10 Apr, 2016

Mating Game of Date Palms

Posted by: Catharine Kaufman In: Healthy Eating|Super Foods

By Catharine L. Kaufman (a.k.a. The Kitchen Shrink)

Perhaps this column should be marked PG-13, since much of what’s said about the exotic fruit often called “tree candy,” cannot avoid a slightly suggestive tinge. Starting with its original name: dactylifera, the Greek word for “finger” and later English translation (date), this nutritious progeny of pollinating boy-palms and fruit-bearing girl-palms brings to mind a romantic love story.

imgresAn ancient plant said to have re-energized Mesopotamian desert travelers at oases some eight thousand years ago, date palms thrive in dry, hot climates—such as California’s Coachella Valley—and bear several varieties of fruits. Among the latter are the soft species (Barhee, Halay, Khadrawy and the generously sized and popular Medjool), the somewhat less fleshy ones (Dayri, Deglet Noor and Zahd) and the dry, almost crunchy Thoory.

To Choose Your Date Wisely… here is a short tutorial:
Nicknamed The Queen of Dates, Deglet Noors are favored for their translucent, amber skin and flesh tinged with delicate honey flavor. Medjools are moist, meaty, each with one small pit; great for snacking or stuffing (with nuts or berries, for example), due to their jumbo size. The small, round Bathis have a caramel candy essence in both texture and flavor. While golden-hued Zahidis are favored for their firmness and toned down images-3sweetness. The mahogany-dark skinned Khadrawis are soft enough to spread on bread.

Their exotic names indicate Middle Eastern and North African provenance—a geography that earned date palms some 50 mentions in the Bible and 20 in the Quran. Honoring their origins, the names were kept unchanged when dates found their way to the New World, to be cultivated in the warm climes of Southern California, Arizona, Southern Florida and south of the U.S. border, in the Sonora and Baja California parts of Mexico.

Courtship Leads to Date Abundance
Once dependent on winds, insects and birds for transporting pollen from male to female palms, horticulturists have developed manual pollination methods, which are not only more reliable, but also allow commercial orchards to plant fewer male and greater numbers of fruit-bearing female trees to maximize yields and profits. Most such orchards plant a ratio of 49 girl trees to one boy tree per acre. As these palm trees grow, ladders are fastened to their trunks so skilled workers could climb to retrieve pollen from the male plants’ imageslong, tendril-like stalks and dust it over female trees’ flowers waiting to be fertilized. (Some growers save labor costs and speed up the process by using wind machines for pollination.)

Dates start to ripen in the fall, but since they do so gradually and at different times, harvesters must climb each tree periodically to hand pick the fruits that are ready to eat.

Growing a date palm from planting to commercially viable ‘parenthood’ takes seven to ten years. But once matured, it yields from 150 to 300 pounds of fruit during each harvest cycle. To achieve maximum productivity, however, each heavily packed cluster must be thinned and carefully cocooned in special bags to protect them from insects and birds while they ripen. This tedious process expands the space dates need to grow abundant clusters and fruits of optimum size and plumpness.
A renowned grower, the Shields Date Garden orchard in Indio, California, just east of the resort town of Palm Springs, has been fanning its product’s fame with a theatrical show called imgres-1“The Romance and Sex Life of a Date,” which entertains and attract tourists to its shops and café which serves freshly made date shakes and light meals.

Dates With Benefits
While weight watchers and diabetics must be careful to enjoy the sweet and chewy fruit in moderation, dates compensate for their sugar content with far more generous amounts of many super-healthy ingredients—which put them without any hesitation in the health-food category.
For starters, dates have more fluid-balancing potassium than bananas; are rich enough in dietary fiber to keep the constitution humming and put the skids on bad cholesterol; are loaded
with immune-boosting anti-inflammatory tannins, Vitamin A, Beta Carotene and Lutein to keep skin radiant, eyes clear and vision sharp; and are a good source of energizing Vitamin B-12. Dates also contain iron for red blood cell production and protection from anemia; calcium, copper, manganese and magnesium for bone and muscle strength; and Vitamin K for balancing blood viscosity (for timely coagulation). These single pit fruits also aid digestion and rev up energy with dextrose images-2and fructose. The abundance of these and other sugar components—it needs repeating—recommends mindful moderation for weight watchers and diabetics.

Abundant nutrition, rich and seductive flavors… no wonder dates have so many delightful culinary uses. They are baked into breads, scones, muffins, cookies, bars and granolas. Dried dates can also be ground into fine flour for gluten-free baking. Nor could anyone find better breakfast and brunch luxuries with which to celebrate red-letter days, than scrumptious smoothies, shakes, flavored yoghurt or oatmeal and mixed-fruit compote. Dates lend caramelized notes to sauces and images-1dressings, elevate chicken and seafood dishes to gourmet fare, lend extra flair to tabouli, quinoa salad, pilaf and stuffings, make sinful snacks when stuffed with nuts and rolled in chocolate and shredded coconut. And in whatever guise, they do light us up with instant bursts of energy. Interested in recipes for any of the above? Email me at

Cook’s Tip: Dates have a Methuselah shelf life and can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a year. No matter how you serve them, your taste buds will enjoy their

01 Apr, 2016

Smart Food Shopping

Posted by: Dina Eliash Robinson In: Healthy Eating

by Dina Eliash Robinson

Part 1 — WHY BOTHER?

Why would a society obsessed with youth, beauty and fitness, consume huge quantities of toxic, nutrient-poor foods that hasten aging, spoil looks and promote ill health?

Answer: Multiple studies cite habit as the main reason for this paradox. Caused and supported by an environment flooded with seductive advertising and inescapably accessible junk food, this insidious habit often careens into full-blown food addiction, the studies also show.

Fortunately, consumers are learning to protect themselves and make better choices:

1) To keep up with increasing demands on their time and energy—both at home and in the workplace—more and more people realize they have to stay healthy. As a result, nutritious fare is pushing salty, sugary, greasy ‘comfort’ foods off plates and restaurant menus.

2) Organic farming is taking off. In fact, a week doesn’t go by without some University research center making headlines with conclusive evidence that organic fruits and vegetables pack much higher concentrations of nutrients than do conventionally grown produce.

3) Organic agriculture is also gaining traction against genetically engineered grains— which, by the way, are being locked out of most European and Asian markets. (Let’s hope the organic food industry will also stand its ground against the meat and dairy products obtained from cloned cattle, swine and goats, which—according to some sources—has been quietly fed into the U.S. food supply for years. More information about this will be posted here as it becomes available.)

4) Soaring healthcare costs are forcing the Government to face the connection between profit-driven industrialized farming and production methods and the nation’s growing epidemic of obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

Fortunately, public pressure manifested in lifestyle changes, preference for organic foods and other pocketbook-driven behavior, is slowly—much too slowly, alas—changing the way foods are grown, produced, inspected and regulated. This snail’s pace, however, is downright criminal when food-borne illnesses sicken 76 million Americans and kill 5,000 of them every year. What’s more, inadequate inspections and toothless or un-enforced regulations by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), are costing the food industry and taxpayers a fortune in recalls and waste.

Urgently needed are health- and environment-protective measures—such as a stepped-up production of organic and other whole and nutritious foods, and elimination of transfats (still present in commercial baked goods), bio-engineered and genetically modified foods, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and livestock raised in deplorable conditions with toxic feed, growth hormones and antibiotics.

The first baby step to acquiring better eating habits is to choose real foods when shopping or dining out.

In the words of Hippocrates, “Make food your medicine.” Highly regarded in ancient Greece for his systemic approach to healing, Hippocrates came to be called the Father of Medicine. He understood that well-balanced nutrition, not potions (such as today’s pharmaceuticals), is what forms the building blocks of a healthy body. How puzzling then that, while physicians are still being sworn into their profession by reciting the Hippocratic Oath, many seem to have forgotten that healthy food provides far more, and longer lasting benefits than pills, Botox shots or cosmetic surgery.

Want proof?
(a) Follow the shopping list at the end of this article, as best you can.

(b) Read… Read everything you can get your hands on about the connection between health and foods. Read labels, magazines, newspaper articles, books, newsletters… Find reliable sources of information on the Internet and learn some more. Above all, learn to tell the difference between hype (i.e. self-serving marketing) and reliable, expert information. Read opposing views and use both intellect and instinct to draw your own conclusions. Have fun figuring out how to improve (maybe even save) your life. Tell us what you have learned, and if you give us permission, we’ll post it on the FreeRangeClub blog. Another worthy activity—albeit a thankless and frustrating one—is to pester others to follow your lead.

(c) As soon as it all begins to make sense, you won’t need to remember our suggestions, except as guides to developing your own food-shopping lists. Be aware of how each food makes you feel—in body, mind and mood. Check out the ingredients to make sure you’re not just reacting to a temporary sugar-high, for instance.

(d) Once the toxic additives, sugars and artery-clogging fats are driven out of your system by high-fiber produce, whole grains and lots of water, you’ll notice an increase in energy, faster and clearer thinking and more optimistic outlook. Now is the time to pay attention to your body’s reactions not only to what you actually eat, but also to the foods you touch while shopping. Close your eyes, imagine eating them, and pick only what feels good.

(e) Eat healthy food for at least four months to give your body a chance to kick bad eating habits, and to give yourself a chance to develop an emotional relationship with nutritious foods.

(f) Remember that some people don’t know what it’s like to feel good. They are so used to digestive difficulties (i.e. bloating, cramps, irritable bowels, etc.) that these symptoms’ disappearance causes an uncomfortable sense of loss. That’s when temptation to recapture the missing misery with some junk food, is strongest.

(g) The next danger zone is when distrust and fear set in. Reassurances are needed that it’s possible to break bad eating habits, “one day at a time,” and that there is no reason to fear the return of digestive problems as long as one keeps on track.

(h) Buy locally grown fruits and vegetables—preferably organic—at farmers’ markets and stores that support reputable regional growers. The shorter the distance between farm and table, the longer fruits and vegetables spend ripening and absorbing nutrients. What’s more, the transportation of foods over long distances causes massive environmental pollution.

(i) Once your body gets used to good nutrition, junk food will probably make you gag. This is the time to REALLY listen to your body. Because, as with all addictions, even a bite or two of your once-beloved fare could plunge you right back into self-destructive eating patterns.

(j) Buy WILD-CAUGHT fish, shrimp and scallops whenever possible. With rampant over-fishing stripping the oceans, that luxury may not be available to us for long. While we strongly advise to avoid eating imported farm-raised fish and shellfish—especially from China —there are some aquaculture businesses that produce safe seafood by using futuristic science and environment-friendly technology.

One such high-tech aqua-farm, located off Hawaii’s Kona coast, claims that its succulent fish known as KONA KAMPACHI™ is as safe and healthy to eat as any wild-caught seafood. We tasted it, both raw and grilled, and found the Kona Kampachi™ light, flaky and delectable.

An even bigger problem than toxic fish-farms is the prevalence of mercury in most of the Earth’s waterways, and in most seafood.

The silver lining around this dark cloud, is that certain fish and shellfish have low enough levels of mercury to make them safe to eat in moderate quantities. For example, sardines, anchovies and herring are safest to eat, since they contain only negligible amounts of mercury.

Still in the safe range—and rich in healthy Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids—are the wild-caught North Atlantic salmon, Atlantic mackerel and a
several other oily fish. Shrimp and some scallops seem to contain less mercury and pollutants than other shellfish. Mercury concentrations are high, however, in most tuna and some other large fish. More complete lists of both safe and toxic seafood can be found on the Web.

One source of information about seafood safety that seems reliable is the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention (in the Dept. of Health & Human Services’ Division of Environmental Health). Another is the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s West Coast Seafood Guide (updated annually), at . Interested in supporting sustainable fishing? The Blue Ocean Institute has an on-line Guide to Ocean Friendly Seafood at .

(k) Food-shopping can be both fun and a source of great pleasure for all the senses. Feast your eyes on colorful produce. Inhale the aroma of warm breads, exotic cheeses, fresh-ground coffee, herbs and spices. Crunch store-offered samples of nuts and seeds. And imagine the flavors you’ll bring out of the fresh meats, fish or fowl you select for your latest recipe.

(l) Just don’t assume that the reputable healthfood establishment you frequent carries nothing but healthy foods. It couldn’t stay in business if it did. So, be aware that many questionable products lurk among the finest produce, organic grains and other delicacies displayed on shelves. Think of a minefield when navigating the aisles of food stores, and check ingredients and sources.

Following is a list of brands and foods we have researched, and used for months or years, and found both delicious and healthy:

Liquid Seasonings
: “Organic Tamari Soy Sauce”— by EDEN
“Biologique Sauce Worcestershire Végétalienne (Sans Anchois—without anchovies)”— by THE WIZARD.

Organic Salad Dressings, Oils & Marinades:

“Sesame Tamari Organic Vinaigrette (1 carb per serving)”— by ORGANIC VILLE
“Organic Lemon Tahini Dressing”— by WHOLE FOODS 365 ORGANIC
“Organic Dijon Mustard “ ————– by WHOLE FOODS 365 ORGANIC
“Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil—Cold Pressed”—by WHOLE FOODS 365 ORGANIC
“Organic Sesame Oil (unrefined – for medium heat)” —by SPECTRUM
“Organic Olive Oil Mayonnaise” with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

“Organic (cow) Yogurt – low fat or non-fat, plain or fruit-flavored)”—by WALLABY or HORIZON
“Organic Unsalted (or salted) Butter”—by HORIZON ORGANIC
“Organic (cow) Cottage Cheese (low-fat, plain)”—by HORIZON or other organic producers
Various goat cheeses, such as a hard yellow cheese by ALTA DENA
A goat Feta cheese by KAROUN DAIRIES in Sun Valley, CA
Creamy goat milk cheeses (“Plain” or with “Basil & Roasted Garlic”)— by CHAVRIE
Various organic soy, “Veggy Vegan” and rice ‘cheeses’ (individually packaged slices)—by GALAXY NUTRITIONAL FOODS.

Products: Dill Weed; Tarragon (leaves); Turmeric; Thyme; Rosemary; Basil; Garlic (chips & powder); Onion (chips & powder); Paprika (sweet); Cayenne Pepper (hot); Parsley (leaves); “Herbes de Provence”; Cinnamon; Ground Cumin; Vanilla Extract (liquid); Sea Salt.

Breads, Crackers, Cereals, Power Bars, etc.: Brands & Products:
RUDI’S ORGANIC BAKERY (wide variety of organic whole grain breads)
FRENCH MEADOWS BAKERY-ORGANIC (whole grain spelt bagels)
WHOLE FOODS 365 ORGANIC (“Org. Wheat Square Crackers”; “Org. Hearty Whole Grain Toasted O’s” –crunchy whole wheat & oat cereal; “Org. Rice & Lentil Pilaf—Gluten-Free”; “Org. Spanish-Style Rice—Gluten-Free”; “Org. Cinnamon Graham Cracker Sticks”)
PAUL NEWMAN’S ORGANICS (pretzels, cookies, etc.)
(various brands: Whole Wheat and Spelt English Muffins, spelt tortillas for wraps)
CASCADIAN FARMS (power bars, “Org. Sweet Orange Marmalade”; “Chewy Granola – ‘Harvest Berry’ and’ Fruit & Nut’ Bars”;)
ARROWHEAD MILLS (“Organic Spelt & Cranberries Whole Grain Cereal”)
EDWARD & SONS (“Baked Brown Rice Snaps with Org. Brown Rice—Vegetable, Toasted Onion, and Plain”)
NATURAL PATH (“Org. Toaster Pastries” – Blueberry – NOT frosted)
HEALTH VALLEY (“Org. Tarts” – low fat, blueberry, red cherries, etc.)

Soups: HEALTH VALLEY and WHOLE FOODS 365 offer a wide variety of organic canned soups, ranging from chicken-noodle to tomato, minestrone, vegetable, mushroom-barley, etc. (Good to have in the pantry for busy or rainy days.)

Dried Fruits: JUST TOMATOES of Westley, CA offers “Org. Just Blueberries” and other dry fruit
PAVICH (organic raisins, “Jumbo Thompson Seedless,” etc.)
WHOLE FOODS 365 ORGANICS (organic apricots, cranberries, prunes, etc.)

Condiments: MEDITERRANEAN ORGANIC (“Org. Black Olives—Tree-Ripened”; “Org. Wild ‘Non-Pareil’ Capers” etc.)

Honey & Syrups: VIRGIN ORGANIC (“Multiflower Honey”)
WHOLE KIDS (“Org. Honey” – in Teddy Bear container)
FLAVORGANICS (“Org. Amaretto, Raspberry, French Vanilla, Caramel, Irish Cream” syrups for coffee & dessert flavoring.

Canned Fish: CROWN PRINCE (“Wild-Caught Brisling Sardines in Pure Olive Oil” – 2 layers, hand-packed, naturally wood smoked—good source of calcium & protein). NOTE: Always choose sardines—and when available, salmon— WITH their skin and bones, for added nutritional value
WHOLE FOODS 365 (“Wild-Caught Red Sockeye Salmon”; & “Wild-Caught Pink Salmon” – both canned WITH skin & bones. Great for pseudo-tuna salads—with hardboiled eggs, organic olive oil mayonnaise (see above), lemon, garlic and onion chips, red paprika, dash of cayenne pepper, with such herbs as dill, parsley and basil, and Dijon mustard.)
BUBBA’s sliced herring and onion rings in wine & vinegar

Teas: Various ORGANIC teas are available from EDEN FOODS
BANCHA (great organic Green Tea)
TRADER JOE’s (see “Org. Spiced Rooibos ruby Red Chai”)
CHOICE ORGANIC TEAS (see “English Breakfast”)
DR. ANDREW WEIL (“Gyokuro,” “Turmeric,” “Green White,” “Darjeeling,” “Jasmine White,” etc.)
ITO EN – OI OCHA (“Sencha Shot Green Tea, brewed teas: “Tea Pear White Tea,” “Tea )
***Check out ORGANIC YERBA MATE (traditional & medicinal, herbal calmative & digestive)

Chocolates: DAGOBA ORGANIC CHOCOLATE comes in various flavored and plain versions, and are always high in cacao content
GREEN & BLACK’S chocolates also come in a variety of flavors, from “Mayan Gold,” to “Espresso,” “Cherry,” etc., and are high in cacao content

Alcoholic Beverages: THE ORGANIC SPIRITS COMPANY – “The World’s First Certified Organic Spirits—London & Scottish International, Ltd.” (“Juniper Green Organic Gin,” ”UK5 Org. Vodka,” “Papagayo Org. Rum,” “Highland Harvest Org. Scotch Whisky.”)


29 Mar, 2016

Save Water, Health & Time

Posted by: Dina Eliash Robinson In: Food Safety|Public Safety

By Dina Eliash Robinson

Water—clean, uncontaminated and fit to drink—is the world’s most precious, and increasingly scarce commodity. As the planet heats up and its population grows, we’re in danger of running out of this resource, upon which depends the survival of our entire ecosystem. To prevent us from sliding into a bleak “Mad Max” world, we must become super-smart in water use and conservation.

With the following Smart Water Management Tips, the Free Range Club is kicking off a friendly competition of ideas and practices that could help improve the ways we treat, recycle and purify H2O in our households, industries and public utilities. Top three winners of this competition will be rewarded with copies of our own Kitchen Shrink’s (a.k.a. Catharine Kaufman) latest (and delightfully illustrated), children’s book, featured on this site: “Joleen – The Adventures of a Junkfood Queen.”

• Buy Only Produce You Plan to Use Soon:
(1) Fruits and vegetables depend on, and consist mostly of water. The faster they get from farm to stove, oven or fridge, the more of their nutritional value, flavors and textures will be available for our consumption.

(2) Plan your meals around the fresh produce you buy that day.

(3) Buy only what, and as much as you have time to clean, cook, prepare or store within the next 24-36 hours.

(4) Shop for fresh produce just before your frozen foods and perishable fresh meats, fish and other seafood. And don’t leave these in the car while you run other errands.

(5) Do NOT store fresh-from-the-store eggs before you wash them.

• Water-Miser Produce Cleaning:
(1) At home, put the bags of leafy vegetables in the fridge temporarily, so they won’t wilt while you wash the rest of the produce.

(2) Put any berries you bought on the top shelf of your fridge. Berries are the only produce that should not be pre-washed. When you want some, take out only the amounts you plan to eat right away; dunk them into a small bowl of water with a squirt of liquid Eucalyptus Pure Castile soap; gently swish them around with your fingers; pour it all into a small colander or sieve and rinse well under the faucet with a moderate spray (if you have the sprinkle setting on your faucet) of cold water. Berries are now ready to eat—on their own, or in cereals, yogurt, etc.

(3) For grapes and cherry tomatoes, fill the appropriate size bowl with cold water; add a generous squirt of liquid Eucalyptus Pure Castile soap; add grapes and cherry tomatoes; wash gently with your hands; transfer to another bowl with clean cold water and rinse well; repeat this, then put grapes and cherry tomatoes into a colander and rinse well again under cold water, using the sprinkle setting. Next, stand the colander on a rack or plate where the water can drain and let the produce drip and dry till morning. Dry remaining water by dabbing gently with dish- or paper towel; transfer grapes into one bowl, tomatoes into another and refrigerate, so you can just reach for a handful when you want it. They keep well for a week or more.

(4) Put all your fruits and non-leafy veggies that have skin (but NOT the berries, grapes or cherry tomatoes) into a clean sink. Fill it with enough cold water to cover them; turn off the faucet; add ¼ cup of liquid Eucalyptus Pure Castile soap; and using a clean sponge—preferably a Dobie pad—scrub separately each fruit and veggie, applying more pressure to those with tough skins (bananas, apples, oranges, avocadoes, potatoes, etc.) and less to delicate ones (tomatoes, zucchini, etc.).
Note: Be careful not to break their skins—but if you do, rinse those off right after scrubbing, dry with dish- or paper-towel, put them on a plate and store in the fridge, to be used before the rest.

(5) Next, let the water out of the sink and rinse well both sink and produce with a cold spray from the faucet. (Castile soap rinses off very easily, leaving the produce squeaky clean, with no soapy residue.)

Place the produce into an empty dish-rack or big colander to dry overnight. If it’s not completely dry by the morning, wipe with dish- or paper towel, store bananas in a paper-towel-lined basket or on a banana rack; leave unripe produce (avocadoes, oranges, etc.) in a colander or bowl, away from heat until ripe enough to be refrigerated; and store ready-to-eat fruit, tomatoes and salad veggies in your refrigerator’s produce drawer. This way they’ll keep for two or more weeks and are always ready to eat when you reach for them.

(6) Repeat the above process with the leafy veggies (lettuce, kale, chard, spinach, etc.), rinsing the leaves in small batches under the faucet if necessary. If you have a salad spinner, use it for your salad greens, then store them in clean plastic bags on the top (least cold) shelf of your refrigerator. Put leafy cooking veggies into a colander to let most of the water drip down—but make sure you cook them within an hour after they’re washed.

Advantages of above system are that it protects health and saves both water and time. It’s easy to check the following B & C. Health effects (A) take longer to show.
(A) Putting only clean produce into your refrigerator protects your and your family’s health from bacteria and, if any of the produce is not organic, from pesticide residues which can also transfer to other foods.
(B) It saves water. You may not realize it, but if you take an unwashed fruit out of the fridge, you’ll run more water to wash it than you would use on a batch of produce. Plus, people in a hurry do a poor job of washing whatever they grab out of the refrigerator on the fly.
(C) It takes much more time to wash individual produce items than taking care of this chore all at once.

A Point Worth Dwelling On: Far more valuable than diamonds and gold, H2O is the main component of living organisms—our bodies included—and thus the source of all nourishment and breathable air. More wars, economic stresses, political shenanigans and health crises have been triggered throughout history by the need to have, protect and control water than any other resource. Even wild animals that often go hungry to avoid danger, will brave it when thirsty by joining predators for a drink. The need for water is so well understood in the wild that predators and prey usually observe a truce while slacking their thirst at the same water hole.

Being smart about water also means to protect it from pollution and finding new technologies to remove agricultural, industrial and pharmaceutical toxins that continue to leach into our rivers, streams, oceans and groundwater. Any ideas?

Join the Smart Water Management Tips contest by e-mailing us your ideas at

20 Mar, 2016


Posted by: Dina Eliash Robinson In: Food Safety|Public Safety

President Obama’s last State of the Union address included a call to a “moonshot”-like mission to find cures for cancer. He entrusted Vice President Joe Biden—who recently lost his son to cancer—to spearhead the project.

The next morning, Dr. Ronald DePinho, President of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was interviewed on National Public Radio (NPR) about current progress in his institution’s cancer research. After mentioning several promising findings, Dr. DePinho emphasized—repeatedly— that the best anti-cancer weapon is prevention.

With all due respect to Dr. DePinho… duh? Although I was delighted by this overdue emphasis by a physician on prevention, I wondered if it was tinged with an inadvertent admission that commonsense might have an edge over degrees and expertise. While it’s possible that other members of the medical profession have been aware of, and even voicing similar opinions, it is frustrating that still so few of them conduct their practices according to the old adage of “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Even worse, that so many others imagescontinue to treat diseases mostly with one-size-fits-all prescription drugs—all of which have side-effects ranging from mild to lethal—and
occasionally with surgeries, instead of learning less toxic or invasive ways to protect patients from getting sick in the first place.

The healthcare industry’s resistance to shifting some of the emphasis from medical protocols to prevention through better nutrition, regular exercise and healthier lifestyle choices is, frankly, incomprehensible. Especially since medical and nursing schools have already implemented government-mandated expansion of nutrition education—which, one would think, is a clear signal to already practicing professionals that it is time to update their training in that important tool for disease prevention.

For example, it is high time that physicians, nurses and researchers learn to connect the dots between the prevalence of cancer—especiallyimages-2 the epidemic of this horrific and multi-faceted disease among children—and the reckless overuse of highly toxic (and especially carcinogenic) chemicals such as pesticides, fungicides, etc., as well as antibiotics, hormones, genetically modified or engineered (GMO and GE) in agriculture, livestock, fish farms and processed foods.

The healthcare industry’s reluctance to connect these dots is especially frustrating in light of the daily flood of alarming media reports about research findings by leading scientists and institutions about the toxicity of our food and water supply; and equally abundant information about the growing demand for, and acceptance of successful alternative (non-invasive, drug-free, vitamins- and supplements-aided) treatments by holistic healthcare practitioners.

Evidence of the increasing popularity of the latter is in the proliferation of alternate therapy centers located in hospitals and clinics touting “Integrative Medical Facilities,” as well as in free-standing concierge establishments, where such holistic healing services as nutrition, exercise and stress-management plans are customized for individual patients.

Solution Suggestions

Since it takes time and effort to persuade most people to adopt healthier lifestyles, the only way to speed up the process is by implementing a well-designed, collaborative program linking

  • Government institutions involved in environmental protection (EPA),
  • agriculture (USDA),
  • food safety (FDA) and
  • healthcare (USD of HHS)—

imgres-1in a coordinated process with the healthcare and food industries—to

  • restore soil,
  • reduce the use of toxic chemicals and expand organic growing practices in agriculture and farming;
  • clear pollution from air and water through implementation of innovative techniques in sewage and water treatment;
  • help slow climate change by charging fees (tax) for carbon emissions and other air pollution; and
  • increase healthcare focus on disease prevention and therapeutic methods that are, whenever possible, less costly,images-1 less invasive and less toxic.

Who is in Charge?

Each of us has both the responsibility and the Power of One to bring about some degree of collaboration among these stakeholders—as well as to contribute to making the process as fast and successful as possible. Some of the tools available to all of us at this time are as easy as making an ongoing commitment to signing petitions, writing emails, making phone calls and finding every other means to persuade those with the most influence, bureaucratic access, political power and humanistic vision and willingness to make this a healthier nation—and maybe a better world. (I walk my talk, having been doing this for decades.)

Let’s get to work.

Dina Eliash Robinson

15 Mar, 2016

Foods That Banish The Winter Blues

Posted by: Dina Eliash Robinson In: Brain Boosting Foods

By Dina Eliash Robinson










If your naturally cheerful disposition slides into depression as soon as daylight hours are shortened by longer nights or darkened by frequently overcast skies, you might be one of about 25 million Americans afflicted with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). An acute response to sunlight deprivation and prolonged darkness during winter and rainy months, SAD also affects countless Scandinavians and other populations of Northern and gloomy climates–such as the American Pacific North-West.images-4

More sufferers of SAD are found among those who spend their days cooped up in windowless workplaces, submariners on long deployments, night-shift workers, many elderly or disabled people with too little access to the outdoors during daylight hours—and images-5even among party animals who spend much of their lives in darkened nightclubs and bars.

Long before the syndrome had a name, its cause was well known and treated with various remedies devised and practiced to relieve the debilitating depression it caused. Most of those remedies are still in use, such as sunlamp treatments, LED-powered visors designed to illuminate areas around the wearers’ faces and the flooding of homes and workplaces with bright artificial light.

Cave dwellers are believed to have been the earliest humans who discovered that eating more fatty animal protein and starchy or sweet carbohydrates was a good pick-me-up combination whenever winter or volcano ash turned days into nights.images-6

imgres-6Centuries later, we are still trying to kick the blues by self-medicating with similar protein and carbs combos that are now known as comfort foods. Some of the main reasons they are not hitting the desired mark, however, are due to current (conventional) food production practices, which consist of both plants and protein being loaded with toxic chemicals, depleted of nutrients by processing and genetically modified into (increasingly known to be unsafe) “Frankenstein” facsimiles better known as junk (omission intended, since qualifying these as ‘food’ would be misleading).

Weight gain snuck up on modern societies as they continued to fight the winter blues with calorie-rich comfort foods but without the physical effort that once helped their prehistoric ancestor to survive. This is quite evident in the ample figures portrayed in the classical paintings of the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries by Dutch, German and other North European masters.imgres-7

Being an addictive portal to cravings for ever-larger portions, as well as for salt and sugar, junk food accelerated weight gain in modern populations. And because of its tantalizing marketing and ubiquitous presence within arms’ reach (again, requiring none of the physical effort prehistoric humans had to spend hunting and gathering), junk food also became one of the main causes of images-7today’s epidemic of depression-linked obesity and many of the diseases associated with it.

In short, today’s junk food is neither comforting, nor effective in counteracting the emotional lows of SAD. What’s more, no supersized bag of chips or gallon container of ice cream has the necessary ingredients to relieve life’s beat-downs—such as lovers’ breakup, job loss, bereavement, financial crisis or other sources of fear and stress.imgres-10

The most efficient way to boost the brain’s ability to generate positive emotions is, as prehistoric humans discovered (probably by accident), by eating certain combinations of toxin-free, wholesome foods—which, search-2in today’s tainted environment, means mostly organic products.

Serotonin To The Rescue

Years of investigation by international researchers have shown a strong connection between depression and inadequate levels of serotonin in the brain. A chemical neurotransmitter, serotonin is the key to helping us feel good, sleep well, learn and memorize, maintain a healthy sex drive, control our social behavior, regulate our body imgres-8temperature and possibly even live longer.

Because crossing the body-brain barrier is a complicated process, shortcuts such as supplements and prescription antidepressants have been developed to do the job. Taking either requires medical supervision since neither is completely safe or effective. While supplements have limited—and often hit-or-miss—effects, antidepressants are frequently hampered by biological incompatibility with patients’ bodies or needs, their effectiveness is often minimal or temporary, and all have toxic side-effects.

The Food Solution

There is by now plenty of evidence that the most effective means to achieving the mysterious alchemy that boosts the brain’s serotonin levels in the safest, longest lasting and most enjoyable way, is to regularly consume serotonin-conducive foods that include carbohydrates and proteins rich in iron, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan, from which serotonin is synthesized. You may remember tryptophan as the imgres-1protein-synthesizing amino acid because of which Thanksgiving turkey is blamed for the nearly catatonic post-feast siesta no one seems able to resist.
Admittedly, using food to boost the brain’s mood-elevating chemistry requires a little patience and strong resolve to follow a serotonin-increasing diet, not only until positive results kick in (usually from 2 to 10 days), but to make it a habit, so healthy levels of this neurotransmitter can be maintained in the brain, to act as a protective shield against dark thoughts, insomnia and other
symptoms of SAD and depression.

What’s more, in order to assure that emotional wellbeing and resilience are not interrupted or sabotaged, it is important to avoid sugar—especially in the form of pancreas-walloping high fructose corn syrup, but also including sweetened and chemical-laden junk food and alcohol. And since alcohol is also a depressant, it is best avoided by people struggling to keep SAD and other moodiness at bay; and search-3certainly when good judgment is required (i.e. never before driving, etc.). Otherwise, moderation and commonsense about place, occasion and timing are good tips to follow.

images-8What, How & When?

The following is a guide to serotonin-producing foods and combinations, as well as to the timing of meals proven to be most conducive to boosting the levels of this neurotransmitter in the brain:


  1. Make sure to eat plenty of foods that contain B Vitamins, since they are critical to brain health and the production of neurotransmitters—such as   serotonin. They include thiamine (Vitamin B1), riboflavin (Vit. B2), pyridoxine (Vit. B6), Vitamin D, folic acid,images-1
    selenium, calcium and magnesium.

These substances often overlap in combinations of various (all organic) foods, among them:

  • whole grain cereals (oatmeal is especially nutritious)
  • breads and other baked goods—for weight loss or maintenance, lower calorie wheat germ can be used, with Stevia as sweetener
  • cooked brown rice
  • potatoes (most effective when baked with skin on)
  • kidney- and black beans
  • poultry
  • bananas
  • eggs—(Note: egg whites alone are not quite as rich in protein as whole eggs, but still a good source of it. Avoid frying. Cook on low heat and add a few drops of water to olive oil while sautéing or scrambling. Best to combine with tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, spinach, kale, herbs, spices, etc.)almonds_and_nuts_191544
  • almonds (and almond milk), walnuts, cashews and many other nuts and seeds.

(NOTE: Peanuts are legumes, not nuts and often trigger dangerous allergenic reactions—suspected to be caused by certain mold(s) ubiquitous in peanut growing soils.)


  • Raw carrots, raisins, avocado and apple are among foods rich in magnesium (another essential serotonin-builder)
  • Brussels sprouts—one of nature’s top super-foods—kale, spinach and salad greens are most important because of their abundance of essential fatty acids—such as alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), which, according to Dr. Frank Sacks, professor of Cardiovascular Disease and Prevention at the Harvard School of Public Health, is vital to proper brain function.
  • search-1Fatty fish, like wild-caught salmon, are rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid)—all essential nutrients for healthy brain maintenance.
  • The amino acid L-Theanine is plentiful in green tea and credited with boosting alpha waves in the brain, with the interesting property of working both as a relaxant while also fueling alertness.
  • Vitamin B6-rich foods include—in addition to several listed above with overlapping ingredients—

== organic leafy greens (spinach, turnip greens, mustard greens, celery, etc.)

== organic chicken and turkey; etc.

== wild caught sardines, herring, salmon and other small and medium size fish.Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 4.47.38 PM

(Note: Look for marine foods caught in the least polluted waters and least tainted with toxic mercury.)

(Find more options by searching this site or e-mailing us your questions to for more information.)


  1. Protein—especially foods with highest tryptophan contents—is an essential component for boosting serotonin levels in the brain. Useful tip: Eat small portions of protein three times a day to help the body absorb the necessary levels of its essential B vitamins and nutrients.

But here is the caveat: This works only when the protein-rich foods are combined with vegetables. The reason? Due to another biochemistry quirk, eating protein with carbohydrates actually inhibits the production of serotonin. (While vegetables also contain carbs, these are absorbed by the body very slowly. Mysteriously, this slow-mo process actually enhances, rather then obstructs the protein’s serotonin uptake into the search-7brain.)

  1. In addition to the above-mentioned tryptophan-rich foods, wild-caught deep-sea scallops and small and medium size fish also help assemble the serotonin combo—as are sunflower and pumpkin seeds and goat dairy. The latter is much preferred to cow products that tend to provoke allergies or lactose intolerance; as well as having higher cholesterol content while also lacking the beneficial digestive enzymes present in goat dairy.

(Note: Shrimp, while a rich source of protein and phosphorus, is also very high in cholesterol and not recommended for people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.)

 Worth noting is that merely increasing the amount of animal protein in one’s diet will not boost serotonin levels in the brain. Because of another quinoa-seedsbiochemistry quirk, the tryptophan in animal fat actually competes with other amino acids to reach the brain, but for some reason, it always loses that race. In short, more is not always better. Small portions eaten frequently works best.


  1. While organic grains, such as rice and wheat, are great serotonin-producing carbohydrates, so are various grain-like (often nutty tasting) seeds—amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa among them. Quinoa is also useful as an alkaline food that can rebalance body chemistry after consuming foods or meals with high acid content. These B-vitamin-rich, grain-like seeds offer delicious gluten-free and non-allergenic alternatives to people sensitive to certain or all grains.

Nutrition experts suggest eating organic grain-like seeds with vegetables or seaweed for strong serotonin-producing combination. These have also lentils-190x190proven to be most effective when consumed in late afternoon or as part of early evening meals, when blood sugar levels tend to be low. Such combinations and timing are not only  positive mood-boosters, but also help prevent overeating and are conducive to better sleep that night.


  1. search-4Whenever possible, include fermented foods with probiotic qualities in your meals to enhance digestion and the assimilation of B Vitamins and other serotonin-producing nutrients. Probiotics have also been found to strongly boost the amount and quality of
    nutrients in most foods.

Bottom Line

Needless to say, combining serotonin-boosting foods with endorphins-boosting exercise provides an even quicker way to kick SAD and other depression symptoms out of your life. They are also less expensive, safer, healthier and predictable—i.e. lasting as long as imgres-12you practice them—than experimenting with prescription drugs and juggling side effects.











Catharine’s Book

Jolene loves junk food. She loves it so much she wears red licorice in her hair—and pink taffy underwear! The Munch Bunch calls her "The Junk Food Queen." Then, one night in her dreams, she meets a bunch of cool characters who take her on an incredible, edible journey into a world of juicy fruits, super salads and yummy smoothies.
Book acclaimed by The Diabetes Research Institute Foundation - which uses it in its fundraising drives.


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