Archive for the ‘Eating Well’ Category

Let’s Put an End to the Flu!

February 13, 2018

Flu infections continue to plague NH folks. We know that new viruses will continue to be passed around as world travel increases. Our best defense is a strong immune system. Vitamin C has long been credited as an important defense against viruses. The best way to build up Vitamin C in our cells is not to run out and buy megadoses of Vitamin C at the health counter. Our best protection is to limit our sugar consumption. Here’s why.

In the 1970’s, John T. A. Ely, a professor of orthomolecular medicine, UW, discovered the ‘Glucose Ascorbate Antagonism Theory’ (Googlable). He found that elevated glucose levels restrict Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid) from entering cells. Yet, white blood cells need Vitamin C to oxidize and destroy pathogens. This is the prime reason we need to limit consumption of sugar when we have colds or flu, or if we have any hope of strengthening our immune systems.

It makes no sense to simply eat lots of leafy greens, bright vegetables and fruits or Vitamin pills if the Vitamin C they carry can’t make it into our cells because we are taking in so much added sugar.

Sodas, ice cream, juices with sugar added will simply open the highway for flu to proliferate. It is annoying to have to constantly read labels, especially when sugar has so many names. If you google, ‘other names for sugar’, you’ll bring up 56 other names. Water is our best drink.

Another problem with added sugar is that it lacks the other vitamins and minerals that whole foods contain. You do not have to be a gourmet cook to put together delicious and nourishing meals. A meal can be as simple as slicing up a variety of vegetables according to density: carrots, potato, onion, broccoli, cauliflower, red pepper, squash, garlic, (and any bright vegetables you have on hand), sprinkle them with a little olive oil, rosemary or other herbs, salt and pepper, and bake it at 375 for 40 minutes.

You may want to adjust cooking time or size of cut-up vegetables. The internet has plenty of ideas and your household will have preferences. Healthy eating does not need to be complicated. The simpler, the better. Soups, when dealing with flu, can be as simple as lightly cooked zucchini and string beans put through the blender with a little nutmeg, salt and pepper.

The idea is for us to add something new that is rich in Vitamin C without added sugar, so that our bodies can absorb it and build up our immune system defenses.

As we are exposed or predisposed to the variety of illnesses around, those illnesses can provide us with momentum to clean up our sugar act, protect our water supply, and discover delicious whole healing foods, and put an end to the flu.


Funding Effects of Sugar Research

February 10, 2018

A reader, who states he is a professional in the food industry, questioned my competence to speak forthrightly about sugar in my most recent column, ‘Shape Up and Beat the Flu!’

My credentials began to accrue as a child when my farm-raised mother announced, “Our family cannot afford to be sick!” Therefore, we had to eat what was put in front of us and clean our plates. At the first sign of a sore throat we were to up our consumption of water and gargle with warm salt water. If we needed a day or two in bed, we were plied with plenty of vegetable soup. I raise my 3 children with the same philosophy. Soda was something we had on picnics.

I am a retired psychiatric nurse practitioner with additional graduate studies in Eastern Philosophy which included the Ayurvedic Medical System. Ayurveda considers the digestive tract the root of health or illness, depending on what we eat.

There have been studies on the effect of sugar consumption on our health. The earliest one I read was John Rudkins 1972 book, Pure, White, and Deadly. Rudkins was a British Medical Doctor and Nutritional Scientist. The food industry trashed his book, but the book has survived. A 1973 study at Loma Linda University looked at why simple sugars but not complex carbohydrates (found in fruits and vegetables) adversely affected the immune system.

Marion Nestle, NYU professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, and Cristin Kearns, assistant professor UCSF School of Dentistry both have documented research on the subject.

Anyone can Google, ‘Funding Effects of Sugar Research’ and read the sad history of researchers paid by the sugar industry to suppress bona fide research and blame fats for the rise in cardiac disease and to promote sugar consumption.

The reason more research has not been published to warn the general public is that traditionally, Land Grant universities funded such research. Currently, food and chemical companies fund university research with the stipulation that they review and reject studies adverse to their industry. Only recently have other sources stepped forward to fund needed research, with no strings attached to the outcomes.

There is something to that farm-raised fresh food that we yearn for today as we look for farm stands to reopen this year.

Shape Up and Beat the Flu

January 30, 2018

Flu vaccine is not the #1 prevention, despite media claims. At best, it may offer protection from the three most prevalent strains of flu. However, with the tremendous influx of world travelers, new strains of flu are presented to us daily.

Flu doesn’t mess around. Flu virus has a strong addiction to sugar. It absolutely thrives on ice cream, sodas, sweetened juices, candy, fries, and processed foods. Flu virus just can’t survive when people drink plenty of tap water or lemon water, eat plenty of whole foods, intact as nature made them, and log in eight hours of sleep each night. This routine is the #1 prevention.

It’s that simple. We do not have to have a nasty bout with the flu. It’s up to us.

 Flu vaccine may be 60 percent effective. Flu vaccine may tend to make people feel protected and therefore impervious to the three strains of flu included in the vaccine. People may ignore early signals of sore throat and the general feeling of “I’m coming down with something.”

Each of us must take responsibility not to pass the flu around. Flu virus thrives on sugar. The reason flu gets a stronghold is because as a civilization, we have increased our sugar consumption to outrageous amounts in the last 70 years alone. Sugar has gradually, stealthily, been added to just about everything we put in our mouths. Even when there was a sugar bowl on every kitchen table, we did not consume the huge quantity of sugar that has spawned so many conditions, in addition to leaving us in a weakened state to fight flu viruses.

Pharmacies have become the new sub-clinics. As a nation, we seem to be accepting chronic illness as a way of life instead of as a wake-up call to shape up and deal with our addiction to sugar. We lead the world with poor health as a result of our addiction. Over 1600 years ago, Hippocrates advised people to “Let your food be your medicine.” Imagine how different our lives could be if we followed that sage advice.

Massive changes begin with small steps; sugar was added in small steps; pharmacies expanded in small steps. Our bodies do need natural forms of glucose for energy. Small steps toward healthier forms of glucose might begin with including one piece of fresh fruit each day and one fresh vegetable eaten raw or cooked. Habits change by adding something new, not by taking away the old. The new makes change possible, is more inviting. With every small new step, a bit of the old sloughs off and change happens.

Here’s to shaping up with lots of small steps!

Sensing The Change Of Seasons

September 30, 2015

The last two weeks in September are guaranteed to bring a string of changes. A gentle, friendly, fall wind woke me one morning and I heard the flutter of leaves that are beginning to change their song to the fall tune. Chipmunks are chattering up a storm as they chase around putting food by for winter.

The rare pair of yellow warblers I saw a couple of weeks ago have headed south but chicadees still buzz me. Mice are checking out my attic. I don’t like to kill them and found a neat way to turn them off a few years ago. I was doing a grandma stint with my daughter’s cat, Mack, who refused to leave the house for the duration of his visit. But he did make use of the litter box I set out. When it was time to change the box, minus the feces but fragrant with urine, I sprinkled the contents outside along the wall of the house where the mice usually enter. For two years, with Mack’s regular visits and litter deposits, no mice elected to visit. I missed visit time with him this year and definitely need to invite him back for another symbiotic adventure.

We continue to need to take precautions when cleaning out sheds, attics. Rodents are typically drawn to our storage spaces. Be aware that rodents are carriers of viruses, some of which are deadly, and if we inhale dust from their saliva, urine or scat that they leave behind, we can contract a virus. While some rodents, like the white-footed mouse, have been identified as carriers here in the Northeast, they are all potential carriers of viruses and bacteria.

A few precautions are in order. Wear rubber gloves or cover hands with plastic bags to avoid touching what we clean up, and double bag it for the dump. Avoid touching dead rodents or birds. Special attention must be given to children who are often fascinated by dead wildlife and need to be forewarned as they explore the wonders of our area.

Be aware that most of us normally touch our hands to our faces several times an hour (check it out!) Thus, depending on our attention to hand-washing, we risk inhaling organisms that spell trouble.

On a brighter side, fall is also a time to put the gardens to bed for winter, spread that last layer of mulch to keep the worms warm, time to gather seeds, plant cover crops, set out the bulbs, make hearty soups and apple everything. It’s a time to enjoy the flood of color that fills our mountains with our friends and families, a time to give thanks.

Sleuthing Food Labels for Health

July 16, 2015

News that Whole Foods overcharged customers by mislabeling product weights brought groans from folks who thought they could shop with confidence at Whole Foods Markets. Over 20 years ago, I had a brief stint working the cash register at a Bread and Circus recently converted to a Whole Foods Market. Even then, I found that I was better off shopping the perimeter. Foods in the center aisles of the store: cereals, soups, salad dressings, canned goods, frozen foods, etc. all contained multiple forms of sugar, guaranteed to stimulate an appetite for more food, bigger servings, and insatiable appetites. Such foods reliably create health problems when consumed regularly.

When health food stores first opened, they offered mostly whole foods stored in bins. Produce came from local sources. Co-ops weekly sent a truck to the nearest bulk supplier. As demand rose for quality foods, suppliers began to deliver directly to health food stores and co-ops. At the same time, boxed, bottled and canned foods made their entrance with over 30 different forms of sugar added.

As a cashier, I noticed that many people came through with a cart full of junk food, sometimes not one whole food, just lots of boxes, cans and bottles. Invariably they would beam gratitude that they could shop at such a wonderful place for their family, even though they had to struggle financially to do it. Everything on the shelves at Whole Foods was the best food money could buy. I was in no position to advise them otherwise.

Today, wherever we shop, we must check labels. This week, I realized that the delicious peanut butter I have trustingly bought at natural food stores and snacked on by the spoonful for years, contains sugar. Sleuthing, I found only one brand that is just made of ground peanuts.

Food guru, Michael Pollan, cautions us to avoid packaged foods with more than 5 ingredients listed on their labels. Chances are, anything more will include extra sugars and chemicals we don’t need. This year, supermarkets rearranged their shelves to sandwich organic foods in with everything else. This means that people must slowly shop over the whole store and may, on impulse, buy foods they normally avoid. Stores try to market eye level products more heavily. Better choices are on top and bottom shelves.

The good news is that Farmers Markets and farm stands are in full swing. We now have many opportunities to enjoy the flavor of fresh berries, a mess o’ peas, and a choice array of vegetables and home grown produce free of additives. Best of all, the farmer will be there to field our questions.

High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar

February 26, 2015

For years, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) producers have tried to classify HFCS as Sugar without success. Here’s why: HFCS molecules and Sugar molecules are not the same chemical structure at all and they are absorbed by our bodies at different rates with different effects.

Regular cane or beet sugar molecules consist of 50 percent glucose and 50 percent fructose in a tight chemical bond. They need to be gradually broken down to small enough particles by our body’s enzymes before they can be absorbed through the wall of the small intestine. We absorb sugar slowly, like a time-released capsule.

High Fructose Corn Syrup molecules consist of 45 percent glucose and 55 percent fructose and they are unbound. Fructose is also much sweeter than glucose. Because HFCS is chemically unbound, the fructose and glucose are rapidly absorbed with no need of enzymes. They go straight to the liver where fructose produces fats like triglycerides and cholesterol that set in motion the condition called fatty liver. The liver then sends out fatty deposits to line our arteries. At the same time, rapid absorption of glucose increases spikes of insulin.

When sugar is absorbed, it stimulates the production of leptin, a neurotransmitter that signals when we are full. HFCS does not stimulate leptin production and can lead to overeating.

Corn syrup is cheap due to heavy subsidies we all pay for. This is a classic example of how we in the US have been led astray. This is why sodas and other HCFS sweetened drinks are sold cheaply and in gargantuan containers. They are not cheap when we consider the health dues we then pay for conditions they stimulate: Cardiovascular Disease, Liver Disease, Cancer, Arthritis, Diabetes and more. It’s not the fructose itself that is the cause, it is the massive doses.

Short of a mass organized protest of this blatant misuse of our taxes, what can we do as individuals right now to take control of our health?
1. Check labels and avoid products sweetened with HFCS.
2. Eat whole fruit, not fruit juice that lacks pulp nutrients and may be sweetened with HCFS.
3. Buy fresh produce and learn to cook it.

Change rarely happens overnight, but it usually begins with the first step.

What’s This About Tritan, the new ‘BPA-Free” Plastic?

March 5, 2014

This week we learned that Tritan, the new plastic being used in commercial products, including the new bins Whole Foods is renovating their stores with, is more estrogenic than BPA (Bisphenol-A), the plastic we have been trying to avoid. Now, we learn that Tritan, produced by Eastman Chemicals, is not being regulated by the EPA due to slick maneuvering reminiscent of the Tobacco industry’s saga which claimed that tobacco smoke was not a health hazard.

Mariah Blake‘s piece in the March/April issue of Mother Jones, “The Scarey New Evidence on BPA-free Plastics: And the Big Tobacco-style campaign to bury it,” sounds an alarm for us. We learn that the BPA-free Nalgene, Camelback, Evenflo, Tupperware, Rubbermaid, and Cuisinart products we thought were safe, all contain Tritan, without warning labels for us.

Plastic water bottles have also been found to be estrogenic, with increasing amounts of the chemicals released into water when exposed to UV waves, left in the car, sitting on grocery shelves, or run through the dishwasher. There is a long list of estrogenic health problems, including brain and organ development in utero, cancer, diabetes, obesity, problems with bone growth, ovulation, heart function, and more.

When George Bittner, professor of neurobiology at U Texas-Austin released a research paper he coauthored in the NIH (National Institutes of Health) journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, stating that virtually all commercially available plastics were estrogenic, he was successfully sued by Eastman Chemicals. How is this possible? Simple: for their research tests, Eastman used Charles River Sprague Dawley Lab Rats, which are insensitive to estrogens and can stand a 100x higher dose than can humans without effect. The jury did not grasp the significance of this ploy. Of course, their results were negative.

The above tactics, combined with well-oiled rhetoric in the court proceedings that snowed the jury, mean that our health effects were jeopardized again, just as in the tobacco years.

According to Blake, “The EPA quietly withdrew a request for White House approval to add some endocrine disrupting chemicals- among them BPA [and others] to its ‘chemicals of concern’ list because it found that they may present an unreasonable risk to human health. This would require chemical makers to share safe-testing data with federal regulators.” This despite the 1996 law passed by congress requiring the EPA to screen 80,000 chemicals for endocrine-disrupting effects and report back by 2000. That report has not been forthcoming.

Meantime, for our own safety, we need to consider storing foods in glass jars, give tap water the respect it deserves, check out stainless containers for our packs, and look to whole foods a meal at a time, as we create safety measures that give us some control over our health.


Pandora’s Box of Processed Food

July 11, 2013

In this information age, what isn’t on the Internet is often available through Inter-Library Loan. Such is the case with Melanie Warner’s book, Pandora’s Lunchbox: How Processed Food Took Over the American Meal. It’s the story of how the food industry has attempted to replicate foods by “advancing them through science.”

Unless we shop the perimeter of food stores, we don’t find much food in its original form. Additives in the form of sweeteners, shelf life chemical extenders, thickeners, cellulose de-clumpers, imitation flavors, hormones, antibiotics, and the rest of the scary list make up what’s sold as “food.”

I took a closer look at the Parmesan cheese I brought home and found that it was made up of pasteurized part-skim milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes and powdered cellulose to prevent caking. Only 5 ingredients, so it went into my basket at the store. When I topped my gourmet home-made spaghetti sauce with it at dinner, I found the cheese absolutely tasteless! $5.99 down the drain!

With Warner’s book  still joggling my mind, I decided to look up Parmesan Cheese on the Internet. Come to find out, Parmesan cheese is made from milk produced in the Parma/Reggio region of Italy and there is less than 20 hours from cow to cheese, according to columnist, Larry Olmsted. There are no antibiotics, steroids or growth hormones in the milk. The cows  are not fed silage; they are fed primarily vegetation grown in the Parma/Reggio region. The only ingredients in real Parmesan cheese are milk, salt and rennet (a natural enzyme from calf intestine.) Clearly, what I bought was no relation, yet it could legally call itself Parmesan in the US.

I  wondered  whether food companies count on us to be distracted enough with conversation or rushing to get to some meeting, that we aren’t even aware of what we are eating whether it’s loaded up with sugar, spices, or other flavor instigators, or not.

At the same time, Khalid Hosseni’s  new book,  And The Mountains Echo, paints the picture of  how we are shaped and, in turn,  shape others through the bonds we create. Hosseni’s  gifted storytelling of life in an Afghan village compels us to see ourselves in many of his characters, yet stirs us to break out of our own molds and mindsets.

It’s tempting to rail against the food companies and lobby for labeling but our responsibilities go beyond there. We have much more power than we realize. Given that processed foods have questionable nutritional value and threaten our health, despite what the package says, we can choose to slowly wean ourselves from them with whole foods we grow ourselves or find at local farmers’ markets,  produce,  and pick-your-own stands.

Cooked Food: Our Ancestor’s Legacy of Transformation

June 7, 2013

Michael Pollan obviously had fun writing his latest book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation. Pollan takes us through his hilarious travels to discover the essence of how the use of fire, water, air and the earth rendered humans a dominant species. He’s concerned about our growing distance from direct, physical engagement in transforming raw stuff into cooked food and the nourishment such food provides as opposed to opening a package that has been processed elsewhere.

Discovery of fire and an inadvertently cooked carcass drew early humans in with its pleasant aroma and eventual preferred taste and started this whole business of cooked food. Most animals and birds spend their entire day chewing in order to survive. But, cooked food is more tender and easily digested, so it cuts down chewing time and frees humans to dream up other things to do with their time. Squirrels have to bury their nuts and wait to season them and make them digestible. Bunches of tree seedlings we find in the spring attest to a forgotten stash. Fermentation is practiced by many species, including food that sits in the craw of birds, readying it for digestion.

Pollan goes to North Carolina to learn the fine art of pig roasting by apprenticing himself to the experts. Whether you ever decide to roast a pig yourself, you’ll learn a lot about the value of different wood, and the transformative power of carefully controlled fire in the smoke of “ritual sacrifice that shadow us, however faintly, whenever we cook a piece of meat over a fire.”

Next, he hired a gourmet cook to teach him how to make pot dishes as he walks us through the water element via French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Greek and more variations, adding vegetables, seaweeds, mushrooms, spices, and sauces. Guaranteed, you’ll want to try some new variations yourself.

He did the same with bread making (air element), apprenticed himself to fine bakers and takes us through the art of making starter, a sponge, and all the shenanigans in between. When we bake with whole grains, we reduce the risk of chronic diseases, weigh less, and live longer than those who don’t.

Finally, Pollan takes us through the earth element, the microbes that render food more digestible, and release valuable nutrients, vitamins, minerals. He has a whole saga for making sauerkraut and other fermented foods, including beer.

As we move into summer, we have the opportunity to celebrate with outdoor picnics, favorite dishes, and ritual gatherings, mindful of  how we honor and use the elements of fire, water, air and earth in the foods we prepare to share with others. Farmer’s Markets and  roadside produce stands provide us with new and familiar choices to continue our exciting, and often hilarious, human evolution. Here’s to celebrating our evolving art!

Spring check for what happens when….

April 6, 2013

Spring sets off a bunch of questions about what to plant, what new foods to try, what to look out for, and what really works to keep us healthy. We’re on Daylight Saving Time again.  It’s mud season. Bulbs are poking up. Road cleanup is on the to do list. It’s time to take wreaths down and put up the egg tree. We can micro-spike familiar trails and watch our favorite waterways magically slide their multi-mineral colored ice drapes from high banks back into the brooks. Citrus is in and we’re thinking more fruits….

 We’ve had the winter to soak up the latest trends researchers have come up with to bring about a health spurt and it’s tempting to try some new diet. Now, there’s an upsurge of energy to recharge our bodies. Which is why most of us need to pay special attention to the signals our bodies send out if we want to claim our drive to be well. What we eat isn’t nearly as important as noticing what happens AFTER we eat.

 Some foods get a nourishing boost if eaten with good friends or family, whether grazed through at a party that includes lots of hilarity, or savored with a friend, whether it’s a piece of delectable venison, or an amazing multi-course meal.  What we eat, with whom we eat, the ambiance of where we eat, and what else is going on in our life, all collectively generate how we feel AFTER we eat.

What we’re looking at is renewable, sustainable energy for our bodies that we can access and control. Food is just the part that gets the most notoriety for health. Exercise also plays an important role, whether we hike, work out at a gym or intentionally hit the stairs several times a day. Every move we make sends our blood circulating whatever nutrients we’ve taken in. When we make our exhalation as full as possible, like blowing out a hundred candles, this automatically assures that we’ll then inhale a full blast of fresh air through the nose to wake up our lungs and keep the oxygen exchange going. What we choose to do for exercise isn’t as important as how we feel AFTER we exercise.

 Noticing what happens when… joggles our consciousness and helps us to choose sustenance and exercise that generate robust health, regardless of whatever current researchers come up with. Here’s to enjoying all aftereffects!