Monday, October 31, 2016

Pumpkin Packs a Powerful Nutritious Punch

Fall is officially here. And with it comes cooler weather, shorter days and fall foods. One food that comes to mind for most people is pumpkin – pumpkins are everywhere, from Halloween displays, pumpkin laced coffee drinks, pumpkin muffins and most people’s Thanksgiving favorite…pumpkin pie.

Fall and Pumpkins photo by Carole Jakucs. 10/31/16
Image subject to copyright.

While some pumpkin laced and based foods can be loaded with fat and sugar, there are plenty of recipes on the internet -  from pumpkin muffins to breads and more, that are made with unsweetened applesauce and whole wheat flour. Pumpkin even makes for a delicious base for a tasty soup.

And guess what – pumpkin is healthy when not paired up with sugar, fat and white flour. Pumpkin is filled with good-for-you nutrients. And most abundant is Vitamin A.  Vitamin A is essential for human health. Among its many functions - it supports our immune system, eyes and vision.

So…go for it! Just remember to reduce the sugar and fat that sometimes accompany pumpkin recipes and replace them with healthy alternatives as above for a delicious fall treat.  

Monday, February 15, 2016

Six Ways to Stay True to Your Heart

It’s American Heart Month. And since heart disease is the # 1 killer of adults in the U.S. now may be a good time to consider your lifestyle and find ways to improve your heart health.

While heart disease and its causes can be complex, here are six ways you can help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease:

Honolulu, Hawaii by Carole Jakucs, 2016. Image subject to copyright.

  1. Don’t smoke - Smoking damages blood vessels and can cause high blood pressure, heart attacks strokes and kidney disease. It also raises your risk of developing lung other cancers and COPD.
  2. Control your blood pressure - Monitor your blood pressure to keep it within the normal range which is generally considered 120/80 or lower. High blood pressure damages blood vessels setting the stage for heart attacks, strokes and kidney disease. Consuming a healthy diet that contains recommended amounts of potassium, calcium and magnesium also helps to control blood pressure. Don’t eat foods high in sodium as too much salt increases blood pressure. See the DASH diet for more information.
  3. Exercise (even walking) at least 30 minutes per day, most days of the week. (Get your doctor’s approval before you begin). Exercise helps burn calories to help control your weight, improve circulation and reduce stress.  
  4. Maintain a healthy weight for your height and frame size. Being overweight places a burden on your heart and blood vessels. It also raises your risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.
  5. Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes and beans, whole grains, lean protein and olive oil. Reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats (hydrogenated oils) high fructose corn syrup and junk foods. Consider a Mediterranean Diet which most experts agree is a heart healthy diet.
  6. Try to keep your stress under control. High stress levels are known to increase your risk for heart disease by raising cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Contact your physician for any questions or concerns you have about your health.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Crunchy Cranberry Salad

Are you looking for a healthy, natural cranberry salad for Thanksgiving? If so - you can make your own - with this easy recipe I created.


1 package of fresh cranberries
1 cup of water
1/4 cup of sugar 
1/3 cup of finely chopped walnuts
1/3 cup of finely chopped celery (approximately 1-2 small stalks)

Public Domain Photo Courtesy of: CCO (Creative Commons Public Domain)


Rinse and drain cranberries. Combine cranberries, water and sugar, place in a 3 quart pan and cook for 5 minutes on a medium heat, stirring occasionally during this time while the cranberries pop. Remove cranberry mixture from heat, place in a serving dish.  Add chopped walnuts and celery.  Mix well.  Cover then chill for at least 4 hours.

This healthier version of cranberry salad is nutritious – containing antioxidants and omega 3’s. And it’s lower in sugar than most recipes too.

Consider making cranberries a part of your regular diet throughout the year.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Emergency Preparedness - 14 tips to Help You Prepare

September is Emergency Preparedness Month. Most disaster preparedness experts recommend having enough supplies to sustain yourself, family and pets for a minimum of 72 hours - and more is better. The reason is this: Gas, water, electricity and phone service may be gone and not available for several days - you'll be on your own.

Plan and prepare now, so you're ready. Remember to follow the manufacturer's directions for the storage and use of all equipment. Here are some tips to get you started:

Clouds and Mountains in San Luis Obispbo, by Carole Jakucs, 2015. Image subject to copyright.

  • Bottled water: The recommendation is to have on-hand at least one gallon per person per day. And don't forget to have extra for your pets.
  • Maintain a supply of non-perishable foods such as MRE's  (Meals Ready to Eat) and protein bars.
  • Learn CPR and First Aid. 
  • Get First Aid kits for your home and car.
  • Keep any prescription medications you use on a regular basis handy and in one location if possible so if you if you have to leave your home quickly - you can grab them on your way out the door.
  • Have plenty of flashlights and batteries on hand - at least one set per person.
  • Know where your water and gas shut off valves are located, know how to shut them and when to shut them - in the event of leaks/broken lines.  Keep the tools you need to shut them in a specific place.
  • Get an ABC fire extinguisher, keep it handy and learn how to use it.
  • Consider getting an emergency generator and again, learn how to use it in advance if needing it. You'll need extra fuel to operate it so bear in mind all safety precautions for storage.
  • Important legal documents should already be stored in a waterproof/fireproof container that is easy to grab if you need to evacuate your home quickly.
  • Review your emergency supplies on a regular basis, checking expiration dates and to confirm all equipment still works. 
  • Plan ahead for communications: Have a battery operated radio on-hand for access to public safety announcements. Try to keep your cell phones charged as much as possible. Remember to keep a charger in your car too. 
  • Create a plan to contact and reunite with family members
  • Create plans for escape routes from your home, neighborhood and town. Plans for this will vary depending on what type of home you're in and where you live (near the beach or in the mountains, for example).

Review the CDC and Red Cross websites for more information. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Taking the Zing Out of Spring Allergies

Spring is here – and so are spring allergies. If you’re feeling spring’s allergy effects, you may want to read these tips below to help reduce your symptoms:

Palm Trees in Malibu. Photo by Carole Jakucs, May 2015. Image subject to copyright.

  • Wash your hair often to remove pollens
  • Wash your bedding (including pillow cases) in hot water once per week to reduce the dust mite population and remove pollens too (think of your pollen laden hair on your pillow case).
  • Stay indoors when the pollen counts are high.
  • Keep your windows closed when the pollen counts are high.
  • Get HEPA filters for your home to reduce the amounts of pollens, mold and dust in the air.
  • Run the air in your car for a few minutes with the windows open. This will help reduce the amount of airborne irritants inside your car from the vents and send them to the outside.
  • Try nasal saline sprays to help remove mucus and irritants from your nose. The saline also helps to reduce swelling inside the nasal passages.
  • Use over the counter (OTC) medications as needed to treat your symptoms. Follow all package directions. Antihistamines help with the symptoms of sneezing, runny nose and itching. Decongestants help lessen the swelling of a stuffy nose. Mucolytics help to loosen and thin out mucus in the nasal, sinus and chest areas.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and help keep your mucous membranes moist and fluids moving.
  • Consult with your physician/healthcare provider for any persisting or worsening of symptoms.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Food Additives Linked to Bowel Diseases, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

A new study appearing in the scientific journal Nature, shows that two commonly used food additives found in processed foods known as emulsifiers, produced inflammation and altered the microbial (intestinal bacteria) composition of the intestinal tracts of mice.

The emulsifiers used in the study; carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, also resulted in mice developing colitis, obesity and metabolic syndrome. Given that emulsifiers are used in numerous processed foods in the United States, the concern is that there is a link with the consumption of food additives and the development of these diseases in humans. The number of people with these types of medical conditions has steadily risen over the last 50 or so years. This rising trend coincides with the use of emulsifiers in processed foods.

Emulsifiers are used in processed foods to help extend shelf life and maintain a smooth consistency and texture, similar to the reason that carrageenan, another inflammation producing additive is used by some food manufacturers.

Inflammation is a precursor of many diseases. Avoiding foods that contain inflammation inducing food additives, is one way you can help yourself stay a bit healthier.

Why are these disease provoking food additives allowed to be used in our foods? Why do companies continue to use them? Some of the chemicals approved for use in processed foods in the United States are banned in Europe. Likewise, there are some food additives used in other countries that are banned here. 

You do have a choice, however. If you choose to reduce your intake of food additives, read the labels on all the packaged foods you purchase. If enough people stop buying additive laden foods, perhaps companies will stop using them. To read a synopsis of the Nature article, click here

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Measles Outbreak is Spreading

Measles is highly contagious and can be deadly. In January of this year alone, 84 people in 14 different states have been diagnosed in the U.S. It's important to get vaccinated to reduce your risk of becoming ill. For the no vaccine crowd, they are putting their own children at risk by not having them vaccinated as well endangering the health of others. 

Public Domain photo taken by Jim Goodson, MPH, courtesy of the CDC.

But here is the other news with the current outbreak of measles in the U.S. A small number of people are becoming ill even though they've been vaccinated with the recommended two doses of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. This tells us that for some, even after having their vaccines, they are not immune. 

Perhaps it never took or, they were immune at one time but now their immunity has waned and is no longer present. Luckily, for most people (studies have shown approximately 95 %) two vaccines provide immunity for many years.

If you're not sure of your immunity status, call your health care provider. You can get a blood test (called a titer) to show whether or not your are immune to measles (and mumps and rubella too). If you're not immune, you can get another dose of MMR vaccine. Follow your physician's recommendations regarding any follow up tests and vaccines.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

7 Ways to Help Moisten Dry Eyes

Having dry eyes feels not only feels uncomfortable but it also decreases your visual acuity. Many things can cause dry eyes. Here are a few strategies to help keep them moist.

Surfer at San Onofre by Carole Jakucs, 2014. Image subject to copyright.
  1. Eat a diet containing omega 3 fatty acids. Diets high in omega 3’s can help keep eyes moist. Foods containing omega 3’s are: Fatty fish such as anchovies, salmon, sardines and tuna. Walnuts are a good source too.
  2. Drink plenty of water. Drink at least eight glasses throughout the day to stay hydrated. If your mouth is dry, chances are your eyes are dry too. (Unless you have a medical condition that demands you limit your water/fluid intake such as kidney disease or congestive heart failure.)
  3. Many medications can cause dry eyes such as (but not limited to) antihistamines, decongestants, anti-depressants and diuretics. If your eyes are dry and you suspect it’s one of your medications, consult with your health care provider to discuss the possibility of either lowering the dose or trying a different medication.
  4. Environmental factors such as wind, sun exposure, low humidity and high heat can cause your eyes to feel dry. Reduce your exposure to eye drying elements and wear a good quality pair of sunglasses and a hat or visor when outdoors.
  5. Consider OTC (over the counter) moisture drops and use as directed.
  6. Some medical conditions can cause dry eyes such menopause and Sjogren’s syndrome.
  7. Eat a diet full of colorful vegetables and fruits that contain Vitamin A and Beta Carotene. A diet low in these important nutrients can contribute to the development of dry eyes as well as decrease your night vision.  Foods high in Vitamin A and beta carotene (which our bodies convert to Vitamin A) are: Spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and squash to name a few. (Beta Carotene Supplements are currently not recommended for smokers or previous smokers as studies have shown they can increase the risk for developing lung cancer.) At this time however, natural food sources from the diet are thought to be safe for everyone when consumed within the normal recommended daily amounts. 
If you have dry eyes, consult with your health care or eye care provider for an exam, diagnosis and treatment.