Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year 2015

Happy New Year to all my readers! I hope you had a blessed and healthy 2014.

Are you a resolution maker? The older I get, the fewer resolutions I make. This may be partly due to the fact that I rarely keep them longer than a month or two. I am, after all, the Queen of Inconsistency.

This year I have one resolution, which I may be able to keep since it will only be 30 days long. I am giving the Whole30 a try. For the uninitiated masses, Whole30 is an eating plan that focuses on removing potentially unhealthy foods from the diet, particularly grains, sugars, dairy, alcohol, legumes, and pretty much all processed foods. I'm not a die-hard proponent of Paleo eating, though I believe it has its benefits, and this eating plan is VERY Paleo. But my goal with this experiment is to see if it really helps to improve my chronic muscle pain, which is my only significant health issue (not bad for 61!)

Mark and I ended our year with another Caribbean cruise. It was delightful! It was warm. The food was terrible! Tasty, but terrible. There are times when I think I could cruise for literally weeks on end. But, the truth is I am incapable of resisting the bad food.  If you've ever been on a cruise, you know what I mean-- the morning pastries, the endless dessert buffet, and the frozen margaritas! Not to mention, who knows what kind of ingredients they use to feed three thousand people - without a doubt it's not remotely organic. Unfortunately, they won't let you cook in your room.

So, at the end of the week, my ankles and legs were swollen -- a sure sign of toxicity -- and I had gained eight pounds. Besides which I managed to bring home some kind of bug and have been struggling to get well for the past three days. I'm ringing in the new year this evening with a box of tissues and a bottle of elderberry syrup.

But on the whole, it was a very good year. I hope it was for you as well.

Tomorrow, I will do my traditional New Year's Day activity - laundry. And I will hunt for some nice Whole30 recipes to get me started in my January plan. Perhaps by February I will be a new person. (Wouldn't that be nice?) If not, I can tell you right now that the dark chocolate is coming right back out of the pantry with no regrets.

I thought you might be interested to know that the all-time most read post on Food For Thought is The "Healthy Fat" Debate. It looks like many of you are also interested in discovering the truth about fat!

Have a safe and healthy 2015, and may God richly bless!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Big Fat Lie

I'm in the middle of reading The Big Fat Surprise, which sheds yet more light on the growing consensus that saturated fat really doesn't hurt us, it certainly doesn't contribute to heart disease, and it may, in fact, actually be GOOD for us.

Aside from that, it also sheds a great deal of light on how our current scientific research machine really works. Once upon a time, if a researcher wanted to study something that went against the current trend of ideas, he might have had a chance. Not so in our brave new world where "settled science" rules and any evidence to the contrary is squashed like an unwanted bug.

Once the government decides something is true, that's pretty much the end of the discussion. Such was the case with the diet-heart hypothesis that gave us the low-fat diet. If you are a researcher with doubts who wishes to study a different possible cause, good luck getting any funding.

The problem with this dogmatic establishment science is that when they get it wrong - as they often do - any possible corrections take decades. In the meantime, we all blunder along under a false confidence that we are, in this case, eating a "prudent" healthy diet, when in fact we are eating all the wrong things.

I visited my doctor last week for an updated "Lipid Panel" blood test. She talked to me about my cholesterol and how I should reduce my saturated fat intake--eat less red meat, more chicken. I wanted to pull my hair out. She's a naturopathic practitioner. As politely as I could, I asked her if she'd read anything regarding the current cholesterol/fat debate. She cited a 2012 study that cautioned against too much fat... except, like all studies of this sort, it didn't control for healthy saturated fat, but instead lumped together all fats (including unstable polyunsaturates) AND carbohydrates...and then, of course, blamed any resulting problems on saturated fat. This is the modus operandi of all diet-heart studies. Saturated fat is the villain. End of story.

As a Naturopath, I had hoped my doctor would be more tuned in to stuff like this. But...not so much. I'm planning to recommend this book to her. We'll see how that goes.

Nowadays, most cholesterol tests, which are actually lipid tests, look at a broad list of factors. Where they once just gave you your overall cholesterol number, they now break out a variety of particle counts. In 2003, my cholesterol test sent back four numbers: Total Cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. Now the panel has nineteen values, among which are particle size counts (small dense lipid particles are bad, and large buoyant lipid particles are good) and a variety of other biomarkers such as C-Reactive Proteins, which measure inflammation, and Lp(a) (pronounced L P little a), which is an inherited factor that can't be controlled by diet or drugs but can be reduced with niacin.

How did I fare in my lipid test? My diet is very high in saturated fat-- I can't tell you exactly how high because I'm not doing any scientific analyses on what I eat, but it includes lots of butter, bacon, coconut oil, coconut milk, and meat--RED meat. But I can tell you it's much higher than the 5% to 6% recommended by the American Heart Association-- probably closer to 30% or 40%.

My small dense particle count is still too high (probably due to my cheatin' heart giving in to bread and sugar more often than I should), but my large buoyant particle count is literally off the chart. It turns out that eating a lot of saturated fat causes your body to make lots of large buoyant HDL particles. That's right - the good safe particles.

Since high cholesterol appears to be protective in women, particularly older women as well as older men, my 226 number (rated "borderline high") doesn't bother me one little bit. Matter of fact, it makes me happy.

I do have that hereditary Lp(a) problem, but I've been taking niacin for it, which has dropped my number by 25% (from 60.5 to 40.5) over the past six months. It should be down in the normal range (0-30) by my next blood draw.

It's easy to get really caught up in the foods we eat, especially once we become aware of the impact of food on our health. At the beginning of the year, I adopted (more or less) a Paleo diet. Okay, it's probably more less than more, but I've discovered that it isn't a magic pill for staying healthy. I question the whole Paleo philosophy because its premise disregards a Creator God. Paleo says consuming another animal's milk is unnatural, but mankind has been eating dairy products since Genesis. The Land of Milk and Honey doesn't mean anything to a society that doesn't eat dairy. Is it possible that God has always intended us to eat dairy, and maybe it's the damage caused by pasteurizing and homogenizing the milk that makes it hard to digest? Grains such as wheat that have changed significantly from the ancient grains, along with the way we prepare them for eating, no longer provide the best nutrition, but mankind ate those ancient grains for thousands of years without developing leaky gut, cancer, or dementia.

There is a lot wrong with our food, but cutting out entire natural food groups because of some assumption that humans never used to eat them may not be the best way to manage diet.

Instead, perhaps just going back to a way of eating that resembles what our recent ancestors did makes more sense. Eating traditional foods that haven't had the life processed out of them shouldn't frighten us. Why are tubers like carrots and rutabagas okay in a Paleo diet, for instance, but potatoes (which are also tubers) are not? Why are beans and legumes (which are a kind of seed - you plant them and they grow) bad but other types of seeds and nuts are just fine? And grains, which are also seeds, are the devil? The Paleo "rules" sometimes seem arbitrary.

It makes more sense to me to evaluate foods on how they affect health rather than whether the imaginary cavemen in some made-up prehistoric age ate them. Why not instead look at how our great-great-grandparents ate? What were their recipes? How did they prepare meals? Heart disease and cancer were extremely rare in their day, and if they survived germs, war, and accidents, they typically lived a long time-- often into their 80s and 90s. They didn't care about how much fat or carbohydrates were in their food. Diets around the world were different, but they had one thing in common - they were real food.

Back in the 1950s and '60s, a man named Ancel Keys decided that saturated fat caused heart disease. He set about to prove his hypothesis, but never really succeeded. Nevertheless, he convinced enough people, including government organizations, that it must be true because it made so much intuitive "sense." This triggered a search for alternative fat sources, and processed food was born. Before long the notion developed that all fat was less desirable, but if you were going to eat any fat at all, it should be unsaturated. After some 75 years of research and thousands of studies, there is still no evidence that eating a diet low in fat (especially saturated fat) prevents heart disease. Moreover, the evidence disproving Keys' theory has been systematically and deliberately silenced through defunding research and discrediting the scientists who have dared to speak out.

The health claims of a low-fat diet have turned out to be false, and it is a fraud of the worst kind. When falsehood is institutionalized as truth, and passed on from generation to generation as truth, before long, the lie is accepted without question. We stop asking logical questions like, why did we suddenly start getting sick and fat when we stopped eating all that bad butter, eggs, and meat?

No one would tolerate a doctor of medicine constantly misdiagnosing his patients and prescribing all the wrong medications, but our nutritional institution has been doing exactly that for the past 50 years. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity have skyrocketed in sync with the increased polyunsaturated fats, trans-fats, and carbohydrates that have replaced the traditional diets of our ancestors. Coincidence? Not likely.

The Big Fat Surprise sheds light on the big fat lie that has been perpetrated on the world by those who had much to gain by manufacturing fake fats and making people believe that natural fats were bad. I would encourage you to pick up a copy and dig into the details for yourself. Americans trust our healthcare advisers to know what they're talking about. Unfortunately, most of them (like my doctor) mean well and have our best interests at heart, but are misguided by the "settled science" they themselves have been taught. It's up to us to educate ourselves and share what we know. Our doctors and nutritionists will come around eventually as the truth continues to find its way into the mainstream.

In the meantime, we're on our own. But the good news is, there's a wealth of information at our fingertips. To quote a familiar line, the truth is out there!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

BPA In Your Coffee?

With all the hype these days about BPA in plastic, there's one place that this questionable chemical may be lurking that never occurred to me until recently.

Those of us who are serious about reducing toxins in our personal environment have probably already switched from plastic containers to glass or stainless. We are filtering our water at home and avoiding the plastic water bottles as much as we can. But what about our coffee?

A few years ago, I fell in love with the now very popular Keurig brand coffee maker. Variety being the spice of life, it was wonderful to have a different flavor with virtually every cup. No more boring Folgers coffee (sorry, Folgers). And no more stale overheated and somewhat condensed coffee three hours into the morning, most of which ends up down the drain. A lovely fresh cup of java every single time. My relationship with my Keurig coffee maker is a bit of a love/hate thing. Sometimes it works perfectly, sometimes all I get is a pathetic dribble that produces maybe a half cup of coffee. But that's a different conversation. I will probably never own any other brewer. I'm hooked.

But what about those little "k-cups"? How healthy are they, really?

The k-cups themselves may or may not contain BPA. The plastic material is rated a "7" because it is a mix of plastics. According to the Mayo Clinic, "plastics marked with recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA." But "may be" doesn't necessarily mean "are." Keurig says they do not contain BPA, so feel free to take them at their word. In my house, we've started using the Ekobrew stainless refillable k-cups because it's cheaper. But when I use the Keurig cups, I've started cutting off the bottom so the hot water doesn't touch any least from the k-cup.

On the other hand, the brewer itself is, of course, made of plastic, and the reservoir that holds the hot water does contain BPA, according to Keurig. And one thing we also know is that with plastics containing BPA, it is very important to avoid heat, as this causes the chemicals to leach into your food...or in this case, water.

The next logical question is, how much BPA is too much? WebMD has this to say: "The FDA maintains that studies using standardized toxicity tests have shown BPA to be safe at the current low levels of human exposure." Of course the FDA doesn't attempt to define exactly what the "current low levels of human exposure" are. BPA is literally everywhere. In plastics, in the plastic linings of cans. It coats receipts, CDs and DVDs. It's in the plastic parts of your car, it's in sports equipment. It's in the sealant your dentist may be putting on your teeth. It's in the plastic containers of microwavable food, probably in the containers of the leftovers you take home from the restaurant and store in your refrigerator. You're touching it, you're drinking it, and you're eating it.

In an experiment by the Harvard School of Public Health, participants were divided into two groups. One group was fed a 12 ounce can of soup, the other was fed a homemade soup prepared from fresh ingredients. As noted in The Hidden Dangers Of BPA, "The results of the test were striking and showed that the group who ate the canned soup had over 1,221% higher levels of BPA in their urine. This was after consuming just 12 ounces of soup!" Is that considered by the FDA and our medical establishment to be a "low level?"

When the FDA makes its decisions about regulating potentially toxic substances such as BPA, it focuses on research done by government scientists like Justin Teeguarden, whose research looked at how much BPA actually makes it into the bloodstream in a dangerous form from foods eaten. Since the body filters toxins through the liver and intestines, his conclusion, as presented in an NPR article, How Much BPA Exposure Is Dangerous?, was that those filtering functions were sufficient to protect us from the toxic effects of BPA. The chemical was undetectable in the blood of any of the twenty subjects in his study. Bear in mind, the study was over one day, not many years. It's true that the liver filters our blood, but how much of a load can it handle before it becomes overwhelmed. I doubt this can be determined in a one-day study. And let's not forget, without compelling and irrefutable evidence of harm, the FDA usually rules in favor of industry, not consumers.

BPA is an endocrine disrupter (like soy). It's an estrogenic, which means it mimics estrogen and can alter hormone levels in both men and women. Studies have connected it to tumor development (breast, testicular, and prostate), endometriosis, and low sperm count as well as chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. It may be especially problematic in infants and growing children because their bodies are still forming and their immune system and toxic filtering systems are not fully developed.

We are told that although there may be correlation, there is no "direct evidence" that BPA is responsible for these ailments. This isn't exactly true. Many studies have been done on animals, there are just no studies that have been done on humans. We know that animal and human metabolism are never exactly the same. But it's not likely that a significant study of the effects of BPA on humans will ever be done. Eating one 12 ounce bowl of soup is one thing. Most people do that on a regular basis. But  who wants to subject themselves to toxins over a long period of time? And yet, that's exactly (it turns out) what we're all doing, whether we realize it or not.

Here's another disturbing thought. What if ALL PLASTICS share the same problems that make BPA so harmful? From an article in entitled, The Scary New Evidence on BPA-Free Plastics:
"CertiChem [a lab in Texas] and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that 'almost all' commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren't exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun's ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner's research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA."
Avoiding plastic completely may never be realistic, but even eliminating just the known BPA-containing plastic is an ongoing challenge. I drink water from a stainless steel water bottle. I cook, prepare, and store food in glass. But that's where it ends. How can we avoid the other myriad exposures to BPA? I could get rid of my Keurig and go back to brewing my coffee the old fashioned way. I could... but I won't, at least not yet. 

There may well be BPA in my coffee. But I will trust my liver to do its job for now and hope for the best. 

The Keurig will break down eventually, and I will have another opportunity to consider a wiser choice.

Image credit:

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Joys of Gelatin

Everybody LOVES Jello. At some point, I think I owned every "Joys of Jello" cookbook they made. "Sunshine Salad"--which, if you're not familiar with, is lemon jello loaded with pineapple bits and shredded carrot--was a traditional Thanksgiving feast item. Really, I'm almost sure it came down to us from the Pilgrims. Anyway, it was traditional in our house--both growing up, and after I became the cook. And who doesn't love jello desserts made from any-flavored Jello and Cool Whip? Throw in a little canned fruit. Heavenly, right?

Heavenly, until I became aware.

Awareness is a burdensome thing. It demands action. Now that I know something, what will I do about it?

It was nothing short of a severe food allergy in my youngest son that caused me to start reading labels and to pay attention for the first time to Jello's troublesome ingredients. Besides gelatin, Jello products consist mostly of sugar and artificial ingredients-- artificial colors, artificial flavors and flavor enhancers, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives. Gelatin, itself, is an incredibly healthy substance, but toxins such as chemical additives are not.

There are some wonderful benefits to eating foods high in gelatin. Here are some highlights from an article by Laura Shoenfeld, a registered dietician with a Masters Degree in Public Health, entitled 5 Reasons Why Even Vegetarians Should Eat Gelatin...

  • Gelatin contains glycine. If you eat lots of animal protein, you'll need adequite glycine to balance out the methionine from meat. (See the article for more about methionine.)
  • Gelatin is good for your gut.
  • It helps improve joint health and reduce inflammation.
  • It promotes healthy skin and hair.
  • It helps you sleep.

When my kids were little, I made "healthy" jello from fruit juice, gelatin, and a little sugar. But even though I believed I was giving them a low-sugar treat, it wasn't as low-sugar as I thought because I failed to take into account the naturally occurring sugars in the fruit juice itself.

More recently I ran across a recipe for making "paleo" jello. It's made using pureed fruit, gelatin, and water. It's not too bad, but it's not really how gelatin was meant to be eaten. Gelatin is an animal by-product. It comes from the bones and connective tissue of animals.

If you want to add healthy gelatin to your diet, the best way to do it is to make bone broth. Simply simmer the bones from pasture-raised animals (beef, or chicken are my favorites) in a crock pot with a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar for 12 to 24 hours. Strain off the broth and discard the bones. The vinegar aids in pulling the minerals out of the bones, leaving you with a nutrient-dense collagen-rich super broth. I do this regularly and probably get more gelatin in my body these days than I ever used to. Bone broth can be added to soups and stews, and you can simmer your vegetables in it. It also makes great mashed potatoes if you're cooking for someone with dairy allergies. Simply boil the potatoes in bone broth until tender, pour off most of the broth, reserving a little in case it's needed. Then whip the potatoes with a few tablespoons of butter, and add the reserved broth if needed to get your desired consistency.

Another option is to add gelatin to your diet as a supplement. My favorite is Great Lakes brand unflavored gelatin. I add it to my coffee and it helps reduce the guilt of drinking something I know I should probably give up. (One day I will, I promise. I don't think there will be coffee in Heaven.) There is very little flavor to pure gelatin and the strong coffee taste completely masks it. Make sure you dissolve it in a little cold water first before adding the coffee or other hot liquid to your cup-- otherwise you'll get unpleasant lumps.

I never realized before how important gelatin is to joint health; and, unfortunately, it has become one of the many casualties of processed foods. Is it possible that one of the reasons so many people are suffering from arthritis in their fifties and sixties is that we are no longer cooking from scratch? All our soups are coming from a can and gelatin is nowhere to be found. Our meat is conveniently boneless and when we do consume meat on the bone, the bones end up in the dog's dish or the garbage instead of in a healthy broth.

Perhaps improving our overall health is as simple as returning to traditional cooking methods. It takes time and energy to cook like our grandparents did, but if the result is a better quality of life, maybe it's worth the effort.

Image credit:

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Government's "Healthy" Snacks

There's a lot of fuss in the news recently about the new federal standards for lunch programs. Most recently, I came across this article in Mail Online--which, interestingly, is a British news source-- about teens protesting the new vending machines popping up in their schools here in the U.S., entitled Thanks Michelle!

It doesn't bother me that teens are protesting healthy food choices. Kids will be kids. What bothers me is that Mrs. Obama believes General Mills cereals like Cheerios, Coco Puffs, and Trix (see article photo) are somehow healthier than M&Ms, Oreos, and Doritos. If nothing else, this illustrates why people who have no comprehension of nutrition should not be in charge of school lunches. Her intentions may be well-meaning, but the practical application of those intentions is being grossly misapplied.

Processed food is more or less bad for you, but processed cereals like Cheerios, Corn Flakes, and Trix--to name just a few--are some of the worst. Every shred of nutrition that might have once existed in the raw materials from which boxed cereal is made has been cooked, bleached, and extruded away until what remains is a tasteless scum of cardboard-like matter that is then loaded with artificial colors, flavor enhancers, preservatives, synthetic vitamins and other chemicals, formed into pleasant looking shapes, baked until the vitamins are destroyed, and then packaged in a box covered with smiling cartoon characters and honest-sounding claims of how healthy you will be if you eat it. Adding injury to insult is the fact that many of these cereals start out with grains that are GMO - genetically enhanced with pesticides.

I'm all for getting rid of vending machines full of unhealthy snacks in schools. But instead of replacing them with vending machines full of a different type of unhealthy snacks, why not provide a snack bar where students can purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, nuts, and so forth. That would be an honest effort at "healthy." But healthy is not really the goal. If it were, we would expect to see some measure of success along the way, however small. Instead, the government dietary guidelines seem to be producing a population of undernourished sick people-- from infancy through old age (if we make it that far!)

You and I have a responsibility to ourselves and to our children to learn about food, health, and nutrition. When we open our eyes, read labels, and research how food products are made, we empower ourselves to make good choices. We don't need Mrs. Obama or the government to tell us what is healthy and what is not. We have brains and, with a little effort, we can learn how to use them.

When our kids eat a hearty breakfast and lunch, they probably don't need vending machine snacks anyway. What it comes down to is-- are they getting dense nutrition in their regular meals? Filling up on nutritionally empty boxed cereals with low-fat milk or pastries in the morning sets them up for hunger about an hour later. Add to that a "federal" lunch of over-processed foods that have no flavor and no real nutrition and it's no wonder the kids are heading to the vending machines. They're starving!

The solution is not federal school lunch regulations. The solution is parents taking back the very important task of feeding their family. It's YOUR job, not the government's. Good nutrition is the foundation for good health. It's necessary for physical strength, growth, brain health, and proper hormone function.

Providing good food for our children is a labor, but it's a labor of love. And nobody loves your kids like you do. Neither the government, nor the educators, nor the school lunch staff care whether or not your kids are healthy. Don't leave the most important things in the hands of people who don't care.

Feed your kids nutrient-dense foods and they won't need the vending machines. Bypass the school lunches and send them a lunch composed of tasty homemade food--enough to last the day. Vending machines will become a non-issue.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Hospitals! If the germs don't kill you, the food might!

Recently, my sister had the misfortune of ending up in the hospital for a few days. I went to visit her. For three days I watched what they brought her to eat. Every meal except breakfast was served with red jello, bread, and dessert. Breakfast was primarily grain and sugar-- pancakes with syrup, cereal or oatmeal, sweet roll, and so on. Any vegetable that showed up on her plate was kept to about a half cup and cooked into an inedible pile of mush. I felt my blood sugar spike just looking at it.

There was so little nutrition in that stuff, it is a strain to refer to it as "food." They ought to be embarrassed. These are institutions supposedly dedicated to the care and recovery of sick people. Yet for meals, they serve plates full of junk-- artificial flavors and colors, highly refined carbohydrates, and sugar. It's worse than school lunches! This stuff is not only bad to eat, but it looks like it's bad to eat -- and to add insult to injury, it's barely warm by the time it's served.

Why is it so hard for hospitals to produce healthy food?

They hire certified Dieticians or Nutritionists. Dieticians and Nutritionists require a great deal of education to qualify for their certification, so we should be reasonable confident that they know something about nutrition, and yet the awfulness of hospital food persists as a universal problem.

The primary excuse thrown out as the reason for this bad food is lack of funding. Really? Hospitals don't have a problem charging patients (or their insurance providers) by the item for everything from pills and shots to tissue boxes and bedpans. One Canadian hospital claims they have a budget of only $8 a day to feed a patient (that's eight Canadian dollars, so actually less than $8), and they do the best they can. Has it ever occured to them to charge patients for their meals? Restaurants do it. Hotels do it. If given the opportunity, would you be willing to pay perhaps $8 per meal to get decent hospital food? I know I would. Why haven't they offered such a plan?...
"Hello, welcome to our hospital. We will make you as comfortable as we can while you're here. By the way, would you like to eat standard hospital fare, provided for free? Or would you prefer to pay $32 per day to be fed healthy and nutritious meals comprised of actual food? Please sign here..."

The problem, I submit, isn't money - it's a combination of disinterest and ignorance regarding the role of nutrition in healing. Medical doctors get very little training in nutrition. They don't take seriously the critical role of food on a cellular level because they concentrate their education on drugs and surgery. Their own diets are a mess, so they don't even notice the obvious problem with the foods their patients are served in hospitals.

And with no pressure from doctors, and budgets to consider, hospitals don't put a lot of effort into what they feed you. They have to feed you something, so the hospital administrator comes up with a ridiculous figure like $8 a day per patient and sends that off to the Dietician in charge who then tries to figure out how to come up with enough substance to make up three meals and two snacks. Sorry, quality is not in the budget.

Just as problematic is the impenetrable doctrine of the "low-fat diet" that continues as the framework of nutrition education in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary. Until the truth about what really makes us fat and sick finds its way into mainstream nutrition literature, we will continue to be misled about what constitutes healthy food. Even hospitals that are making an effort to improve their food offerings fall short of nutrient dense meals because they are focusing on all the wrong things. St. Luke's Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, is a good example. Their food is delicious and "health-conscious," but what does that mean? They're still preparing low-fat meals high in things like grains and high-fructose agave syrup and calling them "heart healthy." I suppose it's a start; at least they're focusing on using natural foods and cooking from scratch. We'll take what we can get.

I'm not asking for miracles, here...well, maybe I am. But how about just serving real food? Here are the ingredients in red jello--particularly Jell-O brand (raspberry flavor)...
In short:  sugar, gelatin and chemicals.

We don't need fancy gourmet meals from hospitals. After all, who can put up with that stuff for more than a day or two? We're harped at about how important what we eat is to our health. And it's true. What we put in our mouth becomes the building blocks our body uses at the cellular level to grow, nourish, and repair injury. And since it is true, hospitals should be devoting at least as much effort and resources to the food they serve as they do to the nursing staff that administers your pills and shots and monitors your blood pressure. The hospital kitchen, the food service staff, and the budget should be as big as necessary to meet the needs of the people it serves.

And the meals? They should be, at the very least, made from whole natural foods-- not canned, not bottled, not packaged, not processed in any way. Garden vegetables, whole fruit, naturally raised meats (not the stuff full of hormones and antibiotics), fresh farm eggs, healthy fats like butter and olive oil. Take those wholesome ingredients and prepare meals from scratch like Mom used to. This CAN be done, and some hospitals are beginning to see the importance of it.

It shouldn't be too much to ask, when we're sick and in the hospital, to be given nourishing food, not fake over-processed food-like substances that will likely make us sicker than we already are. The goal is to get us well, not hurry us off to our Maker.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little bit. It's possible nobody has ever died from eating hospital food. Maybe. (But then again, how can we know for sure? Hmmm?)

One thing is for sure, if I ever find myself laid up in a hospital again, I'm having my food brought in. No one should have to endure being fed garbage, especially when you're not feeling good.

Image credit: Dreamtime

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Price of Bad Food

A couple weeks ago, my husband and I had the pleasure of taking another cruise in the beautiful warm Caribbean. Coming from Minnesota, especially the recent winter of Minnesota, it was like heaven. Not to mention the fabulous food they feed one on those cruise lines... well, fabulous TASTING, anyway. And once again I was reminded of why it's not a good idea to eat much of it-- who knows?--maybe ANY of it.

By about day five, edema set into my legs and feet, brought on, I expect, by the excessive amount of sugary and wheat-laden foods that dominated the buffet lines. And of course, I must confess that I probably overindulged in the rum punch and sugary cocktails. I normally confine my alcoholic beverages to wine at dinner, but on a cruise? Caution hits that sea breeze, and away it goes. Eight days later, when I arrived home and got on the scale I had gained a whopping nine pounds. Not fat. Fluid from inflammation created by my body in the process of trying to detoxify from all the crap I was eating.

As I pondered my edema, I looked around at others on the ship and noticed for the first time that just about every other man and woman middle-aged or older was walking (or hobbling) around on swollen feet and legs.

If that happened to me in eight days, imagine what a life-time of eating crap will do to your body when you don't have the sense to know what's causing it? In all fairness, it's not our fault entirely that we don't know anything about nutrition. After all, the medical experts who go to school to learn about microbiology and nutrition come away with all the old out-dated and incorrect information (why is that?), which they then pummel us with. If you dare to suggest they may be wrong--let's be kind and say "misinformed"--, we get that familiar condescending look (you know the one) accompanied by a well-memorized speech on low-fat diets and exercise. So, unless we go outside the box and study or at least read about the current research, we continue to eat all the wrong things in the firm belief we're doing all the right things. And chronic illness creeps in and becomes a way of life without our ever having a clue what's causing it.

Upon returning home and getting back to a mostly "paleo" nutrient-dense diet, free of sugar, grains, and junk food, I'm almost back to normal...three weeks later. Given the right building blocks, the body can heal itself, even from the worst abuse. In my case, the cruise week was a case of deliberate abuse, because I knew better.

So, now the question is, why do we do it? Why do some of us eat the bad food knowing what it will do to us? Perhaps because the pull of taste and visual presentation is so strong. This is the reason that marketing tactics work so well. Don't you just love the pictures plastered everywhere in a fast-food joint (every fast-food joint) of their burgers and sandwiches and tacos? Then the cashier hands you your bag, you open the wrapper, salivating with the expectation of that beautiful image you see on the poster, only to be disappointed by reality? How about the bakery experience? The cake is decorated like a chocolate masterpiece. Then you slice it up, take a bite, and find a dry cake with a waxy frosting and little or no real flavor. My favorite, however, is the frozen dinner. No commentary required. We all know what those really look and taste like.

The worst trap, however, is the food that not only looks good, but tastes good too. Only it's basically empty of nutrition. And it usually comes with built-in toxins like wheat, sugar, artificial flavors, and sundry chemicals added for taste or longevity.

How do you fight that kind of battle?

First, by arming yourself with knowledge. Learn the truth about nutrition. There's a new book coming out that I plan to read, called The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. I'm sure it will reinforce the conclusions made by other authors whose research has concluded pretty much the same thing-- Gary Taubes, Sally Fallon, Mary Enig, and Drs. Catherine and Luke Shanahan, to name a few in a growing list.

Second, by making healthy decisions based on truth, rather than establishment doctrine (i.e. "low-fat-diets-are-good" bunk). Baby steps are better than no steps at all, and when you fall off that proverbial wagon (and you will), get right back on and keep going.

And third, learn to cook from scratch. It's not as hard as you think. Buy whole foods and avoid products with labels. Every manufactured food on the market--even many organics--are filled with unnecessary additives like soy lecithin (in chocolate), xanthan or guar gum (in salad dressings, ice cream, pickles, ad infinitum), and wheat and corn by-products disguised by their chemical name. Cooking the right foods from scratch will reduce the toxic load on your body and improve your health over time.

Will I succumb to the cruise food next time? I hope I'll do better, but I'm only human. Eating a few bad foods now and then (we call them "treats"--weird, huh?) won't cause anyone's health to break down. In His wisdom, God equipped us with the capacity to heal from occasional indiscretions. What gets us is a lifestyle of bad food.

Now that I've seen how eating the right foods makes me feel, as opposed to eating the wrong ones--even for eight days--, I'm in for the long haul. Sugar, grains, beans, most milk products and just about all processed foods are off the table on a day-to-day basis for me.

What about you? Be your own expert. A Nutrition Degree or Certificate does not make one smarter than you. Educate yourself. Experiment with an elimination diet and find out what foods your body doesn't like. Then design a lifestyle diet that will optimize your health.

You can do it!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Let's Talk About Dandruff

Full disclosure:  I'm trying to wean my husband off the dandruff shampoo. Why? For one thing, I don't think he really needs it. In our five-plus years of marriage, I've yet to see even one dandruff flake on his head or his shoulders. It could be because he washes his hair with dandruff shampoo every day, in which case it's working really well. But considering he hasn't used any other shampoo since I've known him, there's no way to know for sure that if he stopped using it, his dandruff would return.

But the bigger reason I want him off the dandruff shampoo is because of what's in it. His particular brand is Head & Shoulders.

How about we look at the list of ingredients. Since there are so many, I am only going to cover the problematic ones.


     Pyrithione zinc 1%:  This ingredient is listed by the EPA as a "microbial pesticide." But aside from possible "severe irritation" to the skin, it's probably harmless. No, really. But don't get any in your eyes.

     Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES): A cheap foaming agent and degreaser. This stuff can lead to direct damage of hair follicles and skin damage. It dissolves the oils on your skin and denatures skin proteins. Furthermore, it is absorbed into the body by skin application and mimics the activity of estrogen (guys, you may want to think twice about using anything with this chemical in it).
     Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS): A close relative of SLES, both are esters of sulphuric acid and highly irritating to the skin. According to a 1983 report in the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, concentrations of 10-30% caused skin corrosion. Keep in mind that these two ingredients are listed first (after water)--and we all know that ingredients are listed in order of highest to lowest volume. I'm sure the concentration must be less than 10%, but it doesn't really say on the bottle, so I guess we have to trust them on this one.
     Dimethicone: A smoothing (and anti-foaming) agent. This is a man-made silicon oil. It's not toxic, but it coats the skin and disrupts the natural hydrating processes.
     Fragrance: Chemically formulated fragrances are always less expensive than the truly natural fragrances that come from essential oils. Unfortunately, they're also somewhat toxic. You can bet your 401K that the fragrances in this product are artificially created in a lab.
     Guar hydroxypropltrimonium chloride:  You guessed it-- a derivative of guar gum. I'm convinced there must be a glut of this stuff on the market. But, frankly, I'd rather see it in shampoo than in our food. (I only listed this one because I hate guar gum.)
     Sodium chloride: This is just table salt, plain and simple. In shampoo it acts as a thickener and emulsifier (keeps the other ingredients from separating), but it can also dry out your hair.
     Sodium benzoate: This is a preservative that kills bacteria, fungi, and yeast. Unfortunately, it also "chokes out your body's nutrients at the DNA cellular level by depriving mitochondria cells of oxygen, sometimes completely shutting them down," according to an article in This chemical is absorbed by the skin. It's probably a good idea to avoid it in products you eat or put on your body.
     Magnesium carbonate hydroxide: This chemical is generally used as an antacid. Why is in shampoo? Supposedly, it draws moisture from the air and imparts it into the hair and scalp. Sounds like magic to me. Perhaps this ingredient is necessary to counteract the dimethicone that blocks the natural hydrating process.
     Benzyl alcohol: This ingredient is the primary active ingredient in lice if you use Head and Shoulders shampoo, you probably don't have to worry about lice. On the other hand, it is also associated with possible allergic responses and toxicity.
     Methylchloroisothiazolinone: This is a preservative. I dare you to pronounce it. In high concentrations it can cause chemical burns, but as a rinse-off product, it's considered safe.
     Methylisothiazolinone: Sometimes shortened to "MIT," this worrisome ingredient is an antimicrobial and is common in hand soaps, dish soaps and other personal care products. Studies have connected this chemical to neurotoxicity. You probably want to avoid anything with MIT in it. Of course, its manufacturer - Dow Chemical - assures us it's perfectly safe.

In case you're wondering about some of the other shampoos, like Selsun Blue and others, you can research them at your leisure. Most brands contain harsh chemicals that are unfriendly to the body. 

Dandruff can be caused by a number of things, among which are not washing the hair often enough, not brushing the hair enough, diet, stress, dry skin, reaction to hair products, and certain conditions like seborrheic dermatitis and malassezia (a scalp fungus overgrowth). 

Unless your dandruff is truly the result of a scalp disease, you should not have to be a slave to medicated dandruff shampoos for the rest of your life. For persistent dandruff, it might be worthwhile to see a doctor or dermatologist to find out the cause. They can prescribe treatments to get it under control.

For moderate dandruff problems, a gentle shampoo with the active ingredient salicylic acid should be enough to manage the flaking. 

A few days ago I secretly switched out my husband's poison shampoo in our shower dispenser with a more natural formula by Mineral Fusion. Sometimes you just have to do what needs to be done. I see it as an act of love. Let's see if he notices. 

Photo credit - Marfase

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Power of Cinnamon

Who doesn't love the beautiful fragrance of a freshly baked cinnamon roll?! Or a cup of hot apple cider spiced up with a fresh cinnamon stick? Or my all-time favorite cheap treat - cinnamon toast! Yum! There has to be a reason we love cinnamon so much, and I'm going with "it's so darn good for you."

And it actually is!

Cinnamon has been at the top of my favorite foods list since childhood. I can barely resist all the otherwise unhealthy foods that are loaded with cinnamon--like all the aforementioned sweet treats. Cinnamon is usually buffered with sugar because of its strong dry taste. A piece of cinnamony apple pie tastes lovely, but any benefit you might get from the cinnamon content will be offset in spades by the inflammatory sugar and trans-fats that are also present.

Fortunately, the power of cinnamon extends beyond food. I would list all the wonderful properties of cinnamon, but you can find that information with a simple internet search, so since this is just another blog and I'm not a certified nutritionist, I'll just tell you what I've discovered personally.

Gets Rid of Belly Button Infection/Fungus/Etc.
Gross, I know, but part of life for some of us, it turns out. For quite a few years now, I've experienced mild belly button infections off and on that have, up until recently, been easily solved with a Q-tip and rubbing alcohol. But over the past year, what looked a lot like skin tags began to develop. After researching for this article, I am beginning to think they might have been tiny cysts, but at the time, I thought the little icky growths might be a type of fungus. Since I'd been venturing into the world of essential oils, I decided to slather on some cinnamon leaf oil to see what effect it would have.

The effect was serious burning. One thing I learned very quickly is that when the essential oil experts tell you that a particular oil is hot and should never be applied directly to the skin, you should listen to them. They know what they're talking about. The next thing I did wrong was to apply my homemade body butter made from tallow and coconut oil. Now the skin was not only burning, but also not breathing. Thank God for aloe vera gel!

Now that I've told you what not to do, you'll be happy to know, it all turned out well in the end. Instead of slathering on the oil as I did to start with, I applied it very carefully just to the inside of the navel with a Q-tip (still full strength) twice a day. In the space of two weeks, the growths were gone and my belly button was once again pristine.

I still can't tell you whether what I had was a bacterial infection, a fungus, a skin tag or a cyst. But what I can tell you is that the cinnamon oil conquered it in short order.

Minimizes Size and Duration of Cold Sores
If you've never experienced a cold sore, sometimes referred to as a fever blister, then you are indeed fortunate. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus and usually emerge uninvited somewhere on or near the lips. They are very painful, not to mention ugly, and typically last two to three weeks. I've tried the standard Blistex and Abreva, and they work about as well as Vasoline.

Late last month I developed another one in my long history of outbreaks, probably brought on by my recent head cold. So right away I went to my health-food store looking for a topical remedy. I found an essential oil blend for cold sore treatment and applied it faithfully twice or three times a day. Notwithstanding my diligent devotion to natural remedies, the blister bloomed into one of the biggest nastiest sores I've ever had and lasted about two and a half weeks. Then about three weeks later, to my horror, I felt another one coming on - in the same spot! I've never had two outbreaks in a row like that before. I was on vacation at the time and all I had with me was the cinnamon leaf oil I was using to treat my previously discussed navel issues. So I decided to dab a little of that onto my cold sore before I went to bed, just to see what it could do. The blister was about 2-3 mm in diameter (roughly twenty percent the size of the first one). By morning, the blister was no worse. I dabbed the cinnamon oil morning and evening and within a week it was mostly healed.  By two weeks the cold sore had completely disappeared.

Nature's pantry turns out to be nature's pharmacy as well. Isn't God good?! His remedies for good health are always the best ones. Sometimes we just have to figure out what they are. (What happened to all the old wives?!)

One thing is for sure-- cinnamon oil will be a regular part of my medicine chest from now on. Who knows what other good uses I might find for it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Hello 2014

Here we are at the beginning of another new year. I don't about you, but the year "2013" just sounded unlucky...if I was the sort who believed in luck. And as I think back, the year gave us its share of bum-kicking. But I prefer to count my blessings instead of my bum-kickings.

So, here they are:

January... Mark and I went on a lovely cruise to the eastern Caribbean-- on one of the Carnival ships that DIDN'T get stranded.

May... We welcomed a new grandchild into our family-- a beautiful healthy little girl named Alana Lee Finnesgard.

November... Mark was offered a full-time position with benefits (after working short-term contracts for five years.)

December... I was able to fly to California to visit my children and grandchildren for five warm, sunny days.

In General... Mark and I have been blessed with good health. I am employed-- in an economy where roughly twenty percent of the workforce is unemployed or underemployed. We still live in a country where we can go to church, share our faith, and worship God unmolested (for the most part). And we are blessed with the comforts of life-- plenty to eat, hot running water (for which I regularly thank God), a comfortable home... and internet.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!

As for 2014? I've made one New Year's resolution (down from the usual three): Keep in touch with my family. I finally realized this year why that's always been so hard for me. I am an introvert, born into a family of introverts. (It took me sixty years to figure that one out.) When you live close by your family, it's not usually a problem to keep in touch, even for an introvert. But when the family is spread across the entire country and the only way to connect is by phone, it suddenly becomes a near impossibility to keep in touch. They may as well live on the moon. But, I have resolved to try.

What about you? Are you the resolution-making type?

Now that the ominous veil of the thirteenth year has lifted, I'm looking forward with great hope to a year that is better than the last. Perhaps the mid-term elections will give us some Congressmen who value the Constitution. That could happen. Right? Maybe food manufacturers will come to their senses and stop using GMO ingredients-- or at least have the courage to label their products without having to be coerced by government regulations. Maybe Americans will finally discover that giving the government charge over our health care isn't such a good idea after all, and demand that Congress repeal the unconstitutional and unaffordable health care bill...that had to be passed before we could see what was in it. Maybe some enterprising chef will open an organic restaurant in my neighborhood! That would be cool.

It's January, and the future stands before us, ready to be revealed one day at a time. Now there's an exciting adventure! Buckle your seat belts and make sure your tray tables are in their upright and locked positions. 

May God bless you with a happy, healthy, and positively interesting new year.