Health News

by Liz Robins

CARBS DONE RIGHT

In these uncertain times, it’s natural to turn toward comfort-food staples like rice and pasta for easy, affordable meals. These starchy carbs may be easy on the wallet, but on the waistline and blood-sugar levels? Not so much—unless you prepare them thoughtfully, of course.

Limiting sauces high in saturated fat and sugar, piling on the veggies and keeping portion size in check are a few smart strategies, but there’s another that’s less well-known: boosting the amount of resistant starch you can get from rice, pasta, beans and potatoes by cooling these foods after you cook them.

Resistant starch is starch that the body can’t digest. Because it’s not digested, it doesn’t increase blood-sugar levels like nonresistant starch does when it’s broken down into glucose (a form of sugar) during digestion. More stable blood-sugar levels may help curb carb cravings, improve insulin sensitivity and contribute to weight control. Resistant starch also feeds “good” bacteria in the colon to support digestive health. These bacteria break resistant starch down into short-chain fatty acids, including one called butyrate that’s associated with protection against colon cancer.

To increase the resistant-starch content of cooked rice, pasta, potatoes and beans, cool them completely after cooking. Serve in the form of sushi, pasta salad and potato salad, for starters. It’s fine to reheat these foods later too; the resistant starch will remain. (Bear in mind, though, that even cooked and cooled potatoes—especially white ones—will raise blood sugar significantly. Stick to small portions.)

Prefer to keep things simple? Reach for a steaming bowl of oatmeal for comfort and sustenance on chilly mornings. Oats are naturally high in resistant starch, so there’s no cooling required to reap the benefits.

ZINC FOR IMMUNITY

Zinc has become popular as many of us strive to bolster our immune systems not just during cold and flu season, but year-round. Many people are mildly deficient in this essential mineral and low levels can hinder immune function (along with other healthy functioning). Increasing daily zinc intake through diet or a supplement can help get levels up to where they should be for optimal health.

When it comes to dietary sources of zinc, shellfish (especially oysters), meat, and fortified cereals and bars are decent sources. Zinc probably isn’t as well absorbed from unprocessed vegetarian sources like grains and legumes, but a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement can help cover your bases. The RDA for women over 18 is eight grams per day (more for pregnant and lactating women).

If you’ve already got a cold, zinc might be able to help shorten its duration. Zinc louncesenges (six to 10 per day) have reduced cold symptoms in some studies. Louncesenges containing nine to 23 milligrams of zinc gluconate or zinc acetate per serving, when they are allowed to completely dissolve, have been associated with the most benefit, according to ConsumerLab.com in its Zinc Supplements and Louncesenges Review.

Discuss with your healthcare professional before taking a zinc supplement, however. It’s important not to take too much, especially for more than a week or two. Ongoing high intake can lead to copper deficiency, impaired immunity and other health problems. When taken wisely, though, zinc is a nutrient with a lot to offer.

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