kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

Groups that have been disproportionately hit hard by the novel coronavirus, such as older adults, nursing home residents, Blacks and other minorities might have vitamin D deficiencies. The body synthesizes vitamin D through direct exposure to sunlight, and people who are elderly, homebound or darker skinned produce lower levels of it. Obesity is also associated with lower levels of vitamin D.

In the past decade, studies have found that taking vitamin D can lower the odds of developing respiratory infections like the cold and the flu, especially among people who have documented deficiencies. Now scientists are trying to determine whether vitamin D might also help protect against Covid-19.

Some scientists believe that people with vitamin D deficiencies have weak or abnormal immune responses that make them more susceptible to developing Covid-19 and experiencing severe symptoms. The notion that vitamin D levels could influence the risk of Covid-19 has sparked debate among experts and prompted researchers at Harvard and other universities to start randomized trials examining whether there is a link.

All things considered, vitamin D optimization is likely the easiest, least expensive and most beneficial strategy that anyone can do to minimize their risk of COVID-19 and other infections in the coming months. Health authorities are already warning of a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. The summer months in the northern hemisphere are the perfect time to get out into the sun and let the body do its work synthesizing vitamin D.

One billion individuals worldwide, across all age groups, are deficient in vitamin D.

Socioeconomic factors like reduced access to health care and less ability to work from home contribute to the rates of sickness and death from coronavirus among minorities. But there is evidence that low vitamin D levels can hamper the immune system, so check your vitamin D  levels. Adequate levels will help reduce inflammation and can stimulate the release of antimicrobial proteins that kill viruses and bacteria. One team of researchers at Northwestern University released a study, suggesting that vitamin D could help to quell cytokine storms, a type of immune reaction that appears to worsen outcomes for coronavirus patients.

To improve your immune function and lower your risk of viral infections, raise your vitamin D to a level between 60 ng/mL and 80 ng/mL by fall. Many scientists believe that if vitamin D levels were increased in the global population, tens of thousands of people may be saved if COVID-19 reemerges or doesn’t fade during the summer months.

As of early June 2020, more than 20 studies had been launched to investigate the benefits of vitamin D against COVID-19.

Vitamin D optimization is particularly important for dark-skinned individuals, as the darker your skin, the more sun exposure you need to raise your vitamin D level. Increased skin pigmentation reduces the efficacy of UVB because melanin functions as a natural sunblock. If you’re very dark-skinned, you may need to spend about 1.5 hours a day in the sun to have any noticeable effect.

Light-skinned individuals may only need 15 minutes of full sun exposure a day. Still, they too will typically struggle to maintain ideal levels during the winter. During the winter months at latitudes of greater than 40°, little or no UVB radiation reaches the surface of the earth. Minneapolis is at 44.9°North and New York is at 40.7°North.

Since the pandemic began there have been mixed results as to whether vitamin D really helps, yet sales of vitamin D and other supplements promoted for immune health have soared.

At the University of Chicago Medicine, which serves a largely black and Hispanic population on the South Side of Chicago, researchers reviewed the medical records of more than 4,300 patients, many of them health care workers, who were tested for Covid-19 in March and early April.

After controlling for factors that can influence vitamin D levels, like age, race and chronic medical conditions, they found that people who were vitamin D deficient before the pandemic began were 77 % more likely to test positive for Covid-19 compared to people who had normal levels.

Dr. David Meltzer, a professor of medicine at the University of Chicago and the lead author of the study cautioned that the findings were correlational and did not prove causation. He said he and his colleagues were recruiting local paramedics, police officers and other emergency workers for a randomized trial that will test whether taking low to moderate doses of vitamin D daily has an impact on their risk of developing Covid-19 or the severity of their symptoms. Dr. Meltzer suspects that people taking vitamin D who contract the virus will have fewer symptoms of Covid-19 “because the immune system will be less likely to have an exaggerated inflammatory response.”

“I think you can learn a lot from observational studies,” said Dr. Meltzer, who is chief of the Section of Hospital Medicine at the University of Chicago Medicine. “But in the end we desperately need randomized trials to determine as rapidly as we can if there’s a real effect here.”

The findings suggest that the lower vitamin D levels in people who tested positive for coronavirus were not causally related, said Dr. Claire Hastie, a research associate in public health at the University of Glasgow and the first author of one of the two studies, which was published in the journal Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome.

“People with lower vitamin D have a higher risk of Covid infection, but it looks like this is explained by other risk factors and not by the vitamin D itself,” she said. “Our findings do not support a link between vitamin D concentration and the risk of Covid-19 infection.”

Analysis led by researchers at the University of Surrey looked at 580 U.K. Biobank participants who tested positive for coronavirus and found, on average, that their blood levels of vitamin D were “almost identical” to 723 participants who tested negative for the virus.

“Mechanistically, there is a link between vitamin D and respiratory tract infections,” said Dr. Susan Lanham-New, an author of the study and head of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Surrey. “But there is nowhere near enough evidence to come out with these claims that Covid-19 is because of vitamin D deficiency.”

In the meantime, Dr. Manson said people should take simple steps to avoid vitamin D deficiencies, such as being physically active outside while social distancing and eating foods like fortified cereals, fortified dairy-free products, and sun-dried mushrooms. For people who cannot get outside or get enough vitamin D from their diets, supplementing with 1,000 to 2,000 IU a day is reasonable, she said. But she urged people not to take high doses.

“More is not necessarily better,” she said. “The goal is to avoid a deficiency. It’s not to get mega doses.”

Get your vitamin D levels checked and if you are low, supplement or take advantage of the summer sunshine.

Cardamom

Cardamom is a spice made from the seed pods of various plants in the ginger family. It is grown and cultivated in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Tanzania, Guatemala and India. Cardamom originated in India but is available worldwide today and used in both sweet and savory recipes. It has an intense, slightly sweet flavor that some people compare to mint.

Cardamom pods are spindle-shaped and have a triangular cross-section. The pods contain a number of seeds, but the entire cardamom pod can be used whole or ground. The seeds are small and black, while the pods differ in color and size by species. According to The Spruce Eats, the color and size of cardamom pods may differ depending on the species. Its two main types are green and black.

The green variety, also known as “true” cardamom, is most common and is used in Nordic and Middle Eastern dishes. It is commonly found in garam masala mixtures and added into curry blends. You can also use it to make beverages like cardamom tea or Arabic coffee. Cardamom adds a unique flavor to Scandinavian pastries.

The seeds, oils and extracts of cardamom have medicinal properties and have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.

Different parts of cardamom were traditionally used for digestive-related disorders like diarrhea, indigestion and constipation. It is often mixed with other medicinal spices to relieve nausea and vomiting. The most researched property of cardamom, as it pertains to relieving stomach issues, is its possible ability to heal ulcers.  Cardamom has been shown to reduce the number and size of stomach ulcers in rats.

Test-tube research also suggests that cardamom may protect against Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria linked to the development of most stomach ulcer issues.

Cardamom may be helpful for people with high blood pressure. In one study, researchers gave three grams of cardamom powder a day to 20 adults who were newly diagnosed with high blood pressure. Blood pressure was initially taken at four-week intervals for three months. Results showed that cardamom powder helped lower systolic, diastolic and mean blood pressure and increased fibrinolytic (blood clot-inhibiting) activity.  After 12 weeks, blood pressure levels had significantly decreased to the normal range. The promising results of this study may be related to the high levels of antioxidants in cardamom. In fact, the participants’ antioxidant status had increased by 90% by the end of the study.

Researchers also suspect that the spice may lower blood pressure due to its diuretic effect, meaning it can promote urination to remove water that builds up in your body.

The compounds in cardamom may help fight cancer cells.  Studies in mice have shown that cardamom powder can increase the activity of certain enzymes that help fight cancer by enhancing the ability of natural killer cells to attack tumors.  One study showed that a certain compound in the spice stopped oral cancer cells in test tubes from multiplying.

Cardamom also has antibacterial effects outside of the mouth and may treat infections.  Research shows that cardamom extracts and essential oils have compounds that fight several common strains of bacteria. Additional test-tube research found that essential oils and extracts of cardamom were just as, and sometimes more, effective than standard drugs against E. coli and Staphylococcus, bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Test-tube studies have also shown that cardamom essential oils fight the bacteria Salmonella that leads to food poisoning and Campylobacter that contributes to stomach inflammation

One test-tube study examined the impact of these extracts on drug-resistant strains of Candida, a yeast that can cause fungal infections. The extracts were able to inhibit the growth of some strains by 0.39–0.59 inches.

Nutritionally, cardamom is rich in dietary fiber. It’s also a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, calcium, potassium and zinc. One tablespoon of ground cardamom has 18 calories, .62 g of protein, 1.62 mg manganese, 22 mg calcium, 1.2 mg vitamin C, and .81 mg of iron.

The use of cardamom to treat bad breath and improve oral health is an ancient remedy. In some cultures, it’s common to freshen your breath by eating entire cardamom pods after a meal. The chewing gum manufacturer Wrigley uses the spice in one of its products.

Cardamom can fight common mouth bacteria.  One study found that cardamom extracts were effective in fighting five bacteria that can cause dental cavities.  Additional research shows that cardamom extract can reduce the number of bacteria in saliva samples by 54%.

Compounds in cardamom may help increase airflow to your lungs and improve breathing. When used in aromatherapy, cardamom can provide an invigorating odor that enhances your body’s ability to use oxygen during exercise. One study asked a group of participants to inhale cardamom essential oil for one minute before walking on a treadmill for 15-minute intervals. This group had a significantly higher oxygen uptake compared to the control group.

Another way that cardamom may improve breathing and oxygen use is by relaxing your airway. This may be particularly helpful for treating asthma.

A limited number of studies suggests that cardamom supplements may decrease waist circumference and prevent anxious behaviors and fatty liver. The reasons behind these effects are unclear but may have to do with the spice’s high antioxidant content.

How to Buy

To maximize the shelf life of cardamom seed purchased in bulk. Rub or crush a small amount in your hand. If the aroma is weak and the flavor is not obvious, the cardamom seed is old.

You can find green cardamom sold as ground cardamom and whole cardamom pods in the spice section of the grocery store. You will probably have to look for black cardamom at an international specialty grocer, and you will find green cardamom in those markets at a much better price than the usual supermarket.

 

How to Store

Keep cardamom in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place. Whole pods will last about a year this way and will begin to lose their flavor thereafter. Ground cardamom seeds have a shelf life of only a few months because the essential oils begin to dissipate as soon as the seeds are ground.

How to Cook

True cardamom has a sweet and pungent flavor, with hints of lemon and mint. You can add whole pods of it into dishes. These pods contain aromatic seeds that can be ground to release a potent flavor. Be sure to keep in mind that ground cardamom seeds lose their flavor and aroma quickly, so it’s best to grind them just before cooking

Recipes using black cardamom often call for using the whole pod, with the seeds intact. The pods are then discarded after cooking is done as chomping into the whole pod is unpleasant.

If you’re using green cardamom in a recipe, ideally you’d start with whole cardamom pods. If you buy ground cardamom from the spice section, it won’t be as flavorful since the essential oils of the cardamom seed will lose their flavor relatively quickly after the seeds are ground

You can use powdered cardamom added directly to recipes that call for ground cardamom, but you will get more flavor by starting with the pods. Toast green cardamom pods in a dry skillet for a few minutes. Let them cool for a minute and then remove the seeds from the pods. Save the pods to use for adding to coffee or tea for flavor. Grind the seeds in a ​mortar and pestle for best results, or you can use a motorized grinder (I have a small coffee grinder dedicated to spices.).

If you are using green cardamom for hot drinks such as coffee, grind three to four cardamom seeds along with your coffee beans and pour your hot water over as usual. Some traditions grind the whole pod, but it’s fine to use the seeds only.

Cardamom matches well with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

 

Triple Berry Pie with Gluten-Free Cardomom Crust

Sarah Menanix/ Photo credit: Snixy Kitchen

One 9" Pie

Ingredients

Gluten-Free Cardamom Crust

  • 1 cup (120g) Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free oat flour
  • ⅔ cup + 2 tablespoons (102g) Bob’s Red Mill millet flour
  • ½ cup (80g) Bob’s Red Mill sweet rice flour
  • ¼ cup + 3 tablespoons (60g) Bob’s Red Mill tapioca starch/flour
  • 2 tablespoons cane sugar, plus more for sprinkling
  • 1 teaspoon Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup cold unsalted vegan butter, sliced into 16 tablespoons
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 8-15 tablespoons ice water
  • 1 tablespoon coconut cream, for brushing on top

Triple Berry Filling

  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 2 cups raspberries
  • 3 cups blueberries
  • ¼ cup Bob’s Red Mill corn starch
  • 1/2 cup cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Zest of one lemon

 

Instructions

  1. Whisk together the oat flour, millet flour, sweet rice flour, tapioca starch, sugar, xanthan gum, cardamom, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. Add the cold vegan butter and mix with your hands, breaking up the butter until the largest pieces are about the size of an almond. Drizzle in the vanilla.
  3. One tablespoon at a time, dribble in the ice water, combining each time, until the dough holds together when pinched with your fingers (add water until it just holds together, but is not sticky. If you need more water, add a teaspoon at a time). Knead the dough until it comes together. Divide into two equal portions.
  4. Dust your work surface lightly with millet flour and roll each piece out into a ¾-inch thick rectangle. Dust the top of the dough lightly with millet flour and fold the dough into thirds like a letter and then in thirds once again to form a square. Press the dough to form a circle about 1-1/2 inches thick. Wrap each round in plastic and chill for an hour or up to overnight.
  5. Dust a piece of parchment paper lightly with millet flour. Remove one portion from the refrigerator and let sit for 5-10 minutes to soften. Carefully roll into a 12-inch round circle on the floured parchment paper, dusting with millet flour and flipping to keep it from sticking, and repairing any cracks as you roll.
  6. Carefully invert the round of dough off the parchment paper into a 9-inch round pie pan, gently pressing it down into the pan. Peel off the parchment paper and trim the dough to leave only a 1-inch of overhang around. Save the scraps in plastic wrap for decorations, if desired. Prick the bottom all over with a fork and chill while you prepare the filling.
  7. Remove the second round of dough from the fridge onto another lightly-dusted piece of parchment paper to soften slightly while you toss the filling together.
  8. Preheat the oven to 425ºF and place a rack on the bottom third of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  9. Toss all the filling ingredients together in a large bowl. Pour the filling into the chilled pie crust.
  10. Roll the second round of dough into a 12×14 inch oval about ¼-inch thick and slice it into 8 long strips (1.5”x14”).
  11. Using every other cut strip from your oval, place half the strips evenly spaced lengthwise on top of the pie then weave the remaining strips in one at a time. Trim the strips to only a ½-inch overhang, saving the scraps for decoration.
  12. Fold the edge overhang of the crust over itself and the lattice edges, using your fingers to flute the crust (alternatively use a fork to add pattern to the crust edge.
  13. Optional: Roll the remaining dough scraps out until it is ¼ inch thick and use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes to place on top of your pie. Place them on top of your pie as you desire.
  14. Chill the pie for 20 minutes then brush with whole milk or cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake the pie on the parchment-lined baking sheet on the lower rack at 425°F for 10 minutes then reduce heat to 385 and bake for 55-65 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. If parts of your crust (ex. edges or higher decorations) start to get too brown before the pie is finished, use foil pieces to cover those bits! Let cool completely before slicing and serving.
  15. Serve with a scoop of So Delicious Vanilla dairy-free ice cream.

Resources

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