IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  May 1, 2009

Grits are an American tradition

It's not just a southern dish. Eating grits is an American tradition. When the first colonists set foot in the new world, they found the natives of the eastern coast eating mush or "maize." Corn and its derivatives--grits and hominy--became frontier staples.

The low country of South Carolina took the dish a step further by adding shrimp from their shellfish catches. Shrimp and grits evolved as a mainstay on breakfast tables and, in 1976, was named the State Food of South Carolina.

It is rumored that the practice of hulling the corn before boiling encouraged Daniel Decatur Emmett, to pen the old folk ballad, "The Blue Tail Fly". Others believe that slaves who were cracking "corn while master's gone away" had a whole different idea of the end product: corn whiskey.

Recently, bistros along the Southeastern Coast have added cheese to make the recipe a full-bodied entre.

Cheesy Grits and Shrimp

3 14-oz. cans of chicken broth
1 1/3 cups of instant grits
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of butter, melted
1 8 oz. package of garlic herb cream cheese spread, softened
1 tablespoon half-and-half
1/2 cup grated asiago cheese
2 teaspoons of chopped chives
1/2 pound of peeled and deveined shrimp, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 2-ounce jar of pimentos.

Bring the chicken broth to boil, stir in grits and boil for one minute. Cover and reduce heat. Stir in the half-and-half, pimentos and salt.

Saute shrimp, chives and butter for 5 minutes. Place the grits mixture in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and spread the herb cream cheese on it.

Pour the cooked shrimp mixture over the top and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until the top browns.

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The truth about slicing, peeling, chopping, cooking

People often think that eating raw foods, straight from Mother Nature, is best. That's not always the case.

Take tomatoes. Cooking them brings out the lycopene, a carotenoid that many doctors believe has cancer-fighting properties. You get more lycopene from spaghetti sauce than from raw tomatoes.

Similarly, cooking carrots raises the level of beta carotene your body can absorb from them. You get more beta carotene from cooked carrots than from crunchy ones on the vegetable try.

Peeling: Nutrition is full of tradeoffs. When you peel an apple or a potato, you throw away much of its dietary fiber and nutritional value.

On the other hand, if you leave the skins on, you have to be careful to wash away the pesticide residues. Apples and potatoes are among the foods highest in pesticide residues, according to tests by the Environmental Working Group.

Slicing and chopping: Finely chopping vegetables increases their loss of vitamin C in cooking.

Chopping or slicing garlic, however, and letting it stand 10 or 15 minutes before cooking, activates more of its sulfur-based compounds. They include allin, which is associated with arterial health and cancer prevention, say researchers at Penn State.

Cooking: When it comes to vegetables such as broccoli, boiling and steaming causes significant losses in vitamin C. (B vitamins are also sensitive to heat.)

Microwaving and pressure cooking allow broccoli to retain 90 percent of its vitamin C.

Cooking fish doesn't hurt the omega-3s and protein that makes it a smart food choice. Cooking fish is best, say nutritionists at Tufts University. It destroys harmful bacteria and parasites that could be in the fish.

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Chuckles Corner

Mindful meditation: Five minutes to better health

"Mindfulness meditation" is the act of paying close attention to your thoughts, feelings, actions and body sensations in an objective, nonattached way.

Pain: Doctors at the University of Wisconsin say it is a proven pain reliever because pain has emotional and cognitive aspects. When you recognize pain with kind, nonjudgmental attention, special areas of the brain produce fewer signals that are interpreted as pain.

Just five minutes of mindfulness meditation can be helpful.

Anxiety and depression: It decreases anxiety by 44 percent and symptoms of depression by 34 percent, say doctors at the University of Wisconsin.

Subjects who took an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program had more brain chemicals associated with a happy, calm state after taking the course. The mediators also had higher immunity scores.

Stress: Doctors quoted in Prevention say mindful walking is a successful stress reliever. Pick a quiet place in your home and walk slowly back and forth or in circles. Look ahead and focus on how one foot makes contact with the ground, your weight shifts, and the other foot lifts and moves forward.

Keep your mind on your feet. If your mind wanders, gently bring it back. A 10-minute session is recommended.

To find a course in mindfulness-based stress reduction in your area, visit http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/mbsr/

MBSR is technically defined as a common form of complementary medicine addressing both physical health and emotional wellbeing.

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Guard against periodontal infection

There's more to oral health than whiter teeth.

You could have the most beautiful smile in the room, but a serious condition could be developing around your pearly whites right now.

Gum disease can sneak up on you at any age. What's more, bacteria from gum disease has been linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke, a 14 percent greater risk of all cancers, problems for people with diabetes, and, of course, it can cause tooth loss.

Bacteria that exist in the mouth play a part in the formation of the plaque that adheres to teeth. It needs to be removed by brushing and flossing. If plaque is allowed to stay on teeth, it can harden along the gumline and act as a home for bacteria.

Tissues at the gumline may become tender and prone to bleeding. Caught early, this gingivitis is reversible with better home care and dental cleanings.

If the condition isn't reversed, pockets develop between the gums and teeth. As the pockets deepen and bacteria thrive, infections can form under gum tissue and result in tissue loss, bone loss and eventual tooth loss.

You can keep the whole process from beginning.

  • Brush at least twice a day and floss at least once.
  • Use a toothpaste that contains triclosan, such as Colgate Total, advises the Mayo Clinic.
  • Use a mouthwash that contains thymol, as in Listerine and generics.
  • Have regular dental cleanings and checkups.

    Other risk factors for periodontal disease include age and medications that reduce the amount of saliva you produce.

    These drugs include antihistamines, antidepressants, antihypertensives and others.

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    Break in shoes, avoid blisters

    Be sure to wear new shoes on days when you won't be walking a lot. Men should ease into wearing new leather dress shoes, says GQ's style editor.

    When breaking in new sandals, high heels or boot heels, experts at Saks Fifth Avenue say you can use an emery board to sand down a rough edge that is rubbing against your foot. Or take white candle wax and rub it into the leather to soften it.

    Replace running shoes after 300 miles. They could still feel comfortable, but the protective effect of cushioning is worn down, say experts writing in USA Weekend.

    It's strawberry time!

    In Florida, strawberries begin to ripen in February, with the season moving northward each month. May is National Strawberry Month, which means that, right now, they are plentiful everywhere in the nation.

    Not only are they rich in vitamin C and other nutrients, but strawberries may lower blood levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a signal of inflammation in the body. High CRP levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

    Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health say fresh or frozen strawberries help to protect the heart but may be helpful for arthritis too. So eat your fill, now and all year round.

    Feed your brain

    You may be in the middle years of your life but still wondering what you can do to ward off Alzheimer's disease in the future.
    Though the link is not proven for certain, many studies show that changes in mental function are associated with a lack of folate in the body.

    The brain also needs adequate intake of antioxidants like vitamins C and E, plus anti-inflammatory nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. It couldn't hurt to take a multivitamin and a fish oil capsule.

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  • Run for your life or at least walk

    OK, not everyone can run. But most people can walk pretty fast or do other weight-bearing exercise to strengthen bones, tendons and muscles. Those who do it will probably have a longer, more enjoyable life.

    A remarkable new study by Stanford University followed middle-aged males beginning in the 1980s. One group of men in the study were runners and the others were not.

    Over time, there were just half as many deaths from all causes among the runners' group versus the non-runners. Even more significant, disabilities in the runners occurred 12 to 16 years later than in the non-runners.

    Doctors at Stanford were surprised by the longevity effect and especially surprised by the quality of life the runners experienced.
    At the time the project began, those who opposed it predicted that the men who ran every day would suffer serious injuries and many would require knee replacements. As it turned out, the result was just the opposite. Runners did not have higher rates of osteoarthritis and total knee replacements.

    Others who criticized the study said runners may have been in better shape to begin with, but all study subjects were in good health in 1980

    The study was one more example of how simple things like exercise make a big difference in future health.

    Those who are inspired by the runners' story should check with their doctors before starting to exercise and go slow at first.

    As the old saying goes, you have to walk before you can run.

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    Vitamin K and diabetes

    Researchers at Tufts University have found an unexpected benefit in vitamin K. At Tufts Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, a 36-month, randomized, double-blind trial-- "gold standard" of scientific research--showed that vitamin K reduced the risk of insulin resistance in older men, protecting them against diabetes.

    Vitamin K is found in green leafy vegetables, as well as broccoli, brussels sprouts, spring onions and pistachios.

    Though study subjects were given a 500-micogram supplement of vitamin K, this level of the vitamin can easily be obtained through diet.

    Cerebral palsy in preterm babies

    Scientists at Kaiser Permanent Medical Care Program have found that babies born at 34 to 36 weeks' gestation are three times more likely to be diagnosed with cerebral palsy than those born full term at 37 weeks or later.

    At this time, one in 11 births in the United States occurs between 34 and 36 weeks' gestation. That's more than 370,000 births a year.

    The percentage of such late preterm babies has been growing. Increasing rates of induced labor, cesarean sections, and fertility treatments play a role, though statistics on each of these categories have not been developed.

    The doctors say not all induced labor births and not all cesarean section births are necessary. Patients should be aware of the risks involved.

    Hearing loss slowed

    A Dutch study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that participants, ages 50 to 70, who were beginning to lose their hearing, were benefited by taking 800 mg of folic acid (folate) per day for three years.

    The difference was small (0.7 decibels), but those who took a placebo lost more hearing than those who took folate. If you want to try it, consult your doctor first if you take blood thinners.

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    May is National Bicycle Month

    Do you remember riding your bike to the top of a hill and the exhilaration as you coasted down with the wind whipping at your hair? Bike riding today can be the same fun experience but it also has other benefits.

    Bicycling can be economical. With the higher prices for fuel, riding a bike saves money. In this day and age, bicycling may be the only way a person can travel to work.

    Bicycling helps the environment. Motor vehicles produce greenhouse gases.

    Riding a bicycle is great cardio exercise. Cycling can burn up to 300 calories every thirty minutes. Bicycling can be family time. Whether cycling to a favorite nature spot or riding around the neighborhood, bikes bring people together. It's a recreational physical activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

    May is National Bike Month. To celebrate, the League of American Bicyclists is promoting Bike-to-Work Week from May 11-15 and Bike-to-Work Day on Friday May 15. Many communities are planning special events for the month. To find events go to www.bikeleague.org/programs/bikemonth

    While bicycling during May or any other month it pays to follow safety rules.

  • Stay on the right side. Ride in single file.
  • Use hand signals before turning and be sure your bicycle is equipped with reflectors.
  • Wear light-colored clothing at night and at dusk.
  • If you start to skid as you stop, ease up on the brake a bit. Add pressure a little at a time.
  • When it rains or snows, remember it takes longer for wet brakes to stop so give yourself a little extra time.

    And take the time to enjoy your ride. That's good for your health too.

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