Diabetes: What Role Does Diet Play?

7“Food can either promote diabetes or help prevent it, depending on how it affects the body’s ability to process glucose,” says Elizabeth Ricanati, MD, medical director of the Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 Program in Cleveland. “People should avoid foods that increase blood sugar and those that raise cholesterol, such as processed foods, foods high in saturated fats or with trans fats, and foods with added sugars and syrups.”

Processed foods as well as items high in fat or sugar not only can disrupt the balance between glucose and insulin, resulting in inflammation, but can also contribute to risk factors such as being overweight.

Carbs, too, need to be watched. While they are necessary to fuel the body, some carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels more than others. “The glycemic index (GI) measures how a carbohydrate-containing food raises blood glucose,” says Morrison. “Foods are ranked based on how they compare to a reference food such as white bread. Dry beans and legumes, all non-starchy vegetables, and many whole-grain breads and cereals all have a low GI.”

Diabetes: What Is a Healthy Diet?

A healthy diet for diabetes is virtually the same as a healthy diet for anyone. Eat reasonably sized portions to avoid gaining weight, and include fruits and vegetables (limit juice to no more than eight ounces a day); whole grains rather than processed ones; fish and lean cuts of meat; beans and legumes; and liquid oils. Limit saturated fats and high-calorie snacks and desserts like chips, cake, and ice cream, and stay away from trans fats altogether.

Thirty minutes of exercise most days of the week and losing 5 to 10 percent of body weight, if a person is overweight, are also crucial in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Finally, anyone experiencing frequent urination, extreme thirst or hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurry vision, or frequent infections should see a doctor for a blood test to check for diabetes. With careful attention and healthy lifestyle choices, diabetes can be kept under control.

Diet and Diabetes

6For most people who don’t feel well, a visit to the doctor can diagnose and fix the problem. Simple, right?

But some diseases can be silent predators, offering few or no warning signs to alert you early on that help is needed. One such disease is diabetes.

Not only does diabetes affect almost 24 million people in the United States, but 25 percent don’t even know they have it.

What Is Diabetes?

As food is digested, it is broken down into glucose (also known as sugar), which provides energy and powers our cells. Insulin, a hormone made in the pancreas, moves the glucose from the blood to the cells. However, if there is not enough insulin or the insulin isn’t working properly, then the glucose stays in the blood and causes blood sugar levels to rise.

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. Type 1 results from the pancreas no longer being able to make insulin and is usually found in children, teens, and young adults. Gestational diabetes can occur near the end of a woman’s pregnancy and usually disappears after the baby’s birth.

The most common form of diabetes is type 2. Risk factors include being overweight; not getting enough physical activity; having a parent or sibling with diabetes; being African-American, Asian-American, Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander; being a woman who had gestational diabetes or gave birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds; having high blood pressure, having low HDL (good cholesterol) or high triglycerides; and having pre-diabetes.

Diabetes: Why Is It Dangerous?

“When poorly controlled diabetes causes blood glucose levels that are too high or too low, you may not feel well,” explains Claudia L. Morrison, RD, outpatient diabetes program coordinator at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Diabetes that is poorly controlled over time can lead to complications that affect the body from head to toe.” Issues can occur with everything from one’s eyes, kidneys, and nerves to reproductive organs, blood vessels, and gums. But the most serious problems are heart disease and risk of stroke.

Genetic Testing

5Genetic testing may be an option if you have a family history of breast cancer or other cancers.

Through a blood or saliva test, scientists can identify specific inherited mutations in BRCA or other genes.

Talk with your doctor about whether genetic testing is a good option for you. Your doctor can also recommend a genetic counselor who can discuss your testing options with you in detail.

Check with your insurance company to see if BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation testing is covered under your plan.

Genetic counseling and testing for people at high risk is a covered preventive service under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Sources
BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing; National Cancer Institute
Breast Cancer; Mayo Clinic
Breast Cancer; American Cancer Society

Can Diet Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease?

2Little in life is as scary as the idea of forgetting our loved ones, our histories, and ourselves. Yet that is exactly what is happening to the more than 5 million people in North America suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.

Mild forgetfulness in the early years of the disease slowly expands to include serious problems with memory, language, and abstract reasoning until eventually this brain disorder robs its victims of the ability to function.

Despite extensive research, both cause and cure for Alzheimer’s disease remain elusive. Experts theorize that a complicated combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors result in cognitive decline, though they are still working on exactly how it happens and what can be done to prevent it.

One logical area of exploration is diet. While there have been no definitive breakthroughs yet, there are certain foods that are being carefully studied for their specific relationship to Alzheimer’s.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and B Vitamins

“A few studies found a correlation between high dietary fish with omega-3 fatty acid intake and a decrease in developing Alzheimer’s,” says Tara Harwood, registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “However, more studies must be conducted before any conclusions can be drawn.”

High levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood, have been associated with the risk of dementia. One avenue being examined is whether increasing intake of folate and vitamins B6 and B12, which break down homocysteine, can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. “Neither vitamin B6 or B12 supplementation has been proven effective,” says Harwood, “but data from one study found a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s for individuals with the highest folate intake.”

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Antioxidants

Another possible theory in the development of Alzheimer’s disease involves free radicals destroying the integrity of the body’s cells. These unstable molecules have the potential to cause cell aging and damage, which could be one piece of the Alzheimer’s puzzle.

“You can reduce your exposure to free radicals by limiting contact with the sun, environmental pollutants, and cigarette smoke,” says Harwood. “However, free radicals are a byproduct of metabolism, which occurs every minute of the day. Because it’s impossible to completely eliminate free radicals, [eating foods with] antioxidants, such as vitamin E, vitamin C, beta carotene, and flavonoids, can help.”

Foods high in antioxidants include berries, dark green and orange vegetables, nuts, and beans. Specifically, studies have shown rats and mice bred to develop Alzheimer’s disease had improved mental function after being fed blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries. Green tea is also high in antioxidants, and although it hasn’t been proven specifically to prevent Alzheimer’s, it has been shown that drinking five cups a day can reduce one’s risk of heart disease.

5 Vegetables That Make Amazing Fries

1French fries are one of the ultimate comfort foods, and while there’s no denying how satisfying a salty serving of fried potatoes can be, enjoying a serving of fries doesn’t have to be a guilty pleasure. It’s easy to make healthier fries at home, and branching out from your usual spuds is a great way to up the nutritional value and slash calories while still enjoying the comfort food favorite. Steer clear of your local drive-through window and bake a big batch of one of these nutritious veggie French fries that everyone will flip for.

Daikon Fries

Daikon is a versatile, white radish from Asia that is naturally low in calories and a good source of vitamin C. When roasted, you’ll get a light golden fry that pairs well with strong, robust sauces like herbed mayo or mustard. Try Christopher James Clark’s take with his Daikon Fries with Thyme Mustard Dipping Sauce.

Carrot Fries

Bored with steamed carrots? Get creative with the colorful veggie by slicing it into wedges, tossing with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and baking them like in this Healthy Baked Carrot Fries recipe from 2 Teaspoons. You’ll get a low-sodium, vitamin A-rich snack that’s perfect with spicy ketchup or ranch dressing.

Jicama Fries

If you only know jicama as a slaw base and salad topping, you’re in for a treat! This mild and crunchy tuber might not come to mind as a good substitute for potatoes but it works surprisingly well as a super skinny fry. Give this Spicy Spiralized Shoe String Jicama Fries recipe from Inspiralized a try for a fun snack that packs a health punch with potassium, fiber, and vitamins A and C.

Yucca Fries

Yucca is another root vegetable that works as an excellent potato swap. It’s rich in manganese and vitamin C and keeps for months at a time when stored properly. You won’t miss the spuds when you serve baked yucca fries with a flavorful, unique sauce like Spoon Fork Bacon’s Baked Yucca Fries with Grilled Banana Ketchup.

Zucchini Fries

In the warmer months when summer squash like zucchini are plentiful, use up your farmers market haul by baking up a batch of fries to go along with grilled favorites like burgers. This mild veggie is high in vitamin C, riboflavin, and vitamin B6, and pairs well with strong dipping sauces like A Cozy Kitchen serves up in this recipe for Zucchini Fries with Roasted Garlic Aioli and Sriracha Mayo.

Causes of Breast Cancer

4For some women with the BRCA1 gene mutation, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is as high as 80 percent.

While there’s no known exact cause of breast cancer, it’s known that the disease occurs when some breast cells begin growing abnormally.

These cells divide more rapidly than healthy cells and then start to accumulate, forming a lump or mass.

These cancer cells can spread (metastasize) throughout the breast and into lymph nodes or to other parts of your body.

Most of the time, breast cancer begins with cells in the milk-producing ducts. But it can also begin in the glandular tissue called lobules, or in other cells within the breast.

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Risk Factors for Breast Cancer

While some people who get breast cancer don’t have any of the following risk factors, these traits increase your risk of developing breast cancer:

Being a woman
Obesity
Older age
Personal history of breast cancer in one breast (increases your risk of getting it in the other breast)
Family history of breast cancer in close relatives such as your mother, sister, or daughter – especially if they developed the disease at a young age
Inherited genetic mutations, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2
Radiation exposure to your chest as a child or young adult
Starting your menstrual cycle before the age of 12
Beginning menopause at an older age
Giving birth for the first time after the age of 35
Never being pregnant
Taking hormone therapy that combines estrogen and progesterone
Drinking alcohol
Inherited Breast Cancer

The majority of breast cancers are not inherited. In fact, only 5 to 10 percent of breast cancers are linked to genetic mutations passed down through generations.

The most common gene mutations linked to breast cancer are BRCA1 and BRCA2. Both of these mutations also increase the risk of other cancers throughout a woman’s lifetime, particularly ovarian cancer.

In normal cells, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes help prevent cancer by making proteins that keep the cells from growing abnormally. If these genes are mutated, the cancer-prevention response will not work properly.

For some women with the BRCA1 mutation, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is as high as 80 percent. On average, however, this risk is more like 55 to 65 percent.

For women with the BRCA2 mutation, the lifetime risk of breast cancer is around 45 percent.

Breast cancers linked to these mutations occur more often in younger women. Cancer affecting both breasts is also more common than in cases not linked to these mutations.

While the BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations may affect anyone, they are more common in Jewish people of Eastern European origin than in other racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

Men can also carry these mutations, and if they do they are at increased risk for breast and other cancers, such as prostate cancer.

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

10Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Mediterranean Diet

3A few recent studies conducted by researchers from the neurology department at Columbia University Medical Center in New York have looked at the possible preventive effects of the typical diet eaten by people in countries around the Mediterranean sea, such as Greece. The “Mediterranean diet” is primarily made up of fruits, vegetables, and beans, fish, olive oil, a moderate amount of wine, some dairy foods, and small amounts of meat and chicken. Though more study is needed, results point to a reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s and lower mortality rate among those who contracted the disease.

Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease: Next Steps

While there is no definitive answer to the Alzheimer’s mystery, there are certainly clues to follow. “No changes in diet, dietary supplements, food additives, vitamins, nor alternative herbal medicines have ever been demonstrated to affect the risk for Alzheimer’s disease or the course of the disease in a well-designed clinical trial experiment,” says Randolph Schiffer, MD, director of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Cleveland. “With that said, most of us in the Alzheimer’s research field believe that people should adopt and continue healthy lifestyles, including diets low in saturated fats and high in antioxidants and B vitamins.”

Until more research is available, it makes sense to combine a good diet with physical and mental activity and social interaction. This approach just might help keep Alzheimer’s disease, as well as other illnesses, at bay.

A Diet for Better Energy

9Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you’re at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly,” says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Ways to Make This Your Healthiest Summer Ever

8I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of summer always being linked to the dread of bathing suit season when there are so many healthy aspects to celebrate this time of year. Fresh produce is abundant, beautiful, and more affordable. The weather (at least in most parts of the country) is perfect for outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and swimming, and the days are longer so you have more time to fit in physical activity. Vacations allow you time to relax, de-stress, and get active with friends and family, and your schedule may be more flexible, allowing you more time to focus on healthy habits.

With summer upon us, it’s the perfect time to set some health goals and embrace new opportunities to eat smart and get fit. Here are 18 ideas to motivate and inspire you throughout the sunny months ahead:

Head to the Farmer’s Market
Loading up on summer’s best and freshest produce, including leafy greens, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, green beans, berries, and stone fruits will make it easier to gobble up more vegetable and fruit servings. Visit localharvest.org to find greenmarkets in your area.

Make salad your main course a few times a week. Take advantage of farm-fresh lettuce and the bounty of seasonal produce to concoct creative salad bowls. For a quintessential summer meal, top your greens with sweet corn, diced tomato, avocado, and crumbled feta.
Swap sugary desserts for delicious seasonal fruits. Instead of reaching for cookies, pastries, or chocolate after dinner, dig into a bowl of naturally sweet, ripe fruit. Best bets include berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, and plums.
Lay out a healthy, no-cook summer spread. If it’s too hot to cook, throw together a picnic-style meal of sliced raw veggies (carrots, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, etc.) with hummus, sliced whole-grain bread or crackers, cheeses, olives, fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and other tasty nibbles.
Get grilling. It’s a terrific way to infuse flavor into lean proteins like skinless chicken breasts and thighs, turkey burgers, fish, shrimp, and pork tenderloin, especially if you start with a tasty spice rub or marinade. If you cook extra, you’ll have ready-to-eat proteins to add to leafy green or grain-based salads for simple meals later in the week.
And don’t forget the grilled veggies. Whenever you fire up the grill, toss on some sliced zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, bell peppers, and/or mushrooms. Chop them up and toss with pasta or cooked whole grains like brown rice, farro, and quinoa for a simple meal. Or, layer grilled vegetables on whole-grain bread spread with goat cheese or hummus for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.
Cool down with fruit smoothies. Blend your favorite summer fruits — and veggies like carrots, spinach, and beets — with yogurt and your milk of a choice for a hydrating breakfast or snack. The fruit will add plenty of sweetness, so you can skip added sugars like maple syrup and honey. Make extra and pour into ice pop molds or small paper cups with popsicle sticks for a fun frozen dessert.
Start your day with a hearty, refreshing breakfast. Overnight oats are a great choice this time of year (they’re the more seasonally appropriate counterpart to a hearty bowl of hot oatmeal). Or, top fresh fruit with a dollop of protein-rich yogurt or part-skim ricotta cheese and optional chopped nuts. I can’t wait to dig into my first bowl of fresh cherries, peaches, or nectarines with ricotta!
Go skinny-dipping. Whip up a tasty new dip each week to enjoy with all of the deliciously dunkable summer produce. Try Greek yogurt with mixed fresh herbs, artichoke pesto (you have to try this recipe!), or any number of unique hummus variations, including roasted red pepper, beet, edamame, and carrot-based blends.
Start spiralizing. I don’t endorse a lot of single-use kitchen gadgets, but I’m pretty fond of the vegetable spiral slicers that are all the rage right now. The price is right at about $15 to $25 per machine, and you can use it to make low-cal veggie pastas and salads out of all of the inexpensive summer bumper crops like zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, and even beets. Check out this recipe for zesty Carrot Noodle Stir Fry from the blog Inspiralized.
Sip on iced tea. To help you stay hydrated in the hot weather, I suggest keeping a pitcher or two of unsweetened iced tea in the fridge at all times. Switching up the flavor from week to week will prevent you from getting bored in the beverage department. Mint green tea is a classic summertime brew, but I also love fruity combos like pomegranate and raspberry.
Plant something … anything! Never grown anything edible before? Don’t let that stop you; starting a simple garden in pots or other containers is actually really easy. Go to the nearest hardware store and pick up a large planter, a bag of potting soil, and a small potted plant, like any fresh herb or one of the vegetables listed here. Consider starting with basil or a cherry tomato varietal; they’re both easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen.
Go on a pick-your-own adventure! Don’t wait for apple picking in the fall. Make a date with family or friends to harvest summer produce at a local orchard or farm (visit pickyourown.org to find a site near you). If you’re willing to put in the labor, you can buy buckets of berries, stone fruit, and other seasonal items at a great price.
Sit down and enjoy meals outdoors. So many people I know own lovely patio sets but rarely use them. Make a plan to sit down to a family meal in your backyard once a week. You’ll likely eat more slowly and mindfully when you’re dining al fresco. If you don’t have access to an outdoor eating space, plan a fun picnic at a local park.
Master a few healthy recipes for summer cookouts. Finding lighter fare at barbecues can be a challenge, but if you volunteer to bring a healthy dish, you know you’ll have at least one good option to pile onto your plate and dilute some of the heavier entrees and sides. To keep things simple, bring a big bowl of fruit salad or pick up a crudite platter from the grocery store. If you don’t mind doing a bit more prep, I recommend throwing together a pasta salad with lots of veggies, like this colorful soba noodle salad with edamame, red pepper, and purple cabbage.
Go for a daily walk. Now that the days are longer, it’s easier to squeeze in a short walk at the start or end of your day. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week (but if you can only commit to 15 or 20, that’s still well worth the effort). When things start to heat up, schedule an early morning or late evening walk when temps are cooler.
Hit the trail. For a change of scenery, seek out some local walking and hiking trails in your area using sites like alltrails.com and traillink.com. Pack a healthy lunch or snacks and make a day of it!
Take a hiatus from TV. With all the network hit shows on summer break, it’s the perfect time to reduce your screen time. Cut down on evening television viewing and spend that time outdoors walking, biking, doing yardwork, or playing with the kids or grandkids.