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Archive for April, 2011

(for boys only) nutrition for men

This is part 1 of a 2-part series on gender-specific nutrition. I’ll start with my top 10 super-foods for men. Although we can easily eat the same foods, I thought I’d have fun with this and focus on specific nutrition needs for men and for women.

We’re very different, you know. I’m inspired and enchanted by the differences, even the ones that drive me nuts.

Ladies, do you think the 3 Stooges are funny?


See – that’s a boy thing. A gender trait.

Back in 2005 the president of Harvard University resigned over a comment he made at an academic conference about the innate differences between male and female brains. He suggested that these functional differences might explain why women aren’t equally represented in the math and science fields. I have no desire to expand on this or to share my opinion (well, maybe a little), but as a female science nerd, I agree and I’m not offended by his comments. We’re different – our brains are even architecturally different.

Different doesn’t mean smarter. It just means not the same. There are evolutionary reasons for that. We excel in different ways.

I could write a 5000 word essay on why men and women communicate differently, but please don’t make me take a spatial orientation test. Or quickly process mathematical equations. I love science, but I’d rather read about, think about, write about, or discuss this mass of neural wiring we have in our heads than do math problems under pressure. Just the thought of that makes my neurons smolder.


That whole thing about a train leaving the station at 6 PM going due east at 75 miles an hour and blah, blah, blah – gives me a massive headache. I can smell smoke right now. If you add in another train leaving an hour later going due west at 85 miles an hour, I’ll blow a gasket.

But I digress. Spiraling is in my DNA. Another gender difference.

Bottom line? Men and women have specific traits that have been selected through evolution and specific traits that are developed through cultural and social conditioning. We also have very different biological demands and nutritional needs. Regardless, we’re just plain different in a zillion ways, so we might as well rejoice in that and have fun with it.

Let’s start with food.

Melissa’s top 10 super-foods for men (in no particular order)

1. Hops (see photo above)
As in beer. Researchers at Oregon State University discovered a flavonoid in hops called xanthohumol that appears to reduce inflammation and may inhibit the development of prostate cancer. According to Fred Stevens, professor of Medicinal Chemistry at OSU, xanthohumol is only found in beer that is produced from hops and not in beer made from hop extracts. (Drink alcohol in moderation, there are health risks associated with over-consumption. I have to say this, I’m a woman. You know, that whole nurturing thing.)

2. Bison
Once upon a time, men did the hunting, women the gathering. We evolved with different roles for a variety of reasons. In general, men are more aggressive, bigger, stronger and tend to take greater physical risks. Personally, I’d rather wrestle with a blueberry bush than a 2,000 pound bison, so I’m good with that. Our gender-specific food roles are linked with social and cultural perceptions of masculinity and femininity. No way around it. Men burn meat, women bake pies. By the way, baking a pie (especially a gluten-free pie) takes a greater understanding of chemistry than throwing a steak on the grill. Women rock at science, we just don’t always get credit for it.

As far as  nutritionally dense food and masculinity is concerned, I’m choosing 100% grass-fed, organic and humanely treated bison because of its wonderful amino acid profile (good protein for building muscles to protect the berry pickers), low glycemic index, and high amounts of B vitamins, zinc, and selenium. B vitamins are important for metabolism, zinc plays a role in prostate health and selenium is a powerful antioxidant.

3. Cranberries
Studies show that a mixture of flavonoids in cranberries help inhibit LDL oxidation and may decrease the risk of atherosclerosis. Whole cranberries in food form not only protect the heart, but the liver, kidneys and urinary tract as well. Eat the whole food, rather than relying on supplements or extracts. The synergistic value of the various nutrients working together is what makes up a super-food.

4. Pumpkin seeds
Here’s another food rich in zinc to keep your boy parts healthy. According to the Journal of Fertility and Sterility, zinc concentration in sperm directly relates to its motility in that all-important, nano-yard dash. If you’re looking to reproduce, you want fast, agile swimmers once an egg is launched. And keep in mind, zinc has to be replenished. Men produce about 300 million sperm per day. You read that right. PER DAY. Us girls have 1 very special egg per month. I feel like such a princess. Guys – snack on pumpkin seeds. They’re much easier to carry around in your briefcase or backpack than oysters (also high in zinc).

5. Oysters
No explanation needed.

6. Turmeric
Turmeric contains a yellow substance called curcurim, which is the spice that gives curry its name. Rather trendy right now, turmeric shows promise of anti-cancer properties, especially in the gastrointestinal tract. This wonderful spice (I love curry) also helps promote liver detoxification. Check here for one of my recipes for sweet and spicy Moroccan stew. The smell alone is intoxicating.

7. Beets
Beet root contains inorganic nitrate, which researchers have determined, decreases human oxygen requirements during sub-maximal exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise. This is a performance-enhancing substance that might turn your pee pink, but you won’t flunk the drug test. Beet root also helps lower blood pressure. This is one of my favorite functional plants. I eat beets in one form or another 4 or 5 times a week.

8. Blackberries
According to scientists at the National Institutes of Health, blackberries have a very high antioxidant capacity. Antioxidants are believed to play a role in neutralizing the effect of free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage and contribute to age-related degeneration. Eat blackberries, blueberries and raspberries. That’s much better (and more fun) than taking supplements.

9. Kale
Kale is a wonder plant. It’s over-the-top high in vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K and is a good source of fiber, protein, iron and a host of other vitamins and minerals. It’s also highly anti-inflammatory and low in calories. Good stuff. Skip the fat-filled potato chips and opt for kale chips instead.

10. Sardines
Sardines are absolutely packed with vitamin B-12. In fact, there are few more concentrated sources. B-12 helps promote heart health by keeping homocysteine levels in balance. Elevated homocysteine is linked to cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Sardines are also a rich source of good fats, high-quality protein and vitamin D, a nutrient that is hard to come by and one that promotes bone health.

Next up – food for warrior princesses. Sign up for my email updates so you don’t miss anything.

Peace, love and healthy men!

a slime burger with a side of sugar

One year for Mother’s Day my oldest son gave me a hand-made card with a detailed mathematical breakdown of how many school lunches I put together over the years. It made me smile. And gasp. With four kids, the total came to more than 8,600 sack lunches with hundreds of apples, carrot sticks, sandwiches, yogurt, homemade granola bars and so on.

After watching the beginning of season #2 of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, I’m looking back with fondness on making all those thousands of sack lunches. Maybe not so much with fondness, but definitely with relief.

Last year Jamie’s reality series took place in Huntington, WV. This year he’s taking on the LA public school system and if the looks on the faces of the school bureaucrats he tried to meet with are any indication of what’s to come, Jamie better get some linebacker bodyguards to hang out with.

If you watched last week you know that Jamie blasted two major components of the LA public school lunch program – flavored milk and pink slime.

One cup of strawberry flavored milk contains 6 teaspoons of sugar. Not to mention dyes, additives, artificial flavors and gums. In a jaw-dropping demonstration, Jamie loaded a school bus with 57 tons of sugar (it was actually sand). That’s how much sugar kids in the LA school district consume each week in flavored milk alone.

Does anyone wonder why type 2 diabetes is being reported among children at such alarming rates? And obesity? For the record, I don’t think an occasional sweet treat is evil, but I do know that refined sugar enters the bloodstream quickly and can cause rapid fluctuations in blood sugar levels. That doesn’t set the stage for effective learning or healthy cognitive development. There’s also evidence that artificial flavors and dyes can cause behavior problems, allergic reactions and food sensitivities.

On to part two of Jamie’s attack on the LA school sytem – pink slime. Artificially flavored, sugar-bomb milk is bad enough, but this stuff is over-the-top disgusting on so many levels. In another gag-inducing demo (just in case we might want the recipe) Jamie shows us how pink slime is made. Take the discarded bits, pieces and trimmed fat from the processing of meat (the parts normally used in pet food) and drench them in ammonia to get rid of the nasty pathogens. Once the ammonia has done its job (it’s called the kill-step), the pink slime is made into burgers for school lunches. Ammonia gets rid of the contamination in the meat (if you can call it meat). And get this, ammonia doesn’t have to be listed as an ingredient in burgers made from pink slime. According to the USDA, ammonia is not an ingredient, it’s part of the processing.


Sketchy logic if you ask me.

By the way, pink slime is really what this stuff is called. There are even industrial processors known for using the dregs of the meat packing industry to make pink slime for fast food burgers.

So, in addition to all the sugar and additives, kids also get a dose of ammonia and discarded meat sludge for lunch. Healthy building blocks for growing bodies? Not even close.

Jamie definitely his work cut out for him.

Okay, I’m stepping off my soap box to go throw up.

Peace, love and sack lunches.

For a detailed post I did several years ago on sugar, check here.
For kid-friendly lunch ideas, check with Kelly at the Spunky Coconut, Ali at The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen, or Alexa at Lexie’s Kitchen.

beans bacteria toxins and toots

This small, dried, light-colored French bean variety is called the flageolet bean. The word also means delicate woodwind or flute instrument. Leave it to the French to come up with a fancy word that combines beans with tooting. Linguistic inflation is rampant in France. Not that that’s a bad thing. Wouldn’t you agree that flageolet beans sound far more exotic, highfalutin and gourmet-ish than kidney beans?

Look at that French country color, they even look snooty.

Now that the lowly bean has been elevated in stature, I’m going to throw in a little bioscience and share what actually happens when we eat these little gems. Fancy words or not, indiscriminate digestive rumblings can (and often do) occur after eating beans.

Here’s why.

Let’s start with the endogenous microbial block party going on inside the large colon. According to National Institutes of Health scientists at the Human Microbiome Project, we have 100 trillion bacteria in our distal gut alone.


Beans contain some rather large and unwieldy sugar molecules called oligosaccharides that we can’t easily digest and utilize. We didn’t come equipped with the right enzymes to break down these massive (molecularly speaking) lug-nuts, so instead of being processed in the small intestine as they should be, they bounce their way through the gut relatively untouched and arrive in the colon as an all-you-can-eat buffet for roving herds of bacteria.

Imagine a medieval barbarian banquet – a feeding frenzy of gulping, burping and farting bacteria. If you think about it, it’s really not you tooting, it’s the unruly bacteria. So quit blaming the dog (poor guy) and place blame where it belongs. On the gluttonous bugs, their innate behavior and offensive methane byproducts.

There’s another thing about beans that has been making the food blog rounds lately. Are they highly toxic if eaten raw?

Okay, you’re thinking, who in the world eats raw, dried beans?

Well, who eats coins, dead crickets, paper clips and golf tees?

Little boys.

If you don’t believe me, I’ll show you an x-ray of my son with a stack of coins in his gut. Kids eat weird things, just ask any ER doc.

Raw, dried or undercooked kidney beans contain a toxic compound that can cause severe nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. According to the FDA, most beans contain this compound, but raw kidney beans contain an enormously large amount. The hemagglutinating unit (hau) is the substance measured for toxicity, with raw kidney beans topping out at between 20,000 to 70,000 hau. Cooked beans contain from 200 to 400 hau. It only takes 4 or 5 raw kidney beans to make an adult sick, so imagine a little kid eating only 1 or 2. Don’t expect your GI doc to know anything about natural plant toxins, so if you call and say your kid is sick after eating one raw kidney bean, he/she will think you’re a nutbar. Or at the very least, an incredibly neurotic mom.

In this case, you could be both and still be right.

To be on the safe side and to avoid having to explain what phytohaemagglutinin means to an overly busy ER doc, make sure your curious little kiddos don’t stick raw beans in their ears, up their nose, eat them or feed them to the dog. Beans can be enough trouble when they’re cooked, avoid them raw at all costs.

If you’ve read through all this digestion turmoil, you deserve a recipe for flageolet beans. I’ve made them on several occasions and love the delicate, buttery taste. They’re delicious. You can use them in salads, soups or as a side dish. Add roasted tomatoes to the cooked beans and top with a poached egg and some shredded Parmesan cheese. Absolutely divine.

Basic Flageolet Bean Recipe
Sort and rinse before cooking. Soak beans in cold water overnight (I put them in the refrigerator). Drain and rinse well. Add 4 cups of water or chicken broth for every 1 cup of flageolet beans. Liquid should be 1-2 inches above the top of beans. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 1-2 hours. Add more liquid as needed.

• 1 cup of dried beans yields about 2-1/2 cup cooked beans
• cooked beans can store in the fridge for about a week
• cooked beans last about 6 months in the freezer

You might also like
•  Soup au Pistou Recipe with flageolet beans from 101 Cookbooks (use gluten-free pasta)

Peace, love and well-cooked beans!

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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