Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stevia: Sweetest of the Sweetest Sweeteners, and Healthy Too!

For me stevia is the saving grace for all of us sweet-cravers as it contains zero calories, is totally alkaline, and has a plethora of healthful properties way beyond its ability to dulcify our foods and beverages!  

Coming from the chrysanthemum family, stevia grows wild in Paraguay and Brazil and is also cultivated in Japan, China, Mexico, California, and Southern England.  Used since pre-Columbian times to sweeten the native tea called mate, the Italian traveler Antonio Bertoni wrote about it much later in 1887 as the sweetener used by many native South American tribes.

Thirty times sweeter than sugar, stevia contains sweet glycosides that are not metabolized by the body, which means they won’t add extra calories.  Despite its highly sweet taste, in its unadulterated form stevia doesn’t adversely affect blood glucose levels and can even be used by diabetics and hypoglycemics!  Additionally, stevia actually helps to normalize blood sugar levels.  It will also lower blood pressure if you have this condition while not affecting normal levels if you don’t.   Here are some other health attributes of stevia:

·      Functions as a tonic to the entire body
·      Increases energy
·      Increases mental acuity
·      Inhibits the growth and reproduction of specific types of bacteria and other infections organisms
·      Helps prevent tooth decay, gum disease, and oral health in general (add to toothpaste or dilute with water for mouthwash)
·      Helps prevent the onset of colds and flu
·      Helps with weight management and loss
·      Reduces cravings for sweets and fatty foods (can be taken before meals to reduce hunger)
·      Helps restore lost hunger if obstructions in the hypothalamus and stomach exist
·      Improves digestion
·      Improves gastrointestinal function
·      Helps reduce cigarette and alcohol cravings

Stevia, Skin, and Hair
Stevia is also effective in maintaining healthy skin and hair.  It can be used as a facial mask by smoothing a paste made of the powder or crushed leaves and water over the skin and letting it dry for a half an hour or so.  Rinse it off and you will feel how it has tightened and softened the skin, smoothing out wrinkles and healing blemishes.  You can also place a few drops of stevia concentrate directly on a blemish, sore, cut, or scratch and impressive healing will occur.  Stevia is sometimes added to organic soaps and shampoos as it helps to eliminate dandruff and sooth scalp problems, making hair more lustrous.  You can add it yourself to your favorite shampoo.

An Abundance of Nutrients
The stevia leaf contains an abundance of nutrients such as proteins, fiber, carbohydrates, iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, zinc, rutin, vitamin A, vitamin C and an oil that contains a host of other healthful elements. 

Buying Stevia
Stevia, like most things, can be of poor or high quality.  The poorer the quality of the leaves, the more bitter it will taste.  A high quality manufacturer will make sure that stevia’s processing is minimal and done with consciousness.  In this regard it will taste slightly licorice-y.  I buy my stevia from a top-notch health food store in powder form.  It is a beautiful green and tastes divine and you only need a very tiny amount as a little goes a very long way! 

Stevia comes in tea bags, as a loose tea, in ground form, in tablets, or as a liquid concentrate.  Quality will depend on soil conditions, the amount of irrigation and sunlight, purity of the environment, farming and harvesting practices, processing, and storage.  Make sure you buy the most reputable brand to get the most out of the product.

Stevia and Cooking
Stevia doesn’t break down in heat like honey or artificial sweeteners do.  This means you can cook and bake with it and be sure that you are getting all the nutritional components you need.

The FDA vs. Scientific Research
Though the FDA has listed stevia as an unapproved food additive, it is allowed as a food supplement, but not as a sweetener.  That being said, researcher and physician Dr. Daniel Mowrey has said vis a vis his extensive research on the pros and possible cons of stevia:

"More elaborate safety tests were performed by the Japanese during their evaluation of stevia as a possible sweetening agent. Few substances have ever yielded such consistently negative results in toxicity trials as have stevia. Almost every toxicity test imaginable has been performed on stevia extract [concentrate] or stevioside at one time or another. The results are always negative. No abnormalities in weight change, food intake, cell or membrane characteristics, enzyme and substrate utilization, or chromosome characteristics. No cancer, no birth defects, no acute and no chronic untoward effects. Nothing."

So there you have it!

I say, let’s break the sugar addiction by turning to Stevia, the sweetest of the sweet, getting healthier in the process! 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gluten-Free Diet For Celiac Sufferers: Suffer No More!

Here’s a very interesting statistic: one out of every 133 people in the United States has celiac disease! This amounts to about 2 million people, and probably more! Celiac disease is very difficult to diagnose because the symptoms can be very similar to other physical problems like irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, intestinal infections, and chronic fatigue syndrome, which means that many people have celiac disease and don’t realize it, thinking that their discomfort is symptomatic of something else.

What is Celiac Disease?
Celiac disease is when the body is unable to tolerate gluten, a substance that is found in many, many foods and in fact is often hidden in other everyday products like vitamins, lip balms, and medications. Gluten is a common protein in wheat, rye, and barley, which usually form a general part of our daily diets.

Gluten intolerance causes interference with absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Gluten intolerance or celiac disease creates a signal for the immune system to destroy what is called the “villi,” tiny hair-like elements lining the small intestine that help pass nutrients through the walls of the small intestine into the bloodstream. When the villi are destroyed, we can’t get the essential elements we need to stay healthy, no matter how much food we consume.

Celiac disease often is genetic, but it can also be triggered by strong conditions that occur in the body like viral infections, severe emotional stress, surgery, pregnancy and childbirth, and the like.

Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
Gluten intolerance can affect people differently. Here is a list of some symptoms that can show up:
• Abdominal bloating
• Abdominal pain
• Chronic diarrhea
• Constipation
• Vomiting
• Weight loss
• Bad smelling bowel movements
• Pale and fatty bowel movements
• Fatigue
• Iron deficiency anemia
• Irritability, depression, anxiety, mood swings
• Bone and/or joint pain
• Bone loss or osteoporosis
• Arthritis
• Tingling numbness in the hands and feet
• Seizures
• Missed menstrual periods
• Infertility or recurring miscarriages
• Canker sores inside the mouth
• Itchy skin, rashes, dermatitis

Discovering Glucose Intolerance
Celiac disease is often found in people who have Down or Turner Syndrome as well as those with Type 1 diabetes, autoimmune thyroid disease, autoimmune liver disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Addison’s disease. It is important to be tested if you seem to have any of the chronic symptoms listed above as ignoring celiac disease can lead to malnutrition and eventually to more serious conditions that are harder to treat.

You can find out if you have celiac disease through being tested for high levels of TGA (transglutaminase antibodies) or EMA (anti-endomysium antibodies). If you have celiac disease, these antibodies will be present, preventing the absorption of essential nutrients from the foods you eat.

Treating Celiac Disease Easily
If you have celiac disease, you need to eat a gluten-free diet, which is not hard to do with just a little research and a change of habit. A gluten-free diet is also essential if you have a wheat allergy, which many people have without realizing it.

Foods to Avoid
There are several foods containing gluten that are obvious and easy to pick out. They include:

• Wheat
• Rye
• Barley
• Spelt
• Wheat germ
• Wheat bran
• White flour
• Graham flour
• Semolina
• Farina

But gluten creeps in to many other foods, especially processed goods where it is not so evident. For this reason you have to READ THE LABELS to familiarize yourself with those products that contain hidden sources of gluten.

Here is a partial list of other foods to avoid:

• Modified food starch
• Preservatives and stabilizers made with wheat
• Corn and rice products made in factories that also manufacture wheat products (contamination by proxy!)
• Bouillon cubes
• Brown rice syrup
• Candy
• Chips
• Wafers
• Matzo
• Rice mixes

• Cold cuts and other processed foods
• Sauces
• Cheese spreads
• Commercially packaged soups
• Self basting turkey

These days products for celiacs are labeled “gluten free.” Health food stores are a good source as they provide many more options for packaged goods if you don’t have the time to make your recipes from scratch.

Acceptable Foods for Celiacs
There is actually an enormous range of food you can eat if you suffer from celiac disease. The best choice is always fresh, unprocessed foods that include fresh, organic fruits and vegetables that help to cleanse and detoxify the body while adding easily digested anti-oxidants, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Dried fruit is also a good option. Organic meats and poultry and wild (not farmed) fish will provide you with essential protein, with fish giving you doses of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids so necessary for immune and brain function.

Here is a short list of some other foods that work well for those with gluten intolerance:

• Potato
• Rice (including rice noodles to replace wheat or semolina pasta)
• Quinoa
• Soy
• Amaranth
• Buckwheat
• Teff (and all flours made with the above)
• Arrowroot
• Yeast
• Bicarbonate of soda
• Any gluten-free bread or pasta
• Nuts
• Flax seeds
• Eggs
• Yoghurt
• Dried beans
• Peas
• Pulses
• Organic oats
• Cider and cider vinegar
• Wine vinegar
• Distilled Vinegar
• Vegetable oils such as sunflower and olive
• Honey
• Molasses

Alcohol and Celiac Disease
Gluten-free beer is becoming more available in the marketplace. This is made from sorghum, millet, rice, or buckwheat, which are all tolerable to those with gluten intolerance. Again, read your labels carefully, as most beer is made with barley, which contains “hordein.” Hordein is very similar to a substance found in wheat and can cause the same negative reaction for those with gluten intolerance. Most gluten-free beer should have a label saying so. Wine is also another perfectly good option for enjoying your candlelight gluten-free dinners!

The Healthiest Diet
Once you get used to a gluten-free diet, you’ll find that it is actually one of the healthiest ways to eat. You will have eliminated all processed foods as well as wheat and will find that your energy levels will soar as your immune system strengthens. Keep your meals balanced with carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and you will have no problems with digestion or nutrient absorption.

By reading labels carefully and buying only Gluten Free products, you can eliminate negative symptoms and get your system back on track again.