What's the point of buying organic?

usdaThe term “organic” get’s a lot of use these days.  “Organic” is a buzz word in the fitness world, among health nuts, and in the media, but sometimes when trendy words get thrown around their meanings gets muddled.  This has been true of the word “organic,” especially since a study (which was sponsored by industrial food companies) claimed that organic foods aren’t any “healthier” than conventionally grown foods.  Hopefully I can clarify exactly what organic is and why it’s important to buy as many organic products as your budget can manage.

To start off with, the term “organic” when used on labels in the United States is tightly regulated by the USDA and a number of third party organic certification companies.  The standards for organic foods established by the USDA are as follows:

  • Organic farming should integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity
  • Genetic engineering (GMOs) is not allowed
  • Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, or irradiation may not be used
  • Hormones and anti-biotics must not be use
  • Prohibited chemical pesticides cannot be used

Secondly, while organic foods don’t always contain  higher densities of nutrients than conventionally grown foods, they often do.  For example, organic milk, which comes from cows that have access to pastureland and grass, contains large amounts of the healthy fat CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) and vitamin K2, which aren’t found in conventional dairy products.  Since organic foods tend to be raised with methods that are closer to what’s found in nature, the result is healthier, more life-giving food.

Also, one of the most important considerations when choosing to buy organic foods isn’t just what organic foods provide but what they don’t provide!  Unlike make of the fruits and vegetables that are sold in grocery stores, organic produce doesn’t contain any toxic pesticide residues!  Some of the most popular foods, such as apples, are the highest in pesticides.  With the rates of cancer increasing every year, it’s important to know and consider what we are feeding our families and putting in our bodies.

Finally, organic food is more sustainable and better for God’s creation, including people, plants, and animals.  I like to say, “What’s good for us is good for the environment.” Why? Because we are part of the creation; we are “creatures” as it were, therefore we are intimately linked to all of the natural biological process in the world.  We can’t continue to pretend like we live in a bubble.  When we put pesticides and chemical fertilizers on plants, not only are we at risk of ingesting their residues, these chemicals also get washed into water systems, destroying ecosystems, and eventually making the earth a less habitable place for all creatures (including us).

Buying organic foods isn’t going to fix all the problems with our food system, that’s for sure, but it is definitely  a great way to contribute.  It’s actually somewhat ridiculous that we even have to call organic foods “organic” or come up with all these standards.  Organic food is basically just normal food, the way it’s found in God’s creation, free of all the chemicals and industrial processes of man. Organic food is good food!*

*As a quick side note, just because something is organic doesn’t mean it’s healthy.  For example, there are all kinds of organic processed foods out there: candy, pastries, and other treats.  So, when you buy organic, just be sure to buy organic whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy, and meat! Organic foods can be found at a growing number of grocery stores and farmer’s markets!  There are also foods that are not yet certified organic that meet all the qualifications of real food, so meet your local farmers and find out what they have to offer.

Originally posted 2013-06-11 20:29:04.

Benefits of Beta Glucan (found in oats, mushrooms, and yeast)

Portabella MushroomBeta glucan is a powerful little fiber molecule that has several potential health benefits.  A fiber is anything that the body can’t fully digest and, therefore, passes through the digestive system.  There a many different types of fiber, and some fibers, like beta glucan, stand above the rest.

Beta-glucan is a type of sugar (called a polysaccharide) that is molecularly arranged in such a way that it’s indigestible.   There are basically two different classes of beta glucan: the insoluble kind that activate the digestive tract’s immune cells, and the soluble kind that absorb water and help remove excess cholesterol.

Beta Glucan In Oats and Barley (Grains)

Oats and barley are particularly high in soluble beta glucans, and studies have found that regular consumption of oatmeal or supplementation with grain-derived beta-glucan may help lower LDL cholesterol levels.  Beta-gluacan’s effectiveness, however, is not consistent and is affected by a number of variables.   The amount of oatmeal that was found to help lower cholesterol was 84 grams per day.  Supplemental doses of beta-glucan ranged from 3-9 grams per day.  Other studies indicate that beta-glucan may also help improve blood-sugar levels and perhaps enhance endurance capabilities.

Beta Glucan in Yeast and Mushrooms (Funguses) 

Both mushrooms and yeast are high in insoluble beta glucan.  Some of the best mushroom sources of beta glucan are common white mushrooms, crimini, and shitake.  The primary yeast source of beta glucan is baker’s yeast.  The beta glucan in mushrooms and yeast demonstrates strong immunomodulating effects.  In other words, it activates the body’s immune system, which makes sense given mushrooms’ reputation for boosting the immune system.  Studies have found the beta glucan from funguses activate powerful immune system responses like an increase in white blood cell and killer-t cell activity.  A growing number of studies (though still small) indicate that this activity may help the body fight against cancer cells and viral/bacterial infections. 

While the beta glucan in funguses stimulates specific immune responses, it simultaneously suppresses the body’ non-specific immune responses, like the release of superoxide anion and hydrogen peroxide.  There’s evidence that beta-glucan’s suppression of non-specific inflammatory responses can help reduce the symptoms of common respiratory allergies.

The take away: While the best way to lower LDL cholesterol is to reduce stress, exercise, and eat plenty of greens, eating a little bit of oatmeal everyday might not be a bad idea.  Also, even good old common mushrooms have powerful immune-boosting properties, so eat them up!  They’re affordable and add great flavor to a number of dishes.

Recommended Products:

References: Oats and Anti-fatigue, Beta-Glucan’s Effect on Glycemic Index, Biomedical Issues of Dietary Fiber Beta-Glucan, The Application of Beta-Glucan for the Treatment of Colon Cancer, Glucans Inhibit Allergic Airway Inflammation

Originally posted 2013-05-24 00:02:42.

How ’bout quinoa?

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) has been growing in popularity as a health food and an alternative to grains since the 1970s.  And there are undoubtedly some great reasons to enjoy quinoa in your diet — read more to find out how and why:

History: Quinoa was the food that sustained prehistoric civilizations and cultures throughout the Andes Mountains, especially in an area known as the Altiplano.  It’s estimated that Quinoa was domesticated as a crop between 3,500 and 5,000 years ago and has been in continuous use since that time.  Quinoa was the most important crop of the Tiwanaku civilization, which pre-dated and laid the foundation for the Incan empire.  At the principal Tiwanaku city, near Lake Titicaca (1,100-1,400 AD), large quinoa fields provided enough nutrition to sustain a population as large as 500,000 people! After the Tiwanuku civilization fell, the Incas continued to rely on quinoa as a primary source of food (in combination with potatoes) to sustain their empire until they were colonized by the Spaniards.  Many people throughout the Andes Mountains continue to rely on quinoa as an important source of nutrition and income to this day.

Quinoa is a special plant because it’s highly nutritious and uniquely suited for growing at high elevations and in inclement conditions.  In fact, this nutrion powerhouse prefers harsh climates; it only grows well above 11,000 feet, and it even grows well in salty soil.  Another great thing about quinoa is how versatile it is.  Both its leaves and seeds are edible.  Like the plants it’s related to (beets, spinach, chard), quinoa’s leafy greens are rich in anti-oxidants, minerals, and vitamins; they can be sauteed or added to soups.  The seeds are high in both starches and a high quality, complete protein.  Quinoa seeds were traditionally used in soup or porridge, to make flour, or to ferment into a special drink called chicha.

Considerations: While quinoa can be a rich source of high quality nutrients, it also contains the anti-nutrients saponin and phytic acid.  In order to neutralize the anti-nutrients and release the good nutrition, quinoa should be properly prepared and served the way indigenous cultures learned to serve it through trial and error over thousands of years.

The bitter saponins that coat the quinoa seeds much be removed by washing.  A common traditional method was to wash the quinoa with three different rinsings.  I’ve personally experienced that three washing does just the trick; by the third rinse you’ll notice visibly fewer suds caused by the saponins.  You can use a strainer to rinse the seeds, but I’ve found that the seeds are heavy enough that I can just decant most of the water from the top of the pot.

Most of the phytic acid content (60-70%) can be removed by an overnight soaking.  Don’t let the extra preparation scare you away — it’s incredibly simple.  All you have to do is put the quinoa you plan to cook in a pot filled with water for 12 hours.  Since I usually enjoy my quinoa for breakfast, I just put it in a pot with water the night before.  The next day I rinse off the saponins, and it’s ready to cook.  There’s really nothing to it.  Also, the soaking will help the quinoa cook faster, making it easier to prepare before heading to work.

A non-nutrition related consideration, but still very important, is the source of the quinoa.  Recently, the increased demand for quinoa in the United States created a price inflation that’s making quinoa difficult to afford for the people (in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador) who grow quinoa and depend on it as a staple food.  The increased demand has also led to a greater risk for unsustainable growing practices, leading to soil erosion and ecological damage.  But, responsibly and ethically supplied, quinoa can be both a good source of income for South American farmers and maintain its place in traditional diets.  Fair Trade Certified companies like Alter Eco work together with local farmers to ensure sustainable practices, and they make sure that local farmers keep at least 10% of the crop for the personal use (this way they don’t have to rely on disease-promoting, processed industrial foods for survival).

Nutrition Highlights: Properly prepared, quinoa is high in a complete protein (great for vegetarians), digestible carbohydrates (mostly glucose, the body’s preferred source of energy), several B-vitamins, and a number of important minerals, including potassium (which can’t be said for grains).  To boot, quinoa isn’t actually part of the grain family, so it’s gluten-free.  It’s also a great source (like spinach) of phytoecdysteroids, which may promote muscle development and improve bone density.

Key nutrients in a 1/4 cup (dry measurement) serving of quinoa:

  • 27 g of carbohydrates and 6 g of protein
  • Thiamin – 10% DV
  • Riboflavin – 8% DV
  • Vitamin B6 – 10% DV
  • Folate – 19.5% DV
  • Iron – 11% DV
  • Magnesium – 21% DV
  • Potassium – 7%
  • Zinc – 9%
  • Copper – 12.5%
  • Manganese – 43%
  • B-ecdysterone (phytoecdysteroid) – 15 mg

(Nutrition information is from the USDA National Nutrient Database)

The Take Away: Quinoa is an excellent source of protein, carbohydrates, and many important micronutrients.  It’s an especially perfect food for people on gluten-free or vegetarian diets.  In order to actually digest all those great nutrients, just remember to soak quinoa for at least 12 hours, then rinse it three times.  Also, there are only a few places in the world where quinoa will grow, and a lot of people who want to eat it, so be sure to keep the people in mind who are growing it (as well as the environment where it is being grown) by buying quinoa that is certified fair trade.

Recipe: 

Breakfast Porridge (two servings):

Ingredients: 1/2 cup quinoa, 2 cups water, 2 tbsp butter (from grass fed cows), 2 tsp honey, cinnamon, and milk.

Directions: Bring quinoa and water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until quinoa is soft and of porridge consistency.  Reduce heat to low then add milk to preferred consistency and heat until milk is warmed.  Remove from stove and divide into two bowls, then add 1 tablespoon of butter and one teaspoon of honey to each bowl.  Sprinkle with cinnamon to desired taste.

Recommended Products: Alter Eco Fair Trade Certified Quinoa

References: Alternative Field Crops Manual, Quinoa: Production, Consumption, and Social Value in Historic Perspective, Living with Phytic Acid (Weston Price Foundation)

Originally posted 2013-05-09 19:43:37.

How 'bout corn?

corn-smallCorn’s reputation as a food has gone through a rough time lately, and I’d like to redeem it a little bit.  Corn is a grain with a rich history, and while modern uses of it should be frowned upon, history and science indicate that corn can have a valid place in a creation-based diet.

History: Corn was developed by ancient farmers in what is now southern Mexico about 7,000 years ago.  It was domesticated from a grass named teosinte.   After a couple thousand years of use, it became one of the most important crops for civilizations like the Olmecs, Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs in Central and South America.  Through selective breeding for varieties that could withstand the cold, corn slowly made its way north by trade.  Corn was grown in the Southwest as early as 4,000 years ago, but it wasn’t until about 1,000 years ago that North American Indians (Iroquois, Algonquin, and Caddo speakers to name a few) started growing corn further north and east in places like the Mississippi Delta, the Ohio River Valley, and the Northeastern Woodlands.

After European colonization of the Americas, corn was distributed across the globe and is now one of the world’s largest crops.  The United States is currently the world’s largest producer (32% of the global production), and corn is the largest crop in the United States. Unfortunately, this massive mono crop requires vast amounts of petroleum inputs, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, land use, and irrigation. [1]

Statistical Breakdown (for the 630 billion pounds of corn produced in the US in 2012):

  • 39.5% – used for animal feed
  • 8.4% – exported to other countries
  • 30.8% – used to produce ethanol
  • 11.9% -used for human consumption
  • 57% – of the total used for human consumption was in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or some other sweetener (approximately 43 billion pounds)
  • 0.2% – was certified organic in 2008 (latest data)
  • 88% – of all corn planted was genetically modified (GMO) [2] [3]

Considerations: If the above statistics don’t provide enough reasons to be concerned about corn, I’ll provide a few more.  Even if you’re able to find corn that’s not GMO (which is questionable for human health at best and can be catastrophic for the environment and small famers), the next difficultly will be finding corn meant for human consumption that’s in a heathy form.  Since 57% of corn grown for consumption is used for HFCS or other sweeteners and another 27% is used for starch or alcohol, that leaves only 15% remaining as edible food.  Most of that, however, is going to be found in sugary cereals or chips fried in processed oils. So, when corn is demonized as being horrible for human health, you can see why; most of it is extremely processed and incorporated into unhealthy foods.

For most of corn’s history, however, it’s been used as a nutritious supplement to healthy diets.  Here’s how corn was traditionally processed and enjoyed for maximum benefits: Since corn is high in carbohydrates, some B-vitamins, and a few minerals but lacking in other nutrients, most cultures incorporated it into meals that were high in healthy fats and proteins (not with more sugars or processed oils).  For example the Caddo speaking people and other North American Indians made a stew with corn (in the form of hominy) called sagamite that incorporated animal fat, dried meat, and sometimes fruit or herbs.

Most cultures also nixtamalized (an Aztec word) their corn before eating it, a process that involves boiling whole kernels with lye, ashes, or limestone.  Nixtamalization kills the germ, transforms the protein structure, releases more of the b-vitamins, and makes the corn more palatable.  After corn is nixtamalized it becomes hominy and can be ground into masa, the flour used for tortillas or tamales.

Like other seeds and grains, corn is also high in phytate, which is an anti-nutrient that blocks the absorption of minerals. Since corn is low in phytase (the enzyme that breaks phytate down), merely soaking the corn won’t break the phytate down.  Many cultures, however,  traditionally fermented corn and other grains to make them more palatable.  This process inadvertently breaks down the phytate and makes corn that much more nutritious.

Nutrition Highlights: Properly prepared, corn is gluten-free, high in digestible carbohydrates (mostly glucose, the body’s preferred source of energy), and high in several B-vitamins and a number of minerals.

Key nutrients in a 50 g serving of masa flour:

  • 38 g of carbohydrates and 4.6 g of protein
  • Thiamin – 7% DV
  • Vitamin B6 – 12% DV
  • Calcium – 7% DV
  • Magnesium – 11% DV
  • Manganese – 11% DV
  • Selenium – 10% DV

(Nutrition information is from the USDA National Nutrient Database)

The Take Away: Corn can be included as part of a healthy diet, but ideally it should be nixtamalized, so look for hominy or masa.  The occasional fresh roasted corn on the cob isn’t going to negatively effect your health.  Also, be sure to eat corn with meat or dairy and vegetables.  Corn in the form of masa, tamales, or tortillas, should only occasionally supplement your overall nutritional needs rather than contribute a large portion of daily calories (especially avoid HFCS, corn chips, cereal, etc).

Recipes:

Mexican-style Masa Breakfast Porridge

Ingredients: 2 cups of water, 1/3 cup of masa flour, 2 oz of Mexican-style or cheddar cheese, and fresh salsa

Directions: Bring water to a boil then add the masa flour and stir immediately to prevent lumps.  Reduce heat, then stir occasionally until the masa thickens into porridge.  Once thickened, stir in cheese until melted, serve in two bowls, and top with a generous amount of fresh salsa!

Recommended Products: Bob Red Mill’s Gluten-Free Golden Masa

References: [1] [2] National Corn Growers Association [3] AGmrc Organic Corn

Originally posted 2013-05-08 01:46:11.

These bacteria can cause stomach acid imbalance. Are you feeding them?

fructose, hydrogen, h. pyloriIrritable Bowel Syndrome symptoms, peptic ulcers, excess gas, bloating — there can be a number of reasons for these indigestion problems, but there’s one culprit that’s often connected to all of them: a bacteria named Helicobacter pylori.  More than 20% of adult Americans are thought to have an H. pylori infection. These spiral-shaped bacteria embed themselves in the mucous lining of the stomach and can wreak all kinds of havoc on the digestive system.  H. pylori damage the stomach’s protective lining and interfere with stomach acid production.  These two disruptions can cause peptic ulcers (H. pylori are now known to be the primary cause of ulcers), gas, bloating, heart burn, make digestion more difficult, and may eventually lead to gastric cancer.

H. pylori is contagious, and many people may be infected without even knowing it.  If you have any ongoing symptoms of the above mentioned digestions problems, you should probably consult with a doctor (although they’ll likely give you antibiotics that kill the good bacteria along with the bad), but there are also actions you can take that are good for your overall health and may prevent H. pylori from being able to colonize your stomach!

One of H. pylori’s primary foods is hydrogen gas.  Intestinal gases like hydrogen are produced by bacteria in the large intestine.  These bacteria feed on food that’s still not completely digested when it reaches the large intestine.  Since an ample amount of stomach acid is essential for complete digestion, and H. pylori disrupt stomach acid production, an H. pylori infection can result in a vicious cycle of indigested food, leading to more hydrogen production, leading to more H. pylori (since the have more hydrogen for food). The excess use of antacids can also interfere with the stomach acid balance and exacerbate digestive problems.

There are several naturals ways, however, to improve digestion in order stop feeding the bacteria that produce the hydrogen that feeds H. pylori.  One of the least known is reduced fructose consumption! Thanks to sodas, juices, agave syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and white sugar, fructose consumption has skyrocket; yet, studies have found that humans can digest only about 25 grams of fructose in one sitting (one cup of apple juice contains about 24 grams of fructose).  Also, for fructose to be absorbed in the small intestines, an equal amount of glucose must be present.  The result is that a lot of fructose is sent undigested to the large intestine, where it feeds the bacteria that produce hydrogen.  Breath tests after high fructose meals almost always measure elevated hydrogen levels.  In addition to cutting back on refined sugars and fructose, another way to improve digestion is by taking the time to adequately chew every bite of food. Thoroughly chewed food is more easily broken down by stomach acid and subsequently absorbed in the small intestine (resulting in less hydrogen, CO2, and methane gas production).

H. pylori is a nasty little bug, but we don’t have to provide the conditions where it can thrive.   Compared to the contents of refined foods, fruits and vegetables and other whole foods are low in fructose and (with the right preparation) easily digested.  If you’re experiencing indigestion problem, don’t assume it’s genetics or something you just have to live with, your body may be sending you a signal that you need to change something in your diet.  Also, keep in mind, change doesn’t always happen over night, it will take consistently eating whole foods (and chewing them thoroughly) to see results.

References: H. pylori and Cancer, International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Hydrogen as Energy Source for H. pylori, Short-Chain Carbohydrates and Short-Chain Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, Whole Health Source, University of Iowa

Originally posted 2013-05-07 02:57:27.

Is your food making your blood too acidic?

metabolic acidosis While the human body is relatively resilient and able to cope with stressors and imbalances, there comes a point when its survival reserves are exhausted.  In that way, the body is much like the earth.  The earth can handle a lot of destruction and pollution, but at some point it loses its ability to regenerate itself.   For example, the effect of human pollution can be seen in the pH level of the ocean; in the last 100 years it has dropped from 8.2 to 8.1 (caused by the increased absorption of CO2).  This slight change can have a drastic effect on marine plant and animal life.

Small changes can have a similar effects in humans.  The body functions optimally with blood at a slightly alkaline pH level of 7.4, which is tightly regulated at a range between 7.35 and 7.45.  When too many acid-producing foods are consumed and not enough alkaline-producing foods, the body has to struggle to stay above 7.35, and a low-grade metabolic acidosis may result.

Acidic or alkaline elements are created when the kidneys process nutrients from food.  When proteins are processed, non-carbonic acids like sulfuric acid are released. Thus, meat, fish, dairy, and grains trigger high amounts of acid release.  When potassium from plants and vegetables is processed, the alkaline molecule, bi-carbonate is formed.  While it isn’t always as simple as meat and dairy causing acidity (for example magnesium and calcium are alkaline) and vegetables and fruits promoting alkalinity, it generally holds true.

So here’s the problem: in the industrialized world, most people’s diets are high in meat, dairy, and grains (wheat, rice, barley) but low in fruits and vegetables.  This type of diet can cause the blood to become more acidic, but, as I mentioned before, the body keeps the blood pH level tightly regulated.   In order to maintain the pH level, guess what it does?  It transfers calcium from the bones (which is alkaline) into the bloodstream, which counteracts the excess acidity resulting from grain and meat consumption.  Over time, this depletion of calcium from the bones may result in decreased bone density, but the jury is still out.

If the body has to constantly compensate for an imbalanced diet, low in potassium from fruits and vegetables, it’s pH level is likely to be less than ideal.  A slightly acidic blood pH level may lead to kidney stones, bone density depletion (though this is an ongoing area of research), and/or an increased susceptibility to disease.

The take away:  Eat a diet rich in potassium.  You don’t need to stop eating meat and dairy from free range animals (these foods are high in magnesium, calcium, essential protein, and other important nutrients) to prevent low-grade acidosis.  Instead, eat fewer grains.  Replace grains with high potassium starches like sweet potatoes, and double up on leafy greens (spinach, chard, beet greens, and kale).

References: “The Alkaline Diet,” “Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate”

Originally posted 2013-05-03 00:08:42.

Bacon-Wrapped Pineapple, a Flavorful Power Snack!

bacon-wrapped-pineappleLooking for a flavor-packed, healthy snack recipe?  Give bacon-wrapped pineapple a try!  Two ingredients, twenty minutes, and you’re good to go.  This snack is loaded with nutrients that boost your mood (an amino acid in the bacon), provide pain-relief for your muscles (pineapple enzyme), and supply healthy energy.  It’s also free of gluten and processed sugar (but it’s still sweet and savory!)

Here’s all you need to do: preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, cut fresh pineapple into large bite-size chunks, wrap the pineapple chunks with a half strip piece of bacon each, and skewer them with toothpicks to hold the bacon on.  Once you’ve done that, bake them in the oven at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes.   In order to let air circulate around the bacon-wrapped pineapple chunks evenly, set them in the oven on a raised cooling rack with a baking pan underneath to catch the drippings.

After about 18 minutes check the bacon for your preferred doneness.  Personally, I like the flavor contrast achieved when the bacon is crisped, and the pineapple is soft and sweet.  Enjoy!

Originally posted 2013-05-01 21:38:40.

9 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Eating whole, healthy food isn’t always more convenient than eating pre-made, processed foods, but it can be more affordable. Here are a few tips my wife and I use to eat healthy on a budget:

1) Planning meals – Meal planning allows the most efficient use of food. Planning a purpose for each item bought or grown helps us avoid eating the tastiest, expensive, and convenient ingredients right away, ingredients that would otherwise contribute to more nutritious and enjoyable meals.

2) Shopping at local farmers markets – When we shop carefully, we almost always find a good deal on local produce. Some vendors even offer discounts on produce they haven’t sold by the time the market closes.

3) Looking for sale items – When we spot a special promotion on any whole food items that can be canned or stored in the freezer, we stock up! Even greens freeze well and can be added to scrambles, soups, stir-frys, and green smoothies.

4) Shopping in the bulk section – Many popular and healthy products like beans, rice, grains, nuts, and spices can be found in the bulk section at discounted prices. Other benefits of shopping in the bulk section include: reduced packaging waste, fewer preservatives or chemicals (like BPA), and the ability to sprout or soak foods like beans, nuts, and grains (which you can’t do with canned or prepared foods).

5) Planting trees and a garden – Even one fruit or nut tree and a small garden can contribute a significant amount of healthy food to a family’s diet and at very little cost. For example, one mature fruit tree can produce hundreds of pounds of fruit in a year, which is equal to or more than what’s consumed by the average American (273 lb per year). We have a small garden and several fruits trees, and the produce really adds up!

6) Purchasing free-range meat with friends or family – If you want to get free-range meat, which is lean and high in important nutrients like Omega-3s and vitamin K2, at a good price, then find a few people to buy and split a large purchase with. Local ranchers often sell their products at a significant discount when purchased in larger quantities, such as a whole, half, or quarter beef.

7) Minimizing waste – Americans are the most wasteful society in the world. Every year we throw away billions of dollars worth of food. We try to minimize waste by eating perishable items right away. Purchasing fresh food means it won’t last on the shelf forever, and we have have to go to the market more often, but it’s worth it. We also try to make a special point about taking servings size into consideration and being realistic about what we’ll enjoy as leftovers.

8) Re-thinking the value of food – Many of us have been raised to believe that “more is better” or that expensive food isn’t a good value, but neither of these assumptions is always true. Instead of thinking about food in terms of quantity, we try to think in terms of quality. When it isn’t getting enough vitamins and importnat nutrients, the mind will tell the body to keep eating. In fact, we can consume thousands of “empty”calories and still be starving. The result is that many of us are obese and simultaneously undernourished and prone to disease. Our bodies don’t need many calories when they get enough nutritionally rich food. Nutrient-dense foods can seem more expensive, but they’re actually a better value in terms of nutrients per dollar. For example, butter from grass fed cows is more expensive than conventional butter, but it provides two powerful nutrients (vitamin K2 and CLA) that are almost entirely absent in conventional butter.

9) Using the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen Shopping List – Another way we’ve learned to save a few dollars and still be sure that were only eating good food is by making our organic purchases really count. While studies indicate that conventional and organic foods go head to head in terms of their actual nutrient content, what those studies fail to mention is the harmful pesticides that many conventional produce items contain. At the same time, some conventionally grown plants use very few pesticides and are safe to eat (though they’re still not always grown in a way that’s good for the environment). To help us figure out what foods should be purchased with the assurance that they were raised organically, the Environmental Working Group created a list of the “cleanest” and “dirtiest” foods. “The Clean Fifteen,” as they call it, are the fifteen fruits and vegetables that were tested and found to have little to no chemical residue. “The Dirty Dozen,” however, are the twelve fruits and vegetables that should be purchased in the organic section, as they commonly harbor pesticide residues. You might not have guessed it, but apples were the number one offender. For the full shopping guide, check out the EWG’s site here.

We’ve found that following these strategies has improved our household economy and personal health. We also feel good knowing that what’s good for our economy and health is good for the larger economy and environment. Hopefully you’ve discovered at least one tip that you hadn’t thought of before, and if you have one that we missed, please let us know, and we’ll add it to the list!

Originally posted 2013-04-06 02:29:00.

Yogurt: Enemy or Best Friend

The yogurt sitting in your refrigerator seems like a modest health choice but may not be as wise as you think.  True, yogurt is a great source of protein, probiotics, and potassium, but it can also be an unwanted source of sugar.  Have you looked at the nutrition facts on your favorite yogurt lately?

All yogurt, even plain, will contain sugar because of the lactose in milk.  However, a six-ounce serving of a typical flavored yogurt can easily contain 17 grams of added sugar!  Compare that to the 17 grams of sugar found in a Pop-Tart, and a supposedly healthy breakfast heads into a downward spiral real quickly. Wondering about the recent Greek yogurt trend? If you’ve been picking out Greek yogurt instead of regular, you should still be cautious of those tempting honey- or fruit-flavored Greek yogurt options.  Flavored Greek yogurt still has about 12 more grams of sugar than plain Greek yogurt.

The best choice is to stick with plain and add your own mix-ins at home.  Stir in some fresh or frozen berries, some homemade granola, or even add a teaspoon of honey (containing 4.5 grams of one of the healthiest forms of sugar) or organic jam–the few grams of sugar from honey or jam will be much better than the 17 grams found in the flavored yogurt!  It may take a little while to adjust to the tartness of plain yogurt, but it’s worth the effort and you may find you soon develop a taste for it.

To read our article on yogurt’s health benefits, click here.

Originally posted 2013-03-15 22:32:00.

Butter From Grass Fed Cows

butterExtra virgin olive oil (EVOO) has tremendous health benefits — studies indicate that extra virgin olive oil may promote cardiovascular, bone, digestive, and cellular health.  It’s full of vitamin E, monounsaturated fat, and a number of antioxidant phytochemicals.   These qualities make EVOO difficult to top in terms of a healthy fat source, but if there was any other fatty food that came close, I’d say that butter from grass-fed cows would be it.

Butter isn’t traditionally considered a healthy food.  It’s been given a bad rap because of its high fat content, but don’t let that stop you from missing out on butter’s amazing nutrient content!  Just because a food is high in fat doesn’t mean that it causes people to gain excess fat (refined and engineered foods do that).  While butter from unpastured cows lacks important nutrients (and for that reason should be avoided like all empty calories), butter from pastured cows (grass-fed) contains nutrients that support a healthy cardiovascular system, strong bones, a healthy metabolism, and that reduce inflammation and prevent “leaky gut syndrome.”  Here are a few of the incredible nutrients contained in butter from grass-fed cows and what they do for your body:

  • Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) — is only found in meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals.  Studies indicate that CLA promotes lean muscle mass and healthy metabolic function.  CLA also has anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties.
  • Vitamin K2 (MK-4) — is different than the more commonly known vitamin K1.  It was recently discovered that vitamin K2 has an important role in preventing calcification in the arteries and, at the same time, promoting strong bones and teeth.  Vitamin K2 accomplishes this by activating osteocalcin to deposit calcium where it belongs.  Butter from grass-fed cows is one of the best known sources of vitamin K2, a vitamin that we don’t produce internally.
  • Vitamin A — is a crucial, fat-soluble antioxidant.  Vitamin A is important for eye function, cellular health, red blood cell production, bone health, and maintaining a robust immune system.
  • Butyric Acid — is found in such high quantities in butter that it borrowed butter’s name. This little known nutrient is one of the body’s preferred sources of energy.  Butyric acid is rapidly digested in the intestines and used by the body as fuel.  It’s known to decrease intestinal permeability, which is good because that means fewer harmful molecules or organisms are absorbed into the bloodstream.   Butyric acid also reduces inflammation and improves metabolic function.
  • Saturated fat — isn’t nearly as bad as most people think it is.  Saturated fat is one of best sources of energy (which is why this is the form the body stores fat in). It’s easily burned by the body’s cells and doesn’t cause an insulin spike.  Saturated fat is also a good source of fat energy because it doesn’t throw off the body’s omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio.  Saturated fat only becomes problematic when it’s consumed from refined foods or meat and dairy products that aren’t from grass-fed animals.

Cows were meant to eat grass on the open pasture.  When they eat nutritious food (it doesn’t get much healthier than grass), they produce nutritious milk.  The cream from nutritious milk makes the healthiest, nutrient-dense butter.  Happy cows = happy people.  EAT real food.

References: Effects of CLA on Fat-MassCLA affects MitochondriaK2 Improves Bone StrengthButyrate Attenuates Inflammation

Originally posted 2013-03-13 22:34:36.