Monday, December 12, 2011

7 Foods to NEVER Eat

I saw this article shared on many of my friends Facebook profiles and hope that you too had a chance to read the post which was actually published in Prevention Magazine. It was such a good foundation to "food rules" as I call them, that I thought it would be worth sharing. In my mind, food rules are things that you just agree with yourself to not do. One of my main food rules is: no high fructose corn syrup. If I read a label and its in there, I wont buy or eat it. For me its a simple way to be able to make good choices. I am now considering adding some of these to my "food rules" category: 

1. The Endocrinologist Won't Eat: Canned Tomatoes
Fredrick Vom Saal, is an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A.
The problem: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. "You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young," says vom Saal. "I won't go near canned tomatoes."
The solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe's and Pomi.
Budget tip: If your recipe allows, substitute bottled pasta sauce for canned tomatoes. Look for pasta sauces with low sodium and few added ingredients, or you may have to adjust the recipe.

2. The Farmer Won't Eat: Corn-Fed Beef
Joel Salatin is co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of half a dozen books on sustainable farming.
The problem: Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grains. But farmers today feed their animals corn and soybeans, which fatten up the animals faster for slaughter. But more money for cattle farmers (and lower prices at the grocery store) means a lot less nutrition for us. A recent comprehensive study conducted by the USDA and researchers from Clemson University found that compared with corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. "We need to respect the fact that cows are herbivores, and that does not mean feeding them corn and chicken manure," says Salatin.
The solution: Buy grass-fed beef, which can be found at specialty grocers, farmers' markets, and nationally at Whole Foods. It's usually labeled because it demands a premium, but if you don't see it, ask your butcher.
Budget tip: Cuts on the bone are cheaper because processors charge extra for deboning. You can also buy direct from a local farmer, which can be as cheap as $5 per pound. To find a farmer near you, search

3. The Toxicologist Won't Eat: Microwave Popcorn
Olga Naidenko, is a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group.
The problem: Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize--and migrate into your popcorn. "They stay in your body for years and accumulate there," says Naidenko, which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then.
The solution: Pop natural kernels the old-fashioned way: in a skillet. For flavorings, you can add real butter or dried seasonings, such as dillweed, vegetable flakes, or soup mix.
Budget tip: Popping your own popcorn is dirt cheap.

4. The Farm Director Won't Eat: Nonorganic Potatoes
Jeffrey Moyer is the chair of the National Organic Standards Board.
The problem: Root vegetables absorb herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides that wind up in soil. In the case of potatoes--the nation's most popular vegetable--they're treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off the fibrous vines before harvesting. After they're dug up, the potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. "Try this experiment: Buy a conventional potato in a store, and try to get it to sprout. It won't," says Moyer, who is also farm director of the Rodale Institute (also owned by Rodale Inc., the publisher of Prevention). "I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."
The solution: Buy organic potatoes. Washing isn't good enough if you're trying to remove chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh.
Budget tip: Organic potatoes are only $1 to $2 a pound, slightly more expensive than conventional spuds.

5. The Fisheries Expert Won't Eat: Farmed Salmon
Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, published a major study in the journal Science on contamination in fish.
The problem: Nature didn't intend for salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT. According to Carpenter, the most contaminated fish come from Northern Europe, which can be found on American menus. "You could eat one of these salmon dinners every 5 months without increasing your risk of cancer," says Carpenter, whose 2004 fish contamination study got broad media attention. "It's that bad." Preliminary science has also linked DDT to diabetes and obesity, but some nutritionists believe the benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks. There is also concern about the high level of antibiotics and pesticides used to treat these fish. When you eat farmed salmon, you get dosed with the same drugs and chemicals.
The solution: Switch to wild-caught Alaska salmon. If the package says fresh Atlantic, it's farmed. There are no commercial fisheries left for wild Atlantic salmon.
Budget tip: Canned salmon, almost exclusively from wild catch, can be found for as little as $3 a can.

6. The Cancer Researcher Won't Drink: Milk Produced With Artificial Hormones
Rick North is project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society.
The problem: Milk producers treat their dairy cattle with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST, as it is also known) to boost milk production. But rBGH also increases udder infections and even pus in the milk. It also leads to higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor in milk. In people, high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers. "When the government approved rBGH, it was thought that IGF-1 from milk would be broken down in the human digestive tract," says North. As it turns out, the casein in milk protects most of it, according to several independent studies. "There's not 100 percent proof that this is increasing cancer in humans," admits North. "However, it's banned in most industrialized countries."
The solution: Check labels for rBGH-free, rBST-free, produced without artificial hormones, or organic milk. These phrases indicate rBGH-free products.
Budget tip: Try Wal-Mart's Great Value label, which does not use rBGH.

7. The Organic-Foods Expert Won't Eat: Conventional Apples
Mark Kastel, a former executive for agribusiness, is codirector of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group that supports organic foods.
The problem: If fall fruits held a "most doused in pesticides contest," apples would win. Why? They are individually grafted (descended from a single tree) so that each variety maintains its distinctive flavor. As such, apples don't develop resistance to pests and are sprayed frequently. The industry maintains that these residues are not harmful. But Kastel counters that it's just common sense to minimize exposure by avoiding the most doused produce, like apples. "Farm workers have higher rates of many cancers," he says. And increasing numbers of studies are starting to link a higher body burden of pesticides (from all sources) with Parkinson's disease.
The solution: Buy organic apples.
Budget tip: If you can't afford organic, be sure to wash and peel them. But Kastel personally refuses to compromise. "I would rather see the trade-off being that I don't buy that expensive electronic gadget," he says. "Just a few of these decisions will accommodate an organic diet for a family."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eat your Essentials!

Omega three oils are very important to our health. They are called “essential fatty acids” because our body cannot manufacture them itself and they must come from the diet.  The name omega three refers to the length and molecular bonging structure of the fatty acid molecule. The two most important omega three fats are EPA and DHA.

Plant sources of omega three’s include flax, soy, walnut, hemp, and dark green vegetables. Plant forms of omega three may be thought of as the building blocks for EPA and DHA because there are many enzymatic steps that must occur in order for the oil to be changed into the EPA or DHA  form. The best sources of EPA and DHA are oily fish, game meats, grass fed meats, omega three eggs and fish oil supplements. Oily fish high in EPA and DHA include salmon, herring and sardines. They are also a great source of protein and calcium. Beef that is grass fed and grass finished has omega three fats and a substance known as conjugated linoleic acid which has an effect on satiety.

Fish oils have very beneficial effects on the heart and overall cardiovascular system. They are responsible for cell membrane fluidity, moderating the inflammation response, and help to maintain blood vessel integrity. They are also very helpful in high doses for lowering lipid levels. HDL levels can also be raised with high doses of EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are also helpful for pain, those with insulin sensitivity, help with allergic response, and are beneficial for neural and cognitive development in infants.

There is no known recommended dose for EPA and DHA. Eating oily fish 2-3 times a week and/or taking a supplement with at least two grams of EPA/DHA daily may fulfill the body’s basic need. Dosing strategies for EPA and DHA change depending on the therapeutic result that is desired. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about your fish oil intake, as they have known blood thinning properties.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sleepy after Turkey Day? Don’t blame the turkey!

Tryptophan is known as an amino acid. Amino acids are found in protein containing foods (meat, nuts, beans) and help to make many signaling molecules in the body, repair muscle and structural tissue, and build RNA and DNA. Tryptophan falls into the category of essential amino acid, meaning that it is one that must be consumed in the diet. Tryptophan is found in turkey, but also in pork, eggs, peanuts, fish and cheese—just to name a few. So how does tryptophan make us sleepy and why is it blamed for post Thanksgiving sleepiness?

In the body tryptophan is turned into serotonin, a neurotransmitter involved in mood. Serotonin turns into melatonin, which is a hormone. Melatonin is made in the highest quantity at night to calm and relax the body. As a result of this conversion pathway, tryptophan can be used therapeutically for conditions such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, eating disorders, pain and gastrointestinal problems. So you can see that if you consumed large amounts of tryptophan, the resulting serotonin and melatonin would calm and relax the body for rest. 

As far as the post Thanksgiving sleepiness that some experience, tryptophan may not be to blame since there are plenty of other foods with as much, if not more, tryptophan that we consume on a regular basis. The real reason for the post meal coma may really be the act of overindulgence. When we consume food, our body focuses its energy on digesting the meal. Signaling molecules tell the stomach and intestines to secrete many hormones and begin working to process and break down the food. One of these signaling hormones is insulin which is triggered by carbohydrate consumption. The large insulin release that is caused by carbohydrates and results indirectly in melatonin release, could be the real reason for post meal drowsiness. When a very large meal is consumed, more of the body’s energy is spent on the digestive process and less can be expended elsewhere—like the energy needed to stay awake and alert. 

If you are interested in avoiding the most meal snooze, perhaps eating slightly less or eating less of the carbohydrate containing dishes may actually be your best bet. If you do choose to indulge (just this once), be sure to prepare your seat on the couch so your body can go to work!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Screening Our Sunscreens for Potential Endocrine Disruptors

Recent research about sunscreens had questioned their safety. The FDA is in charge of regulating products and claims that sunscreen manufacturers make and the last time they were reviewed claims and efficacy was in the 1970’s. Labeling is expected to change for next summer. So what are the current problems associated with some sunscreens and what do consumers do for now until greater regulation and review takes place?

Let’s take a look at one potential problem and that is the chemicals in sunscreen. Oxybenzone is commonly used in sunscreens and may actually be very problematic. In addition to being known to produce free radicals (also known as pro-oxidants), recent research done on fish actually found that oxybenzone can have endocrine disrupting estrogenic effects as well. In this study, the researchers took two different groups of fish. When exposed to high levels of oxybenzone, the fish’s blood levels of estrogen was 75 times greater than those fish not exposed to oxybenzone. Researchers also evaluated the reproductive success of the fish. The ability of females to produce viable eggs was significantly lower after just 7 days of exposure and the number of fertilized eggs that ended up hatching was also significantly lower. This research suggests that there may be an estrogen like activity of the chemical oxybenzone and may alter normal hormonal function.

Knowing this information, what are safe ingredients in sunscreens? Look for sunscreens that are mineral based and contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main sun protective ingredients. According to the environmental working group, Mexoryl SX is another good option, but it’s sold in very few formulations. Tinosorb S and M could be great solutions but are not yet available in the U.S. Sunscreens with avobenzone are also okay.

Label reading can also be a hurdle when selecting a sunscreen. SPF measures a sunscreen's ability to prevent sunburn, which is caused by ultraviolet B (UVB) light. If your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, for example, wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen would theoretically allow you to stay in the sun for 150 minutes (10 x 15) without burning. This means that the person should re-apply after 2.5 hours in the sun. Scientists now also know that ultraviolet A (UVA) is a major cause of aging and also contributes to skin cancer. SPF can be misleading because products with less than SPF 15 might not protect against the UVA effects, but may prevent sunburn. There is little data if products greater than SPF 50 provide any additional benefit. A tan offers the equivalent protection to a sunscreen with SPF 3 or 4. A white long sleeve tee is SPF 7 and dark, heavy denim has an SPF of 1,700.

To learn more about chemical components of sunscreen, take a look at environmental working group’s 2011 sunscreen report. This group reports on the health effects of chemicals in our environment. Their online resource allows you to see how your current sunscreen (makeup, moisturizer or lip balm) ranks and gives their recommendation for the safest products to use. It actually breaks down all the ingredients in a product so you can see how each may be influencing your health.

It’s difficult to talk about the sun without talking about vitamin D. You need at least 20 minutes of full body sun exposure between the hours of 10 am until 2 pm  to make your daily allowance of vitamin D. Darker skinned individuals may need up to one hour. Anything over SPF 8 blocks the body’s ability to make vitamin D. So you can see the problem here-- many people burn with just 10 minutes in the sun and we want to protect our skin from damaging rays. This is where the importance of taking supplemental vitamin D comes in to play. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in Wisconsin and individual need is widely variable. I have seen similar body and age matched patients need anywhere from 2000 units a day to 10,000 units a day to get to an optimal blood vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is an easy blood test that your doctor can to o that you can ensure that you are getting the correct supplemental amount of D.

Here are the key take home points:
  1. Avoid oxybenzone. Look for mineral lotion sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  2. Look for full spectrum: UVA (A for Aging) and UVB (B for Burn) with at least SPF 15.
  3. Consider that most sunscreens are water resistant at best, waterproof claims are not well substantiated, and therefore you need to re-apply every few hours. Clothing and shade are likely the best bets for complete protection from the sun.
  4. Wait about 20 min after going outside before applying sunscreen or take supplemental vitamin D and have your levels checked.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One Minute Course in Mindfulness of Thought

"With perception, there is deception."
One of my favorite quotes from the eleven week class I recently completed titled, "Mindfulness in Everyday Life." To me this quote is helpful in understanding how our own preconceived notions, experiences and ideas can change the way we see the world. By recognizing our judgments and associations we might begin to see things differently or at least begin to be more conscious that are minds are deceiving us.  Things are never as they seem to be.
Becoming conscious of our minds deceptive and distracting nature is one way to  help reduce stress in everyday life. If instead of worrying about a particular topic, we simply recognize the worry and the feeling and body sensations that go along with it, we can actually reduce the worry. Here is an example: Say you have a fear of dogs. Whenever there is a dog in your presence, you get tense and your blood pressure rises (body sensations) and remember the dog that bit you as a child (association). Your mind tells you the situation is dangerous (judgment) and you feel fear (label). If you take the body sensation, association, judgment and labels and begin to think of them as visitors and as merely thoughts separate from your self, the worry can be lessened. Using the same example: a dog is in my presence and I can feel my body tense and blood pressure rise. The memory that I have as a child, is simply that, a memory. I realize that I am judging this situation based on my past experience and I feel a sensation, a visiting sensation that is not really a part of me, but a visitor.

This model can be applied to all sorts of worry-- paying the bills, getting to work on time, meeting with a supervisor, etc. and over time will help with overall stress reduction. Stress reduction can prevent many disease states and is a crucial component of wellness.