We all have nutrition questions. Send yours along to RVNA’s on-staff dietitian, Meg Whitbeck, MS RDN, and she’ll get back to you with answers and advice.
May 2018: Arthritis and the Anti-Inflammatory Diet
I know nutrition can help with conditions like heart disease and diabetes, but what about arthritis. Will changing my diet help my condition?
I’m sorry to hear about your arthritis but am happy to report that there are definitely things you can do nutritionally to protect against the development of the condition or lessen the severity of symptoms. Simply put, arthritis is inflammation in the joints that worsens over time. Several types of arthritis together affect millions of Americans and limit their daily activities. So, what’s the nutritional approach to help with the inflammation of arthritis? An anti-inflammatory diet. Here are key elements to keep in mind.
Out with the Bad — Foods that Promote Inflammation
Higher intake of meat and alcohol contributes to increased inflammation in the body. Lower consumption of vitamin C in fruits and vegetables, whether in combination with high meat and alcohol intake or not, also contributes.
In with the Good – Foods that Help
Evidence suggests that increasing consumption of vitamin C, vitamin D found in fatty fish, omega 3s found in ground flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and nutraceuticals such as glucosamine and chondroitin may help with arthritic symptoms. Phytochemicals found in a wide variety of foods such as fennel, garlic, basil, rosemary, pomegranate, turmeric, red pepper, cloves, anise, and ginger can also fight inflammation.
For osteoarthritis in particular, weight loss is effective because excess weight strains the joints. As little as a 5% reduction in weight from a sensible diet— in an overweight person — can bring an 18% gain in overall functioning. While it’s not recommended that people at a healthy weight attempt to lose weight, everyone benefits from vitamins A, C, D, E and omega-3s.
Translating it to the Kitchen Table
The anti-inflammatory diet isn’t new. In essence, it’s similar to the Mediterranean diet, which has myriad health benefits beyond reduction of inflammation. The recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics include:
- Fish: 3-4 oz. fatty fish (cold water fish like salmon, tuna, scallops, sardines, herring) twice a week. If you’re not a fish fan, try taking 600-1,000 mg of fish oil daily. Omega-3s found in these foods and supplements can help with pain, swelling, stiffness, and tenderness.
- Nuts: 1 ounce per day to provides benefit from vitamins B6 and Omega-3s. Choose walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or pine nuts.
- Fruits and vegetables: Nine or more 1-cup servings per day helps due to the antioxidants and phytochemicals they offer. Quick tip — the brighter the color, the higher the antioxidants, so choose broccoli, spinach, kale, blueberries, cherries.
- Beans: 1 cup at least twice per week. Beans contain fiber and phytonutrients that can help lower a key marker of inflammation in the blood, and are filled with protein which helps with muscle health. Best choices include red kidney beans, pinto beans, and small red beans.
- Whole grains: 6 oz. of grains per day (at LEAST 3 oz. should be whole grains). A serving boils down to a cup of cooked brown rice or one slice whole grain bread. Much like beans, the fiber here is key.
- A word about night shade vegetables: Some people report more pain when consuming tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and red bell peppers, sometimes referred to as nightshade vegetables. If they cause discomfort for you, avoid them. Otherwise, feel free to eat them as they contain antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals!
By following an anti-inflammatory diet, you can keep inflammation and arthritic symptoms at bay. As always, it’s important to talk to your doctor or healthcare team about supplementation and what’s the best fit for you.
Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD, counsels patients in disease management through nutrition. For more information or to schedule a private consultation, contact RVNA at 203-438-5555 or email email@example.com.
April 2018: Seasonal Allergies and Nutrition
Is there a link between seasonal allergies and diet?
I get this question all the time. And the short answer is YES! There is a relationship between a person’s diet/nutrition and their seasonal allergies and the connection can best be understood with an explanation of “Oral Allergy Syndrome.”
Also known as “pollen-food syndrome,” Oral Allergy Syndrome is when a person exhibits an allergic reaction in response to certain food items, typically foods that are high in pollen and allergens, such as tree nuts, raw vegetables, and raw fruits. Different foods cause trouble for different people, and typically relate to their specific seasonal allergies. But first, it’s important to note the difference between Oral Allergy Syndrome and more traditional food allergies to be sure you’re seeking the right help if you respond allergically to certain foods. Let’s start by breaking it down….
Oral Allergy What?
Those who suffer from seasonal allergies due to tree pollen, grass pollen, or ragweed can also experience a type of allergic reaction when eating foods that contain those allergens, as well. Reactions can range from mild itching and tingling of the lips and tongue to extreme itching of the lips, tongue, cheeks and throat. This kind of reaction is called Oral Allergy Syndrome. It is common in older children, teens, and young adults, and is most frequently found in people who have grass pollen, birch, and ragweed allergies.
What to Watch Out For
Allergic to ragweed? You may find yourself reacting to bananas, melon, or zucchini. Sensitive to grass pollen? Dates, oranges, potatoes, or peanuts could cause trouble. Is tree pollen your nemesis? The list of potential trouble makers is long, and includes apples, strawberries, cherries, beans, carrots, almonds, sunflower seeds, and more. The good news is that people who suffer from Oral Allergy Syndrome may be able to eat foods that typically trigger an allergic reaction if they’re cooked. Cooking alters the proteins that cause the reactions, so the immune system no longer triggers a response. Check with your doctor before trying this approach.
Food Allergies – Nothing to Sneeze At
It’s important to make the distinction between a reaction caused by the presence of pollen in certain foods, and a full-blown food allergy, which can be much more serious. There are eight major food allergens – fish, shellfish, milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy. In allergic individuals, these foods cause symptoms ranging from mild itching of the skin that comes in contact with the allergen, stomach upset, diarrhea, vomiting, swelling of the lips, tongue and throat, and hives to anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening reaction.
While those with Oral Allergy Syndrome can sometimes eat bothersome foods by cooking them, this is NOT the case for those with a traditional food allergy. If you are having any concerns with reactions to food, it is always best to see your doctor or allergist to confirm whether or not there is a true allergy present.
As a dietitian, I work with many clients who have food allergies and intolerances. We work together to examine symptoms and see what foods work best for them. I’m also able to give clients alternatives to the foods that they really miss and help create menus to be sure they’re getting the proper nutrition for their needs.
If you suspect you have a food allergy or intolerance, it’s critical to get tested by a professional, as opposed to trying to solve the problem yourself. Once you have your results, you can work with both your doctor and a dietitian to stay safe and find foods that you enjoy.
It’s allergy season. Be careful out there!
If you need help getting started on your nutritional journey, feel free to contact me for a private consultation at 203-438-5555 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 2018: Meal Prep Saves the Day
“I hear about Food Prep Sundays and see people’s food prep photos on social media. Is food prep really what I need to do to reach my weight and nutrition goals?”
The short answer is “yes.” Advance food prep is an important tool to have when it comes to meeting your health and weight management goals. Why? As we’ve discussed before, planning ahead is an important part of any goal you’re trying to meet or habit you want to develop – whether it’s exercising more, sleeping better, or eating healthier. The philosophy behind Food Prep Sunday is to invest a few hours on a Sunday (or whatever day works for you) to prepare healthy meals in advance and set yourself up for a successful, low-stress week. By preparing meals for the week ahead, you’re less likely to succumb to quick, unhealthy choices or take-out at the end of a hectic day.
An added benefit of this lifestyle shift is that it can significantly reduce the amount of food that gets wasted. This issue has become so pervasive in the US that the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (eatright.org) is addressing it as part of National Nutrition Month in March. Under the theme Go Farther with Food, the organization hopes to encourage people to plan ahead, not only for the sake of their nutrition goals, but also for the sake of cutting back on waste. Reducing the amount of food we all throw away saves money and cuts back on the amount of food that ends up in landfills. Here are some tips to help get you started.
Have a Game Plan
The first step is to plan your menu for the week. Consider keeping a “playbook” of your go-to recipes and rotate through them. Keep them simple, especially to start, and choose recipes that have some ingredients in common to save time and waste. A good example of this is prepping lettuce for salads. Instead of cutting up one romaine heart, prepare the whole package so that assembling salads are quick and easy. Cut up bell peppers into strips to add to salads, use in stir-frys or enjoy as a snack. Meal Prep Sunday can include completing the recipe from start to finish and refrigerate/freeze until you’re ready to eat it, or simply prep the ingredients – chop, marinate, etc., — so cooking the dish is easier later on. (Just make sure to follow proper safe food handling procedures, particularly when it comes to raw poultry or meat.)
Once you have your plan, make a grocery list of all the items you need. And — here’s the tricky part – stick to it. Challenge yourself to buy what you need to make your meal plan a success, without being tempted by the things that aren’t part of the plan.
Shop Your Season
Choose fruits and veggies that are in season – they’re cheaper. Also, shop local if you can. Buying produce from a farmer’s market or local food stand means the food was picked recently and didn’t have to travel far to get to your table. The benefit? It stays fresher longer, so you’re less likely to throw it away before you have a chance to eat it.
Stock Up, but Don’t Overstock
We all know the expression “out of sight, out of mind.” The same holds true for food, so keep your fridge and pantry clutter free. Buy only what you really need for the week, and try to use up most of what you have before you venture out on your next shopping trip. If your fridge is overfull, you might not even realize what’s in there until it’s too late– what a waste!
Cook Once, Eat Twice
While you’re at it, consider doubling or tripling a recipe and freezing the leftovers in individual portions for those nights when you’re short on time.
Make Friends with Your Freezer
We all know the freezer is a great way to store leftovers so you can reheat them for another meal down the road. But there’s so much more it can do for you. Got berries or veggies you can’t use up? Catch them before they go bad – wash, dry, and toss them in a freezer bag to use in smoothies or other recipes such as muffins or sauces.
Oh, and BY the Way…
Sell by, best by, use by? If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Deciphering the real meaning behind these guidelines can mean the difference between throwing away something prematurely and getting the most out of what you buy. Here’s a quick tutorial: Sell by is a note to the grocer as to when the item should come off the shelf if not sold – so if it’s past the “sell by” date, you should pass by it in the store; best by refers to the time period when the food is at its best in terms of flavor, though you can still consume it after that date; use by means the food should be eaten by that date. Still confused? When in doubt, throw it out. As much as we want to save money and reduce waste, it’s not worth the price of getting sick!
Planning ahead in the grocery store and your kitchen is good for your waistline, great for your family’s budget, and even better for the environment. It’s a win-win (win). Good luck on your food prep adventure! If you need help getting started on your nutritional journey, feel free to contact me for a private consultation at 203-438-5555 or email@example.com.