Six Summer Quenchers that Satisfy Your Body

Summer sizzle is on and blazing! The temperature has been scorching. My son and I were outside tooling around and within five minutes, FIVE minutes y’all, sweat was pouring down my legs! I kid you not. Lucky thing I was wearing black shorts—always bet on black 😉.

The average global temperature is increasing and it is estimated to go up another 1.8 to 4.0 degrees Celsius by 2100 depending on efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Then throw in modern urban development fixtures that can add more degrees to local temperatures such as heat absorption in road tar-seals and concrete buildings. Increasing local temperatures means higher human exposure to heat, which may create unhealthy and potentially dangerous situations for people who don’t have air conditioning or other cooling methods.

The human body maintains a core temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. During hot weather, your body typically cools itself off through sweating or contact with cooler air and air movement. But if these methods are inefficient, that heat generation needs to be reduced. If physical activity is high in a hot environment with an increased core body temperature above 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), then diminished physical capacity and mental task ability may occur, resulting in heat exhaustion. Some symptoms of heat exhaustion may include headache, dizziness, fatigue, malaise, and nausea, which can be resolved by proper hydration and cooling. But serious heat stroke and possibly death can happen if body temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius. This is particularly important for those who work outside, children, older adults, and those who are chronically ill during these extreme temperatures. So please, please stay hydrated and dress comfortably and, if you can, check in a loved one who needs it during these hot patches.

The key to managing these disrespectful weather conditions is to stay cool and hydrated. So I stock up on my usual high-water content foods like pineapple (also anti-inflammatory) and cucumber. Here are some other surefire ways to beat the heat:

Watermelon

What list for cooling foods wouldn’t be complete without watermelon? Watermelon is synonymous with summer. And I’m saying this as a person who used to abhor watermelon at cookouts. But as you get older, you get wiser and all that. Watermelon is a great hydrator with a moisture content of 93 percent. The fruit is also rich in lycopene, the red antioxidant that gives the fruit its pigment and protects against cancer. It has been reported that the lycopene concentration of fresh watermelon is 40 percent higher than raw tomato. #watermelonwins Some evidence indicates that lycopene is effective against certain cancers including breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. What’s more, lycopene works with vitamin E to prevent low-density lipoprotein, the bad cholesterol that results in heart disease. The fruit is also a good source of chromium,  a nutrient that benefits patients with diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels. Watermelon has beta-carotene and vitamin C, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, potassium, and magnesium. It’s summer so watermelon sippers are definitely on hand.

 

Zucchini

I have a love/hate relationship with zucchini, depending on the type of dish that I make with it. Why am I telling you this before I try to encourage you to eat it? Because you will either love it or hate it, depending on the type of dish you make. What I’ve found is that zucchini generally work better when it’s thinly sliced, julienned, or spiralized. Otherwise, you are asking for a sea of mushy veggies. And Mama don’t like mush. This is just my opinion, I repeat my opinion, go for what you know. Zucchinis have a water content of 95 percent and it contains the antioxidants vitamin C and eye-boosting lutein that protects against age-related macular degeneration. The vegetable also has beta-carotene, folate, potassium, magnesium, and phosphorus. Some evidence suggests that zucchini consumption may be beneficial in preventing conditions such as colon cancer and heart disease. Two years ago, we got a spiralizer and it totally changed my relationship with zucchini. Zoodles (zucchini noodles) is one of the best dishes to have on a hot summer night.

 

 

Coconut water

I grew up hearing the lyrics to Harry Belafonte’s song, “Coconut Woman” before I could even speak. Get you coconut water, Man, it’s good for your daughter. When I was about nine years old, I went to Jamaica for the first time to visit my family. I watched with trepidation and excitement as men would climb coconut trees and get green coconuts that looked odd compared to the brown hairy bowling-ball ones that were in America. They would chop off the top with a machete, scoop out a little of the coconut meat, then stick a straw in it (if you were a newbie like me) or lift that shell to right to your lips to drink the sweet juice. I said it once and I will say it again: yardies are hardcore! At the time, I thought it was the craziest thing ever but now I realize how lucky I was to experience coconut water straight from the source itself. Coconut water has protein, sugars, vitamin C, B vitamins, potassium, and iron. This water also has antioxidant and anticarcinogenic properties. But what makes coconut water really special is that electrolytes like potassium and sodium make it a great hydrator for restoring the losses of electrolytes from the body, particularly from areas such as the skin and urinary pathways. According to a 2000 study published in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, coconut water was effective as a short-term intravenous hydration fluid for one critically ill patient. Don’t get any ideas because this was due to hospital shortage in a remote area of the world. But when it comes to mild dehydration, you can’t go wrong with coconut water when it comes to replenishing those fluids in your body.

 

 

Oranges

I go through these food phases where I will eat a certain kind of food for one of my meals pretty much five days a week. And that was oranges. My weekday breakfast used to be soy yogurt with about half an orange. It was a perfect light breakfast that kept me satisfied until midday. I’ve moved on from that humble breakfast but I still love oranges. What is wonderful about oranges is that they are usually so accessible. I’m a New Yorker so I’ve gotten oranges from street vendors, bodegas, supermarkets—you name it. Oranges are also a high-water fruit with a water content of 85.7 percent. We all know that oranges are chock full of vitamin C and dietary fiber. In addition, the fruit contains thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, and vitamin E, as well as minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and phosphorus. Oranges are loaded with antioxidant flavonoids and carotenoids that have anti-inflammatory, antimutagenic, and anticarcinogenic properties. Flavonoids prevent the growth of tumors such as colon, oral, breast, and lung cancer cells. Furthermore, these compounds protect against oxidative stress that may lead to cardiovascular disease. Red or blood oranges contain other antioxidant compounds such as anthocyanins that are not present in other varieties of oranges. I love the addition of oranges to a nice lunch or dinner salad.

 

 

Celery

Sometimes at 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon, I need a little snack to tide me over until dinner and I have absolutely no freaking clue what to eat. Celery has a crisp, sharp taste that works so well with dips like almond butter and hummus. Chop up a few sticks of this veggie with something to dip with and mission accomplished! Celery is a perfect hot-weather hydrator because it has a water content of 95 percent. This vegetable is rich in vitamin C, folic acid, beta-carotene, potassium, magnesium, silica, chlorophyll, and fiber. Some studies indicate that celery has shown antifungal activity against certain types of bacteria. What’s more, it has been reported that celery is a mild diuretic that may benefit arthritis and gout patients in eliminating uric acid and that the vegetable may have anti-inflammatory potential to reduce joint swelling and pain. I like to add a little celery to my chickpea salad sandwich for crunch and coolness.

 

 

Star fruit (Carambola)

I wasn’t really familiar with star fruit until my son pointed it out at the supermarket and asked if he could try it. I knew enough about it to know that it tastes similar to apple, so why not give it a try? And yes, the fruit does taste like apple with a slight sour undertone. Star fruits are a wonderful refresher because they have an average moisture content of 90 percent. The fruit has nutrients such as vitamin C, beta-carotene, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, proteins, and dietary fibers. The leaves and pulp are also a good source of antioxidants flavonoids like quercetin and apigenin that have anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic properties. Some research indicates that star fruit may be effective in reducing blood glucose levels and reducing serum triglyceride and total cholesterol levels that may lead to cardiovascular disease. What’s more, the fruit has shown selective activity against brain tumor and liver carcinoma cells. Please note that there have been some reports of toxicity after star fruit consumption for some patients with kidney disease. I like to mix star fruit in my beverages, salads, or just have it plain for a midday snack. No fuss, no muss.

 

 

These are a few of the foods that I like to cool off with. What works for you?

Six Soothers for Sore Gums and Strengthening Teeth

Summertime means cool, refreshing treats like ice cream sundaes piled high with cherries and bananas or sorbet slushies that are frothy and spilling off the sides of your glass. Heaven! But too much of that sugary goodness can do some damage to your teeth and gums. My husband Brian has had a lot of problems with his teeth this year. Let’s just say the words “root canal” were mentioned at one point. Blessedly, he didn’t have to go that route. Growing up, I remember my mother would frequently visit the dentist because of sore gums. Red, bleeding, or inflamed gums is usually a telltale sign of gingivitis and periodontitis, which can be associated with other conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poor wound healing. Gingivitis is caused by plaque forming on the teeth that then irritates the gums. The longer the plaque sits, the more irritated the gums become. The gums can start bleeding even with gentle brushing. Periodontitis occurs when the untreated gingivitis eventually loosens the tooth from the gums and results in tooth loss. Treatment of periodontitis includes good oral hygiene and professional dental care. I repeat, professional dental care. So if you are suffering from these conditions or other oral care issues, don’t be a hero and sit there with your teeth jacked up–seek out a physician pronto.

According to the World Health Organization, oral disease are the fourth most expensive disease to treat. Risk factors to oral diseases include: smoking, alcohol, behaviors that cause injuries, stress, diet, and dirt (hygiene). Natural anti-inflammatories like curcumin (turmeric) and antimicrobials like tea tree oil can help in treating some periodontal issues. But prevention is key. Start by limiting your consumption of sugars and boosting your intake of fruits and veggies. Okay preach session over.

Other foods I like to add to my arsenal to keep tooth decay at bay are:

Watercress

Watercress is kind of new to my menu. I saw it at the market and decided what the hell, let’s do it. And I’m glad I did. Watercress has a sharp undertone that could easily replace boring lettuce in any sandwich or bring a peppery note to soups and pasta. This Brassicaceae veggie is usually found in cool, running water along the banks of rivers, ditches, and streams (so wash it well because it can have a little dirt y’all). Like its close relatives broccoli and cauliflower, watercress is high in similar nutrients such as vitamins C, E, and K, folic acid, calcium, iron, and iodine. It is also rich in the carotenoids lutein and beta-carotene. Most importantly, watercress is full of isothiocyanates, one of the products of glucosinolates, plant compounds that are known for their cancer-fighting properties. Isothiocyanates activate detoxification enzymes and suppress cancer-promoting enzymes in the body. Some studies have shown that isothiocyanates have reduced the risk of lung cancer and have prevented tumors in other parts of the body such as the liver, pancreas, colon, bladder, and mammary gland (breast). What’s more, it has been reported that watercress supplementation reduced DNA damage that may lead to elevated cancer risk and increased antioxidant concentration of lutein and beta-carotene in adults. In addition, some animal studies suggest that watercress extract may promote the healing of mouth lesions. I like to toss watercress on my pasta for an extra kick of flavor.

Tulsi

By now, you guys have guessed that Mama likes her tea 😉. So I am always looking for any excuse whatsoever to try a new herbal blend. But tulsi is special guys. This adaptogen herb is an antioxidant that contains vitamin A and C, calcium, zinc, and iron. Some animal studies indicate that tulsi may lower blood sugar levels, may promote the healing of keloid and hypertropic scars, and has cardioprotective and gastroprotective effects. Please note that tulsi has also shown antifertility effects as well, so if you have interests in those areas, do abstain. And some evidence suggests that tulsi may exhibit antimicrobial activity against certain types of periodontal bacteria that may cause dental caries. Every now and then, I like to start my morning off with a cup of tulsi to help ease me right into the rigors of the day.

 

Sage

Sage is usually one of my favorite winter spices. I like to add it to my stuffing and really creamy soups like butternut squash or pumpkin. Sage is a strong antioxidant herb that is similar in composition to rosemary because it contains phenolic compounds like rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid. But sage drop kicks rosemary in the antioxidant department because it has additional flavonoids and phenolic acids like sagecoumarin that show moderate antioxidant activity. Some studies have shown that sage extract has anti-inflammatory effects that promote the healing of gingivitis.

 

Strawberries

Who doesn’t love strawberries? Strawberries are probably the only berry I remember having as a child because every member of my family loved it compared to other types of berries. I think that strawberry was my favorite flavor too but that might be because I wasn’t used to other flavors. Yep, poor deprived me but I will save that for another time 😊. Anywho, strawberries are a mega star when it comes to vitamin C content and it is also a good source of vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, A, and E. It contains minerals such as potassium, iodine, magnesium, copper, iron, and phosphorus. And while vitamin C deficiency doesn’t cause oral conditions like periodontitis, lack of this nutrient can negatively affect collagen synthesis and wound healing needed to avoid such conditions. For example, regeneration of collagen allows the tooth to remain attached to the gums. So pile on those strawberries! I like to have my berries as the main feature of my breakfast bowl.

 

Green tea

I cannot describe in words my love of green tea. It is my go-to boo, my number one stunner, just everything. #mamalovestea Do not mess with me and my green tea. I have written about the benefits of green tea here. Here’s a short recap: green tea is rich in antioxidants such as catechins, which are polyphenols that have anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimutagenic, and antidiabetic properties. Green tea contains vitamins B, C, and E and minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and selenium. Several studies have shown that green tea is effective in inhibiting the growth of certain periodontal bacteria and treating factors associated with periodontitis such as bleeding and tooth attachment loss. Y’all know that anytime is a green tea time with me, don’t need a reason at all!

 

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera is one of the best healing plants around. As a teenager, I remember snipping off part of the aloe vera leaf, then cutting it open and placing it on my red, itchy rash. I still use aloe vera gel on my acne breakouts, dark spots, and even occasionally on my hair. It’s not the miracle plant for nothing, folks. Aloe vera has vitamins A, C, E, B vitamins like folic acid, and choline. It also has minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and zinc. What makes aloe vera unique is that it contains 75 active constituents including glycoproteins, polysaccharides, and anthraquinones that, either acting alone or synergistically, may have anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and wound-healing effects (when applied topically). Aloe sap and aloe gel are sometimes confused. The gel is the mucilage found within the center of the leaf. The gel contains no anthraquinones, which are responsible for the laxative effect of the plant. Aloe vera’s wound-healing and anti-inflammatory properties have been widely reported and extensively studied. There is some evidence that indicates that aloe vera may be effective as a treatment for oral diseases such as gingivitis and oral lichen planus. But results are mixed. Some studies suggest a delay of wound healing, while others show that it promotes wound healing. WTF?! Here’s why: aloe vera gel varies based on the type of aloe and other factors such as climate, region, and processing method. So you won’t know unless you try it for yourself and see if it works. I like this brand when I can’t get the actual leaf.

That’s my list for foods that amp up strong gums and teeth. What works for you?

Four Staples to Improve Eye Health

Here’s a common freelancer and full-timer scenario that has happened to me time and time again: I will read some article until the end on my laptop and decide to read it again for clarity. But on that second go around, I’m squinting like this:

 

 

Eyestrain—it is the mortal enemy of many of us who work on computer screens all day, every day. Maintaining our eye health should be a huge concern for all of us. Some research indicates that a link between certain eye disorders and free radical damage. Antioxidants such as carotenoids help prevent this damage that may lead to conditions such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of severe visual loss in people age 50 and older in the United States. Carotenoids are the pigments that give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors. Lutein and zeaxanthin are two of the carotenoids responsible for preventing those eye disorders. And unfortunately, I hate to break it to you, but carrots are not high in either of these carotenoids ☹(still eat them because they are a good source of beta-carotene). Don’t fret though, many other fruits and vegetables provide these two powerhouse eye nutrients, here are some of the ones that I enjoy eating:

Spinach

When I started my vegan journey three years ago, my green vegetable of choice was spinach. Spinach provided all the nutrients that I was looking for such as vitamins C, E, K, and B9, magnesium and calcium. And spinach is milder in taste for me than other green veggies like kale. But spinach, like many green vegetables, is high in lutein. In fact, it has been reported that 50g of cooked spinach may be sufficient for satisfying the daily recommended requirement for these carotenoids. Please note that spinach contains oxalates and too much oxalates may lead to the development of renal calcium stones. Though I have expanded my palate to other green veggies, I still hold a special place in my heart for spinach. I prefer my raw spinach in a nice side salad.

 

Orange juice

I was raised with orange juice as a constant in my household. I think my Jamaican parents thought it was a mark of being a real American to buy a certain popular brand of orange juice. Every now and then, we would stray and pick up some other fruit juice or two but no matter what, we always picked up orange juice at the market. And now my husband and I maintain that tradition. We all know that orange juice is chock full of antioxidants vitamin C and flavonoids. The juice also contains folate and fortified juices may contain other nutrients such as vitamin D and calcium. In addition, orange juice is a great source of provitamin A carotenoids and other carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin. What else is there to say about orange juice? Have it whenever the mood strikes.

 

Corn tortillas

I know, I know, it is a very odd choice for a list of natural foods to promote eye health. Corn tortillas are usually made by a process referred to as nixtamalization. During nixtamalization, corn is soaked and boiled in water and lime (calcium hydroxide) to form masa. The masa is used to make products like tortillas and tortilla chips. This process is critical in terms of making corn products because it enhances the nutritional value of corn. Nixtamalized corn reduces the phytic acid for better mineral availability and it contains significant amounts of calcium, protein, and niacin. Corn doesn’t have niacin and people who rely on a corn-heavy diet are vulnerable to the disease pellagra. But corn products such as tortillas are rich in lutein and zeaxanthin. Most of the time I like to use corn tortillas for tacos, however, vegan enchiladas are a great treat too.

 

Cilantro

Cilantro used to be synonymous with fresh guacamole for me. I honestly don’t remember having it any other time beyond that prior to my vegan days. Cilantro can be so much more than that. This herb is great for flavoring curries, noodles, and pesto dishes. Cilantro is an antioxidant herb loaded with vitamin A and vitamin C. It also has vitamin K, thiamine, zinc, and fiber. Some studies suggest that cilantro may be an effective treatment for lowering blood sugar levels and relieving gastrointestinal conditions. What’s more, it is wonderful for great eye health because it is high in lutein. Sometimes simple is best when it comes to an ingredient like cilantro and use a few sprigs to brighten up a rice dish like this one.

So those are some of the foods I use to boost my eye health. What works for you?