The Many Benefits of the Humble Dandelion

dandelion

Of all the weeds that can overtake our yards and ruin our gardens, the dandelion reigns supreme. However, despite its invasive nature, nutritionists and herbalists have long understood the value of the misunderstood dandelion.

In fact, both American and Chinese traditional medicines have used all parts of the dandelion to treat a variety of ailments for hundreds of years. Modern bodybuilders still make use of dandelion root tea and the plant can have wide nutritional benefits for anyone.

So instead of just disposing of all those annoying little yellow flowers when they cover your lawn next spring, consider cleaning them up and putting them to use.

Nutrition

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, dandelions are a rich source of vitamins A, B complex, C and D. The plant also offers several minerals including iron, potassium and zinc. This is all in addition to the complex collection of plant chemicals that help the dandelion ward of bacterial and fungal infections.

Dandelions also contain a small amount of protein, carbohydrates and fiber, and are fat-free. The high fiber content means that dandelions will make you feel full quickly and, since dandelions have only about 25 calories per cup, the chances of you gaining weight from eating them are very slim, so to speak.

Other Uses and Benefits

The high levels of iron in the leaves and roots of the dandelion have contributed to its use as a liver tonic in many cultures. Although there is primary research to support that dandelions can help to improve both liver and gallbladder health, the studies were poorly designed and could not be replicated by other researchers.

Dandelion root is an effective and time-tested diuretic, however. Bodybuilders commonly use a tea made of dandelion root to quickly lose water weight and attain a more chiseled

look before a competition. The root tea is also thought to soothe an upset stomach and improve digestion, but these uses are generally based on anecdotal evidence. The dandelion root tea is conveniently available at many health food stores if you aren’t up to harvesting and preparing your own.

Animal studies have also shown that dandelions may help maintain healthy blood sugar, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. These results haven’t been reproduced, though, and human studies are needed to understand the full potential of this application.

How to Enjoy Them

All these factors considered, dandelions are pretty appealing from a nutritional standpoint. The flavor, though, can be a little off-putting. The greens are bitter and the roots are woody. The flowers do have a slightly sweet flavor but separating enough of them can be a difficult process.

Properly prepared, however, dandelions can be a tasty addition to any meal. The leaves can be tossed into a salad, steamed or even sauteed.

Recipes that call for bitter greens like arugula can easily be modified to include dandelion. The roots should be sauteed until soft and can be added to dishes for a nutty flavor.

If you decide to go foraging, pick a clean area, free from pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Use a short but sharp knife to cut the plant free, leaving the top of the root intact to hold the leaves together. If you plan on using the roots, simply dig the plants up. Stick to leaves that are small and young, since larger leaves will be more bitter. Make sure to wash the plants thoroughly in warm water.

Have you used dandelion in your diet before? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Sources

http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/vegetables-and-vegetable-products/2441/2

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/dandelion-000236.htm

Breakfast: Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Fried egg with baconHow many times has someone reminded you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It’s one of those health bromides that most everyone knows — and ignores. We’re usually in just too much of a rush in the mornings to do anything more than grab a pre-packaged or frozen something and call it a meal. Lots of us skip this meal altogether.

Not the best move, nutritionists tell us. But why is breakfast so important anyway? And what makes a “healthy” one?

Why is Breakfast Important?

As the name suggests, breakfast is about breaking the fast that you’ve experienced since your last meal the night before. Depending on your schedule, this could mean that you haven’t eaten in 10 to 15 hours, a huge gap considering that during the day we eat about every four hours.

Although we generally don’t think of sleep as an active time, your brain and body are still hard at work. Muscles rebuild themselves and recover from the demands of the previous day.Food is digested so the nutrients can be processed and stored; the heart and lungs continue to operate.And all of this is overseen by the brain, which is busy processing information collected throughout the day.

All of this activity burns up a lot of fuel in the form of glucose. So, when we stumble out of bed in the morning, our brains and entire bodies are at a massive caloric deficit.

When You Skip Breakfast

For some people, skipping breakfast is the result of simple oversight or disorganization. But others make the decision consciously, believing that it will help them lose weight.

In some cases, these deliberate skippers will then workout on an empty stomach, trying to force themselves into a fat-burning calorie deficit. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine explored the efficacy of this approach by monitoring the biological responses of exercisers who had fasted versus those who had eaten. The researchers found that the subjects who ate a light meal before exercising burned more calories, specifically those from fat, for up to 24 hours following the workout.

It should also be considered that when you skip any meal and go for long periods of time without eating, your blood sugar drops dramatically. Because you are more hungry than you would be otherwise, you are more likely to eat a large meal which will cause an insulin spike. This hormone response will actually cause your body to store more fat.

This Balanced Breakfast

Science and experience have shown the importance of breakfast, especially for the physically active person. But what is a healthy breakfast?

The exact answer to that question is fairly controversial in the health and fitness realm, but most experts agree that breakfast should account for about 25 to 30 percent of your daily calories.

This means that a healthy person following an active lifestyle and using a standard 2000 calorie diet should have a 500- to 600-calorie meal to start the day.

According to the IDEA Fitness Journal, an ideal breakfast should incorporate complex carbohydrates like oats and cereals, fiber from fruits and vegetables, and proteins from beans or nuts. IDEA suggests that breakfast should be no-to-low fat, so if you use milk in your oatmeal, cereal or smoothie, consider low-fat options or alternatives such as soy or rice milk.

A healthy breakfast will help set the nutritional tone for the day and get your body off to a decent metabolic start. Find foods that you can easily fit into your schedule and enjoy first thing in the morning. Also, consider your activity for the day and adjust your meal to fit. If it’s a training day, you’re going to want to eat more complex carbs than otherwise. Some easily prepared complex carbohydrate foods include starchy vegetables, beans and whole grains. If you’re typically rushing out the door first thingin the morning, why not try preparing something the night before? With just a little planning, you could have no-cook refrigerator oatmeal ready to grab and go in the morning.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share an easy recipe for healthy breakfast bars that’s been my fall-back breakfast option for a long time.

How have you managed to fit a balanced breakfast into your busy schedule? Please share your tips with us in the comments.

Sources

http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/build-a-better-breakfast-0

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21411835

http://www.theyummylife.com/Refrigerator_Oatmeal