Got pizza?  Next time remember to sprinkle some oregano on it for some unexpected health benefits.

Oregano is an herb from the mint family and plays an important role in the Mediterranean diet, so often touted as one of the healthiest diets on the planet to prevent heart disease and other chronic ailments. It has been used for centuries as a treatment for diarrhea, indigestion or colds and muscle aches.

Compounds called thymol and carvacrol are found in oregano and are considered to be responsible for many of its health benefits that include potent antiviral and anti-bacterial activity, so important these days of COVID-19.

  As far as antiviral activity, several in vitro studies have shown that carvacrol inactivated the norovirus within one hour. Norovirus is a highly contagious viral infection that is the main cause of the stomach flu.

In another study, carvacrol, and thymol  inactivated herpes simplex virus within one hour. Oregano oil extracted from the oregano leaves has been shown to have antiviral activity against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV. Respiratory syncytial (sin-SISH-uhl) virus, or RSV, is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. Most people recover in a week or two, but RSV can be serious, especially for infants and older adults.

Oregano has promising anti-bacterial properties. An in -vitro study, oregano was found to have activity against 23 species of bacteria related to three genera, Staphylococcus , Micrococcus, and Bacillus, a sporeformer. Sporeformers are highly resistant to environmental conditions. Another study found that oregano as an essential oil was effective against different strains of Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas. Another study showed that oregano oil has significant antibacterial activity against 11 microbes that are resistant to antibiotics.  

How can you use oregano in your diet? The traditional use of oregano is in Italian dishes such as pasta sauce and pizza; however, it can be used in salads to add flavor as well as give you beneficial nutrients like vitamin C , arginine and minerals like calcium and potassium.

Arginine is a a building block (amino acid) that helps create proteins. It stimulates the release of insulin and gets rid of ammonia. Most importantly, the body uses arginine to make nitric oxide. Children need arginine to help them grow and develop. In adults, it helps improves blood flow, heals wounds, and repair damaged tissue.

Oregano is a nutrient dense food in that it also contains an antioxidant forty-two times more effective than in apples, thirty times more than potatoes, twelve times more than oranges and four times more than blueberries.

It also can be helpful when added to cooked meat, as one of the active ingredients, carvacrol has been shown to reduce the formation of potentially cancer-causing hetero-cyclic amines, chemicals that are formed in cooked meat that can be carcinogenic.

Of course as with most nutrition studies, especially on single food items, industry-funding is often suspect when it comes to the food industry in general about what is healthy. Many use only positive study results designed to be used for marketing purposes and additional independent research is needed. But give it a try – it can add flavor to your cooking and hopefully provide a source for essential nutrients and phytochemicals as well.

Processed Food: Not all Equal?

What has happened to “real” food?  Many traditional foods used in cooking today are processed in some way, such as grains, cheeses, dried fish, and fermented vegetables. It has been said that almost all foods undergo some form of processing; they are usually referred to as minimally processed.   The processing itself is not the problem, only much more recently has a different type of food processing emerged: one that is more extensive and uses new chemical and physical techniques. This is called ultra-processing and the resulting products, ultra-processed foods are everywhere.

To make these foods, cheap ingredients such as starches, vegetable oils, sugars, salt and trans fats are combined with certain additives such as colors, flavors and emulsifiers.  A previous post has addressed the possible problems associated with emulsifiers in our food supply. You can find this article by searching this blog for: Food Additives and the Metabolic Syndrome. Certain food additives can disrupt our gut bacteria and trigger inflammation, while plasticizers in packaging can interfere with our hormonal system.  Examples of ultra-processed foods include but not limited to as sugary drinks, confectionery, mass produced bread, snack foods, sweetened dairy products, and frozen desserts. Foods that come in a box or bag are often suspect.

Unfortunately, these foods are terrible for our health. And we are eating more of them than ever before, partially because of aggressive marketing and lobbying by big food. More ultra-processed foods in the diet associates with higher risks of obesity, heart disease, and stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer, depression, and death. Ironically, these diseases have become some of the leading causes of death in the world. Certain features of ultra processed foods also promote over consumption. Product flavors , aromas, and mouthfeel are designed to make these foods ultra tasty, and perhaps even addictive.

Ultra processed foods can also harm the environment. For example food packaging generates much of the plastic waste that enters marine ecosystems. (see the example below).

Sales of ultra processed foods are highest in rich countries such as Australia, the United States and Canada. However they are rising rapidly in middle income countries such as China, South Africa, and Brazil, which are highly populated. Supermarkets are now spreading throughout the developing world, provisioning ultra processed foods at scale and at low prices. Where supermarkets don’t exist other distribution strategies are used for example, Nestle uses its door to door sales force to reach thousands of poor households in Brazil’s urban slums.

How can things change? The evidence that ultra processed foods are harming our health and the planet is clear. We must now consider using a variety of strategies to decrease consumption. This includes adopting new laws and regulations, for example by using taxation, marketing restrictions and removing these products from schools.

According to the authors of this article, simply telling individuals to be more responsible is unlikely to work when big food spends billions every year marketing unhealthy products to undermine that responsibility. Should dietary guidelines now strongly advise people to avoid ultra processed foods? Brazil and other Latin American countries are already doing this.

Will the new dietary guidelines for 2020  due to be published in the next few months, include the advice of limiting ultra-processed foods in our diets? It is doubtful since as in the past, adherence to the dietary guidelines has been low and also because the dietary guidelines alone in the United States unfortunately is highly associated with the food industry. This includes lobbying policymakers, making political donations, funding favorable research, and partnerships with community organizations.

This post includes excerpts from an original article first published by The Conversation. It has also been published titled “The Rise of Ultra-Processed Foods” by Phillip Baker, Mark Lawrence, and Priscila Machado in The Epoch Times, Wednesday, September 23, 2020.

BOTTOM LINE: Try to avoid or at least cut down on using processed foods, especially snacks (which can be addictive). Read the serving size and stick to it –and please not the whole bag – practice mindfulness and be aware.

Philip Baker is a research fellow at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University in Australia.

Mark Lawrence is professor of public health nutrition at the Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition at Deakin University, and Priscilla Machado is a research fellow at the School of Exercise and Nutrition Science in the Faculty of Health at Deakin University.

The American Plate 1980 – 1989

More Low Fat

In the 1980’s American Baby Boomers hit thirty. To alleviate their panic, they drank designer water, joined health clubs, bought herbal and vitamins to help alleviate some of the problems after being raised on fast foods. As the low-fat obsession grew, a new way of eating was introduced by Nathan Pritikin from the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica, California. In 1983, The Pritikin Promise: 28 Days to Longer Life became a New York Times Bestseller. The plan allowed no fat, sugar, or oil.


Italian Food Comeback

New immigration continued to augment the rise of ethnic restaurants. The Hispanic migration was so massive that many of these cultures lived in parallel cultures without assimilation as previous immigrants had done. There were Islamic halal butchers, Mexican panaderias (bakeries), sushi bars, Hong Kong-style seafood restaurants, bagel stores, Argentine empanadas, Thai takeout and Iranian restaurants.  In the 1980’s, America discovered Italian food all over again but this time it was Northern Italian food which is essentially tomato-less. It comes primarily from Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Genoa. Pasta sauces were mainly cream and Parmesan cheese based, like Alfredo. Rice in risotto and corn in polenta replaced wheat as the starch in pasta. Tiramisu became a popular dessert but of course loaded with calories.

Gourmet and Gadgets

We began to collect more gourmet foods and gadgets. Our cabinets contained $65 bottles of extra virgin olive oils and 50 year old balsamic vinegars. We were enthralled by stand mixers, bread bakers and food processors. We visited Williams-Sonoma collecting all kinds of culinary gizmos from garlic presses to food mills.


Comfort Foods

In October, 1987 the stock market once again plummeted 508 points. Spending stopped, high-end restaurants lost customers and more down-home eateries began to be more popular. Simple comfort foods like chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, meat loaf (again), pot pies, pasta and chili became appealing to many.

Obesity Epidemic

One problem: All that comforting foods was taking its toll on the extra pounds were were accumulating. The number of obese Americans soared during the 1980s and 1990s, doubling among adults in the U.S. and tripling among children. The fact that obesity statistics have never been higher has raised a substantial amount of awareness and concern in regards to this issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just over one-third of U.S. adults, about 97 million, are obese. This number is expected to rise to 42 percent by the year 2030; however, some forecasters have predicted the number could easily be over 50 percent. Uh Oh. Update: The obesity rate is now (2020) about 40.0% for both men and women.

Diet issues and fads continue to dominate the culture. In 1981, the Beverly Hills Diet is introduced which recommended eating nothing but fruit for the first 10 days. Aspartame, another sugar substitute is introduced as NutraSweet in the same year. In 1982, liposuction is performed in the U.S. for the first time, and later became a popular cosmetic procedure with over 100,000 operations performed (still counting). In the same year, Jane Fonda’s Workout becomes a top selling exercise video. In 1983, Jenny Craig is formed which sells its own line of food and offers advice and counseling to people wanting to lose weight. Miller Brewers came out with “Miller Lite.” Cooking Light magazine led magazine sales.

The American Medical Association dampened the good spirits of the time with its recommendations that blood serum cholesterol levels should not exceed 200 milligrams. Eggs were bad, fried foods were bad, caffeine was bad, beef was bad, butter was bad. Supermarkets nationwide ran out of oat bran when consumers were told that the soluble fiber in oatmeal was flushing cholesterol from their arteries. Margarines appeared with names like “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter”.

Slow Food

After three decades of enduring a fast food culture, some people rebelled against this trend; therefore, the Slow Food Movement was founded. Slow Food is an international movement founded by Carlo Petrini in 1986. Promoted as an alternative to fast food, it strives to preserve traditional and regional cuisine and encourages farming of plants, seeds and livestock characteristic of the local ecosystem.

An Excerpt from the Official Slow Food Manifesto states:
“We are enslaved by speed and have all succumbed to the same insidious virus: Fast Life, which disrupts our habits, pervades the privacy of our homes and forces us to eat Fast Foods… A firm defense of quiet material pleasure is the only way to oppose the universal folly of Fast Life… May suitable doses of guaranteed sensual pleasure and slow, long-lasting enjoyment preserve us from the contagion of the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency. Our defense should begin at the table with Slow Food. Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast Food.


Trivia Timeline

1980: McDonald’s tests Chicken McNuggets in Knoxville, Tennessee., and gets such a huge response that suppliers can’t keep up with demand.

1980: more than half of all women work outside the home. 32% of white women and 25% of black women are employed as clerical workers. The numbers for Asian and Hispanic women fall somewhere in between. This prompted the food industry to provide even more ultra-processed foods to supermarkets, so that marketing concentrated on the lure of these already prepared dinners, some in a box, some in plastic containers and bags. None of them helped our health nor the environment.

1980: Whole Food Market opens in Austin, Texas., with a staff of 19. By the end of the century, through growth and acquisition, the chain is the number one natural food grocer in the US.

1980: 7-11, the world’s largest convenience store operation, introduces the 32 ounce Big gulp that is so popular that in 1987 the company brings out the Super Big Gulp, 44 ounces of sipping pleasure . And to further prove that bigger is better in America, in 1992 the chain introduces the 64-ounce Double Gulp. By comparison, the 1960 Coke bottle held 6.5 ounces. By the way, 1 Big Gulp has 186 grams of sugar or 46 tsp. It also provides 744 calories.

1981: President Reagan stocks the White House with his favorite treat — Jelly beans.

1982: Chosen by astronauts, M&M’s become the first chocolate candies in space.

1982: Wolfgang Puck, 31, opens Sago Restaurant in Los Angeles. He popularizes gourmet pizza and by 1990 is grossing $6,000,000 a year.

1982: Jenny Craig Inc., a weight loss program is founded by San Diego entrepreneur, Sid Craig and his wife, Jenny.

1986: McDonald’s and Burger King stop frying their food in beef tallow high in saturated fat and start releasing nutritional and ingredients information about their food.

1987: Microwave oven sales reach a record 12.6 million. Kenmore is the largest selling brand.

1988: American manufacturers introduce 972 new microwaveable products.

1989:  ConAgra CEO Charles Harper introduces the Healthy Choice line of frozen, low fat, low cholesterol, low sodium foods his company developed after he had a heart attack.

Fighting Cancer With A Fork

Approximately 1.8 million Americans will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and more than 600,000 will die from it. But there are ways to protect yourself. American Cancer Society researchers estimate that at least 42% of new cancer cases may be avoidable , with 18% being related to lifestyle factors like diet and physical activity.

Foods contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber and phyto- chemicals that help prevent DNA damage or assist in its repair. These substances are particularly found in plant foods and appear to work together in ways that provide the protection from certain cancers.  

Attempt to prevent cancer by giving large groups of people vitamin supplements or phytochemical extracts thought to account for the plants beneficial effects on cancer development have not been successful. In fact, a number of studies have noted that more harm than good results from the use of high amounts of individual supplements such as vitamin C, beta carotene, and vitamin E. Particular types of food clearly provide greater levels protection against cancer than supplements.

One major role plant foods play in reducing cancer risk appears to be related to the antioxidant function of certain vitamins and chemicals. These antioxidants in food neutralize reactive oxygen and other molecules to prevent them from damaging the DNA and also to repair DNA when necessary. Many brightly colored vegetables and fruits contain phyto – chemicals that act as antioxidants, and their consumption is being encouraged. Taking antioxidants as supplements have not been shown to have the same beneficial effects as those found in foods. It is thought that these chemicals work best synergistically.

There are other ways that some phytochemicals help to fight cancer formation. Vegetables from the cruciferous family for example broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower, appear to turn off genes that help produce proteins that increase the ability of cancer cells to grow blood vessels that support the continued spread of cancer. Substances in food that reduce inflammation may also decrease cancer risk by reducing the number of oxidized particles in cells that can damage DNA.

Dietary patterns and lifestyles related to reduced cancer risk

  • Consume a plant-based diet that includes five plus servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits daily, including those that are dark green, orange, and red.
  • Consume 3 plus whole grain products daily.
  • Regularly consume dried beans nuts and seeds.
  • Include fish and seafood lean beef, chicken, pork and other meats.
  • Avoid alcohol in excess.
  • Include 30 minutes 5 plus days a week of physical activity.
  • Maintain normal weight.

What does recent research say? From Eating Well Magazine, Nov. 2020

Consume more soy.  Studies have shown that flavonoids in plants like soy can alter certain aspects of cells related to tumor growth.  These flavonoids may protect against hormone related cancers like breast cancer. One recent analysis in the International Journal of Cancer looked at data from Chinese women enrolled in the Shanghai Women’s Health study and found that those who reported eating high amounts of soy in adulthood had a lower chance of both pre and post-menopausal breast cancer than those who rarely ate this nutrient packed legume.

Eat red and purple. The antioxidant called anthocyanin found in red, blue, and purple fruits and vegetables may also have anti cancer properties. One trial in Cancer Prevention Research had 25 colo rectal cancer patients ingest varying levels of anthocyanins before their surgery dates. The scientists found a 7% drop in tumor proliferation in patients with the higher anthocyanin consumption doses.   

Increase the Fiber. A systematic review and meta analysis published earlier this year in the journal Cancer found that participants in the US who ate the most fiber had a 8% lower risk of breast cancer than those who consume the least. The researchers noted that fiber rich foods like whole grains, fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts and seeds as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against the disease by leveling post meal blood glucose spikes and improving insulin sensitivity. Fiber also increases the activity of compounds that lower circulating estrogen levels in the body. Another reason is that the nutrient has been linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer.

More About Diet and Cancer Relationships

Specific characteristics of diets that have been linked to the development of cancer include low vegetable and fruits intake and a lack of variety of vegetables and fruits excess alcohol intake, or more than one drink a day by women 2 drinks a day by men is associated with the development of a number of cancers of the digestive system. Diets routinely low in whole grain products and fiber appear to promote the development of colorectal cancer. Regular intake of charred meats or the black charred outer parts of high fat meats cooked at high temperatures may also promote DNA damage and cancer development. Other major risk factors for many types of cancer include smoking, physical inactivity, and excess body fat.

Frequent consumption of certain types of foods is sometimes more strongly related to particular cancers than to other types. For example, regular consumption of tomato products is related in particular to decreased risk of prostate cancer, and regular intake of black and green tea appears to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Bogus cancer treatments

Unorthodox, purported cancer cures such as macro- biotic diets, hydrogen peroxide ingestion; laetrile tablets, vitamin, mineral and herbal supplements, and animal gland therapy have not been shown to be effective treatments for cancer. Such remedies have been promoted since the early 1900s. They still exist, although not proven to work, they offer some cancer patients a last ray of hope. They should not be used as a substitute for conventional cancer treatments.

Grass-fed Beef: Is It Safer?

by foodworksblog 15 Comments

A typical feedlot

Grass-fed beef comes from cattle that eat only grass and other foraged foods. Usually, beef and dairy cows eat a diet of processed grain, such as corn.  There has been an increased interest in grass-fed or pastured beef because of its health claims when compared to cattle from commercial feedlots.  Grass-fed beef may have some heart-health benefits that other types of beef don’t have. When compared with other types of beef, grass-fed beef may have:

  • Less total fat
  • Higher levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids
  • Higher levels of another type of fat (conjugated linoleic acid) that’s thought to reduce heart disease and cancer risks
  • Lower levels of a dangerous strain of E. coli bacteria

Due to the almost continuous news of recalls of beef contaminated with a dangerous strain of E. coli 0157:H7 or often just called O157 bacteria, grass-fed beef purveyors have often promoted the idea of safer beef than conventionally-grown or grain-fed beef.  What does the science say?

Work conducted at Cornell University by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez in the late 1990s showed that cattle that were fed hay had far fewer E. coli concentrations than when they were fed a standard feedlot diet based on grain. (Microbes Infect 2, No. 1 (2000): 45-53.)  However, earlier studies did not look at the levels of the dangerous strain 0157 apart from other strains.

The researchers hypothesized that when grain is fed to cattle, their digestive tracts become more acidic.  Over time, the E. coli in their intestines become resistant to this acid environment.  When we ingest them, a high percentage will survive the high acid content of our digestive juices and increase the risk of E. coli food poisoning.  Theoretically few E. coli from grass-fed cattle will survive because they have not become acid-resistant.

Since this original work, other researchers have explored the link between cattle feed and E. coli with more attention paid to the presence of 0157:H7.  Some have confirmed the work by Russell and Diez-Gonzalez but the majority has disputed the finding.  For example, in 2003, at the University of Idaho, a study found no difference in the levels of E. coli 0157:H7 in grass-fed and grain-fed.  In both cases, acid resistance was high.  Other studies have come to the same conclusion.

Grass-fed growers point out that even if there is not much evidence that diet can affect the number and acidity of E. coli in the intestines of cattle, grass-fed beef may be safer in the long run than feedlot beef.  Simply, grass-fed cattle are cleaner at time of slaughter.

Feedlot animals often stand all day in dirt and manure and careless and dangerous practices in the slaughterhouses increases the risk of manure contamination of the meat.  For a graphic depiction of slaughterhouse practices, read “Fast Food Nation” by Eric Schlosser. A cleaner animal upon entering the facility will lessen this possibility.  In the magazine Meat Marketing and Technology, the associate editor stated: “pasture-raised animals are much easier to clean because they come form smaller herds raised in relatively cleaner pastures.”

From the www.onlygrassfed.com webpage:

“It (grass-fed) is usually processed in a small local meat processing operation by skilled butchers who are careful to avoid fecal contamination of the beef.  When you buy grass fed ground beef from a reputable local farmer, you can be assured it is not “frankenbeef.”  In fact, the ground beef probably came from one cow.  Rest assured, it was processed from quality, uncontaminated ingredients.”

In 2009, there were 4,643 cases of Shiga-toxin producing 0157:H7 E. coli illnesses; In 2010, the number rose to 4, 757.  Fortunately there were few deaths, but this strain can cause a condition known as hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) often with lasting kidney damage for a lifetime.

Choosing whether to buy grass-fed or grain-fed beef is a personal decision based on taste, price, ethical and environmental issues.  Some grass-fed beef purveyors will say that it is OK to consume the beef raw as in steak tartar, for example based on the myth of less E. coli contamination.  If you choose grass-fed beef it is important to realize that you should practice all the safe-handling techniques recommended for grain-fed beef based on the current scientific evidence.

Related article


Important Facts about Vitamin B12

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By Sally J. Feltner, MS, PhD

Vitamin B12 is often overlooked as to its importance to human health. Vitamin B12 is needed for the metabolism of another vitamin, folate as well as fatty acids to maintain the insulating layer of myelin surrounding nerve fibers. When myelin degenerates, neurological symptoms occur that include numbness, tingling, memory loss and disorientation. If not treated, it can eventually cause paralysis and death. On the other hand, a deficiency is rare, but can be a public health concern due to marginal B12 status due to either low intake or problems with absorption as often found in the older adult. This deficiency may also occur in people who attempt to practice a strict vegan diet as this vitamin is found almost exclusively in animal products.

The absorption of B12 from food requires adequate levels of stomach acid, intrinsic factor (produced in the stomach) and pancreatic secretions. Even though it is a water-soluble vitamin, the body stores and reuses it more efficiently that it does other water soluble vitamins.

Poor absorption of vitamin B12 can result from a condition called pernicious anemia. It is an autoimmune disease in which the cells in the stomach that produce intrinsic factor are destroyed. Therefore, B12 cannot be absorbed due to a lack of intrinsic factor. The anemia can be treated with injections, nasal gels or oral megadoses. The injections and gel bypass the GI tract and thus there is no need for intrinsic factor. Megadoses can allow adequate amounts of B12 to be absorbed that then do not require intrinsic factor.

Vegan diets are a concern due to B12 found only in animal foods. Severe deficiencies have been found in breast – fed infants of vegan women and marginal  deficiencies for all vegans if supplemental or fortified foods are not consumed in the diet.

What You Need to Know At A Glance

Primary Function:

  • Helps maintain nerve tissue.
  • Aids in reactions that build up protein tissue.
  • Needed by normal red blood cell development.

Consequences of deficiency

  • Neurological disorders (nervousness, tingling sensations, brain degeneration
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Elevated blood level of homocysteine (increased cardiac problems)

Consequences of overdose

  • None known.
  • Excess is excreted by the kidneys and not absorbed.
  • B12 injections may cause a temporary feeling of heightened energy.

Primary Food Sources

  • Fish, seafood
  • Meat
  • Milk and cheese
  • Ready to eat cereals

Highlights and Comments

  • Older people, those with previous stomach surgery, and vegans are at risk for deficiency.
  • Some people become B12 deficient because they are unable to absorb it (pernicious anemia).
  • Vitamin B12 is found in animal products and microorganisms only.

Source: Smolin, Lori A. & , Grosvenor, Mary B. Nutrition, Science and Applications, Third Edition

Judith E. Brown, Nutrition Now, 7th Edition

“Hurrah” for the Pumpkin Pie

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When you think of Thanksgiving, the pumpkin pie (aside from the turkey) first comes to mind. In fact, when else do you make a pumpkin pie even though canned pumpkin is available all year around?

In Medieval times, squash, gourds, and other fruits were stewed with sugar, spices, and cream wrapped in pastry. During the Colombian Exchange in the 16th century “new world” foods that included pumpkins, potatoes, tomatoes, peanuts, and corn were introduced into European cookery. Pumpkins became a favorite almost immediately whereas most other foods took several generations to be totally accepted. This was more than likely due to their similarity to “old world” gourds and squashes and they were easy to cultivate. They were called pompions, after French “pompon.”

Pumpkins were first cultivated in Central America around 5,500 B.C. The Northeastern Indians used squash more than other Indians in early America and did favor pumpkin the most. They baked them by putting them in the embers of a fire, then moistened them with maple syrup or honey or some type of fat and then turned it into a soup. It was likely that pumpkin was on the first Thanksgiving table in some form. By the 1700’s, it became a popular item to celebrate the holiday. In 1705, the town of Colchester, Connecticut postponed the holiday for a week due to a molasses shortage to make the pies.

Pumpkins have been in American history for centuries and recipes for its preparation began appearing in cookbooks. The first known American cookbook was American Cookery by Amelia Simmons in 1796 that included a recipe for “pompkin” pie. She made two versions. Both had pumpkin, ginger, and eggs. One used cream and sugar with Old World spices, mace and nutmeg; the other used milk and molasses with New World allspice.

Later in 1805, a recipe for pumpkin pie appeared in the Art of Cookery Made Plain and Simple by Mrs. Hannah Glasse.

“Take the pumpkin and peel the rind off, then stew it till is quite soft and put thereto one pint of pumpkin, one pint of milk, one glass of malaga wine one glass of rose-water, if you like, seven eggs, half a pound of fresh butter, one small nutmeg, and sugar and salt to your taste:”

By the 1800’s, pumpkin pie was a necessity at most Thanksgiving celebrations. If you have ever heard the famous poem about Thanksgiving by Lydia Maria Child in 1842:

“Over the river and through the wood, to grandfather’s house we go” ends with “Hurrah for the pumpkin pie”.

In 1929, Libby’s meat-canning industry made pumpkin preparation easier by offering its famous canned pumpkin with its traditional recipe on the label. My mother would have appreciated the Libby’s version. I remember her talking about making her first pumpkin pie and neglecting to strain the stringy pulp from the pumpkin itself. Needless to say it was a disaster. Next time you open a can, please think kindly of her and in her day, there may not have been canned pumpkin.

The only problem is the sugar content found in pies – as for my pumpkin disaster, I forgot the sugar one year and it was awful. But who is counting sugar grams on Thanksgiving?  No one. (for the few that are – 1 serving has 253 cals, 3 grams of fiber, 32 grams of carbohydrate and about 19.7 grams of sugar (5 tsp). Pumpkin is also loaded wtih vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene (a powerful antioxidant).

Eating in America: A History, Waverly Root & Richard de Rochemont William Morrow, New York 1976, (p. 41).

The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, Mrs. Hannah Glasse, 1805 .

Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People, Linda Civitello, 2nd Edition, Wiley

Living in a Blue Zone

By Sally J. Feltner, M.S.,  Ph.D


Ponce de Leon began his quest for the fountain of youth in 1531 and humans have been seeking magical solutions for keeping us younger and living our later years in relatively good health.

In 2009 with the backing of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, AARP and the National Geographic, Dan Buettner established the Blue Zone Project and authored The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer from the people who lived the longest, He interviewed those who were either centenarians or those in their later years and began to investigate what factors may have contributed to these long lives. He identified five regions that for various reasons had populations meeting this criteria:

  • Sardinia in Italy with the highest concentration of centenarian men.
  • Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, where some residents live ten more healthy years than the average American.
  • The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica that has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians.
  • Ikaria, Greece that has one of the world’s lowest rates of middle age mortality and lowest rates of dementia. Only 20 percent of people over 80 showed any signs of dementia, whereas a similar study of long-lived people near Athens showed an almost 50 percent rate of dementia.
  • Okinawa, Japan home to the world’s longest living women.


Remarkably, all the regions had common characteristics that included family and purpose, community and spirituality, stress reduction and physical activity..

One major practice was that all their diets, though not vegan, were predominantly based on plants. Meat and other animal products were either the exception or used as a condiment. Okinawans, practice a philosophy called hara-hachi bu regarding food; they only eat until they are 80% full.

In the Costa Rican Zone, everyone feels like they have a plan de vida or life plan. Even at ages above 60 and 70, inhabitants don’t stop living. They keep themselves busy; they love to work. It provides them a “reason to waking up in the morning” called ikigai. There is no word for “retirement” in Okinawa.

The book introduces some very interesting longevity “superstars.”

  • Marge Jones, at 100 years old from Loma Linda begins every day with a mile walk, a stationary bicycle ride, and some weight lifting. “I’m for anything that has to do with health”, she says.
  • Kamada Nakazitam, 102 years old from Okinawa says “To be healthy enough to embrace my great – great grandchild is bliss.”
  • Ellsworh Wareham, age 91 from Loma Linda, assists during heart surgery procedures, something he does about two or three times a week.
  • Abuela Panchita, 100 year old Costa Rican woman whose 80 year old son, Tommy bicycles to see her every day, spends every day cooking, splitting logs and using a machine to clear brush from her yard.
  • The notion of moai in Okinawa stands for “a social support network. Says 77 year old Klazuko Mann, “each member knows that her friends count on her as much as she counts on her friends.”
  • Tonino Tola, 75 said that “Sardinian men can shed stress by often joking at the expense of one another.” Science tells us a belly laugh a day may reduce stress and actually keep the doctor away.

The final chapters of the book boil it all down into nine lessons and a cultural distillation of the worlds’ best practices in longevity. Beuttner provides credible information available for adding “years to your life and life to your years.”

However, there is a downside. From the author: “Sardinians today have already taken on the trappings of modern life. For example, junk foods are replacing whole-grain breads and fresh vegetables traditionally consumed here. Young people are fatter, less inclined to follow tradition, and more outwardly focused.”

From the author: “I once pressed a 101-year-old woman in Ikaria, Greece to tell why she thought people there lived so long. ‘We just forget to die,’ she said with a shrug. None of them went on a diet, joined a gym, or took supplements. They didn’t pursue longevity – it simply ensued”

Since the first book, Mr. Buettner has published two other books that continue to describe the lifestyles of these regions. They include The Blue Zones Solution and The Blue Zones of Happiness. I’ve enjoyed these books immensely and have often referred to them in various tweets and posts. The first book concludes with a chapter on Your Personal Blue Zone. Other books give us more explicit ways to establish Blue Zones in other areas in the U.S.

From the back cover of The Blue Zones Solution – “Propagating the Blue Zones would not only prevent a rise in the prevalence of diabetes (and other such misfortunes); it would allow us to eliminate more than 80 percent of the burden we have now. That’s revolutionary.”

David Katz, M.D., Director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center

All these books are highly recommended, in my opinion. They not only teach us valuable information to remain healthy in our later years, i.e. a longer lifespan of optimal health,  but they also present a relatively comprehensive and colorful glimpse of their individual lives and culture.

Working for an extension of a Healthy Lifespan

Vitamin D: An Update At A Glance

Several posts have explained the role of vitamin D in immunity and and thus the Covid virus – (can search on this blog under Infectious Disease). This post is simply an update about the expanded role of vitamin D status.

WHAT You Need to Know Vitamin’s Immune Benefits

More than 70% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of vitamin D.

Vitamin D supports the immune system’s response to illnesses of all kinds which may include COVID-19.

Past studies show that low levels of vitamin D are associated with increased rates and severity of viral infections.

Clinical trials have shown that vitamin D has a protective effect against respiratory tract infections.

Vitamin D and Viral Illness

Vital respiratory tract infections, such as flu, are more common during winter. One of the reasons for this may be seasonal variations in our vitamin D levels. During winter, we get less sun, leading to lower vitamin D production. That puts us at increased risk for viral infection. Low vitamin D is also a risk for more severe lung disease called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). This condition can lead to what is called a cytokine storm with hyper- production of inflammatory factors that can lead to death.

Vitamin D’s Protective Action

Vitamin D contributes to many functions that help shield the body from infections and lessen their severity. Maintaing adequate levels of vitamin D:

Interferes with the ability of viruses to replicate and produce more viral particles.

Helps support and repair heathly cellular linings in the body, including the airways of the lungs.

Increases production of proteins that shield against bacteria and viruses, enhancing the ability of cells to protect themselves from infection.

Improves the ability of immune cells to mount an effective attack against specific viruses.

Helps prevent the immune system from going overboard and producing excessive pro-inflammatory compounds in the lungs.


Unfortunately, vitamin D is found naturally in few foods in the diet. These are fish and seafood, fortified breakfast cereals, orange juice, regular milk, rice milk, soy milk, yogurt, and margarine Therefore, an oral supplement may be necessary. If you think you may not get enough D in your diet, please see your physician to discuss the benefits and side effects of vitamin D supplementation. There is a common blood test that he/she may suggest to indicate your blood level of this fat-soluble vitamin.

The Upper Limit is 100 mcg or 4,000 UL if you choose to take a supplement. Consequences of overdose may include: mental retardation in young children, abnormal bone growth and formation, nausea, diarrhea, irritability, weight loss, calcium deposition in organs such as kidneys, liver, and heart, toxicity is possible with long-term use of 10,000 daily.

Nutrition Now, Judith E. Brown, 7th Edition, 2013

Life Extension November, 2020

Extra Virgin Olive Oil Benefits

Large Human Trial Demonstrates Extra Virgin Olive Oil Reduces Cardiovascular and Breast Cancer Risks

Results of a large clinical trial published in two prestigious medical journals JAMA an the New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate that a diet supplemented with extra Virgin olive oil provides health benefits.

The PREDIMED study enrolled adults age 55 to 80 who are considered at high risk for cardiovascular disease based on various factors.

Participant participants were assigned to a Mediterranean diet, one with supplemental extra virgin olive oil at least 4 tablespoons and the other supplemented with mixed nuts. The third group was assigned to a control, low fat diet.

Over almost five years of follow-up, cardiovascular outcomes including heart attack, stroke, and death from any cardiovascular cause, were noted. The Mediterranean diet groups had a significantly lower rate of negative cardiovascular outcomes. This association was particularly strong for the supplemental extra virgin olive oil group, which had a 31 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular disease outcomes compared to the control diet group.

The researchers also observed data of new breast cancer in the women enrolled. Here too, the diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil was most protective, reducing rates of breast cancer by nearly 70% compared to the control diet. Interesting, the group that supplemented with mixed nuts did not show a significant benefit in terms of breast cancer risk. The study’s authors report that this was the first human trial to find a beneficial effect of a dietary intervention on breast cancer risk. Together, these results suggest that a Mediterranean diet with supplemental extra virgin olive oil is protective against both cardiovascular disease and breast cancer in older adults with existing risk factors