Thursday, 22 November 2012

Why Include Pomegranates in Your Healthy Diet

Introducing Pomegranates

One of my teenage memories is of my father bringing home pomegranates to eat when they were in season.  He would slice them in half and then show me how to pick out the pulp-covered seeds one by one with a small teaspoon. It was a time consuming process eating each seed individually, great care had to be taken digging into the fruit with the spoon and inevitably you ended up covered in sticky juice.  Since then pomegranates have become much more popular; not only to eat as a fruit, but also to drink as juice, and taken as supplements and teas to promote good health. They have been cultivated since ancient times and are a species native to Iran and the Himalayas. They have been grown in the Caucasus since antiquity and can now be found being cultivated all around the world from South East Asia to California.

The fruit’s Latin name is Punica granatum, and the word pomegranate is derived from the Latin pomum or apple and granatus which means seeded.  It is a deciduous shrub that has a small, bright red flower and bears a roundish fruit that is around the size of a small grapefruit.  The fruit is covered in a thick skin that is reddish in colour and contains around six hundred seeds that are encased in a juicy pulp.  These seeds and the surrounding pulp are called arils, and the arils can range in colour from white to a dark red. They are a long living, hardy shrub, and there are some trees in Europe that are over two hundred years old, although the vigour and productivity of the trees tends to start declining after fifteen years or so.


Pomegranates in History

They have been cultivated and eaten in Europe and the Middle East since ancient times and one of the earliest literary references to pomegranates was in Homer’s Hymns.  In ancient mythology they were regarded as symbols of birth, death and then eternal life because of the multitude of seeds that they contained.   They were also linked in mythology to forbidden desire, because of the deep red colour of the outer skin that resembled the colour of blood.  In the South Caucasus, the decayed remains of pomegranates have been excavated that date back at least a thousand years. A dried out fruit was found preserved in the tomb of Queen Hatshepsut’s butler, and they were mentioned on Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets.   Pomegranates were grown and eaten in Southeast Asia and China in early times and may have been introduced by traders on the Silk Road or by early sea merchants.  The city of Granada in Spain is named after the pomegranate, and in early English they were called ‘apple of Grenada’.  They were introduced into the New World by the Spanish Conquistadors, and their cultivation spread rapidly through the Caribbean and Latin America. They started to be cultivated in Britain in the seventeenth century, but did not fruit well, and were then introduced into North America by the early colonists.

 Pomegranates – Eating and Cooking

If you want to eat pomegranate as a fruit, you need to score the tough skin with a knife and then break open the fruit. You can then separate the arils from the skin and the outer pulp relatively easily.  This task is made even easier by placing the fruit in a bowl of water, as the arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the skin and pulp will stay floating on the surface. The whole of the aril is eaten, both seed and pulp, but the taste and juice is derived almost entirely from the reddish, semi-translucent pulp.  In cooking, the arils are made into sauces, which are widely used in dishes in Iran and the Middle East, as they have a flavour that is both sweet and sour. In India and Pakistan, wild pomegranate seeds are made into a spice called anardana, which is popularly used when making curries and chutneys.

Health Benefits of Pomegranates

So what are the potential benefits of including pomegranates in your diet? Pomegranate juice is very high in vitamin C, and a 100ml serving contains around 16% of an adult’s daily vitamin C requirement.  They are also a good source of vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid, vitamin E, iron, antioxidant polyphenols, tannins, anthocyanins and potassium.  A study undertaken by scientists in Israel, suggests that drinking pomegranate juice can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and that it has been shown to contain higher levels of antioxidants than any of the other fruit juices, green tea or red wine.  Antioxidants are an important part of your diet because they protect your body from the free radicals in your bloodstream.  Free radicals act on cholesterol during a process known as oxidation, which is thought to contribute to the hardening of the arteries.  The Israeli study showed that drinking pomegranate juice halved the speed of the cholesterol oxidation and reduced the amount of LDL retained in the body, LDL being the type of cholesterol that forms the fatty deposits in human arteries that can then lead to heart disease.

Drinking pomegranate juice may also be very good news for men, especially men who have undergone treatment for prostate cancer. A long-term medical study showed that men who were given the juice to drink daily after their prostate cancer treatment, but were showing signs of the cancer returning, had lower levels of PSA than the men who had pulled out of the study and were no longer drinking it. PSA or ‘prostate specific antigen’ is an enzyme that acts on breaking down proteins in seminal fluid and PSA levels are often high in those who suffer from prostate cancer, so the effect of the pomegranate juice lowering PSA levels is a very beneficial one.  Some of the men on the study continued to show lower levels of PSA after more than three years, even though they had not received any further prostate cancer treatment other than drinking the juice.

They are also now widely used in diets and as a weight loss supplement.  They are regarded as a superfood because of the high level of antioxidants that they contain, and diet pills and supplements that contain pomegranate extract are becoming very popular.  However, this is probably more due to their high nutritional value, rather than any properties that pomegranate has to aid in weight loss, as studies so far have not indicated that they can help or speed up weight loss in any way.  The use of pomegranate supplements and drinking the juice is also very popular in programmes designed to detox your body, again because of the presence of all those wonderful antioxidants and vitamins.

How to Get the Benefits of Pomegranate into Your Diet

If you find that eating pomegranate as a fruit or using them in your cooking is too much of a hassle and too time consuming, then there are other ways of ensuring your daily intake of this healthy fruit.  You can now get juice, supplements, teas, molasses and sauces, all of which will help you get those all-important vitamins and antioxidants into your body.  You can find all of these products in your local health food stores and also very easily online.

Pomegranate Tree With Fruit
Pomegranate Tree With Fruit

Drinking pomegranate juice has been popular in Persia and India since ancient times, and recently has also become very popular in the United States and the UK, both for its taste and its perceived health benefits.  It has also become the trendy juice to mix with champagne when creating champagne cocktails. Grenadine has long been a staple ingredient of cocktails and is made of thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice.  Grenadine is also used in several Iranian recipes, such as fesenjan which is a thick sauce made from ground walnuts and pomegranate juice that is poured over poultry and rice.

So, if you have never tried pomegranates before, why not reap the health benefits and give this colourful fruit a try?

Pomegranate image SriniG Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Pomegranate Tree With Fruit Image Amnon S Wikimedia Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

What Are The Best Zinc Rich Foods?

Do you know how much zinc that you should be ingesting every day to keep yourself healthy? These days there are so many different vitamin and mineral supplements out there on the market that it can make your head spin!   But is taking supplements always the best way to get the essential nutrients that we need to keep our bodies fit and healthy?   Wouldn’t it be better to get all the minerals and vitamins that we need from our diets?  All the experts say that a health supplement is no substitute for a healthy, balanced diet and that we cannot expect to reach our optimum health and fitness if we continually eat rubbish and then just pop a few vitamin pills. We need to eat every day to provide our bodies with fuel and nutrients, so wouldn’t it be better if we made sure that we ate the foods that were the richest sources of the minerals and vitamins that we need?

Pacific Oysters

So let us take zinc as an example.  Zinc is an essential mineral that our bodies need on a daily basis and the recommended dietary allowance or RDA is currently around 8mg for an adult woman and 11mg for an adult male.  So why do we need to include zinc in our diets? 

  • Helps boost the immune system
  • Vital for creating protein, new cells and DNA in the body
  • Aids digestion
  • Help to control diabetes and balance blood sugar levels
  • Helps balance metabolic rate
  • Helps you to retain a good sense of taste and smell
  • Eases stress
  • Helps wounds to heal faster

Not getting enough zinc in your diet can lead to some unpleasant symptoms and conditions such as hair loss, skin problems, a lowering of your immune system that can leads to infections such as colds and flu, diarrhoea, poor growth and lack of appetite.  But it is also important to realise that taking too much zinc can also be bad for you as having too much of this mineral in your diet can lead to the other minerals copper and iron being poorly absorbed into your body, which can eventually cause conditions such as anaemia and weakening of the bones.  So if you are a health supplement enthusiast, it is always a good idea to check what is in all the different things that you are taking so that you do not dangerously exceed the RDA of any one mineral or vitamin.

So if you want to make sure that you are including some zincrich foods into your diet then what do you need to eat?


Shellfish are an excellent source of zinc, and oysters are one of the best as they contain more of this essential mineral per serving than any other type of food.  They are also a good source of protein and supposedly an aphrodisiac. Lobster and crab are also excellent sources

Red Meat

Red meat is also a good source of the mineral, with good quality beef steak being one of the best.  Calf’s liver is also a great provider of zinc in the diet.  When you are choosing red meat, try and get it as lean as possible and trim off any excess fat before you cook it. Lamb is also a good dietary source.
Seeds and Nuts

Many seeds and nuts are also an excellent source of zinc, so snack on some cashews, almonds, roasted pumpkin and squash seeds, sesame seeds or peanuts instead of your usual biscuits and sweets to get some great health benefits.

Dairy Products

Milk and dairy products are a great source of zinc, so again why not think of snacking on yoghurt and cheese?  Organic milk is the best, as you will not be introducing so many chemicals into your body as the cows will have been raised on pastures and feed free from chemical pesticides and fertilisers.

Pulses and Beans

Chick peas, kidney beans and garden peas are all bursting with zinc as well as other nutrients, so why not put together a seafood and bean salad for a really healthy lunch or dinner?

Dark Chocolate and Cocoa Powder

You are probably glad to see one ‘naughty’ food on the list after all those super healthy ones aren’t you?  But eating a few squares of good quality dark chocolate a day is also good for your heart, so is an indulgence that is actually beneficial for you.

Now you may be thinking that all these zinc rich foods also all sound like quite expensive foods, but buying the best quality, organic food that you can afford is an investment in yourself and your family that you will never regret.  Your health is one of the most precious things that you have, so why not improve and maintain it every way that you can through your diet.  Eating junk food and sugary snacks also costs quite a bit of money, and can also cost your health dearly leading to serious conditions such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.  So ensure that you get enough zinc into your body through eating the right foods today, and give yourself the very best chance of a healthy, happy future.

Pacific Oysters image Guido Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

Saturday, 14 January 2012

What is a Skin Tag and the Best Ways to Remove Skin Tags?

What is a Skin Tag?

Skin tags are very common and cause many people great distress because they feel that they are very unsightly. Skin tags are usually not present at birth, but over half of the population will develop a skin tag at sometime during their life. However, skin tags are totally benign and harmless, but, depending where they occur on your body, they can catch on clothing, jewelry or purse straps and become painful or even infected. Skin tags are small bits of skin that hang off your skin by a narrow, fleshy stalk. Skin tags start off by looking like a small, raised bump and they usually do not grow any bigger than a couple of millimetres in diameter, although large skin tags can be as much as 5 centimetres in diameter. Skin tags are also known as acrochorons and the parts of the body that they are most commonly found on are the neck, eyelids, underarms, in the groin area and under the breasts. Skin tags are generally the same colour as the surrounding skin, but can sometimes be darker in tone. Skin tags are not caused by disease, they just form naturally and some people are more prone to developing skin tags than others.  Heredity plays a part in whether you will develop skin tags during your lifetime, and other triggers can be putting on weight, pregnancy and getting older.

Do You Need to Have Skin Tags Removed?

Apart from their unsightly appearance and the chance that they may catch on things, there is no medical reason why you should remove a skin tag if you do develop one. Many people worry that if they start developing skin tags it is a sign of skin disease or even a precursor to skin cancer, but it must be stressed that skin tags are totally benign. Having a skin tag removed is therefore a personal decision, that you must make depending on how you think that the skin tag affects your appearance, how embarrassed you are by your skin tags or by how much pain and aggravation they are causing you when they catch or rub on something.  Another reason for deciding to have your skin tags removed is if you have quite a few that have grown on one part of your body. Another concern that some people have is that if you have a skin tag removed that it will cause the skin tags to spread and grow back.  This is a totally unfounded worry, it is just an unfortunate fact that some people are more prone to developing skin tags than others, and may have to regularly have their skin tags removed. Skin tags are also not contagious, so you do not catch them from somebody and you cannot infect others with your skin tags.

Does Your Skin Tag Need to Be Removed by a Medical Practitioner?

Once you have decided that you want to have your skin tags removed, you need to decide on whether to treat them yourself or go and have them professionally removed by your doctor. If you are suffering from a serious medical condition like diabetes, or are elderly, it may be wise to have any procedures, even one as minor as skin tag removal, carried out by your medical practitioner. Also, if you are unsure that what you have is really a skin tag and not some other more serious skin complaint, it would be a good idea to get a definitive diagnosis from your doctor or dermatologist.  If you do opt to have your skin tags removed by your doctor there are several procedures that they could use.  Your doctor could opt to laser the skin tag off, cut it off, cauterize the skin tag to remove it, or freeze it off with liquid nitrogen.  Small skin tags can be removed without any anaesthetic, but the removal of larger skin tags may require an injection of local anaesthetic. As skin tag removal is usually regarded as a cosmetic surgical procedure, you need to check whether or not it is covered by your medical insurance, and if it is not cost may be a factor in which method you choose to have your skin tags removed.

Removing Skin Tags at Home

One of the simplest ways to remove a skin tag at home it to tie a piece of cotton around the base of the stalk, so that the skin tag will die and shrivel off over the course of a few days. Once the skin tag has fallen off, keep the base of the tag clean and apply an antiseptic cream regularly until the area is completely healed. Very occasionally a skin tag will suddenly turn a purplish black colour without any intervention, which means that the blood has clotted and the skin tag will typically fall off within a few days. There are over-the-counter products that you can buy in the chemist or online to remove skin tags, but you should be careful using wart removers or any other skin medication for skin tag removal, and you should always check that they are suitable to be used for skin tag removal.  However, there are also some natural remedies that you can try at home if you do not fancy undergoing a surgical procedure or tying off your skin tag. Mix some baking soda with castor oil and apply it to your skin tags and they should fall off, apple cider vinegar applied to skin tags at regular intervals will cause skin tags to drop off as will applying aspirin dissolved in water.  If you want to be a little bit more creative, try tying a piece of potato to your skin tag; the potato should turn the flesh of the tag to go black and fall off.  Tea tree essential aromatherapy oil is also excellent for skin tag removal, just dab neat tea tree oil onto the skin tag a couple of times a day and the skin tag should be gone within a couple of weeks.

So you do have quite a few options if you choose to have your skin tags removed. If they are making you feel uncomfortable about the way you look, or causing you problems with catching and rubbing, then decide which method is the best for you.

Disclaimer:  Please be aware that any information given in this article should in no way be used to replace advice given to you by your medical practitioner.  Anybody suffering from a medical condition or is at all concerned should always consult their doctor before attempting to remove skin tags at home or applying any form of skin tag remover or essential oil.