Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Powerful Polyphenols

Would you like to reduce age-related oxidation, lower your cholesterol, and decrease your risk of high blood pressure all while eating nature’s candy? Research is pouring in on the health benefits of berries, all thanks to the polyphenols they contain.

Polyphenols are chemical compounds found in fruit, vegetables, cocoa, tea, and other plants. These compounds have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and other biological properties which may protect us from oxidative stress and some diseases.

There are over 8,000 polyphenic compounds identified to date, the largest and most prevalent class being flavonoids. Berries contain a variety of different flavonoids, such as anthocyanin’s which give berries their bright color and tannins which give berries their tart taste.

Oxygen-radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) is a method for measuring the antioxidant potential of foods. The higher the ORAC value, the higher the concentration of antioxidant properties. Of the most popular berries, blueberries ranked the highest, followed by blackberries, raspberries, and finally strawberries.

While blueberries reign supreme when it comes to ORAC value, other berries should not be overlooked.

One study highlighting blackberries found a positive impact on motor and cognitive skills, which often decline with age, in animals consuming them.

Raspberries contain inflammatory fighting properties, similar to ibuprofen, which can help reduce pain from arthritis, gout, and many other conditions. 

Convincing evidence of berries powerful health benefits was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A study following 156,957 men and women over 14 years found those consuming the highest intake of anthocyanin's (mostly from blueberries and strawberries) had an 8% reduced risk of hypertension compared to those with the lowest anthocyanin intake. 

Several other studies highlighting berry consumption have been linked to increased good cholesterol and reduction in cognitive decline. We recommend eating all berries on a regular basis to enjoy the wealth of health benefits they offer. Try stirring them into oatmeal, using them as a sweetener in plain low fat yogurt, or eat them drizzled with dark chocolate for dessert.

Monday, May 18, 2015

In Season This Week: Asparagus

Spring has sprung with fresh asparagus. These spears grow well in sandy soil and just 1 cup contains 67% of your daily recommended amount of folate. Eating the recommended 400 mcg of folate daily can decrease your risk of stroke by 20% and cardiovascular disease by 13%. Some studies have also shown reduced progression of plaque formation in arteries.

Regular asparagus contains a high amount of chlorophyll which gives it a vibrant green color. Purple asparagus is a different variety and contains high levels of anthocyanins, a type of antioxidant which can help prevent cancer. Purple asparagus is typically sweeter, more tender, and fruitier in taste as well.

White asparagus is regarded as a delicacy. Limited supplies result in nearly twice the price as regular asparagus; the main difference being white varieties are grown in the dark with no sunlight. Due to the deprivation of light white asparagus is also milder in flavor and more tender than regular varieties. 

During digestion sulfurous amino acids break down within 15 minutes of eating asparagus. This smelly chemical is to blame when your restroom visit becomes more odorous than usual. Rest assure this is harmless.

One cup of asparagus has merely 30 calories, making it a stellar nutrient packed side dish. It contains a good amount of fiber, folate, vitamin A, C, E, and K. Asparagus contains inulin, a prebiotic to support healthy gut bacteria. It is also packed with glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that prevents cell damage.

Plant based foods should make up the majority of our meals, and that is easy with the fresh taste of asparagus this season. Enjoy all colorful vegetables and consider the recipe below for an easy spring side dish. 

Asparagus with Balsamic Tomatoes Recipe
Serves: 4
70 calories per serving

1 lb asparagus, trimmed
2 tsp olive oil
1 1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 tsp minced garlic
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
3 tbs crumbled goat cheese
1/2 tsp black pepper

Place asparagus in a pot of boiling water for 2 minutes, or until tender. Drain.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes and garlic, Cook 5 minutes. Stir in vinegar, cook 3 minutes.
Arrange asparagus on a platter and top with tomato mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and pepper.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Difference between Hemp and Marijuana

Hemp is one of the latest health food crazes; showing up in protein bars, smoothies, and baked goods. Rich in plant based protein, hemp can be found whole, ground into flour, or pressed into oil. It is also a great source of essential fatty acids, magnesium, and vitamin E.

While  this “super food” has great health benefits, the U.S. military prohibits members from consuming hemp products due to concerns over THC. For many people concerned with drug testing one question stands out; just how different is hemp from marijuana? 

Hemp and marijuana are popular names for the cannabis plant. While we often conjure up images of white smoke and joints, the plant is actually used for many industrial purposes such as plastics, paper, and fabric.

From a breeding standpoint there are two different species of plants carrying different genetic makeup as well as different cultivation environments. Cannabis plants bred for food, oil, and textiles is known as hemp. Cannabis plants bred to be psychoactive for medical, spiritual, and
recreational usage is known as marijuana.

Both cannabis species contain over 60 different compounds called cannabinoids, the most well known is THC credited for causing the marijuana high. Marijuana plants contain high levels of THC, while hemp contains very little. Counteracting the psychoactive effects of THC is another cannabinoids called CBD, found more in hemp and less in marijuana, further preventing hemp from causing psychoactive effects.

Hemp contains only traces of THC, however triggering a positive drug test is not impossible. Regular users taking about 4 oz of hemp oil or 300 g of hemp seeds daily could see a positive urine test.

The good news is the average consumption of hemp is far below the amount needed to trigger a positive urine test. Our recommendation to those concerned, enjoy hemp in moderation and read food labels to know which foods include hemp as an ingredient.

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Truth Behind Foods that Spark Romance

Can certain foods promote desire, or is it just in our head? For over 400 years people have been seeking out foods that spark romance; from the Aztecs to Casanova, many believe in the mystical powers of food to seduce a partner. From a scientific standpoint however, is it more fantasy than fact?

Since 1989 the FDA has maintained a position that aphrodisiacs are myths, not based in science. In 2005 however, scientists discovered amino acids in oysters that play a role in hormone synthesis, increasing testosterone and progesterone in male and female rodents. The high zinc content of oysters might also help improve fertility.

Chocolate contains a chemical called theobromine, similar to caffeine, which increases alertness. Chocolate also increases serotonin in the brain, a feel good chemical which elevates our mood.

Hot chilies release capsaicin, a chemical which triggers increased heart rate, waves of heat, flushing cheeks, and sweating. It also triggers endorphins, another feel good chemical, helping to elevate our mood.
When it comes to lowering inhibitions alcohol can be hard to beat. Small amounts of alcohol may spark romance, however too much can hinder it. The amount of alcohol that would impede driving seems to impede romance as well; stick to 1-2 drinks instead. 

The scent of a pleasing aroma can activate the hypothalamus gland, an area of the brain that controls memory and emotion. Studies from Chicago’s Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation found the top scents for men included lavender and pumpkin pie as well as licorice and doughnuts. For women top scents included licorice and cucumber as well as lavender and pumpkin pie. Interestingly male colognes resulted in a negative reaction for women.

Overall the physical characteristics of certain foods do a very good job at appealing to the mind, more so than their chemical properties to stimulate desire. Even so, the placebo effect can have a strong impact on many people. After all, all is fair in the game of love and war.