Nutrition for Bone Health

Calcium
When you think bone health, what is the first nutrient you think of? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you said Calcium! Yep, calcium is crucial for bone health. It is the key component of hydroxyapatite, which makes of the mineral matrix that keeps you teeth and bones sturdy and strong. Our bones are also constantly breaking down and building up – and in order to properly build, they need adequate amounts of calcium. This “adequate amount” ranges from 1,000mg- 1,300mg per day depending on age and gender and mainly comes from dairy products, almonds, leafy greens, tofu, beans, lentils, and some fish fish.

Vitamin D
Now, while calcium is the key component in bone, it pretty much is no good without its partner in crime, vitamin D. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption, so no matter how much calcium you eat (or drink), your body isn’t absorbing much of it if you lack vitamin D. Vitamin also helps in that bone remodeling (breakdown and building) process I mentioned.

Vitamin D has become a pretty hot nutrition topic recently. In fact, vitamin D deficiency is on the verge of becoming a global public health issue. Why? Well, if you are reading this post right now, you are likely sitting inside staring at a computer or phone screen as opposed to soaking up the sun’s UV rays. Our primary source of vitamin D comes from the sun so the decreased time spend outdoors and the increased use of sunscreen that have been seen around the globe are causing vitamin D deficiency rates shoot through the roof!

There are a few food sources of vitamin D, including fortified dairy products, some fatty fish, and mushrooms, but these can’t really provide enough to meet our need of 600-800 IU per day (and most people need up to 2,000 IU per day if they are deficient).

Exercise
The final key player in bone health isn’t a nutrient; it is exercise!- specifically weight-baring exercise. Simply carrying the weight of your skeleton in activities like walking, running, jumping, and stair climbing all help in that formation of strong bones. Not to mention, exercise improves strength and balance, which can help decrease risk of falls and broken bones.

Other Nutrients
In addition to these top three, researches have also found that low vitamin C and vitamin K levels also put people at risk of poor bone mineralization. On the other hand, people who had diets high in fruits and vegetables were found to have stronger bones… just one of the millions of reasons to eat more fruits and veggies!

Controversy
A few studies have found that high calcium intake, greater than the recommended daily intake doesn’t provide any additional benefit when it comes to bone mineral density. There have also been associations between high calcium intake (especially from supplements) and heart disease risk. Moral of the story- more calcium isn’t always better.

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Micros and Macros

In this post, I thought I would take it back to some basics: micronutrients (the little guys) and macronutrients (the big guys).

Micronutrients

Micronutrients are all your vitamins and minerals, like iron, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin E – just to name a few. They are called micronutrients because you only need a little bit of them each day. Your fruits and vegetables are packed with tons of these, but they are also in lots of other foods.

Micronutrients are responsible for things like eye sight, bone health, thyroid function, blood pressure, and many, many more.

Right now, on the nutrition fact labels you will always see vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. That is because back in 1990’s when the label was designed, those were the nutrients that people often did not get enough of. Now, you may know that there is a new nutrition fact panel coming out, which will be mandatory for manufacturers to use by 2021. On this label you will see vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium since these are the micronutrients that most people are low on now.

Macronutrients

Macronutrients are your carbs (including sugar and fiber), proteins, and fats. They are called macronutrients because – you guessed it – you need large amounts of them each day. Protein rich foods include fish, animal meats, and soy products (like tofu and tempeh). Fats come from foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, oils, and butter. Carbs come from grains (quinoa, bulgur, rye, rice, wheat) and foods made from grains like bread and pasta, corn, peas, and fruits. There are also lots of “combination foods” like beans, eggs, and cheese that provide a good mix of 2 or 3 of these macronutrients.

Macronutrients are our main sources of energy, growth, and building blocks for muscles.

Why does this matter?

Micro and macronutrients are both crucial for survival. We can’t live healthfully if any single one within these two groups is missing. I wanted to talk about this because many food products market themselves as “healthy” because they have extra whole grain or protein. For example, I love Kodiak Cake pancakes, which are “protein packed” and made with 100% whole grains. While it is great to have a little extra protein and whole grains these pancakes don’t have many micronutrients. Now think about broccoli and carrots – super healthy right? Yes, they may be packed full of micronutrients but they have very few macronutrients.

See – that’s why variety is important and eating only vegetables all day isn’t really a good thing. There is no single food that can provide all the nutrients we need. Mix things up, try new foods, and maximize your nutrient intake!

The Westside Market

IMG_9990Ever since my freshman year of undergrad, making a trip to the Westside market in Ohio City, Cleveland (a big market where you can find everything from fruits and vegetables to honey, meat, cheese, and bread) has always been an exciting adventure. A few times every year, my friends and I would wake up early on a Saturday morning and head over to the market to indulge in some fresh fruit that we could never find in the dining halls. Strangely enough, I have now lived just a 5-minute drive from the market for the past 2 months and haven’t had a chance to go yet.

Saturday morning I decided to change that. Last week in class we had a discussion about different cultural fruits and vegetables, which got me wanting to eat some exotic fruits that I wouldn’t buy on a regular basis. So, Saturday morning my alarm went off at 6:30am (yes, I love fruits and veggies that much) and headed to the market before it got too crowded and overwhelming.

I gave myself a $20 limit otherwise my entire paycheck could have quickly disappeared. With my 20, I got 2 mangos, 2 spaghetti squashes, strawberries, blackberries, bananas, a pomegranate, and a carton of eggs (and I had some change to spare). Not bad if you ask me.

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I found that not only is it a bit cheaper to get produce at the market, but it is also so much more exciting. Seeing all the bright colored fruits and vegetables lined up makes you want to buy all of them! So if you are having trouble motivating to buy (or eat) your fruits and veggies, maybe going to a farmers market can help. It creates a change of pace and scenery that can make you more excited about eating those fruits and veggies.

If farmers markets aren’t your thing, try going to a different grocery store than usual. We often get stuck in a routine of going to the same store, walking through it in the same direction, and buying the same products, but going to new places and seeing foods presented in different ways can change the way you think about them…hopefully for the better! Even if its not fruits and vegetables, changing up anything in your diet provides variety meaning different vitamins and minerals you maybe weren’t getting before. Win!

Peruvian Cuisine

After an amazing and adventurous 10 days in Peru, I am home and back to reality. Since food is always the topic of conversation here, I thought I would share some of my experience and thoughts on Peruvian foods I had while in Peru. Here are a few highlights:

  • Quinoa or Kiwicha (amaranth) is very popular and is in many traditional dishes. They even use quinoa to make risotto calling it quinotto. Peruvians also refer to Kiwicha as quinoa with a lot more nutrients. It is used to make oatmeal, muffins, and bread or added to yogurt or cereal.
  • Corn and potatoes are major crops in peru, each being grown in hundreds of different varieties. Lots of candies, chips, and snacks are made of corn or corn flavored. At least one of the two comes with almost any entrée you find on a restaurant menu.
  • Rice is another common grain that comes with many meals. My favorite dish was arroz tapado, which is rice with ground beef cooked in a dressing, with hardboiled or fried eggs.

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    Alpaca for dinner

  • As for animals, alpaca can be found on many menus (which I tried once! – it is a mix between lamb and beef. It was a bit tough but had good flavor) along with beef, pork, and chicken. Guinea pig is a delicacy that can be found at some fancier restaurants (and is typically only eaten by Peruvians on special occasions).
  • Fish, especially trout, is on almost every menu due to the long Pacific coast and wildlife in the Amazon River. Other seafood, including octopus, shrimp and oysters, are also common specifically in Ceviche

Aside from these main foods and dishes I found throughout Peru, I also got the chance to visit a farm in the rainforest and eat some fruits that grow there. Some include:

  • Mandarins and oranges

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    Our guide peeling a lime for us to try.

  • Limes- which weren’t really sour
  • Cocoa- The beans of the cacao used to make chocolate come in a big pod. Surrounding each bean is a jelly-like coating that you can eat, which is actually really fruity tasting.
  • Grapefruit
  • Cedro- A fruit similar to lemons, which is very high in vitamin C and used by the locals to stop itching.
  • Mocambo- Imagine the taste of a cantaloupe in the shape/texture of a banana–I didn’t enjoy it.
  • Camu camu is another popular fruit, which is known for its high vitamin C content. I didn’t get to try the fresh fruit, but I did try camu camu juice. It wasn’t bad but didn’t have tons of flavor.

While we visited the Amazonian farm, our guide taught us a lot about how various fruits, leaves, and plants were used by the Amazonian people to cure everything from itches and stomach aches to ulcers, cancer, and conjunctivitis.

Finally, because we all know how much I love grocery shopping, I had to spend some time roaming the aisles of Peruvian grocery stores. Most of the grocery stores are much smaller than the ones in the U.S., but they have quite a variety of products. I found Ritz crackers and Oreos but also many of the traditional foods I mentioned like kiwicha, corn, and quinoa.

While the grocery stores did have some meat and produce, I learned that most Peruvians get those types of food on a daily basis at local markets. I visited the San Pedro market in Cusco where hundreds of local farmers, butchers, and vendors were selling cuts of meat, fresh fruits and veggies, nuts and seeds, cheeses, and some grains.

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Slices of fresh watermelon and pineapple on the street

Personally, as someone who loves grocery shopping and cooking, I love the idea of getting fresh food at a market everyday. I wish I had had a place to cook while I was there because I would have had a field day buying all the fresh food.

Overall, it was an exhausting but amazing, memorable, and delicious trip, but I am glad to be home and back to cooking in the kitchen (instead of eating every single meal at a restaurant).

Dana

Trying New Foods

I love exploring and trying new things, especially when it comes to food. In some of my other posts I have talked about how I love going to the grocery store—it is so exciting for to see what new products I can find and new foods I can try. Going to restaurants is always a struggle because I always want to try everything on the menu.

When it comes to nutrition, trying new things is a good habit to have. Why? Here are some reasons:

  1. Adding variety increases the types of nutrients you get. Eating the same 5 fruits and vegetables isn’t bad, but it also means that you are missing out on the nutrients you can get from other kinds of fruits and veggies. Try eating a variety of different colors- different color fruits and veggies provide different types of vitamins and minerals. This goes for whole grains and low-fat dairy products as well.
  2. You might eventually learn to like something. We have all heard that you have to try a food 8-12 times before you know if you really dislike it. That’s because our natural instinct is to dislike unfamiliar foods. Our first impression is often wrong so try something at least a few times before you give it an official ruling.
  3. You might find something you didn’t know you liked. What do you have to lose? If you never try you will never know if you like it!
  4. For the world travelers like me, it makes traveling is easier. The more foods you like and the more you are willing to try, the easier it is to find things to eat in foreign countries. Plus you get to experience the local food culture instead of relying on a suitcase full of protein bars. (When I studied abroad, one of my friends was very picky so finding a place to eat was a big challenge and often took several hours of research.)
  5. It sets a good example for kids. If you spend any time around kids, you know that they want to follow your every move. If they see you eating all different kinds of foods, they are more likely to do the same.

If trying new foods is not your thing, start small. Instead of trying completely new foods, try preparing some of your favorites with new seasonings or toppings. Buying one new vegetable per week and adding it to your dinner is also a small, realistic step to expanding your palate.

While I am really good at spending hours in the grocery store finding new types of nut butter, fancy snack bars, and unique fruits and vegetables I have gotten pretty lazy about trying new recipes. So, my goal for the rest of the semester is to print off two new recipes to try each week. Hopefully I’ll make some yummy, new things to share with you!

What is your goal for trying new foods?