Health Benefits of Oregano Oil

When one thinks of Italian food, perhaps the most immediate spice that comes to mind is oregano. The plant, which itself is native to the temperate climates that surround the Mediterranean Sea, is a staple in the diets of many other nearby cultures as well. It is often used as a meat seasoning, for instance, in Turkish cuisine. Greeks also employ oregano as a flavor additive to Greek salad, preferring to mix it with a zesty olive oil and lemon dressing.

Regardless of which culture oregano’s original use can be attributed to, more recent health related research has uncovered some interesting characteristics of the ancient herb. As it turns out, the same plant that adds some zip to everything from pasta and pizza to salads has essential oils which might provide significant health benefits when consumed by humans. Unfortunately, the dried leaves used as seasoning don’t typically have much of this essential oil. Instead, it is extracted through a process that involves steaming oregano’s leaves. These extracts are often made available at health and organic food stores. And though it might take some extra effort to obtain, oregano’s essential oil has health benefits which might make that effort worthwhile.

Oregano Oil Fights Pathogens

In the wild, plants often develop certain chemical and biological properties in order to stave off pathogens in disease. Because they’re in an environment of near constant bombardment from pests such as bacteria and viruses, plants like oregano are powerful examples of this evolutionary feat. While some plants develop waxy cuticles on their leaves or toxins within their cell walls, oregano’s internal oil has very effective anti-bacterial and viral properties.

There are two substances in oregano’s essential oils which make these properties work. They are called thymol and carvacrol. In lab tests, both of these substances were seen to slow down the development and spread of bacteria significantly. What’s more, the bacteria used in these tests were no weaklings. The first was Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which can cause inflammation and sepsis when it infects tissues. If it makes its way to the vital organs such as the lungs or kidneys, Pseudomonas aeruginosa is potentially fatal. The second bacterium proven to be inhibited by oregano’s essential oils is Staphylococcus Aureus. Named for its unique cluster formations, it is one of the most frequent causes of staph infections in humans. While consumption of oregano essential oils won’t necessarily rid one’s system of these bacteria, topical application of the oil could potentially be a way to slow infection.

Oregano Oil and Antioxidants

In the body, countless chemical reactions occur that keep us in a state of homeostasis, or stability. Not all of these reactions, however, are particularly beneficial. Oxidation, when it occurs in cells, is one of these less beneficial reactions. When a cell undergoes oxidation, so-called “free radical” molecules are produced. The ultimate result of the presence of free radicals is often cell damage or death, which can grow into out-of-control proportions. Naturally, it is in our best interest to prevent these oxidation reactions from occurring in large numbers. Antioxidants like Vitamin C and Vitamin E work to do just that.

Less well known is the fact that antioxidants aside from these vitamins exist. A few of them are even found in oregano oil. The two specific ones that oregano oil is known to contain are thymol and rosmarinic acid. Lab tests have not only proven their existence in oregano oil, but have also revealed that they’re present in downright astonishing concentrations. To put it in perspective, this lab test measured the amount of antioxidants per gram of fresh weight of oregano against the amount per gram per fresh weight of an apple. Apples were used as a measuring stick because they are renowned for high amounts of antioxidants. The tests found that oregano contained roughly 40 times the amount of antioxidant activity that apples did. This, of course, is nearly unprecedented in the realm of natural antioxidant sources. It seems that fresh oregano, even when consumed in relatively small amounts, is an effective way to ensure high antioxidant levels of your own.

Oregano’s Other Chemical Constituents

Rounding out oregano oil’s wealth of nutrients are vitamin K and omega 3 fatty acids. The most concentrated of these three is by far vitamin K. A single two teaspoon serving of fresh ground oregano has nearly a quarter of one’s daily need for the vitamin. In the body, it is required for the coagulation of blood and in bone building. Omega 3 fatty acids, meanwhile, are present at about five percent daily value per two teaspoon serving. These fatty acids have gained much attention in recent years for the cardiovascular benefits, which include lowering of blood pressure and better blood circulation. In a 1999 medical test that focused on Omega 3’s cardiovascular effects among 11,324 subjects who had recently had heart trouble, it was found that consumption of 1 gram of Omega 3 per day reduced the chance of sudden cardiac death by forty five percent.

Additional preliminary testing has revealed that Omega 3 fatty acids present in oregano oil may also have cancer fighting effects, specifically for breast and prostate cancer. In patients who were already diagnosed, the consumption of these fatty acids correlated with slower development of tumors, and eventually a better survival rate. These beneficial health effects of oregano oil aren’t necessarily limited to those who already have cancer, either. Its aforementioned high antioxidant levels prevent the formation of free radicals, which in turn lowers the risk of several types of cancers.

As the evidence above implies, a dash of fresh oregano on your next dish may be more than just an effective flavor addition. In addition to its unique taste, oregano oil is a surprisingly potent source of both vital and antioxidant nutrients. In fact, its consumption can benefit an array of biological processes – especially those that keep the cardiovascular system in check and cancer at bay. So, it seems, fresh oregano and its essential oils have much more to offer than a flavorful kick to Mediterranean cuisine.

Health Benefits of Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds have become increasingly popular in recent years. They are extremely tasty and have innumerable benefits.  They are popular in salads, in granola, eaten by themselves as a snack, and used as garnishes for a very wide range of dishes. Most people love eating them, and you will boost your health by doing so too!

Pumpkin seeds are a very good source of vitamin E. This promotes healthy, glowing skin, and protects your face and other areas from the ageing effects of free radicals found in coffee, as well as many other substances eaten or found in the environment.

Trytophan is found in pumpkin seeds. This substance is a natural antidepressant. While you’d have to consume vast amounts of pumpkin seeds to gain the level of trytophan found in antidepressant medication, it might be worth grabbing a packet the next time you feel down – if nothing else, the taste will cheer you up!

If you have trouble finding enough natural iron in your diet, then you may be interested to know that pumpkin seeds are packed with this essential mineral. This is particularly good news for vegeterians and vegans, and also women who suffer from anaemia.Pumpkin seeds are packed with phytosterols, which are useful for guarding against many diseases as they reduce ‘bad’ forms of cholesterols and boost your body’s supply of healthy oils. Phytosterols reduce your risk of developing heart disease and several forms of cancer – pumpkin seeds, consumed in moderation, can increase your body’s natural resistance to these serious conditions.

However, pumpkin seeds have some specific properties that can help men, too. Many men over fifty have an enlarged prostate gland, which can cause various medical problems. Chemicals that naturally occur in pumpkin seeds appear to reduce the risk of developing this problem, also known as benign prostratic hypertrophy. At the moment, science has not worked out exactly how pumpkin seeds are beneficial to the condition, but it has been established that a high level of consumption of the minerals found in pumpkin seeds has an inverse effect on the risk of developing an enlarged prostate.

Pumpkin seeds are good for men in other ways,. They contain a high level of zinc. This is often recommended as a supplement for men who are trying to concieve, as it contributes towards the development and maintenance of healthy sperm. It is also linked to reducing the risk of fractures in older men.

Pumpkin seeds are very high in energy, and contain around five hundred calories per hundred grams. This is not good news if you are on a diet – although this does not mean that you should not eat any pumpkin seeds, but that you should carefully monitor the amount you consume so you gain the benefits without adding to your waistline. However, the high calorie content is helpful to walkers, cyclists and other athletes or outdoorsy types who need food that packs a high amount of calories into a small amount of weight and space. The next time you go hillwalking, fishing or mountain biking, pack some pumpkin seeds instead of your usual chocolate bar – it’s a far healthier snack.

Ready-to-eat pumpkin seeds can be found in supermarkets, health food shops and, increasingly, corner shops and newsagents. Pre-packaged seeds can contain a lot of additives, however, so check the packet before you buy. Alternatively, you can roast pumpkin seeds that are left over from making a Halloween lantern, pumpkin pie, or numerous other dishes that require pumpkin flesh.

Health Benefits of Pomegranates

Pomegranates are delicious in salads and syllabubs, with goat’s cheese, and in numerous recipes, both savoury and sweet. They have also long been a symbol of fertility, presumably because of the mass of shiny red seeds that every pomegranate contains, and feature in the parables and myths of various cultures and creeds. As well as their role in cooking and storytelling, pomegranates are said to have the following health benefits:

In general, pomegranates are thought of as helping the body to detox – in fact, they are said to have more natural antioxidants than any other type of fruit, and are stuffed with polyphenols, tannins and other naturally occurring chemicals that help to boost health. Pomegranates help reduce harmful biological functions while boosting vitamin intake and promoting good health. Try a pomegranate for breakfast, or have a glass of pomegranate juice alongside your morning toast or bagel.

Pomegranates are said to reduce the risk of heart disease, and early research has shown that they reduce the occurrence of various underlying biological functions that cause heart trouble – they help to balance the types of cholesterol found in the body, and also increase the speed at which potentially troublesome blockages are naturally resolved.

Pomegranates are also said to have a role in fighting various forms of cancer, including prostate cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer, because of their natural antioxidant properties. However, the scientific studies into the benefits of pomegranates for cancer patients are in their infancy, and you should ask your doctor for more information and the latest research.

The high fibre and vitamin content of pomegranates may help you lose weight and keep fit. Obviously a committed dieter will need to make other changes to their eating pattern other than including pomegranates, but the fruits can be a low-calorie mood booster that make you feel much healthier.

Some research suggests that pomegranates can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, and slow the disease’s progression.

Pomegranates may help your body resist infections such as the common cold, as they’re full of vitamins. Try taking some pomegranate tea during the cold season to ward off and reduce sniffles, sore throats and blocked noses.

Depression may be improved with pomegranates and pomegranate products – research in this area is limited, but the fruits are so beautiful and good to eat that they’re bound to boost anyone’s mood. Pomegranates are said to be particularly helpful in helping women who are going through the menopause to overcome depression.

There is also some evidence that pomegranates may improve bone density, and that their consumption guards against osteoporosis and other skeletal disorders.

Pomegranates may also be able to prevent tooth decay, as it naturally discourages plaque. You shouldn’t abandon your usual teeth-cleaning routine, but instead add some pomegranates into your regular diet.

If you’re interested in incorporating pomegranates into your diet, then pomegranates are found in Turkish, Georgian, Greek and Jewish cuisines, as well as other food cultures around the Middle East – reading recipes from these areas will give you some great ideas to boost your pomegranate consumption. Pomegranates are also delicious in smoothies.

Health Benefits of Spirulina

Spirulina is a food supplement made from tiny bacteria that are found in abundance in East Africa. It has been used as a food supplement since ancient times, when Aztecs skimmed spirulina-rich algae from water sources and dried it into cake form. Spirulina is available in various formats, including as pills, powder and flakes, as well as in its whole-food form. Its attributes and health benefits are as follows:

Around sixty per cent of spirulina’s bulk is protein, which is extremely high. It includes all essential elements of protein, including amino acids and various other nutrients. Spirulina is therefore particularly valuable to vegetarians and vegans as a health supplement, as it contains all the nutrients that a meat- or animal product-free diet may lack. The iron content in spirulina means that it can guard against anaemia.

The same properties that make spirulina useful to vegatarians and vegans also make it important for athletes. Spirulina can boost energy and help to maintain stamina. The high protein content means that its particularly useful to weightlifters and boxers, and other athletes who need to be conscious of their weight while eating a diet that retains and boosts muscle tissue.

Spirulina is also often recommended as being particularly suitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women, as it replenishes their bodies at a time when nutrients are in particularly high demand. However, you should have a chat with your doctor or midwife before introducing any supplements into your diet during pregnancy.There is also some evidence to suggest that spirulina can be useful in reducing reactions to allergies and intolerances. Although anyone with a serious allergy should in no way rely on spirolina to ward of anaphylaxis or any other life-threatening reaction, some studies have shown that spirolina reduces the effects of common allergies, like hayfever.

Spirulina is also thought to have a role in reducing cholesterol and so reducing the risk of heart disease and some cancers. It forms an important part of the diet in Japan, which has a much lower incidence of heart disease than in most Western countries – Japanese studies show that spirulina acts to lower harmful types of cholesterol in men.

There is an ongoing debate about whether or not spirulina supplements can help with weight loss, with some arguing that it doesn’t, and other sources maintaining that spirulina can boost the metabolism and suppress the appetite. While its extremely unlikely than spirulina on its own will have an effect on your waistline, it can form a part of a weight-loss regime as it helps to regulate blood-sugar levels and suppress cravings.

Possibly the most important health benefit of spirulina is that it works to stop HIV cells from replicating, and it has also been found to help children in the Third World, who are underweight and HIV positive, to gain weight and reduce the likelihood of anaemia. The health benefits of spirulina in the fight against HIV is yet to be fully explored, but it could potentially have an exciting role in the battle against this feared disease. If you are interested in finding out more, ask your doctor.

People with certain metabolic disorders that affects their ability to digest amino acids should avoid spirulina.

Spirulina is commercially farmed in many countries. It can be found in most health food shops.

Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad

After a wonderful, ridiculous weekend in Montreal this Easter, my friend Julia and I have decided we are beginning a new, healthier life. This may only last a week, but today I went to yoga AND made a delicious, healthy supper. Day one of new healthy lifestyle = success!

This recipe is actually one of very few recipes that I kinda, sorta came up with myself. It started with some inspiration from smittenkitchen . I really liked the blister-y, almost burnt taste of the sweet potatoes. However, I found it hard to eat because the celery and pecans kept falling off. A couple weeks later in the grocery store, I saw a leafy and delicious lookin’ bale of kale (he he) and thought I’d try to pair that with the sweet potatoes. It turned out deliciously – the kale was sauteed so it stuck to the sweet potatoes and I used sunflower seeds instead of pecans so they weren’t as cumbersome.

This is another try at the sweet potato salad. I decided this time to go for spinach because the only kale in the grocery store was limp and ugly lookin’. As well, I added some portobello mushrooms in to the mix. I have to say, while the spinach was just as delicious as the kale, I really did not like the mushroom addition. It made the salad too soggy and did not add much flavor-wise. Next time, I would just stick with the spinach, sweet potatoes, goat cheese and sunflower seeds. They are flavorful enough as is! So here is the finished product:

And here is the recipe:

Spinach and Sweet Potato Salad
One medium-sized sweet potato, peeled washed and cut into chunks
~2 cups baby spinach, stems taken off (this only applies if you buy the not pre-washed and pre-stemmed variety – a little bit of stem is okay)
~2 tbsps goat cheese (or however much you like – I like a lot of goat cheese)
1 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 small portobello mushrooms (or one large portobello)
Olive oil (enough to coat the base of the pan)
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Now, first we must peel, wash and cut the sweet potato into bite-size chunks. Then, lightly toss the sweet potatoes in olive oil and give them a good sprinkle with salt and pepper. I know this is new, healthier lifestyle day one, but do NOT skimp on the salt. Salt makes things taste good! Once the potatoes are coated in oil and seasoned, place them in the oven for 30 minutes. Check them halfway through and turn them over. When they come out, they should be blistered and almost burnt looking. This is a good thing.

While the potatoes are in the oven, wash and remove the stems from the spinach. As well, cut up your mushrooms into bite-sized pieces. When the potatoes are out of the oven, pour some olive oil into a non-stick pan (enough to cover the base of the pan) and sautee the spinach for 2 minutes. Remove the spinach from the pan and place over the sweet potatoes on a plate. Then add more oil if the pan is dry and sautee the mushrooms until browned. Place the mushrooms on top of the spinach, then sprinkle goat cheese and sunflower seeds over top.

Yum.

What You Don’t Know About Saffron

This spice is worth its weight in gold. It holds the title as the world’s most expensive spice, and not just by a few dollars. Fortunately it’s reasonably affordable because it has a very strong flavor and is used in very small amounts – a pinch for most recipes.

Saffron is made from dried bright red stigmas of the saffron crocus. Each blossom has three thread-like stigmas that have to be removed by hand, and it takes 80,000 of them to make a pound of saffron! It isn’t hard to understand why it is so expensive.

After they are picked, they are carefully toasted to dry them. They are either left in threads or ground into a powder. Some people feel the powder is inferior to the threads, because fillers are sometimes ground into the mix. But if they are of the best quality you get more for your money because the powder has a much stronger flavor and you don’t have to use as much.

The threads need to be soaked in hot liquid for at least 20 minutes before cooking – the longer the better. Don’t use a whisk when stirring them, as they will get caught in the wires and will not blend properly into the food.

If a recipe calls for saffron, it isn’t a good idea to use a substitute. The flavor is so unique that nothing else will taste the same. To preserve that unique taste in a recipe, it’s better not to use other strong flavored spices, such as chili pepper, in the same dish, as it will overpower its taste.

If you want to add it to baked goods, go lightly, as the flavor will be more pronounced the next day.

Saffron will easily absorb other flavors and odors, so be careful where and how you store it. If you don’t use it very often it will keep for several years when it is stored in a dark space, and is sealed so no moisture can get to it.

When buying it, there are some things to look for. The threads should be a bright red, with no other color. Sometimes if it isn’t real saffron it will be tinted to make it look authentic, and splotches of yellow will be visible. Substitutions are sometimes made, but the product doesn’t look like threads. It may color food, but it won’t taste like saffron.

There are many recipes on the Internet that will give you ideas for using this exotic spice.

Can Scrambled Eggs Be Frozen?

Ordinarily it isn’t a good idea to freeze cooked egg whites because they taste rubbery when they are thawed. But when they are all mixed up with the yolks, they keep their good taste and texture. So yes, you can freeze scrambled eggs and have a handy breakfast waiting for you in the freezer. Great for mornings when you don’t have time to cook. Sprinkle with some cheese before you warm it up, and take it with you!

HOW TO FREEZE

For the best texture, cook them just until they are still a little more soft than you want to eat them. They will firm up a little bit when you reheat them. Let them get completely cool, and freeze in individual servings in a muffin pan. Put them into the freezer for about 20 minutes until they are slightly frozen. Then wrap them and put into a freezer bag, squeezing out as much air as possible. They will keep up to a year, but will have the best taste for a few months. If you want to serve several people at once, they can also be frozen in an airtight container or freezer bag.

HOW TO THAW

To thaw scrambled eggs, take them out of the freezer the night before and put them into the refrigerator. That way they can be reheated in a frying pan or in the microwave for a short length of time. Or if you don’t think about thawing them ahead, they can be thawed in a pan or microwave on low heat to keep them from cooking too much. They should be eaten right away and shouldn’t be refrozen.

About 3 Great Nuts

ABOUT HAZELNUTS

In folklore it is believed that hazelnuts became known as “filberts” because they were ready to harvest on St. Philbert’s Day. But they were being eaten in China 5000 years ago and were harvested by Romans. In 2838 B.C. they were said to be among the five sacred foods that God gave to human beings. Long ago these nuts were also used as a medicine.

STORING
Hazelnuts can be stored for a longer period than most nuts. Put them in plastic bags, either shelled or unshelled, in the refrigerator at about 32 degrees for one year, or in the freezer for two years. When ready to use them, let them warm to room temperature before opening the bag.

USING
Hazelnuts are added to all kinds of foods, including main dishes and desserts. They are especially tasty with coffee and chocolate, and are a main ingredient in Nutella. When roasted they give an added flavor to berry and chocolate desserts such as cobblers, and are often ground and used in cakes and pastries. They have a bitter skin that is usually removed before using in recipes. To remove the skin, roast them at 275 degrees for about 15 minutes. While still hot pick them up with a dry towel and rub them until the skin comes off.

NAMES
They are called “cobnuts” or “hazels” in the United States.

NUTRITION
These nuts are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and are a protection against many diseases and cancers.

ABOUT MACADAMIAS

For thousands of years aborigines ate macadamia nuts that were native to Australian rainforests.

CRACKING
Macadamias have the hardest shell of any nut, and they are very difficult to crack. There are several suggestions on the Internet for cracking them, but it saves a lot of frustration to buy them already shelled.

USING
There are many ways to use ground macadamias – to flavor ground meat, poultry and fish dishes; added to pastry dough or shaken onto pie crust before adding the filling. To grind them, the easiest way is to pulse them in a food processor. Don’t do it too long or they will turn into nut butter. If you accidentally grind them until they start to get creamy, keep grinding until they are smooth and spreadable. You can add a little honey to give them a sweeter taste.
Macadamia nuts can be used the same as other nuts in most recipes. They add a flavorful crunch to baked goods like cookies and cakes, and spruce up salads and other foods where you use nuts. They go really well with coconut, chocolate and fish.

ROASTING
They have more flavor if they are toasted before they are cooked in a recipe. Spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake them for about 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees until they are golden brown. You can use a toaster oven, but bake them half as long. Let them get cool before you grind or chop them so they don’t get oily or lose their shape.Toast only as many as you need because they won’t keep as well as raw nuts.

NUTRITION
Macadamia nuts are high in monounsaturated fatty acid and help reduce cholesterol. They also have high amounts of minerals and protein.

ABOUT PISTACHIOS

Pistachios go back 9,000 years, and are mentioned in the Bible. It is said that the Queen of Sheba liked them so much that she took the whole harvest just for herself.

NAMES
Pistachios are known by various names – “smiling nut” in Iran, “happy nut” in China, and green almonds in other places.

USING
Some cooks use shelled pistachios to top rice or other dishes the same way they would with other nuts. They can also be used instead of pine nuts as the base of pesto and in sweets. They are used in desserts, such as ice cream and cookies, on salads, sprinkled on roasted squash, and stirred into pasta. You can even make your own pistachio butter!

NUTRITION
It is said that pistachios contain more anti-oxidants than green tea. They have a lot of vitamins, fiber and nutrients, and help to reduce the risk of heart disease. They are also a source of protein.