Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eat, Chew, Digest

Long ago I learned the mantra "Eat your liquids, chew your solids." This is probably the most valuable lesson I learned from Macrobiotics. It opens up the whole conceptual view of digestion. First, digestion begins in the mouth. We have teeth to masticate, we have saliva for the chemical action it performs (breaks down starches). There are nerve endings and taste buds to send messages to the brain, the liver and the whole chain of the digestive tract.

First, the sensual experience helps us slow down, enjoy our food, perhaps trains us to eat less because satisfaction is a byproduct of the experience. Then, our organs prepare the way -- secrete digestive enzymes and adjuncts, and the substantial quantity of fluid that is required for the process.

How common is it to see someone inhale a meal, gobble up food, bolt his dinner? Sadly some people choke, even die because of swallowing barely chewed food. Instead of calling for the Heimlich maneuver, chew! How many people scarf down food until they are stuffed, eating too fast for the brain to register the message of satiety? Think obesity... In this land of plenty (or excess), how often are the overfed the undernourished? Without the first step in the digestive process, how well can we assimilate? In extreme conditions, the knowledge of how to chew can be lost. At the risk of being totally corny, let's chew as if our lives depend on it -- because they do.

Mitch S. was in VitaSource today and told me that he was following my chewing recommendations, and impressed by how this changes his experience of eating. Wow, one convert!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Preventing deficiencies or promoting optimal health?

Concerns about Vitamin D deficiency may bring up an interesting dilemma. Those of us who live outside the tropics, don't eat enough of the foods that naturally have Vitamin D in them, spend little time outside four walls, use sunscreen or even have factors that inhibit normal absorption -- may be deficient in Vitamin D.

RDA's were set to define minimum levels to prevent deficiency conditions -- short on D = rickets. Who would have thought that Vitamin D's functions go far beyond bone health? Studies are piling up with benefits for high blood pressure, autoimmune disease, and cancer and diabetes prevention, to name a few. Other studies show that low levels of D are common.

So what do we do? Eat fatty fish and egg yolks, take cod liver oil, and cautiously get just enough sun. It would be hard to get too much D from food or the sun, but what about supplements? Canadian advisers have already increased the recommended daily intake from 400 IU to 1000 IU, and experts in the US want the FDA to do so too. "Upper levels" have been set higher already. Supplements can fill that gap.

All this seems to be a good move. Increase Vitamin D intake, understand the crucial interaction of D, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin K, and other co-factors and make sure we're getting enough (but not too much). Now my question is -- are we changing the meaning of the RDA (or whatever incarnation it's in now)? Are we proposing a move from minimum nutrition to prevent rickets (or whatever) to a new view that would realistically promote real health?

Another possibility: if Vitamin D can prevent a specific condition, or improve a condition, does that qualify that condition as a deficiency disorder? Cancer? Arthritis? Alzheimers? At the very least, we are certainly reinforcing this truism: Eating well is the best revenge!

THINK AGAIN -- Recommendations for Vitamin D usually specify D3, the natural form found in fish oils and lanolin. D2, either synthetic or from other natural sources, is said to be absorbed only about 1/2 as well. Or is it? A recent study from Boston University found that blood levels are the same when either form is used. In Australia, a study showed fewer falls in elderly women using D2. Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Eating by the numbers

Just about every piece of commercial produce you find in the supermarket now has a little sticker on it. It tells you what you bought, the name and origin of the fruit or vegetable and some numbers. It's meant to give the checker information to weigh and price your purchase, but you can learn useful information from the numbers.

4 digits: you have conventional produce, grown with the best "better living through chemistry" tradition. That may mean agribusiness, pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers. (Remember, cide comes from the Latin root, to kill.) Or it may mean any scenario short of organic.

8 + four digits: GMO! High-tech manipulation seeking world domination...and should we eat them? Is it good for us? Is it good for the butterflies and bees, or good for Monsanto and friends? Have you seen any 8's in the stores?

9 + four digits: Organically grown produce, thank you. Not only are they free of added toxins, organics are usually better tasting, have higher nutrient values and support fertility -- and that's just for the consumer. For the environment, a lighter load and a positive enhancement.

You aren't likely to see these stickers if you buy locally grown food. Talk to the farmers and the merchants to learn more about how the food is grown. Make your choices. As for me, I prefer organic!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Statistics of Hunger

News of worldwide shortages of food have been rising to the top of the news lately. A
shortage of rice leading to rapid price increases has brought crisis to parts of the world
where people depend on rice as the mainstay of their daily diet. I heard an interview with
an agriculture official in the Philippines on NPR, saying that 80% of the population spends
60% of their income on food, 40% of that on rice. When the price of rice rises, that last number must go up. Then where does that extra money come from?

Here in the United States, I have read, the proportion of an average income spent on food is close to a historical low, even though food prices are rising here too. The increasing cost of gas seems to be causing a much deeper impact. Most of us have the luxury of scaling back our food choices rather than an impossible decision between necessities. Our food stores are still lush with possibilities. So far, wiser buying will get us through.

Elsewhere, the choices are harder, and explanations of why this is happening now are not simple. Some greed, some weather changes, some transportation costs (that oil problem) -- and the overwhelming weight of population growth lead the list.

Reading the Green Fertility blog, a thought provoking post about fertility opens up some questions. Marie brings us a report showing that levels of toxicity in our environment and in our food supply may be contributing to a world-wide reduction in fertility. Is this the swing of the pendulum that will lead to a reduced world population? It is, you might say, food for thought.

Now's the time to remember the famous words of Marie Antoinette -- Let them eat cake (or, so I hear, brioche). Here in the 21st century, make mine chocolate!

ONE SMALL THING YOU CAN DO: Go to and play a vocabulary game. In a few minutes you can improve your mind and make donations or rice through a UN agency. It's sponsored by businesses -- help them help others around the world.
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Friday, February 01, 2008

Between drudge and druid

Before I started, I wanted to check the dictionary, page 188 of Webster's New World Dictionary and Thesaurus -- a handy book at the side of the computer. Drugstore: a store where drugs, medical supplies, and various items are sold and prescriptions are filled. Ah, the out! "Various items" is the can of worms. What else does a drugstore sell? Where do they really make their profit? It's all the anti-health items. It's the booze, cigarettes and junk food that keep the cash registers ringing, 24 hours a day. Drugs of choice, addictions that lead to drugs by prescription as beautiful healthy babies grow up to be sad reflections of a generation that they think they reject when really they are emulating their destructive behavior. Go back to the pharmacy (strategically placed at the rear of the store so that all the heavily advertised temptations on display call out), where you can check your blood pressure free (eating high sodium junk food?), pick up literature on preventing diabetes (ditto sugar), and pick up your prescribed medication ("drug"). I would assume that in an ideal society, the drug store would be the place to find the tools to support health. Let's keep looking!

So what about the health food store? To be fair, I check the dictionary again. Between heal and heap I found health food: food thought to be very healthful, as food grown with natural fertilizers and free of additives -- so far, so good. Thought to be? I can live with the skepticism implied there, and the positive implications, since I have my own disillusionment with the current state of "health foods."

When we started shopping in HF stores (1970's) they were in the hands of "health food nuts," people a little "holier-than-thou" (also in the dictionary), who lived as they spoke and did not hesitate to tell you how to live. Then in 1981 we were store owners ourselves, after years of living the life, but eager to teach by quiet example. Sodas were available, sweetened only with honey. Tofu was made by attractive as eggless-tofu salad and fried tofu sandwiches served in our deli, along with best selling tempeh reubens. Stoneyfield Yogurt started up locally. More and more products became available as delicious healthier alternatives to the white foods in the supermarket. Then the supermarkets caught on -- selling health foods makes profit. Then more replacement products until the stores filled up with Cocoa Puff look-alikes made with white organic flour and white organic sugar, and gummy vitamins, until the whole point had been lost.

So choose a source you can trust, no matter what they call themselves. Educate yourself with reliable information. Listen to your body -- it needs your best judgment, for the rest of your life!

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