Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall Foods #2 - Nourishing Dry Skin

Fall air and wind dries out the mucus membranes of the nasal passages, lungs, and even the eyes. With this climate change, our skin also gets dried out, especially with the colder nights.

In addition, protecting the lungs from dryness is a first line of defense against catching colds. Adequate moisture in the mucosa makes them slippery. When the nasal mucosa is dry, it is much easier for the Rhino viruses that cause colds to attach and get into the blood stream.

The most common kitchen medicine in Chinese Medicine are pears. Pears are cooling and moistening. Bite into a ripe pear. Compare with a ripe apple. Apples tend to be crisper and are astringent. Pears have a viscous quality that helps moisten the lungs (especially the pear skin). In addition they have a very cool energy, like cucumbers.

Asian pears are great when cooked.  They are commonly boiled with licorice root for dry cough in Korea and with a kind of barley called Job's Tears in China. You can just boil a pear or two, and when cooked, add some honey, which also moistens the lungs, and drink the liquid. I like to add saffron and cardamom to mine. Afghanis make a wonderful cooked pear dish.
Other Foods For Moistening:

Persimmons are a wonderful Fall fruit. They are mild and light, help to dissolve phlegm, and reinforce the digestive energy. Persimmons are especially good when there is a heat condition in the lungs with cough.

Almonds reinforce the lung Qi and Yin. They are a Sattvic food in Ayurveda, which means they balance all the doshas and create harmony. Try Persimmon muffins with almonds and saffron.

Turnips strengthen Lung Qi, and Tremella mushrooms benefit the Yin (moistening). Try Miso soup with turnips and Tremella mushrooms. If you suffer from digestive system dampness (thick or greasy tongue coat), eat your Miso soup with cooked Job's Tear's barley, and avoid or eliminate wheat and gluten. This can be critical for people with allergies and Asthma.

Lotus Rhizome is also good for the Lungs. It is very healing to lung tissue and helps alleviate damp cough. You can buy it at any Asian grocery. Try juicing it with pears and a little ginger root. It looks funny and has a mild taste. Also excellent in soups and stews.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Fall Foods - White Vegetables

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, autumn is a time for eating white vegetables. White vegetables contain isothiocyanates, which support the immune system and protects against the development of various ailments.

1. Cauliflower: Cauliflower is a cruciferous vegetable, and belongs to the same family of plants as that of broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Cauliflower possesses high concentrations of fiber, vitamins C and B6, and folate. Along with the presence of isothiocyanates, cauliflower also has a high concentration of glucosinolates, which are key to cauliflower's anti-cancer properties. Along with treating low immune function, it is helpful to incorporate cauliflower into the diet when treating sinus problems, constipation, and conditions of the skin such as warts.

2. Cabbage: Cabbage, like cauliflower, is a cruciferous vegetable, and therefore possesses many of the same healing and nutritional properties. Cabbage is commonly associated with its high concentrations of vitamin C. It also contains the amino acid glutamine, which has been revealed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Along with treating immune-related conditions such as cold and flu, cabbage can also help anyone looking to treat acne, allergies, hives, constipation, arthritis, bronchitis, and yeast overgrowth.

3. Turnips: Turnips are a root vegetable that are typically grown in temperate climates. Turnips are packed with vitamin C. And turnip greens contain vitamins A and K as well as folate, calcium, and lutein. Turnips treat immune-related conditions such as bronchitis, and other conditions such as incontinence, flatulence, and symptoms of jet lag. Lightly steam the greens for a healthy side dish. As for the bulb, cut and sauté or boil and mash.

4. Garlic: Garlic is a pungent, spicy herb that has bulbs, leaves, stems, and flowers that are edible. It is generally anti-bacterial in nature, and is used as an antiseptic and a remedy for infections. It is used for digestive disorders and as a treatment for intestinal worms. It is also used to prevent heart disease, lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, regulate blood sugar levels, prevent diabetes-related conditions, treat allergies, reduce arthritis, counteract bone loss, and to treat ailments related to cancer.

As we get into the cooler months of autumn, there is an abundance of white vegetables to enjoy. So stay healthy and Stock up! With all that being said, the most important thing is to enjoy eating new foods and preparing them in new ways. Go forth and explore the abundance of food available to enjoy!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

How the Heck do I Eat Flax?

If you read my previous blog post you are probably excited to get more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.  Flax  is one of the best vegetarian sources of the "good fats" and it is generally very cheap to buy.  The problem is, after you've got that 1 lb bag of organic flax home from the store, what next?

Yes, flax is a bit tricky to consistently consume.  The easiest way to do this is get a flax oil supplement in capsule form and take 2 grams, 2 times a day.   Omega-3 supplement oils will have measured amounts of EPA and DHA listed on the bottle - look for the maximum amount of these components from a good brand.  A fish oil supplement serves the same purpose as flax oil but is often a bit more expensive.

Although taking a capsule supplement is easier, I encourage people to buy whole flax seeds and get creative with it in your recipes.  Not only is whole flax an incredibly cheap way to get omega-3's, you also get the added bonus of both soluble and insoluble fiber in the shell of those tiny little seeds.

Here's a basic recipe to make basic flax "gel":
  • Buy whole or ground flax seeds.  Store the bag in the fridge to prevent spoilage.
  • If you buy whole flax seeds they will keep longer, but they will also need to be ground up before use.  A coffee grinder is great for this job.
  • Place ground flax in a small container with a lid (ideally glass) and add enough water to cover the seeds.
  • Let the mixture sit for at least 15 minutes.  After about 15 minutes, water and flax will form an amazing "gel" that can be used in a variety of ways.
  • You can add flax "gel" to salads or salad dressings, mix it with nut butters or just eat it alone.  Yes, you will have to get a bit creative here, but that is part of the fun!  It even tastes good alone (although a bit bland).
  • Refrigerate the flax gel in an airtight container.  The gel will stay fresh in the fridge for the next 2-3 days.

With all that being said, the most important thing is to enjoy eating new foods and preparing them in new ways.  Go forth and explore the abundance of food available for you to enjoy on this planet!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Eat Good Fats, Drink Good Wine

Sounds easy huh?  Eating "Good Fats" and drinking "Good Wine" to stay healthy...  These are two of the best things in life, so I invite you to enjoy them!  Fat is, indeed, the "Vehicle of Taste".  It is the substance that gives food a full flavor in the mouth and a satisfying feeling in the belly.  And wine, well, it tastes wonderful, makes you feel good and has some healthy effects to boot.  Read on and discover how eating more fat can keep you healthy.

The age of the "low-fat diet" is over and research is showing that a healthy diet is not found in reducing fat, instead, it should be based on eating the right fats.  The standard American diet is loaded with saturated animal fats and processed vegetable fats.  These types of fats and oils have the potential to cause a host of health problems that most of us have heard about - including atherosclerosis, high blood pressure and others.  The good fats, however, have the complete opposite effect on the body.  Good fats protect against atherosclerosis, lower blood pressure and have a whole range of additional benefits.  In fact, the good fats can even make you thinner - Take that, low-fat diet!

So how do we get the "Good Fats" then?  The simple answer is to eat unprocessed foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.  Some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and coldwater fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, sturgeon, and anchovies.  One key to getting the best health benefit from these delicate fats is to make sure that they are as fresh as possible and not exposed to heat.  For these omega-3 fatty acids, as with most "real" food, heat, air and light are the main causes of spoilage Keep this in mind when cooking a nice piece of salmon or buying flax seeds:  To preserve the health benefits, cook salmon lightly with a bit of fresh ginger & eat your flax seeds raw and grind them just before use for the maximum benefit (see next article on flax seeds).

The benefits of omega-3s include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system and help protect us from an array of illnesses including Alzheimer's disease.  "It not only plays a vital role in the health of the membrane of every cell in our body, it also helps protect us from a number of key health threats," says Laurie Tansman, MS, RD, CDN, a nutritionist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.
As for wine, not nearly as much needs to be said.  Just buy a nice bottle of red and enjoy a glass in the evening as you put your feet up and take a deep breath... Everything in moderation, right?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Very often, pain and other discomforts of the body can be reduced greatly by making simple dietary changes. Modern research has established a link between inflammation and a host of chronic disease and pain syndromes.  Reducing inflammation throughout the body starts with eating more consciously and moving away from the basic American processed and carbohydrate-heavy diet.

Basic Points:
  • Cooked vegetables are the "main course" of a balance meal. Choose whatever vegetables you enjoy, but try to limit ones in the "nightshade family": eggplant, tomato, bell pepper and white potato.  Nightshade vegetables contain some toxins that may be pro-inflammatory in many people.
  • Reduce or eliminate refined grains like white flour, white potato and white rice.
  • Reduce or eliminate refined sugars and corn syrups.
  • Consider cutting out wheat flour all-together.  When wheat flour is eliminated you will be forced to eat more consciously.  Better dietary choices will naturally result.
  • Eat small servings of nutrient-dense carbs like quinoa and oats.
  • Each meal should have balanced amounts of fat, protein & fiber.  By balancing a meal this way you will not ride the "sugar spike roller-coaster" in the hours after the meal.
  • Anti-inflammatory "superfoods" should be part of your daily diet: ginger, turmeric, flax seeds, fish, berries, beans, seeds, etc.
  • Fruits are best eaten alone.  They do not need to stay in the stomach for very long, so eating them after a meal will impair digestive function.
  • Eat limited amounts of dairy products, especially those high in saturated fat.
  • Eat the "good fats" - "good fats" will actually make you lose weight!  These include: olive oil, avocados, flax, fish and fish oils, almonds, sesame and more...  Good fats should be cooked very lightly or not at all.  In general, the more fats are cooked, the less health benefits they have.
  • Avoid "bad fats".  These fats are over-cooked, hydrogenated and saturated fats.  Hydrogenated fats and fried oils are the worst possible fats and have been linked to various disease processes.

With all that being said, the most important thing is to enjoy eating new foods and preparing them in new ways.  Explore the abundance of food available for you to enjoy on this planet.  There is more to life than eating burgers and fries!
More information is available here.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Foods for Healthy Hair

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) hair loss or premature gray hair often reflects an underlying problem in the body. Hair, according to TCM, reflects the quality of blood and the strength of the kidneys. Keeping hair healthy for a lifetime is generally a balance between eating the right foods, sleeping well and keeping stress in check.  Some foods that strengthen the blood and kidneys to nourish hair are: black sesame seeds, hijiki seaweed, black beans, mulberry fruit, Chinese dates and royal jelly.

In addition to food sources, Chinese herbs have a long history of rejuvenating hair.  One such herb called "He shou wu" (Polygonum multiflorum) can be used long-term to strengthen and re-grow hair. The literal translation of the name he shu wu is "black-haired Mr. He" refering to the Chinese legend where Mr. He returned from living in the woods for some time, and his grey hair had turned to black. As it turned out, Mr. He had been consuming this herb to survive.  There are quite a few additional herbs that encourage hair growth, but "he shou wu" is the best know herb to restore hair color and nourish the skin, hair, teeth and nails.

As with most conditions in TCM, Chinese herbal medicine is best applied while considering the person's constitutional pattern.  By addressing a person's underlying constitution, the effects of any herbs or dietary change will be greatly increased.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Natural Prevention for Colds and Flu

If it's not cold & flu season, so why are there so many people getting sick lately?  There seems to be a potent little virus "going around", so it is best to be prepared.  Here are some obvious and some not-so-obvious tips on the topic:

The Obvious:
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.  Be especially sure that you wash your hands before touching your eyes or face.
  • Get plenty of sleep and a moderate amount of exercise to keep your immune system up.
  • Eat your fruits and veggies and keep dietary intake of refined sugar low.  Keep in mind that refined carbohydrates (like breads) act in the same way as white sugar in your body.  When blood sugar goes up in an uncontrolled manner your immune system does not function as effectively.

The Less Obvious:
  • Don't share drinks with others.  Even during healthy times, people carry a whole host of viruses with them.  This is completely normal as most of these latent viruses are not causing illness, meaning the body has developed immunity from their effects.  In the US, our social standard is that friends and family are automatically "safe" to share drinks with; This is only true, however, if your friends and family have identical immune systems and antibodies as you do.
  • Even in the summer, you may be hit by some chilly air.  A blast of cold air could come in the form of air conditioning or a evening temperature drop.  In either case, when body temperature drops immune response drops as well.  Consider carrying a light jacket or scarf with you if you think there's a chance of a cold blast coming your way.
  • Incorporate some form of "active relaxation" into your daily life.  This could be a yoga or meditation practice or just taking some time to breath and listen (watching TV doesn't count as "active relaxation"!).

Chinese Medicine Help:

If you feel like you are starting to get sick, it is always best to act quickly.  A hot tea made with fresh ginger, mint and honey is a good start.  In addition, you may consult your herbalist to get an herbal formula that is best for you based on your current symptoms.  There are a variety of herbal formulas available for colds and flu, so it is important to select the best one for each specific case.

Lastly, If you get hit by every cold & flu bug that comes around, this may indicate a lowered immune system.  If adhering to the tips given above does not seem to change the pattern then you may benefit from an herbal and/or acupuncture approach.  There are a variety of natural herbs and time-tested herbal formulas that are effective to keep the immune system functioning at optimal levels.  Acupuncture also improves immune response if done regularly.