Sweet Potatoes: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information

Sweet potatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch. They have got over 400% of your daily needs for vitamin A in one medium spud, as well as loads of fiber and potassium. They have got more grams of natural sugars than regular potato but more overall nutrients with fewer calories.

Despite the terms sweet potato and yam often being used interchangeably, they are actually not even botanically related. Yams are almost exclusively grown in Africa and are more dry and starchy compared to a sweet potato. So how did these two vegetables become so intertwined?

There are two different varieties of sweet potatoes, firm and soft. When soft sweet potatoes were being cultivated in the Americas, African slaves began calling them yams because of their resemblance to their familiar native vegetable. The name caught on as a way to distinguish between the two types of sweet potatoes. Today, you are unlikely to find a true yam in the grocery store unless you are shopping in an international market.

Possible health benefits of sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch. They have got over 400% of your daily needs for vitamin A in one medium spud, as well as loads of fiber and potassium.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions.

Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like sweet potatoes decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

Diabetes

Sweet potatoes are considered low on the glycemic index scale, and recent research suggests they may reduce episodes of low blood sugar and insulin resistance in people with diabetes. The fiber in sweet potatoes makes a big difference too. Studies have shown that type 1 diabetics who consume high-fiber diets have lower blood glucose levels and type 2 diabetics may have improved blood sugar, lipids, and insulin levels. One medium sweet potato provides about 6 grams of fiber (skin on).

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 21-25 grams of fiber per day for women and 30-38 grams per day for men, which most people do not reach.

Blood pressure

Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, however increasing potassium intake may be just as important. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2% of US adults are meeting the daily 4,700 mg recommendation for potassium.3 One medium sweet potato provides about 542 milligrams.

Also of note, high potassium intake is associated with a 20% decreased risk of dying from all causes.

Cancer

Among younger men, diets rich in beta-carotene may play a protective role against prostate cancer, according to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition.4 Beta-carotene has also been shown to have an inverse association with the development of colon cancer in the Japanese population.3

Digestion and regularity

Because of its high fiber content, sweet potatoes help to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.

Fertility

For women of childbearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources appears to promote fertility, according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications. The vitamin A in sweet potatoes (consumed as beta-carotene then converted to vitamin A in the body) is also essential during pregnancy and lactation for hormone synthesis.

Immunity

Plant foods like sweet potatoes that are high in both vitamin C and beta-carotene offer an immunity boost from their powerful combination of nutrients.

Inflammation

Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in sweet potatoes that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.

In a study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, purple sweet potato extract was found to have positive anti-inflammatory and anti lipogenic effects as well as free radical scavenging and reducing activity.

Vision

According to Duke ophthalmologist Jill Koury, MD, vitamin A deficiency causes the outer segments of the eye’s photoreceptors to deteriorate, damaging normal vision. Correcting vitamin A deficiencies with foods high in beta-carotene will restore vision.5

Also of note, the antioxidant vitamins C and E in sweet potatoes have been shown to support eye health and prevent degenerative damage.

A higher intake of all fruits (3 or more servings per day) has also been shown to decrease the risk of and progression of age-related macular degeneration.

Nutritional breakdown of sweet potatoes

One medium sweet potato (2″ diameter, 5″ long, approximately 114 grams) provides 162 calories, 0 grams of fat, 37 grams of carbohydrate (including 6 grams of fiber and 12 grams of sugar), and 3.6 grams of protein according to the USDA’s national nutrient database.

One medium sweet potato will provide well over 100% of your daily needs for vitamin A, as well as 37% of vitamin C, 16% of vitamin B-6, 10% of pantothenic acid, 15% of potassium and 28% of manganese. You’ll also find small amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, and folate.

Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant known to give orange vegetables and fruits their vibrant color, which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Consuming foods rich in beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer, offer protection against asthma and heart disease and delay aging and body degeneration.

Keep the skin on! The color of sweet potato skin can vary from white to yellow, purple or brown but no matter what color it is, make sure you do not peel it off. A sweet potatoes skin contributes significant amounts of fiber, potassium, and quercetin.

How to incorporate more sweet potatoes into your diet

Avoid buying sweet potatoes with soft skin or wrinkles, cracks or soft spots. Store in a cool, dry place for up to 3-5 weeks.

Roast sweet potatoes to bring out their natural flavor. There is no need to add in marshmallow topping or loads of butter, sweet potatoes have a naturally sweet and creamy taste that can be enjoyed all on their own. To add a little spice without extra calories, try sprinkling on cinnamon, cumin or curry powder.

The fastest way to prepare a sweet potato is in the microwave. Prick the potato with a fork and then microwave on high until soft. Make sure to let it cool for several minutes, and then drizzle with olive oil or top with fat-free plain Greek yogurt.

Roasted sweet potatoes
Roast sweet potatoes to bring out their natural flavor. To add a little spice without extra calories, try sprinkling on cinnamon, cumin or curry powder.

Try adding roasted sweet potatoes and pecans to a salad and top with balsamic vinegar. You also can try adding sweet potato to your favorite pancakes or hash browns.

Try these simple and healthy recipes to incorporate more sweet potatoes into your diet:

Roasted Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet Potato Chips
Heart Healthy Chipotle Chili
Sweet Potato Hummus

Potential health risks of consuming sweet potatoes

Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.

Consuming too much potassium can be harmful to those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

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Oranges: Health Benefits

There are thousands of reasons why eating an orange a day is a good idea; they are low in calories but full of nutrients, they promote clear, healthy skin and can help to lower our risk for many diseases and conditions as part of an overall healthy and varied diet.

Orange trees are the most cultivated fruit trees in the world. Oranges are a popular fruit because of their natural sweetness, a wide variety of types and diversity of uses – from juices and marmalades to face masks and candied orange slices.

An orange has over 170 different phytochemicals and more than 60 flavonoids, many of which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and strong antioxidant effects.

Possible health benefits of consuming oranges

Stroke

Orange and orange peel
One orange provides a range of vitamins and minerals; a staggering 130 percent of your vitamin C needs for the day.

According to the American Heart Association, eating higher amounts of a compound found in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit may lower ischemic stroke risk for women. Those who ate the highest amounts of citrus had a 19 percent lower risk of ischemic stroke than women who consumed the least.

Blood pressure

Maintaining a low sodium intake is essential to lowering blood pressure, however increasing potassium intake may be just as important because of its vasodilation effects. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, fewer than 2 percent of US adults meet the daily 4700 mg recommendation.

Also of note, a high potassium intake is associated with a 20 percent decreased risk of dying from all causes.

Cancer

According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, consuming bananas, oranges and orange juice in the first two years of life collagen (resource no longer available at http://www.bastyrcenter.org), the support system of your skin.

Nutritional breakdown of oranges

One medium orange (approximately 154 grams) contains 80 calories, 0 grams of fat, 250 milligrams of potassium, 19 grams of carbohydrate (14 grams of sugar and 3 grams of dietary fiber) as well as 1 gram of protein.

One orange provides 130 percent of your vitamin C needs for the day, 2 percent of vitamin A needs, 6 percent of calcium and 0 percent of iron.

Oranges also contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6, folate, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, selenium, and copper. Because of their high vitamin C content (over twice the daily need), oranges are associated with boosting the immune system.

Oranges also contain choline, zeaxanthin, and carotenoids.

Choline is an important nutrient found in oranges that help with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.

Zeaxanthin and carotenoids have antioxidant effects and have been shown to have an inverse relationship with overall cancer rates and prostate cancer in particular.

How to incorporate more oranges into your diet

Orange segments
There are a variety of orange types on offer that can aid in various conditions from heart health to diabetes.

Oranges should be picked at their peak of ripeness because unlike some other fruits, they do not ripen or improve in quality after being picked. Oranges should be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight.

While it is hard to find good fruits and vegetables in the winter, it is the perfect time to buy citrus. Winter is the peak season for oranges and other citrus fruits.

There are many different types of oranges available such as navel, mandarin, caracara, blood oranges, Valencia and Seville oranges just to name a few. Some are very sweet and others have more of a sour taste.

Tips for oranges:

  • Keep a bowl on the kitchen table or counter stocked with fresh fruit from the season. Seeing the fruits readily available will likely cause you to choose them as a snack more often rather than raiding the cupboards for a less healthy snack.
  • Make a fruit salad with strawberries, pineapple, mandarin oranges, and grapes.
  • Add some orange slices to your salad at lunch or dinner. Compliment the oranges with walnuts or pecans, a crumbled cheese, and a light balsamic or citrus vinaigrette dressing.
  • Make your own juice! Nothing tastes better than freshly squeezed orange juice in the morning. When you make your own, you can be sure there are no added preservatives or sweeteners.

Possible health risks of oranges

Beta-blockers, a type of medication most commonly prescribed for heart disease, can cause potassium levels to increase in the blood. High potassium foods such as oranges and bananas should be consumed in moderation when taking beta-blockers.

Consuming too much potassium can be harmful to those whose kidneys are not fully functional. If your kidneys are unable to remove excess potassium from the blood, it could be fatal.

Those with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) may experience an increase in symptoms such as heartburn and regurgitation when consuming highly acidic foods such as citrus fruit, however individual reactions vary.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

Watercress: Health Benefits

Watercress is a dark, leafy green grown in natural spring water. For the past few decades, watercress has been used as little more than a plate garnish; however, it is now seeing a resurgence in popularity as one of the next big super foods.

An ancient green said to have been a staple in the diet of Roman soldiers, watercress is a part of the cruciferous (also known as brassica) family of vegetables along with kale, broccoli, arugula, and Brussels sprouts.

In fact, Hippocrates, the father of medicine, used watercress to treat his patients. It was widely available until the 19th century and watercress sandwiches were a staple of the working class diet in England.

As more varieties of salad leaves were cultivated over the next 100 years, watercress became known as a poor man’s food and was eventually shoved off our plates. Its newfound popularity is partly due to its high ANDI score (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index). The ANDI score measures vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content in relation to caloric content.

To earn high rank, a food must provide a high amount of nutrients for a few calories. Watercress received the highest rank possible. If you are looking for food to eat to improve your health and shrink your waistline, look no further than watercress.

Fast facts on watercress

Here are some key points about watercress. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

  • Watercress was fed to the Roman army
  • One cup of watercress contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin K
  • A chemical in watercress may help protect against the negative effects of cancer treatment
  • The calcium, magnesium, and potassium in watercress may help bring down blood pressure

Nutritional breakdown of watercress

watercress
An ancient green said to have been a staple in the diet of Roman soldiers’ diets.

Watercress, along with beetroot and other leafy greens, contains a very high level of dietary nitrate.

High intakes of dietary nitrate have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise, and enhance athletic performance. Moderate intakes do not appear to have the same effects.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, two cups of fresh watercress (about 68 grams) contains only 7 calories.

Two cups of watercress also provide:

  • 1.6 grams of protein
  • 0.1 grams of fat
  • 0.9 grams of carbohydrate (including 0.3 grams of fiber and 0.1 grams of sugar)

Consuming 2 cups of watercress will meet the following level of daily requirements:

  • 212 percent of vitamin K
  • 48 percent of vitamin C
  • 44 percent of vitamin A
  • 8 percent of calcium
  • 8 percent of manganese
  • 6 percent of potassium

Plus, 4 percent of vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, magnesium, and phosphorus.

elainePossible health benefits of consuming watercress

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds is associated with a reduced risk of a number of adverse health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods, like watercress, decreases the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality while promoting a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

Cancer prevention and treatment

Studies have consistently shown that a compound in cruciferous vegetables known as 3,3′-diindolylmethane (DIM) has protective effects against cancer, but a recent study shows there is also hope for using it as a shield to protect healthy tissues during cancer treatment.

In a study conducted at Georgetown University, rats were given a lethal dose of radiation. Some were left untreated, and others were treated with a daily injection of DIM for 2 weeks. All the untreated rats died, but over 50 percent of those receiving the DIM remained alive at the 30-day mark.

The same researchers did the experiment on mice and found similar results. They were able to determine that the DIM-treated mice had higher counts or red and white blood cells and blood platelets, which radiation therapy often diminishes.

Eating high amounts of cruciferous vegetables has also been associated with a lower risk of lung and colon cancer. Studies have suggested that the sulfur-containing compounds (namely sulforaphane) that give cruciferous vegetables their bitter bite are also what give them their cancer-fighting power.

Sulforaphane is now being studied for its ability to delay or impede cancer with early promising results associated with melanoma, esophageal, prostate, breast, and pancreatic cancers. Researchers have found that sulforaphane can inhibit the enzyme histone deacetylase (HDAC), known to be involved in the progression of cancer cells. The ability to stop HDAC enzymes could make sulforaphane-containing foods a potentially powerful part of cancer treatment in the future.

Watercress also contains high amounts of chlorophyll, which may be effective at blocking the carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic amines generated when grilling foods at a high temperature.

Lowering blood pressure

People who consume diets that are low in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium are more likely to have high blood pressure. These minerals are thought to bring blood pressure down by releasing sodium out of the body and helping arteries dilate.

It is important to note that taking these minerals in supplement form will not provide the same health benefits as when they are consumed in food. Watercress contains all three of these healthy minerals and can help improve intake.

According to a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, foods containing dietary nitrates like watercress have been shown to have multiple vascular benefits, including reducing blood pressure, inhibiting platelet aggregation, and preserving or improving endothelial dysfunction.

In general, a diet rich in all fruits and vegetables has been shown to help maintain healthy blood pressure.

Maintaining healthy bones

Low intakes of vitamin K are associated with a higher risk of bone fracture. Adequate vitamin K consumption improves bone health by acting as a modifier of bone matrix proteins, improving calcium absorption, and reducing urinary excretion of calcium.

Eating just one cup of watercress would meet your daily need for vitamin K.

Treating diabetes

Watercress contains the antioxidant alpha-lipoic acid, which has been shown to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity, and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.

Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown decreases in peripheral and autonomic neuropathy in diabetics.

Of note, most studies have used intravenous alpha-lipoic acid, there is uncertainty whether oral supplementation would elicit the same benefits.

How to incorporate more watercress into your diet

watercress soup
Try making watercress soup or mix watercress into soup near the end of cooking.

Watercress is most commonly consumed fresh in salads but can also be incorporated into pasta, casseroles, and sauces just like any other green.

Watercress will sauté faster than tougher greens like kale and collard greens because of its tenderness and lends a mild, slightly peppery taste to any dish.

Choose watercress with deep green crisp leaves and no signs of wilting. Store in the refrigerator and use within a few days of purchase.

  • Throw a small handful of watercress and blend into your favorite fruit juice or smoothie.
  • Add watercress to your next omelet or egg scramble.
  • Make a pesto using watercress.
  • Chop watercress and add it to pasta sauce.
  • Sauté watercress in a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil and season with ground black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Eat as a side dish or top your baked potato.
  • Add watercress to your wrap, sandwich, or flatbread.
  • Mix watercress into soup near the end of cooking.

Potential health risks of consuming watercress

For individuals taking blood-thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), it is important not to suddenly begin eating more or fewer foods containing vitamin K, which plays an important role in blood clotting.

If improperly stored, nitrate-containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite and contaminate the juice. High levels of nitrite can be potentially harmful if consumed.

Consult with your doctor before starting a high-nitrate diet if you have cardiovascular disease or associated risk factors. A high-nitrate diet may interact with certain medications such as organic nitrate (nitroglycerine) or nitrite drugs used for angina, sildenafil citrate, tadalafil, and vardenafil.

According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, very high intakes of cruciferous vegetables have been found to cause a decrease in thyroid hormone function in animals. There has been one reported case of an elderly woman developing severe hypothyroidism after eating an estimated 1 to 1.5 kilograms per day of raw bok choy for several months.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with a variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

What is Healthy Eating? What is a Healthy Diet?

Healthy eating means consuming the right quantities of foods from all food groups in order to lead a healthy life.

Diet is often referred to as some dietary regimen for losing weight. However, diet simply means what food we eat in the course of a 24-hour, one week, or one month, etc. period.

A good diet is a nutritional lifestyle that promotes good health. A good diet must include several food groups because one single group cannot provide everything a human needs for good health.

When we eat matters too

A large breakfast helps control body weight – a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University, Israel, explained in the journal Obesity that a big breakfast – one containing about 700 calories – is better for losing weight and lowering one’s risk of developing heart disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz and team stressed that when we eat our food may matter as much as what we eat.

How do you define healthy eating?

The crucial part of healthy eating is a balanced diet. A balanced diet – or a good diet – means consuming from all the different food groups in the right quantities. Nutritionists say there are five main food groups – whole grains, fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy, and fat & sugar.


Whole grains

According to the USDA (United States Dept. of Agriculture), we should consume at least 3 ounces of whole grains per day. A whole grain, unlike refined grains, still has the bran and the germ attached. Whole grains are rich in fiber, minerals, and vitamins. When grains are refined the bran and germ are removed.

It is not possible to know whether food is made from whole grain just by looking at it.

To be really sure you have to read the label. In the list of ingredients, the word whole or whole grain needs to appear before the name of the grain.

Whole grain products include bread, pasta, and cereals – they need to be made with 100% whole grain.

Whole grain foods and flours include 100% whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, corn, buckwheat, oatmeal (oats), spelt and wild rice.

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are rich in vital vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Fruit and vegetables have a high vitamin, mineral and fiber content – these nutrients are vital for your body to function well.

Several studies have proven that a good intake of fruit and vegetables may protect from developing heart disease, diabetes type 2, and cancer.

Most health departments throughout the world recommend that we consume five portions of fruit and vegetables each day. This could include either fresh, frozen or canned, or dried fruit and veggies.

A portion means either one large fruit, such as an apple, mango, or a banana, or three heaped tablespoons of vegetables. It could also include one glass of 100% fruit or vegetable juice.

A fruit/vegetable drink is one portion, no matter how big it is. Beans and pulses can also count as one portion.


Protein

We need protein for the building and repairing of tissue in our body. Protein-rich foods also include essential minerals, such as iron, magnesium, zinc, as well as B vitamins.

Douglas Paddon-Jones, Ph.D., Associate Professor, The University of Texas Medical Branch says that proteins should make up about 20 to 25 percent of our nutritional intake.

The following foods are good sources of protein:

Tofu, an example of a plant sourced protein.
  • meat
  • poultry
  • fish
  • eggs
  • beans
  • nuts
  • quorn
  • soya (includes tofu)

Nutritionists advise that the fat in meat should be trimmed and drained away after cooking. The skin should be removed from poultry.

For people who are not vegetarians, nutritionist advises we consume fish at least twice a week, preferably fish rich in omega oils, such as trout, fresh tuna, sardines, mackerel, and salmon.

The canning process of tuna removes the essential oils, hence only fresh tuna is considered as an oily fish.

It is better for your health to grill, roast or microwave meats and fish, rather than frying them.

Vegans, who do not eat any foods from animal sources, may get their protein from nuts, seeds, soya, beans, and quorn. Vegans may have to supplement their zinc and B12 vitamin intake as these foods are not rich in them.


Legumes

Legumes are plants in the pea family that produce pods that split open naturally along a seam (dehisce), revealing a row of seeds.

Legumes help improve glycemic control.

The following are the most commonly eaten legumes:

  • soy
  • peas
  • peanuts
  • mesquite
  • lupins
  • lentils
  • clover
  • carob
  • beans
  • alfalfa

Researchers from the University of Toronto, Canada, reported in Archives of Internal Medicine, October 2012 issue, that eating plenty of legumes helps improve glycemic control in people with diabetes type 2, as well as reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease.


Dairy

Although butter, cream and even sometimes eggs are often classed as dairy products, in nutrition they are more frequently placed in the protein (eggs) or fat & sugar category. Dairy products are a good source of calcium which is important for healthy bones and teeth.

Dairy products include milk, yogurts, cheese, and some soy dairy products. Nutritionists say we should aim for low-fat dairy products.

People who do not consume animal sourced foods can get their calcium intake from other products, such as broccoli, cabbage and soya milk and yogurts with added calcium.


Fats and sugars

These include sugar, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, jam, butter, margarine, mayonnaise, non-diet sodas, etc. – all products with a very high fat or sugar content.

There are two basic types of fats – saturated and unsaturated. Cream, margarine, and fried foods are high in saturated fats, while vegetable oils and oily fish are rich in unsaturated fats. Saturated fat consumption should be kept to a minimum because excess consumption significantly increases the risk of developing such diseases as heart disease.

Even sugary foods and drinks, like some sodas and sweets, should be kept to a minimum because they are high in calories and bad for your teeth.

Healthy eating and the World Health Organization (WHO)

The WHO makes the following 5 recommendations – they apply both to populations and individuals:

  • We should aim for an energy balance and a healthy body weight.
  • We should limit our energy consumption from total fats. We should also aim for more unsaturated fats and less saturated fats.
  • We should up our consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
  • We should consume as little simple sugars are possible.
  • As well as making sure our salt is iodized, we should also limit our consumption of salt/sodium.

WHO also recommends that we:

  • Consume enough vital amino acids to provide “cellular replenishment and transport proteins”. These can be found in animal-sourced proteins and some selected plant sourced proteins. A combination of other plants, with the exception of rice and beans, may also provide essential amino acids.
  • Consume essential quantities of vitamins and certain minerals.
  • Should avoid directly poisonous and carcinogenic substances.
  • Avoid consuming foods that may are contaminated with human pathogens, such as E. coli and tapeworm eggs.

The Healthy Eating Index (HEI) issued by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)

The HEI is a measure of diet quality that reviews how people are conforming to Federal dietary guidance. The HEI was first formulated by the USDA in 1995 and was renewed in 2005.

The standards were created using a density approach – they are expressed as a percentage of calories per 1,000 calories. The components of the 2005-HEI can be seen below:

Healthy Eating Index – 2005 components and standards for scoring

  • Total Fruit (includes 100% juice)
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥0.8 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Fruit
  • Whole Fruit (not juice)
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥0.4 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Whole Fruit
  • Total Vegetables
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥1.1 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Vegetables
  • Dark Green and Orange No Dark Green or Orange Vegetables and Legumes
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥0.4 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No dark green or orange Vegetables or Legumes
  • Total Grains
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥3.0 oz equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Grains
  • Whole Grains
    Maximum points 5
    Standard for maximum score ≥1.5 oz equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Whole Grains
  • Milk
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≥1.3 cup equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Milk
  • Meat and Beans
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≥2.5 oz equiv. per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Meat or Beans
  • Oils4
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≥12 grams per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – No Oil
  • Saturated Fat
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≤7% of energy
    Standard for minimum score zero – ≥15% of energy
  • Sodium
    Maximum points 10
    Standard for maximum score ≤0.7 gram per 1,000 kcal
    Standard for minimum score zero – ≥2.0 grams per 1,000 kcal
  • Calories from Solid Fats, Alcoholic beverages, and Added Sugars (SoFAAS)
    Maximum points 20
    Standard for maximum score ≤20% of energy
    Standard for minimum score zero – ≥50% of energy

Consequences of unhealthy eating

According to Gov.UK, most people in England are either overweight or obese (This includes 61.3% of adults and 30% of children aged between 2 and 15).

In the US, the states of Mississippi and Alabama have obesity rates above 30%, while 22 other states have obesity rates all over 25%.

A balanced diet is a crucial part of healthy eating.

At least 200,000 people in the UK die prematurely each year as a result of stroke, coronary heart disease and some other illnesses that are linked to unhealthy eating and lifestyle. Many who do not die do not enjoy a painless, unrestricted and disability-free old age.

According to many studies, the USA ranks last among industrialized countries when it comes to preventable deaths – many of these deaths are due to poor diet, as well as the lack of exercise.

Nutritionists say that over four-fifths of men and over two-thirds of women consume excessive amounts of dietary salt in the UK. What many don’t know is that 75% of their salt intake is already in the food they buy.

It is estimated that one-third of all cancers could be prevented if everybody had a good diet. Healthy eating also protects from diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, strokes, and rotting teeth.

Plant-based diets protect from chronic diseases

An article published in Food Technology, in October 2012 showed that plant-based diets either minimize or completely eliminate many people’s genetic propensity to developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Peter Tarver, senior writer/editor of the journal referred to a WHO (World Health Organization) bulletin which informed that in 2008, worldwide, 63% of all deaths were caused by non-communicable chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes type 2, cardiovascular disease, obesity and certain cancers.

Poor diets contribute significantly towards the development and progression of all of these diseases.

Healthful Food Perceptions Influenced by Price

 Many of us have been trawling grocery stores in the search for healthful foods to kick-start the New Year’s resolution of losing weight. But according to new research, you should avoid looking at the prices – it might skew your perception of what foods are good for you.
groceryshopping-949x450
Researchers find that food prices influence our perceptions of what products are healthful.

Study co-author Rebecca Reczek, from the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University, and colleagues found that people often perceive healthful foods to be more expensive, despite there being no evidence to support this view.

The team found that consumers make food choices based on this belief, and the price of foods may also influence how important we perceive certain health conditions to be.

Reczek and colleagues came to their findings – published in the Journal of Consumer Research – by conducting five experiments on different groups of participants.

The aim of the study was to get a better understanding of “lay theories” in relation to the cost of healthful foods. In simple terms, lay theories are ideologies that people use to make sense of their social environment.

One common lay theory is that healthful foods are more expensive than less healthful foods. The researchers point to one example of this popular theory – the nickname given to the health foods store Whole Foods, which is ” the Whole Paycheck.”

While there are certain types of health foods that are more expensive – such as organic and gluten-free products – Reczek notes that it does not always cost more to eat healthily.

Costly food products perceived as more healthful in experiments

For their study, the researchers tested people’s perceptions of the price of healthful foods in a series of experiments.

In one experiment, the team provided participants with information on a “new” food product called granola bites. Some subjects were told the product was a health grade A- (a healthful food), while the remaining participants were told the product was a health grade C (less healthful).

When each participant was asked how much they thought the granola bites cost, subjects who were told they were a health grade A- thought the bites were more expensive than subjects who were told they were a health grade C.

This finding offers support to the popular belief that healthful foods are costlier. This relationship was further confirmed in another experiment, in which participants rated a breakfast cracker as more healthful when told that it was more expensive than a cheaper, identical cracker.

For the next experiment, the team set out to investigate whether this lay theory influences people’s behavior when it comes to choosing foods.

Participants were asked to imagine that a work colleague had asked them to order his or her lunch. Half of the subjects were told that their co-worker had requested a healthful lunch, while the remaining subjects had no instruction.

Next, participants were offered two choices of food product on a computer screen: a chicken balsamic wrap and a roasted chicken wrap. Ingredients were listed for both products.

The price was also shown for each product. However, the chicken balsamic wrap was listed as more expensive for some subjects, but for others, the roasted chicken wrap was costlier.

The researchers found that participants who were instructed to choose a healthful product were significantly more likely to opt for the more expensive wrap, regardless of which wrap it was. This suggests that our food choices may be influenced by the lay belief that healthful products cost more.

“People don’t just believe that healthy means more expensive – they’re making choices based on that belief,” notes Reczek.

Testing how price cues influence health perceptions

In the final two experiments, the team sought to gain a better understanding of how food prices influence peoples’ perceptions of what is good for us.

Firstly, the researchers asked participants to imagine that they were in a grocery store to purchase trail mix and told to choose from four differently priced products.

One of the mixes was called the “Perfect Vision Mix.” For some subjects, this mix was promoted as being “rich in vitamin A for eye health,” while for others, the product was hailed as “rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) for eye health.”

The team notes that both vitamin A and DHA are believed to be beneficial for eye health, but DHA is less familiar.

For some participants, the Perfect Vision Mix was shown at an average price, while for others, it was more costly than the other three mixes.

When asked about their perceptions of the “key” ingredient in the Perfect Vision Mix, participants thought that vitamin A was equally important for a healthful diet, regardless of how much the mix cost.

However, when DHA was promoted as the key ingredient, subjects were more likely to think that it was an important part of a healthful diet when it was shown as more expensive, compared with when it was an average price.

“People are familiar with vitamin A, so they feel they can judge its value without any price cues,” explains Reczek. “But people don’t know much about DHA, so they go back to the lay theory that expensive must be healthier.”

The team was further surprised during the experiment in which the subjects were told that DHA helped to prevent macular degeneration. When the DHA-containing mix was more expensive, participants were more likely to rate macular degeneration as a popular health issue, compared with when the product was an average price.

Findings are ‘concerning’

In the last experiment, participants were presented with a new product called the “Healthiest Protein Bar on the Planet.”

Some subjects were told that the bar would be priced at $0.99, while the remaining participants were told it would cost $4. All participants were given the opportunity to read reviews before giving their own opinions on the product.

When subjects were told that the bar would be priced at $0.99, the researchers found that they were much more likely to read reviews, compared with when they were told that the bar would cost $4.

“People just couldn’t believe that the ‘healthiest protein bar on the planet’ would cost less than the average bar,” says Reczek. “They had to read more to convince themselves this was true. They were much more willing to accept that the healthy bar would cost twice as much as average.”

All in all, Reczek and team believe that their results are a worry for consumers.

“It’s concerning. The findings suggest that price of food alone can impact our perceptions of what is healthy and even what health issues we should be concerned about.”

Rebecca Reczek

However, the researchers suggest that by being aware of the common misconception that healthful foods are always more expensive and by using “objective evidence” to assess food products, we can overcome this lay theory.

“It makes it easier for us when we’re shopping to use this lay theory, and just assume we’re getting something healthier when we pay more. But we don’t have to be led astray,” says Reczek. “We can compare nutrition labels and we can do research before we go to the grocery store. We can use facts rather than our intuition.”