Have you given a thought to Valentine’s Day yet? I suspect for most people it’s a last minute scramble for dinner reservations or roses. The Valentine cards and candy in stores have been staring us in the face since Christmas Eve. But most of us have had a few other things on our minds, things like floods, flu, holiday bills, and taxes. Hearts and flowers aren’t top priorities for most folks unless they work for Hallmark or Russell Stover.
This year there’s a bit of a twist. February 14th is Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. It’s most unusual. As soon as I noticed this anomaly on the calendar, I realized several things would happen. Some people would turn it into a theological controversy over which observance should take precedence. I’ve always been perplexed by the propensity of some people to promote “either-or” thinking. Sure enough, several prominent clerics have issued stern statements about the obligation of their members to fast and forego any Valentine treats. That’s their call.
Some people will slog through the day unaware of either observance. They don’t worry about philosophical or theological dilemmas, and, for the most part, they’re not terribly romantic or thoughtful to begin with. No big deal.
I have a different take on this. As a 63-year-old woman, I’ve had my share of lovely Valentine surprises and a few bitter disappointments. That’s life. As a geriatrician, I know how many sick, lonely, elderly people are ignored on Valentine’s Day. That’s sad. As a lifelong Catholic, I understand that Ash Wednesday is all about spiritual priorities and discipline. We’re not supposed to be self-indulgent morning, noon, and night. That’s prudent.
Here’s the good part: Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday don’t have to be at odds with each another. There is no need for “either-or” thinking. St. Valentine was a real man, a priest who brought great kindness and love to persecuted people in third century Rome. He was martyred for his devotion in 270 A.D. Ash Wednesday is a major reminder that life is short. The only thing we’ll take with us at the end is the love and compassion we have shown to others.
We all have patients, colleagues, neighbors, and even passing strangers in our lives who will be neglected on February 14th unless we remember them. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday. Curious. There’s never a need to “fast” from being thoughtful.
A coffee plant can live 100 years. Could humans extend their lives closer to a century by enjoying a cup — or more — of the brew each day?
Coffee beans are seeds of a red fruit called the coffee cherry. Like all plant foods, coffee beans contain more than a thousand healthful chemicals.
The benefits of drinking coffee are pretty impressive. The roasted bean has been shown to enhance brain function, increase metabolic rate, and improve exercise performance. Used to make a daily beverage, the bean has also been linked to a lower risk of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, liver disease, and some cancers.
Several studies have found that men who regularly consumed the most coffee (including decaffeinated) had a 60 percent lower risk of advanced or lethal prostate cancer than nondrinkers. Even drinking one to three cups per day was linked to a 30 percent lower risk.
However, the coffee bean also contains a potentially harmful chemical called acrylamide. In 2002, Swedish scientists discovered that acrylamide was a product of the browning reaction. When foods are heated at a high temperature during baking, broiling, frying, or roasting, the appearance, flavor, aroma, and texture of foods are enhanced by the browning reaction — as in toasted bread, French-fried potatoes, and roasted coffee.
The amount of acrylamide in coffee can vary greatly. Well-roasted, dark coffee beans have less of the chemical than light, roasted beans. All instant coffees have more acrylamide than fresh versions.
There is no way to remove all the acrylamide from coffee. Still, the coffee industry is working on practical solutions to reduce its presence. Should buyers be informed about this chemical with warning labels on the package? This question is currently being debated in the California court system.
Presently, Americans consume less acrylamide than the maximum exposure levels recommended by the European Food Safety Authority. To top it off, two recent studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that coffee drinkers have modestly lower mortality rates than people who don’t drink coffee.
The Food and Drug Administration’s best advice regarding acrylamide is that consumers adopt a healthy eating plan. The Wellness Letter, University of California, Berkeley, states: “There is no reason to deprive oneself of coffee if you like the lift it gives and the sociability it affords.” If coffee affects you adversely, tea is another popular beverage linked to many health benefits.
Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita. She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.” On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.
Protein supplements and powders have become all the rage over the last few years, particularly for people trying to build muscle. However, most Americans already get all the protein they need from their diet, and some may even be getting too much.
Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the key component of muscles and play many important roles in body maintenance. Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes (dry beans or peas such as lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans) are good sources of protein, and most Americans consume 12 to 18 percent of their calories as protein. Dr. Van S. Hubbard, director of the NIH Division of Nutrition Research Coordination, says that most Americans do not need to worry about getting enough protein. “Unless they have some other medical problem, most people are meeting or exceeding their protein requirements,” he says. “Since protein is such a common component of most foods that you eat, if you’re eating a relatively varied diet, you’re getting enough protein.” However, some populations, like vegetarians and older people, need to be aware of the protein in their diets. Vegetarians can get the protein they need from rice, beans, eggs, peanut butter, dairy products, and bread. Vegans need to be particularly careful, as they do not consume either eggs or dairy products.
A recent National Institutes of Health study of men and women age 70 years and older found that those who ate the least protein lost significantly more muscle than those who ate the most protein. Older adults who lose muscle in their legs and hips are more likely to fall and have injuries like broken hips. They may also have trouble doing basic things like getting up from a chair, walking upstairs, or taking a stroll due to loss of muscle strength. For elderly people who cannot eat enough protein or who have diseases that leave them malnourished, a protein supplement can be one way to help get enough protein.
Nevertheless, the majority of Americans derive little benefit from increasing their protein intake. Long-term studies found that high-protein diets that result in weight loss usually work as a result of the amount of calories rather than the amount of protein being consumed.
Recent weight loss, muscle fatigue, or a drop in muscle strength may be signs of protein deficiency, but these symptoms could also be due to other health conditions.
Holiday food and spirits may have disappeared, but those extra calories can stubbornly remain as body fat. With each new year, an array of diets emerges, promising to restore your former shape.
My suggestion? This year, follow a new plan called Intermittent Fasting, which has captured the interest of both dieters and researchers. Intermittent Fasting is a structured program without the drudgery of daily calorie deprivation.
Although traditional reduced-calorie diets are certainly science-based, intermittent fasting is a sensible alternative. Studies suggest a modified fast is just as beneficial for weight loss as other diets.
For this program, the term “fasting” is defined as consuming a total of 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men on fasting days. If calorie counting is not convenient, you can eat about 25 percent of your normal calories on fasting days. More importantly, you abstain from eating all calorie-containing foods and beverages for 14 hours (women) or 16 hours (men) on fasting days.
The popular 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet is appealing because the two fasting days each week can be chosen to fit one’s schedule best. On the remaining five days, you eat sensibly. If weight loss is your goal, it is important to avoid overcompensation during non-fasting days.
Alternate-day Fasting is a more aggressive approach to weight loss. You consume only 500-600 calories every other day following the 14- to 16-hour fast. Recently, scientists compared the Alternate-day Fasting program with a standard weight-loss diet for six months followed by a maintenance diet for an additional six months. Persons choosing the fasting program had slightly greater weight loss than individuals following the standard low-calorie diet.
To limit calories during fasting days, consider making a homemade soup, then establish portions and freeze individual servings. A simple vegetable soup with legumes and wild rice or whole wheat quinoa is nutritious, high in fiber, and low in calories. A variety of salad ingredients with fish or turkey and calorie-free dressing is always an excellent choice. An egg-white omelet using fresh or leftover vegetables provides quality protein needed to protect muscle mass.
To dampen appetite during fasting days, choose vegetables high in fiber and protein-rich foods low in fat. Try adding herbs and spices to cooked vegetables. They light up your taste buds with pleasing flavors and aromas.
Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita. She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.” On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.
Has your home returned to a relative state of post-holiday normality? I’m almost there. The boxes and bags and bows and ribbons have been put away until next year. The “thank you” notes are in the mail. And my kitchen table has been restored to an acceptable state of neatness.
Many people will start to focus on new year’s resolutions now, knowing full well the resolutions are unlikely to last. I have a different tradition at the end of December. It goes back quite a few years. In a reflective state of blissful solitude, I write down my own little “year in review.” It takes some time, thought, and effort, but it’s an exercise that can generate some profound insights.
What were the best or most positive events of 2017 — personally, nationally, and globally?
What were the worst or most tragic events of 2017 — personally, nationally, and globally? How did I cope or respond?
What event or situation made me feel most grateful?
What was the most beautiful, unusual, or remarkable sight I saw in 2017? (Personally, it would be difficult to top the perfect, unobstructed view of the total solar eclipse I had from my own backyard in August 2017.)
What was the biggest mistake I made in 2017? This one can be tough and sobering.
What was the most important lesson I learned in 2017? It’s often related to the biggest mistake I made.
What experience or moment touched me the most deeply?
What was the most noble, courageous, or generous thing I did in the past year? Coming up short on this one is not a good sign.
And finally, what could I do in 2018 to become a better person — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?
The little, personal “year in review” may not be as fascinating as a list of the year’s top news stories, viral videos, or celebrities who have passed. It will, however, become profoundly revealing to you 10 or 20 years from now.
Did you survive Thanksgiving without major family stress or tension? If the answer is “no,” you’re not alone. Holiday gatherings don’t always bring out the best in everyone. Some folks are already frazzled by travel nightmares. Those hosting the feast are tense and worn down by days of planning, preparation, and cooking. No one ever has quite enough room in her kitchen for all the food, much less the guests who congregate in the middle of the mess. There’s nearly always one culinary mishap and someone is sure to announce she has a life-threatening allergy to gravy.
But wait! We haven’t even begun to address deeply ingrained differences in political perspectives, religious beliefs, and good, old-fashioned feuds and grudges. Was all of this supposed to be fun? Fortunately or not, many of us will have another crack at family festivity soon as we try to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. I have a few time-tested thoughts that might help—at least a bit.
Psychologists tell us that it takes 21 days to replace a bad habit with a good one. That means we have just enough time to make a difference. Starting now, try not to criticize, condemn, or complain. It’s not easy, especially in this culture. However, it will make the next family gathering much easier to endure, if not actually enjoy.
Remember some basic neurophysiology. The human brain cannot hold onto diametrically opposed emotions simultaneously. We can’t feel love and hatred at the same time. We can’t feel empathy and anger in the same moment. And we can’t experience gratitude and resentment all at once. It may sound simplistic, but gratitude is often the best remedy for resentment, anger, anxiety, and sadness. Those of us who have food, water, shelter, clothes, electricity, a little money, and a few loved ones have more than hundreds of millions of people around the world. Smile and say “thank you” — a lot.
Forgive yourself and everyone else. I’ve watched relatives feud for decades. They make themselves and everyone else miserable. None of us is perfect. We’ve all said and done things that were misguided or thoughtless. However, refusing to forgive is like drinking poison. It makes no sense. Forgiveness represents the ultimate act of overcoming ego. Let it go. LET IT GO!
Please don’t make me sing that song from “Frozen.” I have relatives who would never forgive me.
In 1912, Casimir Funk, a Polish biochemist, isolated a concentrate from rice polishings that cured polyneuritis in pigeons. He called the substance a “vital amine” or “vitamine” because it appeared to be vital for life. There was widespread interest in eradicating several prevalent diseases at the time, and, in an article published in 1912, Funk postulated the existence of four substances: one that prevented beriberi (“antiberiberi”), one that prevented scurvy (“antiscorbutic”), one that prevented pellagra (“antipellagric”), and one that prevented rickets (“antirachitic”). Funk was one of several researchers in the early 20th century investigating these and other substances and their connection to health.
Epidemiologists, physicians, physiologists, and chemists all worked on this puzzle through the mid-20th century; the work was slow and onerous and plagued by many setbacks and contradictions. Chemists were the ones ultimately able to identify and isolate the substances we call vitamins, leading to the development of synthetic forms that are available for wide consumption. The proposed benefits and risks of vitamins and vitamin supplementation continue to be hot topics today.
The vitamins needed by the body for growth and normal development are:
B Vitamins (vitamin B6, vitamin B12, folate, and others)
Vitamins are divided into two groups:
Water-soluble are easily absorbed by the gut and stored only minimally. These include Vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin,niacin, biotin, pantothenic acid, B6, folic acid, B12, and others.
Fat-soluble are stored in body tissues and excess accumulation can be toxic. Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble vitamins.
Macrominerals & Trace Elements
These essential inorganic elements are categorized by abundance:
Macro-minerals are present in the body over 100 mg: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chloride, and sulfur.
Trace elements are present in microgram or low-milligram amounts: iron, zinc, iodine, selenium, copper, manganese, fluoride, chromium, molybdenum, silicon, nickel, boron, arsenic, tin, and vanadium.
Gary Michael Rose is a devoted 69-year-old husband, father, and grandfather. Many people in Huntsville, Alabama, know him from his commitment to multiple volunteer projects. For decades he has served as a Knight of Columbus, helped at a soup kitchen, and repaired broken appliances for the sick and elderly. That’s only a partial list.
Only a handful of people knew that Gary Michael Rose was a war hero of the highest caliber because for 40 years he never said one word about it. Not one word. On October 23, 2017, Captain Rose received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Now the whole world has a real hero to emulate and honor.
“Mike,” as people call him, trained as a Special Forces medic during the Vietnam War. His second assignment involved a top secret mission into Laos to stem the flow of weapons to enemy fighters. It wasn’t long before all hell broke loose.
The men in Mike’s unit sustained heavy casualties. Desperate to save them, Mike raced into small-weapons and machine-gun fire, tending to the wounded as he shielded them with his own body. One by one, Mike used one hand to hoist a wounded soldier over his back and held a gun in his other hand to return enemy fire.
Eventually, Mike sustained multiple wounds himself, but that didn’t deter him. When a chopper finally arrived to evacuate the wounded, it was unable to land and was forced to hover above the ground. Mike lifted and pushed his wounded buddies into the helicopter in the midst of gunfire. As the chopper began to lift up, the gunner was struck in the neck by a bullet. Mike fashioned a pressure dressing with several bandanas to contain the bleeding. But the helicopter was badly damaged and crash- landed. In an unbelievable display of courage and fortitude, Mike raced in and out of the smoldering chopper to save the wounded before everything exploded.
After four days and nights of constant combat, no food or sleep, and nonstop efforts to save others despite his own injuries, Mike and his men were evacuated. The Army believed that Captain Gary Michael Rose saved between 60 to 70 men, including the man who was shot in the neck.
All of this happened in 1970. Mike never discussed it with anyone because the mission was classified. His men talked about it though — through channels at the Pentagon. For 47 years his men campaigned to get Mike the medal he deserved. Mike finally received his medal, and many of men witnessed the ceremony at the White House.
If someone had written a screenplay detailing the heroism of Gary Michael Rose in combat, it would have been rejected as “unrealistic.” Fortunately for the world, Captain Rose is very realistic. After a ceremony at the Pentagon, he’s going home to Alabama with his family. He still has people to help.
Making that assumption is human nature. Tragically, as people in London, Manchester, Brussels, and Berlin have witnessed, ordinary assumptions can be deadly.
Survival requires alertness. It always has. It always will. There has never been a shortage of danger in the world. The nature and complexity of threats have evolved over the millennia, but certain principles of survival endure. Being mindful of your surroundings is one important principle.
Mindfulness is not new. Nor is it merely a pleasant pastime. “Being in the moment” is a good way to slow down, enjoy a meal, or notice a full moon. It may, with practice, help reduce blood pressure and stress. That’s nice. However, in an age when deranged fanatics and terrorists can wreak massive devastation in minutes, mindfulness can save lives.
An off-duty police officer is still a police officer. The same is true for health-care professionals. The next time you’re out in public, be it in a classroom, a café, or a concert hall, practice some mindfulness that really matters:
Be alert, be vigilant — pay attention to people and things around you — not your devices. Do not “zone out.”
Scan the area for possible exits. It is human nature to leave a place the same way you entered. This can be a fatal mistake in a fire, a terrorist attack, or any catastrophe.
Resist the temptation to follow the crowd. Panic-stricken people can be exceedingly dangerous. Be mindful of alternate options for escape. Being trampled to death is not a good option.
Cultivate enough silence in your daily life to foster good instincts and intuition. When seconds matter, this can save lives.
The principles of mindfulness have been practiced and promoted by some very wise people over the centuries. It is curious that a step on the path to enlightenment may be the most crucial survival skill of all.
Millions of people around the world were stunned by the horror of the Las Vegas massacre. The magnitude of the attack was staggering. However, it was the cold, cruel, calculating mindset of the shooter that left us speechless. Normal, decent human beings are not capable of grasping that degree of unmitigated evil. And yet, as the days passed, stories of stunning courage, heroism, and compassion emerged.
Police officers stood up amidst crouching civilians trying to discern the shooter’s location, making themselves targets. At least two men were shot while performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Scores of people used their own bodies as shields to protect loved ones and even strangers. And quick-thinking, brave people fashioned splits, tourniquets, and stretchers from anything these people could find.
Several victims survived, in part, because combat veterans inserted their fingers into bullet wounds to slow blood loss.
Many individuals demonstrated compassion, courage, and creative thinking, transporting victims to hospitals. An Iraq war veteran “borrowed” a truck with the key in the ignition and shuttled 30 people to the emergency room (ER). A cab driver passing by scooped up a young woman with severe wounds. In the back seat, his passengers cradled her as they raced to the nearest hospital. In a moving demonstration of selflessness, many of those injured or wounded declined ambulance transport or emergency care in deference to those in even more serious condition. As one of the ER triage physicians said, “I’ve never had such wonderful patients!”
All of these stories are remarkably reminiscent of the kindness and heroism displayed by people in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing. Countless people donated blood, water, food, accommodations, time, and money to assist victims, family members, first responders, and medical personnel.
Truly evil people always want to aggrandize themselves, often through unspeakable violence. But violence has always been the last refuge of the coward. And, as we’ve witnessed in Las Vegas, one cowardly act by a monster inspired a thousand acts of compassion and courage. May God heal and protect all the good people who endured so much and helped so many.