kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Don’t just sit there… Ha, easy for me to say, but not so easy for me to do. I have been literally sitting in a chair for nearly three months as I heal from a bad fall. I just read that all this sitting could raise my risk of dying of cancer.

Researchers had roughly 8,000 people aged 45 or older wear an accelerometer to measure their movement during waking hours for a week. Five years later, those who had been sedentary for at least 12 out of 16 of their waking hours had about a 50 percent higher risk of dying of cancer than those who had been sedentary for less than 12 hours (after accounting for other risk factors).

Replacing a half hour of sedentary time every day with a half hour of moderate or vigorous exercise was linked to a 31 percent lower risk of dying of cancer over the next five years.

We know exercise is good for you but knowing which exercise to do, and how to avoid soreness that keeps you from doing it is key.

Stretching was always thought to boost performance and prevent injuries. David Behm, a professor in the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada says, “If you stretch a muscle for less than 60 seconds, you will not have any issues. And it may decrease the chance of acute injuries like muscle strains without impairing your performance.” Longer stretches can cause impairment. His advice:

  • Warm up with a five minute bike ride or brisk walk.
  • Do static stretching – a stretch without moving, like when you bend over and reach for your toes. Behm recommends that you hold each stretch for no more than a minute.
  • Do some dynamic stretches like kicking your leg back and forth or do big arm circles.
  • If you are going to play tennis, do a couple of minutes of specific movements, like go through the movements of hitting the ball before your match.

Stretching has benefits other than for sports. It increases joint mobility. “Improving your flexibility through stretching can make day-to-day activities easier, especially as we age,” says Behm. Add a stretch whenever you can during the day – drop your heels off a stair or lean against a counter for a calf stretch, pull your arm across your chest for a tricep stretch, lean to one side then the other to loosen up your back, reach for your toes to relieve tension in your legs.

Like muscle, bone is living tissue that responds to exercise by becoming stronger. Young women and men who exercise regularly generally achieve greater peak bone mass (maximum bone density and strength) than those who do not. For most people, bone mass peaks during the third decade of life. After that time, we can begin to lose bone. Women and men older than age 20 can help prevent bone loss with regular exercise. Exercising can also help us maintain muscle strength, coordination, and balance, which in turn helps to prevent falls and related fractures. This is especially important for older adults and people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best for your bones. Weight-bearing exercises force you to work against gravity. They include walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis, and dancing. Resistance exercises like lifting weights can also strengthen bones. Other exercises such as swimming and bicycling can help build and maintain strong muscles and have excellent cardiovascular benefits, but they are not the best way to exercise your bones.

The stiffness and soreness you feel after embarking on a new workout routine is caused by micro tears of the muscle fibers. David Behm explains that, “They’re caused by doing eccentric muscle contractions or exercise that your body is unaccustomed to.” Eccentric contractions occur when a muscle lengthens as it’s stressed. Like when you have sore thighs after a long downhill hike.

When we get those little tears, our body treats them like an injury and sends in the immune system to repair them. This leads to inflammation and soreness that often lasts for two or three days. Contrary to popular belief, stretching before or after exercise won’t prevent muscle soreness. But, it might temporarily alleviate it.

Behm’s advice is to buy a dense foam roller. “Our studies show that rolling on foam after exercise reduces soreness.”

In one study, 20 young men did 10 sets of 10 squats which was enough to cause micro tears. Half the men used a foam roller to massage their thigh and glute muscles for 20 minutes immediately after the exercise and again 24 and 48 hours later. The foam-rollers reported less soreness than those who did nothing.

Less pain wasn’t the only upside. “Intense exercise that results in micro tears impairs range of motion, speed, and force, but foam rolling mitigates all those impairments.” says Behm.

Low-back pain has an enormous impact on regular daily activity. “Globally, it’s one of the leading causes of disability. In the United States, it’s one of the main reasons people go to the doctor,” says Roger Chou, director of the Pacific Northwest Evidence-based Practice Center at Oregon Health & Science University.

Some chronic back pain may be due to arthritis or the wearing of the discs between the vertebrae. Dr. Chou says movement, even when it is painful, may help. “We don’t tell people to lie in bed for three to five days like we used to. I urge people to try to do their regular activities, to the extent possible.”

Pain medication is rarely the answer for chronic low-back pain. Exercise, advises Chou, is the best way to restore your lifestyle. No one type of exercise is best for everyone. Try strength training, core stability, aerobic exercise, or yoga. Even a slight improvement in pain will often restore function.

If you have health conditions – such as heart trouble, high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity – or if you are age 40 or older, check with your doctor before you begin a regular exercise program.

According to the Surgeon General, the optimal goal is at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days, preferably daily.

Tahini

The earliest known mention of tahini dates back to 3500 BC. It is a paste made from ground sesame seeds, it’s often blended into dips, such as hummus and baba ghanoush. Tahini-based sauces appear widely in Armenian, Turkish, Iraqi, Cypriot, Greek, East Asian, and Indian fare.

Tahini is sesame seed butter. The seeds are soaked in water, then crushed and hulled to take off the “coat,” or kernel. The kernels float to the top and are taken out. What’s left is toasted and soaked again in saltwater before being pounded into a paste. It has a thick, oily, and smooth texture similar to natural peanut butter.

One tablespoon (15 grams) of tahini contains the following:

  • Calories: 90 calories
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 8 grams
  • Carbs: 3 grams
  • Fiber: 1 gram
  • Thiamine: 13% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 11% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 11% of the DV
  • Manganese: 11% of the DV

Tahini is a great source of phosphorus and manganese, both of which play vital roles in bone health. It’s also high in thiamine (vitamin B1) and vitamin B6, which are important for energy production. Tahini also has selenium.  Just 2 tablespoons of tahini provide almost 15 percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium.

About 50% of the fat in tahini comes from monounsaturated fatty acids which have anti-inflammatory properties and are linked to a decreased risk of chronic disease.  Diets rich in monounsaturated fats lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Sesame seeds can help lower cholesterol. High cholesterol, especially LDL cholesterol, is a major risk factor for heart disease. In one study, patients with high cholesterol who ate about 4.5 tablespoons of sesame seeds a day for two months saw significant improvements in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels.

This may be because sesame seeds are packed with antioxidants, which protect cells from free-radical damage and prevent cardiovascular disease. Sesamin and sesamolin, in particular, are two potent antioxidants unique to the sesame plant that have been linked to heart health. They work by inhibiting cholesterol production in the body and blocking the absorption of dietary cholesterol.

Sesamin has also been studied in animals as a potential treatment for asthma.

Tahini also contains antioxidants called lignans, The antioxidants in tahini can help fight inflammation. In one study, patients with knee osteoarthritis who consumed 40 grams of sesame seeds per day saw improvements in knee pain and inflammatory biomarkers. Other lab studies have shown that the antioxidants in sesame seeds inhibit the production of inflammatory cytokines.

Tahini and sesame seeds may have antibacterial properties due to these powerful antioxidants. In some Central European and Middle Eastern countries, sesame oil is used as a home remedy for foot wounds associated with diabetes. In one study on the antibacterial capacity of sesame seed extract, researchers found that it was effective against 77% of the drug-resistant bacterial samples tested.

Tahini contains compounds that may improve brain health and decrease your risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases like dementia. In test-tube studies, sesame seed components have been shown to protect human brain and nerve cells from free radical damage. Sesame seed antioxidants can cross the blood-brain barrier, meaning they can leave your bloodstream and directly affect your brain and central nervous system.

One animal study suggests that sesame antioxidants may also help prevent the formation of beta amyloid plaques in the brain, which is characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease.

Sesame seeds are also being researched for their potential anticancer effects. Some test-tube studies have shown that sesame seed antioxidants promote the death of colon, lung, liver, and breast cancer cells.

While tahini is generally a safe alternative for those with nut allergies, it is estimated that 1.6 million Americans are allergic to sesame seeds.

How to Buy

You can buy premade tahini at most grocery stores. Jarred tahini doesn’t always taste as good as fresh because it’s been sitting on the shelf for a while. It might taste bitter, astringent, or even slightly acidic and have a chalky mouthfeel. Good tahini, on the other hand, tastes slightly nutty, savory, and has a creamy texture.

Look for fresh, locally made tahini.

 

How to Store

Tahini will keep in a refrigerator for up to three months if it’s stored properly in an airtight container.

The natural oils in it may separate during storage, but this can be easily fixed by stirring the tahini before using it.

How to Cook

Tahini can be eaten straight from the jar, mixed with chickpeas for homemade hummus, or poured into batter. Try mixing it with basil, onions, garlic, and apple cider vinegar for a versatile green tahini sauce (great drizzled on roasted veggies). Or combine it with cacao and maple syrup for a sweet spread.

Tahini is easy to make at home.

  • 5 cups sesame seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil or vegetable oil
  • Salt, to taste (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F. Toast sesame seeds for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing the seeds frequently with a spatula. Do not allow to brown or burn. Remove the seeds from the oven, and let them cool for 20 minutes. You can also toast the seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat. Stir the seeds frequently until they are lightly colored but not brown, or about 5 minutes.

  • Toasting the sesame seeds isn’t necessary. However, tahini made with untoasted seeds won’t be quite as nutty, and it might have a slightly bitter flavor.

Transfer the toasted seeds to a tray and let them cool completely.

Pour sesame seeds into the food processor. Slowly drizzle in the oil while the processor is running, blending for 2 minutes. Check for consistency. The goal is a thick, yet pourable texture. Add more oil and blend until desired consistency.

Add salt to taste.

 

 

 

Tahini Caper Salad Dressing

Miri Rotkovitz/ Photo credit:The Spruce / Miri Rotkovitz

6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly squeezed, from about 1 lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon capers (roughly chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon caper brine
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic (peeled, smashed, and finely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons zaatar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (extra-virgin)

Instructions

  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini and lemon juice.
  2. Add the capers, caper brine, chopped garlic, rice vinegar, and zaatar, and whisk again.
  3. Slowly stream in the olive oil while continuing to whisk, until the mixture is smooth and emulsified.
  4. Serve over salad or grain bowls. Store, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 days.

Resources

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