Edamame: Health Benefits, Nutritional Information

Edamame is the perfect little pick-me-up snack. You may have had it as an appetizer at a Japanese restaurant, tucked away in their fuzzy little pods and sprinkled with salt. But what exactly are those little green bean-looking things?

Edamame is a young soybean that has been harvested before the beans have had a chance to harden. You can buy them shelled or in the pod, fresh or frozen.

Edamame is naturally gluten-free and low calorie contains no cholesterol and is an excellent source of protein, iron, and calcium. It is an especially important source of protein for those who follow a plant-based diet.

Possible health benefits of consuming edamame

Edamame
Edamame is a young soybean that has been harvested before the beans have had a chance to harden.

Consuming fruits and vegetables of all kinds has long been associated with a reduced risk of many lifestyle-related health conditions. Many studies have suggested that increasing consumption of plant foods like edamame decreases the risk of obesity and overall mortality, diabetes, heart disease and promotes a healthy complexion and hair, increased energy, overall lower weight.

The isoflavones (a type of compound called phytoestrogens) in soy foods have been linked to a decreased risk for osteoporosis, while the calcium and magnesium in soy may help to lessen PMS symptoms, regulate blood sugar and prevent migraine headaches. Soyfood consumption has been associated with a lower risk of several specific age and lifestyle-related conditions and improving overall general health.

1) Age-related brain diseases

Based on geographic epidemiological findings, it has been observed that populations that consume greater amounts of soy have, in general, less incidence of age-related mental disorders.

2) Cardiovascular disease

Consuming soy protein as an alternative to animal protein lowers levels of LDL cholesterol, which in turn decreases the risk of atherosclerosis and high-blood pressure.3

3) Breast and prostate cancer

Genistein, the predominant isoflavone in soy, contains antioxidant properties that inhibit the growth of cancer cells.4 Moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%.

4) Depression

The folate in edamame may help with depression by preventing an excess of homocysteine from forming in the body, which can prevent blood and other nutrients from reaching the brain. Excess homocysteine interferes with the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which regulate not only mood but sleep and appetite as well.

5) Diabetes

People who suffer from type 2 diabetes often experience kidney disease, causing the body to excrete an excessive amount of protein in the urine. Evidence from a recent study has indicated that those who consumed only soy protein in their diet excreted less protein than those that consumed only animal protein.

6) Fertility

For women of child-bearing age, consuming more iron from plant sources such as edamame, spinach, beans, pumpkin, tomatoes, and beets appear to promote fertility, according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications. Also of note, adequate folic acid intake is essential for pregnant women to protect against neural tube defects in infants. One cup of edamame per day provides 121% of daily folate needs.

7) Energy levels

Not getting enough iron in your diet can also affect how efficiently your body uses energy. Edamame is a great non-heme source of iron, along with lentils, spinach, and eggs.

8) Inflammation

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

9) Osteoporosis

Soy isoflavones are known to decrease bone loss and increase bone mineral density during menopause and have also been reported to reduce other menopausal symptoms.

Nutritional breakdown of edamame

Edamame is a complete source of dietary protein; meaning that like meat and dairy, it provides all of the essential amino acids needed in the diet that humans cannot make themselves.

The little beans are also high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid.

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one cup (155 grams) of frozen, prepared edamame contains 189 calories, 8 grams of fat (1 gram saturated, 16 grams of total carbohydrate (8 grams of fiber and 3 grams of sugar) and a whopping 17 grams of protein.

A one-cup serving of edamame provides 10% of calcium needs, 16% of vitamin C, 20% of iron, 52% of vitamin K and 121% of your daily needs for folate.

Edamame also contains vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B-6, pantothenic acid, choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.

How to incorporate more edamame into your diet

You can find fresh edamame in the produce section, often still in the pod, but you can also find it already shelled. You can also buy shelled or in-pod frozen edamame as well. If buying frozen, make sure there are no additives in the ingredients, only edamame.

Edamame with salt
The most common way to enjoy edamame is straight from the pod, sprinkle (while still in the pod) with sea salt.

Edamame has a mild, buttery flavor that pairs well with many dishes. You can add it to soups, stews, salads, rice dishes or casseroles in place of or in combination with other beans.

The most common way to enjoy edamame is straight from the pod, after boiling for 5 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle (while still in the pod) with sea salt, then pop and snack away. You can also substitute edamame when a recipe calls, for peas.

Try some of these delicious and healthy recipes with edamame:

Potential health risks of consuming edamame

Possible risks in consuming soy foods have been heavily debated recently, especially those pertaining to the topic of breast cancer. There is not enough evidence from human clinical trials to substantiate the claim that the isoflavones in soy contribute to breast cancer risk.

The soy and cancer study that started the controversy concerned only those with a specific type breast cancer (estrogen receptor positive). Some early studies suggested possible increased tumor growth in rats with a high intake of soy. As more advanced research was done, scientists found that rats metabolize soy completely different from humans, making the earlier studies invalid.

Now we know that moderate amounts of soy foods do not affect tumor growth or a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. In fact, at least 10mg of soy per day can decrease breast cancer recurrence by 25%.

Findings from animal models have also suggested there is a positive correlation between tumor growth and the degree to which an isoflavone-containing product has been processed. Therefore, it is better to consume tofu and other soy foods that have undergone minimal amounts of processing.3

According to the National Soybean Research Laboratory, unlike the popular genetically engineered soybean, all edamame is non-GMO.

If you have a concern regarding consuming other genetically modified soy foods, go organic. The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use of GMOs. You can also look for products with the Non-GMO Project Verified seal. Some brands with this seal include Silk, Amy’s, Back to Nature and WestSoy. For a complete list of products with the verified seal, visit nongmoproject.org.

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

Medical Experts: The Cardiometabolic Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

Plant-based eating patterns continue to soar in popularity and a group of nutrition researchers outlines the science behind this sustainable trend in a review paper, entitled “Cardiometabolic benefits of plant-based diets,” which appears as an online advance in Nutrients. The review will publish in a future special edition, entitled “The Science of Vegetarian Nutrition and Health.”

The review outlines how a plant-based diet, which is naturally low in calories, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and rich in nutrients, like fiber and antioxidants, could be one tool, in addition to adopting a healthful lifestyle, used to improve nutrition intake and reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

The authors, Hana Kahleova, M.D., Ph.D., Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., and Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C., analyzed clinical research studies and reviews published until May 2017. Their research finds a plant-based diet, built around vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes, can improve nutrient intake and help manage body weight and glycemic control, improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and reverse atherosclerosis or the narrowing of the arteries caused by the accumulation of arterial plaque.

“The future of health care starts on our plates,” says Dr. Kahleova, the lead study author and the director of clinical research at the nonprofit Physicians Committee. “The science clearly shows food is medicine, which is a powerful message for physicians to pass on to their patients and for policymakers to consider as they propose modifications for health care reform and discuss the potential amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill.”

To understand the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the researchers analyze its structure:

Fiber

Fiber contributes to bulk in the diet without adding digestible calories, thus leading to satiety and weight loss. Additionally, soluble fiber binds with bile acids in the small intestines, which helps reduce cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar.

Plant-Based Rx: Aim to eat at least 35 grams of dietary fiber a day. The average American consumes 16 grams of dietary fiber each day.

Fats

Plant-based diets are lower in saturated fat and dietary cholesterol. Replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can decrease insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.

Plant-Based Rx: Swap meat and dairy products, oils, and high-fat processed foods for smaller portions of plant staples, like a few avocado slices or a small handful of nuts and seeds, which are rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Plant Protein

Vegetable proteins reduce the concentrations of blood lipids, reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease, and may have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.

Plant-Based Rx: Legumes, or lentils, beans, and peas are naturally rich in protein and fiber. Try topping leafy green salads with lentils, black beans, edamame, or chickpeas.

Plant Sterols

Plant sterols that have a structure similar to that of cholesterol reduce cardiovascular disease risk and mortality, have anti-inflammatory effects, and positively affect coagulation, platelet function and endothelial function, which helps reduce blood clots, increases blood flow, and stabilizes glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes.

Plant-Based Rx: Consume a high intake of antioxidants and micronutrients, including plant sterols, from whole plant foods, like vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, beans, and seeds. A plant-based diet supports cardio-metabolic benefits through several independent mechanisms. The synergistic effect of whole plant foods may be greater than a mere additional effect of eating isolated nutrients.

“To make significant health changes, we have to make significant diet changes,” concludes Dr. Kahleova. “A colorful plant-based diet works well for anyone, whether you’re an athlete looking to boost energy, performance, and recovery by enabling a higher efficiency of blood flow, which equates to oxygen conversion, or if you’re a physician who wants to help patients lose extra weight, lower blood pressure, and improve their cholesterol.”

Dr. Kahleova and the study authors recommend using a plant-based diet as an effective tool to treat and prevent cardiometabolic disease, which they would like to see promoted through future dietary guidelines and nutrition policy recommendations.

Article: Cardio-Metabolic Benefits of Plant-Based Diets, Hana Kahleova, Susan Levin and Neal Barnard, Nutrients, doi: 10.3390/nu9080848, published 9 August 2017.

Kale Nutrient May Yield Significant Cognitive Benefits

Researchers have found that lutein, a nutrient and organic pigment found in kale, spinach, avocados, and eggs, may be effective in rejuvenating cognitive functions.

The health benefits of green foods, such as kale, spinach, and other leafy vegetables, have long been discussed by nutritionists.

The importance of lutein – a nutrient and organic pigment, or carotenoid, found in a range of foods including kale, carrots, and even eggs – has often been singled out by specialists in recent studies.

New research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in collaboration with the University of Georgia in Athens, has unveiled yet another health benefit of lutein: the ability to counteract cognitive aging.

Lead researcher Dr. Naiman A. Khan, of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Illinois, and his colleagues published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Cognitive aging sets in early

The researchers started from the premise that cognitive aging becomes apparent earlier in life than one might expect.

Previous studies had only monitored cognitive aging in elderly adults, but Dr. Khan and his colleagues wanted to take a different approach.

“As people get older, they experience a typical decline. However, research has shown that this process can start earlier than expected. You can even start to see some differences in the 30s,” says first study author Anne Walk, a postdoctoral researcher also at the University of Illinois.

With this in mind, the researchers recruited 60 adult participants aged between 25 and 45, setting out to investigate whether or not lutein intake can have an impact on cognition.

The researchers explain that lutein is a naturally occurring substance that cannot be synthesized in the human body. This is why it must be absorbed from foods that synthesize it, such as kale and other green leafy vegetables, or else through food supplements.

Once assimilated by the human body, lutein can be detected in brain tissue as well as in the eyes’ retinas, which makes the appraisal of lutein levels more convenient, as non-invasive measurements can be taken.

“If lutein can protect against decline, we should encourage people to consume lutein-rich foods at a point in their lives when it has maximum benefit,” says Walk.

More lutein improves cognitive performance

On this occasion, the researchers gauged lutein levels in the participants’ eyes by asking them to respond to flickering light stimuli.

The neural activity in the participants’ brains was assessed by electrodes attached to the scalp, as each participant was tasked with an attention-related exercise designed to test their selective attention, attentional inhibition (the ability to ignore irrelevant stimuli), or response inhibition (the ability to suppress inappropriate impulses).

Dr. Khan and colleagues found that the participants who exhibited higher levels of lutein were cognitively more similar to younger individuals than they were to individuals of the same age with lower lutein levels.

“The neuro-electrical signature of older participants with higher levels of lutein looked much more like their younger counterparts than their peers with less lutein. Lutein appears to have some protective role since the data suggest that those with more lutein were able to engage more cognitive resources to complete the task,” explains Walk.

Following this study, the researchers seek to gain a better understanding of how a larger lutein intake might impact the level of the carotenoid accumulated in the retina, and to what extent lutein levels actually influence cognitive capacity.

“In this study, we focused on attention, but we also would like to understand the effects of lutein on learning and memory,” concludes Dr. Khan.

Health Benefits of Chaga Mushroom

Chaga mushrooms contain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.
The Chaga mushroom grows on birch trees throughout the northern hemisphere. It resembles a dark clump of dirt more than a mushroom but is distinguished from other growths by its orange tissue.

Doctors, alternative medicine advocates, and researchers are increasingly interested in the potential health benefits of the Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus). Some studies on Chaga mushrooms have yielded promising results.

Nine potential benefits

In this article, we look at the potential health benefits of Chaga mushrooms and the research behind the claims.

1. Nutrient dense superfood

Chaga mushrooms are rich in a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients, including:

  • B-complex vitamins
  • vitamin D
  • potassium
  • rubidium
  • cesium
  • amino acids
  • fiber
  • copper
  • selenium
  • zinc
  • iron
  • manganese
  • magnesium
  • calcium

2. Preventing and fighting cancer

Some studies suggest that Chaga mushrooms may slow the growth of certain cancer cells.

Increasingly, researchers are taking seriously the possibility that Chaga mushrooms may be able to prevent cancer and slow its growth.

Chaga is rich in antioxidants, which are chemicals that help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals or oxidants. When the body is unable to produce enough antioxidants to prevent this damage, oxidative stress occurs. Oxidative stress can cause cancer and a host of other health problems.

2010 study found that Chaga could slow the growth of lung, breast, and cervical cancer cells in a petri dish. The same study also found that Chaga could slow the growth of tumors in mice.

2009 study found that triterpenes, the compounds found in Chaga and some other mushrooms, cause tumor cells to self-destruct. Unlike other cancer treatments, however, Chaga does not appear to harm healthy cells.

Although other studies have found similarly promising results, they have all been carried out on animals or in a laboratory. To prove the anti-cancer benefits of Chaga conclusively, researchers will need to conduct extensive studies on humans.

3. Lowering cholesterol

Chaga mushrooms contain many antioxidants that may reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called “bad” cholesterol.

High cholesterol is a significant risk factor for heart disease so Chaga mushrooms could be useful in the fight against cardiovascular disease.

4. Slowing the aging process

Oxidative stress causes physical signs of aging, such as wrinkles, sagging skin, and gray hair. Exposure to sun, pollution, and other sources of damage create too many free radicals for the body to neutralize, which accelerates the aging process of the skin.

In theory, supplying the body with more antioxidants could slow the aging process, or even reverse visible signs of aging.

Although no research has conclusively linked Chaga to anti-aging benefits, its effectiveness in fighting other forms of oxidative stress suggests that it could also fight aging.

5. Lowering blood pressure

Research suggests that oxidative stress is a contributing factor for high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more prone to heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular health issues.

Chaga’s antioxidants could have a potential role in lowering blood pressure and preventing poor cardiovascular health.

6. Supporting the immune system

Cytokines are the immune system’s chemical messengers. They are proteins that play a vital role in stimulating white blood cells, which are the immune system’s first line of defense against a range of illnesses.

Some research on mice suggests that Chaga may help regulate the production of cytokines, supporting the immune system by helping cells communicate with one another. This could help fight infections, from minor colds to life-threatening illnesses.

7. Fighting inflammation

When the body is fighting an illness, inflammation supports the fight. But sometimes, inflammation transitions from a short-term attack to a chronic health problem.

Some illnesses, particularly chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, are linked to inflammation. Recent research suggests that some conditions that are not considered inflammatory, including depression, may be partly due to chronic inflammation.

Chaga’s role in regulating cytokine production may also help control inflammation. This points to a role for Chaga in fighting autoimmune conditions and possibly some other diseases.

8. Lowering blood sugar

Chaga might also have a role in the fight against diabetes.

2006 study found that Chaga mushrooms could lower blood sugar in rats. The rodents were genetically modified to have diabetes and to be obese. After eating Chaga mushrooms for 8 weeks, their blood sugar levels were lower.

Though no research has been done on humans yet, this suggests that Chaga might contribute to an alternative treatment for diabetes in the future.

9. Preventing drug side effects

Research is still in its infancy, but if Cchaga proves effective at fighting illnesses such as cancer and arthritis, it could be an alternative to traditional treatments.

Treating people with Chaga mushrooms could prevent them from experiencing the side effects of other treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation, and various medications prescribed for chronic illnesses.

How to use Chaga mushrooms

A doctor should be consulted before Chaga mushrooms are taken as a supplement or in a herbal tea.

Chaga mushroom is available as a supplement and in herbal teas.

People planning to make their own Chaga supplements, or who wish to incorporate Chaga into their diet, should consult a doctor before doing so. The right daily intake of Chaga varies depending on treatment goals.

Chaga is not a substitute for other forms of medical care, so people who have conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure should continue with their usual treatment.

Instead, Chaga can be incorporated as a supplement under the direction of a doctor.

Risks of Chaga mushrooms

As with other supplements and medications, Chaga carries some risks. It can also trigger side effects and may interact dangerously with some medications.

Because Chaga lowers blood sugar, it can be dangerous for people taking insulin and other blood sugar-lowering medications.

To reduce the risks of using Chaga mushrooms, a person should consider the following:

  • Continue taking all prescribed medications, as Chaga is not a substitute for traditional medicine.
  • Tell a doctor about all medications being used. As with other drugs and supplements, Chaga may alter the effectiveness of various medications.
  • Write down any side effects from Chaga use. Though rare, Chaga can trigger an allergic reaction in some people. Trouble breathing, changes in heart rate, and loss of consciousness are medical emergencies.
  • Avoid using other herbal supplements while taking Chaga, unless a doctor advises otherwise.
  • Research supplement brands and buy from reputable sources, as Chaga is not monitored by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

chaga-mushroom-the-immune-boosting-superfood-fb

Chaga Mushroom: The Immune-Boosting Superfood

Chaga (Inonotus Obliquus) is a mushroom that typically grows on birch trees in colder climates across the Northern Hemisphere. At first glance, the mushroom doesn’t look very appealing; actually, it doesn’t even look like a mushroom at all! Appearances can be deceiving, however, as this special mushroom packs a punch when it comes to its health value.

What Is Chaga Mushroom?

Chaga has been consumed for centuries in the East, most typically as tea, where its health benefits are well established. More recently, Chaga has been gaining popularity in the West, where its numerous health benefits are now being recognized by many health gurus. Technically, Chaga is a highly-concentrated black mass of mycelium that protrudes from birch trees infected with parasitic–but non-toxic–fungus Inonotus Obliquus. The dark, hard and cracked exterior, which often appears like burnt charcoal, is called the sclerotium. The interior has a rusty yellow brown color.

What Are the Benefits of Chaga Mushrooms?

The health benefits of Chaga are numerous, many of which can be attributed to its immune-boosting ingredients and antioxidants. Let’s go through each of the top 6 health benefits:

1. Supports Immune System

Chaga has an abundance of Beta-D-Glucans which help balance the response of the body’s immune system. This means that Chaga help boosts the immune system when necessary, but slows it down when it’s overactive. This makes Chaga a natural Biological Response Modifier (BRM). Research has also shown that Chaga activates immune cells responsible for combating cancer initiation. Research is still ongoing, as more studies are needed to determine Chaga’s full role in cancer. Chaga has proven effective in supporting standard cancer approaches, such as chemotherapy, by compensating for the program’s negative side effects. I’m certainly not saying that Chaga will ease cancer progression; however, evidence suggests there may be vital compounds in the mushroom that warrant further investigation into its role.

2. Soothing Properties

Chaga supports the integrity of blood vessels and provides soothing properties in times of irritation. This can be helpful for those suffering from pain, neuropathy, and even diabetes.

3. Ulcers and Gastritis

Due to its immune-boosting properties, Chaga has long been used to support gastrointestinal health in Eastern culture. Most ulcers are caused by bacteria such as Helicobacter pylori, so a well-functioning immune system can fight off this pathogen. Ulcers may be soothed by the use of Chaga, depending on the severity and the patient.

4. Normalize Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels

Studies have shown that the betulinic acid found in Chaga is able to break down LDL cholesterol–bad cholesterol–in the bloodstream.

5. Antimicrobial Activity

In one study, the chemical characterization and biological activity of extracts of Chaga mushroom were examined and showed high antioxidant and antimicrobial activity.

6. DNA Damage Protection

In one study, cells were pretreated with a Chaga mushroom extract, then treated with H202 to induce oxidative stress. The pretreated cells displayed less damage than cells that did not receive the Chaga extract.

7. Antiviral Properties of Chaga Mushroom

A limited amount of studies have been done to learn about the antiviral activity of Chaga mushroom. In two recent studies, Chaga mushroom showed protective support against harsh skin blemishes.

Antioxidant Properties

So what are the ingredients behind Chaga that provide all these health benefits? Let’s go through the 6 key ingredients that make Chaga so healthy.

1. Polysaccharides

Chaga contains structural polysaccharides within its chitin walls, which provide energy, cardiovascular health, intestinal and liver health, and promote healthy blood sugar levels. It’s also said to improve one’s mood.

2. Beta-D-Glucans

Beta-D-Glucans are known for their ability to modulate the immune system. Beta-D-Glucans also help with normalizing cholesterol levels and blood sugar.

3. Phytosterols

Of the phytosterols present in Chaga, 45% is Lanosterol, 25% is Inotodiols and the remaining 30% consists of Ergosterol, Fecosterol, and several others. In vivo and in vitro testing shows a direct effect of both Lanosterol and Inotodiols on cancer cells, with lanosterol imparting a positive effect on viral compounds.

4. Betulin and Betulinic Acid (Triterpenes)

Betulin and betulinic acid are powerful therapeutic agents that are currently being researched for their effects on supporting healthy cholesterol levels. In addition to their favorable benefits for maintaining a healthy cholesterol profile, betulin and betulinic acid are also being studied in relation to cancer and viruses.

5. Antioxidants

Chaga sclerotium contains massive amounts of the natural black pigment known as melanin, which has high antioxidant levels due to a number of polyphenols it contains. In fact, Chaga has the highest ORAC score (the measure of antioxidant potency) of any superfood.

6. SODs

SODs are another important antioxidant present in Chaga. SOD refers to a group of enzymes called Super Oxide Dismutase. These enzymes play an important role in protecting our body against the destructive effects of uncontrolled oxidation and free radicals. SOD potency is measured by the S-ORAC score.

Chaga Mushroom vs. Superfoods

When it comes to health benefits, Chaga performs very well when compared with several popular superfoods.

Quinoa vs. Chaga

Quinoa provides a great source of flavonoids, vitamins, and antioxidants. The high quantity of quercetin that it contains can help cardiac and respiratory health, in addition to protecting cells from free radical damage. Chaga contains a much higher level of antioxidants that provide the same benefits within the bloodstream.

Goji Berries vs. Chaga

Similar to Chaga, goji berries contain high amounts of polysaccharides. Although unlike Chaga, the main polysaccharide in goji berries is pectin. In contrast, Chaga’s source of polysaccharides comes from chitin, a structural polysaccharide that is very beneficial for human consumption and much harder to the source. The typical modern diet includes plenty of pectins and little to no chitin.

Avocado vs. Chaga

Avocado contains many beneficial nutrients such as folate and vitamin D. The combination of these nutrients plus lipids promotes lower cholesterol and heart health. The Beta-D-Glucans found within Chaga also improve cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol from being absorbed into the bloodstream during the digestion process.

Where to Find Chaga Mushroom

Chaga is not easy to find and people often mistake the mushroom for knots in the tree or burnt patches. You’ll find Chaga growing predominantly on birch trees in cold habitats throughout the Northern Hemisphere, including northern parts of Europe, Russia, Korea, Canada, and the U.S. In North America, Chaga is almost exclusively found on birches in the northeast. In particular, it’s most commonly found on paper and yellow birch trees. Paper birch is a common forest tree with a white bark that exfoliates in broad, curling sheets. It’s found at low and high elevations in the northeast of North America. Yellow birch is another common forest tree and usually has a yellow bark that exfoliates as small, curling shreds. Most typically, well-developed Chaga is found on birch trees older than 40 years and grows in all shapes and sizes on the outside of the birch trees it infects. You’ll typically see it in the form of a dome, cone, and horn with crusty ridges. To learn more about harvesting Chaga, check out www.chagahq.com/harvest-chaga/.

How to Make Chaga Tea

The most popular way to consume Chaga is by drinking a delicious cup of Chaga tea. Below is my favorite simple Chaga tea recipe for you to try at home.

  1. Break the whole Chaga into roughly 10g chunks.
  2. Grind one chunk into powder using a blender or coffee grinder.
  3. Place one teaspoon (two if you like a stronger tea) into a tea infuser.
  4. Place the tea infuser into your favorite large mug and pour in about 400 ml of hot water.
  5. Leave the Chaga and hot water steeping for at least 5 minutes, but the longer the better to extract more of the bioactive ingredients.
  6. Remove the infuser from the mug and add maple syrup or honey to taste.

Benefits of Kefir

Kefir is made using the fermentations of yeast and bacteria. This mixture creates kefir grains, which can be combined with milk to create a tangy drink.
Kefir is consumed around the world and has been for centuries. It is a fermented milk drink developed in the northern Caucasus Mountains, according to popular belief.

The name Kefir comes from the Turkish word keyif, which refers to the “good feeling” a person gets after they have drunk it.

Kefir has been popular in parts of Europe and Asia for many years but has only recently started gaining popularity in the United States, due to the growing interest in probiotics and gut health.

What is kefir?

Kefir grains and kefir drink.
Kefir is made using bacteria, giving it probiotic qualities. Probiotics are attributed with supporting healthy digestive functions.

While yogurt is the fermentation of bacteria in milk, kefir is a combination of bacteria and yeast fermentations. The combination of bacteria and yeast is called “kefir grain.”

Kefir grains are not typical grains, such as wheat or rice, and do not contain gluten. Milk is combined with the kefir grains and stored in a warm area to “culture,” producing the kefir beverage.

Kefir has a tart and tangy flavor, and a consistency similar to a drinkable yogurt. Due to the fermentation process, kefir may taste slightly carbonated.

Many of kefir’s health benefits are attributed to its probiotic content. Probiotics, or “good bacteria,” are living organisms that can help maintain regular bowel movements, treat certain digestive conditions, and support the immune system.

Types of kefir

While kefir is typically made from cow’s milk, it can also be produced from the milk of other animals, such as goats or sheep, or from non-dairy milk.

Kefir made from cow’s milk is available in non-fat, low-fat, and whole milk varieties.

Kefir is also available in plain and flavored varieties.

Seven benefits of kefir

Kefir consumption is still being researched, but the potential benefits include:

1. Blood sugar control

In 2015, a small study compared the effects of consuming kefir and conventionally fermented milk on blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Participants who consumed the kefir had significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels than those who consumed the conventionally fermented milk.

Participants in the kefir group also had decreased hemoglobin A1c values, which are a measurement of blood sugar management over 3 months.

2. Lower cholesterol

2017 study looked at changes in cholesterol levels among women drinking low-fat milk or kefir. The participants drank either 2 servings a day of low-fat milk, 4 servings a day of low-fat milk, or 4 servings a day of kefir.

After 8 weeks, those who drank kefir showed significant decreases in their total and their “bad cholesterol” levels compared to those who drank only 2 servings per day of low-fat milk. Participants who consumed 4 servings per day of low-fat milk also had lowered cholesterol levels.

The probiotics in kefir may play a role in how much cholesterol the body absorbs from food. They may also affect how the body produces, processes, and uses cholesterol.

3. Increased nutrition

The nutrients in kefir depend on the type of milk used to make it. Generally, it is a good source of protein, calcium, and potassium. Some store-bought brands are fortified with vitamin D, as well.

4. Improved lactose tolerance

People with lactose intolerance may be able to consume kefir without experiencing symptoms, as the bacteria present in kefir break down much of the lactose.

The leading brand of kefir in the U.S. claims to be 99 percent lactose-free.

small study in 2003 concluded that the consumption of kefir improved lactose digestion over time, and could potentially be used to help overcome lactose intolerance. It noted that flavored kefir produced more adverse symptoms that plain kefir, probably due to added sugars in the flavored product.

5. Improved stomach health

Kefir may be able to help treat digestive issues, such as diarrhea or lactose intolerance.

The stomach contains both good and bad bacteria. Maintaining a balance between them is an important part of keeping the stomach healthy. Diseases, infections, and some medications, such as antibiotics, can upset this balance.

Probiotics are similar to the good bacteria found naturally in the digestive tract and may help maintain a healthy balance.

There is some evidence that probiotic foods, such as kefir, can help treat diarrhea caused by an infection or antibiotics.

One review cited the use of kefir to aid the treatment of peptic ulcers in the stomach and small intestine.

6. Healing properties

Laboratory studies have shown kefir may have antibacterial and antifungal properties, although more investigation is needed.

Research shows that kefir has the potential to be beneficial against gastroenteritis, vaginal infections, and yeast infections.

2016 review reported that kefir lessened the severity of symptoms in mice infected with a parasite. Another review demonstrated beneficial effects of kefir on mice for wound healing and reduced tumor growth.

7. Weight control

Another study reported that kefir consumption reduced body weight and total cholesterol in obese mice. However, more research on people is required.

Making kefir at home

A person can make kefir at home in a clean environment. Utensils, cooking equipment, and a person’s hands should be washed thoroughly with soap and water before starting.

You will need:

  • active kefir grains
  • your preferred type of milk
  • a glass jar
  • a paper coffee filter or cheesecloth
  • a rubber band
  • a silicone spatula or wooden spoon (non-metal stirring utensil)
  • a non-metal mesh strainer

Combine 1 teaspoon of kefir grains for every cup of milk into a glass jar. Cover the jar with the paper coffee filter and secure with a rubber band. Store the jar in a warm place around 70°F for 12-48 hours, depending on your taste and the warmth of the room.

Once the milk has thickened and has a tangy taste, strain the kefir into a storage container. Cover tightly and store for up to 1 week.

There are a few tips to be aware of when making kefir at home:

  • Exposure to metal can weaken the kefir grains, so avoid metal utensils.
  • Temperatures above 90 °F can cause the milk to spoil.
  • Keep the jar away from direct sunlight.
  • The strained kefir grains can be kept to make new batches.
  • Shake it if it starts to separate while being stored.
  • To make a fruit-flavored kefir, chop up fruit and add it to the strained kefir. Let it sit for an additional 24 hours. Re-strain if desired.

How to use kefir

Kefir can be used in many of the ways milk and yogurts are used.

It can be drunk as a beverage, used as the blending liquid in a smoothie, or poured over cereal or oats. Kefir can also be used in baked goods, soups, dips, or salad dressings, though heat may significantly decrease probiotic concentration.

Risks and considerations

Kefir is safe to consume, but a person must consider certain factors before adding it to a regular diet.

While people who are lactose intolerant may be able to drink kefir without symptoms, others with a milk allergy should not consume kefir made from dairy milk, as it can cause an allergic reaction.

Since kefir is made from milk, it contains some sugar. Some pre-packaged, flavored kefirs have high amounts of added sugar.

People with diabetes should be especially careful to read the label and stick to plain varieties without added sugar.

When made traditionally, kefir may contain trace amounts of alcohol. Many commercial brands of kefir are alcohol-free.