Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Effective Natural Remedies to Cure Spring Allergies

Spring allergy is commonly used to refer to hay fever, a seasonal allergic rhinitis attack experienced by more than 35 million Americans every year as the season changes and many allergens start to blossom - during springtime. As pollens scatter and travel through air, people as far as hundreds of miles away unknowingly sniff them, triggering allergic reactions, such as sneezing, coughing, eye and nose irritation and runny nose.


Many over-the-counter medications for spring allergies are available at affordable prices. These drugs, nonetheless, can cause several side-effects and unnecessary expenses. Common side-effects include drowsiness, headache and occasional loss of appetite. Why bother experiencing them when there are scientifically proven natural remedies that can aid in fighting spring allergies?

You can try the following alternative treatments for safer and effective relief.

Garlic: On clinical studies, quercetin, a natural compound found in garlic and onion, is observed to mimic the antihistamine effect of certain drugs. When regularly added to the diet, spring may just pass without causing hassle sniffs.

Onion and apple are good sources too.

Cayenne pepper: Like garlic, it also contains quercetin that can act as antihistamine. But more than that, it has anti-inflammatory properties that can prevent throat and nasal irritations. Some people prefer using cayenne pepper because the natural heat it produces in the body is said to comfort irritations caused by allergens.

Thyme: This herb is proven to be an effective natural expectorant that can relieve phlegm production during the onset of spring allergies. Even some drugs add it to their components for much more effective decongestion benefit. It also has high antimicrobial properties that aids in fighting infections caused by phlegm.

To experience its benefits, drink a tea made from fresh thyme twice a day or buy prepared brands that preserve the natural properties of the plant without altering its chemical components.

Chamomile: A healthy and delicious drink, chamomile tea can also relieve itchiness and dryness of the eyes. By placing a cold tea bag for five to 10 minutes, you will feel the immediate effects against allergic reaction.

Elderberries: This fruit is insanely high in antioxidant content and phytonutrients that are best used against flu. As it strengthens the immune system, it also makes recovery from cold faster. Its anti-inflammatory effects can be experienced by drinking fresh juice or even wine made from real fruits.

Chicken soup: Medical experts considered this as a mere hoax until a year ago when a research showed surprising benefits to the recovery rate of subjects experiencing the common cold. Since spring allergy triggers nasal fluid build-up, it is a smart idea to have chicken soup not only on a rainy day but during springtime as well.

Neti pot: Oprah considers this product as one of her favorite things because of its fast action against clogged nasal passages due to allergens. Cheap and natural, it safely soothes the passage using sterile water and a dash of salt.

Acupuncture: This ancient art of healing is said to relieve swollen nasal passages at a faster rate than some herbs do. Acupuncture is also said to strengthen the immune system; thus, strengthening the body's defense against spring allergies, or any kind of allergy for that matter.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Organic Gardening: 10 Tips to Success

Organic gardening is the method of gardening that utilizes only materials derived from living things, ie. all natural plant foods and pesticides. Once you know the basic tenets of this practice, organic vegetable gardening is simple. And the payoff is enormous: no toxic chemicals, no waste, better for the environment as a whole, and not to mention a crop full of natural, delicious vegetables. Remember these 10 steps and you'll have a successful crop in no time!


Soil. It all begins here. Amending your soil with organic material such as composted manure or yard and kitchen scrap compost will get your dirt off to a good start. The inclusion of organic material provides a solid basis of nutrients for your plants which helps to cut down on the need for commercially made fertilizers and improves soil structure making it easier for your plant to absorb the important minerals they need. Sandy soil will not hold its moisture well. Heavy clay soil may prove too dense for healthy root development.

Fertilizer. In addition to compost, your plants will enjoy a healthy dose of other organic foodstuffs like worm poop and pee (we call this worm tea), eggshells, Epsom salts, bone meal, blood meal...the list goes on, but the key word is all-natural. Mother Nature knows what she's doing and these sources provide essential vitamins and minerals for your plants.

Beneficial insects. When planning your garden, educate yourself on which plants repel insects, which plants invite them, and what each bug eats. For instance, ladybugs eat aphids, which is a good thing because aphids will suck the life from just about any plant! By inviting ladybugs into your garden you are employing a natural form of pest control and not toxic chemicals.

Layout. When designing your garden, it's important to adhere to spacing guidelines for your plants. By keeping them close, their leaves will shade the ground beneath them. This not only cuts down on weed growth, but also helps the soil retain water, cutting down on water usage. Organic gardeners are excellent custodians of the environment. Too close, and you'll invite the growth of fungus and disease.

Companion planting.
Including a wide variety of plants in your garden and planting them according to their relationship with others helps in many ways. For instance, bean plants fix nitrogen into the soil, which corn plants use to produce healthy cobs. Corn provides support for the climbing vines of the bean family. Add squash to the base and you have instant weed control!

Crop rotation. This is the practice of rotating a plant's location from season to season. Relocating your plants cuts down on soil depletion and disease infestation. In addition, plants like beans will actually put nutrients into the soil that can be used by the next crop, ie. corn. Disease will be reduced because the organisms that infect one plant pose no harm to the next, so rotating eliminates the likelihood a disease will spread.

Water.
Conserving water is a key component of organic gardening. Good watering practices include the capturing and storing of rain, the use of drips hoses, and plenty of mulch. With a sprinkler system, a large amount of water can be lost to evaporation. If sprinklers must be used, it's best to water in the early morning or early evening hours. Using mulch around your plants is another way to conserve water because it keeps the soil moist longer, requiring less water to be used.

Weeds. Weed removal is best done by hand, without the use of chemicals. While tedious, this duty can be cut down tremendously by the use of smart planting. Remember, keeping plants close helps prevent weed growth. Natural mulch is another great method. Not only does it help prevent weeds, it has the added benefit of providing nutrients into the soil as it breaks down.

Cover crops. These are the plants you grow in between seasons. They help to replenish the soil with vital nutrients and prevent soil erosion. They can also be used to feed the beneficial insects in the absence of your vegetable crop and keep weeds at bay.

Seeds. Organic gardening is all about using sustainable methods and what better way to be self-sustaining than to use your own seeds! The practice of saving seeds has been around for centuries and ensures you "know what you grow." But to ensure purity and avoid cross-pollination, you must keep some distance between the same plants of different varieties. You don't want to be disappointed when you plant those tomato seeds next year and discover the result is a hybrid--and not the decadent beefsteak tomato you were looking forward to. Only heirlooms can produce the original fruit, not hybrids.

Organic vegetable gardening is all about sustainable practices. It's conservation at its best, because you are using what you have and what you can find in nature. From fall leaves to leftover food, you waste nothing in an organic garden. Plants help each other, insects play a role...why even Mother Nature helps by delivering an extra shot of nitrogen in every rain drop!

But more than being a good steward of the environment, organic gardening makes for a healthier you.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Four High-Protein Vegetarian Alternatives to Soy


Vegetarian Protein Foods Not Named Tofu or Tempeh

“Four Alternatives” list: four high-protein, non-soy, vegetarian foods.  A lot of people seem to think soy is the only decent source of protein out there for vegetarians.

Seitan

For a long time, I thought seitan was another soy product.  Turns out, it’s made mostly from wheat.  And it has a texture very similar to meat, earning it the nickname “wheat-meat.”  A four-ounce portion of seitan has between 20 and 30 grams of protein, making it the most densely-packed vegetarian protein source I know of.  That it could pass for meat in a vegetarian dish is pure bonus, even if it’s not quite a whole food. You can find seitan at most health food stores, but if you are feeling adventurous, you can make it at home.

Beans

Nothing new here; beans are a staple of almost every vegetarian athlete’s diet.  My favorites are lentils, chickpeas and black beans, but almost every starchy bean contains 12 to 15 grams of protein per cooked cup.  Soybeans, interestingly, contain the most of all (29 g per cup); perhaps that’s why soy plays such a big role in many vegetarian diets.  Lentils, at 18 grams per cup, come in a distant second.

Quinoa

Some call it a super-grain; technically it’s a pseudo-grain.  Quinoa is actually a seed, and it comes in at 11 grams of protein per cooked cup.  It has the benefit of being gluten-free, too.  Quinoa contains a bitter coating that helps it to avoid being eaten by birds, so rinse your quinoa well before you cook it.  (Cooking only takes 12-15 minutes in hot water.)  Quinoa makes a good substitute for rice as part of a high-protein vegetarian meal.

Broccoli

Chances are, you’ve never thought of broccoli (or any green vegetable) as a high-protein food.  But per calorie, vegetables like broccoli and spinach are very high in protein.  The “problem” is that they take up a lot of room in your stomach, so it’s hard to eat enough of them to make them a significant source of protein.  Still, at 5 grams of protein per cup, broccoli deserves a place on list, if only because it’s interesting.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

10 Foods That A Nutritionist Always Has In Her Freezer

People often think that eating healthy takes way too much planning and preparation. Either they hate grocery shopping every week or don’t feel as though they have the time to do so. Luckily, the freezer can make your life much easier.

Here is a list of what nutritionist, Kristy Rao, always has in her freezer to ensure that she's eating healthy even when she doesn't have enough time to go to the farmers' market:

Frozen fruits and vegetables


This is key for always being prepared to make a smoothie, even when you haven't been to the grocery store in a while. One great thing about having frozen fruits and veggies on hand is that you often won't even be able to find the same organic fruits or vegetables unfrozen. I freeze ripe bananas myself and buy bags of raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches, spinach and kale. In the summertime, I tend to have leftover watermelon, which I also freeze in chunks.

Ezekiel bread and muffins


Since I dont eat bread often, I keep it frozen. I take out a couple of slices or muffins at a time depending on how much I feel like having, so that the rest remains fresh. I choose Ezekiel bread because it's made with sprouted grains and beans and is fully organic. Although there's still gluten in this bread, it's still easier to digest than traditional bread.

Homemade popsicles


All you have to do is purchase BPA-free popsicle molds, blend up your favorite smoothie, and pour it into the mold to freeze. I recommend sweetening with honey or organic agave syrup.

Juice or coconut water ice cubes


I will fill my ice cube trays up with organic coconut water and freshly squeezed orange or apple juice to throw into my smoothies for sweetness. The orange cubes are also great to put into a glass of water for taste.

Organic, gluten-free waffles


I typically make my own and freeze for a rainy day, but you can also purchase these. They're one of my favorite treats for breakfast.

Oat and spelt flour


I never use white flour. These are great alternatives, and are best kept in the freezer to keep fresh.

Acai


I love making smoothies with unsweetened acai berry packs, and usually use half a pack for a smoothie.

Coconut ice cream


This is one of my favorite not-so-guilty pleasures, because you can get organic, non-dairy and low glycemic coconut ice cream. It's perfect for a treat that won't make you feel terrible!

Blue-green algae


I know it sounds scary, but blue-green algae is extremely good for you, and you won’t even taste it in your smoothie!

Dark chocolate


How could I possibly risk running out? I always buy an organic bar with 70% or more cacao content.


10 Green Ideas For Earth Day


Got big plans for Earth Day? It's right around the corner, April 22, but feel free to celebrate all week long with these 10 great ideas for teaching kids about Earth Day and what they can do to help take care of our planet.

1. Serve up eco-snacks.
Mix up some trail mix (with raisins, sunflowers, peanuts, almonds, chocolate chips) assemble one of these cute flower-power veggie trays, or whip up a batch of these yummy Earth Day bars. Celebrating the global nature of the ingredients (raisins from California, chocolate from Africa, coconut from the Philippines) is a cute idea, but it's still a good idea to look for locally sourced ingredients whenever possible!

2. Make a nature craft. Try your hand at one of these cute nature craft ideas, or get creative and come up with your own eco-masterpieces. 

3. Host an Earth Day 5K (or 1K). This may seem like a big endeavor for Earth Day, but don't let it scare you. Even if you don't decide to do a big community-wide event, you can still challenge your friends and neighbors to a run or walk in honor of Earth Day. It's the perfect way to get out and enjoy the planet and the day.

4. Take a walk. If an organized walk or run is too intimidating, you can still get outdoors for a walk around the block or local park with your own family. Check out these tips for exploring the outdoors with your kids.

5. Pick up a great green read. "The Lorax," "The Omnivore's Dilemma," "Seeds of Change," "The Giving Tree," "An Inconvenient Truth." There are so many great green reads to choose from. Check out MNN's book posts to find an old favorite or a new one to read in honor of Earth Day.

6. Plant a garden.
Grab the kids, a shovel, and some seeds and hit the dirt with your family. Whether you plant one tomato plant in a pot or a large garden of fruits and veggies, gardening with your kids wil teach them about the cycles of nature and the beauty of growing your own food.

7. Watch an eco-flick. Snuggle up on the sofa with your kids and your favorite brand of organic popcorn to watch one of these family friendly eco-movies. In the mood for a sobering documentary? Try a classic like Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" or a newer film like "Lunch Line," "Waiting For Superman," "The Cove" or "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead."

8. Host an eco-swap. What better way to get rid of your old stuff than to give it to friends who will find another use for it? Gather up your friends and neighbors for a good old community swap where everybody brings a bag or two of stuff (clothes, toys, you name it,) and then goes home with a bag or two of newish items in exchange.

9. Recycle. Recycling is a great way for kids to get involved in taking care of the planet. Talk to your kids about the items that wind up in the recycling bin and how they can be recycled into new products. Or you can also check out some of the recycling opportunities available from groups like TerraCycle where you can earn money for your school or community organization by collecting items like candy wrappers or juice pouches so that they can be remade into cool new stuff.

10. Bring it home.
Earth Day is the perfect day to talk to your kids about the green steps you take around the house to protect the planet and how they can help. Turning off lights and faucets, recycling, keeping the heat and air down low, and cleaning green are great ways to teach your kids about your family's impact on the planet, and the steps that you can all take to minimize it.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

6 Food Myths Debunked

Don't completely ditch fat-free dressings, and feel free to eat some white vegetables.

Nutrition advice comes so fast and furious, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what’s good and what’s bad for you. And oftentimes when that advice is boiled down to a hard and fast rule, that rule becomes, well, slightly untrue. So TIME asked some nutrition experts to identify the more common food myths we hear, and the truth behind them.

MYTH: Microwaving foods kills nutrients

Microwaving is actually among the more preferable ways of keeping all the good things in foods like vegetables intact. Boiling can leech out valuable vitamins and minerals, but because microwaving heats up food without using a lot of water, it helps foods to stay nutrient-packed.

MYTH: The more grains, the better

While grains are certainly preferable to refined white flour because they contain more fiber and vitamin B, don’t fall into the multigrain trap. Just because a product has multiple different grains doesn’t mean those grains aren’t processed and stripped of many of the good things you want from them. “In processing grains for convenience, you’re potentially losing the nutrients and changing the degree to which they are absorbed,” says Nicolette Pace, spokesperson for the New York State Dietetic Association.

Check the label and look for the word “whole” before any grains listed. And make sure the whole grains are the first thing among the ingredients, which confirms that they make up the most important part of the food.

Another clue is the fiber content. “If you’re seeing than an 11-cracker serving contains 1g of fiber, there’s probably not a lot of whole grain in there,” says Pace.

MYTH: Fat-free salad dressings are healthier

Fruits and vegetables have fat-soluble nutrients that need fat in order to work–like the lycopene in tomatoes, which has been linked to lower cancer and stroke risk. Opting for a fat-free dressing may deprive you of those benefits. Try olive oil-based options instead, or add avocados and nuts, both of which contain healthy fats, to your salad instead.

MYTH: Avoid white vegetables

Nutrition experts advocate for colorful foods – the brighter, and more diverse the rainbow on your plate, the better. And that’s still true; carrots and strawberries are high in beta carotene, an important antioxidant that fights damaging inflammation in cells, and dark green produce is a rich source of antioxidants, fiber, calcium, and vitamins like C and K.

But that doesn’t mean that their white cousins are nutritional failures. In fact, cauliflower, garlic, onions, mushrooms, and, yes, even potatoes are good sources of fiber, antioxidants, and potassium. And while the white potato has become tuber non grata for dieters, adding a moderate amount of potato to your diet won’t derail weight entirely. In fact, because it’s so full of fiber, a little goes a long way toward making you feel full and eating less overall. “It’s something you can use as a vehicle to build a meal,” says McDaniel. “If you add broccoli and little bit of cheese, it can be a satisfying meal for someone trying to lose weight.”

MYTH: Juice cleanses are cleansing

“People think juice cleanses are a good way to detox the body,” says Jennifer McDaniel, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “But I remind my clients that you have a built-in detox organ, the liver, and it’s very good at what it does.” It probably won’t harm you if you go on a juice cleanse for a day or so, but as a way to lose weight, it’s not such a good idea, since it deprives you of proteins and fats, and may lead to losing muscle.

MYTH: Coffee will only make you thirstier

While the caffeine in coffee is a diuretic, meaning it draws water out of your body, the amount of water in coffee means that overall, it can be a thirst quencher. Water is still your best option to stay hydrated, but don’t avoid coffee if you’re a regular java drinker because you think it dehydrate you.

[via TIME]

Friday, April 4, 2014

5 New Solutions For Growing Healthy Produce Indoors

An increasing number of people are moving into urban environments and away from traditional agriculture. As a consequence, those who have a mind for self-sufficiency can find themselves falling short. Storable foods are of course an important part of every emergency prepper's pantry, but storable foods are not a sound long-term solution that contain optimal nutrition.

Even produce from farmers markets and store-bought organic food will lose peak freshness faster than one might imagine. Alanna Ketler from Collective-Evolution explains:
Most people do not realize that vegetables will lose about half of their nutrients within the first week of being picked. The food that you are getting from the supermarket will not be as nutritionally rich as the food you are growing yourself and consuming immediately after harvesting. Imagine how much more fresh and alive this food tastes. If you have or have ever had a garden I’m sure you have certainly noticed a difference. (Source)

Nothing can beat growing your own fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. But it is quite a challenge for those with limited space; not everyone can afford acres of land to become a full-fledged farmer. Then, of course, are the climate considerations that inhibit year-round growing in most places across the planet.

However, several high-tech solutions are becoming available for city dwellers, or those who have a less-than-green thumb. As food prices surge due to climatological and economic factors, there never has been a better time to find ways of becoming self-sufficient at a low cost. It's a movement toward becoming the ultimate locavore.

The following inventions offer an exciting way to have fresh produce year-round ... right in your own kitchen, while also presenting a potential reduction in overall cost.

Urban Cultivator

This is a hydroponic system that is currently in use both professionally and in personal homes. One model, as seen in the short promo below, is roughly the same size as a dishwasher and is set up in a similar manner, according to the site's design specs. By setting the perfect level of humidity and temperature, it's as simple as adding a 100% organic food solution to be able to grow a wide range of pesticide and chemical free produce in your indoor garden. Visit the site here.



For restaurateurs, here is what the commercial model looks like:


GrowCube

Using aeroponics, GrowCubes offer efficient indoor growing for a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, using 95 percent less water, with an added built-in resistance to diseases and pests. A software program underpins the system, offering a detailed Internet-connected analysis and customization platform to obtain and fulfill the optimal level of nutrients and maintenance. A coming Kickstarter program will focus on bringing this system to market later in the year.


Click and Grow Smart Farm

This is a another concept that is heavily invested in the ideas surrounding the Internet of Farming. The Click and Grow system is actually an expandable series of "smart pots" that can grow produce, as well as flowers. It begins by providing soil that remains in proper nutrient and pH balance throughout the growth of the plant. As they point out, the constant watering in traditional potted plants actually leaches away nutrients, so the addition of proper water management increases efficiency and production. This demo shows the process.


Kitchen Nano Garden

This is a concept being developed by Hyundai. It is roughly the size of a refrigerator and employs a similar method of hydroponic growing as seen in the Urban Cultivator. It controls the amount of light, nutrient supply and water to create the optimal efficiency for growing. The prototype won the 2010 Fast Company Idea Award and also doubles as a natural air purifier. While still only a concept, it is exciting to see a company with the resources of Hyundai working on this technology.

UrbGarden

While the four items above appeal to modern sensibilities, some of us still would like to retain a bit of the natural even if we can't get our hands dirty on a traditional farm. The UrbGarden is designed to be a vertical herb garden with an integrated worm farm for easy composting. The system produces a natural fertilizer which is then fed back through a drip system. Its open-window design offers an element of harvesting, as the grow trays are removed and re-potted as needed.


It is worth mentioning that in a grid-down situation, the four "high-tech solutions" offered here will become virtually useless as they rely on a power source, unless you of course have solar. And none of these systems should be seen as direct replacements for developing a solid relationship with your local farmer, farmers market, or development of community gardens. However, these solutions do enable people to get away from commercial food and the toxic packaging that its often wrapped in, while making the act of farming as easy and hassle free for as many people as possible.