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More Social Stress, Please

It might protect against cancer, as it did in mice. Researchers at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center put mice in two different environments. One group were housed in standard laboratory cages, and the other group was placed into more crowded housing with 18 to 20 mice instead of the usual five per cage. The crowded cages also contained running wheels, tunnels, toys, mazes and nesting materials. When the mice were injected with cancer cells, the ones in the standard cages developed tumors within 15 days, but animals in the more exciting surroundings were much slower to develop tumors and those that did grow were 43 percent smaller than the ones seen in the mice in the uncrowded cages. The investigators also found that the animals in the stimulating environments had higher levels of stress hormones and stronger immune systems. Most notable, however, was a drop of almost 90 percent in the hormone leptin (produced in fat) in the stressed mice. In humans, high leptin levels are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancer. The findings suggest that rather than avoiding stress we should be living "more socially and physically challenging lives," said lead researcher Matthew During.

Stress reduction techniques are still useful; just don't forget to be social.


Vegetable and Tofu Stir Fry

If tofu is prepared right, it's delicious. If not, it can taste like rubber. Tofu is curdled soy milk that has been pressed in a process similar to making cheese. You'll find tofu in natural food stores and many supermarkets these days. Several brands are available with varying texture from extra firm to soft (tofu's firmness depends on the amount of liquid that's been pressed out of it). In large cities with Asian markets you can often find tofu sold in bulk, usually stored in open barrels.


1 pound firm tofu
8 cups sliced vegetables (we suggest yellow onions, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, celery, broccoli, asparagus, mung-bean sprouts, bamboo shoots)
1 tablespoon expeller-pressed canola oil
2 cups cooked rice

1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup natural soy sauce (low sodium if you prefer)
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger root
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon arrowroot powder


1. Slice the tofu in 1/2 inch slices. Press between layered paper towels or clean kitchen towels to dry well. Cut slices into 1-inch cubes. Arrange on a plate with prepared vegetables, separated by variety. 

2. Combine sauce ingredients except for arrowroot powder in a small bowl and stir until sugar is dissolved. Mix arrowroot powder with just enough cold water to dissolve in a custard cup or teacup (you'll use less than 2 tsp water). Add to sauce, stir well and set aside. 

3. Preheat a wok or large skillet. Add the canola oil and vegetables (add the sturdier vegetables first, adding the more tender ones like mung bean sprouts later) and cook over medium-high heat until just crisp tender, stirring constantly. 

4. Add the tofu and stir very carefully until the tofu is heated. Stir sauce and pour around edge of wok. Stir vegetables around in sauce as it thickens. Remove from heat as soon as sauce is thickened and serve over rice.

Food as Medicine: Despite sensational claims on the Internet and elsewhere that soy foods are not healthy, the weight of available evidence indicates that  soy is safe and nutritious when eaten in relatively unrefined forms such as tofu.

Looking to consume more whole soy foods, but not in the mood for Asian cuisine? Opt for Mexican instead, and try these Tofu Fajitas!


6 Sunscreen Tips

If you want protection from the sun, avoid its rays (particularly between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. standard time from April through September in the Northern Hemisphere); wear a wide-brim hat and sunglasses (make sure your sunglasses block at least 99 percent of UVA and UVB radiation); and use sunscreen. When it comes to the latter, consider these six guidelines for getting the most out of your sunscreen:

  1. Use it liberally. You need at least an ounce (the amount that would fill a shot glass) to cover your entire body.
  2. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors so that it can be absorbed into the skin.
  3. Be sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours and after every swim. No matter what the label says, one application of sunscreen won't last you all day and won't stay on if you're in and out of the water.
  4. Choose sunscreens that offer "broad spectrum" protection - that means it will block UVB rays and some UVA. Look for zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, and Parsol 1789 among the ingredients, but do not use "micronized" or "nano" formulations.
  5. Buy sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15. This will block about 93 percent of UVB rays. Higher SPF numbers won't necessarily give you that much greater protection, but tend to remain effective longer.
  6. Remember that solar exposure is the best way to maintain optimum vitamin D levels, so don't entirely avoid sunlight on your bare skin. Learn how to safely raise your "D" levels via sun exposure.

3 Steps to Healthy Grilling

It's delightful to grill outdoors when the weather is warm. Unfortunately, grilling meats can lead to the production of carcinogenic (potentially cancer-causing) chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HAs). To reduce HAs, try the following:

  1. Limit the amount of meats you grill, and make grilled vegetables the main course.
  2. Pre-cook your foods in the oven or on the stovetop and finish them off outdoors - less grill time means fewer carcinogens.
  3. If you do grill meat, cook it thoroughly but avoid charring or blackening it (don't eat any blackened parts).

Enjoy your grilled vegetables with a side of my Asian Coleslaw, full of antioxidant-rich red cabbage.


Fish Oil May Protect Against Breast Cancer

A couple weeks ago I posted about an antioxidant found in peaches and plums that may protect against breast cancer. Here's a study that focuses on fish oil's capacity to do the same.

This new evidence about the benefits of omega 3s comes from a study involving more than 35,000 postmenopausal women who were taking non-vitamin, non-mineral dietary supplements. The women completed a 24-page questionnaire about their supplement use, and then were followed for six years, during which 880 cases of breast cancer were reported among them. After reviewing the participants' histories, Investigators from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found a 32 percent reduced risk of breast cancer among the women who reported taking fish oil supplements. No other supplement was linked to a reduced breast cancer risk in their investigation. While these results are encouraging, a recommendation to take fish oil to prevent breast cancer cannot be made on the basis of a single study, said lead investigator Emily White, Ph.D. We may learn more about whether fish oil is protective after completion of a Vitamin D and Omega-3 trial that is just getting started at Harvard. Researchers will look at the impact of fish oil supplements and vitamin D on cancer, heart disease and stroke on 20,000 men and women in their 60s and older. The Seattle fish oil study was published in the July 2010 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention.

Here are some ways to reduce your risk for breast cancer in addition to consuming omega-3s.


Cooking How-To: Healthy Salmon

Need a good reason to serve fish? Eating wild Alaskan salmon is one of the best ways to get important omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Omega-3s offer protection against heart attack, stroke, cancer and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. However, how you store and cook salmon can affect these essential nutrients, which can be destroyed by exposure to air, light and heat. According to the National Fisheries Institute, freezing fish and other seafood as well as avoiding certain cooking methods (like deep-frying, blackening or sautéing at high temperatures) will cause minimal loss of the health-protective omega-3 fatty acids they contain.

 The best way to preserve omega-3s in salmon and keep down your total fat intake is to bake, broil, poach, steam or grill them just to the point of doneness that you prefer, and avoid adding fatty condiments.

In this recipe for Hemp-Crusted Salmon with Yuzu Ponzu - from my Phoenix restaurant, True Food Kitchen - salmon is lightly seared then baked.


5 Ways to Minimize Public Speaking Fears

Ever feel anxious when speaking in front of an audience? Some jitters in such situations are normal, but if your life is severely restricted by fears of being criticized, embarrassed, or humiliated in public situations, you may have social phobia or social anxiety. This excessive fear may be caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, or by factors such as low self-esteem, past rejection by peers, poor social skills, or a history of public embarrassment. Panic attacks are a common reaction among those with social anxiety, and can cause heart palpitations, trembling, blushing, nausea, lightheadedness, stomach discomfort, shortness of breath, and heavy sweating.

The good news is that there are natural ways to address social anxiety, and these simple tips are also effective against other forms of anxiety. Try the following:

  1. Avoid coffee and other forms of caffeine; stimulants can heighten anxiety.
  2. Practice breathing exercises, an effective relaxation technique.
  3. Consider passionflower, a natural, mild sedative that's safer than pharmaceuticals. The recommended dosage is one dropperful of a tincture in a little warm water, or two capsules of the extract, up to four times a day as needed.
  4. Consider supplementing with B vitamins and magnesium, which are sometimes helpful in dealing with the symptoms of anxiety.
  5. Consider seeking professional therapy. Exposure therapy can slowly introduce you to the specific situations you fear, and hypnotherapy can give you a sense of what it feels like to be relaxed and open in those settings.

Cooking Whole Grains

One of the best nutritional decisions you can make is to replace most of your daily carbohydrates with true (not pulverized) whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, kasha and bulgur. The body metabolizes large, intact grains more slowly, preventing blood sugar “spikes” that are followed by “lows.” The result is a steady, productive energy that propels you through the day.

If you want to make the switch to whole grains, consider getting a thermal regulated rice cooker. It is a simple and efficient way to cook whole grains, as well as small legumes such as lentils. Fill the rice cooker, turn it on and forget it - grains are cooked perfectly, and the heat automatically lowers to keep it warm for hours.

If you need additional motivation to include more whole grains in your diet, they may also help you reduce belly fat.