Monday, April 1, 2013

Healthy Home Humidity

Maintaining the ideal humidity level in your house can protect your family from illness and, at the same time, make your home more comfortable to live in.

In winter, you may have difficulty keeping your home at what is considered to be the “right” level of humidity.  If you live in a cold climate, the winter air is naturally more dry than in summer.  As well, your home heater dries the air even more.

If you haven’t yet considered making your home humidity healthier, perhaps you should.  You wouldn't be alone; Consumer Reports Magazine says that sales on home humidifiers triple during colder months.  Industry estimates indicate that we buy nearly 10,000 humidifiers in the U.S. every year! 


Humidifier


Healthy home humidity levels


Ideal indoor humidity should be between 30 and 50 percent.  Within that healthy humidity range, your throat, nasal passages, and skin is in its most healthy and comfortable state.  Keeping your home at the right humidity level also makes your home more comfortable. A dry-air 70-degree temperature will feel colder than the same 70 degrees in a humidified home.
Unhealthy home humidity levels
In humid climates or in the summer, the problem is often too much humidity for comfort.  Too much moisture in your home’s atmosphere also increases the risk of mold. 

In the colder seasons, too little humidity is the bigger problem in most homes.  Without added humidification, the moisture level can easily drop below that 30-50-percent range, to as low as 10 percent.  Why?  Cold air naturally retains less moisture than warm air.  And the effort to heat up that air will dry it even more.
Measuring your home humidity level
The easiest way to find out if your home humidity is too low or too high is to purchase a humidistat.  These are available online and often at less than $40.  Either digitally or with a needle gauge, a humidistat will give you a level reading. 

If you don’t have a humidity gauge, your own body can speak of your humidity level for you.  Common symptoms of an unhealthy humidity level in winter include a sore throat, itchy eyes, dry skin, or a stuffy nose. 


Best ways to control home humidity


Humidifier
Since your heating system can dry out your home to unhealthy low humidity levels, humidifying your home is likely already a hot topic.  You have a few options to improve your home humidity. One of the first things to consider is how draft-free your home is. Any humidifier you get will be working overtime if your home is inadequately insulated from drafts, as the home humidity will seep out.
Whole-house humidifier vs. portable humidifier?
If you have a forced-air heating system, one option you have for home humidification is a whole-house humidifier, also known as an in-duct humidifier. Whole house humidifiers are attached near your furnace ducts, using your air ducts to carry humidified air.

Whole house humidifiers are generally much more efficient, and therefore cheaper to operate, than a portable unit.  While this may seem to be a slam dunk choice then, compared to portable humidifying units, consider this:
  • Because whole-house humidifiers are plumbed into your water supply, they usually require professional installation.
  • They are generally more expensive to purchase that a portable unit designed to humidify just one or two rooms.
  • If you don't want to humidify the entire house, portable units may be a better choice for you.
If you decide that a room humidifier is the better choice for you, then what follows will help you with the challenge of narrowing down your selection from the scores of models available.
Warm mist or cool mist or ionic humidifier – does it matter?
Research indicates that air moisture is air moisture – whether it enters your home environment as a cool mist or as a warm mist, the goal is the same: to raise the overall humidity level to the right zone.  By the time the moisture from your humidifier has mixed into your home air, the temperature effect difference between a warm mist humidifier and any other type of humidifier will be nonexistent.

That said, there are important considerations when deciding whether to choose a warm-mist humidifier versus a cool-mist humidifier versus an ionic humidifier:
  • The hot steam of up-close contact with a warm-mist humidifier is a burn danger.  Therefore, if you have children in the house, you should avoid using a warm-mist humidifier.
  • Warm mist humidifiers tend to be more expensive, due to the added manufacturing cost of the heating element.
  • Cool-mist humidifiers and ionic humidifiers use less electricity than a warm-mist humidifier, as there is no heating element involved.
  • Some people find the background noise of a humidifier's motor hum to be soothing. But if you are noise sensitive, consider the ionic type of humidifier.  The ionic humidifiers tend to have a much quieter operating level.
Humidifier


Humidifier reviews and humidifier purchasing considerations


No matter which type of humidifier you buy, here are some tips to consider when making a humidifier purchase decision.
  • How quiet is "very quiet" vs. "super-quiet"? Be wary of any humidifier manufacturer's quietness claims, unless they are backing it up with actual decibel level figures.
  • Investigate humidifier reviews: A good way to determine the relative quietness of one humidifier to another is to look at independent comparative ratings, such as the humidifier reviews at consumersearch.com or consumerreport.org.
  • Check out consumer ratings: To get in-depth opinions on a specific humidifier model from current owners, make sure to look at the customer comments and ratings, available at many online retailers that are selling humidifiers.
No matter which portable house humidifier you buy, make sure you follow its instructions for proper cleaning and disinfecting. Not doing so can cause mold to grow inside your humidifier, creating other health risks.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer




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