IS COGNITIVE DECLINE INEVITABLE?

My mind goes often to this non planet

If I knew where my mind was, I’d be able to find it. 
My mind goes to Pluto at the drop of a hat. 
What did I come into this room to get?
And where did I park my car?

As we age, we lose brain cells. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. My mother claimed we kids were responsible for the early grey in her hair and its white was the result of the loss of brain cells, which she attributed to our wild ways driving her crazy. Neurons in the brain do die every day, but the brain grows new ones into a person’s seventies. 

Previous research suggests cognitive decline doesn’t begin before the age of 60, but this view isn’t universally accepted by scientists, much less the common public. We all have met people who’ve quit growing intellectually in their 30’s, while some have flexible minds and continue to learn new ideas and adjust their previously held thoughts when new information is presented. Some people’s capacity for memory, reasoning and comprehension skills (cognitive function) can start to deteriorate from age 45. 

Happy Birthday—Don’t return the favor.

This is why 40 was once considered “over the hill,” but folks today think of 50 as that apex. When my brother decorated my desk with dead plants and black balloons for my 40th birthday, I’m sure he meant it with tongue in cheek. However he might have been also alluding to my well known “space ranger” wandering mind. I don’t think I had cognitive decline; rather mine was more imaginative daydreaming, also known as “not paying attention.”

When I was 60, I watched a program on dementia and cognitive decline. The difference between forgetfulness and cognitive decline is the first happens occasionally and the latter affects your daily living negatively. On my recent vacation I forgot to bring toothpaste. I bought a tube at the grocery store. Cognitive decline is when you forget how to brush your teeth, you get cavities, and don’t make dentist appointments anymore. Then you lose the teeth and get dentures. Most likely someone also has to remind you to use the bubble cleaner on them and rinse them before they go in your mouth again. 
Since understanding cognitive aging will be one of the challenges of this century, especially as life expectancy continues to rise, we have to ask, what can we do to for our whole health? 

As easy as popping a pill sounds, a large recent review of studies found no solid evidence that vitamin and mineral supplements have any effect in preventing cognitive decline or dementia. The whole internet is full of health claims for this and that supplement, drink, bar, or detox tonic. While B vitamins; beta carotene; vitamins C, D or E; zinc, copper or selenium may be needed in your diet for other reasons, none of these have proved effective in preventing cognitive decline. 

How can you prevent cognitive decline? Try this combination strategy:
Four steps can improve your mental skills, even as you age—
1. following a healthy diet, 
2. getting regular exercise, 
3. socializing, and 
4. challenging your brain.

The results of the Finnish Geriatric Intervention Study to Prevent Cognitive Impairment and Disability (FINGER), which is the latest and most impressive study, goes a step further by suggesting that if you follow all four practices, you may even reverse lost mental capacity. The FINGER study indicated those who did so not only kept cognitive skills from declining, it also improved their reasoning skills and speed in performing mental tasks.

The volunteers were randomly assigned to two groups. One set of participants—the study group—received personal nutritional counseling, exercise instruction from physical therapists, and cognitive training. They also underwent seven medical exams during the study period. They frequently met in groups for cooking classes, cognitive training, or exercise instruction. The other participants—the control group—had three medical exams, during which they received general health advice. Both groups were given mental function tests again at the end of the study.

Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and author of The Harvard Guide to Coping with Alzheimer’s Disease, says “Healthy lifestyle behaviors can benefit people of all ages. But to have the greatest impact on late-life mental function, get started early.” 

The FINGER study’s results should offer additional encouragement to pursue a healthy, active, engaged lifestyle with regular exercise, a Mediterranean diet, and challenging mental activities because these can help preserve your mental acuity. Moreover, the FINGER study reminds us it not only helps to combine these practices, but it also helps to enjoy them as we do them. 

This wasn’t a quick fix, either. The FINGER program lasted for two years and the participants stuck with it because they were enjoying themselves. They also had become friends with others in their training groups. Although the experiment was demanding, only 12% of participants dropped out. Plus, these folks worked at their exercise—attendance was over 85% at training sessions, which included three to five exercise sessions a week, as well as 10 to 12 sessions of nutrition counseling and 144 cognitive training sessions over two years.

If you’re having trouble making healthy changes, a cooking or exercise class may help you get started and open a new circle of friends. Volunteering as a tutor, joining a community choir, or working on a political campaign can offer new intellectual challenges and social engagement. The key to making lifestyle changes is in finding a way to enjoy making them—and that is often among a group of companions who are striving for the same goal. 

Fresh vegetables and Chicken breast in Olive oil

We all make a choice in our lives. If we want good health, but don’t want to give up our television programs, we either need to pick an exercise time outside of our favorite TV shows, or hit a gym with screens. For instance, I still eat fried chicken, but only on my vacation. I eat uncured bacon on Saturdays rather than every day, and pancakes once a month. I haven’t given up my favorite foods, but I’ve put a limit on the most unhealthy ones out of respect for my body. This gives me some room for when I feel the need to self medicate with two scoops of ice cream, as when my computer died last month and I had to replace it. Making a big decision is definitely an ice cream moment for me, but I don’t need it every day anymore. 

One of my goals at Cornie’s Kitchen is to learn new skills and information to benefit the majority of persons in our world today: half of Americans and 30% of the world’s population are obese or overweight, and the cardiovascular diseases associated with obesity are increasing worldwide also. Since our children are also impacted by this health risk, we have to change our way of looking at food, exercise, time, stress, life, work, and our means of balancing the competing and complex needs in our world. 

If I can’t wave a magic wand over you, say a magic spell, or cast a potion of power over you, then at least I can help you burn through a few brain cells. They’ll grow back. Grey hair is a sign of power and wisdom.  

Joy and Peace, 

Cornie 

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OF ORDINARY MIRACLES

Greek yogurt with cocoa, fruit and nuts

“Fabulous Fermented Foods” have been part of my family’s history for generations back. In the rural antebellum South, folks made cornbread with buttermilk and bacon grease. They didn’t waste soured milk in those unrefrigerated days, just as they used every bit of the pig but its squeal. “Waste not, want not,” was an adage my forebears took to heart, even to my embarrassment of their saving balls of string or aluminum foil for reuse. The latter I thought unsanitary, in my modern worldview, but I’d never experienced great want of any kind as they had.

I enjoyed helping my nanny can food by pickling peaches and cucumbers, but that was a different process than fermentation. My mother did ferment a fruit compote with alcohol, which we all devoured with gusto over ice cream during the holidays. “Is it ready yet?” was as frequent a question as “When can we open a present?”

Of course we ate pimento cheese sandwiches, especially during those long lazy days of summer, but none of us ever connected the cheese making process to fermentation by good bacteria or yeasts. We ate, enjoyed, and never gave it a second thought as we sought the shade or a cool dip in refreshing water. Like many people of our day, we were incurious of the many ordinary miracles which surrounded all of us.

Now I’m well into my seventh decade and understand these trendy (but ancient) foods have potential health benefits. Fermenting foods changes their taste and texture, along with their chemical and biological properties.

Fermented foods may be the oldest “new” food trend around. The process is as old as civilization itself, and fermented foods are consumed in nearly every culture in the world. While researchers attempt to tease out how the changes caused by fermentation actually impact health, many not-fully-substantiated health claims are being made. Let’s take a look at what we know, and don’t know, about these promising (and tasty) foods.

FERMENTATION PROCESS

What is Fermentation? Fermentation occurs when microorganisms (certain species of bacteria, yeast, or mold) feed on starch, sugar, and other food components. This ancient process was originally used for preserving foods, but it fell out of favor in the age of refrigeration and pasteurization.

Many foods and beverages that are commonplace in the U.S. are a result of fermentation. Grains are fermented to make beer and bread; wine is made by fermenting grape juice; and yogurt and cheese are popular forms of fermented milk. Any foods can be fermented, and there are many examples of fermented foods around the world, such as Korean kimchi and the Swedish fermented fish Surströmming.

HEALTH BENEFIT CLAIMS

Behind the Health Benefit Claims. “It is becoming increasingly clear that the fermentation process changes the health-promoting characteristics of foods,” says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, professor emeritus at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.

For example, large studies have suggested an association between consumption of fermented dairy foods and weight maintenance that is not seen with unfermented dairy products, and frequent yogurt consumption is associated with lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality.

Some data show kimchi, a fermented cabbage dish ubiquitous in Korean cooking, is associated with anti-diabetic and anti-obesity benefits not seen with unfermented cabbage. Some of these suspected health benefits may result from the presence of the microorganisms themselves, but emerging research indicates that changes those organisms make to the food constituents, and new constituents they create, might have health benefits in their own.

HEALTH BENEFITS INCLUDE

Some of the potentially health-promoting effects of fermentation include:

1. Adding to our gut microbiota. Probiotics are live bacteria that some evidence indicates can confer health benefits when consumed in adequate numbers.

Some bacteria used in fermentation are known probiotics (or are similar to probiotic species). If fermented foods and beverages contain live microorganisms when consumed, a relatively large number of these organisms apparently make it through the human digestive system alive. “During the last decade, the number of studies has exploded regarding gut microbiota and their impact on the health of not only the gut but also the brain, heart, and immune system,” says Blumberg.

2. Changing existing compounds. In fermentation, the microorganisms break down food constituents. This process may have health benefits. For example, in fermented vegetables certain bacteria help convert health-promoting flavonoids into a more readily-absorbed form.

In dairy products, the bacteria break down lactose, making yogurt and cheese easier for lactose-intolerant people to digest.

3. Creating new compounds. Fermentation may create new compounds that have health-promoting actions in the body.

For example, one common result of bacterial fermentation is lactic acid (lactate), which recent research indicates is involved in anti-inflammatory and possibly antioxidant processes.

Other strains of microorganisms actually synthesize B vitamins or vitamin K; discourage “bad” bacteria from taking hold in the gut; or produce molecules not found in the original form of the food that play a variety of potentially health-promoting roles in the body.

4. Deactivating undesirable compounds. In addition to creating (mostly) desirable compounds in foods, fermentation can also remove undesirable compounds. In some plant foods, so-called anti-nutrients like phytic acid bind to nutrients like iron and calcium, decreasing the amount of these nutrients available to be absorbed by the body.

Fermentation can reduce phytic acid levels, which frees up more nutrients for absorption. Additionally, some food components are typically fermented in the gut by gut bacteria. This can create gas and trigger digestive problems. Fermenting foods before consumption leaves less work for gut microbes, and may help ease digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome.

5. So far, there is not a lot of clinical data backing up the potential health benefits discussed above, or the health claims often attributed to fermented foods.

But tasty foods like yogurt, hard cheese, the fermented yogurt drink kefir, cabbage-based sauerkraut and kimchi, or the increasingly popular fermented tea kombucha are delicious ways to add nutritional variety to your overall dietary pattern.

Of course when we say “yogurt,” we mean the plain, unsweetened product, to which you control the additional fruits and sugar content. The presugared/fruit purée style is not a healthy choice. Look for a yogurt with more grams of protein than in carbohydrates (Greek usually fits the healthier choice).

The same goes for other milk products, or any prepared food or drink. If it has added sugars, leaving it on the shelf is the best way to keep it from showing up on your own body. If you have a body like mine, these sugar bombs explode in one perturbing place, every single time, as if there were a hidden sugar magnet inside my body! Every. Single. Time.

Yet we can do this! I keep weighing my food, keep a food diary, and exercise. I realize 30 minutes a day doesn’t seem to be enough to lose weight, but it is enough to keep my blood sugar and blood pressure in check. I either have to work less and workout more, or accept 2/3 of my efforts are good enough for someone in the later years of her life.

I’ll probably be working on the last 1/3, just because I can’t rest until I get it ALL. This means I need to cut back on some of my “working.” I’m going to post more monthly on this blog than every two weeks from now on. My Facebook Cornie’s Kitchen page will get more frequent posts.

Joy and peace, Cornie.

Tufts Nutrition Letter, Articles, November 2018 Issue

https://www.nutritionletter.tufts.edu/issues/14_11/current-articles/Fabulous-Fermented-Foods_2487-1.html

Kitchen Experiments 

When I was a child, I had a science kit. My parents trusted me not to blow up the backyard carport or lose a digit in the process, but I don’t remember them supervising my experiments. In fact, once we children went outside, we were on our own, but I did live back in the late Stone Age. Even I watched my daughter when she was out and about nearly three decades ago. 

I had a deep sense of curiosity, which my parents nourished. As a result, I’ve never been afraid to try something new, to learn things outside of my comfort zone, or to stretch my boundaries beyond the familiar. This includes meeting new people. I’ve always figured a stranger was just a new best friend you haven’t met yet. And yes, I’ve met a few weirdos doing this, but I’ve also met some really neat folks also. 

Encouraging a sense of adventure keeps us young. This may be the attraction of the many meal in a box delivery services offered today. They decide the menu, find the spices and ingredients, get it to your door, and all the cook at home has to do is follow the directions. I like to go to my local grocery, find the seasonal foods, or clean out the remaining foods in my fridge, and see what I can create with them. I consider this a challenge, as if I were on a desert island with limited resources. What could I do with what I have? 

In a sense, all Kitchen experiments are science projects at heart, for all foods have unique properties: heat, time, salt, fat, and moisture all affect the taste and texture of the ingredients and the concoction. Change one and the others change also. Sometimes we add salt at the end of cooking so the food doesn’t toughen up or dry out. Only experience teaches this, for our tendency would be to dump in all our spices at once. After all, we want to taste test along the way. 

An interesting book, SUGAR SALT FAT, by Michael Moss, outlines the science behind the processed food industry. By concentrating fat, salt and sugar in products formulated for maximum “bliss,” Big Food has spent almost a century distorting the American diet in favor of calorie-dense products whose consumption pattern has been mirrored by the calamitous rise in obesity rates. Entire food categories were invented to support this strategy. This is why Resturant meals often have an entire day’s worth of calories and sodium packed into one serving and Lunchable meals (aimed at children) have over 800 mg of sodium each, an amount far too high for little bodies to consume. 

To eat healthy, many of us choose to eat at home instead, for we can experiment with different food combinations and make choices based on our own health needs. I always limit the salt and carbohydrates, due to blood pressure and glucose resistance. This same dish in a restaurant would be drowning in olive oil and much heavier with cheese. Most likely it would also have a grain pasta with it, so the serving size would be both smaller and more calorie dense. It would be off the menu for most people like me. 

The truth is, we can experiment with our recipes, but experiments with our health isn’t a good idea. Folks who overindulge with carbs or salt can damage their bodies. Retaining fluid is a sign of too much salt, such as around the ankles. Yeast infections can be a sign of too many carbs. Eating healthy is a better choice than eating poorly, even if someone else is cooking or cleaning up for you. If this is a novel adventure, step out and try it! 

You might want to try a Vegetable Lasagna, from Cornie’s Kitchen: Squash Lasagna. 

The registration is free, and the site is free. I hope you enjoy it!

https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=3272393

Dining Out, Readin Mail

When I’m out at the doctor’s office, I usually eat out. I have a few favorite haunts, like most folks. That Cesar Salad is a killer if you let the staff dress it for you. That little tub in the photo is 240 calories but 660 mg of sodium (almost 45% of my 1500 mg of daily recommendation due to my high blood pressure). I use half of it. It’s enough. 

I had the lunch steak and baked sweet potato. It’s a double portion, but I’m going swimming and not eating again for hours. It’s a treat to eat big sometimes. We just can’t do this all the time. I do it about once a month now. I used to do it two or three times a week. I’m going onto perfection, as we say!

As I was reading a response to a paper written against the American Heart Association’s recommendation to replace saturated animal fats with heart healthy unsaturated plant oils and fats, I came across this wonderful response. While some people carped about “who can you trust?” And “my facts are as good as your facts,” this person had good wisdom to impart. I want to share it!

WISDOM: IMPROVE YOUR DIET

One should focus on improving dietary patterns in a positive way, and, contrary to what is believed, this can be done avoiding controversial and emotional arguments entirely.

EAT MORE FIBER 

De-emphasize individual ingredients. For instance, on a population basis, Increasing fiber intake a few grams daily (currently we eat 15g, and the optimum is about double that) would produce significant benefits. 

EAT SALAD DAILY 

Similarly, eating one medium-large fresh salad (without destroying it with add-ons) daily would do the same. Add one medium fresh fruit salad daily (without added sugar), and three or more portions of beans or lentils per week, and fresh cherry tomatoes as snacks. This is positive dietary advice, not negative. 

EAT WHOLE FOODS MADE AT HOME

Another principle that has universal acceptance–eat fresh, home-made, real food, which also has social benefits. 

PROCESSED FOODS ARE UNHEALTHY 

Processed food is unhealthy for many reasons, and 60% of what Americans eat is ultra-processed. 

DRINK MORE WATER

The preferred beverages might be water (unflavored) or home-made green tea. 

EAT POSITIVELY FOR HEALTH 

There is sufficient flexibility in such a “eat positively for health” philosophy to meet most needs. The major barrier, as in the past, is that people do not accept good advice, blaming others for their own unhealthy choices. Yes, this is hard in our current environment–but possible.

ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY–THE JOURNEY OF A 1,000 STEPS BEGINS WITH ONE.

Five Alarm Chili

I was sick over Christmas. Not because I ate too many of my cookies, but because I let a small cut get infected, and then it got dangerously worse. Let’s just say that CA MERSA is not fun, but drugs from the doctor and lots of bed rest brought me around eventually. I even got to the point that food began to taste good again.

One morning I woke up, made my coffee with half and half. Then I added just the spoon of Splenda, and as the first swallow flowed over my tongue, I thought, “Oh! my! this is good!” I knew then that I was on the road to healing if my appetite had returned and my taste buds had reawakened from their coma.

About a week later I was ready to brave the 5 alarm chili. My advice is to put in half the amount of cayenne peppers or red peppers (whole) first, let the pot simmer, and then taste the sauce, not the meat. The heat will be in the sauce, not the meat. If it isn’t strong enough, then you can add more. If you let it set up overnight, the pepper strength will increase some more.

Enjoy this. It is a low sodium, high protein, low carb full meal deal. I like to add a quarter cup of cheddar cheese to the top for extra taste.

Five Alarm Chili (also made as ding-dong chili for less ambitious tastes)

Five Alarm Chili
(also made as ding-dong chili for less ambitious tastes)

http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detail.asp?recipe=2648384

Whole Food for Whole People

Three years ago I went on “incapacity leave,” which is church speak for disability. I could no longer handle the full time duties of a United Methodist pastor, or

even the part time duties.

My health was gone: I was over 100 pounds over my ideal weight, I was having blood pressure spikes and plummets, my cholesterol was high, and I was also having the early warning signs of insulin resistance.  I  was a classic example of metabolic syndrome, plus I was having petite mal seizures at the most inopportune times.  I would be preaching along, or I would be telling the children a Bible story and suddenly, I would go blank for a minute or so.  As one wag put it, I could put my congregation to sleep with my preaching, but I wasn’t allowed to sleep myself!

When we clergy are appointed to a charge, we are responsible for the leadership and spiritual welfare of that faith community. On incapacity leave, some of us don’t know what to do with ourselves, for we have no “commission” and no “congregation.” I’ve always been a self-starter, for I worked in construction and real estate with my husband and his dad when I was married. I had to design my own lesson plans and take care of my own classroom as an art teacher, and as a sales agent for the Prudential, if I didn’t sell, my family didn’t eat. Hunger is a great motivator, as The Hunger Games novels tell us. I decided that I was appointed to care for myself, and I gave myself over to the greatest energy and effort I could, for it was my hope to be able to return in a few years to my calling.

Cornie’s Kitchen is the product of my journey. It’s not a real establishment, although I do have a Facebook page one can “Like.” I had to change my life style, to become a healthier person both physically and spiritually.  This will be a blog where I share my Whole Food for Whole People ideas.  We are busy people, but if we are too busy taking care of others, we will fall apart sooner rather than later.  I want to help others take care of themselves, so they can continue their ministries and live life to the fullest.

Joy and Peace, Cornie