Botanical Nutrition

by Rob Seeman official blogger of the health food movement


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うま味 Umami : the Fifth Taste of Super Foods

Umami, known as the fifth taste, is a Japanese word うま味 meaning “pleasant savory taste.” Are you falling into the American taste trap of too much salty, too much sweet and not enough of anything else? Well, don’t fast forward by bitter or pungent, either… but you really will benefit from exploring the savory protein flavor known as Umami.

boneless broth mushroom bowl

In 1908 Japanese scientist Kikunae Ikeda coined the term for his discoveries around the taste by combining the words for Umai うまい meaning delicious and mi 味 meaning taste. In 1985 Umami was recognized as the scientific term for the taste of amino acid compounds called glutamates, and nucleotides.

We now know through the work of scientists studying Umami that this taste has its own unique receptors in the human palette.  Before this discovery in the early 21st century it was largely considered to be an enhancement to other flavors or tastes. Certain amino acids, such as glutamate, react with certain nucleotides to greatly intensify the perception of this taste. Research indicates that when the Umami taste is already exhibited in glutamate rich foods, the nucleotide inosinate can increase the Umami by a factor of 8.

An article in Popular Science observes, “All those strong-flavored, highly concentrated foods, like anchovies, prosciutto, Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fish sauce, Marmite, blue cheese, miso: those are the ones that are packed with available glutamate.”

I have long been a fan of vegetable broths and soup stocks as a way to get lots of nutrition (and healing comfort) into the body in a tasty way.  One of the most savory broths is Miso, a traditional Japanese fermentation generally made from soybeans and aspergillus oryzae (Koji) and some times other ingredients such as seaweed, barley, or rice.  Miso is also one of the most Umami foods, and correspondingly – one of the richest dietary sources of Glutamate.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter which is one of the most abundant molecules, and most common excitatory neurotransmitters, in the brain.  It is also a precursor to the inhibitory neurotransmitter amino acid GABA, which is often found to one of the greatest factors in relaxation and mental focus.  The metabolism of glutamate is critical to both excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters.

Glutamate is also used by the body to help excrete excess nitrogen, and to produce energy as part of the citric acid cycle, being involved in the metabolism of pyruvate and alpha-ket o glutamic acid.  This process is an intrinsic part of the creation of energy at a cellular level.

The taste of Umami, whether from a rich seaweed miso broth, from fermented fish, or from mushrooms, can be correlated with not just delicious taste; but potentially also great health benefits.  A small number of individuals may have an allergic reaction to glutamate rich foods, and to glutamate rich food additives such as MSG (mono-s odium glutamate) which is sometimes added to foods as an intense flavor enhancer. For the majority of us, glutamate rich foods can be an important way to get our savory souper foods!


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Bioavailable Curcumin and the Brain

Eating yellow Curry every day, say researchers, may make you smarter.  This is in part because of a root called Turmeric which contains a group of compounds referred to as Curcumin.

In the natural business we often hear it said; while Curcumin (technically not one compound but a series of curcuminoid polyphenols) is the most active component of noted herbal healer Turmeric root (scientific name Curcuma longa) it is very poorly absorbed.

a-pile-of-fresh-turmeric-roots

Researchers can measure blood levels of curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and total curcuminoids following oral supplementation in order to test the bioavailability of various forms of Curcumin supplementation.

In fact, there are many forms of “absorption enhanced” Curcumin on the market – some of which show little benefit when actually tested in humans.  Because whole Turmeric root has a diverse range of natural compounds, not just Curcumin, whole root may not give much absorption of curcuminoid polyphenols.  Researchers attribute this to poor solubility in water, leading to poor absorption.

A solid lipid Curcumin formulation called Longvida is generating lots of interest after several successful clinical trials.  Longvida, a patented form of Curcumin, was developed in concert with UCLA neuroscientists. Not only is this form of Curcumin better absorbed than other extracts, it has shown some specific neurological benefits.  Lead researcher Katherine Cox has written a very interesting article about the study in The Conversation in which she writes

“Our placebo-controlled, double-blind study examined the effects of 80mg of the lipid-conjugated curcumin in a cohort of healthy older people. For full transparency, note the study was funded by a grant from the company that makes the extract – though it had no input into the design, interpretation or publication of the study.

“We randomly allocated 60 participants (with mean age 69 years) to receive curcumin capsules (the intervention) or a matching placebo (a dummy). Neither group knew whether they were receiving curcumin or a placebo.

“The volunteers underwent a training day to familiarise themselves with the computerised cognitive and mood tests. Then they undertook the tests before taking the capsule, then one and three hours after a single dose. They underwent testing at the same three time points following 28 days on curcumin or placebo.”

The study was published in the journal Psychopharmacology in 2015.  In that paper, the researchers also concluded “A significant acute-on-chronic treatment effect on alertness and contentedness was also observed. Curcumin was associated with significantly reduced total and LDL cholesterol and had no effect on hematological safety measures.” That’s right – not only can it improve alertness and happiness; it may just improve your serum cholesterol levels.

NOR-01878-1

Nordic Naturals, long a natural products industry leader in well-researched and effective nutrients, has recently released their Omega Memory product which combines the special Longvida Curcumin used in the above clinical study along with other ingredients shown to support memory – Phosphatidylcholine and Huperzine A, an extract from Chinese Club moss (Huperza serrata) which has been shown to to inhibit acetyl-choline esterase, a process which can improve memory and recall.  Last but not least the formula also contains 1000 mg of Omega-3 EPA & DHA rich fish oil which has been shown to be of great in benefits in literally thousands of published studies.

Want to find out if Longvida clinically-researched Curcumin will have the same effect on your brain as it did in the scientific study?  Trying Omega Memory with Curcumin from Nordic Naturals; not only are you receiving the same bioavailable Curcumin used in the actual clinical trial – you’re also getting efficacious doses of Huperzine A, Phosphatidyl Choline and the #1 selling (and most bioavailable) fish oil in the world – Nordic Naturals Omega 3.