Lavender: Health Benefits and Uses {Updated}

Lavender is an herb native to northern Africa and the mountainous regions of the Mediterranean.

The herb is highly regarded for skin and beauty and is commonly used in fragrances and shampoos to help purify the skin. It can be purchased over-the-counter (OTC) from drugstores, and some versions are used to add flavor to baked goods and foods.

There are also many medicinal properties associated with lavender.

Lavender is also grown for the production of its essential oil, which comes from the distillation of the flower spikes of certain lavender species. Lavender essential oil, in contrast to the plant form, is toxic when swallowed.

Uses of lavender

Lavender oil is believed to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties, which can help to heal minor burns and bug bites.

Research has revealed that lavender oil may be useful for treating anxiety, insomnia, depression, and restlessness.

Some studies suggest that consuming lavender as a tea can help digestive issues such as vomiting, nausea, intestinal gas, upset stomach, and abdominal swelling.

In addition to helping with digestive problems, lavender is used to help relieve pain from headaches, sprains, toothaches, and sores. It can also be used to prevent hair loss.

Fungal infections

A study published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology found that lavender oil could be effective in combating antifungal-resistant infections.

The researchers found that the oil was lethal to a range of strains that can cause disease in the skin.

In the study, the essential oils distilled from the Lavandula genus of the lavender plant seemed to work by destroying the membranes of fungal cells.

The study showed that Lavandula oil is potent and demonstrates antifungal activity on a wide spectrum.

Wound healing

A study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine compared the effects of several treatments for wound healing.

The researchers compared the effects of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), saline solution, povidone-iodine, and lavender oil. These were applied to laboratory rats.

The study authors noted that wounds closed faster in the TENS and lavender oil groups than the control groups. These findings suggest that lavender has an accelerator effect on wound healing.

Hair loss

Lavender is possibly effective for treating alopecia areata. This is a condition in which hair is lost from some or all areas of the body.

Research shows that lavender can promote hair growth by up to 44 percent after 7 months of treatment.

Anxiety disorder and related conditions

Lavender dental anxiety
Lavender scents have been shown to reduce anxiety before a dental appointment.

review article in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice evaluates how effective Silexan might be for patients with different anxiety disorders. Silexan is a lavender-oil preparation available in 80-milligram (mg) gelatine capsules.

The team found that Silexan had an anxiolytic, or anxiety-reducing, the effect on patients with generalized or subsyndromal anxiety within 2 weeks.

Researchers have also found that lavender scent may help anxious dental patients.

The investigators measured the dental anxiety levels of 340 adult patients during their wait at the dentist’s waiting room for their appointment.

Half the patients were exposed to lavender scent, while the other half were not.

The team found that those exposed to lavender scent reported lower levels of anxiety compared to the other patients. The calming effect of lavender was present regardless of the type of scheduled dental appointment.

Kritsidima, who conducted the study, concluded:

Our findings suggest that lavender could certainly be used as an effective ‘on-the-spot’ anxiety reduction in dentists’ waiting rooms.”

Dr. M. Kritsidima, study author

Lavender does not seem to impact anxiety about future dental visits. However, it has been shown to provide a sense of calm while attending a treatment.

Post-tonsillectomy pain in children

Lavender oil has been shown to reduce the amount of pain-killing medicine required after a tonsillectomy.

A team of researchers at the Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, Iran, carried out a study to determine whether aromatherapy with Lavandula angustifolia essential oil might reduce symptoms of pain in children after the removal of the tonsils.

The study included 48 children aged 6 to 12 years. They were randomly separated into two groups of 24 participants. One group took painkillers alongside lavender and the other took only painkillers.

The frequency of each child’s acetaminophen use and nocturnal awakening due to pain was monitored for 3 days after surgery. Pain intensity was also measured. Acetaminophen is also known as Tylenol or paracetamol, and the group using lavender oil was shown to use acetaminophens less frequently.

However, there was no significant difference in how often they woke up at night or their perceptions of pain intensity.

Due to the small sample size, more research is required to fully confirm lavender oil as an effective painkiller.

Premenstrual emotional symptoms

Researchers have also studied whether lavender might help to alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms.

Many women of reproductive age experience a range of symptoms in the premenstrual phase, commonly known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Even though PMS is common, no single treatment is universally recognized as effective. As a result, many women turn to alternative therapies, such as aromatherapy.

This crossover study involved 17 women, aged on average 20.6 years, with mild-to-moderate premenstrual symptoms. The participants spent one menstrual cycle with no lavender aromatherapy treatment, and another undergoing lavender aromatherapy.

The study concluded that lavender aromatherapy could alleviate premenstrual emotional symptoms.

What does lavender not treat?

There is insufficient evidence to rate lavender’s effectiveness for treating:

  • depression
  • colic in infants
  • constipation
  • nausea and vomiting
  • migraines
  • otitis, or ear infection
  • high blood pressure
  • menstrual pain
  • eczema
  • cancer-related pain
  • dementia
  • lice

One study found that lavender fragrance could have a beneficial effect on insomnia and depression in female college students. However, the authors highlighted that “repeated studies are needed to confirm effective proportions of lavender oil and carrier oil for insomnia and depression.”

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved lavender for medicinal use. It is sold as a supplement only and should not replace any prescribed course of treatment.

If you choose to use this essential oil, the FDA does not monitor these products. There may be concerns about purity, safety, or quality. Be sure to research safe and reputable products and companies. 

Interactions

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warn people to be cautious when combining lavender with the following:

  • drugs that induce sleepiness, such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates, and Ambien
  • drugs to reduce blood pressure, such as captopril, enalapril, and losartan

If you are already taking the above, seek medical advice before adding lavender to your drug regimen.

Risks and precautions

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) revealed that repeated use of lavender oil on the skin might trigger prepubertal gynecomastia, a condition that causes enlarged breast tissue in boys before puberty.

The safety of taking lavender during pregnancy or while breastfeeding has also not been confirmed. Discuss any use of essential oils, herbs, or supplements with your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

As lavender is thought to slow down the central nervous system, doctors advise patients to stop using lavender at least 2 weeks before surgery.

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Edamame: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information

Edamame is the perfect little pick-me-up snack. You may have had it as an appetizer at a Japanese restaurant, tucked away in their fuzzy little pods and sprinkled with salt. But what exactly are those little green bean-looking things?

Edamame is a young soybean that has been harvested before the beans have had a chance to harden. You can buy them shelled or in the pod, fresh or frozen.

Edamame is naturally gluten-free and low calorie contains no cholesterol and is an excellent source of protein, iron, and calcium. It is an especially important source of protein for those who follow a plant-based diet.

Possible health benefits of consuming edamame

Edamame
Edamame is a young soybean that has been harvested before the beans have had a chance to harden.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like edamame decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.

The isoflavones (a type of compound called phytoestrogens) in soy foods have been linked to a decreased risk for osteoporosis, while the calcium and magnesium in soy may help to lessen PMS symptoms, regulate blood sugar and prevent migraine headaches. Soyfood consumption has been associated with a lower risk of several specific age and lifestyle-related conditions and improving overall general health.

1) Age-related brain diseases

Based on geographic epidemiological findings, it has been observed that populations that consume greater amounts of soy have, in general, less incidence of age-related mental disorders.

2) Cardiovascular disease

Consuming soy protein as an alternative to animal protein lowers levels of LDL cholesterol, which in turn decreases the risk of atherosclerosis and high-blood pressure.3

3) Breast and prostate cancer

Genistein, the predominant isoflavone in soy, contains antioxidant properties that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.4 Moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%.

4) Depression

The folate in edamame may help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body, which can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood but sleep and appetite as well.

5) Diabetes

People who suffer from type 2 diabetes often experience kidney disease, causing the body to excrete an excessive amount of protein in the urine. Evidence from a recent study has indicated that those who consumed only soy protein in their diet excreted less protein than those that consumed only animal protein.

6) Fertility

For women of child-bearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources such as edamame, spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, and beets appear to promote fertility, according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications. Also of note, adequate folic acid intake is essential for pregnant women to protect against neural tube defects in infants. One cup of edamame per day provides 121% of daily folate needs.

7) Energy levels

Not getting enough iron in your diet can also affect how efficiently your body uses energy. Edamame is a great non-heme source of iron, along with lentils, spinach, and eggs.

8) Inflammation

Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in edamame that aids our bodies in sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.

9) Osteoporosis

Soy isoflavones are known to decrease bone loss and increase bone mineral density during menopause and have also been reported to reduce other menopausal symptoms.

Nutritional breakdown of edamame

Edamame is a complete source of dietary protein; meaning that like meat and dairy, it provides all of the essential amino acids needed in the diet that humans cannot make themselves.

The little beans are also high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup (155 grams) of frozen, prepared edamame contains 189 calories, 8 grams of fat (1 gram saturated, 16 grams of total carbohydrate (8 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar) and a whopping 17 grams of protein.

A one-cup serving of edamame provides 10% of calcium needs, 16% of vitamin C, 20% of iron, 52% of vitamin K and 121% of your daily needs for folate.

Edamame also contains vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, pantothenic acid, choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.

How to incorporate more edamame into your diet

You can find fresh edamame in the produce section, often still in the pod, but you can also find it already shelled. You can also buy shelled or in-pod frozen edamame as well. If buying frozen, make sure there are no additives in the ingredients, only edamame.

Edamame with salt
The most common way to enjoy edamame is straight from the pod, sprinkle (while still in the pod) with sea salt.

Edamame has a mild, buttery flavor that pairs well with many dishes. You can add it to soups, stews, salads, rice dishes or casseroles in place of or in combination with other beans.

The most common way to enjoy edamame is straight from the pod, after boiling for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle (while still in the pod) with sea salt, then pop and snack away. You can also substitute edamame when a recipe calls, for peas.

Try some of these delicious and healthy recipes with edamame:

Potential health risks of consuming edamame

Possible risks in consuming soy foods have been heavily debated recently, especially those pertaining to the topic of breast cancer. There is not enough evidence from human clinical trials to substantiate the claim that the isoflavones in soy contribute to breast cancer risk.

The soy and cancer study that started the controversy concerned only those with a specific type breast cancer (estrogen receptor positive). Some early studies suggested possible increased tumor growth in rats with a high intake of soy. As more advanced research was done, scientists found that rats metabolize soy completely different from humans, making the earlier studies invalid.

Now we know that moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%.

Findings from animal models have also suggested there is a positive correlation between tumor growth and the degree to which an isoflavone-containing product has been processed. Therefore, it is better to consume tofu and other soy foods that have undergone minimal amounts of processing.3

According to the National Soybean Research Laboratory, unlike the popular genetically engineered soybean, all edamame is non-GMO.

If you have a concern regarding consuming other genetically modified soy foods, go organic. The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of GMOs. You can also look for products with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. Some brands with this seal include Silk, Amy’s, Back to Nature and WestSoy. For a complete list of products with the verified seal, visit nongmoproject.org.

Keep in mind that it is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important for disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to aim to eat a diet with a variety than to rely on individual foods as the key to good health.

Medical Experts: The Cardiometabolic Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Plant-based eating patterns continue to soar in popularity and a group of nutrition researchers outlines the science behind this sustainable trend in a review paper, entitled “Cardiometabolic benefits of plant-based diets,” which appears as an online advance in Nutrients. The review will publish in a future special edition, entitled “The Science of Vegetarian Nutrition and Health.”

The review outlines how a plant-based diet, which is naturally low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and rich in nutrients, like fiber and antioxidants, could be one tool, in addition to adopting a healthful lifestyle, used to improve nutrition intake and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

The authors, Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D., Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., and Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., analyzed clinical research studies and reviews published until May 2017. Their research finds a plant-based diet, built around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, can improve nutrient intake and help manage body weight and glycemic control, improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reverse atherosclerosis or the narrowing of the arteries caused by the accumulation of arterial plaque.

“The future of health care starts on our plates,” says Dr. Kahleova, the lead study author and the director of clinical research at the nonprofit Physicians Committee. “The science clearly shows food is medicine, which is a powerful message for physicians to pass on to their patients and for policymakers to consider as they propose modifications for health care reform and discuss the potential amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill.”

To understand the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the researchers analyze its structure:

Fiber

Fiber contributes to bulk in the diet without adding digestible calories, thus leading to satiety and weight loss. Additionally, soluble fiber binds with bile acids in the small intestines, which helps reduce cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.

Plant-Based Rx: Aim to eat at least 35 grams of dietary fiber a day. The average American consumes 16 grams of dietary fiber each day.

Fats

Plant-based diets are lower in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can decrease insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Plant-Based Rx: Swap meat and dairy products, oils, and high-fat processed foods for smaller portions of plant staples, like a few avocado slices or a small handful of nuts and seeds, which are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Plant Protein

Vegetable proteins reduce the concentrations of blood lipids, reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

Plant-Based Rx: Legumes, or lentils, beans, and peas are naturally rich in protein and fiber. Try topping leafy green salads with lentils, black beans, edamame, or chickpeas.

Plant Sterols

Plant sterols that have a structure similar to that of cholesterol reduce cardiovascular disease risk and mortality, have anti-inflammatory effects, and positively affect coagulation, platelet function and endothelial function, which helps reduce blood clots, increases blood flow, and stabilizes glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Plant-Based Rx: Consume a high intake of antioxidants and micronutrients, including plant sterols, from whole plant foods, like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, beans, and seeds. A plant-based diet supports cardio-metabolic benefits through several independent mechanisms. The synergistic effect of whole plant foods may be greater than a mere additional effect of eating isolated nutrients.

“To make significant health changes, we have to make significant diet changes,” concludes Dr. Kahleova. “A colorful plant-based diet works well for anyone, whether you’re an athlete looking to boost energy, performance, and recovery by enabling a higher efficiency of blood flow, which equates to oxygen conversion, or if you’re a physician who wants to help patients lose extra weight, lower blood pressure, and improve their cholesterol.”

Dr. Kahleova and the study authors recommend using a plant-based diet as an effective tool to treat and prevent cardiometabolic disease, which they would like to see promoted through future dietary guidelines and nutrition policy recommendations.

Article: Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets, Hana Kahleova, Susan Levin and Neal Barnard, Nutrients, doi: 10.3390/nu9080848, published 9 August 2017.

Food as Medicine: Sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Polygonaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Polygonaceae) is a wild, perennial herb characterized by slender stems supporting bright green, spear-shaped leaves, with distinctive backward-reaching lobes.1,2 Sorrel grows in patches that average in height from 20-36” and produce small red-brown flowers, which bloom in early summer and produce tiny, hard fruits.3 Sorrel is easy to cultivate and grows best in cool, temperate climates, as well as grasslands, coastal dunes, and cliffs.1 In addition to R. acetosa, another species of sorrel, French sorrel (R. scutatus), is used for culinary purposes.4 This article will profile the history, uses, and components of R. acetosa.

Sorrel is native to Europe and northern Asia, and evidence of cultivation dates back to 4,000 BCE.2 In the Middle Ages, sorrel was a prominent vegetable throughout Europe and was also cultivated by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Often referred to as the lemon of the leaf crops, the sour-tasting leaves are the most commonly consumed part of the plant.2,5 Sorrel’s stem and flower were also used in medicinal applications.2 Sorrel’s species name, acetosa, is Latin for “vinegary,” indicating the plant’s acidic taste.6


Phytochemicals and Constituents

Sorrel is a nutrient-dense green, containing important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron.2Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that supports healthy vision, bone growth, and a strong immune system.7Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, essential for its role in collagen synthesis and its antioxidant properties. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium are the most abundant minerals within human cells, and each plays a role in electrolyte and fluid balance. Calcium is a structural component of the skeletal matrix, and Iron is necessary for oxygen delivery and DNA synthesis.

Flavan-3-ols and other phenolic compounds in sorrel leaves provide additional benefits.8-10 Phenolic compounds have protective effects against inflammation and cell damage and interfere with tumor and estrogen receptor activities.10 The main phenolic compounds present in R. acetosa include resveratrol (41.27 µg/g), vanillic acid (130.29 µg/g), sinapic acid (5,708.48 µg/g), and catechin (75.46 µg/g). Sorrel leaves also contain beta-carotene, though not in therapeutic levels.11


Historical and Commercial Uses

Documented uses of sorrel include domestic remedies, and extend to complex medicinal therapies.2 Sorrel leaf juice has been used in fragrances and for stain removal, and sorrel leaves are a popular ingredient in French cuisine.

Sorrel leaves are considered acidic, astringent, and cooling.6 Sorrel has been used as a laxative and a topical treatment for skin disorders, sore throats, and warts.11 Sorrel leaf also was used for its diuretic properties to induce water excretion and to manage fevers.1,5,12 Due to its high concentration of vitamin C, sorrel has been used as a therapeutic food for conditions caused by vitamin C deficiencies, such as scurvy.1Furthermore, common garden sorrel was used as a treatment for constipation, cramping, and diarrhea since the plant demonstrates soothing effects on the stomach and intestines.8,9 The astringent properties of the seeds were used to treat hemorrhages.12

Currently, sorrel is used as an ingredient in herbal medicinal remedies, such as Sinupret (Bionorica SE; Neumarkt, Germany), a proprietary blend of botanicals, indicated for sinusitis and bronchitis.7 Tablets contain 18-36mg of sorrel leaf and stem extract, in addition to four other herbs: elder flower (Sambucus nigra, Adoxaceae), primrose flower and calyx (Primula veris, Primulaceae), European vervain leaf and stem (Verbena Officinalis, Verbenaceae), and yellow gentian root (Gentiana lutea, Gentianaceae).

Modern Research

Currently, studies on sorrel offer promising results in the areas of digestion, infection prevention, topical skin treatments, and anti-proliferative activity.10,12,13

A recent in vivo and in vitro study evaluated the traditional use of R. acetosa to treat stomach discomforts and distress in animal models.12 A 70% methanol extract from sorrel leaves was found to have a high acute toxicity dosage (i.e., large amounts were well tolerated and exhibited no adverse effects), relaxed the gastrointestinal tract or produced gastrointestinal contractions depending on the dose, and exhibited anti-emetic properties. These findings support the traditional use of sorrel as a constipation aid that stimulates a bowel movement.

Anti-diarrheal properties may be linked to the presence of calcium-binding components and tannins in sorrel.8,9,12Oxalic acid binds with and thereby reduces available free calcium for receptor stimulation. This leads to reduced muscle contraction and may alleviate diarrhea.12Tannins exert an astringent effect, which may help alleviate not only conditions such as diarrhea but also chronic upper respiratory infections, by reducing excess fluid.9

Phytochemical extracts from other buckwheat families (Polygonaceae) members exhibit antiviral and anticancer effects, specifically extracts from R. acetosella or sheep sorrel. Sheep sorrel has a history of use as an ingredient in the formula known as Essiac tea, which purportedly is based on the traditions of the indigenous Ojibwa Native American tribe.11 Garden sorrel shows similar antiviral and anticancer effects. An in vivo trial discovered that an extract of R. acetosa reduced influenza A viral invasion of host cells, and further reduced viral growth.14 Antiviral reactions are primary effects of rich polyphenol concentration. In sorrel, these polyphenols mainly include flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and hydrolysable tannins. These compounds may prevent the assembly and maturation (growth and development) of certain viruses, an important step in infection control.

Additional documentation supports anti-proliferative (tumor cell growth preventing) activities seen with R.acetosa preparations.10,13 Prevention of cell growth, specifically tumor cells, was found at concentrations of 75 and 100 µg/mL of a 90% aqueous methanol extract.10

In vitro and in vivo trials displayed antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Sinupret was able to reduce viscosity, or thickness, of mucus in animal models and produce an anti-inflammatory response. Sorrel’s contributions to anti-inflammation are credited to an increased response by immune cells. Few adverse side effects related to sorrel have been reported, and include gastrointestinal disorders and correlated allergic reactions.7
Consumer Considerations

Oxalic acid within sorrel produces a bitter taste, which makes sorrel a valuable ingredient for adding a tart, lemony flavor to various dishes. However, oxalic acid is a potential cause for concern in regard to renal function.11 Crystalized calcium oxalate (which forms when oxalic acid combines with calcium) can lead to the formation of kidney stones and may also accumulate in the heart, circulatory vessels, and lungs.15 In addition, oxalic acid’s ability to bind to micronutrients, such as iron and calcium, decreases its absorption.11,13 Furthermore, oxalates may irritate the digestive system when consumed in large amounts.16 For these reasons, consumption of sorrel should be monitored for special populations affected by renal and arthritic conditions, as well as those with gastrointestinal disorders.1,11

Oxalic acid is concentrated at 300mg per 100 grams of sorrel.11 The majority is found within the leaves, followed by marginal amounts in stems.13 The concentration of oxalates depends on the plant’s growing conditions, such as soil and climate.8 Moreover, tannins in sorrel leaves are concentrated between 7-15%.11When consumed in large amounts, tannins may cause stomach upset and/or kidney and liver damage.

Fortunately, the oxalic acid concentration decreases to negligible amounts with light cooking.11 For example, sorrel soup has a lower oxalic acid concentration compared to pesto made with fresh sorrel leaves.13 Also, the oxalic acid concentration increases proportionately to the size and length of the leaf, making young, tender leaves a better choice for those people affected by these conditions.


Nutrient Profile17

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup chopped raw sorrel)

29 calories
3 g protein
4 g carbohydrate
1 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup chopped raw sorrel)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin A: 5320 IU (106.4% DV)
Vitamin C: 63.8 mg (106.3% DV)
Magnesium: 137 mg (34.3% DV)
Manganese: 0.5 mg (25% DV)

Very good source of:
Iron: 3.2 mg (17.8% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 4 g (16% DV)
Potassium: 519 mg (14.8% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Good source of:
Phosphorus: 83.8 mg (8.4% DV)
Thiamin: 0.1 mg (6.7% DV)
Calcium: 58.5 mg (5.9% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.1 mg (5.9% DV)

Also, provides:
Folate: 17.3 mcg (4.3% DV)
Niacin: 0.7 mg (3.5% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), based on a 2,000-calorie diet.


Recipe: Green Potato Salad

Adapted from Blue Apron18

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, diced into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 ounces fresh spinach
  • 6 ounces fresh sorrel leaves
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, salt the water, then cook until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork, approximately 15 minutes.

  2. Lift the potatoes out, reserving the water, and set aside in a bowl. Add the greens to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until wilted. Drain the spinach into a strainer, pressing to release as much water as possible.

  3. Roughly chop the greens, then add to the potatoes.

  4. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss thoroughly to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Salad may be served warm, at room temperature, or after chilling.

References

  1. Rumex acetosa (common sorrel). Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  2. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc.; 2006.
  3. Bown D. The Herb Society of America: New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
  4. Real Food Right Now and How to Cook It: Sorrel. Grace Communications Foundation website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  5. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory. 18th edition. Cincinnati, OH: Ohio Valley Co.; 1898. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  6. Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers & Lovers of Natural Foods. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 1996.
  7. Oliff HS, Blumenthal M. Scientific and Clinical Monograph for Sinupret. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2009.
  8. Kemper KJ. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa L.). Boston, MA: The Longwood Herbal Task Force; 1999.
  9. Bicker J, Petereit F, Hensel A. Proanthocyanidins and a phloroglucinol derivative from Rumex acetosaL. Fitoterapia. 2009;80(8):483-495.
  10. Kucekova Z, Mlcek J, Humpolicek P, Rop O, Valasek P, Saha P. Phenolic compounds from Allium schoenoprasumTragopogon pratensis and Rumex acetosa and their antiproliferative effects. Molecules. 2011;16(11):9207-9217.
  11. Vasas A, Orbán-Gyapai O, Hohmann J. The Genus Rumex: Review of traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;175:198-228.
  12. Hussain M, Raza SM, Janbaz KH. A pharmacologically mechanistic basis for the traditional uses of Rumex acetosa in gut motility disorders and emesis. Bangladesh J Pharmacol. 2015;10(3):548.
  13. Tuazon-Nartea J, Savage G. Investigation of oxalate levels in sorrel plant parts and sorrel-based products. Food Nutr Sci. 2013;4(8):838-843.
  14. Derksen A, Hensel A, Hafezi W, et al. 3-O-galloylated procyanidins from Rumex acetosa L. inhibit the attachment of influenza A virus. PLoS One. 2014;9(10).
  15. Oxalic acid. J.R. Organics website. Available here. Accessed May 5, 2016.
  16. Elpel T. Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, LLC; 2013.
  17. Basic report: 11616 Dock, raw. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  18. Seared Salmon and “Green” Potato Salad with Pickled Mustard Seeds. Blue Apron website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.

The Benefits of Plant-Based Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that your body requires to maintain optimal health. There is a common misconception that iron is only obtained by eating meat and that iron deficiency is more prevalent amongst vegans and vegetarians. Natural, plant-based iron supplements and food can provide the iron your body needs and in some cases may even help prevent iron toxicity. If you need to shore up your iron levels, then consider the benefits of plant-based iron.

Optimal Absorption

There are two primary sources of dietary iron—plant and animal foods. The technical terms for these are heme iron and nonheme iron, respectively. There has been a lot of investigation into the absorption differences between these two types of iron. Although animal, or heme, iron is absorbed faster, it can actually overwhelm your body and even lead to a serious iron imbalance known as iron toxicity. In contrast, the body absorbs plant, or nonheme, iron at a more controlled rate. Slow, regulated absorption helps keep your body’s iron levels optimal and in balance.

Fewer Health Risks

Low iron levels can lead to fatigue, chills, brain fog, or worse: iron deficiency anemia. Too much iron can lead to vomiting, intense abdominal pain, and even organ failure. Plant-based iron is absorbed more slowly and that helps maintain normal iron balance, which translates to fewer health concerns. In contrast, heme iron from animal sources (blood and tissue) has been linked to heart disease, stroke, and colon cancer. One study reported that increasing your heme iron intake by just one milligram per day could increase your risk of heart disease by 27 percent.

Cofactors and Co-nutrients

Your body has a complex set of mechanisms that work together to absorb, store, utilize, and monitor iron. Vitamin C, for example, supports your body’s ability to absorb iron. Likewise, gut health significantly influences iron uptake. By obtaining your iron from dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, you will also get the added benefit of vitamins, trace minerals, probiotics, and antioxidants. A healthy and consistent intake of fruit and vegetables ensures you don’t miss out on these vital nutrients.

Environmental Impact

There are reasons that extend beyond health concerns why someone may prefer a plant-based diet or lifestyle. Many people prefer to minimize their environmental impact. A diet that includes meat requires more energy, land, and water resources to support. Sticking with plant-based supplements and food for your nutritional needs reduces your environmental impact.

Best Sources of Plant-Based Iron

There are several options when it comes to plant-based sources of iron. Spinach, kidney beans, and pumpkin seeds are just a few that are good sources of iron and other vital micronutrients. However, when it comes to iron supplements, there are fewer plant-based choices. Global Healing Center is trying to change that. We’re in the final stages of development of a new vegan supplement that provides an ideal serving of plant-based iron from organic curry tree leaves.

What Are Micronutrients?

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals required by your body. Unlike macronutrients, you only need minuscule amounts of micronutrients to maintain good health. Micronutrients are essential to the production of enzymes, hormones, proteins, and other products created by your body. Some micronutrients have a specialized role, while others fulfill a broad range of functions.

Micronutrients are incredibly important for health and wellness. Mineral deficiencies can have lasting, detrimental health consequences in children and adults of all ages. Unborn children and older adults are especially susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies, which is why many nutritional supplements are optimized for specific age groups and many staple foods, like flour, are fortified with vitamins and minerals.

However, you might be surprised to learn that food fortification can be misleading as it’s often accomplished with synthetic vitamin variants. These manufactured vitamin forms often lack the cofactors and nutrients required for proper absorption in the body. As always, it’s best to obtain naturally occurring vitamins and minerals from quality, whole-food dietary sources to ensure your body can properly utilize these essential nutrients.

What Are Vitamins?

Vitamins are organic compounds primarily derived from food that the body needs in small amounts. With the exception of vitamin D, vitamins cannot be produced by the organism that requires them. Vitamins serve a variety of purposes. Some, like vitamins A, C, and E, are antioxidants. Others, like the B vitamins, are vital for fetal brain development and healthy brain aging. There are two categories of vitamins—fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins. Your body stores fat-soluble vitamins in fatty tissues for reserves in case you don’t meet your daily recommended intake. These vitamins are best consumed with healthy fats to ensure absorption.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for eye and brain health. It also regulates growth and keeps the immune system healthy. Plant sources are the safest method of meeting your daily vitamin A requirement. Consumption of vitamin A from animal sources could lead to vitamin A toxicity.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is both a hormone and a micronutrient. Though it’s famous for its role in preserving and promoting bone health, it also helps keep your respiratory system healthy, enhances your mental and emotional well-being, and keeps your immune system functioning at peak efficiency.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerhouse antioxidant. The various forms of the vitamin all have similar antioxidant properties, but one in particular, alpha-tocopherol, is what the body prefers most. Vitamin E protects delicate lipids from oxidation and, in the case of food, rancidity. Its actions protect your DNA by stopping free radicals from damaging the fragile structure of your chromosomes.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is named after the German spelling of coagulation (coagulation) because it activates the proteins in the blood that are responsible for clotting.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

In humans, the water-soluble vitamins are limited to the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. These vitamins need to be replaced on a daily basis because they are not easily stored in the body. Rather, the body excretes excess water-soluble vitamins in urine.

B-Complex Vitamins

The B-complex vitamins include thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B-12). These vitamins regulate the release of energy in cells (metabolism), serve as cofactors, and affect mood and immune health. Additionally, a healthy microbiome is essential because some probiotics actually generate B-vitamins in the gut.

Vitamin B-12 and B9 are vitally important to brain health. Research into the role of vitamin B-12 suggests it’s a powerful force in preserving memory and cognitive function as you age.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C’s role as an antioxidant is well known (and highly marketed), but it has other roles, too. Vitamin C is incredibly important for growth and healing. The strength of connective tissue and bones and skin elasticity all depend on sufficient levels of vitamin C. It also enhances the absorption of iron from food in the small intestine.

What Are Minerals?

In general, minerals are inorganic, naturally occurring substances. In your diet, they are important nutrients that enable your cells to carry out essential functions. Minerals are divided into macrominerals and trace minerals, also known as microminerals. Predictably, your body requires macrominerals in much larger amounts than the trace minerals.

Macrominerals

The macrominerals include magnesium, sulfur, and the electrolytes: potassium, calcium, sodium, chlorine, and phosphorous. Most people get much more sodium chloride (table salt) than they need—to the detriment of their health. While some salt is essential, you don’t need nearly as much as most Americans consume. Try to limit your salt intake whenever possible.

Magnesium

Magnesium is not one of the celebrity micronutrients, but it is essential to many vital processes. It plays an important role in metabolism, acting as a cofactor in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is also vital to the proper bone formation and the synthesis of genetic material.

Calcium

Of all the minerals, you may be most familiar with calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body. Far beyond bone strength, calcium is responsible for muscle and blood vessel relaxation and contraction, nerve firing, and communication between cells.

Potassium

Most Americans, an astounding 98 percent, fall woefully short on potassium intake. Potassium is responsible for muscle and nerve function, a steady heartbeat, and cell detoxification. It acts as the inverse of sodium, which is why it’s vital to balance your sodium and potassium intake.

Trace Minerals

The body requires significantly fewer essential trace minerals (microminerals) than macrominerals. Macrominerals are measured in grams, while trace minerals are measured in milligrams and micrograms. The top microminerals you need are chromium, iron, iodine, selenium, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and copper. You also need exceptionally small amounts of nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.

Though you need less of these micronutrients, they are extremely important to your health. Many of the most pernicious health conditions are related to deficiencies in trace minerals like iodine and iron. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide have a reduced ability to work due to iron deficiency anemia. Annually, nearly 20 million children are born to mothers with insufficient iodine levels—a condition that leads to severe cognitive impairment.

Micronutrients and Nutrition

There are only a few ways to meet your micronutrient needs: a nutrient-rich diet, quality supplementation, and, to a lesser degree, eating some types of clay or cooking in cast iron. Vitamins and minerals are easily synthesized in labs and pressed into tablets, but it’s always best to obtain your nutrition naturally from plant sources like fruits and vegetables.

At Global Healing Center, we focus on isolating the best micronutrients from natural, organic, and wildcrafted plant sources. Some of our favorite micronutrient supplements include:

  • Our Selenium supplement is sourced from organic mustard seeds. It provides the selenium that is essential to the thyroid and overall health.
  • Detoxadine® is an essential nascent iodine supplement produced from natural salt deposits. It’s nutritional support for immune health and the thyroid, and it promotes the detoxification of halogens such as fluoride and bromine.
  • Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is sourced from the sesbania plant; it supports healthy hair and nails at the cellular level.
  • Suntrex D3™ is a vegan, lichen-derived vitamin D3 that supports the nervous system, calcium absorption, and a healthy mood.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the largest class of nutrients the body requires and include protein, carbohydrates, and fats. If you’ve heard anyone talking about “macros,” they’re referring to these major nutrients. The amounts and ratio of macronutrients a person needs every day vary by age, lifestyle (sedentary, active, or very active), gender, health status, and health goals.

The USDA provides general recommendations for how Americans should allocate calories per macronutrient.The nutrition facts label included on food packaging echoes these ratios and is based on a 2,000 calorie diet for the average American, including children and adults. Many diets try to optimize macronutrient ratios to produce certain results, like consuming protein (along with weight training) to gain muscle mass, or consuming fewer carbohydrates to help lose weight.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates include starches, sugars, and fiber. Carbohydrates contain four calories (kcal) per gram. Your body uses carbohydrates to fuel your body. Carbohydrates come in two forms: complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates include sugars like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Technically, honey and maple syrup also fall into this category. Complex carbohydrates are usually only described as starches that contain fiber, but this simplistic definition includes foods like whole wheat pasta and white potatoes.

How Many Carbohydrates Do You Need?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans should get between 45-65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates.

Humans don’t produce the necessary enzymes to digest fiber, but it’s nonetheless required by the body. Your microbiota breaks down fiber by fermenting it and using it as their energy source. Your health relies on a balanced, well-nourished microbial gut community for many different functions, so make sure you get plenty of fiber-rich foods in your diet every day.

Sources of Carbohydrates

The best carbohydrates are micronutrient-dense whole foods that contain sugars or starches along with fiber. This definition leaves no room for confusion about whole fruit, which is considered a simple carbohydrate under some definitions. Fruit is an essential part of a healthy diet and 76% of Americans don’t eat enough. Other excellent sources of carbohydrates include winter squash, beans, and ancient grains like quinoa.

What Is Protein?

Protein is the building block responsible for the growth and maintenance of your eyes, skin, hair, nails, organs, and muscle tissue. During digestion, protein is broken down into smaller chains called peptides and individual units called amino acids for absorption. Of the 22 amino acids, nine are essential to humans. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Histidine is unique in that it’s only required during infancy.

Proteins do a lot of work throughout the body. They embed themselves in your cells to regulate what goes in and out. They even envelop and transport some molecules to other locations in the body. Enzymes that catalyze the various chemical reactions in your body are made of folded chains of amino acids. The body creates hormones like leptin, immune proteins like interferon, and antibodies using amino acids.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The USDA recommends that Americans get 5-35% of their calories from protein. This range is set to cover 97-98% of the population, and your needs may vary based on age and health status. Protein, like carbohydrates, provides four calories (kcal) of energy per gram.

Sources of Protein

Whole, nutrient-dense foods are the best sources of protein. Notice I did not say they are the most concentrated sources of protein. So-called “high-quality” sources are very concentrated sources of peptides that share similar amino acid ratios with humans. Essentially, the more a source of protein resembles human tissue in amino acid composition, the better its “quality.” Regularly eating meat, just like regularly consuming concentrated sources of sugar, leads to several serious, and completely preventable health consequences. If you think eating organic, free-range, grass-fed meat is significantly better than factory farmed meat, then wouldn’t it also follow that soda with 100% organic high-fructose corn syrup is equally healthy when compared to regular soda? That’s clearly not the case. It’s important to understand that some foods have few redeeming qualities, organic or not. Just because something is less bad for you than the standard option doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Many people believe that plants only supply “incomplete proteins.” The need for protein complementation is a myth perpetuated in poorly researched literature. To be clear, all plant foods contain the nine essential amino acids. You won’t develop a protein deficiency on a plant-based diet. In fact, protein deficiencies only occur in those who have gone long periods without eating anything at all.

What Is Fat?

Weighing in at nine calories (kcal) per gram, fat is the densest source of energy in the diet. In the body, fats make up cell membranes, steroids, cholesterol, and 60% of your brain. Fats support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, cushion your organs, and act as your largest form of energy storage.

Dietary fats include saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats tend to come from animal sources, while most plant fats are unsaturated. There are also important essential fatty acids, namely omega-3 and omega-6.

There’s another type of fat, an unnatural type, known as trans fats. Trans fats are a product of food manufacturing and are created by hydrogenating less stable unsaturated fats to be more shelf stable. This process prolongs the life of processed food products. Trans fats are often described as poison, and it’s a description that’s fairly accurate. Trans fats raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol and have no place in a healthy diet.

How Much Fat Do You Need?

Like carbohydrates, the popularity of fat waxes and wanes with public opinion and even medical opinion as new diets and research emerge. Currently, according to the USDA, fats should account for 20-40% of your daily calories. Essential fats are undoubtedly a necessary component of a healthy diet. Some of the best sources of healthy fats are nuts, seeds, coconuts, avocados, and olives. Like the most healthy sources of proteins and carbohydrates, the fats in nuts and fatty fruits contain fiber, beneficial micronutrients, and phytonutrients that keep you healthy.

Sources of Fat

Just like with carbohydrates and protein, the best sources of fat are plant-based and nutrient dense. Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, coconut, and unsweetened dark chocolate are all excellent sources of fat that come with a healthy serving of phytonutrients and fiber. As always, I recommend whole foods over processed.

However, if you’re looking for healthy oils you have quite a few options: flaxseed, hemp seed, avocado, grapeseed, sunflower, walnut, sesame, and coconut oils. I highly recommend flaxseed oil for room temperature or colder dishes like salad dressings or hummus. For cooking, use oils that have a higher smoke point like grapeseed, coconut, avocado and sesame oil. When purchasing oils, always make sure the label says “expeller-pressed” and “unrefined.” Otherwise, the oil may have been extracted using chemicals and subjected to extensive processing, which disturbs the delicate essential fatty acids in the oil.

The Problem With Focusing on Macros

When you focus on optimizing the ratios or percentages of your macronutrients, you might forget to concentrate on the quality of the food itself. Make sure to eat a balanced combination of whole, plant-based foods that contribute to your health. Your macros may vary from one day to the next, but your body’s needs may differ based on your activity level, health status, schedule, or other factors. If you’re trying to make a big change in your diet and lifestyle, consider working with a certified dietician or nutrition counselor that can evaluate your needs, help you set achievable goals, and create a personalized diet plan for you.

The ultimate goal of any good diet is to fuel your day-to-day activities while keeping yourself properly nourished. Make sure the foods you chose are micronutrient dense. These nutrients are required in significantly smaller amounts, but they have a much larger impact on your health.

Food as Medicine: Spinach (Spinacia oleracea, Chenopodiaceae)

Spinach (Spinacia oleracea, Chenopodiaceae) is an annual plant that grows up to 23 inches tall (60 cm). Spinach plants produce an edible rosette and toothed fleshy leaves. There are two main types of spinach: crinkled savory leaf spinach and smooth or flat-leaf spinach. Spinach leaves are fleshy, deep green, and rich in essential nutrients and phytochemicals. Spinach requires deep and nitrogen-rich soil to grow, and prefers a cool climate, with spring and autumn being optimal growth seasons for the leaves. The hot weather of summer may cause the spinach to bolt quickly, which causes the leaves to deteriorate. The plant produces greenish-yellow flowers when ready to set seed.

Spinach is native to southwest Asia, in the area of present-day Iran. Spinach cultivation spread to China in 647 BCE and spread across Europe by the 12th century CE. Now, spinach is cultivated throughout the world in temperate climate zones. In the United States, California is the largest producer of spinach, followed by Arizona and New Jersey. The annual per capita consumption of spinach in the United States was estimated to be 1.7 pounds in 2014.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Spinach is one of the most nutritious leafy vegetables and ranks second behind kale (Brassica oleracea var. acephela, Brassicaceae) in total carotenoids and folate content. Spinach is high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat.

The plant is a nutrient-dense source of vitamins and minerals and maintains its nutritional value well after cooking. Spinach provides an array of B vitamins, which are important for carbohydrate metabolism, the nervous system, and the brain. Spinach contains other important minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc, and selenium, and is a significant source of potassium, copper, iodine, and iron. It also contains abundant amounts of vitamins A, K, and C.

The flavonoid, phenolic acid, and carotenoid content of spinach make it a healthy, therapeutic food. These compounds are effective at neutralizing free radicals in the body and are able to protect the body from damage and disease by reducing inflammation.

The two major carotenoids present in spinach leaves are lutein and beta-carotene, and they compose more than 65% of the total carotenoids content. Lutein may help prevent vision loss from age-related degenerative disorders such as macular degeneration and cataracts. A yellow pigment, lutein is found in high amounts in the retina and absorbs blue light emitted by back-lit devices such as smartphones and computer screens. Other carotenoids in spinach include violaxanthin and neoxanthin.

The carotenoids in spinach are very delicate and highly susceptible to degradation over time. Post-harvest handling of spinach from a field to freezer does alter the phytochemical profile of the leaves. In one study, storing fresh spinach leaves for 24 hours at 39°F (4°C) did not impact the carotenoids content in fresh spinach. However, storing fresh spinach for 72 hours at the same temperature resulted in a reduction of the carotenoids content by almost 15%. Blanching fresh leaves for two minutes at 212°F (100°C) followed by freezing effectively preserved the carotenoid content of spinach.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Historically, spinach leaves have been used as a laxative, diuretic, antidote against poison or infection, and as a treatment for asthma and other breathing difficulties, sore throat, and kidney stones. Spinach also has potential effects against hyperglycemia and inflammation. The seeds were used to control fever, to address back pain, and as a diuretic. In the Indian traditional medicine, the plant is known as palak and was used to treat liver injury or infection and jaundice. Spinach was prescribed and used in traditional Iranian medicine as an antidepressant. Due to its high iron and chlorophyll content, spinach often is used as a therapeutic food for patients with anemia.

Spinach leaves are available commercially fresh, frozen, or canned. Depending on the spinach cultivar and method of preservation, the nutrients and phytochemical profile of spinach may vary. Spinach leaves can be eaten fresh or cooked. Several popular spinach-based dishes are said to be prepared “a la Florentine,” supposedly in honor of Catherine de Medici (1519-1589), who was born in Florence and introduced the vegetable to the French court upon her marriage to King Henry II.

Modern Research

There are limited data regarding the effect of whole spinach leaves on diseases, metabolic pathways, and conditions. Most of the available literature reports the effects of leaf extracts or specific isolated phytonutrient components.

Oxidative Damage and Inflammation

The antioxidant content of spinach leaf, which contains high amounts of vitamins A and C, suggests protective effects against damage from cellular oxidation. A mouse study found that supplementation with 1,100 mg/kg per day of methanolic spinach leaf extract significantly decreased radiation-induced lipid peroxidation in the liver. This study further demonstrated that the leaf extract decreased the negative impact of radiation on glutathione levels.

A 2017 rat study used a different methanolic spinach leaf extract with high levels of lutein, luteolin, quercetin, and coumarin. High-performance liquid chromatography analysis of the extract confirmed the presence of these compounds in active amounts. The study reported that intraperitoneal injection of the extract showed a protective anti-inflammatory effect in mice that were given isoproterenol to induce a heart attack. Spinach extract intake led to changes in activities of multiple enzymes, including paraoxonase, lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase, C-reactive protein, myeloperoxidase, and caspase-3. Furthermore, the levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the heart tissue were significantly lower in mice pretreated with spinach extract than the control group. These results indicate the potential protective effects of spinach against inflammation and atherogenesis (the formation of abnormal fatty masses in arterial walls) when used as a concentrated leaf extract.

Cancer Chemoprevention

An in vitro study demonstrated that neoxanthin significantly suppressed inflammation and proliferation of prostate cancer cells. Additionally, in a bacteria-based model, flavonoids found in spinach leaves showed antimutagenic potential.

A study in mice reported that the antioxidants extracted from spinach leaves have protective effects against benign epithelial tumors. The potential mechanism of action was linked to the direct and indirect abilities of antioxidant compounds in spinach leaves to act as free-radical scavengers that inhibit the progression of carcinogenesis.

The abundant glycolipids in spinach leaves were found to possess inhibitory effects on the gastric cancer cell and promyelocytic leukemia cell proliferation in vitro. These findings are considered positive, but preliminary, results of the potential therapeutic effects of spinach glycolipids to prevent cancer proliferation.

Cardiovascular Disease

In a semi-randomized crossover study in humans, the consumption of a fortified spinach beverage resulted in a significant increase in plasma nitrate concentration, which correlated with lower diastolic blood pressure within 150 minutes post-consumption and persisted for five hours thereafter. This study suggests the possible therapeutic uses of spinach as a safe alternative and effective carrier for nitrate medications.

Supplementation

Spinach, like most dark, leafy greens, contains a high amount of folate: 100 grams of raw spinach provides almost half of an average person’s daily recommended intake. Daily intake of spinach for three weeks showed a significant increase in plasma folate concentrations, and processing spinach leaves did not affect the bioavailability of folate when compared to fresh whole-leaf spinach. Frozen whole-leaf spinach, minced spinach, and liquefied spinach have similar effects in terms of increasing plasma folate concentration.

Researchers currently are examining the potential benefits of fortifying flour with dehydrated spinach, with a goal to improve total folate content in bread.21 Fortification of white bread and whole grain bread with spinach (40 g spinach per 100 g of other ingredients) increased the total folate content, despite the effect of processing factors such as kneading and baking.

Diabetes

Spinach leaves contain many beneficial compounds such as vitamin C, iron, zinc, folic acid, polyphenols, and fatty acids. These compounds have protective effects topically as well as internally. In a study, diabetic rats were fed an aqueous spinach leaf extract to determine its effects on wound healing. The results showed that the spinach group had better wound-healing outcomes as indicated by significant improvements in epithelial and granulation tissue formation and blood vessels. These results indicate the potential beneficial effects of supplementation with spinach juice or other types of spinach extracts to treat wounds and ulcers in patients with diabetes.

Consumer Considerations

In August 2008, The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it would allow the irradiation of spinach in order to kill the harmful bacteria Escherichia coli and Salmonella after numerous outbreaks of foodborne illness. Strains of E. coli have the ability to survive and multiply in the absence of an animal host when soil, water, and plants become contaminated. Pathogenic bacteria can grow inside the leaf tissues of spinach, rendering typical antimicrobial surface treatments ineffective. Uniformity of crop management practices as well as environmental factors not only impact the vegetable quality, but also the survival rate of E. coli in the soil and on the leaf crops. There are concerns, however, about the irradiation of food crops. Research indicates that the process generates harmful reactive oxygen species and decreases the phytonutrient content of the food in the process of eliminating foodborne pathogens.

The primary source of spinach leaf contamination with heavy metals is from pesticides containing lead arsenate, environmental pollution, contaminated irrigation water and rainwater, and runoff from nearby areas treated with plant pesticides and fertilizers. Leaf crops are most sensitive to lead contamination and bioaccumulation. Commercially farmed spinach is most susceptible to heavy metal and pathogen contamination due to the reliance on pesticides and poor land management techniques such as continual replanting in contaminated soil.

Caution with spinach consumption may be warranted in populations susceptible to kidney stones. Spinach is one of a number of foods that naturally contains oxalates. The oxalate content in spinach is estimated to be about 0.77 mg/100 g. Oxalates bind to many minerals, including calcium, zinc, and magnesium, inhibiting their absorption. Approximately 80% of kidney stones contain calcium and predominately consist of calcium oxalate. High levels of urinary oxalate are a major risk factor and precursor to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones. Observational data indicate an inverse relationship between dietary calcium and the risk of kidney stone formation, since dietary calcium may bind to oxalates in the gut, and thereby limit the absorption of intestinal oxalates and subsequent excretion of urinary oxalates. However, a study of three diverse populations noted only a small association between oxalate and spinach consumption and the risk of kidney stone formation.

Nutrient Profile

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 100 grams raw spinach)

23 calories

2.9 g protein

3.6 g carbohydrate

0.4 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 100 grams raw spinach)

Excellent source of:

Vitamin K: 482.9 mcg (603.6% DV)

Vitamin A: 9377 IU (187.5% DV)

Folate: 194 mcg (48.5% DV)

Vitamin C: 28.1 mg (46.8% DV)

Manganese: 0.9 mg (45% DV)

Magnesium: 79 mg (19.8% DV)

Potassium: 558 mg (15.9% DV)

Iron: 2.7 mg (15% DV)

Very good source of:

Riboflavin: 0.19 mg (11.2% DV)

Vitamin E: 2.03 mg (10.1% DV)

Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Calcium: 99 mg (9.9% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 2.2 g (8.8% DV)

Good source of:

Thiamin: 0.08 mg (5.3% DV)

Also, provides:

Phosphorus: 49 mg (4.9% DV)

Niacin: 0.72 mg (3.6% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Savory Spinach-Onion Pastry

Courtesy of Mariam Alhado

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground sumac or za’atar spice blend
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 package frozen puff pastry

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Using several layers of paper towels, squeeze as much excess water from the frozen spinach as possible.
  2. In a large bowl, combine spinach, onion, lemon juice, olive oil, sumac, and salt and form a uniform mixture.
  3. Roll out the pastry until it is smooth and of even thickness. Divide into three-inch squares. Add a few tablespoons of the spinach mixture into the center of each square, then fold the corners in and press to seal.
  4. Arrange the pastries on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and heated through.

Food as Medicine: Mustard (Brassica juncea and B. nigra, Brassicaceae)

Mustard plants are herbaceous perennials (though often grown as annuals or biennials) and belong to the Brassicaceae, or cabbage, family. The three types of mustard most commonly consumed today are brown mustard (Brassica juncea), black mustard (B. nigra), and white mustard (Sinapis alba). This paper is concerned only with the brown and black species.

Native to temperate regions in Europe, mustard was one of the continent’s first domesticated crops, and thereafter became a cultivated food crop in Asia, North Africa, and North America. All species yield edible leaves, while their seeds are used whole, powdered, or pressed to produce oil. Annually, the United States produces 160,000 tons of mustard seed. Mustard plants have alternate leaves with ruffled margins and produce the small, yellow four-petaled flowers typical of members of the Brassicaceae family (formerly referred to as the Cruciferae family due to the cross-like pattern of the four petals). Upon pollination, each seedpod elongates into an oblong fruit capsule that contains up to 20 spherical seeds, which can be dark brown or yellow depending on the species.

Black mustard is sparsely branched and erect. It grows up to three meters in height and produces very small, pungent seeds (1.5 grams per 1,000 seeds) that are shed by the plant as the seedpod matures. Black mustard is grown for its edible greens in Argentina, Chile, and the United States, but it is rarely cultivated as a seed crop due to difficulties with the harvesting process and has largely been replaced by brown mustard because of this. Brown mustard, also known as Indian or Oriental mustard, originated in the Himalayan region of central Asia. Brown mustard grows 1-2 meters tall, has larger seeds (three grams per 1,000 seeds), and produces seedpods that are easier to mechanically collect and process. Brown mustard is commercially grown in North America, specifically in parts of the United States and Canada.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Phytochemical differences in black mustard and brown mustard are minor since B. juncea evolved from its ancestor B. nigra. The primary components of interest in mustard are the glucosinolates such as sinigrin, which are believed to be responsible for many of mustard’s health benefits. Mustard seed oil contains 90% allyl isothiocyanate (AITC). The seed contains 27% non-volatile oils (fixed oils), 30% proteins, and small amounts of lecithin, inositol, albumin, gums, mucilage, and pigments. Sinapine, an alkaloid, is also present in trace amounts. The fixed oils are composed of oleic, stearic, erucic, or brassic acids. Mustard seeds also contain terpenes, which have anti-inflammatory properties and are the primary constituents of mustard essential oil.

Other constituents in significant amounts include flavonoids and other phenolic compounds. The concentrations of these compounds can vary widely based on the growing conditions of the mustard plant. Pathogenic attacks on the plant also result in an altered phytochemical profile. Thus, it is possible that the health effects of mustard can vary due to the different farming practices used to grow the mustard. It would be beneficial to standardize farming practices to maximize yields of specific plant chemicals.

Mustard greens are nutrient dense and contain high amounts of vitamins, such as vitamin A, vitamin K, and vitamin C, and minerals, such as calcium. Mustard seeds contain fewer vitamins but are a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and other minerals. Mustard seeds are also a good source of omega fatty acids, as they contain an almost 1:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Both the seeds and greens can offer health-protective effects through their impressive nutrient profiles, although prepared mustard as a condiment should be used sparingly since many commercial brands can contain high amounts of sodium.

Historical and Commercial Uses

The recorded use of mustard as a medicinal plant dates back to the first century CE in Greece, where the physician Dioscorides recommended the topical application of a mustard seed poultice to reduce inflammation in his herbal medicine encyclopedia De Materia Medica. In Unani literature (the Greco-Arabic system of traditional medicine), mustard seed is recommended for a variety of conditions, including neuralgia, epilepsy, sciatica, leprosy, gout, pleurisy, and pneumonia.

In Ayurveda, the system of traditional medicine practiced for thousands of years in India, the therapeutic uses of mustard is well documented. The Ayurvedic practice considers mustard seed oil derived from the brown mustard plant to be pungent and warming, and documents external uses such as a massage oil and a hair tonic; for skin diseases like vitiligo; skin infections like acne; and hemorrhoids. Mustard seeds were processed into a paste and used as a poultice to treat internal conditions such as tumors of the thyroid gland and lymphadenitis (swelling of lymph nodes). Mustard seeds were also decocted in water and used as a poultice for cracked skin, leprosy, rheumatoid arthritis, acne, and as a rinse for mouth sores.

Internally, mustard oil traditionally was used to lower blood lipid levels, reduce the build-up of fat or adipose tissue, treat intestinal worms, and assist detoxification of the body. Mustard seeds were also included in traditional herbal formulas used to induce vomiting and cleanse the cranial cavity via nasal irrigation, and as a decoction in an enema therapy. Though mustard leaves were more commonly consumed as a vegetable, they were also used as an ingredient for steam fomentation and to cleanse the cranial cavity.

Other ethnobotanical uses of the mustard plant exist in cultures around the world.1 In Africa, the roots are used as a galactagogue to stimulate milk production. Dried leaves and flowers are burned in Tanzania in spiritual rituals. The essential oil has been used to relieve constipation and as a counterirritant. In Java, the leaves are used internally to treat syphilis and stimulate blood flow to the pelvic area and topically to treat headaches. In Korea, the seeds are used for abscesses, colds, lower back pain, rheumatism, and stomach disorders. The oil of mustard has been used to treat skin eruptions and ulcers throughout Asia.

In North America, black mustard has a history of use among indigenous tribes. It was used by the Cherokee to stimulate the appetite, treat fever and “nervous fever,” heal the kidneys and treat various other diseases such as malaria. It was also used to treat palsy and asthma, and as a tonic for overall wellness. The Meskwaki used mustard due to its pungent nature to treat head colds. The Mohegan tribe applied mustard leaf poultices as an analgesic for body pains, headaches, and toothaches. The Shinnecock used it similarly to the Mohegan but also mixed it with flour and water to induce vomiting. Brown mustard seed powder also has a widespread use as an emetic to treat acute and narcotic poisoning.

Modern Research

In recent studies, mustard has shown antitumor effects and other beneficial properties against chronic conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, weight gain, and neuropathic disease. It might also act as a protective agent against acute conditions such as fungal infection and influenza.

Cytotoxic and Anti-Tumor Effects

The anticancer effect of mustard may be due to the anti-proliferative activity of constituents such as sinigrin, the precursor to AITC. Many cytotoxicity studies have been performed in vitro to investigate how mustard and its constituents act against cancer cell proliferation. A hydrolyzed mustard seed powder that contained AITC caused cell cycle arrest and apoptosis (programmed cell death) in bladder cancer cell lines. This was further observed in rats, where an oral dose of the hydrolyzed mustard seed powder inhibited bladder cancer growth and blocked muscle invasion of cancerous cells. AITC specifically is thought to be selectively delivered to the bladder through urinary excretion. The mustard powder produced more significant results than pure AITC, suggesting that ingestion of the whole seed is more beneficial than ingestion of any isolated constituents. In an animal model, injections of mustard essential oil rich in AITC inhibited cell proliferation and blood vessel creation (angiogenesis, which is required for tumor growth). The oil also induced apoptosis, a pathway for cancer chemoprevention.

Another study examined the effects of sinigrin on liver tumors in rats. This three-month study found that oral sinigrin administration significantly inhibited proliferation of tumor cells in the liver and reduced the number of tumors in the rat liver. The response was dose dependent, with the highest tumor suppression at 25 mg/kg of body weight. However, the lowest dose, 10 mg/kg, still caused a significant reduction of tumors on the liver surface compared to the positive control, reducing tumor size by half.

An in vitro study examined the effects of several mustard extracts and found a dose-dependent protective response in human hepatocytes, colorectal cells, cervical cells, breast cancer cells, and larynx cells. The juice of the mustard leaf was also found to protect against induced DNA damage in human cells, again in a dose-dependent manner. These cancer chemopreventive effects were thought to be mediated not through inherent antioxidant properties of mustard extract, as is often seen with many plant materials, but by increasing expression of detoxification enzymes.

Isothiocyanates may also decrease multidrug resistance in human cancer cell lines and inhibit the efflux (simply put, the removal of compounds from cells) of cancer-treating drugs, which enhances the effect of chemotherapy treatment. In an in vitro study, isolated compounds, including isothiocyanates and sulforaphane, increased the accumulation of chemotherapeutic drugs in multidrug resistant cancer cells through the inhibition of efflux of these drugs. Researchers also found that the isothiocyanates inhibited tumor formation in breast, colon, lung, and skin tissue.

Diabetes, Cardiovascular Disease, and Neuropathic Effects

Mustard leaves and seeds both can induce hypoglycemic effects in animals with type 2 diabetes. One rodent study found that administration of an extract made from mustard leaves significantly reduced lipid peroxidation, reduced free radicals, and ameliorated the damage caused by oxidative stress. Researchers speculated that mustard enhances glycolysis and glycogenesis, and decreases glycogenosis. These data were further confirmed by a follow-up study that also showed reduced levels of superoxide and nitrite/nitrates in a dose-dependent manner after oral administration of a mustard extract. Mustard may also delay or prevent the onset of diabetes in addition to mitigating its effects. A study examined the effects of feeding high-fructose diets to rodents for 30 days and found that the inclusion of mustard powder over the study period significantly decreased fasting serum glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels, although not enough to normalize them. Researchers concluded that mustard powder may be beneficial for pre-diabetic patients and those who are genetically prone to the disease.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is often studied in tandem with diabetes, as individuals with diabetes tend to suffer from CVD as well. One study examined the effects of two doses of mustard seed powder on serum cholesterol and triglycerides in diabetic rats. The lower dose did not significantly affect these markers; however, a higher dose (8 g/kg of body weight) significantly and consistently lowered both. The authors suggested that mustard might mimic or enhance the effectiveness of insulin, lowering the necessary amount and reducing insulin’s anabolic effect.

There are often neurological complications associated with diabetes. In a rat model, researchers examined the effects of an ethanol mustard extract and found dose-dependent improvements in brain chemistry and cognitive function, and speculated that non-diabetes-induced neurological problems could be improved with mustard consumption or supplementation. The effect of mustard on the depletion of neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine was further researched. Mustard was found to compensate for depleted levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in improvement of behavioral outcomes such as feelings of helplessness and despair, as well as impaired locomotion. Mustard’s rich polyphenol content may be the source of its therapeutic effects on cognitive issues.

Antimicrobial Properties

Mustard has antimicrobial and antiviral properties and shows protective effects against microbe- and virus-induced damage. One rodent study on viral hepatitis found that mustard extract protected against liver and kidney damage. The mechanism of this protective action is thought to be related to the anti-inflammatory activity of the compounds in mustard such as terpenes. This is of specific interest because it shows that the protective properties of mustard go beyond antibiotic properties and may protect against viruses as well.

Mustard has also been shown to have antifungal properties. Mustard essential oil was able to inhibit or delay the growth of several types of fungi and prevent further growth even if mustard essential oil was in contact with the fungi through vapors. Furthermore, mustard was found to recognize the structural differences of microbes and targeted sphingolipids, specific regulators of pathogenicity unique to fungal pathogens.

Consumer Considerations

Mustard as a food generally is considered safe. There are no known nutrient-drug interactions with mustard, although high levels of vitamin K in the leaves could interact with certain blood-thinning medications such as warfarin due to vitamin K’s blood-coagulating properties. The vitamin K content could also be a concern to individuals with existing untreated thyroid issues or an iodine deficiency. Due to the high oxalate content of the leaves, those with a history of oxalate-containing kidney stones may wish to limit their intake of mustard leaves.

Mustard essential oil can be highly irritable to the skin and mucous membranes. It is not recommended to use mustard oil either internally or externally. However, the mustard oil must be specifically extracted and these side effects are not a concern when consuming the condiment, seeds, or leaves. While there is little concern about adulteration of culinary mustard, there is a history of adulterating mustard seed oil with Argemone (Argemone mexicana, Papaveraceae) oil. In 1998, 2,300 people were affected and 41 people died from adulterated mustard oil in India, resulting in a complete ban of mustard seed oil. The ban was subsequently lifted after the adulteration was discovered and corrected. However, mustard seed oil for edible consumption is not recognized as safe in the United States, Canada, and the European Union due to its high erucic acid content.

Nutrient Profile

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup [approx. 56 grams] chopped mustard greens, raw)

15 calories

1.6 g protein

2.6 g carbohydrate

0.2 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup [approx. 56 grams] chopped mustard greens, raw)

Excellent source of:

Vitamin K: 144.2 mcg (180.3% DV)

Vitamin C: 39.2 mg (65.3% DV)

Vitamin A: 1,693 IU (33.9% DV)

Very good source of:

Manganese: 0.3 mg (15% DV)

Good source of:

Dietary Fiber: 1.8 g (7.2% DV)

Calcium: 64 mg (6.4% DV)

Potassium: 215 mg (6.1% DV)

Vitamin E: 1.13 mg (5.6% DV)

Iron: 0.92 mg (5.1% DV)

Also, provides:

Vitamin B6: 0.1 mg (5% DV)

Magnesium: 18 mg (4.5% DV)

Riboflavin: 0.06 mg (3.5% DV)

Thiamin: 0.05 mg (3.3% DV)

Phosphorus: 32 mg (3.2% DV)

Niacin: 0.45 mg (2.3% DV)

Folate: 7 mcg (1.8% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Saag Paneer

Adapted from Anita Jaisinghani

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup ghee or neutral vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 serrano chilies, stems and seeds removed, minced
  • 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced/grated
  • 1 pound of mustard greens, stems removed and leaves chopped
  • 1 pound baby spinach leaves
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala spice blend
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream or plain, unsweetened yogurt
  • 1 pound paneer or halloumi cheese, diced into 1-inch pieces

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of the ghee or oil. Add the onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  2. Add the garlic, chilies, and ginger. Cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garam masala and cook until fragrant.
  3. In batches, add the mustard greens and spinach, letting each batch wilt before adding more. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. In a food processor, pulse half of the greens with half of the heavy cream or yogurt until finely chopped. Return to the saucepan and repeat with the remaining greens and cream/yogurt. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to process the greens and dairy in the saucepan. Keep the saag warm over very low heat, stirring occasionally.
  5. In a medium nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon of the ghee or oil over moderate heat. Add half of the paneer and cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining ghee and paneer.
  6. Fold the paneer into the saag and cook over low heat until warmed through 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Gluten-Free Grilling Tips

Completely avoiding gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, barley, KAMUT wheat, and triticale, is vital for good health if you’re dealing with celiac disease, and can play a role in managing other autoimmune conditions, such as psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some folks may wish to avoid gluten simply because it doesn’t agree with their digestive tract.

Regardless of the reason, barbecuing may require a few special precautions when you’re gluten-free, but this doesn’t mean you need to forgo great grilled meals altogether. Learning a few tricks of the trade will go a long way toward keeping your gluten-free barbecue safe and healthy.

Keeping it gluten-free

If you’re planning a barbecue that isn’t 100% gluten-free, it’s important to take precautions so other foods don’t contaminate your gluten-free foods:

  • Clean the grill. Eliminate any bits of gluten-containing food by cleaning the grill with a wire grill brush and plenty of soap and water. Scrub food surfaces thoroughly and rinse well. If you can remove the grill’s food-contact surfaces, take them out for cleaning.
  • Plan for the park. If you’re meeting friends in the park and plan to cook on a public grill, use caution. Chicken, fish, beef, and pork are naturally gluten-free, but if someone toasted hamburger or hot dog buns on the grill, gluten may be left behind. Bring safe, gluten-free backup foods that don’t require grilling, or a portable grill of your own, just in case.
  • Designate a gluten-free grill space. When you designate your gluten-free grill space at home, pick an area on the highest level of the grill, to prevent crumbs or food particles from regular food dropping onto your gluten-free fare.
  • Designate a gluten-free food prep space. Bring a table cloth of a particular color and let everyone in your group know that it’s a gluten-free area.
  • Use separate utensils. Do not use the same tongs or fork to handle gluten-free food and breaded items or buns. Be careful not to reuse the bun and bread plate for gluten-free items you’re removing from the grill.
  • Fix gluten-free barbecue foods first. You’ll start with a clean kitchen, reducing the risk that gluten-containing crumbs or food come in contact with gluten-free food.

Planning your menu

  • Go homemade. For barbecue sauce, your best option may be to make your own. Many sauces and dressings contain flavorings and thickeners that contain gluten. Unless the label clearly states that a product is gluten-free, it may not be.
  • Substitute smartly. Instead of pasta salad, try a side dish based on rice, millet, or quinoa. These grains pair well with beans and chickpeas for delicious, hearty salads.
  • Vary your veggies. Turn to the vegetable crisper for plenty of gluten-free barbecue options. For example, marinate asparagus and zucchini in balsamic or fruit vinegar-based sauces, and pop on the grill just before the main course foods are finished.
  • Get creative with kebobs. Vegetable and meat kebabs are a great way to enjoy gluten-free barbecuing with endless combinations of chicken, beef, tofu, onions, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, and so on. Be sure to use clean skewers that have not been in contact with gluten-containing foods.
  • Don’t forget the fruit. When people think barbecue, they automatically think burgers, dogs, and chicken, but grilled fruit, such as pineapples, apples, and mangos, can make a wonderful addition to any barbecue. It’s a healthy sweet treat to end the meal.

Coconut Palm Sugar

In order to manage their condition, people with diabetes need to monitor their sugar intake. A good way of doing this might be by choosing a natural sweetener option. One of the more popular choices is coconut palm sugar.

People with diabetes have bodies that do not produce enough insulin or use insulin correctly.

Insulin is the hormone needed to help the body to normalize blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are a measurement of the amount of sugar in the bloodstream.

All foods contain sugar. The body stores the sugar and transports it through the bloodstream to the cells, which use it as energy.

When insulin is not working properly, sugar cannot enter cells, and they are unable to produce as much energy. When the cells of the body cannot process sugar, diabetes occurs.

What is coconut palm sugar?

Coconut palm sugar is made from the sap of the coconut palm. The sugar is extracted from the palm by heating it until the moisture evaporates. After processing, the sugar has a caramel color and tastes like brown sugar, making it an easy substitution in any recipe.

Coconut palm sugar is considered a healthier option for people with diabetes because it contains less pure fructose than other sweeteners.

The digestive tract does not absorb fructose as it does other sugars, which means that the excess fructose finds its way to the liver. Too much fructose in the liver can lead to a host of metabolic problems, including type 2 diabetes.

Can people with diabetes eat coconut palm sugar?

While the American Diabetes Association (ADA) do find coconut palm sugar to be an acceptable sugar substitute, they do not appear to endorse its use.

Coconut palm sugar and glycemic index

Some people believe coconut palm sugar is more healthful because it is lower on the glycemic index (GI).

People with diabetes are encouraged to consume foods with a low GI because they will not raise blood sugar levels as much as foods with a high GI level. Any GI value of 55 or less is considered low, and anything above 70 is high on the GI.

Both honey and cane sugar have GIs of around 50, while the GI of coconut palm sugar, as reported by the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Philippines, is 35.

However, the University of Sydney has measured the GI of coconut palm sugar at 54. Based on its chemical makeup, this is thought to be the most likely value. Despite the difference in opinion, coconut palm sugar is still considered to be a low GI food.

Issues with looking at GI

There are several factors that contribute to blood sugar levels after eating, including how the food is prepared.

In the United States, there is no official GI rating system. The ADA note, however, that GI numbers for specific foods differ based on their source, and this would likely apply to coconut palm sugar.

According to the Joslin Diabetes Center, the GI is not the best guideline for what happens to blood sugar levels after eating.

There are many factors that influence the process, including:

  • the individual
  • the content of the food
  • how food is prepared
  • what other foods are consumed
  • the rate of digestion

Therefore, the ADA advise people to treat coconut palm sugar as they would any other sweetener, including pure cane sugar. It is also important to include the number of calories and carbohydrates it contains when planning meals.

People should always check the nutritional labels on coconut palm sugar. This is because coconut palm sugar may contain other ingredients, including cane sugar, which means its GI will be much higher than noted in a rating system.

Coconut palm sugar contains inulin

Inulin is a fermentable prebiotic fiber, beneficial to gut bacteria that may help with controlling sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.

At least one research study finds coconut palm sugar contains significant amounts of inulin.

A study from 2016 found that fermentable carbohydrates might help to improve insulin sensitivity. They may also have unique metabolic effects for those who are at high risk for diabetes.

Benefits for women with type 2 diabetes

Another study finds that inulin provides some benefits for women with type 2 diabetes, including blood glycemic control and antioxidant status. Antioxidants protect the body from disease and damage.

More research is needed to further identify and understand these findings to extend to other populations with type 2 diabetes.

Nutritional value of coconut palm sugar

Coconut palm sugar contains the same number of calories and carbohydrates as regular cane sugar.

In addition, coconut palm sugar and cane sugar both contain:

  • fructose, which is a monosaccharide, or single sugar
  • glucose, which is a monosaccharide
  • sucrose, which is a disaccharide that is made up of two sugars: half fructose, half glucose

However, the proportion of these sugars is different in cane sugar and palm sugar.

Fructose content

Coconut palm sugar and cane sugar contain nearly the same amount of fructose, but there is more pure fructose in cane sugar, which may cause problems for people with diabetes.

Often referred to as “simple sugars,” sucrose, fructose, and glucose are also essential carbohydrates.

Sucrose is sugar that is present in almost every food. It is a natural compound and gives the body vital energy but can be harmful in large quantities. Added sweeteners found in processed foods, desserts, and beverages contain the most sucrose.

When sucrose is heated, it breaks down to form fructose and glucose.

[selection of fruit on a wooden table]
Fruits have a high level of fructose.

High levels of fructose are found in:

  • fruits
  • agave nectar or syrup
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • foods with added sugars

High levels of glucose are found in:

  • dextrose, also known as grape sugar or corn sugar
  • some fruits
  • starches, such as bread, grains, and pasta
  • foods with added sugars

Other nutrients found in coconut palm sugar

Coconut palm sugar may be considered a better option, as it has more nutritional value than some other sugars.

Unlike cane sugar, it contains:

  • iron
  • calcium
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • other important minerals

However, people should bear in mind that cane sugar contains tiny amounts of these nutrients. Most people only consume a few teaspoons of coconut palm sugar at a time, which actually contains less than 2 percent of all nutrients.

Healthful whole foods will provide dramatically more of these same nutrients for fewer calories.

Conclusion

There is not enough sufficient research to back up claims coconut palm sugar is more healthful, better, or different than any other sugar for blood sugar.

While coconut sugar contains inulin, it may not contain enough to significantly affect blood sugar levels. In addition, coconut palm sugar is also just as high in calories as regular cane sugar.

Coconut palm sugar seems to be slightly more beneficial than regular sugar but is still best consumed in moderation. Therefore, individuals with type 2 diabetes should treat it the same as other sugars and use it sparingly, as it still might raise blood glucose levels, despite its possibly lower GI.

Food as Medicine: Arugula (Eruca sativa, Brassicaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Arugula (Eruca sativa, Brassicaceae), also known as rucola and rocket, is a weedy annual that is drought-tolerant and prefers a hot, dry climate. The name “arugula” is a modern American designation and likely derives from the Italian term “rucola.” The name “rocket” is more common in British English, as is roquette in France. Both rucola and roquette are diminutives of the Latin eruca, which means “caterpillar” and may refer to the fuzzy appearance of the young stems. The different names for arugula demonstrate the wide area where it grows, in a swath of the northern Mediterranean and the near east that stretches from Portugal to Afghanistan. It has been naturalized in northern Europe and North America.

Arugula is distinguished by its upright stem, which can have four-petaled white, yellow, or purple flowers, as well as its green, aromatic, serrated leaves. It’s thin, narrow fruit is a pod filled with small, oil-rich seeds. Although it is commonly thought of as a relative of spinach or lettuce, it is actually a cruciferous vegetable of the family Brassicaceae, which includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage.

arugula flowerThe leaves and seeds of arugula are both edible. The leaves boast an aromatic, peppery, and mustard-like flavor and are mainly consumed raw in salads. Young leaves are tenderer and have a milder flavor, while mature leaves are larger, woodier, and more bitter. The seeds can be pressed for oil.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

As a leafy green vegetable and a member of the family Brassicaceae, arugula is an extremely nutrient-dense food. It is low in calories and rich in vitamins A, C and K, folate, magnesium, and calcium. Calcium, magnesium, and potassium help controls blood pressure and maintains bone health. It also provides riboflavin, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc. Arugula’s health benefits are a potent combination of cruciferous vegetable and leafy green, as it contains compounds found in both: glucosinolates, a group of compounds which exert powerful anticancer and detoxifying mechanisms, and antioxidant phytochemicals such as carotenes and chlorophyll. Compared to other brassica plants, arugula has one of the highest beta-carotene, kaempferol, and quercetin contents.

Arugula seed oil, commonly called taramira or Jamba oil, is likewise rich in glucosinolates. It also contains high amounts of erucic and gadoleic acids, which have more commercial than health benefits, as detailed in the following section.

Historical and Commercial Uses

Ancient and modern practitioners interpret arugula’s peppery taste as a fiery, “lively” quality, which lends itself to a variety of different uses. In the ancient world, the Romans and the Egyptians considered arugula to be a potent aphrodisiac which was used to “restore vigor to the genitalia,” and planted it at the base of statues of the god Priapus, who was considered the god of fertility, livestock, and gardens. Its reputation as an aphrodisiac was widespread and persistent, and some monasteries banned its cultivation on their grounds, citing its “hotness and lechery.”

Arugula had widespread use in Greco-Arab and Islamic medicine practices, primarily for its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It was taken orally as a general tonic for wellness and as an aid to digestion and kidney function. Additionally, records exist of a physician’s prescribing a topical treatment of ground seeds mixed with cream for acne. Evidence of arugula use and cultivation dates back to the Hellenistic Period in Greece (323 BCE – 31 BCE).

Due to its high vitamin A and C content, arugula has been used as a therapeutic food for eye infections and night blindness, and its sharpness and astringency reveals its stimulant, diuretic, and antiscorbutic (effective against scurvy) properties. Many of its modern and traditional uses overlap with dandelion greens, to which it is very similar in taste and nutritional profile. The leaves have also been used topically as a rubefacient (drawing blood to the surface of the skin) to improve circulation.

The fresh leaves of arugula have been consumed and favored as a salad green in Mediterranean countries for centuries. With the growing popularity of the Mediterranean cuisine, its consumption continues to grow in the United States as well as the rest of the world. Arugula is best consumed raw or very lightly cooked, as many of its beneficial compounds (chlorophyll, glucosinolates, and isothiocyanates) degrade quickly when heated.

In India, Pakistan, and Iran, arugula is grown as a commercial oilseed crop. Due to its high erucic acid content, taramira oil and similar oils are used as commercial lubricants and as massage oils. The seed matter left behind after oil processing is used as livestock fodder. Where it is popular, including India, taramira oil also has a widespread culinary use, though it must age for six months after processing to mellow its initial overwhelming acrid taste. Once aged, the oil can be used in salads and for cooking purposes and is a traditional ingredient in pickles and mustard.

Modern Research

As a member of the Brassicaceae family, arugula shares the extensively-studied effects of its relatives, such as broccoli and kale.

Cruciferous vegetables are excellent sources of antioxidants and are highly regarded for their anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, chemo-preventive, and cardioprotective effects. They have high levels of sulfur-containing compounds called glucosinolates which, when crushed or chewed, turn into indoles and isothiocyanates. These two bioactive constituents have been shown to be potent cancer-fighters, protecting against many forms of cancers, including breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer.

Arugula can be a valuable addition to the diet of people with Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal conditions, providing valuable vitamins, minerals, and insoluble fiber. Those who suffer from Crohn’s disease are at higher risk for vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition as a result of a limited diet; however, in a 2012 clinical study, almost 80% of subjects reported no change in their symptoms after consuming steady amounts of arugula. Though cruciferous vegetables are considered off-limits to people following a low-FODMAP diet (which seeks to eliminate fermentable oglio-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols due to a bacterial imbalance in the gut), arugula was well tolerated and also should be considered as a nutrient-dense addition for people with these sensitivities.


Nutrient Profile


Macronutrient Profile:
(Per 1 cup arugula leaves)

5 calories
0.52 g protein
0.73 g carbohydrate
0.13 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup arugula leaves)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin K: 21.7 mcg (27.13% DV)

Good source of:

Vitamin A: 475 IU (9.5% DV)
Vitamin C: 3 mg (5% DV)
Folate: 19 mcg (4.75% DV)
Vitamin E: 0.09 mg (4.48% DV)
Calcium: 32 mg (3.2% DV)

Also provides:
Magnesium: 9 mg (2.25% DV)
Potassium: 74 mg (2.11% DV)
Iron: 0.29 mg (1.61% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 0.3 g (1.2% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.02 mg (1.18% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.02 mg (1% DV)
Phosphorus: 10 mg (1% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Recipe: Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted walnuts halves
  • 2 cups fresh arugula leaves
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. In a dry, nonstick skillet over medium heat, toast walnuts until lightly browned and fragrant. Be careful not to burn. Remove from the heat.
  2. In a food processor, combine arugula, walnuts, and garlic and pulse until roughly chopped. Continue pulsing, drizzling in olive oil in a steady stream until combined. Stir in Parmesan cheese and add salt to taste.
  3. Alternatively, this recipe can be made with a mortar and pestle. Roughly chop the arugula leaves and toast walnuts as described, then combine nuts, salt, and garlic in a mortar and grind until smooth. Then add the cheese, olive oil, and arugula, and continue grinding until smooth.