I enjoy sharing brief nutritional facts about various foods on social media or accompanying the recipes on the Vibrant Beat. Since most of these tidbits of knowledge are educational, but not necessarily enough to warrant an entire post, I’ve decided to create this Nutritional Tidbit blog to share these fun facts! Check back often for updates!
Cardiovascular Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and many patients use this either as a supplement or food additive to treat chronic arthritic pain. Most people are not aware that there are also cardiovascular benefits.
Curcumin is the polyphenol (plant chemical) responsible for the vibrant yellow color of turmeric. In addition to having anti-inflammatory properties, it acts as an antioxidant and also has anti-cancer and blood-thinning effects.
From a cardiac perspective, curcumin has been shown to lessen damage to the heart associated with certain forms of chemotherapy such as adriamycin. It can also help to prevent development and progression of plaque buildup in the arteries by lowering cholesterol, reducing inflammation, and preventing growth of smooth muscles in the blood vessels. Finally, there is evidence that curcumin may minimize damage to heart muscle cells in the setting of a heart attack.
In a study looking at patients who were given curcuminoid supplement around the time of heart bypass surgery, there was more than a 60% decrease in heart attacks in the postoperative period.
Most studies on curcumin use extracts that are better absorbed than the ground, dried spice or the herb in its whole food form. That being said, absorption of the dried, ground spice is increased significantly when taken with black pepper (many supplements come with this already added), and consuming the whole food form provides unique benefits.
However you enjoy it, be sure to regularly include turmeric as a part of your diet.
Wongcharoen, Wanwarang et. al. “The protective role of curcumin in cardiovascular disease.” Int J Cardiol. 2009 Apr 3;133(2):145-51.
Wongcharoen, Wanwarang et. al. “Effects of curcuminoids on frequency of acute myocardial infarction after coronary artery bypass grafting.” Am J Cardiol. 2012 Jul 1;110(1):40-4.
The Dark Side of Cheese
Cheese! What can I say? Most people who know me well, including my own family, hear me preach against the dangers of cheese all too often. hy? Because I see the end-result of eating too much cheese every day at work…coronary artery disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and even cancer. While many people consider cheese a sophisticated delicacy to be enjoyed with a fine glass of wine, I see it as little more than a smoking gun.
When I discuss a heart healthy diet with my patients, and specifically recommend avoiding this number one contributing food source of saturated fat, most look at me as though I’ve ripped out their soul. In fact, and I truly believe this, many of my patients would preferentially relinquish oxygen and water before cutting back on cheese consumption.
There is actually an explanation for this madness: Cheese is addictive! And it probably contributes to more deaths than most illicit street drugs.
What makes it so addictive? Casein is the dairy protein that becomes extra-concentrated in cheese during the production process. During digestion, casein is broken down into fragments called casomorphins, which are casein-derived morphine-like compounds. These activate the same receptors in the brain as…you guessed it…heroin and other opioid drugs. From a standpoint of species propagation, this effect is important as the addictive nature of casomorphins in cow’s milk encourages young calves to keep nursing. In humans, however, ingestion of casomorphins leads to the release of dopamine, causing a sense of reward and pleasure that leave people just wanting more.
While a cup of milk contains nearly 8 grams of protein, 80% of which is casein, the same amount of cheese contains seven times this amount. So it doesn’t take a math genius to realize exactly how potent this stuff really is!
Barnard, Neal, MD. The Cheese Trap. New York. Grand Central Life & Style. 2017.
Beets are a great source of dietary nitrates. These are converted to nitric oxide in the body which acts to dilate blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Beets also contain a class of phytonutrients called Betalains which not only contribute to the vibrant color, but also have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and may help to reduce certain types of cancer. They also contain another class of phytonutrients called anthocyanins which also act as antioxidants and have been associated with improving cognitive function, lowering cholesterol, preventing certain cancers, and reducing the incidence of heart disease. The beet greens can (and should!) also be eaten. These contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin which are both good for eye health. I like to saute the greens lightly with a little bit of minced garlic.
“8 beets benefits you may not believe”. https://draxe.com/beets-benefits/
Coyle, Daisy. “9 impressive health benefits of beets”. May 26, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-beets
I love many things about cauliflower, including the texture, taste, versatility, and nutritional value. But let’s face it, when it comes to vibrant colors, cauliflower falls short!
If you enjoy all the benefits of cauliflower, but want to add more color to your plate, try purple cauliflower or one of my favorites, Romanesco. They all belong to same family of cruciferous vegetables called Brassica oleracea.
Purple cauliflower has a similar flavor and texture as regular cauliflower, but can be slightly sweeter and nuttier. In addition to the health benefits of regular cauliflower, purple cauliflower contains the flavonoid anthocyanin, which also gives the reddish-purple hue to other foods such as berries, beets, purple eggplant, red cabbage, red wine, and even black rice. Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants which have been associated with improving cognitive function, lowering cholesterol, reducing heart disease, maintaining liver health, and preventing numerous types of cancer. You can prepare purple cauliflower the same as regular cauliflower and enjoy it raw, steamed, roasted, grilled, or riced.
Romanesco, on the other hand, is a confused specimen, as it is referred to as both Romanesco cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli. It is a geometrically interesting vegetable that has great texture and crunch, more similar to cauliflower than broccoli. The taste is described by some as a nuttier, earthier cauliflower. Like purple cauliflower, this is a versatile vegetable which can be prepared in many ways, although it would be difficult to rice.
So next time you’re trying to incorporate cauliflower into your meal but looking for a little more color, try one of these unique variants!
What makes red cabbage so nutritious? The phytochemicals anthocyanins and indoles give the cabbage its reddish or purple color, and are powerful antioxidants which have been associated with preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s disease as well as reducing signs of aging. Red cabbage is also rich in immune-boosting vitamin C, vitamin A which is important for eye health, and vitamin K which is important for strong bones. It’s also high in fiber and, like other cruciferous vegetables, contains the powerful disease-fighting nutrient sulforaphane (read more about sulforaphane here under the “Broccoli” section). When consumed in it’s fermented form, kimchi, red cabbage is an excellent probiotic which can contribute to the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut!
“9 Impressive Benefits of Red Cabbage”. Organicfacts.net. https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/red-cabbage.html.
“Red Cabbage, The Disease-Fighting, Gut-Healing Superfood”. Draxe.com. https://draxe.com/red-cabbage/.
Broccoli is a cruciferous vegetable that has been associated with a reduction in the risk of various forms of cancer including lung, colon, breast, and prostate. Additionally, some evidence suggests that eating broccoli improves control of diabetes and reduces the development of cardiovascular disease.
Sulforaphane is the component felt to be responsible for these benefits. It can block the function of an enzyme called HDAC which has been associated with cancer cell growth. Sulforaphane is produced from a precursor component of broccoli by an enzyme called myrosinase, which is activated when raw broccoli is cut or chewed. While sulforaphane and its precursor are heat-resistant, myrosinase is destroyed by heat. So it’s important to cook your broccoli after sulforaphane has already formed!
To accomplish this, simply cut up the broccoli and wait for about 30 minutes prior to cooking. This allows enough time for the myronsinase enzymatic reaction to occur and the sulforaphane to form. If you buy broccoli pre-chopped, sulforaphane will already have formed and you can cook it immediately!
Interestingly, frozen broccoli is flash-cooked prior to freezing with the sole intent being to deactivate enzymes in order to prolong the shelf life. As such, the myrosinase enzyme is destroyed as part of the processing, and the heated broccoli will not contain the beneficial sulforaphane. One way of getting around this is to sprinkle the frozen broccoli with myrosinase-containing mustard powder prior to cooking, which enables the production of sulforaphane.
Broccoli is also a good source of folate and vitamins K and C. Vitamin K reduces bone fractures by improving calcium absorption. Vitamin C helps with collagen formation and thus reduces the appearance of wrinkles and reverses sun-associated skin damage.
However you like it prepared, make sure to frequently include broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables into your diet!
Ware, Megan RDN. “The many health benefits of broccoli”. Medical News Today. December 8, 2017. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266765.php.
Greger, Michael, M.D. How Not To Die. New York. Flatiron Books. 2015.
Not only do mushrooms make a perfect substitute for a meat filling, but they are also incredibly nutritious!
I recall a conversation I had with my wife about 5 years ago when she told me how healthy mushrooms were, and I explained that mushrooms were simply sponges full of water that lacked any real nutritional significance. Boy was I wrong. According to How Not To Die by Michael Greger, mushrooms are the best food source of an amino acid called ergothioneine. This is one of a few antioxidants that can get inside the mitochondria (power plants) in our cells, and thus prevent DNA damage and premature cell death. Even better, ergothioneine is not destroyed by heat, so you can enjoy your mushrooms sautéed or grilled and still reap the nutritional benefits!
We commonly think of the most colorful fruits and vegetables as carrying the greatest nutritional density, as the bright colors are due to phytonutrients which have powerful antioxidant effects. Mushrooms are an exception, in more ways than one. First, they aren’t really a fruit or a vegetable, but rather belong to the fungi kingdom! Second, despite their bland color, mushrooms are as dense in nutrients as many of their more colorful counterparts.
Selenium, vitamin D, and folate in mushrooms have all been found to have anti-cancer effects. Potassium helps to control high blood pressure, and beta-glucans found in some mushrooms can help to lower cholesterol and reduce insulin resistance. Additionally, mushrooms are rich in a number of B vitamins, and are the only vegan non-fortified dietary source of vitamin D.
So don’t let the bland appearance fool you, mushrooms are nutritional powerhouses, a fact that I have to admit to my wife all too often.
Read a full articles on the health benefits of mushrooms.
Ware, Megan. “What is the Nutritional Value of Mushrooms”. Medical News Today. February 23, 2017.
Greger, Michael, M.D. How Not TO Die. New York. Flatiron Books. 2015.
More on Mushrooms
Mushrooms act as aromatase inhibitors, having a similar effect to the anti-cancer medication Tamoxifen. Aromatase inhibitors in mushrooms prevent estrogen stimulation of breast and prostate tissues, thus reducing the incidence of breast and prostate cancers.
The aromatase-inhibiting properties of mushrooms can also maintain masculinity with age. As men get older, testosterone can be converted to estrogen in the body through the process of aromatization, which causes signs of feminization such as enlarging breasts, penile shrinkage, and erectile dysfunction. Mushrooms help to prevent this conversion, thereby limiting estrogen production and its side effects.
Mushrooms also contain substances called beta-glucans which are carbohydrates located in the cell walls. In addition to being angiogenesis inhibitors which prevent the growth of new blood vessels to supply cancer tumors, they are also immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory, and promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Interestingly, the stems of the mushrooms, which we often discard, contain 30% more beta-glucans than the caps!
Finally, mushrooms are best consumed cooked, as this destroys a substance called agaritine, a mild cancer-causing substance found in raw mushrooms.
Fuhrman, Joel, MD. Transcript from the 2018 Food Revolution Summit. May 2018.
Li, William, MD. Transcript from the 2018 Food Revolution Summit. May 2018.
The taste is not for everyone, as some find it to be too “grassy” or “earthy”, although I find it much less so than wheatgrass (which to me, truly tastes like grass). My daily ritual has sparked quite a bit of conversation from both customers and employees, and has given me an opportunity to tout the benefits of this unique superfood!
What is matcha? It’s simply finely powdered green tea leaves. Instead of steeping the leaves in water, you are consuming them whole, and thus ingesting more of the nutrients.
In general, matcha costs more than other teas due to the painstaking process of manufacturing. The leaves are grown using a special process which involves covering the plants with shade cloths before they are harvested. The leaves are then hand-picked, steamed, dried, and aged prior to being ground into powder.
Because the whole tea leaves are consumed, matcha is a potent source of antioxidants, including the cathechin EGCg which has been shown to boost metabolism, lower blood pressure, and offer protection against heart disease and cancer. According to the antioxidant ORAC index developed by the NIH, this is one of the most potent food sources of antioxidants!
Omega-3 versus Omega-6 Oils
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health, and have cardiovascular benefits such as improving cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, reducing blood stickiness, and reducing inflammation. We tend to consume too many unhealthy, pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, primarily from oils found in processed foods. We currently consume omega-6 to omega-3 in a ratio of 15-20:1. This should be less than 4:1! Check the your labels and try to avoid oils that have a lot of blue. Great plant based sources of omega-3s include walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp hearts. Aim for 2 tablespoons of seeds or 1/4 cup nuts to meet daily requirements.
There has traditionally been a great deal of misunderstanding about the health benefits and potential consequences of consuming soy. Typical concerns include whether it can cause or accelerate breast cancer, lead to feminization in men, or contribute to premature puberty in girls.
The major reason for these concerns is that soy contains phytoestrogens, or plant estrogens, which many equate with estrogen produced in the human body. Contrary to what many believe, phytoestrogens provide many of the beneficial effects of estrogen without the adverse consequences. How is this possible?
There are two types of estrogen receptors in our bodies, alpha and beta. Phytoestrogens from soy primarily bind to beta receptors and estrogen made in our bodies binds to alpha receptors.
Estrogen produced in our bodies is benefical for bone health, as evidenced by the increased rate of osteoporosis in women following menopause. On the other hand, estrogen can have adverse effects on breast tissue and can increase the risk of developing breast cancer and accelerating progression of estrogen-responsive breast cancers.
Phytoestrogens in soy have estrogen-like effects in some tissues and effects which counteract estrogen in others. The estrogen-like effects include reducing post-menopausal hot flashes and supporting bone health. A major anti-estrogen effect is lowering the risk of breast cancer. In fact, there are five studies looking at soy and breast cancer survival, all of which showed that women with breast cancer who consume soy live significantly longer and have lower recurrence rates than those who don’t. When eaten in the adolescent years, soy can also reduce the future risk of developing breast cancer by 30%.
Because phytoestrogens affect different receptors in the human body than estrogen, they tend not to cause feminization in men or premature puberty in girls, both concerns which have made many people reluctant to incorporate soy products into their diets.
If you plan on including soy in your diet, try to consume more natural forms such as soybeans, tempeh, and tofu, and avoid more highly processed forms such as soy protein isolates found in many products on the market such as prepackaged frozen veggie burgers.
Greger, Michael, MD. Transcript from the 2018 Food Revolution Summit. May 2018.
Tempeh and Tofu
“What exactly is tempeh?”. This is the first question I usually get asked when discussing “tempeh tacos” or a “tempeh stir fry” with those who are not familiar with plant-based eating.
Tempeh is a product made of whole soy beans that are soaked, cooked, then fermented. It can be purchased in a block in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores, usually near the produce. It has a nutty, firm, chewy texture.
Tofu, on the other hand, is made from condensed soy milk. It too is sold in blocks, and can be found in various levels of firmness ranging from silken to extra-firm. It is essentially flavorless, but soaks up the flavor of marinades well, and takes on the flavor of whatever dish it is added to. It is a great substitute for scrambled eggs (tofu scramble), can be used to make a vegan ricotta, to thicken smoothies, or even to replace meat in the flavorful Vietnamese bah mi sandwich.
A 3-ounce serving of tempeh contains 170 calories, 6 grams of fat, 9 grams of fiber, and 17 grams of protein. Comparatively, the same amount of tofu contains 70 calories, 4 grams of fat, 9 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. Read more about the benefits of plant-based versus animal protein here.
The fiber and protein in soy have been found to effectively lower cholesterol as part of a portfolio diet. Read more here.
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