Friday, January 30, 2009

6 Reasons to Drink Green Tea

The steady stream of good news about green tea is getting so hard to ignore, that even java junkies are beginning to sip mugs of the deceptively delicate brew. You'd think the daily dose of disease-fighting, inflammation-squelching antioxidants -- long linked with heart protection -- would be enough incentive. But wait . . . there's more! Lots more. 1. Cut Your Cancer Risk Several polyphenols -- the potent antioxidants that green tea is famous for -- seem to help keep cancer cells from gaining a foothold in the body by discouraging growth and then suppressing the creation of new blood vessels that tumors need to thrive. Study after study has found that regularly drinking green tea reduces the risk of breast, stomach, esophagus, colon, and prostate cancer. 2. Soothe Your Skin Got a cut, scrape, or bite, and a little leftover green tea? Soak a cotton ball in it. The tea is a natural antiseptic that relieves itching and swelling. Try it on inflamed blemishes, sunburns, or puffy eyelids. But that's not all. Green tea has been shown to help block sun-triggered skin cancer, whether you drink it or apply it directly to the skin -- which is why you're seeing green tea in more and more sunscreens and moisturizers. 3. Steady Your Blood Pressure Having healthy blood pressure -- meaning below 120/80 -- is one thing. Keeping it that way is quite another. But people who sip just half a cup of green tea a day are almost 50% less likely to wind up with hypertension than nondrinkers. Credit goes to the polyphenols again (especially one known as ECGC); they help keep blood vessels from contracting and raising blood pressure. 4. Protect Your -- or Your Mom’s -- Memory Green tea may also keep the brain from turning fuzzy. Getting-up-there adults who drink at least two cups a day are half as likely to develop cognitive problems as those who drink less. Why? It appears that the tea's big dose of antioxidants fights the free-radical damage to brain nerves seen in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. 5. Stay Young The younger and healthier your arteries are, the younger and healthier you are. So fight plaque buildup in your blood vessels; the sticky stuff increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, adds years to your RealAge, and saps your energy. How much green tea does this vital job take? About 10 ounces a day, which also deters your body from absorbing artery-clogging fat and cholesterol. 6. Lose Weight Oh yeah, one more thing. Turns out that green tea speeds up your body's calorie-burning process. In the every-little-bit-counts department, that’s good news!

10 Foods That Help You Fall Asleep

If it takes you more than 15 minutes to fall asleep at night, quicken your trip to dreamland by changing what you eat in the evening. It can make the difference between staring at the ceiling and sleeping like a baby. For years, the top food on the snooze list was turkey, because it contains sleep-inducing tryptophan (credited with all those Thanksgiving naps). But researchers have done an about-face and nixed this connection. Why? Turkey, like most foods, just doesn't contain enough tryptophan to put you to sleep, explains Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of The Food & Mood Cookbook: Recipes for Eating Well and Feeling Your Best . Instead, think light but high-carbohydrate snacks. Carbs boost levels of the brain's sleep chemical serotonin without overloading your digestive system. If you like, wash them down with something warm and soothing, such as a cup of herbal tea (chamomile, lemon balm, or valerian) or warm milk. 10 Top Sleep Boosters Nibble on one of these 10 high-carb calmers an hour before bedtime -- you'll be yawning in no time. 1. Half of a whole-wheat English muffin or raisin bagel drizzled with honey 2. Two cups of air-popped popcorn 3. A small slice of angel food cake topped with berries 4. A frozen whole-wheat waffle, toasted, with maple syrup 5. Half a cup of pretzels 6. Fresh strawberries dunked in a little fat-free chocolate syrup 7. Half a cup of pasta topped with marinara sauce 8. A 4-ounce baked potato topped with salsa 9. A handful of oyster crackers and a piece of fruit 10. Canned mandarin oranges sprinkled with crystallized ginger The benefits of sleep go well beyond good moods and lots of energy. Getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night can make your RealAge as much as 3 years younger.

Top 10 Foods for a Good Night’s Sleep

The secret to getting a solid 7 to 8 hours? About 90 minutes before you want to nod off, head for the kitchen and make yourself a sleepy-time snack. Keep it light (around 200 calories), so you don’t overload your digestive system. And include one or two foods from the list below. All help to relax tense muscles, quiet buzzing minds, and/or get calming, sleep-inducing hormones -- serotonin and melatonin -- flowing. Yawning yet? 1. Bananas -- They’re practically a sleeping pill in a peel. In addition to a bit of soothing melatonin and serotonin, bananas contain magnesium, a muscle relaxant. 2. Chamomile tea -- Chamomile is a staple of bedtime tea blends because of its mild sedating effect, which makes it the perfect natural antidote for restless minds and bodies. 3. Warm milk -- It’s not a myth. Milk has some tryptophan, an amino acid that has a sedative-like effect, and calcium, which helps the brain use tryptophan. Plus, there’s the psychological throwback to infancy, when a warm bottle meant "relax, everything’s fine." 4. Honey -- Drizzle a little in your warm milk or herb tea. Lots of sugar is stimulating, but a little glucose tells your brain to turn off orexin, a recently discovered neurotransmitter that’s linked to alertness. 5. Potatoes -- A small baked spud won’t overwhelm your gastrointestinal tract as it clears away acids that can interfere with yawn-inducing tryptophan. To up the soothing effect, mash the potato with warm milk. 6. Oatmeal -- Oats are a rich source of sleep-inviting melatonin, and a small bowl of warm cereal with a splash of maple syrup is cozy -- and if you’ve got the munchies, it’s filling, too. 7. Almonds -- A handful of these heart-healthy nuts can send you snoozing because they contain both tryptophan and a nice dose of muscle-relaxing magnesium. 8. Flaxseeds -- When life goes awry, and feeling down is keeping you up, try sprinkling 2 tablespoons of these healthy little seeds on your bedtime oatmeal. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a natural mood lifter. 9. Whole-wheat bread -- A slice of toast with your tea and honey will release insulin, which helps tryptophan get to your brain, where it’s converted to serotonin and quietly murmurs "time to sleep." 10. Turkey -- It’s the best-known source of tryptophan, credited with all those Thanksgiving naps. But that’s actually modern folklore. Tryptophan works when your stomach’s basically empty rather than overstuffed and when there are some carbs around rather than tons of protein. But put a lean slice or two on some whole-wheat bread midevening and you’ve got one of the best sleep-inducers in your kitchen. What if none of these foods helps? Check out your sleep habits with this quick RealAge assessment to find out what’s keeping you up at night.

Foods That Fight Colds

Whether you're walking around with a box of tissues or curled up in bed with aches and the shivers, what you feed your cold or flu can speed your recovery. Here's how to maximize your body's virus-busting powers. 1. Trust Your BodyIf you instinctively sip cup after cup of tea with honey and lemon when you're under the weather, your body knows exactly what it's doing. While any hot liquid will help loosen clogged nasal passages and soothe sore throats, hot tea also doses you with virus-fighting, inflammation-relieving antioxidants. (In fact, people who drank 5 cups of black tea a day for 2 weeks produced 10 times more interferon -- proteins that fight viruses -- than those who drank instant coffee. For tea lovers, 5 cups is equal to about 3 full mugs -- not that much.) As for the honey (the darker, the better), it's also thick with protective antioxidants. And a big squeeze of lemon in every mugful adds a little extra vitamin C to your virus-fighting kit; plus, the tartness stimulates saliva, which makes swallowing easier. 2. Trust Your Grandma Researchers keep trying to figure out why chicken soup does a sick body good. One finding: cysteine, an amino acid that's released by cooked chicken. It's chemically similar to acetylcysteine, a bronchitis drug, and it works with other soup ingredients to reduce inflammation. Salty broth also helps thin mucus. Chicken soup helps even more if you rev it up with spices: garlic, which has a well-earned reputation for squelching infection, and hot red pepper, which contains capsaicin, a powerful decongestant that intensifies the soup's sinus-clearing effects. Try this tried-and-true recipe. 3. Trust Your Tummy Smooth, healthy, comforting -- no wonder lots of sickies crave hot cereal or cool yogurt. Again, your body knows what it's doing. Oatmeal (like other whole-grain cereals) delivers three nutrients known to support your immune system: selenium, zinc, and beta-glucan. Yogurt with active cultures (aka probiotics or live healthy bacteria) helps fend off colds in the first place. One, Lactobacillus reuteri (found in Stonyfield Farm yogurt), seems to be especially protective. Top your oatmeal or yogurt with strawberries, nuts, and seeds. You'll get a vitamin C boost from the berries and immunity-enhancement from the vitamin E, zinc, and selenium in the nuts and seeds. Extra selenium may be extra important if you have the flu, since it seems to ward off lung inflammation. Alternatively, stir lots of cinnamon into oatmeal or yogurt -- it smells and tastes wonderful, and it can help reduce fever, relieve pain, and kill germs. If nausea is adding to your misery, add a little ginger, fresh or powdered. It's a proven tummy tamer and may take antibacterial action against any bad bugs in your respiratory tract.Once your cold or flu is over (whew), try keeping up some of these habits, especially drinking plenty of antioxidant-packed tea. Not only could it help prevent another bout, but getting the right amount of antioxidants through diet or supplements can make your RealAge 6 years younger, too. And keep cold and flu bugs from coming back with these simple tactics.

How to Crush a Craving -- Fast: USE YOUR FEET!

Here’s how to quickly and easily crush a craving for chocolate: Use your feet. Literally. A walk worked wonders for a small group of chocoholics. When compared with a couch-potato group, the chocoholics experienced a major drop in chocolate cravings after only 15 minutes of putting one foot in front of the other. Keeping the Pace. It’s a concept that’s gaining clout. Other research has shown that exercise reduces cravings for alcohol and cigarettes, too, by stimulating the activity of feel-good brain chemicals. This is the first study to apply the concept to chocolate cravings. Keep your pace moderately brisk and you may stifle that craving for up to 10 minutes after the walk. And by then, your thoughts should have moved on! Set a walking goal -- and meet it -- with our tracker tool. Cravings Schmavings Need more help getting those comfort-food cravings under control? Here are some other ideas for you: Stressed? Bored? Angry? Know why you’re reaching for food. Get tips on understanding -- and controlling -- emotional eating. Wet your whistle. Science shows that people often confuse hunger and thirst. Here are 10 more ways to outwit your appetite. Try an appetite suppressant. Not a pill -- a natural one -- like a quarter cup of this hunger-suppressing smoothie. It’s okay to indulge in the occasional piece of dark chocolate. Here’s why. RealAge Benefit: Maintaining a constant desirable weight can make your RealAge 6 years younger. References Published on 01/29/2009. Acute effects of brisk walking on urges to eat chocolate, affect, and responses to a stressor and chocolate cue. An experimental study. Taylor, A. H., Oliver, A. J., Appetite 2009 Feb;52(1):155-160. EDITOR'S PICK These sneaks were made for walking, and that’s just what they’ll do. But who knew they could kick chocolate cravings to the curb, too! Get out there and get going. Need a plan of attack? Set some goals today with our New Year, New You plans.

Foods That Steal Your Sleep

At some point or another, it happens to everyone: You can't sleep. When you finally drop off, the alarm buzzes a microsecond later. Then, you can't get up. And then, it gets worse: When you finally drag yourself out of bed, you look like you-know-what. Can't imagine why the sleep gods had it in for you? Think about what you ate the night before, says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of The Food & Mood Cookbook. Any of the following -- much less a combo platter -- can leave your body on uneasy street for hours: • Spicy foods: Garlic, chilies, cayenne, and other intense spices are yummy going down, but they can keep you up with heartburn or indigestion. Avoid MSG, too, as it can trigger dreams that are a bit too vivid .• A big dinner: An overtaxed digestive system takes hours to settle down, and there's nothing restful about that. When sleep's critical, make lunch your largest meal, and enjoy a light 500-calorie dinner early in the evening. • Raucous veggies: Eat those good-for-you-but-gassy foods -- beans, cauliflower, broccoli, brussels sprouts -- in the middle of the day. A tankful of gas can keep anyone up at night. • Speed eating: Relax and enjoy meals to avoid swallowing air, another common cause of midnight tummy trouble. • Nightcaps: Alcohol may make you drowsy at first, but later on it disturbs sleep patterns and leads to awakenings and restlessness. A 4-ounce glass of wine with dinner won't hurt, as long as it's not within 2 hours of bedtime. • Coffee after breakfast: Caffeine can linger in your body for as long as 12 hours. So if you're often wide-eyed at bedtime, make sure you're caffeine-clean for at least 12 hours. (Skip tea, chocolate, cola, or other caffeine culprits, too.) Still watching the clock at 2 a.m.? Wean yourself off even morning java, then stay caffeine-free for 2 weeks. If you definitely sleep better, you have your answer: Caffeine is not your friend. If the results are mixed, "Try adding back a cup or two of coffee or tea in the morning and watch what happens," says Somer. "But if sleeplessness comes back, cut it out." Getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night doesn't just make your eyes bright, your skin happy, and your mind sharp, it can also make your RealAge as much as 3 years younger.