March is National Nutrition Month, says the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the largest organization of nutrition professionals in the world. What we need to remember, say these experts, is that no one food, drink or pill is a magic formula for optimal health. Rather, the magic resides in the choices we make day to day…and today. Nutrition experts call it "lifestyle balance" — feeding our bodies what they need while still allowing room for enjoyable foods and activities. Along those lines, I'll be answering readers' questions this month.
Q: "Are legumes considered a good source of protein? I see in a book that they have about 1/3 protein and 2/3 carb; so on a special eating program which limits combinations of proteins and starches, how do legumes fit into meal planning?"
A: Yes, beans are a very good source of protein. One-half cup of cooked beans contains as much protein as two ounces of meat, fish or poultry and essentially no fat (less than 1 gram). Beans contain carbs as well, in the form of starch and dietary fiber. They are especially rich in soluble fibers, known for their cholesterol lowering prowess.
You didn't ask, but beans also provide a host of vitamins and minerals, including iron, potassium and folate, an important B-vitamin. According to the Bean Institute (yes, there is one), researchers have identified anti-inflammatory compounds in beans that seem to enhance longevity. A study called the "Food Habits in Later Life Study" showed that — in people over the age of 70 — eating higher amounts of legumes like beans reduced the risk for death by 6 percent.
In meal planning, beans count as a protein source as well as a starchy vegetable. Unless you have a medical reason to limit beans in your diet, this exceptional combination of protein and carbs would be a good one to embrace.
Q: Regarding vitamin B-12, are daily tablets of 1000 micrograms (mcg) effective for elderly citizens without any other B vitamins? Or are injections more effective?
A: That's an individual question. Vitamin B12 is found naturally in most animal-based foods, including milk and eggs. In order to absorb B12 from food, however, you need a well-functioning stomach, pancreas and small intestine. According to the US National Library of Medicine, many people over the age of 50 lose the ability to absorb vitamin B12. That's why some people need intramuscular injections of this vitamin.
Recently, however, studies show that high doses of vitamin B12 taken orally — to the tune of 1000 micrograms a day — may be just as effective as injections in some people. And according to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, vitamin B12 is better absorbed by the body when it is taken along with other B-vitamins, such as might be found in a daily multivitamin supplement.
(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .)
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