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 Integrative Medicine: Foods to Eat for Good Health 
 

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

  • Adzuki beans
  • Black beans (turtle beans)
  • Black-eyed peas
  • Cranberry beans
  • Garbanzo beans
  • Great Northern beans
  • Green beans
  • Green peas
  • Kidney beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima beans
  • Mung beans
  • Navy beans
  • Pinto beans
  • Red beans
  • Snow peas
  • Soybeans
  • Split peas
Seeds and Nuts
Both 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.

Best Seeds and Nuts for Dietary Use

  • Seeds
  • Flax
  • Pumpkin
  • Sesame
  • Sunflower
  • Nuts
  • Almond
  • Filberts
  • Pecans
  • Pistachios
  • Walnuts
Fish and Poultry
Fish and poultry are the best choices for women who feel that they need to retain meat in their diet. A number of people simply enjoy the flavor and texture of meat, while a minority actually don't feel as well or as energized on an all vegetarian diet.

If you fall into one of these categories, fish and poultry can supply a number of important nutritional needs. Both are excellent sources of high quality protein. All types of fish, including saltwater fish, freshwater fish, and shellfish, as well as all types of commonly eaten poultry like chicken, turkey, duck, goose, and game fowl, contain a complete range of the essential amino acids needed to build protein. These acids can be utilized by the body for many purposes, such as building structural components of tissue and maintaining immune function.

(Excerpted from The Women's Health Companion ISBN: 0890877335)
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 About The Author
Susan Lark MDDr. Susan M. Lark is one of the foremost authorities on women's health issues and is the author of nine books. She has served on the faculty of Stanford University Medical School...more
 
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