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.

My Favorite Reads of the Week

I have read some interesting articles and posts relating to the Mediterranean diet and living healthy.  I though I’d share these in a post and maybe make this a regular feature.

  1. Prolonging the sunshine feeling with the Mediterranean diet – This post describes the features and benefits of the Mediterranean diet along with ideas on how to closely follow it.  I like the ideas on using locally grown produce.
  2. Almonds are your friend – This post discusses the benefits of nuts and seeds.  Focuses on almonds and gives great ideas on how to use them.  This one was quite thorough.
  3. Mediterranean Diet With Olive Oil Linked to Lower Breast Cancer Risk – A short article that summarizes a five-year study on breast cancer risk in women and the Mediterranean diet.  Results showed a 68% reduction in breast cancer risk for women following a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil compared to women on a low fat diet.
  4. Hey Baby … gimme some sugar! – This post is all about watching our sugar intake and looking for hidden sugars in prepared and processed foods.  Presents four pointers to reduce sugar intake.  Watching and limiting added sugar is getting a lot of attention from the scientific community.  Very relevant topic and good post.

Fruits and Vegetables: Get Five or More Servings Daily

Local market
Local Produce Market

Fruits and vegetables are important in the Mediterranean diet as they provide vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (plant-based nutrients).  Fruits and vegetables are also low in calories and rich in dietary fiber.  Include a variety of colors (dark green, orange, yellow, red, purple) everyday to get the widest array of nutrients.

There is strong scientific evidence that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.  The largest and longest study to date was conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health where the health and dietary habits of nearly 110,000 men and women were followed for 14 years.  When these findings were combined with other U.S. and Europe studies, they found individuals who consumed more than five servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease when compared to individuals who consumed less than three servings per day.

A serving of fruit is 1/2 cup.  A serving of vegetables is 1/2 cup, except raw leafy greens, which is 1 cup.  Based on these studies, it is recommended to consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables.  The higher your calorie intake is, the more fruits and vegetables you can consume.  My calorie intake is roughly 2,100 calories, and I eat ten servings of fruits and vegetables.

To eat more fruit, try fresh fruit for dessert and as a topping on your morning cereal, oatmeal, or porridge.  Try fruits salads and snack on apples or bananas.  Also mix fresh fruit into salads.  To eat more vegetables, try oven-roasted vegetable medleys, stir fries, soups, stews, and salads,  Build meals around beans, an important vegetable.  Also explore the produce aisle at the store and try something new, because variety is as important as quantity.

Written in response to the prompt: Home Turf.

You Can Be Nutty On The Mediterranean Diet

Nuts
Fruit and Nuts

The Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated fats, one type of healthy fat.  Nuts, particularly almonds, are rich in these monounsaturated fats.  Research shows that just one serving (1 ounce) of nuts is associated with lower total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels.

Almonds contain a lot of dietary fiber, in fact the highest amount of dietary fiber of all the tree nuts.  High fiber diets are associated with lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

Almonds contain powerful antioxidants that help prevent oxidation, a precursor to plaque buildup in our arteries.  These antioxidants (flavonoids and vitamin E) may be the key to almonds’ ability to protect LDL cholesterol and prevent death from cardiovascular disease.

Almonds relax our arteries so they open up, which lowers our blood pressure.  Almonds also reduce the ability of our blood to clot, therefore reducing the risk of a heart attack.

Almonds are calorie dense, so they should be consumed in moderation.  No more than one to two ounces a day.  An ounce is about a handful.  Click here to read this post for ideas on how to use almonds.

Finally it is best to store almonds in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  This is because they are high in fat, so they are prone to spoilage.

Why I Decided To Go Mediterranean

Colorful Ingredients
Colorful Italian Cuisine Ingredients

About three years ago, I decided to embark on a diet lifestyle to lose weight and keep it off.  I had lost weight in the past but would always regain it.  This time, I wanted a diet that I could stay with for the long run.  I went on a low fat diet for one year.  I lost 22 pounds, but my blood cholesterol shot up from 218 mg/dL to 228 mg/dL.  I was not happy with that.  After doing some research, I came across the Mediterranean diet.  It appealed to me because it included healthy fats, was plant based, and seemed like I would not be sacrificing anything.  It also had the scientific backing as a very heart healthy diet.

On the Mediterranean diet I eat lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and fish.  Moderate amounts of poultry and dairy, and my fat/oil of choice is olive oil (extra virgin).  Very limited amounts of red and processed meats.  I also take 45 minute walks, five days a week.

After being on the Mediterranean diet for 2 years, I have lost 44 pounds, and my blood cholesterol has dropped to 147 mg/dL.  I am truly very happy with this diet lifestyle.  I enjoy the meals, and I am getting the weight loss and cholesterol lowering benefits.  Most importantly, I have had no desire to reverted to my old way of eating.  I am truly on this diet lifestyle for life.  I hope you will join me on this journey to good health.