Bananas are a popular fruit

It’s amazing what a banana can do for you

Bananas are a popular fruit

Bananas are a popular fruit

I promise you’ll be shocked when you find out what a banana can do for you, but first some background information you might not know.

Although most people believe that bananas grow on trees, in fact the plant which produces this fruit is a (large) perennial herb. Bananas themselves are classified as berries!

There at least 50 different species of banana, but only one variety (the Cavendish) is usually sold commercially in the West. You might see other fruit that looks like bananas in ethnic markets, but these are almost all what we call “plantains”, not sweet and intended for cooking.

A boost for the ‘active man’

Bananas are a great energy boost often eaten by top athletes, as for example tennis players, which have been shown to improve mood, increase oxygen flow and improve performance. They also contain bromelain, particularly important for male sexual function, increasing both libido and stamina.

The reason athletes eat them is because they provide a consistent energy release before, during and after exercise. Two bananas have been shown to provide enough energy for a 90 minute workout – of whatever type you have in mind!

Bananas are also a source of fiber, high in magnesium and manganese (both minerals which many men are deficient in, but which are important for prostate function) as well as potassium, vitamin B6 and C. They are very low in sodium and saturated fat (less than 0.5g per banana!) and contain no trans fats or cholesterol.

The nutrients in bananas help regulate blood flow, resulting in a better and longer lasting erection.

Please note that excessive levels of potassium can be dangerous, so it’s best to obtain it from natural sources, rather than supplements. You should only consume bananas or other high potassium foods in moderation if you are taking beta blockers, as these medicines can cause potassium levels to rise.

Bananas in the garden

Bananas are a popular house plant in cool areas, and in tropical places make a wonderful garden plant. Banana skins are very useful as a compost material, and can be added directly around the base of flowering or fruiting plants or included in the compost heap.

If you’re going to eat the fruit, it’s important to use organic growing methods because they soak up whatever is sprayed on them. It goes right through the skin and into the fruit. This includes fertiliser, weed killer and any other chemicals used on them.  For the same reason, when you’re buying bananas, look out for organic ones.

Bananas and physical health

Nutritional profile
A ripe medium banana (about 118g) contains 105 calories and an estimated glycemic load of 10 (about 10% of the daily target), 0.29g/3% DV* protein, 27g/12% DV carbs, 0.39g fat, no trans fat, no cholesterol, 3g/12% DV fiber, 10g/17% DV vitamin C, 0.4mcg/22% DV vitamin B6, 3mcg/10% DV biotin, 0.3mg/16% manganese, less than 1% sodium, 422mg/12% DV potassium, 0.09mg/10% DV copper. Also contains useful amounts of riboflavin, folate and magnesium.
*DV = daily value. Source

There are many reasons bananas should be included as a regular part of your diet:

  1. The vitamin content makes bananas helpful for avoiding macular degeneration.
  2. They are rich in potassium, which is important for regulating blood pressure and healthy kidney and heart function. Bananas are well known for their high potassium content, which combined with negligible levels of sodium makes them ideal as part of a low sodium (low salt) diet.
     
    Sodium and potassium are held in balance within the body, so if you have high levels of sodium, you need to increase potassium intake to offset this. The best way to do this is by eating bananas or other natural sources.
     
    As well as offsetting sodium, potassium is also a vasodilator, which makes it useful for lowering blood pressure. High potassium intake protects against kidney stones, preserves bones and muscles and reduces calcium loss through urination. This means that eating bananas as a regular part of your diet can protect you from the risk of developing osteoporosis.
     
    The US FDA recognises bananas for their ability to lower blood pressure and protect against heart attack and stroke.
     
    Studies have found that a high potassium intake reduces the risk of dying (from all causes) by 20%.
  3. Vitamins B6 and C, magnesium and fiber are beneficial for the health of your heart, and
    • The vitamin B6 content combined with a low GI helps protect against type II diabetes and aid weight loss.
    • Vitamin B6 also strengthens the nervous system and is helpful for anyone suffering from anemia. It’s vital for the production of red blood cells (hemoglobin) and important to the immune system.
    • Vitamin C is an antioxidant, helping fight free radicals which are known to cause cancer.
    • Magnesium is very important for the regulation of blood sugar levels and blood pressure, maintenance of muscles and nerves, helps regulate the heart, keeps bones strong and maintains a healthy immune system.
    • Fiber is an important part of the diet which reduces the risk of colo-rectal cancer. There are two types of fiber in a banana, the ratios varying according to how ripe the banana is. The water soluble fiber increases as the fruit ripens, and the insoluble fiber reduces. Because of the fiber content, bananas are easily digested and do not impact greatly on blood sugar levels.
    • Part of the fiber in bananas is pectin, which is also known for its ability to remove contaminants from the body including heavy metals, and as a drug detox.
    • Fiber is a natural way to avoid or treat constipation.
  4. Bananas are rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS), which help maintain the balance of friendly bacteria in the gut, supporting digestive health and improving absorption of calcium.
  5. A banana will help to protect against muscle cramps from working out and night time leg cramps.
  6. Bananas are a good source of electrolytes after a bout of diarrhea, and also soothe the digestive tract, acting as a natural antacid and helping to prevent acid reflux (heartburn or GERD). They are one of the few fruits that can be eaten without distress by people who are suffering from stomach ulcers.
  7. For those trying to lose weight, bananas are a great low calorie snack to satisfy sweet cravings. If you replace candy or other snack foods with a banana, you’ll be getting lots of nutrition and fiber, a delicious and satisfying sweet treat, and all this for only 105 calories!
  8. Irritated skin, insect bites, psoriasis, acne and similar problems can be relieved by rubbing with the inside of a banana peel. You can also use it on warts: rub the inner skin onto the wart, then use a bandage or sticking plaster to hold it in place; replace daily until the wart has gone (about a week).
  9. Bananas are safe during pregnancy and help avoid morning sickness by keeping blood sugar levels steady.

Bananas and mental health

  1. A recent survey by the charity MIND found that many people suffering from depression felt better after eating a banana. This is thought to be because of the tryptophan content. Tryptophan is converted into serotonin by the body, increasing relaxation and improving both mood and memory. It also helps to relieve Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and PMS.
  2. Bananas also contain dopamine, but this does not cross the blood/brain barrier, acting instead as an antioxidant. Although the dopamine in bananas does not work directly to improve mood, recent research has shown a link between inflammation and depression, so the antioxidant action of dopamine and other constituents which act to reduce inflammation may indirectly help to improve mood.
  3. A banana and berry smoothie is apparently great as a hangover cure (if you can stand the noise of the blender while hung over).

I truly think it’s amazing what a banana can do for you. Didn’t I tell you you’d be shocked?


Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking

Sweet Basil essential oil, benefits and uses

Description

Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking

Sweet basil essential oil is extracted from the same herb used in Italian cooking


Sweet basil essential oil has a refreshing aroma similar to the herb used in Italian cooking – as it is, in fact, extracted from the same herb, when it is in flower. The botanical name is Ocimum basilicum. Be careful not to mix it up with Holy basil, Ocimum sanctum aka Tulsi.

Sweet basil is available in several chemotypes, the primary one may have the label Ocimum basilicum ct. linalool, whereas so-called exotic basil, which should be handled with caution, has the botanic name O. basilicum ct. methyl chavicol.

I offer sweet basil essential oil in my online shop.

Contra-indications and warnings

As with all essential oils, sweet basil essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.


Blending: Undiluted basil oil is likely to cause irritation if applied directly to skin. It’s important to dilute basil oil for use in massage or other topical applications with an appropriate carrier oil or other base at a rate of no more than 1 drop to each 2ml carrier before use. Bear in mind that this amount refers to the total eg. if you’re making an equal blend of basil, rosemary and peppermint, you would use a maximum of 1 drop of each to 6ml base.

May cause sensitisation. Do not use on sensitive skin. Not suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women or children under 13 years of age. Consult your doctor before using basil essential oil if you are currently being treated for a chronic condition.

Therapeutic uses

Basil is a good expectorant. Use it in an oil burner or electric oil warmer for breathing disorders including COPD, bronchitis and other coughs, sinusitis, catarrh, colds and flu. Diffused basil oil is also helpful as an aid to concentration and mental clarity and for nervous conditions including anxiety, depression, insomnia and fatigue.

Use in a massage blend for rheumatism, cramps, muscle pain, gout, indigestion, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”), abdominal cramp and for migraine. It is also helpful used in this way for infections and to lower high temperatures. You can also use blended oil to treat earache.

Other Notes

Basil blends well with bergamot, clary sage, geranium, lavender, peppermint and rosemary. See note above as to proportions.


Zinc health benefits: The Sex Mineral

foods_high_in_zinc

Some zinc-rich foods

Zinc is a dull grey metallic mineral which nobody would consider attractive, but despite its drab appearance, zinc is actually the sexiest mineral ever.

It is intimately involved in every aspect of reproduction including the production of testosterone. Low levels of this most important hormone are usually associated with zinc deficiency; remove the deficiency, and testosterone levels go back up to normal.

Just one ejaculation can contain up to 5mg of zinc, which shows you how important it is.

Zinc is also vital for fertility in both sexes, is involved in the production of DNA and cell division, and promotes normal development of the fetus. A zinc deficiency during pregnancy can cause congenital abnormalities at birth.

Zinc overview

Zinc is an essential trace mineral that acts as a catalyst in over 100 enzyme reactions in the body and is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and involved in:

  • cell division
  • building and strengthening bones
  • production of DNA
  • production of hemoglobin
  • production of testosterone
  • correcting hormonal imbalance
  • as a catalyst in hundreds of enzymatic processes
  • insulin activity
  • function of adrenals, pituitary, ovaries and testes
  • maintaining healthy liver function
  • mental alertness
  • activation of T-cells (immune system)
  • healing wounds
  • attacking infected cells
  • attacking cancerous cells
  • decreasing risk of age-related chronic disease including AMD/ARMD
  • fertility in both sexes
  • preventing pneumonia

Zinc is vital for the function of many hormones, including insulin. It is also important for the promotion of normal growth in children, both mentally and physically (in the womb as well as after birth).

Zinc uses

Zinc is used for:

  • fighting free radical damage
  • improving athletic performance
  • slowing the ageing process
  • cold remedies
  • high blood pressure
  • depression
  • tinnitis
  • head injuries
  • diarrhea (but see note on dosage)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • peptic ulcers
  • reduction or loss of taste
  • anorexia nervosa
  • reducing damage to the heart
  • AMD/ARMD
  • night blindness
  • asthma
  • pneumonia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • AIDS
  • psoriasis, eczema and acne
  • erectile dysfunction
  • osteoporosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hansen’s disease
  • ADHD
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • sickle cell anemia and many other inherited disorders

Zinc requirement

You need to get enough zinc every day, because although the body contains 2-3g at any one time, this is mostly bound up in the liver, kidneys, skin, muscles and bones. The available zinc is therefore insufficient to last for more than a few hours.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for zinc is 11mg for men, 8mg for women, 2mg for babies up to 6 months, 3mg for infants up to 3 years, 5mg up to age 8 and 8mg to age 13. During pregnancy and lactation, the requirement increases to 12mg a day. Some conditions may indicate a requirement for a higher dosage than listed here.

Note on dosage: The maximum adult dose is 40mg a day. Taking more than this can cause lowered availability of copper and iron and may lead to diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps.

Phytate/phytic acid (found in vegetables and many vegetarian protein sources) can reduce zinc absorption, but can be partially removed by soaking and/or sprouting beans, grains and seeds, or eating grain products which rise during preparation (eg. wholemeal bread).

Zinc sources

foods_high_in_zinc2

Zinc sources for meat eaters

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Zinc sources for vegetarians

Only about 20 percent of the zinc in food can be absorbed on average, although zinc in animal/fish sources is more easily absorbed because of high cysteine levels, which are not found in vegetables and fruit. Zinc is often removed unintentionally during the course of processing and refining. eg. 83% of zinc in brown rice is lost in the process of being polished and turned into white rice.

The highest sources of zinc are usually claimed to be animal/fish based, but in fact cashews and pumpkin seeds are also pretty good sources.

The richest source is oysters, which have almost 5 times the content of the next highest, dried brewers yeast (this is undoubtedly the reason for oysters’ reputation as an aphrodisiac in men). As it’s easier to eat 20-25g of oysters than 100g brewer’s yeast, this makes oysters a particularly valuable source, but it’s unlikely you can eat them every day – you’d get heartily sick of them after a while, for a start.

Please refer to the chart below for more information on sources. It includes both vegetarian/vegan sources and others suitable for meat-eaters.

zinc-content2

Click for larger image

There’s a wide range of products rich in zinc in my online store.

Zinc supplements

Available zinc from supplements varies. 100mg of each of the following yields the amount of zinc shown:

  • zinc amino acid chelate – 19mg
  • zinc gluconate – 13mg
  • zinc orotate – 17mg
  • zinc sulphate – 22.7mg

Some cold remedies which are sold contain zinc, in particular lozenges.

I offer a choice of zinc supplements in my online store.

Zinc deficiency

Deficiency can be caused by phytic acid in grains, legumes (beas, peas and lentils) and vegetables, a high fibre diet, EDTA (used in food processing), large quantities of TVP in the diet, and breastfeeding in infants over 6 months (there is sufficient zinc in breast milk for the first 6 months of life).

Possible symptoms of deficiency include: slow growth and development in children, eczema, frequent colds and other infections, regular stomach problems, slow recovery from exercise, obesity, leaky gut, slow mental processes, post-natal depression, white spots on the nails, consistent diarrhea, chronic fatigue, poor vision esp. slow dark adaptation, lack of concentration, slow healing wounds/bruises, infertility in both sexes, thinning hair, lack of sexual drive or erectile dysfunction in men, lost sense of taste and/or smell, and poor appetite. You don’t need to have all the symptoms to suspect zinc deficiency.

There is also evidence linking zinc deficiency to various types of cancer, including leukemia, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer and skin cancer.

Possible causes of deficiency are a vegan or vegetarian diet, a low protein diet, pregnancy, endurance sport, alcoholism, sickle cell disease, gastrointestinal disease, over-consumption of iron supplements, some diuretics, and eating disorders.

Research into the effects of zinc

1. Studies have shown that men who are deficient in zinc have lower testosterone levels and that supplementation restores testosterone levels to normal.

2. There have been several studies on the effect of zinc supplementation on Age-related macular degeneration (AMD/ARMD).

A study in the Netherlands found a reduced risk of AMD when the diet contained high levels of zinc with beta carotene (vitamin A), vitamin C and vitamin E.

A study in 2007 found no effect on AMD from supplementation with zinc on its own, but the AREDS study found that supplementation with 500mg vitamin C, 400 IU vitamin E, 15mg beta carotene, 2mg copper and 80mg zinc significantly reduced serious deterioration in existing AMD patients. Without the zinc, there was no effect found. They also found that zinc without the antioxidant vitamins reduced deterioration in “subjects at higher risk, but not in the total population”.

A follow-up to AREDS found that 25mg zinc worked just as well as the 80mg administered in the original study. As excess intake is associated with genito-urinary problems, it is helpful that the reduced dose has been shown to be effective.

3. Research has found that children with ADHD tend to have lower levels of zinc than other children. A study of 400 children with ADHD found that they showed improved behaviour and were less impulsive and hyperactive when they were given 150mg a day of zinc sulphate (which would yield about 34mg zinc).

Zinc and medication

Taking zinc at the same time as antibiotics or penicillamine (a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis) reduces the effect of both the medication and the zinc. Leave at least 2 hours between taking zinc and either of these medications.

Some prescribed diuretics may cause zinc deficiency. Talk to your doctor about monitoring your zinc status whilst taking these.


Do bacon sandwiches make you depressed?

Previously published on 100% Gluten Free

photo by Acabashi

photo by Acabashi

Depression is one of those things that people don’t really talk about, and even when they do, it’s often obvious they don’t understand it (even if they have experienced it themselves).

The misunderstanding arises because of a problem with the English language. We use metaphors and similes without even thinking about it, which then pass into the language and you end up with the same word having two different meanings. Depression is one example of this. People say they are “depressed” when they are feeling unhappy, but true clinical depression is not a short term mood swing.

Real depression does make you feel miserable, for sure, but unlike the cloud which descends on the average person, lifting just as quickly, clinical depression can hang around for months or even years, blackening one’s outlook to such an extent that life itself seems not worth the effort.

Anyone who has experienced real depression, the clinical kind, will know that it’s more than a temporary feeling of sadness. It’s more like a tunnel with no end, or a deep pit with sides you can’t scale. Sometimes, you can find a trigger that you think sent you down there, but frequently not. But at least now scientists have found a relationship between depression and serotonin levels in the brain, so we know that it’s not “all in the mind” as they used to tell us. It also means that we can look into the chemical imbalances that may be causing the problem with a bit more chance of understanding them.

According to Dr. James Braly, “a[n] important dietary factor in depression may be the morphine-like substances which derive from the incomplete digests of proteins in cereal grains.”

Incomplete digestion of protein in cereal grain occurs in people with gluten intolerance. The morphine-like substances he mentions, also called exorphins, can cause changes in the brain chemicals, including serotonin, leading to mood changes which can last as long as the cause (toxins produced by the poor digestion of grains) is present.

Many children diagnosed with coeliac disease (the most severe form of gluten intolerance) exhibit signs of depression and even psychotic behaviour in early childhood. In fact, this is one of the classic indicators of childhood coeliac disease. But it’s not only coeliac sufferers that show evidence of a link between gluten and depression.

I have a friend who is schizophrenic. Many years ago, I found reference to a possible link between schizophrenia and gluten, so he went on a gluten free diet for a while to see if it would help. He told me that he felt much better (though the voices did not go away completely), and that he no longer felt depressed. This surprised me, as I had not heard of any connection between gluten and depression. But he certainly seemed a great deal more cheerful than he had before.

As you may know, I suffer from gluten intolerance myself, and since I went gluten free I have definitely been happier – but whether this was because I started losing weight without any effort, or for other reasons not connected with serotonin levels, I couldn’t say. However, I do have a weakness for bacon rolls. Up here in Scotland, morning rolls are sold almost everywhere, and recently I gave in to my craving several times. Though I don’t generally suffer from depression any more (in my younger days, I was afflicted with this condition for several years), I became depressed. Since I stopped eating bacon rolls, I have been back to normal again.

Now, obviously, these two stories are not proof of anything. You will find other anecdotes on the net about other people whose depression lifted when they cut out gluten, but again, these are not proof. But if you are “a depressive”, like I once was (or if you know someone who has this debilitating illness), it is very much worth the effort of trying it out to see if it works for you. A few weeks without gluten, followed by a return to your normal pasta or bacon sandwich intake will show you definitively (within a couple of days) whether there is a connection or not. And if you do find that this is all or even just part of the problem, imagine how wonderful it will be to get your life back.

Now, a note for you, if you think all this talk about getting your life back sounds over-dramatic. If you don’t suffer from depression and have never done so, it’s hard to accept just how debilitating this “invisible” illness is, and how difficult life becomes. Depression is just so all-emcompassing. You feel as if nothing good could, or even should, ever happen to you again. It’s not “self-indulgent wallowing”, as they used to say in the 1950s. In the 21st century we realise that it is a disease, and one over which you feel you have no control. Finding a handle on it could just save someone’s life.


Could gluten be damaging your health?

Previously published on Gluten Factsheet

It's unlikely anything in this shot is safe for celiacs and other gluten intolerants

It’s unlikely anything in this shot is safe for celiacs and other gluten intolerants

Do you suffer from some or all of these problems: IBS, depression, difficulties with your weight, aches and pains in your bones and joints, chronic fatigue? If so, you may be gluten intolerant.

Gluten is a protein found in cereals, specifically, wheat (the main culprit), barley and rye. A similar protein is also found in oats. These cereals are relatively recent additions to the human diet, on the evolutionary timescale. Basically, our bodies haven’t had very long to learn how to deal with gluten – so it’s not surprising if a high proportion of us have difficulties digesting it.

During man’s evolution, our diet consisted mainly of fruit, berries, nuts and large seeds, plus vegetables, roots and the occasional piece of meat when the hunt went well. It was only about 12,000 years ago that grasses were introduced. There’s a theory that this change of diet was what killed off Neanderthal man in favor of Homo sapiens, although many believe that assimilation accounted for this. Perhaps it was a bit of both.

Whatever the case, the fact remains that our ancestors had a very short time to get used to the sudden change in diet. Within 10,000 years bread had become known as “the staff of life” in many parts of the world. Even today people in some places don’t eat much of these grains – the area of China where rice is grown, for example.

Wheat flour is consumed in huge quantities in the West – think pies, bread, pasta, pizza… It’s very likely that someone who eats a lot of something they can’t digest properly will develop health problems. And that is what seems to be happening, although the health profession, as usual, is taking a while to catch up.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Surf the net for a little while, looking for the words “gluten intolerance”, “gluten and depression”, “gluten and health”, “gluten and obesity”, and so on. There are many studies, stories from sufferers, and a few doctors and other medical types saying it’s all a load of rubbish.

(I guess it’s understandable that doctors don’t want to put a health warning on wheat, barley and rye – after all, they’ve already warned us off almost everything else – though they do seem to change their minds quite a lot. What would their patients eat?)

It’s well known that a deficiency in certain vitamins can result in serious health problems. Because gluten based products form such a high proportion of most people’s diets, which many of them can’t digest properly, malnourishment is becoming common in the West – even in the chronically obese.

Despite what some in the medical fraternity would have you believe, gluten intolerance is not a fantasy. The most severe form, celiac disease, is a very nasty disease. I have a healthy disrespect for doctors. Remember when they were trying to get us to eat Mad Cows? ‘Nough said!

If you’re happy to accept irritable bowel syndrome, arthritic symptoms and depression in exchange for a bowl of pasta, you’re braver than I am. I used to suffer from all these problems, until I cut gluten out of my diet. I wish I had known about it before.

If you do have symptoms like the ones listed at the top of this article, it’s important you try and find out the cause. Gluten is a prime culprit. And there is quite a bit of evidence to link gluten to bowel cancer, as well (which has been increasing steadily for years).

How should you go about this? There’s little point in going to your doctor, because even if he doesn’t laugh at you, the only form of gluten intolerance that can be detected (sometimes) by a blood test is celiac disease. So you need to do a bit of detective work for yourself to establish whether or not gluten is a problem for you.

The best way to check it out is to cut gluten out of your diet for two or three weeks and see how you feel at the end of it. There will most likely be changes, though some symptoms may take quite a while to fade away completely. But at the end of the trial, go and get a pizza or a sticky bun or something, just to see what your body’s reaction is.

Gluten intolerance is much more common than people realise. Don’t be a victim, check it out. You really are worth it.