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The Seven Best Foods of Summer

The Seven Best Foods of Summer

Heirloom tomatoes and pastaAt 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 crenshaw, 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.

Fresh Berry Salsa
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 small Jalapeno 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, chive blossoms or edible flowers, and serve immediately.

15 foods for longevity

15 foods for longevity

plain blueberries bowlsFamed actress and octogenarian Bette Davis said getting older isn’t for sissies. But those of us over 50 also know that the second half of our lives can be a time of great emotional stability, mental acuity, wisdom and power. Even so, the physical fact of aging is undeniable, and the risk of age-related disease increases with each passing year.

A billion-dollar anti-aging industry focuses on helping us mid-lifers “cope” with the “decline” in our later years, with everything from supplements to surgery. We think there’s a better way that involves honoring and supporting our bodies through the decades, with foods that address specific needs. Include at least five of the following 15 foods in your diet every day and feel younger, longer.

1. Flax seeds are high in lignans, an especially important type of fiber for women; lignans, also found in lentils and sesame seeds, help protect the body from xenoestrogens – toxic compounds found in plastics, growth hormones in meat and dairy, and pesticides that mimic natural estrogen and can increase the risk of breast and hormonal cancers. Lignans also protect against other cancers, including colon cancer.

2. Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli and arugula contain di-indolylmethane (DIM), a compound that helps the body metabolize estrogen into a safer, more usable form, and can protect against breast and hormone-related cancers.

3. Kale and other leafy greens like chard, spinach, collards, turnip greens and mustard greens, are high in folic acid, a type of B vitamin that protects against cervical cancer and cervical dysplasia. Kale is also a member of the crucifer family, so it offers added protection against cancer.

4. Blueberries are rich in polyphenol antioxidants that protect against Alzheimer’s, which strikes one in every six women, as well as age-related changes in brain and motor function. They also have powerful anti-inflammatory actions to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, cranberries and prunes are other great sources of polyphenols.

5. Wild Alaskan salmon. It’s high in omega-3 fats to help prevent mood swings and depression, especially common in menopause. Salmon also has high levels of astaxanthin and zeaxantin, hard-to-get carotenoids that help protect the eyes from age-related damage. Sardines are another good source of omega-3 fats; because they’re smaller, they’re less likely to be contaminated with toxins than larger fish.

6. Green tea is rich in polyphenol antioxidants, and contains a compound called epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that’s especially powerful in protecting against breast cancer and encourages death, or apoptosis, of existing cancer cells. It’s also protective against skin cancer and helps reverse the effects of sun damage, and seems to work by repairing the cell’s DNA.

7. Buckwheat helps regulate blood sugar and insulin, to protect against Type 2 diabetes; it contains a B-vitamin-like compound called d-chiro-inositol, commonly used to treat polycystic ovary syndrome, which is largely responsible for the blood sugar lowering effects. Since buckwheat is a gluten-free grain, it’s also a good substitute for wheat.

8. Cherries are powerful anti-inflammatory agents, and help reduce symptoms of arthritis and gout. The active components in cherries, called anthocyanins, help reduce the body’s levels of uric acid, a compound in the body that’s associated with arthritis, gout, kidney damage, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease.

9. Garlic contains sulfur-bearing compounds that help lower blood cholesterol and protect against atherosclerosis and hardening of the arteries by decreasing the thickness of blood. It’s best eaten raw, or very lightly cooked, for maximum benefits.

10. Olives are rich in healthy monounsaturated fats, one of the few fats that lower blood lipids and help prevent inflammation. Additionally, olives and olive oil contain antioxidant compounds that may also be responsible for its cholesterol-lowering and anti-inflammatory effects. Other foods high in monounsaturated fats include almonds, avocados and peanuts.

11. Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory that helps protect against the development and progression of rheumatoid arthritis, as well as Alzheimer’s and other age-related diseases. Curcumin, the active component in turmeric, also appears to have some immune-stimulating effects to protect the body against infection.

12. Beans are rich in soluble fiber, to reduce the risk of colon cancer and lower cholesterol. Because they’re high in protein, they’re a good vegetarian substitute for meat. Red kidney beans, lentils and black beans, have the highest level of antioxidants in legumes
13. Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a relatively hard-to-get antioxidant that protects against heart attack, stroke, prostate and other cancers. Recent studies suggest that other compounds in tomatoes work in conjunction with lycopene to prevent cancer, so taking a lycopene supplement isn’t as effective; eat tomatoes cooked, with olive oil, for maximum effectiveness.

14. Spinach is one of the best food sources of leutin, a carotenoid that protects the eyes from macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness as we age. Spinach is also rich in vitamin K, which is crucial in bone health and protects against calcification of the arteries.

15. Yogurt contains probiotics, beneficial bacteria that protect the digestive system and benefit the immune system, which begins to decline as we get older. It’s also high in calcium, to protect the bones from osteoporosis; other high-calcium, vegan foods include collards, kale, broccoli and sesame seeds.

That’s so cool! Foods to fight the heat

That’s so cool! Foods to fight the heat

freshcucumbersBy the time August rolls around, and the sun is at its fiery peak, summer may start to lose some of its appeal (at least in Colorado). Temperatures soar, the soft, lush grass turns brittle and brown, and we seek refuge in pools, creeks, and air-conditioned shopping centers. And how long, really, can you stay in either the water or the mall?

In Chinese medicine, summer is the time of fire, or yang energy; it’s hot, it’s dry and it’s intense, and it can leave the best of us feeling irritable, depleted, and ready to relocate to Iceland. But you can beat the heat, with cool, moist food that balance soaring temperatures and dampen the fiery flames of summer.

In general, look for foods that are lighter in color, with a high water content. Fresh, seasonal produce will be your mainstay: focus on cucumbers, celery, cantaloupe, watermelon, nectarines, herbs, berries, eggplant, avocado, figs, fennel, lettuce, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, mint and corn.

For grains, choose barley, millet and amaranth; for protein, great Northern beans, mung beans, sprouted almonds, yogurt and fish have the least fire-producing potential. And sea vegetables, growing as they do in the depths of the cool, quiet ocean, are calming to summer’s dryness and expansive energy of heat.

Avoid heat-producing foods like butter, spicy foods, garlic, black pepper, meat, cheese, eggs, chili peppers, salsa and pungent spices, and keep cooking methods light and moist. In preparing foods, use as little heat as possible; eat most of your produce raw, and when you do cook, stick to short cooking times and those that add moisture, like steaming, low-temperature sautéing or brief grilling (not the best choice from a TCM standpoint, but I would never suggest you give up your grill for the entire summer; use it in moderation, and on cool summer evenings).

Upping your beverage intake further cools the body and replaces moisture, but skip the coffee, alcohol and spicy chai – they’re heating and drying. Instead, stick to cooling, calming beverages, like chilled white tea mixed with white grape juice, mint lemonade, chrysanthemum tea with grapefruit juice, green tea with honey and lime, or blueberry nectar mixed with sparkling water. But don’t drink them iced: you’re aiming to cool your body, not freeze it. The point is to gently counter the effects of summer’s heat, without being excessive; Chinese medicine recognizes that extreme amounts of a cooling food can have the opposite effect. Approach all of this in the spirit of balance.

Try the recipes that follow; they’ll help decrease your internal temperature and moisten your body, and they’re lovely enough to share at your next summer cookout. How cool is that?

Heirloom Tomatoes, Cucumbers & Avocados, with Cucumber-Herb Dressing
Serves 4
2 medium English cucumbers
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped mint leaves
4 cups baby spinach leaves, loose
2 pounds heirloom tomatoes, in a variety of colors and sizes, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 large avocado, pitted and thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1. Peel both cucumbers, halve lengthwise, and scoop out seeds with a melon baller or a spoon. Cut one of the cucumbers crosswise, into 1/4-inch-thick slices; set aside.

2. Coarsely chop the remaining cucumber. Combine in a blender with vinegar and olive oil, and puree until smooth. Add basil and mint; pulse until mixture is smooth, but small bits of herbs remain. Season with sea salt and white pepper.

3. In a medium bowl, combine spinach and sliced cucumbers; add just dressing to lightly coat leaves, and toss to mix. Transfer to a serving platter.

4. Arrange tomatoes on top of cucumbers and spinach. Arrange avocado slices amongst tomato slices. Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with additional basil leaves, if desired. Serve with remaining dressing on the side.
Blackberry & Butter Lettuce Salad with Figs, White Pansies and Raspberry-Grapefruit Vinaigrette
Serves 4
1/4 cup grapefruit juice (about 1/4 of a grapefruit)
1/4 cup fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons chopped basil
3 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 small heads butter lettuce, core removed and leaves torn into bite-sized pieces
8 medium to large black mission figs
1 cup fresh blackberries
1 cup white pansy leaves, violas, or other edible flowers

1. In a blender or small food processor, combine grapefruit juice, raspberries and basil and puree until thick and smooth. (Add 1/2 teaspoon of raw honey, if raspberries are tart.) With blender or food processor running on low, slowly pour in grapeseed oil, until mixture just thickened (alternatively, pour raspberry-grapefruit mixture into a small bowl and whisk in grapeseed oil.) Season with white pepper and set aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine butter lettuce, 1/2 cup of the flowers and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the dressing. Toss to lightly coat leaves. Divide salad between four individual plates.

3. Cut the stems off the figs. Using a sharp knife, thinly slice each fig lengthwise. Arrange on top of lettuce. Arrange blackberries on salad. Scatter with remaining flowers and serve, with additional dressing on the side.

Sweet! The scoop on “natural” sweeteners

Sweet! The scoop on “natural” sweeteners

Confused by all the “natural” sweeteners on your grocer’s shelves? Here’s the scoop. White sugar from cane or beets is highly refined, with a pronounced, adverse effect on insulin and blood sugar. Natural sweeteners are less refined and rich in naturally occurring minerals, and many have less impact on blood sugar. On a culinary level, they’re rich and deep in flavor and color, and can add complexity to treats. While none are nutritional superstars, a few natural sweeteners shine a little brighter than others. Some to try:

• Agave. A golden-brown, liquid sweetener that’s less viscous than honey, but thicker than maple syrup. It was traditionally derived by boiling the sap of the blue agave plant, native to Mexico. Modern versions, however, are more refined and even the varieties labeled as “raw” are cooked at extremely high temperatures and highly refined. On the glycemic index scale, agave around 15—the lowest of any sweetener. However, the glycemic index measures only glucose levels; agave is 92 percent fructose, and only 8 percent glucose, so the numbers are misleading. Agave may actually impact your body in much the same way as high-fructose corn syrup—that is, by markedly increasing insulin levels. Use it in moderation and in small amounts. It’s best in smoothies, beverages and desserts like pies, puddings, cheesecake and custards, or those with a softer texture, but it can be used for baking breads, cakes, and cookies. Substitute 2/3 cup of agave for every cup of white sugar, and reduce liquid by about 1/3.

•Brown rice syrup. A heavy syrup with a thick, creamy texture, pale golden color and mild sweetness that’s reminiscent of butterscotch. Brown rice syrup is made by fermenting brown rice with enzymes to convert the starches to sugars. It’s about 50 percent complex carbohydrates, and only about 5 percent glucose, so it has a relatively low glycemic index of 25 , with about the same number of calories as sugar (45 per tablespoon). The downside: because it’s only half as sweet as white sugar, you’ll usually need more of it . Like agave, it’s best in sweets with a softer texture. Baked goods made with brown rice syrup tend to be heavy and hard, especially around the edges and surfaces. Use it instead for hard or crunchy baked goods, like cookies, biscotti or granola. It’s about a third as sweet as sugar; substitute 1 1/3 cups of brown rice syrup for every cup of sugar, and reduce liquid by 1/8 to 1/4 cup.

• Palm sugar. Made by boiling down the sap of flowers from the coconut palm, this sweetener has a more delicate flavor than sugar or honey, with slight earthy undertones that hint of caramel and maple syrup. It’s also known as “coconut palm sugar.” Palm sugar has a relatively low GI of 35, with 45 calories per teaspoon. It’s available in chunks of rocks, or as a granulated substance that looks similar to brown sugar.  Because it dissolves easily and provides bulk, the granulated form is ideal for baking. It’s slightly less sweet; substitute 1 1/8 cups of palm sugar for 1 cup of white sugar, in recipes where the mild maple-caramel flavor will be incorporated.

• Date sugar. Derived from dried, dehydrated and ground dates, date sugar has a grainy texture, a deep, earthy flavor and color, and rich sweetness. The upside: it’s minimally refined and processed, and is rich in minerals. The downside: drying, dehydrating and grinding dates concentrates and increases sucrose levels, so date sugar has a strong impact on blood sugar, even though the glycemic index and calories (12 per teaspoon) are relatively low. Date sugar is best used in baked goods that are forgiving of its color and texture, like spice cookies, nut breads, granolas, or anything with a darker color and dense texture; in light-colored cakes, cookies or puddings, it will show up as distinct brown flecks. Because it won’t dissolve in liquid, date sugar can’t be used to sweeten beverages, puddings, custards or pies. Subsitute 2/3 cup date sugar for one cup sugar. It browns quickly and burns easily, so shorten cooking times by several minutes.

• Florida Crystals. A brand name for organic sugar made from sugar cane grown in Florida. It’s unbleached and less processed than white sugar, with only a portion of the mineral-rich molasses removed; it’s also certified CarbonFree. Similar sweeteners include Sucanat (dried sugar cane that contains all the molasses;  Rapadura (similar, but more finely ground);  and turbinado (a less-processed version of sugar cane, with larger crystals).  All have essentially the same calories and glycemic index as refined white sugar .Because it’s finer in texture and lighter in color than other unrefined sugars, Florida Crystals can be substituted one-to-one for sugar in cakes,  cookies and other goods. Rapadura, Sucanat and turbinado add a light brown color and slight molasses flavor in cooking; best for recipes calling for brown sugar, like oatmeal cookies or quick breads.

• Stevia. Derived from a small shrub native to Paraguay, stevia is extremely sweet, free of calories, and has no impact on insulin levels. While stevia is not approved by the FDA for use as a sweetener, it is approved as a dietary supplement. Moreover, stevia has been safely consumed for centuries in Paraguay, Argentina, Brazil and other countries. One old study (1) suggested that a metabolite of stevia could be mutagenic, but subsequent studies have refuted that initial finding, or found the effect insignificant (2, 3). Some studies have also suggested that stevia may actually help control  insulin levels . Stevia is sold as a white powder, in individual packets, and as a liquid extract, in the supplement section of natural products stores. One teaspoon of the extract is about as sweet as a cup of sugar, and is ideal for sweetening tea, lemonade, smoothies or other liquids. Because it lacks bulk, it’s trickier to use in baking. In general, replace 1 cup of sugar with 1 teaspoon stevia plus 1/3 cup of a bulking agent like egg whites, apple sauce, mashed bananas, pumpkin puree, or yogurt.  Stevia works better for cookies, biscotti, granola, pies, not so much for breads, cakes or anything where texture is important. Be careful of adding too much: it can add licorice and bitter undertones to recipes.

• Xylitol. Originally derived from birch bark, most xylitol is now refined from corn; it’s a white crystalline substance that’s similar in appearance and sweetness as sugar, and can be used as a direct substitute in any recipe that calls for sugar. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, a class of sweeteners that the body doesn’t metabolize as sugar, so it has no effect on insulin levels, and contains about 1/3 the calories of sugar, about 9 per teaspoon. It’s extremely effective in preventing cavities (4),  and may also have some positive effects on bone health. The downside: because it’s not absorbed by the body, in large amounts it can cause gas, bloating and loose stools. It dissolves easily in liquid, so it’s ideal for sweetening beverages and smoothies. Though it has the same color, texture and level of sweetness as white sugar, it’s not great in baked goods or recipes that require large amounts of sweetener, because of the laxative effect; use it in combination with other natural sweeteners . One important note: xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs, so keep it on a pooch-proof shelf.

Supercharge Your Plate: 8 energy-boosters to eat every day

Supercharge Your Plate: 8 energy-boosters to eat every day

Feeling tired, rundown, or just generally blah—especially as the weather changes? This is the ideal time to revamp your diet and ward off winter sicknesses. You can revamp your regimen to include more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and fish. Or get there faster, with superfoods that help increase immunity, boost energy and generally improve health and well-being. Added to smoothies, stirred into yogurt, or sprinkled on cereal, these booster foods can take you from run down to charged up. Eight of the greatest:

Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica, or chia plant, a member of the mint family. It’s native to Mexico and Guatemala, and legend says that the seeds were used by the Mayans as an energy supplement.  Chia seeds are highly concentrated sources of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid, and they’re rich  in fiber; one ounce of chia seed contains 10.7 grams of fiber, a third of the recommended daily amount. Chia seeds also contain more protein than any other seed, and fair amounts of calcium and iron. You’ll find them in whole and ground seed form. My favorites: Greens Plus Organic Chia Seeds, or Fun Fresh Foods Omega Chia Seed.

Flax seeds. Like chia seeds, flax seeds are high in ALA and fiber. Additionally, they contain lignans, phytoestrogens that help protect against breast, prostate, colon, and other cancers; enhance immune system functioning; and may prevent cardiovascular disease. Flax is available as whole seeds (grind them at home to boost digestion and increase availability of nutrients), ground seeds and oils. I like Barlean’s Highest Lignan Organic Flax Oil.

Fish oils. Sourced most commonly from cod and salmon, these powerful oils are rich in  DHA(docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), omega-3 fatty acids that protect heart and brain health, boost immunity, improve joint function, and reduce inflammation. They’re available in flavored liquids which can be added to smoothies for a powerful boost. Or look for softgels and individual squeeze packs, especially good for kids and traveling. And make sure the fish oil you select has been tested for heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs.

Inulin is a fiber-like substance found in dandelion, Jerusalem artichoke, wheat, asparagus, jicama, burdock, chicory and a number of other foods. It’s similar to other forms of soluble fiber, and studies show inulin lowers total and LDL cholesterol and reduces the risk of colon cancer. It’s also considered a prebiotic, since it promotes the growth of probiotics, especially bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, in the gut. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are one common type of inulin; it and other inulins are sold alone in powder form, to add to smoothies or green foods drinks. You’ll also find them in combination with other fibers as a fiber supplement, or combined with probiotics in powder or capsule form

Fiber. It’s crucial for health, but most people get about half of the recommended daily amount. Both forms of fiber—soluble and insoluble—are important, and each works differently. Soluble fiber absorbs water and transforms into a gel-like substance that binds with sugars, fats and cholesterol in the stomach and slows their absorption. Insoluble fiber doesn’t absorb water; it moves through the digestive largely intact, and provides bulk to increase bowel movements. A diet high in fiber reduces the risk of heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, obesity and certain cancers;  slows the absorption of sugar to improve blood glucose; lowers cholesterol; and enhances bowel regularity. If your diet is lacking in fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes, adding supplemental fiber can recharge your health, fast. It’s available in flavored or plain powdered form to add to your morning juice, almond milk or soy milk; look for a blend that contains both soluble and insoluble fiber.

Superfruits and berry concentrates. Superfruits and berries have more antioxidant potential than any other category of food, with enormous healing potential. Goji berries boost immunity and increase mental acuity and well-being; acai berries are anti-inflammatory effects and may protect against breast and colon cancer; maqui berries are rich in disease-preventive anthocyanins; cranberries protect against oral cancer; and blueberries have cancer-preventive, heart-protective and anti-inflammatory effects, and can prevent Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Look for them dried or in powders, juices and purees.

Green foods. Algae and cereal grasses are concentrated sources of nutrition that can protect against cancer and heart disease, boost immunity and treat such disorders as fibromyalgia and colitis. They’re rich in chlorophyll, antioxidants and many vitamins and minerals. These powerful compounds are generally divided into four basic categories: spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae (Aphanizomenon flos-aquae, or AFA) and cereal grasses such as wheat grass and barley grass; the nutrient profiles are similar, but in general, algae are potent immune-system activators.  Green foods may also include dried and powdered kale, spinach or other greens. You’ll find all of these in powders that can be added to beverages or salad dressings, or combined with protein powders or berry concentrates.  My all-time favorite: True Vitality green foods products; I love the wheatgrass and matcha green tea powders, and they make a delicious vegan protein powder that’s fortified with greens.

Infection Protection: part 1

Infection Protection: part 1

We’re at the start of winter cold and flu season, and inside your body, a series of small battles is being waged. The army, your immune system, is made up of a number of key players, all dedicated to protecting you from foreign invaders. How to keep immunity healthy and balanced? In part one, we’ll show you the best advice on what to eat and what to avoid. Stay tuned for part two, on what to take and how to live.

What to eat.

The immune system is like an army protecting the body from foreign invaders, and it’s important to keep the soldiers well nourished. But studies of supplementing with individual nutrients are mixed, and mega-doses of certain vitamins can adversely impact immunity. The best defense is a balanced diet, with ample amounts of certain key nutrients. Some of the most important:

Brazil nuts. They’re high in selenium, a powerful antioxidant that has been shown in a number of studies to significantly improve immune response.1 Other good sources of selenium include halibut, turkey and sardines. Easy fixes: chop Brazil nuts and add to steamed quinoa; puree Brazil nuts, garlic, fresh basil and olive oil for pesto.

Pumpkin is rich in vitamin A, which enhances immune functions, such as white blood cell activity. Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties, and studies have shown that a deficiency increases risk of infectious disease.2 Carrots, sweet potatoes, spinach, collards and kale are also high in vitamin A. Easy fixes: add pureed pumpkin to pasta sauce, halve sugar pie pumpkins and roast until tender.

Oysters are the richest source of zinc, an antioxidant mineral that’s essential for immune cell function.3 Many studies have shown that even mild zinc deficiency depresses immunity.4 Beef, crab, turkey and kidney beans are other good sources of zinc. Easy fixes: add oysters to stuffing recipes; combine oysters, crab and fish in a fragrant stew.

Red peppers contain vitamin B6, which is necessary for production of several important immune system cells.5  Other good B-6 sources: tuna, spinach, cod, bananas, soy and beans. Easy fixes: puree roasted red peppers and white beans for a quick dip; add minced red peppers to tuna salad.

Papayas are rich in vitamin C, long recognized for its immune-enhancing effects. Studies have shown that vitamin C improves many components of the immune system, including natural killer cell activities. Strawberries, grapefruit juice, peaches, peppers, broccoli and Brussels sprouts are other good sources. Easy fixes: add frozen papaya cubes to smoothies; combine chopped papayas and peaches with minced jalapenos, red onion and lime juice for salsa.

Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamin E, essential for overall immune function; in studies, even a small vitamin E deficiency impaired immune response. 6 Other good sources of vitamin E: almonds, turnip greens, spinach and beet greens are other good sources. Easy fixes: puree sunflower seeds with cooked artichokes, swap sunflower butter for peanut butter on sandwiches.

What to avoid.

Some foods, toxins and drugs upset immune system balance and deplete the body’s ability to ward off toxins. The worst offenders:

Sugar decreases the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria—in some studies, as much as 40 percent. White sugar is the worst, but any concentrated sweetener—including honey, agave and maple syrup—has similar actions. Same with pasta, bread, baked goods and other refined carbohydrates that lack adequate fiber to slow the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Stick to low-glycemic carbs, like sweet potatoes, quinoa, oat groats, buckwheat and beans, and use sugar in great moderation.

Coffee and other significant sources of caffeine tax the adrenal glands and central nervous system, increasing stress—which directly impacts immune function. Keep your coffee intake to one cup a day; or combine coffee grounds with Teecino ground herbal coffee substitute, and brew as usual. At coffee shops, stick to decaf coffee, chai or green tea.

Alcohol. Drinking wine, beer and hard liquor hamper immunity in much the same way as sugar: by reducing the ability of white blood cells to fight pathogens. Excessive alcohol intake—three drinks or more– also inhibits the ability of white blood cells to protect against cancer. Additionally, heavy drinking usually results in deficiencies of key immune-boosting nutrients. Stick to one drink a day, or less; if you’re drinking red wine for the health benefits, switch to red grape juice to get the same heart-healthy antioxidants (mainly resveratrol).

Allergenic foods. Food allergies, or even sensitivities, stress the immune system; the most common offenders are gluten, dairy, corn, soy and peanuts. Food additives, like artificial colors, preservatives and pesticide residues, may also cause sensitivities. Focus on whole, unprocessed foods (those without a label); if you suspect that you’re allergic to a food, work with a nutritionist to identify offending foods.

Obesity. Some studies suggest that excessive amounts of stored fat in the body trigger inflammation and upset the immune system; one theory is that some fatty acids “look” like bacterial invaders, leading the body to believe they’re foreign invaders. Additionally, obesity can lead to resistance to leptin–a hormone produced by fat cells that supports white blood cell production and enhances immune function.

Next up: Infection Protection, part 2—what to take, how to live

30 ways to make meals more nutritious

30 ways to make meals more nutritious

There’s no doubt that a nutrient-rich diet (see sidebar) reduces the risk of disease. But how to make that work? If you’ve tried, you already know that huge, sweeping changes–like swearing off sugar, eating fish four times a week, or tripling your intake of vegetables–rarely work. And when those efforts fail, it makes us more likely to throw up our hands in disgust and revert to our old (bad) habits.

A better approach to a more nutrient-rich diet: make one small change every day like swapping green tea for coffee or adding an extra cup of beans to soups and stews. Try these 30 sneaky ways to make your diet more nutrient dense every day:

1.    Make noodles more nutritious: halve the amount of (whole-grain or gluten-free) pasta and double the sauce. Better yet, go puttanesca-style with your sauce; add lots of garlic, onions, chili peppers, olives and anchovies (they’re high in omega-3 fats).

2.    Dress your salad with avocado, instead of store-bought creamy dressings, to increase your folate, lower unhealthy fats, and protect your heart. For a simple dressing, puree avocado and lemon juice, then season with salt and pepper.

3.    Choose an English muffin instead of a bagel for a 200-calorie savings (the average whole-grain bagel is 350 calories, versus 130 for an English muffin); spread it with almond butter instead of cream cheese, for the same calories and a big protein boost.

4.    Load up your pizza to boost nutrients and fiber: add green peppers (rich in vitamin C), onions (they contain cancer-preventive compounds), olives (for healthy monounsaturated fats) and artichoke hearts (they’re great for your liver).

5.    Use white bean spread instead of mayo on your sandwiches. You’ll add fiber and protein,  for fewer calories. Puree white beans, olive oil, garlic and a splash of apple cider vinegar to make a creamy spread; season with salt and white pepper.

6.    Spend your dairy calories on yogurt, not milk. Yogurt is rich in probiotics, beneficial bacteria that keep digestion healthy, boost immunity and may protect against some cancers. Instead of a bowl of cereal with milk, try a bowl of plain yogurt topped with homemade granola (see number 18).

7.    Fortify your mashed potatoes: use a combo of half potatoes and half cauliflower; cook in the same pot until soft, then drain and mash as usual. Try olive oil instead of butter, and load it up with garlic and herbs instead of salt.

8.    Drink smoothies; you’ll squeeze in five servings of fruits and vegetables. Add a handful of spinach for vitamin K and folate (you’ll never know it’s in there). Try this: puree frozen blueberries, half a banana, almond milk, a scoop of whey powder and spinach until creamy and smooth.

9.    Buy pastured eggs; they contain five times more vitamin D, twice as much omega-3, three times more vitamin E, and seven times more beta carotene. Look for them at farmer’s markets or local farms.

10.    Make a smart soda; swap your store-bought variety, and mix up your own blend of organic pomegranate juice and sparkling water; you’ll add cancer-preventive compounds and lots of antioxidants.

11.    Give your pasta sauce a boost; mix in a cup of pumpkin puree for a day’s worth of alpha carotene plus added fiber; or puree cooked broccoli, sweet potatoes and carrots, and stir into sauce for extra carotenoids and cancer-fighting compounds.

12.    Eat a raw salad every day, and make sure it contains at least three colors from five or more different sources–for example, spinach and arugula (green) combined with peppers (yellow) , carrots (orange), beets, tomatoes and shredded cabbage (red).

13.    Swap beans for meat. In soups, stews and chilies, cut the meat in half and add more beans; you’ll dramatically increase fiber and slash fat by 50 percent. Make ’em red kidney beans, and you’ll triple your antioxidant intake.

14.    Make your chocolate count. Cacao beans are rich in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. But you’ll only find the good stuff in raw cacao nibs and extra-dark chocolate–not the sugar-laced, watered-down versions of chocolate most of us grew up with. Cacao nibs are bits of dried, roasted and crushed cacao bean, with a rich, cocoa butter flavor; add them to nutrient-dense muffins (see 29) or smoothies. Or choose bars that are 70 percent cacao, or higher, for the most nutrition.

15.    Eat plants, not grains, for fiber; you’ll get added nutrients for fewer calories. A cup of raspberries, for example, has 9 grams of fiber–the most of any fruit–with only 64 calories. A cup of broccoli has 6 grams of fiber, and only 52 calories Compare that to brown rice: a cup has a paltry 2 grams of fiber per 100 calories.

16.    Cut your coffee with Teeccino, a caffeine-free mix of roasted grains, nuts and herbs; it’s acid-free, rich in potassium, and contains prebioitics that encourage the growth of beneficial probiotics in your intestines.

17.    Get your calcium from greens. They contain fiber, beta carotene and more nutrients than dairy, with a fraction of the calories. Collards are especially rich in this vital mineral; one cup of cooked collards has as much calcium as a cup of milk, with a savings of 100 calories. And collards and other greens are also rich in magnesium, another key nutrient for bone health.

18.    Choose mustard, instead of mayo, when you’re eating out. If you’re buying condiments, choose ketchup varieties with no added sugar, and look for mayo blends made with heart-healthy olive and/or flax oils.

19.    Skip store-bought granola (it’s loaded with fat and sugar), and make your own: combine rolled oats with chopped walnuts, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds; stir in a little honey mixed with hot water, bake at 200 until golden, then stir in dried cranberries and let cool.

20.    Make vegetables easy. Buy pre-cut versions or, better yet, cut a variety of vegetables at home and store them in air-tight containers. You’ll be more likely to use them if they’re ready-to-go. Good candidates: sweet potatoes, kale, broccoli, red peppers, celery.

21.    Rethink your plate portions; at least 50 to 60 percent of your plate should be vegetables, with small portions of protein and starch. Make sides count: steam asparagus and tie into bundles with chives or scallion tops; shred Brussels sprouts, saute in olive oil and shallots, and sprinkle with toasted walnuts; or steam artichokes, and serve with red pepper hummus.

22.    Make your fries count. If you choose sweet potatoes over white potatoes, you’ll get more beta carotene but less potassium; calorie and fiber differences are negligible. More important: swap frying for baking. Toss potato strips in olive oil, season lightly with sea salt and spices, and roast at 400 until crispy.

23.    Choose grass-fed over conventional beef. Studies show they’re lower in saturated fat and calories, and higher in omega-3 fatty acids and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a compound with cancer-protective and anti-obesity effects.

24.    Try cauliflower cous cous, instead of the grain variety; you’ll add tons of cancer-preventive nutrients, and save calories: chop cauliflower florets in a food processor until they resemble small grains, then cook in 1/4 inch of water until tender. Add coconut oil, cumin, curry and dried apricots, for a twist on the traditional Middle Eastern grain.

25.    Buy organic vegetables, whenever possible. Besides avoiding pesticide residues, you may get more nutrients; some studies and reviews have found that organic fruits and vegetables contain, on average, 25 percent higher concentrations of 11 nutrients than their conventional counterparts.

26.    Choose dried apples over dates or cranberries; apples rank higher on the ANDI scale (see sidebar) and contain half the sugar of  other dried fruits. Or choose prunes; they’re high in sugar, but rank at the top of the ORAC (see sidebar) scale.

27.    Try seaweed noodles, instead of grain-based varieties.  Kelp-based varieties are extremely low in calories and rich in iodine, for thyroid health. Serve them Asian style, with tamari, toasted sesame oil, ginger, garlic and black sesame seeds.

28.    Choose whole-grain instead of multi-grain. Whole-grain means the entire grain kernel, including all the fiber, has been used. Multi-grain means only that more than one type of grain was used–and those grains could be refined and stripped of fiber and nutrients.

29.    Supercharge breakfast muffins: make them with gluten-free flour, and add ground almonds, flax seeds, shredded carrots and shredded zucchini; swap applesauce for half the fat, and sweeten with mashed bananas and raisins.

30.    Eating out? Choose Chinese. Skip the fried rice and sauces, and order stir-fried vegetables; ask for extra bok choy, cabbage and broccoli, and you’ll get a week’s worth of cancer-preventive glucosinolates. Add shrimp, not beef, for lean protein.
What is Nutrient-Dense?

Nutrient density measures how many nutrients you get from a food, given the number of calories it contains. Nutrient dense foods give you the most nutrients possible, for the least amount of calories; for example, in some energy bars, you’ll get 15 percent of your daily need of folate for around 200 calories. A cup of raw spinach has the same amount of folate, and only 7 calories.

One way to measure nutrient density in foods is with the ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index). Developed by Joel Fuhrman, M.D., the ANDI scale measures the amount of  key nutrients in a food, relative to its calories. The nutrients included in the ANDI scale are calcium, carotenoids, lycopene, fiber, glucosinolates, iron, magnesium, niacin, selenium, B vitamins, vitamin C and E, and zinc, plus ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) scores–a method of measuring the antioxidant capacity of foods.

The ANDI scale is only one way to measure nutrient density, and it does have some shortcomings; for example, it doesn’t measure protein, so even nutrient-dense sources of protein–like pastured eggs, wild Alaskan salmon and lean, grass-fed cuts of beef–have a low ANDI score. Nor does the scale measure fats, so high-quality monounsaturated fats like olives and avocados come up short in this system. Be sure to keep those points in mind when you’re formulating your diet. Otherwise, it’s a great way to start. On the ANDI scale, the top 20 nutrient dense foods include:

1. Kale
2. Collards
3. Bok choy
4. Spinach
5. Brussels sprouts
6. Arugula
7. Cabbage
8. Romaine
9. Broccoli
10. Cauliflower
11. Green peppers
12. Artichokes
13. Carrots
14. Asparagus
15. Strawberries
16. Pomegranate juice
17. Tomatoes
18. Blueberries
19. Iceberg lettuce
20. Oranges

12 healthy shortcuts

12 healthy shortcuts

Sane and practical advice for living your best life

Every day, you’re faced with dozens of directives from doctors, health experts, and well-meaning family members: exercise 30 minutes a day, eat fish twice a week, floss every night. But it’s just not possible to do everything perfectly. You can’t cut corners on some things, such as quitting smoking or giving up trans fats, but other health mandates offer wiggle room for sane shortcuts. Want real-life advice for healthy tipshealthy living? Here are a dozen easier ways to do good-for-you things:

1. Eat breakfast. Ideally, you’d like to have protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat, with about a third of your daily caloric intakes. Studies show that people who eat regular breakfasts maintain their weight and have a lower risk of diabetes.

Sane shortcuts: Breakfast bars are a tempting shortcut, but many of them have too much sugar, too many calories, not enough fiber, and very little protein. Read labels carefully. Other ideas:

  • Keep a supply of boiled eggs in the refrigerator for quick breakfasts.
  • Combine whey protein, milk of your choice, and fruit in a blender the night before, so all you have to do in the morning is grab it and go.
  • Spread almond butter on a whole-grain toaster waffle.
  • Try an apple with a few cubes of cheese or a packet of salmon.

2 Boost cardiovascular health with daily activity. About 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day—or even most days—can improve cardiovascular health, reduce LDL cholesterol, and normalize weight.

Sane shortcuts: If a 30-minute run seems out of your reach, break it up into manage-able bursts of intense activity—anything that gets your heart beating faster.

  • Park several blocks away from your office and sprint to work.
  • Use a bike for transportation whenever distance and weather allow.
  • Stow a jump rope in your car, office drawer, briefcase, or backpack, and jump rope on your lunch hour.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

3 Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Less than that, and you’ll increase your risk of high blood pressure and weight gain; other studies show skimping on sleep is linked to a lowered immune system.

Sane shortcuts: Make sure your bedroom is the ideal sleep environment—quiet, dark, comfortable—and follow good sleep hygiene: avoid caffeine in the late afternoon, don’t watch scary movies, and follow a calming pre-bed ritual. Other ideas:

  • Take an afternoon siesta.
  • One study showed that nappers lowered their risk of heart disease, so grab a 20-minute snooze after lunch or work.
  • Try NADH: 20 mg can boost mental alertness and concentration, and help you perform better on mental tasks when you’re sleep deprived.
  • Close your eyes and do deep-breathing exercises for 10 minutes to temporarily refresh your mind.

meditation4 Meditate. A number of studies show that a daily meditation practice lowers blood pressure and reduces stress.

Sane shortcuts: The idea behind meditation is to calm the nervous system, slow your heart rate, and lower stress. Close your eyes, listen to your breath, and repeat the word “calm” or “relax.” If spending 30 minutes cross-legged on a cushion is unthinkable: Get comfortable (you don’t have to sit on the floor). Choose a comfortable chair that keeps your spine erect, but not so comfortable that you’ll doze off. Start with short—no more than 10 minutes—sessions to establish the habit.

  • If your mornings are rushed, try meditating at lunch or right before bed.
  • Do mini meditations throughout the day. Set an alarm for 2-hour intervals, and check in for 2 minutes with your breathing.
  • Invest in a set of meditation CDs to guide you.

5 Eat 5—9 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. They’re rich in fiber and disease-preventive antioxidants, and they help protect you from heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and many other illnesses.

Sane shortcuts: Fresh, seasonal, organic produce is the ideal, but that’s a tall order for many Americans. Other options:

  • Stock your freezer with a variety of frozen vegetables for side dishes.
  • Purée a handful of baby spinach leaves, frozen blackberries, and half an avocado into smoothies.
  • Buy bags of precut vegetables and add to chopped romaine lettuce for fast salads
  • . Keep cucumber slices, strips of red peppers, and celery and carrot sticks in the fridge for fast snacks.

6 Eat fish twice a week. Fatty varieties—such as salmon, sardines, and tuna—are rich in omega-3s that protect against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and inflammation.

Sane shortcuts: Flaxseed, walnuts, and a few other plant foods are also rich in omega-3 fats, but in a form that must be converted by the body, so they’re not your best source. Fishy ideas:

  • Swap salmon for white fish or shrimp in many recipes.
  • Sardines are cheaper than salmon and lower in toxins than tuna.
  • Swap boneless, skinless sardines for tuna in salads.
  • Take omega-3 supplements that contain DHA and EPA, and look for brands that also include vitamin E, rosemary, or another antioxidant to keep them fresh.

7 Always wear sunscreen. One recent study found that using sunscreen on a daily basis reduced the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous kind of skin cancer.

Sane shortcuts: The idea is to reduce cancer risk and protect against aging and skin damage. But wearing sunscreen inhibits the skin’s production of vitamin D, and the American Medical Association recommends 10 minutes of direct sun exposure several times a week. Some ideas:

  • Use a foundation or moisturizer with built-in sunscreen.
  • Carry a lightweight jacket, wear a big-brimmed hat, and seek out shade.
  • Choose safe sunscreens, and avoid toxic ingredients.
  • The Environmental Working Group ( has a complete list of the safest choices.
  • Drink green tea. It contains antioxidants that protect against damaging ultraviolet rays.

8 Eat 20—35 grams of fiber daily. Soluble and insoluble fiber are linked with a decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Sane shortcuts: Don’t count on grains. Calorie-for-calorie, beans, vegetables, and even some fruits are better bets. Other ways to get more fiber:

  • Eat more beans. Most contain half of your daily fiber needs.
  • Serve broccoli spears with dipping sauce for a fast alternative to salad. You’ll get 6 grams of fiber—and only 50 calories—per cup.
  • Top salads with a cup of raspberries, for 9 grams of fiber and only 68 calories.
  • Take a daily dose of ground psyllium fiber to promote regularity, or add ground flax to salad dressings and smoothies.

9 Brush after every meal, and floss daily. Besides preventing cavities, good oral hygiene protects against disease. In one study, people with periodontal disease were almost twice as likely to have heart disease.

Sane shortcuts: Brush after at least two meals when you’re eating at home, and tote a toothbrush when you’re out. If brushing is out of the question:

  • Use a toothpick to dislodge food particles, and rinse with water.
  • Chew xylitol gum after meals. It increases saliva production to wash away bits of food, and xylitol protects against cavities
  • . Make flossing easier with individual flossers. Or invest in an electric toothbrush with sonic waves to blast plaque.

10 Lift weights. Pumping iron encourages bone density and lowers body fat, which increases metabolism and lowers heart disease risk.

Sane shortcuts: Get a personal trainer to show you the ropes. Even one session will give you the tools and know-how to stick to a regular regimen. If you can’t lift weights at the gym:

  • Practice squats, lunges, or pushups. They use your body weight as the resistance.
  • Invest in a set of graduated weights, and lift for 15 minutes most days of the week.
  • Any exercise that requires your body to work against gravity also boosts bone. Follow a bone-healthy diet, which includes calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, and other nutrients.

11 Stay hydrated. Try to drink at least eight glasses of water per day. It helps maintain blood pressure, promotes bowel regularity, and may prevent heart disease.

Sane shortcuts: Eight-a-day has long been the standard recommendation, but it depends on your size, level of activity, and overall diet (coffee, for example, acts as a diuretic, increasing your body’s need for water). How to hydrate:

  • Drink a glass of water each time you go to the bathroom.
  • Keep a jug or pitcher of water on your desk. You’ll drink more if it’s convenient.
  • Drink from a straw. You’ll automatically drink more.
12 Wash your hands. Studies show that frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent colds and flu.
Sane shortcuts: Wash your hands as soon as possible after you return from the grocery store, bank, work, or other highly trafficked public places. If you can’t wash:
  • Use a hand sanitizer gel or wipe; look for natural versions with essential oils and aloe
  • To avoid chemicals and prevent dry, chapped hands, choose natural sanitizers with antibacterial essential oils and aloe vera.
  • Avoid touching your eyes or nose. Delicate membranes in both can transfer pathogens into the body.
  • Strengthen your immune system with probiotics, vitamin D, and herbs such as ashwagandha.
Infection Protection: part 2

Infection Protection: part 2

We’re at the start of cold and flu season, and inside your body, a series of small battles is being waged. The army, your immune system, is made up of a number of key players, all dedicated to protecting you from foreign invaders. How to keep immunity healthy and balanced? In part one, we looked at what to eat and what to avoid. Here, in part two, we’ll look at what to take, and how to live.

What to take.

The studies on herbs and supplements are mixed, but a few contenders shine through. The best:

Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb traditionally used as an adaptogen to combat stress and boost energy, may also enhance immune function by increasing production of certain key players.7 One recent study suggested that Ashwagandha may also help protect against colon cancer.8

Propolis, a sticky, glue-like substances produced by honeybees and used to construct their hives, is strongly anti-bacterial actions. In one study, propolis was more effective than an antibiotic mixture against a strain of Enterococcus bacteria.9

Ganoderma lucidum (reishi mushroom) is a fungus traditionally used in Chinese medicine for health, longevity and recuperation. Many studies have pointed to the potent immune-supportive effects of reishi mushroom, and more recent research suggests that reishi inhibits tumor growth. 10

Olive leaf extract—from the Mediterranean olive tree—is rich in antioxidants and has strong anti-viral activities.11 In one study, olive leaf extract inhibited HIV-1 replication.12 It’s also been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce LDL cholesterol.

Astragalus, traditionally used in Chinese medicine to treat diabetes and speed healing, also has immune-supportive effects, and can help combat HIV.13 It’s especially useful in supporting the immune system during chemotherapy,14 and other studies have suggested that astragalus may also protect against some kinds of cancer. 15

Probiotics have a wide range of immune-supportive actions, especially in diarrhea, allergy, eczema and viral infections.16 Other studies point to their effectiveness in treating irritable bowel syndrome 17 and reducing inflammation. 18

How to live

Diet and supplements can go a long way toward boosting resistance and improving immune system function. But that’s only part of the story; if you’re sleeping too little, stressing too much and moving not at all, you’ll impact your immune system. Some important tips on how to live, to boost resistance:

Move more. Studies show that regular exercise diminishes inflammation and elevates compounds involved in immune function.19  The one exception is consistently exercising to the point of exhaustion, which seems to diminish resistance. Otherwise, dance, swim, jog, do yoga—whatever moves you.
• Walking versus running. Brisk walking appears to be better for overall immunity than hard-core running. While vigorous, intense activities like running can weaken immune function, more moderate exercise seems to strengthen it. In one study, women who engaged in brisk walking or other moderate exercise for about 30 minutes a day had half the risk for colds over the course of a year as those who didn’t exercise on a regular basis.
• Yoga supports overall immunity, through a couple of different mechanisms. First, a regular yoga practice helps prevent alterations in the number of immune cells.20 Second, yoga is associated with a reduction in stress, and a corresponding drop in levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that’s linked to suppressed immune function. In one recent study, breast cancer survivors who practiced yoga daily had lower cortisol rates and reductions in other markers of stress.21 In most studies, yoga also has auxiliary benefits, like reduced heart rate and blood pressure, increasing muscle strength, and lessening the risk of anxiety and depression.22
• Tai chi, a type of Chinese martial art, benefits both immune and autoimmune conditions, in addition to decreasing heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol.23 Other studies show that qigong also has similar benefits.24 One study showed that a moderate Tai Chi and Qigong practice improved immune response of older adults, after only five months of practice.25

Reduce stress. It’s one of the most important factors for improving immune function. Researchers have known for years that a wide variety of conditions and illnesses, from digestive disorders to heart disease, are linked to emotional stress. Most studies show that chronic, long-term stress—versus sudden, short-lived, intense stress—causes more damage to the immune system. Stress may impact immunity by disrupting communication between the immune system and other body systems, by causing a chronic release of stress hormones, like cortisol, that affect immune regulation, or by decreasing T-cell activity. 26

Have lots of friends. In an early and famous experiment on immune response and social life, researchers exposed healthy volunteers to the cold virus, and found that those with stronger social networks and friendships were less likely to develop colds. Other studies have consistently linked a strong support system with better immune function, as well as lower blood pressure and reduced mortality. 27

Meditate, with love. Mindfulness-based meditation practices have been linked in many studies with improved immune function. One recent study also noted that similar practices, called loving-kindness meditation and compassion meditation—geared toward encouraging a loving, kind mindset—improved immune response.28

Laugh. 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.29 Rent a funny movie, go to a comedy show, invite your funniest friend to lunch. Your immune system will thank you.

Raw Talk: Easy ways to eat without heat

Raw Talk: Easy ways to eat without heat

I went raw years ago, and I did it with a great deal of enthusiasm and optimism. How hard could it be, eating food without cooking it? It seemed easy: make a bunch of salads, eat lots of apples and oranges, sprout a few nuts and beans. I thought it would be a piece of cake. But after three weeks, all I wanted was a piece of cake. And bread, and hot, hot soups. Slowly but surely, I returned to my old ways, and to my beloved stove.

I didn’t know then what I know now: that there are simple ways to get around food cravings and other common obstacles to the raw-foods diet. Most people can safely — and happily — increase their consumption of raw foods. The problem is getting past some tricky food obstacles, like the salad rut (really, there’s only so much you can do with a bowl of raw greens). The solution: get creative. Arm yourself with some good raw-foods cookbooks (I like Brigitte Mars’ “Rawsome”!). Then seek out workshops and raw foods classes, and learn to replicate your favorite meals. Start with these:

Raw Hummus with Basil and Black Olives
(Serves 2 to 4)

1 cup soaked and sprouted garbanzo beans *
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 cup raw tahini
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from 1/2 small lemon
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

1. Combine beans, garlic, tahini, olive oil and lemon juice in a food processor. Process for 1 to 2 minutes, or until smooth. Add olives and basil, and pulse to mix well.

2. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, and cayenne pepper, if desired. Serve with carrot and jicama sticks, strips of red bell pepper, and raw flax crackers for dipping.

*To sprout garbanzo beans, place in a large glass jar, cover with filtered water, and soak for 24 hours. Drain, rinse and return to jar. Place the jar on its side and let stand overnight. Rinse beans once more and refrigerate.

* * * * *

Raw Blueberries-and-Cream Pie
(Serves 10 to 12)

10 large, pitted dates (soak in water if very firm or dry)
1/2 cup almonds, soaked overnight and drained
3/4 cup walnuts, soaked overnight and drained
1/2 cup raisins (soak if dry; drain)
2 cups raw cashews, soaked overnight and drained
4 cups blueberries
2 to 4 tablespoons raw, unfiltered honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Shredded coconut, whole mint leaves or edible flowers for garnish

1. Combine 3 dates and 1/2 cup warm water to cover in a small bowl and let stand for 30 minutes. Lightly coat a 9-inch glass pie dish with coconut oil.

2. While dates are soaking, combine remaining 7 dates, almonds, walnuts and raisins in a food processor. Process on high until nuts and fruit are chopped and mixture starts to form a sticky ball; scrape sides of food processor as needed. Press mixture into prepared pie dish to form a crust, crimping edges decoratively. Refrigerate while you’re making the rest of the recipe.

3. Drain soaking dates and reserve soaking water. Combine dates in a food processor with cashews, 3 cups of the blueberries, 2 tablespoons of the honey and vanilla, and process until smooth and creamy; add reserved date soaking water as needed. Taste and add remaining honey if needed. Add remaining 1 cup berries and pulse until berries are chopped small but still visible. Spoon filling into crust, smooth top, and freeze for 1 hour.

4. Remove pie from freezer and garnish with whole berries, coconut, mint leaves and edible flowers as desired. Slice into thin wedges and serve.