Living Lite

Berry Bonanza

April 29, 2012

Spring is wonderful for many reasons, not the least of which is the return of fresh ripe berries. I'm thrilled that starting this Wednesday, I'll be able to make a quick dash to the Rose Park Farmers Market each week to see what is waiting for me. Right now it's strawberries. Locally grown and picked at their peak, they are tender, sweet, juicy, and red-throughout. But they have a very short season, so get them while you can!

There are very few foods that match the beautiful color and intense flavor of berries. And, fortunately, these fruits are nutrition superstars.

For many years, most berries were regarded as nutritionally inferior because of their lack of traditional essential nutrients such as vitamins A and C. But that was before nutrition scientists recently discovered the presence of large amounts of beneficial phytochemicals ("phyto" is Greek for plant).

Apparently, each berry contains at least 100 nutrients and phytochemicals, the plant compounds with potent powers of healing. Some of the most important phytochemicals in berries are antioxidants, powerful substances believed to reduce inflammation, improve immune function and help prevent heart disease and cancers.

Antioxidants are compounds that absorb oxygen free radicals -- molecules that cause oxidation in the body's cells. Scientists believe that these molecules cause most of the diseases of aging, such as immune system decline, arthritis, heart disease, cancer and neurological impairments affecting cognition and balance.

Think of oxidation as being similar to rusting. Or imagine an apple slice turning brown. By simply adding lemon juice, an antioxidant, the apple's flesh stays fresh and prevents the browning or oxidation. A similar thing happens in your body. Oxidation is constantly occurring in your cells because of environmental pollutants, smoking, exposure to the sun, heat generated through basic metabolic functioning, unhealthy diets and other factors. It takes a large supply of antioxidants to counter this. Berries have been found to have one of the highest antioxidant scores of all fruits and vegetables.

But there are other good reasons to eat berries. The berry family contains 300 to 400 beneficial, disease-fighting chemicals. The phytochemicals in berries, depending on the type, also stimulate the immune system, reduce inflammation, enhance cancer-fighting enzymes, positively influence hormone metabolism, have antibacterial and antiviral effects and may even reverse some aspects of brain aging.

The most potent berries are the more deeply colored varieties...

Learn more about berries, berry recipes, and ways of enjoying berries each day...

Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette (Photo by: California Strawberry Commission) Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette

And don't forget about Asparagus, a favorite vegetable with a very short season, and another special item expected at Rose Park this Wednesday. Learn about asparagus and get six great asparagus recipes.

Salad of Asparagus and New Potato Topped with Poached Salmon (Photo by: Ali Eaves) Salad of Asparagus and New Potato Topped with Poached Salmon

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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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