Eat These Foods to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

If you’re trying to lower your stress levels, you probably already know to start with the basics: self-care, sleep management, and exercise. But did you know there are some foods that lower stress levels, too?

Dietitian Courtney Barth, MS, RDN, LD, CPT, explains how certain foods can help reduce your levels of cortisol — the primary hormone responsible for stress.

What cortisol does

Cortisol plays a number of roles in the body, including:

  • Regulating sleep cycles.
  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Increasing blood sugar.
  • Managing how the body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
  • Controlling blood pressure.

Importantly, cortisol is sometimes known as the “stress hormone” because your adrenal gland releases it when you’re in a stressful situation, or when your body is under physical stress (like inflammation). It’s the key to helping your body manage its fight-or-flight instinct — which is a good thing.

“Cortisol is healthy for a short period of time as a protective mechanism,” Barth says. “It gives your body the energy you need to respond to a short-term stressful scenario.”

In the long-term, though, too much cortisol actually creates stress in your body, leading to more inflammation and increasing your blood pressure — essentially, the opposite of all the good things it does for you in short-term scenarios.

“Managing stress is the number one treatment for lowering cortisol levels,” Barth says.

Stress-relieving foods

Foods that are promoted on the Mediterranean diet are the same foods that are good to eat when you’re stressed: fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats. In fact, Barth encourages patients to adopt a Mediterranean diet for overall health and wellness, including stress relief.

“The best way to lower cortisol in the body is to focus on an anti-inflammatory diet,” Barth says. “That means fewer processed foods and more whole foods.”

The goal is to eat foods that reduce inflammation in your body, thus reducing cortisol levels. Here are some foods that help combat stress by lowering your cortisol.

Foods high in vitamin B

“Fortified whole grains and some animal sources have lots of B vitamins in them — particularly vitamin B12, which can help with metabolism of cortisol,” Barth explains. Try:

  • Beef.
  • Chicken.
  • Eggs.
  • Fortified cereal.
  • Nutritional yeast.
  • Organ meats.

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acid

These foods reduce inflammation. “The best-activated form is through fatty fish, but you can also get it from some plant sources,” Barth says. Such foods include:

  • Anchovies.
  • Avocados.
  • Chia seeds.
  • Flax seeds.
  • Herring.
  • Mackerel.
  • Olive oil.
  • Oysters.
  • Salmon
  • Sardines.
  • Tuna.
  • Walnuts.

Magnesium-rich foods

“Magnesium is hugely beneficial when it comes to reducing inflammation, metabolizing cortisol and relaxing the body and mind,” Barth says. She suggests:

  • Avocados.
  • Bananas.
  • Broccoli.
  • Dark chocolate.
  • Pumpkin seeds.
  • Spinach.

Protein-rich foods

“Foods such as meat, fish, poultry, beans, and legumes promote balanced blood sugar levels,” Barth says. Specifics include:

  • Almonds.
  • Chicken breast.
  • Eggs.
  • Lean beef.
  • Lentils.
  • Peanuts.
  • Quinoa.
  • Turkey breast.
  • Tuna.
  • Salmon.
  • Shrimp.

Gut-healthy foods

“Seventy to 80% of our immune system is reliant on our gut, so if we correct our gut, we correct a lot of our immunity,” Barth says. These probiotic-rich and fermented foods can help balance blood sugar and reduce cholesterol:

  • Greek yogurt.
  • Kefir.
  • Kimchi.
  • Kombucha.
  • Sauerkraut.

If you need to de-stress in a hurry

Stress management through food is a long game, not a get-relaxed-quick trick. That said, magnesium-rich foods are a good choice if you’re trying to unwind and want a little natural assistance.

“High-magnesium foods are my first line of treatment,” Barth says. “Magnesium helps to relax the body, which helps reduce stress. It’s also a mineral for important body function, including heart rhythm, strong bones, keeping blood pressure normal, and helping to decrease risk of risk chronic diseases.”

In a pinch, she suggests popping some pumpkin seeds or letting some dark chocolate melt in your mouth (just make sure it’s at least 90% cacao). Try it at the end of the day for a little bit of nighttime relaxation.

Foods to avoid

In contrast, some foods raise cortisol levels. Foods that cause stress on your body include:

  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • High-sugar foods.
  • Simple carbs, such as cakes and pastries.
  • Soda.

Eat well and eat consistently

If you’re hoping to reduce stress, keep in mind this one key piece of advice: Don’t skip meals. Eating on a regular schedule — every three to five hours — helps balance your blood sugar levels. Being in a chronic state of low blood sugar is stressful on your body and can increase cortisol, so maintaining a balanced blood sugar can go a long way.

And tempting though it may be, don’t turn to supplements to get the vitamins and nutrients your body needs.

“We know what impact nutrition has on your body, whereas supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration,” Barth says. “I always tell people: Go with food first.”

Don’t rely on food to de-stress

Yes, these foods may help reduce your cortisol levels — but they won’t have a significant impact on their own if you’re not prioritizing stress management in other ways.

“If you have a healthy diet but you’re still incredibly stressed and not sleeping enough, you won’t see the results you’re looking for with food alone,” Barth warns.

The key to lowering stress is a whole-body approach that includes exercising, getting enough sleep and managing chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity — all of which can put your body in a prolonged state of inflammation.

And although we can’t control our genes or, to some extent, our environment, we can help our bodies when we make smart decisions about the food we eat.

“When it comes to our health, nutrition is the one thing we can control,” Barth says.

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What are the ideal blood sugar levels?

A blood sugar, or blood glucose, chart identifies a person’s ideal blood sugar levels throughout the day, including before and after meals. It can help a person with glucose management if they need to keep levels within a normal range, such as those with diabetes.

a person using a tool to check for their ideal blood sugar levels

Doctors use blood sugar charts to set target goals and monitor diabetes treatment plans. Blood sugar charts also help those with diabetes assess and self-monitor their blood sugar test results.

The ideal blood sugar level for an individual depends on when in the day they carry out blood glucose monitoring, as well as when they last ate.

In this article, we provide some charts that demonstrate the ideal blood sugar levels throughout the day. We also explain the importance of staying within the recommended ranges.

Blood sugar chart

black and orange space ship toy

Blood sugar charts act as a reference guide for blood sugar test results. As such, blood sugar charts are important tools for diabetes management.

Most diabetes treatment plans involve keeping blood sugar levels as close to normal or target goals as possible. This requires frequent at-home and doctor-ordered testing, along with an understanding of how results compare with target levels.

Doctors often provide A1C blood sugar recommendations in blood sugar charts. They tend to give A1C results as both a percentage and an average blood sugar level in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).

To help interpret and assess blood sugar results, the following charts outline normal and abnormal blood sugar levels for those with and without diabetes.

Time of checkTarget blood sugar levels for people without diabetesTarget blood sugar levels for people with diabetes
Before mealsless than 100 mg/dl80–130 mg/dl
1–2 hours after the start of a mealless than 140 mg/dlless than 180 mg/dl
Over a 3-month period, which an A1C test can measureless than 5.7%less than 7%
less than 180 mg/dl

Although a doctor will provide these as a guide, they will also individualize a glucose management plan and include either more or less stringent personal targets.

An A1C test measures a person’s average blood sugar levels over a 3-month period, which gives a wider insight into their overall management of their blood sugar levels.

Guidelines

Appropriate blood sugar levels vary throughout the day and from person to person.

Blood sugars are often lowest before breakfast and in the lead up to meals. Blood sugars are often highest in the hours following meals.

People with diabetes will often have higher blood sugar targets or acceptable ranges than those without the condition.

These targets vary according to a range of factors, some of which include:

  • age and life expectancy
  • the presence of other health conditions
  • how long a person has had diabetes
  • diagnosed cardiovascular disease
  • problems with the smallest arteries in the body
  • any known damage to the eyes, kidneys, blood vessels, brain, or heart
  • personal habits and lifestyle factors
  • not being aware of low blood sugar levels
  • stress
  • other illnesses

Most blood sugar charts show recommended levels as a range, allowing for differences between individuals.

The American Diabetes Association, Joslin Diabetes Center, and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists also offer slightly different blood sugar guidelines for those with diabetes.

Interpreting the results

Interpreting blood sugar meter readings depends mostly on individual patterns and targets. A medical professional will set these at the beginning of diabetes treatment.

Certain forms of temporary diabetes, such as gestational diabetes, also have separate blood sugar recommendations.

Time of checkBlood sugar level
Fasting or before breakfast60–90 mg/dl
Before meals60–90 mg/dl
1 hour after meal100–120 mg/dl

A person with very high or low fasting blood sugar levels should take the following actions:

Fasting blood sugar levelRisk level and suggested action
50 mg/dl or underDangerously low: Seek medical attention
70–90 mg/dlPossibly too low: Consume sugar upon experiencing symptoms of low blood sugar, or seek medical attention
90–120 mg/dlNormal range
120–160 mg/dlMedium: Seek medical attention
160–240 mg/dlToo high: Work to bring down blood sugar levels
240–300 mg/dlMuch too high: This could be a sign of ineffective glucose management, so see a doctor
300 mg/dl or aboveVery high: Seek immediate medical attention

As long as blood sugar levels do not become critically dangerous, there are ways to return them to within a normal range when readings become too high.

Some ways to lower blood sugar levels include:

  • limiting carbohydrate intake but not fasting
  • increasing water intake to maintain hydration and dilute excess blood sugar
  • engaging in physical activity, such as a post-meal walk, to burn excess blood sugar
  • eating more fiber

These methods should not replace medical treatment but are a helpful addition to any diabetes treatment plan. If blood sugar readings seem unusual or unexpected, consult a doctor.

That said, many factors relating to a monitoring device and its user can influence blood sugar readings, possibly causing them to be inaccurate.

Monitoring levels

Monitoring blood sugar levels is an important part of diabetes management. The best monitoring plans often rely on both self-monitoring at home and doctor-ordered tests, such as A1C tests.

Many types of blood sugar monitors are available for self-monitoring. Most blood sugar monitors in the United States involve using blood obtained from a finger prick and testing strips. These give blood sugar readings in mg/dl.

Modern home blood sugar meters produce plasma glucose counts instead of whole blood glucose counts.

This allows for more accurate readings of daily blood glucose levels. It is also easier to directly compare the results of self-monitoring and doctor-ordered tests, as doctors also use plasma glucose counts.

Tracking daily blood sugar level changes can help doctors understand how well treatment plans are working. This can help them determine when to adjust medications or targets. It can also help reflect the impact of diet and exercise.

The frequency of blood sugar tests varies among individual treatment plans, as well as the type and stage of diabetes.

Recommendations for testing are as follows:

Type 1, adult: Check at least twice daily, up to 10 times. People should perform their tests before breakfast, at fasting, before meals, sometimes 2 hours after meals, before and after physical activity, and at bedtime.

Type 1, child: Check at least four times daily. People should perform their tests before meals and at bedtime. Tests may also be required 1–2 hours after meals, before and after exercise, and overnight.

Type 2, people taking insulin or other management medications: The recommended frequency of testing varies depending on insulin dosage and the use of any additional medications.

Those taking intensive insulin should test when fasting, before meals and bedtime, and sometimes overnight. Those taking insulin and additional medications should at least perform tests at fasting and bedtime. People taking background insulin and one daily premixed insulin injection should perform tests when fasting, before premixed dosages and meals, and sometimes overnight.

Those not taking noninsulin oral medications or managing blood sugar levels through dietary adjustments require much less frequent blood sugar testing at home.

Type 2, when there is a low risk of low blood sugar: Often, daily tests are not necessary. Performing tests at meal times and bedtime should reflect the real-time impact of lifestyle changes.

If a person is not meeting blood sugar goals or A1C targets, the frequency of testing should increase until levels return to within the normal ranges.

Gestational: Those following a course of insulin should perform tests at fasting, before meals, and 1 hour after meals. Those not taking insulin should perform tests at fasting and 1 hour after meals.

People with gestational diabetes should test more regularly during periods of physical and emotional stress, such as acute illness or depression.

Continuous glucose monitors (CMGs) are devices that are particularly helpful for people who have difficulty using blood sugar meters. CMGs have a sensor that the individual inserts into their skin to measure the amount of sugar in tissue.

If blood sugar levels become much higher than or too far below the established targets, an alarm will sound. Some CMGs also track the changes in blood sugar level over the course of hours and display to the user whether levels are rising or falling.

A person should verify CMGs regularly by taking blood sugar levels with a finger-prick meter. It is best to perform tests at times when blood sugar levels are steady, so avoid testing straight after meals and bouts of physical activity.

Summary

Managing blood sugar levels is an important step in preventing the complications of diabetes.

Making sure that blood sugar levels stay within normal ranges can also be a strong sign that treatment is working.

Although many people will have individual requirements and characteristics that shape their target blood sugar range, a doctor will set these goals using a blood sugar chart at the start of treatment. They may adjust these targets as treatment progresses.

If a person notices any symptoms of either extremely low or extremely high blood sugar, they should seek medical attention.

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5 Veggies That Don’t Deserve the Hype

First, let’s set the record straight — you really can’t go wrong with vegetables. They’re a highly nutritious food group that offer a huge variety of flavors and benefits. That’s why dietitians, doctors and nutritionists recommend them as a key part of every healthy diet.

That said, it’s also fair to say some veggies pack a bigger nutritional punch than others.

If you’re wondering which ones might not be at the top of our list, check out the following vegetables many dietitians would probably downplay in favor of other more nourishing options.

1. Sweet corn is simply too starchy

“It may be colorful and sweet and we look forward to it when it’s in season, but unfortunately sweet corn is also one of the starchiest veggies out there,” says clinical dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD.

“Corn has some nutritional value like fiber, folate, vitamin C and potassium. But your body sees and reacts to sweet corn similarly to the way it reacts to bread, which is not great from a metabolic standpoint.”

When you’re looking to add more veggies to your diet there’s a whole spectrum of better options out there than corn.

If you’re not ready to give up corn just yet, at least try to be mindful of what you’re putting on top of it. “Try to limit your portion of butter and salt.There are healthy toppings with higher nutritional value instead of the butter and salt duo we often turn to,” she says.

2. Take the spotlight off of kale

“Kale is good for you, but somewhere down the line kale received a superstar status that overtook all the other great veggies like broccoli, beets, Brussels sprouts and Swiss chard,” Patton says.

While kale is great, variety is even better, she adds. Kale can also be an acquired taste and can be hard to incorporate into meals. And for many people, digesting kale is a struggle.

There are lots of dark, leafy greens you can turn to instead that contain nutrients similar to kale. Swapping those into your diet gives you the same nutritional value, plus so much more to choose from. Patton suggests adding in leafy greens and lettuces like:

  • Spinach.
  • Collard greens.
  • Mustard greens.
  • Arugula.
  • Swiss chard
  • Rapini (broccoli rabe).
  • Red and green leaf lettuce.
  • Romaine.

3. Put the squeeze on vegetable juices

Store-bought vegetable juices may give you a good amount of vitamins and minerals. But in a lot of cases you’re missing all the benefits of the fiber and extra nutrients found in their skins.

You may also be getting extra additives and sugar or salt you don’t need.

Instead, try making your own homemade smoothies that incorporate fresh vegetables from your fridge. Use cruciferous vegetables like shredded cabbage or broccolibok choy that really pack that nutritional punch.

“Cruciferous vegetables are nutrient-rich and contain glucosinolates, an anti-inflammatory phytonutrient linked to reduced risk of cancer,” Patton says.

4. Add on to your iceberg lettuce

“This pale lettuce falls short of the reputation of its darker-hued cousins and contains fewer vitamins and phytonutrients,” Patton says.

“But some lettuce is better than no lettuce at all, provided you don’t slather it with high-saturated fat ranch, Caesar or bleu cheese dressings.”

Love iceberg lettuce salads? That’s fine. Just pump up the nutrition, she suggests. Add in a variety of other chopped veggies like:

  • Darker leafy greens like spinach or mixed spring greens.
  • Red bell peppers.
  • Grated carrots.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Grape tomatoes.

“Then dress your new mixture instead with red wine vinegar and one teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. You’ll feel much better about making your iceberg lettuce intake a little more on the nutritional side.”

5. Pass on those potatoes

“From a nutritional perspective these starchy vegetables have potential be unhealthy depending on how they are prepared.  For example, fried French fries, fried hash browns, scalloped and mashed potatoes are loaded with extra fat calories which diminish their nutritional value,” Patton says.

“You have to be careful when they are eaten without all the extras, too.  While potatoes contain fiber and potassium, they also cause a much faster spike in blood sugar levels than non-starchy vegetables like kale or broccoli,” she emphasizes.

A recent study suggests that replacing one serving of potatoes (boiled, baked, mashed or French fries) with one serving of non-starchy vegetables (spinach, peppers or onions, for example) can lower your risk of hypertension.

Variety is the vibe to go for

Dietitians agree that veggie variety is key. So don’t be afraid to try new vegetables instead of the ones you’re used to. The hype may outweigh the benefits. Switch things up and you’ll be consuming a wider variety of nutrients, and your diet will be a whole lot more colorful!

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Are There Health Benefits to Drinking Hot Water?

Q: I’ve heard drinking hot water has health benefits. Should I drink hot water?

Water is essential to life. And drinking it, whether hot, cold, or room temperature, obviously keeps you hydrated. But are there health benefits to drinking hot water? And does the temperature of the water you drink really matter?

There are claims that drinking hot water has health benefits, like helping with digestion and relieving congestion. But there is little scientific research to support the health benefits of drinking hot water as opposed to room temperature or cold water.

Most of us don’t drink enough water anyway, so however you can get your recommended daily allowance of water works. In general, that breaks down to about 15 cups per day for men, and about 11 cups per day for women. It’s always good to stay hydrated. But everyone is different. Some people prefer room temperature water, other people can’t drink room temperature water and prefer it ice cold.

Many feel that drinking hot water first thing in the morning helps with digestion and can help you go to the bathroom. But is it the temperature of the water, or just the simple fact that staying hydrated helps to have regular bowel movements? Or is it that the water is hot and helps to relax your bowels?

It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario. Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is one big muscle, so perhaps the heat of the water relaxes your GI tract a bit to help things like constipation. If you have cold symptoms, drinking hot water can help with things like sinus congestion from the steam rising into your nasal passages.

The bottom line is, if you prefer drinking hot water and it helps to keep you hydrated, drink up!

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Can You Eat Potatoes If You Have Diabetes?

Whether baked, mashed, fried, boiled, or steamed, potatoes are one of the most popular foods in the human diet.

They’re rich in potassium and B vitamins, and the skin is a great source of fiber.

However, if you have diabetes, you may have heard that you should limit or avoid potatoes.

In fact, there are many misconceptions about what people with diabetes should and shouldn’t eat. Many people assume that because potatoes are high in carbs, they’re off-limits if you have diabetes.

The truth is, people with diabetes can eat potatoes in many forms, but it’s important to understand the effect they have on blood sugar levels and the portion size that’s appropriate.

This article tells you everything you need to know about potatoes and diabetes.

Different types of potatoes

How do potatoes affect blood sugar levels?

Like any other carb-containing food, potatoes increase blood sugar levels.

When you eat them, your body breaks down the carbs into simple sugars that move into your bloodstream. This is what’s often called a spike in blood sugar levels (1).

The hormone insulin is then released into your blood to help transport the sugars into your cells so that they can be used for energy (1).

In people with diabetes, this process is not as effective. Instead of sugar moving out of the blood and into your cells, it remains in circulation, keeping blood sugar levels higher for longer.

Therefore, eating high-carb foods and/or large portions can be detrimental to people with diabetes.

In fact, poorly managed diabetes is linked to heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, nerve damage, amputation, and vision loss (23456).

Therefore, it’s usually recommended that people with diabetes limit their digestible carb intake. This can range from a very low carb intake of 20–50 grams per day to a moderate restriction of 100–150 grams per day (789).

The exact amount varies depending on your dietary preferences and medical goals (910).

SUMMARYPotatoes spike blood sugar levels as carbs are broken down into sugars and move into your bloodstream. In people with diabetes, the sugar isn’t cleared properly, leading to higher blood sugar levels and potential health complications.

How many carbs are in potatoes?

Potatoes are a high carb food. However, the carb content can vary depending on the cooking method.

Here is the carb count of 1/2 cup (75–80 grams) of potatoes prepared in different ways (11):

  • Raw: 11.8 grams
  • Boiled: 15.7 grams
  • Baked: 13.1 grams
  • Microwaved: 18.2 grams
  • Oven-baked fries (10 steak-cut frozen): 17.8 grams
  • Deep-fried: 36.5 grams

Keep in mind that an average small potato (weighing 170 grams) contains about 30 grams of carbs and a large potato (weighing 369 grams) approximately 65 grams. Thus, you may eat more than double the number of carbs listed above in a single meal (12).

In comparison, a single piece of white bread contains about 14 grams of carbs, 1 small apple (weighing 149 grams) 20.6 grams, 1 cup (weighing 158 grams) of cooked rice 28 grams, and a 12-ounce (350-ml) can of cola 38.5 grams (13141516).

SUMMARYThe carb content of potatoes varies from 11.8 grams in 1/2 cup (75 grams) of diced raw potato to 36.5 grams in a similar serving size of french fries. However, the actual serving size of this popular root vegetable is often much larger than this.

Are potatoes high GI?

A low GI diet can be an effective way for people with diabetes to manage blood sugar levels (171819).

The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how much a food raises blood sugar compared with a control, such as 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of white bread (111).

Foods that have a GI greater than 70 are considered high GI, which means they raise blood sugar more quickly. On the other hand, foods with a GI of less than 55 are classed low (111).

In general, potatoes have a medium to high GI (20).

However, the GI alone isn’t the best representation of a food’s effect on blood sugar levels, as it doesn’t take into account portion size or cooking method. Instead, you can use the glycemic load (GL).

This is the GI multiplied by the actual number of carbs in a portion, divided by 100. A GL of less than 10 is low, while a GL greater than 20 is considered high. Generally, a low GI diet aims to keep the daily GL under 100 (11).

Potato variety and the GI and GL

Both the GI and GL can vary by potato variety and cooking method.

For example, a 1 cup (150 gram) serving of potato may be high, medium, or low GL depending on the variety (1120):

  • High GL: Desiree (mashed), french fries
  • Medium GL: white, Russet Burbank, Pontiac, Desiree (boiled), Charlotte, potato crisps, instant mashed potato
  • Low GL: Carisma, Nicola

If you have diabetes, choosing varieties like Carisma and Nicola is a better option to slow the rise of blood sugar levels after eating potatoes.

You can check the GI and GL of different types of potatoes through this website.

How to lower the GI and GL of a potato

The way a potato is prepared also affects the GI and GL. This is because cooking changes the structure of the starches and thus how fast they’re absorbed into your bloodstream.

In general, the longer a potato is cooked the higher the GI. Therefore, boiling or baking for long periods tends to increase the GI.

Yet, cooling potatoes after cooking can increases the amount of resistant starch, which is a less digestible form of carbs. This helps lower the GI by 25–28% (2122).

This means that a side of potato salad may be slightly better than french fries or hot baked potatoes if you have diabetes. French fries also pack more calories and fat due to their cooking method.

Additionally, you can lower the GI and GL of a meal by leaving the skins on for extra fiber, adding lemon juice or vinegar, or eating mixed meals with protein and fats — as this helps slow the digestion of carbs and the rise in blood sugar levels (23).

For example, adding 4.2 ounces (120 grams) of cheese to a 10.2 ounce (290 gram) baked potato lowers the GL from 93 to 39 (24).

Keep in mind that this much cheese also contains 42 grams of fat and will add nearly 400 calories to the meal.

As such, it’s still necessary to consider the overall number of carbs and the quality of the diet, not just the GI or GL. If controlling weight is one of your goals, your total calorie intake is also important.

SUMMARYA low GI and GL diet can be beneficial for people with diabetes. Potatoes tend to have a medium to high GI and GL, but cooled cooked potatoes, as well as varieties like Carisma and Nicola, are lower and make a better choice for people with diabetes.

Risks of eating potatoes

Although it’s safe for most people with diabetes to eat potatoes, it’s important to consider the amount and types you consume.

Eating potatoes both increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and may have negative effects on people with existing diabetes.

One study in 70,773 people found that for every 3 servings per week of boiled, mashed, or baked potatoes, there was a 4% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes — and for french fries, the risk increased to 19% (25).

Additionally, fried potatoes and potato chips contain high amounts of unhealthy fats that may increase blood pressure, lower HDL (good) cholesterol, and lead to weight gain and obesity — all of which are associated with heart disease (26272829).

This is particularly dangerous for people with diabetes, who often already have an increased risk of heart disease (30).

Fried potatoes are also higher in calories, which can contribute to unwanted weight gain (272931).

People with type 2 diabetes are often encouraged to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight to help manage blood sugar and reduce the risk of complications (32).

Therefore, french fries, potato chips, and other potato dishes that use large amounts of fats are best avoided.

If you’re having trouble managing your blood sugar levels and diet, speak with a healthcare provider, dietitian, or diabetes educator.

SUMMARYEating unhealthy potato foods, such as chips and french fries, increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and complications, such as heart disease and obesity.

Good replacements for potatoes

Although you can eat potatoes if you have diabetes, you may still want to limit them or replace them with healthier options.

Look for high fiber, lower carb, and low GI and GL foods like the following (33):

  • Carrots and parsnips. Both are low GI and GL and have less than 10 grams of carbs per 2.8-ounce (80-gram) serving. They’re great boiled, steamed, or baked.
  • Cauliflower. This vegetable is an excellent alternative to potato either boiled, steamed, or roasted. It’s very low in carbs, making it a terrific option for people on a very low carb diet.
  • Pumpkin and squash. These are low in carbs and have a low to medium GI and a low GL. They’re a particularly good replacement for baked and mashed potatoes.
  • Taro. This root is low in carbs and has a GL of just 4. Taro can be sliced thinly and baked with a little oil for a healthier alternative to potato chips.
  • Sweet potato. This veggie has a lower GI than some white potatoesand varies between a medium and high GL. These tubers are also a great source of vitamin A.
  • Legumes and lentils. Most foods in this category are high in carbs but have a low GL and are rich in fiber. However, you should be careful with serving sizes as they still increase blood sugar levels.

Another good way to avoid large portions of high carb foods is to fill at least half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, leafy greens, cauliflower, peppers, green beans, tomatoes, asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, and lettuce.

SUMMARYLower carb replacements for potato include carrots, pumpkin, squash, parsnip, and taro. High carb but lower GI and GL options include sweet potato, legumes, and lentils.

The bottom line

Potatoes are a versatile and delicious vegetable that can be enjoyed by everyone, including people with diabetes.

However, because of their high carb content, you should limit portion sizes, always eat the skin, and choose low GI varieties, such as Carisma and Nicola.

In addition, it’s best to stick with boiling, baking, or steaming and avoid fried potatoes or potato chips, which are high in calories and unhealthy fats.

If you’re struggling to make healthy choices to manage your diabetes, consult your healthcare provider, dietitian, or diabetes educator.

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5 Healthy Habits That Prevent Diseases

From social media influencers to great aunt Bess, everyone has opinions about the best habits for a healthy lifestyle. But whether you’ve gone all-in on apple cider vinegar or think the latest health fads are all hype, the choices you make can have long-term health consequences.

“Healthy lifestyle habits can slow or even reverse the damage from high cholesterol or high blood sugar,” says lifestyle medicine specialist Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD. “You can reverse diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol and heart disease.”

Here, he sifts through the noise to help you choose the best lifestyle habits to prevent chronic diseases.

How lifestyle affects your health

The leading causes of death worldwide are chronic diseases, Dr. Golubic says. And they include the usual suspects:

  • Cancer.
  • Cardiovascular disease.
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Diabetes.
  • Stroke.

But you can prevent many of these chronic conditions by addressing their root cause: daily habits. About 80% of chronic diseases are driven by lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, he says.

How to prevent lifestyle diseases

To prevent chronic disease, Dr. Golubic recommends adjusting your habits in these five areas:

1. Diet

His advice is straightforward: Eat plants that are whole, unrefined and minimally processed. Eating plant-based foods helps reduce diabetes, heart disease and cancer risk.

There is evidence that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases. This diet is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains fish, olive oil and nuts.

Other evidence suggests that consuming a fully plant-based diet can even reverse chronic, diet-related conditions, including advanced heart disease. This diet eliminates meat, dairy and eggs and includes whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes and fruits. It is the most compassionate and the most sustainable diet, Dr. Golubic says, and the one he recommends most.

“I suggest you experiment. You don’t have to go fully vegan tomorrow,” he says.

“Avoid refined and processed plant foods.  Start by preparing one new plant-based meal a week.”

2. Physical activity

Moving helps all your body’s systems. Experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.

If that seems daunting, Dr. Golubic recommends starting small. “Most of us can walk. So start with a 10-minute walk. Repeat this two or three times a day,” he says. “Then try to walk faster, have a minute of more intense walking or climb a flight of stairs. If walking is not an option, any physical activity will do. Simply move more and sit less.”

3. Sleep

Shoot for seven to nine hours of restful sleep each night. But if you just can’t help burning the midnight oil, try to:

  • Have a consistent bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends.
  • Be physically active daily. (Sense a theme?)
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine.
  • Put digital devices away 90 minutes before bedtime.
  • Keep your sleep area cool, dark and comfortable.

4. Stress relief

Chronic stress is not your immune system’s friend. Try mindfulness, meditation and gratitude to relieve stress and improve your physical and mental health.

“We tend to self-medicate with food, but there are healthier ways to relieve our stress, worries and concerns,” Dr. Golubic says.

Mindfulness: Mindfulness is the state of being more present and aware of what you sense, feel and experience. It’s a great way to cope with stress and relax.

Dr. Golubic suggests two ways to master mindfulness:

  • Practice daily: The key is to schedule it. Find a quiet place. Observe your body movements as you breathe — how your belly expands and shrinks, or how the air flows in and out of your nostrils. “The key is to observe — don’t try to change the depth of inhalation or frequency of breathing. Let your body do what it normally does more than 20,000 times per day,” he says. Start with five minutes per day and work up to 20 minutes.
  • Pay attention to the present moment throughout the day: For example, when brushing your teeth, brush like it’s your first time. “Using your nondominant hand may help you pay better attention,” Dr. Golubic says. “You can even practice mindfulness while taking out the garbage, washing the dishes or noticing your breath while you wait for the light to turn green. Any activity where you remember to pay attention can be a mindfulness practice.”

Meditation: If you’re new to the practice, 4×4 breathing, or box breathing, is a great place to start. Here’s how it works:

  1. Sit up straight and relaxed in a comfortable, quiet location.
  2. Breathe out slowly, being mindful about releasing all the air from your lungs.
  3. Breathe in through your nose as you slowly count to four in your head. Be conscious of how the air fills your lungs and stomach.
  4. Hold your breath for a count of four (or less, for a count you can comfortably hold).
  5. Exhale for another count of four.
  6. Hold your breath again for a count of four.
  7. Repeat.

Do this for five minutes three times a week, building up to 20 minutes a day.

Gratitude: Practicing gratitude is a good antidote for stress as well. In studies, burned-out healthcare workers who performed acts of gratitude — such as remembering three good things or writing gratitude letters — reported positive effects on their well-being after a few weeks.

“Throughout our days we tend to notice more things that are not going well and pay little attention to positive moments,” Dr. Golubic says. “We are likely to feel better when, in the midst of a hectic day, we recognize and remind ourselves about all the gifts we have in life.”

5. Social connectedness

Social connectedness, or loving people, keeps you emotionally and physically healthy. Even when physical distancing is the norm, virtual connections can be transformative.

“We have tremendous access to technology to help us avoid social isolation,” Dr. Golubic says. “Almost everybody has a cell phone, so you can be in touch with people and tell them how you feel about them. Even work emails signed, ‘I hope you’re OK,’ or, ‘stay well,’ make a difference.”

Why is it so hard to make healthy lifestyle changes?

There are a few reasons it can be hard to get a handle on our habits, including:

  • A lack of access to healthy options: A drive down the street reveals the convenient truth: cheap, unhealthy fast-food options everywhere you look. This can make it hard to make good choices. “Spain has fruterías (stores that sell only fruits and vegetables) on every other corner. They’re open until late in the evening. Imagine if those stores were more common than fried food places,” Dr. Golubic says.
  • Too many subliminal messages: “Subliminal messages can sabotage good lifestyle habits,” he says. “For example, think about advertisements showing beautiful people eating unhealthy foods. Or the images of yoga poses featuring young people instead of those who need yoga the most — older people with two to four chronic conditions.”
  • An instant gratification culture: It can take weeks to months to make something a habit — and sometimes longer to see the benefits of those changes. “When implementing healthy lifestyle changes, we have to be patient,” Dr. Golubic concludes.

How to maintain healthy lifestyle habits long-term

To make healthy habits stick, Dr. Golubic suggests you:

  • Take small steps: “Do evolution rather than revolution,” he says. “Choose achievable goals. Start with listening to a meditation tracks for five minutes three times a week and continue adding more days and minutes as you are making progress.”
  • Set realistic expectations: Avoid being too critical of yourself.  Embrace the saying, “progress not perfection.”
  • Educate yourself: Learn the science behind opinions. Seek advice from professional medical associations, such as the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, Medical Society of Clinical Oncology and American College of Lifestyle Medicine.
  • Think big picture: Those who reflect on what’s important to them and how they fit into a larger whole have better results. “Food choices are spectacular examples,” Dr. Golubic says. “It takes an enormous amount of energy and production of greenhouse gases and land and water use to produce a pound of beef compared to a pound of beans. So our food choices not only affect our health but the well-being of all life on the planet.”

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Health benefits of Microgreens

Scientists see microgreens as a functional food, which means that they can provide key nutrients in a practical way. Some people call them a superfood.

People have long grown mustard and cress on their kitchen window ledges and in classrooms. They are fun to grow, tasty to eat, and healthful. However, other types of sprout and microgreen have recently become popular as health foods.

Microgreens can play a role in both sweet and savory dishes.

In addition to their nutritional value, they can add flavor, texture, and color to salads and sandwiches. People can also add them to smoothies or use them as a garnish.

They are suitable for eating raw, which means that they retain their vitamin and mineral content.

In this article, we look at the benefits of microgreens, how to add them to the diet, how to grow them, and any potential health risks.

What are microgreens?

Micro Greens Close Up on White Background

Like sprouts, microgreens are a young vegetable. However, sprouts and microgreens are not the same.

Sprouts are newly germinated seeds that people harvest just as the seed begins to grow and before their leaves develop. Conversely, microgreens grow from sprouts, and they have leaves.

When the cotyledon leaves — the embryonic leaves — have fully developed, and the first true leaves have emerged, the plant becomes a microgreen.

People usually grow sprouts in water and harvest them within 2–3 days.

Microgreens can grow either in soil or hydroponically, but they need sunlight. People harvest them after 1–3 weeks, depending on the type.

People can grow microgreens from any herb or vegetable. The flavor will depend on the plant.

Popular microgreens include:

  • amaranth
  • basil
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • mustard
  • tatsoi
  • orach
  • borage
  • beet
  • parsley
  • pea
  • red pak choi
  • kohlrabi
  • Swiss chard
  • rocket

 

Possible health benefits

Microgreens might offer several benefits as an addition to the diet.

Rich in nutrients

Many fresh plant products provide vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

These nutrients can help with:

  • preventing a range of diseases
  • managing weight
  • boosting both mental and physical health and well-being

Microgreens can offer all of these benefits and possibly more.

Antioxidant content

Many plant based foods are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Vitamins and minerals play hundreds of roles in essential bodily processes.

Antioxidants help the body eliminate unstable waste molecules known as free radicals.

Free radicals result from both natural bodily processes and environmental pressures, such as pollution. As they build up, they can lead to cell damage. Eventually, this damage may contribute to the development of diseases, such as cancer.

The body can remove some free radicals, but they can still accumulate. Antioxidants from foods can help remove more of them. Plant based foods can provide antioxidants.

There is evidence to suggest that microgreens have a high antioxidant content, which means that they may help prevent a range of diseases. The exact types of antioxidant will depend on the plant.

Microgreens from the Brassica family, which include broccoli, contain high levels of vitamin E, a phenolic antioxidant. Asteraceae microgreens, such as chicory and lettuce, appear to be high in vitamin A, or carotenoid antioxidants.

Details about using microgreens to treat or prevent specific diseases are not yet available, but scientists are looking into their possible benefits

Specific groups

Some researchers have suggested that microgreens may be suitable for tailoring to provide additional nutrients to specific groups of people.

For example, one group of scientists produced chicory and lettuce microgreens with high levels of the nutrients that green, leafy vegetables usually contain but a lower potassium content. This nutrient profile, they said, could be useful for people with kidney disease.

Tailored microgreens could also be beneficial for people who follow a vegan, vegetarian, or raw food diet and for those who cannot access or consume fresh vegetables due to issues of availability, cost, or health.

Sustainability

There is a growing interest in sustainability, and microgreens could be a good way to provide city dwelling families with locally produced seasonal vegetables at a low cost.

Microgreens are easy to grow at home in a confined space. A small outlay can provide a significant return in terms of bulk, variety, and nutrients.

As they take just a few weeks to grow, it is possible to have an ongoing source of microgreens. By rotating three crops, for example, people could have fresh microgreens every week. Hydroponically grown microgreens do not even need soil.

Experts have suggested that microgreens could even provide fresh and healthful food for astronauts.

Nutrition

The nutritional value of microgreens varies according to type, as with conventional vegetables.

However, there is also evidence that some may contain a higher concentration of many nutrients than their mature, fully grown counterparts.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 100 grams (g) of kale microgreens provides only 29 calories.

Other research has indicated that Brassica microgreens, which include kale, may be an especially good source of antioxidant vitamins and the minerals potassium and calcium.

A 100 g serving of sunflower and basil microgreen mix will provide:

  • 28 calories
  • 2.2 g of protein
  • 4.4 g of carbohydrate
  • 2.2 g of fiber
  • 88 milligrams (mg) of calcium
  • 15.9 mg of iron
  • 66 mg of magnesium
  • 66 mg of phosphorus
  • 298 mg of potassium
  • 11 mg of sodium
  • 0.7 mg of zinc
  • 6.6 mg of vitamin C
  • 79.6 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin A
  • 66 mcg of folate

The greens also contain selenium, manganese, and a range of B vitamins.

The same size serving of sunflower and beet micrograms contains similar amounts of each nutrient but provides more iron, at 23.9 mg.

A 2012 study looked at the nutrient content of 25 different microgreens. The researchers found the highest concentrations of four different vitamins and carotenoids in the following items:

  • red cabbage
  • green daikon radish
  • cilantro
  • garnet amaranth

The key benefits of each microgreen varied. Red cabbage microgreens, for example, were rich in vitamin C but low in vitamin E. Green daikon radish microgreens were rich in vitamin E but relatively low in lutein in comparison with cabbage, cilantro, and amaranth.

Eating a variety of vegetables and microgreens will supply more of these helpful nutrients.

How to grow microgreens

Microgreens are relatively easy to grow on a small scale and can thrive indoors if sunlight is available.

People wishing to grow their own microgreens can follow these steps:

  1. Scatter seeds over an inch of potting soil in a planter dish or tray and cover with another thin layer of soil.
  2. Mist the soil with water and place near a source of sunlight or a grow light.
  3. Continue to mist the seeds daily to keep the soil moist.

The microgreens will be ready to harvest in 2–3 weeks. People should take care to cut their greens above the soil line and rinse them well before using them.

You can purchase kits for growing microgreens online

Dietary tips

As well as adding nutritional content, microgreens can boost color, enhance flavor, and add texture to any dish.

People can add microgreens to meals in the following ways:

  • as a garnish for salads, soups, flatbreads, or pizzas
  • to add nutritional value to a juice or smoothie
  • as a side to any main dish
  • to add flavor and color to an omelet or frittata
  • as an alternative to lettuce in tacos or a burger or sandwich

Herb microgreens can also add flavor to sweet dishes. People can sprinkle a pinch of mint, for example, on a fruit based mousse or on strawberries with yogurt.

Risks

Some experts have raised concerns about the risk of contamination of microgreens, for example, with Escherichia coli. The risk increases with the storage time, and it will depend partly on the type and composition of the microgreen. Some are more susceptible than others.

As with sprouts and other vegetables, sources of contamination can include:

  • the soil or other medium in which they grow
  • the irrigation water
  • the type of microgreen

Some people who grow sprouts and microgreens commercially use disinfectant products, such as chlorinated water, to prevent contamination. Others rinse the plants frequently, up to 50 times before a sprout is ready to harvest, to keep them clean.

People can also spritz microgreens with chlorinated water from the tap just before eating them to minimize the risk.

The shelf life of microgreens varies from 10–14 days after harvesting.

People who buy microgreens from the grocery store should:

  • ensure that they come from a reputable supplier
  • check the sell-by date
  • keep them refrigerated at a maximum of 5°C and eat them within 10 days

People who grow microgreens at home will be better able to manage these risks. Tips for producing microgreens safely at home include:

  • using clean soil or hydroponic materials
  • irrigating with clean water
  • harvesting and consuming microgreens as soon as possible when they are ready
  • keeping them refrigerated at no more than at 5 °C, if necessary, and eating them within 10 days

Takeaway

Microgreens can be a fun and practical way to add fresh, nutritious produce to meals, even for city dwellers. They can be a tasty addition to sweet and savory dishes, and they may have more nutrients than their conventional counterparts.

Parents and caregivers who invite their children to help them plant, water, and harvest microgreens on a window ledge might find that their children become more excited about eating greens.

In terms of cost and sustainability, growing microgreens can be a practical and economical way of putting fresh food on the table.

Take-Home Message

Apples do contain carbs, but they have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels when eaten as a whole fruit.

They are highly nutritious and a great choice for a healthy diet.

______________________________________________

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Do Apples Affect Diabetes and Blood Sugar Levels?

red apple fruit on red textile
Apples are delicious, nutritious and convenient to eat.

Studies have shown that they have several health benefits.

Yet apples also contain carbs, which impact blood sugar levels.

However, the carbs found in apples affect your body differently than the sugars found in junk foods.

This article explains how apples affect blood sugar levels and how to incorporate them into your diet if you have diabetes.

Apples Are Nutritious and Filling

Apples are one of the most popular fruits in the world.

They’re also highly nutritious. In fact, apples are high in vitamin C, fiber and several antioxidants.

One medium apple contains 95 calories, 25 grams of carbs and 14% of the daily value for vitamin C (1).

Interestingly, a large part of an apple’s nutrients is found in its colorful skin (2).

Furthermore, apples contain large amounts of water and fiber, which make them surprisingly filling. You’re likely to be satisfied after eating just one (3).

BOTTOM LINE:Apples are a good source of fiber, vitamin C and antioxidants. They also help you feel full without consuming a lot of calories.

Apples Contain Carbs, as Well as Fiber

If you have diabetes, keeping tabs on your carbohydrate intake is important.

That’s because of the three macronutrients — carbs, fat and protein — carbs affect your blood sugar levels the most.

That being said, not all carbs are created equal. A medium apple contains 25 grams of carbs, but 4.4 of those are fiber (1).

Fiber slows down the digestion and absorption of carbs, causing them to not spike your blood sugar levels nearly as quickly (4).

Studies show that fiber is protective against type 2 diabetes, and that many types of fiber can improve blood sugar control (56).

BOTTOM LINE:Apples contain carbs, which can raise blood sugar levels. However, the fiber in apples helps stabilize blood sugar levels, in addition to providing other health benefits.

Apples Only Moderately Affect Blood Sugar Levels

Apples do contain sugar, but much of the sugar found in apples is fructose.

When fructose is consumed in a whole fruit, it has very little effect on blood sugar levels (7).

Also, the fiber in apples slows down the digestion and absorption of sugar. This means sugar enters the bloodstream slowly and doesn’t rapidly raise blood sugar levels (4).

Moreover, polyphenols, which are plant compounds found in apples, also slow down the digestion of carbs and lower blood sugar levels (8).

The glycemic index (GI) and the glycemic load (GL) are useful tools to measure how much a food affects blood sugar levels (9).

Apples score relatively low on both the GI and GL scales, meaning that they cause a minimal rise in blood sugar levels (1011).

One study of 12 obese women found that blood sugar levels were over 50% lower after consuming a meal with a low GL, compared to a meal with a high GL (12).

BOTTOM LINE:Apples have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels and are unlikely to cause rapid spikes in blood sugar, even in diabetics.

Apples May Reduce Insulin Resistance

There are two types of diabetes — type 1 and type 2.

If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas does not produce enough insulin, the hormone that transports sugar from your blood to your cells.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body produces insulin but your cells are resistant to it. This is called insulin resistance (13).

Eating apples on a regular basis might reduce insulin resistance, which should lead to lower blood sugar levels (814).

This is because the polyphenols in apples, which are found primarily in apple skin, stimulate your pancreas to release insulin and help your cells take in sugar (28).

BOTTOM LINE:Apples contain plant compounds that may improve insulin sensitivity and reduce insulin resistance.

The Antioxidants Found in Apples May Lower Your Risk of Diabetes

Several studies have found that eating apples is linked to a lower risk of diabetes (215).

One study found that women who ate an apple per day had a 28% lower risk of type 2 diabetes than women who didn’t eat any apples (16).

There are multiple reasons apples might help prevent diabetes, but the antioxidants found in apples likely play a significant role.

Antioxidants are substances that prevent some harmful chemical reactions in your body. They have numerous health benefits, including protecting your body from chronic disease.

Significant amounts of the following antioxidants are found in apples:

  • Quercetin: Slows down carb digestion, helping prevent blood sugar spikes (17).
  • Chlorogenic acid: Helps your body use sugar more efficiently (1819).
  • Phlorizin: Slows down sugar absorption and lowers blood sugar levels (2021).

The highest concentrations of beneficial antioxidants are found in Honeycrisp and Red Delicious apples (22).

BOTTOM LINE:Eating apples on a regular basis may help prevent type 2 diabetes, as well as keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Should Diabetics Eat Apples?

Apples are an excellent fruit to include in your diet if you have diabetes.

Most dietary guidelines for diabetics recommend a diet that includes fruits and vegetables (23).

Fruits and vegetables are full of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants.In addition, diets high in fruits and vegetables have repeatedly been linked to lower risks of chronic disease, such as heart disease and cancer (242526).

In fact, a review of nine studies found that each serving of fruit that was consumed daily led to a 7% lower risk of heart disease (27).

While apples are unlikely to cause spikes in your blood sugar levels, they do contain carbs. If you’re counting carbs, be sure to account for the 25 grams of carbs an apple contains.

Also, be sure to monitor your blood sugar after eating apples and see how they affect you personally.

BOTTOM LINE:Apples are highly nutritious and have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels. They are safe and healthy for diabetics to enjoy on a regular basis.

How to Include Apples in Your Diet

Apples are a delicious and healthy food to add to your diet, regardless of whether you have diabetes or not.

Here are some tips for diabetics to include apples in their meal plans:

  • Eat it whole: To reap all of the health benefits, eat the apple whole. A large part of the nutrients is in the skin (2).
  • Avoid apple juice: The juice does not have the same benefits as the whole fruit, since it’s higher in sugar and missing the fiber (2829).
  • Limit your portion: Stick with one medium apple since larger portions will increase the glycemic load (11).
  • Spread out your fruit intake: Spread your daily fruit intake throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Take-Home Message

Apples do contain carbs, but they have a minimal effect on blood sugar levels when eaten as a whole fruit.

They are highly nutritious and a great choice for a healthy diet.

______________________________________________

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Avocado – Does It Really Help in People With Diabetes?

Millennials get flak for being the avocado toast generation. But they’re definitely on to something. Avocados are as nutritious as they are delicious and they come with some great health benefits.

Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD, says, “Avocados are a great addition to a healthy diet.” Jam-packed with vitamins and nutrients, here are some good reasons to give these wrinkly green fruits a second look and add them to your regular rotation.

One avocado, a ton of nutrients

There are hundreds of avocado varieties, ranging from big to small, wrinkly to smooth. What they have in common: a big round pit, creamy green flesh and a whole lot of nutrients crammed into a handy pear-shaped package.

Whether you’re adding a slice to a salad or sandwich or using them as an ingredient in a more complicated recipe, avocados have a lot going for them, health-wise, Zumpano says. Here are some of the many nutrients and vitamins packed into just a single avocado.

  • Monounsaturated fats: Avocados are rich in these heart-healthy fats, which help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Low LDL levels reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Folate (B-9): Avocados contain a significant amount of folate, which is important for normal cell function and tissue growth
  • Vitamin K-1: Vitamin K-1 is important for blood clotting and may have benefits for bone health
  • Potassium: This is an essential mineral that is beneficial for blood pressure control and heart health. Avocados contain more potassium than bananas.
  • Copper: Copper is low in a standard American diet. Copper plays a role in iron metabolism
  • Vitamin C: Aids in immune function and skin health.
  • Vitamin E: This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that prevents cells from damage.
  • Vitamin B-6: B vitamins help convert food into energy.
  • Fiber: Avocados are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. And fiber can lower cholesterol and blood sugar, keep you regular and help you feel full and satisfied after a meal.
  • Low sugar: Compared to most fruits, avocadoes rank VERY low on the sweet scale.

How to enjoy avocados

A perfectly ripe avocado is slightly firm but not rock-hard. Can’t wait to eat it, but it’s not ripe? Store it in a paper bag on the counter until it gives a little when you squeeze it. Once it’s ripe, you can store it in the fridge for a day or two to keep it from going soft too quickly. (Or just dive right in, since a ripe-but-not-too-ripe avocado is a time-limited treasure.)

But don’t go overboard. Avocados are packed with nutrients, but they’re not exactly low in calories. A 50-gram portion — about a third of a medium-sized avocado — has about 75 calories. An entire large avocado can add upward of 400 calories to your daily diet.

Like most things, says Zumpano, moderation is key. “As long as you’re paying attention to portion sizes, avocados are great foods to include in your diet,” she says.

Avocado recipes even skeptics will love

The avocado is an all-ages treat, says Zumpano. Lots of babies love it mashed with banana. For an older palate, there are almost endless ways to use it. Some ideas to get you started:

  • Adorn burgers and burritos with avocado slices.
  • Cook them into quesadillas.
  • Start your day with a delicious combo of veggies, avocado and poached eggs.
  • No time for guacamole? Buy some store-bought salsa and mash avocado into it for a quick guac-hack.
  • Add them to a salad, such as a tomato avocado salad with shallot-lemon dressing or zesty mango, avocado and black bean salad.

You can also use the smooth, creamy fruit to replace the less-healthy fats in your diet, Zumpano says. Here are some additional ways you can add avocado to your diet.

  • Instead of slathering a sandwich with mayonnaise, spread some avocado on the bread.
  • Swap in avocado slices instead of shredded cheese on your salad.
  • Skip the butter on your toast and, yes, embrace avocado toast.
  • Rather than snacking on dips made with cheese or sour cream, dunk your veggies in guacamole.
  • Replace the butter or oil in recipes with mashed avocado (such as in these chocolatey avocado brownie bites).

“If you use avocado to replace other fats, you can enjoy the flavor and nutrients and also cut down on saturated fats,” she says

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7 Tips to Absorb More Nutrients from Your Food

All those greens you’re nomming? You might be missing the benefits if you’re making these mistakes.

In all likelihood, you think a lot more about eating foods than about digesting them. But that’s an oversight that can affect your overall nutrition and health, according to nutritionist Ashley Koff, Your diet may be full of berries, spinach, quinoa, and salmon, Koff says, but unless your body is efficiently breaking down and effectively absorbing those foods, you’re not getting their full benefits.

The digestive process is complex. It starts with enzymes in your saliva that break down the starches in your food as you chew. Acids in your stomach activate enzymes that dismantle proteins. Next, the food travels to the small intestine, which breaks down fats and absorbs most nutrients, which are ferried into your bloodstream, says Dr. Julia Greer, a professor and course director of digestion and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

But along the way, problems arise: stress, dietary issues, food sensitivities, and even your workout can disrupt this process, preventing you from getting everything your food has to offer. That’s why it pays to be proactive about improving your digestion, experts say. Making a few tweaks to how you eat can add up to other key health benefits as well, including gaining energy, losing weight, feeling less bloated and regulating your bathroom trips. These tips will maximize your healthy eating efforts.

1. Slow Down

If you’re usually the first person to clear your plate, there’s a good chance you’re not chewing your meals thoroughly. That’s key because chewing breaks down food and activates enzymes in your mouth that help with digestion, says Dr. Woodson Merrell, an integrative medicine specialist in New York City. In fact, research from Purdue University found that when people chewed almonds 40 times, they absorbed more healthy fat than when they chewed them just 10 times, making nutrients like vitamin E more accessible. “Chewing breaks almonds’ cell walls so that it’s easier for us to digest them,” says study author Dr. Richard D. Mattes. You don’t have to count, though. Just chew until your food is a mushy consistency, Merrell says.

2. Calm Your Dining Scene

When you’re under pressure, your brain releases stress hormones that make your heart beat faster and give you a rush of adrenaline. The digestive process then slows down or stops so your body can devote all its energy to dealing with the stress. That’s why being anxious or even multitasking during meals can interfere with nutrient absorption, Koff says. So try to relax as much as possible when you dine. Put your computer to sleep instead of skimming headlines, and focus on your companions over dinner. Take the chance to savor each bite.

3. Ease Out On Workouts

Too many HIIT routines can also stress your digestive system. The physical effort of a tough workout causes your system to divert energy away from digestion, Koff says. Balance the hard-core sessions in your schedule with lower-key ones, like yoga, which can help keep your digestion on track. Vigorous exercise can also deplete your levels of magnesium, a mineral that’s critical for digestion; replenish it by eating beans, nuts, whole grains, and leafy greens.

4. Create Key Food Combos

Certain nutrients are better absorbed when they’re eaten together. For example, your body has a tough time taking in the type of iron found in vegetarian sources like spinach, but consuming it with a food rich in Vitamin C, like red bell pepper, makes the process easier. Fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, K, and E need fatty acids for absorption, so pair foods that are rich in these nutrients (many vegetables are) with a source of healthy fat, like nuts or oil. To get more calcium from your yogurt or kale, increase your intake of foods that are high in Vitamin D, such as salmon.

4. Take Stock Post-Meal

If certain dishes make you bloated or constipated or give you diarrhea, you could have a food sensitivity or intolerance, which is relatively common. For instance, about 65 percent of people worldwide are sensitive to lactose, the sugar found in dairy. High-fructose foods like grapes and bananas and those with gluten, like bread and pasta, are other possible culprits. The inflammation you experience when you eat those foods can inhibit nutrient absorption in your small intestine, Greer says. If you have any of these symptoms, ask your doctor about getting tested.

5. Sip Smarter

You’ve heard that you shouldn’t drink your calories, but now there is a major exception: It turns out that the body is better able to absorb nutrients from certain types of juice than from whole fruit. For instance, one study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research found that some carotenoids were almost twice as readily absorbed from orange juice than fresh oranges. The fiber in whole fruit may bind to certain micronutrients, keeping them from being absorbed in the small intestine, says study author Ralf Schweiggert, of the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. But since fiber is key for overall health, he recommends having just one serving of fruit juice a day and eating the rest of your fruit whole.

You can also have a smoothie, which retains the fiber from fruits and vegetables but still improves absorption of certain nutrients, according to the Journal of Food Science. That’s because the blade of a high-speed blender breaks through the cell walls in foods better than chewing does, says study author José Miguel Aguilera of the Universidad Católica de Chile. Both Koff and Merrell advise their patients to drink vegetable smoothies.

6. Care For Your Guts

Up to 30 percent of the protein and carbs you eat reach your colon undigested, where your gut bacteria break them down, the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice reports. But just a few days of a high-fat diet can disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your system, throwing off this process. Consider a probiotic supplement to boost the number of good bugs whenever you’re off your usual diet routine for a few days. One probiotic strain, in particular, GanedenBC30, has been found to help your body break down proteins.

7. Try an enzyme

There will be times when your digestion is thrown off track, like on vacation. That’s when digestive enzyme supplements can help. These pills work just like your body’s own enzymes to help break food down so you can absorb the nutrients more easily, Koff says.

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