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The Heart of Nature- Goji Berry

What is the goji berry?

The goji berry, also known as the wolfberry, is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family of plants. It’s a bright orange-red berry commonly grown in the north-central and western areas of China. The ripe berry is easily damaged during picking, so it’s common for them to be carefully dried to preserve them before export. In the UK they are commonly eaten as the dried fruit or as a component of fruit juice.

Goji berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to manage diabetes, high blood pressure, fever, age-related eye problems and fatigue associated with living at high altitudes. Goji berries are eaten raw, cooked, or dried (like raisins).

What are the benefits of goji berries?

The blue-red colours found in goji berries, blueberries, acai berries, cranberries, strawberries, and cherries are natural anti-oxidants which may help protect the body against oxidative damage. In addition Goji berries contain complex starches called Lycium barbarum polysaccharides which may benefit the immune function, and may reduce fatigue associated with living at high altitude.

Antioxidants temper the destructive power of free radicals, substances occuring naturally in our body but if produced in excess accelerate cell damage and destruction. Chinese research has shown a standardised dose of goji berry extract given over a month-long trial helped boost levels of protective anti-oxidant liver enzymes, and reduced by-products of oxidative damage in the blood by almost 10%.

Goji berries also have compounds rich in vitamin A that may also confer health benefits. Vitamin A and its derivatives may protect against skin damage, help maintain night- vision, and benefit the immune system.

Some researchers suggest that goji berry extracts may improve mood, and protect against age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's, but there is no robust medical evidence to support these claims.

Do goji berries have any dangerous side effects?

There are herb-drug interactions with goji berries. If you take warfarin (a blood thinner) you should avoid goji berries. Goji berries may also interact with diabetes and blood pressure medicines, so check with your pharmacist about possible interactions.

If you have pollen allergies you may want to stay away from this fruit. Case reports have linked goji berries consumption with skin photosensitivity, causing a skin rash on exposure to sunlight. They are also naturally rich in oxalate which may be a health issue in kidney problems.

The Heart of Nature- Acai Berry

What is the acai berry?

Acai berry, known as Inca berry, as well, is a dark purple colour fruit which is similar in shape to a grape. These berries grow in huge clusters near the tops of palm trees, which grow in the Amazon rain forests. Each Acai berry contains just 10% fruit and pulp and a large seed, which has no benefits, so harvesting this fruit is laborious since the tree has no branches and each cluster of berries needs to be cut and brought down manually in order to preserve the fruit and pulp.

The benefits of Acai

The taste of Acai berries is often described as a fruity red wine flavour with chocolate overtones. Within the nutritional pulp and skin, Acai berries are packed with antioxidants, amino acids, fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals making it a near perfect energising fruit.

The popularity of Acai is primarily due to its very high concentration of antioxidants. Briefly, antioxidants are molecules that prevent the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation produces free radicals which can damage the cells and glands within our bodies making us more prone to disease and ageing. Since our bodies are exposed to a variety of toxins and produce trillions of free radicals, it is important to take steps to reduce the effect of free radicals in the body. Having a diet rich in antioxidants is the first step and introducing Acai into your regime is another possible way of preventing free radical damage.

Acai has been recognised as one of the world’s highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorption Capacity) foods. ORAC is a measurement of how well antioxidants can neutralise free radicals. The higher the value, the better the body utilises it to fight free radicals. Acai has more than double the antioxidants of blueberries and nearly ten times that of grapes.

The antioxidants found in Acai berry, anthocyanins, are excellent for heart health. Heart disease is increasingly becoming a problem in the world and finding natural ways of keeping your cardiovascular system healthy is an excellent option. Additionally, anthocyanins are also good at preventing the oxidation of cholesterol. When circulating cholesterol, no matter whether you have high or low levels, gets oxidised, it sticks to the walls of arteries causing their narrowing. This build-up of plaque eventually leads to high blood pressure which is of course dangerous.

The fibre found in Acai berry skin and pulp can aid digestion. Fibre can help prevent or relieve constipation and may help support a healthy cardiovascular system. Acai is naturally high in essential fatty acids having a fatty acid profile similar to olive oil. The link between essential fatty acids and heart health and a healthy nervous system is well documented.

Acai berries contain amino acids which help promote muscle performance, energy production, endurance and strength.

Acai berries contain as much Vitamin C as blueberries and is also a source of Vitamins A, B1, B2, B3 and E. It is also a source of calcium, magnesium, zinc and copper.

With such an amazing nutritional profile, it is not difficult to understand why Acai berries can be beneficial for your health and may help slow down the ageing process.

The hype about Acai

There is no doubt about the health benefits of Acai berries. Unfortunately when a product becomes very popular, unfortunately this can lead to misleading information and claims.

Firstly, the largest sector that Acai has been targeted to is weight loss. There are numerous sites that claim that taking Acai Berry in a liquid or capsule form will help to shed pounds. It is estimated that large numbers of the adult population at any given time are thinking of losing weight. Is it a surprise then that Acai has been targeted to this audience?

The truth is that Acai contributes to the overall health of the body, and should not be relied upon solely for weight loss. A healthy lifestyle including a variety of vegetables, quality protein and fruit coupled with some form of exercise will be of benefit. I am not dismissing that Acai can be of benefit, however it should not be relied solely for losing weight. Yes, antioxidants do help to neutralise the by-products of fat burning and thus ensure that the body can carry on burning fat. Acai’s fibre content will help to cleanse the colon and this is one of the steps in achieving weight loss since many of us have sluggish digestion.

Acai is expensive since the berries have to be freeze dried within 24 hours to keep their nutritional profile intact. Freeze drying preserves the goodness of Acai berries found in the skin and pulp and not in the juice.

The Heart of Nature- Cranberry

Why should we eat cranberry?

As far as healthy foods go, cranberries are at the top of the list due to their high nutrient and antioxidant content and are often referred to as a "super food." Not to mention, half a cup of cranberries contains only 25 calories! The possible health benefits of consuming cranberries include lowered risk of urinary tract infections, prevention of certain types of cancer, improved immune function, decreased blood pressure and more.

Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

The cranberry is perhaps best known for its role in preventing UTIs, especially for those with recurrent infections. The high level of proanthocyanidins (PACs) in cranberries helps reduce the adhesion of certain bacteria to the urinary tract walls, in turn fighting off infections.

Cardiovascular Disease

Some evidence suggests that the polyphenols in cranberries may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by preventing platelet build-up and reducing blood pressure via anti-inflammatory mechanisms.

Cancer

Research has shown that cranberries are beneficial in slowing tumor progression and have shown positive effects against prostate, liver, breast, ovarian, and colon cancers.

Dental

The same proanthocyanidins in cranberries that help prevent UTIs may also benefit oral health by preventing bacteria from binding to teeth, according to Researchers at the Center for Oral Biology and Eastman Department of Dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Cranberries may also be beneficial in preventing gum disease.

The Heart of Nature- Aronia Berry

Health Benefits of Aronia Berries (Chokeberries)

Aronia berries, also known as black chokeberries, have been gaining popularity among health-conscious consumers looking to add more superfoods to their diets. The small dark berries of the Aronia melanocarpa plant are packed with nutrients and antioxidants, such as vitamin C and anthocyanins, and offer wonderful health benefits for those who want to improve their health through better nutrition.

The Aronia Berry – An Antioxidant Superstar

The superfood status Aronia melanocarpa has earned is largely attributable to its very strong antioxidant properties. In fact, aronia berries have the highest antioxidant capacity among berries and other fruits evaluated to date (as of 2012). These antioxidants properties, in turn, can be attributed to the phenolic compounds present in aronia berries, although the high levels of vitamin C found in these super-berries may also play a role.

A Polish chokeberry study published in the journal European Food Research and Technology in 2005 found that polymeric proanthocyanins and anthocyanins are the dominating phenolic compound groups in aronia berries and aronia juice.

Antioxidants are believed to protect against many degenerative diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, and to slow down aging in general. They are also a crucial component of anti-wrinkle diets as they can help protect your skin from the harmful effects of environmental pollutants, tobacco smoke, the sun's ultraviolet radiation, and other factors that cause your body to produce free radicals.

Superfood Full of Fiber

Dried aronia berries are packed with fiber, with a 100-gram serving (3.5 ounces) providing 16.9 grams of this essential macro-nutrient. Unlike the other macro-nutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and proteins), fiber isn't digested by your body. Instead, it passes relatively intact through your digestive tract, which is why it is associated with a number of unique health benefits. Some of these benefits include healthy bowel movements and overall improved bowel health, lower cholesterol levels, weight loss (when combined with exercise and an overall healthy weight loss diet), and reduced risk of problems related to blood sugar levels.

Proven Anti-Cancer Properties

Eating more berries in general is one of the best tips for people who are looking to reduce their risk of developing cancer, but aronia berries might be the ultimate winner when it comes to cancer-fighting foods. A team of researchers from the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Maryland analyzed anthocyanin-rich extracts made from grapes, bilberries (wild bluberries), and black chokeberries (aronia berries) for their chemopreventive activity against colon cancer. All three extracts inhibited the growth of cancer cells, but the chokeberry extract was the most potent inhibitor.

Cure for Colds?

Are you prone to catching colds and the flu? Amping up your cold and flu prevention diet with a spoonful of dried aronia berries or juice might be just what you need. Aronia berries have traditionally been used by Potawatomi indians to cure colds, and recent research confirms the anti-viral properties and high vitamin C content of this extraordinary superfood. A group of Bulgarian scientists found Aronia melanocarpa to have in-vitro anti-viral activity against type A influenza virus as well as bacteriostatic activity against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.

The Heart of Nature- Chia Seeds

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds have been a staple in Mayan and Aztec diets for centuries. Today, they draw the interest of many people for their health benefits and uses in cooking. It turns out chia seeds are a rich source of nutrients and antioxidants.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds' lipid profile is composed of 60 percent omega-3s, making them one of the richest plant-based sources of these fatty acids -- specifically, of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. The omega-3s in chia seeds can help reduce inflammation, enhance cognitive performance and reduce high cholesterol.

Fiber

Fiber is associated with reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and regulating bowel function. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, with a whopping 10 grams in only 2 tablespoons. That is one-third of the daily recommended intake of fiber per day.

Antioxidants

Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals, aging and cancer. The high antioxidant profile also helps them have a long shelf life. They last almost two years without refrigeration.

Minerals

Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 18 percent of the DRI for calcium, 35 percent for phosphorus, 24 percent for magnesium and about 50 percent for manganese. These nutrients help you prevent hypertension and maintain a healthy weight, and are important for energy metabolism and a part of DNA synthesis.

Satiety

Satiety is the feeling of being full and satisfied, which helps lower food cravings between meals. The combination of protein, fiber and the gelling action of chia seeds when mixed with liquids all contribute to their satiating effects.

Gluten-Free

Chia seeds contain no gluten or grains. Therefore, all of the nutritional benefits of chia seeds can be obtained on a gluten-free diet.

Egg Replacer

The outer layer of chia seeds swells when mixed with liquids to form a gel. This can used in place of eggs to lower cholesterol and increase the nutrient content of foods and baked goods. To make the egg replacement, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 15 minutes.

Can Be Digested Whole

Unlike flaxseeds, which are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and minerals, chia seeds do not need to be ground in order to obtain their nutrient or egg- replacement benefits.

Dyslipidemia

A study published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" showed that chia seeds as a dietary fat source can lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels while increasing HDL or "good" cholesterol. The study also found that when substituting chia seeds for other fat sources, such as corn oil, the ALA was able to prevent high triglyceride levels and reduce central obesity.

Blood Sugar Regulation

Chia seeds can play an important role in regulating insulin levels. They can reduce insulin resistance and decrease abnormally high levels of insulin in the blood.

The Heart of Nature- Black Cumin

Health Benefits of Black Cumin

Nigella sativa is one the most revered medicinal seeds in history. The best seeds come from Egypt where they grow under almost perfect conditions in oases where they are watered until the seed pods form. Black cumin seeds were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun. Though black cumin seeds are mentioned in the Bible as well as in the words of the Prophet Mohammed, they were not carefully researched until about forty years ago. Since this time, more than 200 studies have been conducted in universities.

The famous Greek physician Dioscorides used black cumin seeds to treat headaches and toothaches. Mohammed said that black cumin cures every disease but death itself. The reason might be found in the complex chemical structure of the seeds. These little seeds have over one hundred different chemical constituents, including abundant sources of all the essential fatty acids. Though it is the oil that is most often used medicinally, the seeds are a bit spicy and are often used whole in cooking—curries, pastries, and Mediterranean cheeses.

Nigella sativa seeds have very little aroma but are carminative, meaning they tend to aid digestion and relieve gases in the stomach and intestines. They aid peristalsis and elimination. The essential oil of black cumin is antimicrobial and helps to rid the intestines of worms.

Black cumin is regarded by many as a panacea and may therefore not be taken seriously by some, but for those inclined to dismiss folklore, it should be noted that these humble seeds have been found superior to almost every other natural remedy when used for autoimmune disorders, conditions in which patients suffer greatly because their own systems attack their bodies. Black cumin, especially when combined with garlic, is regarded as a harmonizer of the imbalance which allows immune cells to destroy healthy cells. The technical language to describe this property is "immunomodulatory action." The difference between black cumin and interferon is that there are no known side effects with black cumin when administered in normal dosages. The saying goes that the beauty of black cumin is their capacity to restore harmony.

With a seed containing so many constituents and having such a long ethnobotanical history, it is not surprising that many throughout the Mediterranean and Asia believe that black cumin is basically good for all that ails us. However, the claims are not outrageously far-fetched if one considers how complete the seeds are in terms of their many chemical constituents. Still, it is understandable that anyone who claims that something can do anything from increasing one's sperm count or increasing milk production in a nursing mother to relieving bronchial conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, is not taken seriously. One then wonders if the imagination of the poets has triumphed over the logic of scientists? Just remember: those paying homage to the black seeds of the Egyptian oases were praising the capacity of the seeds to restore normalcy, not cure. This is not unimaginable if the nutrients are sufficient to correct deficiency conditions.

The Heart of Nature- Plums

Significant Antioxidant Protection from Phenols

The fresh version (plums) and the dried version (prunes) of the plant scientifically known as Prunus domestica have been the subject of repeated health research for their high content of unique phytonutrients called neochlorogenic and chlorogenic acid. These substances found in plum and prune are classified as phenols, and their function as antioxidants has been well-documented. These damage-preventing substances are particularly effective in neutralizing a particularly dangerous oxygen radical called superoxide anion radical, and they have also been shown to help prevent oxygen-based damage to fats. Since our cell membranes, brain cells and molecules such as cholesterol are largely composed of fats, preventing free radical damage to fats is no small benefit.

Better Iron Absorption Plus More Antioxidant Protection from Vitamin C

The ability of plums and prunes to increase absorption of iron into the body has also been documented in published research. This ability of plums and prunes to make iron more available may be related to the vitamin Ccontent of this fruit. Our food ranking system qualified plums as a very good source of vitamin C.

In addition to assisting with absorption of iron, vitamin C is needed in the body to make healthy tissue and is also needed for a strong immune system. Getting a little extra vitamin C around cold and flu season is a good idea, and may also be helpful for people who suffer from recurrent ear infections. Vitamin C also helps to protect cholesterol from becoming oxidized by free radicals. Since oxidized cholesterol is the kind that builds up in the arteries and causes damage to blood vessels, some extra vitamin C can be helpful for people who suffer from atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. In addition, vitamin C can help neutralize free radicals that could otherwise contribute to the development or progression of conditions like asthma, colon cancer, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, so vitamin C may be able to help those who are at risk or suffering from these conditions. Owing to the multitude of vitamin C's health benefits, it is not surprising that research has shown that consumption of vegetables and fruits high in this nutrient is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Normalizing Blood Sugar Levels and Helping with Weight Loss

Prunes' soluble fiber helps normalize blood sugar levels by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach and by delaying the absorption of glucose (the form in which sugar is transported in the blood) following a meal. Soluble fiber also increases insulin sensitivity and can therefore play a helpful role in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. And, prunes' soluble fiber promotes a sense of satisfied fullness after a meal by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach, so prunes can also help prevent overeating and weight gain.

Prunes' Fiber for Regularity, Lower Cholesterol, & Intestinal Protection

Prunes are well known for their ability to prevent constipation. In addition to providing bulk and decreasing the transit time of fecal matter, thus decreasing the risk of colon cancer and hemorrhoids, prunes' insoluble fiber also provides food for the "friendly" bacteria in the large intestine. When these helpful bacteria ferment prunes' insoluble fiber, they produce a short-chain fatty acid called butyric acid, which serves as the primary fuel for the cells of the large intestine and helps maintain a healthy colon. These helpful bacteria also create two other short-chain fatty acids, propionic and acetic acid, which are used as fuel by the cells of the liver and muscles.

The propionic acid produced from prunes' insoluble fiber may also be partly responsible for the cholesterol-lowering properties of fiber. In animal studies, propionic acid has been shown to inhibit HMG-CoA reductase, an enzyme involved in the production of cholesterol by the liver. By lowering the activity of this enzyme, propionic acid helps lower blood cholesterol levels.

In addition, prunes' soluble fibers help to lower cholesterol by binding to bile acids and removing them from the body via the feces. Bile acids are compounds used to digest fat that are manufactured by the liver from cholesterol. When they are excreted along with prunes' fiber, the liver must manufacture new bile acids and uses up more cholesterol, thus lowering the amount of cholesterol in circulation. Soluble fiber may also reduce the amount of cholesterol manufactured by the liver.

Lastly, the insoluble fiber provided by prunes feed friendly bacteria in the digestive tract, which helps to maintain larger populations of friendly bacteria. In addition to producing the helpful short-chain fatty acids described above, friendly bacteria play an important protective role by crowding out pathogenic (disease-causing) bacteria and preventing them from surviving in the intestinal tract.

The Heart of Nature- Original

Heart Healthy Magnesium

One-quarter cup of pumpkin seeds contains nearly half of the recommended daily amount of magnesium, which participates in a wide range of vitally important physiological functions, including the creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, the energy molecules of your body), the synthesis of RNA and DNA, the pumping of your heart, proper bone and tooth formation, relaxation of your blood vessels, and proper bowel function. Magnesium has been shown to benefit your blood pressure and help prevent sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, and stroke, yet an estimated 80 percent of Americans are deficient in this important mineral.

Zinc for Immune Support

Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc (one ounce contains more than 2 mg of this beneficial mineral). Zinc is important to your body in many ways, including immunity, cell growth and division, sleep, mood, your senses of taste and smell, eye and skin health, insulin regulation, and male sexual function. Many are deficient in zinc due to mineral-depleted soils, drug effects, plant-based diets, and other diets high in grain. This deficiency is associated with increased colds and flu, chronic fatigue, depression, acne, low birth weight babies, learning problems and poor school performance in children, among others.

Plant-Based Omega-3 Fats

Raw nuts and seeds, including pumpkin seeds, are one of the best sources of plant-based omega-3s (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA). We all need ALA, however, ALA has to be converted by your body into the far more essential omega-3 fats EPA and DHA -- by an enzyme in which the vast majority of us have impaired by high insulin levels. So, while pumpkin seeds are an excellent source of ALA, I believe it is essential to get some of your omega-3 fats from animal sources, such as krill oil, as well.

Prostate Health

Pumpkin seeds have long been valued as an important natural food for men’s health. This is in part because of their high zinc content, which is important for prostate health (where it is found in the highest concentrations in the body), and also because pumpkin seed extracts and oils may play a role in treating benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH, or enlarged prostate). Research suggests that both pumpkin seed oil and pumpkin seeds2 may be particularly beneficial in supporting prostate health.

Anti-Diabetic Effects

Animal studies suggest that pumpkin seeds may help improve insulin regulation and help prevent diabetic complications by decreasing oxidative stress.

Benefits for Postmenopausal Women

Pumpkin seed oil is rich in natural phytoestrogens and studies suggest it may lead to a significant increase in good “HDL” cholesterol along with decreases in blood pressure, hot flashes, headaches, joint pains and other menopausal symptoms in postmenopausal women.

Heart and Liver Health

Pumpkin seeds, rich in healthy fats, antioxidants and fibers, may provide benefits for heart and liver health, particularly when mixed with flax seeds.

Tryptophan for Restful Sleep

Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid (protein building block) that your body converts into serotonin, which in turn is converted into melatonin, the “sleep hormone.” Eating pumpkin seeds a few hours before bed, along with a carbohydrate like a small piece of fruit, may be especially beneficial for providing your body the tryptophan needed for your melatonin and serotonin production to help promote a restful night’s sleep.

Anti-Inflammatory Benefits

Pumpkin seed oil has been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects. One animal study even found it worked as well as the anti-inflammatory drug indomethacin in treating arthritis, but without the side effects.

Fruits & seeds which fortify our bread