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Is Fresh Juice Better?

If you have ever had the good fortune to drink freshly squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, you undoubtedly have been amazed at how much better it tasted than the concentrated or bottled varieties. The reason is that fresh juice, unlike commercial juice products, has not been heat treated, a process commonly used to kill pathogens that might grow in the interval between extraction and consumption.

Unfortunately, while heat treating can help keep our store-bought juices safe, it also destroys enzymes, lowers vitamin concentrations and alters the taste - juice becomes blandly sweet, rather than featuring a natural symphony of complex and subtle flavors.

In addition to its appealing taste, home-squeezed citrus juice may also offer a bevy of health benefits - studies have linked dietary intake of fruit juice with lower levels of inflammation and decreased risk of heart disease. And home-squeezed juice tends to contain more pulp, a source of healthful dietary fiber.


Wondering How to Use Tea Tree Oil?

Tea tree oil is a powerful disinfectant and useful herbal remedy. Extracted from the leaves of Melaleuca alternifolia, a native tree of New South Wales, it is a clear liquid, strongly aromatic, with an odor similar to that of eucalyptus. Tea tree oil is a good treatment for fungal infections of the skin (athlete's foot, ringworm, jock itch), toenails or fingernails - conditions notoriously resistant to treatment, even by strong systemic antibiotics. Just paint the oil on affected areas two or three times a day. You can also apply it full strength to boils and other localized infections. A ten percent solution (about one and a half tablespoons to a cup of warm water) can be used as a mouthwash and on skin to rinse and clean infected wounds. This dilution can also be used as an effective vaginal douche for treatment of both yeast and Trichomonas infections (although some women may find it irritating). Tea tree oil is nontoxic and available in most health-food and herb stores - choose products that are 100 percent pure tea tree oil.

More on herbal remedies.


Digestive Upset

The habitual use of laxatives can irritate the bowel, cause cramps and diarrhea, and even lead to laxative dependence. If irregularity is a concern, avoid using commercial remedies and try the following natural alternatives:

  1. Eat more fiber, in the form of fresh vegetables, wheat bran, whole-grain breads and cereals, and fruit.
  2. Drink plenty of water.
  3. Exercise on a daily basis.
  4. Do not use tobacco, caffeine or other stimulant drugs.
  5. Practice relaxation techniques.

If you can't get enough fiber from your diet, consider powdered psyllium. Available at health food stores, it is a quality source of supplemental fiber, but it must be used with adequate water to make it effective. Start with one rounded tablespoon of the powder stirred into a glass of water or diluted juice. Drink it down and follow it with another full glass of water.

Read more about digestive health.


Dietary Fats and Sperm Count

Steaks, burgers and fries may be portrayed as a manly meal, but all the saturated fat those foods contain seems to result in lower sperm production than occurs in men whose diets include fish and healthier omega-3 fatty acids. Investigators from Harvard analyzed the sperm of 91 men who were attending the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center in Boston, and gathered information about their diets and the types of fats they ate. The researchers then found that the men with the highest intake of saturated fat had 41 percent fewer sperm than men who ate the least saturated fat. Men with the highest intake of monounsaturated fat had 46 percent fewer sperm compared with men with the lowest intake of monounsaturated fat. Interestingly, participants whose intake of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats was highest had sperm with greater motility (they swam around more vigorously) and those with a higher intake of omega-3s had sperm with the best size and shape. The findings were presented at the October 26, 2010 meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.


Bringing Leftovers to Life

The holidays almost always mean leftovers. After the fourth serving of turkey (or Tofurky), along with mashed potatoes and green beans, the magic disappears for many of us. Consider the following ideas for making delicious new meals from your holiday bounty:

  • Potatoes: My Potatoes with Kale recipe is perfect for pre-cooked spuds.
  • Broccoli: Leftover broccoli - plain with no sauce – is delicious in Broccoli Pancakes or added to cooked pasta, as in Penne a la Broccoli.
  • Create a healthful stir-fry with leftovers by steaming a bunch of fresh veggies and adding almost anything to the mix!
  • Make your own version of my Stuffed Potatoes by topping with leftover vegetables, stuffing or even homemade cranberry sauce.
  • Soup: Start with a simple Garlic Broth base and add leftover vegetables and fresh whole-wheat noodles (I like soba noodles) for a new way to present familiar foods!

Chapped Lips a Winter Woe?

If chapped lips or dry skin are a problem, find natural relief with calendula. This herbal remedy is made from the petals of the ornamental "pot marigold" flower, and is available in tinctures, oil, lotions and creams - look for products with at least 10-percent extract of Calendula officinalis. A gentle, effective remedy for dry skin is to wash the skin with a diluted solution of tincture. You can also apply ready-to-use calendula skin products or oil directly on irritated areas. Calendula can safely be used for skin irritations, rashes (including diaper rash), eczema, acne and minor burns.

More on other healing herbs.


How Do You Use a Neti Pot?

If you suffer from chronic sinus problems, nasal congestion or postnasal drip, you may want to consider using a Neti pot. Originally from the Ayurvedic tradition, a Neti pot resembles a genie’s lamp and uses a saltwater solution to irrigate nasal passages and sinuses, making nasal mucus thinner and flushing out irritants. It’s fairly easy to use, but may take practice before it feels comfortable and is done correctly:

  1. Dissolve one-quarter teaspoon of salt in one cup of warm water, and pour the solution into the pot.
  2. Over a sink, tilt your head about 45 degrees to the side, and place the spout into your higher nostril.
  3. Gently pour the saltwater solution into that nostril, letting the solution flow through to the lower nasal cavity. (If the solution runs into your throat, just spit it out.)
  4. Once the solution is gone, blow your nose to get rid of any remaining solution, and then repeat the process with the other nostril.

Be sure to clean and dry the Neti pot between uses. If you don’t want to buy a Neti pot, you can try a similar technique by pouring the solution into a cupped hand, pressing a finger from the opposite hand over one nostril, closing it and inhaling the liquid through the open nostril. You can inhale directly from a small cup or glass in the same way, or you can use a clean rubber bulb to gently squirt the solution into your nostrils.

More remedies for sinus problems.


My Favorite Christmas

Today, I’m moved to reflect on one of my favorite Christmas days. It was three years ago, at my second home on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada. Even in this remote location, my then 15-year-old daughter Diana and I were engaged in the usual bustle of phone calls, emails, music, cooking…when suddenly, the power failed.

It became extraordinarily quiet. The house also began to get colder as the central heating system shut down, so we found ourselves huddling ever closer to the fireplace. We cooked on our gas stove, so no one went hungry, but the lack of electricity for kitchen appliances made the fare somewhat simpler than planned.

Friends began dropping by, and they all seemed merrier than is usual, even for Christmas day, enchanted by the novelty of this hushed, primitive, stripped-down holiday experience. I recall the conversations that day as particularly warm and intimate, and remember how we all sighed rather sadly as the power came back on, and the various electronic paraphernalia throughout the house buzzed and beeped back to life.

It’s nothing new, of course, to decry the creeping busy-ness of the holiday season, but this experience taught me to take a slightly different approach. Rather than “fighting” the frenetic, hyper-commercial aspects of the season, Diana and I simply emphasize simple acts such as reading aloud to each other as holiday traditions. There is no better way to create the kind of Christmas - and the kind of life - that you want for yourself and your family than to create positive traditions that emphasize the values that you hold dear. If enough people do that, the excesses of Christmas that plague the planet will simply melt away like snow in springtime.