Pumpkin-Walnut Cornbread

This twist on traditional cornbread is perfect for the holiday table, a healthy departure from nutrient-poor, white-flour breads and rolls. Lightly sweetened with dates, this bread is a great complement to soups and stews, potato dishes and salads. Print Pumpkin-Walnut Cornbread Prep time:  20 mins Cook time:  38 mins Total time:  58 mins Serves: 9  ...

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The post Pumpkin-Walnut Cornbread appeared first on Straight Up Food.

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The Top Three DNA Protecting Spices

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In my video Which Spices Fight Inflammation? I profile a landmark study that compared the ability of different spices to suppress inflammation. The study also compared the spices' ability to protect DNA. Cloves, ginger, rosemary, and turmeric were able to significantly stifle the inflammatory response, but can they also protect DNA?

If a tissue sample is taken from a random person, about 7% of their cells may show evidence of DNA damage, actual breaks in the strands of their DNA. If we then blast those cells with free radicals, we can bring that number up to 10%. But if the person has been eating ginger for a week, DNA damage drops to just 8%. In the video, Spicing Up DNA Protection, you can see a comparison of DNA damage in cells from people eating different spices. Those who hadn't been eating any herbs or spices were vulnerable to DNA damage from oxidative stress. But just including ginger in our diet may cut that damage by 25%--the same with rosemary.

Turmeric is even more powerful--DNA damage was cut in half. And this was not just mixing turmeric with cells in some petri dish: This is comparing what happens when you expose the cells of spice eaters versus the cells of non-spice eaters to free radicals and count the DNA fracture rates.

And not only did the turmeric work significantly better, but it did so at a significantly smaller dose. One and a third teaspoons a day of ginger or rosemary was compared to practically just a pinch of turmeric (about an eighth of a teaspoon a day)--that's how powerful the stuff is. I encourage everyone to cook with this wonderful spice. It tastes great and may protect every cell in our body, with or without the added stress. Counting the DNA breaks in people's cells before and after a week of spices without the free radical blast revealed no significant intrinsic protection in the ginger or rosemary groups. However, the turmeric still appeared to reduce DNA damage by half.

This may be because curcumin is not just an antioxidant--it also boosts the activity of the body's own antioxidant enzymes. Catalase is one of the most active enzymes in the body: each one can detoxify millions of free radicals per second. If we consume the equivalent of about three quarters of a teaspoon of turmeric a day, the activity of this enzyme in our bloodstream gets boosted by 75%!

I suggest cooking with it rather than, for example, just throwing it in a smoothie. Why? Because this effect was found specifically for heat-treated turmeric. In practice, many herbs and spices are only consumed after cooking, so the researchers tested turmeric and oregano in both raw and cooked forms. In terms of DNA damage, the results from raw turmeric did not reach statistical significance. However, the opposite was found for its anti-inflammatory effects. So we might want to eat it both ways.

"Practical recommendations for obtaining curcumin in the diet might be to add turmeric to sweet dishes containing cinnamon and ginger." I add it to my pumpkin pie smoothies (a can of pumpkin, frozen cranberries, pitted dates, pumpkin pie spice and some nondairy milk). We can also cook with curry powder or turmeric itself. The researchers suggest something called "turmeric milk," which is a traditional Indian elixir made with milk, turmeric powder, and sugar. I'd suggest substituting a healthier sweetener and a healthier milk. Soy milk, for example, might have a double benefit. If you're taking turmeric to combat inflammation, osteoarthritis sufferers randomized to soy protein ended up with significantly improved joint range of motion compared to dairy protein.

For some other extraordinary benefits of spices, see:

There are a few herb and spice caveats. See, for example:

Too much turmeric may also not be a good idea for those at risk for kidney stones (See Oxalates in Cinnamon).

Feel free to check out my Healthy Pumpkin Pie recipe for another way to spice up your diet.

-Michael Greger, M.D

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Todd Huffman / Flickr

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How to Prevent Heart Disease

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Many of today's lifestyle medicine doctors, myself included, were greatly influenced by Nathan Pritikin, the nutrition pioneer who started reversing heart disease with a plant-based diet and exercise back in the 70s. (More on Nathan Pritikin in Engineering a Cure, Our Number One Killer Can Be Stopped, and The Answer to the Pritikin Puzzle.) But how did he come up with the idea of opening up arteries without drugs or surgery? We tend to think of rural China as a place with a fraction of our disease rates, but we may forget about Africa.

Pritikin was 43 when he was told by his cardiologist that he was going to die from a heart attack, so he began to live on a diet patterned after the black population in Uganda, a population living off plants that was essentially free from death from heart attacks. After curing his own heart disease with a plant-based diet, he went on to save the lives of thousands of others. What was the data that so convinced him?

Last year, the International Journal of Epidemiology reprinted a landmark article from the '50s that started out with a shocking statement: "In the African population of Uganda, coronary heart disease is almost non-existent." Our number one cause of death almost nonexistent? What were they eating? Plantains and sweet potatoes, other vegetables, corn, millet, pumpkins, tomatoes, and "green leafy vegetables are taken by all." Their protein was almost entirely from plant sources, and they had the cholesterol levels to prove it, similar to modern-day plant-eaters. "Apart from the effects of diet and of the blood cholesterol levels," the researchers couldn't figure out any other reasons for their freedom from heart disease.

These fifty-year-old findings are still relevant today. They showed "dietary intake to be a key, modifiable, established and well-recognized risk factor for heart attacks. This contrasts with the rather desperate search in recent decades for even newer cardiovascular risk factors." We have the only risk factor we need--cholesterol. We've known it for 50 years, and we can do something about it. See One in a Thousand: Ending the Heart Disease Epidemic.

As you can see in the video Cavities and Coronaries: Our Choice, according to the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology, the only risk factor required for atherosclerotic plaques to form is elevated LDL, or "bad" cholesterol in our blood. Dr. William Clifford Roberts is the distinguished cardiac pathologist who doubles as the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Cardiology. More from him in Eliminating the #1 Cause of Death and Heart Attacks and Cholesterol: Purely a Question of Diet.

To drop our LDL cholesterol, we need to drop our intake of three things: trans fat (found in junk food and animal foods - See Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy); saturated fat (found in mostly animal foods); and dietary cholesterol (found exclusively in animal foods). More on lowering LDL in Trans Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol: Tolerable Upper Intake of Zero.

What Dr. Shaper discovered is that heart disease may be a choice.

Like cavities.

People who lived over 10,000 years before the invention of the toothbrush pretty much had no cavities. Didn't brush a day in their lives, never flossed, no Listerine, no Waterpik--and yet, no cavities. Why? Because candy bars hadn't been invented yet! So why do people continue to get cavities when we know they're preventable though diet? Simple: because the pleasure people derive from dessert may outweigh the cost and discomfort of the dentist.

As long as people understand the consequences of their actions, as a physician what more can I do? If you're an adult and decide that the benefits outweigh the risks for you and your family, then go for it--I certainly enjoy the occasional indulgence (I've got a good dental plan!). But what if instead of the plaque on our teeth, we're talking about the plaque building up in our arteries? Then we're no longer just talking about scraping tarter. We're talking life and death.

The most likely reason our loved ones will die is heart disease. It's still up to each of us to make our own decisions as to what to eat and how to live, but we should make our choices consciously, educating ourselves about the predictable consequences of our actions.

-Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, and From Table to Able.

Image Credit: Knar Bedian / Flickr

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