Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Benefits of Natural Sweetener Xylitol

When I was a little girl visiting my elder relatives in Puerto Rico, I have a memory of being by the beach with my relatives. My Great Grandfather Cesaro was cutting down some sugar cane stalks with a machete and then he proceeded to cut it into smaller stalks, handing it out to all his prodigy to suck on like a candy cane. I really didn't want to put the stalk in my mouth as it looked more like a green tree bark but once my tongue and the cane met, it was all over for me. My sugar addiction had begun. Thanks Abuelito!

It seems every year there is a "new" sweetener out that is better than sugar, more natural than sugar or has less calories than sugar. We buy it and gladly sprinkle it on all our foods. However eventually you start hearing the inevitable, "has been known to cause cancer in rats" or "may cause lupus or bring on MS" warnings. You feel betrayed and go back to sugar thinking, "Perhaps if I use organic sugar or raw brown sugar that would be my healthiest choice".

My confusion is increased ten-fold when I shop at Whole Foods as there is an whole aisle dedicated to sweeteners. I think I have tried them all; unrefined brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, barley malt, rice syrups, honey and agave nectar have all made their way onto my amaranth flakes. So when my mother excitingly called me to tell me about Xylitol as a natural sweetener I was a little bit cynical on finding out more about this "healthy natural sweetener".

She had been at her local health food store pumping the clerks for information as usual on what will give her better health when the clerk strongly recommended that she try Xylitol as a sugar substitute. After researching it online she related all the information she learned to me and thought it would be a good topic for "The Wisdom of Beauty".

After I did my research and the much anticipated "taste test", I am thrilled to report the benefits of Xylitol (not a very natural sounding name). Xylitol is a white crystalline substance that looks and tastes like sugar. It is a naturally occurring 5-carbon sugar alcohol found in many fruits and vegetables and produced in small amounts by the human body. It is the sweetest of the polyols with the same sweetness as sugar (sucrose) but with 40% fewer calories and none of the negative tooth decay or insulin release effects of sugar so it is recommended to those on a diabetic diet.

Xylitol has been used in foods since the 1960's and is approved in the U.S. as a food additive in unlimited quantity for foods with special dietary purposes and is safe for use in any sugar-controlled diet. Over 25 years of clinical testing confirms that Xylitol is the best sweetener for teeth. Xylitol, unlike other sugars, may reduce the risk of dental cavities. Sugar free chewing gums and candies made with this sweetener have already received official endorsements from six national dental associations.  

Xylitol is not only a safe, natural sweetener without the bad side-effects of sugar and artificial substitutes, it's also good for your teeth, stabilizes insulin and hormone levels, and promotes good health. We humans were really not designed to eat large amounts of sugar in whatever form it may take whether it be white, brown, honey, maple, molasses, etc. Sugar is really "white poison" as it is not only unhealthy for our bodies, it also ages us prematurely. While sugar wreaks havoc on the body, Xylitol heals and repairs. It also builds immunity, protects against chronic degenerative disease, and has anti-aging benefits.

The only discomfort that some sensitive people may notice initially when taking large amounts is mild diarrhea or slight cramping. About one-third of the Xylitol that is consumed is absorbed in the liver. The other two-thirds travels to the intestinal tract, where it is broken down by gut bacteria into short-chain fatty acids.

Xylitol looks, feels, and tastes exactly like sugar, and leaves no unpleasant aftertaste. It is available in many forms. In its crystalline form, it can replace sugar in cooking, baking, or as a sweetener for beverages. It is also included as an ingredient in chewing gum, mints, and nasal spray.

I have replaced sugar with Xylitol as I have always joked to friends that if there was a rehab clinic for sugar, I would check myself in immediately. Now with Xylitol I feel that as long as I am craving sweets as long as I use Xylitol I am not poisoning my body or prematurely aging myself.

In a family that has a history of adult on-set diabetes I hope I will be able to turn back the clock on my sugar intake and avoid this deadly disease with my new sweetener. Then there is the vain part of me that hopes that any aging I incurred from my sugar addictive behavior throughout the years will come to a halt. 

Now perhaps I will not feel so guilty making my Red Velvet Cupcakes!


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Only Four Necklaces You Need to Own

Well, after a little time off for a summer holiday I have returned and with a "back to school" energy when it comes to "The Wisdom of Beauty". In honor of Fashion Week I will write about a topic I know like the back of my hand. Accessories. Particularly jewelry.

My little nugget of wisdom on using jewelry as an accessory is that you actually don't need to own very much jewelry to fit all of your wardrobe choices. I've been able to narrow it down to just owning four necklaces to cover your wardrobe.

If you have trouble deciding what you like in jewelry, think it's too expensive or don't want to be a woman with an large jewelry box of pieces she rarely wears then this is what I advise. As far as necklaces go which are the most visible pieces of jewelry, the four necklaces you should own are: a strand of red coral, turquoise, light green jade and white pearls.

I came by this conclusion by observing paintings in the many museums I have visited over the years (the art world was my first career). I started to notice besides the grand heirloom jewelry you see in portraits of aristocrats from another age, the jewelry painted on the women of yesteryear were simple but attractive. I also started watching what women wore for jewelry in movies depicting women one or two centuries ago. That is when I was able to narrow it down to the fore mentioned four necklaces.

Me at my birthday party with my favorite red coral necklace
Red Coral Necklace
I first noticed the red coral necklace in a Masterpiece Theater movie where an eighteen century woman wearing a canary yellow dress was wearing a simple strand of round red coral beads. I found it very striking and it popped nicely against her skin. I own a magnificent seed beaded red coral necklace that I get stopped on multiple occasions every time I wear it. The red coral goes well with bright, primary colors such as yellow, blues, oranges, pinks, etc. The red coral also comes in so many shapes and formations it is a very fashionable stone to wear.

Megan Fox wearing turquoise against her skin with a black dress.
Turquoise Necklace
My second discovery was how great turquoise pops against your skin and looks great against black, brown and dark items of clothing. Turquoise to me always use to connote American Indian jewelry and I really had no desire to wear it. Now jewelry designers have started using the stones in contemporary designs without the silver and it definitely makes a statement as I feel turquoise is one of the most beautiful colors especially since it matches the color of the sky.

Naomi Watts holding her son with a light green jade necklace whilst wearing white.
Light Green Jade
My choice of light green jade came after seeing a picture of the actress Naomi Watts in a beautiful white eyelet dress holding her toddler son. She was wearing a light green jade necklace and I loved how soft it made her look. White is always a good backdrop for colorful necklaces but the light green made a new statement. I now love wearing light green jade in the summer with my white dresses.

Jackie O wearing her iconic white pearl necklace.
Pearl Necklace
My last choice is the of course the classic white pearl necklace. It's iconic and goes with most outfits whether formal or semi-casual. Although it can be read as conservative, many designers these days are making bold, fun statements with pearl necklaces. My favorite is Kenneth Jay Lane who made pieces for my favorite pearl necklace wearer and style icon, Jackie O. KJL still comes out with pieces that are not only very fashionable but affordable too as he also works with faux pearls. Try a triple strand, or a pearl bib. The little black dress and the white pearl necklace will forever be a fashion do as it reads simple elegance.

Maybe after owning these four necklaces you will start being inspired by gold, silver, diamonds and other precious or semi-precious stones but I guarantee you that if you possess a strand of red coral, turquoise, light green jade and white pearls you will feel completely covered in the "jewelry as an accessory" department. Then it's onto rings, earrings, bracelets, etc!

Thank you!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Amaranth, A Tasty Source for Energy

Early last year I was complaining to a friend of mine about how lethargic I had become and how although I wanted to be active in all areas of my life, I seemed to have low energy and wasn't accomplishing all the tasks I had set out to achieve on a daily basis.

I felt I was slowly sliding into a middle age stupor and all would soon go to pot. That is when she recommended I try to enhance my diet with more high protein foods that would fuel my energy. I was up to her suggestions especially since I am a vegetarian and really need to watch my protein intake. My friend recommended I try a grain called Amaranth.

Now Amaranth has an usual history. It is a very attractive plant with a beautiful flower that blossoms from it's stems. It was believed to have supernatural powers by the Aztecs who used the plant in religious ceremonies. Before the Spanish Conquest amaranth was associated with human sacrifice as the Aztec women made a mixture of ground amaranth seed, honey or human blood then shaped this mixture into idols that were eaten ceremoniously. Because of this tradition the horrified Spanish forbade use of the plant which caused it to drop in popularity and become obscure for hundreds of years. Small pockets of communities in the Andes and Mexico continued to use Amaranth otherwise it might have not been known to us.

Today in South and Central America Amaranth is mixed with a sugar solution to make a confection called "alegria" (happiness), and milled and roasted amaranth seed is used to create a traditional Mexican drink called "atole." Peruvians use fermented amaranth seed to make "chicha" or beer. In the Cusco area the flowers are used to treat toothache and fevers and as a food colorant for maize and quinoa (another high energy grain).

In both Mexico and Peru the amaranth leaves are gathered then used as a vegetable either boiled or fried. In India amaranth is known as "rajeera" (the King’s grain) and is popped then used in confections called "laddoos," which are similar to Mexican "alegria." In Nepal, amaranth seeds are eaten as gruel called "sattoo" or milled into flour to make chappatis. In Ecuador, the flowers are boiled then the colored boiling water is added to "aquardeinte" rum to create a drink that "purifies the blood," and is also reputed to help regulate the menstrual cycle.

Since the mid-seventies amaranth has started to become popular as a grain and is grown in the Midwest. The grain and it's flour can be found in most natural food stores. It can also be found in cereal form which is the primary way I eat my amaranth.

Amaranth seed is high in protein (15-18%) and contains respectable amounts of lysine and methionine, two essential amino acids that are not frequently found in grains. It is high in fiber and contains calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C.The fiber content of amaranth is three times that of wheat and its iron content, five times more than wheat. It contains two times more calcium than milk. Using amaranth in combination with wheat, corn or brown rice results in a complete protein as high in food value as fish, red meat or poultry.

Amaranth also contains tocotrienols (a form of vitamin E) which have cholesterol-lowering activity in humans. Cooked amaranth is 90% digestible and because of this ease of digestion, it has traditionally been given to those recovering from an illness or ending a fasting period. Amaranth consists of 6-10% oil, which is found mostly within the germ. The oil is predominantly unsaturated and is high in linoleic acid, which is important in human nutrition.

Amaranth has been a much welcomed addition to my diet and I recommend it highly to anyone who has been feeling sluggish and suffers from low energy. Actually amaranth and quinoa have both been great additions to my diet as it helps me stay alert during the day and active enough in the evening to do my yoga and workouts. I find myself not trying to talk myself out of exercising especially after work.

Here is a amaranth recipe that has proven to be quite delicious:

Amaranth with Spinach Tomato Mushroom Sauce
1 cup amaranth seed
2-12 cups water
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch spinach (or young amaranth leaves if available)
2 ripe tomatoes, skinned and coarsely chopped
1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons basil
1-1/2 teaspoons oregano
1 clove of garlic minced
1 Tablespoon onion, minced
Sea salt and pepper to taste (or use a salt substitute)

Add amaranth to boiling water, bring back to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 18-20 minutes. 

While amaranth is cooking, stem and wash spinach, then simmer until tender. Dip tomatoes into boiling water to loosen skin, then peel and chop. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat and add garlic an onion. Saut̩ approximately 2 minutes. Add tomato, mushrooms, basil, oregano, salt, pepper and 1 Tablespoon of water. Drain and chop spinach and add to tomato mixture. Cook an addition 10 Р15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Lightly mash tomato as it is cooking.

Stir the sauce into the amaranth or spoon it on top.

For more amaranth recipes click onto this link

More energy means being able to accomplish what we want in life and be able to take care of ourselves and our loved ones in the process.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Adding Primer to Your Make Up Routine

  Wow! Last week I felt like I was at death's door with a viral throat infection that left me feeling the worst I have ever felt since childhood. I am wondering if this Pulling Oil had anything to do with it? I took a little break from Pulling Oil to recover and I am now going to start again and report to you my experience at the beginning of September but now I am fine and ready to blog again on the "Wisdom of Beauty".

A few years ago I was at a Laura Mercier event in Henri Bendel's and I let the makeup artist give me a very expensive cosmetic makeover. Whenever I let a makeup artist work on my face I either feel like I am wearing a mask or I end up looking like a hooker. That day I looked like a high class hooker but nevertheless a hooker. One thing the makeup artist introduced me to at that event was makeup primer. She explained to me that before I was to put any cosmetic on my face I was to smooth primer all over it the same way you would prime a wall before you were to paint it. 

I thought she was giving me the hard sell as I did buy the primer but it when I arrived home it immediately went to my makeup draw where expensive makeup goes to die and rarely be seen again.

Lately in the name of research for this blog and to save a little money, I have been doing makeovers on myself at Sephora before every event I attended this summer. I am actually a little shameless as I have hit just about every Sephora in this city multiple times (I am in danger of being put on Sephora's '10 Most Wanted List') to experiment with makeup from every brand they supply. It has been a very glamorous summer for me.

What I noticed with just about every brand was that there were cosmetic primers now featured in the displays and Sephora even has a "Sephora Favorites" display exhibiting mutliple brands of primer.

Even though I felt it was just one more useless product the cosmetic industry was pushing me to buy I decided to experiment and use the primer before I started my mad dash around the store sampling their wares. In the process I have discovered the primers of today are definitely a much more superior product that I had tried years ago. 

After applying the primer on the surface of my skin, my face felt so smooth and moisturized but yet not too dewy. When I placed some foundation on my skin it went on much more evenly than it usually does. I also noticed that I had less creases in my skin. I was very impressed!

Primer is encouraged to be put on right after moisturizing and before foundation. Because of the smooth surface your makeup stays on longer, it helps control shiny skin from oil and nourishes dry skin. 

Some of the benefits of adding primer to your makeup routine are:
  • Creates a perfect surface for your makeup
  • Smooths the skins surface
  • Evens out skin tone
  • Moisturizes your skin and keep it hydrated all day long
  • Stops oil and shine
  • Makeup primers fill in fine lines and wrinkles
  • Makes enlarged pores appear smaller and less visible
  • The makeup glides on smoothly and blends easily
  • Allows your skin to breathe normally as they don’t clog the pores and won't let makeup clog pores
  • Protect your skin from the harmful UV rays’ some primers have a sunscreen and SPF 15 or more

I am so impressed with primers that I might actually buy a tube instead of tricking the girls at Sephora for free samples. I highly recommend you trying a primer out at Sephora or your local department store makeup counter. You will definitely see a difference in the application of your makeup, the longevity of the application and a smoothness and evenness that gives you a photofinish. As a matter of fact, Smashbox named their primer Photofinish and it was one of my favorite primers. However I felt the best for me was Lancome's as they always seem to be the best brand for my skin type. Just click onto this link to research some of the most highly talked about primers and see if there is one for your skin type.

I know what you are thinking, "Thanks Natalie! Just what I need, another product to buy." Trust me I don't make money off of recommending products on this blog and I wouldn't recommend a product if it didn't give me that happiness of feeling as lovely and pretty on the outside as you feel on the inside. As a very old wise man said to me yesterday at the bar at Baltazar, "We should try to do the best with what we have". I am positive he was not talking about makeup primer but I am sure he would encourage feeling and looking our best.


Friday, July 23, 2010

Updating Your Style While Dressing Your Age

 Anne Hathaway representing the 20's
Last summer I saw this woman walking towards me on the Upper East Side. She was wearing a very elegant dress, beautiful Louboutins, was thin and fit and had a very up to date haircut and the right accessories. She looked like a very fashionable thirty-something. However the closer she came towards me I realized from her face that she was considerably older than what she appeared to be. Her face appeared to show she was in her seventies! To tell you the truth I felt that I was in a horror movie where the beautiful woman from afar turns out to be a skeleton.
 Joy Bryant representing the 30's
I was so shocked and surprised as she passed me that I stood and looked as she walked down the street with my mouth open. I had always tried to practice making my style as relevant as possible to not cubbyhole myself into looking a certain age the way your grandmother's hairdo would tell the world what decade she became fixed upon. Watching this woman walk pass me showed me that perhaps my practice was wrong. She kept up with all the latest styles and trends but the disconnect between her appearance and her face were much too great. All of a sudden I didn't know what was worse; trying too hard to stay young and relevant or getting stuck in a style rut?
 Kyra Sedgewick representing the 40's
I'm not advocating she should have had plastic surgery to match her appearance. I admire the fact that at her age she worked hard to put out a certain persona which reflects to the world she cares and respects herself. So when Harper's Bazaar put out their annual "Fabulous at Every Age" issue this month I finally understood the message they have been preaching about for years. You do have to update your style at every age. Before I had always resented when magazines came out with their "age" issue and the rules of fashion I now had to follow which usually meant giving up fun trends I had followed in my youth. No more minis, no long hair, no more red lipstick, sticking to less edgier designers. Who were they to tell me how I should look like? Sure I didn't want to look like I walked onto the set of MTV's "The Hills" (a show I am proud to say I never watched) but surely there has to be a happy medium between keeping your style relevant yet not look like you are trying hard to turn back the hands of time and compete with your daughter. 
Iman representing the 50's
This is when you stop and think; "What is it that I want to reflect to the world as I get older?" Do you want to tell the world you are confident? Elegant? Sexy? Refined? Conservative? Successful? Timeless? Find the words that you will be happy to hear when you walk into a room. I picked for myself, "Elegant, bohemian, sexy and classic". When I go shopping or try on different hair styles or makeup I repeat these words to myself and it helps me edit my style to personify how I feel on the inside yet not look like I am racing against the clock. I still have some wonderful dresses in my wardrobe that I love and represent a great time in my life but now I will probably save them for my nieces when they get older.
Carolina Herrera representing the 60's
I also have picked out some public figures that I admire and would like to emulate their style as I grow older. Penelope Cruz, Carolina Herrera, Monica Vitti (Italian 50's movie star) and Jackie Kennedy are some of my style icons for illustrating "ageless style". I love to look at images of these women and get some tips and ideas for myself. I want to make sure that when I am strutting down Madison Avenue when I am in my seventies that the double takes people shoot my way are of admiration not shock.
Lee Radziwill representing 70+
Check out this month's Harper's Bazaar on tips on dressing for every age from the pros. To constantly reinvent yourself is a sign of evolving as a human being, self love and respect. It's a wonderful role model for your children, friends and family to witness and follow.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Two Helpful Tips When Eating Your Food

Just this past week I learned two very helpful tips from my mother for when eating my food at the dinner table. The first is the French tradition of "partage" and the second is how important it is to chew your food properly (yes I know you think I would have learned this long ago as a child). Learning (or relearning) both these habits will significantly help you lose weight whilst having a healthy, delicious meal.

Partage is the French word for division, or the act of sharing. It is something that couples  do when they eat their meals together as in sharing one plate or a meal. This is a common tradition in France and the great benefit that arises from partage is eating reasonable portions and satisfying your taste buds so you don't feel deprived of food which leads to weight control. 

Not so much in New York City but I find when I travel around the rest of the United States that the meal portions served to me are just plain ridiculously large. It has been noted that in the last few decades since the Fifties the average plate size has gotten bigger and with that so have our portion sizes as I know they could feed whole families in Third World countries. I myself actually lose my appetite when I see a large plate of food coming to me as I know I will not be able to finish it (accept if it is pizza then my stomach seems to open up a few compartments).

When I discussed with my mother the concept of partage she confessed that she and her husband often share their meals when they go out to dine (I believe they have to pay a shared plate surcharge). Besides saving money (something he is happy about) it helps keep their weight under control (something she is happy about) as many of their friends and colleagues seem to be overweight which is a little ironic as they live in sunny Southern California where everyone seems to think that all Southern Californians are fit.

So now when I order my food out I immediately make up my mind that half of it will go into a doggie bag for lunch or dinner the next day. At home I consciously serve myself a small portion and now I have relearned to consciously go about properly chewing my food, my second tip.

I know everyone has been told from childhood to properly chew your food. There are even some guidelines as to how many times you should chew your food (it is recommended between 25 to 50 times for each bite!). Years of working and having my meals by a computer have taught me to scarf down my meals in record time. I am now relearning that chewing is the first step in the science of breaking down your food and the digestive process. Powerful enzymes in your saliva go to work breaking down the food as soon as it enters your mouth. The more you chew, the more saliva you will produce, the better the food will break down and be digested. If you can still determine what kind of food is in your mouth by texture alone (not taste), you haven't chewed it enough. So if you are having a sandwich and you can still tell the lettuce from the bread or meat, it means you have not chewed your food enough as it should almost be a puree in your mouth.

You should even chew thick soups and yogurts (not as much but they still need saliva to be digested). Enzymes are more effective with smaller pieces of food. Digestion is a complex process that extracts the nutrients and other useful materials from the food you eat, while discarding with the rest of it. Chewing your food properly helps your body get more out of the food you eat.

So a few tips for helping make sure that you have the right environment set up for chewing your food properly are:
  • Drink plenty of water to keep saliva levels up.
  • Avoid excessive alcohol consumption during eating as it tends to dry up the mouth.
  • Set aside an ample amount of time to eat and a peaceful environment, try to avoid stressful environments while eating.
  • Avoid eating whilst working, driving or being on the go (another reason why Europeans are thinner than Americans, they respect their meal times).
  • Cut your food into half inch pieces (especially if meat or fish).
  • Chew, chew, chew. Enough so that you know you have created enough saliva to break down the food in your mouth and it is all the same texture.
My mother met a holistic nutritionist recently who drove the point of how important chewing is for our health, digestion and weight control. She decided to experiment with really consciously chewing her food till the saliva broke it all down and in just four days she was amazed with her results. She has lost two pounds, her portions are much smaller now as it takes her much longer to finish her meals, her hunger disappears much more quickly now, her cravings for sweets and coffee have disappeared and her digestion has improved so much she goes to the bathroom after every meal (what doctors say we should normally be doing). She also feels much more respectful of the food she is eating as she feels she doesn't take it for granted.

After a week of heavy socializing I am anxious to start consciously eating my food and I hope to share in my mother's results of better digestion and weight control. Please let me know your results should you decided to take partage and properly chew your food. Such an easy method to be healthy and lose weight which is what this blog is all about.



Thursday, July 8, 2010

The Advantages of Eating Dinner Early

Being raised in a Latin environment my family seemed to have carried on certain traditions from dear old Spain. One of them was eating dinner late. 

Now I am not talking ten PM when people in Madrid start thinking of eating their last meal of the day, we had our dinner around 8pm. My friends were always amazed we ate so late as they had their meals six o'clock on the dot. Of course as a child you want to fit in with the other children and I often wished we would eat our meals earlier (especially since we were not allowed to leave the table until the food was all gone which kept my sister and I there till eleven o'clock at night).

Being an adult now and in charge of my own meal time clock I have found out that not only do I like having my dinner earlier but it helps me feel very trim the next day. I have noticed when I eat my dinner at 7pm (no later than 8pm) that the next day I am not bloated or lethargic. My face is less puffy and my stomach does not protrude as if I am four months pregnant. 

With this realization not only did I make a great effort to have my meals early (lets not forget I live in NYC and I am lucky if I get to eat early at least three times a week) but if I drank water for the rest of the evening I even had some weight lost the next morning.

I also changed my thinking of dinner being the biggest most important meal of the day. For me my breakfast is modest but my lunch is where I make sure I get the bulk of my nutrients for the day. Dinner is just a full meal for me and to be eaten in modest portions (again when I am in charge of it).

Other countries take longer with large meals like dinner, and as such, tend to actually be thinner than many Americans and Canadians. Eating dinner early may not be as important as what and how we eat. The main theory behind eating dinner early is that we tend to be less active as the day progresses. Our evenings may consist of TV watching, and our bodies slow down, as we get more tired.

For me I know if I am going to eat dinner early that I should make sure I go to bed early as when I work into the night (and when you are self-employed that is usually is the case) you can wind up having two dinners and a snack by the time your head hits the pillow. The number one way to lose weight is to eat healthfully and get some exercise. If you find that eating dinner early helps this process along, there’s nothing wrong with trying it. On the other hand, if you find that an early meal makes you much more inclined to crave foods or you feel incredibly hungry at bedtime, it may make sense to move your dinner hour to later or add a healthful snack toward the end of the day.

So if you find yourself having dinner later and later and your waistline is expanding try seeing what happens when you are done eating your meals in the early evening and if it has any effect on your weight. What works for one may not work for another and in the end what is most important is what is on your plate and how active your lifestyle is to remain healthy and fit.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Oil Pulling

Recently I was talking with my good friend Rebecca and she mentioned how a mutual friend of ours was looking great and feeling great. Rebecca stated that our friend had been trying out an old Ayurvedic cure called "Oil Pulling". 

I had never heard of Oil Pulling and I made Rebecca repeat the words to me and describe what oil pulling was. She said it was very simple as it comprised of swishing oil in your mouth for about twenty minutes a day for good general health. 

I immediately went to my Magic Eightball I call Google and typed in "Oil Pulling" and was astounded by the articles and claims of Oil Pulling. This was new not only to me but my mother had also never heard of this form of therapy (and she loves exploring any form of alternative medication).

Oil Pulling consist of swishing one teaspoon of a cold pressed sunflower or sesame oil in your mouth for twenty minutes (better if done in the morning on an empty stomach). Move oil slowly in the mouth as rinsing or swishing, sip, suck and pull through the teeth for fifteen to twenty minutes. This process makes the oil thoroughly mix with the saliva. Swishing activates the enzymes and the enzymes draw toxins out of the blood. The oil must not be swallowed, for it has become toxic. As the process continues, the oil gets thinner and white. If the oil is still yellow, it has not been pulled long enough. It is then spit from the mouth, the oral cavity must be thoroughly rinsed and mouth must be washed thoroughly. Just use normal tap water and good old fingers to clean. Remember to clean the sink with an antibacterial wash as the spittle contains harmful bacteria.

What are the benefits of Oil Pulling? It is said to help or cure a vast variety of diseases and conditions including; migraine headaches, bronchitis, diseased teeth, arterio thrombosis, chronic blood disorders such as leukemia, arthritis and related illnesses, neuro physiological paralysis, eczema, gastro enteritis, peritonitis, heart disease, kidney disease, meningitis, and women’s hormonal disorders are completely eliminated from the organism. 

Oil Pulling also whitens teeth, strengthens gums, fastens loose teeth and stops the bleeding of gums. This is when I decided to make Oil Pulling the first experiment for "The Wisdom of Beauty" as I have since a child suffer from weak gums. The tradition cure of being on antibiotics for three months was never an option for me so I am willing to try Oil Pulling to strengthen my gums as I know gum disease can shorten your life span by up to eight years if it goes untreated. I will report back to readers in two months time whether I feel this is a therapy that "The Wisdom of Beauty" recommends and if there was any improvement with my appearance, oral and general health.

After exploring the Internet I read many testimonials on Oil Pulling from people who claimed that it helped their insomnia, cured their gum disease, helped terminally ill patients with their treatments, cleared their skin, got them off medications prescribed for life for their various organs, relief of pain in joints, I can go on. I even saw some videos on the net for teaching how to swish the oil properly through your mouth as it can take time to learn to do it for the twenty minutes it is recommended for. 

So if you are also curious to the claims of Oil Pulling and are willing to try with me I would love to hear from you and if you feel it has benefited you in any way. Warning, it's not a magic pill as it takes a few months for real results so if you have the patience and are open to alternative forms of healing then this might be for you. Any questions or comments please let me know. Hey, it can't hurt?

I look forward to reporting my findings on Oil Pulling in two months time, till then.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

When You Smile :)

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it's breaking
When there are clouds in the sky, you'll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You'll see the sun come shining through for you 

When I was a grade school one of the bulletin boards outside in the hallway had some facts that my teacher liked to collect and exhibit. One of the facts struck me and till this day I remember it well. It was about smiling. It basically related that it takes 43 muscles to frown and 13 to smile. Little did I know that this fact was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to smiling. 

Fast forward a few decades as I read Elizabeth Gilbert's spiritual memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" which was such an inspirational book for me as it helped guide and prepare me for my start on my own spiritual path and remind me how important meditation is for our general well being. In the "Love" section of the book, Elizabeth learns a special meditation from her Balinese spiritual teacher; it is "The Inner Smile Meditation Technique".

I was immediately intrigued as the technique was very simple and I feel is a good introduction to those who are a little intimidated about meditating. I decided to try it out and it is such an effective meditation that I would like to pass it on.

You first start in a relaxed state of mind seated comfortably and take a few breaths to feel calm and centered. Close your eyes. Then start to bring your awareness to the center of your head. Visualize looking out from the center of your head to your "inner face mask" or what you think the inside of your face looks like. Look at your forehead from the inside and notice the blank area of your forehead and how it can be used to display thoughts similar to a movie screen. Right now the movie playing in your forehead is over and your thoughts are blank.

Then continue to go down to the eye sockets and notice how your eyes look when they are closed from the inside. Right now with your closed eyes there is nothing to see out there so "Shop is closed!"  This is your time to yourself. See how your eyes look when they are relaxed, then go down to your nostrils and notice your breath coming in and out, the ebb and flow of life. Such a simple movement is highly taken for granted by us yet we can't live without it.

Next we go down to the mouth, it is in a relaxed state. No gnawing, no gashing, tongue is relaxed, the teeth are slightly separated, lips slightly touching each other in a neutral state. Then we go down to the jaw and chin and we see no pent up tension, as all is calm and relaxed. Now we go back to the center of our head again and view our inner mask and focus on the lips. This time we slightly turn up the corners of our lips in a smile. We start to witness our smile from the inside and eventually we notice a shift in energy and a warm sense of being. Then we go back to the eyes and we see that they too are starting to smile and are in tandem with the lips. This is the Inner Smile. Try to stay in this state for as long as you can and you will notice what the Taoists in ancient China taught, that a constant inner smile, a smile to oneself, insures health, happiness and longevity. Why? Smiling to yourself is like basking in love: you become your own best friend. Living with an inner smile is to live in harmony with yourself.

If you are having a particularly hard day you just have to visualize your neutral inner face and then reset it with an inner smile. 
April, Franz and I love to smile.

Besides the spiritual benefits of smiling there are also many physical reasons to smile, they are:
  • Smiling makes us attractive. People are naturally drawn to people who smile. When was the last time you just had to meet the person across the room that was grimacing?
  • Smiling helps change our mood. Smiling can actually trick the body into thinking that everything is going to be alright (and it usually is).
  • Smiling is contagious. This is true, I like to smile to strangers (not in a stalking way) and I feel joyous when I get a smile back (although I have to admit living in New York City it can go either way as we can be pretty jaded living here).
  • Smiling relieves stress. Smiling is my number one solution to not looking tired and stressed out. Whenever I am in a crowded subway car and I see my little, sad reflection in the window I automatically smile and then I no longer look like a subway zombie (aka, pained commuter).
  • Smiling lifts the face. It's an instant facelift and make you look years younger. Who needs cheek implants? Just smile. Remember frowning is using 43 muscles so you are aging yourself prematurely when you frown.
  • Smiling makes you look successful. Go into a crowded room with a smile and you look like someone that knows what they are doing in their life. You convey confidence.
  • Smiling lowers blood pressure; boost your immune systems and releases Endorphins, Natural Pain Killers and Serotonin. Next time you have bad cramps or are in intense pain, try smiling through the pain and the pain is likely to lessen (of course I also advise a smile AND an Advil in these matters).
  • Smiling helps you stay positive. Whenever life gives you lemons just smile, it will probably domino into a chuckle or laugh and help you see the bright side of a situation. Smiling through a problem will most likely take the fear away and the illusion of fear and how we react to it is really the problem of our lives.
 Even dogs (like my beloved Q-Ball) love to smile!

Lately I have noticed that there are certain people whose company make me smile permanently by just being around them. I have made a conscious choice to try and have them more in my life. The other flip side of the coin is that I am now more aware of people who never bring a smile to my face. I intend to see less of these acquaintances or hope my smile will rub off on them. I am still a work in progress so hopefully in the future I can inspire myself and others and a smile seems like a good place to start. Who knew such a little muscle action in our face could make such a big difference in the world?

Thank you!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

An Eye Makeover

Sometimes the thought of a much needed makeover can be a little daunting. Between the time and expense it's natural to put off a makeover and next thing you know the checkout girl is cheekily calling you "Mam".

Well I am suggesting that if a head to toe makeover sounds too ambitious at this point in your life how about a small makeover that will really make a difference? How about an eye makeover?

Now I am not talking about plastic surgery (although that would be the first plastic surgery I would get for myself) but simple changes you can make with your eyes to make them look more youthful, less tire and more alluring.

Over the years I have had friends and makeup artist give me some great tips that really make a difference in how I look and feel especially when it comes to my eyes. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars to feel like a movie star when it comes to improving how your eyes look. Growing up I was convinced there was nothing special about my peepers. They were just plain old brown eyes (with one more almond shape than the other which happens when the gene pool gets mixed around a little bit). Unfortunately it wasn't until my early thirties when I took some advice and changed my opinion of a very important part of my face forever.

First Step: Eyebrows
I grew up with thick shapeless eyebrows that I almost could braid on my brow. A friend of mine suggested one day I go to her brow guy to get my brow shaped and sculpted. I didn't even know "brow" people existed back then and it all sounded just too...painful. I made an appointment at the ridiculously expensive salon Garrens located on one of the floors of Henri Bendel back in the day (now located at the Sherri-Netherland Hotel) and was introduced to Robert the "Brow Guru". As I sat on a chair very similar to a dentist chair he looked me up and down and asked if I ever had my brows professional done. I said no and he replied, "That's what I thought. But we have a lot to work with here and that's good". Ten minutes later of being pulled, yanked, trimmed and me sneezing like mad (the nasals for some reason unbeknowst to me are attached to the eyebrow nerves) I looked into the mirror and once I looked past the redness and swelling I saw a very sexy woman staring back! I rushed to my boyfriend's apartment which was near by with my large black sunglasses on and when I arrived I flung them off and said. "Look at me! I have movie star eyes!" He pretended to notice the difference (because that is what good boyfriends do) and that is when the second, much better half of my beauty life started. I am still convinced it was the best $25 I ever spent.

 Feeling like a movie star with the right eye makeover!
(Umm, warning this picture is a few years old)

Now Robert I believe is at the salon at Barney's on Fifth Avenue and his price has gone up to over $100 for a brow shaping! Too rich for me. So I still go to either Garren's and ask for their brow lady when things are great (approximately $30) or I go to the Indian thread shaping girls when times are tough (hey, it's $6 dollars and it stops me from looking like a Wooky).

Second Step: Eyelashes
Due to one of my ancestors being Japanese I have longish but very straight eyelashes. No curl at all! When I was young my mother would try to curl my lashes but the eyelash curler would either pinch my lids or yank out half my eyelashes because I flinched too quickly. In my late twenties the buzz starting going around town about Shue Uemura ( a great Japanese cosmetic brand) and their cleverly revamped design of the eyelash curler. They reconfigured the arm and the eye piece to be angled differently than a conventional eyelash curler and their pad is made of silicone which gives a softer curl and no pinching at all!

At the time I bought my first Shue Uemura eyelash curler it was only available at their SoHo store (now it's available at all Sephoras and online) and after spending $16 dollars (in which you also get a replacement silicone pad) I was amazed at the transformation of having all my eyelashes curled out and how it brought attention to my eyes. I then used some Maybelline Great Lash (all my makeup artist friends still recommend Maybelline Great Lash and it cost less than half of what higher end mascaras do). I now really have movie star eyes and I feel like Sophia Loren (minus the heaving breasts, that's another makeover). Who would have known you just needed a cleverly designed eyelash curler to make such a difference?

Sometimes I put fake eyelashes on the ends of my eyes on special occasions but I try not to go too tranny on myself as I do not like the tarantula look and I am always paranoid of the lashes falling off right in the middle of dinner in my soup as I go on talking, clueless to my cosmetic mishap and my dining partners pretending that this look is normal for me. I'm afraid I speak from experience.

Third and Last Step: Eyelids
We gals (and some boys) all like to don eyeshadow on from time to time but one tip I learned on an Oprah show a few years ago was to put a light blue powder on my eyelid (not upper part) especially if you have brown eyes. It works as an optical illusion to give your eye color some extra pop. Now I am not talking about the Brady Bunch blue your mother or grandmother wore in the sixties and seventies, I mean a lightly brushed on (not caked on) ice blue. Then instead of lining the inner eyelids with black (which can make your eyes look small and beady) line them instead with white eyeliner (lightly, again we do not want the 60's Mod look here). This helps give eyes a youthful look. Finish with some under eye concealer for dark circles and wha-la! A mini eye makeover that makes you feel alluring, attractive and hides how tire you may feel after a long day at work or chasing the kiddies. It's funny hearing compliments about my eyes late in life after never receiving any compliments about them before I made these slight changes. I gladly take them.

Now with my mini eye makeover I am wondering if I can go back and Photoshop all my pictures before I learned of these tips and update the appearance of my eyes. I'm afraid my vain ego may demand it!


Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Benefits of Yoga

I know I am most likely preaching to the converted here but since it is a blog on the wisdom of beauty I could not avoid the very important topic of exercise and most importantly the one practice I consider most relevant for mind, body and spirit and that is the practice of Yoga.

The tradition of Yoga was developed over five thousand years ago in India and has been evolving ever since with many different schools and philosophies. Yoga was primarily developed to help those who sought meditation for long periods of time without discomfort (I'm talking days, weeks, months). The longer you meditate the longer you are capable of reaching enlightenment and this inner focus as a means to enhance the sensory and human condition is the root of all Yoga.

I started taking Yoga classes in my last semester of college for a Physical Education credit. I must have fallen asleep in just about every Yoga class as I laid out on the floor exhausted from all the schoolwork I had crammed in my last semester. My Yoga instructor was okay with me falling asleep in the classes as she said it is common to feel sleepy when you start practicing Yoga. I noticed after a while it didn't take long to be able to master the poses and was pleasantly surprised from the "Yoga High" I felt after my classes were done.

Over the years I continued my practice and have tried all different varieties of yoga: Hatha (great for the beginner as it is slow paced), Vinyasa (breath-synchronized movement which tends to be a more vigorous style), Ashtanga (very physically demanding because of the constant movement from one pose to the next), Kundalini (based on the breath in conjunction with physical movement), Bikram (a set series of 26 poses practiced in a 95 to 100 degree room - not for the faint hearted), Anusara (combines a strong emphasis on physical alignment to open the heart - good for all levels), Jivamukti (takes inspiration from Ashtanga yoga and emphasizes chanting, meditation, and spiritual teachings) and my all time favorite Restorative (focuses on relaxing the body in restful postures). These are to just mention some of the most popular types of Yoga practices available to us today.

What are the physical benefits of yoga? They are:
  • Increased flexibility (which helps all other exercises).
  • Increased lubrication of the joints, ligaments and tendon.
  • Massaging of all organs of the body (stimulation and massage of the organs in turn benefits us by keeping away disease and providing a forewarning of disease).
  • Complete detoxification (helps in the flushing out of toxins from every nook and cranny).
  • Toning of the muscles (weak muscles are stimulated to shed excess flab and flaccidity).
In my practice over the years my favorite benefit of Yoga is what it does to harmonize the mind with the body. How often do we find that we are unable to perform our activities properly because of the confusions and conflicts in our mind weigh us down? Moreover, stress which in reality is the #1 killer affecting all parts of our physical, endocrinal and emotional systems can be corrected through a Yoga practice of meditation. 

Yoga has helped me through many stressful times as it creates a remarkable calmness and a positive outlook, which also has tremendous benefits on the physical health of the body. 

Yoga is open to all people regardless of your age or what kind of shape you are in. It is one of the nicest activities I can do for myself and for me illustrates the concept of "self-love" which all spiritual practices are based on. The nicer I am going to be to myself, the more I can take of myself, the nicer I can be to others and take care of them.

So if your life is centered around taking care of others and feeling drained? I highly recommend you take the time to recharge your batteries and practice yoga a few times a week whether at home or a studio. Self-love and peace of mind is one of the best examples and gifts you can give your loved ones and just makes for a better life.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Not If But WHEN Do You Go Gray?

When I was twelve years old my grandmother beckoned me, squinted her eyes and proceeded to pull a hair out of my eyebrow. "Ouch!" I yelled. "You had a gray hair in your eyebrow," she calmly stated. She then proceeded to go through my head like she was looking for lice and found a single gray hair growing from my head. Since it was at my crown she didn't pull it out adhering to that 'Old Wives Tale' of "When you pull out a gray hair, seven more grow in its place" (not true by the way).

That was the beginning of my battle with the gray, one which I fight once every two weeks with the help of L'Oreal, Medium Brown. At age 43, my hair is 60 to 70% gray. Whenever I let my hair go over two weeks without coloring I see nothing but silver threads coming out of my hair when I look into the mirror. My friends claim to not see anything but I do and that is what matters. My question then becomes, not IF to go gray (much like trying to fight the tides from coming in) but WHEN to go gray. One of my best friends Sandy has been an inspiration when it comes to this particular dilemma in life and this is her story.

Sandy started graying in her teens. A natural brunette (medium brown to be exact), she only had one small patch on the front crown of her head that showed gray which was easily camouflaged with Sun-In as she lived by the beach in South Carolina. Her highlights from Sun-In distracted onlookers from any gray hair.  In her early twenties Sandy started dyeing her hair at home and as years went by her hair color progressively darkened as she became prematurely gray (much like her father who sported beautiful snowy, white hair by the time he was in his early thirties). Her hair was dyed so dark that someone once commented on her "Elvis hair", a remark which she did not take kindly to. Sandy's hair color maintenance had become an unwelcome priority around which she coordinated her social calender, scheduling hair coloring around parties and avoiding them if her hair had not been colored.

In her early thirties during a New York City visit, I suggested to Sandy that she get her hair cut and colored similar to Jennifer Aniston's (long, honey blonde locks Jen, not "Rachel"). I felt Sandy's color was too dark to go with her skin tone. She took my advice and after five hours in an expensive salon with much stripping and foiling, Sandy began her slow evolution into a blonde.  I loved the change as it suited her skin tone and I thought she looked fantastic. With every visit to the salon she went lighter and lighter until she was a full-fledged blond. This disturbed Sandy as she also found her personality morphing into a blonde, high maintenance woman. She didn't feel like herself anymore.

The men in her life had not exactly been happy with all the time, money and effort Sandy placed on her hair.  She even tried to keep the maintenance details and its cost a secret. By age 37, at a family reunion, she noticed that many of her relatives had thick, beautiful white hair that she found very attractive. She decided that having hair that could look like theirs was worth looking into.

At first she experimented by dyeing her hair dark again and letting a stripe of gray hair grow at the front crown of her head. Sandy thought this looked cool but reactions from her friends and family were so strongly opposed that it hurt her feelings.  She and her colorist decided to go blonde again but go naturally gray on its own as dyeing hair a true gray is one of the hardest colors to achieve and often looks fake or "dusty". Sandy got several short hair cuts and eventually the cut and the natural gray hair color met. From afar it looked like a blonde/silver and didn't shock people around her. I noticed her new color was shiny and her cut was modern and relevant. I was amazed that it didn't age her at all and she looked great and very at ease with herself.

With her new look,  Sandy said her confidence level changed substantially. As a brunette, she never received compliments on her hair. When she was a blonde she only received two compliments. And as a silver haired woman, she received compliments all the time. She finds that men pay more attention to her now than during the brunette or blonde days. She even says that the men who pay attention to her now are a different type of man, a more evolved type of man. Sandy feels the gray hair has contributed to making her seem much more approachable and low maintenance. Her partner in life Frank says of Sandy's hair becoming gray, "It's the greatest thing in the world! It's natural and beautiful. My question is. Why do you want to dump a bunch of chemicals on top of your head?'"

Good question! Using permanent and semi-permanent hair coloring regularly is strongly associated with an increased risk of cancer, including Hodgkin's, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, multiple myeloma and perhaps leukemia and breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute suggests that 20 percent of all cases of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in women is due to regularly using permanent hair coloring. It is noteworthy that the lovely Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who regularly dyed her hair black, died of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Prolonged use of dark, especially black hair coloring may increase the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and multiple myeloma. In response to these risks, more salons are using chemical free, organic dyes as a healthier alternative.

Sandy is very happy with her evolution into a gray world. "I always wanted to be a natural person, I couldn't even swim with so many chemicals in my hair. Now I can swim again, which I love".  She also likes that her mate seems to prefer a more mature look.  She notes that as a writer, her clients have much more trust in her talents as her look connotes wisdom and makes them more comfortable with her work.

Sandy says that women confide to her all the time when they comment on her hair and of how they think constantly of just going gray and embracing their natural hair color. Ironically Sandy's mother still dyes her hair brown. She feels her face disappears when the gray comes in so obviously going gray is not for everyone. Sandy's opinion is that as long as her haircut is up-to-date, gray is not about getting older but is about being happy with who you really are. 

She thinks I should not go gray just yet as she likes my L'Oreal Medium Brown hue and I must admit I love how my hair looks after I just dye it. I am sure I will be revisiting this question many times in my life. Perhaps I will be ready when I turn 60. Or 70. Or 80...

For a great segment on the question of deciding to go gray at all click here on this link as the Today Show recently discussed this very compelling topic.