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11 ways to prevent Alzheimer’s

11 ways to prevent Alzheimer’s

Feeling a little foggy? It may be a normal part of getting older, or it may be something more serious. It’s typical in aging to lose some mental sharpness. With aging, the brain cells begin to deteriorate, and essential fuels aren’t delivered as efficiently. But Alzheimer’s disease isn’t an inconvenient aspect of getting older; it’s an incurable, degenerative, and ultimately fatal disease

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia; it’s characterized by a buildup of amyloid protein plaques in the brain, tangled bundles of nerve fibers, and the loss of connections between nerve cells in the brain. The disease is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 65, but it can occur earlier.

The exact cause is unknown, but contributing factors include genetics, lifestyle factors and diet. And while there’s no known cure for Alzheimer’s, you can prevent it, says brain expert Daniel Amen, M.D., author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Body (Harmony Books, 2010). According to Amen, changing habits in adulthood can delay the onset of Alzheimer’s, or sidestep
it entirely.

Start saving your brain today, with these smart steps.

1. Be a vegan. Saturated fat appears to increase the risk for Alzheimer’s, possibly by compromising blood-brain b240_F_93785517_dPoSIoPONsiVu00wLATohXwJUH4qJuynarrier and allowing harmful substances to enter the brain.1In one study, people who ate smaller amounts of high-fat dairy products, red meat, organ meat and butter had less chance of developing the disease. If you don’t want to give up meat and dairy, choose lean, low-fat versions, and reduce your intake of both.

2. Get moving. Study after study points to physical exercise as the most effective way to prevent Alzheimer’s. Doing exercise that increases heart rate for at least 30 minutes, several times a week, appears to inhibit Alzheimer’s-like brain changes, slowing the development of amyloid plaques in the brain, a key feature of the disease.2 Ways to move: ride a bike, go swimming, try skiing, take a brisk walk, play tennis—anything you enjoy that you do consistently, day after day.

3. Eat like a bird. Many studies suggest that eating less food decreases overall inflammation in the body.5Other studies have found that restricting calories, especially carbohydrates, may prevent Alzheimer’s by triggering activity in the brain associated with longevity. (But high-fat, high-protein diets won’t work; the study also found that a high caloric intake based on saturated fat would increase risk.)

4. Mix it up. Because foods aren’t eaten in isolation, one study examined the results of a specific set of dietary patterns.6 It seems that eating a varied diet made up of dark green vegetables, tomatoes, crucifers, nuts, fish, poultry and fruit is the most protective.

5. Check your B vitamins. In one study, people with elevated levels of homocysteine—an amino acid that’s linked to increased risk of heart disease—had nearly double the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.7 The body naturally takes care of excess homocysteine if it has enough folate and B12 vitamins; if you have a family history of Alzheimer’s or other risk factors, consider taking a supplement of folate and B12 to keep homocysteine levels in check. Other supplements that show promise: ginkgo biloba,8 vinpocetine, huperazine A, acetyl-l-carnitine and alpha lipoic acid, says Amen.  

6. Get your five-a-day. Or more: much research shows that free radical damage may lead to Alzheimer’s disease, and antioxidants from fruits and vegetables are one of the best ways to prevent that damage. Start early: a lifelong consumption of fruits and vegetables offers the best protection, says one study.9

7. Sharpen the saw. Being bored is potentially harmful to the long-term well-being of your brain. In several new studies, people who do not engage in regular learning activities throughout their lives have a higher incidence of Alzheimer’s disease. Flex your mental muscles with new experiences: travel to a foreign country, drive a different route to work, learn to play chess, take up a new sport. Or learn to dance: you’ll get exercise, and memorizing moves will stimulate your brain.

8. Sober up. Alcohol may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and drugs like marijuana, cocaine, prescription pain killers and benzodiazepines, diminish brain function and damage neurons. Educate kids early about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. Adults,  avoid recreational drugs, take prescription meds with caution, and limit alcohol consumption to no more than one to two normal-size drinks a week.

9. Protect your head. Brain injuries—even those not resulting in concussion—can damage the brain and lead to Alzheimer’s. Helmets only offer partial protection; if your head hits the ground or a hard surface, it shakes the brain inside the skull, with our without a helmet. Inside the skull are a whole lot of sharp, boney ridges—and a helmet can’t protect your brain from those, Amen says.

10. Catch some rays. Decreased levels of vitamin D can increase Alzheimer’s risk. The best way to increase levels is exposure to the sun, but wearing sunscreen blocks inhibits the skin’s production of vitamin D. The American Medical Association recommends 10 minutes of direct sun exposure, without sunscreen, several times a week.  If you’re fearful of burning,  consider a supplement; the current recommendation is 400 IU a day, but most experts agree that’s too low, and that as much as 2000 IU a day is more appropriate. Get your vitamin D levels checked, and ask your health care provider to recommend the best amount for you.

11. Rethink your cookware. Though no study definitively links aluminum cookware to Alzheimer’s, many studies confirm that aluminum concentrations in the brain are linked to increased risk of the disease.10 Aluminum is toxic to brain function and we’d  assume less is better. If you’re at risk for Alzheimer’s, consider switching to stainless steel cookware, and avoiding other sources of aluminum, such as tap water and aluminum-containing drugs.

10 Warning Signs of Alzheimer’s

Simple forgetfulness or the beginnings of dementia? If any of these signs sound familiar, it may be time to seek medical care:

1. Memory loss–forgetting important dates or events, or asking for the same information over and over–that interferes with daily life.

2. Difficulty in solving problems, developing and following a plan, or working with numbers; for example, following a recipe, or keeping track of bills.

3. Challenges in completing familiar daily tasks, like driving to a familiar location, or remembering the rules of a favorite game.

4. Becoming confused about times or locations, like losing track of dates or seasons, having trouble understanding something that’s not happening immediately, or forgetting where they are and/or how they got there.

5. Difficulty understanding visual problems and spatial relationships, like judging distance, determining color or contrast, or passing a mirror in a room and thinking there’s someone else there.

6. Having trouble with words, either in speaking or writing, such as difficulty following a conversation, repeating themselves, struggling with vocabulary, calling things by the wrong name, or having problems finding the right word.

7. Misplacing things, difficulty in retracing steps, or putting things in unusual places.

8. Poor judgment, or decreased capacity for decision making–for example, giving large amounts of money to telemarketers, or poor self-care or grooming.

9. Withdrawing from work or decreased involvement in social activities or hobbies, sometimes because of difficulties remembering how to complete hobbies or tasks.

10. Personality changes, or changes in mood; for example, becoming anxious, fearful, confused or depressed, or becoming easily upset.

Hungry for love: foods to inspire desire

Hungry for love: foods to inspire desire

Few human instincts are as compelling as the desire for sexual connection. Throughout time, the moment our basic survival needs — food, shelter, protection from large, furry animals — have been met, we’ve sought sexual union, both for procreation and pleasure. And universal though it may be, sex is still the most enduring enigma. It represents survival in its purest form, ensuring the continuation of the species. Even less-than-sublime sex is still fun; at its best, it’s mind-blowing.

In spite of the intrigue and romance surrounding it, sexual arousal begins as a purely utilitarian interaction of body processes. In the brain, hormones, enzymes and neurotransmitters work together to regulate stimulation and performance. The nervous system is engaged to interpret, classify and route signals. Meanwhile, the mechanics of sexual response — erection in men, lubrication and swelling of genitals in women — depends in part on the simple fact of adequate blood flow to the appropriate organs.

But sometimes, the blood — and everything else — fails to flow. That’s when cultures throughout time have turned to lust-inspiring foods. Aphrodisiacs — named for Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of fertility, beauty and desire–were originally used to treat various sexual disorders, from impotence to infertility. Some of the most traditional are thought to be lust-provoking because of their resemblance to human genitalia. These range from the obvious, like bananas, cucumbers and asparagus, to the slightly more subtle, like peaches, apricots and raspberries, which are thought to resemble a woman’s nipples. And some foods, like lobsters and figs, are simply sexier than others. Really, how sultry can you feel eating peanut butter or canned tuna?

Oysters, clams and mussels are considered representative of female genitalia, and lobster is thought to enhance the power and charms of men and promote fertility in women. So strong is the association between seafood and sexual desire that priests were long banned from eating fish, lest it interfere with their vows to celibacy.

Because they’re symbolic of the female reproductive system, eggs are thought to not only increase desire but also to promote fertility; they’re also high in lecithin and vitamin A, which are key in the production and secretion of sex hormones. Bananas are legendary as aphrodisiacs, for their shape, size and sensuous, creamy texture.

Nuts and seeds, because they’re part of the reproductive mechanisms of plants, have also been considered aphrodisiacs. Almonds are thought to increase fertility, and the aroma is said to induce passion in women, and pine nuts have been used since Medieval times to boost libido. Nuts and seeds are also high in vitamin E, essential for transporting sufficient oxygen to the genitalia; vitamin E also affects the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, which controls sexual organs and functions.

Figs have enjoyed a versatility unmatched by any other aphrodisiac food, being compared alternately to the penis, vagina, testicles and anus. The subtle swell and fold of an apple is thought to be uniquely feminine, and Hindus applied mashed apple, honey and pepper to the male genitals to provoke amorous liaisons. Asparagus, with its distinctly phallic shape, has long been considered an aphrodisiac. The avocado tree was termed “Ahuacuatl” (“testicle tree”) by the Aztecs, who thought the fruit hanging in pairs looked like testicles. Truffles, with their musky aroma and mysterious folds, have been considered aphrodisiacs since the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.

A few foods, like chocolate, red wine and champagne, contain chemical compounds that, in the appropriate quantities and circumstances, can incite passion. Chocolate, especially dark chocolate, boosts serotonin, the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, and contains phenylethylamine, a chemical in the brain that occurs in higher concentrations when you’re in love.

And some of the most legendary aphrodisiacs are considerably less appealing. Bird’s nest soup from the island of Borneo is prized for the lust-inspiring qualities of the swallow spittle that holds it together. Elizabethan legend has it that when chased through the woods, a beaver will bite off his genitals, fling them at the pursuer and race away. Because the animal’s genitals are said to grow back, they are thought to have magical sexual properties. Durian fruit from Malaysia is a lumpy, football-sized fruit that costs upwards of $25 a pound and smells very much like rotten fish. Nonetheless, the flesh inside is sweet and velvety, and is a highly regarded aphrodisiac.

If you’re hungry for love, and none is forthcoming, incite passion with a new flame—or restore amour with a steady lover—with a meal based on legendary aphrodisiac foods. Keep it light; no one feels sexy with a bloated stomach. Start with small, simple appetizers: fresh figs stuffed with goat cheese, or steamed and chilled asparagus with a light dipping sauce. For a main course, try a lobster and avocado salad served on a bed of arugula leaves dressed with truffle oil and sprinkled with pine nuts. Or go for the aphrodisiac standard: oysters. Steam them and serve with cocktail sauce or drawn butter. If you’re not so hard core, try Oysters Rockefeller, made with Pernod, fresh spinach and tarragon.

To finish, serve chocolate truffles, Bananas Foster made with honey, or fresh raspberries with whipped cream, and see where the evening takes you. What do you have to lose—except, maybe, a good night’s sleep?

20 ways to save your heart

20 ways to save your heart

We fear cancer and are appalled by growing rates of diabetes. But heart disease is still the number-one killer of both women and men. You already know the usual advice for heart health: eat right, don’t smoke, exercise regularly, lessen stress. What does that mean in practical terms? Add these twenty habits to your daily life, and keep your heart beating strong for longer.

1. Know your (trans) fat facts. We now know that trans fats—found in French fries and commercially processed foods—scary fats raise LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, decrease HDL (good) cholesterol, and reduce blood vessel function by 30 percent, compared to saturated fat. They’re so dangerous the FDA now requires food labels to list trans fat content. Here’s the catch: under the regulations, if a serving contains less than 0.5 grams, manufacturers can claim their product is free of trans fats. So a product containing 0.4 grams can be labeled as trans-fat free—but eat three servings of three of these foods, and you’ve consumed 1.2 grams, enough to put you at risk.1 The best protection: stay away from any food that lists “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” on its ingredient list or, better yet, skip packaged foods altogether in favor of a whole foods diet.

2. Go for the grit. Foods high in soluble fiber, like oatmeal, apples, prunes, pears and beans, can hamper the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream, and eating 5 to 10 grams or more of soluble fiber a day has been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. If you don’t get enough, certain fiber supplements can help. Blond psyllium, at a dosage of 10 to 12 grams a day, has been shown to lower LDL levels.

3. Let the sun shine in. Getting enough vitamin D can reduce your risk of heart disease by as much as 47 percent. The best source is direct exposure to 20 to 30 minutes of sunlight, without sunscreen. If you have dark skin, skin cancer fears, or live in northern states, vitamin D supplements can help. Dosage recommendations range from 400 IU to as much as 3000 IU per day for cardio-protective benefits.

4. Supplement with sterols. These naturally occurring substances block the body’s absorption of cholesterol, and some studies suggest that sterols can lower LDL by as much as 15 percent, without affecting HDL levels. You’ll find them in small am0unts in a wide variety of foods, as well as some fortified foods. Or choose a plant sterol supplement; studies show effects at 2 grams a day.

5. Eat your (cran)berries. They keep blood cells from clumping, increase HDL levels, and have potent anti-inflammatory effects.  2, 3, 4 The antioxidants in cranberries also keep LDL cholesterol from oxidizing; oxidized cholesterol is more likely to stick to artery walls and cause atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Skip the sugary cranberry juice “cocktail,” and add 100 percent cranberry juice to water or your usual juice. Or use cranberry extract supplements for the same benefits. And wash them down with plenty of water: five or more glasses a day is associated with reduced risk of heart disease.5

6. Get excited. Long-term, chronic stress is hard on the heart, but occasional adrenaline boosting can naturally upset heart rhythm and boost heart health. Alternate excitement stress reduction; playing hooky from work every once in a while can lower heart attack risk. And practice calming your mind. In one study, people with heart disease who practiced meditation daily halved their risk for heart attack, stroke and death. 6

7. Swap sugar for honey. Studies in the 1960s7 first linked higher sugar intake with increased cardiovascular disease, and later studies found that eating sugar lowers HDL levels and boosts LDL and triglycerides.8 Even teens are at risk; those who eat too much sugar substantially increase their risk of heart disease later in life.9 And any food with a high glycemic index, especially sugar, pasta, rice, potatoes and bread, can impact the heart. In one study, women with the highest intake of these foods were more than twice as likely to develop heart disease compared to women with the lowest intake.10 Steer clear of high glycemic foods in general, and swap sugar for honey in small amounts; studies have shown it contains antioxidants, which can protect the heart from damage. 11

8. Don’t skimp on protein. Many studies show that eating adequate protein lowers heart disease risk by as much as 26 percent, probably because it replaces high-glycemic carbohydrates in the diet. Good sources: beef, chicken and eggs are high in B vitamin to reduce levels of homocysteine, a dangerous compound that can cause narrowing of the arteries; eggs also contain betaine, which can lower homocysteine by as much as 75 percent. Always choose lean, grass-fed and organic protein sources; they’re lower in fat and calories, and contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a fatty acid that can reduce cancer risk.

9. Kill your grill. Grilling and other high-heat cooking methods form compounds in meat that cause inflammation and oxidative damage, and increase heart disease risk. For safer grilling, use lean meat and marinate it in lemon juice and olive oil before cooking. Or wrap foods in foil pouches and place them on the grill to avoid direct contact with heat and lessen the formation of dangerous compounds. Even better, dust off your crock pot, and cook meat the traditional way: slow and low.

10. Drink filtered coffee. Unfiltered varieties (like espresso and French-pressed) contain diterpenes and other compounds that increase risk of heart disease.12 And drink it in moderation: coffee can increase blood pressure and arterial stiffness,13 and drinking more than six cups a day increases cholesterol and boosts blood levels of heart-damaging homocysteine by as much as 10 percent.14 Better yet, switch to green tea; it’s antioxidant flavonoids—the same protective compounds found in cranberries—that relax blood vessels and thin blood.   

11. Learn to love sardines. They’re high in omega-3 fats to prevent clotting, reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure;15 because they’re small, sardines tend to have fewer toxins than larger fish. Wild (not farmed) salmon and tuna are also good sources. If you’re not a fish fan, use supplements; the American Heart Association recommends about a gram (1,000 milligrams) of omega-3s a day.

12. Run in the wild. Exercise strengthens the heart, but beware of jogging down city sidewalks: exposure to air pollution increases risk of heart disease.16 Even short-term exposure to smoggy air can upset electrical activity of the heart, trigger stroke and heart failure, and exacerbate arterial disease. And choose exercise you love; people who stick with a certain activity, even if it’s walking or gardening, are likely to live the longest.

13. Eat your green beans. They a good source of chromium, a heart-protective nutrient that helps the body metabolize cholesterol, and improves insulin sensitivity. Other food sources include broccoli, potatoes, orange juice and turkey. Studies have shown that 200 micrograms a day can reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes;17 that’s hard to get from foods, so take a chromium picolinate supplement for insurance.  

14. Make a pot of chili. It’s loaded with fiber-rich beans to lower cholesterol, and tomatoes, which are the best sources of lycopene. In some studies, people who ate four or more servings of beans a week reduced their risk of heart disease by 22 percent.18 And the lycopene in tomatoes inhibits LDL oxidation.19 While you’re at it, toss in a handful of chopped broccoli; another study found that eating more vegetables can reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 22 percent.20  

15. Swap your nuts. Almonds and walnuts are touted as the heart-healthiest nuts, but peanuts may be better. They’re rich in monounsaturated fats, which regulate cholesterol levels and blood pressure.21 In one study, people who ate peanuts lowered LDL and total cholesterol and increased HDL cholesterol, without making any other dietary changes.22 Macadamia nuts have similar heart-protective effects. 23

16. Be a clean freak. Wash your hands, and often; people with the highest levels of antibodies—substances produced when the body is fighting off infections—also had more clogging of their arteries. The same goes for brushing your teeth; studies have shown a correlation between gum disease, cavities, in increased risk of heart disease.24

17. Go out for Indian. It’s rich in heart-protective ginger, garlic and turmeric, the bright orange spice that gives curry its distinctive color. Turmeric contains curcuminoids that can reduce inflammation and prevent atherosclerosis, and may lower total cholesterol levels. 25, 26 Not an Indian-food fan? Take turmeric capsules; dosage recommendations range from 600 to 1200 mg per day.

18. Sleep in. Inadequate shut-eye—5 hours or less per night–can increase your risk of heart disease by at much as 40 percent. It may be that sleep disturbances elevate blood pressure and reduce insulin sensitivity, which can impact heart health. 27 Studies have also shown that people who complain of fatigue have higher fibrinogen levels, a protein that can cause blood to clump and lower blood flow to the heart. Trouble sleeping? Try melatonin, valerian, or other natural sleep aids.  

19. Have a spinach salad. Spinach is high in magnesium, which helps prevent coronary arteries from having spasms, reduces platelet clumping, lowers blood pressure and regulates heart rhythms.28 Pumpkin seeds, Swiss chard, beans and fish are other good sources. Or take magnesium supplements to ensure you’re getting enough; dosage recommendations range from 400 to 1000 mg a day, or in a one-to-one ratio of calcium to magnesium.  

20. Take L-argenine. This amino acid is a precursor to nitric oxide, a compound in the body that keeps arteries flexible, increases blood flow and improves blood vessel function. Some studies have suggested that L-arginine reduces the risk of atherosclerosis and can lower blood pressure. 29, 30, 31 The recommended dosage ranges from 750 mg to 3 grams per day.

True Grit: Five easy fiber sources

True Grit: Five easy fiber sources

You know fiber’s important, but you may not be getting enough. In fact, most Americans get only 4 to 11 grams of fiber a day—a fraction of the recommended 25 to 38 grams.

Part of the problem is, we still eat too many processed foods. That means most people aren’t getting enough fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole-grains and legumes. And that can set the stage for serious disease.

Dozens of studies have linked both soluble and insoluble fiber intake with decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Soluble fiber, found primarily in oats, oat bran, beans, peas, barley, apples and psyllium, helps lower cholesterol and glucose levels. Insoluble fiber, found mainly in whole grains, nuts and vegetables, provides intestinal bulk to prevent constipation; it may also help lower the risk of colon cancer, though study results have been mixed.  And both types of fiber help manage weight; they take longer to chew, they slow stomach emptying, and they’re generally more satisfying than low-fiber foods.

If your fiber intake is less than optimal, adding more is easier than you may think. Don’t rely on grains for fiber; most vegetables, fruits and legumes have far more fiber per calorie than grains. A cup of raspberries, for example, has the same fiber count as four slices of whole-wheat bread, and a cup of winter squash will net you twice the fiber as a cup of brown rice.

Ready to boost your fiber intake? Try these five flavorful sources, with easy ways to add more to your diet.

Raspberries. One cup of raspberries has 9 grams of fiber, the highest per-serving count of any fruit, and only 64 calories. Most of the fiber in raspberries is insoluble; blackberries and other berries have similar fiber profiles. Easy ways to eat more: Combine frozen raspberries with organic Greek yogurt and a few spoonfuls of honey, then top with chopped toasted almonds and shredded coconut for a creamy dessert; toss a cup of blackberries with bagged, pre-washed spinach and chunks of avocado, and drizzle with a dressing made of pureed blackberries, grapefruit juice and olive oil; combine mixed berries in a baking dish, scatter with a mixture of oats, chopped nuts and brown sugar, and bake until bubbly.

Navy beans. At 19 grams of fiber per one-cup serving, most of it soluble, beans top the list of powerful fiber boosters. Brown lentils, pinto beans and garbanzo beans have similar fiber and calorie counts (about 225 per cup). Easy ways to eat more: spread mashed, canned pinto beans on whole-grain tortillas, top with salsa, minced scallions, chopped black olives and crumbled feta cheese, and broil until warm; combine cooked lentils with finely chopped kale, crumbled goat feta, minced mint leaves and quartered cherry tomatoes, and dress with olive oil; combine garbanzo beans with minced dried apricots, slivered almonds and quinoa, for a Moroccan-inspired side.

Broccoli. A cup of broccoli has 6 grams of fiber, in equal proportions of soluble and insoluble, with only 52 calories; you’ll find a similar fiber lineup in Brussels sprouts, asparagus and kale. Easy ways to eat more: saute broccoli florets, minced garlic, Kalamata olives and sundried tomatoes in olive oil, and serve over whole-grain orzo; stir-fry broccoli spears and red pepper strips with mirin, ginger and low-sodium tamari, and serve with udon noodles and chopped cashews; cook frozen broccoli, onions and garlic in vegetable or chicken stock, puree until creamy, and top with shredded sharp cheddar cheese.

Acorn squash. Half a medium acorn squash contains 9 grams of fiber, in equal proportions of soluble and insoluble, and only 110 calories; other varieties of winter squash have similar fiber profiles. Easy ways to eat more: halve an acorn squash, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with rosemary, and roast until tender; toss cubes of cooked butternut squash with toasted walnuts, cinnamon and honey; bake halved winter squash, then scoop out flesh, puree with coconut milk and season with curry for a fast, fragrant soup.

Artichokes. At 10 grams of fiber, with only 64 calories, artichokes have the highest per-calorie fiber count of any vegetable, most of it soluble. Easy ways to eat more: cut stems and tops from whole artichokes, arrange in a crock pot, add a inch of white wine and several crushed garlic cloves, and cook on low for 4 to 6 hours; quarter baby artichokes, brush them liberally with olive oil, sprinkle with black pepper and minced thyme, and grill them until they’re tender; add artichoke hearts, chopped kalamata olives and sun-dried tomatoes to whole-grain penne pasta.

Good enough to eat: natural skin care

Good enough to eat: natural skin care

You’ll find lots of natural skin and body care products with botanical ingredients and earthy-looking packages. But what do the labels—“pure,” “natural,” “plant ingredients”—really mean?

In many cases, not much. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies cosmetics and personal care products, it does not require pre-market health or safety studies or testing. With the exception of a handful of prohibited ingredients, manufacturers may use almost any raw material in product formulations, without FDA approval. As a result, personal care products may contain all kinds of scary chemicals (see a partial list below).

A better option: good-enough-to-eat cosmetics made with organic food ingredients. Whip up a batch of each, and refrigerate leftovers in glass jars for healthy (and less-pricey) skin care:

Grapefruit and rosemary body scrub. Add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, 5 drops of grapefruit oil and 3 drops of rosemary oil to half a cup of sugar. In the shower, wet skin thoroughly, scrub gently, and rinse well.

Honey-oatmeal facial scrub. Combine 2 tablespoons yogurt, 2 tablespoons very finely ground oats (use a clean coffee grinder), and 1 tablespoon honey. Smooth mixture onto damp face, let it sit for 5 minutes, then gently scrub and rinse off.

Banana and macadamia nut mask. Mash 1 banana, then beat by hand until creamy and smooth. Beat in 1 tablespoon macadamia nut oil and 1 tablespoon honey. Smooth onto face and let sit for 10 minutes, then rinse well and pat skin dry. Gently pat on a few drops of macadamia nut oil to seal in moisture.

Coconut-lavender hand treatment. Add 10 drops lavender oil to 1/2 cup coconut oil and mix well. Slather onto hands before bed, slip on thin cotton gloves, and allow the moisturizing oils to penetrate all night.

Chocolate-mint lip balm. Gently melt 1/4 cup cocoa butter. Let cool, then stir in 1 tablespoon coconut oil, 2 tablespoons sesame oil, and 7 drops peppermint extract. Smooth onto chapped, dry lips to moisturize and protect, and store at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Vanilla-almond and rose body moisturizer. Melt 1/4 cup shaved beeswax, 1/3 cup coconut oil and 1/3 cup rosewater over low heat, let cool. Whisk in 1/3 cup almond oil, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 cup aloe vera gel. Beat until creamy, and slather on skin after bathing.

Rose geranium bath milk. Combine 1 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup rose water and 10 drops rose geranium oil. Add to warm water and luxuriate for 20 minutes. Gently pat skin dry, or use your hands to wipe excess water from your body, leaving skin slightly damp. Slather on vanilla-almond body moisturizer before dressing.

Sandlewood-patchouli bath salts. Add 10 drops sandalwood oil and 5 drops patchouli oil to 1/2 cup finely ground sea salt. Mix thoroughly with fingers until oil is evenly dispersed through salt. Stir in 1 cup Epsom salts and mix well to blend. Add 1/4 cup to bath water, swirl to mix, and soak for 15 minutes.

Avocado-carrot antioxidant hair mask. Mash 1 avocado. Beat in 1/2 cup carrot juice until creamy and smooth. Poke a hole into a vitamin E capsule and squeeze contents into mixture. Repeat with a vitamin A capsule. Apply to clean, damp hair. Pile hair onto top of head, wrap in a towel, and let sit for 15 minutes. Rinse hair well, then let air dry.

Scary chemicals in your personal care products:

• Phthalates, found in synthetic fragrances, are endocrine disruptors that have been linked with developmental and reproductive toxicity, immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity. If a product’s ingredient list contains the word “fragrance” (rather than “pure essential oils”), that product probably contains phthalates.

• Propylene glycol, linked to cancer, developmental and reproductive toxicity, allergies and immunotoxicity, and skin and eye irritation, is often included in lotions, creams, cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, deodorants, and antiperspirants. It may be listed as 1,2-dihydroxypropane; 2-hydroxypropanol; methylethyl glycol; 1,2-propanediol; or propane-1,2-diol.

• Parabens, used as preservatives in a wide variety of body care products, are linked to cancer, developmental toxicity, and reproductive damage. They may be listed as 4-hydroxybenzoic acid, benzoic acid, 4-hydroxy-; p-carboxyphenol; p-hydroxybenzoic acid; p-salicyclic acid; 4-hydroxy- benzoic acid; or parabens.

• Mineral oil is a petroleum derivative that has been linked to cancer, organ system toxicity, and immunotoxicity. It may be listed as deobase, heavy mineral oil, hydrocarbon oils, light mineral oil, liquid paraffin, liquid petrolatum, paraffin oil, paraffin oils, paraffinum liquidum, prolatum oil, white mineral oil, or petroleum.

• Sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate is used as a foaming or sudsing agent in soaps, shampoos, bubble baths, and body washes; it can cause organ system toxicity and irritation of the skin, eyes and hair. May be listed as PEG- (1-4) lauryl ether sulfate, sodium salt; polyethylene glycol (1-4) lauryl ether sulfate, sodium salt, and other names.

• Oxybenzone, widely used in sunscreens and other skin care products with SPF protection, is linked with endocrine disruption, reproductive damage, allergies, and cell damage. It may be listed as benzophenone-3, 2-benzoyl-5-methoxyphenol; 2-hydroxy-4-methoxybenzophenone; (2-hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl) phenylmethanone; and other names. For safer sun protection, avoid oxybenzone and choose a product with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Healthy Halloween dinner for kids

Healthy Halloween dinner for kids

October is a big month at my house. Between family and friends, we have more than 12 birthdays, plus Halloween…and that means lots of parties and planning. One of the main events, of course, is the Halloween celebration. It’s inarguably the most titillating holiday for kids—ghoulish masks, creepy outings in the dark,  treat bags bulging with forbidden goodies.

Of course, the post- trick-or-treat meltdowns are scary for us grownups. You can outlaw the candy altogether. You can ration it or sell it to the dentist or donate it to the troops or whatever else people do with all that candy. Or you can succumb. Give them a nourishing, blood-sugar-balancing dinner before they step foot out the door with their costumes and bags and eager little faces, then let them have at it. As much as that makes me cringe, I also know it’s just one night. And it’s what you do most of the time, not some of the time, that counts.

Of course, the real trick is getting them to eat before they go for treats. Some ideas for dinner:

First step: create a festive setting. Blow up black and orange balloons, scatter confetti across the eating table, and write guests’ names (even if it’s just family) on mini-pumpkins for place cards. For a centerpiece, use a big jack ‘o lantern, or turn a witch’s hat on its side and fill with whole fruit and nuts for a spooky cornucopia. Then, design a menu simple enough to fix in a snap, exciting enough to intrigue even picky eaters. Try the following tips for an easy meal–with more nutrients than you can say “boo” to:

• Worms on a bun.This totally grosses me out, but kids love them: cut organic hot dogs lengthwise into six strips, then make a few shallow cuts on the skin side of each. Cook in olive oil until hot dog strips curl up like worms.

• Pumpkin hummus: Combine equal parts cooked pumpkin puree and cooked white beans or garbanzo beans, then puree until smooth. Serve in a round dish, with sliced black olives for a jack ‘o lantern eyes, nose and mouth, and a zucchini top for a pumpkin stem. Add raw vegetables on the side–red and yellow peppers, carrot and celery sticks—for nutritious dipping.

• Egg jack-o-lanterns: Color hard-boiled eggs in 2 tablespoons turmeric, 1 tablespoon vinegar and 1 pint hot water to make them orange. Let them dry, and have kids make eerie faces with black markers.

• Sweet potato fingers in blood sauce. Cut sweet potatoes into French-fry strips,  toss in olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes in a 400-degree-F oven. Salt them to taste, and serve in a dish of ketchup “blood.”

• Green slime. Combine a cup of yogurt, half a banana and a tablespoon of green foods powder in a blender, and puree until smooth, thick and nice ‘n slimy.  Serve in small, clear glasses for maximum gross appeal.

For beverages, serve sparkling water spiked with a little apple cider. You can also add a few cubes of fly ice (fill ice trays with water, drop a small raisin or two in each compartment—or use small plastic flies—and freeze). And send them on their way for more treats, and less tricks.

Screamin’ deals in the grocery store

Screamin’ deals in the grocery store

Is it possible to eat a nutritious, organic diet? I say yes! Organic foods are affordable on nearly every budget. Start with these fifteen great buys—nearly everything you need for a healthy diet.

Eggs. With a biological value of 100—the measure of how well a protein is used by the body—eggs are a nutritious, versatile protein source. At the higher price of $3.49 to $4.69 a dozen, you’re still only paying 29 to 39 cents per egg. Cheap, cheap.

Cabbage. You’ll find it somewhere in the range of $1 to $2—a screaming deal, especially when you consider the nutrition. Cabbage contains compounds that slow the growth of cancer cells, and keep pre-cancerous cells from developing; it may also help the body metabolize toxic forms of estrogen into safe forms. It’s a bargain at any price.

Sweet potatoes. At only $1.99 to $2.49 per pound, they’re a great buy. Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber and beta carotene, a powerful antioxidant that helps prevent heart disease, cancer and age-related blindness. Carrots are even cheaper, at 79 to 99 cents a pound, and equally high in beta carotene.

Beans. As a cheap and nutritious source of protein, you can’t beat beans. They’re also extremely high in fiber, and in lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that protects against breast cancer in post-menopausal women, and reduces the risk of other cancers as well. In the bulk section, they average $1.39 to $1.99. And at 99 cents a pound, dried peas are the best deal in town.

Peanut butter. Priced at $3.49 a pound, peanut butter is a staple for the whole family—not just kids. Peanuts are high in monounsaturated fats, and in resveratrol, an antioxidant that helps protect against cardiovascular disease. Also look for almond butter on sale; it’s expensive for budget shopping, but stock up if you find a good buy.

Bananas. In general, organic fruit is expensive for budget buying; bananas are the exception. They’re 89 to 99 cents a pound, and are a great source of potassium, magnesium and fiber; bananas also contain fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) that nourish beneficial bacteria in your colon. Buy a bunch!

Oats. Warming and nourishing, oats are also wildly affordable, ranging in price from $1.19 to $1.39. They also contain a type of fiber called beta glucan that has dramatic cholesterol-lowering properties; barley contains the same compounds and is in the same price range. Other great grain options include buckwheat and brown rice. Combined with beans or nuts, any of these makes a complete protein and a hearty meal.

Sardines. Wild Alaskan salmon is pricey for everyday use, and tuna’s high in mercury and other toxins. The best fish bet: sardines. They’re rich in the same healthy omega-3 fats as salmon and tuna, but because they’re so small, they don’t accumulate toxins like bigger fish. And priced at only $1.79 for a 4-ounce tin, they’re a screamin’ deal.

Broccoli. At $2.49 to $2.99 a pound, it’s pricier than some of the other veggie options; but it’s so nutrient-dense we think it’s worth the extra expense. Rich in beta carotene, loaded with cancer-preventive compounds and high in fiber, it’s a bargain at any price. Peel the stem and use it, too, for maximum waste reduction.

Flax seeds. They run around $1.99 a pound, and are packed with nutrients. Flax is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and it contains lignans that benefit prostate, breast and heart health. Other good nut and seed buys include pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Organic nuts are pricier, so keep your eyes open for bargains, and stock up when you find them. Stash extras in the freezer, where they’ll keep for three months.

Chard. At $2.99 a pound chard, like broccoli, is on the pricey side, but it’s worth the cost. Chard is high in lutein, an antioxidant that protects the eyes from age-related blindness, beta carotene, calcium, magnesium, B vitamins and a host of other nutrients. Kale, spinach, collards and other greens have similar profiles; check for the best buys, and use a variety.

Canned tomatoes. They’re cheaper than fresh tomatoes—usually around $1.49 a pound–and more consistent in quality during winter months. Plus, canned tomatoes are superior in some nutrients: lycopene, the signature antioxidant of the tomato, is actually made more bioavailable by processing.

Onions. Yellow and white varieties range from $1.49 to $2.29. Besides adding wonderful flavor to foods, onions are also high in compounds that may help protect against stomach cancer. Look for bags of onions, which usually end up being about 99 cents a pound. Garlic has some of the same flavor and nutritional qualities; stock up when you find it on sale, since it keeps well in a cool, dark area.

Yogurt. It’s more expensive than some of our other selections—ranging between $2.49 and $3. 69 a pound—but yogurt is the most nutritional dairy buy. It contains probiotics that are beneficial to intestinal health; eating yogurt also helps reduce abdominal fat and encourages retention of lean muscle mass. Buy the plain varieties, and in large containers, for the biggest savings, and use in moderation.

Chicken. In general, organic meat is a big expense on a small budget. But for the occasional meal, thighs are the way to go. Or go for a whole chicken; they’re a more affordable option, usually weighing in at around $3 to $4 a pound. Both are frequently on sale, so when you see them, stock up and freeze them; roast them with sweet potatoes, carrots, onions and garlic for the most mileage.
Money Pits.

Limited finances? Skip the chips, soda and crackers. They’re too pricey for budget shopping, and are nutritionally inferior to whole foods. Other expensive buys that may not be worth the cost:

Nutrition bars
Salad dressings
Frozen dinners
Packaged meals
Salad bars
Prepared deli items
Single-serving containers
Fruit juice
Food supplement powders

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 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.

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