How 'bout cayenne pepper?

Cayenne peppersCayenne pepper is an extremely hot, yet tasty and versatile spice.  The bite comes from the active ingredient capsaicin.  With a beautiful crimson color and high heat, it is sure to add flare to any dish you are planning to cook.  But cayenne pepper is more than just a heat maker.  This spice has a plethora of uses that not even your orthodox medical practitioner can argue with.   

History of Cayenne Pepper            

Cayenne pepper has been used in Mexico, South America, and the West Indies for thousands of years.  Capsicum annuum is its botanical name.  When the pepper was discovered by the Spanish, it was eventually introduced into Africa, Asian, Indian, and European cuisines.  It has now become one of the most popular spices in the world.  It can grow in most any climate, but most loves the nutrient-rich soils of moist climates.  It has been used for its flavor, its medicinal purposes, and as decoration.

Considerations for Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne pepper is actually quite spicy.  It has a 7 out of 10 rating for spiciness, which means it is 30,000 – 50,000 Scoville Units.  To give you an idea of what that means, jalapeno, chipotle, and poblano peppers are only about 2,500 – 5,000 Scoville Units, serrano peppers are about 5,000 – 15,000 Scoville Units, and habanera peppers are roughly 100,000 – 350,000 Scoville Units.  That means cayenne peppers can really pack a punch.  The nice thing about cayenne pepper is that it usually comes in powdered form, providing the flexibility to make any dish as mild or as spicy as you want!

Home Remedies and Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper has been used for thousands of years as not just a spice but a medicine. 

~Stomach ailments~

The ancient peoples of Peru and Guatemala used cayenne pepper as a cure for many types of stomach ailments.   You would think because cayenne pepper is so spicy that it would cause heartburn.  For most people, however, cayenne pepper has the opposite effect. Modern research suggests that cayenne pepper not only reduces heartburn, but can help people who have ulcers.  I suppose the Mayans were on to something!

~Cardiovascular Health~

Capsaicin is a vasodilator, which means that it enlarges the space (the lumen) in the blood vessels so that blood can flow more easily.  Vasodilation promotes several physiological effects, including relief from headaches and pain, as well as improvement in overall vascular health.

~Cayenne Pepper for Pain and Inflammation~

Capsaicin, when applied topically, has shown very promising results in patients with neurological pain, such as phantom limb and HIV neuropathy.  The Capsaicin found in cayenne peppers also has strong anti-inflammatory effects.

~Cayenne Pepper for Weight Loss~

While eating cayenne pepper won’t magically turn you into a model, the heat it produces in your body does mean you are burning a few extra calories.

~Cayenne Pepper for Cough Suppressant~

Cough keeping you up all night?  Mix a dash of cayenne pepper with a tablespoon of honey and melt that in with your favorite tea or a glass of warm water.  Sip on that for a while and your cough should subside enough to help you get to sleep.  I tried this last January when I had a really bad cold accompanied by a horrible cough.  Sure enough, it worked!

~Cayenne Pepper as an All-Natural Pet Repellent~

Cat chewing on your house plants?  Dog getting in your garden?  Well, a little bit of cayenne pepper sprinkled in these areas is a great way to ensure your pet will not try again (unless, of course, you have a very stubborn animal).  Cayenne Pepper is non-toxic to both your pet and your plants.  Our cat used to chew on a piece of fraying carpet in our old apartment.  My husband put a little cayenne pepper in the area and, after a few sneezes, he never chew again!  Just be careful not to put tons of the spice in a very concentrated area because it could burn your pet’s paws of nose.  The trick is to just make it uncomfortable for them when they enter the restricted area.

Precautions when using Cayenne Pepper

While cayenne pepper has many fine qualities, you have to be careful with a few things.  First off, you want to be careful when handling this pepper, even in its powder form.  If you’re sprinkling it out of a bottle,  you have less to worry about, just don’t handle large amounts of it for an extended period of time without wearing some hand protection. Like most hot peppers, cayenne pepper can burn your skin.  You also have to be very careful not to rub cayenne pepper in your eyes after handling it.  While you won’t go blind you will be in a lot of pain, and there is little you can do about it (cayenne pepper is what they use to make pepper spray with).  Make sure you wash your hands (and under your fingernails) after handling it.  Also, you want to keep cayenne pepper away from intense, direct heat.  Heating peppers brings out more flavor, but heating them too much can create fumes that will make you cough uncontrollably.  Truth me, it’s really bad.  My husband and I learned the hard way.  Being aware of the fumes is especially important if you have asthma or other lung problems.  Lastly, what goes in spicy will come out spicy.  You have been warned!

Cayenne Pepper Nutrition Highlights (%DV = percent of daily value)

In 1 tbsp:

  • Calories 17
  • Vitamin A 44% DV
  • Vitamin C 6% DV
  • Iron 2% DV
  • Vitamin B-6 5%  DV
  • Magnesium 2% DV           

Cayenne Pepper In the Kitchen

  • Use these spicy peppers on sweet potato cubes sautéed in grass-fed butter.  The sweet and spicy combination gives way to a very savory dish.
  • A pinch of cayenne pepper on deviled eggs will certainly spice up any party.
  • Use cayenne pepper instead of black pepper to add variety to you usual cusine.
  • Add cayenne pepper to chili of soup to make it even hotter.
  • Mix in cayenne pepper with your chicken, tuna, or egg salad.
  • And, don’t forget to experiment! 

REFERENCES: Home cooking with Hot ChilisRed Pepper Encyclopedia; David M. Simpson, MD,  Stephen Brown, MD, Jeffrey Tobias, MD; Controlled trial of high-concentration capsaicin patch for treatment of painful HIV neuropath; Neurology June 10, 2008 vol. 70 no. 24 2305-2313; USDA

Originally posted 2013-09-24 12:30:45.

Water Soluble Vitamins

Vitamins are essential nutrients (i.e. nutrients that we need for basic function, but cannot produce on our own). There are two classifications of vitamins: Water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A (retinol), vitamin D, vitamin E (tocopherol), and vitamin K.

Solubility refers to one substance’s (the solute) ability to dissolve into another (the solvent). Thus, a water-soluble vitamin dissolves in water. Because of this, they are not stored in the body like fat-soluble vitamins. They must be replenished every day.

The B vitamins and vitamin C are found in many different kinds of food, both plant and animal products. Unfortunately, modern-day grain processing has made many of our grains deficient in most of the vital B-complexes. Food companies have been fortifying grains for this reason. Fortification is the processes of placing synthetic vitamins back into the food that has lost nutrients due to processing. Just another good reason to eat whole foods!

Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
Functions: Used in energy and alcohol metabolism; promotes a healthy appetite
Dietary Sources: Nutritional yeast, pork, organ meat, whole-grain, sesame seeds, wheat germ, bran, dried herbs and spices, pine nuts, pistachios, pecans, macadamia nuts, blackstrap molasses
Notes: This was the first B vitamin for scientists to discover.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
Functions: Used in energy metabolism
Dietary Sources: Milk, yogurt, cheese, liver, almonds, dried herbs, spices, peppers, edamame, bran, sun-dried tomatoes, sesame seeds, nutritional yeast
Notes: B2 is destroyed by ultraviolet light, which is why a lot of milk is bottled in opaque jugs instead of clear jugs.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Functions: Used in energy metabolism; digestion aid; lowers triglycerides
Dietary Sources: Peanuts, liver, veal, paprika, avocado, bacon, bran, fish, some mushrooms, poultry, milk, eggs, legumes, nutritional yeast, nuts
Notes: High doses of the synthetic form of this vitamin can be dangerous.

Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Functions: Used in energy metabolism; production of hormones
Dietary Sources: Wheat bran, avocados, caviar, cheese, whey, tomatoes, mushrooms, oats, chicken, beef, nutritional yeast, potatoes, liver, egg yolk, broccoli
Notes: Many skin and hair products contain pantothenic acid.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Functions: Amino acid metabolism, fatty acid metabolism, helps make red blood cells
Dietary Sources: Fish, dried herbs and spices, garlic, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, molasses, hazelnuts, pistachios, bran, meat, starchy vegetables, noncitrus fruits, liver, soy, legumes
Notes: Vitamin B6 may help to ward of colorectal cancer.

Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
Functions: Used in energy metabolism, fat synthesis, amino acid metabolism, and glycogen synthesis
Dietary Sources: Egg yolks, liver, fish, oats, soybeans, wheat germ, lentils, split peas, bran, avocados, strawberries, raspberries, almonds, pecan, peanuts, walnuts
Notes: Adequate vitamin B7 helps a person have beautiful hair and nails.

Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Functions: Used in DNA synthesis and new cell growth
Dietary Sources: Leafy green vegetables, nutritional yeast, dried herbs, edamame, liver, bean sprouts, pinto beans, lentils, asparagus, sunflower seeds
Notes: Folic acid is extremely important to a growing fetus. If pregnant, be sure to eat food rich in this B vitamin.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Functions: Needed for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine; blood formation; fatty acid synthesis; DNA synthesis
Dietary Sources: Clams, oysters, mussels, liver, fish eggs, fish, crab, lobster, beef, lamb, eggs, cheese
Notes: Consuming excess vitamin B12 will not give you energy.

Vitamin C
Functions: Antioxidant; collagen synthesis; immune support; helps in iron absorption
Dietary Sources: Citrus fruits, bell peppers, red and green chili pepper, dark leafy greens, kiwis, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, fresh herbs, papayas, strawberries, cantaloupes, mangoes, potatoes
Notes: If you have a cold, don’t take a lot of synthetic vitamin C. Vitamin C doesn’t cure the cold, it’s preventative! Through a whole foods diet, you should get plenty of vitamin C and, in turn, have a stellar immune system.

Understanding Nutrition, 12th Edition (Whitney & Rolfes 2010); USDA

Originally posted 2013-09-16 14:21:49.

Fat Soluble Vitamins

Sauteed Spinach with Toasted Sesame SeedsVitamins are essential nutrients (i.e. nutrients that we need for basic function but cannot produce on our own). There are two classifications of vitamins: Water-soluble and fat-soluble. Water-soluble vitamins include vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), vitamin B7 (biotin), vitamin B9 (folic acid), vitamin B12 (cobalamin), and vitamin C (ascorbic acid). The fat-soluble vitamins include vitamin A (retinol), vitamin D, vitamin E (tocopherol), and vitamin K.

When something is fat-soluble, it simply means it dissolves in fat. The best way to get these vitamins is consuming them with a little bit of fat, such as butter or olive oil. Not surprisingly, many fat-soluble vitamins are found in foods that are fatty (our Creator is so smart). Most vegetables, however, don’t contain fat, so when people try to be “extra healthy” by not using any oil or fat with their vegetables, they’re actually missing out on the fat-soluble vitamins those vegetables contain.

The interesting thing about fat soluble vitamins is they are not in extremely high demand in terms of quantity. They are actually stored in our tissues, so they do not need to be consumed in massive quantities. For this reason, fat-soluble vitamins (especially vitamin A) can cause toxicity if one is not careful. Toxicity is usually due to a person taking vast amounts of synthetic fat-soluble vitamins. One rarely becomes toxic from vitamins consumed from food sources. So, like in most everything nutrition related, it is best for the body when one consumes, whole, nutrient-dense foods.

Vitamin A (Retinol)
Functions: Absolutely essential for eye health (wards off night blindness and other eye ailments); maintains mucus membranes, skin, and epithelial cells; anti-inflammatory effects; bone and tooth growth; reproduction; immunity.

Dietary Sources: Cod liver oils, sweet potatoes, chicken livers, beef livers, calf livers, lamb livers, eggs, spinach, parsley, paprika, red pepper, cayenne, chili powder , cantaloupe, carrots, lettuce, dried herbs, butternut squash, watercress, mango, tomatoes, butter, beef

Notes: When consuming animal products containing vitamin A, you are actually getting retinol. This is the actual vitamin. Consuming plant-products gives you the precursor (also called the pro-vitamin) beta-carotene. The body turns this into vitamin A.

Vitamin D
Functions: Regulation of the minerals calcium and phosphorus

Dietary Sources: Cod liver oil, herring, pink salmon, kippers, mackerel, sardines, tuna, butter, caviar, salami, ham, sausages, eggs, mushrooms

Notes: The main source of this vitamin comes from the sun. It is synthesized in our skin and can be stored for periods of time (like through the winter). Lighter-skinned people synthesized it very effectively, whereas darker-skinned peoples are not able to synthesize it very well. It is interesting to point out that traditionally, darker-skinned people groups are usually found where sunshine is plentiful, like Africa, South America, and so on. Lighter-skinned people groups herald from colder climates, such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, etc. They need all the vitamin D they can get, and they are more able to make it. Fascinating! Also, stay away from things fortified with vitamin D2. Your body utilizes vitamin D3, and vitamin D2 comes from some sketchy sources.

Vitamin E (Tocopherol)
Functions: A powerful antioxidant, it is actually part of the cell membrane and protects it. Some research suggests it can protect from certain types of cancers as well as heart disease, diabetes, viruses, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. A lot of research is still pending on this vitamin.

Dietary Sources: Sunflower seeds, paprika, red chili powder, almonds, egg yolks, pine nuts, fatty meats, wheat germ, liver, dried herbs, dried apricots, spinach, butter, avocado, almonds, raw peanuts (with skins), rye, asparagus, hazelnuts, blackberries

Notes: It really must be taken with food to even be absorbed.

Vitamin K
Functions: Synthesis of blood-clotting proteins and bone proteins

Dietary Sources: Gouda cheese, cauliflower, kale, green tea, turnip greens, spinach, tomatoes, parsley, Swiss chard, runner beans, broccoli, scallions, chili powder, curry, paprika, and cayenne, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, pickles, prunes, cabbage

Notes: Vitamin K1 is found and plants and must be converted to vitamin K2. Animal sources are already vitamin K2. Vitamin K is not stored well in the body like other fat-soluble vitamins, but it does recycle itself.

Understanding Nutrition, 12th Edition (Whitney & Rolfes 2010)

Originally posted 2013-09-03 09:51:37.

How 'bout sardines?

Let’s face it, I’m adventurous. The fact that I love sardines may indicate this. However, this tiny fish (and its cousin the anchovy) is a powerhouse of nutrition. Adding sardines to your diet will provide health benefits that far outlast the odor sardines might leave in your kitchen.

Who knows how long sardines have been among us. Frankly, that fact is not really important. What we do know is that “sardine” is actually a broad term for small, oily-fish that are in the herring family. During the 1400s, these fish received their name after the Italian island Sardinia, where many schools once lived. They are a staple in the Mediterranean Diet and are eaten in abundance in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Norway. They can be found fresh but they are widely available canned.  In fact, sardines are among one of the first foods to be canned.

While it is always best to find sardines fresh, doing so is not always possible. The nice thing about canned sardines, however, is they are cheap and have a long shelf life. Sardines in general are very low in heavy metals, like mercury. Their affordability and low toxicity make sardines a perfect REAL food protein to take along when backpacking, hiking, or on road trips. Look for sardines, whether fresh or canned, that are “Wild-caught.” This means they were not raised on a fish farm, where conditions are dirty and the fish do not eat their natural diet. “Wild-caught” sardines are pulled directly from the water.

Also, try to find sardines that are packed in water (sometimes referred to as “spring water”). Although olive oil is good for you, the canning processes can be harsh, so the oil may be rancid by the time you open it. Further, you don’t always know the beginning quality of the oil. Stay completely away from sardines packed in marinades with high fructose corn syrup, MSG, or other nasties. And, of course, steer clear of sardines packed in any industrial oils, such as soy and canola. Finally, try and find sardines that have the bones in. The bones are very, very soft. So soft, in fact, that they can be mixed into the meat with a fork. The bones lend a highly digestible form of vital calcium.

Nutrition Highlights
Sardines are very nutrient dense, meaning they have a high nutrient to calorie ratio. Sardines are a great source of vitamin B12, selenium (an anti-cancer mineral), protein, omega-3’s, vitamin D, and Calcium. The vitamin D in sardines is the animal form (D3), so it’s easily absorbed by the body.

For 3.75 oz-wt (92 grams) in oil (% of DV provided when available)

  • Calories 10% DV 
  • Vitamin B12 137%
  • Selenium 69% DV
  • Phosphorus 45% DV
  • Vitamin D 63% DV
  • Calcium 35% DV
  • Vitamin B3 24% DV
  • Choline 78.2 mg
  • Omega-3 fats – 1362 mg
  • Protein – 22.7 g

Health Benefits of Sardines
Sardines contain a high quality protein that is excellent for rebuilding the muscles after a workout or to maintain normal cellular health.

The omega-3’s contained in sardines are essential fatty acids that help the body fight inflammation and build healthy cells.  The combination of these essential fats with the minerals zinc and calcium, along with vitamin B12, promote a healthy nervous system and optimal muscle function.

Since sardines are high in calcium and vitamin d3, eating sardines can also  help make your bones and teeth stronger!

The Take Away
Sardines are a powerhouse of nutrition. Try to find them packed in water, because if they’re packed in oil, you don’t know whether or not the oil is rancid. When possible, choose wild-caught sardines with the bone-in. Take advantage of the the fact that, for now, sardines are a cheap, take-anywhere super food.

Easy Recipe
Spicy Balsamic Sardines on Rice Cakes (2 servings)
Ingredients: 1 can of sardines packed in water and drained, 2 T of balsamic vinegar, 1 T of garlic infused EVOO, GMO-free rice cakes, red pepper flakes to taste, cayenne pepper to taste
Instructions: Thoroughly mix all ingredients together and eat on rice cakes

Recommended Products
Wild Sardines from Wild Planet

References: USDA Nutrition Database

Originally posted 2013-08-27 09:00:16.

How Phytic Acid Affects Your Health

Phytic acid or phytate (when in salt form) is one of the many phytochemicals found in nature that are considered  non-essential nutrients, meaning they’re not needed to sustain life. However, most non-essential plant chemicals, including phytic acid, can still have a significant impact on human health.

Phytate 101
For plants, phytic acid is the predominant storage form of phosphorus and is considered a common plant antioxidant. Phytic acid is found in various quantities in soy, peanuts, whole grain cereals, rice, wheat and corn and products containing these foods. For humans, however, there’s mounting evidence that phytic acid is an anti-nutrient that binds with minerals such as iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc, making them useless for the human body. At the same time, there’s a small body of research that phytic acid may have a few positive benefits, including acting as an antioxidant, an energy store, and an anti-inflammatory agent. Phytic acid is also thought to reduce the early onset of colon cancer. Yet, phytic acid’s action as an anti-nutrient appears to outweigh any of its potential benefits. Moreover, it’s high concentration in many important staple crops makes phytic acid an important health concern.

How Phytic Acid Binds to Minerals
Although vital in plants, in humans phytic acid’s phosphorus is not biologically available. Phytic acid is polyanionic (a molecule possessing multiple negative sites) due to the many phosphate groups. These negatively charged “arms” of the phytic acid molecule bind with important positively charged minerals in the body, especially calcium and zinc. When this happens, phytic acid is transformed into its salt form known as phytate. Once the surrounding minerals are bound to phytate they are rendered insoluble and cannot be absorbed by the digestive tract.

Ways to Minimize Phytic Acid Consumption 
Does phytic acid’s effect on mineral absorption mean that were not meant to enjoy any foods containing phytic acid? Of course not! Apart from conveniences such as refrigerators and electric ovens were invented, people traditionally preserve and process their foods with methods that inadvertently reduce phytic acid content. The processing techniques commonly used include soaking and fermentation. These methods help render grains and seeds easier to cook and increase their storage life.

Through the soaking process, seeds and grains are soaked long enough (12 to 36 hours) to germinate and soften, which allows for faster cooking times (important if you don’t have access to a gas burner) and better digestion.  What wasn’t known until recently, however was that soaking also activates a grain’s phytase content.  Phytase is an enzyme that breaks down phytic acid!

Some grain and seeds, however,  contain very little natural phytase (oat meal and rice for example), so simple soaking does very little to reduce phytic acid content.  This is where lacto-fermentation comes in.  During lacto-fermentation, seeds and grains are soaked long enough to allow beneficial bacteria to form (such as lactic acid bacteria), which keep harmful pathogens at bay and make foods safe to store at room temperature for long periods of time. The fermentation process can also encourage the growth of phytase producing bacteria that supply enough phytase to break down most of the phytic acid content in seeds and grains!  In fact, lacto-fermentation is one of the traditional Chinese ways of preparing brown rice but has has recently gone out of practice (due to the invention of the rice cooker).

The take away: Phytic acid prevents the absorption of many of the minerals that make seeds and grains potentially healthy foods. Traditional, pre-industrial, ways of preparing these foods inadvertently made them more nutritious.  Take the time to get the most out of your food an optimize your health by soaking all seeds (quinoa and beans) and grains for at least 12 hours.  For rice and oatmeal, consider using lacto-fermentation.

Related Articles:
Is Brown-Rice Toxic?  It All Depends.

References: Top cultures. Phytochemicals. Gaetke, Gaetke LM, McClain CJ, Toleman CJ, Stuart MA. “Yogurt protects against growth retardation in weanling rats fed diets high in phytic acid.” J. Nutr. Biochem. 2010;21:147-152., Peng WU, Tao Z, Ji-chun T. “Phytic acid contents of wheat flours from different mill streams.” Agricultural Sciences in China. 2010;9:1684-1688., Nagel R. “Living With Phytic Acid.” Weston A. Price Foundation Website., Raghavendra P, Halami PM. “Screening, selection and characterization of phytic acid degrading lactic acid bacteria from chicken intestine.” International Journal of Food Microbiology. 2009;133:129-134., Lönnerdal B. “Soybean ferritin: implications for iron status of vegetarians.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1680S–1685S.

Originally posted 2013-08-15 09:00:15.