Nutrition can taste good, too

HARLINGEN — I feel good.

Because I had some chocolate.

If you suddenly feel a second wind coming on after eating some dark chocolate, there’s a reason.

Often called the “feel good” food, dark chocolate contains nutrients that improve memory and increase blood flow to the brain.

Many foods contribute to better health, stronger brain function, and an improved immune system.

Curiously, one of the key ingredients to better health is adequate water consumption, said Dawn Rodriguez, RN, program director at the Surgical and Medical Weight Loss Program at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

Water is important for healthy skin, for brain function, and for the synovial fluid in the joints.

“The body transforms water into whatever it needs,” Rodriguez said. “It creates the brain fluid, saliva and mucous.”

She said that at the “I’m Losin’ It! Health and Fitness Expo” in San Benito on Saturday, she had a device that checked for adequate water. Only two people had enough water in their system.

She remembers one woman who was extremely dehydrated.

“I looked at her skin, it was leathery,” she said. “She had long dry, dry hair.”

Those wishing to improve their learning capacity and memory can eat strawberries. The zinc in pumpkins helps boost the immune system.

She and Olivia Zamora, registered dietitian, spend most of their time working with patients referred by their primary care physicians. The patients come in for counseling on nutrition and portion control.

“They need to make the lifestyle choices to lose the weight and keep it off,” Zamora said.

When people become morbidly obese, Rodriguez’s office will perform bariatric surgery. Patients must then be even more conscientious about their diet because their bodies aren’t absorbing nutrients as well. They have to take supplements to ensure adequate health.

Rodriguez pointed out that often people who’ve had the surgery don’t make the lifestyle changes to lose the weight and keep it off. If they do make those lifestyle changes, they can reap the same benefits of anyone else trying to eat better.

Rodriguez said her office works with patients to find ways they can feel better through improved nutrition as well as an increase in activity.

“What we do is health and wellness,” she said. “We focus on how to stay healthy and stay healthy and how to feel better.”

Good health and weight loss include a brain range of foods. An increase in activity is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, but so is fiber, fruits and vegetables. People seeking to lose weight or keep their weight under control should maintain their portion control.

All sorts of foods can improve different parts of people’s lives.

“When I feel tired or my kids are tired I pull out the pumpkin seeds and frozen blueberries,” Rodriguez said. These are healthy snacks for people too tired to fix dinner. She’ll munch on them sometimes while she’s cooking. Her two teenagers eat them sometimes while doing their homework.

While providing a good snack there’s another benefit to eating blueberries. The antioxidants in blueberries promote learning and memory. Shelves filled with the containers of foods recommended for a healthier diet stood in the Supplement Room down the hall from her office. There was a container of garden vegetable medley, QuestBars in different flavors (peanut butter, cookies and cream, and cinnamon roll and oatmeal.

“This is our smorgasbord,” Rodriguez said. She often shows them to patients at the clinic or in presentations to school or other venues. Seeing items seems to help them remember.

She pulled out packets of almonds which are good for cholesterol. She pointed out they’d already been packaged for a specific portion.

“They are already prepared,” she said. “What I do at home is I have little containers of pumpkin seeds.”

Rodriguez said people often don’t know how much they’re really eating. She advised that consumers read the labels on the back of packaged foods. The label tells consumers how many servings are in the product and the size of the servings. The number of calories per serving also appears.

Those seeking to lose weight should cut back soft drinks. Don’t be fooled by labels like “enriched flour” on white bread. Ramen noodles can be a cheap meal, but they have almost no nutritional value.

She and Zamora often work with people who really do have no time to exercise. Zamora tells them to stop at fast food restaurants.

“Many fast food restaurants have ‘Better for You’ and nutrition facts,” Zamora said. These nutritious meals often include salads. Overall, however, they’re still not the best choice. They’re often high in sodium which contributes to high blood pressure.

“A lot of people have hypertension,” Zamora said. “Most of it comes from processed foods.”

Surprisingly, even including salads in your diet doesn’t mean you’re eating healthier. Rodriguez pointed out that iceberg lettuce has little nutrition, but Romaine lettuce is better.

In the midst of all this, while you’re cutting back on sodas and eating more fruits and vegetables, remember above all to eat more chocolate. Dark chocolate, that is.