Living Lite

Nutritional Differences Between Organic & Conventional Foods?

February 21, 2016

I'm regularly asked, "Is organically grown food better than conventionally grown?" Of course, intuitively, one would believe yes, there must be a difference. But since I always base my recommendations on science, I've been in a bit of a conundrum over answering this question, because there have been so few studies done.

Yes. It's been scientifically verified that organically grown foods improve the environment in many ways. They also contain a lower level of pesticides. But are there nutritional differences? Some studies say yes, some say no. 

One recent study of animal meats published in the British Journal of Nutrition found no significant difference in the meats' nutrients, but did find significant differences in the type of fat in the animal meat. Other studies of farm raised fish get similar results. The grass-grazing cows and wild fish contain more omega-3-fatty acids, a healthy fat associated with reduced inflammation and superior health, and less of the unhealthy fats which are correlated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease.

How about fruits and vegetables? I'd like to think there are nutritional differences, but study results are mixed, that is, of the very few studies conducted. One interesting factor which may contribute to positive findings is that plants without pesticides have to work harder to synthesize phytochemicals to protect themselves against the elements. These phytochemicals are good for human health, too.

A plant exposed to more sun versus less sun will produce more phytochemicals, for instance, a pigment, such as lycopene (red), beta-carotene (orange), and anthocyanin to protect itself. Apparently, plants under more stressful conditions, such as exposure to bugs, disease, heat, cold, and sun, protect themselves with phytochemicals ("Phyto" is plant in Greek). Some plants develop a distinctive, strong smell, like plants in the onion family which produce allinase, or in the broccoli family which produce sulphorphane, both potent nutrients which not only protect the plants' health but our health as well.

But the bottom line is: What you eat profoundly affects not only your health, but the environment, too. This is important news because when it comes to environmental issues and halting global warming, many of us feel overwhelmed and helpless. So it’s amazing that something as simple as making better food choices can reduce global warming by lowering greenhouse gases, saving land, and conserving diminishing water and energy supplies.

Your protein choice will make the most significant difference on the environment (and your health). Producing meat requires six to seventeen times more land than growing vegetable protein, 26 times more water. And producing vegetables is up to 50 times more energy efficient than meat production, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Eating vegetable protein will also save your health. Decades of research has found that plants contain compounds (phytochemicals) with potent powers of healing. People who eat a plant-based diet are leaner, have less cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

But when eating more fruits and vegetables, it’s important to consider how and where they’re grown. Environmental resource conservation is reduced if food is transported long distances and grown in large industrial farms which specialize in only one or a few foods. Locally, organically produced food saves water, energy and encourages a region’s unique varieties of fruits and vegetables. Heirloom varieties, for example, have been passed down through generations, have natural resistance to pests, disease and are better able to tolerate local conditions without too much exra energy, pesticides or water.

How you can protect the environment through your food choices:

* Buy seasonally and locally at farm stands and farmers’ markets,
* Eat a plant-based diet,
* Reduce meat consumption,
* Use heirloom varieties, whenever possible,
* Buy organic whenever possible.


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Can Drinking Grape Juice Reduce Stress?

February 15, 2016

Can anything relieve stress in today's high stress world? This is an important question to answer as studies show high stress can reduce your ability to think straight and increase your blood pressure; conditions which could be dangerous in certain complex, every-day tasks, such as driving. A University of Leeds study of one of the most harried population groups - working moms - found just 12 ounces of concord grape juice daily improved their ability to think by increasing their spatial memory in a driving performance test. And the effect lasted over time.

Concord grapes are high in a class of phytochemicals (beneficial plant chemicals) called polyphenols, antioxidants which are concentrated in many fruits, some vegetables and in wine, tea and cocoa. They protect against heart disease by reducing blood clot formation. They also prevent cellular and organ damage caused by oxygen radicals, molecules which are believed to be a primary cause of many diseases including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Certain polyphenols, such as anthocyanins, which give grapes and blueberries their purple pigment, have been found to reverse both physical and mental deficits in aging rats. Preliminary studies in humans, including this study, are showing similar promising results.

Learn more about the health benefits of concord grapes, concord grape juice and wine...


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Kale and Spinach Gratin with Garlic, Rosemary, and Thyme

February 1, 2016

Spinach and Kale Gratin with Garlic, Rosemary, and Thyme
(excerpted from Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes)

Kale is everywhere (virtually alone) at the Farmer's Market. It's not everyone's favorite vegetable, though - let's face it - So I'm constantly searching for great kale recipes. What to do with Kale...

Any greens will do in this versatile recipe.

 Serves 6

1 pound Kale, cleaned and stems removed
2 pounds Spinach, cleaned and stems removed
1 Tablespoon Olive or Canola Oil
1 Large Garlic Clove, minced
2 teaspoons fresh Rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp dry)
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme leaves, chopped (or ½ tsp dry)
1 recipe Olive Oil Bechamel Sauce (see recipe)
Salt and Freshly Ground Pepper to taste
¼ Cup Parmesan or Gruyere Cheese, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Wash the Kale and Spinach and remove the tough stems. Chop roughly. Heat the oil in a large iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook until it just begins to color. Add the greens, the rosemary, and thyme to the pan, and let cook a couple of more minutes while stirring until the greens are wilted.

Stir the Bechamel sauce into the greens. Add salt and pepper. Pour into an oiled 2-quart soufflé or heat resistant glass dish and sprinkle the cheese on top. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the top is just beginning to brown. 

Olive Oil Bechamel Sauce

This is a classic French white sauce, but using healthy olive oil instead of butter.

 Makes 2.5 cups

3 Cups 1% Milk
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Tablespoons Flour
Salt and Ground Pepper to taste
Pinch of grated nutmeg (optional)

Simmer the milk in a saucepan on medium-low heat. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add a bit of flour, and when it sizzles, add the rest. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk over medium heat. Do not brown. Whisk in the hot milk. Return the mixture to the heat, stirring until the sauce thickens. Reduce to low making sure it does not burn. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.

Deep Green Leafy Vegetables have the highest antioxidant content of all vegetables. High in fiber, they are rich in minerals, B-vitamins, beta-carotene, and lutein, a compound which may help reduce the risk of age-related macular degeneration (the leading cause of preventable blindness), or other eye diseases such as cataracts. Absorption of carotenoids, such as lutein, in your body is increased by cooking and by the presence of fat (so cook in a little healthy olive or canola oil!).


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