Chia Seeds for Weight Loss, Brain Health, and More!
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC
Saturday, March 19, 2016
You might remember chia as the sprouts that grow on terra cotta figurines called Chia Pets, however in the past few years the seeds of the chia plant have been making a new mark in the health food world. Though a newcomer to America, chia seeds were a staple food, like corn and beans, in the diets of the Aztecs and Mayans.
Chia seeds, which can be either white or black, are highly nutritious. They are now widely used in food products and are available online as well as in many natural food markets. Whole and ground chia seeds are being added to fruit drinks, snack foods and cereals and sold on their own to be baked into cookies and sprinkled on yogurt. They also make a great egg or oil replacer in recipes.
What makes chia seeds so unique is their “gelling” action. When the seeds are exposed to liquid (water, juice, etc.) the soluble fiber on the outside of the seed-shell is activated. Each seed grabs onto more than nine times its own weight in liquid, and holds it there, forming a “gel”.
Chia is also very versatile for adding to foods because it has no flavor of it's own. You can add it to drinks or food, and instead of changing the flavor, it will enhance it. Chia Seeds take on and distribute (never replace) the flavor of foods or drinks you add them to.
Chia seeds have become known as a “super seed” because of their many nutritional benefits. Just one ounce of chia seeds per day can provide you with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium and other minerals, complete protein, fiber and antioxidants. Also, because chia seeds’ fiber and gelling action keep you feeling full for longer periods of time, you won’t be tempted to eat between meals, so they’re a great weight loss aid.
Here’s what else makes chia seeds so great:
Chia Seeds are a Rich Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Brain Health - Chia is one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 in any food. Ounce for ounce, chia seeds have more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon.ÂÂ Because of their omega-3 content, they have similar benefits to flax seeds and flax seed oil, but unlike flax seed, you don’t need to grind them to reap the health benefits.ÂÂ Omega 3’s are important for brain health, including memory and concentration.ÂÂ They also support heart health, weight loss, and beautiful skin, hair and nails.
Chia Seeds Balance Blood Sugar Levels and Aid in Weight Loss- Keeping balanced levels of blood sugar is important for both weight loss and lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes, but balanced blood sugar also ensures steady, constant energy throughout your day.
There are two ways that chia seeds balance blood sugar levels. Both the gelling action of the seed, and it’s unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber combine to slow down your body’s conversion of starches into sugars. If you eat chia with a meal, it will help you turn your food into constant, steady energy rather than a series of ups and downs that wear you out.
Chia Seeds are High in Fiber and Keep the Colon Healthy- With nearly 11 grams of fiber per ounce, chia delivers 42 percent of the recommended daily value of fiber in a single serving. Fiber is vital for all aspects of health, and is especially key for weight loss, stabilizing blood sugar, and healthy digestion. Fiber helps slow digestion and makes you feel fuller by soaking up fluid and expanding in your digestive tract.
Chia seeds provide a high amount of soluble and insoluble fiber, which are necessary for good colon health. Each chia seed is coated with soluble fibers which aid its gelling action. The exterior of the seed is protected by insoluble fiber. The insoluble fiber is unable to be digested so instead, it helps keep food moving smoothly through the digestive process. Soluble fiber, and the gel coating of the seed keeps the colon hydrated and ensures proper elimination of waste from the colon.
Chia Seeds Provide More Calcium than Milk – One ounce of chia seeds delivers 18 percent of the daily value of calcium, which is three times more than skim milk. They also provide iron, niacin, magnesium, strontium, phosphorous and zinc.
Chia Seeds Are a Complete Protein - Chia is one of nature’s highest plant-based sources of complete protein, containing about 20 percent protein, a higher percentage than found in many other plant sources such as grains and legumes. Also, most protein from plant sources like grains and legumes are incomplete, meaning you have to combine them with other foods to get a complete protein source. But chia’s protein is complete, just like that of animal proteins. Chia seeds also contain strontium which helps to assimilate protein and produce high energy. The combination of complete protein, vitamins, minerals and blood-sugar balancing gel all work together to provide you with steady energy.
Chia Seeds are Loaded with Antioxidants - Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants containing even more antioxidants than fresh blueberries. The high amounts of antioxidants in chia seeds also keeps the oils from going rancid - contributing to a long shelf life. This is what makes them advantageous over flax seeds, which need to be ground to get their benefits, but go rancid quickly after grinding.
Chia seeds don’t need to be ground to get their benefits. At room temperature, whole chia seeds stay fresh and ready to eat for over two years. This amazing ability is not found in other seeds like flax or sesame, because those seeds don’t have the same rich anti-oxidant content. Anti-oxidants help prevent free-radical damage in your body. Free radicals lead to conditions such as premature aging of the skin, chronic inflammation of various tissues, and the formation of cancer cells.
Chia Seeds can Replace Eggs and Oils in Recipes - You can easily replace one fourth of the oil or butter in a baking recipe with chia gel without noticing any change in the taste or texture, and can also replace eggs. The food will bake the same and taste the same (or better) from the addition of the chia gel, and it will increase the nutritional profile of your foods. Although it might be tempting to substitute a larger percent for a larger benefit, 25% is the maximum substitution ratio you can use unnoticed. Addint the chia gel to your recipes can keep the food moist and tasting fresh longer. This can be used in many things like cakes, muffins, brownies, quick breads or any recipe that asks for oil or butter.
Start by mixing ¼ cup chia seeds and 1 cup of water, stir, and let sit for 15 minutes or so. The seeds will turn into a gel that is the consistency of pudding or custard. You can store chia gel in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
To use chia gel in your recipes, divide the amount of butter or oil by 4, and then use that amount of chia gel to fill in. To replace eggs, use the following guidelines. Please note that you cannot replace both eggs and oil with chia gel in a recipe, it has to be one or the other. Combine water and chia and let sit for 10-15 minutes or until it gels:
Ingredients for 1 egg:
3 Tbsp Water
1 Tbsp Chia Seed
Ingredients for 4 eggs:
¾ Cup Water
¼ Cup Chia Seed
Ingredients for 8 eggs:
1 ½ Cup Water
½ Cup Chia Seed
Chia Seed Gel Makes Great Snacks – When you soak chia seeds in other liquids that have flavor, such as a fruit juice, vegetable juice, or flavored water you have an instant snack. Prepare a flavored gel by combining 1 cup of liquid and ¼ cup chia seeds, stir, and allow them to soak for about 15 minutes. You can eat the gel after 15 minutes or let it soak longer to increase the nutrition content.
Adding fruit or granola to the gel is a great way to make a unique snack and will give you a great energy boost. Sliced bananas, pears, or peaches are a perfect compliment. Blueberries, raspberries or strawberries also add an amazing flavor and texture. Stir the fruit in gently and eat the chia gel with a spoon.
The fruit juice chia gel makes an incredible topping for yogurt, oatmeal, and desserts as well. When the gel is mixed with fruit and layered with yogurt or custard you have a delicious parfait. The possibilities are endless!
Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding
1 ½ cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
4 drops liquid stevia, or to taste
1/4 cup chia seeds
fresh fruit toppings of your choice, optional
Combine almond milk, chia seeds, and stevia in a bowl and stir thoroughly. Place in the refrigerator for two hours or overnight to thicken, stirring occasionally. Spoon into serving dishes and top with fresh fruit as desired..
Acid—The Silent Killer; Alkalinity—The Key to Health
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC
Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Deep down we all want to be healthy. But true health is still a mystery to most people. We are living in a time that makes it very confusing to even know what healthy is. With all the diets and hype about what and what not to eat, we find ourselves constantly questioning our food choices. How did eating become so complicated? And how can we make it simpler?
The answer lies in understanding and respecting how our bodies are designed. Once we have that understanding and respect, health comes naturally.
Maintaining the proper pH in our body is one of the basic necessities for good health—our lives literally depend on it. The term pH refers to the amount of acidity in a water-based medium. Human blood and body fluids are all water-based. Alkalinity basically means the absence of Hydrogen, or the opposite of acidity.
The acid/alkaline scale (pH scale) ranges from 0 to 14, with 7 being neutral. A pH less than 7 is acidic; a pH greater than 7 is alkaline. Our bodies are designed to be slightly alkaline. Like the Richter scale that measures earthquakes, the pH scale is logarithmic, which means that a pH of 6.4 is ten times more acidic than a pH of 7.4, and a pH of 84 is ten times more alkaline than a pH of 7.4. Even small changes in pH can cause great damage or great health.
The normal functions of our body create small amounts of acid. For instance, when we exercise, our muscles create lactic acid. Breathing, cell building, and burning calories to fuel the metabolism are also normal functions of the body that create acid.
It is critical that the pH of the blood stays between 7.35 and 7.45, and even slight deviations can result in disease or death. To keep your blood in the ideal range, your body has a number of systems that are adept at neutralizing and eliminating excess acid from your blood. But sometimes that comes at a great cost to your health in other ways.
A healthy body stores adequate amounts of minerals in our bones, muscles, tissues, and teeth, that can be drawn upon to neutralize the acidity created by normal body functions. These minerals, called the “alkaline reserve” include calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium and sodium. But the minerals in our alkaline reserve are not infinite, and there is a limit to how much acid even a healthy body can cope with effectively. We need to replace these minerals regularly by eating the foods that contain them.
To maintain our proper body pH, the majority of our foods should be alkaline forming, and the acid-forming foods should be minimized. The alkaline forming foods contain the minerals that replenish our alkaline reserve. However, the typical diet of most Americans is the exact opposite.
Most fruits and vegetables are alkaline forming, whereas meats, grains, most fats, dairy products, and all the junk foods are acid forming. The most acid-forming foods are refined carbohydrates—white sugar and white flour--in addition to sodas (especially diet sodas), artificial sweeteners, alcohol, coffee, and prescription drugs.
Eating too many of the acid-forming foods and not enough of the alkaline-forming ones results in excess acidity, which overwhelms the body’s alkaline reserve. It’s like continuing to draw money out of a dwindling savings account, without replacing it.
The alkaline reserve consists mainly of calcium, which is drawn from the bones, tissues, and teeth. When calcium is continually removed from the bones, without adequate replacement, you end up with a calcium deficiency.
When your alkaline reserve becomes chronically low, your body is less able to neutralize additional acid coming in. As a result, other defense mechanisms are employed to protect your blood and organs from getting overly acidic. This may sound like a good thing, that your body is working hard to keep you alive despite your poor diet, but this is how many health problems begin.
To keep excess acid from entering your vital organs, your body creates fat cells and then quarantines the acid inside them. These additional fat cells lead to weight gain and obesity. Your body then holds on to this fat as a way to continue protecting the organs. Hence, when your body is acidic, you gain weight that is very difficult to lose. Another place your body stores acid is in your muscles. Acidic muscles lead to low energy, muscle cramps, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Your body may also try to expel acid through the skin, causing hot flashes, strong perspiration, psoriasis and rashes.
Acidic body pH is responsible for arthritis, chronic fatigue, heart disease, strokes gout, high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer, acid reflux, high blood pressure, overweight, and obesity, and many, many more serious health problems.
Your regular diet will not produce an optimal body pH until you are consuming the appropriate amount of alkalizing foods that offset the acid producing foods you eat. A properly balanced diet consisting of 80% alkaline forming foods and 20% healthy acid forming foods is recommended.
That’s right, it’s that simple. All you have to do is eat more alkaline forming foods than you do acid forming foods, and you are on your way to long-term health.
In today’s fast paced society, eating an abundance of fruits and veggies may not be very convenience oriented. It takes time to prepare them, and it takes time to eat them!
One way to get more green vegetables and fruits is make a green smoothie. Another way is to include supplements in your diet to help replace the alkaline reserve.
Green superfood drink powders contain highly concentrated carefully dehydrated green plants and vegetables. They can provide the nutritional benefits of the green plants and vegetables that are often lacking in the typical American diet. Green drink powders contain many different alkalizing foods, and the regular consumption of these greens can assist you in achieving and maintaining an alkaline body chemistry.
To determine your starting point, you can test the pH of your saliva and urine by using pH test strips. The readings will give a good idea of what the pH of your internal body fluids are.
If your pH tests between 4.5 - 5.75, you are very acidic—your body is 50 to 100 times too acidic.
If your pH tests between 6.0 – 6.5, you are acidic--your body is 5 to 10 times too acidic.
If your pH tests between 6.75 – 7.5, you are optimal—congratulations!
Once you've achieved the optimal pH, you should continue to test your pH periodically to make sure you're staying in the optimal range..
Savor the Flavor of Eating Right
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC
Saturday, March 12, 2016
We eat every day, several times a day. But in our fast paced culture, more often than not we are eating on the run, grabbing a toaster pastry and a cup of coffee to gulp down in the car on the way to work. We grab fast food for lunch, or we multi-task our meals by sitting at our desk and eat while working. Then, because we are so wiped out from our fast-paced day, we look for the quickest way to get dinner on the table, often resorting to microwavable dinners or instant meals from a box. In the incredible pace of our lives, we have lost the connection between what we eat and how we feel, and we have forgotten what it means to truly nourish ourselves.
Eating is more than physical nourishment. How, when, why and where we eat are just as important to our daily health as what we eat. In an effort to educate and empower Americans to slow down, smell the coffee, and enjoy the experience of nourishing ourselves on many levels, the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has established National Nutrition Month®---a month long education campaign held annually during March---aimed at educating and empowering Americans into healthier lifestyles.
The theme for 2016 is "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right," which encourages everyone to take the time to enjoy food traditions and appreciate the pleasures, great flavors and social experiences food can add to our lives.
Everyone has a different idea of what it means to "eat right," but most agree that eating right encompasses opting for foods that nourish our senses as well as our bodies. Plant foods contain many beneficial compounds that give them their organoleptic properties---the aspects of food that we experience with our senses, such as taste, sight, smell and touch. These compounds are also responsible for the many health benefits contained in our foods.
Garlic, for instance, is affectionately known as "the stinking rose" owing to its distinct pungent aroma. The compounds responsible for garlic's characteristically pungent odor, alliin and allicin, are also the source of many of its health promoting properties, including anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, anti-cancer and cardiovascular benefits. You can increase the health benefits you recieve from garlic by "savoring" it before eating or cooking. Letting garlic sit after you've chopped or crushed it allows special enzymes in the garlic to activate the alliin and allicin, giving garlic an opportunity to work on behalf of your health.
The bitter tastes in foods are always an indication of high antioxidant content, which is why most leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kale have a bitter taste. Teas, coffee, grapefruit and cacao are bitter in their natural form, and we can offset and savor their flavors by pairing them with natural sweeteners.
We can "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right" in many other ways as well, by taking the time to enjoy everything that a healthful and tasty meal brings with it. With that in mind, here are some ways to make the most of yoru eating experience:
Savor the Flavor of Health: Eating more fruits and veggies can ward off chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer and diabetes. But it's not just about eating more plant foods, it about making sure you get enough variety and color in your produce choices. The colors in plant food represent certain phytonutrients (beneficial compounds including antioxidants, that give these foods their disease fighting properties). Each vibrant color group of fruits and vegetables offer unique health benefits that the other colors don't have, so it's important to make sure you include all of them in your meals.
You can savor the flavor of health by eating 5-13 servings of vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables each day, which is about 2.5 to 6.5 cups a day, depending on your gender, age and activity level. To get the most benefit, make green leafy vegetables a daily staple food, while varying the other four color groups several times a week.
Savor the Flavor of Mindful Eating: Mindful eating is an ancient practice that is as relevant and important today as it was generations ago. It is a conscious approach to eating that is the complete opposite of "blindful" eating---the type of eating that unfortunately most people engage in on a daily basis. Eating on the run, eating while working or watching TV, eating when not hungry, eating foods that you know are not in your best interest, eating for emotional reasons, entertainment, and distraction from stress are all forms of "blindful" eating.
Mindful eating is more than eating slowly without distraction. it means paying attention to what and when you eat, and learning to make choices based on actual true hunger. It is a responsible manner of eating that allows you to be present so you can notice and enjoy your food and its effects on your body. Mindful eating also means learning to value the quality of your food and learning to value yourself---a more important factor in improving your health than anything else.
Savor the Flavor of Famiy and Community: Research shows that eating as a family or with groups of friends and loved ones has great benefits for your children as well as adults. Conversations during meals provide opportunities for families and friends to bond, plan, connect and learn from one another. It's a chance to share information and news of the day, as well as give extra attention to children and teens. Family meals foster warmth, security and love, as well as feelings of belonging---all important aspects of overall health. it can be unifying experience for all.
Celebrate National Nutrition Month® this March by slowing down and taking time to be present when eating. By doing so, you will appreciate the health benefits and positive emotions that accompany mealtime. These are all important steps in developing a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Did you know that parsley—that little bunch of curly greens that garnish restaurant plates—is one of the world’s seven most potent disease-fighting spices? It’s right up there with ginger, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, sage and red chili peppers. I can’t remember exactly when I first started eating my plate garnish, and then buying a bunch of parsley each week to incorporate into my meals, but it had to be right around the time I learned of the nutritive power contained in this under-appreciated vegetable.
Although parsley is the world’s most popular culinary herb, it has health protective properties that rival those of many green leafy vegetables. When it comes to nutrition, parsley has you covered. It contains high levels of beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin B12, folate (vitamin B9), chlorophyll, calcium, more vitamin C than citrus fruits, more vitamin K than kale, spinach and collard greens, and many other essential nutrients. Additionally, parsley contains two classes of unusual components—volatile oils and antioxidants called flavonoids—that provide unique health benefits.
Here’s what’s unique about the Power of Parsley:
Parsley's volatile oils—particularly one called myristicin—have been shown to inhibit tumor formation in animal studies, and particularly, tumor formation in the lungs. Myristicin has also been shown to activate glutathione, the powerfully helpful compound involved in liver detoxification. The activity of parsley's volatile oils qualifies it as a "chemoprotective" food, and in particular, a food that can help neutralize particular types of carcinogens (especially those found in cigarette smoke and charcoal grill smoke). Parsley’s volatile oils are also what gives it its legendary ability to freshen your breath at the end of your meal.
Antioxidant Power and Anti-Inflammatory Power
The flavonoids in parsley—especially one called luteolin— have been shown to function as antioxidants that combine with highly reactive oxygen-containing molecules (called free radicals). Luteolin is a strong antioxidant that searches out and eradicates free radicals in the body that cause damage to the cells. Luteolin also promotes carbohydrate metabolism and serves the body as an anti-inﬂammatory agent. In addition to its flavonoids, parsley is an excellent source of two other antioxidant nutrients—vitamin A and vitamin C—that are also important for the prevention of many diseases.
Vitamin A Power
Parsley contains high amounts of the carotenoid beta-carotene which is converted to vitamin A in the body. Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the liver, lungs and colon from free radical damage caused by toxins. Vitamin A is important for your eyes, skin and immune system and is also used for protein assimilation.
Vitamin C Power
Parsley contains more vitamin C than any other standard culinary vegetable, with 80 mg per cup of fresh parsley (106% of the RDA). Famous for boosting the immune system, vitamin C is also a key nutrient for the health of the adrenal glands. Along with luteolin, the vitamin C found in parsley serves as an effective anti-inﬂammatory agent within the body. When consumed regularly, vitamin A and vitamin C combat the onset of inflammatory disorders, such as osteoarthritis (the degeneration of joint cartilage and the underlying bone) and rheumatoid arthritis (a disease causing inﬂammation in the joints).
Immune System Boosting Power
A strong immune system is the key to warding off germs, viruses and diseases, and repair of damaged tissue and broken bones. The antioxidant power of vitamin C and vitamin A found in parsley both strengthen the body's immune system, but in different ways. Vitamin C is necessary for collagen, the main structural protein found in connective tissue. This essential nutrient will not only accelerate the body's ability to repair wounds, but also maintain healthy bones and teeth. Vitamin A, on the other hand, fortifies and protects the body’s entry points, such as mucous membranes, the lining of the eyes, and respiratory, urinary and intestinal tracts. It keeps germs and infections at bay. Moreover, white blood cells rely on vitamin A to ﬁght infection in the body. Vitamin A is a nutrient so important to a strong immune system that its nickname is the "anti-infective vitamin."
Vitamin K Power
Parsley is loaded with vitamin K—just 2 tablespoons of raw parsley contain 124 mcg or 155 percent of the RDA. The body uses vitamin K to help blood clot properly and to make osteocalcin, a protein that strengthens the compositon of our bones. It is necessary for bones to get the minerals they need to form properly. Vitamin K also prevents calcium build-up in our tissues that can lead to atherosclerosis, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Finally, the body uses vitamin K to make the fat needed to maintain the myelin sheath around our nerves, to protect and strenghten our nervous system as a whole.
Folate and Heart Health Power
Folate, also called folic acid or vitamin B9, is one of the most important B vitamins. In addition to being an important nutrient for pregnant women, one of its most critical roles in relation to cardiovascular health is to convert homocysteine into benign molecules. Homocysteine is an amino acid that occurs in the body and can threaten the body's blood vessels when its levels become too high. At high levels, homocysteine increases the risk of heart attacks and stroke in people with atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. The folate found in parsley helps convert homocysteine into harmless molecules, thereby helping to ward off cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis.
Folic acid is also a critical nutrient for proper cell division and is therefore vitally important for cancer-prevention in two areas of the body that contain rapidly dividing cells—the colon, and in women, the cervix. One cup of parsley contains a whopping 23 percent of your daily requirement of this crucial vitamin.
Parsley is abundant in chlorophyll, which purifies the blood and inhibits the spread of bacteria, fungi and other organismsChlorophyll also suppresses viruses and helps the lungs to discharge residues from environmental pollution. It has potent antioxidant properties and is effective in preventing and treating many types of cancer.
Iron is the transporter of oxygen to your tissues and also rids the body of carbon dioxide, and parsley is an exceptional source of it. A half-cup of fresh parsley or one tablespoon dried has about 10 percent of your daily iron requirements. Plus, parsley has an abundance of the vitamin C your body needs to absorb iron, so it’s a very effective source of it.
Vitamin B12 Power
Parsley contains traces of B12 producing compounds. Such compounds are needed for the formation of red blood cells and normal cell growth, important for fertility, pregnancy, immunity and the prevention of degenerative illness. The action of vitamin B12, however, is inhibited by birth control pills, antibiotics, intoxicants, stress, sluggish liver, and excess bacteria or parasites in the colon or digestive tracts. Parsley helps to counteract these inhibitors.
Protein, Calcium and Many other Powers
Parsley contains the essential amino acids that the body uses to make proteins. Twenty percent of its calories come from protein, about the same amount of protein as mushrooms. One cup of raw parsley also contains nearly the same amount of calcium as one cup of raw kale (82.8 mg vs. 90.5 mg respectively), and the calcium in parsley and kale is more absorbable than the calcium in milk. Parsley also contains phosphorus, potassium, manganese, inositol, and sulphur—all important nutrients for overall long-term health.
So, next time parsley appears on your plate as a garnish, recognize its true powers and partake of its abilities to improve your health. As an added bonus, you'll also enjoy parsley's legendary ability to cleanse your palate and your breath at the end of your meal.
Enjoy raw parsley sprigs added to salads or soups, or sprinkle chopped parsley on top of scrambled eggs. Toss it into rice or quinoa, and use dried parsley in recipes.
"The World’s Healthiest Foods" by George Mateljan
The Power of Phytonutrients
Written by Dee McCaffrey, CDC
Wednesday, March 09, 2016
Plant foods deliver health in remarkable ways. They are your best weapon for preventing virtually every known chronic disease. This fact has been proven many times over by scientific studies on large numbers of people. The evidence in support of the disease-fighting properties of vegetables, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds and teas is so strong that it has been endorsed by every major medical organization, including the American Cancer Society.
Plant foods help reduce your risk of many chronic diseases including cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other diseases. Vegetables and fruits in particular are so important in the battle against cancer that some experts have said that cancer is a result of a "maladaption" over time to a reduced level of intake of vegetables and fruits. As a study published in the medical journal Cancer Causes & Control put it, "Vegetables and fruit contain the anticarcinogenic cocktail to which we are adapted. We abandon it at our peril."
Plant foods provide a special family of nutrients called phytonutrients (pronounced "fight-o-nutrients") that work together with vitamins, minerals, and fiber to promote good health. Unlike the traditional nutrients (protein, fat, vitamins, minerals), phytonutrients are not yet considered "essential" for life, so they are sometimes referred to as "phytochemicals".
These important compounds give plant foods their colors, flavors, and disease-fighting abilities. The more intense the color, the greater the concentration of phytonutrients. Each color offers the body different phytonutrients that protect our body in different ways, therefore we must eat a wide variety of plant foods in order to benefit from all the different functions. Research shows that the more colors you eat at once, the more powerful they are, because of the synergy that happens.
The ways phytonutrients work in our body is an ongoing area of research. Some studies show that phytonutrients can:
* Act as antioxidants
* Stimulate enzymes that remove toxins and carcinogens from our body
* Strengthen the immune system
* Keep hormones balanced
* Act as antibacterial or antiviral agents
* Cause cancer cells to die
* Repair DNA damage caused by smoking and other toxic exposures
Thousands of phytochemicals have been identified, but there are still many more that yet to be identified. It is estimated that there are thousands of different phytochemicals in any one typical fruit or vegetable. Tomatoes alone are believed to contain an estimated 10,000 different phytochemicals!
Of all the phytonutrients, we probably know the most about carotenoids, the red, orange and yellow pigments in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and
Another large class of phytonutrients are the polyphenols, which are classified as non-flavonoids and flavonoids. The flavonoids quercetin and catechins are the most extensively studied polyphenols for their role in lowering cholesterol and preventing heart disease and cancer. Food sources rich in polyphenols include chocolate, onion, apple, tea, red wine, red grapes, grape juice, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, and certain nuts. Natural raw sugarcane is also high in polyphenols.vegetables that are high in carotenoids appear to protect humans against certain cancers, heart disease and age related macular degeneration. The carotenoids consist of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body and has strong antioxidant properties.
There's no recommended dietary allowance for phytonutrients, and supplements can't compete with the real thing. The best way to get the full benefits is the most natural: Indulge in all the colors your imagination, or plate, will allow.
Each of the following five color groups is associated with one or more phytonutrients:
Red: Some red foods get their tint from lycopene, which may reduce the risk of lung, stomach, and prostate cancers. Sources: pink guavas, red grapefruits, red papayas, red grapes, strawberries, tomatoes, red bell peppers, watermelons.
Yellow/Orange: These hues tend to signal the presence of beta-carotene, which may help prevent heart disease as well as lung and colon cancers. Beta carotene converts to vitamin A in the body, so these foods will be the same colors as vitamin A foods. Sources: apricots, cantaloupes, carrots, mangoes, papayas, peaches, persimmons, yellow squash, pumpkins and winter squashes, sweet potatoes.
Green: Green veggies owe their green color to a special phytochemical called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment of all green plants, including green foods such as leafy vegetables like lettuces, spinach and kale, broccoli, wheat grass, and the algae superfoods known as spirulina and chlorella.
Vegetables and fruits in this color, particularly the dark ones, often contain several other phytonutrients, including lutein (which protects the eyes) and beta-carotene. More Sources: bok choy, collard greens, cucumbers, kiwis, green peas, green beans, Swiss chard, and zucchini.
Blue/Purple: Foods in these shades are rich in anthocyanins, phytonutrients that have antiaging and anticancer effects and help to promote circulatory function. Sources: blackberries, black currants, blueberries, grapes, raisins, plums, red cabbages, eggplant and red onions.
White: Pale members of the allium family contain allicin, which boosts the immune system, and some are also a source of quercetin, a natural anti-inflammatory agent. Sources: garlic, leeks, onions, shallots.
It's important to focus on getting as many different colored plant foods in your meals each day in order to reap the many benefits each of the colors provide. One easy way to get high amounts of phytonutrients is to juice your vegetables. In my next article I will be talking about the benefits of carrot juice.
If you don't have a juicer, another easy and convenient way to add phytonutrients to your diet is to supplement with a green superfood powder. Green superfood powders are dehydrated vegetables, fruits, herbs and superfoods that are packed with a plethora of vitamins, minerals, plant based protein and phytonutrients. Back in the times of the Mayans, they would dry their seasonal fruits and vegetables in the sun and then grind them into powders so they could save them for the times of year when those foods were out of season. They knew that their bodies needed the nutrients contained in those foods, so they would save the powders and sprinkle them into their drinks or onto their foods, essentially supplementing with green superfoods!
Today, the technology is more sophisticated than drying in the sun, but the concept is the same. Green foods and other fruits and vegetables are dehydrated at low temperatures to retain their enzymes and keep their nutrients intact, and can then be rehydrated with water or juice and drank to ensure you get adequate amounts of phytonutrients. My favorite brand of Green Superfood powder is Amazing Grass, which comes in many different flavors, including chocolate (a superfood on its own), berry, watermelon, and many others. CLICK HERE to see all the Amazing Grass flavors.
Michael Murray, N.D., Joseph Pizzorno, N.D., Lara Pizzorno, M.A., L.M.T., The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods (New York: Atria Books, 2005), 18.
USDA Agricultural Research Service, Phytonutrient FAQ's, http://www.ars.usda.gov/aboutus/docs.htm?docid=4142.
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