Nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure (also called hypertension), a preventable condition that is the number one risk factor for heart disease. Sadly, millions of people with this condition go undiagnosed. The good news is, numerous lifestyle changes can help prevent, manage, and even eliminate high blood pressure. Additionally, nature has provided relief for this condition as well. Let’s take a closer look at some easy-to-grow herbs that can be used to regulate blood pressure.
Summer is fast approaching, and with warmer weather comes excellent things like a beautiful yard and garden and lots of fun times with family and friends under the sun and stars. Unfortunately, it also brings out the bugs, including flies, mosquitoes, and other nagging insect pests that wreak havoc on our warm-weather festivities.
I love sweet potatoes; they are a highly nutritious and delicious root vegetable. Known as Ipomoea batatas, sweet potatoes are not only one of the best vitamin A sources, but they are also packed with vitamin B5 niacin, thiamin, and carotenoids. Research has also uncovered a host of therapeutic benefits in sweet potatoes. They contain anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and anti-diabetic properties. Sweet potatoes are a delicious addition to any meal and can even help keep your skin healthy.
Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of eating fungus. However, mushrooms’ nutritional value is second to none, and researchers are learning more each day about their many benefits.
There’s a lot of rumor, speculation, and misinformation surrounding the topic of cooking oils. We rely on them every single day to lubricate our frying pan, bolster our marinades, baste our roasts and dress our salads. And yet, the majority of us know next to nothing about them. Typically, if you happen to strike up a conversation about cooking oils with someone, it’ll conclude with them swearing by one particular oil, which they use in almost all their dishes. Ask them why they swear by this oil, however, and they’ll likely feed you a series of rumors and second-hand information which justifies why that particular oil is better than the rest.
Ask them about important aspects of that oil, such as smoke point, oxidation, and rancidification, and they’ll probably look profoundly confused or quickly change topics. Go easy on them — it’s not really their fault. Choosing the right cooking oil or fat for a given task is a very difficult process, and requires an in-depth look at a range of different attributes of that oil. And because oils are such an important part of our everyday lives, I’d like to guide you through everything you need to know, so you can confuse even more of your friends with your know-how and, more importantly, safeguard your health.
The two types of cooking oil
Any given oil can fall within one of two groups of fats: saturated and unsaturated. Knowing the type of fat your cooking oil is can help in the process of deciding whether it’s actually good for your health and if it’s the right oil for a given form of food preparation.
Saturated fats are the simplest, most dependable of the two fat groups. They have simple bond structures, and for this reason, are less likely to undergo a chemical reaction when heat is applied. This makes them the more stable of the two fats, and they’re therefore often a better choice for medium to high-heat cooking. One easy way to tell whether an oil has a high saturated fat content is if it turns solid at room temperature.
Here’s a list of common, primarily saturated fat-based oils you’re likely to see on the supermarket of health food shelves:
- Butter (technically not cooking oil, but many people use butter for cooking purposes)
- Chicken fat
- Coconut oil
- Ghee (clarified butter)
- Lard (pork fat)
- Palm kernel oil
- Tallow (beef fat)
You’ll notice that, with the exception of coconut oil and palm kernel oil, the majority of saturated fats are from animal sources.
Unsaturated fats are, unfortunately, a little bit more complex than their simpler, more carefree saturated counterparts. Unsaturated fats can be further broken down into three sub-groups: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans unsaturated. Popular or common unsaturated fats include the following:
- Avocado oil
- Canola oil
- Corn oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Hemp oil
- Olive oil
- Sesame oil
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Various nut oils (walnut, almond, etc.)
Before I go any further, let me do you a huge favor and tell you to throw out any canola, corn, soybean, or sunflower oils you might have sitting around. Despite what many outdated health advisors and websites would have you believe, these oils are bad for your health! The reasoning behind these advisories and websites condemning other oils is their high saturated fat content, however as you probably know by now, saturated fats are actually very beneficial to our health. Even the government and mainstream media are starting to grudgingly concede that they may have gotten it wrong all these years.
Now that you’ve vanquished your health-degrading canola, corn, soybean, and sunflower oils, let’s continue. The three unsaturated fat groupings are based on their molecular structure — monounsaturated fats have only one double bond, polyunsaturated have multiple double bonds, and trans unsaturated fats have multiple bonds which have been chemically and artificially altered through the process of hydrogenation.
This may all sound like technical mumbo jumbo to you, but it’s important that you learn the differences. Why is it important? Well, for starters, monounsaturated fats are much more stable than polyunsaturated fats due to their simpler bond structure, meaning they’re generally better suited to high heat cooking. Next, trans unsaturated fats are just plain nasty, being the diabolical creation of the fast-food industry, and always found in foods containing partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated oil. Avoid these foods at all cost, if you value your health!
The smoke point of cooking oil
After the complexities of the previous section, you’ll be pleased to know that the concept of a smoke point is an easy one to wrap your head around. Simply put, the smoke point of an oil or fat is the temperature at which it starts to produce smoke when heated. I told you it was simple!
But, while this is a simple concept, the 99 percent of people who use cooking oils likely have no idea what the smoke point of their oil is. They’d do well to find out, as an oil which has reached it’s smoke point can rapidly become very damaging to your health.
When you’re cooking with an oil or fat and it reaches its smoke point, it begins to break down and transforms into acrolein. Acrolein is one of the detrimental chemicals found in cigarette smoke and is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing compound). Therefore, knowing the smoke point of your cooking oil and staying below it can prevent you from breathing in carcinogenic fumes — probably something you want to look into.
The following graph provides a convenient list of common oils in relation to their smoke point. You might want to consider printing it off and sticking it to your kitchen wall — a little unsightly, but it could be instrumental in reducing your risk of cancer.
The (U) next to some oils and the (R) next to others signifies unrefined and refined, respectively. As you can see, the process of refining an oil makes it more stable and therefore more resistant to heat, however, it also generally removes a lot of the vitamins and nutrients found in the unrefined versions of these oils and fats.
After seeing this graph for the first time, I confess that I was somewhat dismayed to see my good friend butter at the bottom end of the spectrum. With a smoke point of only 150 degrees Celsius, it certainly isn’t fit for some of the high-heat cooking I usually use it for. But it’s revelations like these that make it all the more important to learn about the oils and fats we’re cooking with.
Cooking oil oxidation
Alright, so now you’re familiar with the smoke point of your favorite cooking oils. Excellent. Arguably even more important than the smoke point, however, is the oxidative stability of your oils or fats. Oxidative stability is determined by an oil’s resistance to oxidation, the process of which causes the fat molecule of your oil to lose a hydrogen atom and transform into a diabolical free radical.
Free radicals, in case you’re not familiar with them already, are one of the great enemies of the human body. They attack our bodies at the cellular level, speeding up the process of aging and dramatically increasing our risk of developing a range of different diseases, cancer included.
For this reason, choosing an oil that has solid oxidative stability, or is resistant to oxidation, is definitely a good thing. One thing to be aware of is that just because a certain oil or fat has a high smoke point, doesn’t mean it has a high oxidative resistance. In most cases, it’s exactly the opposite, so there’s a bit of a trade-off, unfortunately.
How to get the most out of your cooking oil
After reading through the above, you’re probably a little bit frustrated to learn how many variables there are governing the quality and use of oil. Unfortunately, there’s no clear-cut winner, as an oil that has a high smoke point may be prone to oxidation and therefore become rancid easily. Likewise, an oil that is packed with nutrients and is resistant to oxidation may have a very low smoke point, and therefore only be useful for low heat cooking.
For this reason, it’s good to have a range of oils available, so that you have one for every possible culinary occasion. Also, to help you along, I’ve compiled a list of things you can do to get the most out of your oil and ensure you enjoy all of its health benefits and none of its potentially damaging effects:
- Antioxidants: unless you’re only doing high-heat cooking (such as stir-frying and grilling), choose oils that are high in antioxidants. These compounds, found in oils such as avocado, olive, and coconut, work against the oxidative damage of free radicals and prevent things like heat, air, and light exposure from making your oil go rancid.
- Light: ultraviolet wavelengths from the sun increase the oxidation rate of your oil. For this reason, only buy oils that come in dark or opaque bottles, and store them in a dark place to reduce their rate of rancidification (yup, that’s a word!). This rule doesn’t always apply, particularly in the case of coconut oil which is highly resistant to oxidation and doesn’t really go rancid too easily.
- Re-use: don’t store and reuse your oil — every time you do, its smoke point lowers significantly.
- Temperature: be aware of your oil’s smoke point, and stay below it! Your food will taste better, and you won’t be breathing in carcinogenic compounds in the process.
It’s a lot to take in, but do your research, and your health will thank you for it.
-The Backyard Vitality Team
Herbs are beautiful, edible plants that emit enticing aromas. Plus, they are highly beneficial for adding delectable flavor to outstanding cuisine and are highly prized for their therapeutic value. For thousands and thousands of years, herbs have been central in wellness elixirs, tinctures, salves, oils, teas, and more.
Did you know that cultivating the right combination of plants close to each other can make your garden blossom from mediocre to outstanding? Companion planting is an ancient gardening practice that has been making a comeback for one simple reason… it works. Planting a diverse mixture of plants, including annuals, perennials, flowers, and veggies, makes for a much healthier garden and, often, a tastier harvest. On the flip side, planting the wrong combination of plants can result in an unhealthy garden and a mediocre or even poor harvest.
Have you ever had the disappointment of your seeds not germinating? I know that I have, and it is a real source of discouragement. Or what about those seeds that take forever just to sprout? I consider myself a patient person, but some seeds have really pushed me to my limit with their sluggish sprouting rate. Over the years, I have learned a few tricks to improve the germination rate and speed of seeds.
Eggs for breakfast? Not anymore, according to a newly released study. A group of researchers has eggs back in the spotlight for seemingly negative health impacts. This time, they are blamed for an increased risk of developing diabetes. But… are there other factors that need to be considered? You bet there are. Also, eggs have recently been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes. Why the conflict? Let’s unpack and find the truth about this popular breakfast food.
The most recent study criminalizing eggs is out of Australia. Australian researchers studied Chinese adults and found a positive link between higher egg consumption and high blood sugar levels. This new research suggests that consuming just one egg per day increases the risk of developing diabetes by 60%.
According to study author Dr. Ming Li from the University of South Australia,
“Diet is a known and modifiable factor that contributes to the onset of type 2 diabetes, so understanding the range of dietary factors that might impact the growing prevalence of the disease is important.”
Yes, Dr. Li is entirely correct. What we eat and our lifestyle has a tremendous impact on our risk of developing diabetes – but what is interesting is that the study subjects had changed from eating a traditional diet to a more processed diet including meat, snacks, and eggs. If this is the case, how can the egg be singled out as the villain here? Furthermore, if eggs have always been a part of a traditional Chinese diet – why not look at the things that aren’t in the conventional diet and conduct research on these?
Previous research makes a clear correlation between a heavily processed diet and an increased risk of numerous conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Researchers in Finland just last year found that eating one egg per day lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes. In 2015, it was found that egg consumption lowered blood glucose levels and reduced the risk of diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, people who have diabetes should be eating eggs. The reason? Eggs contain just half a gram of carbohydrates, which is believed to have little impact on blood sugar.
What we know to be true about eggs
Before you jump on the anti-egg bandwagon, it is important to remember many great things about eggs. Including the right type of eggs in your diet has been found to promote health and wellbeing in many ways.
Eggs are good for your heart. Eggs can reduce the risk of heart disease and have a positive impact on cardiovascular function. Eggs from pasture-raised hens contain double the amount of health-promoting Omega-3 as eggs taken from hens raised in battery cages. Not only do Omega-3 fatty acids lower blood triglycerides, but they also help regulate cholesterol. This is excellent news, as having higher blood triglycerides is directly linked to an increased risk of developing heart disease.
Eggs reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that increase the likelihood of different diseases, including stroke, diabetes, and heart disease. The conditions include elevated blood sugar, increased body fat (especially around the waist), and abnormal cholesterol levels. One 2016 study of individuals over 40 included a 3-year review of their egg consumption. It was found that eating more eggs may reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome in adults over 40. Also, eggs had a positive impact on blood glucose and triglycerides, especially in men.
Eggs may reduce the risk of fo chronic illness. Eggs also contain naturally occurring carotenoids. People who consume a diet high in carotenoids live longer and experience lower mortality from chronic illness. The particular carotenoids in eggs (that give the yolk it’s beautiful yellow color) help the body absorb additional carotenoids from raw veggies when the two are eaten together.
Eggs are great for your eyes and skin. Carotenoids in eggs are not only paramount to overall good health and prevention of disease, but they also promote eye health. Eggs contain two “oxygenated” carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. Both act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, filtering out dangerous blue spectrums of light and reducing the risk of macular degeneration and glaucoma.
In the same way that lutein and zeaxanthin protect the eyes by filtering out dangerous wavelengths, they also protect the skin, thus slowing down the oxidative damage that light can cause – especially UV rays. Eggs contain a hefty supply of five of the eight best nutrients to help reduce the risk of and fight skin cancer.
Eggs can help you stay trim. You might be familiar with eating eggs while trying to drop weight because of their high protein content. But did you know that they also contain another ingredient that makes them a valuable weight-loss food? As mentioned above, Lutein is well known for its ability to keep eyes and skin healthy; it is also a fantastic weight-loss tool. Studies show that it can positively impact physical activity levels. Eggs are a healthy addition to any weight loss program as they keep you full and reduce the number of calories you may eat for a whole 36 hours after you eat them!
Eggs are good for the brain and liver. Our bodies produce a minimal amount of the macronutrient choline. For the most part, we need to get this macronutrient from the food we eat. Eggs are a great choice as they are choline-rich. Eating eggs promotes healthy liver function and brain development. Choline has successfully treated persons with neurological conditions such as depression and can improve memory and cognitive function. Persons diagnosed with fatty liver disease often have a choline deficiency, which is also linked to some forms of cancer.
Why you should keep backyard chickens
Not only are backyard chickens a great source of entertainment, but they are also a great source of healthy eggs. Backyard chickens eat a regular and nutrient-rich diet and are often given room to move about – this means greater nutritional benefits.
The conditions in which hens are raised impact the quality of eggs tremendously. Sadly, hens in cages can’t stand up, groom themselves or flap their wings. Their living conditions are deplorable, and their health suffers.
Eggs from pastured hens are the only kind you should eat. When compared to eggs from caged hens, they have:
- ⅓ less cholesterol
- ⅔ more vitamin A
- ¼ less saturated fat
- 2 times more omega-3
- 3 times more vitamin E
- 7 times more beta carotene
Eggs from pastured hens superior in nutrition, but they are also 98 percent less likely to carry salmonella. That is a peace of mind we can all use.
Backyard chickens are a sustainable addition to any backyard garden. They provide natural pest control and are happy to devour your plant-based kitchen scraps that would otherwise end up in the trash.
I don’t know about you but, I am not giving up on backyard chickens or eating eggs anytime soon!
Lemons, one of the most popular citrus fruits of all time. Along with other fruits and vegetables, Christopher Columbus brought lemons with him on his second voyage to the New World in 1493, and they have been growing in Florida since the sixteenth century.
If you’re noticing mushrooms popping up on your lawn, you shouldn’t be surprised or concerned. It simply means that autumn is on the way, which is the prime time for fungal growth. Fungi live in your soil at all times – they are a vital part of the ecosystem and help keep plants healthy. At the right time of year and when the weather conditions are perfect, they pop up these little fruiting bodies to spread spores and reproduce. You may have noticed that fungi proliferate in wet weather that occurs right after a dry spell, or when you’ve just laid new turf. The disturbed soil releases fungal spores that were previously dormant, so you get lots of toadstools popping up on that nice new lawn.