Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Homemade Spa Treatments: Recipes to Soothe the Skin and the Soul

Wouldn't it be great to escape to a hidden retreat, where you would be pampered and primped? Now you can relax at home with these luxurious beauty and bathing tips.

By using simple, natural ingredients, you can freshen your face, while pleasing your senses. The fruity aromas and floral perfumes will have your senses reeling. The following masks are both beneficial and luxurious, leaving skin feeling silky and smooth.

Peachy mask

This is a good all-around mask for normal skin. The acid in the peach helps in skin continuity and balance.

One medium-large peach
1 tablespoon of vanilla yogurt
1 tablespoon of honey
1/4 cup of wheat germ

Place in a blender and mix until smooth and creamy.

Chill for 5 to 15 minutes then rub onto face. Leave the mask on for at least 20 minutes, rinsing with warm milk or warm water. Store the mixture in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Strawberry mask

This is great for cleaning pores!

3/4 cup of strawberries
1 tablespoon vanilla or strawberry yogurt
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup of warm Grapenuts cereal in 2 tablespoons of milk (warm in microwave for one minute)

Blend all ingredients.

Immediately put this mixture onto face, spreading rather thickly. Leave it on for 20 minutes and rinse with a mixture of lemon water (1 cup of cool water with just a drop of lemon extract). This will close your pores, keeping your face clean and blemish free. This mask can be stored for a few days, but remember to reheat the mixture before using.

Now that you have your face drenched in paradise, enjoying a creamy mask, you have 20 minutes to kill. How does a nice, hot bath sound? Slip into a steaming tub after sprinkling some of these aromatic bath salts and you'll think that you've slipped into heaven. Are you ready to give yourself a treat? Take a deep breath and feel all of the tension disappear. Here are a few recipes for a relaxing bath that will make all your worries fade.

Perfumed Bath Salts

1/4 cup Epsom salts
2 teaspoons arrowroot powder
6 drops of any fragrant oil

Lavender Fizz Bath Salts

1/3 cup bicarbonate
2 teaspoons dried rose petals
8 drops lavender oil
8 drops geranium oil

Fizzy and Fun Bath Salts

1/2 cups bicarbonate
1/4 cups citric acid
8 to 10 drops essential oil
30 drops food coloring of choice

Instructions for all bath salts:

Mix the dry ingredients together, adding the oils and color one at a time. Mix well and keep the powder in an airtight jar. Add a spoon or two to your next bath. These powders can last for several months. (Bath water must be very warm for the fizzing action to occur.)

Now you have all the ingredients that you need for a calming and peaceful bath, so what are you waiting for? Start mixing so that you can relax and enjoy!

Meditation: A Script to Use to Relax

It may seem strange, but many people do not know how to relax or what it actually means. Flopping in front of the television with a glass of whisky isn't it.

Relaxation is the art of having a relaxed body and a peaceful mind -- we are not after an empty mind but to just allow our thoughts to slow and become non-intrusive. Relaxation is something we can learn and become good at so we can achieve a deeply relaxed state very quickly.

When we practice active nothingness, the benefits can be astounding. Most notably is a feeling of calmness and inner well-being. Deep relaxation gives our immune system a boost, helps us to sleep better and facilitates quicker recovery if we do get ill. We can also use the time to make changes and/or use positive powerful affirmations. The script below can be used as it is or you can use it as a guide to create your own. If you are creating your own, use words that you associate with relaxation and use your imagination to create it.

You can memorize it, record it or have someone read it to you. Pause at the ellipses.

Make yourself comfortable with your arms and legs uncrossed … ensure that you are warm enough. Make sure that your head is supported.


Close your eyes and pay attention to your breathing for a few moments. Don't alter your breathing just notice -- be an observer. Think of a word that you associate with relaxation and silently say it in your mind as you breathe out.

Focus your attention on just you.

Imagine now, that your legs are relaxing from the knees down and each time you breathe out … you are feeling a wave of relaxation wash over you and through you.

All sounds that you hear apart from an emergency, remind your mind that you are relaxing. If you need to awaken, you may do so immediately. You will feel alert and refreshed. But, for now, just enjoy this peaceful, calm and restful experience.

Spend a few moments thinking about how you would know, what you would experience, what you would feel if your legs were more relaxed than they had ever been. Only you can experience your relaxation.

Imagine now, that your arms are relaxing from the elbows down. And, all the while your breathing is becoming slower and slower. Gentle, comfortable regular breathing. Continue to say your word each time you breathe out.

Spend a few moments thinking about how you would know, what you would experience, what you would feel if your arms were more relaxed than they had ever been. Only you can experience your relaxation.

Now, you can allow the relaxation in your lower arms and lower legs to spread and flow upwards … feel your arms and legs relax … completely.

You have no need to think of anything or nothing, but if you wish, you may think of everything.

The relaxation in your legs can now begin to flow gently up through your hips, pelvic area, tummy and chest.

The relaxation in your arms can spread out across your shoulders, and slowly, gently but very thoroughly down your back.

All that relaxation can now flow up, into your face, up the back of your head, all the way to the very top of your scalp.

And then, gently, like waves on the sand, calming peaceful relaxation can wash all the way back down your whole being.

Everything is slowing down. Every part of you is relaxing.

This is your time ... time just for you … to rest … and … relax.

Mentally scan your mind and body for any tensions or anxieties. If you come across any, imagine them soothing away and melting into nothingness.

Resting now. Feeling peaceful.

Imagine now, that you are standing at the top of some steps that are leading down towards a door.

We are now going to slowly carefully walk down the stairs counting from 1 to 10 as we go.

As we go down each step … with each number … feel yourself relaxing more and more deeply.

Lets begin … the first step … one … slowly, gently going down. Two … you can gently allow yourself to feel calm and peaceful.

Three … everything can relax more and more.
Four … experience slowing down.
Five … and, breathing out … tensions, worries, fears and anxieties.
Six … slowly, carefully, going down the steps … Relaxing even more.
Seven … think of your word that you associate with being calm and relaxed.
Eight … and say this word inwardly to yourself every time you breathe out.
Nine … continue to say your word. And every time you hear your word in your mind you relax even more deeply.
Ten … you can carry on resting, using your word and continuing to feel calmer and calmer.

Stand in front of the door at the bottom of the stairs. It is closed, but in a moment you can go through the door and find yourself in your special place.

Go through the door now and be in that special place.

This special place is the place that you are creating just for you. It is a place within you that you can be within. In this special place, all is well.

You can visit your special place whenever you choose to do so. Spend some time now having a look around. Make sure it is all exactly as you want it.

The following suggestions can go into your inner mind, repeating without your needing to think of them consciously.

All is well.
You are healthy, fit and strong in mind and body.
You can make any and all changes that you desire, on all levels of your being, because you have control of you.
You can release anything within you that is not serving a purpose.
You are free.

Add any positive thoughts of your own that you wish to put in to your mind for you to make any changes you desire. Be clear in your mind. Create specific images.

Imagine how you will feel and look. Imagine all the things you will experience when you have accomplished your goal/s. Have total belief that you can achieve everything you set out to achieve. Imagine now, that you are, 'there.'

It's good isn't it?

Enjoy the experience.

When you are ready, and only when you are ready, gently bring yourself to an 'awake' state by counting in your mind three, two, and one -- awaken.

If you would rather, you can 'tell' yourself that you are going off to sleep and that you will sleep soundly for the perfect amount of time that is right for you.

When you practice deep relaxation, your brain slows and is then predominantly in an alpha pattern. You have probably heard of the 'magic alpha'. In this state we are at our creative best, we heal, recover and our cells replenish and rejuvenate healthfully.

The more you do it, the easier it becomes and the more benefits you can enjoy.

Give yourself permission to do 'nothing' and enjoy.

Breath Counting: A Great Way to Start Your Day

Imagine the body is merely an extension of the mind. If you're mentally unbalanced, you will be physically unbalanced as well. Get in control.

You may have a weaker appetite; trouble falling asleep or waking up, more aches and pains and less energy in general.

But like two connected batteries, you can use the mind to charge the body and vice versa. If you incorporate some simple directive meditation into your daily routine, you will feel stronger physically and have more energy to get through the day. As little as 10 minutes of meditation a day can have a profoundly positive impact on your sense of balance, control and overall health.

If the idea of meditating makes you think of swamis and elaborate rituals, you may say, "Ugh!" and never want to try. However, meditation can be very simple, time efficient and (best of all) cost free.

Try this exercise in the morning. Find a quiet place and get into a comfortable position. You can lie down or sit, whichever is most relaxing. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Simply count each breath in your head, up to four. Then start over at one. Don't count higher than four because, believe it or not, you'll start to lose track and begin worrying about what number you are on.

As you count, focus on the feeling of your chest as it rises and falls. If you get distracted by thoughts about work or things you have to do, gently guide yourself back to the counting. The mind is not always a cooperative entity, especially if you are a Type A person, which means you are constantly moving from one chore or responsibility to the other. So at first, thoughts may intrude fairly frequently. But don't worry! Stay with it. As long as you are patient and gentle with yourself, the outer world will become less and less distracting during those 10 minutes.

To provide some structure for the exercise, you may want to use an egg timer. Then you won't have to open your eyes periodically to look at a clock or watch, wondering whether your 10 minutes are up.

The breath count is a great beginning meditation. It does a number of powerful things. First, it turns your attention inward. During those 10 minutes, you will become more aware and connected with your body. Second, it relaxes you. Your head, arms and legs may feel heavier or suddenly warmer as you count. Third, it centers you. It allows you to just "be" for a few minutes, before you must re-enter the busybody mode of life. It is a moment where you can gather all your body's energy and direct it in a very simple way.

This exercise should make the energy you need to accomplish life's most demanding tasks more readily available, and you will be able to access it faster. Getting control of a situation won't seem like such a tall mountain to climb. You may even be surprised to find that, after a week of morning breath counts, you can concentrate better at work, organize yourself more easily, and manage your relationships with greater confidence. If you are tired of relying on concentration-enhancing drugs like Ginkgo Biloba, try breath counting. And welcome yourself to the world of meditation!

Meditation & Spirituality: The Value of Relaxation

Relaxtion helps you to reduce your stress levels in many ways - physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. Actually, it's impossible to draw solid boundaries between these levels. Each influences the other, as mind, body and spirit are inextricably linked.

Relaxation helps you to reduce your stress levels, in many ways:

  • Physical: Relaxation activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the effects of the stress response by reducing the level of arousal in the body: muscles loosen, breathing and heartbeat slow down, blood vessels may dilate, and the digestive system acts more efficiently. Regular relaxation gives the body an opportunity to heal itself and strengthens the immune system, allowing the effects of chronic stress to dissipate.

  • Emotional: Relaxation allows panic, anger and anxiety to drain away, to be replaced by a sense of stability and well-being. Everyone is familiar with the draining effects of these negative emotions; as relaxation reduces the intensity of these emotions, our inner resources and sense of self become stronger.

  • Mental: One of the characteristics of stress is that everything clamouring for our attention assumes equal importance, making it hard to know what to tackle first, and even harder to concentrate on any one thing. Relaxation allows us some distance and perspective on our lives, creating the space in which clear priorities can emerge. As thoughts slow down, and the mind becomes dreamy and detached, we begin to access the resources of the right brain -- the creative, intuitive, non-linear part of our minds. This part can often come up with solutions to problems that defeat our logical thought processes.

  • Spiritual: Relaxation provides the detachment from everyday concerns that allows us to realize what is really important in our lives; to observe thoughts, emotions and physical sensations without judging; and to have the time and space just to be, without doing. Without the distractions that normally crowd our minds, we can discover and accept who we really are.

Actually, it's impossible to draw solid boundaries between these levels. Each influences the other, as mind, body and spirit are inextricably linked. Recent research on peptides (the body's ''messenger molecules") confirms that peptide receptors are found all over the body, not just in the brain; and that the nervous system, the immune system, the endocrine (hormonal) system and the digestive system are in constant multi-way conversation.

Quick relaxation techniques are useful in dealing with acute stresses. Regular, deep relaxation has a deeper and more permanent effect. As your levels of stress reduce, you become more relaxed in everything you do, able to place each event of our day in perspective rather than overreacting. It becomes much harder for people or situations to upset you and much easier for you to take control over your thoughts, emotions and actions, and to take charge of your life.

Regular relaxation with the help of your relaxation tape will assist you in coping with your own stresses. Practice relaxing without the tape as well, perhaps by repeating some of the suggestions on the tape to yourself, so that you can relax quickly and easily whenever you need to: before an important meeting or interview, between periods of intense work, or when you need to go to sleep.

Food for Thought – Ginkgo biloba

Ginkgo biloba is an example of traditional herbal wisdom, mainly derived from the doctrine of signatures, empirical evidence and generations of use. It has been far ahead of the scientific community in applying Ginkgo for healing benefit.

One of the tenets of herbalism is the 'Doctrine of Signatures.' It states that if we are able to listen and learn from the plant itself by visiting its habitat, recognizing its relationships with other organisms and by appreciating its sensual characteristics such as color, shape, smell, taste and feel, we will be pointed to indications for its use.

Ginkgo is the oldest living tree species and can be traced back more than 200 million years. Once common in North America and Europe, the Ginkgo was almost destroyed in the Ice Age in all regions of the world except China where it has been cultivated as a sacred tree. At present, Ginkgo has been planted throughout North America, mainly as an ornamental tree. Ginkgo has one of the most distinctive and interesting leaf shapes. It is a fan-shaped leaf, divided into two lobes, appropriately named biloba. It seems rather serendipitous that the Ginkgo leaf should closely resemble the human brain.

The medicinal use of Ginkgo has been traced back to the oldest Chinese Materia Medica in 2800 BC. The Ginkgo nut was used to expel mucus from the bronchioles and lungs and to inhibit a cough. However, the nut can be toxic in large amounts.

Today, when people speak of Ginkgo, they are speaking of the Ginkgo LEAF extract. In fact, Ginkgo leaf extracts are now among the leading prescription medicines in Germany and France, where they account for 1% and 1.5% respectively, of total prescription sales. In 1989, more than 100,000 physicians worldwide wrote more than 10 million prescriptions for Ginkgo biloba extracts (1).

Ginkgo is not an herb of youth. Rather, it chooses to exert its activity on the circulation, one of the systems most often affected by the aging process. While there are studies of young people benefiting from Ginkgo (2, 7), most studies have focused on the use of Ginkgo in conditions such as insufficient blood flow of the brain resulting in poor memory, depression or dementia, and in cases of peripheral vascular insufficiency such as intermittent claudication (3). These situations are most common in an aging population.

These effects have been attributed to the presence of flavone glycosides within the Ginkgo leaf. Most Ginkgo extracts are standardized to contain 24% of these constituents; the use of these extracts is supported in over 300 clinical and experimental studies. Ginkgo tinctures are also effective if careful attention is placed on the quality of tincture obtained.

Ginkgo and the Brain

Research has shown Ginkgo to have numerous effects on the brain.

  1. Ginkgo normalizes circulation by producing tonic effects on the blood vessels. Ginkgo causes the blood vessels to dilate, thereby increasing circulation and delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain cells. Ginkgo has been shown to increase the circulation in the brain in areas most affected by clots (5).

  2. Metabolic reactions produce free radicals that are very reactive by-products and will attack cellular membranes. Ginkgo works as an anti-oxidant to protect the membranes of the brain cells from damage (5).

  3. Nerve cell transmission is dependent on the transport of potassium into (and sodium out of) the cell. Ginkgo increases the rate at which this happens; thus information is transmitted faster at the nerve cell level (4).

  4. Ginkgo has an anti-platelet effect, which decreases the chance of blood clot formation in all areas of the body (6).

Ginkgo is extremely safe. Side effects are uncommon if taken appropriately. There has been concern raised regarding drug/herb interactions with Ginkgo, and blood thinning medications because of its anti-platelet effects. Prudence in taking this herb should be indicated in this situation.

Ginkgo has many benefits so to call it the "memory" or "brain" herb does not do it justice. It has been used to help with impotence, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), multiple sclerosis, neuralgia and neuropathy. Recent research has shown it to be effective in delaying mental deterioration in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The essence of Ginkgo is "nourishment." While each of our cells gain nourishment through improved circulation, so too do our minds gain nourishment from the many centuries of wisdom Ginkgo brings with it. It truly is "food for thought."


  1. Murray, Michael T. 1995. The Healing Power of Herbs. Prima Publishing, Inc. p. 145.

  2. Hindmarch, I. and Sughan, A. 1984. The Psychopharmacological Effects of Ginkgo Biloba Extract in Normal Healthy Volunteers. Int J Clin Pharmacol Res 4, 89-93.

  3. Peters, H, Kieser M, Holscher U. 1998. Demonstration of the Efficacy of Ginkgo biloba Special Extract on Intermittent Claudication: a Placebo-Controlled, Double-Blind Multi-center Trial. Vasa: 27(2): 106-110.

  4. Gessner, B., Boelp, A., and Klasser, M. 1985. Study of the long-term action of Ginkgo biloba extract on vigilance and mental performance as determined by means of quantitative pharmaco-EEG and psychometric measurements. Arzneimittel-Forsch 35, 1459-1465, 1985.

  5. DeFeudis FV (editor). 1991. Ginkgo biloba Extract: Pharmacological Activities and Clinical Applications, Elsevier, Paris, 1991.

  6. Kleijnen J and Knipschild P, 1991. Ginkgo biloba. Lancet 340: 136-9

  7. Tamborini, A; Taurelle R, 1993. Value of Standardized Ginkgo biloba Extract in the Management of Congestive Symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome. Rev. Fr Gynecol Obstet (France) 88: 447-457.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Meditation & Spirituality: Float Tanks Make A Come Back

If you were a part of the 60's generation, no doubt you remember all the controversy surrounding the seemingly wild ideas and views of the 'hippie generation.' Here's a blast from the treatment that helps stress and pain relief.

New life-styles emerged, traditional ways of thinking were challenged and unusual and inventive products were introduced into the marketplace. One such product was the "Isolation Tank."

Floatation tanks, as they are commonly referred to today, were used primarily for "consciousness expansion." Now, over 30 years later, float tanks are once again resurfacing, bringing with them a new approach in the quest for health and well-being that goes far beyond exploring expanded states of consciousness.

Today, float tanks are used mostly as an alternative therapeutic health procedure. In fact, research shows that both the short and long-term effects of floating, as it is often referred to, provides a multitude of experiences that encompasses a persons' physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

When a person floats, they will find themselves launched into a meditative state causing a drop in their heart rate and blood pressure. The overall effects of floating have been proven to reduce stress and pain by stimulating endorphin production. These same endorphins also help in alleviating mild to moderate depression. People who float regularly notice enhanced euphoria and well-being, improved performance skills and an increase in creativity. Many report a noticeable ability to recall information quickly and more accurately.

Overall, floating has come a long way since the 1960's. Float tanks can now be looked upon as a health benefit that encourages the human body and psyche to heal in a manner that is much gentler for the body mind and spirit.


John C. Lilly, a pioneer in brain and behavioral research, first developed floatation tanks in 1954. He experimented with the concept of restricting the amount of external stimuli to the brain. When he built the first isolation environment, he was determined to prove that the brain, without environmental stimuli, would simply go to sleep. Using himself for the experiment, he learned that just the opposite was true.

Dr. Lilly found that the brain continued functioning independently and even at a higher level when deprived of stimuli. With a stimuli-free environment, he found that a person experienced a profound state of relaxation, an excellent opportunity to explore inner thoughts.

Initially the relaxation environment was used for brain research and exploring altered states of consciousness, but over the years, the health benefits associated with floating have come to the forefront as an alternative treatment for stress management, disease and illness.

Many people unfamiliar with float tanks naturally have questions. The following are some of the most commonly asked questions with regards to floating:


Tanks come in various shapes and sizes. Most are rectangular or oval. The typical tank is usually 8 feet long and 4 feet wide. This allows a person to comfortably lie down and not feel claustrophobic.


The tank is filled with approximately 10 inches of water. One thousand pounds of Epsom salts is added to ensure full buoyancy. The water is maintained at a comfortable 95ºF, the same temperature as the surface of the skin. When you lie in a tank, you bob to the surface of the water, like a cork.


As you slip into the warm water, closing the door behind you, profound darkness surrounds you. It becomes so black that your eyes may be opened or closed. You lie back with your ears slightly below the water level (earplugs should be provided). Your hearing becomes attuned to the sound of your heart beating. Your head and neck become buoyant and you slowly slip into a state of relaxation.

Within 15 to 20 minutes, you naturally achieve a significant state of utter relaxation, without using any drugs or without practicing months of meditation. A typical float may last up to one hour, but can easily go much longer.


All phobias need some point of reference to activate them. With no external stimuli in the tank, claustrophobia occurs. If you do get concerned, however, simply open the door or turn on the light.


If you fall asleep, … sweet dreams. Because of the salt density in the water, it is physically impossible to unconsciously turn over in the tank of water. It is like trying to push a ball under water, it's difficult. To date, there have been no reports of a person drowning while using a float tank.


After each float, all the water is passed through a sophisticated filtering system and sterilization process, ensuring that each float is as clean and safe as the next.


The immediate results are obvious: you will feel immensely happy and rejuvenated. Colors will have new intensity, hearing will be more acute and you will have a general feeling of euphoria. This can last for hours,
but an hour session in a float tank is an on-going experience. It does not end when you leave the tank and go into the shower. What is less obvious will be a new clarity of mind, increased powers of concentration, and memory retention that can last for several weeks.


Unquestionably, floating can be an incredible experience. Unlike other mind altering stimuli, floating does not leave with the disappointing "coming down" period afterwards. No hangovers or disturbing trauma to the body. Rather, floating is a prolonged, beneficial state that is actually cumulative in it's effects. The more you float, the more effective it becomes, allowing you to experience a continual saga into self-discovery and an opportunity to achieve specific health and well-being goals.


I have to admit, it was a scary at first -- lying back into a totally black rectangular box, filled with about 10 inches of extremely salty, warm water. The salt made the water almost gel-like in its substance. I imagined it was similar to the amniotic fluid that surrounds the womb of a pregnant woman. As I became accustomed to the dark and the enclosed box, I began to notice my breathing, then I could hear my heart beating, eventually I drifted off into a plane where I felt like I was floating on clouds. I felt as though my body was moving from the vertical position it was in, into a horizontal position. This is physically impossible in a float tank, but nonetheless, the horizontal movement was present. The salty water over my body was smooth and soothing, the sensation of being in the womb.

In the tank, time does not exist. It was easy to turn off the clutter of my mind and focus on the experience of the tank. Wrestling with the uncertainty of the new experience, I found it hard at first to settle in, but once my body started to relax, time and pain had no point of reference and was easily forgotten. As my body moved deeper into the experience, I felt as though my bones were shifting and moving naturally, and not painfully.

You might interrupt this part of the experience as your body making its own chiropractic adjustments. In a float tank you experience a release from gravity. As much as 85% of all our daily activity affecting our nervous system is related to gravity. When this is released, the body experiences a feeling of weightlessness and pain disappears.

Another benefit of floating is its ability to reduce swelling. A few summers back, I broke my leg and had experienced swelling and intense pain that surrounded my knee. After an hour afloat, the swelling decreased significantly and the pain did not exist for hours. I have talked to many people who have experienced floating for the treatment of various cancer symptoms and other illnesses. Most have reported major relief from the pain and discomfort of their disease. People with phlebitis, edema, or women with PMS experience immediate relief from the swelling in their back and legs. Back pain is the one condition I found that could benefit the most from floating. Having had several back surgeries myself, I use floating for those days that pain is just too much to bear. I've found that the no-gravity position that floating provides allows for relaxation and excellent change for the body to realign itself naturally and without pain.

The overall experience of a float is something that cannot be described. You can feel light, jovial and happy. Tension, stress and pain disappear from your body and you can't wait to try it again.

For me, floating has been an amazing new path in my continual journey to find natural, nurturing ways to relieve pain and remind me how to relax.

Meditation & Spirituality: Complementary Therapies and Stress

In 1991 the American National Institute of Health founded the Office of Alternative Medicine, designated a collaborating center in traditional medicine by the World Health organization (Kuhn 1999).

In the USA treatment of chronic disease accounts for 85 percent of health costs (Kuhn, 1999). As people live longer, health-care costs rise partly as a consequence of providing optimal treatment for symptom control in chronic illness. Also, the costs of occupational stress to business and industry are becoming increasingly recognized, with the estimation that of the approximately 550 million working days lost to absenteeism in the USA, over 50 percent of these are due to stress-related illness. A new and additional cost is that incurred by litigation against employers for job-related stress (Cooper & Cartwright, 1996). Thus it is in the interest of employers to promote and facilitate practices, including healthy diet, exercise and relaxation, aimed at the management and reduction of stress experienced by employees, within the context of the workplace.

The role of stress management in illness prevention

There is much people can do both to maintain optimal health and quality of life and to help to prevent the onset of illness. Premature death and approximately 50 percent of the incidence of heart disease, cancers, cerebrovascular disease and atherosclerosis is preventable through lifestyle and dietary modification (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Koop, 1988, cited in Kuhn, 1999). Modern medicine acknowledges the relevance of the biopsychosocial model in understanding the experience of the effects of illness for an individual from an holistic perspective, looking at the physical, social, psychological and spiritual effects of the onset of illness upon his or her life (Engel, 1980). The literature shows that stress is a major risk factor for many diseases, primarily because of the detrimental effects of stress upon the immune system, the optimal functioning of which is essential for the maintenance of good health.

A person experiencing life stressors may or may not perceive these as manageable and thus may perceive them as either threatening or challenging, depending upon his or her previous experience and perceived levels of confidence, self-esteem and sense of mastery in being able to overcome the problems associated with the perceived stressor. Thus a stressor is first appraised as being potentially threatening or challenging. A person then considers what resources he or she has to cope with the perceived stressor, whether it is perceived as overtaxing the resources of the person or can be managed with effort and support. When the body is in a state of tranquility and calmness, external events may be perceived as less harmful, bringing about the conditions for a person to feel more in control, use more positive self-talk, perceive him or herself as possessing the required coping skills to cope with the stressful situation, and to use more appropriate problem-solving behaviors with a sense of purpose rather than give up due to a sense of loss of control, perceived helplessness and fatalism (Palmer, 1996; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).

Maintaining health on a day-to-day basis through stress reduction techniques

When the parasympathetic nervous system is regularly activated, as in during the relaxation response (Benson, 1975), the potential of the biochemicals associated with arousal to do physical harm is reduced, notably those associated with the longer term activation of the adrenal glands. Activation of these latter glands over a prolonged period leads to hyperactivity of other body systems and organs, with a detrimental effect on physical and mental health, some signs less obvious than others, such as increased potential for the blood to clot and changes in body fat levels. Ongoing distress, caused by prolonged activation of the sympathetic nervous system, with associated secretion of toxic neurochemical and stress hormones, may lead to suppression of the immune response due to excess cortisol and any of a number of disease outcomes, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, stomach and duodenal ulcers, some types of cancer and arthritis (Gregson and Looker, 1996).

Both the latter illnesses are highly associated with the experience of pain and reduced mobility, others are associated with sometimes severe discomfort, and all are associated with financial cost and reduced quality of life for the sufferer, as well as economic loss to employer and national exchequer. From the perspective of maintaining health on a day-to-day basis, stress management has a major role in illness prevention. The "new public health" movement recognizes the complexity of issues related to health promotion and illness prevention and aims to integrate primary, secondary and tertiary modes of illness prevention, by not distinguishing between prevention and cure but rather by addressing illness at all stages of disease progression alongside prevention interventions (Richards, 1996).

Conventional, complementary and alternative medicine: Their relevance for health promotion

Conventional, Western, allopathic medicine has, in modern times, often been the only system of medicine "taken seriously." In order to help people to attain the highest possible level of health, the World Health Organization is now viewing non-allopathic therapies, which assist in helping to maintain health, as important potential contributions to health. Traditional medicines can be used as means of promoting health in healthy and sick people, and are generally divided into those that are considered alternative, i.e., those used instead of conventional, allopathic medicine, and those that are considered complementary, i.e. those used alongside conventional allopathic medicine, such as the touch therapies including, reflexology, aromatherapy and massage, and the so called mind body therapies that help people to change their thought processes and thus their behavior, such as relaxation, meditation and autogenic training. There is some overlap in these definitions, as some traditional medicines are in fact systems of medicine, such as acupuncture, which can be used along side allopathic medicine. Integrative medicine is a term coined by Weil to describe a synergistic combination of complementary and conventional therapies (Kuhn, 1999).

Kuhn (1999) describes how the National Institute of Health has defined seven areas relating to the practice of traditional medicine:

Herbal medicine, derived from culturally diverse traditional practices

Diet, nutrition and lifestyle changes, focusing on health maintenance and illness prevention

Mind/body or behavioral interventions fostering internal homeostasis and self-efficacy

Alternative systems of medical practice, again derived from culturally diverse traditional practices

Manual healing methods: For example the touch therapies, osteopathy and physical therapy

Bioelectromagnetics focusing on how people interact with electromagnetic fields

Pharmacological and biologic treatments not yet accepted by mainstream medicine
Endacott (1996) lists a wide range of therapies shown to be useful in the management of stress. He states that while alternative medicine was mainly used as separate from orthodox medicine, complementary therapies, first used in 1976 in the UK, is holism in practice, allowing health care professionals to seek to complement the needs of the patient. The "placebo effect" contributes to the healing process, as it is essential that the person utilizing a given complementary therapy believe in its efficacy. The main benefit for public health is that people know that they must play a role in their own health care. All complementary therapies offer the participant support during the therapy and may facilitate the participant to review his or her present lifestyle and relationship with the environment (Endacott, 1996). It is well-documented that the experience of hospitalization for severe illness, especially that involving the experience of pain, may remove sense of control and mastery from even the most confident and independent person.

Complementary therapies, as well as providing a means to maintain health and well-being for the healthy individual, may also help to restore sense of self-efficacy for the person who has experienced serious loss of health, by providing an environment of empathy, encouragement and support for the participant, thereby facilitating restoration of sense of control and confidence. A health-conscious person wanting to be "master of my fate" (Henley, cited in Endacott, 1996), may take responsibility to maximize his or her own health when well through the use of health enhancing strategies, which may include a nutritionally based diet and exercise. This strategy may be enhanced by the use of a preferred complementary therapy to facilitate and promote regular relaxation, internal homeostasis and stress reduction.


Benson, H. (1975). The Relaxation Response. New York: Avon.

Cooper, C.L. & Cartwright, S. (1996). Stress Management Interventions in the Workplace: Stress Counselling and Stress Audits. In S. Palmer & W. Dryden (Eds), Stress Management and Counselling; Theory, Practice, Research & Methodology London: Cassell.

Endacott, M. (1996) (Ed). The Encyclopedia of Alternative Health and Natural Remedies: The Complete Family Guide To Alternative Health Care. Italy: Carlton.

Engel, G.L. (1980). The clinical application of the biopsychosocial model. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137, 572-579.

Gregson, O. & Looker, T. (1996). The biological basis of stress management. In S. Palmer & W. Dryden (Eds), Stress Management and Counselling; Theory, Practice, Research & Methodology London: Cassell.

Griffiths, P. (1995). Reflexology. In D. Rankin-Box. The Nurses' Handbook of Complementary Therapies. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

Kuhn, M. A. (1999). Complementary Therapies for Health Care Providers. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

Ingam, E. (1938). Stories the feet can tell. Cited in Griffiths, P. (1995). Reflexology. In D. Rankin-Box (Ed) The Nurses' Handbook of Complementary Therapies. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.

Lazarus, R.S. & Folkman, S (1984). Stress Appraisal and Coping. New York: Springer.

Palmer, S. (1996). The multimodal approach: Theory, Assessment, Techniques and interventions. In S. Palmer & W. Dryden (Eds), Stress Management and Counselling; Theory, Practice, Research & Methodology. London: Cassell.

Richards, D. (1996). Traumatic Stress at Work. A Public Health Model. In S. Palmer & W. Dryden (Eds), Stress Management and Counselling; Theory, Practice, Research & Methodology. London: Cassell.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wheat-Free: Allergic to wheat? Or have gluten sensitivity?

FRESH BAKED BREAD is only a dim memory and you know all the flavors of rice cakes by heart, you're probably one of the millions of Americans who don't eat wheat or gluten. Whatever the reason for this abstinence-whether it's a wheat allergy, wheat intolerance, or gluten sensitivity-it's important to know how to prepare the dishes you love, without the ingredients you can't have.

Wheat and Gluten

Gluten is the protein in wheat and other grains (such as oats, rye, barley, and spelt) that gives dough its elasticity. In baked goods, gluten provides a cell structure that allows the carbon dioxide from the leavening (e.g. yeast, baking powder, baking soda) to make the dough rise while baking.

Some people can't tolerate the specific protein in wheat, but can eat other wheat-related grains such as spelt. Other people must avoid all grains in the wheat family. It's best to have your health professional help you determine whether it's wheat alone or all gluten grains that you must avoid.

When Gluten Becomes Life-Threatening

Some people are so severely allergic to wheat that they cannot inhale wheat flour particles floating in the air, let alone ingest any product made with wheat. In some cases, eating wheat can be a trigger for an asthma episode or a severe reaction known as anaphylactic shock ( swelling of tissue, often the airways), which can be fatal. Such allergic reactions typically occur fairly soon after ingesting or inhaling the food allergen.

Wheat also threatens the health of those with Celiac Sprue, a disease that is actually caused by gluten. The gluten destroys the lining of the small intestine, inhibiting its ability to absorb nutrients. In some cases, a skin disorder known as dermatitis herpetiformis also occurs. Celiac Sprue can strike people of all ages-from toddlers to senior citizens-who must avoid gluten for the rest of their lives.

Wheat and Gluten as Digestive Problems

There is a large group of wheat-sensitive people who aren't necessarily allergic to wheat or gluten, but their digestive systems simply can't tolerate it. This intolerance produces many symptoms, including nasal stuffiness, sinus congestion, headaches, stomachaches, intestinal discomfort (diarrhea, constipation, or gas), achiness, skin disorders, and general fatigue. These symptoms can occur hours after eating the food-usually in a more subtle fashion, rather than suddenly and violently as in allergic reaction. It is the subtlety and delayed nature of this reaction that can make it difficult to identify the true culprit.

While these symptoms are not necessarily fatal, they considerably reduce the quality of one's life. And, the medications prescribed to treat these symptoms (such as antibiotics for sinus infections) can take their toll. Although reactions to food are typically thought to affect children only-to be eventually outgrown-the people who are affected by this problem represent all age groups.

Ellen Speare, Clinical Nutritionist for Wild Oats Markets (a chain of health food stores headquartered in Boulder, CO) says, "As a nutritionist for over 15 years, I have worked with many clients with multiple food allergies that include wheat. Avoiding wheat changes their lives in terms of energy, moods, and digestion. Whole wheat is touted as being a healthy food but, if your body becomes sensitive or allergic to it, it has the potential of creating many health problems."

Health-Conscious Grain Seekers

A growing group of health-conscious people who are not allergic or intolerant to wheat or gluten, prefer a more varied diet by consuming wheat flour alternatives such as rice, amaranth, or quinoa. The latter two are ancient grains which are extremely nutritious. They can be used in baked goods, as cooked cereals, or as a bed for roasted or grilled vegetables (although amaranth and quinoa are not recommended for persons with Celiac disease).

Hidden Sources of Wheat and Gluten

You must read all labels on prepared foods to avoid wheat or gluten. Of course, wheat is found in obvious places such as breads, breakfast cereals, pasts, and baked goods, but it also lurks in other unsuspecting places such as ketchup, soy sauce, licorice candy, canned cream soups, flavoring extracts, and some vitamins. And, wheat flour is called different names in ingredient lists-semolina is actually wheat flour.

It's also wise to avoid ingredients such as modified food starch (it could be corn, soy, or wheat), texturized vegetable protein, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer, or don't eat it.

Converting Recipes to Wheat-Free

If you'd like to convert your recipes to wheat and gluten-free, the following general guidelines will reduce some of the guess-work. Depending on the recipe and your taste preferences, you can use a variety of non-wheat flours. I like to use a combination of rice, potato starch, and tapioca flours because, when used together in the proper proportions, the unique characteristics of each flour make them a great team. Also, these flours are safest for most people.

For a cake requiring 2 cups of all-purpose flour, I would convert the recipe to wheat-free with this flour combination:

1 cup white or brown rice flour
3/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup tapioca flour
(always sift the flours after measuring)

Some recipes work better when "wetter," therefore, you may need less flour. Depending on the recipe, the 2 cups of flour may need to be reduced to as little as 1-3/4 cups (by reducing the potato starch to 1/2 cup).

Wheat flour imparts flavor to baked goods. Therefore, when it is removed, flavor has to be restored. Recipes that convert best are those that have lots of flavor to begin with, such as spice cakes, chocolate cakes, or flavored breads-although you can increase the flavorings (herbs, spices, citrus peels, etc.) by up to half as much even in these recipes.

If you're converting a "bland" recipe such as white cake or sugar cookie (which customarily has no flavoring except perhaps vanilla), you can beef up the flavor by adding additional extracts such as lemon or orange (check to make sure they contain no grain alcohol) or by using grated lemon peel or orange peel.

You can restore texture to dough with "texturing" ingredients such as xanthan gum or lecithin. Also, keep doughs and batters wetter and sticker than wheat-containing versions and to help leavening do its job. Bread machines, food processors, heavy duty electric mixers, and electric pasta machines can help keep your fingers clean and aid in preparation.

Bake in smaller pans for better texture and height. For example, rather than 9 x 5-inch loaf pan, try three 2-1/2 x 5-inch pans. With practice, you'll discover those delicious baked goods and pastas you thought were off the menu forever.

Setting Up a Wheat-Free Pantry

Wheat-Free Resources
The ingredients needed for cooking without meat or gluten are readily available at your local natural food store and at some supermarkets. Here is a basic list to get started.

Brown or white rice flour
Primary flour in wheat-free baking. Best combined with other flours such as potato starch and tapioca. Brown rice flour is more nutritious than white rice flour.

Potato starch (not potato flour)
Very fine, powdery. Lightens baked goods; especially effective when used with eggs.

Tapioca flour
From cassava plant. Reduces crumbling in baked goods and gives more "chew."

Xanthan gum
Substitutes for gluten and acts as a stabilizer, emulsifier, and suspension agent so dough rises well. Use in all baked goods.

Lecithin granules or liquid
Softens baked goods and improves texture. Granular and liquid versions measure the same. Imparts "fatty" feel to baked goods.

A vegetarian gelatine made from seaweed. Sold in powder, flake, strip, and strand form, it is dissolved in hot water and sets at room temperature. You can also use vegetable-based (parve) unflavored gelatin powder to moisturize and bind ingredients.

Cider vinegar
(not distilled vinegar) Strengthens yeast dough to rise better.

Dry milk powder
(not instant milk granules) Boosts yeast activity in baked goods and also helps browning action.

Wheat-Free Sugar Cookies

A rich simple cookie with a flavor like shortbread.

1/4 cup vegetable margarine or shortening
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 large egg
1-1/4 cups white or brown rice flour
3 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1. In a food processor, combine margarine, honey, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest. Process to a smooth consistency. Add egg, rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, salt, and baking powder. Pulse to combine all ingredients thoroughly. Shape dough into a ball, cover and refrigerate one hour.

2. Preheat oven to 325F. Divide dough in half and shape first half into a flat mound on a piece of waxed paper. Sprinkle with a bit of flour, if necessary to prevent sticking, and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut into desired shapes and transfer to nonstick, ungreased baking sheet.

3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are browned. Cool for about 2 minutes before removing from sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.

Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

PER COOKIE: 80 CAL (25% from fat), 1g PROT, 2g FAT, 14g CARB, 77mg SOD, 11mg CHOL, 0.2g FIBER

Wheat-Free Pizza Crust

Photo of Wheat-Free Egg Pasta and Wheat-Free Pizza Crust A 2-step process makes a tasty pizza. Bake the crust first, at 425F for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, add sauce and toppings, and return to bake another 15 to 20 minutes.

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2/3 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
2 tablespoons dry milk powder or tapioca flour
2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon agar powder
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 425F. In a small bowl, stir together yeast, water, and sugar. Set aside 5 to 10 minutes, until foamy.

2. In medium mixing bowl or bowl of an electric mixer, blend rice flour, tapioca flour, milk powder, xanthan gum, salt, agar powder, and Italian seasoning. Mixing on low speed, add yeast mixture, oil, and vinegar. Raise speed to high and mix for 3 minutes.

3. Lightly spray a 12-inch pizza pan or baking sheet and turn dough out onto it. Sprinkle with rice flour, as needed, to keep dough from sticking to fingers. Pat out to a 12-inch round crust, making edges slightly higher to contain toppings.

Makes one 12-inch crust.

L PER 1/2 CRUST: 337 CAL (9% from fat), 7g PROT, 3.5g FAT, 69g CARB, 569mg SOD, 0.8mg CHOL, 1.3g FIBER

Wheat-Free Pound Cake

Now you can have your cake...and eat it, too. Enjoy this versatile cake frosted, sauced, or plain.

6 tablespoons unsalted butter or soy margarine
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1-3/4 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1 cup white or brown rice flour
6 tablespoons potato starch
2 tablespoons tapioca flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1/4 teaspoon each, baking powder, soda, and salt
3/4 cup buttermilk (or 2 tablespoons cider vinegar plus enough rice or soy milk to equal 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Lightly spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan; set aside.

2. Using large bowl of an electric mixer, cream together butter, sugar, eggs, and lemon peel, until light and fluffy. In another bowl, stir together potato starch, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, soda, and salt. In a measuring cup, mix buttermilk and vanilla.

3. With the mixer on low, alternately add flour and buttermilk mixtures to creamed ingredients, starting and ending with flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan 5 minutes, then turn out onto rack.

Makes 16 servings.

L/O PER 1/16 CAKE: 161 CAL (31% from fat), 2.3g PROT, 5.5g FAT, 25g CARB, 82mg SOD, 46mg CHOL, 0.3g FIBER

Wheat-Free Blueberry Muffins

With or without the optional glaze, these muffins are delicious.

1 cup white or brown rice flour
1/2 cup potato starch
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon agar powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1/4 cup applesauce
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup canola oil
3/4 cup nonfat milk or soy milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Paper muffin liners or cooking spray

Optional glaze:
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line or spray a 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, stir together rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, agar powder, xanthan gum, baking powder, sugar, salt, and lemon peel. Make a well in center of mixture and into it add applesauce, eggs, oil, milk, and vanilla. Stir together just until ingredients are moistened. Gently fold in blueberries.

3. Divide batter evenly between prepared muffin cups and bake about 25 minutes, or until tops are lightly browned. Remove to a rack to cool. Make glaze, if desired: In a small bowl, stir together powdered sugar and lemon juice; drizzle over warm muffins.

Makes 12 muffins.

L/O PER MUFFIN: 168 CAL (19% from fat), 3g PROT, 3.6g FAT, 30g CARB, 246mg SOD, 46mg CHOL, 1g FIBER

Wheat-Free Egg Pasta

Wheat-Free Egg Pasta This dough is a bit hard to handle at first, but the al dente texture of the finished product is very much worth the effort. Cook as you would any fresh pasta-in plenty of boiling salted water for about 5 minutes, or to al dente.

1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup potato starch
4 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon agar powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup water

1. In a large bowl, whisk together rice flour, tapioca flour, cornstarch, potato starch, xanthan gum, agar, and salt. In another bowl, combine eggs, oil, and water and whisk until thoroughly blended and light yellow in color.

2. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture and work dough into a firm ball. Knead for 1 or 2 minutes. Flatten into a thick disk, wrap in plastic, and set aside for 30 minutes.

3. Divide dough into 4 pieces. Using a rolling pin or pasta machine, roll each piece as thin as possible. Cut into desired shapes or strips: 1-1/2 inches wide for lasagne, 1/4 inch wide for fettucini, etc.

Makes about 1 pound.

O PER 4 OUNCES: 283 CAL (20% from fat), 5.4g PROT, 6g FAT, 50g CARB, 310mg SOD, 137mg CHOL, 1.4g FIBER

Wheat-Free Baguettes

I've served this French-type bread often and my guests never guess it's made without wheat.

2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons cornmeal
2 cups white rice flour
1/2 cup corn flour (masa harina)
1/4 cup tapioca flour
3 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1-3/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon agar powder
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
Cooking spray or oil

1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and sugar in water, and set aside until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes. Lightly spray or oil a large baking sheet and sprinkle with cornmeal.

2. In bowl of a heavy duty mixer, using the paddle attachment, combine rice flour, corn flour, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, dry milk, salt, and agar. Blending on low speed, add yeast mixture, then egg whites, vinegar, and oil. Turn mixer to high speed and beat for 2 minutes. Dough will have the texture of a stiff batter.

3. Spoon dough into 2 mounds on prepared sheet. Dampen fingers or spatula with water and smooth mounds into long baguettes. Lightly spray or oil a length of plastic wrap and cover loaves, setting aside in a warm place to rise until double, about 40 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 425°. Bake baguettes about 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool before cutting.

Makes 2 loaves.

L/O PER 1/6 LOAF: 181 CAL (20% from fat), 4g PROT, 4g FAT, 31g CARB, 336mg SOD, 0.2mg CHOL, 1.4g FIBER

Fruits and Vegetables: A Phytochemical Pharmacy

Do the nutritional wonders of fruits and vegetables ever cease? For the past 20 years we've heard that fruits and vegetables are the cornerstone of health, supplying us with a wealth of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. More recently, scientists have found another group of compounds within fruits and vegetables that may promote health--phytochemicals, which occur naturally in plants.

Phytochemicals are the biologically active substances in plants that give them their color, flavor, odor, and protection against plant diseases. During the past few years, scientists have discovered that many of these plant chemicals may also protect the body against disease. Studies have consistently found that eating greater amounts of fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of heart attack, macular degeneration (the chief cause of blindness among the elderly), and most cancers. Consequently, hundreds of these plant substances are being investigated now for their role in preventing cancer and other degenerative diseases.

How do they work?

Many phytochemicals work as powerful antioxidants, protecting cells and organs from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are toxic oxygen molecules produced by cigarette smoke, X-rays, air pollutants, sunlight, and as a by-product of our metabolism. They are capable of oxidizing other molecules in our body, causing destruction and aging of cells. Along with aging, free radicals are thought to be involved in many ailments from cataracts to cancer. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, decreasing their damaging effects.

Phytochemicals appear to interfere with virtually every stage of cancer growth. Certain phytochemicals seem to halt cancer at its inception by blocking the enzyme that activates cancer genes or by preventing various substances from forming cancer-causing agents called carcinogens. Others stop carcinogens from damaging cells, tissues, and organs, or help the body produce enzymes that destroy carcinogens. Still others suppress the spread of cancer by interfering with the reproduction of cells that already have been exposed to carcinogens.

Phytochemicals also may reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Various phytochemicals have been found to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as block the oxidation of "bad" LDL-cholesterol, preventing it from harming arteries.

How they were discovered

During the 1970s, Lee Wattenberg, PhD, of the University of Minnesota, found that animals fed broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and other members of the cabbage family (called cruciferous vegetables) had lower rates of cancer than the control animals. Likewise, scientists at John Hopkins University found that lab animals fed cruciferous vegetables had a 90 percent reduction in their cancer rate after being exposed to aflatoxin, a deadly cancer-causing agent. Since that time, several phytochemicals have been isolated from cruciferous vegetables and found to have potent anti-cancer properties.

Also in the 1970s, German scientists discovered that the Japanese, who eat large amounts of soy foods, had 30 times more genistein, a component of soybeans, in their urine and considerably lower cancer rates than individuals on a Western diet (Plant Medica. 43: 101-120, 1981).

What studies have found

Allium compounds (from Garlic and Onions): A study of more than 41,000 women, known as the Iowa Women's Health Study (American Journal of Epidemiology, January 1, 1994, Vol. 139, No. 1) found that a diet consisting of garlic, fruits, and vegetables reduced the risk of colon cancer by 35 percent. Another study found that people in China's Shandong Province who eat garlic and onions regularly experience almost 40 percent less stomach cancer.

Lycopenes (from tomatoes and other red fruits): An Italian study of 5,500 people, found that eating tomatoes, which are rich in lycopene, was more effective in preventing digestive tract cancers than eating green vegetables. Individuals who ate tomatoes at least seven times a week had half the risk of developing these cancers as those who ate tomatoes only once a week.

Other studies have seen similar results. A six-year study from Harvard Medical School involving 48,000 men, aged 40 to 75, discovered that those who ate tomato-based foods four to seven times a week cut their risk of prostate cancer by 22 percent and those who ate tomatoes more than ten times a week cut their risk by 35 percent. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and the second highest cause of cancer mortality in men in the United States.

Beta carotene (from yellow, orange, and dark green vegetables and fruits): Although study after study has shown that a diet rich in beta carotene could reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, and eye disorders, some recent studies using synthetic beta carotene or synthetic beta carotene supplements failed to show similar results. Both the 12-year Physicians' Health Study and four-year Beta Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET) failed to find any evidence of benefit in those taking synthetic beta carotene supplements. Other research findings suggest that a combination of carotenes offers more benefits than synthetic beta carotene alone. One such study found a 33 percent reduced risk of heart disease in men with high blood levels of carotenoids. Lutein and zeaxanthin (carotenes from dark leafy green vegetables): A recent study on macular degeneration (the chief cause of blindness among the elderly) found that people who ate greens, such as spinach and collards, at least five times a week had almost half the risk of macular degeneration, compared to those who rarely ate greens. Greens are a rich source of carotenoids. Two of these carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which are in the retina of the eye as well as in leafy greens, appear to form a pigment that filters out destructive forms of light and protects the eye. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that those eating a diet high in vegetables and fruits exhibited a similar reduction in the risk of eye-disease. Genistein (from soy foods, mung beans, and alfalfa sprouts): Studies show that when animals are feed soybeans or extracted genistein, breast cancer rates drop 40 to 65 percent. Genistein is an estrogen look-alike that can plug into estrogen receptor sites in breast tissue, thereby competing with estrogen and possibly deterring breast cancer.

Which is better--raw or cooked?

Some phytochemicals are partially destroyed by heat while others are heat-stable. Carotenoids lose some of their effect when cooked because they absorb more oxygen. Yet cooking enhances the availability of sulforaphane, a phytochemical in cruciferous vegetables, and produces more indoles (see page 40) in broccoli. Cooking also appears to help release lycopene from cells in tomatoes. Thus tomato sauce and other canned or cooked tomato products offer more protection than raw tomatoes. Lightly microwave or steam vegetables instead of boiling to prevent phytochemicals from escaping into the cooking water.

What about supplements containing phytochemicals?

Individual chemicals that are isolated and extracted and then either made into a pill or combined with other plant chemicals to produce a synthetic product should, in theory, provide the same effects as those in whole plants. Numerous studies have found that animals given compounds extracted from fruits or vegetables and exposed to carcinogens exhibit a reduced incidence of cancers similar to that seen in animals that are fed the same fruits or vegetables (Cancer Causes and Control 2: 427, 1991).

Supplements are not intended to replace whole foods, but they may offer some added protection to those who need extra nutrients due to illness--especially cancer, and those who do not or are not able to eat the USDA recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each day. However, considering that the knowledge of phytochemicals and their properties is still evolving, it may be wishful thinking that a few of these compounds will provide all the health benefits of whole foods which contain hundreds. According to one analysis, citrus fruits alone contain 58 known anti-cancer compounds.

Consumer guide

Below are some of the more widely studied phytochemicals grouped by the foods they are most concentrated in.


Limonene (a monoterpene compound): Best sources: Citrus fruits. How it works: Increases production of enzymes that may break down carcinogens, and stimulates cancer-killing immune cells. Benefits: May help protect against breast cancer. Ellagic acid: Best sources: Grapes, apples, strawberries, and raspberries. How it works: Slows tumor growth by blocking production of enzymes used by cancer cells. Benefits: May prevent carcinogens from damaging a cell's DNA, thus helping prevent the formation of new cancer cells.

Anthocyanin/Proanthocyanin Bioflavonoids (polyphenol compounds): Best sources: Blueberries, bilberries, cranberries, red grapes, strawberries, and citrus fruits. It's also available in supplements as bilberry extract and grape-seed extract. How they work: Prevent eye tissue from free radical damage, inhibit the production of prostaglandins that can cause blood clotting, and help the body dispose of potential cancer-causing chemicals. Benefits: May reduce the risk of macular degeneration, heart disease, and some cancers.

Orange, Red, & Dark Green Vegetables & Fruits

Alpha-carotene (a carotenoid): Best sources: Pumpkin, carrots, cantaloupe, kale, yellow corn, and seaweed. Also available in natural carotene supplements. How it works: Slows the growth of cancer cells. Benefits: May reduce risk of lung cancer and boost the immune system.

Beta carotene (a carotenoid): Best sources: Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, spinach, and other leafy greens. Natural beta carotene supplements are also available. How it works: Functions as an antioxidant, protecting LDL lipids from free radical damage. Benefits: May reduce the risk of heart disease, bladder, colon, and skin cancer, as well as stimulate the immune system.

Lycopene (a carotenoid): Best sources: Watermelons, tomatoes, guava, and pink grapefruit. Lycopene is also available in supplement form. How it works: Functions as an antioxidant, protecting the protein, fat, and DNA in cells from free radical damage. Benefits: May reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer.

Lutein and Zeaxanthin (carotenoids):Best sources: Kale; spinach; beet, collard, and mustard greens; and sweet red peppers. How they work: Form a pigment in the eye that filters out damaging forms of light, and function as antioxidants, protecting against cell damage. Benefits: May reduce the risk of macular degeneration (the most common cause of blindness in the elderly). They also may reduce the risk of lung, colon, and prostate cancer, and improve immune response.

Capsaicin: Best sources: Chili peppers--the hottest peppers contain the most capsaicin (also available in supplements). How it works: Impedes carcinogens such as nitrates and cigarette smoke from attaching to cellular material, preventing formation of cancer cells. May also kill bacteria that can cause ulcers. Benefits: Increases circulation and may reduce the risk of lung and other cancers.

Catechin flavonoid (a polyphenol compound): Best sources: Green Tea (also available in supplements). How it works: Functions as an antioxidant, protecting cells from free radical damage, and hinders blood platelets from sticking together. Benefits: May help protect against stomach, liver, and lung cancer, and lower cholesterol levels.

Cruciferous Vegetables

Cruciferous vegetables include: Bok choy, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collards, kale, kohlrabi, mustard greens, radishes, rutabaga, turnip greens, and turnips.

Indoles: Best sources: Cruciferous vegetables. How they work: Stimulate enzymes that diminish the effectiveness of the hormone estrogen, and improve immune response. Benefits: May reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Isothiocyanates: Best sources: Cruciferous vegetables. How they work: Increase production of enzymes that block carcinogens from damaging cells. Benefits: May slow tumor growth and reduce the risk of lung cancer.

Sulforaphane: Best sources: Cruciferous vegetables. How it works: Activates the liver to make enzymes that bind to carcinogens and transport them out of cells. Benefits: Suppresses the development of tumors in animals.

Root Vegetables

Gingerol: Best source: Ginger root (also available in supplements). How it works and the benefits: Increases the production of substances that protect the stomach lining, preventing the formation of ulcers; stimulates gastric activity, causing the stomach to empty more quickly; stimulates the gall bladder, promoting healthy digestion; and helps alleviate nausea caused by pregnancy and motion sickness. To use: Add 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger powder to one cup hot water or tea, or simmer a few slices of fresh ginger root in three cups of water for 10 minutes.

Glycyrrhizin: Best source: Dried licorice root (also available in supplements). How it works: Prevents the conversion of testosterone into a more potent form that may promote the growth of prostate cancer, and stimulates the production of liver enzymes that reduce the level of estrogen. Benefits: Helps prevent breast cancer in animals and may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. To use: Use as a stir-stick to flavor your tea, or use one teaspoon of powder in a cup of hot water.

Allyl sulfide (an organo-sulfur compound): Best sources: Garlic or garlic supplements, onions, scallions, leeks, and chives. How it works: Increases the production enzymes that break down potential carcinogens and make them easier to excrete. Benefits: May decrease the risk of stomach and colon cancer, and lower LDL-cholesterol ("bad") levels. Garlic powder or tablets have been found to im-prove immune response.

Beans & Grains

Genistein (an Iso-flavonoid):Best sources: Soybeans and soybean products (miso, tofu, soy milk, tempeh, soy flour), peanuts, mung beans, and alfalfa sprouts. Also available as supplements such as soy protein powders. How it works: Blocks enzymes that turn on cancer genes, and inhibits the growth of new blood vessels around cancer cells that are needed to feed growing tumors. Genistein also blocks the entry of estrogen into cells, possibly deterring breast cancer, and may inhibit the uptake of testosterone in the prostate. Benefits: Its anti-hormonal effects may protect against both breast and prostate cancer. In test tubes, it inhibits the growth of all types of cancer cells, including those in the breast, colon, lung, prostate, skin, and blood (leukemia). Other compounds in soybeans may reduce blood cholesterol levels.

Phytosterols and Saponins: Best sources: Soybeans and dried beans. How they work: Suppress the growth of cancer cells in the large intestine and enhance immunity. Benefits: May slow the development of colon cancer.

Protease inhibitors: Best sources: Soybeans and dried beans. How they work: Prevent the conversion of normal cells into cancerous cells. Benefits: Slow tumor growth.

Phytic acid: Best sources: Grains (oats, rice, rye, wheat) soybeans, peanuts, and sesame seeds. How it works: Binds to iron and carries it out of the body, preventing iron from producing cancer-causing free radicals. Benefits: May reduce the risk of colon cancer.

The Protective Power Of Plants

The New Frontier

In China, they've been used for centuries to halt high blood pressure; in Europe, they've been linked with preventing lung cancer; in Japan, they're used as health-enhancers; in America, scientists are exploring their ability to prevent common health problems, ranging from cancer and heart disease to high blood pressure and arthritis.

Phytochemicals. These naturally occurring substances in plants are being lauded as "natural pharmacy," empowered with the ability to protect our health. Indeed, as research illuminates their potential health benefits, phytochemicals are emerging as the ultimate gift of health from a beneficient Mother Nature.

Pioneering Research

Since the 1960s, the scientific community has been working to pin down the healing properties of the phytochemicals in the plant-based whole food groups of fruits, vegetables, beans and peas (legumes), and to a lesser extent, whole grains. Then in 1989, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) sponsored still more research to target the cancer-fighting phytochemical compounds in plant-based foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

Called the "Designer Food Program," phytochemicals' link to preventing various ailments has been explored with NCI funds. To date, polyacetylenes from parsley have been found to deactivate the synthesis of prostaglandins, potent carcinogens and isoflavones from legumes seem to neutralize cancer-gene enzymes. In addition, researchers have identified sulvoraphane, one of the substances in a class of phytochemicals called indoles. Found mostly in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, sulforaphane lowers the risk of breast cancer by deactivating excess estrogen, a female hormone associated with breast cancer.

International research has shown that phytochemical-rich diets may help to prevent high blood pressure, control cholesterol and be useful in treating a plethora of ailments ranging from cataracts to gallstones. But teasing out the phytochemical health factor in various plant-based foods isn't easy. One reason is that there are thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of phytochemicals; another is that single phytochemicals, isolated from their relatives, may not bring anticipated health benefits.

Vegetable Power

"Eat your vegetables," admonished our mothers. Now, research is substantiating what many moms knew all along: fruits and vegetables are good for you. In fact, colored fruits and vegetables, such as dark-green spinach, chard, collard, and kale; yellow-orange carrots, sweet potato, squash and cantaloupe; and deep red tomatoes and red peppers, may be especially helpful in warding off disease," suggests The New York Times health writer Jane Brody in a recent article.

Researchers in Japan, who have been studying the health benefits of fruits and vegetables for 30 years, agree. Based on a large-scale prospective study, led by Takeshi Hirayama, M.D., and colleagues at the Institute of Preventive Oncology in Tokyo, it's likely that a lifestyle that includes lots of colored fruits and vegetables is the key to health and longevity.

This conclusion was reached after Dr. Hirayama and his research team followed more than 265,000 adults for 17 years, in six areas throughout Japan. The results linked the aging process and mortality with the lifestyle risk factors of: a diet low in colored fruits and vegetables, meat and alcohol consumption, smoking and stress management. Specifically, those whose lifestyle included lots of colored fruits and vegetables and who didn't consume meat or alcohol and didn't smoke had the lowest risk of death. Based on 44 causes of death, those with the highest mortality risk had an entirely opposite lifestyle, which included meat and alcohol consumption, smoking, and the intake of little or no fruits and vegetables. Interestingly, study participants who smoked, ate meat, and drank alcohol but who also ate colored fruits and vegetables had a death risk factor that fell between the highest and lowers risk groups.

Concludes Dr. Hirayama: "Speed of aging is likely to be controlled by lifestyle modification. Smoking cessation, avoiding or limiting alcohol and meat consumption, and increased consumption of colored fruits and vegetables must be the wisest and healthiest way to live."

Another study, the China Diet Health Project, conducted by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., a nutritionist at Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, supports Dr. Hirayama's findings. Dr. Campbell's project, based on data from 6,500 people, examined the link between diet, lifestyle and 45 different diseases. His conclusion: a diet consisting mostly of fruits, vegetables and grains seems to protect against many common Western diseases.

And in Europe, Dr. H. K. Bisalski, a professor at the Institute fur Biologische Chemi in Stuttgart, Germany, has linked specific antioxidant properties for phytochemicals to preventing heart disease. A biochemist specializing in this field of research, Dr. Bisalski has studied what he calls "preventive plasma levels," the concentrations of phytochemicals and antioxidants needed in the blood to prevent heart disease.

To reap the preventive effects of certain phytochemicals, he recommends at least 200 grams of fruits and vegetables daily, in order to achieve optimal plasma levels of the antioxidants beta carotene and vitamins E and C.

"I've studied the preventive effects of phytochemicals and antioxidants," he explained during a recent interview, "and 200 grams daily of fruits and vegetables is enough to bring plasma levels to 2-5 mg. beta carotene daily; 15-30 mg. vitamin E (alpha-tocophorol); and 150 mg. vitamin C," the amounts he believes are adequate to prevent heart disease. "These aren't low doses," he says. "They're higher than the Recommended Daily (Dietary) Allowance (RDA) in the United States."

For those of us who can't always achieve this goal, Dr. Bisalski suggests "ritualizing" your intake of fruits and vegetables. "The most effective way to increase your intake of phytochemicals is by drinking mixed vegetable juice and fruit juice. For instance, in the morning you don't decide if you're going to brush your teeth. You just do it. It has become a ritual. In the same way, try to establish a ritual of drinking orange juice or fruit juice in the morning. In the afternoon, have two glasses of mixed-vegetable juice. If you do this every day, it will become a ritual, and you'll be certain you're getting the necessary level of phytochemicals."

Disease Prevention

There has been a lot of talk about changing our health-care system from one that emphasizes treatment of disease with drugs and surgery to one that emphasizes prevention. More than ever, we're beginning to realize the importance of assuming responsibility for our own health. Nowhere is this more apparent than in choosing the foods we eat. Nutrition is being "re-discovered" as scientific research will attest, as a major preventive as well as a curative treatment tool for certain diseases. In the future, phytochemicals may play a large part in our efforts to maintain good health and prevent the diseases that plague our society.


Perhaps some of the most exciting and credible research is being done in the field of cancer prevention and treatment. When the American Cancer Institute (ACI) began a reported $6 million study of phytochemicals to identify and assess cancer preventive properties and safety, phytochemicals moved into the mainstream of scientific research. There was another important breakthrough when the NCI earmarked $20 million for research led by Dr. Herbert Pierson, to study five foods found to be high in various phytochemicals: soybeans, garlic, licorice, citrus and vegetable juices. (See our article on "Designed Foods," page )

Just how do phytochemicals offer protection? Numerous mechanisms exist by which natural phytochemicals (and antioxidants) are believed to protect against carcinogenesis. Phytochemicals seem to work their magic by interfering with the development of cancer at the cellular level. Some prevent potential cancer cells from forming; others protect cells from damage by blocking, suppressing or inhibiting duplication of cancer cells; or they may help to boost the immune system. For instance, Brassica vegetables (including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts) contain the phytochemical sulforaphane, which seems to stimulate the production of anti-cancer enzymes and bolster the body's natural ability to ward off cancer. Indoles, found in the same vegetables, seem to stimulate enzymes that make the hormone, estrogen, less effective, possibly reducing breast cancer risk.

There have been at least 150 human studies done to compare the eating habits of people with and without lung, esophageal, breast and other cancers. Those who ate the most fruits and vegetables were about half as likely to have cancer as those who ate the least. Research into anti-carcinogenic factors of chemicals in plants was boosted by discoveries such as those by University of Minnesota Professor Lee Wattenberg, who observed that members of the cabbage (cruciferous) family, such as broccoli, protected mice from carcinogens. Since Wattenberg's work, many similar studies have identified other cancer-fighting phytochemicals.

In Japan, observations of very low lung cancer rates in a society of heavy smokers, as well as extremely low levels of breast and intestinal cancer, led investigators to research the high levels of phytochemicals found in the traditional Japanese diet of soy-based foods, vegetables and green tea. Green tea was found to be high in catechins as well as certain other phytochemicals and antioxidants and seemed to play a role in strengthening the immune system and combating cancer.


Although there are many different types and causes of arthritis, painful, swollen joints, stemming from inflammation in the joint region, is a common denominator. So far, there is no specific cause or cure for this disease, but preliminary studies show that some phytochemical-rich foods may work to reduce swelling and inflammation associated with various types of arthritis. More research is needed before the FDA will consider approving some of these substances for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Phytochemicals in the following foods have been found to help alleviate arthritic problems in many people. Bioflavonoids in citrus fruits, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and honey help to reduce inflammation. Allylic sulfides in garlic and ginger help to block formation of inflammatory substances. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), found in the seeds of evening primrose and black currant have been found to reduce inflammation in some people.


Osteoporosis (loss of bone mass mainly in the vertebral spinal column, wrist, and hip) afflicts at least 15-20 million Americans (mostly women). At least one out of three people age 65 or older have some form of the disease. The primary cause of death in elderly women is complications from hip fracture, often the result of osteoporosis which began years earlier. One-third of all victims die within a year following these fractures. In a recent article on osteoporosis, soy foods expert Dr. Mark Messina, Ph.D., cites the work of William Prouix and Connie Weaver, Ph.D. and their research on soybeans and the prevention of osteoporosis: "...soybeans," he writes, "are a good source of calcium, which is absorbed about as well as the calcium found in milk. In addition, the isoflavones in soybeans have a beneficial effect on bone health, possibly by inhibiting bone resorption." Furthermore, soy protein does not seem to cause loss of calcium the way proteins in animal foods do.

PMS and Menopause

Could certain phytochemicals influence a woman's production of the hormones that promote PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome)? No one knows for sure, but there's some evidence that certain phytochemicals can minimize psychological and physical symptoms. When a woman's body stops making estrogen, and she enters into menopause, she may suffer from such side effects as hot flashes and mood disturbances. Isaflavones, found in soy products and also contained in cereals (such as corn flakes), whole grains, complex carbohydrates, legumes, and cold pressed oils (such as sesame, olive, corn and safflower) may help to control these symptoms, as well as depression, fatigue and anger.

Current research, (including studies of the Asian diet, which includes many soy-based foods) shows that soybeans help to provide relief from mood swings and hot flashes. "In Japan, where women traditionally eat a high soy diet, hot flashes are so rare that there is no word to describe them," states a recent study. Similar findings have been seen with women following strict vegetarian or vegan diets.

The reasons for these findings seem to stem from a diet lower in fat (high-fat diets increase the estrogen level in the body) and higher in phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are weak estrogens produced by approximately 300 different plant-based foods such as bean sprouts, sesame seeds, carrots, corn, apples, oats, etc. However, the best source is probably soy-based foods such as soybeans, tofu, soy milk, soy protein and tempeh (but not soy oil or soy sauce).

Because they are rich in the phytoestrogen, an isoflavone called genistein, as well as a host of other phytochemicals, soy foods are sparking the interest of health professionals such as Dr. Messina, and Dr. David Zava, co-director of the Cancer Research Division, California Public Health Foundation, and others affiliated with cancer research. These phytoestrogens seem to mimic the body's estrogen without its detrimental effects. It may be that soybeans, for instance, contain a natural analogue which seems to block estrogen's ability to stimulate certain hormone related carcinogens. Indeed, the NCI recently devoted an entire meeting to dietary phytoestrogens.

Researchers believe that during and after menopause, a woman's low levels of estrogen may boost the risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Phytoestrogens can provide a source of the hormone without seeming to increase the risk of cancer.

Could Your Refrigerator be the Medicine Cabinet of the Future?
What is the future of phytochemicals and their role in healthcare and disease prevention?
As the population ages, the need to improve the quality of life in later years becomes more important. Paired with this is a concern about the quality of health care in this country. Subsequently, more people are taking responsibility for their own health. Sorting out which plant chemicals might be useful in preventing disease is still a new science; however, evidence gathered so far indicates that choosing a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of disease.

"Foods can no longer be evaluated only on the basis of their nutrition and fiber content," says Dr. Messina. "We have a new paradigm in nutrition. Foods contain phytochemicals, which are, in a sense, the vitamins and minerals of the 21st century."

Black Bean Salsa

Here's a recipe we think you'll like, not only because it tastes good but because it's also loaded with foods rich in disease-fighting phytochemicals.

15 oz. canned black beans cooked with salt
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1/2 cup yellow corn, cooked, drained
1/2 cup chopped red onion
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup canned jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 cup fresh lime juice

1. Drain black beans well. Jalapeno peppers should also be drained and seeds removed.

2. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and toss well. Let stand one hour. Serve over burritos, with main dishes or as a dip with toasted tortilla chips.

Yield: 3-1/2 cups

1/2 CUP SERVING: 84 calories, 5g protein; 16g carb; 1/2g fat; 0g saturated fat; 176mg sodium; 0mg cholesterol; 5g fiber.

Fruit Potpourri

Calvin's Own Phyto-Feasting

Making sure he has plenty of phytochemical-rich foods in his diet, Calvin Scherwitz of Waco, Texas, has been "ritualizing" his intake of phytochemicals for more than eight years. We've included two of his recipes here (modified for Nourish). Every morning, Calvin begins his day with a refreshing "Fruit Potpourri," a phytochemical-rich fruit infusion made in a Vitamixer. A blender works just fine, though, with most fruits. Although our sample for his Veggie Stir-Unfry contains seven veggies, Calvin's version often includes up to 14 vegetables: tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, onion, squash, water chestnuts, celery, mushrooms, bean sprouts, Chinese cabbage, carrots, snow peas and bamboo shoots. He especially liked to prepare it when his son, Trey, brought friends home from college, "and they just loved it," says Calvin. For a change of pace, bake a potato; slice it or mash it, then place a portion on the bottom of the dinner plate. Cover with unfried veggies of choice.

5 slices peaches, fresh or frozen
1 small banana, peeled
3 large strawberries, fresh
1 cup pineapple, fresh or canned
1/4 pineapple juice, from bottle or canned fruit
1/2 cup fruit cocktail, canned, in natural juices
1-1/2 cups water or soy milk or nonfat milk
1 Tbsp. vanilla (opt.)
1/4 nonfat, dry milk (opt.)
15 ice cubes (opt.)

Place all ingredients in a blender. Mix until well-blended. Enjoy!

Yield: 4-5, 8 oz. servings

1 serving: 93 calories; 2g protein; 21g carb; .4g fat; .08g saturated fat; 25mg sodium; .67g cholesterol; 1.6g fiber.

Veggie Stir-Unfry

3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. reduced sodium soy cause
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (opt.)
1/2 tsp. black pepper, freshly ground

1 zucchini, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
6 large button mushrooms, sliced
1 cup corn kernels, frozen
Flowerettes from 1 stalk broccoli, chopped
30 snow peas, trimmed
1 onion, chopped
2 potatoes, baked, sliced or mashed (opt.)

1. Wash and prepare the vegetables; set aside.

2. Make the dressing by mixing the ingredients in a bowl.

3. To make the stir-unfry, heat the dressing in a wok or large saucepan. Add the veggies, then stir over high heat for 3 minutes, or until tender-crisp. Serve as is, or over potatoes, or whole grains, such as brown rice or barley.

Yield: 6, 1 cup servings

1 SERVING: 145 calories; 4.4g protein; 33.8g carb; .3g fat; .06g saturated fat; 214mg sodium; 0g cholesterol; 4.0g fiber.

Healing Foods: Wholesome Sweets

White sugar has long been considered a nutritional nemesis-and not just by hard-line health fanatics. From doctors to dentists, the mainstream medical community has long issued warnings about excessive sugar intake, noting the part sugar plays in obesity and tooth decay. But the story doesn't end with refined white sugar, nor with cavities and weight gain. Excess sugar in any form can present a myriad of maladies and wreak havoc on overall health.

The Not-So-Sweet Story Of Sugar

White sugar, or sucrose, is the sweetener that has fallen into the gravest ill repute. Sugar, from sugar cane and sugar beets, is completely stripped of all nutrients during the refining process. The natural dark color of unrefined sugar is removed by bleaching, using a chemical process that incorporates animal by-products to produce the white, crystalline substance we sprinkle on our cereals or dump into our coffee.

The possible detrimental effects of white sugar, specifically, are numerous and discouraging. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and The American Heart Journal agree: sugar can contribute to obesity, tooth decay, impaired cellular growth, nutrient deficiencies, increased cholesterol levels, hypoglycemia, heart disease, and diabetes. And while refined white sugar is stripped of its natural nutrients, minerals are still required to adequately metabolize it in the body. When sugar is ingested, the body mobilizes stored vitamins and minerals, including salt, potassium, chromium, magnesium, and calcium to accommodate the rapid absorption of sugar into the bloodstream.

Furthermore, white sugar, which is rapidly absorbed into the blood as glucose, creates a roller-coaster ride in the body, with rapid ups and downs in blood sugar levels. To compensate for dramatic increases in blood glucose levels, the pancreas overproduces insulin to allow glucose to be absorbed by body cells. As a result, blood glucose levels drop to lower levels than before sugar consumption.

In spite of these consequences, Americans continue their tragic love affair with refined sugar. It's estimated that we consume about one-fifth of the world's sugar production, about 31 billion pounds every year. For some Americans, sugar makes up 20 percent of their daily diet. In our country, refined white sugar is the third most frequently consumed food-right after coffee and white bread.

The Highs And Lows Of Blood Sugar

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is marked by abnormally low levels of glucose or rapid fluctuations of blood sugar levels. The main cause is, of course, excessive consumption of refined sugars and simple carbohydrates. Other factors-including food allergies, nutrient deficiencies, excessive exercise, stress, caffeine, alcohol and drug use, and cigarette smoking may also contribute to hypoglycemia.

The symptoms related to hypoglycemia are broad and varied, and may range from mild to severe. In fact, because of the broad nature of complaints, hypoglycemia is one of the most frequently misdiagnosed medical conditions. Some symptoms include anxiety, weakness, sweating, rapid heart rate, lethargy, irritability, dizziness, impaired memory, lack of concentration, extreme hunger, and digestive problems.

The recommended treatment for hypoglycemia includes eating five or six small meals throughout the day to maintain a stable level of blood glucose. Caffeine, alcohol, simple carbohydrates, and refined sugars should be avoided. The diet should focus on whole, unprocessed foods including whole grains, nuts and seeds, and adequate protein. An abundance of fiber is important, too, since fiber has a stabilizing influence on glucose levels.

Diabetes And Diet--Sweet Relief

Diabetes mellitus is a chronic, degenerative disease that manifests itself in a lack of insulin-a hormone produced in the body which is necessary for sugar metabolism. In a normal, healthy body, the pancreas produces the right amount of insulin to metabolize and maintain steady blood sugar levels. People with diabetes cannot produce insulin or are resistant to insulin that is produced in their bodies. As a result, their bodies are unable to remove excess glucose from the bloodstream. The ultimate effects of diabetes include heart disease, kidney disease, hypertension, gangrene, infections, blindness, strokes, and death.

Two types of diabetes exist: Type I (insulin-dependent diabetes) is characterized by the body's inability to produce insulin. Type II (non-insulin-dependent adult-onset diabetes) is the more common form, and generally occurs in middle age. In Type II diabetes, the pancreas produces insulin to metabolize sugar in the blood. The body, however, resists the action of insulin and fails to absorb excess glucose in the blood. Indications of Type I diabetes include extreme hunger, constant thirst, frequent or excessive urination, and weight loss. Type II, or adult-onset, diabetes can usually be controlled by natural methods, including diet, weight management, and certain supplements.

Diet alone can control most cases of Type II adult-onset diabetes. Most people with adult-onset diabetes are overweight, and obesity and excess caloric intake aggravate the condition by creating a resistance to insulin. Additionally, certain supplements can help balance the body in general and treat diabetes specifically.

Hold The Sugar: A New Way Of Eating

Since most cases of adult-onset diabetes can be controlled with diet, the best solution is a regimen consisting of natural, unprocessed, high-fiber foods and abstinence from refined, processed foods, especially white sugar. The focus should be on complex carbohydrates such as whole, organic grains and vegetables, beans and legumes, fresh fruits in moderation, and cultured milk products like yogurt. Foods to steer clear of include refined sugar, white flour, excess fats, coffee and caffeine, and dried fruits because of their high concentration of sugars. Natural sweeteners including honey, maple syrup, and molasses should be used with caution.

Some debate exists as to whether sugar actually triggers diabetes. The traditional diet for diabetics avoided an abundance of fruits and carbohydrates. According to the Environmental Nutrition newsletter, current guidelines from the American Diabetes Association do allow simple carbohydrates, since it has been postulated that the total amount of carbohydrates, rather than the type of carbohydrate is the main concern. Other research has revealed that diabetic patients who followed diets limited in simple sugars but rich in complex carbohydrates such as beans, grains, and vegetables experienced a substantial blood sugar drop.

High-fiber foods are crucial for stabilizing blood sugar levels. Dietary fibers help lower blood sugar levels and decrease the rate of absorption of sugars into the bloodstream. The recommended amount of fiber intake ranges from 25 to 35 grams per day. Since most people only consume about 12 to 18 grams per day, diabetics may need to triple their fiber intake, gradually. One suggestion: have a bowl of beans for breakfast. It's a fast way to add fiber to your diet, and may help stabilize blood sugar levels through the day.

Sweet Nothings: Supplements For Balancing Blood Sugar

Although certain nutrients are necessary for metabolizing sugar, they may be missing from your body if your diet is high in refined, processed foods. Some supplements that can help modulate blood sugar levels include chromium, manganese, zinc, B-complex, inositol, and vitamin C. According to the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Gymnema sylvestre, an Ayurvedic herb, may reduce insulin requirements. Stevia is an herbal sweetener that helps stabilize blood sugar levels and doesn't require insulin for its metabolism. The Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism report that the herb fenugreek contains compounds that have been shown to decrease blood sugar levels in diabetics.

Dessert By Any Other Name

So what's a health-conscious American with a sweet tooth to do? Holding the sugar doesn't mean shunning sweets entirely. Numerous natural forms of sweeteners exist that contain nutrients lacking in refined white sugar, are metabolized more slowly by the body, and cause fewer ill health effects than white sugar.

Other names for sugar include corn syrup, syrup, glucose, sucrose, and dextrose. These are only marginally better, if at all, than refined white sugar. Because of potential health hazards, artificial sweeteners, like saccharine, obviously aren't an option in a healthy diet. Natural sweeteners include raw, unfiltered honey, fructose, maple syrup, Sucanat, barley malt, rice syrup, and molasses. These are preferred to refined white sugar, and are helpful transitional foods to ease cravings for sweets. Coconut powder and raisin water can be used as substitutes for sugar in cooking. Even so, they're still sugars, and should be used in moderation. Remember, too, that sugar is cleverly concealed in many processed and packaged foods, from ketchup and condiments to breakfast cereals. Read labels carefully for sugar content, and try to stick to a diet that focuses on whole, unprocessed foods.

For quick sweet treats, the simplest solution is whole fruits. Baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon make a quick and healthy dessert. Frozen bananas are a creamy, cooling substitute for ice cream-just peel the bananas, place them in a plastic bag, and freeze them for 10 to 12 hours. Frozen chunks of watermelon make great summer snacks. Smoothies made of fresh fruits blended with rice or soy milk and natural protein powder are a nutrition-packed way to start your day. Raisins, dates, figs, or other dried fruits can be eaten in moderation for quick snacks during the day. And try the other healthy treats offered here-they're guaranteed to satisfy even the most persistent sweet tooth.

Very Berry Pear Crunch

Makes 6 servings

Photo of Very Berry Pear Crunch Recipe Fresh, juicy berries and ripe pears are the key sweetening ingredient in this simple dessert.

3 cups sliced pears
1/2 cup each, raspberries and blueberries
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup raw, unfiltered honey
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
3/4 cup uncooked old-fashioned oatmeal
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
Cooking spray or oil

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly spray or oil a 9-inch square baking pan.

2. In a large bowl, gently combine pears, berries, lemon juice, and vanilla. Let sit for 15 minutes.

3. In another bowl, combine honey and oil and stir until smooth. Add oatmeal and whole-wheat flour; mix well.

4. Transfer fruit to prepared baking dish and top with oatmeal mixture. Bake until pears are soft and topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes.


PER SERVING: 224 CAL (30% from fat), 3g PROT, 7.4g FAT, 35g CARB, 2mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 5g FIBER

Celestial Ambrosia

Makes 6 servings

The inspired combination of juicy peaches, creamy bananas, and ripe berries makes a healthy treat that lives up to its heavenly name.

2 medium bananas, sliced on the diagonal
2 cups blackberries
2 very ripe peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup fat-free yogurt or soy yogurt
2 tablespoons rice syrup (see glossary)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut
Mint sprigs

1. In a large bowl, gently toss together bananas, blackberries, and peaches. In another bowl, combine yogurt, rice syrup, and vanilla. Mix until smooth, then stir in coconut.

2. Add yogurt dressing to fruit and stir gently. Serve chilled, garnished with mint sprigs.


PER SERVING: 177 CAL (30% from fat), 3g PROT, 6g FAT, 27g CARB, 33mg SOD, 1mg CHOL, 5g FIBER

Dreamy Orange Cream

Makes 4 servings

Remember Dreamsicles? This creamy, dreamy concoction is a natural, healthy, fat-free substitute for childhood sweet treats.

2-1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup fat-free yogurt or soy yogurt
2 tablespoons Sucanat (see glossary)
1/2 cup crushed ice
Orange slices

1. Combine orange juice, yogurt, Sucanat, and ice in a blender. Puree until thick and creamy.

2. Pour mixture into a metal or glass bowl and freeze for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes until smooth.

3. Thaw slightly and spoon into individual serving dishes. Garnish with orange slices.


PER SERVING: 130 CAL (2% from fat), 4g PROT, 0.2g FAT, 27g CARB, 60mg SOD, 1.4mg CHOL, 1g FIBER

Mango Banana Freeze

Makes 6 servings

This refreshing combination of mangoes and bananas makes a luscious, low-fat dessert or breakfast treat.

2 medium, very ripe mangoes
4 medium, very ripe bananas
1-1/2 cups rice milk
1/2 cup crushed ice
1/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut

1. Peel mangoes and cut into chunks, scraping extra flesh off insides of skin. Reserve a few slices of mango for garnish. Peel and slice bananas.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine mangoes, bananas, rice milk, and crushed ice. Puree until thick and smooth. Stir in coconut.

3. Pour mixture into 4 individual dishes and freeze for 1 hour. To serve, thaw slightly and garnish with sliced mango.


PER SERVING: 207 CAL (28% from fat), 2g PROT, 6.5g FAT, 35g CARB, 29mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 4g FIBER

Watermelon Mint Slushie

Makes 4 servings

Juicy watermelon and cool mint whipped together makes a naturally sweet and low-calorie slush for a midday snack or summer breakfast drink.

3 cups cubed fresh watermelon, seeds removed
1/2 cup cold mint tea
1/2 cup sparkling water
Mint sprigs

1. In a large freezer bag or container, freeze watermelon overnight.

2. In a blender or food processor, combine frozen watermelon with tea and sparkling water. Puree until thick and smooth. Pour into glasses and serve garnished with mint sprigs.


PER SERVING: 38 CAL (6% from fat), 1g PROT, 0.2g FAT, 8g CARB, 3mg SOD, 0mg CHOL, 0.5g FIBER