Articles in Health

Main photo: Kids love making smoothies -- for breakfast or an afternoon snack -- because they’re quick and easy, and can be made in so many delicious options! Smoothies can also be made in advance and carried in a travel-friendly water bottle or insulated drink container. Credit: Carl Tremblay

Everyone knows that traveling with kids means traveling with snacks. Snacks can help rescue your children from hunger and the ensuing crankiness. Trust us, those satisfied stomachs make for a much happier trip!

It’s easy to fall into the trap of grabbing something unhealthy, greasy or sugary when you’re on the go, because it’s quick and readily accessible. Skip the chips and plan ahead with grab-and-go snacks the whole family can help make.

These seven tried-and-true favorites make great quick bites your family can take on the long road trip to Grandma’s house, perfect little somethings that kids can eat in the backseat while Dad is driving them to soccer practice, or just-in-case nibbles a child can take to a friend’s house. And because kids will help make these treats, they will be able to brag that their delicious snacks are homemade.

More Zester Daily stories on kids and cooking:

» Surprise! Kids are key to stress-free family dinners

» Mother’s Day tip: Mama mia, please pass the pastina

» What the kids dragged in

» Kids won’t eat vegetables? Start with seed libraries

Main photo: Kids love making smoothies — for breakfast or an afternoon snack — because they’re quick and easy, and can be made in so many delicious options! Smoothies can also be made in advance and carried in a travel-friendly water bottle or insulated drink container. Credit: Copyright 2015 Carl Tremblay

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Sardinian Tomatoes. Credit: Kathy Hunt

 

Growing up with a father who suffered from cardiovascular disease, I learned at an early age how to eat healthfully. Hot dogs, fried chicken and steaks rarely graced our dinner table. Instead, we ate boatloads of low-fat and vitamin- and mineral-rich seafood, grains and produce.

Among the fish we consumed, sardines still top my list of favorite heart-healthy foods. Available in fresh and canned forms, these oily fish are chock-full of flavor and omega-3 fatty acids.

What’s so great about omega-3s? According to the American Heart Association, these fatty acids lessen the risk of abnormal heartbeats and reduce high triglyceride levels that may contribute to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. They also have a positive impact on high blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.

“It has long been appreciated that societies who eat diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids have a lower incidence of heart disease. For example, prior to the western influences of fast-food chains, Japan, Korea and Southeast Asia had a diet predominantly of fish and had very low heart disease rates. We discovered that one of the main components of the fish diet that was beneficial was omega-3,” says Dr. Paul Checchia, director of cardiovascular care at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Along with sardines’ wholesomeness, I love these petite, iridescent fish for their versatility. They go well with an array of other heart-healthy foods, including spinach, tomatoes, red bell peppers, carrots, walnuts, oranges, raisins, kidney beans, black beans and whole grains. They also partner with other omega-3-rich seafood such as anchovies.

Sardines lend themselves to many preparations, flavor pairings

When fresh, sardines can be grilled, broiled, baked, poached, sautéed or marinated. Their dark, oily flesh responds well to direct heat, making them the perfect fit for barbecues and charcoal grills.

Their bold flavor likewise engenders them to simple preparations. Sprinkle ground black pepper, vinegar or citrus juice over your cooked sardines and, in a snap, you’ve got a delicious repast.

Although they tend to be overlooked by today’s home cooks, sardines have a long and storied culinary past. Named for the island Sardinia, where they were found in abundance, they have supported generations of European fishermen.

Sardines live in both Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In fact, from the 1920s through the 1940s, they served as the backbone of America’s largest, most profitable Pacific Coast fisheries. Monterey, California’s, famed Cannery Row owes its success to sardines.

Canned sardines, in turn, owe their existence to the French and Napoleon Bonaparte, who needed a way to store and transport protein-rich rations for his troops. Through the ingenuity of French brewer Nicolas Appert and British merchant Peter Durand, sardines became the first canned fish and one of the first canned foods.

The French weren’t the only ones to benefit from sardine canning. In the 20th century these 10- to 14-inch fish fed American soldiers during two world wars. They also provided jobs for vast numbers of workers.

As is often the case, rampant popularity led to the sardine’s downfall. Overfishing and the ocean’s natural growth cycle depleted the supply. Without sardines in the supermarkets, shoppers turned to canned tuna for cheap, portable and easy-to-prepare meals.

In recent years sardine populations have rebounded in the Pacific. This is wonderful news for environmentally minded, health-conscious consumers. As small-sized bottom feeders who eat plankton, sardines don’t take on heavy metals and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) as other fish do. Low in contaminants and high in protein, vitamins B-12 and D, and omega-3s fatty acids, Pacific sardines have been deemed a “best choice” by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.

When shopping for sardines, I have the option of fresh or canned. With fresh sardines, I look for shiny, silvery skins; plump bodies; bright eyes; and firm, pinkish, moderately oily flesh.

Because these fish are fatty, they spoil easily. To ensure my sardines are safe to eat, I do a quick sniff test. If a sardine smells overly fishy or pungent, I skip that fish. Highly perishable, sardines should be cooked the day of purchase.

Packed in thick, clear oil, canned sardines possess expiration dates and should be consumed accordingly. Until I’m ready to use them, I store the cans in a cool spot in my kitchen and periodically flip them so all the fish are coated in oil.

If you peek into my kitchen cupboard, you’ll invariably see at least two tins of sardines tucked in there. I use them in everything from bread spreads and vegetable dips to pastas and pissaladières. When I crave an especially heart-healthy entrée, I make the following dish, Sardinian Tomatoes. Featuring lycopene- and beta-carotene-rich tomatoes; fiber- and iron-packed barley; vitamin C- and A-filled red bell peppers; and, of course, sardines, it’s a delightfully nutritious meal.

Sardinian Tomatoes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 8 stuffed tomatoes

Ingredients

8 large, ripe tomatoes

1 red bell pepper

1/2 small red onion

8 ounces canned sardines, drained and patted dry

1 1/2 cups cooked barley

1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley

3/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for greasing the baking dish

1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 teaspoons granulated onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a large baking dish with olive oil and set aside.

2. Slice off the tops of the tomatoes. Scoop out the seeds, leaving an inch of flesh inside the tomatoes.

3. Dice the red pepper and onion. Slice the sardines into bite-sized chunks and put them, along with the pepper and onion, into a mixing bowl. Add the barley to the bowl.

4. Roughly chop the parsley. Add it, the thyme and black pepper to the bowl and toss to combine. Drizzle the lemon juice and half of the olive oil over the mixture and toss again.

5. In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs, granulated onion and salt. Add the remaining olive oil and stir until all the crumbs are coated.

6. Put equal amounts of sardine-barley stuffing into each tomato, filling each to the top. Sprinkle the bread crumb mixture over the filling. Place the stuffed tomatoes in the baking dish and bake, uncovered, for 12 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened slightly and the crumbs have browned. Remove and serve warm.

Main photo: Sardinian Tomatoes. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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Black cod wrapped in a bamboo leaf sits in sweet soy sauce. Credit: Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

I had just begun eating a meal at Onyx, a restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, California, eagerly catching up with a couple of friends, when all conversation stopped.

So delicious was this cuisine, touted as “modern Japanese,” with unexpected flavors and textures that seemed to speak to us in an elemental way, that my friends and I just looked at each other with smiles growing on our faces.

Each plate of sushi and sashimi that arrived at the table was an artistic arrangement of food, so striking and beautiful that it looked like a mini sculpture. As we ate these glistening pieces of fish, we were transported by the lightness and diversity of tastes.

Then there was the main dish — blackened miso cod. It was so juicy and flavorful that I really needed to know: Who created this fabulous food?

His name is Masa Shimakawa, and I soon learned why he understands fish better than most.

All things fish

Masa not only cooks with fish, but he scuba dives, is a fly fisherman and he was born and raised in Hakodate, Japan, a port city almost entirely surrounded by ocean and known for its fresh seafood dishes.

“Everyone cooks with fish in my hometown,” Masa said when I interviewed him a few weeks later. People there eat fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. “Most people in Japan cook fish on a charcoal grill,” he added. “It’s very simple.”

Masa likes to see fish in their own element. “On vacation, I go deep sea diving around the Channel Islands and I also go scuba diving to Hawaii and Caribbean,” he says.

And he’s an experienced fisherman. “I like fly fishing — tying my own fly — in the Channel Islands. Or I go into small creeks in the mountains, the Eastern Sierra — there are beautiful streams there — to fish golden trout. It’s a four-hour drive for middle-of-nowhere fishing,” he said.

He has traveled to countries in Asia and South America, seeking out street food and local markets. “I want to see what people are eating on a daily basis.” He says he has been most inspired by Vietnam and Singapore.

From Japan to California

His career began as a dishwasher in a small cafe when he was a teenager. He attended the Hakodate Professional Cooking School and later became a sushi chef in Tokyo. He got a job at a sushi restaurant in Montreal, then Chicago and then New York, before arriving at the Four Seasons in Westlake Village in 2006.

The resort includes the California Health and Longevity Institute, which offers health, fitness and nutrition consultations as well as spa services. The light and fresh food at Onyx makes it the perfect place for Longevity Institute clients to come for dinner.

For his Onyx creations, Masa buys fish from local Southern California sources as well as from Japan. One of his favorites is Hawaiian sea bass. “I marinate it with Yuzu, Japanese soy sauce, overnight.” As for what is meant by “modern Japanese,” Masa explains: “It’s not too traditional. I use outside accents — Western and Southeast Asia seasonings, all mashed up.”

One part of the secret to the flavorful fish is the sauces he creates for marinating. For the black cod? “I marinate it in miso paste with sake, and a little bit of sugar, overnight. Next day, I rinse off the miso,” then he oven-roasts the fish.

No need to be intimidated about buying or cooking fish, Masa says. Here are some of his tips:

•    Buy at a fish market whenever possible.

•    Look for bright, clear eyes.

•    Look for vivid red gills.

•    No matter how you cook fish, use your finger to judge when it’s done. “I push the fish gently to see how deep my finger goes. It should be soft, but the skin should spring back. If it’s too hard, the fish has been overcooked.”

•    As for sauces? “It’s all about simplicity,” Masa says. Just use butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice, he suggests. The idea, he says, is to create a light sauce that allows you to “enjoy the character of the fish.”

What about the old rule of cooking fish 5 minutes for every inch of thickness? Masa shrugs. Knowing when fish is done cooking has to “come with experience,” he says.

The success of Onyx may be that Masa enjoys experimenting with new recipes, which he tries out on his staff. He is intuitive, and he has had years of experience cooking fish. But how does it all taste just so … perfect? There are some secrets he’s not sharing. “I have some tricks,” he says with a smile.

Main photo: Black cod wrapped in a bamboo leaf sits in sweet soy sauce. Credit: Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts

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Fire Cider is a traditional folk remedy that uses ingredients including apple cider vinegar and horseradish. Credit: Carole Murko

Wash you hands. Cover your mouth when you cough. Don’t share a glass. Eat your vegetables. Get plenty of rest. Drink lots of liquids. Take your vitamins. Get some fresh air. Keep your hands away from your face.

The list goes on and on. These were the entreaties of my mom and Nana growing up. We would roll our eyes. Their wisdom is now bantered about with abandon by television newscasters, near and far. As if these were earth-shattering discoveries on how to avoid getting a cold or the flu.

The words came along with a long list of home remedies. Did you ever have a bathroom sink filled with hot, steaming water, to be told to hang your head over it? Once you were in position, a towel was tented over your head so you could breathe in all the steam to break up your congestion. What about that Vicks? My mom would take a finger full, put it in a tissue, fold up the tissue, and stick it under my pajama top.

Home remedies

Or, if while having a bout of the croup, you sat on the edge of the tub while steaming hot water poured out of the shower head to help open your airways. When I suffered from the croup, I was given a “cocktail,” most nights before bed. It was either a teaspoon of rye, 1 teaspoon of sugar and some water, or a 7 and 7, in child proportions, of course. Who knew that that nightly “cocktail” would prevent bouts of the croup? I think the “cocktails” relaxed me enough to sleep through the night. To this day, when I smell rye or whiskey, I think of that nightly cocktail.

Mom knows best. Through the ages, our ancestors understood how to avoid ailments or cure them with homemade concoctions. Many are similar across cultures, but I have learned there are some very interesting cures for what ails you.

Gogol-Mogol is an eastern European cure for a sore throat and laryngitis that uses egg yolks, milk and honey. Credit: Carole Murko

Gogol-Mogol is an eastern European cure for a sore throat and laryngitis that uses egg yolks, milk and honey. Credit: Carole Murko

Gogol-Mogol

Take Gogol-Mogol. It is an eastern European cure for a sore throat and laryngitis. There are many “stories” as to where the catchy name derived. I was told the name may have become popular from a famous Soviet children’s book written in the 1960s, Dr. Aybolit, which means Dr. Oh Hurts! I have also read that there was once a Russian singer named Gogol who lost his voice and the remedy restored his voice. Others say it was invented after World War I as a cheap, nutritious meal. Whatever the case, Gogol-Mogol is a go to remedy for many.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 3 to 4 minutes

Yield: 1 serving

Ingredients

2 eggs yolks

2 tablespoons of sugar or 2 to 3 tablespoons of honey

1 cup milk

Directions

1. Mix the egg yolks with the sugar.

2. Heat the milk almost to a boil and remove from heat.

3. Slowly add the yolk and sugar mixture into the hot milk while vigorously whisking to prevent the eggs from cooking.

4. Serve in a mug and drink up.

Fire Cider

I stumbled upon fire cider at a fall festival several years ago. A young couple was giving away samples, suggesting a daily dose would keep you healthy. One swig of it cleared my sinuses, and I felt like I was breathing fire. They sell it under the name Shire City Herbals. I have used it effectively to ward off a sore throat by taking a swig every few hours until the symptoms go away. Feel free to check out their offerings. I, of course, knew I could find the recipe and have found it in a few reliable places, most notably in one of Rosemary Gladstar’s book, “Herbs for Common Ailments.” Here’s Gladstar’s recipe:

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 3 to 4 minutes

Total time: 3 to 4 weeks

Yield: 1 pint

Ingredients

1/4 cup grated horseradish

1 onion, chopped

1 head of garlic, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons turmeric

1 quart mason jar

1 quart apple cider vinegar

1 cup honey

Cayenne pepper

Directions

1. Combine horseradish, onion, garlic and turmeric in a one-quart mason jar.

2. Heat the apple cider vinegar until it is warm, not hot. Pour into the mason jar and cover. Warming the cider hastens the process of drawing out the nutrients from the herbs.

3. Let stand for 3 to 4 weeks in a warm place. A sunny window would be perfect.

4. Strain and then add honey and a pinch or two of cayenne.

Sore Throat Elixir

There is nothing more simple, or more comforting, than Sore Throat Elixir made of lemon, hot water and honey. Credit: Carole Murko

There is nothing more simple, or more comforting, than Sore Throat Elixir made of lemon, hot water and honey. Credit: Carole Murko

And lest I forget my nana’s sore throat elixir! I don’t know what it is about old wives’ tales and concoctions, but many of them are useful and actually work. I, for one, will always go for a natural remedy as I think we are an over-prescribed, over-medicated society. I’ll stick to aspirin, chicken soup, and hot lemon and honey over NyQuil any day. For me, just one sip of hot lemon and honey starts the healing process and reminds me of my nana’s love. Perhaps it’s that combo that does the trick.

Prep time: 1 minute

Cook time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

1 lemon

1 to 2 cups of water

Honey

Directions

1. Place the lemon on a counter and roll it under the palm of your hand for 30 seconds to loosen the juice.

2.  Cut the lemon into quarters, squeeze the juice into a small pan; add the quarters.

3. Add a cup or two of water, and bring to a boil.

4. Put a tablespoon or any amount of honey you like (to taste) in a mug.

5. Pour hot lemon juice through a strainer into mug, stir and let the soothing begin!

Oregano Oil

One last remedy was shared by a dear friend last winter. He swears by oregano oil. When he feels the first twinge of a sore throat coming on, he puts 2 drops under his tongue. It’s strong and actually quite vile. I can again attest to its effectiveness. I have used it twice and it warded off the flu or cold. But be warned it is a tall order to stomach, and it’s not for the faint of heart. Hold your nose, pray to your higher power and hope for the best!

Main photo: Fire Cider is sure to remedy what ails you. Credit: Carole Murko

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What new foods and dishes will appear on our plates in 2015? Credit: iStock

Pseudoscience and seductive headlines worked their black magic in 2014, enticing people to follow one misguided food fad after another. However, 2015 holds more promise.

We at Oldways — our nonprofit has spent the last quarter century guiding people to good health through heritage and cultural food traditions — predict that what’s old will be rediscovered in brand new ways. We see five food trends in our kitchens and on our dinner plates for the year ahead:

1. Whole grains become the new normal

Now that diners have discovered the nutty flavor and toothsome bite of whole grains, they are more willing to move from quinoa to more adventurous options like teff, sorghum and millet. Next up: Look for on-demand milled grains and more varieties of sprouted grains and sprouted grain flours, which will take baking to the next level.

2. African heritage cuisine goes mainstream

Thanks to chefs such as Marcus Samuelsson and Bryant Terry, as well as food historians such as Jessica B. Harris, African heritage cuisine has been elevated to new ranks. Based on whole, fresh plant foods, with a special emphasis on leafy greens, the traditional healthy eating patterns of African heritage, with roots in America, Africa, the Caribbean and South America, are making their way to more and more menus. In turn, more diners are discovering these healthy traditions of Africa. That’s also encouraging home cooks to explore and experiment with dishes like African peanut soup, Hoppin’ John and Jollof rice (also known as benachin).

3. All hail plants!

Interest in plant-based diets has reached an all time high. The trend has grown beyond just replacing meat. Today, vegetables are celebrated with innovative plant-centric plates such as zucchini baba ganoush and cauliflower steaks. In 2015, a number of less well known vegetable varieties will pop up at farmer’s markets, on more menus and on more plates. Look for tat soi and turnip greens as well as new and delicious hybrid vegetables like BrusselKale, a combination of two of America’s favorites.

Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, sees five food patterns in the year ahead. Credit: Courtesy Oldways

Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, a nonprofit food and nutrition education organization, sees five food patterns in the year ahead. Credit: Courtesy of Oldways

We will move beyond butternut to an amazing assortment of other squash: kabocha, delicata and sweet dumpling. Root vegetables such as rutabaga, watermelon radishes, purple potatoes and parsnips, also will rule. Even the U.S. government is considering a recommendation to eat more plant foods and less meat in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines.

4. Will it blend?

Home cooks looking to amp up the flavor are turning to herbs and spices with a twist.  Spice blends like Berbere, Baharat, Ras el Hanout and Herbes de Provence (from Ethiopia, the Middle East, North Africa and France respectively) are adding adventure in the kitchen. Cooks are discovering the allure of blending their own spices. And they’re taking cues from top chefs like Ana Sortun of the celebrated Cambridge-based Oleana. Not only do these home blends boost flavor without adding sodium or calories, they enable personalized flavor preferences.

5. Cultural condiments

The arts of preserving and fermenting foods — popular in traditional diets around the world — were originally created simply to extend the life of foods in a world without refrigeration. Today, more home cooks are learning these techniques and padding their pantries with homemade kimchi, craft pickles, sauerkraut and preserved lemons.

Main photo: What new foods and dishes will appear on our plates in 2015? Credit: iStock

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The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons of sugar every day. That’s two to three times the recommended daily limit. Credit: iStock

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s first authoritative report on smoking and health, rightly considered a landmark in public health. Since that first report in 1964, there have been 31 more Surgeon General reports on the effects of tobacco smoking.

Motivated by these reports, the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped from 42% in 1964 to 18% in 2012 — still too high, but a real change.  Now, it’s time for the Surgeon General to issue a new report. We think it’s sugar’s turn.

Dear Surgeon General,

We need your help, Vivek Murthy. You’re now our nation’s top doctor and we need you. Sugar is a problem. We love it. We consume literally tons of it. But it doesn’t love us back.


In fact, our sugar habit is making us sick. You’re the one person in the country we can look to for a full diagnosis. We need you to step boldly into the conversation and assemble all the facts. Just as your predecessor did when he weighed in in 1964 on smoking.

In the 50 years since the tobacco study, there has been one report (in 1988) from the Surgeon General on health and nutrition. Over the last 26 years, the science of nutrition and health has advanced enormously. Thanks to modern research and data techniques, today we know a lot more about the impact of our eating habits on our health than we did 50 years ago. In particular, we need you to take a close look at the effects of the skyrocketing levels of sugar we consume.

As part of a growing body of scientific evidence, we now know that added sugar in America’s diet has a huge impact on public health. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — driven by high sugar consumption without the essential fiber that accompanies naturally occurring sugar in fruit — afflicts an estimated 31% of American adults and 13% of children. Excessive sugar consumption is also linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, affecting 16 million and 26 million Americans respectively. And the trend lines for our kid’s future are even gloomier.

Andrew Rosenberg is director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Andrew Rosenberg is director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

More than 19 teaspoons every day

The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons (82 grams) every day. That’s two to three times the recommended daily limit. Worse still, our overconsumption of sugar is fueled by healthy-seeming foods that hide sugar — products such as yogurt, tomato sauce and bread — behind synonyms such as barley malt, agave nectar, corn syrup and 61 other innocuous sounding names. Sugar is added to a whopping 74% of packaged foods.

And if that wasn’t enough, Americans are bombarded with slick advertising for products high in sugar. Advertising that is enormously well-funded (about $7 billion annually) and targets vulnerable populations such as children. It’s designed to manipulate the choices we make throughout our lives.

Pallavi Phartiyal is program manager for Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Pallavi Phartiyal is program manager for Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Overconsumption of sugar and its strain on our health and health care system need national attention. There is a momentum building across the country to address this problem. Berkeley, Calif., just passed the nation’s first tax on soda. The Food and Drug Administration recently advanced a proposal to include an “added sugar” line in the ubiquitous Nutrition Facts labels. And the dietary guidelines advisory committee, a panel of experts that advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after considering the latest scientific evidence, supports an added sugar label. These are all glimmers of momentum. But you, Surgeon General, could be the engine that roars ahead.

When we have questions about our health, we go to the doctor. We need you, America’s top doctor, to help us understand the impact of added sugar on our health. It’s time for the Office of the Surgeon General to commission a report on a public health issue affecting so many Americans.

Doctor, can you help us?

Main photo: The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons of sugar every day. That’s two to three times the recommended daily limit. Credit: iStock

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Black-eyed peas and greens for the New Year. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

In the 19th century, many African-Americans brought in the New Year with Hoppin’ John — a dish made with black-eyed peas and collard greens, among other ingredients, and thought to bring prosperity and luck. Those folks were onto something, according to the authors of “Becoming Vegan: Express Edition,” an award-winning guide to plant-based diets. By eating beans and greens regularly, they say, people can improve their fortune — or at least their health — year-round.

Beans and greens are the meat and potatoes of our modern era, say dietitians Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis, whose book “Becoming Vegan” won the 2014 Canada Book Awards. Beans — more specifically legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, but “beans” will be used here as a catch-all term — along with dark leafy green vegetables provide the backbone for creating really healthy meals, they say.

Beans, greens: good for your heart, bones, blood sugar and more

“Beans are a fabulous source of protein,” Melina says. “And we all know that beans are good for the heart.”

Their viscous fiber — the kind that forms a gel when combined with water — binds cholesterol and then helps move it through your stool and out the body. She says that collards are full of viscous fiber and really good at binding cholesterol, too.

All that gel-like fiber in Hoppin’ John also helps regulate your blood sugar. Once you’ve swallowed a bite, the stomach churns it up like a blender and then sends the liquids into your small intestine, where proteins, fats and carbohydrates get broken down for your body to use. Tiny blood vessels in the intestine’s lining allow nutrients — including glucose — to pass into the blood. The gummy fiber, however, slows down the release of sugars into your bloodstream.

Beans and greens, says Melina, are also both great sources of folate — a B vitamin that helps keep your DNA working properly.

And new research on beans shows that they appear to be good for the bones, too, Davis adds. Beans are rich sources of nutrients that promote healthy bones: protein and folate, magnesium and calcium. But another compound in beans — phytic acid — binds to many minerals, and until recently, authorities believed that would negatively impact bone health. Recent research, however, suggests that phytic acid may actually protect against bone loss.

Beans, beans: The more you eat, the more you …

The reason beans cause flatulence and greens don’t is yet another compelling incentive for embracing the powerful seeds. “That’s your gut at work fermenting carbohydrates in the beans’ fiber into compounds that fight disease,” Davis says.

Once fiber has passed through your small intestine, it reaches the large intestine and then either passes out the body through stool or gets eaten — or fermented — by healthy bacteria that live in your gut. The fermentable carbohydrates in beans go even further,  Davis says. “They serve as prebiotics, stimulating the growth of those friendly bacteria in the colon.”

Fermentation transforms carbohydrates in the fiber into compounds that help regulate appetite and blood sugar, control inflammation and fight cancer. They also aid your immune system by nourishing your intestinal lining, the barrier that keeps pathogens from traveling between your gut and blood. (Greens from the cruciferous family — collards, kale, mustard greens, for example — help build and repair that lining, too.)

What happens in your gut, scientists are learning, is crucial for your health, says Davis, and in most people, flatulence is easily controlled. When it comes to eating beans, soak and cook them well and make sure your gut has lots of healthy microbes to digest them, she suggests.

Tips for fending off flatulence

In their book, “Becoming Vegan,” Davis and Melina offer several tips for handling beans, including these guidelines:

— Soak them for at least 6 to 8 hours or overnight in lots of water: 3 cups for every cup of beans. Then put them in a colander and rinse well.

— Place soaked beans and fresh water into a heavy pot, again using 3 cups of water per cup of beans.

— Add a 2-inch to 6-inch strip of kombu, a sea vegetable containing enzymes that help break down the gas-producing carbohydrates.

— Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until beans are very well cooked, usually 1 to 1 1/2 hours, less for very small beans, more for very large ones.

— Skim off and discard any white foam. That, too, contains gassy starches.

— Add spices. Many common seasonings help counteract the production of gas: garlic, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric and black pepper, for example.

— Go slowly: Your colon needs time to build up its reserves of good bacteria that digest those fermentable carbs. If you’re just beginning to embrace beans in your diet this new year, start with small portions.

By eating beans regularly, you’ll soon be hoppin’ with healthy microbes.

Main photo: Beans and greens. Credit: Harriet Sugar Miller

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The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons of sugar every day. That's two to three times the recommended daily limit. Credit: iStock

Dear Surgeon General,

We need your help, Vivek Murthy. You’re now our nation’s top doctor and we need you. Sugar is a problem. We love it. We consume literally tons of it. But it doesn’t love us back.

In fact, our sugar habit is making us sick. You’re the one person in the country we can look to for a full diagnosis. We need you to step boldly into the conversation and assemble all the facts. Just as your predecessor did when he weighed in in 1964 on smoking.


This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Surgeon General’s first authoritative report on smoking and health, rightly considered a landmark in public health. Since that first report in 1964, there have been 31 more Surgeon General reports on the effects of tobacco smoking. Motivated by these reports, the percentage of Americans who smoke has dropped from 42% in 1964 to 18% in 2012 — still too high, but a real change. Excellent work! Now, it’s time for the Surgeon General to issue a new report. We think it’s sugar’s turn.

In the 50 years since the tobacco study, there has been one report (in 1988) from the Surgeon General on health and nutrition. Over the last 26 years, the science of nutrition and health has advanced enormously. Thanks to modern research and data techniques, today we know a lot more about the impact of our eating habits on our health than we did 50 years ago. In particular, we need you to take a close look at the effects of the skyrocketing levels of sugar we consume.

Andrew Rosenberg is director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Andrew Rosenberg is director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

As part of a growing body of scientific evidence, we now know that added sugar in America’s diet has a huge impact on public health. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — driven by high sugar consumption without the essential fiber that accompanies naturally occurring sugar in fruit — afflicts an estimated 31% of American adults and 13% of children. Excessive sugar consumption is also linked to heart disease and type 2 diabetes, affecting 16 million and 26 million Americans respectively. And the trend lines for our kid’s future are even gloomier.

More than 19 teaspoons every day

The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons (82 grams) every day. That’s two to three times the recommended daily limit. Worse still, our overconsumption of sugar is fueled by healthy-seeming foods that hide sugar —  products such as yogurt, tomato sauce and bread — behind synonyms such as barley malt, agave nectar, corn syrup and 61 other innocuous sounding names. Sugar is added to a whopping 74% of packaged foods.

And if that wasn’t enough, Americans are bombarded with slick advertising for products high in sugar. Advertising that is enormously well-funded (about $7 billion annually) and targets vulnerable populations such as children. It’s designed to manipulate the choices we make throughout our lives.

Pallavi Phartiyal is program manager for Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Pallavi Phartiyal is program manager for Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Credit: UCS

Overconsumption of sugar and its strain on our health and health care system need national attention. There is a momentum building across the country to address this problem. Berkeley, Calif., just passed the nation’s first tax on soda. The Food and Drug Administration recently advanced a proposal to include an “added sugar” line in the ubiquitous Nutrition Facts labels. And the dietary guidelines advisory committee, a panel of experts that advise the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, after considering the latest scientific evidence, supports an added sugar label. These are all glimmers of momentum. But you, Surgeon General, could be the engine that roars ahead.

When we have questions about our health, we go to the doctor. We need you, America’s top doctor, to help us understand the impact of added sugar on our health. It’s time for the Office of the Surgeon General to commission a report on a public health issue affecting so many Americans.

Doctor, can you help us?

Main photo: The average American consumes more than 19 teaspoons of sugar every day. That’s two to three times the recommended daily limit. Credit: iStock

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