Sunday, April 24, 2011

Secret 16: Discover the Power of Crunchy Vegetables

Cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, gai lan, kale, horseradish, Brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, collard greens, turnips, kohlrabi, rutabaga....  What do they have in common?
Cabbage is high in Vitamin C
Cauliflower is even higher than cabbage in Vitamin C 
Broccoli is even higher than cabbage and cauliflower in Vitamin C and also high in Vitamin K
They are all members of the Brassica family, are available in your local grocery store and are packed with cancer-fighting nutrients. So why purchase some chemically produced, highly processed food-like substance just because its colorful packaging grabbed your attention? Aren't the following colors more enticing and more sensual than any craftily packaged unhealthy processed, synthetic junk food found lining supermarket shelves?
Juicing: a quick way to obtain fresh nutrients from fruit and vegetables

Why celebrate members of the Brassica family? Unlike 85% of the stuff sold in your local supermarket (what's super about all the unhealthy food wannabees in the 'super' market?), brassicas are packed with nutritional value. And they are affordable. Although they do not taste tart they are high in vitamin C.  Their fiber content assists in sponging away toxins caught in the lining of your intestines. They contain anticarcinogens: 3,3'-diindolylmethane, sulforaphane and selenium. 3,3'-diindolylmethane also has antiviral and antibacterial properties. Indole-3-carbinol, another nutrient found in brassica. helps repair DNA damage and also blocks the proliferation of cancer cells. According to Beare, brassica nutrients indole-3-carbinol and sulforaphane aid detoxification by the liver. Brassicas increase the antioxidant glutathione, which helps eliminate heavy (and highly toxic) metals such as lead and mercury. Beare points out that 'low levels of glutathione are associated with accelerated aging'. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are also associated with low levels of glutathione. Interestingly, Beare states that if you are very sensitive to gas and paint fumes, this may be due to the fact that your body is more adept at phase I than phase II of liver detoxification. If this is the case, rather than increase your consumption of brassicas, increase the amount of curcumin in your diet. Curcumin is found in turmeric and slows down phase I detoxification while accelerating phase II.

Turmeric: a spice from the ginger family.  Aids in realigning the balance between phase I and phase II liver detoxification.  
Eating large amounts of raw Brassica family vegetables may exacerbate hypothyroidism and goiter as they contain goitrogens. (Goitrogens suppress the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine absorption and may lead to an enlarged goitre. Avocados stimulate thyroid function so if you like raw cauliflower and broccoli, how about adding some avocado?).  Eat slightly cooked Brassica family vegetables instead. Cooking destroys the goitrogens.

In order to obtain maximum benefit from brassicas, steam or briefly stir-fry the vegetables rather than boil them.  

Take-home message: boost your anti-carcinogens by including lightly steamed vegetables from the Brassica family in your meals.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Secret 15: Use Garlic and Onions - Nature's Healers

They're affordable, found in any grocery store, can be stored at home for weeks without going bad and are great for your health: garlic and onions. They are antibacterial, antiviral, anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory, boost your immune system and add flavor to any dish. Both superfoods have powerful anticancer properties. Let's take a closer look at some of the health-boosting characteristics:


  • kills intestinal infections without harming the beneficial bacteria residing in your gut
  • provides you with 12 antioxidants including two powerful ones: selenium and zinc
  • inhibits the growth of cancer by stimulating the production of your body's natural killer cells
  • contains S-allylmercaptocysteine which has been shown to slow the growth of in vitro prostrate cancer cells
  • lower blood pressure
  • prevent blood clots
  • like garlic contain antioxidant selenium which fights cancer
  • contain quercetin which is an antioxidant flavonoid that blocks cancer cell promoters
Some dishes that showcase garlic are
  • snails in garlic (France)
  • tsatsiki - cold dish made of garlic, yogurt and cucumbers (Greece)   
  • garlic and shrimp pasta (Italy)
  • garlic bread (Italy)
  • pickled garlic in soy sauce (China): if you'd like to make this delicious garlic snack  see  I first tasted this while teaching English in China in the 80ies.  Once pickled, the garlic cloves can be eaten straight up and are absolutely delicious!
Probably the most famous dish in which onions are king is French onion soup. In the U.S. fried onion rings are popular (but not the healthiest way to enjoy this superfood).  Garlic and onions make great additions to stews, casseroles, roasts, some soups, steamed vegetables, pasta dishes, salads and even sandwiches. If you are preparing a meal for a loved one why not add an extra portion of garlic and onion for some extra protection against cancer? And if you can stomach raw garlic, eat a chopped clove a day to keep a possible cold away.

Take-home message: if garlic and/or onions can be added to the dish you are preparing, add an extra heaping. It's good for your health.

Secret 14: Beware of Fats in Disguise

Of all the controversies in the food industry, why does the 'good fats' vs. 'bad fats' battle rage the most intensely? Why is this battle more divisive than the one pitting 'good carbs' against 'bad carbs'?  How about a 'good protein' vs. 'bad protein' controversy? Or even a 'good vegetable' vs. 'bad vegetable'?  Don't eat vegetables X, Y, Z because they will kill you!  Have you ever seen an ad trying to sell you a bowl full of freshly harvested vegetables? How many TV ads have tried to inflict greasy burgers with oily fries on you under the guise of 'delicious'! Real food does not need millions of dollars to be proactively pushed through advertising channels. Real food sells itself. Ever heard a mother admonish her child: ”eat more cookies loaded with trans fats, they are good for you!” Or are you more familiar with:” Eat your vegetables, otherwise you will not get dessert!”
But back to my first point. One of the most heated debates in food is 'the war of fats'. On the one hand you will find nutritionists such as Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon preach that animal fats and other saturated fats such as coconut oil that come from high-quality sources are beneficial to your health. On the other end of the spectrum are the vegans and vegetarians who will argue – sometimes with more emotion than ratio - against eating anything that may be derived from an animal. For a scientific, objective summary of the latest research into fats and oils read Dr. Walter C. Willett's latest edition of "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy.' If Enig is on the right of the spectrum, Willett in dead center, and vegans on the left, I would place Sally Beare to the left of Willett.  Beare advocates eating unprocessed oils derived from seeds and nuts, monounsaturated oil such as a quality first-pressed olive oil, and fish oils. While she does not totally dismiss eating meat and diary products, she advises the reader to keep this portion of fat intake low in comparison to fat and oil sources from fish, nuts and seeds. After all, the blue zones eat diets high in plant fats and low in animal fats. Probably one sign of an affluent society (not affluent in health but affluent in options - both good and bad) is how easily you can obtain a large variety of fats - even fake fats such as partially hydrogenated ‘trans fats’ and hydrogenated fats (trans fats are artificially altered fats that tend to be liquid at room temperature. These fats have been hydrogenated i.e. have had hydrogen added to make them solid at room temperature. This prolongs their shelf life.)  If there is ONE area on which most nutritionists do seem to agree, whether these nutritionists are highly qualified such as Dr. Enig or whether they are those who profess to 'have a PhD in nutrition' but do not openly state the institute which awarded them the doctorate such as Udo Erasmus (he mentions the institution that awarded him a masters but does not inform which institution awarded him his professed PhD in nutrition), it is that trans fats should be avoided. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are commonly used when frying and baking and are found in processed ‘foods’ such as many breakfast cereals, cookies, salad dressings, pizza dough, pancake mix, chocolate, hot chocolate drinks, ice cream, birthday cakes and crackers. What are we feeding our children?  What 'foods' do we choose to celebrate their milestones such as birthdays? Read the labels!  The information is at your finger tips.  It is highly laudable that in 2006 the Board of Health in New York voted to ban trans fats in restaurants in New York— from the corner pizzeria to high-end bakeries. Other major cities around the U.S. and elsewhere have yet to follow.  You will also notice the prevalence of trans fats and hydrogenated oils in imported Asian food. The U.S. has stricter requirements on disclosure of trans fats than many other countries. If you purchase a bagel or order a meal outside New York, beware of the oils that are likely to be lurking in your 'food’.  So before you bite into that 'oh-so-French' croissant you purchased at a boulangerie during a trip to Paris, keep in mind that many pastries offered in French bakeries are commercially produced and replete with unhealthy fats. Ignorance may be bliss, but it ain't good for your health!  For more on trans fats, see

Take home message: be suspicious about the quality of the oils and fats used in the food you order when on the road. Don’t be embarrassed to ask your waiter. Most restaurants purchase their desserts to resell them to you and many restaurants will buy the cheapest desserts available. These are replete with trans fats and in no way boost your immunity or longevity!  Just ask.  

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Secret 13: Choose Extra-Virgin Olive Oil

As with eggs, so with fats. Whenever possible, choose the most unprocessed, top-quality food available. Just like an organic egg from a free-range chicken will have more nutrients than an egg from a caged hen whose diet is supplemented with antibiotics and steroids, so too do cold-pressed oils have more nutrients than the chemically processed oils such as the more affordable vegetable oils that line your typical supermarket shelf.  For the Rolls Royce of oils, always looks for 'cold-pressed oil' or 'expeller-pressed oil' over simply 'sunflower oil' or 'safflower oil' or worse 'vegetable oil'. Oils are a major component of your diet and you deserve the healthiest, most nutritious oils available. Like many things in life, you tend to get what you pay for. A chemically processed hybrid vegetable oil stored in a clear, plastic container will be much more affordable than a cold-pressed single source oil stored in the refrigerated section in a dark, glass bottle. But how much oil do you need if you tend to steam and bake rather than deep fry?  If your car deserves the most expensive gasoline, your body does too! Your car won't last more than ten years, or, if you regularly buff and maintain it, maybe even longer.  What does a human body need to last much longer than that?  And if, over the course of a long life, your body is provided with premium oil, perhaps when you are retired you might save on hospital bills that you might otherwise incur by eating food prepared with the cheapest oil possible?

So in Secret 13, Sally Beare shares the wisdom of strong, healthy 80+ year olds who live in Campodimele, Italy and Symi, Greece: your #1 oil is first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil (virgin olive oil has been stripped of Vit. E to produce Vit. E capsules.  Why not obtain the Vit. E directly from the extra-virgin oil?).

Rich green-gold hues of extra-virgin olive oil
I use olive oil as the primary oil in my kitchen - raw, for adding flavor, and for cooking. Since olive oil is high in monounsaturated fats and low in polyunsaturated fats, it has a long shelf and does not need to be bleached and heated to high temperatures like other oils. Thus it contains a much higher percentage of its original nutrients. So what are the benefits of olive oil? This 'nectar of Greek and Roman gods' helps transport fat-soluble antioxidants, as well as Vit.A and Vit. E around your body.  It raised good HDL cholesterol, promotes cell formation and membrane development. Oleic acid reduces levels of the breast-cancer inducing gene HER-2/neu. Olive oil has anti-fungal properties that help keep your intestinal flora healthy and aid in reducing candida overgrowth. If you are planning on a night out, a spoon of raw olive oil will protect your intestinal lining.  
First-pressed, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil is available in supermarkets as well as at warehouse clubs such as Sam's Club.  If there is no mention of 'first-pressed' on the bottle label, then it is the second or third press. Here are two brands I currently have in my kitchen:
Romano: olive oil stored in a dark glass bottle

Sam's Club: comes in a large, clear plastic bottle

I prefer storing my olive oil in a cool place in a dark glass bottle. I store the large, see-through, three liter plastic container from Sam's Club in a dark, cool cupboard and use this to top up a smaller, dark glass bottle on the kitchen table for daily use.  

Here's a quick and simple salad dressing that is always delicious and fresh and has none of the added chemicals that you might find in store-bought salad dressings: mix 1/3 extra-virgin olive oil with 2/3 balsamic vinegar, pour over salad and toss well.

Other great cold-pressed oils you may consider using on your salad include hemp oil and flaxseed oil.

Take-home message: replace all chemically processed vegetable oils in your kitchen with first-pressed, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil.  When eating out, ask what kind of oils are used for cooking.

Secret 12: Have a Handful of Nuts and Seeds Daily

You truly are what you eat. An essential part of our nervous system including our brain, as well as all the membranes of our cells are derived from and consist of fat. Thus it is very important that we fuel ourselves with the best oils and fats available. In Secret 11, Sally wrote about fish oils.  In Secret 12, she concentrates on nuts, seeds and their oils.

Before we examine her findings, let us first refresh ourselves with a basic introduction on the parts of a plant and the real definition of 'nut' and 'seed'. Plants consist of six parts: roots, stems, leaves, flowers, fruit and seeds. Seeds consist of three main parts: the embryonic plant, food for the seed, and the seed coat. Not all seeds are fit for human consumption. Seeds from fruit such as apples, apricots, cherries, peaches, plums and quinoa contain amygdalin which can cause cyanide poisoning.  The largest seed on Earth can weigh up to 50 lbs.  This is the coco de mer.  Most cooking oils used around the world are derived from seeds.  Seeds come in three edible versions: beans (or legumes), cereals and nuts.  Let us have a closer look at these three types:

i. Beans (or legumes) tend to be soft and rich in protein. They include peas, lentils, soybeans and peanuts (although we refer to the peanut as a 'nut', it is, in fact, a legume)
ii. Cereals are the seeds of certain types of grass. These dry seeds are often ground into cereal.  50% of calories consumed world-wide come from cereals. Of these calories, 50% are provided by three types of cereals: wheat, corn and rice. Other cereals include barley, millet, oats, rye and teff. Amaranth, buckwheat and quinoa are considered pseudocereals.  
iii. Food that we refer to as nuts are really a type of fruit. The hazelnut is a one-seeded hard-shelled fruit. Sunflower seeds are a dried fruit. Pine nuts, on the other hand, are edible, nut-like gymnosperm (from flowering plants) seeds. Popular 'nuts' include the almond, cashew, hazelnut, macadamia nut and pistachio. 

So what does Sally tell us about nuts, seeds and healthy centenarians?  Seeds and nuts are a great source of omega-6s. The SAD (Standard American Diet) is both deficient in omega-3s (think oily fish, flax oil a.k.a. linseed oil, walnuts) and omega-6s (nuts, apricot kernel oil, almond oil, evening primrose oil, black currant oil, borage oil) AND has an unhealthy ratio between these two essential fatty acids.  The ideal balance, and the balance consumed by prehistoric people, was closer to 1:2 or 1:3; in the SAD the ratio is closer to 1:20.  Hemp provides the ideal balance between omega-3s and omega-6s and is starting to become more mainstream in Western diets.  Consider replacing butter on your breakfast toast with hemp seed oil mixed with flax oil. Not only do people in the blue zone enjoy seeds and nuts, but they also limit their intake of saturated and hydrogenated fats. Animals eaten by blue-zoners are either wild or grass-fed and automatically have a much healthier ratio of 3s to 6s than feedlot, steroid-, antibody- and hormone-fed cattle. You can cover your minimum omega-6 requirement by taking one tablespoon of cold-pressed seed oil or by eating a handful of nuts daily.  

Take-home message: reduce your fat intake from saturated and hydrogenated fats, avoid anything containing trans fats, and enjoy stilling your afternoon hunger pangs by snacking on your favorite fresh nuts and seeds.