October 1, 2014

What do you know about PCOS?

I was very happy to have the opportunity to write an article for The Seattle Times on polycystic ovary disease, or PCOS. I can't think of a more appropriate topic for the "Get Healthy: A guide to women's health" special section than "Polycystic ovary disease: the hidden threat to women's health."

PCOS is something I feel strongly about because, like the title says, it's a hidden threat to women's health because it affects about 1 in 10 women and is badly underdiagnosed. It compromises reproductive, cardiovascular and metabolic health. It's the main cause of infertility due to poor ovulation and it's a huge risk factor for type 2 diabetes and gestational diabetes. The National Institutes of Health has called it an important public health issue for women. 

I'm excited to have had a larger, much more science-y article on PCOS accepted by Diabetes Spectrum journal. The title is "The Role of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Reproductive and Metabolic Health: Overview and Approaches for Treatment." I don't know when exactly it will be published, as the journal has a long publication lead time and my manuscript was just accepted in August.

In the meantime, please read the Times article, and share it with the women in your life.

September 30, 2014

Red wine and inflammation

The anti-inflammatory diet is quite similar to a Mediterranean-style diet, and one point the two have in common is the moderate use of red wine.

From an anti-inflammatory point of view, resveratrol, a polyphenol found in red wine, has been suggested in laboratory and animal studies to slow cancer growth, reduce inflammation and decrease activation of the protein NF-kB. Activation of NF-kB is critical for normal immune response, but when hyperactivated it can contribute to inflammation, autoimmune diseases and cancer. 

Resveratrol has also been suggested to help protect the lining of our blood vessels, hence red wine's suggested heart health benefits. However, resveratrol isn't very bioavailable (i.e., we don't absorb it very well), so how applicable the laboratory research is to humans is uncertain. 

Since foods, and nutrients, don't exist in a vacuum, it’s possible that the multiple polyphenols found in red wine act synergistically to help suppress cancer and promote heart health more than would be expected from individual components like resveratrol.

Whatever the possible health benefits of red wine, this is not a case where more is better. Moderation is key. Moderation for men means no more than two alcoholic beverages per day, for women it's one a day (not fair, but there you have it). Too much alcohol in any form can cause changes in your intestinal lining, allowing bacteria to pass through into your bloodstream, triggering inflammation. If you don't currently drink, don't start...there are plenty of healthy lifestyle habits that can reduce your cancer and heart disease risk, like eating lots of vegetables and getting regular physical activity.

One serving of wine is 5 fluid ounces, so be careful if you like to use the large glasses that are typically suggested for red wine to improve aeration and development of the complex aromas and flavors. In other words, do NOT take your wine-drinking cues from "Cougar Town": 

September 29, 2014

A phenomenal, figtastic meal

I'm of the firm belief, borne through study of behavior theory, direct observation and personal experience, that sometimes when you think you don't want to do something (exercise, cook instead of picking up takeout) once you bite the bullet and just do it, you realize how very glad you are that you did.

I had one such hurdle on Thursday. A month ago, I had accepted an invitation for a dinner hosted by the California Fig Advisory Board. I love figs, and Cafe Juanita had long been on my list of restaurants to try, so saying "yes" was a no-brainer. Until last week, when the siren call of yoga pants and a good book was tempting me to send a last minute, "Sorry, something came up" email. But no, I was not going to go back on my word, even though it meant driving an hour in snarly commute traffic to Kirkland (thank goodness for audio books).

Was I glad? Yes, I was 200 percent glad that I went. It was easily one of the most delicious meals I've had the pleasure to experience, complete with good wine and great conversation with a small group of amazing women, a mix of registered dietitians who love good food and foodie professionals who are interested in nutrition. What's not to love?

Acclaimed chef/owner Holly Smith developed a wonderful 6-course tasting menu using California figs (Fun Fig Fact: 98 percent of figs sold in this country are from California), presenting each dish as it came out. She also gave us the lowdown on the lovely wines that were paired with each course.

Prosciutto di Parma (aged for 30 months) with Black Mission fig:

Seared foie gras with Marcona almond cream, caramelized fig, thyme,
candied ginger and cacao nibs:

Bibb lettuce, sweet corn and fig salad with pistachio and tarragon:

Pappardelle pasta with rabbit livers and kidneys, charred figs and crushed hazelnuts:

Jamon iberico de belotta (pork from Black Iberian pigs raised in oak groves and
fattened on acorns) with polenta, white truffle Sulla honey (from Tuscany),
roasted fig and lacinato kale:

Sage gelato with fig conserves (as a palate cleanser before dessert):

Goat cheese and fig tortino (pie) with port fig sorbet: 

This meal offered my first tastes of foie gras and...er...rabbit organs. They were delicious, and I was glad to have the chance to try them, even though I can't see myself actually ever ordering them. The sauce on the pappardelle was divine, but I think my favorite dish was the Iberian pork...it was fantastico! I wish I wasn't bordering on full when that course came, it was so very, very good. Even though each course was small, and each wine pour was smallish, I held back from finishing most of the courses (and all of the wines) since most of the food was quite rich and I did have to drive home!

It was fun to have figs prepared in so many ways. Truly a versatile fruit. I don't know why I haven't thought of putting fresh figs in a salad, but I certainly will in future, paired with a little goat cheese or sprinkle of blue cheese and a nice vinaigrette.

Among the foodie guests were Amy Pennington, a food writer, cook and gardener who has also authored a few cookbooks, including one of the best cookbooks ever (IMHO), Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable and Seasonal Kitchen. When I realized who she was, I may have gushed a bit much about how much I love her book, and especially her Perfect Roast Chicken recipe. I've made it a zillion times, and it is indeed perfection. All other roast chicken recipes are dead to me. I need to get her new book (released in June), Fresh Pantry.

I was also glad to meet Janelle Maiocco, CEO of Farmstr, an online market for buying farm food direct from the farmers (in the Seattle area). She also authors the blog Talk of Tomatoes. Also new-to-me was Linda Augustine, creator of the blog A Year at the Table. I will definitely be turning to her archives for quick dinner ideas.

Thank you to the California Fig Advisory Board and FleishmanHillard for putting on this wonderful event!

Disclosures: My meal was paid for, but I was not asked to blog about the experience. Also, I participate in the Amazon Affiliate program, which means that if you buy a book I mention after clicking on the embedded link, I may earn a commission. These facts do not influence what books or products I mention on my blog. My opinions and recommendations are always 100 percent my own.