Health & Fitness

April 14, 2014

Get sweet on sauerkraut

On “Beat Bobby Flay,” when chef Flay’s world-famous tacos were bested by Brian Tsao’s Korean beef and kimchi version, the not-so-happy Bobby found out the hard way that fermented cabbage (that’s sauerkraut and kimchi) is just what’s needed to create a tasty, healthful meal (and an entertaining TV show).

On “Beat Bobby Flay,” when chef Flay’s world-famous tacos were bested by Brian Tsao’s Korean beef and kimchi version, the not-so-happy Bobby found out the hard way that fermented cabbage (that’s sauerkraut and kimchi) is just what’s needed to create a tasty, healthful meal (and an entertaining TV show).

Wanna give sauerkraut a try? Shred about five pounds of cabbage; then sprinkle it with three tablespoons of salt (it preserves the cabbage while fermentation begins). Place the cabbage in a pot with a weighted lid. After a couple of days, or longer, in a cool environment, the sugar in the cabbage converts into lactic acid. That prevents the cabbage from rotting and encourages the growth of lactobacilli – the probiotics also found in yogurt. (These bacteria bolster immune strength and help ease intestinal distress, including constipation and irritable bowel syndrome.) For kimchi, before you start fermenting, add red pepper paste, ginger and garlic to the basic sauerkraut recipe.

If you don’t make the sauerkraut or kimchi yourself, just make sure you’re getting all their health benefits and flavor when you buy them: Choose only raw and unpasteurized products, surrounded by a lot of liquid in the jar. It’s true that all fermented foods – that’s also miso, tempeh and kefir – contain gut-friendly bacteria. But cabbage (broccoli and Brussels sprouts, too) also has anti-cancer compounds called glucosinolates. So get sweet on sauer, and add kimchi or sauerkraut to veggie dumplings or toss into a slaw and use them as condiments with stew or soup.

Oat cuisine

You may think oatmeal is bland and old-fashioned, but to true believers it’s flavorful and versatile. If you Google it, 12 million results appear, and it has inspired a website called The Oatmeal Artist and a series of comics at But if you’re like most people, your experience with oatmeal is probably limited to granola, granola bars (often sugar-packed and calorie-dense), cookies (more sugar) and instant cup-of-breakfast servings (you’re not getting the whole-grain nutrients of oats). So here’s the latest news on what you’re missing.

Opt for eating whole oats: Steel-cut oatmeal (it’s chopped up) takes the longest to digest, has the lowest glycemic index and is the least processed. Rolled flakes are steamed, rolled and toasted (they’re still whole, but not quite as hearty as the steel cut). Both deliver soluble fiber – including beta-glucan – that lowers lousy LDL cholesterol, eases constipation, controls appetite, keeps good gut bacteria happy and boosts your immune defense against infection. Whole oats also serve up protein, several B vitamins (B-1, B-6, folate, niacin and more) and minerals such as zinc and manganese. But the big news is that oats and oats alone contain an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer compound called AVE (avenanthramide).

So start the day with a bowl of whole oats (no added sugar), fresh fruit and a dollop of nonfat, no-sugar-added Greek yogurt, and get oat-creative. Try oat and walnut non-meatballs, sprinkle crunchy oat groats on salads and use oats for toppings on veggie casseroles.

Pap test versus HPV/DNA screening

Marissa Jaret-Winokur (Tracy Turnblad in the Broadway version of “Hairspray”) was diagnosed with cervical cancer after a Pap smear identified rogue cells in her cervix. She had a hysterectomy but spared her ovaries, and seven years later had a son using a surrogate. That Pap test did its job well. But now an Food and Drug Administration advisory committee has unanimously recommended a human papilloma virus (HPV) DNA test replace the Pap test as the first line check for cervical cancer in women 25 and older.

Why make the change? The Pap smear is a lab exam of cervical cells that determines if they look precancerous or cancerous. And it delivers a lot of false positive and false negative results. The HPV/DNA test checks inside your cervical cells and correctly IDs cancer-causing strains of HPV 16 and 18 (plus 12 other high-risk strains) 90 to 95 percent of the time.

But that doesn’t mean you should skip your Pap right now. Since Pap tests were introduced in the 1940s, the death rate for cervical cancer has plummeted 70 percent. So until the Food and Drug Administration decides if they’ll accept the committee recommendations, healthy women should get a Pap test every three years from age 21 (more often if suspect cells are seen). And between ages 30-65 the America Cancer Society says it’s smart to have co-testing with both the Pap and HPV test (there’s an approved version already). Even if it’s not your year for a cervical cancer screening, see your doc for a wellness checkup.

Solutions for high anxiety

“High Anxiety” may have been Mel Brooks’ idea of funny, but it’s no laughing matter for more than 7 million North Americans who struggle with the insomnia, headaches, muscle tension, eating problems (too much or not enough) and relationship conflicts that general anxiety disorder can trigger. But there have been some interesting treatment approaches making the news.

A free smartphone app called Personal Zen, designed by a clinical psychologist, offers an anxiety-reducing game that helps shift your attention away from a seemingly threatening situation or thought to a nonthreatening one. But immediately we wondered: “What if my battery dies? Or there’s an incoming call while I’m using the app?” So if you’re trying this, we suggest you find a quiet spot and put your phone on airplane mode.

Then there’s the recent study that suggests you shouldn’t try to calm down. Instead, reframe your feelings by convincing yourself that you’re excited, a far more positive revved-up feeling, say the researchers. We say that may work if you’re nervous about public speaking, but not if you’re fretting about paying your bills or losing your job; those thoughts are never exciting.

We like a third approach: According to Johns Hopkins researchers, mindful meditation can ease anxiety symptoms for some folks as well as medication can. Daily, sit comfortably in a quiet room for 10 minutes. Close your eyes. Breathe slowly, in and out. If thoughts pop into your brain, expel them as you exhale. You’ll decrease your stressful feelings, reduce inflammation and release feel-good brain chemicals.

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