IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  December 1, 2007

Christmas fajitas a colorful addition

Want something colorfully different for the holidays this year? Why not venture South of the Border for a Mexican tradition that has become a staple on many north of the border menus.

The origin of fajitas is argued with both Mexico and West Texas staking claims. Most agree the traditional fajita meat is steak, but modern varieties have also turned to leaner ingredients like chicken, pork, turkey, and shrimp.

In the 1930s and 40s, workers were given the less-expensive cuts of meat as partial payment for their services in butchering steers. Because of this, they had to develop ways to prepare the tough meat cuts given them. In Spanish, fajita is a form of the word, “faja,” meaning  “belt” or “girdle” in English and, hence, the skirt steak was called fajita meat.

Purists in Texas still say the skirt steak is the only true fajita meat.

Gourmet's Festive Holiday Fajitas

The traditional steak fare starts with 2 pounds of steak cuts. Chuck or shoulder roast works well after being trimmed of fat with scissors or a sharp knife. Other meat or shrimp may be substituted.

Marinate the meat for at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) in the refrigerator in a marinade of 4 tablespoons of malt vinegar and 2 cups of a commercial marinating sauce such as Lawry’s Baja Chipolte or World Harbor Mexican Style Sauce and Marinade.

The marinated meat can be charred on the grill or pan-seared using a light covering of canola oil.

When the meat starts to darken, add 3 cups of thinly sliced red, yellow, and green bell peppers, along with 1 1/2 cups of sliced onions and the meaty portions of 2 medium tomatoes.

Place meal-sized portions on individual pre-heated iron fajita skillets or heated dishes and squeeze lemon juice over them.

Dinner guests can wrap them in flour tortillas or, for healthier fare, whole grain tortillas. Condiments may include cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole, chopped tomatoes, or chopped avocados.

The festive colors will make a sizzling success of a holiday or any other meal.

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Get a cold from someone who isn't there

Viruses that cause the common cold can live a long time on a door handle or a desk. Researchers from the University of Virginia found that viruses live 18 hours or more after being deposited on a surface by a cold sufferer's hands.

Frequent hand washing is still your best defense against a cold. It gets rid of germs before you touch your eyes or nose, where the viruses can enter.

Other steps you can take:

  • Flick light switches with your elbow instead of your hands.
  • Carry your own pen. Using someone else's is a great way to come in contact with germs.
  • Use a soapy sponge or sanitizing hand cleaner to wipe off surfaces you touch frequently.

    To protect others from your germs, carry a tissue. Sneezing into your elbow is a disgusting habit that carries a host of germs on your clothes, which transfer to everything that you come in contact with. You are better off sneezing into your hands, which can be washed immediately.

    And, please never blow your nose at the dinner table. No one wants to hear you extract bodily fluids while they are eating. Too many third world habits creep into civilized society.


    Ways to avoid holiday weight gain

  • At a dinner, eat just foods you like, not some of everything.
  • Sit farther away from a buffet table so seconds (and thirds) are less convenient.
  • Eat slowly. It takes 20 minutes for your body to recognize a full feeling.
  • Drink water with your meals.
  • When mixed drinks are being served, ask for club soda, water, or diet soda in your drink.
  • Visit with many people so you have something to do in addition to eating and drinking.
  • At home, keep cookies, candy, and other treats out of sight so you won't snack every time you walk by them.


  • Exercise helps Type 2 Diabetics

    The A1c test is an estimate of a person's blood sugar over a three-month period. It gives a more accurate picture than daily testing.

    The good news for people with diabetes is that both aerobic and strength training exercise can lower A1c readings. At the American Diabetes Association, they say this is spectacular news. It shows that exercise can lower blood sugar almost as much as any single pill.

    Findings in the Annals of Internal Medicine show that people who did 45 minutes of exercise such as walking three times a week decreased their levels of A1c by 0.51 percent.

    During the 22-week study period, strength training for 45 minutes three times a week reduced it by 0.38 percent. Participants who did both kinds of exercise reduced A1c by a remarkable 0.97 percent.

    Doctors suggest starting with easy exercise and working up to 30 to 60 minutes per day.


    Holiday driving

    You may be doing all you can to take care of your body. You eat right, get some exercise, and try to stay away from people who are sick.

    Diseases can kill you slowly, but a traffic accident can instantly snuff out the candle of your life or change the way you live in the future. The risk is higher if you drive drunk or drugged.

    Think of others. Impaired driving is one of America's deadliest crimes. On an annual basis, it takes the life of one person every 31 minutes. Hundreds of thousands are left injured or crippled, and those numbers are higher during the holiday season.

    It's sometimes difficult to tell when you've had too much to drink. The National Highway Safety Administration reports that even one alcoholic drink impairs the ability to react quickly. A slow reaction could be fatal when attempting to avoid an accident.

  • Before the evening begins at a gathering where alcohol is served, find a nondrinker who will take you home.
  • Say "no thanks" to anyone who offers you a funny cigarette or a pill that will "make you feel wonderful."
  • Never accept a ride from someone who has been drinking. As the host of a gathering
  • Provide nonalcoholic drinks and plenty of high-protein food.
  • Use self-measuring one-ounce bottle spouts to pour liquor.
  • Don't rush to refill glasses.
  • Never let a guest drive after drinking. Arrange a ride or call a cab.


    Some doctors don't say it

    TV's Dr. Sanjay Gupta says there's one area where doctors may not be giving their best advice. They may not tell you that you have to lose weight. And you can't lose without a plan.

    They may think a patient won't listen to them anyway, or that the patient will deny the fact. It doesn't pay to be uncooperative with your doctor.

    One Mayo Clinic study shows that only one in five obese people were given such advice. Obesity was diagnosed in children only 1 percent of the time among 2- to 18-year-olds, far below the one-third of young people who are overweight.

    Patients and parents should bring up the subject on their own, Gupta says. Even modest amounts of weight loss can benefit overall health. Discuss your weight with the doctor.

    Calcium from diet and supplements

    People who want to keep their bones strong, or make them stronger, will benefit from including both dairy products and calcium supplements.

    A study by the University of Washington compared bone density in people. Some got all their calcium from milk and fortified orange juice. Others mainly took supplements. A third group of people included both dairy and supplements in their diet. They found that the dairy and supplement group had the strongest bone density.

    Keeping bones strong is a lifetime effort for men and women of all ages.

  • Asthma guidelines

    The goal of new National Institutes of Health guidelines is a reduction in the number of asthma attacks and hospitalizations nationwide.

    Asthma affects 22 million Americans including 6.5 million children. More than 500,000 people are hospitalized each year. Attacks often occur after a patient is exposed to the common cold, which can trigger an attack.

    The NIH stresses the need to monitor and assess patients for long-term risks by testing for declines in lung function. It also recommends short checklists for patients and doctors that ask about medication use, frequency of attacks, and whether sleep has been impaired by coughing or shortness of breath.

    Guidelines call for a low-dose inhaled corticosteroid, which is particularly effective in children, plus a rescue medication to manage attacks.

    In patients 12 and older whose asthma is not controlled by corticosteroids, there are long-lasting beta-agonists such as Serevent from GlaxoSmithKline and Foradil by Schering-Plough.

    Drugs such as GlaxoSmithKline's Advair and AstraZeneca's Symbicort contain both a long-acting beta-agonist and a corticosteroid.

    Last year, the Food and Drug Administration required all long-lasting beta-agonists to include a warning label saying the drugs could cause severe or fatal attacks in some patients.

    The guidelines also approve Genentech's Zolair to treat asthma-related allergies not controlled by inhaled steroids.


    TB treatment time shortened

    A Johns Hopkins University report indicates that adding the antibiotic moxifloxacin to the usual TB drugs shortens the treatment time needed to cure TB from six months to four.

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced $280 million in grants to develop TB vaccines, tests, and drugs.

    The announcements were made at the recent American Society for Microbiology conference.

    Breakfast health benefit

    Eating a whole-grain breakfast seven times a week has been associated with a 28 percent lower risk of heart failure, according to statistics from the Physicians Health Study. Researchers analyzed data from 1982 through 2006 on 21,410 male physicians at an average age of 53.7 years.

    Eating whole-grain cereal less often also had heart-health benefits. The risk of heart failure decreased by 22 percent in those who ate it two to six times per week and by 14 percent in those who ate whole grain cereal once per week.

    Technology aids diagnoses

    To make a diagnosis, doctors match a patient's symptoms against the patterns of several likely diseases, narrowing down the list as they go, according to Lawrence Weed, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Vermont. He says the process involves juggling a great deal of information and relying on memory to come to a conclusion.

    Weed developed Problem Knowledge Couplers, a technology that couples symptoms with relevant medical literature. Patients can enter their symptoms and walk through the diagnosis with the doctor. About 50 private employers provide access to Couplers.

    A web-based program called "Isabel" ($750) allows doctors at hospitals to enter symptoms in complicated cases. The American Medical Informatics Association reports growing interest in such programs.


    Suspect a heart attack?

    Call an ambulance! Only half of all people having a heart attack call 911, says the American Heart Association.

    Going to the hospital by car can be a fatal mistake. About 5 percent of heart attack victims suffer cardiac arrest en route to a hospital. If not revived within minutes, survival is unlikely.

    Ambulances are equipped with gear to spark the heart back into rhythm. Call your doctor later. Dial 911 first.