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It’s that time of year again.....National Nutrition Month!

“Spring: A lovely reminder of how beautiful change can truly be.”

Anonymous


JC Raulston Arboretum-NC State University



Spring Is In The Air

It doesn’t have to be New Year’s day for you to decide to make a change for the better. As I see it, each day is a fresh start, so why not aim to make a small change now and see how it works out. If it doesn't go well, try something else. There are so many healthy habits to improve upon from drinking a 12oz glass of water in the morning before enjoying your coffee, to deciding to put something green on your plate twice a day. Say it with me....'Small steps can lead to big change'. What will you try?


As we head into National Nutrition Month, I wanted to focus on a major internal health issue….inflammation. I’m sure you have head this term often and I’ve mentioned it over a dozen times in my posts over the years. But what does it actually mean and why is 'reducing inflammation' so important to our long term health? Let me break it down a bit.


What Is Inflammation, Exactly?

Acute inflammation occurs when you are sick or injured. Your immune system springs into action and your inflammatory cells hear the call. Their job is to fight off the bacteria or toxins in your system or heal damaged tissue from a broken bone, for example. You will see and feel it as swelling, bruising, redness and pain.


If your body is calling for the inflammatory cells when you are not sick or hurt, you may be suffering from a condition called “chronic inflammation”. This type of inflammation you can’t see like you can with acute inflammation.


There are several medical conditions associated with chronic inflammation such as:

  • Type 2 Diabetes

  • Alzheimers

  • Lupus

  • Psoriasis

  • Cancer

  • Heart Disease

Of course, lifestyle plays a main role regarding chronic inflammation. You may be at a greater risk if you:

  • Have a BMI. Anything over 25% is considered “Overweight”. A BMI over 30% is considered “Obese”. (Dietary choices that contain a lot of processed food, saturated fats and sugar).

  • Over or under exercising (30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week is the standard recommendation).

  • Chronic stress

  • Smoking

  • High alcohol consumption (more than 1 drink a day). See breakdown below.

    • Beer: 12 oz and 5% abv

    • Wine: 5 oz and 12% abv

    • Liquor: 1.5 oz and 40% abv

So now when you hear the term “to help reduce chronic inflammation”, you have a better idea of what it is (an immune response to a non-injured or sick person), and why it’s there in the first place (unhealthy lifestyle habits, poor diet etc.).


Below are a few things you can do to help get your body back and immune system on track. Try one out for the next two weeks allowing your body some time to adjust, and reflect on how you felt before and after adopting a new healthy habit.


Gut Health

Healthy digestion and a healthy immune system often go hand-in-hand. Bloating, constipation and acid reflux can often be signs that your digestive system is off balance.


Food rich in probiotics will help get that gut microbiome back on track. Fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir contain live cultures and add good bacteria to your intestine. Other foods such as kimchi, and sauerkraut also offer great gut benefits. My personal favorite fermented beverage is Kombucha. This fizzy, fermented tea contains billions of live cultures and healthy bacteria. If you are not familiar with it, it does taste a bit like vinegar because of its acetic acid content but it comes in many delicious flavors and just 8 oz of this beverage will do your gut a world of good.


Don’t Forget The Fiber

Fiber is also an important part of digestive health. It lowers cholesterol, reduces blood sugar, maintains healthy bowel movements and helps with weight control by helping you to feel fuller. If you wish to increase your fiber intake, also increase your fluid intake.


There are two types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble.


Soluble Fiber: Dissolves and forms a gel-like substance in the gut.

Insoluble Fiber: Adds bulk to the stool and helps to keep things moving and alleviate constipation.


Below are a few foods that are naturally high in fiber according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • 1 large pear with skin (7 grams)

  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (8 grams)

  • ½ medium avocado (5 grams)

  • 1 ounce almonds (3.5 grams)

  • ½ cup cooked black beans (7.5 grams)

  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn (3.6 grams)

  • 1 cup cooked pearled barley (6 grams)

When increasing fiber, be sure to do it gradually and with plenty of fluids. As dietary fiber travels through the digestive tract, it is similar to a new sponge; it needs water to plump up and pass smoothly. If you consume more than your usual intake of fiber but not enough fluid, you may experience nausea or constipation.


Keep The Immune System Healthy

This task....can be a balancing act. Stress, sleep deprivation, and poor hygiene can contribute to a depleted immune system. Try to manage stress (see my May post about stress for more details), try to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per day and wash your vegetables and your hands often to reduce the spread of germs. Get 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week to keep your blood circulating throughout your body.


The following nutrients play a role in the immune system and can be found in a variety of foods:

  • Beta Carotene is found in plant foods, such as sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, mango, broccoli and tomatoes.

  • Vitamin C-rich foods include citrus fruits, berries, melons, tomatoes, bell peppers and broccoli.

  • Vitamin D is found in fatty fish and eggs. Milk and 100% juices that are fortified with vitamin D also are sources of this important nutrient.

  • Zinc tends to be better absorbed from animal sources such as beef and seafood, but also is in vegetarian sources such as wheat germ, beans, nuts and tofu.

  • Probiotics are “good” bacteria that promote health. They can be found in cultured dairy products such as yogurt and in fermented foods such as kimchi.

  • Protein comes from both animal and plant-based sources, such as milk, yogurt, eggs, beef, chicken, seafood, nuts, seeds, beans and lentils.

If you suspect your diet is not providing you with all your micronutrient needs, for example, you don't like vegetables — taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement may close those nutritional gaps and add other health benefits. Talk to your doctor if you think this is a good path for you.


The Mediterranean Diet - An Oldie But A Goodie

The American Heart Association recommends the Mediterranean Diet year after year. This pattern of eating focuses on vegetables, whole grains, fruits, beans and legumes. It also incorporates low-fat or fat-free-dairy, lean proteins and healthy oils including olive, canola, flaxseed, walnut and more!

The Mediterranean Diet strongly encourages limiting processed food, meats, saturated fats, refined sugars and carbs and beverages packed with added sugar. But we all had to know that was coming.

There are foods within this diet that can also help with digestive issues as well as depression, anxiety and stress. Whole foods are more ideal than processed foods since many of their natural nutrients are lost during processing. Try out some suggestions below!

  • Nuts and Seeds

  • Whole Grains (brown rice, whole grain bread - fiber aids in digestion)

  • Lean Proteins such as fish, chicken and pork (salmon and mackerel are some good fish options due to their high Omega 3 content.)

  • Yogurt (low fat Greek yogurt is always a good place to start-you can add in berries and nuts for an antioxidant/protein punch as well.)

  • Avocados (also high in Omega 3’s)

  • Fruits (Bananas, berries and citrus fruits are lower in fructose and may cause less gas and bloating. Try these first and see how you feel.)

  • Kale and Spinach (I know, you are tired of reading about kale and spinach but they do contribute healthy bacteria in your gut).

Try to avoid processed foods for now that contain lots of flour, sugar and fat. I’m not saying forever and please enjoy your favorite treats on occasion….just see how you feel in your body and mind without processed foods for a bit.

The DASH Diet and The Mediterranean Diet are both great choices if you are looking to improve your overall health based on a dietary path. You can read more about them by clicking on the hyperlinks above. And Remember….Health starts from the inside out….but also from the ground up!

To discuss more detailed information regarding the topics within this blog, or to inquire about customized nutrition plans, please reach out to Cathleen Winter at cathleen@wellnesswithincw.com


A Little About Me

My name is Mary DeBlasio, and I live in Silver Spring, MD. I recently graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in May of 2021. I am very interested in mindful eating, and foods that correlate with the seasons. I am currently working as a WIC Nutrition Assistant in Washington, DC. All my information is backed by credible sources cited within the blog.


Sources

Bilodeau, K. (2018, May 16). Fermented foods for better gut health. Harvard Health.

Ellis, E. (n.d.). How to Keep Your Immune System Healthy.

Inflammation: What is it, causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.).

Larson, H. (n.d.). Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet. EatRight.

MD, E. S. (2020, March 31). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Blog.



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