What's a Turnip?

I am embarrassed to say that this nutritionist has NO CLUE what the difference is between a turnip and a beet. We got both (I think) in our CSA last week, and as I was juicing them Ed asked, “Is that a beet?” to which I replied “I have no idea.” I know what a beet is, and how to identify one, because we eat them a lot at our house. I always thought turnips were similar, but I’ve never cooked with them before so I didn’t really know.

My mom grew and cooked tons of different veggies when we were growing up, so I always felt like I had a good knowledge base of different foods. But for some reason I never picked up on turnips, and in my head they are similar to beets but in reality I don’t know! So, I thought I’d devote this Friday to solving this mystery (well, it’s a mystery to me, anyway, probably not to the rest of you!).

According to Wikipedia (my trusty source), a turnip is a root vegetable that is known for its whitish bulb or root. Most are white with a little red, purple or green on the top of the root, and the interior flesh is entirely white. Baby turnips come in red, yellow and orange and can be eaten raw, like a radish. It also says that turnips are often grown as feed for livestock. Hmmm.

Turnip greens are commonly eaten because they are so nutrient-dense. Just 1 cup contains 650% of your daily vitamin K; 150% of vitamin A; and loads of vitamin C, folate, fiber and calcium. The actual root part of the veggie is full of vitamin C, folate, fiber, calcium, vitamin B6 and copper, and is part of the cruciferous family of vegetables (along with cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and more). So, it has the same cancer-fighting and other health benefits as these other veggies. Learning all of this makes me want to eat more turnips!

So this mystery vegetable I was juicing was completely red on the outside, but mostly white with some red stripes on the inside. I’m guessing it was more turnip than beet, because beets are so vibrant on the inside. But it didn’t look 100% turnip to me… maybe we’ll call it a turbeet.

Well, at least now I know the difference! I am a little embarrassed about my lack of knowledge but I figure I’m allowed some of that since I’m still a student…

Have a great weekend, everyone!


Sleep Deficit

I have a book called Smart Medicine for Healthier Living, and one section of the book talks about how to determine if you are suffering from a “sleep deficit”. When I read it, I couldn’t help but think that most of us are suffering from a sleep deficit based on the criteria presented. The book said that quality of sleep is something to pay attention to, and if you are experiencing any of the following, you may have a sleep deficit:

  • Healthy sleepers generally take about 20 minutes to fall asleep. If you are not getting enough sleep, you may fall asleep in 5 minutes or less.

  • If you wake up repeatedly in the middle of the night or toss and turn, you may have a sleep deficit. If the alarm clock jars you awake, you are not getting enough sleep. You should awaken naturally without an alarm clock, and feel well-rested upon awakening (if any of you actually wake up at the proper time each morning without an alarm clock, please e-mail me your secrets!).

  • If you find yourself nodding off during the day, you may have a sleep deficit. People who are getting enough sleep will feel alert, rested, and will find it almost impossible to nap during daylight hours.

Anyone else just self-diagnose a sleep deficit?! I guess the lesson is that we ALL need more sleep, and it should be a constant priority in our lives.

In addition to melatonin and magnesium, valerian root extract can be helpful for those who don’t sleep very well. Valerian root is a mood-balancing herb that acts as a sedative. It calms the nervous system when someone is stressed or anxious, and studies have shown that it can be just as powerful as prescription drugs used for insomnia. A proper dose would be about 300-500mg taken 1 hour before bedtime.

That wraps up sleep week – hope you guys learned something and will make the effort to get a touch more sleep at night! It’s so important for long-term health and overall well-being, and will make you much happier on a day-to-day basis.



Yesterday I talked about the importance of sleep, some common causes of insomnia, and a few nutrients that can benefit those who are having trouble sleeping through the night. Today I want to focus on a hormone that is critical for proper sleep: melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by our pineal gland, located in the brain. Although many don’t think of it as one, melatonin is actually an extremely powerful antioxidant – more so than vitamin C, vitamin E or beta carotene. It has the ability to prevent oxidation reactions, which can eventually lead to health issues such as heart disease, cancer, and more. Melatonin also stimulates the immune system; helps with production of estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones; supports reproductive health; and can even slow the growth of existing cancers.

The most commonly understood role of melatonin, however, is to regulate sleep. It is secreted in response to darkness at the end of each day, and these hormones are what help slow our bodies down before bedtime. When daylight hits our retina as the sun comes up in the morning, neural impulses cause melatonin production to slow and we naturally begin to feel more awake. While lightness and darkness both play extremely important roles in melatonin production, there are other things that influence it as well:

  • Eating regular meals helps keep your body in sync with the rhythms of the day. A fairly regular routine, including time of day meals are eaten, will strengthen melatonin production.

  • At nighttime, as melatonin production begins, digestion slows. Eating a lighter meal at night and waiting a couple of hours between dinner and bedtime can help with proper melatonin production. If you happen to eat a large meal right before bedtime, melatonin production will actually slow or stop the digestion process, causing digestive discomfort and difficulty sleeping.

  • Avoiding stimulants such as coffee, soda, and other energy drinks will help support and protect your melatonin production process.

  • Late night exercise or other forms of intense activity can actually delay melatonin production at night. The best time to exercise for those who have insomnia is in the morning light.

Supplementation with melatonin can be very helpful for those who are not producing enough on their own. There are many reasons someone may not be producing enough melatonin, including poor diet, blood sugar issues or hormonal imbalance. Melatonin supplements can be taken by both adults and children who suffer from insomnia, and there are very few side effects. They are also used to ease PMS symptoms, boost immunity, prevent memory loss, and support those who have heart disease, cancer or Alzheimer’s disease. Supplements should be taken within 2 hours of bedtime, and should sustain you throughout the night without making you feel groggy in the morning. If you do feel groggy, you are taking too much and should reduce your dosage.

Note: Although there are not necessarily toxic levels of melatonin, some people should talk to their doctor before taking it. Pregnant or nursing women should avoid taking melatonin, as well as those trying to conceive, as it is known to act as a contraceptive. People with severe allergies, autoimmune disease, lymphoma, or leukemia should also avoid taking melatonin. Finally, melatonin supplements can suppress your natural production of melatonin, so if you do not have difficulty sleeping I don’t recommend taking melatonin supplements or it will throw your natural rhythms off.


The Value of Sleep

Most of us love doing it but don’t get enough of it. Although much about sleep is still a mystery to us, one thing is certain: we need it. Lots of it. And if you don’t look like this girl every night – sleeping peacefully, calmly and effortlessly – then you may benefit from a little nutritional advice when it comes to sleep.

Things like impaired sleep, altered sleep patterns and sleep deprivation can significantly hurt mental and physical function, both in the short-term and the long-term. One statistic I read says that about 1/3 of all Americans experience insomnia on a regular basis, with about 10 million people using prescription drugs to help them fall asleep (Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Murray & Pizzorno). That’s shocking! Or, maybe not...

The most common causes of insomnia are depression, anxiety, grief and tension. However, there are also compounds in certain foods, drinks and prescription drugs that can interfere with sleep. Usually, it’s a combination of psychological factors and something in the person’s diet that cause the insomnia.

A lack of calcium and magnesium can really affect sleep. It may not prevent someone from falling asleep, however it can cause them to wake up after a few hours and have trouble falling back to sleep. Calcium has a calming effect, and magnesium helps relax the muscles. The magnesium helps calcium become absorbed, and when taken together they can improve sleep for some people.

There are some other evening habits that can improve sleep for many. Eating right before bed is not good. As I’ve mentioned before, your body doesn’t love multi-tasking. So, when you eat right before bed you are asking your body to make a decision: digest, or sleep? If it chooses to digest, your sleep will be restless. If it chooses to sleep, you may wake up a few hours later with an upset stomach. So, allow yourself about 2 hours after dinner to digest your food before you jump into bed.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning it cannot be created by our bodies and must be obtained from food. It’s a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that converts to melatonin, which helps us sleep. I’ll talk more about melatonin tomorrow, but the point here is that we all need to include foods containing tryptophan in our diet on a regular basis. Foods high in tryptophan include oats, dates, bananas, figs, nut butter, tuna, turkey, whole grains, yogurt, eggs, fish, chickpeas, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Oh, and let’s not forget chocolate! (But, unfortunately, chocolate also contains caffeine, which can impair sleep…).

Over the next couple of days I’ll talk more about the things that can help you obtain better quality sleep. It’s so important, and sometimes really small changes can make a huge difference.


Coenzyme Q10

Coenzyme Q10, called CoQ10 or ubiquinone, is one of those “new” nutrients that we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. It’s an antioxidant that plays a very important role in energy production for each cell of our body. CoQ10 is found in all of our tissues and helps with circulation, boosts immunity, increases oxygen flow to our tissues, and has strong antiaging effects. Things such as periodontal disease, diabetes and muscular dystrophy are all linked to CoQ10 deficiency.

Although CoQ10 can be synthesized within the body, deficiencies still exist. Certain nutritional deficiencies can cause the body to slow production of CoQ10. Also, if tissues are damaged from injury, poor nutrition, or something else, more CoQ10 is needed and therefore one could become deficient. Since people over the age of 50 tend to have increased CoQ10 requirements (due to normal wear and tear on the body, prolonged nutritional deficiencies, or other health issues), many of them become deficient and therefore experience decreased immunity and other complications.

Since the heart is one of the most metabolically active tissues in the body, it is especially sensitive to CoQ10 levels. About 50-70% of those who have heart disease are also deficient in CoQ10 (Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Murray & Pizzorno). In addition, certain cardiovascular diseases such as angina, hypertension, and congestive heart failure all require an increased level of CoQ10. In a study done at the University of Texas, people who were being treated for congestive heart failure using CoQ10 in addition to conventional treatments had a 75% chance of survival after three years, compared with those who used only conventional treatment and ended up with a 25% chance of survival (Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Balch).

Another use for CoQ10 is to fight histamine. Therefore, those with allergies, asthma or other respiratory issues can benefit from increased CoQ10 as well.

For those who decide to supplement with CoQ10, most dosages are between 50 and 100 mg and can be taken anywhere from 1-3 times per day. Oil-based forms are the most bioavailable to our bodies, and if you can find one that contains a small amount of vitamin E, that is even better. Vitamin E helps to preserve the CoQ10 until it is taken. Since CoQ10 is oil soluble, it is best absorbed when taken with oily or fatty foods.

Some whole food sources of CoQ10 include mackerel, salmon, sardines, beef, peanuts and spinach. However, for people with any of the above issues, supplemental forms are most helpful in addition to getting it from whole foods. As always, consult your doctor before beginning any supplements.

I wanted to do this quick piece on CoQ10 because I think many of us hear about it but possibly do not fully understand when and why it is used. For the remainder of the week, I’d like to focus on something that is very important for each one of us: SLEEP! The nutrition / sleep connection is a strong one, so check back tomorrow for some important information…