An ounce of prevention, one mouthful at a time

Posted July 16, 2010, at 7:35 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:46 p.m.

I have had amnesia for most of my life. I can’t find my keys. I can’t sleep at night. My normally sunny disposition has evaporated with the loss of the weekly expense check. My eyes, never very good, are failing.

Prevention magazine tells me the cure is at the end of my fork. I must add even more clams and fish, potatoes (no problem), tons of salad, tons more spinach (OK) and even some lentils (wait a minute).

Let’s start with vitamin B6 and dopamine. Hold those comments. Vitamin B6 deficiency has been linked to anxiety, stress and depression, according to researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. “When B6 makes its way to your brain, it facilitates synthesis of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which makes you feel calm and happy,” says Hanjo Hellmann, a plant biologist at Washington State University. Hanjo tells me to eat more potatoes, bananas, red meat, poultry and chickpeas. No problem there. Like any Irish lad, I consider potatoes a vital component of each meal. Sometimes, it is the only component.

Prevention also tells me to load up on fruits and vegetables to kill all of those “free radicals.”

Antioxidants, especially abundant in fruits and vegetables, are powerful compounds that cancel out cancer-causing free radicals before they damage cells. “Antioxidants begin working almost immediately upon absorption — as soon as they find a free radical to interact with,” Hellmann says. But the antioxidants last for a few hours, so one salad once a week isn’t going to cut it, she said.

So far, there is no blood pressure problem. (Thanks Mom and Dad). But we can’t take any chances. Must load up on potassium, the magazine tells us. But not supplements, the real thing.

Scientists at St. George’s Hospital Medical School in London found that food sources of potassium are as effective as supplements in fighting high blood pressure — without side effects. The mineral is found in clams and in almost every fruit and vegetable, but especially in potatoes, dried peaches, avocados and bananas. There are those potatoes again. I must be doing well.

For reasons unknown, I have developed a passion for spinach lately, after avoiding the green vegetable for six decades. That is a good thing.

According to Prevention, an Australian study found that folate boosts memory in as little as 35 days. Women who participated in the study, published in The Journal of Nutrition, saw improved memory performance after taking 750 mcg of folate daily — that’s about a cup of cooked spinach or a cup of cooked lentils.

Lentils? Who said anything about lentils? Alternatives to lentils include meat, fish, eggs and dairy.

We also have to find out about Omega-3s, Prevention tells us.

They are essential fatty acids in which Americans are known to be deficient, which have a wide range of impressive health benefits — from smoothing your skin and aiding weight loss to boosting your mood and limiting the effects of arthritis. Omega-3s, found in salmon, mackerel, and anchovies, and in flaxseed, walnuts and spinach (again), prevent heart disease. Once again, you can’t do it once a week, in between those Big Macs. The health benefits won’t last unless you eat these essential fatty acids consistently so that your body reaches a healthy saturation level, says Susan Raatz, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota.

Omega-3s also are crucial to brain health and development, says Stephen Cunnane, a nutrition expert at the University of Sherbrooke’s Research Center for Aging in Quebec. Many studies have found that variations in Alzheimer’s rates across countries can be predicted by the quantity of fish in the diet.

Can’t forget about lutein, a natural plant pigment that concentrates in the retina and lens to protect and strengthen your eyes. “Lutein is important to eye health,” says Elizabeth Johnson, a scientist who studies vision at Tufts University. In a study conducted at North Chicago VA Medical Center, researchers found that patients with age-related macular degeneration improved in multiple measures of vision after taking 12 mg of lutein daily for a year. You can easily get that dose from food, particularly green, leafy vegetables such as peas, broccoli, corn and, of course, our new friend spinach.

Besides Popeye, who knew?

More spinach, waitress.

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