Food/Healthy Cooking

 

Bananas

The banana has several nutritional benefits including helping with heartburn, battling depression and keeping the pipes flowing (so to speak).

 
Photo: (rinse)/Flickr
The banana is perhaps the oldest recorded fruit in the world as well as the most consumed. But some dieters avoid bananas like a slippery peel. Are bananas unhealthy? Or have some carb-phobic dieters gone bananas? Here are some banana nutrition facts...
 
Considered a healthy staple for thousands of years, the banana is now shunned by some low-carb dieters because of its sugar content.
 
Most dieticians and nutritionists would caution diabetics and those with blood sugar and metabolic deficiencies to be careful with banana intake, especially over-ripe bananas.
 
Diabetics—and those who burn up carbohydrates very quickly—would be better off opting for green-tipped bananas. Eating some protein and natural fat along with a banana can also help manage blood sugar levels.
 
So how much sugar is in a banana? And are bananas healthy for most of us?
 
One medium-sized banana (approximately 7 inches long) contains 14 grams of sugar. Is 14 grams a lot? It depends what kind of sugar comprises the 14 grams and how quickly those sugars spike blood sugar levels.
 
Blood sugar spike from eating bananas
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, an all-yellow ripe American banana has a glycemic load (GL) of only 13 on a scale of 100. But an average banana’s glycemic index (GI) is approximately 50. What is the difference between GL and GI? The glycemic load is generally regarded as a more accurate indicator of a carbohydrate’s effect on blood sugar levels.
 
A banana’s glycemic load is considered medium (11-19 is medium; low = 10 or less; high = 20 or more), which supports the theory that those with blood-sugar sensitivities should be at least slightly cautious with banana consumption, especially overly ripe ones.
 
Bananas’ many health benefits
Athletes love bananas for the quick and sustained burst of energy provided. But even professional couch potatoes enjoy many benefits of eating bananas, including:
 
  • Battling depression: bananas contain the amino acid tryptophan, which converts into serotonin, the body’s natural mood-enhancing chemical.
  • Keeping the pipes flowing: high in fiber (3 grams), bananas can stimulate the bowels, reversing constipation.
  • Stress management: a single banana contains about 12 percent of your daily potassium needs. Stress reduces potassium levels. Fatigued? Irritable? Have high blood pressure? Eat bananas.
  • Helping heartburn: bananas, for most people, are a natural antacid.
 
High vitamin and mineral content
Low-fat dieters also love bananas as they contain virtually no fat. Bananas do have a gram or two of protein, but where a banana really shines nutritiously is in its vitamin content. A banana is high in the following:
 
  • Vitamin C: 17 percent of recommended daily value in one banana
  • Vitamin B6 (22 percent; good for the nervous system)
  • Folate (6 percent; good for cell repair)
 
Bananas are also high in the mineral manganese (good for bone health), supplying 16 percent of the recommended daily value. Are you susceptible to cramping? Magnesium can help prevent cramps and bananas contain 8 percent recommended daily value.
 
Conclusion: bananas are part of a healthy diet
Although a banana is 93 percent carbohydrate, dieters who are leery of carbs should not, by and large, exclude bananas from their diet. Bananas are not a perfect, complete food, as they do not contain all the essential amino acids. For those who crash a couple hours after eating lunch, a banana could be part of a smart, healthy snack, though it would be best combined with a higher protein snack like cheese.
 
A healthy diet should include several servings of fruit and vegetables each day, and a banana or two a day, for most people, should be part of that game plan.
 
Judd Handler is a health coach and writer in Encinitas, California.

 

Almonds

We take a closer look at the amazing super-food, the almond, which has been enjoying a renaissance lately.

 
Photo: mynameisharsha/Flickr
Almonds are enjoying a new wave of popularity thanks to a variety of almond-based spin-offs: almond milk, almond butter, almond flour and other almond alternatives. All of them are now available in mainstream supermarkets, not just health food stores.
 
Let’s examine some almond nutrition facts and see if they’re all that they’re cracked up to be.
 
Almonds have the following daily values (assuming a daily diet of 2,000 calories; measures are based on one ounce or about 20 almonds):
 
  • 14 grams of fat (21 percent daily value)
  • 6 grams of carbohydrates (3 grams from fiber; 14 percent DV of fiber)
  • Protein 6 grams (approximately 12 percent of DV, depending on individual needs)
 
Vegetarians delight in the high protein content of almond butter. But almond butter is an incomplete protein, meaning it lacks all the essential amino acids.
 
Combining with another food that complements the amino acid profile will help vegetarians possibly feel fuller for longer and avoid incomplete proteins perhaps being converted into carbohydrates.
 
But some fat-phobic discerning dieters who peruse every nutritional label like a hawk might shriek at just a handful of almonds as having so much fat.
 
They need not freak out and avoid almonds: the fat comprised in almonds are healthy fats, protecting cell walls and possibly even helping burn excess body fat.
 
Now for some of the vitamin and mineral standout components of almonds:
 
  • Vitamin E : a whopping 37 percent of DV; good for cellular integrity and skin)
  • Riboflavin: 17 percent; aka Vitamin B-2, essential for proper metabolism and way too many other health benefits to mention
  • Manganese: 32 percent DV; possibly eliminates severity of PMS symptoms and depression, among other numerous benefits
  • Magnesium: 19 percent DV; might be helpful in preventing heart attacks
  • Phosphorous and Copper: 14 percent DV, each; help absorb other vitamins, essential for growth and metabolism
 
Still not impressed? Well, there’s more to love about the almond.
 
Whole almonds are praised for their high nutrient density of:
 
  • Cancer-fighting micronutrients
  • Other essential vitamins and minerals
  • High protein content
  • Healthy fats
  • Cholesterol-lowering properties
 
Some almond alternatives like almond milk, however, contain fortified nutrients. Many health experts say that whole foods are the best source of nutrition and that fortified foods are beneficial only if a person is having difficulty in obtaining the whole food source.
 
That doesn’t mean the almond alternatives don’t have their place. Some people who are allergic to certain foods will use almond-based products as alternatives. For example, someone who is allergic to cow’s milk can enjoy a bowl of cereal with almond milk instead. Similarly, those who are allergic to peanut butter can use almond butter when they want to make a protein smoothie.
 
It’s easy to see why almonds have been cultivated and enjoyed as a part of a healthy, whole-foods based diet for thousands of years.
 
Have an opinion about almonds and almond alternatives? Let us know below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

Edamame

We've got eight ideas for what to eat when you're feeling hungry or low on energy.

 
GREEN IS GOOD: Edamame sprinkled with sea salt makes a healthy snack. (Photo:mamamusings/Flickr)
Don’t reach for that doughnut just yet. Here are some guidelines for choosinghealthy snacks.
 
When snacking, it’s a good idea to think about blood sugar levels. If you consume a sugary snack, chances are your blood sugar levels will spike. And although you may feel a temporary rush of energy and an elevated mood, you’ll most likely feel like you’ve hit a brick wall and experience a crash shortly after snacking on high-glycemic index foods.
 
After crashing, you’ll feel hungry again and repeat the vicious cycle.
 
A little background …
It’s important to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. Therefore, when we eat snacks, we want to apply the same fundamental rule to that of each of your regular meals. (Hopefully, you’re eating breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, to maintain steady blood sugar and help burn fat.)
 
Our fundamental rule is that we always want to combine the following three macronutrients when eating:
  • protein
  • carbohydrates
  • natural fat
Combining macronutrients ensures that you’ll feel full longer and won’t need to binge on sweets. In fact, if your regular meals have a good ratio of the three macronutrients, you might find you may not have to snack at all.
 
Pay attention to your body
Start paying attention to how you feel after eating a meal. If you feel full for three to four hours after eating and don’t have bloating or a drop in energy, then whatever you just ate is the right macronutrient proportion for you.
 
For example, a breakfast of two eggs, one piece of sprouted whole grain bread with a little dab of butter and two small slices of all-natural bacon may satisfy you for several hours.
 
To keep your blood sugar levels steady, it’s a good idea not to go more than four hours during the day without eating. So taking the breakfast example above, say, eaten at 8 a.m., you’ll want to eat lunch at about noon.
 
Maybe you don’t get home till 6 p.m. If you wait till then to eat dinner, you’ll likely be tired and cranky, so it’s a good idea to have a late afternoon snack.
 
What are some healthy snack choices?
Here are some examples of healthy snacks that combine all three macronutrients:
  • Celery and raw almond butter: celery is a carbohydrate; almond butter is both protein and natural fat.
  • Cheese and crackers: opt for grass-fed cheese for higher essential Omega 3 fatty acid content if possible and gluten-free rice crackers for less intestinal bloating.
  • Hummus and carrot sticks: hummus contains a little protein and natural fat.
  • Nitrate and nitrite-free jerky: contains protein and natural fat; you don’t always have to include a carbohydrate if you can digest meat efficiently.
  • Edamame sprinkled with sea salt: edamame is the whole soybean and it contains both protein and essential trace minerals if sprinkled with sea salt.
  • Greek yogurt: unless you’re on a restricted diet, go for the full-fat variety, which will keep you full for longer and includes all three macronutrients.
  • Apple slices with honey and olives: perfect for those who crave sweet and salty.
  • Organic turkey breast slice with crackers: turkey contains both protein and natural fat. (It’s easy to bring a package of healthy deli slices with you to work; just make sure your coworkers don't steal it!)
 
Even nutritionists, dieticians and health coaches fall off the wagon. If you do and reach for a doughnut, the best thing to do is to eat a little protein and natural fat (preferably before eating the doughnut) to stabilize your blood sugar levels.
 
But if you adopt these healthy snacking ideas, hopefully, your cravings for sugary junk food will subside.
 
Judd Handler is a freelance health reporter and certified Metabolic Typing Advisor and Functional Diagnostic Nutritionist living in Encinitas, CA. You can reach him atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Meat, eggs and cheese

Here are a few ideas for figuring out how much protein you should aim for on a daily basis. Hint: It depends on how much weight you want to gain or lose.

 
Photo: iStockphoto
Steak and eggs for breakfast. Ham and cheese for lunch. Chicken teriyaki for dinner. Too much protein in one day? Or just right? If lately you’ve asked, “How much protein do I need daily,” here are some guidelines.
 
Protein is one of the three macronutrients that we require on a daily basis, and should be consuming at every meal, along with carbohydrates (ideally, only in the form of whole grains, fruits and vegetables) and natural fat.
 
There are nine essential amino acids, which constitute the building blocks of protein. Eating high-quality sources of protein (for example: lean grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, wild salmon, minimally processed cheese, etc.) that contain the full spectrum of amino acids, have the following health benefits:
  • They repair body cells
  • They build and repair muscles, bones, skin, nails and hair
  • They support immune function
  • They develop and maintain organ function
  • They control many of the important processes in the body related to metabolism
Leading health websites, offer general guidelines for protein intake.
 
According to WebMD, protein requirements differ based on age:
  • Infants require about 10 grams a day.
  • Teenage boys need up to 52 grams a day.
  • Teenage girls need 46 grams a day.
  • Adult men need about 56 grams a day.
  • Adult women need about 46 grams a day.
 
For pregnant or lactating women, WebMD recommends increasing intake to 71 grams of protein a day.
 
Percentage of total calories is another measure of protein intake. The Institute of Medicine suggests that adults get between 10 percent and 35 percent of their total daily caloric intake from protein.
 
Why general protein suggestions may be insufficient
The Institute of Medicine suggestion is a huge gap, and one that fails to account for unique biological differences. The WebMD and governmental agency guidelines might be a good starting point, but fail to account for activity levels.
 
For example, take the aforementioned pregnant or lactating woman, advised by WebMD to consume 71 grams of protein per day. But what if the woman is still very active, lifts weights and is very tall and muscular? Perhaps 71 grams of protein per day wouldn’t suffice.
 
Maximum protein intake for inactive adults
Before figuring out what’s the best daily protein intake for you, many people first want to know what the maximum daily protein intake should be. As another general rule, if you’re not a competitive athlete or bodybuilder, take 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. A 170-pound adult male, then, should not exceed more than 153 grams of protein per day.
 
And if I pump iron regularly, how much protein should I eat per day?
Many bodybuilders, perhaps the most protein-conscious segment of society, use the following formula to determine adequate (for encouraging muscle growth and cell repair) protein intake per day. Keep in mind that this formula is for serious weightlifters only, those who spend 5-6 days in the gym, performing 1-2 hours of resistance training:
  • Take your body weight (example: 200 pounds)
  • Find out your body fat percentage using a trusted method like skinfold caliper test at a gym (example: 15 percent)
  • Multiply your body fat percentage times your overall weight (200 x .15 = 170)
  • Take your lean body weight (170) and multiply times 1.14 = 194 grams of protein
 
Holy cow, that’s a lot of ... um, cow. Again, eating 200 grams of protein per day should only be done by experienced and accomplished weightlifters.
 
I’m not a lifter. I’m trying to lose weight. How much protein do I need?
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study in 2005 that found that increasing protein from 15 percent to 30 percent of total calories — and reducing fat from 35 percent to 20 percent of calories — resulted in sustained weight loss. So make sure you’re getting enough protein, because if you don’t, chances are you won’t feel full. This will lead to eating more belly-fattening refined carbohydrates.
 
There are some individuals who would do well on a lower protein diet, especially those with kidney or liver diseases. For most people, the WebMD and government recommendations are adequate guidelines. If you’re an avid exerciser, consume more protein than the recommendations. Always speak to a medical professional before deciding to eat five steaks a day to get massive muscles.
 
Know more about how much protein you need on a daily basis? Leave us a note in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health reporter in Encinitas, California.

 

Different types of sugar

Is sugar itself really evil? Or are we just eating way too much of it? MNN's health writer walks you through the facts and offers a few recommendations for those with a sweet tooth.

 
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING: There all sorts of sugars and sweetners, some of which are better than others. If you want to lose weight, cut down on sugar as much as possible. (Photo:Madlen /Shutterstock)
Sugar: Our brains can’t function without it, yet it’s considered a dietary evil.
 
Should sugar be avoided like the devil, or is it OK to have plenty of it as long as it’s in the form of fruit sugar (fructose)? Or does the answer lie somewhere in between?
 
Some sugar nutrition facts to ponder...
 
A nutritional paradox, sugar is vital for all life on Earth, supplying every muscle, organ and cell in our body, while simultaneously being blamed for the obesity anddiabetes onslaught in this country.
 
Is sugar culpable in bloating the health care system, feasting on nearly 20 percentof the U.S. economy?
 
Perhaps Dr. Andrew Weil says it best on his website: “The problem with … sugar is not that [it is] ‘bad’ for you, but that we eat far too much of [it].”
 
No doubt nearly every nutritionist on this planet feels the same as Weil. The American Heart Association has the facts to prove it. The AHA recommends no more than 9 teaspoons a day of sugar per day for men (equal to 150 calories, or about a little more than a can of regular soda) and 6 for women (100 calories).
 
The average daily sugar consumption for an American: 22 teaspoons (330 calories, yikes!)
 
Consuming 330 calories a day, equals 2,130 calories per week, equals 9,240 calories per month. Trying to lose weight, specifically body fat? Consider that there are 3,500 calories in a pound of body fat. Doing the math, this is an excess of almost two pounds per month.
 
Gaining two pounds of body fat a month leaves you 24 pounds heavier in a year. It’s easy to see how the battle of the bulge is lost.
 
What about alternative sweeteners? Are they healthier?
What if people switched from white table sugar to one of the following alternative sweeteners:
 
  • Agave nectar
  • Molasses
  • Raw organic honey
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Brown sugar (raw)
 
The two biggest advantages of alternative sweeteners is that they contain trace minerals (calcium, manganese, iron, zinc and potassium) that aren’t found in white table sugar.
 
Some sweeteners also have a lower glycemic index (GI) rating than regular sugar, thus potentially raising blood sugar levels less quickly than white table sugar. High blood sugar levels may contribute to diabetes and other health problems.
 
For example, agave nectar has a glycemic index of only 30 compared to the simplest broken-down sugar known to man and the chemical compound that fuels our brain: glucose, which has a GI rating of 100.
 
Honey averages 55 on the GI scale; fructose averages about 20; lactose (milk sugar) checks in at 46 and sucrose (common table sugar; a combo of fructose and glucose) has a GI of 68.
 
If fructose has a lower GI, should I eat a fruit salad for dessert?
As Weil mentioned above, sugar is sugar and too much of it may cause you to gain weight, not to mention the damage to your teeth. Despite some sweeteners eliciting stronger, more effective insulin releases to help regulate sugar’s distribution in the bloodstream, all sugars are pure carbohydrate and contain mostly empty calories, with the exception of the trace minerals in alternative sweeteners and fruit.
 
But eating too much fruit at one time can cause both indigestion (including the embarrassing kind) and can cause blood sugar levels to crash below normal levels.
 
The bloodstream can only circulate so much glucose before the sugar gets processed by the liver and stored as body fat.
 
What about zero calorie sweeteners?
Most health experts recommend natural, plant-based sweeteners like xylitol; another recommendation by many natural health practitioners is to avoid artificial sweeteners like aspartame.
 
The American Cancer Society, however, claims that aspartame does not cause cancer and is safe for consumption.
 
The bottom line: if you’re trying to watch your weight, limit your intake of all sugars. If you have a sweet tooth, opt for small amounts of stronger-flavored alternative sweeteners that have lower GI loads. To keep blood sugar levels down, always eat some natural fat and protein either before or with a sweet food.
 
Got any sugar nutrition facts you’d like to share? Tell us below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, Calif.

 

Quinoa with spinach and mushrooms.

Learn more about this superfood once revered by the Incas and now being touted by celebrity trainers.

 
GOOD FOR YOU: Quinoa with spinach and mushrooms. (Photo: SweetOnVeg/Flickr)
One of the latest superfoods to be touted by celebrity trainers and the like is quinoa.
 
What makes "keen-wah" so nutritious? We’ve got the scoop on quinoa nutrition facts.
 
Most people who have heard of quinoa think it’s a grain, and judging by how it’s pronounced, some assume it’s from the Orient.
 
But technically, quinoa is a seed, not a grain and it’s grown high in the Andes Mountains of South America.
 
Quinoa plants have been cultivated at altitudes of well over 10,000 feet and have been considered a superfood for at least a few millennia — in fact, the Incas cherished it as a superfood of their own.
 
Here in the U.S., quinoa has been discovered as a nutritious asset and enjoyed culinary popularity within only the last few years. Here’s why…
 
Eat one cup of quinoa (a single serving size), and you’ll consume:
  • 220 calories (70 percent carbs, 15 percent fat, 15 percent protein)
  • 40 grams of carbohydrates (13 percent daily value)
  • 8 grams of protein (16 percent of daily value)
  • 3.5 grams of fat (5 percent daily value with no saturated fat)
  • A glycemic load (blood sugar spike) of only 18 out of 250
  • 5 grams of fiber (20 percent of daily value)
  • 20 percent of daily value of folate (various forms of Vitamin B)
  • 30 percent of magnesium daily value (beneficial for people with migraine headaches); 28 percent daily value of phosphorous; iron (15 percent); copper (18 percent); and manganese (almost 60 percent)
Quinoa is stocked with life-sustaining nutrients all across the board, including all eight essential amino acids. There are other highly beneficial compounds, vitamins and minerals in this food that the Incas reverently called "chisaya mama" (mother of all grains).
 
Vegetarians would do well to incorporate quinoa into their diet often. It’s difficult for vegetarians to get all eight essential amino acids and an adequate source of protein from one food source. Usually, vegetarians and vegans need to combine foods like beans and rice to acquire all the essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein.
 
Those with gluten sensitivities or wheat allergies can rejoice in eating quinoa as it contains no gluten or wheat. (Spanish conquistadors during the South American conquest suppressed quinoa production, as it was associated with what the Spaniards perceived as non-Christian, indigenous, ceremonial backwardness. Thus, wheat was cultivated in the Andes region.)
 
Quinoa cooks very easily, in about 15 minutes. Like cooking rice in a stove top pot, you’ll want almost 2 cups of water per one part quinoa but be careful not to pour too much water in the pot, otherwise it will take even longer.
 
Cook quinoa at a high setting until it starts boiling and then cover and simmer for about 12-15 minutes. When you see the ring-shaped sprouts popping out, you’ll know the quinoa is almost ready. Stir the quinoa so all the water gets absorbed.
 
Quinoa by itself tastes rather bland. Add some coconut or olive oil or ghee butter (clarified butter) to add flavor and consistency. Add any spices or herbs you like and perhaps some crushed almonds or walnuts. In the last two minutes before it's ready to serve, toss a handful of spinach and stir until the spinach withers a little bit but not too much.
 
Enjoy this food that the Incas valued as much as gold.
 
Judd Handler is a freelance writer and health and lifestyle coach in Encinitas, Calif., who likes to think he has perfected the art of cooking quinoa. He can be reached atThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

cinnamon sticks and powder

Recent research suggests that cinnamon’s health benefits are numerous, though not everyone is convinced.

 
Photo: snedelchev/Shutterstock
Deep within the inner recesses of your kitchen pantry is a spice that’s been prized for thousands of years. It’s even mentioned in the Bible.
 
In the United States, cinnamon is mostly used for baking and flavoring, but recent research suggests that cinnamon health benefits are numerous, though somewhat controversial.
 
Besides sweetening your morning oatmeal or cup of coffee, other benefits of cinnamon may include:
 
  • Lowering blood sugar
  • Killing bacteria
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Improving digestion
  • Speeding up blood flow and circulation
  • Staving off Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Lowering cholesterol
 
Can cinnamon cure diabetes
By itself, not likely. But cinnamon has demonstrated that it contains compounds that lowers blood sugar after meals and increases insulin sensitivity.
 
study from VIT University in India examined cinnamon’s effect on diabetic rats and demonstrated that cinnamon bark is effective in reducing post-meal high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) levels. A meta-analysis of clinical studies on cinnamon published in the Journal of Medicinal Food concluded that cinnamon lowers fasting blood glucose levels in people with Type II diabetes.
 
Another study led by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Department of Human Nutrition, involved 60 people and concluded that cinnamon reduces serum glucose, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol in people with Type II diabetes. It also suggested that adding cinnamon to the diet of people with Type II diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
 
Despite these and other studies, not everyone sees cinnamon as a panacea for blood sugar metabolic disorders.
 
Who’s not buying the hype?
According to the American Diabetes Associaiton, “There is not enough evidence from research to claim that including cinnamon in your daily diet will help regulate blood glucose in people with diabetes.” The ADA points to a study by University of Connecticut and Hartford Hospital researchers that found a lack of efficacy in cinnamon’s ability to reduce blood sugar and fat.
 
New York University’s Langone Medical Center also doubts the usefulness of cinnamon for diabetes and for other health issues. On its website, it says, “At present, it would be premature to consider cinnamon an evidence-based treatment for Type II diabetes or high cholesterol, but it has definitely shown some promise.”
 
The Langone Medical Center points to the aforementioned USDA study involving 60 people, who were given doses of one, three, or six grams of cinnamon. The center concluded: “This study has some odd features. The most important is that it found no significant difference in benefit between the various doses of cinnamon. This is called lack of a dose-related effect, and it generally casts doubt on the results of a study.”
 
The critique continues, “The researchers counter that perhaps even (one gram) of cinnamon is sufficient to produce the maximum cholesterol-lowering effect, and therefore, higher doses simply didn’t add any further benefit. There is another problem with this study as well: no improvements were seen in the placebo group. This too is unusual, and also casts doubt on the results.”
 
‘Hogwash,’ says one researcher
Richard Anderson is the lead scientist at the Human Nutrition Research Center (a branch of the U.S.D.A.) in Beltsville, Md., and author of the study that NYU’s Langone Medical Center concluded was flawed.  Anderson told the Mother Nature Network, “I disagree, vehemently. All doses worked. That’s not a negative. We had 3 groups of 20 people in each group and a corresponding placebo for 1, 3, and 6 grams. In essence it’s three studies in one, so for them to say it’s a weak study is absolutely false. To say cinnamon doesn’t have an effect on humans is wrong.”
 
Anderson adds that some of the studies that failed to prove that cinnamon is effective in lowering blood sugar levels in patients with Type II diabetes has to do with the fact that the studies were done on people who were already taking blood sugar-lowering drugs such as Glucophage.
 
“To give cinnamon to people who are already on blood sugar-lowering drugs is ridiculous,” says Anderson.
 
Studying diabetic rats and mice is easier than humans
“It’s harder to duplicate the studies on cinnamon’s efficacy in humans because you can easily control a rat or mouse’s diet,” says Don Graves, a former distinguished professor at Iowa State University and current adjunct professor at University of California Santa Barbara.
 
“It’s very hard to control the diet of humans, it varies so much,” says Graves, who was Anderson’s graduate advisor.  Nonetheless, Graves concludes, “Both in animals and humans, without a doubt, cinnamon is very effective in helping manage diabetes.”
 
What other benefits?
Israeli researchers at Tel Aviv University have isolated a section of the cinnamon plant capable of delaying the development of Alzheimer’s disease. The findings were published in a peer-reviewed online science journal.
 
Cinnamon also fights the E. coli bacteria in unpasteurized juices, according to research by Daniel Fung, Professor of Food Science at Kansas State University.
 
“Cinnamon has tremendous killing power in controlling some microbes,” Fung tells MNN. “At a minimum, it can preserve food longer, and in some cases it can kill bad organisms,”
 
So, go ahead and relocate cinnamon front and center in your spice rack. It may be good for you.
 
Do you know of any other cinnamon health benefits? Let us know in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

More coffee

After sudden caffeine cessation, a small portion of the population will suffer withdrawal symptoms. The good news? The effects are mild and transient.

 
Photo: O Driscoll Imaging/Shutterstock
Reading this with a cup of coffee in your hand? Well, you’re not alone. In North America, approximately 90 percent of adults say they drink a caffeinated beverage every day.
 
But, what happens when you stop?
 
After sudden caffeine cessation, withdrawal symptoms develop in a small portion of the population, according to a research paper by Jasvinder Chawla, M.D. and Amer Suleman, M.D.
 
The study notes that the effects of caffeine withdrawal are often mild and transient but typical symptoms include:
 
  • headaches
  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • drowsiness
  • impaired concentration and work difficulty
  • depression and or anxiety
  • irritability
  • increased muscle tension
 
Tremor, nausea, and vomiting can also occur in extreme cases of caffeine withdrawal.
 
When do withdrawal symptoms start?
Withdrawal symptoms generally begin 12-24 hours after sudden cessation of caffeine consumption and reach a peak after 24-48 hours, says Daniel Evatt, Ph.D., a psychiatry research fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore. 
 
For those more sensitive to caffeine, withdrawal symptoms can appear within three hours and last up to a week if no caffeine enters the body to abate withdrawal symptoms.
 
“The most common symptom we see in people who stop using caffeine is headache, and that’s only in about a half the population who abruptly quit,” says Evatt.
 
170 years of medical literature
Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology at Johns Hopkins University, co-authored a paper in Psychopharmacology that reviewed 170 years of caffeine withdrawal mentions in medical literature.
 
In 57 experimental and nine survey studies, 13 percent of research participants experienced significant distress or functional impairment. The most severe cases of caffeine withdrawal occurred in those subjects who consumed high doses of caffeine.
 
But the study also revealed that it takes only 100 mg of caffeine a day (the typical amount of caffeine in a moderate-strength 8-ounce serving of coffee) to experience withdrawal symptoms.
 
Griffiths’ study, published in 2004, concluded that caffeine withdrawal symptoms are serious enough to merit inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).
 
As of the fourth edition of the DSM, caffeine withdrawal has not been included but caffeine-induced anxiety, sleep disorder and intoxication are included. The fifth edition will be released in 2013. A proposed revision to the DSM-V suggests that caffeine withdrawal may be included in the next edition.
 
Caffeine’s benefits overstated?
Evatt says that feelings of anxiety, irritability, depression, as well as sluggishness are all symptoms that are opposite of what the supposed benefits of caffeine offer. Evatt has found that to enjoy the benefits of caffeine, only a little bit is required.
 
“You can get the benefits in less than 100 milligrams,” says Evatt, also cautioning that above 300-400 mg per day of caffeine may lead to more serious withdrawal symptoms.  
 
Jack E. James, Ph.D., the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Caffeine Research, tells MNN via email that the beneficial effects of caffeine are inflated.
 
“The widely-held beliefs of superior performance and mood after caffeine consumption are simply due to a reversal of adverse withdrawal effects,” James writes.
 
“Overall, there is little evidence of caffeine having beneficial effects on performance or mood under conditions of long-term caffeine use as opposed to abstinence,” adds James, who had a study published in the New England Journal of Medicineconcluding that even low to moderate consumption of caffeine resulted in half of the subjects experiencing headaches.
 
Advice for cutting back on caffeine?
According to Evatt, you should not quit cold turkey. Instead, reduce consumption by 25 percent every week and if your goal is total elimination, within three weeks you should be able to abstain.
 
As for the maximum amount of caffeine allowed per day, Evatt says it’s hard to pin down.
 
“Due to the massive differences in how people react and metabolize caffeine, it’s impossible to give one guideline,” says Evatt.
 
Decaf latte, anyone?
 
Know more about caffeine withdrawal symptoms? Leave us a note in the comments below.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

 

Kid eating a carrot

The lovely carrot has lots to be proud of. We run you through the reasons why carrots make a great addition to most anyone’s diet.

 
Photo: matka_Wariatka/Shutterstock
The mighty carrot had a lot going for it even before Bugs Bunny discovered its unique health benefits. In fact, you can go back thousands of years and find mentions of carrots in books and literature.
 
What’s the allure? Certainly, this root vegetable has an appealing taste and a uniquely crisp texture. But beyond those two things, there are several carrot nutrition facts that make it a welcome addition to most anyone’s diet.
 
The Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health states that foods rich in Vitamin A — such as carrots — can help with the following:
 
  • Bone growth
  • Cell differentiation (cells know which tissue to become a part of, like blood, brain, lungs, etc…)
  • Immune system regulation (white blood cell production to fight off viruses and bad bacteria)
  • Surface lining integrity (eyes, lungs, intestines and urinary tracts)
 
Carrots contain antioxidants called carotenoids, which are red, yellow or orange-colored compounds found in plants. Beta-carotene, one of approximately 500 types of carotenoids, is the well-known antioxidant component in carrots.
 
All carotenoids are important, as a diet rich in them may reduce the risk of developing several types of cancers, including bladder, cervix, colon prostate, larynx and esophageal.
 
Several studies (such as this one focusing on lung cancer, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology) have found that a diet high in carotenoids can lead to a reduced risk of cancer.
 
In the book ‘150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,’ author Johnny Bowden, a Ph.D. in nutrition, dedicates an entire chapter on carrots. He says in the book that although carrots are best-known for their beta-carotene, they also contain alpha-carotene, which might be equally as protective against diseases, if not more so, than beta-carotene.
 
Indeed, one study by Japanese biochemists suggested that alpha-carotene was 10 times more powerful than beta-carotene in inhibiting tumor growth.
 
Alpha- and beta-carotene convert in the body to Vitamin A, hence the reason why a single serving of carrots supplies 200 percent of the FDA’s suggested daily amount of Vitamin A.
 
Good for vision
The micronutrients in carrots that promote optimal vision are two other carotenoids: lutein and zeaxanthin, which are the only carotenoids found in the retina. They may help in the prevention of macular degeneration and cataracts, according to one study in the Archives of Opthamology.
 
The aforementioned Dr. Bowden’s ode to carrots also mentions that carrots contain a purple pigment, rhodopsin, which helps with vision in dim lighting.
 
Nutrition data for carrots
Three medium-sized carrots contain:
 
  • 6-8 mg of calcium
  • 58 mg of potassium
  • Approximately 7 percent of the FDA’s suggested daily amount of magnesium, phosphorous and Vitamin C
  • 30,000 International Units (IUs) of Vitamin A
  • 15,000 IUs of beta-carotene
  • 6,000 IUs of alpha-carotene
  • 5 grams of fiber
 
Sugar content
Nutrition data from the FDA says that one-half cup of baby carrots contains three grams of sugar. One gram of carbohydrates (sugar is a carb, in case you didn’t know) equals four calories. Thus, a single serving of carrots has 12 calories of sugar out of 30 total calories.
 
Diane Madrigal, a San Diego-based clinical nutritionist, says that that amount of sugar does not make carrots unhealthy.
 
“Carrots are extremely healthy whether or not you have diabetes, because in its whole nutritious form, you’re getting all the nutrients and fiber, which will slow down the release of sugar,” she says.
 
But Madrigal says that because Vitamin A, which carrots are loaded with, is a fat-soluble vitamin, to get the most out of carotenoids, eat them with a little fat.
 
“Hummus, guacamole, tzatziki and babaganoush are excellent dips for carrots,” says Madrigal.
 
Skin turning yellow?
Beta-carotene may accumulate in your skin if you eat too many carrots, coating it with a yellowish tint. This discoloration, scientifically referred to as ‘carotenemia,’ is usually harmless. If your skin changes color, cut down on your dietary beta-carotene and discontinue any supplements that contain it. The whites of your eyes, however, should not turn yellow. If they do, seek immediate medical help.
 
Judd Handler is a health writer in Encinitas, California.

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