Saturday
Jun152013

Drink Milk?

The quick answer:  Modern milk may not be all that healthy, especially the low-fat versions.  Until better milk is available, we use it sparingly.

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The Industrialization of Milk

In an, ahem, excellent post titled The Untold Story of Milk, we reviewed how milk, a traditional food, was industrialized into a form of questionable healthiness.  The main steps in this process:

  1. Cheap feed:  Cows traditionally eat grass; a cow needs 1-2 acres of pasture depending on the forage.  In the early 1900s, to save land and money, dairy farms were located next to distilleries and cows were fed the remains of grain used to make liquor and other waste products.  Naturally, unhealthy feed led to unhealthy cows, and diseased milk.
  2. Pasteurization:  Rather than maintaining healthy cows to get healthy milk, the decision was made to pasteurize milk, which reduced, but didn’t eliminate, the pathogens.  (It makes me shiver when I think of pasteurized milk full of the carcasses of bacteria.)  The pasteurization heating process changes the nature of milk and has never been fully accepted, for various reasons.
  3. Hormones in milk:  During the hard times of the ‘20s and ‘30s, it became common to milk cows deep into the next pregnancy, thus exposing consumers to higher levels of bovine hormones.  In addition, Monsanto introduced synthetic versions of these hormones to improve output, though this practice is mostly discontinued thanks to public criticism.   A researcher has looked at the issue of milk hormones—a suspected risk factor for prostate and breast cancer—you can read more about it here.
  4. Homogenization:  Pasteurization also extended the shelf life of milk, which allowed shipping longer distances.  Because cream tended to separate, homogenization was introduced.  Basically, homogenization breaks the fats in milk into fragments, so the fat remains mixed in the milk and doesn’t float to the top.  There are still troubling questions about the healthfulness of these man-made fat fragments.  Homogenization, the standard now, is really unnecessary.
  5. Reduced fat:  In the ‘60s the false idea was advanced that fat was unhealthy so the fat content of milk was reduced.  Because this changed the appearance of the milk, the government allowed milk processors to improve the look with additives like powdered milk and excused them from noting these substances as ingredients.  When you drink reduced fat milks, you don’t know what has been added.

Infertility and Reduced Fat Diary

The healthfulness of reduced fat milk has not been adequately studied however a 2007 study of 18,555 women in the Nurses’ Health Study II by Harvard researchers, found troubling issues with infertility due to reduced ovulation.  Women who drank two or more servings of low fat dairy foods per day, were 85% more likely to suffer from infertility, compared to women eating low fat dairy just once a week.  Women who avoided low fat dairy food had the lowest infetility risk  (25% less than the once per week group). 

What To Do

I like milk but until healthier milk is available, I’m mainly drinking water.  I try to limit myself and have started using half-and-half on cooked cereal.  I’ve tried raw milk and wish it were more available, especially from grass-fed cows.  The beautiful wife avoids milk; she even has the curious habit of putting orange juice on her breakfast compote. 

What would it take to have the healthy milk of our great-grandparents?  One answer is to get your own cow.  Another solution is to have an Amish friend who still farms the olden way.  Otherwise we’ll all have to wait until the government lets enterprising dairymen offer healthy milk from pasture-fed cows.  In the mean time, we follow this Healthy Change:

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

 

Saturday
Jun082013

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.

Wednesday
May292013

Lessons of the Vitamin Era

 

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

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The Age of Discovery

We can learn from our nation’s response to the discovery of vitamins back in the ‘20s and ‘30s.  The discovery caused a public excitement for it seemed the scientists had their finger on the essence of life.  The response went like this:

Step #1:  Scientists discover vitamins.

Step #2:  The media, always on the hunt for exciting news, inform the public, perhaps overstating the facts.

Step #3:  Businessmen, alert to opportunity, learn to produce synthetic versions of the vitamins in pill form.

Step #4:  A health fad of taking vitamins in pill form is established with skillful marketing and becomes a big business.

Thoughtful people surely asked:  Is it a good idea to take these potent molecules by pill, rather than in whole foods accompanied by the traditional cofactor nutrients?  It was a good question, one that would take several generations to answer.  Unfortunately, when the truth is finally found a profitable business has become well entrenched.  

News Keeps Getting Worse for Vitamins

A 2008 N. Y. Times article summarized recent studies looking for a benefit from vitamin pills:

Vitamins C & E reduce male cancer risk?  In two large studies no benefit was found in taking vitamin pills, and in one the risk of cancer and diabetes actually increased.

Vitamins C & E for heart disease?  A long-term study with ties to the pill industry (always a reason to be wary of any positive findings) failed to find a heart disease benefit.

Vitamin E and selenium reduce prostate cancer risk?  The SELECT trial failed to show a benefit of vitamin E and selenium in pill form and there was evidence pills had made things worse.

Vitamin C pills reduce cancer risk?  No, actually a Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center study found no benefit and even saw a risk that vitamin C pills invigorate the cancer.

Vitamin E improves mortality?  No, actually these pills (doses >400 IU) actually worsen longevity according to a Johns Hopkins survey of 19 trials.

Vitamin A reduces lung cancer risk?  Unfortunately, vitamin A and beta carotene (a perform of vitamin A) taken in pill form seem to increase the risk of lung cancer, according to the Caret 1996 study.

The Times story included other examples but the bottom line is that a healthy diet of whole foods is the best way to get your vitamins, and that pills don’t offer a healthy shortcut.

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 with minimal use of highly processed factory foods.

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.

Friday
May172013

My Father's Garden

 

The quick answer:  Want to understand the mystery of (your) life?  Plant and tend a garden.

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My Father’s Garden

My father grew a beautiful vegetable garden in the deep lot behind our home.  He had always done this; he had a garden in his 90th year, before he left.  There were fruit trees on one side, a shaded area for berry vines, a trellis to grow sweet peas for my Mother, wire cages for tomato plants, and raised beds for vegetables like carrots, onions, squash, and cantaloupes.  In the spring he would plant corn, one section each week to extend the time of ripening.   He loved fresh corn-on-the-cob but it had to be fresh; he wouldn’t pick the corn until Mother had the water boiling.  Do you know how at the end of summer, the tomato plants are full of almost ripe tomatoes that aren’t going to fully ripen?  With those we would make a family favorite, Aunt Kate’s Chili Sauce.  I’ll share the recipe with you one day.

Unlike myself, my Father had a beautiful voice.  One song was a love ballad of his time—I love You Truly—that he would sing to Mother when they were getting ready to go out.  When I wrote our family memoir I titled it, I Love You Truly: The Lessons of Our Lives.  Those lessons covered the gamut of our joys and sorrows.  Our family paid a high price for some of those lessons so I thought it important they be saved for our descents in a book. 

When I wrote the memoir I asked Father the “why question.”  Here’s his thoughtful response:  Why do I garden?  Why do you breathe?  I find peace from life’s cares in my garden.  A person needs a place for deep thinking, the kind of on-your-knees, hands-in-the-dirt pondering where life’s lessons are best learned.  I think about my children and the decisions they’ve made, about the people I’ve known, places I’ve been, the dances I took Nina (our Mother) to.  But mostly I think about my life, teaching myself from the pulpit of my memory.  My garden really isn’t work, for while I toil the birds fly about singing, the wind makes comforting sounds as it blows through the trees, and the sun warms my back.  Later, when the plants sprout in their rows it’s very satisfying.

Over the years the ten children grew up and left home.  It became a ritual when we returned to greet whoever was in the house and then go to the backyard and admire the garden.  Often Father would be there, ready to hear the news of your life.  Once I wrote a silly story for children, about a visiting grandchild who wakes up in the night and hears noises coming from Father’s garden.  The child ventures out to the garden and discovers that on moon-lit nights the various vegetables leave their beds to form a marching band, led by the gnarled old apricot tree that looks surprisingly like Father.  I’ll share one verse of the song that vegetable marching band played; you’ll know the melody so sing along:

Seventy-six cornstalks led the big parade,

With a hundred-and-ten cantaloupes close at hand,

They were followed by rows and rows of the finest vegetables,

The cream of Father’s marching band.

Well, I said it was a silly children’s story but it does touch on the magic every garden offers.  The grandchildren loved Father’s garden and delighted in vegetables eaten directly from the vine.  It’s an American tragedy that children grow up hating vegetables, but I could see these kids loved the vegetables they picked and ate.  Gardens, of course are about more than the harvest, though they do yield the healthiest food you can eat.  And they’re good exercise.  But even more, they teach reverence for food in the way it was originally created.  Which brings us 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.

Friday
May102013

Stretch Exercise

Wengen, Switzerland; photograph courtesy of Andrew Bossi

Note: One of our thirteen themes is not about nutrition—it's about exercise.   I can't do better than to repeat this article from last year, about the benefits of including stretching in your exercise routine.
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A Village Too Beautiful

Did I mention the beautiful wife is half-Swiss?  She is, which may explain how she avoids fights yet never surrenders.  A while back we thought it would be good to visit picturesque Wengen, birthplace of her great-grandmother.  The village, perched above an alpine valley and reached by cog train, is more beautiful than words can describe.  If you haven’t been there, put Wengen on your bucket list.

Despite the Alpine beauty, what I remember most about Wengen is the fitness of the people.  It’s a walking town—there are no cars.  Everyone walks; the walking paths are either climbing or descending.  People of all ages are fit and trim with muscular legs.  I don’t recall seeing anyone overweight and they had wonderful pastries.  A culture where people eat sensibly and live vigorous, muscular lives is a wonder to behold.  Which brings us to the subject of this week—exercise, with emphasis on stretching. 

Exercise

Exercise is the subject of four Healthy Changes—that’s how important it is.  The post referred to below called for 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week—a minimum of 2 hours.  A prior post, Not Quite Jack LaLanne, shared our family experience with exercise.  This week’s post will discuss stretching exercise.  Later this year we’ll discuss weight lifting, and then aerobic exercise.

To be healthy you must eat well, but you must also use your muscles.  Strong muscles build strong bones—they work together.  Note the cross-section picture showing muscle and bones for a 74-year old triathlete, equivalent to the bones of a 40-year old.  Note also the thin bones of the 74-year old sedentary person.  (In the picture, starting from the skin, fat is white, muscle is gray, and bone is black.)  This post also lists some of the life-extending benefits of exercise.

Flexibility and Aging

Have you observed how you become increasingly less flexible as you age?  Maintaining flexibility—through stretching—is one way to slow down the aging clock.  One study, reported in this N. Y. Times article, revealed a connection between the suppleness of your body and the flexibility of your arteries, including the coronary arteries critical to heart health.  Flexibility, like the touching of toes, is a marker for artery health. 

Here’s are common stretching benefits:

  1. Increases flexibility
  2. Improves circulation
  3. Improves balance and coordination
  4. Reduces lower back pain risk
  5. Can improve heart health
  6. Reduces the tension of stress
  7. Improves energy

How to Stretch

The beautiful wife, depending on her stress level, can get painful muscle spasms in her back.  Stretching seems to help and we’ve had the intention for some time to add this to our exercise regime.  Time went by and we never got into a regular routine, though we bought books and yoga DVDs.  A few days ago, with a wedding coming up, we decided to get serious and made time in the morning after her walk, but before breakfast.  It seems to be helping so we’ve made a commitment to continue, daily at first, then 3 times per week.  Stay tuned; we’ll report back later in the year.

Women are better at stretching than men—I think it starts in the head.  Yoga is a favorite method, but there are other ways to stretch.  You don’t need to buy anything to get started—you can find resources on the Internet.  Go to YouTube and search under exercise.  You can even enter the part of your body you want to focus on.  Be cautious—an injury can delay your progress.  If you have concerns, check with your doctor.

Healthy Change

Please comment: Share your experience with stretching exercise.  How often do you do it, what do you do, and what's the benefit.

Saturday
May042013

Family Dinner

 

The quick answer: Life goes by pretty quick; if you want to pass on the cultural DNA of your family, eat a home-cooked dinner together, and talk to each other.  Another benefit: you’ll all live longer.

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An Apology

In the morning, when you first awake, do you think about your dreams?  You have to do this quickly, before they fade away, but I’m told they offer clues for the coming day.  Today I awoke early, surprising the beautiful wife.  What was on my mind?  It was Saturday and I hadn’t put up my post for the week.  No wonder I couldn’t sleep.  So I apologize.

Remember that great movie about Ferris Bueller taking a day off from school?  How in the end he observes, “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  It was a quote that resonated but looking back at my own life, here’s what I might say: “Life moves pretty fast; if you don’t eat dinner with your kids they’ll miss the deeper stuff you have to share.”

So this post is about the family dinner, an institution that’s been fading away in our fast-moving society, much like the dreams of your night’s sleep.  I’m surprised when I poll people how seldom families are actually sitting down and eating a prepared meal.  For all the ill that is done by fast food, processed packaged foods, and such, I think the greater harm is in the failure of families to sit down and eat a home-cooked meal together.

The Ideal Family Dinner

Here are ten criteria of an ideal family dinner for your consideration.  If you were a hidden observer at any family’s dinner, applying these criteria in the brief time of eating meal would be a fair measure of the family.  After your next family dinner, ask the gang to score themselves—A, B, D, D or F—on these 10 criteria.  The most common score is your total score.  Is there room for improvement?

  1. Participation: This is the glue that enriches and binds all together.  The success of family dinner increases with the proportion of the family engaged in preparation.  And what better way to teach nutrition and cooking skills?
  2. Love at home: the degree of affection and kindness shown between family members is a barometer of family relationships.  The beautiful wife had a rule that the table was a safe place—no blows or digs were allowed. 
  3. Conversation:  The family culture, even with children, is revealed by the topics discussed. 
  4. Manners:  A good metric of self-control necessary for success in life.  The beautiful wife, when the children were young, used to read a paragraph after dinner from an author remembered as Miss Manners. The children remember those readings today with affection.
  5. Laughter:  The more the better in my view but all in good taste.  It's said that laughter is the best sauce.
  6. Gratitude:  Count compliments, as opposed to complaints, for those who prepare the meal.  What cook isn't encouraged with praise?
  7. Face time:  In the hustle and bustle of life a day can pass without meaningful face time with family members.  Dinner is your best chance for regular face time.  How long do you spend at dinner?
  8. Values: In the teaching and sharing of values, we give meaning to life.  But if they're not discussed, they're not given importance by children. 
  9. Learning:  Family values and traditions are best taught at mealtime.  Reach beyond Dad lecturing—participation empowers and endows.
  10. Healthiness:  Look for a meal of whole foods with plenty of vegetables but sparing of meat—you know that was coning, didn't you?

Single?

I spoke to a single group a while back and discussed the challenges of eating alone.  It's hard to do, but organizing some king of group dining at least a few days of the week has wonderful benefits.

Please Comment:  Please share your best family dinner practices and ideas.  This is a topic where everyone has expertise so please, lots of comments.

Wednesday
Apr242013

The Joy of Shopping Lists

The quick answer:  Use a shopping list to bring order to your life and reduce the chaos—so you have time and energy for life's random delights.

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Order and Chaos

Remember the second time you kissed your dearly beloved?  The first kiss might have been a cautious and tentative venture—an impulsive foray into the unknown.  The second kiss likely followed the first by a fraction of a second but with a lot more, well, gusto.  Life is like that.  Sometimes it’s planned with small, predictable pleasures.  But other times we’re caught unawares and carried away to wondrous places.  Know what I mean?

In the well-lived life we enjoy both:  predictable order and spontaneous joy.  Isn’t this the trick in balancing our lives—to gain the daily benefits of order, yet also be open that “path less traveled”?  I remember the weekday grind of school, homework, and work as a teenager, then the sweet and spontaneous chemistry that just might happen at our Saturday night dances. Remember that night you didn’t want the music to ever end?

Sorry to interrupt your reverie, but this post is about the benefits of a menu-based shopping list.  The menu and shopping list are two key ways of organizing life and freeing you up for those crazy, unplanned Saturday-night-dance delights.

 

Shopping Lists

Here's a link to a shopping list if you go to several stores (like Costco, a grocery store, and a farmers market or health foods store).  Or if you prefer a list that includes space for menu writing, visit our daughter's blog inchmark.  In a post the grocery list, she shared her approach to meal planning and provided a link to her editable list.  You may be using an iPhone app for a list but if you don’t have a list you like, you’re welcome to try one of these.   

A menu-based shopping list brings big benefits:

#1:  A shopping list is a plan—an antidote to wandering the store aisles wondering what to eat, susceptible to the worst offerings of Food Inc.

#2:  A shopping list saves money—healthy food really is cheaper than the modern American diet, if you take a thoughtful approach to planning. 

#3:  A shopping list saves time—it’s your best way to minimize grocery store runs and streamline meal preparation.   

#4:  A shopping list reduces stress—how many times have you been in that last-minute squeeze to come up with an idea for dinner? 

#5:  A shopping list lets you teach—your family can’t learn by helping if the plan is all in your head.


Please comment:  How do you organize grocery shopping?  Got an app for your iPhone?  Use a printed list you keep in the pantry during the week?  What works best for you?  Please share.

Tuesday
Apr162013

The Sugar War

The quick answer:  If there’s candy in the house, someone will eat it.  Buy your favorite sweets by the piece, not by the bag or box.

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Confession

I don’t eat candy bars.  Usually.  But the kids left us a package of Hershey bars, the larger ones that are sectioned, after making s’mores at a beach bonfire.  “Wouldn’t those Hershey bars be a little healthy,” I kidded myself, “if I ate them with some fresh walnuts?”  The combination tasted so good that I fell off the sugar wagon and ate the whole darn package.

Two days later I had a fast moving sore throat-cold that knocked me down for a week.  Now this isn’t supposed to happen if you’re eating well—that’s been my experience for several years.  So I have this bad feeling that gorging on sugar suppressed my immune defense and made me vulnerable.  So I’m contrite (and coughing) as I write; I knew better.  Ever done that?

A Quick Review on Sugar

The beautiful wife heard that a honeybee only makes 1/12 teaspoon of honey in its lifetime.  Historically, sugar was so scarce before the Industrial Revolution that only a king could gorge on it.  Today everyone can . . . and many do.  Excessive sugar intake is our biggest health problem, leading to diabetes, heart disease, and increased risk for cancer.  This is all well documented.  Here are three excellent researchers who have warned about sugar:

Gary Taubes:  If you want a serious book on the problem of sugar, read Gary Taubes, Good Calories, Bad Calories.  You hear a lot of people who should know better suggest that all calories are equal.  It simply isn’t true.  Eating 500 calories of sugar a day—the American norm—will definitely have a different result than eating 500 calories of fruits and vegetables. 

Bottom line, to expose yourself to overweight, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, follow the American practice of excessive sugar intake.  Ugh.

David Ludwig, MD, PhD:  Here’s a guy dealing with the sugar problem every day—his specialty is child obesity.  It’s a terrible and growing problem that led to a radical proposal:  Severely obese children should be removed from the care of their parents.  Ludwig is best known for his YouTube video, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.”  If you haven’t seen it, you should.

John Yudkin, MD, PhD:  He’s gone now but Yudkin was the first scientist to link sugar intake to diabetes and heart disease; others made the connection to cancer.  His 1972 expose of sugar, Pure, White and Deadly, made him famous in England.  The U.S. version is titled Sweet and Dangerous, The new facts about the sugar you eat as a cause of heart disease, diabetes, and other killers.  The title says it all.  (First edition copies of these books are collector items.)

Slashing Sugar Intake

To reform our diet, we must slash our sugar intake—this has to be the first step.  IF you want proof, try a 4-week sugar fast and see how much better you feel.  The AHA offers this wise counsel:  Limit sugar intake to 6 tsp (25 grams) daily for women; 9 tsp for men (it’s based on body mass).  The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans makes a similar recommendation.  We just need to “do it.”

Healthy Change #1 attacked our biggest source of excess sugar: If you consume sugary drinks, real or diet, limit yourself to one (12 oz.) serving per week.

Healthy Changes #4 & 10 promote whole grains while reducing sugar intake with this wise rule:  Packaged foods must contain more grams of natural fiber than sugar.

Now Healthy Change #15 introduces a new rule based on this observation:  If there’s candy in the house, someone will eat it—probably Mom.  But sometimes it’s Dad, per my confession above.  So here’s the rule: 

 

Please comment:  How do you manage sugar in your life?  How have you gotten past the false belief that artificial sweeteners like those in “diet” drinks—such a sad, pathetic name—are somehow healthier than real food?  Tell about your experience with a "sugar fast."  Or share your sad story of falling off the sugar wagon.

Tuesday
Apr092013

Healthy Eggs

The quick answer:  Eggs—a great source of healthy fats, vitamins, and other nutrients—are back in favor, again. 

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Review

You’ll recall that the 52 Healthy Changes transform our modern American diet (MAD) to a naturally healthy diet.  The oracles that guide this are food tradition, science, and scripture, especially the LDS Word of Wisdom.  Diet reformation is a little like fleeing Babylon to return to Eden.  You can do this in a year.  I once discussed a book with a publisher and they were doubtful people could stay on subject for a year.  “Couldn’t you do a 15-day program?” they asked. 

The 52 Healthy Changes follow 13 repeating themes, so each quarter we add another layer of understanding to those basic themes.  This is a good time to look over the first 13 changes and grade your progress.  You don’t have to be perfect—you just have to care enough about yourself and your family to be willing to make lasting change.

Fats

The first theme turns to one of the most maligned yet essential foods: fats.  In recent decades our society, with Food Inc and the government holding hands, attacked fats as being unhealthy.  Reduced fat, low-fat, and nonfat versions of about every traditional food were produced.  The war against fat was completely wrong and people who should have known better, made recommendations that were actually harmful.  So we present a different proposal:  Enjoy healthy fats—they make everything taste better, you know—and avoid unhealthy manmade fats.

The unhealthiest fats we consume are trans fats and the oxidized fats found in deep fat fryers.  So the 1st Healthy Change advised to avoid deep fat fried foods.  That’s a big deal—never eating French fries, donuts, fast food fish filets, onion rings, or crusty chicken.  But it’s also a big benefit.

This week’s Healthy Change, the 14th , advises to eat healthy fats, especially eggs.  You’ll recall that just a few years ago we were being told to avoid eggs.  Silly products were introduced to substitute for eggs.  I say silly because eggs are the source of life for most species.  Now we’re told to forget what was said—it’s OK to eat eggs again.

Omega-3 vs. Omega-6

You hear a lot about these fats so just to review, here are the basic facts:

  1. Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential to our health.  In fact the only essential fatty acids are variations of these two fats.  Remember this—your brain is about 60% fat, mostly saturated fat, but about ¼ omega-3. 
  2. Omega-3 fat is essential to life but when exposed to oxygen is highly reactive—meaning it quickly turns rancid—so Food Inc. can’t use them in their processed foods.  So processed foods have used different methods—like hydrogenation—to steadily remove omega-3 fats from our diet.  They did this in ignorance at first; it wasn’t by malice in the beginning but the effect was no less harmful.
  3. Omega-6 fats, also essential to life, are more stable when exposed to oxygen.  So Food Inc preferred these fats as they allowed a long shelf life.  Refined oils are generally high in omega-6 fats and deficient in omega-3 fats and that’s the basic problem for Americans—getting the ratio right.

Enjoy Eggs

Before we talk about eggs, we should note that omega-3 fats come in two groups: medium-chain and long-chain.  The shorter (medium chain) omega-3 fats are found in green plants, including algae and other sea plants.  We generally don’t get enough omega-3 fat.  That’s almost funny because we live on a green planet full of omega-3.  Two weeks ago our healthy change recommended eating green salads—a source of medium chain omega-3 fat and other nutrients.

The longer chain omega-3 fats are found in animal products.  It makes sense:  the shorter chain omega-3 comes from simple life forms like plants, while the longer chain omega-3 comes from more complex life forms like fish, fowl, and mammals that eat plants.  Consequently, eggs are also a good source of the longer chain omega-3 fats.

In addition to omega-3 fats, there are other egg benefits:

  • Eggs are a good source of fat-soluble vitamins (K, A, D, and E) plus B complex vitamins like choline and B-12, in which many are deficient.
  • Eggs contain two carotenoid nutrients important to the eyes—lutein and zeaxanthin.
  • Eggs are a “perfect” protein, meaning they contain all the essential amino acids in the right ratio.
  • Finally, eggs offer a good mix of fats.  A typical egg contains 1.8 gm of monounsaturated fat, 1.4 gm saturated fat, plus 1 gm of polyunsaturated (including a healthy ratio of omega-3 and -6 fats)

Healthy Eggs

It’s pretty simple:  healthy chickens make the healthiest eggs.  Unfortunately Food Inc wants to produce the cheapest possible egg.  You can’t blame Food Inc for wanting to be efficient, we need that.  But the better form of efficiency would be to make the healthiest egg at the lowest cost.  Which is what happened in olden times when chickens roamed around the barn, pecking at bugs, greens, and minerals.

The best source of eggs I have found is at the farmers’ market, where there will usually be someone selling free range eggs.  The next best source is eggs high in omega-3 fats.  You’ll see this on the carton label.  Basically they have to get some greens into the diet.  I don’t pay attention to the “cage free” egg claims because you can do this by rearing the chick in a cage and then just removing the door when it starts to lay.  By habit, the chicken may not leave the cage and still doesn’t have outdoor access.

Yesterday our daughter showed us the egg incubator her husband devised.  They live in a city but can have four hens in their yard.  So they’re thinking those four hens could provide plenty of eggs and get rid of bugs and weeds. 

Please comment:  There isn’t a fixed number for eggs in moderation, but some sources suggest six per week.  Please share your experience with the topics of this post, eggs and fertility.  Do you have a source for healthy eggs (from healthy chickens)?  Did you crave eggs when pregnant?

Wednesday
Apr032013

Healthy Sunshine

The quick answer:  Aside from a healthy diet and exercise, the next best thing you can do is get enough sunshine to maintain a healthy serum vitamin D level.  It’s good for your mood and can help prevent a long list of diseases. 

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A Curious Intersection

The last 34 days I pounded out the first draft of a book.  As some of you know we live in Laguna Beach most of the year.  It’s a funky town with a curious history:  It was first settled by homesteaders in the 1870s who were all some kind of Mormon—not the kind that followed Brigham Young to settle the Great Basin, but they did consider themselves Mormon and left a spiritual legacy. 

Artists followed the homesteaders in the early 1900s.  Thanks to its picturesque coves and beaches, Laguna became an art colony important to the painting school known as Early California Impressionism.  These people left a spiritual legacy found in the many art galleries today.  Hollywood people followed the artists when the new Pacific Coast Highway reached town.  Laguna was busy during the Great Depression thanks to a new technology: movies with sound.  The beach you see above was the scene of Errol Flynn’s pirate movie, Captain Blood.

Finally in the ‘50s—with Hollywood movies like Gidget, and the sweet tones of the Beach Boys—the town became known for wave riding.  The rise of surfing and skimboarding (invented locally at Victoria Beach) created a unique culture inspired by the Aloha spirit from Hawaii. 

So I had the idea to write a book for visitors that could explain the spiritual roots of a town settled by such unique people.  And let me assure you—the people here are unique.  But here is the curious intersection between Word of Wisdom Living and life in a beach town:  Vitamin D.  In the picture above the best thing that is happening is the production of vitamin D from the action of sun on the cholesterol in your skin.  So let the sun shine.

About Vitamin D

It’s essential to eat vitamin-rich food because the body can’t produce vitamins, with one exception:  With a little sunshine, the body can make it’s own vitamin D.  Unfortunately, the weathermen and dermatologists have scared us out of getting enough sunshine.  Ever had your vitamin D level tested?

Sufficient D is essential to good health; vitamin D receptors are found in cells all through your body.  The growing list of conditions where vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor includes seasonal affective disorder (SAD), osteoporosis, muscle and joint pain including back pain, certain cancers (breast, ovarian, colorectal, and prostate), obesity and diabetes, stroke or heart attack, G.I. diseases like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or Crohn’s disease, and immunological diseases such as MS and Parkinson’s disease.  It’s a long list. 

Vitamin D deficiency increases as you move away from the equator.  In the Sunbelt you can get adequate D year around, though it takes longer in winter.  But if you live above the 40th latitude parallel, roughly a line through Portland, OR, Salt Lake City, and New York City, you can ski all winter in your bathing suit and not get enough D.

There’s an annual cycle to your vitamin D level.  For most, our D level peaks in the last sunny days of summer, then hits rock bottom as winter turns to spring.  This is the point when you feel the blues, lack energy, or suffer muscle aches.  Because spring just started, your D is likely at its annual low-point (unless you’ve just back from sunbathing here in Laguna Beach). 

The Vitamin D Solution

The best book I’ve seen on vitamin D is The Vitamin D Solution, written by Dr. Michael Holick, PhD, MD.  Holick suggests a 3-step solution of 1) testing, to know where you are, 2) sensible sunshine, and 3) safe supplementation when sunshine isn’t available. 

The book makes two remarkable statements about vitamin D and cancer:

First, on the benefit of getting sensible sunshine: “vitamin D could be the single most effective medicine in preventing cancer, perhaps even outpacing the benefits of . . . a healthy diet”.  We hear all the time that we should avoid avoid sunshine to prevent skin cancer, which brings us to the second point.

Second, the book quotes Dr. Edward Giovannucci on the benefits of sunshine for vitamin D versus the risk of skin cancer:  sufficient “vitamin D might help prevent 30 deaths for each one caused by skin cancer”.    I like those odds: 30 better outcomes at the risk of one bad outcome.

Testing Our Vitamin D

I recently saw my dermatologist.  She’s a charming woman who cares about her patients.  We talked about the trade-off between getting enough vitamin D the natural way—by sunshine—versus the risk of skin cancer.  The good doctor pointed out that in southern California, you could get sufficient vitamin D with 15 minutes of sunshine on most days.  Of course you have to show a little skin, so I do my workouts outdoors around noontime, wearing shorts and shirts without sleeves (except when it’s cold).  When no one’s around I take off my shirt, but I try to avoid the “pinkness” that’s the first stage of a sunburn. 

About six months ago I had my vitamin D level tested and the level was 43 ng/mL.  Any value over 30 is considered healthy so I was happy with my method.  The beautiful wife walks in the morning with her talking friends so gets less vitamin D.  So she started laying out for a few minutes midday.  We’ve been taught for so long that the sunshine is bad that it was hard for her but she was recently tested for vitamin D and got a good number also.

Depending on where you live, you need to develop a strategy for maintaining adequate vitamin D.  It’s a bigger challenge for those in the northern latitudes so you need to consult your doctor.  And you can always visit Laguna for Spring break.

 


Please note the term "a little" sunshine, sun that burns or turns the skin pink may be harmful and should be avoided.  (If you live in the northern latitudes, don’t tolerate the sun, or are concerned about your vitamin D, consult your doctor.)

Please comment:  Want to share your experience with vitamin D, or how you tested?  Do you live in the northern latitudes?  If so, what do you do in winter to maintain vitamin D.

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