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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.


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

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

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

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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


Can Climate Change Make You Sick?

You know that it's bad for the planet, but have you ever wondered what the effect of climate change will be on human health? In July, 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a report on the impact climate change is likely to have on general health in the United States, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture. Those at greatest risk are residents of the northern states and the Midwest, where people aren't as used to heat as those in other areas of the country. Overall, the EPA's report found that as temperatures rise we may see more:

  • heat stroke
  • illness due to salmonella (due to heat-related contamination of food and water supplies)
  • drowning due to storm surges
  • heart disease because of rising ozone levels
  • severe attacks of respiratory diseases including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) because of poor air quality due to ozone and an increase in wildfires.

The very young, the very old, the poor, and people with compromised immune systems are most likely to be hardest hit.

Another warning, issued in August, 2008, by researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, concerns the impact of climate change on allergy patients. Here, the problem will be earlier and longer allergy seasons with more spring pollen and increased airborne irritants in the fall. More air pollution, ozone and wildfires can also be expected to aggravate asthma, the researchers warned. The review was published in the September, 2008, issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

Here are some of the steps the EPA suggested in order to adapt to the anticipated risks:

  • Expand installation of cooling systems in residential and commercial buildings
  • Improve early warning systems for extreme heat
  • Improve infrastructure to keep water clean
  • Increased emphasis on the use of public transit, walking and biking in order to reduce vehicle emission.

The North Carolina researchers also recommended eating locally grown fruits and vegetables and eating less meat to improve health and reduce the human contribution to climate change. I see this as a good first step in breaking our dependence on fossil fuels and joining other advanced nations in pledging to reduce our carbon emissions.

We all have the responsibility to help curtail climate change - What steps have you taken personally to combat this global threat?


Pickled Carrots

Pickled vegetables are wonderful because they can be prepared in advance and keep well in the refrigerator. These pickled carrots are like an Italian antipasto. In fact, they can be used as a vegetable, salad or appetizer. Pair them with a mild-flavored entrée like Potato-Rosemary Crusted Fish. Round out the colors on the plate with sautéed greens. If you like the recipe, try the same pickling marinade for other vegetables like zucchini or cauliflower.


3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon onion, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 tablespoon whole mixed pickling spices, tied in cheesecloth
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 small onion, thinly sliced


1. Sauté the garlic and chopped onion in the olive oil in a skillet until just tender, about 5 minutes. 

2. Stir in the wine vinegar, dry mustard, pickling spices, salt, pepper, and carrots. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. The carrots should still be crunchy. Remove from heat. 

3. Remove the cheesecloth with the spices. Transfer the carrot mixture to a shallow dish. Top with the thinly sliced onion. Cover and refrigerate until served, stirring occasionally. 

Food as Medicine: Carrots are a rich source of beta-carotene, which offers numerous health benefits. Beta-carotene is particularly helpful in preserving night vision - the compound is converted to vitamin A in the liver; then it travels to the eye and is converted to rhodopsin, a pigment that is essential for low-light vision.


Cinnamon Extracts and Heart Disease, Diabetes Risk

Two daily doses of a dried water-soluble cinnamon extract seemed to lower the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes in a small study led by a U.S. Department of Agriculture chemist. The research team found that the daily doses of the cinnamon extract improved the antioxidant status of the volunteers, a group of obese men and women, and also seemed to decrease their fasting blood sugar (glucose) levels. For this small, 12-week study, the researchers randomly divided their 22 participants into two groups. Participants in one group received 250 mg of cinnamon extract twice a day along with their usual diets; those in the other group were given a placebo. Investigators collected blood from all the volunteers after an overnight fast at the beginning of the study, again after six weeks and at the end of the 12 weeks. The positive changes seen in the lab values of the cinnamon group suggest a benefit in reducing risk of both diabetes and cardiac disease. We'll need more and larger studies to tell us if cinnamon really does help. But in the meantime, if you're at risk, the most important thing you can do for your health is lose weight.