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Finding the fountain of youth in your grocery store


Looking for a real-life alternative to the fountain of youth? Nutritionists recommend eating.

But not just anything will do. While coffee and energy drinks may provide a temporary heightened state of liveliness, they provide little to no nutritional value to the body.

“Food can create energy or it can destroy it,” said Ronna Corlin, a nutrition coach from Hartsdale, N.Y. “It’s important to eat foods that will help you age with vitality.”

The search for the fictional fountain of youth is a never-ending process. Some find it in athletics, others through artificial enhancement. Some swear by skin creams. But regardless of age, gender or background, a popular food talking point with this subject among nutritionists, health-conscious consumers and the media is so-called superfoods, those foods that offer the greatest health benefits. Common superfoods include blueberries, cinnamon, cruciferous veggies, garlic, ginger, nuts and watermelon.

“The key is to eat foods from their natural state, foods that are alive,” Corlin said. “Foods from the wild that ran freely, fell from a tree or grew from the ground.”

New foods are constantly being unveiled for their nutritional value, whether it is an international fruit that makes its way to the U.S. market (like acai from Brazil) or a food that food scientists realize has a greater positive effect than previously believed (pomegranate). The most recent superfood to enter the discussion is the goji berry, or wolfberry, which is native to southeastern Europe and Asia. The packaging for a goji berry product at Whole Foods in New York City says fruit is said to be “rich in age-defying antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.”

“My nutritionist just recommend them to me, today actually,” said Giovanna Braga, who had a large bag of raw goji berries in her grocery cart. “She told me I needed an iron supplement and said that these were supposed to be great. So I’m curious to see how they are.”

According to one food expert, superfoods aren’t the answer. If a person is truly in search of changing life through food, it needs to come from a well-balanced diet, incorporating all the key foods.

“People like to buy into the hype about acai as the next superfood or pomegranate, but that’s all marketing,” said Stefanie Bryn Sacks, a culinary nutritionist from the New York area. “Mostly people just need to be educated about healthy food choices, a balanced diet, instead of a few key foods.”

And it does help to consult the experts on this subject. There are an array of books and resources online, but as with anything one puts into their body, people should do their research. While most healthy foods are universal, what works for some groups won’t work for others.

“The elderly usually don’t have enough intake and then they have absorption issues, so we will recommend supplements,” said Jennifer Fix a dietitian at the UCI Medical Center in Irvine, Calif. “Their appetite isn’t what it used to be, so we have to find alternative sources for nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12 and folate.”

Consumers like to believe the hype that surrounds the foods they hear about on talk shows, blogs or from their friends. But healthy living does require some research and a greater approach than one or two key foods.

“It’s a much bigger picture than most people think, there is no magic bullet that will make everything better,” Corlin acknowledged. “It’s about finding balance in one’s life, which seems simplistic, but most who take that approach experience a shift.”

According to Corlin, figuring out what works often requires listening to the least likely of sources.

“People have tuned out listening to their own bodies,” she said. “Your body is going to tell you a whole lot more about yourself than the experts.”

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Food, age and pregnancy

Food, age and pregnancy


Click on the screen to sort through the photos at your desired speed.

It is known that with age pregnancy becomes more delicate. Traditionally women had children in their 20s, but more are waiting until their 30s and 40s to  become pregnant. Because of this, medical care has improved and pregnancies for older women are less risky.

However, after giving birth, a woman still needs to be healthy. Losing the baby weight is one of the first steps to getting back into a healthier lifestyle and older moms may find it harder to shed pounds. Research has been done in the U.S. about the relation between pregnancy weight gain and birth weight, as well as the median age where weight gain is most common.

A 2008 study by doctors Alison M. Stuebe, Emily Oken, and Matthew W. Gillman, from Boston, Mass., showed that women between 25-30 years of age had the highest risk or retaining weight and becoming overweight after their first pregnancy. A newer study supported by the National Science Council in Taiwan and published in the British Journal of Nutrition this August, also found that women aged  21-39 had higher body weight one year after birth.

But there are different factors that may affect weight gain and weight retention. Doctor Sally Ann Lederman, whose research focuses on pregnancy and lactation, said that although age and metabolism play a role in pregnancies a woman’s lifestyle is equally important.

“You have to consider previous weight management problems, health choices and whether it is a woman’s first pregnancy or not,” said Lederman. “Ultimately it isn’t dictated by your biology, it’s dictated by your lifestyle, the effects postpartum and the choices you’ve made through your life.”

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Two Brooklyn neighborhoods, two recycling habits

Two Brooklyn neighborhoods, two recycling habits

In Bay Ridge, 59% of all waste is recycled.

In Bay Ridge, 59 percent of all waste is recycled.


In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, six different garbage cans, among them three recycling cans, neatly line up in front of every two-story tall private house. A woman comes out of one of them , holding two small black bags and a big blue one. She meticulously puts the bags in their respective cans.

Fifteen subway stops away, it is a different scene. Black, 6-foot-long garbage bags pile up on the curb, in front of the Marcus Garvey public housing complex that is towering over Brownsville, Brooklyn.

A metal door opens and a 5-foot-tall woman comes out, slowly pushing a cart with two big half-opened bags. When she arrives at the pile of garbage bags, she heaves one bag after the other on top of the quavering black tower.

This woman, smaller than the cart she pushes, is in charge of putting all the trash of the building out on the curb. “Everyone just throws everything together and I take it out,” she said simply. She doesn’t want to be named.

A new survey by the Sanitation Department of New York City showed huge differences in the recycling rates of neighborhoods in Brooklyn. In Brownsville, only 24 percent of the overall waste gets recycled, compared to 59 percent in Bay Ridge. In a report from 2005, the New York City Sanitation Department wrote that the realistically achievable diversion rate for the whole city would be about 24 percent.

“I think the reason why Bay Ridge is doing so well is because our community is predominately comprised of one- and two-family homes,” Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, which includes Bay Ridge , said in an e-mail. “Recycling becomes a family affair.”  According to the census of 2000, about 60 percent of the neighborhood’s households are families.

And some neighbors in Bay Ridge do seem to help one another out. “I’m never exactly sure how much I have to separate, you know, the paper from the tin cans or paper cups from plastic items,” said David Gaddas, a resident of Bay Ridge, a little embarrassed. “A family in my building actually makes sure everything is in order and takes care of putting the garbage on the curb and everything,” he said. The tall young man with fashionable square glasses is quite happy about the extra help in his three-floor building. He knows that there is a fine for improper : According to the New York City Sanitation department Web site, fines start at $25 and can go to $500, depending on the nature of the violation.

Rules about what is recyclable and what not are indeed very precise.  Cardboard egg cartons are fine and recyclable; so is glossy paper. Paper cups, napkins and tissues though, are not acceptable in a recycling can. Metal cans should be recycled, but not the plastic container of food from a deli.  Getting the recycling sorting right does seem easier if more people watch out for one other.

But neighborly help can also be tightly controlled. “Here people are very strict when it comes to recycling,” said Ewa Navarro, who also lives in Bay Ridge. “If I do put something in the wrong place, my neighbors will call me up and make me aware of it. If you do it too often, they will tell the landlord.” The blond woman lives in a three-apartment building, and she said she understood that her neighbors cared a lot about the issue. She was trying her best, she said.

The landlord is the one held responsible by the city in case of a recycling violation. The tenants are not. But in Bay Ridge, landlords check on their tenants. “The owner of my building is obsessed by recycling,” said Diana Segura, who lives near the junction of 68th Street and Fourth Avenue. “He checks a lot and often reminds me of it.” The young mother of a 3-year-old is not bothered by the control and doesn’t think that it is strict. “I am always careful because it is important,” she said.

Information about recycling is often stressed in community board meetings and people get involved. “School District 20 has done a superb job in educating children on the importance of recycling, “ said Beckmann. “Many students actually enter a contest run by the Department of Sanitation called the Big Apple Award.” Recycling material, stickers and flyers are always available in the community board office. “Residents regularly come into the office to ask for information,” Beckmann said.

Such information also is available at the community board of Brownsville, where only 24 percent of all waste is recycled. “We make it known that we have literature here, so that people can come if they want,” said Viola D. Greene-Parker, district manager of Brownsville.

“Although recycling is in effect, we find there are a number of property owners that are not recycling as they should,” Greene-Parker said, “We are still at the bottom, comparing to other communities citywide.”

According to a study by the New York City Sanitation Department, recycling rates are directly connected to income and population density. If more people live in one building and their income is lower, they will recycle less; if fewer people live in a building and their income is medium or higher, they will recycle more.

Brownsville has the highest concentration of low income public housing facilities in New York City. The neighborhood has 18 housing projects, representing a total of 98 buildings, ranging from four stories to 25 stories.  In the three Marcus Garvey buildings on Amboy Street, there are 321 apartments and an estimated 847 residents.

In such buildings, as in many apartment houses, trash is deposited in a chute through a door on each floor.  Once on the ground floor, staff takes care of it and puts it on the curb. Because of this construction, there is no space for recycling cans that might remind tenants to use them.

Raegene Valogean’s grandfather lives in such a public housing complex. “There are no recycling cans or bags. You just stuff everything in one bag and throw it down the chute,” she said.

There are also problems, however, with houses where fewer people live, she said; it is not only a public housing problem. “They are not conscientious, that is all,” said Greene-Parker.

Denise Shannon lives in a private house. She said she has just started recycling, but is having problems with it. “It is just too difficult. It is just too much. It takes much longer to fill the garbage now,” she said.

Other smaller public housing facilities look more like private houses. Shirley Abraham, a resident in a three-floor public housing building, said she recycles although she doesn’t have any cans in front of her door. “I put the trash in different bags and then I just put them on the street on Sundays,” she said.

Recycling practitioners have also found out that households with lower incomes produce less recyclable waste in the first place. They buy cheaper, bigger packages, but they go shopping less often than households with higher incomes that tend to buy smaller units, but in bigger quantity. Lots of small bottles are an example of what the wealthy tend to buy.

So if the recycling rates in Bay Ridge are so much higher than in Brownsville, it could also be partly explained by the fact that they have more recyclable waste on the whole.

In any case, the issue is taken seriously in Brownsville. The community board offers regular meetings to learn about recycling. “Every so often we have meetings with a speaker from the New York City Sanitation department coming in,” said Greene-Parker, “ He talks about the consequences of not recycling.”

The district manager said she does not know why inhabitants of her area are not recycling. “They should have all the appropriate cans,” she said. But she is not sure.

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New York health code not pet friendly


When is dog-friendly too friendly?

A Michigan man recently wound up in Judge Judy’s televised court, fighting over a dog in a restaurant.

It may seem like a simple matter, but restaurants in New York City can be shut down if a dog is there and even the Federal government has considered the problems of pets and eating in public.

After shopping with his wife and dog at Partridge Creek Mall in Clinton Township, Mich., David Alan of Keego Creek, Mich., decided to have dinner at a nearby restaurant. The couple was seated in the outdoors dining area until it began to rain, then they went inside to finish their meal.

Alan claims his dog, Marco, was inside a pink and brown carrier while he and his wife finished their meals at the bar. As they left,  fellow patron, Virginia Eldridge, said to Alan’s wife, “You really should know that they could close this restaurant for you bringing your dog in here.”

Offended by Eldridge’s statement, Alan confronted Eldridge and a melee ensued. In the end, Alan’s glasses were broken and they wound up in front of Judge Judy, who  dismissed Alan’s case stating, “You acted inappropriately, Mr. Alan. Frankly I’m not sure why you’re here.”

America has long been a country that cherished the companionship of dogs. In cities like New York, many establishments allow patrons to bring their pooches indoors. While it is courteous to be dog friendly, in many instances it is a violation of the health code.

The Food and Drug Administration, which creates guidelines for the handling of food in restaurants and grocery stores, prohibits live animals, excluding fish in tanks and service animals, in establishments that serve food. The regulations are in place owing to the health  concern that animals could contaminate food if employees touch them and don’t wash their hands.

Michael Hernon, a press officer for the FDA, said in an email that the “FDA does issue guidelines regarding animals in food establishments under the FDA Food Codes and states health agencies are free to adopt the guidelines as they see fit.”

The New York City Department of Health has adopted the guidelines that also restrict animals in outdoor eating areas. Several cited violations can close down restaurants but the threat of closing down doesn’t stop restaurant owners from allowing animals in and outside of their establishments.

Franks, an Italian restaurant in the East Village is marked as a dog-friendly restaurant on The restaurant is in two sections – a dining area and a bar. Each has a separate entrance and two very different atmospheres. The restaurant is a brightly lit dining area filled with patrons during the day. The bar, that comfortable fits about 20 people, has a communal dining table. Despite the bright light of the sun, the dimly lit room looks even darker because of the dark wood of the table and bar itself.

The wine director, Eamon, who requested to have his full name withheld, said the restaurant is very popular among the dog owners in the neighborhood. During the summer months, patrons bring their dogs to the outdoor dining area. He also admits that patrons bring their pets indoors.

“Dog’s aren’t supposed to be allowed inside but we let it slide. We’re not doing anything criminal,” he said.

Franks has been open for 11 years and hasn’t been closed for any violations. For years regulars have brought their dogs in – often placed in corners – with little complaint from other patrons.

“Ninety-nine percent of people are cool about it. As long as it’s not a rambunctious dog,” he said. “We had a regular who had four yappy dogs. We told him you can’t have the dogs inside anymore. We have an employee who brings his dog and he lays in the corner. Nobody even notices.”

Eamon considers the restaurant’s actions a part of good customer service. Patrons get to eat and keep an eye on their dogs.

He is also unsure of the ramification of violating the ordinance.

If an animal is found in the indoor or outdoor dining area of a food establishment, a value point is given for the violation. Each violation is assigned a base point value and additional points are added to a violation to reflect the severity of the violation. Having live animals in a food establishment is considered by the city a critical violation. Depending on the condition – the number of animals found in the establishment – the violation can carry five to eight points. A score of 28 points or higher warrants a re-inspection of the facility. Further violations can lead to the establishment’s closing by the Department of Health.

“Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a Federal law, privately owned businesses that serve the public are prohibited from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. The ADA requires these businesses to allow people with disabilities to bring their service animals onto business premises in whatever areas customers are generally allowed. Some, but not all, service animals wear special collars or harnesses. Some, but not all, are licensed or certified and have identification papers,” said Herndon.

This year, three food service establishments in the city have been cited for having dogs in an outdoor eating area and 29 for having dogs indoors.

Many dog owners appreciate the restaurants that violate the regulations.

Lisa Neilsen, a nutrition and wellness coach, owns a Bichon Frise, named Bowie. She often takes the 16-month-old dog to cafes near her home on Greenwich Avenue. She doesn’t take Bowie inside restaurants because he is “ too young to sit and be well behaved.” But she has been to restaurants where dogs are inside.

“I like it. I know it’s against the law. But if you’re going to run in to grab a coffee it’s OK. Dog owners know whether their dogs can handle it,” she said. Speaking about Bowie, she said, “He does go after food. He is not so well trained. I have to keep a close watch.”

But not everyone is enthused by dog-friendly restaurants. Anthony John disapproves of dogs in restaurants.

As a bellman at the Bowery Hotel – a dog-friendly hotel in the East Village – he sees many dogs throughout his day, especially at the Gemma Restaurant connected to the hotel. The restaurant is also listed on as dog-friendly, but according to the manager dogs are only allowed in the outdoor dining area during the summer.

John has never eaten at Gemma or any establishment that allows dogs. He does not have any pets but sees many people in the neighborhood going in and out of restaurants, cafes and grocery stores with their dogs.

“It’s gross,” he exclaimed. “That’s where you eat. Dogs carry dander and fleas.”

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Addicts go ‘home’ to Cardinal Spellman Center for the holidays


On Thanksgiving from noon to 11 p.m., a big room inside of the Cardinal Spellman Center at 137 E. Second St.  in Manhattan’s East Village becomes a welcoming place.

At any given time on this day and inside the big room, 50 or so recovering addicts gather for a meeting marathon. On one side of the partition, rows of chairs are set up for the 11 Narcotics Anonymous meetings that will take place throughout the day. On the other side, there are tables and chairs for people to gather and talk while they eat the free food offered by NA and donated by other attendees.

There is turkey, chicken, candied yams and three kinds of rice; there are mashed potatoes, string beans and chopped and mixed vegetables; there is cornbread, stuffing, fruit, tea and coffee. And there is, for dessert, every kind of loaf, pie and cookie.

Around the country, NA marathons have happened for decades as a way to give addicts a place to go during holidays. For this particular occasion, a woman named Lynne who volunteers her time to NA in addition to attending meetings put aside $700 in September from donations saved throughout the year. Three hundred dollars went toward room rental, and $400 went to food and supplies. All of the help came from NA members who volunteered in rotation so that they too could attend meetings and eat between serving food to others.

In charge of all things food related at this event and most NA events in the East Village is Peter H., 61, who stopped abusing speedballs and methadone on Sept. 13, 1982, and has been clean since. He has attended marathons for as long as he can remember and took on a leadership role seven years ago. For this event, he brought six eight-inch pies.

When Peter speaks, he is slow and mindful. His presence is calming, his demeanor relaxed, his posture that of a humbly proud man who has overcome unthinkable things and wants to help others do the same.

“It’s a safe place to be on a day that’s normally stressful with family, and I come to be with most of my friends,” he says of the marathon. “I come to do service because that’s what the program is based upon. The slogan is ‘you can’t keep what you have unless you give it away.’”

There is no sign at Cardinal Spellman saying “NA marathon downstairs,” only  a piece of 81/2-by-11 lined paper with a diamond drawn in the center and an arrow pointing toward some stairs. Two more of these signs point the way to the rooms. Someone who  says “I was in the rooms last night” means “I was at an NA meeting.”

As people enter the room, Peter waves at some and leaps from his seat to hug others as their faces light up in recognition. Each time he sits back down, he rubs his orange and white “Narcotics Anonymous,” hat, smiling as he stares at the ground.

Peter was engaged in conversation with members throughout the entire event, so he did not actually sit in on any meetings. After he went home that night, he says, he was “especially grateful for a place to go where I was wanted, needed, and most of all felt safe.”

The availability of a “safe” place during the holidays can make or break an addict. Mike Coles, an operator for a 24-hour help line for addicts, says that there is a huge increase in phone calls during the holidays and that the number of calls between the week before and the week of Thanksgiving jumped dramatically.

“Holidays freak addicts and alcoholics out,” he says. “A lot of people are embarrassed by their addictions and it’s so hard for them to be with their families, so they just kind of disappear and jump off the deep end.”

That is why the marathon goes for so many hours — there is no telling when during the day an addict will need the support of a meeting. Some addicts stay for the entire event, like Peter, and others pass through for a couple of hours, like 25- year-old Phil H. who has been off of heroin for 14 months.

“I wanted to hear a different message than I usually hear,” he says of his reason for passing through the event. “The program saved my life. I try to spend as much time in meetings as I can.”

Phil’s energy is noticeably different from Peter’s; it is that of a newcomer, of somebody who is overwhelmed by the idea of getting clean and is — judging by the number of cigarettes Phil smoked — in transition. Phil talks about being through with drugs as if he is still in the process of convincing himself, a compulsion that diminishes slowly with more “clean time.”

After three hours, one meeting and an indeterminable number of smoke breaks, Phil left Cardinal Spellman Center to join his mother, father and grandparents for Thanksgiving dinner. He left the marathon grateful for his family, “the NA family, and being home, not being in jail.”

Others bring their family to the marathon. Randy L., 47, was clean for 10 years after October 1983, relapsed, and then restarted his recovery in May 1996, almost four years after his daughter Sarah was born. Now Sarah, 16, accompanies her father to NA marathons and volunteers her time to help whenever needed. She and Randy brought the stuffing, mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes, which they made from scratch.

“He who forgets his past is doomed to repeat it,” Randy says of his dedication to NA. “I never want to get strung out again.”

As he speaks, he glances over at Sarah a few times, as if the sight of her justifies his struggle.

For Michele E. and her 10-year-old son, Michael, this marathon is significant: it is the first they have attended together since Michele revealed to Michael that she was a recovering addict. It was at a marathon on Christmas Day in 1985 that Michele began her recovery from heroin.

“I stayed for three days and started detoxing in the rooms,” she says.

Michele was able to detox at a marathon for three days because back then the marathons were around the clock from Christmas through New Year’s. People would travel from meetings in one borough to the other to sit in one large room where the sleeping, eating and meeting all happened in a way much less planned and formal than it is now.

Michele stayed at the Thanksgiving marathon for five hours, went to two meetings, and contributed a vegetarian feast of Tofurky, stuffing, salad and mixed vegetables. Michael is allowed to eat turkey, but he kept filling his plate with vegetables.

“Since I was a little girl, all I wanted was to have a family of my own, and here he is,” Michele says. “I am grateful for my recovery, but mostly my son. He is a miracle son.”

Michele battled cervical cancer and was told she would never have children. But here he was, her child, tugging at her arm and saying “Mom, mom! When we get home remind me to floss,” before running off to play with other kids, leaving Michele with watering eyes.

As the day turned into night, and the last meeting concluded, Lynne counted the donations and saw $250 to be put aside for the Christmas marathon. But that number didn’t matter. What mattered to her was the number of people — three — who told her that they would have relapsed that day had it not been for the Thanksgiving Day meeting marathon at the Cardinal Spellman Center.

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Traditional cooking, updated

Traditional cooking, updated

Mavel Vanetes, left and Massiel Soto, right, eat at a hands-on cooking class in BrooklynBy WINNIE ANDREWS

Alicia Baez is making a stuffed avocado dish she learned back in Mexico. But this time she is leaving out the salt and replacing the fresh shrimp with canned tuna. It isn’t the traditional version, but that is intentional.  She is making them with less sodium and more economical ingredients.

The goal is to make what you like, but reduce sodium, sugar, fat and refined grains, and increase the amount of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Baez and several other mothers signed up for a free eight-week nutrition class at the New Life Head Start preschool in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The hands-on class is one of many nutrition courses that encourage making familiar foods in healthier ways.

The thinking here is that people are more likely to eat healthfully if they can stick to a version of foods they are used to.  Nutrition cooking classes like this across the country respond to the needs of populations with high rates of obesity and diabetes.

To make her dish, Baez cuts shining green avocados in half and fills each one with a mound of chopped tomato and tuna. She is making them at the last day of her class when participants can bring in dishes they enjoy, modifying them according to what they have learned.

Sonia Delvalle is teaching the nutrition and cooking class in Bushwick as part of a Cornell University program designed to help low-income families improve their eating habits. The five Hispanic mothers in her afternoon class gather for two hours a week not only to cook and learn nutritional facts but also to share information and try new exercise techniques. Two women have brought their small children, and the babies sleep peacefully in the mothers’ arms while one small boy joins the women as they exercise to Latin music and tries to eat the tacos, stuffed avocados and salad with a fork.

Spanish is the primary language of the class, and Delvalle only switches to English if there is someone who doesn’t speak Spanish in the room. During class, the women share information about foods from their respective countries. They talk about how to make a traditional Dominican drink called “Morir soñando”  (”to die dreaming”) more healthy by replacing evaporated milk with low-fat milk.  One woman brought in rolled tacos she made in Mexico, but this time with low-sodium cheese.

Delvalle stressed that healthy eating doesn’t mean overspending on organic food or drastically changing diet. Nutrition is all around, she said, it’s just a matter of using it in ways you like. She encouraged the mothers to buy fruits and vegetables, either fresh or in a can, and to put them in their favorite dishes. During the course, she handed out a recipe for quesadillas with low sodium cheese and broccoli, and a corn salad. Delvalle also reminded the women to wash the sodium off canned foods, and that juice was a good alternative to soda. “A 12 oz soda can has 10 teaspoons of sugar” she said.

Stuffed avocado from the healthy eating cooking class at Head Start preschool, in Bushwick Brooklyn

Compared to white Americans, African-American populations have a 51 percent higher prevalence of obesity and Hispanics a 21 percent higher prevalence, according to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. These two demographic groups are at a higher genetic risk for adult onset diabetes as well; 11.8 percent of African-Americans and 10.4 percent of Hispanics over the age of 20 are diagnosed with diabetes compared with 6.6 percent of white Americans, according to 2004-2006 national survey data compiled by the CDC.

Obesity puts an individual at a higher risk for diabetes, and diabetes is further exacerbated by unhealthy eating. People with excess body fat around their waist — especially those who have an apple shaped body outline rather than a pear shape – can become insulin resistant. Diabetes prevents insulin from efficiently converting sugar in the blood into energy. This is particularly a problem for foods that raise the sugar level in the blood quickly, such as white bread and sugary sweets. Over time, diabetes results in damaged blood vessels and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure also increases the risk for these same cardiovascular complications, so high sodium intake is also discouraged for those with diabetes.

Bringing people from similar cultural groups together over food can help them feel supported and share information. Dr.Carol Horowitz, a physician at Mount Sinai Medical Center in East Harlem, developed Help Educate to Eliminate Diabetes (HEED), community workshops that help people with pre-diabetes reduce their weight.

“Rather than us stereotyping a culture, we let people speak for themselves, creating a safe environment to tackle their biggest challenges,” said Dr. Horowitz through an e-mail. People lost weight and kept it off in HEED’s pilot workshops said Kasey Coyne, a research assistant at Mount Sinai Medical Center. The program teaches moderation rather than focusing on avoiding certain foods.

Dr. Catherine Vigran, a pediatrician at Kaiser Permanente, in Sacramento, Calif. said healthy eating “doesn’t have to be a message of self-denial. It’s about showing people that there is some possibility for change.” Dr. Vigran helped develop a Family Cooking Club in 2008 when she realized there was a need for nutrition classes for the Spanish-speaking parents of her patients.

Sonia Delvalle, center, teaches exercises at a healthy eating class at Head Start

The Noelli Center, a patient education program in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, held its first healthy soul food cooking class in October. The workshop, called Heart and Soul, targeted people looking to lose weight, with early diabetes and high blood pressure. Participants talked about nutrition and ate traditional soul foods such as collard greens, cabbage, and fried fish, prepared with less sodium, fat and cholesterol. They were also given recipes on how to make the dishes at home.

Dr. Asha Isable, who opened the Noelli Center this fall, takes the proactive approach when it comes to obesity and diabetes in her patients. “Most disease is preventable, so that is what needs to be addressed,” she said. The center focuses on providing health education for young professionals and college students of color, a demographic that Isable said is often overlooked by other nutrition programs that target low-income groups.

Dr. Isable said teaching people in their 20s and 30s nutrition is important because that is when they develop the eating and lifestyle habits they will carry with them through life and pass on to their children. She created the soul food nutrition events as a way for young professionals to socialize while learning to improve their diets.

Others are finding new ways to cook soul food as well. Evalina Irish Spencer is the training specialist for the nutrition branch of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension in Manhattan. She suggested substituting some of the white flour in cornbread for whole flour. And for dishes like collard greens, “try not to cook the greens until they look like a lump,” she said, “try to cook them so they remain crisp and green.” In many health recipes, collard greens are cooked with turkey neck or olive oil rather than fat back from a pig to reduce the sodium and fat content.

Especially inventive recipes are able to turn infamous dishes like fried chicken into a nutritious meal. Lindsey Williams, author of “Neo-Soul, Taking Soul Food to a Whole ‘Notha Level,” suggests coating chicken in yoghurt and then rolling it in Rice Crispies and oregano to give it a crunch before popping it in the oven. It’s like fried chicken without the grease, he said.

Another alternative suggested by many nutritionists is replacing salt with fresh herbs. This reduces sodium and increases flavor. Gina Puzzanghera suggests this to the students in her cooking classes in East Harlem, where 62 percent of the population is overweight or obese. The area also has the densest concentration of diabetes of any area in New York City.

Puzzanghera opened Nourishing Kitchen, a small nutritionally based soup kitchen, in 2007 and currently teaches people of all ages healthy cooking.  As she oversaw the preparation of jerk chicken for the week’s free hot meal, Puzzanghera explained that she never uses white flour or white sugar in her recipes. “It’s great to give people food that won’t give people a diabetic seizure,” she said.

Irish-Spencer, the nutritionist from Cornell, said that food plays an important factor in feeling connected to a culture. Cuisine can also play a role in understanding other cultures, she said. Irish-Spencer is particularly excited about cooking classes with people from mixed cultural backgrounds. She points to the love of mangos in Caribbean cultures, and how it’s fun for people to realize that mangos actually come from China. “We think we are so different,” Irish Spencer said, “but we can share and enjoy other people’s foods.” The Hispanic women at the Head Start class in Brooklyn all had the same favorite dish: healthy Chinese fried rice.

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A tour with Meals on Wheels in Washington Heights

A tour with Meals on Wheels in Washington Heights

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At Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, food is therapy

At Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, food is therapy


On a recent Friday afternoon at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, a petite Arlaine Bruce cut up slices of homemade apple, sweet potato and pumpkin pies for the Harvest Moon Ball. There were also sugar-free oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies for the diabetic patients and cups of ginger ale for all. Guests kept rolling in. Many needed help with their wheelchairs; a few wheeled themselves in. Even fewer walked.

At Mary Manning Walsh, food plays multiple roles in the lives of its residents—the more than 350 patients are 80 years old on average (and a lot are waiting to get in). The Upper East Side nursing home organizes special events such as the harvest ball, where food is used for socialization and normalization among its patients. Generally though—whether special events or regular meals—it is about “trying to get them to be happy with what they’re eating,” said Joanne Gaffney, 61, clinical nutrition manager. “Trying to feed them what their mother made them.”

Food and nutrition make up just one part of the nursing home’s comprehensive services, which also include 24-hour nursing, physician, laboratory and even, religious services. Arlaine Bruce said most of the residents are covered by Medicaid and Medicare and a few pay out of pocket.

Bruce, 46, director of recreational therapy, organized the harvest ball: a show with two lithe dancers, a keyboardist and a singer. She often uses food to get her patients to socialize. At the start of the show, one elderly lady, smartly dressed in an autumn leaves pattern, waved to a friend and wheeled herself over to the table where they chatted amid bites of pie and sips of ginger ale. Most of the 120 patients, however, stayed quiet, eating and responding to the show with occasional applause. They could not be identified nor interviewed, according to the nursing home’s policy.

Music therapist Sue Dennis, 40, says the food also normalizes things for the residents. “It might orient them a little,” she said. “It’s fall. We’ve got pie.” For Christmas, there are cookies, eggnog and hot chocolate, and the Passover seder presents its usual menu. The food reminds the patients of “what they would normally be doing.”

Bruce has also organized Saturday morning Doughnut Hours in which she and her patients talk about the news and play trivia around doughnuts and coffee. At monthly birthday celebrations, Bruce hands out cake and ice cream. The nursing home also hosts Travel Club meetings, in which a country and a typical regional food would be presented. Those who had visited that country would start reliving how good the food was there. Both Bruce and Dennis mentioned the apple strudel and sweet plantain, which have been featured in past meetings.

“They get together, eat and talk,” said Dennis. “It’s stimulating. They start reminiscing.”

For regular meals, Gaffney said the nursing home’s food service is not that much different from a restaurant’s. “We do cater to the needs and preferences of the residents.” The nursing home provides balanced meals that contain all food groups, adjusting the dishes or giving alternate sustenance for the patients with liquid restrictions, tube feedings or controlled carbohydrate diets. But she emphasized that, unlike a hospital, the nursing home does not adhere to a specific therapeutic diet. “You want to strike a balance,” she said.

Patients have individualized menus that adhere to their taste preferences and dietary needs. The menu, which varies daily, is planned weekly at the dietitians’ office. Breakfast usually comprises orange juice, oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. Lunch and dinner include an entrée, starch and vegetable sides and dessert. All three meals come with bread and butter and coffee or tea with milk or creamer. The dinner menu that included beefaroni or tuna salad, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and apple cobbler. There are additional off-the-menu dishes such as honey soup. Crab cakes, goulash and Philly cheese steak appear on the menu for upcoming weeks.

Gaffney added that food provides oral stimulation for some patients who are not tube feeding, and “for people that are seriously, terminally ill, we are more liberal with their diet because it’s one of the few things they can enjoy.”

Every day, it’s up to Andrea Reid, 58, assistant director of food and nutrition, to supervise the kitchen’s tray line: One person calls out the resident’s dinner selection — “two scoops, no mash” — and places a dish on a heat conductor plate, alerting the next two people on the hot or cold foods sides to place food and beverages on the dish. One person then adds coffee or tea, and the final person checks for accuracy. Beefaroni, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach lay steaming in baking pans. Tuna salad lay cold and yellow digital thermometers stuck out from roasted chicken.

After stacking up the trays of food, the staff members cart the meals to the nurses, who then deliver the food to the residents’ rooms. Some patients elect to eat at the dining room, where they have assigned seating. “They’re territorial,” said Bruce.

At the monthly Food Committee meetings, the nursing home allows its patients to issue complaints — most concerned cold food and a desire for new food.

Gaffney said the staff tries to remedy the issues the best they can. “You want to keep people happy here. This is their home.”

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Athletes mind their diets as they age

Athletes mind their diets as they age

Peter May, 48, ran the New York City Marathon in about four and a half hours. Nov. 1, 2009. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Peter May, 48, ran the New York City Marathon in about four and a half hours. Nov. 1, 2009. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Peter May walked down the street to his apartment in Chelsea wearing a metallic marathon cape, shorts, a medal and a huge smile, the kind of smile a 48-year-old man would have right after running the New York City Marathon.   He ran it in four and a half hours.
For the past 20 years, he’s been running “sometimes serious, sometimes not so serious,”  And the past two years have been serious.
“In order to do this race, I really, really had to focus on my diet,” said the Sydney, Australia, native who works in New York as an accountant. The bean counter doesn’t count calories, but he has been watching his portions. “I had to drop a few pounds as well so I can do the race,” he said.
That’s one of the biggest challenges to athletes as they age, said registered dietitian Marissa Lippert.  For every decade  after 30, a person loses 1 to 2 percent of their rate of metabolism, she said.
Another big challenge is calcium, Lippert said.  As athletes age, they become more prone to broken bones. It is especially true in women.
That’s why Carl Taeusch, 64, eats yogurt every night with his wife, Chizuko, 64.  He also takes calcium supplements.   The lifelong rower gets on the water about three times a week with the New York Rowing Association on the Harlem River during the warm season.  As it gets colder, he rows indoors and at the gym.
This type of physical activity can take a toll on a person’s body over time, Lippert said, so the body needs to recover.  A well-balanced meal with plenty of whole grains is the way to do that.
Taeusch is very aware of what he eats, partly because he is a borderline diabetic.  He’s the athlete, but his wife takes care of the diet.  She meticulously plans his meals and makes sure there is always water on the table.
When he’s not running, May eats a lot of fish and chicken combined with “really good veggies” such as broccoli and carrots.  He makes sure to eat brown rice, which is whole grain.
Aside from limiting his sugar, May’s diet hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past two decades.
“The big change is about awareness really,” he said. “I just wasn’t really aware of what I was eating 20 years ago.”
That’s typical, according to Lippert, the dietitian.
“At that age, most of us are more cognizant to what we put on our plate,” she said.
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Ed Koch on eating your way to Gracie Mansion

Ed Koch on eating your way to Gracie Mansion

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch is back to work at his Manhattan office near Times Square after undergoing a quadruple bypass surgery in June. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)


In time-honored New York style, the mayoral candidates are eating their way to the campaign finish line.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is leading the charge, racking up votes with hot dogs at Nathan’s, a second helping of pickles at the Queens County Fair and even a “Mike Bloomberg sandwich” at Lioni’s Italian Heroes in Bensonhurst. “Next time, put some hot peppers on it!” was the incumbent’s verdict on the pastrami, mozzarella and mustard sandwich.

But shrewd as Bloomberg is, few know their way to New York’s heart through its stomach — or enjoyed getting there as much – as well as Ed Koch, New York’s mayor from 1977 to 1989.

“Not as many politicians enjoyed food as much as Ed,” says Koch’s former press secretary and former New York Post political writer George Arzt. “He ate a lot more than Bloomberg does.”

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries.  Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

Bill Richardson attempts to scarf some votes at The Varsity restaurant in Atlanta during the Democratic primaries. Oct. 5, 2007. (Photo: Mike Schinkel)

For Koch, eating on the campaign trail, whether stopping at a street vendor or taking a slice of pizza offered by a local shop owner – and always smiling for the cameras – was not just about scoring votes. It was about being polite.

“You’re there, you’re campaigning and if someone offers you a pizza, to turn it down is plain rude and stupid,” says Koch, now 84, in his Midtown office at law firm Bryan Cave. It was also simply about eating.

A gourmand who these days twirls capellini pasta at high-end diners like the West Village’s Il Mulino and Trattoria Dell’arte on Seventh Avenue, Koch says he relished the pizza, deli sandwiches and hot dogs “with the real casing” that he ate while campaigning for mayor in 1977, 1981 and 1985.

Unlike some candidates, who may discreetly pass half-eaten knishes or pizza slices off to an aide before moving on to the next photo op, Koch boasts: “I ate the whole thing.”

It was a way of showing respect to voters, says Koch. “People want to show their community at its best,” he says. “The best and quickest way to do that is by offering some food that the community feels especially proud of.”

Joyce Purnick, who covered New York politics for 35 years for the New York Post and New York Times, agrees with Koch’s food philosophy. She says it’s particularly important for politicians to have a big appetite in the Big Apple.

“Favorite dishes are a matter of ethnic pride, or even regional identity in the politics of New York,” says Purnick, over the telephone. “It could be pizzas with Italians, burritos for Latinos or the hot dogs from Nathan’s. We all grow up eating certain foods on certain holidays and it’s very much a part of our culture.”

Former White House chef Walter Scheib, who served Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush from 1994-2005, puts it more bluntly. “You want a political debacle, turn down a regional specialty and watch the fallout from that one. It’s just like kissing babies: You’ve got to do it.”

Koch says he never turned down a meal on the campaign trail. Running for governor in 1982 against Mario Cuomo, whom he beat out for mayor in 1977, he was asked to milk a cow in upstate New York. He was then asked to drink the milk. He did.

“Milk directly from a cow is not so good because it’s hot,” says Koch. “I like cold milk, but not direct from the cow. You just try not to show discomfort.”

His discomfort did show once, but not while campaigning. At a Bedouin feast he attended traveling between the Sinai desert and Israel, Koch was given sheep’s eyes, a local delicacy. “You’d take it and then secretly throw it over your shoulder,” he says. “The eye looks at you – very intimidating.”

Koch’s enthusiasm for food photo ops back home sometimes worried press secretary Arzt, particularly at dessert time. “You have to beware of chewing on camera, you have to beware of getting chocolate all over your face, you want the less messy foods when you’re going out,” says Arzt.

But Arzt says that the greater danger for politicians at food stops is the people they’re eating with. When a person approaches a hot-dog-chewing politician for a photograph, Arzt says, “The one thing that goes through the aides’ minds is, ‘Is the guy part of the mob?’”

To ensure he wasn’t snapped with a mobster, Koch would joke with anyone approaching, asking them to raise their right hands and swear they weren’t “a member of la Cosa Nostra.”

Eating your way to power can be more dangerous still for out-of-towners, as South Dakota Sen. George McGovern discovered while campaigning in New York for the 1972 Democratic presidential primary. McGovern ordered a kosher hot dog from a street vendor in Queens, along with a glass of milk. The Jewish community he was courting slammed him for the non-kosher combination.

More recently, President Obama was mocked by conservative pundits when he ordered a cheeseburger with spicy or Dijon mustard at an independent burger joint in Arlington, Va. Sean Hannity teased on Fox News, “I hope you enjoyed that fancy burger, Mr. President.”

Between photo-op pizzas, burgers and an on-the-run campaign diet of hot dogs, takeout, ice cream and soda, Koch struggled with his weight while in office. “It’s always easy to put on weight when you’re campaigning and eating junk food,” he says.

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

After his quadruple bypass surgery, Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch is 4.5 pounds into a 10-pound doctor-mandated weight gain. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Scheib, who as White House chef fed Hilary Clinton and Laura Bush, says the photo-op foods and gala dinners, sometimes 5 or 6 meals a day, also

took a toll on the first ladies. “They were thrilled just to get back to the White House and get back on a more low-cal nutritional diet, get their vegetables, lettuces and soups back in,” he says. “They’d come back off the campaign trail and get into a purge type of thing to get ready for the next wave of all this food.”

Since leaving office, Koch has used the private gym at Rockefeller Center most mornings to manage his weight and is comfortable giving advice to others on staying in shape. Visiting Ariel Sharon at his home in the Negev, in southern Israel, he told the former Israeli prime minister, “You’re getting too fat and you’re going to die prematurely.”

“He said, ‘I hardly eat,’” Koch recalls. “And, of course, that wasn’t true; he ate like a horse. He came to Gracie Mansion, where I lived, and he ate off everybody’s plate. I was amazed.”

But Koch himself has not been dieting lately.

From June to July, the former mayor spent five weeks in the intensive care unit of New York Presbyterian Hospital, where he underwent quadruple bypass surgery and had his aortic valve replaced. Slimmer than he’s ever looked, with suspenders holding up too-large pants, the older, more somber man than most New Yorkers remember, says he does not need to worry about what he eats for now.

“It was touch and go because of complications,” he says of the surgery. “I lost 26 pounds in the hospital and the doctor said that until I gain 10 pounds I was under no restriction. I left the hospital at the end of July and I’ve only gained back about four and a half pounds. I have six more pounds to go, during which period I can eat whatever I want.”

Ever the New York politician, Koch thanked the team of 20 hospital staffers who worked on him with a food stop worthy of a thousand Post flashbulbs – a dinner at Brooklyn’s 120-year-old Peter Luger Steak House.

He ordered a slab of steak, medium rare, and told his guests, “If any of you order anything other than steak, I am going to make it public.”

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