Nutrition

Superstars of the Summer Garden

When it comes to gardening, you always have to think ahead. So even though it’s barely spring, today we want to focus on the plants that will be superstars of your summer garden. By putting in the time, research and effort now, you’ll be reaping the rewards of your summer garden with satisfaction! Once again, these are all items that are relatively easy to grow for the newbie or inexperienced gardener. All three require a good amount of direct sunlight and can be started from seed indoors now or you can pick up seedlings from your local nursery when ready to plant in the ground.

Tomatoes – No summer garden is complete without tomatoes and nothing compares to the taste of a homegrown tomato! They will want lots of sunshine, water and nitrogen in the soil. If you notice the plants turning yellow, this means they are lacking nitrogen. Adding a little bone or blood meal around the base of each plant is a quick fix. Just be sure to keep companion planting in mind and keep your tomatoes at a distance from our next suggested plant. . . bell peppers.

Bell Peppers – Bees will cross pollinate peppers and tomatoes, ruining the flavor of tomatoes which is why they should not be planted together. Bell peppers love heat which makes them a superstar of the summer garden. They want sun all day long and do best in well drained soil, spaced about 4-6 inches apart. When they first begin to ripen, they’ll be a lighter shade of their color and are ready to pick when they turn bright and waxy.

Summer Squash – These vining plants either needs ample ground space to run or you’ll need a sturdy trellis. This summer garden group includes both green and yellow zucchini, crookneck and scallop squash, all of which are typically ready to pick 60-70 days after planting. They also produce squash blossoms which are delicious sauteed, stuffed or dipped in batter and fried.

We hope we’ve given you some inspiration to get out and get gardening! Here’s hoping for a great growing season and an ample harvest!

Whole Foods Spotlight – Strawberries

 

While many folks today would list strawberries as their favorite fruit, this now beloved berry has gone through periods of history where it was practically shunned. Technically, it’s not truly a fruit since the seeds are on the outside surface. Botanically speaking it’s related to the rose.  We know that early peoples enjoyed strawberries as the seeds have been found at Mesolithic, Neolithic and Iron Age sites. However, the fruit was not cultivated until the 14th century.

The strawberry is mentioned in early Roman writings, including Virgil who warned children to keep an eye out for snakes when picking the wild, low growing fruit. This caution toward the berry stuck and strawberries became associated with danger, with 12th century Saint Hildegard of Germany declaring them unfit for eating because snakes and toads and other slithery creatures could crawl on and among the fruit. Finally in the 14th century, the French put an end to its undeserved bad reputation and began cultivating the plant.  The first 1200 strawberry plants were put in the gardens of the Louvre on the command of King Charles V.

As European settlers arrived in Americas they discovered that native people had also cultivated a wild strawberry with much more success in size and flavor. In the 18th century, the American and Chilean varieties were crossed, resulting in the first of all cultivated strawberries known today Fragaria x ananassa. The word “strawberry” more than likely derives from the practice of growing the cultivated fruit upon straw and some Native Americans called them “wuttahimneash” which translates to “heart-seed berry”.

High in fiber, the strawberry helps to improve digestion, especially if you are suffering from constipation or irregular stools. They help to improve cardiovascular health as the ellagic acid and flavonoids provide antioxidant effects. Strawberries also help to lower LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol which leads to plaque build-up in the arteries and the potassium found in the berry helps to counteract the negative effects of sodium, regulating pressure and preventing high blood pressure. They are also wonderful for skin care as the salicylic acid exfoliates dead skin cells, brightening and softening the skin and tightening pores.

 

Strawberry Oatmeal Face Mask

 

Strawberry Salsa
Strawberry Avocado Spinach Salad with Chicken

Healthier Homemade Baby Food

Parents concerned with the cost and quality of jarred foods for beginning eaters may be considering homemade baby food instead. It really is a great way of saving money, providing quality nutrition and getting that little one on the path to a healthy relationship with food. Making homemade baby food gives you the ability to experiment with different textures for your baby and use a greater variety of ingredients than what can be found in commercial baby food.

Most pediatricians recommend starting kids on solid foods between the ages of 4 to 6 months. Prior to 4 months, nitrates in foods can be toxic to the infant as their digestive system cannot handle them. After four months, it’s best to start with single ingredients and to space new foods about 4 days apart to see how baby reacts to the food. These first foods are highly pureed and strained foods that are lowest on the allergy scale and are more easily digested by those little bellies. Rice and other grain cereals, sweet potatoes, avocados, bananas and carrots are among good choices for the first foods.  

Many of these first foods can just be smashed up with a fork such as avocado, banana, cantaloupe and pear. Simple purees from foods that must first be cooked, can be made using a food processor, blender or immersion blender. It’s very difficult to finely puree some vegetables such as peas and green beans and so some parents choose to wait on introducing those later when baby has reached the age of enjoying some texture and can eat them as finger foods.

Another great reason to make homemade baby food is the ability to incorporate herbs and spices to introduce new flavors and build baby’s taste buds. Most pediatricians will recommend waiting until 8 months to incorporate spices and herbs but this has more to do with preventing digestive upset than a concern over allergic reactions. Many cultures begin using spices and herbs in homemade baby food from the very start. As with any new food, just be sure to wait about 4 days before introducing something new. It is never recommended that one add sugar or salt to homemade baby food but several spices and herbs to try include: anise, basil, cinnamon, curry powder, dill, ginger, garlic, mint, nutmeg, oregano, pepper, rosemary and vanilla.

There are so many ideas out there for simple recipes for baby that we’re sure you’ll have no problem finding a wealth of suggestions on the internet. The idea is to give baby a healthy start when it comes to a relationship with food, so we recommend not getting too upset or worried if your child doesn’t take to certain foods right away or at all. Remember that taste buds change throughout the years and it can take several tries of a food before a child decides they like it. It’s best not to force foods on children or make a big deal about being a “picky eater” which can set up an unhealthy relationship with food. There are a wealth of healthy options in the food world and as they grow they are certain to find some nutritious delights that they love. Bon appetit, babies!

Spotting Nutritional Deficiencies – Part Two

 

Last week we focused on how our nails and skin can give us clues for spotting nutritional deficiencies in our bodies. Lack of vitamins and minerals can cause serious health problems in the body. However we have intelligent systems that give small clues that can make spotting nutritional deficiencies easier. Today we focus on how the rest of our body offers signals that something is off in our system.

Eyes

Poor night vision: Can be an indicator of too little vitamin A.

Ruptured blood vessels in the eyes: If not due to trauma, lack of vitamin C may be the culprit.

Pale lower eyelid: If the skin inside your lower lid is pale rather than pink, it could be a symptom of anemia, a lack of iron.

Twitching eyelids: This can be due to too little magnesium in your diet.

White ring in the iris: A white ring around the iris or colored part of the eye may be a signal of high cholesterol which causes fatty deposits. Small waxy white lumps on the eyelid can also be a signal of too much cholesterol in the blood.

 

Mouth

Pale and smooth tongue: This can indicate anemia, too little iron in the system.

Canker sores: These painful sores are terrible to deal with but can help in spotting nutritional deficiencies such as lack of B3, B12, folic acid, and/or calcium.

Cracks in the corner of the mouth: This is a symptom of too little B2.

Loss of smell or taste: If not caused by trauma, your body could be sending you a signal that you are zinc deficient.

Bleeding, painful gums: Often due to gingivitis and a lack of vitamin C.

 

Muscles & Joints

Cramping/Spasms: Can be caused by too little potassium, magnesium or B vitamins 1,2 and 6. Too little calcium could also be the culprit.

Tingling/numbness in hands and feet: B vitamins such as folate, B6 and B12 play a large role in nerve function. Too little can cause tingling and numbness in the extremities.

Joint pain: Vitamin A is essential for the health of connective joints and a lack of it and too much of it can damage bones and connective tissues which results in joint pain. Vitamin D and C levels should also be checked.

Nutritional Deficiencies – Signs in Your Body, Part One

 

We’re all aware that nutritional deficiencies can impact the complex machine that is the human body. Lack of certain nutrients and vitamins manifest in various weaknesses, illnesses and problems. However, the body also gives us signals when something is not right. By paying attention to what the body is telling us can make spotting nutritional deficiencies and, while less common, the over consumption of certain nutrients, and then rectifying those problems much easier!

Here are some common issues of the nails and skin that signal that nutritional deficiencies of one sort or another might be plaguing you. Check back with us next week for more signals that our bodies give when something isn’t quite right!

 

Nails

White spots: These are typically nothing to worry about, sometimes the result of trauma to the nail. If excessive, it could be an indicator of low zinc.

Ridged nails: This can also indicate a lack of zinc.

Weak or brittle nails: Lifestyle factors such as having your hands in water often or living in an environment with low humidity may be the culprit. With those factors taken into consideration, Weak and brittle nails could also be a signal of too little magnesium, vitamins A or C and the B vitamin biotin.

Spoon nails: If nails curve upward at the edges like a spoon it may be a sign of iron-deficiency anemia or excess iron absorption called hemochromatosis.

Dark discolorations: These are not a signal of a nutritional deficiency but warrant an immediate visit to the doctor as they can be caused by a form of melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.

 

Skin

Face: The face is a great indicator of vitamin B deficiencies.  If you are plagued with greasy, red, scaly skin on the face (typically on the sides of the nose) this can be a signal of too little vitamin B2. Acne that appears like a rash on the forehead and sides of nose can indicate a vitamin B6 deficiency. If you notice that your skin seems paler than usual it can be a symptom of B12 deficiency. Take a look at your tongue as well, which should appear somewhat bumpy. If it’s completely smooth, this is another signal that you are lacking in B12.

Stretch Marks: It’s a popular misconception that these are hereditary. However it is a lack of zinc which impacts collagen formation in the body that could be the culprit. If you are prone to stretch marks, these slight tearings of the skin may be due to a zinc/collagen deficiency.

Yellow Palms: This is not caused by nutritional deficiencies, rather the opposite. Yellow palms are a signal that you are consuming too much beta carotene, found in foods with the same coloring such as carrots, peppers, sweet potatoes, etc.

“Chicken Skin”: Typically found on the backs of the arms, pimply rough skin signals that you are lacking essential fatty acids or vitamin A.

Potassium and It’s Many Functions in the Human Body

Wanna hear a joke about potassium?

 

K.

 

If this one doesn’t have you laughing, think back to chemistry class and the periodic table of elements. While the symbol for potassium is a “K”, it is not the same as vitamin K. Each are essential micronutrients but potassium is not a vitamin, it’s a mineral that is used for different functions in our bodies than vitamin K. Potassium is vital for good health and today we’ve got some great reasons you should make sure you’re getting enough in your diet and why we included the mineral in re:iimmune!

Image via periodictable.com

While it is classified as a mineral, it’s also an electrolyte. These conduct electrical impulses and are important for a range of essential functions of the body including regulating blood pressure, muscle contractions, digestion and heart rhythm. It’s not produced by the body so we must be sure to include potassium rich foods in our diet such as fruits like kiwi, bananas, apricots and pineapple and vegetables like leafy greens, potatoes and carrots. The mineral can also be found in lean meats, beans, nuts and whole grains.

 

There are negative effects associated with too much potassium (hyperkalemia) including upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, mental confusion and tingling sensations in the extremities. Some drugs can cause levels to rises such as ACE-inhibitors, blood thinning agents like heparin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. A severe deficiency in potassium (hypokalemia) is often associated with use of antibiotics such as penicillin, magnesium deficiency, kidney disease and overusing diuretics.

 

Most potassium ions are stored in the muscle cells. Required for the regular contraction and relaxation of muscles, it also helps keep our reflexes sharp as it stimulates the neural connectivity between the muscles and the brain. If your levels are too low, it can cause muscle cramps, spasms and weakness. Studies also show that consuming foods that have high levels promote higher mineral density in bones as it assists the body in retaining and preserving calcium.
It also assists in metabolism, helping to process nutrients like fats and carbohydrates and the synthesis of proteins positively affecting tissue regeneration and cell growth. Lack of the mineral weakens the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract and can lead to abdominal pain, constipation and bloating. This is why the re:iimmune formula includes 11% of the daily value of potassium. Along with a prebiotic and probiotics for promoting healthy intestinal bacteria and L-Glutamine for repairing intestinal tissue, potassium helps to support intestinal health and optimal function!

Garden Planning – Companion Planting

 

It’s a wise idea for new gardeners to familiarize themselves with companion planting for best success in the home garden. Certain plants offer protection to other plants against pests and disease. Today we’ve picked three very easy to grow plants that offer protection to each other. At the end, we’ll give you a few more ideas of what to plant and what not to plant next to each other for a successful garden!

Green Beans – This is another plant whose seeds are directly sown into the ground. They are prolific producers that sprout quickly. Half runners are very popular because they are so tender but be advised that you’ll need to grow these alongside a trellis since they are a vining plant. Also, these beans have strings which have to be removed prior to eating. If you are looking for a simpler option, bush beans are the route to go. Beans really give back, helping to fix nitrogen levels in the soil, which makes them a great companion planting for another easy to grow option in the garden. . .

Radishes – Radishes need nitrogen to thrive, which means they will thrive if you have companion planting in mind and place them near the green beans. These fast growers will produce in as short a time span as 21 days, making them a great “quick reward with little effort” for those of us impatient to have something pop up quickly. You’ll want to provide constant moisture and stay on top of harvesting so that they are crisp and mild flavored. To determine when to harvest, simply push back a little garden soil to see if there’s a bulb and pick and taste a few. Not crazy about raw radishes? Try baking them in the oven to bring out a little sweetness. Radishes are a great companion planting for . . .

Cucumbers – Radishes are natural repellents of cucumber beetles! Other than that pest, cucumbers are super simple to grow. If you try sowing from seed, they will need to be started indoors about three weeks before going outside into the ground, after the last spring frost. They need well drained soil and ample sunlight. It’s a good idea to build a trellis for these plants to produce optimally.

Here are some other good companion plantings to keep in mind. . .

 

  • tomatoes with asparagus
  • eggplants with peppers
  • melons/squash with corn

 

And on the flip side of companion planting here are some combinations to avoid. . .

 

  • Keep the strawberries away from pest prone cabbage.
  • If you want both crops to grow hardy, keep the onions away from the beans and peas.
  • Fennel should just pretty much be planted far away from everything!

Check back next week as we’ll focus on the superstars of the summer garden!

Whole Foods Spotlight – Bananas

When talking about foods that are nutritional powerhouses, there are few better to wax poetic over than humble bananas. Not only does it come in its own packaging, making it ideal for busy folks on the run, inside that yellow peel is a treasure trove of nutrients and vitamins! Here are some of the top apPEELing (sorry, couldn’t resist) health benefits of eating  bananas. . .

 

  • Bananas are a significant source of potassium which plays a key role in cardiovascular health. Lack of potassium can also cause muscle cramping so if you are getting those charley horses in the middle of the night, it’s time to reach for a banana. You’ll be helping your bones as well since potassium plays a key role in retaining calcium in the body.

 

  • Tryptophan is also found in bananas. When consumed, tryptophan is converted into serotonin which elevates mood and relieves stress. It also helps to regulate sleep patterns, body temperature, memory and appetite.

 

  • For digestive health, bananas are a super hero of the fruit world. They are a natural antacid, giving relief from heartburn and acid reflux. Because they coat the lining of the stomach against acid, they are the only raw fruit recommended to people suffering from stomach ulcers. The pectin in bananas aids in digestion and removal of toxins and heavy metals from our system. They produce enzymes which assist in absorbing nutrients during digestion. They play the role of prebiotic, acting as a food source for friendly bacteria in the gut. A banana can also be a soother for two very opposite problems, soothing both constipation and diarrhea.

 

  • The high water content and levels of Vitamin A in bananas help to repair dry and damaged skin cells. By ingesting the fruit or using a banana face mask, you can help restore moisture to the skin and renew damaged cells. Many also swear by banana peels for treating acne and it’s also effective at neutralizing the itch from bug bites.

 

They are a perfect food all in their own cute yellow package but we’ve included a few tasty banana recipes below as well. Enjoy!

 

Brown Sugar Banana Overnight Oats

Banana Bread Scones

Dairy Free Banana Chocolate Ice Cream

Garden Planning – Part One – Early Spring Crops

Have you been thinking about growing some of your own food? While it’s a bit too early in most of the country to really start digging in the dirt, this is the perfect time to do a little garden planning! Whether the prospect seems a little overwhelming or you are just hoping to keep the process as simple and productive as possible, over the next few weeks we’ll be offering some suggestions for you of the easiest items to grow in a home garden. Today we’re focusing on those crops that can be planted in these early days before true spring arrives.

Lettuces – For a new gardener, starting plants from seed can be a difficult and intimidating prospect. Lettuces are a great option as they can be directly sown into the soil. A few weeks after planting in the garden, you will want to go over the area and thin out the seedlings a bit. Since it’s a cool weather plant they can be sown in early spring or fall and are tolerant of a little bit of frost. If temperatures dip below 45 degrees or there’s snow in the forecast, covering the plants with plastic or a sheet should help to protect them. To keep a continuous supply, replant every two to three weeks.

Potatoes – It depends upon what zone you live in and soil temperatures but traditionally, in many parts of the United States, potatoes are planted in the garden around St. Patrick’s Day. A couple of days before you plant them, you’ll want to quarter the seed potatoes and store them in a warm dark place, allowing them to toughen up and dry out a little. In a typical garden, you’ll want to plant them about 2 inches deep and 8 inches apart and mulch them with straw. However, if space is limited, you can always try bucket planting.

Peas – Sweet, delicious peas are a favorite in the home garden as they are relatively easy to grow and produce well. The seeds are small and should be planted shallowly, no more than a ½ inch deep. This allows them to germinate and sprout quickly, usually in about a week. Sow the seeds about 2.5 inches apart and as the plants grow, you will want to install some sort of trellis for them to climb.
Check back with us next week for more ideas for your spring garden!

Eye Health and Nutrition

 

In regards to eye health, you have probably heard “Eat your carrots, they’re good for your eyes!” from mom several times throughout childhood. There are several foods that contain vitamins and nutrients essential for eye health. Protect your peepers by consuming more of the following. . .

Brightly colored Fruits and Vegetables – Yes, carrots are on the list of top foods for eye health. So are bell peppers, strawberries, pumpkin, corn and canteloupe and other yellow, orange and red fruit and veggies. Carotenoids are the compounds responsible for this bright coloring and help decrease the risk of many eye diseases. The Vitamin C found in many of these fruits and vegetables also lowers your risk of developing cataracts. Mom was right! Carrots and other foods which contain Vitamin A or retinol help your body to synthesize a pigment in your eyes that operates in low light conditions called rhodopsin. Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness.

FishCold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which offer protection against dry eyes, macular degeneration and cataracts. Tuna, Salmon, anchovies and trout have high levels of a type of omega 3 called DHA, a fatty acid esential for the health of the retinas but one that our bodies don’t make efficiently. We need to replenish DHA with food rich in this nutrient.  Low levels of DHA are linked to dry eye syndrome.

Nuts – Pistachios, walnuts, almonds are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids and also offer healthy doses of vitamin E for eye health. Vitamin E helps protect membranes of cells throughout the body against free radicals, including parts of the eye. Cataracts may be formed due to oxidation in the lens of the eye and Vitamin E offers preventative help.

Leafy Greens – Spinach, kale, collard greens and seaweed are rich in luteins, nicknamed the “eye vitamin” as it is incredibly important for eye health. When we consume foods rich in lutein it is deposited in high quantities in the retina. It helps to fight free radical damage caused by exposure to sunlight, reduces eye fatigue and light sensitivity, protects against the development of cataracts. and halts the growth of cancerous cells. Lutein can also be found in those brightly colored fruits and veggies mentioned above!

Eggs – Another great source of both lutein and Vitamin A to protect against night blindness, dry eyes and general eye health and function.

Legumes – Kidney beans, black-eyed peas and lentils are good sources of zinc which assists the body in absorption of Vitamin A and reduce one’s risk of macular degeneration.