Freeze your veggies and fruits for nutritious produce all winter
Frozen food jokes: “You know what I do when I get scared by frozen food? Ice cream!” And … “I made the mistake of biting into some half-frozen food. Then I realized doing that wasn’t very well thawed out.”
Amusing, but freezing veggies and fruit is no joke. It’s smart. Vegetables lose 15 percent to 77 percent of their vitamin C within a week of harvest, according to a paper in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Fruits lose their C too. A wide range of other important nutrients also disappear from most produce somewhere between being picked, shipped, distributed, put on grocery store shelves and kept in your fridge.
In contrast, studies show that most well-frozen fruit and vegetables have little change in nutrient content. Even fresh spinach loses only 30 percent of its vitamin C after 12 months if it’s frozen to -4 F. This time of year you may find local (that’s key) corn, beets, cauliflower, beans, Brussels sprouts, turnips, celeriac, spinach, Jerusalem artichokes and pumpkin, as well as persimmons, cranberries, chestnuts, apples, blackberries, pears, plums and grapes.
How-to: Wash and dry whole berries or fruit slices and spread on a sheet pan so they are not touching. Put them in the freezer until hard. For veggies like beans or broccoli, wash, trim and blanch in boiling water, dry with paper towels and chill in the fridge. Then put fruit and vegetables in plastic bags; extract all air and seal tightly to avoid freezer burn. (Try the straw technique explained at thekitchn.com; search for “Hacks for Vacuum-Sealing.”) Enjoy all winter.
Something’s fishy … and that’s good
Did you know that you could eat sardines every day for several months and never have to open the same — often artistically designed — tin twice? There is even a subculture of sardine enthusiasts who collect various tins and then blog about them (check out http://mouth-full-of-sardines.blogspot.com/). But sardines’ virtues extend beyond their coveted taste and packaging.
A recent in-depth review of 40 clinical trials with more than 135,000 participants shows just how smart it is to eat foods like sardines that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). The study, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found that EPA and DHA supplementation, with an average daily dose of 1,220 mg, reduced the risk of fatal heart attacks by 35 percent and coronary-heart-disease-associated deaths by 9 percent. Supplementation also reduced the overall incidence of heart attacks by 13 percent and heart disease by 10 percent.
Other studies have found these two omega-3s also lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration and certain cancers.
As with every nutrient, the best source for EPAs and DHAs is food. Fatty fish such as salmon, anchovies and sardines are loaded with ’em. Sardines deliver 2,000 mg in each 3-ounce serving. But even if you’re incorporating these foods into your diet, you probably aren’t getting enough of these omega-3s. So, ask your doctor if a supplement of fish or algal oil (900 mg at least) is right for you, especially if you’re at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
Singing the praises of coffee
Around 1732, German composer Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a musical piece called “The Coffee Cantata” in honor of the buzzy beverage: “Ah! how sweet coffee tastes! Lovelier than a thousand kisses, smoother than muscatel wine. Coffee, I must have coffee and if anyone wants to give me a treat, ah! Just give me some coffee!”
Despite his passion for java, Bach couldn’t have known what recent research has revealed about this beautiful bean. It’s a potent source of polyphenols that stimulate increases in intracellular antioxidants that fight off inflammation and potentially fatal chronic diseases. Coffee consumption has also been linked to lowering the risk of Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and cancer of the head, neck, mouth, prostate, endometrium and liver. And now a new study, published in JAMA Oncology, finds that regular coffee consumption may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer progression and death in folks with advanced forms of that disease.
The study involved 1,171 patients with advanced and metastatic colorectal cancer and found those who consumed two to three cups daily had a better survival outcome than those who didn’t drink coffee. While more research is needed to understand why this beneficial association happens, it’s clear you can enjoy coffee if you have a history of colon cancer.
Remember, drinking coffee won’t undo the damage you do to yourself with unhealthy food and drink choices. But if you have a healthful diet, the research does show you can emulate Bach’s enthusiasm for a cuppa Joe and get many benefits.
Sleep is brain food
Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer says when she sleepwalks she heads for the fridge, and actress Anna Kendrick admits she once used her phone to make a cinematic masterpiece of a salad she put together while sleep-eating. Sleep-related eating disorders may demonstrate how closely rest and refreshments are linked, but they’re not what researchers are talking about in a study that shows “sleep is as important as food.” That’s according to the study’s senior author, who led a team that uncovered why we sleep and how it nurtures brain health.
This research, published in Science Advances, found that up to age 2 1/2, the brain is using the REM sleep stage to build new neuron connections. After that, the brain shifts from mostly REM sleep to non-REM sleep and, although some new neural connections can be made throughout life, the brain work that goes on nightly is focused on repairing damage and taking out the trash. Without that happening, you set yourself up for a range of neurological diseases, diabetes and obesity.
The repair work can’t go on without good quality sleep: seven to eight hours nightly, in a dark, cool, quiet room with no digital devices. If that eludes you, upgrade your food choices (no added sugar or too many saturated fats) and manage your tension. Use a self-massager, get a shoulder rub from your partner or meditate for 10 minutes before bedtime.
A new study in Scientific Reports says such short-term treatments can effectively reduce psychological and physiological stress. Then sleep can follow — and your brain can start housekeeping.
Why taking smart pills might be dumb — and dangerous
In 2017, Consumer Reports wrote about a company that made up fake testimonials from Stephen Hawking and Denzel Washington and photo-edited fake covers of National Geographic and Time to tout a brain-boosting product’s virtues. Unfortunately, such wild pitches for unproven brain supplements have not gone away.
A new study published online in Neurology Clinical Practice reveals that mental focus and memory-boosting supplements available in shops and online may contain unapproved pharmaceutical drugs in potentially dangerous combinations and doses.
Five non-approved drugs, sometimes identified on the labels as “nootropics,” “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers,” as well as drugs that were not mentioned on the labels were found in the supplements tested. And say the researchers, “We found doses of unapproved drugs that were as much as four times higher than what would be considered a typical dose.”
Our advice: If you want to boost your cognitive powers, use these well-researched, safe techniques.
1. Eat a Mediterranean diet and get a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids.
2. Aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise at least five days a week. It promotes the release of a hormone that protects you from Alzheimer’s, can ease symptoms of cognitive impairment and, according to the Cleveland Clinic, “may increase the thickness of the cerebral cortex, improve the integrity of white matter [and] your brain’s ability to form new neural connections.”
3. Respect sleep. Get seven to eight hours nightly.
4. Play speed-of-processing games that promote brain agility.
5. Manage your stress response with meditation, exercise and, perhaps, talk therapy.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.