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4 Worst Fast-Food Choices

I've already discussed the healthiest choices to make if you find that you have no alternative to eating fast food. Today, we cover four nutritional pitfalls to avoid when eating at a fast-food restaurant.

  1. Opt out of cheese and condiments such as mayonnaise and tartar sauce, which can add unnecessary (and unhealthy) calories and fat. Use mustard or vinegar to add flavor as desired.
  2. Avoid anything deep-fried. From chicken to potatoes to onions, deep-fried foods contain altered fats that are pro-inflammatory and detrimental to the body.
  3. Skip the soda - it has no nutritional value and adds unnecessary calories to an already nutritionally-challenged meal. Order plain water instead.
  4. We said it last week and it bears repeating - do not order the largest version of an item, or opt for the “next largest” of anything added to your meal!

More on soda and deep-fried foods.


How Do You Read Books? (poll)

There's nothing quite like sitting down with a good book at the end of a long, stressful day - and now there are more ways to read books than ever. What suits you best?


Healthy Eating Leads to Longer Life

The idea that eating a healthy diet extends lifespan makes sense, but new research is revealing even more about the link between longevity and specific diets. A study team from the University of Maryland evaluated the diets of more than 2,500 men and women in the U.S. age 70 to 79. Not surprisingly, they found eating habits that emphasized fruits, vegetables whole grains, poultry, fish and limited amounts of meat, fried foods, sweets and high-calorie drinks were correlated with higher survival rates over a 10-year span. The individuals who ate this way also smoked less and were more active than those in other groups. At the other end of the spectrum were diets associated with a 40 percent increase in mortality rates: regular meals that were high in fats, sweets and dairy products including ice cream and cheese as well as saturated fats and trans fatty acids. None of the study participants were evaluated for their weight and body mass index, which might mean that obesity contributed to the higher mortality rates seen in the group that consumed diets highest in fats, sweets and dairy products. The study was published in the January, 2011, issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

My take? The best prescription for healthy aging is an anti-inflammatory diet, designed to reduce the chronic low-level inflammation that contributes to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s diseases, type 2 diabetes, and many other diseases. Such a diet provides a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, whole grains, beans, sweet potatoes, winter squashes and other vegetables and temperate fruits such as berries, cherries, apples, and pears.  It emphasizes vegetable protein (whole soy foods, beans, lentils and other legumes) as well as whole grains, seeds, and nuts. If you eat fish, the oily varieties that provide omega-3s (wild Alaska salmon, sardines, herring, and black cod) are best.


Unwind with the Seated Forward Bend

Want to unwind, focus and promote a healthy weight? Try the yoga pose known as the “Seated Forward Bend.” According to traditional text, the Seated Forward Bend (the pose's original name, Paschimottanasana, literally translates as “intense stretch of the west,”) can not only help a distracted mind unwind, but can be helpful in addressing obesity. The pose effectively stretches the spine, shoulders and hamstrings. Traditionally, it is also said to:

  1. Relieve stress and mild depression
  2. Stimulate the liver, kidneys, ovaries and uterus
  3. Improve digestion
  4. Help relieve the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort
  5. Soothe headache and anxiety and reduce fatigue

Learn more about the Seated Forward Bend, including what it looks like, how to properly execute it and who should avoid this pose.


Tooth Loss and Memory

If you want to keep your wits about you as you age, it's a good idea to take care of your teeth. A new study from Japan, published online Dec. 31, 2010 in Behavioral and Brain Functions found that tooth loss may put seniors at increased risk of dementia. The Japanese researchers looked at more than 4,000 men and women, age 65 and older who were given both dental exams and psychiatric assessments. Those with symptoms of memory loss were more likely to report that they saw dentists rarely, if at all. The researchers suggested that gum infections that lead to tooth loss may release inflammatory substances that in turn can affect the brain causing the death of brain cells leading to memory loss. The investigators also suggested that this pattern may become a vicious cycle - losing brain connections may cause more teeth to drop out, which in turn would lead to further cognitive decline.

Scents may also boost memory.


Want to Try Dry Brushing?

Dry brushing, long popular in Europe, is in vogue at American spas - and now there are plenty of products on the market to help you do it at home. But should you? Basically, dry brushing involves rubbing the skin with a dry, natural bristle brush. The process can be gentle or rough and may help slough off dead skin cells, but the other claims for it are pretty far-fetched:

  • Cellulite reduction or elimination. There is no reason to believe this is true. Fat is arranged in large chambers separated from each other by columns of connective tissue. If fat overflows these chambers as a person becomes overweight, or if the connective tissue slackens with age, the result is the classic pitting and bulging we have come to know as cellulite. But no massage or brushing technique has any significant effect on it.
  • Toxic elimination. The idea that dry brushing can eliminate up to a pound of toxins a day, as some proponents claim, is ridiculous. Under most circumstances, the body does a good job of cleansing and purifying itself. If you feel the need, you can help speed the removal of unwanted materials by drinking more water, using steam baths or saunas to promote sweating, adjusting diet and fiber intake to ensure regular eliminations and getting enough aerobic activity to stimulate faster breathing. In addition, taking the herbal remedy milk thistle supports normal, healthy liver metabolism, aiding its important role in detoxification.

I would take the health claims for dry brushing with a big grain of salt. If you enjoy it and believe it benefits you, there's no reason not to do it. But if you find that it irritates or inflames your skin, opt for a less abrasive spa treatment such as massage.


Berries for Blood Pressure

Here's something else you can do to lower your risk of high blood pressure: eat more blueberries. A new study suggests that eating at least one serving per week can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure by as much as 10 percent. This finding comes from a study involving 134,000 women and 47,000 men and investigations by researchers from Harvard and from Britain's University of East Anglia. The study teams looked at 14 years worth of data from the ongoing Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. None of the participants had hypertension at the outset, but during the course of the studies, 35,000 developed high blood pressure. The risk was 10 percent lower in those who reported eating at least one serving of blueberries per week. The lower risk was attributed to the anthocyanins blueberries contain - these are the antioxidant pigments that make the berries blue. Next, the research team will conduct randomized controlled trials with different food sources of anthocyanins to determine the optimal dose and source for hypertension prevention.

Nothing beats fresh blueberries, but read what I have to say about dried blueberries and cooked blueberries - also healthy choices.


Pasta e Fagioli

This traditional pasta and white bean soup is an Italian classic. Be sure to cook the pasta until just al dente, keeping it a bit chewy or "toothsome." It makes a wonderful supper when served with a large tossed salad of romaine lettuce with red peppers, olives and sliced cucumbers and a dessert of plump dried fruit and roasted almonds.


1 cup dried small white beans
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups water or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 cup small pasta, such as orzo or small shells
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Additional extra-virgin olive oil (optional)


1. Wash the beans. In a large pot, cover them with cold water. Soak for 8 hours. Drain into a colander.

2. In the same pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, and sauté until soft.

3. Add the beans and water or stock. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, add the rosemary, and simmer 2 hours or until the beans are tender.

4. Raise heat to high, add the pasta, and cook until al dente.

5. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with the chopped parsley. Serve accompanied by grated Parmesan cheese and the optional extra-virgin olive oil.

Food as Medicine: Like all legumes, white beans are high in dietary fiber, with almost 50 percent of the Daily Value in just one cup. Soluble fiber binds with cholesterol-containing bile and escorts it out of the body. A global study of 16,000 middle-aged men found those who consumed the most legumes reduced their risk of heart disease by a full 82 percent! This recipe is also beneficial for blood sugar control: a substance in onions known as allyl propyl disulfide has been shown to lower blood glucose levels. It probably does this by competing with insulin - which is also a disulfide - to occupy sites on the liver that inactivate insulin production. This means that more free insulin is available in the bloodstream to take glucose into cells, lowering blood sugar.