Nutrition

The Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper

Not only is cayenne pepper a popular spice that can be used to jazz up a variety of meals, it also offers a great number of health benefits, ranging from better digestion to improved immunity.

Cayenne pepper, a type of chilli pepper brought from Central and South America to Europe in the 15th Century, has been used medicinally for thousands of years, per Healthline. Cayenne contains a variety of antioxidants and vitamins. Its active ingredient, capsaicin, is what gives the peppers their healing properties -- as well as their fiery taste.

Cayenne pepper has been used for its ability to boost digestion and help avoid stomach aches, gas and cramps. Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, an ancient system of medicine from India, both recommend cayenne to stimulate the flow of stomach secretions and saliva, per Organic Foods. It also facilitates the production of digestive enzymes that help break down food and toxins, per Dr. Axe, citing reputable sources.

As for weight loss and weight management, many studies show that cayenne pepper may reduce hunger, and help individuals eat less and feel satiated longer. One study found that individuals who drank a beverage with capsaicin ate 16% less than those who didn’t, while another found that it reduced the production of the hunger hormone ghrelin. Cayenne has also been shown to increase metabolism, through a process called diet-induced thermogenesis.

Various studies indicate that capsaicin may serve as an anti-cancer agent. The capsaicin in cayenne pepper may reduce the risk of cancer by attacking different pathways in the cancer cell growth process, per Healthline. Studies have demonstrated that the active ingredient can slow the growth of cancer cells and in some instances cause cell death for a range of cancers including prostate, pancreatic and skin. It’s important to note however, that human studies are needed before any conclusion can be made.

Other findings support cayenne’s use in lowering blood pressure and improving blood circulation, reducing pain including headaches and arthritis, boosting the body’s ability to protect itself against sickness and disease, alongside other healing properties. 


Paula Recommends ...Black Bean & Barley Salad

Looking for creative ways to use healthy fats like those in olive or canola oil? Packed with vibrant colors and contrasting textures, this hearty salad makes a tasty, nutritious and economical side dish. The optional avocado (one of the few fruits that provide healthy fats) adds 3.3 grams of monounsaturated fat and 0.6 grams of polyunsaturated fat per serving. - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients

3/4 cup quick-cooking barley
1 cup water
1 and 1/4 cups frozen corn niblets
1/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
1 and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce, such as Tobasco, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 and 1/2 cups cooked dried black beans OR 15 ounce can black beans, dried and rinsed
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/2 cup chopped  fresh cilantro or  parsley
2 avocado
1 lime

Directions
1. Combine barley and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer until barley is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 10 to 12 minutes. Fluff with a fork; let cool. (Pearl barley can also be used -- allow 50 to 60 minutes for cooking.)

2. Meanwhile, cook corn according to package directions. Drain and refresh under cold running water.

3. Combine orange juice, vinegar oil, cumin, oregano, garlic, hot sauce and salt in a small bowl or jar with a tight-fitting lid; whisk or shake to blend.

4. Combine barley, corn, beans, bell pepper, scallions and cilantro or parsley in a large bowl.

5. Add orange juice dressing and toss to coat well. (Salad will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to two days.)

6. Just before serving, garnish with avocado, if desired. Serve with lime wedges.

Nutritional information: Makes eight servings. Per serving: 283 calories; 15 grams total fat; 2 grams saturated fat; 188 milligrams sodium; 34 grams carbohydrate; 9.85 grams fiber; 6.4 grams protein.

If dividing into eight servings. Per serving: 377 calories; 20 grams total fat; 2.7 grams saturated fat; 250 milligrams sodium; 45 grams carbohydrate; 13 grams fiber; 8.5 grams protein.


Intermittent Fasting: Key Points You Need to Know

One of the hottest topics in the health and fitness space is intermittent fasting, a lifestyle choice wherein individuals choose to halt their intake of calories for specific periods of time. Many studies now show that the practice can not only drastically improve mind-body health, but can increase longevity, per Healthline, citing various evidence-based sources.

As opposed to traditional diets, which create boundaries around what one can eat, intermittent fasting emphasizes the when. The most common methods include daily 16-hour fasts and an 8-hour window of eating, or fasting for a full 24-hours twice per week.

Despite what we’ve been told about the importance of three meals a day, eating constantly may be further away from our nature than we think. Throughout evolution, humans have typically gone long periods without eating, and many of our health issues now come from a world where endless options are available to most of us at the touch of a button. More Americans struggle with obesity than ever, and the epidemic is spreading worldwide. Meanwhile, big food and beverage corporations and weight loss companies continue to have a hold over the media that we consume. Since there are very few products and services for purchase tied to fasting, many of us have only just heard about the topic through the web or word of mouth.

It’s important to note that proper intermittent fasting means one does not overcompensate in the windows of eating to “make up for” the skipped meals, and therefore all of the methods typically result in weight loss due to lower calorie intake.

Mind-Body Benefits

The less obvious benefits of fasting include what it does to the body on a cellular and molecular level. For example, levels of growth hormone rise as much as 5-fold, aiding in fat loss and muscle gain. Insulin sensitivity improves, lowering blood sugar by 3% to 6%, and fasting insulin levels by as much as 31%. Additionally, studies show that fasting leads cells to initiate cellular repair processes, and increases the function of genes related to longevity and fighting off disease.

Short-term fasting contributes to weight loss not only due to lower calorie intake, but also from the release of the fat-burning hormone norepinephrine. Studies show intermittent fasting can increase metabolic rate by 3.5% to 14%, and reduce harmful belly fat which can build up around organs and cause disease.

Inflammation, a primary culprit of may chronic diseases, has also been shown to be reduced by short-term fasting. Various animal studies demonstrate that the practice can significantly prevent cancer. In studies involving rats, the animals who short-term fasted lived 36% to 83% longer. As for brain health, short-term fasting has been shown to increase levels of the brain hormone BDNF, and may aid the growth of new nerve cells, and protect against Alzheimer’s. Additionally, fasting has been shown to reduce bad LDL cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar and insulin resistance, which all contribute to heart disease.

Other Factors to Consider

Other benefits of fasting include positive lifestyle changes, aiding to simplicity in routine and making meal prep and planning less time consuming, costly, and thus more manageable and easy to maintain.

Those who are currently underweight, have a medical condition, or have a history of eating disorders should consult with a health professional before fasting.

Ultimately, there is no one size fits all for a health and wellness regime, and individuals should continue to focus on quality sleep, healthy foods and exercising regularly. For those interested in trying out a new system with proven health benefits, and which also serves as a powerful weight loss tool, intermittent fasting may be a great option.


Paula Recommends ...Quinoa with Orange and Avocado

Quinoa is a species of the goosefoot genus, a grain crop grown primarily for its edible seeds. It is similar in some respects to buckwheat. It is rich in the B vitamins, high in fiber and provides all the essential amino acids which is rare for a plant. Add some avocado (vitamin E) and navel orange (fiber, vitamin C ) and you end up with a great tasting, great for you side dish that is ready to hit the table in 30 minutes or less. - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients
3⁄4 cup quinoa*
1/3 cup diced red onion
1 large navel orange
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1⁄2 avocado, diced
1⁄4 cup roasted unsalted sunflower seeds 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt

*You can use bulgur or whole wheat couscous instead

Directions
1. Pick a firm but ripe avocado. (for Hass avocados, the most common variety, the skin should be black and it should yield just slightly to gentle pressure)
2. Prepare the quinoa according to the package instructions, then allow to cool.
3. Combine the onion and vinegar in a large bowl and set aside until the onion turns pink, about 5 minutes
4. Cut the peel, pith, and outer membrane off the orange, then slice it. Cut the Slices into bite size pieces
5. Toss all the ingredients except the salt in the large bowl with the onion, then season with up to 1⁄2 teaspoon of salt

Nutrition information: Makes 4 (1 cup) servings. Per serving: 260 calories, 13g total fat (1.5 g saturated fat) 30g carbohydrate, 7 g protein, 6 g dietary fiber, 250 mg sodium 


Paula Recommends ...Honey Mustard Salmon with Feta Yogurt Sauce

The salmon in this dish is chock full of omega-3 fatty acids that research has linked to cardiovascular health, cell signaling and vitamin absorption benefiting many body systems including the heart, brain and skin.

The sauce contains yogurt, rich with gut-healthy probiotic bacteria. Garlic, from the onion genus Allium has been linked in research to a decreased risk of several cancers. For vegetarians or those who do not eat seafood, the Feta Yogurt Sauce is a delicious accompaniment to spicy Indian dishes.  - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients

Honey Mustard Salmon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1 Tablespoon Honey
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 six-ounce salmon fillets
¾ cup Feta Yogurt Sauce (see recipe below)

Feta Yogurt Sauce
2 cups low-fat plain Greek yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons freshly chopped mint or parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
¼ teaspoon of salt (may be omitted for those limiting salt in their diet)
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Makes 2¼ cups.

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Combine the garlic, mustard, honey and pepper and brush on the salmon.
3. Cook the salmon for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish just flakes with a fork.
4. Serve each salmon fillet with three tablespoons of feta yogurt sauce.

Nutritional information: Makes four servings. Serving size: 4 oz salmon & 3 Tablespoons feta yogurt sauce: Per serving: 337 calories; 14 grams total fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 258 milligrams sodium; 9 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 42 grams protein.

 


Paula Recommends ...Herbed Chickpea Wraps

Red grapes, a good source of resveratrol, a phytonutrient with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities, are the sweet, juicy surprise in this delicious wrap. Satiating plant-based protein comes from chickpeas and walnuts, which are also high in cancer-preventive fiber.

Chickpeas, like other dry beans and peas, contain folate, resistant starch and antioxidant photochemicals that qualify them as a "Food That Fights Cancer." Walnuts, known for being a good source of the plant form of omega-3 fat, alpha linolenic acid, make these wraps wonderfully crunchy and their roasted savory flavor is a pleasing contrast to the grapes. - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients
1 can (15-ounce) chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained and rinsed
2 cups seedless red grapes, halved*
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup coarsely chopped roasted walnuts
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1⁄2 cup plain low fat Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper
8 (8-inch) whole wheat or GF tortillas

Directions
1. In large mixing bowl, add all ingredients, except tortillas, and gently combine. (For more cohesive mixture, first gently mash chickpeas with potato masher just to break skins before adding remaining ingredients.)
2. On bottom half of tortilla, spoon 1⁄2 cup mixture in broad line.
3. Fold left and right sides toward center until almost touching. Fold bottom edge toward center. Roll wrap firmly upwards and place toothpick 2 inches from each end.
4. Slice wrap diagonally and place cut side up on plate or platter. Repeat.
5. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerate to serve later in the day.

*Large lettuce leaves can be substituted for tortillas and used to “wrap” the salad.

Nutrition information: Makes 8 servings (2 halves per serving. Per serving: 367 calories; 10 grams total fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 58 grams carbohydrates; 15 g protein, 10g dietary fiber, 425 mg sodium.


Plant-Based Diet Shown to Increase Longevity

A widespread shift away from processed foods and animal products is underway on a global scale, and new research shows that it spells good news for longevity. For many of us whose health and wellness journey has been non-linear, or for those who feel behind, it’s encouraging to know that no matter when we start to eat more plant-based foods, there’s still massive health benefits to be achieved.

“Not all plant-based diets are equal, but boosting the intake of high-quality plant-based foods over time lowers the risk of death even among people who started off with poor-quality diets," - Megu Y. Baden M.D. Ph.D.

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recently conducted a study following nearly 75,000 individuals for more than 12 years. Participants averaged 64-years-old, and had no history of heart disease or cancer when they entered the study in 1998. Regardless of the starting point for each individual, the group with the biggest increase in high-quality plant-based foods saw a 10% decrease in deaths from all causes, and 8% lower for those with the largest increase in an overall plant-based diet.

It’s important to note that a plant-based diet doesn’t ensure long-term health. The individuals in the study that leaned towards low-quality plant-based foods saw their risk of death skyrocket by 11%. Today, it’s just as easy for plant-based eaters to find alternative junk foods and other highly-processed products. As a result, the researchers emphasized “high-quality”plant-based foods that are high in nutrients, like sweet potatoes, almonds, quinoa and mushrooms. They cited vegetables, fruits, nuts, and unprocessed whole grains as key ingredients for longevity.

“Not all plant-based diets are equal, but boosting the intake of high-quality plant-based foods over time lowers the risk of death even among people who started off with poor-quality diets,” said lead author of the study, Megu Y. Baden. M.D. Ph.D., in a meeting report from the American Heart Association.

The American Institute for Cancer Research offers similarly upbeat conclusions about a plant-based diet. The AICR recommends that cancer survivors follow the same diet recommendations of those for cancer prevention -- a varied, plant-based diet, in which plant foods make up two-thirds or more of the plate.

The words “vegan” and “vegetarian” have become less intimidating as they continue to infiltrate the mainstream. For consumers who want to experiment with a plant-based diet, or slowly make the transition, it’s recommended to start trying out alternative dairy products like cashew-cheese or oat milk, and meat substitutes like tempeh and tofu (soy), and jackfruit. Before making a decision on whether you like these products or not, try out tasty recipes from sites like Minimalist Baker, and learn how to jazz things up with spices and other ingredients like coconut milk. It’s easier to eliminate products from your diet when there’s something that you enjoy to replace it with.

Another incentive for a plant-based lifestyle is the massive relief it offers the environment. A growing number of reports offer evidence that shifting away from animal-based foods could drastically reduce carbon emissions and waste byproducts, and lower water use by at least half. For context, it takes up to 8,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, and nearly 2,000 gallons of water for one gallon of cow’s milk, compared to 302 gallons to make one pound of tofu, per UCLA Sustainability research. 

(Read more about the study here.)


Paula Recommends ...Mushroom Soup with Middle Eastern Spices

This is a very hearty, chunky soup filled with a combination of sweet and savory spices -- cinnamon, coriander and cumin -- which give it a deep, earthy richness as well as a generous amount of cancer-fighting phytochemicals. For the most complex flavor, use several kinds of mushrooms and cook them until they are dark golden brown and well caramelized. Plant-based, low in sodium and calories, high in flavor and health benefits: a perfect winter meal. - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients
6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 & 1/4  lbs. mixed mushrooms (such as cremini, oyster, chanterelles and shiitake), chopped
1/2 lb. shallots, finely diced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 & 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground allspice
2 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
1 teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces baby spinach
Fresh lime juice, to taste
Plain yogurt, for serving (optional)

Directions
1. Heat 3 Tablespoons olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add half the mushrooms and half the shallots; cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the mushrooms are well browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a bowl and repeat with remaining olive oil, mushrooms and shallots.

2. Return all mushrooms to the pot and stir in tomato paste, thyme, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and allspice; cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Stir in 5 cups water, the salt and the black pepper. Bring mixture to a simmer over medium heat and cook gently for 20 minutes. Stir in baby spinach and let cook until just wilted, 1 to 2 minutes.

4. Using an immersion blender or food processor, coarsely puree soup. Mix in lime juice. Thin with water, as needed.

5. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve with dollops of yogurt if you'd like.

Nutrition information: Makes 6 servings. Per serving: 182 calories; 12g fat; 2g saturated fat; 12g carbohydrates; 2g fiber; 5g protein; 210 mg sodium


Paula Recommends ...Grapefruit and Smoked Trout Cobb Salad

Ring in the New Year with a refreshing, palate-cleansing, protein-rich, main dish salad. Rich in whole grains, healthy fat, greens, citrus and protein, it's perfect for brunch or dinner. The newly released CUP Report from AICR (American Institute of Cancer Research www.aicr.org) provides research that calls for a plant forward diet for cancer survivors, rich in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats… this delicious salad delivers all.  - Paula Meyer, Mission Training Center Nutritionist 

Ingredients
1 grapefruit, halved and thinly sliced, plus 1/4 cup juice
1 shallot, minced (2 Tablespoons)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups chopped romaine hearts (or greens of choice)
2 cups watercress, tough stems removed
2 cups cooked farro, barley, or rice
8 oz. smoked trout, flaked
1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced

Directions

For the Dressing
1. Whisk together grapefruit juice, shallot, and Dijon.
2. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Whisk in oil.

For the Salad
1. Toss lettuces and farro with 1/3 cup dressing and divide among 4 bowls.
2. Top with flaked trout, avocado slices, and grapefruit.
3. Season with pepper.
4. Drizzle with more dressing, and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition Information: Per serving: Calories 414; Total Fat 22.5g; Sat Fat 3.25g; Sodium 53mg; Carbohydrate 35g; Dietary Fiber 7g; Protein 20g