Archive for Antioxidants

Functional foods: help lower blood pressure naturally

Functional food is a term to describe a specific food or food components that have specific effects in our bodies. It’s a bit of a misnomer since food IS the building block of our bodies, and so effects almost every aspect of our health. Blood pressure is one aspect of our health that responds quite favorably to changes in our dietary intake. This study published November 6, in the British Journal of Nutrition, illustrates how grape seed extract can lower blood pressure. Subjects were given a grape seed extract containing beverage to drink twice daily for 6 weeks. Test subjects with pre-hypertension (borderline high blood pressure), reduced their systolic and diastolic blood pressures by 5.6% and 4.7%,  respectively.  Interestingly, those with higher blood pressure experienced almost twice the blood pressure lowering benefit. The amount of grape seed extract used in the study was 150 mg, twice daily (300 mg/day), easily found in an over the counter supplement.

But you don’t have to take pills. Simply eating more vegetables, legumes, and fruit can significantly lower blood pressure, so much so that vegetarians and vegans have almost no risk of developing high blood pressure. How does this work? The compounds in plant foods help make nitric oxide in the blood vessels which relaxes the muscles that line the arteries. Yes, you have muscles in your arteries! These ‘smooth muscles’ as we call them, like nitric oxide and minerals, particularly magnesium. Legumes, whole grains, nuts and seeds are good sources of magnesium, so a diet high in plants naturally lowers blood pressure.

Researchers have described another functional food, flax seed, as having ‘one of the most potent antihypertensive effects achieved by a dietary intervention.’ In a study published in 2013 in Hypertension, just 30 g of flax seed daily for 6 months reduced systolic (the top number) pressure by 10 mm Hg, and diastolic (the bottom number) by 7 mm Hg. That’s enough to push a person with high blood pressure into the normal blood pressure range.  Thirty grams of flax seed is 4 Tbsp. which may be a lot for some to eat everyday. But remember, in the study, they didn’t encourage any other dietary changes. So a more practical daily routine might include 2 Tbsp. of flax seed, 1/2 cup beans or whole grain like quinoa, a cup of blueberries and some hibiscus tea. Yes, you can drink functional food blood pressure lowering compounds too. This study in Fitoterapia found hibiscus tea to be as effective as a common blood pressure medication, and published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers Diana McKay, et al, found just 3 cups of hibiscus tea  to lower systolic pressure by 7 mm Hg.

Want more evidence? Just complete your own search on PubMed on functional foods and hypertension. And don’t forget to check your blood pressure…high blood pressure is a risky business!




Planning ahead for a healthy baby

In 2013, I had a thiamin deficiency. Not my proudest moment as a functional nutritionist, but hey, I relearned something I didn’t think would affect me. At the height of my green juicing habit, I was consuming lots of blueberries and LOTS of kale. I love kale; in my smoothie at breakfast, a kale salad at lunch, and oh heck I’ll through some in my soup/stir fry/dinner tonight, too. Well, kale and blueberries contain an anti-nutrient called anti-thiaminase. As you can surmise, anti-nutrient means it interferes with the utilization or absorption of a particular nutrient and that’s how I ended up with a thiamin deficiency. So I sadly said adieu to kale for a while, saved some blueberries for the rest of the planet and stocked my fridge with other fruit and veggies.

Now with the recent addition of our precious new niece Anna, and counseling several new mommies and mommies to be, I can’t stop reading about how nutrition affects the growing fetus. This video by Dr. Michael Gregor at, illustrates the point that what we eat tells the body how to behave.  Nutrients not only become the structure of our bodies, they are also messengers that deliver instructions on how to put together the structures in our bodies. While I am, admittedly, a whole food zealot, I have concerns about optimizing intake while not flooding the body with ‘messages’ that might in fact be harmful. The possibility that Mother Nature’s closing of a specialized opening in the heart might be adversely affected by high doses of antioxidants gets my attention. As does the research on depression, cardiovascular health, and immunity, all affected by the signaling molecules called nutrients that speak to developing DNA in utero. This ‘programmed DNA’ then dictates the health of the new human into adulthood. I always advocate a plant based diet, including plenty of vegetables and fruit during pregnancy. However, guzzling  concentrated sources of polyphenols and other antioxidants via dehydrated powders and concentrated juices on a daily basis may not be the best advice we can give. In hopes of creating the best developmental environment possible for a developing fetus, 2-3 servings of fruit and veggies at each meal, in their whole unprocessed states seem more appropriate. And yes, paternal nutrition affects the health of the fetus, too. If you are pregnant or soon to be, I hope you watch the video and check out the links above. As the wise Michael Pollan reminds us: eat real food (not powdered, processed ‘health’ food), not too much (optimize, don’t flood the system), mostly plants (yep, plants heal).



Lower the salt, increase potassium to lower blood pressure

Less salt equals lower blood pressure. Not news to most of you. But by focusing on increasing potassium in the diet you can offset some of the effects of sodium, the real culprit in salt. Sodium and potassium work together to create balance and promote metabolic processes in the body. Most people don’t get enough potassium and by simply eating more fresh fruit and veggies, you can dramatically increase the amount of potassium in your diet. Choose sweet potatoes, peaches, bananas, spinach, cantaloupe, avocado, red potatoes, berries, oranges for some of the most concentrated sources of potassium. Meats also contain potassium, but lack the antioxidants that fruits and vegetables contain. Remember, antioxidants are the disease fighters, scavenging free radicals that damage our DNA making the body more susceptible to cancers, heart disease, and other inflammatory diseases. Not sure how much salt you are eating? Try this 24 hour experiment to give you a good idea of how much sodium you typically add to food: Measure out 1 tsp of salt and place in a small cup. This is about 1500 mg of sodium which is considered a safe amount to include each day. Use this salt in preparing your food for one day. Avoid packaged and restaurant food and measure how much salt is left at the end of the day. Hopefully, there is a little bit left! If you prepared mostly whole, unprocessed food which is naturally low in sodium, you can feel confidant that you ate a healthy amount of sodium. Conversely, if you needed additional salt or added in several canned, packaged or prepared food items, you are probably exceeding the recommended 1500-2000 mg thought to be best for the body. Take a peek at the packaged foods you eat and try to choose those that have the least amount of salt in them, replacing salty choices with low and no salt options. Adding your own salt in preparation can save 1000’s of milligrams of sodium. And don’t forget to choose more fruits and veggies, striving for 3 servings of fruit each day and 5-7 servings of veggies.


Getting your greens on

Greens are the most overlooked, under eaten and nutrient packed foods. Leafy greens contain many antioxidants, folic acid and the most not talked about

Methyl Group

molecule, the methyl group. This small combo of carbon and hydrogen is the driver of detoxification.  And what’s the big deal with all this detoxification? Well, detoxification is a very important part of your metabolism, and particularly important in cancer prevention. Your body detoxifies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So declaring it a detox day, week or month is not always accomplishing what you might think it is unless you provide the body these very important methyl groups. Dark leafy greens like romaine, kale, chard, parsley, spinach, red and green lettuce, mustard, collard, radicchio and others, contain this molecule that the liver needs to add to anything it is trying to make water soluble. Vitamins, hormones, byproducts of metabolism and aging, pollutants and other toxins must be made water soluble before the kidney can put them into the urine to remove them from the body. By adding a methyl group to a fat soluble toxin or metabolite, the liver makes it water soluble and the kidney completes the detoxification cycle. Helping the liver do it’s job, reduces free radicals which damage DNA and accelerate aging, it helps estrogen be metabolized in a healthier way and so reduces breast and prostate cancer risk, and keeps the immune system at it’s best to fight off big stuff and not be overloaded with so many unnecessary tasks that an unhealthy diet creates. So get your greens on…grab a green juice, have a spinach salad, roast some kale, put some parsley in your soup! Need more inspiration? Visit for delicious vegetable recipes like The Greenest Salad or try Dr. Andrew Weil’s True Food Kitchen Cookbook  for a plethora of whole food recipes.

Can you eat sunscreen?



We are all familiar with the sting of sunburn, but did you know that UV radiation, affects the immune system? Ultraviolet radiation, especially UVB, creates inflammation which leads to reactive oxygen species, which most of us know as free radicals. These free radicals play a central role in accelerating aging, causing loss of firmness and elasticity of our cells. These scavengers leave skin appearing rough, leathery, wrinkled, with uneven pigmentation and at worst skin cancer.

Enter antioxidants. Plentiful in whole, unprocessed foods, antioxidants are believed to protect the skin in multiple ways. Eating tomato paste, which is high in lutein increases tolerance to UV radiation thus reducing sunburn. When Vitamin E is combined with Vitamin C, these nutrients provide protection by increasing sunburn threshold. Polyphenols are found in cocoa, tea, and citrus fruits. They act as enzyme inhibitors, reducing inflammation that may enhance skin cancers. Over a decade ago, Wang et al reported that rats fed green tea polyphenols, experienced fewer UVB related skin tumors (Carcinogenesis 1991, 12:1527-30.)

Having a diet high in the wrong kind of fat may also encourage skin cancers. Diets high in omega 6 fatty acids have been associated with higher rates of squamous cell carcinoma. In a study by Rhodes, et al, receiving high doses of the essential omega 3 fatty acid, EPA (ecosapentaenoic acid) doubled the time before skin became burned (Carcinogenesis, 2003; 24:919-25). Unfortunately, our diets are largely out of balance when it comes to healthy fats. Our modern diets provide a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 of 10:1. To achieve a healthy 4:1 ratio, reduce the amount of snack and prepared foods that contain canola, soy, sunflower, corn, and safflower oils which are high in omega 6 fats. Replace them with foods high in omega 3 such as nuts, fish, olive oil and avocado and use only use grape seed and olive oils in the kitchen.

Unfortunately you can’t get this phyto-protection overnight. Your diet must be rich in these nutrients for at least eight to ten weeks to receive the benefits, and of course, diet alone is not your best defense. A topical sunscreen is imperative to adequate sun protection, and some contain green tea or beta carotene which benefits the skin topically as well as inside the body. But for the time when sunscreen fails, or you just push the sun time a bit longer than you should, it’s nice knowing you have the backup of an antioxidant rich diet providing powerful damage control.