My Self-Identification Was a Barrier to Improving My Life – And Yours Could Be Too

My friend Katy and I Experiencing Mindfulness While Kayaking on The Potomac River

My friend Katy and I Experiencing Mindfulness While Kayaking on The Potomac River (Photo by Ari from Nauti Foods, the floating “food truck” on The Potomac River)

I’m sharing my journey toward getting my life back, after some rough times, losing my health, and my sense of self, because I know the process can be difficult – and even painful – for anyone. I know, because it’s been my job – and my passion – for more than 25 years: helping my clients transform their health and their lives to better themselves and to increase their happiness. Ironically, I haven’t experienced these joys for myself for quite a while, so it’s my turn to tough it out. And I can tell you, after many setbacks, it’s not for sissies!

In my story’s first installment, I described the importance of mindfulness as a foundation for self understanding and successful life change. It reduces anxiety, helps you focus, and leave worries about the past and future behind.  This helps you work through problems more effectively, according to scientific research from the National Institutes of Health. I needed to keep my focus on the present, to relax, to feel hopeful, and to force myself out of my depression. I needed to be willing to work at overcoming my exhaustion after almost two years of knee and back pain, ultimately leading to surgeries on both, and sidelining me for the duration.

You see, I spent a lifetime being physically active. This was a part of my identity, a way I excelled in the world. I started gymnastics in pre-school (it was called “tumbling” then). I went on through my adulthood to continue practicing gymnastics, cheerleading, dance, swimming, scuba, fencing, climbing, skating, archery, aerobics, strength training, stand up paddle boarding, yoga …You name it, I’ve done it, and excelled almost immediately at anything I tried (even basketball, though I’m 5’2″).

It’s funny that I only recently realized that this loss of my physicality may have been the underlying cause of my depression and endless exhaustion – because it was an integral part of my identity and self-worth. I never realized how much pride I took – wrongly or rightly – in being fit, active, and in exceptional (not just good) shape. I was always a leader, a teacher, and set the example for thriving and living a healthy life. I bounced back from negative experiences easily, and taught my clients to do the same. But somehow I couldn’t this time. I actually felt embarrassed to let anyone know, outside a few of my closest friends and family, just how badly I felt. I stopped exercising (by necessity), I gained weight, I stopped going out, I stopped socializing, and even dealing with my business. I isolated myself, even though I knew this behavior was hurting my health in every way.

I finally came to understand why I was not recovering as expected while listening to a friend’s account of his wife’s reaction to the fear of potentially losing her singing voice (she’s a singer) after the successful removal of a stage 1, non-malignant cancer on one of her vocal cords. The experience left her inconsolable, silent, uncommunicative, miserable, and angry with everyone. No amount of love, support, or reassurance from the experts helped. Her reaction and behavior went beyond normal proportions. Why? Perhaps because using her voice was an integral part of her identity, and the fear of losing it, even an irrational fear, was too frightening to face, let alone talk about, or deal with.

Facing and working through that kind of loss and fear can be paralyzing. Admittedly, it’s taken me way too long to begin my recovery. And every day I’m too tired – or too stubborn – to advance, I damage myself further.

If you inexplicably don’t take steps to improve your life in ways you know would be helpful – and your loved ones are encouraging – perhaps exploring how your self identification has been or will be affected, will help get you started. This is a major barrier to overcome for anyone trying to change a habit, even one which is self-destructive.

Mindfullness has been essential for me to finally start taking the small steps toward getting my life back, and feeling like myself again. (Funny, taking small steps is the cornerstone of my life-change programs, and my book, Diet Simple.) Studies clealry show you can achieve mindfulness through meditation. But I believe any activity that absorbs your heart and mind, relaxes you, and focuses you on the present moment, can improve your mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to work through your worries more effectively, to let go of thoughts and feelings that won’t help, while concentrating on positive behaviors that will advance you toward your long term goal of increased happiness, however you define it.

This weekend, mindfulness came to me through kayaking with a friend on the beautiful Potomac River. What wonderful resources in Washington, DC (we rented a kayak from the Key Bridge Boathouse)! I was able to step into another world, completely relax, and focus on Mother Nature, just a few blocks from home. A couple of weekends ago, I escaped to the Pennsylvania countryside. Music and reading elevate me too (anything but the news, please).

Personalize your way of becoming more mindful so you can start making small steps to improve your life. And try to be patient with yourself.

More later ..

Katherine Tallmadge Enjoying The Peace of Mother Nature

Katherine Tallmadge Enjoying The Peace of Mother Nature (Photo by Katy Handley)

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Katherine’s Crepe-Style Swedish Waffles with Succulent Strawberries

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This week’s strawberries were especially sweet and succulent. I experienced a very decadent way of enjoying them while relaxing during a recent respite in the Pennsylvania countryside, with my friend, Anna: Smothering heart-shaped Swedish waffles. These aren’t ordinary waffles; they’re crepe-thin, crispy, buttery, and simply divine. Traditionally served on “Waffle Day,” in Sweden, celebrating “Our Lady’s Day,” on March 25th, 9 months before Christmas (also known as the Christian holiday of “Annunciation”). Enjoy…

Katherine & Anna’s Scrumptious and Luxurious Swedish Waffles with Strawberries

Serves… You decide the number!

3 eggs
1 dl (3.4 ounces) Flour
6 dl (2.4 cups) Whole Milk (or 1% Milk)
1/4 cup melted, cooled Butter (or Canola Oil or Walnut Oil for a nutty flavor)
Pinch of Salt, Sugar, or Vanilla (optional)

Topping:
1/2 cup (or more) Plain Yogurt or Whipped Cream
1 cup (or more) Strawberries
1 teaspoon Maple Syrup
A sprinkling of chopped Roasted Nuts (optional)
1 sprig of fresh Mint (optional)

Whisk the ingredients together in a pitcher. Grease the waffle iron with butter or oil for the first waffle. Since butter (or oil) is in the recipe, the waffle iron will not need to be greased again.

Pour a small amount of the mixture into the Euro Cuisine Eco Friendly Heart Shaped Waffle Maker per product instructions. When golden brown, carefully lift the waffle and place in the center of your plate (smother in butter if you’re being especially care-free and decadent). Place the yogurt, berries and roasted chopped nuts, if you wish, on the waffle. Drizzle maple syrup on top. Finish with a sprig of mint.

NOTE: Using butter and whole milk are occasional treats, I recommend using them sparingly. When Anna and I prepared them last weekend, we used 2% milk and butter in the recipe. I topped my waffle with Chobani nonfat plain yogurt with a little maple syrup drizzled on top. Anna used whipped cream!

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How A Little Help from my Friends and Mindfulness Meditation Saved my Life!

Katherine Tallmadge practicing Mindfulness Meditation in the Countryside

Katherine Tallmadge practicing Mindfulness Meditation in the Countryside

I’ve experienced tough times during the past couple of years. Of course, I’m no exception. We all have tough times. That’s life, isn’t it? “You can’t feel joy unless you’ve felt pain… blah, blah, blah…” Yes, I know already! How about a little joy, folks? God? Higher Being? After being in pain and inactive for so long, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m physically and mentally exhausted and depressed. Symptoms like debilitating headaches and stomach pain have now taken over and are keeping me from living life fully. I had to change, but it’s been tough. I’ve been taking one step forward and two steps back for a while.

We’ll talk about my personal “issues” (no one has “problems” any more!) during the past couple of years at some later date. For now, I’ll be in the present and try to talk you into the same. You may know that I work with clients helping them turn their lives around, to live healthier, happier, and more energetically, through gentle counseling in nutrition, exercise, spirituality, stress management, and life organization. So, I feel fortunate to know the process… Duh, Katherine! I thought I would share my “metamorphosis” with you, so perhaps you might gain some insight for yourself

Attempting to recover, my first step has been allowing myself to have more positive experiences. I say “allowing myself” because I had to take action to get out of my negative state. No one could do it for me. I forced myself to start listening – and responding – to the friends, loved ones, and health care professionals in my life to get out of isolation, back to socializing a little more with good friends, participating in good causes, and exercising a little. This meant “working through the pain,” an admonishment I came to detest, but one I knew was true (I had already been evaluated medically).

I started reading a book recommended by the Reverend Timothy A.R. Cole, the rector of Christ Church Georgetown, called “The Book of Joy,” co-authored by The 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmund Tutu. Two of the most positive, spiritual, and productive men on earth who have suffered unheard of atrocities. If they can overcome their obstacles – exile, refugee life, apartheid, targets of hate and prejudice – can’t we?

In “The Book of Joy,” both spiritual leaders emphasize meditation or prayer as the foundation of a happy life. They meditate, pray, have quiet time, for several hours every morning. Can I do that? Will I do that? Should I expect my clients to do that? Well, probably not. But, I’m going to turn my life around using these methods – my own way. In the 1990s I worked with – and sent my clients to – a psychologist specializing in biofeedback (Karan Kverno, Ph.D. no longer in private practice), and I knew the deep breathing techniques were scientifically proven to help many health conditions, but I had gotten away from the practice.

Second step: I decided my personalized way would be Mindfulness Meditation with a little yoga thrown in. I do a little in the morning, and spurts here and there through the day. And if I can do it, you can do it – that is, in your own way. Like you, I’m a hard working professional (and I’m including stay-at-home Moms and Dads). I don’t have a lot of time. But as a health care professional and life coach, I know by many years of experience that there are certain priorities in life that cannot be ignored, or the consequences are dire.

Changing the way you think and calming your mind are the cornerstones of understanding yourself and achieving any behavior or life change. But you have to learn how to be “mindful” first. “Mindfulness is the ability to be present, more focused, and clear; for concentration to be more sustained, and for attention to be on what’s happening, instead of on thoughts, memories, and associations,” said Jack Killen, when he was the Deputy Director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

“There is neurobiological research that demonstrates that mindfulness engages pathways in the brain… [they] allow your brain to be focused on what is here and now… [so you’re] more able to think through a problem, less likely to be distracted by issues that won’t help,” said Killen. “Meditation is one way of exercising neurological pathways in the brain which help us become more mindful.”

So, how do I or you choose a way to become more mindful… a way that fits your lifestyle, beliefs, and personality? Here’s what I did this weekend toward this goal: I left the city I love to visit a good friend in the beautiful and serene countryside of Pennsylvania. My Swedish friend, Anna, is one of the warmest, kindest, most loving people I know. She exudes elegance in a simple, down-to-earth (very Swedish) way. I love visiting her.

On the way to the Pennsylvania countryside, I called a few friends I haven’t talked to in a while. That felt good. I was enjoying the drive. My headache was disappearing. When I got there, my happiness was overflowing, my headache was gone. Being in the countryside, and being with a good friend, somehow motivated me to get out of bed early (my headache came back, ugh!). I started with a cup of coffee (strong, smooth Swedish style), then sat in a comfortable chair facing the trees. I began deep belly breathing, centering my mind on the moment, checking each part of my body for signs of stress, and then relaxing it. I put on some favorite music (rock ‘n roll was my pleasure at the moment). I spontaneously got up and started dancing. I continued with the deep breathing and started some yoga exercises. My headache finally left me again. The worst of my stomach pain was gone went I recently went off anti-inflammatory medications I was taking, based on my doctor’s and pharmacist’s recommendations.

Am I cured? No. I have a long road to hoe. My headaches and exhaustion – which are probably largely related to the stress left over from the issues of the past couple of years – are not entirely gone, but at least I know I have some control over them. I have to work at my deep breathing, stretching and light exercising continuously. Training your brain to be more mindful “is a bit like going to the gym and working out your muscles. It takes time and practice for the beneficial brain pathways to become established, similar to building muscular strength and flexibility,” said Killen.

Along with the breathing exercises, I need to make an effort to stay in touch with and socialize with the people I care about. But those are only steps one and two! I still need to work on much more. Getting back to exercising my body more regularly is the next big hurdle. I don’t know how long it will take to get to my former fit self, or even a better self. But at least I’m off to a good start. And you can be, too! But be sure to check with your doctor so any serious medical condition is ruled out.

I’ll keep you posted!

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Springtime Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad

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Strawberries are finally here! The Farmers Markets are brimming with them. The first fruit of spring, strawberries signify new beginnings and everything that’s good. Of course, the easiest way to eat them is right off the vine. But you can use them creatively in recipes  – not only in desserts, but in savories, too. The following salad, from my good friend Mike Gardner, can be served as a side dish or a main course.
Mike Gardner’s Springtime Strawberry and Goat Cheese Salad
This is a great salad for a hot day.  Let the strawberries sit long enough to absorb the balsamic vinegar flavor while you take time to catch up with friends and enjoy the summer day.
Ingredients
For the strawberries:
1 pint of ripe strawberries, if they are large, cut them in half
1/2-3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
For the salad:
Baby spinach
Baby arugula
Goat cheese crumbles
1 small red onion, sliced
1 ounce of toasted almonds
For the dressing:
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dijon mustard
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Directions
Prepare the strawberries by placing them into a bowl and add the vinegar.  Let them sit for a while to absorb the flavor of the vinegar- an hour or better.  This can be done at room temperature.
In a separate bowl. make the dressing by combining the vinegar, dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  Slowly stream in the olive oil, tasting for flavor balance.  If necessary, add additional mustard to taste.
When ready to serve, combine equal parts of baby spinach and arugula.  Add in the sliced red onion, and lightly toss the salad with a small amount of dressing, adding more as necessary slowly dressing the salad as to not drench it all at once.  Add the goat cheese crumbles and almonds.  Lastly, plate the salad onto a chilled serving plate.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the strawberries from the vinegar and place them on top of the greens.  Finally, top with fresh ground pepper and serve.

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Four Tips for Choosing the RIGHT Olive Oil

Photo from Georgetown Olive Oil Co.

Photo from Georgetown Olive Oil Co.

My clients regularly ask me how important using olive oil is. Of course, we have all heard about olive oil’s health benefits. But there is still understandable confusion. I’m regularly asked, “How does olive oil compare to other oils? How does it work? What kind of olive oil is best? How much should I use?” My answer: It depends…

These are important questions as more and more science is finding that the nutrients in olive oil, called “polyphenols,” are responsible for its superior health benefits. Increased longevity, reductions in cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, obesity, diabetes, and various cancers, are among the benefits, confirmed a 2015 review of studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition. But olive oils can vary significantly in their polyphenol content. There are four times more phenolic compounds in high quality extra virgin olive oil versus low quality or refined olive oil – 232 mg vs 62 mg per kilogram of oil – so it is important you choose the right olive oil.

“99 percent of olive oil’s health benefits are related to the presence of the phenolic compounds, not the oil itself,” said Nasir Malik, NIH Scientist.  “And without the polyphenols, you might as well use the less expensive canola oil.”

Surprisingly, when tested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, polyphenols were low in most commercially available olive oils. They also didn’t live up to international quality standards defining extra virgin olive oil. These standards require an acidic pH, necessary to protect the nutrients. And the olive oils’ pH had degraded – even in the highest end gourmet shops – according to studies conducted at the University of California at Davis Olive Center.

That’s because olive oil’s polyphenol content diminishes, and its acidic pH degrades over time, as days, weeks, and months go by after harvest. Other factors play a role, too: the harvesting methods, the age of the trees, the ripeness of the olives, the processing, and the storage. Since time, heat, and light affect polyphenol content, choose olive oil that:

  • Is no more than one year old (look for the harvest date on the label),
  • Is in an air-tight, dark glass, or tin container,
  • Is stored in a cool environment, and
  • Smells and tastes like olives, which could be fruity, grassy, or peppery.

Is olive oil better for your health than other oils? The answer is yes, according to a new study in Nutrition & Diabetes. For one, “The risk of type 2 diabetes reduced by 13% with increasing intake of olive oil up to 15 to 20 grams per day (3 to 4 teaspoons),” according to the study.  When refined olive oil, or other oils, were compared, fresh extra virgin olive oil was more beneficial for the prevention and management of diabetes. It was associated with lower fasting blood glucose, and Hemoglobin A1C, a three-month average of blood glucose and an important marker for diabetic complications.

Other studies have found high polyphenol olive oil improves health in many ways:

  • Increasing levels of good cholesterol (which helps clear artery-clogging fat from the bloodstream),
  • Improving artery wall health and functioning (important for healthy blood pressure, blood flow, reducing blood clots, and the risk of cardiovascular disease), and
  • Reducing oxidation and inflammation processes involved in many diseases from infections to cancer.

To take full advantage of your olive oil’s flavor and health benefits, save your recently harvested, high quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling on vegetables, salads, or anything! When cooking with high heat, i.e., stir frying, use canola oil or nut oils instead, as they can be less expensive, and have higher smoking points so can tolerate higher temperatures without burning.

My favorite vinaigrette: Mix 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil with 1 or 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. The proportion of olive oil to lemon juice depends on how tart you like your vinaigrette. You can also add a smidge of mustard or herbs. Serve!

One shop in Georgetown which consistently sells high quality olive oils is Georgetown Olive Oil company. It is locally owned and operated at 1524 Wisconsin Avenue. The shop displays rare-to-find information, such as the oils’ date of harvest, provenance, and detailed descriptions. And you can taste any of the oils at any time. I highly recommend this cozy and friendly specialty shop where they clearly understand what makes a great olive oil!

For more detailed information on olive oil, read my Washington Post article: “Most Olive Oil is not as Healthful as You Think” 

Georgetown Olive Oil's Varietals EVOO-2016 CRUSH (olive oil color is determined by the olive from which it is made)

Georgetown Olive Oil’s Varietals EVOO-2016 CRUSH (olive oil color is determined by the olive from which it is made)

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My Favorite Asparagus Recipes

Puree of Asparagus Soup with Tarragon prepared and photographed by Mark Indre

Spring has always seemed more like the new year to me than January first. Perhaps my inspiration comes from longer, warmer, sunlit days, delicate vegetables and fruits, like asparagus and strawberries, finally popping up, flowers blooming everywhere. Neighbors begin venturing out of winter hibernation with their first happy greetings of the year, with sounds of their children playing in the street. Celebrations are occurring all over the city showing off our beauty and splendor to the tourists. In fact, I think I’ll make my New Year’s Resolution today! And it’ll be easy – preparing batches of veggie salads – or soups, at least weekly, to help me and my friends shed some of our winter “padding.” Making delicious veggies your main course at dinners (lunches, too) helps manage your weight easily. Asparagus is one of my major harbingers of spring. Here I’d like to share some of my favorite asparagus recipes excerpted from my book, Diet Simple Farm to Table Recipes: 50 New Reasons to Cook In Season!, where you’ll find dozens of other seasonal recipes:

Chilled Asparagus in a Creamy Tarragon, Shallot and Roasted Walnut Vinaigrette

Salad of New Potatoes and Asparagus with Lemony Garlic Herb Mayonnaise

Pasta with Pesto, Roasted Asparagus and Cherry Tomatoes

Asparagus Salad in a Vietnamese-Style Dressing

Puree of Asparagus Soup with Tarragon

Chef Janis McLean’s Asparagus Frittata

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Is Butter Good For You?

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Butter is Back! And it’s even good for you? These declarations can be illustrated by the dizzying array of delicious butters now available: besides the old-fashioned American butters, you can easily find the extra rich Irish and French Butters, and a variety of premium, grass-fed, and organic farmers market butters extolled for their superiority, and with a premium price tag to match. Is this a food lover’s dream come true? Even some nutritionists have joined the bandwagon, and yours truly has been confused.

This seemingly good news may have started with the widely read earth shattering 2002 New York Times Magazine story, “What if it’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?” by Gary Taubes, featuring a big, fat, juicy piece of steak on the cover. More recently, Mark Bitman wrote a 2014 New York Times story covering a scientific study in the March 2014 Annals of Internal Medicine journal concluding that eating saturated fat, the so-called artery-clogging, demonic fat in butter, did not raise a person’s risk of heart disease. This exciting news, covered in just about every print and broadcast media outlet around the world, seemed to reverse decades of medical advice saying the opposite was true.

So, how do we hash out the truth?

This is an important question as one in every four deaths of Americans are from heart disease, so it’s a critical issue concerning the health of the majority of Americans – and my clients, who rely on me to get it right. After all, what’s more important than your health?

Upon exhaustive research, I’ve found the answer, interestingly, is not too different than conclusions made by Harvard scientist, Ancel Keys, and other respected scientists in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s: that the type of fat – not total fat – is responsible for the rise in heart disease because of its affect on blood cholesterol levels.

But how important is blood cholesterol level? A multitude of factors increase heart disease risk, such as calcification, inflammation, blood pressure, high triglycerides, diabetes, obesity, inactivity, smoking, family history, gender, and age. But, apparently, the correlation between high LDL(bad) cholesterol levels and heart disease has been well established and is still deemed significant to your risk of heart disease and your health. Conclusion: Keep LDL low (under 100) and HDL high (Over 40) to prevent heart disease risk.

And the most recent clinical study – the gold standard of scientific studies – has confirmed the worst (if you’re a butter lover, that is): Replacing the saturated fat in butter with unsaturated oils, not only raises HDL (good) cholesterol – which clears fat and reduces placque in the arteries – using oils instead of butter also reduces artery-clogging LDL (bad) cholesterol from the bloodstream. Conclusion: Use oil instead of butter to reduce heart disease risk. So, it seems the advice hasn’t changed since Ancel Keys discovered the superior health of Mediterraneans who used oil instead of butter.

autopsy of severe atherosclerosis of the aorta (by Wikipedia.org)

autopsy of severe atherosclerosis of the aorta (by Wikipedia.org)

In a recent Harvard School of Public Health’s analysis of the controversy, the scientists review decades of research showing the successful reduction in heart disease risk by doing things like replacing butter (high in saturated fat) with oil, replacing steak with salmon, and eating a plant-based diet based on fruits, vegetables and whole grains for the reduction of LDL cholesterol, the increase in HDL cholesterol, the resulting effect on lowering heart disease risk, and improving your overall health. Conclusion: “Butter is not back!” said Harvard’s Walter Willett.

So, what about those New York Times articles? Well… Caveat Emptor! Don’t believe everything you read, and consider the source (be sure the information comes from a peer-reviewed, scientific journal, and compare it to other established science).

To say this Swede, raised on cream and butter, is disappointed, is an understatement! But I still use luxurious butter sparingly, when I deem necessary!

And it’s a relief to know that all these years, helping my hundreds of clients lower their LDL and raise their HDL cholesterol levels by substituting butter with healthy oils and other lifestyle changes has not been a waste! WHEW! No rioting necessary :-)

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A New Recipe For Improving Seasonal Allergy Symptoms

My Camellias bloomed in February!

My Camellias bloomed in February!

My clients who suffer from seasonal allergies were hit hard this year – and earlier than usual. The warm February temperatures caused Washington’s flowering trees and shrubs to come out of their winter slumber gloriously. Our famed cherry trees and camellias are almost in full bloom. Even my hydrangeas’ buds are peaking out.

This beautiful display does not feel so beautiful for people with spring allergies. They often have symptoms, caused by the flowers’ pollen, which impact their quality of life: lack of sleep, reduced productivity at work or school, emotional stress and embarrassment…. and the medications designed to improve those symptoms, depending on the person, may be no better, and cause dry mouth, sleeplessness, and drowsiness. A new study set out to test if certain strains of beneficial probiotic bacteria would reduce symptoms and improve quality of life during allergy season for its sufferers.

The study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the first randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled trial – the gold standard of human research – testing this hypothesis, divided 178 allergy sufferers into two groups and tested them during spring allergy season for eight weeks. One group received the probiotic supplement*, the other received the placebo.

The study found the probiotic group experienced improved quality of life symptoms compared to the placebo group. That said, scientists are still working out which of the beneficial probiotic bacteria work best with individual allergens, when to start taking them, and which probiotic bacteria will react most positively with a person’s specific microbiota (the 100 million bacterial organisms in your digestive tract), as each person’s microbiota is different. They mentioned that starting probiotics at a younger age may be more effective, too.

In the meantime, I believe eating foods which naturally contain beneficial probiotic bacteria, such as yogurt, is the best solution for trying to reduce your allergy symptoms. In fact, I recommend eating yogurt every day! Though, I don’t recommend counting on supplements because, as of now, no probiotic supplements have passed the tests allowing them to make a health claim.

Here’s one of my favorite yogurt recipes developed by Georgetown resident, cookbook author, and my friend Najmieh Batmanglij, and found in my book, Diet Simple

Najmieh Batmanglij’s Yogurt and Spinach Dip

*(Lactobacillus gasseri KS-13, Bifidobacterium bifidum G9-1, and Bifidobacterium longum MM-2 provided by Wakunaga of America Co Ltd)

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Vitamin D Boosts Muscle Strength, Power & Velocity While Lowering Body Fat

SunriseA new study reports that Vitamin D effects certain genes which are involved in muscle and fat mass and function. This could mean there is an important yet simple solution to the natural decline of muscle as we age, which could have many benefits – decreasing disease, falls, broken bones, and subsequent hospital and nursing home stays.

As we age, muscle mass and strength decrease, to the point where our muscles actually become “marbled” with fat (think bacon!), reducing their ability to function and our ability to live independent lives, according to the National Institute on Aging. That’s because muscle mass is essential for movement, balance, and even immune function. So if we don’t strength train as older adults, we’re more likely to lose our independence and end up in nursing homes, creating a massive public health burden, according to the study published in the journal PLOS ONE, and partly funded by the National Institutes of Health.

That said, we’ve known for years, and I’ve written about, the importance of working out, eating the right amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat, eating an anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative diet filled with plant nutrients like polyphenols, (found in tea, fruits & vegetables), and living a low stress life. But there are other factors which come into play that scientists are studying. One may be Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.

In the past several years, researchers are finding that Vitamin D may be instrumental in preventing diseases from colds, heart disease to cancer. Even multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s disease and insulin dependent diabetes. And now, Vitamin D seems to be correlated with an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in body fat. Yet the most needy population, the elderly, is usually deficient. That’s because Vitamin D is produced by being exposed to sunshine. Today, many of us don’t go outdoors and when we do we’re wearing sunscreen. That particularly pertains to the aging population, whose muscle mass can mean independence – or the loss of it.

How much Vitamin D does improving muscle mass require? What should your blood level be? Ask your doctor, but perhaps also share this recent data with him/her:  “[The National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board’s]  review of data suggests that persons are at risk of deficiency relative to bone health at serum 25OHD levels of below 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL). Some, but not all, persons are potentially at risk for inadequacy at serum 25OHD levels between 30 and 50 nmol/L (12 and 20 ng/mL). Practically all persons are sufficient at serum 25OHD levels of at least 50 nmol/L (20 ng/mL). Serum 25OHD concentrations above 75 nmol/L (30 ng/mL) are not consistently associated with increased benefit.”

Most of us will need to get Vitamin D from a supplement because it’s in very few foods (egg yolks, salmon) and most of us don’t get enough sunlight. Again, ask your doctor about your personal situation. But, the latest recommendation from some Vitamin D researchers is 1,000 IU per day but up to 4,000 daily is safe (Vitamin D can be toxic at much higher levels)… This level is higher than the official National Academy of Sciences’ Food and Nutrition Board because they determine how much Vitamin D is needed to prevent rickets (a Vitamin D deficiency disease which softens the bones). They say the jury is still out as to how much is good for your overall health. The NAS scientists believe that more definitive research needs to be done to change their recommendation. In the meantime, it doesn’t hurt for healthy people to increase their vitamin D intake to up to 4,000 IU daily.

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A Lethal, Cancer-Causing Bacteria Killed by Yogurt and Kefir

Inhibition of F. nucleatum by natural kefir, probiotic yogurt, commercial yogurt and commercial kefir samples

Inhibition of F. nucleatum by natural kefir, probiotic yogurt, commercial yogurt and commercial kefir samples

You’ve all heard about the health benefits of the probiotic bacteria found in yogurt and other similar fermented dairy products such as kefir. This recently published study provides more evidence of yogurt cultures’ actions against serious disease-causing pathogens, such as Fusobacterium nucleatum.

F. nucleatum can cause diseases in the mouth, teeth, brain, pleura, lungs and liver. It induces fetal death in pregnant women and can lead to colon cancer by binding to the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, according to a recent study in the journal, Functional Foods in Health and Disease.

In this study, when yogurt and kefir were added to a petri dish filled with F. nucleatum and incubated for 3 days, there appeared clear zones where the yogurt and kefir were placed. Thus showing inhibition of the growth of F. nucleatum. Interestingly, the plain milk used for the yogurt and kefir did not show an inhibitory effect, but the higher the concentration of the kefir and yogurt probiotic bacteria, the more F. nucleatum’s growth was inhibited.

“Previous studies have indicated that fermented dairy products can cause probiotic effects such as improvement in digestive system health, serum cholesterol reduction, and improvement in lactose tolerance, improved immune function, control of irritable bowel symptoms, as well as anticarcinogenic properties. Kefir is known to have positive effects on health and especially intestinal health. Therefore, these findings are important for showing an inhibition effect of fermented dairy products against a pathogen and possible carcinogen. These results suggest that regular consumption of natural fermented dairy products especially kefirshould be included in a functional diet. The impact of these cultured dairy products could be promising and warrants further investigation with in vivo studies,” according to the authors of the study.

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