Living Lite

Earth Day: Because It Is Right

April 22, 2012

At times I feel overwhelmed thinking about the obesity epidemic; the issues seem insurmountable. In that way, I have a lot in common with people trying to "fix" the environment. Which is why I felt empowered when I was told: "Do it just because it is right, even without a goal in mind," by Wendell Berry, renowned conservationist, author, poet, and farmer, visiting the Washington National Cathedral yesterday for an Earth Day lecture. Berry was referring to the importance of "being critical of our society's industrial and financial values... You must oppose these things whether or not you expect to be successful; because it is the right thing to do." But he said he was heartened that today "at least there is a public conversation," compared to the 1960's, when he started his advocacy work.

He gave me hope for continuing my obesity-epidemic-fighting efforts, even though financial interests seem to wield more influence than protecting the health and welfare of the world, and at times success seems beyond reach in my lifetime.

This year, Berry was awarded the 44th Jefferson Lecture by the National Endowment of the Humanities. "Wendell Berry is an American treasure whose prose and poetry have - with subtlety, intelligence, and conviction - helped open our eyes to the importance of respecting and living with nature," said NEH Chairman Jim Leach. "Tilling the land of his Kentucky forebears, he is a 21st Century Henry David Thoreau."

Earth Day marked the Washington National Cathedral's kick-off for a year of talks by nationally acclaimed speakers, authors, and theologians on the environment. In that spirit, the Cathedral's Environmental Advocacy Group has compiled small steps we can each take which, collectively, can have a positive impact on our environment.

Pick just one change - and learn more about how your food choices profoundly affect the environment...

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Salmon Says

April 8, 2012

It's salmon season! "After years of fattening up in the ocean, each spring, adult salmon return to their 'home' river - where they were born - to spawn," said M.J. Gimbar, Fishmonger for Black Restaurant Group, which runs BlackSalt Fish Market and Restaurant on MacArthur Blvd.

"The wild Pacific King Salmon are first up the rivers and are just starting to arrive here in Washington," said Bob Moore, owner of Canon's Seafood in Georgetown. Nothing compares to the beautiful, naturally bright-pink wild Pacific salmon for flavor or for omega 3 fatty acid content. Before I share some favorite recipes, I'll explain why the omega 3 fatty acids in salmon are so important nutritionally.

I first became interested in the power of omega-3 fatty acids when psychiatrists I work with began prescribing them for their depressed patients. Then I started hearing about their benefits for arthritis and a host of other diseases. And I couldn't help but wonder, could it be possible that one simple change in the diet could provide so many benefits?

The connection between omega-3 fatty acids and health was first observed in the 1970s. Scientists noted that compared with their counterparts in Scandinavia, Greenland Eskimos had a reduced rate of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions even though they were eating a high-fat diet. The scientists hypothesized that the type of fat -- marine derived -- might play a role.

Grilled Salmon (Photo by: Polly Wiedmaier) Grilled Salmon

Since then, study after study has confirmed that omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat found primarily in fish, have a potent and positive effect on heart disease. Omega-3s prevent irregular heart beat, reduce plaque inside artery walls and decrease blood clotting, triglycerides (blood fat), and inflammation.

"Omega-3s favorably affect a number of risk factors for cardiovascular disease and at the top of the list is reducing the risk of sudden death from heart attack," says Penny Kris-Etherton, a nutrition professor at Pennsylvania State University.

But the healing powers of omega-3s don't stop there. Research suggests they may reduce the risk of diabetes, reduce insulin resistance in people with diabetes, enhance bone density and inhibit proliferation of cancer cells in the breast, prostate and colon and improve skin condition by curbing psoriasis. Inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease seem to improve with more omega-3s. In infants, it improves cognition and visual acuity. And emerging research indicates omega-3s may boost levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine, decreasing depression and violent behavior.

While not an answer to every ailment, omega-3 fatty acids possess considerable healing powers. As an indication of their importance, the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences recently established a minimum daily requirement: 1.1 grams for adult women, 1.6 grams for adult men.

But in nutrition, balance is everything. Learn more about omega 3 fatty acids and try a few of my favorite salmon recipes ...

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Asparagus Already?

April 1, 2012

If any food says spring loudly and clearly, it's asparagus. Asparagus season is earlier than usual because of the record-setting warm winter weather, and I, for one, am grateful. As someone who almost exclusively buys my produce from the farmers' markets, I've been feeling a bit bored with winter's kale, potatoes and beets... Kale and potatoes and beets, oh my!

I have several luscious asparagus recipes I've been dying to get into. Before I share them with you, let me tell you why asparagus is so good to eat (besides being uniquely delicious).

Asparagus is packed with nutrients. Low in calories, it's an excellent source of folic acid, thiamin, vitamin C, and B6. Asparagus, like other fruits and vegetables, is sodium- fat- and cholesterol-free. It is an important source of potassium and nutrients important for boosting your immune system, reducing inflammation, lowering blood pressure, and preventing heart disease and cancer. Asparagus is especially high in glutathione, one of the body's most potent cancer fighters, according to the National Cancer Institute. It's also high in rutin, which is valuable in strengthening the blood vessels.

When buying asparagus, it should be bright green with tight, firm tips. And you'll need to get to the farmer's market early, as it goes fast! I'm not the only one eager for change...

My favorite asparagus recipe is one I developed with my client, Rebecca. We made a mess in her kitchen with several bundles of asparagus at different stations. We roasted it, steamed it, and sautéed it. We tried a variety of dressings and accompaniments.

The result? "Chilled Asparagus in a Creamy Tarragon, Shallot, and Roasted Walnut Vinaigrette." How delicious is it? Let me just say my friend Cindy Mize, who I immortalized in my book, Diet Simple, as having just lipstick and fingernail polish in her refrigerator (during her younger days in Washington), says she can't sleep knowing it is in her refrigerator. In her new life as president of Miami Capital Properties in Key Biscayne, Florida, she has many dinner parties at which my asparagus recipe is featured. After her dinner guests leave, she sneaks to the refrigerator at midnight to scarf up the leftover. I can hardly believe this transformation: but I guess you should say that's the power of a great recipe!

A few of Katherine's favorite asparagus recipes...

Cindy Mize during her non-vegetable eating days in Washington, DC (Photo by: Washington Woman Magazine) Cindy Mize during her non-vegetable eating days in Washington, DC

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