Aug 14, 2014

Excellent natural calcium sources for bone health

Calcium is an essential macromineral whose roles in the body are relatively well-known. It strengthens bones and teeth, improves the body's alkalinity, helps our heart muscles to contract and relax properly and more.

Like all minerals, calcium doesn't work alone, but in tandem with other nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin D. For this reason, obtaining our calcium from whole foods - foods whose nutrient profiles have been optimized by nature for superior absorption -- is the best way to remain healthy.

Good natural sources of calcium

Seaweed - It is common to find seaweed in any "best of" list, and for good reason: since seaweed grows in the ocean and is thus unaffected by soil erosion (the process that has significantly reduced the nutritional value of most land-based vegetables), its nutritiousness has remained intact for centuries. And, as it happens, seaweed has always been rich in calcium.

Perhaps the best seaweeds in this regard are kelp, kombu and wakame. One hundred grams of each contain between 150 and 170 grams of calcium, as well as countless other essential nutrients, including iodine. Avoiding seaweed sourced from the Pacific Ocean is a good idea due to possible radiation contamination.

Chia seeds - Though chia seeds are best-known for their high protein and fiber content, they contain similarly impressive levels of calcium. In fact, 1 ounce of these versatile South American seeds provides us with 179 milligrams of calcium, which is 17 percent of our recommended daily allowance (RDA). Of course, it's easy to consume far more than 1 ounce of chia seeds per day, making them one of the easiest foods to consume for correcting a calcium deficiency.

Blackstrap molasses - Blackstrap molasses is the dark, treacle-like byproduct of the sugar cane refinement process. Since it is derived from the sugar cane plant, whose tall roots grow deep into the soil, it contains a large number of nutrients that are seldom found in such quantities elsewhere, including calcium. Specifically, 1 tablespoon of blackstrap supplies us with 123 milligrams of the mineral, or 12 percent of our RDA. Blackstrap is also a good source of magnesium, manganese, selenium, potassium and iron, and makes a great sweetener in baking.

Sesame seeds - These nutty and delicate seeds, which belong to one of the oldest oilseed crops grown on Earth, supply our bodies with 88 milligrams of calcium per tablespoon. Like chia seeds, sesame seeds are incredibly versatile and can be sprinkled on salads and cooked meals, or simply eaten as a snack.

Raw milk - According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, 8 ounces of raw milk - unprocessed milk straight from the cow -- supplies our bodies with 300 milligrams of calcium. Additionally, it contains certain minerals, such as phosphorus and magnesium, which aid the calcium's absorption rate. Unfortunately, milk subjected to homogenization and/or pasteurization does not fare as well. These unnatural processes damage the nutritional structure of the milk, and inhibit the absorption rate of its nutrients.

Incidentally, this fact also applies to other dairy products. Yogurt, cheese and kefir are all excellent sources of calcium when made from raw milk. When made using processed milk, however, their nutrient profile is compromised.

Certain leafy greens - Due to soil erosion, most green vegetables - once considered among the finest sources of calcium -- are now shadows of their former selves nutrition-wise. Fortunately, a number of hardy greens do retain some of their nutritional power. Kale is probably the best example of these (1 cup of chopped kale contains 101 milligrams of calcium), with broccoli and spinach in second and third place respectably.

Aug 8, 2014

Rosemary, oregano and marjoram extracts fight type 2 diabetes

Culinary herbs are generally recognized for the unique flavors that they add to food. But new research has identified medicinal benefits as another distinction, particularly with the herbs rosemary, oregano and marjoram, all of which contain special diabetes-fighting compounds.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIC) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) took a closer look at these three herbs, which earlier research has found can help keep blood sugar levels in check. Building upon this, Elvira Gonzalez de Mejia and her colleagues decided to test how each of these herbs impacts type 2 diabetes.

Greenhouse-grown varieties of Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare), marjoram (Origanum majorana), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) were tested alongside dried commercial versions of these same herbs to see how they interact with two key enzymes involved in insulin secretion and signaling, dipeptidyl peptidase IV (DPP-IV) and protein tyrosine phosphatase 1B (PTP1B).

Both fresh and dried varieties of rosemary and oregano found to provide unique benefits

Compared to their dried commercial counterparts, the greenhouse-grown rosemary and oregano varieties were found to contain significantly higher polyphenol levels. They were also determined to be superior inhibitors of DPP-IV, an enzyme that under normal conditions removes excess incretin from the body. In diabetics, a lack of incretin can lead to high blood sugar, hence the need to reduce DPP-IV levels in order to compensate.

On the other hand, commercial dried varieties of rosemary, Mexican oregano and marjoram were found to be superior inhibitors of PTP1B, an enzyme that, when reduced or eliminated, helps enhance insulin signaling and tolerance. In other words, reducing PTP1B levels can not only help improve the body's response to sugar intake and metabolism but also help block the storage of damaging triglycerides.

Greenhouse-grown Mexican oregano and rosemary both contain phytochemicals that liquid chromatography electrospray ionization mass spectrometry testing found to have special binding affinities for DPP-IV. Hispidulin, carnosol and eriodictyol are included among these, while cirsimaritin, hispidulin and naringenin were found to be the most potent inhibitors of DPP-IV.

"There is a need to identify natural compounds that can aid in the management of this disease," wrote the authors in their study, which notes that 8.3 percent of Americans now suffer from type 2 diabetes, which costs the U.S. more than $175 billion annually to treat.

Oregano and rosemary may be safer, more beneficial than popular antidiabetic drugs

Though the herbs demonstrated efficacy similar to, or even exceeding, that of popular antidiabetic medications, the study's authors are hesitant to recommend that people ditch their drugs in favor of them. For now, they are toeing the usual line, saying that more testing is needed, though folks who want to try incorporating more rosemary and oregano into their diets now are sure to gain some benefits.