Food, Health, Informational

Ancient Superfood: 7 Health Benefits of Barberry

If you’ve never heard of the barberry, it’s probably because you haven’t had the chance to try the popular zereshk polo or tahchin of Persian cuisine.

In zereshk polo, tiny red berries (the barberry) dance on a bed of aromatic basmati rice and turmeric saffron chicken. Tahchin on the other hand is a savory rice cake where plain yogurt and chunks of succulent meat have been folded into saffron basmati rice, then baked to golden perfection.

But I digress. The purpose of this particular article isn’t to share a recipe or to make your mouth water, it is more to tell you about the health benefits of the Berbers vulgaris — or the Barberry.

The Barberry

Barberry shrubs grow in abundance in the mountainous north-east region of Iran. The small ruby-like berries contain the alkaloids berberine and oxycontin (alkaloids are nitrogenous organic compounds with pronounced physiological effects on the human body, i.e. many drugs contain alkaloids such as morphine and quinine.)

The Health Benefits of Eating Barberry

In recent history, the medicinal properties of Berberine has been studied at length. However, the use of barberries in Eastern and Western medical traditions goes back to at least 3000 years.

Recent research has found that berberine can:

  1. Increase immunity and fight infection
  2. Ease inflammation
  3. Improve digestion, reduce gastrointestinal pain and treat diarrhea
  4. Control blood sugar to aid in preventing and treating diabetes
  5. Improve hypertension and heart health
  6. Reduce oxidative stress
  7. Effectively cleanse the liver and act as a gallbladder flush agent

In traditional Eastern medicine, the barberry has a cold and dry nature. Historically, barberries in large quantities were used as a sedative by Iranian physicians, while in India they were used to treat diarrhea. Ancient Egyptians used barberry and fennel seed to cure fever and in northern Europe, the barberry is still used to treat disorders of the bladder, liver, and gallbladder.

How it’s Done

There are a few different ways you can incorporate the barberry into your diet.

A consistently balanced and healthy diet of varied fruits and vegetables, including the fruit of the barberry shrub is always going to be your best bet. My number one recommended method is to use it in real foods, like in the dishes I mentioned in the beginning of this article. As I’m not a seasoned recipe creator and do not want to copy and paste someone else’s hard work, I will refer you to someone who really knows their stuff… Try this delicious chicken, barberry and saffron frittata as shown by lovely chef/blogger Maryam Sinaiee, on her website The Persian Fusion. She has many other recipes for using barberries, some are very traditional, some are more fusion types. All seem delicious!

I am also partial to soaking dried barberries in boiling water, adding honey, then drinking as a kind of hot tea.

Where to Find Barberries

You can find Barberries at most Persian grocers, or you can also order online. Click the affiliate image below for my fave brand of barberries. Be warned that once in a while, small stones and stems are normal, and they should be thoroughly picked through and rinsed before use.

Dried-Barberries

Of course, it can be easier for some to take a high dose of barberry compounds in capsule form. So another way is to take berberine supplements. If I’m at the point where I HAVE to use supplementation, Thorne Research products are in my top 5. I’ve also included a link to the Thorne Research capsules in the affiliate image below.

Berberine

Let me know if you decide to make any Barberry recipes you find that I should know about. I make zereshk polo at least once a month, if not more, so I’m always looking for new ways of using Barberries as a part of my healthy diet.

To a berry positively strong week,

 

Sunny

Food, Health

How Garlic Can Help With Weight Loss

Too much garlic may give you bad breath, but its myriad of health benefits far outweigh those smelly side effects — not to mention the possible vampire protection you’ll have. But vampire jokes aside, research has found garlic to be effective in preventing and treating high blood pressure, reducing risks of dementia and heart attack, and successfully killing tumors and cancer cells. But another positive health benefit to garlic is that it may help you reach your weight loss goals too.

Can Garlic Help You Lose Weight?

Grown in abundance, inexpensive to buy, and easy to find in grocery stores (usually in the same aisle as potatoes and onions) it’s not difficult to add more of the bulb to your healthy diet. My mother-in-law talks about a time in England when garlic was seen as an exotic food from the east, and thus difficult to find everywhere. But lucky for you and me, garlic is now readily available via Amazon too.

I’m sure by this point you are asking, “That’s great that it’s so easy to find and fit into my diet, but get to the point Sunny… How does garlic ACTUALLY help you lose weight?”

Well, Garlic won’t help you drop 10 lbs overnight, but it does provide you with health benefits that aid with the steps you are already taking to lose weight (hello healthy diet and exercise!)

In fact, here are 5 different ways in which garlic can aid in losing those extra pounds and even help you maintain a healthy body weight. Continue reading “How Garlic Can Help With Weight Loss”

Food

Reputation Re-haul: 5 Fattening Foods That Are Actually Good For You

Good-For-You-Foods-With-A-Bad-RepEveryday, there is someone out there that is unnecessarily avoiding certain foods. They don’t have an allergy and they don’t dislike the food, but in the name of weight loss or health, they are choosing to discriminate against them.

Blogs, news outlets and media figures like Dr. Oz are busy using scare tactics about perfectly-good-for-you foods, and with far fetched promises of shedding 20 pounds in a week. Some processed foods are marketed as “healthy” but they are far from it (see one of my previous posts) while other foods are given a bad reputation, sometimes based on studies that are simply taken out of context. Well I’m here to tell you that unless you have a real food allergy or intolerance, you shouldn’t be avoiding these whole foods based on what the uninformed word is on the street.

Below is a list of 5 foods that you may be avoiding unnecessarily, when in fact they are super good for you!

Continue reading “Reputation Re-haul: 5 Fattening Foods That Are Actually Good For You”

Food

Homemade Cold Remedy: Hot Spiced Lemonade

Best_Cold_RemedyI have an amazing cold remedy for you in the form of a hot drink. In fact it is an amazing remedy for any sort of inflammation in the body, as it is abundant in vitamin C and contains inflammation fighting spices like turmeric, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. This drink also contains ginger, honey, garlic (don’t let this little guy scare you off, garlic is the key to keeping away that cold) and fresh juice of the lovely lemon. Everyone that has ever tried this drink, has always commented that they didn’t expect it to taste so good – I promise you, it’s delicious.

Without further adieu, here is my own recipe. You can always adjust a couple of ingredients to your taste, but I recommend you first try it as it is to get a full blast of immunity building nutrients. I always make a large batch so that I can drink it throughout the day.

  • 6 cups of water
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 1 large, juicy lemon (if your lemon is small or not very juicy, use 2 of them)
  • 2 cloves of garlic (peeled, chopped, and let sit for 5 minutes before adding to water)
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons of fresh minced ginger
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 pinches of turmeric
  • 2 pinches of cayenne pepper

Bring six cups of water to a boil, reduce heat to medium and mix in honey. Next, add all of your ingredients and simmer back to a boil for about 10-15 minutes. Use a ladle and strain into a mason jar or directly into a cup. This recipe should give you about 4-5 servings.

I have previously written about eating well to build a strong immune system, but you can even drink this after a heavy workout, when your muscles are primed for a dose of vitamins. Follow the tea up with a good source of protein and you will have less muscle ache as your tissues rebuild. And remember, I am not a doctor, so if you are on any medication (i.e. some studies have found that blood thinners and garlic don’t mix too well) or have any allergies, please check with your physician first.

To a Positively Strong Winter,

Sunny

Food

Why You Shouldn’t be Afraid of White Rice

White_Rice_vs._Brown_RiceDon’t you just hate it when just as you are about to take a bite of your food, someone decides to tell you about all the dangers lurking in that bite?

If only I had a dollar for every time someone did this to me, I would be able to buy a lifetime worth of white basmati rice! Mmm… fluffy basmati rice, I could eat that everyday, and you know what? My Persian ancestors did eat it every day, as do many people of countries where rice is a dietary staple.

I’m sad to say that before I made a commitment to learn more about the science of nutrition, I too was easily swayed by all of the food propaganda that is out there in the world. New food studies, talk shows, the news, advertisements, blog articles and new food products, they are all constantly contradicting themselves and each other by pushing new food trends and products. They cite a research study and all of a sudden a whole new “healthy” food product is created to replace what you and your ancestors were eating for eons before.

The problem with a lot of studies come down to their methodologies and they sometimes make generalization and associations between factors that aren’t always correlated. Take for example, a 2012 study that claimed white rice consumption is associated with a higher risk of Type 2 diabetes. Immediately people take this to mean that White Rice = Diabetes which is absolutely not true nor the case. In reality, the study was making an associates between the “risk” of diabetes and rice consumption, where a significant spike they observed was that 20% of diabetes prevalence in their study was in the United Arab Emirates, a country with high white rice consumption. Yes, they eat a lot of rice in the UAE, but because it is one of the richest countries in the world, people also tend to eat a lot of sugar, processed foods and a lot of everything else in excess. If anything, diabetes incidence goes down as rice consumption increases, which is evident in countries such as Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Bangladesh, where they have the highest white rice consumption and have very low rates of diabetes.

Here is a map released by the Wall Street Journal from the International Diabetes Federation that shows the 2013 prevalence of Type 2 diabetes around the world. You can see that a lot of countries who have historically eaten a lot of white rice like basmati or jasmine rice actually see much lower diabetes prevalence.

Diabetes_Map

The other problem is that people don’t realize that there are many different rice varieties (about 40,000 different varieties exist in the world) with different compounds to each one. Continue reading “Why You Shouldn’t be Afraid of White Rice”

Food

Living Sugar Free – Part 2

Sugar-Free-Protein-MuffinssAs you may remember, my last blog post was all about taking the plunge and kicking the sugar habit; as promised, here is part two on the matter. Last time, I spoke about all the many reasons to quit sugar and how to go about getting past the addiction, but in this article, I would like to discuss little tricks that will help you keep up with a sugar-free diet in the long run. I have also included my own recipe for an all natural, sugar-free, protein muffin that I make in lieu of post workout protein shakes or bars that claim to be “sugar-free”.

1st Step: Don’t replace real sugar with artificial sugar

Artificial sweeteners were created by manufacturers to provide us with the sweetness that we carve without all the calories that come with them. Unfortunately, a 2013 study in the Diabetes Care journal found that artificial sweeteners can actually alter the way your body metabolizes sugar. Sweeteners can actually affect the glycemic and insulin responses in our bodies (insulin is also the hormone involved in nutrient breakdown and fat storage in the body). Studies show that replacing regular sugar with artificial sweeteners is almost like switching from cigarettes to cigars. You still get the sweetness you’ve been craving, so you never get your taste-buds and body used to living without the sweet taste and insulin spikes. This means that you will either go back to the real stuff, or will just keep substituting with sweeteners (which are just as bad for you). After three months on a true, no-sugar, no-sweetener plan, your taste-buds and cravings do actually change and you will start craving more nutrient dense foods when you are off sugar and sweeteners. That means that it is actually possible to crave salmon over Skittles, as crazy as that may seem.

2nd Step- Create a sugar-free meal plan

Following a low-sugar meal plan that is hearty and allows you to eat foods you like will help you adhere to a long term, no-sugar lifestyle. Swap breakfast cereal for an omlette and substitute your midday sweet cravings of brownies and cupcakes for almonds, berries and yogurt. Eating often through out the day will help curb those sugar cravings, this means at least three meals and two snacks. If you have trouble figuring out what to eat, just check out my online packages for nutritional meal planning, catered to suit your personal tastes and weight loss needs.

3rd Step- Keep healthy snacks close by
Continue reading “Living Sugar Free – Part 2”

Food

Fat Free: The Worst Weight-Loss Scam Ever

Healthy-BreakfastI’ve been pushing the benefits of whole, unprocessed foods for a while now. I’ve been preaching the consumption of healthy Fats and whole, unprocessed foods and pushing everyone to avoid low-fat versions of foods till I’ve become blue in the face. Seriously, just call me Sunny Smurfette…

If you walk down any grocery aisle, you’ll be bombarded with “Healthier Choice Now Fat Free” “Pure Goodness and Low Fat” and “Non-Fat” branding all over every package and box. These are all marketing ploys to get you to buy the over processed, sugar laden junk on the shelves. It makes sense that they are catering to our demands though, since for the last 40 years we have been brain washed about the dangers of saturated fat. It is no mystery that our misguided demand for low fat foods has spawned a multi-billion-dollar industry in low-fat food products touted as “healthy choices”.

New ground breaking research by Dr. Ronald M. Krauss, a director at the Children’s Hospital Oakland Research Institute, has found that patients with low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets didn’t experience a reduction in heart disease. But patients eating higher levels of saturated fat, found in dairy and unprocessed meat, and less carbohydrates (such as those found in potato chips, refined sugar and pizza) were less likely to suffer heart attacks.

His findings make total sense to me. Think about it, if low fat foods are supposed to keep off the fat, then why have heart disease and obesity rates skyrocketed in North America since they were introduced to our markets in the last 20 years? Wouldn’t all those people suffering from obesity just need to switch to low fat cheese and eat all the pizza they want? That’s a big fat nope!

Eating Fat does not equate to gaining fat. Eating too much cake, fries, pop and candy are what will make you fat, along with anything else that you eat in excess of a normal serving size.

Breakfast of Champions From Around the World:

Of course, This doesn’t’ mean that we should be starting the day with 12 pieces of bacon and 6 eggs for breakfast, but a healthy breakfast of 2 organic eggs, 1 strip of real bacon fried in real lard, half an organic fried tomato and a piece of toast are actually quite good for you. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have been a classic English Breakfast for eons.  In fact, you can look at the history of breakfast habits of many nations and you will see that that high fat foods are always included and necessary for starting the day right.

Take the traditional Turkish breakfast that my husband and I ate on a trip to Turkey a while back.  The platter was meant for two, and consisted of nuts, olives, fresh veggies, cheeses, some meat, butter, honey and bread. Served with tea, it provided just the right amount of energy and sustenance to keep us touring the city till well into the late afternoon. turkish-breakfast

Last week while on a business trip in Japan, my husband was complaining to me on the phone that the Japanese Breakfast offered at his hotel consisted of rice, miso soup and broiled salmon (very high in good fats by the way). He was wondering where all the sugary donuts were that he and his American colleagues were used to.traditional-japanese-breakfast-foods-aikido-retreat-japan-spring-2012

Norwegians love their smoked meats and the traditional Norwegian breakfasts doesn’t disappoint. Combine the meats with perfectly aged cheeses, organic eggs and real mayonnaise and you have a yummy and healthy breakfast that packs a punch.norwegian-breakfast-skudeneshavn

To Brazilians, a traditional Brazilian breakfast means simple and delicious. Think strong coffee, milk, bread, butter and jam, cheese, ham and sometimes accompanied with some fresh fruit.Brazilian-Breakfast

We know full well that these countries listed above don’t have issues with obesity like we do in North America. Unfortunately it is nations that have started importing and buying “American” food products labeled “fat free” that are seeing spikes in health problems.

Dietary fat doesn’t make people ‘fat’

Going back to Dr. Krauss and his research, he confirms that fat doesn’t make us fat, sugar does (even though fat has more calories—9 per gram—than carbs or sugars). Yes, saturated fat adds to our caloric intake, but our digestion breaks down food into the simple sugar glucose, which provides energy to our body tissue. This sugar triggers the release of insulin, a hormone that cries “Feed Me!!” to a body’s cells and turns unused energy into fat. Unfortunately during the fat-free craze, we just replaced saturated fat with too many starchy carbohydrates and are now constantly releasing too much insulin into our systems (can you now see why Diabetes is on the rise?)

Saturated fat helps make you feel full

If you take foods with saturated fat out of the diet, your body will hunger for a replacement—and often find it in starchy, processed carbohydrates. Dr. Krauss says that there are actually adverse results in substituting carbohydrates for fat. Recent research moves saturated fat from the “bad” to the “neutral” column because it contains both good and bad elements that appear to cancel one another out. It’s important to remember that different types of fat produce different types of cholesterol, with both good and bad effects. The ratio of “good” cholesterol to “bad” cholesterol in the bloodstream is what has an effect for cardiovascular health risks.

Man-made trans fats found in partially hydrogenated oils like shortening are definitely bad for the body, but fats found in eggs, olive oil and fish are rich in “good” cholesterol. Protein-rich foods like red meat and nuts, which also contain saturated fats, are best at making the stomach feel full. This is why you can eat a bag of pretzels and not feel full, even though you’ve consumed hundreds of calories.

Stick to whole foods

And by that I don’t mean the grocery chain (though it’s a great place to shop). Whole, unprocessed foods, be they beef, grains or vegetables, are always a better option than packaged foods. Try to minimize intake of processed foods, especially processed carbohydrates. Experts say while steak may be healthier than you realized, a diet heavy on vegetables is always best. Carbohydrates such as bread or rice made from whole grains rather than refined white flour like white bread and bagels are much better for you.

So nix the sugary cereals, put down that bagel and slowly back away. Instead, butter that whole-wheat bread, add veggies, cheese, eggs and meat and then you have a real breakfast of champions.

To Eating Positively Well,

Sunny

Food

Travel Tip: Eating Healthy While On The Road

What_to_eat_on_the_road_healthyThe picture I’ve posted here is of recent meals I had while on vacation in the Algarve region of Portugal. Looks simple, healthy and a bit fancy right? Well, actually the large photo was of a meal I had in a British Style Pub right on the harbor and it wasn’t a fancy place at all. When I go to the Pub here in Chicago, the only food I can find is greasy onion rings and ketchup.

Everywhere I went in Europe, I was able to find delicious and healthy meal options right on the menu. I didn’t have to ask them to hold the fries, or to go easy on the sauce, or to substitute the double battered onion rings for a salad, in Europe it always came perfectly paired with veggies or a side of salad.

I find that in North America, we are quick to settle for what is offered by restaurants. In Europe, a restaurant would go out of business if the food wasn’t made with farm fresh ingredients or simply made from scratch. In North America, the restaurants that do offer the fresh, organic and made-from-scratch options are considered fancy and usually come with a hefty price tag. Don’t get me wrong, I know there is so much that we do better here on our side of the pond, but when it comes to food, the Europeans know where it’s at.

Now what to do when traveling around the US and Canada and you can’t find a single thing on the menu that you deem healthy? Here are a few tips based on what I choose to eat when I’m on the road: Continue reading “Travel Tip: Eating Healthy While On The Road”

Food

Back from Vacation: Fun & Food

OrangeHappyI just spent the last ten days eating my way through Portugal and Southern Spain. I was blown away by the quality of the food, the abundance of fresh fish and fruit and the wide array of spices and flavors found in all things edible. So much so that I will probably make several different posts with all the different photos I took there (just thought I’d warn you ahead of time).

What I love about a vacation is that it’s a great opportunity for your system to recharge. My mind is fresh and full with new ideas, while my body had a chance to rest from all the protein powders, intense HIIT sessions and heavy weight lifting sessions that I usually subject it to. When I get back into the gym later today, I will probably make a bigger impact as I’ll wake my body back up and give it another much needed change.

I was in no way inactive while I was on vacation. I was walking for 10-12 hours a day, up many hills and uneven surfaces to see all kinds of forts and castles (whew, talk about cobble stones being great for balance training) and I also made it a point to do these exercises in my hotel room every few days. At the same time I didn’t stress about work, blogging, missing a workout or having to cook healthy meals or making sure I met my macro requirements at any time. I just took in the sites, learned about history, ate a lot of freshly picked fruit and chose to eat at restaurants that served good, wholesome foods.

20140514_222858I also had a chance to sit in the sun, catch up on my favorite blogs, and reconnect with my sweet husband. Now that we’re back, I can’t wait to put all of my new ideas to paper, but to also plan our next vacation for next year (I know, I know, I just got back, but looking forward to a new trip let’s me get through long work days 🙂 ). Let me know if you have any upcoming vacations planned or if you have any suggestions for places I should visit that offer really good local food.

To Positively Strong Vacations,

Sunny

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Food

Power Eats: Protein French Toast

ProteinFrenchToastIf you are using whole eggs to make your French toast, then there is already a bunch of Protein in your french toast to begin with, but I am trying to build muscle, and so after a heavy weights workout I am looking for a lot more protein to repair muscle tissue. This is where my super protein whole wheat french toast recipe enters. It’s über simple to make and jam packed with protein and complex carbohydrates, I usually eat these once a week in the afternoon, after a workout, instead of the usual protein shake.

Here are all the ingredients that you will need:

  • 1 Whole Egg
  • 1 Egg Whites
  • 1/2 Scoop of your favorite Vanilla Protein Powder (as I’ve said in this blog, I prefer Dymatize)
  • 1 Tsp Cinnamon
  • 1 TBS of Unsweetend Almond Milk
  • 2 Slices of Whole Wheat Bread (you can use any type really. Ezekiel, sprouted, multi-grain…)
  • 1 Tsp of Organic Coconut Oil
  • Organic Maple Syrup
  • 1/2 Medium Banana (sliced as garnish)

Continue reading “Power Eats: Protein French Toast”