Do You Know Nutrition: Vanilla can be addictive

Phylis Canion

Is it possible that I have an addiction to vanilla? I absolutely love eating anything with vanilla in it and in fact probably put it on too much food that, to most, would not look or sound appealing. Could eating too much vanilla give me a rush?

Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world. While there are more than 150 varieties of vanilla, Bourbon and Tahitian are the most common varieties commercially used.

Vanilla is the world's most labor intensive agricultural crop, which is why it is expensive. It can take up to three years after the vines are planted before the first flowers appear.

The flower that produces the vanilla beans last only one day. Only the Melipona bee, found only in Central America, can pollinate the vanilla flower. In other parts of the world, humans duplicate the process by using a wooden needle.

The fruit, which resembles large green beans, must remain on the vine for nine months in order to completely develop their signature aroma.

Despite its benign reputation, and exceptional flavor, vanilla is addicting because of its active ingredient, vanilla acid. Eating natural vanilla causes the body to release catecholamines.

Catecholamines are hormones produced by the adrenal glands, brain and nerve tissues and are known as dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Because vanilla acid is related to these hormones, they are known to stimulate the brain, increase heart rate, breathing rate, muscle strength, mental alertness and blood pressure.

When purchasing vanilla, it is recommended to select pure vanilla extract, which comes from the orchid as opposed to vanilla, which is synthetic, artificial and is made from guiacol, a coal tar derivative produced through a chemical process.

Recently, I purchased a package of beef that stated, "no antibiotics administered." What does that mean?

Crowded feedlots are breeding grounds for bacteria, illness and disease, which is why cattle are pumped with antibiotics. Another reason antibiotics are used is because 75 percent of a cow's diet consist of corn - cows' stomachs are designed to digest grass.

To combat ulcers, heartburn and potentially fatal liver abscesses caused by the corn diet, cattle are injected with antibiotics.

"No Antibiotics Administered" may be added to labels if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture demonstrating that the animal was raised without the use of any antibiotics.

Thought for the week: What you don't overcome-will overcome you.

The next free nutrition class is Monday at Organic Emporium. Call 361-576-2100 to make your reservation.

Phylis B. Canion is a doctor of naturopathic medicine and is a certified nutritional consultant, email her at This column is for nutritional information only and is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure.

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