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We tend to think that the more delicious a food is, the less likely it is to be healthful and nourishing. While this idea holds true for sugar-laden processed and packaged foods, it’s good to remember that there are notable exceptions. For example, strawberries offer perfect proof that delicious foods (even sweet ones) can also offer incredible health benefits.

Researchers have now officially classified strawberries as a functional food, thanks to their “preventive and therapeutic health benefits.”[1]

Functional foods (also known as nutriceuticals) are those which exhibit acute and quantifiable therapeutic properties beyond basic nutrition. Unlike the term “superfood,” which is as much a marketing gimmick as it is a verifiable label, the term “functional food” has been more widely adopted within the medical research community.

While many researchers would still like to see more stringently defined standards and data applied to functional foods, the term does carry weight—and it’s still noteworthy that strawberries have earned this distinction among researchers.

Let’s take a look at some of the specific reasons why strawberries are more than just a sweet summer treat.

High nutrient density. Strawberries are packed with beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants (strawberries have higher ORAC activity than raspberries or blackberries),[2] healthful flavonoids such as quercetin, catechin, epicatechin, kaempferol, and ellagic acid, essential vitamins like vitamin C, B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, folate, and carotenoids, remarkable healing compounds called anthocyanins (which are responsible for their red color), and phytosterols.

Anti-inflammatory properties. The antioxidants and phenolic compounds in strawberries have powerful anti-inflammatory potential. Sure enough, one long-term study demonstrated that women who consume two or more servings of strawberries per week have significantly lower C-reactive protein (CRP), a primary marker for inflammation (as well as the many conditions to which chronic inflammation can lead).[3]

Cardiovascular support. Inflammation and elevated CRP are strongly associated with cardiovascular issues, so it makes sense that strawberries would offer excellent support for the heart. One study found that just three servings of strawberries per week reduced the risk of heart attack in women by up to 33%,[4] and another demonstrated that strawberry consumption was associated with a significant reduction in deaths from cardiovascular disease.[5]

Improvement of other cardiovascular conditions and risk factors. The anthocyanins, polyphenols, and other beneficial compounds in strawberries have also been shown to improve common comorbidities of cardiovascular disease. For example, when reviewing data from the heart attack risk study cited above, researchers found that higher intake of strawberry anthocyanins led to an 8% reduction in hypertension.[6]

Regular consumption of strawberries also lowers LDL (“bad” cholesterol)[7] and raises HDL (“good” cholesterol),[8] reduces oxidized cholesterol by increasing the body’s antioxidant capacity,[9] and improves glucose response.[10]

Brain support. Strawberries are even being hailed as a neuroprotective food. Researchers at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University found that strawberry extracts improved and even reserved signs of age-related neuronal degeneration,[11] and showed that animals eating a diet including 2% strawberries were protected against neuronal damage (as tested by exposure to radiation).[12] These findings have excited many researchers into exploring the role strawberries can play in reversing neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Chemopreventive properties. Last but most certainly not least, studies suggest that strawberries display anti-cancer properties (they’re but one of many functional foods that are being explored as natural anti-cancer agents). One prospective cohort study showed that higher consumption of strawberries (especially when combined with other fresh fruits and vegetables) was associated with a significant reduction in cancer mortality,[13] and other studies even suggest that strawberries can directly slow the growth of esophageal cancer.[14]

How to get the most out of strawberries (all year round)

Whether fresh, frozen, dried, or made into jams and juices, it’s hard to go wrong with strawberries, as long as they’re organic. While all these forms have been shown to be beneficial, a deeper look reveals that processing can alter levels of beneficial nutrients.

Processing strawberries into jams and juices appears to affect their nutritional profile to the greatest degree, reducing levels of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), polyphenols, and total antioxidant capacity.[15] It’s also worth noting that if refined sugar is added, the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities of strawberries are further counteracted.

Canning strawberries is slightly better (especially if no sugar is added), but still has been shown to decrease levels of anthocyanins and phenolic compounds.[16]

Frozen strawberries exhibit significantly higher levels of ascorbic acid and polyphenols than dried strawberries,[17] and sometimes even higher than fresh strawberries.

While fresh strawberries are always a wise choice, they’re nearly always more expensive, and aren’t always in season. Luckily, most experts agree that frozen strawberries are a perfectly suitable substitute for year-round use.

Just remember that you must buy organic strawberries (whether fresh or frozen) to receive the benefits described above. Conventionally grown strawberries are sprayed with copious amounts of toxic pesticides—in fact, they’re the number one crop to avoid in the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen.

 


References

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24345049

[2] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf9908345

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17906180

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23319811

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17344514

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21106916

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20797478

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18258621

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9868186

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19930765

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9742171

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15725409

[13] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/41/1/32/4691514

[14] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110406085056.htm

[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15998127

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17995868

[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12590461

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It’s nice when the foods that safeguard our health are also delicious.

The approach of summertime means that many such healing treats are in season. Blueberries are a prime example—these plump, subtly sweet fruits are garnering increasing attention from the medical research community.

We’ve written about the primary importance of antioxidants before—how they scavenge free radicals, calm oxidative stress, boost immune function, and slow the aging process. Blueberries are packed with antioxidant polyphenols, micronutrients that researchers believe are a powerful line of defense against degenerative diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease.[1]

And antioxidants are just the beginning—blueberries also contain novel beneficial compounds called anthocyanins (which give them their blue color), as well as high levels of vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and manganese.

Let’s take a look at how some of these healing compounds contribute to the benefits that researchers are discovering.

Improve cardiovascular health. A wealth of studies demonstrate that regular consumption of blueberries can help reduce nearly every risk factor for cardiovascular disease. For example, high anthocyanin intake is associated with reduced risk of heart attack.[2]

Blueberry polyphenols exert a particularly beneficial effect on varying markers of endothelial function—in one study, even those given a balanced blend of micronutrients and macronutrients on a daily basis did not score as high when blueberry polyphenols were absent.[3]

Lower blood pressure. Because hypertension tends to be associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease, the heart-helping benefits of blueberries also make swift work of high blood pressure. Studies have shown that daily blueberry consumption improves overall vascular function, lowers both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and reduces arterial stiffness.[4]

Improve insulin sensitivity. Metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are other common comorbidities with heart disease and hypertension, so it stands to reason that blueberries would be helpful for this ailment too. A double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that the compounds in blueberries improve insulin sensitivity.[5]

Fruits are not usually considered diabetes-friendly, but this study reminds us that many of them (especially low-sugar fruits like blueberries) are remarkably healing, and shouldn’t be lumped in the same category as refined sugar.

Protect the lungs. The healing and protective properties of blueberry anthocyanins also extend to the lungs. One longitudinal study followed 839 participants over 16 years, and found that those who ate two or more servings of blueberries per week exhibited a nearly 40% less decline in lung function (compared to those who ate no blueberries).[6]

Prevent cancer. Blueberries also occupy a prominent place on the list of cancer-fighting foods, not only because of their antioxidant properties, but also because of their ability to boost the body’s natural cancer-fighting capacity. One study found that just six weeks of daily blueberry consumption raises levels of natural killer (NK) cells, which are critical for eliminating abnormal cells and pathogens before they progress into cancer.[7]

Slow aging in the brain. Researchers at Harvard have even concluded that eating blueberries on a regular basis improves cognitive function and protects against cognitive decline. Their study demonstrated that higher blueberry consumption slowed brain aging in adults over the age of 70 by 2.5 years, and that it improved memory recall in children ages 10 through 14.[8]

Endless ways to enjoy blueberries

While blueberries are perfectly delicious enjoyed right out of the container (or right from the bush, if you’re lucky enough to have wild blueberries near you), there are plenty of other ways to integrate them into your diet too. Try them in smoothies, in granola, or in organic yogurt. I even like to add them raw to savory dishes like Buddha Bowls and stir fry dishes (their subtle sweetness pairs perfectly with both savory and spicy profiles).

It’s also worth noting that frozen blueberries can be just as healthy than fresh blueberries—and very often they’re more affordable. Blueberries are typically frozen within 24 hours after being picked (provided they’re being offered by an organic, high-quality brand)—this process preserves even higher levels of antioxidants when compared to fresh blueberries (which rarely make their way to the consumer within 24 hours).

And remember, if you’re lucky enough to know the location of some wild blueberry patches, be sure to take advantage—they’ve been shown to contain up to double the antioxidants, and also usually have a more intense taste (because of lower water content).

However you choose to eat blueberries, it’s extremely important that you buy the organic variety, as conventional blueberries are heavily treated with pesticides (they managed to stay off this year’s Dirty Dozen list, but just barely).

Also keep in mind that blueberries are technically included in the nightshade family. While other nightshades like peppers, tomatoes, and tobacco tend to be more strongly linked with inflammatory response, you should always determine your body’s own response to each food.

With those suggestions in mind, enjoy blueberries as often as you can; your body, brain, and heart will thank you!

 


References

[1] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/79/5/727/4690182

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23319811

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24004888

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25578927

[5] https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/140/10/1764/4600255

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26791184

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25150116

[8] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120426110250.htm

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Triglyceride is a fancy name for fat (they’re also referred to as lipids).

All the lipid-based foods we consume contain varying types of triglycerides, which enter the bloodstream after being broken down. These triglycerides are then burned as an energy source (a process called lipolysis), and whatever is left over is stored in fat cells, and sometimes in the liver.

Fat storage is an ingenious mechanism that was immensely important for our distant ancestors, because stored energy allows the body to go without food for long periods of time. Unfortunately, though, we eat much more and exercise much less than our ancestors.

The result is hypertriglyceridemia (high triglycerides); the conditions affects 25% of the American population, and nearly three million cases are diagnosed every year.[1]

Elevated levels of triglycerides (over 200 mg/dL) can lead to serious and life-threatening health issues

Elevated levels of triglycerides (over 200 mg/dL) can lead to serious and life-threatening health issues, including pancreatitis, as well as increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart disease (due to hardening of the arteries).[2]

You’re especially at risk for hypertriglyceridemia if you’re overweight or obese, have diabetes and aren’t properly managing the condition, consume alcohol regularly, or eat a high-calorie diet.

Regardless, though, taking measures to prevent or correct the condition is always a wise choice. Here are some simple lifestyle steps you can take to lower your triglycerides.

The triglyceride-healing lifestyle

If triglycerides in the bloodstream come from the food we consume, lowering them should be as simple as eating less fat, right? This was what scientists believed for a long while, but now we know that the truth is more complicated.

Eat the right kinds of fat. As we’ve discussed in other articles, there are “good” fats and “bad fats.” Monounsaturated fats, such as those found in olive oil and avocados, are exceptionally healthful—studies have actually demonstrated that daily consumption of good fats can lead to a dramatic decline in triglycerides.[3] Studies on consumption of high-quality polyunsaturated fats have yielded similar results.[4]

Stay away form hydrogenated fats. While “good” fats are paradoxically helpful for triglyceride levels, hydrogenated fats (trans fats) are decidedly not helpful. Studies have demonstrated that these fats—commonly found in fried foods, snack foods, and baked goods—can raise triglyceride levels, trigger inflammation, and increase “bad” LDL cholesterol levels.[5]

Then there are some fats about which no one can seem to agree, like coconut oil. While some studies suggest that the saturated fats in coconut oil can raise triglycerides, others clearly demonstrate that it can dramatically aid weight loss, a major factor in lowering triglycerides.

As always, moderation is key—don’t overdo it with any kind of fat, but remember that the healthful fats mentioned above a perfectly helpful and necessary part of a balanced diet.

Moderate carb and sugar consumption. This brings us to the other components of a balanced diet. When the connection between fat consumption and elevated triglycerides was first publicized, many people rallied under the banner of the old-school Food Pyramid (lots of carbs, fewer fats). But research has shown a high-carb diet is not the way to lower triglycerides.

The reason for this is simple: just like fats, the carbohydrates and sugars that your body doesn’t use for energy are also converted to triglycerides and stored in adipose tissue. In some cases, carbohydrate metabolism (glycolysis) is even more likely to lead to excess triglyceride storage than fat metabolism. Studies have shown that low-carb diets consistently lead to greater drops in triglyceride levels.[6]

Studies have shown that low-carb diets consistently lead to greater drops in triglyceride levels

If you’re worried about cutting carbs out of your diet, here’s a tip: start by cutting out sugar, rather than healthful carbs like veggies, fruits, and whole grains.

High-fiber carbs are actually acutely beneficial for lowering triglycerides: one study demonstrated that a low-fiber diet caused triglycerides to increase by 45% in just six days,[7] and others have shown high-fiber foods like rice bran[8] and tree nuts[9] actively help lower triglycerides.

Keep these healthful foods in your diet, and ditch packaged products with added sugar, replace sugary beverages with water, and minimize the use of sugar in your own cooking—research clearly shows that doing so can help lower your triglycerides.[10]

Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight. Fitness is the coup de grace for high triglycerides—the importance of combining exercise with proper diet simply can’t be overstated.

Researchers have found that regular exercise can benefit HDL levels (the “good cholesterol”), which has an inverse relationship with triglycerides—so when HDL goes up, triglycerides tend to go down.[11]

Additionally, regular exercise aids weight loss, which is primarily important for lowering triglycerides. Losing even 5-10% of your body weight can drop your triglyceride levels by 40 mg/dL.[12] And the longer you stick with your exercise regimen, the greater improvement you’ll see.[13]

The science of triglycerides may be complex, but the triglyceride-healing lifestyle doesn’t have to be. Here’s what it boils down to: eat a balanced diet of high-fiber fruits, veggies, nuts, legumes, and whole grains, healthy fats, and plenty of water; don’t consume more calories than you need; and establish an exercise regimen and stick with it.

 


References

[1] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/triglycerides/art-20048186

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2822144/

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23642776

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2808028/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2374566

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16685042

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/453063

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11893482

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26561616

[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12761365

[11] http://atvb.ahajournals.org/content/21/7/1226

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3120182/

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2407251

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A 77-year-old woman was cooking in the kitchen when she collapsed onto the floor. Her daughter called an ambulance and the woman was taken to the emergency room. She had suffered a stroke, and slowly regained consciousness over the next two days.

However, when she woke up, she had the following signs and symptoms:
– paralysis of the right face and arm
– loss of sensation to touch on the skin of the right face and arm
– inability to understand what was said to her
– inability to speak

Approximately 795,000 people suffer a stroke every year in the United States alone—it is the third leading cause of death, and the number one cause of serious, long-term disability.[1]

Strokes occur without any warning, and often lead to severe and irreparable brain damage. Because damage occurs so quickly, it’s imperative to seek medical attention as quickly as possible.

Symptoms of stroke damage vary widely, but common afflictions include paralysis on one side of the body (depending on which side of the brain the stroke occurred), vision problems, speech pathologies, memory loss, and behavioral abnormalities.

Some stroke victims are able to return to normal functioning through protracted rehabilitation, but others aren’t so lucky. Researchers are attempting to develop measures for regenerating brain cells after a stroke has occurred—such as the curcumin-derived compound CNB-001—but we’re still a long way off from this option being available to everyone.

Luckily, strokes are entirely preventable.

Despite the tragic commonality of strokes, up to 80% of them can be prevented with the right lifestyle practices. Let’s take a look at three of the most important ways to ward off this potentially debilitating and life-threatening event.

Prevention through Lifestyle: Diet, Exercise, and Supplementation

Unsurprisingly, controlling the risk factors that can lead to stroke begins with an examination of your basic lifestyle habits. Because the most common type of stroke (ischemic stroke) occurs because of clogged brain arteries, it’s important to minimize foods, practices, and deficiencies that have been shown to contribute to arterial plaque buildup. Here’s some of the biggest offenders to avoid.

1. Trans fats. Amidst all the debate about “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” fats, everyone agrees that trans fats carry serious health risks. They are linked with systemic inflammation, as well as many biomarkers that signal the development of cardiovascular disease.[2]

After some New York counties banned the sale of trans fats, incidence of heart attack and stroke had already declined significantly after only three years.[3]  In order to act on these findings, and hopefully save hundreds of thousands of lives in the process, the FDA is instituting a national ban on the sale of partially hydrogenated oils on June 18, 2018.[4]

2. Red meat, smoked meats, and processed meats. While some evidence suggests that any meat consumption has its downsides, the real problems lie with low-quality, processed, conventionally raised meat products.

A meta-analysis of research on the subject has demonstrated that red meat consumption increases the risk of ischemic stroke,[5] but it’s possible that these studies did not differentiate between organic, grass-fed meat and toxic, conventionally raised meat.

No one debates, though, that smoked and processed meats are hazards to your health. One study directly linked the consumption of processed meats to stroke,[6] and others have clearly outlined a plethora of other health risks.

3. Sedentary lifestyle. Research has demonstrated time and time again that maintaining an active lifestyle affects your stroke risk tremendously. In fact, one study showed that a moderate, hour-long walk five days a week (or exercise of similar intensity) can decrease the risk of stroke by half. Even 30 minutes a day, five days a week decreases the risk by 24%.[7] Our fast-paced modern lives make it difficult to find time for exercise, but what’s more important than protecting ourselves from heart attacks and strokes?

4.Vitamin D deficiency. If this risk factor comes as a surprise to you, know this: vitamin D deficiency is a health issue of enormous magnitude, and one which underlies nearly all of our most prevalent diseases. According to research conducted at the John Hopkins Medical Institution, low levels of vitamin D doubles the risk of stroke in Caucasians.[8]

To remedy the issue before it turns into serious health issues, be sure to have your vitamin D levels tested. If you’re deficient, begin by spending at least twenty minutes out in the sun every day (without sunscreen).

Complement this practice by beginning a daily vitamin D supplementation regimen, especially if you live farther north than Atlanta, Georgia (above this latitude, it’s difficult for your skin to synthesize vitamin D from the sun’s UV rays). Ideally, always supplement with a highly absorbable liposomal vitamin D that is formulated with vitamin K2.

Learn to recognize the signs of a stroke

Prevention is always the best treatment, but you should still learn how to respond to a stroke if and when one occurs. This is the only way that you’ll be able to seek treatment and minimize the damage in yourself or a loved one.

The onset of a stroke is most often marked by the following symptoms: difficulty walking, dizziness, lack of balance or coordination, confusion, numbness or weakness on one side of the body, difficulty seeing, and severe headache.

If you observe any of these signs in yourself or a loved one (especially when multiple symptoms occur at once), seek emergency medical attention immediately. Conventional stroke medications are actually remarkably effective at dissolving cerebral blood clots and preventing further brain cell damage—but only if they are administered within one hour.

 


References

[1] http://www.strokecenter.org/patients/about-stroke/stroke-statistics/

[2] http://jn.nutrition.org/content/135/3/562.full

[3] http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamacardiology/article-abstract/2618359

[4] https://blogs.fda.gov/fdavoice/index.php/2015/06/protecting-consumers-from-trans-fat/?source=govdelivery&utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

[5] http://stroke.ahajournals.org/content/strokeaha/43/10/2556.full.pdf

[6] http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/791009

[7] http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/1998/10/exercise-can-reduce-stroke-risk-study-says/

[8] https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/11/101114161929.htm

Image source

tahini-hummus-healing

If you’ve been hip to health foods for long, you’re probably aware that most snack foods are to be avoided. The vast majority of them are designed to be as satisfying (i.e. addictive) as possible. They’re full of sugars, unhealthy fats, and preservatives, and usually lack most of the nutrients your body really needs.

Hummus, on the other hand, is one popular snack dip that’s actually a wise choice—just make sure you aren’t eating too many chips and bread along with it (try dipping fruits and veggies instead).

This time-honored snack includes all sorts of healthy ingredients that we’ve lauded in other articles, including garlic, lemon juice, and black cumin. The real star of the show, though, is tahini—a nutrient-dense sauce made from sesame seeds that has a number of incredible healing benefits.

Sesame seeds: an underrated superfood

Sesame seeds seem awfully run-of-the-mill in comparison to some of the more exotic superfood seeds out there, like chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds. But they’re a perfect example of a superfood hidden in plain sight—it turns out that they’re packed with as many uniquely healthful compounds (or more) than their more popular (and more expensive) cousins.

To say that sesame seeds are nutrient-dense is an understatement. Take a lot at this sampling of what these seeds (especially when made into tahini) have to offer.

Highly absorbable vitamins and nutrients. When it comes to nutrients, tahini has it all. Sesame seeds have the highest fatty oil content of any seed, 60% of which is made up of sesamin and sesamolin, two highly beneficial polyunsaturated fats.

Another 20% of their makeup is in the form of easily absorbable amino acids, meaning they’re a better protein source than almost any other nut or seed. Some of these amino acids—such as linoleic acid, oleic acid, lysine, tryptophan, and gamma-tocopherol, also help to boost the immune system, regulate metabolism, and aid fat burning. Another amino acid called methionine even facilitates liver detoxification.[1]

Tahini is also a great source of B vitamins, which are notoriously difficult to find in plant-based foods. And here’s the best part: tahini naturally boosts the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (including the vitamins in any other foods or supplements you consume). And higher levels of these essential nutrients, like tocopherol, translates to reduced inflammation and oxidative stress, and therefore a dramatically reduced risk of chronic disease.[2]   

Tons of minerals. As we’ve touched on in other articles, mineral deficiency is a huge issue that affects the vast majority of Americans. Tahini offers a simple and delicious solution: it contains high levels of magnesium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, and zinc. It’s even an excellent (and safe) source of iron, a deficiency that causes anemia, a condition that can lower red blood cell count and lead to severe fatigue.

No molds or fungi. Many nuts and seeds are highly prone to contamination by mycotoxins, as well as many other health-sapping molds and fungi (wheat suffers from this same weakness). Even some of the most healthful varieties easily fall prey to mold growth, which can all but cancel out their healing benefits (mycotoxins are a leading risk factor in chronic inflammation and increased oxidative stress). Because sesame seeds are not susceptible to mold growth, tahini makes an excellent healthful alternative to most nut butters and seed-based dips.

Powerful hormone support. In a world riddled by endocrine-disrupting chemicals, hormone support is absolutely essential. Studies have demonstrated that tahini can be particularly beneficial for women navigating menopause, due to the natural phytoestrogens it contains. While estrogenic (i.e. estrogen-boosting) foods have their downsides, they’re a life-saver to those suffering from low estrogen levels—they’ve even been shown to decrease the risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, and heart disease.[3]

Consuming too much tahini (and other estrogenic foods) when you don’t have low estrogen can be problematic, but most experts agree that it only becomes an issue at a high volume of consumption—including tahini as part of a balanced diet is a perfectly healthful choice.

Blood pressure and cholesterol regulation. Sesame seeds pack a surprising punch when it comes to maintaining good heart health and optimal blood pressure. Studies have demonstrated that the plant lignans in sesame seeds lower LDL (the “bad cholesterol”) and improve overall ratios of LDL to HDL.[4] Other studies also showed that they lower blood pressure with remarkable effectiveness,[5] and even that they reduce the arterial fatty buildup that can lead to arteriosclerosis.

How to make your own tahini and hummus

If you’re ready to claim all the benefits discussed above (and to enjoy a delicious snack food in the process), be sure to integrate tahini and hummus into your diet. If you purchase the packaged variety, make sure to check the ingredients—the store-bought kind often contains unhealthy oils, preservatives, or inferior-quality ingredients.

There’s certainly good and reputable products to be found in well-stocked health food stores, but your best bet is to make your own.

All you need is some sesame seeds and a bit of olive oil. You can roast the seeds at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or leave them raw for maximum nutrient density. If you use raw sesame seeds, soak 1 cup of seeds in 2 cups of water for at least 4 hours. Blend them in a high-powered blender or food processor, and add 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil.

Use your homemade tahini on its own as a wonderful dip and spread, or use it to make hummus. This hummus recipe is amazing, but feel free to experiment and find your favorite!

 


References

[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21842753

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11588904

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3074428/

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8979168

[5] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1942178/

Image source

Pomegranate_Image

These days, it’s hard to keep track of all the “latest and greatest” miracle foods. As the knowledge base of the natural health world exponentially expands, it’s becoming increasingly clear that we live in a world that is abundantly rich in wildly healthful edibles.

More and more people are turning from the questionable integrity of laboratory-created frankenfoods back to the original goodies that Mother Nature has offered all along.

Smart choice—after all, nature has had a lot more practice creating foods that are good for both us and the planet.

And there’s certainly no shortage of goodies. The number of health-packed foods that are available to us is so staggering that the modern health seeker risks information overload when trying to sift through them all.

But here’s one health powerhouse of which you’ve undoubtedly heard: the ancient and illustrious pomegranate.

A time-honored healing fruit

The pomegranate is one of the world’s oldest known fruits, and is prominently featured in the healing modalities, mythologies, and religions of the ancient world.

They symbolized prosperity, fruitfulness, abundance, and ambition for cultures and groups as varied as that of the Egyptians, Israelites, Muslims, Chinese, and Indians. Perhaps this was why their image was used on some ancient Greek coins.

I haven’t even begun listing all the pomegranate’s physiological benefits… but even so, doesn’t consuming a food so closely associated with overflowing abundance and good fortune just seem like a good idea?

And it gets better.

The Egyptians and ancient Indian practitioners of Ayurveda used pomegranates as a powerful healing tool for infections, a tonic for the heart and throat, and a tonifying and strengthening agent for the skin and blood.

Modern medicine has confirmed all of these healing properties that the ancients intuitively discerned—and it’s uncovered many more of the pomegranate’s tricks too.

Let’s take a look at a few of the characteristics that make them so amazing. You should probably consider becoming better friends with pomegranates if…

…you value longevity and overall wellness

One of the things that makes pomegranates such healthful allies is their incredible antioxidant profile. Pomegranate is a king among antioxidant-rich fruits. It even has a “crown” (which is the name given to the protruding blossom at one of its ends).

All puns aside, the statistics behind the pomegranate’s antioxidant powers are pretty impressive.

In fact, a 2008 study found that pomegranate juice outshined the polyphenol potency of nine other healthful beverages (and by a large margin of 20%).[1] Grapes, blueberries, and acai (all of which are known to be potent sources of antioxidants) fell short.

This antioxidant activity comes particularly from the pomegranate’s high levels of compounds known as punicalagins and punicalins, as well as its vitamin C content.

And these essential micronutrients can do some amazing things. They help your body’s cells protect themselves from attack, which translates to fewer illnesses, slower aging, and greater vitality.

They’ve even been shown to inhibit breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and leukemia.[2]

…you’d like to protect and revitalize your heart

The natural compounds contained in pomegranates are also excellent for your heart health. Studies have found that punicalagin in particular can lower systolic blood pressure, slow (and even reverse) plaque formation in arteries, and clear heart blockages caused by atherosclerosis. [3]

One study even demonstrated that drinking an ounce of pomegranate juice each day for a year decreased atherosclerotic plaque by 30% (while participants who didn’t drink their juice experienced a 9% increase). [4]

Lastly, these same potent antioxidants were found to reduce platelet aggregation, a process of blood cell clumping that can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. [5]

…you’d like to improve your memory and cognitive function

As mentioned above, pomegranates are excellent anti-aging tools. Their healing and tonifying qualities even extend to the brain—the rapid (and seemingly inevitable) decline of which is nearly always linked directly to the aging process.

Nevertheless, people who consume pomegranates daily are found to perform better on memory tests (when measured against a placebo), and their brains show increased activity when analyzed by an fMRI. [6]

Some of the phytochemicals in pomegranates also stimulate serotonin and estrogen receptors, [7] which help balance and regulate the emotional aspect of cognitive health by ameliorating the symptoms of depression and related conditions.

…you suffer from pain or other afflictions of inflammation

Antioxidants are excellent for reducing inflammation. This means that pomegranates are capable of delivering benefits you can really feel, because they can alleviate the pain caused by inflammation and other symptoms of arthritis.

One study found that, by reducing inflammation and targeting the enzyme that destroys cartilage in those with arthritis, pomegranate extract saves cartilage and reduces overall stiffness and pain. [8]

Integrating pomegranates into your diet

As you can see, there’s all sorts of good reasons why you should have more pomegranate in your life.

Though many of the studies cited above involved pomegranate juice, you can get the same benefits from whole fruit or pomegranate extract. In both cases, you’ll avoid the excess sugar (unbound by fiber) that comes along with pomegranate juice (and all fruit juices, for that matter). Pomegranates seeds (called arils) are delicious in cereals, salads, smoothies, or all by themselves.

And don’t be scared away by their tough skin and strange structure…figuring out a routine for preparing them is well worth it. Sure, you can’t just bite into them like an apple, but eating them still isn’t as difficult as you’d think.

Besides, it’s rather nice when food requires some creative preparation work before it yields its treasures. This process allows us to be more present and mindful when we nourish ourselves. It allows eating to be its own kind of meditation.

To prepare a pomegranate, simply cut off the crown (without piercing the seeds within), score the fruit’s skin into quarters, soak it in water for 5 minutes, and then separate the seed bunch from the skin with your fingers. Some people also like to cut pomegranates in half and separate the seed by pounding on the back of each half with a large spoon.

If that still sounds too complicated, check out this this nifty pomegranate deseeder tool. You know a fruit has some clout when there’s a preparation tool custom-made for it!

Whatever you do, just be sure you take advantage of how delicious medicine can be when it comes in form of healing foods like pomegranates.

 


References

[1] http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf073035s

[2] Kim ND, Mehta R, Yu W, et al. Chemopreventive and adjuvant therapeutic potential of pomegranate (Punica granatum) for human breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Treat 2002;71(3):203-17.

[3] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/pomegranate

[4] Aviram M, Rosenblat M, Gaitini D, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption for 3 years by patients with carotid artery stenosis reduces common carotid intima-media thickness, blood pressure and LDL oxidation. Clin Nutr 2004;23(3):423-33.

[5] Aviram M, Dornfeld L, Rosenblat M, et al. Pomegranate juice consumption reduces oxidative stress, atherogenic modifications to LDL, and platelet aggregation:studies in humans and in atherosclerotic apolipoprotein E-deficient mice. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;71(5):1062-76.

[6] Bookheimer SY, Renner BA, Ekstrom A, et al: Pomegranate juice augments memory and FMRI activity in middle-aged and older adults with mild memory complaints. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med 2013, 2013:946298.

[7] Mori-Okamoto J, Otawara-Hamamoto Y, Yamato H, Yoshimura H. Pomegranate extract improves a depressive state and bone properties in menopausal syndrome model ovariectomized mice. J Ethnopharmacol 2004;92(1):93-101.

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16140882

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coconut-medicine - thV00TCLMC

The world of medicine has changed dramatically in recent years. Gone are the days when the healing power of foods and natural substances was wholly rejected. The truth is the research evidence in favor of dietary healing is now too compelling to ignore.

Coconuts have become one of the stars of our current healing food revival (with coconut oil grabbing most of the attention)—and their path to societal acceptance is a sort of “rags to riches” story. For years, medical dogma stated that saturated fats are horrendously unhealthy—that consuming them easily leads to obesity, cholesterol problems, heart disease, and more.

While it seems intuitive enough that fats make you fat, it’s simply not true (at least not in the case of saturated fats). Researchers have since gained a deeper understanding of the difference between healthy (saturated) fats and unhealthy (polyunsaturated fats). It turns out that the latter are actually to blame for all the health woes mentioned above.

Coconuts have gradually regained the reverence as a health tonic and keystone ingredient of a healthy diet. This perspective is in keeping with that of many indigenous cultures, who have known of coconuts’ incredible healing properties for centuries.

We are still in the process of learning  just how healing coconut products actually are. Most mainstream scientists would still probably wince if they heard coconut oil referred to as a “medicine”—if there’s one food that deserves this characterization, though, this is it.

The ultimate functional food

An increasing number of studies demonstrate that coconuts are not just a healthy food, but also a functional food—that is, a nutrient-dense food with condition-specific medicinal properties. As one of the most versatile foods of this type on the planet (along with turmeric), coconuts are leading the charge in the legitimization of functional medicine, which seeks to target the root causes of disease using nature-based substances and treatments.

Here’s a smattering of the amazing medicinal benefits conferred by coconut products.

Weight loss. We might as well start with the most ironic one first. After decades of blaming weight gain and obesity on saturated fats, researched have conclusively demonstrated that medium chain triglycerides, the primary fat in coconuts, is a powerful fat-burner. According to one study, just 30 ml of coconut oil per day for twelve weeks led to a reduction in waist size and a significant cholesterol improvement.[1] [Cholesterol improvement study.]

Reduced inflammation. Coconuts are powerfully anti-inflammatory, and they work their magic without side effects (unlike NSAID’s like ibuprofen, which can suppress the immune system and cause stomach issues). Coconut products can actually be used to prevent and treat the ulcers often caused by painkillers—one study even showed that coconut milk does so as effectively as the leading drug sucralfate).[2]

This means that coconuts provide effective and long-lasting relief from aches, pains, and even fevers. And because systemic inflammation is rightfully called by many health experts “the root of all disease,” the anti-inflammatory power of coconut products dramatically decreases the overall incidence of disease (especially when consumed as part of an all-around anti-inflammatory, detoxifying diet).

Reduced oxidative stress. Coconuts also fight disease, heal the stomach, boost brain function (more on that below), and even combat cancer by reducing oxidative stress, which is another huge risk factor for nearly all major health conditions. They even improve bone structure and prevent diseases like osteoporosis by combatting oxidative stress inside bones.[3]

One study demonstrated that this reduction of oxidative stress even leads to a significant testosterone level increase in men.

Hormonal balance. Endocrine system balance—which is also absolutely critical for optimal health—is another specialty of coconuts. Coconut oil has been shown to improve thyroid function (and it doesn’t tax it like polyunsaturated fats, which easily become rancid and burden the endocrine system with oxidative stress).

Healed wounds and defeated pathogens. Some of the compounds in coconuts (particularly lauric acid) make them disease fighters par excellence. Coconut oil acts as an effective antiseptic for treating (and accelerating the healing of) wounds, a natural antibiotic that combats bacteria, viruses, and other microbes, an anti-fungal agent capable of treating conditions like Candida, and even an insecticide for getting rid of head lice.

Optimal brain health. We have written in the past about why coconuts are the brain’s best friend. Their incredible ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain allows for clearer thinking, greater memory consolidation, more communication between the hemispheres of the brain, and a lowered risk for neurological disease. A well-known study from 2006 showed that daily consumption of coconut oil can lead to measureable cognitive improvement in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.[4]

And that’s just scratching the surface…

Researchers have only just begun to demonstrate the full potential of coconut products—as data continues to surface, it’ll be more and more of a no-brainer to include them in your daily dietary rituals. Coconut oil offers a simple and delicious way to integrate this miracle-food into your diet: you can cook with it, mix it in smoothies, and even use it as a skin moisturizer and ingredient in various homemade hygiene products.

To learn even more about how coconut oil can revolutionize your health, check out this great book on the subject.

The Coconut Oil Revitalization Blueprint is a comprehensive, easy-to-read how-to guide that leads you step-by-step through the process of optimizing your health (hint: coconut oil plays a central role in the transformation).

It offers a wealth of suggestions for integrating this wonderfully versatile saturated fat into your life, and reveals tons of ways in which you can start using coconut oil immediately (you’ll be shocked by how many different applications it has).

If there’s one functional food about which you should educate yourself, it’s coconut oil…and this book is the perfect way to do so. Once you start working with coconut products on an ongoing basis, you’ll see that the coconut craze is much more than just a passing fad.

 


References

[1] http://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2011/949686/cta/

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18521965

[3] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22927879

[4] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15123336

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