Go Bananas For Bananas

Bananas
Bananas

Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world for good reason.  They are extremely healthy and delicious.  There are several varieties, which vary in color, size and shape.  The most common type is the yellow banana which is green when unripe.

You may already know that bananas are a great source of potassium.  A medium-sized banana has 422 mg of the mineral, which is about 12% of the recommended daily value according to the USDA.  Bananas are also a good source of vitamins C and B6.  A medium-sized banana has 15% and 30% of the recommended daily value of these two vitamins respectively.

Reasons To Eat Bananas

1. Bananas help keep blood pressure in check

Bananas are rich in potassium, and a potassium-rich diet helps lower blood pressure.  According to the American Heart Association, the more potassium you consume, the more sodium that can exit your body.  That is because potassium acts like a natural diuretic.  It triggers the kidneys to release excess sodium and fluids the body is holding on to, lowering blood pressure in the process.  Bananas are also a good source of magnesium which also helps lower blood pressure.  Lower blood pressure is great for your heart, because the muscle won’t have to work as hard to pump blood throughout your body.

2. Bananas are good for your gut bacteria

You’ve probably heard of probiotics, the “good” bacteria that aid digestion and are found in certain foods like yogurt.  Well there’s also such a thing as prebiotics, and bananas happen to be a great source of them.  Prebiotics are actually carbohydrates that can’t be digested by the human body, however they play a vital role in maintaining a healthy gut.  Prebiotics supply food for the probiotics, so they help the “good” probiotic bacteria grow.  You’ll also find prebiotics in raisins, asparagus, onions, and garlic.

3. Bananas can ease stomach troubles

Bananas can help with several tummy issues.  The 3.1 grams of fiber you’ll find in a medium banana is split into two different types: soluble and insoluble fiber.  Soluble fiber helps ease digestion, while insoluble fiber helps relieve constipation.  Bananas also neutralize the acidity in the stomach and coat the lining to reduce irritation, so they can help fight heartburn and stomach ulcers too.

4. Bananas help protect the cardiovascular system

Bananas represent an important part of overall heart health for a variety of reasons.  The potassium in bananas helps reduce blood pressure.  In addition to being a diuretic, bananas are vasodilators.  This means they relax the tension of the blood vessels helping the blood flow more smoothly through the body and oxygenate the various organs of the body to increase their function.  This can help reduce atherosclerosis and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.  The fiber in bananas also helps scrape excess cholesterol from the blood vessels which also reduces cardiovascular disease risk.

Ways to Enjoy Bananas

  • Just peel and eat: Take a banana with you to work or school for a healthy, portable snack.
  • On cereals: Add a sliced banana to your morning cereal or oatmeal for a more nutritious breakfast.
  • In smoothies: Peel and freeze bananas (or use fresh) for a great addition to any smoothie.
  • In baked goods: Ripe, mashed bananas can be used in baked goods to replace oil or butter.  Mashed bananas lend a moist, natural, sweet flavor to cakes, muffins, breads, and cookies.
  • With peanut butter:  A peanut butter and banana sandwich is an all-time favorite comfort food for children and adults alike.
  • Healthy fruit salad: Include banana slices along with orange slices, strawberries, and mango chunks in your next fruit salad.
  • Yogurt topping: Sweeten plain yogurt with slices of banana for a delicious dessert or snack.
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Health Benefits of Oranges

Oranges
Oranges

Long recognized as a potent source of vitamin C, oranges are considered by most to be tasty, juicy, and all too familiar.  The discoveries being made about the power of oranges to support heart health and prevent cancer, stroke, diabetes and other chronic ailments are bringing them and other citrus fruits into the limelight as crucial components of a healthy diet.

Oranges originated in Asia thousands of years ago and have become one of the most popular fruits the world over.  Christopher Columbus brought orange seeds to the Caribbean Islands in the 15th century, and Spanish explorers then brought oranges to Florida in the next century.  About 200 years later, Spanish missionaries brought oranges to California.  Florida and California remain the primary producers of oranges in the United States.

Portable fruits, they are easy to eat and crucial to good health.  They are easy to put in children’s lunch boxes and bags, and they are the perfect mid-day snack when you are craving something sweet.  Oranges are also great flavor boosters when cooked with chicken or lean turkey breast.

Oranges are classified into two general categories: sweet and bitter.  The sweet varieties are the most commonly consumed and popular varieties include valencia, jaffa, navel, and blood oranges.  The blood orange is a hybrid species that is smaller in size and marked by red hues running throughout its flesh.

Bitter oranges are often used to make jam or marmalade, and their zest is used as the flavoring for liqueurs such as Grand Marnier and Cointreau.

Reasons To Eat Oranges

1. Oranges protect against cancer

Oranges contain a phytonutrient called limonene.  Limonene stimulates our antioxidant detoxification enzyme system, helping to stop cancer before it begins.  Oranges contain significant amounts of limonene in the peel and smaller quantities in the pulp.  Limonene has been proven to help fight a number of varieties of cancer including that of the lung, skin, breast, stomach, and colon.

Vitamin C, abundantly available in oranges, also plays a role in fighting cancer.  One study of Swiss men found that those who died of any type of cancer had vitamin C concentrations about 10 percent lower than those who died from other causes.

2. Oranges lower cholesterol

One cup of orange segments contain four grams of fiber, most of which is soluble fiber.  Since they are full of soluble fiber, oranges help lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol in your gut and preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream.  This reduces risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

3. Oranges strengthen immunity

Scientific studies show the abundance of polyphenols in oranges protects against viral infections.  The vitamin C in oranges also protects cells in your body by neutralizing free radicals.  Free radicals cause chronic diseases, like cancer and heart disease.

4. Oranges lower stroke risk

Oranges are rich in vitamin C, and several scientific studies found a high blood concentration of vitamin C is associated with a lower stroke risk.  In one large study published in 2008, University of Cambridge researchers measured vitamin C levels in roughly 20,000 people and followed them for over a decade.  The participants were divided into four groups based on vitamin C levels.  The researchers found that those with the highest concentrations of the vitamin in their blood had a 42 percent lower stroke risk than those with the lowest concentrations.

5. Oranges regulate blood sugar levels

The orange has a glycemic index of 40.  Anything under 55 is considered low.  Therefore oranges will not spike your blood sugar and cause problems with insulin and weight gain as long as you do not eat too many at one time.

6. Oranges support heart health

Oranges are full of potassium, an electrolyte mineral responsible for helping the heart function well.  When potassium levels get too low, you may develop an abnormal heart rhythm known as an arrhythmia.

7. Oranges regulate high blood pressure

The flavonoid hesperidin found in oranges helps regulate high blood pressure.  Oranges also contain potassium and magnesium which help maintain blood pressure.

8. Oranges protect your vision

Oranges are rich in carotenoid compounds which are converted to vitamin A and help prevent macular degeneration as we age.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Warm your day: Oranges added to oatmeal is a great way to start your day.
  • Spice up your fruit salad: Be sure to include oranges in your next fruit salad.  Mix orange slices, mango chunks, and strawberries to your fruits salad with a sprinkle of chili powder.
  • Vibrant salad:  Add orange slices, strawberries, and walnuts onto a bed of your favorite field greens for a salad that is sure to please.
  • 100 percent juice: Just squeeze fresh oranges and enjoy.  Keep in mind that the whole fruit is more nutritious than the juice, because it contains more fiber.
  • Slice it or just peel and eat: Whatever your favorite way to eat an orange is, just take a bite into this delicious citrus fruit.
  • Use the peel: Orange peel is both flavorful and healthy.  If your recipe calls for orange zest, be sure to use organically grown oranges since conventionally grown fruits have pesticide residue on their skin and may also be artificially colored.

Choose Healthier Protein Sources

Chicken Breast, Sage, Spinach
Chicken Breast with Sage and Spinach

The human body is made up of over ten thousand different proteins.  Protein’s building blocks are called amino acids.  Because our bodies are constantly making new proteins and because we do not store amino acids as we do fats, we need a daily supply of protein.

The Institute of Medicine determined that the daily protein intake be 10 – 35% of calories.  The Institute of Medicine also recommends 0.8 grams of dietary protein per kilogram of body weight or just over 7 grams per 20 pounds.  This translates to about 55 grams of dietary protein for a 150-pound person and 75 grams of dietary protein for a 200-pound person.  Many different foods contain protein.  These include fish, poultry, eggs, red meat, processed meat, nuts, seeds, vegetables, beans, whole grains, and dairy.  Because it is so easy to get protein, it is uncommon for western diets to have a protein deficiency.

Animal and Plant Proteins

Our bodies make protein in two different ways: Either from scratch or by modifying other amino acids.  A few amino acids must come from food.  These are called essential amino acids.

  • Animal protein contains all the amino acids we need, and they are called complete proteins.
  • Plant protein sources, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds, lack at least one essential amino acid.  These are called incomplete proteins.

The Protein Package

Some high-protein foods are healthier than others because of what comes along with the protein.  This could be healthy or harmful fats, beneficial fiber, or hidden salt.  It is this “protein package” that is likely to differentiate one protein source as healthier than another.  For example, a 6-ounce broiled porterhouse steak has 40 grams of protein, but it also has a whopping 12 grams of saturated fat. That is 60 percent of the recommended saturated fat intake for a person on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.  Also a 6-ounce ham steak has only 2.5 grams of saturated fat, but it has 2,000 milligrams of sodium.  That is 500 milligrams more than the recommended maximum sodium intake.

On the other hand, a 6-ounce serving of wild salmon has 34 grams of protein, is naturally low in sodium, and has only 1.7 grams of saturated fat.  Salmon and other oily fish are excellent sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  A cup of cooked lentils provides 18 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber, and it has very little saturated fat and sodium.

If you like beef, choose the leanest cuts you can find.  Chicken, turkey, and fish are better choices.  Beans, nuts, whole grains and other plant sources are even better because they are generally low in saturated fat and high in fiber.  Also low-fat and non-fat dairy products are better than full-fat products.

So plant protein sources are healthier than animal sources because there protein package is healthier.  Because plant proteins are incomplete proteins, it is important to eat a variety of plant protein foods to get all of the amino acids needed to make new protein.

Putting it into Practice

  • Reel in Fish.  Seafood is important in a heart-healthy diet (particularly salmon, herring, and sardines).  Adding fish instead of red meat reduces saturated fat intake and increases omega-3 fats.  These marine omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA) improve blood cholesterol levels.  Aim for at least three servings per week.
  • Bulk up on Beans.  Beans contain soluble fiber which lowers the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol in your bloodstream.  LDL cholesterol causes plaque to build up in your arteries.  Beans also contain the minerals magnesium and potassium which help lower blood pressure.
  • Be a little Nutty.  Eat nuts and seeds to get plant protein along with unsaturated fats.  Try mixed nuts like walnuts, almonds, peanuts, pecans, and hazelnuts to get more nutrients.  Seeds like chia seeds and flaxseeds are also good sources of omega-3 fats.  Nuts and seeds are high in calories, so limit them to one to two ounces per day.
  • Go with Whole Grains.  In addition to protein, whole grains like brown rice, oats, quinoa, and whole wheat contain fiber which helps lower heart disease risk.
  • Choose Non-fat and Low-fat Dairy Products.  Full fat dairy is rich in saturated fat, which increases LDL cholesterol. Non-fat and low-fat dairy products are better choices.
  • Put that Steak Out to Pasture.  Like full fat dairy, red meat also contains a lot of saturated fat, which increases LDL cholesterol.  Limit red meat to a few servings per month.
  • Avoid Processed Meat.  Eating small amounts of processed red meat regularly has been linked to increased risk of heart disease.  They are also leaded with salt and added sugar.  Also the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that processed meats probably cause cancer.
  • Choose Poultry.  Turkey and chicken have less saturated fat than beef.  They are both good sources of protein.  Eat these instead of red meat.
  • Nutrient-rich Eggs.  Eggs are rich in vitamins and minerals, so eating up to four eggs a week is a good idea.  People with heart disease or diabetes may want to limit egg consumption to three a week.