Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.
Some even encourage vegans to avoid all supplements.
Despite being well intended, this type of advice can do more harm than good.
Here are 7 nutrients that you may need to supplement with while on a vegan diet.
1. Vitamin B12
Foods often touted to be rich in vitamin B12 include unwashed organic produce, mushrooms grown in B12-rich soils, nori, spirulina, chlorella, and nutritional yeast.
Some believe vegans who eat enough of the right plant foods don't need to worry about vitamin B12 deficiency. However, there is no scientific basis for this belief.
Several studies show that while anyone can have low vitamin B12 levels, vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of deficiency. This seems especially true for vegans who are not taking any supplements (1Trusted Source, 2Trusted Source, 3Trusted Source).
Vitamin B12 is important for many bodily processes, including protein metabolism and the formation of oxygen-transporting red blood cells. It also plays a crucial role in the health of your nervous system (4Trusted Source).
The daily recommended intake is 2.4 mcg per day for adults, 2.6 mcg per day during pregnancy, and 2.8 mcg per day while breastfeeding.
The only scientifically proven way for vegans to reach these levels is by consuming B12-fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement. B12-fortified foods commonly include plant milks, soy products, breakfast cereals, and nutritional yeast.
Some plant foods seem to contain a form of vitamin B12 naturally, but there's still debate on whether this form is active in humans (7Trusted Source, 8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source, 11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source, 13Trusted Source).
What's more, no scientific evidence supports depending on unwashed organic produce as a reliable source of vitamin B12.
It's important to keep in mind that vitamin B12 is best absorbed in small doses. Thus, the less frequently you ingest vitamin B12, the more you need to take.
One common concern about vegan diets is whether they provide your body with all the vitamins and minerals it needs.
Many claim that a whole-food, plant-based diet easily meets all the daily nutrient requirements.
It's extremely important that all vegans get enough vitamin B12. The only reliable way to achieve this is by eating fortified foods or taking a vitamin B12 supplement.
2. Vitamin D
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for vitamin D for children and adults is 600 IU (15 mcg) per day. The elderly, as well as pregnant or lactating women, should aim for 800 IU (20 mcg) per day (22).
That said, some evidence suggests that your daily requirements are far greater than the current RDA (23Trusted Source).
Unfortunately, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D, and foods fortified with vitamin D are often considered insufficient to satisfy the daily requirements.
Aside from the small amount you get from your diet, vitamin D can be made from sun exposure. Most people likely make enough vitamin D by spending 15 minutes in the midday sun when the sun is strong — as long as they don't use any sunscreen and expose most of their skin.
However, the elderly, people with darker skin, those who live in northern latitudes or colder climates, and those who spend little time outdoors may be unable to produce enough (25Trusted Source, 26Trusted Source, 27Trusted Source).
Furthermore, because of the known negative effects of excess UV radiation, many dermatologists warn against using sun exposure to boost vitamin D levels (28Trusted Source).
The best way vegans can ensure they're getting enough vitamin D is to have their blood levels tested. Those unable to get enough from fortified foods and sunshine should consider taking a daily vitamin D2 or vegan vitamin D3 supplement.
Vitamin D deficiency is a problem among vegans and omnivores alike. Vegans unable to maintain normal blood levels through fortified foods and sun exposure should consider taking a supplement.
3. Long-Chain Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids can be split into two categories:
- Essential omega-3 fatty acids: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the only essential omega-3 fatty acid, meaning you can only get it from your diet.
- Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids: This category includes eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are not considered essential because your body can make them from ALA.
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids play a structural role in your brain and eyes. Adequate dietary levels also seem important for brain development and reducing the risk of inflammation, depression, breast cancer, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (31Trusted Source, 32Trusted Source, 33Trusted Source, 34Trusted Source, 35Trusted Source, 36Trusted Source).
Plants with a high ALA content include flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and soybeans. EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal products like fatty fish and fish oil.
Getting enough ALA should theoretically maintain adequate EPA and DHA levels. However, studies estimate that the conversion of ALA to EPA may be as low as 5–10%, while its conversion to DHA may be near 2–5% (37Trusted Source, 38Trusted Source).
Additionally, research consistently shows that vegetarians and vegans have up to 50% lower blood and tissue concentrations of EPA and DHA than omnivores (39Trusted Source).
Most health professionals agree that 200–300 mg per day should be sufficient (39Trusted Source).
Vegans can reach this recommended intake by supplementing with algae oil.
What's more, minimizing your intake of omega-6 fatty acids from oils, including corn, safflower, sunflower, and sesame oils, as well as making sure to eat enough ALA-rich foods, may further help maximize EPA and DHA levels (40Trusted Source).
Vegans tend to have lower blood and tissue levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, they may benefit from supplementing with EPA and DHA.
Getting enough iodine is crucial for healthy thyroid function, which controls your metabolism.
In adults, insufficient iodine intake can lead to hypothyroidism.
This can cause various symptoms, such as low energy levels, dry skin, tingling in your hands and feet, forgetfulness, depression, and weight gain (41Trusted Source).
The RDA for adults is 150 mcg of iodine per day. Pregnant women should aim for 220 mcg per day, while those who are breastfeeding are recommended to further increase their daily intake to 290 mcg per day (44).
Iodine levels in plant foods depend on the iodine content of the soil in which they were grown. For instance, food grown close to the ocean tends to be higher in iodine.
The only foods considered to have consistently high iodine levels are iodized salt, seafood, seaweed, and dairy products, which pick up iodine from solutions used to clean cows and farm equipment.
Half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of iodized salt is sufficient to meet your daily needs.
Vegans who do not want to consume iodized salt or eat seaweed several times per week should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Iodine plays an important role in your thyroid function and metabolism. Vegans not getting enough iodine from seaweed or iodized salt should consider taking an iodine supplement.
Iron is a nutrient used to make new DNA and red blood cells, as well as carry oxygen in the blood. It's also needed for energy metabolism (45Trusted Source).
Too little iron can lead to anemia and symptoms like fatigue and decreased immune function.
The RDA is 8 mg for adult men and post-menopausal women. It increases to 18 mg per day for adult women, and pregnant women should aim for 27 mg per day (46).
Iron can be found in two forms: heme and non-heme. Heme iron is only available from animal products, whereas non-heme iron is found in plants (45Trusted Source).
Because heme iron is more easily absorbed from your diet than non-heme iron, vegans are often recommended to aim for 1.8 times the normal RDA. That said, more studies are needed to establish whether such high intakes are needed (47Trusted Source).
Vegans with a low iron intake should aim to eat more iron-rich foods, such as cruciferous vegetables, beans, peas, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds. Iron-fortified foods, such as cereals, enriched breads, and some plant milks, can further help (24Trusted Source, 48Trusted Source).
Also, using cast-iron pots and pans to cook, avoiding tea or coffee with meals, and combining iron-rich foods with a source of vitamin C can help boost iron absorption.
The best way to determine whether supplements are necessary is to get your hemoglobin and ferritin levels checked by your health practitioner.
Extremely high levels can even cause convulsions, lead to organ failure or coma, and be fatal in some cases. Thus, it's best not to supplement unless it's truly necessary (50Trusted Source).
Vegans not getting enough iron from their diets should consider fortified foods or a supplement. However, overly high levels can be harmful, and iron supplements are not recommended for everyone.
Calcium is a mineral that's necessary for good bone and teeth health. It also plays a role in muscle function, nerve signaling, and heart health.
The RDA for calcium is set at 1,000 mg per day for most adults and increases to 1,200 mg per day for adults over the age of 50 (51).
Plant sources of calcium include bok choy, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, watercress, broccoli, chickpeas, calcium-set tofu, and fortified plant milks or juices.
An often-heard remark among the vegan community is that vegans have lower calcium needs than omnivores because they do not use this mineral to neutralize the acidity produced by a meat-rich diet.
More research is needed to evaluate how meatless diets affect daily calcium requirements. However, evidence suggests that vegans consuming less than 525 mg of calcium tend to have an increased risk of bone fractures (53Trusted Source).
For this reason, all vegans are encouraged to aim for the RDA, making sure they consume at least 525 mg of calcium per day. Supplements should be used if this can't be achieved through diet or fortified foods alone.
Vegans consuming too little dietary calcium should consider taking a daily supplement. This is especially important for those getting less than 525 mg per day.
Zinc is a mineral that's crucial for metabolism, immune function, and the repair of body cells.
An insufficient intake of zinc can lead to developmental problems, hair loss, diarrhea, and delayed wound healing.
The RDA for zinc is currently set at 8–11 mg per day for adults. It increases to 11–12 mg for pregnant women and 12–13 mg for lactating women (54).
Few plant foods contain high amounts of zinc. Moreover, zinc absorption from some plant foods is limited due to their phytate content. Thus, vegetarians are encouraged to aim for 1.5 times the RDA (54).
While not all vegans have low blood levels of zinc, a recent review of 26 studies showed that vegetarians — and especially vegans — have lower zinc intakes and slightly lower blood levels of zinc than omnivores (55Trusted Source).
To maximize your intake, eat a variety of zinc-rich foods throughout the day. These include whole grains, wheat germ, tofu, sprouted breads, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
Vegans concerned about their zinc intake or those with symptoms of a deficiency may consider taking a daily zinc gluconate or zinc citrate supplement that provides 50–100% of the RDA.
Vegans unable to reach the zinc RDA should first focus on adding zinc-rich foods to their diets. Those with low blood levels of zinc should consider taking a daily supplement.
The bottom line
Well-planned vegan diets can fulfill your nutritional needs.
That said, certain nutrient requirements may be difficult to achieve through diet and fortified foods alone.
This is especially true for vitamin B12, vitamin D, and long-chain omega-3s.
All vegans who are unable to meet their dietary recommendations through diet alone should consider taking supplements. Still, it's best to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning a new supplement regime.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
By Freydis Hjalmarsdottir, MS
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that have numerous health benefits.
However, not all omega-3s are created equal. Among 11 types, the 3 most important are ALA, EPA, and DHA.
ALA is mostly found in plants, while EPA and DHA are mostly found in animal foods like fatty fish.
This article takes a detailed look at the 3 most important types of omega-3s.
What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They're deemed essential fatty acids because they're necessary for health but cannot be made by your body.
Thus, you must get them from your diet.
Rather than being stored and used for energy, they play important roles in many bodily processes, including inflammation, heart health, and brain function.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of polyunsaturated fats that you must get from your diet. They have numerous health benefits.
1. ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is the most common omega-3 fatty acid in your diet.
It's mostly found in plant foods and needs to be converted into EPA or DHA before it can be utilized by your body for something other than energy.
However, this conversion process is inefficient in humans. Only a small percentage of ALA is converted into EPA — and even less into DHA (3Trusted Source, 4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source).
When ALA is not converted to EPA or DHA, it is simply stored or used as energy like other fats.
Some observational studies link a diet rich in ALA to a reduced risk of death from heart disease, while others show an increased risk of prostate cancer (7Trusted Source).
This increase in prostate cancer risk was not associated with the other main omega-3 types, EPA and DHA, which seem to protect against this cancer (8Trusted Source).
Some seed oils, such as flaxseed and rapeseed (canola) oil, are also high in ALA.
ALA is mostly found in plant foods. Your body can convert it into EPA or DHA, though this process is highly inefficient.
2. EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid)
Your body uses eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) to produce signaling molecules called eicosanoids, which play numerous physiological roles and reduce inflammation (9Trusted Source).
Chronic, low-level inflammation is known to drive several common diseases (10Trusted Source).
Various studies indicate that fish oil, which is high in EPA and DHA, may reduce symptoms of depression. Some evidence suggests that EPA is superior to DHA in this regard (11Trusted Source, 12Trusted Source).
One study in menopausal women noted that EPA reduced their number of hot flashes (13Trusted Source).
Both EPA and DHA are mostly found in seafood, including fatty fish and algae. For this reason, they are often called marine omega-3s.
EPA concentrations are highest in herring, salmon, eel, shrimp, and sturgeon. Grass-fed animal products, such as dairy and meats, also contain some EPA.
EPA is an omega-3 fatty acid that can reduce symptoms of depression and help fight inflammation in your body.
3. DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an important structural component of your skin and the retinas in your eyes (14).
Fortifying baby formula with DHA leads to improved vision in infants (15Trusted Source).
DHA is vital for brain development and function in childhood, as well as brain function in adults.
Early-life DHA deficiency is associated with problems later on, such as learning disabilities, ADHD, and aggressive hostility (16Trusted Source).
A decrease in DHA in later life is also linked to impaired brain function and the onset of Alzheimer's disease (17Trusted Source).
As mentioned above, DHA is found in high amounts in seafood, including fatty fish and algae. Grass-fed animal products also contain some DHA.
DHA is very important for brain development and may protect against heart disease, cancer, and other health problems.
ALA, the most common omega-3 fat, is not biologically active until it's converted into EPA or DHA, which are essential for your body (3Trusted Source).
However, this conversion process is inefficient in humans. On average, only 1–10% of ALA is converted into EPA and 0.5–5% into DHA (4Trusted Source, 5Trusted Source, 6Trusted Source, 22Trusted Source).
Furthermore, the conversion rate depends on adequate levels of other nutrients, such as copper, calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B6 and B7. The modern diet, especially vegetarianism, lacks some of these (23Trusted Source).
In addition, some omega-6 fatty acids compete for the same enzymes needed for this process. Therefore, the high amount of omega-6 in the modern diet may reduce the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA (5Trusted Source, 24Trusted Source).
Other than being used for energy, ALA is not biologically active in your body. It needs to be turned into EPA and/or DHA to become active, but this conversion process is inefficient in humans.
8 Other Omega-3 Fatty Acids
ALA, EPA, and DHA are the most abundant omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
However, at least eight other omega-3 fatty acids have been discovered:
- hexadecatrienoic acid (HTA)
- stearidonic acid (SDA)
- eicosatrienoic acid (ETE)
- eicosatetraenoic acid (ETA)
- heneicosapentaenoic acid (HPA)
- docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)
- tetracosapentaenoic acid
- tetracosahexaenoic acid
These fatty acids occur in some foods but are not considered essential. Yet, some of them do have biological effects.
At least eight other omega-3 fatty acids have been discovered. They're found in some foods and may have biological effects.
Which Omega-3 Fatty Acid is Best?
The most important omega-3s are EPA and DHA.
They're mainly found in seafood, including fatty fish and algae, meat and dairy from grass-fed animals, and omega-3-enriched or pastured eggs.
If you don't eat a lot of these foods, you may want to consider supplements.
EPA and DHA are generally considered the most important omega-3 fatty acids.
The Bottom Line
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to maintain good health.
The most important types are EPA and DHA, which are abundant in fish oil, fatty fish, and many other seafoods. Algal oil is a good option for vegetarians and vegans.
Notably, EPA and DHA can also be formed from ALA, which exists in certain high-fat plant foods, such as flax seeds, flaxseed oil, walnuts, and chia seeds.
If you are eating inadequate amounts of omega-3-rich foods, supplements are generally recommended. You can easily buy them in stores or online.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
Medically reviewed by Anna H. Chacon, M.D.
From eating foods for healthy skin to switching up your morning and routines, taking care of the largest organ in the body can get overwhelming. Recently, vitamin C has grown in popularity in the skincare world — but do the best vitamin C serums live up to the hype?
Vitamin C is not only an essential supplement for your immune system and overall health, but it's also a great skincare ingredient that can help limit inflammation, brighten skin, dull fine lines and wrinkles, fight free radicals, and reduce discoloration and dark spots.
Adding vitamin C to your skincare routine seems like a no-brainer, but before you start shopping for a serum, it's important to be aware that vitamin C is an unstable ingredient. Dermatologists say it's important to find legit and properly formulated vitamin C serums to capitalize on the benefits of the antioxidant. In this article, we'll help you find the right dermatologist-approved vitamin C serum to add to your routine.
Our Picks for the Best Vitamin C Serums of 2021
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
- Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
- Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
- Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
- Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
- Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Skincare Benefits of Vitamin C
Also known as ascorbic acid or L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C is an antioxidant that is present in the formation of collagen and that protects against aging, according to Dr. Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist with MyPsoriasisTeam. A vitamin C serum may be a solid addition to your skincare routine because it has a great safety profile, and it's safe for most skin types.
"Vitamin C serum restores and neutralizes environmental stressors that accelerate signs of aging and can be used morning and evening," Dr. Chacon says. However, she warns, "it does not come with sun protection, so additional use of sunscreen is recommended."
As an antioxidant, vitamin C protects skin cells from being damaged by free radicals from things like UV exposure, vehicle exhaust and cigarette smoke. It also hampers melanin production, which can help to lighten hyperpigmentation and brown spots and even out your skin tone.
6 Best Vitamin C Serums
Based on dermatologist recommendations and our market research, the following products are the best vitamin C serums available today.
Best Overall: ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating
Our overall recommendation for the best vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. The product contains 10% vitamin C, which has anti-aging properties and minimizes the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots by promoting collagen production. "I have this in my bathroom," Dr. Chacon says. "It is gentle and non-irritating, and it leaves your skin radiant afterward."
Customer Rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with under 100 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Along with L-ascorbic acid, this serum includes ingredients like Coenzyme Q10 for multi-layer antioxidant protection and plant-derived squalane for added hydration. ZO Skin Health's products are all cruelty-free.
Best for Sensitive Skin: Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum
Made with plant- and vitamin-derived antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E, peptides and CoQ10, Paula's Choice RESIST Super Antioxidant Concentrate Serum will help rejuvenate your skin. The formula fights dullness, enhances firmness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles.
Customer Rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with about 300 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This product is paraben-free, fragrance-free and cruelty-free, as it's not tested on animals. The container is 100% recyclable through TerraCycle, and it's formulated and manufactured in the U.S.
Best Budget-Friendly Serum: CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid
CeraVe Vitamin C Serum with Hyaluronic Acid offers high value at a reasonable price. It is a hydrating vitamin C serum that's fragrance-free, paraben-free, non-comedogenic and budget-friendly to boot. The formula uses 10% pure vitamin C to prevent free radical damage as well as soothing vitamin B5 and hyaluronic acid to make the skin look smooth and create a moisture barrier for your skin.
Customer Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars with over 20,000 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: Chacon calls CeraVe "a trusted, dermatologist-oriented brand" that comes at drugstore prices, so it's a great choice if you want to try out a budget-friendly vitamin C serum.
Best Cruelty-Free Serum: Timeless Skin Care 20% Vitamin C Plus E Ferulic Acid Serum
Timeless Skin Care's vitamin C serum promotes healthy cell turnover to help minimize the effects of hyperpigmentation and even out your skin tone. According to Dr. Chacon, "vitamin C, E and ferulic acid are all key ingredients that help to brighten skin, building up collagen and evening out tone." This product's formula is non-greasy and lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and clearly into the skin.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 1,700 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The Timeless Skin Care formula is paraben-free, synthetic dye-free, fragrance-free and polyethylene glycol-free. The company doesn't test on animals, and the product is made in the U.S. from natural ingredients. It's also part of the TerraCycle recycling program.
Best Anti-Aging Serum: SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment
Using dermatologist-approved ingredients, SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is lightweight and helps to firm, smooth, and brighten the skin for a more youthful look. The formula utilizes 15% pure vitamin C as well as vitamin E and ferulic acid to protect against environmental damage from things like sunlight, ozone pollution and diesel engine exhaust. Plus, it helps firm the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines.
Customer Rating: 4.1 out of 5 stars with over 200 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: The SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic Combination Antioxidant Treatment is one of the best vitamin C serums for anti-aging purposes. It has an oil-like formulation that goes on smoothly and works effectively without clogging pores.
Best Brightening Serum: The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% is a topical form of vitamin C that's rich in antioxidants to target aging and brighten the skin. It uses a high concentration of L-ascorbic acid as well as hyaluronic acid spheres for skin hydration. The brightening serum helps enhance skin smoothness and radiance without being too harsh. However, to test skin sensitivity, it is always recommended to perform a patch test before a full application.
Customer Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars with over 4,500 Amazon ratings
Why Buy: This vitamin C brightening serum is cruelty-free and vegan and does not contain alcohol, phthalates, gluten, fragrance, nuts, oil, silicone, parabens or sulfates. The moisturizing serum is good for all skin types, including acne-prone skin and dry skin.
FAQ: Best Vitamin C Serums
What vitamin C serum is the most effective?
Our top recommended vitamin C serum is the ZO Skin Health 10% Vitamin C Self-Activating serum. It is a dermatologist-approved antioxidant powerhouse, yet it is gentle, non-irritating and leaves you with glowing skin.
Should you use vitamin C serum every day?
Dermatologists recommend using vitamin C serum either every day or every other day. After you cleanse and tone your face, use your vitamin c product before applying moisturizer and reef-safe sunscreen with at least SPF 30.
Does vitamin C serum really work?
According to dermatologists, the best vitamin C serums work to protect against skin aging. However, if you do not purchase a doctor-recommended product, you run the risk of wasting your money on a low-concentration serum that won't give you any benefits.
What are the drawbacks of vitamin C serums?
Many vitamin C serums on the market, especially cheaper products, have nearly immeasurable concentrations of antioxidants, which makes them ineffective. Additionally, as with any skincare product, some individuals may have reactions to vitamin C serums including itchiness and redness.
Anna H. Chacon, M.D. is a dermatologist and author originally from Miami, Florida. She has authored over a dozen peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and has been published in JAAD, Archives of Dermatology, British Journal of Dermatology, Cosmetic Dermatology and Cutis.
By Jared Kaufman
This Friday, May 22, marks the International Day for Biological Diversity. Every year, the United Nations uses this day as an opportunity both to celebrate the Earth's stunning biodiversity and to recognize our task to protect it.
Unfortunately, due to biodiversity loss from industrialization and unsustainable land use, the planet's health is threatened. Nearly a quarter of wild food species—plant and animal—are decreasing in abundance, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. Biodiversity is not only important for the planet—but it's important for human health, too. Eating a range of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help immune systems by providing the full range of nutrients, from vitamins C and D to zinc and iron. And COVID-19 is revealing the urgency of improving immunity—and the power of food to protect us.
"There's a range of vitamins, of flavanols, of minerals that have been looked at, that we know improve the immune system function. … Several specific nutrients seem to have activity against COVID-19-specific proteins," Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and the dean of the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, told me on Food Talk Live this week. "What's really interesting, beyond the general immune-boosting effects and the COVID-specific protein effects, many of these same nutrients or other nutrients blunt or soften this excessive inflammatory response that's really what's causing deaths in COVID."
These 15 indigenous crops, among countless others, are prized in traditional agriculture systems for their resiliency, diversity, versatility, and most of all, nutritious value.
1. Amaranth (Amaranthus)
The more than 75 species of amaranth grow across nearly every continent, from the humid lowlands of Africa to mountainous countries in South America. Amaranth, which grows quickly in hot weather, is cultivated both as a leafy green and a cereal-like grain. It's an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and essential minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
2. Arracacha (Arracacia xanthorrhiza)
An important South American root crop, Arracacha is best described as somewhere between a carrot and celery root. It was originally cultivated in the Andes, but because of its versatility and low-input costs, is now an important crop in many lower regions of Brazil, Colombia, and Venezuela. Arracacha is typically prepared similarly to potatoes, but contains four times the calcium as potatoes and significant carotenoid pigments, the precursor to vitamin A.
3. Bay of Fundy Dulse (Palmaria palmata)
Dulse is a red seaweed that's been used for culinary and medicinal purposes across Ireland, Iceland, and Canada's Atlantic coast. Dulse that grows in the Bay of Fundy, between the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, was once a popular snack food and an important ingredient in traditional chowders and stews for many First Nations communities. Dulse has a high protein content, and contains iodine, iron, and many other trace vitamins and minerals.
4. Chaya (Cnidoscolus aconitifolius)
Chaya, an evergreen plant native to the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, has been a staple of indigenous diets for centuries in Mexico and Central America. Chaya grows very easily and is resistant to insects, heavy rains, and droughts. The leaves must be cooked to be safe to eat, but chaya is rich in protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and many minerals and enzymes.
5. Chayote (Sechium edule)
The chayote, a green, pear-shaped member of the squash family, has been an important part of diets across mesoamerica since pre-Columbian times. The plant is extremely versatile and can be grown in warm climates from sea level to more than 2000 meters above sea level. Most parts of the plant may be eaten, including the fruit, stems, and leaves, and it's a good source of vitamin C and folate.
6. Desert Lime (Citrus glauca)
Desert lime grows naturally in the semi-arid regions in eastern Australia in a range of soil types. It is tolerant of heat, frost, drought, and salinity, and it can withstand extreme temperature conditions from -12 degrees C to 45 degrees C (10.4 degrees F to 113 degrees F). Desert lime has high levels of vitamin C, folate, calcium, and antioxidants.
7. Fonio (Digitaria)
The two species of fonio — white and black — grown across West Africa are versatile and gluten-free varieties of millet. Fonio is fast-growing and suitable for dry conditions, although very labor-intensive to harvest. The grain has been cited as a path toward greater food security in Africa and is high in iron, calcium, and several essential amino acids.
8. Kakadu Plum (Terminalia ferdinandiana)
The Kakadu Plum—also called the Gubinge, Billygoat Plum, or Murunga—grows across northern Australia and has the highest recorded natural vitamin C content of any plant in the world. Suited to its natural hot and coastal environment, the kakadu plum can grow in a variety of dry and saline habitats, from dry creek beds to cliff tops and ridges.
9. Kumara/Sweet Potato (Ipomoea batatas)
Sweet potatoes, also known as kumara in many Polynesian languages and in New Zealand's indigenous Māori language, are a staple crop across Africa, Asia, and many cultures within and surrounding the Pacific Ocean. The starchy vegetable is a great source of protein, vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and dietary fiber.
10. Målselvnepe Turnip (Brassica rapa subsp. rapa)
This old Norwegian landrace of turnip has been improved over the years through selective cultivation. It has an excellent, yet strong and distinct, taste compared to other turnip varieties. It can be eaten raw, roasted, baked, and boiled, and is frequently used to enhance the flavor of soups, salads, stir-fries, and side dishes. The Målselvnepe turnip is an excellent source of vitamin C and potassium.
11. Mung Bean (Vigna radiata)
The mung bean is important in Asian diets and valuable for its easily digestible protein. High levels of iron in the vegetable help improve the diets of the most vulnerable women and children, and mung bean production offers an opportunity for increased income for small-scale farmers. The vegetable can also fix nitrogen in the soil, making it valuable for crop rotations.
12. Northern Wild Rice (Zizania palustris)
Northern wild rice (manoomin in Anishinaabe languages), one of four global wild rice species, grows across the Great Lakes region in the U.S. and in aquatic areas of Canada's Boreal Forest. Wild rice has been central to Indigenous foodways in the region, particularly in Minnesota, for millennia. Although it is now domesticated and cultivated largely for commercial sale, much of it is still harvested using traditional methods. Wild rice is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber, and contains more protein than most other whole grains.
13. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)
The pawpaw fruit is the largest edible fruit indigenous to North America, and has a tropical flavor reminiscent of a mix between mangoes and bananas. It was grown and eaten by Native Americans and early European settlers, although it has proven difficult to commercialize due to its very short shelf life after harvesting. However, the fruit is high in vitamin C, magnesium, and iron, and also contains some vitamin A.
14. Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Since prehistoric times, purslane has been grown by humans around the world, from Australia to the Middle East to Asia. It's still common in Mediterranean countries and in aboriginal Australian foodways. Purslane is capable of CAM photosynthesis in extreme conditions, which allows the plant to grow while saving water, making it a very successful plant across many climates. Purslane also contains more essential omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy green, and the plant is also extraordinarily high in vitamin E.
15. Tepary Beans (Phaseolus acutifolius)
Tepary beans have been a staple crop for thousands of years and remain important for Indigenous farmers across North America, including in Tohono O'odham communities in the American southwest. They grow quickly in arid desert conditions and are resistant to alkaline soils, making them one of the most drought- and heat-tolerant crops in the world. Although related to standard beans, tepary beans actually contain more protein, calcium, fiber, iron, and zinc, and have a low glycemic index.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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Thus, you may wonder whether any healthy foods can improve your mood.
Recently, research on the relationship between nutrition and mental health has been emerging. Yet, it's important to note that mood can be influenced by many factors, such as stress, environment, poor sleep, genetics, mood disorders, and nutritional deficiencies.
Nonetheless, certain foods have been shown to improve overall brain health and certain types of mood disorders.
Here are 9 healthy foods that may boost your mood.
1. Fatty Fish
Omega-3 fatty acids are a group of essential fats that you must obtain through your diet because your body can't produce them on its own.
Fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna are rich in two types of omega-3s — docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) — that are linked to lower levels of depression.
Omega-3s contribute to the fluidity of your brain's cell membrane and appear to play key roles in brain development and cell signaling.
While research is mixed, one review of clinical trials showed that in some studies, consuming omega-3's in the form of fish oil lower depression scores.
Although there's no standard dose, most experts agree that most adults should get at least 250–500 mg of combined EPA and DHA per day.
Given that a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of salmon provides 2,260 mg of EPA and DHA, eating this fish a few times per week is a great way to get these fats into your diet.
Fatty fish like salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower your risk of depression.
2. Dark Chocolate
Chocolate is rich in many mood-boosting compounds.
Its sugar may improve mood since it's a quick source of fuel for your brain.
Furthermore, it may release a cascade of feel-good compounds, such as caffeine, theobromine, and N-acylethanolamine — a substance chemically similar to cannabinoids that has been linked to improved mood.
However, some experts debate whether chocolate contains enough of these compounds to trigger a psychological response.
Regardless, it's high in health-promoting flavonoids, which have been shown to increase blood flow to your brain, reduce inflammation, and boost brain health, all of which may support mood regulation.
Finally, chocolate has a high hedonic rating, meaning that its pleasurable taste, texture, and smell may also promote good mood.
Because milk chocolate contains added ingredients like sugar and fat, it's best to opt for dark chocolate — which is higher in flavonoids and lower in added sugar. You should still stick to 1–2 small squares (of 70% or more cocoa solids) at a time since it's a high calorie food.
Dark chocolate is rich in compounds that may increase feel-good chemicals in your brain.
3. Fermented Foods
Fermented foods, which include kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut, may improve gut health and mood.
During this process, probiotics are created. These live microorganisms support the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut and may increase serotonin levels.
It's important to note that not all fermented foods are significant sources of probiotics, such as in the case of beer, some breads, and wine, due to cooking and filtering.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects many facets of human behavior, such as mood, stress response, appetite, and sexual drive. Up to 90% of your body's serotonin is produced by your gut microbiome, or the collection of healthy bacteria in your gut.
In addition, the gut microbiome plays a role in brain health. Research is beginning to show a connection between healthy gut bacteria and lower rates of depression.
Still, more research is needed to understand how probiotics may regulate mood.
Since up to 90% of your body's serotonin is produced in your gut, a healthy gut may correspond to a good mood. Fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and sauerkraut are rich in probiotics that support gut health.
Bananas may help turn a frown upside down.
They're high in vitamin B6, which helps synthesize feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
Furthermore, one large banana (136 grams) provides 16 grams of sugar and 3.5 grams of fiber.
When paired with fiber, sugar is released slowly into your bloodstream, allowing for stable blood sugar levels and better mood control. Blood sugar levels that are too low may lead to irritability and mood swings.
Finally, this ubiquitous tropical fruit, especially when still showing green on the peel, is an excellent source of prebiotics, a type of fiber that helps feed healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome is associated with lower rates of mood disorders.
Bananas are a great source of natural sugar, vitamin B6, and prebiotic fiber, which work together to keep your blood sugar levels and mood stable.
Oats are a whole grain that can keep you in good spirits all morning. You can enjoy them in many forms, such as overnight oats, oatmeal, muesli, and granola.
They're an excellent source of fiber, providing 8 grams in a single raw cup (81 grams).
Fiber helps slow your digestion of carbs, allowing for a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream to keep your energy levels stable.
In one study, those who ate 1.5–6 grams of fiber at breakfast reported better mood and energy levels. This was attributed to more stable blood sugar levels, which is important for controlling mood swings and irritability.
Although other sources of whole grains can have this effect, oats may be especially advantageous, as they're also a great source of iron, with 1 raw cup (81 grams) boasting 19% of your daily needs.
Iron deficiency anemia, one of the most common nutrient deficiencies, is associated with low iron intake. Its symptoms include fatigue, sluggishness, and mood disorders.
Some research suggests that people experience improvements in these symptoms after eating iron-rich foods or supplementing with iron, but more research is needed.
Oats provide fiber that can stabilize your blood sugar levels and boost your mood. They're also high in iron, which may improve mood symptoms in those with iron deficiency anemia.
Curiously, eating more fruits and vegetables is linked to lower rates of depression.
Although the mechanism isn't clear, a diet rich in antioxidants may help manage inflammation associated with depression and other mood disorders.
Berries pack a wide range of antioxidants and phenolic compounds, which play a key role in combatting oxidative stress — an imbalance of harmful compounds in your body.
They're particularly high in anthocyanins, a pigment that gives certain berries their purple-blue color. One study associated a diet rich in anthocyanins with a 39% lower risk of depression symptoms.
If you can't find them fresh, try buying frozen berries — which are frozen at their peak ripeness to retain the maximum amount of antioxidants.
Berries are rich in disease-fighting anthocyanins, which may lower your risk of depression.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are high in plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and fiber.
Additionally, they provide tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for producing mood-boosting serotonin. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, and walnuts, as well as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds, are excellent sources.
Moreover, nuts and seeds are a large component of both the MIND and Mediterranean diets, which may support a healthy brain. Each of these diets promotes fresh, whole foods and limits your intake of processed items.
What's more, a 10-year study in 15,980 people linked moderate nut intake to a 23% lower risk of depression.
Finally, certain nuts and seeds, such as Brazil nuts, almonds, and pine nuts, are good sources of zinc and selenium. Deficiency in these minerals, which are important for brain function, is associated with higher rates of depression — although more research is needed.
Certain nuts and seeds are high in tryptophan, zinc, and selenium, which may support brain function and lower your risk of depression.
Coffee is the world's most popular drink, and it may make the world a bit happier, too.
The caffeine in coffee prevents a naturally occurring compound called adenosine from attaching to brain receptors that promote tiredness, therefore increasing alertness and attention.
Moreover, it increases the release of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
A study in 72 people found that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee significantly improved mood compared with a placebo beverage, suggesting that coffee contains other compounds that influence mood.
Researchers attributed this boost in attitude to various phenolic compounds, such as chlorogenic acid. Still, more research is needed.
Coffee provides numerous compounds, including caffeine and chlorogenic acid, that may boost your mood. Research suggests that decaf coffee may even have an effect.
9. Beans and Lentils
In addition to being high in fiber and plant-based protein, beans and lentils are full of feel-good nutrients.
They're an excellent source of B vitamins, which help improve mood by increasing levels of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), all of which are important for regulating mood.
Furthermore, B vitamins play a key role in nerve signaling, which allows proper communication between nerve cells. Low levels of these vitamins, especially B12 and folate, have been linked to mood disorders, such as depression.
Finally, they're a good source of zinc, magnesium, selenium, and non-heme iron, which may likewise elevate your spirits.
Beans and lentils are rich sources of mood-boosting nutrients, particularly B vitamins.
The Bottom Line
When feeling blue, you may crave calorie-rich, high sugar foods like ice cream or cookies to try to lift your spirits.
While this might give you a sugar rush, it's unlikely to help you in the long term — and may have negative consequences as well.
Instead, you should aim for wholesome foods that have been shown to not only boost your mood but also your overall health. Try out some of the foods above to kick-start your positivity routine.
An Important Note
No supplement, diet, or lifestyle modification — aside from social distancing and practicing proper hygiene — can protect you from developing COVID-19.
The strategies outlined below may boost your immune health, but they don't protect specifically against COVID-19.
If you want to boost your immune health, you may wonder how to help your body fight off illnesses.
While bolstering your immunity is easier said than done, several dietary and lifestyle changes may strengthen your body's natural defenses and help you fight harmful pathogens, or disease-causing organisms.
Here are 9 tips to strengthen your immunity naturally.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep and immunity are closely tied.
In fact, inadequate or poor quality sleep is linked to a higher susceptibility to sickness.
In a study in 164 healthy adults, those who slept fewer than 6 hours each night were more likely to catch a cold than those who slept 6 hours or more each night.
Getting adequate rest may strengthen your natural immunity. Also, you may sleep more when sick to allow your immune system to better fight the illness.
If you're having trouble sleeping, try limiting screen time for an hour before bed, as the blue light emitted from your phone, TV, and computer may disrupt your circadian rhythm, or your body's natural wake-sleep cycle.
Other sleep hygiene tips include sleeping in a completely dark room or using a sleep mask, going to bed at the same time every night, and exercising regularly.
Inadequate sleep may increase your risk of getting sick. Most adults should get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
2. Eat More Whole Plant Foods
Whole plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that may give you an upper hand against harmful pathogens.
The antioxidants in these foods help decrease inflammation by combatting unstable compounds called free radicals, which can cause inflammation when they build up in your body in high levels.
Chronic inflammation is linked to numerous health conditions, including heart disease, Alzheimer's, and certain cancers.
Meanwhile, the fiber in plant foods feeds your gut microbiome, or the community of healthy bacteria in your gut. A robust gut microbiome can improve your immunity and help keep harmful pathogens from entering your body via your digestive tract.
Furthermore, fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients like vitamin C, which may reduce the duration of the common cold.
Several whole plant foods contain antioxidants, fiber, and vitamin C, all of which may lower your susceptibility to illness.
3. Eat More Healthy Fats
Healthy fats, like those found in olive oil and salmon, may boost your body's immune response to pathogens by decreasing inflammation.
Although low-level inflammation is a normal response to stress or injury, chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system.
Olive oil, which is highly anti-inflammatory, is linked to a decreased risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, its anti-inflammatory properties may help your body fight off harmful disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
Omega-3 fatty acids, such as those in salmon and chia seeds, fight inflammation as well.
Healthy fats like olive oil and omega-3s are highly anti-inflammatory. Since chronic inflammation can suppress your immune system, these fats may naturally combat illnesses.
4. Eat More Fermented Foods or Take a Probiotic Supplement
Fermented foods are rich in beneficial bacteria called probiotics, which populate your digestive tract.
These foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and natto.
Research suggests that a flourishing network of gut bacteria can help your immune cells differentiate between normal, healthy cells and harmful invader organisms.
In a 3-month study in 126 children, those who drank just 2.4 ounces (70 mL) of fermented milk daily had about 20% fewer childhood infectious diseases, compared with a control group.
If you don't regularly eat fermented foods, probiotic supplements are another option.
In a 28-day study in 152 people infected with rhinovirus, those who supplemented with probiotic Bifidobacterium animalis had a stronger immune response and lower levels of the virus in their nasal mucus than a control group.
Gut health and immunity are deeply interconnected. Fermented foods and probiotics may bolster your immune system by helping it identify and target harmful pathogens.
5. Limit Added Sugars
Emerging research suggests that added sugars and refined carbs may contribute disproportionately to overweight and obesity.
Obesity may likewise increase your risk of getting sick.
According to an observational study in around 1,000 people, people with obesity who were administered the flu vaccine were twice as likely to still get the flu than individuals without obesity who received the vaccine.
Curbing your sugar intake can decrease inflammation and aid weight loss, thus reducing your risk of chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Given that obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease can all weaken your immune system, limiting added sugars is an important part of an immune-boosting diet.
You should strive to limit your sugar intake to less than 5% of your daily calories. This equals about 2 tablespoons (25 grams) of sugar for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Added sugars contribute significantly to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, all of which can suppress your immune system. Lowering your sugar intake may decrease inflammation and your risk of these conditions.
6. Engage in Moderate Exercise
Although prolonged intense exercise can suppress your immune system, moderate exercise can give it a boost.
Studies indicate that even a single session of moderate exercise can boost the effectiveness of vaccines in people with compromised immune systems.
What's more, regular, moderate exercise may reduce inflammation and help your immune cells regenerate regularly.
Examples of moderate exercise include brisk walking, steady bicycling, jogging, swimming, and light hiking. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
Moderate exercise can reduce inflammation and promote the healthy turnover of immune cells. Jogging, biking, walking, swimming, and hiking are great options.
7. Stay Hydrated
Hydration doesn't necessarily protect you from germs and viruses, but preventing dehydration is important to your overall health.
Dehydration can cause headaches and hinder your physical performance, focus, mood, digestion, and heart and kidney function. These complications can increase your susceptibility to illness.
To prevent dehydration, you should drink enough fluid daily to make your urine pale yellow. Water is recommended because it's free of calories, additives, and sugar.
While tea and juice are also hydrating, it's best to limit your intake of fruit juice and sweetened tea because of their high sugar contents.
As a general guideline, you should drink when you're thirsty and stop when you're no longer thirsty. You may need more fluids if you exercise intensely, work outside, or live in a hot climate.
It's important to note that older adults begin to lose the urge to drink, as their bodies do not signal thirst adequately. Older adults need to drink regularly even if they do not feel thirsty.
Given that dehydration can make you more susceptible to illness, be sure you're drinking plenty of water each day.
8. Manage Your Stress Levels
Relieving stress and anxiety is key to immune health.
Long-term stress promotes inflammation, as well as imbalances in immune cell function.
In particular, prolonged psychological stress can suppress the immune response in children.
Activities that may help you manage your stress include meditation, exercise, journaling, yoga, and other mindfulness practices. You may also benefit from seeing a licensed counselor or therapist, whether virtually or in person.
Lowering your stress levels through meditation, yoga, exercise, and other practices can help keep your immune system functioning properly.
9. Supplement Wisely
It's easy to turn to supplements if you hear claims about their ability to treat or prevent COVID-19.
However, these assertions are unfounded and untrue.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there's no evidence to support the use of any supplement to prevent or treat COVID-19.
However, some studies indicate that the following supplements may strengthen your body's general immune response:
- Vitamin C. According to a review in over 11,000 people, taking 1,000–2,000 mg of vitamin C per day reduced the duration of colds by 8% in adults and 14% in children. Yet, supplementing did not prevent the cold to begin with.
- Vitamin D. Vitamin D deficiency may increase your chances of getting sick, so supplementing may counteract this effect. Nonetheless, taking vitamin D when you already have adequate levels doesn't seem to provide extra benefits.
- Zinc. In a review in 575 people with the common cold, supplementing with more than 75 mg of zinc per day reduced the duration of the cold by 33%.
- Elderberry. One small review found that elderberry could reduce the symptoms of viral upper respiratory infections, but more research is needed.
- Echinacea. A study in over 700 people found that those who took echinacea recovered from colds slightly more quickly than those who received a placebo or no treatment, but the difference was insignificant.
- Garlic. A high quality, 12-week study in 146 people found that supplementing with garlic reduced the incidence of the common cold by about 30%. However, more research is needed.
While these supplements demonstrated potential in the studies mentioned above, that doesn't mean they're effective against COVID-19.
Furthermore, supplements are prone to mislabeling because they aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Thus, you should only purchase supplements that have been independently tested by third-party organizations like United States Pharmacopeia (USP), NSF International, and ConsumerLab.
Though some supplements may fight viral infections, none have been proven to be effective against COVID-19. If you decide to supplement, make sure to purchase products that have been tested by a third party.
The Bottom Line
You can make several lifestyle and dietary changes today to strengthen your immune system.
These include reducing your sugar intake, staying hydrated, working out regularly, getting adequate sleep, and managing your stress levels.
Although none of these suggestions can prevent COVID-19, they may reinforce your body's defenses against harmful pathogens.
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According to the National Eczema Foundation, roughly 31.6 million people have some form of eczema. The symptoms of this condition include itchiness, discoloration, and dry skin. In the past, harsh steroidal creams were the gold standard for eczema treatment. But there's got to be a more effective way to heal the skin, right?
Thankfully, we're out of the dark ages and into an all-natural era of skin care. Today, alternative therapies abound, including clinically-tested cannabis ointments and DIY home remedies like oatmeal baths.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a group of skin conditions that's characterized by itching, scaling, discoloration, dryness, and most of all, inflammation. Although it's possible to get eczema for the first time as an adult, it most commonly starts in childhood. Unfortunately, once eczema starts, it can be hard to control.
What Causes Eczema?
Eczema occurs when chronic skin inflammation prevents the corneal layer from shedding and renewing. A general "eczema" diagnosis can describe any type of dermatitis or unknown "itchy rash." However, researchers have identified the following distinct types:
- Atopic dermatitis (related to allergies and autoimmunity)
- Contact dermatitis (the skin's reaction to an irritant)
- Stasis dermatitis (eczema on the lower extremities)
- Seborrheic dermatitis (dry scalp)
- Neurodermatitis (thick, scaly skin from long-term itching/scratching)
- Nummular eczema (round lesions that leak fluid; usually caused by allergens)
- Dyshidrotic eczema (itchy blisters on the feet and hands; usually caused by allergens)
Eczema is most likely to develop in people with a compromised immune system or who have dry, sensitive skin. Extreme weather, genetics, stress, diet, poor gut health, and bacteria can also play a role.
In most cases, patients go through periods of intense flare-ups followed by periods of remission. During a flare, patients can experience the following symptoms of skin inflammation:
- Crusty patches
- Hypersensitivity to certain soaps and shampoos
- Deep cracks/cuts from extreme dryness (especially on the hands and feet)
Atopic eczema can be accompanied by other symptoms like asthma, fever, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, stress, and depression.
5 Best Natural Remedies for Eczema
In the war against eczema, inflammation is enemy #1. Here are the top five natural remedies to soothe inflammation and heal the skin barrier:
1. Anti-inflammatory Diet
Reducing inflammation and reversing eczema starts with the food you eat, especially when it comes to atopic dermatitis, which is rooted in an overactive immune system.
Eat more anti-inflammatory foods like:
- Omega-3 foods: the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are powerful anti-inflammatory compounds that can reduce inflammation in the gut, joints, brain, and skin. The best natural sources of omega-3s are wild-caught salmon, sardines, and fish oil.
- High-fiber vegetables: produce like artichokes, raw garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, and dense leafy greens feed healthy gut bacteria and reduce intestinal inflammation.
- Probiotics: probiotics are living bacterial cultures that reinforce the gut lining and protect the bloodstream from inflammatory agents.
- Collagen: collagen supplements and bone broth can strengthen the skin matrix and rejuvenate damaged skin cells. It's also a powerful nutrient for healing the gut lining.
- Vitamin A-rich foods: yellow and orange vegetables like carrots are high in vitamin A and are great for skin health.
Avoid inflammatory foods like:
- Fried foods: canola and safflower oil from deep-fried foods promotes inflammation.
- Sugar: processed sugar feeds unhealthy gut bacteria and promotes inflammation throughout the body.
- Additives: additives in processed foods are known to exacerbate eczema.
- Dairy: products like cheese and milk are difficult to process and tend to promote inflammation, especially in people with autoimmune conditions.
- Gluten: removing gluten can improve autoimmune conditions like eczema.
2. Sun Exposure (Phototherapy)
Sun exposure and phototherapy are proven to calm inflammation and reduce itching. UVB spectrum light helps the skin fight bacteria, boosts vitamin D production, and may help prevent eczema flares.
Just 10-15 minutes of sunlight a day may be all it takes to mitigate symptoms and speed healing. One recent study found that 74.4% of patients had complete resolution of eczema symptoms during the sunny summer months.
3. Vitamin D
During winter in the Northern hemisphere, you might not have access to sunlight or phototherapy. That's unfortunate, because vitamin D3 deficiency can compromise the immune system and increase the risk of eczema. (5)
Luckily, you can still reduce the risk of eczema by supplementing with vitamin D.
Taking 2,000-5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily can support the skin's natural ability to fight inflammation. Another option is to eat foods that contain vitamin D, like sardines, salmon, and cod liver oil, all of which are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
4. CBD Ointments and Creams
As cannabis and cannabinoid use becomes more common, the broad medicinal benefits of non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) have been gaining widespread attention. New research also shows that it may deliver eczema relief to some patients.
For example, a 2019 publication in the medical journal Molecules confirms that "… cutaneous cannabinoid signaling is deeply involved in the maintenance of skin homeostasis, barrier formation and regeneration, and its dysregulation was implicated to contribute to several highly prevalent diseases and disorders, e.g., atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, scleroderma, acne…"
In other words, the skin contains natural receptor sites for phytocannabinoids like CBD, which at least partially explains its therapeutic potential.
Another 2019 study found that topical CBD ointment, without THC, had therapeutic effects in inflammatory skin conditions and cutaneous scars.
5. Therapeutic Oils
Moisturizing oils like coconut oil and essential oils like lavender and primrose are proven to reduce symptoms associated with eczema and protect the skin.
Primrose in particular contains high levels of gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which may account for its benefits in treating atopic dermatitis.
At the same time, lavender essential oil may help reduce the mental health conditions associated with eczema. For example, Harvard Medical School found that people with eczema have higher rates of anxiety and insomnia. They also exercise less and drink more alcohol.
Final Thought on Natural Anti-Itch Treatments
It's always important to exercise caution with natural remedies for eczema, especially when blisters leak and ooze. Although many of the above treatments have antibacterial properties, the risk of infection is always present. Be wary of excessive bathing and cool compresses because too much moisture can promote bacterial growth. Always consult with your dermatologist before trying new natural treatments.
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By Sharon O'Brien
Dietary fiber is the carbohydrate in plants that your body cannot digest.
Though it's essential to your gut and overall health, most people don't reach the recommended daily amounts (RDA) of 25 and 38 grams for women and men, respectively.
Both soluble and insoluble fiber help bulk up your stools and can be used as a food source for good bacteria in your large intestine.
Soluble fiber draws water into your gut, which softens your stools and supports regular bowel movements.
It not only helps you feel fuller and reduces constipation but may also lower your cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Here are 20 healthy foods that are high in soluble fiber.
1. Black Beans
Black beans are not only a great way to give your dishes a meaty texture but also an amazing source of fiber.
One cup (172 grams) packs 15 grams, which is about what an average person consumes per day, or 40–60% of the RDA for adults.
Black beans contain pectin, a form of soluble fiber that becomes gummy-like in water. This can delay stomach emptying and make you feel fuller longer, giving your body more time to absorb nutrients.
Soluble fiber content: 5.4 grams per three-quarter cup (129 grams) of cooked black beans.
2. Lima Beans
Lima beans, also known as butter beans, are large, flat, greenish-white beans.
They mainly contain carbs and protein, as well as a little fat.
They're lower in total dietary fiber than black beans, but their soluble fiber content is almost identical. Lima beans also contain the soluble fiber pectin, which is associated with reduced blood sugar spikes after meals.
Soluble fiber content: 5.3 grams per three-quarter cup (128 grams) of lima beans.
3. Brussels Sprouts
The world may be divided into Brussels sprout lovers and haters, but whatever side you're on, it's undeniable that this vegetable is packed with vitamins and minerals, along with various cancer-fighting agents.
What's more, Brussels sprouts are a great source of fiber, with 4 grams per cup (156 grams).
The soluble fiber in Brussels sprouts can be used to feed beneficial gut bacteria. These produce vitamin K and B vitamins, along with short-chain fatty acids that support your gut lining.
Soluble fiber content: 2 grams per one-half cup (78 grams) of Brussels sprouts.
Avocados originate from Mexico but have gained popularity worldwide.
Haas avocados are the most common type. They're an excellent source of monounsaturated fats, potassium, vitamin E, and dietary fiber.
One avocado packs 13.5 grams of dietary fiber. However, one serving — or one-third of the fruit — provides about 4.5 grams, 1.4 of which are soluble.
Rich in both soluble and insoluble fiber, avocados really stand out in this regard.
5. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are high in potassium, beta carotene, B vitamins, and fiber. Just one medium-sized sweet potato packs over 400% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of vitamin A.
Therefore, sweet potatoes can contribute significantly to your total soluble fiber intake.
Soluble fiber content: 1.8 grams per one-half cup (150 grams) of cooked sweet potato.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that grows well in cool seasons. It's usually dark green, but you can also find purple varieties.
The high amount of soluble fiber in broccoli can support your gut health by feeding the good bacteria in your large intestine. These bacteria produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate and acetate.
Turnips are root vegetables. Larger varieties are usually fed to livestock, but the smaller types are a great addition to your diet.
Soluble fiber content: 1.7 grams per one-half cup (82 grams) of cooked turnips.
Pears are crisp and refreshing and serve as a decent source of vitamin C, potassium, and various antioxidants.
Due to their high fructose and sorbitol contents, pears can sometimes have a laxative effect. If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may need to moderate your intake.
Soluble fiber content: 1.5 grams per medium-sized pear.
9. Kidney Beans
Their characteristic shape gave kidney beans their name.
Kidney beans are a good source of soluble fiber, particularly pectin.
However, some people find beans hard to digest. If that's the case for you, start increasing your kidney bean intake slowly to avoid bloating.
Figs were one of the first cultivated plants in human history.
They're highly nutritious, containing calcium, magnesium, potassium, B vitamins, and other nutrients.
Both dried and fresh figs are great sources of soluble fiber, which slows the movement of food through your intestines, allowing more time for nutrient absorption.
Based on anecdotal evidence, dried figs have been used as a home remedy to relieve constipation for years. While one study found that fig paste improved bowel movements in constipated dogs, human-based research is lacking.
Soluble fiber content: 1.9 grams per one-fourth cup (37 grams) of dried figs.
Nectarines are stone fruits that grow in warm, temperate regions. They're similar to peaches, but don't have the same characteristic fuzzy skin.
Apricots are small, sweet fruits that range in color from yellow to orange, with the occasional red tinge.
Carrots are one of the most popular and tasty vegetables on Earth.
Boiled or steamed, carrots are a key ingredient in many recipes, but they can also be grated into salads or used to make desserts like carrot cake.
With good reason, you may have been told as a child to eat carrots to help you see in the dark.
Carrots are packed with beta carotene, some of which is converted into vitamin A. This vitamin supports your eyes and is particularly important for night vision.
One cup (128 grams) of chopped carrots contains 4.6 grams of dietary fiber, 2.4 of which are soluble.
Since many people enjoy this vegetable daily, it can be a key source of soluble fiber.
Apples are one of the most commonly eaten fruits in the world. Most varieties are quite sweet, but others like Granny Smith can be very sour.
"An apple a day keeps the doctor away" is an old proverb that may have some truth, as eating this fruit is associated with a lower risk of many chronic diseases.
Apples pack various vitamins and minerals and are a good source of the soluble fiber pectin. Apple pectin may have many health benefits, such as a reduced risk of heart disease and improved gut function.
Guavas are a tropical fruit native to Mexico and Central and South America. Their skin is typically green, while the pulp can range from off-white to deep-pink.
This fruit has been shown to reduce blood sugar, as well as total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels in healthy people. In part, this may be due to the soluble fiber pectin, which can delay the absorption of sugar.
16. Flax Seeds
Flax seeds, also known as linseeds, are tiny brown, yellow, or golden seeds.
They pack a nutritious punch and can be a great way to improve the nutrient content of your smoothies, breads, or cereals.
Sprinkling 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds over your porridge can add an extra 3.5 grams of fiber and 2 grams of protein to your breakfast. They're also one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fats.
If possible, soak ground flax seeds overnight, as this allows their soluble fiber to combine with water to form a gel, which may aid digestion.
Soluble fiber content: 0.6–1.2 grams per tablespoon (14 grams) of whole flax seeds.
17. Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds are a great nutritious snack and often purchased already shelled to reveal the tasty sunflower heart.
They contain about 3 grams of dietary fiber per one-fourth cup, 1 gram of which is soluble. What's more, they're rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, protein, magnesium, selenium, and iron.
Hazelnuts are a delicious type of nut that can be eaten raw or roasted for a stronger flavor. They're also often used as an ingredient in chocolate bars and spreads.
Partly due to their soluble fiber content, hazelnuts may help reduce your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Oats are one of the most versatile and healthy grains around. You can use them to make breakfast cereals, breads, scones, flapjacks, or fruit crumbles.
They contain beta glucan, a form of soluble fiber that's associated with reduced LDL (bad) cholesterol and improved blood sugar control. It's estimated that 3 grams of oat beta glucan per day can reduce your risk of heart disease.
About 1.25 cups (100 grams) of dry oats contain 10 grams of total dietary fiber. This is divided into 5.8 grams of insoluble and 4.2 grams of soluble fiber, 3.6 of which are beta glucan.
Beta glucan is also what gives porridge its characteristic creamy texture.
Some people may associate barley with the brewing industry, but this nutritious ancient grain is also often used to thicken soups, stews, or risottos.
Like oats, it contains about 3.5–5.9% of the soluble fiber beta glucan, which has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Other forms of soluble fiber in barley are psyllium, pectin, and guar gum.
The Bottom Line
Soluble fiber is great for your gut and overall health, reducing your risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and helping you balance your blood sugar levels.
If you want to increase your soluble fiber intake, it's often best to start slowly and build it up gradually.
It's also a good idea to drink plenty of water. This will help the soluble fiber form a gel, which aids digestion and prevents constipation.
All fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes contain some soluble fiber, but certain foods like Brussels sprouts, avocados, flax seeds, and black beans are the cream of the crop.
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By Zulfikar Abbany
How do you whittle down the 200 billion in our Milky Way galaxy to a mere 21? Focus on the ones that have changed human understanding of the universe, as astronomer Giles Sparrow told DW.
DW: Let's start with the basics: We often talk about stars in the night sky as though we could reach up and touch them. But even the nearest star to Earth is beyond our solar system — within our galaxy, the Milky Way, but almost too far to comprehend. When in writing your book A History of the Universe in 21 Stars (and 3 imposters), have you found a tangible way for non-astronomers to understand what we're talking about?
Giles Sparrow: The most intuitive way of approaching it is first to understand that light is the fastest thing in the universe, and it travels at 300,000 kilometers a second. And so light from the moon takes about a second-and-a-half to reach Earth. When we sent astronauts to the moon, radio signals took about that time to reach the Earth as well.
If you compare that to objects at the edge of the solar system, you know, light may take a few hours to reach the Earth. Then the very nearest star, Proxima Centauri: Light from that star takes four years and three months to reach us.
So, I think, that gives you some idea of the scale. As for the rest of the universe, within the Milky Way, you're talking about many thousands of years for light to reach us on Earth, and from distant galaxies it takes millions of years.
It certainly does put things into perspective, if we think that sending humans to the next planet from the sun, Mars, is hard enough. Yet these stars have contributed to our life on Earth. Is that what fascinates you about them, that distance?
Illustration: Betelgeuse in "A History of the Universe in 21 Stars" by Giles Sparrow — a star big enough to turn supernova and explode.
It is fascinating. Unlike other forms of science, where you can chop things up or do experiments in a lab, with astronomy the only thing that we really have, apart from the occasional asteroid or meteorite that falls to Earth, is light and other radiations that have crossed all of this space.
Then, we pick them up with our telescopes on Earth and reconstruct the information. It often ends up being this amazing exercise in lateral thinking, because these things are physically so far beyond our reach.
Illustration: Polaris and its constellation from "A History of the Universe in 21 Stars" by Giles Sparrow.
But that does raise the question: how reliable is our science on stars? We're talking about 21 stars in your book out of how many billions…
About 200 billion stars in the Milky Way, and about as many galaxies in the observable universe as there are stars in the Milky Way. And that's only the observable universe, which is the area that light has had time to reach us since the Big Bang. The entire universe probably stretches far, far beyond that. And it's expanding.
Illustration: Our sun is just one of 200 billion (and counting) stars.
The scientific method is a matter of making increasingly good approximations to whatever reality is. And sometimes you get big things that come along and upset all the previous thinking, like Einstein's theories of relativity a century ago. So, yes, there are unanswered questions. But it feels like we understand the general principles pretty well and we've demonstrated them in nuclear fusion and experiments on Earth.
Now, you've narrowed down these billions upon billions of stars to just 21. What's the thinking there?
Well, the 21 stars form an overview of all the different aspects of the science, the stars that have been critical to our understanding of astronomy and its history. So, for instance, there's 61 Cygni, which is this obscure star in the constellation of a swan. It was the first star for which we worked out its distance. That was one of those lateral thinking tricks.
Illustration: 61 Cygni and its constellation from "A History of the Universe in 21 Stars" by Giles Sparrow.
You know how things appear to be in a slightly different position or direction when you look at them with one eye and then the other — the idea of parallax. Well, people had pointed out that if the Earth was going around the sun, why weren't we seeing the stars shifting their positions?
And the reason for that was that the stars were vastly farther away than anyone had thought. It took a couple of hundred years before telescopes and measuring technology had advanced to the point where they could finally measure that distance. But that was the first step towards our working out the distances for other objects.
Illustration: Helvetios from "A History of the Universe in 21 Stars" by Giles Sparrow.
Then, a much more recent thing, we've got a star called Helvetios. That was the first star, where we found planets, eight of them, orbiting around it.
And the 3 imposters, what's up with them?
To tell the entire story, you need to go beyond the stars. And the imposters were first mistaken for the stars.
Illustration: Omega Centauri from "A History of the Universe in 21 Stars" by Giles Sparrow.
For instance, Omega Centauri, which is this enormous globular cluster, a huge spherical ball of stars, orbiting around the Milky Way. That was classed as a star when they first catalogued it and the Andromeda Galaxy was seen as a star.
Then there's the first quasar, which means quasi-stellar object. They found this obscure star, giving off strange radio signals, relatively nearby. They realized it was this distant galaxy, billions of light years away, shining with such intense light that we could see it.
Long story, short: Supernova 1994D has helped scientists realize that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, not slowing.
And how do you feel about the idea of travelling to these distant locations? Is it worth it?
From a purely scientific point of view, you'd say: "Yes". If it was just about looking at the stars, then you're always going to come up against this problem that we have within our own solar system — when we send probes to investigate our own sun — they're staying quite a safe distance from it. You can't get within a few million kilometers without burning up your spacecraft.
On the other hand, we know, for instance, that Proxima Centauri, that first star close to Earth, has at least one planet orbiting it. And opinions differ, but it's in the right area for it to be potentially habitable. But we think that Proxima might be too unstable for that because it's giving off these very harsh stellar flares.
The prospect of investigating other solar systems is very enticing, though. Whether we do that using robot space probes and an awful lot of patience, or whether we find some way, whether it be suspended animation or warp drives, or any of these science fiction-ish ideas, which do have some scientific merit, that would be quite an adventure.
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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Also known as nutraceuticals, functional foods are highly nutritious and associated with a number of powerful health benefits. For example, they may protect against disease, prevent nutrient deficiencies, and promote proper growth and development.
This article looks at the definition, benefits, and potential uses of functional foods.
What are Functional Foods?
Functional foods are ingredients that offer health benefits that extend beyond their nutritional value. Some types contain supplements or other additional ingredients designed to improve health.
The concept originated in Japan in the 1980s when government agencies started approving foods with proven benefits in an effort to better the health of the general population.
Some examples include foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fiber. Nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and grains are often considered functional foods as well.
Oats, for instance, contain a type of fiber called beta glucan, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, enhance immune function, and improve heart health.
Similarly, fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants, which are beneficial compounds that help protect against disease.
Functional foods are foods that offer health benefits beyond their nutritional value. In addition to nutrient-rich ingredients like fruits and veggies, the category also includes foods fortified with vitamins, minerals, probiotics, and fiber.
Examples of Functional Foods
Conventional foods are natural, whole-food ingredients that are rich in important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and heart-healthy fats.
Meanwhile, modified foods have been fortified with additional ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, probiotics, or fiber, to increase a food's health benefits.
Here are some examples of conventional functional foods:
- Fruits: berries, kiwi, pears, peaches, apples, oranges, bananas
- Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, zucchini
- Nuts: almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts
- Seeds: chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds
- Legumes: black beans, chickpeas, navy beans, lentils
- Whole grains: oats, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, couscous
- Seafood: salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, cod
- Fermented foods: tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut
- Herbs and spices: turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, cayenne pepper
- Beverages: coffee, green tea, black tea
Here are some examples of modified functional foods:
- fortified juices
- fortified dairy products, such as milk and yogurt
- fortified milk alternatives, such as almond, rice, coconut, and cashew milk
- fortified grains, such as bread and pasta
- fortified cereal and granola
- fortified eggs
Nutrient-rich foods like fruits, veggies, and legumes are often considered functional foods, along with fortified foods like juice, eggs, and cereal.
Functional foods are associated with several potential health benefits.
May Prevent Nutrient Deficiencies
Functional foods are typically high in important nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber.
Filling your diet with a variety of functional foods — including both conventional and fortified foods — can help ensure you get the nutrients you need and protect against nutrient deficiencies.
In fact, since the introduction of fortified foods, the prevalence of nutrient deficiencies has significantly decreased around the globe.
For instance, after iron-fortified wheat flour was introduced in Jordan, rates of iron deficiency anemia among children were nearly cut in half.
Fortification has also been used to prevent other conditions caused by nutrient deficiencies, including rickets, goiter, and birth defects.
May Protect Against Disease
Functional foods provide important nutrients that can help protect against disease.
Many are especially rich in antioxidants. These molecules help neutralize harmful compounds known as free radicals, helping prevent cell damage and certain chronic conditions, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Some functional foods are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, a healthy type of fat shown to reduce inflammation, boost brain function, and promote heart health.
Other types are rich in fiber, which can promote better blood sugar control and protect against conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and stroke. Fiber may also help prevent digestive disorders, including diverticulitis, stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids, and acid reflux.
May Promote Proper Growth and Development
Certain nutrients are essential to proper growth and development in infants and children.
Enjoying a wide range of nutrient-rich functional foods as part of a healthy diet can help ensure that nutritional needs are met. In addition, it can be beneficial to include foods that are fortified with specific nutrients that are important for growth and development.
For example, cereals, grains, and flours are often fortified with B vitamins like folic acid, which is essential for fetal health.
Low levels of folic acid can increase the risk of neural tube defects, which can affect the brain, spinal cord, or spine. It's estimated that increasing the consumption of folic acid could decrease the prevalence of neural tube defects by 50–70%.
Other nutrients commonly found in functional foods also play key roles in growth and development, including omega-3 fatty acids, iron, zinc, calcium, and vitamin B12.
Functional foods may help prevent nutrient deficiencies, protect against disease, and promote proper growth and development.
A well-rounded, healthy diet should be rich in a variety of functional foods, including nutrient-rich whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
These foods not only supply your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs but also support overall health.
Modified, fortified functional foods can also fit into a balanced diet. In fact, they can help fill any gaps in your diet to prevent nutrient deficiencies, as well as enhance health by boosting your intake of important nutrients like vitamins, minerals, fiber, heart-healthy fats, or probiotics.
Functional foods can be used to boost your intake of important nutrients, fill any gaps in your diet, and support overall health.
The Bottom Line
Functional foods are a category of food associated with several powerful health benefits.
They can not only prevent nutrient deficiencies but also protect against disease and promote proper growth and development.
In addition to enjoying a variety of healthy whole foods, you can include more fortified foods in your diet to fill any nutritional gaps and support better health.
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Surprisingly, the way you cook your food has a major effect on the amount of nutrients it contains.
This article explores how various cooking methods affect the nutrient content of foods.
Nutrient Content is Often Altered During Cooking
Cooking food improves digestion and increases the absorption of many nutrients.
For example, the protein in cooked eggs is 180% more digestible than that of raw eggs.
However, some cooking methods reduce several key nutrients.
The following nutrients are often reduced during cooking:
- water-soluble vitamins: vitamin C and the B vitamins — thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12)
- fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins A, D, E, and K
- minerals: primarily potassium, magnesium, sodium, and calcium
Although cooking improves digestion and the absorption of many nutrients, it may reduce levels of some vitamins and minerals.
Boiling, Simmering, and Poaching
Boiling, simmering, and poaching are similar methods of water-based cooking.
These techniques differ by water temperature:
- poaching: less than 180°F (82°C)
- simmering: 185–200°F (85–93°C)
- boiling: 212°F (100°C)
Vegetables are generally a great source of vitamin C, but a large amount of it is lost when they're cooked in water.
In fact, boiling reduces vitamin C content more than any other cooking method. Broccoli, spinach, and lettuce may lose up to 50% or more of their vitamin C when boiled.
Because vitamin C is water-soluble and sensitive to heat, it can leach out of vegetables when they're immersed in hot water.
B vitamins are similarly heat sensitive. Up to 60% of thiamine, niacin, and other B vitamins may be lost when meat is simmered and its juices run off.
On the other hand, boiling fish was shown to preserve omega-3 fatty acid content significantly more than frying or microwaving.
While water-based cooking methods cause the greatest losses of water-soluble vitamins, they have very little effect on omega-3 fats.
Grilling and Broiling
Grilling and broiling are similar methods of cooking with dry heat.
When grilling, the heat source comes from below, but when broiling, it comes from above.
Grilling is one of the most popular cooking methods because of the great flavor it gives food.
There are also concerns about polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are potentially cancer-causing substances that form when meat is grilled and fat drips onto a hot surface.
However, researchers have found that PAHs can be decreased by 41–89% if drippings are removed and smoke is minimized.
Grilling and broiling provide great flavor but also reduce levels of B vitamins. Also, grilling generates potentially cancer-causing substances.
Microwaving is an easy, convenient, and safe method of cooking.
Short cooking times and reduced exposure to heat preserve the nutrients in microwaved food.
In fact, studies have found that microwaving is the best method for retaining the antioxidant activity of garlic and mushrooms.
Microwaving is a safe cooking method that preserves most nutrients due to short cooking times.
Roasting and Baking
Roasting and baking refer to cooking food in an oven with dry heat.
Although these terms are somewhat interchangeable, roasting is typically used for meat while baking is used for bread, muffins, cake, and similar foods.
Most vitamin losses are minimal with this cooking method, including vitamin C.
Roasting or baking does not have a significant effect on most vitamins and minerals, except for B vitamins.
Sautéing and Stir-Frying
With sautéing and stir-frying, food is cooked in a saucepan over medium to high heat in a small amount of oil or butter.
These techniques are very similar, but with stir-frying, the food is stirred often, the temperature is higher, and the cooking time is shorter.
In general, this is a healthy way to prepare food.
Cooking for a short time without water prevents the loss of B vitamins, and the addition of fat improves the absorption of plant compounds and antioxidants.
One study found that the absorption of beta carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw ones.
In another study, blood lycopene levels increased 80% more when people consumed tomatoes sautéed in olive oil rather than without it.
On the other hand, stir-frying has been shown to significantly reduce the amount of vitamin C in broccoli and red cabbage.
Sautéing and stir-frying improve the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and some plant compounds, but they decrease the amount of vitamin C in vegetables.
Frying involves cooking food in a large amount of fat — usually oil — at a high temperature. The food is often coated with batter or bread crumbs.
It's a popular way of preparing food because the skin or coating maintains a seal, which ensures that the inside remains moist and cooks evenly.
The fat used for frying also makes the food taste very good.
However, not all foods are appropriate for frying.
Fatty fish are the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have many health benefits. However, these fats are very delicate and prone to damage at high temperatures.
For example, frying tuna has been shown to degrade its omega-3 content by up to 70–85%, while baking causes only minimal losses.
In contrast, frying preserves vitamin C and B vitamins, and it may also increase the amount of fiber in potatoes by converting their starch into resistant starch.
When oil is heated to a high temperature for a long period of time, toxic substances called aldehydes are formed. Aldehydes have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.
The type of oil, temperature, and length of cooking time affect the amount of aldehydes produced. Reheating oil also increases aldehyde formation.
If you're going to fry food, don't overcook it, and use one of the healthiest oils for frying.
Frying makes food taste delicious, and it can provide some benefits when healthy oils are used. It's best to avoid frying fatty fish and minimize the frying time of other foods.
Steaming is one of the best cooking methods for preserving nutrients, including water-soluble vitamins, which are sensitive to heat and water.
Researchers have found that steaming broccoli, spinach, and lettuce reduces their vitamin C content by only 9–15%.
The downside is that steamed vegetables may taste bland. However, this is easy to remedy by adding some seasoning and oil or butter after cooking.
Steaming is one of the best cooking methods for preserving nutrients, including water-soluble vitamins.
Tips to Maximize Nutrient Retention During Cooking
Here are 10 tips to reduce nutrient loss while cooking:
- Use as little water as possible when poaching or boiling.
- Consume the liquid left in the pan after cooking vegetables.
- Add back juices from meat that drip into the pan.
- Don't peel vegetables until after cooking them. Better yet, don't peel at all to maximize their fiber and nutrient density.
- Cook vegetables in smaller amounts of water to reduce the loss of vitamin C and B vitamins.
- Try to eat any cooked vegetables within a day or two, as their vitamin C content may continue to decline when the cooked food is exposed to air.
- Cut food after — rather than before — cooking, if possible. When food is cooked whole, less of it is exposed to heat and water.
- Cook vegetables for only a few minutes whenever possible.
- When cooking meat, poultry, and fish, use the shortest cooking time needed for safe consumption.
- Don't use baking soda when cooking vegetables. Although it helps maintain color, vitamin C will be lost in the alkaline environment produced by baking soda.
There are many ways to preserve the nutrient content of foods without sacrificing taste or other qualities.
The Bottom Line
It's important to select the right cooking method to maximize the nutritional quality of your meal.
However, there is no perfect cooking method that retains all nutrients.
In general, cooking for shorter periods at lower temperatures with minimal water will produce the best results.
Don't let the nutrients in your food go down the drain.
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The highest grades of olive oil — extra virgin and virgin — are always cold pressed.
Here are 13 benefits and uses of cold pressed olive oil.
1. High in Nutrients
As it's virtually all fat, cold pressed olive oil is high in calories.
Compared with diets high in saturated fat, those high in unsaturated fat are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.
Olive oil also boasts vitamins E and K. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant involved in immune function, while vitamin K plays a key role in blood clotting and bone health.
Just 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of cold pressed olive oil supplies:
- Calories: 119
- Total fat: 13.5 grams
- Saturated fat: 2 grams
- Monounsaturated fat: 10 grams
- Polyunsaturated fat: 1.5 grams
- Vitamin E: 12.9% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 6.8% of the DV
Cold pressed olive oil also contains at least 30 beneficial plant compounds, many of which are potent antioxidants with anti-inflammatory effects.
Cold pressed olive oil is rich in healthy fats, dozens of powerful plant compounds, and vitamins E and K.
2. Packed With Healthy Fats
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that you consume 20–35% of your calories from fat, mainly the unsaturated type.
Cold pressed olive oil comprises nearly all fat, with 71% coming from an unsaturated fat called oleic acid.
Studies suggest that oleic acid and other unsaturated fats may help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol when used in place of saturated fats.
An additional 11% of the fat in cold pressed olive oil comes from omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These two unsaturated fats are involved in major bodily processes, such as blood pressure regulation, blood clotting, and immune system response.
Although olive oil contains 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon (15 ml), this is well within the 13–22-gram daily limit recommended by most health authorities for a standard 2,000-calorie diet.
Cold pressed olive oil mainly comprises oleic acid, a fat that may help lower cholesterol. It also provides omega-6 and omega-3 fats, which are essential for your health.
3. Contains Potent Antioxidants
Cold pressed olive oil may retain more antioxidants than lower-grade olive oils since it isn't treated with heat.
Per tablespoon (15 ml), olive oil contains 12.9% of the DV for vitamin E — an essential nutrient and potent antioxidant.
It's also rich in plant compounds like oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol, which have demonstrated powerful antioxidant properties in animal and test-tube studies.
Researchers believe that these compounds may be partly responsible for the benefits of the Mediterranean diet, including stronger bones and a reduced risk of heart disease, brain conditions, and certain cancers.
Cold pressed olive oil contains powerful antioxidants that may safeguard your body against numerous diseases.
4. May Fight Inflammation
Prolonged, low-grade inflammation is believed to factor into many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and Alzheimer's disease.
Studies suggest that olive oil may help reduce inflammation due to its high concentration of healthy fats, antioxidants, and compounds like oleocanthal.
Oleocanthal is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Test-tube studies indicate that it acts similarly to ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug — although human studies are needed.
Remember that including more plant-based options in your diet may reduce inflammation more effectively than relying on a single compound, nutrient, or food.
Still, replacing foods high in saturated fat — such as butter, shortening, and lard — with cold pressed olive oil is an excellent place to start.
Due to its high concentration of healthy fats, antioxidants, and beneficial plant compounds, cold pressed olive oil may help reduce inflammation.
5. May Protect Against Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death among both men and women worldwide, responsible for over 17 million deaths each year.
Numerous studies reveal that replacing foods high in saturated fat with olive oil may help reduce high LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood pressure levels — two major risk factors for heart disease.
One study in over 84,000 women found that substituting 5% of saturated fats for foods high in monounsaturated fats, including olive oil, reduced heart disease risk by 15%.
The Mediterranean diet, which relies on olive oil as its main source of fat, has been shown to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke by up to 28%.
Replacing sources of saturated fat with cold pressed olive oil may reduce your risk of heart disease.
6. May Promote Brain Health
One example is the MIND (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) diet, which recommends primarily cooking with olive oil. It combines the traditional Mediterranean diet with the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet.
In population studies, individuals following the MIND diet demonstrate slower declines in mental sharpness and memory with age, as well as after stroke.
A 4.5-year study in 923 people found a 53% reduction in the rate of Alzheimer's disease in those who most strictly adhered to the diet.
The diet's combination of brain-boosting foods may likewise be responsible for its benefits. Besides olive oil, the MIND diet is high in vegetables, berries, nuts, whole grains, and fish. It's also low in sodium.
Furthermore, animal and test-tube research suggests that oleocanthal, a compound in olive oil, may help reduce brain plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease. All the same, human research is needed.
Diets high in olive oil may help prevent mental decline associated with aging, as well as reduce your risk of Alzheimer's disease.
7–10. Other Potential Health Benefits
Though research is limited, cold pressed olive oil may offer other potential health benefits. These include:
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. Human studies link diets highest in olive oil — up to 1.5 tablespoons (20 ml) per day — with a 16% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Improved blood sugar levels. In a small study, people taking 20 mg of concentrated oleuropein, a compound in olive oil, experienced a 14% lower blood sugar spike following a meal than those taking a placebo.
- Constipation relief. According to some small studies, taking as little as 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of olive oil daily may treat constipation.
- Delayed progression of osteoarthritis. Animal research notes that olive oil and its compounds may fight osteoarthritis by preventing damage to cartilage, the protective cushioning in joints.
Keep in mind that more research is needed.
Early research suggests that olive oil and its compounds may help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, improve blood sugar levels, relieve constipation, and fight osteoarthritis.
11. May Benefit Hair, Skin, and Nails
Though there is limited scientific evidence to support the topical application of olive oil, it's a common ingredient in many soaps, body washes, and lotions.
Some popular cosmetic uses for olive oil are:
- Hair treatment. Use 1–2 tablespoons (15–30 ml) of olive oil to treat split ends or gently massage it into your scalp to relieve dryness. Afterward, shampoo and rinse thoroughly.
- Moisturizer. To hydrate your skin, apply a thin layer after showering or mix a dime-sized amount into your regular lotion before use. You may need to blot excess oil with a towel.
- Cuticle conditioner. Massage a drop of olive oil into each fingertip to treat chapped, cracked, or dry cuticles.
Since lower-grade olive oils may harbor potential skin irritants, it's best to stick to extra virgin and virgin olive oils, which are both cold pressed.
Though olive oil may be an effective moisturizer for hair, skin, and nails, there's little scientific evidence to back these uses. What's more, it may be inappropriate for people with sensitive skin.
12. Easy to Add to Your Diet
Cold pressed olive oil is not only a great cooking oil for sautéing, roasting, and baking but also an ideal ingredient in salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.
Replacing saturated fat with this oil may be particularly beneficial for your health. Consider these easy food swaps:
- When cooking, replace butter, shortening, lard, or bacon grease with cold pressed olive oil.
- Instead of buying creamy salad dressings, try ones made with olive oil — or make your own.
- Opt for olive-oil-based sauces like pesto over cream- or cheese-based ones.
- For a vegetable dip, try hummus made with olive oil instead of blue cheese or ranch dressing.
- Instead of buttering your bread, dip it in cold pressed olive oil and seasonings.
Cold pressed olive oil also works for deep frying, but you should limit your use of this cooking method because of the excess calories it provides.
Furthermore, olive oil is still calorie-dense. If you monitor your calorie intake, be sure to use this fat within your daily allotment to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Cold pressed olive oil is a heart-healthy fat for daily cooking and works especially well in dressings, sauces, and dips.
The Bottom Line
Cold pressed olive oil may retain more nutrients than olive oils treated with heat.
It's loaded with healthy fats, vitamins E and K, and several antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. These nutrients may promote brain and heart health, in addition to other benefits.
You may stand to gain the most if you use cold pressed olive oil in place of other fats, such as lard, butter, or margarine.
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By Kris Gunnars
Dietary fats are highly controversial, with debates about animal fats, seed oils, and everything in between in full force.
That said, most people agree that extra virgin olive oil is incredibly healthy.
Part of the Mediterranean diet, this traditional oil has been a dietary staple for some of the world's healthiest populations.
Studies show that the fatty acids and antioxidants in olive oil can offer some powerful health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease.
This article reviews why extra virgin olive oil is one of the healthiest fats.
What Is Olive Oil and How Is It Made?
Olive oil is oil that has been extracted from olives, the fruits of the olive tree.
The production process is incredibly simple. Olives can be pressed to extract their oil, but modern methods involve crushing the olives, mixing them together, and then separating the oil from the pulp in a centrifuge.
After centrifugation, small amounts of oil remain in the pomace. The leftover oil can be extracted using chemical solvents and is known as olive pomace oil.
Olive pomace oil is generally cheaper than regular olive oil and has a bad reputation.
Buying the right type of olive oil is crucial. There are three main grades of olive oil — refined, virgin, and extra virgin. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed or refined type.
Extra virgin olive oil is considered to be the healthiest type of olive oil. It's extracted using natural methods and standardized for purity and certain sensory qualities like taste and smell.
Olive oil that is truly extra virgin has a distinct taste and is high in phenolic antioxidants, which is the main reason why it's so beneficial.
Legally, vegetable oils that are labeled as olive oil cannot be diluted with other types of oils. Nevertheless, it's essential to inspect the label carefully and buy from a reputable seller.
Nutrient Composition of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is fairly nutritious.
It contains modest amounts of vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids.
One tablespoon (13.5 grams) of olive oil contains the following:
- Saturated fat: 14%
- Monounsaturated fat: 73% (mostly oleic acid)
- Vitamin E: 13% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Vitamin K: 7% of the DV
Notably, extra virgin olive oil shines in its antioxidant content.
Antioxidants are biologically active, and some of them can help fight serious diseases.
The oil's main antioxidants include the anti-inflammatory oleocanthal, as well as oleuropein, a substance that protects LDL (bad) cholesterol from oxidation.
Some people have criticized olive oil for having a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio (over 10:1). However, its total amount of polyunsaturated fats is still relatively low, so this shouldn't be a cause for concern.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil Contains Anti-Inflammatory Substances
Some speculate that olive oil's ability to fight inflammation is behind its many health benefits.
Oleic acid, the most prominent fatty acid in olive oil, has been found to reduce inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein.
However, the oil's main anti-inflammatory effects seem to be due to its antioxidants, primarily oleocanthal, which has been shown to work like ibuprofen, a popular anti-inflammatory drug.
Researchers estimate that the amount of oleocanthal in 50 ml (about 3.4 tablespoons) of extra virgin olive oil exerts effects similar to those of 10 percent of the adult ibuprofen dosage for pain relief.
Also, one study showed that substances in olive oil can reduce the expression of genes and proteins that mediate inflammation.
Keep in mind that chronic, low-level inflammation is usually fairly mild, and it takes years or decades for it to do damage.
Using extra virgin olive oil may help prevent this from happening, leading to a reduced risk of various inflammatory diseases, especially heart disease.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular diseases, such as heart disease and stroke, are among the most common causes of death in the world.
Many observational studies show that death from these diseases is low in certain areas of the world, especially in countries around the Mediterranean Sea.
This observation originally spurred interest in the Mediterranean diet, which is supposed to mimic the way the people in those countries eat.
Studies on the Mediterranean diet show that it can help prevent heart disease. In one major study, it reduced heart attacks, strokes, and death by 30 percent.
Extra virgin olive oil protects against heart disease via numerous mechanisms:
- Reducing inflammation. Olive oil protects against inflammation, a key driver of heart disease.
- Reduces oxidation of LDL (bad) cholesterol. The oil protects LDL particles from oxidative damage, a key factor in the development of heart disease.
- Improves blood vessel health. Olive oil improves the function of the endothelium, which is the lining of the blood vessels.
- Helps manage blood clotting. Some studies suggest that olive oil can help prevent unwanted blood clotting, a key feature of heart attacks and strokes.
- Lowers blood pressure. One study in patients with elevated blood pressure found that olive oil reduced blood pressure significantly and lowered the need for blood pressure medication by 48 percent.
Given the biological effects of olive oil, it's not surprising that people who consume the greatest amounts of it are significantly less likely to die from heart attacks and strokes.
Dozens — if not hundreds — of animal and human studies have shown that olive oil has major benefits for the heart.
In fact, the evidence is strong enough to recommend that people who have or are at a high risk of developing heart disease include plenty of extra virgin olive oil in their diets.
Other Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Although olive oil has mostly been studied for its effects on heart health, its consumption has also been associated with a number of other health benefits.
Olive Oil and Cancer
Cancer is a common cause of death and characterized by the uncontrolled growth of cells.
Studies have shown that people living in the Mediterranean countries have a fairly low risk of cancer, and some have speculated that olive oil has something to do with this.
One potential contributor to cancer is oxidative damage due to harmful molecules called free radicals. However, extra virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants that reduce oxidative damage.
The oleic acid in olive oil is also highly resistant to oxidation and has been shown to have beneficial effects on genes linked to cancer.
Many test-tube studies have observed that compounds in olive oil can help fight cancer at the molecular level.
That said, controlled trials in humans have yet to study whether olive oil helps prevent cancer.
Olive Oil and Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's disease is the world's most common neurodegenerative disease and a leading cause of dementia.
One feature of Alzheimer's is a buildup of protein tangles called beta-amyloid plaques in certain neurons in the brain.
A study in mice observed that a substance in olive oil can help clear these plaques.
Additionally, a controlled study in humans showed that a Mediterranean diet enriched with olive oil improved brain function and reduced the risk of cognitive impairment.
Can You Cook With It?
During cooking, fatty acids can oxidize, meaning they react with oxygen and become damaged.
The double bonds in fatty acid molecules are mostly responsible for this.
For this reason, saturated fats, which have no double bonds, are resistant to high heat. Meanwhile, polyunsaturated fats, which have many double bonds, are sensitive and become damaged.
Olive oil contains mostly monounsaturated fatty acids, which have only one double bond, and is fairly resistant to high heat.
In one study, researchers heated extra virgin olive oil to 356°F (180°C) for 36 hours. The oil was highly resistant to damage.
Another study used olive oil for deep-frying, and it took 24–27 hours for it to reach damage levels that were deemed harmful.
Overall, olive oil seems to be very safe — even for cooking at fairly high heat.
The Bottom Line
Olive oil is super healthy.
For those who have heart disease or are at a high risk of developing it, olive oil is most definitely a superfood.
The benefits of this wonderful fat are among the few things that most people in nutrition agree upon.
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