Formally thought of as an aid to the digestive tract, prunes/dried plums have now taken on a more important role in health. Dairy always comes to mind when we think about filling our calcium needs and building strong bones. However, this dried fruit is extremely rich in both boron and selenium, two very important minerals for bone density. The fiber in prunes/dried plums can be of benefit to cholesterol levels and can help diabetics by slowing the digestion of carbohydrates. A great way to enjoy them is by soaking them in orange juice overnight until they return to looking more like plums (My 100 year old Mom’s credo).
Many look to synthetic sugars as a way of decreasing the amount of calories they consume. However, short as well as long studies have proven that children as well as adults show significant weight gain by using synthetic sugars. It stems from the fact that only part of the brain is stimulated by synthetic sugars and the reward centers are left with a craving for the energy which would usually accompany using real sugar. The enhanced appetite brought on by sweetness is encouraged by synthetic sugars which only increase sugar cravings and dependence. So go ahead and use a teaspoon of honey or maple sugar and enjoy nature instead of something that has been chemically altered.
I have a gut feeling. Does that mean that we feel with our gut as well as with our mind? Why is the gut now being referred to as the second brain? There is now a strong connection between the health of our gut and how it can effect our emotions as well as our ability to make simple decisions. What do we mean by the gut? Technically known as the alimentary canal, everything from the esophagus to the anus is considered the gut or our digestive system. The gut makes it possible to transfer food to our digestive organs. Because it is considered one of the most complicated ecosystems on earth, its influence can be felt in our brain, heart, skin, mood, appetite and weight. It houses trillions of microbes which include many forms of bacteria, fungi and viruses (microflora) all of which aid in maintaining both physical and mental stability. It benefits our mood, weight and mental health because of its ability to counteract inflammation, control the growth of harmful bacteria as well as produce vitamins, absorb minerals and eliminate toxins. The system can be compared to that of a little chemical lab. For this reason symptoms of anxiety, depression, IBS, ulcers will manifest themselves in both areas (brain and gut). Dr. Michael Gershon of Columbia University in 1996 was the first to recognize and write about this brain-gut connection. He coined the term “second brain” now known as neurogastroenterology. We now know that there is a strong connection between emotional stress and physical distress. This connection may be the reason why 70% of adults who are treated for chronic gut disorders have also experienced some form of childhood trauma. There is a strong connection with divorce of parents or chronic illness and loss of a parent or loved one. This affects decision making throughout their lives since a good part of our emotional decisions are made from a feeling in our gut. Butterflies in the stomach are most likely a signal from the gut responding to a physiological stress. Studies have found that half of psychiatric complaints were also accompanied by problems in the gut and that high doses of probiotics and healthy eating were enough to remedy the problem. So many people suffering from anxiety and depression have also had disturbances in their GI function. Studies were done with mice in which their gut bacteria was switched and it changed completely how the animal acted. A reversal of outgoing to introverted and visa versa showing how strongly the bacterial content of our gut has on our behavior. The question still remains as to which brain makes the first move? Which has a stronger influence over the other? So how can we support the health of this important part of our body? Eating a diet free of unprocessed food, along with fermented foods which nurture the probiotics in our system is an excellent way to start.
Raw Foods: Start making it a practice to include a percentage of your daily diet with raw foods (nuts, fruit, veggies etc.). Raw foods take longer to chew which will encourage mindful eating. They are also beneficial for digestion since raw foods are an excellent way of replenishing your digestive food enzymes.
The word gluten comes from the Latin meaning “glue”. It is a protein that is found, to some degree, in all grains. Gluten gives elasticity to dough, a chewy texture and allows it to rise and keep its shape. “Gluten Free” is the new catch phrase of the food industry. To understand why there is so much concern nowadays we should go back to the beginning. Wheat can be traced back almost 5,000 B.C. where it was cultivated by the Egyptians and was then called “Einkorn”. At that time wheat was what we now consider an untampered food source. As the years went on wheat was experimented with and cross bred so as to make it a stronger, more productive grain. It wasn’t until the 1940’s when the Rockefeller foundation working with the Mexican government cross bred a wheat which could come to full maturity at 1ft. as opposed to 4. This new strain was developed by increased use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation. This truly was remarkable since the main purpose was to address world hunger. However, this new strain of wheat was never tested on humans and simply went into production. Now after 70 years we have a tremendous increase in Celiac disease and inflammation caused by wheat consumption. This could be due to the fact that up until the 1940’s the makeup of wheat changed so gradually that we were able to adjust to the digestion of the protein within it. Our first experience with wheat (Einkorn) had only 14 chromosomes whereas present day wheat has 44. Secondly most wheat today is genetically modified which could be another reason why so many of us are rejecting it. Thirdly because of the enormous surplus of wheat that is grown in this country we can find it in almost every packaged food we consume along with hair products, cosmetics and dermatological preparations. Although you may not be suffering from Celiac disease, which is extreme, you may not know that you could possibly be allergic to wheat. This would exhibit itself in bloating and difficulty maintaining a healthy weight. If you feel inclined to take a break from eating gluten, eliminate all gluten grains (spelt, kamut, barley, rye etc.). But if you feel the need to have some form of whole grain, stick with the non-gluten grains (amaranth, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, oats etc.). You may find the experiment rewarding in so far as it will force you to experiment with grains that you were formally unaware of and in turn open you up to some new choices on your menu. If after all this you feel you still miss consuming wheat, there is hope. Wheat in it’s earliest form “Einkorn” is now being once again grown organically and many are finding that they are not sensitive to this earliest form of gluten.
So many of us include garlic into our daily cooking. We all love how garlic and olive oil compliment each other. But how many of us really know how beneficial this root vegetable is. Garlic has been used for centuries in treatment of parasites, respiratory problems and for poor digestion. Modern research has shown that use of garlic may in turn reduce blood pressure. It can also encourage delivery of nutrients to muscles via the circulatory system. An important advantage for those of us who are extremely active or interested in preserving muscle mass as we age. However it also has a very potent after effect so make sure you always have a good supply of mints.
Every food item purchased claims to be loaded with fiber. Every commercial selling any food product emphasizes the fiber content. Why has fiber become the new selling point for the food industry? It is true we need fiber in our diet but where does it come from or what does it do? Fiber is present in all carbohydrates whether it be vegetables, fruits, beans or whole grains. Although it is considered a carbohydrate it has no calories nor does it have any effect on blood sugar levels. Fiber is further divided into two categories soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is that part of a carbohydrate that helps move food along easily through the system. It forms a gel and when it reaches the small intestines it ferments and reinforces our probiotic reserve. The insoluble part of fiber is responsible for absorbing water and providing bulk to our movements thus preventing constipation as well as diarrhea. It performs most of its task in the large intestine. Fiber helps you feel satiated longer and in turn can be useful if the goal is weight loss. However just because a food claims to be rich in fiber does not mean that it is low in calories. That is to say consuming large amounts of so called health bars as well as fiber enriched cold cereals can lead to unwanted weight gain simply because these products also contain large amounts of refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. By avoiding most processed foods and seeking to get your daily fiber requirements (38 to 42 grams) from whole foods you will easily reach this objective. Some top sources of fiber are beans, bran, berries, prunes, asparagus, popcorn, peas, cabbage, bananas, sweet potatoes and all the dark leafy green vegetables. Simply incorporating foods in their whole state as opposed to processed should fulfill your daily fiber intake requirement.