Monday, November 28, 2011

Lemony White Bean and Kale Soup

I haven’t been posting many recipes lately so I thought I should get one on the blog today. Here is the soup that I made for dinner on Saturday.

Lemony White Bean and Kale Soup
Serves 6 – as an entrée


2 cups dried great northern beans
8 ½ cups water
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced (or substitute ¾ tablespoon dried)
approximately ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (depending on how much heat you want)
1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
no-salt seasoning to taste (I used about ½ tablespoon)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ - ¾ cups whole grain soup pasta (I used ½ cup of pasta)
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 bunch kale, finely shredded (approximately 6 cups shredded)
2 lemons, zested and juiced


Combine the sorted and rinsed dried beans with the water and bay leaves. Pressure cook on high for 25 minutes. Allow the pressure to reduce naturally then add the rosemary, crushed red pepper, red onion, no-salt seasoning and cook until the onion is soft. Now add the pasta and garlic to the soup and cook until the pasta is al dente (mine took 8 minutes). You may need to add more water to the pot before you add the pasta depending on how much evaporated. Turn off the heat and add the kale and stir it into the soup. Add the lemon zest and juice to each serving.


Now that the obligatory recipe is out the way let me fill you in on what we have been up to lately. Friday morning started with a quick trip to Tuesday Morning to pick up a space heater for Dan’s man cave, otherwise known as his third floor home office. We don’t normally venture out on Black Friday but a very similar heater to the one we bought for the boat was on sale for 60% of list price so we had to go pick it up.

While we were there a 5 cup rice cooker happened to jump into the cart on us. I picked it up for the boat to facilitate cooking when we are there. As soon as we got home I made some quinoa in the rice cooker to test it out and all systems were a go. Rice cookers can be used to cook not only rice but quinoa, bulgur, millet, steel cut oats, soup or to steam veggies. Not bad for such a compact appliance I thought.

We ended up having a salad for breakfast. I know that is a bit unorthodox but it is filling and nutrient dense so why not?

After a few other errands (which included new glasses for me which I will show up as soon as I get a picture that I like) we stopped to see Ian and the gang for lunch. Fortunately we had made reservations because there were still people waiting to be seated at 2pm. According to Ian to say lunch was busy was an understatement.

Janine knows us well so she started us a pot of green tea before she asked what we wanted to drink. The only question was hot or cold tea not what beverage. Are we predictable or what? ;-)

We ordered a cup and bowl of black bean and tomato soup which I know from experience is always vegan here, and it was. This is my cup of soup.

We had a big salad for breakfast (yes we do often eat salad for breakfast) so we weren’t terribly hungry after the soup. We asked the guys to make us a salad of mixed greens, fruit (they used grapefruit, orange, granny smith apple and pear), drizzle with balsamic glaze and finish with nuts (they used walnuts). Dan and I split this and we were completely content.

Next we went to the marina to get started winterizing the boat. I was nothing more than moral support during this process. I made us hot tea, took pictures of the beautiful day, made notes in the boat maintenance log and changed the music CDs. Dan knows from experience that I am anti-mechanical so he only lets me hand him tools.

By the time we arrived at home it was late (almost 10pm) and I was ravenous. Since there wasn’t much cooked in the refrigerator I decided to make us salad for dinner. This is my idea of fast food which took me literally less than 5 minutes. This salad included: arugula, baby spinach, cooked quinoa from the frig, salsa, marinated mushrooms, roasted peppers and onions from the frig, avocado and no-salt seasoning. Simple, easy, tasty and ready to eat in mere minutes. These are the sorts of things I make when I am ravenous and don’t have much in the way of intentional leftovers.

Happy Thoughts:

I have had a few people ask me why I include the happy thoughts section on the blog and the reason is very simple. It is too easy to focus on the guy who cut you off in traffic, the rude person in the store, or things that are going wrong. However if we focus on the positive things that happen every day it reminds us that life isn’t all bad. I hope by reading my happy thoughts it reminds you to reflect on what went right in your life.

• The weather this weekend was been nothing short of magnificent. Friday we reached 72 degrees and people were eating outside. Saturday and Sunday it was also over 70 degrees. How often does that happen after Thanksgiving?

• My father is healing nicely and now feels comfortable going up and down steps though I am trying to encourage him not to do that much. But he is a man so I am sure you can imagine what has been happening. ;-)

• We were able to get the first Christmas tree up and lit.  This 9 foot spiral topiary tree is old but I still love it. It still needs to be decorated but since the lights take the longest I feel like we made good progress.

• It took three long days to winterize the sailboat but that is done now. Needless to say we are both relieved to have that crossed off our list. It is always good to have one last thing to worry about.

• While we weren’t able to cross off everything on our to-do list we did knock off the critical items. The remaining items can wait until next weekend or beyond.

Signing out:

After a day on the liquid diet I am looking forward to the end of today. If you have time please keep us in your thoughts tomorrow morning. We both appreciate all the prayers, love, light or anything else positive you believe in. I will be back as soon as I can but probably not before this coming weekend. Talk with you again soon. *fingers crossed*

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is a time of reflection for me. Sure it is the biggest food holiday of the year but it is more about appreciation for your life than it is about the food. This is the perfect time to focus on all the positive things in our lives. Here is what I am thankful for:

• I have the most perfect husband in the world for me. We are happier now after almost 25 years than we were at the beginning of our relationship. My favorite time each week is Friday because I know it will mean three whole days with my baby. This week is even better since I get to spend a super long weekend with my sweetie. Sometimes I think that I am so happy that life must be a dream. I love you baby! You mean more to me than I can express.  How many men would give a cat piggy back rides?  See what I mean about Dan being perfect for me?

• Having great friends is also something that I am grateful for. You know who your real friends are when times are tough and they are there for you. I hope you all know how much your love and support means to both of us. Thank you for being a part of our lives.

(My boys Massimo and Nicco) 

(Luca Belle our only girl and the undisputed alpha cat)

• We are fortunate to have the most wonderful fur children to share our lives with. We both love coming home and being greeted by the “three amigos”. Anyone who thinks cats are standoffish needs to meet my kids. They always greet us at the door to tell us that they missed us. How did we get so lucky to have three wonderful felines?

• I am thankful that I have been more open to change as I have gotten older. Too many of our friends are stuck in the rut they created earlier in life. I am grateful that I was able to listen to and try ideas that didn’t match my prior experience.

• Someone who I have never met but I am grateful for is Dr. Joel Fuhrman. His approach to health through nutrition made so much sense to me when I first read his books. Since then I have become nutrition obsessed and I have him to thank for it. Dr. Fuhrman’s influence has made a huge difference in our health and our lives. If you haven’t read it yet I highly recommend his latest book “Super Immunity”. It is a must read for anyone who wants to live the healthiest life possible.

• Dr. Michael Greger is another person to whom I am very grateful. His nutrition DVDs are research and fact based and very eye opening. It is impossible to watch his videos and not want to eat a better diet.  If you don't have a Dr. Greger's DVD please order one or all of them.  The proceeds go to a great cause (the Human Society) and the information can't be beat.  I also love that Dr. Greger started where he shares nutrition information everyday for free. Dr. Greger is extremely giving and caring person and we all benefit from his research.

• I am also thankful for our team of medical professionals. Dan and I are very fortunate to have a talented and caring group of medical doctors on our team.

• Last but certainly not least I am thankful for everyone who reads my blog and wants to live a healthier life. You guys keep me going.

Just for Fun:

I found this cartoon a few years ago and it still makes me smile. I think it is important to be able to laugh at yourself. Can’t you just imagine many omnivores picturing all vegans doing this? I am sure we are a pain in their behinds. ;-)  But hopefully at some point being around us will make more of them think.  *fingers crossed*

Holiday Long Weekend:

Our long weekend started out with a quick trip to the marina. We got a call from Chris telling us that she had just gotten a call that the boat between us was in distress. This sailboat had broken their furler (the device the sail rolls up on) a few weeks ago during their last sail of the season. They had tied their jib up as best they could but hadn’t had it fixed yet. We had some gusty winds today and it loosened their jib. Since this can be a serious problem and none of us had the emergency number for the marina Dan and I headed downtown since the owners live in Pennsylvania and we are not far away.

It wasn’t long before we had the jib tied back up and were ready to head for home.

Before we left the marina I took the time to snap a quick picture. I never get tired of looking at the lights the lights from the high rise buildings dance on the water.

Signing Out:

We have a long weekend ahead of us. I will be making two Thanksgiving meals this year, one for my parents and one for Dan and me. While the food is cooking I hope to get more cleaning and studying knocked out as well as spend some time making sure my parents don’t need anything. The plan is to start decking the halls for Christmas after dinner. *fingers crossed*

Friday and Saturday we plan to spend a lot of time winterizing the boat and checking in on my parents since my father is still hobbling around. With a little luck we will get back to decorating in the evenings when we aren’t at the boat.

Sunday we will spend some time at the farmers’ market. Depending on how far we have gotten with the decorations there may be a little holiday shopping later in the day. Fortunately I started shopping about 2 months ago. It is nice to know that have a head start on shopping since December is going to be hectic this year.

Hopefully I will be able to find a little time in there to write some short posts for next week. I hope you have a happy and healthy holiday and that you spend a little time relaxing. Talk with you again soon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Carefully Planned Life?....Not So Much!

Those of you who know me well realize that I am a planner. Being spontaneous is and has always been very difficult for me. I like to know what I am doing and when I am doing it. I suppose that is probably why I gravitated toward finance/accounting in my prior life. With this set up you probably know what is coming right? I had everything scheduled out and knew exactly what I was doing the two weeks before surgery. It appears that the universe had other plans for me. *shakes head* Here is what has been going on in my world:


Saturday morning I made us a new smoothie variation which was very well received. I didn’t measure but I am going to tell you what I did and estimate quantities. When things settle down here I will make this and measure so I can share the specifics.

Chocolate, cherry and kale smoothies were on the menu. In the Vitamix I combined: 1 frozen banana (to add creaminess), 1 bunch kale leaves and stems, approx 1 cup frozen cherries, 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds (for omega-3’s and lignans), a small handful of walnuts (for more omega-3’s and to add richness), cinnamon to taste (for antioxidants and to help our bodies process the natural sugar in the fruit), vanilla to taste (for flavor), stevia (for a little sweetness), about 2 tablespoons cocoa powder (for both flavor and antioxidants) add as much water as you need to get the mixture to blend. This turned out really well which is why I wanted to share it now rather than waiting until I had a chance to measure.

Saturday was had a nice relaxing day on the water. Our buddy Ian (yes chef Ian), his wife Carmen, and two of their little ones (Sophia and Simon) joined us for some sailing. We got him at the helm right after we left the dock and he stayed there most of the trip. You can’t learn without doing which is why when someone says they want to learn we immediately get them behind the wheel. We had decent wind on Saturday so it was a good day for Ian to get his feet wet (no not literally wet). When we saw Ian Sunday morning he told us he really enjoyed sailing and is looking forward to learning more. :-)

For dinner Dan and I stopped at Me Kong Delta Café for a quick Vietnamese meal.  We had planned to go out with Ian, Carmen and the kids but their oldest son needed to be picked up earlier than expected so it was just the two of us for dinner. Dan eats Vietnamese often for lunch so this place is also becoming a regular stop for us when we are at the boat and I haven’t brought food. If you are local you should check this place out. According to Phiet (who is from Vietnam) the food is authentic. If you go to the restaurant remember to take cash because they don’t take credit. There is a cash machine at the Fresh and Greens on Charles Street (which is nearby) if you forget.

We started dinner with our favorite the tofu and veggie spring rolls.  I don't think we have come here and not gotten these because they are that deliciou.

Next we ordered the veggie and tofu rice since Dan is in a rut. If I were there he would always order the same dishes.

Since we hadn’t eaten lunch we ordered the lemongrass tofu which we had them make spicy.

We also had hot jasmine tea for dinner.  All this food was just over $28. I think this restaurant is quite the bargain.   If you are local and haven't tried it please do.


Sunday morning we started our day at the farmers’ market where we picked up our 5 reusable grocery bags full of local organic produce. After we stopped at the restaurant to drop off Simon’s jacket to Ian we came home to have breakfast. Before we could get to the boat for some sailing we heard from my parents. My father had fallen over the deck when the railing gave way. Fortunately he didn’t fall far but he did mess up his knee and ankle. While Dan ran to the hardware store so that he could fix the deck I took care of my parents.

We are very lucky that my father didn’t break anything. He isn’t your typical 80 year old man and I am sure that helped in this situation. To give you an idea of what I mean my father is already complaining because he can’t exercise given the fall. My father is 6’4”, weighs about 225 pounds and still lifts weights and does cardio. See what I mean about not your typical 80 year old American male? ;-)

I have also been on caregiver duty Monday and Tuesday this week and this will continue for a while. Fortunately my father is starting to improve but he is still using crutches to get around. In between studying for finals, doing laundry and trying to clean the house I have been checking on my parents every one to two hours. Something tells me that I am not going have time to get the Christmas decorations up this weekend and get the boat winterized. *sigh*

As you can probably tell I am a little busy at the moment. I had planned to write a few posts and schedule them for the time when I will be at the hospital but that isn’t working out as I had intended. I will get in at least one more post to let you know when I will be off line.

Happy Thoughts:

• We are all grateful that my father’s fall didn’t result in any broken bones. However I want to point out that I think the reason for that is his exercise routine. I am sure his bones are much stronger than most 80 year olds because of all the weight bearing exercise he does. That is definitely something that I think all of us should try to keep in mind as we age.

• Spending time sailing with Ian on Saturday was a blast. Ian is quite funny and we definitely enjoyed ourselves. Both Dan and I are thrilled that Ian wants to learn how to sail. We had asked him about doing the Annapolis to Bermuda race he was interested then and appears to be more interested now that he has been sailing. :-)

• Studying for my final nutrition test is going well. I have been fitting it in between checking on my parents and trying to get things done at my place. I am definitely looking forward to taking a break from studying over the holidays. However since I love to learn I am already looking for a new program. You aren’t surprised by this are you?

• I am happy that I took the time to start my holiday shopping over a month ago. Knowing that I am going into the holiday season with some of my shopping finished reduces my anxiety particularly since I know that decorating will get a late start.

• It is nice to see holiday decorations going up around town. I took this shot as we were heading north on Charles Street. I love Christmas and particularly the decorations. :-)

• Today I bought tickets to see Jeff Kashiwa, Steve Cole and Kim Walters (The Sax Pack) in March. We both loved Jeff Kashiwa when we saw him play with The Rippington’s last year so we are looking forward to the concert.

• I am also thankful that Dan isn’t working Thursday or Friday this week. I love long weekends and am very much looking forward to more time with my hubby even if it means spending time taking care of my parents and winterizing the boat. With a little luck we will get started decking the halls too. *finger crossed* However even if the tree doesn’t get put up we will be listening to some holiday music because that always puts me in a festive mood.

Signing out:

It was another long day at my house. I am definitely in need of a little relaxation this evening. Unless something comes up I am will listening to jazz, sipping hot green tea and have a “snacky” sort of dinner (probably hummus veggies and salad) and relax.

I hope you are enjoying your short holiday week. Have a wonderful, happy, and healthy Thanksgiving if we don’t get a chance to chat between now and then. Talk with you again soon. :-)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fast Food My Way

Recently I have been swamped at home as I recently told you.  When this happens cooking takes a back seat. However, even when I don’t have much time to cook that doesn’t mean that we will be eating unhealthy food.  I thought you  might want to know what sort of things we have been eating for ideas.  Here are some of the things I have been making at home:

Lots of this: hummus topped with paprika (sometimes with pine nuts sometimes without) and raw veggie dippers.

This hummus and veggie platter also has my roasted red pepper and onion salad with smoked paprika on top of arugula. There was also balsamic and lemon dressed roasted mushrooms.

Dan enjoyed this quinoa salad. I cooked the quinoa with orange zest and cinnamon. I dressed the cooked quinoa with pieces of fresh onion, dried cranberries and raw sunflower seeds.

There was also roasted miso and mirin glazed acorn squash.

I made a green bean dish inspired by things we have had a Jaleo. This one included green beans, apples, Brussels sprouts, almonds grapes, lemon juice and smoked paprika.

Curried split pea soup is good for cold nights.

Roasted yellow cauliflower and white bean soup topped with lemon dressed arugula and almonds.

One of Dan’s favorite meals, my spinach lasagna.

Black bean soup topped with lemon dressed arugula and sliced almonds.

Soba noodle soup with a mushroom broth topped with chopped baby tatsoi.

Okara pate I made with okara (leftovers from making soy milk that I keep in the freezer), tahini, garlic, lemon juice and hot pickled peppers). We like to eat things like this with veggies.

Broccoli with a pesto made from basil (also from the freezer), raw garlic, nutritional yeast and whole pine nuts for texture.

Mexican spiced bean and barley soup.

Marinated kale salad which I made with julienned kale. I marinated the kale in lemon juice and add the lemon zest. To this I added shredded carrot and sliced grapes. Even Dan commented that this was really good. As you can see it was also very simple. Love that!

As you can see fast food doesn’t have to be unhealthy or boring. Most of these came together quickly because either: I used the pressure cooker, or they did most of the cooking unattended. I hope these pictures inspire you to make more quick healthy food.

What Does it Take to Change Our Collective Health?

This question is what drives me to read, research and continue to write about nutrition and health. My husband and I started eating a vegan diet as a way to regain health. This early dietary change led to a healthy whole food plant-based diet, then to a vegan lifestyle not just diet. I sincerely hope that reading about what two not so young Americans do in their daily life will lead others to think about their lifestyle and changes that they can also make to improve their health as well.

As I have mentioned before all of our friends are omnivores. Dan and I are the lone vegans in our circle of friends which is probably because we have known most of our friends long before the cancer caused us to wake up and make some changes. When I think back now to the warning signs that we ignored I am sad that we didn’t make serious changes sooner. The warning signs were things like: elevated blood pressure, high cholesterol, weight gain, being easily winded doing little activity, difficulty waking up in the morning (requiring espresso to get moving in the morning), seasonal allergies requiring medication for months at a time, sinus infections, frequently catching colds, and just generally feeling lousy. Something tells me there are at least a few of you who can relate to this. ;-) Here is the crazy part of this journey. We changed our diet and lifestyle because of the cancer but all the other problems disappeared. If anyone had told me in my twenties that I would feel better when I was approaching 50 than I did then I would have thought they were insane. However I can honestly say that I feel better now than I have in at least 20 years and probably longer.

Now the only problem is how can I share this with other people in a way that will inspire them to try to make some changes too? This is the $64,000 question that I struggle with as I think about what to write. I very much want others to realize what a huge difference a healthy diet and exercise make in terms of overall health. About 8 years ago I read the book “How to Prevent and Treat Cancer with Natural Medicine”. At the time I thought the authors were crazy to suggest that we should be eating minimum of 10 produce servings per day to prevent caner. Now we eat closer to 20 servings with no difficulty. When you compare this to the average American diet which contains 3 servings and half of those are potatoes you can easily imagine why our collective health is so lousy in this country.

Now I have a question for you. What type of information do you think would get people’s attention? What can we share with them that may have them consider making some serious dietary and lifestyle changes? Was there one thing that caused you to make changes? Please share so that we can all learn from each other.

Happy Thoughts:

What a busy week I have had yet again. I never seem to get as much accomplished as I expect. However I have made progress and that is good thing. Here are my happy thoughts today:

• We had a wonderful dinner on Wednesday for our architect friend Phil (he is the one from Missouri), Walid and his wife Jackie. Life is too short not to spend time with friends. Ian had a nice fall vegetable ragout for us over haricot vert which we both enjoyed. I even joined Phil in an adult beverage while he and I waited for Dan, Walid and Jackie to arrive. See I do sometimes indulge, it just isn’t often. ;-)

• My girl Jackie came through for me on the glasses. That was a huge relief to have glasses again. While I was there she showed me some super cute frames that she liked and I had to agree with her they were fantastic. She was kind enough to bring the frames with her to the restaurant and fitted them for me after dinner. I can’t wait for them to come in next week. I am such a big kid. LOL

• While I was out shopping this week I found a bracelet that matches a pendant and earrings Dan bought me last year for Christmas. Score! This made me very happy. I love anything Italian and this is Venetian glass wrapped in silver. *happy dance* ;-)  Anything from Venice makes me happy since that is where we started our honeymoon.  Are you starting to notice how often Italy finds it way into my life?  It really is a magical place. 

• Studying has been going well and I feel good about being ready for my final nutrition exam. It will be very nice to have that behind me. I am looking forward to relaxing over the holidays.

• Today I had lunch with Dan and Tamera from his office. It is always nice to meet the people who he works with. Tamera and I are a similar age I believe. It was great that she is interested in healthy eating so it gave us something to talk about right away. You know where we went right? Dan had black bean soup and we shared the roasted hummus and veggie wrap that Ian makes for us. Yes we are spoiled, I know that. I wish all you had an Ian of your own. He is a life saver for us and we love him for it.

• Tomorrow we are spending the afternoon with Ian, his wife Carmen and kids. It will be nice to have time to chat with Ian while he isn’t distracted by what is happening around him at the restaurant. Ian is quite the perfectionist which means that he is always watching what is going on. That perfectionist streak is what makes him so good at what he does.

Signing out:

It is time for me to get back to studying and to get dinner started. I hope you have some fun things planned for your weekend. In addition to hanging out with Ian we will be sailing and working on the boat (to get her prepared for the winter), going to the farmers’ market, and just generally relaxing.  Enjoy your weekend whatever you are up to.  :-)

Talk with you again soon. Happy weekend everyone!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sometimes Life Gets Completely Out of Control

My life has been a whirlwind lately. Every time I sit down to write a post something else comes up that requires immediate attention. With the holidays approaching I can only imagine what will come up next. *rolls eyes* Does your life ever spin out of control? Mine seems to be doing it a lot lately. However there has been some “fun stuff” in my life lately.

There have been as many days and evenings on the boat as we could manage. Here a few pictures from those times to give you a better feeling of the marina.

It is so relaxing at the boat I am sure you are starting to see why we go as often as we can.

Sunday we started the day the usual way at our local farmers’ market. Like always we can home with a small mountain of produce. Today’s haul included: Brussels sprouts, tatsoi, arugula, lacinato kale, delicata squash, mushrooms, bok choy, green onions, celery, and hummus (buffalo wing, mango curry, cinnamon raisin, and pizza). Like always we stopped to chat with our favorite farmers and catch up on what is going on with them. Feel better soon Pam, we missed you! Six reusable grocery bags full and it was time for us to head for home.

We were in a hurry to rush to the boat so we had a little reduced-fat peanut butter on whole grain toast and a salad. Odd I know but I really felt like I needed greens. The salad included: arugula, tomato, bell peppers and avocado. I added a little wine vinegar and no-salt seasoning for flavor.

After some work on the boat we had a simple meal of whole wheat pasta dressed with tomato sauce that was seasoned with dried criminis, fennel seeds, hot pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, garlic, red onion and no-salt seasoning. The pasta was finished with raw arugula (because arugula is in the cruciferous family meaning it is more nutritious raw or lightly cooked) and a sprinkle of nutritional yeast.

Dinner came from Jesse Wong’s in Hunt Valley because both Dan and I were missing the faux duck dish. We started with veggie sushi (asparagus, avocado and sweet potato).

Then we shared the green beans and shitake mushrooms in spicy sauce.

We also order the faux duck to nibble on expecting most of it to end up in Dan’s lunch on Monday since I haven’t been home to cook. With a few cups of broccoli added to the faux duck leftovers Dan had lunch today.

After dinner we stopped at Wegman’s for some staples (organic dried beans, organic raw nuts and organic whole wheat pasta). While we were there I picked up some organic cat food for the fur children to mix into their existing stash. My little ones like it when we mix a number of different cat foods together. No spoiled cats here. ;-)

While we were in the organic bulk section Dan spotted this bag of cashews flavored with pomegranate. Darn are these things good and only 6 grams of sugar. You know I will be figuring out how to make this myself right? They include a couple of ingredients that I would prefer him not to eat so I will make my own version.

A Women’s Journey – Baltimore:

This past weekend I attended the annual women’s health conference put on by Johns Hopkins called “A Women’s Journey”. There were many sessions to choose from but I ended up selecting: Probiotics, Inflammation and Antioxidants, 10 Ways to Reduce Your Cancer Risk, and Staying Healthy in a Toxic Environment. I learned a few things so I wanted to share those with you now before too much time passed.

In the Probiotic session I learned that there are over 1,000 species and 7,000 strains of bacteria in our guts. Wow! I knew there were a lot of them but that was far more than I expected. Additionally many of these cannot be cultured so that when they are killed by antibiotics you aren’t going to add them back to your gut with a supplement. When we are born our GI systems are sterile but the gut is quickly populated with good bacteria by mother’s milk. Your gut bacteria are affected by: your diet, when you take antibiotics, intestinal infections and colonoscopy preparations. The gut bacteria help your immune system develop. They also prevent harmful organism from adhering to your intestine.

In most cases probiotics are not necessary. However if you are taking an antibiotic the doctor recommended that you use a probiotic concurrently and take it for 30 days than stop. She also explained that she would only use probiotics that have been tested in clinical trials because they are the only ones that have been “tested”. The brands she recommended were: Align and Culturelle.

For those of you that are thinking just eat yogurt or kefir the doctor addressed that as well. Studies have shown that eating fermented milk products everyday for a week did not substantially change the gut flora. This is probably due to the fact that they contain one or two strains typically. The doctor started the lecture pointing out $35 million dollar class action lawsuit that Dannon settled due to false advertising. Can you tell she wasn’t pushing the consumption of yogurt?

Her take away message was that it was more important to eat a healthy diet (whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and little meat). These healthy foods are the prebiotics which feed the probiotics. Inulin and fructo-oligosaccahrides are prebiotics and are found in things like: wheat, onion, artichokes, bananas, garlic and onions.

The Inflammation and Antioxidant session was also an interesting session. The MD that taught this session specialized in geriatric medicine so his focus was on inflammation and aging. He explained that chronic disease, altered body composition (less muscle more fat) and free radicals typically go in the wrong direction when we age. When we are younger estrogen, testosterone and DHEA protect us. However as we age and those substances decline we develop more inflammation. The doctor also mentioned the shortening telomeres as one of the triggers for inflammation. I have mentioned this previously but it is worth repeating that as little as 10 minutes of moderate exercise stops your telomeres from shortening. The doctor further explained that things like CRP, IL-6, IGF-1, DHEA-8 and Cortisol all activate inflammation. Did you notice the IGF-1? You remember that I have mentioned that many times before right?  Here is a link so you can refresh your memory.

The doctor also mentioned a study that showed that people with the lowest levels of selenium had the greatest risk of death. Are you eating one or two Brazil nuts every day? I hope so!

About half of the lecture was spent talking about supplements and that at best case many of them do nothing and at the worst they are linked to earlier death from all causes! Yes I said death. This was shown for beta-carotene, vitamin A and E in 2007 study published in JAMA. In another study taking vitamin C and D taken after a breast cancer diagnosis was associated with less mortality (i.e. more death). In another study taking vitamin E was associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. This wasn’t news to me but if it is to you please do a little research on your own to confirm it.

The doctor pointed out that we all need vitamins and phytochemicals but that we should get them from food. Where do they come from? Guess where….whole unprocessed plant food of course.

In terms of reducing your overall inflammation you may be wondering what you can do to impact that. The doctor recommended routine exercise every other day. Exercise itself causes inflammation which is necessary to build muscle. However on your rest day the inflammation turns off. This “planned” inflammation (exercise) will lower the chronic low level of inflammation that is damaging. Additionally the doctor also recommended a healthy diet (lots of whole plant based food) and regular use of baby aspirin once you have had that cleared by your doctor.

The third session was on the 10 ways to reduce your cancer risk. The doctor started by discussing the statistics regarding cancer. For those of you who don’t know it is now accepted half of all men and one third of all women will develop cancer during their lifetime. No that is not a misprint the statistics are actually that bad. The good news is the only 10-20% of cancer is genetic. We can control many of the other things that are associated with an increase in cancer.

The causes of cancer, in order of magnitude are:

1. Tobacco
2. Being overweight
3. Infections
4. Diet
5. Physical Inactivity (Exercise)
6. Medication
7. Family History
8. Reproductive factors
9. Alcohol consumption
10. Environment
11. Sun and radiation

The oncologist did point out that even losing a little weight makes a difference no matter when you do it. Also in terms of diet she mentioned reducing/avoiding charred meat due to the HCA (heterocyclic amines), reducing saturated fat, and eating more fruits and veg and less meat overall. There is definitely a pattern developing here.

She (the oncologist) also pointed out that while genetics may put you at a higher risk for cancer they don’t mean that you will get it. They only mean that you have a predisposition for it. However you can make healthy lifestyle choices and reduce to your risk.

One statistic that she pointed out (from the NCI) was that 50-75% of cancer deaths are related to personal behaviors and/or habits. That is a shockingly high number to me. While it is scary it should also give us all hope. If that make cancers are caused by our choices they can also be prevented by making different choices.

The take away from this lecture is that the following activities will reduce our cancer risk:

1. Stop using tobacco
2. Maintain a reasonable weight (all weight loss is good unless you are underweight)
3. Increase physical activity (even moderate exercise if beneficial)
4. Eat 5-9 fruits and vegetable per day (err on the high side)
5. Increase your intake of fiber and reduce your consumption of saturated fat
6. Limit your alcohol consumption
7. Limit your exposure to the sun
8. Get immunized (HPV and Hepatitis B)
9. Avoid risky behaviors (unprotected sex and intravenous drug use)
10. Treat precursor lesions (example Tamoxifen)

Once again the take home message was to make healthy lifestyle changes. You are starting to see the pattern right? ;-)

The final session was on staying healthy in an unhealthy environment. As I expected there was a lot of talk about chemical and the impact they have on our health. However I didn’t realize there would be such a focus on CAFO’s and commercially produced animal products. The PhD in Pharmacology who taught this session was part of the Pew Commission that studied the impact of industrial food production which he said is available on the web.

As someone who reads and watches everything about health and nutrition I was not surprised by much of the lecture. However there were a few statistics that I wanted to share with you because I thought they were so telling. First, 97% of all animal food comes from commercial mass produced operations. Yes that does mean only 3% of animal foods are probably fit for human consumption if someone in your family is eating meat. Also, 80% of all antibiotics used in the US go for livestock and 90%of those are not used to treat infections. I have read before that antibiotics are used in animal feeding operations to get them to grow faster. The problem with this is that these practices result in a dramatic increase in MRSA (serious antibiotic resistance). You may want to know that 325,000 people are hospitalized annually due to food borne illness and that on average 5,000 of them will die. Additionally food pathogens cause an average $14 billion in medical costs and lost wages per year. Poultry tainted with campylobacter caused 600,000 illness/year and 7,000 hospitalizations. Did you know that US farmers can’t sell farmed fish from the US in Europe because we don’t meet their standards? I gave up eating tilapia years ago after interviewing for the CFO position at an aquaculture farm and this was long before I went vegan in case you wondering. The take home message is that conventionally raised animal foods are not healthy for humans. According the doctor, “eat locally when possible and if you chose to eat animal protein make it pastured and sustainably raised.”

Did you happen to pick up the overall thread from the day? Every single session came back to lifestyle choices. All the doctors felt that the best thing you could do for yourself was to be aware of your habits so that you could make informed choices.

Overall the conference was good and it was nice to see so many women getting together to improve their health and the health of their families. Mary and I chatted during lunch and she came down for the second time from New Jersey for this conference. Many people were there for CEUs I am sure. However there were a lot of people there like me (and Mary) for their edification only. If you are local or close to local you should consider attending next year. If nothing else is a nice gathering of people (99% women) who are concerned about their health. I find the energy at this conference very uplifting.

Other Stuff:

Recently I attended a day and half conference put on by the Institute of Medicine on the topic of Cancer, Obesity and Physical Activity. It was a good conference but there was a lot of information that came out. I have 30 pages of notes to go through and summarize for you soon. There were some very interesting “tid-bits” that I picked up that even impressed the MD I was discussing it with last week. The conference was for medical doctors but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I know… I am not right. ;-) However as my friend Louis says often but I am harmless to others. Thanks for the good line Louis. Hugs!

In addition to the conferences I have been attending I have almost finished up my most recent nutrition certification. I am sure most of you are going, “huh, what is she talking about?” No you didn’t miss anything I hadn’t mentioned it until today. However I will be finished by early December and once I am I will tell you all about it. This is what prompted me to start thinking about a part-time career in nutrition/health. I have been busy working to finish up school and start a business. There will be a lot of fun stuff coming. I hope to have my website finished and my first newsletter out next month. Additionally I am also working on my first teleseminar which will be free. My goal is to be a resource for anyone that wants to improve their health of the health of their family. As I do here I am going to focus on providing a lot information for anyone who wants it.

I am also taking a 6-week “online seminar” led by Dr. Joel Fuhrman covering his book “Super Immunity”. For those of you who keep asking me to write a book I highly recommend this one. It is very similar to the book I would write. This post is getting long so I will review the book later in a separate post. However what I love about this book is that it focuses on what you can do to be healthier independent of weight loss. Great book!

Finally we have been busy preparing for an upcoming surgery at the end of the month. There has been a lot of preoperative appointments and testing to get ready for the big event. Even though I worked in hospitals for nearly 2 decades the idea of surgery is still scary. However the surgery will take place at Johns Hopkins and the surgeon is one of the best, if not the best, in the world at what he does. We couldn’t ask for more capable hands to be in. As you may have guessed this will keep me off line for a while but it is my intention to let you know before the surgery and ask you to send positive thoughts our way. Additionally I plan to let you know once everything is good. Please don’t expect a long post for either of those. I may end up putting on this Facebook only but I will try to get it up on the blog too.

Happy thoughts:

I know it has been a while so I will try to keep this short. However it is a wonderful problem to have that there is too much to mention. :-)

• While life has been crazy busy it has also been wonderful. Everything has been going very well and for that I am extremely grateful.

• I loved the conference at IOM and learned more about the impact of lifestyle and cancer. It is wonderful to have the time in my life to learn these things so that I can pass them on to all of you. If I can help just one person avoid cancer I will feel like a made a difference in the world.

• I am very grateful to live near one of the best hospitals in the country. Since Johns Hopkins is a few miles away I think most of the locals take it for granted. However when you have an uncommon problem to deal with you can’t ask for a better resource. Here is one very exciting piece of news. The surgeon actually commended us on our diet. Yes you read that right, the surgeon was onboard with our vegan diet and had no problem allowing food from home to be brought into the hospital. Love that! It makes me feel like the medical profession is beginning to move in a more holistic direction. Better late than never I say. :-)

• Both Dan and I are thankful to have our friend Louis. He has taken the day off and will be here for the big day. Louis you are best! Thank you so much for always being there. I hope you know how much you mean to both of us.

• We are also thankful for a great group of friends. Thank you to all of you that have offered to help out during this hectic time. We are very lucky to have you all be a part of our lives.

• I am also very thankful for all of you who have sent me email, texts or called to make sure that I am okay. I didn’t mean to worry anyone by not blogging. However it was wonderful hear from so many of you. You guys are the best! In all seriousness you really know how to make a girl feel appreciated. Thank you for your concern. I was very touched by the outpouring of concern.

• The boat is really starting to shape up. It definitely feels more like ours now. I have been busy personalizing it. Meanwhile Dan has been tracing waterlines and wires to get a better feel for the details. I am very fortunate to have such a brilliant, hard working and mechanical husband. I love you baby!

• It is fantastic to have school be coming to an end for now. It has been a long year. It didn’t help to have the new boat and now the surgery and school. However I have managed fine most of the time. Sorry that the blog suffered. But on the bright side that is mostly behind us now. Once school and surgery are over I will be back and soon in more than one place.

Signing Out:

Monday is another crazy day for me. I broke my glasses on Friday while we were at Hopkins. Thankfully I have prescription sunglasses but those will look a little silly inside so I need to get the ball rolling on a new pair today so I have them before surgery. It is always something isn’t it? On the bright side we get our glasses from Walid’s wife Jackie so I know she will do everything possible to them to me quickly.

In addition for studying for my final I also need to seriously clean the house in preparation for Thanksgiving. For those of you who haven’t been reading long I go overboard with Christmas decorations and it is a family tradition to turn on Christmas music after Thanksgiving dinner has been cleaned up. We begin decorating for Christmas late Thanksgiving night. This year it is more important that I pick up the pace so that everything is done before surgery.

As you can see the next two weeks are busy for me but I will do my best to talk with you again soon. For those you who are waiting for email responses I am very sorry about that. I hope to clean up my email in the next few weeks. Also I will get back to the fat series and book club blog as soon as I can. Life has gotten away from me lately as you can probably tell.

I hope you all have a wonderful Monday and a great week. Happy Monday everyone!
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