Why I Bought a Juicer

When it comes to nutrition, it’s not so much what you eat that matters most but, rather, what you absorb.  I write a lot about the beneficial compounds found in fruits and vegetables. But I recently became concerned that I wasn’t truly tapping into that potential, that I was missing out on some of the disease-fighting effects.

I love my roasted Brussels sprouts and won’t be giving them up any time soon and broccoli sauteed with garlic will always be one of my staple sides.  But cooking veggies – even at a somewhat low temperature – inevitably destroys some key micronutrients by altering their shape and chemical composition. This is where I find common ground with vegans.  It’s one of the reasons I pay more for sprouted nuts and seeds.  This process disables enzyme inhibitors, which “activates” beneficial enzymes and improve digestibility.  My concern over nutrient degradation also led to my recent purchase of an Instant Pot. According to a 1995 study, pressuring cooking – in comparison to roasting, boiling, and steaming – did the best job at preserving nutrients, with a 90-95% retention rate. Since pressure cooking doesn’t require a much higher temperature and shortens the cooking time, there is less time for nutrient loss.

Raw fruits and veggies contain substances that are either not found in cooked foods or that are present in much lower and less beneficial amounts in cooked foods. Glutathione is the best example. It’s the body’s master antioxidant, helping to protect against oxidative damage and regulate immune system function. Glutathione is not really present in cooked vegetables or cooked meats. It’s in raw fruits and vegetables and raw meats, so juicing can give you glutathione without the high price and absorption issues associated with supplemental delivery.

There are enzymes in raw fruits and vegetables that are destroyed in the cooking process, so that’s another potential pro. But while (very) large salads have been a part of my daily routine for many years, you really need to chew well to release the antioxidants and, like so many other people these days, I often have to race through a meal.  

Smoothies are an alternative “delivery” method for fruits and vegetables and the vitamins and minerals they contain. They’re satisfying and convenient and I do look forward to them, especially post-workout, but there’s a downside: the heat generated by the blender and the oxygen introduced during the process can lead to substantial nutrient loss. Dr. Brian Clement of the Hippocrates Health Institute did an experiment in which he found that blending destroys approximately 90% of the nutrients in the fruits and vegetables. According to him, the loss of nutrients is due to oxidation that is happening during blending. As oxygen is being sucked into the blender during a blend cycle, nutrients in the food are being destroyed, and as a result your blended smoothie would only contain about 10% of the nutrients in the fruit and greens that you put in the blender. So if your fruit and veggie intake comes exclusively from salads and smoothies, or if you mostly cook your veggies, you’re leaving substantial benefits on the table, literally!

Why did I shell out over $300 for a juicer? Simple: Nutrition. More nutrition.  Better nutrition. I’m always looking for new and different ways to upgrade or hack my healthy living regimen.  I thought long and hard about this one. Juicing fanaticism annoys me in the same way as any other cult-like, jump-on-the-bandwagon health trend. But I went about this purchasing decision in much different fashion than the average quick-fix, 30-day-cleanse-and-then-go-back-to-eating-like-shit-and-let-my-new-toy-collect-dust-in-the-basement-crowd.   And if you’re considering buying a juicer, I strongly encourage you to think about how, when, and why you’ll be using it before deciding if it’s worth it.  In my view, juicing is for the serious, seasoned health enthusiast looking to take their disease-prevention efforts to the next level.  Smoothies, on the other hand, are more of a transitional strategy, helping the newly-motivated wean off of the standard American diet (SAD).

It’s amazing to me that a“juice versus shake” debate has emerged and that the subject has become controversial at all. You can – and should – include both if possible. There are pros and cons, advantages and disadvantages and you should decide based on goals, budget, lifestyle, and taste preferences.  Since very few Americans actually get the recommended six to eight servings of fruits and vegetables per day, ANYTHING that helps us reach that target is advisable.

A lot of people whom I trust and respect have written articles discouraging the practice of juicing and advising that we all stick to shakes and smoothies but many of them also happen to sell protein powders so I’m not sure how credible they are. Their reasoning implies that somehow we have to choose one or the other.  Those who think juicing isn’t worth it present reasons that just don’t apply to me or really to anyone who’s serious about using food as medicine.

For example, you’ll often hear the “anti-juice” crowd talk about the lack of fiber in juice. But they’re forgetting something: The juicing process does remove insoluble fiber, the kind that makes you feel full and regular.  But soluble fiber remains in juice even when you take out the pulp. Soluble fiber absorbs water in the intestines, forming a gel that helps slow the transit of food through your digestive tract. It also acts as prebiotic to support healthy bacteria in the gut. This is the type of fiber that’s been shown to help lower risk of heart disease.

Since I don’t plan on giving up salads, I’m in no danger of becoming deficient in insoluble fiber.  I also consume substantial amounts of nuts and seeds throughout the week so the “no fiber” argument of the anti-juice crowd went straight out the window for me.  In fact, less fiber – at least the bulking variety – is actually one of the reasons I prefer juices to shakes. The fiber in a smoothie means that the nutrients aren’t absorbed as quickly or as fully.  In contrast, when I drink juice, I feel a burst of energy within minutes.  It’s like a “nutrient express.” Without all the fiber, your digestive system doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. This makes the nutrients more readily available to the body in much larger quantities than if you were to eat the fruits and vegetables whole. That is especially helpful if you have a sensitive digestive system or illness that inhibits your body from processing fiber.

When I was relying on smoothies, I’d have to cram so many handfuls of leafy greens into the blender to get an adequate amount of nutrients that the shake would take too long to drink and the large amount of liquid required left me with a heavy, bloated, full feeling in my stomach. Since juices are so concentrated, a small portion can provide the nutrient equivalent of several serving of fruits and veggies, which can make it much easier to take in all the key vitamins and minerals your body needs. But if you’re really concerned about losing fiber, there’s a way around it.  You can add it to sauces, soups, stews, and chilis. I’ve seen recipes for meatballs and burgers made from leftover pulp, as well as muffins and pancakes. Some people use a dehydrator to make chips or crackers out of it.  You can also compost your pulp and add it to your garden

Another argument you’ll hear against juicing is one that I happen to agree with.  If your juice contains all or mostly fruit, you’re creating rather than solving health problems.  This is the wrong way to go about juicing. Natural or not, the sugar levels in fruit are high, even more so when it’s in the form of a juice. When juices are made with fruit or high sugar vegetables like beets and carrots, you may experience a blood sugar spike, especially if you don’t consume any fat at the same time. And when juices contain more fruits than veggies, they can pack a lot of carbohydrates —as much as 40 grams in a 16-ounce serving.  Fruit juices greatly stress the liver and pancreas, contribute to diabetes and many other blood sugar disorders, and have been linked to pancreatic cancer. There are those who believe that Steve Jobs’ fruit juice habit contributed to his development of a particular form of pancreatic cancer known as islet cell carcinoma, which originates in the insulin-secreting beta cells.

Then there’s the cost issue.  Yes, a good quality juicer will set you back at least $300 to $400.  Do your research.  Go with an Omega or Tribest.  You get a 10 to 15 year warranty. The machine should last a long, long time.  As for the ingredients themselves, since your body will absorb and utilize far, far more nutrients in juice form than you could ever get from a smoothie or salad, you’re getting much more bang for your buck with the juicer. Limit yourself to a shot glass of juice per day and you’ll probably even save money.  

The justification is the same as with all other facets of informed eating: you’re either going to pay for your health now or later.  Look at your juicing habit as a way to keep you out of doctor’s offices, hospitals, and pharmacies.  I believe you pay for your health one way or another. You can choose to invest your time and money now in high quality foods, exercise and, other self-care rituals. Or, you can pay later in sick days, medications and procedures. That being said, be sure to shop around. I was able to find a floor model of the juicer I wanted and in doing so saved a couple of hundred dollars.

For awhile I was relying on store-bought juice on the days when I didn’t feel like making (or chewing) a salad.  Stupid. You’re always, always, always better off making something yourself.  I wasn’t just paying for the juice, I was paying for the bottle, the label, the advertising, the distribution.  Worse, though, was the fact that I couldn’t customize my juice.  I chose the ones with the least sugar (no fruit – just veggies) but the first several ingredients listed were all lackluster in the nutrition department, things like cucumber.  There could’ve been a mere sprinkling of the nutrient superstars like kale or spinach, but there’s no way to know for sure because the manufacturers don’t provide a breakdown. Including more of these pricier veggies would cut into profits for the companies that make the juices – the same reason that olive oil is usually listed far, far down a list of ingredients on the label of your average run-of-the-mill supermarket mayo.

In the end, I settled on three primary reasons for incorporating vegetable juicing into my optimal health routine:

  1. Juicing allows me to absorb all the nutrients from the vegetables.  Most Americans – myself included – have impaired digestion from years of poor food choices. This limits the body’s ability to absorb all the nutrients from vegetables. A juicer, particularly the masticating type, will “pre-digest” them for you, so you get most of the nutrition, rather than having it go down the toilet.  You’ll be giving your body a concentrated burst of micronutrients… it’s like a supplement in a glass. Juicing your veggies makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.  As soon as the juice hits your mouth, your body can begin using those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to stave off disease.
  2. Juicing allows me to get the optimal amount of vegetables. We’re supposed to eat about a pound of raw vegetables per 50 pounds of body weight per day. Eating that many vegetables is nearly impossible for most people but it can be easily accomplished with a quick glass of vegetable juice. The micronutrients available in one glass of vegetable juice typically come from a volume of vegetables you would not be able to sit down and eat all at once because you’d get full or bored. Additionally, not only are there concentrated micronutrients available to you, but they’re available in a way that’s extremely easy for your body to assimilate.
  3. I can add a wider variety of vegetables to my diet. Most people put the same vegetables in their salad each time they make or buy one. If you don’t rotate your food choices on a regular basis you increase your chance of developing a sensitivity to a certain food. With juicing, you can include a wide variety of vegetables that you may not normally enjoy eating whole. I’ve always known things like dandelion greens and wheatgrass were good for me but was either too lazy or too unadventurous to incorporate them.  Similarly, despite knowing of the powerful anti-inflammatory effects of ginger, I usually just don’t feel like peeling a knob of the stuff.  With the juicer, I don’t have to. I just throw it all down the chute and the machine takes care of the rest.  As a matter of fact, the entire process of preparing, drinking, and storing the juice plus cleaning all the various parts of the machine takes me less time than making and eating my salad. omega nc

I went with the Omega NC900 and couldn’t be happier with my decision.  It met all of my criteria and I highly recommend it. Here are some tips to help you find the right juicer for your situation:

 

  • Dial in the basics first.  Cut out processed foods and limit your sugar consumption. Identify and address food intolerances and sensitivities. Focus on the quality of the food you’re putting in your body. Don’t rely on juicing as a way to undo or reverse the damage inflicted from a junk-laden diet.
  • You get what you pay for.  Most expensive juicers are designed for those who really want to get the most health benefits from fresh fruits and vegetables.  A good machine will last a long time. Read reviews to learn about ease of use, cleanup time and effort, how heavy the machine is, and whether it will fit on your counter.
  • There are several different types of juicers on the market.  Pick one based on what you intend to juice most of the time. I knew I’d be juicing mostly leafy greens, as they are loaded with disease-fighting compounds, so I chose a masticating juicer. The high pressure squeezing force of the gears breaks open tough cell walls and releases more enzymes, vitamins and trace minerals in a way my teeth never could.  In contrast to centrifugal juicers, masticating machines can crush and grind even the most stringy, sinewy produce. This was important to me, as I planned on including various sprouts and herbs in my juice.  Masticating juicers also break up more of the phytochemicals from the produce, resulting in a deep-colored juice which is also richer in its nutrients and minerals and tastes better. You can still juice many varieties of fruit if you wanted to throw some in (a small Granny Smith apple would be a better option than a mango!) and the machine can handle with the tough root vegetables, such as carrots and turnips.
  • Choose a “slow” juicer.  These turn at even slower speeds (RPMs), which means less foam and less destruction of nutrients from heat. The low speeds also decrease aeration and oxidation. As a result, the juice remains stable, allowing you to store it in the refrigerator without nutrient loss for up to 36 hours according to most experts – something that’s not possible with smoothies.
  • If you’re going through the trouble of juicing fruits and vegetables, you want to get the maximum yield possible. The more juice you extract, the more you will get for your money.Twin gear juicers are considered the most efficient type of juicer available and can extract higher yields of juice from fruits, vegetables, wheatgrass, pine needles, spinach, and other greens and herbs. The pulp that comes out of twin gear juicers is the driest of all the types of juicers.
  • Have a storage container ready and fill to the top with juice diluted with filtered water.  Mason jars work well. Seal tightly and transfer to the fridge right away if you’re not ready to drink it.

Bottom line: if you need an on-the-go meal or snack that provides nutrients to keep you feeling full, smoothies are an excellent choice. Anything that gets us to eat more fruits and vegetables is a good thing. But why does society keep coming back to juicing as a health craze? Freshly squeezed vegetable juices form part of most healing and detoxification programs because they are so nutrient rich and nourish and restore the body at a cellular level. There’s no faster, more efficient, more effective way to alkalize, cleanse, and introduce a mountain of plant nutrition into your system.

 

 

3 Things I Eat Every Day and Will for the Rest of My Life

They might sound boring, they look funny, and they’re pricey but based on everything I’ve ever learned about diet and disease prevention, I’m convinced that daily consumption of these three foods will do more to extend my life than pretty much anything else I can put in my body.

Watercress

Watercress, a member of the cruciferous family, consistently ranks at the top of most best of lists when it comes to assessing the antioxidant power of plants.  It is one of the most nutrient dense of all foods, as measured by the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI). Watercress contains more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, and more vitamin C than oranges. It provides 106 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin K, which strengthens the bones and limits neuronal damage in the brain.watercress2

Most of the research on watercress is in the area of cancer prevention. Cruciferous vegetables in general are thought to be the most effective cancer fighting foods we can consume and the benefits have been attributed to compounds called isothiocyanates. All isothiocyanates fight disease but watercress is the richest source of phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC), a particularly potent anti-cancer compound. PEITC has been shown in research to not only prevent the initiation phase of cancer development but also to inhibit the progression of tumor formation.

PEITC targets multiple proteins to suppress various cancer-promoting mechanisms such as cell proliferation and metastasis. PEITC is the most effective isothiocyanate in inducing apoptosis – a type of cell suicide – in cancer. This effect has been shown in several cancer cell lines, and, in some cases, is even able to induce apoptosis in cells that are resistant to some commonly used chemotherapy drugs. 

PEITC has been widely studied and shows great promise in preventing or slowing  the spread of cancer cells and their ability to form tumors. I’ve come across at least 37 studies demonstrating the protective benefits of PEITC in cancer types ranging from breast and prostate to leukemia and lung.  

A phase II clinical trial presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) showed that watercress exerts some of its benefits by protecting against DNA damage. The trial specifically demonstrated that watercress extract removes environmental carcinogens and toxicants found in cigarette smoke, and that “the effect is stronger in people who lack certain genes involved in processing carcinogens.” (if you were one of these people you probably wouldn’t know about it so err on the side of caution and load up on watercress!)

TIP:

Cutting or chewing watercress will release the enzymes needed to produce isothiocyanates.  Eat it raw, as heat can reduce isothiocyanate content. I throw a fistful into my daily salad or smoothie.  It’s bitter and peppery but I find it gets “lost” amongst the other ingredients. 

Black garlic

Black garlic has been consumed in Korea for generations but has experienced a revival in recent years, particularly among chefs at high-end restaurants and the foodies that frequent them. It’s fermented at high temperatures (60–90°C) under controlled high humidity (80–90%).

Think of black garlic as white garlic on steroids.  Take anything good you’ve heard about regular old garlic and multiple it by 25, literally – that’s how much more potent it’s considered to be.  Japanese researchers have found that black garlic is more effective than fresh garlic in reducing the size of tumors, according to an article published in the journal Medicinal and Aromatic Plant Science and Technology. In another study, black garlic was found to have twice the antioxidant levels as its white cousin, with the aging process appearing to double the amount of antioxidants.

Allicin is the compound in regular garlic responsible for its health benefits. However, allicin can also be toxic when consumed in large quantities. The aging process of black garlic creates a compound called s-allyl-cysteine (SAC), which is 30 times less toxic than the allicin in white garlic.  A person can therefore consume significantly more black garlic with no side effects. SAC is also water soluble, which means it is absorbed more quickly and easily by the body.black garlic

In 2015, the Journal of Life Sciences published a thorough review of black garlic from the Department of Emergency Medical Technology at Hirosaki University in Japan.  Benefits include the prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, circulatory problems, and rheumatoid arthritis. Black garlic also has the following properties:

  • antibacterial
  • anti-tumor
  • anti-carcinogenic
  • lowers high blood pressure
  • lowers cholesterol
  • prevents obesity
  • fights diabetes
  • regenerates skin cells
  • strengthens the immune system
  • reduces allergies

Here’s more:

  • A 2010 mouse study found that animals injected with a 1 mg of black garlic extract three times in a 6 day period saw their tumors shrink by an average of 50%.  This effect was not seen with white garlic.
  • In a 2015 study on rats, it was demonstrated that black garlic lowers cholesterol levels even when fed a high-fat diet.
  • Aged garlic extract can reduce the duration of a cold by up to 61%, according to studies carried out at the University of Florida.
  • According to The Journal of Nutrition, black garlic can help the body process glucose, which makes it easier to fight off cravings for carbs and sugar.
  • Recent tests by Japanese scientists show that chemicals in the bulb can help to reduce fatigue from exercise and even improve physical strength.
  • Black garlic can also have a positive impact on blood pressure and circulation and it could be helpful in preventing diabetic complications.
  • Preliminary research suggests the antioxidant powers of black garlic may have a role in improving cognitive abilities in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
  • Early studies indicate that black garlic could be a tool at some future point for preventing and treating colon cancer.

TIP:

I order the RioRand brand by the pound since I go through so much of it but I’ve seen smaller containers at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.  You can expect it to become more widely available as word spreads.

Black garlic is sweet and I have no problem getting my 3-year old son to eat it plain – no bribery needed. It’s soft, chewy, and has a jelly-like texture. It’s got a hint of balsamic vinegar so I usually chop it and throw it in a salad but it’s pretty versatile and can be added to sauces and spreads. You can also try rubbing it on chicken or fish.  If I feel I’ve been exposed to something less-than-desirable at a restaurant, I’ll chomp on a piece as-is once I return home to help mitigate some of the potential harm.  The best news? No bad breath!

 

Broccoli sprouts

Sulforaphane is the compound that gives broccoli it’s cancer-fighting effects. Researchers have determined that broccoli sprouts are the most concentrated source of sulforaphane, having 100 times the amount found in mature broccoli. This means that with broccoli sprouts, you can get a therapeutic dose of phytonutrients in a whole food form from eating about a cup per day! You would need hundreds of cups of other cruciferous vegetables to get that dose.

Sulforaphane is exciting stuff.  It’s the most powerful activator of a pathway that regulates over 200 genes. These genes are largely responsible for detoxification. One of these genes -Nrf2 –protects the brain and may improve cognitive function when administered following traumatic brain injury.  It also guards against neurodegenerative states and the amyloid plaque buildup associated with Alzheimer’s disease. The Nrf2 gene pathway also removes excess estrogen and can prevent the estrogen dominance that has been implicated in increased rates of breast, uterine, ovarian, cervical, colon, and prostate cancer. 

Additional research has demonstrated that the Nrf2 pathway may protect against the enormous metabolic stress that diabetes creates and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and even undo some of the damage caused by the disease.  Nrf2 deficiency has been associated, at least in animal studies, with an increased risk of autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and multiple sclerosis.  

0032482_broccoli-sproutsSulforaphane also works its magic by boosting our body’s levels of Phase 2 enzymes, which are tasked with neutralizing disease processes. It also inhibits Phase 1 enzymes involved in the activation of carcinogens and prevents Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria from colonizing in the gastrointestinal tract, which can decrease your risk of stomach, intestinal, and colorectal cancer.  

Several studies have shown that the highest cancer protective properties are most concentrated in these sprouts at a time of 3 days following sprouting.

“Three-day-old broccoli sprouts consistently contain 20 to 50 times the amount of chemoprotective compounds found in mature broccoli heads and may offer a simple dietary means of chemically reducing cancer risk,” according to Dr. Paul Talalay of Johns Hopkins University, where most of the early research on broccoli sprouts was conducted. Dr. Talalay is the Founding Director of the school’s Lewis B. and Dorothy Cullman Chemoprotection Center.

Beyond it cancer prevention effects the nutrients in broccoli sprouts may actually reverse the damage already created by existing cancer in your body.  Several mechanisms have been proposed:  broccoli sprouts stimulate the production of glutathione, which is considered your body’s “master” antioxidant. Glutathione protects every cell in the human body and blocks the signals that tell cancer cells to reproduce and spread.

Then there’s quercetin, an antioxidant whose presences coaxes cancer to commit the aforementioned cellular suicide, a process known as apoptosis.  Broccoli sprouts are loaded with quercetin, which can help reduce inflammation, protect the cardiovascular system, and remove the metabolic waste that oxidative stress creates in our cells

 

TIPS

  • Combining sulfur-containing foods seems to enhance the antioxidant properties of sulforaphane so make sure you’re also eating lots of onions and garlic with your broccoli sprouts.
  • Research has shown that the anticancer properties of broccoli sprouts pretty much disappear after about two months so try consuming them several times per week for maximum benefit.
  • The sulforaphane is created when the sprouts are masticated so it is important to chew them well, blend, or juice.
  • I buy mine at Whole Foods but I’ve seen the local brand Jonathan’s at “regular” supermarkets in my area like Wegman’s and Shaw’s.  It’s not necessary to buy the patented BroccoSprouts product but do opt for organic, if available.

As with watercress and black garlic, I get my daily broccoli sprout fix in the form of a salad.  But if you’re a newbie and not yet that adventurous, here are a couple of different ways to sneak some sprouts into your diet:

 

Broccoli Mint Smoothie

1 cup organic broccoli sprouts

½ cup organic mint

1/3 cup organic blueberries (optional)

1 cup coconut milk

1 tbsp MCT oil

2 tbsp freshly ground flax

1 scoop grass-fed whey protein

1 tbsp grass-fed gelatin protein

Place all ingredients in a blender.  Blend to desired texture and consistency.  Add more coconut milk to thin out, if desired.

Cruciferous Slaw

2 cups organic broccoli sprouts

2 cups organic purple cabbage

½ cup avocado oil mayo (I like Primal Kitchen brand)

1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar

1 tsp yellow mustard

½ tsp black pepper

½ tsp sea salt

½ tsp garlic powder

Mix vinegar, mayo, mustard, and spices in a small bowl.  Toss dressing with cabbage and broccoli sprouts in a large bowl.  For best flavor, allow slaw to marinate in the fridge for 1 hour or longer.

I hate the word superfood but I’m so thoroughly convinced of the health benefits of watercress, black garlic, and broccoli sprouts that I find ways to continue eating them even on vacation. When my family travels within the U.S., we stay in either a hotel suite with a kitchen or an Airbnb rental so we can cook most of our own meals and stick to our “normal” diet as much as possible.  My first stop is usually to the local Whole Foods or other natural foods store.  I’ve even been known to have a few pantry staples shipped ahead to our vacation address.  While this approach might sound extreme, I feel the same way about the food debauchery a lot of people engage in when traveling.  I used to be one of them.  But now when I return home I don’t feel like I need to detox, cleanse, or kill myself in the gym for two weeks straight.

What the Heck Are Excitotoxins and Why Should You Care?

Excitotoxins are chemicals that overstimulate the nervous system and can damage the brain. They are rampant in our food supply and often have hidden names.

The food industry loves excitotoxins because they add flavor and stimulate our taste buds.  Unfortunately, they also stimulate our neuron receptors, so much so that our brain cells quickly tire out and eventually die.  This effect seems to primarily involve the parts of the brain that control behavior, emotions, puberty, sleep, and immunity.  As with many other toxins, a child’s brain is four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than an adult’s brain, according to research by John W. Olney, MD, a neuroscientist at Washington University in St. Louis.  Reactions can include behavioral disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), along with impaired learning and depression.

Fortune CookieExcitotoxins commonly appear in soups (Ramen noodles are a big one!), chips, frozen dinners, sauces, gravies, and many low-fat foods that would otherwise be tasteless.  The most well-recognized excitotoxin is monosodium glutamate or MSG, which has long been associated with Chinese takeout food. While many restaurants now boast of their “no MSG” menus, there’s a good chance you’re still being exposed to a steady stream of the stuff. Its use has doubled every decade since the late 1940’s! 

Sensitivity to MSG can lead to rashes, headaches, and increased heart rate. Food companies sneak MSG into a variety of products under alternative names.  The list below comes courtesy of Dr. Russell Blaylock’s book, Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills. If you see any of these words in an ingredient label, leave the product on the shelf:

  • Additives that always contain MSG:
    • Monosodium Glutamate
    • Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
    • Hydrolyzed Protein
    • Hydrolyzed Plant Protein
    • Plant Protein Extract
    • Sodium Caseinate
    • Calcium Caseinate
    • Yeast Extract
    • Textured Protein
    • Autolyzed Yeast
    • Hydrolyzed Oat Flour

    Additives that frequently contain MSG:

    • Malt extract
    • Malt Flavoring
    • Bouillon Broth
    • Stock Flavoring
    • Natural Flavoring
    • Natural Beef or Chicken Flavoring
    • Seasoning Spices

    Additives that may contain MSG and/or other excitotoxins:

    • Carrageeenan Enzymes (Protease enzymes from various sources can release excitotoxin amino acids from food proteins.)
    • Soy Protein Concentrate
    • Soy Protein Isolate Whey
    • Protein Concentrate

Artificial sweeteners also fall into this category.  The most common are aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) and sucralose (Splenda). Foods that contain glutamine or glutamic acid can also be considered excitotoxins. Wheat and casein are the biggest culprits.Molecular Structure Of Monosodium Glutamate (msg)

Concern over excitotoxins was previously dismissed as alarmist, overblown hysteria. But a growing number of research studies have linked prolonged exposure to excitotoxins to neurodegenerative diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.  By the way, diagnoses of each of these conditions has increased dramatically in the U.S., during the time in which our food supply has become adulterated with these and other chemical additives.  

Here’s the good news. The same diet that helps you get lean and prevent chronic disease like cancer and heart disease can also help ensure you’re avoiding excitotoxins.  You’ve heard it before: choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Foods rich in antioxidants contain vitamins and other compounds called flavonoids, which can actually repair some of the damage caused by excitotoxins. These include leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale, as well as cruciferous plants, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Berries are also beneficial, as is the spice turmeric and green and black tea. 

When you leave processed foods on the shelves at the grocery store, not only do you avoid excitotoxins but you also spare yourself the disruption of intestinal flora as well as the inflammation that they cause.  The easiest way to do it is to base your diet around real food: meat, fish, veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds, with occasional inclusion of safe starches based on activity level. Nothing new there!

 

3 Protein Benefits Other Than Muscle and Strength

Next to water, protein makes up most of the weight of the human body.  It’s in every one of our cells and without it life wouldn’t be possible. Yet, the significance of dietary protein is often limited to fitness enthusiasts and bodybuilders.

protein

Yes, protein is critical to maintaining and repairing lean muscle mass, even more so if you’re an athlete, elderly, or recovering from an injury. And, yes, protein is important for optimal recovery from exercise. But the benefits of protein go far beyond the aesthetic and are often ignored by misinformed health experts who prefer to focus such conversation on an overblown fear of “excess intake.” Here are just a few of those health benefits and the reasons why you should tune out the aforementioned practitioners:

  1. Improved Mood. Eating quality protein helps to boost our levels of serotonin and dopamine. These hormones make you feel happier, reduce anxiety, and initiate deep sleep. Adequate protein consumption can also help prevent the blood sugar swings that lead to moodiness and irritability.
  2. Better Brain Capacity. The amino acids in protein are involved in the production of neurotransmitters like acetylcholine, which plays a key role in memory and learning.  Amino acids also stimulate the brain to produce norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that promotes alertness and activity.
  3. A Healthier Heart. Protein helps the body build antioxidants.  The most important of these may be glutathione. In a study involving heart disease patients, those with lower glutathione levels were more likely to have a heart attack. Protein also lowers blood pressure levels and can reduce LDL and triglycerides when replacing carbohydrates in the diet.

Now, let’s dispel some common myths surrounding protein intake:

No, protein DOES NOT harm the kidneys. This myth originated from research on patients with kidney disease. Because the kidneys are involved in metabolizing protein and because kidney disease patients have a hard time processing protein it was assumed that protein must harm the kidneys.  But what does the research actually show? Multiple studies have now concluded that higher protein intakes are safe and do not have an adverse effect on kidney function.

And what about the idea that protein intake makes the body acidic, resulting in a leaching of calcium from the bones in an attempt to neutralize the acid? Proponents of this theory believe that too much protein causes the bones to become weak and brittle but in fact the opposite is true. Long-term studies actually show that protein consumption benefits bone health. Additional research has shown that people who eat more protein are better able to maintain bone mass as they age and are less likely to sustain fractures or suffer from osteoporosis.

Then there’s the notion that excess protein will be converted into body fat.  Excess anything can be stored as body fat but those who believe protein is somehow uniquely fattening ignore a couple of important facts: First of all, protein is the most satiating macronutrient, meaning it increases feelings of fullness, often leading to reduced caloric intake. Protein also lowers your level of the “hunger hormone” – ghrelin – while increasing levels of a hormone – peptide YY that tells your brain that you’re full.  A study on overweight men demonstrated that increasing protein to 25% of total calories led to a 60% reduction in cravings and decreased the desire to snack at night by half! Beyond that, higher protein intakes have been shown to dramatically increase metabolism and the number of calories burned. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF) and represents yet another area in which protein is superior to carbohydrates when it comes to weight management.

So, how much is enough? If 15% of your calories are coming from protein, you’re taking in enough to prevent a deficiency.  That’s the recommendation you’ll hear from most nutrition organizations. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound, which translates to about 56 grams per day for most sedentary men and 46 grams per day for most sedentary women.  Preventing deficiencies should certainly be the top priority but if you’re after optimal health, you should consider increasing your protein intake, especially if you suffer from low energy, muscle and joint pain, mood swings, or a slow metabolism.

I’ve seen the most impressive results in my clients when increasing daily protein consumption to about 30% of calories. This keeps metabolism up, blood sugar in check, and cravings at bay, minimizing the chances of junk food indulgence. The best approach seems to be smaller, more frequent “pulses” of protein throughout the day, especially since your body cannot store protein. Frequency seems to matter as much, if not more, than the total amount and variety is important. Opt for whole food sources whenever possible – fish, eggs, beef, poultry, dairy, beans, nuts – organic, if it’s in the budget.  And one more thing: if there is a legitimate health concern regarding protein consumption it has to do with harsh cooking methods that cause meat and fish to brown or char.  Such processes result in the formation of possible carcinogens.  Simple solution: cook with liquid (i.e., braising, poaching, or steaming), slowly and at lower temperatures.  Typical marinade ingredients like garlic, rosemary, and vinegar can further reduce the formation of carcinogens, as can the inclusion of vegetables (especially cruciferous) as part of the same meal.

3 Reasons to Avoid Peanuts… and How to Make Them Less Harmful if You Can’t

The purpose of this website is not to scare you away from your favorite foods.  The purpose of this website is to share information.  Recommendations about what to eat and what to avoid can be misleading, even when they come from really smart people with important-sounding job titles and lots of letters after their names.  The folks making those recommendations often leave out important pieces of information, either intentionally in the case of marketers or unknowingly and due to ignorance and laziness.  But you can only make an informed decision about what to eat if you have a complete or mostly complete picture of what you’re actually putting in your body when you consume certain foods.

If you saw the title of this blog post and thought to yourself, “Great, another food I can’t eat,” then PLEASE, keep reading! This was written with you in mind.  I understand the confusion and frustration when you see foods labeled good and bad and sometimes in contradiction, depending on the source.  Food is complicated.  Food can be both good and bad. Sometimes you decide that the bad outweighs the good. It helps to have a set of criteria.

I apply a “three strikes law” when determining whether to include a food in my diet, even on a semi-regular basis.  If I come upon three or more solid, convincing, evidence-based reasons why a food can do me harm, I’m not putting it in my body. Bottom line.  And that’s especially true if I can obtain the same nutrients from some other food with perhaps two, just one, or ideally zero strikes. Yes, I’m a weirdo – taste is secondary in my book.

When you start learning about nutrition, you realize early on that there’s no perfect food. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli are potent cancer-fighters but they are also goitrogenic and can inhibit thyroid function. Eggs are packed with nutrients but the whites can irritate and inflame the gut, especially in those with autoimmune issues. Dark chocolate is all the rage these days but many cocoa products contain worrisome levels of cadmium, a known carcinogen. And even spinach consumption can pose at least a theoretical risk of kidney stone formation due to its oxalate content.

For each of these foods there are strategies for mitigating some of the potential harm: you can cook your broccoli and spinach, eat only the yolks and discard the white part of the egg, and avoid chocolate products that have tested high for cadmium.  But you can’t always eliminate – or even minimize – the toxic compounds in certain foods. Even if you make the effort it’s difficult, if not impossible, to be sure you were successful. This is where quantity and frequency come into play. Yes, spinach and broccoli might cause problems but not in the amounts that most of us are eating them.

Healthy? Or nutritious? Or both?

When deciding what to eat for disease prevention, I think it’s important to draw a distinction between those foods that are “nutritious” and ones labeled “healthy.” They aren’t necessarily one in the same and the terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably.

By definition, a nutritious food is one that contains nutrients, as most foods do.  These vitamins and minerals often include some of those essential to our survival. They may be present in an amount that will prevent a deficiency and this is the amount that often appears as the recommended intake advised by government and health organizations.  It’s basically the bare minimum. Enough to stave off scurvy in the case of vitamin C or rickets if we’re talking about vitamin D.  The nutrient content is often not the amount needed for optimal health, which is why a varied diet and supplements are needed.

A “healthy” designation, on the other hand, suggests that a food is both safe to eat in the amounts and frequency that most people tend to consume it and that it supports rather than detracts from good health.  At least that’s the way I see it.

Peanuts are a great example of a food that, while nutritious, cannot be considered healthy the way they appear in the diet of the average person who chooses to eat them at all. Peanuts may be a decent source of some of the B vitamins, as well as magnesium and resveratrol. But the amounts are relatively modest and you’d be better off getting those from other foods or in supplement form.

When I first went low-carb, peanuts quickly became my best friend.  They provided a satisfying, portable, and convenient on-the-go snack option that I deemed healthy by virtue of the fact that they are neither a grain nor a starch.  As such, they help keep blood sugar and cravings in check and I considered them a physique-friendly alternative to chips and crackers when hankering for some crunch.

The problem is that peanuts are way too easy to over-consume.  Peanut butter even more so. Most people I know who consume peanuts or peanut butter are doing so on a regular basis, as in daily or several times a week, for years and years.  That constitutes chronic ingestion and with chronic ingestion comes long-term accumulation, but of what exactly? That’s what concerned me about peanuts from a health standpoint and I decided to do some research. What I discovered came as a surprise, considering that peanut butter has been a childhood staple and default sandwich filling for generations of Americans.  I couldn’t really recall ever hearing anything negative about it except for an occasional salmonella outbreak.

The original recommendation by health experts to include peanuts in our diets was likely based on the fact that peanuts, like all plant foods, are cholesterol-free. That certainly would have resonated in 1985 and may still if you ignorantly cling to the cholesterol myth.  Informed eaters know not to blindly accept the advice dished out by nutrition experts, especially given their proven ties to industry and the bias and conflicts of interest that run rampant in this realm.

These days peanuts are promoted as being “heart healthy,” due to their monounsaturated fat content. You can get that same benefit – via oleic acid – from olive oil, avocado, or actual nuts (peanuts are legumes). Informed eaters know not to evaluate a food based on an isolated nutrient – no matter how beneficial – but to consider the whole “package.”

There’s a glaring weakness in the way nutrition science is both taught and practiced in this country: the rush to anoint a food “healthy” based – often exclusively – on the presence (or lack) of a single compound currently accepted as either beneficial or harmful…  and the public’s willingness to accept such recommendations as the end of the story. There’s an unwillingness to make a case for or against putting something in our bodies because we’re too lazy to dig deeper or too arrogant to think we need to.

I wish it weren’t so, but the case against peanuts is just too strong and if I were a prosecuting attorney I’d consider it a slam dunk.  To me, peanuts are just more trouble than they’re worthThey’re one of the most allergenic and pesticide-contaminated foods on the planet, for starters, but here are the three biggest reasons peanuts are NOT healthy and why I gave them up nearly a decade ago – even before I adopted the paleo lifestyle and a complete banishment of legumes. The next time someone tells you that peanuts are healthy, ask them if they’re familiar with omega-6 fatty acids, lectins, and aflatoxin and the effects each has in the body.

1. Omega-6 fatty acids

Peanuts are loaded with omega-6 fatty acids, which distorts the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. Your body needs only small amounts of omega-6 fatty acids but the average American takes in far too many, mostly in the form of refined, industrial seed oils and processed foods. While omega-3’s help to reduce triglyceride levels, lower blood pressure, and prevent irregular heartbeats, excess omega-6 fats promote inflammation, increasing the risk for cancer and heart disease.

The ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in a typical American diet today is thought to be 16 to 1 but we evolved on diets with a ratio of approximately 1 to 1.

According to the Center for Genetics, Nutrition and Health study:

“Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects.

Additionally, too many omega-6 fats can lead to asthma, arthritis, diabetes, obesity, irritable bowel syndrome, and macular degeneration. Peanuts contain 5,000 times more omega-6 than omega-3.

2. Lectins

Lectins are a type of protein that bind to cell membranes.  Some lectins, like those found in tomatoes and raspberries, are thought to be health-promoting.  Many types of lectins, however, cause negative reactions in the body, including damage to the intestinal lining. When enough of these lectins are consumed, it can trigger the body to evacuate GI contents. This leads to vomiting, cramping, and diarrhea.

Lectins are very difficult to digest. When they stick to our cells they can trigger an immune response and inflammation.  Research has implicated lectins in several inflammatory conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.  Additionally, lectins seem to mimic the behavior of insulin, making it harder to manage one’s weight.

Peanuts contain a lectin that increases rates of cell-division – definitely not something that’s desirable when the cell in question is a cancer cell!

In vitro studies have shown the following with regard to peanut lectins:

  • In isolated human colon cancer cells, peanut lectin is a mitogen, or growth-promoter.
  • A peanut lectin – agglutinin – causes colon cancer cells to proliferate through a process called altered glycosylation.
  • Altered glycosylation may cause inflammatory bowel disease-related cancers.

To be fair, these are lab studies and the harmful effects are not conclusive. We do know, however, that when peanuts are consumed, peanut agglutinin does make it through the gut lining and ends up in the blood stream

Something about peanuts also appears to make them uniquely atherogenic, i.e. likely to promote plaque formation in the arteries. As it turns out, scientists use peanut oil to induce atherosclerosis in rats, rabbits, and primates. Researchers believe that the lectins in the peanut oil are the cause of the atherogenicity. When the lectin content of peanut oil is reduced through an aggressive “washing” process, the narrowing and hardening of the arteries is also reduced.

3. Aflatoxin

Aflatoxin might be the scariest thing about peanuts and the best reason to avoid them.  Aflatoxin is a mold that grows on peanut crops and it’s also a potent carcinogen. Studies from India, China, and Kenya have demonstrated definitive correlations between aflatoxin exposure and liver cancer – in humans, not rats!  In fact, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified the common B1 strain of aflatoxin as a “Group I carcinogen” that’s capable of raising the risk for cancer.

True, substandard growing conditions in developing countries likely make those crops more susceptible to aflatoxin growth, but if you’re consuming peanuts and peanut products regularly, there’s no question you’re ingesting some aflatoxin and chronic, low-level exposure has been associated with liver cancer. Evidence has shown that regulatory standards don’t do enough to protect us from the dangers of aflatoxin and often those standards aren’t even enforced.   In the U.S., peanuts are the crop most commonly contaminated with aflatoxin. Corn and cottonseed rank nearly as high on the list.

Milk and cheese are sometimes found to contain aflatoxin as well (yet another reason to give up dairy!) and you have no way of knowing for sure what your intake level is, and, if other factors pre-dispose you for cancer development, what amount of peanut/aflatoxin consumption might be enough for those cancer cells to progress to the next stage of development.  Solution? No peanuts. That was and still is my calculation.  Cancer development is multifactorial but it’s pretty clear that aflatoxin exposure tips the scales in favor of disease formation, while avoiding its obvious sources – to the extent possible -is one of those controllable risk factors that can make a diagnosis less likely.

Again, the amount of aflatoxin in a handful of peanuts or a spoonful of peanut butter might not be harmful but most people I know who consume peanut products are doing so fairly regularly, as in several times each week and have been for years. Since they’re also likely being exposed to aflatoxin from other sources, the risks are amplified.  Aflatoxins are quite stable compounds and survive relatively high temperatures with little degradation.  So don’t think that processing peanuts into peanut butter takes care of the problem.

More problems with peanuts

Oxalates

Peanuts have a high oxalate content. If the concentration of oxalates in our urine becomes too high, kidney stones can form. Oxalates have also been shown to interfere with calcium absorption.

Cadmium

Depending on growing conditions, peanuts can accumulate high levels of the heavy metal cadmium, a known carcinogen. Chronic cadmium exposure can lead to a variety of health problems, including bone and nervous system damage and cancer.

Pesticides

Peanuts are one of the most pesticide-contaminated snacks consumed by Americans. The USDA Pesticide Data Program found 8 pesticides on peanut butter, including piperonyl butoxide (PBO), a highly toxic substance that may lead to a range of short- and long-term effects, including cancer and liver and nervous system dysfunction.

Glyphosate

Peanut crops are often rotated with cotton crops and cotton crops are known to receive numerous applications of glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup made by the Monsanto company.  Glyphosate is classified as a probable human carcinogen  by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. U.S. regulators have set an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for glyphosate at much higher levels than other countries consider safe.

Yes, other foods contain some of these same toxic compounds but most Americans aren’t loading up on spinach and shellfish!

One important exception

Upending conventional wisdom on the subject, several recent studies have demonstrated that prenatal and infant consumption of peanut butter can lower the risk for childhood peanut allergies, especially among high-risk youngsters. Very little is needed.  A small serving for an infant can provide protection for at least a year.

Tips for safer peanut consumption

If you can’t give up peanuts completely, at least try cutting back and consider some of these steps to minimize your disease risk:

  • Choose Valencia peanuts, a variety grown in New Mexico, where the drier climate means less aflatoxin contamination. I’ve seen them at Trader Joe’s and Costco stores.
  • Buy organic peanuts to avoid pesticides, another potential source of carcinogens.
  • The highest levels of aflatoxin have been detected in grind-your-own peanut butter found at some health food stores.  The big supermarket brands like Jif and Skippy were actually found to have lower levels, although the partially hydrogenated oils and added sugar they often contain present their own health issues. Read the label.
  • Certain nutritional supplements such as whey protein and ginseng, have been found to counteract some of the dangerous effects of aflatoxin, as has chlorophyll.
  • Other supplements – dandelion root, milk thistle, marshmallow root – can help cleanse the liver and activated charcoal may be helpful in binding to and removing aflatoxin from the body.
  • Much of the omega-6 fatty acids in a jar of peanut bar will be in the oil that settles at the top of the jar. Pour this off to lower your exposure and add a safer oil like macadamia if the consistency is too dry.
  • Ensure you’re taking in adequate omega-3’s from supplements and fatty fish and limiting your omega-6 intake from sources other than peanuts.  This will help get you closer to an optimal 6:3 ratio.

The bottom line

Like many foods, peanuts are both good and bad.  You need to decide for yourself if the bad outweighs the good. And be honest about how much you’re eating and how often. After weighing the evidence, I’ve determined that any health benefit ascribed to peanut consumption is far outweighed by the potential harm associated with it.

A handful of peanuts on occasion is probably fine.  But I just don’t know many people who consume them that way.  Peanuts are a trigger food for many, more likely to initiate a binge than most foods I’ve come across. There are people out there who eat a peanut butter sandwich every day.  And that’s where you have to start worrying about the long-term health effects. The average American is exposed to – and in some cases, bombarded with – lectins, omega-6 fatty acids, and aflatoxins – from a variety of other sources as it is.  I wish peanuts were as healthy as they’re sometimes made out to be because I used to love them but they just have too much going against them. I’ll stick to my homemade sprouted almond and cashew butter.

8 Surprising Anti-Cancer Foods

Nearly $100 billion has been spent on research since the government declared its war on cancer and only a fraction of those funds have been devoted to studying prevention of the disease.  Yet, the consensus among experts is that one-third to one-half of all cancers can be avoided through diet and lifestyle modification.

Advances in gene editing and immunotherapy offer hope that we may someday have a cure for cancer but many current treatments cause debilitating side effects, are incredibly expensive and often only increase life expectancy by a few weeks. Prevention is the one avenue that we know for certain will save lives. Since cancer development and progression is multifactorial, the most effective prevention action plan will be multipronged, minimizing exposure to as many environmental triggers as possible.  Diet is the one factor you have complete control over.

Discussions of diet and cancer prevention usually focus on foods like broccoli, green tea and berries and with good reason, as all contain high concentrations of antioxidants. These compounds fight the internal “rusting” process known as oxidation, which increases disease risk.  However, cancer is complex and takes hold via several mechanisms, including one known as angiogenesis.  This refers to the growth of new blood vessels.  Without angiogenesis, cancer can’t grow.

Source: Institute of Food Technologists

Source: Institute of Food Technologists

According to the Angiogenesis Foundation, “cancerous tumors release angiogenic growth factor proteins that stimulate blood vessels to grow into the tumor, providing it with oxygen and nutrients.” Dr. William Li heads the organization and has identified a list of anti-angiogenic foods, some of which may surprise you. Here are some of these lesser-known anti-cancer foods:

 

ARTICHOKES 

Artichokes contain unusually high levels of antioxidants known as phytochemicals. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, artichokes rank number one in antioxidant content of all the foods tested.

Research shows that the antioxidants rutin, quercetin and gallic acid found in artichoke leaf extract reduce the proliferation of cancer cells and induce apoptosis, a type of cell suicide. In research done at Comenius University in Slovakia, artichoke leaf extract was studied for its ability to inhibit the growth of leukemia cells. Over a 24-hour period, leukemia cells were treated with various concentrations of artichoke leaf extract. Results suggested that it exerts an antiproliferative activity on leukemia cells while inducing apoptosis of these cells as well.

Researchers at the University of Georg-August in Germany have concluded that the many phytochemicals in artichokes help to block the secretion of cancer agents, thereby preventing angiogenesis. Artichokes contain a flavonoid known as silymarin, which has been shown to lower the risk of skin cancer.  In one study, cancer cell movements and invasions were inhibited.  Additional research has shown that compounds in artichokes protect cells from oxidative stress and reduce cancer cell viability and activity on a human liver cancer cell line.

artichoke-5364_960_720TIP: Consume a 1/4 cup of artichokes several times per week to reap the benefits. Steam them yourself or look for marinated varieties at the supermarket.  Throw them over salad or roast them with garlic and lemon.  Here’s a recipe for a more nutritious version of the popular spinach and artichoke dip.

 

PARSLEY

Parsley is abundant in a substance known as apigenin, which has demonstrated powerful growth-inhibitory effects on breast cancer cells. Studies suggest that apigenin also induces apoptosis in human skin, thyroid, gastric, liver, colon, cervical, and prostate cancer cells, and that it may inhibit migration and invasion of ovarian cancer cells.

In research published in September 2015 in the journal Oncotarget, scientists were able to show for the first time that apigenin is able to effectively slow down or stop an undesirable enzyme called IKKA, which plays a role in cancer progression. A 2013 study out of China found that apigenin killed up to 86 percent of lung cancer cells in vitro.

Parsley also contains 8-methoxypsoralen, a compound that has been shown to prevent the development of carcinogen-induced lung cancer. In addition, parsley is a source of both imperatorin and isopimpinellin – two phytochemicals known to have chemopreventive effects in liver, lung and mammary epithelial cells.  The oil from both parsley leaf and seed contains myristicin. Research has demonstrated that myristicin hinders the proliferation of  lung cancer in mice.

Other powerful compounds in parsley include the flavones  luteolinquercetin and lutein.

  • Luteolin has been shown to induce death in oral and colon cancer cells, to promote cell cycle arrest and to halt insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) receptor signaling in prostate cancer cells. (IGF-1 is a powerful “switch” that turns on cancer cell proliferation.) Luteolin has also been shown increase the anti-cancer effects of chemotherapy drugs such as Taxol (paclitaxel) and to inhibit the proliferation of breast cancer cells.
  • Quercetin may slow proliferation of estrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer cells. A major Italian population study including 2,569 women with breast cancer found that the risk of breast cancer was reduced with increased consumption of such flavones.
  • Lutein intake and circulating lutein levels have been associated with reduced risk of breast cancer in several epidemiological studies.

TIP: The antioxidant capacity of parsley is enhanced when it is used in soups or stews (i.e., when it is boiled) but is reduced when grilled or fried.

 

PINEAPPLE

Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, has exhibited antitumorigenic properties and is used in clinical settings to complement chemotherapy. According to the authors of one study: “Bromelain afforded substantial anti-cancer potential”  in carcinoma and melanoma cell lines. Researchers noted  “an increase in apoptosis-related cell death in breast cancer cells with increasing concentrations of bromelain.” Again, apoptosis is when the cell literally eats itself alive!

A study published in 2007 in Plant Medica concluded that the anti-tumor abilities of bromelain are superior to the effects of the chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil (5-FU).  Unlike 5-FU, bromelain doesn’t kill healthy cells. Bromelain is often used in naturopathic oncology after initial treatment to prevent the formation of secondary tumors.

Bioactive polysaccharides are important components of pineapple that might also contribute to its health benefits. They exhibit “significant antitumor cell proliferation activities against breast carcinoma cell line and strong antioxidant activities.”  It also “appears to impair cancer cell survival” in gastric cancer according to a 2013 article in OncoTargets and Therapy. 

TIP: Choose the whole fresh fruit and cut it up yourself, as most of the bromelain in canned pineapple has been destroyed.  Try adding pineapple to a smoothie with kale, whey protein and coconut milk.  pineapple-636562_960_720

Although pineapples are packed with other vitamins and minerals, if  have a family history cancer or would like a more potent cancer-fighting “punch”, you should consider a bromelain supplement. A dose of between 80 and 320mg a day is considered safe and effective. As an added bonus, bromelain helps with digestion, speeds healing and is a natural anti-inflammatory. 

 

LICORICE 

Research has identified a compound found in licorice root that slows the growth of cancer cells during laboratory tests.  Licochalcone-A has been shown to have antitumor activity in acute leukemia, breast, and prostate cancer cell lines by lowering the amount of bcl-2, a drug-resistant protein. Excess amounts of this protein are frequently associated with these cancers.  The findings were presented at the International Conference on Molecular Cancer Therapeutics sponsored by the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and European Organization for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC).  Additional research on Licochalcone-A has demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects. Recall that inflammation is considered to be the underlying cause of all chronic, degenerative disease.

When scientists extracted another compound from liquorice root -Isoangustone A – and applied it to skin cancer cells it slowed the rate at which melanoma cells reproduce, in part by blocking the release of specific proteins needed for them to flourish. Similar effects were seen with prostate cancer cells

TIP:  We’re not talking about the artificial licorice candy.  Look for licorice root extracts that do not contain glycyrrhizin, which can cause high blood pressure. These extracts will say deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) on the label and do not have the undesirable side effects of other forms of licorice supplements.  As for whole licorice, a typical dose is 5 to 15 g daily for a few weeks at a time. For long-term consumption, Lahey Hospital and Medical Center recommends about 0.3 g of licorice root daily as a safe dose for most adults. You can also cook with the stuff.  Check out this chicken recipe.

 

NUTMEG

The essential oils in nutmeg contain compounds like geraniol, saffrol, limonene. Together, these provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and other protective activities.  The oils inhibit oxidation of the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid and significantly reduce the new blood vessel growth that feeds tumors, according to a study in the April 2012 issue of the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine.

In a 2007 study, nutmeg extract killed human leukemia cells.  Myristicin, a component of nutmeg essential oil, inhibits the growth of colon cancer cells.

TIP: The flavor of nutmeg peaks the moment you grate it, so it’s best to add it toward the end of the cooking process or just before serving. Nutmeg gives a sweet spiciness to savory dishes, such as curries.  It’s also great sprinkled over cooked vegetables like cauliflower, onion, eggplant, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and spinach.  You can also sprinkle it lightly over veal, fish, or chicken. A little goes a long way so try 1/8 teaspoon per 4 servings to start. 

 

GINSENG

Chronic inflammation is also associated with immunosuppression, which is a risk factor for cancer. Ginseng contains an anti-inflammatory molecule that targets many of the key players in the inflammation-to-cancer sequence.  A 2007 article in the Journal of Nutrition determined that ginseng’s secret cancer-fighting weapons are compounds called “ginsenosides.”

Studies exhibit apoptosis in cancer with the use of ginsenosides. Cell death has been demonstrated for several types including breast, ovarian, cervical, lung and prostate cancers, as well as melanoma.

Of particular interest is ginsenosides’ metabolite Rg3. A May 2015 report published in the Chemico-Biological Interactions journal revealed that the average volume of tumors treated was decreased by 40 percent when managed with Rg3.

Cancer cells can break away from a primary site and spread to other parts of the body via the bloodstream or lymphatic system. The invasive transmission poses a threat to life as cancer grows at secondary sites within the body. Recent studies have suggested that ginsenosides inhibit cancer metastasis and decrease its invasive ability.

An experimental study published in a Chinese Medical Journal reported ginsenosides can significantly inhibit the metastasis of ovarian cancer, while another recent study in Tumor Biology reported that it prevents cell proliferation and invasion on prostate cancer. Whether used in isolation or combined with other botanical compounds, an increasing number of studies have demonstrated a significant effect of ginsenosides on halting tumor growth and invasive transmission in some of the most aggressive types of cancer.

TIP: According to studies, Panax ginseng is the most beneficial type in preventing and treating cancer. It’s available in capsule form as a dietary supplementSince ginseng also has stimulatory properties, the recommendation is for healthy adults to take it daily in the morning or early afternoon. You can also drink a cup of ginseng tea or take 10 to 30 drops of the extract in a beverage. 

Fresh or dried ginseng root may also be taken daily at one-half to two grams.

 

PUMPKIN

Beta-carotene, the pigment responsible for pumpkin’s bright red-orange color, is a powerful immunostimulant.  Studies have found that beta-carotene may give your body a cancer-fighting boost by slowing cancer growth, preventing DNA damage and even enhancing the enzymes that clear cancer-causing substances from the body. Beta carotene accounts for more than 80 percent of the antioxidants in a serving of pumpkin.

Then there’s alpha-carotene, which has direct anticarcinogenic activity. Some studies suggest it’s a more potent cancer inhibitor than beta-carotene. Lutein and lycopene, antioxidant carotenoids found in orange and yellow fruit, are also known to protect other bodily systems. Pumpkin polysaccharides (chains of carbohydrate molecules) have been shown to provide a significant protective effect on healthy cells by increasing antioxidative activity.

Most of the population-based breast cancer studies performed to date that specifically included pumpkins were conducted in Japan, since its consumption is higher there than in the U.S.  The Japanese are among the healthiest and longest-living populations in the world so it’s probably a good idea to take a page or two out of their book.  In fact, I model much of my health-eating and nutrition supplement strategy on things the Japanese do.

Dietary intake of pumpkin was found to be protective against head and neck cancer in one Eastern European study.  Previous research has found that those with very low plasma levels of alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are at a higher risk of gastric cancer and intake of orange and yellow vegetables like pumpkin may also be protective against prostate cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Pumpkin seeds are also good sources of micronutrients such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, squalene and various cucurbitacins, which were shown in a 2012 study to block breast cancer metastasis by suppressing tumor cell migration and invasion. More recent research has demonstrated a similar effect on lung cancer cells.

Pumpkin seeds contain plant compounds called lignans (also found in flaxseeds) and one lignan in particular – enterolactone – has demonstrated disease-fighting properties, particularly in the area of breast cancer.  A 2012 study found a significant association between pumpkin seed consumption and breast health.  Another study suggested a role for pumpkin seed lignans in breast cancer prevention.  Additional research has shown that a supplement containing pumpkin seeds reported positive potential for dealing with prostate cancer.

A five tablespoon serving of pumpkin provides 20 mgs of vitamin E, which also inhibits cancer cell growth and protects immune cells from free radicals. Vitamin E boosts your immune system and low levels have been shown to increase the risk of several types of cancer. Vitamin E – from food sources, not supplements – may lower the risk of endometrial cancer and reduce bladder cancer recurrence.


71aYA+j-rlL._SY679_TIP: Canned pumpkin (NOT the same as pumpkin pie filling!) has many of the same benefits of fresh pumpkin. Farmer’s Market brand is the one I use.  Mix a couple of tablespoons in a smoothie, incorporate it into a curry like this one, or whip up a batch of these delicious, grain-free, sugar-free muffins.

 

OLIVE OIL

More commonly associated with heart health, olive oil has also been shown to have powerful anti-cancer benefits and scientists have identified several constituents that may be responsible. These include its antioxidant polyphenols, as well as the lipid oleic acid, which is highly resistant to peroxidation – a degradation of the fats it contains that can trigger disease processes.

A team of researchers from Rutgers University and Hunter College recently published the results of a study in the journal Molecular & Cellular Oncology. Oleocanthal, the primary phenolic compound found in extra-virgin olive oil, was shown to eradicate cancer cells in less than an hour! The scientists determined that oleocanthal destroyed the waste centers of the cancer cells, also known as lysosomes. Once oleocanthal did its initial damage, vital functions began to suffer and the cells died soon after. As important, healthy cells stayed intact. “We think oleocanthal could explain reduced [cancer] incidence in Mediterranean diets where consumption is high,” said one of the study authors.

Recently, oncology researchers were excited to discover that oleic acid, the main monounsaturated fatty acid in olive oil, may fight cancer by interacting with the human genome. Oleic acid actually works to suppress the over-expression of a well-characterized oncogene that plays a key role in the invasive progression and metastasis of several human cancers.

TIP: Widespread corruption was recently revealed to plague the Italian olive oil industry resulting in popular brands being “cut” with cheaper oils.  For that reason, I recommend products from other regions.  I use California Olive Ranch.olive oil

Extra virgin varieties provide maximum health benefits compared to more refined forms of the oil but they also have a low smoke point so reserve EVOO for use in salad dressings in order to preserve the nutrients.  Aim for 1-2 tablespoons per day tossed with greens or drizzled over cooked veggies.  

 

 

Pharmaceutical companies know the healing power of plant compounds but they aren’t interested in medicines that can’t be patented and turned into multi-billion dollar blockbuster drugs.  However, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that we can literally “starve” cancer cells and potentially stop tumor growth. Since the nutrients in these eight foods target several disease processes their benefits go beyond cancer prevention.  The foods listed above are accessible and represent a practical way to add flavor to dishes you’re probably already eating.

5 Ingredients to Super-Charge Your Smoothie

Today’s the day, right? You plan on getting your diet back on track after a couple weeks of holiday-fueled overindulging. A properly-constructed breakfast is the most logical place to start.  After all, what you choose to start the day sets the tone for how you’ll eat the entire rest of the day.  Most Americans do breakfast wrong.  We eat dessert for breakfast – pastries, muffins, doughnuts. However convenient, these “foods” are completely devoid of any nutritional value. Worse, however, is that the resulting insulin spike will leave you craving sugar and refined carbs for hours. There are better options. Aside from eggs, nothing beats a smoothie in providing a satiating, energy-boosting jumpstart to your day and in under 10 minutes.

So, you’ve got your almond milk (unsweetened, of course!), leafy greens (spinach and kale are best!), protein powder (grass-fed whey preferably!), a handful of berries (organic, if possible!) and perhaps an avocado lined up on the kitchen counter and you’re ready to concoct your morning smoothie.  Great base but if you’re downing this liquid breakfast for the health and weight management benefits, consider one of these under-the-radar add-ins to take things to the next level.

 

Chlorella

Chlorella is an algae native to Japan and Taiwan and is considered one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.  It’s loaded with protein, vitamin A, zinc and iron. Like spinach, parsley and watercress, chlorella is rich in chlorophyll, the pigment that gives these plants their green color.  Though chlorophyll has been used for decades as an “internal” deodorant, as a treatment for slow-healing wounds and as a weapon against Candida, scientists have recently discovered more impressive health benefits in the areas of weight management and even cancer prevention.

A 2013 study in the journal Appetite showed that chlorophyll supplements lead to reduced hunger after meals and more stable blood sugar levels in overweight women. The researchers also noted suppressed food intake and less weight gain among participants. Additional research has demonstrated that this category of nutritional supplement “induces weight loss, improves obesity-related risk-factors, and reduces the urge for palatable food.”

Research also supports the use of chlorophyll to fight cancer via several pathways, including its ability to bind to and remove environmental pollutants, heavy metals and other carcinogens.  In this manner, chlorophyll seems to activate the body’s detoxification system.  Also on the cancer front, chlorophyll can boost the action of our immune system’s T cells in fighting off abnormal cell growth.  Researchers at Yonsei University in Seoul Korea determined that chlorella increases “natural killer” cell activity, a process in which immune system cells attach themselves to and kill tumor cells and virus-infected cells.

Chlorophyll can also make some of the bad food you eat less bad. One of the things that makes fried foods so harmful is that the cooking method results in the formation of compounds that damage the DNA of our cells.  Research has shown that chlorophyll can offer protection against that damage, reducing the oxidative stress that can occur from a poor diet.91v3fFbCZQL._SX522_

How to use it:  Though chlorella is available in tablet form, you’d have to take several of them to get a beneficial dose.  A powder is much more practical and the other ingredients in your smoothie will mask the strong taste.  Look for “broken cell wall” chlorella, which is more absorbable.  The NOW Foods and Starwest Botanicals brands are reputable choices.

 

Gelatin

No, I’m not referring to the jiggly blob of chemical-laden neon that sadly still enjoys a place on far too many school lunch trays.

Real gelatin has long provided a host of benefits for the natural health crowd, most notably with regard to gut function. Gelatin can help heal the gut and improve digestion by restoring the lining of the stomach, increasing acid production (a good thing, despite what mainstream medicine has you believe!) and keeping fluid in the stomach to move things along. When the cells that line the intestinal wall are able to function as they should, you limit the risk of food intolerances, allergies, inflammation and autoimmune disease that result from having a “leaky gut.”

Gelatin has also demonstrated anti-inflammatory benefits that have been shown to reduce joint pain in both athletes and osteoporosis patients.  One of its major amino acid constituents – glycine – is known to improve sleep, possibly by acting as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, decreasing anxiety and promoting calmness. And gelatin also provides the building blocks for the production of collagen, the main structural element that keeps skin smooth and healthy looking.

Our ancestors would tap into these benefits by consuming the gelatinous parts of animals (skin, tendon) that most Americans shun these days.81fb3PDM8gL._SY679_

How to use it:  There are two types of gelatin. Regular, whole protein gelatin turns into a gel when added to liquids. That’s great for making a healthier version of Jell-O or gummies but for smoothies you want hydrolyzed gelatin, which has been broken down into individual amino acids. I like Great Lakes brand, which is derived from grass-fed animals.

Avoid vegan attempts at gelatin.  Real gelatin is an animal product.  Vegan “gelatin” offers none of the health benefits and almost always contains added sugar, various gums and the questionable additive carrageenan.

 

Cacao Powder

Cacao is the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate. Cacao beans are grown in Mexico and South America and are roasted and ground to produce chocolate.  When dried at very low temperatures, however, they are considered raw and are sometimes broken into small pieces called nibs and then ground into a nutrient-packed powder that makes a perfect smoothie add-in.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re familiar with antioxidants and their ability to quell the disease-causing free radicals that our cells are exposed to each day.   A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry determined that the antioxidant capacity of cacao is higher than that of red wine and green tea.  One way to calculate the antioxidant power of a food is by its ORAC value.  ORAC stands for Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity and by this measure, raw cacao far outperforms blueberries, kale and broccoli. Cacao is loaded with a special group of antioxidants collectively referred to as flavonoids and cacao has been found to contain more flavonoids than any other food on the planet.

Cacao is a potent source of the minerals copper and magnesium, which may partly explain its ability to decrease the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and help prevent the formation of plaque in the arteries. Research has demonstrated additional mechanisms through which cacao may lower heart disease risk, namely by lowering blood pressure, improving vascular function and fighting inflammation.

In the area of cancer prevention, a 2002 study found that the antioxidants in cacao lowered the incidence of both pancreatic and breast cancer. Other health benefits of cacao include increased blood flow to the brain and a corresponding improvements in performance on tests of mental acuity and memory.

61rxTJ9TtNL._SX522_Among its more immediate and noticeable effects, cacao contains several “feel good” chemicals that boost levels of endorphins, as well as the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.  Together, these produce a sense of wellbeing and can have mild anti-depressant effects.

How to use it: Though the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, cacao is the raw, unprocessed form of chocolate. Pure, raw cacao powder is either sun-dried or cold-pressed using very low heat, preserving all those flavonoids and other nutrients.  Cacao has a very strong flavor and is not at all sweet but you’re also not consuming it the way you would a chocolate bar. As part of a smoothie, any bitterness will be masked by the sweetness of berries and other fruit or a few drops of liquid stevia. My pick is Navitas Naturals Organic Cacao Powder.

 

Glucomannan

Our hunter gatherer ancestors consumed about 100 grams of fiber per day in the form of various roots, berries and other plant foods – and experienced little to none of the chronic diseases of aging that we’ve come to accept as inevitable. Today, the average American takes in a mere 8 grams of fiber per day, despite its documented benefits in the areas of weight loss, intestinal health and blood sugar and cholesterol balance.  Smoothies provide the perfect “vehicle” for sneaking some extra fiber into your day.

Glucomannan, also known as konjac, is a water-soluble fiber that comes from the elephant yam, a tuber native to Asia. Glucomannan can absorb up to 50 times its weight in water, which promotes a sense of fullness and helps curb appetite. In fact, doses of 2 to 4 grams daily have resulted in significant weight loss in studies involving overweight and obese participants.

Glucomannan also helps with weight loss by slowing the absorption of food from the gut into the bloodstream.  This keeps blood sugar under control.  It also helps keep hunger in check by sending a signal to the brain that you’ve had enough to eat.91J8vM8L-QL._SY679_

In addition, glucomannan feeds the good bacteria in the gut, which convert it to a short-chain fatty acid known as butyrate. Butyrate has a number of health benefits, including improved insulin sensitivity and increased energy expenditure. Additional research has demonstrated its potential use in the inhibition and treatment of intestinal disorders such as colorectal cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.

Other benefits include lower triglyceride, blood sugar and LDL levels, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

How to use it: Glucomannan is available in capsule form or in a variety of food products, most notably shirataki noodles. For smoothies, you want the powder.  Start with a teaspoon. The powder is tasteless and will add a nice thickness to your smoothie. I like NOW brand.

 

Ginger

Ginger is a staple in Asian cooking and populations in that part of the world tend to have much lower disease rates than we do. But what are the specific health benefits? You may be familiar with its ability to fight nausea and vomiting, especially the chemo-induced and morning-sickness variety.

Well, as it turns out, ginger brings a lot more to the nutrition table than its stomach-soothing effects. For one, ginger has been shown to reduce inflammation levels in those at risk for colon cancer.  Other studies have demonstrated its ability to reduce osteoarthritis-related pain – nearly as well as ibuprofen! Additional research has shown that ginger “has a significant lipid lowering effect,” with one study demonstrating an effect on par with prescription drugs.

And in a study on middle-aged women, ginger enhanced memory and cognitive function. Several other studies have also demonstrated the ability of ginger to protect against age-related memory impairment and to guard against the inflammation and oxidation that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Ginger extract has also been used in alternative health circles as a cancer treatment, with the protective effects being attributed to a compound in raw ginger called 6-gingerol. There is evidence that ginger may slow the progression of pancreatic, breast, and ovarian cancer.

In the anti-diabetic realm, ginger helps lower blood sugar.  And, if you’re prone to indigestion, try ginger to increase stomach emptying and relieve symptoms.

How to use it:  Always use fresh ginger. Choose organic, if possible, to avoid irradiation. Start with a half-inch piece – a little goes a long way! Peel, mince or grate and toss into your smoothie. I like ginger with chocolate smoothies and/or those that combine other spices, such as cinnamon or vanilla bean.

The great thing about these add-ins is that – in reasonable amounts – they don’t have to dramatically alter the taste of your smoothie or add unnecessary calories, carbs or sugar.  They’re clean, natural, minimally processed and their health benefits are supported by abundant scientific research. And remember, there’s no rule that says smoothies can only be enjoyed in the A.M. hours.  If logistically possible, preparing one as a meal replacement or snack can help keep metabolism revved up, hunger in check and cravings at bay later in the day – all important goals if you hope to make your weight-related resolutions stick this year.

Identifying and Correcting Zinc Deficiency

Though zinc is best known for its potential as a cold-busting immune booster, this critical mineral is the ultimate multitasker. Found in every tissue in the human body, zinc is required for cell growth and division, thyroid hormone metabolism, reproduction, blood cell function, taste, vision and smell, blood sugar balance and physical performance.  Zinc deficiency is fairly widespread, even in developed nations and estimates are that 20 – 30% of the world’s population is affected.  The actual figure is likely much higher, as these numbers are based only on zinc intake by food source and don’t take into account absorption issues caused by stress, medication and other components of the modern diet.  When it comes to nutrients, it’s not so much what you take in but, rather, what you absorb and what your body can use.Zinc-Pills

Vegetarians and alcoholics are at greatest risk but women taking birth control medication or hormone replacement therapy may suffer as well. Even if you don’t fall into one of those categories, you may have a zinc deficiency if you consume a high-carbohydrate diet.  Whole grains contain a compound called phytic acid, which binds to and blocks the absorption of minerals including zinc. Certain forms of dairy may also inhibit absorption and high sugar intake can drastically increase urinary zinc excretion.

Symptoms of zinc deficiency include: low energy levels, ringing in the ears, poor immune function, low libido, infertility, memory issues and slow wound healing. Low zinc levels can also alter your sense of taste, leading to cravings for salty and sweet foods.

Researchers have developed a taste test to determine zinc status. The test involves oral administration of 10 mL of a zinc sulphate solution and a subsequent gauge of taste perception.  Taste responses to the solution are classified as follows:

  • Category 1: No specific taste or other sensation is noted, even after the solution has been kept in the mouth for about ten seconds.
  • Category 2: No immediate taste noted; after several seconds a slight taste is noted, described as dry-mineral, furry or sweet.
  • Category 3: A definite but not strongly unpleasant taste is experienced almost immediately and usually intensifies with time.
  • Category 4: A strong and unpleasant taste is noted immediately.

The less a person tastes the solution, the poorer their zinc status. If the taste response falls in categories 1 or 2, a zinc deficiency is indicated.

The test is simple, inexpensive and can be performed at home.

Oysters contain the highest zinc content of any food, though they are not widely consumed.  Grass-fed beef and lamb and pasture-raised turkey are also good sources but consuming these foods in combination with grains and legumes can dramatically reduce the amount of the mineral that is accessible to the body due to the phytic acid factor. Soaked and sprouted nuts, grains and legumes have lower levels of phytic acid, allowing for increased absorption of zinc and other minerals. Since casein has also been shown to hinder zinc absorption, it may be necessary to limit or avoid dairy consumption while eating zinc-rich foods.

Adults who consume very few animal products and eat mostly processed foods are at the greatest risk for zinc deficiency.  In these cases, supplementation can be helpful.  Your body absorbs zinc in supplement form much better than that from food sources. Many forms of zinc are available as over-the-counter nutritional supplements, however zinc citrate and zinc monomethionine have been shown to possess superior bioavailability, meaning your body can access and metabolize more of the mineral.  Research suggests a dose of 15 to 25 mg is adequate for correcting a deficiency ( 40 mg/day is the Tolerable Upper Intake Level [UL] set by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences).  zinc2

There are several important considerations when supplementing with zinc:

  • Absorption is reduced as your body gets used to the supplement. Solution: cycle off of the supplement after 3 months of continuous use.
  • Other minerals – calcium, iron – may compete with zinc for absorption.  Solution: take your zinc supplement on its own, separate from other mineral supplements or multivitamins.
  • Long-term use of zinc can deplete copper levels. Solution: consume more copper-rich foods, such as sesame and sunflower seeds (preferably sprouted), cashews, oysters, crab and shitake mushrooms. Some zinc supplements contain copper.

 

The Health Benefits of Sea Vegetables

Having read about their health benefits for years, I recently decided to make a foray into the world of sea vegetables.  Technically considered algae, sea vegetables are most commonly recognized by the names kelp, seaweed, kombu, wakame and nori, though there are dozens of varieties.kelp

I hate the word superfood but sea vegetables provide each of the 50+ minerals required by the body for optimum functioning – and in a form that makes them easily absorbed. This includes sodium, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron and a host of trace nutrients that you’re likely deficient in. Interestingly, the mineral content of  the blood and the mineral content of the sea are nearly identical.

Sea vegetables also provide vitamins A, C, E, B1, B2, B6 and K as well as carotene, chlorophyll, enzymes and fiber. They are also the only non-animal source of vitamin B12, which is critical to the process of converting food into energy and for the formation of DNA.

Many people regard sea vegetables as the most nutrient dense food in existence and some of the healthiest and longest-living populations on Earth consider them a dietary staple. Certain varieties of sea vegetables are known for their ability to lower cholesterol and those from the brown algae family help remove metallic and radioactive compounds from the body. They also support thyroid health and prevent goiter. Sea veggies have been studied for their antibacterial properties, including those shown to be effective against penicillin resistant bacteria and those shown to work better than certain prescription drugs.  Sea vegetables have been used to treat cancer for hundreds of years in Japan and China and research is accumulating to support their anti-tumor properties, particularly with regard to breast cancer.  A seaweed extract is even being studied as a possible treatment for cystic fibrosis.

That’s all the convincing I needed, though I was further motivated by my self-confirmed need for additional iodine in my diet. Iodine is critical for proper thyroid function.  Most brands of table salt have been iodized and the mineral therefore shows up in processed foods, an accidental benefit of the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.).  But table salt is highly refined and has anti-caking agents added to it so I don’t buy the stuff.  Instead, I opt for either Himalayan pink or Celtic sea salt.  Sea salt is more natural, provides better flavor and offers some trace minerals, however it contains little to no iodine.Kombu

As for preparation of sea vegetables, follow the directions on the package. Most sea vegetables require soaking for up to 10 minutes before use but nori and kelp flakes can be used without soaking. Both are great as a salt alternative or for adding some umami to your cooking. I started out by experimenting with kombu because it’s considered milder (wakame is another good choice for beginners). Since I’m a daily salad eater, I decided this was the most realistic way for me to introduce sea vegetables to my diet. I toasted pieces of kombu in a dry skillet and crunched them over my salad. Strips can also be added to broths, soup, sauce or stew recipes. Next, I’ll attempt some roasted nori sheets for use as a “wrapper,” perhaps coated with some olive oil and sea salt.

TIP #1:  if toxicity risk is a concern for you, buy only certified organic sea vegetables.  The brand Maine Coast Sea Vegetables regularly tests their products for contaminants. Eden is another reputable company. Aside from hijiki – which should be avoided due to arsenic concerns – the research has shown that health risks from heavy metals in seaweed are incredibly low.

TIP #2: it is possible to consume too much iodine. Sea vegetables are meant to be a flavor enhancer or garnish, not a main dish.

The Paleo Diet VS. The Government-Recommended Diet

I’m not a fan of dietary labels (“Paleo”, “gluten free”, etc.), as those terms quickly become hijacked by slick marketers and the focus becomes more about selling products than improving health. Beyond that, labels often provoke controversy, pigeon-holing and an us-versus-them mindset.  As a result, the nutritionally-confused among us get fatter and sicker.

Though there is some disagreement as to what exactly our ancestors ate, there seems to be more of a consensus regarding what they didn’t eat, as well as the notion that our DNA has largely remained unchanged from the pre-agricultural era (the idea being that our genes haven’t had time to adapt to neolithic foods, resulting in modern disease).  There’s scientific evidence to support the benefits of paleolithic eating in the areas of cardiovascular health, weight management, blood pressure and diabetes risk. The food is satiating and anecdotal reports abound of increased energy, improved mood, more favorable body composition and  the elimination of nagging health issues like acid reflux, headaches and skin problems. For me, this way of eating just makes more sense.

While my diet may not qualify as strict Paleo (I actually prefer the term “traditional human” or “ancestral” diet), I’m in favor of any meal plan that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods, devoid of disease-promoting toxins and high in nutritional value.  Informed eaters understand that the “healthy” diet long pushed by government experts is anything but, however this infographic put together by NordicTrack and Robb Wolf makes it clear that the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) is at best inconsistent with human evolution and, at worst, a crime against humanity!

 

From-Caveman-to-Modern-HomoSapien-A-Walk-Through-Our-Species-Diet-History-011

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