April 17, 2019 – Appetite For Life @ Johnson & Wales University-Charlotte
Nutrition information presented by
Steph Saullo, MS, RD, LDN
The science on food and nutrients and their relationship to health is complex. Individuals are unique and there are various factors that influence health outcomes. Researchers at the Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) are working very hard to understand the intricacies of diet, nutrients, and their relationship to disease prevention and progression with the goal that general dietary guidance will one day be replaced with customized nutrition recommendations.
No food or nutrient has been found to prevent or cure any disease. Current research suggests following an overall healthful diet, rich in plants, that emphasizes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, adequate protein, and unsaturated fats, and staying physically active may best support good health overall.
But only if you actually like them. Legumes, or more commonly called “beans,” include chickpeas/garbanzo beans, kidney beans, black beans, pinto beans, as well as lentils, peas, soybeans, and peanuts. They provide a wide variety of nutrients including iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, thiamine, and niacin, in addition to folate, and fiber. In fact, beans are an excellent source of fiber. High fiber diets have been associated with decreased risk for various chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. A one cup serving provides more than half of a person’s daily requirement. In addition to fiber, legumes are a plant-based source of dietary protein. Compared to nuts and seeds, legumes provide a similar amount of protein per serving. Compared to grains, legumes tend to have almost double the amount of protein. If you do not eat or limit animal products, it is important to include an adequate amount of plant-based protein and to vary these sources of protein among legumes, nuts and seeds, and grains.
Dried beans like chickpeas/garbanzo beans, pinto, or kidney beans may take a few hours to prepare (~2½ hours), so for quick preparation, consider using canned beans. When shopping for canned beans, look for “no salt added” varieties. If you cannot find this option, drain and rinse the beans well. Draining and rinsing can reduce the sodium content by approximately 40 percent.
Include an array of colors when putting meals together to help obtain a wide variety of nutrients. Each color family contains various antioxidants unique to that class. The typical color families and common foods include:

  • Red/Purple, like blueberries, blackberries, eggplant, and red pepper.
  • Red, like cranberries, tomatoes, and watermelon.
  • Orange, like carrots, cantaloupe, and sweet potatoes.
  • Orange/Yellow, like butternut squash, oranges, pineapple, and yellow grapefruit.
  • Yellow/Green, like avocado, green or yellow pepper, kiwi, and spinach.
  • Green, like kale, broccoli, and Swiss chard.
  • White/Green, like apples (the flesh), garlic, chives, and artichokes.

Carrots can be found in purple, red, white, and yellow varieties in addition to the popular orange. Beta-carotene, an antioxidant, is one group of red, orange and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene along with other carotenoids provide roughly 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet.[1] Vitamin A is most notably known for its importance in eye health and immune function. Carrots are one of the best sources of beta-carotene. Red, orange, and yellow bell peppers provide this nutrient too. Pairing food sources of vitamin A, like carrots and bell peppers, with a food that has fat like nuts or a salad dressing, helps the body to absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as vitamin A.
Similar to dark leafy green vegetables that are often touted as powerhouses of nutrition, asparagus provides a similar profile of nutrients. Asparagus is also a source of lutein, a pigment and carotenoid antioxidant found to aid in the prevention of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration which can lead to blindness. You can also rely on asparagus to pack in nutrients like fiber, vitamins A, C, and K, B vitamins, folate, phosphorus, and selenium. It is recommended to try and get in at least 1½ cups of dark green vegetables each week. For those taking blood thinners, it is recommended to consult with your physician or a registered dietitian, as a large amount of dark green may interfere with medications like warfarin due to their high content of vitamin K.
Cauliflower has been extra popular in recent times. You may find it served up as “rice” or “pizza crust,” but don’t be fooled, it’s still cauliflower. Cauliflower, like most fruits and vegetables, provide fiber and just one cup of chopped cauliflower provides more than 75 percent of the vitamin C you’ll need for one day. It is also a source of vitamin K. This cruciferous vegetable is one of the few vegetables that provides the nutrient choline. While research in humans is limited, studies in animals have shown that choline is an important nutrient to optimize brain development and cognitive function. In the Zeisel Lab, led by NRI director Steven H. Zeisel, PhD, MD, the focus of research is the nutrient choline. Scientists study the functions of choline and the factors that alter its dietary requirement in individuals. Much of this choline research focuses on brain and eye development and how choline and other nutrients influence generation of different types of neural cells that make up the brain and the light-sensing structure of the eye, the retina.
Onions are a true kitchen staple. They are part of the flavor-enhancing family of plants along with garlic, leeks, and chives and are a great way to add zest to food without adding much salt or sodium. Its white, colorless flesh contains the flavonoid (a type of antioxidant) quercetin that may be health promoting and has been found to be involved in important reactions that may decrease the risk for atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaques in artery walls) and coronary heart disease. Research has shown that quercetin from onions may be better absorbed than quercetin from other sources like tea or apples. Ever wondered why onions make you cry? Sulfuric compounds are the culprits that may bring tears to your eyes. According to the National Onion Association, if you chill the onion and cut into the root end last your crying may be reduced.
A diet that includes many fruits and vegetables is important for overall health and intake has been linked to protecting against various chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease. While research looks at various fruits, vegetables, and components of these fruits and vegetables (like individual phytochemicals), there is not one fruit or vegetable that can provide an adequate amount of all the nutrients required for health so it is important to include a variety of fruits and vegetables each day. The majority of Americans eat less than recommended levels of fruits and vegetables (75 percent and 87 percent, respectively) so we could all benefit from increasing our intake of fruits and vegetables.
Spices are an excellent way to take foods to a different level. Some spices are subtle while others, like curry powder, pack a bigger punch and really make the dish. Curry powder is a blend of spices including coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and chili peppers. There may be variations on this recipe to include other ingredients like garlic, ginger, black pepper, cinnamon, clove, onion, nutmeg, mustard seed, and/or different types of cardamom.
The bright yellow color of most curry powders comes from turmeric, which contains a set of phytonutrients called curcuminoids, most notably curcumin which has been widely studied to investigate its anti-inflammatory properties; however, there is no strong research to support the use of curcumin to reduce inflammation. Preliminary research has also been done to investigate curcumin’s antioxidant properties to fight against oxidative damage in the body; its role in reducing heart attacks and reduction in pain in osteoarthritis; its role in fighting degenerative processes in the brain; and its role in improving Alzheimer’s disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
The amount of curcumin actually contained in turmeric isn’t large and most studies looking at curcumin provide doses exceeding 1 gram daily. In order to ingest this amount you’d have to rely on a supplement versus adding spices to everyday food items. Furthermore, curcumin is poorly absorbed by the body on its own so it is commonly combined with piperine (a substance found in black pepper) to increase the absorption of curcumin.[2, 3] Always consult your physician before taking any dietary supplement.
[1] National Institutes of Health. National Library of Medicine. Beta-carotene. Available at https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/999.html.
[2] Shoba G, Joy D, Majeed M, Rajendra R, Srinivas PS. Influence of piperine on the pharmacokinetics of curcumin in animals and human volunteers. Planta Med. 1998; 64: 353-6.
[3] National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Turmeric. Available at https://nccih.nih.gov/health/turmeric/ataglance.htm.
Posted: April 17, 2019