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Considering Astragalus?

Throughout our lives, our immune systems are under assault from environmental toxins. Living in crowded cities, traveling frequently in airplanes, and spending time in day care centers and schools all expose us to many more germs than people had to deal with in the past. We can help protect our normal immunity by eating right, getting enough exercise and rest, practicing stress reduction, and cultivating healthy emotional states.

There are also several herbs, such as astragalus, that are used traditionally to support immune health. Obtained from the root of Astragalus membranaceous in the pea family, astragalus has a long history in Chinese medicine in keeping people healthy under times of stress. It is safe, widely available and inexpensive.

Astragalus is one of the five supplements I recommend for a healthy immune system.


6 Healthy, Affordable Lunch Ideas

If dining out every afternoon is shrinking your bank account and expanding your waistline, consider making a healthy lunch instead. Portable, healthful meals can be simple to prepare ahead of time, and can save you money. Consider the healthy fare below – and add a piece of fresh, organic fruit to your brown bag. Your noon meal will be one that costs less, tastes better, and is healthier than most dining-out options! (For the chili and soup options, invest in a wide-mouth vacuum container, preferably lined with stainless steel.)

  1. Vegetarian chili - beans and fresh vegetables provide protein and fiber. Top with low-fat cheese for an extra serving of calcium.
  2. Salmon salad and whole grain crackers - canned salmon is a cost-effective way to get omega-3 fatty acids into your diet: simply mix with some lemon juice, pepper and fresh herbs and spread on fiber-rich crackers.
  3. Hummus and vegetables - easy to pack, and the chickpeas in the hummus provide protein and fiber, while the vegetables offer up antioxidants. Bring a variety of organic, colorful vegetables for interesting taste and texture.
  4. Miso soup and edamame - miso is full of antioxidants and protective fatty acids, and edamame contains isoflavones that have antioxidant activity and may help lower cancer risk.
  5. Barley salad - barley is a satisfying, nutty low-glycemic-load grain. Start with barley and add whatever you prefer - grilled vegetables, tofu, beans - for a customized salad that can be eaten warm or cold.
  6. Lentil soup - a good source of fiber and magnesium, lentils cook quickly, are filling and on cold fall days will help keep you warm

Visit the recipe section in my Healthy Kitchen for even more delicious, anti-inflammatory recipes.


Vegetable Quiche

This fresh vegetable "quiche" is made with a light, crispy potato crust and a filling of vegetables and herbs and spices. It makes a wonderful morning brunch or lunch or a simple supper when served with a salad and a small, toasted baguette. If you should not be eating egg yolks, you can make it using only the egg whites.


1/2 cup purified water
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 pound asparagus (about 2 cups chopped) or broccoli florets
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 carrot, cut in small cubes (about 1 cup)
5 mushrooms, sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon chili flakes 
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 small red potatoes, washed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup grated cheese, Pepper Jack or Swiss
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup low-fat sour cream 
6 eggs
1 medium tomato, sliced (seeds squeezed out)
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese


1. Preheat oven to 375º F.

2. Boil the water, pour over the sun-dried tomatoes, and allow to soak for about 15 minutes until they become soft and plump. Strain off any remaining liquid, and coarsely chop.

3. Cut off about 1 inch of the coarse ends of the asparagus stalks and discard or save them for soup. Cut the remaining stalks into about 6 pieces or chop coarsely. (If you are using broccoli, cut into florets.)

4. Blanch the asparagus by boiling it in a medium pot of water for 2 minutes or less. Asparagus should be bright green and firm to the bite. Drain, rinse the asparagus in cold water, and drain again in a colander.

5. Sauté the onions and the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until the onions are transparent, approximately 10 minutes. Add the carrots, mushrooms, basil, parsley, chili flakes, nutmeg, salt and pepper and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from the heat.

6. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch pie pan. Line the bottom with the potato slices, overlapping them slightly. 

7. Whisk together the cheese, milk, sun-dried tomatoes, sour cream and the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the sautéed vegetables and the blanched asparagus, coating everything with the cheese, milk and egg liquid, then pour into the potato-lined pie pan. Arrange the tomato slices on top and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. 

7. Bake for 1 hour, covering after 45 minutes if top browns. Completely baked quiche should be very firm.

8. Let cool 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Leftovers can be wrapped and kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Food as Medicine: Eggs are a good source of choline, a nutrient that helps to maintain the integrity of cell membranes and is particularly crucial to brain health and function. 


Heavy Smoking and Alzheimer's

If the risks of heart disease and cancer aren't troubling enough, newly published research showing that heavy smoking in middle age more than doubles the risk of Alzheimer's disease might motivate some smokers to stop. This finding emerged from a study that followed more than 21,000 middle-aged men and women for 23 years. It showed that individuals who smoked two packs or more of cigarettes per day had a 114 percent greater risk of dementia than non-smokers; those who smoked between one to two packs a day had a 44 percent increased risk and those who smoked half to one pack daily had a 37 percent increased risk. Non-smoking middle-aged people in the study who identified themselves as former smokers didn't appear to have an increased risk of later dementia. The study's principal investigator suggested that smoking might increase the risk of dementia by narrowing blood vessels in the brain, and added that oxidative stress and inflammation promoted by cigarette smoke may also damage the brain, eventually leading to dementia. Researchers from Finland, Sweden and the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan reported the overall findings, which were published online October 25, 2010 by the Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? In addition to the risk of lung cancer and emphysema, tobacco use raises risk of bladder cancer, cancers of the head and neck, and leukemia. Smoking is especially dangerous if you are diabetic, take birth control pills or have any heart or circulatory problems, respiratory disease, urinary or prostate trouble, digestive disorders, a family history of cancer or increased risk of cancer for any reason, high blood pressure, seizure disorder or a family history of coronary heart disease. If none of that worries you, I'm not sure the risk of Alzheimer's will. But according to this study it should.

Smoking is among the worst health habits.


What's the Difference between Vegan and Vegetarian?

Being a vegetarian isn’t as unusual as it may seem: according to a 2008 study from Vegetarian Times, 3.2 percent of Americans are vegetarian, .5 percent is vegan, and 10 percent say they follow a largely vegetarian-inclined diet. Whether you are interested in eating less meat and animal products (or cutting them out altogether) for ethical, health or environmental reasons, here are the basics of vegetarianism:

  • VegetarianThis term describes someone who does not consume poultry, meat, seafood or fish.
  • Semi-Vegetarian: A person who consumes dairy products, poultry (including eggs) and fish, but does not eat any other animal flesh or products.
  • Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian: Someone who eats eggs and milk, but does not consume any other animal products.
  • Ovo-Vegetarian: A person who consumes eggs but no other animal products or flesh.
  • Lacto-Vegetarian: Someone who consumes milk but no other animal products or flesh.
  • Vegan: Vegans do not consume any animal flesh, products or by-products. Some vegans also do not consume yeast or honey, and often opt not to wear clothing and accessories made from animals.

If you are considering a change in your diet that excludes or sharply limits animal products, be sure to take quality supplements that can supply essential vitamins, minerals and fats that are typically provided by animal-based sources. And don’t miss next Monday’s post, which offers six healthy lunch ideas, most of which are vegetarian.

Nutrients for vegans to consider.


Workout + Friend = Fitness

It's easy enough to start an exercise program, the tough part is sticking with it.  Having an exercise partner will not only help keep you motivated and focused on your fitness goals, it can keep you accountable - you're more likely to go to the gym if someone is waiting there for you. The company of a friend may also help you lose weight according to an investigation from the University of Pennsylvania, published last year. The study included 344 African American adults, 63 of whom enrolled alone and 281 who enrolled with a friend or family member. The participants were split into three groups: those who trained alone, those who worked out with a partner and received little coaching and those who worked out with a friend and had a high level of coaching. After two years, the participants who worked with a partner and received the most coaching lost the most weight. What's more, those whose partners lost at least five percent of their body fat dropped more weight compared to participants with partners who lost less than five percent of their weight.

My take? For many people who are just beginning to exercise, the greatest challenge is to make workouts more fun and less boring.  If they don't, many are likely to let the program slide before it becomes established as a daily, healthy habit. I've made my own workouts more enjoyable by exercising outdoors in interesting surroundings. Working out with a companion is another way to take the boredom out of repetitive physical activity. Time spent exercising with a friend goes much faster than the same time spent alone.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercise


Whole Grains and Bad Body Fat

Eating more whole grains (and fewer refined grains) can influence the type of fat the body stores. Those who eat more whole grains seem to have about 10 percent less “visceral adipose tissue” (VAT), the fat associated with development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Investigators at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University examined diet questionnaires from 2,834 men and women between the ages of 32 and 83, all of whom received a special CT scan to determine the amount of VAT (compared to subcutaneous fat) in their bodies. VAT surrounds abdominal organs while subcutaneous fat lies under the skin. The link between whole grain consumption and lower VAT levels persisted even after the investigators took into account other lifestyle factors that could contribute to VAT. The study was published online Sept. 29, 2010 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In order to eat more whole grains, you have to understand what they are - what's a true whole grain?


Veggies May Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Carrots specifically, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collard greens and broccoli may help ward off an aggressive form of breast cancer. This type of cancer - estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer - is seen more commonly among African American women than among white women. Unlike ER positive breast cancer, its growth doesn't depend on the hormone estrogen, it's harder to treat, and is more often fatal. Looking at data from the ongoing Black Women's Health Study, Boston University researchers found that women who ate three or more servings of carrots per week had a 17 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who ate carrots less than once a month. And those who ate at least two servings of vegetables daily had a 43 percent lower risk than women who consumed fewer than four veggie servings per week. The researchers don't yet know if vegetable consumption in these women was responsible for the lower risk, or if these dietary habits simply signaled a healthier lifestyle that could account for the difference. The study was published online Oct. 11, 2010, by the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Another way to fight breast cancer is early detection: six signs of breast cancer.