Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Mark's Daily Apple

24 Jan

10 Things to Know about Tofu

Soy. Tofu. Tempeh. Make that steaming rubbery gray squares of questionable origin.

I get a lot of questions about this bland food product we call by various names. Do I eat tofu? Is it healthy? Is it manna from heaven? Or will it cause your voice to jump an octave and your hormones to rage out of control?

I don’t want to claim to “set the record straight” on this topic, which is something a lot of people do in the health world (make that every area of life, right?). Science and experience are always revealing new information and insights, so I don’t like to be assumptive by claiming one food is definitively bad or good for all eternity.

That said, here are 10 important things I think everyone should know about tofu:

1. Hill of beans

Whole soybeans, or edamame (in-the-shell version), are a great plant protein source. I eat soybeans regularly and I think this is a great way to eat soy because beans are unprocessed, fresh, and whole. Soybeans do have a bit more fat than other beans, but they are a hearty protein and contain valuable phyto-nutrients. Soybeans do contain plant estrogens and phytic acid (more on that in a moment), so no, tofu is not a “miracle” health food. But it’s also not evil, unlike fat-free devil’s food cookies.

edamame

2. What’s this about black beans?

Did you know that douchi, the black beans commonly used in Asian cooking (think black bean sauce), are actually just fermented soy beans? Fermented foods are very high in nutritional value, so I recommend getting some sort of fermented food in your diet daily (organic sugar-free yogurt, kefir, kimchi and fermented olives or vegetables are great examples). Fermented foods reduce cholesterol and improve digestion and immunity.

In general, I recommend fermented soy products such as black beans because other, processed soy products like soy milk and tofu contain phytic acid, which does inhibit some nutrient absorption (hence the soy controversy).

3. Soybean oil

Soybean oil is heavily refined and ought to be avoided. This junk won’t do you any health favors at all. Aside from anti-nutritive compounds in soybean oil, most soybean oil contains some level of dangerous trans fat (even the “trans-free” varieties are still heavily refined and contain chemically-modified fat molecules). You’ll notice this worthless oil in most processed foods, which is why I advocate sticking to fresh, unprocessed meals. You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to eat healthily – salads, steamed veggies and grilled fish take just minutes to prepare once you learn to make them.

4. Soy nuts, chips, and snacks

Here is where we can make a really important distinction. Take even the healthiest food and turn it into a processed snack, and it is no longer healthy! Whether soy is a miraculous heart-healthy food or not, processing anything destroys valuable nutrients and enzymes and usually means added fat, sugar, and chemicals. I see people purchasing and eating unhealthy snacks every day simply because there is a trendy ingredient or some sneaky marketing. Sun chips and pita chips are examples. Somehow, these items garner the reputation of “healthy” and “wholesome” even though they are processed, nutritionally-deficient, and usually high in refined (trans) fat. An apple is healthy until you dunk it in caramel sauce. Soybeans are healthy until you turn them into faux nuts.

For example, chocolate-covered soy nuts are not healthy just because they are made from soybeans.

soynuts

5. Soy milk

Though I’m not a big fan of dairy, I don’t recommend making soy milk a regular part of your diet. Soy milk contains phytic acid, which inhibits the absorption of nutrients. It’s also rather high in sugar and is so heavily processed, it can hardly be thought of as a “health” food. It’s probably fine once in a while for those who are not sensitive to plant estrogens and who don’t like dairy milk, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to include it in the diet. Remember, there simply is no magic bullet for health.

6. Tofu

By now, tofu – in all its slippery and firm incarnations – has made its way into the mainstream of the American diet. Sort of. The texture is something we may never fantasize about, but it is a nice occasional alternative protein source, especially for vegetarians and people who want to avoid too much meat (given the way meat is produced these days). I say occasional because, remember, it is a highly-processed food. Many types of tofu – especially “mock meats” – are really akin to processed deli meats and sausages. Of course, tofu comes from a bean and doesn’t contain antibiotics, added hormones and animal products, but it’s still – all together now – a processed food. In fact, I really don’t think tofu is much different from a slice of low-fat cheddar. Puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

7. Tempeh

Here’s where soy gets healthy (finally!). Fermented soy products are rich in isoflavones, which are excellent for the heart and may even prevent cancer. The good news is that you can find fermented soy milk and tofu if you look for it (and grocery stores will often start carrying it if you just ask). Tempeh is a chewy, nutty, meaty type of soy product that is loaded with isoflavones, so I do recommend this. I think it’s a lot tastier than tofu, too.
tempeh

8. Miso

Miso is a fermented, thick soy paste. It’s great for soups and contains high levels of isoflavones and acts as a probiotic.

9. A little perspective

Removing certain parts of the soybean – say, oil, or protein – and expecting this to render fabulous health results is where we go wrong, I think. In general, any highly-processed food just isn’t what nature intended, and contributes to disease and obesity. This applies to many foods – yogurt is another great example. We hear that the fermented cultures are good for the gut, but Big Moo delivers what is more like glorified dessert than a health food. Full of sugar, gums, thickeners, dyes, chemicals, antibiotics, and hormones, yogurt becomes about as healthy as a candy bar.

10. The estrogen factor

Oh, the studies. There’s always a study for every side of a contentious health issue, and soy is no exception. One study shows that soy is dangerous for boys during puberty. Another shows that soy may help menopause symptoms. Another shows that soy may inhibit fertility. Yet another shows that soy may help prevent cancer and heart disease. I recommend doing a search for soy at vitasearch.com. Type “Is soy healthy?” into Google and you’re going to get a lot of conflicting information. I prefer to stick with the studies so I get accurate information. That doesn’t mean the studies aren’t biased or wrong themselves from time to time, but at least I know I’m looking at something that was held up to a scientific standard.

In other words, I don’t have the last word on soy – no one really does. I think controversial foods become so because we simply expect far too much. We learn about a possible benefit, and before you know it, food manufacturers are adding soy protein to lollipops. When you stick to fresh, unprocessed, organic, whole foods, 99% of nutrition and health worries simply disappear.

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24 Jan

Searching for Health

Google isn’t the only search engine on the world-wide-web. If you are looking for specific health-related information or technical articles on vitamins and supplements it makes sense to use a search engine that is optimized to provide health-specific results. Here are two websites that do just that.

vitasearch

Vitasearch.com provides scientific articles that cover the latest research in the field of nutrition. Visit the ‘Weekly Updates’ link for the most up-to-date findings on everything from vitamin D and folate to coenzyme Q10 and fish oils. Additionally, this website supplies interviews with some of the brilliant scientists behind all the research. Get their expert opinions on a variety of health topics. This site is simple, straightforward, and as long as you are willing to dig through sometimes technical journal article summaries, provides excellent content.

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If you are looking for solid information about specific health conditions and ailments Healthline.com may be able to provide you with answers. This 2006 Webby Award winning site provides filtered search results that draw from over 170,000 health-related websites and thousands of peer-reviewed journal articles. Healthline was developed in partnership with over 1,110 medical specialists to help bring consumers relevant search results. The site also offers cool features like Healthmaps, detailed illustrations and pictures, and quizzes to help assess physical conditions. Although a lot of the information seems to be focused on and sponsored by Big Pharma, this site still offers plenty of preventative tips and a wealth of quality advice (just be aware of the bias).

As we are always saying at Mark’s Daily Apple: be willing to be critical about everything you’ve assumed to be true about health and fitness, and take responsibility for your own health. In order to do this, it is important to stay on top of the latest research and findings. Between MDA and these resources you are sure to find the most up-to-date health information available.

24 Jan

The Buckler Brief

EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT: DMAE, or dimethylaminoethanol (die-meth-ell-amino-eth-an-ell)

WHAT IT IS: DMAE is a precursor to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. DMAE is found naturally in fish, and you’ll find it in high-quality multivitamins as well.

WHAT IT DOES: Scientists believe that DMAE becomes methylated to choline inside the brain (this basically means it’s converted). Choline, a nutrient considered by the U.S. Government to be essential for human health, serves many important functions, most notably in the brain. In fact, it’s believed that a deficiency in choline is associated with dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of mental debility. Drugs that help acetylcholine uptake are already widely used in Alzheimer’s studies. Hence, many scientists believe DMAE may support healthy brain function.

STUDIES SHOW: Studies show that DMAE can become methylated into choline. Scientists have already proven that DMAE converts to choline in the liver, making DMAE an important nutrient for liver health. Studies also have shown that DMAE may undergo a similar process in the brain, and it is believed that supplementing with DMAE serves a potentially vital role in brain health. DMAE has been shown to have what are known as “nootropic” effects. Nootropics are a class of drugs that have brain-boosting properties. (From the Greek noos, mind, and tropos, bend: mind-bending.) Studies of nootropics, including DMAE, show increased alertness, mental function, calm, and relaxation.

WHY WE LIKE IT: DMAE is a safe, gentle, non-drug nootropic. The potential benefits of DMAE include improved cognition, memory, mood, circulation, and alertness.
tealpills

23 Jan

Out and About

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:

Juicy picks!

1) Then what does a microwave do to food?

You can sterilize your sponges by tossing them in the microwave for two minutes. Details here. Oh, make sure the sponge is wet.

This handy trick kills all germs, spores, and is also useful for eliciting befuddled looks from your guests. Be casual about it, now.

sponges

2) The Worst Food on Planet Earth

The EPA won’t allow disgusting leftover grease sludge to be disposed of in drains (mostly because the stuff is too thick to even make it down the drain). Unfortunately, the FDA is not so vigilant. Here’s what happens to this grease. And why you’ll never eat another chip as long as you live.

donut

3) Vitamins Versus Drugs…Again

Pfizer had to scrap plans to release cholesterol drug torcetrapib (wow, that sounds like a real blast) because it was killing people. Oops. As it turns out, doctors are beginning to prescribe good old vitamins – niacin in particular – for cholesterol concerns. Why? For one thing, they work. For another, vitamins don’t kill people.

Though vitamins aren’t regulated by the FDA (making it important to buy from a quality source), consider: just what is regulation? Drugs that are “regulated” sicken and kill millions every year, right under our noses. This isn’t “secret” information, either; the records are there for all to see.

Big Pharma spends a lot of money sending press releases to media outlets attempting to scare people into thinking vitamins are dangerous. This is funny, because niacin doesn’t make people have heart attacks or go blind or die. We’re just sayin’.

pills

4) How to Quit Coffee

Addicted to caffeine? This is an excellent guide to getting over the java jones. Like alcohol, we think caffeine in moderation can be just fine. But if you are interested in cutting back or cutting out caffeine altogether, check out the clickativity.

caffeine

5) Does this mean they’ll stop turning it into food?

Yet another use for corn. If it can be made into plastic, and fuel, and clothing, should we really be eating it anymore?

23 Jan

The Tuesday 10

The Top 10 Ways to Beat Stressthis week!

Thanks to all Apples who participated in last week’s how-to-beat-stress contest. Our winner, junior Apple Sandra W., had some excellent suggestions we’re adding to today’s 10 (and a free month’s supply of all-natural stress-busting Proloftin is on the way, Sandra!).

Thanks to the rest of you for the additional good tips! Here they are:

10. Choose your friends wisely.

This is possibly the most important thing you can do to manage stress in your life. It’s often overlooked, too. Choosing your relationships from a proactive, positive mindset is critical to your well-being. We all have people who “drain” us or bring negative situations or thoughts into our lives. And sometimes it’s hard to admit this – and even harder to take action. As much as you can, let these people go. Sometimes it’s not immediately possible to weed them all out, but over time, work to surround yourself with good, kind people who offer you true love, true support, and true reciprocity. Life’s too short to short-change yourself in the joy department. Really.

handshake

9. Get exercise – and get grounded.

Daily exercise regulates the delicate balance of hormones in your body. It’s the best way to relieve stress, tension and anxiety – plus it’s great for your body. Even better, exercise that literally gets you grounded (walking, hiking, or running) gives you an additional mental boost. Exercise doesn’t have to be lengthy or intense. A daily walk is the most natural and effective workout for both your mind and your body.

shoes

8. Listen to uplifting music.

Sound is very important. Think about the sounds you encounter and surround yourself with every day – and take steps to limit stressful sounds and noises like traffic, yelling, negative television news, and jarring music. Listen to music that makes you happy.

note
7. Swim.

Swimming is a wonderful stress-reliever, and it’s gentle on your joints, too.

pool

6. Stretch.

Stretching loosens muscle tension, releases nerve “kinks”, massages your internal organs, helps flush toxins and just makes you feel great! Try to stretch gently for a few minutes every day. Hint: never stretch until it hurts.

Learn about yoga here.

yoga

5. Surround yourself with pleasant objects and belongings.

We’re not talking about expensive items or materialistic pursuits. But surrounding yourself with personal mementos, cherished objects and pleasant things to touch and look at – both at home and at work – does wonders for your sense of well-being. These things needn’t be pricey, just special to you. The same goes for clutter and objects you don’t like – toss them out and make room for things that make you happy.

4. Pray or meditate.

Calm yourself and renew your spirits with 5 to 20 minutes daily spent in quiet introspection. Whether you prefer to think through your day, think about your loved ones, or think about nothing at all, meditative activities literally reset brain waves and restore a sense of peace and serenity. Don’t neglect the need to “chill out” for a few minutes every day. Even better, get consistent about the time of day you spend with yourself; your brain will become accustomed to it and your body will get even more out of the sessions.

3. Express yourself.

Whether through music, singing, dance, art, sports or cooking, find ways to express yourself several times a week. Even sketching daydreams or tackling a minor project can be therapeutic. Whatever gets you in the moment is a wonderful energy booster and tension reliever. Many times, activities that involve your hands or require some movement do a better job of relieving chaotic and pent-up emotions than hours spent thinking about such feelings.

brushes

2. Breathe.

Some people call it heart math. Some call it soul breathing. Whatever you want to call it, try this out: take 5 or 10 deep breaths now and again. Concentrate on filling your entire body with air, then release it slowly. Imagine that you are made of mesh and the breath is entering and exiting gently through the mesh. You’ll be amazed at how good this feels.

Art: Deep Breath by Melanie Weidner.

breatheeeee

1. Find an organization method that works for you.

Successful people often spend an entire day each week simply organizing their tasks, goals and thoughts. Even an hour a week can make a big difference in your stress level and your feeling of control. Whether you like to keep things organized with a notepad or a Blackberry, find a method, a time of the week, and a length of time that works for you. Even if you don’t accomplish everything, you’ll feel better just knowing you’re at the helm. (And remember not to give yourself too many tasks. Most people give themselves about twice as much as they can realistically expect to accomplish. Remember that many tasks actually involve several smaller tasks.)

notepad

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© 2014 Mark's Daily Apple

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