Do you make New Year’s resolutions? Most of us do and many of them revolve around our health. Usually by February around 80% of us have failed to stick to them. Life changing commitments are hard to commit to.
This year, I suggest that you shift your focus from a promise to lose weight or exercise more to improving the quality of your life – your connections to people and your stress management.
In a recent blog, I referred to a book by Dan Buettner which made me think about our overall health, both physical and mental. Doing the research for The Blue Zones, Buettner assembled a team of medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists to search for evidence-based common denominators among all places where people lived the longest. They found nine.
Exercise is important, but you don’t have to join a gym to become active. Read my blog from a couple of weeks ago where I talk about which exercise is the best for you. Taking on too much, too fast is a sure way to set yourself up for failure. You won’t keep going to the gym if you do not see immediate results. (Unfortunately, this is well documented.) If you are unfit and the weather is lousy, coupled with it getting colder and darker earlier in the day, there is little motivation to stick with a program that you don’t like. Join the gym in March when the snow turns to rain and the muddy season begins. By then, you will have built up some stamina by climbing stairs often (more than you are now!), parking a couple of blocks from the office, dancing to the radio while cleaning your house, walking your dog more, etc..
In the Blue Zones, the researchers discovered that knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. The Okinawans call it “Ikigai” and the Nicoyans call it “plan de vida;” for both it translates to “why I wake up in the morning.” Think about what makes you happy and make a commitment to making whatever it is a part of every week. See live music, learn to cook, plant a garden, take an adult education course, join a dance class, take more photos, etc. Ask yourself what’s missing.
Even people in the Blue Zones experience stress. Stress leads to chronic inflammation, and inflammation is associated with every major age-related disease. What the world’s longest-lived people have that we don’t are routines to shed that stress. Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors, Adventists pray, Ikarians take a nap and Sardinians do happy hour. We have a tendency in the U.S. to eat on the run. This might be a good place to start carving out a stress-free time in your day. Turn the television off, play some soothing music, visit with a friend and get caught-up over a meal, enjoy time alone in the company of your pet while you eat slowly and let your food digest.
“Hara hachi bu” is the Okinawan 2500-year old Confucian mantra said before meals which reminds them to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. The 20% gap between not being hungry and feeling full could be the difference between losing weight or gaining it. People in the blue zones eat their smallest meal in the late afternoon or early evening and then they don’t eat any more the rest of the day.
Beans, including fava, black, soy and lentils, are the cornerstone of most centenarian diets. Meat is eaten on average only five times per month. On average depending on age, build, sex, and level of activity we need 50-100 grams of protein a day. A serving size of legumes and beans is 6 oz and has 10.34 grams of protein. This looks like a deck of cards or 1/2 a baseball. A similar serving size of tempeh has 30 grams of protein and tofu has 18 grams of protein. This is not the portion size that is usually served in a restaurant. Bring a glass container with you when you eat out. Save the extra portion for lunch the next day.
People in all blue zones (except Adventists) drink alcohol moderately and regularly. Moderate drinkers outlive non-drinkers. The trick is to drink 1-2 glasses per day (preferably Sardinian Cannonau wine), with friends and/or with food. And no, according to Mr. Buettner, you can’t save up all week and have 14 drinks on Saturday.
All but five of the 263 centenarians that were interviewed belonged to some faith-based community. Denomination doesn’t seem to matter. Research shows that attending faith-based services four times per month will add 4-14 years of life expectancy.
Successful centenarians in the blue zones put their families first. This means keeping aging parents and grandparents nearby or in the home (It lowers disease and mortality rates of children in the home too.). They commit to a life partner (which can add up to 3 years of life expectancy) and invest in their children with time and love (They’ll be more likely to care for you when the time comes). Extended family members living together is rare in the U.S. but keeping a connection is not. Make a commitment to talk weekly to your loved-ones. Recreating this bond will lower stress and reduce worry.
The world’s longest lived people chose, or were born into, social circles that supported healthy behaviors, Okinawans created ”moais” which are groups of five friends that committed to each other for life. Research from the Framingham Studies shows that smoking, obesity, happiness, and even loneliness are contagious. So the social networks of long-lived people have favorably shaped their health behaviors. Find “your people” at church, a rec club, volunteering at a hospital or the Humane Society, or anywhere you want to learn more about the organization.
For 2020 resolutions think about moving naturally, finding a purpose that gets you excited, down shifting to reduce stress, remembering the 80% rule to help you not overeat, fulling your plate with plants, having a glass of wine with friends, finding “your people”, and putting your family first.
Happy New Year!
Curry Powder is made up of numerous ingredients and depending on the region of the world they can change slightly. The most common and traditional ingredients of curry powder are coriander, sweet basil, cumin, turmeric, cardamom, and red pepper. Some other ingredients that are occasionally added depending on the recipe are ginger, cinnamon, fennel seeds, garlic, and mustard seeds. The ingredients in curry provide not only a selection of vitamins and minerals but also a variety of health benefits
While the word “curry” means “sauce,” the different combinations of spices and the exact number may vary from recipe to recipe. Curry powder, which you can put together yourself, makes a ready-made foundation for innumerable dishes, and constitutes the base for different sauce flavors. Organic Facts says curry powder is:
“A popular spice mix that has a number of valuable health benefits, including the prevention of cancer, protection against heart disease, reduce Alzheimer’s disease symptoms, ease pain and inflammation, boost bone health, protect the immune system from bacterial infections and increase the liver’s ability to remove toxins from the body.”
Some curries include herbs, seeds and/or vegetables, such as sweet basil, garlic, red pepper, bay leaves and the seeds of black pepper, mustard, fenugreek and fennel. The most basic list of spices used for a good curry mixture usually includes:
- Turmeric: One of the most important ingredients in curry powder is turmeric. For centuries turmeric has used for treating inflammation, notably in Ayurvedic medicine.
The most potent compound in turmeric is curcumin It is what gives curry its yellow hue and promotes healing. For bone health and the prevention of osteoporosis, this spice is very beneficial:
“Although human testing is still in its early stages, significant amounts of animal testing have shown turmeric to greatly increase the speed of bone regrowth, connectivity and repair, while reducing signs of bone loss by up to %50. This could mean a very powerful boost to your bones, particularly as you age.”
Another benefit of curcumin is its ability to combat Alzheimer’s disease. It does this by stimulating your immune system to eliminate the amino acids that make up plaque that free radicals dump into your brain’s neural pathways, consequently decreasing cognitive decline.
Curcumin has also been studied for the many ways it also affects cancer cells. It has chemo-preventive effects on stomach and colon cancers in animal studies, and inhibits the growth of Helicobacter pylori.
Anticancer activity may actually begin the moment turmeric hits your tongue, as studies indicate that “nanocurcumin,” a “polymeric nanoparticle-encapsulated” form of curcumin activated by human saliva is particularly effective in preventing pancreatic cancer.
For this reason alone, scientists encourage people to increase their turmeric intake, even by taking it in supplement form.
- Cinnamon, a common ingredient in cookies, breads and comes in two varieties: the cheaper cassia version that is easy to find, and “true” cinnamon from Ceylon.
True cinnamon is helpful in treating diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. It also boosts brain activity, including your memory, your ability to focus and your visual-motor response speed. In a study several years ago, scientists agreed this was especially true for elderly patients, including those with imminent cognitive decline.
- Cloves provide the highest percentage of manganese of any food. In just 2 teaspoons, you get 127 percent of the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), for strong bones, good skin, blood sugar control and protection from free radical damage, according to the George Mateljan Foundation.
Cloves contain eugenol, an oil which can protect your body from absorbing toxins from your environment, help prevent colon cancer and exert anti-inflammatory capabilities. Cloves also contains high amounts of iron, fiber and vitamin K.
- Ginger is wonderful for an upset stomach. One or two capsules or even a cup of strong tea made from fresh ginger root may help. Studies show it’s even used for chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea in cancer patients, and for pregnant moms.
The key ingredient is gingerol, a natural oil containing antioxidants that fight inflammation. It can either be used topically or as an extract to ease osteoarthritis symptoms.
Studies also say ginger can help lower cholesterol. In one study, subjects took 3 grams a day for 45 days, which decreased their markers significantly.
Ginger helps slough the lining of your digestive tract, which prevents bloating and constipation, simultaneously lessening the time waste hangs around in your colon and opening the door to free radical damage.
- Cumin is excellent for digestion. It starts first in your nose, because the scent kick-starts saliva enzymes in your mouth, which is the first step to digesting foods. A single teaspoon of cumin can boost weight loss by 50 percent.
The functions performed by cumin in the body are truly remarkable. The list of pharmacological actions is a long one, and includes its ability to protect your stomach and renal system. It’s anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Traditional uses in the Middle East and Asia include its use for asthma to rheumatism. According to a study in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice:
“Cumin, as one of these medicinal plants, contains more than 100 different chemicals, including essential fatty acids and volatile oil … Moreover, cumin seeds have a substantial amount of … phytosterols [that may] displace cholesterol from intestinal micelles, reducing available cholesterol.”
Cumin also relieves gassiness and it is a natural laxative with anti-microbial and anti-fungal capabilities.
Cumin has seemingly contradictory relaxant and stimulant properties. Its essential oil is described by multiple sites as able to produce a state of “hypnotic tranquility,” perhaps because it’s linked to brain stimulation and mental clarity.
Compounds in cumin may slow the neurotransmitter acetylecholine’s natural degrading process that aging brains experience.
The compound thymoquinone in cumin has been studied extensively as a cancer killer, and is known for its ability to suppress cancer of the colon, blood, liver, prostate, breast, lung, kidney, cervix and skin.
- Coriander – When cilantro “goes to seed,” the plants produce a crown of about 20 little round kernels. When these are harvested, you can ground them to add to your curry mix or, of course, you can purchase ground or whole coriander.
Although you wouldn’t consume a whole ounce of these seeds in a day or even a week, these measurements give you an idea of its nutritional value:
An ounce contains 47 percent of the fiber you need in a day – 8 percent in a single tablespoon. Coriander is also an excellent source of calcium, iron, magnesium and manganese. Similar to cumin, coriander helps relieve gas even while it prevents diarrhea, as well as nausea. Other advantages for adding this spice to your curry mixture are that it helps lower blood pressure and heal problem skin.
Oxidative stress brought on by lead toxicity has been alleviated by coriander in at least one study. Coriander is also excellent to offset food poisoning. A handful of coriander seeds is said to have twice the potency of the best-selling salmonella antibiotic due to the compound dodecenal, and it tastes better.
- Cardamom is a tiny black seed. It is so tiny that grinding 20 of them nets just over a teaspoon. They are found in a pod that emits a sweetish, camphor-like aroma. There are two main varieties: one is either red, black or white; the pale green version is known as “true cardamom.”
You may have tasted Scandinavian pastries with cardamom sprinkled on top. The seeds are also made into a popular tea and, oddly, constitute a Middle Eastern sausage ingredient. On its own, cardamom is effective for preventing gum disease and soothing a sore throat, and is useful as a breath freshener.
One of the most expensive spices to purchase, cardamom has impressive health benefits. Other cardamom benefits include its potential for decreasing blood pressure, as well as heart disease, heart attack, atherosclerosis and stroke risks. One study reported:
“That small cardamom effectively reduces blood pressure, enhances fibrinolysis and improves antioxidant status, without significantly altering blood lipids and fibrinogen levels in stage 1 hypertensive individuals.”
Another study noted cardamom’s “remarkable” ability to “significantly enhance the cytotoxic activity of natural killer cells, indicating their potential anti-cancer effects.” Compounds in cardamom promote a healthy immune system, regulate inflammatory responses and can even be cancer protective.
Organic Facts reports a few things to take note of when using curry:
“Curry powder is a well-known anti-coagulant, so if you already take blood thinners, you should consult with your doctor to eliminate any dangers of excessive bleeding.
Also, some research has shown curry powder to be an irritant to the gallbladder or to people with pre-existing gallbladder conditions. It stimulates gallbladder contractions, which are good for people with healthy gallbladders, but can be very painful for those with gallstones or obstructed bile ducts.”
How to Buy
“Curry powder” is a catchall for Indian spice mixes, and it is important to know that there is no generic curry powder that is used in Indian cooking. There are a huge number of spice mixes, known as masalas, in Indian cooking, and each family has their own blend. It is not uncommon to find different ones in each region of India and each masala recipe varies slightly.
Even though garam masala translates to “hot spice mix,” this blend is not spicy, but rather very aromatic. In this context, “garam” translates to “warm,” which is the perfect description for the flavorful and fragrant spices that make up this blend. It’s a staple of most Indian recipes, used either in recipes or sprinkled on top a finished dish. The most common ingredients in garam masala are green and black cardamom, cassia or cinnamon, coriander, cumin, nutmeg, mace, bay leaves, and black pepper.
Madras Curry Powder
This is probably the closest that an Indian family will come to describing a generic “curry powder.” Madras blends are earthy, fragrant, and bright yellow and incorporate spices like fenugreek, curry leaves, and turmeric, all of which are muskier and stronger-flavored than the milder garam masala spices. Madras curry powder can be made hotter or milder depending on the number and varieties of chiles used. Kashmiri chiles have a milder, more fragrant flavor, while smaller red chiles like dried bird’s eye will add more heat. Madras curry powder can be made into a wet masala by blending it with neutral oil and crushed ginger and garlic. The liquid in wet masalas will burn off as a meal cooks, allowing the spices to stick to the vegetables.
Tandoori masala is the classic spice mix for tandoori-style dishes and is whisked with yogurt, ginger, garlic, and lemon or lime juice and used as a marinade. Tandoori masala can be used as a marinade for almost anything. A lot of store-bought versions will have added salt and citric acid, along with red food coloring, so it really is worth making your own tandoori masala. If using store-bought, you may need to adjust the salt and lemon juice in your recipe so that the marinade doesn’t taste too salty.
Like most quality ingredients, spice mixes are best when made fresh. The fresher the spice mix, the better your dish, and many recipes will tell you to make them on the spot.
Homemade spice mixes are very easy to put together. Try today’s Recipe of the Week! The best thing about homemade spice mixes is that you can vary your spices to make your own personalized blends. You can add more or less of a particular spice, based on your preference. For example, you can make your garam masala with more cinnamon and less coriander, or with more nutmeg and mace and less cloves.
How to Store
Whole spices keep a lot longer than ground spices. I buy whole spices in bulk and store them in small glass jars
Once you’ve made your spice mixes, the best way to store them is in an airtight container that is kept in a cool, dark place, as spices degrade faster when exposed to light and air. Once ground, spice mixes have a shelf life of anywhere between three to six months, depending on how they’re stored.
If you’re buying spice mixes from the store, empty the packets into an airtight container. This will help the blends stay fragrant for longer. Discard any blends that are older than a year or have lost their fragrance.
How to Cook
To make spice blends at home, each spice must be dry-roasted separately, cooled, and ground. You can use a spice grinder or a blender to blend spices to a fine powder; it takes a lot of time and effort to powder Indian spice mixes in a mortar and pestle. Indian families use a special kind of long pestle to ensure that the spices are ground just right. This mortar and pestle is not always available outside of India, so the majority of people now use spice blenders to grind spice mixes. You also could repurpose an old coffee grinder which I have done and it works very well. To remove the smell of coffee from it, grind a large handful of rice, which will get rid of any lingering odors.
Homemade Curry Powder
Brandi - The Vegan 8
1/2 cup - enough for 8 curry dishes at 1 tbsp a piece
1/2 cup - enough for 8 curry dishes at 1 tbsp a piece
- 3 tablespoons turmeric
- 3 tablespoons ground coriander
- 1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
- optional: good pinch of ground cloves
Add all of the spices to a bowl, whisk very very well or optionally, blend in a food processor to ensure good even mixing. Add to a jar and store in your pantry. This will keep for 6 months
Bauman, E., Friedlander, J., (2015) Foundations of Nutrition, Penngrove, CA: Bauman College