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    Archive for the ‘selenium’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Kamut

    EFI_PASTA_KAMUT_SPIRALSPlease enlighten me.  For the past few months, I’ve seen kamut pasta at the grocery store.  I had never heard of it before.

    What is kamut?  Is it healthier than wheat?

    — Julie Wilkens
    St. Paul, MN

    Kamut, the “brand name” for khorasan, is a whole grain native to the Middle East.

    The name “Kamut” is of Egyptian origin, and refers to a popular legend (not urban, mind you, just a regular legend) that khorasan was a staple of Egyptian pharaos.

    Although it is a relative of wheat — and definitely not appropriate for anyone on a gluten-free diet — it has a nuttier taste and chewier texture, reminiscent of brown rice.

    You can buy kamut “as is” (it looks like extra large brown rice grains), in pasta form, or as an oatmeal-like hot cereal.

    You will often see an ® symbol after kamut.  No need for concern; it is not genetically modified or owned by Monsanto!

    As kamut producers explain it, the grain was patented in 1990 “to protect and preserve the exceptional qualities of a particular variety of the ancient wheat.”

    In order to receive the “kamut” trademark, manufacturers of these foods must sign a licensing agreement and abide by certain rules (i.e.: 100% organic farming practices, a certain amount of selenium per sample, and a specific protein range).

    A half cup of cooked kamut delivers:

    • 140 calories
    • 5 grams of fiber
    • 6 grams of protein

    Additionally, it is an excellent source of selenium, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.

    I see very little nutritional differences between it and 100 percent whole wheat pasta, though.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Sea Vegetables

    DulseIn the past, you have written that seaweed is a good source of omega-3 for vegans, but what are the benefits for those of us who already eat fish?

    Is there any reason to eat sea vegetables if you already get omega-3s from animal sources?

    — Tom Emilio
    (Location withheld)

    Absolutely!  Their EPA content (one of the two omega 3 fatty acids found exclusively in fish and seaweed) is only one of their many benefits.

    All sea vegetables are great low-calorie sources of iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamin A, and vitamin K.

    Another bonus?  Sea vegetables have their own share of unique phytonutrients and antioxidants that help lower risk for heart disease and many different cancers.  This is why I often say that oceans have a very worthy produce section!

    Many people erroneously assume all seaweed is slimy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    You can purchase sheets of thin, crunchy nori (wonderful mixed into salads or used to wrap vegetables and avocado), dried chewy dulse (pictured, right), or hijiki (which, when cooked, has a consistency similar to that of rice).

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    You Ask, I Answer: Free Radicals

    antioxidant-protecting-cellWhat exactly are free radicals, and how worried should I be about them?

    I realize I have barely a kindergarten concept of them.

    — @Beth_Pettit
    Via Twitter

    The concept of free radicals within the scope of health and nutrition can get super complicated, but here is an informative, simple-as-I-can-make-it “101” crash course.

    Free radicals are compounds with both positive and negative characteristics.

    Their main positive function relates to our immune system.  Our body actually deploys free radicals when it detects a foreign substance in the body.

    Without free radicals, our bodies would have a harder time combating most viruses and bacteria.

    Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends.

    Free radicals have what is called a “free-floating electron”.  This makes free radicals very upset, since they want that electron to be paired off with another one.

    In their quest to find another electron, they scour all over the place, damaging cells and DNA in the process.

    DNA damage is particularly disturbing, as it is the chief cause behind degenerative diseases like cancer.

    While our cells have some built-in protection against free radicals, there is only so much they can take before they basically become powerless.

    What makes the issue of free radicals complicated is that there is no way to avoid them.  Most free radicals are byproducts of necessary metabolic processes (like digesting food and cell regeneration).

    Of course, certain factors increase free radical content in our bodies.  These include:

    • Air and water pollution
    • Smoking
    • Emotional stress
    • Exposure to radiation
    • Pesticides
    • Excessive intakes of omega-6 fatty acids
    • Aging

    The best thing you can do to limit as much damage possible?  You guessed it — eat a healthy diet.

    Consider this: most of the enzymes our body sends out to attack free radicals are created from nutrients like manganese, selenium, and zinc.

    Diets low in these nutrients are unable to create as good of a defense against free radical damage as diets where these nutrients are consistently consumed in adequate amounts.

    While vitamins C and E are well-known for their antioxidant (that’s code for “free-radical-neutralizing”) capacities, keep in mind that the thousands of phytonutrients in whole, unprocessed foods also help minimize cellular damage.

    FYI: to read more about antioxidants, I HIGHLY recommend you read this post.

    This is precisely why you want to be sure to eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes — all those foods are packed with unique and exclusive compounds that provide plenty of assistance.

    It is also crucial to eat whole foods that intrinsically contain these compounds (as opposed to supplements that isolate certain ones) since clinical research has clearly demonstrated that in order to work effectively, these compounds need to work in tandem.

    As morbid as it sounds, free radicals are also the body’s way of guaranteeing eventual death.  A person in their eighties produces much higher amounts of free radicals than someone in their thirties.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Amaranth

    Amaranth Grain crop 001A few days ago on Twitter you recommended we give alternative grains like amaranth a try.

    Can you tell me more about it?  How can it be prepared?

    — Will Reicks
    (Location withheld)

    Although amaranth can be eaten as a savory side dish, I prefer it as an alternative to oatmeal, especially since it has a porridge-like texture.

    I enjoy it topped with sliced bananas, chopped pecans, goji berries, and cacao nibs.

    Like quinoa and wild rice, amaranth falls into the “pseudo-grain” category, since it is technically a seed.

    Not only is it a completely safe food for those with gluten intolerances and wheat allergies — it also boasts a powerful nutritional profile.  One cup of cooked amaranth delivers:

    • 251 calories
    • 5 grams of fiber
    • 9 grams protein

    It is also an excellent source of iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, and delivers substantial amounts of calcium, copper, folate, selenium, vitamin B6, and zinc.

    Added bonus?  Amaranth contains exclusive phytonutrients that help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol as well as a powerful group of antioxidants called betalains that help reduce cellular inflammation and, consequently, the risk of different cancers.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Maca

    maca-powderWhat are  your thoughts on maca?

    I’m not exactly clear of its benefits.

    — Susy (Last name withheld)
    (Location Unknown)

    If this is the first time you hear of maca, Susy is referring to a cruciferous root vegetable native to the highest altitudes of the Andes mountains in Peru.

    In the United States (and most of the world), maca is sold as a powder, much like cocoa.  You can find it at Whole Foods, health food stores, or from online vendors (I am familiar with the Navitas Natural brand).

    I personally love maca’s unique flavor (it’s somewhere between coffee, cocoa powder, almonds, and nutritional yeast) and often add it to smoothies, yogurt, and oatmeal.

    Maca is a great source of many minerals — especially magnesium, manganese, and selenium — and contains its own share of unique phytonutrients and antioxidants.

    Since maca is not a popular food, studies on it are limited.  However, this small-scale study published in science journal Andrologia by Peruvian scientists concluded that maca supplementation appeared to increased sexual desire (scientific term: libido) among healthy adult males.

    In case you’re wondering why that was the focus of the study, it was mainly to determine if anecdotes of increased sexual desire as a result of consistent maca consumption were fact or fiction.

    Not surprisingly, I have seen many unsubstantiated health claims for macca on the Internet, ranging from promises of improved memory to eliminating fatigue, all of which sounds more like hype than fact to me.  General well-being has much more to do with general eating patterns than the inclusion of one or two specific foods.

    That said, maca offers a great nutrition profile and I certainly would not discourage someone from adding it to a healthy diet.

    Keep in mind, though, that maca is not a magic potion.  There are literally hundreds of foods you can introduce to your diet if you seek unique phytonutrients and antioxidants — pretty much any fruit, vegetable, legume, nut, or seed!

    What sometimes bugs me about these products is the way in which they are “exoticized” in their marketing, complete with references to ancient warriors and “hidden powers”.  To Peruvians, maca is as common as apples are to someone from Washington state.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Oat Flour

    5106PF2KV9L._SL500_AA280_PIbundle-5,TopRight,0,0_AA280_SH20_I have a question [in regards to your recent post] about oat flour.

    I can tolerate wheat just fine, but if I were to replace whole wheat flour with oat flour in my baking, would I end up with a more nutritious product?

    — Nicole Clanham
    (City withheld), CO

    Let’s first do a simple comparison.

    One cup of whole wheat flour contains:

    • 407 calories
    • 15 grams fiber
    • 16 grams protein
    • 121% Daily Value of selenium
    • 228% Daily Value of manganese
    • 14% Daily Value of potassium
    • 41% of manganese

    A cup of oat flour, meanwhile, provides:

    • 444 calories
    • 12 grams fiber
    • 15 grams protein
    • 57% Daily Value of selenium
    • 258% Daily Value of manganese
    • 12% Daily Value of potassium
    • 81% Daily Value of manganese

    Alas, no mind-blowing differences.

    There are, however, some added bonuses to oat flour (especially if you make your own by grinding rolled oats in a food processor).

    1. More soluble fiber than any other grain.  Remember, soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol levels and triggers fullness more quickly.  Insoluble fiber — which whole wheat flour contains lots of — helps keep things moving through our digestive system.
    2. Exclusive antioxidants and polyphenols believed to promote heart health and lower diabetes risk.

    As great as that is, you can not fully replace the whole wheat flour in a recipe with oat flour.

    Since oat flour does not contain gluten, a baked good made entirely with it will not rise.

    “Wait a minute,” you may be saying.  “I thought you said oats were not safe for people on gluten-free diets!  What do you mean it doesn’t have gluten?”

    Allow me to explain.  Oats are intrinsically gluten-free.  However, many are cross-contamined in factories that also process wheat.  While the minimal contamination is significant enough to cause problems for an individual with celiac, it is not enough to have an effect on the baking process.

    Feel free to substitute half the wheat flour in a recipe with oat flour, though.

    As I always like to say, keep nutritional context in mind.  Oat flour in an otherwise unhealthy recipe (loads of sugar and calories) is a moot point.

    The best way to get oat’s health benefits is by preparing unsweetened oatmeal (and adding your own fruit and nut toppings) or adding quick-cooking oats to yogurt or a smoothie.

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    Quick & Healthy Recipe: Five-Minute Creamy Mushroom Soup

    mushroomsI love a bowl of homemade soup on chilly days, but don’t always have the time (or patience) to make soup from scratch.

    Alas, this amazingly simple “chop, blend, and heat” recipe produces an out-of-this-world-delicious (and super healthy!) soup.  I’ve been hooked on this since day one.

    Since this soup is filling due to its share of healthy fats and protein, it can be perfectly paired with a salad or small sandwich.

    YIELDS: 1 – 2 servings

    INGREDIENTS:

    1 cup water
    1/4 – 1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
    1/4 cup chopped onion of choice (I use yellow)
    1 garlic clove (use 2 if you want it extra-garlicky)
    1 cup sliced mushrooms of choice (I use white)
    1/4 cup chopped celery
    1 Tablespoon lemon juice
    1/8 teaspoon salt or miso
    Pepper, to taste

    INSTRUCTIONS:

    Process all ingredients in blender.

    Transfer to pot and heat for 5 minutes.

    Serve and enjoy.  Top with cilantro or scallions!

    NUTRITION INFORMATION (per serving):

    358 calories
    4 grams saturated fat
    300 milligrams sodium
    3 grams fiber
    11 grams protein

    Excellent source of: Folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, thiamin, vitamin B6, vitamin C

    Good source of: Copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium.

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    You Ask, I Answer: What Makes Brown Rice Healthier?

    b6-brown-rice-lgWhy is brown rice considered so much better than white rice?

    The food labels for each one aren’t all that different.  Brown rice just has a little more fiber.

    So, what’s the big deal?

    — Jessica Bracanti
    (City withheld), CT

    As helpful as food labels can be in guiding our food choices, they barely tell the true tale of a food’s whole nutritional profile.

    You are right — strictly from a food label standpoint, brown rice doesn’t seem to have many advantages over white rice.  It’s what you don’t see on the food label that makes all the difference!

    Brown rice contains significantly higher levels of phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E.

    If there were no enrichment laws (those which require that nutrients lost in processing be added back to refined grains like white rice), brown rice would also contain higher levels of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, iron, and vitamin B6 than its white counterpart.

    Remember, though, that vitamins and minerals are only part of  a food’s nutritional profile.

    Since brown rice is a whole grain, it offers you its bran and germ components — and all their health-promoting phytonutrients and antioxidants..

    Some preliminary research indicates that specific components in rice bran oil lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.  Add to that to brown rice’s soluble fibers (which are also implicated in decreasing LDL cholesterol) and you have a heart-healthy one-two punch.

    These are the same fibers, by the way, that help achieve a longer feeling of fullness more quickly.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Cassava Flour

    test1.57I have a recipe that calls for cassava flour.  Is it more nutritious than wheat flour?

    Also, is the flour considered a grain even though cassava is a root vegetable?

    If so, is it a whole grain?

    — Maria (last name withheld)
    Buenos Aires, Argentina

    From a nutritional standpoint, flours made from vegetables (such as cassava) are not considered grains.

    Grains offer B vitamins, fiber, magnesium, and selenium.  At its best, cassava flour — also known as tapioca flour — offers trace amounts of those nutrients.

    It is also extremely low in protein (which is why individuals in extremely poor developing nations who mainly subsist on cassava develop protein malnutrition).

    Cassava flour comes in very handy, though, as a thickener when creating gluten-free baked goods.

    Keep in mind, too, that the Food & Drug Administration created an official definition for whole grains in 2006, which states that whole grains must contain the three components found in grains (bran, endosperm and the germ) in the same relative proportion as they exist in nature.

    As a root vegetable, cassava does not offer those three components.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Egg Yolks (Part 2)

    How unhealthy are egg yolks?

    Is it true that some people have more of a chance (due to genes) of producing more LDL cholesterol and [that] only these individuals should eat egg yolks in moderation?

    — Lori (last name unknown)
    Via the blog

    Egg yolks are branded with an undeserving “unhealthy” label that has proven hard to shake off.

    It was formerly believed that high intakes of dietary cholesterol resulted in high blood cholesterol levels. We now know, however, that blood cholesterol levels are linked to intakes of of trans fats and most saturated fats.

    It is true that some individuals have a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol. Consequently, they are recommended to limit their intake of whole eggs to three per week.

    If, however, you do not fall into that category, you can safely eat one egg a day.

    As far as I’m concerned, the average healthy individual should concern themselves much more with saturated fat than cholesterol.

    After all, very low intakes of cholesterol simply mean your liver makes up for it by creating more.

    As I pointed out during Season 4 of Bravo’s reality competition show Top Chef, people often make significant nutrition mistakes when avoiding meats high in cholesterol. These meats are usually much LOWER in saturated fat and, therefore, a healthier option than varieties low in cholesterol but high in saturated fat!

    Your average large egg provides 77 calories and only 1.5 grams of saturated fat. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s a good way to add riboflavin, B12, selenium, and biotin to your diet!

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    A single Brazil nut provides 97.5% of the daily selenium requirement.

    Pretty nifty, huh?

    This is a particularly valuable tidbit of information for vegans, since the vast majority of foods high in selenium are animal-derived.

    That doesn’t mean you can’t get too much of a good thing.

    Since the Upper Limit for selenium is set at 400 micrograms, snacking on a half dozen Brazil nuts every day could set the stage for a condition known as selenosis, which can result in in hair loss, fatigue, and intestinal discomfort.

    This is literally a “one a day” recommendation.

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    Numbers Game: One A Day

    A single _______ provides 97.5% of the daily selenium requirement.

    a) Brazil nut
    b) cashew
    c) pecan

    d) almond

    Leave your guess in the “comments” section and come back on Wednesday for the answer.

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    You Ask, I Answer: Mushrooms

    From a nutrition standpoint, are all varieties of mushrooms pretty much the same?

    Sometimes I see portobello mushroom steak as a vegetarian option at restaurants.

    Is it higher in protein than other types?

    — Linda Ahern
    Santa Ana, CA

    All mushrooms are good low-calorie sources of potassium, phosphorus, and two B vitamins (riboflavin and niacin.)

    A cup of chopped mushrooms also offers approximately ten percent of the selenium daily value (although oyster mushrooms come up short in this mineral.)

    Portobello mushrooms are not higher in protein than other varieties.

    A five-ounce serving only delivers 5 grams of protein (that same amount of tofu offers 15 grams; five ounces of seitan contribute 30 grams; half a cup of black beans adds up to 10 grams.)

    Portobello mushroom “steak” as a vegetarian option on a restaurant menu strikes me as rather uninspired, particularly when it is the only meat-free choice.

    I can’t tell you how many times I have been at events where that is the sole vegetarian dish, and it is literally nothing but a huge, grilled portobello mushroom inside a hamburger bun. Snore!

    Many chefs love it, though, because it’s very easy to prepare.

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    Numbers Game: Answer

    A three ounce broiled porkchop provides 46 milligrams of sodium, whereas three ounces of ham add up to 1,117 milligrams of sodium.

    (Note: Maximum sodium intake recommendations are set at no more than 2,400 milligrams a day.)

    This is one of the clearest examples of the vast nutritional differences between minimally and heavily processed varieties of the same food.

    Remember, the more processed a food, the higher its sodium content and the lower its potassium numbers.

    It shouldn’t surprise you, then, to find out that the 341 milligrams of potassium in a three ounce porkchop fall to a measly 75 milligrams in three ounces of ham.

    Additionally, while this amount of broiled pork offers 45 percent of the selenium daily value and 19 percent of day’s worth of zinc, the ham only provides eight percent and three percent, respectively.

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    Advertising Gone Nuts!

    A visit to my local CVS led to quite an interesting discovery — Planters’ new “NUTritious” line of products, advertised as “a distinctive line of snacking options that focus on specific wellness needs, all built with a better you in mind.”

    How sweet. Let’s look beyond the sensitive copy, though.

    Planters has always sold a variety of nuts — good sources of fiber, heart-healthy fats, and nutrients like vitamin E, selenium, and magnesium.

    So, nothing is broken and in need of getting fixed.

    I was very curious to see how exactly this new line would improve over products as “non junky” as peanuts or cashews.

    Let’s begin.

    First up — the Heart Healthy Mix, which “may reduce the risk of heart disease.”

    Already my “BS” meter went off. Not only can that statement be applied to any nut product, it’s also the kind of claim that is rally too vague to be of any use.

    Sure, nuts may reduce the risk of heart disease assuming that they are part of a diet low in saturated and trans fats and rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. And that you don’t smoke. And that you’re not 50 pounds overweight. I could go on…

    What is so special about this product I do not know. It is simply a medley of nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, etc.) just as heart-healthy as the generic CVS brand.

    Next we have the South Beach Diet Recommended Mix, consisting of cashews, almonds, and macadamia nuts.

    What makes these three nuts more South Beach Diet “friendly” than, say, hazelnuts and walnuts? Beats me.

    The third product in the NUTrition line is the Energy Mix — “a natural source of energy.” So is Planters claiming that the other products don’t provide energy?

    This one includes a medley of nuts along with chocolate covered soynuts and honey roasted sesame sticks.

    Seeing as how all calories are a source of “natural energy” (you could make the case that a 1,200 calorie triple milkshake is “a natural source of energy,”) I have absolutely no clue what the point of this product is.

    The Digestive Health Mix (I hope you are rolling your eyes along with me by this point) “keeps everything moving” by combining “pistachios, almonds, tart cranberries, crunchy granola clusters, and sweet cherries.”

    Fair enough — but the fiber in any of the other mixes (or any serving of nuts, for that matter, no matter what the brand) also keeps things moving.

    What is completely absurd is the presence of high fructose corn syrup. How does that fall into Planters’ creating this with a better “me” in mind?

    I suppose companies will always be looking for the next great way to boost sales, but whoever thought up this new Planters line is, quite frankly, a nut!

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