Food for Thought: Nutrition Nuggets
Week of 1/21/17 Fiber; Soluble and Insoluble.
Week of 1/14/19 Bee Pollen – Just for the bees?
Bee Pollen is one of those mysterious “natural superfoods” that has had many claims made of it, and from what I can tell is simply another great way to separate people from their money. These claims of boosted athletic prowess, immunity and vitality have not been scientifically substantiated. The only thing that science has to say is if you are allergic to bees or their products, stay away from it. One guy had increased bleeding when taking both bee pollen and a blood thinner (Warfarin/Coumadin). I don’t put a lot of faith in situations with and N=1, so this effect might be a mulligan. It’s obviously the perfect food for bees, but at this point, there is no evidence to suggest that humans derive any benefit other than perhaps a psychosomatic or placebo effect. Try honey instead.
Week of 1/7/19: Foods for fighting the cold and flu season
First off, wash your hands. Second, stay hydrated. Get a flu shot if that works for you. But then, why not use your diet to boost protection from upper respiratory tract infections? It’s a form of medicine that you can access up to 3 X a day. Create delicious recipes using the following foods:
Week of 12/17: Timing is everything
When is the best time of the day or night to take vitamins or supplements? Well, the most efficient answer is “whenever you remember to take them”, but this could be broken down into more specific times. You want to give your body the best shot at dissolving the tablets or capsules and absorbing the tablets, so food and water accompaniments come in to play.
Vitamins are either water soluble or fat soluble. Fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are best taken with some food to dissolve the nutrients. B vitamins boost energy, so best to take them in the day time. Multi-vitamins are usually pretty big and should be taken with a lot of water to break them down. In the past, I have crushed them in my mortar and pestle and added water and drunk them down. Trouble here is that they don’t taste very good. Also; don’t take them with fiber powder, or they may not have a chance to dissolve and be absorbed. Liquid versions of multi-vitamins and minerals are also available and might offer a better chance at absorption. You can add those to smoothies as well. Taking supplements with food is the best bet bet due to absorbability and some multis will cause stomach upset if taken on an empty stomach. If you have to take more than one of the same vitamin (say 3 tablets of vitamin C, then if you can remember to spread them out over the days, that will allow you the best absorption. Your body won’t store it and simply eliminates the excess through the kidneys. Talk about pissing your money away!
Bottom line: if you are taking supplements, the best time to take them is 1) whenever it’s recommended by your medical professional 2) spread out over the day and with food, and then 3) whenever is best for you***. Create a ritual and stick to it even if you are traveling. I take psyllium and lemon juice plus a vitamin C in the morning, then the rest of the vitamins with lunch, and ground flax with more lemon at night. (advice from Dr. Weil)
Week of 12/10: Fantastic Flax
Flax seeds have a host of nutrients that are helpful to our bodies. There are both brown and gold flaxseed, and they can be used interchangeably. Flax contains lignans – a class of nutrient that when broken down in our body have many beneficial actions. 1) anticancer agents, 2) phyto (plant-derived) estrogens that could be an alternative or additive to soy in peri- and menopausal support, 3) antioxidants preventing free-radical tissue damage and 4) Lignans have a cardio-protective LDL-lowering and HDL-increasing effect. Flax also contains soluble and insoluble fiber, so much so that it’s advisable to take it with liquid. Just put a tablespoon of ground flax seed in a glass and add 2 tablespoons of water and watch what happens! It can be even be used as an egg-replacer if you run out of eggs, or are cooking for someone with an allergy!
Flax seeds contain fiber and precursors to omega-3 fatty acids, which can expire or become damaged, so it’s best to buy smaller amounts to maintain a fresher supply. Flax oil will not give you the fiber benefit, and also has a higher probability of going rancid and so must be refrigerated. Flax seeds last in fridge 12 months in an opaque container, or 6 months pre-ground in the freezer. But it’s probably best to buy a little coffee grinder at Reny’s for $12.99 and grind your own fresh. Serving size: 2 tablespoons a day, or 1/4 C three (or more) times a week, ground and sprinkled on salads, whipped into smoothies or soups. Grind it, or it will pass right through, giving you no nutritional benefit. (link to Dr. Andrew Weil’s thoughts). Some have been concerned about cyanide content of flax, but studies have shown that it’s about the same level as cashews, almods and some other plant products and that the human body breaks it down harmlessly if not overconsumed (more than 8 T a day).
Week of 12/3: Hydration and cold weather
Week of Nov 26th: Food rule #8 by Michael Pollan: Avoid Food Products that make Health Claims
Week of Nov 19th: Is “Low Fat” healthy?
First off, we need fat to survive. It’s one of the macronutrients along with protein and carbohydrate. How much depends on your lifestyle, but about according to the Mayo Clinic, about 20-35% of your daily caloric intake should be fat. Approximately between 40-78 g/day with less than 22g being saturated fat. I tablespoon of peanut butter has about 8 g of fat, a tablespoon of olive oil, 14g. So the normal daily intake is actually quite reasonable, (if you are not eating the Standard American Diet and lots of deep fried things).
Fat became vilified in the 60′s and 70′s when a link was found between dietary fat, heart disease and weight gain, so the knee jerk reaction was to reduce ALL dietary fat. We now know that it’s much more complicated than that. We don’t need large amounts, but we definitely need fat for healthy skin, hair, hormones, and all cell membranes, among many other things. So what is a Low-Fat food anyway? “Low-Fat” foods have been processed and modified to chemically or physically remove naturally occurring lipids. Fat tastes good. It dissolves a lot of flavor molecules, so things that have large amounts of fat tend to make taste buds happy. If you take fat out of a food, you have to add something back in so that it’s palatable; sugar and artificial flavors. The mantra became fat = bad, carb = good. Perceived caloric deficit of low-fat food was met with a frenzied no-holds-barred increase in overall carbohydrate calorie intake, such that US’ers became more obese than before, and also more diabetic. Low-fat has been shown to be low-health.
The final most recent outcome is that reasonable amounts of fat from real food (nuts, seeds, avocados, fish, plant oils) is part of a healthy food paradigm. Processing of foods creates fats that can cause inflammation in our systems: trans-fats, elevated omega 6′s (very readable article here) which manifest in atherosclerosis and obesity. As usual, the solution is not rocket science, it won’t sell tons of books, nor is it a magic bullet diet or pill answer. Eat reasonable amounts of real food. Don’t stress too much.
You knew it all along.
Week of Nov 12th: Define “healthy”
Merriam Webster defines healthy as; 1) free from disease or pain, 2) showing physical, mental, or emotional well-being, 3) beneficial to one’s physical, mental, or emotional state. I would go further in this definition of healthy to include “beneficial to one’s environment and community”, because that so immediately surrounds and influences us (think food, air, mental and emotional state etc.).
Let’s examine this definition in terms of “healthy food”, which has been completely obfuscated and upended by mixed messages from media, the medical community and other non-medical entities that want you to not trust what you already know, and therefore sell you things. But you know what healthy food is. It’s simply real food. Don’t let people who want to sell you unneeded things confuse you. The more confusion, the more money can be made selling magic bullets, diets and programs. Writer Michael Pollan has summed up my approach on healthy food succinctly: “Eat Real Food. Not too much. Mostly vegetables”.
Break it down…
Real Food = less processed. Processed means chemically treated in a way that prolongs its shelf life and therefore it’s inedibilty to microorganisms, which, by the way also live inside you and help you digest your food. Processed food is found in the center of the grocery store , usually encased in plastic or cellophane or other types of packaging and has lots of sugars, preservatives, and trans fats to disguise the flavor of the shelf-life prolonging chemicals.
Not too much = moderation and portion control. Basically eat slowly, chew a lot, and stop when you’re full. Drinking water helps too.
Mostly vegetables = Foods that have excellent mixtures of fiber, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, proteins and phytochemicals mixed with lower amounts of carbohydrates to sustain healthy human bodies and lower disease risk. “Mostly vegetables” also means fats and proteins have a place, but they are just not center stage in a healthy diet.
Eating this way means lower amounts of sugar (in all forms, pure, simple and complex carbohydrates), fat and salt, and also means higher amounts of food that will allow your health span to equal your life span.
***my pet peeve: as per AHD: “Some people insist on maintaining a distinction between the words healthy and healthful. In this view, healthful means “conducive to good health” and is applied to things that promote health, while healthy means “possessing good health,” and is applied solely to people and other organisms. Accordingly, healthy people have healthful habits.” I use healthy and healthful interchangeably. In fact I never use the word healthful. I find it too precious. But that’s just me.
Week of Nov 5th: The soothing scent of Lavender
Week of October 29th: Healthy Hallowe’en
Week of October 22, familiar cooking oils – what to use when
Week of October 15th, 2018; Sleep – A macronutrient
We all need sleep. In fact if we don’t get it, things get mighty peculiar. There are some strange folks who seem to need less sleep, and those who need more. How much do we really need, and how do sleep patterns affect our lives?
Why we need sleep remains elusive and many theories abound. The most logical to me is the replenishment and repair theory. During physical downtime, housekeeping molecules such as hormones are manufactured and topped up, and infrastructure like muscles and bones are mended since the body is not using them while we sleep.
In terms of metabolism and weight, sleep influences the hormones leptin (satiety/fat-burning) and ghrelin (hunger/fat-storing). Adequate sleep boosts leptin and diminishes ghrelin at the right times, balancing your energy intake with activity requirements. Sleep deprivation results in mismanaged timing and levels of these hormones such that we feel hungry when we aren’t really, and store energy as fat when we should be burning it.
Optimum sleep amounts for adults is 7-9 hrs a night and more for children and adolescents. Ways to help sleep include; daily exercise (best to wait 3 hrs after exercise to sleep), less screen time before bed, stress management and lower caffeine, among others.
Week of Oct 8th: Ginger!
Autumn is a great season for warming foods and ginger is a delicious one. Flavorful and therapeutic, ginger with over 400 known chemical components, has long been known for soothing digestive issues and improving overall health. If you buy fresh salmony-pink ginger (locally grown by Frith Farm) you’ll experience a very mild flavor generated by ‘Gingerols’ . Older ginger or dried ginger products like powdered ginger are dominated by more pungent ‘Shagaols’. Ginger has been studied and documented both historically and currently for it’s health benefits. It has been identified as a modulator in blood clotting, blocks carcinogenic activity, as well as benefiting the inflammatory system via it’s inhibitory effect oneicosanoids (inflammation-response molecules). Bonus: ginger protects the stomach lining while having it’s anti-inflammatory effects, unlike NSAIDS.
There are some wonderful recipes out there: ginger chai tea, pumpkin gingerbread, (I tried this one, but futzed with the recipe a bit. I omitted the sugar, added a tad of stevia and drizzled a small amount on honey when serving), and here are some savory ones. One of my favorites is Golden Milk, which you can make with any type of milk (cow, rice, coconut, soy…) heated in a pan, plus a knob of freshly grated ginger, a teaspoon of turmeric, a smidge of black pepper, and honey. I have put this recipe on my http://emmaholder.com/happiness-sweet/ page.
Week of Oct 1st: Radishes! Autumn is their second season.
Usually we associate radishes as one of the first spring vegetables our freshness-starved palates crave after a long winter. But in Maine, these cool-weather-loving crucifers of the Brassica family, including cabbage, kale, collards, and turnips, come around again in Autumn. Their greens are slightly peppery and are lovely in salads, sautéed or added directly to soups. The zingy roots are excellent raw and can also be roasted with a pan full of like-minded root vegetables. They also ferment very well. Just like cabbage creates sauerkraut, you can do a lacto-ferment treatment on radishes that results in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, cancer risk-reducing isothiocyanates, and also the probiotic micro-biome benefit of a fermented food.
Try fuchsia-centered watermelon radishes, easter egg colored, long white-tipped french breakfast, and my favorite: the sinister Darth-Vader-style black radishes.
Week of September 24th – Lycopene and tomato skins
Are you making a lot of tomato sauce right now? Don’t get rid of the skins or the seeds! This is where the majority of thelycopene (an antioxidant called a flavonol) is found, as well as essential amino acids, and the seeds contain lots of minerals (Ca, Cu, Mn, Zn, and Se) Really cool article about tomato skins. Both skin and seeds contain fiber, another essential dietary component. Cooking your tomatoes will destroy the heat-sensitive vitamin C, but boost the bio-availability of the other antioxidants like lycopene and release the minerals. Tomato paste and puree was found to be high in antioxidants, so enjoy these products! And if you make your own sauce, keep the skins on and the seeds in to maximize the nutritional value of your sauce. A hand blender is one of the best kitchen tools ever.
Week of September 17th – Six things associated with happy and healthy longevity
These may not be rocket science, but there is science to back it up. The summary below comes from this article.
1. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Smoking’s a no-brainer, but what happened to the “One glass of wine is good for you” tenet? I think we all knew the writing was on the wall for that one. Turns out that like processed meat, there is no safe amount of alcohol. It has been implicated in liver damage and now certain cancers. Bummer, and eyes wide open if you choose to drink.
2. Longevity correlates with more years of education. Turns out that both white and blue collar subjects with the same level of education had the same propensity for a healthier life. The qualities involved were self-care and perseverance.
3. A happy childhood. But even the pain of a tough childhood could be mitigated by warmer supportive relationships later in life. See #4.
4. Relationships are the most important thing. Successful healthy and happy aging correlated with the ability to give love joyfully, receive it gratefully and create new relationships to replace old ones that fade away. Happiness is love.
5. Coping skills are important. “Mature defenses” include altruism (The Golden Rule), sublimation (creative ability to self-express and resolve conflict), suppression (patience and seeing the bright side) and humor (not taking oneself too seriously.)
6. Giving back. Community building, realizing that your contribution is part of a bigger picture, taking care of others.
The more of these items in our toolbox, the great the predictor of a happy healthy future into the Golden years.
Week of May 21st – A simple tip avoid “dooring” a bicyclist – The Dutch Reach
Use your opposite hand to open your car door before you exit – applies to drivers or passengers. It forces you to look over your shoulder and allows you to check for oncoming bikes passing your car before swinging the door open. Ask your fellow travelers to do it too! 30 second video to share!
Week of May 14th: Carbohydrate paradigm shift: Grains to Greens.
Let’s talk about carbs, baby. Other monikers: sugar/starch/polysaccharide/anything that ends with the suffix ‘-ose’. It is one of the favorite macronutrients along with fats, proteins and water. Carbs are found in most foods in varying levels and are a supply of glucose to our cells. The most energy-dense carbohydrates are grains and starchy root vegetables, as well as liquid sugar sources such as honey and syrups. High amounts of energy are needed by bodies actively growing or replenishing dwindling supplies, such as children or athletes. Not full grown adults with more sedentary lifestyles. You may see where I’m going with this.
Ancestrally, humans were nomadic and existed mostly on fruits and vegetable sources of carbohydrates along with animal products (proteins and fats). It’s not until humans settled in once place and domesticated grains that agriculture and concentrated sources of calories became available. This coincided, or caused (depending on which theory you espouse) “civilization” and the population increase we experienced and continue to experience to the present day. I digress, but I think that it’s the feedback loop of calories creating more people who need more calories to survive propelling both overpopulation and famine, but thats a bigger topic that we’d need a bottle of wine for.
Luckily, nature has provided a way to get appropriate levels of carbohydrates in a nigh nutrient package -> vegetables and fruits. This is not news to most of us, but here just another way of thinking about it. Green vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and relatively low in carbohydrates. Changing the main part of our diet from grains to greens will result in an overall decrease in insulin-spiking glucose while increasing health-boosting components. Also, you can eat as much as you wish of green vegetables and fruit and never feel deprived. Any doctor/ nutritionist/dietician you consult will tell you to eat more vegetables and less sugar, but Big Ag will continue to try and sell you sugar (wheat, corn, HFCS etc.) and keep the lucrative national addiction going. Be aware.
Switch your grain intake to green intake and you may never have to worry about that final stubborn 5 pounds again.
Week of May 7th – Vitamin K2 and Osteoporosis
A 2014 article was recently forwarded to me by a woman who takes the GDP class. It’s a pretty interesting meta-analysis of a number of articles about vitamin K2, the version found in our bodies and a synthetic yet identical version made in a lab. Analysis showed that Menetetrenone (the synthetic version of K2) modestly increased the amount of bone deposition in the spine, as well as optimum blood-levels of bone-forming calcium, and decreased the numbers of spinal fractures in post-menopausal women.Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin with possible side effects of high intake levels being gastrointestinal tract symptoms such as discomfort of stomach and diarrhea. normal dietary amounts would not cause any issues. A contraindication of menatetrenone supplementation is warfarin (an anticoagulant) use, because vitamin K is a coagulant (blood clotter).
Vitamin K1 is supplied by the diet, especially in green leafy vegetables, while vitamin K2 is synthesized by bacteria in the gut as well as in fermented foods. This indicates the possible need for a healthy biome and gut bacteria, which as you know is nurtured by adequate fiber in the diet. The gut biome is adversely affected by antibiotics, so its possible that the downstream effect of antibiotics can lead to gut bacteria compromise, vitamin K2 decrease to the point of affecting blood levels of Ca++ and therefore bone density. This intestinal source of vitaminK2 is still under investigation, and a number of foods also contain vitamin K2, notably natto as the richest source (fermented soy beans), cheese and curds. Apart from the blood thinning contraindication, menatetrenone (vitamin K2) does not cause any serious side effects regardless of its dose. This indicates to me that doctors should be having conversations with their post-menopausal female patients about perhaps adding Vitamin K2-rich foods to their diets.
Week of April 9th – Maca Root
OK, this one took me by surprise. Why does a cruciferous root vegetable from Peru deserve hype? It is being touted as a new “superfood” (a moniker that has absolutely no true medical backup, it’s just a sound byte to make you buy things). Reading further revealed the kicker: “possible virility enhancer”. Aha.
So maca, (not to be confused with matcha – a green tea, which also has antioxidant etc. benefits, but more on that another time)… is a South American, Andean, Peruvian root vegetable that has been cultivated for eons. It is known scientifically as Lepidium meyenii, and is related to radishes and turnips. This is enough for me to tout it’s worthiness as a crucifer. Not to mention it’s frost-tolerance, self- fertilization and short growing season. But it does deplete the soil and requires either rotation or heavy fertilization. In S. America, this is done with alpaca manure. Apart from being a local staple vegetable, it seems unremarkable until someone with marketing background read some history about Incan warriors consuming a lot of it before going into battle and then – uh oh, protect the women. So the male supplement industry has been capitalizing on this story and selling powdered maca root as a male sexual performance enhancer. (Insert much eye rolling on my part here.) Not enough research has been done to either confirm or deny these claims, so I’d say consume fresh local cruciferous vegetables, stay active and hydrated and your performance will likely be just fine.
Week of Feb 12th- Cholesterol ratio
To calculate your cholesterol ratio, divide your high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol number into your total cholesterol number (HDL/total). An optimal ratio is less than 3.5-to-1. A higher ratio means a higher risk of heart disease. The normal levels of cholesterol ratios for total cholesterol to HDL should be below 4 as a general rule for both men and women. However a very good ratio is 3.5, excellent is 3.0 and fantastic is 2.6. If you can get your ratio down between 2.4 and 2.8, you can actually experience a reversal of heart disease.
Week of Jan 29th – Intermittant fasting – good or bad?
To fast is to go without food. We do this every time we go to sleep and then break our fast with the first food we eat that day (breakfast). Wikipedia defines Intermittant Fasting (IF) as an umbrella term for various diets that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting during a defined period. Some folks take a day off food, and then a day on. Some choose to eat only during a restricted period of time during the day over the course of the fast (Time Restricted Feeding – a whole other topic). How long you choose to fast is up to you and your metabolism. Some folks have unsteady blood sugar and would need to have a little something available, others don’t need anything and won’t feel hungry even if not eating for 2 days (me – I tried it. I was a little peckish at the end of day 2).
The question of “is it safe?” can be answered easily. Of course it is fine to take a day or some time off eating. We carry hundreds of thousands of calories and store other nutrients in our bodies, so we don’t really need to eat everyday. However, to get into this subject is to open a pretty wriggly can of worms involving habits, customs, culture, food addiction and lots of potentially conflicting information. As always, the answer is a qualified “It depends on you”. There is something called a metabolic switch which after a certain time following the onset of fasting (12hrs) the body switches fuel sources and starts to metabolize “fat through fatty acid oxidation and fatty acid-derived ketones, which serve to preserve muscle mass and function. Thus, IF regimens that induce the metabolic switch have the potential to improve body composition…” . But this is not true in all bodies (of course) or for all time courses because everyone metabolizes at different rates.
So the take away here is: Fasting is not unhealthy if you don’t go overboard, but it’s not a magic bullet for weight loss because you are also decreasing your intake of important daily nutrients. Choosing a consistently healthy diet and movement habits are the most sustainable things you can do for yourself in the long run.
Week of Jan 22 – Sprouting grains – why or why not?
For better or worse, grains (rice, wheat, barley, millet, etc.) form a large part of the human diet and provide most of the carbohydrates consumed globally. To store large amounts of grain without rot, it must be harvested when dry and kept dry for shipping and distribution. Once water hits grain, which are basically seeds, they will start to sprout. Typically this happens when a seed or grain falls to the ground and a new plant starts to grow. You might buy bean sprouts at the store, or sprout them yourself. By sprouting a grain in your kitchen, you are starting the break-down process preemptively. Sprouting a grain releases certain nutrients (iron, zinc and vitamin C), and boosts available protein and antioxidant levels (link here). You are also decreasing the amount of phytic acid (plant defense system) which inhibits mineral absorbability in the grain before you eat it.
To sprout a grain, buy organic, wash and drain them and put them sideways in a jar with a fabric membrane on your counter. Within 3-5 days, the sprouts should be showing and they are ready to eat. If they smell off in any way, toss them and try again. This is a good link on how and more details on why.
Week of Jan 15th – Exercise in Cold Weather – Do it!
Some studies show that exercising outside burns more calories, and the fresh clear cold air makes us feel more alert and energized.
There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes. The right footwear and clothes will allow you to enjoy outdoor exercise and fresh air during the winter months. It’s worth dropping the extra $ on good gear to keep your healthy habits going. Make sure you have the right footwear too – boots with grip, or slip-on traction devices help a lot. Reflective gear, or clip on lights are important because it gets dark early and you want to be easily seen by motorists. End of season sales are the best to prepare for next year.
Avoid getting wet, because then you will chill more easily. Dress in layers that you can remove as soon as you start to sweat and then put back on as needed. First, put on a thin layer of synthetic material, such as polypropylene, which draws sweat away from your body. Avoid cotton, which stays wet next to your skin. Next, add a layer of fleece or wool for insulation. Top this with a waterproof, breathable outer layer. If you need more warmth add another layer of wool or fleece. I tend to wear 3-5 layers on top and 2-3 layers on my lower half and bike around in Maine winters just fine. I take all of it off down to a work out top when I arrive somewhere and dry off my inner layer. Makes for some interesting conversations.
If you are wearing the right clothes, you won’t shiver (which burns many calories, but isn’t fun) so your caloric burn will be about the same as if you were exercising in comfortable weather. The bonus comes from feeling great for exercise, sunlight, fresh air, not sharing indoor air and surfaces with lots of possibly rhinovirus-infected people.
Get out there! Check the weather, dress appropriately, hydrate and keep moving!
Week of Jan 8th 2018 - Fiber Fiber Fiber – Eat lots of it.
This is a direct quote from my graduate supervisor, Dr. Lorraine Chalifour at McGill University. She did a presentation on colon cancer, and that was basically the take-away. I have never forgotten it. Though perhaps a delicate subject to start the New Year, this is an easy addition to your diet and has gratifying results. The mucosa of your intestinal tract absorbs nutrients in the upper part and water in the lower part. It can also absorb toxins if they exist in your food, so its best to keep things moving along so they don’t contact the mucosa for too long a period of time. Ways to do this include exercise, adequate hydration and fiber.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that we do not digest. It exists in soluble (pectins and gums – think oatmeal when it solidifies in your pan) and insoluble forms (think roughage from vegetables). Soluble fiber provides food for your gut bacteria and keeps them happy – this is a good thing. It does give you a few calories. Insoluble fiber scrubs through, collects material, and bile salts (made from cholesterol, so adequate fiber manages cholesterol levels) and passes out without much change. You don’t obtain calories from insoluble fiber. What you do gain from both forms is satiety, a feeling of fullness that you don’t get from other types of carbohydrates. Adding more fiber to your meals will boost your feeling that you got enough to eat without providing you with any extra calories.
How to do this? Your most nutritious bet is to add more green leafy vegetables to everything. Spinach to smoothies, kale to soups. Spaghetti sauce over broccoli or julienned collard greens instead of pasta. Roasted Brussels sprouts to a pan of vegetables. Don’t take the skin off your veggies and applicable fruits: potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, apples. Most of the fiber is the skin and just under it, so buy those organic and scrub them well. And eat lots of berries – they are packed with fiber and antioxidants and delicious. Other possibilities: Psyllium power (*sugar-free is available at Trader Joes and Hannafords) mixed into water – drink it quick, or you’ll get a first hand experience of soluble fiber in your glass. All-bran style cereal to your yogurt and berries (careful of the sugar content of that processed stuff though). Even whole grain has many carbohydrate calories that will boost blood sugar and insulin response, it’s better than white grain products, but not as good as vegetables. get the biggest nutrition bang for your intake buck.
Week of Dec 18th – Holiday Season Drinking (and Eating)
I don’t know about you, but if I’m a bit buzzed, I don’t make great food choices. In fact it’s more like … ” Tra la la! This wine is great! Ooh buffet table! Yummy!” (Tazmanian Devil-like activity ensues.)
We’re coming up on party season central and my plan is to space out beverages with a large glass of water before, between and after each alcoholic one. This has as number of effects;
1) Pre-hydration, hydration and post-hydration is always a good plan no matter what you are doing, exercising or merry making.
2) decreases the amount of alcohol (and therefore alcohol calories at 7 cal/g) consumed . Less payback in January.
3) decreases likelihood of buzzed mindless eating. Choose wisely – eat the really good stuff made by hand with lots of love, not the processed crap simply because it’s there.
4) Don’t lose your glass! Drop a berry in your beverage, or bring a wine charm for your wine glass stem. (I detest searching for my glass.)
5) Add ice. Melting ice dilutes a cocktail and creates more liquid. So order your drink on the rocks to try to avoid a quick buzz.
6) Moderation is important. According to NIH, low-risk drinking for women is have no more than 3 drinks a night and no more than 2 nights of drinking a week (Men: 4 and 14 – whoa! Thats a big difference, and is likely due to body weight and metabolism). There is something called Holiday Heart Syndrome which happens to people who aren’t heavy drinkers except sporadically on holidays. It causes atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart rhythm. It does go away if you just stop drinking.
Holiday event take away -> drink more water than alcohol, and focus your holiday party time as opportunities to reconnect with friends, slow down and hang out, and make new friends.
Week of Dec 11th – “Plant-Based” nutrition
This is a new and sexy media catch-phrase created to sell a new load of books and diets to those still looking for a silver bullet. What does it really mean? “Vegetarian”.
Broadly, it can mean anything from including more vegetables on your plate to a completely vegan lifestyle to virtuous-sounding products like “plant-based milk or plant-based protein powder. Beware of any program selling a lifestyle or product delivering “complete or perfect health” (here’s an example of someone trying to sell you something you already know). As always, nothing is black and white, and you have to use your judgement instead of taking things at face-value. If it sounds like snake oil (as opposed to fish oil, see below) its probably an expensive unsubstantiated hoax.
At it’s most innocuous and helpful, anything “plant-based” would be something that leans towards less meat and more vegetables. It’s based on the premise that resources (land, water, time) would be more efficiently used to create large-scale vegetarian crops than similarly-sized animal operations. Also, a more vegetarian, or plant-based diet is likely healthier, as long as the plants you are eating are green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit. The catch phrase could equally describe french fries and danishes (because wheat and corn are plants, right?)
For me, the take-away here is beware of re-packaged shiny new catch-phrases that you already know. They are simply designed to sell you things. Buy and eat a variety of local and fresh food, mostly vegetables and you’ll be fine.
Week of Dec 4th – Fish oils – Which ones?
Eating oily fish 1-2 X week is good for you (salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines). Yes, eat the skin, that’s where lots of oil is. You can also take fish oil or other supplements. Here’s why. Fish oil supplies three essential fatty acids (EFAs) known as Omega 3′s (acronyms: ALA, DHA, EPA). Essential means we don’t make them in our bodies, but have to get them from our diets. Also, the omega three part comes from chemistry nomenclature describing chemical structures located at the tail end (omega, vs alpha) of the fatty acid. You can also get EFA’s from animal products such as grass fed meats, dairy and eggs. Best vegetarian sources include walnuts, algae and flaxseed. Vegans should probably take a supplement, because its hard to get enough from these sources unless you’re really focusing on the levels. (Same with vegan iron and vitamin B12).
1) DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is beneficial for skin and eye structure and health, as well as brain development. DHA is the predominant structural fatty acid in the central nervous system and retina and is crucial for fetal brain development. It is recommended that the pregnant and nursing woman should take at least 2.6g of omega-3 fatty acids and 100–300 mg of DHA daily. There’s also lots of documentation of this fish oil having benefits for ongoing cardiovascular health and reduced heart disease.
2) EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) has anti-inflammatory properties, and has been implicated in reducing depression andhot flashes.
3) ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) has to be converted to one of the above EFAs to be used in the body and we do it inefficiently (less than 10%). Better to either eat the whole food, or buy DHA/EPA supplements.
So bottom line is: eat more fish, and if you are going to supplement, aim for less ALA and more EPA and DHA.
Week of 11/27: Green vs Red Cabbage
Both green and red cabbage belong to the cruciferous vegetables which also contain powerhouses like broccoli, collards, kale, radishes and arugula, among many others. You can’t go wrong eating either of them, really, but there area few differences. One cup of red cabbage has 51 milligrams of Vitamin C vs 37 milligrams for green cabbage. One cup of chopped green cabbage has 57 percent of the daily intake of Vitamin K, compared to 28 percent in red cabbage. Vitamin K is important in blood clotting to heal from injury and bone mineralization. One cup of chopped red cabbage has 33 percent of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. The same portion of green cabbage only has 3 percent. Cabbage vitamin A is in the form of the carotenoids beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that can also be converted into the vitamin A you need for vision and to keep your skin and immune system healthy. Lutein and zeaxanthin function only as antioxidants in the eyes and can prevent early macular degeneration.
You can eat both colors of cabbage raw and cooked. A really yummy and easy peasy fresh salad is: sliver 4 C of cabbage (mix the two colors), a chopped bunch of cilantro leaves and then toss in the juice of 2 limes, 3 T of olive oil, salt, pepper. I have heard that to preserve the sweetness of the cabbage, either cook for less than 6 minutes, or braise for a looooong time -this increases flavor and digestibility. An Epicurious recipe of braised red cabbage is here. I’m sure you could substitute green cabbage for equally delicious results. Both recipes are excellent and visually vibrant side dishes for the holidays.
Week of 11/20: Thanksgiving recipes and ideas
I’m going to a Thanksgiving at a friends house, and its going to be a food extravaganza. I’m bringing kale because I know no one else will, plus it’s delicious, plus I need to be responsible for my own healthy choices on this holiday. I’m also doing the Thanksgiving Day 4 miler in the morning – there, I typed it, so now I have to do it.
So here is a link to some excellent recipes (savory and sweet) gathered from class participants:http://emmaholder.com/happiness, a few more recipes here, and some thoughts about how food can bring both pleasure and happiness, but sometimes not at the same time.
An excerpt. Ask yourself: “… will this bring me pleasure? Or will it bring me happiness?…”
Which I interpret as “Will this thing I’m about to eat/do bring me only momentary pleasure? Or will it contribute to my long-term happiness? (So perhaps I should rethink whether I eat/do it.)” Of course, this is applicable to all aspects of our lives, but I’m only going to focus on what we eat/drink. What we put into ourselves shuld be the highest octane fuel possible to avoid nasty build up and residue. Think of yourself as a Ferrari purring along – you’d take care of it wouldnt you? So why does your body deserve less than a car?!
I think we could use some more happiness around food. So much of the food during upcoming season is based on pleasure and instant gratification, but then we have a hard time later dealing with the outcome, mostly weight gain, lack of energy, feeling icky because we really are sensitive to certain things, but pretend we aren’t so we can have that Xmas cookie, pie, brownie… insert your particular Waterloo item here… Check the regret factor before you eat it. And know that alcohol will almost certainly impair your judgement regarding regret.
Drink a lot of water, and plan your movement schedule NOW.
Week of Nov 6th: Drinking warm water, thoughts on when and why – beneficial or not?
Firstly, drinking water of any temperature will hydrate you. What you put in the water is up to you – lemon, caffeine, sugar – and will have additional effects, but primarily the idea is to hydrate. Drinking warm water before a meal has a number of effects 1) it will pre-fill your stomach, leading to satiety faster. 2) It will dissolve and transport certain food stuffs along faster in the GI tract. Even hydrophobic things like fats (think peanut butter) will become more fluid. 3) The warm liquid acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels in the digestive system and helps increase blood flow and GI activity (A biomechanical description in the words of a gastroenterologist). Apparently runners use the technique of drinking hot liquid to decrease interruptions during a long race.
Both Ayurvedically and in Chinese Medicine, warm water is advised to balance the body systems. The idea that drinking hot water boosts metabolism is a myth. Short-term localized heating of the GI tract unlikely to have any effect. Drinking cold water that your body must then heat up to body temperature is more likely to have an effect on metabolism, but even that would be miniscule. Overall, drinking warm water (with lemon or mint or very minimal additives) to start your day and around meals seems to be advised to promote hydration and digestive health. Can’t hurt, right?
Week of Oct 23rd: Nutrition for the mind : The 4 Agreements (Miguel Ruiz)
The Four Agreements are:
1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.
4. Always Do Your Best
Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best.
Week of Oct 16th: Exercising with a cold - good idea or bad idea?
Am I being a wuss? Should I just move around a little? Should I ‘sweat it out?’ Have I recovered enough, or will I just drag this out longer? What if I make someone else sick? How do I prevent this in the first place?
All great questions. The first rule of thumb is don’t force anything. If you are just plain exhausted, listen to your body and rest and drink fluids. There is a ‘neck down’ rule that states that if things are bad from the neck down (nausea or vomiting, coughing, body aches) then back away from exercise. Lay low if you have a fever – you don’t need to further increase your temperature. Some decongestants will increase your heart rate, so walk instead of run. Same if you feel bronchial tightness. But a walk in the sunshine and some deep breathing might make you feel better if you simply have a stuffy nose and sniffles. Movement may benefit you, open some of the congested air passages and improve circulation and immune cell delivery to the site of infection.
Other types of exercise that may be beneficial depending on your mood and stage are Qi Gong, Tai Chi, Yoga (not a terribly strenuous kind), Pilates, stretching, or a dance/fitness class. There can all be done at a gentler level and individually, thus avoiding transmitting germs by hand or common surface contact. Cold viruses can survive infectiously on hard surfaces for about 24 hrs. Also, some bad news here is that you are contagious with rhinoviruses from 1-2 days before your symptoms show until ALL your symptoms are gone. (Flu and stomach virus info here. )
Avoid intense or prolonged running as for marathon training, swimming (might be too cold? personal choice), biking (might dry out mucous membranes? personal choice), team sports (where you pass items around), weight training in a club (with common equipment), or being outdoors if there is a risk of getting cold. It’s important to maintain a constant body temperature for your immune system to work optimally.
Interestingly, the two ends of the exercises spectrum: both sedentary and intense prolonged exercise (ie marathoners) showed higher susceptibility to viral infection risk. However moderate exercise is thought to increase your resistance to illness, so keep moving (and wash your hands a lot).
Week of Oct 10th: An apple a day, plus the skin.
It’s apple season in Maine! Heck, it’s harvest season in Maine, one of the best seasons ever! Apples have lots of good things, and deserve to be part of our daily regimen. They’ve been associated with decreased cancer risk and improved lung function. The apples have antioxidants in the skin of the apple. For the highest amount of nutrition you have to eat the skin. This means finding organic or low spray apples. Ask at the orchard or produce department- your voice counts and stores respond to demand. Do wash the apples by scrubbing them with your hands or a scrubber. Fruit sprays etc. have not been evaluated by the FDA and are expensive and IMO unnecessary. Apples contain pectin also mostly under the skin, a soluble fiber (like oatmeal) that helps move material through the intestine . Apples are members of the rose family of plants. Their seeds are poisonous when chewed in quantity, but you’d have to eat 18 apples to get a fatal dose. Swallowing a seed or two will pass through without harm.
Week of Oct 2nd: Bone density for women (and men), Calcium etc., Impact exercise
Bone density for women starts to decrease in our 30′s, so if we haven’t laid a good amount of bone down by then, we are at risk for bone loss in later life. Other things that are associated with decreased bone density include genetics, menopause and decreased estrogen, lack of Calcium, Vit D, a sedentary lifestyle, exposure to certain anti-inflammatory steroids, a high salt diet, alcohol, soda and smoking. For men osteoporosis can also be a consideration. Male issues include age, steroid drugs, and hormones: there’s an age-related decrease of the small amount of estrogen men need to keep bones healthy.
Some of these things we can tackle to decrease risk of osteopenia/porosis as we age.
Firstly, diet. Calcium (Ca++) sources include canned sardines (with bones), dark green vegetables like broccoli, collard greens and bok choy, as well as tofu and calcium-fortified juices and soy milk. Colas may be associated with Ca++ loss due to possible displacement by phosphoric acid or a caffeine effect. More Ca++ in the diet, or switching to a non-cola fizzy drink neutralized the risk. Antacids are not a good source of Ca++ because a low-acid environment decreases the body’s ability to absorb it. Luckily dark green leafies also include vitamin K, also associated with good bone density. There was a question about vitamin A, but it turns out that natural sources like veggies and fruits (as opposed to pre-formed retinol) supply lots of bone-supporting Beta-Carotene. SO; VEGGIES.
Then exercise: Impact and weight bearing exercise challenge and strengthen our bones. We can challenge our bodies with low to high impact exercise (depending on your circumstance) and by weight training. Bones responded to stress by laying down new bone structure. Swimming and bike riding though great for cardiovascular training, do not challenge the bones enough to boost bone density (!! this was a bit of a wake up call for me.) Walking, running and jumping do, as does Strength Training which tugs on the muscle-bone attachments. Sometimes it’s all about the right gear – supportive clothes and the right shoes make bouncy movements more comfortable. Site- specific work applies, so to boost lower body bone density do squats or leaps. For upper body, push ups or weights are helpful. This information is inspiring me to make walking/jogging a more frequent part of my workout schedule.
As usual, it’s all coming down to eat lots of varied and fresh fruits and veggies and get lots of varied exercise.
Week of Sept 25th: The Vagus nerve and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
We hang in a balance between two nervous systems – the sympathetic (Flight or Fight) and the parasympathetic; tend and befriend’ (or rest and digest). The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) returns our body to calm after flight or fight response. Many of these responses are mediated through the 10th cranial or Vagus nerve. The word Vagus comes from the Latin word ‘to wander’ and also is the root of vagabond vagrant and vague. The VN wanders downfrom the brain stem (image of what it connects to here) and it’s nerve endings interface with organs and glands in the torso.
The VN ennervates the ear, pharynx, larynx, back of the tongue, various glands, heart, lungs, esophagus, stomach, gallbladder, pancreas, small intestine and female reproductive organs. VN connections are the way we register “gut feelings” in the brain. A high ‘Vagal Tone’ (measured by heart rate responsiveness) is associated with increased digestion and ‘body repair and housekeeping’, lower heart rate, a calmer and positive outlook, vit B12 absorption, boosted social connections, decreased inflammation, decreased anxiety, and increased health (article). It is also a potential new therapy for Rheumatoid Arthritis Inflammation. Performers and students stimulate the VN by deep breathing prior to a high stress show or exam. This accesses the PNS, boosting memory and decreasing stress.
So, seeing how activation of this nerve can boost our overall health, how do we increase our Vagal Tone?
We can actively stimulate our VN by doing a few things like 1) deep breathing with long exhales (activates cardiac VN connections) 2) Gargling, laughing and singing or chanting (stimulates the back of the throat where there are some VN sensory nerves) 3) oxytocin-increasing activities (hugging, partner dancing) that boost connection and social networks. Oxytocin affects VN neurons (in mice anyway).
So doing things that make you feel good and relaxed increase your Vagal Tone, and therefore your overall health. That’s good news!
Week of Sept 18th: Magnesium and Sleep
Magnesium (Mg) is one of the most abundant and important minerals in the body. We store most of it in our bones so blood tests and plasma levels don’t really show you if you are Mg-deficient. Mg and sleep seem to be related, and many insomniacs have improved sleep duration and quality by increasing Mg levels. It may act in a few different ways. 1) By activating the parasympathetic nervous system and Vagus nerve to calm the body, 2) boosting melatonin levels and 3) by acting on GABA receptors – the same ones that sleep drugs like Ambien also affect.
We seem to have an optimal level, so over-supplementation is not recommended. Boosting Mg-containing foods is your first best attack. Try increasing green vegetables, nuts, cereals, meat, fish and fruit (surprise… a fresh and varied diet with lots of green veggies!) If that doesn’t work, the optimal level for supplementation for women is 350mg/day (men 450) unless otherwise prescribed by a doctor. Other things to improve sleep include a dark and quiet bedroom, limiting caffeine and screen time before sleep and good amounts of exercise!
Week of Sept 11th: Vitamin D – you need more than you think.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble substance that we mostly make in our skin in reaction to UV-B rays and is modified by our liver and kidneys to a version called ‘cholecalciferol’ or D3. It plays an important role for calcium and phosphorus absorption across the GI tract, and thus is integral in bone growth and stabilization. It’s also indirectly implicated in immunity as well as protection from heart disease, cancer, some neurological disorders, and likely other functions we don’t yet know about.
We only get a smallish amount (10%) from our diet and it’s found mainly in fish oils (remember cod liver oil?), egg yolks, animal products, and fortified foods.
Fortified foods have mostly D2, and we need D3, so its better to take a D3 supplement than rely on processed fortified foods.
Dr Weil recommends 2000 IU a day and I believe him. It’s also a good thing to get some sunshine. Summertime is great for us to make Vit D, but from September to May,the skin makes little if any from the sun at latitudes above 37 degrees north in the United States —>
SO, a couple of 1000IU vitD3 capsules a day after Labor Day to Independence Day should do it. And add some sunshine time (10-30 minutes, a few times a week at least) in the summer – less if you are lighter skinned, and more if you are darker.
UPDATES 9/12/17: Beth asked about absorbability: Vit D is absorbed in the small intestine downstream from the stomach without any extra cofactors needed. However, Magnesium is also an important player in the mineral->bone pathway and needs to be consumed in adequate amounts for VitD3 to have it’s desired effects.
Jaynie spoke about taking a liquid form vs a capsule, so I had a look at that. Seems like oil-emulsified VitD3 drops are an efficient way of getting 2000IU/d, but oil caplets and chewable tablets were effective too. There is also a sublingual spray available according to an MD commenter – I didn’t follow up on that. These are options to ask your health practitioner if your blood Vit D is low.
Week of May 15th: Healthy Travel Hacks
Places with lots of people like airports and bus stations are just part of travel. Picking up germs doesn’t have to be. Wash your hands a lot. Here some advice from my acupuncturist. Decrease your risk of airborne bugs by swabbing inside your nose with a Q-tip tipped with antibiotic cream before entering a highly populated area or a plane with recycling air. Repeat a few times per trip. Also, decrease your risk of increased blood pressure or blood clots by lowering your sodium intake while traveling on planes. Avoid salty snacks and bring your own (fresh and dried fruit, raw or toasted nuts and seeds, little tomatoes, radishes, veggie sticks). Another way to decrease stress and viral risk is to avoid sugar which has been associated with decreased immune system function.
Week of May 8th: food choices and cataracts
It seems like lots of fruits and vegetables (high in antioxidants) are key to preventing cataracts, as well as sunglasses to protect the eyes from radiation. Colorful fruits and vegetables and dark leafy greens contain good amounts of Vitamin C and E as well as minerals and lutein and zeaxanthin. Eating fish with lots of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with prevention also. Overall, high levels of antioxidants in the diet and low levels of simple carbohydrates correlated with better vision. Cataract risks increase with the consumption of fried and sugary foods/beverages as well as high salt and exposure to pollution and cigarette smoke. Some good research is presented in this article.
Week of May 1st: Almonds; gassed or steamed?
So it turns out that your almonds are pasteurized if you they originate in the US – almost always CA – and you buy them at the store. There are a number of ways to do this, but the top two are to 1) steam them and then dry them, or 2) fumigate them with a toxic chemical called propylene oxide (PPO) which is a known carcinogen.
There are downsides to both, but bigger downsides (IMHO) to the carcinogen. Steaming and then hot-air drying the almonds causes a loss of nutrients, so you aren’t getting the vitamins and minerals you think you are. PPO, however has been shown to still exist on almonds up to 300ppm post-process and been associated with respiratory cancer upon inhalation and mucous membrane cancer upon ingestion. You don’t want to know how they found this out, but let’s be glad they did.
So, which brands use which technique? I wondered to myself while munching with sudden trepidation on Trader Joes “raw” almonds. Luckily someone else has also had that thought and done some phoning around to ask. Both Trader Joes and Whole Foods were quite righteous about fumigation ‘not meeting their standards’ (hooray) and Planters also uses the steam technique. Costco brand and Diamond uses PPO. Blue Diamond (confusingly named) seems to use a mix of techniques.
so GAH. It seems like the best bet for raw almonds/nuts etc. is to get them from companies NOT in the US that don’t have such draconian pasteurization requirements and can legally sell raw untreated nuts. And since I am avoiding Amazon like the plague due to its disgusting Breitbart connection, I’m going to go here: http://www.terrasoul.com
Let me know if you want to do a group order.
Week of April 24th: Ticks, repelling them with essential oils
So apparently ticks don’t like certain essential oils – you can put these on your skin Lavender, Penny Royal, Eucalyptus, Lemon, and Lemongrass, and not worry as much. You can dilute the oil in a carrier oil and rub it on, or put some in a spray bottle with water and spritz yourself before hiking. Still do tick checks though! And a sticky lint roller will help take insects off your clothes after a hike.
Week of April 10th: Soak your rice
You all know that eating closer to the whole food is better for you, so it goes without saying that if you eat rice, choose the unbleached unprocessed brown kind that still has some fiber and germ in it. I’m pro-organic too, because ick, chemicals – but that’s up to you. But here’s another thing; pre-soaking your rice (As little as 10 minutes to overnight) will increase it’s digestibility and decrease it’s cooking time.
Grains are dried foods. The soak softens the grain and allows it to cook faster. It also neutralizes phytic acid, which binds and prevents absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, and copper. This is a big deal for some folks, especially if you are iron deficient. An overnight soak will be conducive to fermentation and cause a pre-breakdown of fibers we cannot digest, making the nutrients in the grain more bioavailable.
Week of March 27th: Chew on this
One of the best ways to increase your nutrition is to make sure you are actually chewing your food. Nutrition experts say 30 times will liquify each bite. There are numerous reasons for this. 1) This initial digestive process increases the surface area of the food providing more points of digestion. The first enzymatic attack is by salivary amylase, a starch enzyme, so chewing well helps you digest starch. 2) If you are eating meals with lots of fiber (you are, right?) chewing a lot helps breaks the insoluble fibers down so they pass through the gut more freely. This will make your microbiome very happy. 3) Longer duration mastication and slower meals will boost your satiety. We don’t really start to feel psychologically full until after about 20 minutes due to hormonal responses as well as stretch responses from the stomach. 4) Chewing adequately will decrease the size of particles in your mouth thus decreasing your risk of choking, and the action of chewing sends signals to your stomach and intestine that a meal is on the way. (Bonus info: a glass of water before each meal will lower your ghrelin levels – an appetite hormone. More about Ghrelin and Leptin.)
Week of March 20th: Sweet potatoes vs regular ole’ potatoes
Why choose? Well, a number of reasons, but both types are good for you. Here’s a great page that compares P and SP. However, sweet potatoes (SP) are many times higher in vitamin A than regular potatoes (22000 vs 14!!!) SP’s have more calcium and potassium too. Make sure you buy organic and eat the skin of the tuber which contain more fiber and vitamins than the flesh.
A few other potato facts: Purple potatoes contain 4 X more antioxidants than regular white potatoes due to the anthocyanin pigmentation. Also, yams and SPs are not the same, go for the SP. Yams are not as nutritious. One last word – don’t fry them. It pretty much negates the nutritional value by destroying some of the nutrients and adding unnecessary calories. I make un-fries but tossing SP batons in olive oil, salt and rosemary, (NY Times recipe), then in rice flour (*my own addition to make them a little crispier, but you can still make them crispy by slicing them thinner and cooking them hotter – play with it) and laying them on a baking sheet to cook at about 350 – 400F until you can poke them easily with a fork. I turn them over once with tongs. Boom. Delicious and nutritious and when I dip them in ketchup it makes me very happy.
Week of March 13: Coconut oil (organic, virgin) uses and benefits
I love this stuff. I use it to replace butter in cookies, sauté shrimp, use it in stir fries and curries occasionally, and I also use it in the massage therapy room. A dentist client says swoosh it through your teeth for up to 20 minutes to decrease dental issues and infections. Have you tried this? It’s almost impossible! Luckily, eating it is good for you too. Here are some more benefits to coconut oil. Mostly because they are medium chain saturated fatty acids and are metabolized differently, they affect one’s health more positively than animal-derived long-chain saturated fats. The references from the site are from medical studies reported in the NIH, so they are not unsubstantiated or unscientific claims. Data suggest coconut oil is associated with decreased abdominal fat, and appetite suppression, antibacterial action, and other uses such as insect repellant and stain remover.
In other uses, I use it as a make-up remover after performances, and as a skin lubricant in the massage therapy studio (for non allergic clients). As with anything you put in/on your body, make sure you get the good stuff. Organic and virgin unrefined coconut oil only.
Week of March 6th: Coconut Water – health or hype?
Coconut water is all the rage as the new sports drink, and companies are very willing to sell it to you. It’s not a bad choice, but its pretty expensive, and packaging-heavy. It does contain a bit of sodium and potassium and a few carbs, so it can replenish these if you are actively sweating for a period of time. But unless you are an athlete undergoing prolonged exercise, it’s probably not worth the expense if you are already consuming plentiful water and eating a healthy diet. In my opinion, this is just another fad product that is fine to consume, but is likely not going to change the average exerciser’s performance in a major way. If you like it and it helps you stay hydrated, then great! Other (free) hydrations options: make your own sports drink in your own not-trash bottle with a squeezed lemon or lime and a sprinkle of salt. Keep adding water when you get about half-way and the citrus flavor will stay perceptible. Also, looking beyond the market where you buy the product is something we should all do. Where are those coconuts coming from? Are the growers being scammed? How much plastic packaging is around this blob of mostly-water? Buying into marketing hype is a great way of buying into increased environmental damage in many ways, so buyer-be-educated!
Week of Feb 27th: Black Tea
I just returned from visiting my Grandmother in the UK. All English people drink tea, and lots of it. It’s the time-honored response to almost any life event spanning walking in the door after shopping, to celebrating the birth of a child. You must do it right though; boil the water, warm the pot (very important! Or the cold pot cools the water too much to brew the tea), THEN put the tea in and pour the water on top. THEN, pour the carefully steeped tea into a cup and only after add milk etc. Black and green tea come from the same plant – Camellia Sinensis. Black tea is dried and fermented, whereas green tea is not. There are lots of benefits to drinking black tea. This is due to the amounts polyphenols and catechins (antioxidants) that leach out of the tea leaves into the hot water. Even WebMD is also cautiously optimisticabout black tea (1-4 C a day) which says a lot, as scientific organizations are quite mealy mouthed when it comes to dietary benefits of things. If you wish to be completely overwhelmed with tea, Dobra Tea shop has more tea than you could ever hope to consume, with a tome-like menu of tea. But it’s a lot of fun to sit and choose a variety, and then have tea with a friend in such a lovely environment.
Week of Jan 30th: Seaweed – superfood!
It’s worth getting used to the briny flavor of seaweed. Whether its sushi, or toasted nori crumbled onto rice or veggies,seaweed is a low-calorie, nutrient, vitamin and fiber-dense food packed with minerals. (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Vitamin K, Niacin, Pantothenic Acid and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Riboflavin, Folate, Iron, Magnesium, Copper and Manganese. Also Iodine! (Here’s why you should care about Iodine.)
It’s a huge source of Calcium – one of the reasons Asian folks don’t need to eat dairy products. (Strangely humans are the only animals that drink milk after weaning, even stranger – milk from another animal!) You can get a little can of crumbled seaweed and sesame seeds to sprinkle on things, just like an herb mixture, or make your own seaweed salad.Info and recipe here. A few more ways to put seaweed into your diet.
Week of Jan 23rd: Another word on vegetarian protein complementation
So I have recently begun eating less animal products. I feel better, feel it has a lesser impact on resources and also it’s easier on my finances. But I wanted to make sure I got all my amino acids. We need 20 of them and must obtain 9/20 from our diet because we cannot manufacture them ourselves. Animal products give us all 20 in one food – meat/dairy/eggs. Vegetable products also give us the 20, but not necessarily all together in high levels (though soy, quinoa, and hemp do). So we complement the right vegetable-based foods within 24 hours and can get it all in. But here’s the thing, I have learned that eating grains + legumes, or grains + nuts gives us the full complement, but recently was mind-blown that green vegetables have the samecomplementation ability as grains, with a much lower energy cost. We need to look at nutrient density. Nutrient density is nutrient per calorie instead of nutrient per weight. This means that a nice BIG green salad with various vegetable toppings and toasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds is quite full enough of complete protein for a meal, with tons of fiber and is quite low on the energy budget. Another plant protein chart. Brussels Sprouts, broccoli and spinach are big powerhouses. Hooray! Oh I just found one more article on the misconception of how much protein we ‘should’ be getting. Seems like as long as we are getting a variety of plant foods to meet energy requirements, protein levels are more than adequate. That’s a LOT of vegetables.
Week of Jan 17th: Whats good for the heart is good for the brain
This video by a doctor explains the things that benefit your brain and decrease the risk of Alzheimers. Whats good for the heart is also good for the brain. A mediterranean diet (veg, fruit, nuts, olive oil, less meat, more fish), 7-8 hrs of sleep, lots of social interaction, intellectual challenges, learning new things, and stress management are all beneficial for longevity and brain+heart heath.
Week of Jan 9th 2017: Core <-> Brain Connections
I found this to be an interesting article about how science may have found the pathway between exercise (namely Yoga and Pilates) and stress levels. A skeptical scientist who doesn’t do anything unless its proven to him discovered that neural connections exist between muscles, adrenal glands and the cortex of the brain. Just doing exercise you love (or love to hate) demonstrates that how we move has a direct effect on how we feel, but the actual neural process hadn’t been elucidated. Researchers used a monkey model to observe that the movement control areas of the brain (motor cortex) directly connect to the adrenal glands (site of the flight/fight hormonal response). Thus, the motor area of the brain not only influences movement, but also the stress hormones.
This connection offered a scientific basis for how mental states and brain-muscle connections can alter organ function and stress levels. (Scientific abstract here.) Well, duh.
*********************** end of 2016!*****************
Week of Dec 12th: Oregano, the oil thereof.
Apart from being all sorts of yummy, oregano has all sorts of great properties. I’ve been using the anti-inflammatory properties this week against a head cold. Carvacrol is its most important component, and is responsible for many of oregano’s health benefits including anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. Carvacrol has powerful antimicrobial properties, and has been shown to help break through the outer cell membranes that help protect bacteria from your immune system. A drop diluted in 4-5 drops of carrier oil like olive, can be used topically for fungal infections or taken internally for about a week for internal infections. You can also put a drop or two in a bowl of boiling water for a steam inhalation .Here are some other uses. Oregano Oil its very expensive, but adding dried or fresh oregano to your food is a cheaper tastier option. Make your own salad dressings, chilis, soups and stuffings with plenty. Heat does not deactivate it’s anti-microbial properties. Plus oregano makes a simple cheesy-toast magically become PIZZA.
Week of Dec 5th: Sobering info on beverages.
Well, bummer. I finally get off refined sugar only to find out that my new treat- yummy red wine, anti-oxidants! heart healthy! – has a few nutritional downsides. One is residual sugar – the fruit sugar left over from the fermentation. A dryer wine will have less, and a sweeter wine more (duh), but on average, a 5 oz pour will give you about 50 calories. And then there’s beer and spirits. Every drink, whether it be beer, wine or liquor (a comparison) is some combination of alcohol calories and sugar calories. Unfortunately, alcohol is more calorically dense (7cal/g) than carbohydrate or protein (4cal/g), coming in under fat (10cal/g). Here’s an article comparing caloric values of wine and beer. So that 5 oz pour of wine will also contain about 100 calories solely from the alcohol, for a total of about 150 cal (50 from the sugar and 100 from the alcohol).
Dammit. Moderation is the most appropriate yet annoying answer.
Week of Nov 28th: Quinoa – vegetarian protein, pros and cons.
Quinoa has long been touted as an addition to a vegetarian diet. It has the full complement of amino acids necessary for humans – an oddity in the plant world – bearing the name “complete protein”. 2013 was actually the year of Quinoa! It also has manganese, iron, copper, phosphorous, vitamin B2, other essential minerals, and seem interesting anti-oxidant phytochemicals. Dr. Weil likes it, so I do too There are two recipes in the link. I also use it to make a tabbouleh. Cook it like rice: 1 C of Q to 2 C water. Make sure you wash it first to remove saponins in the outer layer. Don’t soak it, the saponins will leach into the seeds.
Of course, there is another side to everything. (A Mother Jones article that’s interesting.) Quinoa has become so beloved and sought-after in North America that it has become less consumed in home markets in South America. The demand outside of producing countries is now huge, and causing the concomitant environmental issues that commodity crops do. The good news? Quinoa can be grown in many different climates and should be soon. Buy your quinoa from organic sources and educate yourself so you are supporting small careful agriculture. Bon appetit!
Week of Nov 21st: Magical Mushrooms!
No not those. The ones you cook with. These fabulous fungi have some serious nutritional values. According to Medical News Today, mushrooms have lots of antioxidants (the chemicals that help reduce pre-cancerous changes in your body), selenium (good for skin, immune system and is anti-inflammatory) and vitamin D (did you know that mushrooms produce vit D just like human skin does?) Sunshine mushrooms are going got be a thing. Mushrooms also have quite a lot of fiber (the soluble kind, beta-glucan, like oats) which lowers blood sugars and LDL cholesterol and boosts the feeling of satiety; fullness and satisfaction. They are also very low in calories, though high in nutrients. Here’s a link tostuffed mushrooms.
Week of Nov 14th: Devils advocate, some debunking.
Some foods recently have been labelled ‘superfoods’ and touted as the next best thing, mostly because someone wants to make some money. Surprise. Though the nutritional values and effects of many foods are helpful, the marketing can be a bit hyperbolic. The kinda-gullible, silver-bullet-seeking, less-than-stellar-scientifically-educated general public is easily swayed with exaggerated claims to health. This article throws some cold water on all the Superfood hype and scientists tell us to calm down a bit when presented with this kind of hype.
Though apparently apples, blueberries, salmon and red wine are pretty darn good for you. YAY! (And avoid orange juice which is mostly sugar, and gluten-replacement products unless you truly are gluten sensitive as determined by a 2-week elimination diet.)
Week of Nov 7th: Fermented foods – what and why?
There are a number of reasons fermented foods (yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, tempeh, kimchee etc…) are becoming known as superfoods. Where did they come from? One of their properties is that they are harvested foods prepared for storage that can be held safely at room temperature. Fermented foods have bacteria and yeasts in them (known as probiotics), either naturally occurring or inoculated, that have been allowed to eat part of the food to create an acid and some alcohol byproducts. This causes the characteristic flavor and properties of the food. When we consume the fermented food, we not only eat the original substrate, but also the bacteria and yeast population, which have an effect on our internal flora. The probiotics can break down cellulose making the food more digestible and also give off their own byproducts, which we need for good health. We also have an internal microflora in our intestines that provides nutrients and vitamins, and eating certain foods (fiber) keeps them happy. For example Vitamin K which we desperately need for blood clotting, is entirely a product of our gut bacteria.
Week of Oct 31st: curry spices are good for you!
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who travels to India a lot. He said he was boggled about the fact that they rarely ate fresh vegetables in the district he visits (Chennai), but that people’s health seems to be less impacted than one might think. While we ruminated on the reasons why (as we chomped down local and delicious salad greens) he postulated that they eat a LOT of curries (i.e. spices) and fermented foods, and that might be a major source of their vitamins and minerals instead of plant sources. This week, I’ll focus on spices, specifically those found in curry powders. Firstly lets, define spice: “A spice is a seed, fruit, root, bark, berry, bud or other vegetable substance primarily used for flavoring, coloring or preserving food. Spices are distinguished from herbs, which are parts of leafy green plants used for flavoring or as a garnish” – Wikipedia.
I spoke a while ago about turmeric and black pepper, but there are many other spices in curry powders that are in the antioxidant spectrum. One researcher (originally from India) is quoted as saying “…when Indians move away and adopt more Westernized eating patterns, their rates of those diseases rise. While researchers usually blame the meatier, fattier nature of Western diets, other experts believe that herbs and spices—or more precisely, the lack of them—are also an important piece of the dietary puzzle. When Indians eat more Westernized foods, they’re getting much fewer spices than their traditional diet contains,” he explains. “They lose the protection those spices are conveying.” Turmeric, chili pepper, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper, among other spices found in curry powders all have antioxidant properties, and a little goes a long way. Another idea put forward in this article is that :” adding spices and herbs seems to reduce the harmful by-products formed in cooked meat that may lead to cancer.”
The best idea for curry powder is to make your own, with ingredients bought separately from a bulk spice section. That is a labor of love, but little jars of homemade curry powder do make great gifts at holiday-time. You can also adjust the ingredients to personalize it. It doesn’t have to be hot at all, just simply very flavorful. Another option is to buy curry powders and pastes that are fresh and vibrant and are not near their expiration date. One of my favorite recipes isKitcheree – the Indian vegetarian version of nurturing chicken-soup-like food .
Week of Oct 24th – Good news for cheese, glorious cheese – eat the real thing!
Eating real – not fat-reduced (ugh, shudder) cheese is the way to go. Not only is it just plain taster, real full fat cheese has been found not to be the villain it was once portrayed. It had fallen victim to the myth of fat being the causative agent of cardiovascular disease, which is coming around to being disproven by much research. It’s hard not to believe something that has been touted as truth for so long – “fat is bad for you!!” But so many articles are coming out to repoint the finger not at fat, but at sugar as the true culprit in cardiovascular disease. In an article from the American Society of Nutrition, delicious full-fat real food cheese is being led back into the light as a food that is not dangerous – if eaten moderately (as with any food). The study where folks ate 2.5 oz of cheese daily compared with reduced fat cheese or a carbohydrate snack, concluded that regular full fat cheese does not change risky blood markers such as LDL cholesterol, and in a few cases actually raised HDL (good) cholesterol. Another study in rats suggests that a diet containing real cheese decreases fat build up in the liver. One more paradoxical fact – It’s an overabundance of carbohydrate in the diet, NOT saturated fat, that causes hormonal insulin upheaval and increased blood lipid levels associated with diseases like Diabetes-2 and Metabolic Syndrome according to a study in Lipid Technology journal.
YAY! So be able to recognize how much an ounce of cheese is (the size of 2 dice) and enjoy a reasonable 2-3 oz a day.
Week of Oct 17th – Acai – how the heck do I pronounce it, and what does it do?
Well, first of all: the word is Portuguese, so say A-sai-ee. The Acai berry comes from central and south America and is reddish purple. Because of their deep pigmentation, they have been touted as the next super-berry, having possibly more antioxidant properties than other berries. There’s not enough research to support that, but they likely are up there with the others. They also contain fiber and healthy oils. There are some warnings about high levels of acai messing with the medications for kidney disease, high cholesterol and diabetes, but then there are others that feel that acai is protective. Web MD is meh about them. Other sources think they are as great as Goji.
Until more research is in, I’d treat it like just another berry. Don’t go overboard and enjoy it a another way of getting more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Also, the more processed it is, the lower the nutrition, so read labels and watch for additives.
Week of Oct 11 and 12th – Walnuts!
I think I eat some walnuts everyday. The things are amazing (article here). Low GI, full of fiber, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatories and omega-3s, easily available, great for your cardiovascular system, reduced diabetes, cancer and metabolic syndrome risks, and grown in the USA. Buy them in bulk (faster store turn-over, therefore fresher) and smell/taste them before you pay. The oils in raw walnuts can go rancid easily – then YUK. They are also heavenly when toasted – but only toast the right amount just before you use them. Toasting walnuts destabilizes the oils so they’ll go rancid faster. I keep mine raw and in the freezer. Oh, and apparently, the skins are the healthiest part surprise. So don’t discard them, throw them into whatever you’re eating too.
Walnuts are great on top of salads, yogurt, mixed into savory grains or stuffings, thrown into smoothies, trail mixes, part of crumble toppings, muffins etc.etc.etc. and My favorite: eaten raw with apples and a sharp cheese.
Week of Oct 3rd – Goji Berries – so what’s the big deal?
So as usual, the Chinese have been eating these berries and deriving benefits from their nutritional properties for centuries before us. Gojis, like many berries have lots of fiber, vitamins, iron and carotenoids, but also are the only fruit containing all essential amino acids for humans. They also contain many minerals, and are credited with increasing alertness. They can be eaten raw, dried or reconstituted. Some website articles tout them as the second coming. Othersare more conservative. I found them at Whole Foods, but likely Asian food stores will have them too. They are contraindicated if you are taking Warfarin/other blood thinners (apparently Gojis are a natural anticoagulant), or blood pressure medications. Hmm, that maybe a LOT of Americans. Everything we take in interacts inside us, so if you are on medications, it’s good to ask your medical professional about possible food/drug interactions. A moderate amount of any food won’t make a big difference, but many folks think, well if a little is good, MORE IS BETTER. (Of course, not true.)
But on the whole, it seems like Goji berries are a tasty interesting bigger-nutritional-bang-for-the-buck dried fruit addition and could replace the higher sugar-less nutritious ubiquitous and boring raisin or sugar-coated dried cranberry (try and find a dried cranberry thats not – let me know if you do!)
Week of 9/26/16: Big Sugar and the cover up.
So in the annals of not surprising news….This from NPR: The authors of the new Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) article say that for the past five decades, the sugar industry has been attempting to influence the scientific debate over the relative risks of sugar and fat. Current science has discovered that processed sugar intake is more involved in heart disease than fat, but it took years of sugar business lying and people dying for this to become clear. “Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry-funded studies,” they write. (Well, duh.)
Kinda like the tobacco industry casting doubt on the toxicity of cigarettes and fossil fuel producers denying climate change. If there is money to be made, a cover up will be created until it is too late and people pay with their lives. The take-home? Educate yourself. Read, don’t take my word for it, explore, challenge and take charge of your own diet and habits. No one really cares more than you do about your own health. There. Rant over. (for now.)
Week of 9/19/16: Eat your peels (thats where the goods are)
Did you know that most of the fiber and antioxidant properties of plant foods are found in the peels? (An article here). Colorful outer surfaces of plants come from pigments that are very beneficial to our health (flavonoids, carotenoids). Also, plants cannot run from predators and pests that want to eat them, so they use chemicals and barriers to repel attackers. Fibrous rinds and bitter chemicals are the ones that help us stay healthy: antioxidants, anthocyanins, theobromides and cellulose and are located on the outsides of the plants where pests attack first. So if you remove the peels from the vegetables and fruit, you are removing most of their beneficial qualities. The flesh of the fruit/veggie is not as nutritious.
What? So #1) This means buy organic, because those peels are going to keep you healthier if there are fewer pesticides sprayed on them. #2) How? Throw the whole washed unpeeled fruit into the smoothie. Wash the veggie and leave the peel on before slicing and dicing, or cooking. Make a stock with the outsides of the veggies.
Week of 9/12/16: Water (no really)
So ya know, water really is a big deal. In many health programs, drinking water is advocated. No surprise there. I mean, we are 60-70% water so drinking enough keeps us hydrated and in the right biochemical and PH range. But, apparently, drinking 500 ml (2 C) will boost your metabolism for about 30 min by about 30%. here’s the article. When I did the math, this means if you drink about 6′ish C of water a day, you’ll burn approx 50 cal, which by the end of the year is equivalent to the caloric value of of 5 # of fat. That you didn’t store. Hello and goodbye midlife midsection creep.
Hmmmmm. I’ll try and do it. What’s the worst that can happen? (OK, peeing a lot.) I’ll have to put alarms on my iPhone to remind me to drink!
May 23rd: Trans-Fatty Acids, what are they and why they are not so great.
Fats occur in long chains of carbon atoms (C) with hydrogen (H) sticking off the sides like a big centipede. If a fatty acid (FA) has as many H as possible and no more can fit on, it’s logically called ‘saturated’. If there is space to fit one more on, it’s called “mono-unsaturated’. If there are more vacant spaces; “polyunsaturated”. Fully saturated chains are even and straight, and stack nicely against each other like cord wood, so that they are solid at room temperature (Many animal fats fall into this category – lard, butter, and some plants: avocado and coconut for example.) Unsaturated chain have kinks and bends in them and they don’t stack well, acting a bit higgledy piggledy, and so are more liquid at room temperature (Plant fats such as olive oil come to mind). If you take an unsaturated fatty acid and with a chemical reaction, forcibly add hydrogen, you can stick them on to saturate the molecule, but this forced process does not create a normal FA. The forcibly-added H’s stick onto the target FA in strange places, creating weird shapes that your body’s enzymes doesn’t know quite how to handle. Usually we digest fats that are cis (same side), and this forced reaction, or hydrogenation, creates trans – (opposite sides). Hence the term “trans fats”.
Why the heck would we create and sell foods by this process that are hard to digest or even harmful? Economics. These trans-fats have the stability of normal saturated FA’s at room temperature, but are much cheaper to produce. Growing and processing plant oils are cheaper than growing animals. A ‘pastry’ (and I use this term loosely) made with processed fats and other processed ingredients will last much longer on the shelves. Think Twinkies. The reason they last so long is that the microbes that cause the breakdown of food won’t touch them, and it they don’t, neither should you. Don’t eat anything that comes in cellophane or that you buy at a 7-11.
Eat real food that will eventually biodegrade.
May 16/17: Eat Slowly (Food rule by Michael Pollan)
I am the first person who needs to heed this advice. I frequently arrive home hungry and am therefore prone to unwisely stuffing things into my face as fast as possible. Or I multitask and eat while _____. Oops. I also seem to simply eat faster than most. Why is this? Eating should be a pleasure, not an inconvenience to get through quickly and move on to other things. In other news (unsurprisingly) slower meals tend to result in better digestion and absorption of nutrients, as well as lower caloric intake. Also, more fluids (OK, maybe wine) tend to be also taken in, and the satisfaction rating of a meal goes up (read this article). Slower food consumption allows the body to register satiety through stomach stretch receptors and hormonal responses as food enters the small intestine. After about 20 minutes, your body will signal satiety. Faster eating will pack a lot more calories into that time frame. Put your fork down. Drink some water. Talk to someone sitting next to you. Taste instead of wolf your food. Also, chew more. Be grateful (for all sorts of things). It will make a difference in your consumption and your health.
I tend to rush around, and eating is no exception. It takes a lot to be mindful, and I’m trying to slow down everywhere in my life. I am playing a game with myself, trying not to be the first one finished if I’m eating with friends. Other helpful ideas?
May 10th: Antihistamines and local honey
‘Tis the season to be sneezy. At least for me, hence: antihistamines. They help get me through the day. I’m not thrilled about taking these, since they could have considerable side effects: Dizziness, Dry mouth, Dry eyes, Blurred vision, Problems urinating, Constipation, Mental disturbances (Whaaa?! – these descriptions are taken from a website), and they can also be sedating if you don’t choose the right one for you. I use Fenofexadine (generic Allegra) since Loratidine (generic Claritin) stopped working for me a while ago. Luckily, I notice none of the above side effects, but I do notice a decrease in my energy and strength, a scratchy throat and a bit of distraction. On the other hand, I can see and breathe. I’ll take it.
Natural antihistamines are more gentle, though may not really tamp down the debilitating effects of a big ole’ allergic reaction. But one could try local honey about a month before allergy season to give yourself a little dose of allergens that will be floating towards you. I do this, and in any event it tastes nice. Exercise always works for me because of the adrenaline response and blood flow that flushes the tissues and decreases circulating histamines. A Neti pot/salt water snuffle will rinse allergens off nasal membranes, and a shower seems to make me feel better too. Something about rinsing off a layer of possible allergens. I make sure to not allow the first dose of water from my hair to run into my eyes. That happened once in mid allergy season and whammo. Instant itchy eyes. There are some other options, but really, for the short period of time one needs antihistamines (hay fever season) I tend to just go with the big pharmaceutical guns and drink lots of water after to flush things out of my system.
May 9th: Don’t be bitter, eat bitter! Or bitterness in food is good for you.
So, remember when I first started the nutrition nuggets and we talked about phytonutrients? These are the defense mechanisms of a static organism. Plants cannot run away, so they use chemicals with strong flavors and colors to warn away predators. These chemicals in plants that are colorful, pungent, bitter, astringent and strong are some of the healthiest chemicals to eat, and have been found to decrease the risk of many human diseases (cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc.) In extremely high amounts, these chemicals may be toxic, but humans don’t eat enough plant material for phytochemicals to be other than beneficial. This has been proven many times. Unfortunately, the current western palate has been blanded down, sweetened and salted so bitter-tasting foods are avoided, to our detriment. There is lots of evidence to suggest that foods with bitter properties (dark leafy greens, cocoa, cruciferous vegetables, citrus juices and rind among others) are good for us, and that we need to develop a more adult, open, and gourmet palate to include foods others than simply sweet and salty and that attract and satisfy our inner child.
An easy and interesting way to add bitter greens to your diet is by mixing some tender bitter green leaves to your regular lettuce salad (arugula, escarole, baby kale, dandelion, watercress…here is a list of some more) so the flavors become more familiar and pleasant to eat. You can also lightly sauté any of the greens with a little olive oil or butter and some salt. Throw them into soups – right at the end so they don’t over cook. Many of the beneficial chemicals are heat-sensitive.
May 3rd: Cocoa and Cardiovascular benefits
So Jerrie gave me a flyer for a seminar entitled The Pharmacy in Your Kitchen. Since I cannot go, I have been following up on some of the ideas that it presents. One is how COCOA is involved in decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease. Before you get all excited – cocoa is NOT the same as chocolate. Chocolate is derived from cocoa, but has lots of added sugar and milk. We’re talking about dark high % chocolate, aka, bittersweet, or bitter. Actually it is the chemicals in cocoa, known as polyphenols, catechins (see the green tea nugget) and flavonol families that are the important actors here. The mechanism is still a bit murky, but they decrease inflammation (betcha didn’t see that one coming) of the blood vessel internal surface and reducing free radicals. If you are in a scientific frame of mind, this is areally good article from the medical journal Circulation.
To use Cocoa in your meal preparations, buy a good brand of unsweetened organic Cocoa, and put scoopfuls in smoothies with fruit or stevia, or you can make healthy truffle balls (recipe here). Or get really dark chocolate (70%+… I prefer 85%), avoid the sugar and go for the unadulterated cocoa hit. The other benefit of acclimatizing to bitter versions of chocolate is that you don’t have to share as much. By the way, did I mention my birthday is May 16th?
May 2nd: Salad Magic
One of the healthiest meals can be a big salad with lots of fresh local greens and various other vegetables. You can make it even more interesting by varying toppings and dressings. Here are some suggestions: Crumbled cheese, toasted nuts or seeds (walnuts, flax etc.) leftover roasted vegetables or caramelized onions, canned or smoked fish. A 3-bean, grain or lentil salad can go onto of a green one very nicely. Make interesting dressings with miso (see below) or a lemon tahini dressing. One of my favorites is a curry dressing. I toss cooked lentils, tuna or sardines with any dressing and then put that combo over top of the greens. YUM. Total protein and fiber and deliciousness. Remember to combine your vegetarian proteins if you are going that way. (See Mar 30 nugget)
April 18th: Fermented Foods – Probiotics
Probiotics have been associated with calming and improving Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohns, colitis, may protect you from colds and flu and help you have a healthy microbiome (the microorganisms that live in our guts and keep us healthy). Probiotics are foods that contain bacteria we already have in our guts and can stabilize a precarious intestinal situation, or re-colonize after an anti-biotic one. Hint: don’t take anti-biotics and pro-biotics at the same time. The antis will kill the probios, and the pros will muffle the action of the antibios.
Fermented foods include: unsweetened** yogurt and kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso. Make sure your miso stays unboiled or you’ll kill the beneficials, so add it last and to slightly cooled soup, or use it as a base in a salad dressing. Taste before you add salt, because miso can be salty.) Make sure any product says ‘live active cultures”. The Farmers Market is a great place to pick up yummy healthy and freshly fermented foods. Also, my friend Alex Lewin has written a fantastic book about it: Real Food Fermentation. You can borrow it if you want.
April 12th: Foods that work similarly to NSAIDS (aka Aspirin and Ibuprofen)
NSAIDS (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatories) function by inhibiting prostaglandins which increase inflammation in the body. The following foods and spices do the same thing, (article) but don’t disturb digestion the way that NSAIDS do. They may not immediately work for a headache, but might be more appropriate for more chronic systemic inflammation associated with (well, EVERYTHING, but…) arthritis, IBS, heart disease, chronic pain, fever etc. Plus they are all YUMMYDELICIOUS and should be part of our diet anyway.
Omega-3 fatty acids (flax, fish, nuts green leafys)… Green Tea… Spices (including ginger, turmeric and black pepper, curry powder, dried dill, oregano, paprika, rosemary, mustard, thyme, and also almonds, apricots, dates, raisins, green peppers, olives and mushrooms…Red Wine (yay!)… Basil which contains ursolic acid, also found in cranberries, elder flower, peppermint, rosemary, lavender, oregano, thyme, prunes and the skin of apples (so buy organic apples and wash, don’t peel.)
April 11th: Food Rule by Michael Pollan
- Do not eat foods that lie to your body.
This goes back to “eat real food”. It has been shown that artificially sweetened foods and beverages are not really associated with weight loss, and may actually go the other way. Why? The hypothesis is the psychology of rewarding one’s self later with higher-calorie food due to the (erroneous) perception of previously virtuous decisions. Another proposed mechanism is that fake sweets disrupt/fool our brain’s ability to gauge actually caloric content of foods.
April 4,5 – Good Egg and Bad Cholesterol
Eggs have had a bad rap in the past, mostly because of the cholesterol issues. Actually, humans have cholesterol issue and project it onto unfortunate food groups, like eggs (Harvard School of Public Health article). Firstly, we need cholesterol to live. They are integral parts of our cell membranes, and the precursor to am number of important molecules like sex hormones. Because of it’s importance, our livers make it and the amount it makes is genetically predetermined. Some of us make more than others. The amount we eat does not affect our blood cholesterol levels as much previously thought, in fact exercise, fiber and water intake affect blood cholesterol numbers more. This is great news for eggs and other yummy and healthy foods. we’re back to “Just eat a varied balanced diet within an intelligent caloric budget and get lots of exercise and water.”
So lets chat a little about cholesterol (“good and bad”) and demystify those weird numbers. More soon…
March 30th: Protein – complete and incomplete
We don’t need huge amounts – usually about 60 grams daily, but we do need good quality protein with the right complement of all 21 amino acids. We make some, but some (9) we MUST get from our food. These are called theessential amino acids (EAA’s). We easily derive these EAA’s from animal protein because they are most like us in make up. Yes, you are made of meat. Other complete sources are dairy, fish, and eggs. Vegetarians need to be a little more careful, because most of our food plants have lower amounts of the EAAs we need, so we need to come food combining if you don’t eat huge amounts of veggies. You can do this within a 24 hr period. So nuts or legumes must be combined with grain. Usually about in a 1:2 ratio. Many vegetarian cultures have done the work for you: Beans and rice, or lentils and rice/grain, nuts and grain. There are also a few complete vegetarian proteins: Soy and quinoa being the most well know and available. Amaranth, hemp, chia seeds and spiraling are others, but you’ shave to eat quite a bit to get 60 g of protein.
Another thing to think about regarding your food consumption ‘footprint’ – as if all this stuff wasn’t enough – is what are you really supporting with your eating habits? Are (holier than thou) vegetarians really making the planet better vs carnivores? I have issues with this. My thinking, and one that follows along with an interesting (though rather angry) book called The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Kieth, is such that: if you are eating foods that caused destruction of an ecosystem – like soy mono crops in the American west – how is your vegetarianism helping the planet really? Wouldn’t it be better to eat food from local sources that include good stewardship of the earth, ethical treatment of meat animals and a way of farming that improves the soil rather than depletes it (as mono cropping does)? I feel strongly about ecology, so don’t get me started unless you’re in the mood for a tirade, but I buy most of my food at the farmers market. It goes without saying that I eat organically, and my food budget is actually quite modest and I have very little trash. These are choices that are relatively easy to make if you can give the Standard American Diet the old heave-ho. Plus I feel GREAT.
March 23rd: Trash in, trash out: A 24 hr challenge for you all.
So in trying not to trash our internal environment: our bodies, Here’s another thing to try – not trashing our external one either. Considering we live embedded within it. Landfills do not remove our trash, as much as relocate it out of sight and therefore out of mind. But it’s all still there. Not decomposing. So, here’s my question: have you had a really good look at what you are throwing away? Read this article, and then try to go for 1 DAY (or more) without throwing anything away. Recycling and composting are OK. Think of some life hacks you could implement to reduce your trash stream – bulk food buying places, farmers markets, sources for veggie/fruit bags (I sewed my own out of mesh nylon – they go in the washer). Share your findings with us; on the Facebook page, in class, or email me. I’d love to hear them.
(We even got into a deeply frank conversation about toilet paper last Wednesday. My answer to that? Get a bidet. Simple, the swing arm attaches to the toilet, and much more hygienic than toilet paper. Here’s the link to the Amazon GoBidet. Best $150 I ever spent. Plus there’s a youtube setup video - I used it - works great. I’m also happy to help you install it – just ask.)
March 21st: Real Food, Real Money, Real Time:
“I can’t afford to eat healthy.” You can’t afford not to, IMHO.(from this very interesting article). Yes, On the surface, fresh food costs a little more than processed,and takes a bit more time to prepare, but the costs associated with not eating quality real food are much greater. A 2012 Population Health Management study reported that eating an unhealthy diet puts you at a 66% increased risk of productivity loss. Not to mention the hospital and medication costs of diabetes, obesity, cancer and heart disease, the risks of which can be reduced by eating a healthful diet.
Also, in terms of time, a sedentary lifestyle is linked to greater overall illness. Processed food is faster to prepare than fresh, resulting in a superficial savings of time. BUT, according to the article, US adults spend over 2 hrs a day watching TV, hence being sedentary, not cooking, interacting, or being creative. If you gave yourself back 1 of those hours, what might you accomplish? What healthy delicious wonders could you create for yourself in the kitchen? Anecdote from my own life: I recently went for an eye check up. The ophthamologist said: “There is nothing we can do to improve your amazing 20:15 vision” The result of which was a LASIK surgery I underwent in 2001. I credit my continuing eye health, as well as the rest of me to my constant movement. I plan to never stop moving. As a friend in his 50′s said to me recently (while catching up to me on a bicycle) : “I’m at the stage of life where if I stop doing something, I will stop doing it forever, so the best bet is to NOT STOP.”
Amen to that, dude.
March 16th: Corny ideas
Corn is not one of the most nutrient-dense foods, but you can make some choices that will up the ante. 1) Buy organic. Conventionally, this crop is heavily sprayed with pesticides. 2) Buy it in season for best flavor. After a few hours of picking the sugars are already turning to starch. Shipping takes days. 3) Steam it; boiling will cause most nutrients to leach into the water. 4) Frozen organic corn has pretty much the same nutrient profile as fresh, since its frozen at the top of it’s game. 5) When available buy colored corn. More colors = more healthy phytonutrients.
March 15th: Spring a Leek!
Leeks are a member of the allium family and most of their nutritive qualities are in the green parts – the bits that we tend to throw away. Avoid this by buying the smallest leeks you can find – they will be the most tender. Cut them in half lengthwise and rinse them well to wash out any sand trapped between the leaves. Eat all of it. use them as you would onions, or sauté and serve them as a side dish.
March 14th: A lovely bunch of (complicated) carrots
Raw carrots vs cooked ones? Well, it’s not that simple. It comes down the vitamin you are aiming for. Vitamin C or Vitamin A? Folate? Carotenoids? Raw carrots will have more Vit C and Folate, but cooking them a little and serving with a bit of fat/oil will boost availability and absorbability of carotenoids. Carrots are not the most Vit C’ful vegetable you might choose – better to go for citrus or a fresh sweet pepper. But carrots are a great source for Vit A and retinol. Apparently gently “thermally processed” (Really? We can’t just say ‘cooked’?) carrots make the pre-vitamin A molecule more bioavailable. So when I want to eat hummus and carrots, I gently steam the carrots a little first until they are toothsome, or al dente.
To me, this seems like a good middle ground. Just enough heat to brea down some cell walls and release the carotenoids and pre-A, but not too hot to destroy the B and C. A bit of lipid; tahini, olive oil, or salad dressing will dissolve the fat-soluble vitamins to boost bioavailability.
March 9th – In sight; in stomach. Kitchen hacks.
According to a study, The more time you spend at home, the more important it is to hide the food, because we eat what we see. Take food, especially snack foods and cereal, off the counter. Replace it with a bowl of fruit. Rearrange your cupboard and fridge so that the healthiest food is what you see first. Apparently, women (not men, strangely) with chips or breakfast cereal arranged on their counters were more likely to be 8# or 21#s heavier than women in the same city who didn’t.
March 7th – scallions and chives
Scallions and chives both pack nutritional punches, especially garlic chives. Put them into everything right at the end, just before serving, or mix them into burgers, throw them on soups and salads and into sandwiches. They are easy to grow in pots in your kitchen or close by in your garden. I have tons of organic onion chives (the tubular kind) so I suggest a chive exchange once they start growing in the spring.
March 2nd – Eat onions that make you cry
The chemicals that give strong onions their bite and fire are the most beneficial to our health. No wishywashywallawallas or vapidvidalias for us. So put on the goggles and attack! You can also cut the onions underwater or put some vinegar on your chopping board to reduce the fumes. Luckily, they are removed once you start to cook the onions, and cooked onions are just as healthy as raw, so make up batch of caramelized onions, put them on cookie trays in a thin layer, then break them into chunks and keep them frozen until you wish to thaw them for omelets or throw them into soups/stews.
Feb 29th – Onion and garlic skins – really?
Turns out that the outsides of fruits and vegetables are pretty nutritious. Anti-oxidant phytochemicals concentrate at the surface to repel would-be attackers. This can be to a consumer’s benefit if we actually consume the skins and peels of said veggies. (It goes without saying that I recommend ORGANIC produce ONLY, and wash it well.) So onion and garlic skins are quite nutritious – this was news to me – but they are a bit weird and unpleasant to eat. You can simply toss them into your veggie stock pot to add their antioxidants to your soup stock, or crush them into a big tea ball/tie them in some muslin and throw them into soups or stews for easy retrieval. Since I use red onions mostly, this makes for quite a vibrantly colored stock. Woo hoo!
I keep a ziplock in my freezer where I toss all my veggie ends and once it is full, throw the whole thing into my crock pot for a while to make veggie stock. Throwing onion and garlic skins in there instead of the compost is simple. once the stock is made, then everything goes in to the compost anyway, but I get to consume the bionutrients in the stock.
Feb 25th – Food rules by Michael Pollan
# 13 Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle
# 14 Eat only foods that eventually rot.
Feb 8 – Portland Water; Chlorine and Chloramination
From the Portland Water District: “This facility began treating water in February 1994 using ozone. Ozone is a powerful disinfectant that kills potentially harmful microorganisms and is 99.99% effective against viruses and Giardia. Treatment includes screening, ozonation, UV light treatment, chloramination, and corrosion control. Also as a result of a citizen referendum, fluoride is added to the water at the plant to promote dental health.”
So, the difference between chlorination (Cl) and chloramination (Cl-Am – my shorthand), is that Cl will dissipate from water left overnight on the counter, and that Cl-Am will not. At the levels used for disinfection of public water, the Cl-Am is not dangerous to humans, but apparently will kill fish in your aquarium. How comforting. Best way to remove it if you want: a water filter. Which then go into landfills. sigh.
Feb 1,2,3 – Food Rules by Michael Pollan
#2: Don’t eat anything your (great)grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food (feel free to borrow a Mediterranean Grandmother)
#5: Avoid foods that have some sort of sugar (or sweetener) listed among the top three ingredients.
#9: Avoid food products with the word “Lite” or the terms “Low-fat” or “Non-fat” in their names (usually hugely over-processed)
Wednesday Jan 27th – Green tea with lemon
Green tea has a lot of antioxidants, but adding a squeeze of lemon to your tea will boost the bioavailability of the catechins even more. From Dr. Andrew Weil.
Tuesday Jan 26th: Black- Blue- and Raspberries – fresh vs cooked vs frozen.
All berries are wonderful raw. Interestingly (and thank goodness), Blueberries don’t lose too much of their antioxidant activity when they are cooked. Well, actually, some is lost, such as Vit C, but others such as quercitin increase in bioavailability after cooking – yay pies! Raspberries and blackberries however, retain more antioxidants when they are eaten fresh. Luckily, freezing all 3 types of berries don’t cause appreciable decline in antiox activity. Freeze them after picking on cookies sheets, then tumble them all into little ziplock bags. You just have to thaw them quickly. Toss the blueberries directly into something you are cooking, or quickly toss the rasp/blackberrybaggie into some warm water until they are thawed. Don’t let them sit around in the fridge to thaw. To cook or not to cook is of course dependent on the type of fruit/veggie and the cooking method. Some more berry lore.
Monday Jan 25th: Turmeric, Black pepper
So turmeric (that fabulously golden powder used in many East Indian dishes) has been touted as an excellent anti-inflammatory and has been implicated in decreasing risk for all sorts of things including arthritis, cancer and Alzheimers. However, what doesn’t seem to be common knowledge is that if it is mixed with a small amount of ground black pepper, it become about 2000X more bioavailable. The piperin in the black pepper inhibits the metabolization of the curcumin in the turmeric and allows it to get on with it’s anti-inflammatory activity. More info here: Article of interest. Most curry powders already have the pepper mixed with the turmeric. Also, curcumin is fat-soluble, so taking your turmeric with coconut oil or ghee, or another fat as well as black pepper is a winning combo. (Like making a curry: Ta Dah – food as medicine). Just turmeric capsules may not have any pepper, and likely no fat either, so you’d have to add some if you are taking just the capsules. Not much pepper is needed, less than a 1/4 t.
I have been experimenting with a delicious Golden Tea or Milk. Whole milk will provide the fat-solubization of the curcumin. recipe HERE. And a simple chicken curry HERE. (I’d add 2 teaspoons more turmeric, and use brown rice instead of white).
Wednesday Jan 20th/2016: Resistant Starch (RS), and cooked n cooled potatoes and pasta
Starchy foods like pasta and potatoes contain a linear type of starch that we digest easily, causing a high glucose load and insulin response after a meal (high GI). When these two foods (rice and lentils too) are cooked then cooled, the starch reconfigures (a process called retrogradation) into a less digestible crystalline form called ‘resistant starch’ (RS) with a lower GI. RS passes through our small intestine, into the large, and feeds our gut bacteria which makes them happy. We absorb fewer glucose molecules at a time and thus have a lower insulin spike. Raw oats and (cooked) cannellini beans also contain a lot of RS. Here is a well researched webpage with deeper detail.
I have included recipes for a yummy potato/pasta/rice/lentil salad, a bean salad HERE and a very quick no-cook Oatmeal-nut-dried fruit-chocolate cookie bite HERE. (these are darn good, if I must say so say myself.)
Tuesday Jan 19/2016: Glycemic Index (GI) – what the heck is it?
GI is a number assigned to carbohydrate-containing foods that describes their effect on your blood glucose level after eating them. Not surprisingly, eating straight glucose gives a GI of 100. In general, the more processed, fiberless, and sweetened it is, the higher GI it will have. Why do you care? Well, because high GI foods are associated with increased risk of Diabetes, Coronary Artery Disease, Macular Degeneration,Obesity and Cancer. Yuck. Lower GI foods (>55) – you know what they are: REAL and FRESH foods,vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, stuff that takes some work to digest – those are the ones to eat. Avoid the white processed crap. From Dr. Andrew Weil: his response.
Tuesday Jan 12th/2016: Tomatoes – We like lycopene
Raw tomatoes are good for you (lotsa vit C), but cooked tomatoes are even more nutritious. After 30 minutes of simmering, the molecular trans- form of lycopene changes to cis-, a more more absorbable form. Lycopene is an even more potent antioxidant than vit C. This is why canned (picked at peak freshness and immediately cooked) tomato products are better for you than fresh, especially when they are not in season locally. Tomato paste is even more concentrated in lycopene. Cornell University research.
Monday Jan 11/2016: Garlic – get a press.
Garlic is good for you right? It’s even better if you crush it and let it sit for 10 minutes. Like a cold pack with two compartments that have to be crushed and mixed to get an endothermic reaction, garlic has compartments with 1) Alliin and 2) Alliinase, which have to be mashed together and let work for a while (10 min at room temperature) to create the wonder molecule Allicin – the much touted stuff with all the protective properties. Otherwise you are wasting the healing potential of the garlic. For a bit more reading, try here.