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Today we’re talking about the numerous health benefits of vegetables that have one particular element in common; sulfur.  This aromatic element plays a part in many different enzymes and processes in the body, but today we’re going to focus on its role in antioxidant compounds.

Vegetables that are rich in these organosulfur compounds can help your liver do its job effectively.  Remember that the liver is responsible for processing nutrients, packaging them for distribution to the rest of your body, and getting rid of toxic stuff that could harm you.  Sulfur-containing antioxidants act like rocket fuel to speed up the enzymes that get rid of the aforementioned toxic stuff.

Research has shown that people who consume a diet high in these compounds have lower rates of many types of cancer. 

So which foods contain these super sulfur compounds?  Not surprisingly, this is another chance for me to promote dark leafy greens!  Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, and cabbage are good sources of organosulfur compounds.  Additionally garlic contains organosulfur compounds that have both antioxidant and antibacterial properties.

These vegetables have minimal calories and are chock full of organosulfur compounds, fiber, B vitamins, and minerals.  One cup of cooked kale only has 36 calories, so use a heavy hand when you spoon it on your plate!

Hey, want an easy recipe that incorporates both kale and garlic for an organosulfur double shot?  Check out this Garlicky Kale recipe from Healthy Snack Sunday a couple of weeks ago.

 
We’ve discussed in previous posts how eating a rainbow of different colored foods ensures that you get a good variety of nutrients.  Researchers have found that foods containing purple pigments are less frequently consumed than foods of other colors.  Purple foods contain the class of antioxidants known as anthocyanins.  The research is still emerging, but scientists suspect that these antioxidants could be particularly helpful in preventing heart disease.

Here are some foods that are high in anthocyanins to incorporate into your diet:

  • Blackberries
  • Blood oranges
  • Blueberries
  • Plums
  • Raspberries
  • Red cabbage
  • Red onion
  • Strawberries

Berries can be pricey when they are fresh, if you’re on a budget (and really, who isn’t these days?) try picking them up in the frozen section.  Blend some frozen berries with greek yogurt for a sweet frozen treat that’s also a balanced snack.
 
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Today we’re continuing our discussion on healthy seeds with the sometimes-overlooked sunflower seed.  Sunflower seeds are less expensive and more widely available than the other seeds we’ve discussed, and they’ve got some good nutrients packed inside of them.  Here are some of my favorite things about sunflower seeds:

Good source of Vitamin E.  One ¼ cup serving of sunflower seeds contains 60% of your Daily Recommended Value for Vitamin E!  Vitamin E is the only antioxidant we eat that is fat-soluble.  That means it has the power to stop free radical damage in fatty tissues, where other antioxidants can’t reach.  You can read more on how antioxidants work here.

A good dose of other vital nutrients.  Sunflower seeds are also a good source of magnesium and several B vitamins.  Remember from our discussion yesterday that the mineral magnesium is important for muscle and nerve health.

Refined sunflower oil is safe for high-heat cooking.  Cooking at high heat with a low smoke-point oil can result in carcinogens in your food and maybe even a fire in your kitchen!  Refined sunflower oil is safe for temperatures up to 450 degrees F, so you can use it for frying and roasting.  You can find more information on choosing the right cooking oil for the job here.

Safe alternative for those with nut allergies.  If you have a nut allergy, sunflower butter is a yummy replacement for peanut butter.  I don’t have an allergy, but I like to buy sunflower butter sometimes just because it tastes good!  If you have a severe allergy make sure you check the label to see if the butter was made on shared equipment with nuts.

Buy these seeds raw, not roasted.  Roasted sunflower seeds have had oil and salt added to them.  Buy these raw and toast them yourself if you want to bring out more flavor without the added fat and sodium.  You can toast sunflower seeds in a dry pan over medium heat for about 10 minutes, until golden and fragrant.

Just like any other food, sunflower seeds should be part of a varied whole foods diet.  Eating several different types of fresh, seasonal foods on a daily basis ensures that you get the range of nutrients your body needs.

 
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I was going to call this “bitter” green pesto, but I didn’t think that sounded as appetizing as this recipe is!  I’m not getting off my dark leafy green bandwagon anytime soon, so here’s a recipe to incorporate some bitter greens into your diet.  Bitter greens like arugula, dandelion greens, and watercress can give you an antioxidant boost, as well as aid in digesting fats.

Tart Green Pesto
  • 1 bunch bitter greens (arugula, dandelion greens, or watercress)
  • 1 medium onion
  • ½ cup raw walnuts
  • A pinch sugar
  • A pinch cayenne pepper or red chili flakes
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • Several glugs of olive oil

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Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F.  Spread your walnuts out on a baking sheet, and toast in preheated oven for 10-12 minutes, until fragrant and lightly browned.

While your walnuts are toasting, roughly chop your onion.  Warm up a few tablespoons of olive oil in a pan over medium high heat, and add chopped onion.  Cook onions until browned and soft, then add sugar and cook another minute of two.

Place walnuts, onions, garlic, salt, lemon juice and greens in your food processor.  Add a few good glugs of olive oil.  Blend until combined, add more olive oil if needed.  Mixture should be creamy but still have some chunkiness to it.

Spread on crackers, in a sandwich wrap, on top of scrambled eggs, get creative!

 
Inflammation can cause or exacerbate many different diseases, including heart, lung, joint, and skin conditions.  Certain foods have antioxidant compounds in them that fight inflammation.  As we’ve discussed before, virtually all fruits and vegetables are good sources of antioxidants.  In addition to those, many spices also contain compounds that decrease inflammation.  Adding these spices into your diet is an easy way to pack more anti-inflammatory power into your food!

Turmeric:  The active constituent in this root, curcumin, has been shown to decrease inflammation in a number of different clinical trials.  While turmeric is a major component in curry powder, it does not have a very strong flavor when used alone.  Turmeric has a vibrant yellow color that can be used to brighten up soups, sauces, or grains.  Cynthia from Cookus Interruptus has a nice recipe for Golden Spice Rice here.

Cinnamon:  This commonly used spice has both anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects.  That means it can both soothe inflammation and deter harmful bacteria.  Try using cinnamon in a savory dish, such as this Moroccan Vegetable Tagine recipe from Green Kitchen Stories.

Other spices that have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects include ginger, cloves, black pepper, and red chili.

Most studies have shown that consuming just a few grams of all the spices above can have an anti-inflammatory effect.  Help your body soothe inflammation by adding a dash here or there of different spices throughout your day.
 
Dark leafy greens like kale, spinach, collards, and chard contain a wealth of nutrients that can help prevent disease.  Greens only contain around 30 calories per cooked cup, and 3-5 grams of fiber.  That means adding leafy greens into your diet can add a lot of bulk to your plate, and make you feel full longer.  Here are some of the ways a diet rich in leafy greens can help you avoid chronic disease:

Fight heart disease.  Greens are rich in folate, a nutrient that can help prevent arterial plaque development.  Folate is also necessary for healthy red blood cell growth, normal nerve function, and fetal development in pregnant women.  Beans are another great source of folate.

Keep your nerves and muscles in good working order.  Leafy greens are a good source of magnesium.  Many people’s diets are chronically low in this mineral.  In magnesium deficiency our nerves become over-stimulated, which can result in muscle pain, cramps, and spasms.

Lower your cancer risk.  Cruciferous greens like kale and other cabbages are rich in sulforaphane, the same compound in broccoli that could reduce your risk for cancer.  Several studies have shown that people who regularly consume sulforaphane-rich foods have a decreased cancer risk.

It’s best to cook leafy greens for a short amount of time to maintain their nutrient content.  The trick is to cook them long enough to increase the digestibility, but not so long that you cook all the life out of them!  Use your visual judgment; you want your cooked greens to be green- not brown.  A light steaming, pan sauté, or massaging greens with an acidic ingredient usually works best.

Here’s a good recipe for Massaged Kale salad from Cookus Interruptus.

Here’s where you can purchase an “Eat More Kale” t-shirt to show your love for greens!
 
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We spent a lot of time talking about the liver when I was in graduate school.  Maintaining a healthy liver is very important for overall health, and what you eat can have a huge effect on it!

After you eat a meal, everything that is absorbed through your gut is sent to the liver for processing.  The liver repackages nutrients for whatever your tissues and internal organs need, and then sends it along its way.  This is a very important job- if your liver isn’t working well, the rest of your body doesn’t get what it needs.

The liver also picks up anything that is toxic or unnecessary and makes sure it exits your body in one way or another (I won’t get explicit, you know how your body gets rid of stuff).

Here are some tips for eating to support your most vital organ of metabolism:

Limit your alcohol consumption:  Alcohol messes with your liver in two ways.  It keeps the liver busy processing the alcohol instead of nutrients, and it depletes fuel the liver needs to metabolize other things.  The less alcohol you consume the happier your liver will be.

Avoid high fructose corn syrup (HFCS):  The extra fructose in HFCS also puts a strain on the normal function of the liver.  Very high fructose intake has been shown to result in fat deposits in the liver.  Fat does not belong there, and can result in a variety of diseases.

Eat plenty of antioxidants:  These compounds help your liver do its work; they are particularly helpful in assisting the process of detoxification.  To see which foods are high in antioxidants see this post.

Get your B vitamins through your diet:  All of the B vitamins drive the metabolic process in the liver.  Make sure you’re getting the B vitamins you need from food.  Foods that are good sources of B vitamins include:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Cruciferous veggies like broccoli and cabbage
  • Mushrooms
  • Beans
  • Almonds
  • Organic meat and dairy


 
Broccoli packs a lot of nutritional punch in its unassuming package.  Today we’ll discuss the many reasons why broccoli should make regular appearances on your plate.

One cup of cooked broccoli contains 54 calories and 6 grams of fiber, which makes it an ideal food for maintaining your weight.  You can eat a lot of it without taking in very many calories and the high fiber content will make you feel full longer.

Broccoli is very high in sulforaphane, a particular antioxidant that has been studied for its anticancer properties.  The research is still developing, but it looks like sulforaphane can help prevent cancer by working in a couple of different ways.  Firstly it helps your liver process and eliminate harmful elements from your system.  Secondly it may help to stop tumors from growing before they start.

There is also emerging research that suggests that sulforaphane could help decrease complications of diabetes, such as kidney damage and foot pain.

Some research also indicates that sulforaphane can fight H.pylori, the bacterium that causes stomach ulcers.  See what I mean?  Broccoli is so impressive!

There are many different ways to prepare broccoli, but a light steaming works best to retain the sulforaphane.  Try sautéing a little garlic in olive oil, and then adding that to broccoli that has been steamed just until it’s bright green.  Add some protein (perhaps an egg on top) and you’re good to go!

Other foods that contain sulforaphane include cabbage, kale, brussels sprouts, collards, arugula, and watercress.  Broccoli sprouts are actually higher in sulforaphane than broccoli itself.  If you’re going to eat sprouts, make sure to give them a thorough washing with cold tap water- harmful bacteria like to hide in the bundled strands.
 
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Many food labels claim that the product within is “high in antioxidants,” but what does that even mean?  Is that a good thing?  Today we’ll talk about what an antioxidant is and what it does in the body.  Tomorrow we’ll talk about where you can find antioxidants, because that’s a topic unto itself!

There are a number of different antioxidants, some are vitamins (like Vitamin E) and some are plant chemicals (like flavonoids).  We can make some antioxidants on our own, and others we get from food.  It’s a good idea to eat antioxidants to add to the team of those that we make on our own.

For every task in our bodies there are certain elements that must be in balance, and when that balance gets out of whack the job does not get done.  You could compare this to the task of washing greasy hands.  Let’s say you just fixed your bike chain.  In order to get the grease off your hands you need both water and soap.  If you have too much soap and not enough water you’ll end up with a soapy mess.   If you have too much water and not enough soap you’ll still have grease on your hands, they’ll just be wet.

Instead of soap and water, the elements we’re talking about here are antioxidants and free radicals.  Free radicals are molecules that bounce around creating all sorts of havoc and damage.  We create free radicals all the time just as a result of natural processes in the body.  Antioxidants step in and stop free radicals from doing damage.

When there are more free radicals doing damage than there are antioxidants stopping them, it results in stress on the body.  This type of stress can initiate many diseases including heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.  Obviously these health issues are far more serious than some greasy hands.

As I mentioned tomorrow we’ll talk in depth about which specific foods have antioxidants, but there’s a simple way to find them too.  Virtually all fruits, vegetables, and spices have antioxidants in them- so head to your produce section and stock up!