The popular story of how low-carb diets work goes something like this: Reducing your carbohydrate...
Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...Tell Me More
It may not share cinnamon’s universal applicability to consumables, but turmeric is another spice with some powerful culinary and medicinal qualities that deserves our attention. Turmeric, known officially as Curcuma longa and historically as Indian saffron, is a rhizome of the ginger family. Its horizontal root system is dug up, baked, and ground into a fine orange powder, which then goes into any number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian dishes. Pretty much every curry you come across anywhere, for example, includes a generous portion of turmeric. Common yellow mustard also includes turmeric, mostly as a food colorant.
Turmeric imparts a unique flavor: slightly bitter and a bit spicy, with a mustard-like scent. Upon tasting a dab of turmeric powder by itself for the first time, one is reminded of curries and other Asian stews. It’s a bit of an “Aha!” moment, in fact; you’re finally direct witness to the identity of that secretive flavor lurking within the explosiveness of the common Asian curry after all those years of take out and home cooking with anonymous curry powder mixes. Turmeric itself is actually fairly mild and unassuming, so using it as a solitary spice won’t turn every dish into a curry bonanza – in case you were worried.
We mostly see them as flavorants, as the little jars of powder that line our cabinets and the bags of dried roots, barks, and leaves tucked away in drawers, designed to subtly or drastically alter the flavor profile of our “smart fuel” creations in the kitchen, but for most of human history, spices were also prized for their medicinal qualities. Turmeric for GI disorders and inflammation. Chili peppers for pain management. Ginger for diarrhea. These aren’t just exaggerated cases of “folk medicine” or “old wives’ tales,” either. Current research has confirmed that many common spices do indeed have medicinal properties. One of the most beneficial is also the most common: cinnamon.
Of the tropical oils, coconut gets the most attention, while palm oil gets mostly ignored. The virgin coconut oil has a fairly distinct flavor, but it’s one most people are familiar with, and it lends itself well to both sweet and savory dishes. Palm oil, especially the virgin red variety that gets all the attention for its positive health effects, also has a distinct flavor, but it’s one many people seem to dislike, probably because it’s so unfamiliar (in the US, at least; worldwide, palm oil is the most widely used cooking oil) to our palates. Scott Kustes had a guest post awhile back discussing the tropical oils, but I thought it would be good to give a short, comprehensive primer on the multiple varieties of palm oil.
We’ve written about the nutritional benefits of coconut, shared recipes that include coconut milk, and discussed the merits of coconut flour, but we’ve never actually fully covered one of the best coconut products out there: coconut oil.
Coconut oil consists of about 92 percent saturated fat and is therefore nearly solid at room temperature. It can be used in cooking, but is also a common ingredient in home remedies and skin care products.
Although it gets a bad rap in some circles for its high saturated fat content, we know that such fats can offer many health benefits. For example, coconut oil has been found to help normalize blood lipids and protect against damage to the liver by alcohol and other toxins, can play a role in preventing kidney and gall bladder diseases, and is associated with improved blood sugar and insulin control and therefore the prevention and management of diabetes. In addition, coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. On a more superficial level, meanwhile, coconut oil is thought to help strengthen mineral absorption, which is important for healthy teeth and bones, and can also help improve the condition and appearance of the scalp, hair and skin when ingested or topically applied.
Sweet peppers aren’t just useful for adding a little pizzazz to your salad, eggs, soups or casseroles (is there no end to their talent?) they’re also a serious smart fuel.
To start, sweet peppers are an excellent source of both vitamin C and vitamin A, providing more than 200% and 100%, respectively, of recommended daily allowance per 1 cup serving. These vitamins contain antioxidative properties which effectively neutralize free radicals, a type of cell-damaging molecule whose rap sheet includes promoting atherosclerosis and heart disease and activating symptoms of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and other inflammatory conditions. In addition, sweet peppers contain vitamin B6 and folic acid, which are important for regulating homocysteine levels and thus, blood vessel integrity, as well as fiber for digestive health. Red peppers, in particular, are also an excellent source of lycopene, which is thought to offer a protective benefit against cancers of the cervix, prostate, bladder and pancreas, and beta-cryptoxanthin, which is thought to protect against lung cancer.
The popular Asian cooking spice, turmeric, may help prevent diabetes and help beneficially influence body composition, according to a study slated to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Endocrinology.
Previous research has suggested that turmeric and its anti-oxidative ingredient, curcumin, can help reduce inflammation, help heal wounds and relieve pain.
For the most recent study, researchers from the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center evaluated the use of turmeric on rodent models and found that those treated with the popular curry spice were “less susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes” based on the findings of a blood glucose level test and an assessment of glucose and insulin tolerance.
We’ve known for quite some time that a peanut isn’t really a nut (it’s a legume), but turns out almonds have long been sneaking in to the mixed nuts too! In fact, almonds are nothing more than a seed for an almond tree, a medium sized tree that produces flowers and almond fruit.
But that’s not where the trickery ends: Although similar in that they have an oval shape, off-white flesh, thin, brown-hued skin, there are in fact two kinds of almonds: Sweet, which are the ones we eat, and bitter, which are used to make almond oil or Amaretto but are otherwise inedible. For our purposes today, we’re only going to be talking about the raw, edible kind.
With earth day barely a week behind us, it’s time to turn our attention to a new way to Go Green. This time, however, we’re not talking about forgoing paper napkins or ditching the polystyrene cup. In fact, we’re actually talking about adding something in: Dark, leafy green vegetables, and lots of ‘em.
Now granted, we’ve discussed many of these nutritional powerhouses in previous posts – here, here and here, for instance – but you see, and not to get all girly on you here, but leafy green vegetables are like the little black dress of the vegetable world. They go with just about everything, they’re appropriate for every occasion, and, with very few exceptions, they are universally liked. And for that reason, they deserve a second look!
According to the old school nursery rhyme, Mary had a little lamb, but chances are, after reading the post, you’ll want one too (although, admittedly, you’ll probably not be using your lamb for the soul purpose of causing a brouhaha on the playground)!
Although lamb has many redeeming qualities (which we’ll touch on below), if you only had one reason to rationalize serving this oft-overlooked meat at your next meal, let it be this: It isn’t chicken, beef or fish. Think we’re kidding? Consider this: If you do a Google search for chicken recipes, you’ll receive approximately 2,430,000 search options. A search for beef or fish? 1,130,000 and 824,000 hits, respectively. A search for lamb? 394,000 (although admittedly, there is an entire website called lambrecipes.com!)
Perhaps Popeye had it right. He pounded spinach for super-human strength and loved olive oil (although granted, it was a girl, not the healthy fat Rachel Ray is always harping on about!). But is spinach really good for your muscles and can it give you the boost you need to take on ol’ Bluto?
Let’s start with the most basic stuff: Calorie for calorie, spinach is perhaps one of the most nutrient dense vegetables out there (and it’s no slouch in the flavonoid department, but we’ll talk about that in a minute). In the vitamin department, it logs literally off-the-charts levels of vitamin K and vitamin A, providing 1110% and 234%, respectively, per 1 cup serving of boiled spinach (or 6 cups of raw spinach). Why would this be important? Well, vitamin K is important for bone health (especially when combined with calcium and magnesium, spinach’s other bone-building nutrients) and vitamin A is important for reducing the amount of free-radicals in the body as well as preventing cholesterol from oxidation – which is the process whereby cholesterol can cause damage to arteries. This effect is further amplified when the vitamin A is combined with vitamin C – which spinach also has in spades – a combination that is also thought to reduce inflammation, particularly among patients suffering from asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.