Garden Party

July 22, 2011 in Health, Nutrition by Mary Ireland

I went to a garden party this week - a beautiful luncheon that Dr. Grandma hosted for her friends. We all had the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful flower garden as well as the delicious healthy lunch that she served. On the menu was tasty lettuce from her garden, a scrumptious chicken salad lightly dressed with olive oil, orange juice, and lemon juice (see recipe below), wonderful muffins and a lovely fruit salad with yogurt dip for dessert. It was a delightful and nutritious meal.

Meeting Dr. Grandma’s friends was a treat for me - a great group of wonderful ladies. The treat for all who attended was getting to go into Dr. Grandma’s vegetable garden and harvest all the veggies that we wanted – so generous of Dr. Grandma. Her gardening effort this year was a huge success with large heads of cauliflower ready to harvest, along with Brussels sprouts, lettuce, kale, collard greens, chard, tomatoes, turnips, beets, carrots, fennel, peas, beans and other vegetables growing abundantly.

Since I had been to the garden with Dr. Grandma once before, I was familiar with what veggies she had planted and their locations. As I pointed out different greens, I heard comments that particular greens were unfamiliar and a number of people had never eaten them before. I wasn’t surprised, since I really didn’t eat all that many green leafy vegetables when I was younger either.

I don’t know why I didn’t eat green leafy vegetables. Maybe they seemed like too much trouble – having to find fresh ones, wash them, steam them and then having to clean the steamer later. Maybe I just wasn’t familiar with the taste and thought I wouldn’t like them. Maybe it was just rebellion at being told everyone should eat at least one serving of a dark green leafy vegetable a day. I don’t know why. I ate other vegetables; I would eat salads sometimes, but I really didn’t get into the dark green leafy vegetables.

About ten years ago, the “perfect storm” occurred to precipitate my change. I was doing a lot of biking and the stress on my knee was taking its toll. My knee was frequently swollen and seem to hurt most of the time. And then I was diagnosed with osteopenia. I tried to increase my dairy intake, but the result was an abdomen that looked like I was six-months pregnant. (A little lactose intolerance.) A friend gave the advice, “Get your calcium the way that cows do – eat your greens.”

Another friend – the original Green Smoothie Girl – introduced me to collard greens, kale, chard, turnip greens, and beet greens. I began to change my eating habits and, being desperate to have my knee feel better, tried wheat grass juice and gave up dairy. So there were at least three different changes that I made to my eating style and -- wow -- what a difference it made. My knee felt great, the swelling subsided and I didn’t have to avoid most activities that would aggravate it and sideline me for weeks.

Another thing that I noticed almost immediately was that I didn't bruise as easily. I did know that vitamin K was helpful in blood coagulation - helping the blood to clot more quickly, but I really didn't know that all of those dark green leafy vegetables are loaded with vitamin K. And even though I have been researching data on nutrition and writing this blog for ten months, the information I found on vitamin K in the last couple of days is very surprising. The following bullet items give you an overview of vitamin K.

  • Vitamin K functions as a coenzyme during the synthesis of the biologically active form of a number of proteins involved in blood coagulation and bone metabolism. (Yes bone metabolism!)
  • Phylloquinone, known as K1, is the most common form of vitamin K. It is contained in dark green leafy vegetables and is typically the researchers' benchmark for vitamin K intake.
  • Another form of vitamin K—dihydrophylloquinone— is produced during the hydrogenation of oils such as soybean oil. Although as much as 30 percent of total vitamin K intake may come in the form of dihydrophylloquinone, it is 50% less biologically active than phylloquinone and shouldn't be considered an important source of vitamin K.
  • Bacteria in the intestines synthesize a range of vitamin K formsknown as menaquinone which are collectively referred to as vitamin K2. However, bacteria do not produce significant amounts of menaquinone. It appears that most K2 is synthesized from phylloquinone.
  • Phytonadione is the supplement form of vitamin K1.

Vitamin K is critical to the calcium-binding function of a small number of vitamin K-dependent proteins. This calcium binding ability is required for coagulation. It appears that it is also required for several other important functions in the human body. As reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine a systematic review of 13 trials identified with data on bone loss and 7 trials related to fracture data suggests that supplementation with phytonadione and menaquinone-4 reduces bone loss. I would like to point out that we at Dr. Grandma's suggest eating the "real deal" -- dark green leafy vegetables is a much better choice than reaching for a supplement.

Vitamin K also plays an important role in cellular function. A vitamin K-dependent protein known as GAS6 has been found throughout the nervous system, as well in the heart, lungs, stomach, kidneys, and cartilage. GAS6 appears to be instrumental in regulating such diverse cellular functions as cell adhesion, cell proliferation, and protection against cell death. Research from Harvard Medical School provides "compelling evidence" of the role of vitamin K during the development of the nervous system. The study suggests that the role of vitamin K in the brain may be important for unveiling the mechanisms of normal and pathologic development and aging of the nervous system.

And finally there is information regarding vitamin K and cardiovascular disease. A population-based study of postmenopausal women, aged 60-79 years, found that women aged 60-69 with aortic calcifications had lower vitamin K intakes than those without aortic calcifications. Although it isn't clear how vitamin K promotes mineralization of bone, while inhibiting mineralization (calcification) of vessels, high levels of a vitamin K-dependent protein found in calcified vessels suggested that the protein protects against vessel calcification with adequate amount of vitamin K, but is unable to perform this task without adequate amount of vitamin K.

This information on vitamin K is just another example of the importance of eating a well balanced diet that includes a lot of vegetables and fruits. I really enjoyed the garden party and my trip to the garden. Greens taste so good when they are freshly picked. I urge you to take advantage of the summer availability of fresh greens either from your garden or from your local grocer. The Dr. Grandma's website offers great recipes for incorporating greens into your meals. Always remember, "Good Health Can Be Yummy."

I have included recipes for the chicken salad and dressing. They were delicious!

Herby Almond Chicken Salad

4 cups chopped, chicken tenders grilled after being marinated in finely grated ginger root
and olive oil
3 cups red seedless grapes, cut in half
1/3 cup tarragon finely cut (basil can be used)
1 cup red onions, finely diced
1 cup almonds, coarsely chopped and toasted
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup celery, finely chopped
Spring greens
Mandarin oranges for garnish, if desired

Marinate chicken tenders or any skinless chicken breast meat. Grill until done. Toast almonds and sesame seeds in an un-oiled skillet. Mix all ingredients except greens and oranges. Toss with vinaigrette below. Serve on greens, and garnish with oranges.

Lemon-Orange Vinaigrette

1 cup orange juice
½ cup lemon juice
1½ tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon black pepper

Mix all ingredients together. If made ahead, refrigerate – remove from the refrigerator to allow the oil to liquefy. (Olive oil will solidify, if cold).