Links of Note: Pathogens, Plastics, Professionalism and Purchases

Since I don’t have time to write a full post about these links, I thought I’d share some bits with you anyway.

E. Coli Outbreak Traced to Company That Halted Testing of Ground Beef – A great continuation on the issue of ground beef and where it comes from, and what is being done to keep it safe.

Tests Find Wide Range of Bisphenol A in Canned Soups, Juice, and More – brought to my attention by NY Times food writer Mark Bittman, BPA – the reason why you stopped drinking out of plastic bottles – is lining your food cans and getting in your food.

Media creates concept of media psychologists, encourages them to be unethical, then acts amazed when they are – a friend of mine used the magic of Google Reader to let me know of this blog post. It sums up some of my issues with credentials in the helping professions.

What We’re Eating – Mark Bittman references some interesting data and links to it about current trends in food purchases.

Breakfast Granola

I figured that as I was drinking my cup of french press coffee (Stumptown Panama Carmen estate, made in my trusty Bodum Chambord 8-Cup Coffee Press) that I may break the silence by writing about breakfast.

You see, breakfast is rather tough for me. I get low-blood sugar fairly easily, so I really need to eat in the morning to stave off feeling woozy and getting cranky. The thing is, I also (like many people) consume most of my calories later in the day, which means I need a light, but effective, breakfast. So far, nothing has really fit the bill for me, but has lead to a lot of experimentation. One such experiment was making my own granola.

I came to making my own granola after 1) noticing the cost of granola and 2) noticing my once favorite cereal (due to high fiber and low calorie content) Kashi GoLean contained soy, which I try to avoid due to it’s connection to endocrine disruption. I’ve been playing around with the recipe, but it goes something like this: Continue reading “Breakfast Granola”

Let the Eating and Drinking Begin!

Last night was two birthday get-togethers, and today is Fremont Oktoberfest with some friends. (I haven’t been to Oktoberfest in Seattle before, so I’m curious to see if it holds a candle to Cincinnati/Covington or Chicago). It’s getting time for putting on that insulating Winter-weight, and chowing down for the big winter festivals.

It was two years ago that I joined Weight Watchers. I have lost about 80 lbs on WW, and that was lost in my first year. I returned to the plan after 6 months off, and after I took care of medication interference (norethindrone sucks) I’ve been losing. I thought I’d share some of the secrets to my success, both for anyone who reads this, and to remind myself because I still have about 40 or so pounds to go before I’m at goal.

1. Eat bacon, cheese, beer, wine, cocktails, cake and ice cream. Of course, if you don’t eat pork (or are vegetarian/vegan), don’t drink alcohol and/or are diabetic, please read this as don’t deny yourself what you enjoy about food. I’ve heard some people say that they have to totally exclude something from their diet because it’s a binge food, and I can understand that, however, I tend to crave what I’m denied the most. A 3 WW Point desert of Luna and Larry’s Coconut Bliss Dark Chocolate Bar, which is vegan and sweetened with agave nectar, is a fine way to end a day!

2. Eat real food. Limit eating foods that are fortified with extra vitamins, artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and sweeteners. If it’s a low-fat or no-fat version of a high-fat food, odds are they’ve added junk to make it taste more like the real thing. Same goes with sugary drinks and snacks. I prefer to just eat the real thing, in small amounts, for instance, giving up sugar in things where I don’t need it (morning coffee) in preference where I know I’ll like it (a Babycake from Cupcake Royale.) Instead of going for an energy bar that’s PB&J flavored, just make yourself a nice PB&J sandwich on whole wheat. Shoot for eating foods with five ingredients or less. This leads me to my next point, which is…

3.Learn to cook/assemble your own food. This is the one way you’ll know what’s in your food, and control for those sneaky cooks in restaurants who add extra butter to EVERYTHING. It may seem like a lot of time and effort, at first, but really – it doesn’t take much longer than a boxed meal to assemble some basics, and if you cook ahead of time, make use of left-overs, there’s a lot you can do. Never underestimate the awesomeness that comes from homemade salad dressing (all you need is sugar/agave/honey, salt, herbs/spices, a bit of olive oil and vinegar or lemon/lime juice and a jar to shake it in.) Throw a can of line-caught Pacific albacore tuna on top of some local greens, with some olives, cherry tomatoes and red onion slices, and you have a 4 WW Point (each serving) dinner for two! Check out my aStore for cook books.

4. Do not let the Nutritional Information and/or health promises on packages make your decisions for you. This rule transfers to things outside of food, so use it often. Some of the healthiest foods you’ll ever eat won’t have either Nutritional Information or health promises on them: broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, orange – basically, the entire produce section. These days, manufacturers are adding what used to be just in nutritional supplements to their foods as well as accenting the long established ingredients with labeling that ties the main ingredient to a vogue health claim (lycopene in ketchup, for instance.) The healthiest foods are likely to not come in slick packaging with health claims on it.

5. Limit soy and corn. This is more of an extra credit thing. You see, I already try to shop local, eat local, shake the hand that feeds me, etc. It’s insane just how much soy and corn is in the American diet. Corn is pretty much everywhere, from high fructose corn syrup and corn starch to xanthan gum. It’s fed to cows to fatten them up, in ketchup, in soft drinks. It’s cheap, heavily subsidized, and in everything. Soy is pretty much everywhere, too. It’s a condiment, fake meat, fake cheese, low-carb pasta, milk substitute, frying oil, the list goes on and on. You could actually eat soy in every part of your meal and not realize you’re eating mostly soy. Soy also contains phyto-estrogens and can play a part in endocrine disruption (a favorite article is in Men’s Health.) It’s also used in animal feed along with corn. Every time Soy Joy reps are handing out free bars at the farmer’s market, I think as I walk by with Jon, “Why do you want to emasculate my husband?”

Corn and soy are largely Big Agriculture. It’s lots of subsidies, lots of pesticides, lots of monoculture, and a lot of genetic modification. Also, it’s not healthy to just eat one thing, or things derived from one thing, all the time. Diversity in your food is good. This is why I try to be deliberate about my corn and soy ingestion.

So those are the top fives for what I’ve been doing. Just a few hours from now, I embark on Fremont Oktoberfest 2009. I’m glad I got my jog in earlier today!

Placebos are Awesome

It’s not that the old meds are getting weaker, drug developers say. It’s as if the placebo effect is somehow getting stronger.

Some of you may have seen this article in wired about the placebo effect, but if not – I highly recommend it.

Now, after 15 years of experimentation, he has succeeded in mapping many of the biochemical reactions responsible for the placebo effect, uncovering a broad repertoire of self-healing responses. Placebo-activated opioids, for example, not only relieve pain; they also modulate heart rate and respiration. The neurotransmitter dopamine, when released by placebo treatment, helps improve motor function in Parkinson’s patients. Mechanisms like these can elevate mood, sharpen cognitive ability, alleviate digestive disorders, relieve insomnia, and limit the secretion of stress-related hormones like insulin and cortisol.

I stand by my previous assertion that placebos are my favorite drugs. It may be nothing but lactose in those little blue Bioron vials, or brandy and water in the Bach Flower Essences, or lumps of rock in a quartz pendant – but if it makes me or anyone else feel better, I’ll take it.

There’s obviously no assurance that homeopathic remedies will work better than allopathic remedies, and when facing life or death, I’ll go for the substance with the most verifiably, scientifically sound data from clinical trials. However, it’s going to be another doozy of a flu season, I’m guessing. I’ll take my FDA approved vaccine with a side of Oscillococcinum.

My Favorite Medicine: Placebo

I love placebos. They’re my most favorite drug in the world. Part of my love, no doubt, comes from an episode of M*A*S*H , which Wikipedia notes is episode 24 of the 6th season, “Major Topper.” In this episode, a shortage of morphine leads the fine doctors of 4077 to count on the placebo effect to help the wounded.

When I worked at a psych hospital, there were a few vocal critics of homeopathic therapies. (By homeopathic, I’m specifically referring to those remedies with NDC codes including the range of Boiron pellets to Bach Flower Remedies.) This isn’t surprising on a few levels – first of all being that the medical establishment has it in their own best interests to poo-poo homeopathy, second being that homeopathic remedies have a heck of a lot of pseudo-science (and magical thinking) backing their efficacy. I wouldn’t dare say that homeopathic remedies have the same power and efficacy as modern pharmaceuticals, but one thing that they do have is the worst case scenario that is better than Big Pharm – at it’s worst, it just won’t work at all.

Not a bad side-effect, huh? Homeopathic remedies can often be used in conjunction with pharmaceuticals, can be combined together, and at best will work, and at worst, will have no effect, with no side-effects or interactions. The actual efficacy of homeopathic remedies is debatable, and may be attributed ONLY to the placebo effect. The third major argument is that it’s a waste of money to take a placebo. Maybe, the transaction of money, plus ingestion of the little sugar pills, is what makes you stave off that cold and flu or lower your anxiety.

Since I worked at Whole Foods, specifically with these remedies at my fingertips, I have tried a few of them and have found some work better for me than others. There’s actually a difference between how some remedies, for the same problem, work for me. For instance, Hyland’s – Calms Forte did not help me at all with getting to sleep, but their other formulation, Insomnia works so well that I sometimes wonder if there’s a secret narcotic ingredient. It could be that my own expectations of efficacy has influenced my body’s response to the placebo. I did read an article, which I can’t find right now, that showed that the expectations of a medication/placebo can influence the reaction a person has, including doing the opposite of what the person may expect.

The past six months have been allopathic-medication heavy. I appreciate the need for modern medicine, and definitely appreciate the need to use it when appropriate. When I was discharged from the ER with a 15 page document telling me the full dangers of my new medication regimen, I both understood the need to take the medication as prescribed, and longed for the simplicity of my ‘bos. During those first few months, I took full advantage of my Bach Flower Remedies, which are, by far, some of the most ridiculous homeopathic remedies around. The way I understand, these concoctions, in brandy, are pretty much just the dew off of specific flowers carrying a vibrational energy that is conducive to emotional health.

I’m fond of them, nevertheless.

Bach Essence Star of Bethlehem
Bach Essence Aspen
Rescue Remedy Sleep

I don’t go for that woo-woo stuff, mostly cos my belief in the supernatural is that it’s all in the mind. However, I’ll take the vibrational properties of flower essences over getting hooked on Xanax any day. (Disclaimer: there is a medical purpose for Xanax, but doctors need to be very careful in doling it out, and need a defined exit strategy. That’s another post for another time, though.)