Last week my husband had bronchitis. If you've ever had bronchitis, you know how awful it is: unrelinquishing fever, chronic sleep-impeding cough, and overall crappiness.
However, not one to go to a doctor, my husband went online to look for natural remedies. He found one calling for 1 teaspoon of turmeric in warm milk (he used soy milk) and juice from an onion. I admit it wasn't pleasant "medicine", but you would not believe how fast it worked! Five days of illness changed to feeling almost normal in less than one hour. He took his remedy for the next few days, saving himself a doctor's visit and drugs.
So I thought it was time to write about the health benefits of spice.
Spices are getting big press these days for lowering cholesterol, controling blood sugar and preventing age-related diseases like high blood pressure. Some of the spices receiving most of the glory are cinnamon, turmeric and garlic. But here's the deal: where do spices come from? Plants. All spices are derived either from a plant's root (garlic, ginger and onion), seeds (most "spicy" spices), leaves (oregano and rosemary), or even bark (cinnamon). And what do we know about plants? They're where antioxidants come from. Antioxidants fight free radicals, preventing all types of chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Spices are so concentrated with antioxidants - which is what gives them their potent flavor and aroma - they even surpass fruits and vegetables, ounce per ounce.
I'm not a proponent of "taking" single spices like cinnamon regularly to fight disease, because we really need all the various types of antioxidants found in different spices. In other words, we need to eat spices in our food; the more variety the better. That means cumin, coriander, cayenne, turmeric, onion, garlic, ginger, oregano, rosemary, peppers, paprika, basil, curry, dill and many more.
How do you find recipes using said spices? Again, my favorite cookbook is a good start: Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home. Just last night I whipped up a dish with ginger, lime juice, cilantro, onion, cabbage, sweet potatoes, tomatoes and coconut milk (called Caribbean Vegetable Stew). This cookbook is loaded with delicious, spicy recipes that are fast and easy. When dining out, go for Italian, Mexican (salsa), Japanese, Indian or Thai food to bump up the spice. Getting spicy is scrumptious and good for us.
For those of you who have heard me talk (or write) about how osteoporosis is NOT an issue of calcium deficiency - and have found it very hard to believe, since you've heard opposing information all of your life - I have a great new study for you.
The study, titled Veganism, Bone Mineral Density, and Body Composition: a Study in Buddhist Nuns, published in Osteoporosis International Journal (April 7, 2009), found that although vegans had lower dietary calcium and protein intakes than omnivores, veganism did not have adverse effect on bone mineral density and did not alter body composition.
Researchers compared 105 postmenopausal Buddhist nuns adhering to a vegan (no meat, eggs or dairy) diet to 105 omnivorous postmenopausal women in Vietnam to see if there were differences in bone density. Even though the vegan women consumed significantly LESS calcium (as well as less protein) than the omnivorous women, there was no difference in bone density.
Researchers even stated, "Further analysis suggested that whole body BMD [Bone Mineral Density]... was positively correlated with the ratio of animal protein to vegetable protein." In other words, the higher the amount of plant protein, the less likelihood of bone loss and vice versa: the higher the animal-derived protein, the greater likelihood of bone loss.
Which brings me back to my point: osteoporosis is not due to calcium deficiency, it is due to a diet high in animal protein. In this particular study, the vegan women consumed an average of less than 400 mg of calcium a day, far from the recommended 1000-1500 mg calcium many Americans try to attain. Yet the vegan women only consumed about 35 grams/day plant protein, in contrast to omnivorous women at 62 grams/day. If you recall, animal protein is especially high in sulfuric acid, and since meat is so high in overall protein, it raises the uric acid level in our body. In order to neutralize these acids, our body leaches out calcium from the bones, which ultimately ends up in our urine (or kidneys, as kidney stones).
So what should we do to avoid bone loss? Minimize our intake of animal protein and replace it with plant protein. That means more legumes (beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds).
Our brains are primarily comprised of fat, so you could say we're all fatheads... which explains why the type of fat we consume has an enormous effect on how well our brains work in later life - what's called "cognitive function" or "cognitive decline".
A recent study published in the journal Diabetes Care (32:635-640, 2009) found that elderly diabetic women who consumed more trans-fat (partially-hydrogenated oils) and saturated fat in their younger years were significantly more likely to experience cognitive decline when compared to elderly women who consumed the lowest levels of these fats.
One of the reasons this makes sense is because trans-fat and saturated fat increase LDL (bad) cholesterol, which contributes to increased plaque formation. The more plaque in our arteries, the lower the oxygen supply to our brain, since plaque limits blood circulation (blood carries oxygen). When brain cells don't receive adequate oxygen over time they begin to die, and that ultimately causes "cognitive decline".
On the flip side, good fats, like Omega-3 fatty acid and monousaturated fat, improve circulation and therefore, oxygen delivery to the brain.
So where do all these fats come from? Trans-fat is mainly found in processed foods; saturated fat mainly comes from foods of animal origin: meats, dairy products, and eggs; Omega-3 and monounsaturated fat are found throughout unprocessed plant foods: fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes (beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds).
So should we all expect to experience serious memory loss as we age? Absolutely not. How we eat now determines the health of our brain later. And if you want to be truly inspired to take care of your brain, make a trip to a rest home soon.
Yes. That's right. You knew there was a reason you subscribed to this blog. Finally, a study you can sink your teeth into: regular consumption of cocoa (via dark chocolate) has been shown to lower blood pressure without causing weight gain, increasing cholesterol or glucose levels. And it's believed to be due to a phytochemical (phyto = "plant") in cocoa called polyphenol.
The study, published in Journal of the American Medical Association (2007;298:49-60), randomly assigned men and women with hypertension to receive either 6.3 g (30 kcal) per day of dark chocolate containing 30 mg of polyphenols or the same amount of polyphenol-free white chocolate. After 18 weeks, researchers found those participants consuming dark chocolate had significantly lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels. Overall, the prevalence of high blood pressure declined from 86% to 68% in this group. No changes were observed in the white chocolate group (white chocolate does not contain any cocoa).
For those of you who are skeptical that regular consumption of dark chocolate will not cause weight gain, note that the amount used in this study is VERY small. Thirty calories of dark chocolate is equivalent to only a few bites. So don't be overly ambitious about all this. The polyphenols in dark chocolate are powerful in low levels. Savor those few bites and know they are GOOD for you.
Okay, if you've been reading this blog for long, or heard me speak, you know how important it is to eat foods that are in-season. This is one of the ways we maximize nutrient content in our foods (besides organic and locally-grown produce).
It's Spring and it's time to start eating the three A's. For those of us blessed to live in California, that means Artichokes, Asparagus and Avocados. These delicious veggies (actually, avocados are fruit), are just coming into their heyday, and even though asparagus is expensive, it has a VERY short season - about a month - so get it while you can, with all those precious nutrients. Try artichokes dipped in Vegennaise vs. mayonnaise or butter. It's sabroso.
Also, keep your eyes out for strawberries and peas, which will be in their peak during mid-April.
And while we're at it, this is the time to start planting a garden! Today I picked green and red leaf lettuce from my garden and devoured the freshest salad I've ever had. I added avocado slices, sunflower seeds, raisins, dried cranberries topped with Annie's Goddess salad dressing.
In a week or so I'll be planting tomatoes, basil, corn and cilantro. Can you believe a year ago I was afraid to garden, certain I'd fail? And while I have failed at a few things, I've learned a lot along the way. The best of which is that produce from your own garden tastes like nothing else.