July, 2015

How to Eat Low-Carb as a Vegetarian or Vegan

Cutting back on carbs is not very complicated. Just replace the sugars and starches in your diet with vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and fats. Seems pretty straightforward…….. unless if you don’t eat meat.

Low-carb diets have a heavy reliance on meat, which makes them unsuitable for vegetarians. However, this does not need to be the case. Everyone can follow a low-carb diet, even vegetarians and vegans.

This article shows you how to do it.

Why Low-Carb?

In the past 12 years, at least 23 studies have shown that low-carb diets can help you lose weight (without calorie counting). One of the main reasons is that these diets can significantly reduce appetite, making you eat fewer calories without having to consciously try to eat less.

Low-carb diets also improve health in other ways.

They are very effective at reducing harmful belly fat, and tend to reduce triglycerides and raise HDL (the “good”) cholesterol significantly. They also tend to lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Although low-carb diets are not necessary for everyone, they can have important health benefits for people with obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and certain neurological disorders. A low-carb vegan diet can be very healthy as well. Studies on eco-atkins (vegan, 26% of calories as carbs) have shown that such a diet is much healthier than a regular low-fat diet, as well as a low-fat vegetarian diet.

Different Types of Vegetarians

There are several different types of vegetarians. None of them eat meat or fish.

The two most common types are lacto-ovo-vegetarians and vegans.

Lacto-ovo-vegetarians (or simply “vegetarians”) do eat dairy products and eggs, but vegans do not eat any animal products or byproducts.

Dairy Products and Eggs Are Low in Carbs

If you are a vegetarian (not a vegan) then eggs and dairy products tend to be low in carbs, but high in protein and fat. This makes them perfect for a low-carb diet.

  • Eggs: Contain only trace amounts of carbs. Choose pastured, omega-3 enriched or free-range eggs if you can.

  • Yogurt, Greek yogurt and kefir: Choose unsweetened, full-fat versions. Find ones with live cultures for an additional probiotic benefit.

  • Grass-fed butter: Butter from grass-fed cows is healthy, and fine in moderation on a low-carb diet.

  • Cheese: Highly nutrient dense and tasty, and can be used in all sorts of recipes.

These foods are also rich in vitamin B12, which tends to be lacking in plant foods. Vegetarians can get all the B12 they need from these foods, while vegans need to supplement.

Low-Carb Friendly Plant Foods (For Both Vegetarians and Vegans)

There is actually a massive variety of low-carb foods from plants. Many of these foods are also high in protein and fat.

  • Vegetables: Many vegetables are low in carbs. This includes tomatoes, onions, cauliflower, eggplant, bell peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

  • Fruits: Berries like strawberries and blueberries can be eaten on a low-carb diet. Depending on how many carbs you want to eat, other fruits may be acceptable as well.

  • Fatty fruits: Avocados and olives are incredibly healthy. They are low in carbs but high in fat.

  • Nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are low in carbs, but high in protein and fat. This includes almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts, peanuts and pumpkin seeds.

  • Soy: Foods like tofu and tempeh are high in protein and fat, but low in carbs. This makes them acceptable on a low-carb vegetarian/vegan diet.

  • Legumes: Some legumes, including green beans, chick peas and others.

  • Healthy fats: Extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil.

  • Chia seeds: Most of the carbs in chia seeds are fiber, so almost all of the usable calories in the come from protein and fat.

  • Dark chocolate: If you choose dark chocolate with a high (70-85%+) cocoa content, then it will be low in carbs but high in fat.

How Many Carbs Should You Eat?

There is no fixed definition of exactly what “low carb” means.

It is important to experiment and figure out a way to match your carb intake to your own goals and preferences.

That being said, these guidelines are reasonable:

  • 100-150 grams per day: This is a decent maintenance range, and is good for people who exercise a lot.

  • 50-100 grams per day: This should lead to automatic weight loss, and is a good maintenance range for people who don’t exercise that much.

  • 20-50 grams per day: With a carb intake this low, you should lose weight quickly without experiencing much hunger. This carb range should put you into ketosis.

Vegetarians could easily go into the lowest range, but such a diet would be unpractical for vegans. The 100-150 gram range would be more suitable for vegans.

It is recommended to use a nutrition tracker (like Cron-o-meter) for at least a few days/weeks while you are fine-tuning your carbohydrate intake and making sure to get enough protein and fat.

A Sample Menu For a Low-Carb Vegetarian Diet

This is a one-week sample menu for a vegetarian (not vegan) diet that is low in carbs. You can adapt this based on your own needs and preferences.

Monday

  • Breakfast: Eggs and vegetables, fried in olive oil.

  • Lunch: Four bean salad with olive oil, and a handful of nuts.

  • Dinner: Cheesy cauliflower bake (gratin) with broccoli and potato.

Tuesday

  • Breakfast: Full-fat yoghurt and berries.

  • Lunch: Leftover potato bake from the night before.

Dinner: Grilled portabello mushrooms, with buttered vegetables and avocado.

Wednesday

  • Breakfast: Smoothie with coconut milk and blueberries.

  • Lunch: Carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus dip, and a handful of nuts.

  • Dinner: Tempeh stir fry, with cashew nuts and veggies.

Thursday

  • Breakfast: Omelet with vegetables, fried in olive oil.

  • Lunch: Leftover stir fry from dinner the night before.

  • Dinner: Chilli beans with sour cream, cheese and salsa.

Friday

  • Breakfast: Full-fat yoghurt and berries.

  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with some olive oil and a handful of nuts.

  • Dinner: Feta cheese salad with pumpkin seeds and macadamia nuts, drizzled with olive oil.

Saturday

  • Breakfast: Fried eggs with baked beans and avocado.

  • Lunch: Carrot and cucumber sticks with hummus dip, and a handful of nuts.

  • Dinner: Eggplant moussaka.

Sunday

  • Breakfast: Strawberry smoothie with full-fat yogurt and nuts.

  • Lunch: Leftover moussaka from the night before.

  • Dinner: Asparagus, spinach and feta quiche (with or without egg).

Take Home Message

There are many delicious plant foods that are low in carbs, but high in fat and protein. Clearly, you don’t need to be a meat eater to reap the benefits of low-carb eating.

 

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10 Science-Backed Reasons to Eat More Protein

People like to argue about fats and carbs. However, almost everyone agrees that protein is important. Most people are eating enough protein to prevent deficiency, but there are some who would do better with a much higher protein intake.

Numerous studies have shown that a high-protein diet has major benefits for weight loss and metabolic health. Here are 10 science-based reasons to eat more protein.

1. Protein Can Reduce Appetite and Hunger Levels

The three macronutrients (fats, carbs and protein) affect our bodies in different ways. Studies show that protein is by far the most filling. It helps you feel more full, with less food. Part of the reason is that protein reduces your level of the hunger hormone ghrelin. It also boosts the satiety hormone peptide YY, which makes you feel full. This effect can be powerful. In one study, increasing protein from 15 to 30% of calories made overweight women eat 441 fewer calories each day, without intentionally restricting anything.

If you need to lose weight or belly fat, then consider replacing some of the carbs and fats you are eating with protein. It can be as simple as making your potato or rice serving smaller, while adding a few extra bites of meat or fish.

Bottom Line: A high-protein diet reduces hunger, helping you eat fewer calories. This is caused by improved function of weight regulating hormones.

2. Protein Can Increase Muscle Mass and Strength

Protein forms the building blocks of muscles. Therefore, it seems logical that eating more protein would help you build more of them.

Perhaps not surprisingly, numerous studies show that eating plenty of protein can help increase muscle mass and strength. If you’re physically active, lifting weights, or trying to gain muscle and strength, then you need to make sure that you’re getting enough protein. Keeping protein high can also help prevent muscle loss when your body is in a “catabolic” (breaking down) state, such as during weight loss.

Bottom Line: Muscle is made primarily of protein. A high protein intake can help you gain muscle mass and strength, and can reduce muscle loss when losing weight.

3. Protein is Good For Your Bones (Not The Other Way Around)

There is an ongoing myth that protein (mostly animal protein) is bad for your bones. This is based on the idea that protein increases “acid load” in the body, leading to calcium being leached from the bones in order to neutralize the acid. However, most long-term studies show that protein, including animal protein, has major benefits for bone health. People who eat more protein tend to maintain their bone mass better as they get older, and tend to have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

This is especially important for women, who are at high risk of osteoporosis after menopause. Eating plenty of protein and staying active is a good way to help prevent that from happening.

Bottom Line: People who eat more protein tend to have better bone health as they get older. They have a much lower risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

4. Protein Can Reduce Cravings and Desire for Late-Night Snacking

A food craving is different from normal hunger. It is not just about your body needing energy or nutrients, it is about your brain needing a “reward”. As a former drug addict, alcoholic and smoker, I can tell you that a craving for junk food feels exactly the same as a craving for drugs, alcohol and nicotine. Unfortunately, cravings can be incredibly hard to control. The best way to overcome them may be to prevent them from showing up in the first place. One of the best ways to do that is to increase your protein intake.

One study in overweight men showed that increasing protein to 25% of calories reduced cravings by 60%, and reduced the desire to snack at night by half.

The blue bar on the graph is the high-protein group, and the red bar is the normal-protein group. As you can see, increasing protein intake caused a drastic reduction in cravings and late-night snacking. Studies in girls also found that just eating a high-protein breakfast reduces cravings and late-night snacking. This may be mediated by improved function of dopamine, one of the main brain hormones involved in cravings and addiction.

Bottom Line: Eating more protein has been shown to reduce cravings and desire for late-night snacking. Just eating a high-protein breakfast may have a powerful effect.

5. Protein Can Boost Metabolism and Increase Fat Burning

Eating food can boost your metabolism for a short while. That’s because the body uses energy (calories) to digest and make use of the nutrients in foods. This is referred to as the thermic effect of food (TEF). However, not all foods are the same in this regard. In fact, protein has a much higher thermic effect (20-35%) than fat or carbs (5-15%). A high protein intake has been shown to significantly boost metabolism and increase the amount of calories you burn. This can amount to 80 to 100 more calories burned each day.

One study on protein during overfeeding found that a high protein group burned 260 more calories per day than a low-protein group. This is equivalent to an hour of moderate-intensity exercise per day!

Bottom Line: A higher protein intake has been shown to boost your metabolism significantly, helping you burn more calories throughout the day.

6. Protein Can Lower Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (hypertension) is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease. Interestingly, a higher protein intake has been shown to lower blood pressure in several studies. In a review of 40 controlled trials, increased protein lowered systolic blood pressure by 1.76 mmHg on average, and diastolic blood pressure by 1.15 mmHg. One study found that, in addition to lowering blood pressure, a high-protein diet also reduced LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Bottom Line: Several studies have shown that a higher protein intake can lower blood pressure. Some studies also show improvements in other risk factors for heart disease.

7. Protein Can Help You Lose Weight and Keep it Off in The Long-Term

When it comes to losing weight, protein is the king of nutrients. As mentioned above, a high protein diet boosts metabolism and leads to automatic reduction in calorie intake and cravings.

For this reason, it is not surprising to see that people who increase their protein intake tend to lose weight automatically. In one study in overweight women, eating protein at 30% of calories caused them to lose 11 pounds (5 kg) in 12 weeks, without intentionally restricting anything. Protein also has benefits for fat loss when intentionally restricting calories.

In a 12-month study of 130 overweight people on a calorie-restricted diet, the high-protein group lost 53% more body fat than a normal-protein group eating the same number of calories. Of course, losing weight is just the beginning. Maintaining the lost weight is actually a much bigger challenge for most people. Just a modest increase in protein intake has been shown to help with weight maintenance. In one study, increasing protein from 15% to 18% of calories reduced weight regain by 50%. If you want to lose weight, keep it off and prevent obesity in the future, then consider making a permanent increase your protein intake.

Bottom Line: Eating a lot of protein has numerous benefits for weight loss. It can help you lose more fat, and help you keep it off in the long-term.

8. Protein Does Not Harm Healthy Kidneys

Many people wrongly believe that a high protein intake harms your kidneys. It is true that in people with pre-existing kidney disease, restricting protein intake can be beneficial. This should not be taken lightly, as kidney problems can be very serious. However, while high protein intake may be harmful in people with kidney problems, it does NOT mean that it has any relevance to people with healthy kidneys. In fact, numerous studies have looked at this and found that high-protein diets have no harmful effects in people who are free of kidney disease.

Bottom Line: It is true that protein can cause harm in people with kidney problems, but this has no relevance to people with healthy kidneys.

9. Protein Can Help Your Body Repair Itself After Injury

Protein can help your body repair after it has been injured. This makes perfect sense, given that it forms the main building blocks of the body’s tissues and organs. Numerous studies have shown that eating more protein after injury can help speed up recovery.

Bottom Line: Eating more protein can help you recover faster after you have been injured.

10. Protein Can Help You Keep Fit as You Get Older

One of the consequences of aging, is that your muscles shrink. This is referred to as age-related sarcopenia, and is one of the main causes of frailty, bone fractures and reduced quality of life in old age. Eating more protein is one of the best ways to prevent age-related sarcopenia. Staying physically active is also crucial, and lifting weights or doing some sort of resistance exercise can work wonders.

Bottom Line: Eating plenty of protein can help reduce the muscle wasting associated with aging.

How Much Protein Should You Eat?

Even though a higher protein intake can have health benefits for many people, it is not necessary for everyone. Most people already eat protein at around 15% of calories, which is more than enough to prevent deficiency. However, in certain cases, people can benefit from eating much more than that, or up to 25-30% of calories. If you need to lose weight, improve your metabolic health or gain muscle mass and strength, then ensuring that you eat enough protein is important.

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Food Addiction – A Serious Problem With a Simple Solution

Eating healthy and losing weight seems downright impossible for many people. Despite their best intentions, they repeatedly find themselves eating large amounts of unhealthy foods, despite knowing that it is causing them harm. The truth is… the effects of certain foods on the brain can lead to downright addiction.

Food addiction is a very serious problem and one of the main reasons some people just can’t control themselves around certain foods, no matter how hard they try.

What is Food Addiction?

Food addiction is, quite simply, being addicted to junk food in the same way as drug addicts are addicted to drugs. It involves the same areas in the brain, the same neurotransmitters and many of the symptoms are identical. Food addiction is a relatively new (and controversial) term and there are no good statistics available on how common it is. This is very similar to several other eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, compulsive overeating and having an “unhealthy” relationship with food.

How This Works

Processed junk foods have a powerful effect on the “reward” centers in the brain, involving brain neurotransmitters like dopamine. The foods that seem to be the most problematic include typical “junk foods,” as well as foods that contain either sugar or wheat, or both. Food addiction is not about a lack of willpower or anything like that, it is caused by the intense dopamine signal “hijacking” the biochemistry of the brain. There are many studies that support the fact that food addiction is a real problem.

8 Symptoms of Food Addiction

There is no blood test available to diagnose food addiction. Just like with other addictions, it is based on behavioral symptoms. Here are 8 common symptoms that are typical of food addicts:

  1. You frequently get cravings for certain foods, despite feeling full and having just finished a nutritious meal.
  2. When you give in and start eating a food you were craving, you often find yourself eating much more than you intended to.
  3. When you eat a food you were craving, you sometimes eat to the point of feeling excessively “stuffed.”
  4. You often feel guilty after eating particular foods, yet find yourself eating them again soon after.
  5. You sometimes make excuses in your head about why you should eat something that you are craving.
  6. You have repeatedly tried to quit eating or setting rules (includes cheat meals/days) about certain foods, but been unsuccessful.
  7. You often hide your consumption of unhealthy foods from others.
  8. You feel unable to control your consumption of unhealthy foods, despite knowing that they are causing you physical harm (includes weight gain).

If you can relate to 4-5 of these, then you probably do have a serious problem with food. If you can relate to 6 or more, then you are most likely a food addict.

Food Addiction is a Serious Problem

Although the term “addiction” is often thrown around lightly, having true addiction is serious business. I’m a recovering alcoholic, smoker and drug addict with a history of many rehabs, jail more often than I can count and several trips to the emergency room due to overdose. After I had been sober for several years, I started to develop an addiction to unhealthy foods. Full-blown addiction. Nothing more, nothing less.

The reason I’m telling you this is to demonstrate that I know how addiction works. I’m here to tell you that food addiction is the same as addiction to drugs… exactly the same. The symptoms and thought processes are completely identical. It’s just a different substance and the social consequences aren’t as severe. Food addiction can cause physical harm. It can lead serious diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis and depression, to name a few. But you have even bigger reasons to quit than some unfamiliar disease in your distant future. Food addiction is also ruining your life… today. It breaks your self-esteem, makes you unhappy with your body and can make your life a living hell (like it did for me). The seriousness of being a food addict can not be overstated. This is a problem that ruins lives and kills people. Literally.

The Law of Addiction – Why You May Never be Able to Eat “Normally” Again

The most important lesson I have ever learned is called the law of addiction:

“Administration of a drug to an addict will cause reestablishment of chemical dependence upon the addictive substance.”

A former smoker who has a puff of a cigarette will become addicted again… instantly. An alcoholic who has a sip of beer will relapse, with all the horrible consequences that follow. There is no way of getting around it. This is simply how addiction works. I am personally convinced that food addiction is no different. One bite of cake, one sip of coke, one “cheat” – that’s all it takes. Of course, we all need to eat something. Otherwise we’ll die of starvation. But no one needs to eat sugar, refined wheat flour or any of the modern junk foods that people tend to lose control over. Most food addicts will never be able to eat junk food like “regular” people again. That’s the cold, hard truth.

But if they manage to avoid the “trigger foods,” then they should be able to eat healthy and lose weight without problems. The truth is… complete abstinence is the only thing that reliably works against addiction. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you will recover.

Although the “everything in moderation” message may work for some people, this advice is a complete disaster for food addicts. When it comes to addiction, moderation fails. Every time. This is the simple (but not easy) solution to addiction. Avoiding the addictive substance at all times.

How to Know if This is Worth The Sacrifice

Completely avoiding junk foods may seem impossible. These foods are everywhere and are a major part of our culture. But believe me… once you’ve made the decision to never eat them again, avoiding them actually becomes easier. When you’ve made a firm decision to avoid them completely, then there’s no need for you to justify anything in your head and the cravings may not even show up. Many people who have done this (including myself) don’t even get cravings anymore, not after they’ve made a profound decision to simply avoid this stuff… permanently. But if you’re still in doubt and are unsure if this is worth the sacrifice, then write down a list of pros and cons.

Pros might include: I’ll lose weight, I’ll live longer, I’ll have more energy and feel better every day, etc.

Cons might include: I won’t be able to eat ice cream with my family, no cookies on Christmas, I might have to explain my food choices… (Most of these social dilemmas can be solved easily).

Write everything down, no matter how peculiar or vain. Then put your two lists side by side and ask yourself: Is it worth it? If the answer is a resounding “yes” – then you can rest assured that you are doing the right thing.

Prepare Yourself and Set a Date

There are a few things you can do to prepare yourself and make the transition as easy as possible:

.Trigger Foods: Write down a list of the foods you tend to crave and/or binge on. These are the “trigger foods” you need to avoid completely.

  • Fast Food Places: Write down a list of fast food places that serve healthy foods. This is important and can prevent a relapse when you find yourself hungry and not in the mood to cook.

  • What to Eat: Think about what foods you’re going to eat. Preferably healthy foods that you like and are already eating regularly.

  • Pros and Cons: Consider making several copies of your “pros and cons” list. Keep a copy in your kitchen, glove compartment and purse/wallet. Sometimes you will need a reminder about why you’re doing this.

It’s important to NOT go on a “diet.” Put weight loss on hold for at least 1-3 months.

Overcoming food addiction is hard enough as it is, by adding hunger and additional restrictions to the mix you will just make things even harder and set yourself up for failure.

Now… set a date, some time in the near future (maybe this weekend or next week). From this day and onward, you will never touch the addictive foods again. Not a single bite, ever. Period.

When All Else Fails… Seek Help

If you end up relapsing and losing control over your consumption again, then you’re not alone. Relapses are the rule when it comes to addiction, not the exception. Most people have a history of several failed attempts before they manage to succeed in the long run. That’s how it was for me and most recovering food addicts I know.

But if you relapse often, then there really is no point in trying to do it on your own again. If you’ve failed a hundred times, then the chances of you succeeding when you try it for the 101th time are almost nonexistent. Luckily, help is not far off… There are health professionals and support groups that can help you overcome this serious problem. You can seek professional help… for example from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Try to find someone who has actual experience in dealing with food addiction.

But there are several free options available as well, including 12 step programs like Overeaters Anonymous (OA), GreySheeters Anonymous (GSA), Food Addicts Anonymous (FAA) and Food Addicts in Recovery Anonymous (FA).

Just go to their websites, find a meeting (they also have online Skype meetings) and go to it.

Or you can use google to find treatment options in your area. Look for something like “food addiction treatment [name of city]” – chances are that you will find something that suits you.

Whatever You Do, Do Something!

Food addiction is a problem that will rarely resolve on its own. Unless you deal with it, chances are that it will just get worse over time. If you have this problem, then you have to do something about it now, or it will end up ruining your life.

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Watermelon 101: Health Benefits and Nutrition Facts

The watermelon is a large fruit, known scientifically as Citrullus lanatus. It originates from southern Africa, and is related to cantaloupe melons, zucchini, pumpkin and cucumber. Watermelon is packed with water and nutrients, contains very few calories and is exceptionally refreshing and juicy. Watermelon is also a good dietary source of both citrulline and lycopene, two very powerful plant compounds.

Eating watermelon or watermelon juice may have several health benefits, including lower blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity and reduced muscle soreness. While watermelons are most commonly eaten fresh, they can also be made into juice or added to smoothies.

This is what a watermelon looks like:

Type Watermelon, raw

Serving 100 grams1 cup, balls (154 g) 1 cup, diced (152 g) Custom

  • General

  • Vitamins & minerals

General information

Amount

Calories

30

Water

91 %

Protein

0.6 g

Carbs

7.6 g

Sugar

6.2 g

Fiber

0.4 g

Fat

0.2 g

Saturated

0.02 g

Monounsaturated

0.04 g

Polyunsaturated

0.05 g

Omega-3

0 g

Omega-6

0.05 g

Trans fat

~

More details

  • Carbohydrates

  • Amino acids

  • Fats

Carbohydrates

Amount

Carbohydrate

7.6 g

Fiber

0.4 g

Sugars

6.2 g

Sucrose

1.2 g

Glucose

1.6 g

Fructose

3.4 g

Lactose

0 g

Maltose

0.1 g

Galactose

0 g

Starch

0 g

Carbs in Watermelon

Watermelon contains 7.5 grams of carbs in 100 grams, or 12 grams of carbs per cup. The carbs are mostly simple sugars, such as glucose, fructose and sucrose. Watermelon also contains a small amount of fiber. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly foods raise blood sugar levels. The glycemic index of watermelon ranges from 72-80, which is high. However, each serving of watermelon is relatively low in carbs, so eating it should not have a major effect on blood sugar levels.

Fibers

Watermelon is a poor source of fiber (0.4 grams per 100 grams). However, it is considered high in fermentable short-chain carbohydrates, referred to as FODMAPs. FODMAPs can cause unpleasant digestive symptoms in individuals who cannot digest them, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome.

Bottom line: Watermelon is low in calories and fiber and consists mostly of water and simple sugars. It also contains FODMAPs, which may cause digestive symptoms in sensitive individuals.

Vitamins and Minerals

Watermelon is a good source of vitamin C, and also a decent source of several other vitamins and minerals.

  • Vitamin C: An antioxidant that is needed for skin health and immune function.

  • Potassium: A mineral that is important for blood pressure control and heart health.

  • Copper: A mineral that is most abundant in plant foods, and often lacking in the Western diet.

  • Vitamin B5: Also known as pantothenic acid. This vitamin is found in almost all foods to some extent.

  • Vitamin A: Watermelon contains beta-carotene, which is transformed into vitamin A in the body.

Bottom line: Watermelon is a good source of vitamin C, and contains decent amounts of potassium, copper, vitamin B5 and vitamin A (from beta-carotene).

Other Plant Compounds

Watermelon is a poor source of antioxidants compared to other fruits. However, it is a good source of the amino acid citrulline, and the antioxidant lycopene, which have numerous benefits for health.

Citrulline

Watermelon is the richest known dietary source of the amino acid citrulline. The highest amount is found in the white rind that surrounds the flesh. In the body, citrulline is transformed into the essential amino acid arginine. Both citrulline and arginine play an important role in the synthesis of nitric oxide (NO), which helps to lower blood pressure by dilating and relaxing our blood vessels. Arginine is also important for many organs, such as the lungs, kidneys, liver, and the immune and reproductive systems, and has been shown to facilitate the healing of wounds. Studies have shown that watermelon juice is a good source of citrulline, and is able to increase blood levels of both citrulline and arginine considerably. Despite being one of the best dietary sources of citrulline, one would have to consume about 5 pounds (2.3 kg) of watermelons to meet the recommended daily intake for arginine.

Lycopene

Watermelon is the best known fresh source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant responsible for the red color. Lycopene is used to some extent to form beta-carotene in the body, which is converted into vitamin A. Lycopene is generally associated with tomatoes, but fresh watermelon is actually a better source of lycopene than fresh tomato. The main difference between watermelon and tomato regarding lycopene, is that the tomatoes usually require heat treatment for the lycopene to be efficiently absorbed. Human studies have shown that fresh watermelon juice is effective at raising blood levels of lycopene and beta-carotene.

Bottom Line: Watermelon is a good source of two beneficial plant compounds, the amino acid citrulline and the antioxidant lycopene.

Health Benefits of Watermelons

Watermelons and watermelon juice have been linked with several health benefits.

Improved Metabolic Health

High blood pressure and insulin resistance are two major risk factors for chronic disease and premature death. Watermelon is a good source of citrulline, which is converted into arginine in the body. Both of these amino acids help in the production of nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is a gas molecule that causes the tiny muscles around the blood vessels to relax and dilate. This leads to a reduction in blood pressure. Supplementation with watermelon or watermelon juice has been shown to reduce blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. Watermelon and arginine intake have also been linked to reduced fat mass and improved insulin sensitivity in obese individuals with type 2 diabetes.

Reduced Muscle Soreness After Exercise

Muscle soreness is a well known side effect of strenuous exercise. One study showed that watermelon juice was effective in decreasing muscle soreness following exercise. Several studies have also investigated the effect of watermelon juice or citrulline on exercise performance. One study found no effect, and another study found improved performance in untrained, but not well-trained individuals.

Bottom line: Watermelon juice may reduce blood pressure, fat mass and insulin resistance in some people. It is also linked to reduced muscle soreness after exercise.

Adverse Effects

Watermelon is well tolerated by most people. However, it may cause allergic reactions or digestive problems in some individuals.

Allergy

Allergy to watermelon is rare, but it may cause oral-allergy syndrome in individuals who are sensitive to pollen. The symptoms include itchy mouth and throat, swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue, throat, and sometimes ears.

FODMAPs

Watermelon contains FODMAPs, short-chain carbohydrates that some people cannot digest. FODMAPs may cause unpleasant digestive symptoms, such as bloating, gas, stomach cramps, diarrhoea or constipation. Individuals who are sensitive to FODMAPs, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome, should consider avoiding watermelons.

Bottom Line: Watermelon may cause oral-allergy syndrome in individuals with pollen allergy. It also contains FODMAPs, which can cause unpleasant digestive symptoms in some people.

Take Home Message

Watermelon is an exceptionally healthy fruit. It is loaded with citrulline and lycopene, two powerful plant compounds that have been linked to lower blood pressure, improved metabolic health and decreased muscle soreness after exercise. It also has a sweet and delicious taste, and is packed with water, making it excellent for maintaining good hydration. For the vast majority of people, watermelon is a perfect addition to a healthy diet. It is particularly refreshing on a hot summer day, and may be considered the ultimate summer fruit.

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11 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Eating Fish

Fish is among the healthiest foods on the planet. It is loaded with important nutrients, such as protein and vitamin D. Fish is also the world’s best source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are incredibly important for your body and brain. Here are 11 health benefits of eating fish, that are supported by research.

1. Fish is High in Important Nutrients That Most People Don’t Get Enough of

Generally speaking, all types of fish are good for you. They are high in many nutrients that most people aren’t getting enough of. This includes high-quality protein, iodine and various vitamins and minerals. However, some fish are better than others, and the fatty types of fish are considered the healthiest. That’s because fatty fish (like salmon, trout, sardines, tuna and mackerel) are higher in fat-based nutrients. This includes the fat-soluble vitamin D, a nutrient that most people are deficient in. It functions like a steroid hormone in the body. Fatty fish are also much higher in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are crucial for your body and brain to function optimally, and are strongly linked to reduced risk of many diseases. Eating fatty fish at least once or twice a week is recommended to meet your omega-3 requirements.

Bottom Line: Fish is high in many important nutrients, including high-quality protein, iodine and various vitamins and minerals. Fatty types of fish are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D.

2. Fish May Lower Your Risk of Heart Attacks and Strokes

Heart attacks and strokes are the two most common causes of premature death in the world. Fish is generally considered to be among the best foods you can eat for a healthy heart. Not surprisingly, many large observational studies have shown that people who eat fish regularly seem to have a lower risk of heart attacks, strokes and death from heart disease. In one study of more than 40,000 male health professionals in the US, those who regularly ate 1 or more servings of fish per week had a 15% lower risk of heart disease. Researchers believe that the fatty types of fish are even more beneficial for heart health, because of their high amount of omega-3 fatty acids.

Bottom Line: Eating at least one serving of fish per week has been linked to reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes, two of the world’s biggest killers.

3. Fish Contains Nutrients That Are Crucial During Development

Omega-3 fatty acids are absolutely essential for growth and development. The omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is especially important, because it accumulates in the developing brain and eye. For this reason, it is often recommended that expecting and nursing mothers make sure to eat enough omega-3 fatty acids. However, there is one caveat with recommending fish to expecting mothers. Some fish is high in mercury, which ironically is linked to brain developmental problems. For this reason, pregnant women should only eat fish that are low in the food chain (salmon, sardines, trout, etc), and no more than 12 ounces (340 grams) per week. Pregnant women should also avoid raw and uncooked fish (including sushi), because it may contain microorganisms that can harm the fetus.

Bottom Line: Fish is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is essential for development of the brain and eyes. It is recommended that expecting and nursing mothers make sure to eat enough omega-3s.

4. Fish May Increase Grey Matter in the Brain and Protect it From Age-Related Deterioration

One of the consequences of ageing, is that brain function often deteriorates (referred to as age-related cognitive decline). This is normal in many cases, but then there are also serious neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly, many observational studies have shown that people who eat more fish have slower rates of cognitive decline. One mechanism could be related to grey matter in the brain. Grey matter is the major functional tissue in your brain, containing the neurons that process information, store memories and make you human. Studies have shown that people who eat fish every week have more grey matter in the centers of the brain that regulate emotion and memory.

Bottom Line: Fish consumption is linked to reduced decline in brain function in old age. People who eat fish regularly also have more grey matter in the brain centers that control memory and emotion.

5. Fish May Help Prevent and Treat Depression, Making You a Happier Person

Depression is a serious and incredibly common mental disorder. It is characterized by low mood, sadness, decreased energy and loss of interest in life and activities.

Although it doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as heart disease or obesity, depression is currently one of the world’s biggest health problems. Studies have found that people who eat fish regularly are much less likely to become depressed. Numerous controlled trials have also found that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial against depression, and significantly increase the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. What this means, is that fish can quite literally make you a happier person, and improve your quality of life. Fish and omega-3 fatty acids may also help with other mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder.

Bottom Line: Omega-3 fatty acids can be beneficial against depression, both on their own and when taken with antidepressant medications.

6. Fish is The Only Good Dietary Source of Vitamin D

Vitamin D has received a lot of mainstream attention in recent years. This important vitamin actually functions like a steroid hormone in the body, and a whopping 41.6% of the US population is deficient in it. Fish and fish products are the best dietary sources of vitamin D, by far. Fatty fish like salmon and herring contain the highest amounts. A single 4 ounce (113 gram) serving of cooked salmon contains around 100% of the recommended intake of vitamin D. Some fish oils, such as cod liver oil, are also very high in vitamin D, providing more than 200% of the recommended intake in a single tablespoon. If you don’t get much sun and don’t eat fatty fish regularly, then you may want to consider taking a vitamin D supplement.

Bottom Line: Fatty fish is an excellent source of vitamin D, an important nutrient that over 40% of people may be deficient in.

7. Fish Consumption is Linked to Reduced Risk of Autoimmune Diseases, Including Type 1 Diabetes

Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys healthy body tissues. A key example is type 1 diabetes, which involves the immune system attacking the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Several studies have found that omega-3 or fish oil consumption is linked to reduced risk of type 1 diabetes in children, as well as a form of autoimmune diabetes in adults. The results are preliminary, but researchers believe that this may be caused by the omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D in fish and fish oils. Some believe that fish consumption may also lower the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, but the current evidence is weak at best.

Bottom Line: Eating fish has been linked to reduced risk of type 1 diabetes and several other autoimmune diseases.

8. Fish May Help Prevent Asthma in Children

Asthma is a common disease that is characterized by chronic inflammation in the airways. Unfortunately, rates of asthma have increased dramatically over the past few decades. Studies show that regular fish consumption is linked to a 24% lower risk of asthma in children, but no significant effect in adults.

Bottom Line: Some studies show that children who eat more fish have a lower risk of developing asthma.

9. Fish May Protect Your Vision in Old Age

A disease called macular degeneration is a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness, and mostly affects older individuals. There is some evidence that fish and omega-3 fatty acids may provide protection against this disease. In one study, regular consumption of fish was linked to a 42% lower risk of macular degeneration in women. Another study found that eating fatty fish once per week was linked to a 53% decreased risk of neovascular (“wet”) macular degeneration.

Bottom Line: People who eat more fish have a much lower risk of developing macular degeneration, a leading cause of vision impairment and blindness.

10. Fish May Improve Sleep Quality

Sleep disorders have become incredibly common worldwide. There are many different reasons for this (such as increased exposure to blue light), but some researchers believe that vitamin D deficiency can also play a role. In a 6-month study of 95 middle-aged men, a meal with salmon three times per week led to improvements in both sleep and daily functioning. The researchers speculated that this was caused by the vitamin D in the salmon.

Bottom Line: There is preliminary evidence that eating fatty fish like salmon can lead to improved sleep.

11. Fish is Delicious and Easy to Prepare

This last one is not a health benefit, but still very important. It is the fact that fish is delicious and easy to prepare. For this reason, it should be relatively easy to incorporate it into the diet. Eating fish 1-2 times per week is considered sufficient to reap the benefits. If possible, choose wild-caught fish over farmed. Wild fish tends to have more omega-3s and is less likely to be contaminated with harmful pollutants. That being said, even if eating farmed fish, the benefits still far outweigh the risks. All types of fish are good for you.

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