Thursday, March 27, 2014

6 Easy Spring Vegetables You Can Start Now

While many standard garden vegetables can not be planted outside or started from seed until the soil is fully warmed and the threat of frost is past, a variety of other cool season spring crops can be started right now, giving you a jump start on the gardening season and putting food on your plate long before the summer vegetables come in.

Depending on your local weather patterns and climate, cool season vegetables can be planted either directly in the soil with no cover, directly in the soil underneath a row cover or low tunnel, or in pots and trays in a sunny window or porch.

Planting under row covers or a low tunnel will not only help to warm the soil quicker, but will also protect seedlings from frosts (although a hard freeze, or a long stretch of really cold weather may still be able to kill plants under row covers).

Planting in pots and trays that can be moved outside into the sun on warm days, and brought inside at night, is one surefire way to beat the frost (as long as you remember to bring them inside), and can be a great way to start an early spring garden long before the soil outside is ready to plant. Container gardening is also a good way to start growing some of your own food on windowsills, balconies, or decks, even if you don't have an outside garden plot.

Here in southwestern New Mexico, the weather has been so mild this winter that I have been able to not only plant under row covers in February, but have also been direct seeding spring vegetables in soil with no cover (which is still risky, considering the last frost date is still about a month away). Because I started so early, I've got baby lettuce greens ready to harvest, spinach that will be ready pretty soon, and lots of radishes and baby chard and kale coming up, all of which we look forward to after a winter of eating vegetables that travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to get to our table.
These spring vegetables, all of which can be easily planted from seed, are all great choices for an early garden, and are usually foolproof enough to grow so that even the most beginning gardeners can reap a good harvest.

1. Spinach

Fresh baby spinach, which is one of my favorite greens to eat, is also fairly quick to sprout and grow in a spring garden, and can be remarkably frost-resistant, especially when grown under cover. There are a lot of varieties of spinach, most of which can be categorized by being either savoy and semi-savoy (which tend to have crinkled or curly crisp leaves), or smooth-leaf (with flatter leaves and a softer texture), and I recommend growing several varieties to see which ones work best for your soil and location, as well as which ones you prefer the taste of. For early spring greens, I like to grow them close together and harvest the leaves when they're still small, which can be as short as three weeks from planting, depending on the variety and the weather. Spinach is also a great plant for the fall garden, as it can be covered with mulch and will often overwinter that way for early spring harvest.

2. Chard

This beet relative is another excellent spring vegetable that is easy to grow from seed, and can be eaten fresh or cooked (or tossed into a smoothie for a drinkable salad). I plant my chard closer than the seed packet instructions recommend, and then harvest the crowded ones as baby greens when I thin the beds. Chard comes in a variety of colors and sizes and textures, although most of the color tends to be in the thick stems, with the leaves being mostly green. Growing some red and white and yellow chard along with the traditional green chard can add some color to spring salads while also livening up the look of the garden. Some varieties of chard can be harvested as baby greens in about 25 days, with the leaves taking about twice that long to get to full size.

3. Lettuce

While lettuce can be grown into the full sized heads that most of us are used to from the grocery store, I've found that growing it just for baby greens is not only quicker and easier, but will provide a near-constant supply of salad greens from spring until well into summer. I like to use mixed lettuce seed (sometimes called mesclun mix), and instead of sowing the seeds farther apart, as is recommended for head lettuce, I sow them very close together in each row, which will yield a solid row of lettuce leaves that is easy to harvest, and which can be cut repeatedly throughout the season. Lettuce comes in a number of colors and leaf shapes, not just the standard green romaine, red and green leaf lettuce, and butterhead varieties, so growing mixed baby greens gives you a wide variety of textures and colors for salads. Baby greens can be harvested in a couple of weeks, and by planting successions of seeds every week or two, you can have a constant supply of greens for the kitchen.

4. Radishes

Radishes are one of the fastest vegetables you can grow, aside from the various greens, as many varieties are ready to be harvested in as little as three weeks. Radishes are great for interplanting with lettuce or other spring greens, and can help to naturally thin those crops as the radishes get harvested. Many of us are only familiar with the round red or pink and white radishes often sold in grocery stores, but they come in a lot of different colors, shapes, and sizes, and can be spicy or sweet, depending on the variety. Radishes are a great crop for kids to help grow, as the seeds are large enough for small children to help plant, and because they're quick to mature and easy to pull from the ground, can be perfect for impatient gardeners as well.

5. Kale

Kale, while quite possibly being the veggie people most love to hate, is another excellent spring vegetable that is easy to grow from seed, and because it can be harvested as a baby green and as full-sized leaves, can provide a lot of food from a little effort. Whether you like to eat it raw as part of your salad or in your smoothies, or you prefer it steamed or stir-fried in a main dish, kale can be a great green addition to any diet. Kale can be dense and crinkly, such as "dinosaur" kale, or flatter and more ruffle-y, such as the red Russian varieties, and is often sweeter as a baby green in the spring, and then again late in fall after the first frost. I've been able to harvest baby kale leaves in as little as three weeks, with full-sized leaves maturing in anywhere from 40 to 60 days, depending on the variety.

6. Peas

Snow peas, and other pod peas, are another great spring vegetable that kids tend to love. The seeds are big enough for children to plant, and I haven't met a kid yet who didn't love to go searching in the garden for peas to harvest and eat right there. Shelling peas and snap peas tend to take a bit longer, but they're also a big hit with kids, many of whom will scarf them down fresh from the pod and yet never eat a cooked pea (and to be honest, I don't care for cooked peas either). Peas take anywhere from 50 to 65 days to mature, depending on the variety, and can grow either as vines or as 'bushes', so they lend themselves equally well to both trellising and growing in regular garden beds. For best germination rates, pea seeds should be soaked in water overnight before planting them.
What other easy spring vegetables do you grow and recommend, especially for beginning gardeners?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Garcinia Cambogia: Winner of Best Weight Loss Supplement Award in 2014

From Mexico to Africa to Southeast Asia and India, the tart pulp of Garcinia cambogia is used to flavor everything from soda and sweets to spicy sauces and savory dishes. If you don’t recognize the name, that’s because it usually goes by one if its aliases: tamarind.
But although the humble powerhouse of a fruit has been eaten and savored for ages, its time to shine is now, thanks to its newly minted status as the next fat-burning miracle supplement. It got the coveted nod from celebrity television doctor Mehmet Oz, and its popularity is soaring.
The small fruit, native to Indonesia but grown across the globe, is said to make meals more filling. And many suggest that a compound from the peel of the fruit, hydroxycitric acid (HCA), is an effective supplement for weight loss.  According to Oz, researchers claim that HCA can double or triple one’s weight loss. He explains that the HCA extract from Garcinia cambogia supplement helps people to lose weight by blocking fat and suppressing the appetite.
And while miracle supplements have plenty of skeptics disputing their powers, studies on Garcinia cambogia do seem to show promise.
In one controlled study that he recounts, 60 obese people went on an eight-week diet of 1,200 calories per day with either a 1,320 mg daily dose of HCA or a placebo. The HCA group lost 14 pounds, compared to 6.1 pounds in the placebo group. Another study published in the International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy concluded that the supplement was indeed a “highly effective adjunct to healthy weight control.”
Oz says that with no other changes, you may lose two to four pounds in a month; but as with all weight loss plan, adding exercise and eating healthfully are recommended.
The Wall Street Journal notes a few negative factors about using Garcinia cambogia: Some brands do not come with the recommended strength of HCA for weight loss; some users are not checking with their physicians to see if the supplement is safe for them; and some supplements come with fillers and binders.
But there are ways around these problems; simply heed the following tips:
  • Make sure the brand you choose contains 60 percent HCA.
  • Dosage should be at least 800 mg, which is the recommended dose to be taken daily, 30 to 60 minutes before your three main meals of the day.
  • Avoid taking more than 3,000 mg in 24 hours because it can cause minor side effects like stomach pain.
  • Select a brand free of artificial ingredients, fillers or binders; but calcium, potassium, and chromium are okay.
  • Buy a supplement made in a certified lab in the USA.
And as with all supplement use, consult you physician first.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

McDonald’s Reveals 17 Foul Ingredients in Their French Fries – Including GMOs

The transparency campaign initiated by McDonald’s last year was intended at marketing a more health conscious image of McDonald’s Corp.–and at using social media more effectively, but instead of talking about their love for the brand, the hashtag became a forum for people to talk about how disgusting they believe the food is. The ingredients in their french fries went viral. Instead of the basic two ingredients-potatoes and oil, consumers found out McDonald’s french fries contain 17 ingredients.

The campaign isn’t brand new. Launched by McDonalds last June using a YouTube video to answer a consumer’s question about why their food looks so drastically different in commercials than in the restaurant, the “Our Food, Your Questions” premise opened McDonalds’ kitchen doors, lending the brand to a supposed more honest and transparent feel. By prompting consumers to ask their questions on Facebook or Twitter, McDonalds hoped to build trust and credibility in a marketplace where bad press has followed them in the form of viral videos and unappetizing images.
McDonald’s eventually began disclosing the secret behind how the fast food chain’s fries are made. They produced a video answering a series of questions about McDonald’s fries: where the potatoes come from, how they are processed, what kind of oil they’re fried in, and why there is so much salt on them.

Mario Dupuis, a production manager at McCain Foods in New Brunswick, discussed where the potatoes are washed, peel and cut. They are also blanched to “remove natural sugars” that would cause colour variations then soaked in dextrose for an even colour. There’s also an ingredient to prevent greying, drying to remove excess moisture and a quick-fry for 45 to 60 seconds before the fries are frozen for shipping.

The worst part are the ingredients. Instead of the standard two ingredients necessary to make french fries-potatoes and oil, there are approximately 17 as reported on the ingredients facts list on the McDonald’s website.

They include:

Potatoes, canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, safflower oil, natural flavour (vegetable source), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain colour), citric acid (preservative), dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent) and cooked in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with THBQ, citric acid and dimethylpolysiloxane) and salt (silicoaluminate, dextrose, potassium iodide).

At a glance, many of the ingredients above are hazardous to human health, including those which are genetically modified (canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil), hydrogenated (soybean oil), chemically preserved and antifoaming (THBQ, citric acid, dimethylpolysiloxane), and artificially colored (sodium acid pyrophosphate).
How many people do you think have an awareness that McDonald’s french fries contain this many ingredients? Thanks for the transparency McDonald’s…hopefully it will help wake up more people to the difference between your artificial food and real food.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Is Your Microwave Killing Slowly? Check out this Microwave Test!

Below is a Science fair project presented by a girl in a secondary school in Sussex. In it she took filtered water and divided it into two parts. The first part she heated to boiling in a pan on the stove, and the second part she heated to boiling in a microwave.
Then after cooling she used the water to water two identical plants to see if there would be any difference in the growth between the normal boiled water and the water boiled in a microwave.
She was thinking that the structure or energy of the water may be compromised by microwave.
As it turned out, even she was amazed at the difference, after the experiment which was repeated by her class mates a number of times and had the same result.

It has been known for some years that the problem with microwaved anything is not the radiation people used to worry about, it’s how it corrupts the DNA in the food so the body can not recognize it.

Microwaves don’t work different ways on different substances. Whatever you put into the microwave suffers the same destructive process. Microwaves agitate the molecules to move faster and faster. This movement causes friction which denatures the original make-up of the substance. It results in destroyed vitamins, minerals, proteins and generates the new stuff called radiolytic compounds, things that are not found in nature.
So the body wraps it in fat cells to protect itself from the dead food or it eliminates it fast. Think of all the Mothers heating up milk in these ‘Safe’ appliances. What about the nurse in Canada that warmed up blood for a transfusion patient and accidentally killed him when the blood went in dead. But the makers say it’s safe. But proof is in the pictures of living plants dying!!!
Prepared By: William P. Kopp
A. R. E. C. Research Operations

Ten Reasons to dispose off your Microwave Oven
From the conclusions of the Swiss, Russian and German scientific clinical studies, we can no longer ignore the microwave oven sitting in our kitchens. Based on this research, one can conclude this article with the following:

1). Continually eating food processed from a microwave oven causes long term – permanent – brain damage by ‘shorting out’ electrical impulses in the brain [de-polarizing or de-magnetizing the brain tissue].
2). The human body cannot metabolize [break down] the unknown by-products created in microwaved food.
3). Male and female hormone production is shut down and/or altered by continually eating microwaved foods.
4). The effects of microwaved food by-products are residual [long term, permanent] within the human body.
5). Minerals, vitamins, and nutrients of all microwaved food is reduced or altered so that the human body gets little or no benefit, or the human body absorbs altered compounds that cannot be broken down.
6). The minerals in vegetables are altered into cancerous free radicals when cooked in microwave ovens.
7). Microwaved foods cause stomach and intestinal cancerous growths [tumours]. This may explain the rapidly increased rate of colon cancer in UK and America .
8). The prolonged eating of microwaved foods causes cancerous cells to increase in human blood.
9). Continual ingestion of microwaved food causes immune system deficiencies through lymph gland and blood serum alterations.
10). Eating microwaved food causes loss of memory, concentration, emotional instability, and a decrease of intelligence.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

MenaquinGold®WS opens Vitamin K2 into new product formats: milks, yogurts, etc.

The announcement last week that a new form of fully water-soluble vitamin K2 is available on the market should have big implications in the kinds and volumes of finished products containing this crucial nutrient.

Distributed by Nu Science Trading LLC in the United States, MenaquinGold®WS is an odorless vitamin K2-7 (MK-7) powder with virtually no organoleptic impact. It is manufactured by Viridis BioPharma/Synergia Life Sciences, an India-based producer of active nutritional products that are classified as pharmaceuticals in Indiaand other SAARC countries.

With the new water-soluble format, the company expects to see K2 to begin appearing in ready-to-drink fortified beverages with rich calcium content, such as dairy and dairy-alternative products – milk, soy milks and rice milks. Yogurts are also good candidates. 
"We also have seen significant interest from companies that produce stick packs and other powdered drinks with vitamins, minerals and other actives," said Dale Kriz, managing director of Nu Science Trading LLC. "More consumers are looking for noncapsule deliveries for basic supplements, and solubility and taste always become an issue in powdered vitamin packs. Until now, K2 would not have even been an option in these types of products."

MenaquinGold® is currently being used in more than 40 products in the United States and more than 30 others internationally. MenaquinGold® is one of the only natural vitamin K2-7 extracts marketed as a prescription product in some countries.

MenaquinGold® dominates SE AsiaMarket
Viridis BioPharma believes their K2 ingredient is the largest brand in South East Asia, with a rapidly growing presence in Europe.
"In the U.S., we estimate we are one of the top two distributors by volume with steady growth. It would be difficult to estimate a market share and be accurate," said Kriz of NU Science Trading.
As a raw ingredient, K2 has experienced steady growth over the last five years. Previous to that, the growth was minimal.

"In the last three to five years, the awareness on vitamin K2 and its benefits have grown with the release of large vitamin K and K2 studies from Tufts University and other major research institutes. Even Dr. Oz has made mention of K2 on his health show, which has spiked awareness," Kriz explained.

"There was a book published last year titled Vitamin K2 and the Calcium Paradox: How a Little-Known Vitamin Could Save Your Life, by Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, which has increased the awareness of this essential vitamin.
"We estimate the annualized increase in sales of vitamin K2-7 raw material over the last five years has been about 10-12 percent annually, with some acceleration seen in 2012," Kriz said.
According to Google trends reports on consumer searches on 'vitamin K2' in the past five years, there has been a steady rate of increase.

"We also believe sales will increase by more than 20 percent  per year over the next five years as consumer awareness continues to increase and companies find it necessary to add K2 in any of their calcium products (as it is necessary for the proper function of calcium by keeping it out of the arteries and into the bone)," Kriz said.

"No multivitamin can be complete without vitamin K2; it's an essential nutrient that must be supplemented, as it's virtually absent in our diet and has specific, necessary function in the body. No multivitamin can call itself 'complete' without adding vitamin K2."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Study: Diet Supplement has Meth-Like Chemical

Less than a week after health officials asked stores to pull a fat-burning supplement from shelves, another dietary supplement is coming under fire. Craze, a sports supplement marketed to bodybuilders, contains a chemical compound similar to the illegal drug methamphetamine, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed Drug Testing and Analysis journal. The substance, called N,alpha-diethylphenylethylamine or N,a-DEPEA, has never been studied in humans, according to Dr. Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the study. 

Scientists tested three Craze samples from three different suppliers, according to the study. They found N,a-DEPEA in all three - about 20 to 35 milligrams of the drug in a serving size of the supplement. These dosages suggest it was "not a minor contaminant resulting from the manufacturing process," the study authors wrote.
N,a-DEPEA is a methamphetamine analog, Cohen said, or a "cousin" to meth. Scientists first discovered the new drug approximately three years ago in South Korea.

"Criminal-chemists start with a known drug - in this case methamphetamine, then in their factor they start making little changes to it," Cohen explained in an e-mail. "Here, they pop a few extra carbon and hydrogen molecules onto it. But the main structure/backbone/skeleton of the drug remains the same."

Craze labels list a different chemical, N,N-DEPEA, as an ingredient, Cohen said, but researchers did not find that substance in the supplement. He said it was unlikely that Craze's manufacturer, Driven Sports, was directly responsible for altering the chemical structure of the drug. The company may have purchased the substance in bulk from a distributor that claimed it was all natural, Cohen said. 

Craze was given's New Supplement of the Year award in 2012.
"Craze is a legal supplement that provides people with a tool to enhance their workouts, by combining natural extracts to increase their energy," Driven Sports said in a statement. "Craze conforms to all U.S. federal regulatory requirements and is proven safe when used as directed... Driven Sports has commissioned extensive testing of Craze from a reputable, independent laboratory, which conclusively establishes that the product does not contain any illegal stimulants." 

One of the samples used in the study was sent to the Food and Drug Administration last year; the study authors' conclusions were sent to the FDA in May. While the FDA is in charge of regulating dietary supplements, manufacturers and distributors are not required to get FDA approval before selling their products. 

NSF International, a public health organization involved in the study, also found N,a-DEPEA in a different manufacturer's supplement, Cohen said. Gaspari Nutrition's Detonate seems to have been removed from the company's website and is no longer available on Amazon or other sellers' sites.

This isn't the first time Driven Sports' products have come under scrutiny. In July, USA Today published an investigative piece on supplement designer Matt Cahill, "a convicted felon who has a history of selling risky dietary supplements, including products with ingredients linked to severe liver injury and at least one death," the newspaper says.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

16 Ways to Adopt a Real Food Lifestyle

REAL food is essential to optimal health, but unfortunately most of our modern dietary habits focus on marketing and convenience rather than true nourishment.
Modern foods are over-processed in a factory, packaged in colorful cardboard boxes or plastic bottles, shipped across the world and designed to have an infinite shelf life.
‘Real’ food is the food we humans crave and have been thriving on for millennia – home-cooked stews, savory meats, eggs with bright orange yolks, cream, butter, seasonal fruits ripe with juicy sweetness and veggies so fresh you can taste the earth in which they grew.

These food will spoil if you don’t eat them – and this is a GOOD thing. Unlike modern foods, ‘real’ food is teeming with life. You will read different terms thrown on this site that all point to ’real’ food – nutrient-dense, traditional, organic, local, grass-fed, pasture-raised, bio-dynamic, and more.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t know the lingo, don’t like to cook, think it’s too expensive, or feel like it’s all too overwhelming.

Eating this way is not a ‘diet’ it’s a lifestyle – one that promotes well-being, leaves us deeply nourished and content, feeds the local economy, and supports the health of our planet.

 Sixteen Ways to Adopt a ‘Real’ Food Lifestyle

1 – Start with what inspires you - maybe it’s enjoying real butter or perhaps it’s beginning the day with fried eggs and bacon. You don’t have to adopt a ‘real’ food lifestyle all on at once. Your body will begin to thank you for eating nutrient dense food and ask for more.
2 – Eat with the season - Food is your best preventative medicine so use your meals as an opportunity to cultivate your own strength and wellness. Visit your local farmer’s markets or sign up for a CSA farm box, to insure you are consuming local, season foods that provide the right nutrients at the right time of year.  For example, in many locales, citrus is in season in the winter when our immune systems can certainly use a vitamin C boost.  By the way, eating with the season not only good for your body but it will save your budget too.
3 – Get to know your local farmers - and talk to them about what they do.  Ask them what their animals eat and how they are raised.  Ask them how they deal with pests on fruit and what are the best veggies this season. Most will be happy to answer your questions, and you will truly know the source of your food.
4 – Choose quality over quantity to prevent overeating and reduce your food bill. When you eat nutrient-dense food instead of modern convenience foods your body actually can get everything it needs from much less food.
5 – Purge your pantry of all junk.  Stop eating and buying processed foods today.
6 – Eat what your great-great grandmother ate (or someone else’s g-g-grandma if you prefer their style of cuisine).
7 – Include some saturated fats with every mealbutter, cream, coconut oil, bacon, etc.  Olive, seed, nut oils are good, but can go rancid easily and should not be heated to high temperatures.  DON’T consume new-fangled vegetable oils including canola, corn, or soybean oil.
8 – Eat cultured foods every day to cultivate a healthy intestinal flora.
9 – Soak, sour, or sprout grains –  if you eat them – to optimize digestibility and neutralize the anti-nutrient, phytic acid.
10 – Limit your sweets, and use minimally processed, nutrient-rich sweeteners such as raw honey, grade B maple syrup, or unrefined cane sugar called Rapadura.
11 – Choose raw milk and cream from grass-fed cows over pasteurized dairy.
12 – Don’t fear (real) salt – Choose a high quality sea salt -like a moist grey Celtic. It’s full of essential minerals and does not contribute to health issue like it’s powdery white modern cousin.
13 – Consume broth with abandon!  Broth made from scratch is easy to make, rich in minerals and gelatin, adds flavorful depth to your meals with soups, stews, and sauces, and is a money saver too.
14 – Eat meat, but know your source. Factory raised meat and poultry should be entirely avoided, which means passing on meat at most restaurants.  Choose fish that are wild and sustainable.
15 – If you are a vegetarian, you should take extra care to follow #1-12 above, and consider taking a cod liver oil supplement for fat soluble vitamins not found in vegetable sources.
16 – Eat with joy!  How we eat is just as important as what we eat, so be present while you are munching and enjoy every bite.

You may find many ideas on this site that conflict with mainstream nutritional teachings – because many of the commonly held ‘facts’ surrounding modern diet are flatly wrong.
For example, did you know that saturated fat is not the root of all evil and is, in fact, essential to human health?  Or that soy is an unacceptable food source unless it’s been properly fermented?
Welcome to ‘Real’ food, where your plate is blessed with nourishing delicious morsels, and your dinner conversation might occasionally delve into the stark contrast between modern dietary politics and what actually taste good and feels right in your body.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Top Five Worst Foods for Sleep

By Dr. Mercola
Nearly 41 million US adults are sleeping just six hours or less each night, putting them at risk of adverse health effects (such as heart disease and obesity) and potentially fatal drowsy driving linked to lack of sleep.1
While stress is one of the most-often cited reasons why people can't sleep, there's another factor that could be keeping you up at night: your diet. Certain foods can significantly interfere with your sleep, including the five worst of the worst below.

What Are the Five Worst Foods for Sleep?

1. Alcohol
A drink or two before bed can make you drowsy, leading many to believe it's actually beneficial for sleep. But while it may make you nod off quicker, research shows that drinking alcohol makes you more likely to wake during the night, leaving you feeling less rested in the morning.
The latest study found that alcohol increases slow-wave 'deep' sleep during the first half of the night, but then increases sleep disruptions in the second half of the night.2
Since alcohol is a potent muscle relaxant, it can also increase your risk of snoring. Snorers -- and their bed partners -- often experience restless sleep leading to sleepiness and difficulty concentrating during the day.
2. Coffee
Coffee, of course, is one of the most common sources of caffeine. This stimulant has a half-life of five hours, which means 25% of it will still be in your system even 10 hours later, and 12.5% 20 hours later (see the problem?). Plus, in some people caffeine is not metabolized efficiently, leaving you feeling its effects even longer after consumption. So, an afternoon cup of coffee or tea will keep some people from falling asleep at night. Be aware that some medications contain caffeine as well (for example, diet pills).
3. Dark Chocolate
Dark chocolate, though the healthiest form of chocolate from an antioxidant perspective, can contain relatively high levels of caffeine that can keep you up at night if you're sensitive. It also contains theobromine, a compound that has caffeine-like effects.
4. Spicy Foods
Spicy foods before bedtime can give you indigestion that makes it nearly impossible to get a good night's sleep. But even if you can eat spicy foods without discomfort, they are still linked with more time spent awake during the night and taking longer to fall asleep.3 It's speculated that this may be due to capsaicin, an active ingredient in chili peppers, affecting sleep via changes in body temperature.
5. Unhealthy Fatty Foods
When you don't get enough sleep, you're more likely to crave high-fat, high-sugar foods the next day. But eating a high-fat diet also has impacts on your sleep, including leading to more fragmented sleep. In fact, an animal study revealed that eating fatty foods may lead to disrupted sleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.4
The link may be due to the brain chemical hypocretin, a neurotransmitter that helps keep you awake and also plays a role in managing appetite. Keep in mind that while you should limit your intake of unhealthy fats like those from fried foods, healthy fats (including saturated fats) play an important role in your diet and shouldn't be eliminated.

Recent Study Gives Clues on How Diet Impacts Sleep

The link between what you eat and how well you sleep, and vice versa, is only beginning to be explored, however, a recent study evaluating the diets and sleep patterns of more than 4,500 people did find distinct dietary patterns among short and long sleepers.5
While the study was only able to generate hypotheses about dietary nutrients that may be associated with short and long sleep durations, it did yield some interesting data.
  • Very short sleepers (less than 5 hours a night): Had the least food variety, drank less water and consumed fewer total carbohydrates and lycopene (an antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables).
  • Short sleepers (5-6 hours): Consumed the most calories but ate less vitamin C and selenium, and drank less water. Short sleepers tended to eat more lutein and zeaxanthin than other groups.
  • Normal sleepers (7-8 hours): Had the most food variety in their diet, which is generally associated with a healthier way of eating.
  • Long sleepers (9 or more hours): Consumed the least calories as well as less theobromine (found in chocolate and tea), choline and total carbs. Long sleepers tended to drink more alcohol.
As for what the data means, researchers aren't yet sure, but it could be that eating a varied diet is one key to normal, healthful sleep. If you need some help in this area, check out my nutrition plan for a step-by-step guide to optimizing your eating habits.

Sleep Tip: Stop Eating at Least Three Hours Before You Go to Bed

It is ideal to avoid eating any food three hours before bed, as this will optimize your blood sugar, insulin and leptin levels and contribute to overall good health and restful sleep. Specifically, avoiding food for at least three hours before bed will lower your blood sugar during sleep and help minimize damage from too much sugar floating around. Additionally, it will jumpstart the glycogen depletion process so you can shift to fat-burning mode.
A recent study6 is a powerful confirmation of this recommendation, as it found that the mere act of altering your typical eating habits 'such as getting up in the middle of the night for a snack' causes a certain protein to desynchronize your internal food clock, which can throw you off kilter and set a vicious cycle in motion. Eating too close to bedtime, or very late at night when you'd normally be sleeping, may throw off your body's internal clock and lead to weight gain.
Routinely eating at the wrong time may not only disrupt your biological clock and interfere with your sleep, but it may also devastate vital body functions and contribute to disease.
That said, while you've likely heard the advice that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, some experts believe that skipping breakfast and eating your main meal at night may actually be more in-tune with your innate biological clock. I've revised my own eating schedule to eliminate breakfast and restrict the time I eat to a period of about six to seven hours each day, which is typically from noon to 6 or 7 pm.

Diet Is Only One Factor in Getting a Good Night's Sleep

There are many variables that impact how well you sleep. I suggest you read through my full set of 33 healthy sleep guidelines for all of the details, but to start, making some adjustments to your sleeping area can go a long way to ensure uninterrupted, restful sleep.
  1. Cover your windows with blackout shades or drapes to ensure complete darkness. Even the tiniest bit of light in the room can disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and the melatonin precursor serotonin, thereby disrupting your sleep cycle.

  2. So close your bedroom door, get rid of night-lights, and refrain from turning on any light during the night, even when getting up to go to the bathroom. If you have to use a light, install so-called "low blue" light bulbs in your bedroom and bathroom. These emit an amber light that will not suppress melatonin production.

  3. Keep the temperature in your bedroom at or below 70 degrees F (21 degrees Celsius). Many people keep their homes and particularly their upstairs bedrooms too warm. Studies show that the optimal room temperature for sleep is quite cool, between 60 to 68 degrees F (15.5 to 20 C). Keeping your room cooler or hotter can lead to restless sleep.
  4. Check your bedroom for electro-magnetic fields (EMFs). These can also disrupt your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin, and may have other negative effects as well. To do this, you need a gauss meter. You can find various models online, starting around $50 to $200. Some experts even recommend pulling your circuit breaker before bed to kill all power in your house.
  5. Move alarm clocks and other electrical devices away from your head. If these devices must be used, keep them as far away from your bed as possible, preferably at least three feet.
  6. Reduce use of light-emitting technology, such as your TV, iPad, and computer, before going to bed. These emit the type of light that will suppress melatonin production, which in turn will hamper your ability to fall asleep, as well as increase your cancer risk (melatonin helps to suppress harmful free radicals in your body and slows the production of estrogen, which can contribute to cancer). Ideally, you'll want to turn all such light-emitting gadgets off at least one hour prior to bedtime.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Top 10 Inflammatory Foods to Avoid Like the Plague

By: Wee Peng Ho

Stay clear of these inflammation-causing foods to instantly upgrade your health.
According to statistics from the World Health Organization, about 12.9 million people worldwide died from some form of cardiovascular disease in 2004. Each year, the World Cancer Research Fund estimates that some eight million people died from cancer. Heart disease and cancer, the deadly manifestation of chronic inflammation, are expected to remain as the leading causes of death in developed countries for many years to come.

But study after study shows that the risk of heart disease and cancer are modifiable by our lifestyle choices which include the food we choose to eat each day. With every bite we take, we're either balancing the pro- and anti-inflammatory compounds in the body, or tipping the scale to one end. 

To shift the balance to your favor, other than incorporating more natural anti-inflammatory foods in your diet, it is also equally important to avoid or cut down on foods which are known to promote inflammation. Here, we look at the top ten foods which set the stage for inflammatory diseases: 

1. Sugars

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Excessive sugar intake causes tooth decay and has been linked to increased risks of obesity, inflammation and chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Recently, it has also finally been proven that sugar, as well as dairy, are the causes of acne. 

Find them in: Sugar-sweetened beverages like soft drinks, fruit drinks and punches are some of the major sources of dietary sugars that many have overlooked. Do you know that drinking a can of Coke is as good as sucking ten sugar cubes? Other obvious sugar-loaded foods to avoid or at least limit include pastries, desserts, candies and snacks. And when you are looking out for sugar in the ingredients list, note that sugar has many names: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, golden syrup, maltose, sorghum syrup and sucrose are some of the creative names used. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Got a sweet tooth? Opt for natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, or blackstrap molasses to flavor beverages and foods modestly. Natural sugars found in fresh or dried fruits and fruit preserves with no added sugar are also great choices. Not only do they give you the sweetness you crave, fruits also supply you with vitamins, antioxidants and fibers that you won't find in sugary foods and drinks. Dates, figs, persimmons, kiwis, tangerines and various types of berries are some of the natural healthy snacks you can sink your teeth into.

2. Common Cooking Oils

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Common vegetable cooking oils used in many homes and restaurants have very high omega-6 fatty acids and dismally low omega-3 fats. A diet consisting of a highly imbalanced omega-6 to omega-3 ratio promotes inflammation and breeds inflammatory diseases like heart disease and cancer.

Find them in: Polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as grape seed, cottonseed, safflower, corn and sunflower oils. These industrial vegetable oils are also commonly used to prepare most processed foods and takeaways. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Replace your omega-6-saturated cooking oils with macadamia oil, extra virgin olive oil, or other edible oils with a more balanced omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratio. Macadamia oil, for instance, has an almost one-to-one ratio of omega-6:3 fats, and it is also rich in oleic acid, a heart-healthy, monounsaturated fatty acid.

3. Trans Fats

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Trans fatty acids are notorious for their double whammy effect: they increase the levels of 'bad' cholesterol, while lowering levels of the 'good' cholesterol. But that is not all they can do. They have also been found to promote inflammation, obesity and resistance to insulin, laying the ground for degenerative illnesses to take place.
Find them in: Deep fried foods, fast foods, commercially baked goods and those prepared with partially hydrogenated oil, margarine and/or vegetable shortening. Note that items that list 0g trans fats on the label may still contain some amount of these toxic fats. This is because in the US, the government allows items containing less than 0.5g of trans fats to be declared as trans-fat free. Commercially prepared peanut butter is one good example. Your best bet is to read the ingredients list and make sure partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening is not used. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Look for alternative products that contain no trans fats, and that do not have partially hydrogenated oil or vegetable shortening in the ingredients list. When in doubt, assume that all commercially prepared foods contain trans fats unless stated otherwise.

4. Dairy Products

Pro-inflammatory Agent: As much as 60% of the world's population cannot digest milk. In fact, researchers think that being able to digest milk beyond infancy is abnormal, rather than the other way round. Milk is also a common allergen that can trigger inflammatory responses, such as stomach distress, constipation, diarrhea, skin rashes, acne, hives and breathing difficulties in susceptible people. 

Find them in: Milk and dairy products are as pervasive as foods containing partially hydrogenated oil or omega-3-deficient vegetable oil. Apart from obvious milk products like butter and cheese, foods with hidden dairy content include breads, cookies, crackers, cakes, cream sauces and boxed cereals. Scanning the ingredients list is still the safest way to suss out milk. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Kefir and unsweetened yogurt are acceptable in moderation for those who are not allergic to milk. They are easier on the stomach as the lactose and proteins in the milk have been broken down by beneficial bacteria and/or yeasts.

5. Feedlot-Raised Meat

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Commercially produced meats are feed with grains like soy beans and corn, a diet that is high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids but low in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. Due to the small and tight living environment, these animals also gain excess fat and end up with high saturated fats. Worse, to make them grow faster and prevent them from getting sick, they are also injected with hormones and fed with antibiotics. The result is one piece of meat which you and I shouldn't be eating. 

Find them in: Unless otherwise stated, most, if not all, beef, pork and poultry you can find in the supermarkets and restaurants come from feedlot farms. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Organic, free-range animals that are fed a natural diet such as grasses instead of grains and hormones contain more omega-3 fats. Having more room to roam freely, they are also leaner and contain less saturated fats.

6. Red Meat & Processed Meat

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine found that red meat contains a molecule that humans don't naturally produce called Neu5Gc. After ingesting this compound, the body develops anti-Neu5Gc antibodies - an immune response that may trigger chronic inflammatory response. Low-grade, simmering inflammation that won't go away has been linked to cancer and heart disease.
The link between processed meat consumption and cancer is even stronger. In the 2007 report by the World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research, processed meat has been stated as a convincing cause of cancers of the colon and rectum, and possibly of the esophagus and lungs too. Processed meat includes animal products that have been smoked, cured, salted or chemically preserved. 

Find them in: Common red meats are beef, lamb and pork, while processed meats include ham, sausage and salami. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: You don't need to avoid red meat totally, though the same thing cannot be said for processed meat. No amount of processed meat is safe. Replace the bulk of your red meat with organic vegetables, poultry and fish, and relegate red meat to a weekly treat. When you do eat red meat, remember to choose lean cuts and preferably, that of grass-fed animals. To reduce the formation of heat-generated food contaminants, it is also advisable not to overcook your meat and use moist heat cooking like stewing and boiling more often than high-temperature dry heat methods such as grilling and frying.

7. Alcohol

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Regular high consumption of alcohol has been known to cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, larynx (voice box) and liver. Over time, the chronic inflammation promotes tumor growth and gives rise to cancer at the sites of repeated irritation. 

Find them in: Beers, ciders, liquors, liqueurs, and wines. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: A refreshing and thirst-quenching glass of pure, filtered water, anyone? How about a cup of anti-aging and anti-inflammatory jasmine green tea? If you find the idea of swapping ethanol for water or tea implausible, at least limit your consumption to no more than one drink a day.

8. Refined Grains

Pro-inflammatory Agent: A lot of the grains we eat nowadays are refined. They are devoid of fiber and vitamin B compared to unpolished and unrefined grains that still have the bran, germ and the aleurone layer intact. This makes refined grains as good as refined sugars, which are practically empty calories. And like refined sugars, refined grains have a higher glycemic index than unprocessed grains and when they are consistently consumed, can hasten the onset of degenerative diseases like cancer, coronary disease and diabetes. 

Find them in: Products made from refined grains are almost everywhere. The common ones are: white rice, white flour, white bread, noodles, pasta, biscuits and pastries. To make things worse, many products with refined grains undergo further processing to enhance their taste and look, and are often loaded with excess sugar, salt, artificial flavors and/or partially hydrogenated oil in the process. A prime example is boxed cereals which contain substantial amounts of added sugar and flavorings. 

Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Go for minimally processed grains if you are not gluten intolerant or allergic to grains. If you are an avid bread or pastry maker, invest in a grain mill to produce your own flour. It will be much fresher than the stale grain found in stores. When buying cereals or other products made from grains, don't take the words on the packaging for granted. Just because the box says whole grains, it does not mean the grains inside are 100% intact. The problem is due to a lack of an internationally accepted definition for the word 'whole grain'. When in doubt, if it does not look close to its natural state, don't buy it.

9. Artificial Food Additives

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Some artificial food additives like aspartame and monosodium glutamate (MSG) reportedly trigger inflammatory responses, especially in people who are already suffering from inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Find them in: Only packaged foods contain artificial food additives. If you need to buy them, read the labels carefully and weigh your risks. If you order Chinese takeaways, make sure you have the option to ask for no MSG. Otherwise, look elsewhere.
Inflammation-dousing Substitute: Besides limiting the consumption of processed foods, use anti-inflammatory herbs, spices or natural sweeteners to add flavor to your dishes instead of relying on food additives.

10. (Fill in the blank)

Pro-inflammatory Agent: Why is this blank? Because it is meant for you to fill in with the food that you are sensitive to. Many people are sensitive to certain foods but are totally unaware of it. Unlike food allergies whereby symptoms usually come fast and furious, symptoms caused by food intolerance may take a longer time to manifest. Consequently, when symptoms of food intolerance do appear, they are often brushed off as common minor ailments such as tiredness and headaches. But repeated, long-term exposure to food that irritates can cause inflammation and lead to chronic disease.
Find them in: Common food allergens are gluten, milk, nuts, eggs and nightshade vegetables. Contrary to common belief, it is possible to develop an allergy to the foods that you eat often.
Inflammation-dousing Substitute: If you suspect that a particular food may be responsible for your food intolerant response, try avoiding it completely for about two weeks and monitor your reaction. At the end of the abstinence period, re-introduce the food back into your diet. If you are in fact incompatible with it, you should be able to notice the difference in how you feel easily.