kris ulland

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The human skeleton contains 206 bones. Bones are made up of water, cells, and inorganic material. Bones are are as light as aluminum, but stronger than steel. They are flexible with blood flowing through every part.

Our bones protect our internal organs. They stabilize and support the body, providing a framework for muscle, tendons, and ligaments. Red blood cells are produced in the marrow which is the inside canal of the bone. Bones store about 90% of the body’s calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak, brittle, and prone to fractures. Fractures of the hip and vertebra are associated with loss of mobility and have an eight-fold increase in mortality compared to other individuals their age. Any kind of broken bone increases the risk of death in older people.

More than 40 million people nationwide either have osteoporosis or are at increased risk for broken bones because of low bone mineral density (osteopenia). Past studies suggest that genetic differences may account for more than half the variance in bone mineral density between people.

That is why it is imperative to not just slow, but reverse bone loss as soon as it begins to take hold.

During your life, your bones constantly change. New bone grows while old bone breaks down and your body absorbs it. When you’re young, you grow new bone faster than your body breaks down old bone. This contributes to a high bone mass. Once your body starts to break down old bone faster than it creates new bone, your bone mass begins to decrease. Loss of bone mass weakens your bones and can cause them to break.

The beginning of this decline is known as osteopenia. Typically, there are no symptoms, unless the condition progresses to osteoporosis. Symptoms of osteoporosis include back pain, loss of height, a stooped posture, and easily fractured bones.

Women are more likely to have osteopenia than men. This is due to several factors. Women have a lower bone mass overall and absorb less calcium than men do. They also tend to live longer. In women, the rate of bone loss speeds up after menopause as estrogen levels fall.

Some risk factors for osteoporosis are out of your control, including:

  • Your sex. Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than are men.
  • Age. The older you get, the greater your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Race. You’re at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent.
  • Family history. Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk, especially if your mother or father fractured a hip.
  • Body frame size. Men and women who have small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they might have less bone mass to draw from as they age.

Osteoporosis is more common in people who have too much or too little of certain hormones in their bodies. Examples include:

  • Sex hormones. Lowered sex hormone levels tend to weaken bone. The reduction of estrogen levels in women at menopause is one of the strongest risk factors for developing osteoporosis. Men have a gradual reduction in testosterone levels as they age. Treatments for prostate cancer that reduce testosterone levels in men and treatments for breast cancer that reduce estrogen levels in women are likely to accelerate bone loss.
  • Thyroid problems. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. This can occur if your thyroid is overactive or if you take too much thyroid hormone medication to treat an underactive thyroid.
  • Other glands. Osteoporosis has also been associated with overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands.

Osteoporosis is more likely to occur in people who have:

  • Low calcium intake. A lifelong lack of calcium plays a role in the development of osteoporosis. Low calcium intake contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
  • Eating disorders. Severely restricting food intake and being underweight weakens bone in both men and women.
  • Gastrointestinal surgery. Surgery to reduce the size of your stomach or to remove part of the intestine limits the amount of surface area available to absorb nutrients, including calcium. These surgeries include those to help you lose weight and for other gastrointestinal disorders.

Long-term use of oral or injected corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone and cortisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process. Osteoporosis has also been associated with medications used to combat or prevent:

  • Seizures
  • Gastric reflux
  • Cancer
  • Transplant rejection

The risk of osteoporosis is higher in people who have certain medical problems, including:

  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Lupus
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Some lifestyle habits can increase your risk of osteoporosis.

  • Sedentary lifestyle. People who spend a lot of time sitting have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do those who are more active. Any weight-bearing exercise and activities that promote balance and good posture are beneficial for your bones, but walking, running, jumping, dancing and weightlifting seem particularly helpful.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption. Regular consumption of more than two alcoholic drinks a day increases your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Tobacco use. The exact role tobacco plays in osteoporosis isn’t clear, but it has been shown that tobacco use contributes to weak bones.

The good news is that there is something we can do about age-related bone loss and risk of fractures. Adding vitamin K2 in the form of menaquinone-4 (MK-4) leads to improvements in bone health.

Human trials have demonstrated that vitamin K2 maintains or even increases bone mineral density. It also helps to prevent fractures, even in older patients who have already developed osteoporosis.  In a Japanese study performed over a two year period, osteoporosis patients were divided into two groups.

One group received 150 mg/day of calcium alone and the other received this same small dose of calcium plus 45 mg of vitamin K2 daily. Over a two year period, the patients who received only calcium continued to lose bone density, dropping about 3%. Patients receiving vitamin K2 in addition to the calcium largely maintained their bone mineral density.

During the two year study, the group receiving calcium alone sustained 35 fractures, compared to 14 fractures in the vitamin K2 group.

Vitamin K2 has been show in studies to promote:

  • An increase in bone-building osteoblast activity
  • A reduction in bone-destroying osteoclast activity.

The bone-building effects of vitamin K2 are even greater when supported by other nutrients:

  • Calcium is the major mineral that forms bones. Soybeans, beans, nuts, legumes are all excellent sources of calcium.
  • Vitamin D helps absorb calcium from the gut after a meal. Vitamin D helps the body absorb the bone-strengthening trace element zinc and manganese. Get vitamin D from the sun and if you fear you are low, get tested and add a supplement of Vitamin D3.
  • Magnesium, like calcium, makes up the mineral matrix of bone and is needed to maintain healthy bone density. Nuts, while grains, and bananas are good sources of magnesium.
  • Zinc, Manganese, Silicon, and Boron are important for bone formation. Legumes, tofu and seeds are all good sources.

* Consult with your doctor before adding new supplements.

Okra

Okra is a flowering plant thought to be of African origin, and brought to the United States from Africa three centuries ago by enslaved people. The word “okra” is derived from the West African nkruma. Grown in tropical and warm temperate climates, it is a perennial in the same plant family as hibiscus and cotton. It is cultivated as an annual.

Okra is sometimes referred to as “lady’s finger”. Okra comes in two colors, red and green. Both varieties taste the same, and the red one turns green when cooked. It is biologically classified as a fruit, okra is generally utilized like a vegetable in cooking.

One cup of raw okra contains:

  • Calories: 33
  • Carbs: 7 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 3 grams
  • Magnesium: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Folate: 15% of the DV
  • Vitamin A: 14% of the DV
  • Vitamin C: 26% of the DV
  • Vitamin K: 26% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 14% of the DV

Okra is an excellent source of vitamins C and K1. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that contributes to your overall immune function, while vitamin K1 is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s known for its role in blood clotting. Eating okra may help pregnant women meet their daily folate needs. Folate is important for preventing neural tube defects.

Okra is low in calories and carbs and contains some protein and fiber. Okra contains a protein called lectin, which is being studied for its role in cancer prevention and treatment.

Okra contains a thick gel-like substance called mucilage, which can bind to cholesterol during digestion, causing it to be excreted with stools rather than absorbed into your body. One 8-week study randomly divided mice into 3 groups and fed them a high-fat diet containing 1% or 2% okra powder or a high-fat diet without okra powder. The mice on the okra diet eliminated more cholesterol in their stools and had lower total blood cholesterol levels than the control group.

Okra is rich in antioxidants. Most notably, polyphenols that may contribute to heart and brain health. One 4-year study in 1,100 people showed that those who ate a diet rich in polyphenols had lower inflammatory markers associated with heart disease..

Researchers suggested that the okra decreased sugar absorption in the digestive tract, leading to a more stable blood sugar response.

Because okra may interfere with metformin, a common diabetes medication, avoid eating okra if you are on metformin.

How to Buy

Okra is usually available fresh year-round in the South, and from May to October in many other areas. You can also find okra frozen, pickled, and canned, and in some regions, you might find frozen breaded okra for deep frying.

Look for brightly colored pods. Pods should be no more than 4 inches long. Avoid dull, bruised, soft, or blemished pods. If okra is too ripe, it will have a very sticky texture.

 

How to Store

  • Place fresh okra in a paper bag, or wrap it in a paper towel and place in the fridge.
  • Okra can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
  • For longer storage, okra may be frozen. Trim the stem ends (do not cut into the pod when you trim), and then blanch for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the pods. Cool the pods quickly in ice water. Freeze the whole pods or slice the pods crosswise and arrange them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze and then transfer the slices to silicone bags.

How to Cook

  • Okra is excellent stewed, sautéed, stir-fried, and deep-fried. It makes excellent pickles as well.
  • Okra goes well with tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn, and eggplants.
  • The viscous liquid cut okra gives off will thicken any liquid it’s cooked in, making it a wonderful addition to stews.
  • Gumbo likely got its name from the okra pod. Though gumbo may be thickened with okra, file powder, or roux, many feel okra is an essential ingredient in any good gumbo.
  • Battering and frying okra eliminates the sliminess.
  • When preparing the downy variety of okra, gently scrub the surface with a paper towel.
  • Before cooking whole okra, slice off the tips and stem ends.
  • Some complementary ingredients and sauces include basil, garlic, butter, lemon, parsley, tomatoes, and vinaigrette.

To avoid slimy okra, follow these simple cooking techniques:

  • Cook okra at high heat.
  • Avoid crowding your pan or skillet, as this will reduce the heat and cause sliminess.
  • Pickling okra may reduce the slime factor.
  • Cooking it in an acid-like tomato sauce reduces the gumminess.
  • Slice and roast okra in your oven.
  • Grill it until it’s slightly charred.

 

Vegan Gumbo with Okra

Alison Andrews of Loving it Vegan/ Photo credit: Loving it Vegan

4-6 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup vegan butter
  • 2/3 cup all purpose gluten-free flour
  • 2 medium green bell peppers (finely chopped)
  • 2 celery stalks (finely chopped)
  • 1 onion (Finely chopped)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen okra
  • 1 medium head of cauliflower (chopped into florets)
  • 1 pound (16oz) baby bella, white or portobellini mushrooms (sliced)
  • 1 Tbsp crushed garlic
  • 1 Tbsp cajun seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14oz can chopped tomato
  • 1 15oz can kidney beans
  • salt and pepper

For Serving:

  • basmati rice
  • chopped spring onions

Instructions

  1. Add the vegan butter to a heavy bottomed pot and let it melt over medium heat. Add in the all purpose flour and stir it into a paste. 
  2. Keep stirring and over the course of about 20 minutes (if you’re on high heat) and around an hour on low to medium heat, you’ll watch the roux change, from a thick paste into a thin sauce and the color will gradually change until you eventually reach a milk chocolate color which indicates that your roux is perfectly done. A high quality heavy bottomed pot will be ideal especially if you choose the high heat fast route. If you have a concern that it may burn in your pot then rather take the slow and steady approach. The end result will be worth it. 
  3. If you burn the roux, you have to start again. So be very careful. Unfortunately once burnt that roux can’t be salvaged.
  4. When your roux reaches the milk chocolate stage, then add in the green bell pepper, celery and onion. Mix in and cook until the veggies are softened. 
  5. Add the vegetable stock and stir. 
  6. Add okra, cauliflower florets, mushrooms, garlic, cajun seasoning, liquid smoke and a bay leaf. 
  7. Add the chopped tomatoes and kidney beans and stir. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and leave simmering until everything is cooked and fragrant. 
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste. 
  9. Serve with basmati rice (optional) with some chopped spring onions on top.

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