Wednesday, January 31, 2018

20 Foods for a Healthy Heart

     This time of year, we are inundated with hearts. They're everywhere. For me this isn't just a reminder of that special someone in my life, it's also a reminder to help take care of my own heart. So I figured that I'd share with you some great food to add into your diet in order to help keep your heart healthy.

     One trick to better eating, in general, is to “eat the rainbow.” I'm not talking about consuming large quantities of brightly colored, fruit flavored, candies. I'm talking about eating something from a good variety of colors every day. This is a great way to get a wide range of nutrients into your diet. Dark leafy greens have slightly different nutrients than berries, so eat 'em both.

     These are my top 20 heart healthy foods, so if I missed anything it might not be on my radar, please let me know so I can check it out. I also try to keep things on this blog Vegan and Gluten Free friendly, so I'm not going to include 3 of the top foods that doctors commonly recommend for the heart; fish, liver, and oats.  

     Avocados are not the first thing that comes to the minds of most people when it comes to hearth health. They're well known to be loaded with fats, however over 75% of the fats present in avocados are unsaturated, heart healthy, fats. Add to this the amazing amounts of potassium, B-vitamins, vitamin E, other nutrients, and fiber found in avocados and you have a fruit that is amazingly great for your heart. Eating avocados and using avocado oil helps to keep your heart healthy.

     We are all familiar with Vitamin C being great for your immune system, but did you also know that it's great for your heart? Vitamin C helps to prevent coronary artery disease, strengthen blood vessels, and helps to widen arteries. These properties make it a very important nutrient for heart health. And what better way to consume your daily vitamin C amounts than with citrus fruit? Aside from the high amounts of vitamin C they contain, they are also loaded with fiber and other nutrients that help keep your heart healthy.

     We are all well acquainted with a little saying, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” But it might actually have some scientific validation. Apparently eating one or two apples a day has been shown to reduce plaque buildup in your arteries and reduce cholesterol levels. But don't forget to eat the peels, they're packed full of polyphenols which help prevent cardiovascular disease.  

     Asparagus may not be your favorite veggie, but it has a lot of great benefits for your heart. It's loaded with Vitamin K, which helps blood to clot. It's also high in fiber and B vitamins. This, in addition to it's anti-inflammatory properties makes asparagus a great vegetable to eat for heart health.

     We've all been hearing how berries are superfoods and packed full of antioxidants. But what does all that mean for your heart? Well, blackberries and raspberries are rich in polyphenols which help to prevent cardiovascular disease. Blueberries help your memory and they also contain compounds that help to widen arteries. Strawberries contain large amounts of folate which helps to protect your heart, as well as other compounds that help widen the arteries and prevent plaque buildup. Cranberries help increase HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce LDL (bad cholesteral). Plus all berries are packed full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Just one handful of berries a day can help improve your health.

     Flaxseed has been cultivated and consumed as far back as Babylonian times. There are quite a few reasons for this, however one big benefit of consuming flaxseed is that it is a great source of fiber, Omega-3's, and alpha-linolic acid. These nutrients help reduce inflammation, prevent plaque buildup in the arteries, keep the arteries supple, lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels, and help keep the heart healthy. Flaxseed also shows promise in helping regulate the beating of the heart and preventing heart failure. All of this in just a few little seeds.

     Soy's effect on the cardiovascular system has been studied since the 1960's. The findings have been mostly positive ever since. Soy helps to lower cholesterol in general, but especially LDL (bad cholesterol). It also helps to prevent coronary heart disease, lowers blood pressure, helps to widen the arteries, and keeps arteries supple. Plus it's a great source of protein. Even if you don't replace meat and dairy completely with soy products, adding a little soy into your diet can be very beneficial.

     These powerful little seeds have a history of being used to prolong life and vitality. One of the reasons for this is how great they are at reducing inflammation. But they also help lower blood pressure and keep your blood vessels healthy and supple. Chia seeds are high in vitamins A, D, E, and K, as well as omega-3's. Omega-3 fatty acids help to protect the heart by reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and lowering HDL (bad cholesterol). Just a spoonful a day can help reduce your chances of developing major heart conditions.  

     People are always talking about whole grains and how they're great for your heart. Well, I never hear anyone talk about quinoa. However this little grain substitute is packed full of heart healthy benefits. And a bonus, it's gluten free! It's also a complete protein without the cholesterol that most proteins have. This little seed helps to lower LDL (bad cholesterol), reduces blood pressure, keeps your arteries supple, helps widen your arteries, reduces your risk of developing heart disease, strokes, heart attacks, and heart failure.

     Another superfood, pomegranate has been shown to be super effective at preventing heart diseases and even reversing it in certain cases. Pomegranate does this by reducing the effects of stress on the cardiovascular system, enhancing the effects of nitric oxide (which works as an anti-inflammatory that helps keep blood vessels supple), and reducing LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Pomegranate has been shown to even help reverse plaque buildup in the arteries, helping to reverse the onset of heart disease.

     Brassica is not a common word, but the vegetables can be found in each and every grocery store in America. Formerly known as Cruceiferous vegetables, Brassica vegetables include some dietary staples such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, beets, and quite a few of our dark leafy greens. They are full of vitamins and minerals that are super important for heart health; potassium, folate, iron, selenium, and vitamin C, just to name a few. So help yourself to some healthy vegetables and help your heart stay healthy.

     Legume is such a fun word to say. Leg-yoom. But with all silliness aside (well maybe “most” silliness), legumes (beans) are great for your heart. Each different bean has slightly different nutrients, but they all are great sources of B vitamins, potassium, iron, zinc, folate, and several other nutrients that help keep your cardiovascular system strong. Dark beans, such as black beans and kidney beans, are usually considered best, but adding 3-4 servings (each serving is about 1 cup) of beans to your diet each week will help lower your risk of developing cardiovascular issues.  

     Raisins may be small, but they pack a healthy punch. When eaten in moderation, raisins can lower blood pressure and help prevent cardiovascular disease. This is largely attributed to the high amounts of potassium contained in raisins. Potassium, along with polyphenols, tannins, antioxidants, and other nutrients help to keep your cardiovascular system health in a number of ways. All of these can be found in raisins.

     Nuts are great little powerhouses of nutrients and healthy fats. All nuts can help keep your heart healthy, but some nuts stand out from the crowd. Walnuts have a high concentration of healthy fats, but they stand alone because they are the only nuts that have a decent amount of alpha-linoleic acid, which acts as an anti-inflammatory agent and helps prevent plaque buildup in the arteries. Almonds have been shown to help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and inflammation. Pistachios help lower blood pressure when under stress. They also help lower LDL (bad cholesterol) levels. Hazlenuts are super packed full of heart healthy nutrients that help strengthen the blood vessels. Even peanuts, who are generally considered the most unhealthy of nuts, help reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular problems.

     These amazing root vegetables are jam packed full of heart healthy nutrients. They're a great source of potassium which helps balance out your sodium levels and reduces blood pressure. They're loaded with fiber which helps remove cholesterol from your body. They also are a good source for Vitamin C which helps to speed healing, strengthen blood vessels, and boost the immune system. Plus, they're super fun to eat. You can find them in all sorts of colors (my favorite are purple) which helps kids (and adults) eat more of their veggies.  

     Did you know that calcium actually helps your body maintain healthy blood pressure levels? Did you also know that spinach is a great source of calcium? Spinach is a powerhouse for your heart with it's amazing content of folate, calcium, vitamin C, and other heart healthy nutrients. Spinach has been linked to reducing blood pressure, preventing plaque buildup in the arteries, preventing strokes and heart disease, as well as preventing age related heart issues. Yet another reason to love this little green!

     Green Tea is known to be a healthy drink for people in general. But it's especially great for the heart. It contains polyphenols, tannins, vitamins, and minerals that help lower LDL (bad cholesterol, raise HDL (good cholesterol), strengthen blood vessels, help widen arteries, and lower blood pressure. Not only does green tea help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, it also lowers the risk of stroke.

     It's not often that you get a chance to hear about the health benefits of coffee. But coffee is very beneficial when used in moderation. Drinking coffee has been shown to reduce the risk of heart failure, stroke, and heart disease. This has largely been attributed to coffee's caffine content, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties. The health benefits have only been tested in people who drink up to 6 cups a day, scientists are not certain that the benefits would continue in someone who drinks over that amount.

     Drinking anything to excess can cause major problems. However, sometimes drinking a little can be beneficial. Take red wine as an example. Just a single serving of red wine every day can help lower cholesterol levels, and help you relax which lowers your stress levels. Red wine also contains reservatrol, which helps protect your heart from inflammation and heart disease.

     Chocolate is one of my absolute favorite foods. In most cases, it's a guilty pleasure. However, dark chocolate (65%+ cocoa) doesn't have to be such a guilty pleasure. It's actually been shown to lower blood pressure as well as lowering the risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke. However the milk chocolates and white chocolates out there help to increase heart problems due to their high amounts of sugar, which causes inflammation. Stick to dark chocolate and you won't have to feel guilty about chocolate anymore.

If you want to learn more about how these foods can help your heart, and go more in depth about the nutrients needed to keep your heart healthy, join me at the Florida School of Holistic Living in Orlando on February 21, 2018.

Hopefully you find this list helpful in your health journey. If I missed anything or if you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Quick Energy Balls

     Living in modern day America can be hard on anyone. I know it's hard on me at times. All the hustle and bustle, the traffic, and the constant stress do a huge number on all of us. Sometimes we just need a little pick-me-up. A few years ago, when I started my formal herbal studies, I was introduced to Rosemary Gladstar's Zoom Balls. These little candies are a great way to get that much needed energy boost, and they're also a great way to include more healthy herbs into your daily routine. Since then I have created a large variety of variations of her Zoom Balls. Here are just a few to get you going.

1. There are a few things in life that make everything taste better; chocolate, caramel, and chai. The best thing about chai is that while it makes everything taste better, it also makes everything healthier. So here is my favorite energy candy recipe.

Chai Spiced Energy Balls

Chai Spice Blend:
1 tablespoon ground Allspice
1 tablespoon ground Cardamom
1 tablespoon ground Clove
2 tablespoons ground Cinnamon
3 tablespoons ground Ginger
½ teaspoon finely ground Black Pepper

Energy Balls:
1 cup Tahini
½ cup Almond Butter
1 cup Raw Local Honey
6 tablespoons Chai Spice Blend (reserve the rest to roll balls in)
¼ cup Hawthorne Berry Powder
¼ cup Eleuthero Powder
¼ cup Kola Nut Powder *
¼ cup Ashwagandha Powder
¼ cup Astragalus Root Powder
¼ cup Elderberry Powder
½ cup Carob Powder

For the spice blend:
Mix all the herbs together and set aside.

For the energy balls:
In a large mixing bowl, mix together tahini, almond butter, and honey. In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Slowly combine the two mixtures until a thick paste is formed. Roll this paste into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Roll the formed balls in the remaining spice blend. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

*Kola Nut contains caffeine, if you prefer to make this recipe without the caffeine, replace the Kola Nut with an additional ¼ cup of Eleuthero.

2. Green tea is one of the newest flavor fads in the culinary world. However, it's also loaded down with amazing health benefits. It's no wonder that I had to try an energy ball recipe using it.

Green Tea Ginger Energy Balls

1 cup Tahini
½ cup Almond Butter
1 cup Local Raw Honey
¼ cup Golden Raisins
3 tablespoons Matcha Green Tea Powder 
2 tablespoons powdered Ginger
1 tablespoon powdered, dried Lemon Peel
½ cup Eleuthero Powder
½ cup Gotu Kola Powder
½ cup Moringa Powder
½ cup He Shou Wu Powder

In a large mixing bowl, mix together tahini, almond butter, honey, and raisins (optional-puree the raisins first). In a separate bowl, mix together remaining ingredients. Slowly combine the two mixtures until a thick paste is formed. Roll this paste into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Roll the formed balls in Matcha Green Tea Powder (about 2 tablespoons) (optional-1 ½ tablespoons Matcha, ½ tablespoon coconut sugar). Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

3. Every now and then we all need to treat ourselves. These energy candies do just that.

Decadent Dark Chocolate Energy Truffles

1 cup Cashew Butter
½ cup Hazelnut Butter
1 cup Local Raw Honey
¼ cup diced Dates
¼ cup Dark Chocolate Chips
½ cup Dark Cocoa Powder
¼ cup Milled Flaxseed
¼ cup Guarana Powder *
¼ cup Elderberry Powder
¼ cup Hawthorne Berry Powder
¼ cup Ashwagandha Powder
¼ cup Shiitake Powder
¼ cup Eleuthero Powder

* Guarana contains caffeine. If you would like to make this recipe without the additional caffeine, replace the Guarana powder with an additional ¼ cup Eleuthero powder.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the cashew butter, sunflower seed butter, honey, and chocolate chips. In a second mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients. Slowly combine both mixtures until it forms a thick paste. Roll out the paste into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Roll the formed balls in about 2 tablespoons of carob powder. *Optional- Dip the balls in melted, dark chocolate. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

4. All the cocoa flavor without all the misgivings, plus fruit. How much more can you ask for?

Carob Berry Energy Truffles

1 cup Tahini
½ cup Cashew Butter
1 cup Local Raw Honey
¼ cup Dried Cherries
¼ cup Dried Blueberries
¼ cup Goji Berries
¼ cup Carob Chips
½ cup Carob Powder
¼ cup Schisandra Powder
¼ cup Hawthorne Berry Powder
¼ cup Elderberry Powder
¼ cup Bilberry Powder
¼ cup Eleuthero Powder
¼ cup Shiitake Powder
2 tablespoons Freeze Dried Raspberry Powder

In a large mixing bowl, combine tahini, cashew butter, and honey. In a food processor, combine raisins, blueberries, and goji berries. Process into a thick, sticky paste. (Alternately, dice all the dried fruit into small pieces instead of processing into a paste) In a separate bowl, combine all other ingredients, except raspberry powder. Slowly mix together all 3 mixtures until a paste is formed. Roll the past into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Roll the formed balls in the raspberry powder. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

5. “Everything but the kitchen sink” can be found in these energy balls.

Kitchen Sink Energy Balls

1 cup Tahini
½ cup Almond Butter
1 cup Local Raw Honey
¼ cup Toasted Coconut
¼ cup Pepitas
¼ cup Sunflower Seeds
¼ cup Walnuts
¼ cup Dried Cranberries
¼ cup diced Dates
¼ cup Raisins
½ cup Eleuthero Powder
¼ cup Ashwagandha Powder
¼ cup Hawthorne Berry Powder
¼ cup Gotu Kola Powder
¼ cup Tulsi Powder
¼ cup Astragalus Root Powder
¼ cup Powdered Rosehips

In a large mixing bowl, mix tahini, almond butter, and honey. In separate bowl, combine all other ingredients. Slowly, combine both mixtures until a thick paste is formed. Roll paste into balls about 1 inch in diameter. Roll the formed balls in about ¼ cup toasted coconut. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

For anyone interested in Rosemary Gladstar's recipe, here's the video!

      In any of these recipes, feel free to change the ingredients around. Play with different powdered herbs and dried fruits. Use a wide variety of nut butters. Have fun, play around, and let me know what you think below!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cardamom: The Queen of Spices

     I have a not-so-secret I'd like to share. I love Indian food! Seriously. Nothing tastes better than Paneer Masala served with Basmati Rice. Especially if I can enjoy it with a warm cup of Chai Tea. I was making my very own blend of Chai Tea a while back and realized that every spice I added was an amazing powerhouse of herbal potential. From the ginger, to the black pepper, and even to the tea itself. So I pulled out my Garam Masala seasoning and looked at the ingredients, sure enough all of those spices are amazingly beneficial herbs as well. There is one herb that both of these blends have in common that lends it's distinctive flavor to both food and drink, and it works extremely well to help aid digestion and sooth the stomach, which is very important when talking about Indian food.

     Often called “The Queen of Spices,” Cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world, only after Saffron and Vanilla. Elettaria cardamomum is it's scientific name and it belongs to the same family as Ginger and Turmeric, the Zingiberaceae family. Originating in India, it's been used both medicinally and culinarily for thousands of years. It was even commonly used in Ancient Egypt. However, it remains one of the more distinctive spices in Indian cuisine.

Medicinal Uses:

Summary of Actions-
Carminative, stimulant, aromatic, diuretic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiseptic, and aphrodisiac.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)- Known as Sha Ren, the use of Cardamom in Traditional Chinese Medicine goes back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) where it was written about in an ancient book named Yao Xing Lun. This book is devoted to the pharmacological uses of herbs. According to TCM practitioners, Cardamom is spicy, warm, and aromatic. It is associated with the meridians of spleen, stomach, and kidney. It helps to resolve dampness, promote appetite, activates qi to resolve stagnation in the middle burner, warm the spleen, stop diarrhea, and prevent miscarriage.

Ayurveda- Cardamom pacifies all three doshas and is most commonly used for diseases where there is an imbalance in all three doshas. It's also one of the ingredients in Chyawanprash, a traditional Indian jam used for it's nutritive and health properties. It also regulates digestion and improves urine output, so that it is commonly used in Ayurvedic weight loss formulas. People looking to balance Pitta should consume Cardamom in smaller amounts. However, it works well to balance Kapha, especially in the stomach and lungs. It also is excellent at pacifying Vata.

Digestive Aid and Appetite Enhancement-
The volatile oils in Cardamom help to soothe the stomach and intestines. This helps to prevent and reduce a whole host of digestive complaints including constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and flatulence. Aromatically, it can also be used to increase appetite.

Cardiovascular Health-
Cardamom is high in fiber which helps to enhance heart health in general, but specifically helps to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Combined with the levels of heart healthy antioxidants present in this herb, Cardamom is an excellent heart herb. Many heart experts around the world even go to far as to add Cardamom to their meals.

The volatile oils in Cardamom are uplifting and soothing, helping to relieve stress and reduce depression. It can be used in a tea or aromatically to help in this manner.

Cardamom is high in manganese, a mineral found to lower the risk of diabetes.

Dental Health and Bad Breath-
Cardamom is well known for it's ability to combat bad breath, simply by chewing on the seeds. It also helps to fight the bacteria that cause tooth and gum disease and decay.

Cardamom has been shown to have bronchodialatory effects, meaning that it dialates the bronchi and bronchioles in the lungs. Literally, Cardamom makes breathing easier. Especially in the cases of asthma patients.

Nausea, Sore Throat, Vomiting-
Cardamom has an amazing ability to sooth a sore throat, reduce inflammation, reduce nausea, and prevent vomiting.

Cardamom is rich in cineole, which helps to increase and release your passions. Just a tiny pinch of Cardamom can go a long way.

Urinary Disorders-
Cardamom is useful to help with the discomfort associated with passing kidney and gall stones. It can also act as a diuretic to sooth a wide variety of kidney, bladder, and urinary problems.

Cardamom is one of the few herbs that is really helpful in most cases of hiccups. It has muscle-relaxing properties that help sooth the muscles that contract to cause the hiccups. It also helps reduce indigestion which can be another cause of hiccups. Simply add 1 teaspoon of powdered Cardamom to a glass of hot water, let steep 15 minutes, then consume slowly.

Contraindications and Warnings- Generally considered safe, but some people do have allergies to the volatile oils. Cardamom has anti-platelet actions and could possibly cause problems in people taking certain anti-platelet or anticoagulant medicine.

     I only included a basic introduction to this amazing herb. I hope you have learned a new appreciation for how amazing cardamom is. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


11 Amazing Benefits of Cardamom: Organic Facts:

15 Health Benefits of Cardamom: Healthhub:

24 Amazing Benefits of Cardamom: Style Craze:

Ayurveda Health Benefits of Cardamom: AyurHelp:

Black Cardamom (Sha Ren): Chinese Herbs Healing:

Cardamom: Herb Wisdom:

Cardamom: Maharishi Ayurveda:

Cardamom Essential Oil: Sustanable Baby Steps:

Cardamom Helps Prevent Bad Breath, Cavities, & Cancer: Dr Axe:

Cardamom Seed (sha ren): Acupuncture Today:

Chinese Herb Sha Ren: Sacred Lotus:

Cardamom Uses: Easy Ayurveda:


Greetings from the Bat Lady!

     Welcome to Bat Lady Herbals.  I have been fascinated by herbs and various herbal uses for quite a few years now.  Plants are amazing t...