What is Caloric Density?

Ask a Nutritionist: What is Caloric Density?

One of the most annoying things about starting a new diet or changing your lifestyle is the counting of things. Whether it is how many miles you walked, or how many calories are in that salad, it can get overwhelming. Especially if you are not a numbers person, or have a hard time reading tiny labels. So, is there some sort of system in place that can appeal to common nutritional sense, and help you make better food choices overall? Luckily, there was something that exists to help you generally get in the right mindset without having to overcalculate. The measurement of caloric density.

The Nature of Calories

What is caloric density?  First, before we introduce the concept, you want to understand the very nature of calories.

We know that calories are a unit of energy that we get from food. And we do need them to survive because we naturally burn them to a degree. However, there is only so much that we can naturally burn off. Our bodies for the most part, when they reach physical maturity need about 2,000 calories for sustainability. Any more than that and we store it in our bodies as auxiliary energy for times of starvation, aka fat. Any less and our bodies will lose mass through starvation.

So, where does caloric density come in?  It comes in when you try to balance getting enough nutrients, feeling full, and not adding unnecessary calories to the mix.

Aside: Higher Caloric Density means Less Satiety

Not only does it add unnecessary units of energy away that get stored as fat, but it also decreases the chances of satiety. Because not only are foods with a higher density have a higher calorie count, they are not usually filling. High-calorie counts attach themselves the most to oils and sugars. Things with a higher fiber count and are harder to digest often offer little in the way of caloric density.

Since when have you ever heard of a person feeling full after eating a chocolate bar? You wouldn’t.

The Density Scale

caloric density scale

When something is dense, we usually picture something that is thick or super heavy. Like a metal block that is so tightly packed it’s hard to pick up. This is because density is a scientific word related to the measurement of weight and volume.  So when you put the words together and try to relate it to food, you realize that the term “caloric density” is the amount of volume in a serving of food.

When the density is on the higher end of the scale, that means there are more calories in a serving of food. When the density is on the lower end of the scale, then there are a lot fewer calories on the scale per serving.

The scale itself is more simple and possibly effective compared to calorie counting when it comes to weight management. It is also can help people eat more filling portions overall, while still decreasing caloric intake.  This is the science that often is behind the “points” system of weight watchers.

And it is effective. According to healthline.comSeveral studies have shown that individuals who consume low-calorie-density diets also eat fewer total calories per day. This is linked to lower body weight, body mass index (BMI), and waist circumference. ”

But caloric density is not just limited to the type of food that exists.

Cooking Processes and Caloric Density

Calories are not just a byproduct of food content. They also change by the cooking process.  For instance, according to a nutritionist article, “Frying a food increases its caloric density 3.5 times more. One serving of boiled potato contains only 0.87 calories per gram but one serving of french fries contains 3.07 calories per gram.”

And this isn’t just limited to frying, “Dehydrating fruit is a good way to increase its density by almost 5 times more! Raisins contain 5 times more calories per serving than grapes (and they are the same fruit).”

Cooking methods can not only change the composition of vitamins and minerals in a food item but can also add to the caloric density into a type of food.  It is why fried foods triple the caloric density of the food. It is also why many a nutritionist, scientists, and people who understand how it works talk about how bad fast food is for you.

Rules of Thumb for Caloric Density

The fact is, we could easily reverse our country’s exploding health care budget if we threw out all the calorie counters and followed a simple calorie density chart. There are just three key rules:

    1. The more fruits and vegetables you eat, the better.
    2. For at least 90 percent of your daily diet, stick Vegetables, Fruits, Whole Grains, Legumes, and Nonfat Dairy
    3. Pick one food from the meat category(seafood, lean poultry, lean red meat) – and no more than 4 ounces a day – to keep your arteries in good shape.

Are you looking for a nutritionist in the Huntsville, AL area? Feel free to click on the pop-up and contact Bekah at www.beksbites.com.

Ube – The Purple Yam of the Philippines

What are Purple Yams?

There are a variety of interesting if not outright exotic fruits and vegetables in the world. For instance, most schools in America teach that carrots are yellow or orange, not blue. But blue carrots indeed exist. We know that sweet potatoes have a variety of colors, as well as corn and various other fruits and vegetables.  However, have you heard of a purple yam?  Well, I didn’t until today. What makes them purple? Do they have extra nutritional benefits compared to other tubers? What is a good comparison for it? Let’s take a look at them.

Ube – The Purple Yam of the Philippines

When people talk about purple yams, they are often referring to Dioscorea alata. This is a staple crop in Austronesian cultures, specifically the islands of Southeast Asia. According to Wikipedia, “Based on archaeological evidence of early farming plots and plant remains in the Kuk Swamp site, authors have suggested that it was first domesticated in the highlands of New Guinea from around 10,000 BP and spread into Island Southeast Asia via the Lapita culture at around c. 4,000 BP. ”

It is not that much different from sweet potatoes or taro. It is easy to confuse them for the variety of purple yam that is also found in Okinawa, Japan. The difference lies in the color of the flesh. The flesh color of an Okinawa variety is white, while the Philippino variety, or Ube,  has purple flesh that matches the insides.

It is still the most important crop in Southeastern Asia, today. Specifically the Philippines, where it is the main ingredient for modern desserts.

Purple yams are edible ‘tubers’ with a mildly sweet/earthy and nutty taste. According to chefs, who have worked with this as an ingredient, “Larger yams are generally much sweeter than smaller versions, and if a yam has wintered over properly, the starches break down into sugars making the sweet vanilla flavor much more pronounced.” They are often converted into jams and pastes called halaya and are put in bread and even can be a flavor in ice cream.

But that barely scratches the surface of what it can do. This is thanks to the nutrition it offers as a whole.

purple yamPurple Yam Nutrition

The purple yam (Ube) is a starchy root vegetable that’s a great source of carbs, potassium, and vitamin C.

One cup (100 grams) of cooked Ube provides the following :

  • Calories: 140
  • Carbs: 27 grams
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Fat: 0.1 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Sodium: 0.83% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Potassium: 13.5% of the DV
  • Calcium: 2% of the DV
  • Iron: 4% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 40% of the DV
  • Vitamin A: 4% of the DV

They are also rich in powerful plant compounds and antioxidants. Including anthocyanins, which give them their vibrant hue.  This is the same type of pigmentation we have seen in red cabbages, blueberries, and flower petals.

But that isn’t all they do. They can help promote gut health overall.

The amount of fiber and resistant starches that are common in purple yams are beneficial enough to help the digestive system. This is common for most starchy fruits and vegetables. But what makes ube unique was that it increased the level of beneficial bacteria in the gut. One test-tube study showed that resistant starch from purple yams increased the number of Bifidobacteria, a type of beneficial gut bacteria, in a simulated large bowel environment. That is a pretty powerful vegetable.

Why it is Trending Now

We understand that it is beneficial for our health, but why is the word about this ultraviolet tuber just now reaching the US? For starters, native-born Philippine chefs and business owners are introducing this into their culinary profile. The advantage that the uniqueness of an exotic fruit or vegetable can bring is not lost on people trying to make their way through a culinary career.  Another thing that is bringing its attention is the paleo diet movement. The idea of eating things that would have most likely existed in the Paleolithic era is why there is a paleo diet, and this tuber would technically qualify.

Another reasoning behind why this is getting popular in the United States is the new trend of “unicorn” fad. Foods included, there has been an uptick in a unicorn trend with the use of vibrant colors, glitters and pastels. So, it would make sense to use the natural purple pigment of the ube to make magical food. Either way, its making the rounds as a very useful and popular yam.

Ask a Nutritionist: Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Ask a Nutritionist: Anti-Inflammatory Foods

It is not easy to deal with a chronic condition. Whether you come upon it from old age or poor past nutrition, it can be frustrating to live with. Arthritis, IBS, asthma, hepatitis, and all other inflammatory diseases can sap your energy, reduce your quality of life, and just cause a lot of frustration. However, while there is not always a cure for chronic conditions, there are ways that they can be managed. A healthy diet will at the very least decrease inflammation issues down the road and will give you more good days than bad ones. So, what can you do to at least give yourself more good days than bad ones? Here are some foods that nutritionists say has anti-inflammatory properties that can help.

anti-inflammatory

Foods with Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Olive and Flaxseed Oil

Not a lot of people talk about the difference between oils that are good for you, and those that are not. Most people tend to write off fat or oils as something bad for you and tend to leave it at that. But not all oils are the same.  It all boils down to the type of fat that resides in the oil. In the case of olive oil and flaxseed oil, both contain omega 3 fatty acids. These are essential to heart health.  In fact, they are associated with reduced inflammation, improved heart health and protection for the brain against aging.

Olive oil also has something called oleic acid. This specifically reduces inflammation. There have also been studies involving beneficial effects against certain cancers.

If you can, add olive oil in your cooking, this might help in the fight against chronic inflammation.

Salmon and other Fatty Fish

The reason this is good for anti-inflammatory diets is the same as the reasons for olive oils. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and albacore tuna have the same omega -3 fatty acids. They also have the added benefit of protein and can even decrease the risk of heart attack or stroke.

While there is a potential risk of mercury from some fish, it is minimal if you are careful about where you get them from.  If you limit your intake of fish to 3.5 ounces to at least twice a week and eat a variety of types, you are much less likely to get mercury intake issues.

Five of the most commonly eaten fish or shellfish that are low in mercury are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

Green, Leafy, Vegetables

anti-inflammatory foods

While this is a no brainer where a healthy diet is concerned, not many people realize why it is good anti-inflammatory food. Not only do they include fiber to keep you regular, but they also have folate and vitamin K. The vitamin and mineral combination is enough to decrease the rate of cognitive decline. With only 1-2 servings a day! So if you are worried about Alzheimer’s or any other inflammation issues that affect brain functions.  According to the studies,” The consumption of green leafy vegetables, including spinach, kale, collards, and lettuce, had the strongest association with slowed cognitive decline. ”

So, add leafy greens to your diet if you want their anti-aging properties.

Herbs and Spices

Not only are they good for making bland dishes more exciting but a lot of them have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric and Ginger, for example. They are proven from studies to be anti-inflammatory.  There are quite a few herbs and spices that are common in most cooking that also have anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic, a commonly known one, has glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that helps drive down the inflammation in the body.

Another is oregano. Oregano has antioxidants and a micronutrient called carvacrol. Carvacrol has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties.  The list of spices that have anti-inflammatory properties is a mile long. These include cinnamon, cumin, chili peppers, clove, rosemary, and sage. Any nutritionist would recommend adding these to your daily diet.

Conclusion

An anti-inflammatory diet is not hard to follow, and there are plenty of foods that can give you the benefits you need. While it might require some changes, such as limiting sugar, salt, and refined carbohydrates from the daily diet, the results can work wonders.  If you have any questions or are just unfamiliar with coming up with a long-term nutrition plan, feel free to contact us! An involved nutritionist will not only help you find what you are looking for but will walk with you every step of the way.

www.beksbites.com

Ask A Nutritionist: Farm Raised or Wild Caught Fish?

Ask A Nutritionist: Farm Raised or Wild Caught Fish?

If you ever go to a local restaurant in Decatur, Alabama, there is often a sign that is sitting on top of, below, or beside the health inspection grade. The gist of them say “Under Alabama Law, you are legally allowed to ask if fish is farm-raised or wild-caught”. When you grow up in an area that has a sign like this displayed every Sunday lunch, you get used to it but a little baffled on occasion. What does a fish farm look like? Why do we care where they come from? Do people even pay attention to that sort of thing?

With fish being on the rise in popularity as a healthy meat source, these questions are becoming more relevant. So, we should find the answers to them. From defining what a fish farm is, to figuring out which is better, this is the answer to those questions.

What are Fish Farms?

Whenever you hear the word ‘farm’ you usually think of a strip of land in the middle of nowhere, a rickety barn with owls and mice, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, etc. Maybe plant life if you live near them. It turns out, farms can be for aquatic life too.  The term for this is either pisciculture or aquaculture, and this is something that existed for centuries. The earliest evidence of fish farming dates back to before 1000 BCE in China for aesthetic/religious reasons. Carp was a sign of good fortune, godliness, and blessings. They eventually farmed it for food under the permission of the Emporer 500 years later. Eventually, this expanded into the practice of creating oyster farms for Ancient Rome, and fish being farmed for the nobility and monasteries during the Middle Ages.

Today, 633 million lbs of freshwater and saltwater fish/mollusks are farmed in the United States per year.  It is a 1.5 billion dollar industry and we only rank 16th in national aquaculture production. Something conducted on this large a scale has to have its own environmental controversy or drawbacks. Or at least it requires a lot of regulation to make sure that the production is safe. That is where the State and National Department of Fish and Wildlife Services come in.

But what are some of the things that the Department of Fish and Wildlife have to worry about? What could be a threat to farm-raised fish?

Nutrition Issues with Farm-Raised and Wild-Caught Fish

Salmon has a lot of health benefits, including healthy fats and minerals. It is popular enough to be both enjoyed wild and part of the farm fish industry.  A lot of people want to eat it as part of a healthy diet, but it isn’t without complications.

salmonFarm-Raised Fish are Fattier

There is a decrease in nutritional quality with farm-raised fish. This is no fault of the farmers necessarily. When any animal lives in an environment with limitations,  eventually they will change on a genetic level.

There is an increase in harmful fats with farm-raised fish and a decrease in minerals in comparison to their wild counterparts. This is because when fish are allowed to roam in the wild, they are less likely to eat from the predictable food supply, keeping them lean and giving them a varied diet. This means farmed salmon will have more calories and fewer minerals due to their predictable and reliable diet. This, however, is nothing to be worried about. It is still healthier than other fattier types of meat like beef.

 The Threat of Poisonous Metals

Another bigger issue with fish is the threat of trace metals that are poisonous to ingest including mercury. Up until a little less than 100 years ago, salmon, farm raised fishwe didn’t know that mercury was a poisonous metal. We found that out the hard way after we used it in hat making. So, when we hear the word mercury, it leaves most people feeling cautious. While studies have concluded that it found three times over in wild fish compared to farm-raised fish. While the studies say that it is not enough to harm a healthy person alone, there have been warnings in the past to people with weak immune systems and pregnant women.

Antibiotics

Knowing all this, the choice is yours. The benefits are there, but so are the risks. If you can afford and really want wild raised salmon, then enjoy. If you can’t and get some farm-raised, it’s still better than beef.

Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercises

Nutrition alone is not enough for a happy and healthy lifestyle. It does provide us with vitamins and minerals we need to survive. However, it is only a small part of the whole equation. Our bodies still need to remove waste, adjust to space and remain strong for functionality. That is where exercises come in.

It makes people stronger, provides physical and mental catharsis, helps with waste removal, and can tone skin and muscle.

However, there is more than one way to exercise. Different types of exercises have their functions. Some of them focus on strength building. Others focus on flexibility and balance. With this in mind, it is important to come up with an exercise routine that can help with all types of exercise.

So, let’s look at the difference between the two major categories of exercise as well as their benefits.

aerobic exerciseAerobic Exercises

The general definition of aerobic is “with oxygen”. When it is mentioned to a type of exercise, they are usually referring to cardiovascular conditioning or “cardio.” One good definition of an aerobic workout  is explained by women’shealthmag.com “Aerobic exercise is anything where oxygen intake is sufficient enough to provide the energy necessary to sustain that exercise without tapping into alternative energy sources.”

In other words, if you can breathe while working out, you are doing an aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise benefits the circulatory system. It helps keep your heart healthy and ultimately is great for building stamina.

Common Aerobic Activities Include:

  • Speedwalking
  • Jogging
  • Climbing the stairs
  • Playing tennis
  • Dancing
  • Biking
  • Doing yard work like raking, digging and gardening
  • Swimming laps

 

So, how often are aerobic exercises recommended? As far as how often you should perform aerobic exercises, ” The American Heart Association recommends healthy adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least 5 days a week, or at least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity 3 days a week.”

Anaerobic Exercises

anaerobic exerciseAnaerobic means “Without oxygen”. When applied to a type of exercise it is referring to a way in which the human body can tap into an energy source during a high-intensity workout.”Anaerobic workouts primarily utilize fast-twitch muscle fibers that can function only for a short amount of time without the help of additional inhaled oxygen,”

The energy in question that your body uses is muscle glucose. However, the source of muscle glucose that most people have is very limited. This means that the average human being can only do anaerobic exercises in short bursts. So, if people can only do it in short bursts, is there any advantage to it at all?

There is a huge benefit to anaerobic exercise.”Anaerobic, or high intensity, training uses energy quickly and the spiked energy burn continues for several hours after exercise. The increased metabolic rate during and after a workout is a plus if you’re looking to jumpstart your metabolism.” It is kind of like hitting a turbo button in a racing videogame. That short burst of energy gives us a boost. In turn, it keeps our metabolism running, our hearts pumping, burns fat, and builds muscle.

Examples of  Anaerobic Activities Include:

  • high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • heavy weight lifting
  • calisthenics, like plyometrics, jump squats, or box jumps
  • sprinting (while running, cycling, or swimming)

While a lot of what is being written about in most fitness blogs focus a lot on these two camps of fitness routines, other exercises can be important depending on the level of physical activity involved.

Workout Routines that Use Both

The best kind of workout uses both types of exercise. Cardio heavy exercise routines with bursts of strength training usually do the trick. However, some exercise routines focus on both.

According to Active.com, “Many group classes, like Jazzercise, incorporate both exercises. Aerobic and anaerobic segments are placed in perfect balance to give you maximum fat-burning benefits. Each Jazzercise class has choreographed movements that burn fat aerobically and build lean muscle anaerobically. ”

Other workout routines focus on both those things, as well as balance. Exercises like dancing use all of these and flexibility.

Conclusion

But what do you want to do? Exercise looks different to everyone. It all boils down to finding what you need. If you have joint pain, you might want to look at something low impact. If you have problems with endurance you might want to focus more on cardio.

Feel free to experiment. If you need advice, call someone for help.

However, if you need help with exercise and diet habits, contact Bekah by clicking the pop-up. Go to www.beksbites.com.

Ask a Nutritionist: Everything Fantastic About Fiber

Ask a Nutritionist: Fantastic Fiber

We hear about needing fiber in our diet all the time. In fact, it is a pretty common thing for people to talk about when addressing digestive issues. However, what scientists and nutritionists have told us about fiber decades ago does not quite match up to what they know about it now. It is the same with cholesterol and fats, there are healthy and unhealthy versions of them in the food we eat. And we didn’t exactly learn how to tell them apart until recently. So, what is the right thing to eat? What kind is good for our bodies and which is not really all that beneficial? Let’s find out.

What is the Function of Fiber?

Healthline.com defines fiber as, “a diverse group of carbohydrates that humans cannot digest.” They are found naturally in plant foods or can be extracted and placed in processed foods.

Fiber is something that our bodies cannot naturally digest when we consume it. While this might sound like a bad thing out of context, our bodies do not need to digest everything quickly.  The number of nutrients that are present in what we eat is small. Especially, compared to the size and weight of what we ingest. So, we need fiber to help us expel what we don’t need.

Another thing that makes the idea and existence of fiber more complicated is that there are different types of fiber that exist. So, is there such a thing as harmful fiber? What are the different types in the first place?

Types of Fiber

fiber

There are several types of fiber that can help us remove excess waste.  All of them equally, have an important role to play in digestive health. Just like any other nutrient or element in nutrition, if there is too much of one or the other then it will cause overall health problems.

Soluble Fiber

According to Web MD, “All types of soluble fibers slow digestion, so it takes longer for your body to absorb sugar (glucose) from the foods you eat. ”  It does this by blends with water in our guts, forming a gel-like substance. The gel substance binds with fatty acids and ultimately flushes out bad cholesterol. This type of fiber is common in gums, which act as natural adhesives, and pectin, soft plant cells that acts like a gel substance.

Some examples of soluble fibers can be found in oats, beans nuts, peas, lentils, berries, and vegetables.

Insoluble Fiber

Insoluble fibers slow down digestion but in a different way. It moves waste through the intestines by bulking up the stool. Also, it speeds up the waste removal process by acting like a brush that sweeps out the rest of the waste through the bowels.   Too much of this type of fiber can lead to constipation, so you might want to be wary about your intake.

It is commonly found in the roughage that makes up most plant life, such as root vegetables, celery, fruits with edible seeds and whole wheat.

Fermentable Fiber

This type is very important for your large intestine and is largely ignored. Especially, when people talk about fiber as a dietary requirement. Without it, the food that comes in and out of our gut would be unchanged. With no nutrients getting absorbed in the body.

Fermentable fibers are what gut bacteria are able to digest and use as fuel. This increases the good bacteria in the gut. These bacteria are important for weight management, blood sugar control, immunity, brain function, and mental health.

People don’t talk about it as much because the gut microbiome and its relation to our health is a very recent discovery. The best whole food sources of fermentable fibers are found in beans and legumes.

The only downside of incorporating this type of fiber in your diet is the increase of gas or flatulence as a byproduct of the enzymes digesting that fiber.

Conclusion

Nutritionists and other medical fields are scratching the surface with what we know about nutrition today. While it may take some time for people to understand how fiber and other properties of whole foods are playing a role in our health, we are still learning every day. The more we learn, the better we can do! And there will be people to help you discover more and more about nutrition every day.

If you want to learn more about how food determines our health, or if you need a nutritionist, visit www.beksbites.com. Click on the pop-up and send Bekah a message!

Nutrition Fruits and Veggies from Around the World- African Taro Root

Nutritious Fruits and Veggies from Around the World- Africa

The interesting thing about nutrition is you start to learn different things about what you and other people could eat. It is also an experience when you learn about different nutritious things around the world. It brings cultural understanding through the exercise of exposing yourself to something different. There is always a new way to explore nutrition. Whether you go to a cultural festival or just talk to someone from another place. Because everyone, no matter where they come from, needs to eat to survive. So, we are going to look at a new fruit or vegetable from around the globe, talk about its nutritional value and explore its history

nutrition, taro rootCocoyam or Taro Root

This interesting plant grows in the tropics with an edible root about the size of a turnip. The plant itself grows up to six feet tall with large heart-shaped leaves and can be grown ornamentally. Beneath the skin of the root or corm, the color of its flesh varies from white to cream to yellow or purple, depending on the species. It is very fibrous and starchy, much like a potato, and has a somewhat sweet and nutty flavor. The hairy outer coating on a taro root is similar to a coconut. These hairs consist of rough, microscopic, spines from the leaves and root and can pierce the skin. The hairy outer layer is always removed with caution since skin irritation can arise caused by the juices secreted by the taro root.

Warning: A very important thing to note is that while it is true that people eat it, no one should never consume it raw. Raw taro roots contain a chemical compound known as calcium oxalate.  When you eat uncooked taro, the calcium oxalate makes your mouth feel numb. Eat too much, and you’ll feel like you’re choking. It is toxic and is the same chemical compound that contributes to kidney stones. Thankfully, the toxins can be cooked out and the small needles that are on the skin and leaves can come off.

But why do people cook it and eat it anyway? What is it about the Taro Root that is worth that sort of risk?

Taro Root Nutrition

The first interesting thing about the Taro is that while it does have a higher calorie count compared to a potato, it still has more than three times the fiber content. It also has a much lower glycemic index compared to the potato, ranking only at 18 while potatoes rank at 111. This is beneficial for anyone who is watching their blood sugar intake or has any digestive problems.

Taro root also has a great source of potassium, vitamin C, calcium, vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, and copper. Even the leaves are edible. They are rich in vitamin A and C as well as protein. Just like the root, however, the leaves require cooking before consumption.

And the best news of all is, like a potato, they are nutty and slightly sweet. They would make for a great potato substitute and have the same kind of versatility. They are even key ingredients to some desserts, something that is rarely seen in a potato dish.

So, when did we discover it was good for us? Who grows it now?

Taro Root History and CultivationTaro bread, nutrition

The taro root has been cultivated for a very long time. According to Wikipedia, “Archaeological traces of taro exploitation have been recovered from numerous sites some wild, some domesticated. The earliest evidence of cultivation points to the Polynesian Islands at around 10,000 years ago, but there has been evidence that has predated cultivation long before that.”

It made its way through various trades between SouthEast Asia to Egypt. Eventually, the Taro became a staple of both Africa and Asia.

From there, the taro would emigrate from the Polynesian empire to other parts of SouthEastern Asia and Hawaii, during the expansion of the Tonga empire around the 15oos.  The African slave trade and the conquering of the Americas also meant the introduction to the Taro root to places like Florida and South America/Mexico.

Today, the largest worldwide producer of the Taro Root is in Africa, specifically Nigeria. They are one of the few crops that can grow in flooded environments and require cool, flowing water for proper gaseous exchange.

There are a variety of genetically diverse subspecies of taro, that has lead to a variety of sizes, coloration, and other small differences in features. Try to learn about it or introduce it into your diet if you feel adventurous. It won’t disappoint.

www.beksbites.com

 

Fruits and Vegetables from Asia – Jujube

Fruits and Vegetables of Asia

We tend to take other parts of the world for granted. Unless a person has experience with or exposure to a culture that is different from their own, it often does not occur to another person to learn about another part of the world. The same is true on a global scale. Unless administrations deal with foreign entities as part of a job, they tend not to study or bother to try and expose themselves to something that exists outside of their own affairs.

What sort of stuff are we missing out, then? What sort of things exist in the world that we don’t know about? Are there any interesting and exciting fruits and vegetables that can help you expand your pallet? Do you want to expose yourself to new nutritious and exciting things? Let’s talk about some amazing fruits and vegetables from places that America doesn’t really talk about.

Jujubes – Dates from Asia

If you grew up in the South and only have exposure to off-brand candy around Halloween, you are forgiven for confusing the above header with the gumdrops with the same name. However, this Jujube is not a gumdrop but is instead, a species of date.  Originally from China, Jujubes exist throughout South Asia and are a delicacy that has grown in popularity in nearby parts of the world.

What is Jujube?

A Jujube is a small round fruit with a seed-containing pit grow on large flowering shrubs or trees (Ziziphus jujuba). When ripe, they’re dark red or purple and may appear slightly wrinkled. Other names for them are Chinese Dates or Red Dates.

The fruit itself is rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and has a low-calorie count. They are also popularly dried and candied in plenty of areas. But how old are they? What benefits do they have specifically that make them stand out above the rest?

jujubeJujube History

According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, “The jujube originated in China where they have been cultivated for more than 9,000 years and where there are over 400 cultivars. The plants start to travel beyond Asia centuries ago and today grows to some extent in Russia, northern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, and the southwestern United States. Jujube seedlings, inferior to the Chinese cultivars, were introduced into Europe at the beginning of the Christian era. The fruit eventually became introduced to the U. S. in 1837. It wasn’t until 1908 that Chinese selections came to US markets by the USDA.”

Basically, they have been easy to grow in areas where there is a lot of heat and the soil level is sandy or at least well-drained.

Nutrition

In general, Jujubes have a rich amount of fiber that is comparable to other dates and is certainly full of antioxidants and vitamins like Vitamin C and Potassium. But, there is an interesting property that sets the Jujube as a cut above the rest.

Specifically, Jujubes can help people fall asleep. According to a sleep doctor, “Two types of phytochemicals in jujube, saponins, and flavonoids, trigger changes to neurotransmitters, including GABA and serotonin, which can make it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. At least one of the saponins in jujube, jujuboside A, helps to quiet activity in the hippocampus region of the brain. And jujube contains a flavonoid compound, spinosin, which appears to trigger sleepiness through its effects on serotonin.”

Also, there is another interesting fact behind the same flavonoids and saponins. Those same phytochemicals can also contribute to anti-anxiety effects. So if you are feeling a little stressed out, a Jujube or two might be what the doctor ordered.

jujube

Anything Else Important to Know?

If you are trying to decrease your sugar intake, you want to eat jujubes in their natural state. Just like any other fruit, when it goes through a drying process the sugars get higher in concentration. Plus, if you were to get it from someone else who did the drying process, they might have actually added more sugar to them.

Another important thing to look out for is your medication. If you are already on antidepressant medications, your body might overreact to the presence of too much serotonin. If you plan on using it as a supplement, talk to your doctor. The last thing you want to do is overdo brain chemicals.

If you are interested in learning more about stuff like this or want to hire a nutritionist, visit: www.beksbites.com

Fennel

Spice Up Your Life

There are all kinds of ways that we can spice up our life. Some of it comes from tree bark, others come from various roots, beans, and other plant matter. Some of them even require a level of processing to make it edible. So, we are going to talk about a few herbs and spices that can upscale your nutritional and cooking needs. The final spice under review comes from the Mediterranian and all kinds of Italian and French Dishes. Let’s get ready for the most perplexing of plants,  Fennel.

fennelFascinating Fennel

There is a perplexing nature to the fennel that is both mysterious and keeps you on your culinary toes. As a plant, they grow in bulbs like a celery stalk. In horticulture, it closely related to both the carrot and poisoned hemlock. Also, in the culinary world, the taste is sweet with a hint of licorice, which is partly why another name for it is Anais in parts of Europe.

These little factoids along with its history make it a fascinating herb to study and a future possibility in your next cooking venture. So, where in the Mediterranean did it come from? Why do people like it? What does it have to offer nutritionally speaking?

History

It was readily available in the wild in the Mediterranean Basin, during the Persian Empire. Its etymology initially started with the ancient Athenians, fennelwho named the plant after the location of the city they successfully defended against the invading Persian army, Marathon. They believed in fennel  Greek and Roman warriors were documented as consuming fennel to make them strong. It was also thought to have the power to help people keep thin because of its appetite-suppressing nature.

Fennel is such a hallmark Greek culture, thanks to its appearance in several myths. For example, Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind, concealed it in a stalk of fennel. Also, a stalk of fennel capped with an acorn served as the scepter for the god of wine and rebirth, Dionysus.

Its importance carried over to the Roman Empire as a possible cure for cataracts. Later, it made its way to the Anglo Saxons who believed fennel to be an essential healing herb in every garden.

This merged into the spiritual practices and superstition that regarded fennel as one of 9 herbs as part of a ritual to ward off evil spirits.  Eventually, when England solidified itself as a nation, in the 1200s, fennel seed was again useful for appetite suppression. Specifically, to help people to get through fasting days. Later, they were commonly useful for church, during long services to keep stomachs from rumbling. The Puritans even carried the notion into the New World, calling them “meeting seeds”.

Fennel Cultivation and Cuisine

These days, fennel is more or less an herb with cultural ties to English, Italian, and other Mediterranean cuisine and culture. It is also a base ingredient for Absinthe, a high proof French alcohol, and Akvavit, it’s Swedish and German counterparts. It grows wild and domestically all over the world with an exception made for desert and tundra terrain.

The most interesting thing about Fennel is that it is one of the few plants where every part is edible. According to Wikipedia, “The bulb, foliage, and fruits of the fennel plant are used in many of the culinary traditions of the world.

  • The small flowers of wild fennel (known as fennel “pollen” ) are the most potent form of fennel, but also the most expensive.
  •  Dried fennel fruit is an aromatic, anise-flavored spice, brown or green in color when fresh, slowly turning a dull grey as the fruit ages. For cooking, green fruits are optimal.
  • The leaves are delicately flavored and similar in shape to those of dill.
  • The bulb is a crisp vegetable that can be sautéed, stewed, braised, grilled, or eaten raw.
  • Young tender leaves are used for garnishes, as a salad,  or to add flavor to salads. As well as flavoring sauces,  puddings, soups, and fish sauce.”

So, all an aspiring or experimental cook needs to do is pick out which part of the Fennel is applicable and use what they have.  And why not, part of the fun of cooking is experimentation, right?

Nutrition

Fennel has a huge advantage of having a good amount of antioxidants, vitamin C, and other healthy nutrients. It is also a good source of fiber, that is great for your colon and is filling in that regard. So, maybe there is something to the whole appetite suppressant thing.

 

If you want to know about more spices around the world, or are looking for a nutritionist in the Huntsville, Al area, visit www.beksbites.com

Cardamom

Spice Up Your Life

There are all kinds of ways that we can spice up our life. Some of it comes from tree bark, others come from various roots, beans, and other plant matter. Some of them even require a level of processing to make it edible. So, we are going to talk about a few herbs and spices that can upscale your nutritional and cooking needs. Let’s look at the interesting spice that defies all sorts of expectations cardamom.

cardamomCardamom

Cardamom is a spice that is hard to categorize. It somehow manages to be savory, sweet, smoky, nutty, and minty all at the same time.  It can be used for both savory and sweet dishes. And, can be a spice for a meat rub or a hot tea. This type of versatility is not that common in a herb or spice.  That might be the reason why it is the third most expensive spice in the world.

It is in high demand in the world of cuisine and has a presence from Venezuela to France. So, what do we know about it? What makes it so sought after?

History

Much like turmeric, cardamom is a very old spice. While it was first mentioned in writing 5,000 years ago, there are pods that date back well before the time of Ancient Babylon.

The ancient spice was first mentioned in what is now the Middle East in an Egyptian papyrus dating to 1550 BCE. Eventually, India and Egypt took started to utilize the cardamom plants and seeds as a breath freshener and medicinal plant. The spice arrived in Greece around 50 CE, where it was essential to cuisine, perfume, incense, and medicine. Then, it finally made its way to the rest of Europe around 1214 CE, which was around the time when the Silk Road was growing strong as a trading route.

The rest, as they say, is history.

CardamomCultivation

Cardamom production has bounced around throughout history. While it has its roots in ancient Babylon, it has certainly spread thanks to warfare and trade. After the Assyrians and Babylonians crossed paths with the Mediterranean into the Early Bronze Age, it made its way to the Middle East. It kept being cultivated in the Middle East and both Ancient Greece and Rome had a consistent supply of the spice from there.

However, when Portugal took over the spice trade, production moved over to Portuguese territory with the intent of having full ownership of this commercial crop.  It started becoming a cash crop in parts of India and other surrounding islands that count as Portuguese territory. The islands and territories included Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Thailand, and Vietnam. There were still producers from places in Europe and Saudi Arabia, but that is what makes up most of the Cardamom trade today.

It is also important to note that there are two types of Cardamom: black cardamom and green cardamom. The black variety is something commonly found and utilized in India and Asia. Green Cardamom is normally found and utilized in more northern parts of the world.

Medicinal and Health Benefits

The interesting thing to note about Cardamon is that it is technically related to the ginger family.  I bring this up because they share some of the same beneficial properties as ginger.  Ginger is well known as something that can settle an irritated stomach, and Cardamon has the same reputation. It is also:

  • It is used for oral care and a breath freshener since it has a minty undertone
  • Cardamom can provide an invigorating odor that enhances your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise. It can also possibly relax your airway.
  • It has many antioxidants which are good for your bloodstream.
  •  Cardamom extract may decrease elevated cholesterol levels. They may also prevent liver enlargement and liver weight, which reduces the risk of fatty liver disease.
  • Cardamom extract may prevent anxious behaviors. This may be because low blood levels of antioxidants have been linked to the development of anxiety and other mood disorders.

Conclusion

So, there is really a lot of benefits that can be found in these seeds. Especially if you are having issues with your breath and digestion. However, knowing these effects requires a little grain of salt.  I wouldn’t use it as a replacement for traditional medicine altogether just like any other herb or spice. However, it is certainly an interesting spice that can probably elevate your cooking. With autumn coming up, it might be a good idea to add a little bit to your pumpkin dishes with some cinnamon for a punch.

www.beksbites.com