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Nothing says summer like biting into a soft, ripe peach, with its sweet juices running down your chin. Although fresh peaches are sometimes available at other times of year, their texture may be mealy and the flavor bland. Summertime farmers’ markets offer peaches that are incomparably delicious. But peaches aren’t just a treat for the palate. As a whole, unprocessed food, they’re also a great snack and a flavorful ingredient in sweet and savory recipes alike.

Like most fruit, peaches have a very low glycemic index, partly due to the fructose content. Fructose is a type of sugar that does not affect blood sugar as much as glucose and sucrose do. Health-conscious consumers are watching fructose intake more these days, as concerns about the effects of fructose on liver health have been discussed in popular media. However, the large amounts of fructose provided in sodas and fruit juices may have different effects on the body than the small amounts of fructose present in whole foods—especially when this fructose is accompanied by all the wonderful nutrients naturally occurring in whole fruit.

Ounce for ounce, peaches contain less fructose than apples and bananas. Peaches are a good source of beta-carotene and vitamin C, and, of course, eaten in whole form (as opposed to juice or nectar), they contain fiber, which may help increase satiety.

Peaches are included in the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” – the produce items that contain the highest pesticide loads. But reducing the body’s overall pesticide load is only one reason to choose organic produce. Researchers who evaluated differences between organically grown and conventionally grown peaches found that the organic peaches had higher levels of citric and ascorbic acids, and total polyphenols. It is believed that these antioxidant nutrients are part of the plants’ natural defense systems. With fewer or no synthetic pesticides to protect them, organic fruits must produce more of their own protective substances.

Some people might find the fuzz of peach skin slightly off-putting, but don’t toss the skin! Peach skin contributes significantly to the total nutrient content of the fruit. Among the different varieties of peaches, peaches with redder flesh have a higher anthocyanin content, and total anthocyanins are higher when the skin is included in evaluations, compared to when only the flesh is analyzed. Researchers have found that 70% of peach phenolic compounds are found in the skin, with just 30% in the flesh. (For people eating the skin of fruits and vegetables, purchasing organic may be especially important.)

The common advice to consume brightly colored vegetables and fruit seems to be accurate when it comes to peaches. The vitamin C content of white peaches is approximately 6-9mg/100g, compared to 4-13mg/100g for yellow peaches. The difference in total carotenoid concentration is even more telling, with 7-20mcg/100g for white peaches, and 71-210mcg/100g for yellow peaches. (But don’t be misled into thinking white peaches are a waste of your time. They, too, can be very good for you!)

Usually called a “stone fruit,” by botanical classification, peaches are drupes—a category that also contains apricots, plums, cherries, and olives. The outermost layer—which we call the skin—is the exocarp. The fleshy part of the fruit, which is the sweet, juicy part, is called the mesocarp. Inside the middle of the mesocarp is the pit, or endocarp, and inside the endocarp is the seed. In cutting or biting into a peach, you may notice whitish bits on the pit, and possibly on the flesh immediately near the pit. This is not a fungus or bacteria, and it is safe to eat.

While peaches are excellent summertime snacks all on their own, they make wonderful additions to salads, especially when paired with peppery greens, such as arugula and watercress, where the sweetness helps to offset the bitterness of the greens. Grilled peaches make a tasty dessert, often paired with plain yogurt, vanilla ice cream, or even a thick, aged balsamic vinegar. Peaches are also a great addition to savory meals, and are classic for pairing with pork.

Sources

  1. Carbonaro M, Mattera M, Nicoli S, Bergamo P, Cappelloni M. Modulation of antioxidant compounds in organic vs conventional fruit (peach, Prunus persica L., and pear, Pyrus communis L.). J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Sep 11;50(19):5458-62.
  2. Cantín CM, Moreno MA, Gogorcena Y. Evaluation of the antioxidant capacity, phenolic compounds, and vitamin C content of different peach and nectarine [ Prunus persica (L.) Batsch] breeding progenies. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 Jun 10;57(11):4586-92.
  3. Gil MI, Tomás-Barberán FA, Hess-Pierce B, Kader AA. Antioxidant capacities, phenolic compounds, carotenoids, and vitamin C contents of nectarine, peach, and plum cultivars from California. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 Aug 14;50(17):4976-82.
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Women have it so easy don’t they? Forget high heels and more expensive dry cleaning bills. Those are mild compared to menarche, menopause, and about forty years of menstruation in between. Under the best of circumstances, the hormonal fluctuations that accompany these events can make life “interesting” for the women experiencing them as well as for the men who are close to them. (Not to mention their kids and coworkers!) But throw in the curveballs of modern life—poor diet, inadequate sleep, relentless psychological stress, and an environment rife with inescapable estrogenic compounds in manmade goods—and the effects on a woman’s hormones make amusement park rollercoasters look like the kiddie teacup ride.

Considering all the things working against healthy hormone levels in women these days, a woman with naturally well-balanced hormones is probably the exception, not the rule. Many of the health challenges women face are the result of imbalances in estrogen and progesterone. While hormones can be “wonky” in any number of ways, the most common imbalances in women in the industrialized world are excess estrogen, inadequate progesterone, or both. The result is “estrogen dominance,” either outright (from excessive estrogen) or relative (normal amounts of estrogen coupled with insufficient progesterone to counterbalance the effects of estrogen). These may occur in women of reproductive age as well as in post-menopausal women, and they can have a significant negative impact on quality of life.

Among women of reproductive age, signs and symptoms of excess estrogen relative to progesterone include decreased sex drive, irregular or abnormal periods (including excessive bleeding), bloating, breast swelling and tenderness, mood swings (especially irritability and depression), weight gain, cold hands and feet, and premenstrual headaches. Fun, huh?

Adequate progesterone levels are critical for a healthy menstrual cycle. They may also play a role in healthy endometrial cell development and reducing risk for endometriosis (which, in some cases, results from high estrogen levels unopposed by adequate progesterone). Sufficient progesterone is also essential for a healthy full-term pregnancy (think “pro-gestation”), so pregnant women and those who are trying to conceive should work with their doctors to ensure proper levels. Keeping “pro-gestation” in mind, among women with a history of unexplained recurrent miscarriages, progesterone supplementation has been shown to slightly reduce the rate of subsequent miscarriages. Progesterone administration may also reduce the risk for preterm delivery and perinatal mortality among women with previous preterm deliveries.

As for post-menopausal women, the natural decrease in progesterone levels that occurs with aging may result in hot flashes, mood swings, urinary incontinence, hair loss, vaginal dryness, poor concentration, uterine fibroids, loss of libido, and an overall decline in health and quality of life. Additional symptoms include trouble sleeping, brain fog, and others that overlap with symptoms in younger women: breast tenderness, mood swings, water retention, and weight gain. (Sounds pretty grim, but there’s at least one positive aspect of being post-menopausal: no more money spent on feminine hygiene products!)

Fortunately, many of the unpleasant and in some cases debilitating symptoms of menopause may be improved through restoration of healthy progesterone levels. Data suggest that mean serum progesterone (and estradiol) concentrations are significantly lower among menopausal women reporting hot flashes compared to those not reporting hot flashes, and that higher levels of these hormones are associated with decreased odds of hot flashes. Progesterone supplementation has been shown to significantly decrease moderate to severe vasomotor symptoms compared to placebo in early postmenopausal women, and it doesn’t cause a rebound increase in occurrence when treatment is stopped.

As with estrogen, there are both synthetic and natural bioidentical progesterone formulations available. Synthetic preparations often induce unwanted side effects, such as fatigue, fluid retention, dysphoria, and increased androgenicity (increased expression of male hormones). Natural progesterone may present fewer side-effects while being equally if not more bioavailable than synthetic forms. Natural progesterone is obtained primarily from plants and can be administered via injection, through intravaginal or oral formulations, or applied topically and absorbed through the skin. As always, work with your healthcare practitioner to determine the best course of action.

Sources

  1. Apgar BS, Greenberg G. Using progestins in clinical practice. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Oct 15;62(8):1839-46, 1849-50.
  2. Goletiani NV, Keith DR, Gorsky SJ. Progesterone: review of safety for clinical studies. Exp Clin Psychopharmacol. 2007 Oct;15(5):427-44.
  3. Hussain M, El-Hakim S, Cahill DJ. Progesterone supplementation in women with otherwise unexplained recurrent miscarriages. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences. 2012;5(3):248-251.
  4. Rode L et al. Systematic review of progesterone for the prevention of preterm birth in singleton pregnancies. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 2009;88(11):1180-9.
  5. Prior JC, Hitchcock CL. Progesterone for hot flush and night sweat treatment--effectiveness for severe vasomotor symptoms and lack of withdrawal rebound. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2012 Oct;28 Suppl 2:7-11.
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Dear Friends and Followers:

It is no secret from many of my featured stories and blogs that I am convinced that quality sleep is supremely important in maintaining your health and vibrancy. The medical research is also making this very clear and it has begun to demonstrate just how much of a problem the lack of sleep is contributing to our chronic disease issues in the Western industrialized cultures. It is particularly true in females, who statistically suffer from insomnia and sleep disturbance even more frequently than their male counterparts. Disorders like fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anxiety, depression, and many more have direct correlation with sleep problems. In fact, sleep apnea has now even been correlated with heart arrhythmias and high blood pressure. I have also written about the role of electronic screens and modern energy efficient blue-dominant light sources contributing to this problem. The issue is also not just one of the number of hours you sleep, and most people do not sleep enough hours, but also the quality, depth, and restorative nature of the sleep that you do get. So this brings up the logical question, “What can I do about this and make sure I am getting quality sleep?”

While there are some great natural agents that I have written about to help you with your sleep, there is also no doubt that one of the most critical issues in getting good quality and comfortable sleep is your mattress. I can’t tell you how many people have a very old, broken-down, and non-supportive mattress. In fact, my wife Stacey and I were getting to that point and we were suffering from some low-back discomfort and stiffness when we got out of bed, and there were also those hollow spots where you would seemingly roll down the hill while in bed. You likely know what I mean. So there we were, having to contemplate and deal with the issue of getting a new mattress. Like everyone else, we were facing another complicated thing to put on an ever growing list of things to have to deal with in this hectic and busy life. We knew that we statistically spend more time on our mattress than any one other place, and we didn’t want a brand new mattress that was off-gassing all kinds of chemicals from synthetic ingredients and applied fire-retarding toxic compounds that are known to disrupt the hormonal system in humans.

Stacey and I just happened to be attending the Integrative Healthcare Symposium (IHS) in New York City, where I was presenting this past February, like we do every year. When walking through the vendor area we saw the most amazing mattress design and they were made by Amish craftsmen using all organic natural materials with no applied chemicals of any kind. They were built in the most fascinating modular design that allows complete customization, and had a great policy of allowing you to swap components until you got it dialed in just right for your comfort. Each side of the king size model we ordered was also individually customizable. We tried it right there and knew that was it! We ordered one on the spot and have been using it now for about a month and a half in order to really give it a try. We have swapped out the lower coil components once to get a slight firmer lower support and we could not be happier. We will now be ordering smaller sizes of the same mattress design for our boys. We are back to getting much better sleep and waking without the back pain and stiffness, and Stacey says she no longer “rolls down into the pit” in the middle of the night. As they say, “Happy wife, happy life”!

If you think you may benefit from a new supportive, comfortable, and organic mattress with a novel design that makes it easy to ship right to your door then check them out HERE.  

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They say “the eyes are windows to the soul.” And while that may be true, way down at the opposite end of the body, our feet our offer a surprising number of clues about what’s going on inside us. And during these summer months, where insulated winter boots have made way for sandals, as a general rule, feet are exposed more than during any other season. Whether we’re lounging at the beach or walking barefoot through the grass, our feet tend to see the light of day more when the weather is warm. While we take deliberate action each day to care for our teeth, our hair, our skin, and more, we tend to take our feet for granted. As with many other parts of the body, we all but ignore our feet, expecting that they’ll always magically operate just as nature intended. Until, that is, something makes us take notice.

Many things about our feet can reveal issues going on at a deeper level inside us. The good news is, we don’t have to be podiatrists to recognize when something doesn’t look right. Also, when combined with other, seemingly “mild” or innocuous symptoms, out-of-the-ordinary issues with our feet can lend evidence as to what might be going on elsewhere in the body.

Cold feet aren’t just for weddings. When feet are uncomfortably cold on a regular basis, this may be indicative of hypothyroidism (particularly if experienced along with cold hands and other symptoms of low thyroid function). When toes become painfully cold, or possibly even numb, it may indicate Raynaud’s phenomenon. Another clue to Raynaud’s would be a color change: in Raynaud’s, blood vessels in the fingers and toes constrict and narrow, resulting in reduced blood flow to these extremities, giving them a white or even blueish appearance. (It tends to happen during cold weather and/or when affected individuals are under a lot of emotional stress.) Little is known about what causes Raynaud’s, but it is separated into two categories: Primary Raynaud’s, called Raynaud’s disease, “happens on its own” and is not associated with an underlying associated medical condition, while secondary Raynaud’s, or Raynaud’s phenomenon, is a condition that results when more serious diseases reduce blood flow to fingers and toes.

Other uncomfortable sensations in the feet and toes may be indicative of more dire health issues. Feelings of numbness, or feeling like one is wearing socks or stockings when they aren’t, may be symptoms of peripheral neuropathy or diabetic neuropathy. Coldness, tingling, and “pins and needles” sensations in the feet (and hands) could be symptoms of pernicious anemia, which stems primarily from a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Ridges and lines in the toenails not due to trauma/injury might be signs of nutrient deficiencies. Iron insufficiency may result in fingernail ridges, abnormally shaped nails, or even nails that are concave in spots (called koilonychias), and this may be mirrored in the toenails. Unsightly yellowish toenails may be a sign of fungal infection (the most common cause), but they could also be a sign of compromised liver function, with jaundice causing a yellowing of skin, nails, and whites of the eyes.

Another indication of an underlying issue our feet clue us in to is enlargement of the big toe, particularly when accompanied by redness, pain, and a sensation of heat. Taken together, these may be a sign of gout. Originally thought to be due mainly to a high intake of dietary purines (high purine foods include animal proteins and beer), more recent evidence suggests that excess fructose consumption contributes to gout. Some studies suggest that overconsuming even natural fruits and fruit juices that are relatively higher in fructose compared to other fruits may also contribute to gout, so it’s not just sodas sweetened with sugar or HFCS, as are often “blamed” in such situations.

While our feet do send us these clear messages, most of these issues would occur along with other signs and symptoms. For example, numbness and tingling in the feet and toes are unlikely to be the only signs of peripheral neuropathy or pernicious anemia. And cold feet would certainly not be the only symptom of hypothyroidism a patient would experience. But for those people—and there are plenty—who tend to ignore all “the little nagging things,” until they become very serious problems, paying more attention to their feet might help hammer home the possibility that something more sinister is going on elsewhere in the body.

Feet aren’t glamorous. Unlike the adrenal glands or the gut microbiome, there isn’t a lot of buzz about them in popular health and nutrition news. But we ignore the signals they send us at our peril.

Sources

1. Choi HK, Curhan G. Soft drinks, fructose consumption, and the risk of gout in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ : British Medical Journal. 2008;336(7639):309-312.

2. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Peripheral Neuropathy Fact Sheet. Updated March 2016. Accessed from http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/peripheralneuropathy/detail_peripheralneuropathy.htm

3. Bakst R, Merola JF, Franks AG Jr, Sanchez M. Raynaud's phenomenon: pathogenesis and management. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008 Oct;59(4):633-53.

4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Pernicious Anemia? Updated April 2011. Accessed from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/prnanmia/signs

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Onions: people love ‘em or hate ‘em. Or maybe they just hate the tears they cause while being chopped in the kitchen, and hate the bad breath that sometimes lingers for hours after eating them.

Onions certainly seem to give us reasons not to consume them. On the other hand, it’s difficult to imagine good cuisine without them. There’s French onion soup, onions grilled with meat on skewers for shish-ke-babs, the classic mirepoix as the aromatic base for hundreds of dishes, and an endless array of other applications for the myriad varieties of onions that are cultivated or grow in the wild.

Beyond eating them, some people swear by home remedies that call for slipping a cut onion into a sock and wearing it on the foot to ward off colds and other illnesses. While this “old wives’ tale” method is unlikely to yield significant results, it is true that consuming onions may have dramatic benefits for health.

Owing to the worldwide popularity of onions, annual cultivation exceeds 44 million tons, and onions are the second most important horticultural crop, after tomatoes. (That’s a lot of onion breath!) In terms of nutrition, onions aren’t exactly loaded with vitamins and minerals. They’re a good source of vitamin C, and they have small amounts of B6 and manganese. Beyond that, they don’t boast much with regard to required nutrients. For other helpful compounds, though, onions are rock stars.

As members of the Allium genus—a category that also includes garlic, chives, leeks, scallions and shallots—onions are rich in sulfur, and this sulfur may be responsible for many of onions’ health-promoting properties, not unlike the sulfur-containing compounds in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage. It’s worth noting that the bitter flavor and “stinging” sensation of these foods are precisely what underlies their beneficial biological activity. Some scientists even call it “chemical warfare.”

Different types of onions contain different phytochemicals. For example, red onions contain anthocyanins, the compound responsible for their red/purple pigment (also found in raspberries, blackberries and other similarly colored produce). Red onions are also a rich source of quercetin, a compound that may have beneficial effects for heart health. Yellow and white onions also contain quercetin, but in lower amounts. All onions have a significant amount of beneficial flavonols, but these are more highly concentrated in red onions than in yellow. Fortunately, these helpful compounds are heat-stable and their antioxidant properties are not lost during digestion. (Good to know for those who prefer not to eat raw onions!)

Onions have been studied extensively regarding compounds they contain that may have cancer-protective properties stemming from their sulfur content. Selenium is another nutrient that is believed to contribute to this effect. Not all onions are high in selenium, however. Onions are known to accumulate selenium, but this requires that the soil they’re grown in is rich in this element to begin with. High-selenium onions (as well as garlic and broccoli) may play a role, in some small way, in influencing cancerous tissue by interfering with cell growth and division, and influencing apoptosis, which can be thought of as a “self-destruct” mode for old and/or damaged cells. (Cancerous cells typically bypass this mechanism.)

Compounds in onions also influence the synthesis of eicosanoids and prostaglandins, which are compounds that help regulate a healthy inflammatory response. For this reason, onions have been recognized as having anti-clotting and anti-arthritic properties. As if all that weren’t enough, onions may also be beneficial for reducing post-meal blood glucose spikes in those with type-2 diabetes. Compounds in onions inhibit some of the carbohydrate-digesting enzymes in the small intestine, and they also help to normalize the activity of liver enzymes involved in regulating blood glucose levels. Of course, this isn’t a reason to eat unlimited amounts of carbohydrate and just add some onion; it’s simply information for individuals who may be following very low-carbohydrate diets for blood sugar management but who are fearful of consuming onions because they’re slightly higher in carbs than something like, say, spinach. On the spectrum of carbohydrate-containing foods, onions are a world apart from donuts!

Here’s a handy guide to the various types of onions, and how to employ the best attributes of each while cooking, along with a demonstration of a quick and easy way to chop an onion. Whether onions are grilled and served on top of a burger, or served raw in garden-fresh salsa, eating something healthful never tasted so good!

Sources

1. Griffiths G1, Trueman L et al. Onions--a global benefit to health. Phytother Res. 2002 Nov;16(7):603-15.

2. Ali M, Thomson M, Afzal M. Garlic and onions: their effect on eicosanoid metabolism and its clinical relevance. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2000 Feb;62(2):55-73.

3. Sengupta A, Ghosh S, Bhattacharjee S. Allium vegetables in cancer prevention: an overview. Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2004 Jul-Sep;5(3):237-45.

4. Kim S-H, Jo S-H, Kwon Y-I, Hwang J-K. Effects of Onion (Allium cepa L.) Extract Administration on Intestinal α-Glucosidases Activities and Spikes in Postprandial Blood Glucose Levels in SD Rats Model. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2011;12(6):3757-3769. doi:10.3390/ijms12063757.

5. Slimestad R, Fossen T, Vågen IM. Onions: a source of unique dietary flavonoids. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Dec 12;55(25):10067-80.

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Any good chef will tell you that fat makes food taste better. A plain baked potato is nothing compared to one with a pat of butter and a dollop of sour cream. And let’s face it: a bowl of unadorned pasta isn’t all that appetizing until you add some garlic and olive oil, or a creamy alfredo sauce.

It makes sense that we humans are hard-wired to enjoy fatty foods. Compared to proteins and carbohydrates, which both provide four calories per gram, fats provide nine calories per gram, making them more than twice as energy-dense.

To our prehistoric ancestors, who likely faced intermittent periods of food scarcity, fat may have been a prized bounty. In the modern world, however, where we have constant access to an inexpensive food supply, our penchant for fatty foods (and sweets!) may cause us to consume more calories than we expend—particularly when procuring large amounts of these foods no longer requires hours of hunting and gathering, but rather, just a hop in the car for a quick trip to the supermarket.

Researchers have determined that there are five basic tastes humans are capable of discerning:

  1. Sweet
  2. Salty
  3. Bitter
  4. Sour
  5. Savory or umami.

It is speculated that each of these tastes serves a specific role in helping us distinguish nutritious and “safe” foods from poisonous ones.

The sweet taste implies carbohydrate; umami hints at the presence of protein and amino acids (specifically, glutamate); bitter may indicate the presence of harmful compounds; salty suggests important minerals and electrolytes; and sour may help keep us away from foods that have spoiled.

The idea that there are just these five basic tastes is as entrenched as was the concept of our solar system having nine planets. However, just as the reclassification of Pluto as a “planetoid” has forced a rewriting of astronomy textbooks, new research suggests that there may be a sixth taste, and that this unique sensation comes from fat. In order to distinguish this taste sensation from the rest, and to provide clues as to its meaning, scientists have coined the word oleogustus. “Oleo”implies oil, while “gustus” is borrowed from the Latin, gustatus, for “sense of taste.”

It’s no secret that fat makes other foods delicious, but what, exactly, is the taste sensation of fat, by itself?

It may depend on the makeup of individual fatty acids in a particular fat.

For example, butyric acid, found in butter (especially in rancid butter), is bitter and unpalatable on its own. But consumed as a whole food, with all its component fatty acids, butter is sublime.

Participants in the study in which researchers identified the “fat taste” initially classified the fat sensations as being bitter, but when they were asked to limit that category to samples that presented only bitter flavor, the fats comprised their own group. It’s not surprising that the participants perceived the fats as being bitter. Good quality extra-virgin olive oil, when fresh, can be quite bitter. Some varieties have a pinch to them, and even produce a “burning” sensation in the back of the throat when tasted by themselves. (Some foodies deliberately seek this out, as it may indicate a higher polyphenol content in the oil.)

The different taste sensations are distinguished by specific receptors on cells located in taste buds at the back and sides of the tongue. Ultimately, these taste receptors send feedback to the brain, which could play a role in satiety versus the desire to keep eating.

Taste perception can also be affected by hormones, which could explain changes in food preference and intake in the short-term, as well as over time. As an adult, you might enjoy the taste of certain foods you avoided as a child, or maybe the opposite has happened, and you’ve lost the appreciation you had for a specific food in the past.

Sometimes, cravings for something sweet, salty, or fatty, can be a sign that your body genuinely needs whatever nutrients the foods in those categories might provide. But when you’re already well-nourished and are simply experiencing the ups and downs of the blood sugar rollercoaster, or are eating to ease emotions, remember that, along with those hard-wired desires for sugar and fat, we humans also have higher cortical function, which allows us to override our baser instincts. We have a physiological need for adequate nourishment, but we also have white knuckles and willpower!

Sources

1.Running CA, Craig BA, Mattes RD. Oleogustus: The Unique Taste of Fat. Chem Senses. 2015 Jul 3.

2.Iwata S, Yoshida R, Ninomiya Y. Taste transductions in taste receptor cells:basic tastes and moreover. Curr Pharm Des. 2014;20(16):2684-92.

3.Gravina SA, Yep GL, Khan M. Human biology of taste. Ann Saudi Med. 2013 May-Jun;33(3):217-22

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In recent generations, Brussels sprouts seem to have lost their splendor as a culinary delight; more often evoking memories of the past, rather than notions of health and nutrition. However, these unappealing miniature cabbages are making a comeback among the health-conscious and for good reason!

Brussels sprouts are a nutrient powerhouse. They possess a superior array of health-promoting phytonutrients, which support the most essential processes of the body.

As a member of the Cruciferae (also known as Brassicaceae) family, Brussels sprouts are part of a unique family of vegetables that also include kale, broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage, mustard and collard greens, bok choy, turnips, rutabaga and others.

This family of vegetables contains significant amounts of special compounds that contain sulfur. These compounds play a Jekyll and Hyde role, though, in that they are responsible for an unattractive sulfur smell, which is repulsive to many when cooking cruciferous vegetables; and yet, these compounds also possess attractive health benefits that no other vegetable can boast.

Quite simply, these pungent sulfur compounds are responsible for the health benefits provided by vegetables such as Brussels sprouts; and Brussels sprouts have been found to contain a higher amount of sulfur-containing compounds, as compared to other cruciferous vegetables.

Cell Health

The action of chopping or chewing Brussels sprouts releases the powerful sulfur-containing compounds, making them readily available within the body. Once absorbed, these compounds begin working to support the various cycles of growth and replication of cells. Cell growth and replication are complicated processes that can easily be challenged by toxins, infections, and nutrient deficiencies. Ensuring these foundational processes are functioning appropriately is paramount to good health and wellness. The unique compounds found in Brussels sprouts are adept at supporting the growth and replication processes and, therefore, promoting good health at a foundational level.

Cleansing

Many health conditions can arise or become difficult to manage when the body is overloaded with an abundance of toxins. The liver is the primary organ responsible for the detoxification process. Here, specialized enzymes work to neutralize and collect potential toxins before they have a chance to harm the body, and these enzymes are supported by sulfur. Therefore, Brussels sprouts may be extraordinarily helpful by supporting the body’s most basic detoxification pathways.

Inflammation

Brussels sprouts also offer the capacity to support healthy inflammatory pathways in the body. Inflammation is often an indicator of poor health and the ability to maintain a healthy inflammatory response can alter the course of one’s long term health. Brussels sprout’s ability to support normal inflammatory responses is due to various nutrients housed in this vegetable. The sulfur-containing compounds, aforementioned, play a powerful role, which is shared by vitamin K and omega-3 fatty acids. Brussels sprouts may only contain a small amount of omega-3 fatty acids, but every bit counts since omega-3s are renowned for their ability to support a normal inflammatory response by balancing fatty acids that are involved in the process’s pathways. Suboptimal functioning of these pathways is becoming a rising concern.

The supportive role nutrients in Brussels sprouts can play in so many foundational body processes makes it a particularly attractive vegetable. It is no wonder this vegetable has been a token of health for so many decades. It may not have such an attractive appearance or smell, but with light cooking and a little seasoning, these miniature cabbages can become as popular as any dearly loved dish. So, let us usher in a revival of this nutrient powerhouse and make Brussels sprouts a regular addition to the diet.

Sources

Higdon, J. (2005). Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center. Cruciferous Vegetables. Retrieved from http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/food-beverages/cruciferous-vegetables

Kumar et al. (2015). Isothiocyanates: a class of bioactive metabolites with chemopreventive potential. Tumour Biology. Epub ahead of print. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25835976

Robbins et al. (2011). Heat treatment of Brussels sprouts retains their ability to induce detoxification enzyme expression in vitro and in vivo. Journal of Food Science. 76(3):C454-61. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21535814

Lippmann et al. (2014). Glucosinolates from pak choi and broccoli induce enzymes and inhibit inflammation and colon cancer differently. Food and Function. 5(6):1073-81. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24714741

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If cauliflower wasn’t so ‘unflashy’ with its dull, white hue, it would be the redheaded stepchild of the edible plant world. More boldly colored vegetables and fruits proudly display their beneficial compounds: anthocyanins in blueberries, cranberries, and blackberries; carotenes in sweet potatoes and carrots; magnesium in dark, leafy greens; and resveratrol in dark grapes and red wine. But don’t be fooled by cauliflower’s unassuming appearance. The absence of color doesn’t mean there’s an absence of nutrients. This versatile vegetable shares many of the beneficial properties of its Brassica brethren, and it’s time to give it its due.

Like all its cruciferous cousins—which include broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, and more—cauliflower is descended from wild cabbage, believed to have originated in what is now Turkey. It serves up a good amount of vitamin C, folate, vitamin K1, and fiber. Plus, it's extremely low glycemic load makes it an ideal vegetable for reduced-carbohydrate diets. If you’ve been watching your carb intake, but find yourself missing foods like mashed potatoes and rice, look no further. Low-glycemic versions of your starch-based favorites require nothing more than cauliflower and a little creativity. After a quick whirl in a food processor, cauliflower can be made into couscous, or stir-fried with meat and vegetables as a mock “fried rice.” Long-time low-carbers might be familiar with “fauxtatoes”—cauliflower steamed until very soft, then puréed and combined with butter, cream, milk, or sour cream, to approximate the flavor and texture of mashed potatoes. And even if you don’t compost your vegetable scraps, don’t automatically ditch the outer leaves—they’re edible, too!

For those seeking milder fare, cauliflower is still a great option: its low caloric density and high water content mean you can eat a substantial portion of it without racking up excessive calories. For all of these reasons, cauliflower fits perfectly into many different dietary strategies: vegetarian, low-carb, Paleo, and, of course, plain and simple “healthy eating.”

Aside from serving as a vehicle for keeping things interesting at dinnertime, cauliflower brings some pretty impressive health benefits to the table as well. It’s a good source of sulfur, which your nose will confirm for you if you steam it a little too long. Cabbage and broccoli are usually the first vegetables that come to mind under the cruciferous category, but cauliflower runs right alongside. The sulfur these foods provide is critical for supporting detoxification processes in the liver. Beyond that, cruciferous vegetables are also known as rich sources of glucosinolates, which are sulfur-containing compounds that have a number of health-promoting properties. One of the most widely studied is indole-3-carbinol (I3C), a compound that may help the body reduceharmful storages of excess estrogen.

The method you use to cook cruciferous vegetables can affect the amount of these helpful compounds that remain in the final dish. In boiling, a significant amount of glucosinolates are lost to the cooking water. This isn’t an issue if the water is used in the final dish, such as for a soup or stew. Otherwise, steaming or stir-frying will preserve more of these beneficial components (just make sure your steamer basket is above the level of the water). Of course, cauliflower can also be consumed raw, in salads, or with dip. Raw cruciferous vegetables can be tougher to digest than well-cooked, so if you experience bloating or flatulence, you may prefer to stick to cooked cauliflower. One thing to note –eating large amounts of raw cruciferous vegetables has been associated with lower thyroid function. In their raw state, these foods contain goitrogens—substances that may interfere with the absorption of iodine. This, however, is not a reason to avoid these otherwise extremely nutritious foods. Just stick to cooked. (Raw cauliflower and broccoli are awfully hard to chew, anyway! Plus, they taste better roasted with olive oil and a little sea salt, or steamed, with a nice pat of butter.)

Lest you think cauliflower only comes in the white variety, if you visit a farmers’ market, you might be treated to the sight of cauliflower in colors you’ve never seen before, such as purple, yellow-orange (which is higher in beta-carotene than white), and Romanesco, which is almost neon green, and has a slightly more “spiky” appearance than the rounder and more common cauliflowers. But even the humble white variety that inhabits most supermarkets isn’t so humble anymore.

For some great recipes to get you thinking about how to spice up the blank canvas that is cauliflower, check out this diverse collection.

Sources

1. Weng JR, Tsai CH, Kulp SK, Chen CS. Indole-3-carbinol as a chemopreventive and anti-cancer agent. Cancer Lett. 2008 Apr 18;262(2):153-63.

2. Zhang J1, Hsu B A JC, Kinseth B A MA, Bjeldanes LF, Firestone GL. Indole-3-carbinol induces a G1 cell cycle arrest and inhibits prostate-specific antigen production in human LNCaP prostate carcinoma cells. Cancer. 2003 Dec 1;98(11):2511-20.

3. Song L1, Thornalley PJ. Effect of storage, processing and cooking on glucosinolate content of Brassica vegetables. Food Chem Toxicol. 2007 Feb;45(2):216-24

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For centuries, wild blueberries have grown abundantly throughout the northern climates of North America -particularly in Maine, Atlantic Canada and Quebec. They can be spotted while trekking through the woods, where people can snatch them right off of bushes and pop them into their mouths. While enjoyed simply for their taste for many years, we now know that this succulent fruit also provides numerous documented health benefits. Since the 1970s, blueberries have become one of the most highly researched foods of the early 21st century, the darlings of scientists and crowned, by the media, as a “superfood.”

So what exactly makes the blueberry so super?

According to the Wild Blueberry Association, blueberries have been the subject of hundreds of research papers, the first of which was published by Sir James Sawyer, MD touting their gastrointestinal benefits way back in 1903. Since then, hundreds of clinical trials and studies have continued to confirm the power of the blueberry. According to the USDA, wild blueberries have the highest antioxidant capacity per serving, compared to more than 20 other fruits. Study after study shows how the high antioxidant activity of the blueberry can protect cells from oxidative stress. 

Scientists continue to find new evidence that a diet enriched with wild blueberries has the potential to help improve brain function. A growing body of research supports the beneficial effects of blueberries on the brain, showing that they have a positive effect on cognition, motor skills and short-term memory.

Wild blueberries are rich in compounds known as anthocyanins, which also aid in maintaining memory function. One study showed that adults who supplemented their diets with wild blueberries saw improved memory function and mood. All of this research is promising for individuals seeking cognitive support. With all the talk of “biochemical debris” in the brain, it should be noted that some refer to blueberry extract as helpful for cleaning the brain.

In addition to brain health, blueberries are also heart-friendly. The berries’ high anthocyanin content may help keep blood vessels healthy and properly dilated, improving blood flow. Wild blueberries have also been found to support a healthy inflammatory response.

As Sir James Sawyer suggested back in 1903, blueberries can benefit the gut. His research helped show that wild blueberry consumption resulted in a specific bifidogenic effect, meaning that certain populations of bifidobacteria, the “healthy bacteria,” were positively affected. Daily consumption of blueberries has been linked to supporting healthy blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity as well.

Thus, we see that in a tiny blueberry lives a universe of health benefits that are just now on the cusp of being fully realized and appreciated.

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Frankincense, also known as olibanum, is often referred to as the “king of oils” and its very name means “high quality incense.” Historically, it was deemed an exquisite gift, and is most often referenced when the biblical magi of the east offered the gifts of frankincense and myrrh to the Christ child.  Frankincense originates from the Middle East and has often been used in various religious practices throughout the centuries as well as Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda, giving evidence to its sacredness in both health and religion. Even its French name, “franc encens,” which means “high quality incense,” demonstrates its historical intent.  

Frankincense oil is obtained from tapping the sticky resin of trees of the genus, Boswellia. The resin can be chewed like a gum, but more commonly, it is steam distilled into an essential oil.  The essential oil of frankincense has been widely used in aromatherapy and is a common constituent in perfumes, fragrances, diffuser blends, and body care products. Don’t be fooled into thinking its benefits are merely external. On the contrary, the therapeutic potential of this essential oil is one reason it is highly esteemed among health advocates.  

 

Antimicrobial 

A variety of medicinal chemicals reside within the essential oil of frankincense, the most well-known being the family of boswellic acids.

These therapeutic compounds provide several health benefits, including the ability to discourage the growth of numerous harmful organisms. As a result, frankincense has been a helpful addition to natural cleaners, dental hygiene products, and facial astringents to prevent the growth of microorganisms. It also helps support the body’s normal defenses against internal fungi, viruses, and unfriendly bacteria that may threaten to compromise health and vitality. The food industry has taken advantage of frankincense’s antimicrobial activity and uses it to naturally inhibit the growth of a dangerous fungal toxin, known as aflatoxin, commonly found on corn, soy, peanuts and other foods.  

 

Immune Support 

Not only can frankincense help to constrain harmful microorganisms, but the boswellic acids are also able to support the immune system, thereby creating a strong defense against infections, injury, inflammation, and associated health conditions. Boswellic acids have been studied and found to interact with several cells and enzymes of the immune system so as to promote a healthy response from this critical system when it encounters infections and is dealing with health challenges. Numerous individuals suffer from health conditions associated with an impaired immune system that no longer identifies “friend” or “foe” and frankincense may be helpful in supporting a normal immune response. The immune system is also responsible for establishing a health inflammatory response to injury and illness. Studies have shown boswellic acids can support the action of several enzymes that are involved in these responses to establish a healthy inflammatory response, resulting in better pain management and injury. This dual action of supporting immunity and the inflammatory response makes frankincense an ideal health booster.  

 

Cell Growth and Health 

Most recently, there has been an explosion of interest in frankincense’s support for cell health. A normal cell of the human body progresses through a lifecycle that includes growth and reproduction. Some cells, such as those of the skin, grow and reproduce very quickly as old cells die and must be renewed. Other cells, such as those of the brain and nervous system, grow very slowly. Frankincense supports the natural cell lifecycle of each body system and encourages normal cell growth and reproduction. It also helps the body recognize cells that are not growing properly and must be eliminated to ensure optimal health of the entire body.  

 

Antioxidant 

Frankincense is among the most powerful essential oils with antioxidant properties. By fighting against damaging free radicals, frankincense can offer innumerable health benefits. Free radicals are generated by unhealthy diets, lack of exercise, environmental pollutants, and exposure to harmful electromagnetic fields, among other things. Further, the lack of antioxidant-rich foods in the standard American diet often leaves the body hungry for these critical nutrients. The effects of free radicals are far-reaching and include damage to delicate genetic material and cells of all organ systems, resulting in aging, loss of function, and deteriorating health. The antioxidant power of frankincense can combat free radical damage and provide a hedge of protection against future damage.  

In possessing the ability to fight infection, support the immune system, promote a healthy inflammatory response, and combat free radicals, frankincense lives up to its reputation as “king of oils.” Its usefulness not only reaches out to the small aches and pains of everyday life, but also extends to the most serious health challenges. Certainly, frankincense offers the invaluable gift of healing.  

 

Sources 

Al-Yasiry, A.R. & Kiczorowska, B. (2016). Frankincense--therapeutic properties. Postepy Hig Med Dosw (Online), Jan 4(70), 380-91.   

Ammon, H.P. (2010). Modulation of the immune system by Boswellia serrata extracts and boswellic acids. Phytomedicine, 17(11),862-7. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2010.03.003. 

Ammon, H.P. (2016). Boswellic acids and their role in chronic inflammatory diseases. Advances in experimental medicine and biology, 928,291-327. 

Khan et al. (2016). Pharmacological evidences for cytotoxic and antitumor properties of Boswellic acids from Boswellia serrata. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Sep 15(191), 315-23. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.06.053  

Ahmed et al. (2015). Phytochemical analysis and anti-cancer investigation of boswellia serrata bioactive constituents in vitro. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, 16(16), 7179-88. 

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