Medicine Woman’s Larder – Potatoes – Versatile and Nutritious.


Medicine Womans larder

Time to showcase some of my favourite foods that I consider should be part of everyone’s diet again. Delicious, nutritious and easy for the body to process to provide energy and life-sustaining vitamins and minerals.  This week a reminder of why potatoes are so good for us.

I firmly believe that with a healthy, unprocessed diet you can support most of the systems in your body.  There are occasions, particularly as we get older, that supplementing the foods that we eat is probably beneficial.  Also today there is concern that many of the natural foods that we do eat may not be as nutritious as they were 20 years ago.  The soil that they are grown in has to be rich in nutrients first to pass them on.  This is why when buying your fresh produce you should not skimp – buying from farm shops for example enables you to see the produce straight from the ground.  There are organic suppliers who have certification for their growing methods and soils.  Just remember that this body of ours needs to last a lifetime and if you are willing to spend a great deal of money on keeping your car safely on the road with fuel and maintenance, you should be at least willing to spend as much or more on keeping your engine in high performance mode.

NOTE If you are on any prescribed medication do not take yourself off it without consultation with your doctor.  If you follow a healthy eating programme and lose weight and are exercising you may not need the same dose and with your doctor’s agreement you may be able to reduce or come off the medication all together.

Most of us walk through the fresh produce departments of our supermarkets without really paying much attention to the individual fruits and vegetables. This is a great pity because the vast majority of these foods have been cultivated for thousands of years, not only for their nutritional value but also for their medicinal properties. If you eat a healthy diet you are effectively practicing preventative medicine and I would like to introduce you to a common vegetable that is definitely on my shopping list.

potatoesThe not so common Potato

You cannot claim Irish ancestry and not be aware of the significance of the potato in our history. For my great-grandfather, as a child in Cork, in the 1830s, the potato would have been an essential and daily addition to his diet.  By 1845 by the start of the great famine in Ireland caused by the potato blight, over a third of Irish people were reliant on this humble vegetable to sustain their families.  My family were lucky in as much as they were close to the sea and had access to other foods but for millions inland it was the most devastating disaster in Irish history.  Apart from those that perished, it instigated a mass migration that was to impact countries around the world.  So why should the potato be considered so nutritionally important to us today?

Potatoes were the most common carbohydrate for most of us in the western world up until after the second world war.  Another ten years and we were starting to develop more exotic tastes and first the Indian restaurants and then the Chinese introduced us to rice in its various varieties. And, over the last 50 years or so they have been chucked in and out of our diet at the whim of “experts” who one minute want us to stop eating carbohydrates, then they are in, then they are out………….

In my mind they should definitely be in and I hope that when you have read all the history of this simple but essential vegetable and all that it offers you too will include in your weekly shop.

The history of the potato.

There are some legends regarding the introduction of the potato into Ireland, around 1600. Some believe that Sir Frances Drake brought specimens back from the West Indies and handed some over to Sir Walter Raleigh who cultivated them on his farm in Ireland. I prefer the far more quirky explanation that potatoes were washed up on the shore after the Armada was sunk and – with typical Irish ingenuity – were transformed into a national treasure and alcoholic beverage.

This humble root vegetable has travelled thousands of miles to adorn our dinner plates and there is archaeological evidence that they were first cultivated in Peru around 4,500 years ago although wild potatoes had been eaten as early as 10,000 years ago.  I would imagine that ancient civilisations would have also eaten them in one form or another.

Wheat and corn could not survive the cold of the mountains in the same way as the potato, and the Inca cultures actually developed frost-resistant varieties and a technique to freeze dry the mature root, providing flour that could be stored for a number of years. Like in Ireland, the potato became the staple food for South American’s living at high altitudes and they even produced alcohol in the form of a beer called chicha.

As I mentioned, in recent years carbohydrates have found disfavour with the diet industry and unfortunately this includes the potato. In fact the potato  has far fewer calories than rice, pasta and bread; provided it is not laden with cheese and butter. It is a highly nutritious, low fat and healthy accompaniment to any meal.

There are over 100 different types of cultivated potatoes available today, and some of the more familiar to us are the King Edward, Maris Piper, Kerr Pink and Rooster varieties. Some older varieties were reflective of the time they were cultivated, such as Irish Peace.

What Are The Health Benefits Of The Potato?

There is a very good reason why the potato has been regarded as a staple food in so many cultures. When conditions are tough, and nothing else will grow, the potato will thrive and provide many essential nutrients the body needs to survive.

Provided you do not eat a pound of saturated fat with your potatoes (a bit of real butter however is delicious!), including them as part of your diet may prevent a number of potentially serious illnesses. Research into elevated cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, poor immune system function, cancer and hormonal imbalance show that the properties in the potato could well help prevent these conditions from developing in the first place. If you need to lose weight, eating potatoes will provide you with a great many nutrients and energy without adding excess calories or fats to your daily diet.

Despite being around for thousands of years this vegetable still holds surprises and recently scientists have isolated kukoamines in potatoes. Previously, these were only found in some Chinese herbal remedies. The main property of this chemical is its ability to reduce blood pressure levels. As elevated blood pressure is becoming increasingly more common, for both men and women, eating potatoes regularly in the diet could be very beneficial.

Potatoes are also high in Vitamin C, B6, Copper, Potassium, manganese and fibre. They also contain phytonutrients called flavonoids and carotenoids that are extremely important anti-oxidants.

Most of us are familiar with the health benefits of Vitamin C especially in relation to our immune system, but this vitamin also protects the harmful cholesterol LDL from oxidative damage, which leads to plaque forming and blocking our arteries.

Vitamin B6 is involved in nearly every major process in the body and is necessary for the health of each cell in our bodies. It also assists in the formation of several neurotransmitters in the brain and helps regulate our mood.

High levels of homocysteine have been linked to heart disease, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s disease and B6 has been shown to lower homocysteine levels in the blood.

B6 is necessary for the formation of haemoglobin, which is the oxygen carrying pigment in our blood, and is therefore linked to our energy levels. B6 also helps balance female hormones so eating potatoes regularly as part of a balanced diet is useful for PMS and other hormonal imbalances.

Copper is an essential trace element needed to absorb and utilise iron. It is needed to make ATP, which is the fuel that we run on, and some hormones and blood cells.

Potassium reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell; it allows the transmission of nerve impulses and helps maintain correct fluid balance in the body. Without the correct amount of potassium our heartbeats can become irregular.

Manganese is needed for healthy skin, bone and cartilage formation as well as ensuring glucose tolerance. It is also part of our antioxidant defence system.

It is important that you eat the skin of the potato as this contains a concentrated source of fibre, which our bodies need to remove waste and toxins efficiently. If you buy pre-washed potatoes, remember to clean them before eating as the potato will have become susceptible to fungus and bacterial contamination. Scrub the potato under running water and remove any eyes or bruises before cooking. You can boil, bake, dry roast, mash and dice potatoes. If you want to mash or roast with a little fat, use olive oil and herbs rather than butter or margarine.

Next time you pass the display of potatoes in a supermarket don’t think “fattening”, think “mashed with a little olive oil and garlic” or “roasted with rosemary and Mediterranean vegetables with a little lamb on the side”!

Next Thursday.. Carrots.. in glorious technicolour… and something to put in your hat!

©sallycronin Just Food For Health 2007

 

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Manganese and Beans -12,000 years of history and preparing them to avoid the wind factor.


smorgasbord health

This week the focus has been on Manganese a macro mineral that is rather overlooked as part of the chorus of nutrients that we need to be healthy. The stars that usually appear in nutritional information and articles are Calcium, Vitamin C and Magnesium. But without Manganese many of these headliners would be unable to sustain their role. Without manganese in our diet we would be at a higher risk of chronic diseases such as arthritis, asthma, osteoporosis and diabetes.

Including beans in your diet regularly provides you with 63% of your recommended daily requirement for this important mineral and if you eat plenty of green vegetables and berries with wholegrains; you will be unlikely to be deficient. You can check back with the other posts this week with the links provided. https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2016/02/24/mineral-of-the-week-asthma-and-the-link-to-manganese/

Beans.. One of the main staple foods in the world for thousands of years.

14 BEANS 1387 E

Mention the fact that you are an ardent bean lover and people automatically give you a wide berth. Unfortunately this very nutritious food group has developed a rather anti-social reputation over the years but prepared and cooked correctly beans can overcome their wind producing properties.

HISTORY OF THE BEAN.

There is evidence going back nearly 12,000 years that peas were part of the staple diet in certain cultures and certainly natives of Peru and Mexico were cultivating beans as a crop 9,000 years ago. It is likely that they were one of the first crops to be planted when man ceased to be nomadic and settled into communities.

There are many types of bean used as a staple food in different cultures around the world including Black beans, Chickpeas, Kidney Beans, Navy Beans and Soybeans. In Asia where consumption of soybean products is very high it is regarded as one of the best preventative medicines that you can eat.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN HEALTH BENEFITS OF BEANS?

For anyone suffering high cholesterol levels, blood pressure, heart disease, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, Diverticulitis, colon cancer, diabetes or iron deficiency, beans are definitely on the healing foods list. One of the main health benefits of eating beans is their high fibre content.

Although fibre is not exactly up there on everyone’s favourite foods list it is extremely important to our overall health. Fibre is carbohydrate that cannot be digested and there are two types, water-soluble and water insoluble. Primarily water-soluble fibre comes from oatmeal, oat bran, nuts and seeds, fruit and legumes that include peas, lentils and beans. The insoluble fibre is mainly found in wholegrains, wheat bran, seeds, root vegetables, cucumbers, courgettes, celery and tomatoes.

Fibre acts like a vacuum cleaner, travelling through the blood stream and intestines collecting cholesterol plaque, toxins, waste products from normal bodily functions and anything else that should not be there.

Provided you do not pile high fat sauces and butter onto this group of foods they can be a very healthy aid to weight loss as fibre has no calories and the foods containing it are generally low in fat and high in nutrients.

WHAT ELSE IS IN BEANS THAT IS HEALTHY?

Beans are packed with nutrients as well as fibre including Vitamin B1 (thiamin) copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and tryptophan. The combination of nutrients will help boost your immune system, balance blood sugar levels, lower your risk of heart disease and help protect you against cancer.

Vitamin B1 (thiamin) is essential in the metabolism of carbohydrates and for a healthy nervous system. Every cell in the body requires this vitamin to form the fuel the body runs on, ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). Vitamin of the week B1

Copper is an essential trace mineral needed to absorb and utilise iron and also assist in the production of collagen.

Folate is a B vitamin essential for cell replication and growth. It is needed for our nervous system and heart health as folate helps lower homocysteine levels in the blood, a leading contributory factor in heart disease.

Magnesium is an essential mineral needed for bone, protein and fatty acid formation, forming new cells, activating the B vitamins, relaxing muscles, clotting blood and forming ATP. The secretion and action of insulin also needs magnesium as does the correct balance of calcium in the body. Mineral of the week Magnesium

Iron is an integral part of the oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in the blood, which is why a deficiency can cause fatigue and ill health.

Manganese boosts energy and the immune system and molybdenum another trace mineral helps detox the body of sulphites a commonly used preservative in processed food and one that many people have a sensitivity to. Also has many other health benefits including decreasing the risk of a number of chronic illnesses such as asthma, arthritis, bone density and diabetes.Mineral of the week – Manganese

Phosphorus  is essential for bone formation and production of red blood cells.   Also needed for the production of ATP fuel for energy. Small amounts are involved in most of the chemical reactions throughout the body.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is critical in the manufacture of serotonin a neurotransmitter that affects our mental wellbeing.

PREPARING BEANS TO AVOID THE WIND FACTOR.

If you are not used to fibre then you need to introduce it into your diet over a period of days. This guideline particularly applies to eating beans, as people who eat them regularly seem to have less of a problem. There are a number of preparation and cooking tips to ensure that you receive all of the benefits and none of the more anti-social side effects.

  1. Soak your dried beans for at least 6 hours before cooking. Change the water several times.
  2. Put the beans in a large pot and cover with cold unsalted water usually 3 to 6 times the amount of beans. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Drain the beans after 30 minutes and replace the water. Bring back to the boil and then simmer.
  3. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface of the water.
  4. When the beans have softened add some salt, as this will bring out there flavour. If you add salt at the beginning of cooking it can make the beans tougher. If you are on a low sodium diet then be careful about how much salt you add or use and alternative.
  5. When the beans are cooked you can prepare in a number of ways. Include in brown rice dishes; stir-fry with a little olive oil, seasonings and favourite spices.
  6. A lovely way to eat beans is in a casserole with tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, carrots, potatoes, celery and vegetable stock.
  7. Make your own baked beans with homemade tomato sauce and serve on jacket potatoes or on toast.
  8. You can blend with other ingredients and make hamburgers, meatloaves and pates.

If you have a dish that contains beans that you could share with us – a recipe and a photograph then please send to sally.cronin@moyhill.com.. No hurry just when you prepare next time and I will post with your links.

You can find the previous posts on the featured vitamins and minerals in this directory.

Vitamins and Minerals of the Week

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food for Health 2009

 

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The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Artichoke Extract and as a food.


cropped 2

I used to find it very daunting when invited to dinner with friends to discover a wonderfully fresh and fragrant artichoke heart on a plate in front of me. It is one of those more fiddly  foods to eat and certainly it is a job for your fingers rather than your knife and fork. As a vegetable the artichoke is very nutritious and has been used since at least Roman times as a digestive aid. It was not however, until the 16th century that the therapeutic benefits for the liver and in particular jaundice were fully appreciated.

As doctors became more intrigued with the older herbal remedies they began to experiment with the bulb of the artichoke and other parts of plant that had not been eaten previously and used them to create extracts. The leaves of the artichoke were found to be particularly potent and they were prescribed for jaundice patients successfully. Since then the extract has been found to be effective for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels too.

It is understandable that today when we go to the doctor they are going to prescribe a pharmaceutical product rather than a bottle of herbal tincture… After all there are no patents available on plant medicine; you have to add a unique ingredient. However, most of our modern day medicines still use derivatives of plants for their manufacture and it is worth consulting a qualified herbalist to explore the original format as an option.

Artichoke is a phytopharmaceutical and has been the subject of quite extensive research with clinical effects being documented. It is recognised as an antioxidant that protects the liver, bile production and cholesterol lowering. It is entirely possible that the natural form of this plant may be just as or more effective than a synthesized product.

One of the main active components of the leaves has been identified as Cynarin and was the first to be extracted in the 1930s. It is only a trace element in the fresh leaves but undergoes significant changes as the leaves go through the drying and extraction process. The potency of the artichoke however, does not come from just one component and other elements such as chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant have been identified as being equally powerful.

The main use of the extract is to improve the digestive process and to enhance liver function and more recently as a natural way to lower high LDL cholesterol which is the more unhealthy type. Cholesterol has an important role to play in the body including hormone production and brain health but if our diet is unhealthy, the LDL or Low Density Lipoprotein becomes oxidised (usually from a high sugar diet) and its smaller particles attach to the walls of the arteries and form clumps that block blood flow. The dual effect of the artichoke extract is to not only act as an antioxidant preventing the oxidation by free radicals in the first place, but also to lower the level of the LDL.

The Liver

Our liver is the largest waste organ inside our body and as such comes under enormous pressure if we have a poor diet. We as humans are built to deal with many toxins. In the early part of human evolution we ate a lot of foods that were contaminated or possibly toxic; our livers are very proficient in removing these dangerous additives as quickly as possible. The digestive system is designed so that the stomach acid dissolves the food and as you will know if you have ever suffered from food poisoning there is usually a very quick response to contaminated food!

However, some of the toxin might still get through as far as the liver and it needs to be excreted from the body as effectively as possible. This is where bile enters the formula. It is manufactured in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. You may be surprised to learn that the liver produces around about 2 pints of bile per day and this is secreted into the small intestine where it processes the fats we have consumed and ensures that fat soluble vitamins are absorbed effectively. Bile is also essential for detoxing the liver as it carries the toxins away into the intestine to be eliminated from the body.

There are a number of clinical studies ongoing into the benefits of artichoke extract and it will be interesting to see the results of these in coming years.

In a nutshell.

Artichoke extract can be used to stimulate bile flow from the liver which may help reduce the symptoms of heartburn, protect the LDL cholesterol from oxidation and lower levels, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), improve kidney function, fluid retention, bladder infections and improve liver function.

Gallstones and gallbladder disease is not uncommon especially as we get older and have not had the best diet. It can also be a familial condition and we have it in our family. Artichoke may prevent the formation of gallstones and improve bile flow which is very important for the removal of toxins and long-term health.

Some cultures also use artichoke extract for lowering blood pressure and blood sugar or as a tonic.

As a food Artichokes contain many essential nutrients.

FOLATE: FOLIC ACID; Folic acid is a B vitamin essential for cell replication and growth. It helps form the building blocks of DNA the body’s genetic information which is why it is recommended prior to conception and during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the rapidly growing and replicating cells of the foetus are normal. This helps prevent low birth weight and abnormalities such as Heart defects or lip and palate malformations. It also helps prevent complications during pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia

It is essential for transporting co-enzymes needed for amino acid metabolism in the body and is necessary for a functioning nervous system.

VITAMIN C: ASCORBIC ACID; An antioxidant that protects LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) from oxidative damage, leading to hardening of the arteries. May also protect against heart disease reducing the hardening of arteries and the tendency of platelets to clump together blocking them. Vitamin C is necessary to form collagen, which acts like glue strengthening parts of the body such as muscles and blood vessels. It aids with healing and is a natural anti-histamine.

It is essential for the action of the Immune system and plays a part in the actions of the white blood cells and anti-bodies. It protects other antioxidants A and E from free radical damage and is involved in the production of some adrenal hormones

VITAMIN K: PHYLLOQUINONE; Necessary for proper bone formation and blood clotting, preventing calcification in our blood vessels and maintaining a healthy neurological system including in the brain.

MANGANESE: Needed for healthy skin, bone and cartilage formation as well as glucose tolerance. Also forms part of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase, which helps prevent free radical damage. It is also needed for the efficient metabolism of cholesterol, amino acids and fatty acids. It may aid in weight loss as our body more efficiently processes the foods that we eat.

POTASSIUM: This is the main cation (positively charged electrolyte). It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell. It allows the transmission of nerve impulses and helps maintain the correct fluid balance in the body. It also regulates levels of acidity and alkalinity in the body. It is also required for carbohydrate and protein metabolism. It is connected to normal heart rhythms and to keep Blood Pressure within a healthy range.

So as you can see plenty of great reasons to eat artichokes at least once a week and if like me you find the preparation and eating of this nutritious vegetable a bit of a problem then here is a ‘How To’ from Youtube.

Thanks to Shadow of Juniper Hill

©sallygeorginacronin Just Food For Health 2009

You will find other posts in this series here.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/medicine-womans-treasure-chest-herbs-and-spices/

Thanks for dropping by and I am always delighted with your feedback and please feel free to share the information.

 

Food Pharmacy – Yams – 40,000 years of therapeutic claims cannot be all wrong!


Yams are often confused with the sweet potato when in fact they are completely different. Although both flowering plants they are not related and they have very different tastes and nutritional benefits. Yams are one of the oldest staple foods known to man and were primarily cultivated in Africa and Asia over the last 40,000 years, give or take a few thousand years. They are now eaten widely throughout South America, Africa, Pacific and West Indies. Although they are primarily eaten for their nutrition they are also a very useful addition to a food pharmacy due to yams specific nutritional ingredients that help the body maintain a hormonal balance.

In the past Wild Yam was extensively used as a natural alternative to HRT based on an assumption that it’s active ingredient diosgenin could stimulate the production of progesterone in the body which would ease oestrogen related menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Twenty years ago every health food shop sold cream and other Wild Yam preparations and certainly some of my clients did report feeling some relief.  However, there are natural hormonal fluctuations during both male and female menopause and I have found that symptoms are often triggered by too many sugars including having more to drink one night than usual. Evidence suggests that the body cannot actually utilise diosgenin from Wild Yam to effect hormones but never discount thousands of years of traditional use, there is more to the yam than diosgenin that could be affective for hormonal problems.  Certainly, I think that there might be some substance to the claims that yams are good for intestinal health as one of the species of yam is called the Colic Yam, and some people report relief from diverticulitis and IBS.

There is some quite interesting research that indicates that the body uses diosgenin for other therapeutic uses including in the prevention and treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and cancer. It will be interesting to find out more conclusive evidence from these studies in the future as it naturally occurring therapeutic treatments are preferable to synthetically produced in my opinion.

Apart from the diosgenin that may benefit menstrual and menopausal problems, the yam contains both Vitamin C and B6. Certainly I have found that adjusting a woman’s diet and including B6 rich foods has helped with PMS and menopausal symptoms. Scientists are still debating the effects of B6 in supplement form on these two conditions and there is some evidence that suggests taking B6 in supplement form is less bio-available and therefore could lead to toxicity. So it may be that the use of yams in the past resulted in benefits because of its vitamin and mineral (manganese) content.

Whatever the perceived or real therapeutic benefits of Yams it does contain some very important nutrients that would benefit everyone as part of a balanced diet.

Main nutritional value of yams

The yam is a complex carbohydrate and the fibre this provides helps slow down the rate at which we digest food. Not only does this enable us to process our food more efficiently but it also encourages us to eliminate toxins and waste on a more regular basis.

The main nutrients in the Yam are B6, Vitamin C, Potassium and Manganese which I have mentioned briefly in previous blogs,but I will give a brief reminder of their benefits in relation to the yam.

Vitamin B6 is required for over 100 enzymes that metabolise the protein that you eat. It is essential for healthy blood and the nervous and immune systems require vitamin B6 to function efficiently. It is also necessary for our overall feeling of well being as it converts the amino acid tryptophan, which is essential for the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin in the brain.

Blood sugar levels can fluctuate depending on the types of food that we eat particularly carbohydrates. If you are not eating sufficient calories your body uses B6 to convert stored carbohydrate or other nutrients to glucose to maintain normal blood sugar levels. This is one of the reasons that people on crash diets can suffer dizziness and fatigue. Without sufficient intake of food they are not replenishing their B6 on a regular basis. Because they are taking in too little calories for their body to function and they do not have B6 to convert any stored energy, they become weakened.

There is some evidence a deficiency of B6 may result in increased levels of homocysteine, which is an amino acid in the blood. Elevated levels of homocysteine are linked to heart attacks and strokes due to its ability to damage arteries or encourage platelets to clump together as a clot.

Yams contain healthy amounts of Vitamin C or Ascorbic Acid, which is water-soluble and cannot be stored in the body. It is in fact the body’s most powerful water-soluble antioxidant and plays a vital role in protecting the body against oxidative damage from free radicals. It works by neutralising potentially harmful reactions in the water- based parts of our body such as the blood and within the fluids surrounding every cell. It helps prevent harmful cholesterol (LDL) from free radical damage, which can lead to plaque forming on the inside of arteries, blocking them. The antioxidant action protects the health or the heart, the brain and many other bodily tissues.

Vitamin C is also involved in maintaining our immune system, helps reduce histamine response, is involved in the production of collagen for healthy skin and bones and is needed for the production of hormones.

The cardiovascular system relies on Vitamin C that plays a role in cholesterol production in the liver and in the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids for excretion from the body. It supports healthy circulation and blood pressure, which in turn supports the heart.

Vitamin C works as part of a team helping in various metabolic processes such as the absorption of iron, converting folic acid to an active state, protecting against the effects of toxic effects of cadmium, copper, cobalt and mercury (brain health).

One word of warning – if you are on the contraceptive pill. Vitamin C in large supplemental doses can interfere with the absorption of the pill and reduce its effectiveness.

Potassium (K) is the most essential cation (positively charged electrolyte.) It reacts with sodium and chloride to maintain a perfect working environment in and around each cell. It is necessary for normal kidney function and it also plays a part in heart and bone health with a particular role in smooth muscle contraction.

The heart muscle must maintain a smooth and regular heartbeat and correct levels of potassium in the body will help regulate this. Some studies are indicating that low dietary potassium intake is linked to high blood pressure and that combined with calcium and magnesium rich foods can go a long way to preventing this condition from developing. A balance of potassium, calcium and magnesium is essential to maintain bone mass and a deficiency is linked to osteoporosis. It is especially useful during PMS and menopause, as water retention is one of the more significant symptoms.

Manganese is a macro mineral or trace element that is essential for the normal formation of bone and cartilage. It is also necessary for efficient metabolism of glucose and forms part of the antioxidant superoxide dismutase.

Unfortunately only about 5% of dietary manganese is absorbed, which means that adequate amounts need to be taken in on a daily basis in our food.

It is involved in a number of production processes including energy production, healthy joints, immune system function, sex hormones and thyroxine one of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Without thyroxine our metabolism would be inefficient and there would be an effect on every aspect of our health.

There are certain diseases where tests have shown the patients have been deficient in manganese and these include diabetes, heart disease, atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and mental conditions such as schizophrenia.

Yams and Sweet Potatoes both burn to an alkaline ash in the body so are excellent ways to help manage acidity.  Acidity does not just manifest itself with heartburn, if you are unwell you are usually have a more acidic imbalance, so when you have a cold or recuperating from an illness, including yams in an easily digestible form is good for you.

Buying and storing yams

There are over 200 varieties of yams and the flesh can vary in colour from white through to purple with white, pink or brown skins. They are long and cylindrical with offshoots and they are rough to the touch. Choose firm and unblemished yams and keep in a cool dark place, but not in the refrigerator as this changes their taste. If yams are exposed to sunlight they will begin to sprout, as they will in temperatures above 60F.

How to cook

Yams have a slightly slimy feel to them when they are cooked and they are best either pureed and served with stronger flavoured meats or chopped and used with other roasted vegetables. Although they are excellent for women and their reproductive systems, as you can see from their nutritional profile they are very good for everyone in the family and including them two or three times a week as part of your fresh fruit and vegetable is great.

Here are some inspirational ways to prepare Yams from my fellow bloggers

http://www.easyportugueserecipes.com/tag/portuguese-yam-recipe/

http://funtaqa.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/recipe-yam-pottage/

More from the Food Pharmacy tomorrow.