Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nutrition Tidbits, or What We Keep in Mind at Our House

I can’t go into details because I didn’t get permission from the lovely woman who sent me an email yesterday but she caused me to think a lot about nutrition last night and this morning. Her email made me realize that I should spend more time writing about the health benefits of different foods and why I include specific foods in my recipes. When I am developing recipes I am always thinking about the nutritional aspect of the specific foods I am incorporating. Here are a few things I keep in mind due to what I have read about nutrition.

Green Tea

I am almost religious about our consumption of green tea. Both my husband and I drink it everyday from morning until night. If you don’t know green tea is packed with EGCG, which inhibits cancer from forming new blood vessels to feed it. You only need to have two or three cups of tea in you before the EGCG is traveling throughout your body through your capillaries. Since DNA is mutating all the time I like to keep my levels of EGCG up the so the cancer can’t grow. A scientist in Canada studied the impact of EGCG’s on a number of different cancer cell lines and found it slowed the growth of leukemia, breast, prostate, kidney, skin and mouth cancers. That was all I needed to read to increase our consumption of green tea. On an average day we drink approximately 8 cups of green tea.

Harvard studied the impact of combining foods found in the typical Asian diet and discovered that green tea and soy, when consumed at the same time work more effectively than when consumed alone. Specifically the scientists at Harvard recommended consuming green tea and soy at the same time to “inhibit the progression of estrogen dependent cancers (breast and prostate)”. What that means at our house is that we consume dry roasted edamame or fresh edamame when we have our green tea. I make a trail mix with the dry roasted edamame and send that to work with my husband for him to nibble when he drinks his green tea.

In the morning we have our green tea with a little powdered vitamin C, sliced fresh ginger and goji berries. I allow the tea to steep for 10 minutes to get the maximum amount of EGCG from the tea. Additionally we try to consume the tea within an hour of brewing to get the maximum nutritional benefit. In some of the mugs of tea I also add a little pomegranate juice for added antioxidants. This sounds like more work than it actually is. I keep sliced ginger in our freezer and grab a couple of slices for each mug. The powdered vitamin C bottle is next to the hot water dispenser as are the tea bags and kitchen timer. When tea starts brewing I set the timer for 10 minutes and wait. We have been doing this so long it is a routine that we do on autopilot. The vitamin C is something we have been using for a month or so since I read that vitamin C increases the absorption of the EGCG in the green tea.

Omega 3 fatty acids versus Omega 6

I always include a little omega three fat with every meal. For breakfast that means grinding a couple of tablespoons of golden flaxseeds and adding that to our smoothies or oatmeal. Sometimes I also add a small handful of walnuts (about a ¼ cup) for the same reason. At lunch and dinner I add shelled hempseeds to our salads. I also started making walnut butter for its omega three. It has been a recurrent theme in the books I have been reading that humans need to consume more omega 3 and less omega 6 for optimum health. Omega 3 is anti-inflammatory and omega 6 is inflammatory. Since too much inflammation can lead to cascading health issues I try in general to minimize the added oils in our diet and concentrate on whole sources of omega 3 (ground flaxseed, hempseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts to name a few).

Cruciferous Vegetables

The consumption of cruciferous vegetables is associated with a reduction in all forms of cancer. Additionally the substances in the cruciferous vegetables aren’t stable in high heat so it is better to consume them lightly cooked. In general I try to cook all the cruciferous vegetables as little as possible to maintain the maximum amount of nutrition.

When I serve broccoli I combine it with tomatoes because I read that when broccoli and tomatoes combined have a synergist benefit that makes both more effective. Today for lunch I added lightly cooked broccoli to the salad I put in my husband’s lunch. I also add broccoli to our red sauce just before serving for the same reason.

Whole Food versus Processed Food

This issue was the most difficult for me to comply with. Being part Italian I have a serious love of pasta and bread. They are as important to me as chocolate is to other people. As much as it pains me I try to keep our intake of flour products, even whole grain items to a minimum. You may be asking why avoid 100% whole grain products, and that was my question initially. From what I have read the process that turns wheat into flour makes even whole grain flour too quickly absorbed in the body. This quick release carbohydrate spikes insulin and insulin like growth factors, which unchecked increases inflammation.

This was seriously bad news for me since I am such a lover of pasta and bread. As a compromise I do allow us to eat both bread and pasta but only if it is 100% whole grain, homemade and not consumed everyday. This is a lot of rules I know, but it is how I keep our consumption of flour in check. When I make ravioli we always have it with a big salad and there is no bread with the pasta and no other flour products in our day. Additionally, I try to keep our flour consumption to 3 times a week or less.

On a related whole versus processed note I also try make certain that most of our fat comes from seeds and nuts and not processed oil. This meant giving up my beloved unfiltered extra virgin olive oil. Again, the Italian side of me had a hard time with this. Italians use olive oil as a condiment like salt and pepper. They drizzle a little on food (pizza, pasta, soup, etc.) when serving. I served our food like this for decades. It tastes wonderful, but the fat adds up. Now if I do add a little olive oil, which isn’t often, I measure it so I know it isn’t more than ½ teaspoon per serving. It is enough to taste the oil without compromising our health much. I only do this when I have made a no fat added dish by water sautéing the vegetables.

Herbs and Spices

Many herbs and spices are packed with nutrition even though we think of them as flavor elements. When I cook I liberally add fresh herbs and spices.

In our morning smoothie or oatmeal I always add cinnamon and powdered ginger. The cinnamon is reported to help the body process the fruit sugar more effectively and therefore keep insulin levels from raising. Ginger works well with cinnamon from a taste perspective and is high in antioxidants and reducing the formation of new blood vessels to cancerous tumors.

Mint, thyme, marjoram, oregano, basil and rosemary are all rich in terpene, which has been shown to reduce the spread of many different cancer lines. Rosemary contains carnosol (a type of terpene), which reduces the ability of cancer to spread. The National Institute of Health has been studying rosemary and its ability to help chemotherapy penetrate cancer cells which good success.

Parsley contains apigenine, which helps to inhibit cancers ability to create new blood vessels. Without a good blood supply the tumors will begin to die. This is how both the cancer drugs Gleevec and Sutent work in the body. According to scientists even a small concentration of apigenine is effective is in reducing blood vessel formation. Celery also contains apigenine if you are looking for a secondary source. I think of that when I am using celery as a scoop for my hummus.

Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that I also try to include where it seems appropriate. It inhibits the growth of many cancer lines including: brain, breast, colon, leukemia, liver, ovarian and stomach. Turmeric works through both angiogenesis and apoptosis meaning it blocks blood vessel formation and induces cancer cell suicide. Indians consume ¼ to ½ teaspoon of turmeric a day and have much lower rates of all forms of cancer. The body is best able to absorb the turmeric when it is sautéed in a little oil and mixed with a generous amount of black pepper.


The ellagic acid in berries has been shown to slow tumor growth in mice. Ellagic acid (a polyphenols) is found in raspberries, strawberries, hazelnuts and walnuts). Both raspberries and strawberries and items I like to have in the house. I buy both fresh and frozen depending on the season.

Blueberries have been shown to induce cancer cell suicide. Wild blueberries contain higher levels of antioxidants than their cultivated relatives. I try to keep a bag of frozen wild blueberries on hand at all times. They go into our smoothies, oatmeal and desserts.


The consumption of mushrooms is associated with a robust immune system. Mushrooms contain lentinian that is shown to directly stimulate the immune system. The activation of the immune system slows tumor growth. In Japan, hospitals are now including mushrooms and mushroom extracts for cancer patients on chemotherapy. Earlier this year a study showed that women who ate mushrooms had a lower incidence of breast cancer. This applied to both fresh and dry mushrooms.

At our house we buy many different types of mushrooms but I always pick up fresh maitake (hen of the woods) and shiitake when I see them as they are reported to contain more lentinian.

Onions, Garlic, Leeks, Shallots and Chives

Garlic has been used for thousands of years as both food and medicine. The sulfur that is contained in this family of food promotes cancer cell death in a number of different cancer cell lines including: breast, colon, leukemia, lung and prostate. Additional studies have shown a reduction of kidney and prostate cancer among those that consume the most garlic. This family of food also reduced blood sugar levels, insulin and insulin like growth factors. Not only is this beneficial for diabetics but it also slows the growth of cancer.

The active agent in garlic (allicin) is activated when the garlic is crushed or chopped. It takes 10 minutes for the allicin to form and become heat stable. I crush or chop the garlic and set a timer for 10 minutes before I add it to a hot pan. Additionally the allicin is more bioavailable if it is dissolved in a little oil. For this reason I sometimes add a small amount of oil to the pan when I cook the garlic.

Green Drink Powder

My husband and I are fairly new to green drink powder. I first read about this in “Life Over Cancer” as something that was recommended for cancer patients and cancer survivors and embarked on research to find out which brand was most effective. Needless to say everyone has a different opinion on this and the answer didn’t seem to be as cut and dry, as I wanted it to be. We ended up buying “Green Vibrance” because it contains sea vegetables as well as barley and wheat grass and 25 billion probiotics from 12 different strains (in each dose). Our first reaction to this drink wasn’t good. However, it has grown on us over time and appears to have had a very positive impact on our health. At our house it took us 5 or 6 doses of the green drink before we found the taste to be acceptable. I believe this drink is an important part of our nutritional program. My husband and I have half a dose in the morning and another half a dose at night before bed.


These are a few of things that I do to try to nourish my husband and myself to the best of my ability. I view mealtime as a way to influence our health specifically by reducing inflammation and increasing our antioxidants. In addition to the items above I try to make certain we eat all the colors of the rainbow each day. The color of the fruits and vegetables seems to be tied to certain vitamins and antioxidants and for that reason I try to get a mix of different colors each day. Additionally I also try to buy different fresh produce each week for the same reason. Each fruit and vegetable contains a different mix of nutrients and my mixing up the food I maximize the nutrition. The more I have learned about the nutrition the more I realize that if something is good for cancer it is also good for general health.

I would summarize my food philosophy as being eat plenty of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and herbs and spices. Mix it up and buy different items eat trip to the store. We get most of your fat from seeds, nuts and lastly avocado. Use grains as a condiment. Stay away from sugar as it promotes cancer, diabetes and inflammation.

I am certain there are things that I have forgotten to add to this post. As they come to mind I will start a second post to update this one. Please remember when you read this that my time in the hospital industry was in administration. Both my degrees are in finance and anything that I have written is based on books I have read not on any formal education. If anything that I wrote isn’t clear or you would like more information please post a comment. I will answer your questions to the best of my ability or tell you if I don’t have the answer.


  1. Alicia, Thanks so much for sharing this. Do you drink your green tea straight. I haven't been able to develop a taste for it yet.. I guess I should try harder :-)
    Debra @ Vegan Family Style

  2. Thanks for all the info Alicia; I'm going to print this out and keep it with my recipes. I'm trying to keep to a healthy diet (a la Raymond Francis guidelines), but sometimes it's difficult; esp with a picky husband. I figure that I'll keep trying to do my best and not to stress too much about it when I fall short; the last thing anyone needs is more stress.

    Have a good one.

  3. Debra,

    It does take time to develop a taste for green tea. I remember when I first started drinking it thinking is was so bland. Now I enjoy the flavor.

    I don't add sweetener to my tea if that is what you mean by straight. However, I do add sliced fresh ginger, dried goji berries, vitamin C powder and sometimes a splash (an ounce or two) of unsweetened pomegranate juice. I hope that helped.

    Green tea is such a healthy beverage I just remind myself of that and chug it down. I have a mug next to me now. I am on cups 5 and 6 for the day as I write this (we have giant coffee mugs that look like they are meant for the jolly green giant).


  4. Rose,

    You are very welcome. After I received a touching email yesterday I thought I should do a better job outlining some of the information I have in my head that I don't share often on the blog. I know it is a lot of detail but it does become second nature after a while.

    I agree with you completely regarding stress. It isn't good for anything. From what I have seen on your blog your cooking is healthy. I don't think you have many modifications to make, if any. Please don't be stressed.

    My husband used to be very picky so I undertand the problem that can cause. It is amazing how cancer made my husband so much more nutritionally compliant. I wish that wasn't what was necessary but at least he did eventually embrace nutritional excellence. Now is he my best little soldier.

    Thanks for letting me know the info was useful.


  5. Wow, this is fascinating to me! While I don't have any particular cancer concerns (aside from those we should all have living where we are today). However, despite the anti-cancer bent, it seems nutritionally sound and helpful for everyone. (I just found your blog today with Vegan MoFo highlights, but I'm going to add you to my reader, I'd love to hear more. And search the archives when I have more time!)

  6. this was a lot of information. i will need toread it in two parts so i know i get all of it!

  7. This is so much great information. Thanks!

  8. One of the things that has helped my family is doing a morning shake that you can include probiotics, Fish Oil and a greens product all in one and cover all your bases!

  9. PaganAngel,

    I agree with you completely. Nutrition advice that is helpful for cancer patients and survivors also applies to everyone else. We have lost many friends to cancer uwho were under the age of 50 that appeared to be in good health before the diagnosis.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this and comment. When I see new info on health (like the CoQ10 and fatty liver article yesterday) I try to post a quick comment and link. However, most of my posts are healthy recipes.


  10. Michelle (dirtyduck),

    Sorry for the information overload. I intentionally tried to cram a lot into one post so it would be in one place for easy reference later.


  11. Mo,

    Thanks so much for including me in the highlight. I put an hour or so into this particular post trying to summarize what I think about when I am developing recipes. I am very happy to hear the post was appreciated.


  12. Jonathan,

    I would love to hear more if you have time please send me the link to your blog (if you have one) or an email. It sounds like we share a common interest.


  13. My wife, Amanda (of sent me a link to this post and I'm glad she did since I have a keen interest in nutrition. A few comments. First, one large reason for vegans to max out your omega 3:6 ratio is that omega 6 inhibits upgrading of ALA to EPA. Pescatarians can get lots of EPA and DHA from fish oil, but we're stuck with ALA for the most part.

    Regarding the green tea, from what I've read, massive amounts > 300mg EGCG per day are necessary to achieve a discernable anti-cancer effect. That's a lot of green tea!

  14. Doc Dufesne,

    Thanks so much for weighing in.

    I have seen a range of EGCG levels for measurable results with the lowest level at 180 mg. We have switched from coffee to green tea and also normally have tea in place of water (just in case it has an impact). We are operating on the theory that everything is cumulative and every little bit helps (or at least doesn't harm).

    You did a much better job of explaining the omega 3:6 ratio than I did, I really appreciate your input.


  15. I'm glad I re-read this post, as it contains so much valuable information. I'm curious, do you take any supplements other than Green Vibrance? Yesterday Yahoo news had a short article on how vitamins can do more harm than seemed to disappear within a couple of hours, which was suspicious. The main link was to I was surprised at some of the statements in that link and read some of the referenced medical articles (but I couldn't access the full text, so I don't know the vitamin quantity that was consumed). I'm thinking of stopping the supplements for now, except perhaps fish oil and calcium (and Green Vibrance, which I need to take more regularly) (what do you normally mix it in, just water?). I'd love to get your opinion on this.

  16. Laura,

    I have read some of those of those articles regarding vitamins being unhealthy. Intuitively I can't agree with this assuming the vitamins are taken in reasonable quantities (no mega dosing). I have asked friends of mine who are pharmacists and doctors and they all take vitamins so that says a lot to me. I do think it is best to get your nutrition from food. However, I see vitamins as a sort of insurance policy to make certain we didn't miss anything. It may be largely unnecessary, but I don't think it is harmful, in reasonable amounts.

    As you may know we eat this way for health, not ethical reasons. My goal is to keep my husband as healthy as possible, and it seems to be working extremely well so far.

    This week I have been reading "Beating Cancer with Nutrition" and it devotes an entire chapter to vitamin supplements. I need to do a little more research but may be adding a few additional supplements to our regime to be on the safe side. Currently we take a general multi vitamin and mineral, CoQ10 (for inflammation), Krill Oil, B-12, D, and the green drink. Obviously some of these aren't vegan. But as I said earlier, for us this is all about health and vegan food happens to be the healthiest.

    Regarding the Green Vibrance, we both still take 1/2 tablespoon each morning (in approximately 1/2 cup water) with a lot of ice. We have the same thing each evening before bed. We split the dose so that it is less at one time. The ice seems to make the drink more palatable.

    If I missed any of your questions, or you want me to elaborate on anything we do please let me know. Thanks for the great question. I love things that make me rethink what we are doing and why. I don't want to get stuck in a routine and miss something.


  17. Laura,

    I just realized I put the second half of my response to this on the Challenge Post. I wanted to make certain you saw it. Sorry for the confusion, without coffee I am not much of a morning person. ;)



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