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Category — Food and Nutrition

The Power of Place

I am about to head off to my regular Wednesday shift at Food for Lane County’s Dining Room, a restaurant-style (as opposed to soup-kitchen style) facility that feeds up to 300 people a day. The people who come – many but not all are unhoused – sit at tables set with silverware and cloth napkins and are served hot meals by a volunteer wait staff who takes their order (meat or vegetarian? Full plate or—my least favorite request—no vegetables? Food allergies?), brings condiments, serves coffee and dessert. There is almost always live music.

I’ve been volunteering for close to four years now, and during that time I’ve thought a lot about the power of place. But until today I’ve thought only about the power of The Dining Room in the lives of the diners, the momentary oasis provided by this calm, warm, friendly, non-soup-kitchen place and the effect this has on those who sit and eat.

There is the blessed experience of sitting in a warm place on a cold day, sitting in a dry place on a wet day. There is the immeasurably enriching experience of being acknowledged not avoided, being looked at not looked away from. There is being asked what you would like. There is being told yes. There is being served. There is the comfort of a full stomach. There is the experience of being in a place suffused with politeness and respect.

Today I am thinking about the other side of this power of place: The power of The Dining Room in my life. This is a place where I get to work along side good people, not “do-gooders” who are oh-so-proud of themselves for their little volunteer gig, but upbeat, hard-working, good-humored people who care about other people, who care about their community, who transform compassion into action, who are in it for the long haul.

It raises my spirits, however low they may be — and they have been lower this year than ever before – to spend time in this place. It nurtures my belief in my fellow humans. Being surrounded by good people makes me a better person.


December 27, 2017   2 Comments

Put your best fork forward*

March is National Nutrition Month! (“Put your best fork forward” is the catchy tagline this year.) Let’s all celebrate by 1) eating a wonderfully nutritious, real foods/ whole foods meal 2) enjoying this brief romp through the history of diet fads — which SPOILER ALERT are not about good nutrition.

1820: Vinegar and Water diet made popular by Lord Byron, who, I must add, died at the age of 36. So maybe not.

1825: Low Carb Diet (that’s right, in 1825). It first appeared in The Physiology of Taste by Jean Brillat-Savarin, a more-than-pleasantly plump French lawyer and politician who pretty much invented the gastronomic essay, aka food writing.

1830: Graham’s Diet, invented by the man who would found the American Vegetarian Society and, more importantly, invent Graham Crackers, without which there would be no s’mores. PS: He believed vegetarianism was a cure for masturbation. What about that, you vegetarians?

1863: Banting’s Low Carb Diet, which was so popular that “banting” became a common term for dieting during this time period.

1903: Fletcherizing. Horace Fletcher’s dietary advice to insure high-level wellness: Chew your food 32 times. No not 33.

1917: The birth of “calorie counting” (damn) with the publication of Lulu Hunt Peters’ book, Diet and Health.

1925: The cigarette diet, as in “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” Really.

1928: The Inuit Meat-and-Fat Diet calling for consumption of raw fish, caribou and whale blubber. Not wildly popular.

1930: The first of the liquid diet drinks, courtesy of a Dr. Stoll and – 1930 being a big year for fad diets – the Hay Diet which proclaimed that carbs and proteins could not be consumed together. Whaaat? No steak and potatoes?

1934: Bananas and Skim Milk Diet (backed by – here’s a surprise – United Fruit Company)

1950: Another hallmark year: The Grapefruit Diet and the Cabbage Soup Diet. And people say the 1950s were boring.

1964:The Drinking Man’s Diet (like on Mad Men)

1967: Birth (that’s a pun) of the hCG diet, a combination of injections of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (produced in a pregnant woman’s placenta) and a 500-calorie diet.

1970: The Liquid Protein Diet. One version was marketed as The Last Chance Diet, a name it earned when several people died using the product.

1976: My favorite: The Sleeping Beauty Diet in which the dieter is heavily sedated for several days (and thus doesn’t eat).

1981: Beverly Hills Diet. Unlimited quantities of fruit – and only fruit – for the first ten days.

1985: The Caveman Diet in which one enjoys foods from the Paleolithic Era. Yes, the Paleo craze has been around for this long, longer if you count the whale blubber version.

1987: The Scarsdale Diet – low carb, low-cal. Its originator, Dr. Herman Tarnower, was famously murdered by his mistress, the head of a posh private school.

1988: Calorie Restriction (CR) Diet in which you satisfy all nutritional needs while consuming 30 percent fewer calories than your body requires. Forever. This is very very difficult to do. (Plus you look unpleasantly cadaverous.) The good (and bad) news? This diet works.

1990: Return of the Cabbage Soup Diet. Because it worked so well the first time.

1994: The high-protein, low carb Atkins’ diet.

1996: Eat Right for Your Type, a diet based on your blood type. O. No.

1999: The holy triumvirate: Juicing, Fasting, Detoxing.

2000: Raw Foods.

2006: Maple syrup, lemon juice and cayenne. ‘Nuf said.

2010: Baby Food Diet: 14 jars of baby food a day. Diapers optional.

2012: The ascent of Gluten Free.

2014: The Bulletproof Diet, the secret of which is drinking “bulletproof coffee” (coffee laced liberally — as in 400 cals a cup — with butter or coconut oil).

2016: The Mono Diet is a one-food-and-one-food only plan that continues to resurface, year after year. 2016 was The Year of the Banana.

Not to mention: tape worms, Bile Beans, cotton balls, feeding tubes…What’s next? Don’t answer that.



March 8, 2017   2 Comments

Breakfast of Champions

Sitting in the stands in Matt Knight Arena this past weekend watching a women’s basketball game, I was distracted from the action on the court by the overabundance of corporate signage. In additional to the usual local sponsors (from a nearby Indian Casino to a hometown grocery store chain, there was a huge McDonald’s banner. The brand was again touted in a digital display running under the scorers’ table. It read: McDonald’s the Official Breakfast of the Oregon Ducks.

Allow me to rant a moment. It feels so good to rant about something other than, well, you know what. Presidents come and go. But McDonald’s, like The Dude, abides.

The most common breakfast at McDonald’s is the sausage Egg McMuffin which derives more than 30 percent of its calories from fat. The bad kind. One little sandwich, consumed in a few bites in less than a minute contains 25 percent of the saturated fat you should take in for the entire day – if, indeed, you should take in any saturated fat. Cholesterol content? That would be 87 percent of your daily max. Wondering about sodium? Wonder no longer. That little sandwich contains more than 1/3 of your total daily sodium intake. Somehow or another, amid all that fat and salt, McDonald’s recipe geniuses managed to throw in a teaspoon of sugar.

It’s all about what’s called in the junk food/ fast food biz, the “bliss point,” that carefully calibrated magic combination of fat, salt and sugar that activates the pleasure-reward pathways in our brains. It’s the laboratory-orchestrated “flavor profile” that keeps us eating (gobbling, really) without being satiated (for very long).

Every day, one in four Americans eats at a fast food restaurant. As a nation (a Fast Food Nation), we spend more than $200 billion a year on meals like the Official Breakfast of the Oregon Ducks. That’s a chunk of change. Ironically, $200 billion is also the estimated cost of U.S. medical spending directly related to obesity. People love the “flavor profile.” People hit the “bliss point.” And it’s cheap! The food is cheap because the major commodities used to produce it are heavily subsidized by the U.S. government.

Speaking of more money than most of us who are not President of the United State can imagine, fast food restaurants spent $4.6 billion in advertising in 2013 (most recent stat I could find) with McDonald’s easily topping the chart, outspending #2 Subway by 60 percent.

It’s not just that this Official Breakfast is BAD for you. It is also not what today’s health-conscious, high-energy athletes DO eat to stay in top shape. But most of all, the “Official Breakfast” proclamation is not what all those hundreds of kids in the stands should be reading, the kids who idolize the athletes, who want to grow up to be just like them. They won’t grow up to be just like them by breakfasting on McMuffins and McGriddles.

March 1, 2017   4 Comments

How sweet it is(n’t)

sugarHere’s something you don’t want to hear.

The medical news and dietary recommendations about sugar that we’ve all been reading about for the last five decades have been largely shaped by — wait for it – the sugar industry. An industry trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation (today known as the Sugar Association) apparently paid scientists in the 1960s to downplay the link between sugar and heart disease, and focus instead on saturated fat as the culprit.

What did we hear about sugar? Okay, it caused tooth decay. Big deal. Brush your teeth. The sugar-induced energy rollercoaster could be promoted as “quick energy.” Remember the get-a-life-eat-a-Snickers-bar ad campaign? If a person was concerned about health…FAT was the real enemy. Fat was the killer. Fat was the fast-track to heart disease.

For the gory details on the collusion between sugar execs and leading Harvard scientists, one of whom went on to help draft the national’s dietary and nutritional plan, check out this recent New York Times story
and the JAMA Internal Medicine research upon which it was based.

And, lest you think this collusion between agriculture, business and science was just a remnant from the Bad Old Days, please note that just last year it came to light that Coca-Cola, the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, had provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers who sought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity.

At the risk of merely replacing evil demon fat with evil demon sugar (remember evil demon salt?), allow me to share this information about the health effects of sugar.

Sugar can damage your heart
Excess sugar increases the risk of heart disease (yes, like fat), but there is also strong evidence that sugar affects the heart’s pumping mechanism and may also increase the risk of heart failure.

Sugar and obesity? Yep.
Fat causes fat, we’ve been told. Fat in the diet is the culprit. Eat nonfat. Eat low-fat. But has this explosion of low-fat items in the grocery store halted out obesity epidemic? No. Consider sugar. Excess fructose consumption has been linked to an increase in a condition called leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough food. If you develop leptin resistance, you don’t get the message that you’re full. You keep eating. And eating.

Sugar specifically promotes belly fat (the worst kind)
Fructose in particular appears to actually cause visceral fat cells to mature. A study of overweight kids who consumed fructose-laden drinks showed fat accumulation in the trunk, setting the stage for a big belly and even bigger future risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Sugar may be linked to cancer production and may effect cancer survival
When we consume too much sugar, we throw our insulin production out of whack. There’s a well documented connection between insulin resistance and cancer. (link between insulin resistance and cancer. There is also a connection between elevated sugar and poorer survival rates for some cancers. ( Further studies have found negative associations between high sugar and starch intake and survival rates in both breast cancer patients and colon cancer patients.

Sugar and aging? Uh huh.
A 2009 study found a positive relationship between glucose consumption and the aging of our cells. Aging of the cells can cause something as harmless as wrinkles to something as dire as chronic disease. But there is other alarming evidence that sugar may affect the aging of your brain as well. A 2012 study found that excess sugar consumption was linked to deficiencies in memory and overall cognitive health. A 2009 study in rats showed similar findings.

Worth noting: Fruit has sugar but not the same as refined sugar: Not if the fruit in question is whole fruit. Unlike honey, cane sugar, high-fructose corn syrup and other forms of sugar that are added to many processed foods, the sugar naturally found in fruit is different. It is accompanied by consumed in the company of fiber, which helps your body absorb the sugar more slowly as well as promoting fullness – and, of curse, offering a host of vitamins and micronutrients. (Refined sugar has no nutritional value whatsoever.)

Words That Really Just Mean ‘Added Sugar’
• agave (juice, nectar, syrup)
• brown rice syrup
• corn sweetener
• corn syrup
• dextrose
• high fructose corn syrup
• honey
• malt sweetener
• malt syrup
• maltose
• rice syrup

(A team of researchers at the University of North Carolina conducted a detailed survey of the packaged foods and drinks that are purchased in American grocery stores and found that 60 percent of them include some form of added sugar. When they looked at every individual processed food in the store, 68 percent had added sugar.)

September 22, 2016   5 Comments

Size matters

heart attack grillSo…one more time:

How is it that the Austrians consume a meat-heavy, bread-heavy, vegetable-light diet, smoke at almost two-and-and-half times the rate as we do … and are healthier than us? And how is that the French breakfast on croissants and pain au chocolat, slather their baguettes with runny Camembert while slicing off slabs of fois gras – and are healthier than us?

We want there to be one answer – red wine, a magic supplement, a secret diet – so we can latch onto it and transform ourselves overnight into a healthier nation. It’s not that easy. The fact is that Europeans live very different lives than Americans, and their health relative to ours is a product of the sum of these many differences.

So far I’ve written about two major differences that have nothing to do with diet: Our car-dependent lives compared to their walking/ biking culture, and our lack-of-vacation culture compared to their generous days of R&R. Here’s another dramatic difference that does have to do with what we eat:  P  o  r  t  i  o  n    s  i  z  e

America’s portion sizes are larger than the rest of the world’s, with more calorie-dense foods making up those portions. (Study after study has shown that when people migrate to the United States, they gain an average of 5-9 pounds within weeks of settling in.)

The differences in portion size have been noted, studied and widely commented on – both by travelers and by health and nutrition organizations. The American Institute for Cancer Research points out that the average croissant in a Parisian bakery weighs slightly more than an ounce. At Starbucks, the croissants are 3.5 ounces. A “small” ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery is 5 ounces. A scoop of gelato throughout Europe is 2.5 ounces. A “large” pizza when ordered in the US is about 2” bigger in circumference than a “large” in Germany. A “small” soft drink bought in a European fast food restaurant has is 8.5 ounces. In the U.S. ordering this size gets you 16 ounces. Unheard of in Europe is the “double gulp” size soft drink that is 64 ounces – that’s a half gallon, folks (and more than 600 calories)

Portion sizes in the U.S. have grown consistently… some would argue alarmingly. Did you know that the Hershey bar debuted at 0.6 ounces? Today the smallest “single” bar size is twice as big, with sizes up to 8 times as large. Today’s typical bagel up to 5 times larger than the bagel of yore. When fast food hamburgers were introduced, they were the size of those now included in kid meals.

burger stackThe link between big portion sizes and overeating is explored in depth in the book “The End of Overeating” by David Kessler (sorry to say, no relation). The not-so-surprising conclusion from various studies:

Give them a lot, and they will eat a lot.”

Which we do.

May 11, 2016   1 Comment

Out of the blue

bluezone1How to eat? Paleo or vegan? Mediterranean or Okinawan? Raw? Juiced? Gluten free? Low glycemic? High fiber? Low fat? Intermittent fasting? Is there a “right” way? Is there a clear path to robust health through nutrition?

Yes and no. As the China Study I wrote about last week makes so clear that even fourth-generation cattle ranchers might hoist themselves out of their saddles to take notice, animal protein – especially in the astounding amounts Americans consume – is a fast track to chronic illness and accelerated aging .

If you look at the eating habits of the healthiest, longest-lived people on earth, the active, vibrant inhabitants of the so-called Blue Zones, you’ll see, generally, a plant-based diet. But you’ll also see variations that reflect differences in geography, climate and culture. And you’ll seem, yep, some animal protein.

The Blue Zone Sardinians love their pecorino cheese and drink a considerable amount of read wine. On the other side of the world, the Blue Zone Okinawans consume no diary, love fish and sip tea all day. The Greeks (on Ikaria, dubbed “the island where people forget to die” – and not because they suffer from dementia…which they don’t) drink goats’ milk, love their olive oil and make liberal use of wild herbs.. In the only “zone” in N. America, The Seventh Day Adventists are vegetarian teetotalers who eat beans and nuts. The diet of the Nicoyan Costa Ricans is perhaps the simplest: corn and beans. So, no, there is not one true path. There is eating real, whole foods, eating local, and taking joy in that.

That is a big “and.” We hard-charging, must-find-the-one-true-path North Americans might experiment by adopting one way of eating or another – fads come and go, best-selling diet and nutrition books come and go — but we hardly ever joyously adopt.

It may be this lack of joy, actually, that is holding us back. I don’t mean just holding us back in eating consciously, healthily and happily but in living vibrant, active lives.

The Blue Zone folks? Sure, they eat simple, healthy foods. But they also often have a direct relationship with the food they eat, and they celebrate it with family. They create unpretentious rituals around eating. And so food is a pleasure – not, as it is for many of us, a long list of do’s and don’t, of can-haves and must-haves.

It’s not just food that brings them pleasure (and helps extend their healthy lives). They experience the joy of having a life-long strong sense of purpose. Yes, life-long. They feel needed. They are needed. They feel (and are) useful. Long long past “retirement” age, they actively contribute to the daily lives of their families and their communities. This, just as much, perhaps more, than any particular diet is their “secret” to the extraordinarily active, extraordinarily long, virtually disease-free lives.

April 13, 2016   No Comments

What’s the beef?

beefOnce upon a time, Cornell University, University of Oxford and the Chinese government jointly funded a study so meticulous, so exactingly engineered, so scrupulously conducted, that the New York Times called it “the Grand Prix of epidemiology.” The study, which ran for 20 years, investigated the relationship between the consumption of animal products (including dairy) and chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, prostate cancer and bowel cancer. Can you guess the results?

If you guessed (of course you did) that over-consumption of animal products — in the absence of any other mitigating factors – was linked to a host of chronic illnesses, you are right. Old news, right?

Not so fast.

Did you guess that the results of the study also strongly suggested that people who avoid all animal products, including beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese and milk escape, reduce or reverse the development of all the aforementioned diseases?

Hundreds of clinical studies during the past several decades show that consumption of meat and dairy products, especially at the high levels seen in the U.S., cause/ contribute to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses. The so-called China study dramatically illustrates the other side of the coin: That avoidance of animal products, or consumption of very modest amounts of animal protein (less than 10 percent of total calories) is directly linked to absence of these diseases.

Did you know that the USDA continues to advise us to get 25-35 percent of calories from protein, a recommendation that flies in the face of the China Study evidence?

Did you know that Americans eat more animal products per person than anyone else on earth and have twice the obesity rate, twice the diabetes rate and nearly three times the cancer rate as people in the rest of the world?

Did you know that the multi-billion dollar U.S. meat industry (beef alone is a $95 billion a year industry) contributed close to $11 million to political campaigns (2014 data) and spent close to another $7 million on lobbying efforts? The agricultural industry’s history of influence over dietary guidelines and the food pyramid (or plate) is well-documented.

Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.
Milk. It does a body good.

Imagine for a moment that Big Pharma came up with a pill (a very expensive pill, of course) proven to drastically reduce the occurrence of heart disease. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death in the U.S. One out of every three deaths is attributable to heart disease. Currently about 28 million Americans have been diagnosed with heart disease. And now, imagine that there’s something close to a cure! Oh the headlines! The Dr. Oz specials! The billions spent on advertising!

There is no pill. But there is something very close to a cure. It’s called a plant-based diet. The evidence is as close to incontrovertible as dietary evidence can be.

Where are the headlines?

April 6, 2016   No Comments

2-4-6-8 Don’t be so quick to correlate

Raw tomatoes                       Judaism                        <0.0001
Egg rolls                                  Dog ownership           <0.0001
Energy drinks                       Smoking                        <0.0001
Potato chips                          Higher score
                                                   SAT math v verbal      <0.0001
Soda                                         Weird rash                    <0.0002
Shellfish                                 Right-handedness      <0.0002
Fried/breaded fish             Democrat                       <0.0007
Beer                                         Frequent smoking      <0.0013
Coffee                                      Cat ownership              <0.0016
Salt                                           Likes ISP                        <0.0014
Steak w fat trimmed          Atheism                          <0.0030
Bananas                                 Higher score
                                                   SAT verbal v math      <0.0073
Cabbage                                  Innie bellybutton         <0.0097

This spurious [and pretty damn funny] correlations table is from a smart, thoughtful article recently posted on FiveThirtyEightScience. It’s about why it is so very difficult to get trustworthy, consistent information about diet and nutrition.

Here’s the problem. Or rather, the problems:

There’s lack of consensus about what makes for a healthy diet. Yep, it’s that basic. There are raw foodists and calorie-restrictors, vegans and paleos, gluten-frees and dairy-frees, Mediterranean fans and Asian followers. There’s scientific evidence to support the health benefits of all these regimens. No one is making a case for a high-sugar, low-fiber, processed food diet, but the inclusion (or exclusion) of meat (yes beef, no beef? grass fed?), dairy (milk no, but yogurt yes?), various grains (demon wheat, angelic quinoa?), fruit (blueberries as panacea?), vegetables (kale kale kale…really?), coffee (no! yes!) all get big media attention, millions of adherents – and (confusingly) credible research backing.

That’s because scientific research on diet and nutrition is flawed. I’m not talking about the Beef people tweaking numbers or the Dairy lobby funding its own studies. I am talking about the underlying method used by top-notch researchers. Studies on the possible connection between certain foods or dietary regimens and health are retrospective. That is, researchers ask eaters to keep food diaries or fill out questionnaires about what and how much they eat after the fact. As anyone who has ever tried to keep a food diary can attest, this is not easy — unless you always eat at home and prepare your own food. Also, the farther back you have to remember, the less accurate you are (but a number of studies ask you to respond to “in the last month, how often have you eaten…”) It is also a well known phenomenon in the research that people like to report they eat healthier than they do.

The potential for flawed data continues when researchers ask a zillion other questions about the eater’s habits and lifestyle. The more data collected, the more possible it is to find correlations between responses that may in fact have no connection at all outside the realm of statistics. In fact, it’s ridiculously easy to link individual foods with reported behaviors or conditions. As  as a computational physiologist says in the article I urge you to read: These connections are nothing more than circular reasoning.  “You’re taking one type of subjective report and validating it with another form of subjective report.” And so we get corrections between use of table salt and one’s level of satisfaction with an internet provide. Or consumption of potato chills and SAT math scores. (So that’s why my math score was so low!)

Read the article. It’s funny and fascinating. And sobering.

January 20, 2016   3 Comments

Thanksgiving: The healthiest holiday of all

turkeyThanksgiving is – and has always been – my all-time favorite holiday.  And now I have another reason (actually 10 of them) to love this day.  And so do you.  Here are the Top Ten Reasons Thanksgiving is the Ultimate Anti-Aging Holiday:

10. Family gatherings where you spend time with people younger than you are helps you “think young,” which translates into real biological benefits like lower blood pressure.

9. Cleaning the house before the guests arrive is good exercise.  Integrating functional physical activity into your life is probably the single most successful long-term anti-aging strategy there is.

8. Cooking turkey is one of the least anxiety-producing culinary activities you can engage in and still call yourself a cook.  Lower anxiety is linked to longer telomeres.  Longer telomeres are linked to a healthier, longer life.

7. Eating your largest meal mid-day is a proven weight-control strategy.  Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of avoiding chronic illnesses (diabetes, heart disease) that decrease quality of life and shorten lifespan.

6. Turkey (breast) is a high-quality, super-lean source of protein.  Protein helps build muscle.  A favorable fat-to-lean ratio is a biomarker of youthfulness.

5.  Pine nuts or hazelnuts in the dressing (made with celery, mushrooms, tons of garlic and onions sautéed in olive oil, mixed with toasted multi-grain bread crumbs).  Oh yes! A study from researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School reported that people who regular consumed nuts were less likely to die from a variety of diseases, most significantly cancer, heart disease and respiratory diseases. Nut eaters also tended to be leaner.  (I am guessing their nut-eating did not include slabs of pecan pie… so cross that off your list for tomorrow’s dessert.)

4.  Cranberries have powerful anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory – and perhaps even anti-cancer – properties.

3. The Center for Science in the Public Interest rates sweet potatoes as the number one most nutritious vegetable.  One cup of sweet potatoes (no, not carpeted in brown sugar and dotted with marshmallows) contains 65% of RDA of Vitamin C – a powerful anti-oxidant — and a walloping dose of beta-carotene (which converts to vitamin A in the body) that equals 700% of RDA. Vitamin A is key for good vision and a healthy immune system.

2. Giving thanks and being thankful are signs of self-efficacy and optimism, traits that are associated with greater health and well-being, and a longer lifespan.

And the #1 reason Thanksgiving is the ultimate anti-aging holiday:

1. It’s a holiday that demands no gift-giving!  No gift-giving means less stress.  Less stress means less cortisol. Less cortisol means less inflammation. Chronic inflammation is linked to just about everything you don’t want to happen to you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

November 25, 2015   No Comments

‘Tis the season

blueberry selfieMy daughter Lizzie and I picked blueberries for two delightful hours yesterday morning, surely one of my favorite agricultural activities. ‘Tis the season to revel in fresh produce of all kinds, but blueberries have long been on the top of my list. I wanted to spread The Gospel of the Blueberry in this week’s post — and discovered that I wrote about going picking (and the health and anti-aging benefits of blueberries) almost exactly one year ago.  Here is that post. Read it — and then head to the nearest blueberry patch (if you are lucky enough to live near one, or have a garden of your own) or the grocery store. Unsprayed berries, of course.

(July 16, 2014)

My husband, daughter and I spent a few hours last Saturday picking blueberries in the cool of the morning, alternately intent on the task and zoning out to bird songs and soft breezes. Blueberry picking is a delightful activity. Quiet, contemplative, rewarding. Unlike strawberry picking, you get to stand up. Unlike blackberry picking you get to not bleed. And, of course, you get blueberries which, in my opinion, are the apex of deliciousness.

How wonderful, then, that they are also the apex of healthiness. Here are five reasons to enjoy blueberries – lots and lots of them – right now:

1. Blueberries protect against memory loss.
A 2012 study suggested that eating at least one serving of blueberries a week slowed cognitive decline by several years. These promising results came from work by Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School researchers which was published in the Annals of Neurology. (Read: high cred) It may be that blueberries protect the brain by clearing toxic proteins that accumulate there, which was the finding of a 2013 mouse study.

2. Blueberries are heart-friendly. Very friendly.
In repeated studies, blueberries (1-2 cups a day) have been found to lower total cholesterol, raise HDL (that’s the good one) and lower triglycerides. At the same time, blueberries have been shown to help protect LDL (the bad one) from damage that could lead to clogging of the arteries. Blueberries powerful antioxidant phytochemicals also help protect the cells lining the blood vessel walls. And the most recent research points to blueberries’ role in increasing the activity of an enzyme associated with better cardiovascular function. And then there’s blood pressure. In those with high blood pressure, blueberries have significantly reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressures. In those with health blood pressure, blueberries have been shown to help maintain these healthy pressures.

3. Blueberries provide antioxidant support throughout the body.
Blueberries’ phytochemicals don’t just work wonders within the cardiovascular system. They provide support for virtually every body system studied to date. That includes muscles, nerves and the digestive tract. In preliminary animal studies, one of the powerful antioxidants in blueberries (anthocyanins) helped protect the retina from oxidative damage.

4. Blueberries help with blood sugar regulation.
A recent study that included blueberries along with other low Glycemic Index fruits, found the combination to have a favorable impact on blood sugar regulation in those already diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Participants in the study who consumed at last 3 servings of low-GI fruits per day (including blueberries) saw significant improvement in their regulation of blood sugar over a three-month period of time.

5. Blueberries might have important anti-cancer benefits.
It’s too early to tell, but the studies done on human cells in the lab and on lab animals appear promising. So far breast cancer, colon cancer, esophageal cancer, and cancers of the small intestine have been studied. The hope is that blueberry consumption may lower the risk of these cancer types.

Unlike other foods that are packed with healthy benefits – like nuts, for example, or que lastima, chocolate — blueberries are not packed with calories. One cup has only 80-85 calories. That serving provides 30 percent of your vitamin K needs, 25 percent of manganese, 20 percent of vitamin C and a surprising 15 percent of daily fiber requirements. Such a deal.

And, new studies make it clear that we can freeze blueberries without doing damage to their delicate antioxidants. Which is a relief, as we picked about 35 quarts Saturday morning.

July 8, 2015   No Comments