News Notes

October 2003

By Lara Evans Bracciante

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, October/November 2003.

The Great Pumpkin

During this harvest season, you may want to consider carving up your pumpkin for a soup recipe rather than a jack-o’-lantern. The orange pigment of pumpkin is rich in carotenoids — specifically beta-carotene, lutein and lycopene — which are powerful antioxidants with cancer-fighting properties. Studies have specifically shown the compounds in pumpkin help ward off lung, colorectal, breast, uterine and prostate cancers. Furthermore, carotenoids can boost immunity, help eyesight and protect cells from ultra-violet radiation.

Pumpkin seeds also provide nutritional value, serving as a source for niacin (lowers cholesterol), potassium (stimulates heart health) and zinc (boosts immunity). In Eastern Europe, the seeds have been recommended for the prevention and treatment of enlarged prostate, also called benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). Chemicals in pumpkin seeds, known as cucurbitacins, along with zinc, appear to help shrink the prostate, while the seeds’ amino acids relieve BPH symptoms. Pumpkin seeds also serve as a diuretic and have a reputation for expelling intestinal parasites.

The seeds can be baked (rinse, lay flat on cookie sheet, add salt if desired, bake at 250–300 degrees until papery and light) or infused into a tea (grind the seeds, boil in water for 15–20 minutes, strain).

Meditation Eases Kids’ Stress

Kids who meditate are happier, have higher self-esteem, get along better with other students and cope with stress more effectively than students who don’t meditate, suggests Rita Benn, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Michigan. Aged 10 to 14, the Detroit students of Nataki Talibah Schoolhouse practice non-religious transcendental meditation (TM) for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the afternoon to reduce stress — a growing concern for parents and child psychologists who note that kids are dealing with more pressure than ever. The school has been utilizing the TM practice for six years. While Nataki students were compared with kids from a nearby charter school who didn’t meditate, Benn is now conducting additional research to specifically study the before and after effects of meditation on 22 fifth-graders.

Students aren’t the only ones who are required to sit still. Nataki teachers also practice TM twice a day, but for 20 minutes rather than 10.

A Healthier Junk Food?

McDonald’s announced in June that by the end of 2004 the fast-food chain will be serving antibiotic-free beef and chicken, calling on its suppliers to change their agricultural protocol to a more natural process. The declaration comes in response to the growing alarm over the effect of routine antibiotic use in animal production, a practice that undermines the effectiveness of antibiotics in people and has been banned in Europe. While McDonald’s is still far from what many nutritionists would consider healthy (a few locations offer a McVeggie Patty, albeit made with hydrogenated oil), the policy change may signal a shift in pop culture food awareness.

Frito-Lay, for example, is completely eliminating trans fats — also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats — from Doritos, Tostitos and Cheetos and converting to corn oil. The hydrogenating process chemically alters oil and fat to give the product a longer shelf life. But according to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, which advises the government on health policy, trans fats should not be consumed at all, as they play a significant role in heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Furthermore, trans fat content is not required on food labels, a fact with which the nonprofit is taking issue. To bring attention to the cause, the organization sued Kraft/Nabisco for marketing trans fat-filled Oreo cookies to children. The group voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit but filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in response to its proposal to delay trans fat information on nutrition labels.

The issue remains hotly debated between food manufacturers, the FDA and consumer advocates — some of whom believe the U.S. government should follow in the footsteps of Britain and impose a “fat tax” on high fatty foods to raise awareness of nutritional content (or lack thereof).