Gluten is a protein belonging to the grains barley, wheat and rye. It is a stretchy protein that captures carbon dioxide released from yeast, causing breads to rise. While gluten is not a problem for everyone, for people with a gluten sensitivity or intolerance, gluten can cause health problems. Unfortunately, removing these grains from the diet is not easy. Gluten is used in many consumer products other than food, including vitamins, prescription drugs, malt, lipstick and toothpaste.
Roughly 2 million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder triggered by the consumption of gluten. According to the American Diabetes Association, 10 percent of Type 1 diabetics also have celiac disease. Gluten can damage the small intestine, prohibiting the absorption of vital nutrients, which can lead to vitamin deficiencies. Abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea can occur, but some people experience no symptoms. Celiac disease may express itself in other ways, such as anemia, depression, joint pain, muscle cramps, rash, tingling feet and legs, osteoporosis or upset stomach. Vitamin deficiencies may result in fatigue, oily stools, weight loss and bone loss. Because the symptoms of celiac disease mimic other digestive disorders, diagnosis can be difficult. Methods for testing for celiac disease include blood screening and intestinal biopsy. There is no cure for celiac disease; the best treatment is to avoid gluten.
Whether you're looking to lose a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight, stocking up on healthy snacks for work is essential. Fueling your body with quality nutrition will increase energy levels, helping you feel more productive, and also stave off fatty and sugary cravings.
Snacking doesn’t have to be bad for you – healthy options are available. If you eat a well-balanced nutritious diet and regular meals, the odd snack is not a problem.
Here are some tips for healthy snacking.
Resisting the urge to reach for a burger, candy, or chips when you're hit with a snack attack can make a big difference in your health — regardless of your age.
"Nutrition really is the key to a healthy lifestyle and a healthy life. It goes a long way toward lowering the risk for heart disease and improving overall health," says Dr. Rita Redberg, a cardiologist at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, who also contributes to health-oriented cookbooks.
Healthy Snacking and Weight Control
Avoiding extreme hunger increases the likelihood that you'll pick the healthy snack rather than raiding the doughnut box in the break room or overeating at meals.
Megan Mullin, a nutritionist at Canyon Ranch SpaClub in Las Vegas, recommends that her clients eat small meals every three to five hours and that they resist the urge to overeat.
Learn About a Psoriatic Arthritis Treatment
"The easy part is the frequent meals; the hard part is keeping them small. We are used to big meals," says Mullin. She recommends eating more during active times of the day: "If you can match your intake with your output, you'll be better off with your weight-control goals."
Another key is to keep healthy snacks on hand. "The best way to avoid eating food that you shouldn't is to not keep any around," says Dr. Redberg. "For the same reason you're not supposed to go grocery shopping when you're hungry — you buy a lot of stuff you really shouldn't."
Curb Your Cravings
Blood sugar dips three to five hours after you eat. Eating small, frequent snackskeeps your metabolism revved up and helps normalize blood sugar. Hunger can throw your body into famine mode, which slows metabolism and makes it easier to pack on the pounds.
Foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and legumes are satisfying and are packed with the nutrients, fiber, and protein your body needs, and they guard against sugar highs and lows, so you are less likely to succumb to your sweet tooth — or whatever your dietary Achilles' heel may be.
Healthy Snacking and Energy, Mood, and Brain Boosters
"I tell people to think about food as fuel," Mullin says.
Such nutrient-poor, sugary snacks as candy bars are like fuel that runs hot and flames out. They give you a quick jolt of energy that is followed by a crash that can leave you hungry, cranky, sleepy, and unable to concentrate.
Healthy snacks are more like slow-burning fuel that helps you keep going all day. Having several snacks a day helps banish that postmeal sleepiness that comes from consuming too many calories at one sitting. If you include protein in your snack, you'll derive an extra mental boost — protein-laden food like fish, meat, eggs, cheese, and tofu contain an amino acid that increases the production of neurotransmitters that regulate concentration and alertness.
Many of us naturally reach for carbohydrates when we're feeling down because they help lift our mood by boosting the brain chemical serotonin. While processed foods like plain bagels and cookies give a quick high, it's followed by a sharp low. Good-for-you fruit sugars, honey, low-fat dairy products, whole grains, and many vegetables lift mood and battle fatigue without the roller-coaster effect.
Omega-3 fatty acids are another good nutrient to include in snacks, for your heart as well as your head. Tuna, walnuts, and some other foods contain omega-3s, which help fight high blood pressure and heart disease, as well as depression and anxiety. The effects of omega-3s are also being studied as they relate to a number of other health conditions, including joint diseases, schizophrenia, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Healthy eating is not about strict dietary limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, improving your outlook, and stabilizing your mood. If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition and diet advice out there, you’re not alone. It seems that for every expert who tells you a certain food is good for you, you’ll find another saying exactly the opposite. But by using these simple tips, you can cut through the confusion and learn how to create a tasty, varied, and healthy diet that is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
“Instead of emphasizing one nutrient, we need to move to food-based recommendations. What we eat should be whole, minimally processed, nutritious food—food that is in many cases as close to its natural form as possible.”
–Dariush Mozaffarian, Dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition, Tufts University
How does healthy eating affect mental and emotional health?
We all know that eating right can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid certain health problems, but your diet can also have a profound effect on your mood and sense of wellbeing. Studies have linked eating a typical Western diet—filled with processed meats, packaged meals, takeout food, and sugary snacks—with higher rates of depression, stress, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Eating an unhealthy diet may even play a role in the development of mental health disorders such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia, or in the increased risk of suicide in young people.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, cooking meals at home, and reducing your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, may help to improve mood and lower your risk for mental health problems. If you have already been diagnosed with a mental health problem, eating well can even help to manage your symptoms and regain control of your life.
While some specific foods or nutrients have been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood, it’s your overall dietary pattern that is most important. That means switching to a healthy diet doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet and make a difference to the way you think and feel.
Healthy eating tip 1: Set yourself up for success
To set yourself up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day—rather than one big drastic change. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.
Healthy eating tip 2: Moderation is key
Key to any healthy diet is moderation. But what is moderation? In essence, it means eating only as much food as your body needs. You should feel satisfied at the end of a meal, but not stuffed. Moderation is also about balance. Despite what fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of protein, fat, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body.
For many of us, moderation also means eating less than we do now. But it doesn't mean eliminating the foods you love. Eating bacon for breakfast once a week, for example, could be considered moderation if you follow it with a healthy lunch and dinner—but not if you follow it with a box of donuts and a sausage pizza. If you eat 100 calories of chocolate one afternoon, balance it out by deducting 100 calories from your evening meal. If you're still hungry, fill up with extra vegetables.
Healthy eating tip 3: Reduce sugar
Aside from portion size, perhaps the single biggest problem with the modern Western diet is the amount of added sugar in our food. As well as creating weight problems, too much sugar causes energy spikes and has been linked to diabetes, depression, and even an increase in suicidal behaviors in young people. Reducing the amount of candy and desserts you eat is only part of the solution as sugar is also hidden in foods such as bread, cereals, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, fast food, and ketchup. Your body gets all it needs from sugar naturally occurring in food so all this added sugar just means a lot of empty calories.
Tips for cutting down on sugar
Spotting added sugar on food labels can require some sleuthing. Manufacturers are required to provide the total amount of sugar in a serving but do not have to spell out how much of this sugar has been added and how much is naturally in the food. Added sugars must be included on the ingredients list, which is presented in descending order by weight. The trick is deciphering which ingredients are added sugars. They come in a variety of guises. Aside from the obvious ones--sugar, honey, molasses—added sugar can appear as agave nectar, cane crystals, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, and more.
A wise approach is to avoid products that have any of these added sugars at or near the top of the list of ingredients—or ones that have several different types of sugar scattered throughout the list. If a product is chock-full of sugar, you would expect to see “sugar” listed first, or maybe second. But food makers can fudge the list by adding sweeteners that aren’t technically called sugar. The trick is that each sweetener is listed separately. The contribution of each added sugar may be small enough that it shows up fourth, fifth, or even further down the list. But add them up and you can get a surprising dose of added sugar.
Let’s take as an example a popular oat-based cereal with almonds whose package boasts that it is “great tasting,” “heart healthy” and “whole grain guaranteed.” Here’s the list of ingredients:
Whole-grain oats, whole-grain wheat, brown sugar, almond pieces, sugar, crisp oats,* corn syrup, barley malt extract, potassium citrate, toasted oats,* salt, malt syrup, wheat bits,* honey, and cinnamon.
*contain sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and/or brown sugar molasses.
Combine brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, barley malt extract, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, brown sugar molasses, and malt syrup, and they add up to a hefty dose of empty calories—more than one-quarter (27%) of this cereal is added sugar, which you might not guess from scanning the ingredient list. This type of calculation can be especially tricky in breakfast cereals, where most of the sugars are added.
Adapted with permission from Reducing Sugar and Salt, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.
Healthy eating tip 4: Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Focus on eating the recommended daily minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables and it will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is half a cup of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently eat.
Try to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day as deeply colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Add berries to breakfast cereals, eat fruit for dessert, and snack on vegetables such as carrots, snow peas, or cherry tomatoes instead of processed snack foods.
Healthy eating tip 5: Bulk up on fiber
Eating foods high in dietary fiber can help you stay regular, lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and help you lose weight. Depending on your age and gender, nutrition experts recommend you eat at least 21 to 38 grams of fiber per day for optimal health. Many of us aren't eating half that amount.
Since fiber stays in the stomach longer than other foods, the feeling of fullness will stay with you much longer, helping you eat less. Fiber also moves fat through your digestive system quicker so less of it is absorbed. And when you fill up on fiber, you'll also have more energy for exercising.
Healthy eating tip 6: Eat more healthy carbs and whole grains
Choose healthy carbohydrates and fiber sources, especially whole grains, for long-lasting energy. Whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.
What are healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs?
Healthy carbs (or good carbs) include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable.
Unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs) are foods such as white flour, refined sugar, and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. They digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy.
Tips for eating more healthy carbs
Healthy eating tip 7: Add calcium for bone health
Your body uses calcium to build healthy bones and teeth, keep them strong as you age, send messages through the nervous system, and regulate the heart’s rhythm. If you don’t get enough calcium in your diet, your body will take calcium from your bones to ensure normal cell function, which can lead to osteoporosis.
Recommended calcium levels are 1000 mg per day, 1200 mg if you are over 50 years old. Try to get as much from food as possible and use only low-dose calcium supplements to make up any shortfall. Limit foods that deplete your body’s calcium stores (caffeine, alcohol, sugary drinks), do weight-bearing exercise, and get a daily dose of magnesium and vitamins D and K—nutrients that help calcium do its job.
Good sources of calcium include:
Healthy eating tip 8: Put protein in perspective
Protein gives us the energy to get up and go—and keep going. While too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, the latest research suggests that most of us need more high-quality protein, especially as we age.
How much protein do you need?
Protein needs are based on weight rather than calorie intake. Adults should eat at least 0.8g ofhigh-quality protein per kilogram (2.2lb) of body weight per day.
Healthy eating tip 9: Enjoy healthy fats
Despite what you may have been told, not all fats are unhealthy. While “bad” fats can increase your risk of certain diseases, “good” fats are essential to physical and emotional health. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats, for example, can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, improve your mood, and help prevent dementia.
Saturated fats are mainly found in tropical oils, dairy, and animal products such as red meat, while poultry and fish also contain some saturated fat. Eating saturated fats won’t lower your risk of heart disease like monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, but the latest studies suggest that not all saturated fat is a dietary demon, either. While many prominent health organizations maintain that eating saturated fat from any source increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, other nutrition experts take a different view. In fact, recent evidence suggests that consuming whole-fat dairy may even have beneficial effects by helping to control weight.
Of course, not all saturated fat is the same. The saturated fat in whole milk, coconut oil, or salmon is different to the unhealthy saturated fat found in pizza, French fries, and processed meat products (such as ham, sausage, hot dogs, salami, and other cold cuts) which have been linked to coronary disease and cancer.
For more, see Choosing Healthy Fats.
Healthy eating tip 10: Watch your salt intake
Sodium is another ingredient that is frequently added to food to improve taste, even though your body needs less than one gram of sodium a day (about half a teaspoon of table salt). Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure and lead to an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, memory loss, and erectile dysfunction. It may also worsen symptoms of bipolar disorder.
"Scientists say they have cracked what makes processed foods… harmful," the Daily Mail reports. A small study suggests that processed foods that are high in "PAMPs" – pathogen-associated molecular patterns – may trigger inflammation inside the body.
PAMPs are molecules that are associated with infectious bacteria, so in the same way as an infection, they can trigger an immune response in the way of inflammation. And some experts suspect that prolonged inflammation can increase the risk of chronic diseases such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.
This new study attempted to assess the relative benefits of a high-PAMP diet compared to a low-PAMP diet on a number of biomarkers associated with immune response.
The study, involving 24 healthy men over 11 days, tentatively suggested that PAMPs did act to trigger some biomarkers linked to an immune response – although the results weren't consistent.
Due to the size and shortness of the study its immediate implications are unclear.
There are also other limitations to consider. For example, the study didn't measure new cases of diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or any disease.
The assumption that the signs of raised inflammation seen in those given a high-PAMP diet are big enough to cause disease in the future is currently unproven.
The results of this study are intriguing, but represent points of interest for further study, not established facts or guidance.
Processed foods often have a high salt, sugar and fat content, so it is not a good idea to let them become a staple of your diet.
Eating a low-PAMP diet
Want to try a low-PAMP diet? According to the study in question, types of foods thought to be low in PAMPs include:
The study was carried out by researchers from the University of Leicester (England) and was funded by University of Leicester Campbell Immunology Fund and the Higher Committee for Education Development in Iraq.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed medical journal Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases.
The Daily Mail's headline "Scientists say they have cracked what makes processed foods like burgers and ready meals harmful", seems to imply that the reason processed foods are unhealthy is some sort of mystery.
This downplays the many existing reasons why foods like burgers and ready meals are bad for your health; they are called "junk food" after all. Many ready meals contain lots of added sugar and salt to make them taste better, and can be high in fat. The fat and sugar can contribute to weight gain, which in turn increases your risk of many diseases.
A high-salt diet can raise your blood pressure, which elevates your risk of heart attacks and strokes.
The added issue is that you might not be aware of the high levels of fat, salt and sugar in the foods, as not everyone pays attention to food labels.
This means you might be consuming levels likely to be harmful to health in the long run and not even know.
What kind of research was this?
This small study looked at the effects of dietary PAMPs on indicators of inflammation in a small group of healthy adult men over the course of just over a week.
Small and short studies like this do not set out to provide solid answers, or provide weighty proof. Instead they attempt to scratch the surface of a new research area, present new theories and kick up questions that bigger and better studies might be able to answer. As such, the results represent points of interest for further study, rather than established facts.
What did the research involve?
The research had two main parts.
The first part fed 11 healthy adult men (average age 38) two high-PAMP meals a day for four consecutive days while testing their blood before and after for signs of immune response changes. For the seven days before all men received diet advice to eat lower PAMP. This was because most men regularly consumed high-PAMP diets outside of the study so the researcher wanted to get everyone to a lower starting point. The rationale is that the impact of PAMP levels going from high to very high might be harder to detect than if it went from low to high. The men filled in food diaries to see if they were taking the advice.
The second part fed a group of 13 different healthy men (average age 28) onion bhajis made from freshly chopped onion and monitored the impact on blood inflammation measures for 24 hours. Two weeks of normal eating passed before the same men were asked to eat a nutritionally identical meal made from pre-chopped onions – high in PAMPs.
Any changes in weight circumference, blood cholesterol and blood fats were also measured.
What were the basic results?
The study team found that PAMPs were high in many processed foods such as lasagne and spaghetti bolognese ready meals, as well as baked pies, pasties and rolls.
Encouraging men to follow a low-PAMP diet for seven days appeared to reduce some signs of inflammation (their white blood cell count reduced by 12%), lowered their cholesterol (-0.69 mmol/l), and they managed to lose weight (-0.7kg), including averaging 1.6cm less around the waist. Their insulin sensitivity – as risk factor for diabetes – was unaffected. The four-day high-PAMP diet largely reversed these effects, expect the weight loss, which didn't fully return to starting levels. For example, the white blood cell count went back up by 14% and men put back around 1.2cm around their waists.
The study of nutritionally identical foods, differing only in their PAMP levels, showed high-PAMP foods made little difference to inflammatory markers 24 hours after eating. There were, however, signs the low-PAMP foods lowered inflammatory markers, for example, there were fewer white blood cells.
How did the researchers interpret the results?
The study team concluded that: "A low-PAMP diet is associated with reduced levels of several cardiometabolic risk factors, while a high-PAMP diet reverses these effects. These findings suggest a novel potential mechanistic explanation for the observed association between processed food consumption and risk of cardiometabolic diseases."
This small study tentatively suggests that processed foods high in PAMPs act to trigger an immune response in people that ultimately may raise the risks of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life.
At present these conclusions are very shaky. The study was small (just 24 healthy men took part) and short term (11 days), so gives us only the first loose threads of evidence about what's going on, rather than a more solid, clear picture.
For example, the study didn't measure new cases of diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or any disease. The link to disease rests on the assumption that the raised levels of inflammation seen in those given a high-PAMP diet will be big enough to cause disease in the future. This could be right or wrong, and needs testing to see if it holds true.
The first part of the study was also not controlled for other foods, which probably biased the results. The second part was much more controlled, and found very little immune impact after a high-PAMP meal – at least over 24 hours. More changes happened in the low-PAMP scenario.
The weight change might also be a red herring. It's not surprising that men who ate lots of junk food before the study lost a bit of weight after a week following advice to eat healthier (less than 1% of their body weights overall). But we certainly can't pin this weight change on the PAMPs, there were far too many other variables involved.
The results of this study are intriguing and represent points of interest for further study, not established facts.
Hopefully a larger study will follow to look further at this issue.
Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices. Follow NHS Choices on Twitter. Join the Healthy Evidence forum.