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Hold the Milk?

Polyphenols called catechins are the antioxidant compounds found in tea that confer its well-known health benefits. They're present in all types of true tea (from the plant Camellia sinensis. Catechin content is the highest in white tea, the least processed type. Green tea has the next highest catechin content, then oolong and, finally black tea.

If you add milk to your tea, the milk protein, casein, binds catechins, making them unavailable to the body. German researchers recently focused on this effect in a small study, which included 16 postmenopausal women who first drank black tea without milk. The investigators found that the tea improved the ability of arteries to relax and expand, increasing blood flow. But when skim milk was added to the tea, this healthy effect was blocked. They also looked at how tea alone and tea with added milk affected blood vessels in rats and observed the same effects seen in the women.

Not surprisingly, this study got a lot of attention in Britain, a nation of tea drinkers, most of whom take their tea with milk. The findings may explain why the lower rates of heart disease and cancer seen in Asians (who traditionally don't add milk to tea) haven't shown up in the UK.

Like tea, cocoa is rich in polyphenols, but of a different chemical class. A study published in the April 2007 Journal of Food Science found that milk proteins don't reduce the bioavailability of the polyphenols found in cocoa. The reasons for the difference in milk's effects on polyphenols in tea and cocoa aren't completely understood. I don't imagine the tea-drinking Brits are going to change their ways and give up adding milk to their tea, but if you really want the health benefits of green tea, you should try to develop a taste for it without milk.

How do you take your tea? Feel free to elaborate in the comments if your preferred additions are not listed here.

Read about My Life with Tea.


Soy Milk Basics

Soy milk is made by soaking dried soy beans in water, then grinding, heating and pressing them. The fluid is then strained and packaged as "milk" Among its many benefits, soy milk:

  • Can substitute for cow's milk in many culinary applications, thus avoiding the butterfat, which is unhealthy
  • Does not contain milk protein (casein), which can increase mucus production and irritate the immune system in some people
  • Does not contain milk sugar (lactose), which can cause digestive distress in those that are lactose intolerant.
  • Is a good source of protein - one cup contains four to 10 grams of soy protein.

When choosing soy milk, opt for a brand that is:

  • Fortified with calcium - while soy milk is naturally a good source of calcium, it doesn't have as much as cow's milk
  • Organic - many soy crops are heavily treated with pesticides
  • Free of the thickening agent carrageenan, a seaweed derivative, which I believe may be harmful, especially to the intestinal tract
  • A low-fat version, especially if you are watching your weight.

I recommend one to two one-cup servings daily.

Don't believe the many sensationalist negative claims about soy. Like any healthy food, enjoy it in moderation for optimal health.


Japan Women Longest Lived

For the 25th consecutive year statistics published by the Japanese government showed that women there had a longer life expectancy than any others on the planet. In 2009, Japanese women extended their average longevity to 86.44 years; Japanese men can expect to live 79.59 years, a pretty good showing but not as good as men in Qatar (81 years), Hong Kong (79.8), and Iceland and Switzerland (tied at 79.7). Women in Hong Kong came in second to Japanese women with a life expectancy of 86.1 years; French women were third at 84.5 and Swiss women fourth at 84.4 years. Japan's longevity is said to reflect good medical treatment that reduced death rates from cancer, heart disease and strokes as well as pneumonia. Japan's relatively healthy diet and high living standards also contribute to improving longevity among the population. In 2009, average life spans for women increased by almost five months and compared to nearly four months for men. While this is good news for the aging men and women, the downside is that Japan has a low birth rate and a declining population. The increasingly graying society may eventually strain government services and pension programs and lead to labor shortages.

The Japanese also tend to be happier than Americans, possibly due to their high fish consumption.


Early Menopause and Your Heart

Women who reach menopause before the age of 46 may be at twice the risk of heart attack and stroke later in life than women whose menopause occurs later (the average age is 51). Researchers at the University of Alabama studied more than 2,500 women who were aged 45 to 84 when the investigation began in 2000. Of all the women participating, 18 percent said they experienced menopause naturally before age 46 while 10 percent reported that menopause occurred before that age due to the surgical removal of their ovaries. None of these women had heart problems or a stroke before the age of 55, but after that, the researchers reported, women who had early menopause (naturally or otherwise) were more than twice as likely to have had a heart attack, stroke, chest pain (angina), heart bypass surgery or a suddenly stopped heart than women who reached menopause later. These increased risks were apparent even after researchers took weight gain into consideration. The study was presented at a meeting of the Endocrine Society in June.

My take? Many women don't realize that no matter when they reach menopause, by the age of 65, their rate of heart disease equals that of men. In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women (claiming nearly 500,000 lives per year compared to about 40,000 for breast cancer). To lower your risk of heart disease, don’t smoke, watch your blood pressure and cholesterol, get checked for diabetes, stay close to your ideal weight and get regular physical activity. I also recommend an anti-inflammatory diet with lots of omega-3 fatty acids, either in the form of omega-3 rich foods or as supplements.

More information on staying at your ideal weight during menopause, including some potentially helpful supplements.


Cucumber Raita

This traditional side dish can also be used as a sauce or dip. Use it as an alternative to traditional salad. It is especially delightful with spicy curries.


2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups plain, nonfat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Black pepper to taste


1. Mix the cucumbers, onion, and salt in a bowl. Let stand for 1/2 hour.

2. Drain off liquid, rinse well with cold water, and drain; then soak in cold water to remove as much salt as desired. Drain well.

3. Add the yogurt, cumin, and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving.

Learn some fun facts about cucumbers, including everything you ever wanted to know about pickling!


Does Ear Candling Work?

If you have wax buildup in your ear, there is a variety of effective methods to help remove it, but ear candling is not one of them. Also called ear coning, this practice involves inserting a hollow cone of paper into your ear. Someone else lights the other, wider end of the cone, in the hopes that as the flame burns, a vacuum will be created that draws the wax from the ear. When the flame goes out, there may be a dark residue on the remaining paper, but it is not removed ear wax - it's a mixture of combustion products from the burned paper.

Instead of engaging in a practice that doesn’t work and carries the risk of fire, if you need to remove excess ear wax, I suggest that you consider one of the many over-the-counter products available for this - they're usually very effective. If you've got a build-up of wax that is interfering with your hearing, a physician can flush it out with water directed into the ear with a specially designed syringe after using drops to soften the wax.

Don't clean your ears with cotton swabs or put anything else in your ear. It's possible to push wax deeper into the ear canal and even injure your eardrum.

 See my site for information on other ear conditions, such as ear popping and ear infections.


Writing Off Weight?

Keeping a journal has a hidden health benefit: A recent study indicates that keeping track of your eating habits in a diary or journal can help to double your weight loss.  The study, published in the August 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine followed almost 1,700 overweight or obese men and women with an average weight of 212 pounds.

After 20 weeks of study participation (which included weekly group meetings,  recommended daily reduction of 500 calories, 30 or more minutes of daily moderate intensity exercise, adherence to the DASH diet, and daily journal entries of food intake and exercise minutes) the total average loss was about 13 pounds. But the more that the participants wrote in their journals, the more weight they lost - on average, about twice as much as those who did not maintain records.

By keeping a simple food diary, you can more objectively determine how much you are eating and become accountable for your food intake. Try to enter the portions eaten after each meal, and use whatever method works best for you - pen and paper, a smartphone application (such as the iPhone's "Notes"), or a spreadsheet on a personal computer - to help keep the process consistent.

For another interesting (and slightly controversial) take on achieving a healthy weight, check out what science writer Gary Taubes has to say.


5 More Veggies to Have on Hand

I recommend keeping your kitchen stocked with all 5 of these veggies:

1. Beets: The deep red color of these root vegetables comes from anthocyanins, phytonutrients that protect against carcinogens and may help prevent heart disease. Beets are delicious hot or cold, versatile, and inexpensive.
2. Squash. With a wide variety of types, flavors, shapes, and sizes, squash is readily adaptable to any occasion - it can even be used in pie! It provides beta carotene, potassium, and fiber, nutrients that are necessary for good overall health.
3. Tomatoes: This red fruit (often considered a vegetable) contains lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that helps fight heart disease and some types of cancer, particularly prostate cancer. Use tomatoes in everything from salads to sauces, but know that the lycopene is most easily absorbed when the tomatoes are cooked with a little oil.
4. Broccoli. This vegetable-platter classic and other cruciferous vegetables offer cancer-protective benefits. Broccoli is also a good source of vitamin K and calcium - both of which help keep bones strong. It is tasty both raw and cooked, and can be a stand out in soups, casseroles, and salads.
5. Mushrooms. Prized for their tonic effects, mushrooms can help address a host of illnesses. Maitake mushrooms (known as "hen of the woods" for their resemblance to the fluffed tail feathers of a nesting hen) are particularly valued in Asian cooking, as they have anti-cancer, anti-viral and immune-enhancing properties, and may also reduce blood pressure and blood sugar. Shiitake, enokidake and oyster mushrooms also have immune-boosting qualities, and are easily included in many main courses.

Stock up on these veggies, but don't forget to reserve pantry/refrigerator space for the original 5.