25 January 2012

Romaine Lettuce Rules!

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Within the leafy green kingdom, romaine lettuce rules!  Its disease-fighting, anti-aging, energy-enhancing, and immune-boosting qualities make it a nutritional standout for keeping you vital, youthful, healthy, happy, and well!

In addition to helping prevent unnecessary aging and illness, the great romaine has a centuries-old reputation as a healer and has been revered throughout ancient cultures and civilizations for its medicinal properties.  Romaine lettuce originated in the Mediterranean, and at various times Greek, Roman, and French physicians prescribed it for a variety of ailments.  Interestingly enough, one of the staunchest supporters of romaine lettuce was Caesar, the Roman emperor, who credited the leafy green vegetable for his recovery from several ailments and even erected a statue in its honor.

It’s important to note that romaine lettuce’s higher concentration of nutrients gives it a therapeutic edge over other forms of lettuce.  In general, the darker the leaf, the greater the nutritional value.  That’s why bitter greens such as spinach and arugula also make a powerful dietary impact, whereas milder forms of lettuce, such as butter-head or iceberg, are less nutritious.

Therapeutic & Healing Values:***

Due to its high concentration of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants, and chlorophyll, romaine lettuce is a nutritional staple for healing and the prevention of disease.  Its unique combination of life-giving nutrients helps activate the body’s ability to:

  • Self-defend—and protect us from disease;
  • Self-repair—and counteract the forces of stress, aging, and illness; and
  • Self-revitalize—and keep us vital, energetic, and full of life

So what are the nutrients that make romaine lettuce so special?

  • It’s a vitamin A and vitamin C powerhouse, which boost the immune system, help support cardio-vascular health, and protect against all kinds of cancer, including cancer of the colon, rectum and intestines.
  • It’s rich in immune enhancing and free-radical combating carotenoids—such as beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
  • It’s high in fiber, and is a central aid in waste elimination and protecting the body from nutritional toxins and pollutants.
  • It’s highly alkaline, which makes it a liver friendly food and helps purify and cleanse vital organs and bodily fluids.
  • It’s rich in folate, an important b-vitamin for synthesizing and repairing DNA and lowering risk for many diseases such as breast cancer

Meanwhile, romaine lettuce also bolsters the blood, helps prevents anemia, increases your resistance to the common cold and flu, and helps fight off infections.

Nutrient Value:

In addition to the vitamins and antioxidants mentioned above, romaine lettuce is also a good source of minerals—such as iron, potassium, molybdenum, manganese, and calcium—omega-3 fatty acids, and several B vitamins (B-1, B-2, B-6).

Selection and Care:

Romaine lettuce should be crisp, leafy, and firm.  It stands up straight.  Examine the head for wilted leaves, rotting, or discolored edges, all of which are signs of spoilage.  The average-sized head of lettuce yields four large salad servings.  Wash lettuce well by removing and rinsing one leaf at at time with cool water, and store unused portions in the refrigerator.

Optimal Use and Combining:

To maximize the nutritional and therapeutic value of romaine lettuce, it’s best to eat it fresh and raw. Romaine makes a great base for any green salad.  It mixes well with other lettuces and with yellow, orange, red, purple, and green veggies for a crunchy, tasty, salad.  By emphasizing romaine lettuce in at least one vegetable salad a day, you’ll be able to enjoy all of the health benefits that this staple vegetable has to offer.

***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.

18 January 2012

Cucumber: The King of Cool

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Despite being one of the top 5 most cultivated vegetables in the world, the cucumber doesn’t get a whole lot of attention—but don’t expect it to get upset about it.  Even though it hails from the tropics, the “cuke” is the quintessential king of cool.  Just like the old adage “cool as a cucumber” implies, cucumbers have a cooling, soothing effect on the mind and body.  Its juicy flesh calms overheated nerves, its mild flavor refreshes the palate, and its unique combination of minerals and phytonutrients work to balance your body chemistry.  It may not be the flashiest vegetable in the plant kingdom, but its nutritional and therapeutic values should not be overlooked.

Therapeutic and Healing Values:***

One of the first things you notice when you bite into a cucumber is its water content.  In addition to being refreshing, the watery pulp can be helpful in flushing unwanted toxins out of the system, regulating bodily fluids, and cleansing the blood.

Another important characteristic of the cucumber is its mineral composition.  Cucumbers are low in sodium, high in potassium, and high in magnesium—a powerful trio that promotes proper mineral balance in the body and has been linked to lower rates of stroke and other cardiovascular disease.  Interestingly enough, the magnesium content of the cucumber also helps settle the nerves and contributes to the cucumber’s overall soothing effect.

In addition, cucumbers are a good source of flavonoids, lignans, and many other phytonutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics.  These health promoting compounds play an important role in protecting the body from toxins, stress, and free-radicals that can damage healthy cells and tissues and contribute to aging and disease.  Other antioxidants found in cucumbers include vitamin C, beta-carotene, and manganese.

Cucumbers are an excellent source of vitamin K, an important nutrient for bone health, and are also a good source of silica, a mineral essential to the growth and protection of connective tissue, skin, nails, and hair.

Nutrient Value:

In addition to the antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals listed above, cucumbers are a good source of energy-enhancing pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5).  Cucumbers also contain erepsin, an enzyme that improves protein digestion, along with other minerals and trace elements.

Selection and Care:

Cucumbers should be firm and consistently colored, with medium to dark green, unwaxed skin.  Shriveling and yellowness are signs that a cucumber is past its prime.

Optimal Use and Combining:

Due to its mild taste, raw cucumber complements most vegetables, including leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, and carrots.  In addition, raw cucumber with watercress and jicama makes a refreshing spring or summer 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.

11 January 2012

Carrots: Nature’s Energy Enhancing, Immune Boosting, Super-Root

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Carrots are energy foods.  They animate, activate, and embolden the life-giving processes of the body that keep us vital, youthful, and well.  Carrots revitalize the master glands that enliven our mind, body, and mood; strengthen immune function and increase our body’s resistance to aging and disease; and shelter our vital systems from the ongoing wear and tear of daily living.

In their early incarnation, these root vegetables were unpleasant tasting and purple-black in color.  It wasn’t until the 16th century that the sweeter, more appealing orange carrots were cultivated—thanks to Dutch horticulturists.  In the world of clinical nutrition, it’s easy to root for the modern version of this nutrient-rich root.  It’s full of nutritional and therapeutic values that help us build, maintain, and protect our long-term wellbeing.

Therapeutic & Healing Powers:*

Carrots are considered to be an anti-cancer vegetable.  In fact, they are so rich in cancer-fighting compounds that they have the distinction of having their own antioxidant named after them—beta carotene!  Beta-carotene is a powerful plant compound from the carotenoid family of antioxidants that has been shown to help lower risk for lung cancer and other smoking related cancers (this applies to eating beta-carotene rich foods, such as carrots, not beta-carotene supplements**).  Studies have suggested that beta-carotene may also be helpful in preventing skin, breast, prostate, and other cancers.  It is also important to note that in addition to beta-carotene, carrots provide a wide array of anti-cancer compounds—such as lutein and polyacetylenes—that further equip the body to combat and prevent cancer.

In addition to their cancer-inhibiting qualities, studies have shown that carrots support a healthy heart and help prevent cardiovascular disease.  Carrots help purify the blood, protect the cardiovascular system from antioxidant damage, and are currently being studied for their anti-inflammatory and anti-platelet-aggregatory properties.

And that’s just the beginning!  In my experience, I’ve found that:

  • Carrot, carrot-celery, and carrot-celery-beet juice are all excellent tonics that help combat liver stress and detoxify the liver.
  • The carrot’s fiber content helps regulate the bowels and, when steamed, can be helpful in treating diarrhea.
  • Carrots help revitalize the thyroid and adrenal glands, and in so doing, help combat fatigue, stress, and burnout.
  • Carrots are helpful in preventing upper respiratory infections and inflammatory lung problems.

With all of these nutritional and therapeutic benefits, it makes sense to add carrots to your daily or weekly routine.

Nutrient Value:

As mentioned above, carrots are a rich source of beta-carotene and other cancer fighting antioxidants and phytonutrients.   Since beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A (as needed) by the body, carrots are an excellent source of vitamin A.  They are also a good source of many B vitamins, vitamin C, soluble and insoluble fiber, and important minerals such as potassium and calcium.

Selection and Care:

Select firm, smooth roots. Avoid carrots that are rubbery, wrinkled, or split.  Carrot greens should be bright and upright.

Optimal Use and Combining:

Raw carrots add color, taste, and crunch to leafy green salads and mix especially well with romaine lettuce, zucchini, broccoli, cabbage, and other cruciferous veggies. In addition, don’t forget about carrots when putting together some healthy snacks at parties.  Try combining fresh carrots with cruciferous vegetables for an anti-cancer crudités plate and add a side of salsa and guacamole for dipping!  When juicing, carrots taste great alone or combined with celery and beets.

*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.

**Whereas beta-carotene consumed as part of a whole food, such as a carrot, has been shown to lower lung cancer risk, some studies have shown that high doses of beta-carotene supplements have actually increased lung cancer risk.  For this reason, it’s best to get your beta-carotene by eating beta-carotene rich foods, not by consuming beta-carotene supplements.

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14 December 2011

Red Cabbage: The Queen of Cruciferous Veggies

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Previously we crowned broccoli the “King of Cruciferous Veggies.”  This week we turn our attention to red cabbage, the “Queen of Cruciferous.”  Although cabbage is not quite as popular as broccoli — its royal cruciferous counterpart — the disease-fighting faculties of red cabbage (and cabbage in general) should not be overlooked.  In fact, I like to think of red cabbage as a longevity food.  It’s full of revitalizing phytonutrients and cancer combating antioxidants that protect the mind and body from aging and disease.  Interestingly enough, these same nutrients that fortify our defenses against unnecessary aging and illness are also responsible for the plant’s vibrant reddish / purple pigment — nature’s way of grabbing our attention and helping us identify nutrient-rich foods full of nutritional and therapeutic benefits.

Therapeutic and Healing Powers:***

Like all cruciferous veggies, cabbage is best known for combating cancer.  The cabbage plant, and red cabbage in particular, is full of cancer-fighting phytonutrients such as indoles and isothiocyanites that block cancerous cells from forming and help eliminate dangerous carcinogens from the body.

As an added benefit, red cabbage is also an excellent source of polyphenols.  Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that protect the body against free radicals, accelerated aging, and disease.  Not only are polyphenols known for their preventive effects on cancer, but they are also being studied for their role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and neurodegenerative diseases.

It’s also important to note that red cabbage is a great source of vitamin A and vitamin C — two important antioxidants that boost the immune system and increase the body’s cancer-fighting capacity.  Red cabbage has a nutritional edge over green cabbage in that red cabbage is a more concentrated source of polyphenols, vitamin A, and vitamin C.

In addition to helping prevent cancer, red cabbage is a great food for the detoxification and elimination of harmful chemicals and hormones found in food, water, and air pollutants.  The vegetable’s waste removing abilities are particularly beneficial to the liver, the digestive tract, and the colon.

Nutrient Value:

In addition to the wide range of phytonutrients and antioxidants mentioned above — namely the isothiocyanites, indoles, polyphenols, vitamin A, and vitamin C — red cabbage is a great source of fiber, vitamin K, and many B-vitamins such as folate, vitamin B1 and vitamin B6.  It’s also a notable source of potassium, calcium, and a variety of other minerals that are essential for your health.

Selection and Care:

Select fresh, firm, crisp cabbages with compact heads, heavy for their size, and tightly wrapped leaves free of discoloration at the edges.

Optimal Use and Combining:

Red cabbage is a colorful, crunchy, and nutritious addition to any vegetable salad.  In fact, adding red cabbage to your salad is a great way to make sure you have a wide variety of colors represented — a good indication that you are getting a plentiful supply of immune-boosting phytonutrients and antioxidants.  Cabbage, cauliflower, and the rest of the cruciferous family mix well with beets, carrots, leafy greens, and other root vegetables.  It’s best to eat red cabbage raw (or if you are going to cook it, steamed) to preserve the full range of life-giving nutrients.

***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.

7 December 2011

Broccoli: The King of Cruciferous Veggies

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Among cruciferous vegetables — and the plant kingdom as a whole — broccoli is king!  A “crown” of this nutrient-rich super-veggie is packed with cancer-fighting compounds, stress-fighting phytonutrients, and essential vitamins and minerals that keep your body energized, fresh, and alive.  In fact, I like to think of broccoli as the ultimate “ready” food.  It activates the brain, enlivens the nervous system, and bolsters the adrenals.  In this manner, it makes sure that the mind and body are prepared to deal with whatever physical or emotional demands are at hand.

Therapeutic and Healing Powers:

As a member of the cruciferous family — which also includes veggies such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, and turnips — broccoli is best known for its anti-cancer characteristics.  So what is it about broccoli that helps protect against cancer?  For starters, it’s naturally endowed with powerful cancer-inhibiting compounds, such as isothiocyanates, that bolster the body’s defense against dangerous carcinogens.   Isothiocyanates, for example, play an important role in neutralizing, counteracting, and removing cancer-causing carcinogens from the body.

Meanwhile, some of the other phytonutrients found in broccoli, such as sulforaphane, are known for identifying, attacking, and destroying cancerous cells.  It’s important to point out that they’re able to do this without damaging healthy cells!  But that’s just the beginning.  Broccoli is also a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to vitamin A and vitamin C — two potent anti-oxidants that boost the body’s immune system and help defend against damaging free-radicals.  Given all of these anti-cancer qualities, it’s no wonder that diets rich in cruciferous vegetables have been shown to reduce the risk for all kinds of cancer including breast, lung, esophageal, and prostate cancer.

In addition to building your body’s cancer-fighting capacity, broccoli is a highly alkaline green vegetable that is good for the liver, kidneys, and spleen.  I’ve also found steamed broccoli to be useful in boosting the adrenal glands and alleviating fatigue (thanks, in part, to the adrenal building powers of its pantothenic acid).  Its energizing capacity helps counter stress, depression, and metabolic burnout.

Nutrient Value:

In addition to all of the phytonutrients and antioxidants mentioned above, broccoli is a great source of fiber and is chock-full of essential vitamins and minerals.  It’s an excellent source of B vitamins — particularly folate, which is necessary for synthesizing and repairing DNA and has been shown to lower breast cancer risk — and is a notable source of vitamins B1, B2, B5, and B6.  It’s rich in potassium, blood-boosting iron, and many other minerals that help maintain biochemical balance in the body.

Selection and Care:

Choose dark green broccoli.  Buds should be tightly closed.  Florets that have begun to soften and yellow are no longer ripe.  Look for fresh green leaves and firm stalks.  Broccoli can be steamed or enjoyed raw.

Optimal Use and Combining:

Given all of its nutritional benefits, I encourage my patients to eat cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, four to five times a week, if not daily!  Broccoli can be eaten raw with your vegetable salad or can be steamed as a side dish with your lunch or dinner.  It also adds a wonderful crunch to pasta primavera and makes a tasty partner for a baked potato.