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Category Archives: foods and culinary

What Are Phytochemicals? Discovering Their Health Benefits

Study[1] after study[2] after study[3]has shown that a diet high in fruits and vegetables is especially beneficial to human health and can even reduce the risk of many serious health conditions.[4, 5]Phytochemicals may be one of the reasons why.

Phytochemicals are chemical compounds produced by plants. They are commonly found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and grains. Phytochemicals are frequently confused with phytonutrients. Whereas phytochemicals include plant compounds that are beneficial as well as those that are detrimental, phytonutrients specifically refers to compounds that have a positive effect. In other words, all phytonutrients are phytochemicals, but not all phytochemicals are phytonutrients.

The distinction between phytochemicals and phytonutrients is an important one, as not all phytochemicals are beneficial. Technically, cocaine, codeine, oxycodone, and nicotine are all phytochemicals. Even ricin, one of the most deadly and potent poisons in the world, is a phytochemical.[6] This doesn’t mean that all phytochemicals are bad, quite the opposite. Some phytochemicals offer incredible health benefits.[7]

Types of Phytochemicals

There are thousands of different phytochemicals. Here are a few that are of particular interest from a dietary perspective.

Carotenoids

Carotenoids are plant pigments responsible for the yellow, orange, and red color of many fruits and vegetables, including red peppers, papayas, paprika, tomatoes, and watermelon. There are more than 750 types of carotenoids, the one you’re probably most familiar with is beta-carotene. Beta-carotene gives carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes their rich orange pigmentation. Beta-carotene also offers a number of health benefits; the human body even converts it into vitamin A. Other carotenoids include alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene.[8]

Carotenoids are strong antioxidants.[9] Antioxidants can help reduce the oxidative damage caused by free radicals. Epidemiological studies have shown a link between dietary intake of carotenoids and a reduced risk of many diseases.[8]

Carotenoids are why carrots are credited as being good for the eyes. One of the reasons eyesight gets worse with age is because absorbing short-wave blue light (tablets, smartphones, and televisions are a major source of short-wave blue light) causes oxidative damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin filter blue light and protect the eyes like tiny, internal sunglasses.[10, 11]

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are the largest group of phytochemicals with over 8000 identified compounds.[12] Like carotenoids, polyphenols are powerful antioxidants. Polyphenols can be split into several subgroups, including flavonoids and lignans.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are a subgroup of polyphenols, and a large family of phytonutrients themselves. There are over 4000 individual flavonoids and several subclasses of flavonoids, including anthocyanins, flavonols, flavanols, flavanones, flavones, and isoflavones.[12]

Of these, flavonols are the most common in the human diet.[13] They’re found in apples, apricots, beans, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, chives, cranberries, kale, leeks, pears, onions, red grapes, sweet cherries, and white currants.

The similarly named flavanols (not to be confused with the previously mentioned flavonols—note the a and the o) are another subgroup of flavonoids. To avoid obvious confusion, flavanols are sometimes referred to by their less elegant name flavan-3-ols. They can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and lower blood pressure.[14] Dark chocolate is an excellent source of flavanols.

Anthocyanins

Like carotenoids, anthocyanins are plant pigments. They are responsible for the rich reds, blues, and purples found in fruits and vegetables. High concentrations of anthocyanins are found in blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, eggplants, grapes, red cabbage, and red apples.

Anthocyanin-rich plants have been used in folk medicine for centuries and we’re just now rediscovering their benefits. Anthocyanins are strong antioxidants that can help protect the liver, improve eyesight, reduce blood pressure, and even reduce the risk of many serious diseases.[15]

Lignans

Lignans are another type of polyphenol. They’re found in seeds, grains, legumes, fruits, berries, and veggies. Flaxseeds are the richest dietary source of lignans and crushed or milled flaxseed is the most bioavailable source.[16] A diet heavy in lignan-rich food seems to have beneficial, protective effects on the body. Animal studies have found that lignans may have anticarcinogenic effects.[17]

Indole-3-carbinol

Indole-3-carbinol (I3C) is a phytonutrient that’s highly concentrated in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, and cabbage.[18] A diet high in cruciferous vegetables has long been associated with a lower risk of several types of cancer.[19] I3C may be the mechanism behind this defense. Animal tests have found that I3C supports normal cell development and protects against DNA damage.[20]

Isoflavones

Isoflavones are phytoestrogens—plant compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen in the human body. Soybeans are an especially rich source of isoflavones sometimes referred to as soy isoflavones.[21]

Because they mimic the effects of estrogen, isoflavones can cause hormonal disruptions in both men and women. They can bind to and block the body’s natural estrogen receptors. Isoflavones can inhibit thyroid function,[22] and even increase the risk of breast cancer.[23]In my opinion, it’s best to limit your intake of isoflavones, soy, and soy products.

Resveratrol

You’ve probably heard of the so-called “French Paradox”—the phenomenon of low rates of heart disease in France despite a diet relatively high in saturated fats. Many speculate it’s influenced by daily, moderate consumption of red wine. Resveratrolmay be the primary agent responsible for the healthy effects of red wine.[24]

Plants produce resveratrol to help protect against harmful organisms and environmental challenges, like drought. Resveratrol offers many benefits to humans as well, includingheart-protective effects[25] and defense against many degenerative health conditions because of its antioxidant action.[24]

While the incredible benefits of resveratrol appear to be real, the hype behind red wine is less so. When studies about resveratrol made the news a few years ago, media outlets went crazy with headlines like “Can Drinking Red Wine Help You Live Forever?” These hyperbolic headlines turned out to be more sensational than fact. While certain red wines do contain resveratrol, the amount varies by quality and grape variety.

The publicized health benefits of resveratrol have also resulted in the market being flooded with low-quality wine by those hoping to cash in. There was a report a few years ago that found dozens of wine brands were contaminated with arsenic.[26] Even if you find an excellent red wine, be sure to exercise moderation. Alcohol can upset your gut microbiome, disrupt your hormones, and damage your liver.

Fortunately, red wine is not the only source of resveratrol. Resveratrol is found in grapes, peanuts, pistachios, blueberries, cranberries, mulberries, lingonberries, and even dark chocolate.[27]

Getting the Right Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are not a magical health elixir but they are something to consider when planning a healthy diet. When combined with regular exercise, a balanced, plant-based diet that provides a variety of beneficial phytochemicals and phytonutrients can contribute greatly to your overall health. Currently, there is no official recommended daily allowance for phytochemicals but regularly consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables will ensure you receive a steady, diverse supply.

Plant-based food is the best way to get valuable phytochemicals into your body and, in fact, plants are the only natural source of phytochemicals. Some nutritional supplements contain phytochemicals that have been extracted from plants (and some contain synthetically produced versions, which I prefer to avoid). It’s always best to talk to your trusted healthcare professional who can evaluate your individual needs before taking any new supplements.

What Is the Glycemic Index ?

The glycemic index (GI) is a way to measure the impact specific types of food have on blood sugar.[1] GI values range from zero to one hundred. Food with a high GI value will make blood sugar levels rise (and fall) quickly, food with a low GI value will have a more slow and steady effect.

A GI value under 55 is low; foods that have a low GI value include beans, cruciferous vegetables, grapefruit, and tomatoes. A GI value between 56-69 is moderate; examples include pasta, green peas, sweet potatoes, orange juice, and blueberries. A GI value over 70 is high;[2] examples include refined sugar, potatoes, white bread, dried fruit, carrots, and watermelon.

Why Are Glycemic Values Important?

Paying attention to the GI values of the food you eat allows you to exert a level of control over your blood sugar; there are many reasons why this is desirable.

Persons with diabetes struggle with maintaining balanced blood sugar.[3] It’s a disease that’s reached epidemic proportions. Over 29 million Americans have diabetes, almost 90 million more are prediabetic. A diet centered around foods with a low GI value can help keep blood sugar under control.

You don’t have to suffer from diabetes to experience the benefits of regular, balanced blood sugar. Studies suggest consuming low GI food may help prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer;[4] and that barely scratches the surface when considering the revelations uncovered by research into the effects of a low GI diet:

  • A low GI diet may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.[5]
  • A high GI diet is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.[6, 7]
  • A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in January 2016 suggests that following a high GI diet increases the risk of depression.[8]

The Relationship Between Blood Sugar and Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are a primary source of energy for the human body[9] and there are two basic types — simple carbohydrates and complex carbohydrates.

Simple carbohydrates, also known as monosaccharides or disaccharides, are digested quickly and have an immediate effect on blood sugar.[10] Common examples include refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup, as found in soft drinks.[11] In general, foods high in simple carbohydrates have a high GI value.

Complex carbohydrates, also known as oligosaccharides and polysaccharides, are metabolized more slowly and do not have a dramatic effect on blood sugar. Foods high in complex carbohydrates include whole grain bread, vegetables, and legumes. Complex carbohydrates usually have a low GI value and, additionally, accompany other nutrients (such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals) that further reduce digestion time.

What Is Glycemic Load?

It’s easy to think that all high GI value foods are best avoided since high blood sugar is associated with so many problems, but portion size needs to be considered as well.

For example, carrots have a high GI value but a typical serving of carrots only contains about 6 grams of carbohydrates; probably not anywhere near enough to upset the blood sugar of the average person.

This is where glycemic load enters the picture. The glycemic load provides a more thorough consideration of the impact food has on blood sugar because it takes into account the GI value as well as the grams of carbohydrates (fat and protein are not considered as they do not affect blood sugar) in a serving.[14]

Calculating Glycemic Load

Glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the GI value by the grams of carbohydrates in a serving and dividing by 100. A glycemic load value of 10 or less is low; 20 or above is high.[15]

Watermelon, for example, has a GI value of 72 although a typical serving of watermelon only provides 6 grams of carbohydrates; a quick calculation reveals a glycemic load of less than 5.

A can of soda, on the other hand, may have a GI value of 65 but if a single can provides 40 grams of carbohydrates that means the glycemic load is 26, which is very high.

Is it any wonder that steady, daily consumption of soda and other sugary beverages contributes to so many health problems?

Factors That Affect Glycemic Index Values

Keep in mind that the GI value is just a starting point and can be affected by a number of factors. Processing and refining, for example, will result in a higher GI value. A whole baked potato has a lower GI value than instant mashed potatoes; processed orange juice has a higher GI value than fresh squeezed.[16]

Eating different foods together can affect GI values. Research has shown that the negative effects of a high-carbohydrate diet are lessened when consumed with fiber.[17](Just to ensure there’s no confusion — no, eating a pound of lettuce won’t cancel out eating a pound of sugar.) The more ripe a fruit or vegetable, the higher its GI value. And, individual physiology–age, metabolism, health conditions–affect the way blood sugar is influenced.

Incorporating a Glycemic Diet Into Your Life

When constructing your diet, glycemic index and glycemic load values are great tools for guidance but need to be balanced with fundamentally sound principles of nutrition:

  • Eat a variety of real, whole, organic food.
  • Avoid junk food, refined sugar, and empty calories.
  • If you splurge, do so in moderation.
  • Quench your thirst with purified water.

Have you made a concerted effort to consume more low GI value foods and fewer high GI value foods? What tips can you share for designing a meal plan? What benefits have you noticed? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

Sweet and Savory Vegan Buddha Bowl

If you’ve scrolled through your social media in the last year, you’ve probably come across a slew of veggie-filled dishes called “Buddha bowls.” They are usually deep, round bowls filled with healthy cooked and raw vegan ingredients that fill you up and keep you sustained for hours. The easiest way to throw these bowls together is to prepare a few different ingredients one evening during the week, particularly the cooked ingredients, and use them to make quick and fresh meals throughout the week.

You can follow the original Nutrition Stripped recipe, but Buddha bowls are an infinitely flexible concept. All you have to do is arrange some vegan protein, complex carbohydrates, and a healthy source of fat on a bed of raw leafy greens. I like to add a few odds and ends to bump up the flavor and texture of my Buddha bowls, and it’s a fantastic way to use up leftovers, like sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potatoes: Delicious and Nutritious

Feel free to omit or add any ingredients to this recipe, but don’t skimp on the sweet potatoes. In terms of nutrients per dollar, sweet potatoes provide an excellent return on your investment. They’re exceptionally nutrient dense and are a rich source of potassium, manganese, vitamin A, and vitamin C.[1] Unlike white potatoes, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic load, so you get the benefit of sustained energy when you choose sweet potatoes over other simple starchy foods.[2]

Sweet potatoes might actually contribute to a long, healthy life—if you’re willing to eat enough of them. The traditional diet of Okinawa, a Japanese prefecture, is almost 70% complex carbohydrates and characterized by foods that have a low glycemic load but are exceptionally high in antioxidants, like leafy green vegetables and the Okinawan purple sweet potato.[3]

This traditional diet may help the people of Okinawa live remarkably long lives; the average lifespan is about 80 years for men and 87 years for women.[4] In one study, blood tests of Okinawan centenarians revealed they had less oxidative stress than the control group of adults in their 70s.[5]

You might be able to find purple sweet potatoes locally. They have a bold purple flesh, but the color of the skin may differ depending on which variety you find in your area. In the U.S., you’re more likely to find Stokes Purple sweet potatoes, which have a dark maroon skin. The rich color of the skin and flesh is due to the concentration of anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant. These antioxidants are actually more effective at trapping free radicals (and preventing oxidative stress) than the anthocyanins in red cabbage and grapes.[6] Look for these deep-hued potatoes at your local farmer’s market or organic grocery store in late summer through April. Try to use them within 2 weeks as they won’t last as long as white and yellow potatoes.[7] When cooked, purple sweet potatoes maintain their gorgeous color and they look absolutely incredible in this Buddha Bowl recipe.

I also took the opportunity to include one of my favorite autumnal foods—lightly crisped, roasted Brussels sprouts. You only need a few for this recipe, and they taste great tossed with minced garlic, fresh rosemary, and olive oil.

Sweet and Savory Vegan Buddha Bowl

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 30-45 minutes
  • Total time: 65 minutes
  • Serves: 1

Equipment

  • Roasting pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Medium-sized mixing bowl
  • Large salad bowl

Ingredients

  • 2 cups loosely packed organic field greens
  • 1 cup organic arugula or baby kale
  • 1 large roasted organic sweet potato, purple or orange, cubed and tossed in olive oil
  • 5-10 fresh Brussels sprouts, halved and tossed in olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons organic olive oil
  • ½ cup organic carrots, julienned or spiralized
  • ¼ cup organic cucumber, halved and thinly sliced
  • ¼ of organic avocado, peeled and cubed
  • 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons of organic hemp or flax seeds
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite hummus
  • 1 ½ tablespoons fresh-squeezed organic lemon juice, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons organic apple cider vinegar
  • Himalayan crystal salt to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon black or mixed ground pepper, or to taste
  • Dash of cayenne pepper (optional)

Directions

  1. Line a roasting pan with parchment paper.
  2. Toss diced sweet potatoes in 2 tablespoons of olive oil, coating evenly. Set bowl aside for Brussels sprouts in step 4.
  3. Roast the sweet potatoes for 30-45 minutes at 375° F.
  4. Toss Brussels sprout halves in remaining oil from the bowl, coating evenly.
  5. Spread raw, halved Brussels sprouts on a separate, parchment-covered pan. Roast for 25 minutes. (If you want to save on dishes, you could also add them to the sweet potato pan once the potatoes only have 25 minutes remaining on the timer.)
  6. Fill a large salad bowl with greens and combine.
  7. Allow roasted veggies to cool for a few minutes before adding them to the greens.
  8. During in this time, stir hummus, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, and nutritional yeast together for a thick dressing.
  9. Top your Buddha bowl with the roasted vegetables and remaining ingredients (for the best presentation, carefully arrange ingredients into their own sections).
  10. Add salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

What Other Nutrients Does This Buddha Bowl Provide?

The dark leafy greens in this recipe are a rich source of fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.[8, 9] Conveniently, the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat from the avocado, olive oil, and flax seeds[10] will help your small intestine absorb vitamins A and K from the leafy greens and carrots, since the vitamins are fat soluble. The apple cider vinegar, which offers a multitude of benefits, will help emulsify the fats for absorption.

Have you ever tried a Buddha bowl? Do you have any tips? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

The Benefits of Manganese

Many people know that vitamin B-12 supports normal energy levels and that vitamin C can help the immune system, but what do you know about manganese? It doesn’t have the star power of other nutrients like calcium, iron, or potassium, but it’s still essential and vital to your health. Manganese, which is stored in the bones, kidneys, and pancreas, is a trace mineral, meaning your body needs very small amounts of it, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Rather, the human body requires it for many important functions.

Manganese Health Benefits

Manganese supports normal health in several ways. It is a cofactor that helps enzymes carry out their functions in the body. Manganese is essential for the metabolization of cholesterol, carbohydrates, and protein. As a component of the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), it helps combat the damaging effects of free radicals by converting superoxide, a metabolic byproduct, into safer molecules that won’t cause cellular damage.[1]

There may also be a relationship between manganese and blood sugar. Studies have revealed that diabetes patients have low levels of manganese in their blood, but researchers have not been able to figure out whether diabetes causes manganese levels to drop or if inadequate manganese contributes to the development of diabetes.[1]

Manganese and Bone Health

Manganese is essential for bone health.[2] When combined with the right amounts of calcium, zinc, and copper, manganese encourages normal bone density, especially in the spine and legs.[3] This is particularly important for older adults who are at risk for osteoporosis, especially postmenopausal women. Fifty percent of postmenopausal women, and about 25% of men will suffer an osteoporosis-related break.[4]

There’s also evidence to suggest that manganese, when taken with glucosamine and chondroitin, may reduce osteoarthritis pain. In one study, 52% of the test population who took the combination reported improvement. Unfortunately, this benefit only seems to extend to those with mild osteoarthritis. No significant reduction was noted in persons suffering from severe osteoarthritis.[5]

Manganese Deficiency

Although true manganese deficiency is uncommon, experts estimate that as many as 37% of Americans do not get the recommended amount of manganese in their diet.[6]

Studies have shown that inadequate manganese intake is associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, osteoporosis, and epilepsy.[1] Because manganese is necessary for normal skeletal development, low levels may contribute to skeletal and postural abnormalities.[7]

Clinical studies suggest that people who suffer from seizure disorders have lower levels of manganese in their blood and hair.[8]

Manganese Toxicity

While the body requires manganese to function properly, excessive amounts can cause manganese toxicity. The following reflect the tolerable upper intake levels for humans:

  • 1-3 years: 2 mg
  • 4-8 years: 3 mg
  • 9-13 years: 6 mg
  • 14-18 years: 9 mg
  • 19 years and older: 11 mg

As the saying goes, “The dose makes the poison.” Even though it is essential in trace amounts, manganese is considered a heavy metal. In fact, zinc, copper, selenium, and iron are all nutrients that are also heavy metals. Too much of any of them, including manganese, can negatively affect health, especially brain health.[7]

Excess manganese is stored in brain tissue. If it reaches toxic levels, neural impairment and the neurodegenerative disorder manganism can result. Manganism, which has symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, occurs when manganese accumulates in the basal ganglia.[9]

Manganese Toxicity and Children

Children are especially vulnerable to manganese toxicity (and heavy metal toxicity in general). Excess manganese negatively affects brain development, behavior, learning ability, and memory.[7] In one documented instance, a young boy with high levels of manganese experienced problems with verbal and visual memory, learning index, and general memory to such an extent that, among his peers, his test scores were in the lowest percentile.[10]

What’s the Best Source of Manganese?

A balanced diet comprised of whole, real, organic food is the best source for the complete spectrum of nutrients required by the body, manganese included. There are plenty of common foods that are a good source of manganese, such as nuts, legumes, seeds, tea, whole grains, and leafy green vegetables.[1] There is the usual caveat, however, that manganese content, as with all nutrients, can vary based on the soil and region where it was grown.[11]

Manganese Supplements

If your diet doesn’t provide enough manganese or other important nutrients, a multivitamin can help fill the gaps. Manganese is available as a standalone supplement but it’s best to consume manganese with the associated nutrients—like zinc, calcium, and copper—that all work together.

Drucker Labs produces a line of liquid, plant-sourced multivitamins that are easily absorbed and highly bioavailable. For adults, IntraMAX® contains 415 vital nutrients, including 71 carbon-bound minerals such as manganese. Formulated to meet the unique nutritional needs of children 4 and above, IntraKID® provides 215 vitamins, minerals, and nutrients and the liquid formula is easier to swallow than tablets; the raspberry flavor tastes better than chewable multivitamins.

What’s your strategy for making sure you receive complete nutrition? Have you structured a diet that provides everything you need from food or do you rely on a multivitamin? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with the community.

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.

6 Lemongrass Benefits to Support Your Health

Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a perennial herb with a distinct, lemony aroma and flavor. It’s a staple of both Vietnamese and Thai cuisine. Though the plant is native to India, it’s grown all over the world today. Lemongrass is a rich source of nutrients that offer many therapeutic benefits.

Benefits of Lemongrass

Lemongrass is a source of beneficial phytochemicals and specialized nutrients that support the body’s response to harmful organisms, boost the immune system, and promote overall wellness. Although the balance of nutrients may vary slightly from one variety to the next, in general, lemongrass provides antioxidants like isoorientin, orientin, caffeic acid, and chlorogenic acid; all of which help halt the damaging action of free radicals. Caffeic acid, in particular, may neutralize free radical action up to 85%.

1. Supports the Body’s Response to Harmful Organisms

Some of the phytochemicals found in lemongrass are resistant to harmful organisms. Two of which, geraniol and nerol, are effective against a broad spectrum of harmful organisms. Another, citral, targets candida, specifically.

Lemongrass may also be effective against entire colonies of organisms known as biofilms. A biofilm is a thin, slimy, continuous collection of organisms that adheres to a surface with the help of proteins and sugar. Dental plaque on teeth is a common example of a biofilm.

2. Promotes Normal Immune System Response

Lemongrass encourages a normal, balanced immune system response—not one that’s over reactive and ends up doing more harm than good. In that way, lemongrass may protect healthy cells and help soothe irritated tissue. Lemongrass contains twoantioxidants, geranial and nerol, that belong to a class of phytochemicals called monoterpenes. These phytochemicals influence the immune response. Citral also affects immune response by discouraging the body from producing cytokines—proteins that cause inflammation. Geraniol and citral also work in tandem to discourage the proliferation of malfunctioning cells, and encourage the body to detoxify itself of them.

3. Stomach Protection

Your stomach features a protective lining called the mucosal layer that prevents acidic, gastric juices from damaging the interior of the stomach. It’s not uncommon, however, for alcohol or over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin to upset this protective layer. According to Brazilian folk medicine, lemongrass essential oil may help protect the mucosal layer of the stomach.

4. Encourages Normal Cardiovascular Health

Lemongrass offers a multi-tier approach for supporting cardiovascular health. First, as a source of antioxidants, lemongrass may disrupt the oxidation of fat in the arteries.Second, the citral in lemongrass helps to relax overstressed blood vessels. And, lastly, although more research is necessary to quantify the effects in humans, the results of some animal studies suggest that lemongrass promotes normal cholesterol levels.

5. Deters Insects

Topical or environmental application of lemongrass essential oil has long been used as a mosquito deterrent. You’re probably familiar with the outdoor citronella candles designed to keep mosquitoes at bay. The citronella in those candles is usually sourced from theCymbopogon winterianus or Cymbopogon nardus varieties of lemongrass. In fact, the mosquito-deterring effects of lemongrass oil are comparable to many chemical repellants such as DEET.

6. Encourages Restful Sleep

Night owls rejoice! If you struggle falling or staying asleep, lemongrass can help. Studies have found that lemongrass may increase sleep duration, encourage dream remembrance, and promote restful sleep.

Tips for Growing Lemongrass

Lemongrass does best in regions 8-11, but you can still grow it indoors if you live in a colder region. Take a stalk of lemongrass and peel off the dry outer layers and discard. Place the skinned stalks upright in a tall glass or jar. Add about 1-2 inches of water to the jar to cover the base of the stalks. Place in a window or another sunny area to encourage root growth. Change the water frequently—about once a day—over the next month. Delicate roots should sprout from the end of the stalks. Once they reach 2 inches, they’re ready to plant.

To plant, dig a hole either in a container or the ground. Gently fill the space around the lemongrass stalk with soil, being careful not to break the roots. Make sure to keep the soil around the plant well hydrated, but not soaked. In 3-4 months, when the plant is well established, you can start harvesting. Cut fresh stalks as needed for tea or recipes. Keep your lemongrass well pruned to encourage consistent harvests. To store, peel off the tough, dry sheath around the harvested stalks, cut to size, and store in a plastic bag in the freezer until needed.

Using Lemongrass

Lemongrass is available fresh, dried, powdered, or as an essential oil. Your intentions will dictate the best form to select. Fresh lemongrass is best for cooking, extracts are commonly found in supplements, and the essential oil has many aromatherapy applications.

Lemongrass Tea Recipe

Lemongrass tea is an easy and excellent way to add lemongrass to your diet. To make a tea with fresh lemongrass stalk, roughly chop three whole stalks, pour 6 cups of almost-boiling water over the fresh lemongrass, and steep for at least 5 minutes. Add raw honey to taste if you prefer a sweet flavor. You can also use dry stalks if you smash them with a tenderizer first and steep for longer—about 10 minutes.

Beneath the Sugar Coating

The Great Sugar Rush

If you’ve been paying attention at the grocery store lately, you’ve certainly noticed that the shelves in the sugar section have been inundated with new products. The recent barrage of granules, crystals, flakes, and powders has made it challenging to distinguish one sugar from another. Granulated white sugar was once the only option available. Today, however, there is fierce competition from a throng of new products–evaporated cane juice, organic cane sugar, cane juice crystals, and a number of others with similar names. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll refer to these new sugars as cane sugars.

Glazing Over The Truth

At the moment, a great deal of information is not available regarding cane sugars. There does seem to be a misconception that they are wholly better for you than white sugar, which is simply not true. Some manufacturers mislead consumers into believing that cane sugars are not processed when, in fact, all sugars derived from sugar cane go through some processing, the distinction being how much.

How Sugar is Processed

In the most simple terms, processing extracts the juice from the cane and evaporates the liquid so that just the dry, beige crystals remain. These crystals can be packaged as they are, as cane sugars, or they can be processed further to remove their color to become white sugar.

The whitening process, which is where much of the controversy surrounding sugar refining comes in, is typically achieved in one of two ways–chemical bleaching or carbon filtration. While the reasoning behind the objections to chemicals is fairly clear, there are also concerns about carbon filters because they are often made from charred cattle bones. Even though the bones are not incorporated into the sugar, the practice is somewhat disturbing, particularly to anyone who rejects using animals for food or clothing.

Special Effects of Cane Sugars

False assertions have been made claiming that cane sugars affect the body differently than white sugar. The truth is, both types of sugar have the same chemical composition and, therefore, the same effect on the body. This is especially important information for anyone with blood sugar issues who may be misled to believe that they can freely eat cane sugars without negative results.

The Sweet & Safer Side of Sugar

Despite the similarities, there are some significant differences between white and cane sugars. Traditional sugar cane plantations have been known for imprudent use of pesticides, chemicals, and fertilizers. Because sugar is a highly concentrated substance, any chemicals used in sugar production are going to be concentrated in the sugar itself. In addition, pesticides and fertilizers have a negative environmental impact and can affect soil viability and neighboring plants and water sources. Most brands of cane sugar are made from organically grown sugar cane and, therefore, are much safer for human consumption and the environment.

Sugar Solution

While there are still many unanswered questions regarding the differences between white and cane sugars, reducing the amount of chemicals in your body and the environment, is always a good thing. That is justification enough for giving these new sugars a try.