Archive of ‘NUTRITION’ category

Cheer for Cherries and Their Amazing Health Benefits

Cherry love

Cherry love

Get them while they are fresh (and cheap!). These little jewels come packed with health benefits. It is unfortunate that they are truly only affordable during a short window of the year, from late June to early August. Purchase them off season and they can set you back upwards of $6.00 per pound! Right now, they are juicy, sweet, and perfect for eating fresh, freezing, and baking!

That deep red color and rich flavor transport nutrients of all kind. Cherries have been shown to lower blood pressure with their prosperous stores of potassium. Potassium acts a natural blood pressure reducer by contributing to our fluid balance and flushing out the excess sodium that cranks that pressure up. About a cup of these babies is equivalent to the potassium in one banana. Cherries also contain a powerful antioxidant called, quercetin. Studies have found that foods high in this compound have a natural blood pressure-lowering effect. It is important to note that maintaining healthy blood pressure levels is imperative-as high blood pressure can lead to stroke, kidney failure, and heart attack. While on the topic of heart health, cherries are thought to reduce overall risk factors for heart disease including inflammation and cholesterol.

Given their powerful antioxidant composition, cherries fight cancer before it starts. Listed as a “food to fight cancer” by the American Institute of Cancer Research, this fruit is not messing around! Anthocyanins, quercetin, and vitamins A and C work together to ward off free radicals hanging around where they shouldn’t be. Those free radicals could otherwise be running amuck in our systems causing damage to our cells and encouraging cancer growth. The deeper the color, the more antioxidants are present. So make sure you allow them to fully ripen before indulging.

These very same nutrients, along with other phytochemicals are said to reduce symptoms of arthritis, thanks to their anti-inflammatory effect. This includes decreasing uric acid in the blood and staving off gout flare-ups. Even headaches may be reduced by the power of cherries. Anthocyanins found in cherries, may increase memory and prolong youthful brain function.

If these millions of reasons that I have given above are still not enough for you to hop on the cherry bandwagon, then here is one more: cherries contain melatonin. Not only is this a powerful antioxidant, it contributes to our circadian rhythm by having great effects on sleep. Many purchase melatonin in tablet form as a natural sleep aid. I’m encouraging you to now skip the tablets and stretch that dollar a little further by counting on the cherry. You can rest assured, knowing you are doing the right thing for your body and mind!

 

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Are Collards the New Kale?

Collard Greens

As in pink has been the new black in my opinion for as long as I can remember now…but really, is kale taking a final bow and preparing to return to its mundane spot on the plate as a plastic-esque garnish? Not quite, but it has become apparent that people are tiring of its attention in the spotlight. Just as it has hit nearly every mainstream menu as the new trendy raw salad, it is losing its glam appeal. As the peculiar group that we are, humans in general will always tire of the conventional, the ordinary, and the not-so-secret.

If we look back to the trends of late, from arugula and avocados to coconut and dark chocolate, we find that these foods lose their hotness as soon as the market is saturated. Now this is not to say that we ditch them altogether – coconut still lines the shelves from soups, cereals, drinks, and candy (for now). We are just no longer enamored by them. We keep them in our fridges but must move on to find the next diamond in the rough…and it is usually a food or product that has been right under our noses for quite some time, reinventing itself like Madonna every decade.

And now with tiny whispers slowly growing in number, you are presented with the next super-“trendy”-food headlining this spring: The Collard Green. Like kale, it belongs to the cruciferous vegetable family and is in season right now. Along with cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, collard greens bring with them powerful cancer-fighting potential. Glucosinolates can be thanked for their amazing effect. With food processing or even chewing, these compounds are broken down into isothiocyanates, potent molecules that actually aid in the programmed death of tumor cells, thus being coined anti-carcinogenic. They are thought to especially ward off lung and esophageal cancers while lowering the risk of gastrointestinal and other cancers as well.

Very high Vitamin A and Vitamin C, collards are a great source of antioxidants. When environmental toxins and pollutants enter your body, these antioxidants act as fire extinguishers by calming and suppressing their harmful volatility. The toxins, or oxidants, take part in the aging process by causing oxidative damage to all of your cells. Antioxidants help to slow this process by decreasing the oxidative stress placed on cells. Because of their high fiber content, they are thought to lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol-rich bile acids in the intestinal tract and encouraging the excess cholesterol to be evacuated from your body. The fiber content is also very beneficial for your digestive health.

Traditionally, collard greens are cooked in a large pot for hours at a time. A ham hock is usually added for rich saltiness and of course the fatty mouth feel. However, like cabbage, cauliflower and other members of the cruciferous family, over-cooking will lead to a strong sulfur smell that is not very appetizing- and when you aren’t using a ham hock to mask these odors it is no bueno. Those magical isothiocyanates can also be leached out of the leaves if cooked for too long, so just don’t do it! Cook them as you would kale or spinach: steam alone, sauté with garlic and olive oil, use in soups, pastas, and casseroles…just give them a try!

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What’s All the Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia Hype?

chia_seeds

Chia seed heart      Remember those commercials from the 90’s when a kid and his adoring mom would spread that chia seed paste over the clay dog and watch in shear amazement as the seeds bloomed into a full on thick coat of fur right in front of their eyes? Cha-cha-cha-chia! Over and over it would repeat…but what happened to those little guys? Well apparently, they are still being sold, but a greater share of the chia market is now in supermarket and health food stores. Chia seeds are being sold at a premium price, and consumers are ripping them off of the shelves faster than you can say, “Cha-cha-ch”….okay, I’ll stop. So what is all of this chia hype? In fact, what are chia seeds in the first place? They are very small black and white seeds that are actually a member of the mint family. Grown in Mexico, the seeds have an ancient history. Legend has it that Mayan and Aztec warriors would carry these seeds with them as a concentrated source of energy to get them through long journeys. Apparently the word, “chia” means, “strength” in the Mayan language. These mild-tasting seeds certainly are concentrated with nutrients, so it is truly a believable tale. When placed in a liquid, chia seeds can absorb up to twelve times their weight. As they expand, they begin to have a somewhat slimy, jelly-like texture. In theory, if you eat chia seeds mixed in a beverage or smoothie, they will expand in your stomach and keep you more full for an extended period of time. This feeling of fullness will inhibit you from eating more, and you will in turn lose weight by simply eating less. This is essentially how the little seed has been touted as an amazing weight loss aid. Unfortunately, at this time science does not agree. Although there is not an abundance of research available on chia seeds and weight loss, the few studies that have been conducted showed no weight loss benefit from consuming chia seeds. Myth busted!
Now that is not a reason to throw chia out the window. These little gems have truly earned the hype that they are receiving- just not on the weight-loss front. They are filled to the brim with excellent nutrition. Let’s take a look at the nutrient make up of just one ounce, roughly two tablespoons:

  • Fiber: Nearly 12 grams of dietary fiber. This reason alone makes chia a superfood. Unlike flaxseeds, chia seeds do not require grinding to receive full benefits as they can be completely absorbed by our body. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends adults consume between 25 and 38 grams of fiber daily. Although the average American consumes only about 15 grams per day. Chia seeds are an excellent and super easy way to boost your fiber intake.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids: 4915 mg of Omega-3 Fatty acids. What does that mean? Good health! We always hear about getting in our omegas, but the fact of the matter is Omega-6 fatty acids are everywhere and the Omega-3’s are harder to come by. Many experts believe that it is beneficial to change the ratio of fatty acid intake to reduce the Omega-6 intake while increasing our Omega-3’s. With a 3:1 Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio, this seed is a great starting point.
  • Macronutrients: Many don’t know that macronutrients are simply Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat-no more, no less. The chia seed is the perfect example of a stellar macronutrient composition with 4g Protein (16%), 9g Fat (36%), and 12g Carbohydrate (48%). This is a mean source of energy.
  • Calcium: The National Institutes of Health recommend adults (both men and women) consume 1,000 mg of Calcium per day. In just one ounce of chia seeds you will obtain 179mg of this bone building mineral. That is 18% of your recommended daily intake in just two measly tablespoons!
  • Antioxidants: Chia seeds undoubtedly a great source for antioxidants as they contain a mixture of these free-radical fighting champions. Antioxidants reduce the overall inflammatory load in our systems and fight disease and premature aging. Need I say more?

I should also add that there are 138 calories in one ounce of chia seeds. So is there a downside? There are some drug nutrient interactions to be aware of. Chia seeds may interact with certain blood pressure medications and blood thinners, so please ask your doctor before gorging! There have also been reports of allergy to chia seeds. This is somewhat rare, but take special caution if you are allergic to mustard or sesame seeds. Oh and speaking of allergies, those of you with egg allergies (or simply don’t eat eggs) can actually substitute chia seeds for eggs in baking! You must first make a chia gel that is 1 part chia and 6 parts water- you probably want to blend this mixture in order to avoid big black seeds throughout. One tablespoon of this gel will replace one whole egg in baked goods. I couldn’t resist the temptation to make this post a twofer. Here is a super simple recipe to turn you on to chia seeds! Who could pass up a delicious desert that packs crazy amounts of protein (10g), fiber (16g), and calcium (45% recommended daily intake)!?!

Cha-Cha-Cha-Chocolate Chia Pudding

Total Time: 4 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 2 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1 Cup Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk
  • 1/3 Cup Chia Seeds
  • 2 Tablespoons Honey, more or less to taste
  • 2 Tablespoons Unsweetened Cocoa Powder
  • ½ Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 1 Teaspoon Cinnamon
  • Pinch of Sea Salt

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients to a blender.
  2. Blend until very smooth.
  3. Refrigerate at least 4 hours.
  4. Enjoy!

Notes

Nutrition Facts: 284 Calories, 15g Fat, 1.8g Saturated Fat, 0mg Cholesterol, 277mg Sodium, 16g Fiber, 10g Protein, 18% Vitamin A, 26%, 45% Calcium, 17% Iron

http://tastefulwisdom.com/whats-cha-cha-cha-chia-hype/

 

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Immune-Boosting Power Foods to Help Ward Off the Flu

The flu 3

Flu 2

After being laid up on the couch for the third day in a row, I decided it was time to get up and start writing. It is day three of what seems to be the flu, although I did get a flu shot (not that it’s completely effective) so I am not quite sure. Today is the first day that my temperature is nearly normal, and my aches and pains have subsided enough for me to sit upright and type this. I feel pretty silly because just last week I was bragging to some friends, who were just getting over their colds, about how my healthy eating and daily green smoothies have kept me in fighting form…leave it to me to stick my own foot in my mouth…well turns out, I wasn’t doing everything possible to keep the flu from knocking down my door. Because nutrition plays such a vital role in maintaining our immune health, I thought it is appropriate to give you some important tips to both help prevent illness and aid in a speedy recovery- even if I didn’t follow my own advice, I definitely won’t let it happen again.

Foods to Prevent Colds and the Flu:  

  • Garlic: This strongly stinky bulbous plant contains a compound called, allicin. Allicin is known for its antibacterial and antifungal qualities, and is credited for protecting garlic from pests in nature. A British study found that those taking garlic extract for 3 months were 66% less likely to catch a cold. Garlic is also thought to lower the risk of stomach and colorectal cancer. Aim for 1-2 cloves per day. Eat it raw if you can tolerate it, or use it in your recipes.
  • Oysters: These slippery nuggets are full of zinc. This mineral is proven to either shorten the length and severity of a cold or prevent the contraction of a cold altogether. Those that ingest zinc on a regular basis may catch fewer colds per year. I recommend getting zinc from food sources as supplement forms have side effects such as nausea, poor taste, and some have reported permanent loss of smell with zinc nasal sprays – and it can be toxic if taken in large quantities. Food sources of zinc include: beef, oysters, crabmeat, wheat germ, spinach, pumpkin seeds, cashews, cocoa powder, and chickpeas.
  • Tea: Researchers out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital found a scientific basis for the centuries old belief that tea has beneficial properties. They found that black, green and oats oolong teas have high concentrations of the amino acid, L-theanine. Lab tests found that gamma T-cells (immune cells) treated with L-theanine multiplied significantly more than those not treated. This allows for an increase in disease fighting properties. When researchers compared tea drinkers to coffee drinkers, they found that those drinking 20 ounces (broken into 5 small servings) of tea per day had nearly five times the amount of disease fighting proteins in blood samples.
  • Oats: Who knew that morning bowl of oatmeal would contain a form of fiber called, beta-glucan, that is potent enough to ward of the flu. This complex carbohydrate compound travels to the small intestine where it will signal specified white blood cells to activate immune boosting cells and antibodies. This leads to greater disease-fighting potential.  Beta-glucans are also known for decreasing the risk for cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol levels, and even decreasing the risk of certain cancers. Oats, barley, and certain mushrooms such as shitake and maitake are rich in beta-glucans.

 

Okay, so you (like me) did not do everything in your power to avoid the dreaded cold or flu, and you wound up in bed, with a 101 degree fever, killer sore throat, major body aches, and virtually no energy…keep reading.

Foods to Aid and Ease Cold and Flu Symptoms: Chicken soup

  • Chicken Soup: Not just because it is a comfort food to nearly everyone, or because it is downright delicious, turns out chicken soup is much more than that. Research shows that it actually decreases the movement of inflammatory cells into the bronchioles. Why is this important? Because those wretched cold symptoms are often caused by the buildup of these inflammatory cells in the bronchioles. As chicken is cooked in water and broth is created, protein is broken down into more simple forms. One of these simpler forms is the amino acid, cysteine. It is said that cysteine appears very similar chemically to the bronchitis drug acetylcysteine. Warm chicken soup relaxes the chest and allows mucous to flow more easily. It is also a good way to take in more fluids, so drink up that broth!
  • Honey: Known for its antimicrobial and antibacterial properties, honey is perfect for a sore throat. It can actually help kill bacteria in the back of your throat as it creates a soothing effect in its place. Add a spoonful in hot tea, enjoy it alone, or mix it into whatever you can think of to relieve that painful throat. Just remember honey should not be given to children under 1 year of age.
  • Spice:  By adding a dash of hot spice to your foods, your airways will open and you will temporarily breathe easier. Think cayenne pepper, horseradish, and wasabi. Add some hot sauce to your soups, or enjoy a spicy salsa. Spicy foods are known to boost the immune system and even offer healing effects. So find ways to incorporate spice into your life especially when you are under the weather.
  • Orange Juice: If you know me, you know that there is rarely an occasion in which I believe a store-bought orange juice is acceptable…well, welcome to that rare occasion. Although orange juice is virtually a sugar beverage in which little fiber is offered, it is also a liquid that is loaded with Vitamin C and other nutrients to aid in immune health. When we are really sick, we rarely have an appetite. Therefore by drinking juice, we are getting the glucose and fructose (sugar) that our body needs to function as well as much needed liquids. Dehydration is all too common with colds and the flu. It exacerbates the already ugly and uncomfortable symptoms. So here is your one and only opportunity to buy that orange juice. Go for it!

In reality, we can try as hard as possible to stave away that nasty flu, but sometimes it is just inevitable that we get sick. This is certainly not the time to beat yourself up for not doing everything under the sun to fight it. It can, however, be a good time to reevaluate your situation. Maybe you are working way too much, or not sleeping as much as you should, or maybe it is time to add that grapefruit to your morning regimen. But for now: sleep, drink fluids, rest, and repeat! The flu

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To Be, or Not to Be Gluten-Free

gluten-bread-caution

Glutin Gremlin

Unless you have spent the past three years vacationing out of the galaxy, you have heard about the gluten-free diet. Maybe you’ve tried it, maybe you’re even on it. It seems like everyone is “going gluten free” these days….but why? Well, there are a variety of likely reasons. For starters, the increase in testing and diagnosing of celiac disease (a gluten intolerance) as well as increased data proving the validity of removing gluten from the diet in certain disease states. There is growing research suggesting there may be improvement in symptoms of certain autoimmune disorders such as lupus, irritable bowel syndrome, type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis when gluten is taken out of the diet. The release of popular books such as “Wheat Belly” written by William Davis in which he claims you will lose weight by removing gluten from your diet has given people reason to think twice about ingesting this demon in the bread basket. As a professional, I must evaluate all claims by turning to science, research, and evidence. I will scour medical and nutritional journals reading the latest research and scientific studies proving or disproving claims. In some cases, like coconut oil for instance, the body of evidence is simply too small to make a true conclusion as to the benefits. However, it is pretty clear the role of gluten and our health. I will explain later. gliadin glutenin gluten

For those of us who aren’t familiar with gluten, think BROW- Barley, Rye, Oats, and Wheat. These are the four grains that should be avoided on this diet. Now what exactly is gluten? It is a protein comprised of glutenin and gliadin found in the endosperm of the grain. In most plants, the endosperm supplies protein and nutrients for the plant to grow and thrive. This is essentially gluten’s job for these grains. In baking and bread making, gluten provides elasticity and structure. It gives bread its shape and assists in the rising of dough. If the gluten is overworked, it will give cakes and bread and a tougher texture. For a chewy piece of French bread, this is perfect, but you certainly don’t want a tough and chewy cupcake. Bakers are very much aware of gluten’s role and adjust their recipes accordingly. Seems reasonable and pretty innocent, right? Well, there lies the controversy.

For patients with celiac disease, gluten ingestion can be debilitating. It shortens the microvilli in the small intestine. In a normal small bowel, these finger-like projections stand tall and collect and absorb nutrients passing through. If the microvilli are shortened, many nutrients cannot be absorbed. An otherwise healthy person may end up extremely malnourished due to this disease. Doctors check for celiac disease by first taking a blood sample and testing for certain antibodies that will be present in celiac disease. Because this is not a 100% reliable method, an intestinal biopsy is needed to confirm the findings. There is also evidence of gluten sensitivity in people that experience negative symptoms when ingesting gluten, yet do not have celiac disease. By removing gluten from the diet, their overall health status is much improved.

Given the popularity of the gluten-free diet, and the controversy that it brings, much research has been conducted on this topic- here is that whole evidenced-based practice thing I mentioned earlier. Without a doubt, it is more than clear that those suffering from celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should remove gluten from their diet…But what about the rest of us? Gluten-free items are popping up in mainstream stores and selling like hotcakes. Claims of weight loss scream from the headlines. So does it work? ….Sorry peeps, but judging from scientific literature, the answer is NO. For those of us without gluten sensitivity, there is little research demonstrating that going gluten-free will improve our lifestyle or allow for weight loss. In fact, there is some evidence pointing to an increase in weight when gluten is removed from the diet. This is due to one of two possibilities. First, if the individual truly has gluten sensitivity, removing gluten from their diet allows for increased absorption of nutrients and thus increased calorie intake. The second possible reason for weight gain is the increase in consumption of gluten-free products like baked goods, cake and cookie mixes, and frozen meals that are growing in the marketplace now. When you look closely at the ingredient lists and nutrition labels, most of the time you will see these products are actually much higher in calories, fat, and/or sodium when compared to their gluteny counterparts. Many are not aware of this and have a free-for-all in the gluten-free aisle, chowing down like these baked goods are going out of style.

Now what about those that actually do lose weight? These individuals may have a sensitivity that they are not aware of or has not been diagnosed. This weight loss may be caused by a decrease in the inflammation that the individual is carrying around due to an immune response. The second possibility is that if on a gluten-free diet, he or she may simply be paying more attention to what they are eating. Sure you will lose weight if you are scarfing bagels, pancakes, French baguettes, scones and muffins for breakfast and then decide change to a slice of rice bread toast and fruit. I have found that many eat more healthfully, adding in more fruit and vegetables to their diets and less bread and baked goods when on a gluten-free diet.

The bottom line – current research demonstrates there is no reason to remove gluten from your diet if you do not have an autoimmune disease, celiac disease, gluten or wheat sensitivity. Will it hurt you to try out the gluten-free diet, just for fun? No, as long as you don’t take in more than you burn off, as that will result in weight gain.  Will you lose weight by going gluten-free? Not by that alone. You will lose weight by decreasing the smorgasbord of pastries and increasing your fruit and vegetable intake. So put down the cupcake and pick up the carrot!

For questions or to request a blog topic, please email me at Bryee@TastefulWisdom.com

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