Botanical Nutrition

by Rob Seeman official blogger of the health food movement


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What makes Miso the ultimate umami souper food?

Miso is the most prevalent form of fermented food in the world, traditionally made from fermented soybeans, aspergillus oryzae culture (koji) and salt.  Other ingredients are frequently incorporated such as grains, sea vegetables, mushrooms and scallions.

Miso is a traditional soup which has been popular in Japan for hundreds of years, and is linked back to origins in China in the 3rd century BCE  and another fermented food called Hishio.

Food Movement Miso

Have you ever eaten in a sushi or traditional Japanese restaurant? Chances are you’ve had Miso soup.  But did you know it has some amazing health benefits as well?

Miso owes it’s highly satisfying savory taste to the interaction between protein phytochemicals called glutamates, and their interaction with various other peptides.  In fermentation the components of the original soy bean are transformed, made digestible, and given that unique “Umami” taste.

Studies indicate that Miso may lower blood pressure through the activation of the body’s dopamine pathways, may help to prevent stroke,  and to even protect against cancer and radiation exposure.

There is a definite connection between Miso’s unique properties, the Umami taste, and the presence of unique glutamates and peptides formed by fermentation.  In addition, the savory flavor may bet activating part of our pallet and our brain that is missing when we concentrate only on salty and sweet foods.


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New Study Investigates Probiotic Strains in Iranian Pickled Vegetables

A new study published in the journal GMS Hygiene and Infection Control (there’s one to throw out on your coffee table…) identified probiotic strains found in fermented vegetable pickles in Iran.

Iranian Pickled Vegetables

Dallal Soltan et al wrote “The results of this study showed that the dominant LAB in traditional Persian pickled vegetables are L. plantarum, L. brevis, L. pentosus, L. casei, L. paracasei, and Leuconostoc mesenteroides. Moreover, L. plantarum was recognized as a probiotic species in pickled vegetables. The raw data obtained from this study can be used in the pickling industry to improve the nutritional value of products.”

Many of these strains have been researched for their efficacy in improving human health outcomes.  The pickle you save may be your own!


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Dulse Sea Vegetable : Amazing Nutrition from the Ocean

Let me just say this – if you’re not eating sea veggies you are missing out.  We talk a lot about super foods; but I can say with absolute certainty there are few foods that rival the nutritional benefits from seaweed.

There are many varieties of sea veggies; Kelp, Nori, Wakame, Irish Moss – the list goes on and on.  Some of them are savory and slightly sweet, others more bitter or earthy tasting.  One of the most beneficial kinds of sea vegetable for my money is Dulse (Palmaria palmata) a vegetable that grows in the North regions of the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans.

0715_Dulse1

Dulse has a really nice umami sort of taste to it, and some folks even use it as a plant-based substitute for Bacon flavoring.  Ever tried a DLT (Dulse, lettuce and tomato) sandwich?  Try it and you might be surprised.

In addition to being a very flavorful food, Dulse has a host of health benefits.  Like all sea veggies, it contains a wide variety of beneficial trace minerals, including energizing electrolytes and the essential nutrient Iodine.  A growing body of research suggests that Americans may be largely deficient in Iodine, some even going so far as to label the deficiency a public health crisis.

But it isn’t just the minerals, like Iodine, that Dulse contains.  Scientific research published in the journal Food Research International indicates that the phycobiliproteins and chlorophyll in Dulse contribute to an anti-inflammatory effect.  Inflammation is one of the leading cause of negative health outcomes, and a major contributor to pain and discomfort in the body.

Another study showed that these same compounds in Dulse can inhibit ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme).  The Mayo Clinic says this about ACE inhibitors “Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors help relax blood vessels. ACE inhibitors prevent an enzyme in your body from producing angiotensin II, a substance in your body that narrows your blood vessels and releases hormones that can raise your blood pressure. This narrowing can cause high blood pressure and force your heart to work harder.”

When you add a sea vegetable like Dulse into your diet, you aren’t just satisfying your taste buds – you also satisfy your hunger (iodine being a major factor in normal thyroid function), you are re-energizing your entire system with trace mineral nutrients that work on every level of the human body to help promote balance.  You’re also quite possibly helping to relax blood vessels and fight inflammation at a cellular level.

In short – if you don’t have Dulse in your cupboard, you might be missing out!


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Which kind of Maca is right for me? US consumers enjoy a rainbow of super food options

big maca root

Maca root, used for centuries in Central and South America, has become increasingly popular in the U.S.  Personally I believe the reason that it is becoming popular is because it has energizing health benefits you can really feel! I don’t mean ‘energizing’ in that it contains caffeine or other stimulants, because it doesn’t.  Maca root provides energy because it is an adaptogen, and in particular it can help to balance our endocrine system which manages hormones in the body.

In recent months a wider variety of Maca root has come to market here, expanding to the culture use of different varieties or ecotypes – Red Maca, Black Maca and the more common Yellow Maca, as well as more specific varieties.  The color refers to the outside of the root hypocotyl (that bulbous stem which looks sort of like a radish); the inside of the plant is usually sort of tan or beige in color.

Scientific research has compared the activities of these different phenotypes of Maca and found that in addition to different appearances, they also have different chemical makeup and properties. I have provided the PMID numbers after the studies mentioned so that you can do your own research on PubMed if you choose.

Red Maca – There is a doctor in Chicago who has had great success recommending Red Maca specifically for women with menopause.  This is not surprising considering Maca’s strongest ability to balance hormones with its natural and safe steroidal saponins. Studies have also indicated that it specifically works to protect the prostate where there is dysfunction.

Black Maca – Black Maca is well-known as an aphrodisiac, and has been shown in studies to be the strongest spermatogenic.  This may be useful for women trying to conceive a child, as well as their partner, to know!

Yellow Maca – This is the most widely available type of Maca, and like the others, has been studied for promoting endocrine system (endogeneous hormones) balance.

How do they compare?  Researchers at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Herediam in Lima Peru found that both Black and Red Maca could be protective of the uterus without having an estrogenic effect. (PMID:20616517)  The same researchers found that Red Maca reduced prostate size and zinc volume in animals with BPH (enlarged prostate). (PMID:2176218).  In another study, researchers found that both Black and Yellow Maca, but not Red Maca, could increase the production of sperm. (PMID:17683465)

In another research review, the overall experimental results were summarized this way “There are different types of maca with different colors ranging from white to black. We have studied the pharmacological effects of 3 types; yellow, black, and red maca. Evidence from experimental studies indicates effects of maca on nutrition, fertility, memory, and mood. Black maca has better effects on sperm production than yellow maca which has only moderate effects. Red maca, however, has no effect on sperm production. However, red maca has been shown to reduce prostate size in rats in which prostate hyperplasia had been induced with testosterone enanthate; yellow maca has shown moderate effects here, whereas black maca has not shown any effects. Randomized clinical trials have shown that maca has favorable effects on energy and mood, may decrease anxiety and improve sexual desire.” (PMID:20090350)

All of this evidence supports the idea that, while there is difference between the different ecotypes; Red, Black and Yellow Maca are all adaptogenic foods which can be used by anyone.  Remember Maca is traditionally used as a FOOD, and we should think of it as a FOOD first. This is not a drug in the pharmacological sense. One may favor the results from taking a certain variety, and many anecdotal reports from super food users support this.  For anyone looking for better health, and hormonal balance, the best Maca is the one you personally enjoy the most. Cheers!


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Plant-based Diet Maintains Strong Direction in Natural Products

The health food business is undoubtedly rooted in the idea of a plant-based diet.  While dietary fads come and go; the general consensus that industrialized society (in the convenience era) is missing out on needed botanical nutrition seems to remain constant.  On this, it seems, even vegans and paleo-caveman-diet folks can agree.  The world of super food plants is just too expansive, and remarkably beneficial, not to make these nutritional storehouses more widely available.

It should be no surprise, then, that we see the most top-notch companies in the industry ramping up their offerings of completely plant-based products.  Nordic Naturals unveiled a nice line extension of vegan/vegetarian products at Natural Products Expo East, including the Vitamin D3 Vegan, GLA liquid, Algae Omega, and Baby DHA Vegetarian.  The top-selling Omega 3 company is built upon their vertically-integrated fish oil operations (being one of the first and most thoroughly ‘green’ companies in the category) but their purely vegetarian products are sure to command the respect of the discerning consumer.

Foods like Jem’s Almond Butters which incorporate super foods, also add a ‘gourmet’ aspect to the realm of the raw foods consumers (in their many forms).  I also enjoyed the Artisana nut butters unveiled at NPEE which went even further with Goji Milk Thistle botanical foods, Phytoplankton sea nutrition and other nutritional taste treat  The more we can incorporate these botanical foods into our food products, they more benefit these products will provide to our bodies.  After all, isn’t a better strategy to entice ourselves with a good-tasting healing diet than to pound ourselves into submission with handfuls of pills?

Pills I say to you that your days are numbered.  As more and more we all look to plants as a source of not just healing, but daily nourishment, the more we will be able to promote and preserve good health in all of us.

Another product not just for vegans and vegetarians (though wildly popular with that group as well) is Green Foods Company’s True Vitality.  This is seriously one of the best values in plant-based protein shakes, actually offering 1000 mg of plant-based DHA per serving.  At around $30, this is a seriously good value for every home.

The company brought cereal grasses to forefront in the marketplace, making truly digestible green food products a reality. True Vitality is an amazing extension of that offering 8 billion of active probiotics per serving, as well as the impressive botanical goodnes It also comes in Chocolate, Vanilla and Unflavored.