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4 Unhealthy Beverages

Whether you are watching your weight or just want to eat healthier, taking a look at what you drink is key. Empty calories can lurk in all types of beverages - especially these: 

  1. Coffee drinks with full-fat dairy, artificial flavorings, and extras such as chocolate sprinkles. These can pack as many calories as a meal. A better option is a plain coffee with soy milk or, better yet, antioxidant-rich green tea.
  2. Sugary cocktails. Whether it’s a margarita or a pina colada, these drinks pack a double dose of calories due to alcohol and sugar - some can top 800 calories in one drink.  Better options are a glass of red wine (60-100 calories) or a light beer (about 100 calories).
  3. Non-juice "juice drinks." Before buying juice, read the label and make sure it is 100 percent juice (not just “made with” real juice) and check for sweeteners and calories. Many of these products are no better than drinking sugar water. Even 100 percent juice can spike blood sugar and promote weight gain, so mix it with plain or sparkling water, or green tea, to lower the glycemic load.
  4. Soda. There just isn’t anything nutritious about soda, whether it’s diet or regular. If you’re a soda addict, break the habit by eliminating soda as a treat, and stop reaching for it automatically with a meal or as a thirst quencher.

Tomorrow’s post covers four drinks that you should be reaching for!


Barley and Vegetable Soup

Barley has been cultivated since the Stone Age and was fermented to make beer soon after. Folk medicine prescribed the use of barley water as a tonic during convalescence. "Pearl" barley is the name of the grain when it's been polished, after the husk and bran have been removed. It's the form most commonly used in soups. Enjoy this healthful, old-fashioned hearty soup!


3/4 cup pearl barley
11 cups vegetable stock (see recipe for Roasted Vegetable Soup)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
Salt to taste
1/2 bunch parsley


1. In a saucepan, combine the barley and 3 cups of vegetable stock. Bring to a boil over medium heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, or until the liquid is absorbed. 

2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large pot and add the onion, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. Cover and cook the vegetables for about 5 minutes, until they begin to soften. 

3. Add the remaining vegetable stock and simmer 30 minutes, covered. 

4. Add the barley and simmer 5 minutes more. Add salt to taste and ladle into bowls. Serve garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

Food as Medicine: Barley is high in healthy carbs, has a moderate amount of protein, and contains calcium, phosphorus and B vitamins. With its emphasis on vegetables and absence of meat, this soup is a natural fit for those who want to promote heart health.

More warming soup recipes from my Healthy Kitchen.


How Not to Watch Your Weight

So many women are overweight or obese these days that a surprising number of them just don't see a problem: a new study reveals that nearly 25 percent of overweight women mistakenly describe their weight as "normal." Their views aren't based on numbers on the scale, but on how they perceive themselves, say researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The researchers noted that more than half of reproductive-aged women in the United States are considered overweight or obese by body mass index (BMI) standards, and that 82 percent of African-American women and 75 percent of Mexican American women meet the criteria for being overweight or obese. The investigators analyzed data on more than 2,200 women 18 to 25 years old. In addition to BMI, they collected information from the women about their weight perceptions and weight-related behaviors such as dieting, skipping meals, smoking cigarettes, avoiding carbohydrates and exercise. The study was published in the December, 2010, issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

My take? Experts have suspected for some time that people look to their peers to determine what constitutes acceptable weight. The women in this new study may have drawn their perceptions of normal weight from the people they see around them, rather than any reliance on the scale, BMI or "ideal" height/weight charts. "Average" is not the same as "normal" or "healthy," and we're not going to make any progress against the obesity epidemic if individuals who are overweight or obese don't see their size realistically.

If you want to look to others for something, positive attitudes are a better alternative.


Worried about Lung Cancer?

Breathing properly is fundamental to good health, and you shouldn't take your respiratory system for granted, especially if you live in a big city. In addition to prudent supplementation and a diet rich in beta-carotene and other antioxidants, simple lifestyle steps can help promote healthy lungs for a lifetime.

  1. Don't smoke. Tobacco addiction is the single greatest cause of preventable illness, greatly increasing the risks of developing lung cancer and respiratory diseases.
  2. Get regular exercise. It helps promote healthy lung function and optimal oxygen delivery throughout the body.
  3. Practice deep breathing exercises to increase lung capacity, improve respiratory efficiency, and promote general relaxation.
  4. Maintain a normal weight. Excess pounds tax both the heart and lungs. If you're overweight, you're more likely to experience shortness of breath.
  5. Avoid exposure to environmental air pollutants. High ozone levels, smog, car exhaust, asbestos and metal dusts are unhealthy for lungs and can lead to lung disease. Use a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to reduce exposure to smoke and smog, and wear a protective mask when you are in close proximity to lung irritants such as drywall dust or fiberglass insulation fibers.
  6. Limit exposure to toxic household cleaners. Chlorine bleach, petroleum distillates, ammonia, formaldehyde and nitrobenzene can harm the lungs. Use safer alternatives for cleaning such as baking soda, lemon juice, and vinegar.

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Newsletter

We have a new email newsletter! Everything you need to get started on the anti-inflammatory diet for healthy aging. Each Monday, receive actionable advice on getting started and sticking with this "eating plan for life," including seasonal food information, shopping checklists, cooking tips and foods for health. It's helpful for anyone who wants to eat for optimum health, regardless of age.

Sign up here.


Not a Fan of Broccoli?

Many health professionals now recommended increasing intake of vegetables from the cruciferous family. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, rutabaga and turnips all provide vitamins and fiber and are renowned for their cancer-fighting properties, especially against prostate and breast cancer. But not everyone enjoys them. You can help keep your diet healthful and your taste buds interested by adding cruciferous vegetables to other foods you enjoy:

  • Try mustard greens and sun-dried tomatoes on pizza.
  • Add cauliflower to curries or collard greens to stir-fries.
  • Roast Brussels sprouts and turnips as a side dish - garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and cracked pepper.
  • Break cauliflower into small pieces and roast for snacking, as an alternative to popcorn.

Cruciferous vegetables giving you gas?


3 Reasons to Eat Broccoli

This vegetable-platter classic - along with other cruciferous vegetables - is tasty both raw and cooked, and is a standout in soups, casseroles and salads. I have long recommended broccoli as part of a healthful diet. This versatile vegetable:

  1. Promotes a healthy nervous system. Broccoli is a good source of vitamin B2 (riboflavin), which can help calm and nourish nerve fibers.
  2. Supports bone health. Broccoli is a good source of vitamin K and calcium - both of which help keep bones strong and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  3. Can improve energy through its high levels of vitamin C, a micronutrient which supports the normal processes of cellular energy production.

The nutrients in broccoli may also help protect against cancer, heart disease, cataracts and birth defects, while promoting a strong immune system and supporting optimal gastrointestinal function. One of the healthiest ways to prepare broccoli is to lightly steam it, which can help to retain the nutritional components better than other methods such as boiling.

If you do like broccoli, try these recipes. If you don’t like broccoli, read tomorrow’s post for some healthy cruciferous alternatives.


Homemade Cornbread

One of the most popular American quick breads, cornbread is traditionally made with milk or buttermilk and eggs. This vegan alternative can be spiced up with chopped jalapenos or green chile for a delicious Southwestern twist.


1 ¼ cups yellow cornmeal (organic and stone ground, if possible)
1 ¼ cups unbleached white flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ cups boiling water mixed with 2 tablespoons expeller-pressed canola oil, plus a little extra for oiling the skillet


1. Heat oven to 425° F. Lightly oil a cast-iron skillet with a little canola oil. Heat it in the oven while you mix the cornbread batter.

2. In a large bowl stir together the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, brown sugar and salt.

3. Add the boiling water mixed with 2 tablespoons canola oil and stir to mix, but do not overbeat. Add additional hot water if necessary to make a light batter. 

4. Spoon batter into the hot cast-iron skillet. Batter should sizzle when it contacts the skillet. Bake 30 minutes or until the cornbread is light brown on top and springs back to the touch.

5. Cut into wedges and serve.

Food as Medicine: Coarse, stoneground cornmeal is a significant source of dietary fiber, which is important to healthy bowel function. Diets high in fiber have also been shown to help in weight loss and healthy weight maintenance.

Try this cornbread alongside my Vegetarian Chili for a full meal.