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Sunday
Oct312010

Renaming High Fructose Corn Syrup

If the words "high fructose corn syrup" (HFCS) on a product label set off alarm bells for you, prepare yourself: the Corn Refiners Association has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to permit a name change. The group, which represents manufacturers of HFCS, wants to call the stuff  "corn sugar," claiming that the shorter, simpler term might prove less "confusing" to consumers and more accurately convey the calories, sweetness and level of fructose it contains. Don't expect the name change to happen overnight. The FDA has six months to mull it over, and if the agency okays a change, it'll be another 12 to 18 months before you start seeing "corn sugar" rather than HFCS on labels.

My take? Whatever you call it, HFCS is a marker for low-quality food. It's not just in soft drinks but in consumer products ranging from ketchup to crackers, which is why it has become one of the biggest sources of calories in the American diet. So I am opposed to the name change. The name high fructose corn syrup is accurate and the public distrust it has engendered is well deserved. My chief concern with HFCS is that its cheapness, due to corn subsides, has allowed manufacturers to sweeten a huge percentage of the American food supply, contributing significantly to the obesity-diabetes epidemic. I am gratified that the power of the internet has made the name-change effort something of a cause célèbre instead of a quiet attempt to disguise and sanitize HFCS.

Avoid HFCS this Halloween: try out some healthy halloween treats.

Saturday
Oct302010

Placebo for Your Sex Life

The inactive pill in question was one given to women during a clinical trial to investigate if Cialis, a drug used to treat male sexual dysfunction, might also have benefits in women. The drug didn't help, but researchers noted that women in the placebo group did report improvements in their sex lives. The listed benefits included increased desire, as well as positive changes in aspects of arousal including better lubrication, and more frequent or more easily obtainable orgasms. The women in the study ranged in age from 35 to 55; all had been diagnosed with female sexual arousal disorder. Researchers credited the improvement to the focus on sex engendered by participation in the study. Some of the women may have believed that the pill was the real thing. They all kept a diary of how often they had sex and how satisfying it was. Here, all of the credit for the improved sex lives goes to the power of the mind-body connection. The study was published online September 16, 2010, in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Friday
Oct292010

Chocolate Flourless Cake

A True Food Kitchen restaurant exclusive! Made with high-quality, unadulterated dark chocolate, and luscious almond butter, this cake is rich, yet more healthful than its flour-filled counterparts. Topped with a fresh berry compote, this flourless cake is a non-guilty pleasure.

Ingredients:

6 ounces dark chocolate, at least 70%
3 ounces butter
3 ounces almond butter
3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FRESH BERRY COMPOTE
1 cup frozen raspberries, defrosted
2 tablespoons pure cane sugar
1/4 cup water
3 cups fresh berries - blueberries, raspberries, blackberries

Instructions:

1.Over a double boiler, melt chocolate, butter and almond butter. Let cool.

2. Separate the egg and place the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add 3 Tbs sugar and beat until a light, pale yellow color, about 6 minutes. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate and mix until combined.

3. In a clean mixing bowl, add the eggs whites. Whisk until frothy. Slowly pour in 3 Tbs sugar and mix until soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate/egg mixture. Carefully fold until combined.

4. Spray 4 oz ramekin or muffin cups with pan spray. Pour the batter into the molds, almost to the top. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 minutes. Let cool before unmolding.

5. To serve: reheat at 300 degrees for 4 minutes. Spoon the fruit compote on top.

Food as Medicine: Chocolate, made from seeds of the cacao tree, is a rich source of polyphenols that may help reduce chronic inflammation. It also appears to make blood cells less likely to clump into clots that can block arteries.

Thursday
Oct282010

Staying Active Despite Knee Arthritis

The goal of treatment for knee arthritis was once simply to control pain and maintain mobility, and this is still true in older patients. But the number of patients between the ages of 40 and 60 suffering from arthritis is increasing, and many want to remain active in sports and other recreational activities. Since most of these cases progress slowly, there's no need to rush to surgery, according to a review of treatment options published in the July, 2010, issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Brian Feeley, M.D., lead author of the review and assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, outlined the following strategy:

  • Take control of your situation - understand the disease process and learn about treatment options.
  • Work with your physician to come up with short and long term plans to help manage your symptoms.
  • Be flexible with your activities: try not to put the same stresses on the affected knee every day. This may mean more biking and swimming and less running.
  • Find a doctor who will help you tailor treatment to your individual needs.

My take: This is good advice for any health concern. Exercise can be beneficial for arthritis patients as long as it doesn’t overstress the affected joints. Strengthening surrounding muscles will support and protect the joints, and physical activity helps improve and maintain joint mobility. I would also suggest dietary changes that may help. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the spices ginger and turmeric may help reduce inflammation. Foods rich in antioxidants - plentiful in most vegetables and fruit - may help reduce tissue damage from inflammation.

Ask Dr. Weil: more on Arthritis

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.