Food & Nutrition

Everyone can use some healthy eating tips these days—when we’re bombarded with low-fat this, and sugar-free that, it can be difficult to know exactly what to put on our plates. We’ll continue to post recipes, eating suggestions and other healthy food tips that we think will help clarify the oft-confusing world of dieting, food fads and research that tells us one day that coffee is good for us and the next day it’s not. From research studies about the latest superfoods to recommendations from our nutritionists, Project Wellness offers practical eating healthy tips for even the most confused consumer.

  • Simple Superfoods That Boost Energy and Brain Power

    Exactly what are “superfoods” and why do we need them? The answer is quite simple--superfoods are natural, nutrient-rich, power-packed sources of vitamins, minerals and electrolytes that contain fewer calories than processed foods. These foods should be a part of everyone’s regular diet, as study after study shows that diets rich in superfoods can help boost our energy and brain power as they strengthen our immune system.

    Natural Energy-Boosting Recommendations

    Go a Little Nuts
    On those days when you just can’t get your “get-up-and-go,” energize yourself the natural way. Start out with a handful of almonds. It only takes 20 almonds to give you more than 40 percent of your daily requirement of vitamin E, a powerful immune-bolstering antioxidant.

    Be Fruity
    For a quick mid-day energy boost, have a serving of fresh pineapple--nature’s pick-me-up. Pineapple is filled with fructose, fiber and water, exactly what your body needs to get going. In addition, the bright yellow fruit contains manganese, thiamin and B6 which help in carbohydrate metabolism and serotonin production for a natural “high.”

    Get Your Grains On
    Whole grains are not only filled with energizing nutrients like B vitamins, sinking your teeth into a piece of whole wheat toast supports you with manganese, protein, iron, fiber and magnesium. Complex carbs found in whole wheat absorb slower than simple carbs, allowing your blood sugar to remain stable for several hours, providing a longer, gradual release of natural energy.

    Natural Brain-Boosting Recommendations 

    Go Fishing
    Two recent studies, one published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, and the other in the European Journal of Nutrition, both emphasize the importance of omega-3 fatty acids. The research suggests that consuming nuts, grains and fish containing omega-3s may potentially slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Foods like pumpkin seeds, soy beans and oily fish give you a dose of DHA and EPA, the essential fatty acids your body needs to enhance brain function and improve general wellbeing.

    Go Green
    According to the AddNeuroMed-Project, a study conducted by at the Karolina Institutet in Stockholm Sweden, vitamin E may have a positive effect on cognitive decline, especially for senior citizens. Feed your brain with leafy green vegetables like spinach, kale and radishes for a natural dose of vitamin E. If veggies are not your thing, consider adding greens to juices and smoothies, or invest in a quality vitamin E supplement.

    Say Tomato (or To-mah-to)
    When it comes to your brain, there’s nothing rotten about tomatoes! In fact, tomatoes contain a powerful antioxidant called lycopene that may help protect brain cells from the damage of free radicals.

    Bonus Booster

    In addition to a eating a diet filled with fish, veggies and fruit, you can do your body and your brain good with a treat every now and then. The occasional chocolate splurge, cup of coffee sprinkled with cinnamon or a bowl of berries topped with grated coconut will make both your brain and your palette happy!

  • Chocolate: A Tasty Way to Get Your Antioxidants

    ChocolateThink of superfoods and names like kale and quinoa come to mind. The good news is that studies have shown chocolate has some pretty impressive health benefits, too (we’ve always secretly believed that anyway). Here’s what some top medical institutions have to say about chocolate’s healthy benefits.

    Flavonols: The secret ingredient
    Cacao seeds are rich in flavonols, which protect the plant from environmental toxins. When we eat chocolate, our cells get the same antioxidant benefits. Flavonols have anti-inflammatory properties too, potentially lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and reducing blood clots, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

    If those weren’t reasons enough, chocolate can improve mood and help you think more clearly, especially in elderly people. And according to the University of Michigan Health System, the healthy fats in cocoa butter can help lower LDL (bad cholesterol).

    In order to reap these substantial benefits, it’s important to eat the right type of chocolate—i.e. with a cocoa content of 65 percent or higher. That’s because the higher the cocoa content, the more flavonols are preserved in processing. Since the extra calories can still be a concern, the Mayo Clinic recommends eating no more than three ounces a day to reap the best health benefits.

    Eat chocolate, save the world!
    Cacao trees need a unique tropical environment to grow and produce the best chocolate, and most chocolate is grown in developing countries in Central America and West Africa. But throughout the history of its production there have been problems with the way chocolate has been grown and produced—toxic pesticides were used, rainforests destroyed, unscrupulous middlemen took profits, and children and other laborers were compensated with poor or no wages.

    Thankfully, many of these issues have been remedied by Fair Trade and organic programs. Fair Trade certification ensures that farmers receive a fair price for their goods and requires producers to follow strict social and environmental standards. Chocolate that’s certified organic means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used in the growing or processing of the chocolate. An added benefit is that organic cacao is typically grown on small plots under existing forest canopy, preserving precious habitats for birds and other wildlife.

    Ones to try

    Divine Chocolate is the world's first farmer-owned, certified Fair Trade chocolate brand. The highly prized beans are grown on small-scale cocoa farms in Ghana. The taste is bold and full-bodied, with low bitterness for a smooth ultra-chocolaty taste.

    Alter Eco artisans create chocolate bars with both traditional and unique ingredients. Their almond, mint and toasted quinoa bars are made with organic and Fair Trade-certified chocolate from Ecuadorian beans, with a rich chocolaty flavor, no bitterness and light floral and fruity notes.

    Dagoba Organic adds flavorful herbs and spices to their chocolate bars—look for additions of lavender, ginger and chai to create a unique, zesty flavor. All of their beans come from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms in Peru, Tanzania and the Dominican Republic, using sustainable farming practices.

    Endangered Species donates 10 percent of net profits to environmental causes that support at-risk species and habitats, and the beans are grown on Fair Trade certified, small family-owned farms. With vitamin and mineral-packed ingredients like superfoods yacon, acai and golden berries, we think it’s safe to call this one a “health food!”

    Look for these and other great chocolate brands on the shelves at your local Pharmaca store.

  • Fresh Idea: Raw, Vegan Dinner & Dessert

    Eating healthyThere is no better time of year to experiment with new recipes than during the abundance of summer. It’s also a great time to try raw foods! Reach for sprouting veggies, herbs, edible flowers and vibrant greens for dishes that are colorful, nutritious and truly inspired.

    Why raw? Raw foods are an easy way to discover new flavors and textures and give our body optimal nutrition. Raw foods are rich in vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients, which can often be destroyed by cooking or long-term storage. Eating foods fresh and unaltered offers nutritional diversity and unique flavors that should be enjoyed.

    One highlight of eating raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds is that these foods are rich in enzymes that are critical for proper nutrient assimilation. Enzymes are powerful chemical structures that help us convert food into the pieces and shapes required for living tissues. Enzymes convert foods into the active constituents allowing them to pass though cell membranes and carry nutrients through the GI tract and bloodstream. Enzymes also break down immune components, metabolic wastes and release and store energy. In short, enzymes convert food to energy and energy into activity.

    Ready to try a raw dinner? Here are a few tasty recipes to get you excited.

    Asian Spring Noodles

    Kelp noodles stand in for rice noodles in this raw version of Pad Thai.

    Veggie mix

    •1 bunch baby bok choy, thinly sliced

    •1 package of preferred mushrooms

    • Handful of fresh peas &/or green beans (chopped if desired)


    • 2 tbsp raw almond butter

    •1/3 cup melted coconut oil

    •1 tbsp Nama Shoyu or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos

    •1 tsp ground coriander

    •1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded

    •2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

    •1/3 cup purified water

    •1 package kelp noodles

    • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

    Follow instructions on kelp noodle package to prepare.

    Whisk almond butter, coconut oil, Nama Shoyu/Bragg’s, jalapeno, lemon juice, water, salt and pepper (or use a blender) until you get a smooth, sauce-like consistency. Set aside.

    Drain and rinse the kelp noodles, cutting them into shorter pieces if desired.

    In a large bowl, combine the noodles with veggie mix. Cover with sauce over and mix thoroughly. Top with a tbsp of chopped cilantro or crushed peanuts.


    Peach "Ice Cream"

    A perfect treat for a hot day—especially in the midst of peach season! This one is adapted from here.

    • 1 cup cubed peaches (1/2 cup separated & used at end of churning)

    • 1/2 cup frozen banana, in chunks

    • 1 14 oz can coconut milk (regular, not lite)

    • 1/2 cup soaked cashews (or 1/3 cup raw, unsoaked)

    • 3 tbsp coconut sugar

    • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

    • 3 tbsp pure maple syrup

    • Couple pinches powdered stevia

    • 1/8 tsp sea salt

    • 1/4 tsp (rounded) guar gum

    • 1/8 tsp pure almond extract

    In a blender, combine all ingredients except the 1/2 cup peaches reserved for end.

    Puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of blender as needed (this may take a few minutes).

    Transfer the mixture to an ice-cream maker and churn until the mixture is of soft-serve consistency (follow the directions for the specific model of ice cream maker). Add reserved peaches and churn briefly so as not to disturb texture.

    Transfer to a container to store in the freezer or serve!

  • Regulating and Preventing Insulin Resistance

    We’ve seen how diet and lifestyle can lead to insulin resistance. The good news is that the right nutrition and behaviors can also help prevent and actually treat insulin resistance. Here are some of the best ways to maintain balanced blood sugar and decrease your chances for developing type 2 diabetes.

    Get active. Exercise causes the body to burn sugar for energy and increases insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to use insulin more efficiently. The result is lower blood sugar and decreased burden on insulin production by the pancreas.

    Eat smaller, balanced meals more frequently. A well-balanced meal includes protein at about 20 percent of total calories (examples include coldwater fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and low-fat or fermented dairy); complex carbs at 55-60 percent of total calories (try beans, yams, brown rice); and healthy fats below 25 percent of total calories (examples include avocados and raw nuts). Avoid simple sugars, saturated/hydrogenated fats and starchy vegetables. Include protein at each meal and shoot for at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast.

    Get your fiber. Fiber slows down digestion and absorption of carbs, prevents hyperglycemia, increases sensitivity to insulin, prevents overproduction of insulin and improves glucose uptake by the cells. Fiber is best when it is consumed through diet (e.g. legumes, oat bran, nuts, seeds, psyllium seed husks, pears, apples and most vegetables), but supplemental fiber can also be helpful; I recommend Renew Life’s Fiber-Tastic, Sprinkle Fiber or Organic Triple Fiber.

    Get to know the glycemic index. Foods with high scores will create spikes in blood sugar, so choose foods with lower scores. Low GI food examples include whole grains, beans and low-fat dairy. High GI examples are donuts, refined cereals, candy, white breads and soda.

    Get balanced sleep. Studies suggest that consistently getting less than 6 hours of sleep—or more than 9 hours—increases risk for insulin resistance.

    Try blood sugar-balancing herbs and supplements.

    Cinnamon can significantly improve insulin sensitivity and greatly improve glucose metabolism. Try New Chapter’s Cinnamon Force, Pharmaca brand or Natural Factors’ WellBetX Cinnulin PF.

    Chromium is a trace mineral that is crucial for insulin sensitivity, yet chromium deficiency is widespread in the US. Studies have shown that for chromium-deficient individuals, supplementing can produce significant increases in good blood sugar metabolism. Try New Chapter’s GTF Chromium Food Complex, Thorne Research’s Chromium Picolinate or Pure Encapsulations’ ChromeMate GTF.

    Helpful herbs such as bitter melon, gymnema and fenugreek (from Solaray) have shown blood sugar-lowering properties.

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about best practices for optimizing your blood sugar metabolism and decreasing your risk of insulin resistance.

  • Carbohydrates and Insulin Resistance

    So we already know how our bodies work to maintain blood sugar balance. But how is our blood sugar affected by what we eat?

    Carbohydrates—alongside fat and protein—are one of the major nutrients the body requires in large, balanced quantities. All consumed carbohydrates manifest as blood sugar, but how they affect blood sugar balance depends on whether they are simple or complex.

    Simple carbs are those that are made of one or two simple sugars, like fructose or glucose. Examples of simple carbs include white flour, white rice, pasta and sweeteners, which have been processed to remove everything—such as the bran and germ—except the quickly digestible carb. This process gives the grain a finer texture and prolongs shelf life, but removes key nutrients such as B vitamins, fiber and iron.

    Complex carbs, on the other hand, are chains of simple sugars bonded into larger structures; examples include whole grain breads, bran, beans, lentils and peas. They contain fiber and other nutrients along with the carbohydrate, and therefore take longer to digest, allowing for slower absorption of the glucose and consequently a slower rise in blood sugar. (Read more about a recent study showing how legumes can help stabilize blood sugar among diabetics.)

    The Glycemic Index (GI) is a useful tool that ranks how quickly different foods will increase blood sugar after ingestion. Foods are indexed based on their relativity to glucose (which rapidly raises blood sugar and has a GI score of 100, the highest). Yogurt and whole barley come in around 20; a baked potato ranks 98 on the scale. Whole grain foods are often the best option because they are typically lower on the glycemic index. Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, tend to have the highest GI scores. (See examples of GI scores of many common foods from Harvard Medical School.) High glucose-rich foods, when combined with fiber, protein or fat will lower the GI of that food.

    Because of the differences in GI scores, choosing carbohydrates wisely is vital for good blood sugar regulation and nutritional health. When we consume too many simple carbs (and don’t exercise enough), a detrimental cycle develops: blood sugar spikes from refined carbohydrate intake, insulin is released, glucose is stored in the cells, blood sugar drops, the body thinks you’re hungry, and you crave carbs…and the process starts all over again.

    The problem is that the cycle wears down over time and the body’s cells begin to lose sensitivity to insulin. The body compensates for this by pumping out more and more insulin in an effort to get the sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Lack of fiber, high sugar intake, too much iron (e.g. high red meat consumption), free radicals and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to insulin resistance.

    In addition, insulin resistance can cause excessive weight gain even without overeating because excess glucose in the blood is eventually stored as fat. There is also a relationship that exists between stress and elevated cortisol which drives insulin resistance and stores fat in the belly. Belly fat then perpetuates insulin resistance because it acts as a hormone disruptor (insulin in particular), and the unhealthy cycle continues.

    Insulin resistance is also associated with high blood pressure, high triglycerides, plaque buildup in the arteries and low levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Together, this is called Metabolic Syndrome, a pre-diabetic state. Insulin resistance is a serious condition that, left untreated, is a strong risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

    Next we’ll talk about simple strategies for regulating blood sugar and preventing insulin resistance.

  • Blood Sugar Balance--Why It's Vital to Good Health

    Most people understand that blood sugar balance is important for sustained energy, preventing diabetes and overall health. But blood sugar and insulin are part of a complex process in the body that is highly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices. Here are the basics of how our bodies regulate blood sugar.

    What is blood sugar?
    Sugar, or glucose, comes from the carbohydrates (i.e. sugars and starches) in our diet. Glucose serves as a primary source of energy for the body’s cells and brain, and our metabolism is constantly working to maintain a healthy balance between sugar in the blood and its uptake into fat, muscles and the liver, either for energy use or storage. The pancreas is key to this balance, as it produces the hormones necessary to move glucose in and out of cells.

    Blood sugar imbalances
    Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, happens when blood sugar falls below the normal range. When this drop happens—either as a result of food deprivation or exercise—the body responds by releasing glucagon, a hormone made by the pancreas that frees stored glucose in order to raise blood sugar to a normal level. A severe drop in blood sugar (or elevated stress) can even prompt the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which provide quicker breakdown of glucose for energy.

    On the other end of the spectrum are blood sugar spikes, which the body responds to by releasing insulin (also a hormone made by the pancreas). The function of insulin is to remove sugar from the blood and direct it to the cells of muscle, fat and liver to be stored or used as energy; proper insulin function, therefore, is key to regulating blood sugar. If insulin is insufficient or cells aren‘t receptive—a condition also known as insulin resistance—the glucose remains in the bloodstream and creates high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. Chronic high blood sugar is associated with obesity, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

    Next we’ll talk about how excessive intake of refined carbohydrates can cause an unhealthy cycle of blood sugar imbalances, and, ultimately, insulin resistance.

  • Race Day: 70.3 miles

    By Allen Gardner

    Allen is in his second year as a professional triathlete and trains out of Boulder, Colo. Pharmaca sponsors Allen, 26, who competes in 12-14 triathlons around the country each year.  

    Race Day feels just like a test in school. You study and prepare, and in that moment you are asked to perform at your highest level of academic ability. All the studying in the past is what it is—you know what you know and it’s time to achieve. I go about racing in the same manner. All of my countless hours of training are tested in one day, one moment.

    So here’s what happens on race day—from thoughts to food to race prep.

    4:30am. Race time is at 6:30am, so that means waking up early. My thoughts turn to breakfast. The fuel I get from my breakfast is not what will be fueling me for the race—it’s more of a comfort food to relax the mind and body. The food I ate the days and night before is what will dictate how well I do from a fuel standpoint.


    2 packets of brown sugar oatmeal
    2 slices of toast
    1 egg
    Large glass of milk (preferably chocolate)

    5-5:15am. Arrive at race.

    I plan to arrive around an hour and thirty minutes ahead of race time. This allows me to be relaxed when going through my transition bag, setting up transition, using the bathroom and mentally preparing myself. I do a few mental dry runs while looking at my transition to ensure everything is in the right place.

    5:45am. Begin warm up. What goes into my warm up is dependent on what the conditions and officials allow us to do, so I have a set of pre-race warm ups for all circumstances. Ideally I like to swim intervals before the race, especially the longer distance races.

    At some point during this 45-minute time frame I stop and do a mental check. I envision what I’d like to achieve during each stage of the race. I try to envision things that could go wrong and what the plan would be if they do. I make sure that my goals are set way before I begin the race, because once I’m at the starting line, everything is left behind.

    6:30am. Race begins. Each race has its own variables, so I have to be prepared to race each race on its own, to be able to adjust and go with the flow in order to achieve my goals. My race strategy at this point is simple: Swim front pack, hit the bike hard and hang on the run.

    Food is my biggest concern on the bike. Listed below is my typical intake while riding.

    • 3 gel flasks (approx. 200 calories each)
    • 1 energy bar (300 calories)
    • 1 electrolyte drink
    • 1 bottle of water
    • 2 salt tablets
    • Water at aid stations when available

    If nutrition is done properly while I’m on my bike, I shouldn’t need too much else on my run. That being said, I’ll still need a gel flask and any available water at aid stations during the run.

    Of course, my food/hydration choices can be affected by altitude, humidity, temperature and other weather conditions.  But if everything is done properly, my race should be the performance that I had planned to achieve.

    After the race. Recovery is just as important as the pre-race. Ideally I take a nap afterwards, or just relax. Later on in the evening I’ll go on a bike ride for an hour or so to open the legs up. The post-race ride keeps my legs from tightening up or getting stiff.

    Dinner. I eat whatever I want—typically burgers, fries and ice cream! And as always, I don’t forget to enjoy and celebrate my achievement.

    Photo of Allen Gardner by Sean Hagwell

  • To soy or not to soy?

    The ubiquitous soybean has been at the center of many health discussions of late. We find it everywhere, and there’s still controversy about whether or not it’s good for us. Here’s more background to help you make a decision about soy’s place in your diet.

    The soybean, a legume, is native to East Asia, and writings about the soy crop date back 5,000 years to an emperor in China. In its natural form, soy contains phytochemicals (known as anti-nutrients) that protect the plant from harm in the environment—like UV radiation, microbes and foraging animals—so that it can reproduce itself.

    These anti-nutrients, which include phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and goitrogens make soy in its natural form a poor choice for human consumption. But about 3,000 years ago it was discovered that when you introduce mold to the bean, the anti-nutrients are destroyed and the beneficial nutrients become available—also known as the process of fermentation. Forms of fermented soy such as miso, tempeh, natto and soy sauce also contain the health benefits of naturally occurring probiotics.

    What does soy have to offer?
    One of the reasons that soy is so prevalent is that soy crops produce more protein per acre than any other crop. Currently, the US is not only a top soy crop producer but also the top consumer of soy products because of its high protein content and its multitude of uses such as vegetable soybean oil, soy flour, animal feed and textured vegetable protein (TVP), which is used in a variety of dairy and meat substitutes.

    Here are the main nutrients we get from soy:

    Protein. Soy is a source of complete protein—it contains all of the essential amino acids that the body cannot synthesize on its own. Soy is further considered a good source of protein in that it contains less saturated fat than animal sources, making it a heart-healthy choice.

    Omega-3s. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a fatty acid, found in soy and other plants, that converts to the omega-3-fatty acids EPA and DHA that are needed for normal growth, heart disease prevention, inflammation and chronic disease prevention.

    Isoflavones (e.g. diadzein and genistein) are phytonutrients similar to estrogen (they’re also referred to as phytoestrogens because of their estrogen-like actions on the body). Isoflavones are known to help menopausal women with symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Isoflavones have also been shown to help lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides.

    Isoflavones have mixed reviews by medical professionals, however. While they may help to prevent estrogen-driven cancers because they block receptor sites for "bad estrogens" to bind to, their estrogen-like actions may also be harmful to those with a history of breast cancer.

    Reasons to reconsider soy

    Unfermented soy products, such as tofu, edamame and TVP, have been linked to some serious health conditions, including digestive and immune distress, allergies, ADD, PMS, reproductive issues, malnutrition and possibly cancer. Because soy is commonly used as the base for infant formula in place of dairy, infants are at risk for experiencing the anti-nutritive effects of soy. Vegetarians with a soy-based diet are also at greater risk.

    Here’s more about the anti-nutrients in unfermented soy and why they can be a health risk.

    Phytic acid is well known to bind necessary minerals such as zinc, copper, iron, magnesium and calcium, making them unusable in the body. We need all of these nutrients for proper growth, development, sustainability and healing.

    Enzyme inhibitors interfere with the body’s natural ability to release enzymes to properly break down, absorb and assimilate the carbohydrates and protein in soy. Without the proper digestive enzymes, bacteria in the intestine can create digestive distress (gas, bloating, pain, discomfort). Because of this enzyme-inhibiting activity, soy is now a common food allergen or intolerance.

    Goitrogens are phytochemicals that block the production of thyroid hormone. Without proper thyroid function, all systems slow down their ability to function at normal speed. Genistein, one of the goitrogens, is an isoflavone thought to have positive health benefits for menopausal women but is also knows to slow down overall cell energy and division. While this has made it appealing as an agent to slow down cancer growth, it can also slow normal cell growth.

    Another concern about soy is the fact that nearly all of the US’s commercial soy crops are now genetically modified (GM). This means that the soy DNA has been manipulated for faster growth, resistance to pests or diseases, production of extra nutrients, etc. Some experts theorize that genetically modified food is more likely to create food sensitivities, as is seen with soy.

    It’s clear that more research needs to be done on the risks vs. benefits of eating soy. In the meantime I would recommend sticking with fermented soy, such as tempeh, miso and soy sauce. Further, choose non-genetically modified, organic soy products whenever possible. And make sure you have plenty of variety in your diet, as this can help protect you from developing food sensitivities and allergies. Opt for almond, rice or coconut milk instead of soy milk, or get protein from nuts, brown rice and beans and other legumes such as lentils and peas. (Or explore Pharmaca's selection of soy-free protein powders.)

    If you experience digestive distress when eating soy you may want to avoid it altogether—or consider adding digestive enzymes to a meal that contains soy. And play on the safe side if you have thyroid problems, as unfermented soy can exacerbate these issues. If you’re concerned about whether soy is right for you, consult a qualified health practitioner.

    Kate Brainard attended Bastyr University’s doctorate program in Naturopathic Medicine. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: viviandnguyen_

  • Great Reasons to Love Garlic

    Garlic, also known as Allium sativum, has been around for centuries. Legend says it was found in Egyptian pyramids and ancient Greek temples as an offering to the Gods. And Hippocrates, considered the father of Western medicine, was said to have used garlic to treat cancerous tumors, pneumonia, digestive disorders, as a diuretic and for infections.

    Both cherished and sought for its healing powers, garlic is still being promoted as a health food with numerous therapeutic benefits. Raw, crushed garlic is both antibacterial and antiviral due to the presence of allicin, which has been shown to kill more than 20 types of bacteria.

    Garlic is also known to have cardiovascular benefits because it helps lower blood triglycerides and total cholesterol. The compound diallyl disulphide-oxide, found in heated or cooked garlic, has also been shown to lower serum cholesterol by preventing clotting in the arteries.

    Garlic’s antioxidant vitamins and sulfur-containing compounds help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation, which can stimulate the body to fight carcinogens and may even aid in preventing certain types of cancer, such as stomach cancer. Garlic's sulfur compounds have also been shown to regulate blood sugar metabolism, detoxify the liver and stimulate blood circulation. (Explore Pharmaca's garlic supplements now!)

    Cooking with garlic
    Let’s start with the basics:

    • Store in a cool, dark place (though not a refrigerator); garlic can be kept for several weeks.
    • Cooking garlic decreases the strength of its flavor, making it much milder than raw garlic. For a mild flavor, add whole cloves to food while it cooks or marinates, and then remove before serving (although I personally can’t imagine removing the garlic once is has become soft, creamy and delicious!). When sautéing garlic, be careful not to cook it too long at a high temperature, as it will brown very quickly and become bitter and unusable.  
    • The more finely garlic is chopped, the stronger its flavor will be.
    • Remove garlic odor from your hands by rubbing them with salt or lemon juice and then washing them with soap.
    • Get rid of garlic breath by chewing on a bit of fresh parsley (or better yet, make sure everyone near you has eaten their fair share of garlic, too!)

    Simple ways to add garlic into your diet:

    • Flavor soups, stews and casseroles
    • Roast with meats, fish, poultry and vegetables
    • Chop finely and add raw to salad dressings
    • Bake whole heads until softened and spread on bread

    Quick and Easy Hummus Recipe


    • 1 16 oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans
    • 1/4 cup liquid from can of chickpeas
    • Juice from 1 or 2 lemons*
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons tahini paste (sesame seed paste)
    • 1-2 cloves raw garlic, crushed*
    • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil


    Drain chickpeas, reserving the liquid and a few whole chickpeas for garnish. Combine remaining ingredients in blender or food processor. Blend for 2 minutes on low and then add the reserved liquid until thoroughly mixed and smooth.

    Place in serving bowl, and create a shallow well in the center of the hummus.

    Add a small amount (1-2 tablespoons) of olive oil in the well and garnish with parsley and the reserved whole chick peas.

    Hummus can be served immediately or covered and refrigerated. Hummus can be used for dipping with fresh or toasted pita, sliced vegetables or as a spread for sandwiches or wraps.

    *The amount of garlic and lemon juice can be adjusted according to your personal taste. If you are new to using raw garlic, you may want to start with just one clove, as the flavor can become stronger as the hummus sits.


    Add a dash of red chili pepper or cayenne pepper for a spicier hummus
    Top with roasted red bell peppers or finely chopped green olives
    Add cooked, chopped spinach for added iron

    Sharon Wegner is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Consultant and member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sharon teaches her clients how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices by creating simple and sustainable changes. She shares her passion for cooking with her clients by teaching them how to make fresh and delicious REAL food. For more healthy recipes and to find out more about her work visit her at Essentials for Healthy Living blog.

    Creative Commons License photo credit: jasleen_kaur

  • Coconut: Packed with Healthy Benefits

    What is this nut that’s so hard to crack? Coconut is cropping up everywhere these days—coconut water, coconut flour, shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut cream. When I was a young girl we’d shake them to check for water inside (an indication of a good coconut, according to my mom). The next task was actually getting the hairy orb open so we could drink the water and carefully pry the meat out.

    I’ve always thought of coconuts as a special treat, but in the islands of the South Pacific, coconuts have long been a staple food item. While doing research on the benefits of this mysterious “nut,” I found that the people of Polynesia have been consuming coconuts for centuries, and their population is amazingly healthy—free of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

    Now it’s true that coconut contains saturated fat, and it’s fair to say that most people are concerned about consuming too much saturated fat for fear of increasing their cholesterol and triglyceride (fats) numbers, along with the potential for heart disease.

    But coconut doesn’t contain just any saturated fat—it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and medium-chain lauric, capric and caprylic fatty acids, which are associated with many health benefits. In fact, medium-chain fatty acids (MFCAs) have long been used in hospitals to treat critically ill patients who have malabsorption and digestive problems, as well as in premature infants (MCFAs provide many of the same nutrients as human breast milk). In fact, coconut water is still a primary ingredient in infant formulas.

    Let’s look at some of the other benefits of coconut.

    Metabolism: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that medium-chain fatty acids were three times more effective at raising metabolism than long-chain fatty acids. This is for two reasons: First, MCFAs do not circulate into the bloodstream. Instead, they are sent directly to the liver, where they are immediately converted into energy. Second, they don’t raise blood sugar. And it has been reported that coconut oil can actually help to control sugar cravings.

    Candida: The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have been shown to destroy Candida, a condition of yeast overgrowth in the body that triggers symptoms of weight gain, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue. Additionally, coconut oil slows the digestion of food, which helps you feel more satiated after a meal. The added bonus is that coconut oil has no carbohydrates or sugar—another reason coconut oil can help with weight loss and is a good alternative for diabetics.

    Digestion: The saturated fats present in coconut oil have anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and help in dealing with bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that can cause digestive problems. MCFA molecules are smaller, and require less energy and fewer enzymes to break down for digestion, which reduces strain on the pancreas and digestive system. Coconut oil also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which can be beneficial for people who suffer from gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes.

    Cholesterol: Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid, which has been shown to help increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) and does not lead to increased levels of LDL (unhealthy cholesterol). As such, the saturated fats found in coconut oil are clearly not the same as those found in animal fat—the difference is in the length of the fatty acids.

    5 easy ways to make coconut part of your healthy lifestyle

    If you’re thinking about incorporating some of this “healthy” saturated fat into your lifestyle, here are some ideas to make it quick and easy.

    Replace other cooking oils with coconut oil. I would start out by using half of the amount that you would normally use. If you don’t care for the flavor or smell of coconut, look for oil that says it’s odorless and tasteless. It’s great for cooking vegetables, eggs, meats and fish—even baking.

    Add a tablespoon to hot cereal
    along with some raw walnuts or almonds, a drizzle of agave nectar and some fresh berries for a heart-healthy breakfast.

    Coconut oil is a fantastic moisturizer and hair conditioner. Keep a jar of coconut oil in the bathroom and use it as a moisturizer after a warm bath or shower. It’s also great on dry heels and elbows. If you suffer from dandruff, apply a small amount to your scalp, massage it in and leave on for about 15 minutes (or even overnight), then wash your hair as you normally would.

    Try using coconut in smoothies, soups, dressings, cakes, cookies, sauces, cereals or pancakes. Coconut products are relatively easy to find—look for coconut water or milk, coconut flour, shredded or flaked coconut, coconut cream or butter, and coconut sugar.

    Use it as a deodorant. OK, you might think this one is a stretch, but consider the fact that coconut oil is anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. If you’ve been searching for a healthy alternative to conventional deodorant, give coconut oil a try. I’ve been applying odorless coconut oil as a deodorant for about four months and so far, knock on wood, no complaints from my co-workers at Pharmaca.

    Pharmaca carries several types of coconut oil from Jarrow Formulas and Nature’s Way, as well as a variety of coconut waters, both plain and flavored.

    Sharon Wegner is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Consultant and member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sharon teaches her clients how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices by creating simple and sustainable changes. She shares her passion for cooking with her clients by teaching them how to make fresh and delicious REAL food. You can find out more about her work at her Essentials for Healthy Living blog.

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