Health

Hellena’s Hints For Staying Healthy

Hellena LovanovskiHints for keeping good health for you and the animals by Hellena Lovanovski.

B12

This vitamin is a member of the B group complex and it is necessary primarily in the synthesis of red blood cells, cell division and the maintenance of the nervous system. During cell division B12 is vital for processes such as the rapid synthesis of DNA and bone marrow tissue. It also plays a vital role in the metabolism of fatty acids essential for the maintenance of an important protein which protects nerves.

If there is a deficiency of B12 in the body it may cause anemia, fatigue, weakness, constipation, loss of appetite and weight loss. If undetected and untreated depletion of B12 can lead to depression, difficulty in maintaining balance, soreness of the mouth and tongue, confusion, and poor memory.

Depletion can also cause irreversible nerve damage resulting in dementia. Vegetarians and, in particular, vegans must be careful to ensure they meet the body’s need for vitamin B12. Some bacteria that are present in the small intestine produce B12 however this amount is very small and it will not prevent a deficiency.

If you have previously consumed animal based products B12 can be stored in the body for up to 30 years, however a life-long decision to be vegan requires that you are careful to get enough of this precious vitamin. In fact, deficiencies of this vitamin may occur regardless of diet. Some people with intestinal or stomach disorders may suffer from deficiencies simply because they are unable to absorb B12 from food.

Plants do not contain vitamin B12 unless they are associated with certain microorganisms. Foods such as miso, sea vegetables and tempeh have large amounts of Vitamin B12, however it may be destroyed depending on the processing that the food has undergone. There are two forms of B12, one active and one inactive.

If processed certain ways, for example the boiling of milk or fermentation of soya products, B12 becomes inactive and can, in fact, interfere with the absorption and metabolism of active B12.

B12 is best absorbed in small amounts and is not toxic so having too much in your diet only means that your body gets rid of it. There are a number of ways you can obtain B12. Good sources of the B12 vitamin for vegetarians are rennet free diary products or free-range eggs. For vegans it is recommended that their diet include food groups fortified with the B12 vitamin.

These include yeast extracts, Saccharomyces cerevisiae (food yeast grown in a molasses solution which comes in a yellow powder), fortified breakfast cereals, soya milk, textured vegetable protein, Vecon vegetable stock, veggie burger mixes, vegetable and sunflower margarines and B12 supplements.

If you lead a busy lifestyle, are always on the go and don’t allocate sufficient time to have a well balanced diet I recommend that you shop around for a high quality B12 supplement, take as directed and enjoy all the vitality you will regain or maintain as a result of this marvelous little vitamin!

Glucosamine

How many times have you heard people complaining about their aching limbs, whether from injury or ongoing wear and tear? Most of us will suffer some form of joint ailment at some point in our lives.

I am only too familiar with this as I recently suffered a knee injury after overworking my knees in rigorous running and weight bearing exercise. I was in considerable pain and quite depressed about my limitations in sport participation when a friend who does a lot of marathon running told me about a product that actually assists in the rebuilding of ligament tissue and cartilage. The molecular compound is known as glaucosamine.

When I researched glaucosamine I discovered that it is one of a group of chemicals known as amino sugars. It is a vital compound that is used by the body to repair not only ligaments but also muscle, cartilage and organs. All of these tissues are constantly being broken down through sport, overuse or just everyday living. When the breakdown of tissues occurs quicker than the repair process a supplement like glaucosamine can increase the regeneration of various body tissues.

This enables the body to keep up with the breakdown hence your joints and other tissues stay healthy and you stay free of unnecessary pain and limitations. Although we obtain glaucosamine from food sources and it is naturally present in the body it can only be obtained in very small amounts from an average balanced diet. Taking a supplement is necessary to repair injuries like the cartilage in my knee or alleviate ongoing problems such as arthritis.

I discovered that until fairly recently glucosamine was derived from shellfish alone. This posed an obvious problem for me being a vegetarian. I decided to look for a similar product that might be available from another food source. I thought my chances were pretty good as glucosamine is derived from amino sugars. As luck would have it a method has recently been developed whereby glucosamine is extracted through the fermentation of corn starch.

I have been using the vegetarian form of glucosamine for over five months now and I swear by its effectiveness. I no longer get stiffness or regular pain in my knee and I am able to jog and do weight bearing exercises again. I would like to stress is that it does take several weeks before you notice any improvements so you have to be patient and persistent when taking this product.

It comes in tablet form and my general practitioner recommends I take 1500mg a day. If you decide to try glucosamine don’t forget to first talk it over with a medical professional in case there are possible side effects relevant to your individual medical history. People with high blood pressure should certainly talk to a doctor as this compound may increase blood pressure and there are other alternatives you can take. Well I can say that it has worked for me and I am the walking – in fact jogging – proof that non animal alternatives are just as effective in the treatment of injuries and ailments.

Polenta

I was shopping at Warrandyte Saturday market when I discovered this little grain. It was staring at me from behind a 500 gram sealed plastic bag. At first I was attracted to the bright yellow colour, and I asked the girl at the stall what it was. I brought the packet for about $2 and the rest, as they say, is history. After my initial discovery, I started finding polenta everywhere, even at my local Safeway supermarket store, and I started experimenting with various recipes. A little background research proved to me that, not only does polenta taste good, it is also good for your health.

An increasing number of people are becoming intolerant to many food groups, including wheat. Those of us who suffer an intolerance or allergy need a substitute when cooking various meals. A good wheat substitute is polenta. This magical little food can be traced all the way back to early civilizations in South America. It is said that Christopher Columbus brought it back to Rome in the 15th century.

In today’s world, the Italians believe the best polenta is made from cornmeal that is freshly ground within the two to three week harvest period. The term polenta refers both to the yellow or white Italian cornmeal, and to the cooked mixture made from it. The grain can be ground coarsely or finely depending on the region and the texture desired.

Today, polenta is enjoyed right around the world, from Italy to Mexico. It is versatile, possesses complex flavors, and, most important, it is cherished for its many health benefits and nutritional value.

Polenta, like many grains, has a high carbohydrate count but lower digestible carbohydrate content. As a result, the body can maintain a stable blood glucose level and achieve healthier glucose metabolism. In other words, polenta has long lasting carbohydrates. It also contains several beneficial vitamins and minerals. Grains such as polenta contain large amounts of insoluble fiber, beneficial to the human body, protecting it from digestive disorders and disease. This grain also has a low fat content which is great for people watching their weight.

Apparently, many years ago, the ritual of preparing polenta was quite tiresome. It was made in a copper kettle and cooked in large quantities, whilst constantly stirred by the cook for 45 minutes!

Today, this process has been made easier, thanks to modern technology. If you want you can buy it ready made; however, if you want to make it yourself, all you have to do is boil some water, add salt, sprinkle in the cornmeal and simmer for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Depending on the recipe you are following, you can serve it straight away, or you can pour it into a tray and place it in the fridge. Once it is firm enough you can slice it up and fry, bake, or grill it. For all those people who are vegetarian or vegan, whether you are wheat intolerant or not, give this versatile little grain a try. It will add variety and flavor to any vegetarian or vegan meal.

Protein

When you look at proteins on a microscopic level they are composed of smaller organic chemicals commonly referred to as amino acids. When proteins are broken down within our bodies they are converted into these smaller components so that they can be effectively absorbed within the blood stream.

The body will then utilize amino acids to build the kinds of proteins to not only repair body tissue but also maintain all the proper functions necessary for a healthy system. We actually have a biological requirement for amino acids not protein.

In total there are 20 known amino acids, nine of which must be obtained from our diet, as the body cannot manufacture them. These nine are known as the ‘essential’ amino acids, whilst the remaining amino acids are known as ‘non-essential’. Animal derived food sources have a high quality protein content. This means they have a large amount of essential amino acids.

Foods like soy beans, quinoa (a grain) and spinach also contain high quality protein.

When an individual decides to live a vegan or vegetarian diet it does not mean that he or she will not obtain all the necessary proteins required for proper bodily functions and processes. Many protein sources of non-animal origin contain all the essential amino acids therefore it would be very difficult to design a vegetarian diet short of protein. The only thing that you have to bear in mind is that protein sources of non-animal origin may be low in the amount of one or two of the essential amino acids.

The fact is that in developed countries it is common to have a diet so saturated in proteins that it can lead to all sorts of health problems! It is now thought by many in the medical profession that a vegetarian diet, when properly balanced, can give adequate, but avoid excessive, protein doses.

It appears that for many years the population were lead to believe that the only way a person could obtain protein from a non-meat eating diet was to consume a combination of amino acids at each meal in order for it to be “complete”, for example brown rice combined with lentils. However recent research has shown that this does not have to be done during one meal but rather you can obtain the necessary proteins through consumption of various foods during the day.

The best plant sources of protein are soybeans, spinach, and legumes, including lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, lima beans, mung beans, quinoa and baked beans. Nuts and seeds are very high in protein however, as they also contain a very high amount of fat, they should not be eaten in great quantities.

For example, while 100 grams of peanuts will supply 27 grams of protein it also contains nearly 50 grams of fat! Tofu, tempeh, sanitarium veggie delights hot dogs, non rennet cheeses, pasta, bread, breakfast cereals rice and vegetables also contain proteins although not in such high amounts.

The myth that you have to eat muscle in order to make muscle is exactly that. I have been a vegetarian for 16 years myself and I used to do quite a lot of bodybuilding. I was able to build up a lot of muscle tissue by eating the necessary quantity and quality of non-animal proteins.

I believe whether you are vegan or vegetarian the way to optimum health is to eat a wide variety of foods including a variety of unrefined grains, legumes, seeds, nuts and vegetables and consume enough calories during the day to meet your energy requirements.

Quinoa

Recently, when on one of my interstate adventures, I came across a quaint little market in Canberra called Gorman House that had a variety of home grown and imported food stuffs. On walking around investigating the many stall items for sale I came across a packet of round yellow grains that I had never seen before.

The store owner proceeded tell me the story of this little treasure and I knew I just had to share it with as many of my vegetarian and vegan friends as I could. Quinoa, pronounced ‘keen-wa’, is a seed-like fruit of the henopodium.

It originally comes from the Andean region of South America where it has been a staple food source for the native Indians of the region for thousands of years. It can be easily cultivated in the Andes as the plant is altitude hardy and its needs are undemanding.

For vegetarians seeking that little something different to brown rice or couscous in their diet, this little grain-like seed is a fabulous alternative. In the past decade it has attracted much attention from nutritionists because of its impressive nutritional value. In one serving quinoa provides iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and a good source of dietary fiber.

It is gluten-free which is great news for individuals intolerant to wheat products, and one cup has only 200 calories. (It does, however, have a higher fat content than a lot of other grains.) Unlike wheat and rice it is low in lysine. Quinoa also contains a high amount of protein and a balanced set of essential amino acids. It is considered a ‘super crop’ as it is practically a complete foodstuff.

The added bonus of Quinoa is that it is reasonably easy to prepare. You must first remove the saponins by soaking the grain in water for a few hours and then rinsing it in running water with a fine strainer or cheese cloth. After this it cooks very easily, much like rice. A common way of cooking it is to bring two cups of water to the boil with one cup of grain and simmer on a low heat for 14-18 minutes.

The cooked germ or heart looks like a tiny curl and should have a slight bite to it similar to aldente when preparing pasta.

Quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor and a light fluffy texture when cooked so it is an excellent alternative to cous cous or rice. You can also use it as a breakfast cereal mixed with almonds, berries and honey or you can buy it in a dry form much like corn flakes. The flour derived from the grain can be used in wheat-based and gluten-free baking.

Although a lot of people have not heard about Quinoa it can be obtained from most health food stores. It costs around $10.00 a kilo with a further discount if you buy in bulk. Alternatively, you can find this product at quite a few week end market stalls with that alternative flavor to them.

Many people are discovering the versatility, flavour and high nutritional value of this little miracle grain and are as eager as I am to share it with the rest of the world.

Tempeh

SOME vegans and vegetarians dislike the taste of tofu. I say to all those individuals, “despair no more!” Tempeh is a food stuff that can replace tofu. For all of you who like the taste of tofu, delicious tempeh can add even more variety to your already healthy diet.

Recently I was at the Abbotsford Convent monthly farmers market, and came across a little stall selling tempeh. To be honest, I had always stayed safe and never ventured into cooking or handling tempeh, although I had enjoyed it presented on a platter at parties. Having not eaten breakfast that morning, I asked the girl at the stall for a sample of their tempeh.

I was very impressed. It had a firm texture and a nutty mushroom flavour. Tempeh (pronounced tem-pay) originates from Indonesia. It has been a staple food source for Indonesians for hundreds of years. In Java it is referred to as “Javanese meat”.

This tasty food is made by the controlled fermentation of cooked soybeans in the presence of rhizopus mould. When the mould ferments within the soybeans it binds them into a compact cake. You can even make tempeh at home if you like experimenting.

All you need is de-hulled soybeans that have been soaked overnight, cooked for half an hour, and mixed with tempeh starter. It takes about 48 hours to incubate, and then you have fresh, ready to use tempeh.

Tempeh not only contains all the amino acids, but is a complete protein source, which is good news for vegetarians and especially for vegans. It is high in riboflavins and isoflavones, assists with bone strength, and eases menopause symptoms. It contains a lot of fibre and, due to the enzymes created during the fermentation process, it also possesses digestive benefits.

Tempeh is an incredibly versatile food and can be prepared in a multitude of ways. It is often cut into pieces, soaked in sauce or brine, and then fried. It can be used in soups, salads, stews, stir fries and even sandwiches. It has a delicious nutty flavour that is totally irresistible – in fact I tend to eat it raw! It is a good substitute for meat, and it is often used in place of breakfast meats such as bacon and sausages. It freezes well and is available in health food shops and even major supermarkets.

Apricot Kernels

HOW much do you know about apricot kernels? I knew they came from the seed of the apricot; however, that was the extent of my knowledge. When a reader of Update got in touch and asked me to write about them, I knew I’d have to do my homework. I’m very glad I did. I now have the utmost respect for that pip we so often just carelessly throw away after eating the flesh of the apricot.

The apricot (Prunus armeniaca) is said to have originally come from Armenia. It is thought that, in Greek mythology, apricots were the “golden apples” of Hesperides – the fruit Hercules was ordered to pick in the eleventh of his twelve labors. The fruit worked its way westward on camel caravans to the Mediterranean, and was eventually introduced to England from Italy.

Apricots are an excellent source of easily-digestible natural sugars, vitamins A and C, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, potassium, phosphorous and iron, which is very good news for people like yours truly, who is low in iron. But it was the apricot kernel that I found most fascinating. It contains a compound called amygdaline, also known as vitamin B17, which is believed to have anti-cancer properties.

This extraordinary compound is thought to act alongside the immune system, attacking cancer cells, and helping to fight malignant tumors. I was also interested to learn that apricot kernels contain a small amount of cyanide. This is why they are sometimes referred to as “bitter almonds” or “apricot almonds”.

The amount of cyanide in the kernels is miniscule, and they are considered to be relatively non toxic.

However, I would recommend that you speak to a dietician or naturopath before adding them to your diet. If taken to excess they can cause nausea, fever, rashes and headaches. When I spoke to a health shop consultant she recommended four to five a day, although the recommended dose can vary depending on individual circumstance.

As these little gems taste very bitter, I wouldn’t recommend you chew them on their own, or you will soon be reaching for the sink! It is best to grind the appropriate amount in a blender, and sprinkle the powder over breakfast cereal, hot vegetable dishes or soups. When processing, only blend half a cup at a time, otherwise they may become soft and butter-like. If you store the kernels at room temperature they will last for up to four months.

However, in the fridge they can last as long as one year. One last word of caution – tempting as it may be – never try to swallow your apricot kernels whole.