One immensely powerful piece of wisdom that anyone who has ever faced a life-changing illness in their lifetime can tell you is this: we tend to take the millions and billions of microscopic interactions that happen every day to make our bodies work the way they're supposed to for granted - until, of course, that one little thing stops working. That one little factor that's supposed to control cell replication goes MIA, or that one little enzyme that's supposed to process certain foods we eat is suddenly kaput. And while we can't control everything our bodies do (or don't do), we can appreciate the health we have today, and all of the millions of micro-level events that let us enjoy the life we live. One way to appreciate those tiny but all-powerful functions is to learn more about them and to choose the fuel that will maximize the output of those tireless molecular workers.
If your only remaining thought is something like, "Why start with manganese? There are so many incredible trace elements to explore in the big world out there!" then I concede that you have a point. Confession time: manganese gets a default as my favorite micronutrient out there. In my vivid dietary imagination, he's shaped like a tiny peanut, but he tastes like a chickpea and he's got a heart made out of nutty-tasting roasted tempeh. Yeah, that little buddy is my kind of guy.
|Awwww, isn't he the cutest?|
All bizarre and somewhat anthropomorphic representations of elements aside, manganese plays an integral role in several of the body's vital chemical interactions.
1. It helps put good things to use. Many of the benefits of manganese have to do with its role as a coenzyme: as a chemical that works in tandem with an enzyme and which makes the enzyme's main goal - namely, of changing one compound into another - possible. (See last week's post on proteins for a few examples of enzymatic activity). Manganese specifically aids the enzymes needed for proper use of biotin, thiamin (vitamin B1), and vitamin C. It also aids the metabolism of foods into energy, helps repair wounds and damaged tissues, and plays a vital role in the building of strong bones.
2. It helps take out the trash. In another reprise of its award-winning role as coenzyme, manganese supports the function of the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which zaps free radicals and prevents inflammation and cell damage caused by oxidation. Because tissue damage and inflammation are primary suspects in the development of cancerous cells, the role of manganese in aiding antioxidative activity against these cellular demons cannot be understated.
3. It helps shuttle other vital minerals to where they're needed. Proper absorption and transport of minerals is necessary for healthy skin, bones and cartilage so you can shine from the inside out.
4. It promotes (glucose) tolerance. Though more research is needed on this subject, it is widely agreed that manganese helps the body process sugar in a way that keeps levels of blood glucose - and the fat storage, emotional roller-coaster, and energy swings that come with it - under control.
5. It's a systems administrator. Due to its role in the building of nervous tissue, the effects of manganese are seen in the maintenance of a healthy nervous system. Similarly, because manganese plays a part in the development of sex hormones, it helps keep a smooth-running reproductive system, aids fertility, and may even alleviate PMS symptoms in women.
Though manganese may be small, you definitely don't want to live without it around to help a brother/enzyme out. And while it's fortunately pretty easy to get enough manganese simply by eating whole grains, legumes, leafy greens and fruits, the typical American diet high in white and "wheat" carbs and low in anything the color green may contribute to a suboptimal level of even this trace nutrient. As always, here are a few recipes that pack a manganese punch (and taste pretty damn good, too!). There's even a mouth-watering, flourless and vegan dessert to try.
Overnight Peanut Butter Brownie Oats
Adapted from Kath's recipe here
1/3 cup raw old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup milk (I use Almond Breeze Unsweetened Vanilla almond milk - 40 calories and 1 net carb/cup with a hint of sweet vanilla!)
1/3 cup plain nonfat yogurt (can use Greek yogurt if you like)
2 tbsp peanut butter (smooth or chunky - your preference!)
1 tbsp cocoa powder - if you really wanna go for the brownie flavor, use Dutch cocoa processed with alkali
Some sweetener, to taste
The night before (or at least 3 hours before) you plan to sow your wild oats, combine the oats, milk and yogurt in a jar or other airtight container. (If your peanut butter consumption rate is anywhere near mine, this is a great use for an old washed PB jar!) Simply seal and stick in the fridge. When it's time to reap what you've sown (sorry), mix in the peanut butter and the cocoa powder and enjoy! Try substituting the cocoa powder for a tsp or two of cinnamon for a snickerdoodle twist.
The low-down: 350 calories per serving, 19 g net carbs, 7 g fiber, 14 g protein, 3.4 mg manganese (171% of daily requirement)
Nutty Hummus Sandwich
Invented by Adam LaMotte
2 pieces lite bread
2 tbsp hummus
1 oz (about 3 tbsp) Spanish red-skinned peanuts
Toast both pieces of bread. Then, spread one tbsp of hummus on each piece. On one piece of hummus-toast, sprinkle the peanuts, ensuring that they cover the area uniformly. Slap on the other side and enjoy! For a spicy twist on my old favorite, throw in a couple of wasabi peas. As my good friend Mr. Gump would say, "you never know what you're gonna get!"
The low-down: 330 calories per sandwich, 21 g net carbs, 8 g fiber, 16 g protein, 1.5 mg manganese (75% of daily requirement)
Maple-Roasted Tempeh Encrusted in Pistachios
Adapted from Vegangela's recipe here
1 8oz package tempeh
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup shelled pistachios, chopped
Preheat your oven to 400˚F. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and lightly oil it. Cut the tempeh into two equal pieces, set them on the foil, and lightly sprinkle salt and pepper.
In a bowl, stir maple syrup, curry powder and mustard together. Spoon half of the mixture over the tempeh, and then sprinkle with the pistachios. Spoon the remaining mixture over the nuts.
Let bake for 15 minutes.
The low-down: 510 calories per serving, 36 g net carbs, 16 g fiber, 29 g protein (!!!), 3.9 mg manganese (195% of daily requirement!)
Deep-Dish Cinnamon Roll Pie
For the pie:
1 cup old-fashioned oats
2 cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 and 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tbsp almond, coconut or canola oil
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 cups sweetener (Splenda granular works great)
2 tbsp cinnamon
For the vegan cream cheese frosting:
1/4 cup silken tofu
4 tbsp vegan cream cheese
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
3 tbsp non-dairy milk
sweetener to taste
Preheat your oven to 350˚F. Blend all pie ingredients in a food processor until smooth. If you didn't really spring for the big bucks on a processor like me, you may need to intermittently scrape down the sides of the bowl while blending. Pour into a lightly oiled 9" pan or pie tin.
Bake for 35 minutes. While pie is baking, blend all frosting ingredients in your re-washed food processor until very smooth.
Once the pie is done, transfer the frosting into a microwave-safe bowl and zap for about 30 seconds. Slather the whole hell outta the thing in warm drippy goodness. Enjoy free of guilt.
The low-down: 216 calories per slice, 22 g net carbs, 7 g fiber, 7 g protein, 1.9 mg manganese (95% of daily requirement)