Category Archives: Science!

A-ha Moments with Spinach

Have you ever had one of those moments where you finally get what all the fuss is about? I happened to me when I heard Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain,” the first time I caught a wave on a surfboard, and with a swallow of cognac from a 150 year old distillery near my father-in-law’s family home. For years, I hadn’t understood why people obsessed over Adele, surfing, or any alcohol in the whisky-burbon-scotch-cognac family, and then, in an instant, I did.

This dish was my moment with spinach. I like spinach, and I eat plenty of it in salads or mixed in with a variety of rice and pasta dishes, but I had never thought of it as much of a star player on its own. Spinach is just not that interesting of a flavor, right? Boy, was I wrong. In this dish, the flavor of spinach becomes strong and deeply verdant; the leaves around the edges of the pan crisp up and mix with crisped cheese to make little spinach nachos; the soft velvet texture of spinach is offset by breadcrumbs; this dish is spinach, seriously good. Not that we have a cultural obsession with spinach, but maybe we should. Maybe if we all ate this dish, we’d have a unanimous A-ha moment about just how good this little green leaf can taste.

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Resistance training to reduce blood pressure

Colored 10 lb weight

I always like a little good press for weight training.  I love the weight room at the gym, and much prefer it to time spent going nowhere on an elliptical trainer… unless, of course, an episode of Millionaire Matchmaker is on, in which case, I’ll take the elliptical, thank you.  I once spent two hours on the thing because there were back-to-back episodes!  But now I have a new reason to keep kicking it with the fraternity dudes around the weight benches:

Adding weight training to your exercise regime could reduce blood pressure better than aerobic activity.

In a recent study in the Journal of Exercise Physiology, 9 patients (5 men and 4 women) with Type 2 Diabetes either performed no exercise (control), 20 minutes of cycling at high capacity, or 3 circuits of resistance exercises, which required 21 minutes on average, at 70% of their maximum lifting capacity on those particular exercises.

Following the exercises, the group that performed the resistance circuits had significantly reduced diastolic blood pressure (dbp), relative to the control group, while the aerobic group had non-significantly reduced dbp.

The authors conclude that resistance training could be a non-pharmacological addition to the control of Type 2 Diabetes. They also acknowledge that the short duration of the aerobic activity could be the reason this activity didn’t elicit a post-exercise reduction in dbp.

For the non-diabetics out there, it could be useful to remember that resistance training has health benefits are more often associated with aerobic activity in the public consciousness.

The resistance circuit was six exercises: knee extension, bench press, leg press, pull down, leg curl, and seated row. Subjects performed 8 repetitions of each exercise at 70% of the lifting capacity, with a 50-second interval between each exercise and one minute of rest between each lap. Subjects performed three laps of the circuit.

Image made available through Creative Commons, from Diamond Rubber

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Chocolate is good for you!

Chocolate is good for you!

Eat up!

That chocolate is good for you is clearly good news in our house!

Of course, we always could intuit that, but isn’t it nice when science backs you up?

In recent years, chocolate and chocolate extracts have been found to have antioxidant qualities, improve good cholesterol, and make you feel better.

But what about a trade-off between the health benefits from the native compounds in the chocolate, and all the other delicious stuff it’s often mixed with (sugar, fat, everything else that goes into a brownie)?

Great news: a recent study out of UC San Diego surveyed around 1,000 people and found that people who reported eating a moderate amount of chocolate (say, five times a week) were leaner than people who more rarely or irregularly ate chocolate.  Of course, on the higher end of the spectrum, folks who ate the most chocolate were heavier.  The percentage of cocoa consumed wasn’t taken into account. (For NPR write-up, click here)

Why might moderate chocolate consumption not lead to weight gain?

One possibility is the presence of particular polyphenols, which have been found to inhibit the activity of enzymes (pancreatic lipase and others) that help us digest fat and carbohydrates, meaning more fat and carbs may pass through our bodies without being absorbed when these compounds are present.  Of note, this study found that the type and processing of cocoa affected how well the enzyme activity was altered.   A type of minimally-processed cocoa called lavado best blocked the fat – and carb-digesting activities, followed by normally-processed and, lastly, Dutch-processed cocoa. (Examiner write-up)

Another possible explanation for chocolate’s failure to pack on the pounds are the presence of compounds called catechins, which have been found to reduce body fat in subjects who consumed catchen-supplemented tea.

As for the other health benefits of chocolate, polyphenols have also been found to increase HDL cholesterol in patients with Type 2 diabetes without causing weight gain or increased glycemic indices, and to reduce the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome.

In short, eat up!  … If you’re brave, you might even try 100% chocolate – no sugar or added fat!  And it’s surprisingly good (though I wouldn’t eat it exclusively)

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Apple Cider Vinegar? Really?

I turned 30 a few weeks ago, and I’ve been having indigestion.  Coincidence?  My acid-belly is probably related to the stress at work, but, on the other hand, I am developing a number of old-lady symptoms and characteristics.  I need glasses to read, I watch birds eat outside my office window, and can’t tolerate the noise from our neighbors’ weekend parties (I love going to bed at 10 on a Saturday night!).  It was at my 30th birthday “party” (hey guys, want to come over for some wine and gluten-free-cake?), actually, that a friend told me I should try using Apple Cider Vinegar to treat my indigestion.  Really?  Doesn’t that seem counter-intuitive, to treat your acid-washed esophagus with more acid? But I’m getting desperate, here, so I looked into it.

Well, first I bought the product, and then I looked into it.  I’m an optimist.  The first thing I noticed about my new bottle of organic, unfiltered ACV (as the followers call it), is that it reads like a bottle of Dr Bronner’s soap, promising to cure all kinds of ailments.  It reminds me of those old-timey elixirs that travelling “doctors” would sell to naïve pioneers in the American west.  Cures snake bites, typhus, yellow fever, and sea sickness!  Balances your humors!  I promptly swallowed two teaspoons full.  Then I went to the computer for some research.

The “mother?”  What is that?

When researching health topics, I always look first to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  While mute on the subject of vinegar to treat indigestion, the NIH does cite findings that vinegar can help to regulate blood sugar levels, and may act as an anti-tumor agent!  Really!  Studies found that the addition of vinegar to food can reduce the glycemic index (a measure of how much a food spikes your blood sugar), and chasing bread with a vinegar shooter reduced post-meal blood-sugar levels in healthy subjects.  Vinegar also improves insulin sensitivity in both people with Type 2 Diabetes and those who are insensitive to insulin but not diabetic. In case you don’t obsessively read about blood sugar or insulin regulation (like I, a non-diabetic person do), a little note on why this is important:  if your blood sugar spikes, insulin rushes in, carting off sugar to your muscle cells, which leads to a blood-sugar-low, which causes you to crave more sugar and potentially eat all the doughnuts in the office kitchen.  On the other hand, if your body becomes insensitive to insulin (when this is a permanent condition, it’s called Type 2 Diabetes),  two bad things happen: the insulin no longer carries the sugar, which is fuel for your muscles, to these cells, which leads to fatigue and other complications, and insulin builds up in your bloodstream, which prevents the metabolism of fat.  So acid is good for both preventing and mediating Diabetes! In many studies, it also helped patients eat fewer calories (stupid office doughnuts), and lose weight.

Additionally, vinegar may help prevent or diminish cancerous tumors.  One study found that sugar cane vinegar led to death of isolated human leukemia cells, and another found that rice vinegar prevented the proliferation of a number of types of human cancer cells, including colon, lung, breast, bladder, and prostate carcinomas.

This ACV may actually be a cure-all elixir.  Though just how vinegar performs these marvelous feats is unknown.  PS, the “mother” refers to the bacteria that ferment the sugars in the juice and yield the acetic acid we call vinegar. The vinegar I bought is unfiltered, meaning it still contains these (now dead) bacteria. According to the NIH, “Many people advocate retaining the mother for numerous, but unsubstantiated, health effects.”

Does it work for indigestion? I can’t find any literature on the subject; I don’t think any formal studies have been performed.  I have been taking it with meals for about a week, and it seems to help me feel a little better right after I’ve eaten, though it doesn’t seem to prevent that burning esophagus feeling from happening.  (All day. Can I have my 22-year-old body back?)  But now that I know it could prevent cancer and diabetes, I might as well keep drinking it.

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