Saturday, November 26, 2011

Secret 33: Make Time for Tea - Green Tea

Ignorance is not bliss. In Secret 33, Sally Beare sings the praises of green tea. She writes:
"High quality loose green tea leaves are the best, but you can also buy teabags". I agree with the first part of her statement, but would like to alert you to the danger in the second part. The five populations on which she bases her recommendations do not use teabags. And with good reason. Are you familiar with epichlorohydrin? Tea bags used to be made out of silk, but nowadays the most common material is paper. You know what happens when paper gets wet. If you've ever read a book in the bathtub, and your book falls in the water, the pages start to dissolve. Untreated paper tea bags do just that. Some sort of vehicle or medium is necessary to prevent the paper tea bag from dissolving while allowing the hot water to extract the tea flavor. The solution is to add epichlorohydrin. Epichlorohydrin is used by the food industry as a paper reinforcement in tea bags, coffee filters and sausage casings. It is a mildly toxic irritant. In water epichlorohydrin hydrolyzes to 3-monochloropropane-1,2-diol or 3-chloro-1,2-propanediol (3-MCPD). 3-MCPD is a carcinogen that also has undesirable affects on male fertility. Surely you would like to reap the benefits of green tea without running the risk of needlessly exposing yourself to carcinogens?

Camellia sinensis: the source of white, green oolong and black teas
To reduce your exposure to 3-MCPD, you have several options:
  • only drink tea in loose leaf form
  • call your favorite tea company and ask them about the source of their tea bags and the presence of epichlorohydrin. Some tea companies use biodegradable tea bags
  • if you already have a drawer full of tea bags, rather than throw out your stock, tear open the bag (it’s just paper) and use a tea infuser for the leaves when steeping them in hot water.

Use a tea infuser in lieu of tea bags
One last thought regarding 'tea bags': the tea leaves hidden in tea bags are often of lesser quality than those in loose leaf tea (if the customer cannot even see the tea leaves, why not throw in the dregs?). If you cannot visually inspect the tea, why purchase it? Who knows what is in it?  Would you be willing to swallow food blind-folded or food that is totally wrapped up?  

Now that we have addressed a risk of drinking green tea, let us examine the benefits:  

Green tea and the leaves from which it derives

  • green tea contains a powerful antioxidant called "epigallocatechin-3-gallate". Supposedly this is more powerful than resveratrol (from the skin of red graoes and other fruit) and Vitamin E.  It also has anti-carcinogenic properties (especially against cancers of the brain, bladder, genital). EGCG has been shown to reduce AIDS-related dementia plaques. It also enhances the body's defense system against systemic inflammation. 
  • it has antibiotic characteristics
  • it protects against dental caries
  • it is effective against bacteria that produces bad breath
  • it has less caffeine than other teas (one average serving size of green tea has 25 mg of caffeine. Compare this to 50-60 mg in black tea, and 150 mg in coffee).
  • it has beneficial cardiovascular effects. Supposedly the presence of milk reduces these benefits.
Adding lemon to green tea enhances the absorption of EGCG and other beneficial catechins. Note that the benefits of green tea are less prevalent in decaffeinated, flavored, bottled teas and instant tea mixes. The greatest benefits are found in the young tea leaf that grows right beneath the tea bud. Premium green tea consists of buds and the first leaves (rarely also the second leaves).

So how does green tea differ from black tea? Both teas are made of the leaves of Camellia sinensis but are processed (oxidized) for different lengths of time. Green tea is minimally oxidized. The oxidization is halted either by steam (Japanese tea) or by dry cooking in hot pans (Chinese tea). Black tea, on the other hand, is allowed to completely oxidize (thus reducing the concentration of catchins such as EGCG). The Japanese green tea 'gyukuro' is often referred to as the highest quality green tea. Unlike other teas, gyukuro comes from plants that have been entirely grown in the shade.

So irrespective of which green tea you choose, select the best quality available and affordable, invest in some stainless steel tea infusers (or use a tea infuser ball in a tea pot), and buy tea in loose leaves!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Secret 32: Have a Glass of Red Wine with Dinner

Have you heard of ‘the French paradox’? Although the French enjoy large quantities of saturated fat (think Brie, Camembert and cousins), they have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease than Americans. Some researchers believe that the reason may be found in a glass of wine.
Wine has long been an important part of food culture (it's called 'wining and dining', isn't it?). The earliest production of wine took place about 8.000 years ago in a region now known as Georgia (not in the U.S.). Wine was already popular in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. The word ‘wine’ derives from the eponymous Latin ‘vinum’, which also means grape (vine).
In the case of wine, just like other foods I have written about, moderation, is important. As is quality. A reasonable dose of top quality wine may confer health benefits (we are well aware of the effects of an unreasonable quantity of alcohol). This is due to the presence of various chemical compounds in wine:
Polyphenols, more prevalent in red than white wine, are thought to protect against heart disease. Another health-supporting chemical in red wine is resveratrol. Resveratrol is manufactured by grape skins to ward off fungi. It is also found in the skin of other fruit such as mulberry. Muscatine grapes have resveratrol in the skin and the seeds.
The difference between red and white wine is that during the manufacture of white wine, there is minimal contact with the resveratrol-rich grape skins during fermentation. Rose has more resveratrol than white wine and less than red wine as it is made by blending the two.  
Muscatine grapes

What do we know about resveratrol? Experiments in rats and rabbits, but not yet in humans, show that resveratrol is anti-carcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral (inhibits the herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2, the varicella-zoster virus, and some influenza viruses), lowers blood sugar and, in general, is good for the cardiovascular system. If the benefits of resveratrol are also available to humans, what is the best way to access this? Resveratrol concentration varies with the origin of the grape, its exposure to fungal infections, and the length of time the wine was in contact with grape skins during fermentation.  
Actually, red wine only has around one milligram per glass, or between 0.2 to 5.8 mg/liter, and most of this never reaches your blood. If you want to maximize your absorption of resveratrol from wine, allow the wine to stay in your mouth as the chemical is most easily absorbed across the mucous membranes in the mouth. The rest of your digestive system simply inactivates this chemical.

Or eat sprouted peanuts. Peanuts have 2.3 to 4.5 μg/g, and after sprouting 11.7 to 25.7 μg/g (and you avoid DUIs -- driving under influence of alcohol citations from traffic police). Chocoholics obtain resveratrol from cocoa powder, baking chocolate and dark chocolate. The concentration ranges from 0.35 to 1.85 mg/kg. Or just enjoy a glass of red grape juice (1.1 mg/l to 8.7 mg/l) or a handful of red grapes (1 cup or 160 g have 0.2 mg to 1.3 mg). Cranberry juice and grape juice have similar concentrations.
Other health-boosting chemicals in wine are antioxidants and flavonoids. One of the flavonoids in wine, procyanidin, has been shown to prevent blood vessel constriction. For a red wine with a procyanidin concentration double to four times that of other red wines, choose wines from Sardinia or the South of France. Procyanidins, just like resveratrol, are found in grape seeds. If you would like these chemicals sans alcohol, pour grape seed oil onto your salad.
Grape seed oil: another way to access beneficial chemicals in grape seeds
Another chemical, which Sally Beare applauds in red wine, is quercetin. This flavonoid is found in fruit, vegetables, leaves and grains. Studies however are, to date, inconclusive. Quercetin is neither especially beneficial nor harmful.
One less desirable ingredient in red wine are sulfites. These are a natural by-products of fermentation that extend the shelf life of wine. A compound closely related to sulfites, sulfur dioxide, is also added to enhance preservation. In some of us these compounds may result in minor irritations such as sneezing, hives and swelling of the throat (fortunately not anaphylaxis). Sulfites are considered one of the top nine allergens. Low sulfite-free wine is commercially available.
While some epidemiological studies claim that a moderate consumption of wine reduces the rate of death due to cardiovascular problems, other studies, such as the Million Women study, which followed the women in the U.K, concluded that a moderate intake of wine might actually increase breast, pharynx and liver cancer. The main investigator of the Million Women study, Prof. Valerie Beral, states that: “"It's an absolute myth that red wine is good for you." Are we comparing apples and oranges? The average supermarket wine consumed by the women in the Million Women study was not organic, not free of sulfites, low in procyanadin and tannins, and high in alcohol. If your average shopping basket contains battery-produced eggs, feedstock meat replete with hormones, GMO corn and soy ingredients, why should the wine be of higher quality
So if you drink alcohol, enjoy a top-quality glass of organic red wine once in a while. Moderation and quality. And if you do not drink alcohol, eat organic red grapes or add a few drops of organic grape seed oil to your dishes.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Secret 31: Beware the Pastry Counter

Secret 31 is an alphabet soup of biochemistry and undesirable conditions such as hypoglycemia, hyperinsulinemia, glycation, advanced glycosylation, insulin resistance, DHEA, adult-onset diabetes, eicosanoids, glycemic index, glycemic load and atherosclerosis (as predicted by the afore-mentioned hyperinsulinemia). To put it simply, Secret 31 takes a closer look at carbohydrates, classifies them by their glycemic index and advises against a high GI diet.

Off the glycemic index scale
What is GI or glycemic index? This index, which was invented in the early 1980ies by researchers at the University of Toronto, measures how quickly a carbohydrate releases glucose into the bloodstream. Two systems of measurement exist: the standard method equates glucose to 100, a less popular one equates white bread to 100 (and then glucose would be around 125). High GI foods have a GI above 70 on the standard index and include cereals, white bread, white rice, cakes, cookies, pop and sweets. Medium GI foods or those with a GI between 56 and 69 include basmati rice, whole wheat products, sweet potatoes (an Okinawan favorite), baked potatoes and pasta. Low GI foods have a GI of 55 or less and include most fruits and nearly all vegetables. Since meat and diary products are low in carbohydrates, their GI would be on the low end of the scale. Low GI carbohydrates take longer to digested and release glucose more gradually into the blood. In general, you want to avoid a diet of high GI foods as the constant blood sugar spikes can, over time, lead to hyperinsulinemia and adult-onset diabetes. The spikes are caused by the quick release and absorption of glucose which, in turn, leads to further sugar cravings.  You can reduce the GI of high GI foods by mixing them with foods low in GI i.e. a white baguette with cheese, or rice with fish and vegetables. Sometimes reaching for a high GI food is necessary, for example after intense exercise or if you are hypoglycemic (have low blood sugar) as your body needs to obtain energy quickly. However, most of the time a low to medium GI diet will provide plenty of energy. Note that the glycemic index applies to foods that yield about 50 g of available carbohydrate when consumed, thus the GI does not qualify the proteins and fats in your diet. Also note that foods that are not necessarily considered healthy, such as ice cream and chocolate cake have a low glycemic index due to their high fat content (38 and 37 respectively). In fact, many countries, despite having staple diet of high glycemic foods such as potatoes and rice, actually have a low incidence of diabetes. If you would like to find out more about GI, Sally Beare recommends Jack Challem's "Syndrome X". A more scientifically accurate book is Reaven's "Syndrome X: The Silent Killer". While GI may be useful to ascertain how quickly you can access glucose in a carbohydrate, this is not the optimal guide to choosing healthy food. Diets such as the South Beach diet use GI values. 

Maybe it is not the high GI value, but the presence of artificial flavors, colors and trans fats that are pose health hazards?

A more useful measure of the impact of a carbohydrate on your system is the glycemic load. In contrast to the glycemic index, the glycemic load also takes into account the amount of carbohydrate consumed. GL = GI x the amount of available carbohydrate in a 100g serving, in other words GL is a weighted GI value. For example watermelon has a high GI value (over 70), but since watermelon consists mainly of water and contains very little carbohydrate, its GL is low (5).  Also watermelon provides invaluable lycopene. If you avoid watermelon based on the GI, you are inadvertently denying yourself a wonderful source of lycopene. On the other hand the GL of white rice or a baguette is high (above 20).  But who eats a plain bowl of race or a 'naked' baguette? White rice tends to be eaten with fish or meat or tofu and vegetables, baguette with butter, cheese, or ham, so the overall glycemic load is lower and does not cause unhealthy sugar spikes (baguette with only honey and without butter would have a high GI!).  
Low GI and low GL.  More importantly - delicious!
Now that we have investigated GI and GL, let's explore some of the ailments Sally Beare mentions in Secret 31 and find ways to avoid them:

Hyperinsulinemia: a condition whereby excess levels of insulin circulate in the blood.  It is also known as 'pre-diabetes', insulin resistance or Syndrome X.  Recommended treatment includes exercise, reducing simple sugars, processed carbohydrates, potatoes and white bread and eating more vegetables and legumes.
Insulin resistance: a condition whereby insulin becomes less capable of reducing blood glucose. Obesity exacerbates this condition, especially visceral adiposity (fat around the mid-riff). Possible bad effects of a high-fat diet can be moderated by fish oil or other sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Despite a diet high in fats, Alaskan Eskimos have a low level of IR due to the presence of large quantities of fish oil in their diet. Habitual and excessive consumption of carbohydrates can lead to IR and studies have shown that trans fats are extremely deleterious. Alaskan Eskimos who switch from their ancestral diet to the Standard American diet exhibit the same Western diseases as the rest of the U.S. Exercise and weight loss are the first line of treatment.
Adult-onset diabetes or diabetes mellitus type 2: a metabolic condition with abnormally high blood glucose. In the U.S., 8% of the population is diagnosed with this condition. Helpful are exercise, dietary change such as increasing dietary fiber and reducing the consumption of trans fatty acids. Obesity, especially intra-abdominal fat, and smoking exacerbate the condition. Long-term complications include heart attacks, strokes, amputations, failing eye sight, kidney failure and testosterone deficiency in men. 
Universal symbol for diabetes
Atherosclerosis: a gradual and imperceptible hardening of the arteries that can suddenly result in a catastrophic blockage of an artery and cause a heart attack or stroke. Atherosclerosis is caused by an inflammatory reaction of the cell walls to retained low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). Inflammation, rather than fat or cholesterol is the cause of atherosclerosis. Once in the wall, LDLs may be oxidized by free radicals and become toxic. It is surmised that atherosclerosis is a vitamin C-deficiency disease. Vitamin C ensures a strong and flexible vascular system. Trans fats also play a harmful role.  In one study rabbits were fed heated soy bean oil (I assume GMO soybean) and displayed "grossly induced atherosclerosis and marked liver damage". Most of the oils sold in U.S. supermarkets are refined, bleached, deodorized, and gummed thereby making it much harder to detect rancid and thus harmful oils.  Exercise, loosing weight and not smoking help forestall atherosclerosis. Since cholesterol is an integral part of cell membranes and more than 80% is manufactured by the body, reducing dietary cholesterol has little effect. A lower external supply only makes the body create more cholesterol internally. More effective than changing the amount dietary fat or cholesterol  is reducing the intake of carbohydrates, especially simple carbohydrates and improving the quality of fat. Avoid trans fats and increase the intake of omega-3s. Also, avenanthramides, found in oats, have an anti-inflammatory effect and help prevent atherosclerosis (oats tend to be a good source of dietary fiber).  

So, in a nutshell:
  • maintain a healthy body weight
  • avoid continual blood sugar spikes
  • reduce the use of highly-refined oils (or most cheap non-expeller pressed vegetable oils)
  • include fish oils or other sources of omega-3 fats in your diet
  • avoid trans fats
  • enjoy the occasional dessert but do not make this a habitual part of your nutrition
Everything in moderation

Afterthought:  carrots originally were classified as having a high glycemic value.  Further studies, however, have reclassified carrots as having a low glycemic value.  If you come across a book that categorizes carrots as being high on the GI, then you are probably looking at old data.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Secret 30: Chew

Do you know what American millionaire Horace Fletcher1, four-time British Prime Minister William Gladstone who lived until 88, and concentration camp survivor Antonio Stachich have in common? They did not have bad breath, heartburn, or flatulence.  Nor did they have an itchy rectum or foul smelling stools. Why?  They CHEWED their food - a lot!  In fact, Antonio Stachich attributes the survival of the only two of his crew of 32 fellow concentration camp prisoners and himself to their incessant chewing and to the adherence to his empirically generated advice: "If you are ever weak, cold, or sick, chew each mouthful 150 times or more."2

We are omnivores and as such have both carnivore and herbivore tendencies. The carnivore in us tears and wolfs down food, the herbivore chews and chews again. As a carnivore we use our teeth to slice, cut, and then we swallow. However, our intestines are four times as long as those of typical carnivores.  This allows our intestines adequate time to break down hardy plant materials. One theory states that unless we properly chew our meat, which allows more efficient nutrient and energy absorption, this could lead to ‘putrefaction, excess wastes and fat lingering in the gut’ and may cause illness ‘such as colon cancer’ (Lino Stanchich, son of the afore-mentioned concentration camp survivor).

Think about this Boy Scout analogy: when you try to build a fire with some paper and a few large blocks of wood, the paper flares up, the logs may be blackened, but the fire quickly dies without releasing its inherent energy. If, however, you cut the logs into small enough pieces, you will be able to start a fire that will warm you for a long time. Likewise, if you take the time to chew, nutrients and energy in each bite are more likely to be released into your body rather than simply pass through it.

So, wolf down your food:
  • If you want to gain weight, since you did not give your stomach adequate time to register satiety with your brain
  • If you like to burden your intestines with large, undigested chunks of unchewed food, which can make you feel uncomfortable, bring about excessive growth of harmful bacteria, create toxic by-products and, perhaps, lead to inflammation of the gut.
  • If you want your intestines to do more than their share of the work of extracting nutrients rather than allow your teeth, tongue and saliva to start the digestive process in an efficient manner
  • If despite eating a large quantity of food, you still want to feel hungry

Eat like a wolf and deal with heart burn and flatulence, or....
  • To give your facial muscles a work-out and improve circulation to the area, which in turn facilitates detoxification
  • To enhance the flow of saliva. Saliva wets the bolus, starts the process of digestion by releasing carbohydrate-digesting salivary enzyme amylase or ‘ptyalin’, and initiates detoxification via anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. Ptyalin breaks down large, insoluble starch molecules into smaller, soluble starches.
  • To send the message to the stomach to start releasing hydrochloric acid. Apparently hydrochloric acid deficiency is quite widespread and leads to underdigestion of protein and inefficient extraction of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and zinc.
  • To allow your brain to register that enough calories and nutrients have been received via your intestines
  • To ease the work load of the GI system - the seat of our emotions (the GI tract has a high concentration of nerve endings
or chew and chew and chew and survive.....

In theory, this all sounds rather reasonable but how do you bridge the gap between knowing the benefits of chewing and actually chewing properly and thus reaping the benefits? Corporate lunches in the U.S – unlike, say, in Mediterranean countries – tend to be hurried and harried affairs. Do you want to be the odd one out who is still chewing the appetizer while the rest of ‘the team’ has just wolfed down their high-calorie dessert? Changing behavior is not easy. And even more difficult when your peers are not supportive.

Some ideas on how to help you chew 32 times before swallowing (or, as Prime Minister Gladstone stipulated -- once for each tooth. Gladstone did manage to live to the ripe old age of 88 years in the 19th century):
  • The Place: dedicate a special place just for eating. This is not your car, in front of a TV, or at your computer. Set a pleasant table to make your dining experience more enjoyable. Put a vase with fresh flowers on the table. Use a nice table decoration or beautiful tablecloth. Light some candles. Enhance your mood with your favorite music. How about eating outdoors, in your back yard if you are lucky enough to have one or at a picnic bench in a park? 
  •  The Time: make time just to eat. Do not watch TV, argue with your spouse, read a book, newspaper, IPad, e-mail or anything else. Be present in the moment of eating.
  • Do a short meditation before you take your first bite. Be aware of the labor, energy, time and resources it took to create this meal -- before you make it disappear. Thank everyone who was involved in making this food available to you: the farmer who grew it, those who delivered it, the person who cooked it and every step that had to occur to place this dish in front of you.
  • Start making a practice of putting down your utensils (or chop sticks or hands or whatever type of ‘utensil’ you use) between bites. Only pick up the utensils once you have swallowed your well-chewed, moist bolus.
  • Chew each mouthful two dozen times and observe how every chew releases a different medley of flavors.
  • Surround yourself with pleasant company. Choose people who cherish fresh, nutritious food, are a delight to be around, and appreciate the value of a good chew.
  • Do as the Italians, a people that tends to be trim, do:  Cuando si mangia non si parla” or do not talk while eating. And, if conversation cannot be avoided at the dinner table, try to stay on enjoyable topics.
  • If you find yourself in depressing surroundings (heaven forbid, in a prison), chew with your eyes closed (if this is safe). This lets you momentarily ‘escape’ your unpleasant environment, and helps you internalize your energy.
  • If you are going to take the time to really chew your food, cherish yourself by serving yourself the freshest, most nutritious food.
  •  Make eating a holy and peaceful thing. Try only to eat when you are hungry, content, and at peace with yourself and the world.
  • Be in the moment.
  • Breathe.
  • Smile.
Remember to chew!  Star Wars Chewbacca
  • And, most importantly, enjoy. Who knows, if you chew long enough you might just chew yourself into a state of bliss!    

Still want to know more about chewing?  Check out “Natural Immunity, Insights on Diet and AIDS “ by  Noboru Muramoto. The book has a whole chapter devoted to chewing.

Afterthought: maybe you, too, have observed this?  When chewing gum, the increased release of saliva eventually creates a feeling of hunger.
By the way did you know that chewing gum has been around since the Neolithic ages?  A 5,000-year-old birch bark tar chewing gum with human tooth imprints was found in Finland, and Aztec ladies used to chew chicle to freshen up their breath.

1.      extreme chewing is also called ‘Fletcherizing’
2.      for the complete story on how both father and son survived via chewing, see

Monday, October 17, 2011

Secret 29: Go Organic and Avoid "Frankenfoods"

Beare's 29th secret can be divided into two topics: 'good soil/organic farming' and 'the dangers of GM foods'.  Let me examine these in turn:

1. Soil
Soil is a mix of organic (dead animal or plant material) and mineral constituents and is a primary nutrient base for plants. The home to a large variety of organisms including single-celled organisms ‘archaea’, invertebrates, bacteria, fungi, algae and insects, it is an incredibly diverse habitat. Three main nutrients provided to plants by soil are: nitrogen (promotes growth of leaves and stem), phosphorus (aids root growth and flowering), and potassium (plant health). Healthy soil has a specific pH and texture.  Many, but not all, plants prefer a slightly acidic soil (pH 6.2 to 6.8). The ideal soil texture allows movement of water, air and room for roots to grow while providing support. Healthy soil supplies plants with water and nutrients which in turn supply us with important nutrients.
You are what you eat and the plants you consume reflect the soil in which they grow caption
According to Beare, pesticides and artificial fertilizers are not an adequate substitute for manure and compost and use of these synthetic fertilizers and pesticides have led to an increase in cancer among children. Illegal immigrants working in agriculture in California and Florida have been poisoned by concentrated pesticides. What does this say about consuming foods treated with such chemicals? A study on breast milk in Hong Kong has shown the presence of pesticides. This breast milk, in turn, is fed straight into the bodies of growing infants. Pesticides are a two-edged sword and if the dose is high enough, are not just dangerous for insects. The long-lived, healthy populations that Beare studied do not use synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They are masters in organic farming.

So whenever possible, choose foods that have been grown organically as these have higher levels of nutrients and lower levels of toxins.

2. GM foods
If you live in the U.S. and eat any of the following: corn (corn syrup, cereals, corn oil, high fructose corn syrup, corn starch and other corn derivatives), soybean (soy flour, soy lecithin, cereals, soybean oil, soy derivatives), sugar beet (sugar in processed food most likely is GM beet sugar), canola (canola oil; a major supplier of GM canola is Canada), Hawaiian papaya, dairy products from cows injected with rbGH (a GM hormone) and some types of squash, chances are that you are consuming GM foods. 
While 55% of the world’s acreage in GM foods is grown in the U.S, less than 1% is grown in Europe. In fact, the biggest growers of GM crop are the U.S., Brazil and Argentina. Over 90% of all U.S. soybean acreage is planted with GMO seed. Canola and corn make up over 80% in the U.S. Even if you live in a country that does not allow the production of GM foods such as New Zealand, you may still be eating GM foods. New Zealand allows the import of GM foods. The strictest GMO regulations world-wide are found in the European Union. As of 2010, the only GM food that may be grown in the EU is a specific type of maize (not surprisingly developed by the reviled company Monsanto. It is known as MON810 or 'YieldGuard'). In Europe, Spain is the largest producer of GMO foods (the afore-mentioned MON810). Pressure exerted by the WTO and the U.S. led to the EU removing its moratorium on the approval of new genetically modified crops and food. In 2006 the WTO had the audacity to make banning GM crops an illegal trade barrier!

In Europe food that contains more than 0.9% of approved GMOs has to be labeled. It is a disservice to consumers in the U.S. that the U.S. does not require GM foods to be labeled. Most processed foods contain several of the GM foods mentioned above, so you can safely assume that the majority of processed food in the U.S. contains GM ingredients. 

We do not yet fully understand the negative ramifications of consuming GM foods. Studies have been limited to 90-day trials and are not adequate for gaining an in-depth, comprehensive understanding of the multi-generational effects of GM foods on health and fertility. According to an article published in Environmental Sciences Europe (Springer Verlag) by Gilles-Eric Séralin, “no minimal length for the tests is yet obligatory for any of the GMOs cultivated on a large scale, and this is socially unacceptable in terms of consumer health protection.” Various multi-generational scientific studies on rats and hamsters in countries such as Austria, Italy, Russia and the U.S have shown a drop of fertility in third-and fourth-generation animals that have been raised on a GM diet. If indeed the consumption of GM foods has a negative effect on long-term fertility in a species, might this be our solution to overpopulation?
Is the consumption of GM foods linked in any way to a decline in fertility and/or an increase in pancreatic cancer, allergies, autism and ADHD?  Will future generations be shocked by our ignorance?
According to Timothy J. LaSalle Ph.DWhether genetically modified foods are safe for human consumption will remain a controversial issue. Yet some scientists who have been quieted or marginalized have found serious concerns about the safety of GMOs in laboratory animal studies. In many investigations involving GMO-fed animals, there have been cases of underdeveloped organs, reproductive problems, accelerated aging and even death. As the four As (allergies, asthma, autism, and ADD) rapidly increase in U.S. health statistics, we must consider that GMOsGMO foods because "there is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects."

Recently I asked my doctor about the possible effects of GM foods on health.  "GM?  What's that?" she asked.  

If you do not want to consume GM foods, choose certified organic when you shop. Fortunately, despite pressure from industry in 1998, the USDA received nearly 300,000 indignant letters from concerned consumers during the public comment period, and decided not to allow GM products to be labeled as organic in the U.S.  So if you want to try to avoid GM foods in the U.S., choose certified organic. For more info on how to buy non GM foods, check out or download the ShopNoGMO App on your iPhone. You might also want to check out the FAQ at if you are interested in what companies such as Monsanto, Aventis and Novartis might not be sharing with  consumers.

The verdict is still out. What effects do GM foods have on our health and the health of future generations? As long as the facts are not in, I prefer to try and avoid these as much is feasibly possible in this GM infested country. Education is key. Ignorance does not protect us.

The evening after I posted the blog, my husband brought home some frozen "chicken taquitos' from Whole Foods. Having just written a blog about GMO, I put on my GMO detective glasses and had a closer look at the ingredients. These included CORN flour masa, non-hydrogenated CANOLA oil, modified CORN starch, and the whole thing was fried in non-hydrogenated CANOLA oil.  Oh no! I thought. This 'food' is 
i. processed 
ii. does not state that any of the ingredients are organic (and would thus be GMO free) 
iii. is manufactured in the U.S. 
iv. contains corn and canola - two of the most common GM foods in the U.S!  
I immediately called my local Whole Foods store to confirm my suspicions. The assistant manager did some research and called back to state that anything produced under the 'Whole Foods' label falls under the '365' Whole Foods brand and does not contain any GM substances.  

Further research, unfortunately, proved the assistant manager wrong. Chicken taquitos consist of GM ingredients. As stated in the blog, unless the corn and canola were certified organic, they are genetically modified. In fact, in July 2009 Whole Foods teamed up with a 3rd party non-GMO verification system called the 'non-GMO Project' ( to start labeling foods in terms of GMO content. These foods are called 'verified non GMO'. Note that 'verified' products does NOT mean GM free (but it's better than blindly buying food off the shelves).  In the Project's own words:"The Non-GMO Project standard is a process-based standard that avoids the intentional use of GMO ingredients by providing suppliers with procedures and best practices for minimizing the presence of GMO ingredients." Also, keep in mind that if you live in the U.S.: "Unfortunately, due to cross-contamination and pollen drift, very few products in the U.S. are completely free of GMOs" (from the intro to the Highlands Ranch verified non GMO Whole Foods shopping list).

Look for this label if you would like to reduce the GM content of  your diet
In fact, many Whole Foods stores now offer a list of products that have been verified by this project. To download a list of non GMO products at your local Whole Foods store, go to and search for 'non GMO verified product list' and the name of your store. The list available for the Whole Foods store in Highlands Ranch, CO,  as of Oct. 14, 2011, was seven pages long and contained foods that do not have corn, soy and canola ingredients or derivatives and/or are certified organic. Once again, the chicken taquitos were not on the list. According to Whole Foods: "All of our 365 Everyday Value® food products are enrolled in the Project".  Note the use of the word 'enrolled', 365 foods are enrolled BUT NOT VERIFIED.  As stated on the  Non-GMO Project website, "'enrolled products that are in the process of being verified, have not yet been deemed fully compliant with the Non-GMO Project'.  So in plain English, Whole Foods is starting to get its brand-name products verified by the Non-GMO Project but this does not mean that the '365' Whole Foods brand does not contain any GM substances as erroneously claimed by the Assistant Manager...

By the way, quite fortuitously, while browsing around, I discovered that the non-GMO Project has designated October as the GMO awareness month!  
If you would to find out more about GMO foods, check out:
They even offer a bunch of verified non GMO food and other giveaways!

Eating food prepared outside the home sure takes a lot of trust.....

Monday, October 10, 2011

Secret 28: Don't Pass The Salt or 'Why Americans Are Too Salty'*

Do you remember the experiment in school in which we learned how much salt can be dissolved in water before it becomes saturated? Fill a cup with water and add salt. Stir the water and watch the salt disappear. At saturation the salt no longer dissolves but becomes visible since the solution is over-saturated. Keep that image in mind as you read this secret.

Without salt there is no life. In fact salt was once so precious that it was used in lieu of money. The word 'salary' contains the Latin for salt or 'sal'. Yet salt is another great example of 'everything in moderation'.

Let us first examine why salt is necessary for life, then learn about the correct dosage, and investigate the repercussions of too much salt in one's diet. We will finish off by looking at the salt concentration of some popular foods.

Salt: vital and dangerous
Salt or NaCl (sodium chloride) is needed:
  • to transmit messages via the nervous system: messages are transmitted by the exchange of sodium and potassium
  • to regulate blood pressure
  • to make stomach acid from the chloride molecules
  • to stimulate muscular contraction and relaxation
  • to maintain the correct fluid balance throughout your body 
How much salt do we need? According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for 2010, those under 50 years should limit their sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams, whereas those over 50 years and African Americans should limit this to under 1,500 milligrams. Different people have different sensitivities to sodium. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute 'NHLBI' equates 2.4 g of sodium to 6 g or one teaspoon of salt (NHLBI is a division of the National Institutes of Health 'NIH'). In the U.K., the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends 1.6 g per day for adults.  Note that 1 g of salt does not equal 1 g of sodium. 1 g of salt have 0.4 g of sodium. 

Excessive amounts of salt can cause:
  • stomach cancer: is this due to excess stomach acid or due to salt increasing the activity of Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria implicated in stomach ulcers?
  • fluid retention or edema: according to Beare, nutrients are blocked from entering cells where they are needed and toxins are not as easily flushed out (massages and hot yoga improve detoxification). 
  • high blood pressure
  • osteoporosis: excess sodium apparently causes calcium to leach out of bones
  • kidney disease: the kidneys are responsible for holding onto sodium when your sodium levels are low and for excreting excess sodium.  When God created humans, God did not know that humans would create processed foods. Our kidneys are not designed to be able to excrete the overdoses of sodium fed them via continual consumption of junk food. 
  • heart attacks: if the kidneys are overtaxed and unable to excrete all that excess sodium, the sodium stays in your blood and your blood retains water.  Pushing that higher volume of blood around your body taxes your heart....
  • congestive heart failure
  • cirrhosis (it's not just the alcohol)
  • type II diabetes
  • heart disease

So how much does the average American consume?  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average American consumes 3.4 g of sodium per day.

And where does some of this sodium come from? Let's look at the sodium content in some common SAD (Standard American Diet) foods. The values are calculated per serving size. Note that food does not have to taste salty to be high in salt:

Cheese (Parmesan, blue cheese, feta): 0.2 g to 0.4 g
Frozen pizza, cheese: 0.5 g to 1.2 g
Soy sauce: 1 g
Salted butter: 0.09 g
One bagel:  0.53 g
Salad dressing: 0.1 g to 0.5 g
Catsup: 0.2 g
Mustard: 0.05 g
Average frozen meal: up to 1.5 g

Do be careful with certain antacids and any canned food.   

And in case you were wondering, one Dunkin' Donuts corn muffin contains the same amount of salt as nine McDonald's Chicken McNuggets (they both have too much sodium!). Remember that image of the over-saturated glass of water from the first paragraph? Could that be your body?

As a comparison:
Blood: 9 g/l or 0.9%
Sea water: 35 g/ liter of sea water

So what should you do with such an onslaught of salt? If you want to drastically reduce the amount of sodium in your diet, avoid processed and junk food. Wherever possible, choose fresh. Eat fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, fresh fish, fresh meat.  Increasing the intake of potassium by eating more fruit and vegetables also helps reduce the intake of sodium. And learn to be label savvy! The Mayo Clinic recommends avoiding food that has more than 200 mg or 0.2 g of sodium per serving.  And replace salt with fresh herbs and spices. As you wean yourself from salt, you may realize that foods you previously enjoyed may taste too salty.  Enjoy exploring new flavors in your sodium-savvy life.

*  read in 'The Joy of Looking' published by Beanstalk Press:
'if you happen to run out of a salt, 1/2 an American will work just as well'

Overheard under the beanstalk:

'Fee fi foe fum,
I smell the blood of an American
Don't pass the salt
Americans are too salty.'

from 'John and the Beanstalk'

Monday, October 3, 2011

Secret 27: Remember Your Herbs

A recurrent theme in '50 Secrets' is the importance of eating foods that are rich in nutrients. One of the best ways to obtain nutritious food is to grow it yourself in pots on your kitchen sill. How about starting an herb garden? Rather than pay a lot for small quantities of 'so-called fresh' herbs found on grocery store shelves, buy a living plant and harvest the herbs whenever you like. I have a variety of herbs growing in pots on the window sill of my kitchen. Herbs are the easiest way to quickly add vitamins and minerals and flavor to your dishes.

Italian (or flat-leaf) parsley: easy to maintain
Culinary herbs differ from spices in that herbs are the green, leafy plant parts that are used for flavoring. Spices, on the other hand, are dried plant parts (seeds, bark, root, fruit, berries) used for flavoring, coloring and as a preservative. Turmeric, for example, is a spice and parsley is a herb. Herbs can be dried, but fresh herbs are higher in nutritional value. Perennial culinary herbs include thyme, lavender, rosemary (a shrub), and bay leaves (a tree); biennials or plants that generally take two years to complete their life cycle include parsley, and an example of an annual is basil. You can easily obtain basil plants at your supermarket in the spring and, if adequately watered, will provide leaves for you throughout the summer and into fall.
Basil: always a great companion to tomato dishes
Using a few select herbs as examples, I will highlight why herbs are an important constituent in a healthy life.  

A digestive aid, it reduces stomach cramps and alleviates constipation.  Basil originated from India more than 5000 years ago.  In India it is used as a supplemental treatment of asthma, stress and diabetes. Basil  is popular in Italian and North- and South East Asian cuisine. Add it at the last moment to your dish, as cooking destroys its taste. Did you know that basil belongs to the mint family?  Basil contains a large variety of vitamins (Bs, C, E, K) and minerals. Scientific studies have shown that it has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticarcinogenic and antiviral properties. 

Native to the central Mediterranean region, parsley is used as a herb, spice and vegetable. Raw parsley is high in Vitamin C (100 g provide over 160% of the US daily recommended allowance) and Vitamin K (100 g provide over 1500% of the US daily recommended allowance) and it also contains a large variety of minerals. Parsley is popular in Western and Middle Eastern cooking. A key ingredient in tabbouleh is parsley. Apigenin, an prevalent flavone in parsley, is a potent anticarcinogen. Parsley also contains phytochemicals such as antioxidant carotenoids. The word 'parsley' is derived from the Greek word for rock-parsley 'petroselinon' ('petra' means rock and 'selinon' means parsley). Like basil, parsley aids digestion.

Chives: keep regrowing their leaves during growing season, thus allowing for an on-going harvest
Are the smallest, edible onions. Native to Europe, Asia and North America, chives are popular in horticulture as they repel insects. The Romans used chives to reduce the pain of sore throats and sunburns. Chives aid the circulatory system, and also have slight diuretic, stimulant and antiseptic properties. They contain Vitamins A and C, and are rich in calcium and iron.  

Rosemary: another easy herb to grow
A native of the Mediterranean region, it belongs to the mint family. The name derives from the Latin 'rosmarinus' or ' dew of the sea' as in many places this herb can live solely off the humidity carried in by the sea breeze. It is high in Vitamin B6, calcium and iron. Rosemary has long enjoyed a reputation of enhancing memory. It contains carsonic acid, which lowers the risk of strokes and is useful in slowing down neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, contains antioxidants and may protect the brain from free radicals.  

Peppermint: just add boiling water for a refreshing cup of tea
Is a cross between water mint and spearmint. It originated in Europe and grows best in moist, shaded areas (think your kitchen). It is high in menthol and is used to treat insomnia. Its aroma enhances memory (use it before an exam to improve recall) and digestion.

Other popular herbs are thyme, sage, marjoram, dill, cilantro, lemon balm, oregano and coriander. Although Beare refers to ginger as a herb, it is a spice (and an important ingredient in any kitchen).  Each of these herbs contain a wide variety of minerals and vitamins. They offer the best flavor and nutrient content when harvested fresh from your herb garden. So, how about starting that herb garden today?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Secret 26: Eat Magical Mushrooms

To be more specific, Secret 26 limits itself to the Asian mushrooms: shiitake, maitake and reishi. However, when I went to the local grocery store, the only mushrooms I could easily find were white mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms and crimini mushrooms. Of the three Asian mushrooms lauded by Beare, I was finally able to locate shiitake in both fresh and dry versions. When I looked at the 'fresh' dried-out shiitake in dismay, an observant Russian lady shopper winked at me and stated: "Honey, the dried-looking ones are better, they weigh less so cost less and you only need to soak them in water to plump them up again!"
Shiitake: available in your grocery store and under oak logs
So, according to Beare, what are the benefits of eating these three Asian mushrooms?  I will first list the advantages of shiitake, reishi and maitake mushrooms, then research whether more easily obtainable mushrooms have benefits, too.

Shiitake (Japanese) or 'oak mushroom'
  • contains immune boosting polysaccharide lentinan. In Japan lentinan is used as a powerful anti-tumor medicine as it helps white blood cells remove cancer cells
  • is used to treat coughs
  • reduces cholesterol levels
  • contains over 840 IU/100 grams of anti-carcinogenic Vit. D
Reishi (Chinese) or 'plant of immortality"
  • improves immunity
  • strengthens our cardiovascular system
  • helps treat asthma, arthritis and liver disorders by enhancing the concentration of T-helper cells
  • is anti-allergenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-viral
  • has antioxidant characteristics
Reishi or 'the Elixir of Life'
Maitake (Japanese) or 'dancing mushroom' 
  • contains immune-system enhancing polysaccharide beta-glucan
  • contains D-fraction, which boosts our natural killer cells. D-fraction has been shown to slow down the growth of tumors in mice
  • D-fraction also reduces the unpleasant side-effects of chemotherapy
  • contains SX-fraction, which helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels
  • SX-fraction also seems to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure
  • SX-fraction assists in treating stomach conditions
Maitake, the dancing mushroom that makes mushroom hunters 'dance for joy' when it is found
More commonly found on supermarket shelves in U.S. grocery stores in Colorado than these Asian mushrooms are white mushrooms, Portobello mushrooms and Crimini mushrooms.  Are these really three different kinds of mushroom, or one and the same?

White mushrooms or Agaricus bisporus have many names and are also known as crimini, button, champignon, common, table, Roman/Swiss/Italian brown and grow up to become Portobellos.  So how does this one mushroom compare to its more exotic Asian cousins?

White mushroom
  • contains minerals such as sodium, potassium, phosphorus
  • contains Vit. D
  • may inhibit aromatase, which in turn may lower estrogen levels
  • apparently women who consume white mushrooms on a regular basis have a lower incidence of breast cancer
  • if you eat fresh white mushrooms daily and drink green tea, the risk for breast cancer drops by more than 80% 1
  • enhances your immune systems, in particular the function of the dendritic cells. Dendritic cells are antigen presenting cells
  1. Raw white mushrooms contain trace amounts of carcinogenic hydrazine derivatives such as agaritine and gyromitrin. You may wish to cook white mushrooms before consuming them as heat inactivates these derivatives.
  2. You can purchase shiitake logs and grow these mushrooms yourself if you prefer freshly harvested mushrooms.

Personal observation: 
  • since I associate the color white in food such as white sugar, white flour, white rice with a lack of nutrients, I erroneously assumed that white mushrooms are equally deficient in nutrients.  However, the former are processed and the latter grow.  As the blog shows, even white mushrooms are beneficial. 
  • I have noticed that consuming Portobello mushrooms cooked in olive oil for dinner greatly enhances sleep.  If you have difficulties falling asleep, eat one large cooked Portobello mushroom before going to bed.

Bottom line:  if shiitake, maitake and reishi are not easily obtainable, enjoy cooked white /crimini /Portobello mushrooms instead!

Zhang, M; Huang, J; Xie, X; Holman, CD (Mar 2009). "Dietary intakes of mushrooms and green tea combine to reduce the risk of breast cancer in Chinese women.". International Journal of Cancer124 (6): 1404–1408. doi:10.1002/ijc.24047ISSN 0020-7136.PMID 19048616.