Blog Directory - Blogged foodliterate: June 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Superfruits - The Exotics

Welcome back superfriends to part two of superfruits. When I said superfruits in the last post, the first thing that came to mind was probably exotic, strangely named and odd looking fruits, not cherries and blueberries. So in an effort not to disappoint, this week I'm going to tell you about some of the exotic superfruits that are getting a lot of buzz these days.

Açai - goodness, you can't turn around in the grocery store or watch a TV commercial these days with out hearing about this superfruit. Açai fruit comes from the açai palm, the same palm that hearts of palm (a gourmet salad ingredient) comes from, and is native to Central and South America. The berries (really drupes) are about the size of a large grape and is rarely the form in which it is seen or used (food processors use the dried powder usually). 100 grams of the açai powder has 534 calories (yikes!), 44 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and 32 grams of fat - this is some really nutrient dense stuff.

What is also interesting is the breakdown of the fat in the açai berry; it is full of fatty acids. 56% is the monounsaturated oleic acid, 24% is the saturate palmitic acid and 12% is the polyunsaturated linoleic acid (also known as omega-6). It also contains a plant phytosterol called beta-sitosterol which is being studied to see how well it competes in the body with cholesterol thereby having the potential to reduce cholesterol levels.

Goji - the goji berry is also known as the wolfberry, but that doesn't sound nearly as exiting or exotic does it? It is a bright red-orange berry with tiny yellow seeds and is part of the Solanaceae family which includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and chili peppers. While it can grow in lots of places, the commerical production of this fruit is happening in China where it has been used in their traditional medicine for around 2000 years. They believe that it is good for the yin, improving eyesight, and improving circulation.

Again, you are unlikely to see these as fresh fruits - they are usually found dried or in powder form. 100 grams of the powder has 370 calories, 68 grams of carbohydrates, 12 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber and 10 grams of fat. It also has some essential fatty acids like linoleic and alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3), which are great for cardiovascular health. In addition, goji berries are high in carotenoids like beta-carotene & cryptoxanthin (pro-vitamin A) and lutein & zeaxanthin (found in the retina of your eyes).

Noni - One of the newer fruits being studied, it is also known as the "vomit fruit" due to its pungent odor when ripening - ick! It is a yellow-green fruit with many little brown seeds and a cream colored pulp. It has a strong smell and bitter taste and is again usually found as a powder. It is native to southeast Asia, but also grown in Hawaii. 100 grams of noni powder has 100% of the RDI for fiber (25 grams), 12 grams of protein, and 4 grams of fat. It is also high in vitamins C & A, niacin, potassium, calcium and sodium. It has oligo and polysaccharides which are prebiotic dietary fibers and are great for digestive health. And interesting (and potentially disturbing), it contains anthraquinone which has laxative properties.

So, now you've got the scoop on some of the newest superfruits being used and researched in food products today. There will be much more information coming out about their properties in the prevention, and potentially treatment, of health issues as they are proven out by testing. In the meantime, remember that no single food, fruit, or ingredient is a magic pill, and as variety is the spice of life these superfruits certainly will help you add variety to your diet!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


It seems everywhere I turn these days, I'm confronted by the superfruits; even the fruits I grew up with are getting the superfruit makeover. There is no actual definition for a superfruit, but it is generally accepted that they possess some perceived health benefit like antioxidants, phytochemicals, nutrient density or have disease prevention benefits. So far, none have enough research behind them for regulatory approval of a health claim statement - but that is likely to change soon.

Believe me, my intent is not to smear the superfruits, but I'll be honest, that word is really a marketing term. There is a growing list of fruits starting to bear the designation of superfruit including many you are very familiar with so lets start with these.

Blueberries: Yep these perennial favorites are now a superfruit. Blueberries are great sources of antioxidants (which help protect you against free radicals), fiber, vitamins C & E, anthocyanins (the pigment that gives blueberries their color also has properties being researched in connection with their prevention of cancer, aging, and inflammation), and phenolics (another free radical scavenger). Some of the other benefits associated with blueberries are increased mental capacity, memory, and coordination.

Cherries: These sweet treats are great sources of anthocyanins, beta carotene (pro-vitamin A), vitamins C & E, potassium, magnesium, folate (especially important for pregnant women), iron, fiber and melatonin (important for maintaining circadian rhythms and antioxidant protection of DNA). Cherries are full of phytonutrients with really big names like quercetin (anti-inflammatory properties), chlorogenic acid (anti-viral, anti-bacterial & anti-fungal properties), and kaempferol (reduces risk of heart disease). Even the American Heart Association has thrown their name behind the cherry and its benefits for heart health. There has been some recent research with cherries and their ability to block COX1 and COX2 enzymes thereby providing relief for arthritis suffers.

Cranberries: Our thanksgiving favorites, cranberries are also superfruits. Cranberries possess anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, actually it's kind of a virus & bacteria blocking property. The combination of tannins, proanthocyanidins, and hippuric acid work to prevent the adherence of viruses and bacteria to cells allowing them to be flushed away. This is great for prevention of gum disease, ulcers, and urinary tract infections. Cranberries are also high in fiber, manganese, vitamin K (blood clotting), and vitamin C.

Watermelon: No, I'm not kidding, watermelon has a unique distinction in that it is one of the few fruits to contain a significant amount of lycopene. Lycopene is a carotenoid and has been shown in studies to prevent a number of cancers, especially prostate cancer. Watermelon is also high in vitamins A (eyesight), B6 (helps your neurotransmitters), and C (antioxidant), potassium, calcium, iron and fiber.

So, now you can feel especially brilliant for eating all of these great superfruits. I am going to guess that you were thinking I'd talk more about some of the newer, more exotic superfruits and I will - but that will be the next post. Until then - stay super!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Random Thoughts: Umami

Everyone learned in grade school about the four basic tastes: sweet, salt, bitter and sour - but did you know there is a fifth taste? Yep, there really are 5 and its name is umami. Umami was originally discovered in Japan in 1908 and the word umami means savory. Umami wasn't officially recognized as a fifth flavor in the west until the 1980's when the taste receptors were discovered. For those of you who are very detail oriented - the taste receptor for umami is called "taste-mGluR4". And unlike the other four tastes which send signals via synapses, umami receptors use neurotransmitters like serotonin.

Monosodium glutamate is most commonly associated with this taste, but it is in fact the glutamate (aka glutamic acid - an amino acid) that is responsible. Glutamic acid is found in lots of different foods: dairy (especially cheeses), meats (chicken, beef & pork), fish & shellfish, soybeans (including soy sauce & miso), seaweed, tomatoes, mushrooms, broth & stock. And while MSG is better known, there are two other ribotides, inosinate and guanylate, that also possess the taste of umami.

The taste of umami is best described as heaviness or meatiness. It is almost more of a feeling of fullness or richness that is hard to define, but you can immediately tell when its missing! It is especially common in fermented products since the fermentation process breaks down proteins releasing the glutamic acid and making it available to your taste bud's receptors.

I hope you found this random thought of interest and begin to taste your food with a new appreiciation of our fifth taste!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

GI? GL? Gee Whiz!

Every now and then, the terms GI and GL are thrown around in the press, but I wonder how many people out there understand what on earth they are talking about. The consumption of all foods causes a glycemic response in the body; that is a change in the level of glucose in the blood. GI and GL are related to this response.

GI stands for glycemic index and is a numerical ranking system rating carbohydrates on their glycemic response. It is based on a scale from 0 to 100 where straight glucose equals 100. Generally a number of 70 or greater is considered high and a number of 55 or lower is considered low.

GL stands for glycemic load and is calculated as GI /100 X net carbohydrates (net carbs = total carbs minus fiber). Glycemic load is calculated because the body's glycemic response is dependent on both the type and quantity of carbohydrate consumed. A GL of 20 or greater is considered high and a GL of 10 or lower is considered low.

Information on GI (and GL) is still really limited in availability because each and every food must be tested. The glycemic index of a food is still determined by studies on human test subjects who fast overnight and are then given a fixed portion of food and are then subjected to blood glucose testing at set intervals to measure their body's response. The average of the test subjects is then calculated and determined as the GI for that food. Obviously this is an expensive and time intensive process!

And even if you possess the GI value for a food, there are a number of factors that affect the actual glycemic response in your body. The ripeness of a fruit or vegetable causes a dramatic change in the glycemic response, as does preparation of a food. The more easily and quickly a food can be digested, the faster and greater the glycemic response (for example: pasta cooked 15 minutes versus 10 minutes has a higher GI value). In addition, GIs are determined on single foods at a given quantity but that's not how we eat. We eat varying amounts of food in combination with other foods; protein, fat and fiber all have an effect on glycemic response. And lastly, each and every one of us converts carbohydrates to glucose at different rates; no one has the exact same insulin response.

So, what to make of GI and GL? Well, they are useful to a point, especially if you have blood sugar issues. They can certainly help you to make food decisions to help you control your insulin response, but they aren't foolproof or written in stone. Don't rely on them solely for making food choices, but being food literate is always smart!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

To Drink or Not to Drink

Welcome back! I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day weekend. This week's topic is a request, and is about diabetes and alcohol - can you, can't you, should you, etc. Well, like most things in life, there is no clear cut answer.

I'll start with what alcohol's effect on the body. The thing about alcohol is (as many of you no doubt experienced over the holiday weekend) that it goes directly into the bloodstream without being metabolized in the stomach. In fact you can measure blood alcohol levels as quickly as 5 minutes after your first drink. Your liver now gets into the act of removing the alcohol from your blood (via the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase) because it views alcohol as a poison. Because it looks at alcohol as a poison, it considers its removal its top priority, at the expense of other functions like sending out glucose. This means a potentially bad case of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and the effect can occur as long as 8-12 hours after you finish drinking. In addition, exercise and diabetes medications also work to lower blood sugar levels so all of this in combination can add up to a really bad time.

So, does that mean no alcohol for diabetics? Like I said initially, there isn't an easy answer to this one. First, make sure you talk to your doctor about your diabetes and its management; alcohol can also exacerbate high blood pressure and elevated triglycerides, which are common in diabetics. If your doctor doesn't object, you are otherwise healthy, your blood glucose levels are in check and you don't intend to get blitzed, you should be able to have a drink.

To avoid hypoglycemia, make sure you aren't drinking on an empty stomach, that your blood sugar levels are normal and eat something as you have your drink. Many of the symptoms of hypoglycemia are the same as drunkenness: sleepiness, dizziness, and disorientation. You don't want those around you to be confused about what is causing those symptoms because they need to be addressed differently!

Alcohol does contain "empty" calories at 7/g, so those need to be taken into consideration. Some alcohols are better choices than others due to the carbohydrate/sugar content. Low sugar options include: dry red or white wine, dry sherry, dry light beers (lagers or ales), and spirits (vodka, gin, whisky, etc) with diet mixers. High sugar options should be avoided as much as possible: sweet red or white wines (including dessert, port, sherries), heavy or dark beers (stout, porter), wine coolers/malt beverages, spirits with regular mixers, cocktails, liqueurs, and undiluted spirits.

I hope this helps those of you who are dealing with diabetes to feel more comfortable about alcohol and your diet. Enjoy your week and I'll be back!