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Gluten-Free Vegan Brownies

These brownies are a delicious, low-fat, high-fiber indulgence. Vegans and omnivores will enjoy their rich flavor.

Food as Medicine

Soy foods may be helpful in alleviating symptoms of menopause. Soy is also high in calcium, which can help slow the accelerated bone loss many women experience as they grow older.

1 cup Sucanat, Rapadura or brown sugar
4 oz. (½cup) medium-firm tofu or firm or extra-firm silken tofu (1/3 of a box)
¼ cup water (can be part liqueur of choice, such as Kahlua)
4 teaspoons powdered egg replacer
1 tablespoon coffee (or coffee substitute) granules or espresso powder
1 tablespoon vanilla 
1 ½ teaspoons vinegar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (or carob powder, if you insist)
⅓ cup Bryanna’s Gluten-Free High-Fiber Flour (see below)
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Higher-fat option: ½ cup chopped nuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350°  F.

2. In a blender or food processor mix until smooth the sugar, tofu, water, egg replacer, coffee granules, vanilla, and vinegar.

3. In a medium bowl whisk together the cocoa, flour, salt, baking powder and soda. Add the cocoa mixture and mix briefly. Add nuts, if using.

4. Pour the mixture into a nonstick or lightly-oiled or sprayed 9" square cake pan. Spread evenly. Bake 25 minutes. Cool on a rack in the pan, then cut into 12 bars.

Bryanna's Gluten-Free High-Fiber Flour Mix
Makes about 13 cups

7 ½ cups brown rice flour 
2 ½ cups potato starch
1 ¼ cups tapioca flour
1 cup ground flax seed
1 cup chickpea flour or soy flour
4 and ½ tablespoons xanthan or guar gum (see note below)

Mix well and store in a moisture-proof container in in the freezer. Use cup-for-cup instead of regular flour. 

NOTE: Because non-gluten flours lack the structure that gluten provides, xanthan gum or guar gum (available in health food stores) is often added to gluten-free baked goods. This mixture contains enough xanthan or guar gum for cakes, cookies, pancakes and quick breads. For yeast breads, you may have to add up to 1 teaspoon more gum per cup of gluten-free flour.

Recipe from "The Almost No-Fat Holiday Cookbook" by Bryanna Clark Grogan.


Belly Fat and Bone Health

If you're female and overweight, don't count on that excess padding to protect you from osteoporosis. New research suggests that if the fat is in your belly, it could actually increase your risk of weakening bones. Investigators from the Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the impact of "visceral" fat - the kind that surrounds internal organs - on bone density. The Mass General team looked at the effect of subcutaneous abdominal fat (that lies under the skin), bone marrow fat, total fat, and visceral fat on bone mineral density. Their study group was comprised of 50 premenopausal women who had a mean body mass index (BMI) of 30, indicating obesity. Using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, they looked at the bone marrow fat of the fourth vertebra (L4) in the lumber section of the spine and then used quantitative computed tomography to measure the bone mineral density of L4. They found that women with more visceral fat had increased bone marrow fat and decreased bone density. None of the other types of fat studied was associated with this decrease.

My take? Previous research has shown that visceral fat increases the risk for heart disease, and we know that the fat that surrounds internal organs in the abdomen is linked to increased risks of diabetes and metabolic syndrome as well. We used to think that excess weight protected women from osteoporosis, but this study suggests that it won't. Although genetics does contribute to developing visceral fat, poor diet and lack of exercise play significant roles as well. The good news is that you can protect yourself against osteoporosis the same way you can protect yourself from the increased risk of heart disease: eat less and exercise more.


Are Your Eyes Dry?

One more reason to take your omega-3s: these essential fatty acids can help prevent dry eye syndrome, a painful condition in which not enough tears are produced to keep the eyes lubricated. Dry eye syndrome affects about eight million Americans, mostly women, and research has demonstrated that a high daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids can protect against its uncomfortable symptoms. To support general eye health, try increasing your intake of oily, cold-water fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, mackerel, herring and black cod, as well as walnuts and freshly ground flaxseed. If you suffer from dry eye syndrome, you may also want to consider supplementing with a high-quality fish oil product.

Learn how I keep my own eyes in optimum health: The Eyes of Dr. Weil


Pass the Pistachios, Please

Not only can they help lower cholesterol, but new evidence suggests that eating pistachios may help protect against lung cancer and other malignancies. A small study from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center showed that consuming about two ounces of pistachios a day increased serum gamma-tocopherol, a constituent of vitamin E that may reduce the risk of lung cancer. A total of 36 healthy participants took part in the six week trial; half were in a control group and remained on their normal diet and half consumed two ounces of pistachios daily. The researchers found that energy-adjusted dietary intake of gamma-tocopherol was “significantly higher” at the end of the study in those on the pistachio diet compared with those on the control diet. The lead researcher noted that epidemiologic studies suggest gamma-tocopherol is protective against prostate cancer, and theorized that pistachios, rich in the compound, may help lower the risk of other cancers. Other good sources of gamma-tocopherol include peanuts, pecans, walnuts, soybean and corn oils. The data was presented at the American Association for Cancer Research conference in December of 2010.

More on the health benefits of nuts.


Vitamin D in Winter Time

Vitamin D is an essential micronutrient with a central role in maintaining health. I recommend prudent daily sun exposure to support the natural production of vitamin D in our skin as one of the best ways to get enough of this vitamin. But with decreased daylight hours in the winter, you may be at risk for vitamin D deficiency. Decreased or insufficient levels of vitamin D have been linked to:

  • Suppressed immunity - Our innate systems of defense may not function efficiently without adequate vitamin D, allowing increased susceptibility to infectious agents.
  • Increased risk of chronic disease - Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a higher than normal risk of heart disease and several kinds of cancer.
  • Heightened inflammation - Vitamin D is a key cofactor in regulating inflammation throughout the body.

Speak with your doctor about checking vitamin D levels and if supplementing may help, and learn more about vitamin D.


Wondering about Thyroid Health?

According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, about one in eight women will develop a thyroid problem in her lifetime. The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that influences metabolism and the function of the kidneys, heart, liver, brain and skin. It is important to make sure your thyroid is functioning normally - learn about the symptoms of thyroid disease, such as changes in sleep and energy levels, weight loss or gain and hair loss; create a personal health history and then talk with your physician if you have questions or concerns. Simple tests can help determine if your thyroid is over- or under-functioning, and proper medications and lifestyle changes can help address any concerns. 


Folic Acid Levels and Hearing Loss

No one knows for sure why we're prone to become hard of hearing as we get older. But a new study suggests that low levels of folic acid may play a role. The study was small - only 126 healthy Nigerian men and women over the age of 60 took part - but it found that low blood levels of folic acid were significantly associated with hearing loss in high frequencies. Folic acid, a B vitamin, is found in spinach, other green vegetables and beans as well as fortified products such as orange juice, baked goods, and cereals. Other natural sources include asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, legumes, yeast, and mushrooms. The study was published in the December, 2010, issue of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery. In addition to its potential role in the auditory system, the researchers noted that folate has important roles in cellular metabolism, the nervous system and vascular function, and they called for further study into the role of vitamins in hearing, particularly in developing countries where malnutrition is common.

Watch and learn how to make a folic acid-rich Turkish Spinach Salad in my healthy kitchen.


A New Way to Prevent Colds

In addition to washing your hands, avoiding people who are sick and eating a diet rich in antioxidants, you may want to add a new strategy your preventing-a-winter-cold list: getting exercise five days per week.  Researchers found that individuals who reported performing regular physical activity at least five days a week spent 43 percent fewer days suffering with a cold than those who exercised no more than once a week. An added benefit, when they did catch a cold, was reduced severity and symptoms among those who exercised most. Most likely these reductions in colds and symptoms are linked to the increased immune system activity that occurs during aerobic exercise.

Make it a point to walk (indoors, if necessary) for 30-45 minutes per day, or if you don’t already have a gym membership, buy one and use the aerobic equipment such as stationary bicycles, treadmills or elliptical trainers.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercise