kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Please stop buying plastic water bottles.

As individuals, we have the simple yet effective power to make our voices heard through our choices, our civic actions, and our personal interactions. What each of us does, and how we do it, has a huge ripple effect on our ecosystems, and on the pace of corporate and government action.

In honor of Earth Day 2022 make a commitment to curb your plastic usage.

The volume of plastics produced is now greater than the weight of all land and marine animals combined. Only 9 percent has ever been recycled, the United Nations Environment Program estimates. Instead, the bulk is designed to be used just once (recycling symbols are no guarantee of recyclability) after which it ends up in landfills, dumps, the natural environment, or is incinerated.

Scientists say plastics cause harm throughout their life cycle, releasing toxic as well as planet-warming greenhouse gases during production, landfill and incineration. Plastics, which are manufactured from fossil fuels, caused 4.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, one recent study estimated, more than all of the world’s airplanes combined.

The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)  found that in 2019, the production and incineration of plastic added more than 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This is equal to the emissions from 189 500-megawatt coal-fired power plants. At present rates, these greenhouse gas emissions from the plastic lifecycle threaten the ability of the global community to meet carbon emissions targets.

Plastics have only been massed produced since World War II – 70 years. Worldwide, we produce over 380 million metric tons each year. In the United States and elsewhere, the cost of recycling is typically borne by cash-strapped municipal governments, as opposed to manufacturers. But there has been a move among environmental groups to require that producers shoulder more of the cost.

Plastics are made from fossil fuels, so producing them creates greenhouse gases that contribute to the climate crisis. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade – meaning that it doesn’t break down into its basic components. Plastic can only break into smaller and smaller pieces, but it retains the same chemical structure. Microplastics have been detected by scientists in deep ocean waters, shellfish, drinking water, falling rain and even most recently plastic have been found in human blood.

Microplastic is a piece smaller than 5 millimeters, which is about the length of a grain of rice. Many microplastics are far smaller than that, are cannot be detected by a naked eye. For example, many body washes and toothpastes in there US had microbeads which are used as exfoliators. These were banned by Obama in 2015 but are still in personal care products in other countries.

Synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and spandex are all types of plastic. In fact, 60 percent of clothing fabrics are synthetics, rather than natural fibers like cotton, wool, linen, or hemp. The lint trap in your drier confirms that pieces of our clothes break off. These fibers are a type of microplastic that go down the drain and into our water system.

Thankfully, about 95 percent of microplastics are filtered out at the wastewater treatment plant. The 5 percent that make it through add up. A study of 17 wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. showed that each facility was releasing, on average, more than 4 million microplastic particles into our waterways every day. There are more than 16,000 treatment plants in the U.S. alone.

Microplastics are everywhere – in the water or beer we drink, the air we breathe and even in snow samples from the Arctic. There are reports of beached whales with stomachs full of plastic debris like plastic bags, cups, netting, etc..

There is evidence that microplastics impair the reproduction, growth, mobility, and feeding patterns of small marine life. It starts with the plankton at the base of the food chain. The plankton ingest microplastics, which sometimes kills them, and then the animals that rely upon them have less food. If the plankton don’t die before they are eaten, their microplastics end up inside whatever eats them. The microplastics accumulate as you go up the food chain.

Wastewater treatment plants retain everything that gets filtered out. It is called sewage sludge. About half the sludge gets treated and applied to agricultural land. Microplastics from the sludge can then percolate through the soil and end up in fruits, vegetables, and grains. Or, they might end up in runoff that flows into a river and doesn’t go through a wastewater treatment plant.

Studies of tap water from 14 different countries, including the U.S., showed that in each liter of water, there are on average 5 1/2 pieces of microplastic.  You cannot avoid microplastics by drinking bottled water. There are twice as much microplastic in bottled water as in tap water.

Anything that is wrapped in plastic is going to contain microplastic. A recent study concluded that the number one thing people can do to reduce their ingestion of plastic is to not drink bottled water. Some people may be consuming up to five grams’ worth of plastic a week. That is about the size of a credit card.

There are a lot of chemicals in plastics like BPA and phthalates. Many are hormone disruptors that have been linked to fertility problems, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers.

It is time to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic in your life.

Reduce single use plastic:

  • Consider reusable grocery and produce bags.
  • Look for bags from natural fibers like cotton or hemp.
  • When you can buy in bulk, use glass or metal containers.
  • Store food in glass jars or storage containers.
  • Beeswax wraps can replace plastic wrap or bags.
  • Say no to plastic straws and utensils in takeout orders. Keep your own set of utensils with you.

Recycle! The U.S. only recycles 9 percent of our plastics. Some plastics cannot be recycled. Often plastics are complex blends of different plastics and additives that cannot be teased apart. Unfortunately, recycling plastic is often more expensive that making new plastic. And, corporations have put the responsibility on consumers to recycle and it isn’t working.

Tadesse Amera, an environmental researcher based in Ethiopia and co-chairman of the International Pollutants Elimination Network says, “Africa is not a major producer of chemicals or plastics.” But companies are flooding the continent with plastic “with no thought about after-use,” he said. “That should be the responsibility of the producer or importer.”

On March 2, 2022, 175 nations agreed to begin writing a global treaty that would restrict the explosive growth of plastic pollution.The agreement commits nations to work on a broad and legally binding treaty that would not only aim to improve recycling and clean up the world’s plastic waste, but would encompass curbs on plastics production itself. Thankfully, the treaty will put measures like a ban on single-use plastics.

Join the effort! Use less plastic.

Nigella Seeds

Nigella sativa is a small black seed that comes from the Ranunculacea family. Native to southwest Asia and the Mediterranean, it now grows throughout India, the Middle East, and Europe. Nigella sativa has been used for centuries in herbal medicine to treat health conditions including asthma, bronchitis, and inflammation.

It is also known as black cumin or kalonji and belongs to the buttercup family of flowering plants. It grows up to 12 inches tall and produces a fruit with seeds.

Several compounds found in nigella seeds, such as thymoquinone, carvacrol, t-anethole and 4-terpineol, are responsible for its potent antioxidant properties. Thymoquinone has anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive, antihypertensive, antidiabetic, anti-bacterial, and anti-cancer properties.

According to a 2013 review investigating the therapeutic potential of Nigella sativa in boiled extract form, authors concluded that the natural substance has potential to alleviate the symptoms of asthma by widening the bronchioles to allow airflow to the lungs.

A month-long 2011 study looked at Nigella sativa‘s impact on allergic rhinitis. In a sample of 66 men and women who experienced nasal congestion, runny and itchy nose, and sneezing, nigella seeds reduced symptoms during the first two weeks.

Nigella seeds are widely reported to have anti-hypertensive properties, which aid in reducing blood pressure. A 2013 study found that Nigella sativa oil significantly decreased systolic and diastolic blood pressure among 70 participants.

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found throughout your body. While you need some cholesterol, high amounts can build up in your blood and increase your risk of heart disease. Nigella seeds are effective at lowering cholesterol. One review of 17 studies found that supplementing with nigella seeds was associated with significant decreases in both total cholesterol, as well as blood triglycerides.

While most research has been done on animals, a 2019 review cited past studies on human breast, bladder, cervical, prostate, and renal cancer cells that found that Nigella sativa has the potential to fight cancer. Studies showed that thymoquinone inhibited cancer cell multiplication and in some cases, killed cancer cells. Another test-tube study showed that nigella extract helped inactivate breast cancer cells. A test-tube study showed that thymoquinone helped reduce inflammation in pancreatic cancer cells.

Disease-causing bacteria are responsible for a long list of dangerous infections, ranging from ear infections to pneumonia. Some test-tube studies have found that nigella seeds have antibacterial properties and can be effective at fighting off certain strains of bacteria. One study applied nigella seed extract topically to infants with a staphylococcal skin infection and found that it was as effective as a standard antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections.

Another study isolated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a strain of bacteria that is difficult to treat and resistant to antibiotics, from the wounds of diabetic patients. Nigella seed extract killed off the bacteria in a dose-dependent manner in over half of the samples. Several other test-tube studies have shown that nigella can help inhibit the growth of MRSA, as well as many other strains of bacteria.

Studies have observed that nigella seeds may have powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body. In one study in 42 people with rheumatoid arthritis, taking 1,000 mg of nigella seed oil daily for eight weeks reduced markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.

High blood sugar can cause many negative symptoms, including increased thirst, unintentional weight loss, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Left unchecked in the long term, high blood sugar can lead to even more serious consequences, such as nerve damage, vision changes and slow wound healing. Some evidence shows that nigella seeds could help keep blood sugar steady and prevent dangerous side effects.

One review of seven studies showed that supplementing with nigella seeds improved levels of fasting and average blood sugar. Similarly, another study in 94 people found that taking nigella seeds daily for three months significantly reduced fasting blood sugar, average blood sugar and insulin resistance.

Stomach ulcers are painful sores that form when stomach acids eat away at the layer of protective mucus that lines the stomach. Some research shows that nigella seeds could help preserve the lining of the stomach and prevent the formation of ulcers. In one animal study, 20 rats with stomach ulcers were treated using nigella seeds. Not only did it result in healing in about 83% of rats, but it was also nearly as effective as a common medication used to treat stomach ulcers.

Another animal study showed that nigella seed and its active components prevented ulcer development and protected the lining of the stomach against the effects of alcohol.

Some limited studies have suggested that Nigella sativa may have potential in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Other popular uses include:

  • Inflammation
  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Digestive problems
  • Migraine
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Hayfever
  • Improved mental performance
  • Eczema
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Hepatitis C
  • Seizures
  • Birth control
  • Increasing breastmilk flow
  • Menstrual disorders

Nigella seeds are associated with many health benefits and are generally safe when used as a spice or seasoning. There have been reports of contact dermatitis after applying nigella seed extract to the skin. If you plan on using it topically, be sure to do a patch test by applying a small amount first to make sure it does not cause an adverse reaction.

Some test-tube studies have found that nigella seed extract and its components may influence blood clotting. If you take medication for blood clotting, be sure to talk with your doctor before adding nigella seeds to your diet.

How to Buy

Nigella seeds can be purchased at many health food stores, whole food stores, and other specialty food stores, as well as from Indian and Middle-Eastern grocery stores. They’re also available from a number of online merchants.

How to Store

Nigella seeds can be stored along with your other dried spices, sealed tightly in glass jars or containers, and kept away from heat and moisture, both of which will accelerate the loss of flavor. Stored properly, nigella seeds will keep for up to six months.

How to Cook

Celery seed, cumin seed, poppy seed, black sesame seed, caraway seed, and fennel seed will all stand in adequately for nigella seed. Some, like celery seed and cumin, will impart some of the herbaceous nature of the nigella seed but not its color, while others, like poppy seeds and black sesame seeds, will provide the black color.

Another substitute is fresh or dried oregano. While not a seed, this herb will provide a similar flavor note to that of nigella seed. Likewise, onion powder will also provide some of the flavor of nigella seed, but not its essential seediness. Recipes that call for “onion seeds” are actually referring to nigella seeds.

Use nigella seeds in curries and lentil dishes. Nigella seeds also pair well with root vegetable dishes, as well as squashes such as spiced butternut squash. Many Southern Asia meals can be found with Nigella sativa garnished on top or incorporated into their stir-fry. It’s also used in making pilafs, curries, vegetable dishes, and pickles.

A popular Bengal spice called panch phoron also includes nigella seeds along with other spices like fenugreek, mustard seed, fennel seed, and cumin seeds. A common use of nigella is in bread and pastries. Often in India, they mix nigella seeds into their traditional naan bread. There are many other unique ways to use nigella seeds; for instance, garnish on a salad for an extra crunch.

You can incorporate nigella seeds into pancakes or scones. You can use them much as you would use sesame seeds, like if you were making your own homemade crackers. Sprinkle nigella seeds on homemade breads or bagels before you bake them.

Warm Potato Salad with Nigella Seeds

Genevieve Ko and Julie Giuffrida/ Prop styling by Nidia Cueva at Proplink Tabletop Studio in Los Angeles

8 Servings

Ingredients

  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup whole-grain Dijon mustard

Instructions

  1. If the potatoes are the size of ping-pong balls, halve them. If they’re much larger, quarter them so that all the potato chunks are about the same size. Put the cut potatoes in a large saucepan and add two tablespoons kosher salt and enough cold water to cover by one inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to simmer until tender, 10 to 12 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, whisk the vinegar, oil and mustard in a large bowl until well blended.
  3. Drain the potatoes, shake gently in the colander to dry, then pour into the bowl with the dressing. Fold gently until evenly coated. Sprinkle with the nigella seeds and chives, then fold again until well mixed.

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