Chocolate: Junk, Nutrition or Medicine?

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Psychology

By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D.

chocolate-183543_640

Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to “discover” chocolate. In 1502, during Columbus’ fourth voyage to the New World, he and his crew found what they called “almonds” in a canoe they had captured. Taken back to Europe, the cacao beans were initially overlooked by the Spanish royalty, who were more interested in gold and other valuable treasures.

Nowadays, people generally consider chocolate to be a tasty treat, a fattening indulgence, an irresistible hedonistic pleasure, and even a mood-altering substance. In one survey of college students’ attitudes toward chocolate, 81% perceived chocolate as fattening and 54% perceived it to be unhealthy. Few seriously consider chocolate in terms of its nutritional value. However, for most of chocolate’s history in human culture, long before humans were equipped to decipher the chemical make-up of the beans from Theobroma cacao, chocolate was considered not only a nutritional powerhouse but also a medicinal food.

Research shows positive claims for the medicinal uses of cacao over the centuries. These include uses of:

  • Chocolate eaten as an antidote to everything from anemia, angina, poor appetite, asthma and poor breast milk production, to constipation, fever, hangovers, hemorrhoids, pain, syphilis, low virility, vomiting, and worms.
  •  Preparations of cacao bark eaten to reduce abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea.
  • Cacao butter/fat/oil, used as a food or applied externally, for bronchitis, respiratory distress, and wound healing, among other ailments.
  • Cacao flower, used in baths, infusions, or applied directly to the skin, to soothe toothache pain, reduce fatigue, and treat burns.
  • Cacao fruit pulp, eaten, to facilitate childbirth.
  • Cacao leaf, applied externally to stop excessive bleeding and disinfect wounds.

Chocolate has the unique ability to induce pleasure and satisfaction in many people in a way that few other foods can. And based on current knowledge, it is safe to say that, for most people, this favorite snack or dessert food will not adversely affect health or add to risk for any major health problems. On the contrary, chocolate may actually have health benefits.

Learn More about chocolate and the benefits from indulging with our homestudy course.

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The Link Between Inflammation and Antioxidants

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition

berries-221193_640By Annell St. Charles, Ph.D., R.D.

Inflammation has been mentioned as one contributor to cognitive dysfunction. Evidence suggests that inflammation is associated with age-related cognitive decline and may play a role in risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Potential pro-inflammatory sources of irritation/infection include:

  • microbial and viral infections.
  • exposure to allergens, radiation, and toxic chemicals .
  • autoimmune and chronic diseases.
  • obesity.
  • excess alcohol.
  • tobacco use.
  • a high-calorie diet.

There are two stages of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation results from activation of the immune system, persists for only a short time, and is usually beneficial for the repair and healing of the damaged tissue and in removing invading pathogens. Chronic inflammation lasts for a longer period of time and may increase the risk of various long-lasting illnesses.

The relationship between inflammation and oxidative stress is two-fold. On one hand, inflammation leads to an increased uptake of oxygen, resulting in an increased release of free radicals and their metabolites (called reactive oxygen species). The inflammatory response also increases production of substances that further recruit inflammatory cells to the site of damage, resulting in the production of more reactive species. In simple terms, inflammation triggers a cycle that produces more inflammation, and the cycle is accompanied by an increase in oxidative stress.

A large body of research suggests that inflammation in the central nervous system increases with age, in part due to an increase in activation of microglia cells, which promotes a pro-inflammatory response. Microglia cells make up approximately 20 percent of the cell population of certain regions of the brain, and their activation would result in significant brain cell inflammation.
The diet can be a source of nutrients and non-nutrient constituents that can modulate inflammatory processes and, thus, aide cognitive function. Plant foods are considered a particularly rich source of anti-inflammatory substances. Diets high in fruits and vegetables are inversely associated with the risk of inflammation. In particular, carotenoids and flavonoids seem to reduce inflammatory processes.

Blueberries have been found to have one of the highest anti-inflammatory/antioxidant capacities of all fruits and vegetables. One study showed that daily ingestion of one cup of blueberries increased natural killer cell counts (helps to regulate the immune response to injury or infection), and a one-time ingestion of 1.5 cups reduced oxidative stress and increased anti-inflammatory cytokines. Research has also demonstrated that blueberry extract may inhibit one of the primary steps in the inflammatory stress pathway by reducing activation of microglia cells.

Pterostilbene is the natural dietary compound that contributes to the primary antioxidant component of blueberries. Research suggests that pterostilbene may have numerous preventive and therapeutic properties in a wide range of human diseases, including neurological/cognitive disorders.

Researchers have also demonstrated a high level of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds in many other plant foods. In particular, the polyphenolic compounds contained in berries of all types, walnuts, curcumin, and fish oils have been found to provide potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities that may reduce the age-related sensitivity to oxidative stress or inflammation, which would, in turn, alter neurodegeneration.

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What Is Good “Brain Food”?

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

By Annell St. Charles, Ph.D., R.D.

salmon-518032_640It is clear that eating the right foods may enhance brain function and possibly slow some of the age-related declines in memory and cognition that may occur. It may also be possible to prevent or reduce the progression of diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease. The following is a list of foods that can be considered “good for the brain,” or more precisely, brain food.  These foods make up the basic structure of both the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, and represent the key phytochemical-containing foods for which researchers have demonstrated cognitive benefits. Note that where “dark-colored” foods are mentioned, the color must persist throughout the entire food, not just on the surface.

  • oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, etc)
  • walnut oil
  • high omega-3 eggs
  • walnuts and other nuts
  • olive oil
  • blueberries and other berries
  • dark, leafy greens and other dark-colored vegetables
  • avocado
  • wheat germ/whole wheat
  • red, purple, or black grape skins and other dark-colored fruits
  • flaxmeal
  • curcumin (turmeric)
  • canola oil

In simple terms, an optimal diet for brain health relies on whole plant foods that have not been stripped of their fiber, essential nutrients, or critical non-nutrient components through processing. It also consists of healthy fats derived primarily from oils and fish, and a colorful array of fruits and vegetables that are as locally sourced and seasonally fresh as possible. The terms “local” and “seasonal” have been commonly adopted in an effort to draw a distinction between foods that have not spent too much time sitting in containers, transport vehicles, or refrigerators but were recently growing in a nearby field.

Switching to a brain food-rich diet means breaking free of the habit of excessive convenience. Eating foods out of season assures that their nutrient content is lessened due to the effects of heat, cold, or exposure to light. Creating meals out of primarily packaged food items means that they have been subjected to manufacturing processes that reduce their nutrient density. An exception would be frozen plant foods, which are typically subjected to flash-freezing shortly after harvesting, thus increasing the conservation of nutrients. Convenience food products are also, in general, low in phytochemicals and would not be expected to provide the antioxidant or anti-inflammatory benefits inherent in whole foods. Food products, like food supplements, also lack the synergistic potential of whole foods since their available food components have been selectively designed. In addition, most convenience food products make use of inexpensive ingredients designed to appeal to consumer taste. This means that a diet high in convenience foods will likely include high intake of hydrogenated omega-6 fats, sodium, and simple sugars.

In essence, emphasizing a brain food diet means embracing what humans have known for centuries: that eating moderately and simply from a plant-based diet, with the inclusion of ample amounts of fresh herbs and spices to enhance taste, is most likely to deliver the gift of good health.

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What Exactly is High-Fructose Corn Syrup?

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition

sugar-485045_640High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was first developed in the mid-1960s.  It starts out as cornstarch, which is chemically or enzymatically degraded to glucose and some short polymers of glucose.   Another enzyme is then used to convert varying fractions of glucose into fructose.  Because of its unique physical and functional properties (e.g., stability in acidic foods and beverages, such as soft drinks), it was widely embraced by food formulators.  Its growth has increased dramatically over the past 30 years, principally as an attractive replacement for table sugar.  Today, HFCS serves as a visible marker for foods that are highly processed and refined.

Fructose comes from three main sources:

  • natural sources such as fruits, some sweet vegetables, and honey;
  • sucrose, or common table sugar (which is 50 percent fructose); and
  • high-fructose corn syrup or HFCS (which is up to 55 percent fructose).

While some argue that the addition of fructose to foods and beverages is “natural” because fructose is found naturally in fruit and other foods, the clear difference is that the quantity of fructose that we get from fruit pales in comparison to the amount we get from processed foods.   Another difference is that fructose in fruit serves as a “signal” for sweetness, energy, and nutrition.  This sweet taste encouraged our ancestors to seek out fruit for both pleasure and good health. In contrast, when we consume processed and refined foods sweetened with HFCS, we get the sweetness and calories, but little else.  We are essentially being short-changed on nutrients.

Although HFCS is chemically similar to sucrose (though HFCS has a slightly higher percentage of fructose), concerns have been raised that our bodies react differently to HFCS from the way our bodies react to other types of sweeteners.

All of these nutritive sweeteners are composed of approximately 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose (though the amount of fructose may be slightly higher in HFCS).  All are absorbed similarly, have similar sweetness, and have the same number of calories per gram

Clearly, more research is needed to  understand fully the metabolic effect of dietary fructose in humans.  And more research is needed to determine whether there are any unique attributes of fructose or HFCS that make these substances a problem.  Until we know more, it may be best simply to focus on reducing ALL added sugars from our diet because too much of any caloric sweetener can pose a problem (whether the sugars are derived from corn, sugar cane, beets, or fruit-juice concentrate). Excessive consumption of any sugar can promote weight gain and a range of metabolic abnormalities.  Excessive consumption can also bring about adverse health conditions  as well as inadequate intake of essential nutrients.

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What Is Gluten?

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars

wheat-allergiesBy Annell St. Charles, Ph.D., R.D.

Gluten is the general name given to the proteins found in certain grain products, including wheat and its derivatives (wheat berries, durum, emmer, semolina, spelt, farina, faro, graham, einkorn wheat), rye, barley, triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye), malt, brewer’s yeast, and wheat starch.  Apparently, the hybridization that led to the production of modern bread wheat enabled the creation of a product with high amounts of the gluten complex, making modern bread wheat the “worst” gluten offender.

Gluten plays a significant role in nourishing plant embryos during germination. In addition, as the name implies, GLU-ten acts as a type of glue that holds food together, affects the elasticity of dough made from these grains, and gives shape and a chewy texture to products (such as bread), which are made from the dough. Gluten is also used as an additive in foods that have low-protein levels or no protein at all. When it is used in vegetarian recipes (lacking any animal products), it helps to increase the firmness of the texture of the finished product in order to replicate the texture found in meats and other animal foods.

Since gluten is found in the grains wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (as stated above, a hybrid of wheat and rye), and foods made from these grains, people who are sensitive to gluten should avoid any foods that contain these substances. Avoiding wheat is considered especially difficult because of the number of wheat-based flours and ingredients commonly used.

Common Foods that Typically Contain Gluten

  • Pastas (ravioli, gnocchi, couscous, dumplings)
  • Noodles (ramen, udon, soba, chow mein, egg noodles)
  • Breads and pastries (croissants, pita, naan, bagels, flatbreads, cornbread, potato bread, muffins , donuts, rolls)
  • Crackers (pretzels, goldfish, graham crackers)
  • Baked goods (cakes, cookies, pie crusts, brownies)
  • Cereal and granola (corn flakes and rice puffs often contain malt extract/flavoring; granola is often made with regular oats, which do not contain gluten, however oats may be cross-contaminated during growing, harvesting, or processing
  • Breakfast foods (pancakes, waffles, French toast, crepes, biscuits)
  • Breading and coating mixes (panko, breadcrumbs)
  • Croutons (stuffings, dressings)
  • Sauces and gravies (many use wheat flour as a thickener; soy sauce, cream sauces made with a roux)
  • Flour tortillas
  • Beer (unless listed gluten-free; malt beverages)
  • Brewer’s yeast

By all accounts, gluten sensitivity is increasing in the U.S. The rise in gluten-related sensitivity disorders can be traced back to changes in the way that wheat is processed and wheat-based products are manufactured.  The changes led to alternation in the type and availability of grain products in the marketplace. In essence, the amount of gluten in grain-based products increased as manufacturers attempted to create products with more consumer appeal.  In addition, the number of complaints that seemed to stem from an increased consumption of these products kept pace with their availability. Somewhere along the line, our genes also changed in response to these modifications in our diet. Our bodies reacted in alarm to the presence of gluten, targeting it as a foreign invader.

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Probiotics: The Good Bacteria

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars, Webinars

girl-791563_640By Barbara Sternberg, Ph.D. and Clare Fleishman, M.S., R.D.

Probiotics are live, nonpathogenic microorganisms that are typically bacteria or yeasts. The term “probiotics,” also called “good bacteria,” has its root in the Greek pro, meaning “promoting” and biotic, meaning “life.” The term includes some types of beneficial microbes that can be found in probiotic supplements as well as certain microbes added to food. The term also refers to the trillions of friendly microbes that typically live in our digestive tracts and other organs.  Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods such as yogurt, aged cheese, and kimchi. Thus far, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not approved any health claims for probiotics.

People usually associate bacteria with infection and illness. However, most bacteria are not pathogenic for humans, and many play a very important role in supporting good health. Trillions of bacteria live on or in the human body, collectively known as microbiota, microbiome, or microflora.

Probiotics are found on the skin, in the respiratory system, and in the urinary tract, but most of them are in the gastrointestinal tract—some 100 trillion of them. These so-called gut bacteria greatly outnumber our body cells. Gut microflora get their nutrients from our bodies and create a healthy environment that protects us from illness and helps in disease control and the digestion of food.  Probiotics and humans have a symbiotic relationship.

Considerable research has been done and continues to be done on the relationship between these bacteria and various aspects of overall human physical and mental health, including obesity, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, fatty liver disease, atherosclerosis, autoimmune disorders, and depression.

The gastrointestinal tract is an amazing metabolic machine. The surface area of the human gut is huge—about the size of a tennis court. Along this surface are nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria doing their important work — work that supports normal digestion. The numbers and balance of these bacteria vary. The numbers and balance are affected by diet, aging, geographical location, and environmental factors such as infections and the use of antibiotics.

How do gut bacteria facilitate health? They produce several B vitamins, vitamin K, and certain key fatty acids. The byproducts of bacterial interactions supply up to 10 percent of the body’s daily energy needs. In addition, gut bacteria play an important role in normal immune-system development. Their efficacy generally depends on a balance between the numbers and species of bacteria present. Disruptions of this balance can lead to significant problems with illness and disease.

Probiotics are vital for the immune system. They send signals to the immune system that reduce destructive overreactions, including inflammation. Insufficiency of probiotics affects immune responses and, hence, affect every aspect of our health.

Probiotics is a continuing education course available from the INR bookstore.  Check it out… and more.

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Changing To A Mediterranean Diet

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition

By Dr. Annell St. Charles (PhD, RD)

olives-473793_640The Mediterranean Diet has been a hot topic in both scientific articles and the popular press for many years because of its reported benefits for improving health and reducing overall mortality. However, the truth is that these benefits are the result of not only the diet traditionally consumed by people living in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, but also the overall lifestyle enjoyed by that populace.

The Mediterranean Way embraces a lifestyle that seeks balance between work and leisure; movement and relaxation; solitary and social time; and fresh food and convenient food products. It’s about enjoying life to the fullest, which includes maintaining good physical, emotional, and mental health throughout life.

The process of changing to a Mediterranean diet can be approached step-by-step, for example by:

  • replacing one or two meat meals each week with fish to change the composition of fat consumed.
  • adding one more daily serving of vegetables to the current average number of servings to help ease the move toward a daily goal of five servings or more.
  • emphasizing more colorful vegetables will also increase the availability of antioxidants.
  • substituting fresh fruit for one fatty, sugary dessert per week to help make fresh fruit a habit; even if desserts are not regularly eaten, planning a weekly meal that begins or ends in fresh fruit will be a helpful. dietary change.

Additional suggestions for making a gradual change include:

  • switching from refined bread and grain products to whole grain products to help boost fiber and nutrient intake.
  •  substituting beans for grains a couple of times a week.
  • getting in the nut habit—all natural, raw, or roasted nuts are good, and be sure to include walnuts.
  •  if drinking a cocktail is a daily event, switching to the more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory-rich red wine.

The dietary habits of the people of the Mediterranean region are greatly influenced by the climate, which for much of the year in the southernmost region tends toward warm, sunny days that cool off at night. The long, sunny days encourage a pattern of midday meals designed to create a break in work activities, often followed by a stroll and a nap to restore energy for the rest of the day and night. Dinner tends to be eaten late and is typically enjoyed with friends or family, often in an outdoor setting, and always with a glass or two of wine made from locally-grown grapes. Meals are often long and slow-paced. Other lifestyle habits of the Mediterranean region that are thought to influence health are the tendency to spend more time walking, tending to gardens, and biking for recreation and transportation.

Our homestudy course addresses “the Mediterranean Way,” the way of life that includes the diet, activity, and social habits of people living in that part of the world.

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Eating Right at Midlife & Beyond

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy, Nutrition

By Annell St. Charles, PhD, RD, LDN

vegetables-752153_640“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”
– Benjamin Franklin, 1789

Human aging is a product of not only physical changes, but modifications and adjustments to our mental, emotional, and social selves.

Creating a healthy daily meal plan is challenging for even the most motivated of us, and it is helpful to keep things as simple as possible. At the forefront of a healthy lifestyle is a healthy diet. However, as we age there is a tendency for many of us to allow our dietary patterns to regress to childhood. If most children are given permission to design their own diet, it would likely be full of sugary treats, salty snacks, and limited choices. As adults, we understand that this is not a healthy way to eat. And yet it often becomes the exact pattern we adopt as we grow old.

The American Institute for Cancer Research’s publication Nutrition After 50 lists some helpful ideas for fitting more plant foods into the diet, as follows:

  1.  Include fruits, juices, or vegetables with the breakfast meal. These foods can be added to cereal, stirred or blended into yogurt, or mixed into an egg dish.
  2. Pack a snack of fresh, dried, or canned fruit (no sugar added) for a day’s outing.
  3. Be creative with adding vegetables to meals. Include them in pasta sauce, use them to top potatoes, or make a vegetable pizza.
  4. Choose fruit for dessert, but make it special. Top low-fat frozen yogurt or sorbet with fresh berries. Bake an apple and top with softened raisins and cinnamon.
  5.  Try something new. Branch out from eating the “same old” fruits and vegetables and try something new. The internet provides a lot of good tips for recipes using previously untried food.
  6. Buy frozen and canned vegetables and fruits. Fresh is not always best, especially when most of it gets thrown away because of spoilage. There are many products available without added salt or sugar. Rinsing canned vegetables can also help wash off excess sodium.

Since many of the changes that occur with age are now recognized as resulting from an imbalance between pro-oxidants and antioxidants, consuming a surplus of antioxidants is ideal. In essence, an antioxidant-rich diet is rich in plant foods and healthy oils and low in simple sugars and solid fats. It is also a diet that is part of an overall active lifestyle that includes physical movement, social interaction, and meaningful encounters. Because, in the end, our measure of the worth of our lives should not be the years we have accumulated, but the quality of the years we have lived.

Get Eating Right at Midlife & Beyond and many other Homestudy courses from INR

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Tea: From Social to Medicinal Beverage

Posted Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition

teaBy Rajinder Hullon, MD, JD

Tea is the most popular beverage in the world as well as one of the healthiest.

The history of tea is fascinating and offers great insight into the history of our world.

Ever since tea was first discovered in China, it has traveled the world, conquering the thirsts of virtually every country on the planet.

According to Chinese mythology, the origins of tea date back to a day in 2737 BC. Emperor Shen Nung was sitting beneath a tree while his servant boiled drinking water. When a leaf dropped into the water, Shen Nung, a scholar and herbalist, decided to taste the brew. The tree was the Camellia sinensis.

For several hundred years, people drank tea because of its herbal medicinal qualities. By the time of the Western Zhou Dynasty, tea was used as a religious offering. During the Han Dynasty (202 BC – 220 AD), tea plants were quite limited and only royalty and the rich drank tea not only for their health but also for the taste. As more tea plants were discovered during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907), tea drinking became more common among lower classes and the Chinese government supported planting of tea plants and even the building of tea shops so everyone could enjoy tea.

Also during the Tang Dynasty, tea spread to Japan by Japanese priests studying in China. Similar to the Chinese adoption of tea, tea was first consumed by priests and the rich for its medicinal properties. Tea is often associated with Zen Buddhism in Japan because priests drank tea to stay awake and meditate. Soon, the Buddhists developed the Japanese Tea Ceremony for sharing tea in a sacred, spiritual manner. The Emperor of Japan enjoyed tea very much and imported tea seeds from China to be planted in Japan, making tea available to more people.

After obtaining coffee seedlings, Holland, England, and France were able to trade coffee and broke the monopoly exercised by the Arabs. Soon coffee trees were growing in the colonies of India, Java, and the West Indies. Coffee became one of the world’s most profitable export crops in the 18th century. Since then, coffee has been cultivated in many tropical locales and has especially prospered in South America. Today 50 percent of the world’s coffee is from Brazil, 25 percent from other Latin American countries, and nearly 20 percent from Africa.

Tea finally arrived in England during the 17th century when King Charles II married a Portuguese princess, Catherine of Braganza. The Queen made tea the drink of royalty and soon tea became a popular import to Britain via the East India Company. Afternoon tea or tea parties became a common way for aristocratic society to drink tea. Though tea was regularly imported to Britain, the taxes were so high that smugglers would get and sell tea illegally for those that could not afford it. In attempts to turn profits during the tea smuggling period, the East India Company began exporting the tea to America. The American tea was also taxed heavily and contributed to the cause of the Boston Tea Party.

Our Homestudy Course , The Mysteries of Coffee and Tea, explores the origins of coffee and tea and both the positive and negative effects that it can have on the human body. Some research also suggests that caffeine may impact cholesterol levels, the menstrual cycle and even dental health. Caffeine may also lower risk for some cancers. Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. Even one cup of coffee may affect their sleep duration and quality, while others can get plenty of shut-eye even after downing several lattés. So whatever is your choice, grab a cup and get ready to study!

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