10 Best Pregnancy Foods

Optimal nutrition is important for all stages of life, all the way from our birth to our twilight years. But when it comes to pregnancy, the importance of our diets— of the foods and drinks we put into our bodies—cannot be overstated. Aside from eliminating potentially dangerous recreational and prescription drugs from our routines, the most influential decision we can make is the one we make three times a day: every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While one meal is unlikely to make or break your pregnancy, our dietary patterns as a whole can have a huge impact on your health and the health of your growing baby.

Think about it: during pregnancy, a mom-to-be is literally making a miniature person from scratch. Though poets and writers like to use sculpting, painting, and other fine arts as metaphors for fetal development, the reality is perhaps a little more interesting: your baby is the result of a recipe! The ingredients are the foods you put in your body every single day of your pregnancy. All other things being equal, making a strong, healthy baby is a lot like baking a cake.

Though the perfect cake recipe varies based on whose grandma you ask, the reality is that they all have some things in common. You can’t make a cake without a sweetener of some sort, after all! That sweetener may be cane sugar, coconut sugar, maple syrup, or even fruit, but it all serves the same purpose. Much like all cakes need something to make them sweet, all developing babies are made of the same basic compounds. This is why most dietitians make similar recommendations for all of the expecting parents who come see them!

pregnant_woman-belly

Though expecting parents and their doctors have had some pretty wacky ideas about prenatal nutrition through the millennia, today, we have an abundance of observational studies and experiments to back up our nutritional strategies. Unfortunately, this increased access to information only serves to stress out many parents-to-be, who find only an abundance of bizarre, overpriced ‘super foods’ and supplements touted as being the key to delivering a baby who is healthy, beautiful, and brilliant. But no pressure.

Fortunately, pregnancy doesn’t necessitate ingesting a whole host of supplements and strange imported fruits. Many of the healthiest foods to eat during pregnancy are familiar, delicious, and easy to find—the hard part is getting the information and making sure that we eat them! One of the most important aspects of prenatal nutrition is simply taking in enough calories, which can be difficult for many pregnant individuals. An optimal prenatal diet will include foods that are dense in both calories and nutrition, so your body will have all the tools it needs to build a baby—without you having to eat yourself sick.

Our doctors can monitor our health and our weight gain as the months tick by, but they can’t put the perfect food on our plates at dinner time. Never fear. We have compiled a list of the 10 best foods for pregnancy, so you can eat well and rest easy.

Top 10 Pregnancy Foods

 

1. Broccoli

While not particularly high in calories, this low-fat, high-fiber food is worth the plate real estate. The high fiber content may help alleviate constipation, which is a common problem during pregnancy. Broccoli also contains high levels of folate, B vitamins, and both vitamins A and K.

The last two vitamins on that list are known to play a significant role in regulating the body’s Vitamin D stores. Though Vitamin D supplements are often recommended for pregnant women, including broccoli in your diet can be a great way to give your body (and baby’s body) a boost.

lentils-in-bowl

 

2. Lentils.

Though lentils are a firm foundational food for any healthy diet, they are especially important during pregnancy due to their high levels of folate. Folate, a B vitamin, plays a key role in developing a growing fetus’s central nervous system—including the brain! A diet high in folate is thought to protect against birth defects.

Lentils are also a great source of both protein and iron that is easy on the stomach, which makes them a great choice for those battling nausea or morning sickness.

 

3. Bananas.

Bananas are often one of the first solid foods we feed our growing infants, but they also make for excellent prenatal nutrition. They require no preparation, they are gentle on your stomach, and they are a little more calorically dense than other fruits. This means you can boost your fruit and calorie intake without putting a ton of bulk in your stomach on days where you feel nauseated or have no appetite.

Bananas are also a great source of quick, clean energy thanks to their potassium and natural sugars. Bonus: bananas contain Vitamin B6, which the body uses to create red blood cells and neurotransmitters.

avocados-in-bowl

 

4. Avocados.

If you are struggling to gain the weight your doctor recommends, avocados are the food for you. They are calorie-dense, mild in flavor, loaded with folate and potassium, and full of the healthiest kinds of fat. The high levels of B vitamins can soothe your morning sickness, balance out your mood, and help your body in the construction of your baby’s central nervous system. The creamy texture and mild flavor makes avocados easy to spread on toast or incorporate into sandwiches on days when you need something bland.

Though, if you are gaining too much weight, be careful with portion sizes.

 

5. Oatmeal.

One of the healthiest, heartiest breakfast options during pregnancy is also one of the easiest on the stomach: oatmeal. Oats are loaded with complex carbohydrates, fiber, B vitamins, iron, and protein, but low in fat. They are another great food for those who may be struggling with digestive issues, nausea, constipation, and fatigue. The complex carbohydrates digest more slowly, providing steady energy that lasts all morning long.

Oatmeal makes a great base for other pregnancy foods, too— use other pregnancy foods, like fruit and nuts, as toppings for a great start to the day.

spinach-in-bowl

 

6. Spinach.

You didn’t really think you were going to get through this list without your greens, did you? Spinach, raw or cooked, is chock full of iron, folate, B vitamins, calcium, and antioxidants. For women who are trying to slow their weight gain, spinach can be your dream come true: it offers a ton of nutritional benefits and takes up a bunch of space without a huge caloric hit. Add spinach to lunch and dinner entrees (or even to smoothies!) to increase their bulk and vitamin content without adding too many calories. If you have the opposite problem, try cooking your spinach—it won’t fill you up as fast.

 

7. Nuts.

This is the other weight gain food: if you’re gaining too slowly, bring on the nuts and nut butters. These small, tasty morsels are full of healthy fats, calories, iron, and minerals you and your growing baby need. Most nuts boast high amounts of iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and Vitamin E, which will help you maintain that healthy, happy pregnancy glow.

Even if you have no trouble eating enough calories, nuts are worth including into your prenatal diet. Add them into salads, smoothies, pastas, or your oatmeal breakfasts.

berries-in-bowl

 

8. Berries.

Widely considered to be the healthiest type of fruit, berries are an absolute must during any pregnancy. Berries of all kinds are loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, which prevent free radicals from damaging your (and your baby’s) body cells. They are also full of fiber and water, which will help keep your digestion going at a comfortable pace.

In addition, berries are one of the best foods for your immune system. Eating your favorite berries every day can be a great way to fend off colds that can harm your and your baby’s health. Your body is doing a lot of work as it is, so why not give your immune system a little extra support?

 

9. Sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are another excellent source of fiber and energy-boosting complex carbohydrates, but the benefits don’t stop there. These hearty root vegetables are loaded with Vitamin C, folate, and beta-carotene (which your body uses to make the all-important nutrient known as Vitamin A). Sweet potatoes also contain potassium, a mineral important in regulating blood pressure, cutting the negative effects of sodium, sustaining energy, and easing muscle cramps.

sliced-tempeh

 

10. Soy.

Soy has received a lot of bad press lately, but the hysteria is overblown: soy is good for you, soy is good for your baby, and you should definitely include it in your diet! Whether you eat edamame, tempeh, miso, tofu, or another minimally processed soy food, you pack in the nutrition your body needs—protein, folate, B vitamins, Vitamin A, and even calcium.

Soy’s versatility also makes it an excellent choice during pregnancy. Snack on lightly seasoned edamame, make tofu scrambles, eat miso soup, blend tofu into your smoothies for a hit of protein, or pour soy milk into your oatmeal for extra calcium. If you purchase prepared soy foods, just remember to check the label for added salt and sugar.

 

References:

http://www.parents.com/pregnancy/my-body/nutrition/15-pregnancy-power-foods1/?slideId=44524

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=9

http://www.whattoexpect.com/pregnancy/eating-well/week-11/big-nutrition-small-packages.aspx

https://woolworthsbabyandtoddlerclub.com.au/pregnancy/pregnancy-health-and-nutrition/why-bananas-are-good-for-you-during-pregnancy/

http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/must-eat-foods-pregnancy

http://www.webmd.com/baby/features/pregnancy-superfoods#1

 

 

 

 

 

7 Health Benefits of Wasabi

If your condiment repertoire is any more refined than the standards of ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise, chances are you’re familiar with wasabi. Wasabi, an Asian root vegetable in the same family as horseradish, is thick, green, and powerful. It is most commonly sold as a powder or a ready-made paste alongside various fish dishes. Today, many Americans consume a knockoff version of the wasabi condiment made mostly from artificial colors or spinach pastes, but real Japanese wasabi boasts health benefits.

The wasabi plant has grown wild in the Japanese mountains for thousands of years (according to archaeologists, as early as 14,000 BC!), but people first began cultivating it intentionally in the early 1600s, thanks to improvements in agricultural understanding and technology. The plant itself is fragile and difficult to grow—in order to thrive, it requires cold, clean water, minimal sunlight, and a very precise balance of minerals in the soil. So, to this day, wasabi remains a delicacy.

Wasabi consumption and usage goes back further than its cultivation, though. Ancient records that date back to the tenth century document its use in cooking (particularly cold soups) and in medicine. In fact, wasabi even earned itself a mention in the Engishiki, which is the oldest known Japanese written record of laws and regulations. This document, which dates back to the year 927, includes wasabi on a list of various goods that could be used to pay federal taxes.

Many Japanese folk remedies involved pressing wasabi-saturated cloths against whatever body part seemed to ail them—this is possibly due to the root’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties. The most common ailments treated this way were things like rheumatism and bronchitis.

wasabi and ginger

Wasabi was a key ingredient in much of the vegetarian food consumed by Buddhists in temples all the way through the middle ages. Traditionally, wasabi was the last ingredient added to a dish, because it begins to lose its flavor in just ten minutes. Over the years, wasabi left the temples and became more widely used by the general population.

This pungent food came to the forefront of cuisine with the rise of sushi. For several hundred years, sushi was a dish consisting of rice and fish which were left to ferment for up to three months—which made it a tedious, time-consuming food reserved for those who had the time and resources to wait for a dinner months in the making. In the late 1700s, however, a technique emerged wherein one could ferment the sushi in just one night, greatly speeding up the process.

A couple years later, our modern version of sushi was born: raw fish. Wasabi, which to many is a powerful antibacterial agent with an even more powerful aroma, proved itself to be the ideal condiment for raw sushi, because it both countered the stench of raw fish and aided in the prevention of potentially deadly food poisoning. After gaining popularity as a condiment for sushi, it found its home in other Japanese dishes, including buckwheat (or ‘soba’) noodles. One document written in 1712 defines wasabi as one of the necessary ingredients in soba dishes.

Today, wasabi still has a firm place in Japanese culture. A popular dish known as sashimi, which consists of small chunks of raw fish and soy sauce, is almost always eaten with wasabi. This is consistent with the primary historical uses of wasabi—as a way to eliminate the health risks associated with eating raw fish. Though we have only very recently acquired the scientific know-how to understand what makes certain foods and chemicals antibacterial, the pre-modern Japanese had some idea that wasabi prevented the growth of disease-causing agents. Even now, the idea that wasabi has antibacterial properties is one of the most widely talked-about health benefits. There is also some evidence that it may kill parasites living inside of raw fish.

Though the seafood condiment has become popular throughout much of the western world, most of what we call ‘wasabi’ is not true wasabi. Because fresh wasabi loses its flavor so fast, many restaurants and other businesses import mixed powders or ready-made pastes made with other ingredients. This is unfortunate, because, while even powdered wasabi has some health benefits, they pale in comparison to fresh-grated wasabi root.

Okay, so what are these powerful health benefits?

Health Benefits of Wasabi

1. It kills dangerous pathogens and may prevent food poisoning.

The ancient Japanese had the right idea when they began using fresh-grated wasabi to sterilize their raw fish. One study, which examined the bacteria-busting effects of various foods, found that wasabi did an excellent job of killing two of the bacteria that cause our most terrifying food-borne illnesses: E. Coli and Staphylococcus.  This means that, when consumed with potentially dangerous foods (such as raw fish), wasabi can help prevent food poisoning and other possibly deadly food-borne illnesses.

white teeth

2. It may protect your teeth from unfriendly bacteria.

We are not sure whether or not Japanese sushi-eaters of old were renowned for their sparkly white teeth, but the same anti-bacterial properties that protected them from food poisoning might have kept their teeth safe, too! One study performed in 2000 discovered that chemical compounds extracted from wasabi root greatly suppressed the growth of streptococcus—otherwise known as the bacteria that causes cavities.

3. It may fight various forms of cancer.

Like all of our favorite super-foods, wasabi boasts many cancer-fighting properties. Firstly, it contains high levels of antioxidants, which destroy free radicals floating around in the blood—free radicals which can cause the cell damage that sometimes results in cancer. With fewer free radicals flowing through the bloodstream, the risk of cell damage is reduced, which in turn reduces the risk of cells turning cancerous. In addition, wasabi contains moderate amounts of Vitamin C, which may help the immune system snuff out individual cancer cells before they have a chance to turn into a full-blown illness.

But perhaps its most powerful weapon is its high concentration of chemical compounds known as isothiocyanites, which are found in all vegetables in the cabbage family. A few studies have found that these chemical compounds trigger apoptosis, or programmed cell death, in both stomach cancer and leukemia cells. Other studies have found similar results in two other common types of cancer: melanoma and breast cancer. This means that wasabi may be a valuable tool in preventing the development of cancer, as well as reducing tumor growth in patients with existing cancer.

The best part? Unlike many other anticancer agents, wasabi seems to kill cancer… without harming the healthy cells in the body!

4. It may aid bone health and relieve painful arthritis symptoms.

While no one food can prevent the onset of arthritis, wasabi has been shown to greatly reduce painful inflammation in the joints, ligaments, and muscles of those suffering from the chronic disease. These same anti-inflammatory properties may help relieve symptoms for other individuals dealing with chronic pain, or simply with the at-times painful effects of aging.

But the bone benefits don’t end there. There is some evidence that certain chemicals found in wasabi may slow bone loss, which could reduce the risk of osteoporosis and stress fractures in athletes and the aging population.

5. It fights heart disease and may prevent heart attack and stroke.

heart with muscles

Though wasabi is not powerful enough to cancel out your bacon cheeseburger single-handedly, it can be an excellent addition to a diet aimed at lowering blood cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease. The pungent green plant has the ability to lower blood cholesterol, and to slow the formation of potentially deadly blood clots—blood clots which are the leading cause of fatal heart attacks and strokes. Wasabi is a natural way to achieve some of the blood-thinning benefits of aspirin without having to chew a pill.

That being said, wasabi is not a substitute for emergency medical care. Your favorite sushi condiment, no matter how delicious, cannot take the place of the life-saving drugs your doctor may have prescribed.

6. It supports a healthy respiratory system.

… and you don’t even have to smoke it. Because wasabi is such a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, it eases irritation and inflammation throughout the whole respiratory tract, from the sinuses all the way into the lungs. This is why many traditional healers use wasabi when treating such ailments as bronchitis and sinus congestion. Some also believe that it can be a valuable tool in managing chronic asthma.

Wasabi also has the immediate benefit of temporarily clearing out the sinuses if you are dealing with cold, flu, or seasonal allergies. The same chemical  elements responsible for that pungent smell cause the nasal passages to open up, which can help congestion drain out of the sinuses.

7. It improves circulation throughout the body.

The same mechanism that reduces the formation of blood clots also improves blood through throughout the entire body, which can speed up healing, increase energy levels, and minimize aches and pains. This is especially important for athletes such as runners or bodybuilders, who need to achieve adequate blood flow to damaged muscles to ensure adequate recovery between workouts.

 

References:

http://www.tokyofoundation.org/en/topics/japanese-traditional-foods/vol.-18-wasabi

http://www.realwasabi.com/History/

http://www.sbfoods-worldwide.com/foodCulture/wasabi/secret.html

http://www.sbfoods-worldwide.com/foodCulture/wasabi/secret.html#history

https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/health-benefits-of-wasabi.html

http://healthbenefitsofeating.com/roots/10-amazing-health-benefits-wasabi/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/12/001215082049.htm

http://www.natureword.com/tag/wasabi-antibacterial/

 

 

 

11 Health Benefits of Persimmon

If you venture outside the realm of the child-friendly trio of apples, bananas, and oranges, chances are you have familiarized yourself with such popular fruits as mangoes, pomegranate, acai berries, and even jackfruit. While your bacon-eating, Coke-slurping Midwestern cousin may not know the magic of jackfruit, most of those with a toe in the health food community can tell you all about the latest flashy, exciting, exotic super fruit.

But perhaps one of the most powerful super fruits is one that is often left out of top ten lists and trail mixes: the humble persimmon. Despite their high nutrient content and other health benefits, they have yet to find their way into the health food spotlight here in the United States. You may be wondering what a persimmon even is!

The persimmon is a fruit which comes into season beginning mid-September all the way through December. Often overshadowed by other fall favorites like pumpkins and crisp apples, the persimmon looks more like an anemic tomato: it is small, round, glossy-skinned, and topped with a patch of pale green leaves. Persimmons, depending on variety, range from light orange to various shades of dark red-orange.

There are two main types of persimmons sold in the United States: fuyu and hachiya. Fuyu persimmons tend to be on the shorter side—shaped more like tiny decorative pumpkins—and have a sweet taste even before they are considered fully ripe. These sweet persimmons tend to be more user-friendly, because they are edible even when they are on the firmer side.

The other common persimmon variety, the hachiya, is what’s known as an astringent persimmon. Heart-shaped and full of tannins, this fruit is completely inedible until fully ripe. The most efficient way to ripen the fruit, and therefore reduce the level of astringent tannins, is the old banana trick: throw the unripe persimmon in a paper bag along with other ripe fruit and wait a few days for the ethylene to work its magic. Though the window of consumption is narrower for hachiya persimmons, they are well worth the wait; a fully ripe hachiya persimmon has a soft, sweet flavor and texture that makes them perfect for mixing into oatmeal or fruity salad.

persimmon on table

Where did these strange, sweet tomato-impersonators come from? Though they are now cultivated in warm climates all around the world, persimmon trees originated in China. From there, they spread to modern-day Korea and Japan, and eventually to the rest of the world.

Though Native Americans had eaten the fruit for centuries (mostly by drying it to get rid of the astringency and cooking it into various dishes, such as the beloved-by-colonists persimmon bread), the first written records of American persimmons date back to the 1500s, when a member of the infamous Roanoke Colony wrote that persimmons were inedible until they were rotten. Even John Smith complained that eating the unripe fruit was torturous, while a perfectly ripe persimmon was “delicious.”

Because American persimmon trees were so resilient, they were far from being a delicacy in the 1800s. They grew like weeds, so that Native Americans, poor white men, and even slaves all had equal access to the sweet fruit. Persimmons are mentioned in many classic American folk songs, and during the Civil War, some people used persimmon seeds in lieu of coffee beans. Some Confederate soldiers even used persimmon seeds as buttons on their coats.

But persimmons are good for more than bread and coat buttons. Considered to be a ‘fruit of the gods’ by the ancient Greeks, and prized by those practicing traditional Chinese medicine, this often-overlooked fruit has earned a place as one of many powerful foods in nature. So, what are the health benefits of persimmons? Take a look at our list:

Health Benefits of Persimmon

1. They fight the negative effects of stress and aging.

As our bodies grow older, deal with various stressors, and struggle to maintain balance in the rush of our day to day lives, we start to fray a little around the edges. Persimmons are loaded with all sorts of goodies that help the body withstand the cruelties of time’s winged chariot. The vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in this waxy fruit help support your body against the wear and tear that can damage our health and reduce our quality of life.

heart with muscles

2. They may lower bad cholesterol levels, which reduces the risk of heart disease.

Several studies have linked persimmons with a reduction in bad cholesterol. One rat study found that cholesterol levels dropped after just nine weeks of regular persimmon-munching, and another study performed on humans found that persimmons may be helpful in treating patients suffering from dangerously high cholesterol. This is thought to be due to the high levels of tannins found in persimmon flesh.

This particular persimmon superpower is especially important because heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States. LDL cholesterol is one of the biggest risk factors associated with developing cardiovascular illness.

3. They are full of magnesium.

Magnesium, an often-overlooked mineral, is a key part of a healthy body… and persimmons are full of it! Magnesium can help with energy levels, exercise recovery, muscle cramps, and even kidney stones. It is also an important component of maintaining bone health—in fact, magnesium deficiency is thought to be a big risk factor for developing osteoporosis.

4. They protect your eyes.

Most of us don’t think of food as a key part of eye health, but persimmons may be just as important as sunglasses on a sunny day. This sweet fruit is nature’s eye supplement: it contains large amounts of Vitamin A and lycopene, in addition to other components that have been linked to healthy eyes. Taking in high levels of eye-supporting nutrients has been shown to reduce the risk of developing cataracts, which are the main cause of blindness. Move over, carrots.

woman running

5. They may aid in athletic performance and recovery.

Runners, cyclists, bodybuilders, and other athletes may want to think about incorporating persimmons into their post-workout meal. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and the easy carbohydrates that support endurance and aid in recovery. The simple sugars make them a quick source of energy for a runner hunting for the perfect pre-run snack. They also contain a lot of potassium, which is an especially important mineral for active individuals who sweat a lot.

6. They can prevent thyroid problems… naturally.

Americans have a hard time getting enough iodine—so hard, in fact, that we now fortify our table salt with it! If you want to skip the salt and opt for something more natural, pick up a persimmon. Persimmons have high amounts of naturally occurring iodine, which supports thyroid health.

7. They support a strong immune system.

Many forms of traditional and folk medicine recommend persimmon flesh to treat the common cold. Today, we understand that persimmons aren’t a ‘cold cure’, but they do provide your immune system with the boost it needs to power through a bad case of the sniffles. This is probably due to the antioxidants, high water content, and fiber content. A single ripe persimmon contains over 80% of the recommended daily amount of the cold-busting Vitamin C.

8. They contain fiber, which can help relieve bloating and constipation.

One persimmon contains about six grams of fiber, which, along with water, is the key factor in digestive health. The fiber in a juicy persimmon will sweep out your system if things start to get backed up. In addition, the fiber content may help you reach your goal weight—it will keep you fuller longer, which means you feel less hungry throughout the day. With a little bit of fiber on board to suppress your appetite, it gets easier to achieve the caloric deficit necessary to burn fat.

9. Persimmons may prevent diabetes.

While no one food can fully protect against diabetes, persimmons look promising. One Japanese study discovered that consuming peel extract reduced insulin resistance in test subjects. The rats who were given persimmon peel extract over a period of twelve weeks demonstrated improved insulin sensitivity. Persimmons also fight diabetes by reducing overall inflammation in the body, and through their fiber content, which reduces dangerous blood sugar spikes.

10. They may help lower your blood pressure and prevent heart disease.

One of the unfortunate side effects of our stressful, sedentary lives is high blood pressure. Fortunately, persimmons are a perfect food for someone who is trying to lower their blood pressure! Their high magnesium content may lower blood pressure and reduce the overall risk of heart attacks and cardiac-related death. Several studies have found that those with higher magnesium intake are significantly less likely to develop heart disease or die of cardiac-related illness.

11. They may reduce your risk of cancer.

Like their supermarket lookalike, the tomato, persimmons contain high levels of the famous cancer-fighting chemical known as lycopene. In addition, they are full of many other antioxidants, which fight the free radicals that can cause dangerous cell damage. The flavonoids in persimmon flesh may even protect against possibly-dangerous DNA mutations.

 

References:

http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/how-eat-persimmon-pro.html

http://badger.uvm.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/uvmtrees/persimmon-intro/persimmon-history

http://badger.uvm.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/uvmtrees/persimmon-intro/persimmon-uses

http://www.lahealthyliving.com/natural-remedies-remedies/20-unbelievable-practical-uses-for-persimmons/

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23171573

https://authoritynutrition.com/foods/persimmons/

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/#h7

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/persimmon-fruit.html

 

High Fructose Corn Syrup: Everything You Need to Know

It is late at night.  If I am going to be writing this article on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), I am going to need a kick. I think I will satisfy my thirst with a Coca Cola Classic. SLURP! Yummy. Now if I was in a country outside the United States, my taste buds may tell my brain that the Coke I am drinking tastes a bit different. The difference is the sugar. The Coke I am drinking contains fructose and a glucose blend, also commonly referred to as HFCS. Fructose is a type of sugar found in honey and fruit. Glucose is our body’s preferred energy source and often referred to as blood sugar. People in other countries outside of the U.S, for example Mexico, drink their coke with primarily sucrose and zero HFCS. Sucrose is our basic table sugar. Why the difference? Why does a Coke in the United States have different ingredients than a Coke in Mexico? What is this stuff, HFCS? Is it good or bad for you? As a sugar, is it worse for you than sugar extracted from sugar cane? I will hopefully answer all these questions and lay out a vast amount of opinions on the matter. First, let’s take a trip back in time.

Brief History:

We humans love our energy. Ever since Eve convinced Adam to take a bite of that apple filled with fructose, sucrose, and glucose, we have been consuming sugar. HFCS is fairly new. While we as a human race have been obtaining sucrose from plants and sugar canes, we had not mastered the process of turning glucose into fructose and acquiring a liquid form. The Clinton Corn Processing Company of Clinton, Iowa was the first U.S company to seek out this venture. Don’t confuse these Clintons with Bill or Hillary. This is a Clinton company that originated in Iowa, not Arkansas. This company was trying to find a way to turn glucose from corn starch into fructose. They were not successful. Not many years after, a Japanese scientist named Yoshiyuki Takasak created a way to successfully refine the process of creating HFCS. The Clinton Company jumped aboard and began manufacturing early versions of HFCS. Then, Richard Nixon approved the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973. This allowed subsidies for all corn products. That means farmers would get paid for producing corn and they could sell it at a cheaper price. Why is all of this important? Why not just use real sugar? Sugar is expensive. It is much more expensive to get sugar from sugar canes than it is to purchase subsidized corn. Corn is produced, the glucose from the yeast is converted to fructose, and thousands of companies can profit from cheap sugar.

black and white question mark

What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?

What exactly is HFCS anyway? The FDA approved it, by saying it was safe. So what is this EVIL thing all your health conscience friends are warning you about? HFCS is derived from corn starch. Starch itself is a chain of glucose molecules joined together. Glucose alone is a simple sugar. When people read HFCS in the ingredients on many of the foods Americans consume, they are not reading about a food containing simple sugar. They are reading about a product that is composed of many different sugars, mainly glucose and fructose, with varying compositions. The first step is converting the corn starch into corn syrup. Corn syrup alone is distinct from HFCS. Enzymes are added to the corn syrup to convert the individual glucose molecules into fructose. Fructose is often called “fruit sugar” because it comes from fruit. HFCS is high in fructose. Sucrose also contains glucose and fructose. So what is the difference between HFCS and sucrose?

Differences between HFCS and Sucrose:

  • HFCS contains water.
  • In sucrose, a chemical bond joins the glucose and fructose. Once one eats, stomach acid and gut enzymes rapidly break down this chemical bond. A complete one-to-one ratio of glucose and fructose.
  • In HFCS, no chemical bond joins the glucose and fructose. An unbalanced ratio of glucose and fructose is formed. HFCS usually contains more fructose than glucose.

Is High Fructose Corn Syrup Bad For You?

HFCS is a sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that most women get no more than 100 calories a day of added sugar from any source, and that most men get no more than 150 calories a day of added sugar. That’s about 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar for women and 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams) for men. One can of a soft drink usually contains 6 or more teaspoons of sugar. Many will already get their recommended amount or more of sugar from just one soft drink. This is not mentioning all the other sugary items the average adult consumes. Here are some popular items and their sugar content in grams for one serving:

oreo cookies

  • Red Bull 27g
  • Apple Juice 26g
  • Oreo Cookies 14g
  • Ketchup 17g
  • Raisins 30g
  • Twinkies 19g
  • Yoplait Yogurt 27g

As one can see, it would be hard to stay within the recommended amount of sugar. All sugar, not just HFCS, contribute to the following when taken in large doses:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • High Triglyceride Levels

All of the above boost one’s risk of heart disease. So what is the deal with HFCS? Why do people attack this specific type of sugar so often? There is actually insufficient evidence to say that HFCS is less healthy than other types of sweeteners. There lacks a scientific consensus. However, this claim does have its critics. I will outline some of the beliefs and facts below:

  1. HFCS is found in most sugary products. It is normal nowadays for kids to step into McDonalds and order a large coke or step into 7-Eleven and get a big gulp. A Double Gulp contains 186 grams of sugar, by the way. Companies are able to do this because of the government subsidies with corn. Perhaps sugar based products shouldn’t be so cheap? The corn subsidies are one way that makes HFCS prevalent, which despite one’s comparison to sugar cane, one can’t deny that the subsidies contribute to Americans consuming large amounts of sugar.
  1. HFCS is biochemically different and is not absorbed in our bodies in the same way. Glucose and fructose do not have that 50-50 ratio, as sucrose does. There usually is a larger amount of fructose, which is sweeter than glucose. HFCS does not have a chemical bond. This makes it so HFCS is more rapidly absorbed by the blood stream. Lipogenesis is the production of fats. Fructose has been studied to go straight to the liver to trigger this process. A large amount of Americans suffer from a condition known as “fatty liver” and HFCS may be the culprit of this and many other metabolic disturbances. It is the increase in fructose of HFCS that has many health and nutrition experts worried. High doses of fructose have been proven to punch holes in the intestinal lining. This allows toxic bacteria to enter the bloodstream and produce inflammation that can cause cancer, heart disease, dementia, and accelerated aging. Some health experts believe it is because the fructose that comes from HFCS is not natural like the fructose we receive from fruit.
  1. HFCS contains amounts of mercury. A Minneapolis based nonprofit Institute for Agriculture and Trade policy bought 55 products containing HFCS and found that 17 out of the 55 products showed detectable levels of mercury. The researchers claim that they do not know what forms of Mercury these products contain and are not telling consumers to avoid buying the food items. The Corn Refinery Association is standing by the claim that HFCS is safe. Any amount of mercury found in food products may still be a cause for alarm for many people.

Foods that contain HFCS:

Here is a list of popular food items that contain HFCS. Keep in mind, to avoid generalizations, one should always check the food labels. While the foods I am about to name often contain HFCS in the states, it doesn’t mean that every product contains HFCS. These are popular items where one can find HFCS.

pizza

  1. Yogurts
  2. Breads
  3. Frozen Pizzas
  4. Cereal Bars
  5. Boxed Macaroni and Cheese
  6. Salad Dressing
  7. Tonic
  8. Apple Sauce
  9. Canned Fruit
  10. Soft Drinks

How to avoid HFCS? As I said before, always check food labels. However, here are some popular items that do not contain HFCS:

fresh fruits and vegetables

  1. Fruits
  2. Vegetables (HFCS has been sneaking into pickles)
  3. Meat
  4. Seafood
  5. Nuts
  6. Rice (many other grains)
  7. Legumes

There are no specific instructions and advice one can give on HFCS. At this point, we know the negative effects of a diet that is consumed by too much sugar. There is not a scientific consensus, specifically, on HFCS. However, there have been numerous research reports done by respected groups outlining possible negative effects of HFCS. HFCS has not even been in American diets for a half century. One can only hope that we do not find out about severely negative effects of HFCS the hard way.

 

REFERENCES:

http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=3932

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-sucrose-glucose-fructose-8704.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/07/coca-cola-taste-test_n_1324282.html

http://www.the-healthy-diet-paradise.com/HFCS.html

http://www.salon.com/2015/01/04/coke_made_us_all_obese_mcdonalds_high_fructose_corn_syrup

http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/88/6/1716S.full

http://www.eufic.org/page/en/page/FAQ/faqid/glucose-fructose-syrup/

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/simple-sugar-nutrition-label-1401.html

http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm324856.htm

http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/news/20090127/mercury-in-high-fructose-corn-syrup#1

http://www.celestialhealing.net/Food_contain_HFCS.htm

http://www.sugarstacks.com/beverages.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/jun/12/how-much-sugar-is-in-your-fizzy-drink

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/high-fructose-corn-syrup-dangers/

http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20101011/how-sugar-compares-with-high-fructose-corn-syrup#1

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/foods-dont-high-fructose-corn-syrup-10810.html

http://www.fitday.com/fitness-articles/nutrition/healthy-eating/6-popular-foods-with-high-fructose-corn-syrup.html

http://www.activistpost.com/2012/09/top-10-foods-that-contain-high-fructose.html

8 Health Benefits of Matcha Tea

By now, anyone who has ever set foot in a health food store, read a fitness magazine, or scrolled through their Facebook feed has heard of the wonders of drinking various blends of tea. But it turns out that not all tea is created equally, and the benefits of drinking your standard steeped white or green tea blends pale in comparison to those found in matcha green tea.

But wait, what’s the difference between matcha green tea and the teabags you’ve been getting at the supermarket? Is there any difference, aside from the price tag? If they both qualify as green tea, why should you pay more?

The big difference between matcha green tea and the steeped green tea many people drink is in the preparation. Most of us green tea junkies get our fix by dropping teabags containing tea leaves into hot water and letting them steep for a few minutes. The hot water leeches some of the antioxidants, phytochemicals and other health-boosting properties out of the leaves, and when it’s as strong as we want it, we throw the rest of the leaves away.

Matcha takes green tea to the next level. In matcha preparation, the entire tea leaf is ground up into a very fine powder, then mixed into hot water. So, when you drink matcha, you are consuming the entire tea leaf—not just the chemicals that hot water can pull out of the leaves in the 3-5 minutes you let it brew.

matcha tea in cup

Human cultivation and consumption of green tea probably started between the 7th and 10th centuries, during the Chinese Tang dynasty. In the beginning, the leaves were roasted and ground up before being steeped in hot water. The resulting tea was then flavored with salt.

The practice of stirring the powdered tea leaves into hot water didn’t become popular until the late 12th century, when Zen Buddhists began working it into their ritual practices. They cultivated the green tea plants in very specific conditions designed to heighten its perceived therapeutic and spiritual effects. What were these ‘specific conditions?’ The tea plants were (and still are) grown in the shade, which slowed plant growth and increased the chlorophyll content of the leaves. This increased chlorophyll content is thought to be partially responsible for the increased health benefits of matcha green tea.

The resulting tea was said to provide enhanced clarity and focused, sustained energy, and an overall sense of peace and well-being. This is the beverage that eventually became known as matcha green tea. For a long time, matcha was a pricey beverage reserved mostly for samurai, religious leaders, royalty, and the wealthy. As time passed and cultivation technologies changed, matcha became more widely available for the common people, and it developed a foothold in Japan, where it is still widely consumed today.

In recent years, westerners have discovered the unique flavor and health-boosting properties of matcha green tea. Compared to many other popular beverages, it has a much higher concentration of antioxidants, lower levels of caffeine, and countless other benefits. And, since it’s sold as a powder, it’s remarkably easy to mix it into any food your heart desires—ranging from the almond milk you pour on your cereal to your favorite shortbread cookie recipe. People who love the taste of matcha tend to really love it.

But what are some of these miraculous health benefits of matcha? Take a gander at our list:

Health Benefits of Matcha Tea

1. Matcha is the king of antioxidants.

Since you’re ingesting the entire tea leaf when you drink a cup of matcha, you get a ton of the antioxidants that are left behind if you go with standard brewed tea. Matcha contains seventeen times as many antioxidants as blueberries and a whopping SIXTY TIMES the antioxidant content of spinach! This comes out to roughly ten times as many antioxidants as your typical cup of brewed tea.

That’s right: in order to get the antioxidants found in one cup of matcha, you would have to drink ten cups of lesser tea blends. That’s a lot of bathroom breaks.

women meditating

2. Matcha reduces stress and provides a sense of calmness and well-being.

People who love coffee or black tea will sing their favorite beverage’s praises all day long, but they will also be the first to tell you that it isn’t great for coping with stressful situations, anxiety, or anger. While coffee and black teas sometimes have the effect of heightening anxiety and stress (or giving you a bad case of the jitters), matcha relaxes the body and soothes the mind. This is why it was the chosen beverage of Zen Buddhist monks for so long—have you ever tried meditating when you’re jacked up on espresso?

So, why is matcha so good at creating a Zen-like sense of peace? It contains a rare amino acid called L-theanine, which triggers processes in the brain similar to those encouraged by yoga practices. The result: a break from all the mental noise, a relaxed body, and a sense of clarity… without busting out the yoga mat!

3. Matcha might help fight Type II Diabetes—and its negative effects.

Matcha green tea, with its high levels of phytochemicals and antioxidants, might be an excellent beverage for people struggling with insulin resistance or diabetes. Its diabetes-battling effects are partly the result of its helpful effect on body composition. Matcha has a strong correlation with a lower risk of obesity and less belly fat, which means that it also lowers your risk of developing diabetes.

One study showed that people who consumed at least two cups of green tea every day had a lower risk of diabetes. This is purely conjecture, but: since matcha is far more potent than its steeped cousin, it might take less tea to get the same effect.

Several large studies have come up with the same results: there is a pretty strong correlation between matcha consumption and a decreased risk of insulin resistance, diabetes, hyperinsulinemia (or, in English: too much insulin in your blood), and obesity, which are all related. One theory is that a chemical found in green tea, EGCG, may serve as a ‘mock’ insulin, which can be a huge help to people who are diabetic or insulin resistance. Minimizing the effects of insulin resistance also makes it easier to lose weight, which further improves the insulin resistance, which encourages more weight loss… and so on into infinity.

4. Matcha might help with weight loss and reduce your risk of obesity.

A handful of studies have shown that people who drink matcha lose more weight than those who drink a placebo beverage. But, even more importantly than simple weight loss, subjects who consumed green tea also demonstrated more dramatic improvements in body composition—that is, the amount of muscle and fat that make up the body. Compared to the placebo, green tea consumption resulted in a far greater decrease in abdominal fat. This is especially important, because abdominal fat is the type of body fat most linked to metabolic disorders and heart disease.

In another study done on mice, those who were given EGCG from green tea gained significantly less body fat than mice who weren’t enjoying their green tea. And get this: they were eating the same thing! This shows that the difference in weight gain wasn’t a result of energy intake, but in how much of that energy was stored as body fat.

Why does matcha have such a strong protective effect against obesity? One thought is that green tea suppresses the enzymes your body uses when storing fat. Combine this with the appetite-suppressant effects and you have a wonderful, natural, healthy weight loss aid.

5. It provides a boost of energy and focus.

Matcha, like coffee and black tea, contains a fair amount of caffeine. As we know, caffeine provides a sense of alertness, energy and focus. But as previously mentioned, matcha also has another trick up its sleeve: L-Theanine. In addition to providing a sense of calm, this amino acid encourages the brain to produce more serotonin and dopamine, which both improve working memory, energy levels, mood, and overall focus.

man on bike

6. It may improve performance in endurance activities.

Matcha’s caffeine content gives it a head start in the pre-workout supplement department, but it also has the perfect balance of phytochemicals to help you run, bike, hike, or walk farther and more comfortably. In addition, since it encourages the body to burn fat, matcha may help ward off “The Wall”, which plagues endurance athletes who run out of glycogen stores after mile 10. This means that matcha can help you push a little farther without the crash that might result from caffeine pills or too much espresso.

7. It wards off cardiovascular problems.

Several studies have shown that matcha lowers your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and even high cholesterol. Men who drink matcha regularly experience an 11% decrease in heart disease risk.

8. It contains fiber.

When you drink matcha, you get the whole tea leaf—that means you’re taking in fiber, which lowers the incidence of cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, some cancers, and even diseases like dementia and depression!

 

References:

http://www.gotmatcha.com/a-brief-history-of-matcha/

https://mymatchalife.com/matcha-history/

http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/8-wonders-of-matcha-green-tea.html

http://www.naturallivingideas.com/10-amazing-benefits-of-matcha-green-tea/

https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/beverage/matcha-tea.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19735169

http://1001teafacts.com/matcha-tea-for-diabetes

http://www.nutritionexpress.com/article+index/authors/jeff+s+volek+phd+rd/showarticle.aspx?id=330

http://1001teafacts.com/matcha-tea-for-diabetes

http://www.medicaldaily.com/health-benefits-fiber-foods-aging-well-major-depression-dementia-high-blood-388450

 

7 Health Benefits of Aromatherapy

There have been a wide variety of medical practices throughout history, ranging from bloodletting to spitting on your wounds to purging and taking arsenic (boy, am I glad we outgrew the idea of the four humors), but few have withstood the test of time like aromatherapy.

‘Yeah,’ you may be thinking. ‘That’s because aromatherapy doesn’t involve massive projectile vomiting and blood loss.’ And you make a fair point, but you still shouldn’t underestimate the staying power of aromatherapy as a medical tradition.

No one is certain exactly when humans started inhaling the fumes from herbs and oils for medicinal purposes, but we know that the ancient Egyptian priests, who doubled as doctors, used them to treat illnesses of all sorts. Aromatherapy was widespread throughout many ancient cultures, but perhaps most notable was its presence in the toolkit of Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine. According to him, the basis of all healing lay in scented baths and daily massages. Aromatic oils such as tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil were also used widely throughout China and India, generally as massage oils that were recommended for everything from headaches to depression to colds and insomnia.

In the modern era, a French chemist named René-Maurice Gattefossé is credited with founding contemporary aromatherapy. He discovered lavender oil’s powerful healing properties when he used it topically on a chemical burn he suffered during an experiment, and he did extensive research on the ways it was used to treat wounds and burns during World War I. After all this, he came up with the term ‘aromatherapy’ in 1937—it was the title of his book. By the late 1950s, many doctors, massage therapists, nurses, and other ‘healers’ were using aromatherapy on their patients, but it didn’t really begin to surge in popularity until the 1980s.

essential oils aromatherapy bottles

Today, the word ‘aromatherapy’ is everywhere. There are plenty of candles, perfumes, potions, bouquets, and even clothing articles that are marketed as tools for aromatherapy—though many of these items are scented with man-made chemicals that don’t boast the same benefits as real essential oils. In more respectable (and perhaps less profit-driven) circles, aromatherapy is used by doctors, nurses, therapists, and alternative healers to treat many of the same ailments as in ancient Egypt.

While most medical practitioners don’t rely on aromatherapy alone to treat chronic illnesses or serious health conditions, it is often employed as a complementary treatment to manage pain, reduce stress levels, and improve overall quality of life. Its popularity has grown mostly among those looking for at-home remedies for common ailments like seasonal depression, insomnia, stress, stomach problems, or headaches.

Aromatherapy has been shown to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of several different illnesses, but before we go into a list of health benefits, we need to cover a few basic rules.

First, make sure the oils you purchase are 100% pure essential oils. Many of the cheaper products available today are synthetic oils, so while they may smell wonderful, they will do little to improve your health. Second, be conservative! Mix a couple drops of your chosen essential oil into lotion, coconut oil, olive oil, or another carrier if you want to massage it into your neck or chest for inhalation.

And of course, be wary of any allergies or sensitivities you may have. If inhaling a certain oil makes you feel dizzy, sick or tight in the chest, stop using it and consult your doctor. For the best effects, store your essential oils in a cool, dark place. As with anything, efficacy may vary—you might not get the exact same benefits that your neighbor or your cousin do, but with some practice and experimentation, you can find a blend or concentration of oils that works for you.

Here are just a few of the health benefits of aromatherapy:

Health Benefits of Aromatherapy

woman sleeping

1. It can help you fall asleep faster and wake up less during the night.

When we can’t sleep, many of us turn to over-the-counter sleep aids, often only to fall victim to unpleasant or even dangerous side effects like dry mouth, dizziness, upset stomach, constipation, and the dreaded day-after ‘hangover’. Desperate to look after our bodies, we may turn to writing out our stream of consciousness in journals, counting sheep, struggling to breathe through our clogged left nostril, or eating enough tryptophan-loaded bananas to put a monkey to shame—to no avail.

While some people can fall asleep rather quickly once they get their conscious brain to slow down, others have trouble quieting our bodies, and aromatherapy may be the solution. By using a few drops of a calming essential oil in your bath, you can quiet your body and your mind to help yourself drift off easier. Want a more powerful effect? Diffuse your soothing oil of choice directly into your bedroom before you turn the lights out. The scent will sedate you without the unpleasant side effects of a sleeping pill.

2. It can be used to improve quality of life in people with cancer or other severe illness.

While aromatherapy should not be used as the sole treatment for patients dealing with cancer or heart failure, it can be instrumental in improving quality of life and reducing suffering—which, as we know, can improve the prognosis in the long term. Aromatherapy is often used in conjunction with standard treatments to manage symptoms like pain, anxiety, and fatigue. Because of the positive effect it has on cognition and emotional well-being, it can be a key part of managing feelings of hopelessness or despair.

3. It can improve cognition in people suffering from dementia.

Though we have been using aromatherapy to treat psychiatric problems for thousands of years, it wasn’t until recently that we were able to put its healing powers to the test in a controlled setting. A handful of studies performed on people with dementia—mostly Alzheimer’s—have found significant improvements in cognition after undergoing a certain period of aromatherapy.

When used on patients with advanced dementia, lavender and lemon balm were found to decrease the instance of behavior problems and physical agitation. They also improved communication and overall functionality.

man with headache

4. It can alleviate headaches and manage pain.

You don’t need a life-threatening illness to see the pain reduction benefits of aromatherapy. Rather than popping pills, you can use aromatherapy to relieve your current headache—and to reduce the instance of headaches in the future. One placebo-controlled study done in 2012 found that lavender essential oil significantly reduced the number and intensity of headache symptoms in those diagnosed with chronic migraine headaches. Researchers concluded that, “inhalation of lavender essential oil may be an effective and safe treatment modality in acute management of migraine headaches.”

5. It can help you wake up and energize.

Aromatherapy can put you to sleep, but it can also help you wake up without feeling like you need to pump copious amounts of caffeine directly into your veins. While a healthy diet and exercise program are by far the best treatments for low energy levels, aromatherapy may be the extra boost you need to feel alert and productive.

Many essential oils used in aromatherapy will help make you feel more lively by improving your circulation and stimulating the nervous system—without the harsh effects of other stimulants like caffeine and nicotine. To help wake yourself up in the morning, you can diffuse the scent throughout the house, mix a couple drops of oil into your face wash, or mix it into your lotion and rub it into your neck and chest. As long as you can smell it, you should be good to go!

6. It can alleviate depression and elevate your mood.

Though it may not be sufficient to completely eliminate symptoms in those suffering from major depressive disorder, aromatherapy is a great natural remedy for a standard case of ‘the blues’. Because scent goes directly to the brain, our sense of smell is one of the most emotionally triggering senses we have. Our most primal emotions—and even our hormonal balances—are often affected by our sense of smell.

To keep feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, and fatigue at bay, diffuse essential oils into your home or mix them with your favorite moisturizer and give yourself a massage every morning. For immediate, powerful results, rub two or three drops of oil into your hands, cup them over your nose, and take a few deep breaths of the oil. You should feel better almost immediately.

7. It can relieve sore throats, as well as sinus and lung congestion.

Cold? Flu? Allergies? Regardless of the cause, aromatherapy is a quick and painless way to clear out your sinuses and breathe easier. Whether you diffuse it into your home or cup it in your hands and inhale, the results are instantaneous. Inhaling essential oils helps unclog the nasal passages, reduce inflammation, improve breathing, and lower the amount of mucous your body turns out. This makes aromatherapy a great alternative to those who often rely on nasal sprays to relieve sinus congestion—and unlike your average nasal spray, essential oils do not put you at risk for rebound congestion.

 

References:

https://www.alliance-aromatherapists.org/aromatherapy/brief-history-of-aromatherapy/

http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/cam/patient/aromatherapy-pdq

http://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/other/benefits-of-aromatherapy.html

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/aromatherapy/faq-20058566

http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/treatment/aromatherapy

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20377818

https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?documentID=306&pageNumber=2

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22517298

 

 

11 Awesome Health Benefits of Raw Cacao

If you’re like most of western society, you love chocolate in all of its incarnations: ice cream, candy bars pressed into Halloween shapes, milkshakes, cookies, cake, brownies, as a fruit dip, smeared into peanut butter sandwiches, and even (if you’re particularly hedonistic) as a decadent cloak for bacon. But as much as we enjoy the contents of our trick-or-treat bags and our stockings, there is always a feeling of guilt. Delicious as it is, the angel on our shoulder always hides her head in shame when we sink our teeth into a sweet candy bar. Chocolate is not, tragically, a health food.

…Or is it? (Spoiler alert: it totally can be.)

First, what exactly is real chocolate? The real, whole-food component of quality chocolate comes directly from cacao seeds. Cacao is one of the oldest, most potent, best-loved super foods in history—particularly in South America. Though cacao is renowned for its fantastic health benefits, most of the cheap candy you scored at Halloween contained little or no cacao at all. That is why Halloween candy is not a health food.

Fruit-bearing cacao trees, which grow naturally in South America, produces fruits which are commonly referred to as pods. Each one of these pods weighs a little over a pound when fully mature, and contains between 30 and 50 seeds, usually called ‘cacao beans’. The natural, minimally processed version of these beans make up the superfoods we see on the shelves today: cacao nibs, cacao butter, et cetera.

young cacao tree

Central and South American peoples have indulged in cacao for thousands of years—it served as a treat, as a powerful medicine, and even as currency! Most famously, the Mayans occasionally used cacao beans to barter for clothes, food and other services. The Mayans are also responsible for the very first cup of hot chocolate (or, more accurately, hot cacao), which consisted of ground-up cacao beans, water, and various spices. This drink was typically consumed only by the highest-ranking members of society. As empires rose and fell, cacao held onto its prestigious place.

Cue imperialism. When the Spanish showed up, they quickly recognized cacao as a precious resource, and as they colonized Mexico, they began growing and trading the valuable beans. When they exported foods derived from cacao beans to Europe, they had to add sweeteners to cater to the European palate. This practice, unfortunately, continues to this day—the most popular products derived from the cacao tree are so saturated with sugar and additives that they have none of the health benefits of raw, whole-food cacao beans.

Cacao first showed up in the United States in 1765 in the hands of an Irish immigrant named John Hanan, who imported the beans from the West Indies. With the help of James Baker, he founded America’s very first chocolate factory. You may recognize their product as Baker’s Chocolate. From then on, the popularity of chocolate has skyrocketed, while its humble and healthy origins have been largely forgotten by the western world.

Until now. As the general population has become more interested in health, fitness and super foods, cacao has started showing up in stores as nature intended: whole, raw, and loaded with health benefits.

So, what are some of the health benefits of raw cacao?

Health Benefits of Raw Cacao

1. It’s loaded with antioxidants.

Raw cocoa is packed full of antioxidants, which combat dangerous free radicals and reduce the amount of harmful oxidation that occurs within the body. One study published in 2003 found that cacao contains higher levels of antioxidants than black tea, red wine, and even green tea!

Increased intake of antioxidant-heavy foods is associated with a reduced risk of serious illness, such as diabetes, heart disease and several cancers, and death. They are also thought to improve immune function.

2. It can protect you from cardiovascular disease.

Cacao’s high antioxidant levels make it an extremely heart-healthy food. The powerful polyphenols found in cacao can lower bad cholesterol, but they can also make the cholesterol in your blood less harmful by preventing it from becoming plaque! How?

The plaque in your arteries, it turns out, is the result of LDL (bad cholesterol) oxidation. Since antioxidants reduce oxidation, less plaque builds up in your arteries, and your circulation improves—which means you are less likely to suffer from heart disease.

happy woman

3. Cacao can improve your mood.

Healthy foods in general have been shown to improve mood, but cacao has an effect more potent than your standard serving of leafy greens: it contains a mood-boosting chemical called anandamine, which has been linked to mild euphoria and happiness. In addition, cacao stimulates the production of serotonin, the brain’s very own feel-good chemical.

But that’s not all. Cacao also boasts quite the magnesium content, which can combat fatigue and boost your energy levels in a significant, but sustainable, way. And who isn’t happier when they’re full of energy?

4. It can improve insulin sensitivity and lower your risk of developing type II diabetes.

Today, type II diabetes runs rampant in adult populations, and it is more common than ever even among children. While sprinkling cacao nibs over your oatmeal will not serve as a magic pill, several studies have linked cacao products to a reduced risk of insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes).

One study in 2015 found that participants who consumed medium or high levels of cacao-derived flavonols greatly improved their insulin sensitivity.

5. It can boost cognitive function.

In addition to the clarity provided by a boost of energy, cacao’s effect on your insulin sensitivity may have the added effect of improving cognition! The aforementioned 2015 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that the participants who consumed the most cacao flavonols also experienced the biggest improvement in memory. According to one of the study’s authors, this represents only a small piece of the growing evidence that insulin resistance and diabetes may be linked to impaired cognition. Who knew cacao could be brain food?

6. Cacao can reduce the negative effects of aging on our skin.

Want to grow older and wiser without growing capital-O “Older”? Cacao’s antioxidants prevent the cell damage that causes us to look and feel our age. This is why antioxidant-heavy foods so often cause the much-desired youthful glow enjoyed by citrus lovers the world over.

7. It can protect you from suffering from a blood clot or stroke.

One study performed at the University of California found that cacao reduces the risk of blood clots by thinning your blood—the effect was as significant as taking daily aspirin!

Another study in Sweden followed over 35,000 Swedish men for a period of ten years. At the end of the study, they found that those who consumed the most chocolate were the least likely to suffer from a stroke. This echoes the results of a German study in 2010, which found that participants who ate the most chocolate had the lowest blood pressure. As we know, high blood pressure increases your risk of stroke. Lower blood pressure, lower stroke risk.

Because both of these studies involved chocolate rather than pure, raw cacao, researchers were quick to warn against eating too much of the high-fat, high-sugar milk chocolate so many of us love. Imagine what kind of results the studies would have yielded if they relied on whole, raw cacao instead of processed chocolate!

girls suntanning

8. Cacao may protect against sunburn.

This is a weird one! A study conducted in Germany found that women who consumed a cocoa beverage that was chock full of flavonoids did not burn nearly as quickly as women who went without the pre-UV exposure cup of cocoa. When they did burn, their skin did not redden to the same degree.

This is apparently only one study in a bunch of recent experiments done that have linked antioxidant consumption to a reduced risk of sun-induced skin damage. That being said, you should still put on sunscreen before you go swimming!

9. They contain fiber.

This is one thing you’re not going to get from your standard chocolate bar! An ounce of cacao nibs has nine grams of fiber. Fiber is linked to improved digestion, reduced constipation, and a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.

10. It contains high levels of healthy fats.

Though a segment of the population is still stuck in the fat phobia of the 1990s diet scene and believe the myths, those invested in the current health and nutrition research have come to realize that healthy fats are a necessary component of overall wellness. Fats are necessary for hormone production, brain health, regulating mood, healthy skin, healthy hair, and even immune function.

Raw cacao is full of healthy fats that are similar to the type of fat most commonly found in olives and olive oil. And, as a bonus, raw cacao doesn’t have any of the unhealthy saturated fat found in milk chocolate!

11. It may help aid weight loss.

Processed chocolate is not a weight loss aid, but raw cacao may be! Cacao contains chemicals that reduce your appetite, so you don’t feel compelled to eat as much. And, perhaps more obviously, raw cacao is lower in calories than its processed counterpart.

 

References:

http://www.nbbmuseum.be/en/2013/03/kakao.htm

http://inventors.about.com/od/foodrelatedinventions/a/chocolate.htm

http://www.naturalnews.com/041178_cacao_history_chocolate.html

http://www.worldcocoafoundation.org/about-cocoa/history-of-cocoa/

http://dailysuperfoodlove.com/2852/21-fantastic-benefits-of-cacao/

http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/antioxidant-benefits-raw-cacao-3990.html

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16027246

http://www.healthcentral.com/diabetes/c/17/175481/diabetes-insulin-resistance/

http://www.naturalnews.com/041309_cacao_stroke_protection.html

https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/food-thought/chocolate-sunscreen