8 Healthy Condiments

Condiments
Rice cakes. Cottage cheese. Melba toast. Diet staples bland enough to send you down to Staples to buy some Styrofoam peanuts to add a little flavor to your eating plan. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure, if you really want to move the needle on the scale, you’re going to have to cut out a lot of fat, sugar, and sodium, but that doesn’t mean your new regimen of steaming, blanching, and boiling has to condemn you to a life of bland eating. Many condiments can spice up your cuisine without adding any calories, and in some cases, they can even accelerate your weight loss! Here are eight of our favorites.

1. Ketchup
Until recently, ketchup had been the king of the condiments. Americans have found very few meals that couldn’t be improved by being drenched in tomato-ey goodness. And ketchup has quite a number of healthy properties. Remember when the Reagan administration famously classified it as a vegetable in school lunches? OK, maybe that went too far . . . but it is chock-full of lycopene, one of the most potent antioxidants around. The only problem is that most brands are also chock-full of sodium, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and sugar, which substantially defrays the health benefits of the tomatoes. But more and more ketchup manufacturers are offering low-salt, low-HFCS brands; and if you can get your hands on them, you can drench your favorite meals with nutritional impunity. Or for the culinarily inclined, you can make your own ketchup and add the amount of sugar and salt that is right for you.

2. Mustard
This sharp paste made from the crushed seeds of the mustard plant comes in colors ranging from yellow to brown and in sharpness ranging from tangy to eye-watering. Mustard has practically no calories or fat to speak of, and even if it did, a little goes a long way. After all, it is one of the only condiments to be weaponized. It is worth checking the labels as some are high in sodium and others can add sugar or oil for flavor and texture, but generally, mustard can be consumed guilt free—as much as your palate can handle. There are lots of gourmet varieties with ingredients like horseradish, white wine, or jalapeños added for extra zest.

3. Salsa
In the last decade or so, salsa has overtaken ketchup as the number-one condiment in America. There are literally thousands of different kinds of salsas, though most contain tomatoes, onions, and peppers as their base. Very low in calories and high in flavor, salsas are a great accent to any dish, but as with all commercially prepared items, attention should be paid to the levels of sodium and high-fructose corn syrup. It’s a pretty easy thing to make yourself. A simple pico de gallo can be made by combining diced tomatoes and onions with minced cilantro and jalapeño and marinating those ingredients in lime juice. Make a big bowl on Sunday and have a healthy snack or sauce all week long!

4. Hot sauce I can go through two or three bottles of hot sauce a week. My refrigerator door rattles with tall skinny bottles of the stuff and I have been known to excuse myself from the dinner table in order to towel off my face. While many have said that the high levels of capsaicin (the “burning” component in chili peppers) I consume have deadened my taste buds to subtle flavors, I would argue that the hot sauce has opened my palate wide. I pity those who don’t have the iron stomach to withstand the delights offered by habanero, chipotle, and cayenne peppers. A little bit of hot sauce gives a ton of flavor with practically no calories, and the capsaicin is even believed to boost your metabolism. As always, keeping an eye on the sodium content is advisable.

5. Soy sauce
Needless to say, this isn’t a very good part of a low-sodium diet, but there are low-sodium versions available (although low-sodium soy sauce has through-the-roof levels of sodium compared to most other foods). Some studies have shown that soy sauce contains even more antioxidants than red wine and, as a result of the fermentation process used to make it, high levels of probiotics. It doesn’t have all the health benefits found in other soy products like edamame or tofu, but as a substitute for salt as a seasoning, you get a lot more nutritional bang for your buck.

6. Vinegar
Vinegar comes in many different varieties—malt, wine, rice, cider, sherry, balsamic, and on and on. The word itself comes from the French vin aigre, or “sour wine.” But unlike wine, vinegar has no alcohol and, depending on the variety, very few or zero calories. But it does have plenty of zip and tang. I find that a dash to my favorite soup or a sprinkle on my sandwich or salad adds lots of flavor without adding salt, fat, or sugar. In fact, studies have shown that vinegar helps stabilize blood sugar levels, and in one study, a test group of people who drank two tablespoons of vinegar before meals showed more weight loss than the group who didn’t.

7. Yogurt
Yogurt has the most calories and potentially the most fat of any of the condiments on this list. Full-fat yogurt, in fact, can have milkfat levels as high as ice cream. But low-fat and nonfat varieties serve as great substitutes for mayonnaise or a creamy dressing without adding too many calories to your dish. And with high levels of L. acidophilus and other probiotics, yogurt can also be very beneficial to your digestive system. Try mixing some plain nonfat yogurt with your favorite herbs or a little mustard or curry as a salad dressing or dipping sauce. Or try goat’s-milk yogurt for some flavor variety.

8. Curry
In different parts of the world curry can mean almost any number of combinations of savory spices. Besides the powder derived from the curry plant, curry powders and paste can contain many spices, including turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, and fenugreek. There are commercially prepared curries from all over the world, from India to Thailand to the Caribbean. Keep an eye out for salt and fat content, and you’ll be on your way to giving your sauces, meats, fish, and vegetables a hit of amazing flavor without adding calories.

Fish Oil: Nature’s Miracle Ingredient

Fish Oil
For a number of years now, I’ve been telling our members that the simplest way to improve their diets is to take fish oil for its omega-3 content. I’m happy to announce that we’ve developed a fish oil supplement that’s up to Beachbody’s strict standards. Let’s take a brief look at what fish oil is and how it will improve your diet and your health, and why you will benefit from Beachbody’s all-new fish oil supplement, Core Omega-3™.

Fish oil is made up of two long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These are hard to find in the modern American diet and, thus, our bodies tend to lack necessary omega-3 levels, leading to myriad poor health conditions. Though our diets may not satisfy our omega-3 needs, fish oil supplementation can prove helpful and has been linked to multiple benefits, including:
• Heart health and normal cholesterol levels
• Immune system health, improved mood and memory, joint health, blood sugar health, and stress relief
• Increased energy levels and greater cognitive function
• Nutritional support for pregnant women
• Regular cell growth and division
• Skeletal system strength
• Healthy inflammatory response

Why fish oil?
To reiterate, fish contains two omega-3 fatty acids. They are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), which are hard to find elsewhere and support healthy cardiovascular and immune health. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, can be found more readily, but ALA is not easily converted into EPA and DHA. Flaxseed is an example of a good omega-3 source that is all ALA. While flaxseed is healthy, fish oil is a far more efficient way to get your omega-3.

While you could just eat fish for your omega-3 needs, there is a downside—mercury contamination. Doctors now recommend limiting the number of servings of fish you have in a week. A good fish oil supplement puts you at no risk for mercury poisoning. For this reason, care should be taken when choosing a good fish oil supplement.

Health benefits of fish oil
The benefits of the omega-3 oils found in fish oil are still being studied. These benefits seem to begin at conception and increase throughout one’s life—including contributing to a reduction in Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have hinted at advantages like increased intelligence levels, fewer headaches, reduced incidences of and pain from arthritis, heart disease protection, fewer occurrences of depression and bipolar disorder, and even protection from breast cancer and prostate cancer.

In Europe, patients who survive heart attacks are typically given a prescription for purified fish oil, which has significantly improved the survival rate. One study of 11,000 patients showed a 20 percent reduction in deaths and a 40 percent reduction in sudden deaths for those who took fish oil. Studies done in 2003 at Harvard Medical showed that taking fish oil on a daily basis can help protect the heart from damage and disease. Recent human trials have proven that when using fish oil that includes EPA and DHA, you can expect a decrease in the incidence of and the pain associated with inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, colitis, and cystitis.

Further studies suggest that fish oil intake during pregnancy can contribute to healthy pregnancies, and omega-3 supplementation, along with the restriction of omega-6, helps support brain function and mood both during pregnancy and post-partum. Infant formulas are beginning to include DHA as studies suggest improved cognitive function in adults who were breast-fed up to nine months while the mother was supplementing with fish oils. After conception, the new baby’s brain calls on the mother’s store of omega-3 fatty acids to develop a healthy brain. Fish has always been rumored as a “brain food.” What’s interesting is that recent research has shown that nearly 70 percent of a baby’s brain and more than 60 percent of an adult brain are made up of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, like DHA, that come from fish.

Fat as a supplement
Fat as a supplement is a tough pill for many to swallow (pun intended) because our most basic sense of aesthetics tends to confuse dietary fat with body fat percentage. As we’ve stated many times, these two things are not the same. Your calories come from proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. And these are needed in the proper ratio to maximize your body’s functional capabilities. But all carbs, proteins, and fats are not created equal; and it’s probably more variable in the fat category than the others. The types of fats we tend to consume on a daily basis don’t give us the nutrients we need to fulfill our bodies’ potentials. Therefore, like with any nutrient we’re lacking, supplementing is a good option.

The skinny on fat
We need dietary fat to be healthy. But our diets don’t often provide us with good dietary fat and, thus, our diets lack balance. We should maintain close to a 1:1 ratio between our omega-3 and our omega-6 consumption; however, it’s estimated that the typical American diet is somewhere between 1:20 and 1:50! When you look at the list of benefits above and the things preventing this harmonious ratio (and leading to out-of-balance diets), it’s no wonder we have so many health problems related to improper fat consumption.

How much do I need?
It’s estimated that nearly 20 percent of Americans have such low levels of DHA and EPA that test methods are unable to detect any in their blood. Recommended intakes of DHA and EPA have not been established by the FDA. The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish per week to support cardiovascular health. The American College of Cardiology recommends that heart patients increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids to 1 gram a day. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that adults consume at least 1,000 mg (1 gram) a day of pure omega-3 fish oil and 1,200 mg for pregnant and nursing mothers.

How do I make sure it’s safe?
International fish oil standards are increasingly being regulated, but it’s important, at this stage, to ensure that you chose a brand committed to the highest quality and the strictest purity guidelines. The two most important criteria are that your brand is free of mercury, PCBs, and other contaminants and that the fish are exposed to low oxidation levels during processing. Since there is no regulatory agency doing this on a broad scale, it’s important to spend a little time researching your brand of choice.

As far as our supplements go, quality is our most important criteria, and this is true of Core Omega-3. According to Beachbody Nutritionals Director of Product Development, Aaron Lowe, “It’s safe to say that the oil is protected from oxygen during processing and tested for impurities during the entire process. There is a certain baseline it has to meet before it even undergoes processing, and if it does not meet this spec, it’s not accepted for production.” To further drive this point home, Lowe adds, “Who are you going to trust with your health? Beachbody has built a reputation of providing excellent products and our nutritional supplements are no exception. Our customers can trust our products for their friends and families because we trust our products for our friends and families too.”

What Happens to Our Brains During Exercise (and Why it Makes Us Happier)

What Happens to Our Brains During Exercise (and Why it Makes Us Happier)Most of us are aware of what happens to the body when we exercise. We build more muscle or more stamina. We feel how daily activities like climbing stairs becomes easier if we exercise regularly. When it comes to our brain and mood though, the connection isn’t so clear. Leo Widrich, co-founder of social media sharing app Buffer, set out to uncover the connection between feeling happy and exercising regularly.
What triggers happiness in our brain when we exercise?

“Yes, yes, I know all about it, that’s the thing with the endorphins, that makes you feel good and why we should exercise and stuff, right?” is what I can hear myself say to someone bringing this up. I would pick up things here and there, yet really digging into the connection of exercise and how it effects us has never been something I’ve done. The line around our “endorphins are released” is more something I throw around to sound smart, without really knowing what it means.

Here is what actually happens:

If you start exercising, your brain recognizes this as a moment of stress. As your heart pressure increases, the brain thinks you are either fighting the enemy or fleeing from it. To protect yourself and your brain from stress, you release a protein called BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor). This BDNF has a protective and also reparative element to your memory neurons and acts as a reset switch. That’s why we often feel so at ease and like things are clear after exercising.

At the same time, endorphins, another chemical to fight stress, are released in your brain. Your endorphins main purpose are this, writes researcher MK McGovern:

“These endorphins tend to minimize the discomfort of exercise, block the feeling of pain, and are even associated with a feeling of euphoria.”

There is a lot going on inside our brain and it is oftentimes a lot more active than when we are just sitting down or actually concentrating mentally:


So, BDNF and endorphins are the reasons exercise makes us feel so good. The somewhat scary part is that they have a very similar and addictive behavior like morphine, heroin, or nicotine. The only difference? Well, it’s actually good for us.

Don’t do more, but focus on when

Now here is where it all gets interesting. We know the basic foundations of why exercising makes us happy and what happens inside our brain cells. The most important part to uncover now is, of how we can trigger this in an optimal and longer lasting way?

A recent study from Penn State shed some light on the matter and the results are more than surprising. They found that to be more productive and happier on a given work day, it doesn’t matter so much, if you work-out regularly, that you haven’t worked out on that particular day:

“Those who had exercised during the preceding month but not on the day of testing generally did better on the memory test than those who had been sedentary, but did not perform nearly as well as those who had worked out that morning.”

New York Times bestselling author Gretchen Reynolds wrote a whole book about the subject matter called The First 20 Minutes. To get the highest level of happiness and benefits for health, the key is not to become a professional athlete. On the contrary, a much smaller amount is needed to reach the level where happiness and productivity in every day life peaks:

“The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk – all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.”

So really, you can relax and don’t have to be on the lookout for the next killer work out. All you have to do is get a focused 20 minutes in to get the full happiness boost every day:

“On exercise days, people’s mood significantly improved after exercising. Mood stayed about the same on days they didn’t, with the exception of people’s sense of calm which deteriorated.”(University of Bristol)

Make it a habit

Starting to exercise regularly or even daily is still easier said than done. At end of the day, there is quite a lot of focus required to get into the habit of exercising daily. The most important part to note is that exercise is a keystone habit. This means that daily exercise can pave the way not only for happiness, but also growth in all other areas of your life.

In a recent post from my colleague Joel, he wrote about the power of daily exercise for his every day life. Coincidentally, he follows the above rules very accurately and exercises daily before doing anything else. He writes:

“By 9:30am, I’ve done an hour of coding on the most important task I have right now on Buffer, I’ve been to the gym and had a great session, and I’ve done 30 minutes of emails. It’s only 9:30am and I’ve already succeeded, and I feel fantastic.”

I’ve spoken lots to Joel about his habit of exercising and here are some of the most important things to do in order to set yourself up for success and make your daily exercise fun:

  • Put your gym clothes right over your alarm clock or phone when you go to bed: This technique sounds rather simple, but has been one of the most powerful ones. If you put everything the way you want it for the gym before you go to sleep and put your alarm under your gym clothes, you will have a much easier time to convince yourself to put your gym clothes on.
  • Track your exercises and log them at the same time after every exercise: When you try to exercise regularly, the key is to make it a habit. One way to achieve this is to create a so called “reward”, that will remind you of the good feelings you get from exercising. In our big list of top web apps, we have a full section on fitness apps that might be handy. Try out Fitocracy or RunKeeper to log your work outs. Try to have a very clear logging process in place. Log your work out just before you go into the shower or exactly when you walk out of the gym.
  • Think about starting small and then start even smaller: Here is a little secret. When I first started exercising, I did it with 5 minutes per day, 3 times a week. Can you imagine that? 5 minutes of timed exercise, 3 times a week? That’s nothing you might be thinking. And you are right, because the task is so easy and anyone can succeed with it, you can really start to make a habit out of it. Try no more than 5 or 10 minutes if you are getting started.

The highest level of happiness happens at the beginning

As a quick last fact, exercise, the increase of the BDNF proteins in your brain acts as a mood enhancer. The effects are similar to drug addiction one study found. So when you start exercising, the feeling of euphoria is the highest:

“The release of endorphins has an addictive effect, and more exercise is needed to achieve the same level of euphoria over time.” (McGovern)

So, if you have never exercised before (or not for a long time), your happiness gains will be the highest if you start now.

Coffee, Tea, and Caffeine

Coffee, Tea & Caffeine
Today we discuss the most popular drink in the world: coffee. I don’t actually know where these statistics come from, but since we mainly want to discuss one ingredient, caffeine, I’ll lump coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages into the same discussion so that we’ll be sure to address something that’s pertinent to almost all of you. Coffee and tea have been around for the entirety of recorded history, so no matter what science tells us, we begin this edition with some time-tested knowledge that people don’t go around dropping dead over the stuff, nor will it get you banned for cheating when you win at the Olympics (unless it’s too much).

Coffee and tea are probably the most controversial substances we consume. Unlike, say, soda, candy, chocolate, and fast food—which we know are detrimental to our diets—studies swing both ways over the benefits and dangers of our morning cup of java. But whatever the outcome, we drink the stuff with an almost ritualistic glee. If you drink neither coffee nor tea, you’re an outsider in almost any culture on the planet.

Coffee, tea, and other caffeinated drinks
First off, let’s talk about the difference between tea, coffee, and other drinks laced with caffeine. Coffee and tea are both very simple products made from mixing ground-up plants with hot water. So they’re both 100 percent natural, contain approximately zero calories, and have a few nutrients. What they do contain is caffeine. A lot of it. Coffee has nearly twice as much caffeine as tea, but the amount varies by type and the brewing process. As a general rule, trendy green teas have less caffeine than black teas, which have less than coffee. Figure that for each cup of coffee or tea you consume, you’ll get between 50 milligrams and 200 milligrams of caffeine.

Both have other assorted nutrients, mainly antioxidants, all of which are quite healthy. The downside is that both are acidic to the point that habitual consumption can cause stomach problems in some people. But the main hit or miss with folks when it comes to coffee or tea is the caffeine. After this, their choices are usually made by taste, ritual, or the culture they live in. Caffeine gives you a jolt of energy, which we’ll discuss later, and because of this, many other beverages now come with a healthy dose of the stuff. Most sodas have some caffeine, but the big trend today is toward turbocharged “energy drinks,” a topic for another day. These are often nasty concoctions of sugar, caffeine, and other assorted legal uppers designed to amp you sky-high and provide the illusion that you’re having a good time. They may work, at least for a short time, but they are basically just time bombs of euphoria. When you crash, you crash hard.

Can coffee or tea make you fat?
There is one place we have a definitive answer on this subject, and it’s that neither of these drinks will make you fat. In fact, they should do the opposite. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning that it affects your metabolic process at a heightened level. Translation: it makes you go to the bathroom more often. It also elevates brain activity, which, technically, should make you less hungry. This is why caffeine is often added to diet aids.

The only things in coffee or tea that can make you fat are the things you add to them. The menu at your local Starbucks contains stuff that makes coffee merely a side dish, if that. And traditional drinks such as Thai iced tea are only tea in name. Therefore, just because something calls itself “coffee” or “tea” doesn’t mean that’s all there is to the story. Like with most foods, reading labels is important. We’ll talk more about coffee drinks next time.

The latest research
Coffee has been in the headlines a lot recently. You may have caught the headlines a while back stating that it could give you a heart attack. Or maybe you caught the study touting it as a superfood, which came out at the same time! Certainly, you’ve heard that it’s a banned substance by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) due to its performance-enhancing qualities. But then why, you wonder, did you just see a headline saying you should avoid it prior to a workout? And what about that study stating that if you drank enough coffee, it would stave off the effects of all that alcohol you consume?

Coffee, tea, and caffeine are perhaps the most widely studied things we put into our bodies (over 19,000 recent recorded studies), yet no definitive stance can be found on the stuff. If this seems odd, we must consider the fact that studies need to be funded and a lot of money can skew a study to say this or that—a subject I touch on often in my blog. At any rate, let’s wade into some of the more recent headlines and try to make some sense out of them.

Will coffee give you a heart attack?
Apparently it will—if you’re “at risk for heart attacks,” according to a syndicated article that was all over the Internet a while back. But what does this mean? The article begins with the vague line about how coffee may trigger a heart attack in some people. If you delve deeper, the water becomes muddier, so, tired of sifting through their muck, I went to the source.

For over 4 years, a large Costa Rican study examined the relationship among 503 nonfatal heart attacks. The study found that most of the subjects drank coffee prior to having the heart attack. In the stats, it appeared that light coffee drinkers were at more risk than heavy coffee drinkers. This, as you might suppose, caused some confusion. Looking deeper into the abstract, we see that the researchers think that the coffee/heart attack relationship stems from a rare gene variation in some people. They also stated that their research was “far from conclusive.” The report on Yahoo!® made no mention of the gene variant and, instead, went with the more alarmist “those at risk” line because “who isn’t, right?” The study also clearly stated that most of the population was at zero risk from drinking coffee.

The bottom line of the study was that most of the population was not at risk, and the few that might be, also may not be. So, for now, I’ll side with Dr. Robert Eckel, former president of the American Heart Association, and remain “unconvinced.” Furthermore, a study done over 2 decades using 120,000 subjects concluded that there was no relationship between even heavy coffee drinking and heart disease. This study, done in part by the Harvard School of Public Health, showed that there was no link between heart disease and a daily intake of six or more cups of coffee per day. It also stated the risk was the same for those who consumed less than one cup of coffee or tea per month. This study also addressed the Costa Rican findings, stating they were “possible” but “require confirmation.”

Can you lose your gold medal?
Not anymore. In 2004, the IOC removed caffeine from its list of banned items. Prior to that, athletes could be busted for drinking about five or more cups of coffee. Certainly, this means that some highly regarded scientists once thought it was an ergogenic (a performance enhancer). But was it removed because it was found to be ineffective, as there are now better ways of “cheating,” or because the coffee lobby contributed to the IOC? Time may or may not tell, but one thing’s for sure: many people believe caffeine enhances performance.

A recent Swiss study, however, refutes it, at least in one sense. The study of 18 individuals showed that coffee prior to exercise restricted heart blood flow by 22 percent. Obviously, this would be a detriment to performance, but again, the research is far from conclusive. For one, the study used regular coffee drinkers, and participants were not allowed to drink coffee for 36 hours prior to the experiment, so their results may have had to do with a coffee-withdrawal effect. And two, no study of 18 people can be anywhere close to conclusive. But it’s interesting, for sure, and certainly much more will be done. I’d keep an eye out for more on this.

But again, there’s a lot more science showing that it has positive physical effects, even if they stem from better brain function. An Austrian study using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging to assess memory skills showed that there was a marked improvement in motor skills and memory after subjects ingested 100 milligrams of caffeine. The study cautioned that the progression was not linear (meaning that more is definitely not better). But the test concluded that caffeine was a a performance enhancer.

According to physiologist Terry Graham, PhD, of the University of Guelph in Canada, “What caffeine likely does is stimulate the brain and nervous system to do things differently. That may include signaling you to ignore fatigue or recruit extra units of muscle for intense athletic performance.” And as to whether this better aids strength or endurance sports he adds, “What’s amazing about it is that unlike some performance-enhancing manipulation athletes do that are specific for strength or endurance, studies show that caffeine positively enhances all of these things.”

Is coffee a superfood?
This would depend, I guess. We’ve seen some downsides, and I’ve yet to mention two others. One, it’s addictive, and two, it’s been linked to insomnia. Performance-wise, sleep is crucial for your body to recover and recharge itself. No matter its benefits, if coffee negatively affects your ability to rest, it’s not going to help you much.

Yet, analyzing data—of 126,000 people and gathered over 18 years—has led to an almost astonishing number of likely health benefits, including lowering your risk of diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and colon cancer; improving mood; appeasing headaches; and even lessening the risk of cavities. In some cases, even the “all things in moderation” cliché was put to the test. For example, drinking one cup to three cups a day reduced type 2 diabetes risk by single digits, whereas drinking six or more cups per day slashed men’s risk by 54 percent and women’s risk by 30 percent. Maybe it’s just because coffee makes you want to get up and do something; those participants who reduced their risk may have exercised more. These findings have been routinely backed up by further studies. At least six studies indicate that coffee drinkers are up to 80 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, with three showing the more they drank, the lower the risk. Other research shows that compared to not drinking coffee, at least two cups daily can cut your risk of gallstones in half, provide a 25 percent reduced chance of contracting colon cancer, and offer a whopping 80 percent decline in liver cirrhosis risk. So abundant is this research that caffeine is added to certain medications to treat headaches, mood, asthma, and now Parkinson’s disease.

So is it time to hit Starbucks?
Since, as I’ve said before, this isn’t Politics class, I won’t tell you not to, but I’m certain that your local organic, fair-trade, mom-and-pop coffeehouse with the open mic on Thursdays will have better coffee anyway (wink). Back to the subject, coffee or tea certainly don’t seem to be harmful as a part of your diet. The problem with them, I suspect, is more often what we add to them. So if you enjoy your morning or afternoon (maybe skip the evening) ritual, then by all means indulge. Just keep it traditional, pure, simple, and forget the word Frappuccino was ever invented.

Dirty Secrets of food processing Industry

Food ProcessingWe have always processed our food; this is an activity that is uniquely human. We chop, soak, cook and ferment our food – as well as grind and dry – these are all types of processing.

Traditional processing has two functions: to make food more digestible and to preserve it for use during times when food isn’t readily available. Nutritious, long-lasing processed foods including pemmican, hard sausage and old-fashioned meat puddings and haggis, as well as grain products, dairy products, pickles—everything from wine and spirits to lacto-fermented condiments. Farmers and artisans—bread makers, cheese makers, distillers, millers and so forth—processed the raw ingredients into delicious foods that retained their nutritional content over many months or even years, and kept the profits on the farm and in the farming communities where they belonged.

Unfortunately, in modern times, we have substituted local artisanal processing with factory and industrial processing, which actually diminishes the quality of the food, rather than making it more nutritious and digestible. Industrial processing depends upon sugar, white flour, processed and hydrogenated oils, synthetic food additives and vitamins, heat treatment and the extrusion of grains.

BREAKFAST CEREALS
Let’s look at the processing involved in the typical American breakfast of cereal, skim milk and orange juice. Cold breakfast cereals are produced by a process called extrusion. Grains are mixed with water, processed into a slurry and placed in a machine called an extruder. The grains are forced out of a tiny hole at high temperature and pressure, which shapes them into little o’s or flakes or shreds. Individual grains passed through the extruder expand to produce puffed wheat, oats and rice. These products are then subjected to sprays that give a coating of oil and sugar to seal off the cereal from the ravages of milk and to give it crunch.

In his book Fighting the Food Giants, biochemist Paul Stitt describes the extrusion process, which treats the grains with very high heat and pressure, and notes that the processing destroys much of their nutrients. It denatures the fatty acids; it even destroys the synthetic vitamins that are added at the end of the process. The amino acid lysine, a crucial nutrient, is especially damaged by the extrusion process.

Even boxed cereals sold in health food stores are made using the extrusion process. They are made with the same kind of machines and mostly in the same factories. The only “advances” claimed in the extrusion process are those that will cut cost, regardless of how the process alters the nutrient content of the product.

With so many millions of boxes of cereal sold each year, one would expect to see published studies showing the effects of these cereals on animals and humans. But breakfast cereals are a multi-billion dollar industry that has created huge fortunes for a few people. A box of cereal containing a penny’s worth of grain sells for four or five dollars in the grocery store–there is probably no other product on earth with such a large profit margin. These profits have paid for lobbying efforts and journal sponsorships that have effectively kept any research about extruded grains out of the scientific literature and convinced government officials that there is no difference between a natural grain of wheat and a grain that has been altered by the extrusion process.

THE RAT EXPERIMENTS
Unpublished research indicates that the extrusion process turns the proteins in grains into neurotoxins. Stitt describes an experiment, conducted in 1942 by a cereal company but locked away in the company’s file cabinet, in which four sets of rats were given special diets. One group received plain whole wheat grains, water and synthetic vitamins and minerals. A second group received puffed wheat (an extruded cereal), water and the same nutrient solution. A third set was given water and white sugar. A fourth set was given nothing but water and synthetic nutrients. The rats that received the whole wheat lived over a year on this diet. The rats that got nothing but water and vitamins lived about two months. The animals on a white sugar and water diet lived about a month. The study showed that the rats given the vitamins, water and all the puffed wheat they wanted died within two weeks—even before the rats that got no food at all. These results suggest that there was something very toxic in the puffed wheat itself! Proteins are very similar to certain toxins in molecular structure, and the pressure of the puffing process may produce chemical changes that turn a nutritious grain into a poisonous substance.

Another unpublished experiment was carried out in 1960. Researchers at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor were given eighteen laboratory rats. These were divided into three groups: one group received cornflakes and water; a second group was given the cardboard box that the cornflakes came in and water; the control group received rat chow and water. The rats in the control group remained in good health throughout the experiment. The rats eating the box became lethargic and eventually died of malnutrition. The rats receiving the cornflakes and water died before the rats that were eating the box! (The first box rat died the day the last cornflake rat died.) Furthermore, before death, the cornflakes-eating rats developed aberrant behavior, threw fits, bit each other and finally went into convulsions. Autopsy revealed dysfunction of the pancreas, liver and kidneys and degeneration of the nerves of the spine, all signs of insulin shock. The startling conclusion of this study was that there was more nourishment in the box than in the cornflakes. This experiment was designed as a joke, but the results were far from funny.

Most Americans eat boxed cereals today. Because these are fortified with synthetic nutrients, the USDA can claim that they are as healthy as the grains from which they are made. Many of these cereals contain at least 50 percent of calories as sugar. Those sold in health food stores may be made of whole grains and fewer sweeteners. However, these whole grain extruded cereals are probably more dangerous than their refined grain counterparts sold in the supermarkets, because they are higher in protein, and it is the proteins in these cereals that are rendered toxic by this type of processing.

THE EXTRUSION PROCESS
When we put cereals through an extruder, it alters the structure of the proteins. Zeins, which comprise the majority of proteins in corn, are located in spherical organelles called protein bodies. The scientific literature does contain one study on extruded grains, which investigated changes in protein body, shape and release of encapsulated alpha-zeins as a result of the extrusion processing. Researchers found that during extrusion, the protein bodies are completely disrupted and the alpha-zeins dispersed. The results suggest that the zeins in cornflakes are not confined to rigid protein bodies but can interact with each other and other components of the system, forming new compounds that are foreign to the human body. The extrusion process breaks down the organelles and disperses the proteins, which then become toxic. When the proteins are disrupted in this way, it can adversely affect the nervous system, as indicated by the cornflake experiment.

OLD FASHIONED PORRIDGE
There is only one way to put these companies out of business, and that is not to eat their food. So, what are you going to have for breakfast instead of cheerios and corn flakes? Eggs–any style–are always a good choice. As for grain, old-fashioned porridges made from non-extruded grains provide excellent nourishment at an economical price. Grains such as oats should be cut or rolled and then soaked overnight in a warm, acidic medium to neutralize the many anti-nutrients naturally occurring in grains, such as irritating tannins, digestion-blocking enzyme inhibitors and mineral-blocking phytic acid. This treatment can also gently break down complex proteins in grains. You soak the grains in warm water plus one tablespoon of something acidic, like whey, yoghurt, lemon juice or vinegar. The next morning, your grain will cook in just a few minutes. It’s best to eat your porridge with butter or cream, like our grandparents did. The nutrients in the dairy fats are needed in order for you to absorb the nutrients in the grains. Without the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2, you cannot absorb the minerals in your food. Furthermore, the fats in butter and cream slow down the release of glucose into the bloodstream, so that your blood sugar remains stable throughout the morning.

MILK
Milk is one of nature’s most perfect foods. Most of our milk comes from a sacred animal, the cow. Today, however, in the industrial system, we imprison cows indoors for their entire lives; we give them inappropriate feed such as soy, bakery waste, citrus peel cake and the swill from ethanol production, foods that cows are not designed to eat. The confinement environment and the inappropriate feed make these cows sick, so they need antibiotics and other drugs. We breed them to give huge amounts of milk, and give them hormones to increase milk production as well. These cows produce large quantities of watery milk with only half the amount of fat compared to milk produced by old-fashioned cows eating green grass. Then this milk is shipped to factories for processing.

Inside the plants, the milk is completely remade. As described by Emily Green in the Los Angeles Times, centrifuges separate the milk into fat, protein and various other solids and liquids. Once segregated, these are recombined at specific levels set for whole, lowfat and no-fat milks. Of the reconstituted milks, whole milk will most closely approximate original cow’s milk. What is left over will go into butter, cream, cheese, dried milk, and a host of other milk products. The dairy industry promotes lowfat milk and skim milk because they can make more money on the butterfat when used in ice cream. When they remove the fat to make reduced-fat milks, they replace it with powdered milk concentrate, which is formed by high temperature spray drying.

Then the milk is sent by tanker trucks (which are not refrigerated) to bottling plants. The milk is pasteurized at 161oF for fifteen seconds by rushing it past superheated stainless steel plates. If the temperature is 230oF (over the boiling point), the milk is considered ultrapasteurized. This ultrapasteurized milk will have a distinct cooked milk taste, but it is sterile and shelf stable. It may be sold in the refrigerated section of the supermarket so the consumer will think it is fresh, but it does not need to be. The milk is also homogenized by a pressure treatment that breaks down the fat globules so the milk won’t separate. Once processed, the milk will last for weeks, not just days.

Processing makes the milk difficult to digest and renders the proteins allergenic. Animals fed pasteurized milk exclusively develop nutrient deficiencies and become infertile after several generations.

Fortunately, Real Milk from pasture-fed cows, milk that is not pasteurized, processed or homogenized, is becoming more widely available. In fact, demand for Real Milk is growing rapidly. To find Real Milk in your area, visit realmilk.com

In order to make powdered milk, fluid is forced through a tiny hole at high pressure and then blown out into the air. This causes a lot of nitrates to form, and the cholesterol in the milk becomes oxidized. Contrary to popular opinion, cholesterol is not a demon but your best friend; you don’t have to worry about consuming foods containing cholesterol, except that you do not want to consume oxidized cholesterol. Evidence indicates that oxidized cholesterol can initiate the process of atherosclerosis.

Powdered milk is added to reduced-fat milks and milk products to give them body. So, when you consume reduced-fat milk or yoghurt, thinking that it will help you avoid heart disease, you are actually consuming oxidized cholesterol, which can initiate the process of heart disease.

ORANGE JUICE
Now, let’s turn to the orange juice, part of our “healthy breakfast” of cereal, lowfat milk and juice. An article from Processed and Prepared Foods describes a “a new orange juice processing plant is completely automated and can process up to 1,800 tons of oranges per day to produce frozen concentrate, single strength juice, oil extracted from the peel and cattle feed.” The new method of producing juice puts the whole orange in the machine. Another abstract states: “Various acid sprays for improving fruit peel quality and increasing juice yield are added to these processed oranges.” These compounds are added to extract as much juice as possible, as well as the oil out of the skin. The conventional orange crop is sprayed heavily with pesticides called cholinesterase inhibitors, which are very toxic to the nervous system. When they put the whole oranges into the vats and squeeze them, all that pesticide goes into the juice. Then they add acids to get every single bit of juice out of these oranges. So commercial orange juice can be a very toxic soup. This may be one reason that consumption of fruit juice is associated with increased rates of dementia.

What about the peel used for cattle feed? The dried, left-over citrus peel from orange juice production is processed into cakes, which are still loaded with cholinesterase inhibitors. Mark Purdey, in England, has shown how this practice correlates with mad cow disease. The use of organophosphates either as a spray on the cows or as a component of their feed, causes degeneration of the brain and nervous system in the cow, and if it’s doing it to the cow, there’s a possibility it may be doing it to you also.

The U.S. government tries to give the impression that pasteurization of juice is necessary to ensure our safety. However, it might surprise you to learn that researchers have found fungus that is resistant to pressure and heat in processed juices. They found that seventeen percent of Nigerian packages of orange juice and twenty percent of mango and tomato juices contained these heat-resistant fungi. They also found E. coli in the orange juice; it was pressure resistant and had survived pasteurization. So there is plenty of danger from contamination in these pasteurized juices.

In one study, heat-treated and acid-hydrolyzed orange juice was tested for mutagenic activity. The authors found that the heating process produced intermediate products which, under test conditions, gave rise to mutagenicity and cytotoxicity. In other words, there were cancer-causing compounds in the orange juice. In another study, gel filtration and high performance liquid chromatography were used to obtain mutagenic fractions from heated orange juice.

So if you want juice with your breakfast, avoid commercial processed orange juice. Instead, squeeze yourself a couple of organic oranges or an organic grapefruit–in other words, process the juice yourself! Mix that fresh juice with sparkling water and a pinch of salt for a delicious spritzer.

NATURAL NOURISHING BROTHS
In the past, many traditional cultures made use of animal bones to make broth. They recognized the health-giving properties of bone broth as well as wonderful flavors broth gave to soups, sauces, gravies and stews. Modern science has shown us that homemade bone broths are indeed the healing wonders of the food pharmacopia; they provide minerals in abundance, strengthen bones and sinews, heal the gut and help us detoxify. The gelatin in homemade bone broth is a natural digestive aid.

INDUSTRIAL SOUPS
Most commercial soup bases and sauces contain artificial meat-like flavors that mimic those we used to get from natural, gelatin-rich broth. These kinds of short cuts mean that consumers are shortchanged. When the homemade stocks were pushed out by the cheap substitutes, an important source of minerals disappeared from the American diet. The thickening effects of gelatin could be mimicked with emulsifiers, but, of course, the health benefits were lost. Gelatin is a very healthy thing to have in your diet. It helps you digest proteins properly and is supportive of digestive health overall.

Research on gelatin and natural broths came to an end in the 1950s when food companies discovered how to induce maillard reactions–the process of creating flavor compounds by mixing reduced sugars and amino acids under increased temperatures–and produce meat-like flavors in the laboratory. In a General Foods Company report issued in 1947, chemists predicted that almost all natural flavors would soon be chemically synthesized. Following the Second World War, American food companies discovered monosodium glutamate, a food ingredient the Japanese had invented in 1908 to enhance food flavors, including meat-like flavors. Humans actually have receptors on the tongue for glutamate—it is the protein in food that the human body recognizes as meat–but the glutamate in MSG has a different configuration, which cannot be assimilated properly by the body. Any protein can be hydrolyzed (broken down into its component amino acids) to produce a base containing MSG. When the industry learned how to synthesize the flavor of meat in the laboratory, using inexpensive proteins from grains and legumes, the door was opened to a flood of new products, including boullion cubes, dehydrated soup mixes, sauce mixes, TV dinners, and condiments with a meaty taste.

The fast food industry could not exist without MSG and artificial meat flavors, which beguile the consumer into eating bland and tasteless food. The sauces in many commercially processed foods contain MSG, water, thickeners, emulsifiers and caramel coloring. Your tongue is tricked into thinking that you are consuming something nutritious, when in fact it is getting nothing at all except some very toxic substances. Even dressings, Worcestershire sauce, rice mixes, flavored tofu, and many meat products have MSG in them. Almost all canned soups and stews contain MSG, and the “hydrolyzed protein” bases often contain MSG in very large amounts.

So-called homemade soups in most restaurants are usually made by mixing water with a powdered soup base made of hydrolyzed protein and artificial flavors, and then adding chopped vegetables and other ingredients. Even things like lobster bisque and fish sauces in most seafood restaurants are prepared using these powdered bases full of artificial flavors.

The industry even thinks it is too costly to just use a little onion and garlic for flavoring–they use artificial garlic and onion flavors instead. It’s all profit based with no thought for the health of the consumer.

Unfortunately, most of the processed vegetarian foods are loaded with these flavorings, as well. The list of ingredients in vegetarian hamburgers, hot dogs, bacon, baloney, etc., may include hydrolyzed protein and “natural” flavors, all sources of MSG. Soy foods are loaded with MSG.

Food manufacturers get around the labeling requirements by putting MSG in the spice mixes; if the mix is less than fifty percent MSG, they don’t have to indicate MSG on the label. You may have noticed that the phrase “No MSG” has actually disappeared. The industry doesn’t use it anymore because they found out that there was MSG in all the spice mixes; even Bragg’s amino acids had to take “No MSG” off the label.

HEALTH PROBLEMS
While the industry was adding MSG to food in larger and larger amounts, in 1957 scientists found that mice became blind and obese when MSG was administered by feeding tube. In 1969, MSG-induced lesions were found in the hypothalamus region of the mouse brain. Subsequent studies pointed in the same direction. MSG is a neurotoxic substance that causes a wide range of reactions in humans, from temporary headaches to permanent brain damage. It is also associated with violent behavior. We have had a huge increase in Alzheimer’s, brain cancer, seizures, multiple sclerosis and diseases of the nervous system, and one of the chief culprits is the flavorings in our food.

Ninety-five percent of processed foods contain MSG, and, in the late 1950s, it was even added to baby food. Manufacturers say they have voluntarily taken it out of the baby food, but they didn’t really remove it; they just called it “hydrolyzed protein” instead.

An excellent book, Excitotoxins, by Russell Blaylock, describes how nerve cells either disintegrate or shrivel up in the presence of free glutamic acid if it gets past the blood-brain barrier. The glutamates in MSG are absorbed directly from the mouth to the brain. Some investigators believe that the great increase in violence in this country starting in 1960 is due to the increased use of MSG beginning in the late 1950s, particularly as it was added to baby foods.

INDUSTRIAL FATS AND OILS
The food processing empire is built on industrial fats and oils, extracted from corn, soybeans and other seeds. Crude vegetable oil–which is dark, sticky and smelly–is subjected to horrendous processing to produce clean-looking cooking oils, margarine, shortening and spreads. The steps involved in processing usually include degumming, bleaching, deodorizing, filtering and removing saturates to make the oils more liquid. In the process, the nutrients and antioxidants disappear–but not the pesticides. Most processors also add a hexane solvent in order to squeeze the very last drop of oil out of the seeds. Caustic refining, the most widely used process for oil refining, involves adding very alkaline, chemicals to the oil.

In order to make a solid fat out of liquid oil, manufacturers subject the oils to a process called partial hydrogenation. The oil is extracted under high temperature and pressure, and the remaining fraction of oil is removed with hexane solvents. Manufacturers then steam clean the oils, a process that removes all the vitamins and all the antioxidants—but, of course, the solvents and the pesticides remain. These oils are mixed with a nickel catalyst and then, under high temperature and pressure, they are flooded with hydrogen gas. What goes into the reactor is a liquid oil; what comes out of that reactor is a smelly mass resembling grey cottage cheese. Emulsifiers are mixed in to smooth out the lumps, and the oil is then steam cleaned once more, to get rid of the horrible smell. The next step is bleaching, to get rid of the grey color. At this point, the product can be called “pure vegetable shortening.” To make margarines and spreads, artificial flavors and synthetic vitamins are added. But the government does not allow the industry to add synthetic color to margarine–they must add a natural color, such as annatto–a comforting thought. The margarine or spread is then packaged in blocks and tubs and advertised as a health food.

Saturated fat is the type of fat found in such foods as lard, butter and coconut oil. Saturated fat molecules are straight, so they pack together easily. That is why saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats have a little bend at each double bond, with two hydrogen atoms sticking out on the same side. And when that molecule gets incorporated into your cells, the body wants those two hydrogen atoms to be on the same side of the carbon chain, forming an electron cloud; that is where controlled chemical interactions take place.

During the process of partial hydrogenation, one of those hydrogen atoms is moved to the other side, causing the molecule to straighten out so that it behaves chemically like a saturate—although biochemically it behaves very differently. The original, unsaturated molecule is called a “cis” fatty acid, because the two hydrogens are together, and then it becomes a trans fatty acid, because the two hydrogens are across from each other (“trans” means “across”). Your body doesn’t know that this new molecule is something that has never existed in nature before, and when you eat one of these trans fatty acids, it gets built into your cell membranes. Because of the chemical rearrangement, the reactions that should happen can’t take place. Enzymes and receptors don’t work anymore. The more trans fatty acids that you eat, the more partially hydrogenated your cells become and the more chaos that you are going to have on the cellular level.

All of the margarines, shortenings and even low-trans-fat spreads are made with these harmful ingredients. They’re used in chips and crackers, and most restaurants use them for cooking fries. Until the early 1980s, fast food outlets and restaurants cooked the fries in tallow, which is a very safe fat, but now they use partially hydrogenated soybean oil.

In the past, when you made desserts for your kids, at least the sugar they contained came with butter, eggs, cream and nuts—all good wholesome foods. Now manufacturers can imitate the butter, eggs, cream and nuts, so all you have is sugar, industrial oils and artificial ingredients in these instant puddings, pastries and other artificial desserts.

Many diseases have been associated with the consumption of trans fatty acids—heart disease, cancer, and degeneration of joints and tendons. The only reason that we are eating this stuff is because we have been told that the competing saturated fats and oils—butter, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, tallow and suet—are bad for us and cause heart disease. Such assertions are nothing but industry propaganda.

WESTON PRICE
Weston A. Price, DDS, discovered that as populations adopt processed foods, with each generation the facial structure becomes more and more narrow. Healthy faces should be broad. We are all designed to have perfectly straight teeth and not get cavities. When you are eating real, nutrient-dense foods, you get the complete and perfect expression of the genetic potential. We were given a perfect blueprint. Whether or not the body temple is built according to the blueprint depends, to a great extent, on our wisdom in food choices.

When primitive societies abandoned the traditional diet and began to eat processed foods, the next generation developed narrowed facial structure and many diseases. We know that if you continue this diet for three generations, reproduction ceases. This is the terrible price of the West, the Western Price. Civilization will die out unless we embrace the food ways of our ancestors. That means turning our backs on processed foods and getting back into the kitchen, to prepare real foods–containing healthy fats–for ourselves and our families.

OPTIMAL FOOD PREPARATION—MADE WITH LOVE
Food preparation is actually a sacred activity: According to esoteric lore, “If a woman could see the sparks of light going forth from her fingertips when she is cooking, and the energy that goes into the food she handles, she would realize how much of herself she imbues into the meals that she prepares for her family and friends. It is one of the most important and least understood activities of life that the feelings that go into the preparation of food affect everyone who partakes of it. This activity should be unhurried, peaceful and happy because the energy that flows into that food impacts the energy of the receiver.

“That is why the advanced spiritual teachers of the East never eat food prepared by anyone other than their own chelas (disciples). The person preparing the food may be the only one in the household who is spiritually advanced. An active charge of happiness, purity and peace will pour forth into the food from him, and this pours forth into the other members of the family and blesses them.”

To be healthy, we need to prepare our own food, for ourselves and our families. This doesn’t mean you have to spend hours in the kitchen, but you do need to spend some time there, preparing food with wisdom and love. If no one in the family has time to prepare food, you need to sit down and rethink how you are spending your time, because this is the only way to get nourishing foods into your children. We can return to good eating practices one mouth at a time, one meal at a time, by preparing our own food and preparing it properly.

7 Foods That Can Lower Blood Pressure

7 Foods That Can Lower Blood PressureOranges

Stock up on this citrus fruit the next time you hit the grocery store. Oranges are bursting with vitamin C, and some studies suggest that people who get lots of vitamin C in their diet may reduce their risk of developing high blood pressure.
Best bet: Drink the juice (it’s loaded with other compounds that may reduce blood pressure) or eat the whole fruit for some extra fiber along with the vitamin C.
Other sources of vitamin C: Guava, grapefruit, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, bell peppers, kiwi
Try this: Toss together a fresh citrus salad of peeled sliced oranges, shaved fennel, thinly sliced onion, olives and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, recommends Aglaia Kremezi, author of Mediterranean Hot and Spicy.

Cranberry Orange Fruit Bars

The cranberries in these scrumptious treats boost their vitamin C content up a notch: One bar boasts 25 percent of the Daily Value recommended for C.
Get the recipe here.

Low-fat or skim Milk

Getting enough of the white stuff isn’t just good for your bones. Milk and other dairy products contain a trio of nutrients that may push down your blood pressure: calcium, potassium and magnesium. These nutrients are so important that the DASH diet (short for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) includes two to three daily servings of nonfat or low-fat dairy products.
Best bet: Stay away from artery-clogging saturated fats by choosing nonfat dairy products.
Other sources of calcium, potassium and magnesium: Hazelnuts, wheat bran, calcium-fortified orange juice
Try this: Whip up a healthy version of an old-fashioned milkshake by blending skim milk, frozen strawberries and nonfat vanilla frozen yogurt.

No-Bake Macaroni & Cheese

Don’t like to take your milk straight? You don’t have to! This grown-up version of the kiddie fave is studded with broccoli – and the cheese in the creamy sauce bumps of the dish’s calcium content to 40 percent of the Daily Value.
Get the recipe here.

Bananas

If your blood pressure has been inching up lately, make bananas your go-to fruit—they’re rich in potassium and fiber. “A diet with plentiful potassium-rich foods has been shown to help lower blood pressure,” says Joan Salge Blake, R.D., author of Nutrition & You: Core Concepts for Good Health.
Best bet: Bananas taste sweetest when their skins are slightly speckled with brown but they’re still firm.
Other good sources of potassium: Potatoes, tomato paste, apricots, lentils
Try this: “For a guilt-free dessert or breakfast, top banana slices with plain low-fat yogurt and a sprinkle of cinnamon,” Kremezi suggests.

Banana Pudding Pops

These frozen treats taste way more decadent than they are: One popsicle has just 1 gram of fat and only 82 calories.
Get the recipe here.

Sweet Potatoes

This super-sweet Thanksgiving staple packs a powerful potassium punch, which is why it deserves a spot at the dinner table year round. “Potassium causes the kidneys to excrete excess sodium from the body, and keeping sodium levels low can help drive down blood pressure,” Salge Blake says.
Best bet: Eat them with the skin for a tasty fiber boost.
Other sources of potassium: Beet greens, white beans, plain nonfat yogurt
Try this: Bump up the potassium content of potato salad. Boil sweet potatoes, then combine them with chopped apple, diced celery and sliced scallions. Toss with a dressing of olive oil, cider vinegar and honey.

Black Bean Smothered Sweet Potatoes

In less than 15 minutes, you can have this potassium-packed treat on the table: While the sweet potato is cooking in the microwave, just toss the black beans with tomatoes and Southwestern spices.
Get the recipe here.

Herbs and spices

Salt may be off-limits when you’re trying to lower your blood pressure, but you can spice up your dishes with fresh herbs. Even easier, raid your spice rack. “It’s no doubt stocked with wonderful dried herbs and spices that are naturally sodium free,” says Salge Blake.
Best bet: If you like fresh herbs but don’t have time to chop them, try herbs in a tube, like the ones from Gourmet Garden.
Other sources for flavor: Onions, garlic, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice
Try this: Make an exotic spice mix by combining Aleppo or Maras pepper (available at Middle Eastern markets or Kalustyans.com) with ground cumin, lemon zest, Greek oregano and chopped cilantro, Kremezi suggests.

Herb & Onion Frittata

The best thing about this single-serving egg dish is its versatility: Any combo of your favorite herbs will work – you can make it different every time.
Get the recipe here.

Salmon

Few foods have more heart-healthy benefits than this nutritional superstar. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which studies suggest not only lower blood pressure, but may also boost good cholesterol, cut triglycerides and slow the growth of arterial plaque.
Best bet: Turn it into a supper staple. Salmon and other omega-3-rich fish are so good for your heart that the American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings per week. No time to cook? Canned or pouched salmon is just as good: Instead of tuna, mix it with nonfat yogurt and diced celery to make a tasty sandwich spread, or toss it with greens and other veggies for a main-dish salad. It’s available with or without bones and skin.
Other sources of omega-3 fatty acids: Herring, mackerel, sardines, anchovies
Try this: Give grilled or broiled salmon steaks or filets a tropical flair with a fresh and spicy salsa. Combine diced papaya, mango, pineapple, red bell pepper and red onion with chopped cilantro, olive oil and lime juice.

Black Bean & Salmon Tostados

A cut above fish tacos, these tasty tostados are made with canned salmon; leave in the bones (so soft you won’t notice them) for a shot of calcium to go along with the ample omega-3s and 12 grams of fiber.
Get the recipe here.

Dark Chocolate

The next time you crave chocolate, give in. Besides their mood-boosting effects, the flavonols in dark chocolate may protect against high blood pressure and stroke, in part by improving the elasticity of blood vessels.
Best bet: When choosing chocolate, go as dark as your taste buds can stand. Check labels for the percentage of cacao, which is the source of all that antioxidant goodness. Dark chocolate typically ranges from 45 percent to 80 percent cacao. And eat a square, not the whole bar.
Another healthy chocolate treat: Sugar-free hot cocoa—in one study it lowered blood pressure, but the sugared kind did not.
Try this: “Toast slices of chewy whole-wheat bread, then brush them with fruity extra virgin olive oil while they’re still warm. Sprinkle the slices with Aleppo or Maras pepper to taste, and top with shavings of good quality dark chocolate,” says Kremezi.

Chocolate Crunch

The bittersweet chocolate in this sweet-and-salty snack is a good source of flavonol-rich cacao and it has less sugar than semisweet chocolate, bumping its health benefits up a notch. Most important, it’s addictive!
Get the recipe here.

10 Foods You Should Eat

Superfoods
We’ve all heard about superfoods—consumables with mystical powers to cure whatever it is that ails you and that will help you live forever. This list will be different. Today we’ll look at some common items that should be on your menu, even though you probably haven’t heard them touted as the next great miracle cure. In fact, some of these you probably thought were bad for you. I begin this list with a caveat; we’re all different. One person’s superfood is another’s trip to the emergency room (soy comes to mind here). There are some nutritional factors we all share, such as the need to eat a certain amount of calories that come from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates to keep our bodies functioning as they should. Beyond this, our exact dietary needs begin to diverge.

There are some obvious reasons for this. Lifestyle and activity level are pretty easy to understand. That someone who is pregnant or training for an Ironman needs more calories than a computer programmer who sits for 14 hours a day isn’t difficult to fathom. Neither is the fact that a 90-pound ballerina uses less fuel than a 350-pound lineman. That we all eat a different number of calories and a different percentage of fats, proteins, and especially carbs is obvious, or at least should be, since the bigger you are and the harder you work the more fuel your body needs to recharge itself.

What’s more subtle are body type differences. These can be difficult to understand, and many people never figure them out. Blood type, heredity, and other factors come into play and make each of us unique individuals. When it comes to eating, most of us spend a fair portion of our lives figuring out just what we should be eating to maximize our life experience (which doesn’t necessarily mean we choose the healthiest options). For this reason, there is no true “superfood.” There are, however, helpful foods that are specific to each of us. By experimenting with our diets, we will all find a course of eating that makes us feel better than anything else.

To help you begin your self-experiment, here’s a list of common foods that you’ll want to try. Most of these are very healthy for almost everyone, even though some have been vilified by society. This doesn’t mean that they’ll transform you into an epitome of health, but they’re certainly worth a try.

1. Peanut butter
I’m leading with this because I’m fairly certain peanut butter single-handedly kept me from getting chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) during the no-fat 90s. In the early 90s, the average amount of fat in our daily diets plummeted while the incidence of CFS* (the colloquial veil for debilitating disorders marked by chronic mental and physical exhaustion) skyrocketed. This was particularly true among the otherwise healthy endurance sports sect. In the early 90s, my body fat was once recorded at 2 percent. Sure, I was ripped. Healthy? Not so much. I’m pretty sure that only my adherence to peanut butter as a healthy fat source kept my athletic obsession intact.

A bevy of modern studies now vindicates my opinion with science. Peanuts are high in both fat and calories but their fat has been associated with decreased total cholesterol and lower LDL and triglyceride levels. It’s also high on the satiation meter, meaning that a little can fill you up.

2. Cabbage
Every Asian culture, as well as European, eats more cabbage than we do and it’s time we thought about it more often than when we happen to splurge on P.F. Chang’s. Cabbage is absurdly low in calories and very high in nutrients. Among these is sulforaphane, which a Stanford University study showed as boosting cancer-fighting enzymes more than any other plant chemical.

3. Quinoa
This “grain” isn’t technically a grain at all. It just tastes like one. It’s actually a relative of spinach, beets, and Swiss chard. All of these are extremely healthy from a nutrient point of view, but quinoa is the only one that can fool you into thinking you’re eating a starch. It’s high in protein, minerals, vitamins, and fiber.

4. Spelt
This one is actually a grain but its origin is slightly mysterious. Some claim it comes from wheat while others say it’s a different species. Regardless, it has a high nutritional profile and can be eaten by many people with gluten intolerance, making it a good alternative to wheat products. Spelt can be found in many products, but as it’s still considered a “health food,” it’s off the major processing radar. Unlike wheat, if spelt is on the ingredients list, it’s probably good for you.

5. Walnuts
All nuts, really, but walnuts seem to be the king of the nut family. Used in Chinese medicine for centuries, walnuts are becoming more associated with Western health than ever before. A 2006 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that eating walnuts after a meal high in bad fat could reduce the damaging effects of the meal.

6. Avocado
Another villain in the old no-fat movement, avocados are now thought to be one of the healthiest fat sources available. Beyond this, they have very high amounts of cancer-fighting antioxidants, and recent research seems to indicate that avocados’ phytonutrients may also help with the absorption of nutrients from other sources.

7. Mushrooms
The more we learn about phytonutrients—those that come in a small enough quantity to be missed on a food label (this is a layman’s definition only)—the more we should admire ancient cultures. These culinary delights have been feuded over for decades until, for some reason, we’d decided they were pretty much empty calories. The study of phytonutrients has taught us that warring over fungi may have held some rationale after all. Mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants and are thought to boost the immune system, help ward off some cancers, and have high amounts of potassium. Furthermore, researchers at Penn State University have found that mushrooms may be the only food to contain an antioxidant called L-ergothioneine.

8. Tea
Despite a ton of positive press over the last, oh, century, tea and coffee are still the devil’s brew in some circles. Perhaps even worse is how many coffee and tea restaurants have bastardized these natural brews into sugar- and fat-filled dessert items. Both tea and coffee, in their basic states, have no calories and many healthy benefits. Between the two, coffee is arguably more popular, most likely due to its higher caffeine content. But tea is probably healthier. Both have a high amount of antioxidants but stats on tea are almost off the charts. A recent study on calcium supplementation in elderly women, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, showed that bone mineral density at the hip was 2.8 percent greater in tea drinkers than in non-tea drinkers.

9. Cinnamon
Maybe the novel Dune was more prescient than we’ve given it credit for. After all, the plot revolves around an entire solar system at war over a cinnamon-like spice. Nowadays, we think of this as little but the flavoring in a 1,100-calorie gut bomb we find at the mall. But Frank Herbert knew a thing or two about history and cinnamon has long been the prized possession of the spice world. It has a host of benefits, but perhaps none more important than this one: USDA researchers recently found that people with type 2 diabetes who consumed one gram of cinnamon a day for six weeks significantly reduced their blood sugar, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol. “He who controls the spice controls the universe!”

10. Natto
This is on the list because, for one, it’s one of the few foods I’ve eaten that I truly don’t like. But mainly, it’s here because we’ve really messed up the way we eat soy. Natto is fermented soybeans and very popular in Japan, which is where I had it. It’s becoming more popular here and this is most likely due to its health benefits. Nearly all the soy options we’re offered in the U.S. are non-fermented. The list of health benefits of fermented soy is a mile long. It’s associated with reducing the risk of cancer, minimizing the likelihood of blood clotting, aiding digestion, increasing blood circulation, an improved immune system, improving bone density, lessening the likelihood of heart attacks, more vibrant skin, and reducing the chance of balding. And it also has strong antibiotic properties, among other things. So you might want to ditch the soy crisps, soy ice cream, and your iced soy mochas and add some natto to your diet.