Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The health benefits of Hawaiian Ginger

Recently, we were reminded of the many benefits of ginger, a spice that some consider a health phenomena. Friends invited us over for lunch and served us their home-made pickled ginger and the taste brought back good memories. Our friends told us they eat it with every meal because it makes their stomach feel better.  Ginger is well known to aid in digestion.  So, we went looking for fresh Hawaiian ginger to duplicate their delicious recipe.

Ginger is an underground stem, a rhizome, in the same family as turmeric ('olena in Hawaiian) and cardamom.  The plant has been used for centuries worldwide for its many health benefits. Though it contains nutrients like potassium, phosphorous, riboflavin, and vitamin C, ginger is gaining acclaim for its more exotic contents like zingibain, proteolytic enzymes, and its pungent phenol compounds (gingerols and shogaols).  Zingibain is a protein-digesting enzyme like papain in papaya and bromelain in pineapple. But, a single gram of zingibain can tenderize 20 pounds of meat which is why it helps digestion. Ginger’s enzymes are also  considered an effective anti-inflammatory and some people report good results using it to alleviate their arthritis symptoms and pain.

Besides aiding digestion, ginger is an antioxidant more powerful than Vitamin E.  And like aspirin, it inhibits the same blood thickening enzyme, without the side effects. In 1980, a group of Cornell Medical school researchers published their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine that ginger inhibited the process of platelet aggregation.   Ginger strengthens the heart muscle, lowers the serum cholesterol, and interferes with cholesterol biosynthesis. Ginger is also an analgesic (painkiller like aspirin), antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, kills parasites, and counters nausea and seasickness.

We found fresh Hawaiian ginger in Kona’s COSTCO and bought a couple of pounds to make pickled ginger.  Here is the recipe as told to us by our friend Bob:
Peel the ginger
Cut the peeled ginger into thin slices
Put the slices in a pan and cover them with rice vinegar
Add a cup of sugar (we used organic Maui cane sugar)
Heat until the liquid boils
Simmer until the liquid is clear
Quick-cool the ginger and liquid by setting the pan in ice water
Pour the ginger and liquid into a container and refrigerate

We started eating the ginger right away, but it gets better with age.  After sampling our results, Bob told us we didn’t cook it long enough as the liquid was not completely clear.  We could just heat it a bit more, but we are enjoying eating it the way it is.  We like the gingery flavored liquid quite a bit and made “ginger beer” by adding some of it to Perrier water.

Living in Hawaii, it seems like every week we find a new incredible healing food to add to our diet .

Friday, January 14, 2011

How new Energy technologies are changing the World

We have been writing about and investing in companies developing new methods to extract natural gas from shale deposits for years. Four years ago we didn’t know if these new technologies would work; the investments were risky. Today, these new shale extraction processes are proven and they are rapidly increasing the availability of cheap, domestically produced energy. At the same time, new energy saving technologies have also been proven and are being deployed throughout the US.  The combination of these new technologies is rapidly changing the global energy situation.

Shale deposits are in horizontal seams so a new drilling method was developed.  Unlike conventional natural gas wells that are drilled straight down, shale wells are drilled down to the shale seam, then horizontally through the shale deposit for half a mile or more, and then back up to the surface. Extremely small silicon spheres of a uniform size are then pumped into the shale wells at very high pressure. The spheres (or proppants) create channels in the shale which allows the gases to flow out.  When the pressure is removed,  the spheres remain in the shale “propping open” the channels allowing the gases in the shale to escape and be pumped to the surface.  Companies like Range Resources (RRC), which invented many of the horizontal drilling techniques, and proppant manufacturers like Carbo Ceramics (CRR) have performed extremely well over the past couple of years.

These breakthroughs in extracting natural gas from previously inaccessible shale and other deposits now account for 40% of the US’s natural gas production. Leaders in this new market are having annual increases in production of 15%.  The use of these methods is spreading outside the US and major shale projects are now underway in Germany, France, and one is soon to start in Poland.

In the US, these new sources of natural gas have dropped prices from $13.80 per mcfe in 2008 to $4.95 per mcfe during the last few months. This 64% drop in natural gas cost is significant when compared to the drop in the cost of oil from $91.48 a barrel in 2008 to $91.11 a barrel today. The lower cost of natural gas is encouraging large energy users to convert to natural gas to get the price benefit.

The shale extraction technology has continued to evolve and led to new methods to extract shale liquids. These liquids are similar to propane and sell at a higher price than natural gas. Since propane sells at a significant premium over natural gas, most of the new shale projects in the US are focusing on recovering shale liquids.

Simultaneous with the increased energy from shale, new technologies have emerged to decrease overall energy usage.  Studies have shown that traditionally about 80% of US’s electric usage is for electric motors and lighting. New “smart motors” have been developed that manage the power they draw to match the load needed, reducing the electricity required by about 40% for a given amount of work. As these new motors replace motors in use today it could drop the US’s electrical needs by 16% or more. New LED (light emitting diodes) lights are about 50% more efficient than compact fluorescent lamps and about 90% more efficient than tungsten filament bulbs. As prices of the LED bulbs drop more homes and cities are replacing their lights to gain the savings in energy. When all conventional lights are replaced with LED lights, the energy needs could drop another 36%.

Alternative energy sources from solar and wind are also growing in popularly, further reducing the need for oil generated electricity. Last year in Hawaii County, 39% of the electricity produced on the grid was from local energy sources of geothermal, wind, solar and bio-fuel. This does not include the many houses that are off the grid relying solely on solar or wind systems. As the price and efficiency of solar systems drop, Hawaii county may one day be 100% self sufficient in energy.  The increase in solar and wind electrical production is slowly happening throughout the US and though the gains are small each year, they will add up over the decade

One of the big benefits of increased domestic production of natural gas and less energy usage is the US’s reduced dependence on oil imports. In 2004, the US imported 2.5 million barrels of oil each day from the Persian gulf, yet in 2009 imports from this region had dropped by 32% to 1.7 million barrels a day. US oil imports from other parts of the world are dropping as well. All OPEC imports, for instance, are down 13.6% during the same time period.

Though energy analysts attribute this drop in oil imports to the US’s economic contraction during the last 36 months, we think the new sources of energy and energy efficient technologies will continue to reduce the US’s dependence on imported oil.  If Americans woke one day and found we had no need for imported oil, it would certainly change the view of the importance of some international relationships. We believe that US energy independence will not only will come, but that day may be closer that anyone might guess.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Improving our diet with more Omega-3

Researchers are pointing to the lack of omega-3 fatty acids in the average American diet as one of  the primary causes of the growing obesity epidemic.  Americans’ diet of processed and fast food and changes in what livestock are fed has resulted in an absence of  omega-3s. Researchers are linking cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and many other chronic diseases to low levels of this essential fatty acid.

We have been told to stay away from unhealthy saturated fats and eat foods with healthy omega-6 and omega-3 unsaturated fats. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are used to build the membrane of our cells.   Omega-3s make our cell membranes soft, supple  and conduct cell to cell signals well. They also help produce an enzyme that destroys cancer cells.

It turns out we need to eat an equal amount (or at least close to equal amount) of omega-3s and omega-6s to create healthy cell membranes.  Cell membranes made without omega-3s are brittle and inhibit water molecules from passing through them. They are prone to having cholesterol stick to their surface, increase clot formation, and are  being blamed for the formation of arteriosclerosis.

While sources of omega-6s are plentiful in vegetable oils and nuts, getting an equal amount of omega-3s can be a challenge. Beef, cheese, eggs and butter used to have omega-3s, but when corn feed was substituted for omega-3 rich grass feed the omega-3 content in these foods disappeared.  Many of the healthy unsaturated oils have substantially more omega 6s than omega-3s, making it impossible for many Americans to get an equal ratio. A tablespoon of olive oil has 102 mg of omega-3s and 1318 mg of omega-6 and  three grams of walnuts has 262 mg  of omega-3s and 1012 mg of omega-6s. Green leafy vegetables like spinach, broccoli, basil, and grape leaves have high percentages of omega-3s, but the amounts are small in a serving (1/2 cup of spinach has only 350 mg of omega-3s) so  you would have to eat huge amounts to make up for the excessive omega-6s in even one tablespoon of vegetable oil. The average ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s in the US diet is 25 to 1.  Less than 40% of Americans are getting enough omega-3s and over 25% have no trace at all of omega-3 in their blood.

These recent discoveries about the need for a balanced ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s have motivated us to modify our diet with foods that have equal or more omega-3s. Some of the best sources of omega 3 fatty acids are salmon, which has 600 mg of omega-3s and only 219 mg of omega-6s in an ounce. Flax seed has a higher percentage of omega-3s and flax seed oil is even better with one tablespoon containing  7196 mg of omega-3s and 1715 mg of omega-6s.  We have added flax seed to our diet and continue to eat a meal of grass-fed Hawaiian beef or salmon daily.  Grass-fed beef, which fortunately is affordable and plentiful on the island of Hawaii, has an almost equal ratio of omega-3s and omega-6s.

We are  trying to understand the new findings about food and adjust our diet to see if it improves our health.  We have been doing this three years now and so far, every year we have lost fat and been able to exercise more.  We are living at a time when research about food and health is making a lot progress and we hope to find the right mix of foods to live a healthy life in our old age.