Monday, July 27, 2009

Chia Seed Benefits

Chia Seeds are a super food that you should know about!

The picture to the left shows two chia seeds striking a pose on the skin of a lime. The seed on the left is swollen and has a gel like outer layer after soaking for about 5 minutes in water. The seed on the right is a dry chia seed. The size difference is amazing. You can see the 'superness' of this super food with your own eyes!

Many of us have heard of the Chia Pet. Some of us even remember the catchy "chi, chi, chia" jingle! But have you heard of eating chia seeds? Chia seeds are quite remarkable. In fact, they are one of the most nutritious superfoods known! Chia is an edible seed that comes from a member of the mint family called Salvia hispanica, which grows in southern Mexico. It used to be a common crop centuries ago, but was nearly forgotton. Now, it is making a comeback and more readily available. Let's take a look at our list of 11 chia health benefits and chia nutrition facts.

What Chia Can Do For You!
  1. Helps Stablize blood sugar and reduce junk food cravings - Remember the picture of the gel around the chia seed in our picture above? The gel forming is due to soluble fiber in the chia. In your digestive system, this gel actually slows down the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar, thus helps to stablize blood sugar. By eliminating the peaks and valleys of your blood sugar, you get a more consistent energy level and reduced cravings.
  2. Help your concentrate and improve your mood- Chia is an excellent source of Essential Fatty Acids, which are critical for concentration and other brain functions.
  3. Energize now, Sustained energy later! -Chia has great nutrients like proteins, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber, and complex carbohydrates to energize you. Chia can provide good stamina and energy over time due to its slowing of the sugar conversion mentioned in point 1. In fact, it has been called the runners food and was used by the Aztec Indians for long distance runs and endurance.
  4. Fills you up - Chia seeds actually swells in water and help to make you feel full and potentially eat less. Take a look at the chia seed picture again and see how much each seed actually swells in just a ew minutes
  5. Lower your cholesterol and heart health - Remember what is causes chia to swell in water? Chia is high in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber has been shown to help lower cholesterol.
  6. Digestive Health - Chia has both soluble fiber (which forms the outer gel), and insoluble fiber. Both types of fiber are healthy for the digestive system. The insoluble fiber helps cleans the intestinal tract. The soluble fiber can act as a prebiotic and help feed the good bacteria in your digestive system.
  7. Help build lean muscle mass - Chia is high in protein and helpful in a weight loss or muscle building diet. It is even low-carb and vegetarian.
  8. Get Better nutrition from other foods - Remember the gel in point 1? Well, by maintaining the proper level of hydration and electrolytes in your stomach you actually optimize your bodies ability to effectively absorb other nutrients. Also. the essential fatty acids in chia help the body emulsify and absorbs the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  9. Build strong bones - Chia not only contains calcium, but it also contains the trace mineral boron, which speeds the rate at which calcium is absorped and utlized by the body.
  10. Healthy nails, skin, and hair - Remember that chia seeds are loaded with over 60% essential fatty acids? Not only are they good for your mental clarify, those same essential fatty acids help skin, nails, and hair grow strong and healthy. They are also a great source of protein, which is essential to grow healthy hair, nails, and skin.
  11. Maximum hydration - Chia is said to help maintain hydration which can be helpful for endurance athletes. Presoak chia seeds before your workout and consumption.
Chia Nutrition Information
  1. Super Soaker - Chia seeds can soak up to ten times their weight in water! Look at the picture above and you can see how in just a few minutes chia swelled to several times it size. If it were to soak for a half an hour or so, the gel effect is even more dramatic. The gel is actually soluable fiber that is swelling in the water into hydrophylic colloid that has a medicinal affect for many digestive health issues.
  2. Excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are the best plant source of omega-3's known. They contain over 60% essential fatty acids. They contain more omega-3's than flax seed. Omega fatty acids are important for concentration and brain health as well as other metabolic processes.
  3. Easy access - Flax seed is fantastic (if you don't know it's benefits, you should do a bit of research or give it a try). However, Chia seed is even better than flax in in terms of ease of access to the nutrition. Chia seeds do not need to be ground for their nutrients to be available to the body. Plus, chia is very shelf stable without the need for fancy packaging or concern of rancidity.
  4. Antioxidant protection -Loaded with antioxidants
  5. Vitamins and minerals - Chia seeds provide calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, zinc, and even boron (which helps the absorbing of calcium by the body).
  6. Gluten Free - Chia is a gluten free source of fiber and nutrition. If you have food allergies, check with your doctor, but chia is generally beneficial to the digestive system.
  7. High source of protein - Chia is composed of over 20% protein, which is about 2 to 3 times higher than other seeds and grains. If you are a vegetarian looking for protein sources, check out chia! Plus, the protein source in chia is readily digestible and available to the body. So, if you are pregnant or a weight lifter, chia can provide benefits.
  8. Low glycemic index - Chia has an extremely low glycemic index of 1, and actually helps to lower the rate at which other carbohydrates are converted to sugars.
Here are two easy ways to add the nutrition and health benefits of chia to your diet.
  1. Sprinkle some Chia Boost Nutrition Sprinkles on to foods you love to give them a boost. The sprinkle is a blend of Chia Seeds, Quinoa, and Sweet Potato flakes. It is crunchy, nutty, and sweet. A great topping to add to your morning oatmeal cereal, yogurt, a peanut butter sandwich, you name it! 
  2. Try these chocolate chocolate chip or pumpkin chocolate chip all natural snack cookies loaded with chia seeds and all of their benefits. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Orange Power!

The power of pumpkin is not just for fall. Autumn may put you in the mood for some pumpkin pie, but pumpkin nutrients and benefits are great all year round.

The nutrients in pumpkin are really world class because they are rich in fiber and an abundance of disease-protective nutrients including potassium, magnesium and vitamins C and E. And pumpkin contains one of the richest supplies of antioxidant carotenes compared to any food. Pumpkin is one of the 14 "Superfoods" highlighted in Dr. Steven Pratt's groundbreaking nutrition book SuperFoods Rx: Fourteen Foods That Will Change Your Life. And, The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine states that "higher blood concentrations of beta-carotene and other carotenoids obtained from foods are associated with lower risk of several chronic diseases." Both carrots and pumpkin have the best balance of alpha and beta-carotenes.

Furthermore pumpkin is helpful in soothing upset stomachs.

Looking for the benefits of pumpkin for your dog? Thrive Foods offers Hip Health Pumpkin Spice human grade SuperTreats for dogs. Our Pumpkin Spice treats contain the power of pumpkin. They have natural antioxidant protection from pumpkin, cranberries, cinnamon and flax seed, so your dog is happy and healthy from the inside out. They also have turmeric, ginger, and cinnamon SuperSpices with antioxidant benefits. Turmeric is know for the powerful antiflammatory properties of a compound called curcumins.

Click here for more information.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Food as Medicine - Natural Antioxidants

Studies at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston suggest that consuming fruits and vegetables with a high-ORAC value may help slow the aging process in both body and brain. ORAC--short for Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity--measures the ability of foods, blood plasma, and just about any substance to subdue oxygen free radicals in the test tube.

Early evidence indicates that this antioxidant activity translates to animals, protecting cells and their components from oxidative damage. Getting plenty of the foods with a high-ORAC activity, such as spinach, strawberries, and blueberries, has so far:

  • raised the antioxidant power of human blood,
  • prevented some loss of long-term memory and learning ability in middle-aged rats,
  • maintained the ability of brain cells in middle-aged rats to respond to a chemical stimulus,
  • protected rats' tiny blood vessels—capillaries—against oxygen damage.

These results have prompted Ronald L. Prior to suggest that "the ORAC measure may help define the dietary conditions needed to prevent tissue damage."

Science has long held that damage by oxygen free radicals is behind many of the illnesses that come with aging, including cardiovascular disease and cancer. There's firm evidence that a high intake of fruits and vegetables reduces risk of cancer and that a low intake raises risk. And recent evidence suggests that diminished brain function associated with aging and disorders such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases may be due to increased vulnerability to free radicals.

Such evidence has spurred skyrocketing sales of antioxidant vitamin supplements in recent years. But several large trials testing individual antioxidant vitamins have had mixed results. "It may be that combinations of nutrients found in foods have greater protective effects than each nutrient taken alone," says Cao from the USDA. For example, foods contain more than 4,000 flavonoids. These constitute a major class of dietary antioxidants and appear to be responsible for a large part of the protective power of fruits and vegetables. Combinations of nutrients found in foods may have greater protective benefits than each nutrient on its own. Many people obtain a number of their daily nutrients from supplements in pill or powder form, but in order to receive the best form of nutrients, it is essential to receive them from plant chemicals rather than just from supplements. There are certain types of plants that have a better antioxidant level than others, and the ORAC score can measure these.

Different types of fruit and vegetables have different ORAC scores. The recommended “5-a-day” fruit and vegetable servings will give you an ORAC score of 1,750 units. You could pick seven fruits with a low ORAC level and achieve only 1,300 ORAC units, or you could pick seven with high values and receive around 6,000 ORAC units or more. A large handful of blueberries would give you an ORAC score of around 6,000.

Studies have shown that eating foods with a high ORAC score will raise the antioxidant levels in the blood by around 10 to 25%. The ORAC figure suggested by experts is around 5,000 units per day to have a significant effect on plasma and tissue antioxidant levels. Eating eight to ten servings of brightly colored fruits and vegetables or dark greens will help achieve this level, but only a handful of cranberries could satisfy this requirement.

Selected ORAC Values of Foods

Dried Apples 6680
Fuji apples 1236

Red Delicious Apples 4235

Red Wine 5034

Dried Apricots 3234

Red Kidney Beans 8459

Black beans 8040

Bananas 879

Blueberries 6552

Cranberries 9584

Carrots 666

Cooked Broccoli 2386

Corn 728

Oats 2169

Extra virgin olive oil 1150

Peanut Oil 106

Cocoa 80933

Almonds 4288

Green tea 1253

Chili powder 23636

Turmeric 159277

Cinnamon 267536

Oregano 200129

Ginger 28811

Source: USDA, ORAC of Selected Foods, 2007

Some surprises to me:

Beans (kidney, black) are loaded with antioxidants

Oats have a decent amount of antioxidants, but we only really consider them for fiber.

Not all oils are created equal: olive oil has 10X AOX compared to peanut oil.

Spices can really boost the antioxidants in your meals - use them profusely.

Berries are one of the richest sources of fruits - blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, strawberries.

Nuts contain a decent amount of antioxidants. Pecans and almonds are great.

Cocoa - so glad to see it on the list of rich AOX foods. Not milk chocolate, but the pure stuff.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stress and Your Health

Stress can just wear us down. And not just the big stress events - weddings, illness, kids' grades, finances, overbearing boss, etc., but daily little frustrations and aggravations they can really wear down your body. There's a growing body of research showing that stress doesn't just wear us down mentally, it actually activates lots of negative biochemical functions in our body. The main culprit we'll talk about today is cortisol.

What is cortisol? In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet the challenges of life by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen and counteracting inflammation. For a short time, that’s okay. But at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually tears your body down, leading to sustained or chronic inflammation. Sustained high cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, co-opt biochemicals needed to make other vital hormones, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, interfere with healthy endocrine function; and weaken your immune system.

Because cortisol is secreted from our adrenal glands, some call saturated cortisol adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue suppresses the immune system, creates insulin resistance and it may also produce a host of other unpleasant symptoms - fuzzy thinking, acne, weight gain, even hair loss.

Ways to Reduce Stress and Cortisol in Your Body

  • Dietary changes to enrich your nutrition and reduce carbohydrates and stimulants. Specifically, fish oil or flax seed - rich in omega-3's - can be effective as well as a diet consisting of anti-inflammatory foods - ginger, cinnamon, olive oil, fish, etc.
  • Stress reduction, including moderate exercise and taking more time for yourself. It’s helpful to make a list of your stressors, especially those that are constant.
  • Get more rest. Your body needs time to heal.
  • Practice relaxation techniques and deep breathing during the day
  • Let go of emotional burdens that are shadowing your life.
  • Use prayer and meditation daily.
  • Find ways to enjoy life - work is a gift, family is precious, create legacy in your life.

Ways to Maintain a Healthy Immune System

The best way to keep from getting sick may be boosting your immune system. A healthy immune system is a more reasonable approach than trying to systematically destroy or protect yourself from all the germs in your world. That being said, it's good to wash your hands to protect yourself and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to protect others. That being said, a healthy immune system should be cornerstone of staying healthy and your first line of defense.

One thing to keep in mind with the immune system, is that more isn't always better. Both an a overactive or underactive immune system means trouble. When the immune system is weak the body is more susceptible to to an intruder like a virus or bacteria leading to an infection. A critically underactive immune system can also lead to cancer if the body cannot rid itself of these cells at the onset. An overactive immune system leads to trouble as well. An over active immune system starts to attack itself. At low levels this looks like allergies, asthma, and particularly eczema. At more intense levels, it leads to autoimmune disease, where the body begins to attack itself. In this case, the immune system has power to stop the bad players, but has trouble recognizing the good from the bad agents. So, we want a healthy immune system that knows the good from the bad and deals effectively with bad agents.

The immune system is very complex and difficult to understand, but let's take a look at some of the key factors that contribute to the effectiveness if your immune system.
  1. Good Nutrition - Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods
  2. Regular exercise - 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day
  3. Enough Sleep - It is recommended to get 8 hours of sleep a day
  4. Reduce Stress - Stress hormones reduce effectiveness of the immune system
  5. Stay Hydrated - Decrease caffeine intake and drink more water
  6. Eat less sugar - Elevated blood sugar levels reduce the effectiveness of the immune system
  7. Maintain a healthy weight
  8. Live in harmony
  9. Laugh

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Seeds of Nutrition

Seeds are a great natural source of minerals and other nutrients.

Almost everyone has heard about the food pyramid. It has been promoted and marketed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to help understand the fundamentals of nutrition. We know about the fruits and vegetables. Beans are now included with meats as sources of protein. You may even recall dairy. But what about seeds are they included with the grains? There actually is a category called "Oils" in the food pyramid, which calls out sunflower oil and mentions sesame oil. It also mentions some nuts, such as walnuts. Walnuts seem to get all of the glory as a superstar in the world of nuts and seeds. But, what about other seeds?

Many seeds have a fantastic nutrition profile. Seeds are highly nutritious and some are even characterized as super foods and should not be forgotten in nutrition. Many seeds have high concentrations of minerals, which is what bumps them into the superfood classification. A few of the healthiest seeds include.
  1. Flax seed
  2. Pumpkin Seeds
  3. Sunflower Seeds
  4. Sesame seeds
  5. Chia seeds

1. Flax seeds are highly lauded as a source of omega 3 fatty acids. They are also a great source of plant sterols. Furthermore, like other seeds, flax is a great natural source of minerals. It is a good source of the following minerals: manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Wow, what a powerhouse, not to mention it's high levels of thiamin.

2. Pumpkin seeds are a great natural source of minerals. A quarter cups of pumpkin seeds provides roughly half of the daily recommended allowance of magnesium, manganese, and copper. They are also a good source of iron and copper. Click here for more information on pumpkin seedss by World's healthiest Foods.

3. Sunflower seeds are a great healthy snack and have high levels of vitamin E and thiamin (vitamin B1), in addition to a host of other vitamins and minerals. Additionally, sunflower seeds have the highest levels of phyosterols of common seeds for snacking.

4. Sesame Seeds are a very good source of copper and also a good source of other minerals like calcium and magnesium. Additionally, they are a good source of phytosterols.

5. Chia seeds are becoming more popular as of late for in the words of diet, nutrition, and sports. There is not as much nutrition data readily available on nutrition, but there has been talk about a variety of potential health benefits. Chia has the unique ability to form a gel in water, so it actually slows down the digestion process, which helps to level out energy levels.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Brain Food #2 - Plant Antioxidants

Scientists are continuously uncovering new characterisitics of plant nutrients. One of the most existing are a class of compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants and people who consume high amounts of plants rich in polyphenols have lower rates of Alzheimer's disease. Cognitive decline and memory loss are the natural result of a lifetime of oxidative and inflammatory injury to brain tissue. Blueberries and grapes are two fruits some of the highest concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols that can suppress/sequester oxidative injury.

Grape skins and seeds are rich in a group of polyphenols known as proanthocyanidins. These compounds have known cardiovascular benefits which is an important risk factor in dementia. Grape seed extracts have been shown to have anti-stress and neuroprotective capacity in studies with rats - preserving rats' cognitive function amid stress. Grape seed protects from oxidation injury in the brain. [It's interesting to note that the grape seed's benefits were improved in the presence of a vital neurotransmitter - choline. All these things work together - they are no silver bullets.] Researchers have seen a reduction in protein deposits associated with Alzheimer's disease in mice fed grape seed extract.

In 1999, a seminal study found that blueberries are potent source of neuroprotective polyphenols, improving rats' performance in an array of cognitive tasks. A 2003 study using mice found that blueberries prevented cognitive deficiencies even thoough these mice had predisposition toward to Alzheimer's disease. The researchers stated, "for the first time, it may be possible to overcome genetic predispositions toward Alzheimer's disease through diet."

Ideas for incorporating grapes and blueberries in your diet: add them to your cerreal, oatmeal of yogurt in the morning. Have a glass of red wine occasionally. Put a bowl out for your kids to munch on...substitute instead of popcorn for movie night.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Brain Food - #1 Complete Proteins

We know that the foods we eat affect the body. But they may have even more of an influence on how the brain works—it's general tone and level of energy and how it handles its tasks. Mood, motivation and mental performance are powerfully influenced by diet.

The brain is an extremely active organ, making it a very hungry one, and a picky eater at that. It's becoming pretty clear in research labs around the country that the right food - specifically, the natural nutrients that they contain - can enhance mental capabilities—help you concentrate, keep you motivated, magnify memory, speed reaction times, defuse stress, perhaps even prevent brain aging.

The best brain foods are:
  • complex carbohydrates (those with a low glycemic index)
  • complete proteins
  • omega-3 fatty acids
  • antioxidant rich fruits and veggies

Let's look at complete proteins first.

Complete Proteins:
A complete protein (or whole protein) is a source of protein that contains an adequate proportion of all of the essential amino acids for the dietary needs of humans or other animals.
Nearly all whole foods contain protein, and nearly all forms of protein contain all twenty protein-forming amino acids in some quantity. However, proportions vary, and some forms of protein are partly lacking in one or more of the essential amino acids. Meals prepared with a mix of protein foods can provide a better balance of the essential amino acids and therefore a more complete protein source.

Eight amino acids are generally regarded as essential for humans: phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, and lysine. Cysteine (or sulphur-containing amino acids), tyrosine (or aromatic amino acids), histidine and arginine are additionally required by infants and growing children. Essential amino acids are so called not because they are more important to life than the others, but because the body does not synthesize them, making it essential to include them in one's diet in order to obtain them.

Proteins in the diet affect brain performance because they provide the amino acids from which neurotransmitters are made. Think of neurotransmitters as biochemical messengers that carry signals from one brain cell to another. The better you feed these messengers, the more efficiently they deliver the goods. Some neurotransmitters are neuron turn-ons that perk up the brain. Others have a calming or sedative effect. The two important amino acids, tryptophan and tyrosine, are precursors of neurotransmitters (e.g., the substances from which neurotransmitters are made).

These two amino acids influence the four top neurotransmitters - serotonin, dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that relaxes the brain; it is made from tryptophan. Serotonin is sometimes called our ‘satisfaction’ brain chemical because, in addition to giving us a sense of well-being, a natural anti-depressant. Tryptophan rich foods may be helpful to relax the body for sleep. By eating tryptophan rich foods we can naturally boost levels of serotonin. Tryptophan is not as widely distributed in our foods as other amino acids, and it is found mainly in: turkey, chicken, fish, pheasant, partridge, cottage cheese, bananas, eggs, nuts, wheat germ, avocados, milk, cheese and the legumes (beans, peas, pulses, soya).

The other three, collectively known as catecholamines, are neurotransmitters that rev up the brain. Two factors influence whether the brain perks up or slows down following a meal: the ratio of protein to carbohydrate, and the ratio of the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine. High protein, low carbohydrate, high tyrosine foods that are likely to jumpstart the brain are seafood, soy, meat, eggs, and dairy.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

One Oil You Should Add to Your Diet - Olive Oil

In many parts of the world, a high fat intake is associated with degenerative diseases such as atherosclerosis, diabetes, asthma, colon cancer, and arthritis. But in some parts of the world, a high fat intake is actually associated with lower rates of these conditions. A closer look at the foods eaten in these places reveals that the high fat intake is actually due to the generous use of olive oil. Comparing these areas, such as the Mediterranean, where olive oil is the main fat used, to other regions, like the United States, where other fats such as animal fats, hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils like corn oil dominate, turns up some very interesting data. It turns out that people who use olive oil regularly, especially in place of other fats, have much lower rates of heart disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and asthma. Olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fat, a type of fat that researchers are discovering has excellent health benefits.

We're big suuporters of olive oil because the research is so compelling!

Overall Longevity
In a prospective study (one in which participants are chosen and then followed forward in time) involving 5,611 adults 60 years or older, adherence to a Mediterranean style dietary pattern - characterized by high consumption of olive oil, raw vegetables, soups, and poultry - was associated with a significantly lower risk of death from all causes.
After 6.2 years, those most closely following a Mediterranean 'olive oil and salad' dietary pattern had a 50% reduced risk of overall mortality.

Olive Oil Protects Against Heart Disease
Relying only on olive oil may cut your risk of coronary heart disease almost in half, show results from the CARDIO2000 case-control study, published in Clinical Cardiology (Kontogianni MD, Panagiotakos DB, et al.). "Exclusive use of olive oil was associated with a 47% lower likelihood of having coronary heart disease. "

Studies on olive oil and atherosclerosis reveal that particles of LDL cholesterol (the potentially harmful cholesterol) that contain the monounsaturated fats of olive oil are less likely to become oxidized. Since only oxidized cholesterol sticks to artery walls, eventually forming the plaques that can lead to a heart attack or stroke, preventing the oxidation of cholesterol is a good way to help prevent atherosclerosis.

It's likely the abundance of polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil, rather than its monounsaturated fatty acids, are responsible for its well-known cardiovascular benefits. In a recent in vitro study also showed that polyphenolic compounds present in olive oil, including oleuropein, inhibit the adhesion of monocyte cells to the blood vessel lining, a process that is involved in the development of atherosclerosis. In addition, when people with high cholesterol levels removed the saturated fat from their diets and replaced it with olive oil, their total cholesterol levels dropped an average of 13.4%, and their LDL cholesterol levels dropped by 18%. Note, however, that these benefits occured when they used olive oil in place of other fats, rather than simply adding olive oil to a diet high in unhealthy fats.

The phenols in olive oil have very potent antioxidant effects and anti-inflammatory effects. By reducing both inflammation and free radical damage to cholesterol, dietary olive oil protects the endothelium, the lining of our blood vessels, helping to maintain its ability to relax and dilate (thus preventing high blood pressure). By protecting LDL against oxidation, olive oil short circuits the process through which atherosclerotic plaques form. (Only once oxidized does LDL adhere to the endothelium, attracting immune cells (monocytes) that try to clear it out, turn into foam cells and begin plaque formation.)

Research conducted by Dr. Juan Ruano and colleagues at the Reina Sofia University Hospital, Cordoba, Spain, and published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, investigated the effects of virgin olive oil on endothelial function in 21 volunteers with high cholesterol levels.
The endothelium, although just a one-cell thick layer of flat cells that lines the inner wall of all blood vessels, may be the critical player in cardiovascular health. Among its many functions, the endothelium orchestrates the mechanics of blood flow, and regulates blood clot formation and the adhesion of immune cells to the blood vessel wall (one of the first steps in the formation of plaque).

Normally, after a meal, endothelial function is impaired for several hours. Blood vessels become less elastic, and blood levels of free radicals potentially harmful to cholesterol rise. But when the subjects in this study ate a breakfast containing virgin olive oil with its normal high phenolic content (400 ppm), their endothelial function actually improved, blood levels of nitric oxide (a blood vessel-relaxing compound produced by the endothelium) increased significantly, and far fewer free radicals were present than would normally be seen after a meal.

When they ate the same breakfast containing the same type of virgin olive oil with its phenolic content reduced to 80 ppm, the beneficial effects were virtually absent, and concentrations of cholesterol-damaging free radicals increased.

I don't know if we're ready to start recommending olive oil on your cereal, but the results are staggering. Find some simple ways to add olive oil to your diet:

Replace it instead of butter on breads
Drizzle it on your salads with some vinegar and oregano
Drizzle olive oil on your veggies and your pasta
Replace corn and vegetable oils in cooking with olive oil

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How SWEET it is

Our two year old just loves to eat anything sweet. The problem is that much of the time processed foods taste sweeter than natural ones. I am not sure if it is the taste or his blood sugar levels, but there is a definite appeal of sweetness to the palette. Desserts are often called sweets. In fact, I often enjoy something sweet after meals. I even call my wife "sweetie", so there is an emotional connection and appeal to sweetness.
I have also noted that after fasting for a period of time, foods with processed sugars taste aweful to me. Thus pointing out the truth that not all sweeteners are created equal. My hunch is that there is a detoxification and purification that happens during the fasting process. Then, once the body is burning clean, it craves good clean nutrition as fuel. Hence, I am sensitized to the good and bad sweeteners by amplification of the needs of my body.

That being said, when a sweetner is desirable, what are the options available?

  1. Granulated white sugar - First, we have granulated white sugar. This is probably the most common and most widely recognized sweetener. It is basically sucrose from natural sugar cane, which has been purified. Interestingly enough, sugar has been replaced in many processed foods by high fructose corn syrup. However, after a lot of bad press on high fructose corn syrup, and good taste of sugar. Sugar is rebounding in popularity and showing up on labels of brands you know. This time, it is coming back positioned as a natural ingredient in many packaged foods. In fact, there was an article today in the New York times today regarding the use of sugar by consumer packaged goods marketers as a natural ingredient.

  2. Molasses The heavier darker sugars from the purification process are sometimes sold as molasses, which has more nutrients and flavor than white granulated sugar.

  3. Brown sugar - So, what about brown sugar? Is this another unique variety? Actually, it is another of the cane sugar cousins. It is white granulated sugar disguised with a thin coating of molasses on the outside.

  4. Honey - Honey is the first of our all natural sweeteners with a real health benefit built in. Honey, since it is the product of the nectar gathered by honeybees, is naturally loaded with pollen. This pollen can provide a benefit to your immune system, especially if it is harvested in your local geographic area.

  5. Maple Syrup - Maple syrup is another great all natural sweetner, although, it can be a bit pricely. Maple syrup is, as you likely know, the concentrated sap from the sugar maple tree. It is condensed by boiling off the excess water. Because it is harvested from individual living trees only in the fall, it is one of the most expensive sweeteners.

  6. Stevia - Stevia is probably one of the most healthful sweeteners available. It is, designed by nature, rather than scientists in a lab. So lets see what Stevia has going for it. Although it is very sweet tasting, it has very low caloric content.

  7. Xylitol - Xylitol is similar to Stevia, in that it is very sweet, but has a low caloric content. Xylitol is the sweetener that provides the cooling sensation you find in some chewing gums.

  8. High fructose corn syrup - This is one of the players in the sweetner world that has been criticized most heavily as of late due to many alleged health risks. According to an article in wikipedia, high fructose corn syrup" is ubiquitous in processed foods and beverages, including soft drinks, yogurt, cookies, salad dressing and tomato soup." The reason being, is that is has relative sweetness very similar to that of granulated sugar.
  9. Brown rice malt syrup - Brown rice malt syrup is a much more natural and healthful sweetener than high fructose corn syrup. In fact brown rice malt syrup is oftentimes made in small batches using enzymes to break down the carbohydrates of the rice grain into its sugar building blocks.
  10. Artificial sweeteners: Due to the large amount of sugars that are common in North American diets, it is no wonder that we have an obesity epidemic. It should also be of no surprise that there is an interest in reducing the calories while maintaining the sweet taste of sugared foods and beverages. And, that is exactly what artificual sweeteners deliver. They are sweeter than sugar, so you can get the same level of sweetness by adding less sweetener, and thus less calories. Examples of artificial sweeteners are Aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Regarding the potential health concerns related to artificual sweeteners, an article from the Mayo Clinic claims that there is not yet any conclusive evidence.
  11. Fruits and fruit juices - Fruits and fruit juices are amongst the safest and healthiest choices for sweeteners.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Essential Vitamin K - Round 2

Atherosclerosis is the leading cause of disability and death in the developed world. While many factors are involved in its initiation and progression, I'll highlight one. Homocysteine can damage the inner arterial lining called the endothelium when present in high concentrations. Homocysteine is an abnormal protein that is created when a specific amino acid called methionine is metabolized. In most people homocysteine is quickly cleared out of the arteries and therefore does not create a problem. Studies have shown that high levels of homocysteine are caused by a lack of nutrients in the diet, particularly the B group of vitamins. Without these essential vitamins your body is unable to produce the enzymes necessary to remove homocysteine efficiently from your blood.

To repair the damage, the endothelium produces collagen that forms a "cap" over the injuried artery site. These collagen caps attract calcium that eventually accumulates (calcified) and forms a hard material similar to bone (aka "hardening of the arteries"). Calcification of the arteries is a significant risk factor for heart attacks. Vitamin K keeps calcium in your bones and can prevent buildup in the arteries. Studies show that an insufficient level of vitamin K accelerates arterial calcification.

Here what researchers in a recent issue of Blood medical journal stated: "In the last 10 years we have learned that Vitamin K-dependent proteins are directly involved in the inhibition of vascular calcification, and that Vitamin K2 is necessary to activate these proteins. This study demonstrates a significant potential role for Vitamin K2 in cardiovascular health. High-vitamin K intake (both K1 and K2) not only blocked the progress of further calcium accumulation but also lead to a greater than 37 per cent reduction of previously accumulated arterial calcium precipitates within six weeks."

It has been previously shown in the Journal of Nutrition click here that high Vitamin K2 consumption was linked to lower coronary heart disease, less aortic calcification and lower all cause mortality. In this study, 4,800 elderly subjects with no history of heart disease were followed for 10 years, and it was found that 45 micrograms/day of natural vitamin K2 resulted in 50% decreased arterial calcification and a similarly decreased cardiovascular mortality risk.

Reference Studies

Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Lost Vitamin....Essential Vitamin K

I don't know about you, but in the alphabet soup of vitamins (A, B, C, E...) I've never heard much about vitamin K. It turns our that vitamin K is essential for regulating calcium balance in our body. A deficiency in vitamin K can be related to brittle bones and hardening of the arteries due to arterial calcification. Let's talk about bones first....

Osteoporosis Assist
Vitamin K provides two benefits to the bone. In our bones, calcium is constantly undergoing adsorption and degradation (resorption). Vitamin K helps to prevent excessive calcium degradation which leads to brittle bones. Vitamin K also supports new bone formation by pulling calcium from our blood and causing it to stick to our bones. Vitamin D acts with K to assist calcium in bone protection.

Epidemiological studies have demonstrated a relationship between vitamin K and age-related bone loss (osteoporosis). The Nurses' Health Study followed more than 72,000 women for ten years. In an analysis of this cohort, women whose vitamin K intakes were in the lowest quintile (1/5) had a 30% higher risk of hip fracture than women with vitamin K intakes in the highest four quintiles (23). A study in over 800 elderly men and women, followed in the Framingham Heart Study for seven years, found that men and women with dietary vitamin K intakes in the highest quartile (1/4) had a 65% lower risk of hip fracture than those with dietary vitamin K intakes in the lowest quartile (approximately 250 mcg/day vs. 50 mcg/day of vitamin K).

A recent study from the University of Toronto found little difference in bone mineral density and vitamin K supplemention. My hunch here was that vitamin K was not supplemented with other nutrients essential for bone building. It's like having one great player but no team. It's also highly probable that food sources of vitamin K are what the body utilizes, not synthetic supplements. [This is becoming a comon theme in nutrition - synthetic supplements are the same as nutrient from food!] Despite this finding, there were two surprises: "compared to placebo group women, women who took vitamin K over the four-year period had fewer fractures (9 vs. 20 women) and fewer cancer incidences (3 vs. 12 women)."

Great food sources of vitamin K for your diet include: dark leafy veggies, seeds (sesame, sunflower, pumpkin), eggs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Super Spices

Perhaps your mother told you to eat your fruits and vegetables. But, did she ever tell you to eat you spices? It turns out that many spices have a very high concentrations of health promoting, protective antioxidants. In fact many spices have medicine like properties to heal and protect. It should not be a surprise that spices have long been part of Chinese and Indian medicine. Some of their properties are actual more powerful than over the counter and prescription medicines. An example is that the anti-inflammatory functionality of turmeric is more powerful than the anti-inflammatory capacity of aspirin. Some doctors prescribe turmeric capules for those with chronic arthritis. Another example is that oregano oil contains thymol and is a more effective antimicrobial, than some synthentic preservatives used to keep food fresh, like BHA, and BHT. It is also more effective at killing bacteria than some prescription antibotics. Of course, you need to make sure to see your doctor if you are sick.

Spices are a great way to add flavor and zest to foods without adding a lot of calories. Additionally many spices provide a significant dose of beneficial phytonutrients. Here is a list of some of the most beneficial spices, that we like to refer to as Super Spices.

  1. Turmeric
  2. Ginger
  3. Cinnamon
  4. Oregano
  5. Rosemary
  6. Thyme
  7. Paprika
  8. Red peppers

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Super Foods

There is an increased amount of talk about Super Foods these days in the media. Although foods have been around for thousands of years, science is just emerging which is identifying some of the chemical compounds and health benefits they can have for the body. This trend seems to be moving from the periphery to mainstream. In fact today, a new advertising campaign launched by Quaker Oats talks about oats as a "super grain".
So, what is a superfood? A superfood is a food that provides high nutrient density. They have significantly higher levels of vitamins, minerals, and other health promoting compounds, like phytonutrients than regular foods. And, superfoods deliver these unusually high levels of nutrients in two or more classes of nutrients. So basically, you eat a little, and get a lot!

So, lets make a list of our thoughts on top SuperFoods, which we will discuss in this blog. This list is based on the nutrient density of these foods, that is the nutrition provided per calorie. The scope of the nutrition includes vitamins and minerals, but we will also take into consideration antioxidant capacity, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. As you will note, many of these superfoods have a bright coloration, which is an indicator of the nutrients that are within as we briefly discussed in the "color code" entry.
  1. Bananas - high in potassium and B6 vitamins
  2. Beans (red & black) - High in protein and phytochemicals
  3. Blueberries - High in anthrocyanins (an antioxidant phytonutrient)
  4. Broccoli - Rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C
  5. Cacao (raw chocolate) - Very high source of antioxidants
  6. Cranberries - High in vitamin C and antioxidant phytonutrients
  7. Flax seeds - Highest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids
  8. Kelp - oaded with wide array of minerals from the sea
  9. Oats - High in fiber, rich source of minerals and phytonutrients
  10. Papaya - Prodigestive enzymes, antioxidant carotenes, flavonoids, and vitamin C
  11. Pumpkin - Loaded with beta-carotene
  12. Spinach - Rich in folic acid and vitamin K
  13. Sweet Potatoes - High in fiber, Vitamins A, C, and B6, plus potassium & manganese
  14. Tea (green & black) - High in polyphenols, potent antioxidants
  15. Wheat Germ - rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, enzymes, and minerals
  16. Yogurt - High in protein, calcium, enzymes, and active bacterial cultures

Sunday, March 8, 2009


There is a whole lot more to oregano than just the rich warm flavor that it can add to foods. Oregano is a nutrient dense spice with many potential health benefits. First of all, did you know that oregano contains thymol, an oil which has been shown to have very effective antimicrobial properties. It is powerful enough to be a food that could be used as medicine.
Furthermore, oregano has high antioxidant properties. In fact in laboratory studies, it has been proven to have higher antioxidant capacity than the commonly used synthetic antioxidant preservatives BHA, and BHT.
If this were not enough, oregano is a good source of fiber, iron, manganese, calcium, vitamins A, C, and omega-3 fatty acids.
This, like many spices, is power packed with nutrition. No wonder that it is classified as a SuperFood.

Sea Vegetables

The sea is powerful in many ways. However, have you ever thought about the power of vegetables from the sea? Could green sea vegetables have superior nutrition to land grown vegetables ?

We don't typically think of sea vegetables or sea weed as part of the typical American diet, however, sea vegetables have long been part of the diet in some Asian countries, like Japan.

So, why eat seaweed? Why go to the sea, instead of the land? Well, sea vegetables have some of the highest vitamin and mineral content on an weight basis. Plus, they may be the most balanced mineral spectrum of all vegetables. In fact the mineral spectrum in seaweed is similar to the mineral spectrum of the sea itself and also similar to the mineral spectrum of the human body. Sea vegetables are contain calcium, zinc, iron, magnesium, iodine, and phosphorus, as well as vitmans A, B, and C. Additionally, sea weed contains healthy concentrations of lignans, which may protect against cancer. This is good stuff!

The challenge, once again, is how to work a nutritious plant food like sea weed into you diet on a regular basis. More thoughts on that to come!

Saturday, March 7, 2009


We just started to talk about the linkage between color and nutrition in fruits and vegetables. Let's take a little closer look at the color green. So, is spinach the greatest of the green vegetables? Spinach was certainly the source of strenght for the cartoon character Popeye. But is it a source of strength in real life? Research shows that spinach may indeed be the greatest of the green vegetables. It is extremely high in phytonutrients (providing it's rich green color) and minerals.

Think about how you can work more spinach into your diet to help provide nutrients and nourishment the way nature intended, without the need to take synthetic multivitamins.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Color Code

It is amazing to see all of the brightly colored fruits and vegetables at the grocery store. They are particularly dazzling when they are fresh and in season at a farmers market. It may be surprising to some, that the the same substances that provide fruits and vegetables their color are also health promoting nutrients. In the book "The Color Code" by Dr. James Joseph and Dr. Daniel Nadeau
"One of the most exciting lessons to come out of new nutritonal research is the realization that the greatest number of healthful compounds can be found in the most colorful foods. " The Color Code reviews contemporary research on compelling reasons to eat colorful foods. For example, the simple blueberry contains nearly 100 phytochemicals - micronutrients contained in plants that protect it from diseases, solar radiation and microorganisms. The book provides substantial research on recommended foods by color classification.

In the next few postings, we will be taking a closer look at certain fruits and vegetables of intense color.