Southern Potato Salad

Whoohoo, Memorial Day weekend! Rain doesn’t mean that you can’t grill or enjoy summery, picnic style food. Even if the sun doesn’t make an appearance break into that fridge and do some cooking.

Ingredients
4 potatoes
4 eggs
1/2 stalk celery, chopped
1/4 cup sweet relish
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
salt and pepper to taste

Directions
1.Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender but still firm, about 15 minutes; drain and chop.
2.Place eggs in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring water to a boil; cover, remove from heat, and let eggs stand in hot water for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from hot water; peel and chop.
3.In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, eggs, celery, sweet relish, garlic, mustard, mayonnaise and salt and pepper. Gently mix together and serve warm.

Courtesy of AllRecipes

Those Elusive Omega-3s

I must admit that I love tilapia: It’s more like chicken or turkey than fishy fish. Now I understand why. If you, like me, are trying to eat two or more servings of fish each week—in order to get the right amount of those omega-3 fatty acids—you may have heard recently that not all fish are created equal. And unfortunately, just like us, fish are what they eat.

Choose your fish wisely
A new study by Wake Forest University researchers shows the stark differences between farm-raised tilapia (the second most common farm-raised fish after salmon) versus wild fish varieties in terms of omega-3 fatty acid content.

Fish need to eat algae in order to deposit lots of the beneficial long-chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic (DHA) fatty acids in their tissues. Farmed fish raised on grain-based diets and vegetable oils, as opposed to algae, have less of the good fats and more of the bad saturated fat—much like grain-fed livestock. They also have higher amounts of monounsaturated fat and less omega-3 fatty acids compared to their wild counterparts.

Specifically, the Wake Forest study found that farm-raised tilapia and catfish had more than twice as much omega-6 fatty acids compared to omega-3. While omega-6s are considered heart-healthy when eaten in the correct ratio with omega-3s, they can promote dangerous inflammation when consumed in excess of their healthier counterparts.

While I’m not going to give up my tilapia, I am going to look for more wild sources of the fish I eat. I’m also going to make sure that at least one of my fish meals a week is a real fishy fish, like salmon, trout, or mackerel—recommended for their high omega-3 content.

Add DHA and EPA
In addition, I’m adding some of the new DHA- and EPA-fortified foods and beverages to my diet to boost these beneficial omegas. But if you go this route, make sure to read food labels closely. Don’t just look for products that say “omega-3s” on the box; look more closely to see if it contains DHA and EPA specifically, as opposed to the less effective alpha-linolenic acid (ALA is an omega-3 found in plant-based products such as walnuts, flaxseed, and canola oil). ALA must be converted to DHA and EPA first to provide specific health benefits, and only about 1% of ALA consumed is converted to the long-chain omegas.

There is no official recommendation for DHA and EPA specifically, but most health organizations recommend two servings of fish per week, preferably fatty fish. About eight ounces of cooked fatty fish per week will equal about 500 milligrams per day of omega-3s, a good baseline amount.

The American Heart Association also recommends that individuals with heart disease should add 1 gram per day of EPA and DHA combined, and individuals with high triglycerides need 2 to 4 grams of EPA plus DHA daily.

Courtesy of Health.com

Flip Your Garden Upside Down

IF pests and blight are wrecking your plants, it might be time to turn your garden on its head.

Growing crops that dangle upside down from homemade or commercially available planters is growing more popular, and its adherents swear they’ll never come back down to earth.

“I’m totally converted,” said Mark McAlpine, a body piercer in Guelph, Ontario, who began growing tomatoes upside down two years ago because cutworms were ravaging the ones he planted in the ground. He made six planters out of five-gallon plastic buckets, some bought at the Home Depot and some salvaged from the trash of a local winemaker. He cut a two-inch hole in the bottom of each bucket and threaded a tomato seedling down through the opening, packing strips of newspaper around the root ball to keep it in place and to prevent dirt from falling out.

He then filled the buckets with soil mixed with compost and hung them on sturdy steel hooks bolted to the railing of his backyard deck. “Last summer was really hot so it wasn’t the best crop, but I still was able to jar enough whole tomatoes, half tomatoes, salsa and tomato sauce to last me through the winter,” said Mr. McAlpine, who plans an additional six upside-down planters this year.

Upside-down gardening, primarily of leggy crops like tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers, is more common partly because of the ubiquity of Topsy Turvy planters, which are breathlessly advertised on television and have prominent placement at retailers like Wal-Mart, Walgreens and Bed Bath & Beyond. According to the company that licenses the product, Allstar Products Group in Hawthorne, N.Y., sales this year are twice last year’s, with 20 million sold since the planter’s invention in 2005. Not to be outdone, Gardener’s Supply and Plow & Hearth recently began selling rival upside-down planters. “Upside-down gardening is definitely a phenomenon,” said Steve Wagner, senior product manager for Plow & Hearth.

The advantages of upside-down gardening are many: it saves space; there is no need for stakes or cages; it foils pests and fungus; there are fewer, if any, weeds; there is efficient delivery of water and nutrients thanks to gravity; and it allows for greater air circulation and sunlight exposure.

While there are skeptics, proponents say the proof is in the produce.

Tomato and jalapeño seedlings sprout from upside-down planters fashioned out of milk jugs and soda bottles that hang from the fence surrounding the Redmond, Wash., yard of Shawn Verrall, a Microsoft software tester who blogs about gardening at Cheapvegetablegardener.com. Mr. Verrall turned to upside-down gardening last summer as an experiment.

“I put one tomato plant in the ground and one upside down, and the one in the ground died,” he said. The other tomato did so well, he planted a jalapeño upside down, too, and it was more prolific than the one he had in the ground. “The plants seem to stay healthier upside down if you water them enough, and it’s a great way to go if you have limited space,” he said.

While horticulturists, agronomists and plant scientists agree that pests and blight are less likely to damage crops suspended in the air, they said they are unsure whether growing them upside down rather than right-side up will yield better results.

“Growing things upside down seems like a fad to me, but I’m glad people are fooling around with it and hope they will let us traditionalist gardening snobs know what we’ve been missing,” said Hans Christian Wien, a horticulture professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Judging from gardening blogs and Web sites, those fooling around with upside-down gardening are generally enthusiastic, particularly if they have planted smaller varieties of tomatoes.

“Bigger tomatoes are too heavy and put too much stress on the vine, causing it to twist and break,” said Michael Nolan, an avid gardener in Atlanta and a writer for Urbangardencasual.com, who has four upside-down planters also made out of five-gallon buckets in which he grows bushels of cherry and patio varieties of tomatoes as well as small pickling cucumbers.

Tomato varieties are labeled as either indeterminate or determinate, and horticulture experts recommend choosing indeterminate ones for upside-down gardens. Determinate tomato plants are stubbier, with somewhat rigid stalks that issue all their fruit at once, which could weigh down and break the stems if hanging upside down. Indeterminate types, by contrast, have more flexible, sprawling stems that produce fruit throughout the season and are less likely to be harmed by gravity.

When Mr. Nolan first tried upside-down gardening, he used the Topsy Turvy planters, which are made of polyethylene bags and look like Chinese lanterns gone wrong. But he was disappointed in the yield. “I far prefer using buckets,” he said, which hang from tall metal shepherd hooks bolted to the posts supporting his backyard deck. He paints his buckets bright colors, and plants herbs and marigolds in the top to help retain moisture.

Another, less decorative solution for preventing evaporation is to top the planters with mulch or simply cover them with a lid. Regardless, Mr. Nolan said, “The upside-down planters tend to dry out really fast, so I have to water a lot — probably once a day in the heat of the summer.”

Many gardeners reported that the thinner, breathable plastic Topsy Turvy planters ($9.99) dried out so quickly that watering even once a day was not enough to prevent desiccated plants. There were similar comments about the Plow & Hearth version ($12.95) and while the Gardener’s Supply upside-down planter ($19.95) has a built-in watering system, online reviewers said it is difficult to assemble.

In addition to plastic soda bottles, milk jugs and five-gallon buckets, upside-down planters can be made out of thick heavy-duty plastic trash bags, plastic reusable shopping totes, kitty litter containers, laundry hampers and even used tires. Web sites like Instructables.com and UpsideDownTomatoPlant.com show how it can be done, and YouTube has several how-to videos. Variations include building a water reservoir either at the top or bottom of planters for irrigation, cutting several openings in the bottom and sides for planting several seedlings and lining the interior with landscape fabric or coconut fiber to help retain moisture.

Donald Rutledge, a construction project designer and manager in New Braunfels, Tex., devised a triple-pulley system so he could easily hoist his nine upside-down planters 16 feet above the ground, away from ravenous deer. He made his planters out of five-gallon buckets four years ago, following instructions on the Internet. “The tomatoes and basil worked real well upside down, but the lettuce, peas and carrots weren’t so successful,” he said. “It’s been trial and error.”

This year, he put his plantings right-side up in the buckets to see if it makes any difference. He said his suspended garden started as an entertaining summer project for him and his three children but has become more of a scientific pursuit: “Is upside down better than right-side up? I’m guess I’m going to find out.”

Courtesy of the NYTimes

New Breakthrough in Alzheimers

New research appears to upend our current scientific understanding of Alzheimer’s disease, and may lead to a whole new approach to finding a cure for the devastating dementia. The new theory gaining traction in the scientific community is that in Alzheimer’s the brain is destroyed not by sticky plaques—long held to be the culprit—but by floating clumps of protein. In fact, the sticky plaques may be the body’s way of protecting against these deadly clumps—the way an oyster forms a pearl to protect against an irritating grain of sand.

For the last 20 years, following the prevailing theory that sticky plaques cause Alzheimer’s disease, drug developers have been targeting that plaque in their search for a cure.

But experiments in mice and rats published in April may prove to be the tipping point that takes that research in a new direction. Many scientists now believe the free-floating clumps of protein, rather than the sticky plaques—are the main players in the rogue process that attacks the brain.

“Plaques are no longer where the action is,” says Sam Gandy, M.D., of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.

Gandy’s work builds on several years of research that has been moving science toward this new theory. And if the theory is correct, then drugs that target plaques—as many of the most promising medications have done in the past few years—won’t help people who have the disease. It could even make them worse. Gandy’s work with specially engineered mice—which developed Alzheimer’s though they had only clumps of the amyloid beta protein, and no plaques in their brains—“is the final experiment that’s making the whole field turn around,” says Andrew Dillin of the Salk Institute of California and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

While the development is exciting, William Theis, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief medical officer, cautions that the leap from mice to men is a long one and that Gandy’s experiments need to be duplicated by other scientists in other labs before drug companies invest billions of dollars to create new medicines that target these clumps of proteins.

Still, this new science is especially important in light of a report from the Alzheimer’s Association released this week, which says the number of Americans age 65 and older who have the disease will increase from 5.1 million today to 13.5 million 40 years from now. And by then the annual cost of caring for people with Alzheimer’s will exceed $20 trillion, the report says.

Click Here to read more

Courtesy of AARP

Support Your Heart – Socialize

Being alone can break your heart—literally.

People who lack a strong network of friends and family are at greater risk of developing—and dying from—heart disease, research shows. According to some studies, the risk of solitude is comparable to that posed by high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even smoking.

Experts haven’t pinpointed exactly how social networks protect against heart disease, but there are a number of probable explanations. People who are socially isolated are more likely to drink, smoke, and get less exercise. And once someone has heart disease, friends and family often provide key support, such as picking up prescriptions, encouraging exercise, cooking healthy meals, and helping with household chores.

While that everyday help is important, it’s not the whole story. In recent years, researchers have begun to unravel the cardiovascular effects of social isolation, and they’ve discovered that feeling alone may hurt the heart even more than actually being alone.

“We started looking at social isolation about 20 years ago, and we found fairly quickly that objective social isolation in everyday life isn’t as important as perceived social isolation,” says John Cacioppo, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. “And there’s a term for perceived social isolation: It’s loneliness.”

What we call loneliness—the feeling that you have no one to turn to, that no one understands you—is a form of stress. And if it becomes chronic, it can wreak havoc on your blood vessels and heart.

What is loneliness?
Though the concepts are sometimes used interchangeably, loneliness is distinct from social isolation (also known as low social support). There’s some overlap between the two, but not as much as one might think.

Social support is typically measured using a handful of characteristics such as marital status, number of friends, and participation in group activities (such as churchgoing). Low scores on these measures don’t necessarily correspond to loneliness, however. Some people need more “me” time than others, after all, and some people are content with just one or two close friends.

To factor in these individual preferences, researchers define loneliness as the gap between a person’s desired and actual social relationships—a subjective measure that’s most easily gauged with questionnaires. To put it another way, social isolation mainly describes the extent of a person’s social network, while loneliness emphasizes quality, rather than quantity, and describes the satisfaction and comfort a person derives from their interpersonal relationships. It’s the difference between the amount of food on your plate and how good it tastes.

Cure your loneliness
If you’re at risk for heart disease, and especially if you’ve suffered a heart attack, limiting social isolation and loneliness are both critical.

If you’re feeling socially isolated or lonely, it’s important to tell a medical professional about it (in addition to friends and family who may be able to provide support). Groups such as Mended Hearts, a nonprofit organization that leads support groups and educational programs for people recovering from heart attacks and heart surgery, can help on both counts, by providing practical help as well as a sense of connection. Dale Briggs finally started to feel less isolated when he attended a Mended Hearts meeting and talked to other heart patients. (He has since become a vice-president of the organization.)

There are other steps one can take. Research suggests that adopting a pet may help alleviate stress. A 2001 study in the journal Hypertension examined nearly 50 stockbrokers (i.e., people with high-stress jobs) who were taking a medication for high blood pressure. Half of the stockbrokers were asked to acquire pets, and six months later, researchers tested the blood pressure of the two groups while the stockbrokers performed a stressful task. They found that while the medication helped lower resting blood pressure, only pet ownership mitigated the spike in blood pressure that occurs during mental stress.

People who experience interpersonal relationships as threatening may find the nonjudgmental nature of pets especially beneficial. “The nonjudgmental aspect of pets really provides support, more so than the support that would be provided by a person,” says Erika Friedmann, PhD, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing who has studied the health benefits of pet ownership.

In most cases, however, lonely heart patients may want to consider talk therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help people understand their emotional and cognitive responses to social relationships, strengthen their social networks, and identify opportunities to make their relationships more meaningful, according to Gollan, who has been working with Cacioppo to translate his research into a clinical context.

“It helps somebody modify their social environment, when they feel that they don’t have the resources or access, or are out of ideas about how to do it,” says Gollan.

Courtesy of Health.com

Pineapple Salsa & Homemade Tortilla Chips

Nothing says summer like chips and salsa. Grab some fresh fruit to make this spicy, sweet combo and serve with homemade chips for that extra oomph of flavor.
For the salsa
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or less for a milder taste)
Salt

Place all of the ingredients but the salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until the ingredients are mixed but still chunky. Transfer the salsa to a bowl, salt it to taste, then cover and refrigerate it until ready to serve. Makes 2 cups.

For the chips
tortillas: corn, wheat, flour
cooking spray
spices: curmin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt
fresh lime or lemon, if desired

Cut the tortillas into 8 wedges. Spray with cooking oil and spice as you wish. Bake at 400 degrees for 6-7 minutes or until the edges start to curl and turn brown. Remove from oven and spritz with citrus. Store in an airtight container. Prior to serving “freshen” in the microwave to recrisp any softer chips.

Courtesy of FamilyFun

Food: Allergies, Intolerance, and Hype

Many who think they have food allergies actually do not.

A new report, commissioned by the federal government, finds the field is rife with poorly done studies, misdiagnoses and tests that can give misleading results.

While there is no doubt that people can be allergic to certain foods, with reproducible responses ranging from a rash to a severe life-threatening reaction, the true incidence of food allergies is only about 8 percent for children and less than 5 percent for adults, said Dr. Marc Riedl, an author of the new paper and an allergist and immunologist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Yet about 30 percent of the population believe they have food allergies. And, Dr. Riedl said, about half the patients coming to his clinic because they had been told they had a food allergy did not really have one.

Dr. Riedl does not dismiss the seriousness of some people’s responses to foods. But, he says, “That accounts for a small percentage of what people term ‘food allergies.’ ” Even people who had food allergies as children may not have them as adults. People often shed allergies, though no one knows why. And sometimes people develop food allergies as adults, again for unknown reasons.

For their report, Dr. Riedl and his colleagues reviewed all the papers they could find on food allergies published between January 1988 and September 2009 — more than 12,000 articles. In the end, only 72 met their criteria, which included having sufficient data for analysis and using more rigorous tests for allergic responses.

“Everyone has a different definition” of a food allergy, said Dr. Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Palo Alto Health Care System in California and Stanford’s Center for Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research, who was the lead author of the new report. People who receive a diagnosis after one of the two tests most often used — pricking the skin and injecting a tiny amount of the suspect food and looking in blood for IgE antibodies, the type associated with allergies — have less than a 50 percent chance of actually having a food allergy, the investigators found.

One way to see such a reaction is with what is called a food challenge, giving people a suspect food disguised so they do not know if they are eating it or a placebo food. If the disguised food causes a reaction, the person has an allergy. But in practice, most doctors are reluctant to use food challenges, Dr. Riedl said. They believe the test to be time consuming, and worry about asking people to consume a food, like peanuts, that can elicit a frightening response.

The paper, to be published Wednesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, is part of a large project organized by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to try to impose order on the chaos of food allergy testing. An expert panel will provide guidelines defining food allergies and giving criteria to diagnose and manage patients. They hope to have a final draft by the end of June.

“We were approached as in a sense the honest broker who could get parties together to look at this question,” said Dr. Matthew J. Fenton, who oversees the guidelines project for the allergy institute.

Authors of the new report — and experts on the guidelines panel — say even accepted dogma, like the idea that breast-fed babies have fewer allergies or that babies should not eat certain foods like eggs for the first year of life, have little evidence behind them.

Part of the confusion is over what is a food allergy and what is a food intolerance, Dr. Fenton said. Allergies involve the immune system, while intolerances generally do not. For example, a headache from sulfites in wine is not a food allergy. It is an intolerance. The same is true for lactose intolerance, caused by the lack of an enzyme needed to digest sugar in milk. And other medical conditions can make people think they have food allergies, Dr. Fenton said. For example, people sometimes interpret acid reflux symptoms after eating a particular food as an allergy.

The chairman of the guidelines project, Dr. Joshua Boyce, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard and an allergist and pediatric pulmonologist, said one of the biggest misconceptions some doctors and patients have is that a positive test for IgE antibodies to a food means a person is allergic to that food. It is not necessarily so, he said.

During development, he said, the immune system tends to react to certain food proteins, producing IgE antibodies. But, Dr. Boyce said, “these antibodies can be transient and even inconsequential.”

“There are plenty of individuals with IgE antibodies to various foods who don’t react to those foods at all,” Dr. Boyce said.

The higher the levels of IgE antibodies to a particular food, the greater the likelihood the person will react in an allergic way. But even then, the antibodies do not necessarily portend a severe reaction, Dr. Boyce said. Antibodies to some foods, like peanuts, are much more likely to produce a reaction than ones to other foods, like wheat or corn or rice. No one understands why.

The guidelines panel hopes its report will lead to new research as well as clarify the definition and testing for food allergies.

But for now, Dr. Fenton said, doctors should not use either the skin-prick test or the antibody test as the sole reason for thinking their patients have a food allergy. “By themselves they are not sufficient,” Dr. Fenton said.

Courtesy of the NY Times