Jan 242010

We’ve been trying to stick to a healthier diet for the new year. The other night, my daughter fixed a dessert we’ve been dying to try every since we saw the recipe in Jennifer Cornbleet’s book Raw Food Made Easy. It’s raw vegan chocolate mousse. How can you make a chocolate mousse without cream, butter and eggs? By using avocado and figs! Just the idea of making a chocolate dessert based on avocados was so intriguing we had to try it. And as it turns out – it’s wonderful! You would NOT guess it had an avocado base if you didn’t know in advance. It has a rich, creamy chocolate flavor with just a hint of exotic undertones in the taste that make it unlike anything you’ve ever tried. Make it for your family and see if they can guess what’s in it.

This version makes 2 servings:

1/4 cup pitted medjool dates, soaked

1/4 cup pure maple syrup or agave nectar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

3/4 cup mashed ripe avocados (about an avocado and a half)

1/4 cup plus two tablespoons unsweetened cocoa or carob powder

1/4 cup water

Put the dates, maple syrup and vanilla (if desired) in a food processor with an “S” blade and process until smooth. Add the avocado and the cocoa powder and process until creamy, scraping down from the sides as needed. Add the water and process briefly. Store in a sealed container. It keeps several days in the fridge or up to a week in the freezer.


Jan 232010

I had another interesting insight listening to a Tony Robbins CD. Robbins was describing a breathing exercise he sets great store by. It consisted of breathing in deeply for a count of seven, then hold it for a count of 28, then exhale for a count of 14. This is done ten times in a row, and three times a day. According to Robbins, this type of breathing improves the oxygenation of the body and circulates lymph by compressing the diaphragm. The net result is a dramatic increase in energy and vitality.

The odd thing is that when I tried this out, I realized that the breathing movements were almost identical to one of my favorite activities – singing. Proper breathing for singing involves breathing deeply in and then sustaining a tone with very little air escaping from the lungs. A good singer can hold a lit match in front of their mouth while singing and not put it out. The result is basically a sustained, held breath – supported from the diaphragm. This is exactly the same patters of Robbin’s exercise.

So, if you’re going to do breathing exercises – why not sing instead? If Robbins is correct, then singing should improve your energy and overall health by oxygenating the body and circulating energy. Besides this, singing is fun and creative. It also keeps your vocal cords in good shape. The vocal cords are muscles, and like all other muscles, they tend to atrophy with age and lack of exercise. This is why the elderly can develop thin, reedy voices. Singing can keep the vocal cords in shape and keep your voice sounding younger as you age.

Personally, I’ve always preferred meaningful activity to exercises simply for their own sake. This is one reason I enjoy activities like martial arts, hiking and archery. These seem more meaningful and less artificial than using a treadmill or exercise machines – as interesting as those can sometimes be. I would much rather sing than do special breathing exercises.

Singing is something that every human being should do. It’s a wonderful part of being human. It is a sacred form of self-expression. In the most ancient religious liturgies, the most important parts of the service were always sung, because song was considered a more sacred manner of addressing God.

I should mention that if you are going to get any breath-control benefits out of singing, you need to learn to sing properly, with proper diaphragm control.There are a number of websites that can give you pointers if you don’t know how to sing properly. A quick google search will turn up everything you need to get started.

Jan 232010

Raw Food Made Easy – for 1 or 2 People, by Jennifer Cornbleet. I don’t eat a diet that’s 100 percent raw, by any means. But the more I incorporate raw foods into my diet, the better I feel and the healthier I am. I’m not sure I’d ever want to go 100 percent raw, but most of us could benefit from adding more raw foods into our diet.

I shopped around quite a bit to find a good beginner’s “cookbook” to help transition to raw foods. Of course, it isn’t technically a “cook” book. More of an UN-cook book. This one seemed to come with the best recommendations, and I have been very happy with it. Jennifer Cornbleet starts out by helping you outfit a raw-food kitchen, and gives shopping lists of staples and recipe ingredients.

The recipe chapters cover everything from beverages, salads, soups, entrees, sauces, and even desserts. If I have a chance, I’ll post her recipe for raw vegan chocolate mousse, which is absolutely wonderful

Now I understand from raw food enthusiasts such as Steve Pavlina that as one get adapted to a raw food diet, there is less and less need to spend a lot of time and energy making dishes that are, to some extent, intended to mimic cooked foods. At some point, you might just prefer a bowl of grapes to some sort of raw vegan cake substitute. But I think a book like this is actually a great help in transitioning. Because one of the hurdles to be overcome with a move toward raw food is the fear that we are never going to be able to enjoy a delicious dessert or a hearty entree again. This book can get you past that fear. You will be amazed at how good the food is and how little you miss cooked food.

Be aware that the recipes are geared toward one or two people, so you will need to increase them to feed the number of people you are “cooking” for.

Jan 212010

As part of my “The Most Important Thing”, series, I’ve been pondering the question of what one physical activity (if you could only do one) would give you the most benefits. Walking seemed like a good candidate. Tai Chi or yoga seemed like possibilities. But on thinking about it, I would probably give the nod to strength training.

Strength training builds muscle, which burns more calories. Also, by triggering the production of human growth hormone and related compounds (to repair muscle tissue) strength training rejuvenates the entire body. It’s like a tune up for your whole system. Particularly as we get older, strength training is probably the most important thing you can do physically to maintain good health.

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t  devote a few minutes a day to exercise and rotate between strength training and other activities such as walking.

But there is one unusual form of strength training that claims to give remarkable benefits, both in terms of strength development and even aerobic and metabolic benefits. This is “slow” weight lifting, which goes by several names, the most famous being “Super Slow”.

The idea is this – instead of doing a normal lift with the weights, you take a LONG time to lift the weight up and lower it down – about 10 seconds up and 5-10 seconds down. This is continued until you just can’t do it any more – usually about 5 repetitions. Done this way, a whole workout can be done in 20 to 30 minutes. And advocates of Super Slow say that one or two workouts a week is all you need.

The science behind this is mixed. Some studies show that this kind of exercise can build 50 percent more strength in the same amount of time. Other studies seem to give the edge to conventional weight lifting. And although there doesn’t seem to be any reason why this kind of weight lifting would have superior aerobic benefits, many of it’s practitioners swear by it.

One of the disadvantages, say the experts, is that because the routine exercises the muscles to failure, it can seem very difficult for some people. A lot of those who try it, don’t like it. Personally, I love the idea. Spending a lot of time on exercise isn’t my idea of fun, and I actually LIKE the feeling of working muscles to failure. I even like the feeling of soreness the next day. It gives me a feeling of progress.

So what are your suggestions on the ONE physical activity that can make the most difference to your health?

Jan 202010

In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan. I first ran into Michael Pollan’s work reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Pollan is a Berkley professor of science and environmental journalism. That book made me a fan.  His work is well-researched and absolutely facilitating. In Defense of Food is equally compelling.

After investigating what Americans eat in the Omnivore’s Dilemma, Pollan turned his attention to the question that was pouring in from his readers: What SHOULD we eat? Pollan’s answer is deceptively simple: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants”. He then spends a number of chapters unpacking that simple advice and using it to construct a set of food rules. I mentioned Pollan’s rule earlier in my post on The Most Important Nutritional Rule. “Eat Food” , for example, isn’t as easy as it sounds nowadays. There are a lot of products out there in the supermarkets and restaurants that may LOOK like food, but that contain ingredients that no human being has every consumed in history – until now.

If it has high-fructose corn syrup in it, it’s not food. If it has ingredients in it your grandmother wouldn’t have recognized – it’s not food. If it arrives through the window of your car – it’s NOT food. Food is made from whole, natural products with as little extra processing as possible.

Along the way, Pollan also takes us on an eye-opening tour of the history of nutrition and food science and their efforts to boost sales and profits by tricking us into eating highly processed junk.

In the last part of the book, Pollan provides a set of rules for how to eat. This includes rules on what to eat as well as how to eat (at a table, with family, etc.) Pollan turns for his rules and his nutritional wisdom to traditional cultures and cuisines that have nourished humanity for thousands of years. Pollan’s book is a potent and convincing defense of common sense and wholesome food in a world where we have lost our way.

Recently, Pollan released a book called Food Rules, which consists primarily of the “rules” part of In Defense of Food. Pollan felt compelled to add a few rules, such as “Never buy any food that you have seen advertised”.  I hope to get a look at this book soon. But if you’d like a more complete treatment of the topic, In Defense of Food is the book for you.

Below is a clip of Michael Pollan discussing some of the ideas in his book.

Jan 122010

In earlier posts, I explored the question – “What one thing can you do that will make the most positive difference in your life”. Out of a host of good suggestions, I suggested that daily self reflection was my personal nomination. Now I’d like to extend this idea and narrow it down a bit. Let’s take the field of nutrition. Of all the health rules you can follow, is there any ONE rule that would make the most difference to your health? I’m focusing here on the area of nutrition. We’ll talk about movement or exercise later.

It seems like every week there are new diet tips in the magazines, and new fads make the rounds. There are things to take out of your diet and things to put in. There are so many possibilities, but it there  any ONE rule that can help you out?

I’m going to cheat a bit here and suggest the rule that makes up the thesis of Michael Pollan’s bestseller – In Defense of Food. Michael proposes a simple rule at the beginning of his book – and then spends the whole book explaining it. His rule for eating is this: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. ”

Let’s focus on the first part for our one rule. “Eat Food”. Here’s what Pollan means by this. Eat things that are actually food – not food imitations, or enhanced food, or artificial food, or synthetic food, or food substitutes. And frankly, that eliminates a lot of what passes for “food” these days. Pollan suggest a few simple guidelines to interpret the rule “Eat Food”.

It’s not food if your grandmother wouldn’t have recognized it as food. It’s not food if it has more than about five ingredients. It’s not food if it contains any chemicals that you can’t pronounce or that your grandfather would not have heard of. This PARTICULARLY excludes anything with high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors or colors. If it doesn’t spoil fairly quickly, it probably not food. If it makes health claims, it’s probably not food. That stuff on the shelves wrapped in plastic that LOOKS like bread probably isn’t food at all by Pollan’s rule. Does it really require twenty ingredients to make a loaf of real bread?

You get the general idea. As much as possible, eat whole foods, as close to their natural state as possible, and with as little processing as possible. If you are currently following a standard American diet and implement this one rule, I think it will benefit your health more than anything else you could do. Yes, down the road it would be a good idea to pay attention to the “…mostly plants” part of Pollan’s rule. It would also be a good idea to consume more of your fruits and vegitables in a fresh raw state. But this one rule should get you started.

Anyone have any different nominations for the number-one nutrition rule, or variations on this one?

Jan 102010

Every so often it seems that some new superfood is in the news. Acai and goji are among the latest. But one of the more popular recent superfoods is also one of the most ancient (and my personal favorite), the regal and mytic pomegranate.

I drink pomegranate juice regularly for several reasons. First of all are the dramatic health benefits. Pomegranates are incredibly rich in antioxidants. The juice has many times the antioxidant concentration of either red wine and green tea. The rich red fruit is full of phytochemicals and other nutrients that have been found to be helpful against a host of diseases. These include vitamins C, A , E, pantothenic acid, and potassium.

My daughter, who suffers from periodic potassium deficiency as a complication of diabetes finds pomegranate juice very helpful for that condition. Pomegranate is a blood-thinner and helps prevent heart attacks and strokes, as well as reducing high blood pressure and promoting blood flow to the heart.

Studies also show the juice to be helpful against a variety of cancers, in particular breast cancer, skin cancer and prostate cancer. Furthermore, the juice and the rind have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Pomegranate has been used to prepare an ointment that is effective against the most virulent and resistant kinds of infections in hospitals.

Equally fascinating, however, are the spiritual properties associated with pomegranate. The fruit is extremely ancient, having originated in Persia and then spread across the Middle East, Asia and the Mediterranean. In all the cultures where it was found, the brilliant and unusual red fruit tended to have strong religious associations. The rich color suggested blood, and hence life, vitality and prosperity. The huge number of seeds suggested fertility.  The fruit was associated with many gods and goddesses, and features prominently in the Bible.

There are strong esoteric traditions that pomegranate juice can absorb and counteract negative energy. Anyone exposed to strong negative emotions or environments should consider a regular dose of pomegranate juice to help with spiritual cleansing and purification.

This spiritual use is suggested by some of legends associated with pomegranate in world religion and mythology. Mohammed urged the eating of pomegranate to combat envy and hatred. The Buddha was said to have used pomegranates to calm a cannibal demon.

Pomegranate juice is easy to obtain at most stores these days. While it’s a bit pricy, it is available in blends that are more economical. Try adding some pomegranate to your daily diet and you may discover its hidden physical and spiritual benefits.

Dec 312009

The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First by Mark Hyman MD is a book that I had included on my earlier list of gift suggestions for the health – conscious (The Gift of Health). The book piqued my interest because I have several friends and family members who struggle with such issues as depression, anxiety and insomnia, but who have had poor results with orthodox medicine and are looking for alternatives.

The premise of the book is simple – the brain is a part of the body, and problems in the brain are the result of problems in overall health. By using the latest in science and holistic medicine, Dr. Hyman gives you a program for finding your body/mind problems and fixing them with a total program of mental and physical health.

You can hop on over to Dr. Hyman’s website to find a complete down-loadable set of diagnostic tests that will help you decide which areas of body/brain nutrition are your weak areas. Then the program in Hyman’s book will give you the steps to follow to correct the problems, including balancing nutrition and hormone levels, detoxifying , fixing digestive problems, increasing energy levels and working on calming the mind directly. These suggestions are packaged into a six week program.

Some of his diet suggestions are radical, but some of the results reported are nothing short of miraculous. If you are struggling with mental issues and are strongly motivated to try  a solution that is guaranteed to make you feel better in every way, this is an excellent program.

Dr. Hyman’s website is found at www.ultramind.com. Below is one of a large collection of videos Dr. Hyman has on Youtube explaining the principles of his program. Dr. Hyman is the kind of author who doesn’t stop at just a book, but puts out videos, guides, nutrition supplements and everything but the kitchen sink. The good news is that a lot of his information on the site and on Youtube is free. At the very least, you can get a good idea of what he’s all about before you plop down your money for his book. But when you’re ready to buy, we’d love it if you’d use our link above, so your purchase can help support our site. In any case, check out his materials and see if this is the kind of program that appeals to you.

Dec 182009

chinastudyThe China Study – a book by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell II – will help you understand like no other book the root cause of most of the chronic disease in America. To come straight to the point, that root cause is … eating too many animal products.

The book will be of great interest to vegetarians, vegans, and those who simply want to cut back on the meat and animal products in their diet. And if you are trying to adopt such a lifestyle and are getting opposition – this book is your best friend.

While there is a chapter devoted to incorporating this insight into your diet and lifestyle, what the book focuses on is the science. And it does it with a vengeance. The largest part of the book is devoted to the scientific evidence that diets high in animal products are responsible for heart disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, auto-immune diseases, and a host of other chronic maladies.

Exhibit ‘A’ in the book is the “China Study” of the title. This study – the largest of its kind by far – compared the health people in China who had very similar genetic and environmental backgrounds, but who differed in diet. Some had adopted a more western, animal-based diet and some had retained the traditional Chinese diet – mostly plant based. The differences in health were remarkable, particularly because in the homogeneous culture of China, genetic and other factors were more easily ruled out.

The data from this study was combined with cross-cultural studies and hundreds of other papers and research efforts to paint a total picture that is completely convincing. I found myself not only educated – but angry. So many of the problems both I and my family have suffered with simply don’t exist in cultures that feature a more plant-based diet.

The latter part of the book is even more eye-opening. Dr. Campbell narrates his view of the history of government and medical policy on eating. As a part of several important committees and groups, Dr. Campbell was in a front-row position to see them hijacked again and again by the food and drug industry. I am left with a rather low opinion of both organized medicine and government-sponsored “expertise” .

If you want powerful evidence to convince yourself or someone else that a plant-centered diet is a healthier way to live, this is the book for you.

Dec 182009

vaccineToday at work I received yet another reminder that free flu shots are available. I won’t be getting one. For several reasons. First of all, let me just state up-front that I’m pathologically terrified of needles and only submit to them if there are serious health reasons. Some of you may decide that this irrational fear is the basis of all my other rationalizations. Perhaps you’re right. I still won’t be getting one.

For another thing, I’ve not had a flu for… well… decades. I have an unusual resistance to flu, and have been able to fight off every single one of them at the first sign of symptoms, using a method I described in Self-Healing from Colds and Flu. So, being reasonably good health, I consider the potential benefits rather slight in my case.

But – and here’s where we get controversial – I have some misgivings about a lot of vaccinations and flu shots in particular. I understand the basic science behind them. I’m willing to bet that they have contributed significantly to the eradication of some diseases. But I’m also aware that there is a lot of money in vaccinations, and that large amounts of money have the potential to corrupt both politics and also science.

That politicians can be corrupted is hardly news. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the largest political contributors, funding both sides of the most recent election at a level of about $30 million. More upsetting is the realization that science and scientists – who have the image at least of being more sticklers for the truth – can also be bought. Just as a quick example, the chapters in Campbell’s book The China Study on the manipulation of science by the food industry were very disturbing.

With that in mind, I look at the controversy over thimerosal, the mercury-based vaccine preservative manufactured by Eli Lilly and Company and used in nearly all flu vaccines. Thimerosal clearly has damaging effects on cell cultures in the lab, and there have been correlations between increases of autism in children and the increased exposure of children to thimerosal in vaccines. But studies commissioned by high-level agencies as the CDC found the evidence of harm “inconclusive”. This in spite of the substance being banned in a number of countries, and even here in my home state of California for children under three and pregnant women.

I’m not sure why California thinks mercury is ok for me but not for children. Perhaps I’m too far gone. But getting back to the general point, do I trust the CDC and federal agencies? Quite frankly – no. Perhaps thimerosal is perfectly safe. But if it isn’t, I really don’t trust a government that accepts $30 million from the pharmaceutical industries to be conservative about telling me. This is the same government who’s Food and Drug Administration resisted for years allowing stevia to be sold as a sweetener, for pete’s sake.

And thimerosal isn’t the only problem that vaccine critics have with vaccines. For one thing, even doing a controlled study on vaccine effectiveness is difficult and controversial. After all, you have to give a control group a placebo vaccine that won’t work and then expose them to the disease. There ARE known side-effects and vaccine-related deaths. You do have to sign a disclaimer when getting vaccinations for yourself and your children after all.

So I can see both sides of this argument. I believe the scientific principle of vaccination is fundamentally correct – but I also believe science can be corrupted. I get particularly worried when talk starts to emerge of forcing people to receive controversial vaccines. One doctor who’s site I read on this topic contented that refusing any vaccine was unethical, and perhaps should be illegal.

What are your thoughts? Are people who refuse vaccines criminals, nuts, or are they on to something?

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