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Nuestros abuelos sabios

cubanisms

Our society has largely lost the wisdom of generations past.  Luckily, many of us with Cuban heritage have had the blessing of hearing  stories about life in Cuba from our parents and grandparents.  Aside from the fact that the everything was more beautiful (you know, the sky was more blue, the flowers were more brilliant,  etc..),  there is a lot to be learned from our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ ways — so much, in fact, that it can literally save our lives.

Here are a few pearls we should apply immediately:

1. Grow your own food. 

Invest some time and energy in growing some of your own food. Not only is there an incredible sense of accomplishment and wonder in growing your own fruits and veggies, but the quality control is unparalleled. You can ensure that your crops aren’t sprayed with pesticides and you can control the types of seeds and transplants that you sow and grow.

Choose heirloom varieties whenever possible. Whether you’re living on a large plot of land or in a tiny apartment, you can grow some of your own food. Square foot gardening is an incredibly effective method to produce a robust share of food in a small space.

2. Get back in the kitchen. 

Nothing beats a home-cooked meal. First off, the intention and love you put into cooking for yourself and your loved ones is incredibly nourishing. Secondly, if you prepare your own food, you can control what goes onto your plate and into your body. You can make more empowered choices and ensure that you are eating a whole foods, organic, non-genetically modified diet. Get that cazuela out and start cooking!

3. Make your own cleaning products.  

Get rid of toxic household chemicals and cleaners and scrub your home down with easy-to-make homemade products. It’s time to stock up on some extra limones!  Get comfortable using baking soda, vinegar, lemon, castille soap, and essential oils for most of your cleaning needs.

For a general household cleaner and disinfectant mix a couple of drops of castille soap into 2 cups of hot water. Stir in 30 drops of lavender or tea tree oil- both of which have antibacterial properties, and you have a great, all around cleaning product. Pour into a spray bottle and use on all surfaces except for glass.

4. Get some remedios under your belt. 

Many of us have been taught, or at least been exposed to, home remedies that have been passed down from generation to generation. Well, there is some serious wisdom in a lot of these teachings! Learn how to combat a cold with garlic. Fight seasonal allergies with nasal saline rinses. Soothe an upset stomach with té de manzanilla.

5. Make some caldo

Broth was the foundation of most foods a couple of generations ago. Learn how to make your own homemade caldo from scratch and consume it on a daily basis. Make pot full of broth  once and week and use it as the base for your weekly cooking. You can use grass-fed animal bones (chicken, beef, or fish) or vegetables for a mineral dense and incredibly nutritive and healing broth.

6. Eat fermented foods. 

My grandmother  told me stories about how one of her duties was to make fresh yogurt for her family every week.  And although it was a small investment of time- I think that it really paid off.  She lived to be 103 and science is finally catching up to show that a healthy gut microbiome is incredibly important for health and longevity.    Almost 80% of your immune system exists in your gut, which contains about 100 trillion bacteria. Here’s some perspective – you have 10 times more gut bacteria than the number of cells in your whole body!

The gut also houses your body’s second nervous system- you have the same amount of neurotransmitters in your gut as your brain.For optimal immune and nervous system function, you need adequate friendly microflora populating your gut. Consuming fermented foods on a regular basis can help rebalance and repopulate health-promoting bacteria in your gut and redirect your body towards good health.

7. Participate in your community.  

People who have close relationships with others and maintain regular social commitments have a 50% lower risk of death than those who live more isolated lives. Researchers have found that “weak” social ties were more harmful to overall health than heavy smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity. So, host that monthly domino party, start a knitting circle, or find a group of folks to work-out with. Get connected with others and foster those relationships throughout your life.

8. Spend time in nature.  

Go outdoors! Get some vitamin D and give your eyes a break. Vitamin D is a powerhouse in the body- it boosts your immunity and functions in hundreds of processes body wide. And spending time outdoors is great for your over-stimulated eyes.

And finally, let’s not forget the benefits of simply being in nature.  Run around the yard with your pets or kids, read a book on a park bench, or take a stroll around your neighborhood. Spend time in natural light and connect with our beautiful planet.

Now I want to hear from you – what pearls of wisdom did your abuelos share with you?

 

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Superfood Sangria

Superfood Sangria

Who doesn’t love a delicious glass of sangria? If you love to entertain, this recipe is a real crowd pleaser, and it’s good for you! The mixture of fresh citrus, apples, spices, red wine, and kombucha are a wellness seeker’s immune-boosting and antioxidant dream come true.

Aquí están los detalles:

Citrus fruits are loaded with with great antioxidants and phytochemicals.  In fact a 2012 study of over 70,000 nurses showed that those with the highest intake of citrus had the lowest incidence of stroke.  And we all know about vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant, that combats free radicals and upregulates the immune system.

Apples are the second most popular fruit eaten in the United States, and compared to many other popular fruits that are consumed, they are packed with a ton of disease fighting vitamins and antioxidants.  Eating apples on a regular basis protects your brain , and decreases your chance of cancer, stroke, and diabetes.

Cloves are a very nutrient dense spice.  They have high levels of anti-inflammatory components, as well as vitamin K, manganese, iron, magnesium, and calcium.

Red wine is famous for its resveratrol content, the powerful polyphenol that protects against cancer and heart disease.  If consumed in moderation, it has anti-inflammatory properties, decreases your risk of alzheimer’s and dementia, and increases longevity.  Choose organic red wine whenever you can because conventional grapes are sprayed with damaging fertilizers and they are very concentrated in wine.

Coconut Sugar  is made from the sap of the coconut flower and contains significant amounts  of iron, magnesium, and anti-oxidants.  It also contains inulin, a fiber, which contributes to its lower glycemic index as compared to cane sugar.

Kombucha is an millennia-old probiotic beverage that the ancient Chinese called the “Immortal Elixer.”  It’s a naturally fermented drink that contain beneficial colonies of bacteria and yeast.  It also provides great joint support because of the high levels of glucosamine found within it, and it is also has potent detoxifying properties.   You can buy kombucha at your local health-food store.

Brandy has been used over the centuries medicinally as well as for enjoyment.  Moderate consumption of brandy can play a big role in free radical destruction, decreasing your risk of cancer and heart disease.

Ingredients:

  • 1 organic valencia orange
  • 1 organic blood orange
  • 1 organic lemon
  • 1 organic lime
  • 2 organic pink lady apples
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 bottle of organic red wine
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 32 ounces of organic kombucha, unflavored

In a punch bowl or large pitcher add:

  • oranges, lemon, and lime thinly sliced into rounds
  • apples, cored and diced
  • whole cloves
  • coconut sugar
  • brandy
  • wine

Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

Place in the refrigerator for 24 hours to allow flavors to blend together.

Right before serving, add kombucha.

Serve and provecho!

Now I want to hear from you in the comments below- what did you think?  What’s your favorite sangria recipe?

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Cuban Herbs and Spices

staples of a cuban kitchen

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Why I Practice Integrative Medicine

integrative medicine

A little more than 8 years ago, I found myself in the middle of a health crisis.  I began suffering from debilitating headaches multiple times a week, I developed severe episodes of abdominal pain with diarrhea, and I began experiencing panic attacks.

It hit me like a ton of bricks.

I had just started my 3rd year of medical school, and was finally seeing patients.  This was the moment I had been waiting for since I was a little girl – patient contact. And here I was, miserable, sick, barely functional, and very scared.

In the months that followed, I saw many well-respected physicians who quickly rattled off my diagnoses- migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, and anxiety attacks.  And they were equally quick to recommend the standard prescription medications- sumatriptan for my migraines, an SSRI for my anxiety, and um, psychotherapy for my irritable bowel syndrome.  But there was one question that nobody could answer in the 6 minutes we spent together.

Why was this happening to my body?

I had been on a path towards holistic medicine since the late 1990’s.  I knew that if I was going to be a physician, I wanted to give my patients the opportunity, information, and encouragement to find health and healing in all aspects of their lives.   And in the middle of this health crisis, I couldn’t find a doctor who was able to provide me with acceptable answers or solutions for my abrupt problems.  So, I was charged to fulfill that hackneyed adage that is so frequently tossed around by professors, attendings, and medical school deans- “Physician, heal thyself.”

I had to become the healer that I dreamed of being for myself.

My desire to understand the body’s wisdom intensified.  Outside of my busy days in the hospital and late nights studying, I was on a mission to heal myself.  I believed in my body’s innate capacity to heal.  I began a yoga and meditation practice – that helped tremendously with my anxiety, but my migraines and bowel issues were still severe.

I attended month long intensive with Andrew Weil, M.D. and the great folks at the University of Arizona’s Program of Integrative Medicine where I learned about botanical medicine, nutrition, bodywork, and energy medicine.  I became fascinated by these powerful forms of healing and wondered why we didn’t use these tools in the conventional medical world.  I’ll never forget a statement that Dr. Weil made to our group, “Integrative medicine is just good medicine.  We shouldn’t have to separate it out from conventional medicine, but in this medical climate, that is what we are forced to do.”

Later, I spent a month living in community in the Redwood Forest in Northern California with 30 medical students and about a dozen leading holistic physician mentors from all over the country.  Our mentors were trailblazers in the field who shared their passion for finding healing – through conventional or alternative means – for their patients.  It was an inspiring month – not only did I acquire many tools for my “healing toolbox,” but I experienced firsthand the power and enthusiasm of this network of progressive healers.

In 2007, after I had graduated from medical school, I attended a conference where I had a huge breakthrough in my health journey.   I had spent countless hours learning about nutrition and mind-body medicine, but I didn’t have a systematic approach that I could apply to my greatly improved, albeit ever-present symptoms.

Mark Hyman, M.D. spoke passionately about Functional Medicine and its systems-wide approach to the healing.  He spoke about inflammation, detoxification, elimination, and energy in a way that really resonated with me.  Then he mentioned that gluten sensitivity presented in many, vague ways – including irritable bowel syndrome and migraine headaches – affecting many of these same systems that he described.

I decided right then and there to eliminate gluten, dairy, and all forms of processed foods from my diet, and within a week, my bowels were normal for the first time in years, and within a month, I was almost migraine free.

It took 2 years, a lot of motivation, patience, and study to get a handle on my health.  And I was a physician. 

How could I possibly make an impact on my patients’ lives in a typical office visit?  I knew that if I were to truly help people, I needed to be able to examine their symptoms through a wider lens.  I needed to look at their relationships, their lifestyle, their food intake, their sleep patterns, their stressors, their beliefs, and their support system.

My health journey was truly a gift, because it solidified my desire to practice holistic medicine.  I didn’t want to rattle off diagnoses and prescribe mediocre fixes.  I wanted to find solutions. And I couldn’t accomplish that in a 6-minute patient visit.

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Green Mojito Smoothie

Green Mojito Smoothie

Mojitos are ubiquitous in Cuban culture. Refreshing and light with a twist of lime and mint, they are especially prominent at gatherings and celebrations.  I have fond memories of family gatherings with vivid conversations and laughter with mojitos in hand.  So, it got me thinking- how could I create a variation of the mojito that would also support health and vastly increase my consumption of antioxidants?  Enter the green smoothie.  Green smoothies are a great way to pack a powerful punch in a single cup.  I often recommend them to my patients as a way to get a nice mix of healthy fat, protein, and phytonutrients.

You can find the full recipe of my Green Mojito Smoothie here.

Espero que lo goces!

 

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My Abuela Mercedes

Mercedes

My beautiful Abuela Mercedes quietly passed away a few months ago on my 32nd birthday.  She was 103.

My Cuban Roots is largely inspired by her story and influence.

Primitiva Mercedes Maria Dolores Facunda Gonzalez Izquierdo Morera y Torres, also known to her siblings as “Guitica” was born on November 27, 1909 in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba.

She was the fourth of seven living children and from a very young age had a strong sense of purpose, grit, and tenacity.

She was born into a large, hardworking family. Her father was a tobacco farmer and her mother raised and cared for her seven siblings.

In the first grade my grandmother decided that she wanted to become a teacher, and she tenaciously pursued an education in the face of severe economic adversity, numerous dictatorships, and at a time when women were not encouraged to work outside of the home.

In order to get her teaching degree, she enrolled in the Teacher’s College in Havana on Saturdays, so she could work during the week in a shirt factory. She took the train every Saturday morning from San Antonio de los Baños, transferred trains in the town of Rincón, and then continued onto La Habana long before the sunrise and returned home long after sunset.

At that time, uniforms were required to be worn at the University, and she couldn’t afford the uniform or the textbooks that were mandatory in her teaching program.  Thankfully, her best friend, Erre, who was enrolled in the full time program Monday-Fridays, let her borrow both her uniform and her books every single week.

In 1937, my grandmother graduated from La Escuela Normal Para Maestros with a teaching certificate.  And she ultimately went on to earn a PhD in education in 1945, and dedicated herself to teaching adults for the next 20 years.

In 1940, she married my grandfather, Juan Barroso VII and they shared almost 55 years of marriage together.  They had 2 children, my mother, Ela, and her brother, Juan, in which they fostered a deep love of learning.  My grandparents were voracious readers, loved to recite and discuss poetry, and placed a huge emphasis on education.

Barroso 1949

1949 San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba; From right to left: My uncle Juan, my grandmother, grandfather, my mother, and a cousin

In 1961, shortly after the Cuban Revolution, my grandmother and my grandfather made the ultimate sacrifice and sent my mother to the United States in hopes of a better future.  My mother was 15.  My uncle, Juan, followed a year later.   It was a heart-wrenching decision, but ultimately one in which, 4 generations later, we continue to be incredibly grateful for the sacrifice that my grandparents made and for the gift of freedom that came with it.

On July 18, 1966, at the age of 57, my grandmother and my grandfather left their beloved Cuba, with only the clothes on their back and a small suitcase, never to return again.  As they began their life in exile in the United States, my grandparents wholeheartedly jumped into a life of service.

My grandparents in 1963, San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba

My grandparents in 1963, San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba

My grandmother found value in her new life and shared her gifts irrespective of the challenges that immigrating to a new country and leaving behind a beloved homeland brought.

Abuela volunteered at The Little Havana Activity Center every single day until the ripe age of 95.  She was even given an award for her extraordinary service by Dade County.

My grandmother had a deep love for literature – a love that she passed on to her children and grandchildren.   As you all know, she was an avid reader and she also loved to write.  Even after her 100th birthday, my grandmother spent her days reading literary giants, such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Leo Tolstoy, writing, and doing handiwork. She read two to three books per week, wrote beautiful, thoughtful poetry, and at 96 years of age, crocheted her own bedspread!

One of my favorite things about my Abuela was the way in which she marveled at the miraculous.  She often stopped to admire the beauty of a flower, the brilliance of a leaf, and the magnificence of the sunset. My Abuela recognized the miracle in the tiniest seed and always made a point to savor the beauty of nature around her.

Another one of my favorite things about my grandmother was that she always had a song in her heart. Even as we celebrated her 103rd birthday in November, she was quick to burst into song. I remember watching her sing as she did the dishes, washed her clothes, and swam in the ocean.  She used songs to lift her spirits, cultivate joy, and as a tool to help her to relish the mundane.

My grandmother always told me that what she wished for me was the same happiness she had experienced in her own life- the realization of all of her dreams, the love of a good man, and the blessing of children and grandchildren.

My beautiful Abuela Mercedes had a full, blessed life.   She endured her share of sorrow and heartache, especially in leaving behind her beloved homeland, but she always found the good in every situation, shared her gifts with those around her, and blessed us with her love, enthusiasm, and example.

Celebrating my Abuela's 100th birthday in 2009.

Celebrating my Abuela’s 100th birthday in 2009.

She will be deeply missed, but her memory lives on in the many of us that loved her, and in the song that we carry in our hearts.

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My Cuban Roots

my cuban roots

I was born in Austin, TX, but a part of my heart has always been rooted in Cuba.

For the nine months in which I shared a heartbeat with my mother, her strong Cuban blood filled me with sustenance, nourishment, and corazón.

My fondest childhood memories are of summers in Miami with the viejitos and viejitas from my grandparents’ senior activity center.  Back in the early 80’s the Little Havana Activity Center would pack up for the summer and move its entire operation to Miami Beach.  My family would spend every summer there, swimming each morning in the deep blue ocean with viejitos in their mid-80s and dancing the nights away with those same viejitos in the lobby of the old Cadillac Hotel while my mom played popular Cuban folk songs on the piano.

And of course, Cuban food has been a central part of every special occasion, holiday, and celebration that I can remember.  When my parents moved to Austin in the 1970s, they were quick to make a group of tight-knit friends with Cuban roots.  These amazing people became our family.  We have shared birthdays, baptisms, Noche Buenas, graduations, weddings, anniversaries – literally all of life’s joys and sorrows with this incredible group of people.  And along with vivid conversation, food has been paramount in the mix.  Lechón, yuca, platanitos, arroz con frijoles, tostones, ropa vieja, moros, caldo gallego, arroz con pollo, and the list goes on and on.

I have spent the greater part of my career working with patients to optimize their health – my passion for holistic medicine developed at a young age, and nutrition has always been a focus in my medical practice.  I have spent countless hours and years learning about different approaches to food and nutrition.  There was a period of time during medical school when I was following a strict vegetarian diet, and when I came home for Christmas, one of my tías told a whole crowd of us “Muchacha- una cubana que no come puerco?  Pero que te pasa??” Of course as soon as the lechón asado and moros were served, I caved!

My aunt’s words resonated with me.  A large part of my cultural identity is rooted in Cuban traditions, which are all connected to traditional Cuban food.  I spent years wrangling with the issue of should we or shouldn’t we eat meat?  What was the optimal diet? Then one day, something clicked – and I realized that many Cubans in my grandmother’s generation lived to be healthy and vibrant nonagenarians and centenarians.  My Abuela Mercedes passed away at 103, my Tía Chula is in her 90s, my Abuelo lived to be 96, my Tía Cuca to 94.  And most of our family friends could also rattle off names of vibrant and healthy 90 and 100 year olds, or of relatives who had passed away at a ripe old age.  And this includes people who smoked cigars on a daily basis!!!

What was the secret?? 

That is exactly what I am setting out to explore.

 

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Cuba Graying Population