Tag Archives: blueberries

Vegan whole wheat blueberry muffins recipe

screenshot-from-2017-02-12-17-21-41

One silver lining of all the nasty weather we’ve been experiencing lately is that I have more time to bake. Everyone who knows me knows I love blueberries, so what could be better than baking my own whole grain blueberry muffins that are not only perfect for breakfast but also a great snack? The combination of blueberries and a little maple syrup makes these just sweet enough to be enjoyable by most, though probably not sweet enough to be a dessert treat. A good source of protein, fiber and so fruity and spicy, they’re a great way to start the day.

Here’s the recipe:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds(egg replacer/thickener)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil(I used canola)
  • 1 and 1/8 cups soy milk
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon clove
  • 1 and 1/2 cups blueberries(fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  1. Preheat over to 375F
  2. Combine all wet ingredients into 1 bowl and mix thoroughly, adding blueberries last(for this recipe I made a puree of about half the blueberries with my blender and the rest were whole, but this is optional).
  3. Combine dry ingredients into 1 bowl and mix
  4. Now combine all dry and wet ingredients and mix thoroughly
  5. Scoop the batter into muffin cups in muffin tray, about 3 tablespoons each, or enough to fill 1/2 to 2/3 of the muffin cups
  6. Put in oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes at 375F until muffins are golden brown or you can smoothly stick a toothpick in and out of the muffins without any difficulty
  7. Cool for 10 minutes before serving

This should be enough to make 10 large muffins. Feel free to add a little more spice if you like muffins extra spicy. To make them even tastier, you can add vanilla if you want. Similar recipes I’ve seen also include lemon or orange zest(or even orange juice or apple juice), or even apple cider vinegar, all of which I see as optional.

The batter consistency should be thick, but if you find it a little too thick and hard to work with, add a little more soy milk. If it’s too liquidy, add more flour. These came out better than expected though I think I’ll add more spice next time. Enjoy!

Advertisements

Blueberry almond buckwheat beer pancakes

IMG_2339

If you’ve been following my blog long enough, you know how much I love beer pancakes with blueberries. Since I had a larger arsenal of ingredients to work with this time, I decided to improve upon my classic recipe, Vegan buckwheat beer pancakes with blueberry syrup by:

  • Substituting 1/3 of the buckwheat flour with almond meal
  • Substituting 1/4 of the rice milk with beer
  • Adding freeze dried blueberries to the batter

Everything else was the same and it was as vegan as ever. The almond meal and freeze dried blueberries were from Trader Joe’s. The almond meal makes the pancakes tastier, a bit crunchier, and boosts the protein and fat(the healthy kind) content. They also make the pancakes less fluffy, though luckily the beer can help compensate for this a little. If you like your pancakes fluffy use only a small amount of almond meal, substituting 20% of the buckwheat flour or less. You may also need to use more liquid lecithin(egg replacer) if you use a lot of almond meal, to help thicken the batter and bind everything together.

Another idea for those who prefer fluffy pancakes but also want them to taste almondy is to use almond milk instead of rice or soy milk. If you have time, I recommend making your own almond milk. One of my most favorite vegan/vegetarian blogs, Love and Lentils, has a terrific almond milk recipe.

The amount of beer I used was different this time. Last time, I substituted half of the rice milk with beer. Although the pancakes came out well last time, the beer tended to overwhelm everything else. I think 25% beer is better, but you can use as little or as much as you want. Some beer pancake lovers will use nothing but beer.

All in all, they came out better than last time. Sweet without being too sweet, blueberry-ish, chewy, buckwheaty, cinnamony, and beery! I highly recommend it!

Baked sweet potatoes for dinner

IMG_2252After a wonderful long walk along the river enjoying the fall foliage, I decided to make sweet potatoes for dinner, along with raw almonds, lightly steamed kale, and a glass of homemade vegan blueberry kefir.

Sweet potatoes are packed with beta-carotene, which gives them their bright orange color. They are also a good source of various vitamins, and minerals, as well as fiber and starch. They contain only a little protein, and almost no fat. Almonds, on the other hand, contain a significant amount of protein, along with a lot of fat(mostly the healthy kind) as well as fiber.

Kale is a type of cabbage, and is loaded with powerful carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin, which are said to be good for the eyes. Kale is also a good source of fiber.

The vegan blueberry kefir has a lot of anthocyanins, which may be helpful for exercise recovery and may help prevent some diseases, and since it was fermented also has probiotic benefits. It was wonderfully effervescent, and a bit sour, a nice compliment to the sweet potatoes and almonds. It has a tincture of alcohol in it, making it sort of like the “red wine” of the meal.

It took about 45 minutes in the oven to bake the sweet potatoes. I added a dash of cinnamon to spice things up. They were very delicious, and all in all, a terrific vegan autumn meal. And very colorful too!

Pendant that I am, it must be noted that sweet potatoes are not related to potatoes. They are in completely different plant families. Sweet potatoes are related to morning glories, and potatoes are in the nightshade family, which means they are closely related to nightshades like tomatoes, eggplant, bell peppers and tobacco, yes, tobacco!

Besides this, sweet potatoes are often called yams, though they are not related to true yams. While they are both tubers, real yams are much bigger and starchier, and only taste a little like sweet potatoes. True yams only grow in the tropics or sub-tropics, and are originally from Africa. They tend to be sold in Caribbean or African markets.

For more information: Sweet Potato and Yam Differences

Other terrific vegan meal ideas:

Screenshot from 2013-10-27 20:46:27

Homemade Vegan Blueberry Kefir Juice

IMG_1460I am a fermented food fanatic. In part, this is because probiotic fermented foods and beverages are the best way to get a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria into your digestive system. They help improve digestion, may boost the immune system, and are a good source of B vitamins and vitamin K. Besides this, they just taste very good, having more complex flavors than their unfermented counterparts.

Yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles, and kimchi are all commonly eaten fermented foods. They are often sold pasteurized, a process which destroys the beneficial bacteria(along with the bad). This greatly reduces their nutritional benefits, and means they are not probiotic. The best way to ensure you are getting all the probiotic benefits from fermented food is to make them yourself.

Yogurt is one of the most studied and lauded of probiotic foods, and many people try to make it at home to maximize the health benefits. Of course, if you are a vegan you can’t eat yogurt(unless it is soy or almond based), or drink its distant cousin from the Caucasus, kefir. Kefir tastes like yogurt and is similar to yogurt in many ways but its often thought to be more powerful(it has more “biodiversity” I’ve read), and is usually consumed as a milk beverage. Unlike yogurt, kefir is made from kefir grains, a symbiotic mixture of bacteria and yeast which is used to ferment milk into a bubbly kefir milk drink; the kefir grains, which multiply when fed properly can be reused indefinitely for this process. Sometimes kefir grains are called a “SCOBY”, acronym for Symbiotic Colony Of Bacteria and Yeast.

Traditionally, kefir grains were only used for fermenting milk, but luckily for us vegans there is a vegan version of kefir. These are called water kefir grains, and just like the milk based version, they are made of a symbiotic complex of beneficial bacteria and yeast(unlike milk kefir, water kefir grains tend to be smaller and more translucent). They can be used to make fruit or spice based drinks, and can even be used to ferment juice. I like to use them to make a fizzy blueberry kefir juice. It sort of tastes like soda but is so much better.

This is how I go about making blueberry kefir juice. You will need:

  • 1 half gallon wide mouth glass mason jar with a sturdy plastic lid
  • 32 ounces blueberry juice(I used Trader Joe’s because it is 100% pure blueberry juice)
  • 1 tablespoon of organic or unsulfured molasses
  • Strainer to strain the kefir grains(use plastic or stainless steel, any other metal can cause serious problems)

Directions:

1) Obtain water kefir grains and make sure they are healthy. Healthy kefir grains tend to be somewhat firm, and sort of look like rock candy. You can order water kefir grains from so many different places online or get them from a kefir enthusiast friend like I did. If you get them in the mail, you will need to rehydrate them in sugar water(unless they are shipped fresh), and they should come with directions for this.

2) Pour blueberry juice into wide mouth jar and add one tablespoon of molasses. Stir very thoroughly. It is important that you do this before adding the water kefir grains, since stirring them can damage them. The molasses provides sugars and important minerals the water kefir grains need to thrive.

3) Add 1 to 3 tablespoons of water kefir grains to the blueberry molasses mixture. Do not stir the grains into the mixture, just let them settle.

IMG_14734) Cover the jar, preferably with a plastic lid and screw it on tightly. You want to limit the kefir drinks contact with metal as much as possible since it can give the drink a metallic taste or damage the kefir grains. Do not shake.

IMG_1512

Strained water kefir grains that were in blueberry juice overnight.

5) Leave the jar in a dark area for 12 to 24 hours, and look at it every now and then to make sure it doesn’t get too bubbly. If it gets too bubbly, quickly open it to release the pressure then close. After waiting for 12 to 24 hours, you can strain out the now reddish-purplish water kefir grains. The kefir is now ready for secondary fermentation.

6) In secondary fermentation, the water kefir grains are removed by straining since by now the blueberry juice should have a significant amount of bacteria and yeast to help continue the fermentation process for another 2 to 3 days. Do not shake.

Screenshot from 2013-08-16 14:50:26

First fermentation on left, using plastic lid but no airlock. Secondary fermentation on the right. Note the airlock in the photo on the right.

7) Although not absolutely necessary, it may be a good idea to use an airlock(or fermentation lock) to help release CO2 gas from the brewing blueberry kefir. Airlocks keep out oxygen while allowing the release of CO2 gas, and are commonly used by home brewers who make their own beer or wine. I recommend using one because the CO2 pressure can really build during secondary fermentation, so if you don’t have an airlock, don’t leave the lid on too tight, or if you want it to be fizzy, screw on tight and open a few times a day to let out gas. Although it has never happened to me, kefir can cause explosions or the lid may just pop up to the ceiling. This is why it is a good idea to monitor your kefir a few times a day, and use an airlock in secondary fermentation which can pretty much prevent any explosions. This is also why the wide mouth jar should only be filled to no more than 2/3, since any more increases the risk of explosion. Refrigerating the kefir drink during primary or secondary fermentation can also slow down the fermentation, which can help prevent it from exploding. Don’t forget that the fermentation will continue even after the kefir is ready for drinking and even if you only leave a small amount in the refrigerator.

8) After 2 to 3 days of secondary fermentation the blueberry kefir is ready to drink. It should be delightfully fizzy and bubbly as well as sour but still have some sweetness due to the natural sugars and molasses. Depending on how long you ferment it, you may also taste a tiny bit of alcohol, but it is usually no more than 1% alcohol, unless you leave it in secondary fermentation for more than a week(it can become wine-like if left to ferment for weeks). 1% alcohol is acceptable to a teetotaler like me(ripe bananas are often 1% alcohol), and practically harmless for nearly everyone including children. However, I think you should avoid drinking kefir if you’re a recovering alcoholic, or have a liver disease, or you’re pregnant.

The finished product! It was very fizzy, and it does have a mild alcoholic taste with some sourness and a little bit of sweetness(not as sweet as I had anticipated). I refrigerated it for a day before I drank it this morning. I removed the lid with the airlock and put the regular plastic lid back on before putting it in the refrigerator.

The finished product! It was very fizzy, and it does have a mild alcoholic(a little more alcoholic than I thought it would be) taste with some sourness and a little bit of sweetness(not as sweet as I had anticipated). I refrigerated it for a day before I drank it this morning. I removed the lid with the airlock and put the regular plastic lid back on before putting it in the refrigerator.
The taste reminds me a lot of Synergy gingerberry kombucha that is sold in a lot of health food stores – the blueberry kefir tastes more alcoholic, more “juicey” overall, and a bit more sweet.

Keep in mind that it won’t stop fermenting just because it is drinkable. It will continue to ferment even in the refrigerator(I kept mine in the refrigerator for the last day of fermentation to slow it down as I was busy and didn’t want it to ferment too fast before I could drink it), so be careful with it. I keep the blueberry kefir juice in the refrigerator in the same large jar I used to ferment it in. This blueberry kefir juice is a real nutritional powerhouse, and could serve as the ultimate sports drink. It is full of healthful phytochemicals that may speed up exercise recovery, has B vitamins, minerals, and unlike most sports drinks has a good dose of healthy gut bacteria to improve digestion. I will drink a little bit of it before I go for a run today to see if it gives me a boost.

There are so many different ways to try this recipe. You could even skip the secondary fermentation stage if you want, and just leave the kefir grains in the juice for a few days(though it still will be in secondary fermentation the moment you remove the water kefir grains for drinking, even if refrigerated). I don’t recommend skipping this stage, unless you have a significant surplus of water kefir grains that can be disposed of after use. In fact, even if you leave the kefir grains in the blueberry juice for less than a day it can still damage them; this entire recipe may render the kefir grains useless for making any other fermented drinks, so make sure you have a kefir grain surplus first(remember, they multiply when fed right).

Another variant is to simply add a little kefir sugar water(after it has fermented for a day or 2) from the jar you normally keep your water kefir grains in to some blueberry juice or any juice to give it a probiotic boost. This approach will spare the water kefir grains but at the same time its not the same as fermenting blueberry juice as a whole, which gives it such a robust taste.

This is a great resource for so that you can reuse the same kefir grains indefinitely and help them to grow – Encouraging Water Kefir Grains to Multiply

The water kefir grains I used to make the blueberry kefir juice are kept separate from my main water kefir grains. Putting water kefir grains into juice can damage and prevent them from growing, so after doing this I won’t use them to make a kefir juice drink for about a week or so to let them recover, and will store them in their usual sugar water solution.

Water kefir grains are very versatile, so have fun with them but make sure you don’t do anything to permanently damage them. There are so many different ways to make kefir drinks, but don’t stray too far from the directions until you gain experience. Making kefir drinks is a great way to teach children about symbiotic organisms and fermentation. Maybe they could even do a science project about kefir. Making kefir is similar to making kombucha(fermented tea), but I think making kefir is a little less labor intensive than making kombucha. Some people even use water kefir grains for making sauerkraut or sourdough breads.

If you are not used to fermented or probiotic foods, you may feel a great deal of digestive discomfort after drinking this for the first time. So if you are new to this, drink only a small amount. You can get used to it after a week or so. If you are avoiding sugar, keep in mind that much of the molasses sugar in this recipe(and in water kefir sugar water) is converted to lactic acid and alcohol, though it still does contain a significant amount of sugars even in the end product. If this is still too much, then just eat fresh sauerkraut for the probiotic benefits.

If you have any questions or comments, please post.

Happy kefir making!

Some more resources on water kefir:

1) Dom’s Kefir Site

My water kefir grains, the ones that were not in the blueberry juice.

My water kefir grains, the ones that were not in the blueberry juice.

Homemade blueberry wine

2205627034_2930e4e664_z

Blueberry honey wine fermenting in my yard.

I don’t make honey wine or wine anymore and don’t drink it or any alcohol, but making this was a lot of fun. This is an old photo from years ago when I was a vegetarian but not a vegan. I love transformative processes like fermentation. It was so educational doing this a bunch of times. Learning to ferment food can better connect you with your food, and the environment, kind of like a gardener growing a lot of the food that they eat. Fermented food may also be good for your digestion.

This blueberry wine was so sweet and delicious. It was very fruity, bubbly and pulpy, unlike most commercial wine which is “over-refined” in my opinion, and often contains all sorts of additives(many of which aren’t vegan, but then again honey isn’t vegan either). The alcohol content was pretty low, so I wasn’t under the influence when I drank this. I don’t remember the exact recipe I used, I just remember using water, honey, and blueberries. I didn’t use any commercial yeast since yeast is in the air, so just leaving it open long enough will let in enough wild yeast.

Here is a recipe similar to the one I used: How to Make Cheap Wine

It is easier than you think. I believe this recipe is vegan, and you do not have to use yeast if you do not want to; the alcohol content will likely be lower and it will ferment more slowly without the yeast, but it is worth a shot. Some homemade wine enthusiasts will leave these things fermenting for years, letting it continue to evolve into something with a very robust, complex flavor.

Whatever you do, drink responsibly.

Grapes versus blueberries for health

Not all fruit was created equal. Some are simply better than others when it comes to health benefits or exercise recovery. Generally, it seems the darker the fruit(or vegetable for that matter), the more beneficial. Hence the superiority of cherries and blueberries over grapes. Let’s see what the science has to say.

According to the Dept. of Kinesiology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, in the study Grape Consumption’s Effects on Fitness, Muscle Injury, Mood, and Perceived Health:

Six weeks of supplemental grape consumption by recreationally active young adults has no effect on VO2max, work capacity, mood, perceived health status, inflammation, pain, or physical-function responses to a mild injury induced by eccentric exercise.

This doesn’t mean that grapes are bad, just that they aren’t among the better fruits. Let’s see what the science says for blueberries. The Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damagein the J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012; 9: 19 found that:

Results

A significant (p < 0.001) decrease in isometric, concentric and eccentric torque was observed 12 hours following exercise in both treatment groups. During the 60 hour recovery period, a significant (p = 0.047) interaction effect was seen for peak isometric tension suggesting a faster rate of recovery in the blueberry intervention group. A similar trend was observed for concentric and eccentric strength. An increase in oxidative stress and inflammatory biomarkers was also observed in both treatment groups following EIMD. Although a faster rate of decrease in oxidative stress was observed in the blueberry group, it was not significant (p < 0.05) until 36 hours post-exercise and interestingly coincided with a gradual increase in plasma antioxidant capacity, whereas biomarkers for inflammation were still elevated after 60 hours recovery.

Conclusions

This study demonstrates that the ingestion of a blueberry smoothie prior to and after EIMD accelerates recovery of muscle peak isometric strength. This effect, although independent of the beverage’s inherent antioxidant capacity, appears to involve an up-regulation of adaptive processes, i.e. endogenous antioxidant processes, activated by the combined actions of the eccentric exercise and blueberry consumption. These findings may benefit the sporting community who should consider dietary interventions that specifically target health and performance adaptation.

Impressive. I’ll stick to eating blueberries instead of grapes for exercise recovery and for general health.

 

Exercise recovery is just a bowl of cherries

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

The delicious spring weather has just been so perfect these days, allowing me to push myself to run faster while juggling 3 balls, as well as slowly improving my 4 ball joggling. All this speed means more strain on my muscles and connective tissues, so I am always on the lookout for something or other to maximize my recovery. Juggling while running for an hour or more can produce a lot of inflammation throughout the body, which can damage muscle tissue and hinder the body’s innate healing response. All else being equal, a joggler is likely more inflammed and worn out than a mere runner so we need to be a little more careful to ensure proper recovery.

I’ll assume we all know to get enough water before, during, and after a workout, as well as refueling with carbs and protein within 30 minutes after exercise. I usually drink a lot of fruit juice after long runs, along with some nuts or protein powder or will simply have a meal if its meal time. I’ve long believed that the phytochemicals in various fruit and vegetable juices can assist in recovery, due to their ability to protect tissues from inflammatory processes and free radicals. This is partially due to their antioxidant effects, but as I’ve said in previous posts, a lot more is going on. So to me, recovery has long been more than simply getting macro-nutrients, electrolytes, and proper hydration.

Which brings us to cherry juice. Some interesting studies on cherry juice suggest it may help speed recovery from both marathon running and strength training. According to the School of Psychology and Sport Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, in their study, the Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running:

The cherry juice appears to provide a viable means to aid recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, lipid peroxidation and so aiding in the recovery of muscle function.

This sounds good enough to the point that I may drink cherry juice more often after workouts. Now I realize it’s good to be skeptical and cherry juice may not work for everyone, and maybe the study is flawed, but this is just cherry juice, so there is little risk involved. I’m also very curious to see if it will do anything for me. Even if it doesn’t, I love tartness.

Here’s a study on Montmorency cherries from the Sports and Exercise Science Research Centre, London South Bank University, London, United Kingdom, Montmorency cherry juice reduces muscle damage caused by intensive strength exercise:

Montmorency cherries contain high levels of polyphenolic compounds including flavonoids and anthocyanins possessing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. We investigated whether the effects of intensive unilateral leg exercise on oxidative damage and muscle function were attenuated by consumption of a Montmorency cherry juice concentrate using a crossover experimental design.

CONCLUSIONS:

Montmorency cherry juice consumption improved the recovery of isometric muscle strength after intensive exercise perhaps owing to the attenuation of the oxidative damage induced by the damaging exercise.

Now that’s some juice! This isn’t very surprising, since we all know fruit has a lot of health-promoting compounds. These flavonoids occur in many different fruits, so it is possible that you can get similar benefits from eating or drinking other fruits. For example, peaches and plums are very closely related to cherries, so they may have similar benefits. Blueberries are also loaded with potent flavonoids, though they are not related to cherries.

So grab some fruit or fruit juice after a long strenuous workout, especially the dark colorful ones like cherries or blueberries. Also make sure you get enough protein(I often eat a lot of almonds after workouts) and water. Faster, more complete recovery means being able to exercise on a more consistent basis. Outside of exercise recovery, go easy on sugary fruit juices. They’re okay after exercise because that’s when your muscles need to replenish their glucose.

Do it right, and exercise can be a bowl of cherries.

The Way of the Antioxidant

It always seemed so irresistibly simple. Oxidation = bad, therefore antioxidants = good. Free radicals(any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in an outer shell, making it highly reactive and unstable) have long been seen as the “bad guys” going around our body and causing oxidative damage, by “stealing” electrons from other atoms, leading to aging and disease. This in turn can lead to a chain reaction with the atoms and molecules that had their electrons “stolen” from them becoming free radicals themselves, trying to steal electrons from other atoms.

In comes the police, uh, I mean the antioxidants to put a stop to this mayhem. Antioxidants protect the body’s tissues by donating their own electrons to the free radicals, neutralizing the threat. We actually produce our own antioxidants: glutathione peroxidase, and superoxide dismutase, among others. We also get antioxidants through our diet, such as vitamin C(ascorbic acid), vitamin E(actually a family of chemically similar fat-soluble vitamins), and beta-carotine(and other carotenoids), among so many others. Even the non-vitamin phytochemicals in many plant foods often have antioxidant effects(by definition, vitamins are absolutely essential for the body to function properly, while phytochemicals are not, though at least some of them are beneficial for health).

So taking large amounts of antioxidant supplements would obviously protect the body even more than getting smaller amounts from food, right? Wrong! Indeed, let’s look at the results of a study done on athletes who took antioxidant supplements, people whose muscles are under a great deal of oxidative stress during exercise.

Does antioxidant vitamin supplementation protect against muscle damage?
McGinley C, Shafat A, Donnelly AE.
Source

Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences, University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland.

Abstract

The high forces undergone during repetitive eccentric, or lengthening, contractions place skeletal muscle under considerable stress, in particular if unaccustomed. Although muscle is highly adaptive, the responses to stress may not be optimally regulated by the body. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are one component of the stress response that may contribute to muscle damage after eccentric exercise. Antioxidants may in turn scavenge ROS, thereby preventing or attenuating muscle damage. The antioxidant vitamins C (ascorbic acid) and E (tocopherol) are among the most commonly used sport supplements, and are often taken in large doses by athletes and other sportspersons because of their potential protective effect against muscle damage. This review assesses studies that have investigated the effects of these two antioxidants, alone or in combination, on muscle damage and oxidative stress. Studies have used a variety of supplementation strategies, with variations in dosage, timing and duration of supplementation. Although there is some evidence to show that both antioxidants can reduce indices of oxidative stress, there is little evidence to support a role for vitamin C and/or vitamin E in protecting against muscle damage. Indeed, antioxidant supplementation may actually interfere with the cellular signalling functions of ROS, thereby adversely affecting muscle performance. Furthermore, recent studies have cast doubt on the benign effects of long-term, high-dosage antioxidant supplementation. High doses of vitamin E, in particular, may increase all-cause mortality. Although some equivocation remains in the extant literature regarding the beneficial effects of antioxidant vitamin supplementation on muscle damage, there is little evidence to support such a role. Since the potential for long-term harm does exist, the casual use of high doses of antioxidants by athletes and others should perhaps be curtailed.

Okay, so they don’t prevent oxidative damage to muscles, but can vitamin C at least improve athletic performance?

Effect of vitamin C supplements on physical performance.

Braakhuis AJ.
Source

US Olympic Committee, Sport Performance, Olympic Training Center, Chula Vista, CA 91915, USA. andrea.braakhuis@usoc.org

Abstract

Vitamin C is an essential component of the diet and may reduce the adverse effects of exercise-induced reactive oxygen species, including muscle damage, immune dysfunction, and fatigue. However, reactive oxygen species may mediate beneficial training adaptations that vitamin C attenuates; indeed, from a total of 12 studies, vitamin C in doses >1 g·d(-1) impaired sport performance substantially in four of four studies, possibly by reducing mitochondrial biogenesis, while a further four studies demonstrated impairments that were not statistically significant. Doses of ∼0.2 g·d(-1) of vitamin C consumed through five or more servings of fruit and vegetables may be sufficient to reduce oxidative stress and provide other health benefits without impairing training adaptations.

It appears that supplemental vitamin C impaired performance. The general idea here for why mega-doses of vitamin C and other antioxidant supplements are not protecting tissues or enhancing performance is that not all oxidation reactions are harmful; they are used in many metabolic reactions, for cell communications and are important for the immune system. So if you effectively shut down oxidation with a flood of antioxidants, you may be interfering with some important chemical reactions in your body, and doing more harm than good. Vitamin C isn’t just an antioxidant – it is needed for collagen production and immunity and not getting enough results in a serious deficiency disease called scurvy. Scurvy is very rare in the developed world, and only a small daily dose(60mg) of vitamin C is necessary to prevent it.

The best way to get antioxidants. Source: Wikipedia

The best way to get antioxidants. Source: Wikipedia

Okay, then maybe, just maybe a powerful antioxidant like beta-carotine can protect smokers, who are exposing themselves to a lot of oxidative damage through the act of smoking:

Beta-carotene in multivitamins and the possible risk of lung cancer among smokers versus former smokers: a meta-analysis and evaluation of national brands.

CONCLUSIONS:

High-dose beta-carotene supplementation appears to increase the risk of lung cancer among current smokers. Although beta-carotene was prevalent in multivitamins, high-dose beta-carotene was observed among multivitamin formulas sold to promote visual health.

So far, it doesn’t look like antioxidant supplements are beneficial for anyone’s health. Beta-carotine, in particular, may even increase lung cancer risk in smokers.

This doesn’t mean that antioxidants are themselves bad for you. It just means you are better off getting them from food, where they may interact with other chemicals in the fruits and vegetables they naturally coincide with in a manner that makes them relatively harmless and likely beneficial.

Antioxidants do provide some protection, but that’s not the whole story. It’s long been thought that fruits and vegetables are beneficial largely due to their antioxidant content. This may still be true in part, but the phytochemicals in them may have other ways of protecting our health in ways science is still trying to figure out. Antioxidant content may be a proxy measure of protective phytochemical content, since many if not most phytochemicals tend to have antioxidant effects. Blueberries, with a very high antioxidant content and some possible brain-protecting effects, are a good example of this.

Good health means having a good balance between antioxidants and oxidation reactions, which taking large doses of antioxidant supplements interferes with.

Blueberries the brain and synergy

blueberries

Source: Wikipedia

Blueberries may be one of the best foods for keeping your brain healthy. According to research at Tufts university, Blueberry supplementation enhances signaling and prevents behavioral deficits in an Alzheimer disease model. This sounds very promising, although this study used rats instead of humans.

A study using humans at the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center showed “The findings of this preliminary study suggest that moderate-term blueberry supplementation can confer neurocognitive benefit and establish a basis for more comprehensive human trials to study preventive potential and neuronal mechanisms.” Basically, blueberry consumption improved memory, and according to the same study “there were trends suggesting reduced depressive symptoms”.

This is quite impressive for something that often grows in bogs in the northern U.S. Blueberries tend to get a lot of attention due to their antioxidant power – if antioxidants were like muscle power, blueberries would consistently knock out all the other fruits and vegetables and be the antioxidant heavy weight champion(the only fruits that scored higher were dried so their antioxidant power became more concentrated). This antioxidant power comes from its very high amount of anthocyanins, the reddish, purplish, blueish pigments that gives it its distinctive color. However, the antioxidant effects of anthocyanins only partially explains their neuro-protective effects and other health benefits. There is so much else going on, with anthocyanins also having possible anti-carcinogenic effects. Cranberries, which are in the same genus as blueberries, have similar benefits. The bilberry is the European cousin of the North American blueberry – in Spanish however they are both called “arándano”.

bluebrain

Public domain image from BrainSource.com

All these studies cited(even from previous posts) only focus on one particular substance or therapy. Imagine combining them. Imagine the synergistic effects on the brain of blueberry consumption combined with exercise and juggling on patients with cognitive problems – can it also enhance brain function in people who are young and healthy? Obviously, more research needs to be done, but what we do know suggests strongly we should be eating more fruits and vegetables, especially the dark, richly colored ones.

There is so much you can do to keep your brain young, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Related articles: