IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  February 1, 2010

February is Chili Month! Black bean chili

Dispel the myth. Chili is not a native Mexican dish and far from the fare of the South American country Chile.

Most early references referred to "chili con carne" or meat stew. Some legends trace it to a Spanish nun who came to the New World in the 17th Century, while others say it was brought to San Antonio, in 1731 by settlers from the Canary Islands.

Chili has evolved in many forms and has spawned cook-offs everywhere from county fairs to national festivals. Except for meatless recipes, all have two things in common, meat and some form of peppers.

Mary "Mom" Unser, matriarch of the famous auto racing family, made hers with shredded pork, Vodka, and large cans of jalapeņos. Many varieties are topped with items like cheese or poured over spaghetti as a topping.

The recipe below uses Louisiana hot sauce in place of the traditional chili powder. (Add the hot sauce and pepper to suit your taste.)

Quick black bean chili

1 pound ground beef chuck, turkey or chicken
1 medium onion, diced
1 14-15 ounce can chili-ready tomatoes
1 14-15 oz. can beef broth
1 14-15 ounce can black beans
1 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons ketchup.

10 dashes Louisiana hot sauce, Tabasco, or small can of peppers.

Salt to taste.

In a large, deep skillet or wok, brown the meat and onions, adding the salt, pepper and hot sauce.

Add the beans, tomatoes and broth and simmer on low for about 45 minutes stirring from time to time.

Serve with crackers as a main course or in a cup as a soup course. The mixture freezes well and still tastes great as a leftover.

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February is American Heart Month

One expert says real improvement in heart disease risk takes just three steps: Eat right, be active, and don't smoke.

Whether you're in the 20s, 40s or well beyond, it's never too late or too early to follow this advice. Cardiovascular disease is the nation's top killer.

Eat right

  • Limit your intake of fats in order to keep your arteries clear. Know your LDL and HDL cholesterol numbers and how to keep them in the proper range, ideally under 100 mg/dL for LDL, and above 50 for good HDL, according to the American Heart Association.
  • Too much sugar in the diet can cause weight gain and extra work for the heart. About 65 percent of Americans are overweight. Eat sweets in moderation, advises Dr. Arthur Agatston, author of The South Beach Diet Supercharged.
  • Too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, a big heart risk. Most of it is in processed foods. Home cooking should be flavored with other seasonings.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, fish and nuts. If you don't often eat fatty fish, supplement with omega 3s. Many experts say drinking several cups of green tea per day decreases heart attack risk by lowering inflammation.

    Be active

  • Exercise early and regularly, advises Dr. Agatston. Inactivity is one of the top risk factors for heart disease.
  • Exercise strengthens your heart, helps keep cholesterol under control and improves circulation and energy.
  • It increases endurance, improves muscle tone and strengthens bones.
  • Exercise helps reduce stress, tension, anxiety and depression.
  • It improves the quality of your sleep and makes you look and feel healthy.
  • Exercise for 30 minutes at least three times a week is recommended. Exercising more often, or every day, is better.

    Don't smoke

  • About 20 percent of heart disease deaths in the U.S. are directly related to cigarette smoking.
  • Heart attack risk increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes. Pack-a-day smokers have twice the risk of heart attack non-smokers have.
  • Smokers' heart attack risk increases according to the number of years they have smoked.

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    Chuckles Corner

  • Sudden paralysis that's not a stroke: Bell's palsy

    No one knows for sure why some otherwise healthy people wake up one morning to find one side of their faces paralyzed.

    Their skin droops on the affected side and their eye won't close. They drool and can't smile.

    It's terrifying and many victims think they have had a stoke. Actually, they have Bell's palsy, a generally temporary condition named for a surgeon who first described it in the early 1800s.

    Most patients recover with no lasting effects. Doctors think many would recover without treatment. But you should get immediate medical attention so doctors can rule out other causes, such as brain tumors, strokes and injuries.

    Neurologists at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver think Bell's palsy may be caused from damage to a facial nerve. The nerve runs through a narrow, bony canal beneath each ear.

    The neurologists have found that the nerve is swollen and inflamed in Bell's patients, which causes damage and sudden symptoms. They prescribe antiviral drugs and steroids to improve symptoms, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

    Bell's palsy continues to baffle the medical community since there is no conclusive evidence about what treatment actually cures it.

    Seeing a doctor right away, however, is a patient's best bet for avoiding lasting effects. Some 85 percent of patients recover fully, but the remaining 15 percent have some problem long after other symptoms are gone.

    A professor of oncology at the University of Pittsburgh says he had Bell's many years ago. Ever since, his eye closes when he smiles.


    Music brings memories back to Alzheimer's patients

    Caregivers have long observed that Alzheimer's patients can remember and sing songs long after they've stopped recognizing names and faces. After listening to favorite music for a half-hour or an hour, they may be able to recognize someone, talk and converse for a time. A path to the past is opened.

    Dr. Concetta Tomaino, director of the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function, is heading a program to provide iPods loaded with customized playlists to help spread the benefits of music to Alzheimer's patients.

    The institute is a nonprofit organization founded at Beth Abraham Health Services in the Bronx, N.Y. in 1995. Dr. Tomaino believes music stimulates dormant areas of the brain that haven't been accessible due to the disease.

    Stroke, dementia and injury patients are reaping as great or greater benefits from iPods and MP3 players according to The Wall Street Journal.

    Heart attacks and CT scans

    Research done at 16 large medical centers across the country shows that using a CT scan provides a faster and cheaper way to diagnose a heart attack. Six million people each year go to hospitals with chest pains, but only a small fraction are having a heart attack.

    Of those who do not have clear signs of a heart attack from blood tests or EKGs, 4 percent to 13 percent will have a missed diagnosis of their heart attack. Of that group, one quarter will die, according to the study's leader at William Beaumont Hospital in Detroit.

    A CT scan gives a better picture of the heart and costs less, $2,136 on average versus $3,458 for standard screening.

    Whole wheat white bread

    For adults and children who don't like wheat bread, the Whole Grains Council says the "new white" whole-wheat products are a good choice. The main difference is the color gene. Make sure the first listed ingredient is whole wheat.


    Groundhog Day: Check Phil's weather prediction!

    On February 2, Punxsutawney Phil, Pennsylvania's groundhog extraordinaire, will again stick his head out of his den. The nation awaits his verdict.

    Groundhog Day is said to have its origins in ancient weather lore where the prognosticator was often a badger or a sacred bear. In the United States, its origin is said to come from a Pennsylvania German custom.

    If Phil, peeking from his burrow, fails to see his shadow, winter will soon be over. If the sun happens to be shining and Phil sees his shadow, winter will continue for six more weeks.

    The first trek to meet with Phil began in 1887.He has been emerging from his burrow in Pennsylvania ever since, always eager to greet his public.

    Phil is private in many ways, but a few rumors have circulated about him.

  • He gets his longevity from drinking the "elixir of life" of which he takes one sip every summer during the Groundhog Picnic. This gives him seven more years of life.
  • It is said he is named after King Philip, a famous Native American leader. In his more plebeian days, he was called Br'er Groundhog.
  • He speaks only in Groundhogese, which luckily is a language understood by the President of the Inner Circle. The Inner Circle provides for Phil during the year, rather like a court provides for its king.

    The city of Punxsutawney offers several days of celebration for those who gather from around the world to hear Phil's proclamation. The city offers food, music, carriage rides, magicians, crafts and games.

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  • New breast-cancer screening advice

    The new mammogram guidelines by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force were recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

    The controversial guidelines were both hailed as reasonable and derided as an example of health care rationing. The recommendations include:

  • For women in their 40s, routine mammograms are not necessary. They are not saying there isn't a benefit to screening women in their 40s, but they are saying the benefit is small.
  • The review weighed the benefits of screening compared with the harms of false positives, such as anxiety, unnecessary additional tests and biopsies, which are expensive and time-consuming, according to the task force.
  • Women age 50 to 74 years old do not need to undergo mammograms more often than every other year.
  • There is insufficient evidence to conclude the benefit or harm of mammograms for women age 75 and older.
  • The recommendations only apply to women without a family risk of breast cancer and those who don't have genetic mutations known to be associated with breast cancer, such as the presence of BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes.
  • Doctors need not teach women how to examine their breasts for signs of cancer because of a lack of evidence that it is of any benefit.

    Scientists agree that, in spite of many false positives, mammograms reduce cancer deaths in women ages 39 to 59 by about 15 percent.

    At this time, the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association recommend annual mammograms for women starting at age 40

    Most health insurance companies and The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have no plans to change their coverage, but that might not be the case for private insurance companies.

    The guidelines influence both public and private insurance over time.


    Yes, DASH to avoid kidney stones

    If you've ever had the searing pain of a kidney stone, you are probably familiar with a lot of dietary advice on how to avoid one.

    Now researchers say forget all that.

    New studies show that the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a better simpler plan.

    Studies by Brigham and Women's Hospital and others analyzed data on about 240,000 men and women for 14 to 18 years. They discovered that those who consumed foods recommended in the DASH diet were at 40 percent to 45 percent less likely to develop stones.

    The main features of DASH include a high intake of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, low-fat dairy products and whole grains. It also recommends low intake of sodium, sweetened beverages, and red and processed meats.

    In previous dietary advice, stone formers were advised to stay away from high oxalate foods such as spinach and almonds. The new studies do not support avoiding individual foods, particularly if it results in lower intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

    The doctors say further research is necessary. But DASH can help, and it has other favorable features, such weight loss and reduced blood pressure.


    What it takes to burn off calories from food choices.

    One way to judge the number of calories in foods and drinks is to consider the amount of exercise it takes to burn them off, and what choices you could have made instead.

    A 175-pound person would have to do 48 minutes of moderate exercise to burn the 271 calories from a 2 oz. Snickers bar, but only 13 minutes for the 71 calories in an apple.

    For a 12 oz. root beer, it would be 27 minutes as opposed to none at all for a glass of sparkling water.

    To burn 274 calories from a cup of ice cream, you would have to exercise for 42 minutes, as opposed to 9 minutes for the 53 calories in a cup of strawberries.

    Comparing a glazed doughnut with a slice of whole-grain toast with jam, the exercise times are 42 minutes and 22 minutes respectively.

    'Pain in the neck' defined

    The term may be used to describe an aggravating person, but if it describes an actual physical symptom, the causes and treatments should be determined.

    Neck problems vary from stiffness to a sharp or dull pain, sometimes accompanied by back, shoulder or arm pain.

    Muscle strain is often the cause. It could be triggered by leaning over a steering wheel, a computer or a desk for long periods. Muscles at the back of the neck become fatigued. It's called tension myalgia. In the future, hold your head in a different way to determine which is less stressful to the neck.

  • Home treatment includes use of creams such as Flexall and Bengay. The external rubs are less likely to irritate the stomach or kidneys.
  • Over-the-counter tablets such as acetaminophen (in Tylenol and others), naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil) and aspirin are good for relieving pain.
  • Lie down for 10 minutes during the day to take the load off your neck.

    Massage is also helpful.

    Osteoarthritis, disk degeneration and whiplash are more serious causes.