Monday, December 26, 2011

Get Smart! 5 Healthy Brain Foods

Adding these smart foods to your diet can increase your chances of maintaining a healthy brain.

Blueberries - To help protect your brain from stress or age-related conditions, add at least 1 cup of blueberries a day - fresh, frozen or freeze-dried.

Wild Salmon - Salmon contains lots of omega-3s which are essential for brain function.

Nuts and Seeds - Walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds are just some of the nuts that should be added to your diet for good sources of vitamin E, which may protect against cognitive decline.

Avocados - The healthy fat in avocado contributes to healthy blood flow to the brain and can also help lower blood pressure.

Tumeric - The yellow spice found in many curries, contains curcumin, which also has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It may even prove useful in treating Alzheimer's; one study showed a reduction in beta amyloid deposits, the plaques associated with the disease. In another study, elderly people who ate curry often or very often did better on tests of mental performance than those who never or rarely ate curry.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

12 Probiotic Foods

Give your stomach the gift of life by adding more probiotics to your diet. These live form types of bacteria improve the balance of intestinal microflora. Sounds delicious, doesn't it? Probiotics are beneficial because they aid in digestion and in the production of certain B vitamins. But if you don't want to add another pill to your daily supplement regimen, you can find probiotics on your plate. Check out these foods that have probiotics in them:
  1. Yogurt
  2. Fermented tea (Kombucha tea)
  3. Miso soup
  4. Soy milk
  5. Kefir
  6. Sauerkraut
  7. Dark chocolate
  8. Microalgae
  9. Pickles
  10. Tempeh
  11. Kimchi
  12. Olives

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer - The Season of Fire

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tells us that the summer season belongs to fire, one of the five elements. Fire is symbolic of maximum activity or greatest yang, which means that it is a time of heat, outgoingness, and moving outward in nature and in our lives. In human anatomy, the heart, mind, and spirit are ruled by the fire element. Thus, top priority should be given to the heart, mind, and spirit for staying healthy in summer.  Here is a summary of the Summer Season:
  • Element: Fire
  • Color: Red
  • Nature: Yang
  • Organs: Heart, Small Intestine
  • Emotion: Joy 
Basically, in Summer: Live Life to the Fullest!

When the fire element is in balance, the heart is strong and healthy, the mind is calm and sleep is sound.  When the fire element is imbalanced, we may either lack joy (depression) or have an excess of joy (mania). Indicators of an imbalance in the fire element include agitation, nervousness, heartburn, and insomnia.

Tips for Summer Health

To prevent summer ills and remain in harmony with the environment of summer, ancient Chinese physicians advised:

    Awaken earlier in the morning.
    Go to bed later in the evening.
    Rest at midday.
    Drink plenty of fluids.
    Add pungent flavors to your diet.
    Refrain from anger; keep calm and even-tempered.

In summer, indigestion can easily occur, so a light and less-greasy diet is strongly recommended. It is the perfect season to introduce some cool, yin foods into your diet. Chinese nutrition classifies food according to its energetic qualities of temperature, taste, and ability to moisten and strengthen the body. Food with cool and cold properties can clear heat, reduce toxins, and generate body fluids.

In general, cooling foods tend towards the green end of the spectrum - lettuce, cucumbers, and watercress are some of the coolest. Few vegetables are warming. Fish and seafood are also cooling, while most meats are warming.  Here are some suggestions to keep you cool and balanced all summer long. These fruits and vegetables will help your body adjust its temperature and protect you during the long, hot summer days:

Watermelon, Apricot, Lemon, Peach, Asparagus, Sprouts, Bamboo, Bok choy, Broccoli, Chinese cabbage, Corn, Cucumber, White mushroom, Snow peas, Spinach, Summer squash, Watercress, Seaweed, Mung means, Cilantro, Mint, Dill

Other helpful tips for the summer season 
  • Keep a pitcher of water with slices of lemon and cucumber with you and sip it throughout the day. 
  • Eat in moderation. Over consumption of any food, especially cooling foods, can lead to indigestion, sluggishness and possibly diarrhea. 
  • Do not leave your food out for too long. The hot weather tends to increase food spoilage. 
  • Stay away from dairy, heavy, greasy, and fried foods.

Get Acupuncture treatments - Acupuncture has been found to be helpful with all types of emotional and mental disorders, from stress and anxiety to insomnia.  An acupuncture point named "Yintang", located between the eyebrows, is sometimes used for such treatments.  Call your acupuncturist and experience a summer of joy and movement!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Guide to Natural and Artificial Sweeteners

At this point, it's common knowledge that high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugar are bad for us. But given all the marketing hype behind different "natural" alternatives, it's hard to know which ones really are the best sweeteners. Complicating matters, new studies, like one just published in the journal of Cancer Research, are finding that fructose, a sugar found in high-fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, and, in small amounts, even in fruit, actually feeds some cancers. But don't give up apples and oranges, or even honey, based on a single study. "Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables - things like berries, green apples, grapefruit, needed to feed beneficial microflora in the gut for a healthy immune system," explains Donna Gates, who led the movement to bring stevia, a natural sweetener, into this country more than a decade ago. "That's why nature put a little bit of sugar in fruits and vegetables. It keeps the ecosystem alive in us," she says, adding that the small amounts of fructose in fruits and vegetables are balanced with minerals, vitamins, and other vital nutrients. "Our body reads it differently," she notes.Fruits and vegetables provide a perfect sugar fix, but when you're in need of a sweetener to add to iced tea, baked goods, or anything else, make sure you know the difference between the good guys and bad guys of the sweetener world. (Some of the not-so-sweet details could leave you gagging.)

Bad Guy #1: Aspartame
There's conflicting evidence regarding the safety of aspartame, a common chemical sweetener used in diet soda and other low-cal or low-sugar goods, but some people report headaches or generally feeling unwell after ingesting anything containing the chemical. To make life easier for everyone, this is one instance where you may want to follow the "better safe than sorry" principle. That's because a University of Liverpool test-tube study found that when mixed with a common food color ingredient, aspartame actually became toxic to brain cells. Making matters worse, aspartame is used in many diet sodas, and studies have found drinking diet soda may increase your risk of developing diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Also of concern with aspartame, researchers have found that one harmful breakdown product is formaldehyde. Sweet? We don't think so.

Bad Guy #2: Agave
While your health food store likely stocks agave sweeteners, it may be best to keep them out of your cart. Many agave nectars consist of 70 to 80 percent fructose - that's more than what's found in high-fructose corn syrup! If you don't want to give up agave, look for types that contain no more than 30 to 40 percent fructose, recommends Christine Gerbstadt, MD, PhD, RD, spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Agave is also very heavily processed in an extremely energy-intensive manner that's similar to the way corn is converted into high-fructose corn syrup.

Bad Guy #3: Sucralose
While sucralose, better known by its brand name, Splenda, may originate with sugar, the end product is anything but natural. It's processed using chlorine, and researchers are finding that the artificial sweetener is passing through our bodies and winding up in wastewater treatment plants, where it can't be broken down. Tests in Norway and Sweden found sucralose in surface water released downstream from treatment discharge sites. Scientists worry it could change organisms' feeding habits and interfere with photosynthesis, putting the entire food chain at risk. The chemically derived artificial sweetener acesulfame K (sold under the brand name Sunett) was also detected in treated wastewater and tap water.

Good Guy #1: Stevia
"We need to be off of sugar, but we need good alternatives, and stevia is the safest sweetener there is, period," says Gates, who coauthored The Stevia Cookbook: Cooking with Nature's Calorie-Free Sweetener (Avery Trade, 2004). All types of stevia are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, but some forms taste better than others, says Gates. People tend to overuse powders, in which the sweetness is really concentrated, so if you've tried powders in the past and didn't like them, try liquid forms, explains Gates, who helped develop a liquid stevia sweetener product. Stevia contains zero calories, but its one downfall is that it doesn't work well for baking. Expect to see more stevia on store shelves, as Coke and Pepsi got the green light to use Truvia (a sweetener made in part from stevia) starting later this year.

Good Guy #2: Sugar alcohols
Popular sugar alcohol sweeteners include xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol, natural sweeteners made through a fermentation process of corn or sugar cane. They contain fewer calories than sweeteners like pure sugar and honey, but more than stevia. They also leave a cooling sensation in the mouth, and have been found to prevent cavities, explains Dr. Gerbstadt. Just don't overdo it - too much can cause GI distress.

Good Guy #3: Organic, raw local honey
While honey does boast higher fructose levels, it also contains a bounty of cancer-defending antioxidants, and local honey has been said to help alleviate allergy symptoms. Don't limit raw honey's use to your tea, either. Use it to speed healing on burns, and as a natural antiseptic on cuts and scrapes. Honey also has a low glycemic index, so adding it to your tea or yogurt won't lead to energy-busting blood sugar drops later in the day.

Good Guy #4: Blackstrap molasses
Although heavy on the calorie content, blackstrap is rich in iron, potassium, and calcium, making it a healthier choice than nutritionally defunct artificial sweeteners or even regular refined sugar, despite the fact that blackstrap and refined sugar both come from sugar cane. (Dr. Gerbstadt says calorie-containing sweeteners are not recommended for people with diabetes.) We like the organic, Fair Trade Certified version of blackstrap molasses from Wholesome Sweeteners.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Foods for High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or  hypertension, is estimated to be responsible for 7+ million deaths every year worldwide.  According to research, Western-style dietary habits are the number one reason for essential hypertension. Think about it: People living in rural areas of China, Brazil, and Africa show no signs of  hypertension, even with advanced age. There are foods that can help this condition and then there are foods that should absolutely be avoided. Read on to find the foods that improve your blood pressure! 

Top 3 Foods to Choose:
You should eat a balanced array of fresh wholesome fruits and vegetables of all colors every day. The foods below will bring your blood pressure extra benefits.

Fish - Of all animal products, fish is the healthiest, owing to its high protein and low fat content. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish, along with other nutrients, protect blood vessels from plaque, reduce inflammation, and prevent high blood pressure. Flaxseeds, like fish, are full of omega-3 fatty acids that protect your blood vessels from plaque.

Celery juice - A time-tested Chinese remedy for high blood pressure is celery juice, which can be made with a blender or a juicer. Two to three 8 oz glasses a day for a month can help prevent high blood pressure or restore it to normal levels. In addition, celery is known to prevent gout and other arthritic conditions. Studies have found that this stalk is packed with over a dozen anti-inflammatory agents, including apigenin, a cox2-inhibiting compound similar to some anti-inflammatory drugs. Who knew celery was more than just a garnish?

Olive oil - Olive oil, long a staple of the Mediterranean diet, has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood lipids and may also lower blood pressure. According to a recent study, "Olive oil intake is inversely associated with both systolic and diastolic blood pressure." Translation: consuming more olive oil is linked with lowered blood pressure. Use olive oil for cooking and on salads.

Top 3 Foods to Avoid - And What to Choose Instead

In general, for healthy blood pressure cut back on salt, caffeine, white flour, alcohol, deep-fried food, nicotine, preservatives, sugars, and artificial flavoring and coloring. Specifically, here are the main offenders to avoid:

Salt - Sodium has long been implicated in chronic ailments such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis. Additionally, recent studies have shown that increased salt intake is proportional to an increase in cancers of the stomach, esophagus, and bladder.

Swap for: Herbs and spices - Your best choices are fennel, garlic, ginger, oregano, black pepper, basil and tarragon, all of which possess active ingredients that are beneficial for hypertension. Vinegar is another flavorful option.

Coffee - For people who don't consume caffeine on a regular basis, caffeine can cause a temporary but sharp rise in blood pressure. Exactly what causes this spike in blood pressure is uncertain. Some researchers have suggested that caffeine narrows blood vessels by blocking the effects of adenosine, a hormone that helps keep them widened. Caffeine may also stimulate the adrenal gland to release more cortisol and adrenaline, which causes your blood pressure to increase.

Swap for: Green tea - Scientific studies point to green tea as a food that can help reverse some of the risk factors associated with heart disease, including high blood pressure and abnormal blood clotting. Much of the research on green tea has been conducted in Japan, where men and women drink a high daily intake of green tea, and also have one of the lowest incidences of heart disease in the world.

Refined Sugar - The average American consumes nearly 240 pounds of sugar per year. Most of the excess sugar ends up being stored as fat in your body, resulting in weight gain and elevating your risk of heart disease and cancer. Sugar makes blood pressure rise, especially in people who are overweight.

Swap for: Honey - Honey contains vitamins and minerals that are lacking in refined table sugar, making it much healthier for you. Instead of refined sweets, go for the natural delicious flavors of fresh fruits and berries.

Turn to nature for support of optimum blood pressure and heart functions. High blood pressure is a condition with serious consequences; don't stop taking any prescribed medications and work with your physician before making drastic changes to your diet.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Get More Greens!

By now, we all know that Greens are some of the healthiest vegetables around. Adding more greens to your natural health diet doesn't just mean lettuce salads. The darkest greens from the garden are loaded with vitamins and minerals. To soften their flavors a little, add a bit of sweetness or acidity when cooking. Aromatics such as ginger, garlic or shallots also help. Check out these 5 great greens:

1. Dandelion greens: earthy, nutty flavor with a sharp, tart bite. Use them wilted in a warm salad, saute for a healthy side with caramelized onions or add to soups, frittatas, pastas and gratins.

2. Bok choy: stalks are crisp and taste similar to cabbage while leaves offer a nutty flavor. It's great for stir fry dishes and may also be sauteed.

3. Rainbow chard: although each color has a slightly different taste, it most resembles spinach with a hint of beets. Saute for use in stuffing, egg dishes or as a topping for crostini.

4. Collard greens: mild and earthy with a nutty finish. They need to be cooked either very quickly or very slowly; the leaves are tough and must be braised or stewed to make them tender.

5. Tuscan kale: an earthy, nutty and slightly sweet taste. It's best to braise kale in chicken broth or other liquids, drain well and saute with oil and garlic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring - The Season of Renewal

Spring Season: The long-awaited change of winter to spring. Seeds sprout, flowers open, and the sun warms the earth. There is a sense of renewal, growth and new life all around.  While winter was a time to conserve energy and reduce activity, spring is a time of regeneration, new beginnings, and a renewal of spirit.

The Principle of the Five Elements
The five elements refer to wood, fire, earth, metal, and water in Eastern philosophy. The Principle of the Five Elements (or Five Phases) describes the flow of Qi and the balance of Yin and Yang.

According to the principle, all change in the universe occurs in five distinct stages. Each of these stages is associated with a particular time of year, a specific element in nature, and a pair of organs in the body. This flow of change links together the seasons of the year, aspects of nature, and your body's organs and bodily processes. A practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses this principle to diagnose and treat health problems, linking specific foods, herbs, and acupuncture points to the restoration of Yin, Yang and Qi.

Spring is the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenation for overall health and well-being. As spring is represented by the Wood element and includes the Liver and its complementary organ, the Gallbladder, these two organs are usually the primary targets for springtime cleansing and health regimens.

  • Element: Wood
  • Color: Green
  • Nature: Yang
  • Organs: Liver, Gallbladder
  • Emotion: Anger

Liver Qi Stagnation - According to the philosophy of Chinese medicine, the Liver is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body and smoothing our emotions. Anger, irritability and frustration are all signs that our Qi is not flowing smoothly. This is referred to as Liver Qi Stagnation, one of the most common imbalances treated by TCM practitioners.  To counter-balance this, the positive qualities of a strong Liver and Wood element are: Growth, Generation, Generosity and Planning.

Put Some Spring into Your Step:

Spring corresponds to the "Wood" element, which in turn is conceptually related to the liver and gallbladder organs. As mentioned above, Chinese Medicine states the liver is responsible for the smooth flowing of Qi (energy) throughout the body. When the liver functions smoothly, physical and emotional activity throughout the body also runs smoothly. So, for optimum health this spring, move your Qi!

Stretch - The liver controls the tendons. According to Chinese medicine, the liver stores blood during periods of rest and then releases it to the tendons in times of activity, maintaining tendon health and flexibility. Incorporate a morning stretch into your routine. Try yoga or tai qi.

Eye Exercises - The liver opens into the eyes. Although all the organs have some connection to the health of the eyes, the liver is connected to proper eye function. Remember to take breaks when looking at a computer monitor for extended periods of time and do eye exercises.

Eat Green - Green is the color of the liver and of springtime. Eating young plants - fresh, leafy greens, sprouts, and immature cereal grasses - can improve the liver's overall functions and aid in the movement of qi.

Taste Sour - Foods and drinks with sour tastes are thought to stimulate the liver's qi. Put lemon slices in your drinking water, use vinegar and olive oil for your salad dressing. Garnish your sandwich with a slice of dill pickle.

Do more outdoor activities - Outside air helps liver qi flow. If you have been feeling irritable, find an outdoor activity to smooth out that liver qi stagnation. Try hiking or take up golf.

Enjoy dandelion or milk thistle tea - Dandelion and milk thistle both help protect liver cells from incoming toxins and encourage the liver to cleanse itself of damaging substances.  The liver is strained by consuming items such as alcohol, medications, pesticides, environmental toxins, and even heavy metals such as mercury.

Get Acupuncture treatments - Acupuncture and Oriental medicine can help improve the overall health of your liver as well as treat stress, anger and frustration, which are often associated with liver qi disharmony.  Seasonal acupuncture treatments just four times a year can serve to balance the inner organ systems and can correct minor annoyances before they become serious problems. Call an acupuncturist near you to stay healthy this spring!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Feeling Good Starts in the Gut

Some say that our "second brain" is the digestive tract, so yes, it may be true that feeling good starts in the gut.  Now that the holiday season is past, you may notice that the last month put stress on various body systems: immune, emotional and of course digestive. Here are some easy ways to rebuild and restore your digestive process:
  • Take probiotics - Probiotics are the "good bacteria" in your gut that are essential for optimal health. Some probiotics are found naturally in our food, but most of us need an extra supplement to adequately populate the digestive tract. Good sources include: Kombucha, yogurt and probiotic supplements (best brands: Jarrow & PB8).
  • Eat cooked foods instead of raw foods - Cooking foods makes less work for your stomach - it warms food both physically and chemically. A variety of cooked vegetables should be the mainstay of your diet. This knowledge is backed by thousands of years of medicinal food knowledge (Chinese and Ayruvedic Medicine systems). Some percentage of raw foods may be appropriate for you; The greater your "digestive fire", the better you may be able to metabolize raw foods.
  • Eat room temperature and up - Your digestive organs work best when warm.  Digestive enzymes can only work in a certain temperature range, so cold foods will inactivate those enzymes. This advice goes for fluids too - try to drink room temperature or warm drinks instead of cold ones.
  • Relax while you eat - Eating any meal should involve sitting down and nothing else. Your body needs all it's energy to digest in an efficient way, so moving around, working or being involved in a highly stimulating mental activity is not ideal.
  • Chew - Many people do not chew their food! Chewing is the first part of the digestion process and is absolutely critical in the digestion of all food, especially carbohydrates. The enzymes in saliva are there for good reason as they are the first line of attack in breaking down foods.
  • Wait until you are hungry - You body knows when it it is time to eat - your chatty relatives do not.  When you feel the hunger building, this is your sign that the your gut will get the maximum benefit from a warm winter meal.
If you have chronic digestive issues, a Licensed Acupuncturist can help. Acupuncture and herbal medicine are very beneficial for strengthening digestion and reducing pain, gas, bloating or other symptoms of impaired digestion.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

5 "Healthy Foods" That Are Killing Your Diet

Here are five examples of foods that are considered healthy or at least considered good choices for dieting, but that can actually lead to weight gain. The first four options on this list can be part of a healthy, balanced diet, but if you are looking to lose weight or maintain weight loss, you are better off finding alternatives. Losing weight can be easy if you focus on a natural health diet and make lifestyle changes you can stick with. Focus on natural organic foods and avoid processed, ready made foods whenever possible.

Yogurt can be a healthy food in a balanced diet due to it containing probiotics and calcium. However if your goal is weight loss, yogurt may not be the best choice for you. Most store bought yogurt contains high fructose corn syrup and probably somewhere around 20 grams of sugar per serving. Eating two containers of yogurt nearly has the same sugar content as drinking a can of soda. Opt for the light version of yogurt, and you get stuck with artificial sweeteners like aspartame. Tip: Consider the use of a calcium supplement instead of dairy.

Juice is another healthy food that is best used in moderation while trying to lose weight. A 16 oz glass of orange juice has 50+ grams of carbohydrates, the same as 4-5 pieces of bread. Juicing removes the fiber from fruit and you are left with a glass full of fruit sugars. Tip: Try watering down your juice or simply drinking water.

Fat Free Salad Dressing - Salads are a great way to incorporate veggies into your diet. However, fat free salad dressing is not the way to go. Fat is needed by the body to aid in the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals. Also, while the dressing is low in fat, it usually has replaced that with an increase in carbohydrates and sodium. Tip: Make your own salad dressing with organic olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a dijon mustard.

Granola Bars - Despite some good ingredients and a package full of healthy marketing messages, granola bars are often closer to candy bars then a healthy snack. Granola bars often use a few different kind of sweeteners as well as oil to help them stick together. On top of that they often try to put in chocolate, dried fruits or other ingredients high in sugar. Grab a granola bar for a snack and you might end up consuming 30+ grams of sugar, a few hundred calories and somewhere around 8-15 grams of fat. Tip: Don't eat granola bars as a snack, instead use them as a light lunch or breakfast on the go.

Diet Soda - The can may say zero calories, but there are a few reasons why diet soda drinkers gain weight. People think if they skip their regular soda for a diet soda, they can have additional food, which is often worse than the original soda. Also artificial sweeteners have an incredibly sweet taste and leave your body craving other foods that can match their sweetness.