Saturday, December 28, 2013

Treating Colds Without Drugs... It CAN Be Done!

A few weeks ago, my dear husband came down with a cold. And being the generous man that he is, was inclined to share it with me. Sure enough, just about one week later, I woke up with a headache and a scratchy throat.

There is no cure for the common cold, only remedies. And, as with any potential illness, the best remedy is a strong immune system. Cold symptoms can last up to two weeks, and while your body's fighting those germs, you will likely be looking for something to make you feel better.

Doctors these days go straight to the drug counter with their recommendations, bypassing natural remedies completely. And when Mark came down sick, his knee-jerk reaction was to bring home NyQuil. I wasn't too hard on him because only last year, I was doing the same thing.

And (just so you know) when you take NyQuil, here's what you're putting in your body:

  • Acetaminophen 650 mg (How do feel about your liver?) Once thought to be the "safe" alternative to aspirin, this pain reliever is turning out to be a real trouble-maker. Take it sparingly if ever and with great caution.
  • Dextromethorphan HBr 30 mg (a cough suppressant)
  • Doxylamine succinate 12.5 mg (an antihistamine - it blocks the runny nose, sneezing and water eyes)
  • Acesulfame potassium (a chemical sweetener) This substance contains methylene chloride, a known carcinogen.
  • Alcohol (no explanation required)
  • FD&C Blue No. 1 (unnecessary and potentially harmful dye)
  • FD&C Red No. 40 (how do you feel about tumors and lymphoma?)
  • Flavor (chemical)
  • High fructose corn syrup (metabolized in the liver, this sweetener should be avoided)
  • Polyethylene glycol (used to treat constipation!)
  • Propylene glycol (a form of mineral oil, usually used as a solvent) FDA "GRAS" (generally regarded as safe) if you are comforted by the FDA's track record of safety.
  • Saccharin sodium (a chemical sweetener)
  • Sodium citrate (used to make the urine more acidic, also helps to neutralize gastric hydrachloric acid)

  • Acetaminophen 325 mg (see above)
  • Dextromethorphan Hbr 10 mg (cough suppressant)
  • Phenylephrine HCI 5 mg (decongestant) May cause headache, restlessness, and cardiac arrhythmia. But you won't be stuffed up.
  • FD&C Yellow No. 6 (Danger, Will Robinson!)
  • Flavor (who knows what this is)
  • Glycerin (sweetener)
  • Propylene glycol (see above)
  • Saccharin sodium (chemical sweetener)
  • Sodium benzoate (a preservative that promotes cancer and kills healthy cells)
  • Sodium chloride (salt)
  • Sodium citrate (see above)
  • Sorbitol (a sugar alcohol)
  • Sucralose (chemical sweetener) marketed as Splenda, 
  • Xanthan gum (thickener) I hate this stuff - it's in everything!

But what did people do before the age of NyQuil? They relied on the power of herbs and fruit, and (of course) chicken soup.

I'm happy to report that in our enlightened 21st century, there are plenty of resources to find traditional remedies, and my local natural foods store was well-stocked. These are what I used to relieve my symptoms during the five or six days I was under the weather...
  • Elderberry syrup - No side effects. Elderberry syrup has long been know as a remedy for colds, flu, and sinus infections. It helps to relieve congestion by decreasing mucous production. Even WebMD grudgingly acknowledges the benefits of this powerful little fruit. It is thought to strengthen the immune system by increasing the body's production of proteins called cytokines. The only down side is that elderberry syrup tastes a little like prune juice, so wash it down with a tall glass of water.  
  • Vitamin C - No side effects. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. Supplements have been shown to reduce cellular DNA damage and oxidative damage caused by inflammation. The human body does not have the ability to make our own vitamin C, as we can with vitamin D. So we have to get it from our food. How much do we need? Well, researchers have determined that animals with the capability of making their own vitamin C (which include most animals except guinea pigs, apes, and us) make about 30 mg per kilo of body weight. That works out to about 2 grams a day, assuming normal, healthy conditions. When we're sick, or under stress, we need much more. 
  • Vitamin D3 - No side effect. I threw this in not because it's especially good for colds, because it should be part of everyone's vitamin supplement regimen--be you sick or healthy. Vitamin D has so many benefits, rather than list them here, check out this link on WebMD: Vitamin D. It is so critical to good health, it is synthesized in the body just by getting out in the sun--without sunscreen. What? you don't get out in the sun without sunscreen? You are most likely deficient. According to the NIH (National Institutes of Health), you may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency if you're in one of these groups:  you're an older adult; you're a person with limited sun exposure (i.e., you live in Minnesota or Seattle); you have dark skin; you have some kind of inflammatory bowel disease; you are obese or have had gastric bypass surgery. And here's one they didn't include-- you don't get enough fat in your diet. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so if you're a vegetarian or a chronic low-fat dieter, you're probably not absorbing any vitamin D supplements you may be taking.
  • Essential oils for sinus congestion - No side effects. A preparation of rosemary, eucalyptus, and peppermint essential oils carried in olive oil. I applied this to the inside of my nostrils with a Q-tip and rubbed it into my wrists and temples at night. It kept me clear and breathing easy.
  • Echinacea - No side effects. Echinacea is an herb derived from the American Cone Flower. It was used by Native Americans to treat colds and headaches before Europeans arrived on the scene. A study by the University of Connecticut in 2007 found that taking Echinacea supplements can reduce the chances of catching a cold by 58% and if you do get a cold, it can shorten the duration by an average of 1.4 days. Of course, there are also studies that show no effect whatsoever. On the other hand, keep in mind that taking over-the-counter cold "remedies" do absolutely nothing to reduce either your chance of catching a cold or the duration of that cold if you do get it. 
  • Chicken bone broth - No side effects (...and tastey!) Even the Mayo Clinic lists chicken soup as a cold remedy that works. And there is actually a scientific reason why it does. Believe it or not, chicken soup has anti-inflammatory properties. Who knew? By making the chicken broth from the bones with a little apple cider vinegar, you also get the benefit of added minerals and gelatin for bone and joint health.
And, speaking of apple cider vinegar, as I was researching this article, I ran across another cold remedy with high marks for success... yes, apple cider vinegar! A tablespoon each of apple cider vinegar and honey in a glass of warm water is said to do wonders. I'll try it next time... there's always a next time.

As a matter of fact, I just spent 4 hours on a crowded airplane next to a mother and her three children who spent the entire time hacking and sneezing and spreading their germs without regard to their fellow passengers. It brought back the horrifying scene in the book "Hot Zone" where the man carrying the deadly Ebola virus, unbeknownst to himself or anyone else, gets on an airplane with three hundred other people and for the next eight hours manages to infect an entire plane full of people. But I digress. The point is, getting a cold is a regular part of life for most of us. But we don't have to automatically reach for a bottle of the latest toxic blend being offered by your local pharmacy.

You still can't cure the common cold, but you can make it easier to live with and at the same time strengthen your immune system so that the next time someone sneezes in your face, you just may be among that 58% who walks away unscathed.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Healthiest" Potato Chips?

Who doesn't love potato chips?! When I was just a kid -- about 9 or 10 years old -- I went on a field trip to a potato chip factory. Oh my goodness! The fragrance of potato chips frying in vats is heavenly. They gave us each a free bag on our way out and gained about thirty lifetime customers. If you've never eaten fresh (practically still warm) potato chips...well, I'm sorry for you.

Yes, potato chips are delicious, but there's that little problem of cooking oil. Fifty or so years later, having learned about the harm that rancid and broken fatty acids does to the human body in the form of inflammation, I have more or less eliminated those tasty treats from my diet. Until now.

On my last shopping trip, what did I discover but a bag of potato chips (kettle style, even!) cooked in the king of all "vegetable" oils, olive oil. Olive oil is actually a fruit oil, not a vegetable oil, but I quibble.

Of course, I bought a bag and took it home to try. YUM! On the next visit, the store was also offering a variety cooked with Avocado oil. Jackpot!

So what's my problem with vegetable oils? Glad you asked.

Most vegetable oils are polyunsaturated in structure. And most are very high in omega-6 fatty acids (corn and soybean oil are two). Polyunsaturated fatty acids are very easily damaged. High heat damages them, light damages them, and age degrades them. It's called "oxidation." Monounsaturated oils are still liquid at room temperature, but they are a much more stable.

But when it comes to cooking, it's the smoke point you should consider. The point at which heat causes oil to smoke is also the point at which it breaks down and becomes dangerous to your health.

Of course the best fats to cook with are saturated fats such as animal fats (lard and tallow), and coconut oil. They have the absolute best heat tolerance and your body loves them! But they probably don't do a very good job frying potato chips.

Omega 6 oils aren't bad for us per se; we just get too much of them. The optimum ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 fatty acids is about 1:1. With the typical American diet of processed foods and vegetable oils (along with the unnatural fear of saturated fat), most people get a ratio of anywhere from 1:15 to 1:17. This is the reason you hear so much now about foods containing omega 3 fats. An imbalance in fatty acids contributes to chronic disease.

Looking at these "healthier" potato chip options, both olive oil and avocado oil are mostly monounsaturated. Both oils are higher in oleic acid, an omega 9 fatty acid that helps the body absorb the omega 3 fatty acids essential to the body.
  • Olive oil is 77% monounsaturated, 13.5% saturated, and only 8.4% polyunsaturated fats. It can withstand heat from 320 degrees for extra virgin oil up to 468 degrees for "extra light" before breaking down, which makes it a better oil than some for sauteing and frying.
  • Avocado oil tops olive oil for frying as it can withstand temperatures up to 560 degrees. It is composed of 69% monounsaturated, 13% saturated, and 8% polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Lays potato chips, probably the most famous and popular brand, are made with sunflower or corn oil. Oleic acid content in sunflower oil can range from as low as 14% all the way up to 97% in high-oleic sunflower oil. But since we don't know for sure whether the chips are fried in sunflower OR corn oil, it's best to avoid this brand altogether. Corn oil is a highly processed oil and should be avoided for many reasons. 

It's probably still not a good idea to pig out on potato chips-- even the ones made with healthier oils, but it's lovely to have the option to eat them once in awhile.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go have a snack. (crunch...crunch...crunch)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Old & Well

This month I turned 60. Happy birthday to me!

I am officially old.

As a young person, I never imagined myself this old. I remember wondering in my late teens what life would be like when I reached my 40s-- entered the mystical and wondrous 21st Century where hover-cars were a normal part of life and the sky was mucked up with smog pollution and we were routinely travelling back and forth to Mars and locations beyond.

Funny how everything has changed, and yet stayed pretty much the same.

Anyway, here I am, feeling more like 30 than 60-- in my mind, at least. I have a few more aches and pains now than I had a few decades back, but overall, I'm doing pretty well.

So, what do my 60s have in store for me? Statistics are not my friend. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control & Prevention), 28% of women over the age of 65 have diabetes, and over 69% suffer from hypertension. Forty percent are obese. The leading causes of death in people aged 65 and over are heart disease, cancer, and chronic lower respiratory disease. My life expectancy at 65 is a little over 20 years.

So far I'm doing pretty darned good against the stats as far as ailments are concerned.  And regarding life expectancy, I have some hardy folk in my family line, so I may even squeak out a few extra years beyond the potential twenty-five. After all, my dad's "on borrowed time" at 88, and my great grandparents lived into their nineties. But, realistically, I'm in my last trimester, so to speak.

There's not too much I can do about how long I live, but there are things I can do about how well I live. As they say, it's not nearly as much about how old you are as it is about how old you feel!

So what am I doing to protect my quality of life and feel as young as possible for as long as possible?

  • Paying attention to nutrition-- My diet is as free as possible of processed foods. I cook mostly from "scratch" using organic ingredients, whole fruits and vegetables, and pastured meats. I try to keep my sugar consumption to a minimum and I cook with mostly saturated and monounsaturated fats like butter, coconut oil, tallow and olive oil. I read labels and avoid additives.
  • Making an effort to keep moving-- (although I know I don't get enough exercise) My home is a two-story townhouse and I am up and down the stairs multiple times a day. I also make a point to get up from my desk several times an hour at work. I incorporate an hour of Yoga into my day about twice a week, and make a point to stretch often throughout the day -- every day.
  • Avoiding products made from chemicals-- I try to follow the adage, "don't put anything ON your body you wouldn't put IN your body." My moisturizers are made by me using a combination of tallow, coconut oil, olive oil, and essential oils. The soaps I buy are made from natural ingredients, my laundry detergent is free of chemicals, and so on. 
  • As often as possible, I opt for natural remedies-- My cold medicine is echinacea, elderberry syrup and lots of vitamin C and D3. For headaches, the first thing I reach for is turmeric (2 capsules usually does the trick pretty quickly).

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't give credit where credit is due-- and that is the blessings of God. It is He who has granted me my good health. I treasure it and consider it a gift. The most important thing I am doing to care for my health is spiritual...
  • Reducing stress. Yes, reducing stress is spiritual. One of the most significant risk factors in heart disease is stress. Not only that, but research suggests that prayer has a significant impact in the recovery of cancer patients. (Imagine that!) Putting ones faith in God has the power of reducing worry which reduces stress. Lower stress produces a calmer, happier and healthier person.

"Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?"  
Jesus Christ  (Luke 12:25-26)

As we enter the Thanksgiving Week, may we be reminded of our blessings, and acknowledge their source.

Young or old, may we make good choices in our health and realize that all that we have is by the grace and providence of God.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Making Peace With Cholesterol

I never thought twice about my cholesterol levels as a younger person. Coming from a hearty family (no pun intended) where everyone lived into their 80s and heart disease was a non-issue, it just wasn't a concern. Perhaps the fact that I wasn't the sort to go to the doctor every year for an "annual physical" had something to do with it. (Why spend money on a doctor visit if you're not sick?) Health insurance was a luxury when I was raising four children on a very small income.

So it wasn't until somewhere in my early 50s that I even became aware of my "cholesterol count." The doctor told me my cholesterol was "borderline-high" but if I watched my diet, it shouldn't be an issue. Back then I actually trusted the information I was hearing about eating too much fat-- even to the point of rationalizing that eating candy corn and jelly beans was much better than eating M&Ms or peanut butter cups because, well...they don't have any fat! I switched from whole milk to 2%, then before I knew it I was drinking 1%-- and actually liking it!--even though it looked more like water than milk. (Crazy, I know.)

Fast forward to the present day where I am putting half & half on my granola, cream in my coffee, and cooking everything in butter.

What's my cholesterol now? Who cares?!

What we are being told about cholesterol is less about science and more like a sort of religion that relies on ones beliefs rather than on actual evidence. After doing some personal research, I have discovered the high-cholesterol-causes-heart-disease mantra has no basis in fact.

That's right. It is a hypothesis, but it is not a fact.

In his book, The Cholesterol Myths, Dr. Uffe Ravnskov has this to say:
"The diet-heart idea is not scientifically sound, but it survives. In fact the diet-heart idea is hopelessly incorrect, but it seems to have eternal life. It lives on because the researchers who created it and defend it...have not followed the principles dictated by the scientific method."
What does he mean by that?
"[I]f a scientific hypothesis is sound, it must agree with all observations. A hypothesis is not like a sports event, where the team with the greatest number of points wins the game. Even one observation that does not support a hypothesis is enough to disprove it." (emphasis mine)
The diet-heart hypothesis--that is, the idea that dietary cholesterol and/or too much saturated fat causes heart disease--has been the subject of study since the 1950s. That's about sixty years. In the space of sixty years, they have yet to show conclusively that either saturated fat OR cholesterol have any impact whatsoever on heart disease. For instance,
  • Most studies have shown that high cholesterol is not a risk factor for women. On the contrary a French study found that old women with very high cholesterol lived the longest. This finding was reinforced by a National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute study that found mortality was higher for women with low cholesterol than for women with high cholesterol.
  • A Russian study found low cholesterol to be associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
  • A Toronto study found that men who have had a heart attack are just as likely to have another one whether their cholesterol is low or high.
  • In a Framingham follow-up study, cholesterol levels made no difference at all for men above 47 years of age--those with low cholesterol died of heart disease just as often as those with high cholesterol.
So, in other words, high cholesterol is a risk factor unless you're a woman, a Russian or Canadian man, or a man who's already had a heart attack or who is less than 48 years of age.

That's a lot of "exceptions to the rule," and these are just a few of them. If this were a game or government legislation, exceptions might be okay. But when we're talking about causation, exceptions must have reliable and reasonable explanations. Cholesterol risk exceptions seem to be arbitrary and more or less unexplainable--to the point of being silly.

Good scientific method would dismiss a hypothesis with this many exceptions as false and move on to look at other possible causes. But once you decide something is true the only thing left to do is try to prove it...and the efforts to do so continue year after year while alternate hypotheses that make a whole lot more sense are completely dismissed.

Here are some things you may not know about cholesterol...
  • LDL and HDL are NOT cholesterol - they are lipoproteins. Cholesterol is transported around the body inside lipoproteins along with fatty acids.
  • There's no such thing as "good" or "bad" cholesterol. Cholesterol is cholesterol. LDL (a.k.a "bad" cholesterol) is the name for the lipoprotein while it's transporting cholesterol and fat from the liver to the cells and HDL ("good" cholesterol) is the name used for that same lipoprotein once it is empty of fatty acids and is carrying unused cholesterol back to the liver for reprocessing. So, whether it's good or bad depends on which direction it's going.
  • It's impossible to have a "cholesterol count." You have a lipoprotein count. The cholesterol inside the lipoproteins is in continual flux as it is transported and deposited throughout the body. It will be different with every single blood draw.
  • All the cells in your body (with the exception of neurons) can and do manufacture cholesterol. In addition, one of the primary functions of the liver is to make cholesterol.
  • It is impossible to eat enough cholesterol to meet your daily cholesterol needs (which is why your body is able to manufacture it...God is very smart).
  • It is equally impossible to reduce your "cholesterol count" through diet, because...
  • Unless you have a rare genetic disease, your body will regulate your cholesterol level by adjusting production based on what you eat. In other words, when you eat more the body produces less, and when you eat less, the body produces more.
Cholesterol is essential for life. We need it to maintain brain health (connections between nerve cells are made up almost entirely of cholesterol). Our body makes vitamin D from cholesterol and sunlight. Cholesterol provides structural integrity for our cell membranes. It is a building block for most sex hormones. And it is an important component of the bile that helps digest our food.

It's time to ask the question:  Why do these research scientists seem to want cholesterol to be the bad guy?

Answer:  Because cholesterol can be controlled by drugs. More to the point, it can ONLY be controlled by drugs. There is a huge and growing market for statin drugs. In some parts of the world you can buy them over the counter. Keeping in mind that much, if not all, of the research currently being done on cholesterol is being done by the companies that manufacture statin drugs, would it surprise you to know that the guidelines for a "healthy" cholesterol (LDL) level are considerably lower today than they were 20 years ago? My "borderline-high" cholesterol reading would have been considered quite healthy and normal not too many years ago. But in order to sell a drug, there must be a need for it... or at least a perceived need.

Another thing to keep in mind is that doctors get their information about chronic disease from researchers. This has always been the case. The reason you see very little in the way of opposition to entrenched health dogma is that very little research is actually independent of the diabolical duo: pharmaceutical companies and government. Doctor may be sincere in their beliefs about the cause of heart disease, but they can be sincerely wrong. They may prescribe a statin drug like Lipitor or Crestor to control your cholesterol, but if you're wise, you will do some research of your own before you start down that path.

Like every drug, statins come with a host of side effects that wreak havoc on the body. If your body knows what its cholesterol level should be (self-regulating), and there is no reasonable evidence linking cholesterol with heart disease, then why would you want to deprive your body of what it needs and at the same time cause additional stress and damage to it?

Heart disease continues to be the number one killer among chronic diseases, so it would be nice if research could pin down what's causing it. But don't count on that happening. The goal isn't to cure heart disease, after all. The goal is to treat it. Usually with drugs. And if they can convince us that cholesterol is causing heart disease, then they can convince us that a cholesterol-blocking drug will solve our problem.

On the other hand, there are some very real risk factors to heart disease that you should consider--among them...
  • Inflammation
  • Smoking
  • Trans-fat consumption (oxidative damage)
  • Obesity
  • Stress
  • And of course... old age.
One last note... there is no causation link between saturated fat or cholesterol and heart disease, but that doesn't mean there is no link between DIET and heart disease. Over-consumption of foods high in trans-fats and polyunsaturated fats have been linked to cancer. There is also evidence to suggest that plaques that build up on artery walls and eventually block blood flow are a response to injury-- injury caused by oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is directly connected to consumption of damaged fatty acids, such as rancid oils and trans fats.

What we eat makes a difference! But cholesterol is not one of the bad guys. I've had my last cholesterol "checkup" and made my peace with it. I may yet die of heart disease, but it won't be from cholesterol. Heart disease is the classic disease of old age, even for the relatively healthy...and there's nothing I can do about that!

All the information for this article was pulled from the following two works, but there are more books out there on the topic, and hundreds of health professionals (if not more) who have come to the same conclusion. Grabbing at least one and reading it for yourself...
The Cholesterol Myths, Uffe Ravnskov, MD, PhD
The Great Cholesterol Con, Dr. Malcolm Kendrick

Monday, September 16, 2013

Man-made Food vs. God-made Food

Have you ever had a thought that caught you by surprise... like an epiphany, only maybe not quite as big? Something occurred to me today.

What if good health is not so much about what you eat, but what you don't eat ? 

I'm not talking about the little picture-- i.e. eat veggies and avoid meat or eat spinach and avoid potatoes, or even eat meat and avoid fruit. God designed us to be omnivores. He gave us both plants and meat for food--and a wide variety of each. Every natural food has some beneficial quality-- vitamins and minerals, enzymes, proteins, fatty acids, and so on. To get all the nutrient building blocks our body needs, we need to eat a variety of food but not necessarily a huge variety.

I'm talking about the big picture. Primitive people groups around the world have thrived on drastically different core diets (1). For example, the Eskimo diet is mostly meat (they get their vitamin C by eating the glands of the animals); Polynesian diets are mostly fish, shell fish and fruits; certain African tribes can maintain good health drinking copious amounts of raw milk and animal blood (Maori); and certain tribes in the Amazon jungle can live long and prosper eating mostly fruit. High fat or low fat, high carb or low carb-- it doesn't seem to matter. All these diets can and, in fact, have produced hardy healthy people, though they have very little in common-- except for one thing...

What's NOT there.

And what's not there is processed food.

My point? Our good health relies on eating foods made by God, rather than foods made by man. It shouldn't surprise us that the God who designed us would also know how to design foods to properly fuel us and keep us healthy.

It seems that only when we get the big idea that we can do a better job than God with the food supply that we get in trouble with our health.

The metabolic processes of the human body are so complex, doctors and biologists still do not fully understand them. They don't really know the cause of most of the ailments we suffer. There are hypotheses galore, some of which have graduated into the status of "settled science" rather mysteriously and without any consistent evidence and with absolutely no proof -- such as the heart-diet hypothesis: "saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease."(2) But for the most part, doctors still pretty much guess at what causes chronic disease, and usually have no idea how to cure them...only how to treat the symptoms, more or less, with some drug or other.

Would you put water in your automobile's gas tank and expect it to get you to work the next day? Of course not. Your car was not built to run on water. It's rather simplistic, but the same concept applies to the human body. We are designed to run on natural, God-made food, whole foods. If we don't feed the body the proper fuel, it will eventually break down--sometimes sooner than later. It is only the amazing capacity we have for healing that allows us to get by as long as many of us do.

We were actually designed to be able to live quite a lot longer than most of us do. (I know this because God told us so in the Bible. Up through Noah, humans lived as long as nine hundred years. Abraham, Issac, and Jacob lived well into their second century!) Even today, there are some who live into their nineties, and some exceed a hundred years...but not many. So why, in our generation, are so many of us expiring from cancer and heart disease in our fifties and sixties? Why are so many of us in wheelchairs for the last twenty years of our life? Quality of life is intimately connected to the food we eat. It's illogical and downright foolish to assume we can ingest anything and still function optimally.

Keep in mind that food manufacturing is a relatively new concept. Before grocery stores and supermarkets, people either grew their own food, or they bought food from a farmer's market. Food was home-canned, dehydrated, or fermented to keep through the winter months in places like Siberia and Minnesota. But for the most part, food was gathered from the earth, minimally prepared, and eaten the same day while it was fresh. Wheat or grain was ground and made into bread or cereal and eaten the same day before vitamins had time to lose their strength or oxidation of the germ could occur.

Even as recently as a century or two ago, heart disease was a disease of old age-- old as in octogenarian old or older. Cancer was almost unheard of. Diabetes was a disease of the rich. People who died young died of viral and bacterial illness, not cancer. In areas of the world where traditional diets free of processed foods are still eaten, this is still true.

Can humans manufacture food of the same quality as that found in nature?

Marketing has convinced us there's really no difference between natural and processed foods. But our bodies know the truth, and they respond on a cellular level accordingly.

As I near my sixtieth birthday, I think about all the ways I have abused my body over the years with fake food and I wonder how I would feel today had I been wiser about my diet. I'll never know, of course, but one thing is certain - it's never too late to change the way you eat. (And if you happen to still be young with your whole life ahead of you, your decisions will benefit your children, too!) We may not be able to undue what's done, but we can perhaps slow down the decline and give ourselves a better quality of life as we age.

It's been about two years since I began to seriously avoid processed man-made food. My medicine cabinet is currently free of prescription drugs, and my hope is to keep it that way. Don't get me wrong. Prescription drugs are not evil (per se), and many people have a legitimate need for certain medications. But medications only treat symptoms-- symptoms that may well be the result of our dietary choices.

What kind of quality of life do you want? You do have a choice. You can choose to eat the foods God gave us. Or you can believe the marketing hype that it doesn't really matter what we put in our body... in which case it might also be a good idea to purchase a good nursing home insurance policy to get you through the last few decades.

But then again, I could be wrong... it was just a thought.

(1) For more information on the traditional diets of "primitive" people, see Dr. Weston Price's book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.

(2) For more information on the problems with the "heart-diet" hypothesis, see...
  The Cholesterol Myths, Uffe Ravnskov
  The Great Cholesterol Con, Malcolm Kendrick

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Eggs and Beyond

If you're a fan of real food, you may be concerned to discover there is yet another fake food making its debut. "Beyond Eggs" is an artificial egg product made from plants. Don't expect anything beautiful. It is a powdered substance made from peas and beans and a bunch of other "awesome" vegetables. The firm marketing this product is Hampton Creek, a start-up company funded by bazillionaire Bill Gates and PayPal co-founder, Peter Thiel. Let's just call it tech-food.

As I write this, I'm enjoying a bowl of egg drop soup made with chicken bone broth, thinly sliced green onions and a lovely yellow farm-fresh egg-- a.k.a. real food. Before long, Hampton Creek is planning to unveil a new scrambled-egg substitute promising to be just like my whipped up farm their dreams!

So why do we need an egg substitute? "Beyond Eggs" is supposed to be so much better because it "takes animals out of the equation." Frankly, without animals, my egg drop soup doesn't exist. I like animals in the equation, along with the majority of Americans and probably a good part of the rest of the world. Hampton Creek's founder, Josh Tetrick, say's the animal food industry is broken-- and he's right. But the answer to the problem is not powdered plant food, it's the responsible and humane handling of the animals that we use for food. You will find humane treatment of animals on family farms all around the world, just not in CAFO industrial meat plants.

From an article about this wonderful new food in MailOnline,
"[The] idea was to find a mix of easy-to-grow plants that, when mixed together in the right way, replicate the taste, nutritional values and cooking properties of an egg."
And they're already in talks with major food manufacturers around the world to replace eggs in supermarket products with their alternative fake egg powder. One more reason to avoid processed food.

But my question is, will this product really have ALL the nutritional values of an egg? Will it have choline? Will it have saturated fat (gasp)? Saturated fat is an important nutrient required by the body and yet is only found in meat products. Is it going to have all the minerals found in eggs? What about vitamin A? There is a significant difference between the vitamin A found in eggs and meat (retinol) and the vitamin A found in plants (beta carotene). Primarily, beta carotene is NOT true vitamin A. It is a precursor that must be converted by the body into vitamin A. However, for many people, the body is not efficient enough to produce adequate vitamin A levels from beta carotene.

So once again, we have fake food manufacturers misleading the public into believing that they can create a drop-in replacement for a natural food. You may be saying, "But, Cathy, it IS a natural product because it's made from natural foods like peas and beans!" My answer-- hogwash! An argument could be made that every chemical is natural because it comes from naturally occurring molecules. A process that turns a plant--any plant--into a white powder that behaves like eggs is not remotely natural.

I'm not surprised that the world of "science" is working so hard to re-imagine our food. That's what they do. What gets me in the craw is that a market such as Whole Foods, which is supposed to be all about whole foods and healthy eating, will be promoting it! What's THAT about?!

With the likes of Bill Gates behind this effort, you can expect it to be thoroughly and lavishly advertised in the most beneficial light possible. But don't be fooled. Companies are in business to make a profit, not to benefit mankind. I'm not saying all businesses are bad because their goal is to make a profit-- I'm all about profit. That's what makes economies grow. What I'm saying is... buyer beware!

We must be thinkers and questioners. And we must be constantly vigilant. And we must stop being saps, believing everything we hear in an advertisement.

Beyond eggs? I'll pass, thank you. I like the eggs exactly the way they are. Thank you, Lord, for beautiful eggs and for the chickens that produce them.

Image credit:

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Confessions of a State Fair Junky

It's the end of August. The days are hot, summer's nearly over, and Minnesotans have gathered once again for the Great Minnesota Get-together... a.k.a. the State Fair.

Who can resist?

In my past life, the Fair experience always included eating lots of really bad food, mostly fried and on a stick. My favorites have included cinnamon buns, corn dogs (of course), cheese curds, roasted corn on the cob, copious amounts of sugary drinks, ice cream, and the famous bucket of cookies. Every year the vendors add some new fried or exotic food. It seems to be a contest to see who can come up with the most crazy or bizarre new food. This year the fried fruit stand had breaded and deep-fried cream cheese-stuffed olives. They sounded really good, but I resisted. I couldn't get past the deep-fried part.

Two years ago, I went low-carb, and yet I was still able to find some tasty meat offerings-- turkey drumsticks, grilled pork chops, "bull bites," and even alligator...on a stick. However, since swearing off of processed foods, trying to enjoy the food side of the fair is a challenge, to say the least.

This year I started out with the best intentions. My daughter and I love to go on opening day, as we did again this year. I know it's bad, but I bought the too-large caramel cinnamon roll. And I ate the whole thing. Then we had to have the sweet corn. You just can't go to the Minnesota State Fair and not have sweet corn dipped in butter. Supper was a turkey drumstick and I was feeling pretty proud of myself for not succumbing to the fried foods. Water replaced soda pop (pats on the back...pat pat pat). But then we wandered past the Heritage Square ice cream stand where they make real milkshakes with real milk and real ice cream-- not organic, but at least it doesn't come from some powdered mix loaded with artificial ingredients. Okay, the ice cream probably had its share of artificial ingredients, but I'm chalking it up to impending heat stroke. I caved in and got myself a mocha shake. Go ahead and call me a hypocrite now because I'm just getting started.

Today, I went back to the fair a second time-- this time with my husband, Mark. Now, as much as much as he loves me, Mark is not very good at keeping me accountable. Being an early bird, he's up at the crack of dawn (sometimes before) and wanted to beat the heat by going early. I, on the other hand, drag out of bed in the morning because I have to, and don't usually eat for a couple hours thereafter, so I didn't have breakfast before we left the house. So I arrived hungry. My first food stop was a place called the French Meadow, an organic pastry shop. I had their peach filled scone - yum. Points for me in the organic category, but not so much in the carbs and sweets category. Then came the sweet corn, some wine tasting, and finally a grilled pork chop. Not too bad considering the general Fair fare, but in the end, I was unable to resist the chocolate chip cookies. I did NOT buy the bucket, but I did get a paper cone overflowing with the little two-inch cookie treats and Mark and I shared them on the bus ride home.

I was a bad girl. There, I admit it! My name is Cathy, and I'm a State Fair junky.

We all fall off that proverbial wagon from time to time. As penance, I made steamed broccoli (with butter) and hamburger patties for supper. The fair is over for another year and I have promised to give my body a chance to recover before I punish it again with bad food.

Fortunately, the good Lord designed our bodies with the capacity to recover from minor and short-lived abuses.

In all Fair-ness, the Fair was not entirely bad for me. I did walk and walk and walk. Twice! Walking is good. I visited the Health building and had my blood pressure taken. It was down! All that saturated fat I've been eating has been helping. My weight is stable. That made me happy. And today, the guy who was using his innovative new machine to measure my AGEs (Advanced Glycation End-products) so he could sell me his expensive product guessed my age at six years younger than I really am-- who doesn't love to hear something like that?! 

In a few days, the Fair will close up shop for another year.  I have washed off the sweat, scrubbed the Fair dirt off my feet, and forgiven myself for my dietary indiscretions. Next year I'll have another chance to make good choices. Frankly, every day I have another chance to make good choices, as do you.

Have a fabulous Labor Day weekend. There's still time to get to the Fair ...and I hear the weather for the next two days will be beautiful!  No judgment from me on your food choices... just this once.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The "Healthy Fat" Debate

Google "healthy fats" and you will get a wide range of opinions of what is healthy and what is not. But
you will certainly see a trend, even among the "natural foods" people, warning against the dangers of saturated fat. A very few nutritionists/health experts are willing to go out on a limb and give a complete and hearty thumbs-up to saturated fats like butter, lard, and tallow.

But setting aside opinions for the moment, let's look at the science... because science doesn't have an agenda.

Dr. Mary G. Enig has been a renowned expert in the field of lipid (fats & oils) research for over 30 years. Her book, Know Your Fats, is among many published works, which include numerous journal publications, dealing with the effects of fats and oils on health and nutrition. And she's not connected to any special interest groups whose purpose is to promote one type of fat over another. I believe we are safe to accept Dr. Enig's definition of a healthy fat:
"Healthy fats and oils are the ones that don't oxidize readily, or that are usually consumed before they can oxidize."(1)
Simple and to the point. She goes on to say that oxidized oils are no good because they "are either (1) not available for use as energy or for structural purposes because they are either in a polymerized unusable form; or (2) they contain toxic components." In other words, when fats and oils are damaged, the worst case is they are toxic; the best case is they are useless. In either case, the body has to struggle to get rid of them.

The job of nutritionists and health experts is to translate the available scientific information into advice on what foods we should be eating. That's why they go to college to become food "experts." So then if the benchmark of a healthy oil is that it doesn't oxidize readily, presumably those are the fats and oils the experts should be telling us to eat. Right? More on that later.

There are essentially four kinds of fats. They are
  • saturated fat
  • monounsaturated fat
  • polyunsaturated fat
  • trans fat
These fats are defined primarily by their molecular structure. It's all very scientific. Fats are made up of three fatty acid molecules attached to one glycerol molecule. This collection of molecules is called a triglyceride and the triglyceride is the form in which fat molecules travel around in our body to be deposited in the cells where they're needed.

The first thing to get straight is it doesn't matter whether these fatty acids come from plants or animals, the molecules are the same. (Translation: Just because a fat comes from an animal doesn't make it bad.)

The next thing to understand is that fatty acids are formed from carbon(C), hydrogen(H) and oxygen(O) molecules. Stay with me -- I promise not to get TOO technical. The fatty acids are defined by the length of the carbon chain and the number of carbon bonds in the carbon chain. The atoms that form the carbon molecule portion of the fatty acid connect to each other by means of a carbon bond. The carbon bond is the sharing of one, two, or three electrons. A carbon bond that shares only one electron is called "saturated." A double or triple carbon bond is "unsaturated." And finally, triglycerides may contain both saturated fatty acids and unsaturated fatty acids. The number of carbon bonds in a fatty acid determine how stable the molecule will be. When there are extra carbon bonds, the molecule is susceptible to damage because the extra ones make it unstable. Dr. Enig explains it this way...
"...since the unsaturated bonds are up for grabs, another element could come and 'steal' one of those electrons and form a new bond. this makes unsaturated bonds relatively reactive and chemically unstable. If a fatty acid molecule has several unsaturated bonds it is called polyunsaturated and is generally very reactive chemically."(2)
These are the chemical reactions that break down the fatty acids making them useless or toxic. (I promise...this is the end of the science lesson.) Since saturated fats have only one carbon bond, that would make them the most stable of all the fatty acids and the least susceptible to oxidation.

So what are healthy fats, again?

"Healthy fats and oils are the ones that don't oxidize readily, or that are usually consumed before they can oxidize."

Remember that old logic axiom? "If A equals B, and B equals C, then A must equal C." If saturated fats are the most stable, and stable fats are the healthiest, then saturated fats must be the healthiest.

But what about the fact that saturated fats contribute to heart disease? As it turns out, there is no such fact. Believe it or not, there is no evidence to support this very popular, but wrong, idea. The studies done years ago implicating saturated fat were skewed by a number of things, including the practice of combining trans fat, which does contribute to heart disease, in with saturated fat in their data. No studies using only saturated fat have ever been able to show a cause-connection to heart disease. The most famous study that started the whole fat-is-bad-for-you theory was done by Ancel Keys in 1953 (out of the U of M)-- known as the Seven Countries Study, wherein he took data from seven out of twenty-two countries, created a graph that supported his hypothesis and proceeded to convince the government that animal fat (which is all mostly saturated) causes heart disease. We can refer to another well known saying - "garbage in, garbage out." If the data is bad, the results will be bad. Mr. Keys chose to disregard any data that didn't fit his hypothesis and somehow, all challenges to his faulty results were summarily ignored. He must have been a heck of a salesman!

The really stunning part is that the health professionals swallowed his garbage hook, line and sinker. And for the past sixty years we have been suffering from it in the form of rising chronic illness.

Saturated fat not only does not hurt you, but in fact your body requires quite a lot of it.
  • Human milk from a well nourished mom contains about 54% fat, nearly 26% of which is saturated (that's about half), and roughly 21% is monounsaturated-- leaving only 6.5% or so as polyunsaturated. Babies and children need a high fat diet to support their rapid growth and brain development. 
  • Fat plays a very important role in maintaining the structure of all the cells in our bodies. 
  • Fatty acids also regulate our hormones.
  • The fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) are transported through the body and absorbed by way of fatty acids.
  • Saturated fats aid the immune system and many have antimicrobial properties.
  • Fats are more satiating than carbohydrates because they are more slowly digested. You're not as likely to overeat on a diet high in fat (and low in carbs).
The body will make its own saturated fat by breaking down (digesting) the fatty acids we consume in our diet. If all we eat is low fat food consisting mainly of polyunsaturated and trans fats, we are depriving it of the building blocks it needs to nourish the cells!

Why aren't we being told these important facts about the role of fat in our diet? Good question. I wish I knew. You would think by now, the brainiacs in the CDC and the FDA and the universities that keep pumping out new batches of nutritionists would get a clue that there must be something wrong with their assumptions.

Perhaps it has something to do with the food industry. Most of the vegetable oils we eat are made up primarily of polyunsaturated or hydrogenated fats-- shortening, margarine, corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, and canola oil. These are the most unstable of all the fats and the most susceptible to damage. Anything that says "partially hydrogenated" on the package contains trans fats, which are known to be toxic.  Food industry lobbies have a powerful influence on the government, and the government (along with industry) funds the research. There is very little in the way of independent research in our day and age.

Humans have consumed mostly saturated fats like tallow (beef lard), pork lard, butter, coconut and palm oils, along with that very healthy monounsaturated olive oil, for thousands of years with little or no heart disease--until old age, at least. Only since the advent of commercially produced oils that are mostly polyunsaturated has cancer and heart disease skyrocketed. It doesn't make any sense to attribute these chronic illnesses to the consumption of saturated fats.

We have been indoctrinated into believing a lie about our diet. Low fat diets are not healthy. Saturated fats are not "bad fats." And polyunsaturated fats are not "good fats." The healthiest diet will be higher in the stable saturated and monounsaturated fats, low in polyunsaturated fats, and will contain little or no trans fats.

Next time you hear or read something about "healthy fats," remember this and use it as your guideline:  "Healthy fats and oils are the ones that don't oxidize readily, or that are usually consumed before they can oxidize."

For more information on truly healthy fats, see the Weston A. Price website.
More about saturated fats by Dr. Mercola.
Fats: The misunderstood food group.

(1)  Enig, Mary G., Know Your Fats, p. 104
(2)  Enig, Mary G., Know Your Fats, pp. 9-10

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Alphabet Soup Additives

Today I almost ate a Reece's Peanut Butter cup. Then I read the ingredient label and decided instead to have a piece of organic dark chocolate I keep at my desk for just such moments as these.

In my former junk food days I used to devour these sweets mindlessly! But these days the first thing I do when I pick up a food item is to check out the ingredients. Have you noticed a new trend in labeling? Instead of distressing us needlessly with all those unpronounceable chemical names, they have resorted to short, non-intimidating pseudo-acronyms. Two ingredients jumped out at me-- PGPR and TBHQ. Seeing these innocuous abbreviations immediately triggered an alarm in me and I decided to do a little investigating.

PGPR - Polyglycerol polyricinoleate
  • PGPR is a chemical fat replacement made from castor beans (think caster oil). It replaces cocoa butter in the mass production of cheap chocolate because...well, it's cheaper. More to the point, chocolate manufacturers can make more money pulling off the cocoa butter and selling it to the cosmetic industry for much more money than they could ever get leaving it in the chocolate candy. 
  • Producers of PGPR extol the virtues of this product as a good solution to "control flow properties [of chocolate] and reduce fat content...allowing smooth, problem-free production for [their] customers." Wow! They're thinking of us. And we can all be relieved that the FDA has signed off on it as "generally regarded as safe" (GRAS), even though no long-term testing has ever been done on it. 
  • But of course PGPR, however safe it might be, is not cocoa butter. PGPR is made up primarily (80%-90%) of ricinoleic acid. Ricinoleic acid is a man-made polyunsaturated Omega-9 fatty acid. Cocoa butter on the other hand, is a naturally occuring element of the cocoa bean, comprised of a unique blend of palmitic acid, stearic acid, and oleic acid. It is 59% saturated fat and 38% monounsaturated (from Know Your Fats, Mary G. Enig). Keep in mind that fatty acids are not interchangeable in the body. The body uses each type of fatty acid in different ways in our metabolism. Replacing one type with another will always have different results. The only redeeming factor of PGPR is that it is not hydrogenated, and therefore is free of transfat. If you're worried about saturated fat, you shouldn't be-- your body needs it, loves it, and makes it from scratch when it has the available materials to do so. On the other hand, you need very little polyunsaturates.
TBHQ - Tertiary Butylhydroquinone
  • TBHQ is a chemical preservative used to keep fats from going rancid. It is an antioxidant derived from petroleum. While it takes a whole gram to be considered "toxic" by the FDA, it is in fact an unnatural chemical that the body has no use for and must figure out how to get rid of when we consume it. The FDA allows 0.2mg per gram of fat in the food. So in other words, you would have to eat 500 grams of TBHQ-preserved fat before a toxic effect would be felt. How much fatty processed food do you eat? Don't forget to count things like McDonald's (and every other brand) chicken nuggets. If you're wondering what products this chemical is in, there's a short list on the Healthy Tips website. If you start looking, you'll probably find it in many other products as well.
  • The reason TBHQ is used in Hershey's candy in the first place is that the stable saturated fats naturally occuring in the cocoa beans are removed and replaced by unstable vegetable oils. It wouldn't be necessary if they left the cocoa butter where they found it. Other processed foods, like cookies and popcorn, are subject to oxidation (rancidity) when they are made with vegetable oils instead of more stable saturated fats like butter or coconut oil. Without an added stabilizer like TBHQ, they would go bad fast.
  • If you're worried about the environment, oils treated with TBHQ, such as frying oils used by restaurants and then discarded afterward, have significantly reduced biodegradability. A .02% concentration results in a 25% loss in biodegradability; and a 2% concentration results in a 56% loss in biodegradability.
  • Is this substance as safe as we're led to believe? There doesn't seem to be much in the way of documentation dealing with the cumulative effects of TBHQ in the body. I did find one Canadian study that found detrimental effects in some test animals at higher doses, but the results were not clearly stated in layman's terms. The conclusion was simply that .02% should be safe. As with every additive in our food, harmful effects are always dealt with as a fraction of a single food. Once the additive is declared safe, manufacturers put it in food after food after food. And before you know it, it's in everything and no longer a fraction of a single food. Cumulative effect is rarely addressed by the food industry. This is why it is so important to take control of what you eat by reading labels and being aware of all additives--even the supposedly "safe" ones.
Moral of the story? Neither one of these ingredients will kill you ... immediately. But a regular diet of unnatural foods will ultimately take its toll. I'm reminded of the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden. God told them they would die if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The serpent said, "You won't surely die." And so they ate the fruit. And they didn't die-- that day, anyway. It actually took over 900 years in their case. But the point is, they died, though they were meant to be immortal.

The wrong food will damage your health and kill you prematurely. Your body has wonderful healing powers, but a habit of eating all the wrong things will take its toll in illness and misery. We see this happening all around us. When we should be living well into our 80s and 90s, more people are dying of heart disease, cancer, and a host of other chronic illnesses before they ever reach the moderate age of 60.

We're all going to die, of course, but we don't have to be miserable on the way there. Chronic illness can be avoided by avoiding the foods that promote it.

We can all take back our health by choosing to eat foods that are as close to nature as we can get. If we don't buy it, they won't make it!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Don't Eat That!

Do you ever find yourself fighting an irresistible urge to shout, "STOP! Don't eat that! It's poison! Well, more like a slow poison...that takes actually years to kill you. But still, pay no attention to how good it tastes-- just don't eat it!" This is the script (more or less) that plays out in my head every time I see someone make a sandwich out of grocery store bread, or order a Coke--or worse yet, a Mountain Dew--at the restaurant (or french fries that have been cooked in week-old carcinogenic-laden vegetable oil), or reach for a carton of soy milk in the dairy section (it really ought to have it's own section...labeled "Hormone Disrupter Aisle"--it's not really dairy, after all).

And then there are those who are so proud of themselves because they choose skim milk over whole, or pretzels over candy, or diet Coke over regular... and it's all I can do not to burst their satisfaction bubble.

But I find myself resisting the urge more often than giving in to it, even though the more I learn about nutrition and the food choices we have, the more frustrated I get. I'm finding that people generally don't want to be told there's something wrong with their food choices. And, they have the mainstream nutrition "experts" supporting their choices more often than not.

Still, I carry my soapbox wherever I go, just in case.  And given the opportunity (such as, someone brings up nutrition in a conversation), I step on up and preach the gospel of healthy eating to whomever will least until they make it clear they've had enough. (Apologies to my family, who get the worst brunt of it.)

Speaking of food choices, the world of "science" is about to give us yet another one: man-made meat. Sort of. It starts out with God-made cells, and goes downhill from there. I give you "test-tube burger," grown by scientists using stem cells from cattle. From an article in this week's online publication,, entitled The £250,000 Hamburger...
"A four-step technique is used to turn stem cells from animal flesh into a burger.
  1. First, the stem cells are stripped from the cow’s muscle.
  2. Next, they are incubated in a nutrient broth until they multiply many times over, creating a sticky tissue with the consistency of an under-cooked egg.
  3. This ‘wasted muscle’ is then bulked up through the laboratory equivalent of exercise - it is anchored to Velcro and stretched.
  4. Finally, 3,000 strips of the lab-grown meat are minced, and, along with 200 pieces of lab-grown animal fat, formed into a burger.
The process is still lengthy, as well as expensive, but it could take just six weeks from stem cell to supermarket shelf."
The kicker was this:  according to Professor Mark Post, the researcher heading up this project,
"It comes down to the fact that animals are very inefficient at converting vegetable protein into animal protein. This helps drive up the cost of meat."
Apparently, in Professor Post's world, growing 3,000 strips of fake meat in a laboratory for a 5 ounce burger is more efficient and less costly than a cow grazing on a field of grass for a year and then providing two to three hundred pounds of meat. I'm sure God is shaking his head at the absurd nature of Professor Post's thought processes...I know I am. 

What drives up the cost of meat is the unnatural method by which the cattle are raised, and the government regulation that surrounds the meat industry. Cattle know how to turn cheap green grass into meat. They have a lot more trouble with corn, but that's another story.

And then there's that other problem-- persuading people to actually eat the stuff. Is this fake meat tasty? Well, it is described as being grey and slimy (like octopus meat). It probably looks a little bit like that raw hamburger that languished in the back of the refrigerator for two or three weeks before being discover, and promptly discarded. Not only that, but the good professor suggested it was possible to add fatty tissue and nutrients to make it "more palatable" to the public. In other words, their science experiment doesn't really resemble hamburger in its current form. Go figure.

If we thought genetically modified food was bad (and it is!), THIS has got to be exponentially worse. Meat in its natural form has the input of a very complex biological system. How can a sterile stem cell tricked into becoming meat muscle in some scientist's petrie dish possibly provide anywhere near a comparable food?

But never fear. The "Food Standards Board" will still need to sign off on it, once the manufacturers "prove" that it's nutritionally equivalent to real meat, and safe for the public to consume. And they can count on it. There will be studies that document the health of those guinea-pig volunteers over a very long period--three, maybe four weeks!--with no adverse results. "No difference!" they'll declare. And besides that, it has the backing of PETA! No animals were injured during this process.

Where's my soap box?! Really! Please! Don't eat that!

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Monday, July 29, 2013

Not so healthy "healthy" sweeteners

What are your alternatives if you want to avoid sugar? Simple answer: don't eat sugar.

But of course, you and I both know that's not going to work...for long, anyway. If you're like me, you probably grew up eating cake and pie and cookies, not to mention candy bars, soda pop, and Kool-Aid. They were part of life. They were the reward for eating our vegetables! We see them as a psychological necessity. A pathway to happiness.

One of the most frequent statements I get when I talk "healthy eating" with people is, "I could never give up my sweets." Okay, what if you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sweets were the cause of your disease? Would you give them up then? If society in general is any indication, the answer is probably "no." There is plenty of research being done trying to find answers to our national fat problem, and most of the fingers are pointing at sugar. Sugar consumption, in this country and much of the Western world, has increased nearly a hundred fold over the past hundred years. Even since the 1960s, when the low-fat diet agenda took hold, we continue to get fatter and fatter. Dietary fat is still very much misunderstood, but it's pretty much settled that sugar is bad for us.

People who are concerned about their health or their weight know, intuitively, that they should "cut back" on sugar. But it's very hard to do because sugar is addictive. It functions on the brain exactly like a narcotic.

Isn't it odd that the first thing most people do when, for whatever reason, they can't eat something is to look for a substitute. People with wheat allergies figure out how to make bread with almond flour or coconut flour or rice flour. It never ever really tastes like bread, but they eat it anyway. People who stop eating meat suddenly start eating pretend meat made out of soy beans. And an entire industry has arisen to provide diabetics with all of their favorite desserts -- sugar free.

Why do we need these foods? We don't, of course, but we think we do. And now I'm going to step on the toes of the foodies-- you know, the ones who are adamantly opposed to processed foods, white sugar, white flour, chemicals, and so on... people like me!

Those people will cringe in horror at the thought of putting a cup of white sugar in their favorite dessert recipe, but for some reason, they're okay with
  • Agave (16g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Honey (16g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Concentrated fruit sweetener (10g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Brown rice syrup (11g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Coconut nectar (13g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Maple syrup (12g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Raw sugar (12g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Sucanat (12g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Date sugar (9g sugar per Tbsp)
  • Molasses (10g sugar per Tbsp)
...and the list goes on.

But as the poet said, "a sugar molecule, by any other name, is still a sugar molecule"...or something like that. Sugar, in any form, behaves badly in our body and really isn't good for us.

I was grabbing a supposedly natural chicken salad at my local Chipotle's not too long ago and I noticed a big sign promoting their margaritas, now sweetened with agave. Lovely, I thought. Instead of sugar going straight to fat in my body, it's going to my liver first...and then to fat. Great plan! My liver is already trying to detoxify my body from the alcohol (in the margarita), and now it also has to process all that fructose, too.

Don't be fooled into thinking that fructose is healthy because it comes from fruit. Too much fruit sugar is really worse than too much cane sugar. This is also true of high fructose corn syrup or any high fructose sweetener-- like agave. Fructose is metabolized in the liver. When we eat more than our liver can process, we're in trouble. We hear a lot about the "Glycemic Index" these days because it relates to how fast sugar is metabolized-- a major concern for those with diabetes. Foods with a low GI induce a slower, milder insulin response. Since fructose does not go straight into the blood, but must first bypass through the liver, it has a lower GI and is typically approved for diabetics. But this is deceptive thinking and doesn't take into account the toxic load put on the liver, particularly when we eat large amounts of it.

It would be incomplete of me to wind up this post without mentioning the newest favorite zero-calorie "natural" sweetener, stevia. Who hasn't heard about this gem?!  Call me a skeptic, but I've never really trusted the claims of this new product. Mark and I tried it and neither of us really liked the taste. But aside from taste, my biggest beef with stevia is the same one I have for every other processed food -- it's processed.

Of course, not all processing is bad. We process food when we prepare meals in our kitchens. Some foods, like spinach and broccoli, are better digested if they've been lightly cooked, as the heating process helps to release nutrients. But when manufacturers process food, it always involves one of the following:

  • Cooking the life out of it (literally destroying most or all of the nutrients)
  • Extruding (sending through a high-pressure press, which destroys nutrients)
  • Removing offending colors or flavors using chemicals like bleach or hexane gas
  • Removing naturally occurring fats and replacing them with sugars and/or chemicals
  • Removing naturally occurring sugars and replacing them with chemicals
  • Adding back artificial colors or flavors to make the product palatable (chemicals)
  • Adding back artificial nutrients (synthetic vitamins, which are only fractions of whole, natural vitamins)

It's no different with Stevia. Food Babe has a great post on this topic, Food Babe Investigates Stevia: Good or Bad?, and I would encourage you to check it out.  If they have to go to THAT much trouble to create a sweetener out of a leaf, it really is a stretch to call it "natural." Yes, the stevia leaf is natural.  So is corn. But I would no more throw a stevia leaf in my tea to sweeten it than I would throw in a teaspoon of corn. The most unprocessed sweetener on the planet is honey...straight from the beehive into the teacup! Honey is natural - stevia is not.

The truth is, when we put desserts and sweets of every kind in their rightful place--as an occasional treat, eaten in tiny portions-- we won't have to worry about what kind of "sugar" is in them.

Cutting back on sweets is the best gift you can give your body. And learning to give up what's unhealthy without looking for a magic substitute is a pretty nice gift, too.

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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Second Opinions and Risk

"Always get a second opinion!"

How many times have we all heard this with regard to our health, and yet how many of us actually do it? A little over five years ago I went under the knife for a very serious surgery called a bowel resection-- in my case, of the small intestine. Did I take the time to get a second opinion? Like many of you, I wager, the answer is No

Here are a few usual reasons, in no particular order, why we don't.

1)  We trust our doctor (particularly, if they've been treating us a long time-- they know best)
2)  There's no time (we are pressured into a quick decision, like our appendix just exploded)
3)  It's the only option (or, the only safe option, or the only reliable option, or the only accepted option)
4)  It's too expensive (every opinion comes with a requisite office visit co-pay, and we just don't have the money)
5)  Fear of making decisions (if the second opinion is different, then I'll have to choose)
6)  Laziness (it's too much trouble, another doctor is just going to tell me the same thing anyway)
7)  Risk of getting worse while we look around for another opinion (sometimes this idea comes from our diagnosis-- like cancer, for instance)
8)  Ignorance (nobody every told us we should get a second opinion)

Sometimes it's a mix of reasons. With me, it was a combination of 3, 4, 6, and 7. The exploratory testing discovered lesions in my small intestine. What were they? Anybody's guess without doing a biopsy, which (it turns out) is major surgery of its own. The only way to find anything in the intestinal tract is to cut you open, pull it out and inspect it inch by inch! And without that biopsy it would be impossible to determine whether or not the lesions were cancerous (reason 3). When I consulted with the surgeon and asked him about waiting until after Christmas... well, the good doctor cautioned me that waiting could be very risky. If it was cancer, it could spread to who knows where by then (reason 7). So, no point in waiting-- as a matter of fact, I could be dead by Christmas. Okay, he didn't actually SAY that, but emotions have a way of exaggerating everything. Reason 4 came into the picture since I was living on a pretty tight budget at the time (and planning for a wedding); and reason 6 came into the picture because, well, I guess I'm just naturally lazy.

There are a couple of real dangers with not getting a second opinion. The main one is that doctors don't know everything--even those things related to their specialty. For example, my cancer surgeon told me there was nothing I could have done or changed in my diet or lifestyle to prevent the sarcomas from developing. It was a well-meaning encouragement-- no doubt intended to remove any sense of guilt I might have had about my eating habits, but totally misguided. Just because he doesn't know of anything I could have done doesn't make it true. As it turns out, researchers are discovering a significant link between sugar and cancer in, it's the major food supply of cancer cells and they die if they don't get any. And for the record, at the time, my diet was about 75% sugar (give or take).

Not only do doctors not know everything, but very often doctors don't tell you everything. It's very difficult to make an informed decision without information, but unfortunately, sometimes doctors don't explain to us the full consequences of the treatment or surgery they recommend. Recently, a young woman who is a friend of the family was diagnosed with a glandular cancer that had attacked her cervix. Her doctor told her she needed a radical hysterectomy. I suggested to her that before she underwent such a drastic life-changing procedure, she research the ketogenic diet (the one that starves cancer of its sugar-food). Her reply was that she trusted her doctor, his diagnosis and his remedy "completely." Did he explain to her how miserable this procedure would make her? Did he tell her she would be immediately thrust into menopause at age 32? Did he give her a less radical option? Did she ever even seek a second opinion? At this point, I don't have the heart to ask because what's done is done. But, she trusted her doctor completely (reason 1) and likely believed the hysterectomy was the only available solution (reason 3). Her life will never be the same. And there's no guarantee the cancer won't come back somewhere else in her body later on in life.

Sometimes doctors deliberately disregard alternative treatments, to the point of warning us off from them (such as this example regarding the Gerson Therapy, which has a very high success rate in curing cancer in patients who were given up on by their cancer doctors). In our modern medical establishment, doctors have been programmed to reject any treatment that doesn't include a procedure or a drug-- for example, food! Or better put, nutrition. As a rule, they have very little nutrition training. And the training they do get is flawed in that they are indoctrinated by the mythology that low-fat, low-calorie diets are the key to good health when there is absolutely no evidence to support it. Most doctors never bother to research diet any further, though occasionally a brave soul comes along who steps over the line and asks the question... is our food making us sick? ...and then writes a book about it.

Sometimes doctors misdiagnose. Even the doctor you trust! More than 100,000 people die every year from adverse drug reactions and more than two million suffer serious injury. My dear mother lost 70% of her kidney function by taking ibuprofen every night for many years, on the advice of her doctor, to ease the pain of arthritis. The doctor never told her it could harm her. In the news just this week, a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer and went through months of chemotherapy and radiation, only to find out she never actually had cancer to start with. This kind of thing happens more often than you might think.

Always get a second opinion!

We must never forget that the medical establishment is neatly tied up in the pockets of the pharmaceutical companies. Research grants are never given to study something that has no potential to fatten the bottom line of some company or other...whether or not it has the bright promise of curing disease. If for no other, this reason (we'll call it "reason 9") should motivate us to seek a second opinion, and perhaps a third, when we are facing major medical issues such as being advised to take a prescription drug or have some surgical procedure done.

Every medical procedure and every drug involves risk. Every drug ever made has side-effects-- many of them worse than the condition they are meant to treat. You should never start taking a drug without first trying to correct the problem naturally.

The same goes for surgeries. Our bodies are complex biological miracles. They were designed as a unit, all parts--however obscure they may seem--serving a valuable purpose. You may be able to live without your appendix or your tonsils or your uterus...but you won't be functioning in optimal condition. The law of unintended consequences reigns supreme in the body. Changing the balance of even one hormone can wreak havoc in a domino effect.

Will we ever understand completely how the body works? Researchers are continually discovering new things about cell function, DNA, and metabolic processes-- often contradicting what we thought we know. In her book, Deep Nutrition, Dr. Catherine Shanahan and her husband discuss the science of epigenetics, or how our genes react to our behavior, particularly with regard to nutrition.
"The body of evidence compiled by thousands of epigenetic researchers working all over the world suggests that the majority of people's medical problems do not come from mutations, as previously thought, but rather from harmful environmental factors that force good genes to behave badly, by switching them on and off at the wrong time. And so, genes that were once healthy can, at any point in our lives, start acting sick."(1)
And the two broad categories that act upon our genes, she explains, are "toxins and nutrient imbalances such as missing vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, or other raw materials required to run our cells." Is it possible that what we eat really is that important?

Unfortunately, scientific studies will never be able to prove conclusively that eating or not eating certain foods will make you healthy and stave off cancer, heart disease, and all the other modern banes of our existence. One reason is that there are just too many variables. But that doesn't mean that strong evidence doesn't exist to support such a concept. Unfortunately for the average Joe, the scientific method is the only "approved" method for "proving" anything in the Scientific World. As long as that inflexible ideology remains entrenched, there will never be a consensus among our trusted medical professionals of what constitutes a healthy diet-- no matter how much evidence there is to support it. Evidence is not proof... to them.  But to you?
"Wisdom crieth in the streets:  'I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion...Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power.'" (Proverbs 8)
We don't need a scientist to tell us what we can discover through simply looking at the evidence. Call me crazy, but I've always believed God gave me a brain for a reason. Perhaps I didn't go to medical school, but I do have the capacity to educate myself...and I may actually know more about some things than my doctor does. He (or she) is not God and should never be the final word on anything that affects me.

Since my surgery, I've applied my mind to learning the truth about health. I've researched everything from vegan principles to paleo philosophy. And like a pendulum, I've settled back to a kind of center point that concentrates on eating foods that are closest to their natural state. I've eliminated chemicals, which means I read every label on every food product that contains one. This takes effort, but in today's world dominated by manufactured food, it is a necessary activity. As a result, I don't buy very much processed food-- though I do still buy some. I buy only foods labeled organic to protect my body from the unlabeled chemicals such as pesticides and foods genetically modified to create their own poison ("Roundup-ready"). I buy only clean meat and dairy-- pasture-raised and hormone/antibiotic-free. I try to keep my sugar and bread consumption very low. And finally, I avoid soy in any form due to its hormone disrupting nature (one of many negative health effects).

So, if I knew then what I know now, would I have gotten a second opinion? Moreover, would I have risked taking the diet route first to try to cure my possible cancer? I hope so, but it's hard to say what one would have done in other circumstances, and I hesitate to say dogmatically "YES."  I am no longer the person I was then. What I AM, however, is more informed and more aware-- a good combination for making better decisions.

I hope you always get a second opinion...but better yet, tackle your diet, get rid of the poisons and junk in it, and get healthy enough that you never have to visit the doctor in the first place. That's my new goal... wish me luck, and I wish you the same!

(1) Deep Nutrition, page 4