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Eating Smart: Why There’s No Such Thing as a ‘Superfood’

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Norwegian blueberry superfood

A lot of people nowadays are health-conscious, and that’s a good thing, but how much do they really know about “healthy eating” or healthy food? And we often hear the term “superfood” used to describe a variety of fruits and vegetables, but what does it really mean? Inquiring minds wants to know…

While a superfood is generally viewed as a nutrient-rich food beneficial for one’s health and well-being, there is actually no official definition for the term and the EU, in particular, prohibits any food from being labeled as a superfood unless backed by scientific proof.

Acai berries, avocados or quinoa, for instance, are often cited as quintessential superfoods because of their supposed high concentration of antioxidants, which are chemicals that can protect our body’s cells against the harmful and deleterious effects of free radicals, but some experts have reason to believe people put way too much faith in their healing properties.

In an effort to win your hard-earned money, food manufacturers go the extra mile to fund academics to research certain health benefits of their products (e.g. slow down the ageing, treat depression and anxiety, and boost physical ability and even intelligence). Unfortunately, while many people falsely believe that eating a fruit or vegetable rich in antioxidants will immediately revive their dead cells, this isn’t the case.

You see, most studies on superfood tested chemicals and extracts in concentration not found in the food in its natural state. Garlic, for example, contains a nutrient that allegedly helps reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, but in order to reap those benefits, you would have to eat 28 cloves each day to match the concentration used in lab research.

Nancy Clark, author of Sport Nutrition Guidebook, a best-selling selling nutrition guide, told Askmen in an interview:

“Whenever I see a food that is called ‘super,’ I wonder about the marketing behind it. Any food can be super. Blueberries are the best berries that are blue. I think the term is meaningless. I have an older sister, and my mother used to say, ‘You are my favorite youngest daughter.’ It amounts to the same thing.”

Even worse, people mistakenly believe they can undo the damage caused by bad food by temporarily binging on superfoods and, as such, continue to make routine choices that are not only unhealthy but also increase their risk of long-term illness.

The truth is, when it comes to staying healthy, you shouldn’t concentrate on any one food believing it will work miracles. In fact, elevating a food to ‘super’ status unnecessarily complicates things.

Mix things (healthy foods, that is) up and listen to your body because when you eat mindfully, you end up having a balanced diet. Dietitian Lindsey Schnell explains:

“Quinoa is touted as a complete plant protein, but that doesn’t mean that rice and beans won’t do the trick in combination. Oats are often on the superfood list, but an apple has the same amount of soluble fiber. There are lots of trade-offs that are just as good but don’t get that ‘super’ label.”

Does this mean foods billed as as “superfoods” are bad for you? Of course not. What it does mean, however, is that we are getting too preoccupied with the marketing hype of nutrition and missing the bigger picture of what it means to eat healthy for the sake of longevity, vitality, physical performance and weight management. Food is meant to to be enjoyed… smartly.

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Diet & Health

Science Has Found The Best Way To Wash Pesticides Off Apples

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Apple on tree

Polishing an apple with your shirt might get rid of some dust and dirt, but removing the pesticides will require a little more work.

New research has found that washing apples with baking soda, the common yet miraculous household product, could be all you need to eliminate most of the residues on the surface of apples and other fruits.

Pesticides have long been used to increase crop yield, but rising concerns over their adverse effect on human health has many people talking. While the exact effects depend on the type of pesticides and the amount eaten, the World Health Organization says that certain pesticides could harm the developing nervous systems of fetuses and children.

A growing number of people have opted for organic food as way of avoiding the chemicals, but organic food usually command a price premium and there is no guarantee that pesticides were used. In fact, the organic, naturally-occurring pesticides that some organic farms use aren’t necessarily safer.

Washing has been and remains the standard practice used by both consumers and the food industry to remove pesticides, but some of the plant-protecting compounds that get absorbed by the skin of fruits and vegetables might be more resilient to current cleaning methods. To find the best method, Lili He, Assistant Professor at the ‎University of Massachusetts Amherst, and colleagues conducted a study in which they applied two common pesticides — the fungicide thiabendazole, which past research has shown can penetrate apple peels, and the insecticide phosmet — to organic Gala apples and then washed apples with three different liquids: tap water, a 1 percent baking soda/water solution, and a U.S.-EPA-approved commercial bleach solution often used on produce.

The baking soda solution proved the most effective at removing pesticides, eliminating 80 percent of the thiabendazole and 96 percent of the phosmet, respectively, after 12 and 15 minutes of the fruits being soaked. Plain tap water and the bleach solution were far less effective.

The different percentages are likely due to thiabendezole’s greater absorption into the apple. Mapping images showed that thiabendazole had penetrated up to 80 micrometers deep into the apples, while phosmet was detected at a depth of only 20 micrometers.

So, there you have it, if washing is your preferred method of removing pesticides off your fruits and vegetables, using a baking soda solution is the way to go. If all other options are to be considered, then peeling your produce is probably your best bet.

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Diet & Health

You Binge Eat Because You’re Sleep-Deprived

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Woman caught eating food

There have been many studies correlating sleep deprivation with a wide range of health risks, including decrease in alertness and increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. But what about a possible link with food cravings?

Researchers have long known that lack of sleep is associated with binge eating or just plain eating uncontrollably whenever and wherever, but a new study published in online journal Sleep suggests that the same chemical mechanism behind the munchies might be why sleep-deprived people not only feel hungrier, but also become buckle in the face of a big chocolate bar.

The study involved 14 volunteers aged 18 to 30, all of whom were first given four nights of either normal (8.5 hours) or interrupted sleep (4.5 hours) and then two meals and unrestricted access to all kind of snacks — both healthy (e.g., fruit and yogurt) and less-healthy options (e.g., chips and cake).

When the researchers monitored their endocannabinoid (eCB) levels, they found that those participants who had been sleep-deprived reported feeling hungrier and tended to eat the less-healthy snacks.

Moreover, they eat nearly double the fat and protein of the well-rested participants and exhibited an exaggerated cycle in their endocannabinoid levels, with an especially high level in the afternoon — around the same time they reported feeling the hungriest.

Endocannabinoids are chemicals that our bodies naturally create to play a part in such physiological processes as appetite, pain-sensation, mood, and memory. They also to activate the same receptors that get people high from consuming marijuana, explaining the temptation for food stemming from sleep deprivation.

Have you ever felt so tired as to almost feel high? Well, this might be the reason…

Scientists hope these findings will lead to further scientific discoveries on food cravings that would aid in the treatment and control of binge eating.

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Diet & Health

Improve Your Gut Health By Eating Mangoes

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Fresh Mango

If you suffer from constipation, a mango might just be what the doctor ordered.

A new pilot study carried out by Texas A & M University and published in the the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that mangoes contain a combination of polyphenols and fiber that is more effective than an equivalent amount of fiber powder in relieving constipation.

Susanne U. Mertens-Talcott, a corresponding author of the four-week study and an associate professor in the department of nutrition and food science at Texas A & M University, stated:

“Our findings suggest that mango offers an advantage over fiber supplements because of the bioactive polyphenols contained in mangos that helped reduce markers of inflammation and change the make-up of the microbiome, which includes trillions of bacteria and other microbes living in our digestive track. Fiber supplements and laxatives may aid in the treatment of constipation, but they may not fully address all symptoms, such as intestinal inflammation.”

Researchers took 36 adult men and women with chronic constipation and randomly divided them into two groups — a mango group that ate about 300 grams of mango a day (equivalent to about 2 cups or 1 mango) and a fiber group that incorporated the equivalent amount of fiber powder (1 teaspoon or 5 grams of dietary psyllium fiber supplement) into their daily diet.

A food questionnaire was then given to the participants to assess their food intake and ensure their eating habits remained consistent (i.e. equivalent amounts of calories, carbohydrates, fiber, protein and fat) and measures of constipation severity were taken at the beginning and end of four weeks.

Their analysis revealed that while both the mango and fiber groups improved over the course of the study, mangoes proved more effective in reducing the symptoms of constipation than fiber alone.

Mango supplementation significantly improved constipation status (e.g. stool frequency, consistency and shape), increased short chain fatty acids levels, which indicate improvement of intestinal microbial composition, and helped to reduce certain biomarkers of inflammation.

Mangoes have long been know to be a rich source of dietary fiber, but Texas A & M University’s study is possibly the only study ever to be dedicated to the efficacy of the tasty fruit at relieving constipation.

But as promising as these findings are, the researchers concluded that more research is needed to determine the exact mechanism behind the protective effect of mangoes in constipation and the role mango polyphenols may play in supporting the beneficial effects of fiber.

A mango day keeps your food moving smoothly and easily, right?

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