Nitrates: Harmful or Healthful?

Most health conscious people know that nitrates and nitrites are not healthy for us and can potentially cause cancer.  There are some nuances to this and so the blanket statement that they are harmful, is not completely true.

What are Nitrates and Nitrites?

A nitrate is a nitrogen atom plus 3 oxygen atoms and a nitrite is the same except it only has two oxygen atoms.  Nitrates and nitrites can occur naturally in some vegetables, such as beets, but they are also added to deli meats as a preservative, flavor, and color enhancer.  They are also produced by our body and circulate between our saliva and digestive tract. Nitrates are converted into nitrites when ingested by our saliva and digested .  Nitrites can either convert into nitric oxide (NO) which is healthy or nitrosamines which are carcinogens.  Nitric oxide is antimicrobial in the digestive tract and is a signaling molecule that dilates blood vessels. Nitrosamines are converted from nitrites when they are heated to a very high temperature in the presence of amino acids or when reacting to stomach acid.  The key here is high heat.  We typically heat meat at high temps compared to vegetables.  Just think how harmful cured hot dogs are, when heated to high temperatures on the grill.  Also, processed meat companies are required to add Vitamin C which interferes with nitrosamine production (4). Most vegetables and fruits naturally contain Vitamin C (6).

Nitrate Food Sources

Sodium nitrate cannot be added to food products that are labeled organic.  Instead organic foods and products choosing to be “naturally uncured” use sea salt, celery juice, or celery salt instead. Vegetables that are high in nitrates can mix with your saliva and can convert to nitric acid or NO. Nitric oxide remember is good for you, and I’ll explain why in a minute. It is therefore, a good idea to incorporate nitrate laden vegetables into your diet.  Beets, celery, arugula, spinach, and iceberg lettuce are all very high in nitrates (5). Fruits are less nitrate dense, with strawberries trumping the list (6).

Benefits of Nitric Oxide (NO)

Cardiovascular Health

Nitric oxide dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow thus improving cardiac health.  In one study, dietary flavonoids and nitrates were shown to lower blood pressure depending on the availability of NO, which is dependent on the conversion of nitrate to nitrite via salivary enzymes (3).

Male Sexual Performance

For men, NO can increase testosterone and enhance erectile quality.  NO is a vasodilator, so increased blood flow to the penis.  In fact, the key ingredient in Viagra and Cialis is NO (5)

Exercise Performance

Athletes are using vegetable nitrate supplements for increased endurance and exercise performance.  Beetroot juice and potassium nitrate are popular supplements.  One study showed that a high NO diet decreased oxygen used during moderate intensity cycling, increased muscle work during fatigability tests, and improved agility in repeated sprinting tests (2).

Anti-platelet

Nitrates converted to NO were shown to reduce platelet reactivity but only in males, according to one study.  This is promising for more future studies as a concomitant to anti-platelet drug therapy (1).

My Advice Regarding Nitrates

Bacon is best cooked in the microwave to reduce nitrosamine production or cook it on a lower temperature for a longer period of time. Children have a very hard time processing excess amount of nitrates, so limit their exposure to hotdogs and processed meats (4).  My recommendation for any age, is to buy cold cuts sparingly and when you do, buy them nitrate free or uncured.  Also, when eating out, don’t order meals with cured meats, like a BLT for instance, unless the menu specifically says uncured bacon.  As a precaution, NO can give some people migraines.

  1. Velmurugan S, Kapil V, Ghosh SM, Davies S, McKnight A, Aboud Z, Khambata RS, Webb AJ, Poole A, Ahluwalia A. Antiplatelet effects of dietary nitrate in healthy volunteers: involvement of cGMO and influence of sex. Free Radic Biol Med. 2013 Dec;65:1521-32.
  2. Porcelli S, Pugliese L, Rejec E, Pavei G, Bonato M, Montorsi M, La Torre A, Rasica L, Marzorati M. Effects of a Short-Term High-Nitrate Diet on Exercise Performance. Nurtrients. 2016 Aug 31;8(9)
  3. Lovegrove JA, Stainer A, Hobbs DA. Role of flavonoids and nitrates in cardiovascular health. Proc Nutr Soc. 2017 Jan 19:1-13
  4. Gunnars, Chris. Are Nitrates and Nitrites in Foods Harmful? 2017. Healthline 4 June 2017. <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/arenitratesandnitritesinfoodsharmful?.html.>
  5. Kuoppala Ali. 5 Food High in Nitrates to Blast Your Nitric Oxide Levels Through the Roof. 2014. Anabolic Men. <https//www.anabolicmen.com/amp/>
  6. Dubois, Sirah.  Fruits and Vegetables That Are High in Nitrates. 2017. Livestrong 3 October 2017. <https://www.livestrong.com/article/5413.

Coriander and Cilantro: A Nutritional Prospective

My friend Leslie is the one who told me that coriander and cilantro come from the same plant, Coriandrum sativum.  I had no idea, so I decided to research this, especially to see how they differ nutritionally. Cilantro is the green leafy part and the coriander is the seed. Cilantro is the spanish word for coriander (1).  They taste very different and are used in different cuisines. Interestingly enough, some people have a genetic predisposition that makes them despise cilantro, claiming it has a very soapy taste. According to one study, Eastern Asians have the highest incidence of this genetic trait (3,1). Cilantro is fresh and citrusy and is commonly used in Mexican, Thai, and Chinese food, while coriander seeds are spicy, nutty and lemony and mainly used in Indian dishes. Cilantro is often added to soups, salsa, and guacamole, while coriander seeds add flavor to curries, stews, and meat seasonings. They are not often substitutes for one another in cooking.

Nutritionally speaking, because cilantro is leafy, it is higher in vitamins and coriander higher in minerals due to differences in water content. Cilantro leaf is an antioxidant and contains the bioflavonoid quercetin as well as various other phenolics.  It also contains the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and manganese and vitamins C, A, K, the B’s, and folic acid (2).  Medicinally it can cause side effects such as rashes, swelling and photosensitivity in some people (3).  Coriander seeds are high in various minerals such as manganese, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus. Coriander seeds can help with cardiovascular disease, namely blood pressure.  Both the leaf and seed may help reduce inflammation because of their anti-oxidative nature, as well as help lower blood sugar which can contribute to Type II diabetes, and fight infection due to its antimicrobial properties (1).  More research needs to be done in vivo.

When purchasing coriander, buy the whole seeds which are more flavorful than ground.  Cilantro, should look green and healthy with no spots or discolorations. I keep dried cilantro in the pantry as well as coriander seed and frozen cilantro in the freezer as a back up when I don’t have fresh.  Dried cilantro has a much milder taste.  With fresh cilantro, cut off stems and place in water in the refrigerator and change water frequently.

Although I infrequently use coriander seeds, I love the pungent flavor and freshness of cilantro and it reminds me of summer, when my daughter makes the family homemade salsa from our garden and guacamole al fresco.

  1. Raman, Ryan. Cilantro vs Coriander: What’s the Difference? 2018. Healthline 22 February 2018. <https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cilantro-vs-coriander.

2. Rudrappa, Umesh. Cilantro (Coriander leaves) nutrition facts. 2018. Nutrition And You.com.     <https://www.nutriotion-and-you.com/cilantro.html.>

3. Mercola, Joseph. Cilantro: Why You Should Choose This Unique, Pungent Herb.  <https://articles.mercola.com/herbs-spices/cilantro.aspx

The Slick Truth About Cooking Oils

When cooking with oils, there are a few important things to consider.

  1. What are you using the oil for: frying, sautéing, or drizzling on food? Also, from a culinary standpoint, what flavors are you looking to enhance your food? For example, when I cook Asian cuisine I like to use sesame seed oil. I love the flavor of truffle oil,  so I like to drizzle it on potatoes after they have been cooked or potato chips.
  2. It is important to buy a healthy oil, so look for one high in nutrients and antioxidants and that has a good balance of omega-3’s and 6’s and even some incorporation of omega-9’s.
  3. Avoid buying GMO oil.  Assume that canola, soybean, and corn oils are genetically modified unless they say NonGMO or organic.
  4. Different oils need to be used at different cooking temperatures. If you heat oils past their smoke point, then you are oxidizing the oil and releasing free radicals that can be carcinogenic.  This also, will deplete their nutrients.
  5. All oils can go rancid if exposed to light, heat, and air, therefore it is important to store your oils in a dark and cool environment.  If an oil goes rancid you can typically smell and taste it. Reused oils go rancid quickly, and I recommend throwing them out.  Rancid oils can release free radicals, called oxidative rancidity, and adversely affect your health.

My list of Oils with their Associated Smoke Point

For frying, searing meat and woking – *avocado oil (520), ghee (485), which is a fat, not an oil, look for organic or grass fed, light sesame oil (410),  sunflower oil (460)

For sautéing – unrefined sesame oil (350), butter (350), which is a fat, not an oil, look for organic or grass fed, *grapeseed (420), virgin olive oil (420), olive oil (350) coconut oil (350)

For drizzling or salad dressing – flaxseed (225) or *extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) (320)

For baking – coconut oil (350) and *organic canola oil (400)

* The oils I personally use the most in each category.

Genetically Engineered Food- Is it Safe?


Here’s the scoop about GMO’s.  GMO stands for genetically engineered organism.  Are they safe?  The verdict is still out. In rat studies, massive tumors were exhibited at age 13 months old in rats that were fed a small portion of their diet (11% being Genetically modified). In humans this study equates to tumors showing up in our bodies at age 43 if only 11% of our diet is genetically engineered. 95% of corn, canola, soybean, cottonseed, and sugar beet grown in the US is GMO.  If you see any product with any of these foods you can assume it is GMO unless it says organic or non-GMO.  Currently GMO products do not need to be labeled.  GMO are banned in 27 countries excluding the USA.

This is how it works.  Genetically engineered seed (GE seed) is made to be Roundup ready or glyphosate (the main chemical in Roundup weed killer) resistant. So when the seed is sowed and a baby plant starts to grow, farmers spray round up to kill the weeds near the crop.  Now they have room to plant more crop? All the weeds die but the genetically engineered crop which is resistant to weed killer grows and the glyphosate gets into the cell matrix.  Problem? Yes! 1)The chemical spray cannot be washed off the crop and glyphosate is classified as a ‘probable carcinogen’ by the World Health Organization.  2) Milkweed is dying off and now the monarch butterfly population is suffering because it is their favorite food. 3) As mentioned before, probably genicatically engineer food is not safe for human consumption. 

How to eat non-GMO

1) Avoid corn, soy, cottonseed, canola, and sugar beet

2) Look for products that say non-GMO

3) Buy organic

4) Avoid PLU codes ( product look up codes that start with the number 8).  For example bananas are 4011, organic bananas are 94011, and GM bananas are 84011.

5) Shop at grocery stores that promise that they do not sell GMO.  Trader Joe’s is one of them.

6) Avoid farm raised fish

7) Avoid eating out at restaurants that don’t promise non-GMO and avoid processed foods.

8) Eat organic poultry and eggs only.

9) Buy grass fed beef, because it is not grain fed.

My Tips for Traveling with Low Back Pain


Let’s face it, it’s hard to drive long distances with back pain.  The ideal situation would be to get out of the car every 20-30 minutes to stand, move around, or stretch, but that’s not too practical, especially traveling long distances.  Here’s my tricks to try to bring relief to the low back pain sufferer. Pack the above items for your car ride: a cooler, gel ice pack, a hand towel, a small pillow, water and coconut water.  The cooler is for the ice pack, water and coconut water.  The beverages are for hydration to avoid muscle cramping. Your car may or may not have a lumbar support, but that does not matter.  You have a small pillow and rolled up hand towel for support. Switch between the lumbar support, the pillow and towel throughout the trip. I tell my patients to keep changing the amount of lumbar support to have your back experience different angles, but if one really suits you, then stick with that.  Use the ice pack as needed for pain control.  Remember that ice is one of the strongest anti inflammatories over the counter.  Some rules of thumb when using ice: a gel pack is most comfortable, never apply ice directly to skin (wrap it with the hand towel), apply for 15 minutes only, you can optimize icing by applying the ice every 2 hours. Last, but probably most importantly, when you start to experience some discomfort, recline you seat back slightly.  This opening of the seat angle takes pressure off the disc and nerve.  If you are in extreme discomfort, it is best to go to a rest stop, walk a little bit and stretch gently. 

Happy, safe and comfortable travels!

My Protocol for Getting Rid of Poison Ivy Naturally and Quickly

Since my daughter was little, she has been extremely allergic to poison ivy.  I’ve had to come up with a method that was both safe and natural to get rid of it quickly.  Poison ivy can be contracted from direct contact with the plant or also from contaminated clothes, garden tools, and even pets.
1) Upon contact with poison ivy or even if you think you might have brushed up against it like on a hike, wash as soon as possible with jewelweed soap.  The phytochemicals in the leaves of the jewelweed are used to help counteract skin irritants from other plants like poison ivy and oak. I found the soap at my local Agway, however there are many recipes on the internet to make it yourself.  If you can’t find jewelweed soap, then you can purchase Technu skin cleanser which is found in pharmacies, to help remove the poison ivy oil and prevent the spread of the rash.

2) You can use Technu anti-itch spray (ages 2 years and older), if you are itchy.  It is homeopathic and herbal and I use it instead of calamine lotion.

3) I use Rhus toxicondrendrum 30c, 2 times per day.  It is a homeopathic remedy taken orally.  Use for approximately 3 days.  In my opinion, it is the Rhus toxicondrendrum that helps ameliorate the symptoms and rash very quickly.  Remember, we heal from the inside out.

4) Lastly, don’t forget to wash any clothing, pets or tools that may be contaminated. 

Lamb Meatballs


Marc and I made these delicious lamb meatballs last night using Sabra’s hummus and tzatziki sauce.  Here’s our recipe. Enjoy with cut up veggies with hummus and roasted asparagus.
Ingredients

-1 lb of ground lamb (we bought lamb shoulder and trimmed and ground it ourselves with one onion)

-2 oz of Sabra classic hummus

-1/2 cup of feta cheese

-1/2 tsp of Himalayan sea salt

-a small handful of cilantro from our garden, cut up very fine

-pepper to taste

-1 tsp of cumin

-look in the crescent roll refrigerated section for pizza crust

-Sabra tzatziki sauce 

Set oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl.  Roll out the pizza crust carefully and don’t stretch it out.  Using a pizza cutter cut into 2 x2 inch squares.  Prepare a 24 mini muffins tin with olive oil spray.  Place a piece of dough in the hole of the muffin tin and gently place a small meatball in the dough.  Bake the meatballs for about 15-17 minutes.  The lamb should be cooked through and not pink in the middle.  Put a generous dollop of tzatziki sauce on top and enjoy.

Natural Remedies for the Common Cold

This past fall I had the honor of teaching at Western Connecticut State University and I wrote and taught a class never been offered before on food as medicine, supplements, herbs and homeopathy.  I taught each section individually and then at the end of the semester, as a class, we used all of what we learned to put together a natural remedy guide for common ailments.  This is what we came up with for the common cold.  My disclaimer here is to please consult a professional before taking even natural remedies.  They are natural, but powerful, and come with precautions, dosage recommendations, side affects, age recommendations and drug interactions.  This list is only a guide for discussion with your doctor.
Food

Beneficial – bone broth (rich in minerals and helps boost the immune system) chicken soup (antimicrobial properties in the onion slurry), garlic (mild antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal properties)

Avoid – processed foods, sugar (lowers your immune system and feeds on bacteria)

Supplements

Vitamin C -helps prevent viruses and bacteria

Vitamin D -boosts your immune system.

Zinc gluconate – shown in clinical studies to shorten the duration of colds

Arabinogalactin powder – helps with colds and boosts the immune system

N-acetyl L-cysteine – used as a mucolytic and also helps support lung health.

Homeopathic Remedies

First defense for a sudden onset of symptoms is Aconite neppalus and then reevaluate to see what next remedy fits your symptoms or constitution.  Some common ones for cold symptoms include Belladonna, Kali bichromicum, Pulsatilla, Gelsemium.

Herbs

Echinacea tops the list as the most common cold remedy in Europe.  It is taken for only 7-10 days and then discontinued.  A recommended dose is 300 mg dose repeated three times a day.  Very often it is paired with goldenseal which is a natural antibiotic.

Oregano oil comes in supplement form and is antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal.

Elderberry tincture or syrup can help support the respiratory system.

Stress and the Effect on One’s Health

  
The key to optimal health is the avoidance of stress (see types of stress below) and the implementation of healthy habits.  One of the most important jobs I have as a chiropractor is to help people discover their sources of stress and eliminate them or help improve them.  I also, teach people healthy habits to help improve their immune system.  Good habits include hand washing, eating healthy, exercise, meditation, hydration, and enough sleep. When a person can improve their immune system with good health habits and avoid stress, this is the point where they will be able to initiate self healing and will thus be in balance with their external environment.
Types of stress 

Mechanical -slips and falls, auto accidents, poor ergonomics at the workplace.

Emotional -psychological  stress, death of a loved one, exams

Nutritional-a lack of a certain nutrient or an excess of a nutrient

Chemical- smoking, alcohol, artificial sweeteners 

Environmental- mold, allergens, pollution

Hans Selye was a Hungarian endocrinologist who lived from 1907-1982.  He is most acclaimed for his GAS theory (General Adaptation Syndrome) theory, which is his explanation of what the body experiences physiologically and psychologically when they encounter a stress.  In stage 1  (alarm stage) when a person first experiences a stress, their fight of flight response is initiated by the sympathetic nervous system and stress hormones like cortisol and andrenaline are released.  In stage two (resistance stage), the parasympathetic nervous system tries to balance out the sympathetic nervous system.  The person appears normal externally as they are figuring out how to resist this stress.  Their stress hormones are still elevated as well as their blood pressure, heart rate and blood sugar.  In the final stage (exhaustion stage), if the person is not capable of overcoming the stress, then they will become more susceptible to disease and death.  

“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” -Hans Selye

The King of Antioxidants – Chocolate

   

Oh thank God for chocolate or I should really say raw cacao!  There about 40 different health benefits of chocolate.  Number one in my book, is that it is nature’s most powerful antioxidant.  It is much higher in antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, green tea, gogi berries and acai.  Let me define some parts of the cacao tree for you.  The cacao tree lives in the tropics and mainly in Central America.  The tree bares pods that contain cacao seeds or nuts.  The term nut, seeds, and even beans are used interchangeably.   The nut can be ground into powder which is called cacao powder.  If the nut is not roasted first then the cacao powder is raw and this is the most nutritious form of the nut that you can consume.  The pod also contains fat which is known as cocoa butter. Chocolate is the candy that has been made from the nut. Cacao powder plus sugar equals dark chocolate.  If you add milk to that, you get milk chocolate.  If you take the cocoa butter plus sugar and milk, you get white chocolate.  Dark chocolate is the most nutrient dense because it contains more cacao nuts.The Mayans back in 1400 BC brewed the cacao nuts in water and called it xocolatl.  It was sacred and used as a health remedy, as a form of currency, and in spiritual rituals. It was the British that came up with the term cocoa, which is really slang for cacao. 

Academic studies have confirmed that cacao helps improve cardiovascular health by increasing good cholesterol.  In the FASEB Journal 2013;28 a study showed that dark chocolate prevents the white blood cells from adhering to the vessel walls thus preventing blood clots and artherlosclerosis.  Cacao also was reported to improve the flexibility of the arteries.  Other studies showed that it had an anti inflammatory effect to the cardiovascular system, decreased the risk of stroke, and increased nitric oxide levels which helped relax blood vessels thereby reducing blood pressure.  

More studies found that the epicatechin which is a flavonoid in cacao improves cognitive function, preventing dementia and regulating mood. Other flavonoids help to reduce insulin resistance. Phenylethylamine is a constituent that encourages endorphin release so that you feel happy.  Theobromine  helps to harden tooth enamel.  As a side note it is the stimulant, theobromine in chocolate and the not the caffeine that can harm pets.  Horses, cats, dogs and birds can get sick or even die if they consume chocolate.  Cacao contains vital minerals such as magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, iron and potassium.

If you want the greatest benefits of cacao, buy raw organic cacao powder.  I like to put a tablespoon of raw cacao powder in unsweetened coconut milk with whey protein or I like a tablespoon in a smoothie with plain kefir and frozen strawberries.  If you consume it as a candy the recommendation is to buy at least 65% cacao and eat only 1-2 oz of it or I like to just eat one square.  Remember cacao does have caffeine, but not as much as a cup of coffee.  Also, keep in mind that if you consume it in the form of chocolate, you are also eating sugar which is detrimental to your health. The amount of sugar and cacao in a bar are inversely proportional.  For example in a 70% cacao bar the remaining 30% percent is sugar.  The less the cacao content the greater the sugar and vise versa.