When you go shopping for Omega-3 supplements at the natural food market, you may encounter oils that supply a special ingredient called GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). GLA is a powerful Omega-6 EFA that is found in evening primrose, borage or black currant seed oils. It has been shown to help women with pre-menstrual breast pain or with menopausal symptoms. GLA sometimes helps children with eczema or attention deficit disorder. If taking an Omega-3 supplement has a paradoxical effect--if it makes your skin drier or your menstrual cramps worse--you will probably benefit from a supplement of GLA. The usual adult dose is about 275 milligrams per day, which is found in 3000 milligrams or evening primrose oil, 2000 milligrams of black currant seed oil, or 1500 mg of borage oil. Children may only need half as much.
Oils rich in EFA's are highly perishable, especially when exposed to heat or air. To ensure freshness, store in the refrigerator after opening and discard the bottle six weeks later. Once they're in your body, EFA's are protected from damage by vitamin E and a group of related nutrients called anti-oxidants. Anti-oxidant research is the second major nutritional story of the '90's and will be discussed in Part 4 of this series.
(2) Join the Anti-Oxidant Revolution. The benefits of anti-oxidants for health have received a large amount of attention from scientists over the past ten years. Vitamin E has been shown to improve immune function in elderly Americans, and a broader group of anti-oxidants which include not only Vitamin E but Vitamin C, carotenoids, bioflavinoids and the mineral selenium have been shown to help prevent heart disease and cancer and to relieve symptoms associated with asthma and allergies.
The importance of anti-oxidants derives from our dependence on oxygen. We need oxygen to burn food as a fuel that produces energy and to burn away environmental toxins that enter our bodies. This process is called oxidation. It's essential for human life, but like any fire it produces sparks that can fly off and start fires where they are not wanted. In your body, these sparks are called free radicals and they can damage the membranes and proteins of your cells. Free radical damage to the DNA in your genes can cause cancer. To quench these sparks, your body employs a fire department which is known as the anti-oxidant defense system. Its success depends upon teamwork. No component of this system is very effective by itself. Some anti-oxidants destroy free radicals by sacrificing themselves. They are oxidized in the process and must be repaired or restored. This is how vitamins E and C work and it is also the fate of carotenoids and bioflavinoids. You can usually recognize carotenoids and bioflavinoids in food by their rainbow of colors, which range in hue from pale yellow to deep purple. The appetizing appearance of ripe fruits and vegetables derives from the carotenoids and bioflavinoids they contain. It's no surprise that tomatoes, blueberries, cherries and green tea have recently been touted as wonder foods for disease prevention. They're all rich sources of these anti-oxidants.
Other anti-oxidants protect our bodies against free radicals by activating enzymes, which are proteins that catalyze (speed up) chemical reactions. Most of the B vitamins, including folic acid, activate enzymes that directly or indirectly help to repair free-radical damage. So do minerals like selenium and zinc.
For most of my adult patients, I prescribe a multivitamin and mineral supplement that supplies 400 units of Vitamin E, 800 micrograms of folic acid and 200 micrograms of selenium every day. This level of supplementation has been demonstrated to boost immune function and to help prevent cancer and heart disease. Children need one quarter to one half the adult doses. The amount and variety of carotenoids and bioflavinoids you need cannot be obtained from pills. Get these from eating six or more servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day.
(3) Raise Your Magnesium Quotient. We've known for decades that calcium is needed for strong bones, that vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium from food and that the main natural source of vitamin D is the effect of sunlight on the skin. Recent research has shown that many adults living in the northeastern U.S. become deficient in vitamin D during the winter. If your multivitamin contains 400 micrograms of vitamin D, you will help yourself prevent this problem. Recent research has told us that magnesium is also important for healthy bones and the effect of calcium in the body is regulated in many ways by the level of magnesium.
Most Americans consume far less than the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium. Emotional and physical stress, cold weather and alcohol can increase the amount you need well beyond the RDA. Many of the patients I treat are handicapped by a magnesium deficit, which can be corrected by increasing dietary magnesium and by supplementing their healthy diets with additional magnesium. The highest magnesium content occurs in beans, oats, nuts, buckwheat, and seafood, so it's easy to understand why Americans may fall short of the RDA. Common symptoms of this shortfall include irritability, fatigue, muscle spasms, headaches (including migraines), palpitations, sensitivity to noise and trouble sleeping. If you have these symptoms, raising your magnesium quotient may really enhance your quality of life. Several types of magnesium supplements are sold in pharmacies and natural food stores. The usual daily dose for supplementation is two milligrams for each pound you weigh. Taken at bedtime, it may help sleep. Too much magnesium can cause diarrhea. If you're over the age of 70, have kidney problems or take prescription medication, check with your doctor before taking a magnesium supplement.
The availability of nutritional supplements can be a real boon to your health and well being over the holiday season. Use this information to use them wisely.
Step Four: Prepare Healthy Party Foods
Long nights and short days seem to be perfect for parties. They don't have to derail your plans to make this the healthiest holiday season ever. All the food you serve, including delicious party food, can be healthy, if you understand the answer to the following question: What creates appetizing snacks, desserts or hors d'oevres? It's not the calories. It's rich color; a distinctive texture--either crunchy or creamy--and a taste that quickens the senses by being sweet, salty or spicy. There's a cornucopia of nutritious foods that together create a dazzling buffet that feasts the eyes and the palate. The beauty of these foods is that they don't require added sugar, butter, or cream to please. Some require a bit of preparation, others don't. Some may need salt, but you can usually decrease the need for salt by using spices. These natural treats add nourishment to your parties and actually supplement the nutrients you receive from the food you eat every day. They are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals like carotenoids and bioflavinoids, those anti-oxidants found in plants that make vegetables and fruits the healthiest foods you can add to your diet.
A tour through this gourmet garden of Eden might include shrimp with salsa; smoked salmon or pickled herring with seven-grain toast topped with fresh dill; a white bean salad with navy or Tuscan beans, chopped escarole or spinach, red onion, chopped walnuts, and a light dressing of tarragon vinegar and walnut oil; or a pasta salad with olive oil, chopped tomatoes and basil. Flavor these with spices like parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Spreads made from tofu, beans or chick peas without added fat are now available through gourmet and natural food stores. If their taste is bland, add a touch of curry, cayenne, garlic or soy sauce. Serve these with crudites, baked tortilla chips or triangles of fresh pita bread. Attractive little bowls of almonds, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds adorn your table and, whether roasted or raw, add minerals like zinc and magnesium to your feast. Raisins and dates add sweetness. Most commercial trail mixes or dried fruit mixtures are loaded with added sugar, so it's better to create your own.
For a healthy dessert, make ambrosia, the food of the gods, by tossing orange sections, shredded coconut, chopped walnuts, sliced almonds, and seasame seeds in a dressing of pineapple juice and orange juice concentrate. The aroma of apples sprinkled with cinnamon and honey baking in your oven will also delight your guests. If you want to devote more time to preparing dessert, there are many books with all natural recipes for spice cakes, fruit breads, pies and cookies, which use fruit juice for sweetness. I tested many of these for my first book, "Superimmunity for Kids" (Dell, 1989, still in print). Big hits in our home were a tofu custard pudding and oatmeal spice cookies.
If you're entertaining kids, you can also try air-popped popcorn sprinkled with parmesan cheese, carrot sticks with peanut or almond butter, frozen banana pops, homemade fruit juice ice pops, or granola chews made with rolled oats, nut butter, raisins, and apple juice concentrate.
Healthy beverages can complement your healthy buffet. Warm apple cider brewed with cinnamon sticks is a cold-weather favorite. Have lots of sparkling mineral water on hand for those friends who want a low-calorie, no-fault libation. A dash of wine, red or white, a splash of fruit juice, or a slice of lime make a refreshing spritzer. Alcohol and automobiles are a dangerous combination. Every responsible adult must openly confront the choice of drinking or driving. You don't dampen the holiday spirit when you serve alternatives to alcohol or pay attention to what your guests are drinking. You nurture that spirit by showing your concern for the health and well-being of your friends and the strangers they'll pass on the road.
Step Five: "The Y2K Detox Plan"
Life is full of pitfalls and you may experience days when you regret the excesses of the day before. These are Detox Days. A brisk walk, a gentle massage, a hot bath or sauna can all aid in recovery, but the most important think to remember about detoxification is that Detox is not something you do, like starting an exercise program. It's something your body does, spontaneously and continuously, 24-7. Detoxification occurs in every cell of the body, but is most concentrated in the liver, intestines, kidneys and lungs. In these organs, enzymes-proteins that catalyze chemical reactions-destroy or excrete thousands of toxic substances, whether they are absorbed from food, water or air or produced within the body.
The main support for Detox is a nutritious diet. Red, yellow and green vegetables, uncooked nuts and seeds, whole grains, and spices supply the nutrients that are most important for efficient detoxification. Because fiber is also important, I don't recommend fasting or juicing. Eat for Detox. Have a hearty vegetable soup or stew that includes at least half of the following: chunks of sweet potato or winter squash, tomatoes, carrots, asparagus tips, collards or dandelion greens, spinach or Swiss chard, and sea vegetables like dulse, hijiki, kelp, nori or wakame,. Make sure you include some members of the cabbage family (which includes not only cabbage but broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, Brussel sprouts, green onions and kale). Not only are these nutritional powerhouses, they stimulate the liver to make more enzymes for safe detoxification. People who eat from the cabbage family several times a week have a lower incidence of cancer, in large part because of the improved detoxification these vegetables support. Season this dish with ginger, garlic, turmeric, parsley or purple onions, spices that are rich in anti-oxidants and minerals. I enjoy a bowl of Detox soup every day during the winter.
The best nutritional supplement to aid in detoxification is a "pro-biotic", a supplement of acidophilus or other beneficial bacteria for helping intestinal function. As a nation, we are deficient in beneficial intestinal bacteria. This results from our generally low fiber diets and our excessive exposure to antibiotics, either as medications or as contaminants in meat and poultry, which are routinely given antibiotics to promote growth. Most pro-biotic supplements contain species of Lactobacillus bacteria, either acidophilus or casei, (normally found in cultured milk), or plantarum (this plant-based bacterial species is what makes sauerkraut sour). Commercial yogurt and fermented foods may have no living bacteria by the time they reach your table. If you don't want to make fresh yogurt or sauerkraut, take a supplement that supplies about ten billion living organisms a day, either as a powder or capsule. The heat generated in the manufacture of tablets may kill the bacteria, so these are unreliable.