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In the 90’s coconut oil got a bad rap for being high in fat.  This was during the craze where anything and everything was low-fat.  But guess what? Not all fat is bad for us! In fact, there are a lot of good for us fats and coconut oil is one of them.

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About 50% of the significant amount of fatty acids provided by coconut is in the form of a medium-chain saturated fat called lauric acid, a health-promoting fat whose only other abundant source in nature is human breast milk.1 

These medium-chain fatty acids (MCFTs) are used by the body for energy and are not stored as fat.2  As well, MCFTs help to increase metabolism and help with weight loss.3

Approximately 6 to 7% of the fat in coconut is in the form of another beneficial medium-chain fat called capric acid.  Capric acid is converted in the body to a highly beneficial substance called monocaprin, which has been shown to have antiviral effects against sexually transmitted diseases, including Chlamydia trachomatis, herpes simplex 1 and herpes simplex 2 and HIV.4

Coconut oil is also a heart healthy food!  It does not clog the arteries or cause heart disease.5  It supports healthy cholesterol formation in the liver in the form of high density lipoprotein (HDL)6

It also helps to restore natural saturated fat levels to the skin, subcutaneous fat layers and to the individual cell membranes of our bodies.7 

These are pretty amazing benefits right? But wait….there’s more!

Coconut oil is great to use when cooking because it has a high heat point, it can be safely heated to 375F without becoming denatured.8  Because it is a saturated fat, it is solid at room temperature.

What else can you do with coconut oil?  Lots!  Use it as a face and body moisturizer, use it in baking, use it as a personal lubricant (use caution here lovers, coconut oil can weaken latex condoms), as a pre-workout snack for instant energy or make a sports gel to have mid-workout.

As you can see coconut oil has some pretty amazing qualities.  It is available at health food stores and some grocery stores.  Be sure to look for organic, virgin coconut oil.

Recipes using coconut oil:

Resources

1. Murray, Michael.  The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.  New York: Atria, 2005. p421

2. Wood, Rebecca.  The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia.  New York: Penguin, 2010. p99

3. Wolfe, David.  Superfoods.  Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2009. p206

4. Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria, 2005. p422

5. Wood, Rebecca. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin, 2010. p99

6. Wolfe, David. Superfoods. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2009. p206

7. Wolfe, David. Superfoods. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic, 2009. p206

8. Wood, Rebecca. The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia. New York: Penguin, 2010. p99

It’s officially Fall which means it’s officially cranberry season!

Long before goji berries, blueberries and mulberries were getting hype, cranberries were the superfood du jour. 

Cranberries make me pretty proud to be Canadian.  Did you know that in 2005, cranberries were grown on 7175 acres of Canadian soil?That is a pretty impressive statistic!

Cranberries are most popular as juice or as sauce.  Unfortunately, since we load these items with refined sugar, we lose much of the benefits that cranberries possess. 

These little red gems are loaded with phytonutrients including catechin, myricetin and quercetin.2  Phytonutrients are natural compounds found in plant foods which act as antioxidants and can  and help reduce the risk of illness and disease.3

More facts about cranberries:

  • The deeper the red colour, the higher the concentration of healthy anthocyanin pigments (antioxidant pigments that give blue, purple and red pigments to fruits and vegetables)4
  • A therapeutic use for cranberries is as a remedy for rectal disturbances, hemorrhoids and inflammation of the rectal pouch.   Place slightly cooked cranberries in the rectum after each movement.5  That’s straight outta the book people.  Proceed with caution.
  • The tannins (plant compounds that act as astringents6) in cranberries protect against bladder infection by preventing bacteria from adhering to the bladder wall.7
  • Cranberries may have such a potential to protect urinary tract health that even consumption of a single serving of 1.5oz of dried cranberries had the ability to reduce the adhesion of bacteria to the urinary tract walls.8  Dani’s note – if consuming dried cranberries, choose the no sugar added variety, sugar suppresses the immune system and stimulates bacterial growth.

Recipes using cranberries:

Do you have a favourite cranberry recipe?

References

1.  Canada.  Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.  Crop Profile for Cranberry in Canada.  5 May 2005.  4 Oct 2011.  <http://www4.agr.gc.ca/AAFC-AAC/display-afficher.do?id=1241547089433&lang=eng>

2. Haas, Elson M.  Staying Healthy With Nutrition.  Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts, 2006.  p307.

3. Government of Ontario.  EatRight Ontario.  Phytonutrients – Nature’s Natural Defense.  2011.  4 Oct 2011.  <http://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/ViewDocument.aspx?id=147>

4. Murrary, Michael.  The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.  New York: Atria Books, 2005.  p269.

5.  Jensen, Dr Bernard.  Foods That Heal.  New York: Penguin, 1993. p136.

6. Murrary, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books, 2005. p260.

7. Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Seattle, WA: GMF Publishing, 2007. p414.

8.  Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Seattle, WA: GMF Publishing, 2007. p414.

Buckwheat looks like a grain, cooks like a grain and tastes like a grain but is actually a seed from the rhubarb family.  An anti-grain if you will.

These little seeds are a wonderful food for those with gluten intolerance and sensitivity  and on a grain-free diet because they are gluten-free and available in whole form, as noodles (Buckwheat Soba) and as a flour.

Buckwheat is high in protein; a 1/2 cup contains almost 6g and 8 essential amino acids including tryptophan, which helps to promote sleep.1

Soaking buckwheat overnight in filtered water converts its complex carbohydrates into simple sugars which the body can burn more efficiently than as starch.2

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My favourite way to eat buckwheat is for breakfast!  I honestly love waking up and making my raw buckwheat breakfast.  It is healthy, filling and gives me fuel I need to start my day.

Facts about buckwheat:

  • Contain a group of phytonutrients called flavonoids, specifically rutin, quercetin and kaempferol which are antioxidants that help protect cells against the effects of free radicals.3
  • Kasha is the name for roasted buckwheat which has a stronger, nuttier flavour then raw buckwheat.
  • Diets that contain buckwheat have been linked to a lowered risk of developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure.4
  • Buckwheat is high in vitamins B and E and minerals calcium and manganese.5

Recipes using buckwheat:

References

1. Mateljan, George.  The World’s Healthiest Foods.  Seattle, WA: GMF Publishing, 2007. p688.

2. Brazier, Brendan.  Whole Foods To Thrive.  Toronto: Penguin, 2011. p107.

3. Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Seattle, WA: GMF Publishing, 2007. p688.

4. Murray, Michael.  The Encyclopedia Of Healing Foods.  New York: Atria, 2005. p346.

5. Brazier, Brendan. Whole Foods To Thrive. Toronto: Penguin, 2011. p107.

A few of my guidelines for a healthy life are – to have a restful sleep, drink plenty of water, try not to stress the small stuff and eat lots of fresh greens.

One of the best greens out there is one that we often throw away – beet greens!

Beet greens contain chlorophyll which allow the plant to absorb sunshine and photosynthesize – the basis for sustaining the life of all plants.  Chlorophyll acts as an amazing detoxifier to the human body.

More facts about beet greens –

  • Beet greens are a rich source of potassium, which is an essential mineral to help regulate the body’s balance of fluid.  It is essential for many metabolic processes, proper muscle function and maintaining normal blood pressure.1
  • They have a high ability to absorb oxygen radicals (a marker of their antioxidant capacity.)2
  • The calcium levels of beet tops is 7 times higher than that of beet root.3
  • Are a source of vitamin B6 which is needed in the body to release energy in forms that the cells can use.  Vitamin B6 is also necessary for proper function of the nervous system, immune system and the manufacturing of red blood cells.4

Here are a few delicious recipes for beet greens –

References

  1. “Beets.”  Fresh Vegetable Growers of Ontario.  Website 2010.  14 Sep 11.  <http://www.freshvegetablesontario.com/index.php?action=display&cat=3&v=6>
  2. Mateljan, George.  The World’s Healthiest Foods.  Seattle, WA: GMF Publishing, 2007. p251.
  3. Boutenko, Victoria.  Green For Life.  Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2010.  p27.
  4. “Beets.” Fresh Vegetable Growers of Ontario. Website 2010. 14 Sep 11. <http://www.freshvegetablesontario.com/index.php?action=display&cat=3&v=6>

Dulse, arame, kombu, wakame, kelp.

What the heck are these you ask?

Sea vegetables aka seaweed!

You might be familiar with sea vegetables if you’ve ever been to a Japanese restaurant for sushi.  There are some rolls that are wrapped in nori, one of the most common seaweeds.

Seaweeds are algae; chlorophyll-containing organisms.1   In my research there seems to be some debate whether algae are considered plants or not, either way algae are fascinating.

There are three types of seaweed: red, green and brown.

Red Green Brown
Nori Sea lettuce Arame
Dulse   Kombu
Source for carrageenan   Kelp
Source for
agar-agar
  Wakame

*Note – this list is not exhaustive

Many seaweeds contain a fibre molecule called algin which has the possibility of attracting heavy metals in the digestive tract then taking them out of the body’s system.2

Sea vegetables are one of the best sources of natural iodine.  Humans need iodine, without it the body cannot synthesize thyroid hormones.3  I would much prefer to obtain my minerals through natural sources such as seaweed then from iodized table salt which has been chemically treated.

Here are some great recipes featuring a variety of sea vegetables –

Arame, Shiitake and Pea Risotto
Cucumber Wakame Salad
Sun Seed Nori Rolls
Wakame, Kale and Avocado Salad with Japanese Dressing

Make sure to purchase organic seaweed to reduce the risk of contamination.  (As of right now, I have not been able to find a reliable source that discusses the effect on seaweed from the Fukushima nuclear crisis.)

For more information on sea vegetables, check out this guide from Whole Foods.

References

1.  Guiry, Michael.  “What Are Seaweeds?”  The Seaweed Site: information on marine algae.  2011.  National University Of Ireland, Galway.  5 Sep 11.  <http://www.seaweed.ie/algae/seaweeds.html>

2. Haas, Elson M.  Staying Healthy With Nutrition.  Berkeley:  Celestial Arts, 2006.

3. Mateljan, George.  The World’s Healthiest Foods.  Seattle, WA: GMF Publishing, 2007.

In the world of leafy greens, kale is King.  It’s taste can range from slightly bitter to slightly sweet and packs a knockout punch of nutrients.

A member of the cruciferous family, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and mustard greens.  There are several varieties of kale including curly kale, dinosaur kale and ornamental kale, each different in taste and appearance.

To prepare kale, cut out the thick, tough stem running down the middle of each leaf.  From there you can chop kale into strips and consume raw by massaging kale with avocado or oil or lightly steam (3-5 minutes max)

Kale is a popular veggie to aid in cancer prevention due to its sulfur-containing phytonutrients.  It is also a source of carotenes, Vitamins B6 and C, and the minerals calcium and magnesium.

Crucifer vegetables like kale contain goitrogens, naturally occurring substances that can interfere with thyroid function (if you have an already existing or untreated thyroid problem.)  By lightly steaming, the goitrogenic compounds can be deactivated as they are heat-sensitive.  Check with your Naturopath or General Practitioner and use caution when consuming vegetables of the cruciferous family.

Here are some of my favourite kale recipes:

Apple-Curried Quinoa with Roasted Almonds and Kale
Kale Chips
Massaged Kale Salad

References

  • Mateljan, George.  The World’s Healthiest Foods.  Seattle, WA: GMF Publishing, 2007.
  • Murray, Michael.  The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods.  New York: Atria Books, 2005.

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that grows in fresh-water and is packed full of protein, vitamins, minerals and trace elements.

It is available in health food stores in powder and tablet form.  I’m not going to lie, I personally cannot stomach the smell of it.  Spirulina smells a bit like pond water and I can’t get use to it so I take a few tablets a day. 

If using tablets, check the label to ensure no binders are used to hold the tablets together.  Spirulina naturally clings to itself so these binders are not necessary.

  • The numbers can vary slightly but spirulina is said to be roughly 60% protein. It also contains all 8 essential amino acids making it a great source of complete protein for vegans.
  • The green colour of spirulina comes from chlorophyll.  The molecular structure of chlorophyll closely resembles that of hemoglobin found in humans and it acts as an excellent blood builder and purifier.
  • Spirulina is a superfood for the immune system.  It increases the production of antibodies and cytokines to help protect the body against foreign invaders.
  • A fantastic source of Beta-Carotene (the inactive-form of Vitamin A) which are anti-oxidants that stabilize free radicals in the body.

*Please consult a Registered Holistic Nutritionist or Naturopath before using spirulina.  It may be contraindicated for those with auto-immune disorders and taking certain medications.

References

Chia are a pretty impressive little seed coming from a desert plant called Salvia hispanica and its consumption goes as far back as the Aztecs in Mexico.

  • The chia seed is known for being a rich source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids aka healthy fats that your body requires for many processes and functions such as brain health, reducing the inflammatory response and promoting healthy cell structure.  Healthy cell structure is important so the cells of the body can hold and use more nutrients. 
  • The human body does not produce omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids (also known as Essential Fatty Acids) and therefore must be obtained from the diet.  Other sources of EFA’s include flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts
  • Chia is also a source of dietary fibre, in fact 1 tbsp can provide 3g of fibre and is a blend of soluble and insoluble fiber.

To use them, add to smoothies or on top of hot or cold cereal.  Or add your favourite non-dairy milk plus 2 tbsp of chia seeds, stir and leave for 5 minutes.  The seeds absorb some of the liquid and swell, creating a gel.  Top with your favourite superfoods such as goji berries, hemp seeds and blueberries for a healthy, quick and satisfying breakfast or snack.

Chia seeds should be kept in raw form so the EFA’s are not damaged by heat.

References

Cacao is the dried seeds of a South American evergreen tree called Theobroma cacao which is used in making cocoa and chocolate.* 

I happen to love chocolate.  LOVE it.  But much of the chocolate I consume is full of added crap that really doesn’t offer much by way of nutrition and sure doesn’t come from nature.  Eating raw cacao offers the taste of chocolate (mind you, since it doesn’t have all the sugar and additives it has a mildly bitter taste, think dark chocolate as opposed to milk chocolate.)

When the cacao beans are broken into bits and left unprocessed they are called raw cacao nibs which is my personal favourite. 

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Raw cacao is rich in:

Antioxidants
Magnesium
Polyphenols

I enjoy sprinkling raw cacao nibs over my morning oatmeal or as a powder which I add to smoothies to make them taste chocolaty.  It also makes for an amazing hot chocolate drink.

Have you ever tried raw cacao?  What is your favourite way to eat it?

 

*Source: Navitas Naturals

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