There’s no denying it - pumpkin season is back! These days you can find pumpkin in everything from ice cream to alfredo sauce. But do these pumpkin options offer any benefit to our health?
Pumpkin, a type of winter squash, has an impressive nutrient profile, with benefits ranging from skin and eye health to immune support and heart benefits.
A 1-cup serving of pumpkin contributes several key nutrients:
When evaluating festive fall foods, look for pumpkin as one of the first few ingredients listed on a food label. (Sadly, pumpkin ice cream usually has more cream and sugar than pumpkin.)
Or try this creamy pasta fettuccini as a comforting way to celebrate the health benefits of pumpkin.
Pumpkin, cooked, boiled, drained, without salt. Cronometer. 2021.
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By Deanna Nappi, MS, MGH Dietetic Intern
Spices add flavor, but they can also offer up health benefits. Cinnamon and turmeric are two examples that don't require a lot of prep to incorporate into your diet.
Don’t Wait for Pumpkin Spice Season
Consuming the equivalent of at least 1 teaspoon of cinnamon a day has been associated with lowered blood sugar and cholesterol in people with diabetes. Cinnamon can also be used as an alternative to sugar to add flavor to food.
Sprinkle cinnamon into …
Try it the savory way! Add it to …
And try this recipe: Spiced-Pumpkin Smoothie
Pair Turmeric with Black Pepper
Turmeric contains curcumin, a protective plant compound that has been associated with lowered triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood that may contribute to heart attacks), decreased inflammation in patients with high blood pressure or blood sugar, and less arthritis pain. Although powerful, curcumin is not easily absorbed by the body. To increase absorption, add black pepper.
To add turmeric to your diet ...
And try this recipe: Red Lentil Dal
Carlsen MH, Halvorsen BL, Holte K, Bøhn SK, Dragland S, Sampson L, Willey C, Senoo H, Umezono Y, Sanada C, Barikmo I. The total antioxidant content of more than 3100 foods, beverages, spices, herbs and supplements used worldwide. Nutrition Journal. 2010;9(1): 3.
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By Chessie Cox, MGH Dietetic Intern
Hunger and fullness feel different for everyone, but the more we understand our own cues the more we can trust our bodies to tell us what we need.
What, when, and how much we eat is determined by both internal and external factors. Responding to your body’s physiological hunger or fullness is an internal factor. External influences that impact eating habits include traditional meal times, food availability, others eating around you, packaging, plate shape and size, lighting, and smells.
Over time, the more we adapt to external cues the less in touch we are with physical cues. Learning to listen to physical hunger and fullness signals can lead to better weight control.
Physical Hunger Cues Can Include:
Did you know: excessive or prolonged hunger and dieting is associated with decreased energy expenditure and weight gain?
To Better Listen to Your Fullness Cues:
Ciampolini M, Lovell-Smith D, Sifone M. Sustained self-regulation of energy intake. Loss of weight in overweight subjects. Maintenance of weight in normal-weight subjects. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010;7:4.
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Wansink B, Sobal J. Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook. Environment and Behavior. 2007; 39(1):106-123.
Wansink B, Payne CR, Chandon P. Internal and external cues of meal cessation: the French paradox redux? Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007;15(12):2920-2924.
By Alex Cauley, MS, MGH Dietetic Intern
Eating more vegetables can help with weight management. Vegetables may also reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes (along with other supportive foods like whole grains, nuts, and seeds). This doesn’t mean just eating salads - check out these tips for getting more veggies by including them in the foods you already love.
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Milenkovic T, Bozhinovska N, Macut D, et al. Mediterranean Diet and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Perpetual Inspiration for the Scientific World. A Review. Nutrients. 2021;13(4): 1307. Published 2021 Apr 15.
Romagnolo DF, Selmin OI. Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases. Nutr Today. 2017;52(5): 208-222.
By Brigit Hadam, MGH Dietetic Intern
Eating more plant-based protein is associated with lower rates of premature death and reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Most of the vegetable burgers found in grocery stores contain a protein source made from soy or peas and contain more fiber and less saturated fat compared to grilled meats, like hot dogs or hamburgers.
These plant-based burgers can also be a good way to include protein and fiber in your diet. Protein and fiber play a role in satiety, helping to promote fullness. They can also help with weight loss.
When looking through the aisles, opt for plant-based burgers that contain protein and fiber (select options with at least 3 grams of fiber per burger). Here are a few to consider:
Contains: 12 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber
Contains: 26 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber
Contains: 19 grams of protein and 7 grams of fiber
Contains: 12 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber
Note: MGH does not endorse or promote any specific brands - this list is for educational purposes.
Ahnen, RT, Satya SS, and JL Slavin, Role of plant protein in nutrition, wellness, and health. Nutrition Reviews. 2019; 77(11): 735–747.
Crimarco, A, et al. A randomized crossover trial on the effect of plant-based compared with animal-based meat on trimethylamine-N-oxide and cardiovascular disease risk factors in generally healthy adults: study with appetizing plantfood—meat eating alternative trial (SWAP-MEAT), The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2020; 112(5): 1188–1199.
By Caleigh Collamer, MGH Dietetic Intern
Chia seeds have a long history in Aztec and Mayan culture, touted for their ability to provide nutrition and sustainable energy. Quite fittingly, “chia ” is the Mayan word for “strength.”
Chia seeds are a versatile, nutrient-packed seed rich in fiber and a heart-healthy plant-based omega-3 fat called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. They also are a source of minerals like magnesium and calcium, two nutrients necessary for strong bones.
Chia seeds may help lower blood sugar and reduce heart disease risk factors. One study showed individuals with diabetes who ate about 3 tablespoons of chia seeds daily for 6 months lost more weight than those who didn’t. Other studies have linked chia seeds with a reduction in blood pressure.
Want to include more chia seeds into your diet? You can start by:
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Vuksan V, Choleva L, Jovanovski E, Jenkins AL, Au-Yeung F, Dias AG, Ho HV, Zurbau A, Duvnjak L. Comparison of flax (Linum usitatissimum) and Salba-chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seeds on postprandial glycemia and satiety in healthy individuals: a randomized, controlled, crossover study. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2017;71(2):234-238.
Vuksan V, Jenkins AL, Brissette C, Choleva L, Jovanovski E, Gibbs AL, Bazinet RP, Au-Yeung F, Zurbau A, Ho HV, Duvnjak L, Sievenpiper JL, Josse RG, Hanna A. Salba-chia (Salvia hispanica L.) in the treatment of overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes: A double-blind randomized controlled trial. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2017; 27(2):138-146.
Vuksan V, Jenkins AL, Dias AG, Lee AS, Jovanovski E, Rogovik AL, Hanna A. Reduction in postprandial glucose excursion and prolongation of satiety: possible explanation of the long-term effects of whole grain Salba (Salvia Hispanica L.). Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010; 64(4):436-8.
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By Sydney Duong, Dietetic Intern
Japanese matcha is a type of finely powdered green tea made from dried tea leaves. With its vibrant green color and vegetal taste, matcha may offer a variety of health benefits.
Matcha typically contains both L-theanine and caffeine. While caffeine can enhance alertness, in certain people it can also make it more difficult to feel calm. L-theanine may help to reduce this effect.
New to matcha?
Mix 1 teaspoon of the powder with 1 to 2 tablespoons of warm water to form a paste. Add it to a cup of hot liquid, like water or warmed milk (or try a plant milk, like oatmilk). Flavor this drink as you would a cup of tea. Or add the paste to your morning smoothie.
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By Heather Hu, MGH Dietetic Intern
Nuts are a fantastic source of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals. There’s a variety out there and each type offers slightly different nutrients, so aim to eat an assortment.
A little goes a long way: 1 ounce (roughly one handful) of …
FoodData Central. USDA: Agricultural Research Service. Accessed January 2021.
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By Rebecca Joy Thompson, MGH Dietetic Intern
Fruit is full of vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy fiber. There is concern that frozen fruit is of lower quality and not as nutritious as fresh. Worry not: studies have found frozen fruit can actually have more vitamins, like immune-supportive vitamin C.
When fruit is frozen soon after it's picked, it helps preserve nutrients. More benefits: frozen fruit can be cheaper and more convenient. It comes pre-washed, prepped, and can stay in your freezer for months.
Only about 10% of American adults eat the recommended 11/2 to 2 cups of fruit a day, so grab an extra bag of fruit next time you're in the frozen food aisle.
Start enjoying more frozen fruit by:
Boeing H, et al. Critical review: vegetables and fruit in the prevention of chronic diseases. European Journal of Nutrition. 2012; 51(6): 637-663.
Bouzari A, Holstege D, Barrett DM. Vitamin retention in eight fruits and vegetables: a comparison of refrigerated and frozen storage. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2015; 63(3): 957-962.
Dahl WJ, Stewart ML. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: health implications of dietary fiber. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2015; 115(11): 1861-1870.
Popova A. Comparison of vitamin C content of commercially available fresh fruits. Asian Food Science Journal. 2019; 13(2): 1-6.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020 8th Edition. Accessed December 30, 2020.
By Katherine Mitchell, MGH Dietetic Intern
As COVID-19 infections continue to rise, many have turned to supplements to boost immunity. Though eating a balanced diet high in nutrients (like vitamins) can support a healthy immune system, there are many false claims that exaggerate benefits of supplementation. Here’s a summary of the evidence for common supplements associated with COVID-19:
If you are interested in taking vitamin D, aim for 400-1000 IU (international unit) daily from a USP-verified supplement. Do not take more than 4000 IU a day, unless advised by a medical professional. Taking high doses can result in elevated levels of calcium in the blood, which can cause heart and kidney problems.
If you’re interested in vitamin C, add foods such as strawberries, peppers, oranges, and broccoli to your diet.
Pregnant women should avoid using these adaptogens. Ashwagandha may cause miscarriages and there is concern astragalus could be toxic for both moms and babies.
Important things you can do to support your immune system:
Also, don't forget to follow COVID-19 prevention protocols. Taking a supplement is nowhere near as important as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
REFERENCES (subscription necessary to view):
Don't Rely on Natural Products and "Immune Boosters" for COVID-19 Prevention. Natural Medicines Research Collaboration. Accessed December 2020.
What to Tell Patients About Vitamin D. Natural Medicines Research Collaboration. Accessed December 2020.
Why Ashwagandha & Adaptogens Are Growing in Popularity. Natural Medicines Research Collaboration. Accessed December 2020.
By Kylie Sakaida, MS, RD, LDN