I Love New York.

Yesterday, I read an article discussing healthy breakfast choices.  The upshot?  If you want to do a body good, skip the cereal.  Most cereals have too much sugar, too much salt, too many preservatives, and too many artificial sweeteners.  Yes, cereal lovers, the the reason you look forward to your breakfast likely is less than virtuous. 

That said, if you have to eat cereal, make it a good one. 

#EatRealFood

 

The New York City public school system has quietly replaced breakfast cereals made by the Kellogg Company, the titan whose name is virtually synonymous with cereal, with those from a small California upstart called Back to the Roots.

The switch, which follows a student taste test that began last spring, adds menu options that are lower in sugar and sodium and higher in whole grains. Coming in the nation’s largest school system, and potentially spreading to other large districts that collaborate with New York in bulk purchases, it is one of the biggest signs to date of the inroads that small food companies are making into the mainstream.

But the change also highlights the many hurdles facing small food companies and advocates of better nutrition, years after the federal government started pressing school districts to improve their menus.

Last summer, Kellogg discontinued two Kashi cereals, Berry Blossoms and Honey Sunshine, that were on the schools’ breakfast menu. But instead of replacing them with other Kellogg cereals, the schools opted to buy Back to the Roots cereals because of their better nutritional profile and organic ingredients, said Eric Goldstein, the chief executive of the Office of School Support Services, which oversees food operations of the city’s Department of Education.

Today, the 254,000 students, on average, who eat a free breakfast in city schools are offered two Back to the Roots cereals in addition to three more conventional choices from General Mills, Kellogg and Post Foods.

One 28-gram serving of Back to the Roots Cinnamon Clusters, for instance, has half as much sugar and four-fifths as many calories as the same amount of Kellogg’s Frosted Mini-Wheats, which are still offered in New York schools. The Kellogg product is made of five ingredients, including the preservative butylated hydroxytoluene and gelatin, and has eight added vitamins. The Back to the Roots cereal has just four ingredients, no preservatives and no added vitamins; it is certified organic, and organic vitamins are hard to find.

—  Healthier Cereals Snare a Spot on New York School Menus, The New York Times (March 1, 2017).

RE:PRINT (NYT): These Are the Only Kitchen Tools You Need

With the prevalence of convenience-based prepared food, cooking often has taken a backseat to, well, er, most things.  For me, this was especially true when I was single and responsible solely for feeding myself.  Mixed nuts for dinner?  Fine.  Bagel and cream cheese from the deli for breakfast?  Yes.  Custom prepared salad from the place downstairs for lunch?  Of course.  Then, my refrigerator was used as storage for white wine, Champagne, water, and chocolate.  As decadent as that selection may sound, the reality is that my currently stocked refrigerator is more impressive–fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, carrots, spinach, cheese, eggs, butter, apples, oranges, etc.  And, yes, of course, a chilled bottle of Champagne.

As with many of life’s dramatic changes, my transition from non-cook to cook was a byproduct of life’s upheaval.  I purchased heavy-bottom pots and pans, narrow metal measuring spoons, nesting metal measuring cups, and a high-end set of knives after calling off my first engagement.  (I also purchased a potato ricer and a meatloaf pan; the former a waste of money, the latter a worthwhile purchase depending upon one’s fondness of the dish.)  He had wanted me to cook; I had done so.  He had the well-stocked kitchen filled with knives costing more than some people make in a month; I had a paring knife.

I purchased tongs, a metal whisk, wooden spoons, a sieve, a second sheet pan, and a stove top-to-oven pot after my second engagement went the way of my first.  He was a great cook, inspiring me to cook by touch and taste rather than merely following a recipe.  He taught me the fundamentals of cooking, explaining the reasoning behind the technique.  He also sent me a Le Creuset pot as a housewarming gift post break-up.

Today, I have a wide array of kitchen tools at the ready.  That is, in large part, because I married my husband in my mid-to-late 30s.  (Really, what’s in a number?)  Even post-consolidation of our kitchen items, we found one item missing:  an immersion blender.  Yes, one can blend soups in a blender, but it is easier–and safer–not to.

Now, with all the right tools at my disposal, I would much rather make chocolate chip cookies than buy them.  Same goes for hummos (black bean or chick pea), chicken noodle soup, curries (Indian or Asian), butternut squash soup, etc.  And, yes, I’m still using the same heavy-bottom pots and pans purchased all those years ago.

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RE:PRINT:  The New York Times

These Are the Only Kitchen Tools You Need

The on-ramp for cooking is finding the recipes that make you want to cook, whether you get them from NYT Cooking or BuzzFeed or even a cookbook.

It doesn’t matter what they’re for (Slutty Brownies or kale salad or Bacon Explosion). What does matter is having the tools that make recipes work.

Why think about it in advance? If you suddenly need a spatula, you can get one at CVS. Who cares if it’s plastic? The dollar store sells measuring spoons. Is it a problem that they’re shaped like the state of Texas?

Yes, it is.

It’s a lot easier to spend one afternoon buying the right stuff than to spend every morning you want to cook something in a sweat, trying to improvise a substitute for a rolling pin (an empty wine bottle?) or a bread knife (good luck).

To outfit your kitchen, go to the big-box store of your choice: Upscale places like Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table are browse-worthy, but they often charge much more for the same basic tools. And don’t think you have to be completely sensible: Buy some crazy thing that appeals to you, like a set of miniature pie tins or a state-of-the-art meat thermometer or one of those old-school apple peelers. The things you don’t need but want are the things that will lure you into the kitchen.

To set up your kitchen for basic cooking (and some baking) tasks, you will need:

1 big (8-inch) knife

1 serrated bread knife

2 small paring knives

1 10-inch cast-iron skillet

1 small nonstick skillet

1 4-quart pot with a lid

1 9-by-13-inch metal baking pan

Metal measuring spoons

A metal whisk, long wooden spoons and a silicone spatula

A pair of sturdy metal tongs

Plastic or glass measuring cups (a 1-cup and a 2-cup)

2 13-by-18-inch sheet pans

A set of mixing bowls (plastic is fine)

And if you have some extra cash, buy some kind of chopping/mixing device — either a food processor with multiple blades or a hand blender with multiple attachments.

Finally, because someday you will give in to the voices that say you must learn to roast a chicken, do yourself a favor and buy some kitchen shears. Cooking is easy. Carving is hard.

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Eating for Life

Since [S] was born, the way I prepare meals has changed significantly.  Long gone are the days when I would open a bottle of wine before preparing my mise en place.  No longer do I spend hours in the kitchen preparing a meal for my husband.  Today, my go to meals are quick, simple to prepare, and require few ingredients.  Yes, pasta is in the rotation, as is tofu.  But so are soups, salads, and bean-based meals.

Since moving to Okinawa, meal preparation has been a depressing endeavor.  Our kitchen is tiny, the stove top is uneven, and the oven is slow.  To add insult to injury produce purchased at the commissary frequently is rotten or rotting.  As a result, frozen organic broccoli steaming packets are a staple in our home, as are packets of frozen cauliflower.  We’ve also limited our meat intake, preferring to avoid purchasing meat shipped from the U.S. to Japan for purchase.  Occasionally, we purchase chicken or pork locally for a meal.  But that is the exception, not the rule.  (Think guests.)  As a result, most of our meals are meat-free.

Tonight, I made curried carrot soup.  The ingredients?  Onion, garlic, carrots, and organic chicken broth, seasoned with curry powder and far too much cayenne.  The result?  My husband and daughter couldn’t get enough.  This, despite [S] asking me to blow on her cold soup because there was so much heat from the pepper.

There’s something to be said for getting back to the basics.

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RE:PRINT:  12 Tips for Living a Longer Life, The New York Times (Aug. 4, 2015).

In this weekend’s article “My Dinner With Longevity Expert Dan Buettner (No Kale Required),” the author of “The Blue Zones Solution” cooked a meal of broccoli soup and Icarian stew (served with a few glasses of red wine) for the writer Jeff Gordinier. Since we can’t all have such a hands-on experience, here’s a round-up of Mr. Buettner’s advice for living a longer life.

1. Drink coffee. “It’s one of the biggest sources of antioxidants in the American diet.”

2. Skip the juicing. “The glycemic index on that is as bad as Coke. For eight ounces, there’s 14 grams of sugar. People get suckered into thinking, ‘Oh, I’m drinking this juice.’ Skip the juicing. Eat the fruit. Or eat the vegetable.”

3. You should also skip the protein shake.

4. Go for long walks.

5. It’s O.K. to drink red wine. “A glass of wine is better than a glass of water with a Mediterranean meal.”

6. High-impact exercise winds up doing as much harm as good. “You can’t be pounding your joints with marathons and pumping iron. You’ll never see me doing CrossFit.” Instead stick to activities like biking, yoga and, yes, walking.

7. Cook mostly vegetarian meals that are heavy on fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, 100 percent whole-grain bread, oatmeal and avocados.

8. Hold the butter. “My view is that butter, lard and other animal fats are a bit like radiation: a dollop a couple of times a week probably isn’t going to hurt you, but we don’t know the safe level.” Use olive oil instead.

9. Eat meat and fish only sparingly.

10. Try to stay away from cow’s milk. Use soy milk instead.

11. There’s no need to avoid carbs if you add freshly baked loaves of bread to a meal. “A true sourdough bread will actually lower the glycemic load of a meal. But it has to be a real sourdough bread.”

12. Eat in good company. It’s not just about what you eat, but how you eat, and how much you and your friends enjoy a meal together: “The secret sauce is the right mix of friends.”

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Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt: A Win for Women

Abortion rights supporters and opponents wait for rulings in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court has overturned a Texas law requiring clinics that provide abortions to have surgical facilities and doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law was predicted to close many clinics and further reduce availability of abortion in Texas; the court has ruled the law violated the Constitution.

With a 5-3 decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the court reversed a decision by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which had upheld the law. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, while Anthony Kennedy joined the liberal justices in the majority.

No Need To Stand. Really.

Too much sitting increases heart failure risk and disability risk, and shortens life expectancy, studies have found. But according to an analysis published Wednesday of 20 of the best studies done so far, there’s little evidence that workplace interventions like the sit-stand desk or even the flashier pedaling or treadmill desks will help you burn lots more calories, or prevent or reverse the harm of sitting for hours on end.

“What we actually found is that most of it is, very much, just fashionable and not proven good for your health,” says Dr. Jos Verbeek, a health researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

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“The idea you should be standing four hours a day? There’s no real evidence for that,” he says. “I would say that there’s evidence that standing can be bad for your health.” A 2005 study in Denmark showed prolonged standing at work led to a higher hospitalization risk for enlarged veins.

—  Stand To Work If You Like, But Don’t Brag About The Benefits, NPR, March 18, 2016.

The standing desk movement has been afoot for some time and continues to gain traction.  Indeed, I’m only marginally in the workforce, yet have been up close and personal with the trend.  My supervisor has a standing desk.  And I have used his office on more than one occasion.  The first time I had a call with a client, I found standing at the desk to be distracting, disorienting and uncomfortable.  Yes, I understand that behavioral modification is a science and, likely, the reason I disliked my experience was because it was new and different.  Regardless, I prefer sitting down, even if it is considered to be the modern day cigarette, and putting my feet up.  And now there’s no reason to be ashamed of my bad habit.

Getting Into the Practice

IMG_3410
Yogis in Okinawa, Japan.

When the universe conspires to tell me something, I do my best to listen.  At the end of 2015, I was forced to acknowledge two things causing substantial interruption to my life.  The first was a pain in the neck (literally) reminiscent of a herniated cervical disc several years ago; the second was that I felt rushed, hurried, really, all day long.  While I suspect the latter caused the former, it is wholly irrelevant.

Yoga has been a hot topic of conversation for years.  People go to yoga class, carry yoga mats, love their instructors and are amazed by how strong they have become through the practice.  Truthfully, I have struggled to understand such loyalty to a slow movement activity.  For me, exercise involves heart-pounding aerobic activity.  Oh, yes.  I know fit men who have told me that they could not keep up with yoga instructors.  I know women who claim their sculpted abs and arms are a result of yoga-only exercise.  And this Christmas, I listened as someone told me that the mental focus learned by practicing yoga helped them stay focused while surfing, allowing them to stay upright longer.

Recently–within the past 45 days or so–I have shared a meal with a yoga instructor, spent time with people who practice yoga regularly, spoken with people who swear that the practice of yoga has transformed their lives, read studies endorsing the health benefits of the practice, and discussed how yoga has helped my parents stay limber and relaxed.  And then, one day over the holidays, I walked to the Sea and saw a yoga class being conducted near the seawall.

On January 1st, I Googled “yoga for beginners” and started a video.  For better or worse, it wasn’t what I thought it would be.  It was challenging, both mentally and physically.  It was quiet.  And it allowed me to engage with my body in a new way.  Since then Russell and I have undertaken a 30-day yoga challenge.  I enjoy Russell’s company in the evenings.  Although, without his presence I would be blissfully unaware that I don’t know my left from right.   And, while I know he enjoys my company as well, I think he likes the practice even more than me.  Or, maybe, he just likes the fact we practice in silence.

Back to the Basics

As I was speaking on the phone with a life-long friend on New Year’s Day, I asked, “Do you make New Year resolutions?”  “Oh, yes, I do–there’s always room for improvement,” she quickly replied.  Taken aback by her response, I asked what her goals would be for 2016.  “Well, I’m not sure yet.  I haven’t had time to think about it really.  What about you?”

A few years ago, I stopped making New Year resolutions.  Goals set on January 1st seemed all too common.  Go the gym.  Lose weight.  Eat better.  Get out of debt.  Save money.  Quit smoking.  While there is something to be said for motivation en masse, it seemed a bit too cliche to head to the gym on January 2nd.  It was then I chose August, my birthday month, to be a time of self-assessment, inner reflection and personal goal setting.

This December, I spent a lot of time contemplating how I could be a better person and how I could live a better life.  Such questions forced me to contemplate what living a successful life looked like to me–now, at this moment.  My answer was as simple as a resume objective:  I want to be a healthy, thoughtful, and loving woman.  Were a variation of that sentence the sole line in my obituary, I would be pleased.

While I would like to think of myself as healthy, thoughtful and loving, I know that I can be healthier, more thoughtful and more loving.  And I know that achieving such seemingly simple goals can be quite challenging.  But I will try nevertheless.  I will increase my physical activity.  I will think creatively.  I will engage in new activities.  And I will demonstrate love every opportunity I am given.  Whenever I think that I am destined to fail (and, yes, three days into the year, I have contemplated it), I am reminded that my mission truly is simple.  I want to get back to the basics.  I want to read more, create more, listen more, see more, do more, embrace more, write more, love more, give more and be more.

To be certain, I won’t get it right all the time.  But on I will go.

RE:PRINT (NYT): 12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health

Almost every woman of a certain age I know has been diagnosed with osteoporosis or osteopenia.  The diagnosis oftentimes is accompanied by a drug prescription.  But what if a drug therapy could be replaced by physical activity?  Certainly, I’d prefer the non-medicated route.  Better yet, I’d take the preventative route, if at all possible.

And I’m hoping it is possible.  As a small-framed, Asian woman with a diet low in calcium, I’m trying everything I can to avoid osteoporosis.  Or at least I thought I was.  While I’ve yet to be seduced by yoga (of any type), I might start learning a few poses in my continued effort to stave off bone loss.  After all, its sides effects are the best of any known therapy.

On the other hand, yoga’s “side effects,” Dr. Fishman and colleagues wrote recently, “include better posture, improved balance, enhanced coordination, greater range of motion, higher strength, reduced levels of anxiety and better gait.”

—  12 Minutes of Yoga for Bone Health, The New York Times (Dec. 21, 2015).

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Yoga enthusiasts link the practice to a long list of health benefits, including greater flexibility and range of motion, stronger muscles, better posture and balance, reduced emotional and physical stress, and increased self-awareness and self-esteem.

But definitively proving these benefits is challenging, requiring years of costly research. A pharmaceutical company is unlikely to fund a study that doesn’t involve a drug, and in any event, the research requires a large group of volunteers tracked over a very long time.

The subjects must provide health measurements at the outset, learn the proper poses, continue to do them regularly for years and be regularly evaluated.

No one knows these challenges better than Dr. Loren M. Fishman, a physiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in rehabilitative medicine. For years, he has been gathering evidence on yoga and bone health, hoping to determine whether yoga might be an effective therapy for osteoporosis.

The idea is not widely accepted in the medical community, but then, researchers know comparatively little about complementary medicine in general. So in 2005, Dr. Fishman began a small pilot study of yoga moves that turned up some encouraging results. Eleven practitioners had increased bone density in their spine and hips, he reported in 2009, compared with seven controls who did not practice yoga.

Knowing that more than 700,000 spinal fractures and more than 300,000 hip fractures occur annually in the United States, Dr. Fishman hoped that similar findings from a much larger study might convince doctors that this low-cost and less dangerous alternative to bone-loss drugs is worth pursuing.

Those medications can produce adverse side effects like gastrointestinal distress and fractures of the femur. Indeed, a recent study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging found that among 126,188 women found to have osteoporosis, all of whom had Medicare Part D drug coverage, only 28 percent started bone drug therapy within a year of diagnosis.

Many of those who avoided drugs were trying to avoid gastrointestinal problems.

On the other hand, yoga’s “side effects,” Dr. Fishman and colleagues wrote recently, “include better posture, improved balance, enhanced coordination, greater range of motion, higher strength, reduced levels of anxiety and better gait.”

Weight-bearing activity is often recommended to patients with bone loss, and Dr. Fishman argues that certain yoga positions fit the bill.

“Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does,” he said in an interview. “By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.”

Most experts argue that it’s difficult, perhaps impossible, for adults to gain significant bone mass. Undeterred, Dr. Fishman invested a chunk of his own money and with three collaborators — Yi-Hsueh Lu of The Rockefeller University, Bernard Rosner of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Dr. Gregory Chang of New York University — solicited volunteers worldwide via the Internet for a follow-up to his small pilot study.

Of the 741 people who joined his experiment from 2005 to 2015, 227 (202 of them women) followed through with doing the 12 assigned yoga poses daily or at least every other day. The average age of the 227 participants upon joining the study was 68, and 83 percent had osteoporosis or its precursor, osteopenia.

The 12 poses, by their English names, were tree, triangle, warrior II, side-angle, twisted triangle, locust, bridge, supine hand-to-foot I, supine hand-to-foot II, straight-legged twist, bent-knee twist and corpse pose. Each pose was held for 30 seconds. The daily regimen, once learned, took 12 minutes to complete.

The researchers collected data at the start of the study on the participants’ bone density measurements, blood and urine chemistry and X-rays of their spines and hips. They were each given a DVD of the 12 yoga poses used in the pilot study and an online program in which to record what they did and how often.

A decade after the start of the study, bone density measurements were again taken and emailed to the researchers; many participants also had repeat X-rays done. The findings, as reported last month in Topics of Geriatric Rehabilitation, showed improved bone density in the spine and femur of the 227 participants who were moderately or fully compliant with the assigned yoga exercises.

Improvements were seen in bone density in the hip as well, but they were not statistically significant.

Before the study, the participants had had 109 fractures, reported by them or found on X-rays.

At the time the study was submitted for publication, “with more than 90,000 hours of yoga practiced largely by people with osteoporosis or osteopenia, there have been no reported or X-ray detected fractures or serious injuries of any kind related to the practice of yoga in any of the 741 participants,” Dr. Fishman and his colleagues wrote.

“Yoga looks like it’s safe, even for people who have suffered significant bone loss,” Dr. Fishman said in an interview.

Furthermore, a special study of bone quality done on 18 of the participants showed that they had “better internal support of their bones, which is not measured by a bone density scan but is important to resisting fractures,” Dr. Fishman said.

The study has many limitations, including the use of self-selected volunteers and the lack of a control group. But all told, the team concluded, the results may lend support to Dr. Fishman’s long-held belief that yoga can help reverse bone loss.

Even if bone density did not increase, improvements in posture and balance that can accrue from the practice of yoga can be protective, Dr. Fishman said.

“Spinal fractures can result from poor posture, and there’s no medication for that, but yoga is helpful,” he said.

In addition, “Yoga is good for range of motion, strength, coordination and reduced anxiety,” he said, “all of which contribute to the ability to stay upright and not fall. If you don’t fall, you greatly reduce your risk of a serious fracture.”

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