Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dark Chocolate: No, really, its okay… go ahead!

I used to engage in occasional experimentations, back in the day, some of which might be considered compromising by some.  But as my body was a tad more youthful, I could withstand occasional molecular imbalances for the sake of hopeful progress into dimensions unknown. Though many a stone was not left unturned, what remains is the only addiction I’ve ever known…one that turns out to be something that I can not only live with quite well, but one that is preferable to all others…and that is dark…oh so deliriously dark chocolate. And with the least sugar content the better, my personal choice is unprocessed died-in-the-wool pure organic chocolate nibs, as touted by one of my heroes, David Wolff.

Chocolate in its purest form contains a superlatively high amount of flavenoids: members of the antioxidant family known as polyphenols. Polyphenols perform the heroic task of helping our bodies fight against free radicals that show up in environmental toxins such as chemicals, pollution, radiation, automotive exhaust, and cigarette smoke. Free radicals are purported to cause premature aging as well as many degenerative diseases because as they float around looking for a match for their unpaired electrons they will almost always attach themselves to the bad guy (does this sound familiar?), causing damage to the life-giving properties within our cells.

Besides fighting free radicals, flavenoids also diminish the stickiness that can show up in blood platelets, which helps to lower high blood pressure, meaning that they can also reduce the possibility of myocardial infarction and stroke. Flavenoids also help prevent oxidation in the cells resulting from the effects of bad cholesterol, or LDL, while also increasing levels of good cholesterol, or HDL.

The essence of chocolate, the cocoa bean, contains over 400 chemicals, including the essential amino acids tryptophan, phenylalanine, and tyrosine. These amino acids assist the body in building protein as well as operating as neurotransmitters sending messages to and fro nerve cells in the brain. One of these messages, as we chocolate lovers have long noticed, is that of pleasure caused by that exquisite endorphin rush after biting into a succulent handful of chocolate nibs or a seductive bar of organic dark chocolate. 

Dark chocolate requires less processing than its frivolous cousins, milk and white chocolate. This means that the inherent flavenoid content is more or less intact, depending on the method of production. The higher the cocoa content in the chocolate, the more potent the healthful elements.  So my friends, go ahead… march right down to your local chocolate supplier and get your deserved measure of bliss.  Enjoy and be healthy.

Please note that as with everything in life, moderation is key…

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pomegranates: Heaven and Health

Anyone familiar with Greek myth knows the story of Persephone and the underworld where she was tricked by the god Hades into staying with him for several months out of the year. Though it was the pomegranate seeds he gave her to eat that bound her to this dark contract, pomegranates are anything but a forbidding fruit. Today they are considered a super food because of their ability to affect overall health in a considerably powerful way. 

Antioxidants Supreme
Pomegranate seeds contain antioxidants that are beneficial to the molecular structure of our bodies. Polyphenols, ellagic acid, gallic acid and punicalagin are some of the components that combat free radicals as well as other invasive toxins. With their additional gift of vitamins B1 2 3 5 6 and 9, vitamin C, potassium, iron, folic acid, zinc, phosphorus, magnesium, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin, these glistening fruity jewels made for some powerful medicine.

The Briefest of Histories
The Ancients truly knew what they were doing when they incorporated pomegranates into their diet, more than 3000 years ago. Starting with the Persians, they were subsequently used as a flavoring, a refreshing food, and a medicinal throughout the Middle East, India, Southern Europe, and eventually elsewhere in the world. Growing in dry terrain, the pomegranate can withstand drought while still bringing us the gift of its juicy, tart, nutritious seeds.

Pomegranate’s Gifts
According to the scientific advisor to the natural pomegranate juice product, POM, Dr. Risa Shulman, visiting professor at the University of California, these are some of the gifts given to us by the pomegranate:

  • Raising good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol
  • Thinning the blood to allow greater flow to the heart
  • Improving the memory by delivering more oxygen to the brain
  • Reducing plaque in the arteries by eliminating fatty deposits to lower the possibility of stroke and heart attack. This also decreases arthrosclerosis or hardening of the arteries
  • Preventing damage to cartilage through its action as an enzyme inhibitor
  • Fighting various types of cancer
  • Improving skin tone.

Further Scientific Corroboration
Coronary Disease:
There have been many scientific claims regarding pomegranates. An article in the American Journal of the College of Cardiologists reports an increase in oxygen flow to the heart and advises drinking 8 ounces of pomegranate juice a day for patients with chronic coronary disease. 

Prostate Cancer:
Dr. Christopher Amling, who has been involved in prostate cancer patients reports that those drinking 8 ounces of pomegranate juice daily were able to stop chemo or hormone therapy due to the juice’s positive impact on PSA levels.

Lung Cancer:
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Cancer Chemoprevention Program reported in the journal, Cancer Research, that pomegranate juice shows promise in slowing down and ultimately preventing the proliferation of lung cancer. 

Estrogen Levels and Breast Cancer:
Dr. Ephraim Lansky of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel has stated that pomegranates may have the ability to replace the estrogen lacking in postmenopausal women. Further studies in this hospital have revealed that pomegranate seed oil helps to trigger the destruction of breast cancer cells while avoiding healthy cells.  This means pomegranates may also potentially help prevent breast cancer cells from forming. 

Alzheimer’s Disease:
In a study at Loma Linda University in California where mice with Alzheimer’s disease were given a daily dose of pomegranate juice, they were eventually able to perform complex mental tasks as destructive amyloid plaque accumulated in the brain began to diminish.

Erectile Dysfunction:
An article in the Journal of Urology claims that studies on animals suffering erectile dysfunction were successfully treated with pomegranate juice over a period of time, concluding that the overwhelmingly high anti-oxidant content in pomegranates helps to reduce oxidative stress that often contributes to this condition.

Taking Your Daily Dose
Just the simple sensual pleasure of opening up the fresh fruit and popping those juicy red seeds in your mouth (or someone else’s) is the best way to get your daily dose of heaven and health.  You can also put the seeds in a blender with other fruits and a dash of honey for extra sweetness. There are a plethora of dessert recipes using pomegranates, as well as tangy sauces to put over chicken or meat.  And if you swing towards cocktails, why not add a splash of pomegranate juice to your martini?  Delish….

Of course, fresh pomegranates are the best way to reap the benefits of the fruit, but you can also buy already bottled juice, concentrate, oil, capsules, or tablets from your local health food store.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Can Diet Affect Vision? by guest blogger, optometrist Tim Harwood

We have all heard the saying ‘we are what we eat,’ but we may not think of the health of our eyes when we consider this. Everyone knows a diet high in fruit and vegetables is good for our general health, but have you considered what they can do for our eyes?

Our Eyes, Our Bodies 
Our eyes, as part of our bodies, are also affected by diet and lifestyle. People with diets that are high in fat and sugar are more likely to develop eye problems, just as the body will be affected negatively.  In the same way that blood vessels can become narrower on the way to the heart (heart attack) and brain (stroke), so the blood vessels in our eyes can also become blocked. This can lead to a permanent loss of vision, which cannot be treated. Keeping our blood pressure and cholesterol balanced is just as important to the eyes as it is to the rest of the body. 
Diet and the Eyes 
There are certain types of foods that are specifically beneficial to the health and optimal function of our eyes. These are foods that contain the anti-oxidants Lutein and Zeaxanthin, anti–oxidants that play a role in slowing down the progression of two of the most common eye diseases that affect us as we get older: cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (ARMD). Cataracts are less of a concern as they can be removed both easily and safely with a simple operation. Macular degeneration, however, is currently untreatable and leads to a slow and potentially dramatic loss of central vision. The macula is part of the retina at the back of our eyes and is responsible for the very central part of our vision. As macular degeneration progresses, tasks such as reading and recognising faces become increasingly difficult.
To ensure we get the maximum amount of Lutein and Zeaxanthin in our diets there are certain foods that are high in these anti-oxidants that we can include in our daily recipes: broccoli, spinach, green cabbage, kale, green leafed vegetables, mangos, and oranges. By ensuring a good supply of these fruit and vegetables, our eyes will get the very best chance at staying healthier for a long time to come.

Tim Harwood is an Optometrist with over 8 years in practice with a specialist interest in both laser eye surgery and contact lenses. He has worked both in the UK and Australia for both multiple and independent opticians.  


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Keeping Blood Sugar Levels Balanced with Cinnamon

More than a long time ago the ancient Greeks used cinnamon to treat a host of illnesses, including indigestion and nausea. The Egyptians were known to add it to their embalming formulae, recognizing the spice’s power as a preservative. Later on, during the Middle Ages, cinnamon was mixed with cloves and water to help reduce symptoms of Bubonic plague. Traditional Indian medicine has used cinnamon in Aruyvedic treatment to heal a myriad of problems such as urinary tract and yeast infections.  Today in current medicinal circles, cinnamon is recognized for its ability to balance glucose levels when insulin secretion is high.

The Cinnamon Tree
Native to Sri Lanka, Southern India, the West Indies, Zanzibar, Madagascar, Egypt, and Brazil, cinnamon is an evergreen tree that sports flowers along with berries containing a single seed. But it is the bark of the cinnamon tree that holds the medicinal secrets. Once the bark is removed from the tree, an inner portion is then stripped away and made into rolls or ground into the powder we find in supermarkets and health food stores.
Maintaining Glucose Levels with Cinnamon
The body controls blood sugar levels via the pancreas, which secretes a hormone that transports glucose to each cell. A healthy pancreas releases the right amount of this hormone in order to deliver the insulin properly. Our body’s cells are designed with receptors that respond to the insulin. If these receptors become resistant, it causes the pancreas to secrete more insulin in order to get enough glucose to the cells, which then increases the level of blood glucose.  When this happens, the system becomes imbalanced, whereby a pre-diabetic condition can occur.  If left untreated, this can then lead to diabetes.

Diabetes is one of the most serious diseases worldwide. Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels is an essential way to avoid this lethal illness. Keeping glucose levels regulated  often becomes more difficult as we age due to the potential breakdown in the body’s ability to metabolize glucose.

In a study on cinnamon’s ability to control blood sugar levels conducted at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, researchers discovered that the spice contains compounds that help to increase glucose metabolism  “twenty-fold.” These compounds are known as procyanidins, which function along with the phytochemicals epicatechin, phenol, and tannin.  Acting similarly to insulin, they help the body regulate glucose levels, reducing symptoms of hyperglycemia, which occurs when blood sugar levels rise. Cinnamon also contains MHCP, or methylhydroxychalcone polymer, another compound that assists with glycogen synthesis.

According to the leading doctor in the study, Dr. Richard A. Anderson, a mere half teaspoon of cinnamon each day can help the body maintain appropriate blood sugar levels while also balancing triglycerides and cholesterol, with no side effects.

Other Studies on Cinnamon and Blood Sugar
In another study conducted by postdoctoral fellow, Alam Khan, 60 diabetic volunteers were divided in half. One half was given daily doses of cinnamon and the other half was given a placebo. The experiment was conducted for 40 days, resulting in the group taking the cinnamon displaying a distinctly healthy change in their glucose levels. Once this diabetic group stopped taking cinnamon however, the levels rose to their former position.

Cinnamon and Blood Pressure
When blood pressure increases due to an over stimulated nervous system, the body secretes both noradrenalin and insulin, which in turn stimulate glucose production. As blood sugar levels rise in the bloodstream, metabolic imbalances can easily occur. In a study done at Georgetown University, hypersensitive rats were tested with cinnamon to see if the spice would lower their systolic blood pressure by helping regulate insulin function.  Sure enough, it did.

Other Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon contains several important minerals, such as iron, calcium, and manganese, in addition to fiber. It is considered an anti-oxidant, and also has anti-fungal and anti-clotting properties along with its ability to lower triglycerides and bad cholesterol. Hard to imagine that such a fragrant and delicious spice can be so potent, but so it is!

True Cinnamon and Cassia
True cinnamon is rather ragged around the edges, as opposed to its sister, cassia, which comes in more distinct and tidy rolls.  True cinnamon originates in  Sri Lanka and is usually light brown in color and quite dry.   

Cassia generally comes from China and other Southeastern Asian countries. It  has a stronger flavor than true cinnamon and is darker in color.  It also has a larger amount of coumarin than true cinnamon, which is a phytochemical that helps to thin the blood.  In the end, deciding between the two is a matter of taste. But do note that labels do not always differentiate between the two, so make sure you look at the shape and color so you know what you are getting.  Most commercial “cinnamon” sold in the United States is actually cassia, or a combination of cassia and cinnamon.

Including Cinnamon in the Diet
Cinnamon is best used when it is fresh. If you are used to buying it ground, make sure that its smell is notable. Sticks of cinnamon can be ground for the best flavor, but even the sticks can become stale if they sit on the shelf for too long. Make sure you store your cinnamon or cassia in a cool, dry cupboard to keep it fresh for as long as possible. 

There are many recipes that feature cinnamon, from curries to hot chocolate and more.  I put cinnamon on my cereal or toast and almost always add some to my curry mixes as well as my blender drinks.  Tasty and healthy, all in one!

Word to the wise:  If you are taking anti-clotting medicine, consult with your health care provider before using cinnamon regularly in your diet.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Ecstasy of Feeling Well: A Healing Diet to Bring You Back from the Edge!

Over the years I’m managed to ease myself into an eating strategy that gives a huge boost to my immune system, provides me with enormous reserves of energy, and a foolproof way to keep my body in an ideal alkaline state.  Do I go off the path?  Absolutely!  I’m a fan of breaking the rules, and break them I do… but I suffer for it in the end!  But knowing I have my healing diet to bring me back from the edge, to balance out the seduction and satisfaction of my cravings, to calm the beast inside. This basic formula is a way to get my system back on track before the next onset of hedonistic bliss!  I must say, however, that this approach to eating has become much more of a constant than anything else, as there is no greater ecstasy than feeling well and up for everything because body, soul, and mind are aligned and in top form. 

This being said, here is an example of what I have in my cupboards at all times:

·      Goji berries (extremely high anti-oxidant fruit)
·      Flax seeds (balances all internal systems, roughage, anti-cancer, and more)
·      Bee pollen (complete vitamin content, especially B complex)
·      Organic coconut flakes or powder (fortifying system)
·      Organic chocolate nibs (high in magnesium, no sugar, energy booster)
·      Maca root (root from the Amazon for hormonal function)
·      Organic stevia (natural alkaline sweetener)
·      Raisons (iron)
·      Cinnamon powder (lowers cholesterol, regulates blood sugar, memory)
·      Oatmeal (fiber, reduces toxicity, lowers cholesterol)
·      Brown rice -preferably short grain “yamani” rice (vitamins, minerals)
·      Millet (gluten-free, vitamins, minerals, alkaline)
·      Amaranth (super grain: protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals)
·      Quinoa (gluten-free, super grain: protein, amino acids, antioxidant)
·      Wholegrain bread
·      Apple butter

·      Assorted vegetables: green leafy, root, cruciferous
·      Sea weed: nori, haziki, wakame, etc
·      Garlic
·      Fresh ginger root
·      Organic first pressed virgin olive oil
·      Organic apple cider vinegar (highly alkaline)
·      Coconut oil
Alkaline fruits:
·      Lemons
·      Green apples
·      Apricots
·      Peaches
·      Grapes
·      Cantaloupe
·      Watermelon

·      Almonds (E, calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper, niacin)
·      Cashews (copper, magnesium, tryptophan, phosphorus)
·      Sesame seeds (manganese, copper, calcium, magnesium, fiber, protein)
·      Sunflower seeds (E, thiamine, manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium)
·      Chia seeds (weight loss, blood sugar balance, Omega 3, anti-oxidant)

Essential spices: turmeric, cayenne pepper, sea salt, black pepper, cumin, a good curry powder (preferably homemade)

Loose Teas:
·      Horsetail (lots of silica for skin and hair)
·      Ginko Biloba (brain stimulant)
·      Milk Thistle (liver cleanser, diuretic)
·      Organic green
·      Organic red
Make a mixture of these teas and drink throughout the day.

Sole is an amazing drink made from Himalayan salt and pure water, with Fiji water being recommended.  Put several large chunks of the salt in a jar and cover with water by about two inches above the chunks.  When the salt can no longer dissolve, you have SOLE.  SOLE helps to remove parasites, is anti-aging, smoothes the skin, and much more.  Everyday before breakfast, on an empty stomach, take a tbs of SOLE in a glass of fresh water.  Wait a half hour and then have breakfast.  You will see what wonders it will bring!


Cook oatmeal with raisons, a pinch of stevia, a tbs of coconut flakes or powder, cinnamon

Add to cooked oatmeal: bunch of goji berries, tsp bee pollen, tsp maca, pinch of chocolate nibs, flax seeds (you have to grind them just before you eat them to get the most out of them.. or buy cold pressed flax oil and put this on your salads)

Optional: Add rice milk and half a banana

Lunch and dinner
Recipe 1:
Brown rice/millet/quinoa (add amaranth to all for extra protein)
Assorted steamed veggies

Recipes can be made as follows:
Grains with steamed veggies topped with flaked nori, olive oil, sea salt, cayenne pepper

Place coconut oil or other oil appropriate for heat in wok or pan.  Add turmeric, cayenne, cumin, curry, salt and heat for a moment to open up the spices.  Add onions, garlic, and grated ginger root and sauté.

Add leafy veggies and cook for only moments, not letting them lose their bright green color.


Add cooked grains to the sautéed mixture and then place sautéed veggies on top along with cooked seaweed or dried nori flakes.

Recipe 2.
Fresh green salads with as many bitter leaves as possible: dandelion, arugula, etc. Fresh fennel is great.  Top with avocado, tomato, and cucumbers along with a handful of shopped cashew nuts.

Dress with olive oil and either apple cider vinegar or half a lemon. Salt and pepper to taste.

Whole grain bread with apple butter is a great snack, as are alkaline fruits.

Almonds , sunflower seeds, raisons, goji berries and chocolate nibs make a great snack mix for maintaining energy throughout the day.  Fresh fruits are always good.  Blender drinks made with fruits or vegetables or a combination of the two are great ways to alleviate hunger between meals.  One of my favorites is:

·      A handful of spinach or parsley
·      A whole Bartlett pear
·      A slice of ginger
·      Half a lemon squeezed
·      A quarter cup of purified water

Blend it up at high speed and you have a vitamin/mineral packed pick-me-up that is absolutely delicious.

Any other recipes based on these simple themes are great.  The idea is to make your diet, especially for the first week or so, as high in alkaline content as possible.  Once your body has less acid and more alkaline, it will not crave sweets and will begin to re-align towards health.  This means you will:
·      Become less anxious
·      Your figure will become more streamline
·      You will not have cravings
·      You will be able to have a more acid meal upon occasion without suffering, as long as you return to the alkaline way.

Bicarbonate of Soda
If you  eat an especially high acidic meal, take one tbs of bicarbonate of soda with half a lemon in a glass of water afterwards. This will immediately alkalize your system.  It is especially good if you have been drinking alcohol.

I will be writing more in detail about the benefits of many of the foods mentioned here in future articles.  Stay tuned!