IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  May 1, 2013

Baked Asparagus with Havarti Cheese and Walnuts

It can take three years to grow a meal's supply of asparagus in your garden, but, fortunately, markets nationwide are featuring plenty of it, sometimes in white or purple varieties.

May is National Asparagus Month and you can experiment with a different way to prepare the vegetable every day of the month. Sliced, diced or slivered, use it in creamy soup, risotto, salads, a casserole, stir-fry, breakfast frittata, or simply roasted.

Suitable for the health conscious, vegetarians, and those on gluten-free or low-calorie diets, asparagus is a versatile and nearly perfect vegetable. And here's a hint from the Farmer's Almanac: a pinch of baking soda in the cooking water will keep the asparagus spears greener.

Baked Asparagus with Havarti Cheese and Walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1 pound medium asparagus, with woody ends trimmed
1 teaspoon butter
3 tablespoon water
1/2 cup shredded Havarti cheese
1/4 cup chopped walnuts
Pepper, freshly ground.

Melt the butter in an oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Place the asparagus stems across the bottom, with the tips facing in one direction.

Add the water, cover the pan and steam the asparagus for 2 minutes.

Remove from the heat and sprinkle the Havarti across the center of the stems, avoiding the tips. Strew the chopped walnuts on the cheese, and grind the pepper over the cheese-topped asparagus.

Bake uncovered until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 5 minutes.

Serve immediately.

You can stack Havarti slices and shred with a box grater or finely cube it. The cheese is mild and buttery; if you prefer a stronger, more nutty flavor, substitute Gruyere.


The lighter side ...


Hospital regulations require a wheelchair for patients being discharged. But while working as a student nurse, I found one elderly gentleman dressed and sitting on the bed who insisted he didn't need it to leave the hospital.

After a chat about rules, he reluctantly let me wheel him to the elevator. On the way down I asked him if his wife was meeting him.

"I don't know. She's upstairs in the bathroom changing out of her hospital gown."

Oh to be 6 Again

A man saw his wife, looking at herself in the mirror. Since her birthday was not far off, he asked what she'd like to have for her birthday.

"I'd like to be six again!" On the big day, he arose early, made her a bowl of Lucky Charms, then took her to Six Flags theme park. He put her on every ride in the park. Five hours later her head was reeling and her stomach felt upside down. He then took her to a McDonald's where he ordered her a Happy Meal and a chocolate shake. Finally they wobbled home and she collapsed into bed exhausted. He leaned over and lovingly asked, "What was it like being six again??"

Her eyes slowly opened and her expression changed, "I meant my dress size, you idiot."

Marriage Counseling

A couple came for counseling after 25 years of marriage. When asked what the problem was, the wife went on and on: neglect, lack of intimacy, emptiness, loneliness, and feeling unloved.

Finally, the therapist walked around his desk, embraced her and kissed her passionately on the mouth.

The woman, in a daze, quietly sat down. The therapist turned to the husband and said, "This is what your wife needs at least seven times a week. Do you think you can do this?"

The husband replied, "Well, Doc, I can drop her off here on Mondays and Wednesdays, but on the other days I play golf.


Pearls of Wisdom

Don't let the opinions of the average man sway you. Dream, and he thinks you're crazy. Succeed, and he thinks you're lucky. Acquire wealth, and he thinks you're greedy. Pay no attention. He simply doesn't understand.

--Robert G. Allen: Canadian-American businessman and author.

Chuckles Corner

Beware of flying pollen! Sneezing imminent

As trees bloom, allergy sufferers begin their annual ritual of sniffling and sneezing. Each year, 35 million Americans fall prey to spring allergies, officially known as seasonal allergic rhinitis.

The main allergy trigger is pollen: the tiny grains released into the air by trees, grasses, and weeds for the purpose of fertilizing other plants. When pollen grains are inhaled by someone who's allergic, they send the immune system into overdrive. It releases the antibodies that are responsible for symptoms.

Pollen can travel for long distances, spreading a path of misery for allergy sufferers along the way. The higher the pollen count, the greater the problem. The pollen count measures the amount of allergens in the air in grains per cubic meter. You can check the daily count in your area by watching your local weather report.

Allergy symptoms are particularly bothersome on breezy days when the wind picks up pollen and carries it through the air. Rainy days cause a drop in pollen counts because the rain washes away the allergens.

Spring allergens also can trigger asthma, making breathing difficult and leading to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.

If you have allergies that make your eyes water and give you nose and throat problems, fortunately, there are over-the-counter medications that can help.

If you have asthma, you'll need a prescription.


'Bionic eye' works for one type of blindness

For the first time in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a bionic eye. It can be used to treat retinitis pigmentosa.

The condition often runs in families. It damages the cells in the retina, a tissue layer at the back of the eye that processes light. At first it makes vision blurry, but it progresses until the patient can't see at all.

The Argus II, made by Second Sight Medical Products, Inc., is a retinal prosthesis that doesn't restore sight completely, but it can significantly improve vision. It's already being used in Europe.

The device bypasses the damaged cells that process light. A small video camera mounted on eyeglasses captures visual information and wirelessly sends it to the implant and on to the brain, which processes it as an image.

The images are transmitted in black and white, but scientists hope that they will enable color later on.

After many years in development, the Argus II will be available at clinical centers by the end of this year. The maker is working to increase distribution.


Coffee might aid longevity

Coffee drinkers might live longer. According to one study, they're less likely to die of heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, infections and even injuries. Here's why it happens.

At Tufts University's Antioxidants Research Center, they say it's possible that polyphenols have a protective effect. They also say that a simple cup of coffee contains a complex mix of biologically active and beneficial compounds, including polyphenols.


Statin/aspirin combo reduces esophageal cancer risk

The Mayo Clinic reviewed 13 studies to conclude that taking statins reduces the risk of esophageal cancer by one-third. Those taking aspirin along with statins lowered their danger by as much as 72 percent. Statins have anti-inflammatory effects.

This good news may lead to important new therapies.


How to fight heartburn and acid reflux

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids move back up the esophagus. It can cause heartburn and a sour taste. Here's how to avoid it.

  • Fats are hard for the body to digest. The University of Illinois McKinley Health Center says high-fat foods and fried foods hinder the ability of the lower esophageal sphincter to close, making you vulnerable to acid reflux.
  • Oatmeal's a good choice. Drop that doughnut, unless you want heartburn for breakfast. Instead choose oatmeal. It's a low-fat, high-fiber meal that can soothe your stomach.
  • Fresh ginger acts as an anti-inflammatory and is a remedy for many stomach problems. You can get your daily dose of 2 to 4 grams by steeping ginger in hot water to make tea or chewing a piece of ginger.
  • Skip the red sauce on pasta. Tomatoes and heavy sauces are not for people with stomach acid problems. For those with a craving for pasta, the National Heartburn Alliance recommends thinner, broth-like sauces.
  • Eat beans. Certain fatty meats can trigger heartburn. Beans are an excellent source of protein and fiber and a great alternative to meat.
  • Applesauce. To avoid butter and oil, substitute applesauce in recipes. Use the same amount of applesauce (in cups) as the recipe calls for in oil.


  • Aerobic exercise is best for weight loss and fat loss

    Some studies have concluded that weight lifting and resistance training were better for losing weight, because they increased the amount of energy used when the body was at rest.

    Now, new studies as at Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C., show that aerobic exercise is more effective for people who want to lose both weight and reduce fatty tissue.

    Aerobic exercise includes walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, swimming, jumping rope and using exercise machines.

    At the same time, exercise physiologists at Duke say no one type of exercise will be best for every health benefit. For example, older adults experiencing muscle atrophy can benefit from resistance training, which can offset muscle loss.

    Younger adults in good health who want to lose weight would see better results with aerobic training.


    Good sleep promotes sociability

    Three studies done at the University of California, Berkeley, show that a good night's sleep enhances "prosocial" behavior. Even more important, good sleep was shown to promote feelings of gratitude toward others, which helps form and maintain close social bonds.

    A poor night's sleep affects interactions with others and causes us to feel less appreciated by our partners.

    The studies also show that gratitude is a vital social emotion.


    New wireless defibrillator is approved

    The Food and Drug Administration recently approved a wireless implantable cardioverter-defibrillator for the prevention of sudden cardiac death.

    The new ICD is similar to conventional models in that it is implanted under the skin. But conventional models have a wire lead, or electrode, to the heart. It senses the heart rhythm and transfers a shock when necessary, according to Duke University.

    The big difference between the two is that with the new ICD, its electrode is not implanted in the heart muscle, but is merely slipped under the skin.

    The design helps to keep leads from failing because of repeated bending. And removing a faulty lead will be easier because it's not embedded in the heart.


    New (FAST) treatment used for tennis elbow

    The first ways to deal with tendon pain in the elbow are with rest and physical therapy. But if scar tissue has developed in the tendon, these treatments aren't enough.

    Until now, surgery for tennis elbow has been done in an operating room and required a larger incision or several smaller ones. Both techniques use anesthesia.

    Doctors at the Mayo Clinic have come up with a new surgical procedure for removing scar tissue. It is removed quickly and without an incision or anesthesia other than a numbing agent used on the elbow.

    The new technique uses ultra sound to locate scar tissue within a tendon. A surgical instrument resembling a hollow-point needle about the size of a tooth pick is inserted. When activated, it breaks up scar tissue with ultrasonic energy. The treated tissue is suctioned away.

    FAST became widely available over a year ago and response has been promising. No major complications have been reported.

    Some doctors are using the technique to treat pain in the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle, the plantar fascia on the bottom of the heel, and the knee tendon at the kneecap.

    Research is continuing to determine the long-term effectiveness of the FAST procedure.


    National Physical Fitness and Sports Month:

    It's a time to identify activities that contribute to overall fitness ... and fun.

    According to the President's Council, there are two types of fitness.

    Performance-related fitness is linked to athletic performance and health-related fitness is related to components that may lower risks, such as for high blood pressure, diabetes, or low back pain. It includes:

  • Aerobic fitness: the ability of the heart and lungs to deliver blood to muscles.
  • Muscular strength and endurance: enough to do normal activities easily and protect the lower back.
  • Flexibility: the ability to move your many joints through their proper range of motion.
  • Body composition: not too much body fat, especially around the waist.

    Getting more active not only increases your chances of living longer, it can give you big benefits right now and help you avoid heart problems.

    It takes some effort to do all of this. Recommended are 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate activity per week, like walking fast, dancing or biking.

    If you haven't exercised for some time, you might enjoy activities that will boost your fitness and take less effort. How about a picnic? Whether you're a man or a woman, there are baskets and boxes to be carried as you walk to the picnic area. After that, you could play ball with your family and friends or hike through the park or the woods.

    Swimming is fun and good exercise. Unfortunately, many guests at the pool just sit around or float on inflatable items. This time, do some laps and play water games that exercise your arms and legs. Practice treading water. Then get out and play a corn hole game.

    Family walks sound dull, but you'll be surprised at how much fun they can be. They take no equipment, no driving anywhere to do it, and they can become a daily ritual after dinner.

    Teach the kids how to play tennis at the park. It won't be as strenuous as playing with competitors, and you'll all get plenty of exercise chasing balls.