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Where Does Cinnamon Fit in Your Kitchen? (Poll)

As we enter fall, I suspect cinnamon - and other warming spices like it - will be making more frequent appearances in your kitchen; I know they do in mine. I'd like to know: how do you use cinnamon in your cooking and baking? I'm partial to this squash pie.


Best Diet for Companion Animals?

When choosing food for my Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Ajax and Asha, I stay away from anything containing animal byproducts, including rendered or recycled meats, and instead look for meat protein that is properly prepared before it's packaged for consumption. I suggest you always check pet food labels to verify that the product does not contain added growth hormones, antibiotic-fed protein sources, or rendered meats, fats and poultry.

I recommend pet foods that contain quality protein sources such as real chicken, beef or fish. Animal byproducts or ground-meat "meal" should not be part of a pet's food. When I see "beef or poultry byproducts" on the label, this tells me it may include anything from chicken heads to blood and feet. If "meat meal" or "chicken meal" is listed, these are rendered ingredients. While they provide protein, they can contain a wide variety of "secondary" items including the tissue of low-grade animals that were diseased or died of health conditions before reaching the slaughterhouse. Even many "natural" and "scientific" pet foods contain these rendered ingredients, so it is important to examine food labels closely. Remember that quality protein sources come from quality producers. I recommend using brands that source their meat and poultry exclusively from U.S. natural producers, who humanely raise beef, chicken, and turkey on vegetarian diets, and without added growth hormones and antibiotics.

Check out the Pets & Pet Care section of my site for more information on keeping your pets in a state of optimum health, just like you!


Fitness on a Budget Part 2: Free Weights and Tubing

In Part I of Fitness on a Budget, I talked about the benefits of walking. I'd now like to discuss those of weight-bearing exercise.

Strength training is a vital component of physical activity, and one your body needs for optimal health. For a small investment you can set up a fairly comprehensive home “gym” that includes strength training components such as free weights and tubing. Free weights usually cost between $1-$2 per pound, and can be used to help build muscle and increase the intensity of weight-bearing exercises. Resistance bands - stretchable rubber cords with handles at both ends - are also a cost-effective way to add resistance to stretches and help build muscle.

Learn more about strength training with weights.


Medical Marijuana for Pain

Here's the latest on the medical uses of marijuana: a research team from Canada's McGill University Health Centre has published a study showing that smoking marijuana at home three times a day reduced chronic nerve pain in patients who had failed to achieve relief from other treatments. Some participants had pain following nerve injury due to accidents, and some cases were due to surgical trauma, including cut nerves. During the study, the patients smoked low doses (25 mg) of marijuana three times a day over the course of five days; they all used a pipe, and the marijuana they were given contained approximately 10 percent THC, the primary active ingredient. The researchers described the pain reduction as "modest" but said that the marijuana also improved patients' moods and helped them sleep better. They noted that bigger, longer-lasting clinical trials investigating higher doses of THC would be needed to further evaluate the effectiveness and long-term safety of medical marijuana for pain relief. The study was published online August 30, 2010 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Read my latest Huffington Post piece on medical marijuana and cancer.


Mediterranean Couscous

Couscous is a type of pasta that can be prepared in under 10 minutes. It's done as soon as the "grains" soak up the hot liquid. This version, with its traditional Mediterranean flavors, is a wonderful accompaniment to fish and a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese. Once you make this dish, you'll find yourself wanting to experiment with other flavorful additions to couscous.


1 1/2 cups boiling water
2/3 cup whole-wheat couscous
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 fresh Italian tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Pour the boiling water over the couscous in a mixing bowl. Stir, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. 

2. Fluff the couscous with a fork, stir in the olive oil, then add the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Serve at room temperature.

Food as Medicine: Tomatoes, which are featured in this recipe, provide lycopene, a carotenoid which has been shown to help protect against prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers.

Prefer finger food? Try my Stuffed Mushroom Caps with Couscous.


Vitamin D and Your Immune System

An estimated 70 percent of the U.S. population has diets deficient in vitamin D. Recent study of this essential micronutrient has demonstrated its central role in maintaining health. Decreased or insufficient levels of vitamin D have been linked to:

  1. Suppressed immunity - our innate systems of defense may not function efficiently without adequate vitamin D, allowing increased susceptibility to infectious agents.
  2. Increased risk of chronic disease - low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a higher than normal risk of heart disease and several kinds of cancer.
  3. Heightened inflammation - vitamin D is a key cofactor in regulating inflammation throughout the body.

I recommend prudent daily sun exposure to support the natural production of vitamin D in our skin, as well as speaking to your doctor about checking vitamin D levels and supplementing if necessary.

Learn more about vitamin D for: mental sharpness, your heart, asthma, and even cold prevention.


Fitness on a Budget Part 1: Walking

The best exercise to meet the body's need for regular aerobic activity is walking, especially if you do it vigorously. I recommend daily walking as an excellent form of exercise because it requires no equipment, everyone knows how to do it, and it carries the lowest risk of injury.  Even a walk around your house is better than being completely sedentary. If you can, walk for 30-45 minutes a day, an average of five days a week, and try to include some stretches of uphill and fast walking to get your heart and respiratory rates into the zone where engaging in conversation becomes a bit difficult.

I enjoy taking walks in my labyrinth, a meditation device constructed at my personal ranch in Tucson, early 2005. When I walk the concentric circles of stones, I not only derive exercise benefits, but a centering sense of peace as well. What is your favorite place to walk?

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Fitness on a Budget.


Tart Cherry Juice Could Help You Sleep

The trick is to drink it twice a day, not just at bedtime. A small study found that older adults who drank eight ounces of tart cherry juice morning and evening for two weeks had less trouble with insomnia and spent less time lying awake after they went to bed at night. First, the 15- person study participants drank the cherry juice twice a day for two weeks. Then, they consumed a comparable drink, containing no tart cherry juice for another two weeks. Their insomnia improved only during the time they drank the tart cherry juice, according to this very small study reported in the June 2010 issue of the Journal of Medicinal Food. The researchers, from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Rochester and the VA Center of Canadaigua, said that the juice might have helped because tart cherries have a relatively high content of melatonin, a key neurotransmitter that regulates biorhythms and induces sleep. Tart cherry juice may not be the cure for everyone’s insomnia, but it could help, and the anthocyanins - antioxidants in the cherries - are good for you.

Although this study only looked at tart cherry juice and its effect on insomnia, there is no doubt that tart cherries are healthful in any form. Try this Tart Cherry-Apple Crunch for a healthy, fruit-filled dessert.