Food as Medicine: Caper (Capparis spinosa, Capparaceae)

The caper (Capparis spinosa, Capparaceae) bush is a small, salt-tolerant shrub with trailing, thorny branches, and thick, fleshy leaves. Caper has a deep root system and trailing vines that grow seven to 10 feet tall.1 The semi-prostrate branches have ovate, petiolate leaves arranged opposite of each other. The flowers are pink or white with three petals and numerous stamens. Caper is a deciduous, dicotyledonous plant that produces distinctive flower buds, which have a lifespan of 24 to 36 hours after opening.1,2

Caper’s edible shoots are considered a vegetable, and its processed buds are considered a culinary herb.1The tender shoots emerge in the spring, while the flower buds are harvested from mid-May to mid-August. Each plant produces hundreds of flowers each season. When pickled in vinegar or brine, the immature flower buds form capric acid, which is responsible for caper’s unique, salty-sour flavor.2,3 Once the flower blooms and is pollinated, it produces a fruit two to three inches in length and one-half to three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Caper fruits start out green but turn purple when ripe. Each fruit contains 200 to 300 seeds.1 The fruit of the caper bush is also harvested, but not commonly used.2

capersCurrently, capers are cultivated commercially in northern Africa, Spain, and Italy. Caper plants in Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey are grown for domestic use and not for export. The United States imports more than $20 million of processed capers annually.1 Caper plants that are two to three years old produce about two pounds of buds in a year, while plants older than four years may produce more than 20 pounds of buds annually.1

Phytochemicals and Constituents

Macronutrients are found in capers in very small amounts. One tablespoon (8.6 grams) of pickled capers has two calories, half a gram of carbohydrates, and minute amounts of protein and fat. An important micronutrient to consider when eating capers is sodium. One tablespoon of capers contains 202 milligrams of sodium, which is 8.5% of the recommended daily intake for a healthy adult.4,5 The flower bud also contains trace amounts of vitamins C and E. The concentration of vitamins can vary from plant to plant. The vitamin C content in capers cultivated in different regions in Tunisia, for example, ranged from 0.3 to 0.5 milligrams per 100 grams of capers.6

A number of bioactive compounds have been isolated from the flower buds of the caper bush. The pickling process has varying effects on the bioavailability of compounds due to different fermentation methods.7 Among the most investigated of these phytochemicals are flavonoids and antioxidants.

Flavonoids from Capers reportedly have cytotoxic, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, and antiparasitic properties.7,8 Rutin (quercetin-3-O-rutinoside) is the most abundant flavonoid in fresh and pickled caper buds.7 Simple water extractions high in rutin have been shown to reduce inflammation and arrest cell growth in cancer cells, as well as kill intestinal parasites in animals.8,9 Caper flower buds also contain quercetin-3-O-rhamnosylrutinoside, a derivative of quercetin.6

Quercetin, another well-studied flavonoid, is formed from rutin during the pickling process.7 Quercetin can inhibit inflammation and cancer cell growth in the same way as rutin.9 Quercetin has also shown immune health benefits. Kaempferol 3-O-rhamnosylrutinoside, another flavonoid identified in an aqueous extract, has proven antiparasitic properties.8

The flower bud of the caper bush also contains antioxidants such as carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbic acid, and a newly identified antioxidant, cappariside, a small organic acid.6,10 Antioxidants eliminate free radicals that cause damage to body tissues and DNA and have been implicated in the prevention of cancer, kidney damage, and heart disease, as well as protection against prescription drug-induced toxicity.11 The antioxidant effects of flower bud preparations have been shown to be more potent than those of the antioxidants in isolation.8

Historical and Commercial Uses

The unopened flower buds of the caper bush are commercially known as capers.2 Capers are used as a condiment in salads and sauces, or with meat or fish. They are also used in cosmetics and medicines.

Archeological evidence for the historical use of capers as a food and medicine exists among many ancient cultures.12 The earliest known evidence of caper consumption was found in the Mesolithic soil layer of an excavation site in Syria, potentially dating back to 9000 BCE. Nearby ancient peoples may have been using capers in 7500 BCE as evidenced by mineralised seeds found in the Franchthi cave, a Stone Age cave in the Greek Peloponnesian peninsula. Dried seeds found in the Nahal Hemar cave in Israel may have been used as early as 6000 BCE. In China, fresh clumps of capers and plant parts were preserved in entombed containers that are almost 3,000 years old. There is also evidence of Egyptian consumption of capers from 275 BCE to 600 CE.

Historical medicinal uses of capers ranged from expelling bad odor spirits in ancient Arabic cultures to treating paralysis in ancient Xinjiang, China.12 In addition to the buds, the root bark, fruit, and aerial parts of the caper bush were used in traditional remedies. Countries in the native range of caper, including Iran, Iraq, and Syria, used every part of the caper bush for a variety of ailments. As the cultivation and use of capers spread, the Greeks, Egyptians, and Chinese incorporated the caper bush into their traditional medicine practices.

Capers contain phytochemicals that can inhibit inflammation, which supports caper’s usages as a cleanser and pain reliever.9,12 In ancient Chinese, Greek, and Arabic cultures, the root bark was mixed with vinegar or honey and applied topically to treat skin conditions such as ulcers and white spots associated with vitiligo.12 Similarly, the root was consumed as a treatment for inflammation and lacerations of the mouth, spleen, stomach, and intestines. In ancient Egypt, the root was used to reduce the pain of a scorpion sting.

In ancient Greece and China, the caper bush was regarded for its drying properties and was used as an expectorant in treating wet cough and asthma.12 Ancient Romans boiled caper root and root bark in oil and used it as an anthelmintic (digestive tract parasitic worm expeller). Likewise, in the 12th century, the Egyptians used the root to cleanse and dry the stomach.

Current medicinal usages are a testament to caper’s efficacy for treating different ailments. In the Middle East, indigenous groups still use capers as a so-called “blood purifier” and diuretic, to relieve stomach discomfort, treat kidney stones, improve liver function, and treat eczema.13 In Ayurveda, one of the traditional medicine systems of India, caper is used to treat paralysis and tremors, as well as edema, gout, and rheumatism.14 The root bark is still used to stimulate the menstrual cycle, as an expectorant, and to treat paralysis, rheumatism, spleen conditions, and toothaches.15

Modern Research

Commercial capers are not frequently studied for their medicinal properties. However, some research has been conducted on the bioactive compounds in the flower buds.

A recent study investigated the antiparasitic effect of a caper bud extract against Haemonchus contortus, a common parasite in cows and sheep. A large number of eggs and short lifespan of H. contortus allows the parasite to adapt quickly to its environment.16 Parasite infestations can result in large economic losses in the animal production industry, and current treatments include chemotherapy and vaccinations, which pose a safety concern.17 Researchers compared the caper extract to a commonly prescribed antiparasitic drug albendazole. The flower bud extract (50 mg/mL) was almost twice as effective as albendazole (1 mg/mL) at killing parasites in sheep and inhibited  the hatching of parasitic eggs more than the leaf extract.8

The caper bud has also been studied for its anti-inflammatory and cytotoxic properties. A recent study investigated the potential of capers to inhibit nuclear factor-kappa B (NF-κB), a transcription factor that controls inflammation and cell growth. Mutations that impact its activation may lead to uncontrolled cell growth, one of the conditions that can cause a proliferation of cancer cells.18 For this reason, NF-κB is a therapeutic target for pancreatic, renal, and thyroid cancer treatments.18-20 In one in vitro study, researchers tested an aqueous extract of the flower bud and leaves, which were selected for their high levels of phenolic compounds, on human adenocarcinoma cells. The caper extract successfully inhibited the inflammation mechanism and arrested cell growth in a dose-dependent manner.9

Additionally, a caper flower bud extract has been studied for its ability to treat liver toxicity in animals. Rats were exposed to two different liver toxins: carbon tetrachloride, a known carcinogen that has been used as a commercial refrigerant, propellant, and solvent; and paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, a pain-relieving drug that can induce liver failure in sufficiently high doses.21 Compared to control, the caper extract resulted in a significant reduction in carbon tetrachloride-induced and paracetamol-induced liver toxicity.

Nutrient Profile4

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 tablespoon pickled capers, drained)

2 calories

0.2 g protein

0.4 g carbohydrate

0.1 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 tablespoon pickled capers, drained)

Provides small amounts of:

Vitamin K: 2.1 mcg (2.6% DV)

Dietary Fiber: 0.3 g (1.2% DV)

Provides trace amounts of:

Magnesium: 3 mg (0.8% DV)

Vitamin C: 0.4 mg (0.7% DV)

Iron: 0.1 mg (0.6% DV)

Riboflavin: 0.01 mg (0.6% DV)

Folate: 2 mcg (0.5% DV)

Vitamin E: 0.1 mg (0.5% DV)

Manganese: 0.007 mg (0.4% DV)

Calcium: 3 mg (0.3% DV)

Niacin: 0.06 mg (0.3% DV)

Vitamin A: 12 IU (0.2% DV)

Phosphorus: 1 mg (0.1% DV)

Potassium: 3 mg (0.1% DV)

Thiamin: 0.002 mg (0.1% DV)

Vitamin B6: 0.002 mg (0.1% DV)

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

Recipe: Lemon Capellini with Capers

Adapted from Ina Garten22

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dried capellini pasta
  • 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • Zest and juice of two lemons
  • 1/4 cup capers, drained
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining, reserve 1/4 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain pasta and return to pot off the heat.

  2. Toss the cooked pasta with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, adding pasta water a tablespoon at a time until

    a thin sauce forms

    . Discard any remaining pasta water.

  3. Add capers and lemon zest and toss once more to combine. Serve immediately.

References

  1. Kontaxis DG. Specialty Crop: Capers. Davis, CA: University of California Cooperative Extension; 2012. Available at: http://sfp.ucdavis.edu/pubs/SFNews/DecJan97-98/capers_148/. Accessed April 17, 2017.
  2. Van Wyk, BE. Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 2005.
  3. National Geographic Society. Edible: An Illustrated Reference to the World’s Food Plants. Washington DC: National Geographic Society; 2008.
  4. Basic Report: 02054, Capers, canned. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service website. Available at: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/303. Accessed April 6, 2017.
  5. Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations. In: Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020. 8th ed. Washington DC: US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture; 2015.
  6. Tlili N, Khaldi A, Triki S, Munné-Bosch S. Phenolic compounds and vitamin antioxidants of caper (Capparis spinosa). Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2010;65(3):260-265.
  7. Nabavi SF, Maggi F, Daglia M, Habtemariam S, Rastrelli L, Nabavi SM. Pharmacological effects of Capparis spinosa L. Phyother Res. 2016;30:1733-1744.
  8. Akkari H, B’chir F, Hajaji S, et al. Potential anthelmintic effect of Capparis spinosa (Capparidaceae) as related to its polyphenolic content and antioxidant activity. Veterinární Medicína. 2016;61(6):308-316.
  9. Kulisic-Bilusic T, Schmöller I, Schnäbele K, Siracusa L, Ruberto G. The anticarcinogenic potential of essential oil and aqueous infusion from caper (Capparis spinosa L.). Food Chem. 2012;132(1):261-267.
  10. Yang T, Wang C, Liu H, Chou G, Cheng X, Wang Z. A new antioxidant compound from Capparis spinosaPharm Biol. 2010;48(5):589-594.
  11. Kaur CK, Kapoor HC. Antioxidants in fruits and vegetables — the millennium’s health. International Journal of Food Science and Technology. 2001;36(7):703-725.
  12. Jiang HE, Li X, Ferguson DK, Wang YF, Liu CJ, Li CS. The discovery of Capparis spinosa L. (Capparidaceae) in the Yanghai Tombs (2800 years b.p.), NW China, and its medicinal implications. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;113(3):409-420.
  13. Sher H, AlMutairi K, Mansoor M. Study on the ethnopharmaceutical values and traditional uses of Capparis spinosa L. African Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 2012;6(16):1255-1259.
  14. Nadkarni K. Indian Materia Medica. Vol 1. Bombay, India: Bombay Popular Prakashan; 1976.
  15. Duke J. Duke’s Handbook of Medicinal Plants of the Bible. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2008.
  16. Emery DL, Hunt PW, Le Jambre LF. Haemonchus contortus: the then and now, and where to from here? Int J Parasitol. 2016;46(12):755-769.
  17. Kebede B, Sori T, Kumssa B. Review on the current status of vaccines against parasitic diseases of animals. J Veterinar Sci Techno. 2015;7(3):27.
  18. Tunçel D. Role of NF-kappa b in the approach to pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Archives Medical Review Journal. 2015;24(4):565-577.
  19. Li X, Abdel-Mageed AB, Mondal D, Kandil E. The nuclear factor kappa-B signaling pathway as a therapeutic target against thyroid cancers. Thyroid. 2013;23(2):209-218.
  20. Peri S, Devarajan K, Yang DH, Knudson AG, Balachandran S. Meta-analysis identifies NF-kappaB as a therapeutic target in renal cancer. PLoS One. 2013;8(10):e76746.
  21. Chhaya G, Mishra SH. Antihepatotoxic activity of p-methoxy benzoic avid from Capparis spinosaJ Ethnopharmacol. 1999;66:187-192.
  22. Garten I. Lemon capellini with caviar. Food Network Magazine. Available at: www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/lemon-capellini-with-caviar. Accessed April 6, 2017.
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Turmeric, Red Grape, and Apple Compounds ‘Starve’ Prostate Cancer Cells

An Apple peel compound can halt the growth of prostate cancer cells when combined with compounds from red grapes or turmeric.
What do turmeric, apples, and grapes have in common? According to a new study, they could hold the key to preventing and treating one of the most common cancers in the United States.

Researchers have identified a number of natural compounds that have the potential to “starve” prostate cancer tumors and shrink them.

Compounds present in turmeric, red grapes, and apple peel appear to have the strongest effect, particularly in combination.

Study co-author Stefano Tiziani, of the Department of Nutritional Sciences and the Dell Pediatric Research Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, and colleagues recently reported their findings in the journal Precision Oncology.

After skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men in the U.S. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be 161,360 new cases of prostate cancer diagnosed this year, and around 26,730 men will die from the disease.

Previous studies have identified a number of compounds, particularly found in plant-based foods, that have the potential to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.

For this latest study, Tiziani and colleagues used a novel, high-throughput screening technique to test 142 natural compounds, with the aim of identifying those that are most effective for halting the growth of prostate cancer cells.

Compound combination blocked tumor growth in mice

The compounds were tested on prostate cancer cells derived from mice and humans, individually and in combination.

The team identified three compounds that were most effective for halting prostate cancer cell growth:

  • curcumin, the bright yellow compound in turmeric
  • ursolic acid, found in apple peel
  • resveratrol, found in red grapes and berries

These three compounds were then tested in mouse models of prostate cancer.

The researchers found that when ursolic acid was combined with either curcumin or resveratrol, the natural compounds prevented the uptake of glutamine by prostate cancer cells, which prevented tumor growth in the mice.

Glutamine is an amino acid that prostate cancer cells need in order to grow, so preventing its uptake effectively “starves” the cancer cells to death.

What is more, because ursolic acid, curcumin, and resveratrol are natural compounds, they did not cause any toxic effects in the mice.

However, the researchers note that the concentrations of each of the three compounds were higher than that which is normally consumed through diet. Still, the team believes that the findings show promise for a natural strategy to prevent and treat prostate cancer.

These nutrients have potential anti-cancer properties and are readily available. We only need to increase concentration beyond levels found in a healthy diet for an effect on prostate cancer cells.”

What Are Coenzymes?

What Are Coenzymes and How Are They Vital to Your Health?

Coenzymes are required in many enzymatic and metabolic processes in your body, in plants, and in animals. Without coenzymes, inactive enzymes would be unable to convert into their active forms to catalyze reactions, such as breaking down food for energy. Coenzymes are essential for normal and specialized cellular functions and your overall health. One of the reasons vitamins are so integral to your health is because many coenzymes are synthesized using vitamins. Some of the more well-known coenzymes you may have heard of include coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ) and coenzyme A (CoA).

What Are Coenzymes?

Coenzymes, sometimes called cosubstrates, are organic nonprotein cofactors that help enzymes drive chemical reactions in the body. Coenzymes are not enzymes—they are simply small molecules that loosely attach themselves to an inactive enzyme, called an apoenzyme. Not all enzymes require cofactors to perform their chemical reactions.

The relationship between coenzymes and enzymes is a bit like that between lock and key. The apoenzyme is the lock, and the coenzyme is the key. Only certain keys (coenzymes) will fit certain locks, the active site on apoenzymes in this metaphor. The unique fit of the active sites on apoenzymes ensures only the correct coenzymes will fit and work.

Coenzymes are small molecules that are attached to an inactive enzyme called apoenzyme.

How Coenzymes Function

The temporary binding between coenzymes and their apoenzymes means coenzymes can easily detach themselves from the enzyme after a biochemical reaction occurs. These small organic cofactors can then take part in further enzymatic reactions.

The other type of cofactors called prosthetic groups, work in much the same way as coenzymes. The main difference between coenzymes and prosthetic groups is that prosthetic groups are typically metal ions. These cofactors bind much more tightly, using covalent bonds, to their apoenzymes and, unlike coenzymes, cannot detach themselves easily from the enzyme. Once the cofactor, either the coenzyme or prosthetic group, and apoenzyme have formed a cofactor enzyme complex, it becomes a holoenzyme. This is the active form of an enzyme.

But coenzymes do more than just help enzymes function. They can help transfer compounds between enzymes. This is often a successive process, with every enzyme reaction slightly modifying the original molecule along the enzyme pathway. Coenzymes also help attract the correct compounds and repel incorrect compounds to the active site of their enzyme. This is an important function of coenzymes because of a phenomenon called competitive inhibition.

In competitive inhibition, the wrong compound binds to an enzyme’s active site, preventing the enzyme from carrying out its duty. This mechanism helps control the actions of the enzyme when it’s not needed.

Why Are Coenzymes Essential?

If you’ve ever wondered why certain conditions develop as a result of vitamin deficiencies, one answer is that some vitamins are converted into coenzymes. In the absence of those vitamins, some enzymes won’t be able to perform their duties correctly or at all. This is why certain forms of vitamins are better than others and why some vitamins are considered metabolically inactive.

Coenzymes are largely responsible for the transfer of functional groups (active sections or arms of chemical compounds), electrons, hydrogens, and energy. Some even enhance the stability or reactivity of an enzyme’s product.

Coenzyme Enzyme Vitamin Precursor Function
Methylcobalamin (B-12) Methionine synthase and others B-12 Transfers the methyl group
NAD (Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) Malate Dehydrogenase, pyruvate dehydrogenase and others B6 Transfers electrons and hydrogen atoms
FAD (Flavin adenine dinucleotide) D-lactate dehydrogenase and others B2 Transfers electrons and hydrogen atoms
Coenzyme Q (ubiquinone) Cytochrome c – oxidoreductase ad others B5 Transfers electrons and hydrogen atoms
Biotin Propionyl-CoA carboxylase and others Biotin Carries carboxyl groups

How to Support Proper Enzymatic Function

When you’re not properly nourished, your cells can’t make the products or run essential processes they need to maintain your health. Many diseases and conditions can arise from nutritional deficiencies. Coenzymes function at the molecular level, but their importance resonates throughout the body. This is why coenzymes and their vitamin precursors are so important to your health. Moreover, it’s essential to get the proper, active forms of these vitamins, which are found naturally in whole, plant foods. Peanuts, tree nuts, and beans are healthy vegan sources of these vital nutrients.

A notable exception is the most active form of vitamin B-12. There are many inactive forms of B-12, which are functionally useless to your enzymes. To ensure you get the correct cofactor form of vitamin B-12, check the label for methylcobalamin. Your body uses this coenzyme to detoxify your tissues of excess homocysteine by converting it into methionine, an essential amino acid. Adenosylcobalamin is another form of B-12 that’s vital to the metabolism of proteins and fats. Because these two cobalamins are so important to vascular, brain, and metabolic health, we formulated VeganSafe™ B-12 with 80% methylcobalamin and 20% adenosylcobalamin. These are highly bioavailable forms and they don’t require processing once in your cells, making them readily usable for enzymatic reactions.

The Benefits of Plant-Based Iron

Iron is an essential mineral that your body requires to maintain optimal health. There is a common misconception that iron is only obtained by eating meat and that iron deficiency is more prevalent amongst vegans and vegetarians. Natural, plant-based iron supplements and food can provide the iron your body needs and in some cases may even help prevent iron toxicity. If you need to shore up your iron levels, then consider the benefits of plant-based iron.

Optimal Absorption

There are two primary sources of dietary iron—plant and animal foods. The technical terms for these are heme iron and nonheme iron, respectively. There has been a lot of investigation into the absorption differences between these two types of iron. Although animal, or heme, iron is absorbed faster, it can actually overwhelm your body and even lead to a serious iron imbalance known as iron toxicity. In contrast, the body absorbs plant, or nonheme, iron at a more controlled rate. Slow, regulated absorption helps keep your body’s iron levels optimal and in balance.

Fewer Health Risks

Low iron levels can lead to fatigue, chills, brain fog, or worse: iron deficiency anemia. Too much iron can lead to vomiting, intense abdominal pain, and even organ failure. Plant-based iron is absorbed more slowly and that helps maintain normal iron balance, which translates to fewer health concerns. In contrast, heme iron from animal sources (blood and tissue) has been linked to heart disease, stroke, and colon cancer. One study reported that increasing your heme iron intake by just one milligram per day could increase your risk of heart disease by 27 percent.

Cofactors and Co-nutrients

Your body has a complex set of mechanisms that work together to absorb, store, utilize, and monitor iron. Vitamin C, for example, supports your body’s ability to absorb iron. Likewise, gut health significantly influences iron uptake. By obtaining your iron from dark leafy green vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds, you will also get the added benefit of vitamins, trace minerals, probiotics, and antioxidants. A healthy and consistent intake of fruit and vegetables ensures you don’t miss out on these vital nutrients.

Environmental Impact

There are reasons that extend beyond health concerns why someone may prefer a plant-based diet or lifestyle. Many people prefer to minimize their environmental impact. A diet that includes meat requires more energy, land, and water resources to support. Sticking with plant-based supplements and food for your nutritional needs reduces your environmental impact.

Best Sources of Plant-Based Iron

There are several options when it comes to plant-based sources of iron. Spinach, kidney beans, and pumpkin seeds are just a few that are good sources of iron and other vital micronutrients. However, when it comes to iron supplements, there are fewer plant-based choices. Global Healing Center is trying to change that. We’re in the final stages of development of a new vegan supplement that provides an ideal serving of plant-based iron from organic curry tree leaves.

What Are Micronutrients?

Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals required by your body. Unlike macronutrients, you only need minuscule amounts of micronutrients to maintain good health. Micronutrients are essential to the production of enzymes, hormones, proteins, and other products created by your body. Some micronutrients have a specialized role, while others fulfill a broad range of functions.

Micronutrients are incredibly important for health and wellness. Mineral deficiencies can have lasting, detrimental health consequences in children and adults of all ages. Unborn children and older adults are especially susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies, which is why many nutritional supplements are optimized for specific age groups and many staple foods, like flour, are fortified with vitamins and minerals.

However, you might be surprised to learn that food fortification can be misleading as it’s often accomplished with synthetic vitamin variants. These manufactured vitamin forms often lack the cofactors and nutrients required for proper absorption in the body. As always, it’s best to obtain naturally occurring vitamins and minerals from quality, whole-food dietary sources to ensure your body can properly utilize these essential nutrients.

What Are Vitamins?

Vitamins are organic compounds primarily derived from food that the body needs in small amounts. With the exception of vitamin D, vitamins cannot be produced by the organism that requires them. Vitamins serve a variety of purposes. Some, like vitamins A, C, and E, are antioxidants. Others, like the B vitamins, are vital for fetal brain development and healthy brain aging. There are two categories of vitamins—fat-soluble and water-soluble.

Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins. Your body stores fat-soluble vitamins in fatty tissues for reserves in case you don’t meet your daily recommended intake. These vitamins are best consumed with healthy fats to ensure absorption.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is essential for eye and brain health. It also regulates growth and keeps the immune system healthy. Plant sources are the safest method of meeting your daily vitamin A requirement. Consumption of vitamin A from animal sources could lead to vitamin A toxicity.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is both a hormone and a micronutrient. Though it’s famous for its role in preserving and promoting bone health, it also helps keep your respiratory system healthy, enhances your mental and emotional well-being, and keeps your immune system functioning at peak efficiency.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a powerhouse antioxidant. The various forms of the vitamin all have similar antioxidant properties, but one in particular, alpha-tocopherol, is what the body prefers most. Vitamin E protects delicate lipids from oxidation and, in the case of food, rancidity. Its actions protect your DNA by stopping free radicals from damaging the fragile structure of your chromosomes.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is named after the German spelling of coagulation (coagulation) because it activates the proteins in the blood that are responsible for clotting.

Water-Soluble Vitamins

In humans, the water-soluble vitamins are limited to the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C. These vitamins need to be replaced on a daily basis because they are not easily stored in the body. Rather, the body excretes excess water-soluble vitamins in urine.

B-Complex Vitamins

The B-complex vitamins include thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B-12). These vitamins regulate the release of energy in cells (metabolism), serve as cofactors, and affect mood and immune health. Additionally, a healthy microbiome is essential because some probiotics actually generate B-vitamins in the gut.

Vitamin B-12 and B9 are vitally important to brain health. Research into the role of vitamin B-12 suggests it’s a powerful force in preserving memory and cognitive function as you age.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C’s role as an antioxidant is well known (and highly marketed), but it has other roles, too. Vitamin C is incredibly important for growth and healing. The strength of connective tissue and bones and skin elasticity all depend on sufficient levels of vitamin C. It also enhances the absorption of iron from food in the small intestine.

What Are Minerals?

In general, minerals are inorganic, naturally occurring substances. In your diet, they are important nutrients that enable your cells to carry out essential functions. Minerals are divided into macrominerals and trace minerals, also known as microminerals. Predictably, your body requires macrominerals in much larger amounts than the trace minerals.

Macrominerals

The macrominerals include magnesium, sulfur, and the electrolytes: potassium, calcium, sodium, chlorine, and phosphorous. Most people get much more sodium chloride (table salt) than they need—to the detriment of their health. While some salt is essential, you don’t need nearly as much as most Americans consume. Try to limit your salt intake whenever possible.

Magnesium

Magnesium is not one of the celebrity micronutrients, but it is essential to many vital processes. It plays an important role in metabolism, acting as a cofactor in hundreds of chemical reactions in the body. Magnesium is also vital to the proper bone formation and the synthesis of genetic material.

Calcium

Of all the minerals, you may be most familiar with calcium, the most abundant mineral in the body. Far beyond bone strength, calcium is responsible for muscle and blood vessel relaxation and contraction, nerve firing, and communication between cells.

Potassium

Most Americans, an astounding 98 percent, fall woefully short on potassium intake. Potassium is responsible for muscle and nerve function, a steady heartbeat, and cell detoxification. It acts as the inverse of sodium, which is why it’s vital to balance your sodium and potassium intake.

Trace Minerals

The body requires significantly fewer essential trace minerals (microminerals) than macrominerals. Macrominerals are measured in grams, while trace minerals are measured in milligrams and micrograms. The top microminerals you need are chromium, iron, iodine, selenium, manganese, zinc, molybdenum, and copper. You also need exceptionally small amounts of nickel, silicon, vanadium, and cobalt.

Though you need less of these micronutrients, they are extremely important to your health. Many of the most pernicious health conditions are related to deficiencies in trace minerals like iodine and iron. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.6 billion people worldwide have a reduced ability to work due to iron deficiency anemia. Annually, nearly 20 million children are born to mothers with insufficient iodine levels—a condition that leads to severe cognitive impairment.

Micronutrients and Nutrition

There are only a few ways to meet your micronutrient needs: a nutrient-rich diet, quality supplementation, and, to a lesser degree, eating some types of clay or cooking in cast iron. Vitamins and minerals are easily synthesized in labs and pressed into tablets, but it’s always best to obtain your nutrition naturally from plant sources like fruits and vegetables.

At Global Healing Center, we focus on isolating the best micronutrients from natural, organic, and wildcrafted plant sources. Some of our favorite micronutrient supplements include:

  • Our Selenium supplement is sourced from organic mustard seeds. It provides the selenium that is essential to the thyroid and overall health.
  • Detoxadine® is an essential nascent iodine supplement produced from natural salt deposits. It’s nutritional support for immune health and the thyroid, and it promotes the detoxification of halogens such as fluoride and bromine.
  • Biotin, also known as vitamin B7, is sourced from the sesbania plant; it supports healthy hair and nails at the cellular level.
  • Suntrex D3™ is a vegan, lichen-derived vitamin D3 that supports the nervous system, calcium absorption, and a healthy mood.

What Are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the largest class of nutrients the body requires and include protein, carbohydrates, and fats. If you’ve heard anyone talking about “macros,” they’re referring to these major nutrients. The amounts and ratio of macronutrients a person needs every day vary by age, lifestyle (sedentary, active, or very active), gender, health status, and health goals.

The USDA provides general recommendations for how Americans should allocate calories per macronutrient.The nutrition facts label included on food packaging echoes these ratios and is based on a 2,000 calorie diet for the average American, including children and adults. Many diets try to optimize macronutrient ratios to produce certain results, like consuming protein (along with weight training) to gain muscle mass, or consuming fewer carbohydrates to help lose weight.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates include starches, sugars, and fiber. Carbohydrates contain four calories (kcal) per gram. Your body uses carbohydrates to fuel your body. Carbohydrates come in two forms: complex and simple. Simple carbohydrates include sugars like table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Technically, honey and maple syrup also fall into this category. Complex carbohydrates are usually only described as starches that contain fiber, but this simplistic definition includes foods like whole wheat pasta and white potatoes.

How Many Carbohydrates Do You Need?

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Americans should get between 45-65% of their daily calories from carbohydrates.

Humans don’t produce the necessary enzymes to digest fiber, but it’s nonetheless required by the body. Your microbiota breaks down fiber by fermenting it and using it as their energy source. Your health relies on a balanced, well-nourished microbial gut community for many different functions, so make sure you get plenty of fiber-rich foods in your diet every day.

Sources of Carbohydrates

The best carbohydrates are micronutrient-dense whole foods that contain sugars or starches along with fiber. This definition leaves no room for confusion about whole fruit, which is considered a simple carbohydrate under some definitions. Fruit is an essential part of a healthy diet and 76% of Americans don’t eat enough. Other excellent sources of carbohydrates include winter squash, beans, and ancient grains like quinoa.

What Is Protein?

Protein is the building block responsible for the growth and maintenance of your eyes, skin, hair, nails, organs, and muscle tissue. During digestion, protein is broken down into smaller chains called peptides and individual units called amino acids for absorption. Of the 22 amino acids, nine are essential to humans. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Histidine is unique in that it’s only required during infancy.

Proteins do a lot of work throughout the body. They embed themselves in your cells to regulate what goes in and out. They even envelop and transport some molecules to other locations in the body. Enzymes that catalyze the various chemical reactions in your body are made of folded chains of amino acids. The body creates hormones like leptin, immune proteins like interferon, and antibodies using amino acids.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

The USDA recommends that Americans get 5-35% of their calories from protein. This range is set to cover 97-98% of the population, and your needs may vary based on age and health status. Protein, like carbohydrates, provides four calories (kcal) of energy per gram.

Sources of Protein

Whole, nutrient-dense foods are the best sources of protein. Notice I did not say they are the most concentrated sources of protein. So-called “high-quality” sources are very concentrated sources of peptides that share similar amino acid ratios with humans. Essentially, the more a source of protein resembles human tissue in amino acid composition, the better its “quality.” Regularly eating meat, just like regularly consuming concentrated sources of sugar, leads to several serious, and completely preventable health consequences. If you think eating organic, free-range, grass-fed meat is significantly better than factory farmed meat, then wouldn’t it also follow that soda with 100% organic high-fructose corn syrup is equally healthy when compared to regular soda? That’s clearly not the case. It’s important to understand that some foods have few redeeming qualities, organic or not. Just because something is less bad for you than the standard option doesn’t mean that it’s good for you. Many people believe that plants only supply “incomplete proteins.” The need for protein complementation is a myth perpetuated in poorly researched literature. To be clear, all plant foods contain the nine essential amino acids. You won’t develop a protein deficiency on a plant-based diet. In fact, protein deficiencies only occur in those who have gone long periods without eating anything at all.

What Is Fat?

Weighing in at nine calories (kcal) per gram, fat is the densest source of energy in the diet. In the body, fats make up cell membranes, steroids, cholesterol, and 60% of your brain. Fats support the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, cushion your organs, and act as your largest form of energy storage.

Dietary fats include saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats tend to come from animal sources, while most plant fats are unsaturated. There are also important essential fatty acids, namely omega-3 and omega-6.

There’s another type of fat, an unnatural type, known as trans fats. Trans fats are a product of food manufacturing and are created by hydrogenating less stable unsaturated fats to be more shelf stable. This process prolongs the life of processed food products. Trans fats are often described as poison, and it’s a description that’s fairly accurate. Trans fats raise your “bad” LDL cholesterol and have no place in a healthy diet.

How Much Fat Do You Need?

Like carbohydrates, the popularity of fat waxes and wanes with public opinion and even medical opinion as new diets and research emerge. Currently, according to the USDA, fats should account for 20-40% of your daily calories. Essential fats are undoubtedly a necessary component of a healthy diet. Some of the best sources of healthy fats are nuts, seeds, coconuts, avocados, and olives. Like the most healthy sources of proteins and carbohydrates, the fats in nuts and fatty fruits contain fiber, beneficial micronutrients, and phytonutrients that keep you healthy.

Sources of Fat

Just like with carbohydrates and protein, the best sources of fat are plant-based and nutrient dense. Nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, coconut, and unsweetened dark chocolate are all excellent sources of fat that come with a healthy serving of phytonutrients and fiber. As always, I recommend whole foods over processed.

However, if you’re looking for healthy oils you have quite a few options: flaxseed, hemp seed, avocado, grapeseed, sunflower, walnut, sesame, and coconut oils. I highly recommend flaxseed oil for room temperature or colder dishes like salad dressings or hummus. For cooking, use oils that have a higher smoke point like grapeseed, coconut, avocado and sesame oil. When purchasing oils, always make sure the label says “expeller-pressed” and “unrefined.” Otherwise, the oil may have been extracted using chemicals and subjected to extensive processing, which disturbs the delicate essential fatty acids in the oil.

The Problem With Focusing on Macros

When you focus on optimizing the ratios or percentages of your macronutrients, you might forget to concentrate on the quality of the food itself. Make sure to eat a balanced combination of whole, plant-based foods that contribute to your health. Your macros may vary from one day to the next, but your body’s needs may differ based on your activity level, health status, schedule, or other factors. If you’re trying to make a big change in your diet and lifestyle, consider working with a certified dietician or nutrition counselor that can evaluate your needs, help you set achievable goals, and create a personalized diet plan for you.

The ultimate goal of any good diet is to fuel your day-to-day activities while keeping yourself properly nourished. Make sure the foods you chose are micronutrient dense. These nutrients are required in significantly smaller amounts, but they have a much larger impact on your health.

Iron-Rich Foods for Healthy Energy Levels

Biologically speaking, Iron is a trace mineral and an essential nutrient that your body requires to function properly. It helps with immune function, detoxification, and the creation of several proteins and enzymes. One of these proteins is hemoglobin, a complex protein used by red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout the body.

Iron deficiency anemia is a condition that occurs when your blood doesn’t contain enough iron, hemoglobin, or red blood cells to transport the oxygen you need from your lungs to your tissues. While there are several types of anemia, iron deficiency is by far the most common. Over 1.6 billion people worldwide are anemic. Of these, several hundred million have iron deficiency anemia. If you suspect that you have an iron deficiency, consult your healthcare provider. They may want to check your hematocrit levels, which is a test to see if you have too few red blood cells.

There are two types of dietary iron-heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes only from animal sources-meat, poultry, and seafood. Plant sources contain only nonheme iron, which isn’t as easily absorbed by your body as heme. This may be because certain phytochemicals in plants, including oxalates, polyphenols, tannins, and phytates promote slower, more controlled iron absorption.

Despite this, vegans and vegetarians don’t suffer from iron deficiency at any greater rate than meat-eaters do. There may be two reasons for this. First, plant-based diets tend to be high in vitamin C, which acutely increases iron absorption. Second, because vegetables are relatively low in calories and high in nutrients, vegans and vegetarians take in significantly more iron per calorie consumed. In other words, 100 calories of Spinach contains as much iron as 1700 calories of steak.

RDA of Iron

To prevent iron deficiency anemia, it’s important to consume the proper amount of iron for your body. Different life stages have different requirements, and women tend to need a little more than men. Consult these charts to find your recommended daily iron intake. Because of the slow, controlled bioavailability of nonheme iron, the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board recommends that vegans and vegetarians consume 1.8 times the RDA for iron.

Iron Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Nonvegetarians

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0-6 months .27 mg .27 mg N/A N/A
7-12 months 11 mg 11 mg N/A N/A
1-3 years 7 mg 7 mg N/A N/A
4-8 years 10 mg 10 mg N/A N/A
9-13 years 8 mg 8 mg N/A N/A
14-18 years 11 mg 15 mg 27 mg 10 mg
19-50 years 8 mg 18 mg 27 mg 9 mg
51+ years 8 mg 8 mg N/A N/A

Iron Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Vegans and Vegetarians

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
0-6 months .27 mg .27 mg N/A N/A
7-12 months 20 mg 20 mg N/A N/A
1-3 years 12 mg 12 mg N/A N/A
4-8 years 18 mg 18 mg N/A N/A
9-13 years 14 mg 14 mg N/A N/A
14-18 years 19 mg 27 mg 48 mg 18 mg
19-50 years 14 mg 32 mg 48 mg 16 mg
51+ years 14 mg 14 mg N/A N/A

15 Plant-Based, Iron-Rich Foods for Healthy Energy Levels

Some of the most potent plant sources of iron are fortified cereals and flour. However, fortified foods and enriched flour are heavily processed and carry their own health risks. It’s always best to get your nutrition from natural sources. Fortunately, there are plenty of plant-based foods that you can incorporate into an iron-rich diet. Here are 15 of the top vegan food sources of iron.

1. Spirulina

A favorite in green juices and smoothies, spirulina is a blue-green algae rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. One tablespoon of spirulina contains 2 mg of iron.

2. Spinach

The list of health benefits from dark leafy green vegetables seems endless. They contain an abundance of antioxidants, folate, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. Most dark leafy greens also have a high iron content. Salad greens, mustard greens, Swiss chard, and bok choy are all excellent choices, but when it comes to iron, spinach brings the muscle. One cup of cooked spinach contains over 6 mg of the mineral.

3. Dried Beans

Beans are an excellent source of iron, though the exact content varies by type. White beans have one of the highest iron concentrations with almost 8 mg per cooked cup. One cup of cooked lentils provides 6.6 mg of iron, and the same quantity of kidney beans or chickpeas nets you about 5 mg. Other iron-rich beans include cowpeas, lima beans, and navy beans.

4. Green Peas

They belong to the same family of legumes as beans, so it’s no surprise that green peas are a respectable source of iron-2.5 grams per cooked cup.

5. Tempeh and Nattō

Soy products, like tofu, have an extremely high iron content. Unfortunately, soybeans are the most heavily genetically modified crop in the United States. As of 2016, 94% of all soybeans are GMO. To avoid the health risks associated with soy, look for products that are both organic and fermented. For a product to be considered organic, it cannot contain GMOs.

Nattō is a fermented soy product that boasts a very high iron content-an astounding 15 mg per cup. The iron concentration in tempeh isn’t nearly as high, but each cup of the fermented soy product still contains a respectable 4.5 mg.

6. Sesame Seeds

Sesame seeds are a boon to both heart health and overall wellness. They’re a natural source of several potent antioxidants, containing vitamin E, flavonoids, and lignans, particularly sesamin and sesamolin. These phytochemicals provide many health benefits. Sesame seeds are also a great source of iron. Just one ounce of the seeds contains 4.18 mg.

7. Dried Fruit

Fruit is a very good source of iron. Dried fruit may be even better, as it concentrates the nutrients in a small, non-perishable package. A half cup of dried fruit has the same nutrients as a cup of fresh fruit. Just make sure that you choose dried fruit with no added sugar. Some fruits sold as “dried” are actually “candied,” which means they were heated in a sugary syrup. Avoid “dried” dates, pineapple, and cherries for this reason.

Good choices include apricots, raisins, and prunes. Ten dried apricot halves contain 2 mg of iron while five prunes have 1.2 mg. One-half cup of raisins has 3 mg of the trace mineral.

8. Dark Chocolate

Good news! Dark chocolate has a wonderfully high iron content. Per ounce, dark chocolate has a higher iron density than steak. One 100 gram bar of 70-85% cacao chocolate contains 12 mg of iron. Unfortunately, this isn’t a free pass to eat all the chocolate you want. Eat dark chocolate in moderation, but when that irresistible sweet tooth hits, you could do a lot worse.

9. Pumpkin Seeds

Already a favorite autumnal treat, there are good reasons to start eating pumpkin seeds year-round. Also known as pepitas, one ounce of pumpkin seeds contain 4.2 mg of iron. They’re also a concentrated source of zinc, magnesium, and fatty acids.

10. Quinoa

Though classified as a whole grain, quinoa is technically a seed. While South Americans have been cultivating the plant for almost 5000 years, quinoa has seen a surge in popularity amongst North American health enthusiasts in the last several years, and it’s not very hard to see why. The seed is gluten-free and rich in protein, manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, folate, and thiamine (vitamin B1). And let’s not forget Iron! A cup of cooked quinoa contains almost 3 mg of iron.

11. Whole Grains

Refined grains use only the endosperm of a grain. This improves shelf life but robs the grain of many nutrients, including iron. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel?bran, germ, and endosperm, because of this, whole grains retain a much higher nutritional value. Brown rice, oats, and barley are all excellent choices for iron.

12. Dandelion Greens

While many people consider dandelions a nuisance, dandelion greens make a healthy addition to any salad. One hundred grams of raw dandelion greens contain 3 mg of iron. They’re also very high in vitamin C, which makes the iron they contain all the more absorbable.

13. Coconut

Coconut water and coconut oil are enjoying an all-time high in popularity right now, but what about coconut meat? Raw coconut meat packs in about 2.5 mg of iron per 100 grams. That’s around 10 mg for a whole coconut. Try it with a little lime and chili for a tart and spicy treat.

14. Curry Leaves

Curry leaves are a wonderful staple of Indian cooking and feature a high iron content. When used as a spice, curry is not consumed in large enough quantities to add a significant iron boost. However, curry leaf extracts are frequently used in high-quality, natural, vegan iron supplements. But don’t let that stop you from adding curry leaves to your cooking. Curry leaves, like most spices, also contain a wealth of other beneficial phytonutrients.

15. Blackstrap Molasses

Blackstrap molasses is a thick, dark syrup created as a byproduct of extracting sugar from sugar cane. While refined sugar has been completely stripped of its nutritional content, blackstrap molasses retains all the vitamins and nutrients found in the original plant. Basically, molasses is all the nutritional content that was stripped from refined sugar.

Because of this, blackstrap molasses has a very high nutrient density. Just one tablespoon contains anywhere from 3.5 to an astonishing 12.6 mg of iron twice as much as a rib eye steak! It’s also a significant source of vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and potassium.

Supplementing With Iron

For most people, a diet that includes plenty food-derived iron should be sufficient to prevent iron deficiency. In certain cases, such as absorption issues or pregnancy, iron supplements may be the key to maintaining healthy iron levels. Do your research and look for natural supplements, as the synthetic versions lack the co-nutrients that let our bodies process and absorb the vital constituents of your food. You may want to find a supplement in pill form as liquid iron supplements can stain teeth.

I personally recommend Iron Fuzion™, Global Healing Center’s own iron supplement. Iron Fuzion uses iron extracted from the leaves of organic Murraya koenigii, better known as the curry tree, to create a natural, safe, vegan iron supplement.