Sunday, May 29, 2011

Secret 21: Find Long Life in a Bowl of Berries

Sally Beare loves antioxidants. 'Highly colored berries' such as cranberries, blackberries, and strawberries are a great source - as are  cherries and red grapes. According to Beare, antioxidants are one of the most powerful anti-aging tools available to you.  You can buy them at your local supermarket and easily store them in your kitchen. They can even be displayed as decorative fruit bowl centerpieces on your dining table. Some of Beare's favorite antioxidants are anthocyanin and proanthocyanidin as these are 20x more effective than Vitamin C and 50x stronger than Vitamin E at 'moping up' and removing destructive free radicles in your body. Since they are both water-soluble like Vitamin C and fat-soluble like Vitamin E, they are able to function in both the 'fluid' and 'fatty' parts of your body. Better yet, proanthocyanidins are one of the few antioxidants that have the capacity of crossing the blood-brain barrier and thus have the ability to protect your nervous system (think brain) from free radical damage. Also, proanthocyanidins are involved in stabilizing collagen and maintaining elastin - two important proteins found in the connective tissue. Since proanthocyanidin strengthens blood vessels, this antioxidant plays an important role in vision. Our eyes are replete with tiny blood vessels. You can easily identify these antioxidants by the rich blue - as in blueberries - and deep red color in fruit:
a generous portion of antioxidants on your breakfast cereal
Perhaps you are familiar with the saying 'the deeper the color, the sweeter the taste'?  In fact, the deeper the color, the higher the concentration of antioxidants If you are not a fan of berries you can also obtain proanthocyanidins by eating apples (esp. Red Delicious and Granny Smith), spicing your food with cinnamon, indulging in cocoa, enjoying a glass of red wine or accidentally swallowing some grape seeds.  
Delicious and good for you, too!
Another powerful chemical found in raw fruit such as cherries, blueberries and cranberries is anti-carcinogen ellagic acid. A Harvard study showed that men who eat the most strawberries have the lowest risk of prostrate cancer. The long-living Hunzakuts in northeast Pakistan supposedly do not get cancer and this is may be partly attributable to the high levels of proanthocyanidins and ellagic acid in their diet.  

You may be familiar with the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, in which Morgan Spurlock solely eats at McDonald's for 30 consecutive days. Not only does he gain 24 lbs. but he also starts to develop all sorts of ailments (it took him 14 months to regain his former shape and health). On the other end of the spectrum is Jenna Norwood's 2010 documentary Supercharge Me. For 30 days Jenna only consumed raw food such as seeds, nuts, vegetables and fruit. Just like Spurlock she did a medical check-up at the start and at the end of her 30-day experiment and documented the effect of her 'supercharging' diet on her health. She reports that long-term bruises disappeared, her vision improved, her cholesterol levels improved and her overall energy level increased significantly (and she did not gain 24 lbs. like Spurlock but instead lost 14 lbs). Norwood's diet included raw food high in proanthocyanidins and ellagic acid and it is possible that these unadulterated antioxidants may have contributed to her greater sense of well being. So what about you? How about a 30-day raw food diet?  Not so fast?  Not quite ready to go cold turkey and switch from a traditional cooked food diet to a raw food diet?  Then how about, as a first step, enjoying a generous portion of berries as a snack or adding these to your breakfast or dessert?

Berries are best when organic, local and in season, but you can just as easily keep a bag of this nutritious food within arm's reach in your freezer year-round:
A loyal friend in your freezer
Simply thaw the berries by leaving them out at room temperature for 30 minutes or putting them in your fridge the night before you are planning on eating them.
I'm not sure of the effect of the plastic packaging on the contents, but the contents themselves are natural:
Good for you: a bag of full of berries and pomegranate
Take-home message: to ensure a ready supply of powerful antioxidants, always keep a generous portion of berries, cherries and red grapes at hand, whether fresh or frozen.  Or just enjoy a daily glass of red wine.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Secret 20: Snack on Apricots and Apricot Kernels

Perhaps you have enjoyed apricots in Japan as preserved umeboshi or tasted apricot kernel in Italy as the liquor amaretto? Secret 20 celebrates the apricot and its kernel

Sally Beare recommends raw apricots as these are "a rich source of copper, iron, potassium, fiber, and beta carotene". According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, 100 g of raw apricots contain:
  • 2 g of total dietary fiber
  • 259 mg of potassium
  • 0.39 mg of iron
  • 0.078 mg of copper
  • 10 mg of vitamin C
  • 1926 IU of vitamin A
  • 1094 mcg of beta carotene
While some surmise that the apricot was first cultivated in Armenia, early varieties have been found in China, the Himalayas and the Caucasus. The largest producer is Turkey followed by Iran.  Most of the apricots in Turkey originate from the eastern province of Malatya near the upper reaches of the river Euphrates.  In the U.S. most apricots are grown in California.  

If you cannot obtain raw apricots, consider dried apricots. Dried apricots are higher in nutritional value than raw apricots. The dark, organic ones are preferable over the orange ones as they do not contain the preservative sulfur dioxide.

A great source of beta carotene and potassium

More relevant for longevity however, according to Beare, may be apricot kernels as these 'are a rich source of fatty acid'.  However, apricot kernels are toxic and the German Agency of Risk Assessment (Bundesinstitut fuer Risikobewertung) recommends limiting apricot kernel consumption to no more than a couple or, better yet, none due to the fact that they contain up to 8% amygdalin.  Amygdalin has been promoted as laetrile or 'Vitamin B17' in the past 50 years. However it is neither a vitamin nor a scientifically verified anticarcinogen and may be a cause of cyanide poisoning.  One of the North American cancer patients who traveled to Mexico to undergo laetrile treatment but subsequently died was actor Steve McQueen. The US Food and Drug Administration states that "laetrile is a highly toxic product that has not shown any effect in treating cancer." To err on the side of caution, rather than consuming kernels how about doing what the long-living Hunzakut ladies do? Use it as a moisturizer to make your skin and hair soft and shiny. 100% pure expeller-pressed oil is readily obtainable in health food stores and costs less than $1 per fl. oz. 

4 fl. oz of 100% pure, expeller-pressed apricot kernel oil
If someone in Turkey tells you that "bundan iyisi Şam'da kayısı" you can rest assured that you have received top-notch quality. Literally this means "the only thing better than this is an apricot in Damascus" or, in other words "it doesn't get any better than this".

Take-home message: to quell that little hunger reach for some raw apricots in the summer or dried dark organic apricots year-round and consider nourishing dry skin and hair with a dab of 100% pure, expeller-pressed apricot kernel oil.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Secret 19: Enjoy Pizza ... Guilt Free

If the last secret could have been titled 'Beautiful Beta Carotene', then this one could be called 'Lovely Lycopene'.  

Lycopene - a powerful anti oxidant that you can easily obtain in your food

Perhaps the U.S. publishers of Sally Beare's book '50 Secret's of the World's Longest Living Poeple' chose the title 'Enjoy Pizza..Guild Free' for the chapter on lycopene since American pizza is such a popular dish in the U.S. In a country in which so much depends on wheels, pizza is important enough to be delivered to your home on wheels. However, I guess that Sally Beare may have cringed when this title was chosen.  Where are your fresh, steamed vegetables on pizza?  Your raw salads?  Your fruit?  Your organic goat cheese? 
The best thing about pizza is lycopene, and lycopene is found in greatest abundance, according to Beare, in cooked tomatoes. Just like beta carotene, lycopene is an antioxidant and, according to Beare, antioxidants are the heroes of a healthy longevity diet. In fact, lycopene is more powerful than fellow antioxidants beta carotene and vitamin E. How powerful?  For one, if you are at risk of developing prostrate cancer, then lycopene is your friend. One Harvard study documented that men who enjoy 10 or more servings a week of some sort of cooked tomato have a 45% lower chance of getting prostrate cancer. While nutritionists tend to recommend eating vegetables as raw as possible or lightly steamed, in the case of lycopene the cooking process is beneficial.  Heat breaks down the tomato cell walls. Another important delivery system of lycopene is the presence of fat. Since lycopene is fat-soluble, the cheese in pizza helps make lycopene available to the body.  
Lycopene absorption is enhanced by the presence of fat

In the same study tomato juice was found to be much less effective in delivering lycopene. Why?  One reason might be the absence of a fatty messenger. Also, tomato juice is doused in salt (if you ever run out of salt, use commercially produced tomato juice like the kind that is served on planes.  Check out the sodium content next time you fly!)

And since lycopene is fat-soluble, it is not surprising that this antioxidant is preferentially deposited in fat-storing areas of the body such as the testes (which ensure that the extremely high energy-burning sperm  - they rocket across the galaxy of the female genital system to be the first to fertilize that elusive egg - are properly equipped with vital boosters), liver, adrenal gland and skin.  

Lycopene also may protect against:

  • lung cancer
  • cancer of the gastro intestinal tract
  • cervical cancer
  • cardiovascular disease
  • high cholesterol
  • forgetfulness as evidenced by the 1986 'Nun' study in which Snowden showed that women with the lowest level of lycopene in their blood were the most challenged by mental tasks

So where do you find this powerful carotinoid antioxidant?  It is the pigment that is found in many red fruit and vegetables: tomatoes, watermelons, red pepper, rhubarb and papayas. Although red, strawberries and cherries do not contain lycopene. The highest concentration of lycopene is found in the Southeast Asian fruit gac. Since gac is not readily available in the U.S., your best source would be cooked tomatoes. 
A powerful source of lycopene, especially when cooked and served with fat
Since lycopene cannot be stored for a long time, you need to regularly include cooked tomatoes in your meals.  

If you do not care for tomatoes, raw or cooked, consider making yourself some fresh watermelon juice at home.  Nothing is faster and simpler to make and tastes so refreshing on a hot summer day.  Simply cube up some fresh watermelon, throw it in a blender and - voila.

a fresh, home-made glass of lycopene

To ensure better absorption of lycopene and obtain a good dose of omega-3s at the same time, add a tablespoon of fresh flaxseed oil to the blender.  If you wish, decorate with a few leaves of freshly harvested peppermint (you can buy little affordable peppermint plants at most grocery stores starting in May). 

Take-home message: make sure you color your plate with the reds from tomatoes, watermelons, peppers, rhubarb, papaya and other red vegetables and fruit!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Secret 18: Give Thanks for Sweet Potatoes

Aaah, sweet potatoes. If potatoes are the step-sisters of Cinderella, then the sweet potato is... Cinderella!  Why? Here is a food that is sweet AND good for you.  What a combination!

Some of the reasons why healthy centenarians enjoy sweet potatoes guilt-free include:

  • sweet potatoes are high in vitamins such as the B5, B6, C and E
  • they are high in minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium
  • and are thus high in anti-oxidants such as beta carotene (hence that orange color), alpha carotene and lycopene (which is also found in watermelon and cooked tomatoes).  
  • beta carotene is an interesting anti-oxidant. It helps protect against free radical damage and thus helps protect cells from aging. It also is a precursor of vitamin A which boosts your immune system. According to Beare, a high intake of beta carotene reduces your risk of getting cancers of the mucous membranes such as mouth, throat, lung and stomach cancer. In fact, one average sweet potato contains nearly 10 milligrams of beta carotene. 100 g or 3.5 oz. of sweet potatoes provides nearly 80% of the U.S. daily recommended intake of beta carotene for adults. If you do not like the sweet taste of this vegetable but still want beta carotene from natural sources, consider eating more dark green leafy vegetables such as spinach or watercress. Carrots and pumpkins are also high in beta carotene.
  • sweet potatoes are lower in carbohydrates, calories and glycemic index than potatoes (compare 100 g of sweet potato at 80 kcal to a 100 g bar of chocolate!)
  • many nutritionists recommend that a healthy diet consists of color and sweet potatoes are a great way to add color to your plate and to thus add the afore-mentioned vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants
  • according to Beare, sweet potatoes help in the treatment of arthritis, stomach and muscle cramps, and gallstones...
  • sweet potatoes do not absorb butter like the common potato.  They are so tasty that they can easily be enjoyed w/o butter. Also, they are easy to mash and taste delicious without milk, cream, sour cream, butter or salt.   An uncomplicated vegetable packed with flavor and nutrients!
You can enjoy sweet potatoes raw as an ingredient when you juice, or baked, grilled, fried, roasted, or as a dessert:  

sweet potato pie - no need to add sugar!

We substitute French fries with baked sweet potato fries.  They are quick and easy to prepare from scratch at home and always popular. I adapted the recipe from one of my favorite books on nutrition: 'Eat, Drink and Be Healthy' by Walter C. Willett:

  • one large sweet potato cut into thin fries (about 3.5 cups)
  • one tablespoon first-pressed virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (or, if you prefer garlic and/or onion powder)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
  • salt to taste
i.    Preheat oven to 450' F
ii.    Mix sweet potato fries with all other ingredients; spread out on a large baking sheet
iii.   Bake 12 to 15 minutes

and presto, you have a tasty, home-made, healthy alternative to those 'non-food', drive-through French fries that are deep-fried in cheap vegetable oil and are packed with vein-clogging fats, additives, and unpronounceable chemicals.  

A healthy snack: baked sweet potato 'fries'
By the way, sweet potatoes are healthiest when consumed WITH their skins.  If you do eat the skins you may want to select organic sweet potatoes even though pesticides are rarely needed in the cultivation since sweet potatoes have few natural enemies.  The skins are rich in vitamins, minerals AND fiber.  

And now for a bit of sweet potato trivia:
Although the earliest sweet potatoes were discovered in Peru, South America around 8000 B.C., they are believed to have originated in Central America.
In Peru, the Nahuatl-derived name is kumar and in New Zealand, the Maori word 'kumara' is used in NZ English. The main supplier, at about 80% of world supply, is China. The majority of China's crop is used to feed pigs. The Americas, the origin of the sweet potato, produce less than 5% of the world's supply. Unfortunately the per capita consumption of sweet potatoes has drastically declined in the U.S.  In the 1920ies it was calculated at around thirty pounds, more recently it was found to be closer to three pounds.  Those three pounds are often - and unnecessarily - served with brown sugar and butter or fried in bacon drippings!  In the U.S,  the major producer is North Carolina (over a third of U.S production), followed by California.  If you are like attending food festivals, consider visiting Opelousas, Louisiana in October for its historic 'Yambilee'.  In Europe, sweet potatoes are grown mainly in Portugal.  Although sweet potatoes are called potatoes, they are not a potato but a root vegetable (like carrots)  By the way, sweet potatoes are not yams although they are sometimes erroneously referred to as such.  

And finally, sweet potatoes belong to the same Genus as the morning glory (pretty but toxic):

Another member of the Ipomoea genus

Take-home lesson: if the sweet taste is acceptable to you, boost your anti-oxidants and especially your beta-carotene by including the sweet potato as a staple of your 'vegetable' diet.   And if your children don't like eating vegetables, serve them sweet potatoes!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Secret 17: Keep Aging Away with a Salad a Day

Are you a follower of rawism? Rawism is the practice of consuming uncooked, unprocessed food as a large percentage of your diet. If you are neither fruitarian, juicearian or sproutarian, you may consider juicing or regular consumption of raw vegetables to boost your health. Including raw vegetables in your diet gives you, according to Sally Beare, several advantages:

  • raw vegetables are high in minerals and vitamins. These are affected by heat. 
  • antioxidants protect your body from free radicals that accelerate degenerative diseases such as cardiovascular disease and strokes. Antioxidants include vitamins A, C, and E, minerals selenium and zinc, and anti-aging superoxide dismutase SOD.
  • fiber provides a feeling of satiety, removes toxic substances from your gut, evens out blood sugar levels, and ensures that food does not putrefy in your intestines
  • enzymes are essential initiators of biochemical reactions. Even though your body manufactures enzymes from the vitamins and minerals in your diet, your ability to make enzymes starts to decline with age
Other advantages of eating raw vegetables include:
  • the presence of phytonutrients.  A 2003 study in Germany showed that large amounts of raw vegetables have a positive effect on reducing breast cancer. Phytonutrients are destroyed by heat.
A delicious mix of antioxidants, phytonutrients, enzymes and fiber

Reducing your consumption of meat or consuming meat that is raw or medium raw rather than well done reduces the amount of the following harmful chemicals in your diet:
  • carcinogenic heterocyclic amines or HCAs
  • carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs.  These are created during the cooking process and are also found in cigarettes
  • toxic advanced glycation end products or AGEs.  These are also created when cooking meat
In fact, Sally Beare argues that becoming a rawist improves looks and makes skin cremes and hair coloring products unnecessary since "people changing to a raw food diet report grey hair starting to grow back dark". Even cellulite supposedly disappears as does unwanted fat!  However, a raw food diet is not without its nutritional deficiencies and should not be undertaken without careful consideration.

When preparing your salad, make it a colorful one: 
Watermelon, feta/blue cheese, spinach/arugula salad

The more color, the greater the variety of antioxidants.  Whenever possible, choose organic vegetables to avoid unnecessary exposure to pesticides and seasonal, locally grown vegetables to ensure high levels of nutrients.  You can obtain local produce by joining a CSA (community-supported agriculture).
Pear, shredded almonds, blue cheese atop a bed of arugula
Raw vegetables high in antioxidants include alfalfa sprouts, avocados, baby leaf spinach, beets and broccoli. Garlic is considered a superfood as it has antibacterial and antifungal properties, and also contains a dozen different antioxidants.  

For some intellectual, visual entertainment, you may consider watching the documentary Supercharge Me! 30 Days Raw.  The film producer ate only raw foods for thirty days and documented the results.  Supercharge Me! was inspired by the documentary Super Size Me

Take home lesson: include raw vegetable matter in your diet either as salads or home-made, freshly-squeezed fruit/vegetable juices (you may consider investing in a juicer) or better yet - both!