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Nutrition Notes

Probiotics and their effect on health

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen Lentner

Have you ever heard that a healthy gut is the key to a healthy body?

Bacteria live throughout our bodies, and the millions of bacteria that live in our digestive system play an enormous role in our overall health. They help our digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, our brain health, and they also regulate our immune system and help fight infection. The mix of good and bad bacteria in our gut is different for everyone and may be affected by the types of food we eat, by stress, illness, lack of sleep, environmental factors, and medications, including antibiotics.

What can I do to keep my gut healthy?

Research has shown that a healthy gut has a balance of good and bad bacteria, and having several diverse bacteria is a good thing. Probiotics are beneficial, active, and live microorganisms that may help replace the good bacteria lost after taking antibiotics (why your doctor may tell you to eat yogurt while taking antibiotics) or consuming too much sugar. The term probiotic means “for life,” and probiotics are the good bacteria that help keep your body working the way it should.

Foods containing probiotics include:

  • Yogurt, buttermilk, and aged cheeses such as gouda, and bleu
  • Kefir, a fermented drink similar to a drink-style yogurt
  • Raw sauerkraut must be fermented with lactic acid bacteria; check the label as many do not contain probiotics
  • Kimchi, a fermented Korean side dish of vegetables, mostly cabbage, and a variety of spices
  • Kombucha, a flavored beverage produced by fermenting sweet tea with yeast and bacteria
  • Pickles, fermented with a salty brine, not vinegar; check labels for probiotics
  • Sourdough bread starter that contains Lactobacillus and wild yeast strains, making gluten more digestible
  • Miso, a paste made from fermented soybeans that may be added to soups, marinades, and dressings
  • Tempeh, fermented soybeans in a cake form, often used in stir fries, curries, or sandwiches

Most common probiotics include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium - look for live active cultures on food labels!

What about prebiotics?

In addition to probiotics, our bodies need prebiotics to help promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that feed and nourish the good bacteria in our gut and can reduce bloating and improve digestion and regularity.

Foods containing prebiotics include:
  • asparagus
  • garlic
  • raw apple cider vinegar
  • onions
  • legumes
  • apples
  • leeks
  • bananas
  • oats
  • barley
  • wheat bran
  • flax seeds

Try eating prebiotics and probiotics at the same time to create an environment where the good bacteria will survive. They may help treat conditions including diarrhea, constipation, IBS, eczema, symptoms of lactose intolerance, and allergies.

What about supplements?

If possible, eat a mixture of foods before taking a supplement. Supplements aren’t regulated as medications are, so quality and ingredients vary.

Keep your gut healthy!

Exercise regularly and focus on eating a healthy diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics daily or at least three times weekly!

Find more Nutrition Notes articles.

The Nutrition Department at LifePath manages the Meals on Wheels program and operates dining centers and luncheon clubs across Franklin County and the North Quabbin.

Cooking for one or two - simple strategies to make it work!

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen LentnerDo you ever find yourself thinking about preparing a meal and end up having cheese and crackers or a cup of tea with a bowl of cereal for dinner? Does it hardly seem worth the effort to plan and cook a meal for one person? Do you find yourself snacking your way through the day or eating whatever is easy and available? It doesn’t have to be difficult to cook nutritious, tasty meals for one or two people if you take a little time and plan ahead!

In order to stay healthy, we all need a variety of foods. Although cooking for one may be a challenge, it can also be fun. Plan your meals before you do your shopping. Look at grocery store flyers to see what’s on sale this week; look at cookbooks, magazines, or search online for recipes that are appealing. Check your kitchen to see what you already have on hand. Consider a small roast or chicken one day, utilizing leftovers for a sandwich or additional meals later in the week. Keep it simple, be flexible. Once you’ve planned your meals, a grocery list easily falls into place. Try shopping with family or a friend, purchasing items together (eggs, seasonings, meat, or packaged produce) to share the amount and cost. Convenience foods may be expensive and high in salt; keep this in mind when planning. Limit frozen dinner entrees, read labels, and add fresh or frozen fruits or vegetables to increase nutritional value. Cook a meal to share with a friend, and next time have your friend cook the meal.

Stocking your refrigerator and pantry helps you avoid having nothing to eat. Items may include rice, pasta, beans (dried or canned), eggs, canned tomatoes and sauce, canned tuna, chicken pieces, meatballs, pizza dough, peanut butter, hummus, and frozen vegetables in bags. Many of these items allow you to use just what you need. If making a stew or soup, prepare a recipe and freeze the remainder in small plastic containers (dated) and reheat at another time. Add leftover frozen fruit (bought in season or on sale) to pancake batter or muffins; add vegetables, cheese, meat/chicken or beans to stews, soups, salads, or eggs.

Sept 2018 Nutrition Notes Cooking for one photo WEBLifePath's Healthy Eating for Successful Living workshop is a program for people who want to learn more about nutrition and healthy heart and bone strategies. The next workshop starts in October. Learn more by contacting the Healthy Living Program.

Consider following a weekly meal outline to help you plan:

  • Sunday – traditional meat, potato/rice, vegetable
  • Monday – breakfast for dinner
  • Tuesday – casserole or sandwich made with Sunday leftovers
  • Wednesday – pasta/meatless
  • Thursday – eat from the freezer
  • Friday – stir fry or tacos
  • Saturday – soup/stew, sandwiches, or salad

Once a week, prepare and freeze extra portions of at least one main dish.

A quick and easy meal may include:

  • English muffin pizza topped with tomato sauce, vegetables, cheese
  • Microwaved baked potato topped with meat, chili, vegetables, and/or cheese
  • Pasta/rice with ground beef or legumes, vegetables, and sauce

It’s easier than you think – cook ahead and freeze what you can!

Consider Meals on Wheels or joining friends for a meal at your local senior center. For more information, contact us.

Read more Nutrition Notes articles.

Adopting a Mediterranean style diet for better health

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen LentnerAre you looking for ways to improve your health and brain function, prevent disease, and control your weight? You might want to consider the Mediterranean Diet, honored as the number one overall diet in America by U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking in 2018 (tied with the DASH diet). Several studies have concluded that the Mediterranean Diet may reduce your risk of cardiac disease, cancer, stroke, inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, and in older populations may improve overall brain function.

The Mediterranean Diet is a well-balanced healthy eating plan that incorporates plenty of plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and healthy fats like olive oil. It encourages using herbs and spices to flavor foods instead of salt, eating fish and poultry at least twice per week, small amounts of dairy including low-fat yogurt and cheese, and limiting processed foods, sweets and meat. Consider seasonal and fresh foods whenever possible. These foods are the foundation of traditional cooking styles in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, including Italy, Spain and Greece.

Traditional whole grains in the Mediterranean region include brown, red or black rice; barley; farro; quinoa; and whole grain breads eaten plain or dipped in olive oil instead of butter. Consider oatmeal for breakfast or air-popped popcorn for a snack. Look for the term “whole grain” on labels, in bread, pasta, or rice, limiting white and refined grains and bread. Extra fiber also helps you feel full for longer periods of time, which is beneficial for weight control.

Healthy fats including olive oil, avocados, nuts, and fish such as salmon and sardines (rich in omega-3 fatty acids) are encouraged. Cook with olive oil instead of butter, in moderation if watching your weight. Try using olive oil in salad dressings and for roasting vegetables.

In order to fully benefit from the Mediterranean Diet, also consider lifestyle modifications. Cooking and sharing your food with family and friends provides a social support and a sense of community. Look for ways to exercise and become more active. Consider walking with a friend for at least 30 minutes daily, or try a yoga or tai chi class to improve balance and strength. Remember to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

Try healthier choices for meals and snacks. Instead of hamburgers, substitute a salmon burger; quinoa instead of white rice; carrot, celery or cucumber sticks instead of chips or crackers; yogurt instead of ice cream; whole grain bread instead of a white roll; and hummus spread instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich. Consider tomato, cucumber and green lettuce sprinkled with olive oil, lemon, and oregano – a wonderful blend of flavors.

Start your Mediterranean-style journey to better health TODAY!

Join friends for a meal at your local senior center or consider Meals on Wheels

Tips for healthy bones

Karen Lentner head shotNutritionist Karen LentnerDid you know that falls are one of the leading causes of injury among older adults? According to the Centers for Disease Control, one third of seniors fall each year, many leading to hip fractures or other broken bones. Good nutrition and exercise are critical for keeping your bones strong and preventing falls.

Osteoporosis is a disease that causes bones to become weak and more likely to break. You cannot feel or see your bones becoming thinner and may not know you have osteoporosis until you break a bone. The most common broken bones due to osteoporosis are the hip, spine and wrist. It affects men and women, can happen at any age, but is more likely to occur in women, especially after menopause due to a decrease in estrogen. Smoking and poor nutrition also increase the risk.

In order to reduce your risk of osteoporosis and broken bones, please consider the following bone-healthy choices:

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and protein as well as calcium and vitamin D. A healthy diet also includes lean meats, legumes, and “nutrient-rich” foods.
  • Talk to your doctor about bone health, a bone density test (to measure bone mass), and ask if you are at risk due to a disease, medications, or if you have a family history of osteoporosis or hip fracture.
  • Stay physically active, especially with weight-bearing exercise including walking, hiking, or dancing at least three times per week. Consider yoga or Tai Chi to improve your balance and strengthen your muscles, and take precautions to make your home safe.
  • Limit alcohol intake and try to avoid smoking to improve your overall health and bones.

March 2018 Nutrition Notes Tips Healthy Bones photo WEBDark, leafy green vegetables are a good source of calcium.Calcium is a mineral that builds bones and keeps them strong, while vitamin D helps the body absorb and process calcium. It is recommended that people age 51 and older consume 1200 mg of calcium and between 800 to 1000 IU of vitamin D per day. Good sources of calcium are low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, and cheese; dark green leafy vegetables; sardines with bones or canned salmon; and calcium-fortified cereals, breakfast bars, and juice. Food is the best source of calcium; however, when dietary sources are not well tolerated, supplements are recommended.

Primary sources of vitamin D are food, supplements, and exposure to sunshine. Vitamin D is found in salmon, tuna, mackerel, and fortified cereal, milk, yogurt and orange juice. Due to limited exposure to the sun, many seniors find they need to add a vitamin D supplement (especially in winter) to meet their needs. Try to incorporate these foods into your diet every day.

It’s never too late to make positive changes to improve your nutrition and strengthen your bones. Let us help you maintain your mobility and independence. Consider joining us for a meal at one of our dining centers (find a complete list on LifePathMA.org) or call LifePath to set up Meals on Wheels at 413-773-5555.

Healthy and mindful eating this holiday season

Karen LentnerKaren LentnerThe holidays are upon us and, for many, this means eating, perhaps a lot of eating. This may be followed by weight gain, and then a New Year’s resolution to lose weight. It’s time to take a healthier approach to eating during this holiday season!

Do you ever find yourself consuming food just because it’s there? Are you eating because you are hungry or bored? Do you ever eat while watching television, looking at your cell phone, or working on your computer? This distracted, mindless eating can lead to difficulty controlling your blood sugars, overeating, and weight gain.

According to Harvard Medical School, “mindfulness refers to the practice of being aware and in the moment and can help you fully enjoy a meal and the experience of eating – with moderation and restraint.” There are studies suggesting mindful eating may help you improve your eating habits because you are paying more attention to what you eat and making small changes that can make a big difference.

It’s best to plan before you eat, and only eat when you’re hungry.

Try not to eat because the food is available or you are stressed or bored. Don’t skip a meal, especially before a holiday gathering as this may cause you to overeat, and consider having a high fiber snack such as raw vegetables, a handful of nuts, or fresh fruit. Fiber helps you feel full longer. Check out all the food options when you arrive at a party and make a plan that allows you to sample foods you enjoy, without abandoning good habits. Start by filling your plate with vegetables and salad before selecting entrees and desserts. Focus on fresh, unprocessed foods without extra salt, sugar, and fat. It’s okay to have holiday treats, but make sure the food is worth the extra calories and consider smaller portions. Avoid eating food straight from the bag or box, portioning out how much you will have. Try eating from a smaller plate to help limit the amount you eat. Moderation is the key. If you have your eye on a high calorie dessert, consider splitting it with a friend, a great way to share the dessert and cut the calories in half.

Eat slowly and take time to enjoy the taste of your meal without distractions.

Between bites, put your fork down while chewing, enjoy the textures, aroma, and flavors. Be mindful of what and how much you have eaten. This will give your body time to signal your brain that you are satisfied and not necessarily full. Leave the table when you are done, offer to help with the dishes, or take a walk. Mindful eating will help you appreciate and enjoy the food you eat.

Happy holidays!

Consider joining us for a meal at one of our dining centers or contact us to set up Meals on Wheels.