10 ways for caregivers to reduce holiday stress

Happy holidays! Thanksgiving is almost here! It’s almost inevitable that most of us feel more stressed during the holiday season. There’s always so much to do if you’re planning to get together with friends and family. And for those who are grieving or alone, the stress can be debilitating. If you’re a caregiver, you’re undoubtedly even more stressed.

The most important thing is to take care of YOU. If you get stressed and exhibit anxiety, those around you are going to feel it. It becomes a vicious cycle. You get stressed, and then the person you care for may get irritable, nervous, or anxious.

Make this your mantra: eat healthily, drink water, take a daily walk, and sleep well. It sounds easy, but how do you do that when your time is limited and you feel stretched in every which way.

Or how do you take care of yourself when you’re so depressed it’s hard to get out of bed? (This is a huge topic that I won’t address here, but you might want to read: Have you tried any of these natural ways to combat depression? https://barbracohn.2018/10/03/have-you-tried-any-of-these-natural-ways-to-combat-depression/

  1. Make a pot of soup that will last several days. Lentil, split pea, vegetable, chicken, butternut squash, and tomato soups are chockful of goodness. See below for a yummy recipe.
  2. Do you really need to drink 8 glasses of water each day? According to an article that recently appeared in the New York Times, the answer is no. It depends on a lot of things: how big you are, how active you are, and how much liquid you’re getting through foods and other drinks such as tea and coffee. I had always thought that caffeinated tea and coffee dehydrate you. But according to this article they don’t. Juicy fruits such as oranges, melons, and pears (not to mention summer fruits), contribute water to your total intake. Just make sure that you’re drinking enough so that you don’t get to the point where you feel thirsty or where your lips feel dry.
  3. Exercise is vital to overall health and stress reduction. Whether you live in a cold or hot climate, dress appropriately and find at least 15 minutes a day to get outside and walk.
  4. Show your care partner (the person you care for) a bit of extra attention if you’re able to. Take them for a drive to see holiday lights. Have an afternoon tea in a charming café. Visit your care partner’s best friend, or have them come for a visit. Buy a new CD of their favorite music and play it for them. Light candles at dinnertime. Have them help you with decorations, if possible.
  5. Plan a visit from a music therapist or animal-assisted (AAT)therapist, or find out where you might find them visiting facilities.
  6. Aromatherapy can be a resource of comfort to you and your care partner by providing an easy, natural way to reduce stress and anxiety and uplift mood. To make sure you are buying a pure essential oil and not synthetic fragrance oil, look for the botanical name of the plant and the phrase “pure essential oil” on the label. Essential oils can be used in a wide variety of ways, but the most common methods are by inhalation or topical use, such as lotion, body oil, or in a bath. My favorite method which I used for my husband is an electric micro-mist diffuser, and available by mail order or at health food stores. These disperse essential oils into the air in a cool mist or can be gently warmed in a candle-heated aroma lamp that releases the aroma into the air. Another easy way is to add 30-40 drops of essential oils to a 4-ounce water spritz bottle. Favorite oils for reducing stress and anxiety include: lavender, Holy basil, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang. Citrus oils uplift the mind and emotions, relieve stress and anxiety, and are useful for appetite support: bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, and orange.
  7. Making art can help you regain a sense of balance. If you’re feeling out of control, and are inclined to create art, set aside a table just for art and make it sacred. Gather your materials and have them easily accessible so that the space is prepared for you to focus on the “now” without a lot of distraction. It’s amazing how making art can melt stress once you get into the creative zone. The same goes for playing an instrument. It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world or how I feel, when I sit down at the piano, everything becomes part of the past and I’m able to enjoy the moment. It actually becomes a meditation.
  8. Speaking of meditation, the buzzword these days is “mindfulness.” There are numerous apps and classes that can teach you how to stay present and act with kindness and compassion. You can also take a meditation class such as Transcendental Meditation, where you learn how to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. TM has been proven to reduce blood pressure, and help the body recharge by reducing stress. It’s easy and anyone who can think a thought can do it.
  9. Keep it simple. You don’t have to make an elaborate feast (unless you’re a cook and love to do that) to make the holidays special. If you want to make it really easy on yourself, order a meal for the number of people at your table. Grocery stores like Whole Foods provide dinners that are yummy and healthy (and yes, a little expensive). Or make the essentials and buy a pie.
  10. This holiday season stop and smell the flavors and enjoy the little things: a walk in the woods, a new baby’s smile, a toddler’s romp, a new sweater, or a pair of socks. Get out the photo albums and reminisce. Watch funny YouTube videos of animals and children. Watch a comedy together. Borrow your neighbor’s dog to take on a walk. Walk in the snow (please wear treaded boots so you don’t fall). Enjoy the moment because time passes quickly and what’s here this year may not be here next year.

While most families are hoping to get together for the first time in a couple of years due to COVID, it’s important to keep abreast of the latest health and safety directives in your area. The number of COVID cases is on the rise again. Please wear a mask when flying, traveling by train or bus, and when you’re in crowded places such as a grocery store. Get a COVID booster and seasonal flu shot. If you feel sick, please stay home! There’s nothing like exposing your loved ones to an illness and having them get sick to make you feel guilty and everyone stressed.

One of my favorite soup recipes to enjoy throughout the winter

Pasta y Fagioli—a one-pot meal, 4 servings

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots cut into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 2 stalks of celery, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 leek, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces (discard the top, tough stalk or keep to use when making vegetable broth)
  • 1 zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1 yellow squash, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • Herbs of your choice: basil or thyme
  • 1 28-ounce can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 quart of stock –vegetable or chicken. Add water if needed to cover the veggies
  • 2 cans of white beans (navy, butter, or cannellini)
  • 8 oz of pasta of your choice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated parmesan cheese

Heat the oil in a soup pot on medium. Add the onion and cook for about 5 mins., occasionally stirring. Add the other vegetables, until they begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes and their juice.

Separately, cook the amount of pasta you want to put in the soup. Keep the pasta separate or it will turn to mush. Add a serving of pasta to the soup and top with grated cheese. Serve with bread and salad. Delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

10 Reasons Why You Should Eat Chocolate on Valentine’s Day (and all year long).

Fresh strawberries dipped in dark chocolate

When I was in Mexico I visited a chocolate museum. It’s hard to get through the exhibit without drooling since the rich, sweet odors permeate every room. The last stop before the exit was a large display of chocolate that was for sale. Chocolate made from coarsely ground cacao, sugar, and cinnamon. Chocolate with chile, nuts and spices, and mole sauce cooked for half a day and filled with more than a dozen spices. The Mexicans know how to make chocolate!

And it’s no wonder. Cacao plants were grown in Mexico 4,000 years ago, and the Olmec, one of the earliest civilizations in Latin America, turned the bitter cacao beans into cocoa, which they drank and used as medicine. Later, the Mayans came up with a brew made of roasted cacao seeds, chilies, water, and cornmeal. The Aztecs used cacao beans as currency and believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl. They drank it as a delicious foamy beverage, an aphrodisiac, and as a preparation for war.

When the Spanish arrived, they brought nuts and spices with them. This is where the common practice of adding almonds and cardamom into Mexican chocolate stems from.

So thanks to the Mexicans and Spanish, we have the amazing pleasure of drinking and eating chocolate. In addition to its delectable taste, chocolate offers numerous health benefits. But there’s a big difference between eating dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Dark chocolate has the highest percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, as well as sugar and cocoa bean powder. It also contains flavonoids, plant-based compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that support immunity. Additionally, it contains magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium, and manganese, which are essential minerals. Dark chocolate also contains epicatechin and gallic acids which support the heart, act as anticarcinogens (anti-cancer), and support brain health and mental clarity.

Milk chocolate contains milk powder, sugar, and a small percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It has a creamier and sweeter taste. It contains less than 10 percent of cocoa versus the minimum of 35 percent cocoa that dark chocolate contains, which means it doesn’t offer nearly the number of health benefits as dark chocolate.

Nutritionists recommend consuming chocolate products that contain 70% to 80% cocoa. If you just want the pure and simple health benefits, forego the chocolate and take raw cacao capsules. Although I definitely wouldn’t recommend giving your sweetheart a bottle of cacao capsules on Valentine’s Day. Indulge in the good-tasting stuff!

10 reasons to eat chocolate

  1. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Legend has it that the Aztec emperor Montezuma was said to consume large amounts of the cocoa bean to fuel his libido. Today, scientists attribute the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate to two chemicals: 1) tryptophan, which is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. And, 2) phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, that is released in the brain when people fall in love. What about you? Do you experience a heightened sense of arousal after eating dark chocolate?
  2. Chocolate contains good-for-you antioxidants Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, which thrives in hot, rainy climates in South America, Africa and Indonesia. Similar to grapes, the local soil and climate affects the taste of the harvested beans. When you buy a chocolate bar that has the percentage number on the bar wrapper, that represents the weight that comes from the cacao bean content, according to Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained. The higher the number, the lower the percentage of sugar and the more bitter and complex the flavor, he says. And the higher the number the more antioxidants.
  3. Cacao is rich in essential minerals: magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese, all essential minerals . . . and antioxidants that support immune health.
  4. Chocolate reduces your risk of Type 2 Diabetes Researchers discovered that the flavanols in chocolate have beneficial effects on insulin resistance, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. In a 30-year-long study of 953 men and women from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), researchers found that the individuals who never or rarely ate chocolate had a significantly higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes after five years when compared to individuals who ate chocolate more than once a week. Habitual chocolate intake and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study: (1975-2010): Prospective observations.
  5. Protects you from heart disease A 2012 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dark chocolate has a beneficial effect on blood pressure, vascular dilation and cholesterol levels, and can play a role in reducing metabolic precursors that lead to diabetes and eventually to heart disease. However, a study published in October 2016 (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.) found that out of 32 cocoa product samples analyzed, the cocoa flavanol dose must be about 900 mg or above to decrease blood pressure, and contain 100 mg of epicatechin. So if you want to eat chocolate for health benefits, be sure to check the ingredient label. The aim of the study was to review the effect of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health, with emphasis on the doses ingested, and to analyze a range of cocoa products for content of these compounds. PubMed was searched from 2010 to locate systematic reviews (SR) on clinical effects of chocolate consumption.
  6. Supports mental function. A recent analysis of several studies on the effects of cocoa polyphenols on cognition in healthy adults found that they enhanced memory and executive function. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31933112/ In an earlier study carried out by the University of L’Aquila in Italy, 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) drank cocoa containing high, medium or low levels of flavonoids. At the end of the eight-week study researchers found improvements in the motor response, working memory, task switching, and verbal memory in the participants who drank cocoa with a higher flavanol content. (Hypertension, Aug. 14, 2012) Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are especially fond of sweets because the taste of sweetness is the last taste to disappear. Another study which evaluated the effect of cocoa flavonoids on cognitive function, blood pressure control and metabolic function in the elderly also found positive results. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25733639/ So if your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, indulge him/her in chocolate. Just remember not to overdo it and make sure to include good dental hygiene in your loved one’s daily regimen.
  7. Helps you think better after a sleepless night. The next time you have a bad night’s sleep, instead of indulging in a cup of Joe drink hot chocolate. Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and scientists have found that flavanol-rich chocolate counteracted vascular impairment after sleep deprivation and restored working memory performance. Their theory is that the study’s participants had improved cognitive performance because of the effects of cocoa flavonoids on blood pressure and blood flow.Flavanol-rich chocolate acutely improves arterial function and working memory performance counteracting the effects of sleep deprivation in healthy individuals.
  8. Is good for your gut. Cacao stimulates the production of healthy microbes in the colon.  Studies show that the microbes break down the undigested fiber in the cocoa, creating usable short-chained fatty acids, such as butyric, propionic and acetic acids. These fatty acids promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, which strengthens the intestinal barrier and prevents harmful microorganisms and antigens from invading the digestive tract.
  9. May help protect your from cancer. Cacao has the biggest concentration of flavonols ( a class of flavonoids) of all foods per weight. Flavonols contain cancer-protective properties. Studies in humans have shown that flavonol-rich diets are associated with a decrease in cancer risk. One gram of cacao contains over 30 mg of flavonols, and 31 mg a day is the ideal. But be careful. Don’t use this as an excuse to eat a bar of dark chocolate every day instead of eating fruits and vegetables, because fruits and veggies offer lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals that aren’t all found in cacao.
  10. Makes you feel gooood Scientists have discovered why chocolate uplifts your mood. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for keeping us happy, and cacao stops the amino acid tryptophan from breaking down. Since tryptophan is one of the amino acids that make serotonin this, in turn, limits the breakdown of serotonin. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25733639/

On Valentine’s Day celebrate with your loved one by enjoying a steaming cup of delicious hot chocolate made with whole milk or rice or flax milk. Or indulge in a dark chocolate truffle, dark chocolate, or cacao candy bar. It’ll boost your spirit and your immunity. Just be careful not to overdo it because the calories can add up quickly.

I’m making strawberries dipped in chocolate this Valentine’s Day.

I might even make Chocolate souffle if I’m really feeling indulgent. Substitute coconut sugar or raw sugar, if you like. This recipe is easier than you’d think, so don’t let the word souffle scare you off. It’s well worth the time and little effort it takes.

Chocolate Souffle

Ingredients

  • 1⁄3 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1⁄8 tablespoon butter

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Measure out sugar, chocolate and separate eggs.
  • Butter soufflé dish entirely and then add sugar (additional) coating the entire dish.
  • Melt chocolate in a double boiler, or directly on the stove.
  • Add yolks to chocolate (this will harden the chocolate so don’t be alarmed).
  • Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt. Slowly add sugar, a little at a time. Beat until egg whites hold stiff peaks.
  • Fold white mixture into chocolate slowly and stir until smooth.
  • Pour into large soufflé dish or 4 ramekins and run the end of your thumb around inside to remove any extra batter.
  • Bake until puffed and crusted on top but still jiggly in center, 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with whipped cream or ice cream.

This recipe has become one of my new favorites.

Chocolate zucchini bread

Ingredients

  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (add 3/4 cup if you like it sweet, I don’t)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder
  • 2 cups flour of your choice. I use 1 cup almond meal and 1 cup whole wheat
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan with oil or rub with butter.
  • In a large bowl mix egg, applesauce, maple syrup, baking soda and baking powder and salt.
  • Add cocoa powder and whisk until well combined.
  • Add flour and mix until combined. Add 1/4 cup of chocolate chips.
  • Pour batter into pan and sprinkle remaining chips on top.
  • Bake 40-50 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to hit a melted chocolate chip.
  • Let cool before slicing.

Yay chocolate! Have a very happy Valentine’s Day!

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Healthy and delicious winter squash recipes

Butternut squash soup with apples and sweet paprika

The color orange is everywhere right now, and the view from my office window is exquisite. Although I dislike seeing the trees lose their leaves to winter, the period building up to the ‘big shed’ is resplendent with color. Pumpkins adorn doorsteps and soups and stews burst with color and the wonderful antioxidant, beta carotene, that provides us with a natural immune booster.

Here are a few of my favorite winter squash recipes to help make your autumn a cozy and healthy season.

Curried butternut squash soup with apples from The Silver Palate Cookbook4 Tbs sweet butter (serves 4-6)

  • 4 Tbsp sweet butter
  • 2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
  • 4-5 tsp curry powder
  • 2 medium-size butternut squash –(about 3 pounds altogether)
  • 2 apples, cored, peeled and chopped
  • 3 cups chicken soup
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 shredded unpeeled Granny Smith apple garnish

Directions

  1. Melt the butter in a pot. Add chopped onions and curry powder and cook, covered, over low heat until onions are tender, about 25 minutes.
  2. Peel the squash , scrape out the seeds, and chop the flesh.
  3. When onions are tender, pour in the stock, add squash and apples, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, until squash and apples are very tender, about 25 minutes.
  4. Pour the soup through a strainer, reserving liquid, and transfer the solids to the bowl of a food processor or mixing bowl. Add 1 cup of the cooking stock and process until smooth. You can also use a hand blender or plunger, also called “smart sticks.”
  5. Return pureed soup to the pot and add apple juice and additional cooking liquid, about 2 cups, until soup is of desired consistency.
  6. Season to taste with salt and pepper, simmer briefly to heat through, and serve immediately, garnished with shredded apple.

Stuffed acorn squash (serves 4)

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 2 tsp olive old
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup chopped leeks (1 small leek)
  • 1 cup chopped apple or pear (1-2 fruit)
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 2 cups sliced tender greens into ribbons (Swiss chard, spinach, kale)
  • 4 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups cooked quinoa, millet or rice
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup roasted pecan pieces

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cut 2 acorn squash in half through the stem, and remove seeds and strings
  3. Place squash flesh-side down in the dish and bake until very tender when pricked with a fork, 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and raise oven temperature to 425 degrees.
  4. Place olive oil in a skillet and cook the leeks until soft, about 3 minutes. Add apple, 1.4 tsp salt, pepper and cook for an additional minute.
  5. Add cooked greens, the grain, and pecans.
  6. Cook for another minute, stirring to combine. Remove from heat.
  7. Flip over the squash and fill with the prepared mixture. Sprinkle with cheese and bake about 10 minutes until the cheese melts.

Okay, so cake isn’t the healthiest, but once in a while it’s a delectable treat. My college roommate’s mom made this for us when we went to her home for a weekend. Although I don’t make it often, it always comes out perfectly and it’s a sure hit.

Pumpkin cake

  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin or 1 can of pumpkin
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup coconut sugar (I always cut the amount of sugar by half. The recipe calls for 2 cups.)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup coconut oil
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix eggs and sugar. Beat well. Add oil and beat. Add flour, spices, and salt. Blend in pumpkin and beat well. Pour into greased tube pan. Bake 40-50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Icing

  • 8 oz pkg cream cheese
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • Combine butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer (or you may use an electric mixer) and beat until creamy, well-combined, and lump-free.
  • Add vanilla extract and salt and stir well to combine.
  • With mixer on low, gradually add powdered sugar until completely combined.
  • Use to frost completely cooled cake or cupcakes.

Enjoy! Have a happy and safe Halloween!

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Can you prevent COVID-19 with supplements or medications?

Man fighting viruses and bacteria

The short answer is not really. But there’s a lot you can do to boost your immune system.

You’ve probably heard about the use of ivermectin, the anti-parasite drug that people are using to prevent COVID. Clinical trials have repeatedly failed to demonstrate the drug is effective against the virus. Yet, many continue to ignore the warning that taking ivermectin can cause harmful side effects and even death.

The confusion arose initially because the use of ivermectin in India was showing some promising results. Shortly after, however, the group that was recommending it updated their guidance. Their original message was that ivermectin shortened and lessened symptoms based on the information from a European panel. Their new guidance recommends “against using ivermectin for treatment of patients with any severity of COVID-19. Ivermectin should only be used in the context of a randomized controlled trial.”

Epidemiological data from other countries that recommended ivermectin suggests that ivermectin didn’t slow down the rate of new infection. As of May 2021, there isn’t reliable clinical evidence indicating that ivermectin is beneficial in preventing or curing COVID-19. The WHO and the U.S. FDA have adopted a similar position stating that “ivermectin should not be used for the treatment of outpatients with COVID-19, unless in the context of a clinical trial.”

Remdesivir is the only drug that is approved by the FDA to treat COVID-19. It is NOT used to prevent it.

No supplements have been clinically proven to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19. However, it doesn’t hurt, and it may very well help, to boost your immune system in the same way you would in order to stave off colds and flu.

Vitamins and minerals that support your immunity

Vitamin A

Beta Carotene is the antioxidant of choice for people who are unsure about which vitamin A to take. It is the precursor of vitamin A and can be converted into vitamin A if the body needs it. It gives added protection to the immune system, skin, eyes, and lungs.

Vitamin B complex

B vitamins are important for a healthy immune response, and numerous healthy body processes.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (as ascorbic acid, calcium ascorbate) is the body’s primary water-soluble antioxidant, which makes it an important weapon in your immune system’s arsenal against bacteria and viruses. It also helps protect unsaturated fatty acids, and the fat-soluble vitamins A and E from being oxidized, therefore protecting their potency.  Since your body can’t manufacture it, vitamin C must be obtained through diet and supplementation. A protective vitamin essential to over-all body health, vitamin C also helps:  in the production of collagen and maintenance of healthy skin; promote the healing of wounds, scar tissue, fractures;  give strength to blood vessels; prevent and treat the common cold; the body utilize iron and folic acid; support the thymus gland; enhance T-cell production, increasing resistance to viral and bacterial infections, and some allergies.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D supports immunity in two ways: 1) It is necessary for the production of antiviral peptides in the respiratory tract, making the respiratory tract less likely to be infected with a virus. 2) It helps promote a balanced inflammatory immune response.

Researchers at Northwestern University analyzed publicly available patient data from 10 countries and discovered a strong correlation between vitamin D levels and cytokine storm—a hyper-inflammatory condition caused by an overactive immune system — as well as a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and mortality. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/05/200507121353.htm

According to Ali Daneshkhah, the study’s first author, “Cytokine storm can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients. This is what seems to kill a majority of COVID-19 patients, not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself. It is the complications from the misdirected fire from the immune system.”

The research team believes that this is where vitamin D plays a major role. Vitamin D enhances our innate immune systems, and prevents our immune systems from becoming dangerously overactive. This means that having healthy levels of vitamin D could protect patients against severe complications, including death from COVID-19.

Lead researcher Vadim Backman said, “ Our analysis shows that it might be as high as cutting the mortality rate in half. It will not prevent a patient from contracting the virus, but it may reduce complications and prevent death in those who are infected.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace element obtained from the diet (i.e. fish, meat and cereals) which has been found to affect the severity of a number of viral diseases in animals and humans.

Margaret Rayman, Professor of Nutritional Medicine at the University of Surrey, said: “Given the history of viral infections associated with selenium deficiency, we wondered whether the appearance of COVID-19 in China could possibly be linked to the belt of selenium deficiency that runs from the north-east to the south-west of the country.”

Examining data from provinces and municipalities with more than 200 cases and cities with more than 40 cases, researchers found that areas with high levels of selenium were more likely to recover from the virus. For example, in the city of Enshi in Hubei Province, which has the highest selenium intake in China, the cure rate (percentage of COVID-19 patients declared ‘cured’) was almost three-times higher than the average for all the other cities in Hubei Province. By contrast, in Heilongjiang Province, where selenium intake is among the lowest in the world, the death rate from COVID-19 was almost five-times as high as the average of all the other provinces outside of Hubei.

Most convincingly, the researchers found that the COVID-19 cure rate was significantly associated with selenium status, as measured by the amount of selenium in hair, in 17 cities outside of Hubei. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/04/200429105907.htm

Zinc

You may have used zinc lozenges to shorten the length of a cold. It does seem to work. Zinc has been shown to inhibit various coronaviruses in a couple of studies. SARS coronavirus, and ZN (2+) inhibits coronavirus.  However, it hasn’t been tested on COVID-19. Still, it is always a good idea to make sure you are taking a zinc supplement, and that doesn’t mean the zinc lozenge. Most people are deficient in zinc. A researcher at the University of Pittsburgh recommends taking 25 mg of zinc morning and evening.

Herbs and mushrooms

Echinacea

Echinacea is one of America’s best-selling herbs for fighting colds and upper respiratory illnesses and stimulating the immune system to help fight infections for good reason. It supports the immune system by activating white blood cells, promotes nonspecific T-cell activation, a type of white blood cell that’s important in providing resistance to bacteria and viruses, and it activates a non-specific immune response via a part of the immune system known as the alternate complement pathway.

Astragalus membranaceus (root extract) – also known as huang qi, was used in China for at least 2,000 years before European botanists discovered its medicinal qualities in the 1700s.  In China this popular herb is believed to strengthen chi, the body’s defensive energy that protects against invading pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. Western herbalists classify astragalus as an adaptogenic herb, meaning that it is a substance that normalizes and balances all of the body’s systems, increasing your ability to handle physical and mental stress.

Ganoderma lucidum (fruit extract) – also known as Ling zhi and Rieshi, this mushroom has been highly esteemed in Chinese medicine for more than 4,000  years for its ability to promote longevity and maintain vitality. There have been numerous studies in the past two decades done on the mushroom, and scientists have discovered that it contains anti-inflammatory agents and other compounds including polysaccharides, amino acids, triterpines, ascorbic acid, sterols, lipids, alkaloids, and trace minerals, that are being studied for their effect on the immune system.

Stay healthy by maintaining a healthy lifestyle

These are just some of the immune-boosting and stimulating natural ingredients that can help you stay strong and resistant to the flu and colds. Even more important is getting enough sleep, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and low-fat protein, and exercising regularly.

All the best to you and your family for a healthy, beautiful fall.

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

The truth about eating chocolate

Dark chocolate stack, chips and powder

Americans eat more than 11 pounds of chocolate each year, which is far less than most Europeans, especially the Swiss, who eat 19 pounds a year.

There’s a big difference between eating dark chocolate and milk chocolate. Dark chocolate has the highest percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, as well as sugar and cocoa bean powder. It also contains flavonoids, plant-based compounds that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties the support immunity. Additionally, it contains magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese, which are essential minerals. Dark chocolate also contains epicatechin and Gallic acids which support the heart, act as an anticarcinogens (anti-cancer), and support brain health and mental clarity.

Milk chocolate contains milk powder, sugar, and a small percentage of cocoa solids and cocoa butter. It has a creamier and sweeter taste. It contains less than 10 percent of cocoa versus the minimum of 35 percent cocoa that dark chocolate contains, which means it doesn’t offer nearly the number of health benefits as dark chocolate.

Nutritionists recommend consuming chocolate products that contain 70% to 80% cocoa. If you just want the pure and simple health benefits, forego the chocolate and take raw cacao capsules. Although I definitely wouldn’t recommend giving your sweetheart a bottle of cacao capsules on Valentine’s Day. Indulge in the good-tasting stuff!

Interesting health facts about chocolate

  1. Chocolate is an aphrodisiac. Legend has it that the Aztec emperor Montezuma was said to consume large amounts of the cocoa bean to fuel his libido. Today, scientists attribute the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate to two chemicals: 1) tryptophan, which is a building block of serotonin, a brain chemical involved in sexual arousal. And, 2) phenylethylamine, a stimulant related to amphetamine, that is released in the brain when people fall in love. What about you? Do you experience a heightened sense of arousal after eating dark chocolate?
  2. Chocolate contains good-for-you antioxidants Chocolate comes from the cacao bean, which thrives in hot, rainy climates in South America, Africa and Indonesia. Similar to grapes, the local soil and climate affects the taste of the harvested beans. When you buy a chocolate bar that has the percentage number on the bar wrapper, that represents the weight that comes from the cacao bean content, according to Robert L. Wolke, author of What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained. The higher the number, the lower the percentage of sugar and the more bitter and complex the flavor, he says. And the higher the number the more antioxidants.
  3. Cacao is rich in magnesium, sulfur, calcium, iron, zinc, copper, potassium and manganese, all essential minerals . . . and antioxidants that support immune health.
  4. Chocolate reduces your risk of Type 2 Diabetes Researchers discovered that the flavanols in chocolate have beneficial effects on insulin resistance, a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes. In a 30-year-long study of 953 men and women from the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study (MSLS), researchers found that the individuals who never or rarely ate chocolate had a significantly higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes after five years when compared to individuals who ate chocolate more than once a week. Habitual chocolate intake and type 2 diabetes mellitus in the Maine-Syracuse Longitudinal Study: (1975-2010): Prospective observations.
  5. Protects you from heart disease A 2012 report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that dark chocolate has a beneficial effect on blood pressure, vascular dilation and cholesterol levels, and can play a role in reducing metabolic precursors that lead to diabetes and eventually to heart disease. However, a study published in October 2016 (John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.) found that out of 32 cocoa product samples analyzed, the cocoa flavanol dose must be about 900 mg or above to decrease blood pressure, and contain 100 mg of epicatechin. So if you want to eat chocolate for health benefits, be sure to check the ingredient label. The aim of the study was to review the effect of cocoa flavanols on cardiovascular health, with emphasis on the doses ingested, and to analyze a range of cocoa products for content of these compounds. PubMed was searched from 2010 to locate systematic reviews (SR) on clinical effects of chocolate consumption.
  6. Supports mental function. A recent analysis of several studies on the effects of cocoa polyphenols on cognition in healthy adults found that they enhanced memory and executive function. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31933112/ In an earlier study carried out by the University of L’Aquila in Italy, 90 elderly participants with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) drank cocoa containing high, medium or low levels of flavonoids. At the end of the eight-week study researchers found improvements in the motor response, working memory, task switching, and verbal memory in the participants who drank cocoa with a higher flavanol content. (Hypertension, Aug. 14, 2012) Alzheimer’s and dementia patients are especially fond of sweets because the taste of sweetness is the last taste to disappear. Another study which evaluated the effect of cocoa flavonoids on cognitive function, blood pressure control and metabolic function in the elderly also found positive results. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25733639/ So if your loved one has Alzheimer’s or dementia, indulge him/her in chocolate. Just remember not to overdo it and make sure to include good dental hygiene in your loved one’s daily regimen.
  7. Helps you think better after a sleepless night. The next time you have a bad night’s sleep, instead of indulging in a cup of Joe drink hot chocolate. Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and scientists have found that flavanol-rich chocolate counteracted vascular impairment after sleep deprivation and restored working memory performance. Their theory is that the study’s participants had improved cognitive performance because of the effects of cocoa flavonoids on blood pressure and blood flow.Flavanol-rich chocolate acutely improves arterial function and working memory performance counteracting the effects of sleep deprivation in healthy individuals.
  8. Makes you feel gooood Scientists have discovered why chocolate uplifts your mood. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter responsible for keeping us happy, and cacao stops the amino acid tryptophan from breaking down. Since tryptophan is one of the amino acids that make serotonin this, in turn, limits the breakdown of serotonin. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25733639/

On Valentine’s Day celebrate with your loved one by enjoy a steaming cup of delicious hot chocolate made with whole milk or rice or flax milk. Or indulge in a dark chocolate truffle, candy bar or chocolate ice cream. It’ll boost your spirit and your immunity. Just be careful not to overdo it because the calories can add up quickly.

This is what I’m making on Valentine’s Day. Substitute coconut sugar or raw sugar, if you like.  This recipe is easier than you’d think, so don’t let the word souffle scare you off. It’s well worth the time and little effort it takes.

Chocolate Souffle

Ingredients

  • 1⁄3 cup sugar, plus additional for sprinkling
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 6 large egg whites
  • 1⁄8 tablespoon butter

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • Measure out sugar, chocolate and separate eggs.
  • Butter soufflé dish entirely and then add sugar (additional) coating the entire dish.
  • Melt chocolate in a double boiler, or directly on the stove.
  • Add yolks to chocolate (this will harden the chocolate so don’t be alarmed).
  • Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt. Slowly add sugar, a little at a time. Beat until egg whites hold stiff peaks.
  • Fold white mixture into chocolate slowly and stir until smooth.
  • Pour into large soufflé dish or 4 ramekins and run the end of your thumb around inside to remove any extra batter.
  • Bake until puffed and crusted on top but still jiggly in center, 20 to 25 minutes.
  • Serve immediately with whipped cream or ice cream.

This recipe has become one of my new favorites.

Chocolate zucchini bread

Ingredients

  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (add 3/4 cup if you like it sweet, I don’t)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa or cacao powder
  • 2 cups flour of your choice. I use 1 cup almond meal and 1 cup whole wheat
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray loaf pan with oil or rub with butter.
  • In a large bowl mix egg, applesauce, maple syrup, baking soda and baking powder and salt.
  • Add cocoa powder and whisk until well combined.
  • Add flour and mix until combined. Add 1/4 cup of chocolate chips.
  • Pour batter into pan and sprinkle remaining chips on top.
  • Bake 40-50 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to hit a melted chocolate chip.
  • Let cool before slicing.

Yay chocolate! Have a very happy Valentine’s Day!

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

14 ways that caregivers can achieve a healthier, more relaxed 2021

You’re tired, you’re stressed – You and 45 million or so American caregivers, including the 16 million adult family members caring for a someone with Alzheimer’s. So what are you going to do about it? Don’t say that “I don’t have time to take care of myself.” I’ve been there and done that. But I always promised myself that I was not going to be a martyr and sacrifice my health for my husband’s illness. Because if both of us were sick that wasn’t going to help anyone, least of all our children. They were barely adults when my husband was in the throes of Alzheimer’s disease. Our kids needed at least one healthy parent. And whether you are taking care of a spouse, parent or child, there are other people in your life who love and need you, not necessarily to take care of them, but to love and support them emotionally.

When you’re a caregiver, it’s hard to find the time to get the exercise you need or even take a shower, somedays. But it’s absolutely vital that you take care of yourself or you’ll end up getting sick and then who will take care of your loved one? Who will take care of YOU?

14 easy ways to take the edge off your stress and fatigue so you feel some relief.

  1. Say a positive affirmation before you get out of bed. “This day is going to be a good one.” “I am grateful for my friends and family.” “I am healthy and full of energy.” “I am strong and competent.” Say something positive to set the tone of the day.
  2. Before you reach for a cup of coffee, drink a glass of hot water with lemon. It hydrates your body and brain, the lemon helps to alkalize the system (yes, it’s counter intuitive), which is usually too acidic, and it helps with regularity.
  3. Ask for help! You don’t have to do it all by yourself. No one is going to think badly of you if you take some time for yourself. If your loved one resents your going out, it’s okay. Don’t become a slave to their wishes and rants. If you can’t leave your loved one alone, please ask a neighbor, friend or home care professional to help at least a couple hours a week. Some social service programs provide free respite care.
  4. Many cities throughout the U.S. offer volunteer snowbusters (volunteers who will shovel your walk and driveway), fix-it volunteers who will help with easy home repairs, and yard maintenance volunteers.
  5. Meet a friend for a chat over coffee. Having a good chat and/or laugh, either via telephone or in person does wonders.
  6. Find a walking partner in your neighborhood and try to walk at least once a week (preferably 3 times a week).
  7. Put on a CD, vinyl record or the radio and listen to your favorite music. If your care partner is mobile, ask him/her to dance. There is nothing like music or dance to uplift the spirit.
  8. Find a virtual class online. Yoga, Pilates, Barre fitness, Zumba, Les Mills Bodypump and more are offered through the YMCA for free if you have Silver Sneakers. There are hundreds of other classes available online.
  9. Use essential oils to immediately diffuse feelings of sadness, depression, anxiety, etc. Lavender oil is the most frequently used fragrance. You can also try bergamot, grapefruit, lemon, orange, clary sage, geranium, rose, and ylang ylang, frankincense, and myrrh. Put the oil in a diffuser or spray bottle to mist your collar or pillow. Find a fragrance that is pleasing to your care partner. It’ll help him/her also.
  10. Eat breakfast! It is the meal that you break your fast with. During the night our blood sugar levels drop, so it’s especially important to eat within one hour of arising and by 10am. Eating breakfast restores healthy blood sugar levels, but make sure your breakfast isn’t coffee and a doughnut. Have some protein and a healthy fat such as an omelet and avocado and a piece of whole grain or gluten-free toast. It’ll provide you with the energy you need to get through the morning while maintaining a sense of equilibrium.
  11. Take a multi-vitamin mineral supplement to support your overall health, well-being, and immunity.
  12. Include more fruits and veggies in your diet. Veggies are low in calories and high in fiber. Fruits are also high in fiber and like veggies, contain numerous vitamins and minerals. Just like people, fruits and vegetables come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. And it’s the colors that identify many of the bioactive substances called phytonutrients that give us antioxidant protection and other special health benefits.
  13. Avoid isolation. Staying connected, especially during the pandemic, is sooooo important! Join an online support group if you don’t have friends and family nearby to listen to your woes and help out. Here are two great ways to make meaningful connections online: https://wordpress.com/post/barbracohn.com/3517
  14. It’s important to get at least 6 hours (preferably 7 or 8) of sleep every night. Of course, this isn’t always possible if you are caring for someone and need to get up at night, or are worried about paying the bills, taking care of the car, getting a new stove, etc. If you can’t get in the hours at night, put your feet up for 10 minutes during the day when your care partner naps. Or take a power nap. It really helps.

Wishing you and your loved ones a healthy, happy New Year! And remember that “this too shall pass.”

image

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Delicious and nutritious vegetarian entrees (and a yummy muffin)

For most of us this holiday season is different than any other we’ve experienced in our lifetime. Many people will be alone, and other families will be a tight knit cocoon. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t treat yourself to a delectable meal.

Here are some of my favorite foods to include in your holiday feast and/or during the cold months of winter.

Entree

Kale Slab Pie (adapted from a recipe by Arthi Subramaniam)  serves 12, but you can divide this in half and freeze a portion.

  • 3 bunches of kale—tear the leaves off the stems, or 2 pounds of Swiss chard
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch scallion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste (divided)
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups coarsely ground cornmeal (polenta style)
  • 1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup pomegranate seeds for garnish

Directions

  1. Blanch kale leaves in salted boiled water for about 4 minutes. Transfer wilted greens to a bowl of cold water. Drain and squeeze out moisture. Chop and set aside.
  2. Heat 4 Tbs of olive oil over medium heat in a skillet, add onion. Cook, stirring until tender, about 8 minutes.
  3. Add scallions and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in kale, dill and mint. Add red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine well. (I don’t add salt because I think there’s another salt in the cheese.) Remove from heat and let kale mixture cool.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13-by-9pinch rectangular pan with remaining oil (1 Tbs plus 1 tsp.)
  5. In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Gently and slowly add polenta and 1-2 tsp. of salt. Stir continuously so it doesn’t lump until thick. Spread in the pan, like a crust.
  6. Add feta and mozzarella cheese to kale mixture; lightly combine well. Spread evenly over the polenta crust. Cover the dish with foil, loosely, and bake 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 15-20 minutes, until top is slightly brown. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 30 minutes. Garnish with the pomegranate seeds. Allow the slab pie to “rest” for about 30 minutes before serving.

Entree

Coconut Curry with Vegetables serves 4

Directions

  1. Heat coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring until softened, about 2 minutes.
  2. Puree coconut milk and ginger until very smooth.
  3. Add coconut milk mixture to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally until sauce has thickened, 7-10 minutes. Add broccoli and carrots or squash about 1/2 way through cooking time.
  4. Add garbanzo beans and cook for a few minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat a little coconut oil in a small skillet, add cashews and cook, stirring until fragrant and lightly browned, 2-3 minutes. Immediately transfer to a small bowl.
  6. Fold spinach into the curry mixture and cook about 1 minute until wilted. Divide among 4 bowls. Top with cilantro and cashews. Serve with rice or quinoa.

Entree

Roasted Butternut Squash with Lentils and Feta (by Nik Sharm from the New York Times) serves 2-4.

  • Ingredients for the salad
  • 1/2 cup uncooked black or green lentils (Trader Joe’s has great pre-cooked lentils)
  • 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1 pound butternut squash cut into thin slices and roasted.
  • 1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta or goat or sheep’s milk cheese
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbs roasted, salted pumpkin seeds
  • For the Dressing
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil or grapeseed oil
  • 2 Tbs pomegranate molasses (substitute with cranberry juice, balsamic vinegar, lemon or lime juice)
  • 1 Tbs honey
  • 1/2 ground cumin, toasted
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pick any debris from the lentils and rinse under running water. transfer them to a medium saucepan, then add the cinnamon, garlic and 1 tsp salt.
  2. Add enough water to cover everything by 1 inch. Bring the water to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to low and let simmer until the lentils are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes. Drain the lentils, discard the cinnamon and garlic. Transfer the lentils to a large bowl.
  3. While the lentils cook, prepare the squash: trim and discard the top and bottom ends of the squash. Peel the squash, halve it lengthwise, and remove and discard the strings and seeds. Slice the squash crosswise 1/4 inch thick and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 1 Tbs olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Roast the squash until completely tender, slightly caramelized and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes. Once cook, add to the lentils.
  5. While the squash cooks, prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, pomegranate molasses, honey, cumin, cayenne and black pepper. Taste and season to taste with salt.

Best Pumpkin Muffins

  • Ingredients
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour or unbleached organic flour
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • 15 ounces pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/3 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1/3 cup walnuts (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place paper liners into the muffin tin.
  2. Measure out the flour, sugar, b aking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
  3. In a second bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, coconut oil and vanilla extract.
  4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir together. Don’t over mix. Stir until everything is incorporated into the batter.
  5. Scoop the batter into the muffin wells until nearly full.
  6. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean.

Enjoy your holidays safely. Please don’t gather in groups. Be well, stay well, enjoy peace.

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and online at Target and Walmart, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

How to increase GABA, your brain’s calming chemical

Everyone is stressed out these days. But caregivers are dealing with pandemic stress on top of normal caregiving stress. And if you live in the West, you may be dealing with the stress of being evacuated because of wildfires, or smoke that is hampering your ability to breathe. Ask yourself this:

Are you feeling stressed and burned out?

Are you unable to relax or loosen up?

Do you feel stiff? Are your muscles tense?

Do you have a hard time falling asleep because your mind keeps racing?

If you answered yes, you could use of a boost of GABA.

What is GABA?

Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that is produced in the brain and acts as a neurotransmitter, communicating information throughout your brain and body. GABA inhibits nerve cells from firing, and helps us to feel balanced, calm and relaxed.

GABA also:

  • Reduces mental and physical stress
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Eases muscle tension
  • Creates a calm mood
  • Supports balanced blood pressure
  • Promotes restful sleep
  • Regulates muscle tone
  • Uplifts mood

What are neurotransmitters?

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet–protein deficiency, poor digestion, poor blood sugar control, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can deplete them. (Emmons, The Chemistry of Joy, 2006).

What depletes GABA?

Too many carbs and refined foods, and certain drugs and medications deplete GABA. If you rely on tobacco, marijuana, alcohol, Valium, sweets or starch, you probably have a GABA imbalance

A GABA deficiency often results in:

  • High anxiety, panic, worry
  • “Monkey mind” or a racing mind.
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep

5 Ways to Boost GABA

  1. Eat these foods

The best foods for helping your body produce GABA, according to a May 2018 review published in Nutrients, include:

  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts)
  • Soy beans
  • Adzuki beans
  • Mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Buckwheat
  • Peas
  • Chestnuts
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Sprouted grains
  • Rice (specifically brown rice)
  • White tea

Fermented foods including kefir, yogurt, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, and pickles help increase GABA levels. These foods may also boost GABA: whole grains, fava beans, soy, lentils, and other beans; nuts including walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds; fish including shrimp and halibut; citrus, tomatoes, berries, potatoes, and cocoa.

2. Meditation and yoga have a positive effect on GABA levels.

3. Passion flower, lemon balm and valerian help support GABA, and help you fall asleep if your mind is on overdrive. Infuse them in hot water for a soothing herbal tea.

4. Nutritional supplements support GABA. Make sure you let your physician know which supplements you take, since some may interfere with medications.

L-theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in green tea. It’s available as a nutritional supplement, or get it by drinking green tea.

Magnesium is the most important mineral for the heart, It supports healthy blood pressure, decreases food cravings, balanced blood sugar, nourishes and calms the nervous system, and protects the body from damage of stress. Besides food, Epsom salt baths are another way of getting magnesium–absorbed through the skin. Magnesium is found in dark, leafy greens, dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes, tofu, seeds, whole grains, bananas, and some fatty fish.

Taurine is an amino acid that activates GABA receptors and encourages the release of GABA. It is found in dairy food, shellfish, and the dark meat of turkey and chicken. It is also taken as a dietary supplement.

GABA is available in amino acid from as a dietary supplement. It is questionable, however, if it is able to cross the brain barrier.

5. Exercise, and being outdoors, paying attention to your personal needs are important.

How to boost all your neurotransmitters

  • Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack. Focus on complex carbohydrates, and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  • Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  • Eat a good breakfast!
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 healthy snacks per day.

Complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, brown rice or oatmeal, allow your brain to gradually process more serotonin, the neurotransmitter that keeps us happy. Eating protein and healthy omega-3 fats, found in fish, walnuts and flax, will also improve mood. B vitamins, which are abundant in fresh leafy greens and in chemical-free, pasture-raised meat, are another important factor because they’re needed for serotonin production.

For more information about how to prevent caregiver burnout and ways to boost your neurotransmitters, visit: https://barbracohn.com/2019/07/03/preventing-caregiver-burnout-with-good-nutrition-and-foods-that-support-neurotransmitters/

Recommended Reading

  1. The Mood Cure, Julia Ross, MA
  2. The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain, Eric Braverman, MD
  3. The Chemistry of Joy, Henry Emmons, MD
Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

Keep your cool with healthy summertime smoothies and popsicles.

Mango banana popsicles on ice
Mango banana popsicles on ice with fresh fruits and berries

It’s hot and you’re probably stressed like most of the world. It’s especially important to keep up with your supplement and exercise regimen, and eat well. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the bounty of summer fruits and delicious smoothies and popsicles.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ve heard me say repeatedly how important it is to stay hydrated — all year-long. It’s even more important during the summer and now during the pandemic.

Our body is 50-65% water. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain, which is 70% water, gets dehydrated just like your body. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission — which is heavily dependent on water — is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference.

Stay away from carbonated and caffeinated drinks. herbal teas and fresh fruit or vegetable juices are great in summer. Just remember that fruit juices are high in sugar and calories. Coconut water is cooling and helps to replenish electrolytes, which is especially important during and after an illness.

Enjoy these smoothie and popsicle recipes. They provide hydration, vitamins and minerals, and are perfect for kids as well as for folks with dementia and Alzheimer’s who may forget to eat or lose interest in food.

Popsicles

Watermelon and Kiwi–makes 8

4 kiwis, peeled and sliced

3 cups of pureed watermelon

Place kiwi inside the sides of the popsicle molds. Pour in the watermelon. You can make this with other fruits: watermelon and strawberries, etc. Add basil or mint; lemon or lime juice with or without the rind.

For a beautiful popsicle with 3 layers: Add watermelon puree but leave room for 2 more layers. Freeze for 30 minutes. Take out of the freezer and pour in a small amount of coconut milk, the full-fat canned variety. Freeze again. Take out and add pureed kiwi and freeze. This is a treat for the eyes as well as your taste buds.

Strawberries and Cream–makes 8

2 cups of pureed strawberries (leave some chopped for texture)

2 cups cream of vanilla yogurt.

Blend and freeze.

Coco-Mango–makes 4-6

2 cups pureed mango

1/2 cup canned coconut milk

Optional: Add coconut flakes.

Blend and freeze.

Orange Cream–makes 4-6 popsicles

1 cup orange juice

1 cup vanilla yogurt

Blend together and freeze.

Protein shake recipes

My favorite delicious and easy-to-make shakes

Banana Berry Shake

  • 1 frozen banana
  • ¼ cup sliced strawberries
  • 8 ounces of milk or non-dairy drink such as soy, almond, or coconut milk
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder
  • Blend together until smooth.

Berry Sunrise Shake

  • 1/3 cup frozen blueberries
  • 3 medium strawberries
  • 8 ounces of orange juice
  • 1 scoop of whey protein powder
  • Blend together until smooth.

Chocolate, Banana, Peanut Butter Protein Shake

  • 1 banana
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1-cup almond, soy or coconut milk
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 3-5 ice cubes
  • Blend together until smooth

Enjoy!

Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

14 Ways to boost your immune system to stave off the VIRUS.

boost your immune systemDear Readers,

This is a crazy time, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there.

I’d like to share time-tested information, and a few new tips I’ve learned from health professionals about ways to boost your immunity . . . and the immunity of the people you lovingly care for.

You’ve heard it a million times: wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay hydrated and rested, and eat well.

What else should you do?

The mucous membranes—the linings of our nose, throat, sinuses, eustachian tubes, upper respiratory system—-are the body’s first defense against bacteria, viruses and other toxins. Mucous traps the stuff we don’t want inside of us. We sneeze and cough in order to rid ourselves of the “invaders.” We also swallow the invaders. If the good bacteria in our stomach is doing its job, stomach acid will destroy the invaders.  So, you want to keep your mucous membranes hydrated. It’s important they stay moist and lubricated.

  1. Turn on the humidifier if you live in a dry climate. If you don’t have one, consider buying one.
  2. Use a Netti pot or Neil Med sinus rinse with Alkalol, an antimicrobial nasal wash. And please use distilled water, not purified water. This helps clear mucous to support healthier nasal passages.
  3. If your sinuses are congested use an ayurvedic oil in your nostril. Sinus Care & Nasal Oils. You can also use a cooking oil such as sesame, olive, or coconut. Just put a couple of drops of oil in each nostril 3 times a day.
  4. Gargle twice a day with warm salt water or oil. There is an email going around that says it will eliminate the virus. Although I don’t have a scientific reference for this, it’s worth a try.  Oil Pulling is an ayurvedic practice of holding and swishing 1-2 teaspoonfuls of herbalized oil in your mouth for 5-10 minutes. This practice is also said to reduce infection from bacteria and viruses.
  5. Drink water. Lots of it. Forget about sodas and juices. You need to stay hydrated in order to flush the toxins out of your body, and that includes the virus. Herbal tea and coconut water are good, also. Have coconut water on hand just in case you get a fever. It provides electrolytes naturally, without getting artificial color or sugars found in Gatorade.
  6. Take Vitamin D3–2-5,000 IU a day, depending on health and body weight. Please read my article Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D? Most people are not getting enough and that puts us in greater risk for getting the flu, and now COVID-19.
  7. Did you know that 70% of your immune system lies in your gut? Probiotics are live bacterial microorganisms that populate the human gastrointestinal tract. They combat the daily bombardment of toxins and pathogens (bacteria, fungus, parasites, and viruses) that enter our digestive system every day through contaminated food and other toxins. Recent studies show that the bacteria in your gut can also affect your mental health, mood and stress levels. Fermented foods such as kombucha, Greek yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, cottage cheese are probiotics. Probiotic bacteria colonize the digestive tract with good bacteria. Prebiotics are the food and nutrients that feed probiotics. Prebiotic fiber is found in fruits and vegetables such as artichokes, jicama, wild yams, onions and garlic, asparagus, beans, oats, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes. Prebiotics support mineral absorption, vitamin utilization, and healthy blood sugar levels. Your gut needs both pro- and prebiotics in order to stay healthy and keep you healthy.
  8. Include EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids) in your diet. EPA/DHA from fish, nuts or algae are essential for our brain, nerves and immune system to work efficiently. Under stress, our systems become inflamed so it’s more important now than ever to make sure you’re getting enough. Ways to increase your DHA intake: eat cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel, at least twice a week. Add flax meal to cereal and baked goods, sprinkle flax oil on your salad, eat a small handful of walnuts at least several times a week.
  9. Take a Multivitamin Mineral for overall added protection. Make sure it is high quality.
  10. Zinc has been shown to inhibit various coronaviruses in a couple of studies. SARS coronavirus, and ZN (2+) inhibits coronavirus.  However, it hasn’t been tested on COVID-19. Still, it is always a good idea to make sure you are taking a zinc supplement, and that doesn’t mean the zinc lozenge. Most people are deficient in zinc. A researcher at the University of Pittsburgh recommends taking 25 mg of zinc morning and evening.
  11. Make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin A. Beta Carotene is the antioxidant of choice for people who are unsure about which vitamin A to take. It is the precursor of vitamin A and can be converted into vitamin A if the body needs it. It gives added protection to the immune system, skin, eyes, and lungs.
  12. Get plenty of Vitamin C-Your body does not manufacture vitamin C on its own, nor does it store it. Since vitamin C is water-soluble, it dissolves in water, and leftover amounts of the vitamin leave your body through urine. That means you need to maintain your vitamin C intake by eating citrus and other fruits and vegetables that are high in vitamin C. Dr. Ed Bauman, founder and president of Bauman College of Nutrition recommends taking a high-quality vitamin C supplement such as Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids: 500 mg. 3-5 x day of Amla (natural vitamin C with bioflavonoids from gooseberry) or 2-4 times that amount of buffered vitamin C from ascorbic acid. Or, take Ascorbyl palmitate. It is a fat-soluble form of vitamin C, which is better absorbed than ascorbic acid, the water-soluble form. It offers all the benefits of ascorbic acid, plus it won’t flush out of the body as quickly as ascorbic acid, and it is able to be stored in cell membranes until the body needs it.
  13. Eat a variety of colored fruits and vegetables. There’s not much left on the grocery store shelves at the moment. But the next time you shop, fill up your cart with fruits and veggies that contain antioxidants and carotenoids to boost your immune system.
  14. Make Healthy Choices

Choose these

  • Water, green tea, herbal teas
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Avocado, olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids
  • Fresh fruits and Veggies
  • Fish, high-quality protein
  • SOUL foods (seasonal, organic, unadulterated, local)
  • Sugar alternatives: stevia, monk fruit, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave, birch sugar, honey

Avoid these

  • Coffee, soda, artificial sweeteners
  • Chips, cookies, pastries, candy
  • Poor quality fats (hydrogenated,
  • Processed lunch meats
  • Dairy products with rBGH (growth hormones)

Remember this

Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, always think protein! Protein helps build cells and tissues and supports our strength.

Build your meal around chicken, fish, tofu, cottage cheese or eggs, and then add low-starch vegetables or fruits. The general rule is to eat 3-4 ounces of lean, dense meat or 6 ounces of fish. Women should aim for around 30 grams of protein. Men should aim for around 40 grams of protein. Another rule of thumb is to divide your plate in half. Fill half of the plate with veggies, one quart with a protein, and the other quarter with a whole grain such as quinoa, rice, barley, etc.

Please take care of yourself. And if you are a caregiver, take double care of yourself. You won’t be of help, if you get sick.

All the best to you and your family.

Barbra


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”—Winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in Self-Help—in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.