Medical and Health Studies

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    The Organic Debate: Organic Produce is Higher in Antioxidants

The Organic Debate: Organic Produce is Higher in Antioxidants

Another fascinating study has been published, revealing that organic produce is higher in antioxidants than conventional produce.

A large meta-analysis of 340 peer-reviewed international studies concluded that organic foods have several health advantages.  Among them, that organics are higher in antioxidants, have fewer pesticide residues, and are lower in toxic metal content than conventional counterparts.

I’ve been reading a lot lately about antioxidants (research for my new book – more on that later!) and the range of positive health effects they can have.  Hundreds of studies have shown that various antioxidants have the power to improve the immune system, shrink tumors, regulate blood sugar, improve blood pressure and cholesterol, and even improve athletic performance.

The primary job of antioxidants, however, isn’t to help us out, it’s to protect the plant they’re growing in – from pests, the sun, fungi, or other threats.  One hypothesis is that organic foods have higher levels of antioxidants because they have to be a bit more hearty to survive in nature.  Conventional produce has the advantage of various chemicals that do that job for them.  So their antioxidants aren’t as high because they simply don’t need to be.  Supply and demand!

Being lower in toxic heavy metals and pesticides that potentially cause cancer, hormone disruption, or neurotoxicity seem like nice advantages, too.  For more on pesticides check out the Environmental Working Group’s great information.

While organics are likely a bit healthier for the above reasons, it’s still better to eat fruits and vegetables vs. skipping them if conventional is what you have.  Even better, look for local options from smaller farms, who are more judicious about using sprays, use more sustainable farming practices, and likely have better soil quality than some of the massive organic [...]

Boost Your Natural SPF With Antioxidants

Various kinds of tomatoes Improve your natural SPF with lycopene-rich tomatoes

Here’s another reason to eat lots of antioxidant-full plant-foods – recent studies are again showing that certain foods can improve the skin’s ability to protect and heal itself – both by increasing its natural spf and by reducing cancerous skin tumors.

One study showed that supplementing the diet with tomato paste reduced the number of sunburns and improved participants’ natural SPF by up to a third:

“A study out of Athens Medical School in England found people who ate about a quarter cup of tomato paste every day, suffered fewer sunburns and raised their skin’s natural SPF by a third.  The antioxidants in dark greens like spinach disperse in your body and destroy free radicals from the sun.”

Food really is medicine in this instance.  Damage caused by the sun is almost instantly fixed by the nutrients circulating around your system from the foods you’ve eaten.

While many people assume that raw foods are always more nutritious, this isn’t always the case – especially for certain antioxidants.  One of the most widely studied and very beneficial carotenoids in tomatoes is lycopene.  Lycopene in tomatoes actually multiples when cooked, so tomato paste – which has been cooked for long periods of time and condensed –  is one of the richest sources of this powerful antioxidant.

A separate study showed that patients who already had skin cancer could reduce their cancerous tumors by over fifty percent with just one serving of leafy greens per day. Isn’t food amazing!  Don’t forget to maximize your absorption of the nutrients in these vegetables by eating them with a little fat- extra-virgin olive oil is the [...]

The Organic Debate: Ask These Fruit Flies

I love this take on the organic debate – as much as a story about an awesome 8th grader as a story about the importance of organic food.  After listening to a debate her parents were having about the importance of organic foods, a middle school student in Dallas, TX decided to design an experiment for her upcoming science fair devoted to the topic.

Go to the full story for details, but in a nutshell, flies that ate organic bananas and potatoes vs. conventional had better outcomes in fertility, stress resistance, and longevity – nearly every outcome measured.  And, organic produce was found to have higher levels of vitamin C.

The study was so well-designed and compelling that it was published in a prestigious scientific journal – pretty cool beans for a middle schooler!

The research didn’t determine exactly what variable led to the different health outcomes – the variance in nutrient levels, pesticide/fungicide residues, and/or natural chemical compounds present on the produce.

In the press the organic debate appears to go back and forth, but when paying attention to the details I find the reasons to go organic very persuasive.  All of the above theories are compelling reasons to seek out organic when possible.

  • Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole
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    Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole with Kalamata Olives, Roasted Red Peppers and Cannellini Beans

Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole with Kalamata Olives, Roasted Red Peppers and Cannellini Beans

Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole with lots of good stuff

While putting together the Eat Happy Meal Plan for next week I inadvertently ended up with a bit of a Mediterranean theme – including this Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole.

Mediterranean food is renowned for its health benefits as well as its tastiness and, for lack of a better term, the level of satisfaction this way of eating provides.  Because it’s not deficient in any major food group (lookin at you fats) and includes a lot of variety in foods and flavor, it’s a very satisfying way to eat, which also happens to make it very sustainable.

This casserole is a bit of a smorgasbord of Mediterranean ingredients – kalamata olives, roasted red peppers, tomatoes, cannellini beans, feta cheese (look for authentic goat or sheep milk varieties), fish, and fresh herbs.

You do have to cook the quinoa, but other than that the preparation is as simple as tossing chopped ingredients in a bowl (many of which conveniently coming from the pantry), mixing, then transferring to a casserole dish to bake.  Twenty-five minutes, easy peasy.

Serving of Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole Serving of Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole

Mediterranean Quinoa Casserole with Kalamata Olives, Roasted Red Peppers and Cannellini Beans
From: Eat Happy Meal Plan
Total Prep Time: 55 minutes
Active Time: 25 minutes
Serves:  4 with leftovers

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed well in a fine-mesh sieve
2 cups chopped tomatoes with liquid from about 1 can
3 roasted red peppers, about 1 jar, cut [...]

Gluten-Free Diet Lowers Type I Diabetes in Mice

Both celiac disease and type I diabetes run in my family, so this study about how a gluten-free diet reduced incidences of type I diabetes in mice is particularly interesting.  For years researchers and holistically-oriented health care practitioners have been pointing out a link between both dairy and gluten consumption and an increase in autoimmune disease (type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease, distinctly different from type II which is generally later-onset and related to lifestyle).

This study is the first I’ve seen with this angle: showing that a gluten-free diet can actually reduce the incidence of type I diabetes in baby mice (pups).  Consuming both dairy and gluten increases intestinal permeability, which can weaken the gut environment, make nutrients more difficult to absorb, and damage the immune system.

The researchers who conducted this study have hypothesized that changes to the digestive system and resulting immune system changes could be at root of the causal link between the gluten and type I diabetes.  However, there isn’t any current research that bares out the exact nature of the connection.

I would certainly love to see more research in this area.  Some of us, who have a family history of type 1 diabetes, or any autoimmune disease as I do, may consider adopting a gluten-free diet during pregnancy and lactation, in order to reduce the likelihood of our kids getting one of these diseases.

For more information on the study, click here.  For a fail-proof roadmap to adopting a nutritious gluten-free diet check out Eat Happy Meal Plan.

Eliminate Sugar Cravings with Bitter Foods

Dandelion Greens with Wehani Rice Dandelion Greens with Wehani Rice, image permissions

Oftentimes people try to eliminate sugar cravings by increasing their consumption of naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, dates, and natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup.  While these foods are certainly better choices than refined sugar, I find that this switch alone isn’t effective at eliminating the crushing sugar cravings that many sugar-addicted people experience.  In fact, only switching to naturally sweet foods can make sugar cravings worse.

One of the most effective tips I’ve witnessed in my clients in eliminating even the worst sugar cravings is to increase consumption of bitter foods.  In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sweet and bitter are viewed as opposite flavors – yin vs. yang.  Eating too much sugary and sweet foods places the body in a state of imbalance and causes a snowballing of sugar cravings.  The best way to balance the body is therefore to increase the consumption of bitter foods – think about balancing an old-fashioned scale with weights on both sides.

Bitter foods also have the advantage of being some of the most detoxifying and nourishing for the body.  This article written recently by Dr. Andrew Weil describes how important bitter foods are in the diet and their many benefits.

Add bitter foods, such as arugula, dandelion greens, endive, green tea, and even unsweetened cocoa nibs (the stuff chocolate is made from) to your diet several times per day to decrease your overall sugar cravings.  Eating a teaspoon of cocoa nibs or drinking a cup of green tea is a very effective and immediate cure for acute sugar cravings.

As time passes and you continue [...]

Improve Your Immunity Naturally

Need natural ways to improve your immunity?  Me too.

Since having kids I’ve become a little obsessed with fending off bugs around this time of year.  About a year ago I wrote a post about 6 steps to boost your immune system.   Well, it’s on my mind again this year, and actually even more relevant, since my oldest started pre-school this September.  She is having a blast and loving school, but there’s been a steady stream of bugs into the house ever since.   And while she’s been remarkably resistant, the rest of us (myself, my 1-year old, and my husband), have been a bit more affected.

When it comes to boosting immunity there are, of course, the pillars of good health: exercise,  a clean and nutritious diet, and enough sleep.  But we all know about those, right?  So what else can you do?  Perhaps, like me, you’re exposure to bugs has increased, or perhaps you’ve been in a rut of feeling unwell for a while, and need to turbo-charge your a efforts.  If you’re already doing the basic stuff and would like a little extra, read on.

Here are 4 cool and effective ways to boost your immune system:

  1. Take a cold shower – This is probably the easiest one on the list.  Takes barely any time at all, is essentially free, and requires no time outside of your current daily schedule.  How does it work?  Research shows that “taking daily cold showers increased the numbers of disease-fighting white blood cells (compared to people who took hot showers)”.  Bonus: they can boost your metabolic rate, help prevent injury, and improve male fertility.  Read more here.  Duration doesn’t need to be long (think a cold rinse – [...]

Anti-nutrients: The Problem with Greens, Grains and Legumes

Plant foods are good for you.  They are loaded with beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  But most plant foods, including greens, grains, nuts and legumes, contain chemicals that are not good for you.  They can be quite bad.  In some cases they can actively harm you.  These little devils are called “anti-nutrients”.

If you are saying “ugh, what is going to kill me next” or “I can’t eat anything anymore”, I totally understand.  I was also exasperated upon learning about anti-nutrients.  The good news is that most plant foods certainly do more good than harm (otherwise vegetarians wouldn’t live longer than the rest of us!) and traditional preparation and cooking methods can and will deactivate or at least mitigate these chemicals.

So, anti-nutrients.  I’m talking specifically about phytic acid, oxalic acid and lectins.  Phytic acid is a chemical that naturally exists in nuts, seeds, and grains.  It binds itself to zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium and thus prevents your body from absorbing them.  Oxalic acid is present in spinach, rhubarb, beet greens and swiss chard and prevents calcium absorption.

Then there are lectins.  Lectins are present in legumes and grains, especially wheat, soybeans and kidney beans.  They are surprisingly nasty buggers – they’re what makes ricin so lethal.  Lectins are carb-binding proteins that are believed to have something to do with natural plant defense against predators and disease.  They’re “sticky” and can bind to cells in your intestines, causing damage.  Damage from lectins can cause leaky gut, which occurs when inflammation and intestinal damage results in gaps in the intestinal lining.  These gaps allow particles of food to pass through and enter the blood stream, where they then cause havoc – attaching to organs and causing [...]

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    Why It’s Hard to Break-Up with a Cheeto (addictive junk food)

Why It’s Hard to Break-Up with a Cheeto (addictive junk food)

CheetosHave you ever felt out of control with your eating?  Like you just couldn’t stop even though you wanted to and knew you should?

If so, you probably felt a certain amount of guilt, or even shame, about how much you eventually did eat.  That guilt made you feel bad about your own ability for self-control, and that, coupled with a food-hangover, made you feel pretty terrible in general.  Physically and emotionally.  You wouldn’t be alone if this turned into a destructive cycle that brought you back again and again for that very same food, followed by guilt and depression.  Perhaps this even happened with seemingly healthy or “diet” foods.  Even worse!

A fascinating article came out recently in the New York Times Magazine called The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food that explains why it’s so hard to put down the snack bag – and it’s NOT your lack of willpower.  I just want to say that again, and in obnoxious all-caps: IT’S NOT YOUR LACK OF WILLPOWER.

It’s been known for quite a while that sugar and fat are addictive – this article in Scientific American describes how rats, given access to high-fat foods, “showed some of the same characteristics as animals hooked on cocaine or heroin–and found it hard to quit even when given electric shocks”.  In non-technical terms, when you eat high-fat and high-sugar foods, your brain releases chemicals (neurotransmitters) that make you happy.  This makes you more likely to eat that food again.  After a few times you become desensitized to that food “high” and need more to get the same level of satisfaction.  Therefore you eat more and more.  It works just like drugs, with [...]

The best all-natural constipation cure and a trick for getting kids to eat it

A few things have contributed to my writing a post about fiber supplements.  First, I had a baby 6 weeks ago.  If you’ve ever popped out a baby, you know why this is relevant, and if you haven’t, you can probably figure it out.  Second, I read an interesting article on how prevalent chronic constipation is in young kids and how it can be a big problem for years if not addressed.  Kids who get freaked out by pooping or have a bad experience can tend to hold it in as long as possible and actually stretch out their little colons.  This can lead to their inability to tell when they have to poop.  Poor little guys.  Third, I have a potty-training toddler who happened to start freaking out when she needs to poop.  Having just read this article, I wanted to ensure that she’d avoid the above-described uncomfortable and potentially dangerous fate.

So, the best all-natural fiber supplement is, in my opinion, psyllium seed husk.  I came across psyllium seed husk when doing research for a client.  What’s interesting about it is that it’s equally effective for constipation as well as diarhea, making it ideal for people with irritable bowel syndrome.  It bulks the stool (therefore binding it) and softens it.  All in all it’s a great digestive regulator.  It’s all-natural, cheap and effective.  And it’s totally tasteless.  When I was diagnosed with IBS by a doctor many years ago I was told to take a metamucil fiber wafer each day.  It didn’t help, tasted disgusting, and had a lot of sugar in it.  This is much more pleasant and effective.

When I recently had my baby I found that [...]