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A Note on Bell Peppers

Available in appetizing colors including green, yellow, orange, red and black, bell peppers are a crunchy, refreshing way to add aesthetic appeal and nutrients to your meals. A low-calorie vegetable, bell peppers are excellent sources of vitamins A and C and provide dietary fiber, folic acid and vitamin B6. Plus, if you choose red bell peppers, you will be getting lycopene, an important carotenoid that helps protect against prostate and other cancers.


Yoga for a Bad Back

Iyengar yoga can help to relieve low back pain. New evidence from West Virginia University suggests that Iyengar training not only eased back pain and improved mobility, it also reduced symptoms of depression among study participants who had been suffering with lower back pain for more than three months. Researchers divided 90 patients into two groups - one group attended two yoga classes per week for 24 weeks while the other group received the usual care for back pain, which included medication. After 24 weeks, the yoga group reported less pain and less disability than the "usual care" group and scored better on a standard measure of depression symptoms. In addition, six months after the study ended, patients in the yoga group were still doing better, on average. Iyengar yoga stresses proper body alignments and uses props including blocks, blankets and walls to support participants in performing yoga poses. If you decide to try it, be sure to find a certified instructor who is experienced in therapeutic Iyengar yoga, the research leader advised. The study was published in the September 2009 issue of Spine.


Healthy Holiday Drinks

The best way to minimize empty calories this holiday is to limit sugary and alcoholic drinks, or avoid them all together (yesterday I talked about unhealthy holiday drinks). But that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy traditional beverages, just be sure to moderate your intake of sugars and alcohol, and drink water between cocktails to keep hydrated. The following drinks are lower-calorie holiday options when you want something sweet or alcoholic.

  1. Sparkling non-alcoholic punch. The calories can vary, but most holiday punch can easily be diluted with additional sparkling water to reduce calories and sugars. If you are making your own punch at home, use unsweetened cranberry juice concentrate.
  2. Red wine. The antioxidant activity of red wine has been linked to heart health benefits, reduced stress, and even preserving memory. Limit yourself to a six-ounce glass, which typically has about 120 calories.
  3. Hot toddy. A combination of lemon, honey, cinnamon, cloves and brandy, this beverage has between 100 and 150 calories and provides some vitamin C thanks to the lemon juice.
  4. Champagne. This celebratory drink has about 90 calories in a four-ounce glass. 

Unhealthy Holiday Drinks

With the holiday season beginning in North America, parties and gatherings are sure to be part of your social calendar. You can help minimize empty calories this holiday season with our list of unhealthy drinks to avoid.

Eggnog: Made with milk, cream, sugar, and eggs, eggnog can pack up to 460 calories in an 8-ounce serving - not including added alcohol. Think of it as an indulgent dessert, and limit yourself to one glass during the holidays; sip it slowly to savor the taste.

Other beverages with alcohol: Watch your overall alcohol consumption during the holidays, as its calories can add up after just a few glasses. Be especially aware of beverages that contain added sugars, creams and other unhealthy fats, such as:

  • White Russians. This cream-and-Kahlua concoction can have as much as 350 calories in a six-ounce serving.
  • Hot buttered rum. Hot melted butter, rum and brown sugar make this holiday classic top out at 350 calories per eight-ounce serving.
  • Tom and Jerry. A hot version of eggnog, this combination of eggs, milk, rum and spices has between 340 and 460 calories per eight-ounce serving.

(Tomorrow I'll cover healthier options!)


Eating to Keep Your Mind Sharp

The more antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables in your diet, the greater your chances of keeping your wits about you as you get older. German researchers in collaboration with investigators at Temple University in Philadelphia and Italy's Perugia University looked at the relationship between fruit and vegetable intake, antioxidant status and cognitive performance in 193 healthy men and women aged 45 to 102. Those who ate the most fruits and vegetables (400 grams or about 14 ounces per day), had higher plasma antioxidant levels, lower indicators of free-radical damage and better cognitive performance than healthy subjects regardless of age who consumed less than 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) of fruits and vegetables daily. The findings were independent of factors that can influence antioxidant and cognitive status including age, gender, body mass index, education level, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and levels of the liver protein albumin that can indicate liver or kidney disease. The study was published in the August, 2009, issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


4 Vegetarian Holiday Dish Ideas

I have long advised people to eat less animal protein as a strategy to lower their intake of saturated fats and avoid environmental toxins. While traditional holiday meals are centered around meat-based entrées, eating habits are evolving and people understand that less meat is better for their health. This year, consider serving a vegetarian holiday meal - or at the very least, provide some of these options for your vegetarian friends and family members. Try the following healthy tweaks this holiday season.

  1. Put the emphasis on familiar meatless dishes - mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, steamed vegetables and crisp green salads are already staples at many holiday meals - make these the stars of the dinner!
  2. Swap out vegetable broth for chicken stock in dishes that call for it. You can also look for vegetarian versions of “chicken” and "beef" stock for side dishes such as gravy and wild rice casserole.
  3. Substitute beans, legumes and other protein-rich plant-based foods for meat in recipes. Tempeh and other whole soy products such as tofu or edamame are also good sources of vegetable protein.
  4. Try new types of cuisine. Celebrate other cultures by incorporating dishes from around the world - many ethnic cuisines offer meat-free entrees, and you may not miss the meat when you have new flavors to entice you!

3 Steps to Choosing Healthy Cereal

Even if you avoid the brightly colored boxes of sugarcoated kids' cereals, you may not be picking the healthiest breakfast options. Sugars, calories and fats can be hidden in many cereals - including those that are marketed as "healthy." Consider the following when choosing cereals:

Sugars: Choose varieties with eight grams of sugar or less per serving. Be aware that cereals with dried fruits provide additional sugar that can quickly add up. Instead of dried fruit, add fresh, whole fruit to your cereal.

Fiber: Aim for at least three grams of fiber per serving. The words whole grain and whole wheat are not always good indicators that fiber content will be substantial, especially if they appear as flour on the ingredient panel. Some healthful choices are steel-cut oats, bran and wheat germ cereals, and whole grain cereals with actual bits of grain and no added sugars.

Fats: Avoid any product that contains trans-fats, and choose cereals that have less than one gram of saturated fat. Be aware that granola, regarded by many as the quintessential health food, can pack plenty of unhealthy fats - and sugars - so read labels carefully before buying. 


Cancer Survival and the Benefits of Staying Married

Whether you're married, divorced or single seems to make a difference to your chances of surviving cancer. Odds appear best if you're married - or have never been married - and worst if you're separated from your spouse. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine looked at the medical records of nearly 3.8 million cancer patients to examine how marital status influenced the odds of cancer survival. They found that only 36.8 percent of separated individuals lived for 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer compared to 57.5 percent of married patients. Of those widowed, cancer survival for 10 years was 41 percent; for the divorced, 45.6 percent and for those never married 51.7 percent.

So why did married patients fare so well and separated spouses so poorly?

Here's an interesting and powerful example of how emotional health influences physical health. The explanation that seems to make the most sense goes back to what we already know about marriage: in general, it's good for your health. However, stress engendered by marital conflict, especially conflict that leads to a break-up, can undermine health.

Commenting on the findings, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, director of the Ohio State University College of Medicine's Division of Health Psychology noted that research has shown that stress and depression can boost inflammation which in turn can worsen cancer and, by extension, the outlook for survival. The study was published on line on August 24, 2009, in the journal Cancer.