Go Bananas For Bananas

Bananas
Bananas

Bananas are one of the most widely consumed fruits in the world for good reason.  They are extremely healthy and delicious.  There are several varieties, which vary in color, size and shape.  The most common type is the yellow banana which is green when unripe.

You may already know that bananas are a great source of potassium.  A medium-sized banana has 422 mg of the mineral, which is about 12% of the recommended daily value according to the USDA.  Bananas are also a good source of vitamins C and B6.  A medium-sized banana has 15% and 30% of the recommended daily value of these two vitamins respectively.

Reasons To Eat Bananas

1. Bananas help keep blood pressure in check

Bananas are rich in potassium, and a potassium-rich diet helps lower blood pressure.  According to the American Heart Association, the more potassium you consume, the more sodium that can exit your body.  That is because potassium acts like a natural diuretic.  It triggers the kidneys to release excess sodium and fluids the body is holding on to, lowering blood pressure in the process.  Bananas are also a good source of magnesium which also helps lower blood pressure.  Lower blood pressure is great for your heart, because the muscle won’t have to work as hard to pump blood throughout your body.

2. Bananas are good for your gut bacteria

You’ve probably heard of probiotics, the “good” bacteria that aid digestion and are found in certain foods like yogurt.  Well there’s also such a thing as prebiotics, and bananas happen to be a great source of them.  Prebiotics are actually carbohydrates that can’t be digested by the human body, however they play a vital role in maintaining a healthy gut.  Prebiotics supply food for the probiotics, so they help the “good” probiotic bacteria grow.  You’ll also find prebiotics in raisins, asparagus, onions, and garlic.

3. Bananas can ease stomach troubles

Bananas can help with several tummy issues.  The 3.1 grams of fiber you’ll find in a medium banana is split into two different types: soluble and insoluble fiber.  Soluble fiber helps ease digestion, while insoluble fiber helps relieve constipation.  Bananas also neutralize the acidity in the stomach and coat the lining to reduce irritation, so they can help fight heartburn and stomach ulcers too.

4. Bananas help protect the cardiovascular system

Bananas represent an important part of overall heart health for a variety of reasons.  The potassium in bananas helps reduce blood pressure.  In addition to being a diuretic, bananas are vasodilators.  This means they relax the tension of the blood vessels helping the blood flow more smoothly through the body and oxygenate the various organs of the body to increase their function.  This can help reduce atherosclerosis and reduce cardiovascular disease risk.  The fiber in bananas also helps scrape excess cholesterol from the blood vessels which also reduces cardiovascular disease risk.

Ways to Enjoy Bananas

  • Just peel and eat: Take a banana with you to work or school for a healthy, portable snack.
  • On cereals: Add a sliced banana to your morning cereal or oatmeal for a more nutritious breakfast.
  • In smoothies: Peel and freeze bananas (or use fresh) for a great addition to any smoothie.
  • In baked goods: Ripe, mashed bananas can be used in baked goods to replace oil or butter.  Mashed bananas lend a moist, natural, sweet flavor to cakes, muffins, breads, and cookies.
  • With peanut butter:  A peanut butter and banana sandwich is an all-time favorite comfort food for children and adults alike.
  • Healthy fruit salad: Include banana slices along with orange slices, strawberries, and mango chunks in your next fruit salad.
  • Yogurt topping: Sweeten plain yogurt with slices of banana for a delicious dessert or snack.

Health Benefits of Oranges

Oranges
Oranges

Long recognized as a potent source of vitamin C, oranges are considered by most to be tasty, juicy, and all too familiar.  The discoveries being made about the power of oranges to support heart health and prevent cancer, stroke, diabetes and other chronic ailments are bringing them and other citrus fruits into the limelight as crucial components of a healthy diet.

Oranges originated in Asia thousands of years ago and have become one of the most popular fruits the world over.  Christopher Columbus brought orange seeds to the Caribbean Islands in the 15th century, and Spanish explorers then brought oranges to Florida in the next century.  About 200 years later, Spanish missionaries brought oranges to California.  Florida and California remain the primary producers of oranges in the United States.

Portable fruits, they are easy to eat and crucial to good health.  They are easy to put in children’s lunch boxes and bags, and they are the perfect mid-day snack when you are craving something sweet.  Oranges are also great flavor boosters when cooked with chicken or lean turkey breast.

Oranges are classified into two general categories: sweet and bitter.  The sweet varieties are the most commonly consumed and popular varieties include valencia, jaffa, navel, and blood oranges.  The blood orange is a hybrid species that is smaller in size and marked by red hues running throughout its flesh.

Bitter oranges are often used to make jam or marmalade, and their zest is used as the flavoring for liqueurs such as Grand Marnier and Cointreau.

Reasons To Eat Oranges

1. Oranges protect against cancer

Oranges contain a phytonutrient called limonene.  Limonene stimulates our antioxidant detoxification enzyme system, helping to stop cancer before it begins.  Oranges contain significant amounts of limonene in the peel and smaller quantities in the pulp.  Limonene has been proven to help fight a number of varieties of cancer including that of the lung, skin, breast, stomach, and colon.

Vitamin C, abundantly available in oranges, also plays a role in fighting cancer.  One study of Swiss men found that those who died of any type of cancer had vitamin C concentrations about 10 percent lower than those who died from other causes.

2. Oranges lower cholesterol

One cup of orange segments contain four grams of fiber, most of which is soluble fiber.  Since they are full of soluble fiber, oranges help lower cholesterol by binding with cholesterol in your gut and preventing it from being absorbed into your bloodstream.  This reduces risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.

3. Oranges strengthen immunity

Scientific studies show the abundance of polyphenols in oranges protects against viral infections.  The vitamin C in oranges also protects cells in your body by neutralizing free radicals.  Free radicals cause chronic diseases, like cancer and heart disease.

4. Oranges lower stroke risk

Oranges are rich in vitamin C, and several scientific studies found a high blood concentration of vitamin C is associated with a lower stroke risk.  In one large study published in 2008, University of Cambridge researchers measured vitamin C levels in roughly 20,000 people and followed them for over a decade.  The participants were divided into four groups based on vitamin C levels.  The researchers found that those with the highest concentrations of the vitamin in their blood had a 42 percent lower stroke risk than those with the lowest concentrations.

5. Oranges regulate blood sugar levels

The orange has a glycemic index of 40.  Anything under 55 is considered low.  Therefore oranges will not spike your blood sugar and cause problems with insulin and weight gain as long as you do not eat too many at one time.

6. Oranges support heart health

Oranges are full of potassium, an electrolyte mineral responsible for helping the heart function well.  When potassium levels get too low, you may develop an abnormal heart rhythm known as an arrhythmia.

7. Oranges regulate high blood pressure

The flavonoid hesperidin found in oranges helps regulate high blood pressure.  Oranges also contain potassium and magnesium which help maintain blood pressure.

8. Oranges protect your vision

Oranges are rich in carotenoid compounds which are converted to vitamin A and help prevent macular degeneration as we age.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Warm your day: Oranges added to oatmeal is a great way to start your day.
  • Spice up your fruit salad: Be sure to include oranges in your next fruit salad.  Mix orange slices, mango chunks, and strawberries to your fruits salad with a sprinkle of chili powder.
  • Vibrant salad:  Add orange slices, strawberries, and walnuts onto a bed of your favorite field greens for a salad that is sure to please.
  • 100 percent juice: Just squeeze fresh oranges and enjoy.  Keep in mind that the whole fruit is more nutritious than the juice, because it contains more fiber.
  • Slice it or just peel and eat: Whatever your favorite way to eat an orange is, just take a bite into this delicious citrus fruit.
  • Use the peel: Orange peel is both flavorful and healthy.  If your recipe calls for orange zest, be sure to use organically grown oranges since conventionally grown fruits have pesticide residue on their skin and may also be artificially colored.

The Several Benefits of Avocados

An avocado
An Avocado

Avocado – that buttery green fruit that you can spread on a sandwich, dice into a salad, and mash into guacamole (America’s favorite dip).  Research has demonstrated that avocados offer some surprising and powerful health benefits.

One of the most nutrient-dense foods, avocados are high in fiber, folate, potassium, vitamin E, and magnesium.  No doubt, avocado nutrition makes it a powerful superfood.

Avocados have been cultivated for thousands of years.  A favorite of the Aztecs, they were originally native to Central America.  There are generally two types available in the USA today – the Hass avocado from California and the West Indian avocado from Florida.

Hass avocados are nutty, buttery and rich in monounsaturated oil (18 to 30 percent oil in each avocado).  The light green Florida avocado is larger and juicier than the Hass variety, but it is less buttery, considerably lower in oil (3 to 5 percent oil) and has roughly 25 to 50 percent less fat than the Hass variety.

The avocado’s monounsaturated fat content is its biggest health claim.  The only other fruit with a comparable amount of monounsaturated fat is the olive.  The monounsaturated fat in avocados is oleic acid, which helps lower cholesterol.  One study found that after seven days on a diet that included avocados, there were significant decreases in both total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol, as well as an 11 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

Reasons To Eat Avocados

1. Avocados are packed with carotenoids

Avocados are a great source of lutein, a carotenoid that works as an antioxidant and helps protect against eye disease.  They also contain related carotenoids zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, as well as vitamin E.

2. Avocados are rich in healthy fats

Since carotenoids are fat-soluble, they need to be eaten with fats at the same meal to be absorbed into the blood stream.  Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats that help the body absorb these carotenoids from the avocado and also from other foods.  An easy way to do this is to add sliced avocado to a mixed salad.

3. Avocados make you feel full

Half an avocado contains 3.4 grams of fiber, including soluble and insoluble, both of which your body needs to keep the digestive system running smoothly.  The soluble fiber also slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in your body, helping you feel full longer.

Avocados also contain oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat that activates the part of your brain that makes you feel full.  Healthier unsaturated fats containing oleic acid have been shown to produce a greater feeling of satiety than less healthy saturated fats and trans fats found in processed foods.

4. Avocados are rich in folate

One cup of avocado contains almost a quarter of the recommended daily intake of folate, a vitamin which cuts the risk of birth defects.  So if you are pregnant, or planning to be, avocados will help protect your unborn baby.

A high folate intake is also associated with a lower risk of heart attacks and heart disease.  So avocados could help keep your heart healthy.

5. Avocados can help lower your cholesterol

In addition to making you feel full, the oleic acid in avocados can help lower cholesterol levels. In one study, an avocado-rich diet resulted in a significant reduction in total cholesterol levels and an 11 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol.

6. Avocados can regulate your blood pressure

Avocados are full of potassium and magnesium, two nutrients known to lower blood pressure.  A one-cup serving of avocado contains 15% of the RDI of potassium compare to 11% in bananas, which are a typical high-potassium food.  The avocado also contains 14% of the RDI of magnesium, more than several fruits including the banana, strawberry, and kiwi.

7. Avocados taste great

Avocados are a healthy way to boost the flavor and texture of your meals.  Toss chopped avocados on a salad or bowl of soup.  Serve guacamole as an appetizer or condiment.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Salads: Garnish vegetable, fruit, and whole grain salads with diced avocados, and then toss gently to mix.
  • Pasta salads: Add diced avocado, diced bell pepper, and sliced scallions to cooked pasta, and dress with a mixture of extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, and mustard for a tasty pasta salad.
  • Guacamole:  Mashed avocados are the main ingredient in this tasty dip.
  • Spreads: Mash half an avocado and spread it on whole grain bread or toast for a nourishing breakfast or snack.
  • Wraps: Put sliced avocado in wraps and sandwiches.
  • Omelets: Add diced avocado to eggs or omelets before cooking.
  • Crackers: Top whole grain crackers with thin slices of avocado and smoked salmon for a tasty appetizer or snack.
  • Butter: Top baked potatoes with avocado butter, made by mashing a ripe avocado with a tablespoon of lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper.

Kiwi Fruit: The Chinese Gooseberry

Kiwi Fruit
Kiwi Fruit

The kiwi or kiwifruit is one of nature’s perfect foods: low in calories and an excellent source of antioxidants, and people are attracted to it because of its brilliant green color and exotic taste.  While many fruits offer one or two nutrients in their profile, kiwi offers an unusual array of health-promoting substances.

Kiwi is native to China.  Cultivation spread from China in the early 20th century to New Zealand, where the first commercial plantings occurred.  It is now a commercial crop in several countries, such as Italy, New Zealand, France, Greece, and Chile.

Kiwi Fast Facts

  • Extremely rich in vitamin C.
  • Contains folate, potassium, fiber, and various antioxidants like carotenoids and polyphenols.
  • Is an unusual source of vitamin E because most sources of this important vitamin, like nuts and oils, are high in both fat and calories.  However kiwi offers its rich nutritional bounty for only about 93 calories per two kiwis.

Reasons to Eat Kiwis

1. Vitamin C

A kiwi contains a rich bounty of vitamin C (70 mg for one kiwi).  That is more than an equivalent amount of orange.  Vitamin C is proven to boost the immune system and fight the effects of stress and aging.  It is no wonder that a high consumption of foods containing this vitamin is associated with reduced risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

2. Fiber

Two kiwis contain 5 g of fiber, which helps maintain heart health, regular digestion, and lower cholesterol.

3. Potassium

A kiwi contains 237 mg of potassium.  Potassium helps lower blood pressure, maintain fluid and electrolyte balance, and  release energy during exercise.  The potassium in kiwifruit also counteracts the effects of sodium and is a vasodilator, relaxing the blood vessels throughout the body.

4. Antioxidants

Kiwis are an excellent source of antioxidants like carotenoids and polyphenols which are important in reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease, and stroke.

5. Low Glycemic Index

Kiwis have a glycemic index of 52, which is relatively low.  This means that kiwis should not cause major blood sugar spikes.

6. Magnesium

A kiwi  contains 13 mg of magnesium, which improves nerve and muscle function while boosting your energy level.  Magnesium is also important in lowering blood pressure.

7. Lutein

Kiwis contain the phytochemical lutein, which works to prevent age-related blindness and protects the eyes from various kinds of damage.

8. Folate

A kiwi has 20 micrograms of folate.  That is nearly 10% of the recommended daily allowance.  Therefore kiwis are a good way to protect the health of mother and baby during pregnancy.

9. Vitamin K

Kiwi’s substantial supply of vitamin K (31 micrograms in one kiwi) is needed in your body for healthy arteries.  Vitamin K is also needed to use calcium to make bones.  Studies suggest that diets high in Vitamin K can improve bone health and reduce risk of bone-related injuries and diseases like osteoporosis.

10. Vitamin E

Kiwis are one of just a handful of fat-free foods that contain vitamin E, which boost immunity, lower cholesterol, and fight free radicals.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Conventionally grown kiwis are low in pesticides: Kiwis are one of the fruits with low pesticide residue.  They are included in the list of commonly eaten fruits and vegetables known as the “clean 15.”  Therefore it is not necessary to buy organically grown varieties.  Also, always wash fruit before eating.
  • Eat fresh and in salads: Kiwis are great eaten fresh or tossed into green salads.
  • Use as a topping: Kiwis can be added to oatmeal, cereal and yogurt.
  • Cook them: Kiwis can be used in baked foods like cobblers and fruit tarts.
  • Chutney: Mix sliced kiwis and other fruits (like orange and pineapple) to make chutney, which can be served as an accompaniment to fish or chicken.
  • A balanced diet is best: While kiwis are healthy, it is best to include other fruits to meet your daily fruit quota.  So in addition to kiwis, also eat the colors of the rainbow (blue, purple, red, yellow, green, orange) for better total health.

Why Blueberries Are So Amazing

Blueberries
Blueberries

Blueberries are a very popular and tasty fruit.  Although blueberries are native to North America, they are grown commercially in the Americas and Europe.  They are low in calories and incredibly healthy.  Often referred to as a superfood, blueberries are an excellent source of several vitamins, minerals, beneficial plant compounds, and antioxidants.

Blueberries have a pleasant, sweet taste and are available fresh, frozen, juiced, and dried.  They can be used in a variety of baked goods, jams, jellies, and for flavorings.

The two most common varieties of blueberries are highbush and lowbush blueberries.  Highbush blueberries are also called cultivated blueberries and are the most commonly grown species in the US.  They are cultivated on farms where they grow on bushes that usually peak around 6 feet high.  The blueberries are harvested by hand and also by machine.

Lowbush blueberries are also called wild blueberries.  They are not cultivated, but grow in the harsh northern climate of Maine and Canada.  The harsh climate, and what it takes to survive in it, gives wild blueberries a higher level of antioxidants than cultivated blueberries.

Blueberries range in color from blue to purple.

Reasons to Eat Blueberries

1. Blueberries are nutritious

A half-cup serving of blueberries contains 2 grams of dietary fiber and 25 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, and only 40 calories.  Much of the power of blueberries lies in their colors.  The deep blue hue comes from anthocyanins, antioxidants that could help protect the body from cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as increase immune function.

2. Blueberries keep your brain sharp

A 2012 study by Harvard researchers found that a high intake of blueberries and strawberries, over time, could delay memory decline in older women by two and a half years.  The researchers observed a modest reduction in memory decline among women who consumed two half-cup servings or more of blueberries and strawberries a week.

3. Blueberries fight cancer

Research done by Rutgers University show that Pterostilbene, a major component of blueberries, protects against colon cancer.  Blueberry extract has also been found to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells and decrease enzymes associated with cancer spreading.

4. Blueberries lower blood pressure

Blueberries are an excellent source of anthocyanins which seem to lower blood pressure and make blood vessels dilate.  A 2011 study showed that eating just one cup of blueberries or strawberries a week can lower your risk of developing high blood pressure.  Over 100,00 men and women participated in the 14-year study.  The researchers found that those who consumed the most anthocyanins from blueberries and strawberries  had an 8% reduction in their risk of developing high blood pressure.  They concluded that the anthocyanins lower blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels.

5. Blueberries protect the heart

A study published in 2013 by Harvard School of Public Health showed that women who consumed three servings a week of blueberries or strawberries were 34% less likely to suffer a heart attack than women who ate the least of these fruits.  Although the 18-year study focused on young and middle-age women, the findings likely apply to everyone, including men.

6. Blueberries aid weight loss

Blueberries are a juicy fruit, which means they contain mostly water.  Juicy fruits are great for weight loss or weight maintenance, because they fill you up quickly with their high water content and minimal calories.

7. Blueberries improve blood sugar

Blueberries have a glycemic index of 53, which is relatively low.  This means that blueberries should not cause major blood sugar spikes.

8. Blueberries protect against Parkinson’s Disease

A 2011 study by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that men and women who regularly eat berries may reduce their risk of developing Parkinson’s disease.  The researchers believe that the high flavonoid content in berries help ward off the disease.  Study participants who consumed the most flavonoids were 40% less likely to develop Parkinson’s.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Buy organic when possible: Because blueberries are vulnerable to worms and other insects, the conventionally grown varieties are heavily sprayed with pesticides.  Therefore it is best to buy organically grown varieties.  Also, always wash fruit before eating.
  • Eat fresh and in salads: Blueberries are great eaten fresh or tossed into green salads.
  • Use as a topping: Blueberries can be added to oatmeal, cereal and yogurt.  To prolong the shelf life, it is best to keep them refrigerated.
  • Cook them: Blueberries can be baked for added sweetness and nutrition.  They can also be made into jam and jelly.
  • Freeze them: You can buy frozen blueberries, or you can freeze fresh ones yourself.  During the summer months when blueberries are plentiful, you can buy them in large quantities on sale and freeze them.  Just wash and dry the berries, lay them on a pan and freeze until they are solid.  Package the frozen berries in freezer-safe storage bags, so they are ready for the winter months.
  • Try other berries: If you don’t like blueberries or can’t find them, other berries like strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are a tasty alternative.
  • A balanced diet is best: While blueberries are healthy, it is best to include other fruits to meet your daily fruit quota.  So in addition to blueberries and other berries, also eat the colors of the rainbow (blue, purple, red, yellow, green, orange) for better total health.

Spotlight on Apples

Apples
Apples

An apple a day is perhaps one of the most delicious prescriptions ever made.  An apple contains a dose of pectin, the soluble fiber that thickens jellies and helps lower artery-damaging LDL (bad) cholesterol.  Apples also contain a mix of antioxidants.  Flavonoids, such as quercetin, prevent LDL cholesterol from being oxidized to a more dangerous form.

Apples have skin that’s loaded with nutrients.  For instance, the peel has six times the antioxidant power of the flesh.  Also, about two-thirds of an apple’s fiber is found in the peel.  Apples come in naturally gorgeous shades of green, golden yellow, red-orange and deep crimson

Some Key Scientific Studies

Some important scientific studies that reveal apples’ benefits are:

U.S. Study (2011): Florida State University researchers evaluated the long-term cardio-protective effects of daily consumption of apple in postmenopausal women.  They randomly assigned 160 women ages 45-65 to one of two dietary intervention groups: One ate dried apples (75 g/day for 1 year), and the other ate dried prunes everyday for a year.  Blood samples were taken at 3, 6, and 12 months.  Within 6 months, the apple-eating women experienced a 23% reduction in LDL (bad) cholesterol.  Another advantage is that the extra 240 calories a day did not lead to weight gain in the women.  In fact the women lost on, average, 3.3. lbs.

Dutch Study (2011): Researchers studied the diets of over 20,000 adults, with an average age of 41.  At the start of the study, all participants were free of cardiovascular disease.  Researchers examined the links between fruits and vegetable color group consumption and 10-year stroke incidence.  Fruits and vegetables were classified into four groups: Green (dark leafy vegetables, cabbages), Orange/Yellow (mostly citrus fruits), Red/Purple (mostly red vegetables), and White (mostly apples and pears).  During the 10-year study, 233 strokes were documented, and only white fruits and vegetables were linked to lower incidence of stroke.  In fact the risk of stroke incidence was 52 percent lower for people with a high intake of white fruits and vegetables compared to those with low intake.

Reasons to Eat Apples

  1. Apples are nutritious.  Apples contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.  One medium apple contains about 72 calories and has about 3 g of soluble fiber in the form of pectin.  An apple counts as one cup of fruit towards your daily fruit quota (around 2 cups on a 2,000-calorie diet).
  2. Apples can help prevent high blood pressure.  Apples contain potassium which helps our arteries dilate, lowering blood pressure.  Also quercetin, an antioxidant in apples, works with the cells in the inner lining (endothelium) of our arteries to make them dilate which lowers blood pressure.
  3. Apples lower cholesterol.  Apples contain pectin (about 3 g per medium apple), a soluble fiber, that binds with cholesterol in our gut and prevents it from being absorbed into our bloodstream.  This reduces risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
  4. Apples protect against colon cancer.  According to research from Germany, the fiber in apples ferments in the colon and produces chemicals that fight the formation of cancer cells.
  5. Apples provide bone protection.  Researchers believe that a flavonoid called phloridzin, found only in apples, may protect post-menopausal women from osteoporosis and also increase bone density.  Apple also contain boron which strengthens bones.
  6. Apples may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease.  Apples contain quercetin, a powerful antioxidant that protects brain cells from degeneration in rats and may do the same in humans.
  7. Apples may lower cardiovascular disease risk.  Apples help prevent the oxidation of cholesterol in our arteries thus reducing atherosclerosis.  This reduction in hardening of the arteries lowers our risk of cardiovascular disease.
  8. Apples decrease diabetes risk.  From a 2012 study, apples, as well as pears and blueberries, were linked to a lower risk of type II diabetes.  Researchers attribute the benefit to a class of antioxidants, anthocyanins, that give fruits and vegetables their purple, blue and red colors.
  9. Apples help in weight loss.  Flavonoid-rich fruits like apples have been linked by Harvard scientists to lower weight gain over many years.  The class of flavonoids called anthocyanins have been linked to the most weight control.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Buy organic when possible: Because apples are vulnerable to worms and other insects, the conventionally grown varieties are heavily sprayed with pesticides.  Therefore it is best to buy organically grown varieties.  Also, always wash fruit before eating.
  • Eat the peel: Apples are bursting with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.  It turns out that most of these nutrients are in the peel.
  • Eat fresh and in salads: Apples are great eaten fresh or cut up into slices and tossed with field greens, toasted pecans and a light vinaigrette in a delicious salad.  Also try apple slices on your favorite sandwich.
  • Cook them: Apples can be cooked in a myriad of ways – baked into pies, crisps, and tarts; added to poultry stuffing; and made into jelly, apple butter, and sauce.
  • Try pears: If you don’t like apples or can’t find them, pears are a tasty alternative.
  • A balanced diet is best: While apples are healthy, it is best to include other fruits to meet your daily fruit quota.  So in addition to apples, also eat the colors of the rainbow (blue, purple, red, yellow, green, orange) for better total health.

Health Benefits of Green Tea

Green tea
Green Tea

Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world, second only to water.  There are three main types of tea, green, black, and oolong.  Scientific studies suggest that green tea in particular has many health benefits.  Researchers believe the antioxidants, which are mostly polyphenols, in the tea leaves are responsible for the health benefits.

Green, black, and oolong teas are all derived from the leaves of the Camellia synensis plant.  This plant grows throughout Asia, parts of the Middle East, and Africa.  Green tea is prepared from unfermented leaves.  The leaves of oolong tea are partially fermented, and the leaves of black tea are fully fermented.  The more the leaves are fermented, the lower the polyphenol content and the higher the caffeine content.  Green tea has the highest polyphenol content, while black tea has 2 to 3 times the caffeine content of green tea.  Therefore green teas have the most nutritional benefits, followed by oolong and black teas.  You may have heard of white tea, which is simply the unfermented young leaves and buds of the Camellia synensis plant.

Reasons to Drink Green Tea

The health benefits of drinking green tea:

  1. Green tea is rich in antioxidants: The antioxidants found in green tea are mainly polyphenols.  A particular polyphenol, EGCG has been studied extensively, can powerfully destroy free radicals (metabolic byproducts that are chemically reactive and that can damage cells).  In research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the polyphenols found in green tea are reported to be 6 times stronger than those found in black tea.
  2. Green tea lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol:  Research shows that green tea lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and raises HDL (good) cholesterol in people.  One large-scale study found that men who drink green tea have lower total cholesterol than those who do not drink green tea.
  3. Green tea fights atherosclerosis: Large scale studies suggest the polyphenols in green tea help prevent atherosclerosis, the plaque buildup in your arteries.  The researchers believe that green tea fights atherosclerosis by lowering cholesterol and triglycerides.  Studies show that black tea has similar effects.  In fact they  estimate the rate of heart attacks decrease by 11 percent with consumption of three cups of tea daily.
  4. Green tea lowers risk of high blood pressure: A study published in 2004 reported that regular consumption of green and oolong tea reduced risk of developing hypertension.  Another study published in 2012 reported that regular long-term consumption of black tea lowered blood pressure.
  5. Green tea lowers cardiovascular disease risk: In a large-scale study, drinking three cups of green tea or black tea is associated with a 20 percent reduction in stroke risk.
  6. Green tea lowers cancer risk: Risk of cancer of the GI tract has been shown to be 17 percent lower in women who drink at least 3 cups of green tea a week.  There have also been lower risks associated with green tea consumption of the following cancers:  bladder, breast, ovarian, lung, pancreatic, prostate, and skin.
  7. Green tea strengthens your bones: The Harvard School of Public Health states that the tea polyphenols are thought to strengthen bones and protect against fractures.  Also a study published in Nutrition Research found the bioactive components of green tea may help decrease the risk of fractures by improving bone mineral density.
  8. Green tea helps protect your vision: A 2010 study reported that the components in green tea positively affected the tissues of the eyes, particularly the tissues of the retina.
  9. Green tea improves memory and cognitive function: Some of the compounds found in green tea boost certain brain tasks associated with working memory.  Working memory is the brain function that keeps in mind and manipulates multiple pieces of information simultaneously, helping you to plan ahead, organize information, solve problems and retrieve information, such as names.
  10. Green tea calms and relaxes you: L-theanine is the standout ingredient in green tea that has been studied for its calming effects on the nervous system.  A study published in Trends in Food Science & Technology found that green tea produces relaxing effects without drowsiness after just 40 minutes of ingestion.

Putting it into Practice

  • Brew it yourself: For the biggest benefit, definitely brew it yourself.  Bottled tea has significantly fewer polyphenols than home-steeped tea, plus added sugar that add unwanted calories.  You can serve it hot, or make a pitcher of home-brewed iced tea during the warmer months.
  • Watch the additives: It is not a good idea to resort to additives to make tea more palatable.  Be careful not to add spoonfuls of sugar to make tea go down easier.  The health benefits were observed for tea with little or no additives.  So maybe try a little honey or lemon to taste without compromising the purity of your tea, but stop there.
  • Daily dosage: The University of Maryland Medical Center recommends two to three cups of green tea per day.  This provides about 240 to 320 mg of polyphenols.
  • Try a healthy alternative: If you just can’t stomach green tea, you may want to try a healthy alternative – coffee.  Coffee is a perfectly reasonable and possibly equally healthful alternative.  Click here to read my article on coffee.
  • Caution if you are pregnant: Because of its caffeine level, green tea can be unsafe for pregnant women and their babies.  Always consult your doctor about consuming caffeinated beverages while pregnant.
  • Problem with iron: Drinking green tea may cause your body to absorb less iron, so it is best not to drink green tea with an iron-rich meal.  Rather drink green tea between meals.  Consult your doctor if you are anemic.

Go Nuts – for Walnuts!

Walnuts closeup
Walnuts closeup

If you’ve been avoiding nuts because they are high in calories, stop now!  People who eat nuts in moderation (up to two ounces a day) can enjoy a variety of health benefits.  Walnuts are tree nuts, and they are the top dog of the nut world: they contain twice as many phytochemicals as their competitors.  Walnuts are the edible seeds of any tree of the genus, Juglans.  There are three main species of walnuts, the English walnut, black walnut, and white walnut.  The English walnut is the most widely consumed type of walnut in the United States.  Walnuts are a rich source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid, zinc, vitamin E and protein.

Reasons to Eat Walnuts

The health benefits of eating walnuts in moderation (one-to-two ounces a day):

  1. Walnuts are rich in antioxidants: Walnuts are the most antioxidant-rich nuts of all the nuts, including tree nuts and peanuts.
  2. Walnuts lower LDL (bad) cholesterol:  Walnuts contain a large percentage of unsaturated fats, particularly polyunsaturated fats.  They are also a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA.  ALA has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reviewed the heart-health benefits of walnuts on 365 participants, who were monitored during control diets and diets supplemented with walnuts.  Results showed walnuts cause a significantly greater decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
  3. Walnuts lower blood pressure: Walnuts contain the compound arginine which is converted to nitric oxide in the body.  This causes your constricted blood vessels to dilate easing blood flow.
  4. Walnuts lower cardiovascular disease risk: Several recent studies have linked higher intake of ALA to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.  One quarter-cup of walnuts provides all the ALA you need in a day.
  5. Walnuts strengthen your bones:  The ALA in walnuts is also good for your skeleton as they strengthen your bones.  In a study by researchers at Penn State University, 23 participants were fed four different diets over 6-week periods.  One of the diets was a high-ALA diet.  This high-ALA diet resulted in significantly less bone breakdown than the other diets.
  6. Walnuts lower type 2 diabetes risk: Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health say that women who reported eating one ounce of walnuts at least five times a week reduced their risk of type 2 diabetes by 30 percent compared to those who rarely or never ate walnuts.
  7. Walnuts lower cancer risk: A 2010 scientific study by the University of Portugal concluded that the phenolic compounds and antioxidants in walnuts controlled the growth of human cancer cells.  Also the type of vitamin E found in abundance in walnuts has been shown to fight breast, prostate, and lung cancer.
  8. Walnuts lower mortality (premature death) risk: A nuts-and-longevity study published in 2013 in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine involving 118,000 healthy volunteers found that people who ate one ounce (about a handful) of nuts (including walnuts) daily had a 20 percent lower death rate during the three-decade long study compared to participants who did not eat nuts.
  9. Walnuts help reduce stress: Recent scientific research shows that walnuts reduce blood pressure responses to stress in the laboratory.  The stressful situations include plunging your feet into an ice bath or delivering a speech in front of your peers.  Those who eat walnuts have lower blood pressure, both in response to that stress or when not under stress.  Since walnut oil and flax oil produced similar results, the researchers believe the benefits may be due to the omega-3 fatty acid ALA.
  10. Walnuts improve memory and concentration: A 2012 Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease report found that eating walnuts as part of a Mediterranean diet was associated with better memory and brain function.  The report states that the antioxidants in walnuts may help counteract age-related cognitive decline and even reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s.

Putting it into Practice

  • Moderate consumption: Because walnuts are high in calories, limit yourself to one to two ounces of nuts a day.
  • Use as a salad topping: You can add walnuts to salads instead of croutons and bacon bits.
  • Use on cereals: Add walnuts to oatmeal or any cereal.
  • Use in side dishes: Sprinkle chopped walnuts on sautéed vegetables.  Or stir them into cooked whole grains or chicken salad.
  • Try walnut butter: If eating walnuts by the handful is not your idea of a fun snack, then try making walnut butter.  You could stir it into smoothies, plain yogurt, or oatmeal.  You can also spread it on whole grain bread.
  • Home made trail mix: You can prepare a home made trail mix using walnuts, dried fruit (like cherries or raisins), 70 percent dark chocolate chips, and 100 percent whole grain pretzels.
  • Replace unhealthy snacks: Eat walnuts and other nuts instead of chips and less healthy snacks so that your daily caloric intake is not increased.
  • Store properly: Since walnuts are high in fat, they are prone to go rancid and spoil.  So store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Spotlight on Coffee

Coffee beans closeup
Coffee beans closeup

We used to hear that coffee was a guilty pleasure at best and a health evil at worst.  However researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that coffee can be good for you.  Their research findings show that people who drink moderate amounts of coffee daily are less likely to die from a range of diseases, from diabetes to heart disease.   They found that both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee helped.  Their main message is that regular consumption, about three to five cups a day, is associated with lower total mortality (premature death) and mortality from several causes, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and suicide.

The Scientific Studies

The Harvard School of Public Health looked at surveys of more than 200,000 doctors and nurses who regularly updated researchers on their eating and other lifestyle habits and details about their health for about 30 years.  They found that coffee drinkers were less likely to die over the decades than non-drinkers.   The effects were even stronger for non-smokers who drank coffee.  It turned out that non-smokers who regularly drank three to five cups of coffee a day had a 15 percent lower risk of mortality.  The researchers caution that people should be aware of the amount of added sugar to coffee drinks which can be a problem.  They also point out that a cup is a small 8-ounce cup of black, or almost black coffee.  Not a 32-ounce mocha frappuccino.

The researchers also looked beyond total mortality and looked at specific causes of death.  They found that people who drink moderate amounts of coffee daily have lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurological disease (such as Parkinson’s) and suicide.  It is important to note that the study does not prove cause and effect between drinking coffee and living longer.  Rather, it points to an association.

Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet, and the researchers think that the antioxidants work together to provide some of the health benefits.  They also conclude that since the benefits are seen in both regular and decaf coffee, that points to caffeine not being responsible for the benefits.  The researchers are not advocating coffee as a strategy for prevention of chronic diseases because other factors in the diet have a bigger effect.  The main message is that people who enjoy drinking coffee should not worry that it may be harmful to their health.  Coffee may actually be beneficial to their health when consumed in moderate amounts.

The findings were published in November, 2015 in the journal Circulation.

The Health Benefits

Moderate consumption of coffee:

  1. Helps you live longer.
  2. Lowers risk of depression.
  3. Lowers risk of type 2 diabetes.
  4. Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease.
  5. Lowers risk of neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease.
  6. Lowers risk of suicide.

Does Coffee Raise Blood Pressure?

According to the researchers at Harvard’s School of Public Health, people who are not used to caffeine will experience a substantial increase in blood pressure when they start consuming caffeinated beverages like coffee.  However within a week of caffeine consumption, that effect is less pronounced.  After several weeks of continued caffeine consumption, however, a small increase in blood pressure remains.  They suggest that people who have hypertension switch from caffeinated coffee to decaffeinated coffee, to see if it has a beneficial effect.

Does Coffee Raise Cholesterol?

Turns out that people who have high cholesterol should watch how they prepare their coffee.  Coffee contains a substance called cafestol which is a potent stimulator of LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.  Cafestol is found in the oily part of coffee, which is present whether or not the coffee is decaffeinated.  When you brew coffee with a paper filter, the cafestol gets left behind in the filter.  Other methods of coffee preparation, such as the boiled coffee common in Scandinavian countries, French press coffee, or Turkish coffee, are much higher in cafestol.  So for people who have high cholesterol levels or who want to prevent having high cholesterol levels, it is better to choose paper filtered coffee or instant coffee, since they have much lower levels of cafestol than boiled or French pressed coffee.  Espresso is somewhere in the middle;  It has less cafestol than boiled or French pressed coffee, but more than paper filtered coffee.

Putting It Into Practice

  • Moderate consumption: Three to five cups a day seems to be the coffee intake where benefits were seen.  The benefits diminish for intakes lower than two cups a day and above six cups a day.  A cup is 8-ounces.
  • Watch the caffeine: Keep caffeine intake to less than 400 mg per day especially if you are sensitive to it.  Research has shown that consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine can interfere with sleep and create feelings of unease.  You can try decaf or half regular/half decaf coffee if you are sensitive to caffeine.  Pregnant women should also watch their caffeine intake and consult their doctor.
  • Don’t smoke: The studies found that coffee consumption did not offset the damages caused by smoking.
  • Go with paper filtered coffee: If you have high cholesterol or are watching your cholesterol levels, you may want to lower your consumption of boiled coffee beverages.
  • Go with black, or almost black: Watch what you add to coffee.  Heavy cream, caramel, sugar, and syrups all add calories to your coffee, and could increase cholesterol levels if you consume these items regularly.

Have Some Dark Chocolate

Dark Chocolate
Dark Chocolate

Rejoice chocolate lovers.  This decadent treat is actually good for your heart and cardiovascular system.  Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, and its cultivation can be traced back thousands of years.  The indigenous Kuna Indian  population of the San Blas Islands of Panama never get high blood pressure, and they enjoy five cups of cocoa every day.  However when they relocate to mainland Panama and change their diet habits, their blood pressure shoots up.  The difference between the indigenous Kuna and their urban counterparts certainly is not genetics, but rather their eating habits.  Modern science is also revealing the same thing.  In fact in multiple scientific studies, dark chocolate has been shown to reduce blood pressure in people with elevated blood pressure.

Where Chocolate Comes From

The cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao) is a small tropical tree that produces cacao pods.  The pods are cracked open to release the seeds (cacao beans) which are then fermented, dried, cleaned, and roasted.  Then the bean’s outer layer is removed leaving the meat of the beans (nibs).  The cacao nibs are then ground into a dark brown paste called cacao paste.  Cacao butter, which is mostly fat, is then removed from the cacao paste at low temperature, and the rest of the fruit (cacao solids) is then ground into cacao powder.  Cacao solids are high in a polyphenol antioxidant called flavonoids which have been shown to lower blood pressure.  Your best bet is ingesting mostly the cacao solids, which are low in calories and virtually fat-free.

Cocoa powder is produced similarly to cacao powder, except it is processed at higher temperatures.  It still retains a large amount of antioxidants and is still excellent for your blood pressure, especially natural unsweetened cocoa powder.  Cocoa powder is also generally less expensive than cacao powder.

Chocolate

Chocolate is a confection made of cacao solids, cacao butter, sugar, and sometimes milk, formed into a solid food product.  Because flavonoids are bitter, some chocolate manufacturers remove many of them and add sugar and milk to enhance flavor.

Dark chocolate has a high content of nonfat cacao solids and flavonoids.  “Dutching” or alkalization of cacao is a process that makes the chocolate taste milder but removes almost all of the flavonoids.  So you want avoid “Dutched” cacao.  Since the level of cacao solids is the main factor in determining the chocolate’s antioxidant power, it is no surprise that cacao powder (ground cacao solids) has the most antioxidants followed by natural unsweetened cocoa powder, baking chocolates, dark chocolates, and semisweet chocolate baking chips.  Milk chocolates and chocolate syrups contain the fewest flavonoids.

The front of the chocolate packages usually list the percentage of cacao solids (or cacao mass).  Have fun sampling different dark chocolate products but beware of imposters such as white chocolate, hot chocolate mixes, chocolate syrups, and milk chocolate bars, all of which are low in flavonoids.

It is best to consume chocolate concoctions made from cacao powder or natural unsweetened cocoa powder.  Make sure the cocoa powder has not been produced using the Dutch processing method.  If a quick inspection of the ingredients list shows the word “alkali,” don’t buy it.

Scientific Studies

Large-scale observational studies: Several studies of thousands of people show an association between eating chocolate and lower blood pressure.  One such large observational study conducted in Germany followed the diet and health habits of about twenty thousand Germans for ten years.  Statistical analysis revealed that people who ate a little chocolate (about one square) a day cut their risk of heart attack or stroke by 39 percent.  A recent meta-analysis combined data from seven large-scale observational studies (involving more than a hundred thousand people) came to a similar conclusion.

Randomized clinical trials: A number of randomized clinical trials prove that eating dark chocolate does indeed cause a reduction in blood pressure.  In one study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers tested the effects on blood pressure of eating a small daily amount of dark chocolate, using 44 men and women with prehypertension (not taking medication), over a period of eighteen weeks.  Subjects were divided into two groups.  One group consumed a 30-calorie, 6.3 g piece of high-flavonoid dark chocolate.  The other group consumed a 30-calorie, 5.6 g dose of flavonoid-free white chocolate daily.  At the end of the study, those who ate the dark chocolate had a reduction in blood pressure of 2.9/1.9 mm Hg.  In contrast, those who ate the white chocolate had no change in blood pressure.

Daily Dosage

The top ranked heart clinic in the U.S., the Cleveland Clinic, recommends one ounce (or 28 g) of dark chocolate daily to lower blood pressure.  This amounts to around 115 calories.  Look for dark chocolates that contains at least 70% cacao.  Chocolate lovers should offset the additional calories from chocolate by decreasing calorie elsewhere in their diet.  Even better, you may want to consume cacao powder (or cocoa powder) which has less than 24 calories per tablespoon.

Putting it into Practice

  • You can use cacao powder interchangeably with cocoa powder in baking recipes, smoothies, shakes, oatmeal, cookies, or even stir them into your coffee for a homemade mocha.  If you want more nutrients, you may want to choose cacao powder.
  • Enjoy up to one ounce (28 g) of dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao) with a cup of tea.
  • Try a daily cup of steaming decadent hot chocolate using a tablespoon or two of cocoa powder for a heart-healthy and blood pressure-lowering treat.
  • Try baking with unsweetened baking chocolate squares.