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Saturday
May212011

Super Foods: Salmon

Today's post is the third and final of the super food series.

Wild-caught Alaskan salmon is one of my favorite foods. It is an excellent source of high-quality protein and essential omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s offer protection against:

  • Heart attack and stroke
  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Mental and emotional problems

Wild salmon is available fresh, frozen and canned, making it a versatile choice; however, how you store and cook salmon can affect these essential nutrients. Avoid cooking methods such as deep-frying, blackening or sautéing at high temperatures.

According to the National Fisheries Institute, freezing fish and other seafood will cause minimal loss of the health-protective omega-3 fatty acids they contain. I suggest you preserve omega-3s in salmon by baking, broiling, poaching, steaming or grilling salmon just to the point of doneness that you prefer. Aim for two to six servings of salmon per week, and enjoy!

See the other two superfoods you should be eating: berries and dark, leafy greens.

Friday
May202011

Super Foods: Berries

If you are looking for a delicious way to add fiber and antioxidants to your diet, look no further than berries. Raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and blackberries are sweet, easy to pop into your mouth as a snack and a much healthier choice than a candy bar. All are anti-inflammatory, rich in flavonoids and carotenoids, offer immune-boosting antioxidant activity and:

  1. Are an excellent source of phytonutrients, and a good source of vitamin C and fiber.
  2. Provide folate, vitamins B2 and B3, magnesium and other essential nutrients.
  3. Contain ellagitannins, natural health-protective compounds that appear to have potent anti-cancer activity.
  4. Have a lower glycemic load than tropical fruits.

For a quick and simple nutritional boost, top your cereal with a wide range of colors of berries, add some to a smoothie or salad, use them in sauces and baked goods, or enjoy them on their own. As with other berries, because commercial strains may be heavily sprayed with pesticides, I recommend buying only organic varieties.

See yesterday's super food: dark, leafy greens.

Thursday
May192011

Super Foods: Dark, Leafy Greens

Today's post is the first of a series of three super foods you should be eating.

Want to increase your intake of fiber, vitamins (including C, the provitamin beta-carotene and folic acid) and add calcium and magnesium to your diet? Then reach for the greens! Produce stand staples such as kale, collards, beet greens and bok choy are tasty, inexpensive sources of vital nutrients. In addition to containing antioxidants and fiber, they help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol levels and protect the immune system.

Look for organic varieties of these three greens at your local grocer or natural foods store:

  • Kale. Try it sautéed in a bit of extra virgin olive oil with garlic, or try my Tuscan Kale Salad.
  • Collards. With a taste similar to that of kale and cabbage, this traditional vegetable from the South makes a wonderful side dish. For the best texture, consider sautéing in olive oil, then covering with water, bringing to a boil and briefly simmering.
  • Spinach. Spinach ranges in taste from mild to bitter, baby spinach being the least bitter. It can be used raw (be sure to wash raw spinach in cold water before using) as the base of a salad, or steamed or sautéed with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Keep in mind that fresh spinach reduces to about half its size when cooked.

If leafy greens aren't your thing, try increasing the amount of broccoli in your diet - this cruciferous vegetable provides abundant nutrients and has cancer-preventing properties.

Try this recipe for Curried Greens with any of the above - or any other of your favorite - leafy greens!

Wednesday
May182011

Coffee and Stroke Risk

If you’re female and can't start the day without a jolt of java, take heart, you may be lowering your risk of stroke. That’s what Swedish researchers found after following almost 35,000 women ages 49 to 83, for about 10 years. At the outset, they asked the women how much coffee they drank and then followed up over the years by checking hospital records to see how many of the women had strokes. After adjusting for such risk factors as smoking, weight, high blood pressure and diabetes, the investigators observed a 22 to 25 percent lower risk of stroke in the coffee drinkers compared to the women who drank less than a cup per day or none at all. While this doesn't prove that coffee itself lowers the risk of stroke, the Swedish researchers suggested that the antioxidants in coffee might be responsible for the lower stroke risk they found, or that coffee could be protective by reducing inflammation and improving insulin sensitivity. They added that more research remains to be done before advising women to change their coffee-drinking habits. The study was published online on March 10, 2011, by the American Heart Association journal Stroke.

If you do drink coffee, be sure to stay well hydrated, as it is a diuretic.

Tuesday
May172011

An Unsafe Cleanse?

Touted as a way to cleanse the body of stored toxins, chaparral (Larrea divaricata) is a desert shrub that grows in Mexico and the southwestern United States. It has a history of use by Native Americans, who made a tea from the leaves to treat chicken pox, colds, diarrhea, menstrual cramps, pain, snake bites, skin disorders and rheumatism.

Chaparral is now available in capsules, tablets and tincture form, and is promoted as a treatment for acne, dandruff, diabetes, PMS, sciatica, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcers, urinary tract infections, cancer and the aforementioned toxin cleansing.

I don't recommend taking chaparral internally (as a tea or supplement) for any condition. Although it has been linked to rare cases of kidney and liver dysfunction, it appears to be generally nontoxic, but I haven’t seen any scientific evidence showing that it is effective when taken internally for the conditions for which it is so often recommended, including cleansing the body of toxins. However, I do recommend chaparral for topical use to treat eczema and other kinds of skin irritation and inflammation. You can buy chaparral lotions or salves from stores that sell herbal preparations.

Learn more about chaparral and other supplements.

Monday
May162011

Be Happy, Live Longer

The happier and more positive you are, the healthier you're likely to be and the longer you'll live. Those conclusions are from an analysis of eight different types of research carried out in more than 160 separate studies. The overall findings are pretty convincing that positive emotions and enjoyment of life contribute to good health and a longer lifespan. The study team's lead researcher characterizes the results from this analysis as stronger than data linking obesity to reduced longevity. The report was published in the March, 2011, issue of Applied Psychology, Health and Well-Being. In related news, a study from Duke University Medical Center found that optimistic heart patients were 30 percent less likely to die over the 15 years following coronary angiography (a procedure to evaluate blood flow in the heart) than those who were less optimistic about their expectations of recovery. This study was published online on February 28, 2011, in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? We've known for some time that optimism can positively influence the immune system. In addition, optimism and other positive emotions are associated with lowered production of the stress hormone cortisol and with reduced risk of chronic disease. Research also suggests that simple laughter may help boost immunity, relieve pain, lower stress, and even help protect against heart disease. Pessimists tend to blame themselves when bad things happen, and view good events as transitory and negative ones as lasting. Optimists are much more likely to explain bad events as due to a temporary external cause. They have a generally positive view of life and confidence in their ability to affect their own future. Because optimists tend to actively engage in planning and problem solving, they may experience less stress than pessimists, and develop more resources to deal with stress. The result? Better overall health, and shorter recovery times after an illness or surgery.

Hanging out with other happy people seems to help too!

Sunday
May152011

4 Ways to Manage Chronic Fatigue

A healthy diet can help the body in its efforts to heal itself, and in some cases, particular foods can lessen the symptoms of disease. To help reduce the effects of chronic fatigue syndrome (such as debilitating fatigue, impaired memory, sore throat, muscle or joint pain, headaches and other maladies), try the following:

  1. Decrease your protein intake to 10 percent of your daily calories.
  2. Eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (preferably organic) for their protective phytochemicals.
  3. Eat garlic regularly for its antiviral effects.
  4. Incorporate immune-enhancing mushrooms into meals, including shiitake, oyster, enokidake and maitake mushrooms.

Remember: Garlic loses much of its medicinal value when cooked or dried, so opt for fresh!

Saturday
May142011

Herbal Teas and Health

We know that green tea (and to a lesser extent black tea) provides healthy antioxidants - natural compounds linked to lower cancer risk and improved heart and brain health. New research now shows that some herbal teas (more correctly called infusions, since they're not from the tea plant Camellia sinensis) also have some health benefits. A study group from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University reviewed the scientific literature on three of the most popular herbal teas and concluded that they warrant further investigation. The researchers found that chamomile tea, known for its soothing effects, has antimicrobial activity and significant activity against the harmful clumping of platelets (cells that help stop bleeding). They also reported that peppermint tea has significant antimicrobial and antiviral activities plus strong antioxidant and antitumor action, as well as anti-allergy potential. The investigators further reported that hibiscus tea lowered blood pressure in a group of pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults. The findings were published in the March, 2011, issue of Agricultural Research magazine.