Saturday, December 5, 2015

First Aid with Aloe Vera

If someone in your home gets a little nick, scrape or burn, dab a coating of fresh aloe vera on the injury. Clinical studies have shown fresh aloe vera gel to promote wound healing by stimulating tissue repair.

Whenever I apply it on an injury, I leave a thick coating on because of the known hydrating, insulating and protective properties of the gel. It dries up pretty quickly and isn't noticeable after a while. In fact, I favor it over the drugstore-bought bandages when it comes to sunburns and those minor but common burn accidents in the kitchen. Research compiled indicates that healing time for burn injuries is about eight days shorter than those in control groups.

The gel I’m talking about, though, is taken fresh from the plant—not the type you can buy in tubes or jars in retail stores. Many of the active ingredients appear to deteriorate with storage or pasteurization at high temperatures. 

Aloe Vera is Easy to Grow
Fear not, you brown thumbs reading this! Aloe vera is a tropical plant that feels right at home in the Philippines, making it incredibly easy to grow. It can be grown outdoors or in the house by a sunny window. It doesn’t need much watering; in fact, it prefers infrequent watering. It’s a succulent, making its care similar to what you would give a cactus. And because it’s also very easy to propagate, you can buy it at a very affordable price from most plant stores.

When cutting a leaf for your use, make a clean cut at the base of the leaf (use a sharp knife or garden shears; don’t just break it off), as close as you can to where the plant meets the soil surface. Since you can extract a lot of gel from just one cut leaf, you can reuse it over several days as your wound heals. Wrap the aloe vera in a plastic sheet or foil and keep it in the refrigerator. Cut off the end and extract from the newly exposed part each time you need to get more gel, then reseal.

Other Uses of Aloe Vera 
Given all the research going on about this low-maintenance plant, there’s no reason for a home not to have at least one pot around.  I’ve heard of people keeping the gel on for half an hour as a facemask to keep skin moisturized and youthful looking. Others mix it with rubbing alcohol to make homemade hand sanitizers. They add a few drops of essential oil to give it a nice scent. 

What about you? Do you have a handy use for aloe vera that you’d like to share?

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sodium Nitrite and the Love of Bacon

Disclaimer:  Once in a while, I feature branded products on my blog, and I do so without sponsorship or remuneration. These are recommendations I make purely out of my personal preferences and experience, in hopes others might benefit from what I share.

I do my best to put a gag on my “food police” attitude when I’m at parties. Oh, all right, maybe not just at parties, but also at pizza parlors, fast food joints and food kiosks. Particularly when there’s a lot of processed meat being served. 

Indeed, how can anyone pass on a platter of premium cold cuts? A slice of pepperoni pizza? A bowl of bacon-rich carbonara? A hotdog sandwich? And come Noche Buena, there’s that delicious slab of juicy ham.

You can stop reading if you don’t want me ruining your holiday bingeing bliss. But take heart, studies show it is the excessive consumption that is the culprit—as in all things carcinogenic. So follow me for a few more paragraphs as I tell you about sodium nitrite.

Sodium nitrite (called salitre in the Philippines) is a compound added to food as a preservative. It is used to cure meats like ham, tocino, sausages and hot dogs. Aside from keeping these products from spoiling, it also impedes the development of the botulism bacteria, and it gives the meat its sumptuous pink color. 

Research, however, has indicated a link between high intake of processed meat and colon cancer, as well as Childhood Type 1 diabetes in infants if their mothers consumed large amounts while pregnant. There are other risks which you can easily find with a quick search.

But then, there are also studies indicating the contrary. That all is good and safe—and even beneficial to your health—regarding that stuff you buy in large amounts. These findings say it might be something else in the processed meat that could be the cause of cancer and is not the sodium nitrite.

I, personally, can pass on the pepperoni pizza (there’s lots of other yummy pizza selections, or I can simply take out the sausage and eat the rest). A once-a-year celebration with Christmas ham is acceptable, I would suppose. And I have no problem skipping the hotdogs (I find their extreme redness abnormal). But I simply cannot live a happy life without bacon.

As it turns out, there is some heartening news. Sodium nitrite’s negative effects can be lessened when it is not exposed to high temperatures. So when I do make carbonara, it takes me an incredibly long time to cook the bacon (super low heat for nearly an hour)—but it gives me extra pleasure knowing that everyone who partakes of my pasta is spared some of sodium nitrite’s assault. My favored supermarket brand is King Sue. 

Alas, it still has sodium nitrite as one of its ingredients, but did you notice something else? It has no MSG! So far, it’s the only brand I know, locally, to not have it. (I belong in that percentage of the population that gets palpitations after eating MSG-enhanced food on an empty stomach.) That’s why it’s the only branded bacon I buy.

On that note, I would like to make a special plea to the local makers of bacon. If it would be possible for you to include some Vitamin C in your bacon as research shows how its addition practically stops sodium nitrite from turning into the bad stuff in our tummy. Do shoot me a message if any of you know of any bacon with ascorbic acid available right here, right now. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

How You Age is Up to You

What the doctors say may not always be the best thing for you

My mother passed away last week at the age of 87. She's the smartest woman I know. A valedictorian in her younger years and a magna cum laude in college, most of what she had done in her life was a product of careful planning and well thought-out execution. And yet, her health became a victim of her faith in what she believed to be the “authorities”. For decades, she had believed in the myths spread by media—that eating fat will make you fat, eggs can cause heart disease, butter clogs arteries, and coffee can stunt your growth. She had taken in all this information with blind faith and led her life accordingly, and thus avoided the fat her brain needed to function well, dodged eggs for fear of raising her cholesterol levels, switched to margarine mistakenly believing it was good for her, and restrained herself from enjoying coffee so her children wouldn't copy the “bad habit”.

And no matter how hectic her days were doing business, charity work and caring for five children and a husband, she made sure to walk a lot and still exercised and did stretches while watching TV; she gardened and went early to bed and was early to rise.

So where did all this lead her in her final years? She had heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and dementia.

Which is why, perhaps, her most unlikely legacy to me is my healthy lifestyle—and my “investigative” approach to my health habits. My mother didn’t have Google in her time; she had no access to forums and communities where ordinary people the world over can share testimonials and anecdotal evidence about health advice, so she went by the filtered and controlled information she got from magazines, news reports, and doctors’ orders. But even doctors make mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes one doctor made was to advise my mother to stop exerting her body. He had said, to paraphrase, “At your age, you should rest! Stop working. You’ve earned it. You deserve to live like a doña now.” And she took his advice to heart. She closed down her business and tapered down on her cooking—even though she loved wowing us with her mouth-watering dishes. When her health began to weaken, instead of assessing her diet, the doctors loaded her with drugs. When her legs became wobbly, rather than encourage her to exercise or do strength training, she was told to accept her condition and get a caregiver. In a span of a few years, she was transformed from a woman full of strength and vitality to someone reclusive, depressed and dependent on others to walk and move around. Even though she used to do a lot of charity work, she gave up all of that, too. In essence, she quit life

Don't get me wrong. I do believe doctors are crucial in our battle against diseases, which is why after seeing she was nowhere near improving, I forced her to see another doctor. What I'm saying is, don't consider them infallible. Listen to your body just as hard as you listen to their advice.

This blog is dedicated to her memory now. In hopes that all the health insights I have gathered in all the years I had cared for her after she had grown weak would help others live longer, stronger, healthier lives. Because the way you live your life, what you eat, and the environment in which you live all come together to determine your future health. Don’t blame it all on the number of birthdays you’ve had. After all, the more candles on the cake, the more chances to fulfill your wishes.

My mother and my daughter

Sunday, September 15, 2013

5 Little-known Benefits of Tea

My personal collection of tea varieties  (Photo by Nasty)
Despite the ubiquitous presence of coffee shops and sodas, tea is still the world’s most popular drink (that’s if you don’t count water, of course). Perhaps it’s because the health benefits of drinking tea have long been known. They go from as simple a promise as weight loss to downright medical wonders like helping prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In case those still aren’t enough reason for you to start your own collection of tea, how about these?

Prevents Flu Better than Vaccines – The studies involved taking green tea supplements rather than taking the brew, but the results are nonetheless remarkable. Clinical trials have demonstrated green tea-based supplements reducing the risk of flu by 75%, outperforming vaccinations which reduce the risk by only 60%. Green tea in beverage form is loaded with polyphenols, long recognized to actively suppress many bacterial, fungal and viral species, thus helping your overall immune system.

Improves Eyesight – Studies show that drinking green tea could be protective of the eyes.  Researchers believe the catechins in green tea are able to help protect the delicate tissues of the eye from glaucoma and other eye diseases. 
3. Protects Your Bones – Studies show that regular tea drinkers have higher bone density--a very good predictor of fracture risk—compared to non-tea drinkers. It’s attributed to compounds found in tea such as phytoestrogens, flavonoids, catechins and fluoride. What’s more important is how long a person has been drinking tea regularly rather than how much tea was consumed daily. So go reach for that tea bag now.

Even the mugs you use can add to the pleasure of drinking tea  (Photo by Nasty)
4. Relaxes the Mind – Tea contains a unique amino acid, L-theanine that may modulate aspects of brain function, helping relax the mind without making you drowsy. Theanine is actually used for treating anxiety, high blood pressure, and for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

5.       Keeps you Looking Young – The high levels of antioxidant polyphenols in tea—particularly white tea--are said to help prevent wrinkles and fine lines. As one ages, the skin gradually loses elasticity due to the breakdown of elastin and collagen. Extracts in white tea are said to prevent or delay this breakdown, thus making each cup of tea something like dipping into the fountain of youth.

Do note that these studies are based on traditional green, black or white tea--the beverage derived from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Bottled green tea drinks are a completely different story; most of these are loaded with sugar and possibly contain insignificant amounts of extract or flavoring.

To gain these benefits, go the old-fashioned way by pouring boiling water over a teabag or loose leaves in a tea infuser and letting it steep until the flavor is just as you like it. Serve hot or cold.