Wednesday, August 5, 2009

August 5, 2009: Cinnamon, More Than Just a Spice

Did you know that cinnamon comes from the dried inner bark of a tropical tree? The highest grade of cinnamon comes from the bark of the cinnamomum zeylanicum tree from Sri Lanka.

In ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used as part of the embalming process for mummies. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine prescribe cinnamon for illnesses from flu to diarrhea.

Cinnamon is also an excellent air freshener. Tie a few sticks in a mesh bag and hang them in your closet. The scent works like mothballs to keep bugs away, and it smells a lot better!

Cinnamon contains two beneficial compounds, eugenol, which relieves pain, and cinnamaldehyde, a mild sedative. It has anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning properties. The spice is a good source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium.

Cinnamon may lower blood sugar levels and cholesterol. A 2003 study in Diabetes Care reports on sixty people with type 2 diabetes who took one quarter to one teaspoon of cinnamon daily. After 40 days, they reported reduced fasting blood glucose of 18 to 29%, triglycerides lowered by 23 to 30%, LDL cholesterol by 7 to 27%, and total cholesterol by 12 to 26%.

Another study at Copenhagen University showed benefits from eating half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder plus one tablespoon of honey every morning. The patients had less arthritis pain after only one week.

A couple of cautions: (1) The less expensive cassia cinnamon commonly found in grocery stores contains a compound called coumarin, which at high levels can damage the liver. (2) Because of its blood-thinning effect, high doses of cinnamon should not be consumed with anti-clotting medication. Neither of these warnings applies to everyday use of cinnamon in recipes.

Cinnamon has been a favorite cooking spice for about 5000 years. Next time you make French toast, sprinkle on some extra cinnamon. Order chai tea made with cinnamon instead of coffee. Double the cinnamon in your favorite banana bread recipe. You can even add cinnamon to spaghetti sauce for a rich, exotic boost. Sprinkle it, spoon it, stir it in – add extra cinnamon to your healthy life.

July 29, 2009: Affirmations

We all talk to ourselves all the time. The little voice in my head tells me what to do, how to think about things, what’s important and what isn’t, even whether or not to eat.

Most of the time, the voice is helpful. Make sure there’s enough gas in the tank. But sometimes the voice isn’t helpful at all. You’ll never be able to do that. You’re fat already – go ahead and eat it. If you’re not perfect, no one will like you.

At these times, it’s important to recognize that the words are just a voice. Maybe your mother said, Eat your meat first, and now you wonder why you always eat the burger before you touch the French fries. We’ve been listening the voice for so long, sometimes we forget that it isn’t always right.

What can you do if you think you may be responding to unwise voices from the past? The first step is to recognize that some of your beliefs may actually be grooved-in repetitions of early unhelpful words.

Even if you can’t identify where an old thought pattern comes from, you can change your thinking. One way to do this is by actively grooving in a new, positive thought. Here are a few you might want to try.

I am not a victim.

I don’t need to be perfect.

I have the right to make my own choices.

I can disagree with someone’s views and still respect them.

I like myself just the way I am.

My time is valuable.

I can accomplish what I want if I work hard and keep trying.

If you have a specific unhelpful thought that doesn’t fit any of the above statements, you can create your own affirmation. Take the negative and turn it on its head.

I hate myself becomes I love myself.

I can never make up my mind becomes I make great decisions.

We may not be able to eliminate all the old voices, but we can hit the mute button. Take control of the little voice in your head, and you’ll be taking a big step forward into a healthy, happy life.

July 22, 2009: Succulent Houseplants

Since back in Greek and Roman days, people have been growing plants in containers inside their homes. In the nineteenth century, only wealthy people could afford houseplants. It wasn't until the 1950's that houseplants became readily available and affordable for everyone.

An easy group to start growing are the succulents. Native of arid regions, they grow in poor soil, don't mind dry air, and don't need a lot of water. They do need sun, so put them near a window.

A succulent with practical uses is aloe. You can buy an aloe plant just about anywhere, and they grow with minimal attention. Best of all, if you cut or burn yourself, you can break off a stem and let the sap ooze onto the sore spot for instant relief.

An attractive succulent is jade plant, crassula argentea. These grow with a trunk and branches, and look like little trees. They may bloom with tiny white flowers if placed in bright sun. Picture jade plant growing in hot, dry Africa, and don't water it too much. If the leaves start to look soft, it's time to water.

Another fun succulent is commonly called "hen and chickens." The formal name is sempervivum. The original plant will send out shoots which cluster tightly around the "mother." Eventually the offshoots will themselves produce offspring, which will again cluster.

A commonly gifted succulent is kalanchoe, sold in grocery stores for holidays with big leaves and bright flowers. The flowers last for weeks and will come back again and again. The biggest leaves will eventually turn brown and fall off, but by then new green leaves will be ready to take their place.

If you want to take the trouble, kalanchoe will bloom on target for Christmas. Starting around Labor Day, move them into a closet in the evening and give them less water. When buds appear, go back to normal light and water. If this sounds like too much trouble, kalanchoe aren't very expensive, so you can always buy another one that's already blooming.

Filling your house with succulents is an easy way to green up your healthy life.

July 15, 2009: Happy Pets!

The Humane Society estimates that every year, three to four million cats and dogs are euthanized in shelters across the United States. The only way to avoid killing these millions of loving animals is for everyone to spay or neuter their pets.

Here in Tallassee, stray cats and dogs are an ongoing problem. A cat can have three litters of six to ten kittens per litter every year. That's up to thirty kittens per year from one unspayed cat. A dog can have two litters of three to eight puppies, up to 16 extra unwanted pups per year!

Spaying and neutering improves you pet’s health and may even save you money on vet bills over the life of the pet. Spaying reduces the incidence of mammary tumors, tumors of the ovaries or uterus, and uterine infections. Also, spayed females don't attract all the neighborhood stray males.

Neutering reduces male cat and dog territoriality and aggression. It also may cut down on wandering and escaping. Neutering also reduces the incidence of prostate enlargement and prostate tumors and infections, some other tumors, and perineal hernia.

Low cost spaying and neutering is available to everyone through the Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic in Montgomery. Tallassee resident Dr. Rebecca Davidson performs the surgeries. Cost for cats is $35 per male and $45 per female. Cost for dogs is $55 per male and $65 per female. Dogs over 60 pounds are an extra $10. You can also get your pet vaccinated for rabies at the same time for just $10 more.

Call 334-239-7387 to schedule an appointment. Surgeries are performed at 5316 Atlanta Highway in Montgomery every Monday through Thursday. You must make an appointment before bringing in your pet.

Tallassee, let's come together as a community and get our animals spayed and neutered. No one enjoys seeing dead cats and dogs by the side of the road. No one enjoys seeing abandoned kittens and puppies, waiting to be hit. This is a community problem we can fix.

July 8, 2009: Exercise for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects 27 million American adults. It commonly affects knees, hips, and hands. Activity guidelines for osteoarthritis have been designed by the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) to decrease pain, prevent deformity, and improve range of motion, strength, and cardiovascular fitness.

Three to seven days a week, those with osteoarthritis should get 20 to 30 minutes of low impact aerobic exercise at 50-70% of maximum heart rate. Aerobic exercise produces endorphins, which are the body's natural pain-relieving hormone. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for suitable exercises for your body and conditioning.

Those with osteoarthritis also need to do muscle strengthening activities. The AGS recommends two to three days per week doing eight to ten isotonic exercises with six to fifteen reps per exercise, building to more reps over time. Isotonic exercises are those moving with a steady weight, for example bicep curls with small weights or shoulder pull-downs on a workout machine. Again, ask your doctor or physical therapist to recommend a routine for your fitness level.

Why do you need strength training in addition to aerobics? The best support, both for comfort and movement, for a troubled joint is to strengthen the muscle that surrounds it. I have a torn miniscus in my right knee, and with regular workouts and yoga, it no longer restricts or bothers me.

The third exercise component recommended by the AGS is flexibility and balance. Three to five days a week, spend several minutes stretching your arms, legs, shoulders, neck, and back muscles.

A good balance exercise is to stand with your hands a couple of inches above the kitchen counter. Shift your weigh slightly, and lift one foot a few inches. After a few seconds, switch feet. If you wobble, drop your hands to the counter to steady yourself, then lift them again when you find your balance.

Every Saturday I teach a free yoga class at 8:30 am at the Tallassee Community Library. Tallassee residents ages 6 to 75 work on strengthening, stretching, and balance. Come join us in our pursuit of a healthy life!

July 1, 2009: Talking to Your Doctor About Pain

When you or a loved one is in pain, getting help can sometimes be difficult.

According to Dr. Frank Keefe, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, our attitudes toward pain have deep roots. The word “pain” comes from the Greek “poena” which means “punishment.” Many people still equate pain with sin, and may be reluctant to get treatment.

Instead, think of pain as your body’s early warning signal that something is wrong. Pay attention and get help. Listen to your body and catch a problem early, before it ripens into a full-blown disaster.

Before you see the doctor, jot down the answers to these questions. Giving your doctor accurate and complete information will help him or her find a strategy to eliminate or deal with the pain, and to diagnose the underlying causes. These questions are adapted from

How long have you been in pain?

Has this kind of pain come up before? If so, how did you deal with it? What worked or didn’t work?

Where is the pain located? Is it in more than one area? Does it move around? Where is the pain worst?

How severe is the pain? Be prepared to give the doctor a rating from one to ten.

Can you describe the pain? Is it stabbing, aching, burning, or like an electric shock? Write down a clear description of the exact pain.

Do you feel numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation along with the pain?

Does the pain stop you from doing regular activities? Do some activities make the pain worse?

How have you tried to alleviate the pain? Describe any stretching or postures that you have tried, those that help and those that don’t.

What medications have you tried? How often do you take them? How well and for how long do they work?

Do you have any allergies to pain medication?

Bring a copy of your answers to the doctor. Remember that excellent patients have excellent doctors. Be sure to state that your goal is to be comfortable and active. It’s time to enjoy a pain-free, healthy life.

June 24, 2009: Green Tomatoes

Friends ask me, “Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?”

Well, it’s growing very well, thank you! The yellow squash and zucchini plants are the size of small rugs, we’re eating basil like spinach, the peppers are peppering like mad, and the tomato plants are taller than I am.

So far there’s only one glitch – the tomatoes aren’t turning red. According to Purdue University, it’s gotten too hot too fast. They report the best temperatures for turning tomatoes red are between 68 and 77 degrees. We don’t even get down there at night these days! Their best advice is to wait it out. Eventually, the tomatoes will turn red and sweet.

In the meantime, there are plenty of good recipes for green tomatoes. We all know about fried green tomatoes. You can dip tomato slices in egg white first, then in corn meal, bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or flour. A little cooking spray, a hot skillet, and you’ll have a delicious treat. Add diced hot peppers to the coating to spice things up.

Have you ever thought of baking stuffed green tomatoes? Just make your favorite stuffed pepper recipe with tomatoes instead. I like mine stuffed with rice, beans, and cheese. Dice up the scooped-out tomato center and add it to the stuffing. Again, think hot peppers!

If you have a lot of green tomatoes and don’t want to wait, try making green tomato ketchup or salsa. Put six pounds of sliced tomatoes and 3 pounds of sliced onions in a big heavy pot. Add spices to taste, plus two cups of vinegar and one cup of honey. Slow cook the whole thing for about four hours. For ketchup, puree the mixture in a blender, then sieve it to remove lumps. If you prefer salsa, add hot peppers to taste to the cooking pot and keep the lumps. You can preserve the ketchup/salsa, or you can put it in plastic containers and freeze it. Frozen, it keeps for several months.

To paraphrase a famous quote, when life gives you green tomatoes, Enjoy!