Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Nutmeg has uses beyond eggnog

When recently visiting my mother I had good intentions of cooking one of her favorite pork dishes for her. While gathering the ingredients I discovered she was all out of nutmeg -- a key ingredient in the recipe.

"Just use apple pie spice,” she called to me from the next room. “That has nutmeg in it.”

While I saw she had a container of the apple pie spice, I scanned the ingredient list to find it also contained cinnamon and allspice. Not wanting to stray from the recipe I donned my coat and gloves instead, and drove to the nearest market.

I was glad I did. The subtle sweetness nutmeg lends to any dish is worth an unexpected trip to the grocery store.

Nutmeg is one of the spices derived from the fruit of the Myristica, a tropical evergreen tree. This tree is cultivated in India, Ceylon, Malaysia, Granada and to a limited extent, South Florida.

The fruit from this evergreen is the source of two spices; whole or ground nutmeg, from the inner seed; and mace, from the fibrous aril (seed covering) that separates the seed from its outer husk.

Nutmeg and mace are similar in taste; however nutmeg has a slightly sweeter flavor. Nutmeg tastes best when grated fresh and lends itself well to cheese sauces, sweet and savory dishes, mulled wine, cider, and eggnog.

In other cultures nutmeg has specific uses. In Indian cuisine, nutmeg is usually used in sweet dishes but may also be used in small amounts in garam masala. Garam masala is a blend of different ground spices common in Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cuisine. In the Middle East, nutmeg powder is used often in savory dishes. Greece and Cyprus use nutmeg in both cooking and savory dishes. In European cuisine, nutmeg may be used in potato dishes, processed meat products, soups, sauces and baked goods.

Popular among the Dutch, nutmeg is often added to vegetables like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and string beans. Curry powder from Japan may include nutmeg as an ingredient and a bun called “kavring” in Norway also contains the spice. Nutmeg is a popular addition to mixed drinks in the Caribbean and a traditional topping for eggnog in the U.S.

Nutmeg can also be made into a butter by expression. The resulting butter is a semi-solid, reddish brown spread that tastes and smells like nutmeg. A main ingredient in nutmeg butter is trimyristin, which can be turned into myristic acid, a fatty acid that can be used in place of cocoa butter, or mixed with other fats like cottonseed or palm oil.

My experiences with nutmeg had been fairly limited; as a spice added to baked goods or as a garnish for holiday eggnog. However, most recently I discovered its value in savory cooking.

I found it interesting to read a “nutrition facts” label for nutmeg. Nutmeg contains 37 calories, 3 grams of total fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 3 grams of carbohydrate and 1 gram of fiber per tablespoon.

This may seem like a lot for a spice, but keep in mind the small quantity that is often used in baking and cooking. A recipe for apple pie, for instance, may contain a teaspoon of nutmeg; divide that quantity by the number of servings the pie provides, and you will find it does not amount to much.

A Rhode Island native, I recently learned that Connecticut is known as “the nutmeg state.” It gets this nickname from the legend that some unscrupulous Connecticut traders would whittle “nutmeg” out of wood, creating a “wooden nutmeg” -- a term which came to mean any fraud, according to The Connecticut State Library.

Whatever its origins, nutmeg is worth a try.

Catherine Schneider is a Registered Dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice from your physician. E-mail Schneider and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at backushospital.org.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Know the facts about Flaxseed oil

Flaxseed has begun to gain some interest over the past few years with people who may consider themselves “health fanatics.” It is assumed to be good for us because of two compounds in the seed called lignans (phytoestrogens with anti-oxidant capabilities) and n-3 fatty acids.

Flaxseed, according to The Health Professional’s Guide to Popular Dietary Supplements, contains 100 to 800 times more lignans than any other seeds.

Flaxseed has been grown for more than 5,000 years in Central Asia, and there are multiple marketing and media claims associated with it. Some of the claims are that it can help relieve constipation, reduce risk of heart disease, improve symptoms of lupus and eczema, and reduce inflammation from arthritis.

The following are key points for flaxseed based on current research available:

 Flaxseed may increase triglyceride levels (cholesterol) in people who already have high triglycerides.
 As of now, there is not enough evidence to support that flaxseed reduces stroke or a heart attack.
 Experimental studies in animals suggest flaxseed inhibits tumor growth.
 Ground flaxseed may help with constipation (since it increases dietary fiber) if sufficient liquids have been consumed.

For individuals on weight-controlled diets and taking flaxseed oil, a good rule of thumb to estimate calories is that flaxseed contains 140 calories and 14g of fat per tablespoon.

Food sources of flaxseed include whole flaxseed, flaxseed oil, margarine made from flaxseed oil, flax breakfast cereals, and flax bread that has been made with flaxseed flour.

Flaxseed must be refrigerated, and can be taken by itself, added to hot foods (soups or casseroles) after cooking, or even added directly to food during cooking (not suggested for frying at high temperatures).

Manufactures recommend that 1 tablespoon of flaxseed oil be taken daily (contains 7 grams of alpha-linoleic acid and 2 grams of linoleic acid). The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine recommends 1.6 grams of alpha-linoleic acid daily for men and 1.1 grams per day for women.

Whitney Bundy is a registered dietitian and Director of the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Bundy and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at backushospital.org.

Monday, December 08, 2008


Holiday spirit in region gets an extreme makeover

The Christmas season is noticeably different this year. Unemployment is reaching new highs and there is apprehension about making large purchases.

Despite this outlook, for some this may be the most rewarding Christmas ever.

Eastern Connecticut is the beneficiary of a visit from the popular television show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.” This program combines the commercial popularity of a successful television show, talented professional designers and an army of local volunteers to build a new home for a family in need.

It is within this army of local citizens, some with building skills and others with only a strong back, that we find a key element to satisfaction and better health.

Elliott Flom is a local builder born and raised in Colchester. After hearing about this project, he immediately offered his expertise in construction. He is responsible for organizing demolition of the old home and providing the foundation and utilities for the new construction. He will have 14 hours to complete what typically takes five weeks.

“Stress, fatigue and falling temperatures are the biggest obstacles,” Flom said.

He has encouraged his team to dress in layers and remain hydrated. The community outreach has inspired Flom and his team to overcome any onsite adversity.

Matthew Johnson, a local chef, has catered some of eastern Connecticut’s finest affairs. This week, in addition to his busy work schedule, he will be providing meals for hundreds of volunteers at the work site.

“I wouldn’t want to miss an opportunity to support my community in a project of this magnitude that has captured the attention of our nation,” Johnson said.

Volunteer efforts can be as complex as this one or as simple as taking time to help a neighbor. Both bring with them a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that have been shown to improve many medical conditions.

The human body works best when in a state of constancy from the standpoint of eating, sleeping and temperament. Looming uncertainties in society add to the stress of daily living. Multiple scientific studies have shown that those who participate in voluntary giving of time and talent have a better general sense of well-being.

Maybe current economic adversity will lead us to understand the true meaning of Christmas with the added benefit of a longer life.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, is Chief of Neurology at The William W. Backus Hospital with a private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving.org, comment on their blog or buy his book at backushospital.org.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


Yoga can help relieve stress and tension

People often contact me for yoga classes, saying, “I’ve heard yoga is good for dealing with stress. Is that true?” Yes it is. There are many reasons why yoga can help deal with stress and tension.

Because yoga works in the body, and much of our daily stress gets transferred to, and stored in the body. Have you had a tense neck and shoulders? Do you ever feel fatigue or tightness in your back?

Not to mention the many varieties of back pain. Ongoing accumulations of tension and anxiety reveal themselves as knots, soreness, stiffness and pain in muscles and joints. Stress also eventually takes a toll on our vital organs and functions, diminishing their effectiveness and efficiency, and making our bodies uncomfortable places to be.

Yoga works on gradually stretching and strengthening the muscles, releasing chronic tension. When the muscles can be both strong and relaxed, the body can recover its own optimal alignment. A properly aligned body is much easier and more comfortable to live in.

Yoga works because it fully engages the mind, where stress typically begins. When you begin to think about – or dwell on -- an unpleasant or worrisome event in the future or in the past, you begin to build stress.

Yet when you keep your focus on the here and now, pressure is much less likely to build up. This is a primary focus of yoga: learning to keep your mind in present moment awareness. It is about choosing how to spend your mental time and energy, instead of being “run” by your thoughts. When the mind is able to rest and find quiet, mental tasks are easier to take on.

Yoga works because it goes to your heart and soul, your emotions, where stress takes a toll in the form of depression, numbness, anxiety, feeling restless, lost or simply ill at ease.

Strain shows up in your emotions and your spirit. You just know whether you feel "okay" with yourself and the world -- or not. Yoga builds acceptance and a calm equanimity.

From a relaxed and neutral emotional foundation, problem solving and motivation are much easier to connect to. Starting with your yoga practice “on the mat,” you can extend more and more of the dispassionate mind-set to everyday life.

Stress is one of the largest contributing factors to almost all diseases and interferes significantly with the healing process. By taking time and making effort to reduce your stress and relax, you are making a significant investment in your overall health.

Yoga can help create the conditions for your own immunity and healing powers to be activated or enhanced. It is an ideal complimentary therapy for many medical conditions.

Carol Klammer teaches yoga at The William W. Backus Hospital’s Center for Healthcare Integration and Birthing Center, and offers other yoga services to the community. You can reach Ms. Klammer at 887-3388 or hathayoga@snet.net. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail any of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

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