Category: Disease Prevention

Upbeat, Mood and Liver-Booster: The Nutrition of Beets

Notable Personality Factors of Beets:

Bright, burgundy-colored beets are highly nutritious root vegetables native to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe.  No matter how you look at them, beets are an upbeat food!  They inspire positivity!  Beet fans find the vegetable invigorating and uplifting — and there are plenty of reasons why.  Beets are endowed with all kinds of therapeutic benefits that keep us healthy, happy, energetic, and well!

Much like their vibrant hue, beets have a colorful history as a medicinal vegetable.  Ancient Greek and Roman cultures looked to beets to treat a variety of ailments, particularly as it related to digestive and cardiovascular conditions, while Hippocrates, the famed Greek physician, allegedly used beet leaves to help bind wounds.  Hundreds of years later, we’re continuing to learn about the unique nutritional make-up of the mighty beet that makes it a boon to our overall health and wellbeing.

In the next few paragraphs we’re going to cover some of the most important nutritional and therapeutic benefits of beets.  For more information, make sure to check out this article on how to cleanse your body, boost your immune system, and lose weight with beets and other fresh, whole foods.

Therapeutic and Healing Properties of Beets:***

So what is it that makes beets so special when it comes to uplifting our mind, body, and mood?

To begin with, the beetroot is the liver’s buddy.  More specifically, beets reduce liver stress and clear out the sludge and sediment in the liver bed and bile.  Not only does this improve the assimilation and detoxification processes of the liver, which bring the body to life and protect the body from aging and disease, but it also has a positive impact on our mood!  How so?  A healthy liver has an anti-depressant effect on the brain!  This liver-boosting, mood lifting effect of beets is enhanced by its magnesium content, which soothes the nerves, and its significant concentration of tryptophan, a serotonin supporting amino-acid that can help in stabilizing and elevating our mood.

In addition to the positive impact beets have on our mind and mood, they can also play an important role in improving our cardiovascular health and helping prevent degenerative disease.

Beets are a great source of betaine, a phytonutrient that helps lower homocysteine levels in the blood and helps protect against atherosclerosis, stroke, and other cardiovascular disease.  Meanwhile, beet greens (the greens of the beet, as opposed to the root) are a great source of antioxidants such as carotenoids, flavonoids, and vitamin A — all of which have been shown to have powerful anti-cancer qualities.

Perhaps the most unique cancer-inhibiting compound found in beets, however, is its high concentration of betalain.  Betalain is the phytonutrient responsible for giving the beet its vibrant color and is currently being studied for its disease fighting and detoxification properties.

While beets and their greens can be very supportive to our overall health and wellbeing, beet greens are not recommended for those with a history of kidney stones, due to measurable amounts of oxalic acid that can contribute to stone formation for those at high risk.

It’s also important to note that around 10-15% of the population cannot breakdown certain pigments in beets.  While this is not considered harmful it can result in a reddening of the urine.

Additional Nutritional Benefits of Beets:

In addition to the nutrients mentioned above, beets are also a good source of minerals and trace minerals, such as manganese, potassium, magnesium, and iron.  They are an excellent source of folate and a respectable source of other B-Vitamins such as niacin, pantothenic acid, and pyridoxine.

Selection and Care of Beets:

Judge a beet by the freshness of its greens.  Choose young roots with upright, frond-like tops, and look for purple-red beets that are firm, symmetrically shaped, and smooth.  Avoid soft, dull-colored beets.  Scrub beets well, and shred or pare the thin outer skin before eating or cooking.

Optimal Use and Combining:

Beets add a hearty snap to leafy green salads, and, from an aesthetic perspective, a pleasing punch of color to mixed vegetable plates—combined with green celery, red tomatoes, and orange carrots, for example.  From a therapeutic point of view, beets are most effective when eaten raw, as part of a salad, or mixed in to a fresh vegetable juice.  Carrot-celery-beet juice really cleans out the liver.  Beets can also be steamed and make an excellent side dish with lunch or dinner.

***This article is not intended to treat or diagnose any type of health condition or disease. Any nutritional considerations for any health complication should be discussed with your physician or healthcare provider.

Artichokes: A Liver-Protecting Mediterranean Treat

Notable Personality Factors of Artichokes:

The personality and character of the artichoke is best explained by its origin: The vegetable comes from the majestic Mediterranean, primarily the south of Spain, France, and Italy.  These three great cultures represent the essence of the artichoke, which symbolizes warmth, relaxation, and luxury like that which is found along the Cote d’Azur.  With such an association, artichokes can’t help but bring pleasure to any meal.  In addition to their culinary qualities, they are also endowed with a unique set of nutritional and therapeutic benefits — particularly when it comes to the liver.

Therapeutic and Healing Properties of Artichokes:***

Folklore has it that the artichoke acts as a safety valve for the liver.  Physicians in ancient Mediterranean cultures alleged that the beloved vegetable buffered the liver against the ill effects of alcohol, and recommended that it always accompany the consumption of red wine.  It turns out that they were right!  In the 1970’s, scientists discovered that the active ingredient in the artichoke was cynarin, a caffeylquinic acid.  Cynarin has been shown to regulate the biliary “tree”— the network of ducts through which bile, after being excreted by the liver, flows into the gallbladder.  Because artichokes have a positive influence on the movement of bile, they do, in fact, shelter the liver from toxins, stress, damage, and aging.

It’s also important to point out that cynarin, along with other powerful phytonutrients found in artichokes, can be helpful in lowering cholesterol.  Not only do artichokes reduce the synthesis of cholesterol in the liver but they also increase the breakdown and excretion of cholesterol through the bile.  In this manner, artichokes have a two-pronged attack in helping the body manage excess cholesterol levels.

Additional Nutritional Benefits of Artichokes:

Artichokes are rich in a starchy carbohydrate called inulin, which has minimal impact on blood sugar and is therefore considered suitable for diabetics and others with blood sugar related illnesses.  Artichokes are also a good source of minerals—such as copper, potassium, calcium, iron, and manganese—and provide several important b-vitamins, such as folic acid, niacin, pantothenic acid, and pyridoxine.

Selection and Care of Artichokes:

Layers of dark green leaves and bracts (scales) encircle the soft, juicy heart at the center of the vegetable.  Look for consistently colored vegetables that have compact, tight-fitting bracts.  The best way to prepare an artichoke is to steam it.  The scales can then be plucked off and dipped into your spread or seasoning of choice.

Optimal Use and Combining of Artichokes:

Since artichokes are a starchy vegetable, they do not go well with other starches, such as bread, rice, or potatoes.  Instead, eat your steamed artichoke with other veggies, vegetable soup, and / or a fresh green salad.

***This article is not intended to treat or diagnose any type of health condition or disease. Any nutritional considerations for any health complication should be discussed with your physician or healthcare provider.

Onions: Love’em or Hate’em, They’re Good For You!

Notable Personality Factors of Onions:

Due to their pungent odor, sharp taste, and tear-inducing ability, onions are the cause of much controversy.  It’s a love-hate thing.  There are those that admire the onion for its strength, and those who despise it for the exact same reason.  Looking back in history, however, the sentiment has been mostly love—whether it was for its culinary, therapeutic, or even spiritual properties.  Take the ancient Egyptians, for example, who worshipped the onion and believed it was a symbol of eternal life!  Like garlic, its fellow bulbous veggie, the onion is part of the Allium family of vegetables and is rich in sulfur-containing compounds that deliver a pungent punch, along with a healthy dose of nutritional and therapeutic benefits!

Therapeutic and Healing Properties of Onions:***

In many ways, the onion’s therapeutic properties are similar to garlic.  They protect the heart, bolster the body’s defenses against cancer, and are helpful in fighting off infections.  This is due in large part to their unique concentration of allicin—a health promoting, organosulfur compound—and their rich source of anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-viral flavonoids such as quercitin.

Perhaps the ancient Greek athletes, who ate onions in large quantities because they believed it lightened the balance of their blood, had it right all along.  Hundreds of years later we’ve been able to confirm that onions indeed “lighten up” the blood—they can help lower blood cholesterol, lower blood sugar, and lower blood pressure alike.  In this manner, onions can be a strong ally to healthy blood chemistry, a healthy cardio-vascular system, and a healthy heart.

Onions are also considered to be a natural anti-biotic and are great for aiding in upper respiratory complications.  Their sharp, spicy taste tends to clear out the sinuses, and onion-based soup has long been considered a folk remedy for sore throats, tonsillitis, and the common cold.  Meanwhile, raw onion relaxes the bronchial muscles, which makes it a useful food in the treatment of asthma.

Additional Nutritional Benefits of Onions:

In addition to being an excellent source of allicin and quercitin, onions are a good source of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B-6, and many health promoting minerals such as molybdenum, manganese, and potassium.

Selection and Care of Onions:

Soft, damp onions are usually spoiled, and have lost their flavor.  Choose firm bulbs—yellow, green, or red-skinned—according to personal preference (although red onions are less acidic than other varieties).  When preparing onions, peel the outermost layers under cold running water—this will help prevent crying in the kitchen.  Try not to over-peel as a large concentration of the antioxidants and flavonoids are found in the outer layers.

Optimal Use and Combining of Onions:

Mild onions are best eaten raw, minced, or sliced in salads or sandwiches.  Stronger varieties can be baked, boiled, broiled, or steamed.  Onions can be used as a seasoning in small quantities to flavor all kinds of entrees, salsas, dressings, and sauces.

***This article is not intended to treat or diagnose any type of health condition or disease. Any nutritional considerations for any health complication should be discussed with your physician or healthcare provider.

Spinach: Nature’s Leafy-Green Super-Nutrition

Notable Personality Factors:

Remember Popeye’s relationship with spinach? Pow!  That’s the spinach personality—its potent nutritional profile packs a serious punch!  It animates, invigorates, and energizes.  The wide variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients found in spinach enliven the metabolism, embolden the immune system, and empower the mind and body with the life-giving nutrients they need to counteract the forces of fatigue, aging, and illness.  Spinach is thought to have originated in Persia and has long been considered a medicinal vegetable.

Therapeutic & Healing Powers:***

Like other dark, leafy-green vegetables, spinach plays a multifaceted role in building, fortifying, and sustaining your long-term health and well-being.  It’s anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, heart-protecting, bone-boosting, blood-building characteristics make it a nutritional stand out for energizing the body and building your internal defense mechanisms against disease.

So what is it about the mighty spinach leaf’s nutritional profile that makes it so special?

To begin with, spinach has been endowed with a powerful combination of cancer-fighting compounds that work in various ways to protect the body from this dangerous disease.  It’s one of the richest sources of vitamin A in the plant-kingdom—an important nutrient for neutralizing free-radicals in the fatty tissues of the body—and is also a good source of the well-known antioxidants vitamin C and vitamin E.  In addition, spinach is chock-full of carotenoids and flavonoids that boost the immune system and have been shown to have protective effects against cancer.

While the anti-cancer qualities of spinach are impressive, the benefits of spinach on the blood are just as notable!  The phytonutrients in spinach work to reduce inflammation and protect blood vessels, the soluble fiber works to lower cholesterol, and the significant iron content—one of the most concentrated sources of iron in the leafy-green kingdom—bolsters the blood and is an important nutrient in red blood cell production.

Nutrient Value:

In addition to the nutrients mentioned above, spinach is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids; bone-building vitamin K; B-complex vitamins such as folate, vitamin B-1, and vitamin B-2; and health-promoting minerals such as manganese, magnesium and potassium.

It’s important to note, however, that spinach is not recommended for those with a history of kidney stones, since the vegetable’s high oxalic acid concentration can contribute to stone formation.

Selection and Care:

Spinach spoils quickly: Select leaves based on their crispness and brilliant emerald green color.  Avoid coarse, wilted, limp, or yellow leaves, or those with blackening edges.  Spinach shrinks significantly when cooked, so what seems like a large amount usually isn’t.  For example, a pound will yield three generous servings.  Buy accordingly.  Store spinach in tight containers in the fridge.  Do not wash until ready to use.

Optimal Use & Combining:

Spinach is most nutritious when eaten raw and goes well with chopped mushrooms, carrots, cabbage, zucchini, and other leafy greens as part of a tossed salad.  But it can also be steamed.  The steamed leaves can accent pasta, brown rice, lentils, and even baked potatoes.

***This article is not intended to treat or diagnose any type of health condition or disease. Any nutritional considerations for any health complication should be discussed with your physician or healthcare provider.

Garlic: Big Benefits, Small Package

Notable Personality Factors:

Garlic’s reputation as a miracle cure goes back to antiquity.  Bulbs decorated the walls of Egyptian tombs dating from 3000 B.C., presumably as part of some religious ritual.  Hippocrates and Plato praised garlic for its medicinal properties, and folklore refers to it as the remedy for warding off everything from parasitic infections to vampire attacks.  As part of the Allium family of vegetables (along with onions and leeks), garlic is known as much for its culinary qualities and distinctive aroma as it is for its therapeutic benefits.  Today, garlic is grown worldwide, and used to season all sorts of dishes.

Therapeutic & Healing Powers:***

More so than almost any other vegetable, it’s tough to separate fact from fiction when it comes to defining garlic’s therapeutic properties.  In general, however, most agree that garlic’s nutritional benefits fall into three fundamental categories.

Cardiovascular: One of the most impressive benefits brought to us by the mighty garlic plant is the impact it has on cardiovascular health.  Allicin, along with other health-promoting compounds found in garlic, have been shown to help lower total cholesterol and reduce triglycerides in the blood. This, in turn, supports healthy blood chemistry and helps protect against hardening of the arteries — and that’s just the beginning!  Garlic helps thin the blood and prevent the formation of blood clots, thereby decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke, and naturally lowers blood pressure by increasing the elasticity of blood vessels.  Considering its cholesterol-lowering, triglyceride reducing, anti-clotting, anti-hypertensive effects, garlic has a well-deserved reputation for promoting a healthy heart.

Anti-Infectious: Despite all of the cardiovascular benefits, garlic is best known for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal characteristics.  Garlic has been called the “Russian Penicillin,” based on its anti-bacterial properties; the Japanese have popularized kyolic, a liquid extract of cold-processed garlic, as a treatment for bacteria and viruses; and a wide array of plant compounds in garlic have been shown to have anti-fungal activities as well.  Whether it’s protecting the body against bacteria, viruses, or fungi, garlic’s anti-infectious properties help fortify the immune system and defend against all kinds of outside intruders.

Anti-Cancerous: In addition to supporting heart health and warding off infections, garlic is being linked more and more to lower risks of all types of cancers.  Garlic is rich in anti-cancer compounds that are being studied for their ability to inhibit cancer growth and protect the body against dangerous carcinogens.

Nutrient Value:

Garlic is rich in health-promoting sulfur compounds, such as allicin, which are largely responsible for its therapeutic benefits, its distinctive taste, and its sharp odor. It’s an excellent source of minerals — such as manganese, selenium, and calcium — and is also a good source of vitamin B6 and vitamin C.

Selection and Care:

Look for firm bulbs with tightly packed cloves encased in thin, papery skin.  Avoid garlic that has begun to sprout, or that is graying, soft, and decaying in spots.

Optimal Use & Combining:

Roasted or raw garlic adds a flavorful and therapeutic punch to almost anything: mashed potatoes, pasta, salad dressings, soups.  It can even be used as a spread on whole grain bread (in its roasted form)!  Make sure to chop or crush the garlic, particularly before heating, as this activates enzymatic processes that convert the health-promoting compounds found in garlic into a form that is usable by the body.

***This article is not intended to treat or diagnose any type of health condition or disease. Any nutritional considerations for any health complication should be discussed with your physician or healthcare provider.