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Superfood

The New Superfood Trends for 2017

The Hottest New Superfood Trends for 2017

A great way to make sure you stick to your healthy New Year’s Resolutions is to keep your diet fresh and interesting. Boost your culinary repertoire and stay in tip-top health with three of this year’s hottest new superfood trends.

Turmeric

The healing properties of turmeric are well known amongst medical herbalists, as this spice boasts more than 8,000 peer reviewed articles supporting its health benefits (1).

A powerful anti-inflammatory agent, turmeric has been found effective in relieving a range of inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, chronic pain, and inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis (2-4). It reduces levels of unhealthy triglycerides in the bloodstream and helps to prevent blood platelets from sticking together, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes (5).

There is growing interest in adding turmeric to the diet in a variety of ways. The ‘golden latte’ – a healthy anti-inflammatory alternative to your usual coffee fix – is predicted to become popular as the year draws on. Simply heat 2 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and a little grated ginger in a pan for 10 minutes. Strain and then add a little honey and 2 tablespoons of coconut milk for the perfect creamy latte.

For those who don’t fancy brewing turmeric tea, this spice can be taken in capsule form. For example, 400mg standardised extract daily, is effective in relieving general and arthritic pain (6), and just one tablet (around 100mg) of turmeric extract daily has been found to improve irritable bowel syndrome (7).

Medicinal Mushrooms

Those who were enjoying green tea in 2016 will soon be quenching their thirst with a mushroom coffee.  Joining functional foods such as acai and cacao, medicinal mushrooms are bursting onto the superfood scene.

Mushrooms are in fact one of the most widely studied superfoods in the world. In natural medicine, their ability to balance blood sugar and reduce inflammation is well known (8). One of the few food sources of vitamin D, mushrooms also contain beta-glucans, compounds that support the immune system by boosting levels of white blood cells. Some varieties of mushrooms even have adaptogenic properties, meaning that they can help the body cope with stress.

Four Sigmatic founder Tero Isokauppila claims that the two varieties to look out for are the Chaga mushroom which “can help to fight pathogens and lower inflammation,” and lion’s mane which is believed to have “brain and nervous system protecting properties.”

The mild, earthy flavour of mushrooms means that they make a delicious healthy pairing for strong flavours such as coffee or chocolate. Mushroom lattes, made with a milk of your choice, or mushroom hot chocolate made with cacao and a healthy sweetener, are good options for those wanting to enjoy the healing benefits of mushrooms.

Prebiotic Foods

Those of us who take probiotics for digestive wellness may be adding prebiotics to boost gut health in 2017. Prebiotic fibres act as fertiliser for healthy bacteria in the gut, and so eating prebiotic foods regularly is a great way to grow your own healthy bacteria. Interest in prebiotic foods and supplements is set to grow this year, and is has been suggested that they may soon become even more popular than probiotics (9).

As well as boosting digestive health, prebiotics offer a host of health benefits including improved bone density, improved digestion, lower levels of inflammation and lower anxiety levels (10).

The king of prebiotic foods is the Jerusalem artichoke. Those who want to boost their own healthy bacteria should also include chicory root, asparagus, carrots, jicama, leeks and onions in their diet. Inulin works well as a healthy sweetener with prebiotic benefits, and snacks such as bananas or crisps made with prebiotic-rich Jerusalem artichoke are an easy way to get a healthy dose of prebiotic fibre.

References
1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=curcumin
2. Efficacy and mechanism of action of turmeric supplements in the treatment of experimental arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2006.
3. Effect of curcumin on diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain: possible involvement of opiod system. Eur J Pharmacol. 2013
4. Therapeutic strategies for the management of ulcerative colitis. Inflamm Bowel Dis. 2009
5. Protective effects of Curcuma longa on ischemia-reperfusion induced myocardial injuries and their mechanisms. Life Sci. 2004.
6. Comparative evaluation of the pain-relieving properties of a lecithinized formulation of curcumin, nimesulide, and acetaminophen. J Pain Res. 2013
7. Turmeric extract may improve irritable bowel syndrome symptomology in otherwise healthy adults: a pilot study. J Altern Complement Med. 2004.
8. Recent progress of research on medicinal mushrooms, foods, and other herbal products used in traditional Chinese medicine. J Tradit Complement Med. 2012
9. Industry Arc Booming Digestive Health Market to Propel the Usage of Prebiotic Ingredients. Accessed 25/02/2017.

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National Cholesterol Week

This week is National Cholesterol Week, HEART UK’s annual event to raise awareness of the dangers of high cholesterol. Heart disease is the UK’s biggest killer, accounting for around a quarter of all deaths. The good news is that if you have raised cholesterol alongside other markers of heart disease, it can in almost every case be reversed through dietary and lifestyle measures.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance manufactured by the liver and it plays an important role in your body. It is a component in the membrane of every cell in your body. It is also involved in hormone production and helps the nervous system to function properly. When there is inflammation or damaged tissue in the body, cholesterol can accumulate in the areas in need of healing. This may be why raised cholesterol can signify damage in your arteries. LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol is a particular concern because this type of cholesterol can become oxidised, leading to tissue damage and hardening of the arteries.

There are three cholesterol readings that you can have. Total cholesterol, LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol and HDL (‘good’) cholesterol. LDL transports cholesterol from the liver through the bloodstream to sites where it is needed. HDL then transports it back again, and so HDL removes unwanted or damaged cholesterol from your arteries. Ideally HDL should make up at least a third of your total cholesterol.

While cholesterol is used as a marker for heart disease, in order to get a clearer idea of your real risk, it’s important to consider this marker alongside other markers such as levels of triglycerides, blood pressure and homocysteine.

If you eat a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and fried foods, and low in protective fruits and vegetables, then cholesterol is likely to become damaged by oxidation. This type of diet also provides very little soluble fibre which is essential in eliminating excess cholesterol. In general, the best diet for lowering LDL cholesterol is a low GI diet. This type of diet has been found to be particularly effective in reducing LDL and triglycerides and raising HDL (1). A huge benefit of a low GI diet is that it has greater levels of soluble fibre which helps to remove LDL cholesterol from the body. It also provides plenty of antioxidants, helping to combat oxidative damage.

Here are 10 simple ways to reduce your cholesterol level, improve your lipid profile and lower your overall risk of heart disease.

Lettuce
Leafy Greens boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

1. Increase leafy greens and add raw nuts and seeds to your diet.
These boost magnesium, helping to relax your arteries.

2. Drink 8 glasses of water each day.
Proper hydration reduces blood pressure by lowering levels of sodium inside cells.

3. Reduce your salt intake.
Reducing sodium levels can help to relax the arteries.

4. Add plant sterols.
Plant sterols lower ‘bad’ cholesterol by blocking its absorption. They are present in soya beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.

5. Increase low GI carbohydrates.
Soluble fibre, in oats, lentils, beans and vegetables, helps to reduce levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol. Beta-glucans in oats are particularly beneficial.

6. Add antioxidant-rich foods every day.
Antioxidants ‘mop up’ damage within the arteries. Try blueberries, strawberries, plums, tenderstem broccoli and spinach.

7. Boost your omega-3 intake with oily fish, flaxseed oil or omega-3 eggs.
Omega-3 fats help to lower triglycerides, lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and increase ‘good’ cholesterol.

8. Add garlic, ginger and turmeric to your cooking.
Garlic promotes healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Turmeric and ginger help to relax the arteries.

9. Consider supplementing Co-Q10 and Vitamin C.
These nutrients reduce damage in the arteries and lower blood pressure.

10. Boost your B Vitamins.
Homocysteine is actually one of the strongest predictors of heart disease (2), damaging the lining of the arteries, but B vitamins convert it into a harmless substance. If you have raised homocysteine levels, then supplementing with B Vitamins can help. Try foods rich in folic acid such as broccoli, asparagus and spinach.

References

1. Stroke Statistics. British Heart Foundation and The Stroke Association. 2009.

2. Jardine MJ et al (2012) The effect of folic acid based homocysteine lowering on cardiovascular events in people with kidney disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ 2012;344:e3533.

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Curcumin may lower diabetes risk

A new randomised, controlled study suggests that taking curcumin supplements may help delay or prevent the development of type 2 diabetes in people at high risk (1).

Curcumin is a natural substance found in the Indian spice turmeric. It has been widely studied for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Curcumin Spices
Spices such as curcumin (from turmeric) could help lower diabetes risk. (5)

Around 7 million people in the UK have ‘ pre-diabetes’ (3). People with pre-diabetes  also known as Impaired Glucose Regulation (IGR), have raised levels of blood sugar, and their cells have started to become resistant to insulin. Without proper care, pre-diabetes can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Some long-term damage may already be happening in the pre-diabetic state, including damage to the circulatory system, the heart and the eyes. For this reason it’s important to take action as soon as possible. Fortunately, the pre-diabetic condition can be reversed naturally with sensible dietary and lifestyle changes.

The randomized, double-blinded, placebo – controlled trial included 240 men and women who had been diagnosed pre-diabetic  All subjects were randomly assigned to receive either curcumin or placebo capsules for 9 months. Those given the curcumin capsules received 6 capsules of 250mg curcumin daily. The researchers recorded changes in insulin resistance and anti-inflammatory cytokines. The function of beta cells, cells in the pancreas that store and release insulin, were also monitored. These measurements were taken at the beginning of the study, and then again and 3, 6 and 9 months.

After nine months, 19 of the 116 participants in the placebo group had developed type 2 diabetes. None of those who took the curcumin capsules developed the disease.

When compared with the placebo group, those who took the curcumin capsules also had better beta cell function, lower levels of insulin resistance, and high levels of anti-inflammatory cytokines.

So how exactly do we explain these results? In recent years, research has helped us to better understand the link between inflammation and diabetes. It seems that inflammation in the body can actually suppress insulin-signalling pathways, making the body less responsive to insulin. A natural anti-inflammatory substance such as curcumin may help to repair this damage and restore these pathways so that they can function normally again.

While the results of this study look promising, more research in this area is certainly needed to confirm these findings. In the meantime, the best strategy to avoid Type 2 diabetes is to follow a healthy diet with regular exercise.

As turmeric powder contains just 3% curcumin (4), the best way to obtain a therapeutic level of curcumin may be through a good quality supplement. Curcumin supplements should not be taken by those on anti-coagulant medications. There is certainly no harm in adding a little colour and spice to your cooking with a daily sprinkle of turmeric. As well as adding spice and colour to curries, turmeric also mixes well with scrambled eggs, lentil soup, tuna salad, and rice dishes. Try also adding a little black pepper, as the piperine in black pepper is believed to enhance absorption of curcumin.

Written by Nadia Mason, BSc MBANT NTCC CNHC

 References

1.  Chuengsamarn et al (2012) Curcumin Extract for Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes. Published online before print. 6 July 2012.

2. Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, Ichikawa H (2007) Curcumin: the Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol. 595:1-75.

3. ‘Prediabetes – preventing the Type 2 diabetes epidemic’ Diabetes UK 2009

4. Tayyem et al. (2006) Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders. Nutr Cancer. 55(2):126-31.

5.Image courtesy of nksz 

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Turmeric and Cinnamon – Spices for a Healthy Heart

Eating a diet rich in spices can reduce the body’s response to high fat meals.  A new study has tested the effects of culinary spices on markers of conditions such as heart disease.

Turmeric & Cinnamon For Heart Health
Eating a diet rich in spices can reduce the body’s response to high fat meals. (2)

The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, tested the effects of a spicy meal on levels of insulin, triglycerides and antioxidant defences.

Professor Sheila West and her colleagues prepared meals on two separate days for six men between the ages of 30 and 65 who were overweight, but otherwise healthy.  The researchers added two tablespoons of culinary spices to the test meal, which consisted of chicken curry, Italian herb bread, and a cinnamon biscuit.  The spice mix used was a blend of rosemary, oregano, cinnamon, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, garlic powder and paprika.

The second ‘control’ meal was identical, except that spices were not included.

After each meal, the team drew blood from the participants every 30 minutes for three hours, measuring the effects of each meal on the body.

Compared with the unseasoned meal group, the spicy meal increased antioxidant activity in the blood by 13 percent and decreased insulin response by 21 percent.  Blood triglycerides also decreased by 30 percent compared with the unseasoned meal group.

“Normally, when you eat a high-fat meal, you end up with high levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood,” explains West.  “If this happens too frequently, or if triglyceride levels are raised too much, your risk of heart disease is increased.  We found that adding spices to a high-fat meal reduced triglyceride response by about 30 percent, compared to a similar meal with no spices added.”

This was a small, preliminary study, and further studies using a larger test group would help to clarify the results.  West intends to conduct further research to find if smaller doses of spices exert similar benefits.

In the meantime, for those who enjoy cooking, adding culinary spices is a simple way to add ‘kick’ to your dishes, and may offer health benefits too. The active components of ingredients such as garlic and turmeric are available in supplement form, which can be a convenient option. Those who enjoy spicy foods can try adding fresh, grated ginger to stir frys.  Turmeric goes well with chicken, rice and vegetable dishes, while its vibrant colour really helps to lift a dish.  Rosemary and oregano are great in Italian dishes, in stews or with roasted vegetables. Finally cinnamon can be added to your morning oatmeal for a sweet and healthy way to start your day.

Written by Nadia Mason

Reference

1.   A. C. Skulas-Ray, P. M. Kris-Etherton, D. L. Teeter, C.-Y. O. Chen, J. P. Vanden Heuvel, S. G. West. A High Antioxidant Spice Blend Attenuates Postprandial Insulin and Triglyceride Responses and Increases Some Plasma Measures of Antioxidant Activity in Healthy, Overweight Men. Journal of Nutrition, 2011; 141 (8): 1451 DOI: 10.3945/jn.111.138966.

2.  Image courtesy of  Michelle Meiklejohn.

 

 

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