Archive for August, 2014

Happy Meals = Sad Brains

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Eating to be fit, eating to be physically healthy, eating to prevent disease…how about eating to be happy?  Research examining the link between what we eat and our mental health is in its infancy stage, but the results so far are very consistent and very powerful.  A new study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry makes a strong case that processed junk food can trigger or contribute to depression, while eating whole and healthy food seems protective.  Researchers are confident that have found a true cause and effect relationship.

With the rise in diabetes, heart disease and obesity in our country there has also been an equally dramatic rise in depression.  If you watch even a small amount of television you are inundated with advertisements prompting you to ask your doctor for the latest and greatest mood-improving medication.  It is time to start looking at what might be the cause of the imbalance in our brains rather than taking drugs that only make the symptoms go away.  There are countless stories of patients changing their diets to deal with gastrointestinal issues and being pleasantly surprised at the marked improvement or even complete disappearance of their depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental illness.

Like any other muscle, bone, organ or tissue, the brain needs to have nutrients to function correctly and repair itself.  Too many people live on processed, fast, prepared food devoid of those nutrients and full of chemicals.  We aren’t feeding our brains, yet we expect our brains to be happy.  How happy would you be if you weren’t being fed?  To make matters worse, we are disrupting the brain’s messengers, called neurotransmitters, with the chemicals we are ingesting when we choose to eat processed junk.  It only makes sense that an underfed, chemically-stressed brain is not going to function well.  And what do most depressed people do?  They eat nutritionally-deficient, highly-processed “comfort foods” to make themselves feel better, not realizing they are creating a vicious circle.  Bad food leads to depression which leads to more bad food which leads to more depression…you get the picture.  It is literally and figuratively a sad one.

I am certainly not suggesting that ALL mental illness is caused ONLY by poor diet.  What I am saying is that food absolutely does have SOME level of effect on our mental health.  The exact impact will vary from person to person.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if every person suffering from some sort of mental illness eliminated all processed foods and started eating whole, real foods.  It stands to reason that we as a nation would be both healthier and happier.

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Artificial Sweeteners – Little Colored Packets of Poison

 

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Beware of the sweeteners on the market today that are not what they seem. Most people know to steer clear of saccharine (Sweet ’n Low) and aspartame (Equal)- sweeteners that were deemed safe by the FDA and later found to have severely detrimental side effects. There are several new sweeteners with cleverly produced commercials telling you they are “honestly sweet” and “all natural.” There is nothing honest or natural about the following products…

SPLENDA- the little yellow packet made by Johnson & Johnson. It is a chemical called sucralose. Studies have shown it is more toxic than aspartame, proven to damage your DNA, and causes cancer in mice. There are no long term studies done on humans. Unfortunately, we as consumers end up being the human long term study. It is produced in a 5 step chemical process that adds 3 chlorine molecules to sucrose (table sugar) creating a bond that doesn’t even exist in nature. Hmmmm…guess it isn’t so natural after all. Where it does exist currently is in DDT (toxic insecticide), PCB (toxic carcinogen), and Agent Orange (herbicide used in the Vietnam War). Enough said. This stuff is bad news!

TRUVIA- this is Coca-Cola’s version of stevia. The stevia plant is actually a very healthy herb that is naturally very sweet. Unfortunately, Truvia, doesn’t resemble that plant in any way, shape, or form. Coca-Cola takes GMO (genetically modified) stevia plants and puts them through a patented extraction method using chemicals like acetone (think fingernail polish remover), methanol, and ethanol. They add dextrose, maltodextrin, or erythritol which are sweeteners made from GMO corn. Not sounding all that “honestly sweet” any more, is it? If you look at the label, you will see that stevia is not even listed in the ingredients. Other brands to avoid are PURE VIA (made by Pepsi), ENLITEN, and STEVIA IN THE RAW. There are several brands that don’t use chemicals in their extraction and are okay- SweetLeaf, NuNatural, and NOW. 

NECTRESSE- made by the same people who brought you Splenda…this is the newest sweetener on the market, incorporating an asian melon called monk fruit. The commercial claims it has “nothing artificial,” which is simply not true. While it does have a small amount of monk fruit, also known as Lo Han Guo, the other three ingredients are all from GMO foods. 

Your best bet is to stick with real food and use it VERY sparingly- raw organic honey, pure organic maple syrup, organic coconut sugar. If you are looking for a beverage sweetener, go with one of the good stevia brands listed above. Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi are about making money, not making us healthy. Stay away from those brightly colored packets. The only thing at the end of that rainbow is a pot full of chemicals.

Egg Labels – What Do They Really Mean?

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Why did the chicken cross the road? Because she lived outside and could actually SEE the road. I admit this joke is not all that funny, and neither is the way that conventional eggs are being produced today. Picture windowless, artificially lit warehouses containing stacks and stacks of wire cages with 5-6 beakless hens per cage eating hormone and antibiotic laden, genetically modified corn and soy feed. Not funny at all.

This type of farming is not only incredibly inhumane, it has led to nutrient deficient eggs and an alarming increase of salmonella poisoning. We can’t even eat raw Christmas cookie dough anymore! Now that is crossing the line! We don’t recommend giving up on the egg though. Eggs are a wonderful source of protein and contain mostly unsaturated (healthy) fat. Studies have proven they do NOT increase cholesterol levels, and contain powerful antioxidants for the eyes and skin. The health of the chicken has everything to do with the nutrient level in the egg. How do you know which eggs to buy? Decoding egg packaging labels today is almost as confusing as my son’s calculus homework! Here are the important facts:

Conventional- these are your typical eggs from chickens raised using the above mentioned methods. Be aware that they may use the word “natural,” as there is no regulation on that term.

Cage Free- the chickens are not kept in cages, but can be crowded into less than one foot of space per chicken, typically leading to poor sanitation and the inhumane practices of forced starvation and debeaking. They do not have to have outdoor access. There is little difference in the quality of these eggs compared to the conventional.

Free Range- this term conjures up images of happy chickens roaming the barnyard, pecking and scratching at the ground for food. Not so, I’m afraid. There are no cages and the chickens do have access to an outside door, but are severely crowded. “Outside” is usually a small bare dirt or concrete caged area. They rarely go outside and there are no regulations on the amount of time spent outdoors.

Omega-3- all eggs have some level of Omega-3 fatty acids. The best way to raise the levels is by allowing birds to forage on lawns or pastures. The other way is to add fish oil, flax seeds, or alfalfa meal to the feed.

Certified Organic- No antibiotics, hormones, or animal byproducts are used in the feed. The birds are uncaged and do have outdoor access, but the amount, duration, and quality of it is undefined.

Vegetarian- unless they are labeled “organic” these birds can still be fed antibiotics and pesticides. They are just not given animal byproducts.

Pasture Raised- these are the best eggs available at the grocery store. They do not use hormones, antibiotics, or animal byproducts. The birds are raised on grass outdoors in movable shelters. They are not debeaked and live as chickens naturally do, flapping their wings, foraging for food, and moving about freely.

Of course, the most ideal egg of all is to find a nearby farm that engages in humane, healthy farming and buy your eggs there. If that isn’t an option, look for pasture raised. Here is a link that may be helpful for local people for an egg that we recommend:www.facebook.com/l/sAQEPpkbNAQHe1ev7iDRXDfHLjIFFn-U92UPeYhc2sXLucw/vitalfarms.com/map/