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Proper diet can combat the winter blues

Another gloomy, snow-slippery winter’s day with the sun barely penetrating the cold, overcast skies. Time to settle in and chase away those winter blues with a heaping plate of comfort food and another glass of wine, right?

Before you self-medicate on an overabundance of all the wrong calories, check your diet. Unless you’re suffering from Seasonal Affective Depressive Disorder (SADD) or some other clinical diagnosis, your winter blues may be more a function of what you’re eating and drinking than where you’re living.

Nutritionists agree that diet has a greater impact on mood than seasonal changes. You can spin your mood in a more positive direction if you eat the right food in the proper amounts, or even at the right place and time.

“Mood can be positively or negatively affected by not only by what we eat, but how we eat it,” says Susie Kundrat, clinical associate professor and program director in the Department of Kinesiology and Nutritional Sciences at UW-Milwaukee. “The food and beverages we consume provide critical energy, nutrients and fluid for our bodies to function properly. What we consume can have a significant impact.”

A good diet thrives on balance and moderation, Kundrat says. Carbohydrates, proteins and even the right dietary fats give the body the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and function at optimal levels. 

You are what you eat, as the saying goes, but Kundrat stresses that when and how you eat also go a long way toward sustaining your health, which can help chase away the blues in winter or any other season.

“A person’s eating lifestyle is most critical to enhancing mood,” Kundrat says. 

Common sense and conscientious dietary habits make the difference when it comes to maximizing one’s food intake to enhance mood, Kundrat says. Eating on a regular schedule, one that includes breakfast every day and at least three to four meals and snacks throughout the day, provides the foundation of good dietary practice.

“Balance your meals with a protein source, whole grains and plenty of produce to get a good mix of nutrients and ‘staying power’ that provides energy over several hours,” Kundrat explains. “And don’t forget to stay hydrated throughout the day starting shortly after rising in the morning. All of these pillars are so very important.”

The timing of when you eat makes a difference in how effectively and usefully your body processes food. However, most Americans do it backward, according to Beth Olson, associate professor and extension specialist in nutrition at UW-Madison’s Department of Nutritional Sciences.

“Feeling good is less about particular foods and nutrients than it is about your overall eating pattern,” says Olson, who also stresses eating a good breakfast. “If you consume all your calories at the end of the day, when the body doesn’t have anything in particular to do with them, then you won’t have access to the calories when you need them.”

Like Kundrat, Olson stresses a balanced diet to make sure the body has access to needed micronutrients. Complex carbohydrates with ample amounts of fiber to promote an extended release of nutrients, as well as beneficial fats, play a role in making the nutrients available to the body when it needs them.

Olson says the body is better able to absorb and use micronutrients when they come from the food sources rather than as supplements in a pill form. The more food is processed, the more its nutritional value suffers, so eat food that is closest to its original form when it is harvested, both experts say.

“Include a good protein source such as lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, milk or soy products in meals and snacks to help manage blood sugar levels and satiety,” Kundrat says. “If we keep blood sugars balanced throughout the day and feel less hungry, we are less likely to feel stressed.”

Nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids — found in fattier fish like salmon and tuna and nuts such as walnuts — play a role in decreasing inflammation in the body. Lower inflammation levels also may help manage the body’s stress response, Kundrat says.

Both experts counsel against using excess amounts of sugar, caffeine and alcohol to chase the winter blues away.

“Dietary guidelines do not advocate drinking alcohol, but if you do so, make sure it’s in moderation,” Olson says. “The same holds true for coffee and other caffeinated beverages, so there is care to be taken with the beverages you consume.”

Traditional “comfort foods,” including snacks, also play a dietary role. Again, moderation is key.

“If you are trying to manage your mood by depriving yourself of comfort foods, that might make you grumpy as well,” Olson says. “Consuming these foods in the right amount — and snack foods very sparingly — might be better mood elevators than eliminating them altogether.”

In conjunction with diet, regular exercise and the right amount of sleep play a role. Research suggests people with sleep disorders also may have weight issues, both of which contribute to a lack of energy necessary for mood-managing exercise.

“Physical activity and just being outside generally contribute to a better mood,” Olson explains. “It also helps you mobilize fuel more effectively and helps you think more clearly, but don’t go to the gym without eating something first.”

The short supply of sunlight in winter does bring down moods, due to the vitamin D that sunlight supplies. Vitamin D can be found in supplement form, but that might not necessarily make you feel better if you take it. Good eating habits, exercise and sleep can go a long way to make up for sunlight’s absence.

“No matter what you do, make sure your diet draws from a more complex food matrix that supplies the necessary nutrients,” Olson says. “Add variety to each and every meal.”

ASK THE EXPERTS: The best gifts this holiday season

“Unwrap” gift recommendations from local experts.

WiG contacted seven local businesses and organizations, each of which offered their insight into what you should look for this holiday season.

> MUSIC

Where: The Exclusive Company, locations in West Bend, Oshkosh, Appleton, Green Bay, Milwaukee, Greenfield and Janesville

In-house expert: Milwaukee store manager Brian Kirk

Best new LP: Adele’s 25 is the record to buy this season and available at the Exclusive Company starting on Nov. 20. $22 in vinyl.

Best classic rock LP: The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers, whose Andy Warhol-designed cover has become as classic as the album. A real collector’s item. $25 in vinyl.

Classic jazz: John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things, which will jazz up any holiday party. $15–25 in vinyl.

Best local CD: Milwaukee band Testa Rosa’s new CD, Testa Rosa III, showcasing Betty Blexud-Strigens’ striking voice. $11.

> WINE

Where: Thief Wines

In-house expert: Owner Phil Bilodeau 

Best Chardonnay: Desparada 2013. From Edna Valley, California, this chardonnay is well balanced with lots of creamy butteriness and a nice acidity. $35.

Best Pinot Noir: Failla 2013. This classic pinot from the Sonoma Coast offers savory earthy notes and cherry/strawberry fruits. A nice wine to accompany dinner. $48.

Best Champagne: Michel Rocourt Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru. A grower Champagne (meaning they grow all their own grapes), this 100 percent chardonnay Champagne is a great value. $43.

Splurge wine: Pahlmeyer Jayson 2013. This red blend from Napa Valley is lush, hedonistic, full-bodied and offers a smooth finish. $54.

> ARTSY GIFTS

Where: Milwaukee Art Museum Store, 700 N. Art Museum Drive. 

In-house expert: Donele Pettit-Mieding, marketing and web store manager

Outstanding ornament: “Snowy Afternoon,” hand-painted by local artist Christiane Grauert, celebrates the winter season in Milwaukee at twilight and features the museum’s newly renovated lakefront galleries. Meet the artist and have her personalize your ornament on Dec. 3 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $24.

Best house guest gift: A set of Walking Milwaukee Cards, 10 mapped, self-guided walking tours of downtown Milwaukee that highlight the city’s iconic architecture. $20.

Clever colleague gift: The “Orbanizer,” a handcrafted wire ball, holds pens, utensils, craft tools and even flowers. $28.

Haute hostess gift: Midwest artist Laurie Freivogel’s handmade glass collection — silk screened images of vintage cameras on fused glass — celebrates the museum’s new exhibition, Larry Sultan: Here and Home, which runs through Jan. 24. Coasters, cheeseboards and trays run $18–$120. 

> PERFORMING ARTS

In-house expert: Dave Fantle, chief marketing officer for United Performing Arts Fund.

Best way to give back: Talk about the gift that keeps on giving — make a tax-deductible donation of $100 or more to UPAF and get a smart card offering two-for-one value on performances for each of UPAF’s 15 member groups, as well as discounts at local restaurants. $100.

Best holiday ballet: Milwaukee Ballet’s holiday chestnut, The Nutcracker, is truly a group effort, with featured performances from the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra, the Milwaukee Children’s Choir, 150 students from the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, and of course, the Milwaukee Ballet company. Through Dec. 27 at the Uihlein Hall Marcus Center. $25–$105.

Best holiday play: This season, Milwaukee Repertory Theater celebrates 40 years of staging Charles Dickens’ beloved classic, A Christmas Carol, on Dec. 24. Wisconsin actor Jonathan Smoots will return for his second year as Scrooge, along with a cast of Carol-ers old and new. Tickets are $35–$85.

Best after-the-holidays show to look forward to: The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra celebrates the work of multi-Tony Award-winning composer Jerry Herman, with a one-night-only performance featuring songs from Hello, Dolly!, Mame and La Cage Aux Folles, among others. Jan. 13 at the Marcus Center. $20-$110.

> SPA TREATMENTS

Where: WELL Salon + Spa, Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house expert: Lisa Brandt, esthetician at Well Salon + Spa at the Pfister Hotel.

Best pampering package: The Pure Decadence package, featuring a hydrotherapy bath, an aroma glow body scrub and an hour-long massage or a facial, is the perfect way to eliminate holiday stress. $190.

Best pre-party prep: Airbrush makeup and a set of must-have party lashes create a flawless look for your party pics and selfies. Makeup, $85; lashes, $20.

Best me-too package: Give to you, your partner and your relationship with the You Plus Me package, which includes a luxurious couple’s massage and a couple’s hydrotherapy bath. $295.

Best treatment on the run: The Express Yourself package, featuring a 30-minute massage, an express facial and an express mani-pedi, is a welcome gift for the busy people in your life. $210.

> BOOKS

Where: Boswell Books, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house Experts: Book buyers Jason Kennedy and Anne Mechler-Hickson.

Best coffee table book of 2015: Milwaukee, City of Neighborhoods by local historian John Gurda and published by Historic Milwaukee, Inc. looks at 37 Milwaukee neighborhoods, from past to present. $45.

Best children’s book: With its gorgeous illustrations of homes of every kind — from an artist’s home to a bee’s home, a shoe home to a tree home, Home, by Car
son Ellis, offers insight into the meaning of “home sweet home.” $17.

Best cookbook: The Food Lab: Better Cooking Through Science, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, teaches how to make the perfect pan-fried steak, homemade mac ‘n’ cheese, moist turkey and much more by using science as a guide. $50.

Best new series for teens: Set in a high-fantasy world similar to ancient Rome, Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes, the first in a series, tells the story of a slave fighting for her family and a young soldier fighting for his freedom. $20.

> TOYS

Where: Little Monsters, 2445 N. Farwell Ave., Milwaukee.

In-house expert: Owner Andie Zacher.

Best craft toys: Make-your-own snow globe/totebag/friendship bracelets/tiaras/swords and superhero masks are just the thing to conquer holiday break boredom. $21–$42.

Best musical toys: Encourage a love of music with a simple harmonica, an old-fashioned accordion or a microphone that comes with its own stand — not to mention background rhythms. $10–$55.

Best old school toys: All the stuff you grew up with is back, from the Simon game to Ross Across, plus record players, telephones, View-Masters, clocks from the ’60s and ’70s and all the old Fisher Price stuff. Let’s hope the kids get a chance to play too. $22–$40.

Best stocking stuffers: Sometimes the best gifts come in small sizes. Stuff their stockings with miniature toys, games, pretend play objects and a range of holiday candies. $5 and up.

Bones of Mona Lisa model in Florence? Experts can’t say

Italian experts say they can’t say with certainty whethr bones dug up in a Florence church are those of a Renaissance-era noblewoman some believe was the model for Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa.

Researchers told journalists at a news conference in Florence this week that testing found one of three pieces of remains compatible with the period in which Lisa Gherardini died and that historical documents indicate she was buried in a Florence convent in 1542. 

Head researcher Silvano Vinceti says there are few remains and no skull, which might have helped determine if the woman could have been Leonardo’s model for the portrait now in the Louvre museum in Paris. 

Art historians differ on who might have been the enigmatically smiling model. Some say he used a male model.

Clinton to release new domestic policy proposal every week this summer

Earlier this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign lost count of its experts.

In the months before she began her second run for the White House, Clinton spent hours quizzing economists, lawyers, educators and activists about everything from executive compensation to the latest research on lead paint.

By last fall, the number of experts she had interviewed hit two hundred and her team stopped keeping track.

“It was like I hadn’t left Harvard,” Roland Fryer, an economist at the university, said of his meeting with Clinton to discuss successful charter school practices. “It was like talking to a colleague and debating over a cup of coffee.”

The Democrat isn’t an incumbent, and even with competition that’s resolute but still far from offering a serious primary challenge, Clinton has a luxury few candidates enjoy: time to hit the books. The results have started to emerge, and Clinton plans to add to them by releasing a new domestic policy proposal nearly every week this summer.

To be sure, politics are at play as Clinton shapes her agenda. She is sidestepping foreign affairs, which has consumed much of the early debate among Republican White House hopefuls eager to paint the former secretary of state with President Barack Obama’s record on the world stage.

She is not yet offering specifics on subjects where consensus among Democrats and independent voters will be harder to find: trade, limits on executive pay, regulating the country’s finance industry, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

What Clinton debuts in the coming weeks will form the core platform of her campaign and, should she win the nomination and the presidency, her administration. It’s an agenda Clinton describes as that of a “pragmatic progressive,” centered on families and focused on economic growth, innovation and income inequality.

Already introduced: proposals for paid family leave, free community college, universal pre-kindergarten, lowering student debt and job retraining. Still to come: ideas about taxes, climate change, education, wages, Wall Street and business regulations, which she’s given the more politically palatable name of “corporate responsibility.”

“There is genuine curiosity and interest in exploring all of this from Clinton and her team,” said Felicia Wong, head of the liberal Roosevelt Institute, who has urged Clinton to aggressively counter income inequality. “But the details will matter a lot.”

Most especially to those who wanted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to get into the race and are now packing town halls held by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination from Clinton’s left.

Clinton’s challenge is to craft positions that will satisfy that grassroots segment of her party, but won’t also vilify the wealthy _ particularly the donors she’ll need to pay for a campaign expected to cost $1 billion.

So while Clinton consulted progressive champions, including Columbia University economist Joseph Stiglitz and New School labor economist Teresa Ghilarducci, she’s also talked with Democrats with close ties to Wall Street, such as former Treasury chiefs Robert Rubin and Larry Summers.

It’s a reach-deep approach aimed in part at correcting mistakes made during Clinton’s 2008 campaign, which was criticized by some Democrats for being too insular.

“In 2008, when we saw each other, she would ask me questions,” said Miami Dade College President Eduardo Patron, an education expert who first met the Clinton in 1980. “This time is more methodical, and that’s very intentional.”

Aides began pulling together briefing books last year. Her campaign says work by Harvard University sociologist Robert Putnam, the author of a book on childhood poverty and the “opportunity gap,” and Brookings Institution fellow Isabel Sawhill, who studies the decline of marriage and income inequality, particularly influenced Clinton’s early thinking.

Since then, Clinton’s research has continued in meetings, phone calls and emails with individual and larger groups of unpaid, informal advisers. Some have known the Clintons for decades, while others who are newer to the circle.

Harvard Professor Raj Chetty, an expert on social mobility, guided Clinton through slides on research into how children in certain areas of the country are more likely than others to get ahead. Heather Boushey, president of the liberal Center for Equitable Growth, provided data on the economic impact of the growing number of female breadwinners.

Those who have met with Clinton say she often questioned whether their policy ideas can be “scaled up” to a national level and also used the gatherings to run her own ideas past outside experts.

“It was made clear that we weren’t just going to sit down for an hour,” said Katie Porter, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, and expert in consumer bankruptcy. “We were going to think, refine our ideas and have more conversations.”

The results of the research are evident in the campaign.

While talking about race relations during a visit to an African-American church in Missouri last month, Clinton detailed the impact of lead paint poisoning on young children. A speech to a Latino organization in Las Vegas earlier this month featured data on how many words children hear by the age of three.

At stops in New Hampshire, Clinton frequently mentions the average debt burden for students in the state.

“She can wonk-out for hours,” said Neera Tanden, a former adviser who’s now helping craft campaign policy as president of the liberal-leaning think tank Center for American Progress. “She’s one of the few people who talking about policy can get her into the greatest of moods.”

Scientists, economists urge Obama to reject Keystone XL pipeline

More than 100 leading scientists and economists are calling on the Obama Administration to deny the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. They say the pipeline will trigger massive development of the world’s dirtiest oil and escalate climate change.

The coalition includes winners of the Nobel Prize in physics and economics and lead authors of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

In a letter to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the group said, “We urge you to reject the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline as a project that will contribute to climate change at a time when we should be doing all we can to put clean energy alternatives in place. The Keystone XL pipeline will drive expansion of the energy-intensive strip-mining and drilling of tar sands from under Canada’s Boreal forest, increasing global carbon emissions. Keystone XL is a step in the wrong direction.”

In January, the U.S. State Department released a final Environmental Impact Statement on Keystone XL.

Now the administration is formally considering whether the pipeline, which would bring tar sands oil from Canada across the United States to the Gulf of Mexico, is in America’s national interest.

A decision probably will be made in the next couple of months.

In their letter, the scientists and economists commend Obama and Kerry for making strong commitments to fighting climate change. They call on them to turn down the KXL because the incremental emissions alone could boost annual carbon pollution emissions by more than the output of seven coal-fired power plants.

That would worsen climate change, making the project clearly not in the national interest, they write. The total emissions are far greater, and, as they write, are “emissions that can and should be avoided with a transition to clean energy.”

President urged to lift ban on transgender troops

The United States should join the dozen other nations that allow transgender people to serve in the armed forces, a commission led by a former U.S. surgeon general said in a report released on March 13 that concludes there is no medical reason for the decades-old ban and calls on President Barack Obama to lift it.

The five-member panel, convened by a think tank at San Francisco State University, said U.S. Department of Defense regulations designed to keep transgender people out of the military are based on outdated beliefs that require thousands of current service members either to leave the service or to forego the medical procedures and other changes that could align their bodies and gender identities.

“We determined not only that there is no compelling medical reason for the ban, but also that the ban itself is an expensive, damaging and unfair barrier to health care access for the approximately 15,450 transgender personnel who serve currently in the active, Guard and reserve components,” said the commission led by Dr. Joycelyn Elders, who served as surgeon general during Bill Clinton’s first term as president, and Rear Adm. Alan Steinman, a former chief health and safety director for the Coast Guard.

The White House referred questions to the Department of Defense.

“At this time there are no plans to change the department’s policy and regulations which do not allow transgender individuals to serve in the U.S. military,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, a defense department spokesman.

The report says that while scholars have yet to find government documents explaining the basis for the ban, which has existed in medical fitness standards and conduct codes since the 1960s, it appears rooted in part in the psychiatric establishment’s long-held consensus, since revised, that people who identity with a gender different from the one assigned at birth suffer from a mental disorder.

The ban also was apparently based on the assumption that providing hormone treatment and surgeries would be too difficult, disruptive and expensive. But the commission rejected those notions as inconsistent with modern medical practice and the scope of health care services routinely provided to non-transgender military personnel.

“I hope their takeaway will be we should evaluate every one of our people on the basis of their ability and what they can do, and if they have a condition we can treat we would treat it like we would treat anyone else,” Elders said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The panel’s work was commissioned by the Palm Center, a think tank based at San Francisco State that is funded in part by a $1.3 million grant from Jennifer Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire and former Army lieutenant colonel who came out as transgender last year.

At least a dozen nations, including Australia, Canada, England and Israel, allow transgender military personnel. Transgender rights advocates have been lobbying the Pentagon to revisit the blanket ban in the U.S. since Congress in 2010 repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the law that barred gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals from openly serving in the military.

The commission argued that facilitating gender transitions “would place almost no burden on the military,” adding that a relatively small number of active and reserve service members would elect to undergo transition-related surgeries and that only a fraction might suffer complications that would prevent them from serving. It estimated that 230 transgender people a year would seek such surgery at an average cost of about $30,000.

Retired Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz, a former Army commander and West Point professor on the commission, said he thinks allowing transgender people to serve openly would reduce assaults and suicides while enhancing national security. Lawyers for Chelsea Manning, the Army private convicted of giving classified documents to WikiLeaks, presented evidence that stress over having to keep her gender identity secret contributed to an irrational belief that she could end the war in Iraq and by leaking the information.

“When you closet someone, you create a security risk, and we don’t need another Chelsea Manning,” Kolditz said. “If I were a commander, I certainly wouldn’t want people in my unit in a position to be blackmailed.”

The commission recommends the president issue an executive order instructing the Department of Defense to amend its regulations so transgender people are no longer automatically barred. The Pentagon then would need to develop rules for assigning service members who are transitioning, said Palm Center executive director Aaron Belkin.

The Williams Institute estimates that the U.S. currently has about 15,500 transgender military personnel, nearly all serving under their birth genders and not transitioning in an appearance-altering way.

Wisconsin forum tackles hate crimes

In an ongoing effort to prevent hate-related crimes like the 2012 Sikh temple shooting, a Wisconsin civil rights committee has heard testimony from experts and law enforcement officials.

The Wisconsin State Advisory Committee, a state board that reports to the federal Commission on Civil Rights, gathered comments and testimony in Madison for a report to be presented to the White House and Congress sometime next year.

The committee first met with Sikh Temple of Wisconsin leaders a few weeks after a gunman walked into the Oak Creek temple on Aug. 5, 2012, and opened fire. Wade Michael Page killed six worshippers and wounded six others, including a police officer, before killing himself. Although FBI investigators never discovered Page’s motive, he had strong ties to the white supremacist movement.

Those invited to speak Thursday included professors and community leaders. Several speakers previewed their testimony for The Associated Press.

Rick Esenberg, the founder of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, urged authorities to avoid haste before labeling a violent crime a hate crime. Overaggressive policing could lead to people being targeted for speech that should be protected, he said.

“I don’t want to see us cross the line into targeting people based on their political views, or enacting legal measures that restrict freedom of speech,” he said.

Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., said his group had counted 600 hate groups in 2000. Last year the number had swelled to 1,000.

Potok said the increase coincided with President Barack Obama being elected in 2008, with Potok speculating the country was experiencing a backlash over societal changes – from the economic downtown to shifts in attitudes about gay marriage.

“What we can say from that is, this too shall pass,” Potok said, citing some citizens’ reactions to the civil rights movements and waves of immigration during the Industrial Revolution.

Elana Kahn-Oren, a director with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, said she has seen an anecdotal rise in anti-Semitism in Wisconsin. She noted that six anti-Semitic signs appeared in Algoma in late July.

She suggested the problem was related to the growing polarization of the state, in which discussions about politics and other contentious issues had taken on an increasingly uncivil tone.

Kahn-Oren said one way to improve tolerance was for people to make a special effort to be around those different from themselves, perhaps by buying groceries in different neighborhoods or spending time with people of different religions or sexual orientations.

“We’re changed by people who are different than us. We see they matter,” she said. “You’re less likely to hate when you learn to see the humanity of someone different than you.”