Five Basics to Balance Blood Sugar Levels

I have a love-hate relationship with sugar. Love the taste, hate the effects on my body. Maintaining blood sugar levels is always a concern for me because diabetes runs in my family. Type 2 diabetes, which accounts for 90 percent of cases globally, is characterized by insulin resistance and abnormal insulin secretion. While Type 1 diabetes is the most common chronic disease among children. Risk factors for Type 2 diabetes includes obesity, diet, stress, physical inactivity, family history, and even pregnancy-related determinants like gestational diabetes. So one thing that I absolutely do is just limit the amount of sugar that I have and try to go max-up my exercise by taking really long walks. If you have some of these risk factors, it is extremely important to indulge in foods that can assist you with regulating your sugar levels. Here are some of the foods that I enjoy and help me with doing just that:

 

Fenugreek

I came across fenugreek when I was searching for natural ingredients for a deep conditioner for my hair. Fenugreek is a great source of protein that prevents hair fall. But fenugreek is also great for moderating blood glucose levels. In fact, a 2001 study showed that fenugreek seeds improve glycemic control and decreases insulin resistance in mild type-2 diabetic patients. Fenugreek contains beta-carotene, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, iron, and phosphorus. Additionally, this plant has phenolic compounds like naringenin and quercetin that have antioxidant activity. Further, fenugreek also has shown anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, and hypocholesterolemic properties. For example, some animal studies indicate that fenugreek may lower blood cholesterol levels. What’s more, a 2005 study showed that fenugreek may have a protective effect against breast cancer. I like to sprinkle a little fenugreek on a hearty cauliflower dish.

Cloves

As a young child, I remember how during the holiday season my Jamaican parents would almost always get a bottle of sorrel juice from someone as a gift. If you are familiar at all with this particular spicy drink, then you know that one of the main ingredients that adds some kick to it are cloves. Cloves have nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, magnesium, calcium, and manganese. In addition, cloves contain polyphenols such as gallic acid and other compounds like eugenol that have strong antioxidant properties. Some studies suggest that cloves may reduce blood sugar levels. For instance, a 2010 study found that cloves significantly decreased blood sugar levels, prevented oxidative stress tissue damage and cataract formation. Further, some research indicates that cloves show strong antimicrobial, antifungal, and antibacterial activity against certain types of bacteria. Further, cloves may be beneficial in preventing lung cancer and gastric ulcers, and reducing fevers.

 

 

Saffron

To me, saffron will always be synonymous with paella. Seasoned rice, onions, green peas, peppers, and veggie sausage—just heavenly! Saffron contains vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. What makes saffron so special is a rare carotenoid called crocin that has antioxidant activity. And it has been reported that saffron has anti-hyperglycemic effects for diabetic patients. A 2011 study found that saffron reduced blood glucose levels and hemoglobin levels. Even more, saffron may be effective in treating other conditions such as preventing age-related macular degeneration, preventing neuron cell death, alleviating depression, soothing lumber pains associated with menstruation, and preventing skin tumors.

 

Mustard Greens

I love any type of sautéed greens so it’s always a treat when I get to enjoy a big ole plate of them. And mustard greens definitely fit that bill. Mustard greens have nutrients like vitamin C, beta-carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. In addition, mustard greens contain antioxidant flavonoids such as isorhamnetin and glucosinolates that prevent cancer. Further, mustard greens have compounds that have shown anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties. More so, mustard greens are a potent antidiabetic. For instance, a 2013 study found that mustard greens had a antihyperglycemic effect and may reverse anxious behavorial symptoms that may be associated with diabetes. And a 2002 study showed that mustard leaf may protect against diabetic oxidative stress. Additionally, mustard greens have an antitumor effect by reducing the incidence of colon tumor. I think the taste of chickpeas and mustard greens is a great way to kick off a fall evening.

 

Cinnamon

When I think of cinnamon, I think Indian summers where it’s warm but muggy. I know weird, right?! But to me, cinnamon means warm snickerdoodles that usher in that change from summer to fall. Cinnamon has calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and copper. This spice has antioxidants like caffeic acid that have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antiallergenic, and antiproliferative activity. Some studies suggest that cinnamon may also improve blood glucose levels and lipid levels. For example, a 2003 study found that cinnamon may lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, serum glucose, and triglyceride for people with Type 2 diabetes. Moreover, cinnamon may protect against gastric ulcers and certain types of cancers like leukemia. I like to enjoy a cool refreshing cinnamon-fig smoothie when the mood strikes.

 

So those of some of the foods that I like to eat to maintain blood glucose levels. What do you enjoy?

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Four Ways to Quench Heartburn

About a week or so ago, I experienced an uncomfortable but familiar burning sensation in my chest after indulging a plate of leftover rotini pasta. I knew that I had been hit with a case of heartburn. Blessedly, I’m not a chronic heartburn sufferer but I do have family members who know this condition all too well. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with acid reflux, which is associated with heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

According to a 1999 report by the Archives of Internal Medicine, twenty-five million adults experience heartburn daily and more than $1 billion was spent on nonprescription heartburn remedies. Heartburn occurs when the esophagus is exposed to gastric acid because the lower esophageal sphincter, which normally prevents acid from entering the esophagus, becomes relaxed. The esophagus ain’t built to handle the acid like the stomach can. That burning sensation happens when sensory nerve endings are stimulated by acid reflux or esophageal distention. Acid reflux may be a sign of GERD, a chronic condition that may damage your esophagus. Certain types of food such as peppermint, onions, garlic, and alcohol may induce heartburn. Even body position (e.g. reclining or bending over) can stir that burn. And of course, lifestyle factors such as stress, cigarette smoking, and obesity may result in heartburn.

In my pre-vegan days, my roll of antacids was my best friend if I felt any sort of discomfort. Now, I try to really pay attention to the foods I eat, although I do have my moments (look, Mama needs chocolate cookies every once in a while or she goes batsh** crazy! 😉). Potassium-rich foods like sweet potatoes may be helpful because potassium causes the contraction of the lower esophageal sphincter muscles and prevents that acid from entering into the esophagus. Here are some other foods that may help halt heartburn for you:

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice

Coming from a West Indian family, I have always been somewhat familiar with licorice and its medicinal purposes. But licorice is a well-known remedy for heartburn and other stomach ailments. Commercial licorice products come from the root extracts of the plant. The roots are reported to have demulcent, antacid, anti-ulcer, anti-inflammatory, diuretic, expectorant, and antimicrobial activity. The sweet taste comes from the substance glycyrrhizin, which is reputed to be 50 times stronger than refined sugar. But glycyrrhizin may also cause severe hypertension. So deglycyrrhizinated licorice is the best bet for the benefits of licorice without those nasty side effects. Deglycyrrhizinated licorice works by increasing blood flow to damaged stomach mucous membrane to promote healing. Licorice contains antioxidant compounds like glabridin that prevent low-density lipoprotein. In addition, some studies suggest that licorice may be beneficial in treating other gastrointestinal disorders. For example, a 1995 study found that licorice reduced the number and size of gastric ulcers. Further, some research indicates that licorice extracts may suppress the growth of breast cancer cells. Occasionally, I really like this particular brand of licorice whenever I need a little extra help with heartburn.

 

 

Seaweed

I am not ashamed to admit that I have always loved seaweed. Some of the best eating times involve seaweed: Back in the late nineties, I remember ordering a kombu and tempeh combination at one of my favorite veggie restaurants back in the day, Angelica’s Kitchen (RIP). Or eating veggie sushi with my friends in the backyard of a restaurant on Carmine Street in the Village. Yeah, Mama’s that old. For our purposes, when I am referring to seaweed or marine algae, I mean the brown, green, and red algae like kelp, kombu, nori, or Irish moss. What is great about seaweed is that it does contain fiber but its not digested to any great extent in the gut. So that means easier digestion as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. Seaweed contains nutrients such as vitamins A, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, B12, C, and E, and calcium, iron, zinc, copper, and iodine. If you’re a chronic heartburn sufferer, you are familiar with alginates that are derived from brown seaweed, which are used as an alternative to antacids. What’s more, most seaweed varieties contain polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid (LA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) that are essential for growth and development. Additionally, seaweed is full of carotenoids like beta-carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin as well as metabolites that have antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial properties. In fact, it has been reported that the polysaccharides from marine algae may inhibit the mumps and influenza B viruses. I like to keep it really simple with seaweed, so I did this mash-up of kelp, kombu, carrots, and broccoli for dinner.

 

Marshmallow root

I first heard about marshmallow root in my attempts to find a natural hair detangler. Marshmallow root contains mucilage that makes it oh so easy to run a comb through even the most wicked hair knots. But this plant is so much more than that. Some evidence shows that the roots may counteract excessive stomach acid that may result in that dreaded heartburn. Marshmallow root, like seaweed, is a good source of polyunsaturated fatty acids like LA and ALA. More so, marshmallow root has antioxidant flavonoids such as kaempferol and other constituents like polysaccharides that show antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and antitussive activities. For example, a 2011 study found that marshmallow root extracts may be effective in treating certain types of oral cavity bacteria. Further, a 2007 study showed that marshmallow root significantly reduced the coughing of hypertension patients. And some animal studies suggest that the polysaccharides from marshmallow root may reduce blood glucose levels. I like to use this particular brand when I need to get my marshmallow fix.

 

Beetroot

When I started going out with my husband, one of the first things he said to me was never give him anything with beets. Apparently, his mother ate a bit too much beets when she was pregnant with him and he came out the womb despising them. For those of you who are like him, I implore you to give beets are chance because they can absolutely be tasty and wonderfully healthy—I promise you! Beetroot contains nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, and magnesium. In addition, beetroot also has phenolic compounds such as caffeic acid and bioactive pigments known as betalains that have high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Beetroot has nitrates that increase gastric blood flow, which may be beneficial in combatting heartburn. But please note that some studies link high nitrate intake with gastric cancer, so do your own research. Some research indicates nitrate-rich beetroot may be helpful increasing cerebral blood flow in young adults. And a 2010 study showed that beetroot extract alleviated pain and inflammation in osteoarthritic patients. This juice will make you a believer when it comes to beets.

 

So those are the foods that I use to douse heartburn–what do you use?

Five Foods to Fight Water Retention

For the past few weeks, we have been spending our summer weekends at local parks. #cheapcomfythrills Last week, while we were wading into the ocean water, my husband complained about a swollen ankle. Occasionally, my husband will retain water in his legs or ankles. He usually wears a compression hose on his leg for a couple of days and that seems to alleviate the symptoms. Fluid retention may accompany many conditions such as sleep apnea (like my hubbie), hypertension, renal disease, pregnancy, and menstruation. In fact, as a teenager, I had plenty of bloating during that visit from Aunt Flo. One of the best ways to deal with water retention is to cut back on salty foods. Several studies have linked high sodium intake to fluid retention. Also, believe it or not, body position can affect that salt/water balance in the body. For example, a 1981 study found that women who sat for prolonged periods of time (about eight hours a day) experienced leg swelling that was reduced with intermittent leg exercise. And a 1997 study showed that exercises like knee-bending, which uses the thigh and calf muscle, may prevent lower leg swelling. In addition, diuretics like fennel have been shown to be useful in reducing fluid retention. Here are some other foods that I munch on to manage water retention:

Arugula

Arugula used to be one of my favorite leaves when it came to salads. It has a crisp but light peppery taste that is not too distracting from salad toppings (e.g. avocado, tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumbers). But as I expanded my palate to other leaves like kale and spinach, I gradually veered away from this leaf. Every now and then, I like to indulge my arugula cravings. Arugula or rocket salad contains vitamin C and beta-carotene, and minerals such as calcium, potassium, sulfur, and iron. This veggie, like its relatives cauliflower and broccoli, has sulfur-containing anticancer nutrients glucosinolates  and antioxidant flavonoids like kaempferol. What’s more, it has been reported that arugula has shown diuretic activity, which will definitely work with that extra water weight. Additionally, a 2009 study found that arugula may reduce gastric lesions and some research indicates that arugula may improve hyperglycemia, lipid profiles, inflammatory skin diseases like psoriasis and inhibit the growth of cancer cells such as colon and lung cancer. I love to toss arugula in salads but I wanted to try something a little different with a breakfast crostini.

Cranberries

Who doesn’t love cranberries?! Seriously, I want to know so I can unfriend that person 😊. I put cranberries on chickpea salads, wild rice, sweet potatoes, and a plethora of other amazing dishes. And so should you. Cranberries have vitamin C and E, fiber, potassium, selenium, and eye-boosting nutrients such as lutein and zeaxanthin. This fruit is rich in phytonutrients such as anthocyanins that are responsible for its pigment and that are associated with anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic properties. Cranberries have shown diuretic activity and some evidence supports its effectiveness in other conditions as well. For instance, some clinical trials have shown that cranberry juice consumption is associated with reduced risk of recurrent urinary tract infections (so the rumors are true ladies). Furthermore, a number of studies suggest that cranberries may lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, improve insulin sensitivity, and lower blood glucose levels. Since fall is just around the corner, why not start the season with a luscious cranberry sauce?

Leeks

The first time I tried leeks was an unpleasant experience. Why? Leeks are sandy, I repeat leeks are frigging sandy. But once the sand was gone, I loved it. The taste was reminiscent of onions but slightly different. Perfect for that rich pumpkin bisque or hearty pasta dish. Leeks contain nutrients such as vitamin C, vitamin A, B vitamins like thiamin and riboflavin, manganese, phosphorus, calcium, and potassium. Leeks are a great source of glucosinolates and antioxidant flavonoids like quercetin that have shown antibacterial and antitumor activity. This relative of the onion family is a diuretic with laxative and anti-arthritic properties. And some research shows that allium vegetables like leeks may reduce the risk of prostate and gastric cancer. Some evidence suggests that the calcium in leeks may have blood-clotting abilities and the polysaccharides in leeks may enhance the immune system. More so, a 2006 study found that leeks decreased low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Creamy pumpkin bisque accented with roasted leeks is right on point for a cool evening meal.

Parsley

Parsley is a true staple in many of my dishes. When I’m making a meal and I want to add something extra to make it pop, I almost always reach for parsley (and garlic but that’s another story). This herb is a good source of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, calcium, and iron. Parsley is loaded with antioxidants like apigenin that are antibacterial and anticarcinogenic. But parsley is also a powerful diuretic. A 2002 animal study shows that parsley extract significantly increased urine flow rate. Additionally, parsley has been effective in reducing the risk of peptic ulcers, decreasing blood glucose levels, regulating blood pressure levels, and improving testosterone and sperm count levels. Parsley leaves make a great base for a tasty chimichurri.

Dandelion

I’ve been wanting to try dandelion leaves for a while now ever since another blogger recommended them to me regarding cold remedies. Dandelion has a sharp bitter tone that goes well with lemon or smoked vegan cheese. Think arugula but with a more pronounced taste. Please take into account that, like leeks, dandelion leaves are incredibly gritty. I recommend that you let them sit in bowl of warm water for a couple of minutes before dealing with them. But when you do—so good! Dandelion has vitamin C and D, beta-carotene, and B vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid. This vegetable is an excellent source of potassium and other minerals such as choline, zinc, manganese, iron, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus. In fact, it has been reported that the high potassium content may be responsible for dandelion’s diuretic activity. This plant also has antioxidant phenolic compounds such as hydroxycinnamic acids and it is an anti-inflammatory and a choleretic. Dandelion may be effective in treating various other conditions. For instance, a 2005 study found that dandelion may have a protective effect against acute pancreatitis. Further, dandelion consumption may improve gastric ulcers, constipation and diarrhea in chronic colitis patients, hepatitis infections, and immune function. Please note that there have been some reports of contact dermatitis with dandelion, so practice caution if needed (i.e. again, wash the heck out of it). I like to add sauteed dandelion to a pasta dish like this one. Hope you do the same!

So these are some foods I use to wash away that water weight. What are the foods that help you?

Six Staples to Soothe Nausea and Prevent Vomiting

SPOILER ALERT: it’s about to get nasty up in here. A week or so ago, I ate some old celery that had been sitting in the fridge past its due date. I looked at the chopped bits and despite the brown-grayish tinge that started to appear, I thought I’m good. About an hour later, I had that stomach-churning feeling, the kind where if you take a breath, something might come up rough. I felt a wave of nausea take over.

Thankfully, I’ve been really blessed in that I rarely ever vomit. But I can darn sure tell you about some nausea. Yep, I have had occasions where I ate the wrong frigging thing. Usually, we use our sense of smell and taste to identify spoiled foods, however, that might not be enough in detecting the quality of foods. Nausea and emesis or vomiting actually play a role in defending our bodies against food poisoning, drug side effects, and disease co-morbidities. Diarrhea and vomiting helps rid the gastrointestinal tract of dangerous ingested toxins. Nausea may serve as a conditioned response to avoid ingestion of harmful substances. While nausea often accompanies vomiting, vomiting may occur without nausea. Told you it would get nasty, but bear with me, it’s all for the greater good 😉.

For those of us that are moms, we all remember the urge to purge when carrying that bundle of joy. Pregnancy-induced nausea and vomiting during the first trimester is associated with a healthy pregnancy because the first trimester is a time of rapid fetal growth that includes the development of the central nervous system, which is highly vulnerable to toxicosis, a condition that results from poison or toxins in the system. Vomiting may offer protection against this condition. And other factors may weigh into your need to hurl. For example, motion-induced nausea and vomiting may be due to sensory conflict between body position in space. Also, modern medicine (e.g. drug treatments and post-surgery recovery) may provoke nausea and vomiting as well.

When I feel a little queasy, I want clear liquids or solid foods like toast. A year ago, my son had a gastrointestinal issue and a nurse asked me if I knew about the BRAT diet. What the hell is that? Bananas, rice, apples, toast. And some research indicates there may be something to this traditional diet. Some animal studies suggest that bananas, rich in amylase-resistant starch may protect gastrointestinal mucosa and improve symptoms of peptic ulcer. And rice-based oral hydration solutions have shown to reduce the volume of stools and duration of diarrhea in cholera patients. Here are some other solutions for stopping nausea and vomiting in its tracks:

Ginger

I might have to cut this post short because if you choose only one remedy to halt nausea and vomiting, it would absolutely have to be ginger. As the daughter of West Indian parents who used ginger for just about every freaking thing, I implore you to please stock ginger in your house—you will not regret it. It is my number one cure-all for mild stomach ailments. I’ve written about its benefits here. Ginger contains minerals such as iron, copper, phosphorus, chromium, calcium, and zinc. This plant has strong antioxidant activity due to vitamin C, beta-carotene, polyphenols, and flavonoids. Ginger gets its pungency from polyphenolic compounds known as gingerols. It is reported that gingerols have antibacterial, analgesic, sedative, and antipyretic properties. Several randomized controlled trials have shown that ginger may reduce chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea that was secondary to conditions including post-operative nausea, motion sickness, morning sickness, and chemotherapy-associated nausea. Ginger has also been effective in treating chills related to colds and flu, improving rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, reducing atherogenesis and high lipid levels, as an anti-inflammatory for migraine headaches, and inhibiting low-density lipoprotein. I like to add ginger to my morning tea (y’all know that I’m fanatical with my tea) but I also like to add a touch of ginger to certain meals like this miso-ginger glazed tempeh dish.

 

Fennel

When my husband and I were newlyweds, he used to make this big weekend breakfast of sweet potato hash that was flavored with dried fennel seeds. I adored how the seeds added a slight licorice flavor to the onions, peppers, and diced potatoes. So freaking scrumptious! Fennel has protein, fibers, vitamin A, vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, potassium, iron, and phosphorus. This veggie is high in antioxidants like polyphenols and flavonoids like rosmarinic acid and quercetin that exhibit anticarcinogenic, antibacterial, antifungal, and hepatoprotective activities. A 2005 case study showed that a sweet fennel oil blend that included other oils such as peppermint and Roman chamomile may be beneficial in treating nausea. What’s more, some research indicates that fennel is effective with other gastrointestinal disorders including colic and gastric ulcers. Some studies suggest that anethole, a constituent in fennel, can suppress the growth of cancer cells. Since it’s summer, I find that the raw version of fennel is a nice compliment to oranges for a light salad.

 

Peppermint

As a child growing up in the Bronx, our landlord used to grow mint leaves in the front yard. Occasionally, she would gift my mother some mint leaves on special occasions like Easter and Christmas. My mother would carefully parcel out just a few of the leaves and then steep them for an extraordinary long time for a cup of tea. When I took a sip, I was immediately overwhelmed by the powerful mint flavor. It made the mint tea we picked up from the supermarket seem puny in comparison. Eventually, I decided to expand my palate to other flavors but that mint tea always holds a special place in my heart. Peppermint contains beta-carotene, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and selenium. This herb is an antioxidant with polyphenols like hesperidin, rosmarinic acid, and caffeic acid. Peppermint is a dynamo herb because it also has anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antiviral, anti-allergenic, antibacterial, antimicrobial properties. A 1997 study showed that peppermint may reduce nausea in post-operative patients. Furthermore, peppermint has been used in the treatment of other gastrointestinal disorders such as colon spasms, abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and dyspepsia. And a 1988 study found that inhalation of menthol, a compound found in peppermint, may significantly improve air flow nasal sensation (so Mom was right after all).

 

Lemongrass

Lemongrass is not something I have often but I remember tasting lemongrass for the first time in a sweet and sour-type dish years ago. I loved how the fragrant subtle lemon taste cascaded over the rice and veggies. Lemongrass has protein, fiber, carbohydrates and minerals such as potassium, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. This plant is loaded with antioxidant constituents such as caffeic acid and it has shown antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, and hypolipidemic activity. Some research indicates that lemongrass may prevent vomiting. For instance, a 2011 study found that lemongrass extract showed anti-emetic activity. In addition, some animal studies indicate that lemongrass may be effective as a treatment for diarrhea. And the plant may be beneficial in preventing low-density lipoprotein. Lemongrass makes a perfect addition to curries and soups like this one.

Papaya

I have a confession: I’ve always been a little scared of papaya. Why? Because it looks like a beast when it comes to chopping it up and getting rid of those seeds. But it is so worth it. So juicy and succulent. Just thinking of slicing it whisper-thin for a summer salad is mouthwatering. Okay enough of that. Papaya contains dietary fiber, protein, and carbohydrates. The fruit is rich in vitamin C and a good source of beta-carotene, B vitamins like folate, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, as well as minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and phosphorus. Papaya has antioxidants like caffeic acid and hesperidin and it also shows antiulcer, antitumor, anthelmintic, and immunomodulatory activity. It has been reported that papain, a digestive enzyme found in papaya, may improve gastrointestinal conditions including nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Additionally, some animal studies show that papaya may also accelerate wound healing, lower blood glucose levels, reduces oxidative stress and high blood cholesterol levels. So go ahead and cut open that papaya and slather it on your salad.

 

Cardamom

I’ve always been curious about cardamom because so many people rave about it so I decided to give it a try. Cardamom has a citrusy flavor that is perfect for frothy shakes, iced teas, and creamy desserts. This spice contains minerals such as calcium, sulfur, and phosphorus and antioxidants including quercetin that are also anticarcinogenic and anti-inflammatory. A 2014 study found that cardamom essential oil may relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. Furthermore, some animal studies suggest that cardamom may reduce gastric lesions. And research shows that cardamom may lower blood pressure levels in stage 1 hypertension patients and may prevent bronchospasms associated with asthma.

 

Those are the foods I like when my tummy is topsy-turvy—what cures your nagging nausea and vomiting?

Six Soothers for Sore Gums and Strengthening Teeth

Summertime means cool, refreshing treats like ice cream sundaes piled high with cherries and bananas or sorbet slushies that are frothy and spilling off the sides of your glass. Heaven! But too much of that sugary goodness can do some damage to your teeth and gums. My husband Brian has had a lot of problems with his teeth this year. Let’s just say the words “root canal” were mentioned at one point. Blessedly, he didn’t have to go that route. Growing up, I remember my mother would frequently visit the dentist because of sore gums. Red, bleeding, or inflamed gums is usually a telltale sign of gingivitis and periodontitis, which can be associated with other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poor wound healing. Gingivitis is caused by plaque forming on the teeth that then irritates the gums. The longer the plaque sits, the more irritated the gums become. The gums can start bleeding even with gentle brushing. Periodontitis occurs when the untreated gingivitis eventually loosens the tooth from the gums and results in tooth loss. Treatment of periodontitis includes good oral hygiene and professional dental care. I repeat, professional dental care. So if you are suffering from these conditions or other oral care issues, don’t be a hero and sit there with your teeth jacked up–seek out a physician pronto.

According to the World Health Organization, oral disease are the fourth most expensive disease to treat. Risk factors to oral diseases include: smoking, alcohol, behaviors that cause injuries, stress, diet, and dirt (hygiene). Natural anti-inflammatories like curcumin (turmeric) and antimicrobials like tea tree oil can help in treating some periodontal issues. But prevention is key. Start by limiting your consumption of sugars and boosting your intake of fruits and veggies. Okay preach session over.

Other foods I like to add to my arsenal to keep tooth decay at bay are:

Watercress

Watercress is kind of new to my menu. I saw it at the market and decided what the hell, let’s do it. And I’m glad I did. Watercress has a sharp undertone that could easily replace boring lettuce in any sandwich or bring a peppery note to soups and pasta. This Brassicaceae veggie is usually found in cool, running water along the banks of rivers, ditches, and streams (so wash it well because it can have a little dirt y’all). Like its close relatives broccoli and cauliflower, watercress is high in similar nutrients such as vitamins C, E, and K, folic acid, calcium, iron, and iodine. It is also rich in the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene. Most importantly, watercress is full of isothiocyanates, one of the products of glucosinolates, plant compounds that are known for their cancer-fighting properties. Isothiocyanates activate detoxification enzymes and suppress cancer-promoting enzymes in the body. Some studies have shown that isothiocyanates have reduced the risk of lung cancer and have prevented tumors in other parts of the body such as the liver, pancreas, colon, bladder, and mammary gland (breast). What’s more, it has been reported that watercress supplementation reduced DNA damage that may lead to elevated cancer risk and increased antioxidant concentration of lutein and beta-carotene in adults. In addition, some animal studies suggest that watercress extract may promote the healing of mouth lesions. I like to toss watercress on my pasta for an extra kick of flavor.

Tulsi

By now, you guys have guessed that Mama likes her tea 😉. So I am always looking for any excuse whatsoever to try a new herbal blend. But tulsi is special guys. This adaptogen herb is an antioxidant that contains vitamin A and C, calcium, zinc, and iron. Some animal studies indicate that tulsi may lower blood sugar levels, may promote the healing of keloid and hypertropic scars, and has cardioprotective and gastroprotective effects. Please note that tulsi has also shown antifertility effects as well, so if you have interests in those areas, do abstain. And some evidence suggests that tulsi may exhibit antimicrobial activity against certain types of periodontal bacteria that may cause dental caries. Every now and then, I like to start my morning off with a cup of tulsi to help ease me right into the rigors of the day.

 

Sage

Sage is usually one of my favorite winter spices. I like to add it to my stuffing and really creamy soups like butternut squash or pumpkin. Sage is a strong antioxidant herb that is similar in composition to rosemary because it contains phenolic compounds like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid. But sage drop kicks rosemary in the antioxidant department because it has additional flavonoids and phenolic acids like sagecoumarin that show moderate antioxidant activity. Some studies have shown that sage extract has anti-inflammatory effects that promote the healing of gingivitis.

 

Strawberries

Who doesn’t love strawberries? Strawberries are probably the only berry I remember having as a child because every member of my family loved it compared to other types of berries. I think that strawberry was my favorite flavor too but that might be because I wasn’t used to other flavors. Yep, poor deprived me but I will save that for another time 😊. Anywho, strawberries are a mega star when it comes to vitamin C content and it is also a good source of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, A, and E. It contains minerals such as potassium, iodine, magnesium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. And while vitamin C deficiency doesn’t cause oral conditions like periodontitis, lack of this nutrient can negatively affect collagen synthesis and wound healing needed to avoid such conditions. For example, regeneration of collagen allows the tooth to remain attached to the gums. So pile on those strawberries! I like to have my berries as the main feature of my breakfast bowl.

 

Green tea

I cannot describe in words my love of green tea. It is my go-to boo, my number one stunner, just everything. #mamalovestea Do not mess with me and my green tea. I have written about the benefits of green tea here. Here’s a short recap: green tea is rich in antioxidants such as catechins, which are polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimutagenic, and antidiabetic properties. Green tea contains vitamins B, C, and E and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and selenium. Several studies have shown that green tea is effective in inhibiting the growth of certain periodontal bacteria and treating factors associated with periodontitis such as bleeding and tooth attachment loss. Y’all know that anytime is a green tea time with me, don’t need a reason at all!

 

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is one of the best healing plants around. As a teenager, I remember snipping off part of the aloe vera leaf, then cutting it open and placing it on my red, itchy rash. I still use aloe vera gel on my acne breakouts, dark spots, and even occasionally on my hair. It’s not the miracle plant for nothing, folks. Aloe vera has vitamins A, C, E, B vitamins like folic acid, and choline. It also has minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc. What makes aloe vera unique is that it contains 75 active constituents including glycoproteins, polysaccharides, and anthraquinones that, either acting alone or synergistically, may have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and wound-healing effects (when applied topically). Aloe sap and aloe gel are sometimes confused. The gel is the mucilage found within the center of the leaf. The gel contains no anthraquinones, which are responsible for the laxative effect of the plant. Aloe vera’s wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties have been widely reported and extensively studied. There is some evidence that indicates that aloe vera may be effective as a treatment for oral diseases such as gingivitis and oral lichen planus. But results are mixed. Some studies suggest a delay of wound healing, while others show that it promotes wound healing. WTF?! Here’s why: aloe vera gel varies based on the type of aloe and other factors such as climate, region, and processing method. So you won’t know unless you try it for yourself and see if it works. I like this brand when I can’t get the actual leaf.

That’s my list for foods that amp up strong gums and teeth. What works for you?

Five Ways to Calm Your Menstrual Cramps

One of the wonderful things about being a lady is dealing with that time of the month or when Auntie Flow from Red Hills comes for a visit, as they say in my neck of the woods. When I was in my teens and twenties, I absolutely hated that visit. Bloating and lots and lots of cramping. #bigsweatshirtweek. Now, the cramps and bloating are almost non-existent, thank goodness. Unfortunately, for some people managing your menses can be a freaking nightmare that includes severe cramps that may affect your ability to function. This common condition is known as dysmenorrhea and it is underdiagnosed and undertreated. What causes all these cramps are hormonelike substances called prostaglandins, which are usually kept in check by progesterone during much of the monthly cycle. But before menstruation begins, progesterone levels drop and prostaglandin levels increase. The prostaglandins in the menstrual blood trigger the uterus to contract and cramp and that means a cycle of pain. Women with gut-wrenching cramps have more prostaglandins than women who aren’t as affected by them.

Dysmenorrhea is divided into two categories: 1) primary dysmenorrhea, which is menstrual pain without organic disease; and 2) secondary dysmenorrhea where the pain is related to an identifiable disease. So don’t be a hero—if your pain is so severe that you need a medical professional, please, please, do something about it.

There are certain things that I like to do when my auntie likes to come by like applying warm castor oil to my abdomen. Some research indicates that applying a heat wrap for an extended time can relieve pain. Another thing I like to do is to eat more high-calcium and high-magnesium foods right before my period. It has been reported that increasing calcium reduces pain, mood symptoms, and water retention during the menstrual cycle. And magnesium has been effective with reducing dysmenorrhea symptoms. So I pile on my broccoli, lentils, and chickpeas during that time of the month.

Here are some other foods I eat that provide relief from those moody menses:

Carob

Way before I became a vegan, I thought carob was only something that patchouli-smelling hippies ate. This was also before I realized that, deep down inside, I was a patchouli-smelling hippie. I was never really a chocolate aficionado. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some chocolate when the mood strikes but I never really went crazy to get it. So when I passed carob powder one day at the supermarket, I thought why the hell not? Carob is a natural sweetener that looks similar to chocolate but what makes carob so special is that it doesn’t contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Also, carob is high in calcium. What’s more, carob is a good source of vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, niacin, iron, and potassium. I like to mix carob powder into protein balls, frothy smoothie-like drinks, and baked goods like this chocolate cake.

 

 

Nettle

I started drinking nettle tea last year for a relentless case of allergies. As some of you may know, nettle is a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial. Some research suggests that nettle may be effective as a treatment for conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases and rheumatism pains. In addition, nettle contains vitamin A, vitamin B1, potassium, and calcium. I like to kick back with a nice cup of nettle tea when I need to build a defense against those uncomfortable menses moments.

 

Oats

I have always, always been an oatmeal lover. Back in the day, it would be nothing for me to sit in front of the TV with a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies or enjoy a bowl of instant oatmeal. There is a small controversy over whether or not it is appropriate to eat steel cut oats, rolled oats, or quick-cooking oats. That all boils down to the fact that steel cut oats have a higher cooking time but are lower on the glycemic index than rolled oats and quick-cooking oats. Choose whatever floats your boat. Oats are a gluten-free food but, depending on where it is processed, there may be a possibility of wheat contamination, so always practice caution in terms of the brand you choose if needed. Oats contain magnesium, vitamin B1, fiber, and iron. And some studies have shown that the consumption of oats can significantly lower cholesterol levels. I like to put oats in my chia pudding, muffins, and cookies.

 

Dill

Dill used to remind me of summers as a kid: barbecues that featured potato salad slathered with mayonnaise and chopped fresh dill with relish. Even back then I had more fondness for the side dishes than all those meat-laden stuff. But dill is more than just a flavoring for your cousin’s salad. This herb is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial. Dill is loaded with calcium, manganese, and iron. Some research indicates that dill may be effective as a treatment for gingivitis, indigestion, and menstrual disorders. In fact, a 2014 study showed that dill reduced the pain severity of women who suffered from primary dysmenorrhea. This herb also contains minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Even though I’m a vegan now, I do tend to follow tradition and mix a teaspoon of dill in some vegan mayo to top my veggie sausages or falafels.

Blackstrap molasses

My husband always talks about my weird taste in food. For example, years ago before I became a vegan or even a vegetarian, I went through this phase where I was growing tired of chicken (I never really liked red meat except for the occasional fast food burger—my, how the tide done turn!). Anyway, I didn’t know what to do to make my meals more interesting so I got the bright idea to use dark molasses as a topping for my grilled chicken. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good idea then. Maybe I didn’t choose the right one because it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. But later, after much research, I finally figured out the right way to use blackstrap molasses. Molasses is the concentrated and clarified extract of sugar cane that is made by boiling cane juice until most of the water is evaporated. There are three grades of molasses: mild, dark, and blackstrap. The grades can be sulphured or unsulphured. Sulphured molasses are made from young sugar cane that is treated with sulphur dioxide during the extraction process. Not good. We want unsulphured molasses that are made from mature sugar cane with no sulphur added. Blackstrap molasses is the most concentrated form of the sugar cane extract. This sweetener is a great source of B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. And please note that this is still sugar, so use it sparingly. I like this brand a lot. I like to drizzle about a teaspoon of molasses on sweet potatoes or combine it with about two and half tablespoons of unsweetened coconut shreds for coconut bacon.

 

 

These are some of the ways I alleviate monthly cramps. What are some of the ways that help you?

Four Tips to Tame Muscle Tension

For the last few weeks, I’ve had some lower back pain. I’m not the most physically active person, in fact, if you looked up the word “sedentary” in the dictionary, there would probably be a pic of me with a big cheesy grin on my face. So one of the first things I like to do is to move my behind out of that chair! Take a walk, do a few stretches, but something to provide oxygen and energy to my body. Chronic stress can be linked to tension and pain in certain muscles groups within the body. Another suggestion is to create a center of calm. This might mean upping my minutes for my morning meditation or canceling an hour of social media/TV during the week. The point is to nurture and mentally heal so that you can physically heal. When I’m dealing with muscle pain, I like to use anti-inflammatories. Why? The reason is that once the inflammatory pathway is stimulated by injury, arachidonic acid is released then transformed into hormones that can induce pain, fever, and inflammation. Anti-inflammatories work to stall enzymes that change arachidonic acid into those pro-inflammatory hormones. And we are all about stopping the pain! Let me share some of the ways I do that:

 

Turmeric

What makes turmeric so special is its primary constituent curcumin. Numerous studies have noted curcumin as a potent antioxidant and an antimicrobial. But curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that have resulted in various clinical trials to study its effects on conditions such as ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, ocular disease, and cancer. And a 1999 study has linked curcumin with possible muscle regeneration after injury. I like to put turmeric on tofu and bean dishes but sometimes I like to put some in my morning chia pudding if I feel very achy. Please, please don’t judge me!!

 

Avocado

If you are a real plant-based eater, then avocado is your darn best friend—for real! Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), dietary fiber, lutein, and contains antioxidant vitamins A, C. and E. In addition, this fruit stabilizes blood sugar, raises good high-density lipoprotein (blood cholesterol) levels, and provides glutathione to cleanse the liver. Most importantly, it is rich in magnesium that enhances muscle strength and endurance. I eat a lot of frigging avocados because I love them that much! The creamy texture of this fruit is guaranteed to enrich dishes like chocolate cake, pesto sauces, tacos, and risottos.

 

 

Tempeh

I spoke previously about my love of fermented foods here. And tempeh is probably at the top of the list. Soy is considered a high-quality plant-based protein because it contains all essential amino acids. Amino acids are needed to maintain and build muscle. Tempeh is fermented soy, which means that it is free from enzyme inhibitors and those gassy phytates that prevent protein digestion. When it comes to tempeh, I like this brand and this one too. I like to make tempeh reuben sandwiches on Saturday mornings or have tempeh with salad, rice, pasta, or quinoa during the week.

 

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are another great source of plant-based protein with all essential amino acids that aid in muscle recovery. What’s more, the seeds are enriched with polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) that provide a 3:1 ratio of those fatty acids that is optimal for human health.  That makes the seeds a potent antioxidant. One important omega 6 fatty acid is gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which has been used to treat PMS symptoms, atopic dermatitis, eczema, and diabetic neuropathy. One more thing about fatty acids: foods that are high in essential fatty acids like hemp are important because the body does not manufacture these acids independently. EFA foods boost the body’s immunity and brain function, and can be converted into easily digestible energy. Hemp seeds also contain zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. I like to sprinkle hemp seed on my morning avocado toast or a lunch salad for an early boost of energy.

 

These are some of the ways I recover from muscle tension. What are your favorite tips?