Monday, March 25, 2013

Carrageenan: What Is In My Food??!!

I saw an interview once with a nutritionist who said the way to determine what you should and should not eat could be easily determined by following one simple rule: “avoid anything with a label.” In other words…eat real, whole food that does not come in a box or a can. Now that may be all well and good, but it is not that simple for the average person who is juggling a thousand things a day and may not have time to make their own almond mild or cook everything from scratch. There are times convenience is a must!
But have you ever looked closely at the labels of some of the things your are buying? Sometimes people think they are buying a health food and take for granted that there won't be any not so healthy additives. Having found out that I have a dairy allergy about 6 months ago, I have fully embraced the alternative non-dairy products; namely almond and coconut milks and yogurts. However I recently learned about an additive that is commonly found in these products that may potentially be carcinogenic.
Carrageenan is a common food additive that is extracted from a red seaweed, Chondrus crispus, which is popularly known as Irish Moss. Carrageenan, which has no nutritional value, has been used as a thickener and emulsifier to improve the texture of ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk and other processed foods.1
A number of studies have shown that Carrageenan can cause inflammation in humans and chronic inflammation puts us at risk of several diseases; i.e. heart disease, Alzheimer's, as well as several cancers. It can be particularly detrimental to people with digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune highlights the submission of a petition back in 2008 to the FDA by a researcher, who has studied Carrageenan and its effects for many years, asking them to prohibit the use of Carrageenan in foods.2
Unfortunately this request was denied, despite significant evidence as the dangers of this common food additive.
Sadly several foods that I regularly eat contain Carrageenan...luckily there are a number of non-Carrageenan options!  See the Cornucopia Institute Guide to Avoiding Foods With Carrageenan.
Additional Information:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Need a Metabolism Boost?

Who doesn’t? We are constantly bombarded by weight loss products that promise near instant results, many of which contain dangerous stimulants and rarely have I seen anyone get real, lasting results using them. How about a healthy, natural alternative that not only boosts your metabolism to helps keep off those pounds, but is delicious! Say hello to coconut oil! Yes eating fat can help you lose weight! I know it is completely counterintuitive than what we have all been led to believe, but the old adage “eating fat will make fat” is not true (at least with regard to certain healthy fats).
Unlike the polyunsaturated fats found in many common industrialized oils like corn oil and canola oil, which are long-chained fatty acids, coconut oil is made up of medium chained fatty acids. Beyond the other dangers associated with polyunsaturated oils, they are difficult for the body to break down and therefore are usually stored as fat. On the contrary, medium chained fatty acids are more easily broken down, thus providing the body with a healthy source of energy. Studies have shown these triglycerides speed up metabolism thereby helping to promote healthy weight loss/maintenance.1
It is interesting as a number of months ago I was talking to my doctor (who is a holistic practitioner here in NYC) and he had recommended this supplement that was primarily made from coconut oil. I was a little suspicious of the idea of eating more fat when I am trying to get those last few pounds off, but I trust him so I went with it. I honestly am eating way more fat than I ever have in my life (all healthy fats of course and in reasonable amounts) and I have had a much easier time maintaining my weight…even losing some. Furthermore, adding more fat into my diet keeps me much more satiated, stabilizes my blood sugar and really does help to curb my snacking.
Other ways coconut oil helps support weight loss:
  • Slows the digestion of food, which keeps you full and keeps your blood sugar stable.
  • Medium chained fatty acids have been shown to destroy candida, which can trigger cravings, fatigue and other symptoms that can counter weight loss
  • It is excellent for detoxification
I have been cooking with coconut oil for a while, but in addition I have even started adding a bit to my morning coffee! A friend recommended it to me and I thought he was nuts, but honestly it adds a yummy flavor and I must say I have gotten a bit addicted to it. It is also important to use the right kind of coconut oil; you want unrefined, extra virgin oil. There are some kinds that are refined; however they are processed using harsh chemicals which destroy many of the natural benefits of the coconut oil.
Additional information:

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Another Reason to LOVE the Coconut!

Besides it’s yummy taste when eaten raw or as a milk and all the amazing benefits of coconut oil, I recently discovered yet another reason to love the coconut, namely coconut sugar! It is a versatile sugar that can be used as a substitute for sugar in recipes (1:1) and I have even read that people use it as an alternative to brown sugar.

In addition to being a natural sweetener, it is also a low glycemic sugar; therefore I have a read a lot about it being a good choice for diabetes (in moderation of course). However one interesting benefit is that it is high in mineral content; when compared with brown cane sugar it contains 20 times the nitrogen, 26 times the phosphorous, 16 times the potassium, 4 times the amount of magnesium, twice the amount of nitrogen and is also very high in natural B vitamins.1

Lastly, coconut sugar is a sustainable sweetener, in that you can produce 75% more sugar per acre as compared to cane sugar.1 As always, any sugar (even natural ones) should only be eaten in moderation, but I plan to give coconut sugar a try when I make my next batch of my favorite treat!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Is Anyone Else Confused About Sweeteners?

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There is a lot of discussion around sweeteners and an overwhelming number of options to choose from. I think most people have a decent sense of the dangers associated with many of the artificial sweeteners that are out there. Although I must say I do know people (and often health conscious people at that) who still use them; I have one friend who still uses Sweet n’ Low in her coffee…it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up! There is still this phobia around using real sugar, mostly because of the calories, which ignores the obvious as to why we need so much sugar in the first place…but that is another discussion entirely.
Most of us have likely heard the discussions around the dangers of high fructose corn syrup and much of the confusion has to do with the fact that it is derived from corn – how can something made from corn be bad? This myth is also perpetuated by the corn industry; no doubt you have seen the ads on TV about how sugar is sugar and that there is nothing to fear from natural corn syrup.
I recently have read a lot about the differences between cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup and the associated research. Below is a great article providing a fairly concise, but thorough overview of the issues:
The most interesting research is about how the body processes high fructose corn syrup and how no, in fact, sugar is NOT sugar. First of all there is nothing natural about high fructose corn syrup; yes it is derived from corn, however it is produced through a chemical process which produces a genuinely non-natural compound. There are differences in the ratio of glucose to fructose with regard to cane sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup, namely as the name indicates high fructose corn syrup has a higher ratio of fructose to glucose. Unlike in cane sugar, where the glucose and fructose are bound together, the glucose and fructose in high fructose corn syrup are not, therefore no digestion is required to break them down. Fructose is quickly absorbed into the blood stream, which goes directly to the liver, thereby triggering it to be stored as fat. Many people think only fat makes us fat, but in reality excess sugar is converted and stored into fat in the body, with fructose being particularly dangerous for the liver. “Fatty Liver Syndrome” (a.k.a nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) is increasingly becoming a major health issue. Now I am sure many people read this and think that now fruit, which also contains fructose, is a bad thing. Certainly fruits contain sugar and some fruits are higher in sugar content than others; however fruit consumed in its natural whole form also contains fiber, which helps to slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream.
Given all the publicity surrounding artificial sweeteners, many people are opting for more natural ones. For a long time Agave was all the rage, however more recently it has fallen out of favor. Agave is a natural sweetener and certainly a better option than Sweet’n Low, but there are still some concerns you should be aware of. One of the reasons it became so popular is because it has a lower glycemic index than many other natural sugars. However this is mostly due to its higher fructose content, which as discussed above, poses risks to the liver.
We eat entirely too much sugar in this country, which in moderation is fine, however obviously natural sweeteners are the best choice. More recently I have been using maple syrup as a sweetener, which has a much lower fructose content – this is also recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A BERRY Delicious Tip

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Want to keep you berries fresher longer?  Here is a great tip!

We buy fresh fruit but tend to eat a little of each (Banana, Strawberries, Raspberries, Blueberries, Grapes, Cantaloupe, Pineapple & Watermelon) everyday. The berries start to go bad quickly and often end up in the garbage. Not anymore, thanks to this great tip. 

Want to know the key to preventing moldy berries? Berries are delicious, but they're also kind of delicate. Raspberries in particular seem like they can mold before you even get them home from the market. There's nothing more tragic than paying $4 for a punnet of local raspberries, only to look in the fridge the next day and find that fuzzy mold growing on their insides.

Here's a tip I'm sharing on how to prevent them from getting there in the first place: Wash them with vinegar.When you get your berries home, prepare a mixture of one part vinegar(white or apple cider probably work best) and ten parts water. Dump the berries into the mixture and swirl around. Drain, rinse if you want (though the mixture is so diluted you can't taste the vinegar,) and pop in the fridge. The vinegar kills any mold spores and other bacteria that might be on the surface of the fruit, and voila! Raspberries will last a week or more, and strawberries go almost two weeks without getting moldy and soft. So go forth and stock up on those pricey little gems, knowing they'll stay fresh as long as it takes you to eat them.
You're so berry welcome!