Foods to Eat for Good Health
An optimum diet containing an abundance of high-nutrient, low stress foods is the basis for good health, energy, and a sense of well-being. During nearly two decades of working with thousands of women patients, I have been continually impressed by the health benefits that good nutritional habits provide. As a result, I spend a great deal of time counseling my patients nutritionally. It is important to me that women have the knowledge and information that they need to effectively plan and prepare their own meals.
Chapter 1 discusses the foods that we need to eat to assure good health: whole grains, legumes, raw seeds and nuts, fish, poultry, fruits, vegetables, sweeteners, herbs and spices, and water. This chapter covers not only the nutrient benefits of these foods and how best to include them, but also their role in relieving and preventing a variety of female health problems and other health issues. Be sure to incorporate these foods abundantly in your daily diet while enjoying their good flavors and textures.
Whole GrainsWhole grains are the seeds of various grasses and are often referred to as "cereals." They have been the mainstay of the human diet for thousands of years, as our body's main source of fuel and energy. While the grains consumed in different societies vary greatly wheat in the United States, rice in the Orient they provide the backbone for all diets. In fact, a meal without grain often feels incomplete and somehow lacking.
Whole grains are almost complete meals within themselves, containing fiber, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins such as B and E complexes, and many minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, copper, and manganese. There are three main parts to each kernel of grain: the endosperm, or central core, which is about 80 percent of the entire kernel; the germ, which comprises about 3 percent; and the bran, which encompasses 15 percent of the kernel. Whole grain products contain all three parts of the grain and have a high concentration of nutrients. However, when grain is refined in milling to produce white flour products, the germ and bran are removed, leaving only the endosperm. As a result, most of the essential nutrients of the grain are removed, leaving a devitalized product.
The nutrients of whole grains help promote good overall health. They also have a tremendous effect on relieving the symptoms and reducing the risk of a wide variety of female related health problems. Whole grains have a very potent effect on regulating estrogen levels in the body, through their high levels of phytoestrogens (natural plant estrogens), their fiber content, and their high levels of vitamin B complex and vitamin E.
Many whole grains are excellent sources of phytoestrogens. Whole grains contain lignans, cellulose like materials that provide structure to plants. Lignans have been found to be weakly estrogenic and can bind to the estrogen receptors of cells. As a result, they can provide additional nutritional support to menopausal women deficient in this hormone. In addition, certain plants like buckwheat are excellent sources of the bioflavonoid rutin. Like lignans, many bioflavonoids are estrogenic and can help to regulate the effects of our own body's estrogen on sensitive target tissue like the breast and uterus. Rutin is particularly helpful in its ability to strengthen capillaries and reduce heavy menstrual bleeding in transitioning menopausal women. Studies attest to this. Bioflavonoids have been used, along with vitamin C, to reduce heavy bleeding in transitioning menopausal women and women with bleeding due to fibroid tumors and spontaneous abortions. In fact, an early study done at the University of Tennessee Medical School in 1956 found that the bioflavonoid vitamin C combination allowed 78 percent of high risk women to carry their pregnancies to full term.
The high fiber content of whole grains benefits women during their active reproductive years as well as menopausal women. Fiber binds to estrogen in the intestinal tract and removes it from the body through the bowel movements, thus helping to regulate estrogen levels. This process, called the enterohepatic circulation of estrogen, occurs as follows: estrogen circulates in the blood throughout the body and passes through the liver; the liver then metabolizes it from its more potent forms, estradiol and estrone, to a more chemically inactive and weaker form, estriol. When the liver is healthy this occurs efficiently.. The estrogen metabolites are then secreted into the bile and from there, into the digestive tract.
With a high fat, low fiber diet, the bacteria in the intestinal tract act on these estrogen products, allowing reabsorption of the estrogen back into the body. This increases the blood levels of estrone, the primary type of estrogen produced by the body after menopause, and estradiol, the type of estrogen produced by the ovaries during the active reproductive years. As a result, the levels of these two estrogens rise higher than estriol, their primary breakdown product. When this occurs, the patient is said to have an "unhealthy estrogen profile." Research has shown that estradiol and estrone, as more chemically active and potent forms of estrogen, may predispose women towards developing heavy menstrual bleeding, fibroid tumors, PMS, and even breast cancer while estriol, a much weaker form of estrogen, may reduce the risk and severity of these problems. Thus, a high-fiber, low-fat diet may help regulate not only the estrogen levels but also the types of estrogen circulating throughout a woman's body. In fact, other studies from Tufts University Medical School have shown that vegetarian women excrete two to three times more estrogen in their bowel movements than do women eating the typical high fat, low fiber diet.
Whole grains also regulate hormonal levels due to their high levels of vitamin B and vitamin E, which have a beneficial effect on both the liver and the ovaries. In 1942, a researcher named Biskind found that B vitamin deficiency hindered the liver's ability to metabolize estrogen levels in both animal and human test subjects. The addition of B vitamin supplementation to the diet of women suffering from PMS, heavy menstrual bleeding, and fibrocystic breast disease helped to decrease the severity of their symptoms. Studies conducted at UCLA Medical School during the 1980s found that taking a specific B vitamin, pyridoxine B6, helped to relieve symptoms of menstrual cramps and PMS.
Research also conducted during the 1980s at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center similarly found, in several placebo controlled studies, that vitamin E is useful in reducing many PMS symptoms, as well as fibrocystic breast discomfort. Other studies have found that vitamin E supplementation reduced menopause related hot flashes, fatigue, and mood swings in 66 to 85 percent of the women tested, depending on the study. One additional study noted a decrease in the symptoms of vaginal atrophy in 50 percent of the postmenopausal women volunteers.
Besides regulating estrogen levels, the high-fiber content of whole grains binds to cholesterol, aiding its excretion from the body through the digestive tract. This helps lower blood cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart attacks in postmenopausal women. The fiber in grain is very helpful in relieving constipation, as well as in preventing other diseases of the digestive tract such as diverticulitis and hiatal hernia. It may also have a protective effect against colon cancer, another disease found commonly in those who eat a high fat, low fiber diet.
Whole grains are excellent sources of carbohydrates, which are capable of stabilizing blood sugar and helping to eliminate sugar cravings. They help prevent or control diabetes mellitus, a dangerous disease that predisposes people toward heart disease, blood vessel problems, infections, and blindness. Fifty percent of our population above the age of sixty have blood sugar abnormalities, due in great part to the tremendous amount of highly sugared foods and sweets Americans eat. Whole grains, with their natural sweetness, can satisfy much of this craving in a healthful way.
In addition, whole grains are an excellent source of complete protein when combined in a meal with legumes. Grains are low in the essential amino acid lysine, while legumes are low in methionine. When eaten in combination, they create a high quality, complete protein. Good examples of grain/legume meals include whole grain bread with a bowl of bean soup, or pasta salad with kidney beans or garbanzos.
Whole grains also contain many vital nutrients for menopausal women. Grains are excellent sources of magnesium and calcium. Both of these minerals are necessary for maintaining healthy bones and relaxing muscle tension. Grains are also high in potassium. Potassium has a diuretic effect on the body's tissues and helps reduce bloating, which can be a problem for premenstrual and postmenopausal women.
While consuming whole grains has many health benefits, some women may find that they are allergic to or intolerant of wheat. Most women are surprised by this discovery, since wheat is one of the staples of our culture and is eaten by most people at almost every meal. However, wheat contains a protein called gluten, which is highly allergenic and difficult for the body to break down, absorb, and assimilate. Women with wheat intolerance are prone to fatigue, depression, bloating, intestinal gas, and bowel changes.
In my clinical experience, when women are nutritionally sensitive, wheat consumption can often worsen emotional symptoms and lower energy levels. I have observed how wheat (along with other foods) can trigger emotional symptoms and fatigue in PMS patients, especially during the week or two before the onset of menses. Many menopausal women tolerate wheat poorly because their digestive tracts are beginning to show the wear and tear of aging and don't produce enough enzymes to break down wheat easily.
Women with allergies often find that wheat intensifies nasal and sinus congestion, as well as fatigue. I also find that women with poor resistance and a tendency toward infections may need to eliminate wheat from their diets to boost their immune systems. Since wheat is leavened with yeast, it should also be avoided by women with candida.
If you suffer from any of these conditions, you should probably eliminate wheat from your diet for at least one to three months. Oats and rye, which also contain gluten, should be eliminated initially along with wheat if your symptoms are severe. Many highly allergic or severely upset and fatigued women don't even handle corn or rice well. Although corn and rice do not contain gluten, most women eat them so frequently that they build up an intolerance to them during times of fatigue.
I have found over the years that the least stressful grain for women with severe allergies, PMS symptoms, and poor digestive function is buckwheat. This is probably because it is not commonly eaten in our culture, so most women never develop an intolerance to it. Also, it is not in the same plant family as wheat and other grains. (Buckwheat is actually the fruitlike structure of the plant rather than a grass.) Other infrequently used grains such as wild rice, quinoa, and amaranth should be tried as well. These are available in health food stores in pastas and cereals. As women with gluten intolerance (and even grain intolerance) start to regain their health, they can slowly increase their grain intake, adding other grains. Wheat intake, however, should still be limited to small quantities, with other alternative grains emphasized instead. In addition, rotating a variety of nongluten grains in the diet can be very helpful. Corn and rice can replace wheat. Often you can find pasta and noodles, as well as flour for baking, made from these grains. Use corn tortillas instead of wheat.
Whole grass and whole grain flours can be prepared in a variety of ways, including whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, pancakes, waffles, and pastas. They can also be sprouted and eaten raw. A wide variety of these grains and products are available both in supermarkets and natural food stores.
Hot Cereals.Local health food stores sell a wide range of excellent grain cereals. If you prefer hot cereals, look for cream of rye, cream of buckwheat, whole grain oatmeal, and seven or four grain cereals (without wheat). Choose brands with no added sugar. If there is no health food store near you, most supermarkets will have adequate products and are even beginning to carry bulk cereals in bins. I highly recommend Quaker whole oatmeal (not the quick-cooking refined product). Many of the "natural cereals" from the large companies are highly refined or highly sugared, so read labels carefully.
Cold Cereals.Cold cereals are also available in a wide variety of grains. In health food stores, look for puffed rice, corn, millet, and unsweetened granola. At supermarkets, look for products labeled "whole grain." Cheerios and All-Bran cereals, among others, are good choices. Avoid cold cereals with added sugar.
I suggest moistening your cereal with nondairy milk: soy milk, nut milk, or the excellent new potato based milks. Many of these are fortified with calcium, contain no saturated fat, and are digested relatively easily. Nondairy milk enables you to avoid the negative effect of dairy products on your mood and energy level. (See Chapter 2 for more information on the pitfalls of dairy products.) Some women enjoy eating cold cereals dry or with a small amount of apple juice. For sweeteners, try fructose or maple syrup. They are very concentrated in flavor, so a little goes a long way.
Muffins, Breads, and Crackers.A wide variety of whole grains can be found in the breads, muffins, and crackers now available in health food stores and supermarkets. There are also simple recipes available if you wish to prepare baked goods, such as oat muffins with extra oat bran, rye muffins, or corn bread. Rice cakes are readily available at health food stores and now increasingly stocked at neighborhood supermarkets. You can also find sprouted wheat and wheat-free bread in health food stores and some supermarkets. Muffins, bread, and crackers can be eaten with applesauce, nut butter, fruit, or preserves. Try to avoid cow's milk butter, which is high in saturated fat.
Pancakes and Waffles.Besides wheat flour, you can make pancakes with buckwheat, rice flour, or triticale. Concentrated sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, and applesauce can be used in small amounts. Try to avoid topping pancakes and waffles with excess butter or whipped cream. This changes them from healthful food to unhealthy food laden with fat, sugar, and calories.
Pasta.Pasta made of buckwheat, rice, corn, or soy is readily available in health food and ethnic food stores. These nonwheat pastas add a wide variety of colors and flavors to the wheat-based white flour pasta found in supermarkets. They are easy to digest for women who have digestive symptoms and bloating with menstruation.
Sprouts.Many people like the nutty, delicious flavor of raw sprouts. Several grains, as well as beans and peas, can be sprouted easily at home with sprouting jars (available at natural food stores). Sprouting softens the grains so that they can be eaten without cooking. High in vitamins and minerals, sprouts can be added to salads, casseroles, and other entrees to boost the nutritional value of these foods.
Cooked grains.Grains are very easy to cook at home and should be eaten as an integral part of most meals. Rice, millet, and other grains are prepared simply by boiling water, adding grain, and letting them cook over low heat until the water has been absorbed and the grains are light and fluffy in texture. Some women prefer the convenience of a rice steamer, which can prepare grains in larger quantities. Grains store for several days in the refrigerator in a jar or plastic container; they can then be reheated and added to dishes. Rice is best reheated by placing it over a double boiler or in a steamer and cooking it for three to five minutes.
If you have a wheat intolerance, you can still make your own baked goods. Simply use rice flour and enjoy its mild flavor. For more intensely flavored baked goods, experiment with combining milder flavored flour with more intensely flavored ones like rye flour.Types of Grains (or Grainlike) Foods
Wild rice Legumes (Beans and Peas)Legumes are highly recommended foods for women. There are dozens of members of the legume family, including garbanzo beans, kidney beans, lima beans, black beans, lentils, pinto beans, split peas, green peas, soybeans, and many others. All legumes are excellent sources of protein, particularly when combined with whole grains. When consumed together, legumes and grains provide a full range of essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Legumes tend to be low in the amino acid methionine, while whole grains are low in lysine. Thus, the two foods complement one another when eaten at the same meal. (Good examples of grain and legume combinations are meals such as beans and rice, or cornbread and split pea soup.) Legumes provide an important and easily utilized source of protein and can be used as a substitute for meat.
Legumes are also an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble types of fiber. The fiber content of beans enables the digestive system to break them down easily and absorb their nutrients, such as protein and carbohydrates, in a slower manner. This has many health benefits. The slow digestion of legume based carbohydrates can help regulate the blood sugar level. As a result, they are a highly beneficial food for women with blood sugar imbalances or diabetes. The fiber, itself, can help normalize bowel function and lower cholesterol levels by promoting excretion of cholesterol through the bowel movements. Legumes with the highest fiber content are black beans, garbanzo beans, mung beans, pinto beans, split peas, lentils, and navy beans.
Legumes are valuable sources of many other nutrients needed by menopausal women, including calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Calcium and magnesium build strong bones, and potassium helps regulate the heartbeat. All three minerals are important in maintaining healthy muscle tone, combating fatigue, controlling mood swings, and promoting endurance and stamina. Legumes are also very high in iron and vitamin B complex. Sufficient iron intake is particularly important for teenage girls, pregnant women, and women with bleeding problems who are transitioning into menopause. Vitamin B complex is also essential for health, helping the liver regulate estrogen levels. (The liver metabolizes estrogen so that it can be excreted efficiently from the body.)
Because they are an excellent food source of vitamin B6, legumes, eaten regularly, can help to relieve and prevent PMS symptoms and menstrual cramps. Studies done at UCLA Medical
School during the 1980s found vitamin B6 to be useful for both conditions.
Not only do legumes, in general, have many health benefits for all women, but soybean-based products in particular can actually help reduce and prevent menopause symptoms. Soybeans are filled with natural plant estrogens (or phytoestrogens) called bioflavonoids. Certain bioflavonoids are weak estrogens, having 1/50,000 the potency of a dose of synthetic estrogen.
As weak estrogens, these compounds bind to estrogen receptors and act as a substitute form of estrogen in the body. They compete with the more potent estrogens made by a woman's body for these cell receptor sites. As a result, bioflavonoids can help to regulate estrogen levels.
High estrogen levels can worsen female problems like heavy menstrual flow, PMS, fibroid tumors of the uterus, endometriosis, and fibrocystic breast lumps. A soy based diet can decrease the severity of these problems by reducing the toxic effects of the more potent estrogens on estrogen-sensitive tissues like the breast and uterus.
After menopause, when estrogen levels can become deficient, dietary sources of estrogen such as soy can provide much needed hormonal support for the body. In fact, a diet high in bioflavonoid rich soybeans can actually reduce the incidence of menopause symptoms. In Japan, where soybeans are a staple food, only 10 to 15 percent of the women experience menopause symptoms. By contrast, 80 to 85 percent of women in the United States, Canada, and Europe who eat a traditional Western diet experience menopausal symptoms.
One study reported in the British Medical Journal in 1990 examined how shifting the diet towards phytoestrogen containing foods can change certain menopause indicators. By this study, 25 menopausal women (average age fifty-nine) were asked to supplement their normal diet with phytoestrogencontaining foods like soy flour, flax seed oil, and red clover sprouts. The women consumed these foods over a six-week period, each food for two weeks at a time.
Smears of the vaginal wall were taken every week to see if the addition of estrogen containing plant foods would cause a beneficial hormonal effect on the vagina. (Typically, the vaginal mucosa thins out and becomes more prone to trauma and infections as the estrogen level drops with menopause.) Interestingly, the vaginal mucosa did respond significantly to the intake of soy flour and flax oil (not to the red clover sprouts) but returned to its previous state eight weeks after these foods were discontinued and the women went back to their normal diets. Studies have also shown the benefit of soybeans in reducing hot flashes.
Other research studies have measured phytoestrogen excretion, comparing groups with a diet rich in soy and other phytoestrogens to groups eating the typical Western omnivorous diet. One study, published in 1991, showed that men, women, and children in Japan and America who ate a diet high in soy foods like tofu, boiled soybeans, and miso excreted 100 to 1000 times more beneficial bioflavonoids in their urine than women in Finland and the United States who ate a meat and dairybased diet. In fact, bioflavonoid content tends to be 80 percent lower in the typical American or European meat and dairy based diet, than it is in a vegetarian based diet.
The bioflavonoids found in soybeans have the added benefit of being anticarcinogenic. Research has linked a high intake of soybean based foods to the lower incidence of breast cancer and lower mortality from prostate cancer among Japanese women and men, respectively. Other clinical studies have found that soy helps to lower cholesterol levels, thereby helping to reduce the incidence of heart attacks.
Soy is available in many forms in the United States. Tofu, an inexpensive, bland, curdlike soy product, can be found in most supermarkets and health food stores. Tofu will take on the flavor of any food that you cook it with, which makes it an ideal source of protein and essential fatty acids that you can add to soups, stir-fries, casseroles, and other dishes. Tempeh is a cultured soy product made of the whole soybean. Besides being a good source of protein, it contains vitamin B12, a nutrient needed for the production of healthy blood cells and nerve function. Purely vegetarian diets are often deficient in vitamin B12. Thus, adding tempeh can be helpful.
Soy flour makes a tasty substitute for white flour in muffins, breads, pasta, cookies, and other baked goods. It is an excellent source of bioflavonoids. Soy vegetable protein, with its nutty flavor, can be used as a beef substitute in tacos, chili, burritos, and other dishes.
One of the most interesting uses of soy is as a dairy substitute. Any product that comes from a cow is now available in a soy based version. This includes soy milk cheese, sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, and ice cream like desserts. Many of these products are surprisingly good tasting and have a pleasing texture. In fact, I find several brands of soy yogurt, sour cream, and cream cheese to be almost indistinguishable from their dairy counterparts. Although the soy cheeses generally tend not to be as tasty or textured, Soyco and Soymage are delicious. Soy based meat such as hot dogs, burgers, and other substitute meat products can be very tasty too. Be sure to look at the label of each product to make sure that it is not too high in either salt or fat.
Besides soy, many other legumes are available in ready to use products. In the frozen food section of your local health food store, you'll find lowfat and low salt versions of many ethnic dishes, such as Indian curries with lentils and Mexican entrees with black or kidney beans. In delicatessens, look for hummus, a nutritious Middle Eastern dip made from garbanzo beans.
Even in supermarkets, you can find numerous other bean based entrees, soups, and salads.
To prepare your favorite dishes at home, you can buy a variety of canned, frozen, and bottled legumes. Many types of legumes are available with low or no added salt; it is important, however, to check the label of the can or carton to make sure advertising claims are true. Health food stores also sell several brands of canned beans grown without pesticides or herbicides, an important consideration for women who are chemically sensitive. All legumes combine well with a wide variety of other foods. Include them often to add protein to your homemade soups, salads, casseroles, stir-fries, dips, and other dishes.
Many women feel discouraged from cooking beans and grains because of their lengthy preparation time. Here is a method to speed up cooking time for beans:
Bring water to a boil (three cups of water for every cup of beans). Add the beans to the boiling water and cook for two minutes. Remove from heat, partially cover pan, and let beans cook for one hour. Go about your business or chores during this time as the beans continue to cook. After one hour, drain and rise with cold water and then freeze. When you are ready to use the beans for a meal, thaw them quickly under running water. Boil five cups of water in a pot for every cup of beans. Add the beans. Lower the heat and cook for 30 to 50 minutes. The beans will be ready to eat.
Some women find that gas is a problem when they eat beans. You can minimize gas by taking digestive enzymes and eating beans in small quantities. Also, because legumes contain high levels of protein, they may be difficult to digest at first for women with severe fatigue or digestive problems. For easier digestibility, I recommend beginning with green beans, green peas, split peas, lentils, lima beans, fresh sprouts, and tofu (if you handle soy products well). As your energy level improves, add delicious legumes such as black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, and chickpeas.Common Legumes
Black beans (turtle beans)
Great Northern beans
Split peas Seeds and NutsBoth seeds and nuts contain the embryo that allows plants to procreate future generations. The seed is the ripened ovule of a flowering plant. Within the protective coat of the seed lies the embryo and all the stored food that it needs to develop into a new plant. Nuts are single-seeded fruits of various trees and shrubs. They consist of a kernel sealed within a hard, leathery shell.
Many seeds and nuts are edible; these form an important part of the human diet and the diet of many other animals. They have a variety of textures and flavors. Eaten whole, seeds and nuts are sources of many important nutrients, including healthful polyunsaturated fats; protein; B complex vitamins; vitamins A, D, and E; and many minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc, and phosphorous. Seeds and nuts are also important sources of many oils used in cooking and food preparation.
The healthy essential oils found in many seeds and nuts linoleic acid and linolenic acid are extremely beneficial for women of all ages. Linoleic acid, part of the Omega-6 family of fatty acids, is primarily found in raw seeds and nuts. Good sources include flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts. The other essential fatty acid, linolenic acid, is a member of the Omega-3 family and is primarily found in plant sources such as flax seeds, soy, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, and green leafy vegetables as well as certain fish like salmon, trout and mackerel. Both essential fatty acids must be derived from dietary sources, as the body cannot manufacture them.
The body burns the essential fatty acids not for energy, but for special functions necessary for good health and survival. Our skin is filled with fatty acids that, along with estrogen, provide moisture, softness, and smooth texture. When estrogen levels decline with menopause, we can continue to provide moisture to the skin, vagina, and bladder mucosa by increasing levels of fatty acid containing foods. Flax seed oil is particularly good for dry skin since it contains high levels of both fatty acids. In addition, fatty acids are a main structural component of all cell membranes and are found in high levels in such important tissues as the brain and nerve cells, adrenal gland, retina, and inner ear.
Besides relieving tissue dryness, essential fatty acids are needed by the body as precursors for the production of important hormone like chemicals called prostaglandins. Body tissues manufacture over thirty types of prostaglandins. The proper balance of prostaglandins can play a major role in relieving and preventing many diseases that occur predominantly in the postmenopausal period.
The series one prostaglandins are manufactured by the body from linoleic acid. These prostaglandins have many beneficial effects. One member of the series, called prostaglandin E, or PGE, is particularly helpful for women during their active reproductive years. PGE helps to regulate and relax uterine tone as well as the tension of other muscles in the body. As a result, it protects against developing menstrual cramps. PGE also regulates blood circulation and the diameter of the blood vessels, thus helping to prevent PMS tension headaches. It plays a role in optimizing fluid balance, thereby reducing PMS related bloating, fluid retention, and breast tenderness. In addition, women need adequate levels of this important prostaglandin to prevent PMS related emotional upset, allergies, and lack of resistance to infection.
Menopausal women also need PGE to achieve and maintain optimal health. PGE keeps the platelets, a component of blood, from sticking or clumping together. This reduces the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes by preventing clotting of the blood and obstruction of the blood vessels. Since the incidence of heart attacks increases tenfold between the ages of fifty-five and sixty-five, PGE can benefit women in this age group greatly. In addition, PGE reduces inflammation, and thus the symptoms of arthritis. Many women date the onset of arthritis symptoms after menopause. PGE also stimulates immune function and helps insulin to function effectively. Obviously, a diet high in raw seeds and nuts, promoting series one prostaglandin production, is beneficial to menopausal women.
Besides the many benefits of seed and nut derived oils, flax oil, in particular, has one other special property. The oil is estrogenic and can attach itself to the estrogen receptors in the cells. This can provide a very important extra dietary source of estrogen for postmenopausal women who are showing signs of hormone deficiency.
Besides their high content of essential oils, seeds and nuts are excellent sources of protein. In fact, many commonly eaten seeds such as pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower contain significantly more protein than grains. For example, sesame seeds are 20 percent protein, while sunflower seeds are 25 percent protein. Nuts are similarly rich sources of protein, with almonds and walnuts each containing 20 percent. The protein content of hazelnuts and pecans is somewhat less, at 15 and 10 percent, respectively. When combined with other sources of vegetable protein, seeds and nuts can help to round out and complete a meal.
Seed and nuts are excellent sources of B-complex vitamins and vitamin E, both of which are important antistress factors for women with anxiety, mood swings, and fatigue. These nutrients also help regulate hormonal balance and relieve PMS and menopausal symptoms.
Like vegetables, seeds and nuts are very high in the essential minerals needed by all women such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Particularly beneficial are sesame seeds (a rich source of calcium), sunflower seeds, pistachios, pecans, and almonds. However, one drawback of eating too many seeds is their phosphorus content, which can throw off calcium balance. Thus, ancillary sources of calcium need to be included in the diet. (Nuts are not such a problem in this regard.) Another drawback is that seeds and nuts are also very high in calories and should be eaten in moderate amounts.
The oils in all seeds and nuts are highly perishable, so avoid exposing them to light, heat, and oxygen. I recommend refrigerating all shelled seeds and nuts, as well as their oils, to prevent rancidity. Try to eat them raw, and, if you can, shell them yourself. The intact shell keeps the nuts fresh and delicious. Once you buy them, keep them in a tightly covered container away from the hot stove until you are ready to eat them. Eating them raw and unsalted gives you the benefit of their essential fatty acids, and you'll also avoid the negative effects of too much salt.
I've also found raw seeds and nuts to be more easily digestible.
Seeds and nuts can be used in various ways in food preparation. They make a wonderful garnish on salads, vegetable dishes, and casseroles. You can also eat them as a main source of protein with snacks and light meals. Many natural food stores and some supermarkets carry a variety of delicious seed and nut butters. Almond butter and sesame butter, which are high in calcium, are particularly good spreads. Both are delicious and are wonderful sources of nutrients. They are also very filling, so a little bit goes a long way. I recommend buying the raw nut and seed butters rather than the roasted ones.
Heating seeds and nuts is not desirable, since this process alters the integrity of their fatty acids. Nuts and seeds can also be made into flour, milk, and a variety of other food products.
Nut and seed oils can be used in salad dressings, sauces, sautes, and baked goods. They should not, however, be used in frying or be heated to high temperatures. Heat can alter their chemical structure and adversely affect the body's ability to process them. In fact, when cooking, it is best to use the more stable monounsaturated oils like olive or canola oils.
When choosing these oils, be sure to read labels carefully. The best quality oils are labeled "cold pressed." This type of processing helps to retain the fat-soluble vitamins A and D present in the oils. Heated or chemically extracted oils are less desirable to use in food preparation since the oils are altered in processing.
Recommended seed and nut oils include sesame oil, sunflower oil, almond oil, and walnut oil, to name a few. Of special note for food preparation is flax seed oil. This oil is one of my personal favorites. It has a rich, golden color and is an excellent butter substitute to sprinkle on vegetables, rice, potatoes, pasta, and popcorn. Unlike butter, flax oil cannot be used for cooking. Cook the foods first and add flax oil for flavoring just before serving. Pumpkin seed oil is also delicious, with its deep green color and spicy flavor. It is probably more difficult to find than flax seed oil.