Monday, January 26, 2009

Watermelon- Full of Iron and other Nutrients!

Watermelon is an excellent source of iron- who knew? Actually, the iron content in watermelon is comparable to the iron content in red meat.

Watermelons are also "laden with vitamin A and C, beta carotene, lycopene, iron, zinc, potassium and other nutritive minerals - which makes them twice as efficient in all kinds of diets, as they help us lose weight or stay fit and also give the body all the vitamins and nutrients it needs to continue functioning in an appropriate manner." (

One 6 inch x 1/2 inch slice of watermelon contains 3.0 mg of iron, whereas 3 ounces of beef, pork, or lamb contains 2.3-3.0 mg of iron.

Just for fun, here is a list of the iron content in some foods:
List of Grains Rich in Iron:
Brown rice, 1 cup cooked 0.8 mg
Whole wheat bread, 1 slice 0.9 mg
Wheat germ, 2 tablespoons 1.1 mg
English Muffin, 1 plain 1.4 mg
Oatmeal, 1 cup cooked 1.6 mg
Total cereal, 1 ounce 18.0 mg
Cream of Wheat, 1 cup 10.0 mg
Pita, whole wheat, 1 slice/piece, 6 ½ inch 1.9 mg
Spaghetti, enriched, 1 cup, cooked 2.0 mg
Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup 6.3 mg
List of Iron Rich Legumes, Seeds, and Soy:
Sunflower seeds, 1 ounce 1.4 mg
Soy milk, 1 cup 1.4 mg
Kidney beans, ½ cup canned 1.6 mg
Chickpeas, ½ cup, canned 1.6 mg
Tofu, firm, ½ cup 1.8 mg
Soy burger, 1 average 1.8 to 3.9 mg
Raw Spinach, 1 cup 1 mg
Cooked Spinach, 1 cup 3.5 mg
Pumpkin Seeds, ½ cup roasted 8.5 mg
Pistachios, ½ cup 4.4 mg

List of Vegetables Rich in Iron:
Broccoli, ½ cup, boiled 0.7 mg
Green beans, ½ cup, boiled 0.8 mg
Lima beans, baby, frozen, ½ cup, boiled 1.8 mg
Beets, 1 cup 1.8 mg
Peas, ½ cup frozen, boiled 1.3 mg
Potato, fresh baked, cooked w/skin on 4.0 mg
Vegetables, green leafy, ½ cup 2.0 mg
Watermelon, 6 inch x ½ inch slice 3.0 mg
Other Foods Rich in Iron:
Blackstrap Molasses, one tablespoon 3.0 mg
Dates or Prunes, ½ cup 2.4 mg
Beef, Pork, Lamb, three ounces 2.3 to 3.0 mg
Liver (beef, chicken), three ounces 8.0 to 25.0 mg
Clams, Oysters ¾ cup 3.0 mg
Dark meat Turkey ¾ cup 2.6 mg
Pizza, cheese or pepperoni, ½ of 10 inch pie 4.5 to 5.5 mg

Friday, January 9, 2009

Iron Deficient? Forget Beef--Eat Some Chocolate!

I know some people are going to give me flack for this:  Doctors who say that a person who is iron deficient should eat red meat absolutely do not know nutrition. Actually, doctors do not get very much nutritional training in medical school (and when I say "not very much," I'm talking paltry at best). Not only is red meat not good for the body (sorry folks, it's a fact. Just ask the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and American Diabetes Association.  And as far as I know, this goes for organically-grown, grass-fed beef as well.), but there are plenty of (non-animal) foods that are much higher in iron than red meat and offer many more nutritional benefits as well, like spinach or watermelon for example.  Ok, now stop being mad about that beef comment and read on...

But what does that have to do with chocolate?

The cacao bean is what chocolate is made from, and eating the crushed, raw bean tastes like nutty, dark chocolate. Sunfood's (who makes awesome cacao) website says this: "This is original, unprocessed dark chocolate from the mineral rich rain forest of Ecuador. Experience chocolate in its pure, raw form. Raw Chocolate is a great source of: Magnesium, Iron, & Vitamin C, 20 times more antioxidants than red wine, and 30 times more than green tea. Processing, cooking and roasting corrupt the complex nutrition of the cacao bean."

So, basically, raw chocolate is very nutritious, but when it is processed into a bar, the further away from its natural state it gets, the more nutrition is lost (dark chocolate is the best to eat, then milk, then white- which has no cacao nutrition left).

Let's break down the raw cacao nutritional information (Sunfood brand has the most iron, perhaps due to the way it's grown or processed) and compare it to beef (raw ground)-each 1 ounce:
*Chart is for Sunfood brand cacao.

The antioxidants alone in raw chocolate:

-Decrease blood pressure
-Improve circulation
-Promote cardiovascular functions and help fight heart disease
-Improve function of endothelial cells that line the circulatory system
-Provide protection from free radicals, which may trigger cancer, heart disease and stroke
-Improve digestion

It's an excellent source of magnesium, which helps relax nerves and muscles, builds and strengthens bones and keeps blood circulating smoothly. According to several sources, magnesium is the most deficient major mineral in the American diet with over 80 percent of Americans deficient in magnesium. The body does not produce magnesium, so it must be supplied by one’s diet.

Raw chocolate contains many chemicals that may enhance physical and mental well-being. This includes alkaloids, proteins, beta-carotene, leucine, linoleic acid, lipase, lysine, and some neurotransmitters such as dopamine and anandamide (the so-called "bliss" chemical.) It also contains theobromine, which has an effect similar to caffeine.

These chemicals:

-Increase Energy. Theobromine stimulates the central nervous system, relaxes smooth muscles and dilates blood vessels. Theobromine has about a quarter of the stimulating power of caffeine.
-Improve Mood. A key element found in cacao helps serotonin and other neurotransmitters (dopamine, anandamide) to circulate longer in the brain. Monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors), a naturally occurring compound, help keep dopamine and anandamide available to the body.
-Anandamide, the so-called “bliss” chemical, is released when we’re feeling great. The anandamide in cacao helps this brain chemical stay longer in our system and contributes to improve moods.
-PEA (Phenylethylamine) is found in cacao beans. It may help lift depression. It is a member of group of plant-based stimulants called methylxanthines. (Caffeine is the most familiar methylxanthine.)
-Diminishes Appetite. Several studies suggest that cacao seems to diminish appetites. This is probably due to the monoamine oxidase enzyme inhibitors (MAO inhibitors) found in cacao.
Lots of companies produce cacao nibs, cacao beans, and cacao powder. I like Sunfood cacao, available at health food stores or online. The nibs (ground or whole) blend nicely into smoothies, teas, coffee, or any nutritional beverage. The nibs are also good when eaten by the handful. Sprinkle on desserts.  Add to trail mix. Add to any recipe instead of chocolate chips.
Buy Sunfood cacao HERE

The following is from Sunfood's website (and not written by me, but has great info):

Raw Cacao (raw chocolate, raw cocoa) is one of nature's most fantastic superfoods due to its high mineral content and wealth of antioxidants. Since many of the special properties of cacao are destroyed or lost by cooking, refining, and processing, planet Earth's favorite food is still unknown to most of us. Now we get to reconnect with the power of real, raw chocolate! Raw Cacao offers fantastic hope for chocoholics everywhere. You can turn cravings for cooked, processed, chocolate into the super-nutrition of the highest order.
Sunfood's Raw Cacao Nibs are packed with antioxidants, including polyphenols, catechins and epicatechins that help to fight off free radicals, giving you a healthy, complete superfood known as the Food of the Gods. In addition, flavonols help the body produce Nitric Oxide, a compound essential for proper heart function. Clean and microbe-free, cacao nibs offer a powerful boost of phenylethylamine (PEA) and anandamide, which both enhance positive feelings. Raw cacao is also a natural source of trace minerals, such as manganese, zinc and copper, which help to maintain healthy blood while theobromine, iron, chromium, magnesium and omega-6 fatty acids play an important role in heart health, brain function, growth and development.
Magnesium: Cacao appears to be the #1 source of magnesium of any food. Magnesium is one of the great alkaline minerals. It works to support the heart, boost our mental focus, and relieve constipation. Magnesium, along with other components of cacao, has been linked with a lessening of PMS symptoms. This is likely the primary reason women crave chocolate during their monthly cycle. Magnesium balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and has been tied to increased happiness and improved mood. Magnesium is the most deficient major mineral on the Standard American Diet (SAD); over 80% of Americans are chronically deficient in Magnesium! Raw cacao has enough magnesium to help reverse deficiencies of this mineral.

Antioxidants: Cacao contains the highest concentration of antioxidants of any food in the world. This point is so astounding that it bears repeating: No food exhibits greater antioxidant capacity than cacao! These antioxidants include polyphenols, catechins, and epicatechins. By weight, Cacao has more antioxidants than red wine, blueberries, acai, pomegranates, and goji berries COMBINED.

Iron: Raw Cacao contains approximately 314% of the U.S. RDA of iron per 1 ounce (28 gram) serving. Iron plays an essential role in the body, working to carry oxygen from the lungs to every part o
f the body. Consuming cacao is one of the best ways to keep our blood healthy.
Zinc: Many of the enzymes in the human body would not exist without the presence of zinc. This mineral is a vital component in over 200 enzymes throughout the body, and it is a cofactor of hundreds more. Raw Cacao contains zinc, which plays a critical role in the health of the immune system, liver, pancreas, and skin. Additionally, zinc is essential for sexual development, fertility, and cell growth.
Manganese: This mineral plays a crucial role in the formation of bone, cartilage, and connective tissue. Manganese helps assist iron in the oxygenation of the blood and formation of hemoglobin, and helps to promote healthy joints.

Copper: Traditionally known as a powerful antimicrobial, copper also works to cleanse the lymphatic system and stimulate peristalsis. In the human body, copper helps to build healthy blood, making it a natural partner to iron and manganese.

Phenethylamine (PEA): Raw Cacao contains high levels of Phenylethylamine (PEA). Often known as The Love Chemical, PEA is the chemical produced in our bodies when we fall in love. This is likely one of the main reasons why love and chocolate have such a deep connection. PEA also plays a role in increasing focus and alertness.

Tryptophan: An essential amino acid which is transformed into important stress-protective neurotransmitters including serotonin and melatonin. Tryptophan is heat sensitive and therefore it is cooked out in many high protein foods and in conventional processed chocolate products.

Serotonin: The primary neurotransmitter in the human body, Serotonin is similar in its chemistry to tryptophan and melatonin. Serotonin helps us build up our stress defense shield which supports our immune system in times of high demand.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids: Raw cacao contains essential omega 6 fatty acids, which form an integral part of our cell walls and allow for more efficient communication between cells.

Anandamide: The human body naturally produces endorphins after exercise, neurotransmitters which flood our brains with positive feelings. One of these neurotransmitters is Anandamide, also known as The Bliss Chemical. While humans have to work hard to produce enough Anandamide to reach higher levels of ecstasty, only one plant produces this chemical as part of its normal metabolism: Cacao! Not only does Cacao contain Anandamide in high concentrations, it also contains enzyme inhibitors that decrease our bodies' ability to breakdown The Bliss Chemical. When we eat raw cacao, the Anandamide produced by our brains along with the Anadamide found in cacao may continue to circulate in the body for extended periods of time, helping us feel great all day long.

Theobromine: Cacao contains about 1% theobromine. Most commonly found in cacao, this chemical element is an effective anti-bacterial substance which works to kill Streptococci mutans (the primary organism responsible for cavities). Theobromine is a chemical relative of caffeine but it does not act as a nervous system stimulant. Theobromine dilates the cardiovascular system making the hearts job easier. The combination of Theobromine and Magnesium make raw cacao an important part of a heart-healthy diet.