Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Healing Power of Phytonutrients

"Phytonutrients have the ability to halt a cell from converting to a cancerous cell."  - American Institute for Cancer Research.

Powerful words about an amazing immune system protector that is readily available in fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts.  The word "Phytonutrient" comes from the Greek word phyto, meaning plant.  The plant world not only provide high amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals but also these essential phytonutrients.

Some examples of phytonutrients are: carotenoids, flavonoids, lycopene and beta-carotene (phytosterols, phytoestrogens and indoles are other examples but I will talk about these in a future blog). These are nature's powerhouses of nutrition and can pack a mighty punch against illnesses.  To ensure adequate protection from disease, we must eat 7 to 10 half-cup servings of fresh (organic when possible), fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts daily.  Food processing destroys phytonutrients (especially in seed and nut oils) and cooking reduces these nutrients.  The cooking water that is often thrown out contains the most important substances so its actually beneficial to drink this!  Freezing food releases certain enzymes that can destroy some of  the health-promoting substances so fresh is definitely best.

Flavonoids are phytonutrients that offer potent antioxidents that prevent the formation of free radicals.  They also decrease inflammation in the body and help the body to absorb vitamin C better.  Flavonoids are extremely important to the health of the immune system and have the ability to lower blood sugar levels.  Flavonoid-rich foods include broccoli, grapes, carrots, onions, peppers, green tea, tangerines, blueberries, apples, and all citrus fruits.

Carotonoids are right up there with flavonoids and, so far, there have been more than 600 different carotenoids identified!  Dark green, yellow, red and orange vegetables and fruits are rich in carotonoids and offer superior antioxidants activity that protects the body from skin damage, cataracts, macular degeneration and cancer.

Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant that stops the damage caused by free radicals.  Tomatoes, watermelon and pink grapefruit are rich in lycopene.  Lycopene is a little different in that it works better in the body when cooked - for example, tomato sauce is richer in this antioxidant than raw tomatoes (although raw tomatoes still contain a great amount).  Since lycopene is a fat-soluble carotenoid adding a little flaxseed oil or olive oil will help the body absorb it better. As well, if you let a watermelon sit on the counter for a couple of hours at room temperature it too will be richer in lycopene.

Most people have heard of beta-carotene, found in carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, peaches, mangoes and apricots (its responsible for the orange or red color of fruits and vegetables).  Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body but, unlike vitamin A, consuming too much beta-carotene is not toxic (the only side effect is a yellowing of the skin!).  Including lots of carotene-rich foods in your daily diet can help to reduce the risk of developing cancers of the colon, esophagus, pancreas, throat and stomach.  Carotene also boosts the immune system.

Its so amazing to me all the wonderful nutrients that the plant world provides!  Scientists are constantly finding new phytonutrients and new benefits all the time.  It really doesn't matter to the average person what all these names are but simply that we eat these amazing immune boosters that God has provided to us in nature!  Enjoy!!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Which Milk is Best?

This morning I had a very good question from a friend of mine asking about milk and which type of milk is the best.  There are a few choices out there in regards to milk ranging from almond milk, rice milk, soy milk, goat's milk and even sheep milk.  I personally limit my cow's milk to, at the most, once a day and instead drink water as my beverage of choice.  In my smoothies I use rice milk (I used to drink almond milk until I realized the correlation between almonds and my migraines).

Assuming that one is not lactose intolerant, or allergic to milk, or has any other problems such as female reproductive issues, it is fine to drink cow's milk in moderation. My friend's question was directed not to the source of the milk but to the type of milk and the homogenization process.

This may be a complete shock to a lot of readers but I recommend either 2% or whole milk.  We NEED the fat in milk to help in the assimilation of calcium from the milk to be better absorbed by our bodies.  The whole low-fat diet thing can lead to a lot of problems including, but not limited to, nutrient deficiencies (Vitamins A and D are two examples of fat-soluble vitamins and these are both found in milk).  As well, the sugar vs. fat ratio becomes too unbalanced and what's left is a surge in blood sugar.  Taking out the fat in milk also results in a 20% relative increase in protein, which makes the kidneys work harder.

Other great dairy sources include Buttermilk and Kefir.  My kids LOVE Kefir.  Kefir is basically a drinkable yogurt that has so many wonderful probiotics in it.

I also love milk that comes from grass-fed cows.  When cows eat what God intended for them to eat - grass and any accompanying weeds in the fields - they naturally consume the omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA).  This in turn means that not only will their milk contain these needed fatty acids but also their meat. Depending on where you live it can be more difficult to find grass-fed milk.  Whole Foods (my FAVORITE store) sells brands of milk that come from grass-fed cows (Snowville Creamery is one example and this brand also is not homogenized). Kroger sells a grass-fed brand in their natural dairy section as well. I usually buy either grass-fed or organic milk (if I can find an organic milk that is also grass-fed, even better!).

A note about the homogenization process: the theory is that homogenization, by breaking up milk molecules into smaller pieces, allows some substances to pass through the intestinal wall unchanged by the digestive process.  One of these substances in milk is an enzyme called xanthine oxydase (XO).  After passing through the intestinal wall it ends up in the bloodstream.  As it goes through the arteries it scratches and corrodes the inside of the arterial walls, casing small cuts.  The body tries to defend against this by depositing cholesterol over the cuts to avoid further damage.  This can, theoretically, eventually lead to hardening of the arteries.  Snowville Creamery, as I mentioned, sells non-homogenized milk and I'm sure there are other companies out there that do the same.

Milk is actually treated by the body as a food, not a drink, so consume in moderation. I always prefer my family to consume milk from cows that are not treated with bovine growth hormone, are fed either a grass diet and/or organic feed, and are antibiotic free. If you have any questions about this please let me know.  Below is a link to Snowville Creamery's website.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Those Sneaky Chemicals!

Well, since it already feels like I'm on a roll talking about food coloring and artificial sweeteners in previous weeks, I thought I would continue and talk a bit about a few other nasty chemicals that are added to foods.  These chemicals, along with sugar, food coloring and artificial sweeteners, are considered anti-nutrients and really should be avoided as much as possible.  What am I talking about?  MSG (monosodium glutamate), Nitrates, BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole).

These chemicals may have long names but they don't do a whole lot for a long, healthy life. They leave little room for life-sustaining building blocks such as proteins, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids which are all necessary for optimal health.  What's worse, these anti-nutrients have even been linked to serious diseases such as asthma, obesity, Type II diabetes and cancer.  Check out your boxed cereals, crackers, luncheon meats, processed breads and be very wary of these chemicals.

It is obvious in any grocery store that people are eating "far from the land". Think about it. How much processing is involved and how much "real" food is truly left in a boxed dinner?  The reason food manufacturers' have to add in the chemicals I mentioned is because the food really has no taste - so many good things have been stripped from the original food and replaced with junk.  MSG is added to things to make it taste good - it gives food a hearty, meaty type of taste.  Nitrates are used to preserve foods such as luncheon meats.  Historically, salt was used.  Nitrates are one of those chemicals that truly scares me.  Consuming too much of it can lead to stomach cancers and other problems.  BHT and BHA are used to add shelf-life to foods.  I don't know about you, but I would rather eat something fresh instead!

The side effects of MSG have been well documented and include: migraines, headaches, stomach aches, irritable bowel disease, panic attacks, heart palpitations, hyperactivity,  blurred vision, behavioral problems in children, difficulty focusing and fibromyalgia.  Food chemicals are a special concern for children whose growing bodies and smaller organs are more susceptible to its effects.  Like Aspartame, MSG crosses a safety net, called the blood-brain barrier, which separates the brain from the rest of the body.  There's also a strange phenomenon called "Chinese-Food Syndrome" that is related to consuming MSG that can cause tingling, chest pains, numbness as well as the other mentioned symptoms.  Yikes!  Manufacturers have also tried to get around the whole MSG stigma by using ingredients such as autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed protein which are actually components of MSG in disguise.  Pretty sneaky, right?

Interestingly, there is a natural form of MSG that is found in soybeans, beets, seaweeds and, in small amounts, in beef.  However, this natural form is how God intended and not condensed and transformed into the chemical sense of MSG.

What can you do?  Eliminate food ingredients that you cannot pronounce!  Better yet, eliminate those that a 4th grader cannot pronounce!  There is no such thing as empty calories.  Every food eaten can help or hinder you and your children's health.