Thursday, May 28, 2009

Got hemp?

Yeah, you read that right. Hemp -- you know -- Cannabis sativa L. As a "foodie", I'm always looking for something new to try...a new food, recipe, or restaurant. Well, this time it's hemp food products. Why? Well, I'm always looking for non-dairy alternatives to milk and after doing some investigation on the nutritional value of hemp food products, I thought it was worth a try. Before you get too scared about this, you should know this: the hemp food products available on the market today contain virtually no THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol - the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). While the typical THC content of marijuana is around 3-20%, that of the variety used to make hemp foods is around 0.5-1%.

The edible portion of the hemp plant is the seed, and this part of the plant packs a nutritional punch.
  • Hemp seed oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially the essential omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic) fatty acids, which cannot be made in the body and must be supplied by food. Alpha-linolenic fatty acid serves as the parent compound for the formation of two other important fatty acids in the body, EPA and DHA, and these serve as precursors to anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic (anti-plaque forming) compounds that may be important in preventing heart disease and other inflammatory-related disorders. While fish and fish oils offer the most direct and abundant sources of EPA and DHA, plant-based products offer an alternative source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially for those who are vegetarian or otherwise concerned about fish consumption. Consumption of omega-6 fatty acids also have beneficial effects on heart health, especially when used in place of saturated fats.
  • Hemp seeds also offer a healthful source of easily digested plant-based protein. Another plus for vegetarians!
  • Hemp seeds are also a source of other important nutrients, including dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, vitamin E, thiamin, and riboflavin.
  • For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, hemp "milk" fortified with calcium and vitamin D offers an alternative to cow's milk (though it doesn't contain as much protein as cow's milk cup for cup). The "milks" are also often times fortified with Vitamin B12. A plus for vegans looking for fortified sources of B12.
  • If you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or are otherwise avoiding gluten-containing foods, hemp seeds are gluten-free. However, read labels carefully as some hemp food products (i.e., hemp flour, cereal, etc.) may include gluten-containing ingredients.
So, what types of hemp foods are available? You'd be surprised. I already mentioned hemp "milk", which I'd compare to rice or almond milk in terms of taste and consistency. You can also purchase hulled hemp seeds that can be tossed in cereal, yogurt, or salads. They can also be toasted and eaten plain like you would regular nuts/seeds. (Be careful not to overdo it on the heat as the fat is not as stable at high heat.) Personally, I tried oatmeal cookies made with hemp seed (recipe courtesy of Bob's Red Mill). Hemp seed oil can be used to make your own salad dressing (again, due to the instability at high heat, not good for cooking). Hemp flour and protein powder is also available for those looking for alternatives.

Happy Tasting!

Hemp Dream hemp "milk" and Hemp Oatmeal Cookies

Monday, May 25, 2009

Jump on the bandwagon with jojoba?

I received a request to blog about my take on jojoba beans (active ingredient: simmondsin). You may have heard the term jojoba in relation to cosmetics as the oil of its seeds is often used as a moisturizer. What you may not know is that a recently published book on all things health-related touted the use of jojoba beans to help raise HDL (or good) cholesterol levels and curb hunger. So my challenge is to weigh the evidence on these claims and provide my best advice about this potential wonder supplement.

Because I was not that familiar with this particular supplement to start, I started collecting data in two ways. One was through my colleagues in various professional nutrition networking groups to which I belong, and the second was through my own review of research conducted and published in peer-reviewed professional journals on this topic within the last ten years. Ultimately, none of my professional colleagues responded to my request for additional information on this supplement after multiple requests, and I believe it's because this is not a widely used supplement nor is there much known about its potential benefits.

In my review of the literature, I stumbled upon a handful of intervention studies (~10), and ALL of these studies were conducted on animals (primarily rats, but also dogs and chickens). There were no studies conducted on humans that were published in peer-reviewed journals within my search of the last ten years of data. None. So, how can we generalize the results of these studies to humans? Should we? Of the studies reviewed, most were conducted on fewer than 50 subjects (all animal subjects). For stronger data, researchers typically want >50 subjects included in the study. Most of the studies were very short-term studies lasting way less than one year, which also serves as another limitation. Apparently, earlier studies conducted on the long-term use of higher doses of jojoba meal in rats resulted in the death of said rats. So, if this happened in rats, how do we know what a safe dose is in humans, if any? Also, one study had supplements provided by and was funded by a manufacturer and supplier of simmondsin supplements. you think the results could have the potential to be biased in any way?

While very limited evidence suggests possible effects of simmondsin on appetite reduction, there is currently not enough strong evidence, especially in humans, on the safety or effectiveness available for me to recommend the use of this supplement to anyone at this time. So much for that bandwagon...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The WHERE of feeding a toddler or young child

Mealtimes have presented a bit more of a challenge lately as my daughter has entered the notorious terrible two's. So, what do I mean by "challenge", you ask? Well, she exerts her will a little more comfortably, "Bread! Bread! Bread!" . Mealtime is also an opportunity for her to test her limits and offer her strong she begs for tomatoes and takes a bite of it only to spit it out a few seconds later. She's also taken to helping mom and dad with some interior decorating during mealtimes, too! Didn't you know that smeared yogurt on the table top and a nice kiddie spoon in the middle of the dining room floor are necessities in indoor accessories these days? While these challenges do test my patience, I'd probably have even more frustration and concern if I wasn't relying on the trusty divisions of responsibility in feeding developed by Ellyn Satter, which includes determining what, when, and where my child eats. For my blog today, I thought I'd focus on the where component of feeding young children.

Here are a few tips about creating a positive eating environment that will help you nurture more competent and nutritious eaters:
  • Consume more family meals at home. This means preparing and serving home-cooked meals at the the dinner table. Mealtime offers an opportunity for families to connect and an occasion for parents/caregivers to provide one of the things that children desire most --their attention! Parents, caregivers, and older siblings or peers also serve as very influential role models when it comes to a young child's food intake. What better way to teach your child about eating more healthfully than doing so yourself with him/her? In fact, research suggests that children who consume more family dinners tend to have higher quality diets than those who do not. Their diets include more vegetables, fruits, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and less saturated and trans fat, fried foods, and soft drinks.
  • Minimize mealtime distractions. This means turn the t.v., radio, or other technology off during mealtime. In addition, researchers have detected an association between television viewing during family dinners and poorer diet quality among adolescents and serving fewer vegetable and fruits at mealtime in preschoolers.
  • Create an enjoyable but structured mealtime. This is not a good time to duke it out with the child over his/her intake. Trying to coerce or pressure a child to eat certain foods or more than s/he wants has actually been shown to do the exact opposite and could cause children to prefer those foods less. It can also teach children to listen to external rather than internal cues to eating. On the other hand, using certain foods as a reward also backfires by causing an increased preference for those foods, which are usually quite tasty but less nutritious. And restricting access to certain foods has been shown to increase a child's preference for that food. Because you do have their attention, mealtime also serves as a wonderful opportunity to teach children about appropriate mealtime behavior. In order to establish healthful eating behaviors, it is important to set boundaries on undesirable behaviors during meals and snacks without creating a battle zone. This may only disrupt the child's eating and possibly result in the child losing interest in the meal altogether. Finally, expect that your child will possibly want to explore his/her food not only by looking at, smelling, and tasting it but also by feeling, mushing, and smearing it. This tactile experience allows children to become comfortable with food as young children are often leery of new foods. So as long as you can see that s/he is truly becoming acquainted with the food rather than making a mess for attention, remaining relaxed will be your best bet. Just keep plenty of paper towels or dish towels nearby!
Happy Feeding!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

From the garden to the table

Have you heard of a {recession garden}? These have become quite popular as a way for families to save precious dollars by growing food for their own family during these tough economic times. In fact, {depression gardens} were popular during the Great Depression of the early 1900's. My husband and I recently started our own garden, not necessarily due to the recession but because we've been wanting to start one for a long while and never had the space to do so.

As beginners, we started with a few basics: butterleaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, spinach, peas, tomatoes, carrots, onions, and several different types of herbs. The planning and cultivation process has really been fun. It's amazing how being involved with the production of your own food can be so exciting (at least for our family it is). Sure it takes a little time to cultivate your own food, but the outcomes are quite rewarding.

Since starting the garden just a few weeks ago, we have already grown an abundant crop of lettuce and spinach. The average cost for a head of lettuce (the darker green, more nutritious kind) is near $2, and the spinach runs around $4 for a 6oz package (2 servings). Given that we enjoy a nice hearty vegetable salad with our evening dinner, we know that we're saving quite a deal of money already. Another fantastic benefit is that we have convenient access to fresh, nutritious food. If we want salad for dinner, we just head out into the backyard and gather up some produce and prepare ourselves a delicious and nutritious salad. The other advantage that we have to growing our own food is that we know exactly how it's being produced. We know that our food is being produced organically (that is, without the use of conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge). And we can produce our food organically for a FRACTION of the cost of the organic produce in the market, which can sometimes cost up to 50% more than conventionally produced foods. Another benefit is that our daughter will be exposed to gardening. I know that the food preferences of young children really start in the home, and I love knowing that she is going to know where food comes from (not a box, package, or container and not a store, etc.). She'll get to see the food go from seed to plant to the table, and she will (hopefully) be more likely to eat and enjoy these nutritious foods. In fact, she has finally tried and liked her first taste of raw spinach fresh from the garden. Lastly, anyone who knows me knows that I'm always looking for ways to incorporate more activity into my day.
Cultivating a garden and harvesting and preparing our own produce gives us an opportunity to burn more calories throughout the the tune of 272 calories/hour for a 150 lb person!

I encourage you to give the recession garden some serious consideration. Based on my positive experience in such a short time, I say that the benefits are quite worth it.

Happy planting!

The fruits of our labor!
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