This Week's Nutrition News Feed

By: Sara Reistad-Long
mixed beans


Lentils and beans

Photo by: Jack Jelly / ThinkStock

Jack Jelly / ThinkStock

In this week's news: Bean buffs have reason to rejoice; "plant-based protein" shapes up to be the other white meat; and vitamin D is back in the spotlight (make that the sunlight).

Bring On the Three-Bean Salad

Just one serving a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils appears to reduce "bad" cholesterol, a review of 26 controlled studies has found. According to the lead researcher, a single ¾ cup of these foods may lower LDL cholesterol by five percent, which can translate roughly to a five or six percent reduction in heart disease risk. Two factors may influence this. First, the foods have a low glycemic index, meaning that they keep blood sugar levels even (and eaters sated) by breaking down and getting absorbed into the body at a slow and steady rate. Second, they also appear to help rid our systems of the bad fats we ingest. The catch? We currently eat less than half a serving a day.

Tofu Nuggets: The Next Generation

"Plant-based protein," better known as "fake" meat, has come a long way from its rubbery, tofu-and-tempeh roots. Case in point: When, about a year ago, Whole Foods recalled two prepared chicken salads because they had been accidentally made with a chicken substitute, few customers said they could tell the difference. Though the faux meat market is still small, it's getting a lot of attention from investors and influential consumers with environmental, animal welfare, and personal wellness concerns (Bill Gates and Twitter's Biz Stone and Evan Williams are involved). This, in turn, has given rise to more variety and better tasting vegetarian options. The soy-based products of years past have been nudged out by plant-based fibers boasting the kind of meaty texture and mouthfeel that had the Whole Foods customers stumped.

When Making the Healthy Choice Isn't Affordable

Almost one in three American adults with a chronic disease faced issues paying for food, medicine or both, according to an article in this month's American Journal of Medicine. Bring the diabetes patient unable to afford his or her medication together with, say, a steady diet of low-cost fast-food meals, and you get a vicious cycle of worsening illness. The silver lining: Some programs, among them Medicaid and the federally-funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, are making a dent. And even more health advocates are on the case,  with an eye toward making access to food one of the things that doctors' offices screen for during routine appointments and writing "prescription" coupons for healthier foods.

More Developments for Vitamin D

According to two new meta-analyses encompassing over a million people, individuals with low levels of vitamin D are more likely to die from diseases such as cancer and heart disease than are others, suggesting that D levels are, at the very least, an indicator of how healthy we are. Vitamin D3 (the kind associated with strong benefits) can be found in eggs, fortified dairy and organ meat -- and our bodies make it in sunlight. This means that it’s not always the easiest nutrient for some people to come by; about two-thirds of us are thought to be deficient.  Because there’s controversy over how much and how often to supplement, the more conservative recommendation is to work more delicious D-heavy foods into diets, and get out in the spring weather -- thirty minutes in the sun twice a week. (There are worse prescriptions.)

Sara Reistad-Long writes about science, wellness and lifestyle. She is the co-author of The Big New York Sandwich Book and can be followed on Twitter: @sarareistadlong

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