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Oil Change: the essential guide to cooking oils

Oil Change: the essential guide to cooking oils

From sauces to stir-fries, healthy cooking oils are essential ingredients. But overheating these staples can be hazardous. When an oil reaches the temperature at which it begins240_F_13720078_hmP9qxKvBnVZmz1JWQXaqNFcaAfwZ4R7 to smoke, it becomes damaged at a molecular level. In addition to compromising the taste of your food, those damaged molecules also create free radicals in the body that are potentially carcinogenic, given enough time and exposure.

That scary proposition has many health-conscious home cooks relying on high-heat canola oil alone. But any foodie worth his or her salt will say sautéing vegetables in olive oil or using sesame oil for a stir-fry adds a not-to-be-missed flavor complexity.

Can you get good flavor without getting burned? Yes! Use this guide to find the right varieties for all your cooking needs.

Almond Oil
Smoke point: 420°F
The scoop: This high-heat nut oil has a mild flavor and a pale-yellow color. Unrefined varieties have sweeter, nuttier undertones; look for “cold-pressed” on the label. Almond oil is high in heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and vitamin E.
Best uses: Sautéing, roasting, stir-frying, and baking. Use the unrefined variety for salad dressings, and drizzling over finished dishes.

Avocado Oil
Smoke point: 520°F
The scoop: Emerald-green avocado oil has the highest smoke point of any plant oil. It adds a full texture and flavor without leaving foods greasy. Unrefined varieties have a buttery, grassy taste with mushroom undertones. Avoca240_F_11299731_bsLUlRFfXg3HzdemrY9vNJ2r8d7iLtTmdo oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, which can lower harmful LDL cholesterol levels while raising beneficial HDL levels. It also contains vitamin E.
Best uses: Sautéing, roasting, frying, stir-frying, and baking. Unrefined avocado oil adds a luxurious touch to salad dressings and soups, or use it as a dip for bread.

Canola Oil
Smoke point: 400°F
The scoop: Though it’s considered a good source of heart-healthful monounsaturated fats and alpha-linolenic acid, a type of omega-3 fatty acid, canola is still the most controversial of all oils. Developed from the rapeseed plant, a variety of mustard, canola oil has been blamed for everything from glaucoma to Mad Cow disease, though research has failed to substantiate those claims. It’s neutral in flavor, color and aroma; has a high smoke point; and is good for frying. If you do use canola oil, only buy organic varieties to avoid GMOs.
Best uses: Roasting, broiling, baking, sautéing, and stir-frying, or as the base for mayonnaise or salad dressings.

Coconut Oil
Smoke point: 350°F
The scoop: Extracted from the fat-rich flesh of the coconut, this oil has a creamy texture and buttery flavor with caramel undertones. Unrefined varieties have a pronounced coconut taste and aroma; refined versions are more neutral. Though it’s mostly saturated fat (11.8 grams per tablespoon, compared to 1 to 2 grams for most other plant oils), coconut oil may reduce total and LDL cholesterol, while raising beneficial HDL. It’s also high in lauric acid, a compound that has antimicrobial properties. Because many mass-market brands are bleached, deodorized, and chemically extracted during the refining process, look for “expeller-pressed” on the label.
Best uses: Light sautéing, low-temperature stir-frying, and baking. Unrefined coconut oil adds a distinctive Thai or Asian flavor to baked goods. Or use it in smoothies, cookies, and sauces, or mixed with olive oil for a spread.

Grapeseed Oil
Smoke point: 390°F
The scoop: Extracted from the seeds of grapes, usually those used for making wine, this deep green oil has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point, making it a favorite among cooks. Two caveats: grapeseed oil has more omega-6 fats than any other oil. Research suggests that too much omega-6 relative to omega-3 fat promotes inflammation in the body, so use grapeseed oil in moderation. In addition, many grapeseed oils are chemically extracted using solvents such as hexane, so look for expeller-pressed versions, which are free of solvent residues.
Best uses: Roasting, broiling, sautéing, and stir-frying; making homemade mayonnaise; or blending with stronger-flavored oils such as walnut or toasted sesame to soften their flavors.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Smoke point: 320°F
The scoop: With its robust flavor, health benefits, and moderate smoke point, olive oil is a necessity in every kitchen. Extra virgin, from the first pressing, is the highest quality, and has grassy, herbal undertones and a green-gold hue. High in monounsaturated fats and antioxidant polyphenols, it may help protect against cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and inflammation. Because extra virgin olive oil may be adulterated with other oils, choose organic versions.
Best uses: Use extra virgin varieties for dressing salads, dipping bread, drizzling over finished dishes, or marinating kale and other raw vegetables. Pure olive oil— is a blend of refined and virgin olive oils—has a smoke point of 420°F and is best for roasting, broiling, sautéing, and stir-frying.

Sesame Oil
Smoke point: 410°F
The scoop: Distinctly flavored sesame oil adds instant Asian flair to recipes. There are two main types: golden sesame oil, which is pressed from raw sesame seeds; and toasted sesame oil, which is pressed from toasted seeds and has a dark brown color and powerfully nutty flavor. For best quality, choose unrefined cold-pressed sesame oils, and look for those from quality sources.
Best uses: Refined sesame oil works well for roasting, broiling, sautéing, and high-heat stir-frying. Unrefined sesame oil is best for light sautéing, low-heat stir-frying, drizzling over vegetables, adding to cooked brown rice, or in Asian-inspired sauces and dressings. When it comes to toasted sesame oil, a little goes a long way; the flavor is intense, so use sparingly.

Oil Basics
Certain rules apply to all oils. Follow these guidelines for buying and storing.

Refined versus unrefined Refined oils, which are free of tiny impurities that can burn and lower the smoke point, are best for higher-heat cooking. Unrefined oils have a fuller flavor and aroma, but a lower smoke point; reserve them for salad dressings, low-heat sauces, or drizzling over finished dishes.

Packaging Glass bottles help you avoid toxins that may leach into oils from plastic bottles. Dark glass is best; exposure to light can damage oils and destroy antioxidants. Buy smaller bottles, so you’ll use the oil while it’s fresh.

Extraction Most conventional oils are extracted with chemical solvents or high heat; expeller-pressed oils are mechanically extracted. Cold-pressing, a method of expeller pressing that keeps temperatures low during extraction, is best at avoiding damage to the subtle flavors of nut and finishing oils.

Storage To further protect oils from light damage, store them in a cool, dark cupboard away from the stove. To further extend an oil’s shelf life, store it in the refrigerator.

Eat to Beat the Blues

Eat to Beat the Blues

It’s so widespread that doctors and researchers have dubbed depression “The common cold of mental illness.”  In spite of its frequent manifestation, few good treatments have emerged. Now, researchers are finding that the right balance of nutrients, combined with lifestyle changes can effectively treat depression, often better than drugs.

“The brain is, essentially, a chemical factory that constantly produces neurotransmitters–brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine and endorphins that pass messages between nerve cells (neurons) in the brain,” says William Walsh, Ph.D., a leading brain researcher and president of Walsh Research Institute. “The raw materials for these neurotransmitters are in the foods we eat. B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients have powerful effects on brain chemistry, and can often right imbalances that cause mood disorders such as depression. In fact, says Walsh, nutrient the240_F_66273034_X12IYPcNN6zPAecuWIVqqebHTTXgTFkqrapy may well be the best treatment for depression.

Nutrients, like antidepressant medications, work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain—chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, norepinepherine, and endorphins that send messages between nerve cells, called neurons. In order for neurotransmitters to form, the brain needs nutrients, such as amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. If the brain has a shortage of these nutrients, an abnormal number of neurotransmitters can result. For example, vitamin B6 plays a major role in the production of serotonin, which regulates anger, aggression, mood, and metabolism. If vitamin B6 is lacking in your diet, odds are you’ll also be deficient in serotonin.

A multivitamin may not do the trick. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science, says food is often more effective than supplements when it comes to brain health. “In most cases, a balanced and varied diet is the best way to influence brain chemistry,” says Gomez-Pinilla. When good-for-the-brain nutrients are consumed in whole-food form, they work optimally because they’re accompanied by other nutrients and compounds that help the body absorb them better, enhancing their effects.

Even better? If you get these brain-healthy nutrients from food, you’re less likely to exceed safe limits, which is not always the case when taking supplements. For example, overly high doses of folate in supplement form may have secondary effects like causing cardiovascular problems and increasing the risk of colon and breast cancer, says Gomez-Pinilla.

If you suffer from occasional bouts with the blues, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and regular exercise, which further stimulate the brain to produce mood-enhancing neurotransmitters. It’s also important to eat a balanced and varied diet that includes foods packed with these mood-boosting nutrients:

Amino acids help the body produce neurotransmitters that affect your mood. For example, the body uses the amino acid L-tryptophan to make serotonin, and the amino acid L-tyrosine to make norepinephrine. Both are neurotransmitters that positively affect your mood. Find amino acids in: Turkey, cheese, chicken, fish, beans, almonds, avocados, bananas, and pumpkin seeds.

Vitamin B6. The body needs B6 to convert the amino acids mentioned above into neurotransmitters. If it lacks this vitamin, this conversion process will falter, and mood- elevating serotonin levels are likely to drop. Find vitamin B6 in: Beef, tuna, chickpeas, bananas, turkey, and prunes.

Vitamin B12. Another essential vitamin, B12 also plays a role in converting amino acids to those all- important brain neurotransmitters, serotonin and norepinephrine. Vitamin B12 helps the body make SAM-e as well, a compound that’s involved in optimal neurotransmitter production and function. Some studies suggest that low levels of SAM-e can lead to symptoms of depression. Find vitamin B12 in: Clams, oysters, chicken, crab, salmon, turkey, tuna, milk, and eggs.

Folate. An important nutrient, especially for women of childbearing age because of its role in neural tube development in the fetus, folate may be a major factor in forming SAM-e and the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine as well. Research shows that people who suffer from depression almost always have low levels of folate, which causes symptoms of anxiety and in severe cases, schizophrenic behavior. Find folate in: Turkey, lentils, pinto beans, chickpeas, spinach, black beans, asparagus, collards, and turnip greens.

Magnesium. Crucial for the synthesis of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, magnesium is usually lacking in those with depression. In fact, one study reported “rapid recovery from major depression” after treatment with magnesium, and found that magnesium helped relieve the anxiety and insomnia often associated with depression.Find magnesium in: oat bran, halibut, spinach, barley, pumpkinseeds, beans, and artichokes.

Zinc. The brain requires zinc to produce GABA, a compound that eases anxiety and irritability —which often increase in conjunction with depression, says Walsh. A high level of anxiety can exacerbate depression, manifesting in a condition known as anxious depression. Find zinc in: oysters, crab, turkey, lentils, barley, yogurt, and pumpkinseeds.

Vitamin E. This powerful antioxidant keeps nerve cell membranes flexible, says Gomez-Pinella, which allows neurotransmitters to travel between cells seamlessly. If the membrane becomes rigid, signals “bounce off” the exterior of the cell, disrupting the transfer of information. Find vitamin E in: sunflower seeds, almonds, spinach, tomato sauce, turnip greens, hazelnuts, and sweet potatoes.

Omega-3 fats. Like vitamin E, these heart-healthy fats keep nerve cell membranes flexible, says Gomez- Pinilla. Omega-3s also boost oxygen levels in the blood. The extra oxygen increases the body’s ability to convert amino acids into neurotransmitters. Studies show that a deficiency in DHA, a form of omega-3 fat, impedes the transmission of the feel-good brain chemicals serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.Find omega-3 fats in: salmon, sardines, tuna, walnuts, and flaxseeds.

Brain Drains: What to avoid when you’re battling the blues

Diet cola. Aspartame, the chemical sweetener used in diet sodas and other sugar-free foods and beverages, is an excitotoxin: a compound that decreases the efficiency of neurotransmitters in the brain, hampering their ability to transmit information.

Coffee. Overdoing it on the java—more than four or five cups a day—can increase symptoms of depression for some people by blocking serotonin. Try cutting back to no more than a cup in the morning, and see if symptoms improve in a couple of weeks.

Sweets. Just like caffeine, sugar has a powerful effect on neurotransmitter production and brain function. Simple sugars and carbs cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels, creating mood swings, fatigue, and grogginess. Blood sugar imbalances also deplete vitamin B, which can worsen a bad mood. Keep blood sugar steady by eating four or five smaller, protein-based meals throughout the day, and avoid refined sweeteners (including honey and “natural” sweeteners) and simple carbs like bread, pasta, and cereals.

Alcohol. More than two alcoholic beverages a day can worsen symptoms of depression. First, alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, and can slow neurotransmitters. Secondly, alcohol disrupts the REM stage of sleep, which is necessary for serotonin production.

Simply Sad—or Depressed?

We’ve all been blue from time to time, usually in response to stressful or traumatic life situations. A painful divorce, a scary medical diagnosis, or the loss of a job can trigger lack of appetite, insomnia, and a feeling of deep sadness—all symptoms of “minor depression,” a transient and time-limited condition. But if your blues last longer than a few weeks, or if they occur outside the context of a major life change, you may have what’s known as “major depressive disorder,” or MDD. Signs of MDD include sad, anxious, or empty feelings; feelings of hopelessness, guilt, or worthlessness; insomnia; changes in appetite; loss of interest in once-pleasurable activities; and, at the extreme, thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts.

If your sadness seems like more than transient moodiness, or if it’s accompanied by severe changes in sleep, appetite, or behaviors that interfere with your life, contact a health care professional. And if you have any thoughts of suicide, seek immediate medical help. Call the National Suicide Hotlines at 800.784.2433 or 800.273.8255 if you’re in crisis; they can get you the help you need.

Forever Young: the anti-aging diet

Forever Young: the anti-aging diet

You can’t avoid getting older, but the foods you eat play a crucial role in keeping your body healthy and your brain functioning well into your senior years. Researchers and anti-aging experts agree that eating an abundance of antioxidants, monounsaturated fats, and omega-3 fats can help you stay strong, healthy, and looking fabulous through the years. Start with the following 10 foods, all rich in these key nutrients. They’re easy to incorporate into your diet, and they all taste good, too.

1. Berries are packed with polyphenols, antioxidants that we know guard against age-related changes in the brain. Polyphenols work in two major ways. First, they donate an electron to harmful free radicals in the brain, which neutralize240_F_88743776_DB4xQoiHZoQ6yzv0LNQcssLExIrzzJv3s the free radicals and keeps them from causing damage to the brain cell membranes. Second, polyphenols block the body’s production of compounds that cause inflammation, which encourages the formation of amyloid plaques that damage the brain by killing neurons. Cherries, cranberries, and prunes also contain an abundance of these protective polyphenol compounds. 
How much to eat: At least half a cup a day. Try to consume a variety of berries throughout the week, because the body absorbs and uses each of them in slightly different ways.

2. Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and kale contain a chemical compound called diindolylmethane (DIM), which, studies show, protects women against age-related hormonal changes. As we age, the body’s ability to metabolize estrogen tends to decline. DIM helps the body metabolize estrogen into a safer, more usable form, so it becomes protective against breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive organs. Crucifers are also rich in indole-3-carbinol, a potent cancer-preventive nutrient. Research shows that it slows the ability of cancer cells to grow and multiply, and helps keep pre-cancerous cells from developing further. Other cruciferous veggies include cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, and mustard greens.
How much to eat: 1 cup, at least four times a week.

3. Garlic contains a compound called allicin that helps protect the heart in several important ways. Garlic helps lower blood cholesterol, and slows down the development of atherosclerosis and hardening of the arteries by decreasing the thickness of blood. Studies have also shown garlic may help lower blood pressure. Thinner blood and lower blood pressure allow the blood to flow more freely through arteries, making it less likely to cause the tiny tears and other artery damage that eventually results in decreased blood flow to the heart. How much to eat: One raw clove a day, if you can stomach it. Otherwise, toss a clove into cooked food three or four times a week.

4. Turmeric, used mostly in curry powder and Indian cuisine, may benefit the immune system. Animal studies suggest that turmeric may help prevent autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. When the immune system is overstimulated, it’s more likely to turn on itself, attacking and damaging its own tissues, which is the case in arthritis. Studies also suggest that curcumin may strengthen the immune system. This not only protects against arthritis, but it helps us fight off infection—especially important as we age and our immune system functions less efficiently. How much to eat: 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of turmeric, three to four times a week.

5. Beans pack an anti-aging punch because they’re loaded with lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that protects against breast cancer in post-menopausal women. In one new study, women who ate a diet high in lignans had a 17 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. Lignans help protect the body from xenoestrogens, toxins from hormones in meat and dairy, plastics, and other environmental compounds that mimic natural estrogens. These wreak havoc on the endocrine system and can increase the risk of hormonal cancers. Lignans also help protect against a variety of other cancers, including colon cancer. Additional sources: flax seed and lentils.
How much to eat: Half a cup of beans, two or three times a week. (The more variety you have, the better.)

6. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a relatively hard-to-get antioxidant that protects against cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol. A recent study found that eating tomato paste significantly lowers harmful LDL levels and increases protective HDL levels.. The lycopene in tomatoes also reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke by preventing platelets from clotting in much the same way aspirin does—without the side effects. Other studies show that tomatoes reduce the risk of prostate and breast cancer, and protect against skin damage from the sun. Research shows that eating tomato paste or tomatoes cooked with olive oil offers the most benefit, because processing and cooking break down the tomato’s cell matrix and make the lycopene more available. Furthermore, eating tomatoes with olive oil increases our absorption of fat-soluble lycopene.
How much to eat: Aim for half a cup of cooked tomatoes daily or at least twice per week.

7. Spinach contains carotenoids, plant pigments that have powerful antioxidant effects. One of these carotenoids, lutein, is especially helpful in protecting the eyes from macular degeneration. Researchers think it works by donating an electron to harmful free radicals in the lens of the eye, which prevents them from causing damage. In a similar way, carotenoids also neutralize free radicals in the skin, which slows down the aging process—and the appearance of wrinkles. Other dark green, leafy vegetables like kale, chard, and collards also contain lots of carotenoids, as do orange-red fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkin, and red bell peppers.
How much to eat: A cup of spinach, three times a week.

8. Green tea contains epigallocatechin gallate (ECGC), another potent polyphenol antioxidant that helps prevent the formation and growth of tumors and encourages apoptosis, or death, in cancer cells. Over time, free radical damage can cause the body’s cells to lose their ability to regulate growth and division; the result is cancer. ECGC works by binding to free radicals, which keeps them from damaging cells’ DNA. A recent study found that green tea also protects against sun-related skin cancer by reducing DNA damage caused by UVB rays. Another remarkable finding is the power of EGCG to reactivate dying skin cells, a finding that may benefit skin diseases such as psoriasis, ulcers, rosacea, wounds—and, yes, even wrinkles. Drink your green tea caffeinated, says Pratt; the decaffeination process removes about 50 percent of the protective antioxidants along with the caffeine, which studies have shown may also protect against sun-related skin damage and skin cancers. How much to drink: One or two cups a day should suffice, but if you can tolerate the caffeine, drink as many as four to six cups a day.

9. Salmon has a potent anti-inflammatory effect in the body, thanks to its high omega-3 content. Growing and widely accepted evidence shows that persistent, low-grade inflammation plays a role in age-related disease, from cardiovascular disease and cancer to Alzheimer’s. Chronic inflammation leads to tissue damage and, eventually, to cell death. Studies also suggest that omega-3 fats may help prevent mood disorders and depression—conditions that increase in likelihood as we age. One study of older Americans found a link between lower levels of omega-3 fats and a higher risk of depression. Whenever possible, opt for wild Alaskan salmon, which may be even more beneficial than farmed salmon.
 How much to eat: 3 ounces of wild salmon, three to five times a week.

10. Olive oil is rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, one of the few fats that may lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol levels. Studies show that monounsaturated fats are especially effective at preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol, an important factor in cardiovascular disease; when LDL cholesterol oxidizes, it’s more likely to form plaque in the walls of the arteries. Monounsaturated fats also keep skin cells supple, glowing, and wrinkle-free. Hydroxytyrosol is an antioxidant compound that can actually slow the aging process in the skin by stabilizing the cell plasma membrane, which lines the cells’ walls. Other foods high in monounsaturated fats: avocados, almonds, and most other nuts.
 How much to eat: 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil a day, or a handful of olives.

Six Simple Foods to Support Your Body

Six Simple Foods to Support Your Body

You can nibble on goji berries, whip up noni juice smoothies and stock your shelves with antioxidants. But if you’re looking for what really works for optimal health and disease prevention, the best approach is to focus on foods that are rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals.

Basic foods that have proven health benefits: that’s what you want to emphasize. Less-than-exotic offerings, like blueberries, broccoli and tomatoes, have been shown in dozens of peer-reviewed published studies to protect against cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other diseases. And unlike fancy fruits and vegetables, they’re readily available, inexpensive and have other benefits, like a wicked high fiber content. And they’ve been used for thousands of years, with no drawbacks, side effects or toxicity.

None of the foods on this top six list will surprise you–but they may inspire you and help you feel good about the food you eat.

1. Broccoli240_F_59162097_4yQfgo2YTmBhGw9nLV5hubbcm5CnQoHL

It’s still true: few foods measure up to broccoli for cancer- fighting potential. Broccoli is rich in sulforaphane, an antioxidant linked with a reduced risk of a number of cancers, especially lung, stomach, colon and rectal cancers. The phytonutrients in broccoli help detoxify carcinogens found in the environment. They also have anti-inflammatory properties, and we know that an important factor in reducing the risk of disease is to decrease inflammation. How to eat more: Saute broccoli florets with shallots and pine nuts, and drizzle with lemon juice; steam broccoli rabe and toss with a honey-mustard dressing.

2. Pumpkin

It’s not just for pie: pumpkin is one of the best sources of carotenoids, antioxidants that reduce the risk of cancer. Like sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and other orange-red vegetables, pumpkin is rich in disease-preventive beta-carotene. And pumpkin is also one of the highest sources of alpha-carotene, a powerful member of the carotenoid family that’s inversely related to cataract formation and boosts immunity. How to eat more: Serve warm pumpkin puree with maple syrup and finely chopped pecans; make a simple pumpkin soup with pumpkin puree, vegetable or chicken stock, onions, black beans, cumin and cilantro.

3. Blueberries

Fragrant and sweet, blueberries are rich inanthocyanins, compounds that help protect the heart, and may inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Studies suggest the blueberry anthocyanins protect against neurodegenerati240_F_110170233_2lQpHE7iIYNI0MTxlERwVQnDVqNu3Kevve diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and can slow and even reverse age-related memory loss and decline in cognitive function. How to eat more: loss fresh blueberries with baby spinach leaves, chopped walnuts, thinly sliced red onions and olive oil; combine chopped blueberries, diced mango, minced jalapeno peppers and cilantro with lime juice for a tangy salsa.

4. Fish

It’s a great catch in terms of heart disease. Salmon and other fatty fish-like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines and tuna- are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, and may cut your risk of death from coronary artery disease in half. Omega-3 fats also have immune-enhancing and anti-inflammatory effects, reduce the risk of prostate and colon cancers, and ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and some psychiatric disorders. How to eat more: Top braised spinach with poached salmon, chopped tomatoes and black olives; combine chopped, cooked salmon with capers, minced onion, lemon juice and olive oil, and serve on crackers.

5. Spinach

Boost your vision and protect against cancer with spinach, one of iln- richest dietary sources of an antioxidant called lutein. Lutein helps protect against heart disease and some cancers, and has been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Spinach is also rich in beta-carotene, which may protect against cancer. Other lutein-rich foods include kale, collard greens, chard and beet greens. How to eat more: Saute baby spinach, diced tomatoes, minced garlic and red pepper flakes in olive oil; toss steamed spinach with tamari, toasted sesame oil and sesame seeds.

6. Tomatoes

Another reason to eat pizza: tomatoes are loaded with lycopene, an antioxidant that reduces the risk of prostate, breast, lung and other cancers, and has heart-protective effects. Research shows the absorption of lycopene is greatest when tomatoes are cooked with olive oil. In one study, a combination of tomato and broccoli was more effective at slowing tumor growth than tomatoes or broccoli alone. How to eat more: Simmer chopped tomatoes and broccoli in olive oil, top with black olives and grated Asiago cheese; drizzle halved Roma tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with pepper and minced rosemary leaves, and roast.


The Art of Healthy Eating

The Art of Healthy Eating

Weekend Detox

Weekend Detox

Living in the modern world, our bodies can get to feeling pretty grubby inside. Between the sugars, refined flours, caffeine, alcohol, dairy, chemical food additives, pesticides, and environmental pollutants we encounter, our cells are exposed to myriad toxins and inflammation triggers. The stress of modern life also places a tremendous burden on the organs of elimination, leaving pockets of waste in the colon, and stressing the liver, kidneys, and lymphatic system.

Legions swear by juice fasts and other cleanse routines that go for 10 days or more. But a no-fast weekend regimen is a much easier way for a coffee-and-bagel junkie to make real changes in daily routines. “It gives you a chance to take a break from caffeine, sugar, wheat, dairy, and alcohol, and to establish new, healthier habits,” says Elson Haas, MD, author of The New Detox Diet.

240_F_81662251_kFwsT3mhdjMR2rqPCpTAJ95XYNJdPHU0Remember, too, that detoxing includes your whole body; a hurried pace, stressful schedules, and festering resentments can create mental and emotional toxins that need to be cleared away.

If you’re new to detox, a weekend cleanse can provide a physical and psychological jump start. If you’re a veteran, regular weekend regimens—one a month is ideal—can help you build on healthful habits.

Here’s a simple, day-by-day plan to guide you through.

What to Know Before You Begin

Carve out a weekend when you’ll have lots of flexibility. “Treat it like a spa retreat,” says Michelle Schoffro Cook, DNM, DAc, CNC, author of The 4-Week Ultimate Body Detox Plan. “Plan a massage: find a place to take a sauna; stock up on fresh organic produce and a few supplies. A detox should feel like an indulgence, not hard work.”

The day before you start, dramatically reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar, wheat, dairy, and alcohol, to lessen the likelihood of headaches and painful withdrawal symptoms during the weekend. Eat light, focusing on raw greens, steamed vegetables, legumes, beans, and raw nuts. Read through the plan outlined on these pages and gather any supplies you don’t have on hand. Dine on steamed organic veggies, and head to bed early. You’ll need a full eight hours of sleep on Friday night; research points to a link between lack of sleep and adrenal stress, blood sugar irregularities, and weight gain.

Ready, Set, Cleanse…

Day 1: Saturday


Wake up with yoga. Ease into your first day with a bedside series of cat and cow stretches, alternately arching and flexing your spine to wake up your body. Web extra: For a detailed how-to, visit

Sip lemon water. To stimulate the bowels and detox the liver, drink a cup of hot or room-temperature water spiked with the juice of half a fresh lemon. Make a pitcher of lemon juice and filtered water (use the juice of half a lemon for every 8 ounces of water), and drink a glass every hour throughout day. If you want a little sweetness, add a bit of stevia. Skip the coffee—it’s hard, but essential, says Schoffro Cook. Substitute green tea as a gentle source of caffeine to help avoid energy slumps and caffeine withdrawal headaches; studies also show it’s rich in compounds that boost liver detoxification.

Dry brush your body. Dry brushing stimulates the lymphatic system, one of the body’s primary detox mechanisms, says Haas. Using a soft-bristled brush, lightly brush your skin, starting from your fingers and toes and moving in toward your heart. Follow with a warm shower to further boost circulation and move lymphatic fluid.

Have a light breakfast of steamed vegetables. “A main goal of detoxing is to reduce inflammation,” says Mark Hyman, MD, author of The Detox Box. “That involves removing the most common triggers for inflammation, like sugar, dairy, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, trans fats, and processed foods.” Carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and kale have a sweet taste that’s surprisingly satisfying for breakfast.

Choose a restorative activity. Do yoga or tai chi, listen to music, visit an art museum—whatever makes you feel soothed and nourished. Or read an inspirational or humorous book. “Sometimes, a hilarious book is just what you need,” says Alex Jamieson, author of The Great American Detox Diet. “A hearty laugh stimulates endorphins and relieves stress.”


Mix up a big dandelion salad (see the recipe for Detoxifying Dandelion and Bitter Greens Salad with Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette). “Dandelion and other bitter greens are rich in phytochemicals that boost the liver’s capacity to eliminate toxins,” Hyman says. Have a 2-cup serving of salad for lunch, and store the leftover salad and dressing separately in the fridge. You’ll need them later.

Go for a walk. After lunch, head outside for a brisk walk or gentle hike, to get your blood and lymphatic fluid circulating.

Sweat it out with a steam or sauna. “As you’re cleansing your body, you’re stirring up a lot of toxins,” says Schoffro Cook. “You want to get these out of your system as quickly as possible.” Saunas encourage perspiration, sending toxins out through the skin, the body’s largest detox organ, says Haas. Most gyms, community recreation centers, and YMCAs have saunas or steam rooms; or check your local spa if you’re feeling extravagant. If you don’t have access to a sauna or steam room, relax in a hot bath with Epsom salts.

Take a nap. After your sauna, take a short nap, or rest quietly and check in with your body. Do you notice any subtle changes in your digestion? “When you take a break from wheat, sugar, and dairy, you may notice differences in bloating, gas, or stomach sensation almost immediately,” says Jamieson.

Write and reflect. Make notes in a journal about what you’re thinking and feeling. Are you angry with someone? Do you feel sad? Was it surprisingly painful to give up your morning muffin? “Toxins do’t exist only in the body,” says Natalia Rose, author of The Raw Food Detox Diet. “It may be that you have some poisonous thoughts or emotions to cleanse as well.”


Eat a light supper. Start with another dandelion salad, followed by 1 to 2 cups of steamed spinach or collard greens, topped with 1/2 cup cooked lentils or 1 tablespoon of raw nuts, and a dash of cayenne pepper.

Spend a quiet evening. Choose an after-dinner activity that feels soothing: knit, paint, or read.

Prepare for sleep. Sip a cup of chamomile tea, and quietly reflect on your day. Note your observations in your journal. What emotions came up when the world was quiet around you? See if you can find a message or inspiration for the day.

Drink your fiber. Before retiring, take 1/2 to 2 teaspoons psyllium seed dissolved in 1 1/2 cups warm water to keep the bowels moving.

Hit the hay early. After a full day of shifts and changes, your body needs plenty of rest.

Day 2: Sunday


Repeat Saturday’s wake-up routine. Start the day with cat and cow stretches, followed by hot lemon water, dry brushing, and a warm shower.

Try asparagus for breakfast. Include it in medley of steamed vegetables.”Asparagus is rich in folic acid, which is key in the production of glutathione, an enzyme that boosts detoxification,” Hyman says.

Meditate. Recent studies show that meditation lowers stress, decreases rumination, and promotes forgiveness. If you’re new to meditation, try it for 5 to 10 minutes; if you meditate regularly, try 20 to 30 minutes. Make notes in your journal of anything that comes up. Check out for a simple mindfulness meditation practice.


Lunch on dandelion salad and a steamed artichoke. Artichokes are rich in compounds that boost liver function, Hyman says. Check out the recipe for Perfect Steamed Artichokes.

Take a walk or gentle hike. It’ll boost blood flow and help keep the bowels moving.

Indulge in a massage. Deep tissue work that improves circulation and stimulates the lymph system is ideal for transitioning out of your detox. If a professional massage doesn’t suit your budget, go to for a link to our favorite self-massage tutorial.

Rest and reflect. Take a short nap, and write in your journal.


Take a light meal. For dinner,have a dandelion salad topped with avocado and crumbled nori. “Sea vegetables are a wonderful source of minerals that help alkalinize the body,” Hyman says. “That’s important, since most people are too acid, from gluten, sugar, and toxins in food.”

Luxuriate in a warm Epsom salts bath. The body absorbs magnesium from Epsom salts, which helps relax the muscles and detoxify the lymphatic system, Schoffro Cook says.

Prepare for restorative sleep. Take your psyllium seed, meditate for 15 minutes, then curl up with a cup of chamomile tea and your journal. What did you learn over the weekend? What new habits do you want to continue? Make notes of three life lessons to take away from your weekend, and drift off to sleep.

Your First Day Back

Ease into the day. When you awaken Monday morning, you may feel tired, and might be experiencing symptoms of withdrawal from caffeine, food additives, and other toxins, says Hyman. Take the morning off, if possible; if not, take it easy. Make time for another Epsom salts bath and take a walk if your bowels need a little help to get moving.

Meditate on new habits. Think about where you can modify your established routine to add more healthful habits. Could you commit to adding a big green salad every day, or a 15-minute meditation session? Can you substitute green tea for coffee, and stevia for sugar? “Simple changes add up fast,” says Schoffro Cook. “And those changes are the ones that make a lifelong difference.”240_F_81662251_kFwsT3mhdjMR2rqPCpTAJ95XYNJdPHU0

8 Ways to Make Holidays More Meaningful

8 Ways to Make Holidays More Meaningful

You’ve perfected low-fat holiday cookies. You hit the outlets in early October for pre-season shopping. You’ve decked the halls, hung the mistletoe, lit the menorah and trimmed the tree. But what have you done to celebrate the true spirit of the holidays?

Remember the reason for the season with simple ways to create a deeper connection.

1. Be of service. It’s better to give than to receive — and that applies to more than material goods. Some ways to spread cheer to those in need: Help your kids deliver homemade holiday cookies to a retirement home, schedule a visit to the children’s cancer ward at a local hospital to deliver baskets of toys, help serve a holiday meal at a homeless shelter. To find more volunteer opportunities in your area, visit the Red Cross website, call local churches, or check with assisted living centers and hospitals.

2. Make food count. How much money does your family spend on “meaningless” food — soft drinks, chips, cookies and the like? Reexamine your food choices and buying patterns, and pass the savings on: Calculate how much you spend on junk food and gift that money to a charity, or donate 2 percent of your food purchases to a food bank.

3. Create a ritual. Rituals anchor holidays, and give kids a sense of continuity and a tradition they can pass on for years to come. It can be as simple as lighting candles, singing songs, or saying a special prayer. Other ideas: Take a holiday hike in the woods, throw a latke party, host an annual holiday dessert potluck.

4. Share your toys. It’s never too early to teach kids to share. Explain to your children that not all boys and girls have gifts to open on the holidays, and ask if they’d like to share some of theirs. Most kids are eager to pick out and wrap old favorites, especially if they’re involved in delivering them to the recipients. Sharing toys goes for grown-ups as well: old computers, golf clubs, CD players or cell phones are meaningful holiday donations.

5. Tune out. You can’t stop holiday commercialism, but you can refuse to partake. Kill your television, and engage kids and family in more festive activities. Give kids disposable cameras and have an afternoon of photo-taking; make cookies for an assisted living center; head to the local ice rink, museum or aquarium; drag out the markers and paints and make homemade New Year’s cards; stage a neighborhood snow sculpture contest.

6. Simplify. It’s hard to focus on the true meaning of the holidays when you’re rushing from one shopping mall to the next. Try this: Six to ten weeks before the holiday season, sketch out a weekly calendar with all your holiday obligations—then start eliminating. Weed out and delegate as much as you can (it’s easier if you start early); you’ll free up more time for real connecting.

7. Let your purchases reflect your values. Instead of supporting plastics, box stores and rampant consumerism, make gifts more meaningful. Shop on websites that help artisans in developing countries (find lists at Fair Trade websites); buy at small, local stores; make your own holiday cards and donate the savings to charity. Or ask family and friends to skip your gift and make a donation instead to their favorite charity.

8. Feed your soul. As much as you want to connect with your family and friends, it’s essential to carve out time for yourself, even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. Take time for meditation, introspection, yoga, a solitary hike, gazing at the evening stars. When days get busy and stressful, schedule an afternoon siesta during which everyone goes to his or her room for 45 minutes to read, nap and play quietly. If time alone is at a premium, get creative: Lock yourself in the bathroom with a hot bath, or drive to a park as a detour on the way home from the grocery store. And don’t wait until New Year’s Day to rethink your personal priorities; list them now and let the magic of the holidays inspire you.

Seven Best Foods of Summer

Seven Best Foods of Summer

We got a very late start here in Colorado, with heavy snow and freezing temperatures well into May. But after a hot, hot July, we made up for it. At the hot and sunny peak of summer, Colorado produce really shines. You’ll find an abundance of fresh, local and ultra-healthy foods at stores and farmer’s markets throughout the Front Range. Most of them are ideal for backyard gardens (I’m growing all of them!), so you can have a crop of nutrient-dense offerings all summer long. Some of the best:

Tomatoes. For those of us who grow them, tomatoes are the surest sign of summer. Look for a variety of heirloom selections at local stores and farmer’s markets; try black Russian tomatoes or snow white cherries, little white tomatoes with a sweet, complex flavor. Why they’re so great: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a hard-to-get antioxidant that protects against prostate and other cancers. Try them like this: use juicy red tomatoes in chilled gazpacho with diced cucumbers, peppers and cilantro; dice a variety of heirloom tomatoes, toss with minced garlic, olive oil and basil, and layer on thick slices of grilled rustic bread, topped with shaved Asiago cheese.

Melons. Cantaloupe and watermelon are the local standards, but also look for honeydew, musk and other varieties. Why they’re so great: they’re low in calories and rich in potassium; deep-orange varieties like cantaloupe, canary, crenshaw and musk melons are high in beta carotene, and watermelon contains lycopene.  Try them like this: toss cubes of cantaloupe with arugula, baby spinach and balsamic vinegar for a tangy-sweet salad; puree watermelon with mint, lime juice and unrefined sugar or honey, then freeze for watermelon mojita sorbet.

Berries. You’ll find a variety of locally grown selections, including blackberries, raspberries and strawberries; blueberries are harder to grow in Colorado (it has to do with soil pH), but some dedicated growers persist. Why they’re so great: As far as healthy foods go, you can’t beat berries; they’re rich in antioxidants that protect against cancer, heart disease, macular degeneration and Alzheimer’s disease. Try them like this: toss blackberries with salad greens, spiced nuts and chunks of melon  for a colorful salad; puree raspberries, lemon juice, lemon verbena and raw honey, then freeze for sorbet.

Peppers. Colorado varieties come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and range from sweet and mild to mouth-numbing fieriness; my favorites are purple bell peppers and the Pueblo mirasol chile, which is said to be unique to Colorado. Why they’re so great: they’re one of the best sources of vitamin C, and they’re high in six major carotenoids.  Try them like this: dice orange, yellow, red and purple bell peppers, then toss with chopped olives, capers, parsley, garlic and olive oil; roast whole jalapeno peppers with tomatillas, whole garlic cloves and chunks of onion, then puree for a spicy green salsa.

Zucchini. Say what you will about zucchini, it’s still one of the best summer foods; pick them or buy them when they’re smaller, for tender texture and a sweeter flavor. Why it’s so great: They’re high in lutein and zeaxanthin, carotenoids that protect the eyes, and may help regulate blood sugar.  Try it like this: lightly cook chopped zucchini with summer greens, coconut milk and curry, then puree into a creamy soup; slice them lengthwise, brush with olive oil, and grill.

Chard. This versatile green is light and tender enough to eat raw, but sturdy enough to stand up to light stir-fry cooking. Why it’s so great: chard is high in vitamin K, beta-carotene and chlorophyll, and contains a compound called syringic acid that helps regulate blood sugar, Try it like this: remove stems and thinly slice leaves crosswise, then toss with walnut oil, raspberry vinegar, slivered almonds and fresh raspberries; lightly steam leaves, then use them to roll around a filling of quinoa and lentils.

Plums. We have two plum trees in our yard, which yield amazing plum butter (when we can manage to stop eating them raw). You’ll also find lots of wild plum trees scattered all around Colorado; if you go foraging, be sure they’re not sprayed. Why they’re so great: They’re extremely high in antioxidants and vitamin C, and help increase the body’s absorption of iron. Try them like this: halve large plums, remove stone, and grill cut side down until tender, then serve with Mascarpone cheese if desired; toss plums with arugula, spinach, cashews and basil, then drizzle with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Blackberry fruits and blackberry jamFresh Berry Salsa
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 small serrano pepper, seeded and finely minced
1/2 cup strawberries, chopped small
3/4 cup coarsely chopped blackberries
1/4 cup minced red onion
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

1. In a small bowl, combine serrano pepper, strawberries, blackberries, onion, cilantro and lime juice. Stir to mix, mashing some berries against the side of the bowl to crush them. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Serve immediately, or let chill for 1 hour before serving. Store in a glass jar, refrigerated, for up to five days.

Zucchini and Green Pea Soup with Chives
Serves 4 to 6

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small leek, chopped
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh ginger root
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups homemade or high-quality vegetable stock
2 pounds zucchini, chopped small
1 cup fresh green peas
1/2 cup coconut milk
White pepper
Cayenne pepper
Fresh minced chives and chive blossoms, if available, for garnish

1. Heat oil in a 3-quart pot over medium-low heat. Saute leek for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened. Add ginger and garlic, and cook for 1 minute, stirring.

2. Add stock and zucchini; bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, for 15 minutes, until zucchini is soft and liquid is slightly reduced. Add peas and cook for 5 minutes longer, until peas are just tender. Stir in coconut milk. Transfer to a blender and process until smooth. Season to taste with white pepper and cayenne pepper.

3. Divide soup between four individual bowls. Sprinkle tops of each bowl with chives and chive blossoms, if available, and serve.

Super Smarts: Ten ways to maintain your brain

Super Smarts: Ten ways to maintain your brain

Feeling a little foggy? Part of the problem may be your lifestyle. Stress, dieting, lack of exercise, drinking soda, even using the wrong kind of deodorant or cookware can lead to brain drain. And simply getting older makes us less sharp. With age, essential fuels aren’t delivered to brain cells, and the cells themselves begin to deteriorate. The good news: you can combat mental fuzzies and keep your mind sharp well into your senior years. Ready to get smart? Try these tips for boosting brain power.

  1. Feed your head, with whole, unprocessed foods that are free of brain-depleting chemicals. In one study of a million school-aged children, when sugar, food colorings and preservatives were eliminated from their school lunches, they scored considerably higher on tests . What to emphasize: lots of fruits and veggies, which keep brain blood vessels open, block neuron-damaging free radicals and protect DNA. In addition, focus on omega-3 fatty acids, found in salmon, walnuts and flax seeds, to keep brain cell walls pliable for reception and transmission of stimuli. And avoid restrictive weight-loss diets which quickly deplete the body of iron, a key nutrient for optimal mental functioning.
  2. Get the lead out. Lead, mercury, cadmium and other heavy metals, found in dental fillings, tuna fish, tobacco, tap water and some canned foods, can damage the brain. Equally toxic to the nervous system are pesticides and solvents, found in paint, glue, gasoline and dry-cleaning fluids. To protect your brain, minimize your use of products that contain heavy metals or solvents, use only non-toxic pesticides (check out, emphasize unprocessed, organic foods and stick to bottled water. If you think you’ve been exposed, MSM supplements and milk thistle herb are thought to help remove heavy metals from the body. Or try taking 2000 mg of vitamin C and 60 mg of zinc per day: in one study, the combination significantly reduced blood levels of lead.
  3. Flex your mental muscles. The brain functions better when it’s exercised. Both parts of brain nerves–dendrites and axons–wither with age and disuse. Research shows that continued problem solving expands the tree-like dendrites to create new connections and new networks of nerve connections. But once skills become rote, move on to new activities. Routine causes axons and dendrites to shrink again. Some of the best ways to train your brain: read challenging books, do crossword puzzles, memorize poems, learn a foreign language, play chess.
  4. Move it. Moving increases circulation and encourages deep breathing, boosting blood flow and oxygen to the brain. Some studies have suggested that physical activity reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s. One of the best brain-building forms of exercise is dancing. You have to think about moves, patterns, and steps, so you’re challenging your mind and sharpening your mental powers and memory. Dancing also stimulates the brain to make more dendrites, little bridges between brain cells that keep they brain young and active. For the biggest brain boosters, try tap, tango, ballet, line dancing and ballroom dancing.
  5. Drink wine. Good news: a little liquor may help protect the brain and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. While no study has identified one type of alcohol as better than others, red wine has the added benefit of containing antioxidants, and it’s free of brain-damaging solvents found in whiskey and other liquors aged in barrels. It also contains resveratrol, a potent antioxidant that may help protect against stroke, as well as other diseases. Theoretically, beer would have the same effect, but because it’s lower in alcohol, the amount you’d have to drink to realize beneficial brain effects could leave you smart but fat. So, unless you’re sensitive to alcohol, one to two glasses of red wine a day may help protect your brain.
  6. Eat chocolate. While no scientific studies have linked chocolate-eating with increased intelligence, cocoa does contain some compounds than are beneficial to the brain, including a chemical called 1MeTIQ that may inhibit the development of Parkinson’s disease. It also contains a mood-boosting substance called phenylethylamine (PEA), antioxidants, which help to neutralize neuron-damaging free radicals, and procyanidins, compounds that can reduce the risk of strokes. These benefits, however, apply to cocoa-rich dark chocolate, not typical American milk chocolate. The best advice: nibble on super-dark chocolate (try Valrhona, Scharffen Berger or Côte d’Or), which has a greater concentration of beneficial compounds, and have no more than an ounce a day.
  7. Change your deodorant. Super-dry antiperspirants contain aluminum, which causes various kinds of damage in the brain and has been linked to Alzheimer’s. Other sources of aluminum include cooking pots, processed cheese, table salt, antacids, buffered aspirin, medicines for diarrhea, some calcium supplements and municipal water supplies. Protect your brain from cumulative and potentially damaging doses of aluminum by switching to natural, aluminum-free deodorants (natural mineral-salt crystals, available at most health food stores, are effective antiperspirants). Also, limit aluminum-containing foods and medications, use stainless steel cookware, and avoid oyster-shell calcium supplements which often contain aluminum as well as lead. As for water, call your local water supplier and ask for the yearlong aluminum levels. If the levels ever exceed 200 microcgm/liter, use a high-quality filter, or purchase bottled water.
  8. Turn on the music. Mozart, Beethoven and other classical composers can help you improve thinking and increase attention span. Classical music is constructed with layers of complex arrangements, which has been shown to stimulate circuits in the brain, improve thinking and enhance mental performance. In one study, students who listened to classical music scored higher on an IQ test. Keep a selection of classical music in your car, and tune in for at least ten minutes a day. And try learning how to play a musical instrument: studies of the brains of musicians show that the area of the brain that’s associated with processing sounds is actually larger.
  9. Chill out. Stress diminishes mental acuity in several ways. It diverts glucose–the brain’s main source of fuel–to other organs to prepare for a perceived emergency, and it limits blood flow, thereby decreasing the amount of oxygen to the brain. Even a single episode of very severe stress can cause the release of too much cortisol for the hippocampus to handle, leading to the death of neurons. Ways to bust stress: get a massage, take a nap, watch a funny movie, run around the block. And set aside fifteen minutes every morning for meditation–in one study, meditation was reported to reduce psychological distress by 44 percent.
  10. Have (a little) coffee. Low to moderate amounts of caffeine–32 to 256 mg per day–have been found in several studies to boost brain power. That’s about the amount in two cups of coffee. At those levels, caffeine can increase alertness, mood and performance, decrease reaction time, and boost attention span and ability to concentrate. And some studies suggest that coffee can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s disease. With higher doses, though, mental performance starts to decrease. For maximum brain power, limit caffeine intake to two cups of coffee, and don’t forget to count caffeine in chocolate, tea and sodas.


Infection Protection: ten fun ways to boost immunity

Infection Protection: ten fun ways to boost immunity

Several million years ago, it is hypothesized, the first Stone Age human caught the first cold. Ever since then, doctors, nurses, herbalists, shaman and healers of every sort have been confounded by colds and flu. Over the years, these devilish pathogens have been treated with cold baths, wet feet, chili peppers, tobacco, and the application of blood-sucking leeches.

Now we understand that colds and flu are caused by viruses – but we’re still no closer to a cure. The only defense is a good offense. But who says it has to be a drag?

Besides eating right, washing your hands regularly and getting enough sleep, you can maximize your pathogen-fighting potential, with a handful of entertaining activities.

1. Steam a pan of oysters. They’re the richest source of zinc, essential for immune cell function (1), and many studies have shown that even mild deficiency depresses immunity (2). If you’re not a fan of bivalves, grab a (grass-fed) burger: beef and buffalo are other good sources of zinc.

2. Rent a Woody Allen movie. Or whatever tickles your funny bone. A good belly laugh can boost immunity and increase natural endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. In one recent study, laughter appeared to specifically impact the activity of natural killer cells (3).

3. Go skiing. In one study, people who were physically active had 33 percent fewer sick days, and when they did get sick, their symptoms were less severe (4).Walking, running, dancing, or anything that gets your blood moving will have the same effect. But if you’re coming down with something, skip the lift lines and stay in bed; exercising when you’re already sick can weaken immune function.

4. Throw a party. Forget about isolating; people with stronger social networks and friendships are less likely to get sick. Many studies have consistently linked a strong support system with better immune function, as well as lower blood pressure and reduced mortality (5).

5. Discover martial arts. Tai chi, a slow-moving type of Chinese martial art, improves the immune response (6); qigong, a similar practice, has the same benefits (7). In one study, a moderate tai chi and qigong practice improved immune response of older adults, after only five months of practice (8).

6. Snack on Brazil nuts. They’re the best food source of selenium, a powerful antioxidant that’s been shown to significantly improve immune response. Other sources: tuna, turkey, egg yolks, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds (9).
7. Get your ohm on. In a recent study, people who practiced mindfulness meditation reduced the incidence, duration and severity of respiratory infections by as much as 50 percent (10).The study’s authors noted that the results were nearly as effective as flu shots, which have only a 50 to 60 percent chance of preventing infection.

8. Go out for sushi. You’ll find lots of foods on the menu that protect against infection. Order the salmon roll for immune-boosting omega-3 fats (11), and have pickled ginger on the side for its anti-viral activities (12). Start with miso soup; it contains probiotics that boosts the body’s resistance to pathogens (13). And order immune-boosting green tea—not sake (14).

9. Schedule a massage to reduce stress, one of the most important factors in improving immune function (15). Massage also increases the activity and number of the body’s natural “killer cells” that fight off pathogens (16).

10. Have sex. As long as your partner’s well, it’s a great way to fight colds and flu. An older (1999) study showed that people who had sex one or twice a week had higher levels of immunoglobulin (IGA), a cold-fighting antibody, than those who had sex less often, or not at all. And even if it doesn’t work, you’ll have fun trying.