Five Foods to Fuel You and Prevent Post-Lunch Dip

Summer is finally winding down. On the first day of August, my son looked at me and said sadly, “Summer is almost over.” I looked at him like this.

 

At that point, he still had about five or six weeks of me time. But it was a good reminder that once school starts, my schedule will be a little more amped up. Right now, it’s about trying to get things done while finding time to entertain an eleven-year-old boy. #trialsofWAHM

Lately, I’ve been noticing a post-lunch dip. What the hell is that? Well, in some cultures, an afternoon siesta is needed to replenish mental and physical energy. Here in the states, that is generally frowned upon. But depending on a person’s circadian rhythms, there might be a propensity to experience low energy in the afternoon. In other words, most of us adapt to changes in our schedule if needed, however, there are a handful of people who are morning and evening-type people. There’s some evidence that personality may play a role. Introverts (like yours truly) tend to be morning people and extroverts tend to love the nightlife. But I have been experiencing a case of manic mornings that result in afternoon blahs. What I’ve found is that I need foods that raise my energy but calm me the heck down without making me crash and wanting to reach for a chocolate chip cookie at 4:00 pm. That means foods that are filling, don’t raise my blood sugar level, and that are plump full of nutrients that benefit me mentally like B vitamins. Here are some of the foods that I like to indulge in to fight that disastrous dip in energy during the afternoons:

Oregano

When I started going out with my husband many years ago, he would take me to his neighborhood pizzeria where almost every customer would sprinkle oregano on their slice before eating it. Mind you, the oregano was from a big family-size container that was zip-tied to the counter. It’s the Bronx, y’all—don’t play that mess! Taking that first bite of that slice always felt better with that warm pungent herb. As a vegan, I still enjoy a dash of oregano to kick up the flavor of my meals. Generally, oregano has been used to prevent food spoilage and has nutrients including calcium, zinc, iron, copper, and manganese. This herb is a strong antioxidant due to phenolic compounds such as caffeic acid. Furthermore, oregano contains other components such the anti-inflammatory rosmarinic acid and antimicrobials like carvacrol and thymol. Oregano constituents also have antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic properties. For example, carvacrol and thymol may suppress the growth of melanoma cells and carvacrol may be useful in regulating blood glucose levels. Some studies suggest that oregano may be effective in preventing bacterium associated with gastritis. And some animal studies indicate that rosmarinic acid may produce an antidepressive effect, which can be beneficial in combating that afternoon slump.

Buckwheat

When I think of buckwheat, I think of luscious noodles with lightly sautéed veggies accented by a sweet gingery sauce. Yep, Mama’s hungry now. When it comes to healthy food to beat those afternoon blahs, you can‘t go wrong with buckwheat. Buckwheat is high in dietary fiber, proteins, carbohydrates, and polyphenols. In fact, buckwheat’s protein content is higher than rice, wheat, millet, sorghum, and maize. Some nutritional studies indicate that buckwheat proteins have the highest cholesterol-lowering properties among the plant proteins known to science so far. These proteins may have a protective effect against colon cancer. And research indicates that buckwheat protein isolates may be effective in treating hypertension, constipation, and obesity. This plant also contains brain-boosting B vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, as well as other nutrients such as vitamin E, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium. What’s more, unlike many grains, buckwheat does not contain the antinutrient phytic acid and it’s gluten free. Phytic acid hinders mineral absorption. In addition, buckwheat has antioxidants like quercetin that are anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic. It has been reported that buckwheat contains two to five times more phenolic compounds than oats and barley. Please note that buckwheat does contain potential allergens for those of us who might be prone to those things. Otherwise, feel free to enjoy a bowl full of glistening, succulent, delicious buckwheat noodles (I intend to enjoy some tonight).

 

Wild rice

I remember having wild rice for the first time a couple of years ago. I grew up eating rice and peas because my family is Jamaican and I always ordered white rice in restaurants so wild rice was definitely a novelty for me. But once I tasted it, there was no going back. I loved that unique nutty flavor. Then I found out that wild rice isn’t rice at all. Wild rice is an aquatic grass. Whatever, grass tastes good, y’all (and I mean that in a non-pharmaceutical way 😊, shhh, it’s my blog so I get to be corny if I want). Anywho, wild rice is a good source of dietary fiber, protein, carbohydrates, B vitamins like niacin and riboflavin that are all wonderful for fighting that post-lunch dip. Wild rice also contains minerals such as phosphorus, iron, and potassium. This grass does contain flavonoids like apigenin that are anticarcinogenic. Some animal studies have shown that wild rice consumption may be effective in lowering liver cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of colon cancer. Wild rice can be a great transitional dish because it’s perfect for both hot summer nights and cool fall evenings.

Lemon

I’ve always been a lemon girl, meaning I love to put lemons in most of my beverages. Hot tea, ice tea, plain water, juices, sometimes they all need a lemon for that extra punch. Lemons are ubiquitous, you can find them in grocery stores, fruit stands, hell even in a decorative bowl on your favorite auntie’s kitchen table. Lemons are a powerful weapon against post-lunch dip because they are chock full of vitamin C, provide energy, and have protein and fiber. Lemons also contain B vitamins like folate, thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, and minerals such as potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. This plant is huge in terms of antioxidants because of the combination of vitamin C and flavonoids like hesperidin and naringenin that show anticarcinogenic, antimicrobial, antiproliferative, and anti-inflammatory activity. For instance, some animal studies suggest hesperidin may have a protective effect on bones, may have therapeutic value as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, and may lower blood lipid levels. Several studies indicate that lemon may be used in the treatment for conditions such as fatigue, oral cancer, urinary bladder cancer, liver cancer, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal diseases, obesity, and dementia. And essential oils of lemon prevent low-density oxidation and reduce plasmatic cholesterol and triglycerides that may lead to heart disease. What can’t lemons do?!! Sometimes I like to use lemons to make a refreshing, zesty dressing to top a light side salad.

White navy beans

White bean hummus is one of the most satisfying midday meals that can maximize your mood and energize you through the rest of your day. Roasted white beans drizzled with olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, dill, a touch of cream, combined to create something that’s just…heaven. Okay, I’m back 😉. White navy beans, like other legumes, are high in protein and a great source of folate, but these beans also have thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, copper, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Navy beans have polyphenols that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It has been reported that legume intake may result in reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and colon cancer. In addition, legumes may prevent insulin-resistance and help with glycemic control for diabetic patients. Please note that white navy beans may contain trace amounts of phytate for those with possible gastrointestinal issues. Make some white bean hummus—trust, I promise you that you will not be sorry!

 

Okay, those are my go-to foods to raise my energy, mellow my moods, and get me through that post-lunch hump. What foods do that for you?

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 Tips to Curb Caffeine

My son’s camp is finishing up and so Mommycamp has begun. That means cramming six weeks of fun-filled activities together for my son with usual work demands. But it is exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting! So I picked now to try to cut down on caffeine ☹. I know, I know, sad day for me. Anywho, I’m a green tea drinker so I always figured that I was okay in the caffeine department. I was averaging around three to four cups a day at one point. After all, green tea is high in antioxidants and lower in caffeine compared to black teas and various coffees, right? But the caffeine content with some teas may vary based on the type of tea and the brewing time.

What the heck is caffeine anyway? Caffeine is an alkaloid found in plants that acts on the central nervous system. It is an ingredient in many foods, beverages, and proprietary drugs (the FDA’s National Center for Drugs and Biologics lists more than 1,000 over-the-counter drugs with caffeine as an ingredient—yikes!). Small amounts of this stimulant may alter metabolic rate, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Other effects may include frequent urination (diuretic) and increased blood sugar levels.

Some research indicates that caffeine comes with a mixed bag of results. Moderate amounts of caffeine can decrease fatigue (yeah!), enhance cognitive and physical performance, quicken reaction accuracy, and increase focus.  Too much caffeine may alter your hormone levels and deplete essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. In fact, caffeine intake has been associated with risk of endometriosis, osteoporosis, and anxiety and gastrointestinal disorders. Some other problems that can occur with overconsumption of caffeine include insomnia, headaches, nervousness and nausea. For example, some evidence suggests that consumption of five or more cups of coffee a day is linked with a low risk of Type II diabetes but lower consumption levels are inconclusive. Okay, before we all burn our stashes of coffee and tea, remember the risk comes with caffeine overconsumption. So keep it moderate folks.

In my quest to control my caffeine, there are some foods that I rely on:

Parsley

I confess that I used to be one of those people that would toss the parsley right off my meal at restaurants like what the heck do I need that for?! #don’tknownobetter. In my defense, most restaurants tend to use curly leaf parsley that has no flavor. Flat leaf parsley—yep, much better. But parsley can be just as tasty and healthy as the main meal. This diuretic herb is an antioxidant because it contains the flavonoid apigenin, which also has anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimutagenic properties. In addition, parsley has vitamins C and E, beta carotene, thiamine, folate, iron, and calcium. Calcium levels decrease with high caffeine consumption. Please note: be very careful with high-calcium foods because some of them may contain oxalates. I talk about that here. I do love some flat leaf parsley when I can get it but when I can’t, dried parsley will do just fine on my soups and salads.

Almond Butter

Like many of you, I grew up with peanut butter in my house. When my parents weren’t home and we didn’t want to heat anything up, it was peanut butter to the rescue. I didn’t try almond butter until I was an adult. And, admittedly, at first I friggin’ hated it. It took tweaking the right combination (almond butter and a dash of agave nectar FTW) to really bring out the flavor of this nut butter. Almonds are loaded with vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, and dietary fiber. This nut is also rich in magnesium and calcium, both of which are reduced by high caffeine intake. Almond butter has more fiber, calcium, and potassium than other nut butters like peanut butter. What’s more, it has been reported that high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good cholesterol that decreases risk for heart disease) increased with almond butter intake. I like almond butter occasionally on toast or as a snack with whatever fresh veggies or fruit are available in the house.

Black-eyed peas

I used to think black-eyed peas were just something you ate to celebrate the new year. Before I became a vegetarian and then a vegan, I thought black-eyed peas were just “awkward” as my son says about foods he abhors. But then I discovered Texas caviar—DIVINE! The flavor combination of the peas, onions, red bell peppers, and tomatoes with just a hint of oil and vinegar. Here’s a nice recipe for it. Just plain lovely. Black-eyed peas or cowpeas are also a nutritional powerhouse because it is a good source of flavonoids like quercetin, protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients such as niacin, thiamine, iron, magnesium, and calcium.

Tahini (Sesame seed butter)

Tahini or sesame seed butter is definitely a dressing that I discovered when I became a vegan and I’m glad that I did. It is creamy, filling, and a great compliment to meals like falafel tacos or even pasta—who knew! Sesame seeds are high in protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. And sesame seeds are rich in phytosterols or compounds that resemble cholesterol in humans and ultimately reduce our blood cholesterol levels. Tahini is made from sesame seeds that are ground or milled into a paste. Tahini has B vitamins like niacin and minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Special advisory for those with allergy issues: sesame seeds do contain immunoglobulin E, which are mediated food allergens. When it comes to tahini, basic is best. Nothing tops off a night like a spoonful of tahini over a plate of falafels.

Those are some of the foods I like to combat my caffeine craziness. What do you like?

Five Foods to Beat Breakouts and Relieve Rashes

  • It’s summertime and the living is easy—and sweaty!

For the past two summers, I’ve noticed that random pimples will pop up on my forehead, usually near the hairline. And I’ve had some redness and irritation from constantly shaving my legs (Mama likes smooth legs 😉). I’ve always been prone to skin allergies and rashes, particularly eczema flare-ups, which I talk about here. Thankfully, this isn’t eczema but just your garden-variety hot weather breakout and rashes. Phytonutrients or compounds found in plant-derived foods such as curcumin (turmeric) and polyphenols found in fruits and veggies like raspberries and pomegranates (rich in antioxidant ellagic acid) are wonderful basic methods of reducing skin inflammation and DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation. In addition, those of us who are vulnerable to occasional whiteheads and blackheads may want to increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are responsible for skin repair and flexibility. You can read my rundown on this skin mega-nutrient here. That means upping your consumption of foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds. Here are some of other foods that I partake in when I need to banish breakouts and reduce rashes:

Cucumbers

Cucumber isn’t just a summer-refresher veggie because it has a water content of 95 percent. This vegetable is one of the most important weapons against skin inflammation. Cucumbers are full of antioxidants such as beta carotene (the primary precursor to vitamin A) and vitamin C. It also contains B vitamins, vitamin K, flavonoids such as quercetin and luteolin and minerals such as silica. Silica is absolutely necessary when it comes to collagen production. Collagen is a type of protein found throughout the body and is important for maintaining the tone and elasticity of your skin. I tend to go the traditional route when it comes to cucumbers and enjoy them in my salads, but when I want to go all-out I’ll throw them in a big heaping sandwich like this one.

Brown rice

Rice is my go-to meal when I have no clue what I want to eat for dinner. Or when the clock is ticking and I need something quick fast in a hurry. Or when the cupboards are pretty much out of darn near everything else. You get the picture. Before we jump into the benefits of brown rice, I want to address the elephant in the room: arsenic. It has been reported that rice consumption is linked with exposure to low-level arsenic, which may have adverse health effects. According to the authors of a 2012 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “At present, the health effects of low-level arsenic exposure are uncertain…” The conclusion is that further research needs to be done. With that said, brown rice is superior to polished or white rice because it has high dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates (a boon for those who have Type II diabetes), vitamin E, B vitamins, low glycemic index, and minerals such as magnesium, thiamine, and iron. It also has selenium, an antioxidant mineral that is essential for wound repair. Selenium plays a role in protecting the skin from excessive UV light damage and preventing skin cancer. I’m not fussy: I like rice with pretty much everything including lentils, chickpeas, veggie sausage, veggie chicken, black beans, just to name a few.

 

Red bell peppers

Peppers are not something I eat often, but when I do, I love to roast them with a light drizzle of olive oil. Red bell peppers are rich in vitamin C. Most of us know that vitamin C is an antioxidant that destroys free radicals that can damage healthy cells. Vitamin C also forms bonds between collagen fiber strands to provide extra stability and strength. But what makes red bell peppers so darn special is that it contains more than 30 different carotenoids (plant pigments with antioxidant properties) including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which I discussed here. Bell peppers also have other nutrients such as vitamin E, thiamine, and niacin. So slice open that sucka and grill it, bake it, or chop it!

Pecans

In my pre-vegan and pre-vegetarian days, I used to cap off a long day at work by stopping at a pretty well-known cookie shop for their signature pecan pie brownies. They were just ooey-gooey madness that melted in my mouth. Those were the good old days before I knew what I know now. But we vegans can still enjoy the sweet taste of pecans and its nutrients. Pecans contain vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Some studies suggest that pecans can help prevent the buildup of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Best of all, these nuts are a really good source of zinc.  Zinc is a vital nutrient for growth and development including proper immune system function and reproduction (affecting both males and females). Zinc deficiency has been linked to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, taste impairment, and loss of smell. As far as the skin goes, zinc is a crucial component of wound healing because the nutrient is required for the synthesis of DNA and collagen. I still love pecan pie anything like this treat but my snacks have a little less guilt attached to them.

 

Oats

Oats are my old standby food when it comes to breakfast. They are dependable, filling, versatile, and always healthy. I talk about some of its attributes here. Oats contain vitamin B1, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, and wound-healing zinc. But oats also have avenanthramides, which are phenolic compounds that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Some research indicates that avenanthramides are associated with the cardioprotective effects of oats. In addition, when applied topically, these compounds may alleviate the inflammation and itching that accompany dermatologic conditions such as eczema and atopic dermatitis. If you are going to go the topical route, please use colloidal oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal is produced by finely grinding the oats and boiling out the colloidal material for usage. Regular oatmeal in your shower drain is not a good look folks.

 

There you have it, my foods for soothing breakouts and itchy rashes. What do you do?

Five Tips for Alleviating Allergies

During the early spring and late fall, allergies can be quite grueling for me. For years, the inflammation from allergens like pollen or ragweed resulted in severe eczema. Other times, I get into coughing or sneezing fits. The first thing I like to do is make sure I have plenty of rest. It’s harder for allergies to attack your immune system if your body is operating at full speed. Then, I like to minimize or eliminate whatever stress exists in my life, which is easier said than done. But I find once I do those things, the other methods just ease your body along as it heals.

The magic weapon that I have found against allergies is to stock up on natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods. Why? Antioxidants such as vitamin C protect the body from free radical damage and anti-inflammatories suppress the effects of histamines that make allergies a frigging nightmare. With that said, here are five ways that I like to attack allergies:

Kombucha

I have been drinking kombucha for years. I love, love, love GT’s Kombucha brand. Kombucha has B vitamins and vitamin C. In addition, it contains lactic acid, which makes it antimicrobial. But what makes this beverage special is gluconic acid that detoxifies the body. I usually like to drink kombucha with my dinner anyway on most weeknights but when allergy season hits, I indulge in a little extra.

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Amla Powder

Amla, amla, amla. If I could, I would have ya all day, every day. Amla is a superfruit: according to some studies, it is reported to contain 20 times more vitamin C than orange juice! It contains quercetin, which like vitamin C, is a natural antihistamine. So just taking amla alone will do wonders for allergies. Some research indicates that amla is also anti-inflammatory and anticarcinogenic. Since amla fruit is hard to get in my neck of the woods, I settle for the powder. I like to sprinkle about ¼ of a teaspoon in a cup of tea or orange juice. Please note that amla is a diuretic, so take it as needed.

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Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are bae! I love sweet potato fries, sweet potato soup, baked sweet potato, stir-fried sweet potato, sweet potato tacos—the list goes on and on. Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, as well as other antioxidants like vitamin C and E. This makes sweet potatoes powerful free radical fighters. In fact, some varieties of sweet potatoes may contain more than the daily recommended value of vitamin A. I like to drizzle unsulfured blackstrap molasses on thick slices of sweet potatoes for an extra boost of essential nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, and potassium.

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Kale

Whenever I feel any sort of allergy symptom like a scratchy throat or congested chest, I immediately amp up my intake of kale. Kale is packed full of flavonoids, which protect the body against chronic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases and certain types of cancer. This also means that kale contains antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory. I admit: it took me a really long time to appreciate the magic of kale. I had to get used to it. So start off by enjoying a small cup of sautéed kale then work your way up to raw kale.

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Pineapple

What I absolutely love about pineapple is that it has a high-water content. I love to eat chopped pineapple right before I leave the house to run a few errands. Pineapple contains bromelain, which is another great anti-inflammatory agent. Some studies indicate that bromelain can also speed healing and reduce swelling and pain associated with certain conditions like hay fever.

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Those are my five–what are some ways that you deal with allergies?