Monday, May 30, 2011

Red, White & Blue: Wild Blueberries are Delicious, Heart Healthy & Very Patriotic

Happy Memorial Day!

Grills have been firing up around the country this long weekend, and we've found plenty examples of ways outdoor cooks are combining cook-out staples, healthy food, and patriotism.

Ann Arbor's Peggy Lampman puts her passion for the burger on the line with this Grilled Blueberry Burger and isn't disappointed. The blueberries provide the juiciness to a leaner burger that's good for your heart. Get the ingenious recipe!

The Cranberry Patch offers up their patriotic mojito as a way to add the "blue" to the red, white, and blue at your picnic. Here's the rundown: For 1 gallon of blueberry mojitos, take a ½ pint of pureed blueberries and add 1 quart of Bacardi rum. Add 3 quarts of Sprite and 6 chopped mint leaves. Mix together and add crushed ice and garnish with a lime.

Finally, The Stir has 10 Memorial Day Recipes that include unique last minute ideas like Red, White & Blueberry Skewers -- these colorful fruit-laden kabobs are utterly appealing to everyone (especially the kids) and an ideal way to forgo the pies and cakes.  Bravo!

Have a happy and healthy holiday and enjoy this day of remembrance.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Eating Local? If Not, Something's Fishy

Something fishy happened recently to a Wild About Health reader.

On a quest to buy fish in the midcoast Maine area, he found swordfish from a local monger. It had just come in that day – from Uruguay. "Why am I buying fish from that far away when I live in midcoast Maine?" lamented local food aficionado D. Speer. "And," he added, "it may have been 'just in', but when was this fish actually caught?"

It's the irony of global food commerce. Lisa Turner, owner of Freeport Maine's Laughing Stock Farm reasons in her new book The Eat Local Cookbook that while it's a wonderful thing that crops like wild blueberries from our state can be enjoyed by others around the world in the same way she enjoys imported foods like coffee, what doesn't make sense is buying imported apple juice when cider is available down the street. Her book – a cookbook of seasonal recipes – is based on making meals that take advantage of local treasures that actually are down the street, with a heavy slant toward vegetables and unprocessed foods.

So, how did the swordfish turn out? Speer was frank: "It was mushy."

Small Growers

A benefit of living in the state of Maine is that local growers are everywhere. There are over 160 farms and over 6500 "shares" in Maine – some are big, some are small, some harvest herbs, some mushrooms; some grow veggies, while some offer milk and cheese. Community residents commit themselves to buying local, and farmers reciprocate by providing the best product they can. As a result, thousands of dollars remain within communities rather than being distributed around the globe.

More than ever, Maine communities are embracing the local food movement. One notable model exists in Washington County, where the Machias Marketplace provides a local buying club for residents.

One day each week, fresh, local food straight from farmers is brought to about 100 families and to the local co-op, providing residents with access to fruits and veggies, milk, meat and baked goods.

Another hint that local, seasonal eating is a growing passion in the state can be found in the trove of seasonal cooking classes and books that focus on seasonal cooking. As a complement to books like Turner's, a series of classes taking place this spring and summer at the Portland Public Market in southern Maine adopts a hands-on approach. As part of the series, sponsored by the Maine Real Food Project, local chef Frank Giglio teaches attendees how to cook directly from the state's bounty – both land and sea.

Reasons to Eat Local

Perhaps the best reason to eat local is that your health will benefit. You'll get plenty of whole, unprocessed foods as well as a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. But there are plenty of reasons in addition to health to start eating primarily food in your proximity.
  • If you are experiencing meal-making ennui, eating local can throw a wrench into your cooking, in a good way. You'll be forced to do new things and get inspiration from new ingredients.
  • It's all about flavor. Plain and simple, local foods are given a chance to ripen longer, and that means better taste. Foods that travel to get to your local store are usually picked prematurely so they keep longer. Those foods rate high on looks but low on flavor. (That's why IQF, or individually quick frozen foods, are a great alternative in winter, or any season when fresh isn't accessible.) And, when food travels less, that's better for the environment.
  • Another reason that local foods shine in health? Because the nutrients of prematurely picked foods suffer, too. Farmers also make efforts to use nutrient-rich soil and reduce the use of chemicals. Ask a local farmer about their growing methods.
  • Eating local is good for the local economy, and it supports local land development. In addition to supporting your neighborhood farmer, it keeps dollars close to home.
  • Finally, eating local is fun. Picking up local foods means you are making a connection with the earth, with your community, and with local farmers. You get to make colorful choices, and pick from a variety of options. And that will make you feel not just healthier, but happier. 

5 Ways to Start

Inspired to start eating local? It's the perfect time! Here's five great ways to start:

1. Find a farm. If you are in Maine, you can use the MOFGA website's food map to find the closest farm near you, or head over to Eat Maine Foods for a map of your closest CSAs. Then, get to know the ropes of local farms so you feel at home there. You can use our tips for shopping farmer's markets.

2. Commit to spending a set amount of your grocery budget on local food. Try one-third to one-half to start. In the summer, depending on you accessibility, there is often no reason to purchase non-local produce, and local meats are available from farms and some markets.

3. Join those who eat only food grown in a 100-mile radius of wherever they live. Or, start smaller by deciding to make one meal a day out of strictly local foods.

4. Try one new local/seasonal fruit or vegetable each time you shop.

5. Buy a cookbook that provides recipes based on the season like Turner's Eat Local, or take a class on eating local, seasonal foods.

What's your community doing to foster healthy eating through local food? Give us a comment or email us at editor(at) and let us know!

Friday, May 20, 2011

ORAC: What is This Nutritional Buzzword?

Get the Basics in 10 Minutes (or Less)

Learning all you can about health and nutrition? You've likely heard the term: ORAC. It's the nutritional measurement developed and used to evaluate the antioxidant benefit of food. Don't be confused by the mumbo-jumbo – the ORAC score is simply another tool we can use to choose the most powerful foods for health and disease prevention.

If you're ready to get the scoop on this latest buzzword in nutrition, take 10 – minutes, that is. That's all you need to nail down the key points about ORAC once and for all. 

What is ORAC?

A food's antioxidant power is measured in units called ORACs, or Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity. The ORAC scale was developed by USDA researchers at Tufts University in order to inform the public about different foods’ antioxidant capacity.

The ORAC measurement refers to how much radical oxygen a food can absorb – that is, its effect on combating damaging free radicals. 

Why do ORAC scores matter?

Why do we need to know how efficient food is in absorbing free radicals? Because free radicals wreak havoc on our cells.

Free radicals come from food and environmental sources and cause oxidation, or "rust", in our arteries and organs. Antioxidants counteract this damage and protect against inflammation.

Free radicals are associated with cancer, heart disease and the effects of aging, and cause a multitude of diseases. They affect urinary tract health, vision health, cause diabetes complications, and kidney and liver problems.

The free radical battle in our bodies is constant waged. Antioxidants, which most commonly come from fruits and vegetables, neutralize free radicals and help maintain these many aspects of our health. In addition to helping us stay healthy, some diet gurus even claim that counting antioxidants is a better way to lose weight than to count calories!

How do I determine ORAC scores?

We've heard that different types of foods are "high in antioxidants". Foods with high antioxidants often get the "superfood" moniker to indicate their powerful concentration of nutrition. The ORAC score makes measuring antioxidant capacities clearer.

ORAC measures total antioxidant capacity – termed TAC. The best way to determine ORAC scores is to know the scores of some common foods and keep that guideline in mind when you are making grocery lists or eating snacks or meals. ORAC rated foods range from 82 to nearly 14,000 in ORAC value. For example, about 23 grapes rates 739 on the ORAC scale; while about 70 blueberries comes in at 2,400.

One key to understanding ORAC scores is the comparisons. Comparisons of a cup and a teaspoon, for example, must be taken taking into account when determining what is reasonable to eat. For example, chocolate comes in at 13,120 ORAC—but that is for 100 grams of unsweetened cacao – an unrealistically high amount to be contained in a sweetened bar.

Learn more about the USDA's ORAC measurements or get a list of ORAC Values.

Big winners in ORAC numbers

ORAC tests and other laboratory studies show that wild blueberries are a leading antioxidant fruit. This means that a ½ cup serving of wild blueberries has more of the antioxidant power we need to help fight cancer, heart disease, short-term memory loss and other effects of aging than many other fruits and vegetables.

In fact, it is blueberry juice that has the highest ORAC score (2,906) when juices were compared. Simply put, wild blueberries are highly concentrated sources of protective natural compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and their scores bear this out.

Other big winners? In the field of fruit, it's cranberries, blackberries and prunes. In foods at large, walnuts rate high, as do artichokes, dark chocolate, and red wine.  What's the highest ORAC score of all foods? That's raw sumac, coming in with a 312,400 value. 

Find out more about ORAC measurements for wild blueberries and why they consistently top the ORAC score list.

Got an extra minute?

Spend it increasing your plate's ORAC score with these high antioxidant recipes.
Sick of the nutritional nonsense? Shape helps us demystify the nutritional mumbo-jumbo.

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Never Go Hungry: The Real Secret to Healthy Weight Loss

    Watching your weight? If "calories-in, calories-out" is your mantra, try changing up your food routine and start repeating the real secret to maintaining a healthy weight: Eat more.

    Truth is, you gotta snack in order to feel full.

    According to Skinny Cook Allison Fishman, "Eat more!" is the best advice you can get when it comes to weight loss. Why? Because we're usually packing on pounds not because our breakfast is too big, but because we overeat after 5:00.

    If you're snacking on anything that fits effectively into your mouth when the clock strikes the dinner hour, it's probably because you didn't get an adequate amount of calories during the day.

    Fishman recommends adding a do-not-miss mid-afternoon snack to your day – 200 calories or so – and if you need it, one mid-morning as well. The key is eliminating blood sugar crashes, providing yourself with consistent energy, and not inhaling food after five out of pure starvation.

    Eating small portions throughout the day also helps increase metabolism, keeps the brain out of the late-day fog, and helps us avoid temptation for things we would ordinarily shun (think donuts in the snack room) if we were properly fed.

    So start a brand new weight loss mantra: Never go hungry. You may see the pounds start to fall off. Plus, you won't be distracted by that annoying rumbling sound anymore. 

    6 Tips for Vigorous Snacking for the Skinny-to-be:

    1. Get a serving. Maybe it’s a fruit or veggie serving, maybe it’s a healthy fish serving. Either way, snacking is a ready-made way to fill the gaps in your nutrition. Fishman keeps crisp bread with smoked salmon and herbs around for a mini gourmet snack that replaces a bulky bagel – under and buck and 45 calories.

    2. Eat brain food. If you're having a snack, choose one that's good for your brain. Berries, for example, improve blood flow and keep small blood vessels working efficiently, allowing for better brain health and performance. Studies show that rats that eat blueberries get through their mazes quicker and have a higher level of regenerating cells in their brains – just what we need to combat mid-day human slumps.

    3. Pack your own. Buying those 100 calorie snacks that come in mini packages is a sure way to hike up your food bill. Forget the packages: make you own by cutting fresh veggies, bringing yogurt or packaging your own leftovers in your own moderate size bag, box or wrap. Keeping full throughout the day requires some planning ahead, so do the 3-step snack shuffle – shop, prepare, and package – every day.

    4. Combine it. Combining foods that work well together can make your snack life more interesting and more satisfying. Carrots and hummus or apples and a cheese wedge or teaspoon of peanut butter can keep you from chewing bare celery all day and feeling deprived as a result. Having herbs at the ready (dill, basil, cilantro), using citrus (a squeeze of lemon or lime on salads, fruits and proteins), and sprinkling coarse salt on your homemade snacks can rev up your taste buds and turn boring into gourmet.

    5. Get creative. Step away from the bird seed, and get yourself an eating well handbook to enrich your meal planning ideas and jazz up your snacking. In You Can Trust a Skinny Cook, Allison Fishman offers up yummy Parmesan Twists for 97 calories per serving, and fabulous Stuffed Mushrooms for 107. Check out her "Something to Munch" section for tons of easy recipes that turn deprivation into a thing of the past.

    6. Check your portions. It's an equation that works: eating during the day means cutting portions at the end of the day. And whether it's a mid-day snack or dinner blow out, you may not have to eat as much as you currently are. Gimmicks like smaller plates, putting you main course on your salad plate (and your salad on your entrée plate) or immediately cutting your meal in half and saving it for tomorrow's lunch can provide the crutch you need to understand what your stomach really needs…and what it doesn't so much. Life, like lunch, is long…you can always eat later.

    Get the last word on snacking from the Mayo Clinic's How Snacks Fit Into Your Diet Plan.

    Try these 30 Healthy Snacks from Self magazine.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    Dr. Oz's "Cancer Detective" Makes a Case for Wild

    Dr. Oz has enlisted one of the most deductive minds in plant nutrition research to help us understand the compelling potential of wild plants in cancer prevention. For us, this Sherlock Holmes of health has a very familiar name.

    That's because we spoke with Dr. Mary Ann Lila about the fascinating nutritional research taking place at the Plants for Human Health Institute at North Carolina State University where she is the Director, back in September. She talked to Wild About Health for a two-part series about her work in shifting the global perception of plant crops and their potential, as well as her research involving wild blueberries, including mapping the blueberry genome and its fascinating role in Parkinson's prevention.


    On a recent show, Dr. Oz referred to Lila as a "cancer detective" because she is responsible for some major breakthroughs in nutritional health, particularly in the field of cancer prevention. At the Institute, she and her team are using the most up-to-date technology to understand the most old-fashioned remedies: plants. Her task is understanding how and to what extent they protect human health.

    Lila performs research by testing promising plants, and uses that research in conjunction with knowledge gathered from places like Mexico, New Zealand, Equador and Bostwana. In these countries, she and her team tap native elders so they can better understand how berries are collected and used. Combined with research, this information helps them to scientifically understand something we have long intuitively understood about fruit and its medicinal properties.

    Lila's focus is on deep pigment berries. They hold the key to powerful anti-cancer nutrients. Today, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 2 men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and Lila's detective work entails cracking the case of how berries could lead to stopping cancer in its tracks.

    You can find out more about the wild berry mystique at and how this translates into protection for our own bodies.

    Something Wild

    As part of Dr. Oz's Cancer Prevention series, Lila discusses the compelling cycle of how plants grown in harsh environments naturally have health benefits that are the result of a complex system engaged to defend themselves. Wild blueberries, for example, grow only in Maine and Canada, enduring harsh winters on the coast, and they are prime examples of the wild mystique: wild blueberries are exposed to constant sunlight in the summer, they grow in tough coastal and rocky terrain, and they endure rollicking seasonal shifts.

    This otherwise unprotected plant, Lila explains, manufactures its own natural protection. It helps itself endure environmental stress and promote its own survival in its aim to live another season. The wild blueberry's skin has high concentrations of sun protection; its tough outer tissue wards off cold temperature and salt stress; it naturally discourages predatory insects and invasive microbes; and its bright colors help attract pollinating insects, helping to disperse their seeds. To achieve all this, the plant draws on its own natural components to produce powerful phytochemicals that protect and preserve it and allow it to prosper.

    "Stressed for Success"

    For human life forms, the benefits from these phytochemicals can't be overstated. It's too good to be true that the protection plants use for their own survival and propagation can be used to such enormous effect – aptly stated as medicinal effect – for us. As Lila terms it, these plants are "stressed for success". The "stress" they endure triggers them to devote their natural resources to accumulating these protective phytochemicals for their benefit and ultimately ours. The anti-inflammatory benefit for heart and blood vessels that phytochemicals provide is medicine we as a population need more than ever as we struggle against increasingly prevalent and deadly diseases associated with these symptoms.

    Understanding the difference between wild and cultivated can bring wild's particular heath advantages into stark relief. Wild blueberries are native to North America and they have little intervention from growers, which allows their natural defenses thrive. In contrast, the berries' cultivated counterparts are grown for other strengths. That means they have actually been selected against some of the health-protective phytochemicals, Lila explains. And, of course, cultivated plants don't have the stressors of wild, so they simply don't produce the protective benefits. Making sure we are eating wild – those native plants indigenous to Maine and parts of Canada – is the key to the most powerful protection against cancer.

    In addition to cancer prevention, wild provides plenty of other advantages.

    The Wild Advantages: 

    • Ability to lower blood glucose levels for diabetics.
    • Improved motor skills. 
    • Reversal of short-term memory loss associated with the human aging process.
    • Protection for the heart and help in preventing stroke.
    • Protection against the effects of aging including its effects on vision and skin.
    Learn more about wild at, at get recipe suggestions to help you get in touch with your wild side!