Saturday
Jul052014

Enjoy Traditional Fats

The quick answer: Enjoy traditional fats.  They're good for you and make everything taste better.

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The War Against Saturated Fats

America got itself into a crazy mess regarding fats.  In a misguided attempt to reduce heart disease, influential scientists vilified saturated fats—like butter and lard—despite millennia of safe use.   The newly invented polyunsaturated fats—found in seed oils—were wrongfully hyped as the cure.  It made a good business but these refined oils were bad medicine.

Europeans, by contrast, chose to stay with traditional fats.  The French, despite their creamy sauces and butter, largely avoided heart disease.  In recent decades, heart disease in southern Europe has declined to even lower levels as prosperity put more saturated fats on the dinner table.

There is painful irony in our anti-saturated fat experiment:  In attempting to solve a problem, we made it worse.  When we reduced saturated fats, we replaced them with hydrogenated seed oils and sugar, both now implicated as causes of heart disease.  Worse, we sowed the seeds of two additional epidemics: overweight and type 2 diabetes.  It’s a big fat mess.

For the definitive story of how we went wrong on fats, read Gary Taubes' N. Y. Times article "What If It's All Been A Big Fat Lie?"

High-Oleic Seed Oils

For years seed oils were falsely promoted as healthy because they were polyunsaturated and certain polyunsaturated fats (omega-3 and -6) are essential to life.  Unfortunately, omega-3s are reactive to oxygen when refined so don't keep well.  To extend shelf life they were removed by hydrogenation.  The resulting trans fats were a health disaster. 

To reduce the need for hydrogenation, seed plants are being modified through GMO (genetically modified organism) and other techniques to reduce polyunsaturated fats.  Given names like “high oleic” oil, many food products now use these new oils and products made from them proudly carry the “zero trans fats” banner. But are these modified oils healthy enough for long-term use?  Though the FDA allows their use, some observers are uncomfortable.  After all, the FDA so far still allows the sale of food with trans fats though it is reconsidering their use.  In time we may know, but for now here are some concerns with high-oleic oils:

1. About ninety percent of the soybean and corn crops are GMO per reports.  The long-term healthiness of consuming GMOs is a hotly debated but unsettled issue.  In Europe GMOs are generally not allowed.

2. The new “high oleic” varieties are low in omega-3, and have an unhealthy omega 6:3 ratio.

3. Seed oils are refined using chemical solvents like hexane (a hazardous pollutant per the EPA) plus heat exposure (during hexane recovery, bleaching, and deodorization) that can harm the nature of the fats. 

Though approved by the FDA, we cannot be sure about the long-term healthiness of these oils.  My plan is to follow the “century rule” and not eat recently invented factory fats (or edible oils as the industry likes to call them).

Healthy Changes

Healthy Change #28:  Enoy traditional fats like butter and olive oil.  Mankind enjoyed them for millenia before the modern heart disease epidemic.

Please comment:  Share your thoughts about fat.  After all the false promotion, it will take time for people to enjoy eating fats again.  But you need them as nutrients plus make everything taste better.

Saturday
Jul052014

The Fiber Rule

The quick answer:  Over the last century, dietary sugar consumption rose as fiber intake declined.  To reduce your risk of overweight and disease, eat more natural fiber than sugar.

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The Wake-up Call

Here's a common story, recently heard:  A guy, just-retired, is shocked when told by his doctor that has type 2 diabetes.  He knows the things that go with this:  neuropathy, toe and foot amputation, risk of blindness, higher risk of heart disease, etc.  In this case a good thing happened:  The person went on a crusade to learn how to eat, exercise, and reclaim his heaqlth.  A wise person could avoid all this by following the fiber>sugar rule (plus getting regular exercise).

20th Century Diet Disaster

The 20th Century was a dietary disaster—we’ve said it before, but repetition is a principle of learning.  The industrialization of our food is presented in the graph above that compares traditional diets (Developing Countries) to the modern Western diet. Take time to study this chart—for the thoughtful person, there is much food wisdom herein.

The diet of the Western countries makes a good business—not just for the food processors that comprise Food Inc. but also for the medical establishment that treats the resulting chronic diseases.  A premise of this blog is that as we eat and live better, we will have less need of doctors, drugs, and hospitals.  We’ll still die, and perhaps from those same chronic diseases, but we’ll have more years of good health to enjoy, and less years of bad health to endure.  (A younger person diagnosed with cancer, for example, will linger longer than an older less vigorous person with the same disease.  My Father died of cancer in his 90th year, but it was just a week from diagnosis to his passing.)

Two metrics define the 20th Century damage to our dietary: the year-by-year rise of sugar consumption, and the corresponding decline in fiber intake.  Healthy Change #4 established the rule that food products must be made of whole grains and contain more natural fiber than sugar.  Prior posts addressed sugar; this post is about fiber.

Fiber—The original weight-loss marvel

Fiber is essentially the structural material of plant cells.  Whether soluble or insoluble (it doesn’t matter which, we need both), fiber is the original weight loss marvel: it provides lasting fullness yet has zero calories.   In addition, fiber optimizes the rate of digestion, slowing the rate that starch enters the blood as glucose (thus softening the swings in blood sugar and insulin that cause type 2 diabetes and fat storage) while speeding the passage of food through the G.I. tract (which reduces the risk of colon cancer). 

Dr. Denis Burkitt

In the course of the year we highlight twelve heroes of better nutrition, including Dr. Denis Burkitt.  Dr. Burkitt served in Africa as a missionary surgeon and his keen study of disease patterns led to the ‘80s bestseller, Don’t Forget Fibre in Your Diet.  (No fiber isn’t misspelled; Burkitt was English.)  The informative graph displayed above is from his book.  Burkitt single-handedly brought the removal of fiber by the industrialization of food to the public consciousness.  From his research—he painstakingly established a large network among hospitals to monitor the incidence of diseases—Burkitt linked the disappearance of dietary fiber with modern diseases like constipation (the first sign of fiber deficiency), type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gallstones, and breast and colon cancers.

Fiber deficiency diseases:

Over the last century fiber was steadily removed from our diet by the rise of processed foods, and the chronic diseases noted above.  Another result—I’ll try to be delicate here—was increased constipation.   (Fiber deficiency isn’t the only cause; other factors include too little exercise or fluid intake, or a diet high in dairy products.)  Most people don’t realize the danger of constipation-caused straining during bowel movements:

  • Straining causes hiatal hernias, a condition where the upper portion of the stomach is forced into the chest cavity, which causes the leakage of stomach acid and heartburn.  Rather than diet reform, people take antacids (Alka-Seltzer, Milk of Magnesia, Pepto-Bismol); more recently drugs to reduce acid production (Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac) have been heavily advertised.
  • Straining can force partially digested food into the appendix where it can lodge, become infected, and lead to appendicitis.  Appendicitis is the most common emergency surgery of the stomach.
  • Straining can cause bulges or aneurysms in the large colon and the serious disease of diverticulitis.
  • Finally, straining is associated with the painful problem of hemorrhoids, which require no explanation.

Foods rich in fiber:

The humble legume—whether pea, lentil, or bean—provides more fiber than any other food.  See here for the legumes highest in fiber.

Besides legumes, foods rich in fiber include (for details go here):

  • Whole grains (a 2011 study showed whole grains to be significantly protective of death from all causes),
  • Nuts and seeds,
  • Fruits, especially berries,
  • Vegetables, particularly root vegetables such as yams.

Healthy Change #27:  Only pruchase foods that contain more fiber than sugar.  Of course this means you'll buy very little of what is in the supermarket, but there are plenty of healthy choices in the produce section.

Please comment:  If you follow the fiber>sugar rule you'll find little in the center of the supermarket to eat.  But the produce section is overflowing with Nature's healthy bounty.  Please share your experience.

Saturday
Jul052014

Sleep, Blessed Sleep

The quick answer:  To eat better, sleep better.  A non sequitur?  Here's the logic:  If you get adequate sleep in the dark, you’ll crave wholesome nutrients more than sugary stimulants. 

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Sleep

This blog rotates through 13 themes each quarter of the year.  Thirteen weeks ago we discussed sunshine, the natural source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D from sunshine is reported to last twice as long in our body as vitamin D from pills—so it seems there is a physiological difference with sunshine that may be beneficial.  The full spectrum light from sunshine was addressed last year in the post, Let There Be Light

This time we address the opposite theme—the importance of time in the dark, sleeping.  I’m surprised how often we find guidance on how to live by the Creation account in Genesis:

“And God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.  And the evening and the morning were the first day.”  (Genesis 1:3,4)

The division of light from darkness was important, I believe, but in our time, with electric lighting, true darkness has been much reduced and the division compromised. 

Melatonin

 Melatonin is the master hormone of the night, a blessing of adequate sleep.  When we close our eyes in a darkened room the pineal gland, a sort of third eye, is triggered by darkness to produce melatonin.  The production of melatonin peaks in the fourth hour of sleep, which then produces other beneficial hormones that restore and prepare us for the coming day.  Basically, you make melatonin for 4 hours; the other hormones do their work the next 4 hours.  (In infants, melatonin production stabilizes in the 3rd month, enabling them to sleep through the night, at last.)

Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant, a protection for your DNA.  Though our understanding of melatonin is incomplete, it seems important to health to not shortchange the body through insufficient sleep, in a darkened room.  The division of dark from light in the Creation is important today also.

Sleep Deficiency

Scientists have linked some chronic diseases to insufficient sleep, as discussed in the post, Blessed Sleep.  These include depression, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and overweight, heart disease and cancer.  There are also mental effects including dementia and impaired judgment. 

Losing Fat

I connect the growing dependence of stimulants like caffeine and sugary drinks in the last century to our decline of adequate sleep in a darkened room.  If sleep is not fully refreshing we crave stimulants to get going, more than nutrients.  A sugary breakfast cereal, a mid-morning soft drink, and candy snacks during the day will seem the right answer.  If you get adequate sleep, 8-9 hours per night, you’ll need less sugar and this will lower your insulin level thus allowing your body to release and consume fat for energy.  When insulin is high, sugar is stored as fat; when it’s low, fat is released for consumption.

A 2010 University of Chicago study of dieters found that those who got the most sleep lost twice as much fat as those with the least sleep (8.5 Hrs. vs. 5.5 Hrs.).  As excess fat is a widespread problem in America, adequate sleep in the dark may be the cheapest health aid available.  A prior post, The Skinny On Overweight, argued that rather than the pain of repeated dieting, it would be better to first try eating a wholesome diet combined with exercise. 

Please comment:  Are you able to get adequate sleep?  How much do you need?  Have you experienced sleep-related health issues?  Do you eat better if your sleep better?  What did you do to improve your sleep habits.

Friday
Jun272014

Meet the Allium Family

The quick answer:  Stock your pantry with alliums—onions, leeks, chives, scallions, and garlic. The combination of nutrients, flavor, and value makes them a superfood.

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Dead Food vs. Live Food

For Food Inc.—the guys who make their living pushing processed foods—the ideal product uses cheap highly-processed ingredients, has a long shelf life (meaning it’s dead), has enough sugar/salt to be mildly addictive, and has been marketed until it’s known by a non-food name.  The non-food name is the key that it may be unhealthy.

Here are some past examples:  Jell-O (basically sugar, gelatin from the hooves of animals, plus artificial flavors).  Oreos (sugar, refined flour, vegetable oil, alkali-processed cocoa, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor, etc.)  You get the picture. 

Bottom line—eat food that still has a food name.  Like carrots, beets, squash, spinach to name a few kids avoid but are actually delicious in the hands of a skilled cook.

Eat More Vegetables

Vegetables are a challenge for Americans.  If you exclude French fries and tomato ketchup, we average just 1-2 servings daily.  Years of eating sugary processed foods has undermined our appetite for real food.  So eight of the Healthy Changes encourage vegetable consumption.  (Fruit is easy to enjoy, it gets just one Healthy Change.)

Here are the eight pro-vegetable Healthy Changes:

#6:    Enjoy a green salad daily.

#12:  Include dark greens in your diet.

#19:  Plant a vegetable garden.

#25:  Include the allium family, daily if possible.  (This week’s HC.)

#32:  Include legumes in your diet.

#38:  Enjoy cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc.).

#45:  Eat tomatoes.

#51:  Improve your cooking with mushrooms.

The Allium Family

Alliums are the humblest of foods.  Onions, garlic, chives, leeks, and shallots compose the family.  They’re rich in nutrients, flavorful, and always a good value.  Worried about cancer?  The alliums will reduce your risk.  (If you Google “onion, anticancer” you get 133K hits; double that to 260K for “garlic, anticancer.”)  They also reduce your risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.  Depending who you’re reading, our single “healthiest food” is either garlic or onions.

Alliums are rich in phytonutrients like polyphenols, especially flavonoids.  They also contain vitamins and minerals.  If you’re worried about inflammatory diseases like arthritis eat alliums, especially garlic. 

Alliams for Flavor

Herbs and spices are used to flavor food but some vegetables have their own flavor  These are called aromatics.  In cooking, the three basic aromatics are onions, carrots, and celery.  Together they’re called mirepoix and are used to flavor stock (along with thyme and bay leaf).

It’s said that French cooking is built on the allium family of garlic, onions, scallions (green onions), leeks and chives.  I wondered if this is true.  I have a copy of Patricia Wells’ book Simply French, Presenting the Cuisine of Joel Robuchon.  Robuchon is claimed to be the preeminent working French chef so I looked over the 70 recipes in Wells’ book.  Of 70 recipes, 54 included one or more alliums. Now that's an endorsement.

The French Miracle

The French Miracle began back in the era when we thought saturated fats like butter caused heart disease.  The French ate lots of buttery foods but perversely had little heart disease.  Some claimed the red wine was the protecting food.  Now others are claiming that their use of alliums is at least part of the solution.

Healthy Change #25:  Include alliums in your dietary—daily if possible.

Please comment:  Share your favorite ways of adding alliums to your diet.  The Beautiful Wife has always used chives (green onions) in her salads.  She likes garlic also (Hint: “Garlick” was her mom’s maiden name).  And I enjoy making stock and also Skip’s Potato Onion Soup.  But we’re going to enjoy alliums more—they’re the best health value around. 

Wednesday
Jun182014

Death By Processed Foods

 

The quick answer:  Enjoy minimally processed whole foods—they’re the source of health and longevity.  Packaged foods with a long shelf life are essentially dead (and may have that effect on you).

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The Prohibitions

The Mormon Word of Wisdom protected adherents from dangers a century in the future.  19th Century tobacco was used in messy but less harmful ways—smokeless as in snuffing and chewing, or limited-inhalation forms like pipes and cigars.  20th Century cigarette smoking was far more harmful as the smoke was drawn deeply into the lungs; even though smoking is declining there's a hangover.  The CDC currently puts deaths from tobacco use at 480,000 annually.   

The warning against alcohol use is likewise protective—US deaths from excessive drinking are conservatively estimated at 88,000 each year.  This doesn’t count the many really dumb decisions made under the influence.  Likewise, researchers find a related health cost for coffee drinkers, especially noticeable for those drinking four or more cups daily.  The wise souls who abstained from these fashionable products earned a great wellness blessing.

Processed Foods

A new health risk arose as the Industrial Revolution rolled through our food supply with untested processing methods.  A basic requirement for these products was a long shelf life.  Historically, food preservation got families through the winter.  In the industrial age processed foods needed to last through many seasons. 

Refined white flour made a great ingredient—so many nutrients were removed that it wouldn’t spoil or even support weevils no matter how long you stored it. 

Likewise, hydrogenated seed oils (soybean oil, etc) had a long shelf life because trans fats replaced the nutritious omega-3 fats that quickly go rancid.  Sugar and salt added to shelf life.  Sugar was the perfect additive as it was also mildly addictive—80% of packaged foods contain added sugar.  Artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives completed this witch's potion.

With improved packaging methods like the tin can, a new industry arose that promised novelty to the consumer and convenience for the housewife.  Food Inc. makes a lot of money processing food, but we’ve sadly learning that it’s bad for our health.  It was a mistake we needn’t have made. 

In The Season

There’s a curious phrase in the Word of Wisdom applied to plant foods like vegetables and fruits:  “in the season thereof.”  This means that we should, as much as possible, eat foods in the season they mature. 

Foodies are promoting a related food movement of local and seasonal foods.  Think of the farmers’ market movement, or Alice Waters and her restaurant, Chez Panisse.  This morning at breakfast we had orange juice from local oranges.  At dinner we had string beans bought at a farmers’ market.  The other night I sautéed a round zucchini with onions, mushrooms, and a little bacon.  Delicious.  We’re enjoying tomatoes from our backyard garden.

Besides being seasonal, these foods are incredibly delicious, affordable, and super healthy.   There’s hidden wisdom and knowledge in that phrase in the season thereof.  More and more, we’re learning to eat food harvested when it is ripe which also means more “local.”  One great aid is the invention of the home refrigerator—the Industrial Revolution also brought good things.

Healthy Change

This brings us to Healthy Change #24, which supports minimal processing:

Eat whole foods, as close as practical to the form in which they were created.

Please comment—how are you reducing your dependence on processed convenience foods?  Share your favorite recipes. 

Thursday
Jun122014

When Wholesome Food Makes You Ill

The quick answer:  Whole grains are the staff of life.  But we need to be careful of—and perhaps tested for—excess dietary sugar and gluten intolerance.  (I apologize for the length of this post, but it presents issues of rising importance.)

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Wholesome and Toxic Grain Products

In the first post on grains, Staff of Life, Healthy Change #10 said:  “Enjoy a variety of whole grains.”  It’s good advice but you’ve likely noticed how hard it is to find healthy grain products.

So in past posts we searched the local supermarket aisles.  We wanted to see whole grains, more fiber than added sugar, minimal processing, and very limited artificial ingredients/chemicals.   My favorite post was Waking Up in the Bread Aisle, but there was also Trouble in the Cereal Aisle and The Chip Aisle?  It’s All OK (on national holidays)

We didn’t bother to search the cookie aisle, or the in-store bakery for anything healthy.  The reality is very little in these aisles is good for you. The stuff is over-processed and over-priced.  Mostly we cook our own grain products—it’s cheaper and healthier.  We do like the sourdough bread at the local Sprouts—it’s mostly whole grain and the extra time needed for sourdough to rise helps break down troublesome glutens.

Grain Brain and Wheat Belly

Whole foods are healthy—they’re the stuff of life, but not for all.  Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish are good for nearly everyone, but can be deadly to a few.  If you’re allergic to one of these tasty foods, you have to respect that.  It’s a harsh reminder that we’re all genetically different.

The Word of Wisdom calls grains the “staff of life” giving special attention to wheat.  But some are allergic to wheat; others are sensitive to the glutens in wheat.  Two books have raised questions about wheat:  Grain Brain and Wheat Belly

Here are three conclusions I’ve made from these books:

#1            Mankind wasn’t designed for the Modern American Diet (MAD).  In particular, we eat too much sugar, and too much of refined grains which quickly metabolize to sugar.  Our high dietary Glycemic Index (GI) results in chronically elevated blood sugar, elevated serum insulin, an overworked pancreas, and the risk of diabetes and a host of related diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s that are growing scary fast. 

Two themes of Word of Wisdom Living call for slashing sugar intake and minimizing or avoiding refined grains.  We’ve got this covered pretty well in the Healthy Changes but they must be taken seriously.

#2            Whole grains, minimally processed, are healthy in moderation for most but not everyone.  Take wheat for example:  A few are allergic to wheat and others don’t tolerate certain glutens (found in wheat, rye, and barley). 

The post-WWII Green Revolution caused new forms of glutens that some—we don’t know how many—can’t tolerate.  The effects can be serious, scientists are still figuring this out, but for some it is a grave problem affecting many organs—more extensive than just Crohn’s disease, which is pretty bad by itself. 

#3            The factors noted above result in inflammation, free radicals, and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that accelerate aging, and are common risk factors for the chronic diseases.  These diseases have a common origin beginning with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, various cancers, and, worst of all, dementia (including Alzheimer’s).  

How Diet Can Protect from Diabetes, Heart Disease, Dementia and Other Scary Diseases

The chronic diseases share multiple lifestyle causes, beginning with tobacco and alcohol abuse.  Our sedentary life style is also problematic.  The Modern American Diet (MAD) presents many risk factors, like factory seed oils (refining byproducts like trans fats, etc.), and a harmfully high Glycemic Index (from excess sugar intake and refined grains), etc. 

These lead to the chronic diseases.  The chemistry is complex and not fully understood but we know enough to take certain actions.   I deduced a five-step process from reading Grain Brain and Wheat Belly.  I’m going to discuss it with my doctor but it looks like this:

  1. Be proactive about slashing sugar intake, especially forms of fructose.  (We’re doing well on this, I think.)
  2. Minimize refined grains that quickly metabolize to sugar, like store-bought cookies, crackers and chips. 
  3. Enjoy whole-grain breads, especially sourdough.  I enjoy these with lots of butter, which also slows down the GI response.
  4. To confirm you’re doing enough, take two insulin tests.  Basically, your blood sugar can be fine (blood glucose testers are surprisingly cheap at the drugstore) but your pancreas may be working too hard to produce enough insulin because cells are becoming resistant.  A fasting insulin test can measure this insulin resistance.  The other test is called hemoglobin A1c and it tells how well your blood sugar has been over the last 90 days.  Here’s the claim:  The A1c test is the best predictor of your future health and longevity, including your risk of dementia. 
  5. If you have worrisome symptoms (you can read more here), test for wheat or gluten intolerance.  Dr. Perlmutton recommends the Cyrex 3 array to see if you have a hidden intolerance.  If you do, you’ll want to know before the damage is (irreversibly) bad enough to force you to a doctor.

Healthy Change #23

Around the world, grains are the staff of life.  Whole grains are an affordable source of essential nutrients; without them billions could starve.  So we endorse a diet based on whole grains, including wheat.  Healthy Change #10, as noted, says:  Enjoy a variety of whole grains. 

But I think we need a new Healthy Change that reflects the concerns raised in Wheat Belly and Grain Brain.  These books, both written by MDs, present preliminary evidence that modern wheat is problematic for some, perhaps many.  Until more is known we propose Healthy Change #23:

To confirm you diet has a healthy GI, talk to your doctor about a fasting insulin test and Hemoglobin A1c test.  (All should have these tests at some point)  In addition, if you have worrisome symptoms, ask about the Cyrex 3 array for wheat/gluten intolerance.

Please comment on your experience with blood glucose control, insulin testing, or wheat/gluten intolerance.  This is a growing problem and we have much to learn.

Thursday
May292014

Healthy Milk

The quick answer:  I like milk but until healthier milk is available, I’m mainly drinking water. 

Reduced Fat Fad

Among the many sins of Food Inc is the practice of selling what the average person thinks is healthy, rather than what is actually healthy—thus reinforcing unhealthy food fads.  In the last generation fat was falsely said to be unhealthy so Food Inc rushed out low-fat versions of existing products.  Marketing hype claimed a health benefit but often they were less healthy.

Take milk for example.  Despite the hype, there was never any scientific proof that low-fat, reduced-fat, or nonfat milk products were healthier.  In fact, it was the opposite.  Taking the fat out of milk increased women’s risk of infertility—a definite health problem.

An 8-year Harvard study of 18,555 women (taken from the Nurses’ Health Study II) found that the more reduced-fat milk products women consumed, the higher their risk of infertility due to reduced ovulation.  You can read more here.

Protein Fad

There is a current fad towards eating protein.  This is good news for ranchers—beef prices are up this year.  But Food Inc will now introduce silly products with increased protein.  

General Mills—always quick to exploit these fads—has introduced Cheerios Protein.  This new product has protein “cluster” added to traditional cheerios.  What is the source of this added protein?  The cluster contains processed soy protein, lentils, and rice starch!  This isn’t going to taste good so the clusters also contains brown sugar, sugar, corn syrup, molasses, and “natural flavors” (the source of these processed flavors is not disclosed). 

So a serving of Cheerios Protein offers 4 more grams of questionable (factory-processed) protein but even worse, it also has 17 grams of sugar (about 4 teaspoons).  Regular Cheerios had only 1 gram of sugar so you see the problem.

Breakfast cereal sales have declined the last decade—a good thing as these are among the unhealthiest foods.  Smart moms are voting with their dollars and Food Inc is desperate.  But there’s no evidence that Cheerios Protein is a good for you.

Skip’s Breakfast

On Saturday morning we enjoy a traditional protein breakfast—bacon and eggs.  During the week I make a special cereal with whole oats, flax seed (high in omega-3 fat), sunflower seeds (high in B vitamins), and seasonal fruits.  We also add a small amount of turbinado sugar.

The Beautiful Wife pours whole milk on her cereal—I add cream.  Cream?  Yes, I love cream.  It makes the BW gag because of all the false propaganda against full-fat dairy but I love it.  I used to add half-and-half but one day I realized that cream is less processed—it isn’t homogenized.  One more thing—I would buy cream from pastured cows if it were available.

So our daily breakfast is as healthy as we can make it—whole grains, whole fruit, and full-fat milk or cream. 

The Industrialization of Milk

In the last century milk got more industrialized.  These processing steps were added:

  1. Pasteurization was introduced as protection against diseased cows.  A better idea would have been to only milk healthy cows but this was easier.  So there was less concern about the health of the cow plus the milk you drink contains the carcasses of the pathogens killed by pasteurization. 
  2. Homogenization wasn’t really necessary but it kept the cream from separating and this made it easier to ship milk long distances and maintain a consistent product.  The problem here is homogenization breaks up the natural fats and the health effect of drinking the broken fragments has never been studied.
  3. Pregnant milking introduces hormone into milk.  Bovine hormones (not the synthetic ones added by Monsanto—that practice has rightfully faded from use) from cows milked during their next pregnancy are a health concern.  Traditionally, pregnant cows weren’t milked.  But in modern times cows are milked 300 days a year, which includes the next pregnancy.  The worry here is about the cancer-causing effect of dietary bovine hormenes, especially estrogen.  This is an issue that needs more study; read more about it here. 

    4.  Reduced fat was a silly, unnecessary, and unhealthy change.  We spoke      to this above and also here and here.  Enough said.

Please comment; share your thoughts about modern milk and what your family does.

Monday
May052014

Fasting

The quick answer:  Though we eat to live, fasting can improve our health as well as the quality of of our lives.

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Scripture

Of the three oracles that inform this blog, one is Scripture.  The other two are Science, and Tradition.  I like the idea of teaming Scripture—discredited in many a laboratory—with Science to create a more profound answer.  That said, we’d like to discuss a religious practice common to many faiths:  fasting.

In the Mormon faith, fasting is done monthly.  Typically this means skipping two meals (the money saved is given to a special fund for the poor).  This is done for spiritual, rather than health, reasons but fasting does have health benefits.

N. Y. Times

The N. Y. Times ran an article last year, “Regular Fasting May Boost Heart Health.”  The article cited a study that found regular fasting among Mormons was associated with a 58% reduction in heart disease.   Other lifestyle factors may contribute, but no medicine, to my knowledge, yields such a benefit. 

The same doctors then took blood samples from people undergoing a 24-hour fast.  Among other benefits, there was a surge of human growth hormone after fasting—a 20-fold increase for men, 13 times for women.  Human growth hormone is released during starvation to promote burning of fat and protect muscle and other lean tissue.  Want to reduce your fat level?  Ask your doctor of fasting is right for you.  Because excess fat is such a problem in our society, I’m surprised this benefit isn’t more discussed.

A recent study by the National Institute on Aging found that weekly fasting protected the brain from the effects of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases.  The study suggested two days of minimal calories each week, followed by five days of normal eating.  However you do it, there seems to be a benefit to fasting.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman

Dr. Fuhrman writes regularly on nutrition and preventative health.  Fasting is recommended in his book, Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease.  I discussed his book in this post.  Dr. Fuhrman recommends that your doctor supervise fasts longer than three days, you should know.  Fuhrman found so many health benefits to fasting that I decided to try a three day fast.  Here is what I learned:

  • Much of my eating, mainly snacking, is driven by boredom rather than hunger.  If you want to improve your health, replace snacking with . . ., well, a moment of jump-roping or a Sudoku puzzle.
  • After the first day, I wasn’t really hungry.  Hunger diminishes as the fast progresses. 
  • Your mental focus improves during fasting—as the physical appetites diminish, you get a better view of what’s important.  Fuhrman notes that people giving up addictions, including smoking, do better if they fast. 

Please comment:  Share your experience with fasting.

Monday
May052014

Vitamins

 

The quick answer:  As illustrated above, whole foods are the best source of vitamins.

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Vitamin History

The most exciting nutrition news a century ago was the discovery of vitamins.  It seemed as though we had discovered the essence of life in these potent molecules.  Some dreamed of a day when the pleasure of cooking and dining could be replaced with quickly swallowed pills.

There arose an industry, very loosely regulated, to manufacture synthetic vitamins in pill form.  With clever marketing most every home soon had a collection of vitamin pills.  Wiser heads noted that it might be healthier to get your vitamins from real food, rather than the heavily marketed pills. 

So scientific studies were launched to provide the lacking evidence.  Unfortunately, those pills were found to do more harm than good.  A 2008 N. Y. Times article titled “News Keeps Getting Worse for Vitamins” provides an excellent summary.

Vitamin Insufficiency

Everyone knows about ancient sailors and scurvy from vitamin C deficiency.  Few realize that most Americans live in a condition of “vitamin insufficiency” and that this may play a role in the diseases of our time.

Vitamin A:  In a past post Vitamin A we discussed the problem of vitamin A insufficiency.  Vitamin A isn’t just necessary for good vision, it’s a potent antioxidant essential to prevention of premature aging.  Vitamins C and E are also antioxidants.

Vitamin D:  In the post Let The Sun Shine we discussed the importance of vitamin D, more a hormone really but important to the prevention of certain cancers and other diseases.  A recent  Northwestern University study found that men with the lowest vitamin D had a 266% greater risk for the aggressive prostate cancer most likely to kill.

Vitamin K-2:  K-2 is essential to bone health and widespread insufficiency isn’t discovered until it’s too late.  Read more about vitamin K-2 and its role in bone health here.

Are Vitamin Pills Ever Needed?

Here’s the short answer:  sometimes, if prescribed.  Older people can become deficient in vitamin B-12—especially vegans as B-12 is found in animal products—a difficult to diagnose condition with serious consequences.  There is solid evidence that neurotube birth defects (NTDs) are reduced with folate pills.  Vitamin D pills help people who chronically get insufficient sunshine.  Other examples of proven benefit exist for certain medical conditions.  So there is a place for pills and your doctor is the best person to consult.  But the starting point is to eat a healthy and varied whole foods diet.

Please comment:  It seems that pills aren't the shortcut to health and longevity—a healthy Word of Wisdom diet is still needed.  It took most of the 20th century to learn that.  Please share your experience.

Monday
May052014

The Joys of a Garden

 

The quick answer:  Consider all the ways a vegetable garden will benefit your health.

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My Father’s Garden

I think “My Father’s Garden” was one of WOWL’s best posts.  Our Father, now passed, was a devoted gardener.  But gardening was about more than food.  His response, when I asked why he gardened, was brief:  “Why do you breathe?”  Gardening, for him, was about life.

Visiting grandchildren found his garden a magical place.  At night the various vegetables would leave their beds to form a marching band and tromp around the backyard playing classics like Seventy-Six Cornstalks.  But perhaps I simply imagined it all.

Garden Benefits

We’re headed to little Midway, Utah, for a stay at a historic home we care for.  It’s spring and plants are exploding with life after the long winter.  We love our visits here, even the weeding.  In this little town, almost everyone gardens. 

There’s so little crime in Midway that people leave cars unlocked with keys in plain sight.  But in the summer, in the church parking lot, they keep their cars locked.  It’s the only way to keep someone from slipping the extra zucchini into your car.

Skip’s Garden

I haven’t had a proper vegetable garden in past years, just a tomato plant or two.  But this year I felt the urge and made a place for a garden, tucked in a sunny spot shown in the picture above.  It’s not large, maybe 15 square feet.  But I have tomato plants, two kinds of squash and green peppers, cantaloupe, carrots, herbs, and string beans.  I love working in my little garden and look forward to the harvest time. 

The benefits of a garden include pleasant exercise, tranquility and relief of stress, vitamin D from the sunshine, the satisfaction of seeing the plants grow under your care, and a felling of closeness to Nature.  Plus you get really healthy food to eat.

All this leads to this week’s Healthy Change:

Comment:  Please comment on your gardening experience.  Whether you do it for truly local and organic food, to save money, or just for the joy of gardening, a garden is one of the best uses of your time.