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Healthy Living

Welcome to our all-round guide to good living in the 21st century.

Archive 2011

Nutrition: Nuts May, in Fact, Help Avert Diverticulitis

Doctors have long advised people with diverticulosis to steer clear of nuts and foods with small seeds, fearing they might cause severe intestinal complications.

But a study has found that eating these foods not only does not increase the risk of complications, but may even lower the risk of developing the disease. The study, published in the Aug. 27 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, is the first large-scale study of the matter.

About a third of Americans over 60 develop diverticulosis, which causes intense pain in the abdomen and leads to the rupture of small pouches in the colon, called diverticula.

In the study, scientists analyzed data on more than 47,000 men ages 40 to 75 who had no history of the disease at the start of the study. The subjects were followed for the next 18 years, a period in which 800 cases of diverticulitis and about 380 cases of diverticular bleeding were diagnosed.

Those who ate the most nuts, twice a week or more, had a 20 percent lower risk of developing diverticulitis than those who ate the least, while those who ate popcorn at least twice a week had a 28 percent lower risk. They also found no link between any foods and complications.

The authors say the benefits may come from nutrients and fiber in nuts and light popcorn.

7 Economical Superfoods for Everyone

The media and food marketers often make a big deal out of the latest superfoods. Take goji berries or pomegranates as two recent examples. But trendy superfoods are usually pricey, unfamiliar, and unavailable locally, making them inaccessible to the masses.

In a post appearing in Food, Nutrition & Science, food expert Sharon Palmer, RD, suggests more familiar, readily available, and affordable superfood options. The best part? You can snag many of these items in organic form and on the cheap at a local farmer's market (or in your own backyard garden!)

Here's here list of affordable superfood choices:

Oats1. Oats. Oats are rich in avenanthramide, an antioxidant that protects the heart. Other oat accolades? The superfood lowers cholesterol and has been shown to possess disease-zapping antimicrobial activity, making organic oatmeal the perfect affordable breakfast item for cold and flu season.

More details: The Grain Guide: Easy Recipes for the Healthiest Whole Grains.

2. Dry beans. Forget expensive steak and sausage. Dry beans and dry lentils pack a healthy low-fat, plant-based protein punch. Known as a "perfect food," just one cooked cupful can provide as much as 17 grams of fiber. Beans are also loaded with protein and dozens of key nutrients, including a few most people fall short on—calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Studies tie beans to a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast and colon cancers.

Soak beans overnight and rinse them well to eliminate most of the flatulence-causing compounds.

3. Garlic. This onion relative contains more than 70 active phytochemicals, including allicin, which studies show may decrease high blood pressure by as much as 30 points. High consumption of garlic lowered rates of ovarian, colorectal, and other cancers, according to a research review in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. To boost garlic's health effects, be sure to crush the cloves and let them stand for up to 30 minutes before heating them.

4. Cayenne pepper. If you can handle the heat, this powerhouse pepper is worth your while. The heat in cayenne peppers come from a phytochemical called capsaicin, which can help clear congestion, fight cholesterol, melt away body fat, and jump-start your metabolism. Sprinkle it over veggies and beans to sneak it into your diet.

5. Celery. Eating four sticks of celery a day can produce modest reductions in blood pressure, thanks to the vegetable's rich supply of phthalides, phytochemicals linked to cardiovascular health.

Bonus: Celery is loaded with androstenone and androstenol, pheromones that help attract women.

6. Tomatoes. Tomatoes are our most common source of lycopene, an antioxidant that may protect against heart disease and breast cancer. Avoid canned tomatoes when possible: The epoxy can coating usually contains the harmful plastic chemical BPA. Instead, load up on in-season, organic tomatoes in bulk and preserve them for year-round enjoyment.

7. Onions. This bulb boasts far-reaching health benefits, including immunity-boosting compounds that can help prevent everything from the common cold to cancer. Onions are also rich in quercetin, a flavonoid shown to keep your blood healthy. It's also a must-have for natural allergy prevention.

In land of meat, Texas university touts vegan

Focaccia? Roasted veggies? Sushi? Campus dining hall serves it all — but no meat

Texas cattle country seems an odd place to break new ground in veganism, but a public university near Dallas is doing just that.

Vegan Texas!The University of North Texas in Denton, known for its jazz program and hipster vibe, has opened an all-vegan full-service campus cafeteria that it and animal-rights activists say appears to be the first in the nation.

After just a week of school, the lines at "Mean Greens" — a play on the UNT Mean Green football team name — snaked out the door.

Students balanced plates of paninis made with fresh focaccia baked at the cafeteria, roasted vegetables, vegetarian sushi, bowls of asparagus soup, glasses of flavored vitamin waters and shot glasses of bananas foster. The hall doesn't serve any animal products including meat, milk or eggs.

"It's healthy. I was trying not to gain the freshman 15, but I actually like it," said Rebecca Arroyo, a freshman from Paris, Texas, who isn't vegan.

The university food czars who masterminded the unusual venue in one of five campus dining halls are finding many of the students who eat there are not vegans but simply want to eat healthy meals.

Animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals agreed, and gave UNT its Compassionate Campus award this month for responding to student requests and supporting veganism, said Ryan Huling, manager of college campaigns for PETA2, the college arm of the organization.

Outside interest
Ken Botts, special projects director at UNT dining services, has fielded inquiries from schools as far off as Germany and as close as Dallas.

Surveys by food services providers such as Bon Appetit and Aramark have shown rising demand for vegan fare. Huling said Aramark's survey of hundreds of schools indicated one in four students were actively seeking vegan options.

Inside Mean Greens, the ambiance is as modern as the menu. The hall is decorated with bold, contemporary graphics in shades of tangerine, lime green and red. Quotes from Gandhi and Einstein line the tops of two walls.

Chef Wanda White, a classically trained pastry chef, puts together imaginative menus, like biscuits with chocolate gravy, and specialty pancakes for breakfast.

Among the 20 dishes at lunch are vegetables that are oven-roasted and then quickly seared on the griddle in full view of the diners -- open-concept dining, cafeteria style.

Another innovation is the use of plates instead of standard-issue cafeteria trays, which cut both waste and water usage by 40 percent, Botts said. That change is being considered at some of UNT's other four dining halls.

It's not all peaches and nondairy cream for everyone, though. Staffer Kent Boring was unimpressed with the fettuccine Alfredo, though conceded that the butter-and-cheese-based dish would be hard to duplicate sans dairy.

But almost everyone was leaving with cones of soy-based soft-serve ice cream, a natural choice in the sweltering first week of school.

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

Benefits of a Vegetarian Diet for High Cholesterol

Vegetarian plateA vegetarian diet can be heart-healthy and nutritious. Learn how easy it can be to change what you eat and help lower your cholesterol levels.

The American Heart Association recommends a diet that is low in saturated fats and trans fats, the types of fat that can raise blood cholesterol. Since cholesterol and saturated fats come primarily from animal foods, one way to adjust your diet for high cholesterol is to start a vegetarian diet.
You don't actually need any cholesterol in your diet, since your body can make all the cholesterol it needs. Studies show that a vegetarian diet can lower your risk for obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancer.

Is a Vegetarian Diet Safe and Nutritious?

A well-rounded vegetarian diet can be healthy and nutritionally sound with some careful planning. Here are some tips to make sure you are getting enough essential nutrients:

  • Protein. Although foods from animals are important sources of protein, you can get all the protein you need from a vegetarian diet. Soy has been shown to be as rich a source of protein as animal food. Good sources of plant protein include whole grains, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.
  • Iron. Red meat is an important source of iron. A vegetarian diet may put you at higher risk for iron deficiency. Make sure to get enough dried beans, spinach, brewer's yeast, and dried fruits in your diet. These are all good sources of iron.
  • Vitamin B12. This vitamin only comes naturally from animal foods. Vitamin B12 is important in reducing the risk of heart disease, and vegetarians with low B12 may be at risk. You can make sure to get enough B12 by using fortified products like B12-fortified soy milk or cereal. You can also take a B12 supplement.
  • Zinc. This mineral is important for growth and development. Grains, nuts, and legumes are good sources, but you might also consider a zinc supplement.
  • Vitamin D. If you don't include dairy in your vegetarian diet and you don't spend much time outdoors, you also may want to supplement vitamin D.

Cooking Tips for High Cholesterol

Even though a vegetarian diet eliminates animal food as a source of cholesterol, you still need to watch out for sources of fat that can raise your cholesterol.

  • Trans fats. Many vegetable oils have hydrogen added to them. Hydrogenated oils are high in trans fats that can raise your cholesterol. Read the labels of any butter substitute or cooking oil to make sure there are no trans fats.
  • Saturated fats. These fats can raise your cholesterol and are primarily found in animal and dairy products but watch out for coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils which do have saturated fats.
  • Heart-healthy oils. Cooking with unsaturated fats found in safflower, corn, olive, canola, and peanut oils can help lower your cholesterol.
  • Low-fat cooking. You can sauté in water instead of oil or use just a very small amount of canola or olive oil. Broiling, streaming, poaching, and boiling are better than frying. When you are baking, you can cut your oil or margarine in half and replace it with water, juice, or applesauce.

Vegetarian Diet: Eating Out

Eating out and sticking to your vegetarian diet can be a challenge. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Plan in advance. Think about what kind of restaurant you want to go to. International restaurants such as Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, and Japanese tend to have more vegetarian diet selections. There are also restaurants that serve only vegetarian food.
  • Call ahead. Inquire about the menu when you make reservations.
  • Talk to your server. Don't assume that your server knows that food prepared in chicken stock is not vegetarian or that lard and gelatin are animal products. Be specific about your dietary requirements.
  • Ask for a substitution. Many restaurants will gladly substitute meatless pasta or exchange a baked potato for a fried side order. You can request that your meal be prepared from unsaturated oil.

Talking to Your Family About Your Vegetarian Diet

Family members who are unfamiliar with a vegetarian diet may try to discourage you because they think a diet without animal foods is not safe or nutritious. Here are some tips to get their support:

  • Educate yourself. Be ready to explain the benefits of a vegetarian diet and to assure family members that a balanced vegetarian diet can be as healthy as a diet that includes animal products.
  • Don't preach. You have decided to pursue a vegetarian diet because you think it's a healthier choice, but don't expect to change your family's diet right away.
  • Be patient. A vegetarian diet can seem like a radical idea to family members who are not familiar with it.
  • Be responsible. Don't expect your family to change their cooking and eating habits and start preparing meals just for you. Be prepared to do your own cooking and shopping.
  • Share your food. Once you have convinced your family that a vegetarian diet is healthy, prepare a vegetarian meal once a week to share with them. Show them that a vegetarian diet can also be appetizing and filling.

If you are worried about cholesterol, a vegetarian diet is an option you should consider. Vegetarian diets are low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. A carefully planned vegetarian diet is good for your heart and can include all the important nutrients you need.

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