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The Underappreciated Beet

CDC beets

Image via Wikipedia

Beets — seems like you either love ’em or hate ’em. I was in the hate camp as a kid and young adult.

I remember one banquet that I attended my freshman year of college. On the plate was, I thought, a cinnamon candied apple. I set it aside and saved it for the very last, looking forward to the cinnamon-y goodness being the final flavor on my palate. You can imagine my disappointment when I cut a bite and put it in my mouth, only to discover it was a pickled beet! It ruined the entire dinner for me.

Well, I’m still not much of a pickled beet fan, but I now enjoy them in other ways — roasted with other root vegetables, boiled and chilled in salad, in borsch or just as a side dish, boiled or steamed. I grow them in my garden and enjoy the greens as well.

It turns out that what our moms told us is true. Beets really are good for us. They are full of many nutrients and phytochemicals.

Here’s a link to an article about the much maligned beet. In it there is a link to a short podcast about beets and it also has links to some creative beet recipes. Give them a try!

For Beets, a Little More Respect, Please – Well – Tara Parker-Pope – Health – New York Times Blog

Enhanced by ZemantaI know I’ve been absent from this blog for a very long time. In the coming days I’ll bring you all up to speed as to what has been going on.

Dark Chocolate’s Effect on DNA

Crystal structure of parallel quadruplexes fro...
Image via Wikipedia

I’ve read several articles lately regarding telomeres. If you aren’t familiar with telomeres, they are structures that protect the ends of our chromosomes and allow them to be replicated properly during cell division. Elizabeth Blackburn, co-discoverer of telomerase, the enzyme that replenishes telomeres, compared them to the tips of shoelaces that keep them from fraying.

Telomeres can become shortened due to oxidative stress (those darn free radicals again), and many age-related diseases have been linked to shortened telomeres.* Several studies indicate that the polyphenols in dark chocolate may slow the shortening of telomeres, thus avoiding cellular damage.* At least one of the studies indicates that the effect is short-lived. The subjects’ blood levels were tested for the presence of the polyphenols in dark chocolate and after about 22 hours, there were no traces left in the blood. Looks like to get the best results, small quantities of dark chocolate must be consumed on a daily basis.*

However, you shouldn’t think that having long telomeres means that you will have a long life. The studies also show that most cancer cells bypass the normal shortening of telomeres, so they can outlive the normal cellular lifespan and continue to multiply. Scientists are exploring ways to block the production of telomerase as a cancer treatment.

One such study is by A. Spadafranca, C. Martinez Conesa, S. Sirini and G. Testolin Effect of dark chocolate on plasma epicatechin levels, DNA resistance to oxidative stress and total antioxidant activity in healthy subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, Published online by Cambridge University Press 05 Nov 2009 doi:10.1017/S0007114509992698

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Is Your Olive Oil Really What You Think?

I recently read an article concerning olive oil. In our home we use olive oil almost exclusively because of its high monounsaturated fat levels and purported anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The article was published on line by an company that sells olive oil, so they have an agenda in this, but what they report was interesting and troubling at the same time. One of the things they reported is that there is more olive oil consumed than is produced. According to the statistics I could easily find on the Internet, in 2006 worldwide olive oil consumption was about 5% greater than production. If that is the case, where does that other five percent come from?

Olive Oil from Beyond Health –

Crazy Curry Cranium Cure?

turmeric root, grated and powdered turmeric

Recently there have been quite a few reports extolling the virtues of curcumin in the prevention or reduction of the spread of amyloid plaques, which are thought to contribute to the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin is a component of turmeric, a spice used in curries. Researchers have found that populations that eat curries two or three times per week have a lower incidence of dementia.

Murali Doraiswamy, director of the Mental Fitness Laboratory at the Department of Psychiatry, Duke University Medical Center spoke at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Annual Meeting in Liverpool, England. In his address to the delegates he reported that “There is very solid evidence that curcumin binds to plaques, and basic research on animals engineered to produce human amyloid plaques has shown benefits.” He reported that “You can modify a mouse so that at about 12 months its brain is riddled with plaques. If you feed this rat a curcumin-rich diet it dissolves these plaques. The same diet prevented younger mice from forming new plaques. The next step is to test curcumin on human amyloid plaque formation using newer brain scans and there are plans for that.”

A study is currently underway at UCLA to test curcumin on human patients with Alzheimer’s. They are using regular curcumin and a synthetic version on the patients along with vitamin D3. (I have to interject here that since turmeric is a natural substance, it can’t be patented, so someone has to come up with a version that can be patented so big pharma can produce a pill that can make them some money)

As I mentioned in the beginning of the post, there are quite a few reports out there regarding turmeric. The following three articles were used as source material for this post:

A Voice of Reason in a Sea of Hype Regarding Acai

Bowl of Acai Berries by gurucruncher via FlickrThere has been lots of hype regarding the Brazilian acai berry. It seems like it is being touted as a cure to everything from dandruff to gout. Even though I like acai berries and eat acai smoothies and other things containing acai, it always seemed to me that the amount of acai that could be in a capsule would not be capable of doing much of anything. Just because something is a “superfood” doesn’t mean that a small quantity stuffed into a pill with a bunch of other stuff will usher in an era of world peace. Acai is full of antioxidants and is a healthful berry, but it is just that – a healthful berry.

I tried one of those acai berry cleanse things for a couple of months to see if it was something I would want to add to the products sold through Antioxidant Alley. The only thing that seemed lighter and cleaner was my wallet. I’m not saying that they are all frauds, but it sure didn’t do anything for me.

I prefer to have a variety of berries in my diet along with a wide variety of other fruits and vegetables. There are thousands of different substances in foods that are of benefit to us. One shouldn’t think that one single thing (or even some super-secret combination) will give us super powers.

I titled this post “A Voice of Reason in a Sea of Hype.” The voice of reason isn’t necessarily just mine. Here is a link to an article by Discovery Health that does a great job of explaining my point of view. However, as a Portuguese speaker, I cringed a little with their guide for pronunciation of the word “acai.” It’s really closer to ah-sigh-EE. There’s no “y” sound in the word.

Acai Berry : National Body Challenge : Discovery Health

Longer, But Not Necessarily Better

old-womanAn article in Duke University’s on-line health journal,, published Apr. 30, 2009, reports that even though women live longer than men on the average, their quality of life may not be as good as that of men of the same age. The Duke study found that women over 65 suffered up to two and a half times more disabilities than men of the same age.

Here is the link to the Duke University article:
Women Live Longer, Not Better, Largely Because of Obesity and Arthritis

The largest factors for this seem to be higher rates of obesity and arthritis among women. The study also found that women are “gaining equality” with males  in regards to cardiovascular disease, stroke and emphysema, which previously had been less common among women.

This study struck a chord with me because I know the effects of excess weight and poor lifestyle choices in early life. My heart attack did not occur because of the dinner I ate shortly before, but happened because of the prior decades of lack of exercise, overeating and improper diet.

They say that our dietary habits are formed when we are very young. I can attest that they are hard to change and next to impossible to change without the entire family willing to make adjustments as well. However, it can be done and I urge all women to take a step, no matter how small, to keep yourself fit through exercise, including weight-bearing exercise, and to educate yourself on proper nutrition and incorporate what you learn for your sake and the sake of those around you.

What steps have you taken or would you like to take to improve or maintain your health? I’d love to read your comments.

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Pomegranate Juice, Grape Juice and Vivix

I was asked a question by @illix012 on Twitter and decided that I couldn’t respond in 140 characters, so I’m posting my response here. He asked what I thought of commercially available juice products such as Pom, Welch’s and Shaklee Vivix.

pomegranate-juiceI like pomegranate juice, and purchase Pom from time to time. I love grape juice, don’t buy it too often but grow grapes and juice them. The stuff we grow is so yummy. No concord grapes for me – I grow cold tolerant wine grapes, press them and freeze the juice so it doesn’t ferment – I’m not a wine drinker.

I have no personal experience with Vivix, but it purports to have equivalent amount of resveratrol as 3,000 glasses of red wine in a month’s supply. According to Shaklee’s web site, the ingredients in Vivix are:

Muscadine Grape extract (Vitis rotundifolia) (fruit pomace), trans-Resveratrol (Polygonumcuspidatum) (root) standardized to a minimum of 98% purity, European Elderberry extract (Sambucus nigra) (fruit), and Purple Carrot extract (Daucus carota sativus) (root)

It sounds OK, but the issue I have with extracts and concentrates is that usually the tests performed on extracts look promising, but when tested on people, the results often aren’t there. I think this is because often tests are performed on a single antioxidant in vitro. However, many antioxidants don’t make it intact through the gut and so the results in vivo are much different than the in vitro tests. See my blog posting on Pills or Food and read the two articles linked in the post.

I’d rather get my antioxidants as close to nature as possible and with all the components they are combined with naturally instead of an extract. That said, I’d like to do some more research on resveratrol. I have seen some reports that make me think that maybe resveratrol in isolation can be of benefit. I’d like to research glutithione supplements for the same reason. Glutithione is a powerful antioxidant that our bodies produce. As we age, production declines, so the thought is that taking a supplement can make up for waning production.

If you know of any published scientific studies regarding resveratrol or glutithione supplements, I’d be interested in the sources. I’d love to see your comments as well.

Dark Chocolate Improves Blood Flow To Heart

A Japanese study, the results of which were published at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in 2007, suggests that dark chocolate can improve blood flow to the heart. This is important because increased blood flow could reduce the risk of chest pain and maybe even heart attack. The article also reports that other studies have shown dark chocolate can reduce blood pressure and reduce the risk of diabetes.

The author of the study, Yumi Shiina, PhD, of Chiba University in Chiba, Japan, gives credit to flavonoids. Cacao, the main ingredient of dark chocolate, is rich in flavonoids. These compounds are a group of antioxidants that are also found in red wine, tea and fruits and vegetables. She says that cacao has four times as many flavonoids per serving as red wine or tea!

The study involved 39 men who were either given 1.4 oz. of dark chocolate or white chocolate per day. The white chocolate contained no flavonoids, while the dark chocolate did. After two weeks of this regimen, the researchers measured the ability of the coronary arteries to dilate and allow more blood flow to heart muscle tissue. Coronary circulation improved significantly in the participants who ate dark chocolate. There was no change in circulation among the men that ate the white chocolate.

Of course, you need to be aware of the fat and calories in chocolate. Shiina says that perhaps the development of a cacao polyphenol supplement could overcome the problem of fat and calories. I’m a little skeptical there. It seems like whenever a single antioxidant is pulled out of a natural product and made into a supplement the results are less than hoped for. I’d rather eat the dark chocolate and watch my calories. It needs to be dark chocolate with at least 70% cacao.

I eat about 5/8 oz. of dark chocolate per day, which is about 100 calories and six grams of fat.

The fat in chocolate is in the cocoa butter and is composed of about equal parts of oleic acid, stearic acid and palmitic acid. Oleic acid is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat also found in olive oil. Stearic acid appears to be blood lipid neutral, meaning that it neither raises or lowers blood cholesterol.  Palmitic acid does affect blood lipids, but it is only 33% of the total fat in cocoa butter. So it seems that the fat in chocolate isn’t as bad as once thought. However if we talk about milk chocolate, that’s another story entirely. There are lots of added fats and they aren’t the good kind.

Here’s a link to the study on WebMD:

Dark Chocolate May Aid Heart Woes, A Candy Bar A Day Improves Blood Flow To Heart, Study Says – CBS News

Pesticides in Produce – What Has Least, Most, a web site devoted to “green” living recently published an article that summarized some work done by Stonyfield Farm (an organic dairy in the U.S.) which lists the 12 most popular fresh fruits and vegetables that are highest and lowest in pesticide residue. Hmm… that makes this post third hand information. Does that make it hearsay? If you read the Ecomii article, it won’t be.

An interesting point is that the study took into account how the food was usually consumed. In other words, if it was normally washed and peeled, then that is how they tested for pesticide.

Here is the list of fruits and vegetables in alphabetical order:

Highest in Pesticides
Lowest in Pesticides
Apples Asparagus
Bell Peppers Avocados
Celery Bananas
Cherries Broccoli
Grapes (imported) Cauliflower
Nectarines Corn (sweet)
Peaches Kiwifruit
Pears Mangoes
Potatoes Onions
Red Raspberries Papayas
Spinach Peas (fresh garden)
Strawberries Pineapples

Here’s the link to the article:

A Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce – from ecomii

How do you feel about pesticide residue in your foods? Is it a concern for you?

Grow Your Own Body Parts!

Photo by dee_gee

Photo by dee_gee

A while back I made a post about trying to grow new fingers. The article below talks about a woman that needed a trachea transplant. Doctors harvested a trachea from a cadaver and removed all DNA-containing material, just leaving a lattice structure. They then took some of the woman’s own adult stem cells and put them on the lattice. After several months the stem cells had produced a complete trachea and it was successfully transplanted into the recipient.

Tissue-Engineered Trachea Transplant Is Adult Stem Cell Breakthrough

A similar technique was used to grow heart cells in rat to replace tissue damaged as a result of a heart attack. Here’s the article: