As a teenager, I remember stopping at the bodega on my home from school for candy and sunflower seeds (don’t judge it’s a NY thing). I can still recall the joy I felt when I crunched into the shell to break open the seeds and slowly chew on them. Sometimes the simple things in life are the best! Sunflower seeds contain tocopherols like vitamin E that protect the body from inflammation and preventing oxidative stress to cells, which is helpful in treating conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and bronchial asthma. What’s more, the seeds are a great source of protein and iron. Sunflower seeds also have folate, niacin, calcium, copper, magnesium, zinc, manganese, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium. Additionally, the seeds contain antioxidants such as caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid and have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antifungal, and cardioprotective activity. In fact, some studies suggest that consumption of sunflower seeds may reduce the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. More so, the seeds contain tryptophan and choline that may reduce stress and enhance memory. And sunflower seeds are high in phytosterols that reduce low-density lipoprotein. Further, sunflower seed oil is rich in fatty acids such as oleic and linoleic acid that may reduce or alleviate other conditions such as arrhythmias or used topically for faster wound healing. So feel free to sub out your olive oil for some sunflower oil if that’s your thing. Since the fall is ushering in that chilly weather like a mofo, I thought a really good sunflower pesto was in order.
My son’s camp is finishing up and so Mommycamp has begun. That means cramming six weeks of fun-filled activities together for my son with usual work demands. But it is exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting! So I picked now to try to cut down on caffeine ☹. I know, I know, sad day for me. Anywho, I’m a green tea drinker so I always figured that I was okay in the caffeine department. I was averaging around three to four cups a day at one point. After all, green tea is high in antioxidants and lower in caffeine compared to black teas and various coffees, right? But the caffeine content with some teas may vary based on the type of tea and the brewing time.
What the heck is caffeine anyway? Caffeine is an alkaloid found in plants that acts on the central nervous system. It is an ingredient in many foods, beverages, and proprietary drugs (the FDA’s National Center for Drugs and Biologics lists more than 1,000 over-the-counter drugs with caffeine as an ingredient—yikes!). Small amounts of this stimulant may alter metabolic rate, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Other effects may include frequent urination (diuretic) and increased blood sugar levels.
Some research indicates that caffeine comes with a mixed bag of results. Moderate amounts of caffeine can decrease fatigue (yeah!), enhance cognitive and physical performance, quicken reaction accuracy, and increase focus. Too much caffeine may alter your hormone levels and deplete essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. In fact, caffeine intake has been associated with risk of endometriosis, osteoporosis, and anxiety and gastrointestinal disorders. Some other problems that can occur with overconsumption of caffeine include insomnia, headaches, nervousness and nausea. For example, some evidence suggests that consumption of five or more cups of coffee a day is linked with a low risk of Type II diabetes but lower consumption levels are inconclusive. Okay, before we all burn our stashes of coffee and tea, remember the risk comes with caffeine overconsumption. So keep it moderate folks.
In my quest to control my caffeine, there are some foods that I rely on:
I confess that I used to be one of those people that would toss the parsley right off my meal at restaurants like what the heck do I need that for?! #don’tknownobetter. In my defense, most restaurants tend to use curly leaf parsley that has no flavor. Flat leaf parsley—yep, much better. But parsley can be just as tasty and healthy as the main meal. This diuretic herb is an antioxidant because it contains the flavonoid apigenin, which also has anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimutagenic properties. In addition, parsley has vitamins C and E, beta carotene, thiamine, folate, iron, and calcium. Calcium levels decrease with high caffeine consumption. Please note: be very careful with high-calcium foods because some of them may contain oxalates. I talk about that here. I do love some flat leaf parsley when I can get it but when I can’t, dried parsley will do just fine on my soups and salads.
Like many of you, I grew up with peanut butter in my house. When my parents weren’t home and we didn’t want to heat anything up, it was peanut butter to the rescue. I didn’t try almond butter until I was an adult. And, admittedly, at first I friggin’ hated it. It took tweaking the right combination (almond butter and a dash of agave nectar FTW) to really bring out the flavor of this nut butter. Almonds are loaded with vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, and dietary fiber. This nut is also rich in magnesium and calcium, both of which are reduced by high caffeine intake. Almond butter has more fiber, calcium, and potassium than other nut butters like peanut butter. What’s more, it has been reported that high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good cholesterol that decreases risk for heart disease) increased with almond butter intake. I like almond butter occasionally on toast or as a snack with whatever fresh veggies or fruit are available in the house.
I used to think black-eyed peas were just something you ate to celebrate the new year. Before I became a vegetarian and then a vegan, I thought black-eyed peas were just “awkward” as my son says about foods he abhors. But then I discovered Texas caviar—DIVINE! The flavor combination of the peas, onions, red bell peppers, and tomatoes with just a hint of oil and vinegar. Here’s a nice recipe for it. Just plain lovely. Black-eyed peas or cowpeas are also a nutritional powerhouse because it is a good source of flavonoids like quercetin, protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients such as niacin, thiamine, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
Tahini (Sesame seed butter)
Tahini or sesame seed butter is definitely a dressing that I discovered when I became a vegan and I’m glad that I did. It is creamy, filling, and a great compliment to meals like falafel tacos or even pasta—who knew! Sesame seeds are high in protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. And sesame seeds are rich in phytosterols or compounds that resemble cholesterol in humans and ultimately reduce our blood cholesterol levels. Tahini is made from sesame seeds that are ground or milled into a paste. Tahini has B vitamins like niacin and minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Special advisory for those with allergy issues: sesame seeds do contain immunoglobulin E, which are mediated food allergens. When it comes to tahini, basic is best. Nothing tops off a night like a spoonful of tahini over a plate of falafels.
Those are some of the foods I like to combat my caffeine craziness. What do you like?