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.

Dental hygiene for people with dementia

oral hygiene products

As with any debilitating disease, Alzheimer’s and other dementias pose limitations to what a patient can and can’t do. Good dental hygiene is one of the self-care daily habits that, unfortunately, often fall by the wayside in cognitively impaired individuals.

In the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s, a daily reminder might be all it takes to ensure that a person with dementia continues with their dental hygiene routine. As the disease progresses, the individual might need a more hands-on approach.

Why is dental care for dementia patients important?

It doesn’t matter whether you have dementia or are in tip top shape, dental care is a primary factor in overall health. Maintaining your dental health is much more than having a beautiful smile. Tooth decay and gum disease can affect your heart, your lungs, and your brain.

Periodontal disease has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every two American adults over the age of 30 has some form of gum disease. Oral bacteria can migrate to distant sites in the body. Elderly and immuno-compromised patients, such as those suffering from cancer, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis, may be especially vulnerable to systemic oral pathogens.

Periodontal disease is also associated with weight loss and wasting, which might contribute to cognitive decline. Gum disease often results in tooth loss, which often leads to problems with chewing, swallowing and food selection. And individuals don’t absorb nutrients from food efficiently if it is not chewed well. Evidence from several studies indicates deterioration in nutritional status in individuals missing teeth.

Certain medications can cause dry mouth

Decongestants, antihistamines, painkillers, diuretics and antidepressants are known to reduce saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acids produced by bacteria in the mouth and helps protect you from microbes that can multiply and lead to infection and disease. The problem is, salivary glands are less productive as we age. Individuals with dementia also forget to drink when they’re thirsty. It’s important to be alert to cracked lips and dry mouth in your care partner in order to know when an individual is dehydrated.

8 Tips for preventing dry mouth

  • Sip water throughout the day—carry a water bottle.
  • Suck on hard, sour candies.
  • Chew sugarless gum.
  • Avoid or reducing the medications listed above.
  • Use Biotene, Plax, or ACT mouthwash which contain no alcohol.
  • Eat fibrous foods like apples, carrots and celery. They’re mildly abrasive and sweep bacteria and plaque off the teeth.
  • Use a humidifier to keep the membranes moist.
  • Get regular dental check-ups and alert the dentist about dry mouth. The teeth can sometimes be coated with protective substances that protect the teeth from bacteria and plaque.

12 Ways to assist dementia patients with oral hygiene

  • Talk your patient through the steps of brushing, if necessary. Put your hand over their hand that is holding the brush to guide them.
  • We typically brush our teeth in the bathroom. However, if it’s more comfortable for someone to brush while sitting down on a chair or in bed, by all means provide a plastic tub and glass of water for the patient.
  • As dementia progresses, it becomes more difficult for patients to visit their dentist for regular cleanings. It also becomes more difficult for caregivers to help with daily brushing, which is why caregivers must be more diligent in trying other techniques.
  • If a regular toothbrush is hard to hold and manipulate, try an electric toothbrush. Or, provide a toothbrush with a large handle. Some caregivers get creative and put the handle through a tennis ball to give the patient something heftier to hold onto.
  • Don’t use fluoride toothpaste if the patient is inclined to swallow it. If the patient doesn’t like toothpaste, try using baking soda and water, or just plain water.
  • Flossing is very important. See “Does gum disease really cause Alzheimer’s disease?” https://barbracohn.com/?s=flossing&submit=Search. Flexi-Floss, Stim-u-dent-or a tiny brush makes the job a bit easier.
  • If you can trust the patient not to swallow mouthwash, try an anti-plaque mouthwash when brushing is not feasible.
  • Ask your dentist about using a super soft toothbrush or one with a sponge head instead of a bristle head. Foam oral swabs are available at medical supply companies.
  • If your patient wears dentures, make sure to take them out and clean them daily. Use a soft brush to clean the patient’s gums and roof of their mouth when the dentures are removed.
  • Be alert to dental pain which may be exhibited by rubbing of the jaw or cheek, flinching while being shaved or having their face washed, refusing to put dentures back in, moaning, flinching, etc.
  • As mentioned in the above section, eating fibrous foods like apples and celery, and drinking plenty of water can help prevent plaque build-up.
  • It’s important to find a dentist who is patient and knowledgeable about dementia in order to make your patient’s dental visits as pleasant as possible. Let the staff know ahead of time about any concerns. If your patient gets agitated, ask his/her physician for an anti-anxiety medication beforehand. Or, use a homeopathic remedy such as calcarea carbonica or aconite, or an essential oil such as lavender oil to reduce anxiety. For a list of herbal remedies that reduce anxiety see “20 Natural Remedies for Depressed Caregivers (and everyone else).” https://barbracohn.com/category/aromatherapy/

References

  1. Hee Lee, K, Wu, B, and Plassman, B. Cognitive function and oral health—related quality of life in older adults. JAGS. 2013: 61: 1602-1607.

2. Elsig, F, Schimmel, M, Duvernay, E, Giannelli, SV, Graf, CE, Carlier, S, Herrmann, FR, Michel, JP, Gold, G, Zekry, D and Muller, F. Tooth loss, chewing efficiency and cognitive impairment in geriatric patients. Gerodontology. 2013: 1-8.

3. Chalmers, JM, Carter, KD, and Spencer, AJ. Oral diseases and conditions in community-living older adults with and without dementia. Spec Care Dentist. 2003: 23: 7-17.

4. Fabiano, JA. Oral health management in the patient with dementia. Medscape. May 24, 2011.

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.”

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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.

How to prevent and ease tension headaches without drugs

There’s been an increase in the incidence of stress headaches, no matter whether you’re a caregiver, someone who’s lost a job or a loved one, a parent juggling virtual school and a job, or dealing with loneliness and pandemic stress.

If you’re concerned that your headache may be a symptom of COVID-19, Dr. Emad Estemalik, director of the headache section at the Cleveland Clinic, said that although respiratory viruses often involve headaches, if a headache is your only symptom, it’s unlikely that it is related to COVID-19. https://www.news5cleveland.com/news/local-news/having-more-headaches-during-the-pandemic-its-not-just-you

On the other hand, “If you suddenly are short of breath or you have a fever out of the blue and you have an excruciating headache, that’s a different story,” he said.

What is a tension headache?

Tension headaches are typically caused by muscle contractions in the head and neck. They can be mild, moderate, or intense pain that you may feel in your head and neck or behind your eyes. Often they feel like a tight band around your head. They can be chronic or episodic, once or twice a month. Women are twice as likely as men to have tension headaches, and according to the Cleveland Clinic, chronic headaches affect approximately three percent of people in the U.S and can last more than 15 days a month.

Common causes of headache

  • Allergies and certain foods including MSG, artificial sweeteners, aged cheese, cured meats, salty foods, chocolate, pickled and fermented foods, frozen foods (i.e brain freeze)
  • Alcohol, caffeine, smoking
  • Depression, stress and anxiety
  • Dehydration
  • Eye strain and dry eyes
  • Emotional stress
  • Peri-menopause and pre-menstrual hormone fluctuations
  • Lack of sleep
  • Poor posture, especially looking down at our devices and at our computers for long stretches of time.
  • Cold, flu, or sinus infections
  • Vertebrae misalignment, especially of the atlas and axis
  • Over exercising
  • Hunger, not eating enough or on time
  • Air pollutants such as nitrogen dioxide, particulate matters from wildfires, and benzene from fracking
  • Change in the weather

Ways to prevent and ease a tension headache

According to the National center for Complementary and Integrative Health, these supplements may help prevent tension headaches:

  • Butterbur
  • Coenzyme CoQ10
  • Feverfew
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin B-12 (riboflavin)

Yoga postures help by increasing circulation to your head. Remember to breathe. For more information about deep breathing as a stress reliever, including two easy breathing exercises, visit: “Support your lungs with deep breathing exercises” https://barbracohn.com/2020/03/26/support-your-lungs-with-deep-breathing-exercises/

More ways to ease a tension headache

  • Dab some lavender essential oil on your temples. Some people report instant relief.
  • Drink at least 6-8 glasses of water each day.
  • Get plenty of sleep. If you have trouble sleeping read this: https://barbracohn.com/2017/10/25/16-ways-to-sleep-better-so-you-can-be-a-better-caregiver/
  • Exercise regularly and walk outside in fresh air.
  • Get an air purifier to clean the air in your house.
  • Set boundaries for yourself. Don’t take on more than you can handle.
  • Support your emotional well being. Avoid movies that elevate cortisol (stress hormone), avoid family arguments, engage socially on facetime or zoom to avoid loneliness. Take a walk with a neighbor with masks on, etc.
  • Get a massage or chiropractic adjustment.
  • Do something soothing for yourself at least once a day. Listen to some classical, religious or meditative music to uplift your spirit. Take an Epsom salt bath with lavender aromatherapy oil. Take time out to read a book. Keep a gratitude journal. Get a dog or cat.

Please make a telehealth appointment with your doctor if your headaches continue and to rule out other illness.

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.

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.