Whole foods and your hearing health
When we tuck in for our favorite meal of the day – whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner or the occasional midnight snack – we don’t often think about how the food we put into our mouths, chew and digest affects our body.
Sure we may be cognizant that macaroni and cheese might be loaded in fat and cholesterol and the thought of how much sugar is in our morning Frappuccino might cross our minds, but it’s not common to stop and think how that sugar, fat, cholesterol and other nutrients help or hinder our body’s ability to function.
Luckily there’s at least one individual who thinks of how nutrients affect how our ears work on a daily basis. Christopher Spankovich, Au.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., CCC-A and research assistant professor at the University of Florida spends his time studying dietary patterns in order to figure out how nutrients work together in the auditory system.
“When you talk about what you eat, there are direct and indirect effects to your hearing health,” Spankovich said. “Eating healthy just makes our body work better and makes everything more healthy. Our ears are part of our body – that’s something we actually do have to remember – and they’ll be healthier, too.”
The ears are part of the body? That sentence might seem over-the-top obvious; however, the point Spankovich is making is that we need to remember that our ears are part of the same cardiovascular system, skeletal system, muscular system and nervous system as the rest of our body. When we remember that, it’s easier to make the connection between nutrition and our hearing health.
“The next step,” Spankovich says, “is better understanding the role of nutrition and determining the best mix of foods to improve our susceptibility to hearing loss.”
While research has yet to prove a cut-and-dry, definitive menu to prevent conditions like hearing loss and tinnitus, researchers like Spankovich have determined specific, key nutrients found in every day whole foods help strengthen systemic components that enable us to pick up and process sound.
Vitamin B-12 – abundant in dairy products – and folic acid – rich in leafy green vegetables – for example, can protect hearing by as much as 20 percent, according to some studies. Without ample levels of these two nutrients, individuals have a 39 percent increased risk of developing some degree of hearing loss. In another study, omega-3 fats – found in tofu, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower – and vitamin D – high in fish and egg yolks – were both found to be helpful in the fight against hearing loss. Magnesium – found in bananas, artichokes and broccoli – and zinc – abundant in chocolate and oysters – are additional nutrients well known to help prevent hearing loss. In addition, antioxidants may also play a role in determining the development of hearing loss.
So why not just take a vitamin to get all of these nutrients? Because, as Spankovich explained, “there’s only so much your body can take. Once your body meets its needs, the rest is flushed out.”
Instead of popping a pill to meet the levels of ear-healthy nutrients your body needs, the best approach, according to Spankovich, is to eat a (near) perfect diet.
“Aristotle said that food should be our medicine and medicine should be our food,” Spankovich said. “If that was true in Ancient Greece, it should be true today. The healthier we eat, the more we reduce our risk for hearing loss.”
While Spankovich first and foremost recommends talking to a nutritionist for a diet that’s best suited for specific needs, especially if you have a condition or disease like diabetes, he does make a few recommendations for a healthy hearing diet.
“For dinner at night, instead of saying, ‘We’re having chicken or steak,’ we should be saying, ‘We’re having a big salad,’ with chicken on the side,” Spankovich said.
In addition, a healthy hearing diet should contain:
- More Omega 3 fat found in fish, nuts and seeds
- Less Omega 6 fat found in vegetable oil, corn oil and margarine
- More fruits and vegetables like kale, bell peppers, blueberries and bananas
- Less protein (2-3 ounces per meal)
- More whole grains
- Less flour-based pasta and bread
Feeling lost about what to put on the table? Check out these three easy dishes to get you eating for your ears (and the rest of your body!) all day long.
Morning quinoa with berries and bananas
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Yields: 2 servings
- ½ cup quinoa
- ¾ cup water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- ¼ cup of your favorite nut
- 1 cup berries
- 1 banana, sliced
- Milk, to taste
Wash quinoa several times in water until clear. Combine water, quinoa and cinnamon sticks in a small pot. Bring to boil. Reduce and cover. Cook until quinoa is fluffy; about 20 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks. Serve quinoa immediately with berries, nuts, and milk, if desired.
Homemade spinach hummus with veggies and whole grain pita
Prep time: Overnight
Cook time: 15 mins
Yields: 12 to 16 servings
- 1 package Bob’s Red Mill garbanzo beans
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons tahini
- 1 pound spinach
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
Soak garbanzo beans overnight in crock-pot on low temperature. Drain. In a large mixing bowl, mix garlic, spinach, salt, pepper, lemon juice and tahini with hand mixer, food processor or emulsifier to desired consistency. Serve with raw veggies and pita bread.
Check out last month’s spinach salad recipe for a quick and tasty dinner. Get creative and switch out the grapefruit for blackberries; chicken for fish.
Whether you’re at risk for hearing loss today or down the road, eating healthy is an integral part of keeping that risk at bay. If you feel you already are experiencing hearing loss, contact your hearing healthcare professional for an appointment today. If you don’t have a physician yet, check out our directory.