Why Sunflower Seeds are a Win for Your Health

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.

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Four Foods to Eliminate Irritation

For the past two weeks, I’ve been fighting a losing battle against anger. There are a lot of changes taking place in my life. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, I find that I constantly butt heads with certain people in certain situations. I’m sure you know the feeling. It seems as if once one thing is squashed and settled, then another thing pops up in its place. Ughh!

What’s more, I feel like there are moments where my usual methods of dealing with stressful situations don’t seem to be working as well. The answer is to let go and let be. It sounds very airy but it isn’t. I find that a lot of my frustration stems from resistance. We all have our own beliefs and experiences that we cannot shake no matter what. They shape who we are and how we react. There are certain situations and people who we will not synch with despite our best intentions because of those experiences and beliefs. So find your tribe, whoever they may be, and learn to respectfully walk away from the ones that you don’t mesh well with. Okay that’s my  sermon for today 😉.

When I have those irritating moments, I like to use the stress-busting tools that I discussed here. Sometimes, I like to just stop what I’m doing for five minutes to glance out the window. What I’m trying to say is changing a small thing can be valuable in terms of dealing with bigger issues.

As far as diet goes, I like to make sure that I have a lot of calcium-rich foods. Low levels of calcium may affect your mood. So please feel free to indulge in some broccoli, soybeans, and kale. Here are some other foods I thrive on when I feel a little too heated:

 

Bananas

Let me start by dispelling a very widespread belief that many of us grew up with regarding bananas. Yes, bananas do have serotonin’s precursor tryptophan, but no, they will not improve your mood because of it. Unfortunately, most foods containing tryptophan like bananas must compete with other amino acids for access to the brain and the serotonin doesn’t cross that blood-brain barrier. That’s why you crave carbs when stressed out—high carbohydrate foods increase the tryptophan ratio and allow more serotonin to your brain, which alters your mood for the better. So why the hell are we even talking about bananas? Well because bananas have other vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial for enhancing your mood such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. This fruit is an antioxidant that is rich in vitamin A and B-vitamins. I like to mix banana puree into my baked goods like muffins or mix it in the occasional smoothie. Other times, I use it as an after dinner topping on my dessert.

 

Black beans

If I do one thing with this blog, that one thing will be having you walk away with a total lovefest with pulses like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans. Black beans, like other pulses, are a good source of protein, fiber, and iron. They also contain folate and magnesium. Some studies indicate that folate deficiency is linked with conditions such as depression and I talk about the benefits of magnesium here. Definitely a plus when dealing with daily irritants. But what makes black beans special is that they contain a higher amount of antioxidants than other beans. I love black beans in quesadillas, sandwiches, and salads.

 

Sourdough bread

Unrefined whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates and, as previously mentioned, that may promote that good mood that we’re seeking. And some research has shown that eating whole grains protects against chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. My husband turned me on to sourdough bread last year when I found that I had a lot of difficulty digesting other wheat breads. There is a problem with whole grain bread that a lot of us don’t know. While whole grain bread is high in potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B1, and zinc, the presence of an antinutrient called phytic acid makes it very hard to absorb those nutrients into our bodies. What I love about sourdough bread is that the fermentation process allows for better mineral availability and digestion. I like my sourdough avocado toast during the week, but honey, I am a sandwich girl through and through.

 

 

Almond milk

As a person who has suffered from allergies my entire life, I was determined that for the first year of my son’s life that he would only  drink plant-based milk. And this was before I was a vegan. Now, my son is ten years old and, for much of his childhood, he has had soy milk at home. About a year ago, my husband and I decided to switch to almond milk. While the protein content is higher with soy milk, almond milk has more fiber (wonderful for lowering blood cholesterol). Almonds are a good source of antioxidants and the milk is high in minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium that may influence mood disorders and brain function. Every now and then, I like to drink golden milk made with turmeric and almond milk.

 

Those are some of the good mood foods I enjoy. What do you like?

Four Tips to Allay Anxiety

Memorial day weekend is finally here! That means cookouts, family gatherings, and late-night fiestas with friends and long-lost acquaintances. But for some of us more introverted folks, that means a potential case of anxiety. Don’t get me wrong—I love to socialize with my peeps when I get the opportunity, which is far and few between these days. But as a WAHM, I’m used to spending hours alone during the week with random social media breaks then afternoons/evenings with my husband and son. So I look at opportunities for social events with lots of excitement and nervousness. Let me be clear: I am referring to mild anxiety that a person may experience with specific events like starting a new job, meeting a potential bae, or speaking in front a group of people. This differs from social phobia that can prevent you from functioning and meeting basic needs. Please seek the help a physician if you suffer from the latter.

Anywho, one of the first things that I like to indulge in foods that are rich in magnesium, calcium, and potassium since those nutrients tend to get depleted during high anxiety times. Some studies suggest that magnesium deficiency may be linked to anxiety. Magnesium works together with calcium and potassium for optimal health. Fortified orange juice and plant-based milk, spinach, and almonds are some great choices. In addition, some research indicates an association between vitamin C and cognitive performance, particularly in older adults, so definitely boost your intake of those foods such as strawberries, citrus fruits, leafy green veggies, and potatoes. Here are some other things that I include in my diet during those anxious moments:

Vitamin B12

Among the vitamins and nutrients that are decreased during times of stress are B complex vitamins. This is bad, very bad. For example, low levels of folate are linked to depression. And deficiency of vitamin B12 has been associated with age-related cognitive impairment. This is particularly crucial for vegans because most vegan sources of B12 only contain trace amounts or are inactive. You can read this article for further details. And while many fortified foods do contain this vitamin, supplementation is the key. I take a B12 supplement in addition to my multivitamin throughout the week.

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Chickpeas

Chickpeas (garbanzo) are a good source of carbohydrates and protein. This pulse contains dietary fiber, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Chickpeas are also a high folate food. But more importantly, chickpeas have tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, the good-mood neurotransmitter. Foods with high levels of tryptophan also contain amino acids that all compete for access into your brain so very little of tryptophan gets beyond that blood-brain barrier. Chickpeas are the exception to this crappy scenario. I like chickpeas salads during the warmer weather but I love falafels all day, any day. I enjoy them in salads, tacos, with rice in my own Buddha bowl, whatever floats my boat.

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Walnuts

Walnuts are high in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. For more on that information, please read here. Some studies have shown links between low levels of omega 3 fatty acids with mood disorders and social anxiety disorder. These nuts contain vitamin E, folate, and fiber. Walnuts also have the antioxidant melatonin, which facilitates sleep. My husband is a real walnut aficionado and he puts them on his morning yogurt. I tend to like them chopped in my baked goods like muffins or other desserts.

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Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are probably one of the top sources of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. What’s more, these seeds contain B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and manganese. Some studies have shown that flaxseeds are an anti-inflammatory beneficial in combating cardiovascular diseases and an antioxidant with some anti-cancerous properties. Also, some research indicates that flaxseeds may be effective in conditions such as blood clotting and regulating reproductive function and insomnia. I’m really feeling this flax cracker brand as a snack during my hectic anxiety-provoking afternoons.

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Special note: I absolutely believe in the concept of self-care and highly encourage others to engage in it. So if you need to, take a break from whatever you are doing, breathe, and do what you need to do when you need to do it. Enjoy a safe, happy, and healthy holiday!