The SparkPeople Blog

Walnut Health Benefits

By: , – Jane K., SparkPeople Contributor
10/3/2015  10:00:00 AM   :  1 comments   :  2,934 views

Walnuts, which are part of the tree nut family, provide an array of health benefits, and because of their versatility, they can be chopped and sprinkled onto salads, vegetable dishes, yogurt, fruits, and desserts. Here's why you should get more of these healthy nuts in your everyday diet. 

Walnuts Help You Feel Fuller Longer

While walnuts are calorie-dense, the combination of Omega-3 fats, protein, and fiber work to help keep you feeling full longer. Caloric intake should be a consideration in any weight-management plan, but not all calories are created equal. Because of their high protein and fiber, a meal that includes walnuts can help prevent the consumption of empty calories later in the day.

Walnuts Are Heart-Healthy

Like most tree nuts, walnuts can help fight heart disease. Walnuts contain a high amount of antioxidants and Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol production.

Walnuts May Help Prevent Cancer

Studies have shown that regular, daily walnut consumption can help prevent certain types of cancer, such as pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer.

Walnuts Support a Healthy Lifestyle

Studies have shown that people who consume tree nuts regularly take in more fiber, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin E, as well as less sodium than people who do not eat tree nuts. 

Walnuts May Help Prevent Diabetes

All types of nuts, including walnuts, have been linked to a decreased risk of diabetes. For individuals with a higher risk of diabetes, adding walnuts to your diet is an easy and delicious way to help take control of your health.

Walnuts Can Support a Healthy Pregnancy

Don't throw out the walnuts after successfully getting pregnant. Women who eat diets rich in fatty acids like those found in walnuts can reduce the risk of certain types of food allergies in their unborn child. 

Walnuts Might Make You Feel Less Stressed

If you suffer from daily stress, walnuts just might be the ideal food for you. Eating walnuts and walnut oil has been shown to lower resting blood pressure and blood pressure responses to stress, which can help keep you calm and relaxed.

Walnuts Can Help You Sleep

Whether your sleep problems stem from stress or other factors, eating walnuts can help induce sleep. Walnuts naturally contain melatonin, which is a compound many people buy over-the-counter to aid in sleep.

Walnuts Can Improve Hair Health

In addition to being great for your internal organs, walnuts also contain biotin, which can strengthen hair, reduce hair loss, and improve hair growth.

Walnuts Fosters Healthy Skin

Walnuts are rich in B-vitamins and antioxidants, which prevent free radical damage, wrinkles, and other signs of aging, making them the perfect food for people who want healthier, glowing skin.

Walnuts May Help Prevent Dementia

Studies have shown that regular consumption of walnuts can help ward off dementia. Eating walnuts can help prevent memory and learning problems while fostering healthy emotional control.

Whether you're a casual nut eater or someone looking to make healthy diet changes, eating more walnuts should be a no-brainer!

12 Simple Steps and Strategies for Clean Eating

By: , – Enjoy Life
10/2/2015  12:00:00 AM   :  6 comments   :  5,888 views

These days, it’s hard to avoid all the buzzwords surrounding the latest diet trends. There are social media pages, websites, books, magazines and even clothing touting various messages about how or what to eat. "Clean eating" is one such term that's been thrown around for years. But what does ''clean eating'' actually mean, and how can you apply it in your own life? Let's break it down once and for all!

What Is Clean Eating? 

To ''eat clean'' means to eat whole, largely unprocessed foods in order to minimize the amount of unnecessary or potentially harmful chemicals and additives one ingests. People who eat this way avoid foods processed or altered by manufacturers, and instead choose foods that are as close to their natural forms as possible. (''Processing'' includes additions of any kind, such as salt, sugar, fat and/or preservatives.) Studies have shown that clean eating can result in improved mood, more energy, better sleep, enhanced athletic performance, healthier skin and greater feelings of overall happiness. 

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One-Mile Wake Up and Walk Workout

By: , – Jessica Smith, Certified Personal Trainer
10/2/2015  12:00:00 AM   :  0 comments   :  6,093 views

One of my favorite ways to start the day is with a morning walk. Not only is walking a great exercise to gently wake up your entire body, but it also boosts energy levels and activates your brain. This one-mile, indoor power-walking workout will help you start the day off on the right foot, no matter what the weather is like outside. Squeeze in some extra daily steps and give your body and brain a wake-up call at any time of day with this fast-paced mile workout. Using a mix of moves and directional change, we'll avoid joint strain while keeping your body and brain awake and alert. 

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The Incredible Health Benefits of Okra

By: , – David F., SparkPeople Contributor
9/29/2015  2:00:00 PM   :  10 comments   :  6,025 views

Fried okra is a delicious southern staple that pairs well with other hearty dishes. Unfortunately, eating it fried undoes many of the natural health benefits of this unique vegetable.

Not only is okra extremely tasty in its own right, but it also provides a wide range of outstanding health benefits when it is not fried. From preventing diabetes to promoting healthy pregnancies, this vegetable is a must-try dietary staple for enhancing overall health and wellness.

Okra and Diabetes

Foods that are high in fiber have been shown to prevent diabetes since fiber can help normalize the body's blood sugar. Okra is also a low glycemic index food, with an index of about 20, making it suitable as part of a diet for diabetes treatment and prevention. 

Similarly, okra may even reduce kidney damage. Since almost half of all kidney disease cases are caused by diabetes, the fact that okra can help prevent diabetes means that it can also serve as a preventative food against kidney disease. One study published in the October 2005 Jilin Medical Journal found that daily consumption of okra reduced clinical signs of kidney damage when compared to people who ate a regular diabetic diet.

Okra and Colon Health

Okra's high dietary fiber content also ensures optimal colon health and digestive health. Fiber is essential for cleaning out the gastrointestinal system, and sufficient fiber intake helps the colon work with enhanced efficiency.

In addition, okra is also packed with vitamin A, and this essential vitamin helps to ensure that the digestive tract is functioning optimally, as well.

Okra and Healthy Pregnancy

During pregnancy, it is extremely important to get adequate amounts of folate. This B vitamin is ultimately responsible for creating and maintaining new cells in the body, which results in the prevention of certain birth defects. Okra is rich in folate, helping to ensure that the fetus can grow optimally during pregnancy.

Additionally, okra also contains high quantities of vitamin C, which has also been shown to be important for the healthy development of fetuses. 

Okra and Asthma

Some studies have shown that vitamin C-rich foods may reduce wheezing symptoms in children suffering from asthma. When eaten regularly, okra may reduce asthma-induced wheezing due to its high quantities of vitamin C.

Okra and Healthy Skin

Okra doesn't just improve your health and quality of life--it's also fantastic for your skin. As mentioned, okra is full of vitamin C, a nutrient that helps keep skin looking healthy and youthful. Vitamin C will help regrow body tissue, which means okra can also help reinvigorate damaged skin.

Okra and Antioxidant Benefits

Okra is also high in antioxidants, which are helpful for preventing heart disease, cancer and premature aging. 

In sum, okra is an incredible health food that should be a regular staple in your diet. Just don't dip it in the deep fryer! 

Which Fruits and Veggies are in the New Dirty Dozen?

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
9/28/2015  2:00:00 PM   :  114 comments   :  18,365 views

We often hear that organic produce is "cleaner" than conventional (non-organic) produce and free of pesticides; however, organic remains more expensive and isn't available everywhere.

Which conventional fruits and vegetables contain more pesticide residue? Which ones have the least?

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently completed an analysis of conventional produce to measure pesticide residue levels. Based on the results of almost 34,000 samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal Food and Drug Administration. Samples were tested after being washed or peeled, to mimic what consumers would do. Therefore, unwashed and unpeeled produce would likely contain even more concentrations of pesticide residues.

Eating the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables, referred to as “The Dirty Dozen,” exposes the average person to about 15 different pesticides each day, while someone eating the least contaminated will be exposed to fewer than two pesticides each day. (To see the full list, go here).

The Dirty Dozen: Top 12 Foods to Buy Organic

If you have budget constraints, your money is doing more for your health when you put it towards organic varieties of the following fruits and vegetables (listed in descending order, starting with greatest levels pesticide contamination):

1. Apples
2. Peaches
3. Nectarines
4. Strawberries
5. Grapes
6. Celery
7. Spinach
8. Sweet Bell Peppers
9. Cucumbers
10. Cherry Tomatoes
11. Imported Snap Peas
12. Potatoes

The Clean 15: Save Your Money & Buy Conventional

If going totally organic is too difficult or pricey, play it safe and eat the following conventional produce items to minimize your exposure. These are known to have the least amount of pesticide residue (listed in ascending order, starting with of lowest levels of pesticide contamination):

1. Avocados
2. Sweet corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbage
5. Frozen sweet peas
6. Onions
7. Asparagus
8. Mangoes
9. Papayas
10. Kiwis
11. Eggplant
12. Grapefruit
13. Cantalope
14. Cauliflower
15. Sweet potatoes

To see receive a PDF version of the guides, you can sign up for the EWG's newsletter here).

When eating conventional foods, be certain to peel away edible skins and outer leaves (such as those on lettuce) as pesticides are often concentrated there. Remember to wash all produce (conventional and organic) thoroughly with a natural fruit and vegetable cleanser. Peeling and washing can help reduce (not eliminate) pesticide exposure, but also results in the loss of valuable vitamins and nutrients (like fiber). When you have the choice between an organic item and one that’s conventionally grown, choose organic as much as possible. 

For more information on eating organic foods on a budget, read this article.

I keep a copy of this list on a note in my phone, and I consult it when I go to the grocery store.

Do you have "priorities" when buying organic? Do you follow this list?

Last updated in September 2015

Kale Health Benefits

By: , – Andrea B., SparkPeople Contributor
9/23/2015  10:00:00 AM   :  9 comments   :  6,918 views

There's a reason why kale is all the rage--this powerhouse veggie is packed with nutrients that offer many health benefits, offering even more nutritional value than spinach.

Nutritional Value of Kale

Kale weighs in at only 33 calories per one-cup serving of the raw vegetable. This same serving contains three grams of protein, 2.5 grams of fiber, folate, alpha-linoleic acid, lutein, vitamins A, C, and K, potassium, calcium, zinc, and phosphorus. It’s also a powerful source of antioxidants. Below are some of the health benefits that go along with consuming kale as part of your regular diet.

Reduced Risk of Bladder Cancer

A study appearing in the Oxford Journals in 1999 found that consuming high amounts of cruciferous vegetables, like kale, may reduce the risk of developing bladder cancer, though other vegetables and fruits appear to offer no definitive notable protection against this form of cancer. Since bladder cancer is the sixth most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the U.S., the fact that kale can help reduce the risk is important.

Reduced Inflammation

People suffering from arthritis, asthma, and various autoimmune disorders can especially appreciate the fact that kale has anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, according to North Carolina State University, one cup of kale meets 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of omega-3 fatty acids.

Iron-Boosting Benefits

Per calorie, kale's iron content is greater than that of beef. Iron is an essential nutrient for proper cellular growth and liver function, making it very important for healthy living. The fact that it’s available so abundantly in kale makes this vegetable essential for vegetarians who often suffer from anemia.

Diabetes Benefits

Medical News Today reports that people who have type 1 diabetes and consume high-fiber diets have lower levels of blood glucose. It goes on to say that people living with type 2 diabetes may also experience improvements in lipids, blood sugar, and insulin levels. One cup of raw kale contains approximately 2.6 grams of fiber, making it an excellent choice for diabetic diets.

The benefits don’t end there, however. The alpha-lipoic acid in kale also helps to reduce glucose levels and decrease peripheral and autonomic neuropathy among diabetic patients.

Heart Health Benefits

According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. Kale is filled with good things like fiber, potassium, vitamins C and B6, all of which support a healthy heart. Today’s Dietitian reports that people who consume 4,069 mg of potassium per day enjoy a 49 percent lower risks of death from ischemic heart disease than those who consume 1,793 mg of potassium each day. Additionally, consuming kale can help reduce cholesterol levels, further improving heart health.

Skin Health Improvements

Skin is one of the most important organs in the human body. It’s the first line of defense against countless illnesses, diseases, and bacterial infections. Kale is rich in vitamins A and C, which help your skin maintain adequate hydration for youthful fullness and beauty.

With so many healthy reasons to eat kale, it’s a good idea to consider making kale a routine part of your daily diet. Though patients on beta-blockers should take caution to avoid too much potassium, as it may have harmful side effects. Otherwise, dig into a heaping helping of kale!

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