"The researches of so many eminent scientific men have thrown so much darkness upon the subject that if they continue their researches we shall soon know nothing."

- Artemus Ward

“If you aren’t confused about health and nutrition, then you haven’t studied it long enough or deeply enough.”

- Matt Stone

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Tuesday, March 30, 2010


(artwork by Debbie Cusick)

Many members of the nightshade family are relatively low carb - things like eggplant and tomato. Yes I've heard bad things about the nightshade family, but nothing that seemed apply to me, until I was reading a post on nightshades today from the Weston A. Price Foundation's blog:

And that was mention of a link between nightshade consumption and arthritis. Now I do have severe osteoarthritis in my left knee, no cartilage at all there. The orthopedist told me to keep his card as sooner or later I would need to be back for knee replacement surgery! And sometimes my knee just hurts like hell. And sometimes it's fine. Could it possibly be a food related? The WAPF post says:

For those of you who think you have tried “everything” for your arthritis pain, tried this and tried that but haven’t tried avoiding nightshades— in my opinion, it’s something you do need to try... If you’re one of those people whose pain treatments (be it chiropractic, acupuncture, laser, energy medicine, whatever!) provides only a day or two of relief, you’re quite possibly nightshade sensitive.

A physical therapist once told me that if a patient isn’t responding to treatment, one of the first things to consider is nightshade sensitivity— there is simply nothing else that anyone can do to help somebody in pain when nightshade sensitivity is the cause—because once they eat some nightshades again, their pain will return as it was before.

Could I be sensitive?The WAPF article asks the same question:

But the real question is, why are some people more sensitive than others? Nutrient deficiencies certainly come into play. For example, if you don’t have enough magnesium, you will be more prone to calcinosis. Deficiency in vitamin D may exacerbate the problem. The speed at which one’s liver and kidneys detoxify these compounds plays a huge role, and this is dependent both on genetics and nutrition...A key nutrient is vitamin K2

Hmm, I already supplement with magnesium, D3 and K2 (both MK4 and MK7). But when I get the knee pain it's still excruciating. Is it worthwhile trying to avoid most of the nightshades? This website lists the common ones.

Potatoes, tomatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, tamarios, pepinos, pimentos, paprika, cayenne, and Tabasco sauce are classified as nightshade foods.

And also goes on to add:

A particular group of substances in these foods, called alkaloids, can impact nerve-muscle function and digestive function in animals and humans, and may also be able to compromise joint function.

Of that list I guess tomatoes are the ones I have most often. Heck, I plant them in my garden!

Arthritis.about.com points to a university report which warns:

"No foods have been definitively shown to cause or exacerbate arthritis in most individuals. A variety of diets and hand-me-down information exists about certain foods and arthritis, in particular the night shade plants, but none of it has been proven."

In other words, very similar to other nutritional dicta - unsupported by the mainstream, but lots of anecdotal evidence to support it. The 'about' article above had lots of comments from people about how eliminating nightshades alleviated their pain.

I have honestly never thought of tracking my pain and seeing it it correlated to anything in my diet. Yet last week I was in such pain I was delving back into the ibuprofen - which I had been trying to eliminate to ease stresses on my liver. I was also eating up a couple big eggplants last week too. Possible relationship?

At any rate, I think at this point I'm willing to try an experiment of one to see if going nightshade-free helps, and to try to be more mindful, if my pain recurs, about what I may have eaten in the previous days. This week I am totally pain-free, and have also been nightshade-free. Not purposefully. It just happened.

But damn, I will miss moussaka. One of my favorite dishes. But I'm giving it a shot.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Caffeine or not Caffeine?

That is the question. I have to admit I adore the taste of coffee. But I never really got into the whole caffeine "buzz". I'm just as happy with a good cup of brewed decaf because I still get the taste I like. Yes, I know decaf is not totally caffeine free so it I were trying to kick it utterly I'd have to give up even decaf - not to mention chocolate, black teas ... eeek.

But what is the status of caffeine? The three respected authors of the recently published The New Atkins for the New You say:

Caffeine also gently assists the body in burning fat ... Moderate caffeine intake is actually associated with improved long-term health and regulation of body weight.

Dr. Briffa has a recent post on his blog that states things like:

Coffee, despite its not-so-healthy reputation, has been quite consistently linked in the scientific literature with benefits for health including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and dementia. See here,here, here, and here.

But warns:

While the research regarding the effects of coffee on health is voluminous, the great majority of it comes in the form of so-called epidemiological evidence. Such studies can identify associations between things, but that’s about all.

And then comments on a recent study:

I was therefore interested to read a study published in the April edition of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition which looked at the effect of coffee-drinking on a variety of biochemical surrogate markers for disease [1]. A group of coffee drinkers were asked to abstain from drinking coffee for a month. The following month they were asked to drink four cups of coffee a day (a total of 600 mls of coffee a day). The month following this they were instructed to drink 8 cups of coffee a day.

Compared to drinking no coffee, drinking 8 cups a day was associated with significantly reduced levels of inflammatory markers (interleukin-18 and 8-isoprostane), as well as significantly raised levels of adiponectin (a hormone is secreted by fat cells, and has been shown to have generally beneficial effects on the body’s physiology including an anti-inflammatory effect). These effects may be relevant not just to cardiovascular disease, but diabetes too. The authors of this study point out that inflammation is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

For what it’s worth, the higher coffee consumption was also associated with lower ratios of LDL to HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B to apolipoprotein A1. These changes in the lipid levels in the blood would generally be taken as evidence of reduced cardiovascular disease risk.

Dr. Michael Eades finds:

I can still say that there are many, many studies out there indicating that coffee has a protective effect against heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and diabetes. So I highly recommend it. In fact, I’ll go on record as saying that if we could have a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of coffee I predict that coffee would be much more protective against heart disease than the statins.
Yet on the other side of the coin:

Mark Sisson, at "Mark's Daily Apple" says:

And, apparently, some of us are “slow caffeine metabolizers” (who knew?). Being part of this crowd and partaking of caffeine, some research shows, puts us at increased risk for non-fatal heart attacks. Caffeine has been shown to also raise blood sugar levels in those with type 2 diabetes.

And Dr. Eades also cautions:

No one likes coffee more than I. But when I want to pick up my weight loss after I’ve gone off the wagon for a while, I cut back on my coffee. Why? Because caffeine is metabolized in the liver just like...drugs. It also consumes some of the liver’s capacity. I switch to decaf for a few days whenever I’m getting back on the straight and narrow.

The iconoclastic Matt Sone claims:
The second pillar of metabolic ruin is habitual usage of substances which overactivate endocrine glands and neurotransmitters – better known as “drugs.” These include everything from prescription medications, most of which have a direct impact upon the biochemical system in some way, to recreational drugs, to “street drugs” such as artificial sweeteners, refined sugars, alcohol, and caffeine – all of which are recognized to be highly addictive precisely because they are stimulating in ways that normal foods are not.
Lots of other stuff out there, both highly pro and highly con. So what's a body to do? I certainly don't want to become a "True Believer" on the issue, as described by Tom Naughton, from a book by Eric Hoffer, in Tom's recent blog post.

Tom quotes from Hoffer's book:
It is the true believer’s ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen nor heard which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and constancy. He cannot be frightened by danger, nor disheartened by obstacles, nor baffled by contradictions, because he denies their existence.
Of course Hoffer equates True Believers with fanatacism, and I certainly don't feel I am fanatic about anything, but I don't want to get wedded to my own beliefs either - not where health and nutrition are concerned! So for now I sit on the fence, and have a cup of real coffee about 2-3 times a week, and a cup or two of decaf on other days. I love it with either heavy cream or coconut oil added to it, and am just as happy to have it black. But one way I cannot *stand* coffee is with added milk. And skim milk? Might as well pour it right down the drain, LOL. If no heavy cream or coconut oil is available I'll have mine black please, and no sweeteners!

Anyway, in honor of this topic I will close with a recipe of mine. :-)

Coffee Jello

- 1 cup HOT brewed coffee or decaf (your choice)
- 2 packets of truvia (or sweetener of your choice to taste)
- one package Knox unflavored gelatin
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream

Pour the gelatin over the cold water in a small cup and allow to sit for a few minutes. Pour the coffee into a larger bowl. Then add the cold water/gelatin mixture and stir for several minutes until the gelatin has dissolved. Then add the heavy cream and stir.

Pour into four dessert dishes and chill until set. Good served with a dash of whipped cream on top, and gets you some gelatin, without the icky stuff that commercial Jello has in it. Note that you can decrease the heavy cream and increase the water for less of a carb hit.

About 1g of carbs per serving. Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunny Spring

Yesterday was the first official day of spring, and what a glorious day it was. The old adage says that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. It certainly was lionlike earlier in the month, but yesterday was as lamblike as one could wish for, sunny and warm. The crocuses in my yard are blooming and the daffodils are beginning to bud, and dead winter sticks are starting to showing swelling of new buds also.

Yes I know, we've had blizzards in April before, so no relying on March's lamblike nature yet, but it was a weekend so I had to take advantage while I could. For me this ended up meaning taking a ride out to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

There was an absolute cacophony of frogs. The noise just boomed throughout the entire swamp no matter where you went, surrounding you from all sides. When you glimpsed some of the small frogs in the water it was hard to believe they had such amazing lung power.

Even snakes had come out of winter hibernation and were sunning themselves on the tussocks and banks of the swamps.

Butterflies had hatched as well, and were flitting here and there. Naturally plenty of birds also, and in all I covered at least two miles of boardwalks and walking trails, and spotted ten species of birds including a new Life Bird for me, the American Widgeon.

So what does this have to do with a food blog? I guess when I think of the healing art of food I mean not only food - but all aspects of nutrition. Lately there has been a lot of press about Vitamin D and its healing properties, and now many of us are deficient in it. I currently take 7500 IU of D3 in gelcap form daily, but of course the classic way to absorb vitamin D is through sunlight.

And yesterday was certainly the day for soaking up the sun's rays. It was actually starting to feel uncomfortably warm. Many people at the Swamp were in shorts and I almost found myself wishing I was too, and I was glad of the brim of my Tilley hat protecting my eyes. I did have short sleeves though, and was able to feel the sun on my arms. I was in the swamp right around high noon, so about the high point of the sun for the day.

I've read, though, that humans have a dramatic drop in the ability to convert sunlight to Vitamin D after the age of 40. Hmmm, if it truly does have such protective properties I suppose that is one of Mother Nature's ways of getting rid of the older generation. If true I'm not going to stop with my supplements. But on a day like yesterday I'll try to get out and enjoy the sun more often.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Slow Burn

Fred Hahn, author of the 'Slow Burn Fitness Revolution' , was on the recent low carb cruise and he gave some workout demos in the ship's gym for us. It certainly psyched me to give his methods a try, and I did use the machines in the ship's gym following his methods.

Now that I'm home it's not as easy to get to a gym - not that there are not gyms nearby. I used to belong to Jersey Fitness and liked it a lot. But when you go to a gym the 20-30 minutes for the Slow Burn workout turns into more like 90 minutes when you add in the travel and other things. Not quite as easy as saying "Heck, I have 20-30 minutes free right now, let me try this out."

But his book does offer a home workout option too, and since I'm so totally UNfit at the moment I figured I could start there, and did so last night. I knew I was in trouble when the workout started with pushups, which have always been the bane of my existence, when when I was younger and far stronger and more fit. In fact I could not manage even *one* pushup! I could not even manage the lowering portion, let alone the pushing back up bit. I started to lower myself down, got about 3-4 inches down, and my arms just totally gave out and I collapsed on the floor.

Hmmmm, off to a great start. Luckily it got better from there. :-) But I sure felt all a weeble-wobble by the time I had finished all the exercises. Note to self: Don't do this again on a night when I have to go out for a 2-hour choir rehearsal. I just wanted to take a nap after working out - but not only had to get to choir, but it was my night to bring the choir snack!

The choir loves their snacks, which I rarely eat as they are always sugary, floury carbfests. Last time I had had snack snack duty I had tried to provide something "healthy" I didn't hear the end of the moaning about it. So last night I brought:
- 2 rums cakes I bought in the Bahamas on the cruise (chocolate, and vanilla walnut)
- a dish of mixed nuts (brazil nuts, macadamias, almonds)
- some homemade chocolate-coconut candies

Chocolate-Coconut Candies:

1 1/2 oz 72% chocolate (percent can vary, but try not to go below 70%)
3 tbsp coconut oil
1/3 cup thick coconut milk (note: the milk separates in the can into a thick creamy portion and a thinner more translucent portion. I just scooped out and used the thick creamy stuff only)
2/3 cup shredded unsweetened coconut flakes

Place chocolate and coconut oil in a bowl or saucepan and melt using method of your choice. I don't own a microwave so melted mine in my toaster oven. Remove from heat and stir in the the thick coconut milk. Stir until well blended. Then add in the coconut flakes and blend well.

Spoon into mini-muffin paper cups and refrigerate until then have hardened, but they still have a creamy texture because of the coconut milk. This made 18 candies.

So that did it for my choir snack. The rum cakes were pure carbage of course, but the other two choices were not so bad. The nuts were actually popular, and people enjoyed the candies too.

But boy, I could hardly stand when our choir director wanted us to stand to practice some of our pieces, and today my muscles are sore and I feel like quivering Jello. But it's not a painful or injured sore, more a "gee, you sure haven't asked us muscles to do anything like this for a long time" sort of sore, which I guess is a good thing. :-)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Nuts to You

Okay, I admit it. I love nuts, almost all kinds of nuts. I love almonds and cashews and pistachios and pecans. and macadamias. I wish I could eat them every day, even every meal - though when it comes to nuts I'm trying harder to practice moderation. It's just that they are so darn satisfying as a snack in a way hardboiled eggs never are. :-)

I've been avoiding high-PUFA vegetable oils for a long time now, close to a couple years probably, to keep my Omega6 intake on the low side, but I never really thought about nuts in that context. Now suddenly I'm seeing a lot of press about nuts being high in O6 and we need to avoid them if we want to have low O6 intake. The amount of O6 in a serving of nuts? -

Omega-6 Content Various Nuts (1/4 cup)

Walnuts – 9.5 g

Almonds – 4.36 g

Cashews – 2.6 g

Macadamias – 0.5 g

Brazil nuts – 7.2 g

Hazelnuts – 2.7 g

Pistachio – 4.1 g

Pine nuts – 11.6 g

Pecans – 5.8 g

As you can see, some are far higher than others. The highly touted walnut is close to the top of the list. Nice to see macadamias so low though. I do love them, although I have to be careful if I have them in the house because they are toxic for dogs. But how much O6 is too much? I was discouraged when I first began cutting O6 in my diet to read somewhere that it can take *years* for your body to purge the excess in its tissues. I don't want to hinder that process. I have too many years of damage to undo as it is.

I guess I'm trying to lean towards this quote from a recent blogpost by Mark Sisson:

My general take, as I see it, is that nuts shouldn’t make up the bulk of your caloric intake. It’s not that Omega-6s are inherently dangerous, especially bound up in whole food, nut form; nuts may even be beneficial to heart health, probably by decreasing systemic inflammation. It’s that they’re often too available, too plentiful, and way too easy to consume in excess. What drew our ancestors to nuts – the caloric density and the fat content – is what makes them “dangerous” to modern man. Most seeds, including grains, were passed over because the labor involved in their gathering and their refining was prohibitive with inadequate payoff. Nuts are meaty, though, and they’re dense and (somewhat) filling. It makes sense that we easily snack on them all day, because our ancestors probably gorged themselves on nuts when they were available. We should eat them, too, but it’s important to stick to reasonable, evolutionarily realistic amounts.

I love nuts, and could eat them every day, just as I could cheese! Cheese! Nuts! Toss chocolate into the mix and you've got all my faves right now. :-) When I eat nuts it is the whole nuts, not nut oils. I won't avoid them totally but will work harder to make them an occasional thing, and not an every meal sort of thing!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Eat Real Food

That's my main mantra when it comes to food and has been for a while - though I will guiltily confess to having occasional artificial sweeteners. But if I do it's still in foods I make myself with real ingredients, and not any commericial sugar-free products which are mostly nasty frankenfoods.

But I buy lovely eggs and raw cream from the Real Food network I belong to, and use Kerrygold Irish butter from grass-fed cows (pretty cheap at Trader Joe's), and try to find organic meats, grass-fed beef, etc. I enjoy following bloggers who investigate these sorts of issues too. One of those I love is Stephan Guyenet's "Whole Health Source" blog. I enjoyed this quote of his for an interview he did at bizymoms:

How do we fix it[metabolism issues causing overweight]? It's always easier to prevent a problem than to repair it, but we still have some tools. First, eat Real Food. Whole, natural foods that you have prepared at home. Throw out anything made with white flour, sugar and vegetable oils. No soda, no snacks. Fat is not the enemy. In fact, it's part of the solution for many people. Many overweight people find that low-carbohydrate, high-fat diets are helpful for weight loss and general health. I don't think low-carb is the solution to all the world's ills, but it has its place. Prioritize foods rich in fiber such as leafy greens, and include seafood in your diet. Many people find that eliminating wheat aids weight loss and general health.

That ties in pretty well with my philosophy. Eat Real Food, whole natural food prepared at home. No white flour, sugar or vegetable oils (okay, I get teensy bits of sugar when I have some 70-90% chocolate), no sodas, no gluten grains. Eat good fats. I don't think low carb is the end-all for everyone, but it works for *me*.

Helps me control my blood sugar for one. For example - last night for dinner I went to a local pub with a friend for their corned beef and cabbage special and I ate a small potato with the meal. Two hours later my blood sugar was over 200!

Tonight I had pan-sauteed duck breasts with sliced cucumber, and some lettuce, onion and tomato sauteed in the duck fat. Two hours later my blood sugar was 130. I don't think starches are the devil, but they don't seem to do well with *me*.

But I'm human. I do wish that I could lose weight too! Okay, I've lost over 100 pounds, but it has taken over 4 years, and now I seem to be losing at a rate of about a pound every few months. Have not lost anything (just bouncing up and down a 4 pound range) since December at this point. And so it goes.

Monday, March 15, 2010


I still remember when I first had jicama. It was in 1983 or so, and I had gone to Disneyworld with my former fiancé for a few days. One night we went to the Mexican pavilion at Epcot Center for dinner and I had a salad. It had something in it totaly unfamiliar to me - light and crisp and sweet and crunchy. I loved it, and asked the waiter what it was. He was stumped and said he didn't know the word for it in English. "No problem", I told him, "just tell me what it's called in Spanish". "Jicama", he replied. I told myself to remember the name, and so I did for *years and years* but without ever once seeing it in a market. Eventually it slipped from the forefront of my memory.

Then a few years ago I was rereading "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution" and found jicama listed under the induction-friendly vegetables. But I still never found it in the markets. The supermarket I usually shop at caters to a largely Caribbean and Hispanic clientele, but even they don't seem to carry it.

But yesterday I ran up to Whole Foods, and found they had a whole bunch of jicama there, and so I bought two of them. I had seen some recipes online that called for baking them, so decided I would give that a try. I peeled one jicama root, quartered it, and then sliced it into very thin slices as though I were going to make potato chips. This one yielded about 4 cups of slices. So what I did was make:

Jicama Bake
4 cups jicama, peeled, quartered and very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp cinnamon

Place sliced jicama in a large bowl. Add the cream and cinnamon and stir thoroughly until all the slices are well coated in cream. Turn into a greased casserole dish and bake at 400 F until the jicama has softened, stirring a few times to make sure all the slices continue to be coated with cream. This takes a *long* time. I think I baked it for about two hours. The cream is mostly gone at this point.

But it was yummy, and low in carbs. I've read recipes that use peeled and de-seeded zucchini interchangeably with jicama. I may have to try the recipe with zucchini also, as I'm sure it would cook much more quickly. That jicama took forever. But still good, and I have brown-bagged some to have for lunch today also.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A new beginning

Well, new for this blog at any rate, though not really a new beginning for me. That began half-heartedly several years ago, when I began to develop some health problems, and seriously about 15 months ago, after I read Gary Taubes's "Good Calories, Bad Calories". That book changed my life like nothing else I had ever read. At about the same time I read Sally Fallon's "Nourishing Traditions" which also had a profound effect on my life.

I was morbidly obese in 2006, and my doctor was pressing me to consider weight-loss surgery, something I totally did not want to do, so I told her I wanted to try a low carb diet - the only thing I had ever felt I could live with forever. Over the next three years I lost 60 pounds on a half-assed low carb diet - one that included lots of cheats and side tracks.

It took Gary Taubes and Sally Fallon to make me see there was more to eating than weight loss, and in January 2009 I began to get serious about eating for *health*. Yeah, I still had a ton of weight to lose, but they made me realize that losing weight was not everything. What I wanted to do was *regain health* and I am totally convinced now that it cannot be done with the processed frankenfoods that so often pass as part of the Standard American Diet.

So my new mantra became, low carb, made from scratch, no frankenfoods, no sugars, no high PUFA oils, no gluten grains. In 2009 I lost an additional 40 pounds, bringing my current total loss to just over 100 pounds. Alas, still miles to go before I sleep. But good health is a journey, not a destination.

Early in 2009 I signed up to go on Jimmy Moore's Third Annual Low Carb Cruise, which took place last week. The cruise was awesome with an outstanding panel of speakers: Dr. Mary Vernon, Dr. Andreas Eenfelt, Dr. William Davis, fitness expert Fred Hahn, low carb cookbook authors Dana Carpender and Judy Barnes Baker, Jackie Eberstein, R.N., who worked with Dr. Robert Atkins for nearly 30 years.

I had decided ahead of time that I would stick to my eating plan and eat only "real food" on the cruise, and found it easy to do. I didn't lose weight on the cruise but I didn't gain either, unlike the folks who claim it's common to come back 10-20 pounds heavier after a cruise.

My friend and shipmate Sandy and I both agreed we want to go back for the 2011 cruise, but we have set ourselves the goal of being thinner and healthier for the 2011 cruise. This is part of my plan to keep myself accountable. I look better than I did 4 years ago and am healthier too, but I hope to be even thinner and more healthy next year. So I will try to document this coming year and what I try to do to achieve my goals, and will close this with a photo showing the me of 2006 versus the me of now. I hope next year to have an even better "now" photo to post.