Cristi DeMarco’s Wellness Weblog

Health Info You Should Know.

Joint Pain on the Brain

Joint pain and inflammation have been the talk of the town in my world lately so I thought I would share some info on dietary changes for inflammation.  Inflammation does lead to pain but may also be responsible for other conditions such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and autoimmune diseases.  Acupuncture works amazingly well for joint pain but diet also plays a big part.  Check out this handy and printable anti-inflammation food guide pyramid from Dr. Andrew Weil.

https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/anti-inflammatory-diet-pyramid/dr-weils-anti-inflammatory-food-pyramid/

For those of you who like summaries, some highlights and lowlights include:

1.  No mention of coffee on the food pyramid – oh no!

As we have gone over before, coffee is acidic and acidity is no good for inflammation.  It is also a diuretic.  Our joints want to be lubricated and smooth, not dry and creaky.  Coffee breaks down to uric acid in the body which can result in pain.  The painful arthritic condition gout which many have heard of but few understand, is a chronic or severe build-up of uric acid.  There has also been research to show that coffee may lower uric acid levels so the debate over coffee goes on.  The best thing to do with anything that you think might be causing a symptom is to cut it out for 2 weeks and see how you feel!

2.  Wine and chocolate are on there – yippee!

Specifically dark chocolate 70% pure and specifically organic red wine.  Grapes are loaded with anti-oxidants though conventional ones are also loaded with pesticides so when it comes to grapes – go organic!  Also, organic red wine contains sulfites in much lower amounts.  Sulfites can cause pain and inflammation-think migraines and possibly our nasty little foe uric acid.  Other alcohols will also raise uric acid levels and are dehydrating.

3.  Asian mushrooms only, no button or portobello – boooooo!

I love me some portobello’s baked with gorgonzola or in chicken marsala, but it’s less than monthly that I have them so I am going to keep enjoying but next time I go food shopping it’s shiitake or bust!

4.  Organic free-range grass-fed meat, dairy, eggs and Healthy Fats –  yessirree bob, I mean mr. weil!

Organic free-range grass-fed meat, dairy, eggs are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and have the proper ratio of omega-3’s to omega 6 fatty acids.  Common mass-produced corn-fed chicken, eggs, beef, and milk have more omega 6 fatty acids to omega 3’s and this is believed to be a factor in the inflammation leading to heart disease-artherosclerosis.  Non-animal sources of fats from nuts, seeds, and expeller-pressed oils are unsaturated so tend not to clog up the works and are essential to the health of the cells that make up our bodies.

5.  Fish and seafood-2-6 times a week, crike!

I’m not so keen on this one, does he have some magic non-polluted water he gets his fish from?  And who really eats herring, sardines, and black cod?  Pickiness on seafood aside, mercury toxicity is a legitimate concern so I’m more inclined to enjoy fish 1-2x/week and then supplement with fish oil.  I do try to get wild salmon as often as possible and find I do not get sick of it as there are a million-zillion ways to easily and deliciously prepare it.

6.  Whole and cracked grains, and even pasta – yes, he is with me, go grain!

“Whole grains digest slowly, reducing frequency of spikes in blood sugar that promote inflammation”  That’s all we have to say on that.  Well, that and cook your pasta al dente which is really the only way to eat it anyway.  See a former post “Go Grain” for  more info on this topic.

Final thoughts:

It can be overwhelming to try to incorporate all of these things into your diet at once so just try to change or incorporate one or two things at a time.   Even just starting by printing out the food guide and hanging it on your refrigerator for inspiration could be useful when it’s time to buy groceries or make a food choice.

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July 13, 2010 Posted by | acupuncture, health info you should know, nutrition, self-care | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Simple Spring Cleanse

Spring is going into summer, I promise it really is, and as allergies and other issues bloom along with the trees and flowers there is no better time than now to add and subtract some foods to detox and refresh the liver.  Many acupuncture patients ask me in an already over-whelmed and defeated way about cleanses and detoxification and while there are certainly time-consuming, costly, and involved programs I always prefer the easiest, least expensive with the least prep time and time running to the bathroom.  Going to the bathroom is good, having to run there urgently not so much.

Also, in the realm of moderation, a successful cleanse needs to be tailored to an individual’s lifestyle habits.  I have honestly never done what might be considered a “real” cleanse but I have back-up from some sources that what I do a few times a year is considered a cleanse.

Step 1: I cut out caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. This might actually be enough for some people to start.  You may want to check out an older post called “My Love/Hate Relationship With Coffee”.  When cutting the caffeine, if you drink more than 10-12oz per day (1-2 small cups of coffee), you may want to wean for a couple of days while drinking lots of water and substituting some green tea for your usual cups of coffee.  Again, slow and steady now, so cutting caffeine for two weeks or so may be enough of a cleanse for some people on a first try.

Cutting sugar and alcohol can also be difficult if you are a daily consumer/imbiber. If you are a daily chocolate, baked good, packaged food eater plan on substituting fruit and nut combos for snacks – carb and protein combos – to keep your sugar levels stable.  Plain yogurt with both fruit and nuts is a very satisfying breakfast or snack as well.  If you consume alcohol daily you may have withdrawals that are similar to sugar withdrawals so following the tips here may help.  If it’s worse than that, you’ll need to delve a little deeper and contact a healthcare provider for help.

Choose another sweetener to use in small amounts for herbal tea or on hot cereal such as agave, brown rice syrup or stevia.  You can be as addicted to sugar as anything else so it would be wise to clear your cabinets temporarily or permanently of anything that might be a temptation.  I do prefer a permanent “spring cleaning” of your cabinets.  We try to keep our cabinets clear all of the time but people visit and bring things, you buy stuff for a party or for being pre-menstrual or just because you want it, and the crap just accumulates.

Also, the purpose of doing things the moderate way is that it is not a quick, short-term thing where you ravage your body for a few days or weeks with some crazy cleanse and then go back to the usual habits.  Small steps are the simplest path to permanent change.   So, following the trail of moderation, you may wish to stop here while you try cutting caffeine, sugar, and alcohol, and if these steps are easy for you please go on.

Step 2:  I go for mostly organic fruits and vegetables, emphasis on the vegetables, little to no meat, little dairy, fill the rest in with beans and grains.  Green smoothies are a great and tasty way to help fill your belly.  The main source of dairy would be plain organic yogurt with all the wonderful digestion enhancing bacterium, try to cut out milk and cheese.  Black beans, kidney beans, lentils are easy to find and grains would be mainly my faves, brown rice, millet, quinoa.

Step 3:  Practice yoga and meditation for relaxation, and treat yourself to some systemic body work-massage, acupuncture, reflexology-to aid in the detox process.  A little TLC can do wonders for the motivation.

Whether you are sticking with Step 1 or also going for Step 2, you can use the recipes for green smoothies and basic cooking of grains can be found on this blog to assist your efforts.  The Simple Spring Cleanse  soup and lemon drink recipes are also great for cleaning out the liver, yummy, and easy to make.

Now for the final pep talk topic: Sticking with it for two weeks or more.  If your neighbor brings you some beautiful cupcakes made with love, eat ‘em!  Your grandmother’s lasagna at a family gathering is calling your name, answer the call.  If you fall off the wagon as they say, DO NOT let the dalliance be an excuse to give up.  This is the moderate way, not the easy way so be brave and hop back on.  You will have to make choices as to not completely unravel but there are no rules here.  You are just trying to be a little healthier while enjoying life so keep trying.  Making excuses  is the primary habit we ALL have to break when it comes to taking responsibility for our own health.

May 11, 2010 Posted by | acupuncture, health info you should know, nutrition, recipes, self-care | , , , | 1 Comment

Simple Spring Cleanse Recipes

Seaweed and Mushroom Soup

Seaweed is great for cleansing the blood, cleaning the water is their job in the ocean!  And mushrooms are also cleansing to the body in terms of excess mucus, fat and cholesterol.

2 large carrots

2 celery stalks

1 small onion

3 cloves garlic

2 pieces kombu seaweed.

2 cups sliced mushrooms, common button or shiitake

4-6 cups water

Sea salt

Black pepper

This one is mine and I cook mostly to taste so please bear with my directions. Chop up your veggies carrots, celery, onion, press or finely slice your garlic, slice mushrooms, use kitchen scissors to cut up your kombu into 1” pieces.  Put them into a large pot with a half cup of water and bring to a simmer on medium heat to make a stock.  Cook until the carrots are bright orange and veggies begin to soften.  Add 3 more cups of water, couple shakes of sea salt and black pepper and cook for about an hour.  At that point you can taste it, decide to add more water, and then salt and pepper to taste – easy on the salt!  Eat as is or add a left-over portion of your favorite grain.

Lemon Drink

This lemon drink is what is used in a well-known and commonly used cleanse where you abstain from food and drink only this concoction. For our purposes, you can have it warm or iced as a substitute for coffee, or in between meals to help satisfy your sweet tooth.

½ organic lemon

1 T grade B maple syrup or highest quality you can obtain

12 oz hot water

1-2 pinches cayenne pepper

Squeeze lemon juice into hot water, stir in maple syrup, and add cayenne pepper if you wish to taste.  Make it fresh and hot as needed or make a larger batch to enjoy iced.

May 11, 2010 Posted by | health info you should know, nutrition, recipes, self-care | , , | Leave a comment

Go Grain Recipes

Brown Rice

1 cup brown rice

2 cups water

Rinse the rice in a mesh strainer.  Put rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil for one minute.  Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for 45-60 minutes.  The cooking time and exact heat will vary with your pot, electric or gas stove, so if the water is cooking away before 45 minutes or if your rice is still crunchy after 45-60 minutes you need to cook it on a lower heat.  To save the current batch, just add small amounts of water and cook until it’s soft.  Once you figure it out, this is something you can start first with food prep and not worry about until everything else is done and you are ready to eat!

Quinoa

1 cup quinoa

2 cups water, vegetable or chicken stock for added flavor

Rinse the quinoa in a mesh strainer.  I am lazy with rinsing the brown rice at times but quinoa will have a more bitter taste if you skip this step.  Boil the liquid first and then add the quinoa, turn heat to low and simmer for about 15-20 minutes until the quinoa looks translucent.  You can dry roast it in skillet for a few minutes first to bring out a nutty flavor and again reduce bitterness.  Doing this with some onion, garlic, and herbs tastes great too.

Millet

1 cup millet

3 cups water or some mixture of water and veggie/chicken stock

Rinse millet in a mesh strainer.  Boil the liquid first and then add the millet, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed.  This is another one that you can dry roast in a skillet for a nutty flavor and get creative with seasoning.  Have fun experimenting!

May 11, 2010 Posted by | health info you should know, nutrition, recipes, self-care | , , | Leave a comment

Go Grain!

No white flour, no white sugar, avoid the “white death”!  I was told that by a practitioner several years ago and while I agree with the concept, I prefer to try to get my point across while sounding slightly less crazy.  First, let’s understand why we should toss the pasta and cookies, and then maybe we’ll be more motivated to actually do it.

The problem with consuming too much white flour and white sugar is the resulting spike in blood sugar and the body having to deal with that spike by signaling your pancreas to secrete insulin to regulate your blood sugar.  Hyperglycemia is too much sugar and not enough insulin.    Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar because of too much insulin.  Insulin resistance is basically a bad combination of these two states.  If you eat lots of white flour and sugar for your whole life there is always a lot of glucose floating around and your pancreas constantly needs to pump out a lot of insulin.  The worst case scenario is that eventually the pancreas just can’t keep up with insulin production and you have so much sugar in your blood that you are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  Type 2 diabetes is associated with circulation issues and heart disease.  None of these are good things so let’s get off that train right now.  Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes can be managed with diet but it is much easier to make changes in your diet and lifestyle before it gets to that point.

The most obvious sign of insulin resistance is extra weight around the middle that is very difficult to lose, even if you feel like you are watching what you eat and exercising some.    A particular group that is prone to insulin resistance and all the resulting health issues are women who are diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome.  Symptoms you might experience that are less clear are the transient symptoms of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.

Having too much sugar and too much insulin floating around is a combination of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia.  Big words aside, what we actually experience is very familiar to most people.  It’s getting suddenly very hungry, and irritable, shaky, needing food “right now!”, and a strong craving for sugar.  If you are really imbalanced you may feel fatigued and like you crave sugar all of the time.  So you grab the first thing you see, a donut, a cookie, or maybe you make what you think is a healthier choice.  A bowl of cereal, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread, a fat free yogurt, a cereal bar, and you feel much better…for about 1-2 hours and it starts again.

This is where whole grains come in, real complex carbohydrate whole grains.  Complex carbohydrates take longer to digest so they don’t spike your blood sugar, and they also tend to be fibrous so they help you on the other end by also cleaning out your intestines.  Good going in, good going out, Go Grain!

Now Go Grain is not the same as the whole grain marketing craze that seems to be occurring, reminiscent of the fat free mania of the 90’s.  And incidentally, what did we get from fat free mania?  That’s right, more products loaded with sugar.  Now regarding whole grain, lots of things say whole grain but what are we really getting from those products? Should we be eating more Fruit Loops because it says whole grain on the box?  Yeah, that’s it, definitely eat more of a high sugar cereal to regulate blood sugar.  Say that out loud and see if it makes sense.

Less obvious are the foods mentioned before.  Non-sugar cereals like Cheerios, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat bread, a fat free yogurt, “whole grain cereal bar”.  These are better choices than Fruit Loops, donuts, cookies, and straight up white bread but they don’t act all that differently in the body.   All of the above have a high content of simple carbohydrates.

OK, so what can we eat?  Changing your diet is hard.  You can’t just get a list of can’ts  and suddenly know what to do.   So what do I try to advise people when they come into my office with a sad face and a sigh of desperation about their can’ts.  I try to give them a list of things they can.   I usually start with encouraging them to start cooking 3 very versatile grains-brown rice, quinoa, and millet.

Brown rice cannot be instant, in it’s whole form, brown rice is nutritionally complete, full of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and even lipids, the building blocks for fats.  Quinoa technically isn’t even a grain so especially good to have if you suspect or know of a gluten allergy.  Millet cooks  up nice and soft and is great for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or sweetened up with agave and cinnamon for a healthier dessert.

If you focus on adding healthy things to your diet, rather than just taking things away, you tend to, over time, be more able to make healthy choices.   There is no room for Fruit Loops when you fill up on slowly digesting grains, and then you don’t need to make the tough decision between a donut and fat-free cheesecake flavored yogurt at 10a.  And if you are hungry at 10a, not having the low blood sugar crazies will help you make a good choice, like an apple, or how about a small portion of creamy full fat plain yogurt with fruit?  Full fat, sounds crazy huh?  Another discussion for another day.

October 13, 2009 Posted by | health info you should know, nutrition, self-care | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Love/Hate Relationship With Coffee

Mmmm, coffee.   The smell of it in the morning is comforting and welcoming and I have always loved the taste of a good cup of coffee.  When I was little and I stayed overnight with my grandparents, I would get up early with my grandfather before he went to work for toast and coffee.  They used a stovetop percolator pot and with pre-ground, sit on the shelf, store-bought stuff, Papa made the perfect cup of coffee.  I now have that old pot, along with a larger capacity Corningware ceramic percolator, an automatic drip and an espresso pot.  I would still like to aquire a French press.  I buy beans fresh from the coffee roaster in my town and grind them myself.  Yes, some would say that I love coffee.  But, there are two sides to every story, especially a love story. 

 Too much caffeine from coffee makes my heart race, my hands shake, and forget about sleeping if I drink it after 3p.  When I have patients come in who suffer from anxiety, sleeplessness, hot flashes, and skin irritations, one of the first things I ask is how much coffee they drink.  The standard answer is 2 cups a day.   After having asked many people this question, I am not surprised to learn that the meaning and size of 2 cups a day is widely variable and often translates into 24 oz or more per day. But they always seem surprised at my suggestion to cut back some.  The caffeine amount in coffee is measured in 5 ounce servings so 24 oz. is almost 5 servings per day of a very acidic beverage and quite a bit of caffeine.  And some people definitely drink even more that. 

 So while about 300mg of caffeine in 10 oz of coffee is well tolerated in an otherwise healthy adult, 750 mg might be pushing it as far as the body’s detoxification processes can handle, and just might have some effect on sleep and nervousness since caffeine is a stimulant.  Coffee as an herb is also warming and acts as a diuretic; hot flashes and urgent, frequent urination anyone?

For the love of coffee…Research of late is revealing the anti-oxidant power of coffee and subsequent risk reduction of liver, kidney, breast, and colorectal cancers.   Short-term negative effects of coffee are an increase in blood pressure and serum cholesterol but there may be some long-term cardioprotective benefits of drinking caffeine and coffee in moderate amounts and coffee seems to lower the incidence of type-2 diabetes possibly because certain compounds in coffee lower blood glucose levels.   

And for the haters…Those who believe in a link between acidic blood chemistry and disease are all for cutting back on the café.  The ph of coffee is 5 which is acidic.  When our blood is acidic, the alkalizing minerals calcium and magnesium are leached from the bones.  This activity is not good for bone health and deficiency of these minerals is related to sleep problems, headaches and muscle spasms.   In addition, a low pH disrupts normal cell division and abnormal or uncontrolled cell division can lead to cancer conditions.  Though if coffee has anti-oxidants then one could argure that it’s basically a wash. 

So is Mother nature just doing her thing by creating the perfect balance? Are coffee lovers just trying to support and rationalize their addiction?  Are coffee haters just depriving themselves of this tasty beverage as a rebellion to the coffee gluttony?  Is the current research sponsored by Starbuck’s? 

My answer to these questions is that yes, Mother nature has provided something to us that probably is a perfect balance and that we, per usual, ruin it through greed and gluttony.  If you are drinking so much coffee that you cannot function in the morning yet cannot sleep at night then it’s time to cut back.  If not drinking coffee causes severe headaches and constipation then it’s time to cut back.   If you drink more coffee than water, it’s time to cut back.  If you have anxiety, hot flashes, and irritable bladder, it may be time to cut back.  Some people feel better when they completely cut out coffee but I prefer to change my behavior and moderate versus abstain from something I enjoy.  As for the last question, I really would be curious to see who sponsor this type of research.

 Anyway, what can we moderate, wishy-washy, non-abstainers do to continue to enjoy Mother nature’s perfection, reap the benefits of our beloved coffee, and avoid the negatives? 

  1. There is the possibility of buying de-acidified coffee or doing it yourself:    Grind one pound of coffee beans and add it to 8 cups of water in a glass bowl or large pitcher, place the mixture in a cool dark corner and allow it to soak for approximately 16 hours.  Filter the liquid extract through a coffee or fabric filter into a glass jar.  Store the sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and to make your coffee, add 1-2 T to 8 oz of hot water. (from Healing With Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford).
  2. Try the coffee holiday.  Give your body a break and go one whole day without it, then if you are really feeling crazy try a couple of days or even a week.  Pick a weekend day or other more flexible day where you can not drink coffee and then when you feel the deep fatigue or withdrawal headache coming, you can take a nap.  Depending on the severity of your addiction, you could ease into it by replacing the cup o’ joe with some green tea and definitely remember to drink lots of water.
  3. Address your exhaustion and other symptoms.  If you NEED 6 cups of coffee to get through a day (30oz) you probably also need to get more sleep and make other healthier lifestyle changes.  If you have some of the other symptoms mentioned in this article, chances are that coffee consumption is only a part of the problem so go visit your acupuncturist for some help!
  4. Buy organic, as local as possible, and invest in a grinder.  Coffee can be toxic due to chemicals involved in the cultivation and processing, and the oils go rancid quickly once it is ground.  Reduce these risks by buying organic beans from the nearest roaster.  Then grind those beans fresh as needed and you will produce a better tasting and healthier cup of coffee.  Enjoy!

Cancer Lett. 2009 May 18;277(2):121-5. Epub 2008 Oct 1
Pharmacol Ther. 2009 Feb;121(2):185-91. Epub 2008 Nov 11
Am J Cardiol. 2008 Dec 1;102(11):1502-8. Epub 2008 Sep 11.
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1290-300
Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1269-83.
Healing With Whole Foods 3rd Edition, Paul Pitchford

August 3, 2009 Posted by | acupuncture, health info you should know, nutrition, self-care | , , , , | Leave a comment

7 Tips To Get Back on Track

I have been feeling tired lately, and do you know why?  It is simple.  Because I have not been eating as well as I could, exercising or resting as much as I should, and have not been taking enough time for myself.  When I get into these ruts as we all do, I take a look at things and try to figure out some simple ways to get myself back on track.  

1.       Eating better.  It’s summer!  The garden isn’t producing quite yet but there are farm stands and Farmer’s markets and fresh produce abound!  Besides growing your own, a Farmer’s Market is about as green as you can get in terms of acquiring food so use everybody’s favorite catchphrase and “go green” at a Farmer’s Market. 

 2.        Speaking of green, it’s a perfect time to try that refreshing and healthy green smoothie.  Check out the green smoothie article on this blog to find out the why and how of a green smoothie.

 3.         You can also try my new catchphrase, “go grain”, and try incorporating a new grain in your diet.  If you only buy the processed foods that say “whole grain” and once in a while you make Uncle Ben’s instant brown rice, I applaud your efforts but now is the time to take things a step further.   You are legitimate on the whole grain when you cook your brown rice for 30-50 minutes, when your  oats are steel cut, and when you discover that quinoa is pronounced “kin-wa”, so give it a try.  Yes some whole grains take a while to cook, but if you start them at the start of making your meal, they are done by the time you are done with everything else. Recipes are easy to find on the internet and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that some, like kin-wa, don’t take that long to cook.

 4.        Take a caffeine holiday.  Yes, there are some health benefits that have been attributed to coffee and yes, I love the taste and am a moderate coffee drinker, but I believe that a little break from the toxicity and stimulant activity of coffee can be good for you.  It may be best and easiest to pick a weekend day or other more flexible day where you can not drink coffee and then when you feel the deep fatigue or withdrawal headache coming, you can take a nap.  I know that sleeping when you are tired vs. doing something to artificially make yourself stay awake is a novel idea but take a tip from your family dog and give it a try.  Then you might actually have some energy to take that pup for a stroll!

 5.         Move more, think less.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, we all know that we need to exercise and sometimes it is hard to fit it all in but this is one time that it might be beneficial to lower your expectations, meaning you don’t have to make it to the gym to exercise.  If you can that is great, I do feel my best when I can fit in some weight training and vigorous cardio, but walking the dog, working in the yard, a bike ride with the kids, nature hike, all count as exercise.  And for some reason you feel twice as good when you get outside.  Two of my other favorites are yoga and dance classes, whether I go to them or follow a DVD. 

 6.          Meditate.  Hmmm…I can just see the heart rates increase from reading that one little word. But I don’t know how to meditate, I can’t sit still, my mind won’t clear, my nose itches, I hate the quiet. Holy crap people, calm down, close your eyes, breathe and sit quietly for 1 minute and once you can do that, work your way up to 5.  If you can’t sit quietly for 1-5 minutes then you need to go back to kindergarten.  If you are uncomfortable sitting up when you try this, then try it lying down.  The idea is to rest without sleeping but if you fall asleep then guess what…you need more sleep.  It is hard to slow down during the day and I understand that.  When I am most successful in incorporating this into my day for more than 5 minutes is in the morning right when I wake up.  Instead of trying to think about nothing, I may throw in a body scan for tense areas or think about 5 things I am grateful for in my life, and I inevitably have a better day.

 7.         Exhale fully.  You can check in with yourself on this one when you are attempting some meditation.  Many of us are OK with breathing deeply in but we forget to fully breathe out.  If you find yourself sighing a lot, this is your body’s way of forcing you to do it.  Exhaling fully allows you to inhale fully.  Getting your diaphragm moving and more oxygen to your brain can only make you feel better, less tense and more alert to be specific, so give it a try and see what I mean.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | health info you should know, nutrition, self-care | , , | 1 Comment

Pseudo-Healthy Foods—and 5 That Are Healthier Than You Think

By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD and Nutrition Director, Prevention

Diet Soda
It may seem like the perfect way to save calories and slash your sugar intake, but studies show that diet drinkers actually weigh more than regular soda drinkers. For diet soft-drink drinkers, the risk of becoming overweight or obese tied to a 2-can-a-day habit is 57 percent compared to 46 percent for regular soda drinkers. Diet soda may throw off your natural appetite regulation, causing you to eat more sweets. It may also trick you into thinking it’s OK to indulge in high calorie foods because you “saved” by choosing diet soda.

Pretzels
The label may shout ‘fat free’ and seem like a better alternative to chips, but they’re made with refined white flour stripped of its vitamins and antioxidants. They’re also dense so they pack a ton of carb calories for a very small amount and they’re not filling. Think of it this way-one 15- ounce bag contains the equivalent of 24 slices of white bread.

Spinach Wrap
It looks green and good for you but spinach powder is only a scant ingredient. These wraps are typically made from refined white flour and the green hue primarily comes from food colorings (Blue No. 1 and Yellow No. 5.). In other words you can’t rely on the immune boosting vitamins A and C found in fresh spinach and it’s much higher in calories. One cup of cooked spinach provides 65 calories, 105 less than a spinach wrap, which doesn’t count as a veggie serving. Not to mention the fact that the fillings often include ingredients like fried chicken, ranch dressing, cheese and bacon!

Blueberry Scone
Even a trans-fat-free wild blueberry scone packs over 400 calories (the amount an entire meal should supply) and over 50 percent of the maximum amount of artery-clogging saturated fat intake for an entire day. They also don’t count as a serving of fruit and they’re devoid of dietary fiber.

Vitamin Water
Yes, it has vitamins, but at up to 200 calories per bottle (50 per serving with 4 servings per jug), just one of these a day can cause a 20 pound weight gain in a year’s time if the calories aren’t burned off.

Here’s the flip side of the so-called unhealthy foods that really aren’t-these 5 often-criticized foods don’t deserve to be shunned. Here’s why and how to eat them:

Dried Fruit
It’s simply fresh fruit with most of the water removed. When you buy unsweetened dried fruit, no sugar has been added, so aside from shrinking in size (i.e. grape vs. raisin), all the good stuff (vitamins, antioxidants, fiber, etc.) is maintained. You can find dried versions of just about every fruit these days (berries, mango, peaches) but one of the healthiest is figs-two dried figs provide just 100 calories but are chock full of nutrients, including 20 percent of all the dietary fiber we need daily, plus potassium, calcium, and iron. They’re also loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants called polyphenols-the same type that make red wine and tea so healthful (polyphenols are linked to lowering the risk of both heart disease and cancer, our nation’s top two killers). Just stick with unsweetened and since they’re ‘shrunk,’ limit the portion to about the size of a golf ball to control calories.

Frozen Vegetables
A recent study found that the vitamin C content of fresh broccoli plummeted 56 percent in seven days, but dipped just 10 percent in a year’s time when frozen at -20 degrees Celsius. In addition, the levels of a disease fighting antioxidant called anthocyanins, and some minerals, including potassium (which helps control blood pressure) actually increased after freezing. Just look for veggies with one ingredient (the veggie itself) and no additives, preservatives and sauces.

Bananas
It’s true that bananas are low in water compared to other fruits. That means there’s more carbohydrate (and therefore more calories) per bite compared to watery fruits like melon. But-that doesn’t mean you should shun them-even if you’re watching your weight. Bananas provide no fat, cholesterol, or sodium, and they’re incredibly nutritious. You’ve probably heard that they’re high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure. But they’re also a good source of vitamin B6 (which helps maintain blood sugar levels and is needed to build protein in the body as well as nerves and immune cells), vitamin C (for immunity) and fiber (for cholesterol control and digestive health). To keep calories in check, just choose “baby” bananas, the ones about the size of long fingers, which are naturally portion controlled (and neatly wrapped!). One of these little guys provides just 50-60 calories (less than a small apple) and amounts to about half a cup when sliced.

White Potatoes
When scientists from the USDA tested more than 100 potato varieties, they discovered 60 different vitamins and antioxidants. Spuds are also packed with resistant starch, a fibrous substance that could help you burn more body fat and lose weight. One cup (size of a baseball) of a baked potato with the skin provides over 25 percent of the vitamin C we need daily, along with 15-20 percent of a day’s vitamin B6, copper, and potassium-all key nutrients for health. In fact, a tater provides more potassium than a banana, and scientists have linked a natural spud substance called kukoamines to blood pressure control. And, the calorie price tag is minimal-about 130 per cup (roughly 6% of an average healthy adult’s daily calories needs). They also pack about 3 grams of filling dietary fiber.

Juice
It does have less fiber than whole fruit and juices go down fast but cup for cup, 100-percent juice counts as fruit, and some common juices score very high as antioxidant-boosters. One recent study found that adding citrus juice to tea boosts the antioxidant absorption by up to 13 times. Another ranked the antioxidant capacity of several juices and found the 8 highest were: pomegranate juice, Concord grape juice, blueberry juice, black cherry juice, açaí juice, cranberry juice, orange juice, and apple juice. Juices do contain sugar, but it’s natural, not added-natural sugars are those put there by Mother Nature, and don’t create the same negative effects in the body that added sugars do (the refined kinds food manufacturers mix in)-and those natural sugars are naturally bundled with lots of important nutrients.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | health info you should know, nutrition | , | 3 Comments

Get Your Greens On! The Wonders of the Green Smoothie…

Summer is here and the greens are fresh!There is a quick and easy way to get in your greens in addition to salads and side dishes, the deliciously raw and nutrient packed Green Smoothie!Now I am lucky to have had a taste and craving for all veggies, including the bitterness of greens all of my life but many people aren’t so lucky.Because of diets so heavily comprised of sugars in various forms, most people crave sugars and they don’t really relish or crave the taste of greens. The simple brilliance and attraction of the green smoothie is that you blend a bunch of greens along with a healthy serving or two of fruit, and the sweet taste of the fruit makes it palatable.You can take in all the healthy nutrients of raw greens and it tastes good.Now for those of you who are happy to have your greens in a salad and cooked as side dishes, you may be wondering…

Why is it healthier to eat our greens raw and why, for the love of god, is it necessary to blend them into green mush?

One reason is that the smoothie allows us to be able to take in a larger amount of greens than we could normally sit down and eat in the form of a salad.In my acupuncture practice, I see many people who suffer from constipation and who at one point or another were told that they need to eat more roughage, a.k.a. greens. Plant cell walls are made of a tough material called cellulose. Cellulose is not digestible so it is this part of the plant cell that can be helpful in moving things through our digestive tract. Unfortunately for many people who cannot digest and eliminate normally, adding more difficult to digest roughage just continues to clog up the pipes resulting in more gas and bloating and not the desired outcome.Another issue with cellulose is that in order to get the nutrients that are inside the plant cells we have to either cook the plants or do some serious chewing.Cooking the greens, while making them more digestible, also breaks down some of the enzymes and nutrients that are so beneficial for us to take in, and we often do not chew raw greens enough to break apart the cellulose and get the full benefit of their nutrients.Sticking a bunch of greens in a blender or Vitamix blows apart those cell walls, does not damage anything inside of them with heat, and saves our jaws from a lot of unnecessary work.The hard work is done by the blender but the fiber is retained, so the green smoothie should be much more effective than solely gnawing on salad greens to help you get nutrients and help you poop.

Onto the nutrients…

The green parts of vegetables such as carrots and beets have a much higher nutritional content than their roots which are mostly sugarAfter consuming green smoothies for a while, you may find that cravings for sugar and other heavier proteins, fats, and salt decrease because you will be taking in more nutrients to naturally balance out your diet.Taking in less sugar reduces cravings for sugar, many greens such as beet greens, celery, kale, and chard naturally contain a healthy 3:1 ratio of potassium to sodium so you should crave less salt, and greens in their raw form provide you with essential amino acids or protein so meat and animal product cravings may decrease as well.Most greens mentioned in this article contain anywhere from 50-100+% of the RDA of folic acid, B vitamins, Vitamins A, C, K, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and the 9 essential amino acids.

The importance of amino acids.

Amino acids make up neurotransmitterswhich govern emotions, moods, behavior, and sleep. You do get essential amino acids from meat, and incidentally, I am a carnivore, but as a responsible carnivore, I need to let you know that the amino acids in animal protein are part of complex proteins that are difficult to break down by the body while the amino acids in greens are individually available and therefore easy to use in the body.So it is important for meat eaters like myself to round out their diet with greens, and it is important for vegetarians to eat their greens, especially if they notice mood instability and sleep problems.

And the final magic ingredient is…Chlorophyll

Chlorophyll is the green color in leaves and is responsible for photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is a process where plants use the energy of the sun plus carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O) to make food for themselves, and oxygen for us.Chlorophyll is similar in structure to red blood cells, it is a ring-shaped molecule surrounding a central atom. The difference is that In red blood cells the atom is iron, and in chlorophyll the atom is magnesium.The similarity is that the ring in both molecules serves to attract oxygen atoms so both red blood cells and chlorophyll have the ability to carry oxygen in our bodies.The presence of oxygen keeps our bodies in optimum health by maintaining the proper pH of the blood, we want our blood to be relatively more alkaline than acidic.

Converting glucose into energy is an aerobic process in the body meaning it requires the presence of oxygen.If oxygen is not available, we do have a back-up plan to make energy anaerobically (without oxygen) but the result of this reaction is lactic acid.Lactic acid is familiar to us as the substance that causes pain as a result of strenuous exercise.Having lactic acid build-up sporadically from strenuous exercise is normal, but continuous lactic acid formation in the day-to-day due to lack of oxygen is not normal and lowers pH making the blood more acidic.Low pH disrupts normal cell division and abnormal or uncontrolled cell division can lead to cancer conditions.

Now of course we do not go straight from low blood pH to cancer.I am not meaning to be alarmist and to stress people out, especially since stress also lowers blood pH.We do have safety mechanisms for when our blood is too acidic, one of the main ones being that alkalizing minerals such as calcium and magnesium are leached from the bones.While this is a safety mechanism, you can logically deduce that leaching minerals from bones and not having them available for other important functions could cause other problems.

In conclusion

So, fresh raw greens blended into a smoothie are a great source of fiber to help the intestine move smoothly, are full of nutrients that can help curb unhealthy food cravings, and are a great source of chlorophyll and other minerals and nutrients that serve to keep our bodies oxygenated and alkaline.

Scroll down or look under Recipes for Green Smoothie recipes.

I owe a special thanks to a good friend of mine for introducing me to the green smoothie.Adrienne Martin of Abundant Living, is a Wellness Counselor, an Acupuncturist, certified Raw Food Chef and all around fabulous person.You can watch her make a green smoothie on her youtube tv show, Abundant Living Today, http://www.youtube.com/abundantlivingtoday.

 

Sources:

Green For Life, Victoria Boutenko

Healing With Whole Foods, Paul Pitchford

http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/chlorophyll/chlorophyll_h.htm

June 27, 2008 Posted by | health info you should know, nutrition | , , | 1 Comment

Green Smoothie Recipe

Green Smoothie Recipe

Basics of the recipe:

  • Work up to using a large handful of greens meaning approximately half of blender but you can start with the amount that you can stand
  • Add fruit, a banana plus 1-3 more
  • Water, very important, fill halfway to the level of the greens and fruit
  • Vitamix – choose a medium setting and throw everything in
  • Blender – best to core your apples, cut up your fruit, chop your greens, blend on low 1 min. and high for 1-2 minutes going for a pureed consistency
  • Add orange juice as part of your water amount or agave for additional sweetness

#1The Starter Kit

Large handful spinach or flat leaf parsley or combo of both

1 cup frozen or fresh berries

1 banana

1 orange

1 kiwi

Water/o.j. and splash agave

#2Movin’ On Up

Large handful of chard or kale or combo of both

1 banana

1 apple

8 mint leaves (optional but recommended for tastiness)

Water, splash agave

#3Master of the Green

Large handful +of any not so bitter green

1 banana

Water

Goal is to get up to a quart/day.You can bring it with you to sip on through the day, which is a great use of a travel coffee mug.Tastes best when made fresh daily but is rumored to keep for several days.  Feel free to contact me by email or on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cristi-DeMarco-Acupuncture-Kingfield-ME/100192136726487?ref=hl) with any questions about recipes or if you come up with a super yummy one of your own!

June 27, 2008 Posted by | health info you should know, nutrition, recipes | , , | 1 Comment