Fasting, whole foods and being a work in progress

I came down sick over the weekend. It was fairly obviously something I’d eaten, but that wasn’t so easy to track down. Two lovely ladies, out of the goodness of their hearts, had offered to cook for me, giving me two days off of meal responsibilities. What a blessing!! Everything was delicious, but my stomach was not happy and I wasn’t willing to insult it further. So I took advantage of almost my entire family having other places to be and extended that vacation two more days. I got better. I pondered the nature of disease and recovery, and noted that I had no sign of bacteria or virus, and no medications were involved in healing. As is so often the case, it was all food that made the difference.

Fasting has become a hot topic as the global obesity rates continue to rise and impact chronic disease rates. The assumption is that, if people are overweight, then they must be eating too much. Complete fasting, or at least limiting food intake to a shorter window of time each day, is seen as the long-lost key to perfect health. I wish it were that simple. If there were a magic bullet of health, a fountain of youth we just had to drink from, this wouldn’t be a worldwide issue.

According to Dr. Jason Fung, the de facto expert on fasting, many chronic diseases can be reversed by stopping eating. Giving our body a chance to process what we’ve taken in each day allows us to better utilize the next day’s portions. Cycling food and rest, which promotes assimilation, is the biggest secret to health. I fully agree.

But there’s a simple point I want to make. Most modern diseases are caused by nutritional deficiencies – malnutrition. Not enough good quality food. Merely cutting back what you eat without changing what you eat isn’t going to solve the problem of poor health.

Many years ago (over 100, as I see it), food was made from whole ingredients: ground grains, fresh butter and milk, grass fed meats and locally grown vegetables. Processing was initially instituted to remove molds on grains, which made for a safer product. As processing improved and became more widespread, glaring deficiency diseases appeared. The government decided to replace the lost nutrients in flour, and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B9, along with iron and sometimes calcium, were added back in. But let’s look at what really happened. A grain of wheat, when refined, has the outer 2/3 removed. This includes all the fiber and B vitamins, about 17 nutrients in all. All that’s left is the starch and most (not all) of the original protein. Then the denuded grain is “enriched” with five, maybe six, synthetic replicas of what was taken out. That’s hardly what most people think enrichment means. And, as nutrition expert Sally Fallon explains, digesting enriched flour requires more B vitamins from your body than it gave you. That’s not how eating is supposed to work.

According to some estimates, refined white flour in bread, pasta and cookies makes up about 1/5 of the American diet. Think about that a second: if 20% of what I eat depletes my body of more nutrients than it gives, then ceasing to eat those foods may cut the depletion, but I’m still hungry. I’m still not getting what I need. More to the point: if a good proportion of the diet does nothing more than promote malnutrition, then cutting back isn’t solving the problem. There’s still not enough nutrition to produce health.

Fasting, in any form, is a good rest from a basically whole diet. But most of us grew up on the standard American junk food diet, which we’ve already seen doesn’t sustain us well. A better solution than trying to cut out the bad stuff (a losing proposition, in my mind) is switching to whole foods. Freshly prepared ingredients from the farmer’s market provide more nutrients and fill you up faster, for longer. You may actually eat less because non-processed food contains all the necessary fiber, vitamins and cofactors required to synthesize them. Your body is satisfied because it has what it needs and doesn’t have to waste resources on detoxifying chemistry experiments disguised as dinner.

Know that this doesn’t happen immediately. If you’ve ever had a plate of brown rice after growing up on Minute rice, you know what I’m talking about. The flavors are different. You may have to mix the two for a couple weeks to start adjusting. (My poor mother was not happy after I proudly served her whole grain everything for a weekend. It tasted good, but later – !!! Lessons learned.) We’re all works in progress, and fast food is a fact of life. Just do the best you can with the meal in front of you – add more veggies and opt for real foods over processed as much as possible. Don’t sweat the poor choices and celebrate the good ones, especially as they add up. Don’t judge your progress by a particular meal, but how the meals add up. What does your diet over the entire week look like? Are there more leafy greens and water, or french toast and soda?

Turning our diet around is the key to health. I’m not arguing that you move to Pennsylvania and buy a plow and a Morgan. Whole foods are still obtainable in your grocery store – you just have to stay out of the middle aisles. Learn to cook, if you don’t know how. Cooking videos on YouTube are a great way to learn and be inspired to try new foods.

Greek salad with balsamic rubbed tilapia

Have questions about how to turn your diet around? Comment below and I’ll do my best to help you tailor your diet to your needs.

Histamine Intolerance?

I’m starting to see some talk about Histamine Intolerance. The list of symptoms is long and vague, most doctors don’t recognize it, and standard tests don’t conclusively diagnose it, but the people who are suffering from it are really suffering. What is it? And what can you do if you suspect it?

Officially, histamine intolerance is an imbalance of histamine in the body with an inability to break down excess. Many of the symptoms are classic allergy indicators, but they don’t point to one specific trigger. The diagnosis rests on many symptoms together, and because there is no test to definitively determine it, most patients are self-diagnosed.

Histamines are hormones that are part of the body’s defense system, breaking down food, alerting the body to invaders, and beginning the inflammatory response that deactivates biological malware of many types. They are part of many different functions in the body from a runny nose to vascular dilation to the sleep-wake cycle. Histamines are naturally occurring and part of a healthy immune system. Until it’s not so healthy anymore.

Histamine reactions could look like an allergy (breaking out in hives or stopping breathing) or food intolerance (inflammation or gastric disturbance which shows up several hours or days later). Sensitivities to other things besides food (pollen, medications or mold in your home) can also trigger histamine reactions and symptoms could show up, change, compound, or abate with absolutely no apparent cause. The compounding of triggers is where things get rough: multiple small things that don’t cause a problem on their own can pile up on each other and cause fatigue, high or low blood pressure, or dizziness, among a host of symptoms the body has to choose from. The mix of ingredients with your personal makeup determines the outcome. So how do you determine the difference between compounded sensitivities and an overload of histamine itself?

By the time most people reach their 40’s or 50’s, the buildup of toxic substances in their bodies slows down the normally efficient response to invaders. In a world of plastics, electromagnetic fields, and GMO-laden foods, it doesn’t take much more to tip the boat. Every toxic ingredient the body takes in disrupts the internal workings of each cell, in addition to the bodily system as a whole. With histamine intolerance, the thought is that eating certain foods that contain histamines overwhelms your already overtaxed body. It’s a valid hypothesis that German researchers have been studying for several years.

But at the point of being unable to eat without discomfort, sleep through the night, or make it through the week without a headache – you need answers, not theories.

You must determine the cause. One way that’s often recommended is an elimination diet. While I’ve done this, and it can be very informative, I do not recommend it without medical supervision. In someone who is severely affected, many reactions may be suppressed by the sheer overload of stored and incoming toxins. By eliminating the influx and giving the body’s defense systems a rest, you allow the body to release the toxicity – causing an overload of the body’s processing systems, which can turn into a very severe allergic reaction or even anaphylactic shock. Better to keep a food journal to help locate triggers. As each suspicious food comes to light, eliminate it for two weeks and then re-introduce it to see what it does. This can be a frustrating time of waiting and hoping on answers.

And, according to a 2017 German study of histamine intolerance, only half of the adults who addressed their symptoms with dietary changes made a difference. Determining which foods to avoid apparently isn’t a solution for everyone.

The source of the problem needs to be found conclusively. Skin prick tests can be very expensive if you don’t have a clue what’s causing the problem – and they are inaccurate for food sensitivities. Better is the ELISA test that measures every reaction in your blood. While this is also a bit costly, the tests and resources through PerQue are more likely to be covered by insurance plans and available through conventional MDs. For a less expensive and non-invasive option, many chiropractors, naturopaths and nutritionists use Nutrition Response Testing or Applied Kinesiology to analyze the body for underlying causes of poor health and pinpoint precisely what the body needs to start the healing process. There is no guesswork involved, and the healing can begin before you ever leave the office.

Essentially, with anything systemic like histamine intolerance, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia, you won’t find your diagnosis on your own. A natural health practitioner using in-office diagnostics can sort out the body’s cries for help and respond immediately to your unique needs, so your healing can be much more targeted and effective.

I pray that this information can help you to heal and get back to your normal, productive life quickly. Also, if you have other suggestions or experiences, please comment them below – I’d love to know what’s worked for others!

Health: More than just food & exercise

When we think of health, we often think of food and exercise. If both are perfect, then I’ll be healthy – right? But it’s just not that simple. Food and exercise are the best places to start for most people, but often other factors will make the difference.

True wellness is a lifestyle. Many wellness advocates now teach that there are seven factors to complete health: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, social and environmental. Each piece hinges on and impacts the others.

Physical. This is what we first think of as health: the absence of injury and the presence of every proper function. I remember two boys when I was in high school who’d both lost the use of their legs in accidents, who switched gears and became athletes, accomplishing more in their handicaps than they ever had before. It made me rethink my definition of health and wholeness. Physical health is using what you have to the best of your ability. It is also caring for the seemingly lesser parts of you so that they can continue being the unseen necessity (because your pancreas may seem insignificant until it doesn’t work.) This means watching your food intake and your exercise output, and being intentional about what you do with your vessel.

Intellectual. This is making sure your mind is stimulated, that you are learning new things and using your mind productively. It usually has to do with your career path, and making sure that you aren’t allowing your knowledge base to stagnate. Keeping your mind healthy also means that you aren’t allowing negative voices (your own or others’) to stifle your efforts toward productivity.

Emotional. Are you solid? Or do you fall asleep too many nights worrying? Emotional health impacts your nervous system, your bodily pH, and the strength of your immune system. Love heals a multitude of ills. Depression affects your sleep and eating habits, most notably, and other aspects of overall health, which then impacts your physical health and contribution to society. Anything that takes you down emotionally literally drains your life. Alternatively, anything that feeds your soul really does build you up.

Spiritual. This is where you stand with your god. Either you follow your own god or you follow the one God. Whatever you choose, this will govern your worldview and priorities. Are you living according to what you believe? If there is discord here – like when I professed to be a Christian during college, I was doing Campus Crusade rallies on Tuesday and frat parties on Thursday – I couldn’t stand myself. Your body is a sensible organism, taking cues from all sources and deriving balance and health from every input. With contradictory inputs, health suffers. Choose your way and ensure that all of your beliefs and actions are in accord with one another.

Financial. If you don’t have enough money to get by, you cannot eat well or sleep in security. The worries of daily necessities will overwhelm your best intentions, if you even have the energy for good intentions. You’re more likely just trying to make ends come together. Your financial health can make or break the best health regime.

Social. Do you have people who care about you, who will be there if you have a flat tire or a birth to celebrate? Loneliness is a disease of epidemic proportions in our media-saturated world. Although it hinges on the mental and emotional factors, it has more to do with the support structure of your safety net. We were designed for communication, with language and a need to love and be loved, face to face. Social contact helps us to know that we exist, and that we matter. It is a foundational need. This is also where the need to give back, be productive and make a positive difference in our world comes into play. A peaceful, interworking internal environment is a reflection of a strong, solid external network.

Environmental. This is our world. If the skies or soils are full of poison, nobody is healthy. I live in Central Texas, where seasons are determined by which tree is debilitating the population. If the world outside (or inside your house) isn’t conducive to being well, our bodily systems are completely occupied with maintaining homeostasis. The slightest bacteria or virus, when the body is already drowning in toxins, can become the final straw. Clean air and pure water are the baseline from which we derive vitality in all other areas.

True health comes from taking care of what matters. Making sure that you are fed and clothed well enough to do what you love for people who matter. It means doing what is right when nobody sees. It’s being able to look yourself in the mirror and achieving your purpose in life. It’s finding the road of life to be rough and long and desolate and finishing well anyway. True health is looking at the endgame and doing what needs done today to reach it.

Do the best you can with what you have today.

It’s all you have to work with.

Getting the Most Out of Your Food: Practical Nutrition

Celeste is a beautiful young lady who is going places. She probably has too many irons in the fire, but that’s what the college years are about. The only thing that holds her back is her energy level – and, if you talk to others, she’s a bit snappy at times. She doesn’t handle stress well. I talked with her a bit, and she said she ate well, with very little soda or sugar, and took her daily multi-vitamin. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

The more I talked with her, I found that she had a very routine diet, nearly the same every day, heavy on pasta with few vegetables and no shortage of ice cream. I suggested she try to eat something colorful – explore new foods – several times a week. She instantly snapped, and insisted her daily vitamin was sufficient to cover anything she’d missed. She wanted help, but didn’t want to change anything.

I understand that change is hard, especially if you’re low on energy. But in some respects, the body isn’t much different from a car: if you don’t have the output you expect, you need to start running premium fuels.

Being healthy is about more than popping a Hit-What’s-Missing pill on the way to wherever. Multi-vitamins are designed to fill the needs of a statistical norm. But statistical norms are numbers, not actual persons. Your personal needs change with the seasons, with the years, and with the demands placed on you. There may be nutrients in the formulation that you don’t need, or not enough of what you do. Most multi-vitamins also contain synthetic nutrients, which your body may or may not be able to utilize the same way as their naturally occurring counterparts.

Proper nutrition is a keystone of health, and comes from fresh, colorful foods and pure water. Just like us as the seasons change, different vegetables wax and wane. Lettuce, for instance, is pitiful through the winter and irresistible in the spring. Oranges contain abundant Vitamin C and pure hydration to carry us through the cold and flu season when we don’t want a glass of water. In this way, our foods themselves encourage us to diversify what we eat. Knowing what you need is simple, too. If it doesn’t taste good or upsets your stomach, you don’t need it. If it tastes amazing, you probably do.

Of course, this doesn’t work with processed “junk” foods, which trick your system with chemically engineered tastes. Processed foods, in effect, “steal” good nutrients from your body: they displace better foods from your diet and require extra effort to process through your body.

Sugar is not among the recommended foods. Its recent rationing will not provoke a hardship, for sugar supplies nothing in nutrition but calories, and the vitamins provided by other foods are sapped by sugar to liberate these calories. (Wilder—Handbook of Nutrition)*

Simply put, the sugar we know today is a highly concentrated byproduct of the original plants from which it comes. It is closer to a drug than a food. It promises much and demands more. Devoid of any accompanying fiber or nutrients, the sheer flood of pure crystalline sugar overwhelms our metabolic processes. (The average person consumes 800 calories of sugar daily. On a 2,000 calorie/day diet, that represents 40% displacement of actual food.) B-vitamins and phosphates, necessary for the mitigation of stress and production of energy, are used up in its digestion. Sugar contributes nothing to the transaction but a short burst of energy, then nothing more. The body has no choice but to store the excess calories as fat as actual energy becomes more depleted.

In order to get the best transfer of energy, we must eat real food, defined as “material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.” Sugar flaunts the defining characteristics of real food and hijacks the body’s natural response to it.. We are then less able to sense what is good, what is not, and when we’ve had enough. Real food provides everything we need for productive living and doesn’t require more than it gives. Real food doesn’t wear an ingredient label. Real food obviously goes bad after a few days.

The body requires glucose for life, but there is no evidence that dietary sugar is necessary. Most diets attribute their successes to limitation of sugars, whether they are for losing weight or controlling blood pressure or other issues that define metabolic syndrome. With a proper diet of real foods, your body can produce exactly what it needs for real health – along with plenty of energy to get everything done.

If you’re struggling with flagging energy, stop and calculate what percentage of your food today came from the outside perimeter of the grocery store and how much from the interior aisles. The higher the first number is will probably tell you a lot about your health and weight. But if you’re like me, this is a number that can improve. Because your health is not fixed in stone; it is a work in progress. Make it your aim to try something new from the produce section this week!

*Moose RM. Sugar a “diluting agent”. JAMA 1944;125:738–9. 10.1001/jama.1944.02850280054021

(For further details on what I’ve written here, see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975866/)

Dehydration in Winter?

I was fine. Two days of holiday cooking and entertaining were successfully under my belt, and we were now leaving to visit relatives for the day. I felt a small cramp in my lower back, but thought nothing of it. Still working out the kinks of sleep, I thought. But then my left knee gave out. My son asked if I was all right – I’m fine, I replied, there was no pain and I didn’t fall. It’s all good. But within ten minutes, I could feel the nerve that ran from the center of my back down into that knee plainly. It wasn’t overly painful, but I was quickly discovering that standing up straight stabbed my back and disabled my knee simultaneously. Everything was fine if I sat down, so we continued with our day – driving didn’t bother me a bit. We joked about how I’d like my disability scooter equipped. By the next morning, though, I was stuck in a hunched-over, 80 year-old woman stance with limited ability to move anything. I headed over to the chiropractor.

I knew he’d fix me in a jiffy, like always, but he surprised me with his first treatment. He handed me a cup of water with a superdose of electrolytes in it. He chastised me for not immediately drinking when the first back cramp struck. I should’ve known that.

Most people know what dehydration looks like in the middle of heat and exercise, but winter dehydration comes on more gradually and is a bit different. I had none of the signs my quick Google search gave me to look for with dehydration. What I did have:

  • cramps across the lower back
  • vision had been worse for several days
  • thigh muscles were hard as rocks
  • craving sweets
  • constipation
  • a headache (I didn’t have this one, but it’s quite common)

Who hasn’t felt like this after a day of working on our feet? None of these are overly notable in the midst of the holidays. These are actually the most common symptoms of low intakes of water and electrolytes.

Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride work together in your body to make sure the water pressures inside and surrounding your cells are perfect so that the cells don’t shrivel up or explode. When dissolved in water, the minerals develop electrical charges which regulate whether water flows into our out of the cells, lubricating our joints and operating nerve impulses. This is what keeps our hearts pumping and everything else in the body working.

While I was happily celebrating the holidays, my water levels were getting low. Sugar and alcohol depleted my minerals while replacing my normal water intake. My eyes, which rely on moisture to focus, tried to alert me, but I ignored them and put glasses on to continue with my work. Then everything came to a screeching halt after my morning coffee, a diuretic which depleted both minerals and water a little further. Muscles cramped, nerves fired with pain but not for movement, and there was no more lubrication for the bones in the area.

Normally, a whole food diet supplies enough minerals and electrolytes to keep a non-athlete hydrated. But in a recovery situation like this, supplements are in order. Power Pak or Emergen-C are your best options, and are easy to find in stores. Trace Minerals Research has a whole line of sugar-free products designed for rehydration based on your needs. Nuun sells a purse or backpack-friendly plastic vial of ten tablets. It’s very easy to keep little packets or a small bottle on hand to be mixed with water as needed. There are others, but I cannot speak from experience of using them.

How much water do you need? A basic rule of thumb is to drink half of your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water. That means that if you weigh 170 lbs, you’ll want 85 oz, or about 10-1/2 glasses of water daily. This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll be running to the restroom every 20 minutes. Ensuring that you have enough minerals in your system holds the water where it needs to be.

Celtic Sea Salt (which is not standard table salt, but a natural mineral mix) is a delicious way to make sure you’re getting the trace minerals your body needs for maintenance. Just season your food to taste at every meal and drink a glass of pure water alongside. I keep a large glass of water on my desk to remind me to hydrate. I just need to find a new trigger for when I’m in the kitchen (or stay at my desk!)

Dehydration shouldn’t be a normal part of winter. With a little attention to eating whole foods and drinking plenty of pure water, the body can be properly nourished so we can do what we want to do well.

Do you have a question about this post, or about another issue you’d like to know about? Comment below, and I’ll try to answer your question directly or in another post.  Like what you see?  Subscribe to my blog!

What diet is best for me? or, How to use a Food Journal

What diet is best for me? 

Which supplement should I take?

How do I know which brands are best?

These are such common questions, and very good ones to be asking.  The problem is, there’s no right-and-done answer.  People are complex organisms, and what works for one individual may not work so well for the next.  Bio-individuality explains the differences in individuals as well as the plethora of supplements on the shelves and the number of diet plans that all seem to work for somebody.

How do you find what will actually work for you?

The honest truth is that no one knows but you. 

Your body is unique, and like no one else’s. You have different parents, different eating and stress patterns, different energy levels, different chromosomes from every other person on this planet.  We are all similar, yet each of us is a one-off creation with custom requirements.

The only way to know what your body needs is to test and see what works and what doesn’t.

It’s simple, yet very scientific.  Experiment, observe, and document – the fundamentals of science are the basics of keeping a health journal.  Writing down what you observe – a journal – is key to gaining success in personal health.

Basically, you need to note what you do and how you feel each day until you get a clear picture of what foods cause fatigue or constant cravings for more, and which ones energize you.  It’s important to note the times of everything, even if it’s just morning or evening.  You will begin to see how particular foods impact you.  You can also note exercise and sleep, as foods often affect the quality of both. Moods are very important to watch.  I was in high school when I noticed that I often fought with my mom in the mornings before school, leaving me crying bitterly all the way to school. By the time I arrived at school, I was exhausted and snacking on my lunch, leaving me not enough food to get through the day.  It didn’t take long to isolate a particular breakfast cereal which caused me major mood swings – which combined with a milk sensitivity to ruin my day.  When I ceased having cereal with milk for breakfast, all that drama ceased.

It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re just looking for patterns.

First thing in the morning, note your baseline: how do you feel before adding food? Fill in the time and whether you’re energetic, motivated, well-rested or feel run over by a truck.  Then have breakfast and note what you had, and how you feel immediately afterward. Are you satisfied? Or are you craving sweets or something else? If there was much time between waking and eating, note the time you ate. One or two hours later, note again the time and how you’re feeling. Are you tired, or still energetic? Grouchy or content? Needing a cup of coffee or a treat?

Repeat this for everything you eat for one week, including the weekend: the time, what you ate, and how you feel, both immediately and several hours later. Put each entry on a new line to make it easier to spot similarities. Figuring out supplements will require you to treat them like a food, isolating different supplements from each other by several hours or alternate days. You will begin to see patterns after several days (maybe sooner!) of how each food or supplement impacts your energy levels and moods, both immediately and over time. Bloating and nasal stuffiness, for instance, often happen hours later or the next day.

As you begin seeing that protein for breakfast leads to a productive day, or a smoothie turns you into a snackaholic, you will learn what works and what doesn’t.  Experiment with new eating patterns.  Pretty soon, you will have a custom-made, workable diet plan that is tailored to your individual needs.

You don’t have to do this forever – just until you find what you’re looking for. The more you track, the better picture you will have. And keep in mind, as your needs change, you may want to repeat this exercise to see why old patterns are no longer working. Fine-tuning is part of staying healthy over the long term.

20180616_155437.jpg
The first journal I used for my son. It took years to correlate foods and moods because I didn’t note times of both. It still helped me find intolerances and develop a diet for him.

Let me know if you try this, and what you find!!

 

I found this post really fun inspiration for watching my health:  http://steadystrength.com/10-motivational-nutrition-quotes/

 

Teaching Children to Eat Well

I heard a blurb on the radio the other day about how a study had come out proving that it wasn’t worth the fight to make your children eat vegetables.  I didn’t hear the details of who published it; I was too busy collecting my jaw from the floor and listening to their rationalizations.  From what the DJ said, the psychosocial damage to both parent and child totally outweighs any benefit of the vegetable eaten, and over time, forcing the issue of food makes no statistical difference in how the grown child eats.

I think the study missed the point. If the current global health crisis is to be addressed, it must be addressed one kid at a time, one meal at a time. Our habits of eating must change. It’s a lifestyle, not a short-term diet. With that in mind, if you’re in a battle over food with your child, it’s because they’ve already learned what to eat. They eat what you eat. If you’re trying to force them to do what you don’t, they know it’s only a matter of time before you give up; they’ve won.

How should we eat? is a question that starts really early. The newborn is learning constantly. He is watching how you move, listening to how you talk to others, and tasting broccoli in mama’s milk. So good nutrition starts with me, what I eat, and what I provide for my child. As he begins to wean off of milk, his first food should not be french fries at McDonald’s.  (I’m ashamed to admit that two of my children did start this way.) Boys love getting to use real tools, and using appropriately-sized knives to help cut veggies for Mommy will encourage them to be part of the process of putting food on the family’s table. (This is how I retrained those two .) Girls can and will do the same, but they’re usually motivated by getting to “play” with shapes and how the finished product will look. Let them be creative with combinations and shapes. And don’t be discouraged when you run out of ingredients for dinner because they ate everything raw as they chopped.  I’ve been there.

I did have a mother once tell me she envisioned her children, running horror-flick style through the house with butcher knives. I suppose that could be a problem, but it’s not been my experience.  Kids are always welcome in my kitchen. Good things happen there. I allow little ones to snitch snacks while I prepare and they watch – here’s when they learn to keep their hands away from the knives. Toddlers can be given table knives to slice their own banana with breakfast, or cooked baby carrots with dinner. As they gain skill, we move to a sharper knife, and mushrooms or celery on a cutting board at the table where they can work securely.  I’ve never met a kid who didn’t enjoy cutting little trees out of a head of broccoli. I think the trick to turn little Freddie into a chef instead of a B-rate movie character is your expectations of him. As you treat kitchen implements with respect and skill, he learns what kitchen work looks like.

Remember to model well, even when you think they’re not looking. They are. They can do more than you think they can.  This salad was completely made by children – little ones sectioning oranges, leafing lettuce and slicing grapes, slightly older ones slicing avocados and mixing dressing. I buy sliced almonds, unless someone wants to show off their cutlery skills.

This is lifestyle training, then, more than a health curriculum.  It’s not just about what they eat. If all they eat is McDonald’s, they will buck vegetables. They won’t know what asparagus looks like. They might even fear beets. Toddlers learn by handling things, experimenting with flavors, textures, and how things react to touch. By giving them fresh, raw foods, and letting them pick out new ones at the grocery store to take home and prepare, they learn to love real food. You’ll teach them not only that “we eat healthy food,” but that they are capable of doing this for themselves.

This is efficiency at its best. Little Freddie’s pre-dinner time at the cutting board not only kept him from screaming hungrily at your feet while you’re trying to prepare dinner, but taught him how to eat well, manage his health, and keep control of his finances. You helped him to make difference in the world, all while maintaining a happy home. Is this difficult to do in a dual-income home? Yes, but meals still need made. Why not enlist help, even if it’s not the most effective (yet)?  The time you invest in making dinner for your family is time you didn’t have to spend at the doctor’s office for sick kids, and money you didn’t have to spend on blood pressure medications for yourself. As you get older, don’t be surprised when they take over the kitchen to make “what they really like.”

The health of our country is atrocious, and the world is not much better. Fighting for health is worth it, but it’s not about fighting our children. It’s about joining together as a family to fight for what is good for all of us.  Change starts small – with me. Even if I don’t like vegetables and I didn’t start them out properly, if I know that my children should eat better, then so should I.  Admit it to them. Struggle together against junk food cravings. Make peach cobbler to reward everybody for trying your new cauliflower soup recipe.  It’s good for all of us, and none of us want to die young of totally preventable illnesses. This is about loving our children, and wanting to be there for our grandchildren.

Raising a family is not about making the kids into something you’re not willing to be. It’s about making sure that what you’ve started makes a difference that lasts into the next generation. If you’re not on the right track, change it, and encourage your family wo come along. Any change is hard; there will be days when ice cream is dinner. But those days should be rare, and getting rarer every year as the family learns to enjoy the benefits of health that eating well brings.

Taste, Smell and the Role of Zinc in the Body

“I’ve lost a lot of weight recently and am feeling really good.  But now I seem to have lost my senses of smell and taste. What’s going on?”

Loss of smell and taste is a classic symptom of a zinc deficiency.  It is becoming increasingly common in children, who tend to be picky eaters. Parents soon find that the only things they will eat are white foods: chicken strips, noodles or french fries, and milk. This is the de facto kid’s meal, and many of our children eat more than a few of these each week. Teens can be sucked into this as well, preferring pasta with cream sauce or processed cheese and soda.

Few people recognize the all-too-common “white diet” as a major red flag for health that results in growth deficits, hair loss, diarrhea, and sexual problems in men. Zinc is essential to the immune response and the growth and maintenance of bone, skin, hair and nails. It is even a factor in good eyesight.

But it does not store up in the body like many metals. Athletes and those who sweat a lot (including menopausal women with night sweats) are subject to zinc loss. Diabetics and others with gastrointestinal problems can have difficulty absorbing enough zinc from their food. Extreme diets can deplete zinc stores, as can alcoholism. Smokers are exposed to high levels of cadmium, which will replace zinc with the toxic mineral.  Overeating becomes an issue due to cravings for the flavors of sweet or salty foods. In the elderly, however, the loss of smell and taste can result in weight loss, as food holds little interest.

Even without extenuating circumstances, it is difficult to get enough. Overprocessing of foods and soil depletion have left the standard American diet low in zinc, and the ever-present sugar and white flour inhibit absorption. Breakfast cereals and processed grains leach zinc and other minerals from the body. As zinc depletes, only these simple carbohydrates become digestible. Vegetables contain higher amounts of copper, which balances zinc in the body.  As you try to improve your diet with more vegetables. your copper level will rise, increasing the need for zinc. The imbalance will show up as zinc deficiency symptoms. According to The Journal of Nutrition’s study, “Suboptimal zinc and copper status among the elderly may contribute to and/or exacerbate chronic diseases such as heart disease commonly seen with aging “(Mertz et al. 1989).

But how do you recognize the problem before it turns into a clinical deficiency?  The most common signs of low zinc are white spots on the fingernails, or misshapen nails. Zinc is required for structural integrity, so wounds may be slow to heal. Colds may become more frequent or severe.

The most efficient and safest way to get zinc in its proper balance with other minerals is almost exclusively through meat. Oysters and beef contain the most, but meats of all types are helpful. Zinc is best absorbed with protein and works in concert with other minerals, so eating a wide variety of whole foods ensures the best availability and absorbability for different body types and needs.

If you feel supplementation is necessary, zinc lozenges can be good to have on hand. They taste good at first, until you’ve had all your body needs.  Then they begin tasting like metal.  When this happens, just spit it out.  Do this several times a day to lessen the duration of a cold or until they no longer even smell good. If you have no sense of smell or taste, it may be wonderful to actually sense this!

 

SOURCES:

https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/11/2838/4686136

http://www.metabolics.com/blog/a-practitioners-guide-to-zinc-supplements/

 

Food & Seasonal Allergies

The best way to support your body during allergy season is to limit exposure, which may mean watching what you eat.

Grass allergies are nothing to sneeze at, so to speak. They can be worse if you’re not aware of how your diet can help or hurt the situation.

grass photo.jpgIt seems overly simplistic, but all the foods we eat were first grown in fields. Bread, the staff of life, is made from grass.  Wheat is a type of grass, as are oats. Your favorite 12-grain bread is a nightmare for the immune system if you are already struggling with grass sensitivities.

During allergy season, your immune system is stimulated to fight off invaders coming through your eyes, nose and mouth.  Sneezing, coughing and watering eyes are all ways to expel the toxins. But if we also eat grains, it extends the response into the digestive system, and the body becomes overloaded. The best way to help your body cope is to limit exposure.  Most of us already do that by not going outside or using face masks and the lightweight beekeeper’s suit my neighbor uses for mowing his lawn. It just doesn’t occur to us to put our lunch into the same category as outdoor activity.  Recognize what it is that you’re eating. Switch out the sandwich for a salad or some other non-bread option that will nourish your struggling immune system, and you may feel a lot better for it.

Since every person is unique, the best way to find out what works for you is by keeping a food journal. Take note of what you eat and how you feel. If you find yourself tired within an hour of eating, something has stressed your immune system.  Alternatively, if you feel like going another round with the yardwork after eating, you’ve chosen well.  Your body is happy and productive, and everything is working as it should.

Strangely enough, fully processed white breads may not be a problem.  The allergic reaction is triggered by proteins in the grain or pollen, and white bread has had proteins processed out for shelf stability. Whole grain breads have intact proteins which will strengthen your body’s defenses, but add to the trigger load.  So you have to consider the payoff:  while white bread will not nourish your system, it will not stress it, either. I use whole grains to build up the body in the off-season when they don’t cause such a problem, and white breads when rest is necessary but only bread will suffice.

Don’t forget that emotions and mindset play into the strength of the immune system. Comfort foods are often helpful to calm the body’s over-responsivity, especially for a child. A peanut butter sandwich on white bread can be a big relief in the midst of allergy season.

And while bread is a big offender, it is not the only one.  Corn or rice in chips or cereal can be troublesome, since both are grain-based. Corn syrup is a common ingredient in many foods. A beer could be troublesome for its barley content. And different seasons have their own foods. Mold allergies can be made worse by cheeses, wine, or grapes, as well as yeast, which puts bread off the plate again. A food journal really is your best asset to find these connections.

Know that your efforts do make a difference. The worst puzzle I ever had was while dealing with multiple food sensitivities in my son.  We’d moved to the Las Vegas desert to avoid pollens, but spring was especially hard on him.  It turned out palm trees in the neighborhood were blooming, and the date sugar I was using to minimize obvious stressors made him very sick. Palm trees are so tall, it hadn’t occurred to me they were blooming. Neither did I make the connection that dates are the fruit of palm trees. But I had a journal, and a wise consultant helped us to put that in the past. Eliminating the date sugar and nourishing his system with other wholesome foods gave him the strength to handle palm season appropriately. Now, ten years later, he doesn’t react to anything.

As you work with your body to surmount problems,  your body will reward you with excellent health year-round.

 

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Overweight and Undernourished

Better health comes from the inside.

I read today that the National Institutes of Health spend $800 million a year trying to find the cause of obesity.  Really?  Isn’t this fairly obvious?

Actually, it’s not. Because most people today are struggling with eating more than they want but still being hungry.  There are two reasons for this.

The most common cause of overeating is refined food. Pasta, bread, potatoes, white rice, and breakfast cereals are staples in the standard American diet, but give very little nourishment. The body requires carbohydrates, but most of the carbs we eat today are stripped of their fiber and nutrients, leaving only empty calories. They end up just acting like sugar and making us feel good without any real benefit to the body. If you stop eating them, though, the energy quickly depletes and you get the well known sugar crash of children after a birthday party. It’s a little more subtle in an adult. It looks more like a 3 o’clock slump. Grabbing a soda gets us through the afternoon, and a mixed drink after work keeps us comfortable until dinner. If you can’t go more than 2 hours without some sort of snack, you may be dealing with this.

The long term results of this type of eating are not good. Simple carbohydrates (including alcohol) require insulin to process into energy or storage for later use. The pancreas regulates the amount of sugars circulating in the blood, releasing hormones to either shunt them off into storage in fat cells, or bring some of those storage sugars back into the system. With constant demand, the pancreas tires and begins ignoring sugar more and more. Other organs strain to hold equilibrium, which eventually leads to heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The second issue is related. A diet of mostly simple carbohydrates and processed food is lacking in most nutrients. So while we’re eating more than ever, our bodies are actually malnourished.  Fortified breads and cereals are composed of stripped grains and synthetic vitamins which are more shelf stable. They lack the complexity and balance of whole foods. Even after eating an entire meal, the nutrients our body needs for fuel (or to process what we just ate) aren’t there, so we begin scavenging quickly after leaving the table. The average American eats far more calories than necessary and yet reaps very little real nutrition. Without substance in our food, the body can only compensate so much before it runs out of raw materials for energy.

Calorie restricting diets, then, become laughable because willpower cannot stop the body’s need for nourishment. More exercise will only increase the demand for food. The body resorts to its bi-hourly “fix”.

The solution to the obesity epidemic is not another alternative to the bacon double cheeseburger or more flavors of rice cakes. The only solution is for each individual, that’s you and me, to shift to whole foods. Choose rich, colorful salads with diverse raw and steamed veggies, fruits, whole grains, and a variety of different meats. Mix up what you eat during the week, so that no night looks exactly like the others. Try new things at the supermarket, and only shop the outside edges: produce, meats, dairy.

The picture that motivated me: “Which one’s the cow?”

The biggest problem here is not that we don’t know this, but that implementation is hard. On cold days, I don’t want a salad. When I’m busy, I don’t have time for a lovely sit-down meal – I’m just happy I could grab a slice of pizza on my way to the next appointment. And to be honest, it’s more expensive to get a real meal than to just grab donuts and coffee on the way.

We must keep the payoff in mind. The food budget may go up a bit, but the medical expenses will go down as health improves and doctor visits become shorter and further apart. Change requires intentionality and effort.  No pill will cure obesity. If you catch yourself still browsing the kitchen after you’ve eaten a meal, recognize it! Recognition is the first step toward better habits. Try to ride it out or choose a protein snack.  I find a cheese stick or celery stalk is more gratifying than I’d expect and gets me through those moments. At the next meal, choose more complex foods that will nourish your body and hold you longer. I’ve recently added an extra vegetable at dinner – my plate is more interesting, there’s more to eat, and I’m feeling better for it!

Celebrate little strides toward health with something not related to food. It may take longer to see results than you’d like, but hang in there. Better health comes from the inside, and will eventually find its way to the surface. You will see that healthy glow again!!