Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Does Your Zucchini Begin To Fruit And Then Wither? What You Need To Know.

Why did this zucchini begin to set and then wither?

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But Aren't Zucchini Prolific?

Some years I plant zucchini and have no problems at all and other years, like this one, I have had a rocky start. The problem is always the same. The plants look healthy, start fruiting and then when the baby zucchini is about 3 inches long, it withers and rots. 

This is extremely bothersome. Isn't zucchini the most prolific vegetable around? Not being able to grow zucchini can really effect ones self esteem! Why is this happening?

The Mating Game
It turns out that it takes a boy flower and a girl flower to make a zucchini. Who knew? I never paid much attention to it before. I just noticed pretty yellow flowers and a few weeks later I was plucking baseball bat-sized zucchini from my garden. 

Upon further examination I discovered that the flowers were indeed different.

It's a girl!
Girl flowers have small zucchini attached below them. 
It's a boy!
Boy flowers have a stem that connects to the plant with no fruit.

Before even realizing all this, I just waited to see if the plant would eventually grow normal zucchini. My patience paid off. Eventually the boy and girl flowers finally got together (I assume the bees helped out a bit since I'm not aware of any zucchini internet dating sites) and produced big, beautiful zucchini.

With a little patience, and eventual pollination, the plants began to yield big, beautiful zucchini!

While I was being patient, the male and female flowers developed and pollination occurred. There are some things you can do to help this along:
* Don't water overhead when the flowers are open. It could possibly wash away or dilute the pollen.
* Don't use insecticides as it will kill the bees and other insects who are responsible for pollinating your zucchini.
* Plant more than one zucchini. This will give the plants a better chance at getting properly pollinated.

If all else fails, you may have to resort to hand pollination. I have never tried this but according to some experienced gardeners, you can do it. Here's how:

The boy flower has a center stamen covered with pollen. This pollen must make it over to the girl.
The girl has a multi-segmented stigma in its center which needs to be pollinated in order to make fruit.

* Manually pollinate in the morning when the flowers open and they are fresh.
* Make sure the male stamen is mature with dusty, yellow specs of pollen.
* You may transfer this pollen to all sections of the female stigma in several ways. 
     (1) You may use a little artists brush or a cotton swab to transfer the pollen
     (2) or you can pick the male flower, remove its petals and use the stamen directly to transfer the pollen.
* When pollinating, make sure you get the male pollen on every segment of the female stigma. 
* You can use this male for fertilizing several female flowers.

OK, now you can sit back and start looking at zucchini recipes. You'll need them soon. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

One Day Raw Food Cleanse - Without A Blender, Food Processor, Dehydrator And Other Fancy Tools

1 Day Raw and Gluten Free - Try it!

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Raw Food Cleanse
I have quite a few posts on the site about raw food cleanses. Basically, when I feel I need to fast or cleanse my body of accumulated toxins, I eat raw, unprocessed foods - no meat, no dairy, no gluten. Sometimes I do this for 1 month, sometimes 1 week and occasionally, just for a day. 

Summer, in particular, can be a very difficult time to manage your food intake for long stretches. It's a social time of the year and you may find yourselves eating at people's houses, eating at restaurants, going on vacation, etc. So it may be a lot easier to squeeze in a "raw day" here and there than to go on a longer cleanse. 

Many of the recipes for the raw food cleanses that I've recommended in the past involve using a powerful, high speed blender, a food processor, a dehydrator - even an ice cream machine. For those of you who may not have any of these tools, you can enjoy a "raw day" by just owning a knife. And, as you start to accumulate some kitchen tools, you can make smoothies and raw soups, raw walnut meatballs, raw crackers, etc., But today, let's just do a simple menu of things we can easily throw together.

Nothing is simpler or more delicious than a breakfast salad of ripe, seasonal, raw fruits. 
Select whatever fruits are in season, such as:
* Berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and others)
* Apples, pears, persimmons
* Citrus (oranges, grapefruit)
* Melons (cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew)
* Grapes
* Sweet fruits (mango, papaya, peaches, plums, banana, figs)

Besides fruit, add some avocado, nuts and seeds to provide "good fats" and some staying power. If you just eat fruit you'll be hungry in 30 minutes. Hemp seeds are the perfect topping as they are high in protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids.

Fruit salad with mango, apple, grapes, avocado, walnuts and hemp seeds. 

Nothing is more filling and satisfying than a big, monster salad in the middle of the day. I like to fill a huge bowl with greens and add whatever veggies I'm in the mood for. 
For the salad, choose from:
* Darker green or red leaf lettuce
* Red or green, thinly sliced cabbage
* Thinly sliced kale or chard
* Radishes
* Cucumber
* Onions
* Sprouts
* Carrots
* Broccoli
* Jicama
* Peppers
* Fresh herbs such as parsley, cilantro, basil and others
* Dried fruits such as raisins or cranberries
* Avocado
* Seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, sunflower

Toss with a dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice and cold-pressed hemp oil (2 parts lemon juice to one part hemp oil) seasoned with salt and pepper to taste and a clove of minced garlic. Or use Karina's Garlic Vinaigrette or any of your favorite raw salad dressings.

Make a monster salad for lunch!

Mid-day Snacks
For a simple mid-day snack, make a trail mix of dried fruit, nuts and coconut. For 2 cups (8 servings) of trail mix, combine:
1/2 cup raw  English walnuts
1/4 cup raw cashews
1/4 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup raw Brazil nuts
1/4 cup dried raisins
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried, unsweetened coconut flakes

Make your own trail mix with nuts, dried fruit and coconut.

Or enjoy a piece of fruit and/or veggie slices (carrots, peppers, celery, radishes, jicama, etc.)

Some examples of raw dinners that don't require food processors, blenders or dehydrators are:
Chopped salads, Veggie sushi, and Veggie Wraps. The Ginger Tahini Dipping Sauce is perfect for both the veggie wraps and for a dipping sauce for the veggie sushi. For the chopped salad, use any of the raw dressings listed above or look through the salad dressing section of the blog for the ones that use mostly raw ingredients and that don't require equipment that you may not have. 

This chopped salad features avocado, corn, bell pepper, two types of squash, red onion, asparagus, English walnuts and raisins. 

Roll your favorite vegetables and sprouts in nori for a quick and easy meal.
Wrap your favorite fruits and veggies in a leaf of butter lettuce or cabbage and dip in this ginger tahini dipping sauce.

Sometimes the simplest desserts are the best ones. Since this is a short one day cleanse, you can pass up the fancy raw desserts and just have a few slices of ripe melon or a bowl of fresh berries. One of my favorite desserts is a small bowl of frozen grapes! 

Frozen grapes make a surprisingly satisfying dessert!

So pick a day and give this a try. You'll be surprised how good you'll feel after just one day of eating pure, unprocessed, raw foods! You may decide to try it for a week or longer!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Vegan Tart Cherry And Almond Scones

These vegan scones are quick and easy to make.
They are just 127 calories and less than 1g of saturated fat!

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Perfecting the Healthy Scone
I love scones but they are usually made with cream, butter and white flour, all of which I avoid. For some time now I've been trying to perfect a "healthy" scone. Well, I wouldn't regard this recipe as "health food" but, for a scone, it comes pretty darn close.

This recipe features King Arthur's white whole wheat flour which gives the whole grain goodness of wheat with the lightness of white flour. They also contain tart cherries which are high up there on the ORAC scale (6800 per 100 grams), a measurement of the antioxidant capacity of food. Almonds not only give a nice crunch but also contribute manganese and vitamin E. Soy creamer and Earth Balance replace the cream and butter so the scones are free of cholesterol and have only 0.7 grams of saturated fat. These are also low in sugar with only a little over one teaspoon per scone. Bottom line, these delicious breakfast treats weigh in at only 127 calories and provide 2.6 grams of fiber per serving.

Tart Cherry and Almond Whole Wheat Scones
[makes 8 scones]

1 cup King Arthur's white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons organic cane sugar plus 1/2 teaspoon for sprinkling
2 tablespoons Earth Balance vegan buttery spread
1/2 cup Silk soy creamer
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped dried tart cherries
3 tablespoons slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and lightly oil a cookie sheet.

Combines flour, baking powder, baking soda and 3 tablespoons of sugar in a medium size mixing bowl.

Using a pastry blender, mix the Earth Balance into the flour mixture.

Mix in until the flour resembles course meal.

Add soy creamer and vanilla and stir with a rubber spatula until flour mixture is moistened. 
Stir in the dried cherries and almonds.

Stir dried cherries and almonds into moistened flour mixture.

Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, scoop 8 scones onto the lightly oiled cookie sheet. 
Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of sugar evenly over the scones. (That's 1/2 teaspoon for all 8 scones - it doesn't take much).

Using an ice cream scoop makes this so easy.

Bake until golden brown and tops are firm when gently pressed, about 12 to 15 minutes. 

Remove from oven and serve immediately with vegan cream cheese or low sugar strawberry jam

NOTE: The baking time is perhaps the trickiest thing in this recipe. If you bake them for too short a period of time they are doughy but even a minute too long will make them too brown so play around with it until you figure out your oven. It may take a few tries but you'll enjoy each attempt!

Experiment with other dried fruits and nuts.

VARIATION: You can also make these with other dried fruits such as raisins, dried cranberries, apricots or prunes. Try other nuts too such as English walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans or cashews. 
I've nearly perfected the gluten free version of this so stand by!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Are You Taking Too Many Calcium Supplements? Why It May Be Bad For Your Health!

Excess calcium supplementation can have serious health consequences.

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The Risk of Taking Too Much Calcium from Pills
I have often warned people about calcium supplementation. 
* Not to take too many. 
* Not to take them all at once. 
* Not to take them without certain key complementary vitamins and minerals. 
* To take the most absorbable form of calcium.
* To try to eliminate things that deplete the body's calcium.
* To get the calcium you need from food other than dairy.

I want to revisit this topic because of an important study that was published last month (May, 2012) by Li et al in the journal, Heart. This study looked at nearly 24,000 men and women ages 35-64 who had never had health issues with their heart. The study found that those participants who took calcium supplements over an 11 year period were 139% more likely to have a heart attack compared to those who did not use any supplements. Those participants who took supplements that provided calcium plus other vitamins and minerals had an 86% higher incidence of heart attacks. They did not, however, record the amount of calcium that the participants took. (That would have been useful!) 

These numbers are shocking but when you think about it, perhaps it shouldn't surprise us. After all, isn't hardening of the arteries from their calcification? So when you take 1,000 mg of calcium all at once (and many people do that so they won't forget to take it), your body can't possibly process it. When calcium is introduced to the body in the form of food, it takes it in more gradually. If you ate a cup of cooked turnip greens, you'd get almost 200 mg of calcium, but your body would process it more slowly so it most likely wouldn't end up in your arteries! Researchers Reid and Bolland speculate that the excessive calcium from taking too many supplements at once "drives the antherogenic process" (the process that causes atherosclerosis). 

Calcium Myth's
There is so much misinformation about calcium that it is no surprise that people are either getting too much of the wrong kind or not enough. Unfortunately most of the information we get is from the companies that are pushing their products (i.e. the dairy industry or the vitamin companies) or doctors , many of whom have had very little formal training in nutrition. 

Myth # 1 - Everyone Needs a Ton of it
Although the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for many vitamins and minerals are too low, I feel that the RDA for calcium is much too high. (Could the dairy lobbyists have something to do with this?) From ages 9 to 18, boys and girls are told to get 1,300 mg per day and men from 19 to 70 years of age are to take 1,000 mg. Women are told to take 1,000 mg from 19 to 50 and then advised to increase it to 1,200 mg per day after age 70! I have always thought this was excessive and now I realize that it's also dangerous.

Calculating someone's daily requirements isn't that easy. There are so many things that effect your calcium needs. For example, if you don't do things that deplete calcium, you won't need as much. 

There are many things that cause your body to deplete its calcium store. They include: 
* Too much animal protein
When the body metabolizes animal protein, it produces acids as a byproduct. To remove these acids from the body, they must first be buffered with calcium. This calcium comes directly out of our bones. The more animal protein we eat, the more calcium is depleted from our bones. This does not happen when we eat plant protein. 
* Too much salt
If you eat too much salt the body will excrete more calcium in the urine. Salt is found in most canned foods. Restaurants, including fast food establishments, heavily salt their foods.
*  Too much phosphorus
The proper ratio of calcium to phosphorus is 1:1. If there is too much phosphorus, the parathyroid signals the release of calcium from the bones to balance out the phosphorus. The consumption of meat and processed foods containing chemical phosphates, especially soft drinks, causes a dangerous imbalance between these two important minerals.
* Too much sugar
Excessive sugar increases the urinary excretion of calcium and other minerals. 
* Caffeine
 Even modest amounts of caffeine can cause the loss of minerals from your bones.
* Too much alcohol
Alcohol can increase excretion of calcium and inhibit its absorption.
* Medications
Many medications, like antacids, antibiotics, etc.,  can effect calcium absorption and/or increase calcium excretion. 

Myth # 2 - Dairy is the Best Source of Calcium
Another common belief is that dairy is the best source of calcium. As I mentioned above, the consumption and digestion of animal protein causes calcium loss so even if dairy contains large amounts of calcium, it also causes the excretion of large amounts of calcium. 
The most eye-opening chart from T. Colin Campbell's book, The China Study, shows that the countries that consume the greatest amounts of calcium from cow's milk ( the U.S., New Zealand, Sweden) have the highest rate of hip fractures. Conversely, the countries that have the lowest consumption of cow's milk (Hong Kong, Singapore), have the lowest rate of hip fractures.

The best sources of calcium are:
* green leafy vegetables like kale, turnip greens, dandelion greens, mustard greens and collards
 (except for spinach which is high in oxalic acid that binds the calcium)
* broccoli, bok choy and okra
* blackstrap molasses
* soybeans, 
* calcium-set tofu
* oranges
* sesame seeds and tahini
* chia seeds and flax seeds
* almonds and almond butter
* Brazil nuts
* dried figs
* dried herbs like savory, celery seed, thyme, dill, etc.

Greens are a great source of calcium

Other Things to Consider
Besides diet, one of the most important things you can do to build strong bones is to exercise. And it's never to late to start! Studies have shown an increase of bone calcium in post-menopausal women who adopted an exercise regime of aerobic activity like walking, dance, etc, together with strength-training exercises. 

What should I do?
So you can see that one size does not fit all. If you eat lots of animal food, heavily salt your food, drink tons of coffee, soda and alcohol and follow it up with a handful of anti-acids while sitting on the couch, you probably are losing bone and are depleting your body of calcium at a pretty good rate. If you and your doctor feel that you must supplement, here are a few guidelines that I live by:
* Take into account all the calcium you are consuming from food before you decide how much to supplement. This includes fortified orange juice, fortified cereals and bread and all of the high calcium foods listed above. Even the tap and mineral water you drink can contribute significant amounts of calcium per day. Add it up, you may be getting more than you think!
* Pick a supplement that is absorbable. I prefer calcium citrate and avoid calcium carbonate that requires stomach acid for absorption. 
* If you take a calcium supplement, balance it out with magnesium. Experts suggest taking at least one half as much magnesium as calcium up to equal amounts.  
* Make sure you are getting enough vitamin D
* Divide your doses of calcium throughout the day so that you never exceed 250 mg of calcium per dose. Some set the limit higher than that but I don't feel comfortable taking that much, especially in light of this recent study.
* Get some exercise.

If on the other hand you have a plant-based diet, exercise, don't drink soda, coffee or too much alcohol, and aren't taking medications, you may not need to supplement much or at all. 
I personally only take one 250 mg calcium supplement per day in the form of a calcium-magnesium combination. On days I drink fortified almond milk, I skip my supplement all together. Since a recent test showed my bone density to be normal for my age, I don't plan to raise it. I don't consume dairy products of any kind so the leafy greens must be doing the trick! 

My Main Message
My message to you today is to be very careful about chugging down the calcium pills. And pay particular attention to how much is already in fortified foods. I've recently noticed that many non-dairy milks are heavily fortified with calcium. It's a bit unclear what RDA they are referring to when they state "provides 35% RDA" since the daily requirement changes with age and gender  (1,000 mg to 1,300 mg). But a cup of non-dairy milk that provides 35% of the RDA could be providing 350 mg to 455 mg of calcium. And some fortified milks brag that they provide even more! These levels of fortification can be dangerous. 

February 24, 2013 UPDATE
A 19 year study in Sweden on the Long term calcium intake and rates of all cause and cardiovascular mortality, BMJ 2013  showed an increased risk of death from all causes of death and cardiovascular disease, but not from stroke, for women who had a high intake of calcium, especially when it was from supplements. 
* Women whose intake of calcium of 1,400 mg or more per day from their diet were 40% more likely to die compared to women whose intake was 600 mg to 1,000 mg per day.
* Their risk of death increased to 157% higher if, in addition, they were also taking a 500 mg calcium supplement.