The Health Benefits of Kale

Dark leafy greens are widely known to be the most nutritious of vegetables, but even among the greens, kale may stand alone as the single most nutritious vegetable! In recent years, kale has gained tremendous popularity as a go-to vegetable for its outstanding nutritional profile, versatility in dishes, and delicious flavor.

As with most vegetables, kale is grown in a number of varieties: leafy green, dinosaur, curly, and even ornamental for your garden. Kale belongs to the Brassica family of vegetables, which includes other cruciferous vegetables known to be nutrition all-stars, such as asparagus, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli. Among vegetables, cruciferous vegetables are widely touted for their anti-cancer properties. Numerous studies have been conducted and repeated showing a strong correlation between the consumption of eating cruciferous vegetables and a lower risk of all forms of cancer. This lowered risk is regularly attributed to the phytochemicals found in cruciferous vegetables, of which kale is especially abundant.

The health benefits of kale are attributed to its large concentration of various vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Kale is incredibly rich in Vitamin K, an important fat-soluble vitamin that can dramatically reduce of your chances of developing cancer, but is also important for numerous bodily functions, including helping to regulate blood clotting and reduce blood pressure. A single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 1300% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also abound with beta-carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, another important nutrient connected to reducing your risk for cancer, as well as nearly all other age-related and degenerative diseases. That single cup of cooked kale can contain as much as 350% of your recommended daily intake! Kale is also a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to Vitamin C, manganese, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron. Potassium and magnesium are crucial minerals for optimum bodily function, especially when it comes to regulating blood pressure and lowering your risk for heart disease. Recent studies suggest that the calcium contained within kale is easily absorbed by the human body, making it an ideal food for those looking to maintain bone health.

Dark leafy greens, including kale, have been revered throughout history for their medicinal properties. They are frequently considered to be ‘liver cleansing foods,’ perhaps in part to their large concentrations of folate, a vitamin known to strengthen your liver, which in turns helps to cleanse and detoxify your body as a whole. Dark leafy greens are also widely known for their anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce all degenerative diseases, but also help remedy conditions such as arthritis and pain, and reduce your chances of heart disease and high blood pressure.

Kale can be prepared in a variety of ways. One of the most common methods of preparation is the lightly steam it, perhaps alone or accompanied by other vegetables. Likewise, you can also saute it lightly in a vegetable medley. A method of preparation that is gaining popularity is to create ‘kale chips.’ These ‘chips’ are created by wetting your kale and coating it in various ingredients, such as other vegetable powders (onion, garlic, carrot, bell pepper, etc.), ground seeds or nuts (sunflower seeds and cashews being the most popular), and nutritional yeast. After coating, the kale is then either dehydrated or cooked at a low temperature as to not burn. This is a unique, delicious, and nutritious method for eating kale. While you can make your own kale chips, they are now more easily located at numerous health food stores. You may find you like them more than potato chips!

Natural Treatments for Depression

Depression is a wide epidemic in the modern world. Estimates show that approximately 19 million adults in the United States are affected by depression, close to 10% of the population! Additionally, depression affects millions of adolescents and children, with an estimated 23% being affected. Depression in our culture, while common, is still taboo for many. Upwards of 70% of individuals are unlikely to seek treatment, and for those that do, they are mostly commonly prescribed anti-depressants as the ‘fix.’ There is no quick fix for depression, however, and its root causes can stem from lifestyle challenges, nutritional deficiencies, chemical/hormonal imbalances, and emotional struggles that must be addressed. Antidepressants have been shown to work for only 30-40% of the population, and many are prescribed a cocktail of numerous antidepressant and anxiety drugs when a single drug fails to be of benefit. Unknown to many, there are numerous natural treatments that can be used as an alternative to, or in conjunction with, antidepressant drugs.

*As always, please consult your medical physician before starting any new routine or supplements, especially if you are utilizing them in conjunction with other medications or supplements.

Exercise is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for treating depression, and it’s also the most economical! It doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do, whether it’s aerobic (cardio) or anaerobic (strength training), it’s getting it in that counts. As little as 15-30 minutes a day of exercise can substantially increase the mood elevating hormones in your brain, as well as help you to reduce stress. This process is largely attributed to your body creating a direct pathway for the amino acid Tryptophan to your brain while engaged in physical activity. You don’t have to give it your all to reap the benefits of exercise; even a brisk 20 minute walk, cleaning the house, or finding a group exercise class will help you on your way! Aim for 30 minutes of mild activity a day, or start with whatever you are comfortable and able to get in.

Diet, along with exercise, is the other crucial component in changing your lifestyle for helping to treat depression. It is critical to reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet as they lack the substantial nutrients your body requires to function at an optimal level. Replace processed foods with whole foods, those that you make yourself. Keep the food your put in your meals as simple as possible, as close to their natural form. Additionally, add a fully array of fruits and vegetables to your meals and snacks. Fruits and vegetables are packed with the antioxidants and nutrients your body craves. Try adding vegetables to every meal, especially dark leafy greens. You’ll also want to try reducing the amount of caffeine and alcohol you consume — both can overtax your body’s hormonal systems.

Controlling your blood sugar is also especially important in conjunction with diet, and can additionally be helped with exercise. This includes reducing the overall sugar content of your diet, be it from white sugar or even sources such as honey and maple syrup. You’ll also want to check out how food combining will help maintain a steady blood sugar over a longer period of time, and how to control your sugar cravings. When you’re blood sugar is peaking wildly again and again, it puts an enormous strain on your body’s hormonal system, especially involving the hormone insulin. Control your blood sugar and you’ll be on an even keel, able to function and think more clearly.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids have been widely shown to benefit individuals that suffer from depression, especially in conjunction with another form of treatment (be it antidepressants or a supplement). You can choose to supplement Omega 3s in the form of krill/fish oil, flax oil, chia seed oil, or hemp oil. Additionally, you can also add foods rich in Omega 3 to your diet, such as fatty fish (such as salmon), or by adding various seeds rich in Omega 3 to your diet (flax, chia, hemp). While many studies suggest the benefit of Omega 3 for depression lies in the combination of EPA and DHA, adding any Omega 3 to your diet can help tremendously. We will have a followup article specifically for Omega 3 soon!

St. John’s Wort
is a widely utilized herb for treating depression. It is also one of the few herbs where clinical trials have shown it to be as effective, if not more so, than antidepressants for those that have used it for at least 4-6 weeks. As with antidepressants, the effectiveness of St. John’s Worst can vary widely depending on the individual. Additionally, it may have interactions with other supplements and medications, so it is especially important to discuss this herb with your physician. St. John’s Wort
is widely available, from health food stores to your local drug store.

Vitamin B -Complex are the vitamins your body utilizes primarily to create energy, and include a whole host of various B vitamins. However, there are two specific B vitamins shown to help with depression: vitamin B6 and Folate. Taking various medications, such as aspirin, birth control, and other medications, have shown to reduce your body’s B6 and folate. While taking such drugs may not put you in a state of deficiency, even being on a borderline deficiency can reduce your body’s ability to produce neurotransmitters, such as seratonin and dopamine. Eating a diet rich in whole foods, especially fruits and vegetables, will help you to get the B vitamins your need. You can also choose to supplement with a B vitamin complex, which can be found at all health food stores. Another natural alternative is to add brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast to your food, a natural byproduct of alcohol fermentation loaded with B Complex Vitamins!

5-HTP is a free-form amino acid supplement, known as 5-hydroxytryptophan. 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin, one of the many feel good chemicals in your brain, and so can help boost the overall level of serotonin in your body. The dosage of 5-HTP varies depending the individual, and I highly suggest looking into the book The Mood Cure by Julia Ross for determining your individual dosage. As an individual that has suffered from depression for many years, I have found significant benefit in my life by taking 5-HTP, such as feeling more calm, relaxed, at ease, with a great mental focus. 5-HTP can be readily tracked down and almost any health food store, or online.

Healing depression can be a difficult road, and the road is drastically different for each individual. Finding and experimenting with the right supplement routine for you, be antidepressant or natural alternatives, will do wonders for your life. But again, there is no quick fix, especially for those who suffer from major depression. Couple these alternatives with a new lifestyle, including adequate rest, good food, moderate exercise, dealing with stuck emotions, and reducing stress, and you’ll be on your path!

Food Spotlight: Asparagus

Asparagus was once considered to be a member of the lily family of plants, and while it is now considered to be in its own family, it is still remarkably similar to other lilies such as garlic and onions. When we consume asparagus as a vegetable, we eat the young shoot of the plant. Once the bud at the end of the spear we consume opens, the plant creates a fern-like structure that would be too hard or ‘woody’ to eat. The exact origin of asparagus is unknown. We do know that it originates somewhere in the Mediterranean, where it has been consumed for thousands and thousands of years. It may have been consumed and cultivated to some degree as early as 20,000 BP in Egypt. It is depicted in ancient Egyptian friezes dating to approximately 3000 BC, and was consumed and cultivated extensively in Greece, Rome, Syria, and Spain. The vegetable was so prized by Emperor Augustus of Rome that he created an ‘Asparagus Fleet,’ whose sole duty was to haul the vegetable from the fields for the wealthy. The oldest surviving cookbook, De Re Coquinaria by Apiucius, which hails from Rome during the 4th or 5th century AD, contains a recipe for delicately cooking asparagus.

Fresh, young, growing shoots of plants are some of the most nutrient dense foods, and asparagus is no exception. Asparagus is abound with the nutrient Vitamin K, an essential fat-soluble nutrient that helps your blood to clot properly, prevents calcification of your arteries, prevents bones from fracturing, aids bruising, and aids in preventing bone-loss. A single cup of uncooked asparagus contains approximately 70% of your recommended daily intake of Vitamin K! Asparagus is also rich in beta carotene, the precursor to Vitamin A, folate, iron, thiamin, copper, and manganese. One cup of uncooked asparagus contains only 27 calories, while containing 3 grams of protein, as well as 3 grams of dietary fiber!Asparagus has been so revered throughout the ages largely because of its medicinal properties. It is known as an excellent plant for detoxifying your system for numerous reasons. It contains large amounts of the amino acid glutathione, an important amino acid utilized by the liver as an anti-oxidant for cleaning up free radicals (toxins that create damage in your system). The large amounts of folate contained in asparagus have anti-inflammatory properties, helping to reduce pain and arthritis, as well as reduces your chances of heart disease and is essential for preventing birth defects for pregnant women. Additionally, asparagus has many diuretic properties, which help to aid constipation and keep you regular, as well as cleanse your liver and kidneys. Finally, asparagus contains inulin, a special form of fiber/oligosaccharide that help to feed beneficial bacteria in your intestines.

Asparagus can usually be found year-round with so many vegetables being imported from different localities and regions of the world. However, truly delectable and fresh asparagus is available only in the spring, when it is most abundant and thus also cheapest. Asparagus doesn’t face as many threats from pests as do some other plants, so it’s not absolutely necessary to get organic asparagus. That being said, the most nutritious and tasty asparagus can often be found only at a local farmer’s market because of freshness (where they tend to be less sprayed, anyway).

Asparagus is delectable simply steamed or baked, and is the perfect accompaniment to numerous dishes! Be sure to try Orange Roasted Tofu and Asparagus!