Monday, December 31, 2012

on my mind monday 12.31.12 - the gratitude issue

“To educate yourself for the feeling of gratitude means to take nothing for granted, but to always seek out and value the kind that will stand behind the action. Nothing that is done for you is a matter of course. Everything originates in a will for the good, which is directed at you. Train yourself never to put off the word or action for the expression of gratitude.” -Albert Schweitzer

Rather than the usual On My Mind Monday post where I go through a bunch of articles that have caught my eye I thought I would write about gratitude.  Mostly because that's what's on my mind right now.  We're at that annual cusp from old year to new.  That time when so many people make resolutions, often unrealistic and undefined.  And by doing so set themselves up to feel bad about themselves later.

So rather that focusing on [insert your favorite resolution here] I thought it might be a good idea to think about gratitude.  And I wanted to share some of my favorite resources and share a couple of articles.  I won't lie and tell you that I live in that blissed out place that is continual gratitude.  I don't.  I sometimes struggle to get there, to get anywhere close to being grateful.  And yet I know I have to very much to be grateful for.

Sometimes we get overwhelmed, sometimes we get lost.  But I have come to believe that by remembering that concept of gratitude and by trying to pay attention to it I am happier overall.  And so I've collected some resources and I have in a gratitude file.  When I need a pick me up that's what I turn to.  I've also decided to try a new tradition.  Recently I saw a post with the picture up above.  It's a gratitude jar.  The concept is pretty simple.  Take a jar, put a gratitude label on it.  Then throughout the year add notes of whatever you are grateful for to the jar.  Come New Year's Eve 2014, open the jar and see what's inside.  I'm excited and looking forward to what this new year will bring.

As we transition to 2013 I hope that whatever the New Year holds for you it also brings happiness, health, joy, and peace.

How To Be Grateful To People We Don't Like - Learning to look at negative situations and focus on the good things we have can help us achieve a transformational shift. Admittedly this is not always easy to do, but sometimes having a resource we can turn to the guide us toward this can be helpful. - A wonderful website offering videos, audios, articles, a virtual labyrinth, and virtual candles you can light. This is one of my favorite resources.

How Gratitude Can Change Your Life - A good article about gratitude with some information about how studies showing how it can improve your life.

Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy - A few suggestions for ways to add a gratitude practice to your life.

Stumbling Toward Gratitude - The end of this article sums it up well, " There are no miracles. … There are no long-term quick fixes for happiness, so if you become a more grateful person and you add [these] exercises to your repertoire, you’ll be different six months or a year from now."

And here's a video on gratitude that I found moving.  Thanks to my Aunt for sharing it just when I needed it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

cooking with oregano

Oregano is a flavorful, highly anti-oxidant, perennial herb which is used in a wide variety of cuisines including Italian, Turkish, Lebanese, Greek, and Latin American. Related to the mint familiy, it has a distinctive aroma and taste; the flavor is stronger when it is dried rather than fresh. Oregano gained popularity in the United States after World War II when returning soldiers came back with a taste for it.

If you love to create your own dishes, you will discover that oregano goes well with pizza, lamb, tomato sauces, and cruciform vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, and zucchini. It blends well with other herb including basil, dried onions, garlic, pepper, parsley, sage, and thyme.

Although oregano is typically dried and sold in jars at grocery stores, it can be purchased fresh or grown in a home garden. Before buying fresh oregano, ensure that it is not showing signs of wilt. Fresh oregano can be kept fresh if it is placed in a plastic bag filled with air and then put in the crisper section of your refrigerator

Mexican oregano, related to vervain, rather than mint, is a distant relative of traditional oregano.  Known also as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage, it has been described by many as having a stronger flavor and somewhat sweeter taste than the common oregano.

How to Use Oregano
  • Select dried or fresh oregano; growing your own oregano is easy as the plants are hardy.
  • There are several varieties of oregano, so decide which one to use. The Italian oregano used in pizza and Italian dishes is most commonly used in American dishes. The Greek variety is often used in seafood and other dishes while the Cuban variety is often used to flavor meats, especially game.
  • Some recipes require whole leaves or crushed oregano. This however, is dependent on the preference of the chef or the other ingredients in the recipe.
  • Do not overcook oregano as this will reduce its flavor; add it to cooking as needed. 
  •  Fresh oregano can be used to flavor or season cold dishes. 
Using Fresh Oregano

When you cook with fresh oregano, you need an approach that is somewhat different from the dried herb. In addition to it's high nutrient profile, providing vitamin K, manganese, iron, and calcium, oregano also has anti-inflammatory properties.  Research suggests that oregano has properties that can relieve the symptoms associated with diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  You will need to understand how to use its fresh form to enhance your dishes and your health.

  • Fresh oregano is not as concentrated as its dried form, so measure carefully and double or triple the amount if the recipe requires dried oregano. 
  • Dried oregano is usually used when cooking sauces and roasts, but fresh oregano is best suited for seafood or sprinkled on pasta dishes. 
  • Fresh oregano can be substituted for marjoram if necessary. 
  • It is easy to overdo dried or fresh oregano. Therefore, you need to be careful how you apply this spice when you are creating your own recipes. 

Lucas Barnes writes at Plantdex.

Monday, December 24, 2012

on my mind monday 12.24.12

It's never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here's what's on my mind.

Wangari Gardens - Yet another great example of community gardens growing out of unused space.  I love that it was started by a student who envisioned a way to bring a garden to  an area that was previously considered a food desert.  Overcoming bureaucratic red tape and a variety of setbacks what now exists is a beautiful community space.

Farmer's worried about GMO contamination?  USDA says "get insurance." - This article is eye opening on many levels.  Even more so than the issue of GMO contamination, which is huge, is that GMO's do not work.  As the article mentions, we are now breeding superweeds which are roundup resistant, having somehow, mysteriously (read with snark) picked up the trait from the plants which were bred to be roundup resistant.  This is in spite of the fact that Monsanto in the beginning assured farmers that resistance would not be a problem.  Looks like they were wrong on that count.  And if that issue were not bad enough it turns out that we are ruining, depleting, our earth to an unsustainable point by mining minerals needed to make chemical fertilizers.  Time to wake up and stop the chemical cocktail we are pouring on and in our food.

Are your kids eating too much salt? - If you buy package, processed foods, don't read the labels, and eat out frequently chances are you and your kids are getting far too much salt.  Learning to read the label is the first step to controlling in the home sodium intake.  Thinking about where and what you eat when you eat out is next.  For young kids 1,200 mg is considered the recommended limit but some foods can provide a whopping amount of your daily intake.  One example is a two ounce serving of pretzels which could provide up to 900 mg of sodium.  But don't go no sodium either, your body needs it for metabolic function as well as to manufacture digestive fluids.  Moderation, but not avoidance, is definitely the key when it comes to salt.

The year of the liver - Apparently 2013 will be the year that liver makes it's way back into the American diet.  This could be a good thing it's a good protein source that is also high in iron, riboflavin, vitamin A, and vitamin B12.  Soaking it in milk is one way to temper the flavor for those who are not used to it.  Made into pate it's delicious, but sauteed in onions it's also tasty.  The best choice is to choose liver from pasture raised animals as there is no exposure to GMOs, pesticides, chemicals, antibiotics, or added hormones.

C. Difficile sniffer dog - Those cute little beagles (and other breeds) are everywhere.  Not just roaming the airports in their working dog jackets sniffing out contraband produce, not just detecting diabetes and various types of cancer, but now also identifying cases of a bacterial infection that can be difficult to treat and which may spread rapidly if not contained.  C. difficile can overtake the intestinal environment causing severe pain, cramping, diarrhea and even ulcerations.  With the help of Cliff (there's apparently only one sniffer dog at the moment) detection is quicker and easier.

And this video shows the Minister for Public Health and Sanitation of Kenya at a public briefing.  Kenya has just banned all GMOs while they evaluate their safety.

Don't forget to "like" The Pantry Principle to stay up to date and 
get news and information about what's really in your food.

photo: mconnors

Thursday, December 20, 2012

the peanut butter issue

The FDA is out to lunch - with yet another case of food poisoning in the news it's clear that those charged with keeping our food supply safe are not doing their job.  The scariest part of this is that in the face of budgetary cuts there are talks of allowing food producers more leeway to self-monitor.  This is putting the fox in charge of the hen house.  If true sanctions and consequences were put into place there might be more attention paid to the safety of the food products.

Fortunately that is happening in at least one situation.  Sunland Inc, the company responsible for manufacturing salmonella-laden peanut butter in the recent outbreak has been closed.  Articles that I have seen indicate that the company was surprised by this move and thought they would be able to re-open by the end of the year.  But after reading the conditions there and the continual disregard for food safety it is good to know that they will not be allowed to continue until they can prove (not just say but prove via inspection) that they have cleaned up their act.  I hope this trend of requiring manufacturers to truly be responsible, and not just say they're following the rules, continues.

And salmonella isn't the only thing found in peanut butter.  Although this article is two years old it mentions rat feces.  I was not able to find specific mention of rat feces allowed in peanut butter (assuming that is part of what the FDA lists as "objectionable matter contributed by rodents") but did find mention of rodent hairs at 1 or more per 100 grams of product being considered an "aesthetic" (their word not mine) defect and possibly actionable.  Also found in peanut butter?  Neurotoxic chemicals.  Peanuts are a highly pesticide residue contaminated crop; this makes choosing organic an important factor for those who choose to eat peanuts and peanut products.

I found it interesting to note that the article also did a side by side taste-test comparison of various peanut butters.  All of them were jarred, most had oil residue floating on the top, and sounded very unappealing from both a taste and visual perspective.  While the article didn't list the ingredients I'm sure that most of them have added fat (thus the extra oil floating at the top), sugar, and salt.  None of which is really needed for peanut butter.

At my local grocery store there is a grind-your-own peanut butter machine.  At $3.99 per pound for organic, unsalted peanuts they sell a relatively creamy, good tasting, fresh smelling product.  Of course there is no way to know if anything has gotten into the peanuts in the machine; this means trusting the grocery store to clean it thoroughly on a regular and frequent basis.

It turns out peanut butter used to be considered a health food and was actually only sold regionally.  Over time this has changed and we now ship the stuff all over the world.  Except for the grind-your-own variety of course.

Over the years peanut butter has increasingly gotten a bad rap, primarily due to allergies.  It's a popular legume though and that makes it difficult to tell people that they should avoid peanuts.  That bad rap, however, is not undeserved.  Part of the health challenge is that peanuts are a highly inflammatory legume.  They also tend to be high in carcinogenic aflatoxins and are frequently contaminated by the aspergillis fungus.  Additionally many health issues, from migraines to candida overgrowth to intestinal disorders are negatively impacted by consumption of peanuts and peanut products.  So while we consider them delicious they should be severely reduced or eliminated from the diet.

For those who can have nuts a healthier choice might be almonds, and almond butter, which is the most alkaline of nuts and has a much lower allergenic profile.

Want to know what's really in your food?  
Connect with The Pantry Principle to learn more.

photo: penarc

Monday, December 17, 2012

on my mind monday 12.17.12

It's never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here's what's on my mind.

Minimum age for energy drinks - While teens may be upset about it I think this is a good idea.  A better idea would be to get rid of these kinds of drinks altogether.  Banned overseas and with some reports linking these drinks to consumer deaths it is not something to take lightly.

Eat for happiness - often we think we're eating for happiness when we're actually eating for pleasure.  Sadly we're also unaware of the effect that this can have on us.  My friend Trudy Scott, Food Mood Expert and author of The Antianxiety Food Solution points out that many people with depression, anxiety, and other neurobiological disorders frequently do better when they change their diet.  Perhaps it's time we all learned to eat for happiness.

Fruit and Veggie Prescription - As the saying goes, 'Let food be thy medicine." And in D.C. providers at one health care clinic are encouraging just that, food as preventive medicine.  I love the thought that people are getting prescriptions which they can use at farmer's markets.  This will hopefully encourage them to return  on a regular basis and to being to use whole foods, fresh foods, as part of their diet.  Hopefully this program will spread across the country.  It is already possible to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or what used to be called food stamps, at farmer's markets.  I believe encouraging people to connect with their local farmers, rather than a fast food joint, the better off everyone will be.

Plastic Pollution - I've written before, here and here about plastic, its impact on our environment and on our health.  We've cut back tremendously on how much we use but it still surrounds us, from our toothbrushes, deodorant containers, freezer bags, and remote controls to the sewing machine, packaging on items we buy, dvd covers, and food containers.  It's very very difficult to get rid of plastic in our life.  This article showing the overwhelming amount of plastic that finds its way into the ocean it mind-boggling.  Time to get Beth Terry's book Plastic Free: How I Kicked The Plastic Habit and How You Can Too to find more ways to bump it up a notch.

Expanding the season: I was happy to see this blurb about more farmer's markets being open for a winter season.  While most people tend to think of farmer's markets as providing fresh spring and summer foods (think lettuces, tomatoes, peas, peppers, strawberries, and such) there is a whole season that has been bypassed.  Farms can, and do, also produce a bounty of fall and winter crops that are so delicious and bursting with nutrients.  Winter squashes, root crops, and citrus fruits are just a few.  If more farmer's markets are able to expand their season it means more sales for the farmer, more fresh, local food for you. It's a win for everyone.

Here's a video of an American farmer talking about his concerns about the state of farming in this country and global climate change.

In addition to the impending publication of The Pantry Principle there are some exciting developments coming up for my newsletter which will be offering some content not found here on the blog.  If you're not already signed up, now's your chance.

photo: mconnors

Thursday, December 13, 2012

homemade holidays

The holidays are here.  We're in the middle of Channukah with Christmas and Kwanzaa are still to come.  If you're looking for a great last minute gift idea here are a couple of prior posts that have some tasty treats.  Packed up in a jar with a pretty ribbon or some decorative fabric these could be great gifts for the holidays.

Granola or Muesli are a great choice.  Because you can flavor it any way you like you can make a wide variety based on just this simple recipe.  Put in a jar with a pretty ribbon or a decorative piece of fabric on top it can make a simple, healthy holiday treat.

Last year I mentioned making vanilla sugar by placing opened vanilla beans into evaporated cane juice crystals and letting it infuse for some time before removing the vanilla bean and packaging up the sugar.  So in a similar vein, but with a twist, this year, I'm suggesting the idea of flavored salt.  I got the idea for this after seeing all the different bottles at the grocery store.  They're rather pricey and yet so simple to make at home.

Tasty Seasoned Salt:

1/2 cup coarse grind sea salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon dried onion
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
generous pinch dried thyme
fresh ground black pepper

Place all ingredients into a mortar or a coffee grinder and pulse until blended.
Delicious for soups, salads, and on the table as seasoned salt.
I have a coffee grinder clearly marked Not For Coffee and use it for grinding all my herbs and seeds.

Coffee Seasoned Salt:

note: for this one I use the coffee grinder that actually IS for coffee

1/4 cup coarse grind sea salt
1 teaspoon espresso powder
generous pinch vanilla powder

Place all ingredients into a mortar or coffee grinder and pulse until blended.
Delicious on desserts, especially if they are chocolate (just a pinch though)
I don't drink coffee but for those who do this apparently is a delicious addition to your cup

Store in small jars (recycled baby food jars are perfect for this)
Use in soups, over salads, or as a seasoning at the table  

These Curried Cashews from Eating Well are very tasty and oh so easy to make.

One last thought, if you're really in a hurry, is to purchase mulling spices at the grocery store.  If you get them in the bulk food section they're very reasonably priced.  Placed into tea pockets, or into cut squares of cheesecloth tied up with kitchen twine, and delivered with a container of cider the recipient can easily make mulled cider whenever they wish.

Whatever you celebrate, whatever your reason for the season, I hope that it is filled with warmth, laughter, love, and joy.  May you all have a happy, healthy holiday season.

photo: mattbuck

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

christmas tree facts

The winter holidays are here.  Decorations are going up.  The wreaths, the lights, the garlands, lots, and lots of tinsel.  And let's not forget the tree.  The Christmas tree, centerpiece of the holiday celebration.  With ornaments and bows up top, presents and goodies below.  The primary symbol of the holiday gathering for many families all across the country.  And every year there is a dilemma; people struggle with the choice for their tree.  Fresh or artificial?

There are a small percentage who use living trees, brought inside in a tub or burlap. They often plant their tree in the yard after the season.  For them there is not usually a dilemma as they will continue to purchase and plant living trees.  For everyone else there's a choice to be made year after year.

Live cut or artificial?  With tens of millions of trees sold every year that decision has an amazing impact.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation and the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA), a live Christmas tree outweighs an artificial one due to its many environmental and economic benefits.  It goes without saying that our personal environmental stance would include a live cut tree which does not expose you to pesticides and chemical fertilizers.
  • Environmentally friendly, fresh cut trees are a sustainable resource.
  • The trees help clean the air, protect the soil, and provide wildlife habitat.
  • Planting of natural Christmas trees increases the greenery on the planet. The Christmas tree growers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree that is harvested during the season. 
  • The trees are biodegradable; that means they can be reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes.  Nothing is wasted even when these trees are discarded or disposed. By contrast, an artificial tree may contain lead and non-bio-degradable plastics.
  • The industry employs more than 100,000 Americans.
Learn how to care for your fresh cut tree at the NCTA so it will last all season long.

Christmas Tree Facts - An Infographic by
Christmas Tree Facts by

photo: Lotus Head

Monday, December 10, 2012

on my mind monday 12.10.12

It's never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here's what's on my mind.

What's in that pork? - The answer is not great.  As I discuss in my forthcoming book, The Pantry Principle, more antibiotics are used in the food animal industry than are used for people.  The challenge is that now this overuse is causing antibiotic-resistant bacteria to appear in the meat.  Which means if you eat it, you may get infected with a bacteria which is resistant to antibiotics.  Not a good thing. While this is not something that will change easily it can and should be changed.  Consider starting with letting Trader Joe's know that you want them to carry antibiotic free pork.

Peru bans GMO Foods - This is a huge step forward in the fight against GMO.  Peru did not simply require GMO foods to be labeled; they banned all of them from the country for a ten year period of time.  This was done in an effort to prevent GMO contamination of native corn and potato species. While I'm not sure which foods are imported from Peru I do plan to find out and see how I might incorporate them into our pantry.

US diets not up to standard - We're not eating as well as we should.  In part because we are surrounded by large numbers of unhealthy foods and because so many bad ingredients are stuffed into our food.  There is something called the Standard American Diet, or SAD.  Unfortunately it is sad and if we continue to eat this way our health will continue to decline.

Boycott Brands - As many of you know Prop37, the initiative to label GMO foods in California was defeated.  They were outspend significantly by the parent companies of brands such as Cascadian Farm Organics, Horizon Organics, and Tostitos Organics.  While organic foods cannot, by law, include GMO ingredients, the parents companies do not want you to know what they are putting into everything else they produce.  But it's hard to know who owns what and how to avoid those brands.  I have some information in my book The Pantry Principle about this issue but the book isn't out yet.  In the meantime print out this wallet card and take it with you to the grocery store.

It's Channukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.  Latkes, or potato pancakes, are a traditional food during this eight day period of time.  For those who have never made them before, here's an easy recipe.  I have one change which is that sometimes I will take 1/3 of the grated, pressed potatoes and blend them into a finer texture which I then mix in with the grated, pressed potatoes.  And for toppings, we prefer applesauce and sour cream.  It's delicious.

Don't forget to head on over to Facebook and "like" The Pantry Principle so you can stay in touch as I start posting healthy tips and information.

photo: mconnors

Friday, December 7, 2012

top ten reasons to buy grass fed beef

Grass-fed beef is different from the majority of beef products we find in our grocery stores. Free range, pasture raised beef is only raised on grass, not grain. What's the big deal about cattle eating grass and not grain? There are many reasons pasture raised grass-fed beef is better than factory feedlot grain-fed beef.

First, let's step back and take a brief look at our history. For ages, man has existed as hunter gatherers. They ate what they found, foraging for food and hunting animals. The animals they hunted lived off of grass, unless it was some kind of predator, such as a lion. So animals from the wild existed on the native grasses and plants of their surroundings. Their biological makeup evolved around their environment and they were well suited to digesting and processing plant matter; they were very happy doing just that, eating grass all day. We as hunters were very happing eating the foraging animals. As time went on we domesticated animals as a food source and planted crops.  This allowed us to stay put in one place and not have to constantly be on the move hunting and foraging. For many years, the diet of those domesticated animals was still primarily grass.  Things were good, but fast forward to today.

Now we have in many instances cattle packed into feedlots and fed grains, mainly genetically modified corn. Their highly evolved digestive tract was never meant to thrive with just grains, and certainly they were never designed to live in confined areas - shoulder to shoulder at a trough. But that is what we have today. What has suffered is the quality of life for the cattle. More importantly we find that quality of the meat available nowadays is poorer in nutrition and can have a negative effect on our health. This leads into the top 10 reasons why grass-fed beef is superior to conventional grain-fed beef.

  1. Grass-fed cattle are usually free-range, and raised in open pastures, not in unsanitary feedlots. Disease is not an issue on the open range whereas in the feedlot disease can spread quickly. As a result, there is no need for antibiotics; the animals are healthier with better immune systems.  
  2. Grass-fed beef commonly does not contain synthetic hormones. This is a result of the rancher knowing they are raising quality meat and not wanting to taint their product.
  3. The cattle are raised in a natural setting and not fed corn or grains. In today's world the majority of animal feed has been genetically modified. Believe it or not, but research published in 2012 from Caen University in France show that animals fed a lifetime of GMO's (genetically modified organisms) in this case corn, have a much higher rate of cancer and tumors, and have a shortened life span -- this can't be good for us to eat. 
  4. The beef has a higher amount of vitamins and minerals. A study done by USDA and Clemson University researchers in 2009 proves this among many other facts listed below. One example is Vitamin E. Grass-fed beef usually has up to 7 or 8 mcg/gram of Vitamin E compared to 1 to 2 mcg/gram in grain-fed beef.  
  5. Grass-fed beef is lower in saturated fats which has been linked to heart disease. 
  6. Grass-fed beef has higher levels of in beta-carotene. 
  7. Grass-fed beef is higher in thiamin and riboflavin (Vitamin B's).
  8. Grass-fed beef has a higher mineral content including calcium, potassium and magnesium. 
  9. Grass-fed beef is a better source for Conjugated Lineolic Acid (CLA). CLA has been proven to improve the immune system and has also been connected with reducing the risk of obesity, cancer and diabetes. 
  10. Grass-fed beef provides higher amounts of Omega 3 fats. These fatty acids are essential for brain function and optimal health. Studies show that grass-fed beef contains up to 7 times the amount of Omega 3s compared to conventional grain-fed beef. 
And while grass-fed beef is a healthier, better choice than its grain-fed counterparts, there is also a difference in taste.  The key here is eating premium grass-fed beef which tastes delicious, in this way we get beef that tastes great and is healthier for us at the same time.

Rich Coffman is a blogger on the front range of Colorado. His favorite source of grass fed beef is Teton Waters Ranch where they raise their cattle on the native grasslands of Idaho next to the Teton Mountains.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

how diet affects winter seasonal affective disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD for short, is a common mood disorder where people experience depressive symptoms in the winter or anxiety in the summer consistently every year, but maintain a healthy mental state during other seasons. Symptoms of SAD include:
  • Fatigue 
  • Increased need for sleep 
  • Decreased levels of energy 
  • Weight gain or loss 
  • Increase or decrease in appetite 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Trouble sleeping 
  • Sadness 
  • Anxiety 
  • Irritability 
  • Antisocial behavior,  and 
  • Craving carbohydrates 
Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called winter blues, summer blues, or seasonal depression affects about four to six percent of Americans severely. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, SAD is four times more likely in women than in men, ten to twenty percent of Americans may have a mild case of SAD, and it usually isn’t found in people younger than the age of twenty.

If you suffer from the above symptoms, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder; however, there must to be a history of these symptoms for a couple years before it can be correctly diagnosed. According to Clinical Psychologist Kathy Hogan Bruen: "There's a difference between feeling down and being depressed. Being clinically depressed means you have more than just a couple of symptoms and they've lasted for more than a couple of days. Before someone receives a diagnosis of SAD, they must experience this consecutively for two years. It's not just 'I feel bad one winter, therefore I must have SAD.' There has to be a history there." If you suspect you have SAD, seek a professional opinion. Self diagnosis is never a good idea.

The exact cause of SAD is unknown. Medical professionals attribute it to any of the following:

  • Lack of sunlight 
  • Increase in melatonin levels 
  •  hormone levels 
  • Irregular brain chemistry 
  • Lack of serotonin 
  • Disruption of our circadian rhythm, or
  • Lack of vitamin D 
Research on Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder continues, but thus far the lack of sun is the most compelling cause since lacking sunlight affects the brain by increasing melatonin while decreasing serotonin and vitamin D levels in the body. When exposed to sunlight, your optic nerve sends a message to your brain to produce less melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that calms the body and allows you to sleep. When the sun comes up your brain produces serotonin, a hormone that induces feelings of wakefulness. When the sun's ultraviolet rays touch your skin, your body produces vitamin D. Vitamin D also helps the body maintain proper serotonin levels. So during the dark winter months you could have insufficient amounts of vitamin D and serotonin, but overly sufficient amounts of melatonin thus the depressive state.

A research project done at the University of Alaska, Anchorage found that “as serum vitamin D decreased, symptoms of SAD increased.” Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder and the Mediterranean Diet Studies such as that of the University of Alaska, Anchorage lead us to believe that SAD can be controlled through diet. More specifically through a diet high in vitamin D which aids in the production of serotonin in the body. Psychiatrist David Mrazek on, claims that eating a Mediterranean diet can help.

A Mediterranean diet is a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables. With the Mediterranean diet whole grains, healthy fats, fish, and lower amounts of meats can help reduce depression. According to Mrazek this diet can reduce depression by up to one-third. Dietary supplements also help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. In addition to vitamin D, supplements to add into your diet include: omega-3 vitamin B3 vitamin B12 and folate. Fish, and nuts contain high amounts of omega-3 while B-complex vitamins come from oily fish, beans, nuts, and whole grains. Herring, mackerel, salmon and flaxseed are the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Key components of the Mediterranean Diet include exercise, eating whole grains, using olive oil, eating plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. The diet also calls for the use of herbs rather than salt to flavor foods, enjoying meals with family and friends, limiting red meat consumption while increasing fish and poultry, and drinking red wine in moderation.

In a study by R. J. Wurtman and J. J. Wurtman published in Obesity Research, it was found that consuming foods high in carbohydrates increases serotonin in the brain, which alleviates the symptoms of depression involved with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Excess carbohydrates may; however, cause unwanted weight gain and worsen depression. A study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders supported eliminating simple carbohydrates from the diet of individuals with SAD, claiming this helped control the depression for a longer period. The consumption of carbohydrates and its effect on Seasonal Affective Disorder continues to be a controversial issue and the center of more studies; however, the Mediterranean diet in considered a low-carb diet, balancing the amount of carbohydrates with a variety of other nutritious foods and is highly recommended.

Kate Hunter is a writer at Everlasting Health Center, Reno’s best vitamin, supplement, herb and health food store since 1995. She enjoys organic gardening, whole food cooking, and following up on the latest health food news. Katie obtained B.A. in English with an emphasis on writing from Southern Oregon University and has been writing about nutrition, healthy living, cooking, and gardening for over nine years. She is a mother of three and spends her time baking, canning, growing and drying herbs, and reading food labels of course.

Monday, December 3, 2012

on my mind monday 12.3.12

It's never the same two weeks in a row.  A collection of what I find interesting in the world of food, nutrition, and holistic health.  Here's what's on my mind.

The Economic Cost of Food Monopolies - Our food system is broken/breaking down as corporations pursue ever greater consolidation in the race toward profits. This however squeezes out the farmer and isolates us further from our food. I believe everyone should read this report. It's important that we understand where our food comes from, why costs are rising, and why we need to know our farmer.

Changes ahead for sugar - (starts at 2:40 on the video) US prices 50-70% higher than the rest of the world? Wow that's a huge jump. Combined with the fact that processed sugar can be as much as 4 times more addictive than cocaine and we have a very expensive health crisis on our hands (in more ways than one). We could all pay attention to the label and eat less sugar.

eFarmony - I love this idea...putting those with land together with those who want to farm it. Sounds like a win-win-win with consumers getting more fresh local produce.

Allergic to spice - We hear a lot about the common food allergies, dairy, peanuts, shellfish, etc. We also hear about food sensitivity conditions the severe celiac disease to a less harmful but still challenging lactose intolerance (a lack of the digestive enzyme lactase). But many people tend to forget that food sensitivities can be to any food substance. While food sensitivities are different than a life-threatening allergy, they are no less severe for their impact on health. If you think you have food sensitivities consider working with a nutrition professional to see how you can identify what may be overwhelming your system.

Horrible Diet Ideas - With the New Year just around the corner many people begin to resolve to lose weight. Unfortunately many of them are seduced by fad diets and celebrity endorsements. Just because someone is famous does not make them an expert on nutrition. Many of these ideas are highly dangerous. If you want to lose weight it needs to be done in a healthy, supportive fashion.

Asparagus for blood sugar control? - Like asparagus? It turns out that asparagus may be useful in stabilizing blood glucose levels. More and more readily available at the grocery store it's tasty and easy to cook.  I love the fact that I've got some in my garden, we just finished moving it to it's new dog-free garden bed. Now to wait and see if it transplanted well.

Looking for a good gentle yoga routine?  Here's one I like that's very relaxing and, most importantly, reminds you to breathe deeply.

What am I reading this week?  Truthfully, nothing because I'm still busy at work on my book, The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what's really in your food.  Want to learn more about the book?

Head on over to Facebook and join The Pantry Principle page.  You'll be able to stay in touch as I start posting healthy tips and news articles.