Legumes: Nutritional Stars

Legumes are plants that bear fruits in the form of a pod, inside of which seeds are found. Their mature, dried seeds are largely consumed worldwide. Legumes were one of the first crops to be cultivated by man. They are still important in many modern cultures because they can be stored easily and have great nutritional value. According to the USDA’s food pyramid, legumes are part of the vegetable group. However, because of their high protein content, they are also considered part of the protein group. Dried beans, split-peas, lentils, chickpeas, and soybeans are found in this unique subgroup. Even though peanuts are technically legumes, they are included in the nuts and seeds subgroup because nutritionally, peanuts are more similar to nuts than they are to beans and peas.

Nutrient of the Week: Sodium

Sodium is a major mineral that plays important roles in the body such as maintaining the fluid balance, contributing to nerve impulse conduction, and helping in the absorption of some nutrients. Sodium is easily absorbed by the human body and is mainly excreted in the urine, but excessive perspiration, persistent vomiting, or diarrhea may also contribute to significant losses of this mineral. Sodium is very abundant in our diet, and deficiency is rare. However, endurance athletes engaging in long distance events may be at risk of sodium depletion. Therefore, the consumption of sports drinks is recommended in order to replenish sodium losses during vigorous activities lasting more than 60 minutes.

Consumer Savvy: Reading Food Labels to Make Better Choices

We’ve been trying to improve our diet and lifestyle, exercising more and eating healthier. But the truth is that many people don’t know how to improve their diet. There are so many claims out there that it is hard to keep track of what is actually good for you versus what is just pure baloney. I’m sure that by now you already know the dietary recommendations by heart: eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean cuts of meat, while reducing saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium intake. We are supposed to eat fewer energy-dense processed foods and more nutrient-dense whole foods. But let’s face it: we live in times where most food comes in boxes, cans, or packages. That’s why learning to interpret the data available on food labels is so important.

Healthy Eating 101

Are you tired of trying every new fad diet that appears? Every year new books are released promoting a new wonder diet. It is always the same story: a specific food (or nutrient) is chosen to be blamed for all modern ailments, thus having to be banned from our tables. The problem is that researchers don’t seem to agree on which nutrient is the “real culprit.” Some say that “carbs” are the bad guys, others say that it is fat or meat; and while they keep fighting each other to see who is selling more books, you are left without guidance.

Nutrient of the Week: Iron

Iron is considered a trace mineral[1] because our body needs only small amounts of it when compared to other nutrients. However, it is an essential nutrient, and inadequate intakes can lead to body malfunction. Even though it is needed in tiny doses (around 18 mg for women and 8 mg for men), many people still can’t manage to get enough of it through diet. That’s because iron absorption is relatively low – around 10% to 15% of the total iron content of the food.

Ideas to Incorporate Whole Grains into Your Diet

We’ve been hearing a lot about whole grains lately. They seem to be everywhere from food labels to TV commercials. Experts urge us to eat more whole grains in order to improve our current eating habits. But do you know what they are and why they are important to us?

Nutrient of the Week: Fiber

Fiber is a type of polysaccharide[1] that cannot be digested by human enzymes, thus passing through our digestive system almost untouched. Now, you must be thinking “So what is the point of eating fiber?” First of all, fiber contributes to bowel regularity. Because it goes through the intestines undigested, fiber provides mass and attracts water to the feces. When the stool is large and soft, less pressure is needed, making elimination much easier. A diet poor in fiber can lead to constipation, diverticulitis[2], and hemorrhoids[3]. Also, some population studies have linked an increased fiber intake to a reduced risk of developing colon cancer. Second, foods rich in fiber require more chewing, which will make you eat slower. Several studies[4] have shown that by eating slower, people are more likely to recognize body signs of fullness, and stop eating before they are too full. High-fiber foods also fill you up without yielding many calories. This suggests that fiber may help in weight control. Third, consuming fiber-rich foods can help in regulating blood sugar, because some types of dietary fiber slow glucose absorption, meaning that blood-sugar spikes are less likely to occur. Finally, fiber inhibits the absorption of cholesterol, promoting cardiovascular health.

Nutrient of the Week: Vitamin A

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential to the maintenance of health. It plays many roles in the body, but it is especially important for the health of epithelial cells. These cells cover the surface of the body (skin and eyes) and body cavities (such as lungs, intestines, mouth, and stomach), serving as barriers to infection. Many of these cells secret mucus, a thick fluid that acts as a protective lubricant, and vitamin A is fundamental to this process. Vitamin A also participates in other processes such as growth, body development and reproduction. Vitamin A deficiency, rare in the US, can lead to blindness, and may impair immune function, increasing the risk for infections.

2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a set of nutritional recommendations for the general public living in the United States that focuses on health promotion and disease prevention. It is a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Guidelines are revised and updated every five years; the last one was published in 2010. Policymakers, healthcare providers and nutritionists use these recommendations to design educational materials and nutrition-related programs.

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