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New Blog Series-Spicing Your Way to Health!

3 Mar

Spicing Your Way to Health with Curcumin

Here are Naturally Healthy and Gorgeous, we are going to start a new blog series called “Spicing your way to Health.”  In this series, we will focus on spices with documented health benefits and discuss easy and delicious ways you can add these spices to your everyday eating.  Today, we are going to talk about Curcumin.

What is curcumin?

Curcumin is the principal curcuminoid of the popular Indian spice turmeric.  Tumeric is part of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) (source).

Curcumin has been used since 700 AD by Indian and Chinese traditional medicine doctors for numerous diseases such as bronchitis, colds, parasitic worms, leprosy, arthritis and inflammations of bladder, liver, kidney and skin, and to help fever and diarrhea (source)

What health benefits does curcumin have?

A surpurising number of health benefits ahve been linked to curcumin:

  • It has shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiproliferative effects
  • It has shown in vitro and in vivo to potentlaly target pathways involved in creating Alzheimer disease thus having the potential to halt its progression or initiation (source)
  • It has shown to lower plasma and hepatic cholesterol and halt early atherosclerotic lesions similar to the drug lovastatin (source)
  • It has shown to prevent several cancers in cell lines (source)
  • It has suggested that it may help digestive diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, Crohn’s disease and bacterial and parasitic diseases (source)
  • It has shown to help patients with Ulcerative Colitis maintain remission (source)
  • It has shown to inhibit HIV replication in vitro (source)

Safety issues

Studies using 2-12 grams of curcumin have shown limited side effects such as mild nausea or diarrhea.(source)

Curcumin has shown to potentially cause iron deficiency in susceptible patients(source)

How can I eat curcumin?

Spicy Chicken Marsala from Sunday   They actually talk about the health benefits too!

Tumeric Roasted Cauliflower from Huffington Post

Shrimp with Tumeric and Mustard Seeds from Jane Spice

Chili Red Lentil Soup from The Real Nutritionista


Do you like curcumin?  What is your favorite way to eat it?


Topics in Aroma Therapy-Tea Tree Oil

24 Jan

Healing Properties of Tea Tree Oil


Welcome to the 2nd post in my new blog series, Topic in Aromatherapy.  Each week I will focus on an aspect of aromatherapy such as an essential oil or carrier oil and discuss their healing properties.  I also will discuss how to make some of your own natural products using essential oils.  Last week we talked about jojoba oil.

What is tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is a pale yellow colour to nearly colorless and clear essential oil (source) from leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia (see picture above), a plant native to Australia (source).

Over 98 compounds are contained in the oil (source)

What studies have ben done on tea tree oil?

Tea tree oil has shown to be:

  • antiviral against herpes simplex virus in culture (source)
  • able to kill head lice in vitro (source)
  • comparable to 5% benzoyl peroxide in the treatment of moderate common acne (although with a slower onset) (source)
  • antibacterial againist bacteria known to cause acne (source) and a wide range of other bacteria (source)
  • able to treat dandruff with a 5% solution (source)
  • antifungal (source) for a wide variety of fungi (source) (source)
  • antiprotzoal (source)
  • comparable to clotrimazole in effectiveness against onychomycosis (toe fungal infection) (source)
  • able to kill the yeast Candida in vitro (source)
  • more effective than commercial medications against the scabies mite in vitro (source)
  • anti-inflammatory(source)

This paper has a great summary of most of the studies I cited above

How can you use tea tree oil in aromatherapy?

There are endless uses for tea tree oil!  You can use it at 100% concentration (see warning below about a possible skin irritation) to treat the above mentioned diseases.  You can also add it to your shampoo, lotion, a vaporizer or even used it as part of a house cleaner (source)!

If you don’t want to use the tea tree oil at 100% you can add 2 tablespoons of tea tree oil to half a cup of the carrier oil (such as olive oil or jojoba oil).

Are there any risks to using tea tree oil?

Don’t use it orally!

According to the American Cancer Society

“Tea tree oil is toxic when swallowed. It has been reported to cause drowsiness, confusion, hallucinations, coma, unsteadiness, weakness, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach upset, blood cell abnormalities, and severe rashes. It should be kept away from pets and children.” (source)

Only 1 out of 725 patients experienced an allergic reaction when tea tree oil was applied to the skin at 1% dilution (source)


Have you used tea tree oil before?  If so, how have you used it?

Antioxidant Tuesdays-Strawberries

3 Jan

Strawberry Antioxidant Power!


For the next installment of antioxidant Tuesdays, I am going to talk about strawberries.    If you haven’t read an Antioxidant Tuesday post before, it is a series highlighting the 10 foods with the highest amount of antioxidants amongst 100 common foods examined in this study.  So far, we have talked about kidney beanspinto beansblueberriescranberriesartichokesblackberries and prunes.

Health Benefits of Strawberries

Strawberries are an antioxidant powerhouse!  They also have few calories per serving and are high in fiber, vitamin C, folate and manganese.   We talked in this post why Vitamin C is to maintain our health.

Studies on Strawberries

  • Strawberry powder was able to reduce cholesterol and increase LDL (good) cholesterol  size in obese subjects.  Thus, it  reduced risk factors for heart disease, stroke and diabetes in these volunteers (source).
  • Daily strawberry consumption was able to increase the antioxidant capacity of healthy volunteers (source)
  • Anthocyanins (a compound in strawberries) are able to reduce the risk of heart disease and prevent some chronic diseases (source)
  • Freeze-dried strawberries were able to decrease cholesterol and lipid peroxidation (leads to atherosclerosis) in women with metabolic syndrome (source)
  • Ellagic acid ( found in raspberries, strawberries, cranberries, walnuts, pecans, pomegranates and other plants (source)) can reduce DNA damage (source)
  • Strawberries were shown to reduce the grade of premaligant (precancer) lesions as well as decrease inflammatory signaling (source)
  • Strawberry extracts were able to kill colon cancer cells in vitro (outside the body) (source)

How to eat them

Healthy Strawberry Smoothie from Antioxidants for Healthy and Longevity

Grilled Chicken Salad with Strawberry Dressing from Fitness Magazine

Buckwheat Strawberry Crepes from The Daily Green

Strawberry Rhubard Fruit Bars from Delish

Coucous and Fruit Salad from Eating Well

Reminder:  As Strawberries are part of The Dirty Dozen, try to buy organic if possible.  Trader Joe’s sells organic frozen strawberries for a reasonable price.


Do you like strawberries?  What is your favorite way to eat them?

Antioxidant Tuesdays-Blackberries!

20 Dec



For the next installment of antioxidant Tuesdays, I am going to talk about blackberries.    If you haven’t read an Antioxidant Tuesday post before, it is a series highlighting the 10 foods with the highest amount of antioxidants amongst 100 common foods examined in this study.  So far, we have talked about kidney beanspinto beansblueberriescranberries and artichokes.

Health Benefits


Blackberries are a superfruit!  For a very low number of calories, they have tons of fiber, Vitamin C and Vitamin A.

They are high in micronutrients such as anthocyanins and ellagitannins which give them their antioxidant power (source)

Anthocyanins are also associated with anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antiproliferant, and anticarcinogenic effects (source)


Blackberries and berry-derived products have been evaluate in cells and in animals and in human studies.  Just a few studies are highlighted below:

  • Seed flour from blackberries have shown to inhibit the multiplication of human colon cancer cells (source)
  • Compounds from berries such as blackberries have shown to inhibit the oxidation of LDL (the bad cholesterol) which prevents the development of atheroscleoris (hardening of arteries) (source)
  • These compounds also prevent oxidative stress in cells in vitro (outide the body) (source)
  • The role of these compounds to reduce cancer risk has been shown in in vitro, animal, and clinical studies (source)
  • Phytochemicals in blueberries may modulate initiation, promotion, and progression of cancer. (source)
  • Blackberry extracts from eight varieties (Arapaho, Choctaw, Hull, Chicksaw, Triple Crown, Kiowa, Navajo, and Chester) suppressed cancer development at various levels (source)
  • Blackberry extracts play a protective role against DNA damage in cell cultures (source)

How to eat them

Fresh Blackberry Sauce from Delish

Blackberry Pork Tenderloin from Gourmet Recipe

Blackberry Strawberry Crisp from Natural Noshing

Cedar Plank Salmon with Blueberry Sauce from Taste of Home

Blackberry Pecan Muffins from Crazy Englishwoman Cooks


Do you like blackberries?  What is your favorite way to eat them?

Chia, chia, chia!

18 Dec

Chia seeds

When I first read about chia seeds on health blogs, I was reminded of the chia pets from the 80s.

When I found out what chia seeds were and the more I read about them, the more convinced I became of their health benefits.  Now I eat them almost everyday in my oatmeal.

What are chia seeds?

Chia’s scientific name is Salvia hispanica.  It is  is a flowering plant of the mint family which is native to Mexico (source).

Chia has an interesting past as it was banned after the Spanish conquered Mexico as chia was used in Aztec religion (Source).  Today, the crop is gaining in populatiry as it is being grown to harvest its seeds, chia seeds, due to their health promoting functions. 

Are chia seeds really as healthy as they claim to be?

When a product, such as chia seeds, becomes popular very quickly, I am often skeptical about the product’s health claims.  Chia seeds have been touted as a superfood with health benefits ranging from keeping one hydrated to providing more Omega-3s than salmon.  The problem is that the supposed health benefits of foods, such as chia seeds, are often listed on websites which are selling the product, thus introducing a bias.  As a scientist, I like to trace back the claims to the original studies.  What is fact and what is fiction?

Let’s find out!

What are the health benefits of chia seeds?

  • Chia seed oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), such as linoleic and α-linolenic acid (source), which have been linked to numerous health benefits from decreasing cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality (source) to  decreasing cancer development (source)
  • The seeds have protein and fiber contents that range from 17% to 24% and from 18% to 22%, respectively (source) (source)
  • The seeds have a number of compounds with potent antioxidant activities: myricetin, quercetin, kaemperol, and caffeic acid (source)
  • The seeds are a complete protein (great for vegetarians!)
  • The seeds are high in fiber
  • The seeds contain numerous micronutrients (see below)

Chia seeds are low in saturated fats, have no cholesterol (since they are a plant product) and are higher in Omega-3s than fish and flax seeds.


Chia seeds are also loaded with healthy micro- and macro-onutrients which are important for the normal workings of our bodies


Studies on Chia

  • Chia seed oil can be used as an moisturizing agent for pruritic (itchy) skin (source)
  • Chia seeds were able to reduce visceral adiposity (around organs-the dangerous fat) present in rats fed a high sucrose diet (source)
  • Rats fed chia had a decrease in their serum triacylglycerol and an increase in their serum HDL cholesterol (healthy cholesterol) (source)
  • A Florida-based company, Valensa International, is promoting a new chia-cranberry blend which they claim can ease digestion problems among those who eat a lot of fast food (source)
  • Rats fed a diet supplemented with chia seeds had improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, reduced visceral adiposity and reduced heart and liver inflammation (source)
  • Athletes given chia seeds before events lasting more than 90 minutes did not require as much sugar to maintain their performance (source)
  • Salba (the plant from which the chia seeds are harvested) mildly suppressed appetite and regulated the spike in blood sugar often seen post-eating (source)

How can I eat them?

Chia seeds have very little taste but absorb tons of water.  This ability to absorb water is why they are good for runners as it helps runners’ bodies store water and reduce dehydration.  The simplest way to eat chia seeds is to create a chia gel.  This gel is made of a 6:1 ratio (water to seed).  However, this is bland and boring.  Why not try one of the recipes below?

Chia gel

“Chia eggs” are great for vegans as chia eggs can replace eggs for most baked products.  You can replace 1 egg in a recipe by mixing 3 Tbsp Water with 1 Tbsp Chia Seed and letting it solidify for about 10 min.

Chia egg (source)

I like to add about a tablespoon of chia to my overnight oats to bump up their volume and fiber content.

One of my favorite blogs, Oh She Glows uses chia seed in her oatmeal too!

Banana Bread with Chia and Whey

Chia Cashew Coconut Cream Parfait from RAW Living and Learning

Chia Flour Brownies

Lime, Poppy Seed and Chia Muffins


Have you tried chia seeds before?  How do you determine if a health claim of a food is real or not?

Antioxidant Tuesdays-Artichokes

13 Dec



For the next installment of antioxidant Tuesdays, I am going to talk about artichokes.    If you haven’t read an Antioxidant Tuesday post before, it is a series highlighting the 10 foods with the highest amount of antioxidants amongst 100 common foods examined in this study.  So far, we have talked about kidney beans, pinto beans, blueberries and cranberries.

Health Benefits of Artichokes

Artichokes are a great and healthy vegetable as they are low in calories and high in fiber and antioxidants.  Artichokes are not prepared as often as other vegetables, so for ways to enjoy this vegetable, check out the recipes featured below.


Numerous studies have examined the health benefits of artichokes and artichoke extract.  These studies have found that:

  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which are oligosaccharides (sugars) found in artichokes, can reduce constipation in newborns (Source)
  • Silymarin (a flavonoid present in artichoke) may be able to reduce arthritis by decreasing cellular inflammation (Source)
  • Silymarin has shown promise in preventing different stages of mouse skin cancer (Source)
  • Artichoke extract is cardioprotective in aged rats (Source)
  • Artichoke extract has shown in rats to prevent some of the  negative effects of hypercholesterol and was able to reduce serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels in these same rats (Source)
  • Artichoke extract protects liver cells from oxidative stress (Source)
  • Luteolin, an active ingredient in artichokes, seems able to inhibit  the production of new cholesterol in the liver(Source)
  • Clinical data supports lipid-lowering and antiemetic (prevent vomiting and diarrhea) properties of artichoke extracts with good patient tolerance and a low incidence of side effects (Source)
  • In a clinical trial, patients taking artichoke leaf daily had a 4.2% reduction in total cholesterol (Source)
  • Cynarin, an active ingredient in artichokes, stimulates the production of bile to help us digest fats and absorb vitamins (Source)
  • Patients with IBS given artichoke leaf extract experienced a 26.4% reduction in IBS incidence (Source)
  • Artichoke leaf extract can kill leukemia cells (Source)

These are just a few of the studies highlighting the disease fighting power of artichokes!

How to cook them

Sundried Tomato and Feta Stuffed Artichokes from Eating Well

Grilled Artichokes with Lemom Aioli from Closet Cooking

Artichoke and Arugula Pizza with Prosciutto from Cooking Light

Farro with Artichokes from Eating Well

Spinach and Artichoke Pizza from Laaloosh

Here is a great step-by-step tutorial on how to cook and eat an artichoke.


Have you ever had an artichoke?  Do you buy fresh or canned?  What is your favorite way to eat it?

Antioxidant Tuesdays-Cranberries!

6 Dec



Cranberries are the next food to focus on in my series, Antioxidant Tuesdays!  Over a period of ten weeks, I will talk about each of the foods that study found to be the highest in antioxidants amongst 100 common foods.

So far we have talked about kidney beans, blueberries and pinto beans.

Health Benefits of Cranberries

Cranberries have shown to have numerous disease fighting abilities as highlighted in the studies below.  Their activies are likely due to their high degree of antioxidant activity (Source) and phytonutrients.

Type of Phytonutrient Specific Molecules
Phenolic Acids hydroxybenzoic acids including vanillic acids; hydroxycinnamic acids inculding caffeic, coumaric, cinnamic, and ferulic acids
Proanthocyanidins epicatechins
Anthocyanins cyanidins, malvidins, and peonidins
Flavonoids quercetin, myricetin, kaempferol
Triterpenoids ursolic acid




Cranberries or their extracts have shown to:

  • Inhibit periodontal disease (Source)
  • Inhibit oxidative processes including LDL oxidation (leads to atherosclerosis) (Source)
  • Inhibits oxidative damage to neurons during ischemia (protect against brain damage when your brain isn’t getting enough oxygen) (Source)
  • Inhibits oxidative and inflammatory damage to vasculature (leads to atherosclerosis) (Source)
  • Inhibits cancer in vitro (in vitro=in cell culture, outside of body) (Source)
  • Inhibition of COX activity (COX= inflammatory) (Source)
  • Inhibition of tumor growth in an animal model  (Source)
  • The data on UTIs in unconvincing and cranberries or juice may only help women recurrent UTIs (Source) (Source)

Recent Scandal

Ocean Spray is undergoing a investigation right now to settle the amount of proanthocyanidins (PACs), healthy flavanoids, in its drinks.  Ocean Spray says it should be determined in 6-12 months.  Apparently the mechanisms for measuring PACs have not been well established which has led some to question its reliability.  You can read the study here.

The USDA has a database for the amount of PACs in foods which you can find here

How to Cook Them

Of course…cranberry sauce from Simply Recipes

Quinoa with Toasted Almonds and Cranberries from Saavy Vegetarian

Cranberry Apple Tart from Daily Healthy Recipes

Sausage, Apple and Cranberry Stuffing from Serious Eats

Cranberry Pecan Scones from Prevention


What is your favorite way to eat cranberries?  Do you prefer to eat them or drink juice?