Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stay Hydrated and Enjoy Water

Warmer days are here so it is an important time to make sure we are drinking enough water. It is extremely important that we stay hydrated all year round. Adequate water helps flush toxins out of our body and keeps our skin and joints healthy. During the summer, dehydration can contribute to heat exhaustion and other serious issues.

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Getting adequate electrolytes can be just as important as drinking water. Electrolytes are the minerals that our bodies need for proper nerve and muscle function. My husband works a lot outside, and in the past, he would start feeling nauseous on very hot days. Now he adds ElectroMix, an electrolyte blend without sugar, to his water and hasn’t had a problem since.

I started using the ElectroMix too on the days I work in the garden and find it feels more refreshing than regular water. I have found this to be true with some other enhanced waters too. I don’t drink very much coconut water because I don’t want to add the extra sugar to my diet, but I do feel better hydrated when I drink it.

Electrolytes and minerals are what these two beverages have in common. So I started experimenting with other minerals in my water. I found I like adding ¼ of a serving of Pure Essence’s Magnesium Plus powder to my water in the evening. This diluted mixture is still flavorful enough and sweet from stevia, lo han fruit, and FOS, a prebiotic. I don’t know if it is the sweet flavor or the extra minerals and nutrients, but this drink is reducing my evening sugar cravings.

Don’t get me wrong. I love plain water and drink lots of it, always purified. Sometimes I just want something else. A sparkling mineral water might help satisfy the desire for a soda. I just tried a new blackberry pomegranate flavored one from Mountain Valley out of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Other great ideas are iced herbal teas, adding lemon to your water or even trying a diluted version of my 2 Minute Detox Drink .

So stay hydrated, and tell me which other healthy beverages your body says YES to.

Cacao Nibs Unlock Chocolate’s Heart Health Secrets

What is the difference between cacao and cocoa?

Marketing.

Theobroma cacao is scientific name of the plant that produces cocoa or cacao beans, and therefore chocolate. Any product made from it could be called cacao. Usually, the term cacao is used to differentiate the raw forms of chocolate, while cocoa mostly refers to the powder made from roasted cocoa beans with the cocoa butter removed.

These cacao pods are full of heart healthy cacao beans

These cacao pods are full of heart healthy cacao beans

Generally, the more we process a food, the more nutrients are lost. So no matter whether it is called chocolate or cacao, the raw versions of chocolate will have higher antioxidants and nutrients than roasted ones. There are also differences among cocoas. The most common cocoas are Dutch or alkali processed. This process removes many of the brain and heart protective compounds in chocolate. So non-alkalized cocoa is healthier than the Dutch cocoa. There are some differences in the acidity of these different products so if you want to use raw cacao or non-alkalized cocoa in baking, do some reading to find the right approach. This may be as simple as using baking soda instead of baking powder.

As long as we are choosing a form of chocolate that still has a lot of the antioxidants intact, chocolate is an enjoyable brain and heart helper. Chocolate can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, as well as drop your blood pressure a few points. Chocolate may improve your lipid profile and lessen inflammation. It is notably a nerve protector, which could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Chocolate can also improve digestion by supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Most of studies were done with cocoa, usually non-alkalized, or chocolate bars that have a high percentage of cacao solids. I don’t know of any that have been done using raw cacao, but we can assume the benefits would be even greater due to the higher percentage of protective antioxidants.

Chocolate is also high in minerals. Just one ounce of chocolate that is 70% cacao solids has 63 mg of magnesium as well as other minerals including 25% of your daily copper and manganese. It has some of the same antioxidants as green tea making it a potential cancer fighter. Chocolate is also well known for being a mood booster and may even modulate your production of the stress hormone, cortisol.

We all know that sugar goes really well with chocolate, but sugar causes many of the health problems we are trying to fight with chocolate. I like eating cocoa nibs and raw cacao beans. They taste much more like black coffee than the chocolate bars you might be used to, but they can help satisfy the chocolate craving in a healthy way. For a high antioxidant snack, try mixing the cacao nibs or beans with goji berries or other dried fruit. So join the healthy chocolate revolution and cacao your heart out.

Herbal Supplements: Sorting the good from the bad

Don’t waste your time on worthless supplements. I have warned many of my patients away from the low quality supplements sold at some large discount retailers that I will not name here. A recent investigation in New York indicates that my warnings were right. They found that only 1 out of 5 herbal supplements from these store’s house brands really contained the herb named on the label.

So, let me tell you how the supplement industry works. A vitamin company, whether high or low quality, buys their vitamins and herbs from a supplier and then blends and encapsulates those ingredients. One of the main differences between a good company and a poor one is where they get those raw materials.

I am particularly concerned about the quality of herbal supplements, which were examined in the recent investigation. In addition to the possibility of the herbs being adulterated with random junky ingredients, it matters how the herbs are grown. An herb has to be grown under the right conditions and harvested at the proper time to ensure adequate potency. This is why I particularly want to get my herbal supplements from companies that really care about quality. They often show this concern by testing each batch for the proper chemical markers and/or standardizing the herbal extract to contain a specified amount of the active ingredient. I particularly support companies like Gaia Herbs, which actually grows many of their herbs on their own farm in North Carolina.

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Another wonderful company specializing in vitamins is Biotech, located right here in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I have toured Biotech’s facilities and saw their commitment to quality at every step in their process. Biotech again consistently buys their ingredients from high quality suppliers. They do test every shipment they receive to make sure of the strength and purity, but they rarely have to reject a shipment because they are working with suppliers that care about the products as much as they do.

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Other supplements are of concern too. It is hard to mess up a basic vitamin C, but some companies don’t put the amount in capsules that the label claims. I have also encountered rancid fish and flax oil from some of the big box store brands. When oils go rancid, they can develop toxic compounds that damage our DNA and may even contribute to heart disease. If one of my patients brings in fish oil from one of these questionable brands, I actually bite into the capsule and taste the oil. A bitter or excessively fishy taste usually indicates it is rancid and should be tossed. One person that I had shared this advice with found her fish oil to be rancid and tried giving it to her dog. Her dog was too smart and refused to take it. She bought a high quality brand like Nordic Naturals, and her dog approved of that one.

Not all supplement companies are alike. Some take steps to guarantee quality at every step of the manufacturing process and others are just trying to get the cheapest possible pill on the shelf. If you aren’t seeing the benefits you expect from your supplements, switch to a company that really cares.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

I started making my own vanilla extract a few years ago, and I am hooked. I even did a taste comparison between my vanilla and a store bought one. As you can probably guess, mine won. My recipe is a tiny bit more complex than some, but it is worth the extra effort. If you start your vanilla in the next month or two, you can give it as gifts during the holiday season.

Vanilla

Homemade Vanilla Extract

2-4 vanilla beans

3 ounces of vodka

1 ounce of bourbon or dark rum

1 Tablespoon glycerin

Cut vanilla beans into about ½ inch pieces. Combine all ingredients in a jar. Let sit in a dark place for 2-4 weeks. Strain and enjoy in your favorite recipes.

I get my vanilla beans from Frontier, which is a cooperative distributor of bulk herbs, spices, and more. I spent the last few days visiting their operations in Iowa and was very impressed by their emphasis on quality and their dedication to improving the lives of the farmers who supply their products.

For instance, vanilla is one of their biggest sellers, especially their Bourbon vanilla beans grown in Madagascar. In general, Frontier makes efforts to ensure fair treatment of farmers and workers, sustainable production, and adherence to food quality and safety standards. Additionally, they really care about the communities where their farmers live. Whenever they visit, they take soccer balls for the local children’s groups. This is hugely popular, but even more important they help provide schools, meals for school children, and more. In a recent initiative, they dug wells in 38 villages in Madagascar that supply their vanilla beans. This provided clean drinking water to over 25,000 people.

Additionally, the farmers use this clean water to wash the vanilla beans. This helps ensure that the vanilla beans and other spices are safe for us to consume. On top of this, Frontier has multiple layers of quality control at their facility to guarantee that all herbs and spices are correctly identified, have the best flavor or medicinal constituent profile, are free of contaminates, and safe for our consumption.

It feels good to support businesses like Frontier who care so much about the herbs that I get and the people who grow them. So enjoy some delicious vanilla and some of the good that is done in the world by companies that care.

Playing in the Dirt

I didn’t write my usual blog last week because I took a week off to do some planting, but so far this is all I have to show for it: mud from the knees down.

Mud from knees down

My husband and I own a small organic farm called Downstream Farm Organic Produce. I was focusing on planting our red okra, which we sell at Ozark Natural Foods later in the summer. As well as growing food for ONF and local restaurants, my husband and I produce about 50% of our food. We do this to have the freshest, highest quality foods, and I find digging in the soil to be a therapeutic activity.

We keep our gardening as simple as possible so we can have time to grow the volume that we do. We amend the soil with our compost and organic nutrient from Nitron Industries. We mulch heavily and water with soaker hoses on a rotation. We weed and remove bugs mostly by hand. Mostly, our success is because we focus varieties that grow well with few pests in this region.

As well as the red okra, I find that a wide variety of peppers grow with ease here along with tomatoes, especially the Arkansas Traveler. But we round out the selection with onions, garlic, cucumbers, carrots, greens, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, dry beans, basil, and many other herbs. High Mowing Seeds have had an excellent germination rate for us in general.

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My favorite gardening tool is actually this masonry trowel. I use it for mixing in nutrients when I set in plant starts, and it is great for weeding.

Even if you aren’t going to plant rows and rows of okra like me, plant a few herb or flowers. Do what you can to play in the dirt and enjoy its calming benefits.

Anxiety Calming Kava Kava

I first learned about Kava Kava during my undergraduate education. My anthropology instructor had lived on a Pacific island and participated in the kava rituals of the community. She told us about how kava was used to calm tensions and unify the people of the island. They always held kava rituals when strangers came to the island to make sure things stayed peaceful. After this, I tried kava for my test-taking anxiety. I found that it calmed me without making me tired.  I eventually got over my anxiety around tests, but now continue to recommend kava to patients with anxiety.

I don’t always start with herbal interventions like kava for anxiety. First, I want to explore possible contributing factors that can be corrected before I jump to mood-modifying herbs. I work on nutrient deficiencies, weak organs systems, or poor stress coping mechanisms. If I still need an herbal intervention like kava, it works better after I have addressed these underlying issues.

Kava is beneficial for more than just anxiety. It is toning to the nervous system and may help insomnia especially if it is related to anxiety. It also has mild antidepressant activities. It relaxes muscles and may help reduce skeletal muscle spasms. It can help ease pain particularly pelvic pain. There are warnings that come with kava about possible liver damage, but many of the reported cases of liver damage could not be clearly traced to kava. This doesn’t mean that kava will not cause liver damage, but it is probably no more likely to than other herbs and medications.