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    Archive for the ‘flavonoids’ Category

    The Ultimate Olive Oil Guide

    The various health benefits of extra virgin olive oil are no secret, but many Americans don’t know they are very likely purchasing ‘faux’ olive oil, or olive oil which offers very few of those well-publicized healthful compounds. I absolutely despise nutritional and food rip-offs, consider this the ultimate olive oil guide — or what you can no longer afford to NOT know.

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    You Ask, I Answer: More to Bananas than Potassium?

    BananasI don’t hear a lot about bananas, except that they are a good way to get potassium and B vitamins.

    You often write about phytonutrients and antioxidants in fruits.  Do bananas have any?

    Also, why do some diets forbid you from eating bananas the first few weeks?

    — Sandra Talenda
    (Location withheld)

    Let’s get the frustrating things out of the way first.

    I will never, ever, ever understand diet plans that treat bananas (or any other nutritious, whole foods) as if they were radioactive waste.

    A standard medium banana is not only a very good source of fiber, manganese, potassium, vitamin B6, and vitamin C, it also only delivers 105 calories.

    FYI: When it comes to potassium, potatoes and avocados surpass bananas.

    Anyone who recommends banana avoidance in the name of health needs to take a nutrition class.  Stat.

    As far as phytonutrients are concerned, all plant-based foods (grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, and spices) contain them.  That’s one significant reason why a diet heavy on plant-based foods is optimal for health!

    Keep in mind that we are still in the process of identifying phytonutrients; the nutrition nerd in me can’t help but feel excited when researchers uncover a new one.

    Bananas provide high amounts of the following phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants:

    • Glutathione: a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to protect against cellular oxidation and damage
    • Phenolic compounds: a Cornell University study concluded that certain fruits — including bananas — contain phenolic compounds that protect neural cells from oxidative damage, thereby helping slash the risk of neurodegenerative disorders, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s
    • Delphinidin: a naturally-occurring pigment that helps lower cancer risk — particularly of the prostate — by causing tumor cells to undergo apoptosis (“cell suicide”)
    • Rutin: a flavonoid also found in asparagus that is associated with blood pressure reduction
    • Naringin: also found in grapefruits, this flavonoids reduces LDL cholesterol oxidation, thereby lowering atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease risk

    For what it’s worth, the riper a banana, the higher its phytonutrient, antioxidant, and flavonoid content.

    If you don’t like the texture of a very ripe banana, I suggest peeling, slicing, freezing, and incorporating it into a smoothie.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Why Isn’t a Multivitamin Enough?

    Get_the_Right_MultivitaminsThis morning, my 13 year-old son asked me why I always want him to have a healthy breakfast.

    I explained that I wanted to make sure he got the vitamins and minerals his body needs.

    His response was: “Well, why can’t I just have two Pop Tarts and [a multivitamin]?”

    I didn’t really know what to say to that!  What would you have said?

    — Teresa Womell
    (Location withheld)

    “Because as long as you’re living under MY roof…”

    No, kidding.

    Truth is, your initial answer backed you into this corner.  You mentioned that eating healthy foods is important in order to get necessary vitamins and minerals.

    While that is certainly an important part of the equation, nutrition goes far beyond vitamins and minerals.

    Foods also offer phytonutrients, flavonoids, and antioxidants — chemical compounds that offer a variety of health benefits.

    Take an orange, for example.  It is a great source of vitamin C, folate, thiamin, and potassium.

    That’s fabulous in its own right — but there’s more!

    Oranges also offer approximately 150 phytochemicals and over 50 flavonoids that help lower our risk of heart disease, several cancers, and high blood pressure!  You simply can not get that from a supplement.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Is There A Difference Between Fruits and Vegetables?

    FruitStandI love to eat fruit.  I would guess I eat six or seven pieces each day.

    I sometimes go for weeks without eating a single vegetable, but a lot of fruit.

    Is that healthy?  My diet is otherwise varied (don’t worry, Andy, I’m not a fruitarian!)

    — James Spoli
    Queens, NY

    Fruits are certainly healthy (especially since you eat them whole, rather than in juice form), but they do not take the place of vegetables in the diet.

    Many people tend to think of fruits and vegetables as one large group of foods because they are so often paired up together in mainstream nutrition guidelines.

    However, since certain antioxidants and phytonutrients are exclusively found in vegetables, I recommend you incorporate a few into your diet.

    This is why variety is a key component of a healthy diet. The more varied your diet, the more nutrition you get.

    Variety isn’t solely a matter of eating different types of food (ie: fruits, vegetables. nuts, grains, etc.)

    You also need to aim for diversity within each food group.  For example, if almonds are the only nuts you eat and carrots and peppers are the only vegetables you eat, you are missing out on a lot of healthy components that are unique to other nuts and vegetables.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cacao Nibs

    nibsWhat are cacao nibs?

    I saw them in a health food store and wasn’t sure what to make of them.  They looked very decent, nutritionally speaking.

    — Corey Clark
    Via the blog

    Cacao nibs are small bits of fermented, roasted and husked cocoa beans.

    Raw cacao nibs, meanwhile, are small bits of dried and husked cocoa beans that were soaked in water (to loosen their shells).

    Nibs can be eaten plain; while I absolutely love them, I must say they are an acquired taste due to their intense bitterness.

    To me, they taste like a cross between a coffee bean, cocoa powder, and blue cheese.  I also love their unique crunch.

    I usually keep a small bag of cacao nibs in my refrigerator, as I find them to be an absolutely perfect fix for chocolate cravings.

    I’ll either sprinkle a few in my morning yogurt (along with a sliced banana, to add some sweetness), add them to a smoothie, or use them in my favorite homemade trail mix recipe (raw walnuts, raw cacao nibs, goji berries, and mulberries).

    Cacao nibs contain a fair amount of minerals, flavonoids, and antioxidants.  That said, they are usually eaten in small amounts, so I wouldn’t depend on them for a particular nutrient in my diet.

    While I dislike the “no, really, THIS is nature’s perfect food!” hype that tends to accompany their marketing, they are a unique-tasting, unprocessed food perfect for snacking that is completely devoid of sugar-laden empty calories.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Chocolate With Benefits

    6a00d83451b19169e20115701502e1970b-500wiHow much truth is there in the idea that chocolate can be a health food?

    If it’s true, does that mean I am getting some health benefits from any chocolate product?

    — Alice Costello
    (Location Withheld)

    To answer this question, it is important to differentiate between cocoa and chocolate.

    Cocoa refers to the seed from the cacao fruit.  Chocolate, meanwhile, is a term that describes a product that, among other ingredients, contains cocoa.

    In the vast majority of cases, chocolate is composed of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, milk, and other additional ingredients (i.e., almonds) or flavorings (i.e, vanilla).

    Many articles on this topic inaccurately mention the health benefits of chocolate.  In reality, the focus should be on cocoa.

    Cocoa contains a variety of flavonoids — a type of antioxidant — that have been found to have a protective effect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

    To get the most out of cocoa, buy pure unsweetened cocoa powder and include it in a recipe (such as this no-bake brownie bites recipe I posted back in February).

    Flavonoids are negatively affected by processing, which is why you get negligible amounts in popular milk chocolate products like M&Ms or Kit Kat bars.

    That said, some chocolate bars contain higher flavonoid levels than others.  Here are some guidelines to help you find them:

    • Look for “cocoa powder” on the ingredient list.  If you see “alkali-treated” or “Dutch processed” varieties of cocoa powder listed, you are looking at major flavonoid loss
    • Look for chocolate bars that are comprised of at least 75% cocoa
    • Ideally, look for chocolate bars that are milk-free (such as Endangered Species) or contain negligible amounts (such as Dagoba), since certain components in milk appear to limit the absorption of antioxidants from cacao.

    If you seek out cocoa flavonoids in chocolate bars rather than cocoa powder, be sure to keep an eye on calories.

    And, also, as wonderful as the flavonoids in cocoa are,  there are plenty of other foods (fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and seeds) that offer various other varieties that are just as beneficial.

    Remember, health is determined by the totality of your diet, not the inclusion of any one food.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Tea & Coffee

    I’ve read a lot about the supposed health benefits of tea (especially green) and coffee [in regards to] cancer, heart disease, and Parkinson’s disease [risk].

    Any hard data on this?

    [If so, do the health benefits] apply to all kinds of teas and coffees?

    What about decaf varieties?

    — Corey Clark
    (location withheld)

    There is plenty of data in the scientific literature showing the health benefits of coffee.

    Coffee beans contain a wide array of antioxidants, polyphenols, and health-promoting compounds.

    Consistent consumption of 16 to 24 ounces of coffee a day has been linked with decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease, liver cancer, type-2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

    Additionally, the antioxidants in coffee have been shown to reduce inflammation and inhibit cellular tumor growth.

    What these studies basically show is that healthy individuals (although not pregnant women) who drink coffee regularly do not need to be concerned with cutting it out of their diet for health reasons.

    That said,the percentage of the population that is sensitive to caffeine should certainly avoid it.

    Luckily, both caffeinated AND decaffeinated coffees and teas share the same amount of flavonoids and antioxidants.

    Speaking of teas, all varieties (green, white, and black) offer plenty of flavonoids and antioxidants. Herbal teas, however, offer significantly lower amounts.

    The biggest issue with these beverages is what people are putting into them (syrups, tablespoon upon tablespoon of sugar, mounds of whipped cream, etc.) that often turns them into calorie, sugar, and fat-laden drinks that do more harm than good.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cocoa

    I always buy Hershey’s Cocoa (natural unsweetened) in the 8 oz. container.

    When I asked my husband to get some more, he came home with a package that was more expensive looking and said on the front: Hershey’s Cocoa (100% cacao) and in a pretty section, red background, gold letters: “SPECIAL DARK [trademark symbol] A BLEND OF NATURAL AND DUTCHED COCOAS.”

    The ingredients list for the former product reads: cocoa (there is a U in a circle, no idea what that means).

    The new product list reads: cocoa, cocoa processed with alkali.

    They do include in the fine print on the side of the package the statement that “…HERSHEY’S SPECIAL DARK Cocoa provides fewer antioxidants than HERSHEY’S Natural Unsweetened Cocoa.)

    What is going on?

    — Maria (last name withheld)
    (city withheld), AZ

    The first distinction that needs to be made here is between cocoa powder and chocolate; too many people get them confused!

    In order to make cocoa powder, cocoa beans are first fermented, roasted, and shelled.

    Inside that shell are cacao nibs, which undergo a heated grinding process to be converted into a liquid known as chocolate liquor (a misnomer, since it contains no alcohol.)

    Chocolate liquor is then divided into cocoa butter and cocoa solids via compression.

    The grinding of cocoa solids results in cocoa powder, which is naturally fat-free (as a result of being separated from cocoa butter) and sugar-free.

    This is all very different from chocolate — which, at its most basic, is a combination of cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, milk, and sugar.

    Let’s now talk about the difference in the two products you mention.

    The standard 8-ounce container of cocoa you buy is pure cocoa powder.

    The special variety your husband bought is a mixture of the cocoa powder sold in the 8-ounce container and some Dutched cocoa (cocoa powder that is mixed with an alkali in order to remove some of its acidity and bitterness.)

    Since the processing of Dutch cocoa results in a loss of antioxidants and flavonoids, the fine print on the “Special Dark” product makes perfect sense.

    In order to get the most benefit from the antioxidants and flavonoids in cocoa powder, have it in its natural form.

    One suggestion? Make a smoothie with your milk of choice (dairy, soy, nut, etc.), one ripe medium banana, and a tablespoon of cocoa powder.

    Or plug in your food processor and try my no-bake “brownie” recipe!

    As for that U symbol — it simply means the product is certified kosher.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Slivered Almonds

    Are slivered almonds as nutritious as whole almonds with the brown skin on them?

    — Gary Wington
    (Location withheld)

    Slivered almonds offer as much protein, manganese, selenium, fiber, and heart-healthy fat as their skinned counterparts.

    However, keep in mind that nutrition goes beyond the basic macro (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).

    Almond skins contain a high amount of flavonoids. Apart from having health benefits of their own, they help maximize the health benefits of the vitamin E present in actual almonds.

    This study from the June 2005 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, for instance, found that the flavonoids in almond skins work synergistically with vitamin E in almond “meat” to reduce LDL oxidation (one of the main factors behind the development of atherosclerosis).

    Another example of how a whole food is nutritionally superior to a slightly more processed counterpart.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Urinary Tract Infections & Cranberry Juice

    I was just told to drink cranberry juice to help treat a UTI.

    The nurse said the juice’s acidity [would help].

    This confused me because I thought that food from the stomach is neutralized by a base before getting digested in the small intestine, so it wouldn’t matter how acidic foods are to begin with.

    So, is there any reason to drink cranberry juice for a UTI?

    I’m cautious because all of the juice brands I’ve seen at stores have a lot of sugar, and drinking cranberry juice needlessly seems like a way to ingest a lot of empty calories.

    — Christine (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Lots to cover here.

    Does cranberry juice play a role in preventing and treating urinary tract infections? Yes, but it has nothing to do with the fruit’s acidity.

    Cranberries — and blueberries, for that matter — contain an antioxidant known as proanthocyanidin.

    This just so happens to also be the flavonoid that gives these two berries their unique pigments.

    Several studies (mostly conducted over the past five years) have concluded that this phytochemical inhibits certain bacteria from adhering to the cell membranes of the cells lining the walls of the bladder.

    By not being able to stick to these cells, bacteria have no chance to claim land, play house, and set off an infection.

    The majority of the research on these components in cranberries and their relationship to urinary tract infections has mainly focused on prevention.

    This is not to say, however, you are wasting your time by using cranberry juice in your treatment.

    In fact, cranberries’ anti-adherent properties against pesky bacteria can be a great complement to the 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of water you should be drinking every day day to help flush out said organisms.

    The key, though, is to drink PURE cranberry juice — usually found at select health food stores.

    This means cranberry “juice drinks,” “cranberry-based fruit cocktails,” “cranberry energy water” will not be of much help.

    Since that can be quite bitter medicine to swallow (despite there being no official dosage, most recommendations call for anywhere from 8 to 16 ounces per day), you may opt for concentrated cranberry extract pills (which have been used in several clinical trials.)

    Then again, since no government agency regulates supplements, you always run the risk of buying an extract pill that, for all you know, offers a tenth of the dosage it claims on its label.

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