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Wednesday
Oct272010

8 Reasons to Practice Meditation

Meditation is simply directed concentration, and involves learning to focus your awareness and direct it onto an object: your breath, a phrase or word repeated silently, a memorized inspirational passage, or an image in the mind's eye. The benefits of meditation are numerous, and include:

  1. Helping lower blood pressure
  2. Decreasing heart and respiratory rates
  3. Increasing blood flow
  4. Enhancing immune function
  5. Reducing perception of pain
  6. Relieving chronic pain due to arthritis and other disorders
  7. Maintaining level mood
  8. Bringing awareness and mindfulness to everyday aspects of life

A simple form of meditation that can be practiced by anyone is to walk or sit quietly in a natural setting and allow your thoughts and sensations to occur; observing them without judgment.

Sunday
Oct242010

3 Reasons New Yorkers Live Longer

In 2007, the New York City Department of Health released some surprising news: a New Yorker born in 2004 can expect to live 78.6 years, nine months longer than the average American. Add to this that the life expectancy of New Yorkers is lengthening faster than that of other Americans, and it’s worth taking a look at some reasons why:

  • Less Smoking. The city's wide-ranging smoking ban of 2003 is estimated to have decreased deaths attributable to smoking by 10 percent.
  • Healthier food options. New York (like other large cities) attracts a critical mass of people who demand fresh, organic or otherwise superior food choices.
  • Walking. Perhaps most importantly, New Yorkers walk far more than do most suburban Americans, or even residents of other large cities (perhaps due to the fact that New York's high-density urban amenities make walking uniquely viable for shopping, commuting, and other daily tasks). They also tend to walk faster.

The good news is you don’t have to move to New York to avail yourself of these advantages. Anyone, anywhere, can decide to stop smoking, walk more and seek out healthy foods (the number of farmers' markets has doubled in the last decade, making fresh produce more available everywhere).

Saturday
Oct232010

Are Your Eyelashes Thinning?

Eyelashes fall out normally from time to time, just as hair elsewhere on the body does. But eyelashes can also fall out for other reasons. Wiping your eyes too vigorously can pull out a few lashes, and it’s better to use an eye makeup remover that does the job without the need for rubbing. In addition, heavy mascara can actually weigh down delicate lashes and cause them to fall out, and the pressure of an eyelash curler can pull them out as well.

Other potential causes of eyelash loss include eyelid infections and thyroid conditions. (If so, your eyelashes will stop falling out once the thyroid problem is corrected.) An infection with a mite called D. folliculorum can cause swelling and inflammation of the eyelash follicles. If you're losing hair elsewhere on your body, alopecia areata, an autoimmune condition, may be the problem.

If you are experiencing a dramatic loss of eyelashes, consult your physician or an eyelid specialist (an oculoplastic surgeon), who should be able to figure out what's going on. The new lash-growing drugs all have potential side effects, and I do not recommend them. 

Eyelash loss can also occur as a result of blepharitis - an inflammation of the eyelids.

Friday
Oct222010

Vegetarian Kung Pao with Broccoli & Peanuts

Tofu stir-fried with vinegar is a traditional folk remedy for malaria and dysentery. Peanuts are believed to improve the appetite and lubricate the lungs. An age-old remedy for hypertension is ground peanut shells steeped in water to make a tea that is drunk 3 times a day for at least 20 days.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch slabs
1 pound broccoli, ends trimmed and stalks peeled
5 1/2 tablespoons (expeller-pressed) canola oil
1 1/4 cups dry-roasted peanuts

Seasonings:
3 tablespoons minced scallions, white part only
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon hot chile paste
1 cup 1-inch length scallion greens (about 3 scallions)
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced water chestnuts, blanched 10 seconds in boiling water, then refreshed in cold water and drained

Sauce:
1 cup (vegetable) broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce 
3 1/2 tablespoons rice wine or sake
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
 
Instructions:

1. Wrap the tofu slabs in paper towels or a cotton towel, and place a heavy weight, such as a cast-iron skillet, on top. Let stand for 30 minutes to press out the excess water. Cut the tofu into slices about 1/2-inch thick and 2 1/2 inches long. Place them in a bowl.

2. Cut away the broccoli florets and separate into bite-size pieces. Cut the stalks on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces. Heat a large pot of water until boiling. Add the broccoli, and boil for 3 minutes. Drain, refresh under cold water, and drain again.

3. Heat a large, heavy skillet and add 2 1/2 tablespoons of the oil. Arrange some of the tofu slices in the pan and sear over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove with a spatula and drain in a colander. Reheat the pan and add 2 more tablespoons of oil. Continue frying the rest of the slices. Remove and drain.

4. Reheat the skillet or wok, add the remaining tablespoon of oil, heat until hot, and add the Seasonings. Stir-fry briefly, about 15 seconds, then add the scallion greens and water chestnuts, and stir-fry over high heat about 1 1/2 minutes. Add the premixed Sauce and cook, stirring continuously to prevent lumps, until it thickens. Add the broccoli, fried tofu and peanuts. Toss lightly to coat and heat through. Scoop the dish onto a serving platter. Serve with steamed rice.

Food as Medicine: Broccoli is an extraordinarily rich source of vitamin C. One cup, steamed, provides 205 percent of the Daily Value of this important antioxidant vitamin.

Thursday
Oct212010

Eat Like a Greek to Avoid Skin Cancer

Not only do Greeks, Turks, Israelis and others who follow the Mediterranean diet have lower rates of heart disease and cancer, but thanks to all the colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, olive oil, yogurt and fresh fish they eat, they also have extremely low rates of melanoma. And new research from Israel suggests that the Mediterranean diet protects against this potentially deadly form of skin cancer. Investigators gave one group of study volunteers a daily drink that was high in antioxidants; a second group drank beverages such as sodas instead. After two weeks - and five to six hours per day in the sun - blood tests showed that the volunteers who drank the antioxidant mix had 50 percent fewer oxidation products in their blood than the soda drinkers. In addition, drinking the antioxidant cocktail also delayed a tell-tale skin change - one that indicates the beginning of the tissue and DNA damage that can lead to skin cancer.

My take? I've long been a proponent of the Mediterranean diet, a composite of the traditional cuisines of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, Crete and parts of the Middle East. My own anti-inflammatory diet incorporates many of the principles of the Mediterranean diet. We know that this way of eating is healthy, and I’m not surprised to learn that it protects against melanoma, a disease that is on the upswing in many parts of the world. Don't assume that all you have to do to protect yourself is eat the Mediterranean way - the Israeli researcher who conducted the study noted that it is still important to wear sunscreen and protective clothing and to avoid the sun during the hours when it is at its strongest. I agree.

Wednesday
Oct202010

Feeling Full: If What You See Isn't What You Eat

How full would you feel if you thought you were eating a big portion, but the actual amount of food was smaller than it seemed? Or if you thought you were eating a small portion, but really received a large one? Research from England suggests that feeling satisfied depends on the amount you think you're eating, and not necessarily the amount you actually consume. In an experiment, half the participants were shown a small portion of fruit to be used for a smoothie while the other half was shown a large portion. Both groups were asked how satisfying they expected the smoothie to be. Three hours later, they were asked to rate how full they felt. Those who were shown the large portion reported feeling more full, even though the smoothies they received were actually made with the smaller amount of fruit. In another test, researchers rigged up a soup bowl so that the amount of soup could be increased or decreased without the eater's awareness. Afterward, "fullness" ratings proved to be related to the remembered amount of soup in the bowl, not the actual amount consumed. The research was reported at the annual meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior.

My take? Large portions - the "supersize" factor - play a central role in the current obesity epidemic. Other studies have shown how easily people fall into the habit of consuming oversized portions. In one clinical trial, researchers tracked the food consumption of nearly two dozen adults for 11 days. First, they gave their volunteers standard sized servings. Then they gave them portions that were 50 percent larger. The participants consistently ate more when they were provided with more to eat. In general, research has shown that people eat more when given large portions. We’ve got to get into the habit of cutting back on portion sizes, particularly in restaurants, where you can safely assume that the portions are too big (half is plenty). Follow the serving sizes suggested in my anti-inflammatory diet for healthy and satisfying meals.

Confused about portion size? Mastering Portion Control.

Monday
Oct182010

Eat Fruit at Every Meal

Eat your veggies, but don't forget about fruit! A wide variety of fruits in your diet can provide you with the protective phytonutrients that help modulate and enhance immune function, reduce chronic/unhealthy inflammation, maintain the body's healing system, boost antioxidant defenses and more. Plus, fruit is a good source of fiber, which helps to keep your digestive system running smoothly. Start the day with some fruit salad, add berries to your cereal, eat a piece of fruit with your lunch, and make a fruit-based dessert. Choose fruits that are organic and eat a wide variety, including as many colors as you can. 

Sunday
Oct172010

More Soy, Less Lung Cancer

That's the latest word from a Japanese study that followed more than 36,000 men and 40,000 women aged 45-74 years old for about 11 years. Among the men who never smoked, the researchers from Japan's National Cancer Center found 22 cases of lung cancer in those who ate the least soy and only 13 cases in men who ate the most soy. (There were too few cases of lung cancer among the women to draw conclusions about the influence of soy.) One possible explanation for the association between soy consumption and the apparent lower risk of lung cancer in the men may be the isoflavones soy contains. These plant compounds may have protective effects in breast and prostate cancer development, and the researchers noted that cells in the lung have properties suggesting that they might respond to isoflavones. However, the investigators also said that men who eat soy may be more likely to eat other healthy foods and to engage in activities that lower lung cancer risk overall. The study didn't look at isoflavone supplement use or exposure to secondhand smoke, so more research is needed to determine how protective soy really is. The study was published online January 13, 2010 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

My take? Some traditional soy-rich Asian diets are associated with lower risks of prostate and breast cancer than Western diets, and this study suggests further benefits. Despite scare stories about the supposedly detrimental effects of soy foods, I remain convinced that eating reasonable quantities is safe and nutritious. I recommend one to two daily servings of soy in relatively whole and unrefined forms such as a cup of soy milk, a half cup of tofu, tempeh or green soybeans (edamame) or roasted soy nuts.