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.

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.

Manuka Honey

The market for Manuka honey has recently exploded, thanks to the perceived benefits of its natural antibacterial properties. But what evidence is there to support the claims?

In this article, we explore what Manuka honey is, what its properties are, and how it differs from other types of honey.

We also look at the evidence available to assess whether Manuka honey really is the next great superfood.

Historical use of honey

Honey has been used to treat wounds since ancient times, as detailed in a document dating back to 1392. It was believed to help in the fight against infection, but the practice fell out of favor with the advent of antibiotics.

As we face the challenge of a growing worldwide resistance to antibiotics, scientists are examining the properties and potential of honey.

Qualities of Manuka honey

The leaves of the Manuka tree, also known as a tea tree, have been known for centuries among the indigenous tribes of New Zealand and southern Australia for their healing powers.

Bees that collect nectar from this tree make Manuka honey, which harbors some of the healing properties.

All Honey contains antimicrobial properties, but Manuka honey also contains non-hydrogen peroxide, which gives it an even greater antibacterial power.

Some studies have found Manuka honey can also help to boost production of the growth factors white blood cells need to fight infection and to heal tissue.

Manuka honey contains a number of natural chemicals that make it different:

  • Methylglyoxal (MGO): This has been shown to be effective against several bacteria, including Proteus mirabilis and Enterobacter cloacae.
  • Dihydroxyacetone (DHA): This is found in the nectar of Manuka flowers and converts into MGO during the honey production process.
  • Leptosperin: This is a naturally occurring chemical found in the nectar of Manuka plants and a few close relatives.

Manuka honey and wound care

Medical grade honey, used by healthcare professionals as part of a wound dressing, can help some kinds of wounds to heal.

Experts believe that because Manuka honey has added antibacterial and healing properties, it may be even more effective. At the moment, however, there is little evidence to support the theory.

A Cochrane Review looked at all the evidence available to support the use of honey in wound care. Published in 2015, the study said the differences in wound types made it impossible to draw overall conclusions about the effects of honey on healing.

The study found strong evidence that honey heals partial thickness burns around 4 to 5 days more quickly than conventional dressings. There is also evidence indicating that honey is more effective than antiseptic and gauze for healing infected surgical wounds.

Another study concluded that honey has rapid diabetic wound healing properties, but recommended more research to confirm that honey can be used as the first line of treatment for these types of wounds.

While some research does show that honey can help improve certain conditions, more studies are needed to confirm honey’s benefits for:

  • mixed acute and chronic wounds
  • pressure ulcers
  • Fournier’s gangrene
  • venous leg ulcers
  • minor acute wounds
  • Leishmaniasis

Manuka honey and bacteria

Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections all over the world. However, the bacteria the drugs are deployed to kill can adapt and become resistant.
Manuka honey has antibacterial properties and may be able to fight superbugs resistant to most standard antibiotics.

This resistance is currently happening all over the world, and a growing number of infections are becoming harder to treat. This leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs, and ultimately, more deaths.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has listed resistance to antibiotics as the one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development.

The natural antibacterial properties of honey may be useful in this fight. In the lab, Manuka honey has been shown to be able to inhibit around 60 species of bacteria. These include Escherichia coli (E. coli) and salmonella.

Some studies have shown that Manuka honey can fight so-called superbugs that have become resistant to antibiotics. These include Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA-15) and Pseudomonas aeruginosin.

This line of investigation is still in its infancy. These have been small, lab-based tests which combined medical grade Manuka honey with antibiotics.

There is still a lot of work to be done before scientists can come to a conclusion.

Other health benefits

There are many other potential health benefits of Manuka honey. These include:

  • reducing high cholesterol
  • reducing inflammation
  • reducing acid reflux
  • treating acne

There is, however, limited evidence for its use in these areas.

Using Manuka honey

The medical grade honey used to dress wounds is very different from the honey sold in stores.

Medical grade honey is sterilized, with all impurities removed, and prepared as a dressing. Wounds and infections should always be seen and treated by a healthcare professional.

Store-bought Manuka honey can be used in the same manner as any other honey: on toast, on porridge, or to sweeten drinks.

There is no clear evidence that people who consume Manuka honey in this way will notice any benefit to their health. It is not clear how the active ingredients that provide Manuka honey with its healing properties survive in the gut.

Risks

Honey is usually around 80 percent sugar, mainly supplied by glucose, fructose, and sucrose, so moderate intake is recommended. This is particularly true if you have diabetes.

Due to the recent trend for Manuka honey, it can be expensive, so it is important to make sure you know what you are looking for.

When buying Manuka honey from the store, look for the Unique Manuka Factor (UMF) mark. This means the honey has been produced by one of the 100+ beekeepers, producers, and exporters licensed by the UMF Honey Association.

The number displayed next to the UMF mark represents the quantity of Manuka key markers, leptosperin, DHA, and MGO. Consumers are advised to choose UMF 10+ and above.

Food as Medicine: Sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Polygonaceae)

History and Traditional Use

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa, Polygonaceae) is a wild, perennial herb characterized by slender stems supporting bright green, spear-shaped leaves, with distinctive backward-reaching lobes.1,2 Sorrel grows in patches that average in height from 20-36” and produce small red-brown flowers, which bloom in early summer and produce tiny, hard fruits.3 Sorrel is easy to cultivate and grows best in cool, temperate climates, as well as grasslands, coastal dunes, and cliffs.1 In addition to R. acetosa, another species of sorrel, French sorrel (R. scutatus), is used for culinary purposes.4 This article will profile the history, uses, and components of R. acetosa.

Sorrel is native to Europe and northern Asia, and evidence of cultivation dates back to 4,000 BCE.2 In the Middle Ages, sorrel was a prominent vegetable throughout Europe and was also cultivated by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Often referred to as the lemon of the leaf crops, the sour-tasting leaves are the most commonly consumed part of the plant.2,5 Sorrel’s stem and flower were also used in medicinal applications.2 Sorrel’s species name, acetosa, is Latin for “vinegary,” indicating the plant’s acidic taste.6


Phytochemicals and Constituents

Sorrel is a nutrient-dense green, containing important vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, vitamin C, sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron.2Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that supports healthy vision, bone growth, and a strong immune system.7Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, essential for its role in collagen synthesis and its antioxidant properties. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium are the most abundant minerals within human cells, and each plays a role in electrolyte and fluid balance. Calcium is a structural component of the skeletal matrix, and Iron is necessary for oxygen delivery and DNA synthesis.

Flavan-3-ols and other phenolic compounds in sorrel leaves provide additional benefits.8-10 Phenolic compounds have protective effects against inflammation and cell damage and interfere with tumor and estrogen receptor activities.10 The main phenolic compounds present in R. acetosa include resveratrol (41.27 µg/g), vanillic acid (130.29 µg/g), sinapic acid (5,708.48 µg/g), and catechin (75.46 µg/g). Sorrel leaves also contain beta-carotene, though not in therapeutic levels.11


Historical and Commercial Uses

Documented uses of sorrel include domestic remedies, and extend to complex medicinal therapies.2 Sorrel leaf juice has been used in fragrances and for stain removal, and sorrel leaves are a popular ingredient in French cuisine.

Sorrel leaves are considered acidic, astringent, and cooling.6 Sorrel has been used as a laxative and a topical treatment for skin disorders, sore throats, and warts.11 Sorrel leaf also was used for its diuretic properties to induce water excretion and to manage fevers.1,5,12 Due to its high concentration of vitamin C, sorrel has been used as a therapeutic food for conditions caused by vitamin C deficiencies, such as scurvy.1Furthermore, common garden sorrel was used as a treatment for constipation, cramping, and diarrhea since the plant demonstrates soothing effects on the stomach and intestines.8,9 The astringent properties of the seeds were used to treat hemorrhages.12

Currently, sorrel is used as an ingredient in herbal medicinal remedies, such as Sinupret (Bionorica SE; Neumarkt, Germany), a proprietary blend of botanicals, indicated for sinusitis and bronchitis.7 Tablets contain 18-36mg of sorrel leaf and stem extract, in addition to four other herbs: elder flower (Sambucus nigra, Adoxaceae), primrose flower and calyx (Primula veris, Primulaceae), European vervain leaf and stem (Verbena Officinalis, Verbenaceae), and yellow gentian root (Gentiana lutea, Gentianaceae).

Modern Research

Currently, studies on sorrel offer promising results in the areas of digestion, infection prevention, topical skin treatments, and anti-proliferative activity.10,12,13

A recent in vivo and in vitro study evaluated the traditional use of R. acetosa to treat stomach discomforts and distress in animal models.12 A 70% methanol extract from sorrel leaves was found to have a high acute toxicity dosage (i.e., large amounts were well tolerated and exhibited no adverse effects), relaxed the gastrointestinal tract or produced gastrointestinal contractions depending on the dose, and exhibited anti-emetic properties. These findings support the traditional use of sorrel as a constipation aid that stimulates a bowel movement.

Anti-diarrheal properties may be linked to the presence of calcium-binding components and tannins in sorrel.8,9,12Oxalic acid binds with and thereby reduces available free calcium for receptor stimulation. This leads to reduced muscle contraction and may alleviate diarrhea.12Tannins exert an astringent effect, which may help alleviate not only conditions such as diarrhea but also chronic upper respiratory infections, by reducing excess fluid.9

Phytochemical extracts from other buckwheat families (Polygonaceae) members exhibit antiviral and anticancer effects, specifically extracts from R. acetosella or sheep sorrel. Sheep sorrel has a history of use as an ingredient in the formula known as Essiac tea, which purportedly is based on the traditions of the indigenous Ojibwa Native American tribe.11 Garden sorrel shows similar antiviral and anticancer effects. An in vivo trial discovered that an extract of R. acetosa reduced influenza A viral invasion of host cells, and further reduced viral growth.14 Antiviral reactions are primary effects of rich polyphenol concentration. In sorrel, these polyphenols mainly include flavonols, proanthocyanidins, and hydrolysable tannins. These compounds may prevent the assembly and maturation (growth and development) of certain viruses, an important step in infection control.

Additional documentation supports anti-proliferative (tumor cell growth preventing) activities seen with R.acetosa preparations.10,13 Prevention of cell growth, specifically tumor cells, was found at concentrations of 75 and 100 µg/mL of a 90% aqueous methanol extract.10

In vitro and in vivo trials displayed antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Sinupret was able to reduce viscosity, or thickness, of mucus in animal models and produce an anti-inflammatory response. Sorrel’s contributions to anti-inflammation are credited to an increased response by immune cells. Few adverse side effects related to sorrel have been reported, and include gastrointestinal disorders and correlated allergic reactions.7
Consumer Considerations

Oxalic acid within sorrel produces a bitter taste, which makes sorrel a valuable ingredient for adding a tart, lemony flavor to various dishes. However, oxalic acid is a potential cause for concern in regard to renal function.11 Crystalized calcium oxalate (which forms when oxalic acid combines with calcium) can lead to the formation of kidney stones and may also accumulate in the heart, circulatory vessels, and lungs.15 In addition, oxalic acid’s ability to bind to micronutrients, such as iron and calcium, decreases its absorption.11,13 Furthermore, oxalates may irritate the digestive system when consumed in large amounts.16 For these reasons, consumption of sorrel should be monitored for special populations affected by renal and arthritic conditions, as well as those with gastrointestinal disorders.1,11

Oxalic acid is concentrated at 300mg per 100 grams of sorrel.11 The majority is found within the leaves, followed by marginal amounts in stems.13 The concentration of oxalates depends on the plant’s growing conditions, such as soil and climate.8 Moreover, tannins in sorrel leaves are concentrated between 7-15%.11When consumed in large amounts, tannins may cause stomach upset and/or kidney and liver damage.

Fortunately, the oxalic acid concentration decreases to negligible amounts with light cooking.11 For example, sorrel soup has a lower oxalic acid concentration compared to pesto made with fresh sorrel leaves.13 Also, the oxalic acid concentration increases proportionately to the size and length of the leaf, making young, tender leaves a better choice for those people affected by these conditions.


Nutrient Profile17

Macronutrient Profile: (Per 1 cup chopped raw sorrel)

29 calories
3 g protein
4 g carbohydrate
1 g fat

Secondary Metabolites: (Per 1 cup chopped raw sorrel)

Excellent source of:
Vitamin A: 5320 IU (106.4% DV)
Vitamin C: 63.8 mg (106.3% DV)
Magnesium: 137 mg (34.3% DV)
Manganese: 0.5 mg (25% DV)

Very good source of:
Iron: 3.2 mg (17.8% DV)
Dietary Fiber: 4 g (16% DV)
Potassium: 519 mg (14.8% DV)
Vitamin B6: 0.2 mg (10% DV)

Good source of:
Phosphorus: 83.8 mg (8.4% DV)
Thiamin: 0.1 mg (6.7% DV)
Calcium: 58.5 mg (5.9% DV)
Riboflavin: 0.1 mg (5.9% DV)

Also, provides:
Folate: 17.3 mcg (4.3% DV)
Niacin: 0.7 mg (3.5% DV)

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


Recipe: Green Potato Salad

Adapted from Blue Apron18

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, diced into bite-sized pieces
  • 6 ounces fresh spinach
  • 6 ounces fresh sorrel leaves
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (or to taste)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, salt the water, then cook until potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork, approximately 15 minutes.

  2. Lift the potatoes out, reserving the water, and set aside in a bowl. Add the greens to the boiling water and cook for 30 seconds to a minute, or until wilted. Drain the spinach into a strainer, pressing to release as much water as possible.

  3. Roughly chop the greens, then add to the potatoes.

  4. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and toss thoroughly to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Salad may be served warm, at room temperature, or after chilling.

References

  1. Rumex acetosa (common sorrel). Kew Royal Botanic Gardens website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  2. Van Wyk B-E. Food Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, Inc.; 2006.
  3. Bown D. The Herb Society of America: New Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley Ltd.; 2001.
  4. Real Food Right Now and How to Cook It: Sorrel. Grace Communications Foundation website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  5. Felter HW, Lloyd JU. King’s American Dispensatory. 18th edition. Cincinnati, OH: Ohio Valley Co.; 1898. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  6. Onstad D. Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers & Lovers of Natural Foods. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing Company; 1996.
  7. Oliff HS, Blumenthal M. Scientific and Clinical Monograph for Sinupret. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 2009.
  8. Kemper KJ. Sorrel (Rumex acetosa L.). Boston, MA: The Longwood Herbal Task Force; 1999.
  9. Bicker J, Petereit F, Hensel A. Proanthocyanidins and a phloroglucinol derivative from Rumex acetosaL. Fitoterapia. 2009;80(8):483-495.
  10. Kucekova Z, Mlcek J, Humpolicek P, Rop O, Valasek P, Saha P. Phenolic compounds from Allium schoenoprasumTragopogon pratensis and Rumex acetosa and their antiproliferative effects. Molecules. 2011;16(11):9207-9217.
  11. Vasas A, Orbán-Gyapai O, Hohmann J. The Genus Rumex: Review of traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology. J Ethnopharmacol. 2015;175:198-228.
  12. Hussain M, Raza SM, Janbaz KH. A pharmacologically mechanistic basis for the traditional uses of Rumex acetosa in gut motility disorders and emesis. Bangladesh J Pharmacol. 2015;10(3):548.
  13. Tuazon-Nartea J, Savage G. Investigation of oxalate levels in sorrel plant parts and sorrel-based products. Food Nutr Sci. 2013;4(8):838-843.
  14. Derksen A, Hensel A, Hafezi W, et al. 3-O-galloylated procyanidins from Rumex acetosa L. inhibit the attachment of influenza A virus. PLoS One. 2014;9(10).
  15. Oxalic acid. J.R. Organics website. Available here. Accessed May 5, 2016.
  16. Elpel T. Botany in a Day: The Patterns Method of Plant Identification. Pony, MT: HOPS Press, LLC; 2013.
  17. Basic report: 11616 Dock, raw. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.
  18. Seared Salmon and “Green” Potato Salad with Pickled Mustard Seeds. Blue Apron website. Available here. Accessed April 28, 2016.