Thursday, December 10, 2009

SuperBerries SuperRoot SuperBean

A warning to superfood-lovers, my profiles on superfoods may seem a little sobering. I am providing the beneficial and the cautionary. Some are non-indigenous items and therefore maybe not eco-conscious or green or maintain their superfood profile once they get to our kitchens, while others are medicinal according to Chinese medicine. The medicinal aspect is why different ways of eating work for different people. Goji berries may create some intestinal issues for one person, but create noticeable improvement in energy for others.

Acai, a berry like others, is packed with antioxidants, but unlike North American berries is high in essential fatty acids and fiber, higher than your average berry in trace minerals and phytonutrients. On the flip side, this berry is indigenous to the Amazon so there is processing and packaging involved and sometimes considerable sugar. With any produce, my feeling is one should consume it as close to its natural state, not processed and sugared. I would rather eat a local berry chock full of its goodness and add other ingredients high in essential fatty acids, fiber and minerals. If local berries are out of season, the powdered or liquid form of acai is the perfect choice to add to smoothies or other treats.

Goji berries have been talked about the last few years; it is second after cacao and cocoa in antioxidant levels. This tiny pinkish red dried berry is a mild tonic herb in Chinese medicine. Specifically we say it “builds blood”. Goji to some, fructus lycii or wolfberry to others, and gou qi zi to the Chinese herbalist, it is sweet in taste and neutral in temperature; energetically influences the Liver, Lung, Kidney acupuncture meridians; moistens the fluids or yin aspect of the body. Examples of what this berry can treat are sore back and legs, low grade abdominal pain, impotence, diabetes, consumption (when caused by a weakened state of the liver and kidney meridians or lack of yin fluids). It benefits essence and brighten eyes, aids dizziness, blurred or diminished visual acuity, enrich fluids/yin and moisten lung for consumptive cough. Not used for externally contracted excess heat patterns (infections) and cases of weak digestion with damp and loose stool.

In research this berry shows to reduce damage to hepatic cells in mice long term, ingestion in rats resulted in increase in serum and liver phospholipids; reduced blood pressure and labored breathing in rabbits when administered intravenously. A few things it contains: betaine, carotene, physalien, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin C, beta sitosterol, and linoleic acid.

In the raw community goji is touted as this amazing energy source. In my opinion and experience as a Chinese herbalist if someone experiences a great energy surge ingesting gojis then some serious energy or blood or fluids need regeneration in that person. Yes, goji is beneficial, it is a lovely medicinal, and being mild it is beneficial for most everyone. I often receive samples of medicinal from herbal companies. A few years back, bringing my mail upstairs, my salivary glands were a little extra active. Odd, yes? I opened the package to find a sample of gou qi zi. Obviously I needed a little gou qi zi in my life. That walk up the stairs was a blind kinesiology experiment! In Chinese herbology we don’t even eat the berry, we decoct it in a herbal tea with other roots, rhizomes and leaves! It is used in Chinese cooking – I’ve had trout with goji and other green herbs and I now make energy bars (and smoothies) with gojis.

Maca is a starchy root vegetable from Latin America – Peruvian Ginseng. You might know ginseng as the sexual tonic you can pick up behind the counter of some gas stations! Most if not all varieties of ginseng (Siberian, Chinese, Peruvian) are adaptogens and increase qi or energy. Maca, a medicinal, is a general endocrine tonic and used in my clinic to treat reproductive, fertility, and adrenal imbalances.

Maca contains the precursors for serotonin. If you suffer from sugar cravings this might be for you. The brain trying to calm your stressed body knows it needs to increase serotonin levels; sugar is the brain’s attempt to do that. Maca contains the precursors so the body can process the maca into serotonin and truly aid in adapting to stress. It is also rich in sterols for quick muscle regeneration. It repairs damage on the adrenal glands: damage from nutritional stress (caffeine), environmental stress (pollution), emotional stress, and life stress. Americans adrenals are tapped out from a lifestyle of performing at a high level for long periods therefore self-medicating to rev up and come down. When the adrenals are not performing, hormones decline causing signs of premature aging, excess body fat and impaired ability to build muscle and recover from stress, among other ailments.

Coconuts. (though it is a fruit will be discussed in the next post on nuts and seeds)

Cacao. The bean of the cacao fruit/pod, the food of the gods, contains the highest concentration of magnesium and
antioxidants of any source – more than red wine, green tea, goji berries, or green vegetables. It is a good source of other trace minerals the majority of Americans are lacking like chromium.

Magnesium, the most powerful stress relieving mineral, relaxes muscles and builds strong bones and teeth. I usually recommend a magnesium supplement for clients who have sleep issues, palpitations from anxiety, and muscle soreness especially at night.

Antioxidants, anti-aging chemicals in whole plant foods, add a layer of protection to cells and fight free radical damage (cause of disease). Cacao is an excellent source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid converted to serotonin, think stress relief and mood elevation. It contains 1/20th of coffee’s caffeine and, unlike caffeine, does not spike blood sugar and contains no sugar. It is touted as a weight loss food and I would say because it is a high net food – adding many essentials a body needs so your body needs to take in less quantity of food.

Cocoa is the processed cacao meaning takes most of good stuff out except the flavor. Liken cocoa to white bread, devoid of all the nutrients of the wheat kernel, cacao bean. Adding dairy to cacao or cocoa cancels out the antioxidant effects, sorry!

Raw cacao is quite expensive when compared to your tin of Hershey’s cocoa powder. A little goes a long way and you can always use half cacao and half cocoa in recipes!

Next, the nuts and seeds of superfoods.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Superheroes of Food

They” call them superfoods or next level foods, I call them seeds and berries and algae. I do add to my smoothies seaweeds and other superfoods. Items within this category of power-packed foods vary depending who is making the list!

Gillian McKeith, controversial nutritionist, divides superfoods into 5 categories: Green, Bee, Herb, Sea, and Leafy. But she doesn’t include Brendan Brazier’s or living foods/whole plant food enthusiasts or most of the raw foods community favorites on her list: cacao, acai, goji berries, quinoa, hemp, maca, among others.

Essential qualities in my opinion for a living thing to be deemed superfood be it from a bee, the sea, a tree, or a leaf are:
  • Contains a higher concentration of vitamins, minerals or trace minerals than others in its grouping of food coupled with either essential fatty acids, protein, fiber, a more alkaline profile, and possibly some sort of “anti-“ properties anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-aging…
The idea is consume high-net gain foods – nutrient dense foods - therefore less food. Get more nutrient bang for your buck and effort! We don’t need all the food that we eat, our bodies need a certain daily allowance of building blocks to maintain homeostasis. If the body doesn’t meet that allowance, the specific cravings (I need cheese or chocolate) or vague cravings (I want something I just don’t know what) start.

So if I am making a green smoothie today containing 3 veggies, 1 fruit, and 2 superfoods that contain these high concentrations of good stuff, I am giving my body premium fuel and all it needs to run optimally. I obviously eat other meals throughout the day, but I am satiated longer, eat smaller quantities, and have no cravings.

The body will use less effort compensating for a lack of essential amino acids and lack of electrolytes and other good stuff for all the muscles (heart and brain and other organs included!) creating more energy available to get through your day. Believe me, I tested it. Months of green smoothies, green smoothies with superfoods, a few days of no green smoothies, days with more fruit based smoothies, and back to green smoothies. Once you are accustomed to a certain energy level and multi-tasking ability, when it wanes you notice.

Yes, I used superfoods in meals that did not require a straw. Sprouted quinoa is a favorite in combination with veggies and legumes. Hemp seeds or powder satiated hunger for hours! Seaweed salad and nori-wrapped creations are right up there too. I suggest slowly introducing foods and those that seem more palatable. If you haven’t soaked seaweeds and combined them with other ingredients, ask someone or get a recipe or check out pre-made salads at your natural grocer. You don’t want to thwart your progress before you begin!

Next up profiling berries, seeds and algae!