Archive for June, 2012

Every year there  seems to a new miracle food– acai berries, pomegranate juice and coffeeberry  all promised to be the key to health and beauty, but  just turned out to be expensive  fads.  When I started to hear about quinoa, I  thought it was just another hard core health  food.  But quinoa is truely a great new addition to  a beauty diet. 

Quinoa is a pseudo cereal that looks  like a grain but is actually closely related  to beets  and spinach.  It has the mild taste and texture of couscous or rice but with more protein and HALF the carbs.  Gluten-free quinoa is so nutritious that it is a candidate crop for NASA’a  Controlled Ecological  Life Support System  for long term human space flights.

How healthy is quinoa?  One  cup of cooked quiona  has 155 calories, 30 carbs and 6 grams of protein. By contrast brown rice has 248 calories, 48 grams of carbs and 3 grams of protein.   But wait there’s more  good news.  The glycemic index  ( GI) of quinoa  is 18.  By comparison,  the GI of brown rice  is 50  while a baked potato  is 92.  Since  most experts recommend  including  foods with a  GI under 50,  quinoa  is a nutritional  superstar.  Keep in mind  that  studies have linked high carb diets to  earlier skin aging and wrinkles so low carb quinoa   has certainly earned  its  health and   beauty  creds.

I have to confess that  I don’t feel satisified without a serving of some sort of carbs.  I  can eat a sink full of salad, but without some starch, I get  cranky hungry within an hour.  A small dish of quinoa  fills that need at  half the carbs and calories.

A Word of Caution

Quinoa  is naturally coated  with saponin, a bitter soapy substance that keeps  birds and insects away.  To remove it,  the  grain needs  to be soaked in water for several hours  or rinsed in running water for several minutes.  Most boxed/packaged quinoa  has been pre-rinsed and only needs a quick  run under the faucet.   I buy my quinoa in a store packaged plastic container so I play it safe  and rinse it in the sink for 3 minutes. 

You can get  fancy and use quinoa in salads, veggie burgers, soups, casseroles and stir fry dishes.   I  tend to keep it  simple and  just love to use it as a regular side dish in place of rice, couscous  or pasta.  I even use it instead of rice when I order chinese take-out. 

My Go-To Quinoa Recipe ( adapted from Healthy Kitchen– America’s Test Kitchen)

Ingredients:  one  medium onion, chopped, one teaspoon olive oil, one cup quinoa, 1 1/2 cups chicken broth

Directions:  Heat the olive  oil  in a pan and saute the onion until softened.  Stir in quinoa and cook for about 3  minutes until it is  lightly toasted.  Add chicken stock, cover and cook for 15 minutes.   Remove cover, fluff grains with a fork and serve.


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What do Kim Kardashian, Leann Rimes and my neighbor Erica  have in common?  Like almost 8  million Americans they all   have psoriasis.  This  chronic skin condition is caused  by  a dramatically increased speed of  skin cell growth leading  to red splotches coverd with  silvery scales.  Itchy, dry and  painful it usually pops up on the torso, hands, elbows,  and legs.  Unlike eczema, its found on the outside rather than on the underside of  joints.

Like so  many health problems, doctors  don’t  really have a good handle on the causes of psoriasis. It seems to be genetically driven and  about 30%  of people with  psoriasis have at least one family member with the condition.  Psoriasis flare-ups  have been  linked to wheat, stress, weight gain, strep infection cold weather, smoking  and heavy drinking.  Psoriasis can also cause joint  pain and swelling and up to 30% of people with psoriasis experience  some degree of psoriatic arthritis. 

A Bounty of Treatment Options 

The three top rules for psoriasis care  are moisturize, moisturize and  of course moisturize. Daily care starts with a lukewarm bath with a mild soap  like Dove or Aveeno Skin Relief Body Wash.  Adding a handful of colloidal oatmeal to the bath will also reduce  itching and inflammation.  After a nice soak, gently towel dry and  apply a simple but heavy moisturizer like Aquaphor.  Apply a light  layer, let it soak in then apply another layer.

Sunlight  which is usually viewed as  skin enemy #1 is actually helpful for psoriasis  But easy does it.  A daily 15 minute exposure will provide the benefits you want without increasing  skin cancer risks.

Stepping up Psoriasis Care

Lukewarm bath, ointments and a little sunlight are the first steps in managing  itchy, scaly  psoriasis skin care problems.  If you need more help ( and most  people do) doctors “step-up” care, progressively adding treatments:

1. Topical Medications

When more than simple moisturizers are needed, salicylic  acid cleansers and gels  can remove scales.  Steroids can also be prescribed  for flare-ups, but  should not usually be used  long term.   Tazorac ( similar  to Retin A) and coal tar  products can be very helpful  if psoriasis  affects less than 10-20% of the body.

2.  Light Therapy

You can crank up the benefits of UV rays by adding  a type of drug  called psoralens.  Either in a pill or cream, psoralens act by slowing down the turbo charged rate of cell growth that is driving psoriasis.  Psoralens have  problems  of their own.  They can cause nausea, headache and  over time have been linked with  an increased risk of skin cancer

3. Systematic Medications

If psoriasis still persists, doctors still have a number of powerful options in their tool  box.   Usually taken in  pill form,  methotrexate, cyclosporine, and retinoids ( like Accutane) all act  by slowing down skin cell growth.

4.  Biologics

The  newest  categories of care are injectables  that act on the molecular level to interrupt skin cell over production.  Given  in an injection or IV infusion,  biologics like Stelera or Enbrel can be life changing  if you have extensive psoriasis  and/or psoriatic  arthritis. Biologics are extremely powerful  and require close medical monitoring.  They have been  linked to increased risk of  infections and worsening of heart failure  and multiple sclerosis.  Effective  but with potential side effects  they are  usually prescribed when other remedies  have not been able to control   psoriasis.

Living with psoriasis can be frustrating.  All the treatments  from oatmeal baths  to  biologic injectables  need to be used in combination and it takes time and supportive  health care to come up with the most effective combo plan for  you.  Don’t  give up.  The best care is out there.

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This week the  host of Fashion Flash  is Kari of Fab Over 40.  Whenever I  am in the market for a new make-up  or skin care treatment, I  visit  Fab Over 40 to check out her advice.  She carefully road tests  each product and when she reports that something works, it does.   Recently she introduced me to two new   multi-tasking  products from Sisley– a moisturizing self-tanner and  a tinted moisturizer wirh a SPF 20.   Not only do duel  purpose products  save money,  IMO I think   a single product  works better  then piling one on top of another.   

I  had watched Dr Denese  on PBS and was almost mesmerized by her Hungarian accent as  she talked about anti-aging strategies.    They were  packed with  pretty heavy science and  her  book allowed me  to get a better grasp of her concepts.    For the first time I actually understood  the principles behind HGH treatment– the hormone that  seems to be involved  in the maintenance and repair of  muscle and tissue throughout the body. Studies have shown that HGH  mobilizes fat deposits and increase energy, stamina, immunity and memory.   HGH injections are very expensive and  controversial, but Dr Denese recommends ways of naturally increasing HGH in the body.  Nice. 

She offers an especially strict low carb,  low fat  low calorie diet that  seems  to have more  supplements than real food.   While I agree that low carb is the best way to control weight,  I don’t think I could stay on this diet for more than a day. 

Her skin care section offered  a much more accessible approach to dealing with  the wrinkles and  discolorations of aging.   Dr Denses  is passionate about exfoliation  and  drills down to explain how  all skin types can benefit from alpha and beta hydroxy acids and retinoids like Retin A.    While she often   pushes  her own product line, she does  give other options.  She points out that  many over the counter products are very low in active ingredients like glycolic acid and salicylic acid, and explains how to find the most effective formulations.  She is a  big fan of individual treatment  pads and even  suggests using them to exfoliate the body.The  book is packed with basic info and   has prompted me  to try  new  approaches  and worth a spot on  my ever growing beauty bookshelf.

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Question:  Why doesn’t Botox  work  for  me?  After an injection I see a difference  for a week or two, then I’m back to where I started.

Answer:  Such an appropriate question since  this year is the 10th anniversary of the FDA approval of Botox– the  trade name  for the neurotoxin that is arguably America’s favorite anti-aging tool.  When  properly injected, it relaxes the facial muscles including frown lines on the forehead and crow’s feet around the eyes.  Botox can also make changes to the face that makes  the eyes look wider and raise the eyebrows.

The key word here is “properly”.  The face has 40 different muscles- some move up and some  move downward.  The injector  has to know where to position the shots to get the desired impact.

According to Fifth Avenue cosmetic surgeon Dr Paula Moynahan, there are  several possibilities to  your lack of response. 

1.  The injector  is not hitting the right spots on the face.  Botox needs to be in the area of a specific muscle in order to relax a targeted  wrinkle or lift a sagging spot.

2. If you were been tempted by an offer of a discount Botox treatment, it may have been over diluted.  This could make the injection less effective with little  or short lived results.  The  Botox arrives as a hard film at the bottom of a bottle.  The physician adds liquid to the bottle to reconstitute the neurotoxin.  To save  money, an injector may add  extra  dilutant to make the dose go further.

3.  And then there are the people  who are genuinely resistant to Botox.  FYI Botox is actually a brand name and there  is a second FDA approved Botulism A  product called Dysport.  Dr Moynahan  suggests that people who are resistant to Botox  may have  different results with Dysport.

Keep in mind that as good as it is, Botox cannot reverse all the natural and environmental signs of aging.  It needs to be a part of an anti-aging  game plan that includes Retin A and IPL to clarify the skin’s surface, lasers to erase freckles and facial hair and Zoom tooth whitening trays.  And to preserve all these anti-aging  efforts, never  leave the house without a sunscreen.

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Its Fashion Flash Monday!

This week the host of Fashion Flash is Shawna of  Female Fat Loss Over 40.  If I get  discouraged  or lazy about fitness, scrolling through this  site  gets  me back on track. While   watching a a twenty something   hustle through  Zumba routinue makes me feel that fitness is an impossible goal,   Shawna’s step by  step  advice and videos empowers me to  do more.

And when you are finished  looking through all the great Fashion Flash sites, check out  The Best of Clean Eating published by Robert Kenneday Publishing.   I read  my first issue of Clean Eating magazine while getting my bi-annual   highlights.  I was so excited  by the temping, gorgeous yet healthy recipes that as soon as I was finished, I ran out to find my own copy.  When I couldn’t find it in the neighborhood news stands,  I raced back and begged the salon owner to let me buy  her copy.  It was that good.

Most lifestyle magazines will offer a monthly article on healthier food choices and recipes– printed right between an article on  fried chicken around the world and the  ten best recipes for cheesecake.    In Clean Eating every sinlge recipe is packed with healthy nutrients and avoids all the stuff you don’t want to eat.   Now the editors of CLean Eating  have compiled about 200 of the best recipes into a colorful temping book.  The Best of Clean Eating offers a full range of easy meals, snacks, budget entrees, and cooking for one or two.  For example I’ve always loved  the sweet potato spread  served at the Angelica Kitchen ( the iconic vegan restaurant  where  John Lennon was a regular)  and the recipe in Clean Eating is equally wonderful.  My favorite chapters  offers recipes for what are my most  calorie and fat laden  times– holiday dinners and Summer BBQ.  For example the Clean Eating Mock Sangria starts with white cranberry juice and its my new summer favorite.

The Best of Clean Eating also provides a months worth of menus and shopping lists that detail how to  use  the recipes IRL.

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Trying to put together  menus that  incorporated the  maximum beauty foods, I realized that I had only explored three  protein  options- yogurt, shrimp and mussels– good start  but  more is definitely needed.  I decided to start with breakfast  and go up close  and personal with eggs.

Available everywhere, affordable and quick to cook, eggs pack  big nutrition into  that little oval shell.  One average size egg  has six grams of protein and a respectable load of vitamin A, B2, folic acid, B6, choline, iron, calcium, potassium and vitamin D– and all  there for less than 70 calories.  Chicken fed a diet of polyunsaturated fats and kelp  will also be a source of omega-3 fatty acids  which is a great added  value to the basic egg.    Eggs are just about everrywhere and added to just about everything.  In addition to being the primo breakfast protein,  eggs are in  breads, desserts  and a key ingredient in standards like meatballs, chicken cutlets, and lasagna.

The Egg White Option

Because of the fat and cholesterol in the yolk of the egg,  nutritionists and cardiologists often   recommend using only the whites of an egg.  On average an egg  white  has 17 fat  free calories and can be used   in  most recipes   that call for whole eggs.  However an egg white has half the protein and little to none of  the vitamin A, D , E and omega  3’s found  in a whole egg.  Egg white substitutes often add  back  missing vitamins ( good news) as well as vegetable  oil and food coloring ( not so good  news). 

The Dark Side of Eggs

Despite an impressive nutritional payload, eggs  come with  several troubling health issues:

1. Cholesterol– a single egg  has more than 250 milligrams of  cholesterol– almost   the entire recommended daily limit . ( FYI an omlette in a restaurant   usually uses three eggs).  While most recent studies suggest that  the cholesterol in eggs is not quite as lethal as  first thought , most nutritionists  still recommend a limit of 3-4 whole  eggs per week.

2. Eggs and Diabetes–This one really freaked me out. Data from both the prestigious Woman’s Health Study and the Physician’s Health Study suggest that  a diet  high in eggs comes with an increased risk of diabetes.  Other research indicates that  a high egg intake  increases risk of  heart disease  in men and women with diabetes.  SInce I already have diabetes, I don’t want to eat anything that  could  make it worse.

3.  Contaminated eggs– In recent years there have  been several  widespread salmonella  outbreaks   traced to  contaminated eggs. In 2010,   more than 2000 people became ill and 500,000 eggs  had to be recalled.  Formerly found only  in a cracked shell, salmonella  can be    found inside clean, undamaged eggs.  To avoid severe  food poisoning its necessary to cook eggs throughly which means no runny sunny side ups, soft scrambled or  soft  boiled  eggs. 

The list of do’s and don’ts  to prevent food poisoning from eggs  is  long  and includes  watching hands, utensils and work surfaces that came into contact with raw eggs,  throw out eggs if a bit  of shell  falls in,  and don’t taste recipes  with raw eggs before cooking.    Because I don’t want to follow a Hazmat routinue  everytime I cook with eggs, I’m now going to be using pasturized, processed egg whites  when a recipe  calls for  eggs.  Any recipe suggestions?

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What do Kate Middleton, Nicole Kidman and Brad  Pitt have in common? 

 In addition to being  gorgeous, they all have  to deal with eczema.  And they  are hardly alone.  It is estimated that  1 in 10 people  have experienced  eczema  at some point  in their lives.

The red, scaly, dry, itchy  patches of eczema  are due to  an immune system gone wild.  While the exact mechanism is  not  completely clear,  eczema seems to  run in families,  especially where there is a history of allergies and/or asthma. Eczema usually appears on the scalp, neck, inside the elbows and behind the knees.   Once there is a tendancy for eczema,  lifestyle factors can trigger an outbreak or  make it worse.  These triggers include stress, excessive heat and cold, detergents, allergies and perhaps diet.   

Treatment of Eczema

Getting eczema under control  starts with controlling the exessive dryness.  Its important to  avoid  detergent cleansers, exfoliating scrubs and especially fragrances.   Start by  avoiding  hot baths and showers which can increase  both itching and  dryness.   Some  experts recommend limiting all showers while others  prescribe  cool baths followed immediately by industrial strength moisturizers.  The Mayo Clinic warns against daily baths  while the American Academy of Dermatology suggest 3 short cool baths a day followed  by moisturizer.  I suspect that that people have different responses and  you will  need to figure out yourself which  shower approach works best   for  you.

Choose a   super rich, fragrance-free, water-free moisturizer such as Aquaphor.  If  the product    reminds you of Crisco, you’re on the right track.   Put it on, wait until it absorbs then put it on again.   Antihistamines( like Benedryl)  will reduce  the itching  while antibiotic creams ( like Neosporin)  can be used  if scratching  has  caused an infection.  If the redness and flaking persist  steroid creams can be used to bring it under control.    Sometimes a combo of a cortisone and antibiotic cream   works beautifully  to control both inflammation and infection.

Since cortisone  is used for short periods of time and eczema can be  chronic, two newer  anti-inflammatory agents, Elidel and Protopic  are often prescribed for daily care– but not without controversy.  THe FDA  has  put a black box warning on these  medication for possible  cancer risk but  many professional healthcare organizations  disagree with the FDA findings.  It’s  troubling when  doctors don’t agree about  caues and cures, but its  a matter of opinion, not  right and wrong.

There is no one size fits all solution  to keeping eczema under control.  Start  with the simplest options ( eg gentle cleansers, cool showers and rich moisturizers)  and add other treatents as necessary.  You might need to mix and match options including steroid creams, Benedryl, antibiotic creams and different soaps and moisturizers to  find the winning combination.  Treating eczema is a marathon, not a sprint.


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