Monday, January 30, 2012

super bowl snacks

superbowl party | photo: kakisky
February 6th is right around the corner.  In case you don't know, that's when the Super Bowl will be happening.  While I don't follow football very closely I do find myself curiously swept up in the party that accompanies this last game of the season.  And I admit to wanting to watch the half-time show and the, usually, creative commercials.  I find it curious that this is one day of the year when companies spend millions of dollars and put forth extra effort to make sure their commercials are smart, funny, creative, or interesting.  It's the only time I usually enjoy watching them.  This day, Superbowl Sunday, is practically a holiday, with people making elaborate plans for parties and food.  This is one of the few traditional gatherings where the menu doesn't often include an entree or side dishes; it's a smorgasbord of snacks.

If you're hosting or attending a Super Bowl Party you're probably familiar with the traditional lineup of foods:  loaded nachos smothered in queso, buffalo wings, cheesy spinach dip, chili, and sausage-laden pizza and more.  Depending on the teams (and who you're rooting for) the menu changes somewhat to accomodate the event.  It's like rooting for your favorites with food.  Unfortunately many of those food choices won't leave you in good shape.

But it doesn't have to be a day of overindulgence in fatty foods and unhealthy choices.  Here are my Seven Super Bowl Snacks that will still allow you to enjoy the spirit of the celebration without regret:

  1. Instead of buying cheesy popcorn or sugary kettle corn consider making your own.  Hot air popped popcorn with a modest amount of melted butter or coconut oil, salt and spices to taste is a crunchy delicious treat.  Try chili powder, onion powder, or my personal favorite, ground up nori.
  2. Instead of caramel popcorn or people chow try making a healthy trail mix in your slow cooker.  It's extremely tasty, and with four different options to choose from you can make something for everyone.
  3. Add a fruit platter with a yogurt dip for a healthy, delicious treat.  To make the yogurt dip take 1 cup plain organic yogurt and mix it with 1 heaping tablespoon of your favorite flavor of jam or with honey.  Much less sugar than already sweetened yogurts and it's your choice of flavors.
  4. Cut a selection of veggies into strips and rounds to use as dippers instead of chips and crackers.  These go well with bean dips and even cheese spreads.  You can also serve them with a tasty guacamole or a healthy homemade salsa.  Less simple carbs, more veggies, that's always a win.
  5. Instead of ordering giant super subs consider setting out an assortment of preservative free healthy lunch meats (Hormel Natural, Boar's Head Natural, and Applegate are all good brands) and a selection of whole grain rolls, wraps, and sandwich thins.  Let your guest make their own winning combination.
  6. Homemade meatballs served in a marinara sauce in the slow cooker make a great snack without all the grease and fuss of sausages or wings.
  7. If you're going to serve pizza consider getting a thin whole wheat crust and topping it with lots of heart healthy veggies, light on the cheese.  Avoid preservative-laden processed meats choosing grilled chicken breast instead (or add your own after delivery).

indoor onions

Just a short post today.  I recently found out that a number of my friends didn't know this super simple trick for growing spring onions (some folks call them green onions) indoors.  So I thought I'd share.

Trim off any wilted or slimy bits from the onion.
Cut the ends so that there is at least 1" of white bulb above the roots.
Place root end down into a glass with a little water at the bottom.
Place in a window where they will get indirect sunlight.
Watch them grow, cut and use as needed.

Here are a couple of pictures to demonstrate:

freshly cut spring onions

spring onions after one day

Isn't that cool?  I find it's best the first time you let them re-grow.  After that it doesn't always work as well and they're not as firm.  But it's a great way to always make sure you have some on hand, especially if you use these onions a lot.  And I do.

So what do I use them for?  Soups, salads, as a garnish, in sauteed greens, in stir fry, they're very useful, high in vitamin K, and a tasty addition to a lot of dishes.

Note:  Thanks to Mike for the reminder.  I forgot to mention in the instructions that you need to change the water daily.  Otherwise the jar gets rather stinky and the onions won't continue to grow.

on my mind monday 1.30.12

newspaper | photo: mconnors
Once again, it's time to see what's on my mind.  These are the articles that have come across my desk and that I am interested in this week.

My Subversive (garden) Plot - Roger Doiron's funny TEDx talk about gardening and food.  While it's funny there's also a message.  He talks about how we are going to feed people and how we need to grow more food to keep up with the growing population.  But we need to do so with less. Less oil, less water, less farmland, less genetic diversity, and so on.  I highly encourage you to watch the clip, it's worth the time.

Local Food Sovereignty Being Challenged in Maine - Roger's talk, above, lead to to search for food sovereignty.  I discovered that in some ways Maine is ahead of the curve.  Hey, they voted in many towns for food sovereignty - allowing cottage food industries to come into existence and grow.  But then there's the challenge that comes up from one farmer who is being challenged.  I am continually amazed at how major corporations produce harmful food, salmonella laden peanut butter, the massive egg recall of 2010, and others.  There appears to not only be very little consequence for these companies for knowingly producing bad food, but the government is increasingly going after small producers whose food is not contaminated or harmful.  Their primary crime seems to be that they are small producers.  Doesn't make sense to me.

Big Pharma Is Putting Microchips in Drugs - This article disturbs me on a lot of different levels.  First of all, I don't want to be microchipped.  For any reason.  Second of all, I'm not convinced that the data collected from this will be able to take into account bio-individual response to the medication or to other lifestyle issues.  I see this as a potential gateway to the doctor deciding that based on your results you need more medication.  Thirdly, I think it has the potential to go massively awry.  We are not meant to eat or ingest microchips.  One of the thoughts that occurs to me is that although right now we can know if we have it because the chip transmits to a patch on the skin, what if they find another way for the chip to transmit.  Then we won't know if this is in our medications.  Just not a good idea.

Why Woman Should Stop Their Cholesterol Lowering Medication - I was stunned to learn that for post-menopausal women, taking statins can increase their risk of diabetes by as much as 48%.  That's an enormous risk.  Cholesterol is important to our health.  It comes from two sources, either we make it naturally in our liver, or we ingest it from our food.  In the rush to reduce cholesterol many of us lose sight of (or are unaware) that cholesterol that is too low is also unhealthy.  Studies done in 2000 show that low cholesterol (below 160 mg/dl) can cause anxiety and depression in otherwise healthy women.  And other studies show that reduced cholesterol (and saturated fats in the diet) can increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke.

    All of the above indicates a need to look carefully at your diet, your cholesterol intake and cholesterol levels before taking statins.  As a side note it is important to know that if you are taking statins you would do well to also take CoQ10.  Statins deplete CoQ10 from your body.  Adding it to your supplemental routine can help prevent or reduce some muscle problems that can go along with statin use.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

vaccines in the news

breastfeeding baby | photo: irene
Over on my Facebook page recently I shared an article about a study which appeared to indicate that breast milk inhibits the effects of childhood vaccines.   The authors posited that mothers should not breastfeed their children so that the vaccines would be able to effectively do their thing.

I disagree strongly.  Breastmilk is nature's way of conferring immunity from mother to child in a safe, effective way.  If breastmilk lessens the effectiveness of vaccines perhaps the vaccines themselves need to be looked at more critically.  And just maybe those vaccines are not really as thorough as the pharmaceutical companies claim they are.  I find myself frequently dismayed when manufacturers attempt to improve on a natural biological process just so they can sell drugs, etc.

Now it turns out that there are other inhibitory factors that can lower vaccine effectiveness.  These common chemicals, (perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), found in things like teflon and microwave popcorn bags), appear to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines.

I'd like to start by reminding folks that I am really against microwave popcorn (see addendum 1 of this blog post).  PFCs sometimes referred to as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), are just nasty business.  If you want to eat popcorn choose organic popcorn (to avoid GM contamination) and make it on the stovetop or in a hot air popper.  Dressed with melted coconut oil and the seasonings of your choice it's a great snack.  [side note:  I admit the snarky side of my nature wonders if now that pharmaceutical companies know that PFCs reduce the effectiveness of their vaccines will they somehow lobby to remove them from use?  Because in spite of consumer protests the manufacturers are still using them.]

However, back to the topic at hand, the main point here is that we need to think about our health.  This means thinking about our food, what touches our food, where it comes from, how it nourishes us, our environment, and the impact that all of these things have.  There is a cumulative effect from eating badly.  And by badly I mean not only food that is not wholesome and nutritious, but food that is contaminated in some way.

Those babies who were born with PFCs in their bloodstream got it from their mother and from the environment that she lived in.  If we support healthier mothers we will make healthier babies.

Whether you believe in vaccines or not surely you believe that it is not right for our environment to be so toxic.  For babies to be born with a "sluggish" immune system that "doesn't respond as vigorously against micro-organisms."  We need to clean up our food.  We need to make changes to our environment which support health.  And we definitely need to breast feed our babies.

Monday, January 23, 2012

on my mind monday

newspaper | photo: mconnors
It's Monday and these are the news articles that have caught my attention from around the web:

A look at the $175 in your compost - That's how much many Americans throw our per month in food.  Most of it probably goes straight to the landfill not to a compost pile.  Wherever it goes, however, is a huge waste of food and resources.  We work hard at our house to make good use of leftovers, to plan what I call sequential eating, and menu planning.  This idea of not wasting food ties in with what Jonathan Bloom has been promoting for a while through his book, American Wasteland, and his Wasted Food blog.  Given the rising cost of food, it makes even more sense to think about what we're eating and how much we're buying.

Walnuts Are Drugs - Says FDA - seriously?  This is just ridiculous.  There are large numbers of scientific studies showing the health benefits of walnuts but apparently this is not good enough for the FDA.  It kind of makes me wonder how oats managed to get their approval for their ability to lower cholesterol (which they do.  There are studies to this effect and yet oat producers are not being told they cannot use those studies).  I have no problem with stopping unvalidated health claims, but where there is evidence that shows the healthful benefits why is the FDA stopping them?  Of course this is the same agency that told the cherry industry that they couldn't promote the healthful benefits of cherries, even with USDA funded studies that showed exactly what the producers were claiming.  Obviously there is a huge conflict of interest between food and drugs.

Fruits and Veggies Challenge - ever since reading last week about the sad fact that the USDA is not going to use the clever videos promoting fruit and vegetables they received in response to their contest, I have been working my way through watching the videos.  They're all good, one I like a lot is the Fruit Veggie Swag video.  I find it ridiculous that the USDA has received some wonderful replies that clearly promote eating more fruits and veggies and they won't use them.  I would much rather watch these than an over-hyped unhealthy fast food ad.

Just Label It - This link takes you to a video by Robert Kenner, the filmmaker who made Food Inc.  I am a huge proponent of food labeling for all sorts of reasons.  I am very much pro-label for GMO and believe we all have a right to know what's in our food.  The website also allows you to tell FDA Commissioner Hamburg how you feel about this issue.

disclosure: cmp.ly5

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

diabetes and diet

There's been a lot of buzz around the internet the last week about a celebrity chef who has Type 2 diabetes.  This morning the rumors have been confirmed.  Paula Deen spoke with USAToday this morning and shared that she has been struggling with type 2 diabetes for three years.  She's also inked a new deal with Novo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical company which makes diabetes medication.

First, I'd like to start by saying I'm very sorry to hear of Paula's diagnosis.  Diabetes can be a challenging disease to deal with and the health complications from it can be very serious.  I hope that she manages to get her diabetes under control and wish her well on this healthy journey.

On the other hand, I'm wondering about how this will change or affect her cooking and the food that she has promoted.  She does say that she and her sons have created diabetic friendly versions of some of her recipes.  And she is exercising and has given up sweet tea.  But she still plans to promote, for the most part, the same type of food.  In the USAToday article they quote Paula as saying she's not changing her show because of the diagnosis but, "I suspect I'll stick to my roots but will say a little louder, 'Eat this in moderation.'"

That's really not the answer.  Paula Deen is uniquely poised to be a beacon for nutrition education, to help people understand the connection between your food, your thinking about your food, and your health.  To continue to eat food which you know is a major cause of your illness and expect to simply take medication to correct it is not honoring your body.  It's time to grow up and move past the child-like petulance that says 'I like this so I'm going to eat it anyway.'  There is so much wonderful food out there, so many flavors, textures, methods of cooking, and more.  There's no need to limit yourself to one type of cooking, especially if you know it's making you sick.  As someone who works with food every day she is certainly in a position to make delicious food that is also healthy.

Diabetes is an illness that, for many, responds very well to dietary changes.  Reducing sugars, increasing nutrient density, using healthy fats, etc.  Yes, changing dietary patterns takes some time.  Yes it takes some time for your palate to adjust as well.  But it is possible and it is so very worthwhile.

It is my sincere hope that this is early days yet.  Perhaps now that she is becoming a public face for diabetes and diet Paula Deen will learn to make healthy, delicious changes.  I always say "Eat well to be well." I hope that she can learn to do this and teach others to do the same.

Monday, January 16, 2012

colic and probiotics

crying newborn | photo: Melimama
Recently I wrote a post about gut health and allergies.  In that post I mentioned a study that was done in Sweden which seems to highlight the benefits of having a diverse bacterial eco-system in the gut to help protect against future allergies and conditions, including eczema.

Strong and diverse health does more than protect against allergies.  It is also important for babies when it comes to colic.  Colic is believed to affect as many as 1/3 of all babies.  There does not appear to be a difference between those babies that are breast fed and those which are bottle fed.  There are many different theories as to the cause of colic and it's important to note that no one knows for certain.  Given that we are bio-individual creatures it's likely that there are multiple reasons.  Dietarily there appears to be some success for a large number of babies when lactose (milk sugar) is removed from their diet.  These babies have what is referred to as lactose overload, or functional lactase insufficiency.  In plain English, they are not producing enough lactase (the enzyme which breaks down the lactose) and this causes gastric distress.  This is not lactose intolerance, but rather the undeveloped digestive system not having enough lactase; this situation does correct itself over time.

Over the past few years the health of the intestinal eco-system has come under scrutiny as a possible reason for colic.  Back in 2009 researchers at the Texas Health Science Center (THSC) in Houston found a connection between gut health and colic.  The study seemed to indicate a correlation between bacterial balance and colic.  Although the initial study was a small one, all the colicky infants tested positive for Klebsiella, a bacteria which is often found in the mouth and intestines of adults.  The study concluded, "Infants with colic, a condition previously believed to be nonorganic in nature, have evidence of intestinal neutrophilic infiltration and a less diverse fecal microflora." (the less diverse microflora theory was shown to be true in the Sweden study mentioned above.)

Now another, study published in the journal BMC Microbiology in June 2011, appears to show positive results for inoculating with beneficial bacteria, such as lactobacillus. In this study two strains of lactobacillus had positive, antimicrobial effects. Studies are continuing to see which strains are best; I assume the studies will also look at how to best deliver probiotics to the infant without overwhelming their system.

I know many mothers add higher levels of probiotic foods to their diet in order to help their own immune systems be as strong as possible.  I also know some mothers who have used liquid probiotics and put it on their nipples just before breast feeding in order to help the infant get some beneficial effect.  If you feel it would be beneficial to add probiotics to the diet of your infant child it's important to let your health care professional know. If you are working with a lactation specialist let them know as well.

One thing that neither of these studies addresses is the gut health of the mother.  As I've mentioned before, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride points out that most gut disturbances tend to be generational disorders.  It is highly beneficial for the mother to have a strong bacterial eco-system, this is what gets passed along to the infant and what helps to inoculate them during a natural birthing process.  For all of us, having a strong, diverse, healthy gut is important to health.  Now it looks like it's even more important to support the health of future generations.

Klebsiella study:
Lactobacillus study:

news's on my mind monday

in the news | photo: mconnors
I'm always looking up information about food, health, and what's in the news.  Just as an experiment this is a posting of what's I'm reading right now, some of which may or may not turn into a blog post, but all of which is of interest to me.  I'd be curious to know if any of this is of interest to you.  In no particular order (other than this is what's open across my browsing window) here's what's on my mind:

The little county that could get CA to rethink methyl iodide - I've written about this before.  Essentially CA agreed to let agricultural companies use a known carcinogen (so effective that it is used in laboratories to reliably cause cancer) on strawberry crops.  In spite of massive protests CA went ahead and approved it anyway.  Turns out the fight is still on.  This gives me hope that this awful carcinogenic chemical will be banned.  Until then I have essentially fought back the only way I know how.  I purchase no strawberries from California at all, even the organic ones.

Public Park Helps Feed 200,000 People Every Month -  I love this.  What a great solution to help feed those who are hungry and also make effective use of public lands.  This ties in to a video I shared on my Facebook Page about Suburban Homesteading/Urban Victory Gardening.  Looking at the info I see it's the same guy, John from Growing Your Greens.  I've subscribed to his YouTube channel and am looking forward to more good info.

Low Vitamin D Ups Diabetes Risk in Kids - One more reason to check your vitamin D levels.  I think sometimes people tune out the vitamin D message believing that they are getting enough from their milk.  Sadly that's often not enough, especially if you are drinking skim milk.  Vitamin D is important for so many different reasons and across different populations.  Are you over 65?  Check your vitamin D.  Is it wintertime and you live in a Northern latitude?  etcetera etcetera etcetera.  Check your vitamin D.  I'm not saying everyone needs to supplement, but it's easy to check and if you are low you probably do need to supplement.  Always get the 25 hydroxy test rather than the 1,25 dihydroxy - it's a better indicator of your vitamin D status.

Apple Juice Made In America?  Think Again - This one surprised me.  Because I know we have so many apple orchards in the US I just assumed that our apple juice was made here.  Turns out it's not.  Given that so many children drink it (and the recent fungicide contamination of orange juice) I'm even more convinced that getting our food from abroad is not necessarily a good idea.  I believe the best thing is to get to know your farmer, buy locally, and grow your own.  I'm blown away by the idea that apples which are grown in China can be juice and fossil fuels expended to bring a liquid product (very heavy) all the way around the world to us, and somehow it's cheaper.  There is something very very wrong with that equation.

Programmed To Be Fat? - This looks like a fascinating program and I am going to try to see if I can borrow a copy through my local library.  Given the increasing number of obesogens in our environment (I wrote an article some time back called Is Your Plastic Making You Fat?) and  the rising toxicity levels for newborns this is an issue that really needs to be looked at and worked on.   We are poisoning ourselves, our environment and destroying our future.

Goats being used, instead of pesticides in Eastham - I love this.  What a great way to solve a problem.  Instead of throwing chemicals at the issue of weeds, use goats.  The goats are happy, they get fed, the town gets less toxic chemicals in their environment, the residents have less exposure and, presumably, less potential for illness.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

new weight loss injection

mouse on a wheel | photo: riekhavoc
Word is buzzing about a new hormone that has just been discovered.  Called irisin it's believed to effectively help shift adipose (fatty tissue) from white fat to brown fat.  Brown fat is desirable because it essentially burns fat.  Babies have a lot of it but it decreases as they grow.  In adults it tends to be concentrated in the upper areas of the chest and neck.

I'm not writing to you about this discovery so that you'll all want to run out and get some.  I'm writing because I want to warn you.  This is being touted as a possible new weight loss discovery.  From the article I read studies showed that with exercise and irisin there were changes to the body including subcutaneous fat becoming browner, better insulin metabolism, and an increase in energy expenditure (read fat loss).  The results were better in mice than in people but apparently the people results were encouraging enough that, although no one is ready to market anything, there was mention of the possibility of some day creating an injectable version.  Chances are, over time, we're going to start hearing a lot more about this.

Folks there is no magic pill, potion, or injection that will cause you to lose weight without having to make changes.  The biggest and most positive health changes (which are not always weight loss I might add) come about from changing the diet and changing your level of exercise.  Even small changes can have a big result.  Some pills and potions have had devastating effect on it's users (remember fen-phen?) while others have simply done nothing.

My suggestion is that you not rely on some apparently magical ingredient to lose weight.  It's not easy and it takes time but truly the answer is to eat less, eat the right things, and move more.  If you need support that's fabulous, work with a Health Coach, a Nutrition Professional, a Fitness Coach, a Wellness Coach, if you can do it on your own that's great too.  Because the simple truth is that the answer doesn't lie in a pill or an injection.  You cannot continue to eat Krispy Kreme donuts and lie on the sofa watching Law and Order Marathon session and expect to be in good shape or to lose weight.  So now you know the word (irisin), you can ignore it and bypass what I expect to be growing hype.  Focus your energy on you, your health, your journey, in a safe and healthy way.

hidden sugars, diabetes, and glycemic index

raw cane sugar | photo: Fritzs
Sam recently asked, "Can you do a series on hidden sugars in foods? And their various names? I have a diabetic in the family and get very frustrated trying to cut back on the sugars."

Sugar is a very tricky ingredient in our food supply.  Manufacturers want to include it because we are predisposed to like sweet foods.  However, unfortunately, this often means that sugars are added to things that don't need them, leaving us with a higher sugar intake and, often, a misguided palate when it comes to understanding what our food should taste like.  Common examples include adding sugar to things with fruit in them, such as applesauce, or adding sugar to things that don't really require it, such as ketchup.

One way to identify how much sugar is in a particular food is to look at the label.  The sugar grams are listed as part of the nutrition facts.  Obviously you want to look for lower numbers in that category.  Identifying how much sugar is in something does not, however identify how many sugars or what they are.  One trick that manufacturers use to manipulate the ingredient list is using multiple sources of sugars.  Because most of us know that the the higher up on the ingredient list the more of that ingredient is in the package, manufacturers don't want any form of sugar as the first ingredient.  So they split the sugars up by using a little fructose here, honey there, glucose at the end.  This makes it very important to know the names of the various sugars.

Sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, brown rice syrup, molasses, and barley malt, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and fruit juice concentrates are all forms of sugar that are fairly simple to identify by name.  Sugar itself is processed into different forms from the lowest process, sucanat (which stands for SUgar CAne NATural) to the most highly processed white, or table, sugar.  In between are turbinado, muscovado, demerara, evaporated cane juice crystals, and date sugar.  It's important to know that in this country the majority of brown sugar is nothing more than highly refined white sugar with a little molasses added for color and moisture.  It's also important to know that if you are feeding a vegetarian or a vegan, many of them will not eat white sugar as it is typically processed through bone char.

For other forms of sugar it's important to understand that in when processed, in most cases the sugar molecule is identified by the ending -ose.  This includes fructose, lactose, glucose, dextrose, etc.  Sugar alcohols, which do not have as much effect on blood sugar and insulin levels, primarily end in -ol.  Examples would be sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol, xylitol, and others.  Isomalt is the only sugar alcohol that does not follow that rule.  I am not strictly opposed to sugar alcohols (unlike artificial sweeteners) however, because they are processed and can have a laxative effect if ingested in excess (or if you have a sensitive system), I feel that they should be used with caution and in moderation.

Many people with blood sugar instability who try to limit their sugar intake rely on artificial sweeteners.  Listing both their common and chemical names, these are splenda, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium, saccharine, nutrasweet, aspartame, and sweet-n-low.  These are not healthy choices.  Although they have zero calories they may to be carcinogenic or have the potential for other negative health effects.

There is another sweetener choice which is stevia.  Made from a plant it is 300 times sweeter than sugar, has zero calories, and is considered a good choice for those who have blood sugar issues as it does not raise blood sugar levels.  Unfortunately there are now several chemical analogs available, purevia and truvia. These are not stevia, instead they are laboratory created versions of stevia, and should be considered an artificial sweetener and avoided as much as possible.

When managing blood sugar for those who have diabetes there are several guidelines to follow:

  • choose natural, low process sugars in moderation
  • if you are going to consume sugar spread it out throughout the day rather than "saving" it all for a big dessert or other treat
  • when consuming sugars make sure that you are also getting some protein to help balance the effect of the sugars in your system
  • eating smaller meals more often, every 2 1/2-3 hours is often helpful for many people to keep a more stable blood sugar
  • get protein at every meal
  • reduce simple carbohydrates, white flour products, white pasta, white rice, these are easily broken down by the body to sugars
  • reduce alcohol consumption, this is easily converted by the body
  • eat foods lower on the glycemic index*
  • if you are overweight losing weight can help with blood sugar management
  • staying physically active is also important
  • don't ignore your blood sugar, if necessary work with a doctor or nutrition professional to help you properly manage your blood sugar levels**

*The Glycemic Index is how much sugar foods have in them.  The more processed a food is the higher it's glycemic load.  An example would be:

          apples - glycemic index 38 - low
          applesauce (unsweetened) - glycemic index 53 - medium

** Typical blood sugar levels (for non-diabetics) are considered to be:

          fasting (before a meal) - less than 83 mg/dl
          post-prandial (after eating) - less than 100 mg/dl 1-2 hours after eating

Friday, January 13, 2012

gut health linked to allergies

probiotic - lactobacillus bulgaricus | photo: Gengiskanhg
A recent study done in Sweden entitled, "Low diversity of the gut microbiota in infants with atopic eczema" appears to show that higher diversity in infant gut microflora  lowers the chance of allergies, including eczema.

This is of interest for a number of reasons.  One, it appears to back up the Hygiene Hypothesis.  This is the idea that if our environment is too clean it doesn't provide the diversity we need and also encourages the body to attack "harmless antigens."  Two, it provides further information about the role of certain beneficial bacteria.  Examples included proteobacteria protecting against allergies while bacteroides appear to be useful against inflammation.  Three, it shows, yet again, the connection between the gut and health.  Four, it highlights, to me, the dangers of the over-use of antibiotics.  I have written briefly about antibiotics in our food supply here and here.

The more antibiotics that appear in our food system, the higher the toll they take on our bodies.  Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, author of Gut and Psychology Syndrome and creator of the GAPS Diet, tells us that when she looks at dysfunction in the gut she traces it back over at least three generations.  The less healthy flora the parents have to pass on, the fewer strains will be available to inoculate the baby.  Dr. Campbell-McBride has found the effect to be cumulative over the generations.

What does all of this mean?  In addition to cleaning up our irresponsible use of antibiotics in the food supply, it also means that we need to do what we can to ensure a strong, healthy eco-system in our gut.  We need to create a rich supply of diverse prebiotic and probiotic colonies.  How to accomplish this?  Adding fermented foods to the diet such as kefir is a good start.  Other fermented foods could include yogurt and kombucha.  Also eating a diet high in fiber, especially soluble fibers which are fermented by the bacteria in the gut will help.  Should you require taking antibiotics it is vitally important that you take them as prescribed and finish the dose to avoid creating resistant bacteria.  You will also need to re-inoculate your system by taking probiotics (antibiotics wipe out both good and bad bacteria).

While this study from Sweden highlighted the benefits of a richly diverse gut colony in infants for protecting them against allergies, I feel that supporting the gut at any time is beneficial.  I believe probiotic support can go a long way toward helping to regain or maintain healthy gut function.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

twitter party #foodrevparty

As I was a busy night.  I actually managed to participate in two twitter parties with the second one based on Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.  The topic of the evening was Winter Seasonal Foods.  This was a great topic; I love seasonal eating.  We try pretty hard to eat seasonal foods in our home for two reasons. First, if it's seasonal it's often local, and that means fully ripe, fresh, and much more tasty.  The other is that it keeps our taste buds and food sensibilities engaged.  If you can only have strawberries when they are local and in season you sure appreciate them a whole lot more than when you buy them year round. I often find that out of season produce looks beautiful only to discover that it somehow doesn't smell or taste right.

This is an overview of an hour of fast and furious typing by a LOT of people.  There are some really great ideas here about how to incorporate seasonal eating into your nutritional plan.  Hopefully these suggestions will help you add more seasonal foods to your menu.  I only list the first question here as the others all seemed to keep circling back to the idea of recipes, and food suggestions.  There's a brief synopsis of the other questions at the end.

Winter is here for most of us, which brings new meal challenges. What seasonal foods are readily available in your area?  The answers seemed to be pretty consistent (with the exception of at least one participant who lives in a tropical climate and so has no distinct tropical variation), most people talked about winter squashes, cabbages, sweet potatoes, some mention of root crops and some citrus.  Recipe suggestions were great and I encourage you to use any and all of these:
Discussion continued with talk about the use of Farmer's Markets, CSA's, and the use of freezers, canning/preserving, and dehydrating as a way to deal with an abundance of seasonal produce.  These were seen as a great way to obtain seasonal foods.  After all, and I believe it's true for most people, if you're going to go to the trouble of obtaining and eating food that is specifically in season, you probably also want to get food that is as local as possible.  And if you have more than you can eat, you're smart to want to save some for a later time by preserving it through one means or another.  

As the evening began to wind down the topic turned to cocktails.  Specifically pumpkin martinis.  Not sure that's going to be on my #gottatryit list.  However I am really glad to have some new, wonderful ideas for recipes that all rely on the bounty of winter produce.  The discussion of how to obtain produce from various sources year round reminds me to always be aware and alert for opportunities to source locally, seasonally, and, most important, to try to get to know my farmers.  And the discussion of dehydrators reminded me that I need to learn more about how to use mine and to be more consistent in it's use.  

twitter party #holisticmoms

It was a busy night last night.  Trudy Scott, Certified Nutritionist, author of The Antianxiety Food Solution, and the founder of was the expert online answering questions about food and mood.  The twitter party was sponsored by the Holistic Moms Network.

The chat started with a discussion of whether or not folks noticed if there were certain foods that made them anxious or affected their mood.  Answers were fairly consistent across the board with responses including sugar, caffeine, gluten, McDonalds, and processed food.  Sugar was by far the biggest offender with many participants discussing how difficult it can be to break the sugar habit.  Trudy pointed out that not only does sugar destabilize our blood sugar levels, it also depletes us of vital nutrients such as zinc and magnesium and also also shared, High Candida (yeast) in the body will make you crave sugar...For Candida, best to go on anti-candida diet, and add B1, B2, Biotin, yeast free vitamins to diet. Getting off that sugar roller-coaster is very important for good mood and health.

The close second in the food/mood correlation seemed to be gluten and/or grains.  A number of people mentioned that when they went gluten-free they felt so much better.  There was some discussion of why gluten is becoming such a prevalent food sensitivity these days.  Part of the answer is that we eat far too much of it, it's not sprouted, and the products that are made from it are of poor quality nutritionally.  Another part of the answer may be that modern wheat has been bred to be higher in gluten (since this is what makes baked good so soft and fluffy) and so our tolerance is lower.

This thread was quickly followed by a query about what to eat to balance your brain chemistry.  Trudy's response? eat real food, no sugar & indiv amino acids.  From there the talk turned to discussion about zinc which is important for nerve function, cell metabolism, neurotransmitter production, blood sugar stability and so much more.  Turns out it also helps to reduce anxiety.  Zinc can be found in beef (grass fed is best), calf liver, venison, spinach, shitake mushrooms, and pumpkin seeds.  It's very important for pregnant women and children to get enough zinc with the addendum that zinc is a trace mineral and we do not need massive doses of it.

From there the talk shifted into the following topics:
  • chocolate - dark chocolate is good for you in moderation - and yes, if you crave chocolate there is a chance you may be low in magnesium (find magnesium in pumpkin seeds, spinach, black beans, and sesame seeds)
  • healthy fats - choose coconut oil, ghee, avocados, flax seed oil, and olive oil.  Avoid canola - it's almost always GMO 
  • sweeteners - choose lower process sweeteners such as sucanat, evaporated cane juice crystals, honey, molasses, maple syrup and avoid agave nectar which is high in fructose (this puts a burden on your liver to process it and also raises triglycerides and can contribute to diabetes and heart disease)
  • sea vegetables - dulse seemed to be a clear favorite, with one person even adding it to mac and cheese (I'm going to try this tip because I love dulse), nori and kelp sprinkles were also mentioned. Adding sea vegetables to your diet is a good choice, they are a great source of iodine, iron, and can be cholesterol-reducing.
  • sleep/dreaming - turns out that B6 is important for dreaming and seratonin production.  Trudy shared that it's important to take it with B complex as B vitamins work best together. 
  • Tea - lots of people on the list love tea, chamomile, linden, roiboos, all good calming drinks to help you destress.
Trudy shared some other awesome tidbits about food and mood.  If you are interested in learning more you can purchase her book online.  Want to work with her?  Trudy has some great programs and even offers a free 15 minute consultation.  Want to find other holistic families for support, information and friendship?  Consider joining the Holistic Moms Network.


Monday, January 9, 2012

ulcerative colitis on the rise

My brain is reeling.  The following headline made me shudder. "The Ulcerative Colitis Drug Market Will Increase from $1.7 Billion in 2010 to $3 Billion in 2020 as New Agents Will Offer Additional Lines of Therapy for Moderate to Severe Disease."  This is only the latest of an increasing number of articles that have come through on my news feed recently.

Sidestepping slightly I will share that I have a personal, vested interest in articles like this.  You see I was diagnosed with UC almost seven years ago.  This was after over 12 years of misdiagnosis with IBS.  Before I learned what was wrong with my digestive system I struggled with some of the less pleasant aspects of UC.  And frequently wondered what was wrong.  Fortunately for me I found answers, especially answers that worked for me, for my bio-individual body.  I also discovered that I'm one of the lucky ones.  I have a mild case.  Mild enough that aside from an occasional flare-up I am able to control my UC through diet.  I have friends who have had to undergo surgery to have large sections of their colon removed.

Because I don't take medication on a daily basis it's easy to get cocky sometimes when things are going well.  And the holidays are especially tough with all of the temptations that surround you.  But when I stray from my nutritional plan and routine I know it; my body makes it very clear that I've not been paying attention.  Stress is also a huge trigger and I work hard at living a more mindful life, focusing on what's important to me and how I handle stress.  I like to think that over time I've gotten better at it but it is an ongoing process.

So why does that headline above bother me so much (and why am I sharing all of this personal information)?  It bothers me because if you read the article that accompanies it you'll see that it almost crows about the growth in the market and the need for pharmaceuticals.  Don't get me wrong I am certainly not advocating that someone who needs pharmaceutical intervention for the UC shouldn't take it, quite the opposite.  However, phrases such as "promising novel agents" and " sales of maintenance therapies in 2010 accounted for nearly three-quarters of major-market ulcerative colitis sales" and "will contribute to an increase in sales of maintenance therapies as well as an increase in sales of acute therapies" all point toward a burgeoning market that is being driven toward medication with no effort to look at the underlying causes.  More than a billion dollars in growth over ten years is a powerful market force.

I'm frustrated because in my own journey toward health, and that of clients that I work with, our concerns and questions are often disregarded; we are simply advised to take medication.  My first GI doctor was skeptical when I told him I wanted to change my diet.  But he didn't stop me and I was able to avoid the need for daily meds.  While I'm certainly not cured, I'm definitely better.  And many people I know with UC lead much more manageable lives (some with and some without medication) by paying attention to their diet and whatever their personal triggers may be (stress being one of the biggest).

If we are experiencing huge growth in the market for this type of a disorder isn't it worthwhile to look into the root cause?  Sadly I believe the answer is no because then the pharmaceutical industry wouldn't be able to sell anything, or as much of anything as they are obviously planning on doing now.  Again, I want to make it perfectly clear that I would never, under any circumstances, tell someone to stop taking their medication.  I do, however, question why our current system does not seek answers by looking at the whole picture.  Why the system simply accepts that this, sometimes debilitating, condition is growing by such large numbers.  Shouldn't we be helping people learn how to better meet the needs of their body rather than throwing medication at the "high unmet need?"  Shouldn't we be figuring out why so very many people are starting to come down with this disease?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

saving calories

The New Year has come and gone.  The festivities are over, the days are getting longer and we're one week into what for many people is the annual self torture of resolutions.  As I've mentioned before I really don't like the word resolution.  It seems hard and finite and often is a rather amorphous concept.  "I resolve to lose 10 pounds"  "I resolve to go to the gym more often"  and other statements.  There's no strategy of how it's going to happen, no defined timeline and if you don't succeed you feel like you've failed.

It may seems like splitting hairs but I prefer the term goal.  The goal outlines what you hope to achieve.  And if you don't quite get there that doesn't mean you have to give up in dejected defeat.

Because so many people struggle with their weight at this time of year that tends to be one of the more common health goals I hear.  I'd like to start by sharing that weight loss is more than just eating less.  It's about changing habits, moving more, changing mindsets and, yes, eating less.  But there are ingrained habit that need to change.

Spend some time focusing on mindful eating (chew, be grateful for your food, enjoy your food, take time with your meal, and chew [yes I repeated that one, it's important and many of use don't chew enough]).   Mindful eating helps us to better digest our food in so many ways from making sure that we are breaking down the food, getting adequate salivary enzymes, and also having our body in a calm focused place to be able to digest.  Liz Lipski, the Digestive Wellness guru, tells us that we often fuel our bodies the way we fuel our cars....stop, gas, go.  She's right.  The next time you sit down to a meal stop a moment and recognize how you are eating.  Most of you will discover that you are rushing through your meal and if you take a few extra moments you will feel better and calmer.

Move more.  If you have a car and it just sits in the driveway and never goes anywhere when you eventually need it the tires are cracked and dry, the engine fluids are gummy and don't lubricate well and the car may not function the way it is supposed to.  That car is a metaphor for our bodies.  Use them and they stay active and functioning.  This is nothing you don't already know but sometimes we just need a reminder.  Park a little further away at the grocery store.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Sign up for a physical movement class or find a free one on DVD or the internet.  You'll feel better and your body will be burning calories which can help with weight management.

vegetable broth | photo: Takeaway
I also like give you a few ways to make small measurable food changes that can add up, helping you to shed pounds:

  1. Consider changing your plate size.  We often cue in to the size of the plate to help us determine how much food to put on it.  If you use a smaller plate you often take less food but find yourself just as satisfied.  
  2. Consider changing your plate altogether.  Slimware is a company that sells some really attractive plates that have designs on them that are portion controlled.  This visual cue can help you learn how to choose portion sizes over serving sizes.
  3. Choose salsa instead of queso.  That cheesy dip or melted cheese topping adds up to a lot of calories and a lot of fat.  Substituting salsa for some, or all, of the cheese not only saves calories it adds delicious flavor.  A baked potato with black beans and salsa is one of my favorites and really needs no cheese or sour cream.
  4. Looking for something crunchy?  Forego the corn chips and snack mix.  Try air popped popcorn instead.  With a tiny bit of melted butter or coconut oil, a hint of salt and some spices you've got a great crunchy snack that doesn't have nearly the same caloric count.  Be sure to choose organic popcorn to avoid any potential GM contamination.
  5. Add a cup of soup to your dinnertime routine.  A delicious strong stock with veggies and herbs or even a tomato based veggie soup is a great way to get your digestion going but also to help fill your tummy.   Barbara Rolls, a Ph.D. at Penn State shares that  "Eating a 100-calorie bowl of broth-based the start of a meal takes the edge off your hunger. Even with the extra course ... you are likely to eat fewer total calories during the meal."
  6. Remember the Three Polite Bite Rule.  If you are going to have dessert have just three polite bites.  You'll get enough to satisfy that sweet tooth without overdoing the sugar intake.
Step-by-step small meaningful changes can add up to a healthier you.

Interested in making more changes?  Anyone who leaves a comment and their email address on the blog will receive a free copy of my "Eating Out - Eating Healthy" ebook.


Friday, January 6, 2012

antibiotics update

caged chickens | photo: sioda
Just a few days ago I wrote about the FDA withdrawing legislation to mandate less use of antibiotics in the food supply.  Now it turns out that earlier this week they did issue some legislation limiting the use of one type of antibiotic, cephalosporins. This class of antibiotics is not given to animals directly in their feed but instead issued, usually, prior to slaughter.  The FDA is concerned that this type of antibiotic is so important for use in humans (especially in life-threatening cases such as meningitis) that over use in animals can potentially cause bacterial resistance, thereby limiting it's usefulness in humans.

Since cephalosporins are a "last resort" type of drug it's important that their effectiveness not be compromised by over-usage in the animal industry.  However the FDA does not completely ban the use of this class of antibiotics, merely limiting it instead.

My concern with all of this is that there is still far too much antibiotic usage in this country in animal production.  I'm not sure, and was unable to find numbers, how much this limit reduces the total antibiotic usage in the animal production industry.  But the latest numbers show more than 70%.  So I have to believe that this limit provides only a modest reduction.  It still means that the vast majority of antibiotics used in this country are used to allow producers to raise animals in inhumane, unhealthy, confined and condensed operations.  Where is the sense in that?  Where is the logic behind an agency that is presumably supposed to monitor and protect the food supply which instead kowtows to major corporations and their bottom line.  Where is our compassion as living, sentient beings, for those beings whose purpose is to be raised for food?

I find myself skeptical that this "limited use" will actually be limited and am now waiting for the headline that proclaims a new class of bacterial infection that has successfully overcome cephalosporins and is wreaking havoc in hospitals and medical settings across the country.  In the meantime I continue to look for and source the best quality, most humane meat sources available for my family and community.  I hope those of you who eat meat are able to do the same for yours.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

are trans-fats shrinking your brain?

trans-fat - fish and chips | photo: BrokenSphere
It happens all the time.  You're out and about, after a soccer game, running errands, running late for a meeting, and you decide to stop for a quick bite to eat.  More often than not it's probably fast food.  We all know fast food isn'ty really good for you.  Now, aside from the poor quality meat, high levels of fat and sodium, and low nutrient density, it looks like there's even more reason to avoid that drive-through window.

A recent study run by Dr. Gene L. Bowman, an assistant professor of neurology at the Layton Aging and Alzheimer's Disease Center at the Oregon Health & Science University, found that people with high levels of trans-fats in their blood had lower cognitive performance scores as well as lower brain volume.  While the study was admittedly small and homogenous (100, elderly Caucasians living in Oregon), Dr. Bowman notes that the results of the testing were so clear that this particular pattern should not be ignored.  Testing looked at nutrient levels in the body, cognitive function and included MRI studies.  What does this mean?  In plain English, there was a positive correlation between higher levels of trans-fats and lower brain function and smaller brain size.  That's a scary thought.

Because we know that trans-fats are bad for our heart one would think that would be enough to convince people to avoid them.  However that is not the case as evidence by how many products still contain them.  Now it looks like trans-fats are also bad for your brain.   Even more reason to avoid them.  Since it's difficult to identify trans-fats in fast food, and truthfully most people don't take the time to look it up on those posted-near-the-bathroom menu charts, it's best to avoid fast food altogether.  A quick run-down of some popular fast food items that contain trans-fats includes:

  • KFC - chicken pot pie 
  • Burger King - large hash browns
  • Jack in the Box - large fish and chips
  • Dairy Queen - 4 pc chicken strip basket
  • McDonald's - baked apple pie
This information is correct to the best of my knowledge.  It is important to note that although many fast food restaurants are proudly touting no trans-fats in their food, they still have them in the ingredients.  This is due to a Federal ruling that allows them to claim no trans-fats if there is less than .05 per serving.  However it adds up pretty quickly.

Fast food is not, alas, the only place that one finds trans-fats.  There are plenty of items on the grocery store shelf that contains them as well.  Look for the words hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated to see if there are any trans-fats in that food item.  These trans-fats are not from natural sources (there is a small amount that occurs in beef, lamb, and dairy) but from forcing hydrogen into liquid fats to make them solid at room temperature.  Not a healthy option.

Why are trans-fats bad for you?  For one they raise the level of LDL or "bad" cholesterol in your system.    Unfortunately they also lower the level of HDL or "good" cholesterol.  Not a good combination.  Avoiding them is important not only for your heart, but now, we find out, for your brain as well.

So what should you do when you are out and about and need a snack?  There are a several options available.  
  1. Have a protein bar available - I almost always have a healthy protein bar in my glove box for an emergency snack.  
  2. Stop at a grocery store and buy an apple and some raw nuts.  It's a delicious and healthy snack.  Often it costs far less than that drive-through meal.  The trick is not to get side-tracked in the grocery store and start to shop for other things.  Treat it like a fast food run, you can always do your grocery shopping later.  
  3. Plan ahead.  If you know you are going to be out and about you can plan ahead and bring food with you.  Using a handy snack container, such as a Laptop Lunchbox, you can pack a healthy snack and skip the trans-fats.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

pie crust

It's the holidays and that usually means pie season.  That, truth be told, is something I dread.  I'm not very good at making pies.  Let me amend that.  I'm pretty good at the filling, as a matter of fact I make a mean coconut custard, but the crust?  Well that's a different story.  For years I have struggled, mumbled under my breath and cursed as I patched together yet another sorry looking crust.

In olden days, before I got the gospel of whole food nutrition, I would "cheat" and buy my pie crusts at the grocery store.  That, my friends, is no longer an option.  It's not the lard that I object to, it's the BHT, the artificial colors (!), and more often than not the partially hydrogenated ingredients (read trans fats).  These do not need to be in a pie crust and most certainly do not need to be in your body.

I am thrilled to announce that I have discovered the secret to a fabulous pie crust.  I know it may sound silly to be so happy about this but believe me, several decades of ugly pies later I'm amazed at how well this worked out.  I'm so excited about this that I cannot wait to share it with you.  I made an extra batch just to be sure it works and turned it into pie crust cookies.  (Admittedly not high on the healthy item list but a treat nonetheless.)

That lovely picture is an amazingly beautiful pie crust made in my cuisinart.  Apparently this method was developed by Julia Child.  Rolled out between two sheets of wax paper it does not crumble, fall apart, or need patching.  I'm seriously tempted to write out the recipe and tape it permanently to the side of my cuisinart so I always know where it is.

My next experiment will be to see if it works with gluten free flours.  Since pastry flour is supposed to be low in gluten anyway (we don't want it rising while the pie is baking) I think this should be a fairly simple translation.  I'll keep you posted the next time I need to make a pie.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for the pie crust and one for pie crust cookies.

Julia Child's Cuisinart Pie Crust

1 3/4 cup of flour
1 stick butter, cut up
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used walnut, it was delicious)
1 teaspoon salt

Blend flour, butter, oil and salt in cuisinart until crumbly
Add 1/4 cup cold water and blend until it forms a ball

Makes two crusts

Pie Crust Cookies 

One rolled out pie crust
2-3 tablespoons melted butter
Cinnamon sugar to taste (I use 1 teaspoon cinnamon to 7 teaspoons evaporated cane juice crystals)

Preheat oven to 350 F
Brush pie crust with melted butter covering thoroughly
Dust according to taste with cinnamon sugar
Cut either using cookie cutters or into strips
If making strips twist them before placing on lightly greased cookie sheet
Bake 8-10 minutes until golden brown
Let cool completely before eating

Monday, January 2, 2012

you get your antibiotics where?

confined feeding lot - pigs | photo: Matthias M.
A recently published article shares that the FDA has once again failed to protect the public from corporate abuse.  Apparently in spite of it's own Guidance for Use (draft form published June 28, 2010) which was supposed to reduce the amount of antibiotics in the food chain, the FDA is now withdrawing legislation to mandate and reduce this usage.  I believe that this is because the FDA is too unwilling to do the right thing and would rather protect corporate interests (corporates need this overuse and abuse of antibiotics in order to be able to run their Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) or factory farms.

It is a disturbing fact that 70% of the antibiotic use in this country is used by the agriculture industry for food animals.  Not because the animals are already sick, but to keep them from getting sick due to the way they are raised; in unhealthy, high intensity settings.  Unfortunately this means that when you consume conventionally raised animal products, meat, dairy, and eggs, you are getting a dose of antibiotics.  Just a dose, not a full course.

As many of you know, when you are prescribed antibiotics by your doctor it is important that you finish the course.  This is to make sure that all of the negative bacteria that you are trying to wipe out don't survive and learn to become resistant.  Repeated minor doses of antibiotics teach bacteria how to grow stronger against them.  Emerging evidence indicates that this overuse of antibiotics is behind the increase of antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA.

According to information about the FDA found at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), "The agency has known for more than 30 years that mixing human antibiotics into animal feed poses a risk to human health. It first confirmed the connection back in 1977."  They have filed a lawsuit in conjunction with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS),  to try to get the FDA to follow through on it's own recommendations.

This is a situation that bears watching.  We can only hope that the FDA will come to it's senses and follow the lead of the European Union which banned the use of antibiotics for growth purposes as far back as 2006.  Until such time as this situation is corrected the only way to avoid ingesting animal products with antibiotics in them is to purchase organic (which is legislated to be antibiotic free) or you can try natural. The "natural" food label is not regulated or legislated however many manufacturers of products bearing this label do share on the packaging that they do not use antibiotics, hormones and preservatives.  Read the label.