Last month I did a blog post on super foods for men. I also threw in some basic (and not so basic) differences in male and female brain function. This time I’ll focus on us girls.
Is there a better place to start than hormones and chocolate? Maybe fashion, hats, and shiny things. I’ll see if I can weave them all together, but the launching pad has to be hormones. A brain sloshing around in a pool of estrogen looks and behaves quite different from a brain infused with testosterone. I touched on a few cognitive gender differences in my last post, but since I find this so fascinating, I think I’ll keep this neuro-thread going.
I’m a research nerd and guess what I’ve discovered after logging zillions of hours reading scientific papers (plus, years of field study)?
Men really are from Mars.
Before you jump to the conclusion that I might be gender-biased in my observations, I’ve also discovered that women are from BabbleOn. See – if I was going to fudge my findings, I’d pick something far more flattering.
Here’s the deal. Women do better than men on tasks that require verbal communication and memory of personal experiences. Men excel in the manipulation of complex spatial information.
What does that mean?
Women talk a lot and remember everything. Men can park 2 cars, 1 motorcycle, 3 mountain bikes, a fishing boat, a side-winder circular saw, 6 pairs of skis and 300 pounds of camping gear in a 2 car garage.
Like I said before, we’re different.
Back to the hormone part. Scientifically speaking, aside from all the other stuff estrogen does, it also provides females with the ability to outperform males in associating stimuli across time. It even shows up in more adult-generated neurons in our hippocampus.
What’s a hippocampus, you ask?
It’s a little doo-hickey in the brain that just so happens to be a long-term memory consolidation station and an emotional storage bin. It’s like a jewelry box for stuff you can dig up and throw into a heated conversation years later.
So think about that one for a minute.
Estrogen, emotions, new neurons, and memory storage? It’s no wonder we never forget things men do (or, don’t do). Sorry, but I have to take this one step further (female trait, babbling on). Gender differences in memory and learning are facilitated by differences in hormones and brain anatomy. But it doesn’t stop there. That also gives us the ability to further change our brain anatomy by forming new neurons. The actual structure of the brain changes allowing us to remember more stuff you guys did for longer periods of time.
Like f o r e v e r.
Oh my gosh, it’s a self-perpetuating cycle.
Although I took a rather convoluted, gender-driven journey to get here, I want to stress the importance of balancing blood sugar (glucose) and hormones when it comes to women’s health. Those two things form the foundation for radiant energy, stable emotions, and better stuff in your jewelry box – both pleasant memories and shiny things.
To function optimally, the body must maintain blood sugar levels within the proper ranges. Extreme fluctuations cause roller-coaster hormones, which can lead to hissy fits, dish tossing, and crying jags. It also leads to all kinds of health problems down the road. We can avoid the drama by keeping glucose and hormones in balance. That starts with nutrition and exercise. Yoga is my preferred form of movement-induced, hormone balancing (pun intended). Here are my food favorites.
Melissa’s top 10 super-foods for women (in no particular order)
Cinnamon has a long history as a functional food. Not only does this sweet spice smell and taste wonderful, it also helps control blood sugar and makes you feel full longer. It’s anti-microbial, helps fight candida and is a good source of fiber, calcium and iron. I add about a teaspoon of cinnamon to all my smoothies. I also sprinkle it over yogurt, add it to homemade granola, power bars and whatever else I can think of. I try to eat at least a teaspoon of cinnamon a day.
According to cancer researchers at the University of Michigan, a natural compound in broccoli inhibits breast cancer stem cells and helps block their self-renewal pathway. There are all kinds of studies regarding cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy and similar green leafy vegetables) and their positive role in cancer prevention. Good stuff!
Although not a food per se, fiber is so important for blood sugar balance, weight loss, and overall health. I’m a huge fan and eat way more than the recommended amount. For a detailed post I did on fiber several years ago, check here. You’ll find all the information you need to boost your fiber intake. Make sure you do it slowly and drink lots of water.
Avocados are high in fat, but it’s a healthy fat and worth adding to your arsenal of super foods. Plus, if you add avocado to a big green salad or a fresh salsa mix, you greatly increase the absorption of the other nutrients. Carotenoids (in tomatoes, peppers, carrots, greens, etc.) are fat-soluble nutrients that need to tag along with high-grade fat to be adequately absorbed and assimilated. Avocados are also a low-carb, high-fiber food source, which is great for balancing blood sugar and hormones (once again, so important).
Another high fat food, but again, this is good stuff, so don’t be fat-aphobic. The key is to be very picky about your fats. Please check here for a detailed post I wrote a couple of years ago on the health benefits of coconut. I love the stuff! Eat it, cook with it, put it on your skin, slather it on your hair.
6. Dark chocolate and red wine
Hey, what can I say? Girls are programmed to lust after chocolate. Resveratrol, a substance in cacao and red wine, is the “it” supplement right now. But, in most cases, I believe we’re better off eating the whole food rather than taking supplements. Treat yourself on occasion (moderation, moderation) and eat a small chunk of high-grade dark chocolate. You might even pair it with 4 ounces of a nice Pinot Noir.
Past resveratrol posts: dark chocolate as health food, enlightened hot chocolate, carnival of love (red wine)
7. Beets and berries
Those of you who have following this blog for the past 4 years know I’m passionate about beets. Ridiculously so. I’ve been a beet girl my entire life. My mom says I ate them as a baby and grew up thinking they were dessert. I was lucky. I had a mom who fed me beets, spinach, and broccoli during the explosion of processed foods. I can’t remember ever having a Twinkie, sugary cereal, or Hamburger Helper. We ate real food, made from scratch. There are so many studies linking the nutrients in beets to good health that I won’t even try to list them all. Just trust me, they’re amazing. I have a lot of beet blog posts in my archives, but since summer is around the corner, here’s an ice cream recipe.
Apples are high in fiber, help balance blood sugar in several different ways (they’re magic), are anti-inflammatory, high in antioxidants, support healthy gut bacteria and are packed with goodness. Studies show positive results with age-related health problems as well (macular degeneration, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, etc.). I’m taking this “apple a day” thing seriously. Apples are sprayed with some seriously nasty stuff, so choose organic.
9. Swiss chard and leafy greens
Greens are true super foods. All greens are great sources of beneficial plant nutrients, but I’ll focus on Swiss chard since I’m on my “balance your blood sugar” rant. There’s a substance in chard (syringic acid if you must know) that has warrior princess power when it comes to blood sugar regulation. Chard (like beets) also contains a group of phytochemicals called betalains, which are high in antioxidants, are anti-inflammatory and promote detoxification.
10. Chick peas
How could I not include chick peas? Lucky for us, these little nutrient-dense namesakes help regulate blood sugar and are packed with fiber. I know, this blood sugar/fiber thing is getting tiresome, but it’s so important for long-term health, artful aging and hormone balance. Chick peas are also super high in the mineral manganese, which is an antioxidant involved with energy production. Who doesn’t want more energy? Check here for one of my favorite roasted chick pea recipes from Shirley at GFE.
Just as important is what you don’t eat. Avoid processed foods, refined sugar, soda pop, too much caffeine or alcohol, and junk food. Stick to whole foods with an emphasis on veggies and fruit.
Peace, love, and real food!
Image of Robert Lewis Reid painting courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
But you already knew that if you’ve been following this blog for any length of time.
Now, thanks to some researchers at the University of Exeter in the UK, I have documentation that this deadly serious vegetable is a performance-enhancing substance. In fact, there are forty pages worth of scientific documentation on just that subject in the August 6th issue of the Journal of Applied Physiology. If you’re interested.
Yes, the beet root is not only well-suited for a starring role in an offbeat Tom Robbins’ saga, but it also has important implications in mitochondrial respiration.
Deadly serious? By all means.
Do you care? Probably not.
But that’s never stopped me before. Here’s the scoop. To make a long and very convoluted story short, researchers have determined that beet root juice, which contains inorganic nitrate, decreases human oxygen requirements during sub-maximal exercise and enhances tolerance to high-intensity exercise.
So, how did they figure this out?
The researchers rounded up a compliant study group of males, aged 19-38 years old (only guys that age would agree to this). Half the group drank 500 mL per day of beet root juice, while the other half drank black currant juice, which has little nitrate content. They were hooked up to metabolic equipment to measure pulmonary gas exchange, their BP and heart rates were monitored, and capillary blood samples were collected during several days of exercise testing and juice drinking.
Well, guess what? The beet root drinkers showed significantly improved exercise tolerance and muscle oxygenation. I doubt you have to be a 19-38 year old male to benefit in this way by eating beets or drinking beet juice, but I’m happy to let them be the guinea pigs.
Ah, but here’s my take on it. Don’t wait for beet root capsules to be sold at your favorite supplement store (just wait, it will happen). Instead, eat the whole beet and enjoy it. You’ll be able to run faster and farther. Seriously.
Well, maybe it just won’t hurt as bad.
The above photo was my lunch. I sautéed onions, garlic, celery, carrots and beets in a little coconut oil for about 6-8 minutes. I added some leftover cooked brown rice and a few splashes of chicken broth and stirred occasionally for another 5 minutes or so, until rice was hot and veggies were lightly cooked.
Now I’m going to go run (maybe I’ll just walk) my dog 16% more efficiently than if I hadn’t eaten beets. That might be a bit of a leap, but you get the idea.
The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is the more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
Jitterbug Perfume — Tom Robbins
Do you ever read something you wish you had written? Something so well-crafted, so simple, yet sublime? That’s how I feel about the above paragraph. I should have written that. I’m the one obsessed with beets, born with an affinity to Rasputin’s favorite vegetable. No one understands beets like I do.
Of course, good writing and a passion for beets are two distinctly different things. Even if I have to let Tom Robbins say it for me, I’m content knowing I’ve chosen the most torrid of all vegetables as my favorite. Trust me, carrots, celery, even burdock root are no match for the wild and impassioned beet.
I love beets.
I belong to Grant Farms CSA program and yesterday was my first delivery of 26 weeks worth of organic vegetables, fruits and farm fresh eggs (I have a year-round egg share). Those of you who have been following this blog know I border on ardently evangelical when it comes to my local farmer friends and their freshly-harvested, seasonal produce.
I opened my CSA box last night and inside I found a bunch of deadly serious beets. Need I say more?
Deadly Serious Beet & Spinach Salad
what you need 1 pound beets
3 – 4 cups spinach leaves
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon agave nectar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
crumbled goat cheese (I use local Haystack Mountain goat cheese)
what you do
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Trim beets and save the leaves; please don’t throw them away, they are wonderful (see link below). Scrub the beets and place in a glass baking dish.* Pour about an inch or so of water into the dish and cover with foil. Roast for about 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size of the beets and the “heat” of your oven. Carefully (don’t spill the HOT beet water) remove beets from oven, set aside and let cool. Save the beet water for making smoothies. Seriously, let it cool and store it in a glass jar in the fridge – it makes for wonderfully healthy smoothie juice.
In the meantime, using a small bowl, whisk together diced garlic, shallots, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, agave and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. I usually put the mixture in a glass jar and shake like crazy. Shake, shake, shake your booty.
Once cooled, cut beets into 1/4 inch circular slices. (I never peel beets, I simply trim the stems and leaves and wash and scrub the beet root with a veggie scrubber before I roast or use them.)
Arrange spinach on plates, top with beets, chopped pecans and crumbled goat cheese. Drizzle with dressing.
* I have a Le Creuset enamel-covered, cast iron French oven with lid that I use for roasting beets. It’s wonderful, but the above method works as well.
I’ll be posting weekly nutrition information and recipes depending on what Andy and the gang put in my big red Grant Farms CSA box each week. Stay tuned and leave a comment if you want ideas, help or information about farm-fresh food. Sign-up for emailed updates so you don’t miss anything.
This is a multi-faceted post — euphemistically speaking. Actually, it’s several threads that don’t really go together, but I’ll press on anyway.
My last post elicited several responses about using beet greens. Aside from the random commenter who admitted tossing the greens away (yikes) and only using the beet root, I also received 1 phone call, 3 emails and a scattering of real-time comments from friends who had no idea people actually ate the greens. I won’t mention any names, but one of you is a complete beet virgin, root and all.
I love all greens, but beet greens are a favorite because the texture is so delightful. For a post I did on the comparison of collard greens to rubber gloves, check here (recipe included). Don’t get me wrong, I love collard greens, kale and the other hearty greens, but beet greens are my favorite because they’re more delicate and the magenta and green colors add an artistic flair to your table.
I don’t do any advertising on this blog and for the most part, I don’t advocate anything other than healthy living, good food and friendship. Today I’m going to stray from that a bit and mention a cookbook I have, along with a beet green recipe from the book.
Every room in my house is full of books. Buying books is my downfall. I’m addicted, seriously addicted. Many of my books are cookbooks that I have never used. But this is a book I not only cook from, I read it in bed. It’s called Outstanding in the Field by Jim Denevan, whom I’ll admit, I have a mild crush on. But the book is worth drooling over, whether you ever cook from it or not.
If you don’t know who Jim Denevan is, take the time to watch this video. This is a table to farm cookbook, rather than the other way around. Jim is a surfer, artist, chef and visionary who brings his dinner guests to the food — right in the midst of the garden or field. You can’t get any fresher or more local than that.
From Outstanding in the Field
beet greens with lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch beet greens (10 – 12 ounces)
4 tablespoons EVOO
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
Wash beet greens. Remove stems and chop into a small dice. Coarsley chop the leaves and set them aside. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped beet stems and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the stems are nearly tender, about 8 minutes. Push the beet stems to one side of the pan and add the garlic to the other side. Cook until fragrant but not brown, about 1 minute. Stir the garlic into the stems. Add the chopped beet leaves and season with salt. Stir in a splash of water and cook until the leaves are tender, 8 to 10 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice and 3 tablespoons olive oil with a pinch of salt. Remove the pan from the heat, pour the dressing on top, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.
If I had to pick my favorite vegetable, it would probably be beets. Roots, stalks and leaves — I love every part of the plant. The vibrant colors just add to their charm. For detailed information about the health benefits and some off-beat bathroom science about beets, check this past post I did on the subject.
This may sound a bit obsessive, but I eat fresh beets (never canned) in one form or another almost every day. I’m not sure which part I’d call my favorite — the root or leaves, as both are delightful for different reasons. If you’re tossing your beet greens in the compost pile, or (don’t even tell me) the trash, you can stop doing that right now. Beet greens are mild, tasty and full of healthy goodness. They can be used in the same way you’d use kale or spinach, lightly sautéed (my favorite) or steamed quickly.
I don’t peel beets, as the skin contains fiber and trace minerals and protects other beneficial nutrients from seeping out. Plus, there’s less mess from the color “bleeding” when you keep the skin intact. To store, cut off the stems and leaves about an inch or so above the root. Store greens in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. The greens don’t last long, so use them quickly. The roots store well on their own (in the refrigerator) for much longer periods.
Scrub beet roots and grate, shred, or use a potato peeler to add to salads. Cut in matchstick strips and mix with jicama, pear, apple and/or carrots for a wonderful crunchy raw salad.
Cooked beet root
Beet roots can be roasted, steamed or sautéed. Roasting beets brings out the sweet earthiness; serve warm, or cool and save for adding to salads later. To roast — cut the stems and greens off about an inch from the root. Scrub roots, pat dry and toss with a small amount of oil. Place in a baking dish, add an inch or so of water, cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes depending on size.
Sautéed beet greens and brown rice
Wash beet greens, pat dry. Chop stems into 1 to 2 inch pieces. Coarsely chop greens. Heat 1 tablespoon of coconut oil (or olive oil) in medium-sized skillet over low/medium heat. Add 1/4 cup diced onions and beet stems, stirring occasionally for about 5-8 minutes. Add 2 finely minced garlic cloves and continue stirring until lightly browned. Add a splash of broth (vegetable or chicken), the beet greens and a cup or so of cooked brown rice, stir gently and sauté until leaves are tender and rice is heated thoroughly. Add broth as needed to maintain moisture. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Skip the rice if you just want sautéed greens.
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should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.