By Cherise Tasker
By jchatoff from venice beach, usa (berries Uploaded by hike395) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A blackberry is a beautiful thing. In its own red-black, tiny, grape-like cluster, one blackberry delivers juice, crunch, and many health benefits. Like its fellow berries, straw, blue, ras and cran, to name a few, the blackberry is delicious and nutritious. While each type of berry is beautiful in its own way–the glorious color, lovely shape and unique taste–all berries provide us with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, electrolytes, dietary fiber, and even a small amount of protein.
Plants produce compounds called phytochemicals. Many phytochemicals are antioxidants. Anitoxidants are molecular substances that in some studies have been shown to protect cells from the negative effect of free radicals. Free radicals arise in the body as a byproduct of normal internal processes such as digestion or due to exposure to external toxins such as cigarette smoke and radiation. Free radicals’ effects on cells may contribute to the aging process and to the development of cancer. Berries are an excellent source of antioxidant phytochemicals.
Phytochemicals with antioxidant effects include vitamins A, C, and E. These vitamins have other beneficial properties as well. Our bodies use vitamin A to produce pigments for the photoreceptor cells for night vision. Vitamin C is utilized in collagen production. As a component of connective tissues, collagen is important for wound healing and maintenance of strong bones. Vitamin C is also used in chemical pathways that synthesize molecules critical to brain function and energy production. Vitamin E plays an important role in maintaining normal platelet and immune cell function.
Carotenoids, the red, yellow, and orange pigments in plants, are also a type of phytochemical with antioxidant and health-supportive properties. Studies have shown that carotenoids may help reduce the incidence of heart attack and cancer. Carotenoid molecules are found in the lens and retina of the eye, making this nutrient important to eye health. Carotenoids’ antioxidant properties may lend some protection against acute macular degeneration. Because of its unique molecular structure, carotenoids absorb light and may also have a vision-protective effect, including the possible prevention of acute macular degeneration (AMD). Carotenoids are converted to vitamin A as well, helping to assure the ability to see in low lighting conditions. Carotenoids give berries their orange and gold color.
Polyphenols are a type of phytochemical that include the flavonoid subgroup. In addition to its antioxidant effects, flavonoids interact with various enzyme systems in the body, resulting in anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anti-allergic activity. Studies have shown that flavonoids may also be cardioprotective. One category of flavonoids, anthocyanins, has been linked to the prevention of memory loss. Anthocyanins give berries their blue, purple, and red color.
The Blackberry. The anthocyanins that give blackberries their rich color also lend this fruit its antioxidant capacity. In addition to their high-fiber content, blackberries also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help decrease cholesterol levels. Studies have been conducted on blackberry wine for its potential health benefits. Although data to date is inconclusive, studies on the health effect of the beautiful berries continue.
The Blueberry. High in vitamin C and anthocyanins, blueberries have a substantial amount of fiber as well. The fiber makes blueberries particularly filling and a good choice for those who are watching their calorie intake. Blueberries are also a good source of manganese, a mineral that helps optimize the conversion of carbohydrates and fat into energy. Blueberries contain the carotenoid lutein, which may help slow the progression of AMD.
The Cranberry. Traditionally, cranberry juice has been promoted as helpful in preventing urinary tract infections (UTIs). The thinking was that the berry juice acidified the urine, making it inhospitable to bacteria growth. More recent studies suggest that chemicals (possibly the anthocyanins) in the cranberries prevent bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract, thus preventing UTIs. Cranberries also contain salicylic acid, an ingredient in aspirin, and may help prevent blood clots. Proanthocyanidine, a flavonoid found in cranberries, has been found to prevent dental plaque formation.
The Raspberry. Usually a pink-red color, raspberries are also available in white, gold, purple, and black varieties. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and anthocyanins. Raspberries are also high in potassium, an electrolyte important to maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
The Strawberry. Strawberries are high in vitamin C, polyphenols, fiber, potassium, and manganese. Just 8 strawberries provide more vitamin C than an orange. It is commonly noted that strawberries are both heart-shaped and heart-protective. Because they are high in fiber, they may help lower cholesterol levels. Their antioxidant components may offer anti-inflammatory protection and decrease the risks for blood clots.
Please, enjoy the spring with a bowl of beautiful berries.
A good resource, but not the only resource.
The other day, a mom-to-be approached the Research Desk in a bit of a panic. “All of your copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting are checked out!” Now it is true that What to Expect When You’re Expecting is one of the most requested titles by future moms, and with good reason. According to the book description it “is a perennial New York Times bestseller and one of USA Today’s 25 most influential books of the past 25 years. It’s read by more than 90% of pregnant women who read a pregnancy book–the most iconic, must-have book for parents-to-be, with over 14.5 million copies in print.”
High praise, indeed, but if it’s not on the shelf and you want it that day, there are other fish in the sea. Take, for example, the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Health Pregnancy. Publishers Weekly stated, “Would-be mothers looking for precise, accurate information from a reputable source will appreciate this mammoth pregnancy guide…most readers will find great reassurance this volume’s carefully vetted facts.” And The Joy of Pregnancy: The Complete, Candid, and Reassuring Guide for Parents to Be is another popular and trusted source.
There’s also The Pregnancy Bible: Your Complete Guide to Pregnancy and Early Parenthood and Your Pregnancy Week By Week. Both of which not only give you tips on a health pregnancy, but also gives you a weekly progress report on what’s going on in there.
Of course if you want a little humor to go with your advice, there’s always The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy or The Mother of All Pregnancy Books. And you can always put the future papa to work with The Expectant Father: Facts,Tips, and Advice for Dads-To-Be. But that’s just a small sampling. There are many more good pregnancy guides as well as many that deal with very specific areas of pregnancy such as diet or high-risk pregnancies. Be sure to stop by any branch of HCLS for even more options.
It’s been a long time since we talked about some the kid friendly, teaching tools on health in the HCLS collection. Today, we are going to highlight some new additions to our collection.
The first set of books is part of the “Your Healthy Plate” series, and features Grains, Fruits, and Proteins. According to Cherry Lake Publishing, the books are specifically designed to highlight the five five food groups as described in the new dietary guidelines launched in January 2011 by the FDA. “This leveled reader series helps the young child understand the importance of a balanced diet.” The books are informative without being overwhelming. Some of the topics covered include: What Are/Is Grains/Fruits/Protein? Why Do You Need Grains/Fruit/Protein? How Often Should You Eat Grains/Fruit/Protein? Find Out More, Glossary, and Home and School Connection. Simple text and lots of bright pictures make these books an excellent way to introduce young children to healthful eating.
A non-nutrition-related book that your inquiring, 6-to-9 year-old reader may find interesting is My Itchy Body. Part of the BODY WORKS series, the publisher, Tundra Books, describes it as “a fact-filled book about everything that itches: the causes, the cures, the myths, and the reality.” The book provides medically accurate information paired with very funny, often silly, illustrations. The book would work really well at home or in the classroom, and it includes fun facts, sidebars, and a glossary.
Don’t forget, learning about health and good habits can and should start at a young age. Plus, as John Locke stated: “Children should always be heard, and fairly and kindly answered, when they ask after anything they would know, and desire to be informed about. Curiosity should be as carefully cherished in children as other appetites suppressed.”
Picture by bottled_void via Flickr.
Oh, no! Oh cripes! Is it April 25 already? We didn’t mean to wait this late to let you know that April is National Stress Awareness Month.
We all have experienced stress, which MedlinePlus defines as “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation; a state of bodily or mental tension resulting from factors that tend to alter an existent equilibrium .” But what are some of the common physical, chemical, and emotional factors?
Physical factors are exactly what you’d think they’d be. Anyone dealing with illness or chronic pain is prone to stress. A physical condition, even one that is temporary, that is inhibiting a person from something they want or need to do can be a great source of stress. For example, if you have a foot injury that is limiting your mobility and you have three small children at home, you are going to be stressed. Elderly people who find some of their physical abilities slipping, may experience greater amounts of stress. Additionally, poor diet and lack of sleep, excessive travel, noise and crowds, clutter, surgery, and seasonal changes can also be some common contributors to stress. And, annoyingly, stress can, in turn, exacerbate existing physical problems and/or lead to more.
Chemical factors of stress can crossover with the physical if you consider things such as hormonal changes due to factors like puberty, pregnancy, menopause, etc. One of the main chemical culprits appears to be an imbalance of neurotransmitters, and here’s where stress and depression and anxiety often intersect (a much larger topic for another day). And yes, external chemicals such as illegal drugs, or improper or overuse of prescription drugs (stress and anxiety are sometimes even side effects of some medications), smoking, alcohol abuse, too much caffeine, and poor diet are stressors too. Chemical factors may also include environmental elements such as pollution and toxins. As with physical stressors, the more chemical influences you have, the more your stress levels and internal chemicals can be affected.
Finally, emotional and mental stressors—the big ones. The easy answers to what are the greatest emotional/mental causes of stress are change and outlook. But it is waaaaaay more complicated than that. Concrete examples would include loss of a loved one, relationship troubles, overloaded work schedule, pessimistic outlook, low self-esteem… really the list goes on and on.
As mentioned before, a lot of these physical, chemical, and emotional factors of stress can often lead to the chicken or egg question as the conditions that cause stress can be increased or worsened by, well…stress. But the important thing seems to be to recognize when you are stressed and do something about it. Sometimes talking to someone (a doctor can be especially helpful) is all you need to get the stress relief rolling. There are also some simple things you can try to help alleviate stress. Most stress-relief methods involve reducing stressors in your life or finding activities that can calm you. Here are items that might help in your quest to do both:
A Calm Brain: Unlocking Your Natural Relaxation System
Element. Yoga for Stress Relief and Flexibility
Shakuhachi Flute Meditations: Zen Music to Calm the Mind
Success Under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure’s On
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
By Azcolvin429 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Happy Earth Day! What better day to think about personal well-being than a day devoted to the well-being of the entire planet? We’ve already given you a few hints on how being kind to Mother Earth can personally benefit you, say through gardening
, or protecting your soil
. But what else can you do to help Earth and, ultimately, yourself and those you love?
Well, of course, The Earth Day Network has several suggestions to be active, from helping the climate to recycling. They also have a place for donations if you don’t have time to get personally involved.
National Geographic has some very specific examples of the link between the health of the Earth and its population. “Our health is intimately connected with the world around us. Scientists are continually discovering new ways that ecosystems affect us. Destruction of natural wildlife habitats, for instance, can lead to humans being exposed to new diseases.” They offer such examples as how deforestation of the Amazon has led to more CO2 in the atmosphere and loss of clean drinking water; how air pollution can provoke heart attacks, stroke, and asthma; and how preserving wetlands protects both wildlife and natural filters that remove pollutants from water before they reach the ocean or tap water. National Geographic also offers some suggestions everyone can employ to stop the damage.
The Nature Conservancy has an All Hands on Earth campaign, “asking millions of people all over the world to spend the whole month of April— Earth Month— thinking about where their food comes from, and how their food choices impact our planet.” They are organizing Picnic for Earth to encourage everyone to come together and eat sustainably.
You may also want to link healthcare improvement and environmentalism directly by getting involved with Practice Greenhealth. They are the nation’s leading healthcare community, working toward empowering members to “increase their efficiencies and environmental stewardship while improving patient safety and care through tools, best practices, and knowledge.”
Finally, if you’re just looking for some simple changes you and your family can make to help keep the planet and its inhabitants a little healthier and happier, check out:
The Green Guide: The Complete Reference for Consuming Wisely
True Green Kids: 100 Things You Can Do to Save the Planet by Kim McKay
Do One Green Thing: Save the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices by Mindy Pennybacker
Generation Green: The Ultimate Teen Guide to Living an Eco-Friendly Life by Linda & Tosh Silvertsen
And the DVD Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?
by Barbara Cornell
I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Earth Month than putting something in the earth and watching it grow. If it grows into something delicious and healthy, so much the better.
- You will know exactly how your food was raised—it will be organic if you want it to be.
- You will be the ultimate locavore —just pick it and bring it into the kitchen!
- Working in the garden is good exercise—a great way to work up an appetite for your homegrown veggies!
Are you unsure of how to get started? Howard County Library System has some excellent books full of advice for the beginner and the pro. Here are some of our newest.
The Ultimate Guide to Growing Your Own Food, 2011, by Monte Burch, promises you will “Save money, live better, and enjoy life with food from your garden or orchard.” Burch covers “why,” “where,” and lots of “how-tos.” with excellent photos and illustrations.
Another great general book is How to Grow Food, 2011, by Richard Gianfrancesco. His “Growing Directory” gives information on “how to grow, maintain, harvest and store” crops. He packs an immense amount of information into each page including “value for money” and a calendar with advice for each season. His “How to Grow” section covers soil prep, starting seeds, controlling pests, pruning, and more. He finishes with “Preserving Your Crop” and includes recipes.
Creative Homeowner’s Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces, 2011, by Jane Courtier, will appeal to the impatient gardener with little spare time. Courtier gives enough well-illustrated introduction to inspire and ground the beginner then presents a directory of food crops uniquely divided by speed: “Superfast,” “Faster than the average vegetable,” and “Worth the wait.”
The Food Lover’s Garden, 2010, by Mark Diacono, is full of tempting surprises. It has a decidedly British flavor—the author’s first book was named Practical Book of the Year by the UK’s Garden Media Guild—but it translates well to the U.S. I was delighted to find that my Carolina Allspice bush has a culinary use and to see a recipe included! Diacono is rather “evangelical” about nasturtiums and Jerusalem artichokes as well. He will have you converted!
I love the tiny book How to Grow Your Food: A Guide for Complete Beginners, 2011, by Jon Clift and Amanda Cuthbert. It is another British import that is very happy here in the U.S. I like that the section on each vegetable or fruit includes the following: “plant or seed,” “planting/sowing,” “how do they grow?”, “looking after your ___,” and “now what” (what to do after the harvest).
I hope these suggestions will get you started on the road to happy gardening. So it’s Earth Month! Go plant something!