Tag Archives: health

Why the food-health connection is so personal for me

my family - why food + health is personal to me

The connection between real food and health is a very personal topic for me.

It began when I was 15, sitting in a pastor’s office with my parents. (I was about that age in the photo above. I’m on the left.) My poor mom and dad were at their wits’ end: they couldn’t figure out why their daughter had turned into Dr. Jekyll and Miss Hyde. I was prone to such angry, violent outbursts that I sometimes frightened my own mom and dad. I could see it in their eyes.

After listening to our story for a bit, the pastor asked my parents a surprising, pivotal question: “Have you had her tested for hypoglycemia?” (low blood sugar).

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How to fail at morning devotions and midnight munchies

Early in the morning; tea and journal

A line from an old hymn came to me this morning as I was taking this photo: “Early in the morning, my song shall rise to Thee.”

But I can’t sing that honestly. Because early in the morning, I struggle to discipline myself enough to sit down and journal, or pray, or meditate — let alone sing (trying to focus on the words and not be distracted by my own warbly voice). Early in the morning, I tend to get distracted by the tasks for the day, or the fun easy thing I’d rather do. Early in the morning, I want to go my own way.

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20-day diet prep plan: Day 14 – Choose your poison

We are eating food-like products.

“Choose your poison? Wait, what? I thought we were picking a diet?”

Yeah, here’s the thing: Some foods are kinda like poison.

In some instances, there are the food problems that vary from person to person: allergies, intolerances, and sensitivities.

But there are also some foods that are just plain bad for everyone, and others that look like they may be problematic for most people, but the scientific jury is still out.

There are two food items that pretty much every diet agree on as bad: refined sugar, and trans fat.

I’ve already discussed how getting rid of sugar should be your first step, so let’s talk about trans fats. The Harvard Medical School has stated that “for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%…. there is no safe level of consumption.1

The easiest way to avoid trans fat is to avoid factory-made food. This doesn’t just mean junk food like chips and fries, but also includes bakery goods like bread and muffins. Also, check labels for the words “shortening,” “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil;” these mean trans fat. (Note: Seeing “0 grams trans fat” on the label is no assurance that it is really trans fat free. If a “single serving” — which is often smaller than what you will actually eat — has 0.49 grams or less of trans fat, they can legally say that it’s has no trans fats. But remember: Harvard says there is no safe level of consumption.) Think that granola bar is healthy? Check the label.

What other foods might be wise to try eliminating from your diet? And how do you know?

I’ve lost faith, by and large, in medical studies. Too many of them are on too small a population, for too short a time, and/or underwritten by someone with a vested interest in the outcome. (Prime example: This “study” done at UCLA, which suggests that eating probiotic yogurt “may” [and I quote] change the way our brain reacts. Surprise, surprise: the study was funded by Danone/Dannon yogurt. My first clue was that there were no cautions regarding the sugar content in flavored yogurts.)

I do think there’s validity in looking at historic population trends for clues as to where we went wrong. I find this chart particularly interesting, showing the rapid increase in autoimmune diseases since 1950.

chart; rise in autoimmune diseases since 1950I haven’t found a chart on it, but just among my own acquaintances, I’ve noticed an increase in new diseases that no one has ever hear of before. Idiopathic angio edema for one; pain amplification syndrome for another.

What’s causing all this? I readily admit that the answer is complex, involving a combination of factors, but the purpose of this post is to focus on what you can do, starting today, in your own life. And changing your food changes what you’re made of, so it makes sense to start there.

There are a number of things that shifted in the American food supply in the last part of the 20th century, but probably the single biggest change is this: We’re eating more factory-made food, and less homemade food. Main dishes, soups, breakfast, and baked goods (except for bread) used to made almost exclusively at home. Now we get most of those from the freezer, a can, a restaurant, or other convenient, ready-made, factory-made source. It’s easy for ingredients to sneak in without our knowing it.

We are eating food-like products.

The currently-hot Paleo diet is based on the presupposition that our Paleo-era ancestors were healthier than we are because they hadn’t started eating grains, beans, or dairy. I disagree with the assumptions and the conclusion, but I’ve heard enough stories of people who had radically improved health on the Paleo diet — especially with autoimmune conditions — that I think there’s something to it. We may not fully understand the mechanism yet, but the results suggest there’s something valid to at least part of the Paleo prescription.

However, I think that going from no diet to a strict Paleo diet is a recipe for failure for most people. It’s too much change at one time to allow you to adapt your habits and your tastes in a sustainable way. (And the Whole30 is just 30 days of super-strict, no-cheats-allowed Paleo.) That’s why I recommend that you wean yourself off of sugar and refined carbs first. Once you’ve done that, what might you try next?

From there, I would recommend greatly reducing all of the wheat, corn, and soy in your diet. Why? Because:

  • They make up a disproportionate amount of the standard American diet. Corn, in particular, finds its way into a disturbing percentage of our everyday foods. Read more about how corn sneaks into our meat and soft drinks here.
  • A lot of people are reporting noticeable improvement when eliminating or restricting these items. Myself included. When I did Whole30 (after already being sugar-free for several months), my brain fog and heart palpitations went away.
  • You’re going to be replacing all that bread and pasta with vegetables, which are almost always lower in calories and higher in nutrients than grains. Plus, less likely to kick off cravings.
  • Both corn and soy have been bred to be resistant to RoundUp — ya know, that weed killer that kills anything it touches? — so that these crops can be sprayed with RoundUp without killing them! (Sugar cane and sugar beets have, too.) Supposedly, none of that makes it into our food. I’m not so sure I’m willing to take the risk, though.
  • These foods have been rebred and/or genetically modified so much in the last several decades that they are significantly different than they were several decades ago. (“Theoretically [GMOs are] just the next level of agricultural advancement. What’s different is a new gene is being inserted into a crop which otherwise wouldn’t be there.”2) Between 1996 and 2013, the total surface area of land cultivated with GM crops increased by a factor of 100.3 Does this mean that these changes are definitely bad for us? No, but I’d rather not be a lab rat until we find out.

At first, the thought of giving up your bread, bagels, muffins, chips, crackers, and pasta (PASTA?!) sounds like a death sentence! And it’s a challenge, to be sure. But once you adjust to this new way of eating and cooking, it really becomes easy.

And in the next three days’ posts, I’m going to show you just how easy.

Later today, I’ll post a grocery list, then Saturday you’ll go shopping, and Saturday and Sunday you’ll do some easy-peasy cooking! I’ll introduce you to a couple simple, versatile meal templates.

The hash method:

breakfast on vacation - eggs + hash

And the soup method:

easy soup: sausage and veggies

You won’t believe how many possibilities these two techniques will open up for you, OR how quick and simple they are!



1 http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good

2 http://www.medicaldaily.com/brief-history-genetically-modified-organisms-prehistoric-breeding-modern-344076

3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetically_modified_crops


I’m not a doctor, nutritionist, or any other health professional. You should always check stuff out for yourself!

The miraculous factory: You

As a hobby, Eric Holubow seeks out abandoned architectural spaces — like old factories, churches, theatres, and prisons. The spaces are usually in some state of decay, and Eric photographs them as an art project, but with a journalistic feel.

Here is one example, from the original article:

Designed in an inspiring Neo-classical style… the massive Richmond Power Station in northeastern Philadelphia was built in 1925…. The plant’s Turbine Hall, one of the biggest open rooms ever designed, once housed the world’s largest Westinghouse turbo-generators, which provided power to the city’s bustling industrial and residential sectors. Closed since 1985, the plant has been used as a set in a number of Hollywood feature films. Ironically, crews that use the structure have to provide their own power generators, as the dormant plant is… no longer connected to the region’s electrical grid.

factory/power plant - photo by eric holubow

I share his fascination for things crumbling, rusty, and history-laden — but that’s not what this post is about.

It’s about you.

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Is fat healthy? Experts now saying fat as evil “has no basis in science.”

fat is healthy again - enjoy that bacon!

Until recently, asking “Is fat healthy?” would get you a look of disbelief from most people.

But the tide is turning.

Consider these excerpts from a June 24, 2015 article on Forbes.com:

The latest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans – the government-sanctioned recommendations about what we should and shouldn’t eat – will include a game-changing edit: There’s no longer going to be a recommended upper limit on total fat intake.

Here’s why fats are coming back into style. The fats restriction largely stemmed from the fact that saturated fat was once thought to be a major culprit in heart disease – and this somehow extended to all fats. But in recent years, it seems that saturated fat may not be so bad, and may even be good in some ways (as in its effects on HDL or “good” cholesterol)…. This is especially true when compared to a diet high in refined carbs…. In fact, refined carbs and added sugars, which have typically been the alternative to fats, are linked to a laundry list of health ailments.

Placing limits on total fat intake has no basis in science and leads to all sorts of wrong industry and consumer decisions,” said Dariush Mozaffarian, one of the authors of the new paper. “Modern evidence clearly shows that eating more foods rich in healthful fats like nuts, vegetable oils, and fish have protective effects, particularly for cardiovascular disease. Other fat-rich foods, like whole milk and cheese, appear pretty neutral; while many low-fat foods, like low-fat deli meats, fat-free salad dressing, and baked potato chips, are no better and often even worse than full-fat alternatives….”

Research has shown that high-carb diets, which have typically been the fallout of the low-fat movement, increase the risk of metabolic dysfunction, obesity, and even heart disease….

This echoes what the Harvard School of Public Health has been saying for some time:

Findings from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study show no link between the overall percentage of calories from fat and any important health outcome, including cancer, heart disease, and weight gain. (source)

Need another big name to convince you? I just ran across a stunning article from the Wall Street Journal. It’s kind of a long read, but if you want to learn how we got off on such a wrong track for so long, what role Big Food had in the early success of the American Heart Association, and why high total cholesterol may actually be good for women over 50 — yeah, you read that right…

If anything, high total cholesterol levels in women over 50 were found early on to be associated with longer life.

— then this read is well worth your time: The Questionable Link Between Saturated Fat and Heart Disease

Now, go enjoy some real food!


Is fat healthy? Yes -- filet for dinner!
I believe the science: had filet for dinner!

Fighting fake hunger pangs — and 7 other reasons to drink more water

image by susan burdick

Roughly 60 percent of your body is made of water. Drinking plenty vs not enough water affects how your body sends signals, regulates temperature, digests food (affecting nutrition), and more. Here are eight reasons to drink more water…

  • Being dehydrated creates fake hunger pangs that are really your body’s cry for water, not food. Next time you want a snack, try having a glass of ice water (or other unsweetened drink), and find something interesting to do for 10 minutes. This may make your hunger pangs go away.
  • Did you know that skin is the largest organ in your body? Some toxins in the body can cause the skin to inflame, resulting in clogged pores and acne. Plus, any inflammation in the body is an additional drain to your immune system.
  • Your stomach and colon need water to help them break down food, absorb nutrients, and flush out waste. If you don’t drink enough water, waste will collect in your body, causing a myriad of problems.
  • Also, the less hydrated you are, the harder it is to poo.
  • Your kidneys are also essential for waste removal, processing up to 200 quarts of blood daily, sifting out waste and transporting urine to the bladder. Not surprisingly, they also require fluids to work properly.
  • Because dehydration affects the viscosity of the blood (makes it thicker), it forces your heart to work harder to pump blood through your body.
  • Could drinking more water prevent cancer? Some research says staying hydrated can reduce risk of colon cancer by 45% and bladder cancer by 50% for men. (Women showed no statistical difference for colon cancer, and were not included in the bladder cancer study.) (Sources: colon cancer-  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10404059;  bladder cancer – http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/331514.stm)
  • My favorite? Drinking more water may improve your mental sharpness! Research looking at dehydration in atheletes “was associated with negative mood, including fatigue and confusion.” (Source: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/pr/2009/091123.htm)


Are you hooked on pop? Here’s a “baby steps” approach to weaning yourself off the sweet stuff.

Fact sources: