Your Mental Environment 

We often speak of “the environment” as something “out there” – rain forests and oceans and ozone layers. 

By definition, however, our “environment” is “right here” – our immediate surroundings, or everything around us that affects us as living organisms. 

Your environment – your home, office, car, etc. – affects your body constantly and directly. Your body responds to your environment on many levels by making adjustments in bodily function with hormones and other chemical processes, which obviously affect health. In future issues, I’ll give you tips on how to make your immediate physical environment healthier. 

In this issue, however, I would like to bring attention to the health-affecting environment that is closest of all: your mental environment. 

High-pressure jobs, abusive bosses, overloaded schedules, long commutes, bad traffic, financial problems, etc., are contributing factors to the high level of stress we experience everyday.

Some stress in certain situations is good because it is what motivates us to leap into action. Too much stress, however, can cause emotional imbalance and Amira Elgan health problems. High levels of stress cause our brains to release toxins and chemicals that pollute our bodies and can have negative effects, including muscle tension, hair loss, ulcers, impotence and heart disease. 

We can’t totally eliminate stress from our lives. But we can learn to moderate it and even prevent it by being aware of our thinking processes and mental state.

It’s not an overnight process—it’s an ongoing practice. The first step is identifying what pushes our buttons. We all have peculiar things that set us off more easily causing us to feel more aggravated than we normally would and leading us to over-react and behave irrationally. Self-awareness can help us modify the way we think about things and adopt a more positive point of view. It also helps us exercise more self-control because we learn to think before we react.

Second, learning to accept that we don’t control others – we can only control ourselves – is an important aspect of letting go. And while we can try changing environmental factors that affect our level of stress, we should not expect to be able to control them. By changing the way we look at things, we can dramatically reduce the toll taken by stress. For example, we can’t control the abusive driver that tailgates us on the highway, but we can control how we react. We can burn with anger and feel threatened and insulted, or we can simply accept that tailgaters exist and not fret about it. The safest and healthiest solution is to move out of the way and let it go.

The power of self-awareness can help us make an objective assessment of the situation and act based on clear thinking, rather than harmful negative emotions. 

Finally, we can enhance our bodies’ capacity to resist stress by eating healthy food, exercising regularly, doing fun things and practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.

You cannot prevent harmful stress by changing the world to be less stressful. You can only do it by changing your mind to be more detached and objective.

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Food For Thought

You may have noticed that I use garlic in many of my recipes. And here is why.
Garlic gives a wonderful rich full taste to all sorts of foods allowing for less use of salt and oil. But garlic not only brings out the flavor, it's also very, very good for you. 

Throughout history garlic has been used to treat all kinds of maladies all over the world. It even has a reputation as an aphrodisiac in Shakespearean times in England. Studies show that garlic lowers bad cholesterol, helps common colds and even inhibits cancer growth, among other things.

Many avoid garlic because of its strong pungent odor, which is caused by the sulfur compounds it contains, the most predominant agent being allicin. This potent compound is what makes garlic so therapeutic and effective in inhibiting the growth of bacteria in the body and simultaneously boosts the body’s immune system. 

Eat garlic raw or cooked, whole or minced—but make sure you eat it everyday. Put it in soups, salads, dressings, sauces—anything. Just make sure your whole family eats it or they won’t want to go near you. 

Reader Q&A 

Q: Amira, I am enjoying your newsletter very much, although I am not a vegan or vegetarian - yet! So much of what you write makes good nutritional sense, but, what I would like to know, is it possible to get all the calcium you need without dairy products and without taking supplements? 

A: Absolutely, it is possible to get all the calcium you need without dairy products and without taking supplements. Of course, each person has different needs of calcium intake as calcium absorption varies from person to person depending on a variety of factors such as age, diet, gender, physical activity, lifestyle, etc. For example, the RDA for calcium for young adults up to 24 years old is 1,200 mg whereas for adults older than 24 years is 800 mg. 

Good sources of calcium from plant foods are dark green vegetables (broccoli, rutabaga, beet greens, collard greens, turnip greens, watercress, parsley, mustard greens, green cabbage, bok choy and kale), almonds, beans, oatmeal, tempeh, tofu, seaweeds and sea vegetables. There are also many other calcium fortified foods and beverages such as cereals, soymilk and orange juice. The key is eating a healthy wholesome varied diet that includes some of the items above in every meal, which will provide not only adequate calcium for your dietary needs but also other essential nutrients.

Words of Wisdom

To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. 

Henry Bergson

The Research Department

Yet another reason to enjoy the simple things in life.

A study published by The New England Journal of Medicine links participation in leisurely activities such as dancing and playing board games with lower risk of dementia in people over the age of 75. For a few suggestions, see last week’s issue’s article “What Have You Done for YOU Lately”, in which I talk about the importance of doing pleasurable and fun things that give you feelings of happiness and gratification. 

Vegetarian Organic Recipe of the Week

Pesto Sauce (vegan)
Makes about 1 ½ cups

This pesto sauce may be used in a great variety of ways. It’s delicious tossed with pasta and it also makes a great sandwich spread, its uses are limited only by the imagination so be creative and try it even in soups and salads. This recipe has no Parmesan cheese but it tastes great and it’s better for you because it has no cholesterol. Although walnuts can be substituted, I like using pine nuts or pignolias as they are higher in protein and lower in fat than walnuts.

Preparation time: 20 minutes Equipment: Food processor or blender

Get ingredients ready (use organic ingredients if possible)
7 cups fresh basil leaves loosely packed and not pressed down
1 ½ cup raw pine nuts (pignolias)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
5 fresh garlic cloves 
⅛ teaspoon ground pepper
Sea salt to taste (optional)

1. In a food processor or blender, combine basil leaves, pine nuts, oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Processed or blend until it looks like a smooth paste. Store in an airtight container. The sauce will last at least 4 weeks in the fridge and 1 year in the freezer in a glass jar.

Cook’s tip: Before placing the lid on the storage container spread 1 tablespoon of olive oil on the sauce as a thin layer to reduce discoloration. Also, see next week’s issue for a lovely pesto dish.


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Comments? Please send e-mail to Amira at [email protected]