This antioxidant-rich and healthy cranberry compote deserves a place at the table year-round. Because cranberries bring a lot more to the table than just tradition and a dash of ruby-red. That favorite holiday condiment is actually a potent anti-microbial. In fact, cranberries could help keep you feeling festive all year-round.
Originally, researchers attributed the protective effect of cranberries to their acidity. This has long since been disproved. We now know that cranberry’s anti-microbial properties are due its high levels of a chemical compound called proanthocyanidins (PACs).
In plants, PACs provide protection against pathogens and predators. In humans, a unique structure of the PACs in cranberries essentially renders whatever bacteria it comes in contact with a non-stick surface. So, cranberry’s PACs help prevent an overall bacterial invasion that can result in an outright infection. If bacteria can’t stick to our cell walls —it can’t infect. And, if it does stick, it will have less chance of spreading.
Research shows that the PACs in cranberries inhibit bacteria (especially E. coli) from sticking to bladder walls, reducing urinary tract infections and may help prevent ulcers by suppressing H. Pylori infections. They may also prevent cavities by inhibiting unhealthy oral bacteria. This same non-stick ability may also lower the risk of atherosclerosis by inhibiting platelet aggregation and adhesion and by reducing cholesterol. Clearly, cranberries have a place on the table the other ten months of the year!
Cooling temperatures mean apple season, at least where I’m from (Washington State) and where I lived until recently (New York). So, those of us in harvest mode head to the farmer’s market or apple orchards in search of our usual favorites. Right?!
Actually, this is a mistake. Or, at least a missed opportunity. With the greatest selections of varieties available, this is THE time to try buying, snacking, serving or baking with new-to-you apple varieties. Selected mindfully, veering onto the apple path less traveled could have game-changing health benefits compared to the same old, same old grocery store varieties. Here’s why. Continue reading →
Nevertheless, days before Christmas, on a -16°F day in Yellowstone Park, traumatic injury became my reality.
Suddenly, I’m on my back on the ice and snow-covered ground. The 700-pound snowmobile I’d ridden all day was now resting on top of my 125-pound frame. As it was pulled off me, I opened my eyes to find a circle of people peering down at me—all with a similar “Oh @#$!” expressions of on their faces. Continue reading →
Everyone loves to grill it up. Grilling is incredibly easy, quick, fun and can be one of the healthiest ways to get a meal on your plate —if done correctly. The good news is that no matter what food you are putting on the grill, simple changes in what you do before, during and after it hits the grill, as well as the side dishes, can make a very significant difference in the health of your meal. Fire it up!
What Makes Grilling Unhealthy?
Caution, carnivores! Yes, science can be a killjoy at times. But, meat eaters simply need to use a bit more caution than vegetarians when getting their grill or BBQ on. This is not an opinion. It’s basic chemistry. Cook meat at a high temperature and carcinogenic compounds will form. Grill it, and they will come. In fact, the higher the temperature and the longer the cooking time, the more of these compounds will form in the food. The result when you eat these foods? Damaged DNA and increased risk of cancer and many other chronic diseases. Continue reading →
Dining out should be relaxing. But, if you have Celiac disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity (NCGS) gluten-free dining requires a bit of detective work —and perhaps a bit of skepticism. The typical recommendations (ask for a gluten-free menu and let the server know about one’s dietary restrictions) are a good start, but may give you a false sense of assurance. As a dietitian who has worked in restaurant kitchens, I want to share some realistic tips for gluten-free dining. Continue reading →
Umami, the fifth taste, mystified even our greatest philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. Even they believed that there were but four tastes; sweet, sour, salty and bitter, according to NPR’s Jonah Lehrer. In fact, that was the belief of every philosopher, scientist and cook until the 1800s when French chef Auguste Escoffier changed everything.
Escoffier invented veal stock. When he did, he gave the world much more than just another starter for soups and sauces. Neither sweet, sour, salty nor bitter, its earthy savoriness changed cuisine forever. He gave us the fifth, but yet to be named taste, umami. Continue reading →
As discussed in Part 1, training and racing put unique demands on an athlete’s immune system. Luckily, immune boosting isn’t difficult or time-consuming. In fact, there are some very simple things you can do to keep your immune system in high-performance mode.
In this post, I’ll cover some very strategic actions, such as focusing on gut health. Because, let’s not kid ourselves. While an athlete’s muscles and cardiovascular system may get all the attention, the gut is running the show. In fact, it’s estimated that 70-80% of our immune system resides in our gastrointestinal tract. So, stop treating it like it’s nothing more than a food processor and give it some TLC! Other tips are much more tactical, both my personal recommendations as well as research Dr. Greger shares in his new book ‘How Not to Die‘. Continue reading →
Does your training plan address the needs of your immune system? Perhaps it should. You’ve trained for months, diligently following your plan, logging miles and / or time in the gym. You’re prepared to test your limits, land a PR and perhaps a spot on the podium. But, you’re probably NOT planning to get sick. However, if your training plan ignores your immune system, your post-race days could be filled with more than just memories, but also illness. In this two part post, I’ll explain why —and what you can do about it. Continue reading →
Could you benefit from a probiotic supplement? Properly chosen, probiotic supplements can play an important role in regaining or preserving gastrointestinal health, which just might make us healthier overall.
Our gastrointestinal tract, that 30-foot tube inside of us does a LOT more than just break down food. Impacting much more than digestion. Rather, the health of our largest organ is considered the cornerstone of overall health. It makes up about 70% of our immune system and influences our mood, inflammation levels, the foods we crave —and even how much we weigh!
Recognizing the important role of good bacteria in gut health, many people take a probiotic supplement to improve specific health conditions. And, many more people take them daily for general health.
But, how do you know which probiotic is right for you?
If you need a probiotic for a specific health condition, consult your licensed health care practitioner. They can recommend the specific strain and dosage which have been clinically researched for your needs. But, if you are looking for a general all-purpose probiotic for prevention or to resolve digestive discomforts (bloating, indigestion, changes in regularity), the choices are easier. However, anyone using probiotics needs to be an informed consumer.
According to research by ConsumerLab.com, many products on the market simply do not contain what is advertised on the label. In 2009, the majority (85%) of probiotics they selected for testing did not contain the listed amounts of live organisms. It was later learned that improper shipping and warehousing may have been at least partly to blame for their testing failure.
When ConsumerLab.com repeated this test in 2012, the results were better. But, 17% of the products still failed to meet their label claim. And in a research study of 16 lactobacilli acidophilus products, 11 of 16 (69%) products were contaminated and only four (25%) products actually contained any Lactobacillus acidophilus.
The take away? Use caution in selecting a probiotic or you could be buying dead microbes or different microbes than you had expected, possibly wasting your money. So…
How do you select a quality probiotic product? Who should you trust?
Many healthcare providers rely on the recommendations of the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the science behind probiotics and prebiotics. ISAPP collaborates with related organizations* on probiotic preparation and usage guidelines. In short, they do the research for you and have published a consumer’s guide for selecting a quality probiotic product. Here are some of the highlights.
A Consumer Guide for Making Smart Probiotic Choices
Adapted from the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics
Not all probiotics are created equal. Strain identification matters.
A probiotic is defined by its genus (e.g. Lactobacillus), species (e.g. Acidophilus) and strain designation (often a combination of letters or numbers, such as NCFM). The concept of a bacterial “strain” is similar to the breed of a dog – all dogs are the same genus and species, but different breeds of dogs have different attributes and different breeds are good for different tasks. I.e., would you select a team of dachshunds for dog sledding? It would be incredibly cute, but not so effective. Just as Dachshunds and Siberian Huskies are the same genus and species, the breed makes all the difference. See what I mean?!
Similarly, different strains of even the same probiotic species may be different from each other. Dont’ assume they will have the same effects. In fact, only a handful of probiotic strains have been clinically shown to support human health. Further, products that contain strains without scientifically established health benefits may not be health-promoting bacteria at all! The probiotic names may be long and sound complicated, but are important to linking a specific probiotic strain to it’s published scientific literature.
But —don’t be confused by trademarked (™) or registered trademark (®) names for strains.
Manufacturers often use a consumer-friendly name for the strain in their product. These are for marketing and branding purposes. These are not scientific names and don’t reflect product quality.
Probiotics must be tested in humans and shown to have health benefits. What do all the claims mean?
Most probiotics are sold as dietary supplements or ingredients in foods. This means their labels can’t legally declare that the probiotic can cure, treat or prevent disease. But, while claims which connect the product to health are allowed, even general product claims should be truthful and backed up by research.
“Clinically proven” You might have to do some homework. Product claims of health benefits must be based on sound research and conducted on the product’s particular probiotic(s). The product should contain the specific strain(s) of bacteria in the same quantity used in published research. The studies should be performed in humans and published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals. Check product websites to see study results. Your pharmacist or healthcare provider should be able to help you sort through the scientific language.
Just because it says “probiotic” doesn’t mean it is a probiotic. Some products labeled “probiotic” do not have clinically validated strains or levels in the product.
Choose a product at the right quantity
What is the minimum CFU I should look for? Probiotics are measured in colony forming units or “CFU”. CFU is the measure of live microbes in a probiotic. The CFU amount should be the same as the amount shown to be effective in clinical studies. More CFUs does not necessarily mean better.
One size does not fit all. Different probiotics are effective at different levels. There is no single universal optimal CFU count. In the scientific literature, you’ll find documented health benefits for products with CFU counts ranging from as little as 50 million to more than 1 trillion CFU/day. The proper dose depends on the strain.
Pick a product from a trusted manufacturer.
Look for a GMP-certifiedmanufacturer who will guarantee its probiotic product has the same genetically verified strain(s) and potency as what was used in clinical studies. They will also guarantee the CFU count until the expiration date, not just at the time it was manufactured.
Here’s what the label should tell you: * Strain: What probiotic is inside? * CFU (Colony Forming Units): How many live microorganisms are in a serving? * Expiration: When does it expire? Packaging should utilize materials, such as amber-colored glass, to protect the live microbes from light, moisture and oxygen. This helps ensure that the level of live bacteria is at least as much as the amount on the label all the way through the “best by” or expiration date. Pass on a probiotic if the label says “viable at time of manufacture.” Everything could be dead when you buy it. * Suggested serving size: How much do I take? * Health benefits: What can this product do for me? * Proper storage conditions: Where do I keep it to ensure maximum survival of the probiotic? * Corporate contact information: Who makes this product? Where to do I go for more information?
Don’t forget to ask your integrative healthcare professionals. They will be able to share brand and dosage recommendations based on what they have seen work with their patients. For general health, they will most likely steer you towards a multi-strain product as the research is trending heavily in the direction of diversity for daily maintenance.
And finally, gut health involves much more than buying a carefully selected supplement! Stay tuned for future posts as I cover ways to improve gut health through diet. We’ll explore food sources of probiotics and the prebiotics to feed them.
With the onset of spring, many of us consider a detox or cleanse of sorts. But, what is it we are wanting to accomplish?
The usual goal is a physical ‘refresh’ gained by temporarily cutting out the toxins of our lives. But, should we limit our view of toxins to the compounds tracked by the Environmental Working Group, removed from specialty food items or listed on allergen warning labels? Should we broaden our concept of toxins to include damaging thoughts and relationships? Should a detox program pay as much attention to what we need to add to nourish ourselves as it does to the things we need to avoid? Continue reading →