Tag Archives: Nutrition

Food Cravings and What They Mean

Food Cravings and What They MeanFor a long time, many scientists denied that food cravings had any relevance. There was some logic to their claim. After all, Americans frequently crave chips, candy, and soda—foods that are detrimental to the body rather than helpful.

However, a close observation of many animals shows that they have an innate ability to select foods that contain nutrients that they are lacking. Could it be that mankind can do the same?

Newer research says yes! While we may attempt to satisfy our cravings in ways that are not beneficial (e.g., chips, candy, and soda), it does not negate the fact that a craving is our body’s plea for some inputs. Many cravings are associated with real mineral deficiencies or imbalances. Others are cravings are associated with various parts of the brain and may therefore suggest lifestyle changes that need to be made.

Let’s take a look at some common food cravings and what they mean.

Food Categories

  • Refined carbohydrates. Foods in this group include bread and pasta. This type of craving is associated with many different things, including nitrogen deficiency, yeast overgrowth, and low estrogen or progesterone levels. Another possibility is that you have been restricting your carb intake too tightly. A super-low-carb diet may cause your body to rebel and seek out more carbohydrates. A carb craving may also suggest that your mood is too low and that you could use the serotonin boost that comes from eating carbs. Note, however, that caving to the craving in this case may be counterproductive, as the boost will be short-lived and will eventually leave you wanting more.
  • Sugars. Sugary foods are a rather broad category. Not surprisingly, a craving for sweets may therefore indicate a need for one of several nutrients. Common deficiencies associated with sugar cravings are chromium, carbon, phosphorus, sulfur, and tryptophan. Sugar is also frequently associated with pleasant memories and happy feelings, making it a go-to for many who could use some positivity. Factors that can contribute to a sugar craving include stress, lack of food, or lack of sleep. But watch out—because sugar stimulates dopamine release, it is addictive!
  • Meat. Craving meat may mean more than just a need for more protein—it may be this craving could be signaling a vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as B12 or iron. Meat cravings are also observed in those who are eating a diet disproportionately skewed toward carbohydrates.
  • Dairy. Craving dairy products of all types often suggests a calcium or magnesium deficiency. However, it may also signal emotional stress, because these nutrients can be depleted under such circumstances. Full-fat dairy products are particularly appealing at such times because they contain tryptophan, which in turn stimulates serotonin release.
  • Fatty or oily foods. Surprisingly, fat cravings can be associated with calcium deficiency. But even more intriguing may be the effects of such foods on the brain. Fatty foods remain in the stomach for a while, taking a long time to digest relative to other foods. At the same time, many people who crave fat are extremely busy, perhaps even hectic. Some nutritionists speculate that the constant fullness that fat provides may offer a sensation of stability. Finally, eating a diet too low in fat may cause fat craving, so make sure you include some healthy saturated fats in your diet.
  • Crunchy foods. For many, chewing on something crunchy is a way to relieve stress. Those who regularly go to crunchy foods may be dealing with a great deal of frustration in their lives.
  • Caffeinated beverages. The primary cravings associated with this category are for tea or coffee, but may include soda. Caffeine cravings can signal several different deficiencies, including iron, phosphorus, sulfur, and sodium chloride (salt). Caffeine is also a go-to for many who are dealing with stress, mental exhaustion, lack of sleep, or adrenal fatigue, as it tends to keep the mind feeling sharp. Keep in mind, too, that caffeinated beverages are habit-forming—you may simply be craving coffee today because you had it yesterday.
  • Carbonated drinks. Craving carbonated drinks suggests a calcium deficiency.

Flavors

  • Salty. Salty food cravings may indicate either dehydration or a deficiency in silicon, chloride, or both nutrients. Some women may experience salt cravings prior to menstruation. An ongoing need for salt can be associated with anemia, adrenal fatigue or insufficiency, or a renal problem. Note that many people who regularly go for salty foods may actually be seeking the crunch, rather than truly craving salt or salty flavors.
  • Acidic. People who crave acidic foods may need more magnesium in their diet, or they simply might need more acid. Your stomach acid is designed to be super-acidic, and an incorrect pH can lead to a great deal of digestive discomfort.
  • Spicy. A craving for spicy foods like salsa and chili may suggest that the body could use some assistance in regulating its temperature. The hot peppers that give food its heat contain capsaicin, which speeds up the metabolism and prompts the body to produce more heat. Still crave spicy foods when it’s hot outside? The heat-producing effects of capsaicin can, paradoxically, help the body cool off by prompting a sweat.

Food Cravings and What They MeanSpecific Foods

  • Celery. Craving celery is most common among people who are anemic due to iron deficiency.
  • Onions. Onions may be related to a sulfur deficiency. Sulfur is necessary for liver function.
  • Pickles. Pickles and pickle brine are highly acidic. Believe it or not, acid is actually good for your stomach (after all, your stomach is made to be filled with extremely potent acid), helping ease indigestion. The sodium in pickles may have the added benefit of helping you stay hydrated.
  • Nuts and cashews. If you are craving salted nuts only, then you might actually be experiencing a salt craving. If, however, you can’t get enough nuts in any form, you might need more magnesium.
  • Beef. If the food you want most is a steak, you may simply need a little more protein in your diet. But another possibility is that you need more vitamins and minerals. The most common deficiency associated with craving red meats such as beef is iron deficiency. Other deficiencies to watch for include folic acid, vitamin B12, and magnesium. If you are still craving beef after your meal, it is possible that your digestive system is not working efficiently, perhaps due to a slow metabolism.
  • Fish. Craving all types of fish may mean that you need more protein in your diet. Craving oily or salty fish (e.g., sardines) specifically may mean that your body could use some calcium or sodium.
  • Cheese. Cheese may signal a need for more protein, fat, calcium, vitamin D, or tryptophan.
  • Cinnamon. Cinnamon craving may actually be a sign of a sugar craving if the treats you are craving are ooey, gooey cinnamon rolls and the like. If this is not the case and you are truly craving cinnamon, then it is possible that you need more manganese, about the only nutrient cinnamon is known for.
  • Chips. Chips typically fall into the crunchiness category, although a craving for chips could alternatively be a salt or fat craving.
  • Candy. This is a manifestation of a sugar craving.
  • Chocolate. Chocolate cravings are most commonly reported in people who are deficient in magnesium. Magnesium keeps the nerves on an even keel, producing a sensation of relaxation. Other nutrient deficiencies associated with chocolate craving include copper, chromium, B vitamins, and various fatty acids. Chocolate is also a mood-boosting food that activates the pleasure centers of the brain, prompts serotonin production, and encourages the body to relax despite stress. Premenstrual hormone shifts may cause a chocolate craving, although oddly enough these cravings do not typically abate after menopause.

A Little More Unusual…

  • Burnt food. While this craving may seem a little bizarre to the uninitiated, it is actually quite simple when you get to the bottom of it. People who can’t seem to get enough burnt food need more carbon in their diet.
  • Vinegar. Not surprisingly, craving vinegar may suggest a pH imbalance in the body. But there are other possibilities, too—a desire to actually drink vinegar may signal an overgrowth of fungus in the system or perhaps a potassium deficiency.
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG tends to create its own cravings. Besides being delicious when added to savory foods, it stimulates appetite, keeping you coming back for more over and over again.
  • Ice. People who find chewing on ice cubes to be irresistible may benefit from more iron in their diet. This urge may be more common in children or pregnant women. Here’s a hint—you will probably satisfy your craving much faster by going for some spinach, beans, or red meat rather than ice cubes.
  • A liquid diet. Preferring to take in your meals in the form of a beverage to the exclusion of solid foods may suggest that you are dehydrated.
  • More! Some people just crave food and lots of it, often continuing to eat even after they feel full. These people might benefit from more silicone, tryptophan, or tyrosine. In some cases, continuing to want food despite feeling full can suggest a condition that is impairing proper nutrient absorption, such as a food intolerance or insulin resistance.
  • Less. Finally, those who crave nothing more than the absence of food could probably use some additional chloride, manganese, vitamin B1, or vitamin B3 in their diet.

How to Use This Information

While hyper-analyzing your dietary preferences is not usually productive, being aware of your body’s needs can be very helpful. If you find that you repeatedly crave something, there could be a reason. Likewise, if you find that you have several cravings that point in the same direction, you may want to take note.

Needless to say, going to junk food to satisfy your cravings is generally not a good idea. Besides the long-term ramifications of a poor-quality diet, many sugars and processed foods tend to be habit-forming, leaving you wanting more without ever really satisfying the need. It is best to supply your body with whole foods, and a wide variety of them. So if you are craving vegetables or real meats, dig in! But if your preferences tend toward potato chips, candy, or ice cubes, you may want to find a high-quality source of the nutrients you are most likely needing.

Also pay attention to cravings that may suggest a lifestyle change is needed. Do all the signs point to excess stress? Consider the likely causes of your stress and seek to remedy them. Are you frequently in need of a mood boost? Try incorporating moderate exercise and some pleasurable activities into your daily routine.

As long as your body is not addicted to processed foods and the like, it can tell you a great deal about what it needs. Listen up!

Getting Started With Livestock Part 3: Diet

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietKeeping your animals on pasture obviously has financial benefits, and you’ve probably heard of the numerous health benefits, as well. Even nonruminants like pigs and poultry can derive a great portion of their diet from the pasture, although they will need some type of supplemental feed. So how do you make it all work?

Pasture

The key to using pasture as your sole or primary animal feed is to keep it in good shape. This means you can’t let your livestock trample or graze it into the dirt. The best way to avoid this is to ration pasture out just like you would feed—you give the animals a small space for a day or maybe a couple of days and then move them onto a fresh paddock. You keep working your way across your pastures in this fashion.

This is just a very superficial overview of rotational and management-intensive grazing methods. There’s actually a whole art to it, which is way beyond the scope of this post. Check the Helpful Resources below for more information.

Another thing you’ll have to think about is how many animals you can safely keep on your land. Stocking rates vary widely (sometimes even on the same property). Five acres per cow-calf pair seems to be the average in most parts of Kansas.

The cow-calf pair can in turn be used as a standard of measure, known as the animal unit, to calculate stocking rates for other types of livestock. Thus, on our average five Kansas acres, we could place one of the following options:

  • 1 cow-calf pair.
  • 1 stocker calf.
  • 3 ewe-lamb pairs.
  • 5 mature goats.
  • 1 pony (not a full-sized horse).
  • 1 bison.
  • 1 elk.

Stocking rates for pastured pork production have not received as much attention as those for other animals, so be prepared to do your own hands-on field research. A good starting point is to plan on about 10 pigs for every acre. Young, newly weaned pigs can be stocked more densely, while sows with litters will require more space.

Note that there are many variables that will affect your stocking rate. A 1,500-pound beef cow will require 1-1/2 times as much pasture as a 1,000-pound beef cow, for instance. Irrigation can squeeze more forage production out of your land. Also, simple attention to good grazing management will almost certainly raise your stocking rate above that of your neighbors!

Always err on the safe side when it comes to stocking rate. If you have a little more grass than your livestock need, it’s not a serious problem, but if you’re stuck with hungry animals, you’ll find yourself either buying hay or selling animals. Both can be painful, especially in a drought when everybody else is doing the same thing. A good rule of thumb is that if you don’t have enough experience to look at your land and roughly gauge how many animals you can put on it, you probably don’t need very many animals (at least not yet). Some experienced graziers recommend starting with herds as small as two to five head when learning grazing management.

Even in the winter, you may be able to keep your animals on pasture with proper planning. Stockpiling forage and planting cool-season grasses are two techniques for extending the grazing season and minimizing hay and feed consumption. Some animals, particularly dry beef cows, may even be able to thrive on dormant range grass in the winter with a protein supplement.

Harvested Forages

Of course, winter brings an end to the grazing season. Then what? Fortunately, hay and silage offer grain-free options.

Keep in mind that the quality of your harvested forage is very important. Animals cannot thrive on moldy hay, which can be a problem if the hay was improperly harvested or stored. Furthermore, blister beetles are toxic and can be a major problem in hay, particularly if you are feeding horses, so keep an eye out. Finally, remember that any pungent odors or flavors in hay for dairy animals will end up in your family’s milk supply!

The nutrient profile of the hay will depend on the types of forages that went into it. Legume hay is particularly noteworthy, as its high protein content can be absolutely essential or a needless expense, depending on what types of animals you have in what stages of production. Lactating animals will require more nutrition than dry animals (which is why it’s generally advisable to time breeding so that livestock will give birth when the weather is warm and the pastures are lush).

When it comes to sourcing harvested forage, you have three main options:

  • Harvest it yourself.
  • Have it custom-baled on your land.
  • Purchase it.

Determining which option is best for you is largely a matter of putting pencil to paper to work out the dollars and cents of the question. Also keep in mind that harvesting your own hay offers you more control over the quality but can be very expensive on a small scale. Purchasing hay, provided that it is good quality, offers an opportunity to bring in a natural source of soil fertility from outside, but it can also introduce noxious weeds and similar difficulties.

Getting Started with Livestock Part 3: DietFeed

Some animals will need feed to perform well and stay healthy. With these animals, you will have to be careful to keep your costs down without sacrificing the quality of their diet. Poultry and swine typically need some grain for peak health and performance. While ruminants are generally healthier without grain, some genetic lines (particularly among dairy animals) are bred for high production levels and may require feeding to avoid a breakdown. Horses may require supplemental feeding in winter or if working hard on a regular basis.

All this said, many animals are fed far more than is strictly necessary or even healthy. When determining whether or not your livestock will require feed, it is important to take genetics into account. If your goal is to minimize feed costs as much as possible, you will do well to seek out low-maintenance breeds, and low-maintenance genetics within those breeds. Thankfully, every livestock species still has breeds (typically heritage breeds) adapted to rustling their own living off the land.

Also consider your production system. Minimizing feed costs requires good attention to grazing management, and the smaller your property, the more important grazing management becomes. Furthermore, avoiding feed will often require some sacrifices, such as breeding in sync with the climate and accepting lower production levels.

What about growing your own grain for feed? Well, it just depends. Not only can creating a balanced ration be something of an art, the cost of making the feed can quickly add up to more than the purchase price elsewhere. Do the math. Does it make sense financially? Also, can you consistently guarantee the quantity and quality that your animals will need to stay healthy, particularly when first starting out?

Supplements

What kinds of supplements (if any) you need will largely depend on what kind of animals you have and where you live. Two people rarely agree on one magic formula. Many advocates of natural ways of raising all types of ruminants swear by kelp, and free-choice salt is also recommended in many situations. But what if your chickens are laying hens? Then you might want oyster shell or a feed that contains oyster shell. And what if you have dairy animals? You may need to consider a variety of vitamin supplements to keep them in top form. And what if your pastures are particularly poor? You may need a general-purpose stock lick.

The only way to know for sure what supplements will be necessary for your livestock is to do your research and then try it out. See what deficiencies are most common in your area to get off to a good start, but also be prepared to adjust down the road.

Planning a healthy diet for your animals is probably the most critical as far as your finances and their health are concerned, so take your time. Once you have a rough plan to reach your production, animal health, and food quality goals, you are ready to start looking into your breed options.

Helpful Resources

What is Management-Intensive Grazing?
An introduction to meeting the needs of both pastures and animals. Includes plenty of additional reading material.

Intensive Grazing: An Introductory Homestudy Course
For those who just want the basics of grazing management, this bulletin packs a great deal of essential information into a concise format.

What are Animal Units?
How to figure out how many animals your land can support.

Vitamins
Our own guide to the functions and natural sources of vitamins, along with symptoms of deficiency and toxicity.

Pros and Cons of Drinking Coffee

Pros and Cons of Drinking CoffeeIs drinking coffee good for your health? Or is it bad for you?

Often, we seem to receive conflicting information on this subject from the media.

And while there are good reasons we probably really don’t want a straight answer to the question…some of us are just too curious to resist the urge to dig a little deeper!

So, is that morning joe beneficial or not, strictly from a health standpoint? Let’s find out.

Note that this post will strictly examine black coffee—not sweetened or flavored coffee beverages. Introducing flavored syrups to the equation definitely dips the balance in the direction of unhealthy.

Pros

  • B vitamins. Coffee contains two important B vitamins—B2 (riboflavin) and B5 (pantothenic acid). Vitamin B2 helps the body process other dietary nutrients, while vitamin B5 maintains digestive and adrenal health, among other things.
  • Potassium and magnesium. Caffeine is not the sole benefit from coffee. Coffee happens to contain potassium and magnesium. Granted, there are many more potent sources of potassium and magnesium, but if your diet is deficient in fruits and vegetables, the coffee is probably what’s keeping you going.
  • Antioxidants. You know what antioxidants are—those celebrated substances that help your immune system ward off free radicals. A serving of coffee often contains more antioxidants than some fruits!
  • Improved physical performance and endurance. The caffeine in coffee raises your adrenaline levels, in turn enhancing your physical output. Here’s a tip for maximizing the benefits—drink your coffee black, and enjoy it about an hour before exercising. Drinking coffee has also been linked with improved endurance in long-duration physical activities.
  • Improved cognitive function. Drinking anywhere from one to six cups of coffee a day will give you a dose of caffeine sufficient to keep you alert and focused. Some researchers have even found that coffee drinkers learn new information more readily than non-drinkers. Want an even bigger boost? Pairing a cup of coffee with something sweet appears to improve attention levels and working memory better than either treat alone.
  • Improved mood. Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and promotes the production of key neurotransmitters, which in turn are necessary for mood health.
  • Reduced risk of Parkinson’s disease. Some research suggests that coffee may reduce the risk by as much as 25%! Caffeine appears to stimulate the part of the brain affected by Parkinson’s and to protect the brain cells that produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter crucial for preventing the disease. Men appear to benefit more than women in this area.
  • Reduced risk of stroke. Drinking three to four cups of coffee a day is associated with a lower risk of stroke. These benefits can be reaped from decaffeinated coffee as well as caffeinated. Note, however, that those who are not used to drinking coffee may see a sudden increase in their risk of stroke immediately after consumption.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease. Some studies have demonstrated that drinking two to three cups of coffee a day can lower your risk of heart disease by 21%. The benefits appear to wane for those who drink six or more cups each day. Women appear to benefit from coffee consumption more than men in this area.
  • Reduced risk of liver damage. This one applies only to people who are otherwise at risk for liver disease, and the benefits are largely lost in filtered coffee. Several substances found in French press or boiled coffee are associated with lower enzyme levels, which in turn are associated with less liver inflammation and damage.
  • Reduced risk of diabetes. Although drinking coffee can cause a short-term blood sugar spike, habitual coffee consumption can help stabilize your insulin levels, reduce your glucose absorption, and help your body process what glucose it does absorb more efficiently. Three to six cups a day appears to maximize the benefit. Also, decaffeinated coffee produces the same effect as caffeinated in this regard.
  • Reduced risk of stones. Consistent coffee consumption may prevent cholesterol from crystallizing in the gallbladder in the form of stones, and it may keep the system flushed out by increasing bile flow. Coffee is also beneficial in reducing the risk of kidney stones.
  • Reduced risk of cancer. Contrary to popular belief, science has failed to find a link between coffee and cancer. In fact, coffee is surprisingly powerful in its cancer-fighting ability for reasons ranging from anti-inflammatory effects to beneficial plant chemicals. Coffee’s cancer-fighting benefits appear to be particularly powerful in the areas of liver, colon, prostate, and endometrial cancers. Caffeine is also believed to prevent the development of basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer.

Cons

  • Potential for toxins. Not all coffee is created equal. Cheap coffee often contains impurities, including heavy doses of numerous herbicides and pesticides. These chemicals can in turn cause headaches or general feelings of sickness—not to mention add a cancer risk not found in the pure, unadulterated coffee bean. Also, the solvents used to make decaffeinated coffee may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Restlessness and anxiety. This is due to caffeine. Whether or not coffee will have this effect on you largely depends on whether you are genetically predisposed to caffeine sensitivity, and going cold turkey on caffeine can make the symptoms worse.
  • Insomnia. One of the well-known downsides of caffeine. Some people are genetically sensitive to caffeine and will have to find their own caffeine limit. For most people, though, the recommended safe maximum is four cups of coffee per day.
  • Increased risk of osteoporosis. Coffee causes the body to excrete calcium, which can in turn lead to brittle bones in people (especially women) who drink four or more cups a day. Fortunately, this effect can be counterbalanced fairly easily—just consume about two tablespoons of milk or yogurt for every cup of coffee you drink (you don’t have to put the dairy into the coffee to reap the benefits).
  • Stomach irritation. Caffeine and several other compounds found in coffee stimulate the stomach lining to produce more acid, which can in turn lead to a major stomachache in some people. When roasted, however, coffee beans produce another substance that blocks stomach acid production. Therefore, if your stomach is sensitive to coffee, you may be able to enjoy a darker roast. Cold brew and decaf are also options for those who suffer from stomach difficulties. As a final tip, eating something with your coffee will reduce the pain by giving the surplus acid something to work on.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux. If you already are prone to reflux, coffee can make it worse.
  • Dehydration. Coffee is a mild diuretic. While most scientists do not consider coffee to present any dehydration risk, and some even encourage counting a cup of coffee toward your daily fluid intake goals, the fact remains that many people do not drink enough water as it is. So be sure to balance out that extra cup of coffee with an extra glass of water.
  • Pregnancy risks. Unborn babies absorb caffeine all too readily, which has been associated with death and low birth weights. How much caffeine produces adverse effects is currently being debated, but drinking no more than one cup of coffee a day is a common recommendation.

Conclusion

So is coffee good for you? Most scientists still hesitate to go that far—but on the other hand most are now willing to concede that, as long as you are not a caffeine-sensitive individual, coffee probably isn’t bad for you. For most people, there is absolutely no reason not to enjoy a moderate amount (two to four cups) of coffee every day. You might even reap some health benefits.

Some people, however, are sensitive to the effects of caffeine. For them, what is typically termed “moderate” coffee consumption will probably produce side effects that are not enjoyable. While they do not necessarily have to forego coffee altogether, they may have to experiment to find a lower amount that will not wreak havoc on their nerves and digestive systems. These people will probably not be able to reap the full benefit of coffee consumption.

Whatever your coffee tolerance level is, enjoy it with a snack and follow it up with plenty of water. Some of the coffee benefits are maximized with a sweet treat, and the potential for stomach irritation will be minimized, as well. The water will help avoid dehydration due to the diuretic effect.

Finally, if you are really wanting to boost your vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels, you probably want to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your diet rather than relying on coffee to supply your deficit. Here’s a challenge—try eating some colors!

Helpful Resources

Coffee Warning Label Conflicts With Public Health Guidance
Is coffee really a potential carcinogen? Probably not.

Why the Human Body Needs Cholesterol

Why the Human Body Needs CholesterolCholesterol gets a bad rap these days. After all, doesn’t it harden up your arteries and cause heart disease?

Actually, there’s a little more to it than that. Cholesterol is necessary for human health. Here’s why.

Cholesterol and the Cell Membrane

The membrane of each cell in the human body is made up of two layers of lipids. One of the most important lipids that make up cell membranes is cholesterol. In some cells, cholesterol may even make up as much as 50% of the membrane!

Why does the cell membrane require so much cholesterol versus any other lipid? Because cholesterol is relatively rigid compared to many lipids. Cholesterol is the perfect ingredient for keeping cell membranes strong and proof against ion infiltration, while still being flexible enough to allow for a full range of body motions.

Because of its role in the cell membrane, cholesterol is an important part of how the body recovers from inflammation. Any time any part of the body is suffering from inflammation, cholesterol is quickly transported to the source of the problem to begin the process of building new healthy cells. (Ironically, it is the much-maligned LDL cholesterol that is sent to the scene to carry out the repairs.)

Cholesterol and Hormone Production

Cholesterol is an important precursor for the manufacture of several key hormones. The list of hormones that require cholesterol for synthesis includes:

  • Progesterone.
  • Estrogen.
  • Testosterone.
  • Cortisol (produced by the adrenal glands; used to regulate blood sugar and ward off infection).
  • Cortisone (produced by the adrenal glands; used to control the body’s fight/flight response).
  • Aldosterone (produced by the adrenal glands; used to regulate blood pressure, maintain proper sodium levels, and conserve water in the body).

Cholesterol and Digestion

Cholesterol is also used by the body to make bile. Bile is produced in the liver and aids in digesting food, particularly large fat globules. Ironically, without cholesterol to produce bile, the body would be unable to process fats, and the fats would accumulate in the bloodstream, block the arteries, and cause heart disease.

Also of importance, bile is needed to help the intestines absorb fat-soluble vitamins from food. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Cholesterol and Vitamin D Production

You’ve undoubtedly heard that your body can make its own vitamin D provided enough sunlight. Cholesterol is the secret ingredient in this process. When the sun hits your skin, it starts a chemical reaction that involves the conversion of cholesterol to vitamin D. This vitamin D then goes on to play a role in many body processes, ranging from mineral absorption to metabolism to immune response.

Cholesterol and the Immune System

By now, you may have noticed that cholesterol is important to good immune system function through its roles in hormone manufacture and vitamin D production. But there’s more! LDL cholesterol plays an additional role in the body’s defenses by attaching itself to bacterial toxins and neutralizing them.

Cholesterol and Nervous System Function

Did you know that the brain contains about 25% of the cholesterol volume of the entire human body? Cholesterol is key to the formation of brain synapses and neurotransmitters, both required for the proper firing of neurons. Proper neuron function is in turn necessary to the processes of learning and thinking. Low cholesterol has been associated with impaired mood, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Cholesterol is also an important part of the myelin sheath that insulates nerve cells.

Can Cholesterol Levels Drop Too Low?

All of this begs the question—is it possible to have cholesterol levels that are too low? While this scenario is not terribly common, it can happen.

First off, it is important to note that the human body typically manufactures most of its cholesterol. The average American male synthesizes about 1,000 mg of cholesterol daily, while he eats only an additional 307 mg daily. Biosynthesis of cholesterol is very important to keeping the body running, as most of the cholesterol found in food is relatively poorly absorbed. The intestines will only allow more dietary cholesterol absorption if the body is not producing enough cholesterol to meet its many requirements.

Therefore, because cholesterol manufactured by the body plays a more important role than cholesterol consumed in the diet, abnormally low cholesterol levels are typically caused by something that impairs the body’s ability to manufacture and use cholesterol, particularly statin use, genetic defects, and endocrine disorders such as hyperthyroidism.

The consequences of excessively low cholesterol are not well understood at present due to a dearth of research, but they may include cancer and cerebral hemorrhage, as well as premature births in pregnant women. In most cases, however, the cause of the low cholesterol levels is probably more dangerous than the low levels themselves.

Helpful Resource

Eat Your Egg Yolks
Still on the fence about eating the whole egg? There are many ways that a sunny homegrown egg yolk can boost your health.

Beef Tenderness and the Shear Force Test

Beef Tenderness and the Shear Force TestTenderness is critical to the meat-eating experience—nobody enjoys sinking their teeth into a tough steak.

A tried-and-true method of testing beef tenderness is the plain old taste test. These days, however, there are ways to objectively measure the precise tenderness of a cut of beef.

The Warner-Bratzler Shear Force Test

The Warner-Bratzler shear force test is named for the two men who worked together to create it. Kenneth F. Warner, a USDA research scientist, invented the test equipment in 1928. Lyman J. Bratzler, a K-State graduate, standardized the equipment and the test procedure a few years later.

The test is very simple. A one-inch-thick steak is collected from the 12th rib of the animal to be tested and is trimmed free of fat and bone. The steak is vacuum sealed and allowed to age for 14 days at temperatures at or just above freezing. After aging, the steak is then frozen for 14 days. Prior to testing, the steak is completely thawed in a refrigerator and broiled to medium doneness.

Once the cooked steak has cooled off, six to eight core samples, each half an inch (1.27 cm) in diameter, are collected for the test. The scientists performing the test measure the pounds or kilograms of force required to shear the cores completely in half using a steel blade specifically design to mimic the action of the human jaw. The mean for all the cores is considered the shear force for the animal.

On the Warner-Bratzler system, beef tenderloin typically has a shear force of around 5.7 lbs. (2.6 kg), while a top round steak has a shear force of around 11.7 lbs. (5.3 kg).

The Genetics of Tenderness

Tenderness is a heritable trait, and it is one that is heavily influenced by breed. Cattle breeds with the gene for double-muscling, such as the Belgian Blue, are extremely tender. At the other end of the spectrum, zebu breeds such as the Brahman tend to be on the tough side. Between the two extremes lie British breeds such as the Angus.

But there is typically some variation within each breed for the tenderness trait. Those seeking to improve the shear force test results of their cattle will do well to seek out bulls with bred-in tenderness genes. A sire’s genetic potential for tenderness can be determined through progeny testing. In the Brahman and Simmental breeds, a shear force EPD can also be used.

 Management Factors Affecting Tenderness

Of course, even the best beef genetics can be ruined by poor management. Tenderness starts with proper nutrition. Tenderness largely depends on intramuscular fat, not marbling. Marbling is only used as a measure of tenderness because it is typically associated with the presence of intramuscular fat, which is microscopic and nearly impossible to measure in the home kitchen. Intramuscular fat is contained in special fat cells that develop as cattle reach early adolescence. These cells must be filled if an animal is to produce tender beef, which means that the animal itself must be steadily gaining weight during the finishing process, whether it is finished on grain or grass. If the cattle lose weight while finishing, this is an indicator that the intramuscular fat levels have decreased and the meat has toughened. Steady weight gains require optimum nutrition, including adequate energy intake and properly balanced vitamin and mineral levels. While grain can fill up the fat cells faster than grass, it is entirely possible to produce tender beef on forage alone with proper planning.

Note that growth hormones do not increase beef tenderness—they simply increase muscle mass.

Younger animals are normally more tender than older animals, as they have had less time to develop connective tissue. However, there is a trade-off here, because younger animals also have had less time to deposit intramuscular fat. A beef animal that has reached the critical balance point between intramuscular fat and connective tissue is considered finished. This is where frame scoring comes into play—a large-framed animal grows slowly and takes much longer to finish than a small- or moderate-framed animal.

One of the most important management factors influencing beef tenderness is the procedure at the slaughter facility, as stress will cause adrenaline levels to spike and muscles to tense. Low-stress transport and a quick, humane kill are necessary for keeping meat at its most tender.

Even after slaughter, the beef carcass must still be handled properly to ensure tenderness. Aging is a key factor, as it allows natural enzymes to begin the process of softening up the muscle. Aging takes place at low temperatures to prevent problems with bacterial growth. The carcass is typically placed in a plastic bag during the aging process to avoid oxidation.

The final step of producing tender beef is left up to the consumer, and that is cooking. As beef is cooked to higher levels of doneness, it becomes steadily tougher. Intramuscular fat is required to keep a steak tender when cooked to well done. Very lean beef and low-grade cuts can still provide an enjoyable eating experience when slow cooked, as this gives the collagen holding the steak together time to melt.

Helpful Resource

Beef Cattle Talk: A Glossary
More information for those unfamiliar with some of the terms used in this post.

Beef Cattle Talk: A Glosssary

Beef Cattle Talk: A GlossaryNo matter what type of cattle they raise and in what way, cattle producers speak a slightly different language than everyday American English. To the newbie, this peculiar vocabulary can be baffling.

Allow us to elucidate a few of the most common terms:

 

  • 3 in 1: A pregnant cow with a calf at her side.
  • AI: Short for artificial insemination.
  • All natural: Raised without antibiotics, steroids, or growth hormones.
  • Backgrounding: The process of growing a weaned calf to prepare it for finishing. The increase in size that results from backgrounding is primarily due to the development of bone and muscle, not fattening.
  • Base weight: The estimated net weight of a group of cattle on delivery day. Used to calculate final sales price.
  • Body condition score: A measure of the amount of flesh and fat an animal is carrying. Find out how it works here.
  • Broken mouth: A mouth that is starting to lose teeth.
  • Closed herd: A herd into which no outside breeding stock is ever introduced. A closed herd produces all of its own herd sires and replacement heifers.
  • Club calf: A calf bred for showing at 4-H or FFA shows. Eye appeal is a major factor in what makes a good club calf.
  • Composite: A breed formed by combining several other breeds at specific percentages. A more complete explanation can be found here.
  • Concentrate: Highly digestible feed high in energy but low in fiber.
  • Conformation: How well the physical appearance of an animal conforms to a standard, whether that is a formal written show standard or just the commonly accepted views of how cattle should be built for soundness and productivity. By extension, conformation has also come to refer simply to the physical appearance of the animal without any reference to a standard.
  • Corriente: Properly a specific breed descended from Spanish cattle. Sometimes also used to refer to nondescript roping cattle, particularly those of Mexican origin.
  • Cutability: How much lean, salable meat a carcass can produce relative to the amount of waste fat.
  • Dewlap: Loose folds of skin hanging from the bottom of the neck, indicative of zebu influence.
  • Double-muscling: Having a genetic mutation leading to uncontrolled muscle growth, evidenced by an odd, heavy-muscled appearance. Characteristic of the Belgian Blue breed.
  • Dry: Not lactating.
  • Dystocia: Calving difficulties.
  • Easy fleshing: Able to maintain or gain weight readily on only low-cost feed, particularly forage.
  • EPD: Expected progeny difference. How the offspring of a given sire will perform for a given trait compared to others of the same breed. A more complete explanation can be found here.
  • ET: Embryo transfer, not extraterrestrial. The process of removing embryos from a donor cow and implanting them into recipient cows. A technique used to maximize the genetic potential of a cow by enabling her to have more offspring than is naturally possible.
  • Exotic: Typically a Continental breed (see more here). Sometimes also applied to unusual bovines such as miniature cattle, bison, beefalo, or yaks.
  • Exposed: The cow in question was pastured with a bull. She might be pregnant, but there is no guarantee.
  • F1: Stands for “first filial generation.” The first generation of a cross.
  • Fancy: Exceptionally good eye appeal, conformation, and femininity. Also exceptionally expensive.
  • Feed conversion: Units of feed consumed relative to units of weight gained. Also referred to as “feed efficiency.”
  • Feeder calf: A calf that has been weaned but is not yet being finished. A rather loose term, but generally refers to older, larger calves that have already gone through the stocker phase and are now ready to go a feedlot.
  • Finishing: The final stage of feeding an animal destined for slaughter. Many cattle are finished on grain at a feedlot. Grass-finished cattle are finished on forage.
  • FOB: Free on board, or freight on board. The geographical place at which ownership of a group of cattle changes hands. Significant because the new owner is responsible for shipping costs after this point.
  • Frame score: An evaluation of the skeletal size of an animal based on hip height. Frame scores are related to both carcass weight and maintenance requirements. Read more here.
  • Freemartin: A heifer that was born twin to a bull calf. Most freemartins are infertile.
  • Gate cut: A method of equitably sorting cattle if a buyer is not taking the entire group. The cattle are placed in a corral and every third (or fourth or fifth or etc.) animal to come out of the alley goes to the buyer.
  • Genotype: The genetic makeup of an animal.
  • Green broke: Has had some halter training, but is not yet thoroughly trained.
  • Hanging weight: The weight of a beef carcass after the nonedible parts, such as head and organs, are removed.
  • Hard doer: Always in poor health and condition, regardless of management.
  • Harvest: Slaughter.
  • Heterosis: Hybrid vigor. The degree to which crossbred calves excel their purebred parents in performance traits.
  • Marbling: Intramuscular fat. Used to determine the USDA quality grade of a carcass.
  • Mastitis: Infection of the mammary glands.
  • Maternal traits: Traits that make a cow a good mother. Precisely which traits are considered maternal varies per producer, but the idea is that a cow with maternal ability is one that can consistently raise a hefty calf each year.
  • Maverick: An unbranded animal.
  • MiG: Management-intensive grazing. A system of matching animal nutritional needs to changing forage resources. Rotational grazing is a tool used in MiG, but MiG is far more than just rotational grazing. Read more here.
  • OCV: Official calfhood vaccinate. An animal that received a brucellosis vaccination as a calf, generally necessary to ship cattle across state lines.
  • Open: Not pregnant.
  • Pedigree: The family tree of an animal.
  • Phenotype: The visible animal and its performance traits, as distinct from its genetic background. A phenotype is influenced by genetics, but there can be environmental effects affecting the final product, and there might be genes with masked effects. Thus the difference between phenotype and genotype.
  • Polled: Hornless.
  • Post-legged: Having unusually straight back legs. A conformation defect that causes abnormal movement.
  • Prepotency: The ability of a bull to “stamp” his offspring so that they resemble him to a particularly marked degree. Usually seen in inbred bulls with many dominant genes paired together.
  • Progeny test: A method of estimating the genetic merit of a sire by evaluating the performance of his progeny.
  • Proven: Has had offspring. Hopefully good ones, but that depends on the honesty of the person saying it.
  • Reference sire: A bull with a known track record used as a benchmark in progeny testing.
  • Replacement heifer: A heifer that has been chosen to become a producing cow in the herd.
  • Running iron: A branding iron used to draw rather than stamp a brand. Illegal in some areas due to its longtime association with cattle rustlers.
  • Saddle iron: A short branding iron made be carried on the saddle. It does not have a handle, but instead is made to use any stick found along the trail.
  • Scurs: Bony hornlike growths attached to the skin of the head. Read more here.
  • Seedstock: Breeding animals sold as a genetic package as distinct from commercial animals sold for production purposes.
  • Shrink: The amount of weight an animal loses under stress.
  • Sickle-hocked: Having back legs bent at too sharp of an angle.
  • Sire summary: A record of the EPDs for current sires published by a national cattle evaluation program.
  • Slide: A method of adjusting the final sale price based on variation of the actual net weight of the cattle from their base weight.
  • Smooth mouth: A mouth without teeth.
  • Soggy: Deep-bodied, big-bellied, and in average to heavy condition. A sign of an easy-fleshing animal.
  • Springer: A cow or heifer expected to calve soon.
  • Stockers: Weaned cattle in a forage-based backgrounding program.
  • Synchronize: Treat cows or heifers with hormones to synchronize their estrous cycles. This is a convenience when using artificial insemination.
  • Terminal sire: A bull used to raise calves strictly for market, not breeding purposes.
  • Texas gate: A cattle guard.
  • Trim: Having a clean silhouette with no dewlap or other loose, hanging skin and flesh that might indicate zebu influence.
  • Upgrade: Increase the numbers of or introduce desired genes into a pure breed by introducing outside blood and breeding the crossbred offspring back to the desired parent breed. After several generations, the offspring become nearly pure. Read more here.
  • Yield grade: A 5-point scoring system used to measure cutability, with grade 1 being the highest yield of lean meat and grade 5 being the lowest.

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu Tips

Eat Your Colors: Blue and White, Plus Menu TipsHaving fun eating your reds, oranges, and greens? On to blues and whites!

 

Blue and Purple

Blue and purple colors in produce are created by the pigment anthocyanin. The darker the color, the greater the amount of pigment present.

Nutrients found in the blue/purple group include:

  • Fiber.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Vitamin C.

Blue/purple fruits and vegetables are serious soldiers on the front lines of your body’s defense systems. They keep the immune system in peak condition, actively fighting carcinogens and combating inflammation throughout the body. The blues and purples improve the absorption of calcium and other minerals, keep the blood pressure balanced, and keep the digestive system running smoothly. They may also promote circulatory health by preventing clotting. To top it off, the anthocyanins concentrated in these fruits and vegetables have been linked to a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

Eager to tap into the powers of the blues and purples? Try some of the purple varieties of this produce:

  • Asparagus.
  • Blackberries.
  • Blueberries.
  • Cabbage.
  • Eggplants.
  • Figs.
  • Grapes (and raisins).
  • Plums.
  • Peppers.
  • Pomegranates.
  • Potatoes.

 

White

Can white fruits and vegetables offer any nutritional value? Yes! They receive their unique color from anthoxanthins—pale pigments with antioxidant effects.

Check out some of these nutrients:

  • Allicin (a natural chemical that promotes heart health).
  • Beta glucans (necessary for white blood cell health).
  • Potassium.

The whites have surprising amounts of immune-boosting ability. Furthermore, they offer nutrients critical to maintaining a proper balance of hormones throughout the body.

What fruits and vegetables have white varieties? Try some of these:

  • Bananas.
  • Cauliflower.
  • Corn.
  • Dates.
  • Garlic.
  • Ginger.
  • Kohlrabi.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Onions.
  • Pears (brown-skinned varieties).
  • Potatoes.
  • Shallots.
  • Turnips.

 

Suggestions for Eating Your Colors

Take a look at the color of your current diet. Could it best be described as beige? That probably means you are eating too much processed and packaged food (e.g., crackers). Time to incorporate the rainbow into your diet!

There is no specific formula to follow here. The key word is variety. The idea is to regularly incorporate a mix of colors into your diet, and this can be incredibly simple. One recommendation dieticians sometimes make is to check your grocery cart and make sure you’re buying several categories of produce—if you only have one color represented, swap a few items out with produce of other colors before you make your purchase. Gardeners, notice that each category includes both cool-season and warm-season plants; if you aim for variety in your planting schedule you should be able to harvest a rainbow throughout the season.

Note that to gain the maximum benefit from most of these fruits and vegetables, you should eat the skin whenever possible, as that is where many of the pigments and nutrients are stored. We recommend using this natural veggie wash to remove wax, dirt, and other contaminants first.

What about winter? Never fear! Frozen fruits and vegetables retain much of their color and nutritional value, making frozen produce a viable and very healthy option for those times when you just can’t get it fresh.

Cooking up a balanced blend of vitamins and minerals can be simple! Just enjoy a mix of colors on your plate on a daily basis.

 

Helpful Resources

Vegetables
Our own guide to growing, storing, and preparing produce simply.

Cookbooks
Need more tips for making the most of fruits and vegetables? Try out some of these real-food-focused cookbooks.

Eat Your Colors: Red, Orange, and Green

Eat Your ColorsTired of counting calories? Some health experts are now proposing an alternative—counting colors.

The pigments that give fruits and vegetables their varied, luscious hues are associated with nutrients important for peak health. Eating a variety of colors helps ensure that we receive a balanced mix of vitamins and minerals.

Here are some common colors and their associated nutrients.

 

Red

Some red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes and watermelons, derive their color from lycopene, an important antioxidant. Others, such as grapes and strawberries, receive their rosy hue from anthocyanins.

The red family of nutrients includes:

  • Folate.
  • Lycopene.
  • Quercetin (a natural antioxidant and allergy fighter).
  • Vitamin C.

This nutrient group contains important antioxidants that remove free radicals from the body and reduce the risk of some types of cancer and tumors. Fruits and vegetables in the red family are associated with lowered blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels. They appear to have beneficial effects in arthritis patients.

Ready to eat your reds? Try the red varieties of some of these fruits and vegetables:

  • Apples.
  • Cherries.
  • Cranberries.
  • Grapefruit.
  • Grapes.
  • Radicchio.
  • Radishes.
  • Raspberries.
  • Rhubarb.
  • Onions.
  • Peppers (sweet or hot).
  • Potatoes.
  • Strawberries.
  • Tomatoes (including sauce; cooking tomato sauce lowers vitamin C levels but enhances the absorption of lycopene).
  • Watermelon.

 

Orange and Yellow

Nutrients commonly found in this color family include:

  • Folate.
  • Carotenoids, including beta carotene.
  • Flavonoids.
  • Lutein (protects the eye from cataracts and macular degeneration).
  • Lycopene.
  • Potassium.
  • Vitamin C.

This group can be divided into two groups—citrus and everything else. Citrus does not boast the beta carotene levels of vegetables like carrots, but it is much higher in folate and vitamin C.

Not surprisingly, there are many antioxidants and immune boosters in this group. But there are more goodies that you will find here! The orange/yellow group promotes the building of bones and connective tissue, and it helps ensure healthy pH and blood sugar balances in the body. And, of course, the lutein and beta carotene in carrots and other orange produce will keep your eyes healthy by protecting them from cataracts, inflammation, and age-related degeneration.

Try some of the orange and yellow varieties of these plants:

  • Apricots.
  • Cantaloupe.
  • Carrots.
  • Corn.
  • Lemons.
  • Mangoes.
  • Nectarines.
  • Oranges.
  • Peaches.
  • Peppers.
  • Pineapples.
  • Potatoes.
  • Squash (summer and winter).
  • Sweet potatoes.

 

Green and Yellow-Green

That beautiful green color in fruits and vegetables comes from the pigment chlorophyll.

Here are some of the benefits of eating your greens:

  • Beta carotene.
  • Calcium.
  • Fiber.
  • Folic acid.
  • Isothiocyanates (natural compounds that stimulate the liver to flush out carcinogens).
  • Lutein.
  • Vitamin C.
  • Vitamin K.

Note that this group can be subdivided into two categories—green crucifers (plants in the mustard family) and yellow-green noncrucifers. The crucifers are rich in isothiocyanates, while the noncrucifers supply an abundance of lutein.

This group boasts superb immune-boosting powers. And the high fiber levels associated with these plants will have a positive effect on your digestive system, as well.

Make sure some of these greens have a place on your plate from time to time:

  • Apples.
  • Artichokes.
  • Arugula.
  • Asparagus.
  • Avocados.
  • Broccoli.
  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Celery.
  • Cucumbers.
  • Grapes.
  • Green beans.
  • Green onions.
  • Honeydew.
  • Kiwifruits.
  • Leeks.
  • Lettuce.
  • Limes.
  • Okra.
  • Pears.
  • Peas.
  • Peppers.
  • Pistachios.
  • Spinach.
  • Watercress.
  • Zucchini.

 

Next in series: Blue and white, plus menu tips

Milk Substitutes: Coconut, Flax, Oat, and Pea

milkscfopCoconut Milk

The name “coconut milk” may be confusing at first glance, as many people assume that it refers to the natural juices of the inside of the coconut. But what is sold as coconut milk, the dairy substitute, is actually freshly grated coconut pulp mixed with water. The resulting milk may be sweetened or unsweetened.

Benefits include:

  • Few allergens. This milk is naturally soy- and gluten-free; just check to make sure it was processed in a facility free of allergens.
  • Medium-chain triglycerides. These highly digestible fats are believed to boost the metabolism, promoting weight loss.
  • High potassium content.

Some of the downsides are:

  • Low protein content.
  • Low calcium content.

Other characteristics of coconut milk include:

  • Consistency very close to whole cow’s milk (creamy) due to higher fat content.
  • Nutty taste that complements cereals, most baked goods, and some savory dishes, such as Asian cuisine, nicely.

 

Flax Milk

Flax milk is manufactured by taking cold-pressed flax oil and adding water. Some varieties are then sweetened.

Benefits include:

  • Few allergens. That means no soy or gluten.
  • High fiber content.
  • High levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients are believed to be very beneficial for cardiovascular health, perhaps even lowering blood pressure, curing hardened artery walls, and preventing heart attacks.

The main drawback of flax milk is that it contains very little protein. The sweetened type can be alarmingly high in sugars, but this is easily avoided by purchasing the unsweetened beverage.

Other characteristics of flax milk include:

  • Consistency varying from thin to remarkably dairy-like.
  • Naturally sweet flavor. Blind taste tests involving people who regularly drink cow’s milk revealed flax milk as the closest alternative in flavor. In cooking and baking, this makes flax milk a surefire substitute in any recipe calling for dairy milk.

 

Oat Milk

Oat milk is easier to find in Europe than in the United States, but it can be done. The manufacturing process starts when oats are soaked in purified water. The manufacturer may then opt to pulverize and blend the oats to release additional fiber. Solid materials are strained out and the result is oat milk. Oat milk is typically sweetened.

Some of the advantages of oat milk are:

  • No tree nuts, making this a good choice for some people with food allergies.
  • High fiber content, good for long-lasting energy.
  • Some protein. Although oat milk only contains about half the protein of dairy milk, it is still superior to many of the non-legume alternatives.
  • Some minerals. Even when unfortified, oat milk does contain a little bit of calcium (though not nearly as much as cow’s milk) and some iron.
  • Phytoestrogens, compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. Associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, hot flashes, and breast cancer recurrence.

Disadvantages include:

  • Gluten. If you suffer from gluten intolerance, you will want to choose a different milk.
  • High sugar content. Unsweetened oat milk can be hard to find in the United States.
  • After long-term consumption, phytoestrogens tend to interfere with normal hormone function.

Other characteristics of oat milk include:

  • Thick, creamy texture much like dairy milk.
  • Slightly sweet earthy (but not bitter) flavor. It can complement most cereals, baked goods, and some more robust savory dishes, but it can overwhelm foods and sauces with delicate flavors.

 

Pea Milk

Sound strange? Well, maybe. To avoid disagreeable flavors and colors, yellow peas are highly processed to isolate the most nutritious part without the baggage. Sunflower oil is sometimes added to make the product creamier. Assorted gums may be added to enhance the texture, as well. It can be purchased in both sweetened and unsweetened varieties.

The primary benefit is the high protein content, comparable to cow’s milk.

Drawbacks include:

  • High levels of processing.
  • High levels of omega-6 fatty acids. When unbalanced with omega-3 fatty acids, the omega-6s can produce an inflammatory effect on the body.

Note that pea milk has a floury taste. You definitely will want to purchase a small quantity the first time out to see if you can drink it.

Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and Rice

Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and RiceFinding a lactose-free replacement for dairy milk can be somewhat baffling. There are so many substitutes already on the market, and it seems as though more are appearing all the time.

What are the pros and cons of each option? Let’s find out.

 

Lactose-Free Dairy Milk

People with lactose intolerance cannot digest the sugars in milk because they lack the enzyme lactase in their digestive systems. “Lactose-free” milk actually still contains lactose—it’s just that much of the sugar has been filtered out. The rest is rendered digestible by the addition of lactase, sometimes derived from dairy yeasts. The lactase is given some time to break down the lactose into the simple sugars glucose and galactose. After about 24 hours, the process is complete and the milk is ultrapasteurized to deactivate the enzyme.

The major benefit of lactose-free milk is a nutrient profile similar to that of regular milk. This includes complete proteins and plenty of calcium.

The major known drawback of lactose-free milk is that it will not help someone with a milk allergy.

Other characteristics of lactose-free milk include:

  • Slightly sweet but highly processed taste. This is because the added lactase breaks down the lactose into glucose. Unfortunately, ultrapasteurization adds a “cooked” flavor that is unappealing to many. This is the primary reason that lactose-free milk is not particularly popular.
  • Long shelf life. Lactose-free milk is ultrapasteurized, which means it may be able to sit on the shelf for up to two months if kept at an optimal temperature. Note, however, that lactose-free milk is less stable than regular milk if exposed to temperature variations.

 

Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and RiceSoy Milk

Soy milk is one of the most popular substitutes for regular milk. It is made of a soybean extract derived either from whole soybeans or soy protein isolate and is typically doctored with thickeners such as guar gum to make it palatable to former milk drinkers. It may be sweetened or unsweetened. To make it nutritionally comparable to cow’s milk, it is typically fortified with calcium, vitamin A, riboflavin, and vitamin D.

But even without fortification, soy milk has benefits:

  • Protein content comparable to dairy milk.
  • Essential amino acids—in fact, soy milk is one of the few plant-based milks that contain a complete array of these important nutrients.
  • Phytoestrogens, compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. Associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, hot flashes, and breast cancer recurrence.

There are a few risks associated with soy milk:

  • Some soy milk is made with genetically engineered soya. This problem can easily be avoided by looking for a certified non-GMO product.
  • After long-term consumption, phytoestrogens tend to interfere with normal hormone function.

Other characteristics of soy milk include:

  • A slightly beige color (this varies by brand).
  • A slightly thicker consistency than cow’s milk.
  • Flavor that varies considerably by brand. If you don’t like the taste of your current soy milk, you may be quite satisfied with a different product. Note, however, that most soy milk varieties taste a little off in cooking and baking.

 

Milk Substitutes: Lactose-Free, Soy, Almond, and RiceAlmond Milk

Almond milk starts with blanched almonds with their skins removed. The almonds are then ground up and mixed with water. The pulp is strained out, and the result is almond milk. It is sometimes sweetened.

Advantages of almond milk include:

  • Low glycemic index if unsweetened. Be aware that most brands of sweetened almond milk can be problematic for those watching their blood sugar.
  • High levels of Vitamin E, an important antioxidant.

Almond milk does have some drawbacks:

  • Few nutrients. Almond milk is much lower in protein than either cow’s milk or soy milk. Unless fortified, it also is largely lacking in vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids because it contains much more water than almond.
  • Phytic acid, a naturally occurring substance that can have some serious side effects if consumed in quantity. Phytic acid binds with calcium, iron, and zinc and prevents their absorption in the body.
  • High calcium oxalate content, which can lead to the development of kidney stones if consumed in large quantities.

Other characteristics of almond milk include:

  • A sightly beige color.
  • A creamy consistency similar to cow’s milk.
  • A slightly nutty flavor. When cooking, this flavor will best complement desserts. Almond milk is also a common choice for adding to coffee, smoothies, and other beverages.

 

Rice Milk

Rice milk is made out of boiled, milled rice (either white or brown), brown rice syrup, and brown rice starch. It may be fortified with calcium and some vitamins to make it more comparable to dairy milk. Thickeners are also added.

The primary benefit of rice milk is that it contains few allergens—no dairy, soy, nuts, or gluten. (But always check the label to be sure it was processed in an allergen-free facility.)

There are a few downsides:

  • Low protein content.
  • High glycemic index. Rice milk is absorbed quickly, causing blood sugar levels to spike.
  • High levels of inorganic arsenic. This is because rice is frequently grown on arsenic-contaminated soils and spends much of its time in a waterlogged state, making any arsenic present readily available in the form of a solution. This situation is further compounded by the fact that rice seems to have an exceptional ability to absorb more arsenic than most crops. Long-term consumption of arsenic is associated with an increased risk of cancer and heart disease. The levels of arsenic present in rice milk are not considered to be problematic for most people, but those who also eat large quantities of rice may find it advisable to consider different grains and milk substitutes.

Other characteristics of rice milk include:

  • A thinner consistency than cow’s milk. Some rice milk can even be watery.
  • A mildly sweet flavor that can be used in most recipes, but especially desserts. Children typically prefer the taste of rice milk to that of any other milk substitute.

 

A Few Notes

This is just a small sampling of the milk substitutes available today. More will be covered in a future post.

Note that people who are truly lactose-intolerant will not benefit from drinking goat’s milk or A2 cow’s milk. While these options are often beneficial to those suffering from a milk allergy, they still contain lactose and cannot be digested without the enzyme lactase. It is true that goat’s milk does contain less lactose than cow’s milk and thus can typically be consumed in small quantities by someone with lactose intolerance, but increased consumption will result in a return of symptoms.