Wednesday, March 27, 2013

All Hail to Kale – The King of the Greens

If you want to punch up your cancer prevention and reduce bad cholesterol, you need the Kale K.O.   We all know how good spinach is for us, but kale gives spinach a run for its money, delivering the knockout punch when it comes to anti-inflammatory properties, system detoxification, and reducing cancer risk.  In fact, the respected George Mateljan Foundation’s World's Healthiest Foods site calls kale “one of the healthiest vegetables around.” WebMD goes so far as to call kale “one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet.”  Maybe it’s time for you to explore the wonders of kale, not only for your health but for your palate.


Kale leaves
Look for kale leaves that are firm and deeply colored


Kale health benefits – and good taste!


Though lesser known than some of the more common greens we use in salads, like lettuce or spinach, kale has a pleasantly mild flavor and tons of health benefits you should know about.  The health benefits of kale include the following:
Kale is nature’s multivitamin
Kale is a great way to get a multitude of critical vitamins into your system – and in the most natural of forms.  A cup of cooked kale loads you up with vitamin K (1327.6% RDA!) as well as vitamin A, vitamin C, manganese, fiber, copper, tryptophan, calcium, vitamin B6, potassium, iron, magnesium, and more.
Kale is the king of flavonoids
Flavonoids are plant-based antioxidants that prevent disease and stave off aging. You get more than 45 different flavonoids in every bit of kale, especially the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powerhouses kaempferol and quercetin.  If you want to reduce chronic inflammation and avoid oxidative stress, eat kale.
Kale reduces cancer risk
Scientists reporting in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition tell us that kale consumption can reduce your risk of getting colon cancer, bladder cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and prostate cancer.  Kale does this with its glucosinolates (a cancer-preventive catalyst) and its abundance of the antioxidant vitamin K.
Kale detoxifies
Kale K.O.’s the toxicity in your body, thanks to its isothiocyanates (ITCs) and  glucosinolates, which regulate detoxification at the cellular and genetic level. Also aiding in detoxification is kale’s high amounts of sulfur compounds.  Combined with the ITCs, kale’s nutrients work wonders in protecting your body from toxins, both ingested and from the environment.
Kale can lower cholesterol 
Kale is great for you raw, but when you steam kale, it unleashes a cadre of extra cholesterol-lowering benefits. The trick is to boost kale’s binding of its fiber-related components.  Steaming does this, empowering kale to grab onto your digestive tract’s bile acids, which can then be more readily excreted.  And getting rid of that bile lowers your cholesterol levels.

Organic kale
Organic kale is the least likely to be contaminated with insecticides


Any kale health risks?


Given how good kale is for you, you may be surprised to know that, yes, there are some health risks or food combination issues with kale. 
  • Because of its extraordinary amounts of vitamin k, there are risks if you are taking an anticoagulant drug, such as warfarin. 
  • Kale also contains naturally occurring oxalates, which may block the calcium benefits of dairy products when eaten together. 
  • Because of the oxalates, also avoid kale if you have kidney or gallbladder issues.
  • A 2012 report about pesticides in produce cautions that conventionally grown kale is often contaminated with insecticides that are toxic to the nervous system, and therefore recommends getting kale that is grown organically.
  • Kale may interfere with thyroid function if you have goiter issues.
As with any dietary changes, consult your doctor before adding kale to your diet.


How to buy, store, and eat kale


When selecting kale, the healthiest leaves are firm, deeply colored, and don’t have floppy stems.  To keep your kale its freshest, store it unwashed in an air-tight bag in your fridge.
Kale smoothie
One of the easiest ways to enjoy kale raw is to simply add some to any fruit smoothie. 
It will give it a nice green color and its neutral flavor blends well with your other ingredients. 

You can also enjoy it as a crunchy snack using this Cheesy Kale Chips recipe if you have a dehydrator.  I love this one.  Not only is it tasty, but it’s portable, easy to consume on a hike or as a playground munchie for your kids.

Even if you don’t have a dehydrator, you can make kale chips by drizzling a bit of olive oil onto bite-sized pieces of kale, adding a little salt, and then baking on a cookie sheet.  Set your oven to 350 degrees and you should have them ready for munching in less than 15 minutes.

Here are some real kale recipe zingers from WHFoods.com:
A couple more kale recipes on my try-it list from the Web include this sautéed Kale recipe from Bobby Flay and this chicken and kale casserole from Martha Stewart.   Any way you cut it, kale is a food you want to add to your diet. 

If you have any personal experience with adding kale to your diet, or if you have any killer kale recipes to share, please use the comments below. 

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, March 25, 2013

Free Colonoscopies for Uninsured Patients

During these last few days of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, you have a unique opportunity to get screened for colorectal cancer and possibly for free, as part of a program available just once a year, only available this year during the month of March.

To make this free colorectal cancer screening possible, the CDC’s Colorectal Cancer Control Programs (CRCCP) and gastroenterologists with the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) are joining efforts to offer colorectal cancer screening services – that’s free colonoscopies.  It’s available to qualified uninsured patients who may otherwise not be in a position to get this lifesaving test. 

Colonoscopy appointment on calendar


What is Colorectal Cancer?


Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum.  Colorectal cancer  affects both men and women, and  is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, responsible for more than 50,000 deaths in the U.S. every year.  With roughly 140,000 Americans diagnosed with colorectal cancer annually, this free colorectal cancer screening offer is likely a life-saving opportunity. 


What are the risk factors for colon cancer?


The first risk factor for colorectal cancer is age; colorectal cancer rarely occurs before age 50.   Other than age, you may be at a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer if you have any of following:
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • A personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
  • Genetic syndromes, like familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome)
If you think you may be at high risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about when and how often to get tested.  Do not wait for symptoms to develop;  colorectal cancer screening tests should be done to look for the disease before a person is experiencing any symptoms. 

The right time of life to begin screening for colorectal cancer is age 50.  You should keep getting screened regularly until the age of 75, and then ask your doctor if you should be screened if you’re older than 75.


Colorectal cancer screening saves lives


Often colon cancer screening tests are able detect potentially carcinogenic polyps in the colon or rectum before they have a chance to turn into cancer.

Doctors believe that if everyone 50 years of age and older were screened regularly for colorectal cancer, the death toll from this dangerous illness could be slashed by as much as 60 percent.  That’s as many as 30,000 lives saved every year in the U.S. with increased screening for colorectal cancer. There are several types of colorectal cancer screening recommended.  The three most common:
  • Colonoscopy – Generally performed once every 10 years beginning at age 50, in which a doctor uses a thin, flexible, lighted tube to check for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon.
  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT), stool test, or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) – Usually performed every year after age 50.  Your doctor gives you a test kit to take home, which you use to obtain a small amount of stool, and then return the test kit so that your stool sample can be checked for the presence of blood – a possible sign of trouble.
  • Sigmoidoscopy – Usually performed once every five years, the doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible, lighted tube into your rectum to look for polyps or cancer.
While colonoscopies are the most well known of the colorectal cancer screening methods, talk with your doctor about other colorectal cancer screening options and timing for each.

Doctor speaking to elderly female patient


Where to get the free colorectal cancer screening


While this fairly new initiative is growing, the free colorectal cancer screening program is not yet available in all states.  Presently, more than 25 physicians are participating, donating their time and skills to screen patients who otherwise would likely go unchecked for colorectal cancer in the following states: 
  • Florida
  • Massachusetts 
  • New Hampshire
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington 
The AGA offers a GI Locator Service at www.gastro.org/patient-center.


Other solutions for low-cost or no-cost colorectal cancer screening


Even if you miss the free colonoscopies being offered this month, CDC's Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) provides funding year round to 25 CRCCP-funded states and four tribes across the United States. The program provides colorectal cancer screening services and diagnostic follow-up to low-income men and women aged 50–64 years who are underinsured or uninsured for screenings, when no other insurance is available.

If you are not eligible for the program, or live outside a CRCCP-funded state, you should call 1 (800) 4-CANCER or call your local department of health to ask about other colorectal cancer screening options that may be available locally in your community.

For more information, go to www.cdc.gov/features/colorectalawareness


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 22, 2013

Five Easy Ways to Boost your Nutrition and Health

March is National Nutrition Month® – the perfect time to look at your diet and activities and take steps toward improving your health. National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  The campaign has two primary aims:
  • To help you make informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits. 
  • To promote the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as the most timely, scientifically based, and credible source of  food and nutrition information.
National Nutrition Month 2013
Source: http://www.eatright.org/

If you are one of the majority of Americans who falls short of your nutritional and lifestyle goals, consider using National Nutrition Month as the opportunity to kick-start a nutrition upgrade that can result in real improvements in health, energy, weight, and mood.  Indeed, good nutrition and regular exercise can do this for you.  To get started, take a look at these…


Five easy ways to boost your nutrition and health


1. Boost your nutritional knowhow


Knowledge is power, so power up your nutritional health by exploring some of these great online resources for reliable health and nutrition information.

Get lots more info on nutritional health at EatRight.org.


2. Get professional guidance


I knew a guy who believed that losing lots of weight would help him in an upcoming marathon.  While indeed it’s harder to perform well when you’re carrying excess body weight, he didn't consider the risks of losing too much too fast.  He went on a three-day fast, and then immediately took off through the desert on a 25-mile training run … and almost didn't survive!

We all know someone who, with the best of intentions, did more harm than good with a diet plan or nutrition plan that was either inherently unhealthy or not healthy for them personally based on body type or family history.  So, if you’re not sure where to start with your nutrition plan, or want to make sure your plan is safe – right for your body – consider involving an RD – a registered dietitian.  

A registered dietitian or “RD” serves as an integral liaison in helping individuals and communities make changes for a healthy delicious diet.  To explore this option, check out these resources:
An RD is especially a good idea for anyone with unique health circumstances, such as gastric bypass surgery, diabetes or prediabetes, obesity, endurance athletic lifestyle, eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, pregnancy, or any other health/lifestyle issue that puts the need for proper nutrition into a critical state.

Registered Dietitian


3. Make better nutrition fun for the family


As long as you’re learning all this great info on improving your health through nutrition, why not spread the wealth? Getting your kids involved in learning about better nutrition is easier than you may think, thanks to EatRight.org, which has great nutrition games for kids, such as Nutrition Sudoku and Nutrition Word Search.   Or try the printable Food Fun Messages (PDF) – a printable word puzzle nutrition game for kids.

But don’t stop with the younger set; here are nutrition games and quizzes for teens and adults:
Even when your computer is powered down, you can help your family absorb nutritional information subconsciously by printing out these nutrition tips to post on your fridge. 

Girl helping with vegetables


4.  Grow your nutritional knowledge and track your success


Go to Choose My Plate.gov where you can begin to track your diet and physical activity, digest information about the different food groups, and even print daily food plans and worksheets based on target calorie level and age.


5. Spread the word!


While you’re making this toast to a healthy diet and lifestyle, why not make it public?  Doing so has multiple advantages:
  • Publicizing your plan to friends can generate personal accountability, which will help you meet your health goals.  It’s easy to renege on your plans when the only one who knows is you.  But when friends know, there’s a greater sense of responsibility to not let them down or embarrass yourself by not following through. 
  • Telling others of your nutrition plans may encourage them to follow your footsteps.  With friends involved, you’ll have mutual encouragement to spur you on in your nutrition plan. 
To spread the word and go public, start by giving a “like” to the National Nutrition Month | Facebook page, which will show up in your newsfeed, and hopefully generate a conversation between you and your friends.   EatRight.org also has tips to help you get everyone involved in National Nutrition Month.


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Brain Food vs. “Stupid Food”

In our article on Brain Foods, you learned about foods that can positively affect your brain and nervous system, benefiting mood, memory, alertness, and neuromuscular response time.  But did you know that you could be quashing your best efforts to be smart by eating dumb?  Brain Awareness Week may be over, but National Nutrition Month is going strong. So now is the time to make a few key dietary adjustments to what you do or don’t ingest – it’s not too late to get smart about brain food vs. "stupid food" habits.  To avoid browbeating your brain with what you consume, make sure you avoid the following nine damaging dietary practices.


1.  Don't eat an imbalanced diet


According to Dr. Vincent Fortanasce, author of the book The Anti-Alzheimer's Prescription: The Science-Proven Plan to Start at Any Age, how you eat is as important as what you eat – getting your diet out of balance can increase your chances of Alzheimer's disease.  If your goal is to push any Alzheimer’s risk to the most distant future, Fortanasce recommends getting the right balance of foods in your diet: specifically one-third carbohydrates, one-third protein, and one-third fat.  As well, his research indicates that the order in which you eat them matters. 


2.  Say phooey to tofu


Tofu in a bowlTofu is often considered a healthy food.  In moderate quantities, maybe so.  But research from Loughborough and Oxford Universities shows potential tofu risks – that excess tofu eating can increase your risk of memory loss in old age.  The 700-participant study (ages 52-98) revealed that those who ate tofu daily were at an increased risk for developing dementia or memory loss.  The risk increased more for those over 65.  The researchers suspect the phytoestrogens found in soy for this increased risk.


3.  Don't fry that fish


Research published in the science journal Neurology supports the many studies showing that eating fish can prevent stroke and memory loss, but this new study found that there was no benefit for those who ate fried fish.  Broiled or baked tuna consumed at least three times weekly indeed showed almost a 26 percent lower risk of brain lesions that could lead to dementia and stroke – but not from fried fish.


4.  Go easy on the sugar, sweetie


Incredibly, the average American chows down on roughly 47 pounds of cane sugar and 35 pounds of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the USDA.  And yes, that's bad. Here's why: as this recent study reports, fructose can negatively affect both your memory and learning ability. 

In the study, researchers spent five days training rats to complete a maze, and then gave half of them a water-fructose solution along with their regular diet. After retesting the rats six weeks later, the sugared-up group of rats had elevated levels of triglycerides, insulin, and glucose – and, no surprise: performed poorly in the maze compared to the other group of rats. The researchers concluded that eating too much fructose appears to interfere with insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar for energy – necessary for processing thoughts and emotions. 


5.  Skip the white bread


Go easy on the white bread. Turns out that it's bad for the brain. White bread spikes insulin levels, which Dr. Fortanasce states, causes insulin-degrading brain enzymes to become overtaxed from the work of removing insulin.  The problem – the sudden overload of carbohydrates distracts the enzymes from doing their other job: eliminating the toxic beta-amyloid proteins that engender Alzheimer's disease. 

Sliced white bread


The trick is to keep your overall glycemic index level good and low. So if you really want that white bread or muffin, don’t eat it by itself but rather with a protein source, which can keep your glucose level from spiking.  To help you plan out meals without spiking sugar levels, follow the The Franklin Institute’s chart on the glucose levels in many common foods.


7.  Low carb, maybe, but don’t do a no-carb diet


Some who go on a low-carb diet go overboard (whole hog, if you will), cutting carbohydrates completely from their diet.  Bad idea.  A new Tufts University study published in the February 2009 issue of the journal Appetite supports already known facts, that carbs are an important fuel for the brain.  When you eat carbohydrates, the body turns it into glucose, and glucose then fuels brain activity.  The study shows that a no-carb diet makes you mentally confused and forgetful.  Study participants developed slow reaction times and poorer scores on visual-spatial memories compared to the control group.

The good news is that the condition is reversible;  after a few weeks back on carbohydrates, study participants’ memory-test performance improved.


8.  Saturated fats with sugar can double your trouble


Not only do we know that sugar is bad for the brain, but according to this recent study, a diet that is high in both fat and sugar appears to cause damage to the hypothalamus – the area of the brain that regulates both energy and appetite. The damage to the hypothalamus from too much fat and sugar can make it harder to lose weight, according to the scientists. 


9. Avoid dehydration


You may not consider water a food item, but we must also include water in things you can ingest for improved thinking.  And, by the same token, not hydrating sufficiently can malnourish your brain.  When you become dehydrated, your brain tissue literally shrinks and, apparently, so does your cognition.  Many studies indicate that dehydration reduces cognitive function, impairing your short-term memory, your ability to focus, and your ability to make decisions.

So drink up (nonalcoholic) and eat smart and you will literally be smarter.

Woman drinking water


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Monday, March 18, 2013

Chia Seeds: Not Just for Chia Pets Anymore

So prized were they by the Aztecs that Chia seeds were used as currency.  Often categorized today as a "superfood" by health advocates, the Chia seed is taking the U.S. diet by storm, and for good reasons. 
  • Looking for calcium? You'll find five times more of it in Chia seeds than in milk.
  • Want to add potassium to your diet? You'll get twice as much from Chia seeds than from a banana.
  • Trying to boost the omega-3 oils in your diet? While salmon is known as a great source of omega 3s, skip straight to the Chia seed and you'll get eight times as much per serving.
  • Hoping to stave off a cold by boosting your vitamin C? It's Chia seeds to the rescue again, loaded as they are with seven times the vitamin C as oranges.
Chia seeds are enjoyed today by those who want to lose weight, increase energy and stamina, reduce joint inflammation, knee pain, and arthritis symptoms, manage hyperactivity disorder, get healthier skin, hair, and nails, strengthen the immune system, prevent cancer, and rid the bowels of toxins. 

Chia seeds


Chia seeds through the ages


Though the Chia seed is rapidly growing to superstar status among athletes and health food advocates today, the Chia seed has been in favor for centuries in some cultures.  This dietary darling hails from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, native to Central and South America, and has been a staple in the diets of the natives of Mexico and Central America since 2,600 B.C., where historical records indicate that it was often called "the running food." Purportedly, warriors of the native warriors of some Mexican and South American peoples mixed Chia seeds and water, claiming that it maintained their energy levels while running great distances, keeping them hydrated during battles. 

RunnerOne tribe in particular, the Tarahumara people, located in the remote Copper canyons of northwestern Mexico, continue using Chia seeds as a dietary staple today. The significance? The Tarahumara natives are those who were sought by Christopher McDougall, author of the 2011 best-selling book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  This tribe is known for its current and ancient history of extreme distance running, practiced by its men, women, and even its children. In Born to Run, McDougall describes the drink mix called iskiate, or Chia Fresca, that they used to sustain them in these long runs, brewed up by dissolving Chia seeds in water, adding a dash of sugar and a little bit of lime juice. 

To quote McDougall, "In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of Chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone … If you had to pick just one desert island food, you couldn't do much better, at least if you are interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease."


Scientific evidence of Chia seed benefits


With the Chia seed popularity boom being a recent development, there is a limited amount of evidence in the form of Chia seed medical studies or Chia seed scientific studies to support its many health benefit claims.  But the few studies done to date seem to support many aspects of its reputation through the ages.  One study reported in 2012 showed that ground chia seeds indeed increased omega-3 and fatty acid levels in the blood.   A 2009 study revealed that Chia seeds possess some blood-thinning qualities, potentially reducing blood clotting and blood pressure after three months of regular use in the diet. And another study by the University of Queensland indicated that a diet with chia seeds can improve liver health.


Chia Seed Recipes


Ready to try adding Chia seeds to your diet? It's easy! First, take a look at the Chia Fresca recipe described above.  You can also get many more Chia seed recipes here:
If you make any kind of fruit smoothie or green smoothie, simply add a tablespoon or two of Chia seeds. They are virtually tasteless, but high in roughage and high in healthy oils, and act as a thickening agent.

Fruit smoothie


Any Chia seed side effects and Chia seed risks?


As healthy as they are, it's never a bad idea to discuss its use first with your doctor, as it does have some side effects.  Chia seeds can cause gas and  gastrointestinal disruptions because of its high fiber content.  Some people have experienced allergic reactions to Chia seeds, similar to the allergic reactions some experience with mustard seeds.  Because of its blood thinning properties, avoid Chia seed in your diet before surgery or if you are on blood thinners. And last, but certainly not least, make sure that you buy Chia seeds grown in Mexico, Central or South America and that are certified 100% pure and organic. 


Find out more about Chia seeds


If this article has whetted your appetite for Chia seed information, here are some helpers.
Although you won't find Chia seeds in the average grocery store, you can usually buy it at any health food store and from several resources online.  Chia seeds are not very expensive, and a little goes a long way.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 15, 2013

Food for Thought - Is Brain Food for Real?

We have all heard the expression "brain food" – edibles that are supposed to increase brain power.  Is it just an old wives tale, or is there any scientific or medical evidence to support the existence of food that, when consumed, will improve your cognitive skills?

Boosting brain power – no drugs required 


You'll be happy to know that, if you wish to boost your brain power, you don't need pills, drugs, magic potions, or a hammer (to knock some sense into your head).  The fact is, an increasing number of food studies indicate a direct correlation between certain foods and your ability to think or remember.  And what better time to learn how to improve cognition, boost alertness, and enhance memory than during Brain Awareness Week, the global campaign to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.


Avocado, pomegranates, eggs and nuts


Yes, brain foods are for real


In one extensive recent study from UCLA's Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center, scientists analyzed more than 160 studies about food's effect on the brain. The scientists discovered, among other things, that the Omega-3 fatty acids that you commonly get from eating salmon, walnuts, or kiwi fruit improve learning, enhance memory, and combat mental disorders, including depression, schizophrenia, and dementia.

And that’s just one study.  Many others, revealed below, support the long-held assumption that, when it comes to your mind, you are what you eat.


Brainpower from nuts


Ironically, one food that definitely won’t make you nuts is, you guessed, nuts.  Several types of nuts can enhance your brain, including almonds, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts.  But walnuts are the way to be nice to your neurons, according to the latest research. Walnuts are a rich source of two brain boosters: omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. The 2009 study shows that walnuts can increase your mental health by improving learning, increasing comprehension, and enhancing the brain-to-muscle connections that often suffer from aging.


Fruits and vegetables that boost brainpower


It’s likely no surprise to you that some fruits and vegetables are a good, natural source for improving your brain's ability to think.  Certain herbs, fruits, and vegetables are loaded with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants  that help you improve cognition and memory.  Many contain B-vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin C, choline, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan – all known to support neurotransmitter synthesizing.  They supercharge brain activity on a cellular level and prevent or minimize mental health disorders.

According to the Center for Longevity of the Brain, your best bet to boost your brain with veggies is to zero in on collard greens, broccoli, beets, kale, red bell peppers, soybeans, eggplant, Brussels sprouts, and definitely the darker green lettuces. A Harvard study revealed that women who eat a high amount of leafy green and cruciferous vegetables had a significantly reduced rate of cognitive decline when compared to women who ate very few of these greens.  Spinach in particular is considered a super-food for the brain since it is jam-packed with magnesium and the carotenoid lutein, which, studies show, protects against cognitive decline. 

Big on fruits?  Good!  Because many of them fall into the brainfood category, such as raisins, oranges, cherries, red grapes, plums, and definitely berries: blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries are all brain-enhancing foods. 

Berries


Blueberries in particular have long been identified in studies as improving brain health, largely because they have the highest amounts of disease-fighting antioxidants compared to nearly all other fruits and vegetables.
  • A recent study touts a diet high in blueberries and strawberries as an effective way to slow mental decline, including focus and memory. 
  • A 2008 study reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry supports this, stating that compounds in blueberries may decrease the progression of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease by (a.) minimizing the common oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain that comes with aging and (b.) by improving brain cell intercommunication. 
Consuming these berries protects brains cells from damage and boosts the brain’s ability to adapt to changes.

More evidence mounts that blueberries can not only prevent but can even reverse age-related memory decline.  Researchers at the University of Reading in Pennsylvania found that animals treated with blueberries showed an 83 percent improvement on memory tests within just three weeks, and maintained that improvement throughout the 12-week study.

In another study, elderly rats given blueberry extracts showed improved balance and coordination, as well as general brain function and memory, likely because of the flavonoids in blueberries, which successfully cross the blood-brain barrier, exerting powerful anti-inflammatory action in the brain that can slow the progression of Alzheimer's and other degenerative diseases.

Avocados and beetsAs a result of the growing body of evidence, many experts speculate that the flavonoids in berries may even stimulate the growth of new brain cells.  Other fruits that boost brain power include:
  • Avocados, which contain the highest omega-3 content of all fruits and are packed of monounsaturated fats that improve vascular health and blood flow,
  • Beets, known to improve blood flow to the brain because of their naturally-occurring nitrates.
While you’re likely not surprised about fruits and vegetables for brain health, check out these other amazing ways to nutritionally boost brainpower…


Meats and fish can feed the brain


Yes, even some meats can help your cognitive skills.  Amino acids found in protein-rich foods help connect the neurotransmitters in your brain that keep your brain humming, synaptically speaking.  The amino acids enhance the following neurotransmitters:
  • Dopamine (nervous system function)
  • Norepinephrine (alertness and concentration)
  • Serotonin (sleep, mood, memory, and learning enhancer)
  • Acetylcholine (storing memories and memory recall)
  • Tyrosine (energy)
The amino acids that help the brain function can be found in fish, meat, cheese, and yogurt.  Seek out the fatty fish, such as sardines and salmon since they are rich in brain boosting the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, shown in studies to reduce dementia risks and improve both focus and memory.
Fish is also capable of slowing cognitive decline.  One study showed older people who eat fish once a week slowed cognitive decline by nearly 10 percent.

Eggs too: nutritionists often describe the whole egg as a perfect food due to its amino acid profile, especially when sourced from free-range chickens eating a natural diet.

Fish and vegetables


Celebrate Brain Awareness Week with food!


If you are ready to noticeably improve brain function, protect your brain from age-related cognitive decline, and find new levels of focus and clarity, start with what you put on your plate – and start it now, during Brain Awareness Week.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer




Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Brain Attack! -- Surviving a Stroke

Did you know that stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States?  It kills nearly 130,000 Americans yearly—one out of every 18 deaths!  That’s why there’s no better time than now, during Brain Awareness Week, to invest three minutes of your day reading an article that can save the life of a friend or family member from the deadly threat of a stroke, the brain’s equivalent of a heart attack. 

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s not likely to happen to someone you know, and right before your eyes. Someone has a stroke every 40 seconds in the United States, and someone dies of stroke every four minutes, according to the CDC.  Even when a stroke doesn't kill its victim, it is a significant source of disability in the U.S.  Strokes are responsible for causing reduced mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and over.

Emergency Room SignThe good news is that there are simple, easy-to-remember steps you can take to quickly identify when someone is having a stroke.  And “quickly” is the key to survival and improving the victim’s odds of a better outcome: when treatment can be administered within three hours of the brain attack event (the onset of stroke symptoms), the chances of survival and recovery is significantly greater, thanks to a drug known as a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) given intravenously to those diagnosed with ischemic stroke.  But the American Stroke Association (ASA) tells us that, unfortunately, only one in fifty stroke patients can be helped with tPA, simply because less than three percent of these ischemic stroke victims reach an emergency room in time.


What causes a stroke?


A brain attack, or stroke, is the result of either:
  • a blood clot suddenly blocking the blood supply to the brain (ischemic stroke); or
  • a blood vessel inside the brain bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). 
Ischemic strokes are more common – 80 percent of all brain strokes.  The lodged blood clot kills the part of the brain it blocks in ischemic strokes.  Hemorrhagic strokes result in bleeding inside the brain, which causes swelling, bruising, and, ultimately, brain malfunction.


Primary symptoms of brain stroke – Remember “sudden”


A stroke is usually a surprise - according to the ASA, of the nearly 800,000 annual stroke victims in the United States, about 600,000 are first time or new strokes. A stroke is also a surprise because symptoms often happen suddenly:
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg—especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
If you see any one of these symptoms, ASA advises that you immediately contact 911. 


Stroke symptom cheat sheet – think F.A.S.T


Let’s face it – most of us have trouble remembering a list of things when it’s more than three or four items.  To make things simple, the ASA has created the acronym F.A.S.T. to focus on the three most significant symptoms, plus the one thing to do when you see them.  F.A.S.T. stands for:
  • Face Drooping – one side of the face droops or is numb.  To check: ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness – one arm is weak or numb.  To check: ask the person to raise both arms and note if one arm drifts downward.
  • Speech Difficulty – speech is slurred, garbled, or the victim is unable to speak, or is hard to understand.  Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue."  Can they repeat it correctly?
  • Time to call 911 – Do not wait to see if the person shows all of these symptoms.  If they show just one symptom, even if the symptom goes away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.
F.A.S.T. is the easiest way to remember the sudden signs and symptoms of a stroke.  To remember the acronym, study the image below to help you remember:  Face, Arm, Speech, Time to call.



Remember: this is a pass/fail test – any one of the symptoms means it’s time to get medical attention, FAST.  This is important because fast treatment often makes a remarkable difference in recovery.


Is stroke prevention possible?


While you cannot control some stroke risk factors (heredity, age, gender, and ethnicity can all influence likelihood of having a stroke), there are certain medical conditions can raise your stroke risk, most of which you have some measure of control over:
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • A previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
To reduce your stroke risk, the ASA recommends that you avoid smoking and excessive drinking of alcohol, and that you eat a balanced diet and get exercise.


Stroke Facts


To learn more, see the CDC Stroke Fact Sheet, the CDC Stroke statistics from National Center for Health Statistics, and review the American Stroke Association’s site.  On the ASA site, you’ll find valuable stroke statistics and stroke information, including more on warning signs, more about stroke in general, and guidance on life after a stroke


Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, March 11, 2013

Make Brain Awareness Week an Event to Remember

Welcome to worldwide Brain Awareness Week – a campaign that unites families, schools, and communities in a worldwide celebration of the brain. Brain Awareness Week was founded in 1996 by the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives, and has grown into a global campaign with partner organizations in 82 countries.
Brain Awareness Week
Source: dana.org and http://sinaineurooutreach.wordpress.com


Brain Awareness Week – four ways to make it personal


Here are four ways to celebrate Brain Awareness Week in a way that you and your family will remember for years to come.

1.  Find Brain Awareness Week events in your area


Many organizations are honoring Brain Awareness Week with official events for individuals and families. To find one in your area, search the official Brain Awareness Week International Calendar by country, US state, or city.

2.  Improve your memory with some useful tips


Here are some practicable memory strategies adapted from the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives’ Staying Sharp program.  These tips can help you improve your ability to learn and remember new things, no matter your current age.

  • Pay attention:  Engage your brain and actively attend to what you’re trying to learn.
  • Stay focused:  Concentrate on what you’re doing and reduce distractions or interruptions.
  • Repeat it:  Repetition increases the strength of the relevant connections in your brain.
  • Write it down:  Writing down important things serves two purposes: it constitutes another way to repeat the information, and it provides a visual reminder.
  • Visualize it:  Creating a visual image of what you’re trying to remember can reinforce brain connections, essentially giving your brain another way to access the information.
  • Make associations:  Relate new information to things you already know. By doing so, you’re using existing synaptic connections to learn something new. This strategy can also be useful when trying to remember names: at a dinner party, for example, you might associate “Pam” with “red dress,” “lawyer,” “friend of Bill,” “drinking red wine,” etc.
  • Stay organized:  Keep things you use regularly in the same place, and always return them to their place...put keys on a hook by the door; wallet in a basket on your dresser, etc..
  • Plan and prioritize:  Because multi-tasking may be more difficult, planning our time and prioritizing our activities becomes more critical. This may mean that some things simply have to wait. Recognize that “doing it all” may not be realistic, and let yourself off the hook. This can go a long way toward reducing stress and regaining control over your time and your life.

3.  Make Brain Awareness Week a family affair


The Dana.org site has many brain and memory activities appropriate for kids from kindergarten through 12th grade.  Celebrate the week as a family by trying these:
You can get more downloadable brain activities here.

Family playing a board game
Make Brain Awareness Week a family affair

4.  Take a brain quiz


Want to test your family's (or your own) knowledge on matters of the brain? Here are some simple brain quiz questions. You'll find the answers at the bottom of the article.
1.  About how many nerve cells are in the human brain?
A. One Billion 
B. 10 Billion
C. 100 Billion
2.  What does the eye’s lens do to the orientation of the visual image?
A. Rotates it right 
B. Rotates it left
C. It turns it upside down
3.  Holding a memory in mind while we think about it is called what type of memory?
A. Procedural memory
B. Working/short term memory
C. Momentary memory
4.  During what period of sleep do we dream?
A. Stage IV sleep
B. NREM sleep
C. REM sleep
5.  Name the contact points where one neuron communicates with another.
A. Somas
B. Synapses
C. Axon terminals
6.  What do you call it when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or suddenly becomes clogged?
A. Stroke
B. Aneurysm
C. Aphasia
7.  What do you call an involuntary, fixed muscle response to a particular stimuli?
A. Spasm
B. Reflex
C. Dystonia
8.  Name the part of the brain that is important for emotional learning and memory and its dysfunction is related to anxiety disorders.
A. Amygdala
B. Thalamus
C. Hippocampus
9.  Name the disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and disturbances of thought and emotions.
A. Manic-depressive disorder
B. Huntington’s chorea
C. Schizophrenia
10. To the closest pound, how heavy is the average adult brain?
A. Three pounds
B. Two pounds
C. One pound
Wouldn't it be ironic if you forget this week to do activities or events related to Brain Awareness Week?  To be safe then, partake of some of these recommended steps right away.
Don’t forget….


Answers to Brain Quiz
  1. About how many nerve cells are in the human brain? 
    C. 100 Billion
  2. What does the eye’s lens do to the orientation of the visual image? 
    C. It turns it upside down
  3. Holding a memory in mind while we think about it is called what type of memory? 
    B. Working/short term memory
  4. During what period of sleep do we dream? 
    C.  REM sleep
  5. Name the contact points where one neuron communicates with another.  
    B. Synapses
  6. What do you call it when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or suddenly becomes clogged? 
    A. Stroke
  7. What do you call an involuntary, fixed muscle response to a particular stimuli? 
    B. Reflex
  8. Name the part of the brain that is important for emotional learning and memory and its dysfunction is related to anxiety disorders. 
    A. Amygdala
  9. Name the disorder characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and disturbances of thought and emotions. 
    C. Schizophrenia
  10. To the closest pound, how heavy is the average adult brain? 
    A. Three pounds

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer


Friday, March 8, 2013

Getting More for Less: Tips for a Frugal Family

It's almost springtime, which calls for some seasonal upkeep inside and outside the home. Frugal moms, take note: there are quite a few practical things you can do to reduce your household expenses and keep the whole family happy at the same time. Here are five:

Transportation


From the annual registration and insurance costs, to fuel and tires, driving and maintaining a vehicle is expensive. Lifehacker.com has some great tips on negotiating that can help you stay on top of vehicle maintenance. Try exchange babysitting services or homemade meals for car repairs or new tires, and don't be afraid to ask for a loyal customer discount. Also, make sure you compare rates from other companies and ask the mechanic to match his competitors' prices.


Woman shopping for a used car
Many families can't find reasonably priced vehicles, especially if they have bad credit. If finding a used vehicle you can afford is your problem, you may want to try an option like DriveTime bad credit auto loans. With a simple two-minute online application, moms find out if they're qualified for a used car that won't break their budget.

Food


Feeding a growing family can feel like you're throwing your cash into a never-ending money pit. Moms can feed their families healthy meals and stay on track financially with a variety of money-saving tactics:
  • Clip coupons. This enables families to buy the groceries they love at a reduced price. Coupons are available in the Sunday newspaper, online and through coupon exchange sites. Use them before they expire and combine them with store sales to increase your savings.
  • Stock the pantry with foods when they're on sale. Grocery stores place the same items on sale every three to four months.
  • Store brands cost less than brand names and usually taste just as good.

Coupons for food
Coupons can help make mealtime more affordable

Shelter


Refinancing a mortgage isn't always possible, but frugal moms can save money on utility bills and other expenses. Turn off the lights before leaving a room and unplug unused electric appliances. Lower the thermostat during winter months and raise it in the summer.

Also, investigate if electric deregulation means you have an option to choose your energy provider. It depends on what state you live in, but one phone call may increase your family's disposable income without sacrificing indoor comfort.


Entertainment


Buying new books and seeing movies at the theater are expensive ways to stay entertained. The local public library offers numerous resources for frugal moms. You and your family can get free movies, books and magazines rentals, as well as Internet access, free children's story times and adult book clubs. Many libraries even offer free museum day passes.


Clothing


Keeping closets stocked with cute clothes that fit growing kids challenges even the most frugal moms. Secondhand stores are the perfect places to find quality, affordable clothing.

Consignment stores sell brand-name, gently used clothes and shoes for the entire family. Moms can earn credit toward clothes by consigning the clothes that don't fit their kids anymore. Thrift stores offer clothing, shoes and household goods that are usually less expensive than consignment stores. Savvy secondhand shoppers search the dollar bins regularly and buy items during half-off sales.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Give Your Kid an Edge With Breakfast

It’s National School Breakfast Week: a week-long celebration to boost awareness among students and parents of local school breakfast programs.  School cafeterias around the country will celebrate school breakfast with special menus and decorations, activities, and school breakfast related brainteasers to help students to warm up their brains before they head to class.  The 2013 theme – Be a Star with School Breakfast – highlights how eating a balanced breakfast at school can help your kids shine like their favorite stars in the movies, on the field, and on TV. 

Can your family benefit from National School Breakfast Week? Absolutely!  You can use this opportunity to teach your kids the nutritional value of breakfast, supporting the message they’ll be getting at school this week. 
It’s also the perfect time to take advantage of your school’s breakfast program itself – not only for your kids, but check to see; many schools invite parents, family members, and district patrons to join in the meal itself during National School Breakfast Week.


Promote breakfast in your family


Whether you serve it up at home or have your kids get their breakfast at school, there are plenty of good reasons to make sure the day starts with a wholesome, nutritious breakfast.  Studies reported by the Food Research and Action Center on the importance of a healthy breakfast show that students who eat breakfast: 
  • Increase their math and reading scores
  • Improve cognitive speed and memory
  • Improve vocabulary skills
  • Have lower rates of absence
  • Have fewer discipline and tardiness problems
  • Visit school nurses’ offices less often
  • Exhibit decreased behavioral and psychological problems
  • Are less likely to be overweight
With proven links between eating a good breakfast and academic achievement and healthy lifestyles, this is something worth promoting in your own home.

The Value of School Breakfast Programs


Parents, you probably grew up without the option of having breakfast at school. You may therefore even be wondering whether or not it's a good idea. There are in fact a few good reasons to support school breakfasts.
First, let's face it – in today’s rushed world, in which often both parents work outside the home or there is only one parent at home, we don’t always have time to make the good and healthy breakfast we’d like our kids to have.  It’s good to know that your public school system likely has a healthy breakfast ready for your child at their school.  
Second, some families are too cash-strapped to make a daily breakfast for their children.  Fortunately, most states or communities have programs available for low income families that  allow for reduced cost, or even free, school breakfasts and school lunches.

According to stats from the Food Research and Action Center, in the 2009–2010 school year nearly 9.5 million low-income children participated in the School Breakfast Program on an average day, indicating a definite need for such programs.  To see if you qualify, review Income Guidelines & Reimbursement Rates for the School Breakfast Program on page 9 of this downloadable PDF report.


But are school breakfasts good for you?


And, as in turns out, school breakfasts are a nutritionally sound alternative.  Because of the USDA’s 2012 Meal Pattern (Nutrition Standards) for School Meals, every school breakfast served must meet federal nutrition standards, including limiting fat and portion size.  To get the full scoop on requirements, read this report.

Many school nutrition programs are also implementing Farm-to-School programs and serving locally sourced foods in the cafeteria.   There are big health advantages to locally grown produce; the closer to the vine that ripening occurs, the more nutritional value each fruit and vegetable contains. Plus, connecting school breakfasts and school lunches to locally grown products supports the local economy.
There are surprising statistics supporting the value of eating breakfast at school in particular.
  • Children who eat breakfast at school—closer to class and test-taking time—perform better on standardized tests than those who skip breakfast or eat breakfast earlier at home.
  • Children who participate in school breakfast eat more fruits, drink more milk, and consume a wider variety of foods than those who do not eat school breakfast or who have breakfast at home.

How you and your kids can benefit from National School Breakfast Week


Beyond the big event week, every school day, most school districts in the US have breakfast programs offering students the healthy foods they need to get set for a busy school day.   If your morning routine is already too rushed to ensure a healthy, shared family breakfast, why not make sure your children get the nutritional and educational edge that comes with a good school breakfast?  You could be helping your children develop good habits that, over time, could give them a competitive advantage at school, and even beyond in the workplace.

To get involved in National School Breakfast Week, and boost your children’s participation, here are some additional resources:
To see what breakfast nutrition events are happening that you and your kids can participate in this week, check with your local school or district offices.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer



Monday, March 4, 2013

The Truth About Artificial Sweeteners

What your parents or grandparents taught you about eating healthfully might be right … but it might not.  With so much conflicting data on what is good for you or not, the sad truth is that more Americans today feel that is is easier to figure out how to do their own taxes than it is to figure out what they should or should not eat to be healthy, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2012 survey.

Is it any wonder?  It shouldn't be, when you consider that what we eat, and how much, has changed significantly in the last 50 to 80 years.  As well, what we know about what we eat is continually evolving, thanks to medical and scientific advancement. Here are some things you need to know about using surgar alternatives for health and weight loss.

Sugar cubes
Source: Flickr.com

Put a little sugar on it, honey


One of the biggest dietary changes over the past few decades is the choices we have to reduce the sugars in our diet.  In the past, just about the only way to reduce sugars in your diet was to reduce the sweetness altogether.  But today, we are inundated with choices in sugar substitutes.
With more than half of Americans surveyed trying to lose weight – and with no foreseeable change in the number of us with a sweet tooth – the proliferation and consumption of low-calorie sugar alternatives is likely to continue. 

Why do we consume artificial sweeteners?


Survey says:
  • To reduce calorie intake: 73 percent – presumably to achieve weight loss, or to avoid weight gain
  • To prevent health issues: 37 percent
  • To manage existing health issues:  29 percent
With such high numbers of us (95 percent of those surveyed!) swapping natural sugars for artificial sweeteners to lose weight and to be healthier, we’d better be certain that artificial sugars actually do improve health or facilitate weight loss. 
It turns out that this is one thing we cannot count on.  Mounting evidence indicates that some artificial sweeteners previously thought to be healthy sugar alternatives may actually pose serious health risks.  More shocking is the new evidence suggesting that some sugar alternatives are resulting in weight gain, not weight loss!

Artificial Sweeteners: The good, the Bad, the Ugly


Soda can
Source: Flickr.com
An earlier FamilyWize article Is There Danger in Your Diet Soda? focused on diet soda risks – an important subject if you consume diet soft drinks.  But there are many artificial sweeteners available for cooking and food preparation that you aren't likely to find in your diet soft drink.  Here, we’ll take a look at the usual suspects in the wider sugar substitute market – aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, sugar alcohols, and stevia – all  food additives that imitate the taste of sugar.

Are they good for you or bad?
Let’s start with a universally acknowledged scientific truth; obesity is bad for us: often blamed for many of our most common and dangerous health issues, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.  If reducing calories by switching from sugar to a sugar substitute can help reduce obesity, it’s all good, right?  Mostly, yes; just be aware of the following sugar substitute risks and balance that with the benefits.

Another widely accepted (and FDA-stated) sugar substitutes benefit is that – with the exception of sugar alcohols – they do not affect your blood sugar, which makes them safe to use if you have diabetes.
One overarching concern though is the common tendency we have to justify eating more food because we are using artificial sweeteners.  When I was a teen, working at a Wendy’s restaurant, I lost count of the numbers of people who would order the largest burger, the largest order of fries, a Frosty for dessert … and a diet soda!  Net weight loss with such dietary habits as this will be nil, no matter which sugar substitute you use.

Other risks associated with sugar substitutes in general:
  • In one study, daily consumption of diet drinks showed a 36 percent greater risk for metabolic syndrome and nearly 70 percent for type 2 diabetes. 
  • Another study seems to indicate that artificial sweeteners may be addictive, at least in rats.
  • A San Antonio heart study showed that those who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight as those who didn’t drink diet soda.
What you should know about certain sugar substitutes:
Saccharin
Saccharin, the original artificial sweetener, first synthesized in the late 1800s, is considered much safer than previously thought.  A 1960 study created a cancer scare associated with Saccharin, until it was later discovered that saccharin’s cancer risk only occurred in male rats by a process that does not occur in humans. The World Health Organization has consequently ruled that saccharin is not consider carcinogenic to humans, stating that, “despite sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity to animals … saccharin is no longer considered a potential hazard to human health.”  Nonetheless, the stigma persists. That, combined with its reputation for a bitter aftertaste, compared to many of the newer alternative sweeteners, has kept Saccharin low in the selection of sugar substitutes.
Aspartame
Aspartame, is the most common sweetener found in diet sodas on the market.  It’s also used as a sugar bowl sweetener alternatives, and in frozen desserts, gelatins, and chewing gum.  Some aspartame risks:
  • Do not cook with aspartame, and store it at cool temperatures; aspartame breaks down under heat. 
  • A bigger risk: a 2012 study linked aspartame to a heightened risk of Lymphoma and Leukemia. 
  • A separate study indicated that aspartame can cause brain damage by leaving traces of methanol in the blood.
Source: Flickr.com
Sucralose (Splenda)
Until recently sucralose was thought to be the safest alternative to sugar.  But a 2002 study showed sucralose presenting gastrointestinal risks. A 2006 study indicated that it may be a trigger for migraines.  

Sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols include sorbitol and xylitol, produced by catalytic hydrogenation of natural sugars.  On the good side: studies indicate the xylitol has positive benefits to teeth, reducing cavities.  But be aware that many individuals find that sugar alcohols cause gastrointestinal issues.
Stevia
The plant-based stevia is a natural sugar substitute (i.e. not classified as an artificial sugar) that has been in use in other countries for centuries, and is rapidly gaining in popularity in the U.S., especially since modern processing techniques have helped to reduce the bitter aftertaste.  There are no known studies that indicate any known risks in the use of stevia to humans. It’s available in a concentrated liquid form and also in a powdered form.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer