It’s the holiday season! Cue the seasonal parties and increased stress. Many may find themselves reaching for one alcoholic drink too many during this time of year. In fact, a quarter of the profits from spirits come from the period between Thanksgiving and the new year.
But what impact might this have on our health?
Research has shown that heavy drinking is associated with an increased risk of developing over 200 medical conditions including liver disease and cancer. It also increases risk of stroke and can raise blood pressure.
The recommended intake for alcohol is no more than two drinks or less for men and one drink or less for women per day. Alcoholic beverages supply calories but very little nutritional value, so moderation is important for overall health.
If you choose to drink during this holiday season, here are some tips on how to sip smarter:
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By Lola Horton, MGH Dietetic Intern
MGH Cranberries make a guest appearance at holiday tables, but tend to be forgotten as soon as the season passes. However, the benefits of these nutrient-dense fruits make cranberries worth eating year-round.
Cranberries are rich in plant-compounds known as flavonoids, which not only give the fruit its signature red color, but also may promote cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation in the body.
Studies have shown that regularly consuming cranberries (and cranberry juice) helps to manage cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and improve blood flow, all of which are beneficial for heart health. Additionally, research suggests the active plant compounds in cranberries fight oxidative damage in the body and may help to reduce inflammation.
Find yourself with leftover cranberries after Thanksgiving? Eat them or freeze them for future use.
Here are some ways to include more cranberries into your diet:
Chew B, Mathison B, Kimble L, et al. Chronic consumption of a low calorie, high polyphenol cranberry beverage attenuates inflammation and improves glucoregulation and HDL cholesterol in healthy overweight humans: a randomized controlled trial. Eur J Nutr. 2019;58(3):1223-1235
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Novotny JA, Baer DJ, Khoo C, Gebauer SK, Charron CS. Cranberry juice consumption lowers markers of cardiometabolic risk, including blood pressure and circulating C-reactive protein, triglyceride, and glucose concentrations in adults. J Nutr. 2015;145(6):1185-1193.
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By Morgan Dunn, MS, MGH Dietetic Intern
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
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Paultre K, Cade W, Hernandez D, et al. Therapeutic effects of turmeric or curcumin extract on pain and function for individuals with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine. 2021;7(1).
Zare R, Nadjarzadeh A, Zarshenas MM, Shams M, Heydari M. Efficacy of cinnamon in patients with type II diabetes mellitus: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Clin Nutr. 2019;38(2):549-556.
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.
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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:
Ho H, Lee AS, Jovanovski E, Jenkins AL, Desouza R, Vuksan V. Effect of whole and ground Salba seeds (Salvia Hispanica L.) on postprandial glycemia in healthy volunteers: a randomized controlled, dose-response trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013; 67(7): 786-8.
Toscano LT, da Silva CS, Toscano LT, de Almeida AE, Santos Ada C, Silva AS. Chia flour supplementation reduces blood pressure in hypertensive subjects. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2014 Dec; 69(4):392-8.
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.
Vuksan V, Whitham D, Sievenpiper JL, Jenkins AL, Rogovik AL, Bazinet RP, Vidgen E, Hanna A. Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2007; 30(11): 2804-10.
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.
Dietz C, Dekker M, Piqueras-Fiszman B. An Intervention Study on the Effect of Matcha Tea, in Drink and Snack Bar Formats, on Mood and Cognitive Performance. Food Research International. 2017; 99:72-83.
Dietz, C and M Dekker. Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. Current Pharmaceutical Design. 2017; 23(19): 2876-2905.
Dodd FL, Kennedy DO, Riby LM, Haskell-Ramsay CF. A Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Study Evaluating the Effects of Caffeine and L-theanine Both Alone and in Combination on Cerebral Blood Flow, Cognition and Mood. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015; 232(14):2563-2576.
Farooq S, and A Sehgal. Antioxidant Activity of Different Forms of Green Tea: Loose Leaf, Bagged and Matcha. Current Research in Nutrition and Food Science Journal. 2018;6(1):35-40. doi:10.12944/crnfsj.6.1.04
Giles, G et al. Caffeine and Theanine Exert Opposite Effects on Attention Under Emotional Arousal. Canadian Journal of Physiological Pharmacology. 2017; 95:93-100.
Jakubczyk K, Kochman J, Kwiatkowska A, et al. Antioxidant Properties and Nutritional Composition of Matcha Green Tea. Foods. 2020; 9(4):483.
Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. l-Theanine Reduces Psychological and Physiological Stress Responses. Biological Psychology. 2007; 74(1):39-45.
Komes D, Horžić D, Belščak A, Ganić KK, Vulić I. Green Tea Preparation and its Influence on the Content of Bioactive Compounds. Food Research International. 2010; 43(1):167-176.
Unno K, Fujitani K, Takamori N, et al. Theanine Intake Improves the Shortened Lifespan, Cognitive Dysfunction and Behavioural Depression that are Induced by Chronic Psychosocial Stress in Mice. Free Radical Research. 2011; 45(8):966-974.
Unno K, Hara A, Nakagawa A, et al. Anti-stress Effects of Drinking Green tea with Lowered Caffeine and Enriched Theanine, Epigallocatechin and Arginine on Psychosocial Stress Induced Adrenal Hypertrophy in Mice. Phytomedicine. 2016; 23(12):1365-1374.
Weiss DJ, Anderton CR. Determination of Catechins in Matcha Green Tea by Micellar Electrokinetic Chromatography. Journal of Chromatography A. 2003; 1011(1-2):173-180.
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 …
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Omega-3 Fatty Acids. NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements. Updated October 1, 2020. Accessed January 2021.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplement Fact Sheets. NIH: Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed January 2021.
By Rebecca Joy Thompson, MGH Dietetic Intern