who eat the highest levels of fiber have a lower chance of developing heart disease. Ideas for adding beans and other legumes to your diet include:

  • Throwing them in soups, stews, and chilies
  • Topping salads with beans or chickpeas
  • Dipping veggies in hummus or a black bean dip
  • Preparing beans or lentils as a side
  • Wrapping them up in a burrito or taco
  • Mixing beans or lentils with vegetables, herbs, and cheese for a light salad

Superfood Vegetables for Heart Health

Green vegetables – think spinach, kale, chard, collard greens, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts – have a lot of healthy nutrients that can protect your heart. Some of these health-boosting compounds are:

These veggies make for great side dishes. Eat them raw, as a salad, or sauté in a healthy fat. Broccoli and Brussels sprouts taste great roasted with your favorite herbs and spices.

Whole Grains for Whole Health

Whole grains are less processed than their refined counterparts. Examples of whole grain foods include whole-wheat bread, brown rice, rolled oats, barley, grits, whole-wheat pasta, and even popcorn.

Whole grains are considered a superfood because of their many nutrients, including fiber, B vitamins, and iron. They also take longer to be broken down by the body, meaning that your blood sugar levels will stay more stable as you digest them.

Many clinical trials have found that eating whole grains is good for the heart. People who eat more of this superfood have a 25% reduced risk of stroke and 22% reduced risk of heart disease.

Prepare Meals With Superfood Fats

When you cook food, you generally use some type of fat, like butter or oil. Because butter is an animal-based product, it contains a lot of saturated fat, and it’s better to eat it in moderation. Additionally, coconut, palm, palm kernel, and hydrogenated oils contain saturated fat and shouldn’t be used often.

Olive oil, on the other hand, is considered by many to be a superfood. It contains a lot of healthy monounsaturated fats and damage-fighting antioxidants. Olive oil also has compounds called polyphenols that help prevent heart disease. Cooking with olive oil can help people reduce their blood pressurelower someone’s chances of heart disease or heart attack, and may even help people lose weight.

Flaxseed oil is another excellent superfood option. Flaxseeds have more omega-3 fatty acids than any other food! They also contain B vitamins, phosphorus, and magnesium. Flaxseeds can fight all the different types of heart disease, so cooking with flaxseed oil is a good move for heart health.

Other options for cooking oils that contain healthier fats include canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, soybean, or peanut oils.

Superfoods for the heart

Heart-Boosting Spices

Many of us get too much salt in our diets, and can improve our heart health by cutting out some of the sodium. In particular, people with high blood pressure should try to follow a low-salt diet. Salt is a big source of flavor. You may not miss it as much if you switch to flavoring your foods with superfood spices:

  • Black pepper protects the heart from unhealthy fats.
  • Cinnamon can help reduce blood pressure levels and helps keep the blood from clotting.
  • Chili peppers contain a spicy molecule called capsaicin, which can soothe inflammation and protect the heart.
  • Garlic may improve cholesterol levels.
  • Ginger helps prevent fat and cholesterol from building up in the arteries.

Can You Eat Sugar on a Heart-Healthy Diet?

Not all sugary foods are created equal. Some foods contain natural sugars, while others have sugar added to them while being processed. For example, fruits naturally contain sugar, but extra sugar may be added to items like canned fruit or fruit juice. When you’re eating for heart health, it’s better to limit the amount of added sugars you eat. This means cutting out sweetened drinks like soda, alcohol, and energy drinks. It also means limiting the amount of desserts or sugary snacks you eat. If you’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, try looking to superfoods with higher levels of natural sugar to replace sweeter processed foods. Here are some heart-healthy options:

  • Berries: Blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries are loaded with nutrients, fiber, and polyphenols. People who eat them regularly have better fat and sugar metabolism, improved cholesterol levels, and boosted heart health.
  • Grapes: Red grapes contain a molecule called resveratrol, which protects against heart disease and aging.
  • Dark chocolate: Eating this superfood – in moderation, of course – may lower a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Healthy Heart Diets

Some people may find it hard to add individual superfoods to their daily meals, and prefer a more comprehensive eating plan that tells them what and when to eat. Doctors have developed a couple of different diets that boost heart health, and many of these emphasize eating more superfoods.

The DASH Diet

Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, or DASH, is an eating plan that helps people lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. As an example, someone who is following DASH and needs 2000 calories per day would eat:

  • 6-8 servings of grains per day, preferably whole grains
  • 4-5 servings of vegetables per day
  • 4-5 servings of fruits per day
  • 2-3 servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy products per day
  • Less than 6 ounces of lean meat per day
  • 4-5 servings of nuts or seeds per week
  • 2-3 servings of healthy oils per day

Clinical trials that have studied the DASH diet have also found that people who make the following changes are more likely to see a benefit:

  • Reduce sodium intake to 2,300 mg or less per day
  • Replace 10% of carbohydrates with either protein or unsaturated fat
  • Get more physical activity

The Mediterranean Diet

This eating plan is based on the ways that people in Italy, Spain, and other regions near the Mediterranean traditionally prepare and eat their food. Like the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet advocates eating whole grains, fresh produce, and other high-fiber foods. The eating plan is centered primarily around plant-based foods – lean meat or chicken is more of an accent than the main focus of the meal. Scientific research has found that people who follow the Mediterranean diet have better blood sugar and cholesterol levels. They are less likely to have heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

Superfoods-for-heart

Other Strategies for Heart Health

Changing your diet is a great first step towards better heart health. Other lifestyle changes that your doctor may recommend include:

  • Losing extra weight
  • Reducing stress
  • Exercising and moving more throughout the day
  • Getting better sleep
  • Quitting smoking
  • Drinking alcohol less often

Your doctor can help you understand your risk of heart disease by measuring your blood pressure and cholesterol levels and assessing other risk factors. If you are concerned about your heart, get annual physical exams and ask your doctor for recommendations related to lifestyle changes you can make. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels, your doctor may also prescribe you medication in order to help manage these factors.

Putting It All Together

Changing up your diet is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Swap in superfoods for high-sugar, fatty, processed foods whenever possible. Eating a variety of different types of superfoods is a great way to start living a more heart-healthy lifestyle!

If you would like to learn more, schedule a consultation with Dr. Connor.

Pin It on Pinterest