Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ostrich - The New Red Meat

A month or two ago, while we were shopping for a new place to buy our grass-fed beef, we tried out a company that raises bison. They also raise and process grass-fed beef, but their focus is on bison. And while we were there, we picked up a pound of ground ostrich just for kicks. Since I'd never tasted ostrich meat, I thought it might be interesting to try it at least once.

I know...ostrich isn't bison. I'm not sure if this ranch actually raises ostrich as well as bison, or if they just market it for a neighboring farm. Nevertheless, there it was in their freezer, and we bought a pound of ground O-burger. Not being much of a gourmet cook, I did what most would probably do with the burger, I balled it up, patted it down and fried it in a frying pan. Boring, but tasty.

So what's all the rage with Ostrich? Take a wild guess... (I feel like there should be a drum roll or something right about now)... if you said, it's low in fat, you are of course correct. And you will be happy to know that it's been approved by both the American and British Health Associations, and recommended by the American Diabetes Association. Of course, the American Diabetes Association has no idea what constitutes a healthy fat and have listed every single real healthy fat (butter, lard, coconut oil, etc.) in their "unhealthy fat" list. In addition, they have this to say about sugar, and I quote: 
"The myth that sugar causes diabetes is commonly accepted by many people. Research has shown that it isn't true. Eating sugar has nothing to do with developing type 1 diabetes.
  The biggest dietary risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes is simply eating too much and being overweight — your body doesn’t care if the extra food comes from cookies or beef, it is gaining weight that is the culprit."
I don't know what research they're reading, because there is a mountain of research that tells a different story--I have actually read some of it. Gaining weight is NOT the culprit-- it is an associated result from the same cause, which is insulin resistance. And insulin resistance is the consequence of insulin levels that are kept constantly elevated by eating too much carbohydrate-laden food, particularly sugar. Insulin also regulates fat storage, by the way. (A great source of information on this subject is Why We Get Fat, by Gary Taubes.) But I suppose if people were to start healing from diabetes by eating truly healthy food, there wouldn't be any more need for diabetes drugs... or the American Diabetes Association, for that matter.  Hmmm.

But back to the topic, ostrich has been eaten by mankind for thousands of years--by the Egyptians, and probably by the Australians--and is no doubt still being eaten all over the world today except in America where it is the exotic (and expensive) new way to show everyone how healthy you're trying to be...eating low-fat and all.  It tastes quite a bit like beef, and cooks up like very lean beef. However, pound for pound, ostrich meat has about a third the calories of beef and about one seventh the fat, while having about the same amount of protein. Does that make it healthier? Debatable. Despite what the mainstream nutrition "experts" tell us, saturated fats are an important part of a healthy diet.

So, in closing, if you're going to eat ostrich, eat it for the flavor, not because you think the low-fat quality will make you healthy. My O-burgers were tasty enough (I pan fried them in lard), but as far as I'm concerned, you can't beat good grass-fed beef for flavor... So that's what I'll be eating when I want something that tastes like beef.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Gum In Our Food

I would have continued on in my blissfully ignorant condition if it weren't for my obsessive label-reading. But thanks to my obsession, I am now aware of a certain group of additives that seem to have infiltrated every kind of processed food on the supermarket shelf-- gums.  Specifically, guar gum, xanthan gum, and locust bean gum.  I dare you to find a food that does not contain one or more of these lurking ingredients-- and when I found xanthan gum in pickles, that did it for me. Have you noticed this trend?

So what are these gums and what are they doing in our food? These are the questions that haunt me.

Guar Gum
I first noticed guar gum in ice cream. According to WebMD, guar gum is used as a laxative. That's nice. It's also used as a thickening, stabilizing, or binding agent in ice cream. According to WiseGeek, "the truth is, many of our ice creams, pudding, and canned sauces would be inedible without them [gums]." Really? First of all, ice cream is perfectly delicious without guar gum or any other gum-- try making your own, or if you're a serious fan of convenience like myself, try Haagen-Dazs brand ice cream -- five ingredients, no gum. Secondly, you probably don't want to be eating puddings and sauces that can't be made "edible" without exotic gum additives because of all the other fake food ingredients they contain. My mother used to make wonderful pudding...without guar gum. Imagine that. To be fair, guar gum is a natural ingredient that is minimally processed. That's more than you can say for most ingredients these days. That said, it's a product of India, and we can only guess as to agricultural methods. Are they spraying their crops with chemical fertilizers, for instance? And, guar gum has its place, in that it makes a good substitute binder in gluten-free foods, but I will forever protest its presence in ice cream.

Locust Bean Gum
Another good substitute for gluten-free products is locust bean gum. This product comes from the carob tree. Remember the carob craze of the 70s? Chocolate was out - carob was in. The hippies swore by carob. Carob chips replaced chocolate chips. Who knows why. Trust me, they're awful...chocolate rules! So to get locust bean gum out of carob, all the oils are squeezed out of the carob beans and what's left gets turned into powder--similar to cocoa powder. Like the other "gums," locust bean gum is typically used as a thickener, but since it has a somewhat chocolate-like flavor, this gum can be used as a cocoa or flour substitute in chocolate or chocolate-like products. It has more fiber than chocolate, but then...who eats chocolate for fiber? Like guar gum, locust bean gum is derived from a natural product, but goes through a bit more processing than guar gum. Do we need it in our food?  Unless you require a gluten free solution, probably not.

Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is the one that bothers me the most, and here's why. This particular gum is derived by fermenting corn sugar with a bacteria called Xanthomonas Campestris, which is the same bacteria responsible for causing black rot to form on broccoli, cauliflower, and other leafy vegetables. So, okay, it's fermented and fermented food is good, right? Maybe. But the minute I hear something is derived from corn, my immediate follow-up question is, are we sure the corn is GMO free? How do we know? Usually we don't, because this country STILL does not require food processors to disclose whether or not they use genetically modified products. Xanthan gum can also be made from soy or wheat. People with allergies beware. And, again, are we sure it's not GMO soy or wheat? Furthermore, there are actually some side effects that have been identified with the use of xanthan gum-- minor gastric problems such as intestinal gas and bloating. And if you handle the product in powdered form, exposure can actually give you flu-like symptoms, nose and throat irritation, and lung problems. Don't you love it when you hear things like this? Safe when up to 15 grams per day are taken. What if you get more than 15 grams? What happens then? How do you know how many grams are in the food you're eating?  And the ultimate question... when xanthan gum is in so much of the processed food we eat, how long will it take to end up with a cumulative dose of more than 15 grams? Do YOU pay attention to the xanthan gum in YOUR food? I didn't think so.

So, perhaps I'm overreacting. But I can't help wondering, when I see ingredients like these in processed foods, how we ever got along without them. Is there some ominous gum-pusher out there trying to get food manufacturers to use their product?..."this is wonderful, it will make your salad dressing thick!--your customers will love works in EVERYTHING--even pickles! I'll give you a great deal." 

The gum in our food gives me one more reason not to buy manufactured fake food. Figuring out our food supply shouldn't be rocket science.

What's lurking in YOUR pantry?...whatever you do, don't read the labels! (You'll never be the same.) 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Weight Watcher Mythology

About a year and a half ago, my husband and I (both a bit chubbier than we wanted to be) decided to get serious about losing a little weight.  So we got in touch with our local Weight Watcher's organization and weighed in.  We paid the money for our 18-week session, got our "points" targets and all the paraphernalia that goes along with the program (tracking books, points calculator, food scale) and, of course, boxes and boxes of 2-point snacks to get us from one meal to the next.  Then we attended our first meeting.

Joy, our meeting moderator, could not have had a more appropriate name.  She practically bounced off the walls with enthusiasm about how wonderful the Weight Watcher program was. Her introduction was followed by real-life accounts of how real-live people were managing to lose a half pound a week (or none...but that's okay-- we all have setbacks.  Rah, rah, keep up the good work and don't get discouraged...Count those points! Weigh your food!) And then came the assurances of how well the program works and how, on Weight Watchers, you can eat anything.  That's right, anything. You just have to weigh it and measure it and count the points.

Now, before I go any further, I should tell you that the Points are very very important. Points are based on two things -- your current height and weight, and your goal weight. Mark was allowed 26 points, whereas because I'm much smaller than Mark, I got 18. Eighteen points is the smallest possible point value awarded. Apparently, you could actually starve to death on 17 points. On top of your individual point calculation, everybody gets an additional 35 per week, to use as desired-- all at once for special treats or dinner out, or spread out over the week to, for instance, get from one meal to the next. You might say, 18 points seems like a lot... you might say that because that's what I said. Until I saw the little book with all the point values and discovered that 18 points amounted to something like one meal.

But, like the trooper that I am when starting out on a new adventure, I buckled down and counted and weighed and measured and recorded every bite of food that went into my mouth. And I had success! By the third meeting, I had lost five pounds and got my first star. It kind of reminded me of kindergarten, but I won't go there. Every week I was dropping a pound or a pound and a half. But along the way, a strange thing was it obsession, if you will. It seems all I thought about was food--all day long. I was jotting and calculating and planning and thinking about food.

To make a long story short, we lasted about six months. We hit a stubborn "plateau," defined as a period of time where one stops losing weight and possibly even gains a pound or two...or three (usually because of cheating on the points or getting morbidly tired of tracking every bite of food). Once off the plan, it didn't take long to gain back just about every pound I'd lost.

Weight Watchers is not a solution, it's a lifestyle. And, in all fairness, they admit this. Don't get me wrong--it really does take a lifestyle change to affect weight loss and weight management.  So what's my problem, you ask? Glad you asked.

First and foremost, in order to achieve success, Weight Watchers requires keeping calorie consumption low. Calories are the measure of energy that our bodies use. Essentially, food is the fuel that keeps us moving. If you dare to apply logic to this requirement, you would have to conclude that less calories means less energy. And less energy means...exercise?! Are you kidding?! How about a nap, instead. What they leave out is the essential point that food is more than just also contains the building blocks the body uses to grow, heal, and maintain optimum health. Any diet plan that misses this big point will eventually cease to work because we just can't stay on it. Remember the mantra? You can eat anything! Well... that's not exactly true. Eighteen points of carbohydrates will not give me the building blocks my body needs, and I will therefore ALWAYS be hungry and tired and craving more food.

The Weight Watcher plan did shift (right about the time I left) to focus more on complex carbs and protein (PointsPlus), awarding them fewer points by virtue of their higher nutritional values, but they still get the fat factor wrong and don't understand the nature of how the body uses energy.  Here's a very good article by Dr. Mercola about the difference between burning sugar and burning fat: What does it mean to be fat adapted?

Fast forward to today.  Since leaving Weight Watchers fourteen months ago, I have lost 17 pounds. How did I do it? By eating fat. That's right, EATING FAT MADE ME LOSE WEIGHT.  I can't be more emphatic. There is an incomprehensible insistence in the Health and Nutrition establishment that fat is bad and we should do everything in our power to eat a low-fat diet. The reason for this insistence is impossible to support with actual evidence. Every study ever done has at best been inconclusive, and at worse shown the exact opposite...that low-fat diets not only result in higher risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, but they actually contribute to weight gain.

Today, I eat three meals a day, going approximately 3 to 4 hours between meals without being hungry. My blood sugar is stable because I eat little or no sugar. I eat about a pound of butter a week.  I eat full-fat yogurt, and raw cheese occasionally. I eat 2 to 3 eggs every day and meat or fish at nearly every meal. I eat fresh or frozen vegetables and fruit with no restrictions. With the exception of (organic) condiments, I do not consume processed foods of any kind. I eat until I'm full and I don't count calories!  My weight continues to drop about a pound a month, which doesn't worry me because I still have a little fat on me.

So, my apologies to Weight Watchers...whose leaders (I'm sure) have the best intentions...but the following tenets are, indeed, myth:

  • You can eat anything you want as long as you count it into your "points." [Fact:  Bad food is bad for you--even when you count the points.]
  • Keep the weight off for the long-haul. [Fact:  This isn't true unless you stay on the WW program for the "long-haul"...count, measure, weigh-- Oh my!]
  • Low calorie, low fat, low the key to healthy eating. [Fact:  You cannot eat low fat AND low carb--what will your body burn? Dietary fat is not the bad boy--that title goes to Sugar--and Sugar's cousin, Carb.]
  • Burning calories through exercise is an effective way to lose weight. [Fact:  "Calories In/Calories Out" is a false doctrine. You will always eat more than you can burn off, as evidenced by WW themselves...a one-mile walk will give you back ONE point, the equivalent of a half a piece of dry toast.] 

In closing, my advice to you is this-- Make the lifestyle change that will give you the best chance at good health, the best success at attaining a healthy weight, and the least time wasted obsessing over your food.  Dump the commercial diet programs and go back to a natural human diet-- you know, the one designed by the Creator:  organic meats, fruits and vegetables, and properly processed grains.  Do this, and you will never again have to "watch" your weight.

Have you ever tried Weight Watchers?  What do YOU think about it?

Good sources for more information on calories and diet...
Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It, by Gary Taubes
Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes
Nutrition and Physical Degeneration, by Dr. Weston A. Price, DDS
Real Food: What to Eat and Why, Nina Planck

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sacrificial Chickens

This past weekend I had the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with the “processing” of chicken. Processing, of course, is the term we use to disassociate our chicken dinner from the actual real live chicken. Formerly it was called butchering, but who wants to be all negative about the whole thing. We get our chicken from the grocery store, right? All wrapped up neat and tidy, most of the time skinless and cut into pieces and barely resembling what used to be the animal.

Don’t misunderstand…this post isn’t going to turn into some PETA nonsense about how animals are people too, and we should only eat the things that don’t feel pain. Like rocks…and I think water is still okay.  No, I’m a full-blown carnivore. So what’s the point? Simply that as part of God’s creation, we should never fail to recognize that in order for us to live, another living creature must die. It’s a harsh reality, and we’d rather not think about it, but I believe it is a healthy endeavor to – at least once – do the dirty work of hunting (or in this case, grabbing out of a pen) ones food, and experience the necessity of taking its life in order to sustain our own. Understanding where our food really comes from--the process, if you will--gives us a better respect for the animals we raise to feed ourselves. 

So, on Saturday my husband, Mark, and I drove out to the farm where we get our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) vegetables and helped butcher the chickens. There were about 32 birds. The farmers had purchased a couple metal cones, marketed as “Killing With Kindness” cones (so named because when you dump a chicken into a cone upside down, they go sort of catatonic—all limp and still, their little heads sticking out the bottom), making the dirty deed much more humane. The “men folk” did the “hunting” and the subsequent act of kindness.  Having grown up on a chicken farm, Mark was fortunately okay with that job. I, however, being the type that faints at the sight of blood, stationed myself on the plucking line so as to avoid any commotion involving 911 calls and buckets of cold water.

Plucking chickens, I discovered, is hard work! 

There were about a dozen or so stout-hearted men and women engaged in the chicken processing, including several children, one of which—an aspiring brain surgeon—wanted to know if she would be able to see a brain from one of the chickens…to which one of the hunters replied, “possibly, but first you’d have to find a chicken who had one.” It was a memorable community event. My back is still hurting from standing over a table pulling feathers for four hours. 

Now when the farmer sent out the email inviting her CSA members to participate in this annual event, I must say I hesitated. My last experience with chicken processing occurred at the tender age of five or six leaving me with a vivid memory of being chased around the yard by a headless chicken that I was certain could somehow see me. Perhaps this opportunity was a chance to face that dark memory and bring closure to my traumatic childhood episode…and I’m happy to say that I successfully avoided yet again having to deal with actually witnessing the death of a chicken.

At the end, we took home the freshest chicken I’ve ever had and stuck it directly into the oven for dinner. It was delicious! I am grateful to the chicken and to God for his provision, and to the farmer, who raised the chicken in a healthy and humane way.

It is not lost on me that the chicken, if given a choice between being my dinner and living another day, would probably run away. But then, maybe not…they are pretty stupid. In any case, knowing that while they lived, they lived the happy life of free chickens, eating grass and bugs and unmedicated, hormone-free chicken feed until the day they died, makes me feel strangely better about the whole thing.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Where's That Magic Pill?

Wouldn't it be great to find that magic pill that turns you from that health disaster you are (or feel like) into a model human being?  Discover that fat gene or that cancer gene... and just turn it off!  Get rid of it. Or the miracle vitamin that will make future doctor visits evaporate? I know they're right on the verge of finding it. Every day in the news you hear some new discovery about how beer is suddenly hydrating or all that coffee drinking you've been told is bad for you is actually good for you. Wine prevents cancer. The secret to long life is eating more vegetables or it may be in a naked mole rat (I'm not making this up!)

The point is, we are obsessed with being healthy and we're looking everywhere for it when the answer is right under our noses-- food.  Food is the fuel that builds our body, gives it energy, and provides the nutrients it needs to repair itself. With the right food fueling us we could, theoretically, live a long healthy life. After all, our bodies were designed to live forever. It's kind of ironic that it was food that ruined it all for Adam and Eve--but, there it is. They ate the forbidden fruit, and it was downhill from there. Another interesting point is that just 5,000 years ago, people were living 600, 700, even 800 years. Noah was 950 years old when he died (recorded in Genesis, chapter 9). That's a seriously long life! These days it's a rare individual who makes it to 95. Wouldn't you like to be one of those people?

The answer to that question is more than likely, that depends. It depends, of course, on how you feel. Nobody wants to spend decades of their life miserable. The problem is -- and it's a big problem -- all the health "experts" out there giving advice on what to eat, what to avoid, what kind of exercise you should be doing. Screen for this, screen for that. Get this test or that test. And above all...(fill in the blank!) This abundance of advice might be useful except for one thing...nobody seems to AGREE on anything!  How do we know who's right and who's advice will send us to an early grave? Run. Don't run - walking is better. Stay away from carbs. Healthy carbs are okay - meat will kill you. Soy is health food - eat tons of it. Soy will give men boobs and women cancer - avoid it at all costs. Bread makes you fat. Bread is the staff of life. And whatever you do, don't eat fat - especially saturated fat! Wait a minute-- strike that...saturated fat is a requirement for good health.

Well, you see where I'm going with this diatribe. And there's a reason I'm feeling a bit jaded. I have no patience. And I'm sure my sugar deprivation may be a contributing factor as well. Over the past year or two I've read book after book filled with accounts of people on death's bed with cancer or some other chronic ailment like diabetes or crones disease, who miraculously recover in a matter of months by simply changing their diet...eating grass fed beef and organic vegetables. Lots of organic vegetables. Lots and lots of vegetables. I'm thinking that's me. I'm doing that! Why do I still feel crummy?

You see, I'm looking for that magic pill. And I'm starting to think it doesn't exist. (No patience AND slow on the uptake, it seems.)

What I need to keep in mind is that cleaning up a diet is only one factor of health. Maybe the other pollutants I live among on a daily basis, like the air for instance, and electromagnetic pollution (which is probably much more damaging than we think) and the local Ruby Tuesdays at which we eat far too many meals are slowing down my progress. In the big picture, it took me 58 years to arrive at my current health status. To expect a sudden reversal of all that by eating a more or less healthy diet for one year is, well, spite of the anecdotal evidence to the contrary (not that I'm casting any doubt on the anecdotal evidence).

So I decided to write this post as a sort of encouragement to those of you out there who, like me, may be feeling a little discouraged at not seeing great results from starting a 5,000 IU capsule of vitamin D every day, or gulping down that fish oil faithfully with a clothespin on your nose. Take heart. Be encouraged in the knowledge that the changes for good that we make to our diet are working behind the scenes -- in the cells and glands and organs, doing the work of restoring and rebuilding. Good health is a process and it takes time.

Do I give up and go back to eating out of cans and boxes just because I still don't seem to have my afternoon energy back? Do I cave in and pick up a case of Pepsi? Funny thing is, I don't even want those things anymore. McDonalds no longer holds any appeal to me. I will still read every label and ask the waiter, are these scrambled eggs made from fresh eggs or powdered? And I will still shop organic. Why? Because once you know the truth about food, it's hard to go back. It's kind of like swallowing that red pill and seeing the Matrix for what it really is. I know that the hidden poisons in processed foods-- the fructose, the soy isolates, the genetic modifications that will have who-knows-what long-term effect on my health-- work their evil over time. Because I understand this now, I have the tools I need to make good decisions about my diet...and eventually, gradually, I will begin to notice how much better I feel.

That's all for now. I'm going to go read my book about fluoride. Wait till I tell you about that! It will blow you away.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Balancing Act?

Does God keep a tally?  Does he, as some like to think, weigh the good we’ve done in our life against the bad and then bring out the heavenly scales at the Pearly Gate to determine whether or not he should let us in?  All we have to do is make sure we have more good deeds on our balance sheet than bad deeds and we’re a shoe-in.

Strangely, it doesn’t work that way… though from a human way of thinking (if we were to make up the rules, for instance), that formula makes sense.  Sort of.  Until it goes the other way, that is—like the guy that’s good all his life and then robs two banks and sends a dozen people to an early grave.  That person should be punished with the hottest fires of hell!  Right? What if he repents a month later and opens a homeless shelter and feeds the poor (assuming, in my somewhat outlandish example, he doesn’t get caught for his former crimes).  Back on the road to heaven?  How are the scales looking? 

Justice, from a human perspective can get pretty tricky.

God dealt with this very question in Ezekiel, chapter 33.  Beginning in verse 12, the prophet is instructed by God:

“Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’”

Ouch, that’s harsh.  Why do you suppose God is such a stickler on the “righteous” guy—the guy who was good, but then did something bad?

“If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done. And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die, but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right…that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them.”

So much for the “scales” idea.

It’s interesting to note that God doesn’t change.  Even in the Old Testament, they weren’t getting to Heaven by their own righteousness.  Ephesians 2:8-9 explains this idea of trusting in ones own righteousness: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.”

We shouldn't be trusting in our own righteousness, or boasting about what a good person we are.  Why?  Because it's a deception.  Simply put, it’s impossible to be good enough on our own to attain eternal life with God.  James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  Face it, we can’t do it.  It takes perfection, and that ain’t human.  And yet, God is not willing that any should perish. 

Fortunately for us, God put a plan in place to solve this seemingly impossible problem… that glorious, wonderful, mystical plan of redemption.  The one where he, Himself, enters the desperate fragile dirty world of humanity in the corruptible form of a man.  He spends 33 years blending in – feeling our joy and our pain – experiencing in the most intimate way what it’s like to be human.  And yet he is perfect.  He has to be, because that’s what it takes.  When the mission is over, he lays down his life and willingly spills his own perfect blood as the price for our sins… and says to us all, I give you this gift.  I give it to you because it’s the only possible way you can spend eternity with Me.  “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh to the Father except by me.” John 14:6.

Who can understand it?  It doesn’t make human sense, but there it is.

Oh, and about those scales?  They don't exist. The only thing that matters is what you do with Jesus.  Check out that Gift I was talking about...before you take the journey to the Pearly Gates.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt..”
Colossians 4:6

Friday, August 3, 2012

Zero sugar? Really?!

Have you ever had to go completely off sugar?  I mean, seriously watch every drop of sugar right down to ketchup and salad dressing? (...which by the way have a lot.)  I'm discovering how difficult that actually is.

About three weeks ago, I decided to visit an LPN nutritionist -- make that natural nutritionist-- to get some help with heavy metal detox.  For those handful of people following my blog, you may remember my past complaints about inflammation and concerns over mercury toxicity due to the abundance of amalgam fillings in my teeth that I am now in the process of having replaced.  For those of you not following my blog, I have included convenient links in case you would like to read about it. (Managing InflammationWhat Dentists Don't Tell You, The Quest for a Healthy Mouth)

So, I filled out the 5,000 question health evaluation (you know the one--every new health professional makes you fill it out, and then when they sit down to talk with you, they proceed to ask you every question again.  Maybe the only reason they make you fill it it out is so that when they ask you the questions, you won't sit there with a blank stare on your face and say, "Uhhh, I don't remember.") But, I digress.  After she reviewed my "symptoms" with me, she concluded that I may be suffering from a mild "yeast overgrowth." Yeast overgrowth is a condition whereby a yeast species called candida albicans becomes out of balance in the GI tract. This didn't surprise me once I learned a little more about the condition. When I had my cancer surgery four years ago, preparation included the complete cleansing of my intestinal tract. Restoring it to a healthy condition was not one of the recovery goals my doctors thought would be important. Rather, I discovered the significance of gut health on my own, much later on.  So it's quite reasonable to suspect that candida organisms might have gotten the upper hand in my body. Symptoms connected to yeast overgrowth can mirror symptoms of other illnesses because candida disturbs the immune system.  So it can be hard to diagnose. But even though my original goal was to start a heavy metal detox, my naturalist nurse nutritionist recommended a 30-day yeast detox as well.

I hate decisions. Is there any reason I can't do both detox protocols at the same time? I asked. No reason.

So she gave me a bottle of capsules (take one, three times a day) and new dietary instructions-- no sugar, no milk products, no more than one serving of fruit a day (fructose, you know) and (to state the obvious) no yeast.  Apparently my expression gave away my dismay as she promptly followed up with, "There are still LOTS of foods you can eat."  Like meat and vegetables.  No, really -- there are LOTS of vegetables.

So I put on my game face, smiled and went home, ready to take responsibility for the healing process.  After all, this detox protocol was only 30 days.  We can do anything for 30 days, right?  (P.S. Dear Nurse W., what about wine?  Nurse W: Alcohol turns to sugar; you should probably avoid wine.  Bummer!)

As of this writing, I'm three weeks into the detox and results are mixed.  In some ways I'm feeling better, in some ways worse.  For example, I have a little more energy, and the circles under my eyes are beginning to fade.  But this week I developed another rash on my face.  My chiropractor says the pains in my back are connected to my liver and kidneys and are a good sign the detox is working.  Drink more water.  By the way, the heavy metal detox comes in two giant bottles.  One bottle is three capsules, three times a day; the other is three capsules twice a day.  Now factor in the other handful of vitamin/mineral supplements I normally take and... do you have any idea how much water it takes to wash down that many pills?

Three weeks into the program and my will is beginning to break down.  Yesterday, I said to Mark..."If I don't eat a serving of fruit, maybe I can substitute a glass of wine?"  He laughed at me and then pulled out the bottle and opened it up.  What an enabler!

I miss the poppy seed dressing and dried cranberries in my salads.  I miss my dark chocolate.  Fortunately, sour dough bread has no yeast in it, so at least I have something to slather my butter on.  (And, no, butter is not technically a milk product.)  Without that, I don't think I could have lasted this long.

While I support and encourage removing sugar from ones diet, an honest retrospection reveals that I don't think I could ever reduce it to zero without a very compelling reason... like impending death. I guess that makes me human.

(...can I use the "all things in moderation" argument on this one?)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bison? Bizon?... Buffalo

Bison meat is becoming quite popular-- trendy, even. The reason for this is its very low fat content. And bison is actually quite tasty. Mark and I picked up a giant sirloin steak from the Wisconsin ranch where we will likely buy our next side of grass-fed beef and threw it on the grill today.  When I say giant, I mean Fred Flintstone big.  One sirloin steak was enough for a family.  It looked more like a roast.  And though I was expecting a gamier taste, the flavor was very close to beef.

Bison, as many of you probably know, is the Native American name for what we used to call buffalo (and some still do).  But Mary, the rancher's wife...maybe the rancher (not a hundred percent sure), explained to me that in Canada, they say "Bizon." I must have some Canadian blood in me somewhere, because what slips off my tongue every time is Bizon, not Bison. But bison, by any other name is buffalo meat, and sells for a hair less than double what you'll pay for plain ole grass-fed beef.

So what are you getting for this extra money?

At about $15 a pound for roasts and steaks and $9 to $10 a pound for ground meat, buffalo meat has roughly 32% few calories than beef or pork and about 24% fewer calories than skinless chicken breast, primarily because it is very low in fat-- about 88% less than beef.  It also has less fat than pork, salmon or even venison.  Now, granted, dietary fat is not our dietary problem as Americans.  But many people still insist that they must reduce their fat intake in order to be healthy.  For those people, buffalo may well be the meat for them.  If you're not drastically cutting back your consumption of sugar and processed foods, eating a little buffalo now and then because it's low-fat is not going to help too much.

The best thing about buffalo, by far, is not the low-fat factor, but the fact that they are typically ranged on natural grassland, eating a natural diet, and producing natural wholesome meat.  You can't go wrong with that.

Though I like buffalo well enough to eat it when it's served to me, I don't like it well enough to pay that much more money for it. I'll stick with the grass-fed beef. Last year about this time, we bought a side of grass-fed beef from a local farmer.  Word to the wise--sample before your buy in bulk. The meat we bought on faith was tough, dry and, to my disappointment, not very flavorful.  I even used the tactics laid out in Tender Grass-Fed Beef.  But my particular grass-fed meat was not about to cooperate. However, when you end up with a freezer full of very expensive meat, tough or otherwise, you eat it and hope for the best next time.  Well, it's about to be "next time" and this time we tried some sample meat from another farm.  All I can say is WOW!  Even the hamburger is amazing.  

So, what's so great about grass-fed beef, you ask?  Besides its environmental sustainability, it is known for its balanced omega fat distribution-- 1:1 compared to 1:15 or more (omega 3 to omega 6) and its high levels of cancer-fighting CLAs (conjugated linoleic acids).  Feed lot beef, on the other hand, are pumped full of growth hormones to make them fat and antibiotics to kill the diseases they're plagued with from being crammed into tight quarters, walking around in manure, and eating corn and other nasties that wreak havoc on their digestive system.  Grass-fed cattle are happier and healthier, getting sunshine, exercise, and the food their bodies were designed to eat.

Buying grass-fed beef in the supermarket "organic" section or at your local health food store will have you spending premium dollars for meat.  It tends to run about twice the cost of factory meat.  Hamburger will run about $6 a pound, and steaks and roasts will be around $10 to $12. If you can afford to buy bulk--a quarter or half (called a "side")-- the costs begin to fall to about $5 a pound on average, processed. Average out your supermarket factory meat at $2 to $3 a pound for hamburger and $6 to $8 a pound for steaks and roasts (I may be off a bit - it's been awhile since I bought that stuff), and the grass-fed bulk meat approaches the cost of factory meat.  Buy a freezer.

Shopping this way is an investment for sure, but think of it as an investment in your health.  Investing in your health pays the very special dividend of avoiding doctors and hospitals-- an idea I find especially pleasant.  I don't know about you, but I'm not feeling too confident about the evolution of our health care system...but that's a topic for another day.