Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Cinnamon - Superfood Wonder

Cinnamon is a versatile spice that can be used on quite a variety of foods from toast in the morning to jerk chicken at night. Cinnamon's bright color indicates significant antioxidant levels. In fact, on a gram per gram basis, cinnamon has nearly 50X he antioxidant capacity of most fruits and veggies. But scientists are also finding that cinnamon has a unique ability to control blood sugar levels.

Seasoning a high carb food with cinnamon can help lessen its impact on your blood sugar levels. Cinnamon slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating. Studies to confirm cinnamon's beneficial actions in humans are currently underway with the most recent report coming from researchers from the US Agricultural Research Service, who have shown that less than half a teaspoon per day of cinnamon reduces blood sugar levels in persons with type 2 diabetes. Even the lowest amount of cinnamon in these studies, 1 gram per day (approximately ¼ to ½ teaspoon), produced an approximately 20% drop in blood sugar; cholesterol and triglycerides were lowered as well. When daily cinnamon was stopped, blood sugar levels began to increase.

Not only does consuming cinnamon improve the body's ability to utilize blood sugar, but just smelling the wonderful odor of this sweet spice boosts brain activity! Research led by Dr. P. Zoladz found that chewing cinnamon flavored gum or just smelling cinnamon enhanced study participants' cognitive processing. Specifically, cinnamon improved participants' scores on tasks related to attentional processes, virtual recognition memory, working memory, and visual-motor speed while working on a computer-based program. Participants were exposed to four odorant conditions: no odor, peppermint odor, jasmine, and cinnamon, with cinnamon emerging the clear winner in producing positive effects on brain function.

Some easy ways to get cinnamon into your diet:
At breakfast - sprinkle a little on toast, your cereal/granola
Snack - a smoothie with fresh fruit and cinnamon
Dinner - try using cinnamon to spice up you meals. Try adding it to veggies or as a rub on pork and poultry.
Evening Snack - sprinkle a little on ice cream or add some to your favorite muffin recipe.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Are Vitamins a Scam?

A recent front page article in Reader's Digest is certainly ripe for controversy.  Instead of inflamming the controversy, let's twist the discussion and extoll the numerous benefits of fruits and vegetables. 

Pills cannot replicate fruits and vegetables...period.  This may come as a surprise to many people.  Plants make an endless array of compounds that have biological activity in the human body.  So far, only a tiny minority have been highlighted to provide health benefits - vitamin A, vitamin C, zinc, etc.  But scientists are finding that there are hundres more compounds found in plants - so-called phytonutrients - which are fast becoming a hotbed of nutritional and medical research. 

The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables come from eating combinagtions of compounds that work together.  When you eat tomatoes or carrots, nature has combined numerous carotenoids (antioxidant pigments) to provide health benefits including boosting your natural immune system.  Supplemental pills are poorly designed and do not contain the plethora of compounds that synergistically work together.  Moreover, the synthetic nutrients in pills aren't wholly absorbed in our bodies so you are only getting a fraction of what you swallow. 

A recent national survey showed that fewwer than 1 in 3 of us gets 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  But the benefits of eatings fruits and vegetables are enormous:

Fruits and Vegetables Prevent Cardiovascular Disease.  Several large, long-term studies show that top fruits and vegetable consumption (5 a day) can equate to a 15% reduction in heart attacks and a 30% reduction in stroke.  One extra serving of fruits or veggie per day can decrease your chance of a stroke by 6%!

...Reduce the Prevalance of Eye Diseases - macular degeneration and cataracts.
...Protect against Cancer.  Some estimate the reduction to be as much as 50% in most forms of cancer if everyone ate 5 servings per day.

Are vitamins a scam?  It depends.  They can be inexpensive insurance.  But we have grown accustomized to having pills substitute for a healthy diet.   We all know people who eat poorly, but take numerous pills to compensate for their insufficient diet.  Pills cannot replicate the multitude of protective nutrients in plants.  Enjoy the tastiness from Nature whether its whole grains loaded with B-vitamins and minerals, spices having potent antioxidants or fruits and veggies loaded with protective vitamins and phytonutriets.  Mom was right, an apple a day can help keep the doctor away. 

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sleep - More than Just Rest

I know this is a nutrition blog, but there is some news that worth megaphoning and today it's sleep.  We tend to think about sleep in different ways - rest & recovery, turn off life, cuddling with loved ones.  But there is an aspect of sleep that is overlooked - immunity building.  Recent research from Carnie Mellon University shows that sleep quality and efficiency is "an important predictor of immunity and, in turn, susceptibility to the common cold." 

In a study of 153 healthy men and women, participcants who reported less than 7 hours of sleep were 2.94 times more likely to get a cold than those with 8 hours or more of sleep.  Similarly, participants with less than 92% sleep efficiency were 5.5 times more likely to get a cold than those with 98% or greater sleep efficiency.  [Sleep efficiency is defined as the percentage of time in bed actually asleep for the previous night and whether they felt rested.]  Poorer sleep efficiency and duration is associated with lower resistance to illness!slee

This is a huge wake up call for me :)  I tend to get 6 hours of sleep nightly not because of insomnia, but rather workload.  My body tells me at least twice a week that 6 isn't enough, so I'll relinquish to 8 or more.   To assist with your sleep without drugs, consider melatonin pills, a natural hormone that your body produces to prepare for sleep. 

Besides nutrition, hydration and exercise, sleep is an essential part of building a strong immune system so it's in top shape to handle the constant exposure to illness-causing germs.