Sunday, September 25, 2011

Secret 26: Eat Magical Mushrooms

To be more specific, Secret 26 limits itself to the Asian mushrooms: shiitake, maitake and reishi. However, when I went to the local grocery store, the only mushrooms I could easily find were white mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms and crimini mushrooms. Of the three Asian mushrooms lauded by Beare, I was finally able to locate shiitake in both fresh and dry versions. When I looked at the 'fresh' dried-out shiitake in dismay, an observant Russian lady shopper winked at me and stated: "Honey, the dried-looking ones are better, they weigh less so cost less and you only need to soak them in water to plump them up again!"
Shiitake: available in your grocery store and under oak logs
So, according to Beare, what are the benefits of eating these three Asian mushrooms?  I will first list the advantages of shiitake, reishi and maitake mushrooms, then research whether more easily obtainable mushrooms have benefits, too.

Shiitake (Japanese) or 'oak mushroom'
  • contains immune boosting polysaccharide lentinan. In Japan lentinan is used as a powerful anti-tumor medicine as it helps white blood cells remove cancer cells
  • is used to treat coughs
  • reduces cholesterol levels
  • contains over 840 IU/100 grams of anti-carcinogenic Vit. D
Reishi (Chinese) or 'plant of immortality"
  • improves immunity
  • strengthens our cardiovascular system
  • helps treat asthma, arthritis and liver disorders by enhancing the concentration of T-helper cells
  • is anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral
  • has antioxidant characteristics
Reishi or 'the Elixir of Life'
Maitake (Japanese) or 'dancing mushroom' 
  • contains immune-system enhancing polysaccharide beta-glucan
  • contains D-fraction, which boosts our natural killer cells. D-fraction has been shown to slow down the growth of tumors in mice
  • D-fraction also reduces the unpleasant side-effects of chemotherapy
  • contains SX-fraction, which helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels
  • SX-fraction also seems to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure
  • SX-fraction assists in treating stomach conditions
Maitake, the dancing mushroom that makes mushroom hunters 'dance for joy' when it is found
More commonly found on supermarket shelves in U.S. grocery stores in Colorado than these Asian mushrooms are white mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms and Crimini mushrooms.  Are these really three different kinds of mushroom, or one and the same?

White mushrooms or Agaricus bisporus have many names and are also known as crimini, button, champignon, common, table, Roman/Swiss/Italian brown and grow up to become Portobellos.  So how does this one mushroom compare to its more exotic Asian cousins?

White mushroom
  • contains minerals such as sodium, potassium, phosphorus
  • contains Vit. D
  • may inhibit aromatase, which in turn may lower estrogen levels
  • apparently women who consume white mushrooms on a regular basis have a lower incidence of breast cancer
  • if you eat fresh white mushrooms daily and drink green tea, the risk for breast cancer drops by more than 80% 1
  • enhances your immune systems, in particular the function of the dendritic cells. Dendritic cells are antigen presenting cells
  1. Raw white mushrooms contain trace amounts of carcinogenic hydrazine derivatives such as agaritine and gyromitrin. You may wish to cook white mushrooms before consuming them as heat inactivates these derivatives.
  2. You can purchase shiitake logs and grow these mushrooms yourself if you prefer freshly harvested mushrooms.

Personal observation: 
  • since I associate the color white in food such as white sugar, white flour, white rice with a lack of nutrients, I erroneously assumed that white mushrooms are equally deficient in nutrients.  However, the former are processed and the latter grow.  As the blog shows, even white mushrooms are beneficial. 
  • I have noticed that consuming Portobello mushrooms cooked in olive oil for dinner greatly enhances sleep.  If you have difficulties falling asleep, eat one large cooked Portobello mushroom before going to bed.

Bottom line:  if shiitake, maitake and reishi are not easily obtainable, enjoy cooked white /crimini /Portobello mushrooms instead!

Zhang, M; Huang, J; Xie, X; Holman, CD (Mar 2009). "Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women.". International Journal of Cancer124 (6): 1404–1408. doi:10.1002/ijc.24047ISSN 0020-7136.PMID 19048616.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Secret 25: Sprout Your Own Superfoods

Let's try something different! If you do not already add sprouts to meals, how about going to your favorite grocery store and buying some? If you already add sprouts to your sandwiches, salads or pasta dishes, how about looking for sprouts you have never tried before? Onion sprouts, anyone? Better yet, grow your own! If you already eat and grow your own sprouts, just skip this secret and go on to another secret....

Let's take this one step at a time. Apart from enjoying bean sprouts once in a while, which I like to cook with green onions and a dab of soy sauce and sesame oil, I have never been a fan of (raw) sprouts. 

Bean sprouts: enjoy them cooked or raw
However, sprouts, just like eggs, are a powerhouse of nutrients since sprouts (and eggs) are the first important steps in the successful creation of a new plant or animal. When you eat sprouts (or eggs), you too get to benefit from this accumulation of nutrients. Since cooking can denature nutrients, you will gain more from sprouts if you eat them raw. However, eating an entire dish of sprouts straight-up may not sound appealing. So how about just adding a few sprouts to your favorite sandwich or salad to spice up the flavor and pack in the nutrients? They make a great substitute for iceberg lettuce in a sandwich.

Broccoli and clover sprouts.  Does this make your mouth water?  Maybe for a cow or goat.
If you already add sprouts to your sandwiches, how about choosing sprouts at the store that you have never tried before? Have you ever eaten pea sprouts, or onion sprouts? Don't limit yourself to alfa alfa sprouts, try sunflower sprouts for a change. Less common sprouts are available at Whole Foods or your favorite health food store. And since sprouts have a short shelf life (before they turn into plants or wither away), you get the added benefit of knowing that this food is very fresh.

Green pea sprouts
Sprouts are replete with vitamins, minerals, trace elements, fiber, antioxidants, anti-carcinogens and other vital building blocks. According to Sally Beare, during the sprouting process, vitamins such as B2 multiply 2000x fold.  You can swallow a vitamin pill, or flavor your dishes with raw sprouts. Your choice.  Doesn't adding a few sprouts to your salad sound more appetizing than sprinkling ground-up vitamin pills on your salad...? Sprouts are nature's answer to bottled synthetic multivitamins - or are synthetic multi-vitamins a poor substitute for freshly harvested sprouts? 

Get ready for your next hike by loading your lunch with sprouts:

Sprouts on an open-faced sandwich with mustard.  Just add your favorite 'filler'
These sprouts taste great with cheddar cheese.
Just like with any food, moderation is the key. According to Beare, should you be one of those rare humans who likes to consume sprouts by the bowl, do try to limit yourself to a cup or so per day. The reason for this is the presence of L-canavanine, which is an amino acid that can suppress your immune system. Especially alfa alfa sprouts are high in L-canavanine, and cancer patients may wish to avoid them. Alfa alfa sprouts may also play a role in joint pain and arthritis.  Allow your body to let you know what it craves or prefers to avoid.  Mine avoids alfa alfa sprouts....

Even if you do not have a green thumb, you might enjoy sprouting your own seeds: simply soak your chosen seeds in either mineral water or distilled water overnight, place them in a well-lit spot at room temperature and rinse them twice daily. After a few days your sprouts should be ready for consumption.

Bon appetit!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Secret 24: Everything in Moderation - Soy, too

Actually the title that Sally Beare uses for Secret 24 is 'Choose Soy - the Traditional Way', however I have changed it to one I consider more appropriate. Soy is a great example of the importance of eating foods in moderation. In Secret 24, Beare investigates soy products and mentions benefits as well as downsides to eating a lot of soy products. Tofu, miso, soy sauce, edamame, soy milk, tempeh - how much and how often should we be eating soy products?  

Surprisingly the most delicious edamame can be found at Sam's Club.
We love Fuijsan organic, non-GMO edamame 'delicious soybeans lightly salted with sea salt'.
Can't get enough of this snack!
The verdict is still out. The only three things that I can state with certainty about soy products are:

i. if you eat soy products, try to avoid those that have been genetically modified (choose 'non-GMO'). The tofu shown in the picture below is made by Denver Tofu Co. of 'non-genetically modified soybeans' and consists of only three ingredients: organic soy beans, water, and natural nigari*:

Double trouble or twice as healthy?
Tofu and its fermented cousin 'miso'
ii. when buying soy sauce, choose the one that states 'naturally brewed' on the label and look for the kind that has the least amount of salt. I currently have a bottle of 'Yamasa less salt' soy sauce in my pantry. It is naturally brewed, contains no preservatives and although it has 'less salt' it still has 520 mg per tablespoon of soy sauce or 22% of the daily value of a 2000 calorie diet. By the way, if you are gluten intolerant, be careful with soy sauce. Some soy sauces contain wheat.  

iii. do not automatically assume that eating out in Asian restaurants is healthy! Soy products may be genetically modified, contain flavor enhancers such as MSG and preservatives. Visit an Oriental food store in the U.S. and and read the ingredients on the labels of soy products (and other food products) and you may be surprised at the synthetic unpronouncables contained in many of your favorite products. 

Add boiling water and roasted seaweed to the two soy items in first picture and voila - a delicious miso soup.
I use organic miso, white type by Hikari (no MSG added, no GMO) from the refrigerated section at the Japanese store 'Sakura' in downtown Denver and non-GMO tofu from the Denver Tofu Co.  Vitamin Cottage and Whole Foods carry this brand.
When you are the one doing the shopping, you can choose the better quality soy sauce. When the restaurant is doing the shopping, more often than not they will choose the cheapest product available.  And you tend to get what you pay for.....  That soy sauce you are pouring on your sushi might just contain caramel color and MSG. California lists caramel color as a carcinogen (in case you were wondering, caramel color is also used to color Cola brown).  

Apart from the three suggestions above, the verdict on the health benefits of soy products is still out.  
To present both sides of the coin in a visually balanced manner, let me alternately list benefits that Beare mentions in blue and warnings that she mentions in red:  

  • women who eat soy regularly have fewer hormone-related problems such as PMS and polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • soy contains phytates which block the uptake of magnesium and calcium
  • antioxidants in soy lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol levels
  • some studies have shown that eating soy in large quantities can be harmful as they have some toxic properties
  • soy contains isoflavones.  These inhibit the development of atherosclerosis
  • Japanese men in Hawaii who eat more than two servings of tofu per week have more brain aging than those that do not
  • the phytoestrogens in soy help slow down the loss of bone density in postmenopausal women
  • soy formula for babies and products for children should be used with caution, as the phytoestrogens may affect the sexual development in children and can be an allergen 
and the list continues....

Another consideration is that the benefit is not caused by soy, but whatever lesser food item this is replacing. When I read that 'soy is largely credited with the extremely low rates of breast cancer in soy-eating Asian populations', I wonder whether the absence of breast cancer really is due to the presence of soy in the diet, or due to the absence of dairy products that might contain high levels of steroids, antibiotics and other chemicals fed to the dairy cows? Another example would be the use of olive oil.  Is the Mediterranean diet healthy because of the use of olive oil or because of the lack of use of chemically processed, synthetically blended cooking oils that line the supermarket shelves in the U.S.? Is it the substitution of the lesser item by the better item that is responsible for greater health, or is the improvement in health solely due to the presence of the better food? How much of the benefit is brought about by reducing the processed item and how much is really due to the addition of the fresher, purer item? I believe that much of the benefit stems from avoiding unhealthy food. Thus when Beare states that soy is beneficial, perhaps it is not soy per se that is solely responsible but the fact that it has taken the place of something quite unhealthy in the diet?  Just some food for thought.....

* Nigari?  What's that?  Nigari is E 511.  Sounds rather unappetizing, doesn't it?  So what is E 511?  It is magnesium chloride.  It is the coagulant that changes soy milk into tofu.  にがり or 'nigari' is derived from the Japanese word bitter and is produced by removing sodium chloride from seawater and evaporating the water.  The remnant is a white powder or magnesium chloride. You will rarely find tofu without it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Secret 23: Eat Fermented Foods

What do sour cream,
Peaches and sour cream

Organic miso found in the refrigerated section of the downtown Denver store Sakura

and sauerkraut

Sauerkraut or 'pickled cabbage'
Popular in Germany today, popular in China 6000 years ago
purchased at Karl's Delicatessen in Centennial, CO
have in common? What about capers, Thai fish sauce,  sourdough bread, wine, traditionally brewed soy sauce, yogurt, traditionally brewed vinegar, kefir, beer and aged cheese?

You are right.  These are all fermented foods and they are good for you.

Before refrigerators became ubiquitous in Western countries. we used to add 'friendly' bacteria, mold or yeast to our food. Not only did this prolong the shelf life of food, it also improved the taste and increased its nutritional value. For example, fermented soy sauce contains anti-carcinogens daidzein, genistein and isoflavone aglycones - all natural plant products (note: choose soy sauce low in salt, as a link might exist between a very salty diet and stomach cancer). The Greeks from Symi enjoy capers, pickled buds of the caper bush that grows around the Mediterranean, for their medicinal properties. The buds, when preserved in salt and vinegar, release mustard oil. This contains powerful antioxidant flavenoids such as rutin and quercetin. Perhaps you like tartar sauce? Capers are an important ingredient in tartar sauce.  You can also enjoy capers in salads, pasta, pizza and meat dishes.  

So why are fermented foods good for you? You read about the benefits of bacteria in yogurt in the last secret. Likewise the organisms in fermented foods assist in the digestion of fats, protein and carbohydrates, help make available Vitamins C and B12 and calcium and other minerals, provide anti-carcinogen isothiocyanate, protect the lining of our intestines and enhance our immunity. They also help reduce digestive problems such as diarrhea, bloating and constipation.

When choosing fermented foods, use the same process you use for choosing any other kind of good-quality food.  Inform yourself of the methods used to ferment the foods.  Avoid those that are mass-produced and high in salt.  Check all the ingredients.  Can you pronounce them?  Are there less than five ingredients or is the fermented food replete with additives, chemicals and colorings?  Buy traditionally fermented foods. You will more likely find these better-quality foods at your local delicatessen, in a Greek store (especially traditional marinated Greek olives), and health-food stores (in the refrigerated areas).    

Caveat:  should you suffer from Candida, i.e. an overgrowth of yeast, go easy on fermented food as your body may already be overly sensitive to mold or yeast.