Have a GMO-Free Halloween!

I can handle ghosts, witches, and even bloody axes. But as a mom, the scariest moment on Halloween is when I see heaps of chemical-laden candy dumped from my little monsters’ bags onto the living room floor. After an evening filled with anticipation, laughter, and glee, what do I do now? Do I let them eat as much as they want? Do I allow them one consolation piece and scoop the rest into the garbage? How can I have peace of mind without utterly destroying this moment and this holiday for my sweet goblins?

What scares me the most about this pile of candy is not the sugar. In fact, I would rather see my kids eat cane sugar straight from the bowl than any of these brightly colored nuggets from shiny packages. The problem with Halloween candy is that it is the end result of our damaged food supply. The ingredient list for any given piece of candy may include high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors or flavors, preservatives, and inevitably genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Of course it won’t say GMO on the ingredient list. That is for you to figure out. If you wonder why you should care about GMOs, read Dirtier than the Dirty Dozen. Here are the ingredients for M&M’s® with the items likely to be genetically modified in bold:

MILK CHOCOLATE (SUGAR, CHOCOLATE, SKIM MILK, COCOA BUTTER, LACTOSE, MILKFAT, SOY LECITHIN, SALT, ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR), SUGAR, CORNSTARCH, LESS THAN 1% – CORN SYRUP, DEXTRIN, COLORING (INCLUDES BLUE 1 LAKE, YELLOW 6, RED 40, YELLOW 5, BLUE 1, RED 40 LAKE, BLUE 2 LAKE, YELLOW 6 LAKE, BLUE 2), GUM ACACIA. CONTAINS MILK AND SOY. MAY CONTAIN PEANUTS.

Not only do these little candies contain 10 potentially GMO ingredients, but they also contain nine artificial food dyes. Food dyes are made from petroleum and may cause hyperactivity, allergic reactions, or even cancer. The British government and the European Union have taken action to virtually end the use of food dyes in Europe but they are still used freely in the United States. I do not mean to pick on M&M’s®. I could have chosen any candy from the bag and the outlook would not be any better. I have often considered Reese’s® peanut butter cups to be one of the least toxic Halloween candies. But even these contain five potentially GMO ingredients and a preservative that increases tumors in rats and is listed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest as an additive to avoid.

SAM_3231There are actually better options available: treats we can give our little ones that contain all natural and GMO-free ingredients. You will not find these in any major grocery store, but you can order them online. I recommend visiting the Natural Candy Store.  You can get non-GMO Project Verified miniature chocolates, snack size jelly beans, and organic candy mixes. You can even get super-fruit chews made with brown rice syrup and freeze-dried berries that taste just like Starbursts®. If you really hate to see those M&M’s® go, order a case of Sun Drops®.

Other options for Halloween treats include raisins, organic fruit leathers, pretzels, or toys. Whatever your approach, be sure to secure a stash of natural treats before Halloween arrives. Offer your kids a trade. Let them choose a number of treats from your bag and find a way to dispose of the chemical ones.

Luckily there are infinite ways you can get rid of that unwanted loot. The Halloween candy buyback program has become very popular. This is a way that your kids can get cash for candy (one dollar per pound) and the candy is donated to the troops. If you cannot find a participating location near you, create your own buyback program. Establish a rate (maybe a nickel a piece) with your child before Halloween night. I have some friends who have a “Halloween witch” visit in the night to trade out the candy for a toy. Others have their kids open all the candy into a pot of water and make a pretend “soup.” The possibilities of what to do are virtually endless. The key to success, I believe, is having a plan that everybody agrees upon in advance.

So make a Halloween plan. Get whatever you need in advance (natural candies, toys, money, or just an address for buyback the next day). Make sure that your little ghosts are aware of the plan and in full agreement. Use this as an opportunity to teach your kids something about our messed up food supply. And when that chemical-laden candy gets dumped, IT will have something to fear.

Join me in making this a GMO-Free Halloween!

Get Flu-Smart!

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image23044813With winter rapidly approaching, I decided to take on the all-important topic of the flu. The following three articles will help you really understand the flu shot, learn additional ways to protect yourself from getting sick, and make a plan for what to do if you get the flu. Click over to the Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine’s website to view my articles there:

Flu Shot of Not

Natural Flu Prevention

What to Do When You Get the Flu

*And since the original posting of these articles, there has been information released about the risks of the high-dose flu vaccine marketed for the first time this year to seniors. 23 seniors died after the shot in drug trials.

Wet Sock Therapy

This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to prevent, diagnose, or treat any disease. If you have any concern about the severity of your condition, it is important that you consult a doctor. If you are on medications or being treated for any chronic disease, you should always consult a doctor before trying any new therapies in order to monitor for interactions. That being said, let’s learn about wet socks!

Wet sock therapy is a natural therapy that has been used for centuries. It is designed to increase circulation, improve immune function, and decrease head congestion. It is especially helpful to use for headaches, upper respiratory infections, or the flu.

While it may seem strange to wear wet socks to bed, I encourage you to give it a try and see how it makes you feel. I always feel better after wet sock therapy. For the most benefit, do this therapy for three consecutive nights. It is important to follow the instructions precisely.

You will need:

  • A tub or other source of warm water
  • A towel
  • Cotton socks
  • Wool socks
  • A bed or cozy place to sleep with a blanket

What to do:

  • Fill a tub or basin with very warm water. The water should be as hot as you can handle without burning your feet.
  • Soak only the foot-part of the cotton sock in cold water from the sink. If you are using very low-cut ankle socks, you can soak the entire sock. Wring all the excess water out of the sock. This is a very important step! If the sock is too soaking wet, it will not dry properly.
  • Set aside the wet cotton socks with the dry wool socks.
  • Soak your feet for about 5 minutes until they feel warmed through.
  • Dry your feet with a towel.
  • Apply wet cotton socks.
  • Apply dry wool socks on top of the cotton socks.
  • Go to bed.

When you wake in the morning (or even in the middle of the night), your feet and socks will be dry. If you were congested, feverish, or achy when going to bed, you may feel some relief. Your feet will probably feel tingly and great!

Trends of the American Diet: For Better or Worse?

Source Article: The Changing American Diet

Since 1970, the USDA has been monitoring dietary trends of Americans. They have the data complete with graphs to show the changing trends. A great summary of this data was published in the Nutrition Action Healthletter in September 2013.

With increasing rates of chronic disease such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer, it is reasonable to conclude that the changing trends of the American diet are not good ones. While we could argue whether any given trend is for better or worse, I would suggest that most are for the worst. Here are some highlights:

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image25364089Total caloric intake per day is 450 calories greater than it was in 1970 (2,535 vs. 2,075). The majority of these calories are coming from flour, cheese, oils, and sugar.

White and wheat flour outpace all other grains for current consumption. In fact the average American eats 109 pounds of flour per year, primarily from wheat. In 1970, this number was less than 80. Sugar consumption also remains high, at 78 pounds per person per year. As beef consumption has dropped, chicken consumption has climbed. Although we started eating more vegetables in 1980, that came to a rapid plateau. Both fruit and vegetable trends are virtually a flat line.

Dairy trends are curious. While whole milk consumption has dropped from 18 gallons per person in 1970 down to 4 gallons per person today, cheese consumption has filled that gap and then some. Cheese intake, in fact, is on an upward trajectory that does not appear to be leveling out. Yogurt consumption is also on a rapid rise. While yogurt is generally considered a healthy food, this is likely another source of added sugars in the American diet.

The trend that stands out as the most dismal is the category of fats. Total fat intake has climbed steadily since 1970. Over the last 10 years, the increase in fats has come entirely from “salad and cooking oils” while butter consumption has dropped. Salad and cooking oils are typically vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, canola, and cottonseed oils that have been chemically extracted, bleached, and deodorized. They provide too many omega-6 fatty acids and are sourced from GMO seeds.

Where have these trends landed us? Nearly 75% of adult Americans in 2010 were overweight or obese compared to less than 50% in 1970. Diabetes now affects nearly 7% of our population compared to less than 1% in 1958. The two leading causes of death in our country are cardiovascular disease and cancer.

We may all be better off if we returned to dietary trends that more closely resembled those of 1970 or before.

 

Kale is for Kids!

SAM_2845I have kids. I know that they do not always eat exactly what I want them to eat. In fact, they rarely eat exactly what I want them to eat.

But I also know that the food that they eat matters. And some foods matter more than others. Green leafy vegetables fall into that category. A little bit of kale (or chard, collards, or spinach) packs an intense nutrition punch. It is worth a bit of persistence and creativity to turn these into foods that our kids will eat.

Before I get into the ways we can present kale to our kids, let’s take a quick look at what amazing nutrition just 1 cup of raw kale provides.

According to NutritionData.com, 1 cup of chopped raw kale provides more than 100% of our daily value of vitamin C, more than 200% of our daily value of vitamin A, and more than 600% of our daily value of vitamin K. It also provides at least 10 different minerals and all of the B vitamins. Kale provides all of these things in a mere 33 calories.

So how do we get our kids to eat kale? I know that every child is different. Some will eat sautéed kale with nothing more than a sprinkle of salt. Others will reject a meatball if they identify even a speck of green in it. Try what you think might work for your kids. And if it doesn’t work at first, try and try again. It will be worth the effort.

Let’s start with the smoothie. If your child will accept a green smoothie, just throw some kale into the blender with plain yogurt, ground flax seeds, a banana and some orange juice. This is sweet and yummy! If your child refuses a green drink, add enough cherries or mixed berries to turn the same drink pink. Smoothies are not only for breakfast, but also for a great afternoon snack.

Another popular snack is kale chips. While my son loves the ones that are deep-fried in peanut oil (served at The Kitchen Next Door in Boulder, CO), I prefer to dehydrate or bake them. Wash and chop the kale, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake at 325° for 15-20 minutes.

The frittata is another great presentation for kale. Finely chop the kale, sauté it with some onions and garlic, add some beaten eggs and cheese, and bake in an oven-safe pan. The frittata can be a great way to serve any number of vegetables, but spinach and kale are favorites in our family.

If you are looking to hide the kale, try adding a quarter cup of pureed kale to your favorite meatball or meatloaf recipe. Pureed greens can also be mixed into your favorite spaghetti sauce.

SAM_3012If all else fails, make cake! I have to give credit to Weelicious for this idea. The Lunches cookbook has a recipe for “spinach cake muffins.” I substitute kale for spinach and adjust the recipe to make it gluten-free. For my version of kale muffins, I blend (in a blender) 1 cup packed kale, ½ cup applesauce, 1 egg, 2 Tbsp grapeseed oil, 1/3 cup cane sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, and ½ tsp salt, and then mixed that with 1.5 cups of Pamela’s Pancake and Baking Mix. I bake in mini muffin tins at 350° for 12 minutes. The color is vibrant and the taste is great!

Once our kids are used to eating green, we can finely chop fresh kale and add it to salads, sandwiches, and soups. Ideally I want my kids to enjoy their greens the way I do: sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and salt. I continue to present this and some days they eat it. But until they will eat it every day, I will persevere in the creative presentation of one of the most nutritionally dense foods on our planet.

I hope that you will too!

Abundant Health in a Toxic World

I have recently written about food additives, genetically modified foods, and arsenic in rice. We live in a world where our oceans are contaminated with mercury and our fields are devoid of nutrients. It may seem that our future, and especially the future of our children, is bleak. I am here to tell you otherwise.

The first thing to recognize is that the human body is a miraculous organism. We are designed to survive and we are designed to thrive. Every second of every day, our cells are working to neutralize, transform, and eliminate toxicity. We have an army of enzymes distributed throughout the body, but concentrated in the liver, that recognizes and disposes of toxic compounds.

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image10990420When we eat residues of pesticide on an apple, for example, enzymes rapidly convert the chemical into a form that our bodies can excrete (1). The water in that apple supports elimination through the urine, and the fiber in that apple carries away toxins in the stool. Either way, those pesticides end up being flushed.

To assure you of the speed at which our bodies can detoxify, let me give you an example. A 2006 study of 23 elementary school children substituted most conventional foods with organic foods for 5 consecutive days. Pesticide metabolites in their urine decreased to undetectable levels immediately and remained that way until conventional diets were reintroduced (2).

The second thing to understand is that the foods we eat can help our body’s innate wisdom to combat toxic exposure from the environment.

Imagine a scale with toxic foods or chemicals on one side and purifying foods or chemicals on the other. The secret to health is in weighing that scale more heavily on the purifying side. Foods that will tip the scale in our favor are those with the highest amount of antioxidants and other nutrients. Let me give you some examples:

  • Red grapes and blueberries contain compounds that support immune function (3).
  • Cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, contain compounds that promote detoxification and block cancer (4).
  • Pistachios increase antioxidant levels in our blood (5) and walnuts have anti-inflammatory effects (6).
  • Eggs from hens raised on pasture contain significant levels of vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, which are all poweful antioxidants (7).
  • Grass-fed beef is a rich source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which may be one of our most potent cancer fighters (8).
  • Garlic contains organosulfur compounds, phenols, and selenium. All of these have anti-cancer effects (9).
  • Turmeric (a spice used in curry) contains high amounts of curcumin, which has been shown to block inflammation and cancer (9).

In addition to the above list of foods, most plant foods contain beneficial compounds called flavanoids. Flavanoids are the most abundant form of antioxidants in the diet. They come in many shapes, sizes, and complicated names. But as a group, they help the body to ward off cancer, heart disease, inflammation, and toxicity (10). Foods rich in flavanoids include (but are not limited to):

  • http://www.dreamstime.com/-image10452839Apples
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Strawberries
  • Raspberries
  • Blueberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Onions
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • Wine


And lastly, we cannot overlook the importance of green leafy vegetables. Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a family physician and nutrition expert, has developed a rating scale for foods. He calls it the ANDI scale, which stands for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index. It ranks foods according to nutrients per calorie, including vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (health-promoting compounds that are present in plant foods). The scale goes from 0-1,000, with 1,000 being the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. As you can see, the foods highest on the scale are all green leafy vegetables:

Food

ANDI Score

Kale

1000

Collard Greens

1000

Mustard Greens

1000

Watercress

1000

Swiss Chard

895

Bok Choy

865

Spinach

707

Arugula

604

Romaine

510

 

Foods that I have listed in this article can be included every day for you and your family. It takes some creativity, some planning, and some willingness to try new things. I will most certainly make this the subject of future articles. But resources already abound to help you. Whole Foods Market, for example, has a wealth of nutrient-dense recipes online. If you have kids, http://www.dreamstime.com/-image18872051you can check out Weelicious.

I hope that you will take a moment to allow yourself to see the bounty of healing foods that nature has given to us. I also hope that you will consider the extraordinary ways in which our body knows how to use these foods to keep us well. When you understand this, the toxicity of our world becomes less daunting. We may live in a contaminated world with a contaminated food supply. But we have a choice. We are not doomed to have contaminated bodies. Weigh the scales in your favor and you will have a long abundant life.

 

References

1.      Committee on the Use of Third Party Toxicity Research with Human Research Participants Science, T., and Law Program, National Research Council. Intentional Human Dosing Studies for EPA Regulatory Purposes: Scientific and Ethical Issues (2004). In ed. The National Academies Press, p. 168-172.

2.      Lu, C., K. Toepel, R. Irish, R. A. Fenske, D. B. Barr, and R. Bravo. 2006. Organic diets significantly lower children’s dietary exposure to organophosphorus pesticides. Environ Health Perspect 114: 260-263.

3.      University, O. S. 2013. Red grapes, blueberries may enhance immune function.

4.      de Figueiredo, S. M., S. A. Filho, J. A. Nogueira-Machado, and R. B. Caligiorne. 2013. The anti-oxidant properties of isothiocyanates: a review. Recent Pat Endocr Metab Immune Drug Discov 7: 213-225.

5.      Kay, C. D., S. K. Gebauer, S. G. West, and P. M. Kris-Etherton. 2010. Pistachios increase serum antioxidants and lower serum oxidized-LDL in hypercholesterolemic adults. J Nutr 140: 1093-1098.

6.      Chiang, Y. L., E. Haddad, S. Rajaram, D. Shavlik, and J. Sabate. 2012. The effect of dietary walnuts compared to fatty fish on eicosanoids, cytokines, soluble endothelial adhesion molecules and lymphocyte subsets: a randomized, controlled crossover trial. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 87: 111-117.

7.      Long, C., and T. Alterman. 2007. Meet real free-range eggs. Mother Earth News 4:

8.      Robinson, J. 2002. Pasture Perfect. Mother Earth News

9.      Cretu, E., A. Trifan, A. Vasincu, and A. Miron. 2012. Plant-derived anticancer agents – curcumin in cancer prevention and treatment. Rev Med Chir Soc Med Nat Iasi 116: 1223-1229.

10.    Scalbert, A., and G. Williamson. 2000. Dietary intake and bioavailability of polyphenols. J Nutr 130: 2073S-2085S.

FDA Update: Arsenic in Rice


SAM_2853The News

On Friday, September 6, 2013, the FDA released results of arsenic contamination levels of rice and rice products from retail stores across the United States.

Combined with data collected in September 2012, this brings the total number of rice products tested by the FDA to 1300. Their results are comparable to those found by a Consumer’s Report investigation  in 2012.

Background

Before I share any numbers with you, let me give you a frame of reference. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has stated that there is no safe level of inorganic arsenic in our food and they have never established a permissible level. The EPA does, however, limit arsenic in drinking water to 10 parts per million. At that level, drinking one liter of water per day would expose a person to 10 mcg of inorganic arsenic. Let’s therefore assume that the federal government has established that it is safe to consume no more than 10 mcg of inorganic arsenic per day.


The Results

Every rice product tested contained some level of detectable arsenic.

The most recent update from the FDA reports that average levels of inorganic arsenic ranged from 2.6 to 7.2 mcg per serving in rice itself and 0.1 to 6.6 mcg per serving in rice products.  Brown rice and rice pasta were at the high end of the spectrum for each of these categories.

The Consumer’s Report data from 2012 showed that one serving of long grain brown rice from Whole Foods packed a whopping 7.4 to 8.4 mcg of arsenic. Barbara’s Organic Brown Rice Crisps had 5.9 to 6.7 mcg per serving. Trader Joe’s Organic Brown Rice Pasta had 5.9 to 6.9 mcg.

The Source of Arsenic

Arsenic is a naturally occurring metal in the earth’s crust. But human activities such as burning fuel, mining, and agricultural practices have increased arsenic levels in the environment.

The United States is the world’s leading user of arsenic. Residues from decades of use of lead-arsenate pesticides linger in our soil today. One arsenical pesticide continues to be used on golf courses and roadsides. Arsenical drugs are fed to chickens to improve their pigmentation and their growth. Arsenic-laced poultry waste is then used to make fertilizer, which directly contaminates our crops.

Arsenic is a pollutant of our soil and water. Because rice is grown in water, it takes up more of this toxin than other grains or foods. The arsenic concentrates in the outer layer of the grain, which is why we see higher levels in brown than white rice.

Arsenic Toxicity

Inorganic arsenic is a carcinogen. It is known to cause bladder, lung, and skin cancer in humans, with the liver, kidney, and prostate now considered potential targets of arsenic-induced cancers. For those of you who want the details, see this article on chronic arsenic toxicity.

What to Do

Based on these results, Consumer Reports has issued recommendations to limit arsenic exposure. For adults they recommend consuming no more than either 2 servings of rice per week or 3 servings of rice pasta per week or one serving of rice crackers per day. Please follow this link to see a chart of their recommendations.

For ethnic groups whose traditional diets rely predominantly on rice, these recommendations can be extremely restrictive. For those of us who eat a gluten-free diet, they can be equally challenging.

Consumer Reports makes a few other recommendations for reducing arsenic exposure:

  • Check your water. If you have a municipal water supply, reports should be available annually.
  • Change the way you cook rice. Rinse rice thoroughly before cooking. Cook with a ratio of 6 cups of water to 1 cup of rice and drain when it is finished. Research shows that this removes about 30% of the rice’s inorganic arsenic. But other nutrients will also be sacrificed to the cooking water and it is not known which variable has a more profound health impact over time.
  • Vary your diet. Wheat and oats have lower arsenic levels than rice. Quinoa, millet and amaranth have not been studied as much.

The Bigger Picture

Rice is not the only food that is contaminated by arsenic. A 2009-2010 study by the EPA estimated that rice contributes 17% of dietary inorganic arsenic with fruits and fruit juices providing 18% and vegetables at 24%.

This is not a “rice” issue. This is a “planet” issue. If we continue to pollute our earth with unnecessary chemicals such as arsenical pesticides and drugs for chickens, we will never again have a safe food supply.

In fact even organic farming practices cannot prevent arsenic from being soaked up by the plants. The arsenic is present in our environment so it is present in our foods and it is present in our bodies.

We could rapidly make ourselves sick with worry over these issues. Or we could accept the reality that our food supply is impure and do everything in our power to support our body’s resilience to thrive.

I prefer the second option. Load up on your fruits and veggies every day, choose the cleanest foods you can afford, and eat a wide variety of foods in moderation. This has always been and will always be the best that we can do.