Bees have trouble foraging when air pollution rises.

Bees have a laundry list of problems going against them these days. Among them is air pollution, and a new study shows just how air pollution is affecting bees’ ability to find food. By studying how changes in air chemistry affect foraging patterns of bees, researchers from Penn State illustrate that a rise in air pollution is a serious problem for pollinators.

According to PhysOrg:

Air pollutants interact with and break down plant-emitted scent molecules, which insect pollinators use to locate needed food, according to a team of researchers led by Penn State. The pollution-modified plant odors can confuse bees and, as a result, bees’ foraging time increases and pollination efficiency decreases. This happens because the chemical interactions decrease both the scent molecules’ life spans and the distances they travel.
The real kicker is that the breakdown process actually creates even more air pollutants which speeds up the breakdown.

Without bees able to find food and thus pollinate plants, not only do bee populations decline but so do many species of plants that rely on their pollination, including crops that humans rely on for food. Decreasing air pollution isn’t only for the best interest of pollinators and plants, but for our own survival as well.

Easy vegetable lasagna

PREP TIME
15 minutes
TOTAL TIME
1 hour
YIELD
6-8 servings
EQUIPMENT
Lasagna pan Foil Cutting board and knife Mixing bowl Large saute pan
INGREDIENTS
1 box no-boil lasagna noodles
1.25 cup Ricotta cheese
.5 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium eggplant, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced
1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella
COOKING DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large sauce pan over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the onions and garlic. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until the onions become translucent.
Add the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook for 3-4 minutes more until the vegetables just begin to soften.
Add the marinara sauce and stir to combine. Let the mixture come to a simmer, then remove from heat.
In a mixing bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan and eggs. Stir until creamy and completely mixed together.
Place a little of the vegetable mixture on the bottom of a lasagna pan. Place a layer of no-boil noodles. Dollop about 1/3 of the cheese mixture on the noodles and spread it evenly. Sprinkle about 1/3 of the mozzarella over the cheese mixture. Spoon another layer of the vegetable mixture over the cheeses, add a layer of noodles, a layer of cheese spread, and a layer of mozzarella.
Repeat this once more and you’ve reached the top of the pan, ending with a sprinkle of mozzarella.
Cover the lasagna loosely with foil. Place the lasagna pan on the center rack of the oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown.
Remove the lasagna and allow to cool in the pan for about 5-10 minutes.
Serve and enjoy!

credit: Jaymi Heimbach

Lentil meatball with lemon-pecan pesto sauce

PREP TIME
20 minutes
TOTAL TIME
40 minutes
YIELD
4-6 servings (about 25 meatballs)
EQUIPMENT
Soup pot Cutting board Kitchen knife Mixing bowls Measuring cups and spoons Food processor or blender Baking sheet Parchment paper
INGREDIENTS
1 cup red lentils
2 cups water
2 eggs
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup light ricotta cheese
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2-3 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2/3 cup panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pecans
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup packed basil leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
COOKING DIRECTIONS
In a soup pot, combine the lentils and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender and have absorbed all the water. Slightly mash the lentils with a fork until they are a chunky texture. Set them aside to cool.
In a food processor, combine the pecans, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt. Blend until fairly smooth. Add in the basil leaves, olive oil and 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese. Blend until smooth, adding in a little more olive oil if needed to get a sauce-like consistency.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooled lentils, eggs, olive oil, ricotta cheese, fennel seeds, parsley, thyme leaves, red pepper flakes, paprika, salt and pepper. Stir to thoroughly combine. Add in the bread crumbs, and stir until combined.
Take a spoonful of the mixture and roll a 1-inch round ball in your hands. The mix should be quite moist but hold together well. If it doesn’t hold together or is runny, add in a few more bread crumbs (only a little at a time) until the mixture holds together but is still very moist.
Place the 1-inch balls onto a baking sheet, spaced a little distance apart so they aren’t touching. Place the sheet on the center rack of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, rotate the lentil balls, then bake 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven.
Plate the lentil meatballs with the pesto sauce drizzled over the top, and a little extra lemon zest as garnish. Serve and enjoy!
As an alternative preparation idea, you can keep the Parmesan cheese out of the mixture, and instead spread the cheese on a plate or tray. After rolling the lentil mixture into balls, roll the balls over the grated cheese to create a crust. Bake for 20 minutes, rotating the lentil balls every 5 minutes to make sure the cheesy crust is evenly browned and crispy.

Credit: Jaymi Heimbuch

 

7 diet gurus who died of poor health

We commonly hear stories of people whose health defies the odds: the chain-smoking grannies who live to 100, the skinny dudes who pack away unreasonable amounts of calories without gaining an ounce. But often it’s the reverse that prevails; the physically virtuous who drop dead way before their time. And it’s never more surprising than when such a fate befalls the very people have become famous for espousing good health.

With a life expectancy in the United States for males at 76.3 years and 81.1 years for females (according to the CDC), it’s confounding to discover so many diet gurus who have succumbed years ahead of the national average. And this isn’t to suggest that their practices and philosophies contributed to their deaths in any way — who’s to say where nature tramples nurture, so to speak – but the irony is hard to deny. We don’t suggest throwing in the towel on healthy eating based on the unfortunate deaths of the diet gurus listed here, but it does provide some food for thought.

1. James Fixx
The author of the 1977 runaway bestseller, “The Complete Book of Running,” Fixx is often credited with starting the American running craze. Fixx ran 10 miles a day in addition to other vigorous exercise, and was described as being in fine physical condition by friends — yet he had a fatal heart attack at the age of 52 while jogging near his home in Vermont. Although he showed no symptoms, autopsy results revealed that his left circumflex coronary artery was almost totally blocked. About 80 percent of the blood flow in his right coronary artery was blocked and half of the left anterior descending was blocked in places. Although he had a family history of heart disease, his problems had gone undiagnosed by a physician.

2. Michel Montignac
The famous French doctor originally developed the Montignac diet to help himself lose weight. The diet went on to become the backbone of his best-selling books and a chain of restaurants and stores promoting his nutritional regimen. His research focused on the glycemic index and the distinction between good and bad carbohydrates. (For example, whole grains are good; refined flour is bad.) His 1987 book, “Eat Yourself Slim,” sold 17 million copies in several countries, and his work and theories were the inspiration behind the South Beach Diet. Montignac died of prostate cancer at the age of 66.

3. Nathan Pritikin
Perhaps the granddaddy of all diet gurus, few names are as associated with the health revolution as Nathan Pritikin. The inventor with a passion for nutrition and fitness was one of the first to promote the connection between diet and heart disease, which in the 1970s was a surprisingly novel idea. His bestselling books, which promoted a low-fat diet, his media appearances and namesake longevity centers have been responsible for guiding many followers into good health. And although his diet and exercise regimens brought him into excellent cardiovascular health, they were not enough to combat the leukemia that ravaged his body; Pritikin committed suicide in his hospital bed at the age of 69.

4. Paavo Airola

The European born and based Airola was a nutritionist and naturopathic doctor with a background in biochemistry and natural healing. Airola promoted natural healing through a diet of nutritious, whole foods and holistic medicine. He lectured extensively across the globe and spent time as a visiting lecturer at prestigious universities including Stanford University Medical School. Airola served as president of the International Academy of Biological Medicine, and authored 14 books, two of which became international bestsellers. The American Academy of Public Affairs went as far as to issue Airola the Award of Merit for his book on arthritis. This brilliant man was felled by a stroke at the age of 64.

5. Robert Atkins
Creator of one of the world’s most famous diets, the Atkins Nutritional Approach, aka the Atkins Diet, Robert Atkins basically gave the okay for bacon lovers to pig out on all things protein, condemning carbohydrates to the hall of dietary shame. Dieters swore by the program and vegetarians shuddered. Meanwhile, Atkins himself was revealed after his death to have had a “history of serious heart problems including myocardial infarction (a heart attack), congestive heart failure and hypertension,” which has been suggested by some to lead to his death, caused by a fall on the ice. He died at the age of 72.

6. Robert E. Kowalski

The author of The New York Times best-selling book (which was on the list for a remarkable 115 weeks) “The NEW 8-Week Cholesterol Cure” as well as “The 8-Week Cholesterol Cure Cookbook,” “Cholesterol & Children,” “8 Steps to a Healthy Heart,” “The Type II Diabetes Diet Book” and “The Blood Pressure Cure: 8 Weeks to Lower Blood Pressure Without Prescription Drugs” died at the age of 65 from a pulmonary embolism.

7. Adelle Davis

Born in 1904, Adelle Davis, was one of the country’s best-known early nutritionists and contended that almost any disease could be prevented by proper diet. The visionary author penned four best-selling books: “Let’s Cook It Right,” “Let’s Have Healthy Children,” “Let’s Get Well” and “Let’s Eat Right To Keep Fit.” Although she received criticism for some of her more far-out ideas, her enthusiasm for health food led her to become an early advocate for the need to exercise, the dangers of vitamin deficiencies as well as the need to avoid hydrogenated fat, saturated fat and excess sugar consumption — all of which remain standard guidelines today.

Davis succumbed to cancer at the age of 70. While some consider her death premature based on the current national average, others say she lived a relatively long life for a woman born in 1904. She had maintained that cancer was a result of the inadequacies of the American diet, and upon discovering her illness, expressed hope that her diagnosis would not disappoint the many people who took her good advice to heart.

credit:Melissa Breyer

Subway eliminated yoga mat chemical but many others still use it

The Environmental Working Group’s food database turns up nearly 500 supermarket foods that contain azodicarbonamide, a chemical found in yoga mats and rubber soles of shoes.
Earlier this month, Subway announced it was removing azodicarbonamide, a chemical that bleaches flour and conditions dough, from its bread products. The chemical isn’t used only in food products; it can also be found in yoga mats and rubber soles. It’s banned in many other countries because it can cause respiratory problems.

Subway isn’t the only food chain that used the chemical in its bread products. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Arby’s and Starbucks all have some foods that contain it, and it looks like many of those companies are working to eliminate it now.

Today, the Environmental Working Group released a list of nearly 500 products that contain azodicarbonamide. These products don’t come from fast-food chains. They come from the grocery store shelves.

I won’t post the entire list here. You can head to the EWG site for that. But, it’s a good list to look at and familiarize yourself with if you’re concerned about eliminating azodicarbonamide from your diet. Several brands of hot dogs and hamburger buns come up on the list. Since there are a few signs of spring finally happening and we all think about firing up our grills, which brands contain the chemical might be something you want to know.

Azodicarbonamide “is not known to be toxic to people in the concentration approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration,” but workers who are around large volumes of it have “reported respiratory symptoms and skin sensitization.” The chemical has not been extensively tested for any harmful health results.

There are big names on the list like Pillsbury, Sara Lee and Wonder, although it’s only a few of their products that contain the chemical. Shoprite, the grocery store that’s closest to me, has it 24 of their products.

Credit: Robin Shreeves

Are carbohydrates good or bad?

Carbohydrates spark a lot of animosity and a lot of love. On one hand, they’ve been vilified by people who follow certain diets, but nutritionists are quick to tout their virtues.

So are these macronutrients good or evil? The not-so-simple answer is that they’re both.

Carbohydrates are found in a wide variety of healthy and unhealthy foods. They’re in beans, milk and potatoes as well as cookies, cakes and pies. Some are simple, and some are complex. And new research says they may be one of the reasons humans are so smart.

But let’s back up a little bit.

Types of carbohydrates

There are three common types of carbs: sugar, starch and fiber. Here’s a basic breakdown of what those are.

Sugar: Sugar is found naturally in some foods, including fruits, vegetables, milk and dairy products. It’s also added to some foods during processing like cookies or canned foods that are packed in heavy syrup. In the U.S., the average American consumes 126 grams (about 30 teaspoons!) of sugar every day. The World Health Organization recommends less than half of that, or 50 grams of sugar max per day.

Starch: Starch occurs naturally in some vegetables like potatoes and corn. It’s also in dried beans and peas, such as pinto beans, kidney beans and split peas. Many grain products are also high in starch.

Fiber: Fiber is found only in plant foods. It’s in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grain pastas, cereals and breads, and cooked dry beans and peas.

Simple or complex?

Carbohydrate are classified as either simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates have only one or two sugars. Simple carbs are used quickly and easily by the body for energy because of their simple chemical structure. That may seem like good news if you’re dragging and need a burst of energy, but it’s usually bad because it can lead to a spike in blood sugar followed by a quick plummet. Soda, white bread, candy and pastries have simple carbs. Although the sugars in fruits and vegetables are simple, the fiber they contain makes them more complex.

Complex carbs are more complicated, as the name implies. With three or more sugars linked together, they have more complex chemical structures. They take longer to digest and have less of an immediate impact on blood sugar, causing it to rise at a slower pace. Because they take longer to break down, complex carbs provide you with even more longer-lasting energy. Complex carbs include whole-grain breads and cereals, and starchy vegetables such as beans and peas.

Typically, complex carbs are considered healthy or “good,” while simple carbs are the unhealthy or “bad” choices.

How many carbs do you need?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults should get 45 percent to 65 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrates. The guidelines recommend 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. (The average American gets only about 15 grams of fiber every day.)

Fibers are the carbs with the most-touted health benefits. They contribute to digestive health, keep you regular, and make you feel full longer. Some evidence also suggests that dietary fiber may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

array of colorful high-fiber vegetablesIn general, the darker the veggie, the higher the fiber content. (Photo: yonibunga/Shutterstock)

Be carb smart

Choose your carbs wisely. Even though they both have carbs, a side salad with veggies is a smarter choice than fries, and a bowl of fresh fruit tops a piece of cake (nutritionally, anyway).

Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic to help make carbs a smart part of a nutritional diet:

Emphasize fiber-rich fruits and vegetables. Choose whole fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables without added sugar. Whole fruits and vegetables also have the added benefit of fiber.
Choose whole grains. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients than refined grains.
Stick to low-fat dairy products. The amount of carbs varies in dairy products, so read the label. Stick to low-fat dairy with no added sugars.
Eat more beans and legumes. Legumes are typically low in fat; contain no cholesterol; and are high in fiber.
Limit added sugars. Too much added sugar, and sometimes naturally occurring sugar, can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, poor nutrition and weight gain.
Carbs and your brain

Still not convinced carbs have redeeming qualities?

According to a new study published in the Quarterly Review of Biology, carbohydrates could get some of the credit for the evolution of the human brain. Researchers argue that the human brain depends on the consumption of carbs — starch in particular — to thrive. The scientists say carbs were key in the brain’s growth and development around 1 million years ago.

Makes you want to have some beans and a whole-grain bagel.

credit: Mary Jo Dilonardo

6 time tested way to revitalize your metabolism

We may be able to live without food for three weeks, water for three days and air for three minutes. These are our most basic needs. But to thrive, we also need love, fulfilling relationships and harmony with nature, according to Suhas Kshirsagar in his new book “The Hot Belly Diet.” The quality of those experiences — from breakfast to the bedroom to the wild blue yonder — affects the quality of our health and ultimately of our lives.

Whether we want to lose weight, gain energy, heal from a chronic disease or simply find more meaning, the Hot Belly diet gives a simple yet uncommon prescription from India’s 5,000-year-old holistic medicine of Ayurveda. As a classically trained Ayurvedic doctor, Kshirsagar sees patients with everything from autoimmune conditions and heart disease to obesity and fatigue that all share a common denominator: a weak “digestive fire,” or metabolism. To stoke that fire in the belly, Kshirsagar says it starts, not surprisingly with our gut.

The gut stops here

You’ve probably had gut instincts about something or gut feelings about someone that proved spot-on. The only evidence you had were butterflies in your stomach or a burning desire to take action. Ayurveda looks at the digestive system as a second brain, and new science backs it up.

The Hot Belly diet explains that nerves in our gut actually process information and generate responses just like our gray matter. Research shows our gut can act separately from our brain to independently control our functions! Pretty wild, huh?

Not to Ayurveda, which has long viewed digestion as the cornerstone of health. Kshirsagar says a whopping 70 percent of our immune system lies in the gastrointestinal tract. Whether you want to lose weight or improve immunity, you need to befriend your digestive system. Nutrients from that butternut squash and spinach curry you ate for dinner (see recipe in “The Hot Belly Diet”) feed all your tissues, from arteries to adrenal glands. If digestion is impaired, toxins build up in the organs and over time, cause disease.

Here’s some surprisingly simple gut-nourishing strategies:

Ditch the ice. Just say no to cold, carbonated drinks. Instead of a frosty glass of H20 with dinner, drink it room temperature or warm instead. (I ask food servers all the time and they never flinch.) Cold water extinguishes digestive enzymes just when you need them to break down that Caesar salad. (Raw vegetables require more digestive power than cooked ones.)
Better yet, drink warm water throughout the day to stoke your metabolism, increase the absorption of food (think less bloating, gas and belching), lose weight and dispel toxins. When possible, boil water for 10 minutes before drinking to purify and energize it. We are made of about 70 percent water after all, and interestingly, more than 70 percent of the earth is covered in water, NASA says.
Make a medicinal beverage by adding a slice of alkalizing lemon, warming ginger or herbal tea to hot water. The Hot Belly diet also suggests spicing it up with cinnamon, mint, thyme or turmeric.
Add digestion-enhancing spices to your meals, such as fresh ginger, cumin, black pepper, turmeric, and fenugreek.
woman at farmers market surrounded by vegetables
Try to shop at farmers markets or natural food stores.

It’s about the prana

You may have seen the Sanskrit word prana written on yoga T-shirts. It translates into energy or life force. We extract energy from food. It stands to reason that freshly harvested, whole foods carry more nutrients than processed flours, sugars and fats manufactured in a factory or pesticide-treated produce shipped thousands of miles from the seed to your spoon.

According to the Hot Belly diet, one out of two Americans eats fast food every day. One out of four people drink at least one sugary soda. Is it no wonder more than two-thirds of adults are overweight in the U.S.? Those rates have tripled since 1980, and we’re foisting unhealthy habits on our youngest citizens. One out of every three American children is overweight.

We know now that lifestyle causes up to 80 percent of all illness, according to Kshirsagar. The glass-half-full part: Diet, exercise and stress management can prevent, or even reverse, four-fifths of chronic disease. Empowering, right? Ayurveda goes beyond the typical “eat your veggies” prescription to say what goes into your mouth is only as nutritious as the prana it contains.

The Hot Belly diet fix: Eat super foods made in and by nature. If you can, shop at farmers markets or natural food stores where groceries are organic and non-GMO. Favor seasonal vegetables and fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, sprouts and lean proteins. Avoid simple starches including flour and white sugar, as well as alcohol, red meat and leftovers. “The wisdom we’re talking about lies in eating foods that are fresh, alive and vibrant,” Kshirsagar says.

Feed your genes

If you climb on a surfboard and do nothing, you’ll soon be under water. Kshirsagar likens this to the dynamism of our body. Our molecules literally respond to the quality of our environment. As we surf life, it’s up to us to ride waves of food, water, air, thoughts, livelihood, people and purposes that are nourishing. It just feels better. And, it actually changes the expression of our genes. Seriously.

Ancient Ayurveda and modern epigenetics reach the same conclusion: genes are not fixed. The Hot Belly diet says just 10 percent of diseases are genetic.

“The old rule was your genes are mechanistic,” Kshirsagar explained by phone. “Once you inherit those from your parents, you can’t change those. Now we understand you can turn your genes on and off. You can actually change your brain structure.”

Imagine the body as an energy and information field with particles integrating and disintegrating in every moment. Take exercise. New science proves that physical activity literally reverses the aging process by altering how genes act. In 2008, Canadian researchers who put seniors on a six-month strength training protocol found the sexagenarians’ strength shot up 50 percent. Not too shocking. What did surprise the scientific community: Seniors showed changes at the genetic level comparable to their 20-something counterparts.

We’re wired to move. The Hot Belly diet recommends doing something active every day. A walk after lunch or dinner works wonders for digestion. Not only does movement improve circulation, release happy-feeling endorphins and turn on good genes, you may feel better in your blue jeans.

Rise, set and dine with the sun

Since we Homo sapiens migrated indoors, we often overlook that teaming ball of fire that powers our solar system. Like all life, we’re inextricably tied to the sun, which regulates when biochemicals, acids, hormones and other substances are released in our body. Our digestive fire runs hottest at high noon, for instance. Why? The sun is literally highest in the sky and in Ayurveda we have the same element of fire within us — along with water, earth, space and air.

“I see so many patients in my practice that eat whenever they want, they sleep whenever they want, they have sex whenever they want. They are totally violating all the rhythms of nature,” Kshirsagar says. “When they are sick they would like to find a natural cure for their unnatural living. Ayurveda is a true natural medicine. It talks about respecting food, air and water that is given to us free by mother nature.”

Recent studies indeed show when people consume most of their calories midday, they lose weight compared to people who eat the same number of calories later in the day, according to the Hot Belly diet. If you want to improve your metabolism, make lunch your primary main meal and eat a light supper. I experimented with this protocol when writing about Ayurveda’s ideal daily routine and lost 12 pounds in a few months, even though that wasn’t my intention. (I feel so much better skipping a heavy dinner that I’ve continued this regimen and haven’t regained the weight.)

Here’s the Hot Belly diet meal plan to maximize your digestive fire, shed pounds and just plain feel better:

Eat breakfast between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m.
Indulge in lunch as your heartiest meal from noon to 1 p.m. If your diet includes harder-to-digest foods such as meat, dairy, nuts and raw vegetables, you can best metabolize them midday. Only eat until you’re about two-thirds full, leaving space for your stomach to digest all that food!
Dine lightly for supper before 7 p.m. on soups, cooked vegetables, grains and other vegetarian fare.
Midnight munchies sit partly undigested in your GI tract, packing on pounds instead of infusing you with prana. If you wake up feeling groggy, eat dinner earlier, skip seconds and notice if you feel better the next morning. Ayurveda calls sleep the “diet of the mind.”
In “The Hot Belly Diet,” Kshirsagar explains the body metabolizes waste and revitalizes our immune system primarily between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. If we’re awake during those hours we lose vital functions that don’t happen any other time. No wonder studies show poor sleep habits contribute to brain fog, memory loss, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression, according to the Hot Belly diet.

Let us eat while we eat and fast while we fast

Wolfing down a burrito at your desk, binging on leftovers and Showtime or snacking while surfing Instagram — sound familiar? What about grazing throughout the day while doing just about anything? In a food and media-saturated land, we tend to treat eating as a robotic nuisance, forgetting what we put into our mouths gives us the fuel to live and literally becomes our bodies. Staring at an electronic screen while eating may be the social norm, but there are downsides. The obvious one: We miss our body’s fullness cues and eat more. Distracted eating also compromises our digestion since we’re not taking the time to chew properly, the first step in breaking down food. And Ayurveda contends we can only digest so much at once — whether that’s food, drink or information.

Hot Belly Diet Author, Suhas KshirsagarHere’s a simple fix that may take practice for us multi-tasking moguls: Take small bites, savor the smells and flavors of your meal, notice how it feels in your mouth. Try eating with your left, or less dominant, hand to slow you down. Before eating, Kshirsagar also suggests looking down at your plate and asking, “Do I think this is good for me to eat at this time?”

Then, when you’re sated, stop eating. That’s right, don’t eat again until your next meal. “Of all the lessons I teach, one of the most important one goes against conventional dieting wisdom that says ‘you should never wait until you’re hungry to eat,’” Kshirsagar says. “This is perhaps one of the most harmful pieces of advice out there in diet circles. Hunger is a vital marker of health.”

He says appetite means digestive acids and enzymes are building. If you snack between meals, especially when you’re not hungry, you sap your metabolism, storing excess fuel as fat and toxins. Remember, our DNA is still wired from our ancestors who, by necessity, went long stretches without food while hunting and gathering. We may fly by a drive-through for a double cheeseburger, supersize French fries and 32-ounce soda, but our biology is designed to work up an appetite before feasting on something as labor-intensive as meat.

Sure enough, the New York Academy of Sciences published a study in 2002 stating that grazing all day can put one at risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, according to the Hot Belly diet. NBC News reported on a 2013 study showing diabetics who ate only a large breakfast and lunch lost more weight than those who consumed six mini meals with the same number of calories. Kshirsagar says we’re made to relish well-deserved meals when we’re truly hungry. Ayurveda’s takeaway is to find pleasure in food when you do eat, offering thanks for this bounty with your attention.

Scenery, silence and sex

Lest you think Ayurveda is about deprivation, Kshirsagar advocates cultivating a healthy sex life. “Just as we need water, food, and oxygen to live, so do we need to practice one of the greatest creative forces through which we can express and share our love,” he writes in “The Hot Belly Diet.” Not only can lovemaking be a potent source of pleasure and intimate bonding with our partner, science shows that sexual appetite and performance is indicative of overall health and longevity.

As you’re probably gathering, Ayurveda advocates that our well-being rests on the health of our relationships with ourselves, others and the greater world around us. Nature can be a portal into our place in a grander picture. With lives that are electronically connected 24/7, Kshirsagar believes it’s even more essential to disconnect from that flat stream and experience the living sensations of the natural world.

Walk, hike, swim or cycle in the fresh air. Explore local parks. Feel your feet sink into the grass, sand or dirt. Move your chair to a skyward window. Bathe in the metamorphosis of dawn and dusk. Stargaze on a clear night. Whether in nature or somewhere private, find a few minutes for quiet self-reflection every day. Ask how your body feels. And your heart.

“Slowing down aligns you with what’s happening around you in the universe,” Kshirsagar says. “I always like to say to my patients for fast acting relief, try slowing down. When you find times of quietude and silence, this is the language nature speaks. You’re able to turn into that language which is very nourishing.” Ayurveda speaks of immortality, not that the body is immortal. Rather that there is a part of our self that is never born and never dies.

Credit: Rebecca Tolin

Mindful eating: 5 easy tips to get started

From what not to eat when you are pregnant, to the endless lists of the latest must-have superfoods, discussion about healthy eating tends to focus on what we eat.

Much less attention is paid to the question of how we eat it.

Yet a growing body of research suggests that changing our attitudes and practices around meals and mealtime rituals may be every bit as important as obsessing over what it is we actually put in our mouths. Mindful eating (also known as intuitive eating), a concept with its roots in Buddhist teachings, aims to reconnect us more deeply with the experience of eating — and enjoying — our food. Sometimes referred to as “the opposite of diets,” mindful eating is based on the idea that there is no right or wrong way to eat, but rather varying degrees of consciousness about what we are eating and why. The goal of mindful eating, then, is to base our meals on physical cues, such as our bodies’ hunger signals, not emotional ones — like eating for comfort.

The idea was featured in a New York Times article last year, in which journalist Jeff Gordinier visited a Buddhist monastery where practitioners were encouraged to eat in silence, and chew every morsel of food as they explored its tastes, textures and smells in minute detail. The article inspired a somewhat skeptical response from our own Robin Shreeves, who noted that in her household full of young boys, the notion of eating in silence seemed like mission impossible, and might even be detrimental, given that mealtimes are often when the family gets a chance to actually converse.

But mindful eating doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair.

In fact, as the New York Times article stated, there are plenty of ways to work mindfulness into your daily food habits without the need to become a fully robed monk, or masticate on a raisin for three days straight.

As a registered dietitian, I am a firm believer that finding ways to slow down and eat intentionally are all a part of developing a truly healthy food culture. And some early research into mindful eating would seem to back this up. One study, for example, tracked more than 1,400 mindful eaters and showed them to have lower body weights, a greater sense of well-being, and fewer symptoms of eating disorders.

But mindful eating will only work for you can make it compatible with your lifestyle.

Here are some of my favorite tips to introduce mindfulness to mealtimes in an easy, accessible fashion.

Eat slower
Eating slowly doesn’t have to mean taking it to extremes. Still, it’s a good idea to remind yourself, and your family, that eating is not a race. Taking the time to savor and enjoy your food is one of the healthiest things you can do. You are more likely to notice when you are full, you’ll chew your food more and hence digest it more easily, and you’ll probably find yourself noticing flavors you might otherwise have missed. If you have young children, why not try making a game of it — who can chew their food the longest? Or you could introduce eating with chopsticks as a fun way to slow things down.

Savor the silence
Yes, eating in complete silence may be impossible for a family with children, but you might still encourage some quiet time and reflection. Again, try introducing the idea as a game — “let’s see if we can eat for two minutes without talking” — or suggesting that one meal a week be enjoyed in relative silence. If the family mealtime is too important an opportunity for conversation to pass up, then consider introducing a quiet meal or snack time into your day when you can enjoy it alone. The NYT article, for example, noted that one dietitian simply savors a few sips of tea in complete silence when she is too busy for a complete mindful meal.

Silence the phone. Shut off the TV.
Our daily lives are full of distractions, and it’s not uncommon for families to eat with the TV blaring or one family member or other fiddling with their iPhone. Consider making family mealtime, which should, of course, be eaten together, an electronics-free zone. I’m not saying you should never eat pizza in front of the TV, but that too should be a conscious choice that marks the exception, not the norm.

Pay attention to flavor
The tanginess of a lemon, the spicyness of arugula, the crunch of a pizza crust — paying attention to the details of our food can be a great way to start eating mindfully. After all, when you eat on the go or wolf down your meals in five minutes, it can be hard to notice what you are even eating, let alone truly savor all the different sensations of eating it. If you are trying to introduce mindful eating to your family, consider talking more about the flavors and textures of food. Ask your kids what the avocado tastes like, or how the hummus feels. And be sure to share your own observations and opinions too. (Yes, this goes against the eating in silence piece, but you don’t have to do everything at once.)

Know your food

Mindfulness is really about rekindling a relationship with our food. From planting a veggie garden through baking bread to visiting a farmers market, many of the things we locavores have been preaching about for years are not just ways to cut our carbon foodprint, but also connect with the story behind our food. Even when you have no idea where the food you are eating has come from, try asking yourself some questions about the possibilities: Who grew this? How? Where did it come from? How did it get here? Chances are, you’ll not only gain a deeper appreciation for your food, but you’ll find your shopping habits changing in the process too.

Like I say, mindful eating does not have to be an exercise in super-human concentration, but rather a simple commitment to appreciating, respecting and, above all, enjoying the food you eat every day. It can be practiced with salad or ice cream, donuts or tofu, and you can introduce it at home, at work, or even as you snack on the go (though you may find yourself doing this less often).

And while the focus becomes how you eat, not what you eat, you may find your notions of what you want to eat shifting dramatically for the better too.

Credit: Jen Glover

What is monk fruit

Monk fruit is all the rage lately, thanks to the never-ending search for an alternative sweetener to sugar that’s not made from chemicals.

Artificial sweeteners have been used in food products for more than 100 years. In the last 30 years though, links have been found between the ingestion of some artificial sweeteners and certain types of cancer in lab rats. Those risks don’t translate to humans, who would have to ingest large doses of the sweeteners to see any correlation, according to the same studies. Nevertheless, people have been looking for a natural alternative to artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame and saccharin.
One such natural sweetener is stevia, derived from a plant grown in South America and commercially introduced in the U.S. as a sweetener in 2008. More recently, we’ve seen sweeteners derived from monk fruit. What fruit, you say?

Indigenous to China and Thailand, monk fruit (a green, round melon-looking fruit) is grown on a vine known as siraitia grosvenorii, named for the president of the National Geographic Society in the 1930s who funded an expedition to find the fruit. In Chinese, it is called luo han guo. It has zero calories and is said to be up to 500 times sweeter than sugar.
It’s colloquially referred to as monk fruit because it was said to have first been used by monks in China in the 13th century. Today, it is still used for its medicinal properties — the fruit itself is believed to help in treating a cough and sore throat and is also believed to promote a long life (possibly because it is native to a region in China that has an usually high number of residents age 100 or more).

While monk fruit itself has been treating illness in China for thousands of years, the processed commercial version is relatively new to the market. That’s because, though sweet, monk fruit has some interfering flavors, nullifying the actual fruit’s ability to be used as a sweetener. In 1995, Procter and Gamble patented a process to eliminate the interfering tastes and make a useful sweetener from the fruit.

Monk fruit extract is now sold commercially under a few brand names in the United States, one of which is Nectresse (from the same people who brought you Splenda). A glance at Nectresse’s ingredient list reads: erythritol (a sugar alcohol), sugar, monk fruit extract, and molasses — meaning that you’re not exactly getting as natural a product as you might have hoped. The most “natural” version of monk fruit sweetener that I have found is Monk Fruit In The Raw, which contains only dextrose and monk fruit extract — still not perfect, but getting there.

Overall, the response to monk fruit sweetener has been positive, though some say that it leaves you with a less than pleasing aftertaste (though less bitter than the aftertaste a lot of people complain about with stevia).

If you’re trying to cut calories while still satisfying your sweet tooth, then monk fruit sweetener may be the answer for you. If unprocessed is what you’re looking for, it seems the search for a truly natural sweetener must go on.

 

faith and food the Buddhist beliefs

Which ingredients are forbidden?
Meat and fish are not eaten by many people in the Theravada and Mahayana schools of Buddhism. Some believers in both Theravada and Mahayana are vegans, and some particularly from China and Vietnam do not eat onion, garlic or leek either – referring to these as the ‘five pungent spices.’

Buddha advised the monks to avoid eating ten kinds of meat for their self-respect and protection: humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, lions, tigers, boars and hyenas.

What are the main laws or beliefs relating to food?
There are no set dietary laws in Buddhism. Buddhist dietary restrictions are structured very differently than those of the Abrahamic religions such as Judaism and Islam. In those religions, the dietary restrictions make a clear distinction between permitted foods and forbidden foods. By contrast, there is no such clear distinction between permitted and forbidden foods in Buddhism. Therefore, there is a great deal of diversity in Buddhist practise.

In the time of the Buddha, the monks were expected to eat everything that was put in their begging bowl without discrimination, including meat or rotten food.

There are some, particularly in the Mahayana school, who eat meat, fish and eggs. Others, particularly from China and Vietnam, refrain from eating the Five Pungent Spices such as garlic, onion and leek, because they are considered to increase one’s sexual desire and anger.

Tibetans will never eat fish, and usually stay away from fowl. The reason is that different kinds of meat supposedly give different kinds of obscurations. Fish, the obscuration of aggression; foul the obscuration of desire; and red meat the obscruration of ignorance. It was generally better to eat red meat because the animal killed was very large and only one life had to be taken to feed many people; with fish, you usually have to take many more lives to fill the same number of stomachs.

Is there a link with vegetarianism?
The first Precept is often interpreted as ‘do not harm,’ and many Buddhists choose to be vegetarian as a result of this precept. One basic tenet of Buddhism is that of reincarnation and the belief that animals can be reincarnated as humans and vice versa. As a result, Buddhists do not kill animals, and many do not eat meat or fish because this is considered to be bad for their karma. Buddhism and Jainism are the main religions who give utmost importance to Ahimsa (non- violence) and so there is a relationship with vegetarian belief in Buddhism.
According to the Buddha’s instructions for the “Five Contemplations While Eating,” one considers if one deserves the food, if one’s own mind is not greedy, if the food is a necessity and a healing agent for the body, and if the food is eaten for the purpose of a part of reaching enlightenment.

In general, will people of this faith eat in a food outlet that serves food or drink that does not conform to their beliefs?
It is best to ask the individual because of the diversity of beliefs and practises in Buddhism.

When and why do people of this faith feast and fast?
In Mahayana Buddhism, the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha are three common festivals in which feasting takes place (dates differ by regional calendar). In Theraveda Buddhism all three days are unified into the single holiday of Vesak.

Buddhist monks fast completely on the days of the new moon and full moon each lunar month; they also avoid eating any solid food after noon. This is done as a means of purification. Theravadin and Tendai Buddhist monks fast as a means of freeing the mind. Some Tibetan Buddhist monks fast to aid yogic feats, like generating inner heat.