7 steps to a longer life

Earlier this summer, I attended a conference on “life extension” at Cambridge University in the U.K. Scientists from around the world had descended on this small English city to discuss ways of making immortality a reality.

Some claimed that we could be genetically engineered to make us live forever, while others insisted that progressively replacing worn-out body parts with new ones grown in a lab was the way forward.

Although the field of human life extension is making rapid progress, it struck me that the scientists at the conference had missed one of the most obvious ways of extending human life: mindfulness meditation.

Although mindfulness extends human life by reducing anxiety, stress and depression, it also lengthens subjective life span. That is, because mindfulness helps us live “in the moment” rather than trapped inside a foggy daydream, we fully experience more of life, and therefore our life span is effectively increased.

Let me explain. Without realizing it, most of us spend much of our time trapped inside the “busy-ness” of daily life. We are effectively unconscious to the world and sleepwalk through our days. Being locked inside such busyness can erode a vast chunk of our life by stealing our time. Take a moment to look at your own life:

Do you find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present?
Does it seem as if you are “running on automatic,” that is, without much awareness of what you’re doing?
Do you rush through activities without being really attentive to them?
Do you get so focused on the goal you want to achieve that you lose touch with what you are doing right now to get there?
Do you find yourself preoccupied with the future or the past?
In other words, are you driven by the daily routines that force you to live in your head rather than in your life?
Now extrapolate this to the life you have left to you. If you are 30 years old, then, with a life expectancy of around 80, you have 50 years left. But if you are only truly conscious and aware of every moment for perhaps two out of 16 hours a day (which is not unreasonable), your life expectancy is only another six years and three months. You’ll probably spend more time in meetings with your boss!

If a friend told you that she had just been diagnosed with a terminal disease that will kill her in six years, you would be filled with grief and try to comfort her. Yet, without realizing it, you may be daydreaming along such a path yourself.

If you could double the number of hours that you were truly alive each day, then, in effect, you would be doubling your life expectancy. It would be like living to 130. Now imagine tripling or quadrupling the time you are truly alive. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars — literally — on expensive drugs and unproven vitamin cocktails to gain an extra few years of life; others are funding research in universities to try to extend the human life span. But you can achieve the same effect by learning to live mindfully — waking up to your life.

Quantity isn’t everything, of course. But those who practice mindfulness are also less anxious and stressed, as well as more relaxed, fulfilled and energized, so not only does life seem longer as it slows down and you begin to “show up for it,” but it seems happier, too.

In our book “Mindfulness,” Mark Williams and I map out a path to living a happier and more harmonious life using mindfulness meditation. The technique is based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which professor Williams developed at the U.K.’s Oxford University and with his colleagues at the universities of Cambridge and Toronto.

Although the full program lasts eight weeks, here are seven steps that will help get you started:

1. Go for a walk. Walking is one of the finest exercises and a brilliant stress reliever and mood booster. A good walk can put the world in perspective and soothe your frayed nerves. If you really want to feel alive, go for a walk in the wind or rain!

2. Take time to breathe. Whenever you feel tired, angry, stressed, anxious or unhappy, take a three-minute breathing space. It acts as a bridge between the longer formal meditations in our book and the demands of daily life. See it as a breath of fresh air.

3. Change chairs. Stress tends to drive us in ever-decreasing circles. It’s easy to end up like a hamster trapped in its wheel, forever running but never getting anywhere. You can step outside such stressful cycles by consciously breaking some of your most ingrained habits. So why not see if you can notice which chairs you normally sit on at home, in a café or bar, or at work (during meetings, for example). Make a deliberate choice to try another chair, or to alter the position of the chair you use. You’ll be surprised by how different the world looks and feels.

Mindfulness and appreciating the here and now
4. Appreciate the here and now. Happiness is looking at the same things with different eyes. Life only happens here, at this very moment. Tomorrow and yesterday are no more than thoughts. So make the best of it.

Which activities, things or people in your life make you feel good? Can you give additional appreciative attention and time to these activities? Consciously write them down and gently resolve to pay them more attention. Can you pause for a moment when pleasant moments occur? Help yourself pause by noticing:

What body sensations you feel at these moments?
What thoughts are around?
What feelings are here?
5. Set up a mindfulness bell. Pick a few ordinary activities from your daily life that you can turn into “mindfulness bells,” that is, reminders to stop and pay attention to things in great detail. Consider turning these moments in your day into bells:
When preparing food. Any food preparation is a great opportunity for mindfulness — vision, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Focus on the feel of the knife as it slices through the different textures of different vegetables, or the smell released as each vegetable is chopped.
When crossing the street. Become a model citizen and use the pedestrian signals as an opportunity to stand quietly and focus on your breath, rather than an opportunity to try to beat the lights.
When listening. Notice when you are not listening, when you start to think of something else, such as what you are going to say in response. Come back to actually listening.
6. Do the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation. Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as immaterial and open to interpretation. For this reason, the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation is my personal favorite; it elegantly reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray. Once you realize this — deep in your heart — then a great many of your stresses and troubles will simply evaporate before your eyes. (You can download the meditation from franticworld.com.)
7. Visit the movies. Ask a friend or family member to go with you to the movies, but this time, with a difference. Go at a set time (say, 7 p.m.) and choose whatever film takes your fancy only once you get there. Often, what makes us happiest in life is the unexpected, the chance encounter or the unpredicted event. Movies are great for all these.

Most of us only go to see a film when there’s something specific we want to watch. If you turn up at a set time and then choose what to see, you may discover that the experience will be totally different. You might end up watching (and loving) a film you’d never normally have considered. This act alone opens your eyes and enhances awareness and choice.

And when you watch the film, forget about all this and simply enjoy yourself!

Credit: Danny Penman

24 smart uses for sugar

The history of sugar is not a simple one. From ancient China to the colonies to Candy Land, sugar has been making its mark throughout time in myriad ways. The “white gold,” as British colonists called it, has now reached mundane staple status for much of the western world, sitting in a five-pound bag in the pantry patiently waiting to be spooned into a cup of coffee or employed in a batch of cookie dough.

But that doesn’t mean the coruscating carbohydrate can’t be put to other uses. In a bind, regular table sugar can pinch-hit for a number of other concoctions, often times taking the place of more costly or possibly toxic solutions. Whether for health or beauty, in the kitchen or in the garden, here are a number of ways you can put this versatile ingredient to work.

1. Soothe your babe
According to a study in Pediatrics, babies who were given a one-to-four sugar-water solution (directly into the mouth or administered on a pacifier) before immunizations handled the pain of the shots better than children who received only water.

2. Treat a wound

You can treat wounds with a sprinkle of sugar: Wives’ tale or wise truth? This study showed that pouring granulated sugar on bedsores, leg ulcers or amputations before dressing killed the bacteria that prevents healing and causes chronic pain.

3. Soothe a singed tongue

For too-quick-a-gulp of too-hot coffee, sizzling pizza — whatever your tongue-burner may be — sugar can ease the sting. Suck on a sprinkle of sugar or a sugar cube and the pain should quickly dissipate.

4. Ease a spicy burn

Acidic foods and dairy can lessen the pain of too much spiciness in the mouth, but a dash of sugar works well too.

5. Make a body scrub

Sugar makes a splendid exfoliating agent for body scrubs. You can make a super simple one by mixing sugar with oil (canola, almond, jojoba or olive all work well) to create a loose paste. Add some essential oil or vanilla extract if you like fragrance. Gently rub on your skin and then rinse off in the shower.

6. Make a banana sugar scrub

When bananas have reached the point of no (edible) return, they can be appointed to your beauty routine. Banana is moisturizing and works perfectly as a vehicle for sugar in a body scrub. Mash a ripe banana with 3 tablespoons of sugar and 1 teaspoon of olive oil. (Don’t over mix.) Gently rub on your skin and then rinse off in the shower.

7. Smooth your kisser

Blend a little jojoba or olive oil with caster sugar (also called superfine sugar; you can also make this by putting regular granulated sugar in the food processor for a minute) and a touch of peppermint or vanilla extract, if you like. Place some of the paste on your lips, massage and lick off.

8. Extend lipstick

Sprinkle a bit of sugar atop freshly applied lipstick, let it sit, then lick it off. This works to set the lipstick and will extend the application.

9. Clean cruddy hands

For extra mucky hands (think paint, grease, grime) add sugar to your soap lather to act as an abrasive. You can also use equal parts sugar and olive oil, which acts to soothe and moisturize over-worked hands.

10. Feed your flowers

Add three teaspoons of sugar and two tablespoons of white vinegar per quart of warm water for fresh-cut flowers. The sugar feeds the stems and the vinegar restricts the growth of bacteria.

11. Battle nematode worms in garden

Have you nematodes? If the plants in your garden have unsightly knots at the roots, they may have fallen prey to the microscopic parasites. To combat them naturally, apply 5 pounds of sugar for every 250 square feet of garden. The sugar will feed microorganisms which will increase the organic matter in the soil, making it a hostile environment for the nematodes.

12. Trap wasps

Make a simple syrup by boiling sugar and water, fill a jar with it and set it outside to attract wasps. They will fly in and become trapped. What you do with them next is up to you.

13. Make a natural fly strip

Fly strips can be unsightly, but flies on dinner can be even more so. If you can’t scoot them out the window and you require relief, you can make all-natural fly strips by combining equal parts sugar, honey and water in a saucepan. Boil the mixture, stirring occasionally, until thickened. Let cool. Cut pieces of brown packing tape, punch a hole on the end and make a loop with string through the hole. Dip the strips in the mix, hang to let excess drips drop (with a pan beneath to catch drips) until sticky, then hang where the flies are most active.

14. Make a roach motel

Well, more like a roach last supper. Mix equal parts sugar and baking powder and sprinkle over areas of infestation. Sugar attracts the buggers, the baking powder exterminates them. Replace frequently.

15. Feed the butterflies
Matthew Tekulsky, author of “The Butterfly Garden” (Harvard Common Press, 1985), recommends this formula for feeding butterflies.

1 pound sugar

1 or 2 cans stale beer

3 mashed overripe banana

1 cup of molasses or syrup

1 cup of fruit juice

1 shot of rum

Mix all the ingredients well and paint the mixture on trees, fence posts, rocks, or stumps — or simply soak a sponge in the mixture and hang it from a tree limb.

16. Clean your grinders

Coffee bean and spice grinders can collect oils that are strong in flavor, but sugar can clean them by absorbing the offending elements. Pour 1/4 cup of sugar into the grinder and run it for 2 -3 minutes. Dump out and wipe well.

17. Attack grass stains

Make a paste of warm water and sugar and apply to grass-stained clothing, let sit for an hour (or longer for tougher stains) and then wash as usual.

18. Keep cakes fresh

If you store cake in an airtight container with a few sugar cubes, it will stay fresh longer.

19. Keep cookies fresh

See above!

20. Prevent cheese from molding?

Some swear that storing cheese with sugar cubes will prevent cheese from molding.

21. Transform berries

Nothing beats fresh berries as they are, but you can also make a quick no-cook dessert topping that is as simple as it is versatile. To make “macerated berries,” stir in a teaspoon of sugar and a squeeze of lemon for every cup of sliced berries. Let sit for 30 minutes. Serve alone, with ice cream or whipped cream, on top of cakes, bread pudding, etc.

22. Vanilla your sugar

Split a vanilla bean in half and sink it in a jar full of sugar, let it sit for a week, and voilà, vanilla-perfumed sugar.

23. Sweeten iced drinks

Iced coffee season! Cocktail season! Make simple syrup for easy mixing of sugar into cold beverages. Mix one cup sugar with one cup water in a small saucepan. Bring sugar and water to a boil and simmer about 3 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Store in a clean jar in the refrigerator.

24. Make rock candy

Old-fashioned rock candy is nothing more than sugar and water, and a kick to make with kids. Stir 2.5 cups sugar into 1 cup hot water until sugar is dissolved. Pour the syrup into open containers and add a grain of sugar to each dish. Store in a cool, dry place and check after a few days for crystals. As they form, scoop them out and let dry on a paper towel. A simpler candy does not exist.

Credit: Melissa Breyer

Maybe we don’t need so much sleep after all

The only thing more worrisome than our lack of sleep is how stressed out we are by our lack of sleep. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, insufficient sleep is a public health problem. The agency goes so far as to link lack of sleep to health issues such as obesity, high blood pressure, depression and diabetes and even “motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.”

It’s no wonder we’re worried about not sleeping the recommended eight hours each night. But a new study has found that maybe we don’t really need as much sleep as we thought.

The modern theory on sleep deprivation is that healthy amounts of sleep went down the toilet along with the invention of the lightbulb. Once artificial light came along, people no longer listened to natural cues about when it was time for bed. Today’s explosion of electronic gadgets and round-the-clock work schedules has exacerbated the problem.

But a new study published in the journal Current Biology took a look at the sleep patterns of three communities that serve as good examples of what life was like in the developed world before lights and distractions. Researchers evaluated the sleep habits of people in three tribes — the Hadza and San tribes in Africa, and the Tsimané people in South America — that currently live without electricity or any other modern electronic innovations that have been linked to poor sleep. And guess what? They sleep even fewer hours each night than most Americans, yet they don’t suffer from any issues of obesity, diabetes or occupational errors.

Researchers found that the people in these hunter-gatherer communities were relatively fit and healthy. Even without lightbulbs to keep them awake, they stayed up three to four hours past sunset often with only a small community fire to provide light and warmth. On most days they rise at least an hour before the sun. On average, the members of these tribes sleep for about six and a half hours each night — less than the average American.

Perhaps most importantly, the members of these tribes were not stressed about sleep. Despite sleeping less than the amount recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, they did not worry about their lack of sleep. And while chronic insomnia affects 20 percent to 30 percent of Americans, only 2 percent of the hunter-gatherers had trouble sleeping. The San and the Tsimané did not even have words for sleep problems in their languages.

The takeaway from the study is that we should all quit worrying about the numbers and focus on getting the amount of sleep we need to wake up feeling refreshed.

credit: Jenn Savedge

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

8 unexpected habits of happy people


Everybody wants to be happy. Thus, the onslaught of lists enumerating various happy-making suggestions: Learn to let go! Live in the present! Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Which is all fine and good — there’s clearly nothing wrong with a positive outlook. But that list has been done to death … and aren’t those peppy platitudes slightly obvious anyway? Instead, we offer an alternative list of habits — more concrete and backed by science — employed by those who’ve successfully located the bliss button.

1. They go to parks

One study found that people who live in cities with more green space feel better than those surrounded by manmade materials. How much better? The happiness jump associated with green space is equal to about one-third the boost in well-being that people get from being married. In a similar vein, another study found that a five-minute dose of nature improves self-esteem; green areas with water were found to be the most beneficial.

2. They live in Scandinavian countries

Okay, so your place of residence may not be a habit so much as a circumstance, but this is interesting. According to the United Nations General Assembly’s second World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada. Note that all of these are generally northern countries, what’s the deal? See number 3.

3. They practice ‘hygge’

Huh? Pronounced HYU-gah, Danes make it through their long dark winters with a healthy dose of this to maintain their position as the happiest place in the world. With no real equivalent in the English language, hygge is a cultural concept that revolves around intimacy, gratitude and family; it’s a kind of emotional coziness. As described by one Dane, “It’s like a feeling, and it’s big at Christmastime. The candles, the food, being with your family.” But it lasts all year. (Read more: How ‘hygge’ can help you get through winter.)

4. They have satisfying jobs — and if not, they quit

It’s no surprise that workers who are happy with their work are happy with their lives. And in fact, a Gallup poll found that workers who were happily engaged and enthusiastic about work were happiest in life, with 71 percent of them describing themselves as “thriving.” And it’s probably not that surprising that only 42 percent of poll respondents who said they were disconnected from their work described themselves as thriving. What’s surprising is that 48 percent of those unemployed see themselves as thriving; that’s 6 percent more than those with jobs; for many, being unemployed is happier than having a crummy job.

5. They smell the flowers

No, this isn’t an homage to the “stop and smell the roses” cliché; it’s not about taking time for the delights in your life (although stopping and smelling the roses is a grand thing to do). It’s about floral scents and the effect they have on mood. Much research has been conducted on how floral scents can influence behaviors. In one set of experiments, researchers found that a floral-scented room led to increased happiness and friendliness. One researcher noted that the floral smell is an emotion manipulator and improves the mood. “The floral odors can make you happy; floral odors promote social interaction, social approach kinds of behaviors,” said Jeannette Haviland-Jones, of Rutgers University.

6. They get dirty

Commence making mud pies. Medical researchers in the U.K. found evidence that “friendly” bacteria found in soil may activate the immune system, boost the brain compound serotonin and help ward off depression.

7. They exercise

We know you didn’t want to hear that, but fret not. The good news is that middle-aged women don’t have to run marathons or go all-out for the emotional benefits of physical activity to kick in. And in fact, a study found that moderate intensity exercise — as opposed to intense exercise — caused more women to report later that they were in a better mood and to have greater feelings of energy, psychological well-being and “self-efficacy.”

8. They don’t try to be … happy?

Oops. Now that we’ve told you the secrets for happiness, we’re here to dash your dreams. A prominent study shows that making happiness a personal goal will actually stand in the way of your achieving it. The researchers found that women who valued happiness more reported being less happy and more depressed than women who didn’t place much importance on the goal.

“Wanting to be happy can make you less happy,” said study researcher Iris Mauss. “If you explicitly and purposely focus on happiness, that appears to have a self-defeating quality.”

So if you really want to be happy, try forgetting about it.

credit:Mellisa Bryer


What you need know about hemp seeds


Think about eating hemp seeds and what springs to mind? Maybe hippies selling hemp bracelets at music festivals? And will they make you high?

Actually, hemp seeds are legal to purchase, and you can’t get high from them either. Hemp seeds have only 0.3 percent of THC, the psychotropic ingredient found in marijuana. The plant is only a cousin of cannabis, but it has been sharing the bad reputation for decades.

“While it may look like marijuana, the hemp plant is actually a different species of cannabis and contains very little of the active ingredient, THC,” says registered dietitian Rene Ficek, the lead nutrition expert at Seattle Sutton’s Healthy Eating in Illinois. “This inaccurate association has prevented many Americans from fully experimenting with the superfood.”

So what the heck is hemp?

Hemp fabric dates back to 8,000 B.C. in what is now Turkey. Used for food, fuel and fiber, it was a primary source of paper and textiles.y

In the United States, hemp was a threat to the wood paper industry and hemp-based ethanol fuel was a threat to the oil industry. The crop is self-sustaining, so pesticide and chemical companies would also lose sales to farmers. Plus, hemp-based plastics were stronger than steel, which hurt another major U.S. industry. Unsurprisingly, hemp became stigmatized and erroneously banned with the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.

However, the U.S. imports hemp from a number of countries, mainly Canada. In 2014, a provision in the farm bill removed hemp grown for research purposes from the Controlled Substances Act. Now, U.S. farmers are getting in on this multibillion-dollar industry, and a handful of states have their own hemp legislation.

Why should we eat it?

Besides all the other innovative uses it provides, hemp also has been dubbed a superfood of sorts. Hulled hemp seeds expose the white inner meat, known as hemp hearts or hemp nuts. Hemp protein powder, ground up and ready to be added to smoothies and soups, is an excellent source of plant-based protein that is free of gluten and lactose.

Yogurt with hemp seeds, walnuts and berries“Hemp seeds can be a healthy addition to any diet,” Ficek says. “These superseeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fatty acid that helps to reduce inflammation.”

Omega-3 fatty acids are typically found in fatty fish, so for vegans, vegetarians or anyone who doesn’t include a couple of servings of fatty fish in their diet per week, hemp is a great substitute.

Ficek says hemp’s fatty acids may reduce the risk of heart disease, help lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and play an important role in memory and cognition.

What’s more, hemp seed contains all the essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein — an important plant-based alternative to meat sources of protein in the American diet.

“Hemp seeds are rich in many essential minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc,” says Ashley Harris, outpatient clinical dietitian for the James Cancer Hospital at Ohio State University.

Harris says hemp is a better protein source than chia or flax seeds:

1 tablespoon of flax = 2 grams of protein
1 tablespoon of chia = 2.5 grams of protein
1 tablespoon of hemp = 3.5 grams of protein
“Two tablespoons is a good serving, and you’re getting about 7 grams of protein,” Harris says.
The calories are comparable, about 170 per 3 tablespoons, and hemp is a nutty, chewier, creamy seed that doesn’t need to be ground up to reap the benefits, as does flax seed.

Hemp is also loaded with fiber, about 10 to 15 percent, or 1 gram per 3 tablespoons. You’ll feel fuller after eating hemp and should notice reduced constipation.

Hemp seeds can be used in place of flax or chia seeds. Adding hemp seeds to hot cereal, yogurt, salad or a smoothie can add 10 grams of high-quality protein to the meal. You can also try baking them in veggie burgers or casseroles and blending them into pancakes and breads.

So remember: Hemp is not just for hippies. In fact, hemp seeds have long been part of the food supply in many areas of the world such as Asia, where roasted hemp seeds are eaten as a snack. In fact, Buddha reportedly ate them during his fast of enlightenment. So load up!

Source: Jennifer Nelson

Apple Spinach Protein Smoothie

This recipe calls for vegan protein powder. There are quite a few brands out there to choose from. Two of my favorites are Vega Sport, which has chocolate and vanilla flavors, and Garden of Life Raw Protein “Beyond Organic Protein Formula,” which is unflavored. I use them mostly depending on what kind of flavor I want in the smoothie. Much of the time if I want added protein without changing the flavor much, I’ll add Garden of Life. But if there’s a recipe that would benefit from the flavor — such as this recipe which is delicious with vanilla flavored powder — then I’ll use Vega Sport. It’s up to you — and you might have a different brand you really love even better. Go with what you like best.

As for spinach: Use as much spinach as you want. You can’t add too much, since it won’t do much to alter flavor. And you’ll get tons of fiber, and a boatload of nutrients and vitamins like potassium and vitamins A and K. So don’t be shy with the spinach! Also, remember to get an organic apple and leave the peel on so you can get the most nutrients from this fruit.
In all, this smoothie offers about 33 grams of protein.
Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: 1 large smoothie or 2 small smoothies
Apple Spinach Protein Smoothie

1 large organic apple
3-4 cups organic spinach
1 Tablespoon organic almond butter
1 scoop (or packet) Vega Sport vanilla protein powder
1 cup unsweetened original almond milk
4-5 ice cubes
Add all the ingredients except spinach to a blender and process until smooth.
Add spinach in batches, blending a handful at a time until it is all incorporated.
Pour into a glass and enjoy!


8 signs you may have a magnesium deficiency

You’re tired and cranky. Maybe you have issues with your heart rhythm or have trouble sleeping. The problem may be caused by a lack of magnesium.

As with most nutrients, our bodies need magnesium to stay healthy. It’s found naturally in many foods, but according to the USDA, only about half of all adults get the daily recommended amount. When we don’t get enough, it’s not always obvious; the symptoms can be vague and are similar to the symptoms of many other disorders.

Here are some of the problems that can be caused by a lack of magnesium.

Nausea and vomiting

Early signs of magnesium deficiency can include gastrointestinal disturbances. This can range from a loss of appetite to nausea and vomiting.

Blood pressure

Many studies have shown a link between magnesium levels and blood pressure. In those studies, volunteers with low magnesium were more likely to have hypertension, or high blood pressure. However, research that uses magnesium therapy to treat hypertension has offered conflicting results. In some cases it has been successful, but not for all.

Sleep problems

Chronic insomnia and other sleep disorders may have a link to magnesium deficiency. Several studies have suggested that magnesium supplements may play a key role in regulating sleep.

Anxiety and depression

Some case studies have shown a link between magnesium and the nervous system. In some instances, the mineral seems to have a positive effect on stress, anxiety and some symptoms of depression.

Heart issues

Although low levels of magnesium can affect nearly every system in the body, one of the most significant impacts can be on the heart. People who are deficient in the mineral are prone to arrhythmia — or abnormal heart rhythm. In related studies, people with coronary artery disease had a higher incidence of magnesium deficiency than those without the illness.

Restless legs syndrome

The cause of RLS is often not clear, but it sometimes can be linked to an underlying medical condition such as a vitamin or mineral deficiency. Low levels of magnesium may contribute to other sleep disturbances and some small studies have shown that magnesium supplements can help with RLS.

Low energy

Several studies have suggested that too little magnesium makes the body work harder. In a recent small USDA-funded study, volunteers used more oxygen during physical activity when their magnesium levels were low. It doesn’t matter if you exercise a lot or not. “The effects are likely to occur in individuals with low magnesium, regardless of whether the person is athletic or sedentary,” says lead researcher physiologist Henry C. Lukaski. “That means that athletes wouldn’t be able to work or train as long as they would if they had better magnesium levels. People need to eat adequate magnesium to make sure their hearts and muscles are healthy enough to meet the demands of daily living.”

Muscle spasms and weakness

Magnesium has been shown to stabilize the nerve axon — the nerve fiber that transmits information away from the nerve cell body. When the amount of magnesium drops, the result is hyperresponsive neuromuscular activity which can mean muscle tremors, spasms and eventually weakness.

spinach salad with nuts – almonds are a rich source of magnesiumA spinach salad topped with almonds is a rich source of magnesium. (Photo: MSPhotographic/Shutterstock)

Where do I get magnesium?

Adult women should get about 310 mg of magnesium daily; adult men should get 400 mg. That increases to 320 mg for women and 420 for men after age 30.

You can get magnesium in green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains. Generally, foods that are rich in dietary fiber usually are rich in magnesium. The mineral is also added to some fortified foods, including breakfast cereals.

Here are some good sources of magnesium, according to the National Institutes of Health:

Almonds, dry roasted, 1 ounce: 80 mg
Spinach, boiled, 1/2 cup: 78 mg
Cashews, dry roasted, 1 ounce: 74 mg
Peanuts, oil roasted, 1/4 cup: 63 mg
Cereal, shredded wheat, 2 large: 61 mg
Soy milk, plain or vanilla, 1 cup: 61 mg
Black beans, cooked, 1/2 cup: 60 mg
Edamame, shelled, cooked, 1/2 cup: 50 mg
Peanut butter, smooth, 2 tablespoons: 49 mg
Bread, whole wheat, 2 slices: 46 mg
Avocado, cubed, 1 cup: 44 mg
Potato, baked with skin, 3.5 ounces: 43 mg
Rice, brown, cooked, 1/2 cup: 42 mg
Yogurt, plan, low-fat, 8 ounces: 42 mg

Credit: Mary Jo Dilonardo

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