Did you know a heart-healthy diet is a brain-healthy diet? A diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants is not only great for reducing the risk for heart disease and diabetes, but also for boosting brain function. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research has shown that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of developing dementia. A Mediterranean diet focuses on all the good food mentioned above and limits foods with added sugars, fewer portions of meat, and carbohydrates compared to a standard American diet.
Foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats slow down our brain function often causing us to be tired or feel sluggish. Eating these types of foods long-term may lead to lower cognitive function as well as increase the risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Physical activity is very critical for positive brain health. Research has shown that regular physical activity is beneficial for the brain because it may increase glucose metabolism, using glucose for fuel quickly, which could reduce the risk for cognitive disorders as you age. This is one reason it is important to strive for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Brisk walking is an example of moderate-intensity exercise, and it is generally cost-effective or free and does not require special equipment. So, while you may be walking to get ready for a vacation or an event, you are not only getting into physical shape but also boosting your cognitive function at the same time!
There are other ways besides diet and exercise that you can help boost your cognition. You may engage in activities such as sewing, quilting, reading, playing games, and socializing. These are great ways to challenge our brains while also having fun. Maybe you just learned someone you know is expecting a baby, so if you enjoy making blankets, make one for that person; maybe the local community center holds game nights – take a friend and go play some games! Try learning something new – if you enjoy dancing, try picking up a new style of dance or if you enjoy cooking, try different recipes or techniques in the kitchen. Trying something new can be fun and rewarding.
Managing stress is important when we think about our brain health. It is easy to get caught up in the stressors of daily life and if we do not have effective ways to manage this stress, it can take a toll on cognitive function. Taking a short walk, listening to music, reading a book, and talking with a friend can help manage stress. Engaging in meditation, prayer, or yoga can also help manage or reduce stress. It is important to take deep breaths and relax throughout the day so you can regain focus and tackle the issue(s) at hand. Stress is inevitable, so finding ways to manage or reduce the effects of stress on you can be beneficial to overall cognitive health.
Keeping our brains healthy is a life-long task. It is never too late to start working on our cognitive health. The brain is continually changing every day so add in healthy foods, exercise, and activities to help grow your brain positively or beneficially. It is important to find ways to manage stress that work for you; this helps with decision-making, problem-solving, and overall cognitive function. Take brain breaks throughout your day to de-stress and recharge.
Physical activity is vital for all individuals. Everyone can benefit from being physically active throughout their lives. Physical activity helps to reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Chronic conditions may be manageable by regular physical activity. Being active can help people maintain a healthy body weight as they age or help people lower their body weight, if needed, when paired with a healthy diet. Physical activity can help with balance, which reduces the risk of falling and lessens the risk of injury if a fall does occur.
How much physical activity is recommended? Some activity is better than none—small amounts of daily exercise like walking, folding laundry, grocery shopping, and gardening benefit health. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that individuals get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity each week. Moderate-intensity exercise increases heart and breath rate, but the person should still be able to maintain a conversation. Vigorous-intensity movement causes you to become out of breath and unable to hold an entire conversation. It is important to know that exercise is most beneficial spread throughout the week, for example, brisk walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Some people do not have time to set aside a 30-minute block during the day to walk and choose to do 10 minutes at a time three times a day, which counts for 30 minutes of exercise that day!
Physical activity can benefit overall health, including mental health. Grab a friend or two and plan to meet up a couple of times each week to socialize and exercise together. Group exercise can be a great way to maintain healthy relationships and physical health. Research indicates that people with an accountability partner tend to stick with their exercise goals longer than those who do not have an exercise partner. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans also recommend that adults should do at least two days per week of muscle-strengthening exercises, such as lifting weights and resistance training. You do not need fancy equipment; you can use food jars, cans of soup, milk jugs, etc., as your weights. Also, you can use your body weight for resistance training, such as push-ups, squats, and planks. When doing muscle-strengthening exercises, it is essential to work out all major muscle groups each week, including the legs, back, chest, and hips.
Always consult your healthcare provider before beginning an exercise program. It is also essential to keep a few safety tips in mind: be aware of your surroundings, dress for the weather, stay hydrated, and ensure the area is well-lit to avoid fall or trip hazards.
The American chestnut tree, (Genus: Castanea dentata, Species: C. sativa, Family: Fagaceae) is a large monoecious deciduous tree. This big, beautiful tree provides green shade in the summer, a stunning display of fall foliage, and a spinney cupule (bur) that holds and protects the chestnut during its growth and maturation. As the chestnut leaves fall, so does the bur. When the bur splits, it releases the chestnut.
The American chestnut was once a VERY important tree for food and forage as well as used as an impressive wood. Unfortunately, this important tree was largely decimated by chestnut blight, a fungal disease (Cryphonectria parasitica). It is estimated that between 3 and 4 billion American chestnut trees were destroyed in the first half of the 20th century.
Scientific research discovered that the Chinese chestnut tree (Castanea mollissima) is recognized as being highly blight resistant (but not immune). Many places in the United States have replanted the American chestnut tree with the Chinese chestnut and its cultivars. In fact, in this general region, there are several chestnut orchards.
The chestnut is classified as a nut… a dry drupe. However, the chestnut differs from most nuts, as it is low in lipid (fat), high in carbohydrates, and rich in vitamins and minerals. The mature chestnut (nut pulp) is more than 50 percent water; special care must be taken to extend its storage so it does not spoil. In fact, chestnuts are highly perishable and should be treated more as a fruit than a dry nut because of its high water content.
Locally, fresh chestnuts are generally only available in the fall. A good chestnut is large, firm to the touch, and feels dense. The USDA does not have any standards for grades of chestnuts, although sometimes size standards are based on the number of nuts per pound.
According to the American Chestnut Foundation®, if nuts are to be stored for eating, store fresh chestnuts in a paper grocery bag for up to two months. Leaving fresh chestnuts at room temperature for a few days helps their starches convert to sugar. For longer storage, put chestnuts in the freezer and use immediately after thawing or they will become mushy.
Chestnuts can be eaten in a variety of forms: • Fresh – dry roasted (no oil in the pan) or boiled • Frozen • Dried • Canned • Pureed • Ground into gluten-free flour
Cooking methods for chestnuts vary widely. Customarily, chestnuts are dry-roasted in the oven, over hot coals, on top of the stove in a skillet, or in the microwave. With the introduction of the Air Fryer and the Instant Pot, the internet is teeming with chestnut recipes for these appliances, too. Whatever method you choose, whether the chestnut is pureed, added to soups, stews, stuffings, and vegetable dishes or even turned into a decadent dessert, the chestnut is a tasty treat.
Traditional Dry Roasting Method for Chestnuts 1. Heat a skillet on top of the stove or preheat the oven to 425° F 2. Rinse the chestnuts in cold water. (Rinsing removes any bird droppings, etc….) 3. Using a sharp knife, score the round side of each chestnut nut with an “X” (the chestnut is FULL of moisture, the “X” keeps the chestnut from exploding due to expansion and makes it easier to peel). 4. Using a roasting pan or skillet, place the chestnuts in the oven, over an open fire, or on top of the stove, flat side down. 5. Dry roast, stirring every five minutes until the shells begin to split open (at this point, the shells are brittle and have curled back some at the X). 6. Remove from the heat when the insides feel soft (this will depend on the nut but usually about 15 – 20 minutes). 7. Wrap in a dish cloth and massage a bit. 8. When cool enough to handle, peel the shells off the chestnuts. 9. Enjoy warm or cold or added to your favorite recipe.
The internet contains a wealth of chestnut recipes. Pick one out to try.
The 2022 flu season is running at full speed and many of us will be spending more time inside due to colder temperatures, traveling, and gathering throughout the holiday season, which means we have a much better chance of coming in contact with people who may have the flu.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. Flu viruses cause illness, hospital stays, and deaths in the U.S. each year. The flu can vary from mild to severe, so be sure to protect you and your family appropriately. Along with being vaccinated, other ways to avoid the flu include staying away from people who are sick, covering your coughs and sneezes by coughing and sneezing into your elbows, not your hands, washing your hands often with soap and water, and not touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
Be Aware of Flu Symptoms:
Fever or feeling feverish/chills
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Let’s Talk Facts About the Flu Vaccine:
It can keep you from getting sick with flu.
It can reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
It can reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization.
It is an important preventive tool for people with certain chronic health conditions.
During pregnancy, the flu vaccine can help protect pregnant women from the flu during and after pregnancy and helps protect their infants from flu in their first few months of life.
It can be lifesaving to children.
Getting yourself vaccinated may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, senior adults, and persons with certain chronic health conditions.
It’s important to note it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective.
Only about 50% of Americans get an annual flu shot. There are so many more people that could prevent hospitalizations, severe flu illness, and even flu deaths if they would get vaccinated. The science is strong and the flu vaccine has been available to the public since 1945 after the U.S. government researched its safety and efficacy on the U.S. military. The flu vaccine is highly recommended by doctors for children, adults, and senior adults. If you have a chronic health condition, it is even more important for you to get your flu vaccine and protect yourself and your family from flu exposure. Let’s all consider getting the flu vaccine in 2022 and 2023 to prevent severe illness, save lives, and to have a happy, healthy New Year.
Holidays are truly worth celebrating! And baked goodies are but just one way many families observe not just the holiday but family traditions and what is special.
Nonetheless, baking brings on an anxiety that cooking does not. In fact, baking is considered a science by some, whereas cooking is an art. Baking requires fairly exact measurements, whereas cooking can be very forgiving. Adding or subtracting ingredients can be personal discretion. For the most part, you cannot do that with a baked product.
However, once you get the basics down, the world is your oyster… you can do anything you want.
In baking, every ingredient has a specific purpose. For example:
Flour gives the structure to baked products (there are many types of flour)
Eggs bind the ingredients and can add to the leavening (think fluffy egg whites) to baked goods
Baking powder, baking soda, and yeast are leaveners (make baked products rise)
Fats, like butter, margarine, oils, or lard, add both flavor and texture to baked products
Flavorings (like vanilla) enhance the flavor of a recipe… know that a little goes a long way
Sugar sweetens and adds to the texture of baked products (there are many types of sugar)
Salt enhances the flavor of all the other ingredients in a baked product
Know, too, that in baking, measuring is of utmost importance. Dry ingredients should be measured in a dry measuring cup and wet ingredients in a liquid measuring cup. Small amounts of both wet or dry ingredients can be measured with measuring spoons.
Using a kitchen scale is the most accurate way to measure both liquid and dry ingredients. Accuracy in baking is of utmost importance. That is what science is all about. Too much or too little of an ingredient can mean disaster.
Other helpful baking tips include understanding the processes. Terms in baking include (but are not limited to):
Grease and flour
And then there are other issues. Baking requires an oven that has temperature controls. Knowing how your oven works is quite important. It never hurts to purchase an oven thermometer to check temperature accuracy. Know the property of the pans you are using. Baking pans can be made from a variety of materials… aluminum, cast iron, ceramic, glass, stainless steel, etc. Each of these heats a bit differently.
Holiday baking recipes can be heavy on fat, sugar, and sodium. Baking holiday goodies can be done nutritiously. The secret is to bake with simple substitutions. It is possible to use healthier ingredients without sacrificing flavor.
Here are some ways to lighten up your holiday baking:
1/2 cup butter/margarine 1/4 cup applesauce & 1/4 cup canola oil
All purpose flour (1 cup) Whole wheat flour, cake flour, or self-rising flour
Salt Ground spices
Heavy cream (1 cup) 1 cup evaporated skim milk
Margarine (stick) 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
Sugar (1 cup granulated) Brown sugar or marketed sugar substitute
Buttermilk (1 cup) Milk and vinegar, milk and lemon juice, or sour cream and milk
Chocolate chips (1 cup) 1/2 cup mint chocolate chips, dried fruit, chopped nuts
Chart adapted from American Cancer Society
The Home Baking Association, https://www.homebaking.org/, is a great website to reference. Their main goal is to perpetuate generations of home bakers.
Don’t be intimidated by baking. With a bit of patience and practice, you will be able to WOW! your holiday guests with delectable treats that may become a family holiday tradition for generations to come.
Persimmons belong to the genus Diospyros. The name Diospyros is derived from the Greek Dio (divine), and the Pyros (grain), accurately interpreted to mean “divine food” or, as a more muddled understanding, “Food of the Gods.” Although it appears persimmons originated in China, they are more extensively cultivated in Japan. Persimmons grow well in our area, too, and as far north as Indiana and Ohio. California and Florida account for most commercial production in the United States.
There are two main types of persimmons, Fuyu and Hachiya. The main types differ in shape, too. Hachiyas are acorn-shaped and are ready when soft; before they are soft, the fruit is extremely astringent. The Fuyu is a firmer fruit, shaped like a medium sized, squat tomato and is a non-astringent cultivar. Both are delicious.
Persimmons are an excellent source of vitamins A and C and iron, are low in calories, and can be used a variety of ways. Persimmons can be eaten raw like an apple (the skin is edible) or peeled and cut, making for great additions to cereal, smoothies, salads, salsas, etc. Persimmons can be dried or frozen and are used in a variety of products from jams to tea, too.
Persimmons are perishable. They have a very short shelf-life at room temperature. What do persimmons taste like? Personally, I think they taste like honey, or sugar, sweet and delicious. Persimmons are seasonal. Seek out persimmons to try today. You will be glad you did!