Fennel Seed Diet

New/extra short term goal- regain health, reduce inflammation and lose weight by adding fennel seeds back to my daily diet. I ran out of them earlier this summer and since then hurt my knee and gained weight with the decreased activity, (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevate (RICE) can help sprained ankles and strained ligaments but 6-8 weeks is expected for recovery).

Fennel seeds are used as an after meal dessert or breath freshener in India and elsewhere. They also are a digestive aid and may help preserve bone density/prevent osteoporosis from reading I did on the topic last winter when I first added them to my daily diet. It turns out they also are thought to help weight loss based on search results-(fennel seed weight loss). I love the internet. More specific information includes potential help with anxiety & depression and also mentions the possible help as digestive aid and weight loss as an appetite suppressant : “21 Health Benefits of Fennel, and Risks & Side Effects,”  selfhacked.com. Excessive amounts daily are not recommended however the crunch and taste are lasting and a pinch, ~ 1/2 teaspoon, is a little like chewing minty gum for little while.

So my simple plan – try to eat my healthy meal choices and have a teaspoon of fennel seeds after meals and whenever I feel like snacking in between meals – and just see if that helps curb the desire for more snacking. /Day one, already feeling some positive effects./

Fennel seed are an alkalizing food – meaning after digestion the body system is more alkaline than acidic which promotes health more and may help reduce cancer risk: Alkalizing foods refers to the alkalinity after digestion.

From my wintertime notes: 

A gift from nature to help us build Nrf2 (10) and which may improve digestion  (11) and bone density (12) are the licorice flavored Fennel Seeds that might be served in a tiny dish as an appetizer or after a meal at an Indian food restaurant. The tiny crunchy seeds can be eaten directly raw or may be toasted.  A few pinches, a teaspoon or two are a reasonable digestive health aid and even seem to freshen the breath somewhat as there is also a slight minty flavor to the more predominant licorice flavor. They are sold in larger quantities, (400 gram package), in India food markets but may be found in a one ounce jar in the spice section as they are also added to soups in Western recipes.

One interaction caution is for women using estrogen based birth control pills. Fennel also contains estrogen like phytonutrients which may interfere with the use of the birth control pills as a pregnancy preventative. (11) Regarding quantity for health benefits – a study on bone density effects in post menopausal women did not find 300 mg per day effective (12) – that would be less than an 1/8th of a teaspoon. I have seen a portion described as “a handful” in an unlinked source, which is about 1/4 – 1/2 cup, and which would be a lot compared to what I eat in a day but an 1/8th teaspoon wouldn’t be much at all. I eat a pinch or two, 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon at a time several times per day. So a tablespoon (three teaspoons) to an 1/8th cup (two tablespoons or 6 teaspoons) might be consumed throughout the day when snacking from an open dish as seen in the image below. They do seem to help settle my stomach after a meal.

Not as conducive to weight loss, but delicious – putting ground fennel powder in cookies – they were incredible: Fennel Cookies-lightly licorice.

Fennel seeds, raw.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./

For those who can’t grow pomegranates, consider sumac instead

Sumac is a shrub like tree or a tree like shrub that is an invasive plant in many areas. Types that have white berry clusters should be avoided as the white berries are poisonous but the types with clusters of red berry like seeds are safe to consume when made into a tea and they may be dried and ground into a spice. Native Americans use them in a lemonade like beverage and they are ground into a spice which is used in many Middle Eastern dishes and as a table condiment to sprinkle on foods to individual taste. The ground Sumac is mixed with salt or available plain in shaker bottles and is mixed with a few other spices in the blend called za’atar (sesame seed, salt, and thyme or hyssop).

Some of the phytonutrient content and medicinal properties  of edible sumac are similar to those found in pomegranate and may be associated with the bright red pigmentation. The botanical name for Sumac , ‘Rhus,’ translated as a foreign word means ‘red.’ Some people may be allergic skin reactions from touching the plant in nature (1) and as a more concentrated tea it has diuretic properties, which can have health benefits to help remove toxins if plenty of additional water is also consumed to prevent dehydration. (2)

Sumac is used medicinally in Arab countries. Studies on sumac extracts to date have indicated that the plant may be a source of bioproducts with the following bioactivities: antifibrogenic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antimalarial, antimicrobial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antithrombin, antitumorigenic, antiviral, cytotoxic, hypoglycaemic and leukopenic (Rayne and Mazza, 2007).” (1)

The lemonade like flavor would be from the terpene limonene and possibly other terpenes found in the plant. Anthocyanins likely give it some of the bright color. It also contains tannins primarily in the form of gallotannins, which are similar to the elligatannins/ellagic acid found in pomegranate, (3), and other aldehydes and beneficial acids that give it tartness including vitamin C – ascorbic acid. (1) Eating a large enough amount on a regular basis may be important for the health benefits from phytonutrients. Research with elligatannins has found them helpful for cancer prevention and somewhat for treatment (4) but a recent study that used a small dose, 900 mg of pomegranate extract per day, found some changes in important genes but not conclusive health benefits. (5) Research on tumor inhibiting properties of sumac found it beneficial during early stages when the tumor is developing rather than as a treatment after it was formed (animal study). (6) Animal based trials in more recent research that found benefits using pomegranate extract used doses that would be equivalent to larger doses, 1 to 10 grams/kilogram body weight per day. The study and amounts used are discussed in this post and the link is in this earlier post. A beneficial substance that we have to make for ourselves, Nrf2 may be involved. Tannins, anthocyanins, and aldehydes were all mentioned as being helpful for helping promote our own body’s ability to produce more Nrf2. The gallic acid (related chemically to the gallotannins, the mango fruit is also a source (8)) is mentioned to help induce apoptosis in cancer cells (cell death) in an article discussing the role of oxidative stress in cancer treatment. (7)

“Gallic acid (3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid, GA), a polyhydroxy phenolic compound, is abundant in natural plants such as gallnut, grapes, sumac, oak bark, green tea apple peels, grapes, strawberries, pineapples, bananas, lemons, and in red and white wine. Its antioxidative DNA-damage action has been well documented []. However, gallic acid induces apoptosis in several cancer cell lines by increasing ROS level and GSH depletion [].” (7)

That excerpt is from a section titled: 5.1. Anticancer ROS-Generating Compounds from Natural Origin(7), which also contains information on other phytonutrients and foods that contain them that have been found beneficial for preventing or treating cancer or reducing oxidative stress.

I bought some dried sumac prepared for table use but chose a brand without salt added to it so I could use as much as I want without having to be concerned about adding too much salt. The aroma and flavor are good and the color is very pretty, slightly more purplish than paprika but similar in the bright addition it makes when sprinkled on the surface of a food. It was $3.99 for a 9.33 ounce bottle at a Middle Eastern foods grocery store.

Phytonutrients with bright colors often seem to be associated with health benefits but that doesn’t mean all wild berries or plants are edible. Read guides and know what you’re harvesting before eating it – and avoid private property and nature preserves where it might be illegal to pick anything.

They are so common in some areas that I happen to have picture taken on a recent walk. A discussion with more detail and a close up image taken during late summer is available here: The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, EdibleEastEnd.com. (2)

Wild sumac seed pod in wintertime.

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

  1. Sumac – an overview, ScienceDirect Topics, sciencedirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/agricultural-and-biological-sciences/sumac
  2. Ronald Halweil, The ‘Lemonade Tree’: It’s Time to Harvest Sumac, Edible East End, August 9, 2012, EdibleEastEnd.com,   https://www.edibleeastend.com/2012/08/09/harvest-sumac/
  3. J. P. PerchelletH. U. GaliE. M. PerchelletP. E. LaksV. BottariR. W. Hemingway, and A. ScalbertAntitumor-Promoting Effects of Gallotannins, Ellagitannins, and Flavonoids in Mouse Skin In Vivo
    Food Phytochemicals for Cancer Prevention, Chapter 25, pp 303–327
    Chapter DOI: 10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025, ACS Symposium Series, Vol. 546, http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/bk-1994-0546.ch025
  4. Tariq Ismail, Cinzia Calcabrini, Anna Rita Diaz, Carmela Fimognari, Eleonora Turrini, Elena Catanzaro, Saeed Akhtar, and Piero Sestili,

    Ellagitannins in Cancer Chemoprevention and Therapy. Toxins (Basel). 2016 May; 8(5): 151. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885066/

  5. Nuñez-Sánchez MA, González-Sarrías A, García-Villalba R, et al, Gene expression changes in colon tissues from colorectal cancer patients following the intake of an ellagitannin-containing pomegranate extract: a randomized clinical trial. J Nutr Biochem. 2017 Apr;42:126-133. doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2017.01.014. Epub 2017 Jan 27.    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28183047
  6. Perchellet, J.P., Gali, H.U.Perchellet, E.M.Laks, P.E.et al., Antitumor-promoting effects of gallotannins, ellagitannins, and flavonoids in mouse skin in vivo  [1994], ACS symposium series, ISSN : 0097-6156, Source: Information Systems Division, National Agricultural Library, http://agris.fao.org/agris-search/search.do?recordID=US9602151

  7. Giuseppina Barrera, Oxidative Stress and Lipid Peroxidation Products in Cancer Progression and Therapy., ISRN Oncol. 2012; 2012: 137289.  
  8. Gallotannins, Science Direct, ScienceDirect.com,   https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/gallotannins

Ellagitannins and red raspberries

Prior to the research on pomegranates and ellagitannins research was being performed on the use of red raspberries for their health and anticancer benefits. The summary points are that the whole fruit, the mixture of a variety of phytonutrients provides the benefits and that an isolated singe phytonutrient may be less bioavailable and less bioactive – less chemically likely to provide benefits as the mixture of phytonutrients that the whole food provides. An article from 2001 discusses this in more detail and mentions that early work on pomegranates suggested they would be an even better source of the group of ellagitannins and other polyphenols.

The compounds when working together within the body seem to help make cancer cells stop dividing and start dying by apoptosis like normal cells would – and without having any toxic effects on other normal healthy cells. The ellagitannins and other phytonutrients in red raspberries also seemed to prevent precancerous cells from becoming cancerous – dividing at above average rate of growth.

Other health benefits of the whole fruit used as a fruit puree equivalent to eating one cup of red raspberries per day, providing 40 mg of ellagitannins, included:

“European medical studies also demonstrate that red raspberry ellagitannins lower the incidence of birth defects, promote wound healing, reduce heart disease, and may reduce or reverse chemically induced liver fibrosis. In addition, the ellagic acid produced from the ellagitannins has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.”

Read more: The Truth About Ellagic Acid and Red Raspberries,    https://jonbarron.org/article/truth-about-ellagic-acid-and-red-raspberries

Ellagitannins and pomegranates was a discussion begun in a previous post: Pomegranate polyphenols and Microglia M2 Activation. I didn’t include the information in my summary but one of the links mentions that whole pomegranate juice / juice made with the peel / provides about 2 grams per liter of ellagitannins which would be many times more than 40 milligrams. Two grams would be 2000 milligrams and a liter is slightly less than a quart which is four cups, so roughly the whole pomegranate juice/extract is providing 500 milligrams per cup. A cup of juice would be more concentrated, being a liquid, compared to a cup of loosely packed whole red raspberries with seeds and air space, so a cup of raspberry puree or red raspberry juice would likely provide more than 40 milligrams.

Black raspberries are a dark purple color were not mentioned in the 2001 article but a more recent study on cancer therapy from 2016 mentions them as a source of ellagic acid so they may have an equivalent amount of the beneficial phytonutrients.

Read more: Black raspberries in cancer clinical trials: Past, present and future.   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5008867/

Blueberries and blackberries and other berries are good sources of a variety of beneficial phytonutrients. Many types have the most prevalent phytonutrients listed and extraction methods that are typically used for commercial products are discussed in this research review: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5384171/

A shorter article discussing phytonutrients found in blueberries, blackberries and raspberries in a more general way:   http://berryhealth.fst.oregonstate.edu/symposium/lukehowardabstract.htm

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.