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Monthly Archives: February 2017

The Health Benefits of Garlic

Garlic (Allium sativum) is a plant used in cooking and medicine, best known for its distinctive flavor and aroma. While frequently used as a seasoning, garlic is technically a vegetable. A member of the Allium family, it’s a close relative of onions, shallots, leeks, and chives. The benefits of garlic don’t end with adding flavor to food, it’s a legitimate superfood that has been used for an astounding variety of medical applications for thousands of years.

History of Garlic

Humans have consumed garlic as both cuisine and cure for over 7,000 years. The plant is native to central Asia, but its use and cultivation has spread around the world. Ancient Egyptians gave garlic to the laborers building the pyramids to boost stamina and prevent disease. In Ancient Greece, Olympic athletes would chew garlic before participating in the games. References to garlic can be found in Homer’s Odyssey, 5,000-year-old Indian medical texts, and the Bible. Garlic was used as food and medicine in the cultures of the ancient Romans, Chinese, Vikings, Phoenicians, Israelites, and Persians.

Now, garlic remains a popular food and flavoring. It’s a staple of Mediterranean, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Southeast Asian cuisine. The potential medical applications of garlic are even receiving renewed interest from researchers.

Garlic’s Nutritional Profile

At first glance, the nutritional capabilities of garlic may seem puzzling. If you look at the official nutrition facts for garlic, a typical serving of garlic (3-9 grams), provides no significant amount of the typically listed essential nutrients. It provides no noteworthy amount of fiber, protein, iron, potassium or vitamins A, D, E, or most of the B vitamins.

It’s a good source of selenium and contains small amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamins C and B6, but there are better sources of these nutrients. You’d have to eat a lot of raw garlic to receive a substantial amount of these nutrients, and even though it’s delicious, I think very few of us are up to that challenge.

So what exactly is in garlic that makes it such a prized health-supporting tool in so many different cultures? Garlic owes its healing properties to the presence of several sulfurous phytochemical compounds. Fresh garlic contains a sulfoxide compound called alliin. When fresh garlic is chopped, crushed, or damaged, alliin is converted into allicin by an enzyme called alliinase. Allicin is responsible for much of the pungent scent of garlic. Its actual purpose is to act as a defense mechanism, protecting the plant from pests.

Allicin is unstable and further breaks down into other sulfurous compounds including diallyl disulfide, diallyl trisulfide, and diallyl tetrasulfide. Inside the human body, diallyl disulfide breaks down into allyl methyl sulfide, the chief cause of garlic breath. (Sidenote: for a natural way to reduce garlic breath, try sucking a lemon wedge, drinking green tea, or eating spinach or an apple. These foods all contain substances that mask or break down the garlicky odor.)

It’s these sulfurous compounds that give garlic its healing abilities. The pest-resistant properties of allicin still work when the compound is in the human body. This makes garlic a surprisingly good defense against harmful organisms like bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungus.

Diallyl disulfide also possesses antimicrobial abilities, as well as anti-cancer and heart healthy properties. The exact mechanisms behind the health benefits of garlic are not yet fully understood, but research is ongoing. We do know that garlic can be a powerful tool for supporting a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few ways garlic can help.

Health Benefits of Garlic

1. Garlic Supports Cardiovascular Health

Garlic is among the best foods for heart health. Studies have found that garlic reduces cholesterol and lowers lipid content in the blood. Experimental and clinical studies on the cardiovascular benefits of garlic have found it to have a positive effect on atherosclerosis, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and thrombosis.[1] Garlic also seems to possess the ability to prevent blood clots. Tests are currently underway to examine the mechanism of this effect.

2. Garlic May Help with Hypertension

Researchers have found that oral administration of garlic can lower blood pressure in both human and animal studies. Amazingly, there was a measurable response after just a single dose. Chronic oral administration of garlic has a long-term positive effect. Allicin seems to have a relaxing effect on the smooth muscle cells of the pulmonary artery, allowing the artery to open more fully.[1] This doesn’t mean that you can switch to an all-bacon diet and expect to “garlic away” the consequences, but when combined with a balanced diet, garlic can substantially improve blood pressure.

3. Garlic Is Nutritional Support Against Cancer

Around the world, studies have found a correlation between a high intake of garlic and a lowered cancer risk. An increased consumption of garlic is associated with a reduction in cancers of the stomach, colon, esophagus, pancreas, prostate, and breast.[2] The United States National Cancer Institute has said that garlic may be the most effective food for cancer prevention.[3]

4. Garlic and Diabetes

Garlic may also provide significant benefits to those suffering from diabetes. Experimental studies have shown that garlic lowers blood glucose levels and this hypoglycemic effect has been replicated in animal studies. Treatment for humans is less studied but looks promising. Garlic has been reported to lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce insulin resistance. However, further study is needed to fully understand the effect garlic has on human blood glucose levels.[3]

5. Garlic Offers Liver Protection

Garlic is one of the best foods to help cleanse your liver. It can help mitigate the effects of fatty liver disease[4] and provides hepatoprotective effects from certain toxic agents. Studies have found that garlic can protect liver cells from acetaminophen, gentamycin, and nitrates.[3]

6. Antimicrobial Properties of Garlic

For centuries, traditional medicine has used garlic for its antimicrobial properties. Modern studies have found that the antibacterial properties of garlic are effective on salmonella, staph infections, clostridium (the cause of botulism), proteus, mycobacterium, and H. pylori. Garlic has even been suggested as a treatment for drug-resistant tuberculosis.[3]

Garlic’s action against harmful organisms doesn’t stop with bacteria. It’s antiprotozoal, antifungal, and even antiviral. In vitro studies have found that garlic is effective against influenza, cytomegalovirus, rhinovirus (the cause of the common cold), viral pneumonia, rotavirus, herpes simplex 1 and 2, and even HIV.[3] Unfortunately, these results are only confirmed in test tube studies. How the active substances of garlic react to viruses inside the human system remains to be seen.

Studies of cold sufferers have found that those who consumed garlic extract experienced milder symptoms and shorter illness duration than placebo groups, but the exact mechanism behind this phenomena is still unclear.[5] Further research is necessary to more fully understand the healing power of garlic.

7. Garlic Is a Powerful Antioxidant

Free radicals are unstable molecules that damage DNA and lead to poor health. Garlic contains potent antioxidants that fight these free radicals. When allicin breaks down, it produces an acid that reacts with and traps the free radicals. Researchers at Queens University in Ontario believe this may be the most powerful dietary antioxidant ever discovered.[6]

Ways to Consume Garlic

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes that include garlic. However, the best way to absorb garlic’s health benefits is to consume it raw. Raw garlic can be a little intense for some, but there are several ways to dull the piquancy while retaining the full health benefits. My favorite is to add raw garlic to a dressing like the lemon garlic dressing used in this cabbage wedge recipe or the balsamic vinaigrette of this green bean salad.

How To Make Healthy, Natural Sunflower Seed Butter

Sunflower seed butter is creamy, versatile, delicious, and it’s an awesome substitute for nut butter. This recipe from Oh She Glows is more than just plain ground sunflower seeds—it also features cinnamon, coconut sugar, and coconut oil. It tastes amazing!

As a great source of fiber, essential vitamins, and minerals, sunflower seeds are one of the healthiest seeds. Half a cup provides vitamin E,[1] B6, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and zinc.[2] Some research suggests sunflower seeds are a heart healthy functional food because they contain phytosterols, phytonutrients that promote normal cholesterol levels.[3]

Sunflower Seed Butter Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 16 ounces

Equipment

  • Baking sheet
  • Parchment paper (optional)
  • Food processor or blender
  • Spatula

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of organic, raw, unsalted, shelled sunflower seeds
  • 1/4 cup organic coconut (palm) sugar
  • 1 tbsp organic unrefined coconut oil
  • Pinch of Himalayan crystal salt
  • 1/2 tsp organic cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Spread sunflower seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper) and place in the oven. Seeds are ready once they have a golden hue, about 10-15 minutes depending on your oven. Watch closely so they don’t burn.
  3. Allow roasted seeds to cool a few minutes, then pour into food processor. Discard any burnt seeds.
  4. Process seeds on high until they have a loose, grainy consistency, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to push the powder down. Add coconut oil in dollops and process until fully combined, about 2 minutes.
  5. Scrape the bowl down with a spatula. Evenly add remaining ingredients to the food processor. Process for 2-4 minutes. The sunflower seed butter will look chunky at first but will get smoother the longer it’s processed. Process the mixture until you reach the desired consistency.
  6. Use a spatula to scrape butter into an airtight container and refrigerate for about 2 hours before using (it will remain spreadable). The sunflower seed butter will stay fresh for about two months in the refrigerator.

7 Incredible Pomegranate Benefits

Pomegranates have exploded in popularity in recent years and it’s due to their ever-growing list of amazing health benefits. Rich in nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants, pomegranates defend against free radicals, soothe irritated tissue, and promote healthy aging. Best of all, pomegranates are as delicious as they are nutritious. Let’s look at some of the incredible health benefits of pomegranates.

Best Pomegranate Benefits

1. Pomegranates Are a Dense Source of Nutrients

Pomegranates are bursting with vitamins and minerals. Pomegranate seeds, sometimes referred to as arils, are a great source of fiber and micronutrients. Below is a nutritional breakdown for one cup of pomegranate arils.

2. Pomegranates Contain Powerful Antioxidants

Pomegranates contain anthocyanins and punicalagins—both powerful antioxidants.[2] A balanced diet rich in foods that contain antioxidants may help reduce free radical damage. Excessive free radicals can lead to serious health problems and accelerate cellular aging. Some research even suggests that pomegranates support normal tissue growth at the cellular level.[3, 4]

3. Pomegranates Promote Cellular Integrity

The cells in your body are constantly bombarded by chemical and biological agents that cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress triggers the release of 8-Oxo-DG—something that you definitely don’t want. High levels of 8-Oxo-DG usually accompany muscle weakness, decreased liver function, skin aging, and reduced brain function. Studies suggest that people who eat pomegranates or supplement with pomegranate extract have lower levels of 8-Oxo-DG.[5]

4. Pomegranates Encourage Healthy Aging

Pomegranates contain polyphenols known as ellagitannins. When ellagitannins are metabolized, the metabolite urolithin A (UA) is produced. Studies reveal that UA can fight the effects of age-related decline and help preserve exercise capacity and muscle function. It’s believed that UA does this by supporting normal mitochondrial function.[6]

5. Pomegranates Support Brain Health and Memory

Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) occur when protein and fat molecules bond with a sugar molecule. They occur naturally when foods like meat, eggs, and poultry are cooked at high temperature. Scientists believe AGEs play a role in the onset of neurological decline, type-II diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. The appropriately abbreviated “AGEs” accelerate aging at the cellular level. Remember the punicalagins? They can inhibit AGEs from forming in food or mitigate the effects of AGEs in the body altogether.[7]

6. Pomegranates Help Protect Against Harmful Organisms

Some evidence suggests that pomegranate rind extract may defend against harmful organisms. According to one study, a preparation that included pomegranate improved the outcome of treatment plans that addressed antibiotic-resistant bacteria.[8] Another study found that pomegranate peel contains phytochemicals that encourage fungal balance.[9]

7. Pomegranates Soothe Red, Irritated Tissue

When the tissue inside of your body is red and irritated, it can negatively affect your health and wellness. Some compounds in pomegranates, such as polyphenols, can help soothe irritation.[10] It’s believed that reducing systemic irritation can promote overall wellness and help protect against many serious health conditions. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 48 obese and overweight participants found that pomegranate supplementation reduced systemic irritation.

Are Microwaves Dangerous to Your Health?

Microwave ovens have been the norm in US households for almost 50 years. If you’re under 40, you’re more likely to have grown up with a microwave than without a microwave. Ever since they were first introduced, microwaves have been a source of controversy. While manufacturers and retailers maintain that microwaves are completely safe, many people still want to know: are microwaves dangerous?

Many of the original concerns about microwave safety, such as radiation leaks and pacemaker problems, have been addressed by modern technology. However, there remain real, potentially serious, health issues that arise from microwave use. Leaks, burns, nutritional concerns, and promoting a culture of laziness and immediate gratification are all good reasons why you may want to consider a different cooking method.

I don’t use a microwave. I don’t have one in my house, and we don’t have one in the breakroom at Global Healing Center. First, I’m not a fan of what they produce—food that’s frozen on the inside, and lava-hot on the outside, not to mention bland and soggy. More importantly, I do not believe that microwaves are the safest, or most nutritious, method of cooking food.

Radiation and How Microwaves Work

Let’s talk about radiation. Since microwaves were first available, the biggest concern people have had is the danger of keeping a household appliance designed specifically to create radiation. Microwaves cook food using microwave radiation, generated by a device called a magnetron. Microwave radiation is non-ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation is relatively low energy and is not hazardous when confined to a microwave, especially compared to high-energy ionizing radiation. However, even with a relatively low output, microwave radiation can still cause burns. If you’ve ever cooked meat in a microwave, you’ve seen what unshielded non-ionizing radiation can do to flesh.

Microwaves are shielded specifically to prevent most leaks. However, the key word is “most.” Even at peak efficiency, domestic microwaves do leak some heat. The US Food and Drug Administration allows for some leakage as long as radiation levels fall below what they consider harmful to humans. [1] Microwaves are regulated to ensure only low levels of radiation escape—most of which dissipates within one or two feet.

That may sound good, but low radiation is different from no radiation. The effects of long-term, low-dose, non-ionizing radiation are difficult to observe, and we don’t yet know the full consequences for the human body.

A 2004 study found that small doses of ionizing radiation over the course of years may increase the risk of leukemia.[2] However, this doesn’t tell us much about microwaves. That study focused on the effects of ionizing radiation—specifically the type found in medical scanners. Because microwaves produce non-ionizing, electromagnetic radiation, the study isn’t applicable. As of this writing, no long-term studies on the effects of microwave radiation on humans have been completed.

Furthermore, the risk is only minimal if you use a well-maintained appliance according to manufacturer’s exact instructions. That risk grows considerably if the door, hinges, latch, enclosure, power supply, or seals are damaged. If the shielding is compromised, radiation can leak out. Units with damaged seals, which is especially common in older units, can present a hazard. If your microwave shows signs of damage, send it to the recycling center. Even with an undamaged microwave, dirty door seals can create gaps that allow radiation to escape. Check your seals after every use.[3]

An old concern about microwaves was that the waves they use to cook food could disrupt the function of pacemakers. That’s why microwaves used to have pacemaker warnings on them. Both pacemakers and microwaves these days are shielded well enough to avoid these complications. However, if you have a pacemaker, you should still exercise caution around microwaves. If you feel dizziness or discomfort, get away from the machine immediately and consult your healthcare provider.

Microwave Burns and Superheated Water

Even a brand new microwave carries a small risk of causing burns. Microwaves heat unevenly, and larger portions of foods may not cook all the way through. A food item that seems cool to the touch might scald your mouth when you bite into it.

A lesser-known danger of microwaves is the phenomena of superheated water. When water is heated in a perfectly smooth container, it can actually be heated past the boiling point without actually boiling. Once water is superheated, any slight disturbance, such as picking up the cup, can cause the water to boil all at once, resulting in a violent eruption of scalding water. [1] Impurities make it easier for water to boil, so pure, clean water, like distilled water, is far more likely to experience superheating.

To avoid superheating, never heat water in a microwave for excessive periods of time. Be especially careful with distilled water. A simple way to prevent superheating is to leave a nonmetallic object, like a wooden stir spoon, in the water while you heat it.

How Microwaves Affect Food Quality

While I remain concerned about the burn risks of microwaves, the real health concerns lay in how they affect nutrition.

Microwaves do alter the nutritional content of food; this fact is not in debate. (This is one reason why I advocate for a mostly raw, vegan diet.) The real question is if microwaving food alters its nutritional content differently than other forms of cooking. All cooking changes the chemical structure of food to some degree, but different types of heating alter the nutritional content in different ways. For example, broccoli loses about 74 to 97 percent of its antioxidants when boiled,[4] but retains its nutrients when steamed.

So what nutrients are specifically affected by microwaving? Alliinase, found in garlic, is one. Alliinase is an enzyme with significant benefits for the immune and cardiovascular systems.[5] Unfortunately, it’s sensitive to heat. Forty-five minutes in an oven will render alliinase inert. That’s bad, but there’s a lot you can cook in under 45 minutes. In a microwave, it takes just 60 seconds.[6]

Do you have a breastfeeding infant? Never warm breastmilk in a microwave. Microwaving destroys the essential disease-fighting, baby-protecting agents in breast milk. In one study, breast milk microwaved for just 30 seconds destroyed natural antibodies, paving the way for the growth of potentially harmful bacteria. [7]

There are more examples of compromised nutrition. An Australian study showed that microwaves cause a higher degree of “protein unfolding” than conventional heating.[8] If you have a choice, you want your proteins properly folded. Protein nutrition depends on its structure—when it unfolds, it becomes just a strand of amino acids. You lose the nutritional functionality of the protein. Microwaves are also capable of extensively fragmenting and destroying bacterial DNA, doing so to a far greater degree than heating alone.[9]

Microwaving Food in Plastic and Other Unsafe Containers

Another danger of microwaves comes from the type of cookware you use. If you heat food in a plastic container, some of the chemicals that make up the plastic can leak into your food. Toxic chemicals, like acetyltributylcitrate and dioctyladipate, are common components of plastic food containers. Whenever you heat plastic containers, utensils, or wrap, they release a small portion of these chemicals into your food.[10]

The rate of chemical absorption depends on a number of factors. Temperature, duration of heat, plastic type, and food composition all affect chemical transfer.[10] Old, scratched, or damaged containers are more likely to release harmful particles.[11] Regular use, including cleaning, increases the rate at which the plastic degrades. Heating increases the rate of chemical transfer by 55x.[12] While all methods of heating increase the leach rate, microwaves seem to cause a higher transfer rate than other methods.[10]

Microwaving plastics that aren’t rated microwave-safe is an especially bad idea. Containers made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET or PETE, or plastic #1), such as most soda bottles, can leach carcinogenic, hormone-disrupting phthalates after repeated use. Commercial-grade cling wrap (commonly found in delis) is made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC, or plastic #3). PVC can release cancer-causing dioxins. Polystyrene (PS, or plastic #6, Styrofoam) is another troublemaker. The base component, styrene, has been associated with skin, eye, and respiratory irritation, depression, fatigue, compromised kidney function, and central nervous system damage.[13]

OK, so you won’t microwave plastics that aren’t microwave-safe. Problem solved, right? Unfortunately, no. “Microwave safe” is not a particularly strict term. For example, #7 polycarbonate is a durable plastic found in some Tupperware containers and baby bottles. It’s usually labeled as “microwave safe.” The National Institute Of Environmental Health Sciences, however, warns that microwaving causes polycarbonate plastic to break down.[14] Polycarbonate releases hormone-disrupting bisphenol A (BPA), especially when heated.[12]

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did an analysis on “microwave safe” products. The study found that products marketed for infants release toxic doses of bisphenol A when heated. In a lab, the containers were heated in a microwave or conventional oven. All of them released toxic amounts of BPA—enough to cause neurological damage in lab animals.[15]

In another study, The Washington Post put hundreds of plastic products through “real world” scenarios, including microwave warming. Results showed that hormone-disrupting chemicals seeped from 95% of the products. Worse, that only accounts for the chemicals we already know are dangerous. As lead scientist Deborah Kurrasch, pointed out, “A lot of the alternative chemicals have not been adequately tested because they don’t have to be… A compound is considered safe (by the FDA) until proven otherwise.”[16]

Prepackaged Meals and Microwave Mentality

One final concern I have with microwaves isn’t the appliance themselves, but the unhealthy habits they encourage. While you can certainly use a microwave to steam broccoli, the fact remains that most microwavable food is terrible for your health. The standard microwavable food is processed and premade. We used to call them TV dinners, but as that term became synonymous with cheap food, they’ve been rebranded as prepackaged meals, ready-made meals, frozen dinners, or microwave meals. Regardless of what you call them, they’re terrible for your health.

To stabilize these products for long term freezer storage, manufacturers add unhealthy ingredients like stabilizers and preservatives. As the freezing process ruins the flavor, these meals tend to be loaded with extra salt, unnamed mystery flavorings, and unhealthy fats. These prepackaged, frozen meals are universally less nutritious than fresh food.

Further, if you grow up using microwaves to cook, it fosters impatience and desire for immediate gratification. Cooking is a labor of love. It takes time, sometimes a great deal of time, to properly prepare nutritious food for yourself and your family. If you grow accustomed to hot food being ready in 2 minutes at the push of a button, then the time and effort it takes to make a healthy meal can seem downright unreasonable.

The truth is that there are better options. Even if you’re too busy to spend all day over a hot stove, there are simple, delicious, nutritious meals that can be prepared in about 10 minutes.

Mitigating Reliance on Microwaves

Over the years, many dangers have been attributed to the microwave oven. Some have proven to be unfounded. That doesn’t necessarily mean that microwaves are the healthiest way to cook. I’m not willing to sacrifice nutrition or taste to save a few minutes on meal prep. Weigh the risks and decide for yourself what’s the best choice for you and your family. If you do choose to keep your microwave, then please follow some basic safety tips.

  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not stand directly in front of a microwave while in use.
  • Do not microwave plastic, especially plastic bags or wrap.
  • Make sure that the door seals are clean and free of debris.
  • Have all repairs done by a qualified service person only.
  • Never use any microwave if the seals are damaged or if the door is damaged in any way, especially if the door won’t close tightly or if the oven continues to operate with an open door.

Whether you’re concerned about burns or simply poor nutrition, there are simple steps you can take to wean yourself off microwaves and unhealthy microwavable food. The risks of poor habits and poor nutrition are far greater than that of radiation, but a minor risk is still a risk. If you are concerned about the effects of long-term, low-dose radiation poisoning.