Mar 26, 2015

Negative ions or anions -- what are they and are they for real?

anion-rich beach
Negative ions or anions just may be the most positive that can happen to you. Most of us have heard about negative ion generators or the so-called ionizers and the plethora of anion bracelets and charms being peddled online, but are negative ions true? Do they exist at all? Are they really good for us?

What are negative ions?
Negative ions are odorless, tasteless, and invisible molecules that are abundant in certain surroundings such as beaches, mountains and waterfalls -- places which are incidentally very relaxing. In fact, negative ions may be the reason why these places do us so much good.

The theory is that when we inhale these anions and they get into our bloodstream, these negative ions create a cascade of biochemical reactions which increase the blood level of serotonin, a powerful stress- and depression-relieving substance and one which improves energy levels.

The science behind negative ions
You know how pristine beaches, cool mountain air and windy panoramic views make you feel, right? There’s nothing quite like it inside the four walls of your home, no matter how beautiful your abode may be. What could have spelled the difference? Well, apart from the wondrous sights and sounds of the great outdoors, the distinguishing elements are negative ions -- negatively-charged particles which are circulating at levels of around tens of thousands as against the measly hundreds or even flat zeros that are found indoors.

How are negative ions created?
  • Sunlight, radiation, the pounding of water and the currents of air are all said to break apart molecules in nature so that these molecules either lose or gain an electrical charge. Dr. Michael Terman, PhD, ion researcher at the Columbia University in New York, explains it this way: “The action of the pounding surf creates negative air ions and we see it immediately after spring thunderstorms when people report lightened moods.”
  • Negative ions are also generated by certain minerals such as Tourmaline and Germanium.
  • They can also be generated artificially, hence the proliferation of ionizers and ionizing technology in air and water filters, air conditioners and air fans.

Another evidence of the existence of anions is the prevalence of depression during winter when people are forced to stay in anion-deprived situations that is, indoors almost 24/7. Columbia University studies show that negative ion generators have as much anti-depressant effects as anti-depressant drugs.

There are said to be 5,000 studies to date on negative ions and they are all available online for all and sundry to investigate.

How anions purify indoor air:
Nearly all particles suspended in the air -- minute dust, dust mites, etc. -- have a positive charge. When there are negative ions present in the air -- either naturally existing or generated by ionizing devices -- the positive and negative ions bind to each other and the union becomes too heavy to float on air so that they settle on the floor, making them easy to sweep off or vacuum out.

As of the present, I have heard of fans, air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines which generate negative ions. I have also come across tourmaline wristbands which emit anions. If you are a maker or seller of any of these items, I would be willing to review them here. Please drop me a note via my Contact page.

I still maintain, though, that the best way to get our dose of anions is to hit the beach, hike up the mountain or breathe in the fresh, cool air of the great outdoors. Experts suggest that for optimum health, we have to spend at least an hour each week in naturally anion-rich places. It’s free, and it comes with other sensory delights as well.


Mar 24, 2015

Is Philippine corn genetically modified (GM)?

Corn may not be a staple in my household -- as we’re rice lovers, irrevocably  -- yet we regularly consume corn in the form of corn coffee. However, in the course of my readings I have come across, not a few times, news about the widespread propagation of genetically-modified corn (GM) in the country, which to me is a cause for alarm since GM crops in the US have been under fire for decades now because of their reported negative effects on health, the environment and the farmers’s income.

Is corn in the Philippines genetically modified?
Is GM corn really that harmful?
Read on and be the judge.

A decade ago, our government -- the Philippine government -- approved Bt corn for commercial propagation. It was the first genetically-modified crop introduced in the Philippines. Today, the Philippines has  a total of 8 genetically-modified corn varieties -- the Bt corn, the RR corn and a combination of “pyramided and stacked traits of the same GM event.” During this same period, a total of 59 GM crops have also been imported for use as food and animal feed as well as for further processing.

Here’s a staggering fact: the cultivation of genetically-modified corn  now covers an area of 600,000 hectares. This ginormic area has been used as proof of the benefits of GM corn. However, this did not prove to be a case of benefits but simply a result of aggressive and well-funded capitalist propaganda rolled out by biotech companies bent on selling their seeds. Aiding the propaganda machine was the pro-GMO stance of the Philippine government as well as the greed of some local financiers and traders.

The Promises
Farmers have been lured into planting Bt corn by promises of better yield, better pest resistance and therefore less pesticide use, safety to health and the environment and overall increase in income.

The Results
However, recent evidence shows an altogether different picture. Genetically-modified crops may have been resistant to common weeds but they have given rise to super weeds. Freaks give forth freaks. GM crops may have won over the usual pests but have spawned other dominant insect pests. Such is the law of nature. Worse, the promised lucrative income has not come into fruition as GM seed prices have increased. Now, a decade later, farmers are bemoaning the measly yield, increasing debts and the host of franken-weeds and franken-pests that these franken-crops have spawned.

As if that is not enough insult, already lining up for commercial propagation are other GM crops such as Bt eggplant and golden rice.

What is genetic modification?

Genetic engineering or modern biotechnology is a branch of biotechnology that has been under fire for decades now because it is treading on what I think are sacred realms -- the innermost realm or core of creation -- its genetic makeup. The other branches of biotechnology -- cell and tissue culture, fermentation and enzyme technology, to be fair, have been hugely beneficial to mankind as they have produced such life-saving substances as insulin and many body enzymes. Modern biotechnology or genetic engineering, however, is freakish -- the kind which to me, seems to intrude and tamper with the Creator’s creations.

The primary motive of genetic engineering of crops may have been noble -- solving the hunger problem by endowing crops with superpowers such as pest and weed resistance -- but recent developments have shown that genetic engineering has worsened global food insecurity. In the US, the 4 most commonly genetically-modified crops are the SCCC -- soybean, corn, canola and cotton -- 3 of which are all used for food and all of which have been reported as harmful to health and the environment.

Monsanto and other franken-seed banks have amassed billions of dollars of profits from the sale of GM seeds and are even suspected of harboring the intent to monopolize the world’s food supply -- though I leave that to the conspiracy theorists to elaborate on.

Here are 4 of the 8 GMOs approved for propagation in the Philippines just so you can have an idea of what they are:
  • Corn GA 21 contains modified gene from corn which confers tolerance to herbicides (You can spray herbicides and the corn would not die.)
  • Corn MON810 which contains gene from Bacillus thuriengiensis (bacterium) which confers resistance to corn borer
  • Corn NK603 contains coding sequence from Agrobacterium which confers tolerance to the Roundup family of agricultural pesticides

A few of the many GMOs currently approved for field testing are:
  • Weed-resistant corn
  • Trans-genic papaya with delayed ripening

Here are some fast facts:
  • We are the only country in Asia which approved the propagation of GM corn.
  • Corn is the third most widely-planted crop in the Philippines.
  • White corn is mainly for human consumption while yellow corn is for livestock feed -- for poultry and fish.
  • White corn is the secondary staple in the Philippines. Provinces which prefer white corn over rice include Samar, Leyte, Cebu and some parts of Mindanao.

Traditional corn varieties are naturally resistant to common pests and diseases and do not need to be sprayed on with pesticides. However, they have since been displaced and/or replaced with GM corn hybrids. What is more worrisome is that what little safe corn we have are cross-pollinated with corn hybrids. Corn hybrids now account for 90% of the total hectarage for yellow corn.

  • So is Philippine corn safe? I have doubts about it. Our government has not been fully transparent with us about it.
  • So are corn-fed fish, animal meat and poultry safe to eat? Ditto.
  • Corn oil from abroad is also largely GM. So are breakfast cereals and nachos and tortillas, I suspect.

I am not fear-mongering, as I still drink corn coffee at least thrice a week -- and eat the occasional anagon (boiled whole corn) but I am simply bursting that fantasy bubble which says that corn is way better than rice. I am almost always paranoid with what I eat. I just eat eat antioxidant-rich food afterwards.



Mar 21, 2015

Chili Leaves or Dahon ng Sili -- local greens that trump imported ones

Chili leaves or dahon ng sili
The leaves of the chili or cayenne plant are, contrary to their fiery-hot fruits, not hot at all but have a mild flavor and delicate texture. Chili leaves are actually my tween daughter’s favorite leafy vegetables, especially when they’re swimming in broth made of native or free roaming chicken stew or wallowing in the thick golden sauce of chicken curry.

I have just a couple of chili plants in my garden and we could not consume them fast enough as they grow very bushy in no time. Of all the leafy greens happily growing in my garden, chili leaves are the ones we get to harvest bountifully as her other leafy peers -- moringa, sweet potato leaves and alugbati -- get harvested by neighbors who seem to think of our garden as a communal one. (Yea, we’re good neighbors.)

You probably know by now that one of my goals for this blog is to make it into a health journal and recipe book that I can pass on to my children. This past week my heart has been swelling with joy over the fact that my tween daughter and my 7-year-old boy are already getting the hang of curtido. If you don’t know what that is, it’s lacto-fermented cabbage, carrots, garlic and onions. If you don’t know what lacto-fermentation is, then it’s the process of fermenting foods at room temperature for 3 days to a week in order to allow the good bacteria naturally present on food surfaces to multiply and in so doing produce lactic acid. Lactic acid preserves the food and gives it a wonderful tangy flavor which is what makes sauerkraut such a hit with the Germans and kimchi an all-around condiment to the Koreans.

Another goal I’ve embraced with this blog is to feature Filipino fruits and vegetables from time to time, to shed the spotlight on little-known, local produce in the hope that we would cook or eat them more often and in the process not only improve our health but also help our farmers gain a market for their crops. So far I have featured the following indigenous leafy vegetables, leaves and herbs: saluyot or jute leaves, sweet potato leaves, pandan, ginger, turmeric, etc.

Chili leaves, called dahon ng sili in the vernacular, are some of the less well-known leafy greens around. References about this leaf are sparse, though there’s this PDF document from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (link below) which has quantified the minerals found in chili leaves. Here are highlights on the nutritional profile of chili pepper according to the said paper:

Rich source of potassium
Potassium modulates the body’s water balance and regulates electrical stimulation of nerves and muscles. A potassium deficiency results in muscle weakness, irregular heartbeat and muscle cramping.

Rich source of copper
Copper is a component of many enzymes and is thus responsible for generating energy and healthy metabolism. It plays an important role in iron metabolism and is therefore necessary for blood formation.

Relatively high in other minerals
Relative to cabbage, chili leaves contain more manganese, copper, boron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium and phosphorus.

Relatively high in carotenoid antioxidants such as lutein, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene
Lutein is important for eye health while beta-carotene is necessary for vision, skin integrity, bone health and immunity.

Here are some recipes that can make use of chili leaves:

Have you eaten chili leaves before? What's a local recipe in your part of the world which makes use of chili leaves?

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