Health’s medical editor, Roshini Rajapaksa, MD, is assistant professor of medicine at the NYU School of Medicine.
Month: November 2016
Does avoiding nightshades fight inflammation? Can apple cider vinegar whittle your middle? Health's contributing nutrition editor gets real about six buzzy health moves.
Apple cider vinegar has been touted as a cure-all for decades. I’ve seen claims that it can do everything from halt hiccups to whiten teeth, and even banish dandruff. Whether or not it's capable of all those things, there is some solid research to back up apple cider vinegar as a healthy elixir, as long as you use it correctly.
One promising benefit: It seems to help regulate blood sugar. A study published in Diabetes Care looked at men and women with type 2 diabetes. The researchers found that when the participants downed two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed with a snack (one ounce of cheese), they had lower blood sugar levels the next morning, compared to when they ate the same bedtime snack paired with two tablespoons of water.
Another study published in the same journal compared the effects of apple cider vinegar on healthy adults, people with pre-diabetes, and people with type 2 diabetes. Study participants in all three groups had better blood glucose readings when they consumed less than an ounce of apple cider vinegar with a high-carb meal (a white bagel with butter and orange juice), compared to when they the had the same meal and drank a placebo. People with pre-diabetes improved their blood glucose levels with vinegar by nearly half, while people with diabetes cut their blood glucose concentrations by 25%.
Some research also suggests that apple cider vinegar may ward off scale creep. In a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, mice fed a high-fat diet along with acetic acid—vinegar’s key component—developed up to 10% less body fat than control rodents. The researchers believe the findings support the notion that acetic acid turns on genes that trigger enzymes to break down fat and prevent weight gain.
To investigate this effect in humans, Japanese scientists conducted a double-blind trial on obese adults with similar body weights and waist measurements in 2009. They divided the participants into three groups. Every day for 12 weeks, one group drank a beverage containing half an ounce of apple cider vinegar. Another group drank a beverage with one ounce of apple cider vinegar. And the third group had a drink containing no vinegar at all. At the end of the study, the people who drank one of the beverages with vinegar had less belly fat, lower triglycerides and waist measurements, and a lower body weight and BMI, compared to the no-vinegar group.
Apple cider vinegar may also be a boon to digestive health, based on the results of a study done on mice with ulcerative colitis. The researchers found that when acetic acid was added to their drinking water, they had higher levels of good bacteria in their guts, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, and reduced symptoms of the gastrointestinal disease.
While the evidence behind apple cider vinegar seems promising, there are a few things to keep in mind before you start downing the stuff. First off, I don’t recommend drinking straight vinegar. Undiluted shots have been known to wear away tooth enamel, and damage the esophagus. Also, too much apple cider vinegar may lower potassium levels in the body.
If you want to give it a go, swirl two teaspoons of organic apple cider vinegar and a teaspoon of organic honey into a cup of warm water once a day. Or simply use apple cider vinegar as a main ingredient in salad dressing, or chilled veggie side dishes, like vinegar-based slaw.
My go-to recipe: Whisk together one tablespoon each apple cider vinegar and lemon juice, add a half teaspoon of minced garlic, a dash of ground black pepper, and a few fresh basil leaves, chopped. It's fantastic drizzled over fresh leafy greens, broad beans, or cooked, chilled fingerling potatoes.
Just remember, making vinegar a daily habit won't cancel out the effects of overeating. Think of it as one piece of your wellness puzzle, and not a panacea.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.
First, the good news: Kids in the United States are eating better today than they were two decades ago. Now, the not-so-great part: They’ve still got a long way to go before their diet, as a whole, can be considered healthy.
These are the findings of a study published last week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that compared the eating habits of more than 38,000 U.S. children from 1999 to 2012.
To track dietary changes over this time period, researchers surveyed a nationally representative group of several thousand children (ages 2 to 18) each year, asking them or their caregivers to recall what they’d eaten in the past 24 hours. Based on these responses, an average Healthy Eating Index score was determined for each year in the study.
These scores rose steadily from 42.5 in 1999 to 50.9 in 2012. But that’s out of a possible 100—and even the 2012 scores constitute an overall “poor” rating.
"I am encouraged by the gains," said study lead author Xiao Gu, a master's student in epidemiology in the Brown University School of Public Health, in a press release. “Our paper provides evidence that we are on the correct track.”
Kids today are eating and drinking fewer empty calories (defined as solid fats, added sugars, and alcohol), which accounted for about one-third of the total score improvement. Increased public awareness about junk foods and sugary drinks has likely played a role, say the researchers. State and local policies, like soda taxes and school vending-machine bans, may help, as well.
Higher consumption of fruits, whole grains, seafood and plant proteins, and greens and beans also gave scores a boost in recent years.
Co-author Katherine Tucker, PhD, professor of nutritional epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, says she was mildly surprised—and very optimistic—about the improvement in whole-grain consumption.
“A lot of people think kids don’t like whole grains, and they won’t eat them,” Tucker told Real Simple. “But this shows that efforts to introduce them to kids are working.”
She’s also pleased that kids are eating more fruit and drinking fewer sugary beverages. “While a little bit of fruit juice is fine, we all know that whole fruit is more nutritious and contributes less to weight gain,” she says.
Consumption could still be much higher in these categories, however. Children in 2012 averaged a score of just 2 out of a possible 10 for whole grains, and 2.1 out of 5 for whole fruit. “I think the increasing trend is encouraging, but the current dietary quality level is disappointing," said Gu.
And not all categories showed improvement: No significant change was reported for vegetable intake between 1999 and 2012, despite a consistent emphasis on fruits and veggies in the Dietary Guidelines over this time.
And kids’ sodium intake—which has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure later in life—actually went up. “Sodium is an acquired taste, so if you get used to eating a lot of salty snacks it makes it difficult to cut back later,” says Tucker. “That’s why it’s so important for kids to learn about the taste of real food, without all the salt and sugar.”
When Gu and Tucker broke down their findings by demographics, they found that nutrition improved across the board and gaps between ethnic groups narrowed. But disparities still remain: Scores for non-Hispanic white children rose from 42.1 to 50.2, and for non-Hispanic black children from 39.6 to 48.4. Mexican-American children had the highest scores overall, ranging from 44.1 to 51.9
Children from high-income families made the largest gains over the course of the study. Scores among the wealthiest third of participants rose 23.8 percent, compared with just 18.2 percent in the lowest third.
The researchers also found that children receiving federal benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) saw less improvement than those on the government’s Women Infants and Children (WIC) program. Both provide financial assistance, but the latter limits purchases to foods adhering to dietary guidelines, says Gu.
Across all demographics, children under 6 tended to have healthier diets than older children. This suggests that unhealthy habits may develop as kids start school and spend more time away from home.
Overall, the researchers say their findings are encouraging—but they should still be a wake-up call for parents who may not be making nutrition a priority.
“There can be a perception that eating well is expensive, but when you look closely, some of the convenient processed foods cost even more when you consider the nutrition involved,” says Tucker. “Getting back to simpler, whole foods with minimal preparation can go a long way in making sure your child gets a healthy diet.”
This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.
Do you ever eat a healthy lunch only to find yourself starving by 3 p.m.? You're not alone. This a common frustration I hear from my clients, and in most cases, the explanation is the same: The meal was missing at least one key element that plays a major role in satiety, satisfaction, and energy. Luckily there's an easy fix: Use my simple formula for crafting meals that stave off hunger—but don't leave you feeling over-stuffed or sluggish. I've also included five simple examples that fit the bill below.
1. Add fiber-rich veggies
I highly recommend working veggies into every meal (even breakfast!). They're nutritious, full of antioxidants, provide very few calories per portion, and are packed with fiber—which is filling because it takes up space in your digestive system. Fiber also slows digestion, which means you'll have a steadier supply of energy over a longer period of time.
For breakfast, veggies can be added to an omelet, whipped into a smoothie, or eaten as a side. Many of my clients even enjoy salad at breakfast (dressed with citrus vinaigrette), or a serving of raw veggies that act as a palate cleanser at the end of the meal. All veggies provide some fiber, but a few top sources include artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and kale.
RELATED: What is Clean Eating?
2. Choose lean protein
Aside from boosting metabolism, lean protein also wards off hunger better than carbs and fat, according to research. Be sure to include a lean source (think eggs, seafood, poultry, or Greek yogurt) in each meal. If you’re vegan, reach for pulses—the umbrella term for lentils, beans, and peas, like chickpeas and black eyed peas.
3. Don’t forget a plant-based fat
There’s no doubt about it: Fat is satiating. If you’ve ever eaten a salad with fat-free dressing versus one with olive oil, you’ve experienced the difference. Plus, the notion that eating fat makes you fat is seriously outdated. I tell my clients to include a healthy source in every meal. My favorites are avocados, nuts and seed (including ground-up versions like almond butter and tahini), extra virgin olive oil, Mediterranean olives, olive tapenade, and pestos made with EVOO and nuts or seeds.
4. Toss in a "good" carb
By now you probably know that eating a low-fat blueberry muffin for breakfast isn't exactly good for you. But did you realize it will likely leave your stomach grumbling an hour later despite the whopping 400 calorie count? That's because refined carbs and sugar cause a spurge in blood glucose that triggers a quick insulin response; the insulin spike then results in a drop in blood sugar, which means the return of hunger pangs.
But, that doesn’t mean you need to nix carbs altogether. Just opt for a small portion of a fiber-packed, whole food source. Good choices include whole grains like oats or quinoa, starchy veggies like skin-on potatoes and squash, fresh fruit, and pulses.
Start with a small serving—around half a cup (or the size of half a tennis ball)—and up your intake depending on your body's fuel needs. In other words, if you spend most of your hours sitting at a desk, a half cup is probably fine. But if you have an active day ahead, bump up the carbs a bit.
5. Be generous with herbs and spices
Natural herbs and spices are another category of satiety enhancers. I’m talking fresh or dried basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, zest, and pepper. Even vinegars like balsamic, and hot peppers like chili or jalapeno, count. Use them to add aroma and flavor, and raise your satisfaction level at each meal.
Now you may be wondering what a "complete" meal that follows all five rules would actually look like. If so, here are five examples of easy, stick-to-your-ribs, energizing dishes:
Sauté Brussels sprouts in low-sodium vegetable broth, along with more of your favorite veggies like onion and grape tomatoes, along with seasonings, such as a dried Italian herb mix, turmeric, and black pepper. Add one whole egg and three to four whites or one whole egg and three quarters cup whites to scramble. Serve over a half-cup of lentils, topped with half of a sliced avocado.
Turkey veggie stir-fry
Brown about four ounces of extra-lean ground turkey and set aside. Sauté broccoli florets and other veggie faves like bell pepper and mushrooms in low-sodium vegetable broth with minced garlic, fresh grated ginger, and minced chili pepper. Add the turkey back in to re-heat, serve over a small scoop of brown or wild rice, and top with sliced almonds.
Wild tuna salad
Mix canned wild tuna with herbed olive tapenade. Serve over a bed of greens and veggies, topped with cooked, chilled quinoa.
Chilled egg salad
Toss a handful of minced kale with a chopped hard boiled egg and three whites. Fold in a tablespoon of dairy-free pesto and mix with a half cup of chickpeas.
Black bean and veggie platter
Sauté cauliflower and spinach in low-sodium vegetable broth, seasoned with minced garlic and fresh cilantro. Serve with small scoops of black beans and brown rice, topped with a dollop of guacamole and wedges of fresh lime.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.
Energy drinks are popular among young teens and adults, but studies continue to show they may have unintended and potentially serious side effects, including high blood pressure, hyperactivity and more.
In a new report published in Pediatric Emergency Care, researchers conducted a questionnaire at two emergency departments from June 2011 to June 2013 that surveyed adolescents between ages 12 and 18. Of the 612 young people who responded, 33% said they frequently drank energy drinks. Among those teens, 76% said they experienced a headache in the last six months, 47% said they experienced anger and 22% reported difficulty breathing.
It’s impossible to say whether any of those behaviors were due to energy drinks, but young people who consumed them were much more likely to report the symptoms than those who didn’t. Overall, kids who consumed energy drinks often were more likely to say the drinks helped them do better in school or in sports, helped them focus and helped them stay up at night.
“Moderation is key,” says Dr. Vikas Khullar, a University of Florida fellow in Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
In a recent case study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, Khullar and his colleagues wrote about a 50-year-old man who came to the hospital with an inflamed liver. He was in pain, vomiting and had dark urine. After running several tests for possible infections and coming up short, the doctors learned that the man drank four to five energy drinks every day for three weeks before his health issues appeared. The doctors concluded energy drinks caused his liver problems, citing another similar case that supports their suspicions. “We cannot speculate on the safety of energy drinks, however anyone with liver or heart disease should consume energy drinks with caution,” says Khullar.
Energy drinks contain multiple stimulating ingredients, beyond caffeine. “Often energy drinks contain a energy blend which is a combination of herbal supplements as well as vitamins in often greater levels than the recommended daily intake,” he says. “Further research may be needed to determine appropriate use and dosages.”
Groups like the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warn against mixing energy drinks and alcohol, arguing energy drinks mask the depressant effects of alcohol. Still, in a 2016 survey of 1,000 young adults, 57% said they consumed energy drinks in the past year, and 71% of those students drank energy drinks with alcohol.
As TIME has previously reported, energy drink companies insist their products are safe and that a link between their beverages and side effects can’t be confirmed. The companies also appear to be making their drinks bigger and with more sugar; Monster’s new Mutant beverages, describe as a “super soda” on the label, have now hit shelves. The 20-ounce drinks have about 70 grams of sugar (more than twice of what’s in some candy bars) and 115 milligrams of caffeine.
Groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest have called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to add safety warnings to energy drinks, and American Academy of Pediatrics researchers have argued the stimulants in energy drinks have “no place in the diet of children and adolescents.”
“While more research is needed, accumulating evidence exists to suggest that energy drink consumption is linked to adverse cardiovascular events, sleep disturbances, and other substance use among adolescents,” says Amelia Arria, director of the University of Maryland School of Public Health’s Center for Young Adult Health and Development and co-author of the recent energy drink and alcohol study.
Though definitive links between the beverages and health problems are not proven, many health professionals agree: the emerging data is not encouraging.
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
From bone broth to bugs (yes, bugs), fit people feasted on eclectic eats this year. Here are 14 of them—plus wisdom from dietitians about which are actually good for you.
From chlorophyll pills to cholrophyll energy bars, the green pigment has been showing up in all sorts of products lately. You may remember from high school biology that chlorophyll is essential for photosynthesis, the process plants use to convert sunlight into energy. So why is it suddenly appearing in our foods? Is it really a super-nutrient worth seeking out—or just a passing fad? Here are a few things to know about the chlorophyll craze.
Chlorophyll is touted for a number of perks
Proponents say it detoxifies the body, promotes healing, boosts metabolism, fights bad breath, herpes, and cancer—and the list goes on. While the evidence behind these claims is largely anecdotal, there is some research on the benefits of chlorophyll. For example, one 2014 study looked at 38 overweight women who were following a weight-loss plan. The researchers found that over the course of 12 weeks, those who took a chlorophyll supplement once a day lost three additional pounds, on average, compared to those taking a placebo. The women in the chlorophyll group also experienced a greater decrease in LDL (or "bad") cholesterol, and a reduction in sweet cravings. Other research has suggested that chlorophyll may have antioxidant properties.
It's worth noting that many of the other studies to date have involved intravenous or topical chlorophyll.
There are some unknowns about chlorophyll
Since chlorophyll hasn’t been studied extensively, there's no established optimal dosage, or a recommended way to consume it. Some of the research has been conducted with compounds derived from chlorophyll, rather than the pigment in its whole form—which means the same results may or may not occur if you have chlorophyll in its natural form.
Supplements may cause side effects
While chlorophyll supplements are considered fairly safe, there are a few interactions you should be aware of. For example, they may increase your sensitivity to sunlight. So you should probably skip them if you're taking any medications that have the same effect (such as certain antidepressants, antibiotics, antihistamines, blood pressure, and cholesterol meds). There have also been some reports of nausea, digestive problems, and allergic reactions.
Chlorophyll comes in many forms
Chlorophyll is abundant in dark green leafy vegetables (think spinach, kale, and mustard greens), as well as other green produce like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green bell peppers, asparagus, green cabbage, kiwi, green apples, and herbs like parsley. In other words, you don’t need a special supplement to include chlorophyll in your diet. Simply adding more green plants to your meals will ensure you're getting plenty of chlorophyll.
How you eat your greens makes a difference
Cooking chlorophyll-rich foods, especially for longer lengths of time, seems to lower their chlorophyll levels. Storing them in the freezer for several months can have a similar effect. So to best preserve the chlorophyll content of your greens, eat them raw or use short, light cooking methods, like steaming or low-heat sautéing.
If you do decide to try a new chlorophyll product, be sure to read the ingredient list, and try to steer clear of artificial additives, and potentially risky herbs or stimulants. But most importantly, keep on eating (and drinking) your greens!
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.
When the full-length trailer for Netflix's upcoming four-part series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life debuted earlier this month, longtime fans of the show were happy to see Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) back in Stars Hollow and just as we remembered them: Fast-talking, always ready to drop a perfect pop culture reference, and completely, totally addicted to junk food. The trailer is only two minutes long, but during that time we learn the girls have recently binged on Pop-Tarts, Tater Tots, mini powdered donuts, tacos (to be fair, they were organic), and hot dogs, as well as Chinese, Greek, and Italian takeout in one sitting.
In other words, the Gilmore diet is basically a long list of everything you're supposed to eat in moderation: sugar, sodium, saturated fat, refined carbs, empty calories, and ultra-processed foods packed with artificial ingredients.
"As viewers, seeing Lorelai and Rory indulge in their carefree diet indulges us, too, even though we know these eating behaviors don't work," says nutritionist Wendy Bazilian, DrPH and author of Eat Clean, Stay Lean. We asked Bazilian to explain what would happen to your body if you ate sugary baked goods for breakfast, greasy takeout for dinner, and nutritionally devoid snacks in between, and what advice she'd give to Rory and Lorelai if they were her clients.
You'd have a lot less energy
It's no wonder Lorelai and Rory rely on multiple cups of coffee to get through the day—their eating habits are sapping their energy. Of all the not-so-great foods the Gilmores eat, Bazilian says the fried fare is the worst. "Too much fatty, fried foods can make us feel sluggish," she says.
Lorelai and Rory wouldn't give up French fries from Luke's Diner or cartons of fried rice from Al's Pancake World without a fight, so Bazilian would tell them to pair their meals with fresh produce, which will give them important nutrients they need to stay alert throughout the day. "I'd beg them to at least put something that isn't fried on the plate as well," she says. "If it's pizza, for example, can we go with thin crust, lighter cheese, and add some vegetables? Or if they're getting a burger, can they at least put some lettuce and tomato on the bun?"
In addition to making you feel tired all the time, eating fried foods as often as the Gilmores would increase inflammation throughout your body, not to mention add hundreds of empty calories to your diet, says Bazilian.
RELATED: 9 Ways to Quit Sugar for Good
It would take a toll on your skin
In real life, the Gilmores probably wouldn't be able to eat the way they do and maintain their blemish-free complexions, Bazilian says. "While the research is slim on the impact of fried foods on acne, there's no question that frequently eating fried food alongside other nutritionally devoid foods has a negative impact on your skin's health, not to mention your internal organs," she explains.
Lorelai and Rory may also look a little older in the real world thanks to their steady diet of Pop-Tarts and other sweet treats. When you eat more sugar than your cells can process, it triggers a process called glycation; sugar molecules bind to collagen and elastin, ultimately making the skin look more haggard.
To get the flawless skin that Graham and Bledel have as they portray the Gilmores, load up on plenty of leafy greens (they contain vitamin K, which may brighten skin), antioxidant-rich blueberries (they may help prevent sun damage and wrinkles), and avocados (omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to healthier skin). You might also consider adding probiotics, krill oil, and vitamin D3 to your diet, all of which may help you get a radiant-from-within complexion.
You'd gain weight
"It's hard to believe that the characters' physiques would stay as lean and healthy-looking as they appear on the show based on their diet," says Bazilian.
It's no secret that an unhealthy diet can lead to weight gain. But even if you're blessed with a super-fast metabolism that lets you eat whatever you want without gaining a pound, a poor diet can still have consequences for your health. According to a 2008 study, one-fourth of the normal weight population may be "skinny fat," meaning they look healthy but have high levels of body fat and inflammation, putting them at risk for diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
But Bazilian says a few simple swaps could help Rory and Lorelai trim calories on their favorite foods without having to give them up entirely. Take tacos and burritos, a Gilmore go-to: Bazilian suggests filling the tortilla with cabbage, black or pinto beans, fresh tomatoes, avocado, and a lean protein like grilled chicken or shrimp, but skipping refried beans, extra rice, and sour cream.
"Load up on veggies," she says. "If there are sautéed veggies like peppers and onions add those, then add extra lettuce, extra tomato, pico de gallo, healthy dollop of avocado, and a light sprinkle of cheese."
Your pearly whites would be a lot less white
Hot Tamales, Red Vines, Twizzlers, M&Ms—the Gilmores love their candy. (And who can forget Lorelai's infamous candy sushi party?) But as any dentist will tell you, candy is terrible for your teeth. And sticky candies are even worse, since they stay in between teeth for a long time, allowing the bacteria in your mouth to feast on deposited sugar.
"There's nothing redeemable in candy, it's just sugar, carbs, and artificial colors," Bazilian says. "Candy should be a supplemental treat, not a main entree."
And then there's all that coffee. Although the Gilmores' drink of choice does offer health perks—antioxidants in the beverage have been linked to longer lifespans and may help protect against type 2 diabetes and Parkinson's—it also can stain your teeth over time.
Eventually, it would start to impact your overall health
"Just because you can survive eating this way doesn't mean you can thrive in the long-run," says Bazilian, adding that the effects of poor diet usually start showing up in a person's 40s. "Some people are able to eat unhealthy their whole lives, and then all of a sudden, they're forced to make a change. I'll have clients come to me and say, 'I've always eaten like this, what gives?'"
Usually, Bazilian explains, something triggers an awareness in her clients that their eating habits are no longer working as they once were; they're no longer able to use the same hole in their belt, for example, or their doctor tells them their cholesterol levels have gotten too high.
Bazilian knows how challenging it can be to completely rewire your habits and cravings, so she tells us that she'd recommend Rory and Lorelai start out by making a few strategic nutritional "upgrades." "There's research to suggest that adding nutritious foods to your plate may do more to improve your health than simply eliminating the less-nutritious foods," she explains. "And adding fiber-rich foods like fresh produce, beans, nuts, and seeds will help replace cravings for less-healthy foods."
Have you noticed how all of a sudden, everything at the health food store seems to "sprouted"? Whether they're whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, or chickpeas, sprouted foods are popping up everywhere. But are they really more nutritious than non-sprouted plant foods? Read on to learn the basics about the trend.
Every sprouted food is a type of seed
When you think of seeds, you probably think of sunflower, pumpkin, and chia seeds. But pulses—like chickpeas, split peas, and black eyed peas—are also seeds. And technically, quinoa, oats, and nuts qualify as well. All of these seeds can be sprouted. But what exactly does that mean?
Whether or not you have a green thumb, you're probably familiar with how seeds work. They contain the raw materials that grow into a new plant when temperature and moisture conditions are just right. Sprouted foods are essentially just that: Seeds that have started to grow. To stop those baby plants from growing even more, the seeds are either dried, or mashed and added to other products.
RELATED: 10 Healthy Chia Seed Recipes
Sprouted foods come in many forms
There are dried foods like sprouted almonds, and breads made with sprouted grains, seeds, and beans. Sprouted grains are also mashed and rolled into tortillas and wraps. You can even find powders to add to smoothies or oatmeal. And while there’s plenty of processed sprouted products on the market (such as pretzels and cereal), be sure stick to ones that contain only natural ingredients.
And they may be extra-nutritious
Seeds contain compounds that keep them from sprouting until conditions are right. But once a seed sprouts, those compounds are canceled out by a surge in enzymes. Those same enzymes make the nutrients in the seed more available, so the baby plant has the energy it needs to grow. The theory is that when we eat sprouted foods, their nutrients are more bio-available to us as well, and easier to digest.
The research to date is promising
There aren't a ton of studies on sprouted foods, but the ones that exist seem to support the idea that they pack an extra nutritional punch. Research has shown that sprouting boosts the antioxidant levels of brown rice, amaranth, and millet, for example. And a study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition discovered that the fiber content of various types of brown rice increased by 6 to 13% after sprouting.
DIY sprouting can be risky
There are a lot of videos online that teach you how to sprout at home. But DIY sprouting may be dangerous unless you really know what you’re doing. For example, some seeds contain a harmful natural toxin called lectins, which gets broken down in sprouting conditions. What's more, the conditions required for sprouting happen to also be ideal for growing bacteria that can make you very ill, like salmonella, E. coli, and listeria. If you do experiment with DIY sprouting, I recommend cooking the final product (think sprouted lentil soup, or sprouted chickpea burgers). Otherwise, I advise sticking with brands like Food for Life and Go Raw, which have safe sprouting techniques down pat.
I’m all about getting those omega-3s, but I’m not quite convinced that fish oil supplements are worth the money for the average healthy person. The fish oil hype comes from the fact that omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to offer many health perks, including lowering blood pressure, as well as helping with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some research also indicates that omega-3 intake may help protect against some cancers, but there’s not yet enough evidence to know that for sure.
Our bodies can’t produce omega-3s on their own, so many people assume that consuming supplements is necessary to get a sufficient amount. But you can get plenty through your diet by eating fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, three or four times a week. Heart disease patients, on the other hand, may benefit from supplements; newer research shows that ingesting a high dose of omega-3s from fish oil daily after a heart attack may help the heart heal. The caveat: Doses of 3 grams or more per day may increase risk of bleeding, so check with your doc before taking supplements, particularly if you’re on blood-thinning medication.