Nutrition Boost: Easy Add-Ins for Your Recipes (cont.)

A recent analysis of 27 nut and seed products found that sesame seeds, wheat germ, pistachio nuts, and sunflower seeds had the highest concentration of phytosterols.

Nuts do contain an impressive number of fat grams, but recent studies have suggested that eating them regularly doesn't tend to increase your weight or BMI (body mass index). Preliminary data has even indicated that people on nut-rich diets seem to excrete more fat in their stools (and the more fat in your stools, the less fat is getting absorbed into the bloodstream).

You can add nuts to:

  • Hot or cold breakfast cereals
  • Bread recipes and muffin batters
  • Yogurt
  • Trail mix or snack mixes
  • Fruit crisps and cobblers
  • Salads (pasta, rice, and green salads as well as fruit salads)
  • Cookie and bar recipes

3. Ground Flaxseed

Flaxseed is a small, amber-colored seed that's been around for centuries. But don't let its size fool you: it packs quite a nutritional wallop. Many of the studies on the health effects of flaxseed have been done using ground flaxseed, pure and simple (you'll need to grind it yourself to allow your body to access its helpful components).

Ground flax contains:

  • Both types of fiber (soluble and insoluble)
  • One of the planet's most potent sources of phytoestrogens, called lignans. Phytoestrogens are active substances derived from plants that have a weak estrogen-like action in the body.
  • Plant omega-3 fatty acids
At the level of 1 to 2 tablespoons a day, there don't appear to be any negative health consequences to eating ground flaxseed. And research has shown there are many potential benefits, including:
  • Possible protection against cancer and reduction of tumor growth (such as breast, prostate and colon).
  • A reduced risk of heart disease. Studies suggest that flaxseed lowers the risk of blood clots and stroke and cardiac arrhythmias. It may also help to lower total and LDL "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides, and even blood pressure.
  • Better regulation of bowel functions, and prevention of constipation.
  • Possible improvements in blood sugar (glucose) control and insulin resistance.
  • Possible benefits in many immune system diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

To get the biggest healthy bang for your one buck (a pound of flaxseed costs about $1 in your health food store), you're probably better off getting all of the flaxseed components together in the ground seed rather than just the lignans or just the omega-3s. For example, lignans have been linked to boosting the immune system, but so have omega-3s -- just through different metabolic pathways. Lignans appear to offer a measure of protection against some cancers. So do omega-3s -- again, through different mechanisms.

I do have one caution about flaxseed: Until more studies on humans are completed, Lilian Thompson, PhD, a pioneer in flaxseed research, recommends that pregnant women not eat flaxseed.

You can easily add ground flaxseed to:

  • Smoothies (my personal favorite).
  • Hot or cold breakfast cereals.
  • Muffins and breads you make at home. Replace no more than 1/4 cup of every cup of flour the recipe calls for with ground flaxseed.
  • Yogurt or cottage cheese.

4. Fruits and Veggies

We all know that fruits and vegetables are great for our health in many ways, and that we should be eating more of them. Some studies suggest 8 to 10 servings a day are ideal.

Here are some tips on how to add these to your meals and snacks. The good news is that frozen (or dried, in the case of fruit) often works as well as fresh.

Besides enjoying fruit as a snack or appetizer, add it to:

  • Pancakes or waffles (slice some on top or add them to the batter)
  • Smoothies or shakes
  • Muffins
  • Yogurt
  • Light ice cream or frozen yogurt
  • Hot or cold cereals
  • Your lunch or dinner plate as a garnish

Add extra vegetables to:

  • Green salad, pasta salad, or rice salad
  • Egg dishes (omelets, scrambled eggs, etc.)
  • Casseroles
  • Soups and stews
  • Pasta dishes
  • Stir-fry side dish or entree
  • Sandwiches
  • Muffin batter (grated carrots and zucchini work well here)
  • Your lunch and dinner plate as a garnish

Published July 28, 2006.

SOURCES: Fertility and Sterility 2006; vol 85: pp 972-978. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Sept. 2003; vol 78: pp 610S-616S and pp. 647S-650S. AICR Press Release June 28, 2006. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, December 2002; vol 76: pp 1191-1201. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Nov. 8, 2005; vol 53: pp 9436-9445. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, June 2, 2006; vol 54: pp 5027-5033. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, June 2006; vol 83: pp. 1526S-1535S. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, June 2006; vol 15: pp 1132-1136. Journal of Nutrition, 2006; vol 136: pp 1545-1551. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2006; vol 15: pp 225-232. The Flax Cookbook, by Elaine Magee. Mark Messina, PhD, president, Nutrition Matters, Inc. Lilian Thompson, PhD, professor of nutrition, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto. Joan Sabate, MD, DrPH, professor and chair, department of nutrition, Loma Linda University, School of Public Health, California.

©2006 WebMD Inc. All rights reserved.

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