Category Archives: Health

Chicken Soup Really Does Help

Looking for scientifically proven remedies to the common cold?

Try out this recipe:

• 1 5- to 6-lb stewing hen or baking chicken;
• 1 package of chicken wings;
• 3 large onions;
• 1 large sweet potato;
• 3 parsnips;
• 2 turnips;
• 11 to 12 large carrots;
• 5 to 6 celery stems;
• 1 bunch of parsley; and
• salt and pepper to taste.
Clean the chicken, put it in a large pot, and cover it with cold water. Bring the water to a boil. Add the chicken wings, onions, sweet potato, parsnips, turnips, and carrots. Boil about 1.5 h. Remove fat from the surface as it accumulates. Add the parsley and celery. Cook the mixture about 45 min longer. Remove the chicken. The chicken is not used further for the soup. (The meat makes excellent chicken parmesan.) Put the vegetables in a food processor until they are chopped fine or pass through a strainer. Both were performed in the present study. Salt and pepper to taste. (Note: this soup freezes well.) Matzoh balls were prepared according to the recipe on the back of the box of matzoh meal (Manischewitz; Jersey City, NJ).

Presented in Chicken Soup Inhibits Neutrophil Chemotaxis In Vitro* by Rennard, et. al., this specific recipe was used to prove that chicken soup really does help with colds. The study also analyzed various commercially available canned soups (though it should be noted “No strict quality control was performed, although each preparation was evaluated by taste and was felt to be satisfactory (if variably so).”

They found that chemicals present in all of the soups (Grandma’s Soup, as well as the 13 brands purchased at local grocery stores) inhibited neutrophil chemotaxis.

It is also worth noting that the control group was neutral: “Omaha tap water had no activity.”

Disclaimer: There’s a small chance that this article was written because the study made me go “aww” multiple times. But! On to other sources…

Another study compared the ingestion of hot water, hot soup, and cold water when you have a stuffed up or runny nose. The hot water and the soup both had an affect, as the water vapor (steam) inhaled while consuming them helped decongest for about 30 minutes. The soup had a more pronounced effect than the hot water, however–the researchers theorized that there was a physical reaction to the presence of flavor (which also explains why tea can be useful).

Now that I’ve convinced you, onto the recipes!

I think “Grandma’s Soup” is a pretty good starter recipe, so here’s some less conventional ones:

whitechickenchili

crockpot-chicken-wild-rice-soup-3

Spicy Italian Chicken Noodle Soup 1 012edited

pho

 

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With Great Freedom Comes Great Responsibility: The Safety of Sugar Free

I like to think that I eat fairly healthily, especially compared to the norm. I try to keep my carbohydrates low, eat plenty of vegetables, and always have a bottle of water handy.

There is one questionable substance I allow myself without restriction, however: sucralose. I’ve realized this lately, and am attempting to cut down, but it’s made me curious about just how dangerous fake sweeteners are.

Most Americans and Europeans regularly consume “fake” sweeteners on a regular basis, either on purpose (in baking, coffee and tea) or unintentionally (in reduced fat foods, and even some medications). They’re a welcomed loophole for those looking to lose or maintain their weight, and keep their blood sugar stable. But are they safe?

It Causes Cancer! … It Might Cause Cancer! … Male Lab Rats Are Prone to Cancer!

It seems that the best argument those who oppose sweeteners have is that aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are all carcinogenic–they cause cancer. But do they really?

The newest study to come to light was in June of 2013, when Italian scientist Dr. Morando Soffritti fed male lab rats “varying” levels of sucralose throughout their lives. This study is still under peer review, and has caused quite a bit of controversy in the scientific community.(1) It contradicts the 2000 study which concluded that the substance posed no threat. Both studies were carried out on lab rats over a significant portion of their life span.

The scientific community, so far, is disregarding this study as “bad science,” however. Read the full story here. It seems that this Dr. Soffritti has been under review by his peers for less than perfect performance in the past, so for now, the consensus is that sucralose is safe for consumption.

splenda

This is only the most recent of many almost identical situations for artificial sweeteners. In the 1970s, the oldest sweetener, saccharin, came under fire when scientists found that lab rats fed the substance developed bladder tumors. Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the specific way rodents metabolized saccharin was causing the problem, and that humans would not suffer the same consequences. Warning labels were removed from Sweet’n’Low and Sugar Twin by 2000.

Conversely to the accusatory studies, University of Adelaide researchers released findings that shows that the gut’s reaction to sweetener is neutral. “In our most recent study involving healthy men, we found that the gut’s response to artificially sweetened drinks was neutral – it was no different to drinking a glass of water,” the researcher added. (2)

What About Natural No-Calorie or Low-Calorie Sweeteners?

When you think of “natural low calorie sweetener,” how many of you think of Stevia? Oh, looks like most of you.

Unfortunately, it looks like Stevia is actually worse for you than any chemical sweetener–though nobody is going to drop from this chemical. The compounds in this shrub, which has been consumed for centuries, break down in humans’ guts to steviol, which is slightly toxic. Dr. Berger explains this much better than I could:

Erythritol, however, seems to be the one golden angel of the bunch. This chemical has never been accused of being harmful–in fact, it’s only fault is being a sugar alcohol. No, it doesn’t get you drunk; being a sugar alcohol means that a fair amount of the population (about 40%) will get a blood sugar spike from consuming it, though smaller than if they were consuming regular sugar. Also, all sugar alcohols (xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol are some of the more common ones) cause many consumers intestinal discomfort, so make sure you keep track of how much you eat in one serving, and per day, or you may be in for a bad time.

stevia

 

So What Am I To Nom?

Because artificial sweeteners are still under review, it’s hard to say what the future brings. However, at this time, it looks like all commercially available low or no calorie sweeteners are safe for consumption–in moderation. Keep track of how much you eat a day, and take note of any weird symptoms or discomfort. Your body will tell you what’s best!

 

What sweetener do you use?

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The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oils

Cooking oil is a ubiquitous pantry item, no matter what your diet–high-fat, low-fat, vegan, and paleo eaters all need it. This isn’t a bad thing, as fat is vital to the proper functioning of the body. However, unlike in the days of your grandmother, when there was butter, olive oil, canola oil, and maybe one other fancy shmancy oil for special dressings, the modern grocery shopper has their choice of a dizzying array of liquid lipids.

First, a Handy Dandy Chart

I’m giving full credit to theconsciouslife.com for this chart. It’s fantastic and I immediately recognized that I could not do better at this time.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 7.42.11 PM Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 7.41.59 PM chart of cooking oilsLegend:
SFA: Saturated fatty acids
MUFA: Monounsaturated fatty acids
PUFA: Polyunsaturated fatty acids
Ω-3: Omega-3 fatty acids
Ω-6: Omega-6 fatty acids
Ω-9: Omega-9 fatty acids
Ω-6:3 Ratio: Omega-6 to omega-3 ratio
Smoke Point: The temperature at which a cooking oil starts to burn and produce chemicals that are potentially harmful.

 

What Does It All Mean?

The Omegas

Science tells us that no matter what your budget, or how delicious butter is, it’s really important to balance your omega-3 and omega-6s. What are these silly things? They’re essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, and are crucial for proper brain and body function.

Though omega-6 is necessary for a brain function, hair and skin growth, bone health, regulation of the metabolism, and maintenance of the reproductive system, too much can cause inflammation. Most Westernized eaters consume far too much, which leaving out it’s counterpart, omega-3 (which cuts down on inflammation). This lack of balance has been been blamed for a host of common 1st world diseases, from dementia to Complete Regional Pain Syndrome.

Omega 9, the fairly new kid on the health awareness block, is equally important for hearth health and blood sugar control. This omega is also likely to increase your metabolism with consumption, and improve your moods. It’s most likely found hanging out in canola oil, nuts, and avocados.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 8.03.01 PMfrom goodfats101.com

The bottom line: you’re probably getting enough omega-6, so it’s a good idea to focus on getting more omega-3 and omega-9. 

Smoking Point

When an oil starts to smoke, it means that it’s breaking down. What that means for you, as a chef, is that if it gets any hotter, your food is not going to taste very good, and you’ll some of the health benefits from your dish. Lastly, the blueish smoke you see rising from your dish is made up of acrolein, which can really do a number on your eyes and throat. If your pan starts smoking, turn off the fire, turn on a fan or open a window, and give it some space to cool down.

In general, for high heat operations, such as sauteeing, deep frying, or grilling, you’ll want to use vegetable oils. The main exception to this rule is hydrogenated vegetable shortening. The only animal fat that is suitable for this kind of operation is ghee, or clarified butter.

Lower smoke point oils, such as coconut and oil, are great for everything from coatings to salad dressings. Their more pronounced flavors will lend that special flare to your dish, without you having to worry about losing them to the heat of cooking.

Flaming_wok_by_KellyB_in_Bountiful,_Utah

What oil is your favorite to use? Do you have any unique oils in your pantry?

 

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The Facts About Migraines

I suffer migraines often, as does over 13% of the American population. They’re classed as one of the most disabling chronic illnesses, with more than 90% of sufferers claiming that they miss school or work when experiencing one.

“Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer”

Given that these attacks have plagued me since I hit puberty, I figured I should educate myself on them–hopefully you learn a few things as well!

What Causes Them?

What’s Going On In My Head?

It’s always good to give bad news first, right? Well, the bad news is that nobody is really sure what causes them. There are two popular theories:

  • Changes in the brainstem that affect how it interacts with the trigeminal nerve, which is one of the most crucial pain pathways.
  • Chemical or hormonal imbalances, especially in seratonin. This theory is supported by the fact that levels of this hormone are very low during attacks–though that may be an because of the pain, not the original cause of it. (1)
  • An incomplete or unusual network of arteries supplying the brain. (2)

What is known is what the mechanical affect is. During a migraine, the temporal artery (the one that runs across your temple), one of the major arteries for your head, enlarges. This causes a rush of chemicals that trigger inflammation, pain, and–in an evolutionary fluke–further enlargement of the artery.

Are My Symptoms Normal?

These hormones cause a variety of symptoms. Migraines are characterized by:

  • Extreme, aching pain that seems to originate from the temples and radiate around the head.
  • Decreased blood pressure, which causes cold hands and feet.
  • Sensitivity to light and sounds. You probably want to be somewhere dark and quiet, even though it doesn’t make you feel better.
  • Intestinal distress, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and general discomfort.

Triggers and Warnings

What’s more important for sufferers to know–more than the mechanical reason for them–is what their particular trigger or triggers are. Some of the most common ones…

Specific foods

Tyramine or phenylethylamine

“Say what?”

These two amino acids are found most abundantly in chocolate, aged or fermented cheeses such as Brie, cheddar, and “moldy” varieties, citrus fruits, vinegar, nuts, and soy products. (3) Since that most likely eliminates many of your favorite foods, make sure to document what you ate right before your migraine started so you can narrow the list down.

If this is true for you, be careful of eating leftovers. Tyramine content increases over time, so try to only store foods that don’t have to be in air tight containers, and be wary of situations where food has been left out for a while, such as parties and office snacks.

Lastly, many alcoholic beverages, such as beer, red wine, sherry, and vermouth contain copious amounts of the chemical, so try to find alternate adult beverages for partying without the pain. More on boozing further down!

Caffeine

Coffee, tea, energy drinks, and even some dark chocolates can start the aching for some.

Alcohol and Dehydration

These two belong together, as boozing is one of the few times where the more you empty your cup, the most dehydrated you are. Alcohol itself may be your trigger, but before you convict this culprit, try alternating alcoholic beverages with tall glasses of water.

Tannins

Tea, red wine, and red fruit (apples, pears, and grapes all qualify) and their juices can all cause migraines. If you frequently suffer after consuming red or purple foods or beverages, this may be your prime suspect.

Preservatives

Nitrites, nitrates, and sulfites have all been guilty of causing migraines. These chemicals are doing your body no favors. Be wary of hot dogs, deli meats, dried fruit, and, one more time, wine.

Aspartame

That cute little pink envelope by the coffee doesn’t look so friendly when you suffer from migraines. Check labels when you chose to drink diet beverages, light yogurts, or anything labelled “sugar free” that still tastes sweet.

Menstruation

As if you need another reason to hate these days of the month.

Your Surroundings

Strong perfumes, flickering lights, and excessive stress can all be triggers.

It’s important to keep a diary of when you get migraines, and narrow down what causes them. This will help you avoid them in the future. The triggers listed are only the most common, you may have something else to blame, such as medication or certain physical activities. 

Relief

You probably started reading this article to find out how to treat the stupid things, right? Well, here it is…

Prevention

The best way to treat migraines is to prevent them as often as you can. Find out what your triggers are, and avoid them! Even if it’s chocolate–it’s really just not worth the pain.

If your migraines are particularly severe, often, or both, talk to your doctor. They may prescribe preventative medicines, such as:

  • Cardiovascular drugs such as beta blockers or calcium channel blockers.
  •  Tricyclic antidepressants or selective seratonin reuptake inhibitors, as they can help regulate your seratonin.
  • Anti-seizure drugs such as Depacon and Topamax have been shown to reduce the frequency of migraines. These drugs have some serious side effects, so it’s recommended you only take them if you absolutely must.
  • Botox injections in the muscles of the head and neck have been shown to help lessen the effect and frequency.
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as naproxen may help.

Treatment During an Attack

If you can take pain medications right when you’re feeling the beginnings of a migraine, they’re more likely to work. NSAIDS (Advil, Motrin IB) are hit or miss. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) helps some but is less likely.

Drugs marketed as specifically for migraines, such as Excedrin Migraine (this one is my personal favorite), help for mild to medium severity attacks, but don’t do much if you wait to take them.

All of these medications lead to stomach complications if taken too often.

If these don’t work for you, or you have migraines more than once a month, talk to your doctor about:

  • Triptans, which constrict blood vessels, have been proven to help end migraines sooner, and manage pain. There’s several side effects, however, and they are not recommended to those who are at risk for stroke or heart attack–if you have high blood pressure, don’t take these.
  • Dihydroergotamine (Migranal) is an ergotamine derivative with less side affects. It’s available as either a nasal spray or injection.
  • Opioids should only be taken as a last resort, as they’re fairly addictive. They can be helpful for those who cannot take triptans or ergot.(4)

If you can sleep, do. It’s one of the best ways to cure a migraine that doesn’t come in pill form.

Do you have any tips, tricks, or anecdotes you’d like to share about your migraines?

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