Tag Archives: cholesterol lowering

The Real Benefits of Coconut Oil

Enjoy all the benefits for coconut oil, but don’t assume all the claims about it are true. I love coconut oil, and there is a huge list of the possible benefits to be gained from adding coconut oil to the diet. Some of these are supported by studies and others are just theoretical. Many of the studies only look at the short-term benefits, and one on palm oil (similar fat composition to coconut oil) showed excess consumption contributed to fatty liver while sunflower oil didn’t.

Most oils contain long chain fatty acids, while the ones in coconut oil are known as medium chain, hence the term medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). The shorter size of these fats in coconut oil does have several implications for our health. Coconut oil can be absorbed easier by the digestive tract, making it beneficial for many people with poor absorption of fats. These medium chain fats can also rapidly burn for energy in the body.

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Let’s look at the better-supported benefits of coconut oil:

Antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal benefits- Yes, the high lauric acid content of coconut oil can be useful internally or topically to help us fight certain infections.

Brain benefits- Loved ones of people suffering from dementia have told me about impressive improvements in symptoms from adding coconut oil. On small study from 2004 also showed cognitive improvement when Alzheimer’s disease patients were given MCT oils, but the amount of improvement was affected by certain genetic markers. For a great way to support brain health with coconut oil, try my bulletproof turmeric tea.

Weight loss- Studies have shown both reduction in calorie consumption and a mild increase in calorie burning. I have gotten reports from friends that eating coconut oil about a half hour before meals does reduce their appetite.

Energy- MCT oil is a preferred calorie source for some athletes, and several studies have shown that MCTs can enhance athletic performance. Some people notice coconut oil can reduce their sugar cravings possibly because their bodies are happy to use another quick energy source.

Unanswered questions about coconut oil:

Oil pulling– This process where coconut or sesame oil is swished in the mouth like a mouthwash has been show to improve oral health in several ways. Most of the studies have used sesame oil, so we are not sure if coconut oil is equally beneficial other than from anecdotal report. I like the taste of coconut oil over sesame.

Heart health- A 2009 study showed a reduction in total cholesterol and an increase in good HDL cholesterol in obese women given coconut oil along with overall calorie restriction and exercise advice. The control group was given soybean oil and didn’t see the cholesterol changes. This was only a 12-week study so we don’t know what the longer-term effects will be or if these cholesterol changes will affect heart health in any real way.

Diabetes- Some coconut oil proponents say it can improve blood sugar related issues. In a study using rats, coconut oil led to decreased insulin resistance compared to the control group that was given lard. But the rats fed coconut oil also developed fatty liver. So…humans aren’t rats, but the tendency toward fatty liver reflects the palm oil study showing the same issue in humans.

In the study I mentioned where the palm oil contributed to fatty liver, the subjects were eating too many calories as well as too much fat. Let’s not make that mistake. Remember there are individual variations in what foods “agree” with us. And as with nearly every dietary consideration, we need moderation and diversity in our choice of fats.

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How to Make New Herbal Friends

Herbal medicine is just one attribute of naturopathic medicine, but it is one of my favorites. In my mind, herbs are like friends with individual personalities. While two herbs might share some of the same activities, they can vary in their strength and their affinity for different areas of the body. I am a huge fan of both marshmallow root and slippery elm bark. Both are soothing herbs that can be used for irritated mucous membranes. Marshmallow would be the best choice for urinary irritation, while slippery elm support the digestive tract, partially because it helps feed our good bacteria. Of course, if I only had one of these two herbs, I would use the one that was handy for either issue.

Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com

Marshmallow; Photo copyright Henriette Kress, http://www.henriettesherbal.com

Herbs are also usually very gentle friends that help me keep to the naturopathic principle  First Do No Harm. In fact herbs are so gentle, it can often be challenging to draw the line between medicinal herbs and food. Which of these is a medicinal herb and which a food: cinnamon, turmeric, myrrh?

Most of you realized that is a trick question. Depending on the culture and the use, all three could be either. In some cultures, myrrh is added to foods as a spice despite its strong flavor. It happens to also serve the medicinal benefit of lower cholesterol while being part of those dishes. (We would use its relative Guggul in a capsule instead to reduce cholesterol.). If you asked someone in that society why it is added to the dish, they would probably say that is the way they like it. This is probably how many of our culinary spices came into common use. They are all medicinal spices that we have grown to love and expect in our everyday cooking. We often start to love foods and herbs that are good for us.

When I learn a new herb, I like to understand its personality to help me remember it better. I do this by both studying and experiencing it.

Start with a few herbs or even just one. Experience it in as many ways as you can, with as many senses as you can. If you can find a living plant, spend a little time observing it. This might not tell you anything about the herb, but it gives you an image and the beginnings of a personality to connect with the other things you learn about the plant. If the plant doesn’t grow nearby, find a picture of it. Smell a crushed leaf from the plant. Taste a tea or tincture make from that medicinal herb. By engaging more of your senses, you are stimulating your memory on deeper levels. Sometimes the taste or smell or even appearance can help you make educated guesses about the activity of its medicinal components.

I also like the scientific side of things. I review studies when available to learn what conditions my herb treats. I will review the herbal medicine books to see what medicinal actions the plant has. Ideally, my herb has more than one of the activities I am looking. For instance, Echinacea stimulates the immune system while also having some antimicrobial benefits to help fight a particular illness on two fronts. The combination of these two activities can give you a much more rounded view of your chosen herb than if you just did an Internet search for “medicinal benefits of plantain” (hopefully my last blog will show up though). Take all that you have learned to create an idea of its personality. Is it a fierce herbal warrior like the antimicrobial yarrow or is it a calming nourisher like the heart-protecting hawthorn. These stories can help you remember when to choose a particular herbal ally.

I would love to hear about your experiences making new herbal friends.

 

Granny’s Pickled Okra Recipe

This unusual cool spell has made me start thinking it is already fall. Like women and grannies of the past, I spend considerable effort in the summer and fall getting ready for winter. While my husband gathers firewood for us, my job is to preserve the summer’s harvest so we have an abundance of our own food through out the winter.

I particularly love making pickles. I give them as gifts as well as enjoy different pickled vegetables throughout the winter. When it comes to okra, this is a great way to preserve it without adding a bunch of calories like frying okra does. Okra is a good source of several vitamins and minerals as well as fiber, which is important for colon health and blood sugar. Finally, there are other health benefits from that okra mucilage, which is responsible for its slimy texture. This mucilage can soothe the gut and help absorb toxins in the digestive tract. It may even promote healthy cholesterol levels.

My friends tell me I make the best-pickled okra. I use the red okra we grow on our farm and sell at Ozark Natural Foods. It gives it a pretty pink tint.

Pickled okra

This recipe is one I got from husband’s granny who got it from her mom. I am proud to continue this Arkansas tradition by making it for my friends.

Granny’s Pickled Okra

20 ounces of small okra

2 pods hot red or green pepper

2 cloves garlic peeled

2 cups vinegar

¼ cup water

3 Tablespoons salt

¼ tsp celery seed or mustard seed (optional)

Pack okra into 2 hot sterilized pint jars. Put 1 pepper pod and 1 garlic clove in each jar. Bring remaining ingredients to a boil and pour over the okra leaving a ½ inch head room.

Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath following professional instructions like these from Ball. http://www.freshpreserving.com/tools/waterbath-canning

Let stand for 4 weeks before using.

 

I have to admit I usually quadruple the recipe and use this ratio of water and vinegar for the brine:

1 scant cup salt

2 quarts apple cider vinegar

1 quart water

1-2 tsp celery or mustard seeds (or combination of both)

I sometimes additionally put in 1 tsp of dill seeds to the brine and/or 2 whole black peppercorns per jar. I also bring the brine to a boil while I am sterilizing the jars, but I wanted to give you granny’s original recipe the way she wrote it.

Here is an interesting recipe for bread and butter okra pickles I’ll have to try next.

And finally, here are some pictures of my husband from today doing his winter preparations. One of our shade trees died of Dutch elm disease, but at least we know where our firewood is coming from this year.

Tree cutting

Tree down

Winter is coming!

Drink Your Turmeric for Better Health: Bulletproof turmeric part 2

My bulletproof turmeric recipe has been very popular, partially because it is delicious and an excellent way to consume a more absorbable form of turmeric. I chose the ingredients for the recipe because I wanted to encourage people to consume whole turmeric instead of just the isolated “main” component, curcumin. The other constituents of turmeric have medicinal attributes of their own and can actually help increase the absorption of curcumin. If you do need that additional boost from the isolated curcumin, open up a capsule and add it to this blend.

Turmeric is such a tremendously useful medicinal herb and has been consumed as part of foods and teas for centuries. In additional to its inflammation modulating benefits, turmeric is high in antioxidants that might help prevent cancer and dementia. Among its gastrointestinal benefits, turmeric can help protect the liver and stimulate the gall bladder thereby improving digestion. It has also been shown to reduce the incidences of gastrointestinal infection. Finally, turmeric can improve cholesterol and reduce blood clotting making it a great cardiovascular ally.

By drinking your medicinal herbs as teas, you can sometimes get a better feel for what is working for your body. You can start craving something more or you may decide that you like it less. This can be a reflection of what is going to work well for your unique self. I have found that I love my bulletproof turmeric tea more with coconut oil instead of the MCT oil. MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) are isolated from coconut oil, but again the more whole version of coconut oil is agreeing more with my body. It could just be the delicious coconut taste, but I think that the greater complexity of the coconut oil might provide some other components that I need.

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A quick note on MCT oil and coconut oil: There is a lot of hype of how these might help with weight loss. There could really be something to this. A colleague of mine has been working on his own substantial weight loss goal and has made some huge strides by taking the MCT oil shortly before meals. He has noticed it reducing his appetite as the literature claims. So, here we have yet another wonderful use for coconut oil along with the brain boost some people notice from it.

Here is my original recipe for bulletproof turmeric tea:

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric (optionally add one capsule of curcumin 95% extract)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric and garam masala for 10 minutes.

Strain through a fine mesh strainer.

Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Before-and-After-Blending

Bulletproof Turmeric Before and After Blending

This week I am trying a different variation. I am making a turmeric paste that I can store for future use. Most turmeric pastes are turmeric and water, but mine is turmeric and coconut oil.

Bulletproof turmeric #2

4 tsp turmeric

1-2 tsp garam masala

½ cup coconut oil

Melt the coconut oil and mix in the spices. Cook on low for 10 minutes. Stain immediately and store for later use. (If you have time let the mixture cool before straining, then remelt and strain)

When ready to use, mix 2 Tbs of this mixture with:

1 cup boiling water

1 tsp honey

And optionally, 1 tsp maca and/or contents of 1 curcumin capsule

Whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

This paste can also be used to season many savory dishes like stir-fry and curries.

Bulletproof Turmeric: An Herbal Alternative to Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof coffee isn’t the only way to have a delicious brain-boosting beverage. You can boost your cognitive function with curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin protects the brain from cognitive deterioration caused by stress. But I don’t know anyone who is dealing with stress! Especially not the law students who are popularizing the bulletproof coffee recipe in this area.

For my bulletproof turmeric, I have used coconut oil, butter, honey, and spices to optimize digest and the absorption of curcumin. Curcumin is notoriously difficult to absorb, but fats and spices, particularly the black pepper in the garam masala, greatly increase our absorption of curcumin into the blood stream.

Turmeric and Garam Masala

Bulletproof Turmeric

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric powder or 1 Tablespoon fresh turmeric root, grated
(optionally add one capsule of turmeric extract that is 95% curcumin)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric, garam masala, coconut oil, and butter for 10 minutes.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Bulletproof turmeric

Bulletproof turmeric before and after blending

There are many possible variations to this recipe. Add coffee if you like that boost or cinnamon if you are working on blood sugar issues. Since this recipe doesn’t have caffeine, it can be drunk later in the day than bulletproof coffee.

This turmeric drink is also an excellent choice for people dealing with inflammation, pain, or elevated cholesterol. A recent study has confirmed that curcumin reduces knee pain associated with osteoarthritis. Curcumin is helping others achieve healthier cholesterol levels. In addition to having some nootropic benefits, turmeric might also help clear Alzheimer’s plaques from the brain.

The benefits of turmeric are numerous, and while you might not feel the same jolt you would from a cup of coffee, turmeric provides long-term protection to the mind and body on multiple levels.

P.S. For those of you who follow my blog, my bulletproof turmeric tea recipe originated from my healthy food experiment . Turmeric is the second food I chose. I wanted to try it in tea form and came up with this recipe. For a simpler tea recipe, try this one from Dr. Weil.

Omega-3s for Mood

Fish oil has numerous well-documented benefits for our health. It is probably best known for its cardiovascular advantages of decreasing cholesterol and clotting. Here I am going to focus on its mood supporting qualities, because there have been a number of exciting recent studies. In one study following patients with major depression, the likelihood of also having anxiety was much higher in those with the lowest blood levels of EPA and DHA, the major omega-3 components of fish oil. A second study found that in women a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids reduced the incidence of elevated depressive symptoms by 49%. This study also pointed out the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids was important. This means you can support your mood by both taking fish oil and reducing intake of omega-6 fats like those found in meat and most oils including corn, soy, and vegetable oils.

Fish oil may even be able to reduce suicidal tendencies. It has long been noted in epidemiological studies that low omega-3 levels are correlated with increased rates of suicide. Researchers have also found higher levels of a marker called SAT1 in people with strong suicidal ideation. This marker and related ones were also associated with stress, mood disorders, anxiety, and hallucinations. In mice that were genetically altered to have abnormal expression of these biomarkers, treatment with omega-3 fatty acids brought their levels of the troublesome markers back to normal. All of this very promising research reinforces the use of fish oil as part of the plan to support mental health for even very serious mood disorders.

salmon

Refresh and Fight Stress with Holy Basil Tea

People sometimes ask me if I could grow only one medicinal herb what would it be. My answer is Holy Basil, because it has so many useful medicinal actions and it is very easy to grow. Holy Basil is one of the many herbs that help us cope with stress, but it is easier to work with than many of the others in this category like ginseng because we use its leaves instead of the root. And it makes a pleasant tea. Some of you might have already tried the popular teas made from Holy Basil, where it is often sold under its other name Tulsi.

My Holy Basil, just from one plant

My Holy Basil, just from one plant

Holy Basil has been demonstrated to reduce the impact of stress on the body and brain. Stress can have a serious impact on our health and contribute to diabetes, high blood pressure, immune dysfunction, and memory issues. Holy Basil has been shown to counter act some of the negative changes that happen in the brain when we are exposure to prolonged stress. Holy Basil may reduce insulin resistance and thereby help lower elevated blood sugar. It can also help decrease elevated cholesterol. Holy Basil helps fight inflammation in the body and therefore pain, partially by being a COX-2 inhibitor. Holy Basil modulates immune system activity and can be a good choice for people who get frequent infections. I like to use it during cold and flu season because it has some antiviral properties too. Finally, Holy Basil is rich in antioxidants and can help protect us from cellular damage, even from radiation.

To make Holy Basil tea from the loose leaves, put 1-2 teaspoons in a cup of water that just came off a boil. Steep for 5-10 minutes, preferably with a lid over the tea. Strain (if you didn’t use a tea ball), sweeten if desired, and enjoy this awesome wellness boosting, stress-fighting tea. Or try it iced.

And if you want to grow your own Holy Basil plant next year, I got my seeds from High Mowing Seeds sold at Ozark Natural Foods and online. I may also be selling the plant starts next spring when I do the annual plant sale for our farm.

Cooking Like a Farm Wife

Recently my husband asked me why I hadn’t made a certain dish in a while. My answer was that I was trying to cook like a farm wife by focusing on the ingredients from our farm, whereas the dish he wanted featured spinach, which I don’t have great luck growing. My husband and I run a small organic farm, Downstream Farm Organic Produce, about 8 miles west of Fayetteville on Clear Creek. We mostly grow food for ourselves and sell the extra produce to friends, restaurants, and Ozark Natural Foods.  We raise chickens and grow vegetables like okra, tomatoes, tomatillos, bell peppers, and too many others to name.

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn't eat all of these mushroom varietes

Oyster Mushrooms, Wood Ears, Coral Fungus, and Boletes. FYI, I didn’t eat all of these mushroom varieties.

Recently, my husband found a bounty of wild mushrooms, including oyster mushrooms and wood ear mushrooms, so I made a special dish to feature them. My venison and wild mushroom stew also included our venison, radish greens, fresh herbs, and tomatoes. Not all ingredients have to be from the farm. For instance, this farm wife happened to have some red wine around. The carrots and potatoes were also from the store since we had run out of our own a few months ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

I know that everyone can’t grow as much of their food as we do, but you can still incorporate some of my thinking into your own cooking by focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. Local foods can be fresher and therefore higher in nutrients. Seasonal ingredients tend to be more affordable and often shipped shorter distances so fewer resources are used to get them to us. I try to avoid buying certain summer foods, like melons, in the middle of winter when the only ones available have been shipped from South America or even further away. And these foods aren’t necessarily appropriate for our bodies during the winter. It makes sense that we need cooling foods like melons and cucumbers in the summer and warmer, higher calorie foods in the winter. Part of my process is to be creative with substitutions. For instance, I still look at recipes to get a basic framework for a dish, but readily add or subtract vegetables and other ingredients based on what is available at that time of the year.

I also focus my cooking on nutrient dense foods, as in foods that provide a lot of our necessary vitamins and minerals per calorie. Or in the case of the wild mushrooms, add medicinal benefits to the dish. Nearly all culinary mushrooms strengthen the immune system and help reduce inflammation. Oyster mushrooms may also help lower cholesterol. Consumption of mushrooms like these may help prevent cancer, partially because of the beta-glucans they provide. Oyster mushrooms are fairly commonly available in stores, so you don’t have to find them on a log after the rain like my husband did. And you can grow your own using a mushroom kit or mushroom logs. Since some mushrooms are poisonous don’t eat wild ones unless you know them well like my husband does.

The Power of Green Tea

As well as being a wonderfully tasty beverage, green tea contains fantastic compounds that can help prevent many common health conditions. Green tea comes from the same plant as black tea, Camellia sinensis. The difference, however, is that green tea is camellia-sinensisblanched before drying, while black tea is allowed to oxidize, effectively converting many of the beneficial catechins into astringent tannins. In part because of these catechins, like EGCG, green tea is antimicrobial, astringent, antioxidant, cancer fighting, and inflammation modulating. Not only does it contain less caffeine than black tea, green tea also has theanine, a relaxation-inducing compound that can help reduce anxiety.

Just three cups a day may be helpful for the prevention of cancer and atherosclerosis. Numerous studies have shown green tea to be useful for lowering cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol. Additionally, when combined with sensible diet and exercise, green tea may help with weight loss, especially in people with increased belly fat. Green tea’s ability to help reduce glucose and insulin could explain why it helps induce belly fat loss, as insulin resistance and elevated glucose tend to encourage weight gain in that region of the body. Regular consumption of green tea is also thought to be one of the reasons why Asian women have a consistently lower rate of breast cancer. Furthermore, if you swish it around your mouth before swallowing, green tea can help stop gingivitis.

To prepare, you need only to steep your green tea for one minute to extract these incredible compounds, but feel free to steep it longer if you prefer a stronger, more bitter flavor.  During these hot Arkansas summers, green tea also makes a refreshing iced tea that can help beat the heat. To give you another way to enjoy green tea this summer, our bulk herbs department has added a delicious raspberry flavored green tea.

If you wish to read Dr. Michael Greger’s other ideas on why there are lower rates of breast cancer in Asian demographics, check out his recent post.

Benefits of Whey Protein

I occasionally use a protein powder as a snack or part of a meal replacement. While I don’t believe we can truly replace a meal with supplements, sometimes protein powders can be a handy way to boost our protein intake. For people that tolerate dairy well, whey protein can be a good choice because it mixes easily and tends to be very palatable. Because of its particular amino acid compositions, whey protein also offers some benefits that other protein powders don’t. For instance, in a small study participants given whey protein, who otherwise ate as they wished, experienced a slight weight loss compared to those given soy protein who had no change in weight. This group also saw a reduction in ghrelin, a hunger hormone that makes us crave high calorie foods. Whey protein is also commonly used by athletes and has been shown to reduce post-workout muscle damage. Whey protein is high in branched-chain amino acids like leucine that have been shown to improve upper body strength and lean body mass. Whey protein can also help seniors shape up by helping improve muscle mass and function. In fact, whey protein led to skeletal muscle improvements that were superior to those from control groups of participants taking an equivalent amount of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins like our muscles.

In addition to helping body composition, whey protein can improve our well being in several key ways. One study demonstrated significant decreases in cholesterol, triglycerides and fasting insulin levels when participants consumed whey protein, but not when they received casein protein. Whey protein may also help with detoxification and cancer prevention since it is a source of cysteine, which our bodies need to make glutathione, a critical antioxidant for protecting our bodies from toxins. There are also immune benefits from whey protein as demonstrated in a study where elderly subjects receiving pneumonia vaccines produced more of the protective antibodies against the pneumonia-causing organisms. Whey protein is also a good choice as part of a protocol to speed healing from surgery.