Superfoods At A Glance


Here is a brief list of the most talked about superfoods available today.

Açai bowl with granola and bananas

Açai (ah-sah-ee)
Açai is known as the “King of Superfoods” because it is low in calories, but high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Açai contains substantial amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and is high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.

You can enjoy açai like they do in Rio de Janeiro by having the frozen pulp of the fruit served with sliced bananas and granola, as it is shown here. This makes  a wonderful desert, quite like like a sorbet. You can also find this superfruit in powder or pill form.

Camu Camu Berry

Camu Camu is best known for its Vitamin C content (30 to 60 times more naturally occurring Vitamin C than oranges) plus many of the minerals needed to aid in vitamin C absorption.

The camu camu berry is also an excellent source of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, the amino acids serine, valine and leucine, as well as small amounts of the vitamins B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin). Camu camu also contains high levels of anthocyanins (a powerful antioxidant).

Camu Camu berries

Camu Camu has a long history as a key folk medicine by people living in the Amazon. Recently,  Camu Camu has been marketed as a nutritional supplement claiming to provide antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support for infertility, herpes, gum disease, infections, connective tissue and even depression. However, there is very little science supporting the nutritional claims. The berry is exported around the world with Japan being a major consumer.

Despite Camu Camu’s impressive vitamin C content, the fruit is extremely acidic, and the flavor can be masked by adding small amounts to smoothies diluting with milk, water and adding a sugar substitute like honey or agave nectar.

Camu Camu is 4-5 times more expensive as compared to other sources of comparable fruit pulps and even concentrates containing high levels of vitamin C.

The camu camu tree can live several decades and be cultivated to produce as much as a ton of fruit per acre. However, the over-harvesting of wild Camu Camu threatens to make it an endangered species. Efforts are underway to encourage the commercially sustainable growing of Camu Camu in the Amazon River Basin.

Dulse (Ocean Vegetable)

Dulse, edible algae

Dried Dulse - an edible ocean vegetable

Dulse (Palmaria palmata) is a red algae seaweed or sea vegetable with fan-shaped fronds that grows from the moderate to frigid zones of the North Atlantic and Pacific. It has been harvested as a source of food for thousands of years, and continues to be popular in Northern Ireland, Iceland, and parts of Canada.

Dulse is a good source of iron, manganese and iodine. It also contains all trace minerals (or micronutrients) needed by humans, and a comparatively large amount of protein. It also has a high fiber content.

Dulse makes a great addition to salads, soups,tomato and fruit juices, and as a nutritious salt substitute.

Hemp Seed

Organic Hemp Seeds

Hulled Hemp seeds contain all the essential amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to maintain healthy human life. The seeds can be eaten raw, ground into a meal, made into hemp milk (akin to soy milk), prepared as tea, and used in baking. Products range from cereals to frozen waffles, hemp tofu to nut butters.

About 30-35% of the weight of hempseed is hemp oil, an edible oil that contains about 80% essential fatty acids (EFAs). Hempseed also contains about 20% of a highly-digestible protein. Its amino acid profile is close to “complete” when compared to more common sources of proteins such as meat, milk, eggs and soy.

Hempseed is an adequate source of calcium and iron. Whole, toasted hempseeds are also a good source of phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, copper and manganese.

I like to use hempseed in my bread recipes to add protein and a rich nutty taste. Best of all, hempseed contains no gluten, so it’s great for those who are gluten intolerant.

Chia Seeds

Organic Chia Seeds

The mighty chia seed is a powerhouse food, high in protein, fiber and the essential omega-3 fatty acid ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc.

Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. It has a long history, cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans in pre-Columbian times. It was a staple to their diets, and the diets of their warriors.

Enjoy chia seeds sprinkled over your favorite muesli, in smoothies, on yogurt, in energy bars, or healthy salad. If you soak the chia in water for 30 minutes, they absorb 10-12 times their weight, and turn to a gel because of their high level of soluble fiber. Unlike flax seeds, they can be enjoyed as is, since they don’t need to be finely ground to be utilized by the body.

Chia is 16% protein, 31 % fat, and 44% carbohydrate of which 38% is fiber. Most of its fat is the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, according to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 20 (2007).

Maca
Maca is the powdered root of the Lepidium Meyenii plant. Known for its ability to support healthy energy levels, maca has been used by the Incas as a kind of “Incan superfood” for thousands of years and was a central part of the Incan diet when they built Macchu Picchu.

This powerful superfood is packed with 18 amino acids, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and sodium and minute amounts of trace minerals essential for healthy cell functioning (copper, zinc, manganese, iron, selenium, boron). Maca also contains vitamins B1, B2, B6, C, D3 and P.

You can spoon the powder into smoothies or over cereal. A little goes a long way. 1/4 to 1 teaspoon per day is an average daily amount.

Pomegranate

Pomegranate
Pomegranates are a source of polyphenols, which help the body rid itself of cancer-causing agents; tannins, which lower blood pressure and stimulate the immune system; and anthocyanins, which reduce inflammation and protect blood vessels.

The fruit is rich in vitamins A, C and E, and in iron, which helps the blood maintain an effective supply of oxygen to the body. It is a good source of iron for pregnant women.

Goji Berries

The berries actually have a unique component called Lycium barbarum polysaccharides. This substance actually has a similar structure  to substances found in Echinacea and maitake mushroom, both are known herbs for their immune system  boosting ability. According to research, the compounds found in Goji berries enhance our body’s ability to resist a disease.

Goji Berry Plant

Moreover, each berry is a rich source of vitamin C and zinc, both are powerful protection from diseases and assist our body for recovery. A previous study from Case Western Reserve University has results that show the ability of zinc to shorten the length and severity of cold.

Spirulina

Spirulina is a single-celled, spiral-shaped blue green microalgae grown in tropical salt lakes. Being one of the oldest organisms on the planet, spirulina is anywhere from 62-71% essential amino acids. It also contains beta carotene (ten times more concentrated than that of carrots), along with other carotenoids.

It also contains chlorophyll, GLA (Gamma Linolenic Acid), and vitamin B12.  B12 is important for healthy tissues, energy, and nerves, especially for strict vegetarians.

As a super concentrated source of chlorophyll, spirulina also cleans the blood while alkalizing the body. Containing a full spectrum of bio available minerals, spirulina is rich in Magnesium and Iron, two minerals lacking in the average diet and responsible for many imbalances. Spirulina ranks second to mother’s milk in concentration of natural gamma linolenic acid (GLA).

The phytonutrient in spirulina that gives it the striking blue green color is phycocyanin. In animal studies, it is showing great promise in the stimulation of the production of stem cells in bone marrow. These stem cells will mature into red blood cells and white blood cells.

Largest spirulina farm in the world.

Spirulina has promise at being a high protein food source that can be grown sustainably to provide valuable nutrient rich food to the under-served populations of the world.

Oils are not typically thought of as a superfood but, because our brains are nearly two thirds fat. We need fat for healthy functioning brains as well as cells, connective tissues and a whole host of bio-chemical processes. Here’s a quick rundown on the good and not so good sources of oils.

Olive Oil
Organic olive oil is a monounsaturated fat, and is considered a good fatty acid (high density lipoproteins, HDLs) protect against bad cholesterol, or low density lipoproteins (LDLs).

Delicious organic olive oil contains all the vitamins and nutrients of the olive fruit, and if you get a premium organic olive oil, it will taste better and have a full aroma.

Organic olive oil is also filled with antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients that may protect you against illnesses. Studies have shown that organic olive oil can help:
  • Protect You from Heart Disease [1]
  • Promote Healthy Digestion [2]
  • Ease the Symptoms of Ulcers & Gastritis [3] [4]
  • Lower Gallstone Formation [5]
  • Balance the Fatty Acids in Your Body

Coconut Oil
Coconut oil has gotten a bad rap when decades old health studies characterized the oil as hydrogenated. Some foods did contain the hydrogenated form of the oil and the media proclaimed coconut an “unhealthy fat”. Actually, it contains absolutely no trans fats in its pure form, but contains medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). The food industry instead promoted polyunsaturated fats (such as canola, soybean, safflower and corn), which easily go rancid when exposed to oxygen and produce harmful free radicals in our bodies.

In Polynesian culture, coconut oil has been used as a traditional food since ancient times, and they have among the lowest rates of heart disease in the world.

Coconut Oil Benefits:

  • Promotes weight loss and helps maintain healthy body weight
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Supports thyroid function
  • Increases metabolism and energy
  • Prevents bacterial, viral, and fungal infections
  • Helps control diabetes and chronic fatigue
  • Improves digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease and IBS
  • Protects against alcohol damage to the liver
  • Rejuvenates skin and prevents wrinkles

Make sure to buy organic, unrefined, unbleached  and undeodorized coconut oil. Even if the label reads “cold-pressed”, it has still  been fermented or heated to remove water, and in the process will lose the natural vitamin E and tocopherols needed for stability and protection against rancidity.

And be sure to stay away from Canola oil – this is toxic!

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The New Era of Food Politics


Food for Life distributes food on an internati...

Food for Life distributes food on an international level.

Most of us have heard a great deal about food lately.

Michael Pollan‘s book Omnivore’s Dilemma caused the agribusiness conglomerates to refer to the millions of his fans as having been, “Pollan-ated”. Food Inc. grossed over $4 million worldwide and was nominated for an Oscar, making it one of the highest viewed documentaries of all time. And recently Michelle Obama just announced the USDA’s program to educate us about proper nutrition by replacing the decades old Food Pyramid.

Multiple factors are fueling this focus on food and nutrition;

  1. Health Care today is eroding American‘s ability to pay for their own health insurance
  2. Food security is breaking down with numerous outbreaks of federal recalls of meat and produce
  3. Increased information about antioxidants and the importance of eating fruits and vegetables
  4. Food prices have soared worldwide, powering a surge in urban farming
  5. The aging Babby-Boomers are demanding better nutrition through food and food supplements

Millions of Americans are now more concerned than ever about what goes in their bodies. Many different definitions have been used to describe people’s choices of what they eat. Vegetarian refers to those who do not eat meat or anything with eyes. Lacto-ovo vegetarians add milk products and eggs to their diets.

Mycena Interrupta is one of many organisms that belong to detritivores.

Unfamiliar to most are the lesser known terms such as “vegcurious”, referring to those that do not identify themselves as vegan or vegetarian but are curious about reducing the amount of meat and dairy in their diet. “Flexitarians”are people who occasionally eat meat, fish and dairy, but stick to a mostly vegetarian lifestyle.

There are also “pescetarians”, who eat fish and seafood to supplement their vegetarian diet. Then there are the “freegans,” who eat only free food, particularly food about to be tossed in the dumpster. This group is out to make a political statement while acting as the human equivalent of the detritivore.

Whatever group you fall into, there is one overwhelming conclusion – we are becoming aware not only of the personal benefits to a more healthy diet, but of the impact our decisions about food have on our planet. We are approaching a time of awakening for human kind (akin to the Age of Enlightenment) where we take a fresh look at the effects of all food related systems that affect our health and our environment.

World Population Chart

This new perspective will be a critical element to our ability to create sustainable agricultural systems that build economic stability, improve quality of agricultural lands and insure the viability of a world population that is on track to reach 10 billion by the year 2040.

We Need A Food Revolution – A Food Manifesto For The Future


Mark Bittman’s February 2, 2011 article, ‘A Food Manifesto for the Future”, published in the New York Times, goes straight to the heart of America’s dysfunctional food policies.

He lists the many failed policies like the subsidizing of mega-farm conglomerates which produce soy for feed stock. Junk food marketers then receive tax write-offs for their re-engineered products labeled as “food”. These subsidies and tax policies are the result of a bygone era where the bigwigs up on capitol hill gave little attention to what the U.S. Agricultural Department was up to. Decades of backdoor deals and quid pro quo arrangements have created the current food policy climate that is causing untold billions of dollars in unnecessary health care costs exacerbating chronic obesity, diabetes and other food related illnesses.

His manifesto is far-reaching and takes a direct stab at the current systems most grievous failings. I’ll take each one in turn to comment and add my own suggestions below:

———————

For decades, Americans believed that we had the world’s healthiest and safest diet. We worried little about this diet’s effect on the environment or on the lives of the animals (or even the workers) it relies upon. Nor did we worry about its ability to endure — that is, its sustainability.

That didn’t mean all was well. And we’ve come to recognize that our diet is unhealthful and unsafe. Many food production workers labor in difficult, even deplorable, conditions, and animals are produced as if they were widgets. It would be hard to devise a more wasteful, damaging, unsustainable system.

Here are some ideas — frequently discussed, but sadly not yet implemented — that would make the growing, preparation and consumption of food healthier, saner, more productive, less damaging and more enduring. In no particular order:

  • End government subsidies to processed food. We grow more corn for livestock and cars than for humans, and it’s subsidized by more than $3 billion annually; most of it is processed beyond recognition. The story is similar for other crops, including soy: 98 percent of soybean meal becomes livestock feed, while most soybean oil is used in processed foods. Meanwhile, the marketers of the junk food made from these crops receive tax write-offs for the costs of promoting their wares. Total agricultural subsidies in 2009 were around $16 billion, which would pay for a great many of the ideas that follow.

The tax write-offs given to marketers of salty, sugar-laden, fried snack products help to create “food deserts” in our inner cities. These products are then sold on shelves at artificially low prices. When low-income consumers are faced with buying a piece of fruit or some vegetables, they choose the unhealthy, preprocessed “snacks” based mainly upon price. This unfair market environment is being propagated by large multinational conglomerates whose only concern is for their shareholders. By ending these subsidies, we as a nation can begin to level the playing field and give nutritious, healthful and real foods a chance against the convenience and seductive nature of heavily processed snack products.

  • Begin subsidies to those who produce and sell actual food for direct consumption. Small farmers and their employees need to make living wages. Markets — from super- to farmers’ — should be supported when they open in so-called food deserts and when they focus on real food rather than junk food. And, of course, we should immediately increase subsidies for school lunches so we can feed our youth more real food.

Bittman suggests here that we shift these subsidies to those who are producers of “actual food”. I view this as an interim policy strategy because, in my view, subsidies create unnatural market conditions, subject entrepreneurs to becoming dependent upon government money and therefore thwart innovation. That said, those urban farmers now struggling to make a living could, with moderate subsidies, follow their hearts and create thriving small business urban farms within their communities.

  • Break up the U.S. Department of Agriculture and empower the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, the U.S.D.A. counts among its missions both expanding markets for agricultural products (like corn and soy!) and providing nutrition education. These goals are at odds with each other; you can’t sell garbage while telling people not to eat it, and we need an agency devoted to encouraging sane eating. Meanwhile, the F.D.A. must be given expanded powers to ensure the safety of our food supply. (Food-related deaths are far more common than those resulting from terrorism, yet the F.D.A.’s budget is about one-fifteenth that of Homeland Security.)

In January of 2009, a letter was sent to the highest levels of government to expose corruption by top FDA official’s whose violation of laws and altering of scientific finding has caused a shakeup within the agency. The FDA currently regulates over $1 trillion of consumer goods (that accounts for $0.25 of every dollar spent in the U.S.). The letter was written by scientists and physicians in the FDA! This agency is broken and needs to have the corrupt officials removed and replaced with honest, forward thinking individuals up to the task of creating sound, sustainable and safe policies to protect the health of ourselves and our children.

  • Outlaw concentrated animal feeding operations and encourage the development of sustainable animal husbandry. The concentrated system degrades the environment, directly and indirectly, while torturing animals and producing tainted meat, poultry, eggs, and, more recently, fish. Sustainable methods of producing meat for consumption exist. At the same time, we must educate and encourage Americans to eat differently. It’s difficult to find a principled nutrition and health expert who doesn’t believe that a largely plant-based diet is the way to promote health and attack chronic diseases, which are now bigger killers, worldwide, than communicable ones. Furthermore, plant-based diets ease environmental stress, including global warming.

Anyone who has watched Food, Inc. or read Diet for a New America knows that the way animals are raised for mass meat production is a horrible sight to see. This tragedy plays itself out over and over across the globe. Other nations have taken our approach to meat production on a massive scale to keep pace. Destruction of the Amazon, forested lands and other areas not suitable for cattle grazing have been clear cut, making way for intensive and unsustainable animal husbandry productions in their place. What is needed is a reversal of this trend and a move back toward non-centralized, localized farming operations. Sustainability is paramount. And as our petroleum reserves dwindle, the price at the pump will inevitably rise making the cost of transporting, storing and cooling our food production ever more expensive.

  • Encourage and subsidize home cooking. (Someday soon, I’ll write about my idea for a new Civilian Cooking Corps.) When people cook their own food, they make better choices. When families eat together, they’re more stable. We should provide food education for children (a new form of home ec, anyone?), cooking classes for anyone who wants them and even cooking assistance for those unable to cook for themselves.

I know of many organizations that promote communal cooking here in the Bay Area. Frugal Foodies for instance gathers, people of all culinary experience together once a week to explore building community through meal preparation and eating as a group. Three Stone Hearth is a worker owned cooperative in West Berkeley. TSH gives cooking classes to the public and offers internships that teach people a variety of cooking techniques in a professional kitchen. For those too busy to cook, they provide a healthy menu of fully cooked foods for people to buy.

  • Tax the marketing and sale of unhealthful foods. Another budget booster. This isn’t nanny-state paternalism but an accepted role of government: public health. If you support seat-belt, tobacco and alcohol laws, sewer systems and traffic lights, you should support legislation curbing the relentless marketing of soda and other foods that are hazardous to our health — including the sacred cheeseburger and fries.
  • Reduce waste and encourage recycling. The environmental stress incurred by unabsorbed fertilizer cannot be overestimated, and has caused, for example, a 6,000-square-mile dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is probably more damaging than the BP oil spill. And some estimates indicate that we waste half the food that’s grown. A careful look at ways to reduce waste and promote recycling is in order.

In commercial farming operations phosphates in chemical fertilizers can run off contaminating water supplies which can cause “algal blooms”. All available oxygen is absorbed by the reproduction of the algae suffocating living organisms like fish. Organic farms apply compost to the fields from vegetable matter, worm castings, chicken manure, etc. This process forms a rich topsoil matrix resistant to erosion.

  • Mandate truth in labeling. Nearly everything labeled “healthy” or “natural” is not. It’s probably too much to ask that “vitamin water” be called “sugar water with vitamins,” but that’s precisely what real truth in labeling would mean.

I believe rating systems need to be simple and easy to read. I agree with Bittman’s point here but, suggest a simpler approach. Foods could have labels telling the consumer, on a scale from 1 – 3 how healthy the food is; organic kale would get a 3, non-organic corn would get a 1. I think junk foods need labeling similar to that of alcohol and tobacco products warning the consumer of the potential effects of consumption. For example, a label for deep fried pig shin could read; “Warning: eating fried foods can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Not recommended for children under 12 and women who are pregnant and/or lactating.”

  • Reinvest in research geared toward leading a global movement in sustainable agriculture, combining technology and tradition to create a new and meaningful Green Revolution. I’ll expand on these issues (and more) in the future, but the essential message is this: food and everything surrounding it is a crucial matter of personal and public health, of national and global security. At stake is not only the health of humans but that of the earth.

A comprehensive food policy which values the soil as a living organism and the people who work the land is necessary if we are to provide a sustainable system of feeding the population into the future. According to a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, “U.S. Fertilizer Use and Price” the average rate of soil erosion is over 7 tons of  soil per acre per year. This is a devastating loss of a natural resource that can be prevented. Likewise, we need to retain and attract talented people whose knowledge of sustainable farming practices are vital to our future farms.

Mark Bittman’s original column appeared in print on February 2, 2011.

Sources:
Scientists’ Letter Claiming FDA Corruption Is Authentic, by Heidi Stevenson, 16 March 2010

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