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A Note on Black Pepper

The most popular spice in the world, black, green and white peppercorns all come from the black pepper plant (Piper nigrum), native to Asia. Black pepper is the whole, partially ripened fruit; green is the unripe fruit; and white is the peeled seed. Black pepper is a proven antibacterial agent, and compounds in this spice help protect the integrity of DNA as well, making it a possible weapon against cancer.


Behind the Scene at True Food Kitchen

A typical day at my restaurant, True Food Kitchen, in Phoenix, Arizona with head chef Michael Stebner.


Ear Acupuncture for Back Pain During Pregnancy

Lower back and pelvic pain is common during pregnancy and can set the stage for chronic pain later in life. A simple technique - pressure needles held in place by tape at acupuncture points in their ears - worked to control back pain in women during a two week study in Connecticut. After the first week, 37 percent of women who received the treatment were pain free. Among all the women who received the acupuncture treatment, 81 percent reported a 30 percent or greater lessening of pain. In a control group that received sham acupuncture (needles that weren't placed at acupuncture points), only 59 percent reported a reduction in pain of 30 percent or more. While just 47 percent of women in another control group (no needles) reported a 30 percent reduction in pain. A total of 159 women in the 25th to 38th week of pregnancy participated in the study. A week after the study ended, 68 percent of the women who received the real acupuncture still reported a 30 percent or more reduction in pain. In the sham acupuncture group only 32 percent reported this level of lessened pain a week later as did only 18 percent of the control group. The study was published in the September 2009 American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.


Green Tea for Pneumonia Protection

Japanese women who drink even a little bit of green tea seem to have a lower risk of developing pneumonia, and those who drink five or more cups per day may be able to cut their risk by 47 percent. These findings are from a study published in the September 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The researchers also found that drinking a single cup of green tea daily cut the risk of dying from pneumonia by 41 percent. But these results apply only to Japanese women, not men. Even with the gender differences, the investigators noted that their findings support the hypothesis that compounds in green tea can destroy or inhibit the growth of viruses and other microorganisms that cause pneumonia. This was a big study that followed more than 19,000 men and more than 21,000 women for more than 12 years. The participants' ages ranged from 40 to 79. The researchers saw the benefits in women (but not men) after controlling for age, physical function, smoking status and other health and dietary factors that might influence the risk of pneumonia.



Pesticides and Parkinson's

Evidence linking Parkinson's disease to pesticide exposure is growing stronger, and researchers are now zeroing in on which pesticides pose the greatest risk. This year alone, three separate studies suggested an association between Parkinson's and pesticides. The latest, published in the September 2009 issue of the Archives of Neurology, found that 8.5 percent of 519 Parkinson's patients participating reported exposure to pesticides, compared to 5.3 percent of 511 people who didn't have the disease. Of the eight pesticides the investigators examined, three were linked to a threefold increase in Parkinson's. They were an organic acid (2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic), the herbicide paraquat and the insecticide permethrin. Laboratory studies have shown that all three have effects on the brain cells affected by Parkinson's. Earlier this year, a French study reported that farm workers who used insecticides had a two-fold increased risk of Parkinson's, and a study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found detectable levels of the pesticide hexachlorocyclohexane (beta-HCH) in 76 percent of Parkinson's test subjects compared with 40 percent of healthy controls and 30 percent of Alzheimer's patients.


Why We Overeat

After fatty foods pass your lips and before they settle on to your hips, they go to your brain. And that may be an important clue to why - and when - we're prone to overeat.

Research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas suggests that when certain molecules of saturated fat reach the brain, they interrupt signals (from the hormones leptin and insulin) that normally suppress appetite after we've eaten. The culprit most responsible is palmitic acid, a saturated fat found in foods such as butter, cheese, milk and beef. Absent this signal from the brain that we've had enough, we keep eating. The signaling disruption lasts about three days, the investigators said. They looked at the effects of fat on animals' brains by feeding them palmitic acid, monounsaturated fatty acid and oleic acid, an unsaturated fat found in olive and grapeseed oils. The only fat that sabotaged leptin and insulin signals was palmitic. The study was published in the September 2009 issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation. Other new research showed that we tend to eat less when with a heavy friend who eats large portions and more when we're with a thin friend who eats a lot, suggesting social signals also influence patterns of eating. That study was published online on August 25, 2009 in the Journal of Consumer Research.


Brown Rice Soup With Asparagus

This soup is chunky and thick with vegetables and rice so it can stand on its own with no real need for a side dish. And it's healthy. I serve soups with a warm baguette.

Food as Medicine: Asparagus is among the richest food sources of folate, which helps to keep blood levels of homocysteine, an amino acid, in check. High homocysteine levels have been linked to atherosclerosis.


3/4 cup brown rice  
1/4 cup wild rice
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
1 bunch asparagus
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 celery stalks, chopped fine (about 2⁄3 cup) 
1/2 onion, chopped fine (about 1⁄3 cup)
1 small carrot, chopped fine (about 1⁄3 cup)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons minced scallions or green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon natural soy sauce (such as tamari)
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Parsley sprigs


  1. Put the rice with the salt in 3 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed, about 45 minutes.
  2. Trim the tough ends off the asparagus stalks and discard. Steam the asparagus until tender yet crisp, about 2 minutes. Drain it in a colander, then rinse under cold water. Let the asparagus cool for a few minutes. When completely cooled, cut into 1-inch pieces, reserving 1⁄4 cup of tips for garnish.
  3. Coat the bottom of a large pot with the olive oil. Add the celery, onion, carrot, and thyme. Cover and cook over low heat for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender.
  4. Add the vegetable stock and cooked rice and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool a bit.
  5. Carefully transfer small batches to a blender and blend until smooth. Return all the blended mixture to a pot. Stir in the asparagus, scallions, parsley, soy sauce, pepper sauce, and ground pepper.
  6. Return to a simmer for 2 minutes. Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved asparagus tips and parsley sprigs.

Our Children: Do Sweets Promote Adult Violence?

Too many sweets for children may promote adult violence. Sound far-fetched? The British researchers who found the link between giving kids daily sweets - candy and chocolate - and violent behavior when the youngsters grow up suggest that the "instant gratification" of treats on demand may teach kids that impulsiveness pays off, and perhaps foster aggression later in life. This was a large study with more than 17,000 participants; data on their health, education, social and economic circumstances and consumption of sweets was collected when the kids were five and 10 years old and later when they were 26, 30, 34 and 42. The study showed that of the participants who had eaten sweets daily as children 69 percent had violent tendencies by the age of 34, while these behaviors were seen in only 42 percent of those who didn't get daily sweets. While the researchers said that their findings need further attention, they suggested that improving youngsters’ diet may enhance their health and make them less prone to aggression. The study was published in the October 2009 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.