Food as Medicine: Shallot (Allium cepa var. aggregatum, Amaryllidaceae)

Overview

Shallot (Allium cepa var. aggregatum, syn. A. ascalonicum, Amaryllidaceae) is a variety of the common onion (A. cepa).1 Shallots grow natively in the mountains of central Asian countries, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, and parts of Siberia and China, and they gradually spread throughout Europe as international trade expanded.2 It is a herbaceous plant with alternating foliar leaves that sheath at the base to create the superficial impression that they originate from an above-ground stem.1 Shallot bulbs, which are bunched in groups that resemble large garlic (A. sativum) bulbs, are the portion of the plant commonly used.3 While edible, the above-ground stems and leaves generally are discarded. France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, and the United States are major commercial producers of shallots, and many other countries throughout Southeast Asia and Africa also cultivate and export them.1,2

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Of all the onion varieties, shallots contain the highest amount of total flavonols, which have been shown to reduce systemic inflammation and cellular oxidation.4 Many of these bioactive components have been isolated and studied in vitro for their potential protective effects against chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.5 One such flavonol is quercetin, which is one of the many phenolic compounds found in many fruits and vegetables that exhibit biological activities.6 Quercetin is reportedly more bioavailable from the dry skin of shallots rather than the flesh, where it is mainly found in the form of quercetin glycosides (quercetin glycosides can be broken down in the body to produce quercetin).7 When metabolized, quercetin forms metabolites that are less biologically potent than quercetin glycosides, but these metabolites still retain some anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to protect against inflammation-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease (CVD).5

Antioxidants are a group of bioactive compounds that, among other activities, reduce free radical damage to lipids and DNA by reactive oxygen species (ROSs). Antioxidants either accept or donate an electron to stabilize ROS and to reduce their damaging capabilities. Phenolic compounds such as flavonols, carotenoids (fat-soluble pigments that give some plants their orange, yellow, and red colors), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), thiols, and tocopherols (vitamin E) are all examples of antioxidant molecules.8

Flavonols have been widely shown to have potent antioxidant activity in vitro and in vivo. Flavonols have also been extensively studied for their actions on inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells in vitro. The antioxidant capacity and the anti-proliferative ability of flavonols change depending on how these compounds are metabolized. When tested in liver and colon cell lines designed to mimic human metabolism, the antioxidant activity of the flavonols found in shallots was retained more than the antioxidant activity of the flavonols found in other onion varieties.8

Shallots and other Allium crops have high concentrations of organosulfides, which are sulfur-containing phytonutrients that are metabolized by the enzyme alliinase when the plant tissue is ruptured (e.g., from cooking, chewing, or crushing).9,10 These compounds give Allium plants their recognizable flavor and pungency, with different species differing in flavor and pungency due to variations in the concentrations of types of organosulfides.9 Organosulfides are highly bioavailable in animal models, preserved through metabolism, and can be detected in the blood at dose-dependent concentrations.10 As a result, their antioxidant activity is retained. In humans, their bioavailability is unknown, so further investigation is needed to determine whether biologically active concentrations of organosulfides can be achieved through traditional dietary intake or through pharmacological interventions.10

Finally, isoliquiritigenin is a flavonoid found in high concentration in shallots. Like organosulfides, isoliquiritigenin is highly bioavailable.11 Isoliquiritigenin absorption is dose-dependent and varies depending on tissue type.

Historical and Commercial Uses

There is little information regarding the historical medicinal uses of shallot, which was originally named Allium ascalonicum after its popularity in the city of Ascalon, Syria, but Allium crops generally were used to treat gastrointestinal issues and tumors and known for their anti-microbial properties.12 The Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder mentioned the shallot as one of six types of onions known to the Greeks in his 77 CE encyclopedia Naturalis Historia.1 By 1554, shallots were grown in Spain, Italy, France, and Germany and Baldassare Pisanelli, a 17th-century doctor in Italy, described the shallot as “a delicious food that stimulates the appetite when it is hot and makes tasty to drink.”4 Cultivation of shallots spread to England from France by 1663, and shallots became a common crop in the United States by 1806.1 Today, shallots are used for culinary purposes: cooked in stews and soups, diced raw in salads or to accompany meats, or pickled.1

Modern Research

There are limited data regarding the effect of shallots as a whole food on the disease, but specific phytonutrients from shallot have been isolated and studied for their activities and effects on different disease states.

Cancer Prevention

Plants in the genus Allium, including shallot, have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of gastric cancer in humans. A meta-analysis of epidemiological studies showed that the consumption of 20 grams daily of Allium vegetables (equivalent to the weight of one garlic bulb) reduced the incidence of gastric cancer in individuals when compared to those who consumed lower amounts.13 Similarly, the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) in conjunction with the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) published a comprehensive report of the existing literature on diet and cancer that found strong evidence to support shallot’s inhibiting effect on cancer cell lines.14 In addition to reducing the risk of gastric cancer, Allium vegetables were also credited with reducing the risk of all cancers.14 However, the WCRF/AICR report recommended a higher dosage of Allium vegetables (100 grams daily) to reduce the risk of gastric and other cancers than that specified by the previously mentioned meta-analysis.13,14

Individual phytonutrients present in shallots have been studied for their capabilities to inhibit the initiation, promotion, and progression of certain types of cancer.  Isoliquiritigenin, for example, has been shown to be a potent inhibitor of the metastatic potential of human prostate cancer cells.15 This essentially results in the cell’s ability to “turn off” growth in order to prevent the uncontrolled cell growth and division important for tumor survival. Isoliquiritigenin has also been shown to induce apoptosis (normal, pre-programmed cell death) via mitochondrial-mediated effects.16,17 Similar apoptotic effects were observed when hepatoma, gastric, and melanoma cancer cell lines were treated with isoliquiritigenin.16,17 In addition, treatment with isoliquiritigenin in human lung cancer cells resulted in cell cycle arrest, which inhibited cancer cell growth and proliferation.18 Studies that monitor in vivo effects of isoliquiritigenin are needed to further explore the anti-tumor potential of this compound.

Isoliquiritigenin has the potential to act as a safe alternative to commonly used chemotherapies. In a mouse study, renal carcinoma was treated with isoliquiritigenin, which suppressed pulmonary metastases without the leukocytopenia and weight loss associated with the administration of the commonly used chemotherapy drug 5-fluorouracil.19 More studies are needed to determine the dosage at which isoliquiritigenin is effective and safe in humans, but this phytochemical may offer a promising alternative to approved chemotherapies that are associated with harmful side effects.

Organosulfides also contribute to the antioxidant activity of shallots.10 These compounds have been studied in vitro for their ability to halt cell cycle progression, induce apoptosis, and inhibit angiogenesis of tumor cells.10 Similar effects have been observed in vivo, in which organosulfides have been linked to the inhibition of skin carcinogenesis and prevention of both carcinogen-induced colon cancer and carcinogen-induced esophageal tumors in rats.10 In a clinical trial involving the administration of a high dose of metabolized organosulfides (200 mg per day) over a five-year period, researchers observed a 22% lower incidence of all cancers and a 47.3% lower incidence of gastric cancer in these individuals compared to those who did not receive treatment.10 No adverse effects were observed with this high-dose treatment, highlighting the safety of these compounds. However, further research into the efficacy of these metabolites for cancer chemoprevention is needed.

Diabetes

Shallot as a whole food has been studied for its hypoglycemic activity. In a mouse study, juiced shallot bulbs were administered orally.20 The blood glucose levels of mice treated with shallot bulb juice were found to be 13.3% lower in the treatment group, compared to an increase of 1.57% in the control group and the end of the 15-day study period. Another animal study compared the glucose-lowering effects of a shallot bulb extract and the commonly prescribed blood glucose-lowering drug, metformin, in rats.21 The reduction of blood glucose observed with shallot bulb extract treatment was similar to that observed with metformin. In addition, treatment with the shallot extract significantly inhibited the metabolism of ingested carbohydrates and increased the cellular absorption of circulating blood glucose.

Another animal study compared the antioxidant and hypolipidemic properties of the shallot bulb extract and metformin in diabetic rats.22 In the group treated with the shallot bulb extract, the following increases in phase II antioxidant enzyme activity were observed compared to the control group: superoxide dismutase by 65%, glutathione peroxidase by 43%, and catalase by 55%. Metformin only slightly increased superoxide dismutase activity by 8% when compared to the control group. When comparing lipid profiles, the shallot bulb extract affected only very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which was reduced by 24% in comparison to the control group. Treatment with metformin was half as effective, reducing VLDL by only 12%.

Anti-Inflammatory

A high daily intake of flavonoids from fruits and vegetables is associated with an approximately 50% reduction in mortality from CVD compared to consuming low amounts.8 As quercetin is metabolized by the human body, it retains the ability to function as an anti-inflammatory agent and inhibits the expression of adhesion molecules on the surface of endothelial cells.5 (The presence of adhesion molecules on the surface of endothelial cells can contribute to vascular inflammation and the formation of atherosclerotic lesions.5) By reducing these effects and by reducing the damage caused by oxidative stress, flavonols can act as anti-inflammatory agents to further reduce the risk for inflammatory-related diseases such as certain types of cancer, diabetes, and CVD.23

Antimicrobial

Allium plants are well-known for their disease resistance, which has been attributed in part to the antimicrobial activity of saponins present within these plants.24 These same properties have also been applied to human pathogens. Exposure to antibiotic-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis to shallot bulb extract resulted in bacterial death.25 Organosulfides have specifically been studied for their anti-fungal properties against several genera of human pathogens including Candida, Cryptococcus, Trichophyton, Epidermophyton, and Microsporum.12 Organosulfides have also been shown to be effective against many bacteria, including Bacillus spp., Enterococcus spp., Escherichia coli, Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella Typhimurium, Staphylococcus aureus, and Vibrio cholera. Organosulfides have synergistic effects when combined with antibiotics and broad-spectrum fungicides.

Nutrient Profile26

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1/4 cup chopped shallot [approx. 40 grams])

29 calories

1 g protein

6.72 g carbohydrate

0 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1/4 cup chopped shallot [approx. 40 grams])

Good source of:

Vitamin B-6: 0.14 mg (7% DV)

Manganese: 0.12 mg (6% DV)

Vitamin C: 3.2 mg (5.3% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 1.3 g (5.2% DV)

Also, provides:

Potassium: 134 mg (3.8% DV)

Folate: 14 mcg (3.5% DV)

Iron: 0.5 mg (2.8% DV)

Phosphorus: 24 mg (2.4% DV)

Magnesium: 8 mg (2% DV)

Calcium: 15 mg (1.5% DV)

Thiamin: 0.02 mg (1.3% DV)

Trace amounts:

Riboflavin: 0.01 mg (0.6% DV)

Niacin: 0.08 mg (0.4% DV)

Vitamin K: 0.3 mcg (0.4% DV)

Vitamin A: 2 IU (0.04% DV)

Vitamin E: 0.02 mg (0.01% DV)

DV = Daily Value as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Recipe: Kumquat-Shallot Vinaigrette

Courtesy of Catherine Applegate

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon brown or Dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 5 kumquats

Directions:

  1. Combine all ingredients except the kumquats in a jar or bowl.
  2. Grate the zest from two kumquats into the dressing. Halve and seed all kumquats, leaving the peel intact, and juice them into the dressing. Add the juiced kumquats into the jar or bowl.
  3. Mix all ingredients together with a whisk or by putting a lid on the jar and shaking it vigorously.
  4. Refrigerate in an airtight container for a few hours before use.
  5. Serve dressing over a roasted beet or fresh green salad, or use as a sauce over chicken, pork, or fish.

References

  1. Peterson J. The Allium species (onions, garlic, leeks, chives, and shallots). Staple Food Domest Plants Anim. 1987;2:249-271.
  2. Shallots over the world. Shallot.com. Available at: http://www.shallot.com/shallot-en/facts/shallots-over-the-world.aspx. Accessed January 25, 2017.
  3. Goldman IL. Onions and other Allium plants. Encycl Food Cult. 1994;(1963):8-14.
  4. Fattorusso EF, Iorizzi MAI, Lanzotti VIL, Taglialatela-Scafati O. Chemical composition of shallot (Allium ascalonicum Hort .). J Agric Food Chem. 2002;50:5686-5690.
  5. Lotito SB, Zhang WJ, Yang CS, Crozier A, Frei B. Metabolic conversion of dietary flavonoids alters their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Free Radic Biol Med. 2011;51:454-463.
  6. Bonaccorsi P, Caristi C, Gargiulli C, Leuzzi U. Flavonol glucosides in Allium species: A comparative study by means of HPLC – DAD – ESI-MS – MS. Food Chem. 2008;107:1668-1673.
  7. Wiczkowski W, Romaszko J, Bucinski A, et al. Quercetin from shallots (Allium cepa L. var. aggregatum) is more bioavailable than its glucosides. J Nutr. 2008;138:885-888.
  8. Yang J, Meyers KJ, Van Der Heide J, Liu RH. Varietal differences in phenolic content and antioxidant and antiproliferative activities of onions. J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52:6787-6793.
  9. Vazquez-Prieto MA, Miatello RM. Organosulfur compounds and cardiovascular disease. Mol Aspects Med. 2010;31(6):540-545.
  10. Powolny AA, Singh SV. Multitargeted prevention and therapy of cancer by diallyl trisulfide and related Allium vegetable-derived organosulfur compounds. Cancer Lett. 2008;269:305-314.
  11. Cuendet M, Guo J, Luo Y, et al. Cancer chemopreventive activity and metabolism of isoliquiritigenin, a compound found in licorice. Cancer Prev Res. 2010;3(2):221-233.
  12. Lanzotti V, Scala F, Bonanomi G. Compounds from Allium species with cytotoxic and antimicrobial activity. Phytochem Rev. 2014;13:769-791.
  13. Zhou Y, Zhuang WEN, Hu WEN, Liu GJ, Wu TAIX, Wu XT. Consumption of large amounts of Allium vegetables reduces the risk of gastric cancer in a meta-analysis. Gastroenterology. 2011;141:80-89.
  14. World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective. Washington DC: AICR; 2007.
  15. Kwon GT, Cho HJ, Chung WY, Park KK, Moon A, Park JH. Isoliquiritigenin inhibits migration and invasion of prostate cancer cells: possible mediation by decreased JNK/AP-1 signaling. J Nutr Biochem. 2009;20:663-676.
  16. Jung JI, Chung E, Seon MR, et al. Isoliquiritigenin (ISL) inhibits ErbB3 signaling in prostate cancer cells. BioFactors. 2006;28:159-168.
  17. Jung JI, Lim SS, Choi HJ, et al. Isoliquiritigenin induces apoptosis by depolarizing mitochondrial membranes in prostate cancer cells. J Nutr Biochem. 2006;17:689-696.
  18. Ii T, Satomi Y, Katoh D, et al. Induction of cell cycle arrest and p21 (CIP1/WAF1) expression in human lung cancer cells by isoliquiritigenin. Cancer Lett. 2004;207:27-35.
  19. Yamazaki S, Morita T, Endo H, et al. Isoliquiritigenin suppresses pulmonary metastasis of mouse renal cell carcinoma. Cancer Lett. 2002;183:23-30.
  20. Luangpirom A, Kourchampa W, Junaimuang T, Somsapt P, Sritragool O. Effect of shallot (Allium ascalonicum L.) bulb juice on hypoglycemia and sperm quality in streptozotocin-induced diabetic mice. Int J Bioflux Soc. 2013;5(1):49-54.
  21. Moradabadi L, Kouhsari SM, Sani MF. Hypoglycemic effects of three medicinal plants in experimental diabetes: Inhibition of rat intestinal α -glucosidase and enhanced pancreatic insulin and cardiac glut-4 mRNAs expression. Iran J Pharm Res. 2013;12(3):387-397.
  22. Sani MF, Kouhsari SM, Moradabadi L. Effects of three medicinal plants extracts in experimental diabetes: Antioxidant enzymes activities and plasma lipids profiles in comparison with metformin. Iran J Pharm Res. 2012;11(3):897-903.
  23. Murthy NS, Mukherjee S, Ray G, Ray A. Dietary factors and cancer chemoprevention: An overview of obesity-related malignancies. J Postgr Med. 2009;55(1):45-55.
  24. Teshima Y, Ikeda T, Imada K, et al. Identification and biological activity of antifungal saponins from shallot (Allium cepa L. aggregatum group). J Agric Food Chem. 2013;61(31):7440-7445.
  25. Amin M, Segatoleslami S, Hashemzadeh M. Antimycobacterial activity of the partial purified extract of Allium ascalonicum. Jundishpar J Microbiol. 2009;2(4):144-147.
  26. Basic Report: 11677, Shallots, raw. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Available at: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3314. Accessed January 25, 2017.

How Should I Organize My Diet To Help My Diabetes?

Diabetes is one of the most commonly occurring long-term medical conditions in the world.

According to the World Health Organization, as of 2014, over 422 million people worldwide have diabetes. Diabetes complications can include blindness, kidney problems, and heart disease.

Similar to many long-term diseases, complications may be prevented with proper management of the condition.

“Diet is one of the key elements in managing diabetes,” Amparo Gonzalez, RN, CDE, of the Johnson and Johnson Diabetes Institute. “People with diabetes need to manage the amounts of carbohydrates, fat, and overall calories they eat daily.”

“When it comes to diet, it’s also important to remember moderation and portion control are essential.”

The basics of diabetes

The two major types of diabetes are type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes.

A girl holding a glucometer.
Making the right food choices is important for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes often develops early in life, and the cause is not fully understood. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system damages the cells that make a hormone called insulin. The result is insufficient insulin production.

Type 2 diabetes is associated with a sedentary lifestyle and being overweight. It can develop in both children and adults. People with type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin, or the insulin they do produce is not used efficiently.

Fortunately, both types of diabetes can be managed through medication and lifestyle choices, such as healthy eating. Making healthy food choices and limiting unsuitable foods is a large part of a diabetes treatment plan.

Important goals for managing diabetes through diet include controlling blood sugar levels and maintaining a healthy weight.

The role of diet in diabetes

After eating, food breaks down into glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar and a major source of energy for the body.

In response to an increase in glucose levels, the body releases insulin. Insulin is an essential hormone because it allows the cells in the body to absorb glucose. It also plays a role in helping the body store protein and fat.

In people who have diabetes, their body may stop making insulin, not make sufficient levels of insulin, or may not use insulin efficiently. Without proper insulin production and use, glucose may not be absorbed by the cells. Instead, glucose levels rise in the bloodstream.

There are a couple of problems when blood sugar levels in the bloodstream become high. The cells don’t get the energy they need, and fatigue can occur.

High blood sugar levels over time can also damage blood vessels in the body. When the blood vessels become damaged, various complications can occur, such as kidney and heart disease, and vision loss.

The good news is that by making the right choices, people can manage their diabetes more effectively, keep glucose levels steady, and lower the risk of possible complications.

How does food affect blood sugar levels?

Different foods affect blood sugar levels differently. The three macronutrients the body uses are fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Carbohydrates affect glucose levels the most. When eaten alone, protein and fat do not have a significant impact on glucose levels.

It’s important to remember that many foods contain a combination of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Since food can have a significant impact on blood sugar levels, it’s essential to make good food choices and monitor carbohydrate intake.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” diet for people with diabetes. Several individual factors play a role in dietary choices, including whether a person is overweight, has kidney disease, and whether they have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes.

It’s always best to get nutritional advice from a registered dietitian. The guide below provides some general dietary guidelines to help manage diabetes.

Suitable food choices for people with diabetes

It’s difficult to state recommendations for an exact number of grams of nutrients, such as carbohydrates, a person with diabetes should eat.

A glucometer with fruit, vegetables, and grains.
Fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are good choices for people with diabetes.

According to dietary guidelines released by the American Diabetic Association (ADA), there is no conclusive evidence supporting an ideal amount of carbohydrates or other nutrients for people with diabetes.

Instead, an emphasis is placed on choosing healthy foods, including:

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates differ from simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are broken down slowly. They also often contain fiber, and they do not affect blood sugar levels as significantly as simple carbohydrates.

Foods containing complex carbohydrates include:

  • Beans
  • Peas
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Sweet potatoes

Lean protein

The ADA guidelines do not provide a specific protein intake recommendation for blood sugar control. Again, the focus is on healthy choices.

People with diabetes should keep in mind that some sources of protein can be high in fat, which can contribute to weight gain.

The ADA recommend lean sources of protein including:

  • Fish (herring, sardines, salmon, tuna)
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Nuts (cashews, peanuts, soy nuts)
  • Lentils

Healthy fats

Fat is an essential nutrient. Certain types of fat, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are considered healthy fats. More important than the quantity of fat is the type of fat eaten, however.

Suitable fat choices include:

  • Sesame seeds
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts
  • Flaxseed

Unsuitable food choices for people with diabetes

People with diabetes should also be aware of food choices that can cause spikes in blood sugar and contribute to being overweight. When choosing foods, it’s helpful to limit those listed below.

A selection of foods that are bad for people with diabetes.
People with diabetes should limit refined carbohydrates and foods containing hidden sugars.

Refined carbohydrates

Refined carbohydrates may include foods containing processed sugar or refined grains. Most refined carbohydrates have their fiber removed and have limited nutritional value. They also lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels.

Refined carbohydrates to be limited include:

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • Cookies
  • Pastries
  • Cereal with added sugar

Trans fat and saturated fat

Excessive amounts of saturated fats and any amount of trans fats are unhealthy for everyone. They can raise “bad” cholesterol and contribute to heart disease.

Foods that are high in trans fat and saturated fat include:

  • Fried food
  • Chips
  • Commercially baked cookies and cakes
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Food containing partially hydrogenated oil

Hidden sugar

People with diabetes should also be aware of foods with hidden sugar. Some foods may look healthy but have a high sugar content on closer inspection.

Always check food labels to determine the sugar and carbohydrate content.

Foods that often contain hidden sugar include:

  • Yogurt
  • Granola
  • Canned fruit packed in syrup
  • Canned pasta sauce
  • Frozen dinners
  • Bottled condiments

Daily and weekly menu planning tips

People with diabetes may benefit from daily and weekly meal planning. Meal planning can help someone choose foods that keep glucose levels steady and help them maintain a healthy weight. Meal planning should also include keeping track of what is eaten.

There are three main ways for people to track what they eat: carbohydrate counting, glycemic index, and the plate method.

Plate method: Divide the plate into three categories. Half the plate should consist of non-starchy vegetables. One-fourth should consist of whole grains and complex starchy food. The remaining fourth of the plate should contain lean protein.

Carb counting: Carbohydrate counting involves planning how many grams of carbohydrates are eaten with each meal and snack.

Glycemic index: The glycemic index categorizes food by how much it increases blood sugar. Foods that have a high glycemic index raise blood sugar more than foods with a low glycemic index. Meal planning using the glycemic index involves choosing foods that are low or medium on the glycemic index.

Whether planning daily or weekly menus, it’s also important for people with diabetes to keep the following in mind:

  • Eating at regularly set times
  • Avoiding skipping meals as it can affect blood sugar levels
  • Spacing meals and snacks out to prevent large changes in blood sugar levels
  • Eating a wide range of foods
  • Thinking about the size of servings
  • Avoiding carbohydrate-only meals that can cause higher blood sugar spikes

Drinking Beetroot Juice Before Exercising Boosts Brain Performance

A number of studies have shown that physical activity can have positive effects on the brain, particularly in later life. New research has found that it may be possible to bolster these effects, simply by drinking beetroot juice before exercising.
[Beetroot and beetroot juice]
Researchers suggest that drinking beetroot before exercising may aid brain performance for older adults.

Researchers found that older adults who consumed beetroot juice prior to engaging in moderately intense exercise demonstrated greater connectivity in brain regions associated with motor function, compared with adults who did not drink beetroot juice before exercising.

The research team – including co-author W. Jack Rejeski of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC – says that the increased brain connectivity is seen among the adults who drank beetroot juice was comparable to the connectivity seen in younger adults.

Rejeski and colleagues recently reported their findings in the Journals of Gerontology: Series A.

Beetroot – often referred to as “beet” – is a root vegetable best known for dominating plates of food with its bright purple juice. In recent years, beetroot has gained popularity for its potential health benefits, which include reduced blood pressure and increased exercise performance.

Such benefits have been attributed to the high nitrate content in beetroot. When consumed, nitrates are converted into nitric oxide, which studies have shown can lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to the brain.

Studies have demonstrated that exercise alone can benefit the brain. For their study, Rejeski and team set out to investigate whether beetroot juice might boost the brain benefits of physical activity.

Beetroot juice helped strengthen brain’s somatomotor cortex

The study comprised 26 participants, aged 55 years and older, who had high blood pressure. None of the participants engaged in regular exercise, and they were taking up to two medications to help lower their blood pressure.

All subjects were required to engage in 50 minutes of moderately intense exercise on a treadmill three times per week for 6 weeks. One hour before each session, half of the participants consumed a beetroot juice supplement containing 560 milligrams of nitrate, while the remaining participants consumed a placebo low in nitrates.

At the end of the 6 weeks, the researchers measured participants’ brain functioning using MRI.

The team found that subjects who consumed the beetroot juice supplement prior to exercising demonstrated a structurally stronger somatomotor cortex – a brain region that helps to control body movement – compared with participants who consumed the placebo.

Furthermore, subjects who drank the beetroot juice supplement also showed greater connectivity between the somatomotor cortex and the insular cortex, a brain region associated with motor control, cognitive functioning, emotion, and other brain functions. Such connectivity is usually seen in the brains of younger individuals, the team notes.

The researchers explain that the somatomotor cortex receives and processes signals from the muscles. As such, physical activity should strengthen this process.

They suggest that beetroot juice strengthens the somatomotor cortex further through its nitrate content; its conversion into nitric oxide boosts the delivery of oxygen to the brain.

“Nitric oxide is a really powerful molecule. It goes to the areas of the body which are hypoxic or needing oxygen, and the brain is a heavy feeder of oxygen in your body,” says Rejeski.

While further research is required to replicate their results, the researchers believe that their study suggests that what we eat in later life may play an important role in brain health and mobility.

“We knew, going in, that a number of studies had shown that exercise has positive effects on the brain. But what we showed in this brief training study of hypertensive older adults was that, as compared to exercise alone, adding a beetroot juice supplement to exercise resulted in brain connectivity that closely resembles what you see in younger adults.”

Beetroot: Health Benefits

Beetroot, also known as a beet, has been gaining in popularity as a new super food due to recent studies claiming that beets and beetroot juice can improve athletic performance, lower blood pressure, and increase blood flow.

New products incorporating this highly nutritious food are appearing everywhere, and they include juices and drinks.

Beetroot or table beets are from the same family as sugar beets, but they are genetically and nutritionally different. Sugar beets are white in color and commonly used for extracting sugar and sweetening manufactured foods. Sugar cannot be obtained from beets, which are mostly red or gold in color.

Health benefits of consuming beetroot

Beetroot
Beetroot has been gaining in popularity as a new super food.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions.

Many studies indicate that eating more plant foods, like beetroot, decreases the risk of obesity, overall mortality, diabetes, and heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, and overall lower weight.

Heart health and blood pressure: A 2008 study published in Hypertension examined the effects of ingesting 500 milliliters of beetroot juice in healthy volunteers and found that blood pressure was significantly lowered after ingestion.

Researchers hypothesized this was likely due to the high nitrate levels contained in beet juice and that the high nitrate vegetables could prove to be a low-cost and effective way to treat cardiovascular conditions and blood pressure.

Another study conducted in 2010 found similar results, concluding that drinking beetroot juice lowered blood pressure considerably on a dose-dependent basis.

Dementia: Researchers at Wake Forest University have found that drinking juice from beetroot can improve oxygenation to the brain, slowing the progression of dementia in older adults.

According to Daniel Kim-Shapiro, director of Wake Forest’s Translational Science Center, blood flow to certain areas of the brain decrease with age and leads to a decline in cognition and possible dementia. Consuming beetroot juice as part of a high nitrate diet can improve the blood flow and oxygenation to these areas that are lacking.

Diabetes: Beets contain an antioxidant known as alpha-lipoic acid, which may help lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity and prevent oxidative stress-induced changes in patients with diabetes.

Studies on alpha-lipoic acid have also shown a decrease in symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and autonomic neuropathy in people with diabetes.

However, a meta-analysis suggests that the benefits of alpha-lipoic acid for symptomatic peripheral neuropathy may be restricted to intravenous administration of the acid.The authors conclude: “It is unclear if the significant improvements seen after 3 to 5 weeks of oral administration at a dosage of more than 600 milligrams a day are clinically relevant.”

Digestion and regularity: Because of its high fiber content, beetroot helps to prevent constipation and promote regularity for a healthy digestive tract.

Inflammation: Choline is a very important and versatile nutrient in beetroot that helps with sleep, muscle movement, learning, and memory. Choline also helps to maintain the structure of cellular membranes, aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, assists in the absorption of fat and reduces chronic inflammation.

Exercise and athletic performance: Beetroot juice supplementation has been shown to improve muscle oxygenation during exercise, suggesting that increased dietary nitrate intake has the potential to enhance exercise tolerance during long-term endurance exercise. The quality of life for those with cardiovascular, respiratory, or metabolic diseases, who find the activities of daily living physically difficult because of lack of oxygenation, could be improved.

Beetroot juice improved performance by 2.8 percent, or 11 seconds, in a 4-km bicycle time trial and by 2.7 percent, or 45 seconds, in a 16.1-kilometer time trial.

Nutritional breakdown of beetroot

Beetroot and beet juice are good sources of various nutrients.

One cup of raw beets contains:

  • 58 calories
  • 13 grams of carbohydrate, including 9 grams of sugar and 4 grams of fiber
  • 2 grams of protein

Depending on the brand, a 296-milliliter bottle of beet juice can contain:

  • 44 calories
  • 11 grams of carbohydrate, including 1 gram of fiber and 8 grams of sugar
  • 2 grams of protein

It is important to check the label of packaged juices, however, to check for added sugars.

Beetroot provides 1 percent of the daily needs for vitamin A, 2 percent of calcium, 11 percent of vitamin C and 6 percent of iron.

Vitamin C, an antioxidant, plays a key role in creating collagen and some neurotransmitters, and in the metabolism of proteins. Iron is an essential part of hemoglobin, the protein that transfers oxygen from the lungs to the body tissues. It is needed for growth, development, and cell function. A lack of iron leads to s certain type of anemia.

It is a rich source of folate and manganese. It also contains thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B-6, pantothenic acid, choline, betaine, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and selenium.

Folate is important for a healthy metabolism encourages healthy skin and hair, and protects the mouth from soreness and ulceration. Folic acid is recommended during pregnancy and studies suggest that it contributes to a healthy birth weight and prevents congenital heart defects and other problems such as neural tubal defects in the newborn.

Manganese occurs in small amounts in the body, but it is needed for a range of functions. A lack of manganese can contribute to infertility, bone malformation, weakness, and seizures.

Beets are high in dietary nitrate, which is believed to benefit the cardiovascular system and may protect against cancer.

How to incorporate more beetroot into your diet

Beets can be roasted, steamed, boiled, pickled, or eaten raw.

Beetroot salad
Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
  • Make your own beetroot juice by peeling beetroot and blending with a combination of fresh orange, mint and pineapple or apples, lemon, and ginger. Blend and strain.
  • Grate raw beets and add them to coleslaw or your favorite salad.
  • Top roasted beets with goat cheese for a perfect pairing.
  • Add sliced pickled beets to your favorite salad and top with goat cheese.
  • Slice raw beets and serve them with lemon juice and a sprinkle of chili powder.

When choosing a beetroot, make sure it is heavy for its size and without surface damage. If the green tops are still on, they should look fresh, not wilted. These are also edible.

Beetroots are not only red. There are also golden beets and white beets. They are widely available in grocery stores and farmer’s markets.

To store beets for a few days, refrigerate them in a tightly sealed bag.

If you grow beetroot and need to keep them for longer, cut off the leaves and stalks, leaving about 2 inches of length. Keep them in a box of sand in a garage or shed, somewhere that is cool but frost-free.

Potential health risks of consuming beetroot

If improperly stored, nitrate-containing vegetable juice may accumulate bacteria that convert nitrate to nitrite and contaminate the juice. High levels of nitrite can be potentially harmful if consumed.

A high-nitrate diet may interact with certain medications such as organic nitrate (nitroglycerine) or nitrite drugs used for angina, sildenafil citrate, tadalafil, and vardenafil.

Drinking beetroot juice may cause red urine or stool.

It is the total diet or overall eating pattern that is most important in disease prevention and achieving good health. It is better to eat a diet with variety than to concentrate on individual foods as the key to good health.

Cardamom Health Benefits

What Is Cardamom

Scientific Name: Elettaria cardamomum

Other Names: Amomum cardamomum, Bai Dou Kou, Black Cardamom, Cardamome de Malabar, Cardamome Noire, , Cardamome Verte, Cardamomo, Cardomom, Cardomomi Fructus, Ela, Elettaria cardamomum, Green Cardamom, Huile Essentielle de Cardamome, Indian Cardamom.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is a plant that is native to India, Bhutan and Nepal in the ginger family Zingiberaceae, that is highly valued as an expensive culinary spice next only to saffron and vanilla. Cardamom fruits or seeds are primarily used as the flavouring for drinks, bake goods and confection. Cardamom is also valued for its traditional use in herbal medicine, providing health benefits for those suffering from stomach problems, liver and gallbladder ailments, and as a stimulant. Other species that is closely related to genus Amomum in the ginger family are likewise called cardamom. These cardamom species have larger and darker fruits and have somewhat coarser taste and aroma.

Plant Description

Cardamom (Elletaria cardamomum) is a herbaceous perennial plant usually found in the wild in India and Sri Lanka but has since been cultivated in other tropical areas. Cardamom is a clumping plant of up 20 leafy shoots arising from the rhizome. The shoots are composed of overlapping leaf sheaths, lanceolate in shape with dark green color. The clump of leaves can reach up to 6 meters in height. Some shoots produce flowers on a drooping pinnacle. The flowers are both male and female and are pale green in color. The cardamom fruits are pale green to yellow in color but turn into brown when dried and contain 15 to 20 small aromatic seeds about 3 mm in length which are highly valued as flavoring.

Cardamom, Nutrient value per 100 g.
(Source: USDA National Nutrient Database)
Proximates NV %RDA
Energy 311 Kcal 15.5%
Carbohydrates 68.47 g 52.5%
Protein 10.76 g 19%
Total Fat 6.7 g 23%
Dietary Fiber 28 g 70%
Vitamins

Niacin 1.102 mg 7%
Pyridoxine 0.230 mg 18%
Riboflavin 0.182 mg 14%
Thiamin 0.198 mg 16.5%
Vitamin A 0 IU 0%
Vitamin C 21 mg 35%
Minerals

Calcium 383 mg 38%
Iron 14.0 mg 78%
Magnesium 229 mg 57%
Phosphorus 178 mg 32%
Sodium 18 mg 1%
Zinc 7.5 mg 50%
Copper 0.4 mg 19%
Percent daily values are based on 2000 Kcal diets.

Traditional Health Benefits Of Cardamom

Cardamom being native in South India and Sri Lanka, it has a long history of use in Ayurveda medicine. When the Chinese discovered this spice, it was brought to China and likewise applied in traditional Chinese medicine.

Cardamom has long been used as an effective herbal remedy for digestion problems including intestinal spasms, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, liver and gallbladder complaints.

Other traditional uses and health benefits of Cardamon include the treatment of;

Bronchitis
Cold
Constipation
Cough
Gallbladder problems
Gas
Heartburn
Intestinal spasms
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Liver problems
Loss of appetite
Preventing infections
Sore mouth and throat
Urinary problems

In recent years, claimed health benefits of Cardamom include its strong antioxidant property and an effective body detoxification agent,

Cardamom being rich in minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium maintains cell and body fluids that help control heart rate and blood pressure. It also contains copper and iron that is important in the production of red blood cells.

Cardamom is also rich in vitamins including riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C and contains essential oils that improve overall health.

Cardamom promotes urination that improves kidney function by eliminating excess calcium, urea, and other toxins. It is also used in the treatment of genital and urinary infections. Cardamom is also believed to improve sexual performance.

Other health benefits of cardamom are its use in the treatment of gum problems and in preventing bad breath. It is also used as an antiseptic and antimicrobial.

Scientific Studies Of Cardamom Health Benefits

Blood pressure lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum).The Indigenous Drug Research Center, RNT Medical College, Udaipur, India conducted a study on  Elettaria cardamomum  (Small cardamom) fruit powder to evaluate its antihypertensive potential and its effect on some of the cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with stage 1 hypertension.
Results have shown that administration of 3 g of cardamom powder to patients with primary hypertension of stage 1 for a period of 12 weeks demonstrated a significantly (p<0.001) decreased systolic, diastolic and mean blood pressure and significantly (p<0.05) increased fibrinolytic activity at the end of 12th week. The total antioxidant status was also significantly (p<0.05) increased by 90% at the end of 3 months.
Additionally, all study subjects experienced a feeling of well-being without any side-effects. Thus, the present study demonstrates that small cardamom effectively reduces blood pressure, enhances fibrinolysis and improves antioxidant status, without significantly altering blood lipids and fibrinogen levels in stage 1 hypertensive individuals. (Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics. December 2009).

Protective effect of Eleteria cardamomum (L.) Maton against Pan masala induced damage in the lung of male Swiss mice.

In a study conducted in Ranchi University India, the potential ameliorating properties of cardamom Elettaria cardamomum (E. cardamomum) L. Maton against pan masala induced damage in the lung of male Swiss mice was investigated.  Results have shown that the lungs of pan masala treated group showed adenocarcinoma, edema, and inflammation with increased activity of acid phosphatase, alkaline phosphatase, and lactate dehydrogenase. While the deleterious effects were seen to be less in cardamom treated group and the enzymatic activity also decreased significantly (P<0.05) in the ameliorating group. This study suggests that cardamom supplementation may decrease the damage to the lungs of pan masala treated subjects. (Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine, July 2013)

Chemopreventive effects of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum L.) on chemically induced skin carcinogenesis in Swiss albino mice.

The potential of cardamom as a chemopreventive agent was investigated in a study done in the College of Health Sciences, University of Hail, Saudi Arabia. The study was done on mice treated orally with 0.5 mg of cardamom powder in suspension continuously at pre-, peri-, and post-initiation stages of papilloma genesis compared with the control group. It was observed that the treatment of cardamom suspension by oral gavage for 15 days resulted in a significant decrease in the lipid peroxidation level of the liver (P < .01). In addition, the reduced glutathione level was significantly elevated in comparison with the control group (P < .05) following cardamom suspension treatment. These findings indicate the potential of cardamom as a chemopreventive agent against two-stage skin cancer (Journal of Medicinal Food, June 2012).

Antioxidative effects of the spice cardamom against non-melanoma skin cancer by modulating nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 and NF-κB signaling pathways.

Cardamom,  a dietary phytoproduct, has been commonly used in cuisines for flavor and has numerous health benefits, such as improving digestion and stimulating metabolism and having antitumorigenic effects.  A study done in Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute, Kolkata, India, investigated the efficacy of dietary cardamom against 7,12-dimethylbenz[a]anthracene (DMBA)-induced skin papilloma to genesis in Swiss albino mice that closely resembles human NMSC. Results from the oral administration of cardamom to DMBA-treated mice up-regulated the phase II detoxification enzymes, such as glutathione-S-transferase and glutathione peroxidase, probably via activation of nuclear factor erythroid-2-related factor 2 transcription factor in ‘DMBA+CARD’ mice. Furthermore, reduced glutathione, glutathione reductase, superoxide dismutase and catalase were also up-regulated by cardamom in the same ‘DMBA+CARD’ group of mice compared with DMBA-treated mice. Cardamom ingestion in DMBA-treated mice blocked NF-κB activation and down-regulated cyclo-oxygenase-2 expression. As a consequence, both the size and the number of skin papillomas generated on the skin due to the DMBA treatment were reduced in the ‘DMBA+CARD’ group. Thus, the results of the study suggest that cardamom has a potential to become a pivotal chemopreventive agent to prevent papilloma genesis on the skin (British Journal of Nutrition, Sept 2012)

Gut modulatory, blood pressure lowering, diuretic and sedative activities of cardamom.

Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) is traditionally used in various gastrointestinal, cardiovascular and neuronal disorders.
A study was done in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Aga Khan University, Karachi, Pakistan have using Cardamom crude extract in guinea-pig, mice and rabbits suggested that cardamom exhibits gut excitatory and inhibitory effects mediated through cholinergic and Ca++ antagonist mechanisms respectively and lower BP via a combination of both pathways. The diuretic and sedative effects may offer added value in its use in hypertension and epilepsy. (Journal of Ethnopharmacology, February 2008).

Cardamom extract as an inhibitor of human platelet aggregation.

The Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition, Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, India, investigated the protective effects of cardamom extract against platelet aggregation and lipid peroxidation.  In the study, a sample from the blood of healthy volunteers was taken and the platelets were subjected to stimulation with a variety of agonists including ADP, epinephrine, collagen, calcium ionophore and ristocetin.  Results have shown that the inhibitory effects of cardamom against lipid peroxidation and platelet aggregation were dose dependent and time dependent and an increase in the concentration of the aqueous extract of cardamom results to significantly decreased MDA formation.(Phytotheraphy Research, May 2005)

Allergic contact dermatitis from cardamom.

Cardamom is a popular traditional flavoring agent for baked goods and confectionery.  A case is presented of a confectioner with a chronic hand dermatitis and positive patch test reactions to cardamom and certain terpenoid compounds present in the dried ripe seeds of cardamom. Dermatitis from skin exposure to cardamom has to the best of our knowledge not been reported.

Cardamom Side Effects And Warnings

Cardamom may be considered safe for most people in food amounts and there were no reported side effects from its consumption.

Cardamom is considered safe for use by pregnant and breastfeeding mothers if taken in food amounts. But caution should be taken if to be taken in large doses as there are no sufficient studies that determine its full effects.

Large doses of cardamom have been found to trigger gallstone colic that causes spasmodic pain.

Cardamom may trigger an allergic reaction for sensitive people. Severe side effects include difficulty in breathing, hive, swelling of skin and heaviness of chest.

Cardamom Availability And Preparation

Where To Buy Cardamom

Cardamom comes in several forms depending upon how the cardamom seed pods are treated. Cardamom is usually available in most grocery stores along with the other spices;

Green cardamom pods are the preferred form of this spice in its native country, India. This fancier cardamom has been picked while still immature and sun-dried to preserve its bright green color. Green cardamom pods are harder to find and more expensive than the other forms of cardamom in part because of their superior ability to retain aroma and flavor longer. This premium form of cardamom is all connoisseurs will use in any recipe which calls for cardamom.

Cardamom seed has had the outer pod, or cardamom fruit, removed so that only the pure seeds remain. This form of cardamom spice is sometimes called cardamom-decort, which simply means the seeds have been removed from the pods or hulled. The seeds are crushed or ground prior to use, which provides plenty of cardamom flavor at a more economical price, substitute 12 seeds for every whole pod called for in a recipe.

Black cardamom is the seed pods of closely related species that also are aromatic and have an appearance similar to that of true cardamom. Although, black cardamom is not a suitable substitute in recipes that call for cardamom. Its flavor is much earthier with sweetness and a flowery accent that is different from that of true cardamoms. It is an ingredient used in some African cooking and abroad to add a bacon-like a flavor to some vegetarian dishes.

Ground cardamom is convenient to have for baking and other applications where the spice needs to be ground. Freshness and thus flavor are of course compromised when cardamom is pre-ground because it loses flavor soon after grinding. To appreciate cardamom’s true flavor we suggest grinding it before use in a spice mill, electric coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle.

White cardamom that was commonly available in the North America and Europe had been bleached to achieve its color or lack of it. It is used in baking and some desserts because its color helps keep light colored batters, sauces, and confections speck free. The bleaching process also destroyed much of the cardamom’s flavor leading to white cardamom’s decline in popularity.

Cardamom – The Queen of Spices

Cardamom is the Queen of Spices and has grown lavishly under the tropical canopy on hillsides in the Ghat Mountains on the Malabar Coast of southern India to be harvested by hand and shipped around the world.  The cardamom familiar to India and the western world is called green cardamom and it, along with several other types such as giant cardamom, black cardamom, and bastard cardamom, have been used for cooking, perfumery, incense, and medicine since very early in history.

Ancient Egyptians used it frequently for perfume along with frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon and cassia, and had a recipe for an ointment called “Oil of Lilies” that included the scent from 1000 lilies. It is often mentioned as one of the ingredients of the ancient incense kyphi. Cardamom essential oil is one of the oldest essential oils known in perfumery and in the apothecary. Cardamom is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla.

Why is cardamom called the Queen of the Spices? Maybe it is its association with queens. The large-leaved plant with purple and white flowers had a place in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The terraced garden was built by King Nebuchadnezzar for his wife who was homesick. Cleopatra burnt cardamom incense whenever Mark Antony visited.

Eletteria cardamomum is the popular green cardamom and has an exotic aroma with warm, spicy and highly aromatic nuances.  There is an initial sharp camphor note, somewhat like eucalyptus, that quickly evolves to a sweet, spicy-woody, balsamic scent that can have lovely floral tones.  It can be long-lasting in a blend and must be used with skill so that it doesn’t overwhelm a perfume or add too much sharpness. The warmth and sweetness of cardamom can provide a lovely backdrop to floral perfumes such as Muguet and rose scents. It also warms Oriental perfume bases and is used in the heart notes of chypres perfumes. Although it is called the Queen of Spices, it is a favorite ingredient in masculine scents. Cardamom is available as an essential oil but there is also a solvent-extracted absolute and a CO2 extraction.

In the company of the King of Spices, black pepper, cardamom was an important commodity of the early spice trade that also transported frankincense, myrrh and other resins and precious aromatics. Caravans with as many as 4,000 camels would carry treasures of the East in the form of spices to markets in Babylon, Carthage, Alexandria, and Rome.  Later traders would sail ships along the Indian Coast and through the Red Sea into Egypt and thus through the rest of the world. The Spice Route was second in importance only to the Silk Road and the spices it transported were often as valuable, or more so, than gold or precious metals. In addition to Arab and Portuguese traders, the Vikings discovered cardamom on one of their raids and brought it back to Scandinavia where they enjoyed it in festival cakes.  According to The Economist the spice trade, founded on spices like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger, has been the foundation of the world economy’s oldest, deepest, and most aromatic roots.

cardamom-botany

Cardamom plants require very warm and humid climates and are perfect understory plants for humid mountainsides. As a member of the Ginger family, they also have tall leaves, thick rhizomes, and a unique flower. The flower stalk or panicle comes out from the base of the plant and in the Malabar variety will grow along the ground but there is also a Mysore variety that has vertical panicles. Cardamom plants will bear seeds in pods clustered near the ground and continue bearing for 10-15 years. The seeds need to be gathered at exactly the right time if too early the pods will shrivel and if too late they will shatter. They are then dried, traditionally in the sun but sometimes by fire or in traditional hot houses. The pods are naturally green and, if dried correctly, will retain a green color.  However, some markets prefer a light colored pod and producers will bleach cardamom pods to achieve a creamy or golden yellow color to the husk. Outside of India and Asia, Guatemala is a big producer of much of the world’s cardamom.

The Queen of Spices is best used in sweet dishes such as pastries, cakes, and baked goods; however, it is often used in some meat dishes and curries where the spices are mild. It’s an important ingredient in the spice mix garam masala.  There is a Bedouin coffee called Gahwah that is made with freshly crushed green pods and often combined with mace, nutmeg, and/or saffron. In many Arabic countries, cardamom is symbolic of welcoming (traditionally male) guests; there is a ritual to making the coffee and cardamom is closely associated with hospitality. The green coffee beans are first roasted and powdered with mortar and pestle then the cardamom pods are broken and dropped into the pot with the coffee.  Often the blend may be as much as half cardamom and half coffee or more.  Its common use with coffee in hot climates reflects the belief in the cooling properties of the spice. It is believed that Arabs consume one-half of the world’s cardamom annually.

Cardamom is frequently used to aid in digestion, and is often consumed after a meal as a breath freshener and digestive aid; it may even prevent tooth decay. The seeds have a distinctive tingling feel on the tongue when chewed and a tenacious sweet aroma.  Many people chew cardamom to freshen the breath and, in Sweden, it is thought to mask the residual aroma of too many alcoholic drinks. It’s used in over 30 traditional Chinese medicines and is a famous Ayurveda medicinal plant for digestive disorders, for detoxifying, stimulating the senses and may benefit those suffering from asthma or bronchitis.

It is called Ela “golden grains of paradise” in Sanskrit and is mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts,  as well as during the Vedic period (about 3000 BC). Cardamom has been used for thousands of years for its sexual powers. It is known in many cultures to have aphrodisiac properties and is included in the ingredients to be poured in “the sacrificial fire on the occasion of a Hindu marriage ceremony.” Asian cultures use cardamom as nature’s Viagra- to cure impotency and premature ejaculation.

The 1001 Arabian Nights makes frequent reference to cardamom’s use as an aphrodisiac. One might associate it with Venus but it is more closely allied with Mars due to its warming and stimulating effect.   But it is Mars exhibiting a lighter, feminine side with sweet heat.  It is frequently found in women’s love charms, or perhaps more accurately ‘lust charms’. Ancient Romans used cardamom to stimulate desire.  Does cardamom sweeten the words of love and soften the heart of the other?  Add some cardamom spice to your life and find out!

Avocados Can Help to Treat Metabolic Syndrome, says review

A new review of studies looking at the health effects of avocados finds that there is “satisfactory clinical evidence” that the fruit can help to treat metabolic syndrome.
[A selection of avocados]
Researchers suggest that avocado may help to tackle metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is defined as a cluster of risk factors that can raise the risk of other health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Risk factors include abdominal obesity, low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol – or “good” cholesterol – high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood sugar.

The presence of at least three of these risk factors warrants a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.

According to the American Heart Association, metabolic syndrome affects around 23 percent of adults in the United States.

Adopting a healthful diet is considered one of the best ways to prevent or treat metabolic syndrome. The new review – recently published in the journal Phytotherapy Research – suggests that avocados should form a part of this diet.

Avocados are a fruit from the avocado tree, or Persea Americana, which is native to Mexico and Central and South America.

A number of studies have documented the possible health benefits of avocado. A study reported by Medical News Today in 2014, for example, found that eating half an avocado with lunch may aid weight loss, while more recent research linked the fruit to reduced levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, known as “bad” cholesterol.

These benefits have been attributed to the bioactive components of avocados, which include carotenoids, fatty acids, minerals such as calcium, iron, and zinc, and vitamins A, B, C, and E.

For their review, co-author Hossein Hosseinzadeh, of Mashhad University of Medical Sciences in Iran, and colleagues set out to determine how these components might help to combat the risk factors of metabolic syndrome.

Avocado has the strongest effect on cholesterol levels

To reach their findings, the researchers analyzed the results of various in vivo, in vitro, and clinical studies that investigated the effects of avocado on metabolic health.

Hosseinzadeh and colleagues found that the fruit has the strongest impact on lipid levels – that is, levels of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

As an example, the team points to one study of 67 adults, of whom 30 had a healthy lipid profile and 37 had mild hypercholesterolemia. After adhering to an avocado-enriched diet for 1 week, both groups showed significant reductions in total and LDL-cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

“The reported mechanism of this effect was regulating of the hydrolysis of certain lipoproteins and their selective uptake and metabolism by different tissues such as liver and pancreas,” explain the authors.

“Another possible mechanism could be related to the marked proliferation of the liver smooth endoplasmic reticulum which is known to be associated with induction of enzymes involved in lipid biosynthesis.”

An ‘herbal dietary supplement’ to help treat metabolic syndrome

The review also uncovered evidence that avocado is beneficial for weight loss. The researchers cite one study that found overweight or obese adults who ate one avocado every day for 6 weeks experienced significant decreases in body weight, body mass index (BMI), and the percentage of body fat.

Additionally, the team identified a number of studies associating avocado intake with reductions in blood pressure among patients with hypertension, and evidence suggests that the fruit might also help to reduce atherosclerosis – the narrowing or hardening of arteries caused by a buildup of plaque.

Notably, Hosseinzadeh and colleagues found that it is not just the flesh of the avocado that can benefit metabolic health – the peel, seed, and leaves of the fruit may also help.

One study published in 2014, for example, found that a daily dose of oil extracted from avocado leaves led to reductions in total and LDL cholesterol and blood pressure.

Overall, the researchers conclude that avocado may be effective for the treatment of risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome, though further research is warranted. They write:

“In this review article, satisfactory clinical evidence suggested that avocado can be used as herbal dietary supplements for treatment of different components of [metabolic syndrome].

Although, avocado like other herbal products is safe and generally better tolerated than synthetic medications, there is limited scientific evidence to evaluate different side effects because of contaminants, or interactions with drugs. Besides, further studies need to be accomplished on the metabolic effects of different parts of avocado for other possible mechanisms.”

Food as Medicine: Carrot (Daucus carota, Apiaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Range and Habitat

Ubiquitous at any supermarket, the common root vegetable carrot (Daucus carota, subsp. sativus) is a biennial plant that is an excellent source of vitamin A (one cup contains approximately 600% of the recommended daily value) and fiber.1 Indigenous to Europe as well as parts of Asia and northern Africa, carrots now are cultivated commonly in a wide range of environments as they can withstand frosts.2 The colorful varieties of carrots, as well as their hardiness, make them popular with home gardeners.

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Favored for their sweet flavor and versatility, carrots not only supply an impressive array of vitamins and minerals, but also contain carotenoids such as alpha- and beta-carotene, lycopene, and the flavonoid quercetin. Though the orange carrot is the most well known in modern times, carrots appear in a number of colors including white, yellow, red, and purple.3 In fact, purple was the prevailing color for carrots until about four hundred years ago, when popular theory claims that the unusual orange variety was cultivated in Holland as a sign of Dutch nationalism to honor William of Orange. The exact reason why the orange cultivar became the dominant variety is unknown, though genetic evidence suggests that orange carrots developed from yellow ones.4

The different colors of carrots reveal their various concentrations of phytochemicals.5 Carotenoids give yellow, orange, and red carrots their colors, while anthocyanins produce the deep purple variety. Orange carrots contain high quantities of beta-carotene. Yellow carrots contain low quantities of beta-carotene, but higher levels of lutein, which may protect from age-related macular degeneration and be beneficial for eyesight. Red carrots contain lycopene — a potent antioxidant with potential anti-cancer activity — in concentrations similar to that of tomatoes. Red carrots also contain moderate levels of alpha- and beta-carotene and lutein. Purple carrots contain high levels of anthocyanins, antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and cardio-protective properties. The white variety has low levels of these phytochemicals but contains high levels of potassium.

Historical Uses

The record of the use of carrots in herbalism dates back to the 10th century, with mentions in the Old English Herbarium and the Leech Book of Bald indicating the use of the root as an emmenagogue as well as a treatment for smallpox and cough.6 Around the world, both root and seed have documented historical uses, typically to promote menstruation or as a diuretic. A different species, the wild American carrot (D. pulsillus), has an ethnobotanical history among many American native tribes as a remedy for colds, fevers, itching, and snake bites.7

Modern Research

Current research suggests that carrots may possess anti-cancer properties,8-10 as well as benefits for people with high blood pressure11 and cardiovascular disease.12 Beta-carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A and is a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body from free radicals and maintaining healthy skin and eyes.13

Consuming large amounts of beta-carotene, especially from carrots, can result in a harmless side effect called carotenemia, which temporarily yellows the skin.13 Infants, whose commercial foods often contain carrot puree as an added ingredient, are most likely to get carotenemia. The yellowing effect subsides as the body processes the excess beta-carotene.

Carrots can be enjoyed cooked or raw, as they retain their nutrients during the cooking process.14 Their sweetness adds to their versatility and supports their use in both sweet and savory dishes. A sweet-and-spicy pickle, for example, enhances the carrot’s natural flavor and a pleasing crunch.


Nutrient Profile

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup raw carrots)

52 calories
1.26 g protein
12 g carbohydrates
0.23 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup raw carrots)

Excellent source of:

Vitamin A: 34,317 IU (~686% DV)
Vitamin K: 16.1 mcg (20% DV)

Very good source of:

Vitamin C: 11.4 mg (18% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 3.7 g (14.6% DV)
Potassium: 394 mg (11.3% DV)

Good source of:

Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (9% DV)
Manganese: 0.2 mg (8.5% DV)
Molybdenum: 6.1 mcg (8.1% DV)
Thiamin: 0.1 mg (8.0% DV)
Niacin: 1.1 mg (5.6% DV)
Phosphorus: 53.7 mg (5.4% DV)
Magnesium: 18.3 mg (4.6% DV)
Folate: 17.1 mcg (4.3% DV)

DV = Daily Value, as established by the US Food and Drug Administration, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.


Recipe: Spicy Pickled Carrots

Adapted from Alton Brown15

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. baby carrots
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  • 2 dried red chilies

Directions:

  1. Place carrots and garlic in a 1-quart, spring-top glass jar.

  2. In a non-reactive

    sauce pan

    , bring the water, sugar, cider vinegar, mustard seeds, salt, and dried chili flakes to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Boil for 4 minutes.

  3. Slowly pour the pickling liquid into the jar, covering the carrots and garlic completely. Submerge the

    chilies

    in the jar and cool before sealing.

  4. Refrigerate for two days (for a milder pickle) or a week (for a spicier pickle). These will get hotter the longer they are kept.

References

  1. Basic Report: 11124, Carrots, raw. US Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Library. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2014.
  2. Taxon: Daucus carota L. Germplasm Resources Information Network – (GRIN) [Online Database]. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2014.
  3. History of the Carrot Part Three: From Medicine to Food – A.D. 200 to 1500. World Carrot Museum website. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2014.
  4. History of the Carrot Part Five: The Road to Domestication and the Colour Orange. World Carrot Museum website. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2014.
  5. Arscott SA, Tarnumihardjo SA. Carrots of many colors provide basic nutrition and bioavailable phytochemicals acting as a functional food. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. March 2010;9(2):223-239. Available here. Accessed December 3, 2014.
  6. What the Ancient Herbalists Said about Carrots. World Carrot Museum website. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2014.
  7. Moerman DE. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1998.
  8. Bhanot A, Sharma R, Noolvi M. Natural sources as potential anti-cancer agents: A review. International Journal of Phytomedicine [serial online]. April 2011;3(1):9-26.
  9. Aggarwal B, Shishodia S. Molecular targets of dietary agents for prevention and therapy of cancer. Biochemical Pharmacology [serial online]. May 14, 2006:1397, 1421.
  10. Rana Z, Malcolm R. C, Christine L. Le M. Bioactive Chemicals from Carrot (Daucus carota) Juice Extracts for the Treatment of Leukemia. Journal of Medicinal Food [serial online]. November 2011;14(11):1303-1312.
  11. Potter AS, Foroudi S, Stamatikos A, Patil BS, Deyhim F. Drinking carrot juice increases total antioxidant status and decreases lipid peroxidation in adults. Nutr J. September 24, 2011;10:96.
  12. Buijsse B, Feskens E, Kwape L, Kok F, Kromhout D. Both α- and β-Carotene, but Not Tocopherols and Vitamin C, Are Inversely Related to 15-Year Cardiovascular Mortality in Dutch Elderly Men. Journal of Nutrition [serial online]. February 2008;138(2):344-350.
  13. Vitamin Library: Beta-Carotene. Andrew Weil, MD website. Available here. Accessed November 19, 2014.
  14. Rock CL, Lovalvo JL, Emenhiser C, Ruffin MT, Flatt SW, Schwartz SJ. Bioavailability of beta-carotene is lower in raw than in processed carrots and spinach in women. J Nutr. 1998;128:913-916.
  15. Firecrackers. Food Network website. Available here. Accessed December 3, 2014.

Coconut Oil – Countless Uses!

Coconut oil has been a dietary and beauty staple for millennia. It’s a powerful destroyer of all kinds of microbes, from viruses to bacteria to protozoa, many of which can be harmful, and provides your body with high-quality fat that is critical for optimal health.

Around 50 percent of the fat in coconut oil is lauric acid, which is rarely found in nature. In fact, coconut oil contains the most lauric acid of any substance on Earth.

Your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, a monoglyceride that can actually destroy lipid-coated viruses such as HIV and herpes, influenza, measles, gram-negative bacteria, and protozoa such as giardia lamblia.

This is undoubtedly part of what makes it so medicinally useful—both when taken internally and applied externally.

Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) that are easily digested and readily cross cell membranes. MCFAs are immediately converted by your liver into energy rather than being stored as fat. This is in part why I recommend coconut oil as an ideal replacement for non-vegetable carbohydrates.

Coconut oil is easy on your digestive system and does not produce an insulin spike in your bloodstream, so for a quick energy boost, you could simply eat a spoonful of coconut oil, or add it to your food. In the video above, I also share my recipe for a scrumptious yet healthful chocolate treat, courtesy of the healthy fat from coconut oil.

To get more coconut oil into your diet, you can add it to your tea or coffee, in lieu of a sweetener. It will also help improve absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, so taking a spoonful of coconut oil along with your daily vitamins may help boost their effectiveness.

Coconut oil is ideal for all sorts of cooking and baking, as it can withstand higher temperatures without being damaged like many other oils (olive oil, for example, should not be used for cooking for this reason).

Furthermore, coconut oil does not go rancid, which is a huge boon when you’re making homemade concoctions. Coconut oil that has been kept at room temperature for a year has been tested for rancidity, and showed no evidence of it. Since you would expect the small percentage of unsaturated oils naturally contained in coconut oil to become rancid, it seems that the other (saturated) oils have a powerful antioxidant effect.

GENERAL HEALTH BENEFITS OF COCONUT OIL

In all, coconut oil offers a truly impressive array of health benefits when included in your daily diet. In addition to its antimicrobial properties, coconut oil is beneficial for:

Promoting heart health Supporting proper thyroid function
Promoting healthy brain function Strengthening your immune system
Providing an excellent “fuel” for your body and supporting a strong metabolism that can aid in weight loss Maintaining healthy and youthful looking skin

While coconut oil is an ideal food for fostering health and beauty from the inside out, it also has a staggering number of other uses, from topical beauty applications to first aid treatments, to general household cleaning.  Once you’re done reading through this article, you’ll probably be inspired to stock up for all eventualities!

COCONUT OIL CAN REPLACE DOZENS OF BEAUTY AND PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS

 

One of the best personal care products you’ll ever find may be sitting in your kitchen cupboard right now. The video above, featuring HolisticHabits blogger and coconut oil aficionado Sarah, recounts many of its beauty uses. The second video includes a recipe making your own coconut oil-based deodorant. A previous article by Delicious Obsessions also lists no less than 122 creative uses for this household staple, including 21 DIY coconut oil skin care recipes. For example, coconut oil can be used to replace the following personal care and beauty products.

Makeup remover: Swipe on with a moist cotton ball. Wipe off with a clean cotton ball or wet washcloth.
Facial cleanser: Massage a dollop of coconut oil onto face and neck. Wash off with a wet washcloth and pat dry.
Body scrub: Mix equal parts coconut oil with organic cane sugar in a glass jar. Use the scrub on dry skin prior to your shower or bath.
Facial scrub: Instead of sugar, mix coconut oil with baking soda, or oatmeal with a dash of cinnamon, for a gentle facial scrub.
Shaving lotion: Apply a thin layer of coconut oil on the area to be shaved, and shave as usual. The lauric acid in the coconut oil will also serve as an antiseptic for cuts that result from shaving.
Face and body moisturizer: You can use it either by itself or add your favorite essential oil. (Make sure you’re using a high-quality essential oil that is safe for topical application.) The featured article also suggests whipping the coconut oil with an electric mixer to produce a fluffy moisturizer that stays soft and spreadable even in cooler temperatures.

When applied topically, coconut oil helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to keep your connective tissues strong and supple, and aids in exfoliating the outer layer of dead skin cells, making your skin smoother.

Eye cream: Apply a thin layer of coconut oil around your eyes to soften wrinkles and counteract thinning, sagging skin.
Cuticle cream: Simply rub a small amount of coconut oil around your cuticles to soften dry areas.
Deodorant: Applying a small amount of coconut oil directly onto your armpits can help keep odors at bay, courtesy of the oil’s antibacterial properties. If you prefer, you can add a small amount of baking soda, or make a homemade deodorant using coconut oil, baking soda, and arrowroot powder. For directions, see the second video above. DeliciousObsessions.com also lists additional deodorant recipes using coconut oil as the base.
Bath soak: Adding coconut oil to your bath can help moisturize dry itchy skin (Make sure to scrub your tub afterward to prevent slipping!). Make sure the water is warmer than 76 degrees Fahrenheit though, otherwise the oil will turn to a solid.
Soap: Coconut oil is one of the base ingredients in many homemade soap recipes, such as this one by NourishingJoy.com
Lip balm: You can either apply a small amount of coconut oil, as is or make your own lip balm using coconut oil as one of the base ingredients. You can find all sorts of recipes online, but here’s one by The Liberated Kitchen.
Toothpaste: Mixed with baking soda, coconut oil can replace your regular toothpaste. The baking soda will gently cleanse while the coconut oil’s antibacterial action may help keep harmful bacteria in check. For recipes using essential oils to spruce up your toothpaste, seeDeliciousObsessions.com.
Insect repellent: Mixing coconut oil with high-quality essential oils may help keep biting insects at bay when applied to exposed skin. Effective choices include: peppermint, lemon balm, rosemary, tea tree oil, neem, citronella(Java Citronella), geraniol, catnip oil (according to one study, catnip oil is 10 times more effective than DEET), and/or clear vanilla oil

HAIR’S BEST FRIEND

Coconut oil is also known for its hair benefits. Most women seem to prefer using it as a pre-shampoo conditioner. Simply massage the coconut oil onto dry hair and leave on for about an hour or longer. You could even leave it on overnight. Just wear a shower cap to protect your pillow. Then, wash and style as usual.

When applied in this manner, the coconut oil inhibits the penetration of water into the hair strands, which would otherwise cause the cuticle, or surface of the hair shaft, to rise, making it prone to damage and breakage. Furthermore, when applied as a pre-wash treatment, a small amount of the coconut oil is able to penetrate deeper into the hair shaft during the wash, when the hair fiber swells slightly.

This can also explain why so many rave about the oil’s ability to prevent “the frizzies” in humid weather—this is another feature of its hydrophobic activity. More porous types of hair may find coconut oil particularly beneficial, such as African and chemically treated hair, as well as those suffering with any type of scalp problems, including dandruff.

ORAL HEALTH BENEFITS

As mentioned above, coconut oil mixed with baking soda makes for very simple and inexpensive, yet effective, toothpaste. It’s also a great alternative if you want a fluoride-free toothpaste but don’t want to spend the extra money, since they tend to cost more than most regular, fluoridated toothpaste brands.

Another oral health technique where I believe coconut oil can be quite beneficial is oil pulling. This technique has significantly reduced my plaque buildup, allowing me to go longer between visits to the dental hygienist. (Adding fermented vegetables to my diet has been another game-changer in my oral health.)

Oil pulling is a practice dating back thousands of years, having originated with Ayurvedic medicine. When oil pulling is combined with the antimicrobial power of coconut oil, I believe it can be a very powerful health tool. Sesame oil is traditionally recommended, but it has relatively high concentration of omega-6 oils. Therefore, I believe coconut oil is far superior, and, in my mind, it tastes better. But from a mechanical and biophysical perspective, it is likely that both work.

Oil pulling involves rinsing your mouth with the oil, much like you would with a mouthwash. The oil is “worked” around your mouth by pushing, pulling, and drawing it through your teeth for a period of 15 minutes. If you are obsessive like me and want even better results, you can go for 30-45 minutes. This process allows the oil to “pull out” bacteria, viruses, fungi and other debris. The best time is in the morning before eating breakfast, but it can be done at any time. I try to do it twice a day if my schedule allows. When done, spit out the oil and rinse your mouth with water. Avoid swallowing the oil as it will be loaded with bacteria and whatever potential toxins and debris it has pulled out.

When done correctly, oil pulling has a significant cleansing, detoxifying and healing affect, not only for your mouth and sinuses but for the rest of your body as well. Candida and Streptococcus are common residents in your mouth, and these germs and their toxic waste products can contribute to plaque accumulation and tooth decay, in addition to secondary infections and chronic inflammation throughout your body. Oil pulling may help lessen the overall toxic burden on your immune system by preventing the spread of these organisms from your mouth to the rest of your body, by way of your bloodstream.

COCONUT OIL TO THE RESCUE

Besides its usefulness in the kitchen and bathroom, coconut oil deserves a place in your medicine cabinet as well—again courtesy of its antimicrobial and anti-viral activity. For example, coconut oil may be helpful in the treatment of:

Ear infections: Place a couple of drops into each ear canal. If the coconut oil has solidified, you can easily liquefy it by placing a small amount in a shot glass or other small container and placing it into a cup of hot water Skin rashes and irritations, including chicken pox and shingles: Simply apply a small amount to the affected area
Fungal and/or yeast infections, such as athlete’s foot and ringworm. For fungal infections, you can mix in a small amount of oregano oil or tea tree oil Bug bites and bee stings
Cold sores: mix in a small amount of oregano oil, and apply at the first signs Frequent nosebleeds may be improved by regularly applying a small amount to the inside of your nostrils
Thrush Hemorrhoids and piles: You may add a small amount of lavender essential oil for added healing power
Vaginal dryness Perineal massage: Expectant mothers can use it to massage the perineum daily, starting about a month or so before your due date, to help reduce your chances of tearing and/or the need for an episiotomy

COCONUT OIL—MORE EFFECTIVE THAN PERMETHRIN FOR HEAD LICE

According to research published in the European Journal of Pediatrics, a combination of coconut oil and anise was found to be nearly twice as effective as the commonly prescribed permethrin lotion for the treatment of head lice. According to the authors:

“We designed a randomized, controlled, parallel group trial involving 100 participants with active head louse infestation to investigate the activity of a coconut and anise spray and to see whether permethrin lotion is still effective, using two applications of product 9 days apart. The spray was significantly more successful (41/50, 82.0%) cures compared with permethrin (21/50, 42.0%…). Per-protocol success was 83.3% and 44.7%, respectively. Thirty-three people reported irritant reactions following alcohol contact with excoriated skin. We concluded that, although permethrin lotion is still effective for some people, the coconut and anise spray can be a significantly more effective alternative treatment.” [Emphasis mine]

Isn’t it wonderful to see how nature provides us with so many effective solutions to so many of our ills? And does so in a way that is oftentimes more effective than our chemical drug concoctions! Another anecdotal Hawaiian head lice treatment is to first soak your hair in vinegar and leave it in to dry (don’t rinse). Next, coat your hair with coconut oil over night. I’d recommend sleeping with a shower cap to protect your bedding. The following day, the nits reportedly comb out easily.

14 SURPRISING USES FOR COCONUT OIL AROUND THE HOUSE

Last but not least, coconut oil can be used for a number of household tasks otherwise relegated to more costly, and potentially toxic, alternatives. Following are 14 creative yet practical uses for this fantastic oil:

1. Clean, condition and sanitize your wooden cutting board. Use whenever the wood starts to look dry.
2. Use when making compost tea for your garden to reduce foam.
3. Use as a metal polish. Make sure to test a small area first.
4. Moisturize and soften leather goods as you would using other leather conditioners.
5. Season your cast iron pots and pans using coconut oil in lieu of lard or corn oil.
6. Lubricate squeaky hinges and sticky mechanisms with coconut oil instead of WD-40.
7. Clean and condition wooden furniture in lieu of furniture polish. Make sure to test a small area first.
8. Lubricate your guitar strings.
9. Clean soap scum from your shower using a small dollop of coconut oil on a damp cloth. Spray the area with white vinegar and wipe dry with a lint-free cloth.
10. Clean your hands and paint brushes with coconut oil after using oil-based paints, in lieu of mineral spirits.
11. Clean and condition the inside of your car by adding a small amount to a soft lint-free cloth. Rub in and wipe off excess.
12. Clean and sanitize your mouth guard by applying a thin layer of coconut oil. Leave the coconut oil on when not in use. Rinse before using.
13. Cleanse and add a glossy finish to indoor plants by wiping the leaves with a small amount of coconut oil on a lint-free cloth.
14. Remove chewing gum from virtually any area, including carpets and hair.

What Is Citron?

The citron is a large fragrant citrus fruit with a thick rind, botanically classified as Citrus medica by both the Swingle and Tanakabotanical name systems. It is one of the four original citrus fruits (the others being pomelo, mandarin, and papeda), from which all other citrus types developed through natural hybrid speciation or artificial hybridization.

The fruit’s English name “citron” derives ultimately from Latin, citrus, which is also the origin of the genus name.

Other languages

A source of confusion is that citron or similar words in French, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Finnish, Latvian, the West Slavic languages, and all Germanic languages but English are false friends, as they refer to the lemon. Indeed, into the 16th century, the English name citron included the lemon and perhaps the lime as well.[3][not in citation given] In Italian, it is known as a cedro.

In Persian languages, it is called Turunj, as against “Naraj” (bitter orange); both names borrowed by Arabic and introduced into Spain and Portugal after their occupation by the Muslims in AD 711, whence it became the source of the name orange. In Syria it is called Kabbad; in Japanese, it is called Bushukan (maybe referring only to the fingered varieties).

While the lemon or orange are peeled to consume their pulpy and juicy segments, the citron’s pulp is dry, containing a small quantity of insipid juice, if any. The main content of a citron fruit is the thick white rind, which adheres to the segments and cannot be separated from them easily. The citron gets halved and pulped, then its rind (the thicker the better) is cut in pieces, cooked in sugar syrup, and used as a spoon sweet, in Greek known as “kitron glyko” (κίτρον γλυκό), or it is diced and caramelized with sugar and used as a confection in cakes.

In Samoa, a refreshing drink called “vai tipolo” is made from squeezed juice. It is also added to a raw fish dish called “oka” and to a variation of palusami or luáu.

Today the citron is used for the fragrance or zest of its flavedo, but the most important part is still the inner rind (known as pith or albedo), which is a fairly important article in international trade and is widely employed in the food industry as succade, as it is known when it is candied in sugar.

The dozens of varieties of citron are collectively known as Lebu in Bangladesh, where it is the primary citrus fruit.

In Iran, the citron’s thick white rind is used to make jam; in Pakistan, the fruit is used to make jam but is also pickled; in South Indian cuisine, some varieties of citron (collectively referred to as “Narthangai” in Tamil) are widely used in pickles and preserves. In Kutch, Gujarat, It is used to make the pickle, wherein entire slices of fruits are salted, dried and mixed with Jaggery and spices to make sweet spicy pickle. In the United States, citron is an important ingredient in holiday fruitcakes.

Medicinal

From ancient through medieval times, the citron was used mainly for medical purposes: to combat seasickness, pulmonary troubles, intestinal ailments, scurvy and other disorders. The essential oil of the flavedo (the outermost, pigmented layer of rind) was also regarded as an antibiotic. Citron juice with wine was considered an effective antidote to poison, as Theophrastus reported. In the Ayurvedic system of medicine, the juice is still used for treating conditions like nausea, vomiting, and excessive thirst.

The juice of the citron has a high Vitamin C content and used medicinally as an anthelmintic, appetizer, tonic, in a cough, rheumatism, vomiting, flatulence, hemorrhoids, skin diseases and weak eyesight.

There is an increasing market for the citron for the soluble fiber (pectin) found in its thick albedo.

Religious

In Judaism

The citron is used by Jews (the word for it in Hebrew is etrog) for a religious ritual during the Jewish harvest holiday of Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles; therefore, it is considered to be a Jewish symbol which is found on various Hebrew antiques and archaeological findings. Citrons used for ritual purposes cannot be grown by grafting branches.

In Buddhism

A variety of citron native to China has sections that separate into finger-like parts and is used as an offering in Buddhist temples.

Perfumery

For many centuries, citron’s fragrant essential oil has been used in perfumery, the same oil that was used medicinally for its antibiotic properties. Its major constituent is limonene.

Description and variation

Fruit

The citron fruit is usually ovate or oblong, narrowing towards the stylar end. However, the citron’s fruit shape is highly variable, due to the large quantity of albedo, which forms independently according to the fruits’ position on the tree, twig orientation, and many other factors. The rind is leathery, furrowed, and adherent. The inner portion is thick, white and hard; the outer is uniformly thin and very fragrant. The pulp is usually acidic but also can be sweet, and even pulpless varieties are found.

Most citron varieties contain a large number of mono-embryonic seeds. They are white, with dark inner coats and red-purplish chalazal spots for the acidic varieties, and colorless for the sweet ones. Some citron varieties are also distinct, having persistent styles, that do not fall off after fecundation. Those are usually promoted for etrog use.

Some citrons have medium-sized oil bubbles at the outer surface, medially distant to each other. Some varieties are ribbed and faintly warted on the outer surface. There is also a fingered citron variety called Buddha’s hand.

The color varies from green, when unripe, to a yellow-orange when overripe. The citron does not fall off the tree and can reach 8–10 pounds (4–5 kg) if not picked before fully mature. However, they should be picked before the winter, as the branches might bend or break to the ground, and may cause numerous fungal diseases for the tree.

Plant

A pure citron, of any kind, has a large portion of albedo, which is important for the production of Succade.

Citrus medica is a slow-growing shrub or small tree that reaches a height of about 8 to 15 ft (2 to 5 m). It has irregular straggling branches and stiff twigs and long spines at the leaf axils. The evergreen leaves are green and lemon-scented with slightly serrated edges, ovate-lanceolate or ovate-elliptic 2.5 to 7.0 inches long. Petioles are usually wingless or with minor wings. The clustered flowers of the acidic varieties are purplish tinted from outside, but the sweet ones are white-yellowish.


Varieties and hybrids

The acidic varieties include the Florentine and Diamante citron from Italy, the Greek citron and the Balady citron from Israel. The sweet varieties include the Corsican and Moroccan citrons. Between the pulpless are also some fingered varieties and the Yemenite citron.

There are also a number of citron hybrids; for example, ponderosa lemon, the lumia and rhobs el Arsa are known citron hybrids, some are claiming that even the Florentine citron is not pure citron, but a citron hybrid.

Origin and distribution

Despite the variation among the cultivars, authorities agree the citron is an old and original species. There is molecular evidence that all other cultivated citrus species arose by hybridization among four ancestral types, which are the citron, pomelo, mandarin and some papedas. The citron is believed to be the purest of them all, since it is usually fertilized by self-pollination, and is therefore generally considered to be a male parent of any citrus hybrid rather than a female one.

Today, authorities agree that all citrus species are native to Southeast Asia, where they are found wild and in an uncultivated form. The story of how they spread to the Mediterranean has been reported by Francesco Calabrese, Henri Chapot, Samuel Tolkowsky, Elizabetta Nicolosi, and others.

The citron could also be native to India where it borders on Burma, in valleys at the foot of the Himalayas, and in the Indian Western Ghats. It is thought that by the time of Theophrastus, the citron was mostly cultivated in the Persian Gulf on its way to the Mediterranean basin, where it was cultivated during the later centuries in different areas as described by Erich Isaac. Many mention the role of Alexander the Great and his armies as they attacked Persia and what is today Pakistan, as being responsible for the spread of the citron westward, reaching the European countries such as Macedonia and Italy.

Antiquity

Leviticus mentions the “fruit of the tree hadar” as being required for ritual use during the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. 23:40). According to Rabbinical tradition, the “fruit of the tree hadar” refers to the citron, which the Israelites brought to Israel from their exile in Egypt, where the Egyptologist and archaeologist Victor Loret claimed to have identified it depicted on the walls of the botanical garden at the Karnak Temple, which dates back to the time of Thutmosis III, approximately 3,000 years ago.

The citron has been cultivated since ancient times, predating the cultivation of other citrus species.

Theophrastus

The following description on citron was given by Theophrastus

Illustration of fingered citron with the leaves and thorns that are common to all varieties of citron.

In the east and south there are special plants… i.e. in Media and Persia there are many types of fruit, between them there is a fruit called Median or Persian Apple. The tree has a leaf similar to and almost identical with that of the andrachn (Arbutus andrachne L.), but has thorns like those of the apios (the wild pear, Pyrus amygdaliformis Vill.) or the firethorn (Cotoneaster pyracantha Spach.), except that they are white, smooth, sharp and strong. The fruit is not eaten, but is very fragrant, as is also the leaf of the tree; and the fruit is put among clothes, it keeps them from being moth-eaten. It is also useful when one has drunk deadly poison, for when it is administered in wine; it upsets the stomach and brings up the poison. It is also useful to improve the breath, for if one boils the inner part of the fruit in a dish or squeezes it into the mouth in some other medium, it makes the breath more pleasant.

The seed is removed from the fruit and sown in the spring in carefully tilled beds, and it is watered every fourth or fifth day. As soon the plant is strong it is transplanted, also in the spring, to a soft, well watered site, where the soil is not very fine, for it prefers such places.

And it bears its fruit at all seasons, for when some have gathered, the flower of the others is on the tree and is ripening others. Of the flowers I have said[41] those that have a sort of distaff [meaning the pistil] projecting from the middle are fertile, while those that do not have this are sterile. It is also sown, like date palms, in pots punctured with holes.

This tree, as has been remarked, grows in Media and Persia.

Pliny the Elder

Citron was also described by Pliny the Elder, who called it nata Assyria malus. The following is from his book Natural History:

There is another tree also with the same name of “citrus,” and bears a fruit that is held by some persons in particular dislike for its smell and remarkable bitterness; while, on the other hand, there are some who esteem it very highly. This tree is used as an ornament to houses; it requires, however, no further description.

The citron tree, called the Assyrian, and by some the Median apple, is an antidote against poisons. The leaf is similar to that of the arbute, except that it has small prickles running across it. As to the fruit, it is never eaten, but it is remarkable for its extremely powerful smell, which is the case, also, with the leaves; indeed, the odour is so strong, that it will penetrate clothes, when they are once impregnated with it, and hence it is very useful in repelling the attacks of noxious insects.

The tree bears fruit at all seasons of the year; while some is falling off, other fruit is ripening, and other, again, just bursting into birth. Various nations have attempted to naturalize this tree among them, for the sake of its medical properties, by planting it in pots of clay, with holes drilled in them, for the purpose of introducing the air to the roots; and I would here remark, once for all, that it is as well to remember that the best plan is to pack all slips of trees that have to be carried to any distance, as close together as they can possibly be placed.

It has been found, however, that this tree will grow nowhere except in Media or Persia. It is this fruit, the pips of which, as we have already mentioned, the Parthian grandees employ in seasoning their ragouts, as being peculiarly conducive to the sweetening of the breath. We find no other tree very highly commended that is produced in Media.

Citrons, either the pulp of them or the pips, are taken in wine as an antidote to poisons. A decoction of citrons, or the juice extracted from them, is used as a gargle to impart sweetness to the breath. The pips of this fruit are recommended for pregnant women to chew when affected with qualmishness. Citrons are good, also, for a weak stomach, but it is not easy to eat them except with vinegar.