Organic fruits and vegetables

Organic fruits and vegetables
To Love Oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance. --Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Brazil's new 10 steps to healthy diets

The World Health Organization recommends that governments formulate and periodically revise guidelines on food and nutrition. I've been reading Brazil's new dietary guidelines and was impressed with their 10 steps to healthy diets.  The Guidelines consider the means by which food is produced, distributed, and sold, favoring those which are socially and environmentally sustainable. It considers the social context of food, and the preparation and advertisement of food.  And it talks about appropriate environments for eating food. It reminds us of the importance of cooking meals in our homes using organic foods. It discourages eating at fast food restaurants like McDonalds. Our own country has neglected some of these areas and they are important.  They seem to be well thought out and wise.  I personally disagree with the eating of any animal products, but everything else is spot on.

1.  MAKE NATURAL OR MINIMALLY PROCESSED FOODS THE BASIS OF YOUR DIET. Natural or minimally processed foods, in great variety, and mainly of plant origin, are the basis for diets that are nutritionally balanced, delicious, culturally appropriate, and supportive of socially and environmentally sustainable food systems. Variety means foods of all types — cereals, legumes, roots, tubers, vegetables, fruits, nuts, milk, eggs, meat — and diversity within each type — such as beans and lentils, rice and corn, potato and cassava, tomatoes and squash, orange and banana.

2. USE OILS, FATS, SALT, AND SUGAR IN SMALL AMOUNTS WHEN SEASONING AND COOKING NATURAL OR MINIMALLY PROCESSED FOODS AND TO CREATE CULINARY PREPARATIONS. As long as they are used in moderation in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods, oils, fats, salt, and sugar contribute to diverse and delicious diets without making them nutritionally unbalanced.

3.  LIMIT CONSUMPTION OF PROCESSED FOODS. The ingredients and methods used in the manufacture of processed foods — such as vegetables in brine, fruits in syrup, cheeses and breads — unfavorably alter the nutritional composition of the foods from which they are derived. In small amounts, processed foods can be used as ingredients in dishes and meals based on natural or minimally processed foods.

4.  AVOID CONSUMPTION OF ULTRA-PROCESSED FOODS. Because of their ingredients, ultra-processed foods such as salty fatty packaged snacks, soft drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, and instant noodles, are nutritionally unbalanced. As a result of their formulation and presentation, they tend to be consumed in excess, and displace natural or minimally processed foods. Their means of production, distribution, marketing, and consumption damage culture, social life, and the environment.

5.  EAT REGULARLY AND CAREFULLY IN APPROPRIATE ENVIRONMENTS AND, WHENEVER POSSIBLE, IN COMPANY.  Make your daily meals at regular times. Avoid snacking between meals. Eat slowly and enjoy what you are eating, without engaging in another activity. Eat in clean, comfortable and quiet places, where there is no pressure to consume unlimited amounts of food. Whenever possible, eat in company, with family, friends, or colleagues: this increases the enjoyment of food and encourages eating regularly, attentively, and in appropriate environments. Share household activities that precede or succeed the consumption of meals.

6.  SHOP IN PLACES THAT OFFER A VARIETY OF NATURAL OR MINIMALLY PROCESSED FOODS. Shop in supermarkets and municipal and farmers markets, or buy directly from producers or other places, that sell varieties of natural or minimally processed foods. Prefer vegetables and fruits that are locally grown in season. Whenever possible, buy organic and agroecological based foods, preferably directly from the producers.

7.  DEVELOP, EXERCISE AND SHARE COOKING SKILLS. If you have cooking skills, develop them and share them, especially with boys and girls. If you do not have these skills — men as well as women —acquire them. Learn from and talk with people who know how to cook. Ask family, friends, and colleagues for recipes, read books, check the internet, and eventually take courses. Start cooking!

8.  PLAN YOUR TIME TO MAKE FOOD AND EATING IMPORTANT IN YOUR LIFE. Plan the food shopping, organize your domestic stores, and decide on meals in advance. Share with family members the responsibility for all activities related to meals. Make the preparation and eating of meals privileged times of conviviality and pleasure. Assess how you live so as to give proper time for food and eating.

9.  OUT OF HOME, PREFER PLACES THAT SERVE FRESHLY MADE MEALS. Eat in places that serve fresh meals at good prices. Self-service restaurants and canteens that serve food buffet-style charged by weight are good choices. Avoid fast food chains.

10.  BE WARY OF FOOD ADVERTISING AND MARKETING. The purpose of advertising is to increase product sales, and not to inform or educate people. Be critical and teach children to be critical of all forms of food advertising and marketing.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Cognitive Distortions, Eating, and Kindness

Why do people have such a difficult time making dietary changes?  Most people understand intuitively that we all need to be eating more fruits and vegetables. So why don’t we do it?  I believe that we create negative thoughts and distortions of reality that keep us from moving forward.  Our minds actually try to convince us of something that isn’t really true.  These untruths block our ability to make good decisions.  Essentially we employ an inner critic who sends us hurtful remarks and sabotages our efforts.  I want to show you how your thoughts are like unkind voices that try to defeat you in your quest to become vegan or just eat in a more healthy way.  Then I want to end by suggesting ways to be kind to yourself as you make the journey towards a healthier life.

Aaron Beck first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions.  Understanding how we use these distortions and counteracting them are the basis of “Cognitive Therapy.”

Some Cognitive Distortions you may have when making food choices

1.     Food Filtering:  As you are making strides to make better food choices you filter out all of the positive aspects of your diet or changes you have already made, that are good.  Or you may focus on a single, unpleasant detail of your food experience and dwell on it exclusively.  Ie; “I never have enough strength to turn down dessert.” Or “Food only tastes good when I put cheese on it.”

2.     The Black or white diet; You might be tempted to say to yourself, “You are either a vegan or not a vegan.”   “If you don’t eat a perfect diet you are a failure.”  If your performance falls short of perfection you see yourself as a total failure.  For example,  “I’ve been eating healthfully all week but I just slipped and had 3 Oreos.  I guess I’m a failure.  I’ll just eat the whole bag.”  Or “As long as I’m overweight I am not worth very much.” “If I can’t be completely vegan today, then why even try?”

3.     Jumping to Conclusions about food.  For example:  “I just really hate eating salads.  It’s like bunny food and I always feel hungry afterwards.”  Or “It’s not possible to only eat whole plant foods.  Or “If it’s green it’s going to taste terrible.”  “I do not like them Sam-I-Am.”  I think Dr. Seuss was really talking about spinach in his book, not eggs and ham. We learn as children to dislike certain foods.  When we’re adults we no longer have to be held captive by the conclusions of a child.  We can retrain our palates.

4.     Diet control issues and blaming someone else for what you eat:  When you feel controlled externally you become a helpless victim.  Ie:  “I can’t eat a healthy diet, my wife makes the most delicious, fattening foods.  What am I supposed to do, hurt her feelings?” Or “My friends are always ordering pizza.  It’s their fault that I’m overweight.”  We, and only we, are in control of the substances that go into our mouths! It’s never, never, never, someone else’s fault. We are not victims when we are the person holding the fork.

5.     Shoulds and shouldn’ts:  You may believe that using this word will motivate you with guilt.  However guilt is such a negative emotion that we can get lost in it and never move on.  Ie. “I really should eat a green salad for lunch but these cold cuts in my fridge need some attention.”  “My doctor tells me not to eat so much dairy.  I shouldn’t be eating this ice cream right now.  I’m just so weak.” These statements, made to ourselves, make us feel anger, frustration, and even shame and resentment, but not motivation.

6.     The reward fallacy:  When we have been working so hard we expect our sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if someone was keeping score.  We feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come quickly enough.  “I think I should have lost more weight by now!”  “How come no one has noticed that I have been eating more vegetables?”  “It’s time I rewarded myself with a hot fudge sundae.”

7.     Emotional reasoning:  “I feel fat and ugly.”  “I feel weak and powerless.”  “I feel like I can never make these changes.” Remember that just because you feel something, that doesn’t make it true.  Do not reason with your emotions.  Just allow yourself to feel them, acknowledge the emotion, and then move on. 

8.     Labeling:  “I am fat and ugly.”  I am weak and powerless or “I have no will power.”  “I only like certain foods.” This kind of language is powerful.  When you say it to yourself, you tend to believe it! You would never say these things about someone else to their face because you know that it would hurt them.  Then you should not say them to yourself.

With some practice, all of us can learn to recognize these fallacies and other negative distortions.  Through kindness we can stop the self-sabotage.  In the book “Heart to Heart by Anna Guest-Jelley , the author says that we need to “focus on cultivating kindness, because we don’t heal ourselves with insults, judgment and body bashing.  We heal ourselves—our bruised body image, our sinking self-worth—with compassion.  Here are some ways from her book that we can practice kindness towards ourselves every day. 

  • Savoring your favorite (healthy) foods.
  • Checking in with how you feel after eating those foods. “I feel so light and energetic.”  “That salad made me feel really good.”
  • Not making critical comments about your body in conversations with others. Or even better, making kind comments about yourself to others.  “I have been working so hard on eating more healthfully.
  • Journaling about what you need more and less of in your life.
  • Celebrating your many physical gifts — the gifts of walking, talking, tasting, seeing, smelling, smiling, laughing. Reward yourself with healthy whole foods instead of ice cream, soda, or cookies.
  • Stretching and moving your body every day.
  • Not fixating on how much you weigh, and instead focusing on how you feel and the habits that make you happy.
  • Being honest with yourself about difficult situations.
  • Accepting a compliment about yourself instead of giving reasons why you don’t deserve it.
  • Focusing on my own well-being and engaging in habits that nourish me from the inside out. 
  • Trying new things (like kale, and brussel sprouts) 

Consider speaking to yourself with a gentle, soft, caring voice as if you were speaking to a child or the person you love most in the world. Making healthy lifestyle changes is a journey not a destination.  The more kindness that you give to yourself, the more you will love yourself, and the more you will be able to move forward on your journey. You can rewrite your story and be the person you really want to be.  Just use kind words…..they are so powerful…..

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Should I Take a Multivitamin Part 2

Here is a label for a multivitamin.  Looks normal, but there are a few items on this list that we ought to know more about.  Should I take this multivitamin? Some studies are pointing to the fact that supplements might actually be hurting rather than helping us.  I believe there are a number of ingredients on this list that are beneficial.  However some of them are actually quite risky. We need to start reading the labels on our multivitamins and make sure that they don’t contain any of the following ingredients.

Risky multivitamin ingredients:

Vitamin A and Beta Carotene:  Ingesting these vitamins may interfere with the absorption of other crucially important carotenoids, such as lutein and lycopene, thus potentially increasing cancer risk. Recently it has been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers when administered as a supplement rather than ingested from food.  Supplemental Vitamin A induces calcium loss and may contribute to osteoporosis.  It has also been linked to birth defects.  Do not take this supplement when pregnant. 

Folic Acid:  This is the synthetic version of folate, which is a B vitamin found in plant foods, especially those that are green. Folic acid is added to most enriched, refined grain products in the US and Canada in an attempt to replace the nutrients lost during the processing of whole grains. Scientists don’t yet know the implications of circulating synthetic folic acid, but more and more evidence suggests that supplementing with it can increase the occurrence of certain cancers (like breast, prostate and colorectal cancers). Your best source of folate is in foods like asparagus, edamame, lentils, broccoli, chickpeas, romaine lettuce and spinach.  If you are pregnant, most doctors recommend taking folic acid for the fetus’ cognitive development. However if you eat beans and greens on a daily basis, you will get the healthier folate to your baby without needing supplementation. 

Copper:  Excess copper from supplementation in the diet is associated with reduced immune function and lower antioxidant status.  Recent research has indicated that high copper intake combined with a diet high in saturated and trans fats could lead to an accelerated rate of mental decline in older adults.  No need to supplement this compound. Copper is easily found in flax seed meal, which is a whole food with many added benefits like; improved cholesterol and blood sugar, controls blood pressure, and helps control hot flashes in menopausal women.  Ground flax may decrease breast cancer risk by slowing the menstrual cycle.  It may also control prostate enlargement as effectively as the leading prescription drug (Flomax). My husband and I put a tablespoon or two each morning on our oatmeal or shredded wheat cereal with bananas and blueberries.  It’s also great in smoothies. It has a really nice flavor.  Golden flax and brown flax are basically the same in flavor and nutrient value.

Iron: We need iron to build up our blood.  But too much iron may increase our risk of cancer, heart disease, and a number of inflammatory conditions.  Other conditions associated with high iron intake include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, arthritis, and diabetes.  The body has no mechanism to rid itself of excess iron. It is easily able to absorb the right amount of iron in plant foods, but cannot regulate the iron in ingested blood or heme iron from animal foods.  Most prenatal vitamins have iron.  Is this necessary?  Non-anemic pregnant women should not take iron supplements.  It is associated with preterm birth, low birth weight, and maternal high blood pressure. Iron is a pro-oxidant and can induce oxidative stress and DNA damage. Only people with a confirmed diagnosis of iron deficiency should take an iron supplement. And even then, they should first try eating iron rich plant foods like chick peas and pumpkin seeds at the same meal with vitamin C rich foods (broccoli, bell peppers, citrus). Note: Drinking tea and coffee with your meals can impair iron absorption.

Zinc: Anyone eating a plant-based diet should be eating whole grains, beans, and nuts every day for their zinc. It is not necessary to take it in multivitamin form, but it probably doesn’t hurt.  It appears that men may require more than women because they loose some in their semen.  However there is some research pointing zinc supplementation to prostate cancer in men.

Researchers haven’t found any negative effects for the other vitamins in your normal multivitamin supplement.  If you haven’t looked at the label of your multivitamin, take the time now to go grab it and check out the label.  You will definitely need a high quality multivitamin with Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3, as well as iodine if you don’t use much salt.  Don’t buy it if it has Vitamin A, Beta Carotene, Folic Acid, Copper, or Iron (unless your doctor says you are anemic).  The research on multivitamins suggests that there is no clear evidence of a beneficial effect of supplement use. However if you are vegan, you must at least supplement with Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D3.  An excellent natural multivitamin that purposefully leaves out the questionable vitamins is Dr. Fuhrman’s men and women’s daily formula +D3 multivitamin.  He also offers a liquid DHA/EPA.  It is from a pure vegan algal source. You can find it at this website:

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Should I take a multivitamin? Part 1

About 1 in 3 Americans takes a multivitamin. In 2012, nutritional supplements generated 32 billion U.S. dollars worldwide. The use of dietary supplements has shifted from the body-conscious and muscle building groups towards the general population. Baby Boomers and adolescents form the backbone of the supplement market in the United States.

Most of the scientific research I have read suggests that the healthiest way to eat is a whole plant foods diet, supplemented with Vitamin B12.  Lots of multivitamins include Vitamin B12 (or cyanocobalamin). But do we need all those other vitamins and minerals?   There is some research that suggests that an overabundance of certain vitamin substances has been associated with a higher risk of mortality.  Should we stop wasting money on vitamin supplements?  Here’s what you need to know.

Vitamin Supplements worth taking:

Vitamin B12: Vitamin B12 isn’t made by either animals or plants, but by microbes. We used to get all we needed by drinking well water or drinking out of mountain streams. Now we chlorinate our water supply and that kills off all these essential bacteria that make Vitamin B12. Bacteria line the guts of all animals and therefore we can get some B12 through eating animals or animal products. However, you’d have to eat hundreds of scrambled eggs a day to get the amount you need. Therefore, many eaters of animal products are also B12 deficient. Vitamin B12 becomes difficult to obtain in our sanitized world.  B12 deficiency is common in vegans and can result in paralysis, myelopathy, psychosis, or atherosclerosis.  People with pernicious anemia are also B12 deficient but that is because of an absorption difficulty.  They must get their B12 directly into their blood stream through an injection. All pregnant women should take Vitamin B12.  The lack of it can cause infantile seizures. Vegan children also need to get their B12.  It is imperative to fortify a vegan diet. We need to take 250 mcg daily or 2,500 mcg of B12 once a week.  When you take it once a week you have to take a great deal more for the daily benefits. Ideally it should be chewable, sublingual or liquid.  A good food source for this vitamin is found in nutritional yeast or fortified breakfast cereal, but a supplement is much cheaper. 

Vitamin D:  This is considered the only supplement that will actually help us live longer, especially if it is Vitamin D3. This vitamin is impossible to get from the diet alone, because it is actually produced by the body when it’s exposed to sunlight. There are only two ways to get enough Vitamin D; that is by being in the sun or by taking a supplement. When you live in the northern hemisphere as we do, you can’t make enough Vitamin D in November through February, because the sun’s rays are at such a steep angle. Supplementation is essential during these months.  Otherwise we need 15-30 minutes of mid-day sun to give us enough Vitamin D. Get your full 30 minutes of exposure before you put on sunscreen.  People of dark skin need to get more skin exposure. You may need 3-10 times longer to make enough Vitamin D. If you’re outside, in a bathing suit, on the beach and you get a light pinkness to your skin 24 hours later, that is equivalent to about 15,000-20,000 Units of Vitamin D.  Your body has systems that get rid of any excess Vitamin D that you don’t use.  So it’s difficult to experience a toxicity. You only need supplement around 2000 IU’s a day. You can also get Vitamin D from wild Salmon. But being vegan makes that impossible.

Vitamin D produced in your skin lasts 2-3 times longer in your body than it does if you take it as a supplement. Don’t try to get your Vitamin D from tanning beds.  The World Health Organization has classified tanning bed exposure as carcinogenic to humans.  It can increase the risk of melanoma by 75% and is therefore in the highest risk category, with other Group 1 carcinogens including asbestos, cigarettes, and arsenic.  

There is evidence that Vitamin D supplementation may help prevent respiratory diseases.  One study found that those randomized to 1000 IU of Vitamin D a day appeared to reduce their incidence of colds and fly by 90%.  Our inability to produce Vitamin D during the winter months may explain why colds and flus go up during this time period.

The Endocrine Society recently recommended that children should be on 600-1000 Units of Vitamin D a day and adults 1500-2000 Units of Vitamin D a day to prevent and treat Vitamin D deficiency. For those that are obese, you may need 2-3 times more Vitamin D, to satisfy the individual needs of your  Either expose more skin to the sun or take more Vitamin D, or both.  My advice to everyone is to always take the supplement, and then make an effort to get in your 30 outside minutes each day. The ideal time to make Vitamin D is between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm.  For our grandchildren, we call it “green time.”  They have to have some every day before they’re allowed screen time.
body. The older you are, the less capable your body is at absorbing this vitamin.

Iodine:  For those who don’t eat seaweed or use iodized salt, a 150 mcg daily supplement is necessary. United States vegans may be at risk for low iodine intake. Iodine is critical for pregnant women to take for their unborn child’s cognitive development.  Broccoli, flax, and soy contain goitrogenic substances.  These substances can interfere with thyroid function.  If you eat these foods, you must make sure to take an iodine supplement.

Omega 3 Fatty acids: Thanks to recommendations from the American Heart Association, many people at high risk for heart disease are supplementing with fish oil.  However, the science does not support this suggestion.  In fact some scientific studies suggest that those advised to eat oily fish and fish oil capsules had a higher risk of cardiac death. We consume over 100,000 tons of fish oil every year.  We are overfishing our oceans for this product. Algal oils contain all of the benefits and none of the risks of fish oils. Algae is organic, bloodless, sustainable, and bioequivalent. It may even be cheaper.  We need 250 mg of pollutant free (yeast or algae derived) long-chain omega-3’s daily.  It is sometimes called EPA/DHA.

Supplementing our diet with certain vitamins may be essential for vegans in the highly clean and indoor environment of modern life. However there may be some supplementation that could actually be harmful to us. My next post will cover the questionable vitamins found in many multivitamins. You might be surprised which ones are troublesome.  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

So…What about Caffeine?

What would you like to drink?  The simple answer:  Water.  But things are never really that simple. In earlier posts, I discussed soft drinks and alcohol.  In this post let’s talk more about our favorite ingredient: caffeine.

What is caffeine?  The most widely used plant product in the world, caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant. Virtually everyone has experienced its pharmacological effects. It is estimated that the amount of caffeine consumed daily is equivalent to one cup of coffee for every man, woman, and child on Earth. Besides coffee, caffeine is present in tea, cocoa, chocolates, maté, soft drinks, and numerous over-the-counter medications.  Read more here

Why do we like caffeine? Caffeine-containing products help us stay alert and awake. We have known this for thousands of years. The Chinese drank tea for improved mental abilities. The Aztec drank bitter cocoa water. In western medicine, caffeine and caffeinated beverages have been used to stimulate respiration.  Caffeine has also been used to treat apnea in infants.  Caffeine (and theophylline, a companion ingredient), are used as diuretics, for relieving symptoms of asthma, and treating symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Both are used to increase heart rate and blood flow and to stimulate cardiac muscle. The beneficial effects of these chemicals makes understanding them essential.   

Where does it come from? Scores of plant chemicals are contained in beverages brewed from coffee beans, cacao beans, or tea leaves. Of these, the ones that have thus far demonstrated the most pharmacological activity, are the alkaloids: caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine.  Caffeine is the most potent.  Plants synthesize these products to protect themselves from natural predators.  They are a type of natural insecticide.  

How much caffeine is in our favorite beverages?A typical cup of coffee contains approximately 100 mg of caffeine and maté about 85 mg. There is only 50 mg or so of caffeine in a cup of tea, and around 5 mg in a cup of cocoa. Theophylline is present in only trace amounts in coffee and cocoa, but in greater quantities than caffeine in teas. While there is very little theobromine in tea and coffee, up to 250 mg of this alkaloid are present in a cup of chocolate and some 40 mg in a cup of maté.” Soda has between 23-47 mg of caffeine. To find more statistics on caffein in your beverages go here.  

How much caffeine do we need to feel nervous system effects? The blood levels of a person just consuming 100 mg of caffeine, roughly the amount consumed in a cup of coffee, are sufficient to increase wakefulness. The human ingestion of 1 gram (10 cups of coffee) or more of caffeine causes marked central nervous system stimulation, which manifests as insomnia, restlessness, excitability, and, possibly, seizures. In both laboratory animals and humans, caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine also have direct effects on organs and tissues outside of the central nervous system. These include stimulation of the heart rate and force of contraction, dilation of blood vessels and lung bronchioles, and increased urination, They increase the amount of blood pumped from the heart with each contraction.

Is caffeine addictive? Yes. Over time, you experience a diminished response to these chemicals (known as tolerance), as well as physical and psychological dependence on them. Accordingly, tolerant individuals must take more and more of these compounds than new users to achieve the same effect. This is why people are compelled to drink so many caffeinated beverages every day.  If we are aware of the potent effects of these drugs, and use them judiciously, (not every day), they could actually be of service to us in times of need (ie. driving late at night, trying to study for an exam, or during an asthma attack).

What are the most common risks of using caffeine? Small doses and temporary uses don’t usually present any serious risks.  However, it is a diuretic, which means it can cause dehydration.  If you consume a beverage with caffeine, you should drink plenty of water afterward.  Frequent caffeine consumers complain of shortness of breath. Excessive use over long periods of time can cause stress on the heart.  You can even develop an allergy or intolerance to caffeine over time. This "Caffein informer" web site has gathered the most common allergic reactions to caffeine.  Some of them include: skin problems such as itching, rashes, acne, and hives; Anxiety and panic attacks; inability to focus; tongue, glands, or throat swelling, heart racing, angry, irritable, bad mood; fatigue; dizziness; jitters; chest pain; depression; numbness; muscle pain; shortness of breath; delusions; and vision problems.
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We like to drink delicious beverages. Many of them contain a lot of caffeine.  An icy glass of water with a slice of lemon can be just as refreshing.  I put one drop of lemon essential oil in my water and it satisfies my desire for flavor.  No need for the special drinks, except as a rare exception. So when the nice waitress at the restaurant asks you what you want to drink... say “Water, thank you.”

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