Lomatium Root: Possibly the Best Anti-Viral

Lomatium Root (Lomatium dissectum, formerly Leptotaenia dissecta syn. multfida)OTHER NAMES: Fernleaf Biscuitroot, Desert Parsley, Indian Parsnip, Toza Root

Lomatium may very well be the best antiviral we have. It’s certainly the best and strongest I’ve ever used both topically and internally, and especially for the lungs. So why haven’t you heard of it?

Butterbean and Green Bean Soup

Butterbeans are a tender, smaller variety of lima beans.  I always keep a can of Eden butterbeans at home to throw into soups or stews.  They’ve light, flavorful and cute!  Paired with green beans and peas here, they’re perfecto.  This is nice transitional recipe so good for fall when it’s either glorious and sunny, or just the opposite rainy and cold.

The Ten Healthiest Foods

I’ve never done a Ten Healthiest Foods list, mostly because I don’t believe in them.  Well, I guess I’m a hypocrite now!

Here’s how this is going to work.  I’m not going to limit myself to ten.  I’m just going to keep writing until I use up my three pages.  I’m going to exclude foods that feel more like supplements (so no spirulina or hawthorn berry); brand-name products (Manna bread), and foods that bear too disturbing a resemblance to the ectoplasm in the movie Ghost Busters.

Melatonin: The Hormone for Sleep

Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland at the base of the brain. We can also get it in supplements. When light hits our eyes, we shut down melatonin production; when it’s dark out, we start making it again. Melatonin synchronizes our wake-sleep cycles to the cycles of light and dark/night and day. It tells us when to sleep.

Melatonin is what biologists call “highly conserved,” meaning that even as species have evolved, the gene for melatonin has not.

Egg and Veggie Dinner in a Flash

I love to feed people, but like you, don’t have time to fuss in the kitchen.  I got so many rave reviews about Dinner with a Friend (my March 2009 newsletter recipe) and pleas for more easy dinners to make in a flash.   So have fun with this meal.  Again, it’s nothing fancy, but is yummy, colorful and healthy too.
You can make good food fast.  You can have homemade on the table in 30 minutes.

Mystery Plant Makes You Psychotic!

This month, we’re playing a guessing game. And if you guess right, you get a free Jennie’s macaroon. Really: just come in and say you got it – we’ll believe you – and we’ll hand you your macaroon.

So here’s how it’s going to work. I’m going to give you the description of a medicinal plant from www.LiveStrong.com (a health website affiliated with Lance Armstrong, but owned by social networking giant Demand Media). You just have to guess what the plant is. And here’s the big hint: you already know this one. Chances are, you’ve ingested it. Many times. Although you probably thought of it as a food, rather than a medicine. (Here’s the other big hint: it gets an honorable mention next month on my list of the “Ten Healthiest Foods.”)

I’ll quote the LiveStrong entry in its entirety, editing out only two give-away sentences about where it grows, and how it’s used as a food. Good luck.

Jim’s Kidney Bean Empanadas

I’ve been making this recipe for years. It’s great in winter or summer, and my wife and I, and my book group (five hungry men), love them. The combo of organic grains, beans and vegetables satisfies. Which beans to use? Eden beans are cooked with kombu, which makes them more digestible, and Eden doesn’t use bisphenol-A to line their cans. Lin’s Farm tahini is made from whole sesame seeds so you get a lot of calcium. For the pie crust (I first discovered this basic pie crust recipe in 1976), add water to the dough until it reaches earlobe consistency. The result: a great pie crust and a pair of sticky, doughy ears.

Açaí: The Amazing Amazonian Scam Berry

Okay, so here’s the deal: there’s this berry called the açaí berry, it grows on palm trees in the Amazon basin, and if somebody hasn’t already tried to convince you that it’ll help you melt away the pounds, cleanse your colon, energize you, and/or supercharge your sex life, you probably haven’t turned on your television, opened your e-mail, or even glanced at a newspaper in the last six months.

So does it actually do all that?  Uh… no.

The Green Organic Potato Salad

I love this recipe by Amanda.  The website, “WhatsCookingAmerica.net” has wonderful information about potatoes such as archaeologists working in Peru and Chile found potato remains dating back to 500 B.C.E.  The Incas of Peru not only grew and ate potatoes, but buried them with their dead, so revered were they.  Potatoes were also dried and carried on journeys to eat on the way or make into stew.  Each year, I look forward to the new crop of yellow potatoes and love the purple ones too!

Greek Yogurt (Fage) with Za’atar

An easy, easy, easy summer dish around which to build an even easier summer meal.  What is Za’atar? Otherwise known as “The holy hyssop,” it’s a Middle Eastern seasoning mix made from hyssop, Israeli sumac (different than American sumac, which cannot be eaten), sesame seeds, sesame oil, wheat bran, parsley and sea salt.  Refrigerate after opening to keep fresh.  I fell in love with Za’atar in Israel over 20 years ago.

Greek yogurt is to die for.  Like sour cream, only better because it’s got gut-friendly, probiotic bacteria.

Makes about 1 cup

1 7-ounce container Greek yogurt 1 tablespoon Za’atar
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling 2 tablespoons pine nuts

Using a rubber spatula, spoon out delicious, thick Greek yogurt onto a dinner-size plate.  Swirl Greek yogurt so plate is covered, leaving ½”clear from sides of plate.  Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with Za’atar and pine nuts.  Serve with whole grain pita or veggies.

How to make this a great summer dinner?  Put out on table with a plate of sliced red, yellow and orange tomatoes garnished with chopped fresh basil, a bowl of taboulie and chose a pitted, oil-cured black olive that you’ll find in our grab-and-go refrigerator case.   Put out a plate of cucumber rounds and those same whole grain pita wedges.  Voila!

If you want to make this meal more substantial, grill chicken or shrimp and sprinkle with Za’atar.  Or mix a can of organic black beans and 2 cups organic corn (fresh or frozen).  Season with Za’atar.

How else to use Za’atar?  Liz (who used to work in our kitchen but now works with Heifer International) used to say she loved to drizzle veggies with olive oil, grill them and sprinkle with Za’atar.   Liz’s favorite way to use Za’atar was to mix a spoonful into Bariani olive oil and use as a dipping oil for bread or crudités.  Adam absolutely loves Za’atar on eggs.

From the horse’s mouth (as they say!)  Tsippi, ­ wife of Nimmi Lasman, who sells us this product, says to cut pita bread into wedges, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with Za’atar and then toast in a hot oven for 5-10 minutes.  Cool and serve nice and crunchy.  Nibble on pita wedges, or dip in our hummus.

Okay, maybe we’re jumping the gun a little when we suggest ripe, summer tomatoes and garden-fresh cucumbers, but they’re coming, they really are!  I put a vegetable garden where my front lawn used to be.  Did any of you do that this year?  It’s lots of fun.  Especially for the bunny rabbits…!

Bird Flu, Swine Flu, Three-Toed Sloth Flu

Public Health bulletins are sounding more and more these days like a Dr. Seuss book, evocative less of mass pandemic death than whimsical barnyard shenanigans.  And yet we’re being told to fear mass pandemic death sort of I mean, we’re not supposed to panic or anything….at least not yet.

It can all be very confusing.

Spring Dandelion Avocado Salad With Crispy Tempeh

Another creative, delicious recipe from Amanda.  We all know dandelion is used as a spring tonic, liver-cleansing.  But did you also know that the USDA ranks dandelion in the top four green vegetables in overall nutritional value?  Dandelions are said to be nature’s richest green vegetable source of beta-carotene, from which vitamin A is created. They also are particularly rich in fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and the B vitamins, thiamine and riboflavin. So eating dandelions in the spring does your bod a world of good!

Say Good-Bye to Winter Salad

It’s too early for tomatoes, zucchini are still expensive, and we aren’t ready for cold salads.   In April, we get one rainy day; one sunny, gorgeous day.  Weather is still all over the map, but no matter what, it’s cool enough to turn on the oven, roast vegetables, and dream of summer!  What are you planting in your garden this year?

Healthy Bites In Cambridge For Less Than $10

I live in Cambridge, and I love my city, its staggering diversity all tucked away in assorted nooks and crannies.  But I realize that for many of my suburban friends, a trip to The City is a big deal, sometimes overwhelming.  Hopefully, this will help.  Here are some healthy meals, all under $10, for your next foray into the urban environment.  Travelling North-to-South…

Dinner With A Friend

Recently I invited a friend to dinner.  I was delayed at the store and got home literally five minutes before she arrived at my house, and we were heading out to something that evening, so time was of the essence!  Well, dinner was on the table in 30 minutes and my friend kept saying, “I can’t believe you made dinner that quickly.”  Roasting the chicken is why it took that long, and it occurred to me many people bring home “fast food” because they don’t think they can make good food fast.  Here’s the dinner I made that evening.  Nothing extraordinary, as you’ll see, but yummy, colorful and healthy too.

Beautiful Hair and Nails (and Skin and Bones, too…?)

There are a lot of products out there claiming (or at least strongly implying) that they’re going to make you a whole lot prettier.  When it comes to hair and nails at least, there are two that actually work.  One makes your hair and nails stronger; the other, makes your hair thicker and fuller.

Hair and nails are created by living tissue, but they’re not alive themselves.  There’s no blood flow, no enervation, no metabolism.  Lucky for you, or your next hair cut would hurt worse than a root canal.

Living tissues can absorb nutrients, metabolize them, and use them to improve themselves.  Tissues that are not alive, on the other hand, cannot.  Of course if you improve the health of the living tissues that make nails and hair, the nails and hair they make will be healthier.

Homogenized Plastic Mass: It’s What’s For Dinner

I’m not completely opposed to junk food.  For example, the occasional leftover French fry scavenged from the plate of a dining companion, or the deep fat-fried Snickers-bar-on-a-stick at Redbone’s in Davis Square, Somerville.  Those, I feel, are worth it.

But for the most part, I just wonder why.  I mean, really, why eat most of the crap that’s out there?  Having been raised on good food, I’m constantly amazed that people would crave, say, a Fenway Frank over the much-more-delicious Coleman organic hot dog.  Or a white-flour-Crisco-crusted corn-syrup Cool Whip pie, over something with whole grains and actual fruit and soaring peaks of whipped cream.  For the most part, natural which is to say: “real” just tastes better.

Broccoli With Pine Nuts

From Amanda.  Simple and delicious.  Beautiful to look at.  And don’t you find when you eat this way that you feel full, but not too full, and you don’t feel thirsty afterward either!  Amazing how changing what one eats and including more vegetables in one’s diet really does change the way you feel.  It’s as if one’s insides are hydrated and pampered.  Broccoli, green beans or zucchini aren’t spinach or kale or collards, but you will make Popeye proud.  Can you use leafy greens in this recipe?  Sure.  Remember you’re in charge in the kitchen and you can make whatever floats your boat!

Moroccan Lentil Vegetable Soup

Ready in 15 minutes, this is fast food the natural way!  Lentils are eaten around the world, at least twice a day in “any self-respecting Indian household,” says Kavita Mehta, founder of Web-based Indian Foods Co.  Eaten everyday in Morocco, too, but especially during Ramadan, they not only taste great, but give us protein, cholesterol-lowering fiber and more nutrition for their size than almost any other food.  Do they contain iron and B vitamins?  Yes!  These cute little pulses come in all colors and are easy on the pocketbook too.  A handful feeds many.  This soup helps whittle down your waist too.

Fascinating Factoids and Random Research

Fish Oil Helps You Lose Weight: Researchers earlier last year published the results of a trial in which 232 overweight people (average age 31) were put on a low-calorie diet.  Roughly half the people also received a low dose of 260 mg omega-3s from fish oil supplements daily.  The other half got a moderate dose of 1300 mg a day.

The trial went on for eight weeks. In the final two weeks of the trial, the researchers began measuring the subjects’ feelings of satiety immediately after meals, as well as two hours later.  Conclusion: the people who were taking the higher dose of fish oil felt more full, more satisfied after even a portion-controlled weight loss meal.

Buckwheat Blinis with Mushroom Caviar

From Amanda.  “Have you ever made blinis?  They’re a yeasted savory pancake, traditionally served with caviar and crème fraiche.  This version with mushroom caviar is fun to make (and gluten-free because buckwheat is not related to wheat and is actually a fruit).  Use any mushrooms you like, and get creative with seasonings too.  Make these for your next party!”

Arthritis, Part 2

Last month covered the various types of arthritis, diet, and what the docs like to call “lifestyle.”  This month we focus on supplements.

If this even attempted to be a comprehensive listing, we’d be going on for pages, and pages and pages.  Instead, let’s talk about a few supplements which really work, and then cover a few that don’t really work, but which are being heavily marketed and promoted.

The Best Cookie

The Walnut Surprise cookies in my first cookbook are, surprise! not brownies.  Unprepossessing, they are delicious and always a hit.  The best cookie ever.  But now I use the basic formula to make great flourless and gluten-free cookies.  I love the fact, no matter which variation, all it takes is a bowl, wooden spoon, and a strong arm.  (Read, too, later in this newsletter about coconut sugar, suitable for diabetics, perfect for these cookies, now available in our bulk department.)

Ouch, Ouch. Arthritis

There are 101 different kinds of arthritis, and 101 ways to treat each one.  Rather than try to go into all of that here we don’t want to get arthritis in our typing fingers! this is going to be a quick, hopefully simple, guide to some of the most basic concepts, and the most effective ways of treating this disease.

WHAT IS ARTHRITIS?  Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints, causing pain, inflammation, stiffness, and eventual destruction of joint cartilage.  The most common kinds are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.  It is possible to have more than one kind at once.

Autumn Carrots and Squash

Serve this over lentils, rice, millet or quinoa.  Below, I’ve used black lentils because the contrast is striking, and because I like lentils!  All you butternut squash lovers out there, I don’t begrudge you the squash, but I have a hard time finding time to peel and cut squash.  If I can’t buy it already peeled and cubed, I use yams instead, which are just as healthy but a little sweeter.  I cannot tell a lie.

Economic Sanity and the Price of Cheese

I promise next month to get back to normal topics of conversation in these letters: lungs and livers, your bellies and innards, and wonderful herbs and vitamins which make them shiny!  Next month, I promise.

The other day as the store was about to close, I turned to the fridge to make my important decision for the evening: what kind of cheese to buy to melt over my broccoli, black beans, and diced tomatoes for dinner?  It was down to two finalists — Neighborly Farms organic, pasture-fed Green Onion Cheddar; and the 5-Spoke Farms organic, raw, pasture-fed Herbal Jack.  It was a close race although I eventually did give the edge to the Herbal Jack.  But then my practical side kicked in: maybe I should get the Organic Valley product instead.  Not a bad cheese by any measure.  Heck, it even won an award.  But more importantly, Organic Valley is a large operation, with an efficient supply chain and distribution networks, and centralized production facilities — in other words, Organic Valley was going to be cheaper.

Only it wasn’t!  Organic Valley’s price had just gone up.

1,4-dioxane

We shop in the store, just like you do, because we believe in natural and organic, because we want to leave the planet a better place, and because we want our families to be healthy and happy. When we put a product on the shelves, it’s because it’s something we might want to buy! So it was especially upsetting to read the Organic Consumer Association’s (OCA) report on 1,4-dioxane on “natural” bodycare and household products. But we trust the OCA, a watchdog and advocacy group with more than 500,000 members. This is no trade organization or industry mouthpiece; in fact, the OCA often directly opposes powerful interests in the organic industry.

Pineapple Macadamia Slaw

I was one of the lucky ones who got to attend Amanda’s cooking class in September (thanks to Lindsay for stepping in and helping out too).  Every dish was great creative and gorgeous, as you can see by the following recipe.  (The next “secret ingredient” class taught by Amanda and Lindsay will feature hot peppers.  Yes, you should sign up right away because it will fill up fast.)

Himalayan Red Rice Salad

Amanda says that this whole-grain rice tastes great, looks awesome, and cooks in only twenty minutes.  Himalayan red rice is an ancient short-grain rice grown 8,000 feet up in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.  Irrigated with 1,000-year old glacier water rich in trace minerals, this exotic rice has a nutty flavor, soft texture and beautiful red russet color.  So sayeth websites that rave about the rice.  And, yes, we stock it in our bulk bins.  A hand-crafted, heirloom rice, grown without pesticides and herbicides.  You’ll like it!

Food that is Black

By Adam Stark

A few months ago, I came across a news item claiming that the newest food trend in Japan is black food: black sesame seeds, black rice, black vinegar, black soybeans, etc.

Well, that piqued my interest.  I mean, don’t get me wrong: I hear about a different food trend every week, and I tend to ignore most of them (Microgreens, anyone?  Cod liver oil-infused potato chips?  How about a nice bottle of micro-cluster water suffused with color energy and Universal Love Vibrations?) Black food may or may not be an actual trend in Japan I don’t know; I’ve never been there but at least this one would make sense.

Take Vitamin D, Live Longer

For years, people didn’t pay much attention to vitamin D.  We knew that adequate levels were important to prevent osteoporosis, rickets, and other bone and joint diseases.  And that was about it.  Get enough, but not too much, and that was about that.

The last few years, though, vitamin D has been thrust into the limelight as a sort of nutritional superstar. We now see that it prevents kidney disease, birth defects, chronic muscle pain and weakness in the elderly, seasonal affective disorder, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases, and maybe even autism.  Plus probably heart disease and cancer as well.

Pink Stevia Lemonade

Thanks to Adam, we’ve been enjoying this recipe for some years now.  We love this recipe so much that we put in our third cookbook, The Blue Ribbon Edition: From our kitchen to yours.

We all know stevia is a South American herb that tastes much sweeter than sugar.  The good thing is that stevia doesn’t affect blood sugar and is safe for diabetics.  It contains virtually no calories.  An eight-ounce cup of Pink Stevia Lemonade yields roughly 3 calories.  You can live it up, baby!

Tapioca Chocolate Pudding

Amanda started making this old-fashioned, light, comfort food in our kitchen, and many of you have asked for the recipe.  Well, here it is.

Tapioca is made from the cassava root.  Cassava grows well in poor soil, is resistant to drought and can live without fertilization, which makes it a godsend in hot climates.  It is a staple crop in Asia and Africa, where its roots produce more food per energy unit of land than any other staple crop!  Nutritionally, cassava is often compared to potatoes, but with twice the fiber and much more potassium.

It’s a Summer Salad!

Five minutes is all you need for this dish.  The only ingredient needing advance prep is the spelt berries.  I often cook up a pot-full when I’m reading the Sunday paper to use during the week, or to freeze in two-cup portions for future use.  So invite neighbors for dinner.  Don’t worry about slaving over a hot stove.  Added bonus?  This dish uses up prolific summer squash or zucchini.  Recipe look familiar? It’s because I ran a variation on this theme about five years ago!  We made this recipe in our cooking class, “Light and lively grains for summer!”, and it was a hit.  It will be in your house too.

Chia, Oh Mia

We can’t keep Chia in stock.  Chia has been on Oprah.  The Chia of Chia pets, you ask?  Well, yes!    Chia, a member of the mint family (it’s also gluten-free), grows from the Mojave Desert to Argentina.  The Aztecs relied on Chia, and Native Americans of the Southwest and California Coast cooked Chia seeds with water to make gruel, or ground the seeds into flour for baking.  Soaked in water, Chia gels up, and was used for poultices.  Chia seeds mixed in water kept a man going on a forced march for 24 hours because it was (and still is!) so nutritious.

Anne’s Gluten-Free Rice Bran Muffins

Teff is a grain native to Ethiopia, and a nutritional powerhouse smaller than a poppy seed.  If you’ve ever had injere, Ethiopian pancake-bread, you’ve had teff.  In the recipe below, you can sub potato starch for the corn starch, but don’t use potato flour, which is made from ground whole potatoes, rather than just their starch.  If you use potato flour, your muffin will tastes like a potato, so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Spicy: Part Two

The Peppers: Once, when I was a kid, my mother had a friend, and her friend had a son, and when my mother hung out with her friend, I was expected to hang out with the son.  Well, I found this son to be particularly annoying.  And in my youth, I was not very tolerant of being annoyed.  At the time, we had a little hot pepper plant in a pot in the windowsill.  I remember being told that this variety was the second-spiciest pepper on Earth.  I have no idea if this was true or not, but it certainly packed a punch.  So one day, when this kid was annoying me (again), I suggested he take a taste from the “dwarf Australian pear plant.”

As I recall, he got blisters on his tongue.

Hot peppers can definitely pack a punch, especially for those who haven’t built up much of a tolerance.  Those of us who have, however, love them, the spicier the better.

The Psychographics of Breakfast Cereal

Ah yes another piece for which I must write a disclaimer!  To whit: “my opinions here in no way reflect those of anyone else on staff, or, indeed, on Earth.  Also, they don’t reflect Debra’s, yet she is still kind enough to print them.  Cheers.”

Did anyone else catch that article in the New York Times[1] about how what you eat, and where you buy it, predicts how you’re going to vote in the presidential election?  Good stuff.  To be honest, part of me resents the way the spin-meisters and sales consultants intrude on our privacy, observe and record, cut and splice everything we do, for the sole purpose of turning it back on us.  But an even bigger part of me is simply fascinated.

Almond Kelp Noodle Salad

Amanda adapted a recipe from a package of Sea Tangle kelp noodles, and her rendition is below.  She says, “This lively and delicious salad will surprise everyone when you tell them the ‘noodles’ are actually mineral-packed sea kelp!  Jazzed up with sesame oil and lemon, this dish tickles and brightens the palate and satisfies a salt craving without weighing down your system.”

Kelp noodles are gluten-free, and very low in carbohydrates and calories.  Their texture is chewy, and you can use them anywhere you’d use pasta.  They are, for those of you who follow a raw food diet, raw and ready to use right out of the bag.  Ingredients?  Kelp, water, sodium alginate (from brown seaweed).

Spicy !!!

I suppose the icy depths of winter would be a more appropriate time to cover herbs that are heating and spicy.  But now is when the mood strikes, so, here goes.

Actually, summer might not be such a bad time for this, after all.  Traditional South American, Asian, and Indian cultures don’t back off the spice just because the temperature is rising.  On the other hand, the Eskimo’s aren’t exactly known for their spicy cuisine (or much any cuisine, for that matter).  Kenyon also points out that cayenne pepper sends circulation to the surface.  It might make you feel warmer, more flushed for a bit, but in the end it might cool you: heat at the surface is more easily dispersed than heat at the core.

Sesame Corn Crisps with Hemp

Recently, I started making my mother’s corn crisps again.  This recipe, which appears in our first cookbook now called If Kallimos Had a Chef, is even more fun and delicious with the addition of hemp.  Why hemp seeds?  Because they are a nutritional powerhouse with easy-to-digest protein and lots of fiber.  Hemp is also an excellent source of essential fatty acids, phytosterols, carotenes, vitamin E and vitamin C, and chlorophyll (helps prevent bad breath).  But so we don’t fall into the trap of defining food by nutritional attributes instead of taste and pleasure, how does hemp taste?  Like sunflower seeds.  Nice nutty flavor.  Delicious.

Granmisto di Funghi with Chickpeas, Basil and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Chickpeas, aka garbanzo beans, originate in the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Today, everyone everywhere eats them.  Why is that, aside from the fact they taste good?  Well, they’re high in soluble fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and decreases insulin requirements for people with diabetes.  They contain protein, calcium and iron (isn’t that a surprise?)  You get nutrition and de-li-tion all for a fair price, even if you don’t cook the beans yourself.

Moroccan Stew with Rice and Millet

A satisfying, simple vegetarian stew served over whole grains.  Of course you can add tempeh, tofu, shrimp, chicken, lamb, beef or chickpeas.   Millet is one of those under-utilized grains that is alkalizing, easy on the digestive system, somewhat foreign to us, but “friendly” when combined with something we already know and love like rice.   Too many ingredients?  Not really.  Lots of spices, but the veggies and grains are “ordinary” and I bet you have all these ingredients in your kitchen as a matter of course.  Yes, I do use organic veggies, and if you can, you are getting higher nutrient values.

Lowering Your Cholesterol, Part II

So I talked about food last month, and tried to dispel some of the myths about what you should and should not eat.  This month, I’d like to recommend five ways to use supplements to reduce cholesterol.  As always, I like to start with the ones that are the most holistic, that have the most side benefits, that best promote a state of general health in addition to dropping your cholesterol.  For those who prefer the quick fix, I’ll eventually get to the ones that are quick and easy and efficient, and can drop your numbers in two or three pills a day.

Georgian Red Lentil Soup

Soups are perfect for those with allergies because they can easily be made without wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, or other foods that are so difficult for many.  And soups are comfort food when it’s dark outside.  Here’s another soup from me to you this January 2008.  May 2008 bring you and yours health and happiness!

We’ve become addicted to maitake mushrooms, also called ‘hen of the woods’ or ‘dancing mushrooms’.  Why are we addicted?  Not only do they have an amazing taste and firm texture, but maitakes are one of the most revered deep immune tonics in Chinese medicine.  In Japan, doctors use maitakes to lower blood pressure, boost immune systems (again), and, as Adam wrote in our March 2006 newsletter, maitakes regulate blood sugar, protect the liver and taste a little like chicken.

Lowering Cholesterol

I’ve been putting off writing this one for years.  First of all, it’s an enormous topic: you can reduce cholesterol levels by decreasing absorption, increasing excretion, reducing the rate at which it is reabsorbed once it’s been excreted, by preventing it from sticking to blood vessel walls, or by reducing the production of cholesterol in the liver (which is where most of our cholesterol comes from anyways not from what we eat).  Then there’s the issue that high cholesterol can be secondary to diabetes, constipation, liver impairment, inflammation, mismanagement of calcium, infections in the blood vessel walls, and/or sitting on your couch more than you ought to.  And then there are the further complicating factors such as “good” and “bad” cholesterol, triglycerides, etc.

But let’s put all that aside for the moment, and just talk about lowering cholesterol, plain and simple.  Let me start by dispelling a few myths.

Amanda’s Cocoa Butter Almond Financiers

Which she made for me with the following note:  “To one fearless leader from one leerless feeder.”

What is cocoa butter?  The natural fat of the cacao bean (from which we get the incredible stuff known as “chocolate”).  Do we sell it?  But of course.  Cocoa butter has a melting point just below average body temperature, which is why chocolate remains solid at room temperature, but melts in your mouth. Cocoa butter gives a smooth texture to so many confections containing chocolate, and is often used by culinary experts (ahem, now you’re one).

Simplest Dessert Ever

This is a repeat of one of my (it’s Debra again!) favorite desserts (to complement just about anything).  No mess in the kitchen, and nutrient rich.  And what a concept — a dessert that keeps those you care about healthy!  

We all know dried fruits like apricots, peaches and prunes have lots of fiber, which is especially helpful at the holidays, and also are rich in iron, which means they’re good for relieving anemia too.

Think Sharp!

We have more than an entire shelf’s worth of brain supplements at the store, and all sorts of stuff on other shelves, too, that people take to be smarter.  And most of them, frankly, won’t do much for you at least not if you’re basically okay to begin with.  It’s only when you head off into senile dementia, or start having strokes (or are looking to prevent them, years or decades down the road), that most of these really kick in.  There are also some nutrients which help people with ADHD, or soothe the endless worries that interfere with normal concentration.  But if you don’t have these problems, they won’t help you much, either.

There are a few things, however, which work even for normal healthy people.  Here are five of the best.  In no particular order:

Wild Rice & Purple Potato Pancakes

Wild rice is expensive, but is special and perfect for holidays like Thanksgiving or Chanukah (which starts December 4th this year).  Wild rice is not a grain like other rices, but a seed.  Go figure!  Just like buckwheat is not a grain, but a fruit….  Wild rice kernels are unpolished (so you get every drop of nutrient this seed provides), and the flavor is nutty with a nice chewy texture.  Wild rice gives us copper, fiber, folate, magnesium, niacin, phosphorus, vitamin B6 and zinc!

Weight Loss, Part 2

This is an article on weight loss.  I last covered the topic for the May, 2001 newsletter.  Yet just recently, it has recently been called to my attention that the first article did not entirely solve the problem… That first one was called “It’s May Already, and I’m Still Too Fat For My Bathing Suit!”  I’m going to call this one:

Weight Loss, Part 2

So I was leafing through my old copy of Nutritional Biochemistry, hoping to glean some pearls of wisdom about the subject.  Instead, I came across one of the most medically pompous statements I’ve ever seen.  And I hope it amuses you as much as it amused me: “It is customary for people to self-diagnose obesity, i.e., whether one is underweight or overweight.  A self-diagnosis might be expected to be inaccurate because the measurement of body fat requires special tools.”

Would one of those tools be a scale?  A tape measure?  A mirror, perhaps?

Baked Apples with Macaroon Filling

It must be fall because the new apple crop is in!  Apples are winners when it comes to reducing the risk of heart disease, says a new study of more than 34,000 women. The findings, published in the March, 2007 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, noted apples are a rich source of flavonoids and fiber (richest in the skin).  Unfortunately, in conventionally-grown apples, the skin is also the part most likely to contain pesticide residues and/or be covered in petroleum-based waxes.   Which means, of course, that eating organic apples is the way to go since we want that extra nutrition and fiber found in the peel, don’t we?!?   There are myriad other reasons to eat apples so we are healthy and wise too.

New Research on Food: Additives and Hyperactivity

A study published just last month in The Lancet, England’s most respected medical journal, has confirmed that artificial food colorings and preservatives make children hyperactive.

Many of you saw this, I’m sure.  It was front page news.

However it hardly came as a surprise to anyone who has followed the issue over the last 34 years.  It was back in 1973 that Benjamin Feingold, Chief of Allergy at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in San Francisco, first announced that roughly 2/3 of his hyperactive patients improved when put on a diet free of artificial additives.  A number of clinical trials quickly followed to test Feingold’s theory.  Many supported the theory, which came to be called the “Feingold Hypothesis.”

Wild Mushroom Stir-Fry

Asiago is an Italian company, and we’re pleased as punch to carry their frozen, mixed porcini, oyster, shiitake and nameko mushrooms.  Adam introduced this product to me, and we both love how easy it is to make dinner by just adding a few other ingredients!

Mushrooms lack chlorophyll, which means they don’t produce food for themselves through photosynthesis.  Instead they absorb nutrients from compost, leaves, decaying wood, and soil. Wild mushrooms, like those Asiago uses, provide a more intense and exotic flavor, and I like to think more nutrients since that’s usually the case with wild foods.  We all know we need to eat our greens, so make it a habit to throw in veggies like the spinach in the recipe below with your mushrooms.  If you like a chewier mix, chop up kale and stir that in instead of tender spinach.  Or collards or broccoli.

The Many Benefits of CoQ10

Coenzyme Q10 is a chemical naturally found in every cell of our bodies.  Indeed, its name in older biochemistry texts, ubiquinone, reflects the fact that it’s so very ubiquitous.  CoQ10 is needed for the generation of energy inside our cells[1].  And obviously, energy is essential to normal functioning of the body.  We don’t blink an eye or think a thought without energy.  Our hearts don’t pump blood, our livers don’t cleanse blood, and our lungs don’t oxygenate blood without energy.  So it’s no surprise how much CoQ10 can do for us.  What is surprising, however, is that when it comes to actually feeling energetic vigorous and alert CoQ10 generally does not do much for people.  Sure, I talk with people now and again who take CoQ10 and do feel physically and mentally energized, but they’re in the minority.  Most of CoQ10’s benefits remain hidden.

Kurt’s Pecan Pesto (a summer recipe)

I fell in love with Kurt’s recipe back in the summer of 2002. Kurt is baking bread at the Orchard Hill Breadworks in VT.  He swings by from time to time bearing the gift of whole grain loaves baked the old-fashioned way. 

Kurt writes, “One time Adam asked the Gaia Herb rep what the best herb for general health was.  The rep said basil and explained to us that it was the best overall tonic for the body.  Pecans in this recipe add healthy fatty acids to the mix, and of course there are all those benefits that come from fresh garlic.  If raw olive oil (like Bariani olive oil, which we carry) is used, this pesto can be a 100% raw recipe.  Could this be the healthiest recipe ever at Debra’s Natural Gourmet?

The Super-Juices: Goji, Noni, Açaí, Mangosteen, Pomegranate

In the world of vitamins and minerals, herbs and oils, green foods and high-tech antioxidants, superfruit juices are a relatively new development.  But in the last decade really, in the last few years they’ve leapt into the mainstream with a vengeance.  Noni was first, after a woman got on the Oprah show and swore that it cured her of everything.  Then followed goji and mangosteen, pomegranate and acai, each one hyped as better than the others, a panacea, a miracle.

Garlic Gold Pita Crisps and Guacamole

A meal in itself with some ripe summer tomatoes.  I’d add olives and those little pickling cucumbers too.  Organic chicken on the grill….. Or Steady Lane Farm hamburgers or steaks….

Seven Oaks Ranch, the maker of Garlic Gold products, is nestled in the Ojai Valley.  The Ranch grows and distributes organic produce such as tomatoes, Meyer lemons, Hass avocadoes, and, of course, garlic.  Proponents of sustainability, Seven Oaks utilizes solar electricity to power the ranch along with a long list of cutting-edge sustainable farming practices.  We’ve sold their products for years and hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do!

Summertime Red Pepper, Chickpea, Hemp and Black Olive Spread

I keep trying to figure out ways to use hemp and pumpkin seeds because they’re both so healthy, but hemp sounds “sexier”, so it’s in the title here.  I read that hemp is the “next flax” because it’s another rich, rich source of essential fatty acids.  Ruth Shamai of Ruth’s Hemp Foods says, “So that’s one-third of its composition (essential fatty acids).  Another one-third consists mostly of fiber, both soluble and insoluble.  And it’s also one-third protein.”

Multiple Sclerosis in Natural Medicine; Part II

Inflammation: Imbalances in the immune system cause MS, when rogue immune cells infiltrate parts of the nervous system and attack.  The weapon used in this attack is inflammation.  You can reduce this inflammation by rebalancing the immune system (see part 1), or by addressing the inflammation directly.  Or, of course, by doing both.

Most people think that the idea in reducing inflammation is to slow the progression of the disease.  While that’s true, reducing inflammation should also help one of the major side effects of MS, namely, depression.  There are quite a few research papers published specifically examining where the depression in MS comes from.  Are MS patients depressed simply because MS is, well, depressing?  Or is depression an actual symptom of MS?  It now looks like depression is a symptom of MS, and inflammation is largely responsible for it.

Multiple Sclerosis in Natural Medicine

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a progressive, inflammatory disease that attacks the central nervous system: the brain and spinal cord.  Specifically, MS degrades the myelin sheath, the fatty insulating layer which encases our nerve fibers, and which facilitates speedy and coordinated transmission along neural pathways.  As you can imagine, when these transmissions get messed up, a lot of stuff we take for granted gets messed up as well: thinking, breathing, movement, speech, balance, sensation, and control of autonomic bodily functions.

Chicken or Tofu with Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence originated in southern France, and includes herbs found in the region: rosemary, basil, marjoram, thyme, sage, savory, tarragon, bay, fennel and lavender. We have two different mixes in our store, one by Frontier Herbs and Spices, and a second lovely version made by Jean Louis of A Touch of Provence, located right here in Concord.

Oh Those Dry Eyes!

by Debra Stark

For years I’ve heard people talking about dry eyes.  I never understood the problem until one morning (yes, it seemed to happen overnight), I woke up, rubbed my eyes, and the eyes went into spasms.  It felt as if grains of sand were stuck there.  My eyes streamed and my nose ran in sympathy.  While the spasm subsided, the eyes hurt the rest of the day….as if they were stuck with a splinter.  They were red, irritated and the socket ached.

Rainbow Chard Salad

In May, I feel in transition mode, not wanting heavy, cooked wintry dishes, but not ready yet for summer corn or salads made from ripe tomatoes.  This easy salad, which can be a meal, suits my fancy in spring.

Did you know that chard actually came from the Mediterranean and Asia Minor?  That while it cooks and looks a little like spinach, it’s actually related to beets?  Indeed, in Israel, the greens are called “beet leaves”.  And, if you eat mesclun, a mix of baby greens, you’ve been eating chard raw already.

Three Crops Where Pesticides Hit Hardest

We all want to eat, and live, organically.  But we don’t not always.  Even the best of us cuts corners every once in a while.

Bearing this in mind, various scientist and activist groups have taken to publishing top-10 lists, ranking the worst foods for pesticide residues.  The higher the levels of pesticide residues on a food, the more important for us to eat it organic, or not at all.  So we’re warned off of conventionally grown strawberries and raspberries, peaches, spinach, carrots, grapes (and raisins), winter squash (especially in baby food), and more.  Not only are government regulations often inadequate to limit pesticide residues; often, when these foods are tested, residues are found to exceed even the lax government guidelines.  It’s shocking how often this is allowed to happen.  (And I wonder once again why the vitamin industry alone gets labeled as “unregulated.”)

Toxicity of Genetically Modified Corn in the American Food Supply

Research published just last month now strongly links a variety of genetically-engineered corn to liver and kidney damage in rats, as well as elevated triglycerides, and changes in weight between the sexes.  The particular variety of corn, Monsanto’s MON863 is approved for human consumption in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines, Taiwan, and the European Union.

How (you might ask yourself) could MON863 possibly have been approved for human consumption?  Well, there’s an interesting story here.

Kale Provençale Salad with Lentils

Mother Earth Magazine lists kale as one of theThirty-Three Greatest Foods for Healthy Living.”   Grown in Europe since 600 B.C.E., kale was the most common green vegetable, and in Scotland, kale in one dialect meant food, and the expression “to be off one’s kail” meant to feel too ill to eat.

The Importance of Probiotics

Contrary to popular belief, bacteria aren’t all bad.  In fact, there are all sorts of bacteria which live on us, and in us, and actually do us a world of good.  The majority live in our digestive tracts, where they help us digest food, excrete toxins, and keep our immune systems up and running.  These so-called “friendly flora” are known as probiotic bacteria.

Probiotic bacteria can help control specific health conditions, but also general long-term health.  In terms of specific health conditions, probiotic can reduce lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea thrush, and colic[1].  Longer term, probiotics help bolster our defenses against infection (everything from colds and flus, to food poisoning, to vaginal yeast infections, etc.), may lower cholesterol, and appear to significantly lower cancer rates.

So how do we get these good bacteria on our guts? 

Herb Roasted Sausages and Butternut Squash

Perfect for days that are still cold and often blustery.  We often are able to get peeled, diced organic butternut squash on organic produce day, which makes this dish a five-minute snap to prepare for the oven!  Of course you can halve, peel and cube your own squash, or substitute diced yams.

Vegetarian?  Substitute any one of the fake sausages we carry.  Jim’s favorite is the Beer Brats.

Eating for BEAUTY!

This is an article about skin.  Not “problem skin,” but skin that glows with health, and ages well.  It’s about thick, luxuriant hair, and strong teeth.

The idea here is that our outsides reflect our insides.  Lynne Lori Sullivan, who works with this and other health topics, says she has very sensitive skin and likes it this way: “I’m glad to be a canary in a coal mine.  If I take a misstep if I eat a Boston cream donut, or trans-fats the next day or two, I break out.  I know that inside the body, things are hardening, things are going wrong.  My skin keeps me on track.”

Three Recent Breakthroughs with Osteoporosis

(The breakthrough getting the most press these days is vitamin D3, but we covered that over a year ago.  Archives on this and other cutting edge natural treatments for osteoporosis such as strontium and vitamin K2, plus bone basics, can all be found in our newsletter archives). 

A study published last October in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women who consumed four or more cola drinks a week had lower bone densities than women who did not, regardless of other risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and calcium intake.  Men, oddly, did not appear to be affected.  The study, spearheaded by Katherine Tucker of Tufts University, relied on dietary questionnaires of over 2,500 people.  Although it was not entirely clear why cola appeared to lower bone mineral density, Dr. Tucker theorized that it may be the phosphoric acid.  Other sodas that did not contain phosphoric acid did not appear to lower bone mineral density.

Get Skinny, Be Strong, & Live Forever?

It’s interesting to follow the research on “up-and-coming” supplements as it develops over a number of years.  You start with one or two intriguing (but inconclusive) test tube studies, watch it move on to a few small animal trials, then wait for the big human trials that will either prove or disprove all the hope, hype, and conjecture.

How to Research Health and Medical Information

In the more than five years I’ve been writing this column, I’ve covered topics ranging everywhere from allergies and weight loss, to hepatitis and cancer.  And I’ve been flattered that so many people have read what I’ve written, and taken it seriously.  Nevertheless, I’ve always wanted to write a column on how to find information yourself.  Now, in this last column before the printed version of the Debra’s Natural Gourmet newsletter goes to paid subscription (still free on-line), seems like as good a time as any.

Please be warned: this will be a very opinionated column!

Fiber for Weight Loss

Actually, fiber is for a lot of things.  That title was just to get your attention.

Of all the changes we have wreaked on traditional diets over the last hundred years, our drastic reduction in fiber intake might very well be the most significant[1].  Not only have we turned away from fiber-rich plant foods, but the plant foods we do eat are often “refined” to remove their natural fiber, leaving us with bland, malleable white bread, white rice, and white pasta.  We even refine our vegetables, removing the nutritious peels from carrots and cucumbers, and foregoing fresh tomatoes for bottled tomato sauce (made without tomato skins and seeds) ladled over white pasta.

How to Pick a Multivitamin, Part 1

I just counted: we have 104  different multivitamins.  This guide should help you make sense of them all.    

Tablet or Capsule, etc.?  First of all, this is not a quality issue.  Claims that liquids absorb better, or that tablets “go right through you,” etc., are mostly nonsense.

The only issues here are personal preference and convenience.  Compared to capsules, tablets are cheaper and can hold more stuff.  On the other hand, they’re harder to swallow, and need more time to digest, so it’s especially important to take them with food.    

High Blood Pressure, Part II

Part I covered lifestyle and diet (including culinary herbs like garlic and stevia).  This month: supplements.

There are literally dozens if not hundreds of supplements that can help with blood pressure.  This won’t be an exhaustive list!   Please bear in mind, some of the strongest herbs for reducing hypertension, such as Indian snakeroot and foxglove, can be dangerous if used incorrectly.  Only use the really strong stuff like the herbs just mentioned if you’re working with someone who has experience with it.

High Blood Pressure

The higher our blood pressure, the harder the heart has to work.  Over time, this enlarges the heart, which is not a good thing.  Chronic high blood pressure hardens the arteries and increases our risk of heart attack, aneurysm, and stroke.  The kidneys, which filter the blood, can also be damaged.  The risk of glaucoma is increased.

Five Foods You THOUGHT Were Unhealthy

 (and now you’re going to be thrilled you can eat!)

CHOCOLATE: You’ve probably have heard the snippets on the nightly news: “Chocolate may reduce the risk of heart disease.”  “Chocolate protects against cancer.”  “Chocolate reduces the appearance of wrinkles.”  Which would seemingly be our cue to start eating some.  But there’s always something in the news anchor’s tone of voice (a tone usually reserved for human interest stories like somebody’s pet cat that can play Mozart on the trombone), which implies that, as interesting as the story may be, we shouldn’t take it too seriously.   

The Liver, Part 2

A few months ago, I started an article on the liver.  I basically spent about two-thirds of a page trying to convince everyone how great of an organ the liver is, and how we should take care of it even when we don’t have any specific problems, then said “to be continued…”  Well, here’s the continuation:

Before we get into the specifics of how to support the liver, we should understand how the liver actually detoxifies things.  The liver performs this seeming magical task in two stages, aptly named phase I (also called cytochrome p450) and phase II (a.k.a. conjugation).  In phase I, toxins are made more chemically reactive; in phase II this increased reactivity is used to react the toxins with a “chaperone” molecule – in a sense, “chemical handcuffs.” 

Crunchy Toasted Garbanzo Beans and Pistachios

Satisfying trail mix. Try it, you’ll like it! And, of course, the variations are endless. Yes, it’s a little spicy (you can make it to suit your taste buds), but remember that cayenne pepper increases circulation. Nuts like pistachios as part of a balanced diet can lower blood pressure in folks with hypertension. Lots of fiber, protein and good fat in this mix too!

Are You Stuck With Damaged Genes?

by Debra Stark

In Jack Challem’s book, Feed Your Genes Right, Mr. Challem says nutrition feeds our genes, which not only are found in every one of our 70 trillion cells, but which contain the basic biological instructions for everything from eye color to the risk of heart disease and other disorders.   “Instructions, encoded in the long strands of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) that form genes, program everything that happens in your body. They tell heart cells to beat rhythmically and brain cells to store memories. But when genes and their DNA become damaged, information becomes garbled and disease can be one of the consequences.”

The Most Precious Spice in the World

The saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) is a rare purple flower that grows in Iran, Greece, Spain, Morocco, and parts of India.  As many as 75,000 flowers – a football field’s worth of intensive cultivation – are needed to produce a single pound of saffron, which must be harvested by hand!

Saffron is the most precious, the most expensive spice on Earth.  But don’t let that scare you: as renowned naturopathic doctor, Bill Mitchell, is fond of pointing out, “Two cups a day of saffron tea still cost less than a double latté.”

The Liver, Part 1

When you stop and think about it, all the stuff that goes on to keep us alive is pretty amazing.  And I’m not even talking about the wonder of reproduction or the miracle of consciousness, but about the everyday nitty-gritty that keeps things running.  The heart pumps (and we don’t notice), the lungs inhale and exhale (and we pay them no attention), our jaws chew, our salivary glands produce saliva, our stomachs churn, and our digestive tracts take it from there.  All of it running on autopilot, while our “higher” thoughts are free to contemplate poetry, or revenge, or a cheeseburger. 

Random research from 2005.

87% less colic, 50% less booze, 27% more breast cancer, 60% less ovarian cancer, 56% fewer colds (that get better 35% faster); and why spicy olive oil is better.

56% Fewer Colds: Every now and again, researchers decide to mix up some ginseng with human immune cells in a test tube, and see what happens. Inevitably, nothing happens. So the researchers conclude that ginseng is useless for the immune system. Then they publish their findings.

The day we bought our space

The day we finally bought our space and became masters of our own destiny, it occurred to me: we have 68 different kinds of lip balm.

The day before, when everything was still up in the air, it occurred to me: this place feels like home. On that day, a customer came up to me and told me that the store was an “anchor” in her life, a safe place, a constant. She could always count on us to be there. And by that, I gather, she didn’t just mean be in a place, but to be there, for her, in ways that were unnamed-able.

I told her I felt the same way.

The Sunshine Vitamin, Part 2

We make vitamin D in our skin using a type of solar radiation called ultraviolet B (UVB). Unfortunately, UVB is filtered out by the atmosphere. As the Earth tilts on its axis in winter, the sun’s rays travel through more atmosphere to get to us, and more and more UVB is filtered out. Some estimates have it that, in our part of the country, we simply do not make vitamin D during 4-5 months of every year. Even in summer, morning and afternoon sun has to angle through more atmosphere, filtering out most if not all UVB.

The Sunshine Vitamin, Part 1

If I had written this article on vitamin D just a few years ago, I would have struggled to fill a single page. I might have said a little about D and osteoporosis, and mentioned the importance of sunlight, and then that would have been that. But the last few years have seen an explosion of research on D, suggesting that it not only helps with the bones, but also maintains muscles strength as we age, elevates mood, lowers blood pressure, and halts autoimmune disease, including multiple sclerosis and type I diabetes.

Moreover, that it strongly reduces the risk of over a dozen kinds of cancer.

How serious is the killer bird flu?

A lot of people are panicked about the avian flu, so I want to make one thing very clear to start out with: a pandemic is not inevitable. In fact, as things stand right now, it seems unlikely. As far as we know, avian flu has jumped the species barrier from bird to human only a few dozen times, and human-human transmission doesn’t seem to be a threat. Of course that could change if the virus mutates. And if it ever does become easily transmissible to humans, we could have a serious problem. As many as half the people who have caught the avian flu have died of it.

New Breakthroughs with Depression

Okay, so the title is a little misleading. Most of this article is going to discuss fish oils, which we’ve known about for a few years already. The rest is going to touch on the Mimosa tree, which the Chinese have been using for a few millenia, but which I just learned about… Anyways, they’re both new to this newsletter, so let’s get started.

Bright Eyes, Part 2

Cataracts, Macular Degeneration, & Diabetic Retinopathy

Cataracts: In the front of the eye is a lens, like the lens on a camera: it focuses light images so they can be sent to the brain. Cataracts are “spots” or “stains” in the lens. Vision loss depends on the size, shape, color, and location of the cataracts.

Cataracts can occur for a number of reasons. Most are attributed to aging. Others are a long-term complication of diabetes. Understand, however, that neither age nor diabetes make cataracts inevitable.

Bright Eyes!

About two years ago, I was asked to speak to Peg Morse’s[1] Vision Group at the Newbury Court retirement home. It turned out to be the worst talk I ever gave.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve always enjoyed speaking with Peg. And the other people who came were also nice, attentive, and engaged. For my part, I showed up prepared, with an outline, notes, and even a diagram of the eye. So why did this talk go so badly?

Longevity for the Ones You Love

I’m dating an herbalist now, and she’s pretty amazing. (She’s also going to be reading this). Her training, her philosophy is all about herbs, straight from Nature, prepared the way our ancestors prepared them. I, on the other hand – I love the herbs, too; don’t get me wrong – but I also think nutraceuticals are great. She says nature never intended us to have 1,000 mg of vitamin C, or high-dose B-vitamins, or even standardized herbal extracts: they’re not really “natural.” I say, “Natural, schmatural – so what? Who says we can’t improve on nature?”

Discussion ensues. We’re both opinionated people.

Surviving the Next Two Weeks

The holistic approach to dealing with intense stress isn’t to survive it but to remove yourself from it whenever possible. But sometimes, no matter how calm and in-touch-with-nature you are, two or three weeks just come out of nowhere and hit you like a ton of bricks – you’re dealing with sleep deprivation, overwork, physical and emotional exhaustion. You can’t concentrate, you can’t get to sleep, your blood pressure shoots through the roof, and it seems like every time somebody sneezes you catch their cold.

Anxiety and Panic,Part II

Last month’s newsletter talked a bit about anxiety and panic, touching briefly on the differences between the two.  It also included a fair amount of talk about “lifestyle” factors – those indirect but very real contributors to anxiety and panic.  Much of the article was drawn from an interview with Janet Beaty, a local naturopathic doctor.

Anxiety & Panic, Part 1

Anxiety, simply put, is worrying.  And we’ve all done that!  Anxiety disorders, however, are when we worry for no good reason, or the worrying doesn’t go away, or takes over our lives.  Anxiety-related disorders are the most common psychological diagnoses in this country, outstripping even depression. 

Getting Some Sleep!

(The list of natural medicine treatments for insomnia could easily number into the hundreds, and that’s not an exaggeration!  This short little two-page article is going to be far from an exhaustive survey!)

Before we even get into the pills and powders, I should point out a paper published in the January, 2003 issue of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research[1] which compared a wide range of conventional (drug) therapies with various behavioral therapies, such as biofeedback and relaxation techniques, in people with chronic insomnia.  It turned out that the drugs and the behavioral techniques worked equally well, except for in one instance (sleep latency) in which the behavioral therapies actually worked better.  Popping a pill may be easier – pharmaceutical pill, herbal pill, whatever – but it usually won’t work any better than learning how to sleep again! 

Rethinking Vitamin E

A few months ago, a controversial paper was published in a generally reputable medical journal[1], which seemingly condemned vitamin E as not only useless, but potentially dangerous.  This paper is at odds with the hundreds of other papers that have been published in hundreds of other medical journals, which seemingly confirm that vitamin E is safe and exerts strong protective effects against a variety of diseases.

It would be wrong to simply ignore the negative paper.  In truth, it represents good science – although as usual the conclusions drawn from it in the press have been oversimplified, alarmist, and way off base.   

How Not to Get Sick This Winter, Part 2

There are 101 ways to approach winter wellness, and 1001 products you can use.  It’s enough to make your head spin!  I’m going to try and simplify things here, and present a relatively straightforward program.  In short, I’m going to tell you what I do when I’m trying to stay well.  But before I begin, please understand two things.  First, this program is just a foundation: you should feel free to add additional things to the mix.  And secondly, these aren’t the only solutions.  There are a lot of great things out there I won’t even mention.

How Not to Get Sick This Winter

(With a special note about antibiotics)

When I first sat down to write this, I was just going to talk about my 5-point herbal wellness plan, and how important it is now with the flu vaccine shortage. But then I figured I ought to write about stress… which meant writing about adaptogens… then a couple of paragraphs for antibiotics… By the time I was done with all that, I didn’t have any room left for the immune-boosting herbs! So that will be next month (and if you can’t wait, we will have copies to hand out in November, as well as Debra’s classic “Seated Next to Typhoid Mary?” handout).

Essential Fatty Acids: An Overview

By Carolyn Soderstro

Confused about essential fatty acids (EFA’s)? It’s pretty hard not to be because much of the information out there is inaccurate, incomplete or wrapped around an advertisement for a particular product. Here are the basics together with answers to some of the more common questions we’ve been asked.

Why do we need essential fatty acids?

Whey: A Superior Protein

When people come into the store and ask, “What’s good for energy?” 101 possibilities come to mind.  There are so many herbs and superfoods, high-potency vitamins and state-of-the-art supplements to choose from.  Well, I love all that stuff, I really do.  But before you move on to the ginsengs and Coenzyme Q10s of the world, take care of the basics.  And nothing is more basic than protein.

Prenatal and Infant Nutrition

In the early 1930’s a dentist named Weston Price traveled to Switzerland to disprove a theory. At the time, most people believed that tooth decay and other dental problems had nothing to do with diet, but rather, with “race mixing.” The theory was, if your mom was Spanish and your dad was Irish, you’re teeth would come out funny. Price, on the other hand, believed it had everything to do with nutrition.

Organic and all those other labels; What Do They Mean?

Organic: Most of us have a rough idea what organic means: grown without synthetic pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers, on land that has been clean for at least three years. No sewage sludge as fertilizer, no genetically modified organisms (GMOs: see below). Food must not be irradiated. For animal products, no anti-biotics or synthetic hormones, and the animals must be fed organic feed containing no animal by-products. (A recent amendment to national organic standards allows animals to be fed non-organic feed if it costs less than half of organic feed).

Natural First Aid

For bumps, bruises, burns, bites, sprains, broken bones, and getting trampled by an elephant.

Heat or Ice? At least once a summer I jam a finger playing basketball. Within minutes, the finger turns a sickly purple-red and swells up to twice its normal size, and then I can’t move it for a week.

Or at least that’s what used to happen before I took icing so seriously. Now I rush for ice the instant I get hurt, and it makes all the difference in the world. Within a day or two, I get my full range of motion back. It doesn’t swell up nearly as much, and it heals a lot faster.

Treating Cancer with Natural Medicine: Part II

Treatment Target #5 – Oxidation: Chemotherapy and radiation kill cancer cells; the problem is, they also kill the healthy cells of the body. Antioxidants protect the healthy cells of the body from chemo and radiation; the problem is, they may also protect the cancer cells… As you can imagine, then, using antioxidants alongside conventional therapies is controversial.

Treating Cancer with Natural Medicine: Part1

Cancer is the taboo topic in health food stores. Sure, we’re always eager to talk about prevention, but when it comes to treatment, we shy away from concrete statements. We do this because, while many of us have considerable knowledge about the herbs and vitamins in question, we rarely have an in-depth understanding of the 101 different kinds of cancer, or the finer points of chemotherapy drugs. We’re reluctant to share what we know because we are all too aware of the limitations of that knowledge, and of what is ultimately at stake.

Thyroid Dysfunction

Ever since we hosted Mary Bove’s talk about the thyroid in January, people have been coming in saying how sorry they were to have missed it ? and do we have something like lecture notes from the talk? Unfortunately, we don’t.

Although I can’t cram into two pages what Mary Bove covered in an hour-and-a-half, this should be a start. If you want to learn more, check out the chapter on “Hypothyroidism” in The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, by Murray and Pizzorno; and Ryan Drum’s extraordinary article on the internet at http://www.partnereartheducationcenter.com/thyroid1.html. We’ll have a couple of paper copies of this at the store as well.

PMS, Part II: Fish Oil, Progesterone, and Cramping

Another month, another topic, and yet another opportunity to write about fish oils. Truly nothing in natural or conventional medicine (with the exception of exercise, stress reduction, and a balanced, whole foods diet) is as effective in preventing and treating so many conditions! While there is, for any given condition, something that works better for that specific condition than fish oil, I always recommend fish oil first because its “side effects” include reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, and depression.

Natural Support for PMS

Many women experience what they call a Premenstrual Syndrome, or PMS. For a few days before their period, they may become angry, moody, irritable, tired, and/or depressed. Some women report water retention and bloating, breast pain or tenderness, headache, digestive problems, and/or food cravings. These symptoms last a few days to a week before their periods, and go away within a day or two of their period starting. While certain medical problems, such as asthma, migraines, and epilepsy may also get worse around the time of a woman’s period, these don’t officially qualify as PMS. Menstrual cramps and fibrocystic breast disease also are not considered PMS, because they don’t occur before (pre) menstruation. These two will be covered next month.

Freedom of Speech and Your Prostate

Over the past few years, a group of doctors, supplement manufacturers, and concerned citizens have been waging a legal battle against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration which will ultimately determine our freedom to receive accurate, scientific information about our health. Although the specific court case concerns using an herb for prostate enlargement, it has the potential to set a precedent which could rock the entire healthcare system in the country.

Heartburn: Reflux & Ulcers

I promised I’d talk about the use of antacids and acid blockers for reflux and ulcers as “one of the top-ten health misconceptions” in this country today. So here goes.

Acid reflux is properly called Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD. In GERD, acid escapes out of the stomach and into the esophagus, the tube which delivers food down to the stomach. This is a problem: while the stomach has a strong lining to protect itself from corrosive acids, the esophagus does not. Even relatively mild acid can damage the delicate esophagus.

THE TOP 10 HEALTH MISCONCEPTIONS…according to me!

After more than two years of writing these health columns for the newsletter, I’m finally going to have a little fun, get a little preachy, and offend some people. I can’t wait to get started! But before I do, the following disclaimer: these are my opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs of anyone else at the store, including management (Debra). Some people, including friends, people I respect, are going to disagree with some of these (see #3 and #6). But that’s their problem, because as long as I’ve got access to this soap box, I intend to use it for all it’s worth. So, in no particular order, here goes:

Arthritis, Part 2: Rheumatoid Arthritis

While osteoarthritis (OA) is a simple matter of wear-and-tear on the joints, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a little more complicated. In RA, the immune system gets involved. It may be oversimplifying things to simply say the immune system “attacks” your joints. But basically, that’s what’s happening.

Arthritis Part 1: Osteoarthritis & Joint Repair

Osteoarthritis (OA) is pretty simple. Basically, there’s wear-and-tear on our joints, which is balanced by certain maintenance processes. As long as maintenance can keep up with the wear-and-tear, we’re fine. But as we get older, maintenance slows down while wear-and-tear doesn’t. So the joint starts to erode. This is when OA starts. Younger people can also get OA if they put an unusual stress on their joints. This is a problem for certain athletes, especially power lifters. (Please note: it isn’t your bones which are eroding in OA, but the cartilage which cushions the ends of the bones. Osteoarthritis needs to be treated differently than osteoporosis!)

Osteoporosis Breakthrough!

A few months ago, when I wrote the newsletter article on osteoporosis, I barely touched on vitamin K. All I said was: “You need it to move calcium around your body. If you eat a good serving of green vegetables a day, you’ve pretty much got it covered. Some people do benefit from taking extra.”

Apparently, I didn’t know what I was talking about.

Fats & Oils, Part III: Omega-6 fatty acids, and EFA balance

Plus: EFA’s against osteoporosis, PMS

The newsletter two months ago covered some basics of fats and oils. Last month covered the omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA’s), found in fish and flax oil (among other places), and how they combat inflammation and help prevent some of our most devastating degenerative diseases. Finally, I’m going to wrap up the topic of fats and oils with the other family of essential fatty acids, the omega-6’s.

If you remember, omega-3’s come in different forms. Some omega-3’s, from vegetarian sources, are really just raw materials. Before they can be used, the body has to perform a series of chemical reactions, which convert them into more useable forms. But omega-3’s from animal sources are already in the more useable forms. The body can use them quicker and more efficiently.

Fats and Oils, Part II: Omega-3’s from Flax and Fish

How they help cure almost everything – really!

People say omega-3’s are good for the skin. People say omega-3’s are good for the heart. People say they’re good for arthritis, colitis, osteoporosis, brain function, allergies, eczema, and asthma, too. And you know what? People are right.

If I had to make a list of the top five supplements that are good for just about everyone, omega-3’s would be on the list.

Understanding Fats and Oils, Once and For All: Part One

Part I: the basics, plus oils for cooking

When you hear about fats and oils in the news, it always seems like the focus is on avoiding them. Advertising trumpets “low fat” this and “fat free” that. Now, many of us are beginning to understand that not all fats are bad for us. (Our store has always understood this!) Some of us may have even heard that certain fats are good – even essential! – for us. But more than any other health-related topic, it seems, fats and oils are still a source of confusion and misinformation.

There’s a lot of complicated chemistry behind fats and oils. If you want to get into more detail with the chemistry, ask me or Carolyn, or check out Fats and Oils, by Mary Enig; Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill, by Udo Erasmus; or a biochemistry text. We have a number of these resources in our reference library.

SUMMER PLANT, WINTER WORM

About a year ago, I went hiking with my friend, Paul Gorman. Normally when I go hiking, I’m the one who has to slow down so that people can keep up with me. But Paul is such an incredibly strong hiker, I quickly found myself struggling to keep up with him. I was out of breath, tired, and sore. That’s when Paul offered me the cordyceps.

Depression, Part 3: Herbal & Aromatherapy

The herb St. John’s Wort (Hypericum Perforatum) is a safe and effective antidepressant with a long tradition of use, backed now by strong research. It has few side effects, if any. But before I get into the research, let me quote my favorite herbalist, Michael Moore, from his Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest: (He does have a tendency to be opinionated…)

Depression: Part Two: Amino Acids and Depression

Part I reminded us walking in fresh air, sharing food with friends simple pleasures help stave off depression, and that a balanced, whole foods diet is essential to maintaining good mental health.  The book, Natural Prozac by Joel Robertson and Tom Monte, does a wonderful job explaining the role of food in controlling depression.  We ended last month on the subject of nutrients that can help and had covered 5-HTP, which is a precursor to serotonin.

Tyrosine and Phenylalanine, Precursors to Catecholamines:   Most of us have heard about serotonin, the ‘happy’ neurotransmitter.  But serotonin is only part of the equation.  Other neurotransmitters, called catecholamines, also elevate mood, but in a different way. Serotonin helps us feel relaxed, calm, and at peace with the world, and catecholamines provide pizzazz, get-up-and-go, etc. While the research on 5-HTP as a serotonin precursor is fairly compelling, that on the catecholamine precursors is not.  There have been few studies, with mixed results.  I have known a few people over the years who have sworn by tyrosine and/or phenylalanine, but they were in the minority.  

Depression, Part One: lifestyle, diet, philosophy

As the joke goes, a man visits his doctor. “Doc,” he says, “I’m feeling kind of blue.”

“Tell me more,” says the doctor.

“Well,” says the man, “just this week I got fired from my job, I found out my wife was cheating on me, my 15-year-old flunked out of school and started selling drugs, my daughter is pregnant, my dog died, my car got wrecked, I’m being sued, and my house burned down.”

“Hmmm…” says the doctor. “This sounds like a classic case of serotonin deficiency to me. I prescribe Prozac.”

There is a running debate as to whether people are depressed due to what’s going on in their lives (“situational depression”), or whether it’s simply a matter of brain chemicals (“endogenous depression”). Ultimately, it works both ways. Our situations and how we perceive them create certain feelings and emotions, which in turn lead to an imbalance in brain chemicals. And an imbalance in brain chemicals leads to certain feelings and emotions, which in turn effect the situations we put ourselves in. You see the way they feed off each other. You see how it can form a vicious cycle. So while the original trigger for depression may have been either situational or endogenous, depression often evolves into a complex combination of the two, where the one feeds off the other and vice versa.

Dealing with Acne

Acne is one of those things that doesn’t really hurt and probably won’t kill you, but it can still make your life pretty miserable. But there are some things you can do about it. And you don’t have to be a teenager either.

If you look closely at your skin, you’ll see thousands upon thousands of pores. What you can’t see is that inside these pores there are tiny, little sebaceous glands that produce an oily substance called sebum, which helps keep the skin moist and protected. Acne occurs when the pores get clogged, the sebum can’t get out, and the whole thing swells up like a balloon ready to burst. (Testosterone, produced by both males and females, increases sebum production, which is why teen-agers with those mythical “raging hormones” are usually the hardest hit). On top of that, clogged pores make an ideal home for a bacterium called Propionibacterium acnes, which colonizes the pimple and causes the area to become inflamed. (Almost all of us have this bacterium on our skins, but we don’t all have acne: the underlying problem, then, isn’t the bacterium’s existence, but that conditions exist which allow it to overgrow).

Many acne treatments focus on killing this bacterium. That’s what all those Benzoyl Peroxide products (i.e. Oxy, Clearasil, etc.) do. Doctors may also prescribe systemic antibiotics. These are often quite effective, but they have some drawbacks. First of all, systemic antibiotics kill off the “friendly” bacteria that live in our guts. (This is a big deal! The friendly bacteria help us digest and absorb food, lower cancer risk and cholesterol levels, improve immune function, and control the growth of “unfriendly” bacteria and fungi). If you just took antibiotics for a week or two, this wouldn’t be so bad: just tough it out, then take probiotics to replenish the friendly bacteria afterwards. But if you’re taking antibiotics for a couple of years… Secondly, there’s a risk that bacteria will develop resistance to the drugs. Thirdly, there are occasional side effects. And finally, the antibiotics do nothing to change the underlying problem.

Another prescription is Accutane, a synthetic version of vitamin A (natural vitamin A may also work). While this is often the single most effective treatment, it’s dangerous because of the extremely high doses that must be used. First of all, there is the issue of severe birth defects if the user becomes pregnant. Then there are all the other symptoms of Vitamin A toxicity. And finally, Accutane use has been correlated with higher rates of depression and suicide. If you want to use Accutane or high-dose vitamin A, please do so only under the supervision of a doctor.

I think that the cornerstone of any acne treatment regimen should be the mineral, zinc. Zinc helps the immune system fight off bacteria, is needed to process fats and oils in the body, and helps process testosterone. 13- and 14-year-olds have the lowest zinc levels of any age group, and acne sufferers are even worse off, with less zinc in their blood, hair, nails, and skin compared to others their own age. When you see this, and then remember how important zinc is for normal growth, wound healing, brain chemistry, and liver health, you’d probably want to take zinc even if it weren’t going to help your acne!

The fact is, zinc should help, although, depending on how you look at the research, this is still controversial. On one hand, there are quite a few studies which show zinc to be just as effective as antibiotics in treating acne, with fewer side effects. But on the other hand, there are studies which show zinc not to be effective at all. Why the discrepancy? Well, earlier studies used poorly-absorbed zinc sulfate and showed little or no effect. More recent studies, however, have had much better results using the better-absorbed zinc gluconate or effervescent zinc sulfate (which chemically reacts in the fizzy drink to form zinc citrate and tartrate). Some forms of zinc which are absorbed even better are zinc picolinate and zinc mono-methionine (“Optizinc”). Although they haven’t been researched in terms of acne specifically, it would be reasonable to assume they’d work even better.

I’d take 30 mg of zinc, twice a day. Zinc makes some people nauseous on an empty stomach, so take it with food. Also, zinc can displace copper from the system. If you drink tap water, which is copper-rich, you probably have copper to spare. Still, you might want to take a zinc-copper combo, just to be safe.

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) can also help acne. A study dating back to 1942(!) gave B6 to 37 acne sufferers, and a placebo to 35. The B6 users started on 25 mg twice daily, but went up to 50 mg 5 times daily if the lower doses weren’t working. 24.3% of the B6 users showed “complete clearing” and 51.5% showed “definite improvement”; versus 0% and 20% respectively in the placebo group. B6 helps balance hormones levels, therefore it might be especially useful for women whose acne flares with monthly cycles.

It is believed that essential fatty acids from flax oil, fish oil, etc. can also help with acne. But while there’s some indirect, circumstantial evidence that sort of points in that direction, there isn’t anything concrete yet. So, should you take them? Well, they’re good for you. There’s evidence they help with ADHD, and a million other things, too. Bearing all that in mind, and considering that they might help, you should probably try them out. (And tune in next month, when fats and oils will be the topic!)

“Blood-purifying” herbs are often recommended for acne. The term “blood-purifying” means different things to different people but in this context, I’m referring to herbs that “cleanse the blood” by promoting detoxification via the liver and colon. (After all, acne can be exacerbated by toxins in the bloodstream). Herbs on this list include burdock, yellowdock, dandelion (the root more than the leaf), and oregon grape root. Much like the EFA’s, there isn’t a lot of hard evidence here, but I have personally seen them work, and heard from quite a few customers that they work. Instead of picking just one herb, you can take a combination formula: “Dermacomplex” from Rainbow Light is a good one in tablet form; the Milk Thistle/Yellowdock combo from Gaia, and the Dandelion/Milk Thistle from Herbpharm are good liquids.

You should give all these – the zinc, B6, and herbals – three months to work, although they’ll often work sooner than that. The herbals may make acne worse for a few weeks until it starts clearing up. And beware cystic acne, where the pimples grow down into the skin instead of coming to a head. This is the kind of acne which can cause permanent scarring. Certainly no reason not to try nutritional therapies here, but you might also want to go see a good dermatologist.

Of course don’t overlook topical treatments. First, gently cleanse the skin twice a day to keep the pores clear. And look for tea tree oil products. Tea tree is an effective disinfectant (active against 27 of 31 strains of P. acnes), but not as drying as benzoyl peroxide. In one study, a solution of 5% tea tree oil was almost as effective as 5% benzoyl peroxide against mild acne. And since tea tree is gentler on the skin, you can usually go stronger than 5%. You can find plain tea tree oil, facial washes, creams, etc. Perhaps my favorite products are the blemish sticks put out by Burt’s Bees, Thursday Plantation, and Arkopharma. They all contain tea tree and other essential oils in little containers the size of tubes of Chap Stick. In addition to tea tree products, people really seem to like the zinc cream we sell. Sulfur-based acne soaps, like the Derma-Klear soap from Enzymatic Therapy, are also quite good.

Finally, food can play a major role. Of course conventional wisdom says to stay away from fatty, oily foods in general, but as we’ve seen, some oils are actually considered beneficial. Certainly, fried and hydrogenated oils should be avoided. They interfere with the body’s ability to use the good oils, and can bog down the intestines. But I’ve never seen any evidence that good, clean, health-promoting oils such as olive oil, sesame, or pumpkinseed oil promote acne.

Perhaps most important to avoid is sugar. Researchers have found more sugar in the skin of acne sufferers versus controls, and trials have shown that insulin injections (like diabetics use to lower their blood sugar) can clear up acne. It has also been reported that the mineral chromium, which helps the body use insulin and thus lowers blood sugar, can treat acne as well. Interestingly, there was a study that showed eating protein helped acne – or at least that’s what the authors of the study said it showed. If you actually look at the study, the people who ate the most protein also ate the least carbohydrates (including sugar!)

The ideal diet for acne would include lots of vegetables, fish, and lean meats. Fruits and whole grains are also okay. Refined carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar, and sweet drinks, including juice), should be avoided when possible. And stay away from those bad fats. Make sure there’s enough fiber and plenty of water. Take a multivitamin, too.

…. Adam Stark

Why is sugar bad for you? What are the alternatives?

Sugar in foods is dangerous for a number of reasons. First of all, it feeds Candida yeast. As many of us are beginning to learn, the human gut is home to billions and billions of bacteria and yeasts, some good and some bad. Candida is a normal part of the gut flora, and as long as it stays under control, it’s not a problem. But sugar feeds the yeast, allowing it to overrun the good bacteria in the gut. When Candida gets out of control, the overgrowth can lead to a host of symptoms, including fatigue, gas, bloating, various skin conditions, chronic sinus infections, headaches, and recurrent vaginal yeast infections.