Tag Archives: nutrition

Potassium Powerhouse Foods for Stroke Prevention and More

I frequently recommend foods high in potassium to my patients with high blood pressure. A recent study has me thinking I need to recommend these foods to more patients. This new study revealed that postmenopausal women who consumed the most potassium reduced their chance of stroke by 12% compared to those who ate the least. Women who didn’t have high blood pressure noticed an even better outcome from eating more potassium with a 27% reduction in strokes. Potassium is thought to improve the functioning of small blood vessels in the brain and throughout the body, partially by improving nitric oxide formation which can help open up blood vessels.

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

In truth, I recommend high potassium diets to most of my patients by encouraging them to eat a lot of vegetables. I believe that one of the reasons we need to get our 5-7 servings of veggies and fruit every day is to make sure we get adequate potassium. The average adult needs about 4700 mg of potassium a day. Many of the best potassium-rich foods are vegetables. For instance, a cup of cooked Swiss chard offers around 900 mg of potassium. Other high potassium foods include spinach, bok choy, beets, nuts, and dried beans. For a great list of potassium-rich foods, I like the chart available from World’s Healthiest Foods. My husband and I additionally take an electrolyte mixture that includes potassium when we work on the farm during these hot summers. Another good choice might be coconut water to help replace some of the potassium lost through sweating.

By emphasizing potassium intake, we get all of the benefits offered by this crucial mineral. Potassium is essential for nerve function throughout the body and especially in the heart. Getting adequate potassium can help preserve bone density and prevent the formation of kidney stones. Potassium deficiency might contribute to premenstrual issues and possibly the development of diabetes. As I mentioned above, eating high potassium foods can be one of the steps to help people reach a healthy blood pressure goal. And when we eat high potassium foods, we also get the full range of powerhouse nutrients that these foods provide. It is likely that these additional minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants from fruits and veggies contribute to some of the cardiovascular protection seen in these studies.

So figure out what high potassium foods you love to eat, and if you want some tips on getting more vegetables in your family’s life, check out my blog on getting kids to eat veggies.

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!

Maca Smoothies for More Vibrant Days

On hot summer days, I tend to have more smoothies for breakfast. Though there are many ingredients I love, the maca I am adding seems to contribute to my sense of wellbeing. This is probably because maca is an adaptogen and a hormone balancer.

By adaptogen, I am referring to maca’s ability to reduce the negative impact stress has on our bodies. We might still experience the stress, but it is not as harmful on our overall health. A recent study showed that women who experienced more stress burned fewer calories after eating a high fat meal compared to the women with fewer stressors. The study showed that the higher stress levels correlated with higher insulin levels, which can contribute to belly fat. The study didn’t address adaptogens like maca, but in theory, these types of herbs might improve insulin levels and therefore help our metabolism. I also find that adaptogens give me more stamina to get through long days.

Maca powder

Maca powder

The other popular benefit of maca is as a hormone balancer for both women and men. It is maybe most widely known as a libido enhancer. It isn’t going to necessarily help everyone since not all libido issues are related hormones, but for those cases, it can be a great choice. Consuming maca might also help conditions like prostate issues, PMS, hot flashes, acne, and even some types of depression.

Because maca is traditionally used in fairly large quantities, it is a perfect item to add to a smoothie or other food. I usually put 1-2 teaspoon in each smoothie. When I added 3 teaspoons I noticed a bit of a spicy radish-like taste that I didn’t like.

Here is my current smoothie recipe:

1 scoop Sunwarrior Chocolate Warrior Blend or other protein powder

1-2 tsp Barley grass or other greens powder

1-2 Maca powder

2 Tbs Almond butter or other nut butter or nuts

1 tsp Cacoa powder

1-2 Tbs ground Flaxseeds and or chia seeds

1 Tbs Coconut oil

1 to 1 ½ cups water

Blend in a blender until smooth with any of these other ingredients I might want that day:

Fresh or frozen fruits or veggies like avocado, baby greens, or sprouts

Coconut water to replace some of the water

¼ tsp Turmeric with a pinch of black pepper

1/2 tsp Cinnamon

½ -1 tsp of the turmeric paste I made for my Bulletproof Turmeric #2 recipe

You can also empty the contents of supplement capsules into the smoothie such as probiotics, amino acids, and herbal supplements. Basically any that doesn’t make the smoothie taste strange.

Make it something delicious that you love to drink and enjoy some vibrant days this summer.

Would You Like to do a Healthy Food Experiment with me?

This food experiment was inspired by a recent consultation with a patient who had found that if she regularly ate avocados and apples, she felt significantly healthier. I theorized that the fats in the avocados were enhancing her absorption of the nutrients and antioxidants in her other veggies. The apples were maybe helpful as a source of quercetin, which has antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

I frequently have patients do food experiments to help them figure out foods that are wrong for them, but this recent patient got me thinking about new ways to find the foods that are right for a particular individual. Since we are all unique, our nutritional needs differ slightly from person to person. I always recommend a varied diet to help people get the wide range of nutrients and antioxidants they need and maybe hit on those foods that really resonate with them.

blueberries

But to see if you can find a few foods that really help you feel vibrant, try this experiment with me. Check out the list of the 100 healthiest foods from World’s Healthiest Foods. Pick 10 or so foods from that list that appeal to you in some way. Try to choose a few foods that you haven’t eaten much before or are in season right now, like blueberries. For each food, eat a normal serving or two for three days in a row, while eating normally otherwise. Then try the next food on your list and so on. Take notice if there is one or more of these foods that you feel better after eating or you start liking more, or even craving! You could also find one that doesn’t agree with you. Just because it is healthy doesn’t mean it is the right food for everyone.

For each of these foods, World’s Healthiest Foods has a description of the health and nutrient benefits. Plus, there are recipes to inspire you with different way to prepare your chosen foods.

The same principle can be applied to herbs. If you take an herbal tincture or tea for three days in a row, often it will start tasting better to you (or at least more tolerable) by the end of those three days. This can be a message from your body that an herb is right for you and your tastes are adjusting to accommodate to what is healthier for you. If you don’t tolerate the taste any better, maybe try another herb that has the benefits you are looking for. Many of my friends have found that they like Kava kava better after trying it for a while, but it doesn’t agree with one so she uses California poppy instead to help her relax.

This experiment could be a great way to explore new foods and become more attuned with your body at the same time. I would love to hear about what you have learned from this experiment, so please leave a comment.

Five Flavors, But Don’t Forget Bitter

Some cooking traditions focus on artfully combining the flavors our tongue perceives. The five flavors are sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter. American cuisine doesn’t emphasize bitter as much as some other cultures. We will have coffee after a meal for something bitter or dark chocolate or maybe some slightly bitter greens in our salads.

Bitter is often thought of as an undesirable flavor, but it does have significant digestive benefits. The taste of something bitter on our tongues helps shift our nervous system to rest and digest mode and away from fight or flight mode. This is extremely important for getting the most out of our food. When we taste something bitter, our bodies increase their production and release of digestive enzymes. Bitters also improve muscle tone in the digestive tract and stimulate the liver, aiding in detoxification.

Gentian

Gentian

As I mentioned, we can add bitter tasting foods to our diet. There are also bitter herbs that are traditionally used as digestive aids. These included gentian, chamomile, yarrow, blue flag iris, and Oregon grape root. Often five to fifteen drops of one of these herbs, or a blend such as the classic Swedish Bitters, is taken with a small amount of water a few minutes before meals. Some people use these herbs instead of digestive enzymes. Bitters may also help relieve indigestion when taken after a meal, but slightly higher doses might be needed. Another classic use of bitters is for reduced appetite.

So chose delicious nutritious foods and get the most out of them by ensuring you have optimal digestion. Bitters can be a great way to stimulate a sluggish digestive tract.

Nettles for Allergy Season

Like nearly everyone else in Northwest Arkansas, I suffer from seasonal allergies. Fortunately mine are pretty mild. I might wake up with a sore throat or find myself sneezing while working in the garden.

nettles

My first choice herb for seasonal allergies is nettle leaf, also know as stinging nettles. Nettles can reduce the amount of histamine our bodies release in response to whatever pollen or mold is bothering us. Nettles have also traditionally been used for their ability to reduce inflammation, which may help with allergic symptoms or other conditions like arthritis.

Nettles are also a nourishing diuretic meaning they increase urination without depleting nutrients. This is because nettles are rich in vitamins and minerals to replace any that might be lost with increased urinary output. These urinary benefits makes nettle leaf a good choice for preventing urinary tract infections and kidney stones. It should be noted that nettle root could be helpful for many prostate issues since it inhibits the conversion of testosterone to estrogen.

Because they are so nutritious, nettles can be cooked like other greens. Pick the top few tender leaves, wearing gloves to avoid the sting. When nettles are cooked, the sting is neutralized.

Clearly, it is safe to use large quantities of nettles for allergy season support since they can be eaten as a food. If nettles alone aren’t enough, I add quercetin and N-acetyl cysteine to further diminish allergy symptoms. Quercetin shares nettles antihistamine characteristics while N-acetyl cysteine helps break up mucus.

Refreshing and Soothing Chickweed

Nothing says spring as much as baby chicks hatching on the farm. Every year, I think they are even cuter than last year’s chicks. In addition to the organic chick feed at Ozark Natural Feeds, I make sure my chicks get some fresh foods too. I find worms and wild plants for them to eat. They are happy with clumps of grass and wild clover, but they particularly love chickweed.

Gabbie and her brood enjoying chickweed

Gabbie and her brood enjoying chickweed

Chickweed is a common herb to find in your yard or garden at this time of the year. Look around for it because you might love it as much as my chickens do. Chickweed has a taste that might remind you of spinach, and it is a great addition to salads. Chickweed is highly nutritious and is considered to be a rejuvenating spring tonic.

Chickweed

Chickweed

In addition to being a great addition to the diet, chickweed is a medicinal herb that is used for soothing skin and mucous membranes such as the respiratory, digestive and urinary tracts. A chickweed tea can be used for coughs and hoarseness. It is also a mild diuretic that might be useful for urinary irritation. Chickweed is most famous for it topical uses since it can speed wound healing, reduce itching, and cool inflamed skin. It is used for everything from burns and cuts to eczema and hemorrhoids.

You can use the fresh plant to make a poultice by simply crushing the leaves and stalks and applying them directly to the skin. Ideally, cover this herbal concoction with a clean cloth to hold it in place. If using dried chickweed, grind it until it is nearly a powder then add enough hot water to make a paste. You can also make a healing chickweed salve for use all year long. Just in a Pinch Recipes has two recipes for chickweed salve. Their Itchy Salve recipe looks great.

What is the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

We have billions of microorganisms living in our guts, and having the right organisms in our bodies can have a powerful effect on our overall health. Imbalanced gut flora is common due to antibiotics, disease, stress, or diets high in meat and saturated fats. The wrong population of bacteria in our guts can contribute to digestive distress, but they can also contribute to less obvious issues. An imbalance of gut bacteria can deactivate digestive enzymes, stimulate dysfunctional immune responses, activate carcinogens, and contribute to migraines. On the other hand, beneficial bacteria help optimize digestion, stimulate immune function, improve the intestinal barrier, and prevent colonization of the gut by pathogens. In addition, they can break down certain toxins and synthesize some of our vitamins like vitamin K. Beneficial bacteria may also help prevent colon cancer by lowering intestinal pH.

Probiotics are normal, healthy bacteria that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. These are the organisms like the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species you see in most probiotic supplements used to restore and repopulate normal intestinal flora. Some of my favorite probiotic supplements also include prebiotics. These are medium length carbohydrates that feed our good bacteria. The most common prebiotic in supplements is fructooligosaccharide, also know as FOS. Food sources of prebiotics like FOS include garlic, beans, carrots, onions, honey, beer, rye, asparagus, banana, maple sugar, oats, and my favorite Jerusalem artichoke. Eating high fiber foods is another way to support proper gut bacteria. So feed your good bacteria so they can in turn support your health.

Garlic

Detoxification Support Part 1: Dietary guide to aid detox

Many popular New Year’s resolutions involve being healthier, and lots of people kick this off by doing a whole body cleanse. Because we live in such a toxic world, I want to encourage these efforts by writing a series of blogs this month about detoxification support. This week I am starting with the basics: dietary changes to assist with detoxification.

While there are many different dietary approaches to detoxification, I am going to emphasize the essentials that apply to nearly everyone. Of course, some people with specific health conditions will need to modify these suggestions for themselves. The following diet promotes detoxification by minimizing toxins in, keeping the pathways of elimination free to deal with toxins leaving the body.

  • Eat regularly, three times daily with snacks as desired, so your blood sugar doesn’t drop.
  • Eat organic foods, if possible. Do not eat products that are canned, packaged or contain artificial colorings, preservatives, additives, or other chemicals.
  • Eat lots of vegetables and some fruits; try for 4-5 packed cups each day.  Veggies and fruits are full of antioxidants and fiber that are helpful in detoxification. Eat a variety of different types of veggies to get the full range of antioxidants, but especially emphasize the cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, and arugula.
  • Eat less meat and dairy and more vegan proteins, such as beans, tofu, tempeh, nuts, nut butters, and seed butters.  If you eat fish (small salmon, cod, herring, sardines only) take 1000mg Chlorella with the meal; this will along with fiber reduces mercury absorption.  If you eat meat, try to eat low-fat cuts from free range grass-fed, hormone and antibiotic free animals or wild game.
  • Eat lots of fiber. It is a great detoxifier as it binds fats, hormones, chemicals, metals and other undesirables in the intestines.  Fiber is found in beans/legumes (the best!), apples, peaches, pears, berries, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains.  Eat two to three of these fiber sources at every meal.
  • Have good quality oils like extra virgin olive oil, flax, fish, walnut, or Omega 3-6-9 blends. Have at least 1 Tablespoon 1-3 times per day.
  • Support friendly bowel bacteria by eating cultured foods: miso, kim chi, real sauerkraut, kvass, and kombucha.
  • At least once daily, eat foods stimulating to liver function and bile flow such as lemon, 1360960_21026592lime, beet, carrot, parsnips, chlorophyll, artichoke, fresh rosemary, caraway, dill seeds, burdock and dandelion roots.
  • Have no refined or concentrated sugar, sweets, caffeine, alcohol, fried or deep-fried food.
  • Drink lots of filtered water – 2-4 quarts per day or more if you are exercising or sweating.

And remember because toxins are such a challenge for us these days, try to apply principles like these to your diet all year round.

 

New Insights into Natural Diabetes Prevention

I recently cut fruit juice out of my husband’s diet. I told him I wasn’t going to buy it anymore for him because of a recent study that correlated the consumption of 3 servings of fruit juice per week with a 10% increased risk of diabetes. Even before reading this study, I hadn’t been a fan of juice because it contains the sugar of the fruit without the fiber that slows the absorption of sugar. On the flip side, consuming 3 servings of fruit per week can help reduce the risk of diabetes by 3%. Certain fruits like blueberries, grapes, and apples had an increased protective effect, due to antioxidant compounds located in the skin of these fruits.

So why are antioxidants helpful at preventing diabetes? Excessive consumption of carbohydrates and calories in general causes an overabundance of energy on a cellular level. Unless we are active enough to be burning this excess energy, it actually contributes to the production of free radicals that damage our cells. To protect themselves from this excess energy and subsequent damage, our cells reduce the number of insulin receptors on their surfaces. The result of this is insulin resistance, a prediabetic condition where the body makes extra insulin to try to get cells to remove excessive sugar from the blood stream, but the cells ignore this message.  This protective measure of the cells saves the cells from damage and possible destruction, but long term, insulin resistance can contribute to the development of not just diabetes, but also high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.

The solution is not to force the cells to take up the excess sugar from the blood stream, but to reduce the consumption of excess sugar, carbohydrates, and overall calories. Viewing insulin resistance as a defensive mechanism of cells helps us see why these dietary changes are so vital to preventing diabetes. Additionally, exercise increases the energy needs of cells and allows them to metabolize sugar without excessive damage from free radicals.

Finally, looking at insulin resistance in this way helps us understand why a number of antioxidants have been found to be useful in diabetes and insulin resistance. For instance, alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight insulin resistance as well as having the potential to help diabetic neuropathy. Intake of minerals like zinc, copper, and manganese are commonly helpful to diabetics and prediabetics because they help the body make superoxide dismutase enzymes to neutralize free radicals. Understanding these mechanisms can help us make and stick to healthier dietary choices, especially at this time of the year when there are so many sugary temptations.

blueberries